Wednesday, March 1, 2023


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.

The book is also available at:


                                                                   By Jim Szantor

Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric 

and whimsical observations

about the absurdities of contemporary life

  • What's the difference between a dingus, a doohickey and a thingamabob?    (If you don’t know, ask what’shisname.)
  • If St. Patrick were to come back to life, I hope he would drive all the snakes out of office!  (But . . . where do you start???)
  • Remember when your biggest concern at school was whether you would pass algebra or geometry and not whom you would encounter in which bathroom?
  • There are two types of men in the world:  Those who carry pocketknives, and those who don't.
  • Whose job is it to make sure there's at least one partially green potato chip in every bag?
  • Speaking of jobs: I've never seen anyone in grocery produce departments putting those confounded stickers on apples and peppers, but there they are!  How do they get there?  Is there a machine? If so, how does it apply said stickers without damaging the items? If it's done manually, that's got to be one tedious task.  (Where is “60 Minutes” when we really need it?)
  • The one-stop-shopping concept has been honed to a fine edge in northern Wisconsin.  You can rent a video, get a hunting or fishing license and buy a bag of night crawlers--all in the same store!  Try doing that in Midtown Manhattan!
  • (Actually, there are plenty of night crawlers in Midtown Manhattan, but they’re not the kind any self-respecting fisherman would want to be seen with.) 
  • Overheard: “I hate to spread rumors, but what else can you do with them?”
  • jimjustsaying’s Party Ice-Breaker of the Week: "Say, [actual partygoer's name here], did you know that Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis pronounced her first name in the French way: Zhack-LEEN?" (Feel free to drop this in during any lull in any conversation.)
  • Why you're running late:  According to a recent study, traffic can slow even without heavy volume, because of driver reaction time. Even when the number of vehicles shouldn't tax a road, "a small perturbation—such as a slight deceleration by one car—can ripple through the cars behind them, as they brake in reaction." 
  • Japanese researchers assigned roughly two dozen drivers to cruise along a closed circular track at about 20 miles per hour. After some time, a jam developed, and the cars within it ground to a halt--even though no one ahead of them actually stopped!
  • jimjustsaying’s Doofus Driver of the Week:  His car had a bumper sticker reading "Why am I the only person on the planet who knows how to drive?" His car--I think you're already ahead of me here--collided with a guard rail on a New York City highway and flipped over.  No serious injuries resulted.
  • Quiz answer:  Ray Flaherty.  (The quiz question appears later in this column.)
  • “I broke a mirror the other day.  It’s supposed to bring seven years of bad luck, but my lawyer got it down to five!”—Steven Wright
  • “Nothing in life is as important as you think when you are thinking about it."—Nobel Prize winner D.J. Kahneman, in the best-selling "Thinking, Fast and Slow."  (He calls it The Focusing Illusion.)
  • Wouldn't it be funny if two speed-readers met while speed-dating . . . and their first date was running a marathon together?  Talk about a whirlwind romance!
  • Redundancy Patrol:  Cease and desist, fellow classmate, native habitat.
  • “Mrs. Gunther said that Mr. Thomas, her boarder, was just like one of the family. He was practically no bather at all.”—Denver Post, via “Still More Press Boners,” by Earle Tempel.
  • jimjustsaying’s Word That Doesn’t Exist But Should of the Month: Exaspirin. n. Any bottle of pain reliever with an impossible-to-remove cotton wad at the top.—“More Sniglets,” Rich Hall and Friends.
  • Another entry in the Wisconsin Town I Didn't Know Existed Until I Saw it Mentioned in a Newspaper Obituary Sweepstakes:  Cecil, Wis. Previous entries: Athelstane, Walhain, Duck Creek, Breed, Anston, Sobieski, Amberg, Osseo, Angelica, Brazeau, Waukechon, Sugar Camp, Kossuth, Lessor, Kunesh, Pulcifer, Cato, Florence, Greenleaf, Eaton, Poygan, Hofa Park, Hilbert, Hollandtown, Beaufort, Glennie, Harshaw, Bessemer, Crooked Lake, Tigerton, Goodman, Readstown, Kunesh, Dousman, Butternut and Montpelier.
  • Recent headline: “TV shoots plummet in Los Angeles, signaling fewer shows.”  Who said there’s no good news anymore? 
  • Speaking of TV shows, the original title for one of the most popular in the medium’s history was not “I Love Lucy” but “I Love Lopez,” starring Lucy and Larry Lopez. 
