Thursday, October 6, 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
  • Weird dream I had:  Donald Trump came up with 1040 excuses for not releasing his tax returns.
  • Safe bet:  Trump's ring tone is not "La Cucaracha."
  • "If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal."--Emma Goldman
  • Why do guys keep getting haircuts that look like the barber went on strike in the middle of it? 
  • I feel sorry for anyone whose actual initials are WTF.  (As in Walter T. Farrell, Wanda Therese Farquar, etc.)
  • Sometimes, uncanny occurrences pop up inyour life;  most of the time, though, things are usually just canny.  
  • Annual Note to Media:  There is no such person as "Brangelina," so stop portmanteau-ing couple's names (same applies to "the Billary Clintons").    
  • Scary thought from a Psychology Today piece on narcissism:  A Machiavellian used to be a monster; now he's considered a well-adapted person who can succeed and get ahead.
  • Wouldn't the economy be better off if we dealt with Standard & Rich?
  • Reality shows:  Programming that puts the "func" in dysfunctional.
  • Smart phones?  If they're so smart, why can't they ever find a signal in rural areas?  (Can you hear me now, Apple and Samsung?)
  • Note to employers:  Before you hire someone, look inside the prospective employee's car.  It will tell you more about the actual person than the dating-behavior charade that is the official interview process.
  • Seventy-sixth Wisconsin Town I Didn't Know Existed Until I Saw It Mentioned in a Green Bay Press-Gazette Obituary: Humboldt, Wis.. (R.I.P. Wencil "Jim" K. Johanek, Green Bay Press-Gazette obituary, May 17, 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 and Rio Creek.
  • Newspaper Obituary Headline Nickname of the Month:  Pud.  As in Roy "Pud" Ambrosius, Green Bay Press-Gazette,  May 20, 2016. R.I.P., Mr. Ambrosius.
  • jimjustsaying's favorite "click bait" items of the month:
  • How to tell if she grew up with brothers***6 things every dermatologist gets asked over and over again***Stars' worst concert mishaps***The top earning dead celebrities of 2015***20 stars who are convicted felons***Do you have royal blood?  Your last name may tell you***15 dirty secrets hiding in your favorite childhood movies***What I wish I'd known before I got out of prison***4 weird travel habits of celebrities***13 signs you're dealing with a psychopath***17 sure-fire ways to offend people when traveling.
  • jimjustsaying's Bumper Sticker of the Week:  Veni, Vidi, Velcro:  I came, I saw, I stuck around.
  • You're an old-timer if you can remember when you had to take the anti-freeze out of the car in the spring and put new stuff in in the fall.
  •  "My friends tell me I have an intimacy problem, but they don’t really know me."-- Garry Shandling
  • jimjustsaying's Party Ice-Breaker of the Month:  "Say [actual partygoer's name here], did you know that France has become the first country to pass legislation that will ban disposable plastic plates, cups and cutlery?  The measure will go into effect in 2020, by which time all single-use tableware will have to be made of compostable materials."
  • "There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen. "-- Lenin
  • jimjustsaying's Word That Doesn't Exist But Should of the Month: LinenArctica.  The corner of the bed that is impossible to reach when putting on new sheets.--"More Unexplained Sniglets of the Universe," Rich Hall & Friends
  • One great thing about the days before television:  You couldn't "binge-listen" to the radio.
  • Today's Latin Lesson:  Haud alio viaticus has umquam been hilaris reverto.  ("No one's money has ever been cheerfully refunded.")


Zip it, Bubba
The former president and husband of the Democratic nominee keeps sticking his foot in his mouth

Let's get Putin's attention
The Russian leader’s rogue behavior threatens America and the E.U.

The Kaine impunity
America needs seriousness, sincerity, normality. How could the vice presidential candidate  not have known that?

Afghanistan: The 15-year failure
Choosing a middle-ground course was a fatal mistake


Why voting isn’t for everyone
You don’t vote?   Nothing wrong with that.  Tens of millions of Americans don’t cast ballots in our national elections, and they generally have a good reason for abstaining.  Voting is like owning a gun or attending a church or pledging loyalty to a candidate or party; the Constitution guarantees that you have a right to do these things, but it also guarantees your right  not to do these things.   Personally,  I like the communal spirit of voting and see it as an act of faith in democracy.  I also give a lot of time and thought to candidates and policy.

