Thursday, September 20, 2018


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 Yakof 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. And they're now offering FREE SHIPPING IN THE CONTINENTAL U.S.

The book is also available at:


By Jim Szantor

Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric and whimsical observations about the absurdities of contemporary life
  • Political strategist and forensic blood-spatter expert:  Two occupations that no kid ever fantasizes about!
  • If Norman Rockwell came back to life today, do you think there's anything he'd want to paint?
  • Does Anderson Cooper have two first names . . . or two last names?  Discuss!
  • To the lady who wrote in:  Yes, there is a reason why surgeons wear light blue scrubs.  It seems that when scrubs were first introduced, they were often white--but soon fell out of favor because they gave off a bright glare under bright operating theater lights. A lot of manufacturers switched to blue or green after that.--Quora Digest
  • Three bad ideas for a business:  Just Cufflinks.  Just Umbrellas. Just Shoelaces.
  • I noticed, ahead of me at a stoplight, a Chevy Avalanche.  Now, how is that a good name for a vehicle?  Who signed off on that?  Has anyone ever benefited from an avalanche?  What's next, a Toyota Typhoid?  A Honda STD?  
  • I wonder how many people have text-messaged while having surgery under local anesthetic?  Don’t laugh;  somebody’s probably doing it at this very moment.   (Send me a Tweet from the surgical suite?)
  • Headline of the Week:  "Amazon to sell Christmas trees. "  (Still on the drawing board, I'm thinking:  Curbside pickup on Jan. 2???)
  • “When it’s 100 in New York, it’s 72 in Los Angeles. When it’s 30 degrees in New York, in Los Angeles it’s still 72. However, there are 2 million interesting people in New York—and 72 in Los Angeles.”--Neil Simon
  • You're an old-timer if you can remember taking glass soda bottles back to the store for the deposit money.   (You're a young person if you have never seen a glass soda pop bottle.)
  • I don't care what anyone says:  We didn't have erectile dysfunction ads in prime time when Mr. Rogers was alive.
  • Let's see if I've got this right:  "KIds under 3 eat free."  Senior sodas, senior coffee.  Where's the middle-age break?  No wonder the middle class can't get ahead--they're locked out of the discount loop.
  • Quiet as its kept, my wife and I are in the running for heavy TV exposure next spring:  "Naked and Afraid, Senior Division."   (Always wanted to get naked in the steaming jungles of Botswana!  I'm sure there's an all-but-invisible but heavily poisonous insect with my name on it.)
  • Why is the Mute button the hardest one to find on any remote control?  It's in a different place on every model.
  • Obituary headline:  "Pharmacist and master cribbage player."   Cribbage.  Now there's a game for the Facebook/Twitter/Buzzfeed Generation!
  •  "Death and taxes and childbirth.  There’s never a convenient time for any of them."--Novelist Margaret Mitchell
  • Combine  hydrogen peroxide, oxalate estes, butyl benzoate, dimethy phthalate and fluorescent dyes (anthracene derivatives, lumongen Red 300), and what have you got?  Glow sticks, of course.   (Kind of hard to work into a conversation, but there you have it.)
  • When researchers at Bell Labs and Hughes Aircraft actually began producing laser light in the 1960s, they never imagined that its first mainstream use would be scanning bar codes at checkout counters.
  • "He who is not contented with what he has would not be contented with what he would like to have."--Socrates 
  • Three TV shows I never watch:  "Project Runway," "Total Divas," and "Babe Winkelman's Outdoor Secrets."
  • jimjustsaying's Word That Should Exist But Doesn't of the Month:  Buyercade.  n.  That plastic or rubber bar that separates your items at the checkout from the others.
  • Political speech I'd love to (but probably never will) hear:  "Win or lose, I promise to have all of my campaign signs and posters taken down the day after the election."
  • Drudge Report headline:  "People have sex in airports to pass time."  Comment:  Well, you've already got your shoes off . . . .
  • Memo to anyone who purchased the "Leave it to Beaver" boxed DVD set:  You either have too much time on your hands or too much money or very questionable taste in pop culture.   (Not my Guilty Pleasure, either.)
  • Today's Latin Lesson:  Et vectigalia solvere singulis tractandis justo.  ("Just pay separate postage and handling.")