  • Bit Part dept.: Before Cher became a household name, her mother, Georgia Holt, made a memorable--but brief--appearance in a 1956 “Lucy” episode where the crew goes to Paris and is baffled by the avant-garde fashion. At the end, Holt is seen walking by as a model in an outfit inspired by the potato sack.
  • I sometimes get the feeling that owners of hybrid autos are secretly glad when gasoline prices surge so they can justify having spent an extra $10,000 just to save a few bucks each week at the gas pump (all under the guise of “saving the planet,” of course).
  • "In a thousand years, archaeologists will dig up tanning beds and think we fried people as punishment.”--Actress Olivia Wilde
  • Misnomer note: There's no such thing as a lead pencil.  They're made of graphite. 
  • DRUDGING AROUND: California cops fatally shoot double amputee trying to run away on stumps  . . . Shorter people may live longer. . . Digital humans could replace supermodels . . . SHOCK:  You’ll soon be able to talk to dead relatives in metaverse . . . Bots recreating celebrity voices for racist rants . . . UPDATE:  Florida high school athletes may have to submit menstrual histories . . . VIDEO:  “Sex Workers” soliciting outside Calif. Elementary school . . . College degrees losing more career clout . . . Streisand memoir more than thousand pages long . . . SCARE:  Laptop fire forces United flight to land, hospitalizes 4 . . . ”Winnie the Pooh:  Blood and Honey.”  Inside micro-budget slasher hoping to slay box office . . Miami teacher paints kids in blackface for lesson . . .  NH students protest urinal ban in gender debate . . . Woman shows up at Israel’s Western Wall in her underwear . . . Giant wind turbines keep mysteriously falling over . . . Nausea, wobbling, confusion:  Dogs getting sick from discarded weed . . . German ballet director smeared dog feces on critic’s face after bad review . . . Pastor dies attempting 40-day Jesus fast . . . Man killed by aggressive pet rooster . . . Tijuana sewage pours through San Diego border canyons . . . Cow sex allegation leads man to kill fiancée. (Thanks as always to Matt Drudge and his merry band of aggregators.)
  • It appears to be that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis may be making the same mistake a lot of presidential contenders make:  Peaking too soon.  (Hello, Pete Buttigieg!)  I’m hoping that’s the case for the chief executive in the High Humidity, Insane Traffic, Culture-Barren, Monster Insect State.  (No state income tax, but precious little services, either).  So much for my annual paean to the Rightwing Paradise.
  • Would the person who threw Mike Pence’s hat into the ring for 2024 please retrieve it?  Thank you!
  • She said it: “When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you.”—Nora Ephron
  • He said it: “Having a 2-year-old is like using a blender with the top off.”--Jerry Seinfeld
  • People who say "ek cetera" instead of "et cetera" should be strangled with one of Donald Trump’s extra-long red ties.  (There’s probably a Freudian interpretation for the length of those ties, which will not be explored in this circumspect forum.)
  • Speaking of language misuse, it amazes me to witness the number of academics, pols and other talking heads on TV who pronounce the “t” in “often.”  Didn’t we learn in about the 3rd Grade that the “t” was silent?  Are these infractions an indictment of the education system or the person’s general intelligence?  We all have our blind spots, but to mispronounce a word used as often as “often” is beyond the proverbial pale.  My view: Sloppy speech, sloppy thought.
  • Expanding on the curious car-name phenomenon in the February Popcorn:  We're also in the era of Aveo, Traverse, Flex, Element, Azera, Borrego, Sedona, Evora, Outlander, Cube, Murano, Kizashi, Yaris, Venza and Passat, along, of course, with the alpha-numeric soup of A6, RL, TL, Q5, STS, CR-V, LX, RX and MKS. 
  • How long before they run out of names . . . and start naming vehicles after body parts?  ("Hey, Ralph, still driving that Kia Kidney?"  "No, Bob, I got me a new Pontiac Pancreas.  It was between that and a Mitsubishi Mitral Valve.")
  • Then, of course, you enter the ostentacious exotica of car colors:
  • Me: “Hey, Ralph, I understand you got a new Toyota.  What color is it?”
  • Ralph:  “Um, I think it’s called Crystal Quartz Metallic.”
  • Me:  “ . .. . .oh. . . . okay "
  • Oxymoron of the Ages:  "Friendly fire."
  • Baseball Spring Training Puzzler for Popcorn Fans:
  • Who is the only person to have played against Babe Ruth and been active when Henry Aaron made his MLB debut? That would be Phil Cavarretta, former Cubs batting champion and National League MVP (both in 1945) and later the team's manager, who played against Ruth in 1935 when the Sultan of Swat was with the Boston Braves.  Cavarretta had been fired as Cubs manager and caught on with the crosstown White Sox when Hank Aaron debuted in 1954. (Of course, it helps when you come to the big leagues, as Cavarretta did, at age 17!)
