Thursday, July 26, 2018

CELEBRITY ENDORSEMENTS

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

--"Джим - забавный парень, но он не Яков Смирнов!" (Jim's a funny guy, but he's no 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. 
https://henschelhausbooks.com/product/lol-i-gags/


The book is also available at:

POPCORN

By Jim Szantor

Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric and whimsical observations about the absurdities of contemporary life
  • I think Stormy could refer to both the porno actress in Donald Trump’s past and the state of his relationship with his wife.
  • And now there’s a former Playboy model in the picture.  Somehow I can almost hear Hillary cackling up a storm in the background.
  • I can't help myself.  I'm always drawn to the As Seen On TV product sections in any store that has one.  I mean, how can you pass up a Red Copper 5-Minute Chef or the Billy-Bob Instant Smile Comfort Fit Flex Cosmetic Teeth (One Size Fits Most, Comfortable Upper Veneer) or the the Spatty & Spatty Daddy Last Drop Spatula, two piece Set (6" and 12"), as seen on "Shark Tank"?  There's some stuff you simply can't pass up!                        
  • I don't care what anyone says:  We didn’t have school massacres every other week when Mister Rogers was alive.
  • “It is always a risk to speak to the press: They are likely to report what you say.”--Former Vice President Hubert Humphrey
  • Memo to TV weathercasters:  Why do you call rain “a rain event”?  Do I need a ticket? Will refreshments be served?  Are there guest speakers?  
  • Headline:  "Google to bring Dead Sea Scrolls to computer screens."  Reaction:  The scrolls will get about a thousandth as many "hits"--if that--as the next celebrity sex scandal.  (Odds of the Scrolls "going viral"?  Not good!)
  • jimjustsaying's Lifestyle Tip of the Week:  Never enter a relationship with someone who's just out of (or just going into!) the Federal Witness Protection Program!
  • Why do freight trains that derail always seem to be carrying deadly cyanide gas?  Doesn't the popcorn train ever derail? The paper towels train?  A blind man could be at the throttle of one of those trains, and nothing would ever happen! But put an ace conductor at the helm of the cyanide train and, five miles out, boom! It's uncanny.
  • You can tell you're an old-timer if you sometimes refer to a train as "the iron horse."
  • You know you’ve had too much to drink when you twist the cap off that last bottle of beer . . . and discover it wasn’t a twist-off-cap bottle of beer! 
  • I blindsided my dentist.  I saw her at the grocery store and asked, "Have we been flossing regularly?"
  • Sign on store counter: “Gift cards available—all denominations.”  Wow, how ecumenical!  Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, whatever . . . they will accommodate you.
  • Redundancy patrol:  "Continue on," "convicted felon," "pre-order."
  • Ever wonder how some of the “classic” TV shows of the past would have fared if remote controls had been around and there had been more than a hundred channel options back then?  (“ ‘Gilligan’s What’?  Never heard of it.”)
  • Being the coolest guy at the Senior Center is a lot like being the tallest midget in the circus  . . . or the skinniest kid at Fat Camp!
  • Every day I pray at least once to the Patron Saint of Comedy--Saint Shecky.  (Hallowed be his name.)
  • Recent fortune cookie message:  "A new pair of shoes will do you a world of good!" (Whew!  I'm glad my underwear passed muster!)
  • My favorite T-shirt message from the What on Earth catalog:
  • "I only do what the voices in my wife's head tell her to tell me to do."
  • How come you never see anyone with a pencil behind his ear anymore?
  • If speed bumps are so effective in mall parking lots, why not put them on the highways?  That's where speed kills, not in front of the Wal-Mart!
  • (Speed limit signs don't slow down those idiots who pass you like you're standing still when you're doing 65, so we have to move on to Plan B--as in Bumps.  (As Larry King would say, you'll thank me later.)
  • Memo to lazy drivers in all kinds of weather:  Activating your turn signal halfway through a turn doesn't really help.  What's the point?  We already know you're turning!
  • Has anyone ever seen Jennifer Aniston and Gwyneth Paltrow in the same room?
  • There are two kinds of stores in America:  Those who hand you your coins and those who slide them down to you in a metal chute. 
  • (And clerks who hand you your coins, bills, receipt and coupons in one mishmashed tangled lump should be beaten over the head with one of those This Counter Closed signs!) Whatever happened to counting out change, coins and bill separately?  Do these people enjoy this treatment when they are on the other side of the counter? Do they do this in Japan?
  • Did you know that crossword puzzles are not found in Chinese or Japanese publications?  The nature of their languages makes such construction impossible. 
  • jimjustsaying's Translation Service:  Trattoria--the code word for "overpriced Italian restaurant."
  •  "Give me chastity and continence, but not yet."--St. Augustine
  • Today’s Latin Lesson: Fines finium may adicio. ("Restrictions may apply.")

