Tuesday, December 5, 2017

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:

jimjustsaying's Most Anticipated Holiday TV Specials

1.  "Christmas With the Gingriches"
2.  "Winnie the Pooh's Holiday Pot Party"
3.  "Police Navidad"
4.   "Joey Buttafuoco's Last Incarcerated Christmas" (encore presentation)

And last but not least:

1.  "Christopher Walken in a Winter Wonderland"

(See your local listings for time and station information.)

POPCORN


By Jim Szantor

Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric and whimsical observations about the absurdities of contemporary life
  • Those of a certain age know the "dollar stores" have replaced the "dime stores" of our youth. But have they?  Still looking for the first dollar store with a lunch counter or soda fountain.  (No grilled cheese at the Dollar Tree!)
  • Speaking of grilled cheese, during the worst days of winter and the cold and flu season, you hear about people craving "comfort food."  As opposed to--what?--torture food?   Shouldn't all food be comfort food?  If it's not, why are you eating it?  (Even if you don't like broccoli, eating it should give you great comfort in knowing that it is helping extend your life span.)
  • ("Ready to order, sir?"   "Um, I’m torn between two items in the Torture Food section--the Turkey with Turpentine Glaze or the Chicken Breast with Cyanide Sauce!")
  • Speaking of edibles:  "Metaphysics is like a restaurant where they give you a 30,000-page menu and no food."--Robert M. Pirsig (author of one of my favorite books, "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance").
  • Someone used the term "crocodile tears" the other day.   I watch a lot of nature programs (mostly on the National Geographic channel), but I've never seen a crocodile crying.   Baring its teeth, yes.  Pouncing on some unwary prey, yes.   But in tears?   No--not even misty-eyed!  Same goes for alligators, iguanas and monitor lizards.   Where do these terms come from?  Just another illogical oddity of English language idioms.  
  • (If we want to denote a copious amount of tears, aren't elephants a lot bigger than crocodiles?  Wouldn't "elephant tears" get the idea across more accurately (or more hyperbollicaly)?
  • Pop-up ads on the internet are getting not only more numerous but more annoying, especially those where the "X" boxed exit spot is either very difficult to find (they keep moving it around) or even, lately, nonexistent.   One of the worst violators: the Chicago Tribune, my former employer of 27 years.   And then there are those advertising videos that don't allow you to fast-forward them.   Make it a point to boycott those products.
  • Recent headline: NYC rats have evolved into "Uptown" and "Downtown" breeds. (No word on "Park Avenue" or "The Hamptons" breeds.)
  • Hard to know which word has appeared most in news stories these last few months, but I think "groped," "harassment" and " inappropriate" are probably near the top.
  • jimjustsaying's Pun of the Month, Congressional division:  I keep puzzling about Franken's sense and Moore.
  • Sometimes politicians just can’t win—no pun intended.  If they change their position on an issue, not so much for political expediency but because of changing conditions or after conscientious study or soul-searching, they’re branded as "flip-floppers." 
  • But if they stick to a position and never waver, they’re "rigid" or "ideologues."   And if that’s not enough, pols of all stripes have their statements "taken out of context"--either by opponents or some media--a frightening amount of the time, out of context being polspeak for "You caught me saying what I actually said or really think but I'll deny it to the death."
  • jimjustsaying's Party Ice-Breaker of the Month: "Say [actual partygoer's name here], did you know that Buddy Hackett was asked to join the Three Stooges after Curly Howard suffered a stroke?  He declined due to family commitments."
  • More Stooge stuff (and don't you think the world needs more of it in these troubled times?):  The Three Stooges, according to Trendchasers, our standby, go-to source of everything Stoogey,  actually received an Oscar nomination for one of their 220 films. Their 1934 short film "Men In Black" gained a nomination for Best Short Subject--Comedy.  It lost to the film "La Cucaracha."  (Too bad; a Stooges acceptance speech probably would have been one for the ages.)
  • I keep getting Ivanka and Melania Trump mixed up.  One is the First Daughter and the other is the First Arm Candy, but I can't remember which is which.
  • Someone recently posed an interesting question, and I regret I somehow lost track of the source.  The question:  Movies that take place in ancient Rome, Greece and Egypt often have music that sounds authentic.  Is this music based on any actual manuscripts from those time periods?
  • It turns out, it is not.  We do have some knowledge of ancient instruments from written descriptions and depictions on works of art, which may help modern composers for films produce music that seems fitting.  But we know little about the style in which these instruments were played and even less about what kinds of compositions might have been common or popular.  Only a handful of melodies have been preserved, along with fragments of musical notations.
  • Eightieth Wisconsin Town I Didn't Know Existed Until I Saw It Mentioned in a Green Bay Press-Gazette Obituary: Lark, Wis.. (R.I.P., Ramond C. "Chuck" Schmitt, Green Bay Press-Gazette obituary, Nov. 1, 2017).  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,  Mountain, Ledgeview, Lunds, Suring, Lakewood, Beaver, Cloverleaf Lakes, Krakow, Pella, Townsend, Vandenbroek, Coleman, Spruce, Armstrong Creek, Lake Gogebic, North Chase, Navarino, Pequot Lakes, Buchanan,  Rio Creek, Humboldt, Mill Center, Carlton and White Potato Lake.
  • jimjustsaying's Word That Doesn't Exist But Should of the Month: ReYulerate.  v. To reposition Christmas tree lights so no two of the same color are beside each other.--"Unexplained Sniglets of the Universe," Rich Hall & Friends.
  • One problem with home schooling:  No yearbook!
  • What's in a Name/Nomenclature Disconnect Dept.: There are few if any commercial entities that label themselves what they actually are and what people actually call them.  
  • Therefore, there are no "grocery stores," "gas stations," "convenience stores" or "pool halls"  but rather "SuperCenters," "Markets," "Centers," "Marts" "Depots" or "Parlors."  (Kudos to Ace Hardware, which apparently never got or chose to ignore the memo.)
  • And who started this business of stores asking for charitable donations at the checkout counter?  Do they get a tax break by doing this?  Hard to  consider something "good PR" when it irritates the customers!   I guess this is an "upgrade" from having the traditional cannister near the register and probably preys more on customer guilt.
  • "A woman offered $10 to kiss George Jessel at a fundraising rally.   Jessel then killed 152 women  and raised $1,520.--Raleigh (N.C.) News & Observer via "Still More Press Boners" by Earle Tempel.
  • Today's Latin Lesson:  Non est actu iens ad induendum, es?  ("You're not actually going to wear that, are you?")