  • One thing people forget when comparing baseball across eras: 
  • They didn’t throw the ball out of the game every time it hit the dirt (standard practice now!) in Babe Ruth’s day.  If it didn’t go into the stands in some manner, they kept using it, no matter how dirty or scuffed. 
  • Tell me that didn’t give the pitchers more of an advantage back then--along with the higher mound, the legal spitball, the absence of batting helmets, batting gloves and all that body armor.  Plus, they didn't all have the "hitters' backgrounds" that are commonplace today; batters were often looking into a sea of white shirts.
  • Still, Joe DiMaggio managed to amass a 56-game hitting streak in 1941 that has endured nearly 70 years, among other remarkable offensive feats attained when giants walked the Earth! Harrumph!  And harrumph again!  (And how oh how did they do all those things without walkup music?)
  • "Every crowd has a silver lining."--P.T. Barnum
  • Book Title of the Week:  "How To Really Get Postal Jobs."
  • Hmmm.  Time was when postal jobs--never mind how unglamorous or pedestrian (no pun intended)--were valued because of their "job security." But with reduced mail volume, the closing of numerous post offices and the specter of discontinued Saturday delivery, such jobs have lost their best feature.  Not surprising, given that even teaching and police/fire department jobs--other bastions of "job security"--are falling victim to layoffs, furloughs and "early retirements."  Oh, and don’t forget “burnouts.”
  • jimjustsaying’s Rule of Thumb No. 28:  Whisper anything you want remembered.
  • Ever wonder why computer models have such strange, alphabet-soup-sounding names?  It's no accident, says Steve Fox, vice president and editorial director of PC World magazine. 
  •  Complex names (such as Widget-Tech Huzzah 5097B-15iJ Laptop) make it almost impossible to demand that Big Box Store A match the sale price at Big Box Store B and also makes online price comparisons virtually impossible.
  • Writes Fox:  "Dozens of models; thousands of configurations; indecipherable, protean prices?  Don't sweat it; just click the Buy Now button."
  • What a world.   It's hard to believe that increasing customer confusion is an effective marketing strategy.  How can you ask for a product by name when the name is quirky and complex--or changes every month?  (As if instant obsolescence isn't enough, we now have omnipresent obfuscation.  Lovely.)
  • Quiz answer question:  In 1935, Flaherty, a New York Giants (NFL) receiver, became the first athlete to have his number retired. (In this case, appropriately, No. 1.)
  • Strange but true: Did you know that Ernest Hemingway was dressed and raised as a girl until he was 3? (His mother tried to pass him off as the twin of his slightly older sister!  (What's the joke here—"The Daughter Also Rises”?)
  • Most amusing (and unfortunately, most telling) statement in a New Yorker article about the uneasy relationship between politicians and the press: “Each party is willing to accept a degree of hypocrisy on the part of the other.”
  • (Back in 1976, even after Vietnam and Watergate, 72 per cent of the public said they trusted the news media. Today, the figure is 34 per cent.  Fox “News,” take a bow!­)
  • The people with the most expensive watches are always late.
  • Strange that I would run an item about composer Burt Bacharach’s father (February Popcorn) only days before the son’s death.  The obituary contained a great line from the great composer Sammy Cahn, who dubbed the handsome BB “as the only composer who didn’t look like a dentist.”
  • I love it when someone prefaces their answer to a question with, “To be perfectly honest with you . . . .“ So everything you said before was . . . what?  Partially honest?  A baldfaced lie?  Total BS?  You can hear this multiple times daily on any of the cable news stations.
  • Lent:  A period when people try to be virtuous not because they want to but because somebody said they're supposed to.  Six weeks later, normal life resumes. 
  • Say it isn't so:  That it's the time of year when folks who don't know a jump shot from a rhesus monkey have to "fill out their brackets."  This was especially hilarious years back when a woman in our office picked the teams based on nicknames and uniform colors and won our Final Four pool.  
  • How much commercial productivity is lost due to this ludicrous exercise? March Madness, indeed.   This "blight of spring" has gotten way out of hand.  If all the dilettantes donated their office pool money to charity, the world would be a better place.  But that would be a March Miracle.
  • jimjustsaying's Basketball Barb of the Month:  It has been said that the NCAA tournament is played largely by a bunch of juniors and seniors who weren't good enough to already have jumped to the pros.  That's a March Matter of Fact.


