Thursday, November 3, 2016




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.

jimjustselling . . .

(Actually, I'm not, but the good folks at HenschelHAUS are. And they're now offering FREE SHIPPING IN THE CONTINENTAL U.S.

The book is also available at:


What they're saying about Jim's provocative blog:
--"The one thing I didn't delete from my private server."--Hillary Clinton
--"He's from this country, Mexicans don't read him, so that's good enough for me."--Donald Trump
--"Jim is obviously making a name for himself--Mr. Irrelevant!"--Don Rickles
--"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


By Jim Szantor

Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric and whimsical observations 
about the absurdities of contemporary life
  • Why is everyone (seemingly) using the term "a hot mess" all of a sudden.  How do these things get started?
  • Judging from the media these days--print, electronic, digital or whatever--the suffixes "ageddon" and "pocalypse" have replaced "gate" as the new, "hip" rhetorical crutches to describe any crisis, scandal or weather woe that tries our communal souls.   (I know "media" isn't the root of the word "mediocrity," but at times it seems that way.)
  • I keep hearing about all these "surrogates" campaigning for their favored candidate.  Yet another example of politics going off the rails. Did FDR, Ike or JFK have to rely on stand-ins to get their message across?
  • I also wish the TV stations would tighten up their definition of BREAKING NEWS and restrict it to explosions, plane crashes, terrorist attacks, earthquakes and other cataclysmic acts of God, assassinations of key political figures, etc.  "Donald Trump is about to take the stage at the VFW in Numbnutz, Nebraska" does not, in my estimation, qualify in any sense of the term.
  • Someone asked me the other day if something I had done was on my "bucket list."  I was somewhat taken aback, because I don't really have one.  What I do have, however, is a list that rhymes with "bucket" but is, in fact, another word.  
  • Should I try to climb Mt. Everest just to say I accomplished that?  Well, it might be nice but . . . "ah, ---- --."  Should I take a ride in a hot-air balloon?  "Nah, ---- --."  Should I try to read all the Great Books of the Western World?  Well, I could try, but . . . You get the picture. It's a different kind of a list; sort of a reverse bucket list, if you will.  (And a lot easier to "accomplish.")
  • You're an old-timer if you not only can remember when doctors made house calls but were actually treated by one at home.
  • Election prediction:  Hillary Clinton, if elected, will open her acceptance speech with these words:  "Adios, Donaldo.  Hasta la vista (with "Mexican Hat Dance" playing in the background).
  • A friend of mine recently became disenchanted with his law firm (Dewey Cheatham & Howe), so I recommended the lawyers that represent  Begh, Wheedle & CaJole.    
  • Don't you loved it when police say a fugitive or suspect "is armed and should be considered dangerous." As opposed to what?  Those armed but essentially harmless fugitives who are ambivalent about evading capture?  The ones who help little old ladies across the street and volunteer at the food pantry?  The ones who've helped build 35 Habitat for Humanity houses?
  • Yet another in a series of new varieties of apple I seem to encounter almost monthly:  Smitten.
  • Life isn't t easy these days.  Not when the movers and shakers keep moving the goal posts instead of leveling the playing field, while the rest of us have to have a multitasking  mind-set while fighting a never-ending learning curve.  So all we can do is hit the ground running,  play hardball when we have to step up to the plate, and at the end of the day, pick all the low-hanging fruit.  
  • Let's face it, the fat cats have us on an emotional roller-coaster, no matter how much they try to downsize the elephant in the room.  So we have to cut to the chase, and before the whole ball of wax reaches critical mass,  we'll take stock of the benchmarks and the Big Picture and come to the realization that we must go back to the drawing board.  It is what it is.
  • Latest fortune cookie:  "Don't stop dreaming, otherwise sleep will get awfully boring."
  • Have men's whiskers evolved so much over the years that razor companies have to keep pitching "new, breakthrough technologies" to give us the proverbial "perfect shave"?  Talk about re-inventing the wheel.  One recent commercial begins by telling us that men's facial hair is "stronger than copper wire."    Was this a recent discovery, or has Gillette been sitting on this epidermis epiphany for eons?
  •  "When you hit a wrong note, it’s the next note that makes it good or bad."--Miles Davis
  • Isn't it about time for a "Beavis & Butt-Head" revival?  
  • This just in:  According to jimjustsaying sources,  it actually was revived in 2011 and new episodes began airing on MTV from Oct.  27 to Dec. 29, 2011. Creator/designer Mike Judge has stated that he wants to try to get Beavis and Butt-Head back on MTV or another network.
  • Speaking of which, I know people who consider "The Simpsons" and "South Park" great television but otherwise appear sane.
  • jimjustsaying's Party Ice-Breaker of the Week:  "Say [actual partygoer's name here],  did you know that he vast scale of the universe just became even more unfathomable?  Until now, astronomers believed there were up to 200 billion galaxies that could theoretically be detected from Earth.  But a new study suggests the actual figure could be 10 times that--at least 2 trillion, and possibly many more. 
  • "Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please."--Mark Twain
  • Seventy-seventh Wisconsin Town I Didn't Know Existed Until I Saw It Mentioned in a Green Bay Press-Gazette Obituary: Mill Center, Wis.. (R.I.P. Edwin W. Belschner, Green Bay Press-Gazette obituary, May 20, 2016).  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 and Humboldt.
  • Newspaper Obituary Headline Nickname of the Month: Big Bird.   As in John E. "Big Bird" Leisen, Kenosha (Wis.) News,, July 13, 2016.  R.I.P., Mr. Leisen.
  • jimjustsaying's Word That Doesn't Exist But Should of the Month:   Smook:  The flimsy paper stretched across the examining table in the doctor's office."--"More Unexplained Sniglets of the Universe," Rich Hall & Friends
  • Today's Latin Lesson:  Quid habet populus (videtur) appellat "donec calidum" subito.   (Why is everyone (seemingly) using the term "a hot mess" all of a sudden?)


