Thursday, November 6, 2014

CELEBRITY ENDORSEMENTS

What they're saying about Jim's provocative blog:
--"Jim is obviously making a name for himself--Mr. Irrelevant!"--Don Rickles
--"Almost too entertaining!  (Well, sort of.)"--David Letterman
--"Blogaschizzle!"--Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr. (aka Snoop Dogg)
--"The one thing I DO read!"--Sarah Palin
--"About what you'd expect from a dopey, sniveling piece of execrable skunk vomit from Wisconsin!"--Don Imus
--"The most fun you can have with your clothes on (but DO take a shower afterwards)."--Dick Cavett

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

POPCORN

By Jim Szantor

Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric, and whimsical observations 
about the absurdities of contemporary life.
  • If Norman Rockwell were alive today, do you think there's anything he'd want to paint?
  • I don't care what anyone says, we didn't have Viagara ads in prime time when Mr. Rogers was alive!
  • jimjustsaying's catty comment:  What shade of lipstick looks best on a pig?
  • Does Anderson Cooper have two first names . . . or two last names?  Discuss!
  • Political speech I'd love to hear (but probably never will).  "Win or lose, I promise to have all of my campaign signs and posters taken down the day after the election."
  • "I don't mind that I'm fat. You still get the same money."--Marlon Brando in 1996
  • Go Figure Dept:  According to various sources, Marlon Brando was a longtime close friend of Michael Jackson's and paid regular visits to his Neverland Ranch, resting there for weeks at a time.  (No truth to the rumor that Robert De Niro hangs out at Pee-Wee Herman's "playhouse" between films.)
  • Jim's Party Ice-Breaker of the Week: "Say [actual fellow party-goer's name here], did you know that the new president of Indonesia is a former cabinet maker named Joko Widodo.  Yeah, really.  His friends call him Jokowi."
  • Always remember:  You can't break an egg without making an omelet.
  • Headline on Ebola virus story: "Blanket travel ban ruled out."  (No word yet on sheets and pillow cases.)
  • Best fortune-cookie message in eons:  "An artist is not paid for his labor but for his vision."   
  • The newest endangered species:  Customers.  Now we're all "clients" or "guests."  And there are no more clerks: They're "associates."  I'm sure that makes them feel better about their minimum-wage compensation and absence of benefits.
  • I keep reading about all these doofuses who get arrested for not wearing a seatbelt and can't help but wonder:  How does this happen? My eyesight is still pretty good but I can't tell whether someone is wearing one or not, so how can people, the police, make this determination?  So often!  It's not like a warning light goes off!  (Full disclosure:  Never a violator or an arrestee.)
  • Memo to anyone who purchased the "Leave it to Beaver" boxed set:  You either have too much time on your hands or too much money or too little taste in pop culture.
  • The answer:  Wampire, Zola Jesus and The Dead Milkmen. The question? Name three groups that released CDs the first week of October.   (The temptation to say "Never heard of them" is tempered by the reminder that at one point, I had "never heard of" Elvis Presley or The Beatles . . . .  Not that The Dead Milkmen are destined to attain that level of immortality.
  • Why don't people just say "He (or she or they) is (are) new to me" instead of "Never heard of him (or her or them)?"
  • Redundancy Patrol:  "Free bonus," "absolutely free," "icy cold."
  • Classified Ad of the Week (under  Good Things to Eat, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel):  "Our family raises and breed all organic goat, lamb, pork and eggs! FREE dozen eggs with any $20 purchase!"
  • Who decided the frog legs were a potential edible?  Prediction: NOT the next fast-food novelty item craze.   (You'll see the occasional Joe's Crab Shack but never Joe's House of Frog Legs.  That I know of.  In all likelihood.)
  • A pox on all makers of "name brand" apparel who charge premium prices and put flimsy zippers in their products.  They're cutting corners and ruining their reputation at the same time.
  • jimjustsaying's Faded Household Staple of the Past:  Linoleum
  • Favorite Lenny Bruce assertion:  "We're all as honest as we can afford to be."
  • Newspaper headline:  "House fire kills 200 snakes."  Must have started in the serpents' quarters!
  • Three TV shows I never watch:  "Project Runway," "Total Divas," and "Babe Winkelman's Outdoor Secrets."
  • Obituary Headline NIckname of the Month:  "Happy."  As in Mary E. "Happy" Maloney, Green Bay Press-Gazette obituary, Sept. 9, 2014.
  • Today's Latin Lesson:  It's nostrum parum specialis.  ("It's our little secret!")