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

THE QUOTE RACK

The perils of high-tech policing

Breakthroughs in policing technology are slowly chiseling away at our civil rights and liberties.  The Supreme Court took a small step to halt that erosion last week, ruling that before the government can seize more than six days of your cellphone location history, it must have probable cause to show you did something wrong, and a warrant.

Yet this narrow judgment should give you little comfort.  The use of surveillance and tracking technology by law enforcement agencies is expanding at a head-spinning speed, and the courts can’t keep up with the pace of change.  Drones will soon follow us from the sky; facial recognition technology will watch us on the ground; algorithms will pinpoint where crimes will supposedly occur next. This technology has promise—drones could help locate missing children, for example—but it could also do unfathomable damage.  

Privacy rights will wither if we can’t escape the government’s watchful gaze. And because so much street policing in recent years has focused on minority communities—think stop-and-frisk—algorithms that factor in past offenses will inevitably send officers to these places again and again. Lawmakers urgently need to regulate this brave new world of policing, because the technology is getting away from us, fast.
--Barry Friedman, New York Times

Credit card perks disappear

Credit card account holders are accustomed to being showered with an ever-expanding menu of perks.  But card companies have begun reeling back the buffet of free benefits, owing to what they describe as the low usage of the perks.

Discover, for example, began trimming its perks in February, getting rid of return guarantees, purchase protections, extended warranty protection, auto rental insurance, and flight accident insurance.   This month, Chase will also remove price and return protection from its cards, along with a handful of travel-related perks on selected cards. Citi is also pruning its travel-related perks on some cards as well as its return-protection scheme. Visit your card company’s website to check whether your individual card is affected.
-- Herb Weisbaum, NBCNews.com

Health notes: The health benefits of ‘forest bathing’ . . .

The Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing”—using the senses to soak up the sights, smells, and sounds of the natural world—really does provide health benefits, new research suggests.  Scientists at the University of East Anglia analyzed the findings of more than 140 studies involving nearly 300 million people from 20 different countries, including the U.S., Spain, Australia, and Japan.  They found that spending more time outside in nature or living near green spaces, including urban parks, is associated with a lower risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, early death, and high blood pressure, as well as with better sleep and stronger feelings of well-being, ScienceDaily.com reports.  

“Forest bathing is already really popular as a therapy in Japan,” says the study’s author, Caoimhe Twohig-Bennett.  Our study shows that perhaps they have the right idea.”  That might be partly because time spent in green spaces promotes physical activity, exposure to sunlight and reduced pollution.  Breathing in phytoncides, which are organized compounds emitted by trees, may stimulate our immune systems and reduce inflammation.  Twohig-Bennett says the study found concrete evidence that green space significantly reduces people’s levels of salivary cortisol—a physiological marker of stress.


 . . . the ‘value’ of multi-vitamins . . .

People who take multivitamins to protect their heart health are wasting their money, new research has found. A review of 18 studies involving 2 million people followed for an average of roughly 12 years found no scientific evidence that these products help prevent heart attacks, strokes or death from heart disease regardless of people’s age, gender and level of physical activity.

These findings echo guidelines from the American Heart Association, which discourages the use of multivitamins for the prevention of heart disease. Nevertheless, dietary supplement sales are on the rise, and nearly 30 percent of Americans take multivitamins on a daily basis, assuming they’ll be healthier for it.  Some people even hope vitamins can make up for a poor diet or lack of exercise.  “I hope our study findings help decrease the hype around multivitamin and mineral supplements,” the study’s lead author, Dr. Joonseok Kim, tells NBCNews.com. The researchers say you can promote heart health by eating a healthy diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly and not smoking.
--The Week


 . . . and Vitamin D vs. colorectal cancer


Scientists have long known that vitamin D can strengthen teeth and bones by helping the body absorb calcium.  Now researchers believe that high concentrations of this key micronutrient could also help prevent colorectal cancer—the third most common cancer in the U.S., killing more than 50,000 people a year.  Dietary guidelines currently recommend that most adults get at least 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D a day for bone health, which can be done by eating fatty fish like salmon or trout and taking supplements or getting a judicious amount of sun exposure.  

