Sunday, March 8, 2020

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.
https://henschelhausbooks.com/product/lol-i-gags/


The book is also available at:

DRUDGING AROUND

A sampling of the often-lurid fare found 
in a 24-hour period on The Drudge Report
  • New York City has a turtle problem
  • Man high on 'zombie drug' Spice saws off own leg and is left with bloodied stump
  •  Apocalyptic locust swarm stops traffic as sky turns black in terrifying footage
  • Woman accused of calling 911 after parents cut off cell phone 
  • Fish that survive out of water for years could stop aging in humans 
  • HORROR:  MAN EATS OWN FECES AT SAN FRAN  BUS STOP (caps theirs) 
  • Super-rich to live forever after implanting brains in human-like robots
  • Shoppers throw punches over toilet paper 
  • Pot entrepreneurs flock to Bible Belt for lower taxes
  • Mysterious deaths that exposed horse racing's brutal underbelly
  • How exorcist came face-to-face with the devil himself!
  • Priest saw 90-lb. woman pick up and throw man twice her size across the room
  • Mexican women storm streets as murder toll spikes

POPCORN

By Jim Szantor

Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric and whimsical observations 
about the absurdities of contemporary life
  • Does anyone else besides me miss Radio Shack?  
  • Radio Shack was fun to browse in and full of useful and reasonably priced items and was usually staffed by friendly clerks who seemed to know how to fix what ailed whatever was ailing and had the item you needed to fix it and knew where it was.   (So obviously it was a sure candidate for extinction.  Who in their right mind wants a store like that?)
  • It seems to me that every election cycle gives birth to a new buzzword or term.  This time around it's "lane."  As in, "Bernie Sanders has the progressive lane all but wrapped up, so other candidates have to find another lane."  Who starts these things?
  • jimjustsaying's Advice to the Lovelorn:  Never date a man or a woman who has a bail bondsman on his or her Contacts list, or a swastika tattoo on his or her forehead or who buys fertilizer and cold medicine by the truckload.
  • Baseball is trying to speed up the game by making each relief pitcher face three batters or pitch until the half inning is over.  There's much debate about how useful--or how damaging--this might turn out to be.
  • Better solution:  Really enforce the rule about batters having to stay in the batter's box (under most circumstances) and even better yet, scotch the rule about allowing unlimited foul balls after strike two.  In other words, after strike two is reached, no matter how, the batter gets two foul balls after that.  Third one retires you.  No more 12-pitch plate appearances.  (I think each club's bean counters will appreciate the savings on baseballs that aren't flying into the stands.)
  • jimjustsaying's Word That Doesn't Exist But Should of the Month:  Aquadextrous, adj.  Possessing the ability to turn the bathtub faucet on and off with toes of either foot.--from "Sniglets," Rich Hall & Friends.
  • The marriage took place in the pressure of the immediate families and a few close friends and relatives."-The Little Falls (N.Y.) Times, via "Still More Press Boners," by Earle Tempel.
  • All-overrated Club:  David Spade, Jimmy Fallon and Seth Myers. 
  • Talk Show challenge for Jimmy and Seth: To go more than two nights in a row without a guest who is a current or former "Saturday Night Live" member.  We don't really care what Lorne said to so-and-so or other insider drivel you seem fixated on. 
  • Has anyone ever seen Rihanna, Beyonce, Christina Aguilera and Ariana Grande in the same room at the same time?
  • Speaking of whom, remember when it was common to see (or hear) female singers referred to as "songstresses" or, worse yet, "chanteuses."  Who didn't sing but "warbled"?
  • Did you know that Facebook is banned in China?  Another area in which that country has taken the lead.
  • Ever notice that people will agree to do just about anything--as long as its far enough in the future?
  • ("Hey, Ralph:  Help me paint the garage on Saturday?"  "Um, gee, Jim--I think we've got something planned."  "OK, how about Aug. 21, 2033?" "Sure, Jim--no problem. . . . . . .What time?")
  • Speaking the "garbage language," as Molly Young of New York magazine calls corporate neologisms, means using words like "parallel-path" (as both noun and verb!) as well as "operationalize," "weaponize" and "business-critical." My longtime favorite in that realm:  Price point.  What, pray tell, does the second word add that the first word doesn't say as much as needs to be said.
  • Then, of course, if you listen to the business stations on radio, you know that latest geopolitical developments were "already baked in the cake," and God forbid that you bought a stock in a company that was "the cleanest dirty shirt" or "the best house in a bad neighborhood." 
  • And God forbid that you should try to "catch a falling knife."  And the cognoscenti know that "bull markets climb on a wall of worry" and bear markets decline on as "a slippery slope of hope."  Also (thanks to Warren Buffett), "You'll know who's swimming naked when the tide goes out." 
  • Overheard:  We live in a society where pizza gets to your house before the police.
  • I'm always amused when I see a sign that says "Not responsible for goods left over 30 days."  I figure, if I haven't missed it by then, they're welcome to have it!
  • Piling on:  "Sometimes people speak as though someone asked them a question. Well, nobody asked him a question."--Miles Davis on Wynton Marsalis.   And: "If I could play like Wynton Marsalis, I wouldn't play like Wynton Marsalis."--Chet Baker
  • jimjustsaying's Book Title of the Week:  "The Complete Idiot's Guide for Lawsuits," by Victoria E. Green, J.D.
  • Now that spring is almost upon us, the most depressing part about going for a walk is getting a close-up look at all the trash thoughtless louts and loutesses have flung out of their cars and trucks that has been covered by the snow . . . but now isn't.
  • Three things no one has ever had a craving for: Water chestnuts, bean sprouts and Worcestershire sauce.
  • jimjustsaying's Obituary Headline Nickname of the Month: Rosebud.  As in Mary S. “Rosebud” Komorowski, Green Bay Press-Gazette, March 8, 2020.  R.I.P., Mrs. Komorowski.
  • Today's Latin Lesson:  Scio te quis nudus natat, cum primum aestu egreditur. ("You'll know who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.")