THE QUOTE RACK

Latest Auschwitz atrocity--mass tourism
Auschwitz has become just another tourist trap.  The memory of the 1.1 million people who were murdered at the concentration camp is defiled daily by hordes of disrespectful sightseers who act as if they were visiting an amusement park. Smiling teens pose for selfies on the train tracks that carried Jews from across Europe to their deaths, while young men take photos of themselves bending over the latrines.

 But the problem is not simply tactless teens--here, decency has nothing to do with age. A retiree elbows other visitors out of the way so he can get the perfect picture of a gas chamber, while a father carefully poses his boys in front of the gallows. The Polish staff asks visitors to behave appropriately, but nothing can stop these carefree Auschwitz excursionists from capturing "all the Holocaust highlights." They pour through the concentration camp’s gates, laughing and chattering about their lunch plans. You’d think these jolly tourists, dressed in shorts and wearing sandals, were headed for the zoo or the beach instead of a Nazi death camp. As they move from barrack to barrack, they learn nothing about history’s most brutal hours and then head back to the parking lot full of charter buses.
--Nicole Quint, Die Welt

Proof that isolationism doesn’t work
Americans are understandably sick of rescuing the world but we’re now being reminded why we have no choice. After the messy interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, 52 percent of Americans polled in 2013 said that the U.S.  should mind its own business internationally. But when President Obama ignored the civil war in Syria, it created a vacuum that’s been filled by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, whose savagery now threatens the entire region. And the world’s slowness in responding to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has led to a widening epidemic. The reality is that since World War II,  the U.S. has been the only nation willing enough, capable enough, and responsible enough to keep a semblance of order in a chaotic, divided world. It is still the U.S. naval fleet that protects Asian nations from China’s aggression, our Army that guards the Korean Demilitarized Zone, and our Air Force that’s conducting most of the airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. Only U.S. resources can keep Ebola from becoming a global epidemic. Isolationism is tempting, but foolish. We face  problems that can’t be isolated—only confronted."
--Michael Gerson, Washington Post

Leaving car dealers in the dust
It’s time to ditch the  car dealership model. Shopping for big-ticket consumer items like appliances or furniture is fairly straightforward: You see what products cost, decide what you want, and pay. Car buying, by comparison, is nuts.  You trudge from dealer to dealer--each of which has its own distinct inventory and fake sticker prices--and partake in some anachronistic haggling.  For all this hassle, consumers are slapped with added costs. After all, for the dealerships to be profitable, consumers must be paying an extra, unnecessary markup.  If car manufacturers were allowed to sell directly to consumers, as electric-car maker Tesla does, car prices would drop overnight--as much as 8 percent, according to one study. For a product that costs five figures, that’s a meaningful saving.  Several states, however, have bowed to politically powerful dealership networks and banned direct sales. That’s why the feds should get involved; the problem of excessively expensive, time-consuming, and choice-restricting auto purchases is a national one.  Americans spend $60 billion at car dealerships each month. Given consumers’ huge potential savings, surely this is a reform even gridlocked Washington can support.
--Matthew Yglesias, Vox.com

