Monday, February 6, 2017

CELEBRITY ENDORSEMENTS

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

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
  • You didn't hear it from me, but sources tell me President Trump is warming to the idea of debtors' prisons.   ("AND THE DEBTORS ARE GOING TO PAY FOR IT!")
  • I'm nostalgic for the days when magazines didn't come in plastic bags.  (If you ordered, say, a hundred plastic bags, would they come in a plastic bag?)
  • When did guys start getting haircuts that look like the barber had a seizure  . . . and kept on cutting?  (And when will that trend mercifully limp to a halt?)
  • My town, and perhaps yours as well, has a Walnut Street.  But where are the Cashew Courts,  the Almond Avenues, the Pistachio Parkways?  How did all these other nut varieties get left out?
  • (This just in:  My research assistant, Miss Informed, tells me that peanuts, almonds, pistachios, cashews, horse chestnuts and pine nuts are not nuts.)
  • Made all of your President’s Day plans yet?  There’s still time.
  • Maybe we should have a Vice President’s Day too.  You’d still have to go to work, but you wouldn’t have to do anything.
  • President’s Day is nice and all, but who really looks forward to it---aside from government workers?  I propose a holiday that would hold more satisfaction for the rest of us: Turnabout Day, based on "turnabout's fair play."  A way to correct a power imbalance we all endure.
  • On Turnabout Day—and you’d get to pick your own date each year—your doctor would have to get naked in front of you, and your accountant or financial adviser would have to show you his or her tax return!
  • jimjustsaying's Party Ice-Breaker of the Month:  "Say [actual partygoer's name here], did you know that killer whales, short-finned pilot whales and humans are the only animals that experience menopause?"
  • From my daily e-mail from The Atlantic:  A frog’s tongue is X  times more flexible than a human’s.  (Answer:  10! I would guess tongue flexibility is one  anatomical attribute that none of us have never pondered!)
  • Another impressive number:  50,000--the number of  badged employees who report to work at LAX each day, many with direct access to the airfield.
  • jimjustsaying's Word That Doesn't Exist But Should of the Month:  "Adam 69:  Two police cars parked so that the drivers side windows face each other and the policemen inside can talk to one another."  (Thanks to lco...@woodburnsd.org for this clever coinage.)
  • You're an old-timer if you remember when pornography was known as "stag films" or "skin magazines"  and was available only through back channels or "under the counter."  Who envisioned the day when Disney-owned hotel chains would be offering such fare on their pay-for-view channels?
  • (The Disney Company was a key partner in a cable channel distributing soft-core pornography.  The allegation appeared in "Disney: The Mouse Betrayed." While the channel originally ran action films and comedies from various Hollywood studios, the president of Viewer’s Choice pursued distribution of pornography because of its profit potential, the book's authors wrote.)
  • Faded phrases: "In like Flynn," "Living the life of Riley," and "Go soak your head."
  • Newspaper Obituary Headline Nickname of the Month:  Wazzie.  As in, Dan "Wazzie" Nusbaum, Green Bay Press-Gazette, Nov. 2, 2016.  R.I.P., Mr. Nusbaum.
  • Redundancy Patrol: "Combine together," "brief summary," "completely annihilate."
  • Time for Russian-born comic Yakof Smirnoff to make a comeback. ("The first time I went to a restaurant, they asked me:  'How many in your party?' and I said 'Six hundred million.' ")
  • jimjustsaying's Favorite Internet "click-bait" Items of the Month:
  • 40 stars you don't know had kids at a very young age/6 things that could get you arrested in Dubai/Foods that make you look 10 years older/15 uses for old  coffee grounds/9 super sad TV sitcom moments that got way too real/7 weird signs that could mean you're really unhealthy/What to do if your car doesn't fit in your garage . . . and one everyone should read and heed:  How to confront a war criminal.
  • 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.
  • "People always ask me how long it takes to do my hair. I don’t know, I’m never there."--Dolly Parton
  • Today's Latin Lesson:  Quomodo hoc posset scurrae electum? ("How did this buffoon get elected?)

THE QUOTE RACK

Presidents don’t move markets
The stock market doesn’t much care who occupies the Oval Office.  Plenty of ink has been spilled analyzing how President Trump’s every tweet and policy could ultimately affect investors.  But history shows this speculation is beside the point.  Going back to Herbert Hoover, every president has experienced severe corrections or bear markets on their watch.  Likewise, both Republican and Democratic presidents have enjoyed spectacular gains. Since 1853, the stock market in total has returned 1,340 percent under Democrats and 1,270 percent under Republicans.

