Sunday, October 11, 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:

POPCORN

  By Jim Szantor

Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric and whimsical observations 
about the absurdities of contemporary life
  • If someone had told you 30 years ago that we’d be spending a good share of our day fingering a mouse or staring at a phone, you would have questioned his or her sanity.
  • Have you ever known anyone who will admit to watching a shopping channel? (And, come to think of it, wasn’t the Home Shopping Network ahead of its time?)
  • Speaking of television: Ready for a taste of Iraqi TV? You didn't hear it from me, but I understand "Saddam's Wackiest Public Execution Bloopers" will soon be available for streaming.
  • Why do some canned goods have a convenient pull-tab for opening and some don’t?
  • You’ll see variances within the same variety (green beans) within the same brand name (Del Monte). One would think pull tabs would have lapped the field long ago, but they’re still neck in neck with the old cans.
  • I notice we're never told in Roman numerals how many NFL players have contracted the coronavirus or are under indictment for various felonies. (Will Super Bowl LV be canceled because of Covid-X1X?)
  • “It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity.”—Dave Barry
  • Just learned that an apiary is a place where bees are kept. Where are the apes then kept—a bee-iary?
  • jimjustsaying's Pet Peeve of the Week: Not Really-a-Gift Gifts. Like those tote bags and such your insurance company or financial advisor sends you on your birthday that has the firm's name emblazoned on them, as if to say: "Here's sort of a gift, now go and advertise our company wherever you go."
  • Nothing brings out the hypocrisy in people like property taxes. They'll sit on a bar stool and brag, "We bought our house for $59,900 in '64 . . . and now it's appraised at $184,500, HAHAHAHAHAHHA!"
  • But mention a possible $600 increase in their annual property tax (for frivolities such as schools or infrastructure improvement), and they start sputtering and spitting nails.
  • jimjustsaying’s Favorite Quotes of the Month:
  • --"Millions long for immortality who do not know what to do with themselves on a rainy Sunday afternoon.”--Author Susan Ertz
  • --If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.”--Dorothy Parker
  • “It’s so hard to forget pain, but it’s even harder to remember sweetness. We have no scar to show for happiness.”--Author Chuck Palahniuk
  • What’s the difference between a proverb, an axion and an adage?
  • Drudging Around: How married woman smuggled her boyfriend out of prison in a dog crate . . . Just one student shows up for Detroit teacher’s first day . . . Mexican drug cartel gunmen burn rival’s face off as he pleads for death . . . Man traveled on Greyhound bus with dismembered body parts in suitcases . . . Snake used as face mask on bus . . . Study: People happier spending time with friends than spouse . . . Dog-walker escapes gator dragging him into water by poking eye . . . Monkeys have holes drilled in heads; horrific experiments in Belgian labs . . . 9-year-old sent home—after sneezing . . . ‘Human Satan’ slices off nose, has horns implanted . . . Air Force now has own tattoo shop . . . Male baboons get health benefits from platonic friendships with females . . . Man killed in dispute over line at Michigan haunted house . . . Parrots removed from wildlife park after swearing at customers . . . No jail for parents after baby was disabled after strict vegan diet . . . More men and women consider sex with robot . . . Man knifed cousin during argument over almond milk . . . Pastor did exorcism on toddler and used meth with church members, cops say . . . People still evolving as wisdom teeth vanish and people grow new arteries. . . Priest arrested for threesome with dominatrices on church altar. (Thanks again to Matt Drudge and his merry band of aggregators for this month’s batch of forehead-slappers.)
  • jimjustsaying’s Platform If He Were to be a Presidential Candidate: Instituting a Department of Fashion Police. Because the hiring of detection and enforcement personnel and the building of the requisite prisons would create an enormous number of jobs—white, blue and pink collar!
  • jimjustsaying's Oxymoron of the week: Political science.
  • Speaking of politics: The bottom line is, at the end of the day, we have get down to brass tacks and stop kicking the can down the road. And you can take that to the bank. God forbid.
  • Overheard: "You don't have to floss all your teeth, just the ones you're planning to keep."
  • Redundancy Patrol: Added bonus, basic necessities, completely annihilate.
  • jimjustsaying's Word That Doesn't Exist But Should of the Month: Wondracide: The act of murdering a piece of white bread with a knife and cold butter.--"Sniglets," Rich Hall and Friends
  • “There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’: illegal drugs and software.”--Statistician Edward Tufte
  • “As the cold, icy weather continued, many telephone poles and wives were downed during the night.”--Wyandotte (Mich.) News via “Still More Press Boners,” by Earle Tempel.
  • Newspaper Obituary Headline Nickname(s) of the Month: Butch, Giggles, Jerry. As in, Gerald L.W. “Butch, Giggles, Jerry” Hildahl, Green Bay Press-Gazette, Aug. 13, 2020.
  • Today's Latin Lesson: Quam longum est ire ad invenire de eius qui vicit electionem? ("How long is it going to take to find out who won the election?")