If computers took over our lives . . .
Computers are designed to solve problems as efficiently as possible. The difficulty occurs when imperfect humans are factored into their equations.  Suppose we have an AI whose only goal is to make as many paper clips as possible. That thinking machine might rationally decide that wiping out humanity will help it achieve that goal--because humans are the only ones who could switch the machine off. . . . . In a hyperconnected world, superintelligent computers would have many ways to kill humans. They could knock out the Internet-connected electricity grid, poison the water supply, cause havoc at nuclear power plants, or seize command of the military’s remote-controlled drone aircraft or nuclear missiles. Inventor Elon Musk recently warned that we need to be super careful with AI, calling it "potentially more dangerous than nukes."
--Nick Bostrom, director of the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford

 . . . when robots learn to lie
In 2009, Swiss researchers carried out a robotic experiment that produced some unexpected results. Hundreds of robots were placed in arenas and programmed to look for a food source, in this case a light-colored ring. The robots were able to communicate with one another and were instructed to direct their fellow machines to the food by emitting a blue light. But as the experiment went on, researchers noticed that the machines were evolving to become more secretive and deceitful: When they found food, the robots stopped shining their lights and instead began hoarding the resource--even though nothing in their original programming commanded them to do so. The implication is that the machines learned self-preservation. Whether or not they’re conscious is a moot point.
--Louis Del Monte, author of "The Artificial Intelligence Revolution"

Fox News a voice of reason?
You know things are bad when a Fox News anchor is the voice of reason, telling his viewers to ignore the "very irresponsible"media voices fueling the Ebola panic. Of course, some of the most irresponsible voices were on his own network, including George Will, who malignantly spread the canard that Ebola was airborne, and Gretchen Carlson, an anchor who somehow found a conspiracy connecting Ebola, the IRS, Obamacare, and, inevitably, Benghazi. Right-wing radio has chimed in, and so have Republican politicians, who have variously called for sealing borders and visa suspensions, as if Ebola were another wave of immigrants in need of a fence. Just goes to show that it’s hard to create a coherent, let alone effective, policy to deal with a medical emergency when you don’t accept the core notion that there is such a thing as empirical scientific knowledge. The point of all this political posturing is not to save lives, in any case, but to somehow smear the president with Ebola for advantage in the election two weeks from now. 

It’s my impression that the panic is starting to ebb. Enough sane voices, in the medical community, government, and even the press, have beamed in the message that you are far more likely to be struck down by the flu, guns, air bags, or even lightning than this virus. But surely there will be some new panic to replace it soon. The mood in the country is horrible, and we’ll keep searching for new nemeses and new scapegoats. Once the election has come and gone--and there’s no catharsis or improvement in the public mood, no matter what the result--it will be fascinating to see what monsters will be sighted on Maple Street next.
--Frank Rich, New York Magazine

Innovation of the week
A "sleek and stylish"new gadget aims to revolutionize personal temperature control, said Anthony Domanico in CNET.com. Wristify, a bracelet that delivers thermal pulses to the wrist to raise or lower body temp, "basically puts a personal air conditioner and heater"on your body. The wrist is an area of high blood flow, so rapid changes in temperature there "can make you feel several degrees"cooler or warmer. Wristify’s creators, former MIT students, say the device won’t replace ordinary heating and cooling at home, but if it encourages people to use their air conditioners a bit less or turn the thermostat one degree lower in the winter, "the environmental benefits could be significant."The gadget is still a prototype, but it has its fans: It has been named one of 10 finalists for Intel’s Make It Wearable challenge. Top prize is $500,000.
--The Week

Tax changes translate to tardy refunds
If you’re expecting a tax refund next year, you may have to wait. Internal Revenue Service Commissioner John Koskinen suggested last week that next year’s tax season could be the most complicated ever for the IRS, thanks to dozens of expired tax provisions that Congress has yet to act upon. In years past, late action by Congress on such provisions created problems and sometimes delays. Among the expired provisions are  a deduction for state and local sales taxes; a tax exemption for the forgiveness of mortgage debt; a tuition deduction; [and] an enhanced break for transit commuters.  New laws that took effect this year, including the Affordable Care Act, are also expected to make the IRS’s job harder. Congress is not expected to address the expired provisions until after the midterms.
--Laura Saunders, Wall St. Journal