THE QUOTE RACK

Why VP choice will be critical
The vice presidency has miraculously become Washington’s second most desirable job.  Instead of standing silently behind the president for four years, withering away in a political dead end, the next VP has a significant chance of becoming president before the 2020 term ends.  I’m not suggesting the four leading contenders for the top job—Donald Trump (73), Bernie Sanders (78), Michael Bloomberg (78) and Joe Biden (77)—are “likely to croak tomorrow,” but both parties must take the actuarial odds seriously. Trump is clinically obese, eats poorly, had a mysterious, rushed visit to the hospital in November, and has provided only partial medical records. Sanders recently had an onstage heart attack and refuses to release his records.  Biden had two life-threatening aneurysms in 1988 that required brain surgery to correct.  Bloomberg had two stents inserted in his heart two decades ago. 


Faced with the high likelihood of nominating a "geezer,” the Democrats can’t pick a running mate just to satisfy the geographic, gender, and ethnic needs of the ticket.  They need someone, maybe Stacey Abrams, 46, the rising star from Georgia, who could handle a promotion by death.


--Jack Shafer, Politico.com
Face-to-face with the taxman

The IRS is coming knocking more often this year—quite literally. As part of an effort to narrow the $441 billion gap between taxes owed and taxes paid, the agency expects to make at least 800 face-to-face visits beginning this month, with thousands more later in the year.  IRS audits have been sliding for years, from a rate of 1.1 percent of individual tax returns in 2011 to 0.45 percent last year. The expected home visits will be focused primarily on taxpayers who make at least $100,000 a year who have not filed their taxes in a least a year.  If the IRS does show up, a tax attorney recommends asking representatives to leave their contact information and then have a lawyer or accountant discuss the matter with the tax authority directly.

--Andrew Keshner, MarketWatch.com

The folly of compulsory voting
Should it be illegal to sit out an election?  That may sound like a kooky question, but Massachusetts State Rep. Dylan Fernandes has introduced a bill that would require state residents to vote in every election or be fined.  Other liberals, including former President Barack Obama, have also called for compulsory voting to boost public participation.  In the 10 or so countries that have compulsory voting, the prospect of fines and other punishments does raise voting rates.  But does forcing people to vote really enhance democracy?  Our country is based on individual rights and personal autonomy, and Americans are free to believe in God, own a weapon and engage in political activity—and just as free not do those things. 


Voting is a right, not a duty.  People who ignore elections generally say they aren’t interested in politics, don’t know much about the candidates and believe their vote “won’t matter anyway.” It may sound blasphemous to people who “worship at the altar of voter turnout,” but not voting is a legitimate choice that we should protect, not punish. A ballot marked under duress is a vote not for democracy, but against it.
--Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe

The creeping dread of Mondays

American workers have a bad case of the “Sunday scaries."  While the contours of the standard workweek haven’t changed for the better part of a century, the anxiety we feel about returning to the grind on Mondays has intensified.  A 2018 LinkedIn survey found that on Sundays, 80 percent of working American adults begin to fret about their upcoming workload.  Researchers have even calculated the average time of onset of “Sunday syndrome” as 3:58 p.m. The exact worry varies—it might be getting up early, or being busy and "on" for several days in a row—but it comes down to overestimating how hard it will be to get through the next week. This anxiety arises because Sundays have become busier and behaviorally closer to weekdays.

