Tuesday, January 3, 2023

CELEBRITY ENDORSEMENTS

What they're saying about Jim's provocative blog:

--"Джим - забавный парень, но он не Яков Смирнов!" (Jim's a funny guy, but he's no Yakov Smirnoff!  Nyet!")--Vladimir Putin
--"Я думаю, мы могли бы использовать такого парня, как Джим."  (I think we could use a guy like Jim!)--Sergey Kislyak, Russian ambassador to the United States.
--"He's from this country, Mexicans don't read him, so that's good enough for me."--Donald Trump
--"The one thing I didn't delete from my private server."--Hillary Clinton
--"Jimaschizzle!"--Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr. (aka Snoop Dogg)
--"The one thing I DO read!"--Sarah Palin
--"The most fun you can have with your clothes on (but DO take a shower afterwards)."--Dick Cavett

jimjustselling . . .


Actually, I'm not, but the good folks at HenschelHAUS are.
https://henschelhausbooks.com/product/lol-i-gags/


The book is also available at:

POPCORN

                                                                          By Jim Szantor

Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric and whimsical observations

about the absurdities of contemporary life

  • The most challenging by far of my New Year’s Resolutions:  To stop ordering Chinese food . . . using a Chinese accent. 
  • Turning the tables: If I ever have robotic surgery, the bill may get paid . . . or it may not.  ("Hey, I programmed my robot to write you a check. It’s out of my hands.") 
  • Embarrassing Popcorn Pratfall:  I brashly predicted recently that Liz Cheney would be Time magazine’s Person of the Year, so my apologies to Ukraine’s valiant president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy (yes, 2 y’s by his recent edict), Weak-kneed disclosure: I thought he had won it last year, but that honor went to—wait for it—Elon Musk! (A pratfall for Time?)
  • Elon Musk and Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Now, there’s a pair it takes a full house to beat! 
  • Santa Claus was good to me and answered my prayers:  I got a David Gruber Chia Pet!  For my March birthday, I’ve got my bid in for a David Gruber Bobblehead. (What, you were thinking a Hupy & Abraham?) 
  • Spendthrift: Anyone who actually buys matches, calendars and self-address labels.
  • Language Rant Alert! In the pantheon of loathsome, bordering-on-vulgar phrases, I have a special distain for any one containing the word “sucks.”  As in, “You suck!”  “That sucks.”
  • Origin?  One theory ascribes it to a frequent utterance of one Bart Simpson, central character in an “edgy”--and in my view imbecilic and inexplicably popular--cartoon show. 
  • Memo to inarticulate barbarians (please forgive the redundancy . . . and not you, Popcorn fans):  If it weren’t for the sucking reflex, you never would have survived infancy, so please find a less unsavory/cringeworthy way to express your displeasure with a person, place of thing. 
  • Cold-wave note:  I see that the media is now referring to the homeless seeking refuge in warming shelters as the “unhoused.”  I’m sure this PC/woke-ish promotion makes them feel so much better.  (It doesn’t warm their hearts . . . or anything else, either!)
  • jimjustsaying’s contribution to the meteorological lexicon:  Slint:  You know, when it’s “snowing” but it looks more like airborne lint than snowflakes, “slint” is a more accurate description, and it’s not a rare phenomenon. (“Tonight, slint developing, with slightly more slint before daybreak, turning to snowflakes before the evening rush. Chance of slint: 60 percent.”)
  • jimjustsaying’s Favorite Shakespearean character:  Hippolyta, of “A Midsummer Night's Dream.”  (If only we’d known about her when we named our first daughter!)
  • Role model for feminists? Hippolyta belonged to a skilled group of warriors called the Amazons. And because Ancient Greece was not as male-focused as many modern societies, strong women like Hippolyta were the perfect example that they were not living in a man’s world.  (Obviously, this was an outlier and not a trend that took hold in all societies.)
  • NY Post Page One of the Month (for December)