  • This illustration is from a fascinating New York magazine piece (excerpted in the The Link Tank portion of that sheds light on the shoplifting epidemic that is the scourge of retailers everywhere.  Especially alarming is the rubber-conscience “rationale” offered by “boosters,” who sell their items for pennies on the dollar to pawn shops and other “fences,” almost always to support drug habits. 
  • These vermin consider their thievery “karma-neutral” and say we should be thankful that they are not robbing us at gunpoint, removing the catalytic converters from our vehicles or selling their bodies to generate income.   “We actually keep crime down,” declared one brazen full-time shoplifter. (Hmm, Hitler and Stalin, et al., also had what they thought were righteous-sounding rationales.) Think of this next time you need to summon a clerk to procure a $2.69 tube of toothpaste.  What a world!
  • Cut-rate kittens!  (and Another Animal Breed I Didn't Know Existed Until I Saw it Mentioned in a Newspaper Classified Ad):  Tonkinese.  ("Adorable and Gorgeous," Normally $400, Special: $175.)  
  • But wait, there's more, as they say:  Another Dog Breed I Didn't Know Existed Until I Saw It Listed in a Newspaper Classified Ad:  Chiweenie, which, it turns out, is a cross between a chihuahua and a dachshund. 
  • You know you're dealing with incompetent fraudsters when their Web site ends with dot.con.
  • jimjustsaying’s Newspaper Obituary Headline Nickname of the Month: “Papa Bear.”  As in, Donald J. “Papa Bear” Bieschke,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,Feb.19, 2023.  R.I.P., “Papa Bear.”
  • Today's Latin lesson:  Vos can non planto is thema res sursum.  ("You can't make this stuff up!")