--Joe Pinsker, TheAtlantic.com

Too much vitamin B12
People who absorb too much vitamin B12 may have a higher risk of dying early.  Crucial for nerve and blood cell health, the nutrient is found in meat, fish, eggs, and dairy.  Many vegans and others who don’t get enough of the vitamin through their diet top up their B12 levels with supplements.  To explore whether the nutrient has any harmful effects, researchers in the Netherlands examined B12 levels in some 5,500 healthy men and women for an average of eight years. None of the participants was taking supplements. 


After controlling for factors such as age, sex and various diseases, the researchers discovered that premature death rates among people with the highest B12 levels were almost double the rates of those with the lowest.  The study’s authors, who note that the findings don’t prove cause and effect, say they’re not sure why high levels of B12 might affect death rates in this way.  Senior author Stephan Bakker, from University Medical Center Groningen, says it “might change the gut microbiota in ways that could be harmful—no one really knows.” 

-- New York Times

Washington’s complicity in cybercrime
Our broken political system made the Equifax hack possible.  The Department of Justice last week charged four members of the Chinese military with hacking the credit reporting agency in 2017 and stealing the personal information of 147 million Americans.  It wasn’t a complicated operation—the Chinese easily exploited a weakness in the dispute-resolution website within Equifax’s system.   But while Beijing may have snatched our data, Washington was complicit in the theft.  For years, tech companies have lobbied against privacy and cybersecurity legislation on a federal level, and lawmakers from both parties have bought their arguments.  As a result, we basically left a key under the mat for the Chinese military to walk right in and loot an American company.


What’s more, corporate carelessness when it comes to data repeatedly goes unpunished, so there’s no deterrent for stupid behavior.  Equifax paid a mere $700 million to settle with the Federal Trade Commission, a pittance when you consider the company earned $3.5 billion in 2019.  Similarly, Facebook paid a $5 billion fine to the FTC in 2019 for egregious privacy violations; the company logged $18 billion in profit that year.  If the government wants companies to change their behavior, maybe it should mete out some punishments that actually matter.
--Linette Lopez, BusinessInsider.com

The cost of banning fracking

Bernie Sanders’ proposal to ban fracking should scare the dickens out of Americans.  That technique for extracting oil and natural gas from underground rock has tripled the amount the U.S. can produce, making the country energy independent—indeed, an energy exporter.  It has also created more than 1 million jobs in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and other states Democrats hope to win in November, dramatically lowered heating prices for tens of millions of Americans and cut utilities’ reliance on dirty coal for electricity generation by half.  As a direct result of natural gas replacing coal, the U.S. is one of the few nations in the world whose carbon dioxide emissions are in decline, having fallen 14 percent since their peak in 2007.


With new technology now being tested, fracking can be made cleaner still and play a critical role in our country’s move toward zero emissions.  Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who introduced a fracking-ban bill in the House, would rather rely on Soviet-style central planning and put the government in charge of all energy policy—and of the economy itself.  Every historical attempt to run economies this way has ended in failure. So would this one.
--Washington Examiner editorial

Nuclear families: The problem, not the solution?

For the first two centuries of America’s existence, we were a nation of big, sprawling, extended families.  People were embedded in a supporting web of aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings and grandparents who shared burdens and could step in and care for a child when a mom or dad was not available.  Such multigenerational, extended families helped parents, socialized young men and grounded seniors, giving people’s lives meaning.

But over the 20th Century, as farming waned and people chased the American dream to cities, they began living far from kin in nuclear families—a married mom and dad and their children.  That worked for a time, but as our society has embraced self-fulfillment, autonomy and privacy as ideals, the nuclear family has turned into a catastrophe.  Kids are growing up in fragile family units that often crumble into single-parent homes.  Working parents must pay people to perform child-rearing tasks that once were handled by kin.  Seniors, meanwhile, often spend their final years alone.  It’s time to find better ways to live together.

--David Brooks, TheAtlantic.com

***Easier said than done.  While the alternatives that Brooks offers up—communal living arrangements and so-called forged families of nonbiological kin—have their merits, research has repeatedly proved that a nuclear family headed by two loving married parents remains the most stable and safe environment for raising children.  
--W. Bradford Wilcox and Hal Boyd, TheAtlantic.com

***The social ills that Brooks blames on the nuclear family—drug epidemics, rising rates of suicide, depression and income inequality—are actually the awful consequences of its collapse.  In 1960, 77.5 percent of children lived in nuclear families. T oday, that figure has fallen to 48 percent. We need to revive, not give up on, nuclear families.
--Mona Charen, TheBulwark.com

***Society has changed too much for that to be possible.   Social conservatives can’t magically erase geographic mobility, the need and desire of women to work or high divorce rates.  As Brooks points out, progressives also have no answers.  They’re so fixated on freedom and individuality that they can’t concede the high cost of family breakdown and leaving so many kids and adults on their own.  This is a prosperous age, but it is filled with bitterness and contradictions.
--Robert Samuelson, Washington Post

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!