But lots of Americans find politics and government repugnant and don’t follow news coverage of campaigns.  Whatever the reason, they’re uninformed.  So  why hector them to vote?  This is not a partisan issue. In his latest book, former NBA superstar Kareem Abdul-Jabbar--now a liberal commentator--says that when we pressure low-information voters to cast ballots, we’re diluting the democratic process, by bringing out those who are easily manipulated.  Right he is. "Even if do-gooders, busybodies, and community organizers" insist that everyone should vote, "staying away from the polls is a legitimate option.
--Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe

Convictions based on junk science
Our legal system has convicted hundreds of thousands of people of crimes based on "voodoo science."  A new study from the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology has concluded that most forensic-evidence techniques--including fingerprint, bite-mark, firearm, footwear, and hair analysis techniques--have surprisingly high error rates, and often are "rank guesswork."  Only the most basic form of DNA analysis is scientifically sound, the study found. This is stunning news, given that our courts heavily depend on the kind of forensic evidence glamorized by TV shows like CSI and Forensic Files.

In reality, forensic experts often work for the prosecution, and see their job as helping to secure a conviction.  They usually tell juries that their risk of error is "vanishingly small" or "essentially zero," but that’s simply not true.  Bite-mark analysis turns out to be totally unreliable. Fingerprint analysis can be wrong nearly 5 percent of the time.  When several people’s genetic material is found, even DNA analysis can be subjective and mistaken.  The disturbing truth is that our justice system has sent countless numbers of people to jail--and executed some of them--based on junk science.
--Alex Kozinski, federal appeals court Judge, Wall Street Journal

Was there quid for the pro quo in Clinton Foundation?
Bernie Sanders never understood any of this when he famously dismissed Hillary’s email scandal [in a primary debate].  The real question was not whether Clinton mishandled classified information.  It was what she was hiding when she set up a private server and later deleted 30,000 personal emails, using a sophisticated program called BleachBit to wipe every trace of them from her computer.  Now we know:  She wanted to keep the public ignorant about how the whole machine operated--how the foundation worked as an elaborate mechanism for sucking money from the rich and the tyrannous to be channeled to Clinton, Inc.
--Charles Krauthammer,  Washington Post

The web’s romantic horizons
The Internet is systematically changing whom we date.   Decades of research have shown that people tend to pair off with partners who are similar to them in terms of race, education, or religion, which often reinforces divisions between social groups. But a recently published study by the University of Lausanne, in Switzerland, suggests that the rise of online dating is breaking down some of those barriers.  Americans in the survey who met through friends or school were the most likely to date someone similar to them.  Meeting online, however, was associated with more racial and ethnic mixing than any other meeting venue.  One possibility is that people searching online are finding partners similar to them in other ways, such as personality, hobbies, or lifestyle.
--Ana Swanson, Washington Post

We may have an innate taste for carbs
Scientists long believed that humans could register only four primary tastes: sweet, sour, salty, and bitter.  Seven years ago, they added a fifth: umami (savory).  But a new study suggests there may be a sixth: the "starchy" taste of complex carbohydrates such as bread and pasta, which might partly explain why people crave carbs.  Researchers from Oregon State University found that volunteers who were given liquid solutions containing complex carbohydrates could detect a starchy taste.  "Asians would say it was rice-like, while Caucasians described it as bread-like or pasta-like," lead researcher Juyun Lim told New Scientist. "It’s like eating flour."

To rule out the possibility that the volunteers were simply picking up on the sugar molecules that are produced when carbohydrates break down, researchers gave them blockers to prevent them from tasting sweets. The volunteers were still able to identify and describe the starchy taste in the solutions.  "Every culture has a major source of complex carbohydrate," Lim says. "The idea that we can’t taste what we’re eating doesn’t make sense."  Researchers have yet to find specific starch receptors on the tongue, but the finding adds to growing evidence that human taste is more complex than previously thought. Other flavors currently being investigated as potential primary tastes include calcium, fatty acids, and the metallic taste of blood.
--The Week

Would Trump's business empire affect his presidency?
Trump does not seem to understand or care about his mammoth conflicts of interest.  He waves away concerns by saying he’ll put the Trump Organization and all his investments into a "blind trust" run by his children Ivanka, Eric, and Donald Jr.  But no trust run by one’s children can be "blind."  Trump would still be aware of how his decisions as president would affect his and his family’s bottom line, which is a recipe for "epic corruption" on the scale of Vladimir Putin and Russia’s oligarchs. No wonder he admires Putin.
--Jonathan Chait,