    Special thanks to Sherman Oaks, this month’s Popcorn intern.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023


How tiny stresses add up

When we're hit with big, bad news — getting laid off, or a troubling diagnosis — we often spring into action to deal with the problem. But smaller things that irk us — a terse message from a manager, even a sink full of dishes — add up. And they eventually have an outsized impact on our mental and physical health.

Why it matters: Most of us tend to ignore micro-stresses, and just focus on the big stuff. But the small things also require our attention. "None of these things evoke the fight-or-flight mechanism," says Rob Cross, a professor at Babson College and author of a forthcoming book about micro-stress.

But even if we ignore them, our bodies don't. Small stresses trigger some of the same physical effects as big ones, including elevated blood pressure and lower-quality sleep, Cross says. Micro-stresses explain why we can feel exhausted or defeated at the end of a day — even if nothing big went wrong.

Case in point: One fascinating study found that if even a relatively minor social stress is experienced within two hours of a meal, your metabolism of that meal is disrupted. The effect is equivalent to adding 104 calories to that meal. If that happens every day, it adds up to 11 pounds in a year, per Harvard Business Review.

What to do: We can all take steps to be more aware of — and address — the micro-stresses in our lives.

1.      --Have a big conversation about a small(ish) thing: If your boss is routinely annoying you by not communicating deadlines or if your child is stressing you out by taking hours to respond to messages, consider bringing it up in a bigger conversation. You'll likely be surprised at how much eradicating a small but repeated stressor boosts your mood.

2.       --Diversify your life. Cross' research showed that people with robust personal lives, filled with family, friends and hobbies, tend to be less affected by work-related micro-stresses.

3.       --Meditate. As we've reported, practicing meditation and mindfulness can clear your mind and do away with stresses — small or big. 

–---Mike Allen, Axios

Being a highly sensitive person Is a strength

“You’re overthinking it,” “Don’t take things so personally,” “You’re being too sensitive,” are scolds many of us are extremely familiar with. According to research by Dr Elaine Aron, who coined the term, 15-20% of the population are HSPs, aka highly sensitive persons, meaning that they feel ‘too deeply’ but often hide their emotions from others. HSPs may feel out of place or uneasy in overstimulating situations, such as at a busy work meeting or at parties and tend to seek validation and reassurance more often.

We’re conditioned to associate sensitivity with weakness, as something we should be ashamed of rather than empowered by. Being overly sensitive has negative connotations of being unequipped for reality and needing to toughen up. But while it may not feel like it in a world that seems to reward the loudest, boldest and brashest among us, being highly sensitive is actually a strength. And, according to neuropsychologist Nawal Mustafa, The Brain Coach on Instagram, we should be recognizing and celebrating it more.

“Many HSPs consider this sensory processing sensitivity to be something they hate about themselves because most cultures or communities do not value sensitivity or emotions,” Mustafa writes. “Being told ‘Stop crying’ and ‘You’re overreacting’ can make HSPs feel like something is wrong with them and potentially lead to low self-esteem, self-doubt, feelings of being misunderstood.”

Mustafa’s post highlighted seven key strengths that highly sensitive people possess, and how those traits can have a positive impact on their lives.

HSPs are naturally more empathic and caring to the needs of others

 Most HSPs are empaths, and vice versa. Empath’s are particularly attuned to the emotions of others, and often experience a “sixth sense” for unspoken dynamics. “In an fMRI study, researchers found that HSPs have more activation in brain regions involved with awareness, integration of sensory information, empathy, and preparation for action in response to emotionally evocative social stimuli,” explains Mustafa.

HSPs are trusted because of their honesty and conscientiousness

 Dr Aron’s research on HSPs indicates that being highly sensitive can actually be of great value in the workplace. In “The Highly Sensitive Person,” Dr Aron writes: “[HSPs] are intuitive visionaries, able to see the big picture, creative, aware of and thoughtful to the needs of others, good influences on the social climate, vigilant with quality, highly conscientious, loyal, able to pick up on subtleties in the environment and in interpersonal communications and are often gifted. In short, they are ideal employees.”

HSPs notice little details that others might miss

Highly sensitive people attune to and process noise, chaos, disorder and other external stimuli intensely, so what may be an error, mistake or major annoyance could go pretty much unnoticed by a non-HSP.

HSPs are very creative and can appreciate things at a deeper level

According to “Very Well Mind,” highly sensitive people tend to feel deeply moved by the beauty they see around them. “They may cry while watching particularly heartwarming videos and can really empathize with the feelings of others, both negative and positive.”

HSPs have more insight into their mental and emotional processes

Because the mind of a HSP is always racing, it means that they are also more introspective and self-aware. So while they may experience more overwhelm, they are also able to identify any potentially triggering situations or processes early on and attempt to deal with them.