The Founders were no less divided
Both Republicans and Democrats are fond of citing the lofty principles of America’s Founding Fathers.  But the truth is that instead of offering a single, cohesive, and enduring vision for America, the Founders were bitterly divided and the politics of the era even more rancorous and shrill than today’s.

In the early days of the republic, Thomas Jefferson’s Republicans favored a decentralized country with a weak federal government.  Alexander Hamilton’s Federalists preferred a powerful, centralized state that could develop the U.S. into a major economic and military power.  This fundamental disagreement produced conflicts so violent they would shock us today.  Partisans and journalists shot one another in duels over insults, which is of course how Hamilton met his end.  Political rivals had frequent fistfights or beat each other bloody in the street with canes.  Political campaigns were rife with personal insults, sexual gossip, and other dirty tricks.  Today, we put the Founders on an imaginary pedestal so we can masochistically rebuke ourselves for having such petty politicians.  But our first leaders were deeply flawed, too, and they had largely the same arguments.  We are not to blame for clashing over the diverse principles that the Founders wove into an ambiguous Constitution.
--Alan Taylor, New York Times

Nobel's reputation is blowin' in the wind
Sorry, but Bob Dylan’s work just isn’t literature, said Stephen Metcalf in  Yes, his contribution to the world is insuperably large.  But unlike the greatest poets, Dylan’s words can’t stand alone--without the animating power of music, they’re inert.  No question, "Dylan is a great folk artist," said Tim Stanley in The Daily Telegraph (U.K.).  But compare him with past laureates like William Butler Yeats, AndrĂ© Gide and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and the thematic density of their texts outstrips Dylan by light-years.  If the Nobel committee wanted to honor an American, it could have chosen a literary giant like Don DeLillo, Philip Roth or Joyce Carol Oates. This is the Nobel Prize in literature. Not Sweden’s Got Talent.
--The Week

The Web's Achilles heel  . . .
Just because we can connect a toaster or a fridge to the Internet doesn’t mean we should. The much-ballyhooed "Internet of Things" has made devastating cyberattacks much easier to pull off.  Many smart-device manufacturers have either not considered security or simply see it as an expensive inconvenience.  Devices often ship with widely used default passwords, such as "1234" or "password," that can’t be changed. Mirai, the malware used in this particular attack, scours the web for such vulnerable devices, looking for 68 different default username/password combinations.  Making matters worse, the source code for Mirai was published on the web last month, meaning it’s now available to practically anyone.
--Jacob Silverman,

 . .  and the shift to digital ownership
As the things we buy become increasingly digital in nature, the question of what we actually own is bubbling up in unexpected places.  When you purchase a book from a physical bookstore, for example, your rights are  pretty intuitive.  As your personal property, you can sell it, lend it to a friend, or even  toss it in the fireplace.

 That’s not the case for digital goods like e-books, movies, games, and apps.  They’re governed by a maze of intellectual property law and fine-print contracts restricting what you can and cannot do with them.  Virtually everyone blindly accepts these Terms of Service agreements when buying digital items online.  And it’s not just e-books.  Owners of John Deere tractors, for instance, recently discovered that new licensing agreements mean they can’t legally fix their own equipment.  That’s because third-party mechanics are forbidden from examining the tractors’ proprietary computer code to determine why the machine is broken.  Instead, farmers have go to pricier, John Deere–certified mechanics.  Similarly, even though you may own your car, the software required to drive it is only licensed to you.  Most consumers don’t seem to realize that the concept of ownership is shifting, and that huge swaths of their lives are legally controlled by contracts they have never even read.
--Christopher Groskopf,