How much alcohol is safe?
In a hotly disputed finding, a major global study has concluded that there is no "safe" level of alcohol consumption, and that even the occasional drink can be harmful to your health. The Global Burden of Disease Study examined data on drinking in 195 countries between 1990 and 2016, focusing on how consumption affected risk for 23 different alcohol-related issues.  The researchers found that even as little as one drink a day over a year slightly increased the incidence of health problems.  A low level of alcohol use does seem to provide some protection against heart disease and diabetes, researchers acknowledged, but those benefits are outweighed by other impacts.  

But the study’s methods sparked widespread skepticism, reports the New York Times. The researchers weren’t able to control for possible confounding factors: People who drink may be more likely to smoke, for example.  Many researchers argue that recommending zero alcohol consumption is unrealistic and unhelpful. "Claiming there is no 'safe' level does not seem an argument for abstention," says David Spiegelhalter, a statistician at Cambridge University. "There is no safe level of driving, but governments do not recommend that people avoid driving."
--The Week
Dislike Trump, but work with him
What does it mean to be a patriotic company when you vehemently disagree with your nation’s leader? That’s the debate raging in Silicon Valley.  Employees at Google, Microsoft, and Amazon have lobbied their companies to drop government contracts; Google abandoned Project Maven, which used artificial intelligence to analyze images from drones.  The argument is supposedly about morality and ethics.  In truth, though, the ethical arguments are a diversion. This is political.  It’s really about President Trump.  But the idea that the tech industry shouldn’t work with elected leaders that employees disagree with doesn’t play well outside Silicon Valley. 

 "How do you stand up and talk to a Marine or a special operator and explain to them that you won’t let them use your software," asks the CEO of Palantir, a company that has many contracts with the U.S. government.  Workers in Silicon Valley might ponder that and rethink their position. Helping the country with its defense was one of the ways that the Valley helped demonstrate the value of technology to the public.  With so many questions emerging about the benefits that tech companies offer society, there could soon be a time when Silicon Valley needs the public’s support.
--Andrew Ross Sorkin, New York Times
The press: We are not the enemy
***I can barely believe it needs to be said, but the free press is not "the enemy of the people."  President Trump repeatedly slanders journalists and scorns the very idea of free speech because he will stop at nothing to silence criticism, no matter how legitimate.  Facts are his real enemy.  That’s why over 350 newspapers have joined the Globe in publishing editorials extolling the need for an independent media in a free society. 
--Adrian Walker, Boston Globe

***What a self-defeating act of journalistic groupthink.  Who is going to be persuaded or impressed by hundreds of newspapers criticizing Trump while patting themselves on the back? The number of Americans professing "a great deal"of trust in newspapers hasn’t cracked 30 percent since 2006.  You can’t pin that on Trump’s "fake news"rants, however over-the-top and wrongheaded they may be.
--Michael Graham in

 ***Dull, hectoring editorials are not the answer to Trump’s demagogic rhetoric.  Millions of voters sent a vulgarian from Queens to the Oval Office largely because of the media’s overt liberalism and contempt for their cherished beliefs and condescension for their ways of life.  These people were not all die-hard Trumpians.  If the press wants to start regaining the public’s trust, more humility and less venting of anti-conservative animosities would be a good start.
--Sohrab Ahmari,

***I’ve written my share of Trump criticisms, but this coordinated editorial response is sure to backfire.  His base tends not to read newspapers in the first place, and an avalanche of editorials singing from the same script is unlikely to move the opinion needle or deter Trump from attacking journalists and news organizations. Meanwhile, Trump gets a gift in the form of circumstantial evidence of a national press cabal that has been convened solely to oppose him.  Rather than providing the president with  fresh material, perhaps editorial boards could collectively assign themselves a day of editorials on tariffs, global warming or the endless war in Afghanistan.  Surely these issues are as compelling and urgent as press freedom.
--Jack Shafer,

This bull market will end badly
Another epic collapse is coming.  It may seem hard to believe, particularly as the stock market  officially notched its longest bull run of all time [in mid-August].  But the more relevant milestone [was] Sept. 15--the 10-year anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, then the fourth-biggest U.S. investment bank.  History’s largest bankruptcy filing presaged the October 2008 evaporation of almost $10 trillion in global market capitalization.  The Lehman anniversary should serve as a timely reminder that nothing lasts forever.  

