Wednesday, August 2, 2017

CELEBRITY ENDORSEMENTS

What they're saying about Jim's provocative blog:

--"Джим - забавный парень, но он не Яков Смирнов!" (Jim's a funny guy, but he's no Yakof Smirnoff!  Nyet!")--Vladimir Putin
--"Я думаю, мы могли бы использовать такого парня, как Джим."  (I think we could use a guy like Jim!)--Sergey Kislyak, Russian ambassador to the United States.
--"He's from this country, Mexicans don't read him, so that's good enough for me."--Donald Trump
--"The one thing I didn't delete from my private server."--Hillary Clinton
--"Jimaschizzle!"--Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr. (aka Snoop Dogg)
--"The one thing I DO read!"--Sarah Palin
--"The most fun you can have with your clothes on (but DO take a shower afterwards)."--Dick Cavett

jimjustselling . . .


(Actually, I'm not, but the good folks at HenschelHAUS are. And they're now offering FREE SHIPPING IN THE CONTINENTAL U.S. 
https://henschelhausbooks.com/product/lol-i-gags/


The book is also available at:

POPCORN

By Jim Szantor

Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric and whimsical observations about the absurdities of contemporary life
  • Which is easier:  Losing weight or getting off a mailing list?  Discuss.
  • Now that the cultural abomination of "gender reveal" parties is proliferating, why not go one step further and start holding "disposal reveal" or "demise reveal" parties.   Such as:
  • Dear friends:  Will Jim decide to be buried in a cemetery or be cremated?  Join us for the revelation at 4 p.m. Sunday Aug. 13 at the Tower in Potawatomi State Park.  Regrets only.
  • Used-car ad I'd love to see:  "Our cars have that used-car smell and just some of the bells and whistles!"
  • Titles that don't quite make it (via Salman Rushdie's essay on Christoper Hitchens in "Vanity Fair's Writers on Writers," a book I highly recommend):  "A Farewell to Weapons," "For Whom the Bell Rings," "To Kill a Hummingbird," "The Catcher in the Wheat" and "Mr. Zhivago."
  • That inspired jimjustsaying's Song Titles That Don't Quite Make It," such as:
  • "The Lady is a Bum,"  "All the Items You Are," "How Deep is the River?,"  "Cul de Sac of Broken Dreams," "On the Avenue Where You Live,"  "Back Home Again in South Dakota,"  "The Days of Rum and Petunias,"  "Body and Spirit," and "Mr. Fortunate."  
  • TV Guide fun facts:  The person who appeared on the magazine's first issue also made the most cover appearances ever:  Lucille Ball.   (What, you thought it was Wally Cox?)
  • It has been reported that in order to get the show filmed on the most expensive --and therefore best --type of film possible, Ball and Desi Arnaz both took pay cuts so the production crew could afford it.   Can't imagine any of today's stars doing that, can you?
  • jimjustsaying's Party Ice-Breaker of the Week:  "Say [actual partygoer's name here], did you know that crows are incredibly clever birds, capable of using tools and recognizing faces and that they even mourn their dead and hold 'funerals'?"  
  • "The only function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable."--John Kenneth Galbraith
  • jimjustsaying's World That Doesn't Exist But Should:  Flirr:  n. A photograph that features the camera operator's finger in the corner.--from "Sniglets," Rich Hall and Friends.
  • jimjustsaying's Six Favorite Items from the summer supplement edition of the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog: The Extra Wide Zero Gravity Breathable Mesh Lounger/The Snore Reducing Oxygen Level Monitor/The Singing Peek-A-Boo Pachyderm/The Himalayan Salt Grilling Plank/The British Horticulturist Bee House and the Hypnotic Jellyfish Aquarium.  
  • I'm dead set against the death penalty--except for defaulters on student loans!  (Did you know that defaulters can have 15 percent of their wages garnished by the federal government, have their tax refunds withheld and Social Security benefits denied?  Good start, but not stiff enough.)
  •  "An intellectual says a simple thing in a hard way, an artist says a hard thing in a simple way."
  •   --Charles Bukowski, ArtSlant.com
  • Redundancy patrol:  "Arson fire," "join together" and "end result."
  • I'd probably fast-forward through fewer TV commercials if they were done live, as they were in the old days . . . when the dogs sometimes didn't eat the dog food or the vacuum cleaner didn't vacuum up what it was supposed to vacuum up.   That was reality TV, my friend.
  • Why are the clothes hooks are so often missing inside the fitting rooms at stores and the "facilities"  just about everywhere?
  • jimjustsaying's Most Misused Word of the Month (if not Century):  fulsome.  As in, "The honoree was lavished with fulsome praise."  If the speaker meant to insult the honoree, he or she succeeded because "fulsome" means "insincere," nothing else. It doesn't mean "full" or "abundant."  But the gaffe usually passes unnoticed because most people don't know the difference.  (And don't get me started on "parameters"!)
  • Overheard:  "My boss in on vacation this week, and so am I."
  • Prediction: Sometime in the coming weeks you're bound to hear some geriatric hippy proclaim that "Woodstock changed the world."
  • Really?  Far as I can tell, the day it ended, the Soviet Union was still an oppressive communist nation, Third World children were still starving, and Richard Nixon was still in the White House.  I don't think three days of naked hippies smoking weed and slogging through the mud at Max Yasgur's farm from August 15-17, 1969, to music they probably couldn't really hear very well changed much of anything.
  • jimjustsaying's Coinage of the Month:  Shoulder of fortune:  A person who, when he's talking to you, is looking past you to see if there's someone more important he or she should be talking to.
  • "Surviving at the punch bowls were Mrs. Ferguson and Mrs. Pritchard."--The Roanoke (Va.) Times, via "Still More Press Boners."
  • Today's Latin Lesson:  Es vos populus etiam opus in ut?  ("Are you guys still working on that?")