THE LINK TANK

Flying blind in Iraq and Syria
First prolonged war in Middle East that American reporters and photographers can’t cover
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/02/opinion/sunday/thomas-l-friedman-flying-blind-in-iraq-and-syria.html

Do what I mean, not what I say
Ancient philosophers often concealed the meaning of their writings to protect society from dangerous truths
http://online.wsj.com/articles/book-review-philosophy-between-the-lines-by-arthur-melzer-1414181806  

What would the GOP do?
Nothing, really, that you can put your finger on
http://link.email.washingtonpost.com/r/GWSCIY/L9UQZG/QLFMM3/6VWQAK8/972U9O/RF/

The Obama crash
Has the president become irrelevant?
http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2014/11/obama-reboot-112432_full.html

The 'Les Miserables' legal connection
Judge uses a literary classic to render a classic verdict
http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/unique-sentence-offered-to-mom-who-stole-cough-syrup-for-child-b99382090z1-281189901.html

Thursday, October 16, 2014

POPCORN

By Jim Szantor

Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric, and whimsical observations 
about the absurdities of contemporary life.
  • You know you're dealing with an incompetent fraudster if the Web address ends with dot.con.
  • Drudge Report headline (Oct. 16):  "People have sex in airports to pass time." Comment:  Well, you've already got your shoes off . . . .
  • Three things I've never done:  Put something in mothballs, put all my eggs in one basket, put on the dog.
  • I'm not surprised about the gradual acceptance of same-sex marriage.  The fortunate people who have jobs but little job security look at the wobbly economy, the mounting terrorism threats, the do-nothing Congress, the latest health (Ebola) crisis, our crumbling infrastructure, the hacking of credit and debit cards, child sex abuse by the clergy, child porn scandals every week, commercial airplanes being shot out of the sky, and say, "Well, there are worse things than Joanne and Claudette or Brian and Wilbur getting married."  
  • For perspective on the Ebola virus and the widening Mideast war(s), we turn to the late philosopher Albert Camus:  
  • "Everybody knows that pestilence has a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet plagues and wars always take people equally by surprise."--"The Plague, Part 1"
  • Anybody besides me see the parallels between Bill Clinton and Bob Hope?  Been there, done that, as famous as it's possible to be . . . and yet . . . can't get off the bleeping stage!  I'm getting as sick of the one as I was of the other!
  • When did the word "playoffs" become anathema in baseball and other sports?  To me, the "postseason" starts the day the World Series ends.  
  • Speaking of sports, the New Orleans team excepted, there are no saints in the National Football League.
  • People with Ph.D. degrees who list it after their names at all times whether relevant or not are truly pathetic human beings.  (How many of them of the proverbial certain age were basically "professional students" who stayed at school just to avoid the draft?  I'm just emphatically sayin'.)
  • Why has everyone started using the word "dystopian" all of a sudden?  It's either in a newspaper or magazine headline, a movie or play description or something or other seemingly on a daily basis.  
  • "There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them."--Poet Joseph Brodsky
  • Redundancy Patrol: "Close proximity," "pool together," "serious crisis."  