Those who see no Lehman-like episode on the horizon did not see the last one.  The U.S. economy has grown for 111 months, but all expansions end.  This one has been fueled by government spending, and when it does end, the U.S. will already be laboring under a federal debt of more than $1 trillion.  People like Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell regularly tell us fiscal policy is on an unsustainable path.  That really means that we’ve already sustained it too long and gotten used to the situation.  The  political class, from left to right prefers to run up deficits.  They won’t be in office when it’s time to face the future voters they’ve saddled with the bill.
--George Will, Washington Post

Ignoring white-collar crimes
It should not take a special counsel to uncover millions in bank fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion.  For decades, professional political fixers Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen blatantly lied to banks and hid tens of millions of dollars from the IRS—but they’d still be working their frauds today had they not gotten tangled up in the investigations of Donald Trump. 

How common are these kinds of crimes? The disturbing truth is, we don’t know.  The FBI and Justice Department no longer aggressively pursue white-collar crime; the IRS’s enforcement function has been undermined by deep budget cuts.  Under both Democratic and Republican administrations, the Justice Department has lost the will and ability to prosecute executives at banks, Big Pharma, and other corporations.  At worst, egregious wrongdoing results in fines, with the individual perpetrators escaping punishment.  It has gotten far worse under the Trump administration, which is engaged in a regulatory strike.  Last year, Justice Department fines against companies plummeted 90 percent and white-collar cases fell 31 percent, compared with 2008. That must be sweet music to not just other Manaforts and Cohens but also any corporate malefactors out there.
--Jesse Eisinger,
What’s the state of local news?
It’s a shell of its former self. The weekday circulation of U.S. newspapers has been in steady decline since 1998, when it was 62.7 million.  Today their print and digital circulation combined reaches only about 31 million, according to the Pew Research Center. Fewer readers means less subscription revenue, but it’s the crash in advertising revenue that’s been most painful. . . . Newsrooms employ almost 40 percent fewer people than they did in 1994, and newspaper reporter was rated "the worst job in America" for four years running, according to CareerCast, which ranks jobs based on factors such as stress, risks, compensation, and opportunity for growth.

What caused local news’ decline? More than anything else, the internet. Older readers continue to buy newspapers, but younger readers who grew up expecting free online content and constantly updated news aren’t inclined to pay for a printed product.  As readers began defecting to online sources in the early 2000s, Craigslist made paid newspaper classified ads all but obsolete with its mostly free message boards.  . . .  Still another threat comes from niche new-media startups that see opportunity in local newsrooms’ vulnerability.  Alex Mather, co-founder of the subscription-based sports website, told The New York Times his deep-pocketed company plans to poach the best local sports reporters in every city. “ We will wait every local paper out and let them continuously bleed until we are the last ones standing,” Mather said.

Why didn’t local papers adapt?  In many small and midsize cities, multiple generations of the same wealthy family commonly owned the local paper, often treating it as a public service rather than an exclusively for-profit venture.  But as the internet began devouring their revenue, many waited too long to react, and the losses became unsustainable. .
Do we still need local news?  Only if things like schools, taxes, infrastructure, and government accountability matter to you.  Where fewer reporters cover local business and government, Margaret Sullivan warned in The Washington Post, "corruption can flourish, taxes can rise, public officials can indulge their worst impulses."  When a local newspaper shutters, that same community experiences increased government waste and inefficiency, according to a 2018 report released by the Social Science Research Network.  The loss of local reporting also depresses most citizens’ engagement in state and local politics, leading to activists dominating the parties and greater political polarization. 