But after analyzing data on more than 12,000 people in the U.S., Asia, and Europe, scientists at the American Cancer Society and other groups found that people with higher-than-recommended blood levels of vitamin D had a 22 percent lower risk of developing colorectal cancer.  Those with lower-than-recommended levels, meanwhile, had a 30 percent higher risk for the disease.  Study co-author Marji McCullough tells NPR.com that people over age 70 should increase their vitamin D uptake to 800 IUs daily, noting that what’s optimal for bone health may not be optimal for colorectal risk reduction.

--The Week

The stock market's irrelevance

The stock market index is becoming meaningless. , GE, which has been a part of the Dow Jones industrial average since 1907, was replaced recently in the index’s basket of 30 stocks by Walgreens.  GE’s removal probably has to do with its sagging profits or the relative decline of industrial companies.  But it bears asking: What are the fortunes of 30 of country’s companies—out of 3,500 publicly listed corporations—supposed to tell us about our massively complex, globalized economy anyway?  

In truth, the Dow was made for another era, when people didn’t have nearly as much access to different kinds of information.  An index of a few dozen stocks is helpful for historical comparisons, but it no longer reflects our primary economic forces. As a matter of design, the Dow can’t include extremely high-priced stocks such as Google and Amazon because their values would wildly distort the average.  Share prices are also becoming detached  from traditional measures of a company’s worth, because digital firms are valued so differently. Costco had earnings per share of $6.08 last year, while Amazon had $6.15.
But Costco’s market value is $91 billion, while Amazon’s is $844 billion. If we want a snapshot of the economy, the real one that you and I live and work in, the Dow is not the best indicator.
--Alexis Madrigal, The Atlantic

Saturday, June 9, 2018

POPCORN

By Jim Szantor

Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric and whimsical observations about the absurdities of contemporary life