THE QUOTE RACK

 Supreme Court: Should Democrats play ‘constitutional hardball’?

*****It was only a matter of time, really.  Ever since Senate Republicans blocked President Obama’s last nomination to the Supreme Court in 2016, progressive activists have been urging justices.  With Mitch McConnell now rushing to ram through a confirmation of nominee Amy Coney Barrett before the election, giving conservatives a dominant 6-3 majority, even mainstream Democrats are clamoring to expand the court by four or even six members if the party wins control of the Senate and the White House.

--Elaine Godfrey, TheAtlantic.com

  *****Why not?  Republicans’ justification for stealing two seats on the court is simply that they had the votes to do so, so why should an incoming Democratic majority show any restraint? First, Senate Democrats need to abolish the legislative filibuster requiring 60 votes for any bill to pass. Then Democrats can pass legislation adding several seats to the court.  Bestowing statehood on Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico could be next—it would create four new Democratic-leaning Senate seats. Democrats have been squeamish about this kind of constitutional “hardball,” but since McConnell has been so ruthless, it’s a game they should learn to play.

--Josh Blackman, Reason.com

*****No wonder Biden refuses to state his position on court packing.  He can’t demoralize his base by ruling it out, but he knows voters would punish them for their partisan power grab at the next election, enabling Republicans to add their own seats to the court and regain the advantage.

--Rich Lowry, Politico.com

 *****Actually, adding justices might “be the only way to restore the institutional legitimacy of the court.  If Barrett is confirmed, five of the court’s nine justices will have been nominated by Republican presidents who lost the popular vote.

--Quinta Jurecic, TheAtlantic.com

 Building homes that fuel wildfires

The heat and drought brought on by climate change is clearly contributing to California’s wildfires. But so is years of building new housing in high fire risk zones.  Strict zoning regulations in the state’s affluent urban and suburban communities have driven 11 million Californians to move to remote areas, which planners call the wildland urban interface.  Living there requires people to drive more and emit more greenhouse gases. More important, it puts homes out in wooded areas that once burned naturally or had prescribed burns to prevent a backlog of dead tinder, but where officials now suppress fires to save houses.

 The new houses themselves are essentially big piles of fuel and accelerate rampaging wildfires. These homes also put human beings in the woods, and 95 percent of wildfires are caused by people. Firefighters risk their lives protecting these homes. Over the past seven years, wildfires have killed 193 people and destroyed 50,000 structures, but the state isn’t addressing the role California’s housing and land-use policies play in this ongoing catastrophe. We need to get a whole lot smarter about where and how we build.

--Elizabeth Weil and Mollie Simon, ProPublica

 Plastic-eating 'super enzyme'

Scientists in the U.K. have developed a cocktail of enzymes that can break down plastic much more quickly than current methods, a possible game changer for recycling. Researchers have been seeking to harness the natural digestive qualities of enzymes since the discovery of plastic-eating bacteria at a Japanese landfill in 2016. The new “super enzyme” is a combination of PETase—an enzyme previously shown to break down plastic—and another enzyme called MHETase.  When these are stitched together, the scientists found, the speed of the breakdown increased sixfold over when PETase is used alone. The process leaves behind the building blocks of plastic, which can be used over and over again.   

 “We were actually quite surprised it worked so well,” lead author John McGeehan, from the University of Portsmouth, tells CNN.com. Because fossil fuels are required to make plastic, he says, “we’re looking at huge energy savings.” The super enzyme is still a slow mover: recycling a plastic bottle would probably take days or weeks. But McGeehan and his team are exploring ways to cut the degradation time—by softening the plastic, for example—and to scale up their operations.

 --The Week

Hard-core flier? Your plane is ready

People who miss flying are rushing to buy tickets on ‘flights to nowhere.  Thousands of antsy travelers stuck at home in Brunei, Taiwan, Japan, and Australia are booking so-called scenic flights that start and end in the same place.  Last week, Qantas announced a seven-hour flight over Australia in a “state-of-the-art B787 Dreamliner with the biggest windows on any passenger aircraft.”  Tickets starting at $575 each sold out in 10 minutes.  Royal Brunei offers similar, though shorter, “Dine & Fly” flights that serve local cuisine.  The demand has been a surprising boon for cash-strapped airlines, which have faced unprecedented declines in revenue since the pandemic began. The chief executive of Qantas said that his airline was hoping to cater to frequent fliers who are used to the experience of flying every other week.