THE QUOTE RACK

Americans don’t pay enough taxes
We’re having the wrong debate about taxes.  The argument over the GOP’s proposed tax bill has focused on two issues:  Will lower taxes stimulate economic growth? And does the plan unfairly favor the wealthy over the middle class?   Interesting questions, to be sure, but mostly irrelevant to the nation’s long-term well-being.  The fact is, we simply cannot afford to reduce taxes.  Or, to put it another way, Americans are undertaxed.  In only five of the past 50 years have tax revenues covered federal spending.  The rest of the time, we’ve run deficits--during peace and war,  with strong economies and weak, with low inflation and high.  From 1990 to 2016, borrowing represented nearly 14 percent of annual federal spending.  That’s one dollar of every seven. And the budget deficit, already $666 billion, will only grow as more Baby Boomers retire and claim Social Security and Medicare, putting us at true risk of a financial calamity.  To rebalance the budget, painful steps would have to be taken: some programs cut, some taxes hiked.  But that’s not a vote-winning message.  Americans like big government.  They just don’t like paying for it.
--Robert Samuelson, Washington Post

A tax for using our data
Our data is valuable.  Each year, companies such as Facebook and Google make hundreds of billions of dollars on the back of information about each of us.  By some estimates, the data you give up in exchange for using free email or a photo app is worth $1,000 per person per year--and that figure is rising quickly.   Why should companies be the major, and often the only, beneficiaries of this largesse?  It’s time to consider a small tax on the money companies earn from selling our personal data.  The first firms that could be targeted would be those in the data brokerage industry, which bundles our data and sells it to advertisers.  A tax of less than 1 percent on the industry would generate at least $2 billion a year and would be small enough that no company’s bottom line would substantially suffer.  A tax on other companies that use our data to improve their own products--such as in search or artificial intelligence--could come next.  We give away plenty of data in order to use the internet, and it has made many companies very rich.  We should correct this trade imbalance by reclaiming some of the profits from material and labor that is, at its very core, our own.
--Saadia Madsbjerg,  New York Times

The fight over net neutrality
A world without net neutrality will work just fine.   Consumers could even benefit, as studies have shown that when service prioritization is applied on some internet platforms, users are rewarded with  higher quality video and less bandwidth congestion.  Net neutrality is  good in principle, said WashingtonExaminer.com in an editorial, but it shouldn’t be codified into law.  The market will take care of wrongdoers, because customers will flee providers that block or slow their service.  Moreover, there’s plenty to like about internet "fast lanes." Wouldn’t you prefer that data bytes flowing between, for instance, an operating room and an off-site surgeon take precedence over bytes of 100 dudes Googling to find out whether Jennifer Lawrence is married”?
--Tyler Cowen, Bloomberg.com

We need younger presidents
Abraham Lincoln was 52 when he became president. Teddy Roosevelt was 42, and Franklin D. Roosevelt was 51. Harry S. Truman was 60.  John F. Kennedy, 43. If most of our best presidents entered office at an average age of 50, why am I reading about potential candidates for 2020 who will be in their 70s?  Our current president, Donald Trump, is the first to take office as a septuagenarian.  If he runs for re-election at 74, his Democratic opponent could be Joe Biden, who’ll be 78 in 2020, Bernie Sanders, who’ll be 79, or Elizabeth Warren, who’ll be 71.  Do we really want to give the nation’s most demanding job to someone nearing 80?  Yes, age and experience can produce wisdom.  But science has found that mental agility, executive function and creativity all decline as people age, especially beyond 70.  In addition, older people tend to cling to ideas and strategies they adopted decades ago, with less capacity to embrace new information and innovate. We Baby Boomers have run the country long enough, and the many problems we’re leaving behind  call for leaders at the peak of their creative and conceptual powers. It’s time to  pass the torch.
--David Von Drehle, Washington Post