  • I’m a long way from Hawaii, but I’ve stopped turning on my Lava Lamp in solidarity with the volcano-beleaguered populace.
  • All those who thought Rudy Giuliani was this big of a doofus before he hooked up with Donald Trump, raise your hands. 
  • I don’t know about you, but hardly a week goes by without my having to order a product online--a product that used to be available in stores but now isn’t.  (“Sorry, we don’t carry that anymore” is an all-too-common refrain . . . and ownership wonders why revenue is down!)
  • A friend of mine needed a personal item or two while in Cancun, so he went—where else?--to La Tiendas de Familia Peso. (That's Family Dollar to us gringoes.)
  • If I had just escaped from prison and wanted to be totally ignored, the first thing I’d get would be a red flag.  Because this much we know about these horrendous school or workplace massacres:  Warning signs of all sorts (weapons caches, ominous tweets, terroristic boasts, etc.) are roundly ignored.  My long-lasting freedom would be assured with a red flag.
  • I hate to bring up Afghanistan, but are we in the 17th year of the war . . . or in the first year for the 17th time?  And how many people could find it on a map?
  • jimjustsaying’s Party Ice-Breaker of the Week:   “Say [actual partygoer’s name here], did you know that eyes of guppies are normally a silver color, but they turn black when the fish get angry?”
  • It has come to this:  Football can’t decide what is or isn’t a catch,  and baseball can’t decide what is or isn’t a proper slide.  You’d think the games originated in 2017!   
  • And it seems as if everything in baseball is sponsored these days:  "Here's the Brewers starting lineup, brought to you by Milwaukee-area Chevy dealers." . . .  "Let's set the Brewers Pepsi defense for you." . . . . "This call to the pen is brought to you by . . . ."
  • (What's next?   "This between-innings Announcer Bathroom Visit is brought to you by Quilted Northern, the official bathroom tissue of the Milwaukee Brewers . . . .")
  • Speaking of the Brewers, it seems like the Polish sausage has dominated the mid-game/between innings “races” so far this season at Miller Park, but keep in mind--there's a lot of sausage yet to be played!
  • "The other day I was thinking, ‘I just overthink things.’ And then I thought, ‘Do I, though?’"--Comedian Demetri Martin
  • Prediction: Sometime in the coming weeks you're bound to hear some geriatric hippy proclaim that "Woodstock changed the world."
  • Really?  Far as I can tell, the day it ended the Soviet Union was still an oppressive communist nation, Third World children were still starving, and Howard Cosell was still an obnoxious, insufferable oaf.  I don't think three days of naked hippies smoking weed and slogging through the mud at Max Yasgur's farm to music they probably couldn't really hear very well changed much of anything
  • Why do we say “cold and damp” in the fall/winter and “hot and humid” in summer?  Why the difference in terminology?  Is there an official line of demarcation? After all, we're talking about the same phenomenon--moisture in the atmosphere.  So is it "damp" at 59.9 degrees or lower and "humid" at 60 and above?  Until otherwise notified, I’m going with “hot and damp” this summer--and "cold and humid" next winter!
  • My chiropractor alluded the other day to "muscle memory."  Unfortunately for me, I have muscle Alzheimer's!  (That may not bode well for the healing process.)
  •  All-overrated club: Angelina Jolie, Joy Behar and Larry David.
  • Mark my words, someday "Winnie the Pooh" will be on Broadway.  They've done just about everything else, from "Peter Pan" to "Spiderman."  So it’s just a matter of time.  (And I think former N.J. Gov. Chris Christie would be the leader in the clubhouse to play Eeyore.)
  • You're not a celebrity until you've been on the cover of People magazine, been a clue or an answer in the New York Times Sunday Crossword Puzzle or been mentioned in an least one edition of jimjustsaying.com
  • Aren't these police funeral "shows of solidarity" getting just a wee bit over the top?  I'm sure the sorrow is as sincere as it gets, but do we need hundreds of law-enforcement personnel saluting for the cameras while the pipes are piping?  The death of a Fond du Lac, Wis., officer saw this play out in funeral/memorial services in not one but two towns!
  • The obvious problem: Who's minding the store? That would be officers from nearby towns--personnel not all that familiar with the territory they are temporarily "covering"--leaving several towns shorthanded and inadequately protected!  Wonderful.  And this at a time when most police forces are not at full strength, for whatever reasons (retirements, suspensions, firings . . . .)
  • I abhor these tragedies as much as the next guy, I'm strongly against gun ownership, and if I won the lottery, I'd buy a bullet-proof vest for every police officer who needed one.  I'm just put off by these mawkish, gratuitous public displays that put the public at risk. 
  • If you look up news accounts of police/firefighter fatalities from decades ago, I doubt you'll find evidence of what we're seeing today.   The deaths were just as tragic, but the aftermath much less grandiose.  (Similarly, did football players of the pre-TV era do end-zone dances when they scored a touchdown?  Once again the media has become part of the event instead of the fly on the wall.)
  •  “People who don't make it think their lives would be rosy if they did, and those who do make it are startled to find they still have all their old problems, plus a few new ones, and begin to wonder if they'd be happier if they hadn't made it."--Dick Cavett in "Cavett."
  • Mailing lists are like roller coasters--it's far easier to get on one than off of one.
  • "If one is neither a lender nor a borrower, as Shakespeare had Polonius advise, one probably cannot buy a house."--Joe Queenan, Wall St. Journal
  • Today's Latin Lesson:   Evado meus gramen!  ("Get off my lawn!")

jimjustplaying

THE SOCRATIC METHOD?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

Luckily for me, the wait is over.



55th High School Reunion Essay


From Red Devils to Gray Devils (or, 73 is the new 61)

By Jim Szantor

It has been a long and winding road that brings the Class of '61 to Reunion Weekend.   A time when we can take our noses out of our devices and communicate the best possible way--face to face.  We've come so far and seen so much, but on this occasion it's all about something that we can never get enough of--living in the moment with people who matter to us.  Some of us may say more to each other this weekend than we did when we were in the same building on a daily basis.  Reunions can be strange that way.

We've gone our separate ways in many ways, but there are bonds that can never be separated, and Mary D. Bradford was a big part of that.  Some of the connections we treasure started before that, some came after.  But we're so fortunate to have them.  There's no app for that.

Our birth dates and graduation dates were bookended by two presidents known mainly by their initials (FDR and JFK), with some of us then sent off to an unpopular war by LBJ.  (OMG!)  Somehow we survived anti-war and race riots, three high-profile assassinations and thought we were living in turbulent times then.  Little did we know.