  • News reports: Bankman-Fried faces up to 115 years if convicted of all fraud-related charges.
  • POPCORN’S sentence: At least 20 years for the hair!
  • True confessions: I made the mistake of starting to smoke e-cigarettes. Now I'm addicted to batteries!
  • Overheard: "Next fall my 4-year-old Johnny will be starting preschool."
  • No! He! Won’t! He'll be in SCHOOL; there's nothing "pre" about it. He will be in a room with a teacher, desks, other kids, a blackboard and won't be able to leave until the bell rings. That's SCHOOL in my book, whether it's Totland, the Sorbonne or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The only "pre" part of it is when the kid rolls out of bed, wolfs down the Pop-Tart and clambers into the minivan.
  • Madonna, your plane is boarding. Your popularity ended about five re-inventions ago.
  • DRUDGING AROUND: Fatherhood changes men’s brains . . . Buddhist temple left without monks as all test positive for meth . . . Reckless driver turns out to be dog . . . Hospital patient switched off neighbor’s “noisy” oxygen machine . . . Philly gas station hires heavily armed guards . . . Bodybuilders dying as coaches, judges encourage extreme measures . . . Suit: TGI Friday’s “mozzarella sticks” don’t contain mozzarella . . . Ohio couple married 79 years die hours apart . . . For many, mourning pets harder than grieving people . . . Recruited for Navy Seals, many sailors wind up scraping paint . . . More than half of Christians believe we’re living in End Times . . . Man who posed in bathtub full of cash to plead guilty in bitcoin theft . . . Illegals crawl out of sewer manholes, sneak into TX . . . Parents using baby monitors to track older children—even teens . . . Man with explosives stored in rectum sparks bomb scare. (Thanks as always to Matt Drudge and his intrepid band of aggregators.)
  • jimjustsaying’s Party Ice-Breaker of the Month: “Say [actual partygoer’s name here], did you know that ‘Mickey Mouse’ in Spanish is ‘El Raton Miguelito’?” (I’ve also seen it as “Miguel Rodencito”--in other words, Michael Little Rodent!--on a comic book a former colleague purchased while on a media-exchange program trip to Havana.)
  • All-Overrated Club: The G Team--Greg Gutfeld, Geraldo Rivera and Gisele Bündchen.
  • Fame is Fleeting Dept.: Looks like the day of the “Rodgers’ Rate” has disappeared from State Farm ads. Replacing the GB QB is the new glamor boy, Patrick Mahomes. Could be it’s because the KC Chiefs are a division-leading team and the woebegone Pack probably won’t make the playoffs? Nahhh . . . .
  • Demographic dystopia: A number of trends are coming together to give rise to "kinless seniors," the New York Times reports.
  • There are nearly a million Americans over 55 living without a spouse or a partner, any children or siblings because boomers have lower marriage rates than their parents and more have remained childless. Also, the divorce rate among couples who have crossed age 50 has risen. Rates of “kinlessness” are projected to grow as generations younger than boomers are even likelier to be aging alone.
  • It’s mind-boggling to think that Taylor Swift sold more tickets in 10 minutes than Ella Fitzgerald or Peggy Lee probably did in a lifetime. Still trying to get my head around that.
  • Guys who go up on power poles to fix outages during storms should make much more money than they probably do. Much more. But in our warped society we pay star quarterbacks $50 million a year to play about 20 games. Thus Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers make about $650,000 per quarter—or 15 game minutes—which is about 10 times what schoolteachers make in an entire year—if they’re lucky! God Bless America, land of equal opportunity and the level playing field. (And don’t get me started on college coaches making from $15 to $20 million a year. That’s why we have classes taught by teaching assistants (grad students) or “adjunct professors” (translation: poorly paid part-timers). There’s no money left in the budget to foster the kind of quality education that justifies the astronomical tuition.
  • Whatever happened to Martin Mull?
  • jimjustsaying’s Police Euphemism of the Century: "baton." I guess it sounds better than billy club! (Or whuppin' stick!)
  • He said it: "She looks like she was poured into her clothes and forgot to say 'when.' "--P.G. Wodehouse
  • She said it: “Never marry a man you wouldn't want to be divorced from."--Nora Ephron
  • If life-saving penicillin comes from mold, wouldn't it be great if they found a way to harness flesh-eating bacteria to make the miracle diet drug that millions are praying for? We all know there's a lot of flesh out there that needs to be eaten. (I'm just sayin'. . . ) More than a few great things have been discovered by accident.
  • One nice thing about being a busboy: Not a high-paying job, absolutely no status--but not one you're likely to take home with you, either!
  • I recently ridiculed the practice of newspapers reporting what the defendant was wearing. I’m also amused by the fetish of the media for photographing a defendant on his/her (usually his) daily walk to and from the courtroom. They never say anything except “No comment”; nothing ever happens. But there they are--the phalanx of shabbily dressed lensmen (cargo pants seem to be de rigueur) and lenswomen, shooting away without letup as if they're recording the Second Coming. It's the "In case something happens" rationale, lame though it is.
  • And then there are all those little gnome-like creatures you see scurrying around on their hands and knees at press conferences or presidential debates to get those precious and oh-so-rare photos of preening, overexposed politicians standing at a podium.
  • Make no mistake; I was a media member for 30 years and know the value of a free press in a free society. But some of profession’s practices need revision or scuttling--such as the misguided and wrongminded “tradition” of doing Year in Review stories in early December! That sweeps about 25 days of December news under the rug, whether it’s a major scandal, a killer storm (such as the historic pre-Christmas Snowmageddon) or an assassination. As if there is no space to fill after Jan. 1! My hat will be off to the first media outlet that breaks that mold and employs rational thought. Not optimistic.)
  • jimjustsaying’s Dine-out Tip o’ the Week: Never order "Salmon served on a Cedar Plank." Why pay $6 more for something you can't eat? Can I get a doggy bag for the plank . . . or order, say, Catfish on a Cedar Plank? Does the plank do that much?
  • What do Telly Savalas, Dyan Cannon, Peter Falk, Cloris Leachman, James Caan, Robert Redford and Rip Torn have in common--besides being actors? Answer: All of them played supporting roles in their salad days in various episodes of TV’s "The Untouchables" (1959-1963). (My, ahem, Robert Stack-as-Eliot Ness impression is impeccable, and I will do it on demand!)
  • jimjustsaying’s Faded Word of the Week: Reprobate.
  • News item:  "An Army investigation has found that potentially hundreds of remains at Arlington National Cemetery have been misidentified or misplaced."
  • Sweet Jesus, meek and mild! First, we send people overseas to die in wars of questionable justification, then we botch the burials of the hapless but valiant victims. Amazing and appalling. (The Tomb of the Unknown Unknown?)
  • Businesses or landlords that don’t clear away snow and ice should have their property taxes doubled. Make that quadrupled!
  • jimjustsaying’s Newspaper Obituary Headline Nickname of the Month: “Disco Debbie.” As in, Deborah Lynn “Disco Debbie” Steffen, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Dec. 4, 2022. R.I.P., Disco Debbie.
  • The Law of Unintended Consequences strikes again: Potheads everywhere saluted progressive Oregon for legalizing “weed” in 2014.
  • Upshot: The indoor and outdoor growing uses massive amounts of water in drought-stricken areas, contaminates the environment and employs migrant laborers who live in squalid conditions.
  • But there’s more! Police say foreign criminal gangs have become involved, from Mexico, Russia, China and other countries. Oh, what a joy it must be to live in such an enlightened state!
  • Has anyone ever seen Beyonce, Rihanna, Mariah Carey and Cardi B in the same room? It’s the same woman, I submit, rotating four different names. (Could anyone over 40 pick any of those women out of a police lineup if their life depended on it? Or name even one of their hit songs?)
  • Speaking of show business, you may have seen that Gallagher, the watermelon-smashing “comedian,” died recently, leading me to instantly recall what acid-tongued Gore Vidal said when informed that archrival and former best friend Truman Capote, had died: “Good career move.” As Capote himself often said, “Oh, that Gore!”
  • Redundancy Patrol, P Division: Price point, preplan, postpone until later.
  • “Eight candidates, including all four incompetents, are seeking the four City Council positions this year.”--Cheney (Wash.) Free Press."--“Still More Press Boners,” by Earle Tempel.
  • jimjustsaying’s Word That Doesn’t Exist But Should of the Month: Carpetpetuation. n. The act, when vacuuming, of running over a string at least a dozen times, reaching over and picking it up, examining it, then putting it back down to give the vacuum one more chance.—"More Sniglets,” Rich Hall and Friends
  • Memo to people who are always kicking off their shoes at every opportunity (even at the office): Umm, you’ve got some bad shoes there, my friend. (I don’t take mine off until bedtime most days. Good shoes pay you back—and you don’t even know you have them on.)
  • How maddening it is—and it happens often—when you go online for a computer fix of some sort, find what you’re looking for, and you’re directed to links or tabs that no longer exist. These technocrat “geekgurus” never keep up with nomenclature changes you would think would be of utmost importance and not overlooked (and why they keep making seemingly arbitrary and unnecessary changes is a mystery to me, unless the goal of these geeks is to confuse us and elevate their importance, which I suspect is the case.).
  • Same with commercial locations. We once decided to visit a store that, according to the internet, was open and thriving. When we couldn’t find it, a clerk at a nearby establishment informed us, “Oh, that place closed years ago.” Similarly, a MapQuest guide was out of date and didn’t know about a road closure outside of Madison, the state capital, making the recommended route impossible to follow. Moral: The internet is often helpful but far from infallible--very far. I now call first or check multiple sources! (Once something gets onto the ‘net, it’s apparently there forever.)
  • Today’s Latin Lesson: Est is melior ut redonum quam ut resuscipio? ("Is it better to re-gift than to re-receive?")
Special thanks to Sue Falls, this month’s Popcorn intern.