--Tariro Mzezewai, New York Times

 Big banks choose to ignore crime

Some of the world’s largest banks continue knowingly doing business with criminals.  We obtained financial documents compiled by banks, shared with the government, but kept from public view that reveal the ease with which profits from deadly drug wars, fortunes embezzled from developing countries, and hard-earned savings stolen in a Ponzi scheme were allowed to “low in and out of financial institutions despite warnings from bank employees.

 Since 1992, a branch of the Treasury Department, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, or FinCEN, has collected documents known as suspicious activity reports (SARs) from banks. FinCEN received more than 2 million SARs last year. But as long as a bank files such a notice, it all but immunizes itself and its executives from criminal prosecution.   In many cases, banks filed numerous reports about the same clients while continuing to welcome their business.  HSBC, for instance, has been fined billions in the past for doing business with traffickers, yet continues its relationship with a Panamanian import-export firm that launders money for drug lords.  There may be only one way to fix the problem, said one former Justice Department lawyer: “The bankers will never learn until you start putting silver bracelets on people.”

--Jason Leopold, BuzzFeedNews.com

 Biden’s ethical blindness about his son

Joe Biden may have done nothing illegal, but a new Senate report on his family’s “foreign profiteering” reveals “an ethical stench.” While Biden was vice president, his son Hunter “received a remarkable amount of money from highly suspect foreign entities,” including people connected to China’s Communist Party, a female Russian billionaire, and a Ukrainian energy company, the report found. “Rather sickeningly,” Hunter Biden also made payments to women connected to an “Eastern European prostitution or human-trafficking ring.” Joe Biden’s brother James and sister-in-law Sara—who along with Hunter have been dubbed “Biden, Inc.”—also “cashed in,” making lucrative deals worth millions with shady entities and individuals abroad.

 Joe Biden himself did not profit, and did the right thing in pushing anti-corruption measures in Ukraine, but he showed woefully deficient judgment.  The vice president took his wheeler-dealer son on a diplomatic mission to China, where Hunter pursued a private business deal, and raised no objection when Hunter accepted a $50,000-a-month board membership with Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company. That role created significant headaches for U.S. diplomacy in Ukraine. Joe Biden’s ethical blindness should concern every voter.

-- WashingtonExaminer.com, Editorial

Wagnerism: Art and Politics in the Shadow of Music

*****Contemplating Wagner, trying to sum up what his art means, puts one in mind of the ancient Hindu parable of the blind men and the elephant,”  “The object itself is so huge that each person groping to comprehend it comes to a radically different conclusion of what it is.”

--Composer John Adams

 *****Richard Wagner (1813–83) was the monoculture event artist of his age. The German composer’s operas, Parsifal, Tristan und Isolde, and the Ring cycle among them, introduced new dramatic images, techniques, and motifs that reshaped artistic culture across Europe and North America. In his new book, New Yorker music critic Alex Ross is “mercifully light” on music theory lingo as he devotes 700 pages to Wagner’s vast influence beyond music.

--Ashley Naftule, AVClub.com

*****Ross’ roaming survey of writers and artists listening and responding to Wagner’s music “becomes a history of consciousness—and ultimately collides with a history of poisonous hatred and genocidal violence.  Wagner’s music was many things to many listeners, including aphrodisiac and mystic healing force. To Adolf Hitler, it was a strident call to arms in a quest for racial purity.

--Geoffrey O’Brien, Bookforum

*****Measuring Wagner’s share of blame for Hitler becomes a major concern, Wagner was a fierce anti-Semite, but Hitler admired him more for his art than for his thinking. And Hitler was a poor listener. He seemed to overlook Wagner’s preoccupation with love” and how Wagner’s heroes often struggle with remorse—“hardly a Nazi virtue.”

--The Economist

New bans on 'cashless' stores

An increasing number of cities and states are ordering businesses like restaurants and retail shops to continue accepting cash.   New York City is banning cashless stores later this year, joining New Jersey, Philadelphia, and other locales that passed similar laws last year.  Stores like electronic payments because they speed up purchases and reduce concern about theft.  But the move to cash-free has spurred concerns about discrimination against buyers who have no credit or debit cards.  Consumer groups are backing federal legislation that would require all brick-and-mortar stores to take cash—still used in a quarter of all purchases and for almost half of the payments under $10.

--Ann Carrns, New York Times


                                                                                                 

THE LINK TANK


America is a coalition of the worried
Everywhere you turn, angst and uncertainty rule

Dismantle the Department of Homeland Security
It 's now synonymous with unsympathetic government overreach, malevolence and dysfunction

The future of American liberalism
What Biden can learn from FDR

Pandemic hastens newspapers’ slide
Digital future extremely shaky
https://news.yahoo.com/virus-hastens-newspapers-slide-shaky-080216711.htmlhttps://news.yahoo.com/virus-hastens-newspapers-slide-shaky-080216711.html


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!