We've reached the time of our lives when, as is often said, it seems as if we're having breakfast every 20 minutes and a doctor's appointment every 20 days.   And if our waistlines have expanded, so have our vocabularies.  Unfortunately, many of our new  words end in "itis," "oscopy" or "ectomy" (with a few "ograms" thrown in for good measure.)  Some of us are lucky enough to have original factory equipment, but others seem to be doing just fine with replacement parts.  Our mileage may vary accordingly.

Our lives since high school have had similar arcs (higher education, marriage and careers, exhilarating highs and devastating lows, medical battles won and lost), but no two narratives are alike, with their surprising and fortuitous twists, unexpected and unfortunate turns.  We'll talk about them, tell stories--funny and otherwise--we may have told before.  But underneath it all is something strangely and poignantly wistful that is easier to experience than to explain.  A tear or two may flow, but laughter will carry the day.  To borrow a title from my favorite song of those cherished Bradford years, "It's All in the Game."

We'll reminisce about the sweet used-to-be, a time when you could get on a plane without getting undressed, when mosquitoes were occasional nuisances instead of winged assassins, and a Christmas gift might be one of those wildly irresponsible vintage toys of our youth--the chemistry set--the better to conduct home experiments with the ammonium nitrate now prized by rogue terrorists.

Our first cars are quaint relics now (it's cringe-inducing to contemplate how crude and dangerous they really were), but how treasured they were then!  Apples were something we ate; Steve Jobs was just 6 years old on our Graduation Day and hadn't decided to change the world just yet.  Amazon was a river in South America, a tweet was a sound produced by a bird, and Google was the name of a comic-strip character whose first name, if you don't remember it, can be learned if you use his last name to find it, using a device probably within arm's reach.

Culturally, a maverick from Mississippi named Elvis Presley was viewed as outrageous by some as the fabled Generation Gap reared its head, writ large.  No one envisioned such outre performers as Alice Cooper, Madonna and Sid Vicious and others of inexplicable popularity.  Thus, rap and hip-hop aren't likely to be heard at the Chateau on our special night; Snoop Dogg won't be making the playlist.  We'll hear many oldies and savor the memories they conjure up as the sound track of our youth plays on.

We'll survey the years and laugh about the clothes we wore, the "what were we thinking?" misadventures and the gasoline we burned going around in circles downtown.   We took ourselves perhaps too seriously at times but at least took no "selfies."  (And what about that sheepskin we worked so hard to get?  All we got was a piece of paper!   I, for one, still feel cheated and have thus given my graduation an Incomplete.  But that's just me.)

Our graduates include at least two doctors that I know of, perhaps a lawyer or three, but most likely no Indian chiefs.  Scanning the yearbook, some wonderful names pop out--a Jane Eyre and a Thomas Wolfe, whom I dearly hope can come home again.   The Annex may be gone but still stands tall in our memories.  It rained on our scheduled Graduation Day, a happenstance that turned out to be more of a innocuous oddity than an ill omen.

We'll share some of our epic Kodak moments, those occasions when someone was bound to say, "Great Grandma is probably looking down on us with a big proud smile."  (To explore the thought of other moments when Great Grandma was looking down on us is a thought too unsettling to pursue further in this essay, if you get my drift.  Who raises and lowers the celestial curtain?)

Those of us who have moved away can use this occasion to revisit old haunts (the ones that still exist) and scan the crowd for familiar faces (thank God for name tags) and lament the absence of those we fear we may never see again, trying to remember that, as a poet once said, people die but love doesn't have to.  The list of Missing Classmates numbers about 280 and leads one to wonder where those people are, and, if still living, why they have stayed in the shadows.  If by choice, we have to respect that; if for darker reasons, that's most unfortunate.  We may know the circumstances for a few, but for the others--whether they were good friends, casual acquaintances or names we hardly recognize--like a lot of life's mysteries, we may never know.  We can only hope that life has dealt them the best possible hand.

It has been said that the 25th is the best reunion--some liken it to life's mid-term exam--and say they only get sadder after that.  But most marathoners--those lucky enough to remain in the race--feel more exhilaration in the home stretch than they did at the halfway mark.  Granted, we know the trip is not going to last forever, but it's satisfying to toast the milestones we've achieved and humbly acknowledge our good fortune.  And who knows--the way research is advancing on the scourges of cancer and Alzheimer's, in five years 78 may be the new 61.  Let's drink to that!