THE QUOTE RACK


America's declining life expectancy, explained

For the second straight year, life expectancy in America has dropped significantly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Dec. 22 announced that "life expectancy at birth for the U.S. population decreased from 77 years in 2020 to 76.4 years in 2021." In 2019, the average American could expect to live to be 79 years old. Now that number is 76. 

Indigenous groups, which include American Indian and Alaska native people, have suffered the worst: Life expectancy in those communities has dropped to 65.2 years from 71.8 in 2019 compared to 76.4 in 2021 from 78.8 in 2019 for white people per Politico. The U.S. life expectancy is now the lowest it has been since 1996. Why is American health doing so poorly? Here's everything you need to know:

Why is life expectancy dropping?

The two stand-out reasons for the drop are COVID-19 and overdose deaths. The number of COVID deaths increased by 20 percent from 2020 to 2021, making it the third largest cause of death, Politico continues. Accidental deaths, which include overdose deaths, were the fourth largest cause of death. 

The conditions of the pandemic, "had a magnifying effect on an already-devastating overdose crisis and exacerbated many of the stressors in society that make people more vulnerable to taking drugs," commented Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Deaths from drug overdoses increased by 16 percent in 2021 compared to 2022, clocking in at just under 107,000 casualties. This is largely attributed to the growing opioid epidemic and the rise in fentanyl usage in the U.S. 

The top two contributors to American deaths were heart disease and cancer. Some of the heart disease deaths may actually be related to the coronavirus, Time reports — both because the pandemic overwhelmed understaffed hospitals, but also because a COVID infection "can damage the heart and is thought to have raised patients' risk of dying."

"It's not a good year for the data, let's put it that way," commented CDC statistician Kenneth Kochanek.

Is the U.S. doing worse or better than other countries during the pandemic?

Worse, at least compared to our peer nations. A study in August showed that eight comparable nations actually had a "bounce back" of life expectancy following the worldwide decline due to COVID-19, The Washington Post reports. These included Belgium, Switzerland, Spain, and France. "With the vaccine available, and other pandemic control measures, a lot of other countries did recover," said Steven Woolf, professor at the Virginia Commonwealth University's School of Medicine.

The U.S. was among 12 other countries where life expectancy continued to drop, including Germany, Chile, Bulgaria, Greece, and Estonia, the Post continues. Some of the disparity is probably due to America's "don't tread on me" conservative political culture: "Those countries had more successful vaccination campaigns and populations that were more willing to take behavioral measures to prevent infections, such as wearing masks," notes The New York Times. 

Is this just a short-term thing? 

Unfortunately, no. "American life expectancy began to stagnate around 2010 — while other developed countries continued to see gains," Stat News observes. In 2018, two years before the pandemic began, The Washington Post pointed out that the U.S. was already experiencing the "longest sustained decline in expected life span at birth in a century, an appalling performance not seen in the United States since 1915 through 1918."

Researchers have struggled to find a silver bullet explanation for why American health has declined so precipitously. Theories that stagnating life expectancy can be attributed to obesity rates and opioid drug use "fail to explain a problem that feels broader," The New York Times reported back in 2016.Instead, the Los Angeles Times reported the next year, the problem appears to be driven by a range of factors, including "diseases linked to social and economic privation, a healthcare system with glaring gaps and blind spots, and profound psychological distress."

Why are indigenous communities hit so hard by this trend?

It can't be overstated: COVID has hit native communities with particular viciousness. "American Indians are 2.2 times more likely to die from COVID-19 and 3.2 times more likely to be hospitalized for the virus," NPR reports.

The biggest factor: poverty. One in four Native Americans lives below the poverty line, The New York Times reports. That leads to "inadequate access to health care, poor infrastructure, and crowded housing, much of it the legacy of broken government promises and centuries of bigotry." What's more, the newspaper points out, discrimination has been linked to "the erosion of mental and physical health, as has exposure to polluted air and water." 

Dr. Ann Bullock, a member of the Minnesota Chippewa tribe who formerly served at the Indian Health Services agency, summed it up for the newspaper: "This is simply what happens biologically to populations that are chronically and profoundly stressed and deprived of resources."

What can be done? 

First of all, there is some good news in the numbers. "Mortality's been a little better in 2022 than it was in 2020, so I think it's likely that we would see maybe a slight increase in life expectancy," the CDC's Robert Anderson told Reuters. But it's tough to say whether that trend will last through the end of the year: Deaths usually rise during the winter months.

Even if life expectancy rebounds slightly this year, though, many observers say the latest news means America needs to reconsider both health and economic policy as the country continues to emerge from the pandemic. The trend of shortening life spans is a societal problem, after all. "Life expectancy isn't really a prediction for a single individual," Kate Sheridan says at STAT News. "It's more like a check engine light — an indicator for the health of society as a whole."

Update Dec. 22, 2022: This piece has been updated with the latest figures from the CDC. 