THE QUOTE RACK

Fidget kerfuffle
Russia’s government has launched an investigation into fidget spinners over concerns that the West is using the toys to corrupt its youth.   State-run TV said in a recent news report that fidget spinners were an "instrument for zombifying" young people, and that the fast-whirling edges make them "susceptible to manipulation."   It’s no coincidence, a presenter said, that the hypnotic toys are sold at Russia’s opposition rallies.   The country’s consumer watchdog announced it would research the spinners’ "negative consequences" for mental health.
--The Week

How 'Made in America' could backfire
President Trump’s "Made in America" drive could hurt workers more than help them.  As part of the initiative, the White House is considering whether to slap new tariffs on foreign steel. Many analysts agree that "artificially low prices" from overseas producers have damaged the U.S. steel industry, but they don’t agree that tariffs are the right response.  The U.S. would face swift retaliation, not only from the Chinese exporters targeted by the tariffs, but also from importers in other countries forced to absorb a glut of steel no longer headed for America.  The European Union is already preparing retaliatory levies on American whiskey, orange juice, and potatoes if steel tariffs are approved.  The ensuing "tit-for-tat" trade war would damage the global economy without doing much to revive the Rust Belt.   U.S. steelmakers would initially benefit from higher prices, but there are far more manufacturing workers in industries buying steel than selling it.  About 200,000 people lost their manufacturing jobs when President George W. Bush imposed steel tariffs in 2002--more than were working in the entire steel industry.   The worst job losses came in states like Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.   In trying to punish China to help the heartland, Trump seems likely to hurt it.
--Annie Lowrey,TheAtlantic.com

Health-care markets can’t be free
If you want a free-market health-care system, you must be willing to let ome patients die. House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republicans who advocate giving people "the freedom" not to be covered in any way are promoting a big lie. In our society, health care is not an optional consumer good that people can choose to turn down. Every day, badly injured or dying patients arrive in my hospital who have no insurance; some are unconscious. Later, they sometimes express dismay that we saved them, because they know they’ve run up bills of tens of thousands of dollars. One man we saved from a brain bleed told me that he’d rather have died and left his family his life insurance payment than have burdened them with a massive medical bill and bankruptcy. Someone winds up paying for uncompensated care, whether it’s the hospitals legally obligated to provide it or the taxpayers who subsidize it. "Deep down inside, we all intuitively know that health care is not a free market." If you want true "freedom," you have to be willing to let uninsured people found "lying unconscious in the street remain there and die.
--Farzon Nahvi,  emergency room physician, in the New York Times