  • There are three kinds of people:  Facebook fanatics, people who "do Facebook"  out of sheer conformity and those, like me, who don't see the need and get along just fine without it.  
  • Starting Oct. 10, only 76 shopping days until Christmas.
  • Sudsorian Calendar:  The calendar used on soap operas that allows one day's events to be stretched over a three-week period.--Rich Hall, "Unexplained Sniglets of the Universe"
  • Bang, buzz, chirp, clang, cling, clunk, grinding, hiss, knock, ping, rattle, rumble, scraping, squeal and whine--some of the words that can be useful in describing to a mechanic what's wrong when your car is making funny noises (says Chicago Tribune auto columnist Bob "Motormouth" Weber).
  • Another one in jimjustsaying's list of Occupations No Child Has Ever Fantasized About or Aspired To:  Snake-venom extractor
  • jimjustsaying's Product of the Month (from the Make Life Easier catalog):  Birdbath Protector, which uses "natural plant enzymes to break down organic contaminants. . . .Birds will love it . . . and so will you. So go green and keep your birdbath clean!"
     (Just the thing for that hard-to-shop-for person on everyone's Christmas gift list.)
  • What's the difference between an aroma and an odor?  An aroma and a fragrance? Between an odor and a stench?  You'd say "The aroma of freshly baked bread wafted through the house" but you'd say "underarm odor," not "underarm aroma or fragrance."  How does one calibrate the gradations of things odiferous?
  • Obituary Headline Nickname of the Month:  "Tiny."  As in Mary Jane "Tiny" O'Brien, Green Bay Press-Gazette obituary, Sept. 9, 2014.
  • Jargoneering:  Precrastinate:  Getting tasks done ahead of schedule with extra effort. Precrastinating, says Wired magazine,  might be as detrimental to productivity as procrastinating, especially when people precrastinate on trivialities like e-mail, mentally exhausting themselves before turning to greater challenges.
  • Drudge Report Headline of the Week:  "Shoplifter uses motorized Walmart shopping cart as getaway vehicle."  ("Made it two miles before cops pounce.")
  • Newspaper Headline of the Month: "White supremacist wants to play the violin in prison."  (Maybe he can pull some strings and get his wish?  Not that I have any sympathies toward white supremacists . . . .)
  • Multiple tattoos and  body piercings are a cry for help (and how, I wonder, does one go about providing that?) and a definite detriment at most job interviews.  Other than that, a good look and a wonderful career move.   
  • Why Richard Kiel, who died recently, always looked the way he did when portraying Jaws in two James Bond movies:  "The fake teeth were agonizing to wear.  They were made of chromium steel and went up to the roof of your mouth and would kind of gag you. The rather stoic look was me trying to keep from throwing up.”  (Kind of hard to work into a conversation, but there you have it.)
  • Fifty-seventh Wisconsin Town I Didn't Know Existed Until I Saw It Mentioned in a Green Bay Press-Gazette Obituary: Ledgeview. (R.I.P., Gladys Mae Bildings, Green Bay Press-Gazette obituary, Aug. 14, 2014).  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, Dousman, Butternut, Montpelier, Cecil, Red River, Gillet, King, Laona, Kelly Lake, Glenmore, Tonet, Stiles, Morrison, Dunbar, Askeaton, Wild Rose. Neopit, Ellisville, Pickett, Flintville,  Forest Junction, Thiry Daems, Black Creek and Mountain.
  • Today's Latin Lesson:  Operor illa pardus planto meus tergum terminus vultus pinguis?  ("Do these pants make my rear end look fat?")