HSPs feel more connected to the world around them

Research has found that highly sensitive people are more prone to adopt pro-environmental actions and behaviors. Studies from University College Cork indicated that nature connectedness increases with higher sensitivity because, given their tendency to be overwhelmed by busy urban environments, highly sensitive people are particularly connected with nature, where they can find restoration and stress relief.

HSPs feel positive emotions more deeply

Being highly attuned to negative emotions like stress or anxiety has a silver lining, in that you’re able to experience positive emotions like happiness, pride, gratitude and contentment in a stronger way. “Being a HSP is not a disorder,” Mustafa stresses. “I am a strong advocate for accepting ourselves for who we are, as we are,” she concludes. “Being aware of what parts of us need work and actively healing them is always encouraged, but I don’t think we should ever shame ourselves for being a certain way.”

--Amy Beecham

Ron DeSantis shows how not to run an education system

It’s no coincidence that Republican governors who have weaponized government against vulnerable populations represent states that are spectacularly failing their residents on a wide range of issues. There’s no better illustration than Ron DeSantis’s war on education.

The Florida governor seems to view schools as the battleground for his war on inclusivity and truth. Whether it is DeSantis’s “don’t say gay” law or his vendetta against African American and gender studies, his obsession with telling teachers what they cannot teach far outweighs his concern for how students are performing.

And as it turns out, that performance is pretty lousy.

While Florida officials — including DeSantis — have boasted about the state’s relatively high proficiency scores among 4th Graders, they have largely ignored how quickly those scores drop as students grow older. As education journalist Billy Townsend writes in an opinion piece for the Tampa Bay Times, “No other state comes close to Florida’s level of consistent 4th to 8th Grade performance collapse.”

In the last three state rankings of reading and math proficiency by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (in 2017, 2019 and 2022), Townsend writes, “Florida ranked sixth, fourth and third among states in 4th Grade math. In those same years, Florida ranked 33th, 34th and tied for 31st in eighth grade.”

Moreover, the rate at which they drop below their peers in other states is accelerating. Townsend explains, “Florida’s overall average NAEP state rank regression between 4th and 8th Grade since 2003 is 17 spots (math) and 18 spots (reading). But since 2015, the averages are 27 spots (math) and 19 spots (reading).” In fact, the deterioration in Florida schools “matches and mostly exceeds the negative impact of COVID” nationwide, he writes.

Florida’s embarrassing drop-off in performance cannot be understood without examining its 20-year-old policy to hold back lower-performing 3rrdGraders, which means many students take the 4th Grade test when they are at least the age of 5th Graders. While it’s unclear how many students are kept back in third grade, Townsend writes that it is “significant,” which likely temporarily boosts the 4th-Grade numbers.

But that only delays the inevitable cratering of scores in the 8th Grade. Perhaps that is one reason many Florida politicians are shying away from standardized testing.

One likely reason for the shoddy 8th-Grade performance: The state ranks 48th in teacher pay, so it’s bound to get rotten results. Right now, few seem motivated to pin down the problem and fix what’s wrong.

And if that isn’t distressing enough, consider what is happening to higher education in Florida. Michael A. MacDowell, president emeritus of Misericordia University, warned in a piece for Florida Today last year that enrollment in the state’s colleges was projected to decline by 5.5 percent in the 2021-2022 academic year.

MacDowell explains, “The implications of declining college enrollments here in Florida and nationally will seriously impact individuals and the economic viability of Florida and the country.” Non-college-educated people tend to be poorer, live shorter lives and pay less taxes. MacDowell also notes that they are “more likely to avail themselves of government subsidies and the wide variety of services that federal, state, and local governments provide” than college-educated Americans.

Yet DeSantis, who has two Ivy League degrees, seems to be cheering for failure. Amid reports in 2021 that men were making up a smaller portion of students attending college, he declared, “I think that is probably a good sign.” So he must be thrilled that Florida’s college enrollment is dropping like a stone.

College administrators are trying to puzzle out why Florida’s decline is so pronounced. It might be an affordability issue. Alternatively, with the White population shrinking in the state, DeSantis’s war on “wokeness” has made college campuses less welcoming to younger, more diverse Floridians — the same people the state needs to educate to maintain a vibrant economy. Whatever the cause, DeSantis doesn’t seem interested in finding a solution.