Time to worry about a recession
If you drew up a list of preconditions for recession, it would include the following: a labor market at full strength, frothy asset prices, tightening central banks, and a pervasive sense of calm.  In other words, a lot like what the economy looks like today.  Our 4.3 percent unemployment rate, the lowest in 16 years, has more room to go up than down.  The economy’s expansion is heading into its ninth year and will be the longest on record in two more.  Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve is steadily raising interest rates; a tightening of monetary policy has preceded every recession.  Ironically, our preternaturally calm market is also a source of concern, suggesting that traders aren’t worried enough about risks. "Implied volatility," which measures the cost of hedging against market shocks with options, is the lowest it’s been since mid-2007, just before the financial crisis.  None of this means a market meltdown is guaranteed, but businesses and investors are acting like steady growth and low interest rates will last forever.  Stocks are trading at a historically high 22 times the past year’s earnings, with companies borrowing heavily to fund buybacks and dividends.  Once prices start to fall and credit dries up, those companies will feel the squeeze, making any correction much worse.  Those of us who have lived through economic mayhem before feel our muscle memory twitch at times like this.
--Greg Ip, Wall Street Journal


What comes after the 30-second ad?
For years, the 30-second television spot has been the bread and butter of the advertising industry, creating hundreds of billions of dollars in value.  But the traditional ad is in trouble.  The format, created for breaks between shows, hasn’t translated online.  Despite initially high hopes that online video would let advertisers target niche audiences, the reality is that irritated viewers skip past online ads at the first opportunity.  And they are getting more help:  By year’s end, Google will stop allowing 30-second ads to run on YouTube unless they can be skipped.  Yet advertisers cling to the format because it’s familiar.  They also make the mistake of assuming low production values will cut it online; advertisers spent seven times more creating video spots for TV last year than for online, even though digital advertising is now a bigger market.  Or they go too far in the opposite direction.  At this year’s Cannes Lions, the ad industry’s "annual festival of self-congratulation," one of the winners was a three-minute-long commercial for a Gillette razor designed for senior caregivers.  It was "a delicately filmed and moving narrative," but who has time to watch three minutes on a razor? The traditional video ad needs a sturdy successor for the digital era. It was a perfect invention for its time; the creatives must create another.
--John Gapper, Financial Times

Climate change and what to do about it
--However alarmed you are about climate change, said David Wallace-Wells in New York magazine, you are not alarmed enough.   After years of attacks from climate skeptics, the scientific community has become overly cautious in its predictions of how climate change may impact life on Earth, and how quickly.  Behind the climatologists’ public "reticence," however, there is growing evidence that unless we act now to dramatically cut carbon emissions, by the year 2100 the human race could be living, or rather dying, on an uninhabitable planet.   Temperatures are already rising rapidly, particularly in polar regions, and within the next few decades warmer air could melt the Arctic permafrost, releasing 1.8 trillion tons of trapped carbon--twice as much as is currently in the atmosphere.  This chain-reaction effect will greatly accelerate the rate of warming, rapidly raising global temperatures by more than 8 degrees.   Baking heat and drought will quickly turn most of the planet’s agricultural regions into deserts.  Seas will rise by as much as 10 feet, inundating coastlines.  People all over the world will literally die of 110-degree heat and suffocating humidity.  The worst can still be avoided, if this scenario shocks us out of our complacency, but right now, we’re on course to destroy our planet.

--What hysterical nonsense, said Oren Cass in City-Journal.org.  Many climate experts are discrediting Wallace-Wells’ dire predictions as "disconnected from reality."  Predictably, however, liberal pundits have heaped praise on the hyperventilating article, in their fervent hope that "climate catastrophism" will help scare the public into supporting intrusive government efforts to restrict carbon emissions.  The reality is that alarmism only creates a backlash, said Jonah Goldberg in NationalReview.com. The public remembers past doomsday predictions about environmental catastrophes that didn’t happen, because they were either overblown or solved by human ingenuity. So it’s all too easy to laugh off a wild-eyed climate-change alarmist shouting, "The end is nigh!"

"Climate doomism," in fact, can be just as destructive as climate-change denial, said atmospheric scientist Michael Mann in WashingtonPost.com.  By painting an "overly bleak" picture, people like Wallace-Wells risk demoralizing the public into fatalistic passivity.  If an overcooked Earth is all but inevitable, why should we change our way of life now?  Actually, Wallace-Wells didn’t say the situation was hopeless, said David Roberts in Vox.com.  In laying out the worst-case scenario, he said explicitly that the planet could still be saved with prompt and concerted action.  The fact is that "most people simply have no idea how scary climate change is."