Obama’s premature Peace Prize . . .
Seven years later, President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize is an embarrassment.   When Obama accepted the honor after less than a year in office with trademark eloquence, the philosopher-president was the toast of Europe.   The Nobel Committee swooned over Obama’s lofty "transnationalism," whereby all states would submit to  norms drawn up by law professors and global organizations and the U.S. would retreat from its dominant role on the world stage.   The results of a humbler Washington are on brutal display in Aleppo, where Syria’s genocidal president Bashar al-Assad and his Russian allies--emboldened by American inaction--are setting women and children alight with incendiary ordnance.   Millions of refugees fleeing Syria’s violent disintegration have flooded into Europe, shattering the EU’s unity.  As Russian dictator Vladimir Putin expands his influence, his pilots brazenly menace the airspaces of France, Norway, Spain, and the U.K.   Obama and his admirers on the Nobel Committee thought that if the U.S. stopped its meddling, the world could deal with evil through diplomacy and negotiation.  Now, thanks to Obama’s  endless patience for rogues, Europe is being destabilized and Syrians are being slaughtered. Some peace.
--Sohrab Ahmari, Wall Street Journal

. . . and his collapsing legacy
Obama may be popular in comparison with Clinton and Trump, but his legacy is stillborn.   His presidency’s  two central pillars are collapsing before our eyes.  Obamacare is such a mess that  even Democrats are running away from it. Obama’s foreign policy shift toward lofty speech and cynical abdication has led to chaos in the Middle East and an emboldened Russian President Vladimir Putin.   If the 2016 campaign hadn’t turned into a referendum on character, right now Obama’s party  would be 20 points behind.
--Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post

Our silly obsession with factories
Why are politicians so obsessed with manufacturing?  Donald Trump recently visited Pittsburgh, where he vowed to revitalize the U.S. steel industry.  Perhaps he doesn’t realize that more than 80 percent of Pittsburgh’s jobs  are now in the service sector, roughly on par with the national average.  Tech, health-care, and financial firms are putting down roots in the city.  Nostalgia in politics is, of course,  nothing new.   For the better part of the 20th Century, politicians tripped over themselves to promise aid to farmers struggling with urbanization, just as they vow to help factory workers today.

But instead of trying to turn back time and put people back to work in factories, politicians should focus on improving the conditions of jobs Americans actually do now.  There were 64,000 steelworkers in the U.S. last year, and 820,000 home health-care aides.  Many of these aides live close to the poverty line, making an average of $22,870 annually, and they struggle alongside tens of millions of other workers in retail, fast food, and caregiving who receive meager benefits.  We will likely never re-create the conditions that made the post–World War II manufacturing boom possible, but we can try to replicate the formula that created the middle class.  Higher wages and better worker protections are a good place to start.
--Binyamin Appelbaum, New York Times Magazine

America’s abysmal airports
World travelers agree: American airports are terrible.  To find a U.S. city on the SkyTrax annual customer rankings of the world’s best airports, you’d need to scroll all the way down to No. 28, where Denver International is slotted.  That’s easy to understand if you’ve ever traveled through the gleaming airports of Singapore, Dubai, or Kuala Lumpur, where travelers enjoy  butterfly gardens, jungle trails, and soundproofed, WiFi-enabled snooze cubes.

 Part of the problem is money.  Even as air travel has surged, spending on aviation infrastructure in the U.S. has actually declined, from $21 billion in 2004 to $13 billion in 2014. But even with more investment, most airports here will never match the best-loved international hubs, like Singapore Changi, Seoul Incheon, and Tokyo Narita, if only because of geography.  Unlike those airports, which compete for wealthy long-haul passengers who shop and spend freely on international layovers, most U.S. airports primarily serve domestic travelers.

But that doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement.  Privatization of airports, which has lagged in the U.S., might bring in investors willing to make improvements in exchange for long-term leases or even ownership.  Encouraging public-private partnerships, like the recently inked $4 billion revamp of New York’s infamously bad LaGuardia Airport, is another option.  Anything to make traveling in the U.S. a less miserable experience.
--Adam Minter,

NFL thrown for a loss
NFL ratings just fell off a cliff .  This season, football viewer numbers  are down double digits across the board, hitting Fox, CBS, NBC, and ESPN alike.  One explanation is the "Godzilla of the 2016 presidential race," which has siphoned off tens of millions of prime-time viewers, especially when the debates went up against games.  Then there’s the 40 percent overall decline of cable viewership among teenagers and young 20-somethings.

But there’s something deeper at work here:  It appears we’ve entered the twilight of a golden age of football.  The NFL now has few popular superstars who appeal to national audiences, and the league has suffered some damaging public-relations battles.  The ongoing concussion problem--and the league’s attempt to hide the brain damage suffered by hundreds of former players--has tainted the sport in the eyes of some fans.  Colin Kaepernick’s race-centered protests of the national anthem--which many other players have joined--have turned off other fans. If football ratings don’t rise after the election, it will indicate that viewers are tuning out for a simple reason:  They just don’t think they’ll have much fun watching.
--Derek Thompson,


Early voting must go
'Convenience' is not a good enough reason

Comey and the election
It was always going to be close

Democracy's majesty and 2016's indignity
Things are so bad they almost have to get better

The great pundit purge
Too many are just carrying water for their party or partisan faction 

How to fix Congress? Make representatives accountable
Public campaign financing would allow elected officials to chase down constituents, not dollars