DeSantis’s bullying of vulnerable populations and pandering to White grievance are morally objectionable and anti-American. But they also come at a price: accelerating the decline of the state’s education system. Do we really want DeSantis to do for America what he’s done to Florida?

--Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post

Words and phrases to avoid in a difficult conversation

Difficult conversations are difficult for a reason, and when you’re anxious or stressed out, it’s easy to say the wrong thing. And it doesn’t matter how prepared you are. Your best laid plans will go to waste if you offend or anger the other person.

Over 20 years of teaching and research, which I describe in my book “Choosing Courage,” I’ve found that people often forget a critical point: When navigating a difficult conversation, you need to craft your message while keeping the other person’s feelings and opinions in mind. Below are some of the most common mistakes I’ve observed — words and phrases that can slip into our vocabulary — and explanations for why they often cause trouble.

--Don’t assume your viewpoint is obvious Sometimes, if you feel like you are 100 percent right, you may use words such as “clearly,” “obviously,” or “beyond doubt.” If you do this, you’re falling prey to naive realism — the belief that you’re privy to some objective reality that others will clearly see and agree with. We’re seldom in such an objectively black-or-white situation, and reasonable people may see things differently than you or need more convincing to come around to your viewpoint.

 Not surprisingly, when your words (inadvertently) suggest that any divergent views are stupid or inconsequential, others may feel railroaded or insulted. If you’ve really made your case persuasively, there’s no need to potentially derail the outcome by stating your own views about how obvious or beyond a doubt something is.

--Don’t exaggerate When you’re speaking with someone who has upset you on multiple occasions, you may find yourself inadvertently resorting to using phrases such as “You always . . . ” or “You never . . . .” Exaggeration will undermine your overall credibility and lead to a debate about frequency instead of substance. “That’s not true,” the person is likely to retort, before proceeding to tell you about the specific date or occasion that runs counter to your claim. If your intent is to get someone to start or stop doing something, keep the focus on that.

--Don’t tell others what they should do. Telling someone what they should do contains an implicit value judgment. “You should do X” implies that X is the way things ought to be. Sure, if you’re a leader responsible for a group’s values and culture, sometimes it’s necessary to be very clear about what should be done or how people should treat each other.

Other times, though, especially when you’re not the boss of the person you’re speaking to, “shoulding” won’t make them willing to comply. People feel judged by “should” statements — as if they wouldn’t come to the right conclusion without your input — when they’d prefer to decide for themselves what to do. Phrases like, “You might consider” or “One possibility is” or “Have you thought of?” increase your odds of having the conversation and influence you seek.

--Don’t blame others for your feelings.  If you’re upset about something someone said or did, it’s natural to have an emotional reaction. You’re human. But stating the cause of those feelings is unhelpful and counterproductive. For example, imagine your colleague interrupts you when you start to speak and you immediately experience physical reactions — your face flushes, your heart rate spikes. You may feel the urge to say, “You make me so angry when you interrupt me,” but, if you do so, there’s a good chance you’ll end up in an argument.

Why? Because people hate being blamed for things — especially for words or actions that harmed others. So instead of apologizing or agreeing to change their behavior, they’ll defend themselves — their specific words and overall intentions or character. You could choose to say, “Hey, when you interrupt me so quickly like that, I feel disrespected (or hurt or angry). Could you please not do that?” Or you could say, “Could you please not interrupt me until I’m finished?” Or you could not say anything about your feelings at all and stick to the topic at hand.

--Don’t challenge someone’s character or integrity You may feel that what someone has done is “unprofessional,” “wrong” or “unethical.” But, if you use words like these, there’s a good chance the target will become defensive. Humans have a strong need to see themselves as decent and moral. If you describe their problematic behavior in ways that threaten their core sense of self then the person is more likely to shift from the issue at hand to a defense of their character.