-- Joel Mathis, Devika Rao, The Week

 Americans have ‘tip fatigue’

Tipping 20% at a sit-down restaurant is still the standard however, consumers are less inclined to give as much for a carry-out coffee or take-away snack.

“Part of it is tip fatigue,” says Eric Plam, founder and CEO of Uptip. At the Sweetly Bakery & Cafe in Battle Ground, Washington, near Portland, Oregon, customers seem to be feeling a little less generous lately. With inflation near record highs and consumers increasingly cashstrapped, a gratuity isn’t what it used to be.

“Since everything got more expensive, we’ve seen a decline in tipping,” said Sweetly’s owner, Irina Sirotkina. Like many other businesses, the bakery uses a contactless and digital payment method, which prompts you to leave a tip when you pay. There are predetermined options ranging from 15% to 25% for each transaction. “We encourage people to tip but it’s not mandatory, obviously,” Sirotkina said.

 Although the average transaction at Sweetly is less than $20, which means a gratuity would be a few dollars at most, fewer people leave anything at all. “Only around 1 in 5 people tip,” Sirotkina estimated. Even though many Americans said they would tip more than usual once business activities resumed after the Covid pandemic, consumer habits haven’t changed much in the end. Tipping 20% at a sit-down restaurant is still the standard, etiquette experts say. But there’s less consensus when it comes to a carry-out coffee or take-away snack.

Overall, tipping has remained largely flat at quick-service restaurants, according to Toast’s most recent restaurant trends report. Tips average 17%, nearly unchanged from a year ago. But when it comes to takeout, customers are tipping less--now down to 14.5%, on average, after climbing earlier in the pandemic, the restaurant software vendor found. Other payment software providers have also reported that these types of tips have fallen over the last year.

For example, Toast’s rival, Square, found that the average tip at quick-service restaurants, which includes cafes and coffee shops, fell from 17.2% to 15.2% from March 2021 to the end of February, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.

“Part of it is tip fatigue,” said Eric Plam, founder and CEO of San Francisco-based startup Uptip, which aims to facilitate cashless tipping.

 “During Covid, everyone was shell-shocked and feeling generous,” Plam said. Now, “you are starting to see people pull back a little bit,” he noted, particularly when it comes to point-of-sale tipping, which prompts customers to tip even before they’ve received the product or service. “This point-of-sale tipping is what people resist the most,” he said, “compelling you to tip right there on the spot.”

 However, transactions are increasingly cashless and workers in the service industry are earning minimum or less than minimum wage so having a method to tip is critical, Plam added. In fact, the average wage for fast-food and counter workers is $14.34 an hour for full-time staff and $12.14 for part-time employees-- including tips--according to the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

 A landmark bill in California aims to raise the minimum wage to up to $22 an hour for fast-food and quick-service workers at chains with more than 100 locations nationally. California’s current wage floor is $15.50 an hour. President Joe Biden and many Democratic lawmakers have pushed for a $15 hourly wage floor across the U.S. The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and has remained unchanged since 2009.

“We are sympathetic, but it doesn’t feel good,” Plam said of point-of-sale tipping. “Now that the pandemic is essentially over, it's starting to shake out now,” he added. “The good news is we’re rethinking it.

--Jessica Dickler, CNBC

Brain fog:  Most misunderstood Long Covid symptom

On March 25, 2020, Hannah Davis was texting with two friends when she realized that she couldn’t understand one of their messages. In hindsight, that was the first sign that she had COVID-19. It was also her first experience with the phenomenon known as “brain fog,” and the moment when her old life contracted into her current one.

She once worked in artificial intelligence and analyzed complex systems without hesitation, but now “runs into a mental wall” when faced with tasks as simple as filling out forms. Her memory, once vivid, feels frayed and fleeting. Former mundanities— buying food, making meals, cleaning up—can be agonizingly difficult. Her inner world —what she calls “the extras of thinking, like daydreaming, making plans, imagining”—is gone.

 The fog “is so encompassing,” she told me, “It affects every area of my life.”

For more than 900 days, while other long-COVID symptoms have waxed and waned, her brain fog has never really lifted. Of long COVID’s many possible symptoms, brain fog “is by far one of the most disabling and destructive,” Emma Ladds, a primary-care specialist from the University of Oxford, told me. It’s also among the most misunderstood. It wasn’t even included in the list of possible COVID symptoms when the coronavirus pandemic first began.

But 20 to 30 percent of patients report brain fog three months after their initial infection, as do 65 to 85 percent of the long-haulers who stay sick for much longer. It can afflict people who were never ill enough to need a ventilator—or any hospital care. And it can affect young people in the prime of their mental lives.

Long-haulers with brain fog say that it’s like none of the things that people—including many medical professionals—jeeringly compare it to. It is more profound than the clouded thinking that accompanies hangovers, stress, or fatigue.

For Davis, it has been distinct from and worse than her experience with ADHD. It is not psychosomatic and involves real changes to the structure and chemistry of the brain. It is not a mood disorder: “If anyone is saying that this is due to depression and anxiety, they have no basis for that, and data suggest it might be the other direction,” Joanna Hellmuth, a neurologist at UC San Francisco, told me.

And despite its nebulous name, brain fog is not an umbrella term for every possible mental problem. At its core, Hellmuth said, it is almost always a disorder of “executive function”—the set of mental abilities that includes focusing attention, holding information in mind, and blocking out distractions. These skills are so foundational that when they crumble, much of a person’s cognitive edifice collapses. Anything involving concentration, multitasking, and planning—that is, almost everything important—becomes absurdly arduous.

 “It raises what are unconscious processes for healthy people to the level of conscious decision making,” Fiona Robertson, a writer based in Aberdeen, Scotland, told me. For example, Robertson’s brain often loses focus mid-sentence, leading to what she jokingly calls “so-yeah syndrome”: “I forget what I’m saying, tail off, and go, ‘So, yeah …’” she said. Brain fog stopped Kristen Tjaden from driving, because she’d forget her destination en route. For more than a year, she couldn’t read, either, because making sense of a series of words had become too difficult. Angela Meriquez Vázquez told me it once took her two hours to schedule a meeting over email: She’d check her calendar, but the information would slip in the second it took to bring up her inbox. At her worst, she couldn’t unload a dishwasher, because identifying an object, remembering where it should go, and putting it there was too complicated.