Blinded by our love for the troops
I’m a proud Army veteran, but I’m getting very worried about our nation’s military-worship.  As anyone who’s served knows, our armed forces are as prone to incompetence and corruption as any other institution.  Last week we discovered that the Texas church shooter was able to buy the guns he used to kill 26 innocents because the Air Force failed to alert law enforcement about his violent past.  A few days later, it was revealed that 440 active-duty and retired personnel, including 60 admirals, had been implicated in the Navy’s so-called Fat Leonard corruption scandal.  In any other government agency, such scandals would have triggered a public crisis of confidence. 

Yet the public’s faith in the Department of Defense remains resolute--a product of our growing civil/military divide. Too many civilians, politicians and pundits who haven’t served view members of the military with a degree of deference, sometimes even awe, they haven’t always earned.  Combine this awe with ignorance and it’s easy to see how military scandals can fester and grow into something terrible--like mass murder in Texas. Loving the troops and supporting the military should mean we hold both accountable.  Honorable soldiers don’t fear scrutiny.  But when you worship the military, you hurt the military.
--David French, NationalReview.com

Social media creating  life-long adolesence
Most adults who grew up prior to the age of social media can recall having the same innate drive for peer attention as teenagers.  It's part of a natural process of reflected appraisal, wherein we develop a sense of who we are from how others view us.  "That hypervigilance about how others see you is supposed to go away in adulthood," says Mitch Prinstein, a psychologist at the university of North Carolina and the author of "Popular: The Power of Likeability in a Status-Obsessed World."  "But social media has created this life-long adolescence.  It makes it too easy to keep making comparisons in a very adolescent way."
--Psychology Today

How green are electric cars?
Every self-respecting environmentalist drives a hybrid or a plug-in.  But these vehicles may not be as low-emission as many proud owners believe.  While all-electrics produce zero emissions on the road, their batteries get their juice from power plants—many of which generate electricity by burning the dirtiest fuel of all, coal.  By way of comparison, gas-powered cars produce an average of 411 grams of carbon dioxide per mile.  In California, which has a high proportion of "clean electricity" from solar or wind power, an electric car produces 100 grams of greenhouse gas pollution per mile.

If you’re recharging in Minnesota, though, where most of the electricity is coal-generated, that figure rises to 300 grams.  As power plants get cleaner in the future, thanks to the continuing decline in coal-fired plants and to carbon capture and other technologies, it’s more logical to focus on the source of the problem, says Qin Lihong, president of electric automaker NextEV.  "It’s much easier for society to make hundreds of power plants better," says Qin, "than change the hundreds of millions of cars in thousands of cities."
--The Week

Science is good for business
"Business is losing the innovation game.  There was a time when corporate labs at firms like Sony, IBM and General Electric financed vital, expansive scientific research that won Nobel Prizes in fields such as chemistry and physics. "Companies weren’t afraid to invest in basic science," because they knew that it fueled innovation and growth. But today, corporations have reined in their ambitions. Corporate research and development has become far narrower in scope, with a focus nearly entirely on practical applications--"less R, more D."

Companies are willing to settle for marginal gains that give them the tiniest edge over the competition, and research is outsourced to smaller outfits whose intellectual property can easily be bought and sold. In the process, big companies have lost sight of the fact that most research on fundamental science ends up being commercially useful eventually and can lead to transformative advances.  If universities could reliably fill the breach, that would be one thing.  But we cannot rely on academic institutions to be the wellspring of all new ideas; scientific research is not cheap.  Corporations must continue to devote time, space, and money to bigger, riskier leaps. It’s understandable that they like the golden eggs,but in the process, they may be starving the golden goose.
--Tim Harford, Financial Times

We aren’t ready for a recession
With unemployment low and the stock market at record highs, a recession might seem like a distant concern.  But one will come eventually,  and when it does, the country won’t be ready.  A decade of economic growth has not made the middle class more financially secure, with one recent survey showing that half of Americans couldn’t rustle up $400 in an emergency.

Companies, meanwhile, can boast booming profits and trillions of dollars in cash reserves to help them ride out an eventual downturn.  But there is no sign that businesses would use that cash to preserve jobs if the economy hit a rough patch.  Firms would probably do what they did during the last recession: fire workers, invest in automation and demand more skills from future hires. Things get really worrisome when it comes to the government’s likely response.  The Federal Reserve still has trillions of dollars of assets on its books from the last recession, making another round of quantitative easing unlikely.  Budget hawks in Congress would likely reject any stimulus package that prioritized spending over tax cuts. And at the state level, unemployment-insurance systems are weak and underfunded.  Another recession is inevitable--that’s how economies work.  It may not be as bad as the last one, but it will be worse than necessary.
--Annie Lowrey, The Atlantic


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!