Can local news be saved?  Only if creative innovations take hold. Some local newspapers have instituted "paywalls" requiring frequent readers to cough up money; digital revenue, however, hasn’t made up for the massive loss of print revenue.  The nonprofit ProPublica is providing cash grants to help local newsrooms pursue ambitious investigative projects, and its Local Reporting Network will expand in 2019 to support coverage of state governments.  Veteran journalist Don Day spent the past year researching potential local news lifesavers and found inspiration from 19th Century industrialist Andrew Carnegie, who gave away most of his fortune late in his life, with a focus on funding public libraries.  Day hopes Carnegie’s example could serve as a model for wealthy philanthropists who would fund an $8 billion endowment to maintain local news operations in both large towns and smaller rural areas.  It may be the only way, Day says, to keep a working democracy intact.

The Texas Tribune model
Venture capitalist John Thornton wrote in 2009 that journalism that takes on serious, complex issues and puts them in the context of how citizens interact with their government should be considered a public good. Thornton recognized that, as with clean air and national defense, market forces would not sufficiently provide for such journalism.  So he invested $1 million of his own money and raised over $2 million more to launch the membership-driven nonprofit Texas Tribune.  

An early adopter of digital-data journalism, the Tribune created a splash with its easily searchable public-record databases, providing the citizenry with access to the kind of information once available only to FOIA-savvy journalists.  Prioritizing impact reporting over clicks, the Tribune allows its award-winning stories to be reprinted free of charge in other outlets.  This strategy has proved popular with the Tribune’s paid membership, who NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen says "don’t want a gate around the journalism they’re supporting."  When you pay to become a member in a journalism nonprofit, Rosen says, you aren’t paying for a product—"you join the cause because you believe in the work.
--The Week
Presidents and the economy
Presidents get too much credit and too much blame for the economy.  Powerful global forces, such as advances in technology, or turmoil between nations, have far more impact on the economy than any one president’s policies. Trump’s short-term stimulus and tax reform should increase investment, but his trade wars, attacks on international institutions and immigration, and comfort with crony capitalism could all leave lasting damage.  My final words on how we should judge the Trump economy?  It’s still too early.
--Michael Strain in

Attacking health-care act will backfire
Republicans are hell-bent on killing the Affordable Care Act, but their stubborn assault on this increasingly popular law is the definition of a political suicide mission.  Even as Republicans struggle to fight back a "blue wave" in the midterm elections, 20 Republican-controlled states are charging ahead with a legal challenge to "Obamacare"--including its provision that health insurers cover people with pre-existing conditions. Polls show that three out of four Americans believe it’s very important that protection for pre-existing conditions remain in place. 

Meanwhile, support for broader health-insurance reform is surging.  Medicare for All, written off just a couple of years ago as a socialist fantasy, is now supported by a majority of Americans--including a majority of Republicans.  Why?  The GOP vow to eliminate [the ACA] was an effective campaign strategy until President Trump took office.  Suddenly, repealing a program that extends health coverage to millions of Americans was no longer theoretical--and support for the law skyrocketed.  By persisting with its kamikaze mission to destroy Obamacare through the courts, the GOP is giving Democrats a gift.  Even if Republicans win their lawsuit, they lose.
--Helaine Olen, Washington Post

How climate change will reshape ecosystems
If climate change continues on its current course, nearly every ecosystem on Earth will be completely transformed, creating a world almost unrecognizable compared with the one we live in today.  That’s the conclusion of a major new international study that sought to shed light on the future by looking at the past, reports  The researchers examined fossil and temperature records from the peak of the last Ice Age, about 20,000 years ago, to the year 1800.  Global temperatures rose 4 to 7 degrees Celsius over that period, and the resulting changes were extreme:  Sea levels rose by nearly 400 feet, forests grew on what was once ice-covered ground, and savanna turned to desert.  