Sunday, September 7, 2014

POPCORN

By Jim Szantor
  • Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric, and whimsical observations about the absurdities of contemporary life.
  • Vinpocetine, oscillococcinum and bladderswack leaves. Three nutritional (?) supplements I didn't know existed until I got the latest Swanson Health Products catalog.  (Kind of hard to work into a conversation, but there you have it.)
  • No ice-bucket challenge for me.  They want me to do the scalding water challenge (with reconstructive surgery to follow).
  • Who are these ghoulish voyeurs who click on those videos of terrorist beheadings and actually watch them?  That's almost as horrifying as the act itself.   
  • Saw a sale display for Snickers Fun Size bars.  Fun size?  Aren't all Snickers fun (especially for dentists)?  What do they call the regular-size bar--the Ordeal Size?  The Root Canal Size?  The Ninth Labor of Hercules Size?  
  • "The first time I see a jogger smiling, I’ll consider it."-Joan Rivers
  • jimjustsaying's Coinage of the Month: "Buyercade."  That plastic bar you put on the store's belt to separate your purchases from someone else's.      
  • "When you have two out, you're three-fourths of the way there."--Cleveland Indians then-manager Manny Acta.
  • Memo to all baseball announcers:  Frames, bowling;  innings, baseball.  Got it?  Stop trying to get fancy or gild the lily. "Elegant variation" doesn't work for me in a sports context. And RBI stands for runs batted in, not runs driven in.  Thank you and mend your ways.
  • Most misused word of the decade if not century:  Reactionary.  It means conservative, not reactive; it doesn't mean a quick or reflex reaction to some action or event.  You will probably see or hear it misused more than once in the next week, I promise.
  • When people say "With all due respect," what they're really saying is, "This will probably offend or irritate you, but I don't care, and I'm going to say it anyway."
  • When was the last time you saw "wash" hanging from a clothes line?  (Answer:  When someone's clothes dryer was broken.)
  • "I saw my first porno film recently. It was a Jewish porno film--one minute of sex and nine minutes of guilt."--Joan Rivers
  • Ignisecond:  The overlapping moment of time when the hand is locking the car door even as the brain is saying "my keys are in there."--"Sniglets," Rich Hall and Friends
  • You're  an old-timer if you remember when people used to have their tires retreaded instead of replaced with new ones. When you hauled your furnace ashes to the curb. And when the ice man cometh.  (Yes, I qualify.)
  • Was that a ping, a knock, or a whine?  And what about that rattle in the dashboard? That spot on the garage floor?  (Yes, you guessed right--I'm a carpochondriac!)
  • Take a look at your vinyl record collection or a stack of old magazines, and chances are the person on the cover is smoking or holding a cigarette.  It seemed to be the de rigueur prop du jour.
  • Town I didn't know existed until I ran across it in a news story about dangerous intersections:  Frostproof, Fla. (where, if by some remote chance you happen to be out that way, you apparently would be well advised to avoid the intersection of South Scenic Highway and County Road 700.)  As Larry King would say, "You'll thank me later."
  • jimjustsaying's Snack Food Find of the Month:  Buffalo wing-flavored sunflower seeds.  Who knew?
  • "If all economists were laid end to end, they would not reach a conclusion."--George Bernard Shaw
  • Jargoning:  A "theftie," Wired informs us, is a snapshot of a smartphone thief.  Phones running the Lookout app automatically snap a "selfie" with the front-facing camera when the wrong password is entered or the SIM card is removed.  The theftie is e-mailed to the registered owner. (Kind of hard to work into a conversation, but there you have it.)
  • Obituary Headline Nickname of the Month:  Rookie.  As in Gary "Rookie" Davison, Kenosha (Wis.) News obituary, Aug. 20, 2014.  R.I.P., Mr. Davison.
  • Fifty-sixth Wisconsin Town I Didn't Know Existed Until I Saw It Mentioned in a Green Bay Press-Gazette Obituary:  Mountain. (R.I.P., Alice E. Bowman, Green Bay Press-Gazette obituary, Aug. 14, 2014).  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, Dousman, Butternut, Montpelier, Cecil, Red River, Gillet, King, Laona, Kelly Lake, Glenmore, Tonet, Stiles, Morrison, Dunbar, Askeaton, Wild Rose, Neopit, Ellisville, Pickett, Flintville,  Forest Junction, Thiry Daems, and Black Creek.
  • "Ask 10 Gypsies the same question, and you will get 10 different answers.  Ask one Gypsy the same question 10 times, and you will still get 10 different answers."--Peter Maas, "The King of the Gypsies."
  • I had a dream that the Family Dollar company started a budget burger franchise:  One Guy.
  • Overheard: "If you take the bull by the horns, then what?"
  • Today's Latin Lesson: Terminus via opus. (End road work.)