The problem, said Robinson Meyer in TheAtlantic.com, is that there are two equally true but conflicting narratives here.  On  one hand, our hotter planet is already experiencing more "mega-droughts," wildfires, and long-lasting heat waves, at the same time President Trump has pulled the U.S. out of the Paris climate-change agreement.  On the other hand, a strategy for addressing climate change is coming together, with the plunging cost of solar and wind energy, the dawn of electric cars, and serious emissions-control efforts by most nations.  To focus on the first story risks demoralizing the public, while to focus on the second risks sending the message that the problem is well in hand.  The truth is that at this point in history, no one knows whether our efforts to head off disaster will be successful.  Did Wallace-Wells exaggerate the threat to terrify his readers into action?  No doubt.  But a steadily warming climate is still the worst problem in the world, and terror is appropriate.
--The Week

What happened to pay raises?
U.S. companies  have literally forgotten how to compete for employees.    The demand for workers is so high right now that airlines have canceled flights, home builders have slowed down construction and farmers fret that crops will go unharvested--all for lack of qualified hands.   There are currently 5.7 million job openings in the U.S., twice the level of eight years ago, and the unemployment rate is a very low 4.4 percent.    Given these conditions, wages should be rising sharply.   Yet pay has barely budged for most Americans.   Employers don’t appear willing to increase wages to attract candidates, and employees either won’t or can’t demand more.

 The reason for this puzzling state of affairs may be psychological--the pain of the financial crisis is still fresh in our minds.   Just as the Great Depression left scars that influenced consumer and investor behavior for decades,  the financial crisis and subsequent recession inflicted similarly deep wounds.    Businesses went into  survival mode,  laying off workers and cutting back benefits for those they kept.   Years later, that mentality has  hardened into something like a permanent mindset and is baked into business models and projections. Meanwhile, workers traumatized by layoffs, foreclosures and pulverized savings learned to take any job they could get and hold on to it for dear life.    The result is a mutually reinforcing feedback loop that leaves both sides dissatisfied.
--Daniel Gross, Slate.com

Fossil find
Jude Sparks was hiking with his family in the New Mexico desert when he tripped over a rocky outcrop--and came face-to-face with an extremely rare fossil.   At first, the 10-year-old thought his discovery of two large fossilized teeth and a tusk was part of "a big, fat rotten cow."  But when he sent photographs to a paleontology expert at New Mexico State University, Sparks was told he’d actually stumbled upon the skull of a ­stegomas­todon--an ancient elephant relative estimated to be more than a million years old.  "I didn’t know what it was," says Jude of his remarkable find. "I just knew it wasn’t usual."
--The Week

THE LINK TANK

North Korea has one big advantage over its adversaries
Kim Jong Un’s dynasty has the clarity of focus lacking among the U.S., China and Japan
https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/north-korea-has-one-big-advantage-over-its-adversaries/2017/07/06/1a63d32c-625a-11e7-a4f7-af34fc1d9d39_story.html?utm_term=.f5015be53883&wpisrc=nl_opinions&wpmm=1

Why can't we fix our electronic devices?
DIY repair would allow for less waste, more business
http://digitaledition.chicagotribune.com/infinity/article_popover_share.aspx?guid=56555a1b-6914-4095-a8f6-40656cf85f6b

Olympics may be nearing the finish line
The specter of terrorism raises costs, and economists increasingly say the Games are poor public investments
http://digitaledition.chicagotribune.com/infinity/article_popover_share.aspx?guid=79b5cab3-ba1d-4282-8486-2cb9378614ec

Why robots won't steal all our jobs
New technologies inspire new jobs, a study concludes
https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-robots-wont-steal-all-our-jobs/2017/07/12/cab18c92-6723-11e7-9928-22d00a47778f_story.html?utm_term=.2996c4b47b6d&wpisrc=nl_opinions&wpmm=1

Convicted killer's stories offer look inside prison
The atrocious tedium and isolation of an imprisoned existence
http://digitaledition.chicagotribune.com/infinity/article_popover_share.aspx?guid=2ccf8fa3-a72f-4a65-8900-2a5c6efe5c2d

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!