Memory suffers, too, but in a different way from degenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s. The memories are there, but with executive function malfunctioning, the brain neither chooses the important things to store nor retrieves that information efficiently.

Davis, who is part of the Patient-Led Research Collaborative, can remember facts from scientific papers, but not events. When she thinks of her loved ones, or her old life, they feel distant. “Moments that affected me don’t feel like they’re part of me anymore,” she said. “It feels like I am a void and I’m living in a void.”

Most people with brain fog are not so severely affected, and gradually improve with time. But even when people recover enough to work, they can struggle with minds that are less nimble than before. “We’re used to driving a sports car, and now we are left with a jalopy,” Vázquez said. In some professions, a jalopy won’t cut it. “I’ve had surgeons who can’t go back to surgery, because they need their executive function,” Monica Verduzco-Gutierrez, a rehabilitation specialist at UT Health San Antonio, told me.

Robertson, meanwhile, was studying theoretical physics in college when she first got sick, and her fog occluded a career path that was once brightly lit. “I used to sparkle, like I could pull these things together and start to see how the universe works,” she told me. “I’ve never been able to access that sensation again, and I miss it, every day, like an ache.”

That loss of identity was as disruptive as the physical aspects of the disease, which “I always thought I could deal with … if I could just think properly,” Robertson said. “This is the thing that’s destabilized me most.”

 Robertson predicted that the pandemic would trigger a wave of cognitive impairment in March 2020. Her brain fog began two decades earlier, likely with a different viral illness, but she developed the same executive-function impairments that long-haulers experience, which then worsened when she got COVID last year. That specific constellation of problems also befalls many people living with HIV, epileptics after seizures, cancer patients experiencing so-called chemo brain, and people with several complex chronic illnesses such as fibromyalgia. It’s part of the diagnostic criteria for myalgic encephalomyelitis, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome, or ME/CFS—a condition that Davis and many other long-haulers now have.

Brain fog existed well before COVID, affecting many people whose conditions were stigmatized, dismissed, or neglected. “For all of those years, people just treated it like it’s not worth researching,” Robertson told me. “So many of us were told, Oh, it’s just a bit of a depression.” Several clinicians I spoke with argued that the term brain fog makes the condition sound like a temporary inconvenience and deprives patients of the legitimacy that more medicalized language like cognitive impairment would bestow.

 But Aparna Nair, a historian of disability at the University of Oklahoma, noted that disability communities have used the term for decades, and there are many other reasons behind brain fog’s dismissal beyond terminology. (A surfeit of syllables didn’t stop fibromyalgia and myalgic encephalomyelitis from being trivialized.) For example, Hellmuth noted that in her field of cognitive neurology, “virtually all the infrastructure and teaching” centers on degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, in which rogue proteins afflict elderly brains.

 Few researchers know that viruses can cause cognitive disorders in younger people, so few study their effects. “As a result, no one learns about it in medical school,” Hellmuth said. And because “there’s not a lot of humility in medicine, people end up blaming patients instead of looking for answers,” she said. People with brain fog also excel at hiding it: None of the long-haulers I’ve interviewed sounded cognitively impaired. But at times when her speech is obviously sluggish, “nobody except my husband and mother see me,” Robertson said.

The stigma that long-haulers experience also motivates them to present as normal in social situations or doctor appointments, which compounds the mistaken sense that they’re less impaired than they claim—and can be debilitatingly draining. “They’ll do what is asked of them when you’re testing them, and your results will say they were normal,” David Putrino, who leads a long-COVID rehabilitation clinic at Mount Sinai, told me. “It’s only if you check in on them two days later that you’ll see you’ve wrecked them for a week.”

“We also don’t have the right tools for measuring brain fog,” Putrino said. Doctors often use the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, which was designed to uncover extreme mental problems in elderly people with dementia, and “isn’t validated for anyone under age 55,” Hellmuth told me. Even a person with severe brain fog can ace it. More sophisticated tests exist, but they still compare people with the population average rather than their previous baseline. “A high-functioning person with a decline in their abilities who falls within the normal range is told they don’t have a problem,” Hellmuth said. This pattern exists for many long-COVID symptoms: Doctors order inappropriate or overly simplistic tests, whose negative results are used to discredit patients’ genuine symptoms.

 It doesn’t help that brain fog (and long COVID more generally) disproportionately affects women, who have a long history of being labeled as emotional or hysterical by the medical establishment. But every patient with brain fog “tells me the exact same story of executive-function symptoms,” Hellmuth said. “If people were making this up, the clinical narrative wouldn’t be the same.”

--Ed Yong, The Atlantic


THE LINK TANK

15 reasons you should be hopeful for 2023

From books to batteries to Ketanji Brown Jackson, there's reason to be optimistic

https://www.bing.com/ck/a?!&&p=b800ae245b813eacJmltdHM9MTY3MjA5OTIwMCZpZ3VpZD0yMjVlY2E0Mi0wNGRiLTYzNDQtMTgxNC1kYjZmMDViOTYyN2MmaW5zaWQ9NTE3NQ&ptn=3&hsh=3&fclid=225eca42-04db-6344-1814-db6f05b9627c&psq=washington+post+2023+hopeful&u=a1aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cud2FzaGluZ3RvbnBvc3QuY29tL29waW5pb25zLzIwMjIvMTIvMjcvcmVhc29ucy1ob3BlLTIwMjMv&ntb=1

The homeownership society was a mistake

Real estate should be treated as consumption, not as an investment

https://www.bing.com/ck/a?!&&p=9a59b4fa71096408JmltdHM9MTY3MjAxMjgwMCZpZ3VpZD0yMjVlY2E0Mi0wNGRiLTYzNDQtMTgxNC1kYjZmMDViOTYyN2MmaW5zaWQ9NTE5OQ&ptn=3&hsh=3&fclid=225eca42-04db-6344-1814-db6f05b9627c&psq=demsas+atlantic+home+ownership&u=a1aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cudGhlYXRsYW50aWMuY29tL25ld3NsZXR0ZXJzL2FyY2hpdmUvMjAyMi8xMi9ob21lb3duZXJzaGlwLXJlYWwtZXN0YXRlLWludmVzdG1lbnQtcmVudGluZy82NzI1MTEv&ntb=1