To look ahead, the researchers examined how ecosystems would fare under four possible climate-change scenarios over the coming century.  In the most optimistic case--in which global temperatures rise only 1 degree Celsius--the chances of large-scale ecosystem change remain low.  But in the other three, including the "business as usual" scenario of 4-degree temperature increases by 2100, the world would be completely altered:  Oak forests would turn into grasslands; evergreen woods would become deciduous.  The findings, says study co-author Jonathan Overpeck, a climate scientist at the University of Michigan, provide yet another wake-up call that we need to act now to move rapidly toward an emission-free global economy.
-The Week
Ready, aim . . . FIRE
A growing number of young professionals are trying to leave the work world before they’re 40.  Looking for a way out of soul-sucking, time-stealing work, they are embracing the burgeoning FIRE movement—financial independence, retire early. FIRE evangelists "geek out calculating compound interest" to maximize their savings and find the formula that lets them move from places such as Silicon Valley to more affordable towns.  Variations abound: There are advocates of "lean FIRE," who believe in extreme frugality, "fat FIRE" who hold on in the work world long enough to keep up a higher standard of living, and even "barista FIRE," who quit stressful jobs but work at Starbucks part-time for the health insurance.  "We all know that a traditional retirement is a thing of the past," said Elizabeth O’Brien in  FIRE enthusiasts are essentially saying, "Let’s just blow up the whole concept of career, and retirement, and start from scratch."
--Steven Kurutz, New York Times
Nomination rules change
The Democratic National Committee voted [recently] to dramatically reduce the influence of "superdelegates" in selecting the party’s presidential nominee, with significant implications for the 2020 race.  In the past, superdelegates—elected officials and other party leaders—got a say in nominating a candidate alongside delegates chosen in state primaries and caucuses.  In 2016, they made up about 15 percent of votes at the convention.  Under the new rules, superdelegates will vote only if the process is deadlocked and no candidate has a majority on the first ballot.  The decision raises the hopes of party outsiders in what’s expected to be a wide-open race to challenge President Trump. In 2016, supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) feared that superdelegates would overrule the wishes of primary voters.  Ultimately, Hillary Clinton won both a majority of primary voters and the nomination.
--The Week


An economic trend too many are ignoring
Check out the world of intangible investment

Death on foot
America's love of SUV's is killing pedestrians 

When America stopped believing in the American Dream
The nation's  mood is arguably as dark as it has ever been

Twitter's misguided quest to be a forum for everything
'Shadow banning' and other quirks and abuses

Probiotics are 'useless'
Study upends longstanding beliefs

The rise of the zombie small businesses . . .
What your chicken dinner says about wage stagnation, income inequality, and economic sclerosis in the United States

. . . and the rise of clapter
Talk-show hosts getting more applause than laughs with their endless topicality

Travel is no cure for the mind
Travel is often seen as the key to happiness. Here’s why it’s not