Instead, try starting with phrases that only question if or convey something is undesirable or sub-optimal. Suggest that missing deadlines “detracts from our mission” rather than labeling it “unprofessional,” or that changing numbers to make your unit’s performance look better is “inconsistent with our core values” or “likely to undermine trust and our focus on learning” rather than calling it “wrong” or “unethical.”

--Don’t say “It’s not personal.” In my experience, people say “It’s not personal” or “Don’t take it personally” when they (subconsciously) know it’s quite personal for the other person. There’s a great example of this in the movie “You’ve Got Mail” when the big-box bookstore executive (Tom Hanks) tells the small, independent bookstore owner (Meg Ryan) that it’s not personal that he’s going to put her multi-generational family bookstore out of business by opening a massive store nearby. That’s deeply personal to her so, understandably, hearing this phrase only makes Meg Ryan’s character even angrier.

When someone is hurt, angry, or otherwise clearly affected by something you’ve said or done, telling them it’s not personal only adds insult to injury. If you actually care, why not acknowledge and own that it is personal to them, even if not to you? If you can’t do that, don’t say anything about “personal” at all.

And then there’s the phrase: “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” Unfortunately, that’s not great advice in the realm of difficult conversations. You can get a lot of stuff right (your persuasive core arguments, your data and solutions, the setting and timing) and still see your objectives derailed by the seemingly small communication missteps described above. The good news is that getting the small stuff right too is imminently doable — it just takes commitment to notice and minimize the use of these problematic words and phrases.

--James R. Detert, Harvard Business Review


Fort Walgreens

Why everything you want to buy is behind plastic!&&p=eaab496cff9db4d1JmltdHM9MTY3NzAyNDAwMCZpZ3VpZD0wNzAwMmUxNS1kNjE1LTYwOTctMTVmYi0zY2FlZDc4NjYxMGMmaW5zaWQ9NTIwOA&ptn=3&hsh=3&fclid=07002e15-d615-6097-15fb-3caed786610c&psq=fort+walgreens&u=a1aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuY3VyYmVkLmNvbS9hcnRpY2xlL3dhbGdyZWVucy1kdWFuZS1yZWFkZS1jdnMtcml0ZS1haWRlLW55Yy1zaG9wbGlmdGluZy1uZXctbGliZXJ0eS1sb2Fucy5odG1s&ntb=1

Wisconsin Supreme Court primary signals Dem's strength

Once again, abortion rights have catalyzed the party's base!&&p=1bd4217ab4788ccbJmltdHM9MTY3NzAyNDAwMCZpZ3VpZD0wNzAwMmUxNS1kNjE1LTYwOTctMTVmYi0zY2FlZDc4NjYxMGMmaW5zaWQ9NTE4NQ&ptn=3&hsh=3&fclid=07002e15-d615-6097-15fb-3caed786610c&psq=rubin+wisconsin&u=a1aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cud2FzaGluZ3RvbnBvc3QuY29tL29waW5pb25zLzIwMjMvMDIvMjIvd2lzY29uc2luLXN1cHJlbWUtY291cnQtZWxlY3Rpb24tcmVzdWx0cy8&ntb=1

The Fox Newsification of Nikki Haley

She is more interested in following the Fox base than leading it to a better place

The surprising sacred roots of chocolate

Among the Maya, cacao has served as a powerful symbol from womb to tomb!&&p=5dd367ce4fba793cJmltdHM9MTY3NzAyNDAwMCZpZ3VpZD0wNzAwMmUxNS1kNjE1LTYwOTctMTVmYi0zY2FlZDc4NjYxMGMmaW5zaWQ9NTIwMg&ptn=3&hsh=3&fclid=07002e15-d615-6097-15fb-3caed786610c&psq=obscura+chocolate&u=a1aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuYXRsYXNvYnNjdXJhLmNvbS9hcnRpY2xlcy90aGUtc2FjcmVkLXJvb3RzLW9mLWNob2NvbGF0ZQ&ntb=1

Your stuff is actually worse now

Badly made products, from clothing and accessories to gadgets and appliances, are everywhere    

Welcome to the shoppy shop

Why does every store suddenly look the same?




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.



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  



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.