Our tote bags, ourselves

How a humble bag became a humble brag

https://www.bing.com/ck/a?!&&p=cb6c054ffeb931e4JmltdHM9MTY3MjAxMjgwMCZpZ3VpZD0yMjVlY2E0Mi0wNGRiLTYzNDQtMTgxNC1kYjZmMDViOTYyN2MmaW5zaWQ9NTIwMA&ptn=3&hsh=3&fclid=225eca42-04db-6344-1814-db6f05b9627c&psq=kappler+walrus+tote&u=a1aHR0cHM6Ly90aGV3YWxydXMuY2EvdG90ZS1iYWcv&ntb=1

 Sam Bankman-Fried doesn't read.  That tells us everything we need to know

This means-to-an-end worldview may be the key to understanding his career


Much room for improvement in electric vehicles

Manufacturer flaws, customer behavior are defeating the purpose

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjQr7PU7Nv7AhUchIkEHQCoD6gQFnoECBIQAQ&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.bloomberg.com%2Fnews%2Farticles%2F2022-11-29%2Felectric-cars-need-sex-appeal-and-better-quality-and-charging-in-2023&usg=AOvVaw26YGjzvblgkRByWCqECTA8

On second thought, just throw plastic away

New report calls recycling “a dead-end street”

https://www.city-journal.org/greenpeace-admits-recycling-doesnt-work

Inside German’s legalized prostitution

Taking a new look at the country’s ‘pimp trade

https://unherd.com/2022/11/germany-europes-bordello/

LAGNIAPPE

 


THE ONION MANIFESTO

By Jim Szantor

Some people do not cry when onions are peeled, chopped sliced or diced.  Others cry when they are merely mentioned or even implied.  What is it about the allium cepa that causes it to be de rigueur in recipes, seemingly mandatory at McDonald’s and compulsory in casseroles?

What magical properties accrue to this vile vegetable of the hollow, tubular leaves and edible, rounded bulb? What culinary clout does it hold? Do onions cure cancer, prevent baldness or remove unsightly age spots? Are they a surefire Covid killer?

Were onions served at the Last Supper?  Does Taylor Swift eat them?

Some answers, assertions and affirmations in a moment. First, though, a position paper of sorts on the plight of one who must make his way as a consumer in an onion-obsessed world.

If the onion does to you all the things it does to someone who cannot stand, bear, countenance, abide or otherwise tolerate its taste, you know what it is:

--To sit down to a meal anywhere and find the main dish (not to mention the appetizer, soup or salad) loaded with the loathsome ingredient.  How to negotiate this culinary minefield politely if not furtively without offending the hostess?  How to suppress the whimpering and retching attendant to the ordeal?

--To wait endlessly—punitively—at fast-food establishments that package the item with other, more respectable and comestible condiments.  Kudos to the franchises that make the onion an option; a pox on those that operate under the assumption that those little white, chopped interlopers will be loved and consumed with relish by all.

--To grab eagerly for a new entrée in the supermarket’s frozen food section, only to recoil when it is discovered that onions--dehydrated, flaked, powdered or fuel-injected--are part of the bargain, take it or leave it. (In the finest of print, of course.)

It is a mystery why the onions are so omnipresent in the gustatory scheme of things, when to some they are slimy if boiled, repugnant if raw and palatable only if fried to a crisp—to such a crisp, that is, that only the crisp, and not the actual onion essence, is tasted.  (Full disclosure: I recall quite fondly the Onion Straws served by a New Orleans eatery, a close encounter I have yet to live down, there being is a living witness.)

The true enemy of the onion feels not only persecuted but also triumphant when able to detect the faintest evidence of its flavoring.  Cook a beef stew with boiled onions in a mesh bag and remove them prior to serving? The congenital onion-hater can tell.   That’s because the onion has little subtlety, is totally devoid of finesse.  It always lingers near the scene of the crime, fouling the breath and otherwise making its ingestion hard to forget.  But this seasoned onion adversary survives each close encounter, his palate and olfactory glands able to detect its unpleasant properties everywhere.

It could be argued that eating a hamburger with onions is—dare I say it?—an antisocial act.  My hamburger with tomato and pickles flies under the radar, even in close quarters.  Someone eating one loaded with onions in whatever form?  He or she is, in effect, broadcasting with appallingly broad bandwidth, callously indifferent to the consequences!

The onion’s raison d’etre?

According to noted chef Jean Banchet of Le Francaise in the Chicago suburb of Wheeling’s fabled Restaurant Row, “Onions add a lot of flavor, a unique flavor, to soups, sauces and salads.”  He prefers cooked over raw, though, and opts for the shallot, an onion cousin, for fish and bordelaise sauce.

The onion, in the allium giganteum genus, is a real attention-getter, both in the garden and in cut flower arrangements.  It is one, however, that even Mr. Anti-Onion can appreciate, for this flowery version is not to be eaten.

But the more common garden variety is one that a former colleague, Chicago Tribune food editor Joanne Will, says “is worth crying over.”

“Onions not only enrich other flavors but they make a statement of their own.  Just think of some of the things onionophiles would have to give up: deeply browned and caramelized sweet onion soup, boiled baby onions saturated with cream sauce (a must with Thanksgiving turkey), crisply delicious, battered onion rings.”

To a close and cherished associate (one who has prepared this author’s meals for 53-plus years), the onion is an ingredient both pleasurable and problematic.  To cater to her husband’s unfathomable oddity, meal preparation is fraught with strategies, dodges, reluctant omissions and, sometimes, downright deceit. In short, to keep peace in the family, she has to keep the onions out of the crock pot.

There are untold hardships for one who was born unequal in that his tase buds are out of step with the rest of humanity’s.  The onion, in its ubiquity, has made coping more cumbersome, ordering more odious and tasting more tentative for the afflicted.  Unquestionably, the onion is an affront, an imposition, equally detestable, whether served by gracious hostesses, celebrated chefs or sullen countermen.

But if you are among the majority who cannot live without onions, by all means indulge and enjoy.  This is only an open admission of an aberration, a venting of a lifelong loathing, not a produce section polemic.  Some of my best friends buy, cook eat and even grow them. But they’ve never grown on me.