Monday, August 20, 2018


By Jim Szantor

Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric and whimsical observations about the absurdities of contemporary life
  • Little-known biographical fact about me: I was a herpetologist for the CIA.
  • They're saying it's looking like "The Year of the Woman" in politics.  In the Catholic Church . . . not so much.   I mean, what's the hurry?  No problems whatsoever with the status quo.  Total transparency and not a scintilla of scandalous or criminal behavior.  So therefore, by all means keep the men in charge.  What could go wrong?  Women can wait a few centuries longer.
  • Speaking of politics: Has anyone leading in a political poll ever said, "I don't believe in polls, and the only poll that counts is on Election Day"?  No!  Only the also-rans say that.  If they magically bounce up in the polls, suddenly the refrain is revised.  
  • Someone asked me what I thought about Russian oligarchs, and I said:  "If they're endangered,  they should be protected, and poachers should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law!"
  • When in doubt, attritute any impressive-sounding quotation you just uttered to Benjamin Franklin, George Bernard Shaw or H.L. Mencken.  (In a pinch, you could also use Will Rogers or Sir Winston Churchill.)
  • I think our new neighbor has a giant inferiority complex.  She subscribes to Mediocre Homes and Gardens.
  • Sight never seen:  A white bellhop in an old black-and-white movie.  (Jerry Lewis doesn't count!)
  • "They say the universe is expanding. That should help with the traffic.” Comedian Steven Wright.
  • Summer is so almost over that all of the newspaper columnists have already written their annual "Don't let the summer slip away" columns.
  • Sudden thought:  I can't remember ever seeing a Starbucks commercial on TV (or heard one on radio).   I guess they're so busy printing money that they don't have the need to do one (or the time to produce one).
  • Speaking of Starbucks, they have more "laptop hobos" than McDonald's.  Something tells me these hobos aren't hopping freight trains . . . at least not on a regular basis.    (One possible reason:  No Wi-Fi service in a boxcar!)
  • Redundancy Patrol:  "False pretenses,"  "protest against," "final outcome."
  • jimjustsaying's Party Ice-Breaker of the Week:  "Say [actual partygoer's name here], did you know that Robert M. Pirsig, author of the best-selling and influential "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values," once wrote technical manuals and ads for the mortuary cosmetics industry?" 
  • "A neurosis is a secret you don't know you're keeping."--Critic Kenneth Tynan
  • jimjustsaying's Word That Doesn't Exist But Should of the Month:  Tabalongs:   Those plastic mini-barrels or paper packets you find in pill bottles, ostensibly to absorb moisture.  
  • Overheard: "In a few weeks my 4-year-old grandson will be starting preschool."
  • No, he won't.  He'll be in school, but there's nothing "pre" about it.  He  will be in a room with a teacher, other kids, a blackboard, has to raise his hand to go to the bathroom and won't be able to leave until a bell rings, so that's School, whether it's Totland, the Sorbonne or the Massachusetts of Technology.  The only "pre" part is when he rubs the sleep out of his eyes and wolfs down the Pop-Tart.  Because when he clambers out of the minivan and disappears into that building, he's in School.  The only difference between that place and Harvard is the curriculum.  (Show-and-tell/oral exams.  Finger painting/spreadsheets.  Etc.)
  • Do people still hang wallpaper?  Do they still make it?
  • People with Ph.D. degrees who list it after their names at all times whether relevant or not are truly odd 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'.  I can play the clarinet, saxophone and flute,, but I don't list "clarinetist-saxophonist-flautist" after my signature.  I held the rank of staff sergeant in the Air Force but don't list Staff Sergeant (Ret.) after my name.  
  • And why do we call those people "doctors" anyway, when most people think of that title as that of an M.D.?  Why not Academics?  Yet another quirk of the language.
  • jimjustsaying's Top 10 Signs That the Population is Aging More Than We Thought:
  • 10.  New fed stimulus plan--Senior Discounts out; Senior Surcharge In!
  •   9.  Disney breaking ground on new GeezerLand theme park.
  •   8.  Nursing Home Triathlons (1 lap around the lobby, 10 seconds on the exercise bike, 30 minutes in the bathtub)
  •  7.  Newest must-have Apple product:  iDefribillators! 
  •  6.  Can you say Viagra Gummy Tabs?
  •  5.  Playboy's Playmate of the Century:  Betty White
  •  4.  Angelina Jolie does a commercial for Depends
  •  3.  Folks over 110 eat free at all participating Red Lobsters!  (Void where prohibited.)
  •  2.  Coming soon to a mall near you:  Gap For Granny.
  •  1.  Your oldest son comes to you on Saturday afternoon and says:  "Dad, can I have the walker tonight?"
  • Quote for the ages:  New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet wants this quote he once got included in his obituary.  Baquet was a kid reporter in his hometown of New Orleans when he met up with Edwin "The Silver Zipper" Edwards and asked the Louisiana gubernatorial candidate's reaction to a poll that said he had a healthy lead.  "The only way I lose this election," Edwards told him, "is if I'm caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy."--The Poynter Morning MediaWire
  • Speaking of media, here's a memo (to print media, especially):  Just say "bar" or "tavern." "Watering hole" wasn't all that clever to begin with and has been overused to a nauseating extent.  And not that many people order a round of water!  
  • Poker has become so popular, young people are even getting into it.  What's next? The Little League World Series of Poker?  ("I'll see your Skittles and raise you three M&M two-packs.")
  • jimjustsaying's Word That Doesn't Exist But Should of the Week:  Tacangle: n. The position of one's head while biting into a taco.--"Unexplained Sniglets of the Universe," Rich Hall and Friends.
  • Today's Latin Lesson:  It's nostrum parum specialis.  ("It's our little secret!")



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.