Is $38 billion too little aid for Israel?--4 views
*** The record military aid package handed to Israel last week by the U.S. is a  landmark in the partnership between the two countries.   The agreement provides $38 billion to Israel over 10 years, up from $31 billion in the previous decade and the largest military aid deal the U.S. has ever offered to any ally.  Considering the U.S. administration’s cuts to the American military budget in recent years,  this increase is all the more remarkable, a true testament to the strength of the alliance. The U.S. clearly  sees Israel as a strategic asset of the highest order, an island of democratic stability in the turbulent and dangerous Middle East.
--Abraham Ben-Zvi, Israel Hayom

*** Look closer, and you’ll see that the deal is far from historic .  Weapons systems’ prices have rocketed up over the past decade, so the $38 billion Israel is due to receive over the next decade is actually worth less than the $31 billion we were sent over the past 10 years.  The aid would have been greater but for the arrogance of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said Ha’aretz in an editorial.   When discussions began last year, Obama wanted to give Israel much more--about $7 billion more--on condition that Netanyahu did not try to undermine the nuclear pact his administration was working out with Iran. But Netanyahu rejected that offer and publicly lobbied the U.S. Congress against the Iran deal. Those attempts to sabotage White House policy exacted a high price.
--Itamar Eichner, Yedioth Ahronoth

*** That’s why the new aid package comes with significant restrictions.   In the past, Congress would top up aid deals by appropriating extra money for Israel each year.  But the new deal bars Israel from asking Congress for more military aid, and compels it to return any extra funding that Congress gives it unasked.  Further, Israel used to be the only U.S. ally that received some of its military aid in cash so it could buy weapons from its own defense industries.  But in the future, U.S. aid will be supplied only by U.S. companies.
--Nahum Barnea, Yedioth Ahronoth

*** We need to stop moaning and thank Obama for being a staunch friend of Israel. For all his differences with Netanyahu, he is the only president to have a 100 percent voting record on Israel in the United Nations,  instructing his ambassadors to vote against every resolution condemning Israel.  It was his pressure that brought about the U.N.’s first session on anti-Semitism, and it was he who prevented the Palestinians from unilaterally declaring an independent state.  In accepting this unprecedented aid package, Israelis should show genuine gratitude to Obama.
--Uri Pilichowski, Jerusalem Post

'Safe spaces':  A university . . . 
U of C should stand for "University of Common Sense."  John Ellison, dean of students at the University of Chicago, [recently] sent a letter of welcome to incoming first-year students, informing them that Chicago rejects the culture of political correctness that has stifled free speech at campuses across the nation.  Although  "civility and mutual respect are vital to all of us," wrote Ellison, "we expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate . . . that may challenge you and even cause discomfort."   He advised students that the university does not support "trigger warnings,"  and  "we do not condone the creation of intellectual 'safe spaces' where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own."
--Chicago Tribune  editorial

 . . . takes a stand
It’s a sad commentary on the state of higher learning that Ellison’s statement is viewed as a brave and bold move.   Nevertheless, with the PC police hounding administrators from their jobs at colleges like Yale and the University of Missouri, the University of Chicago should be applauded mightily for stating what used to be obvious.
--Mary Ham,

Making sense of a mixed-up economy
If you’re not confused by this economy, you’re not paying attention.  No matter where you look, contradictions abound.  GDP rose at an annual rate of about 1 percent in the first half of this year, and that lackluster growth suggests the U.S.  could be on the brink of a recession.  But labor market figures  depict a booming economy, with an average of 200,000 new payroll jobs a month in 2016.

 It’s just as murky elsewhere. Corporate profits dropped 5 percent in 2015 and continued to shrink this year.   No matter. Stocks are trading near record highs.  The housing market just had its best month for sales of single-family homes since October 2007.  Even so, far fewer homes are being built now than before the recession, and many potential home buyers have been priced out of the market.

But the largest uncertainty is the Federal Reserve,  which is struggling over what to do with all this conflicting data.  Right now, the Fed looks poised to raise interest rates, a sign of confidence in the economy.  But the once-powerful central bank’s influence may be waning.  After years of Fed policies meant to jump-start growth, we’re still stuck with a boring and mystifying recovery that’s not terrible but hardly impressive. Perhaps we should call it the Snooze Economy.
--Robert Samuelson, Washington Post