Until the onion makes the headlines (remember the Great Potato Famine, the cranberry scare of 1959, Red Dye No. 2 and other periodic pantry-related panics), it will be the same old story for those who can’t stand them, those who dream of the day when restaurant signs and menus everywhere will contain these words:

No smoking, no substitutions, no onions.


ODE TO THE GREASY SPOON

BY JIM SZANTOR

The chili could be malicious and downright unforgiving.  The omelets sometimes look like yellow Play-Doh flecked with foreign bodies.  The coffee isn’t strong enough to defend itself, and the waitress puts the plates down with an offhand finality.  Breakfast served any time.  Eggs any style.  The soup? It’s navy bean.

 It’s easy to put down the greasy spoon, that ubiquitous testament to the tacky and the Tums.  But by whatever name—luncheonette, diner, café, grill, coffee shop, ptomaine parlor—it used to account for 40-50 percent of the eat-out dollar, according to industry sources.  Now?  Not so much, as changing tastes and the sweep of urban renewal have relegated it into a virtual museum piece--a slow-food square peg in a round hole of a fast-food, instant-everything, drive-through and highly hyphenated universe. Some things just sort of happen, with no grand design or Machiavellian malice aforethought.

 But the greasy spoon was a slice of Americana that clung to the fork with nary a nod to fad or fashion.  There were no vegetarian plates, as meat and potatoes carried the day and the night and the mortgage.  The Serv-Naps filed out of their countertop compartments as the daily duet of eat-and-runs and lingerers played their way through an unconducted arrangement.  The beef was “govt.-inspected”—but did it pass?  There was a counter-top jukebox selector, with some pop, some country, some rock but definitely no Rachmaninoff.

You know the place.  Everyone, whether through happenstance, resignation or momentary indifference has ended up at one of these Edward Hopper-esque establishments, clutching a greasy knife or fork. How the spoon, which generally just stirred the coffee, got left holding the bag is a mysteryforever lost in the mists of time.

Whatever their culinary merits, one could develop an irrational affection for the emporiums of this genre.  And they were more than eating places.  Sociologically they could be an over-the-counter salve for the tattered psyches of the urban disenfranchised, who hoped they wouldn’t close on Christmas and trap them in their cheap hotel rooms.  They were sort of halfway hash house social clubs, with no membership list but plenty of dues, where the help was as transient as the trade.

Some of these motley establishments were actually respectable—sometimes good—and do not deserve to be painted in such tawdry tones.  Almost always locally owned, they were probably more consistent at their level than some tonier “destination dining” spots and had a more devoted clientele, who prided themselves on being regulars, never had to state their orders and were probably as good as the National Guard should someone get surly with the waitress.  Perhaps the key to their fate is how many such places are opening these days, not how many are closing.

But while there’s time, the eyes above the menu survey the scene and laugh and marvel at a few things:

--The waitress always looks like she is glad they sre out of whatever they are out of.

--The catsup bottle says “restaurant pack,” whatever that’s supposed to mean.

--The busboy is a strong man--a bit too strong—but he didn’t shower up with Irish Spring.

--There’s a fill-up-the-sugar-container fetish that is hard to fathom.  Today’s two fingers’ worth on top of yesterday’s two fingers’ worth.  The sugar at the bottom was refined in 1952.

--The “chef” has more tattoos than specialties and thinks “Guide Michelin” plays for the Montreal Canadiens.

--The cream pies and such are kept at a tongue-numbing 33 degrees.

--The sandwich plates are larger than they need to be, but the dinner plates. . . .

--The cashier/owner always seems to be eating ice cream out of a coffee cup on a stool near the cash register.

--They honor the “law” that says coleslaw shall be served in flimsy paper or plastic cups and in minute amounts.

--The spaghetti always comes with “rich meat sauce.”

--The menu always has an item or two that no one has ever ordered.  Who orders Red Snapper in places like this?

--If you want something to go, you have to stand in a special place, probably so they won’t confuse you with people who prefer to eat standing up with their hands in their pockets.

--The floor is usually brown-and-yellow tile squares, in accordance with the Seedy Restaurant Color Scheme Act of 1942.

--Some old guy always comes in about 10 p.m. and orders a bowl of bran cereal.

---The menu is a Sargasso Sea of misspelled names and fanciful if not fraudulent descriptions.  From the Broiler.  From the Sea.  But never From the Freezer.

--The server never fills in all those bureaucratic squares at the top of the “guest check” and writes diagonally across the lined form.  What’s more, she has a Ph.D. in abbreviations.

--One of the customers always looks like he is doing his income tax at one of the tables.

--Somebody always walks by the window and waves in just before he disappears.

--You’re the only one at the counter, and some guy walks in and sits right next to you.

--The french-fried shrimp comes with enough cocktail sauce to cover about two pieces.

--The table’s wobble is always half-corrected with a dirty folded napkin or three.

--The clock is always stopped at something like 2:42.

--The Muzak is always playing something like “Never on Sunday” or “Nom Domenticar.”

--The cook  flip-slides the plates across the high stainless-steel counter, and they always stop short, as if equipped with disk brakes.

--The cashier always puts your change down on a spikey rubber thing that looks like an oversized scalp massager.

****************************************************************************

In the early morning lull, after the midnight rush hour subsides, the buzz of the fluorescent now equals the sizzle of the grill as the beat cop walks in and sinks into the house booth.

 “Say, where’s Sally?  She off tonight?”

“Nah, she quit.  Went back with her old man.”

“Oh . . . . Say, you got any a that meat loaf left.  Haven’t eaten all day.”

“Nah, meat loaf’s out.  All’s I got left is thueringer.”

“Thueringer, huh.  Well . . . gimme a piece of that blueberry.”

(Illustration:  Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks,” 1942)


Forecast Follies (or . . . "Here's Jim with the Weather")

Mark Twain famously said, ”Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” 

And since reports of Mr. Twain’s death were not highly exaggerated, I’d like to fill in for him and address something we apparently can’t do anything about, either—the nonsensical, downright insulting barrage of verbiage issuing forth daily from what used to be called TV “weathermen” (and they were all of that gender back in the day) but are now known as “meteorologists,” as if space rocks were an omnipresent factor in our lives.  As in, “60 percent chance of precipitation by daybreak, with 0.000001 percent chance of meteor collision.”  (Meteor showers do occur, but usually are not perilous enough to cancel your picnic plans. They have yet to be seen in the Bus Stop Forecasts or the Car Wash Advisories that “humanize” these bloated segments.)

The weather portions (there are usually two—a fairly brief “teaser” early on and later, the Big Production) of most TV newscasts are, first of all, way too long (and coupled with all those time-wasting teasers about “what’s coming up,” leave precious little time for what we actually tune in for—news).  We don’t need to know where the Alberta Clipper fizzled, that an El Nino is in mid-formation or that a front in central Montana caused a “dusting” in northern Iowa.  And as for those “pockets of snow” we were supposed to get last night, I looked in mine and, blessedly, found none. But the station has paid serious coin for all of the glitzy graphics and radar capabilities, and by God, they are going to be used, if even just to show us what the rainfall looks like in downtown Racine “right at this very moment.”  Gripping.

And then there is the universal, comically contrived “personalization” factor, apparently de rigueur on all stations. It’s never “Thursday’s forecast,” it’s (ahem), “the forecast for your Thursday . . . .”  One can only envision the rapturous glow viewers must feel when luxuriating in the warmth of that gratuitous pronoun! (As if that forecast applies only to you, no one else. Ah, exclusivity.)

If one were to awaken from a 30-year coma, he or she would probably be mystified not only by cellphones, laptops and GPS devices but also by the existence of a curious phenomenon known as The Weather Channel: All weather, all the time--a nonstop barrage of jargon, gaudy graphics and arcane factoids.  How did we ever exist without it? When it’s a slow weather day (and in this day of acute climate change, there’s always a crisis on the front burner somewhere), footage of past calamities will fill the bill for weather junkies or the aficionados of disaster porn.

Those with (ahem) backgrounds as editors find the nightly weather segments to be cringefests in the extreme.  Temps don’t just drop into the 20s, they “drop down,” as if “dropping up” were a physical possibility.  Is snow or rain in the forecast? No, we’ll have “snow showers” or “rain showers.”  And it’s never just “sun”; it’s “sunshine,” as if that extra syllable ramps up the warmth.  These folks never pass up an opportunity to gild the lily, because we’re often told of the possibility of “rain events” or “snow events,” which leads me, at least, to wonder if I will need a ticket, if there will be guest speakers and if refreshments will be served.  (Spotty Showers?  That was my clown name back in the day, a story to be told when the Vernal Equinox rolls around.  Which this year, in the Northern Hemisphere, will be at 10:33 a.m. CST on March 20.  Mark your calendar.)

But my pique rises to fever pitch in winter, when we’re often told during our seven-month layered-look season to “bundle up,” as if we lifelong Midwesterners have no prior experience with winter weather--as if we had all just parachuted in from Jamaica in our underwear and had no idea on how to adorn ourselves in these brutal climes.  We don’t need to be told how to dress when icicles form—we’ve been there, done that—and resent the insinuation. One of the local weather wordsmiths hails from San Diego, and he’s telling us what to wear?  Outrageous.  I’d like to send him back to sunny California on his surfboard or his skateboard, preferably when the barometric pressure equals the dew point and, optimally, on a jet stream.

More and more women are seen these days holding forth during TV weather segments, and they have proven themselves every bit the equal of the men—long-winded and grammatically challenged. Positive role models apparently are non-existent; the often-parodied “weather bunnies” are blessedly a thing of the past (their anatomical attributes far outweighed their academic credentials), and the first exemplary female trailblazer with any gravitas has yet to be found. 

So please, Mr., Mrs. or Ms. Meteorologist, do us all a favor:  Stop behaving as if you are getting paid by the word, spare me the details about weather phenomena that have no bearing on our locale and, most of all, stop insulting our intelligence.  Chill out, stick to the weather and let us worry about our wardrobes.  Failing that, my fondest wish is that I could take all of you, get you all bundled up and sent to the Sahara.  There’s a 99.99 percent chance that you won’t need an umbrella or have to worry about a lake effect, a polar vortex or banal banter with the anchor desk. 

And now here’s Al with the Sports.

--Jim Szantor  


jimjustplaying

THE SOCRATIC METHOD?

As Socrates famously wrote, "The unexamined life is not worth living." One would well posit  that the unchallenged life is not worth living.  Or, if it is,  not as satisfying.

Most of my music-related activity since leaving the Air Force Band in late 1969 has been as an author and critic, my playing restricted solely to playing along with records at home.

Soloist Jim Szantor as lead alto David Bixler gives the cutoff on the final chord.

But that changed on Aug. 11 when I performed as a guest soloist on clarinet with the fabled Birch Creek Jazz Orchestra, a big band made up of some of the best jazz players in the country, comprising as they do the faculty that teaches the students who come to Egg Harbor in Door County for two-week sessions of intensive training and performance opportunities.  It's sort of a musical boot camp but with kindly but highly decorated instructors.  

My feature spot was "Ballad for Benny" a tune written by the late, great jazz composer and saxophonist Oliver Nelson, who was commissioned by Benny Goodman to write new material for the band's historic 1962 tour of the Soviet Union.   It was such a  significant cultural/political event back then that Walter Cronkite often led the CBS Nightly News with the band's latest exploits.

The 17-piece Birch Creek Jazz Orchestra prior to my introduction.


This tune was recorded by the Oliver Nelson Orchestra (with the great Phil Woods in a rare outing on clarinet instead of his usual lustrous alto sax) but never performed publicly in this country--till now.  If you do an internet search on some of the illustrious players in the band behind me --Dennis Mackrel, Clay Jenkins, Doug Stone, David Bixler, Tanya Darby, to name a few--you'll see why I'm so proud to have been selected to perform with them.


Part of the evening's program.
It was an oppressively muggy night (close to 100 percent humidity) in the un-air-conditioned hall, making intonation more of a challenge than usual. It took some months of chipping away at the rust that had accumulated over the years on my woodwind chops, but I was determined to have one last dance, so to speak, with the idiom that I have loved for a lifetime.  To paraphrase the late Karl Wallenda of the famed aerial troupe The Flying Wallendas, "Life is the bandstand.  The rest is just waiting."  

Luckily for me, the wait is over.