The truth is, presidents have far less control over the markets than most people would have you believe.  The economy and stock market rarely operate  in lockstep, and the full economic impact of most policy decisions isn’t felt for years.  A president’s stock market record also depends on conditions when he takes office, including interest rates, market valuations, inflation, and unemployment.  Presidents can, of course, affect the stock market around the margins.  Sentiment plays a role in investor decisions, for instance, so anything a president can do to get investors excited about the future helps.  But the market’s performance under any given president  has more to do with the luck of the draw than anything else.
--Ben Carlson, Bloomberg.com

Immigration: What next?
The early successes of immigrant rights groups challenging Trump’s order could prove fleeting.   Foreign citizens who are permanent U.S. residents may be protected by prohibitions on religious discrimination.  But the picture is gloomier for refugees and those seeking visas, because courts  have rarely accorded constitutional rights to foreigners outside the U.S.  Moreover, presidents have broad discretion over the nation’s immigration and refugee policy.  Either way, the legal battle over the temporary ban could go on far longer than the 90 days it is supposed to last:  Broad challenges to the Trump orders could take months or even years to play out in the courts.
--Josh Gerstein and Seung Min Kim, Politico​.com

The robotic revolution:  Two views
đŸ”ºPresident Trump has pledged to save American jobs from Mexico and China, but he might want to deal with the robots first.   Studies suggest that the vast majority of U.S. factory jobs lost in the past few decades were lost not to overseas workers, but to automation.  That trend is only accelerating.  Machines could today feasibly replace at least some of what human workers do in 50 percent of all jobs, no matter the sector, according to an eye-popping new report from management consultancy McKinsey.

That’s not just low-paying work but plenty of white-collar employment as well.   More workplaces than ever, from oil rigs to farms,  are now welcoming robotic laborers, according to Jamie Condliffe of TechnologyReview.com.  An oil company that once required 20 employees to work a drilling site may soon need as few as five,  thanks to robots that have taken over dangerous, repetitive jobs joining heavy pipes as they’re driven into wells.  Robot workers are also infiltrating the mining and construction industries.  What’s a populist president to do?
--Peter Kafka, Recode.net. 

đŸ”ºIt’s counter intuitive, but the answer is to build more robots.  If Trump browbeats manufacturers into staying in the U.S., companies will naturally invest in more robots to avoid paying our high wages.  Right now, those robots aren’t being made in America; they’re built in China. Beijing has recently invested billions of dollars in its robotics industry, hoping to keep its manufacturers from fleeing to India, Vietnam, and other developing Asian economies where the labor is even cheaper.  Now China is where the world goes to buy industrial robots.

The U.S. is behind in this arms race, but it could yet catch up, because it has many advantages China lacks, including a robust startup culture and the fact that many of the world’s most talented roboticists work at American universities.  It would be politically difficult, of course, but consider the alternative:  Today, we buy a lot of stuff made in China by Chinese people. Tomorrow, we’ll buy stuff made in America--by Chinese robots.
--Farhad Manjoo,  New York Times

A better way to train workers
Most economists believe that worker-training programs can help Americans who’ve lost their manufacturing jobs to automation.  But there is one big problem: Research has repeatedly shown that job-retraining programs run by Washington  don’t really work.  What does work is the European-style apprenticeship model, in which employees learn a new trade on the job.  Yet so far, U.S. companies have resisted investing in such efforts, fearing that workers will simply take their new skills to a rival firm.  So if the U.S. government has the money to retrain workers but not the know-how, and companies have the expertise to teach new skills but won’t spend the money,  why not bring them together?

One such proposal, dubbed "pay for performance," would have the government pay companies for retraining programs as long as workers’ wages go up.  Even if a retrained worker leaves, the government will compensate the firm.  Of course, it’s possible that the money won’t be enough to keep some companies from choosing to automate or offshore workers.  Other firms may try to bilk the system by spending on training that  was going to happen anyway.    But after an election season full of big, grand economic proposals, this approach at least represents affordable tweaks that could realistically save workers’ jobs.
--Derek Thompson, TheAtlantic.com

Extreme wealth is not 'obscene'
The world’s eight richest men own as much wealth as the world’s poorest 3.7 billion people--half the planet’s population. That’s what the international charity Oxfam tells us, calling the vast income gap "a moral and social calamity." It’s a striking statistic, but  it’s also irrelevant.  To begin with,  the Oxfam 8--Microsoft’s Bill Gates, investor Warren Buffett, telecom mogul Carlos Slim Helu, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, clothing magnate Amancio Ortega, Amazon creator Jeff Bezos, Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison and New York City’s entrepreneur ex-mayor Michael Bloomberg--aren’t parasites exploiting the masses.  Through hard work and ingenuity, they’ve created enterprises that improve the lives of billions; moreover, each gives massive amounts to charity.

Meanwhile, thanks to capitalism, the world’s poor have been climbing out of poverty at the fastest rate in human history.   Over the last 30 years, the number of people in extreme poverty has dropped by 75 percent, or 1.2 billion people.  Liberals keep insisting that extreme wealth is "obscene," as if the economy were a zero-sum game in which people get richer only if poor people get poorer. That’s not true.  Wealth is good, and the more people who can create and earn it, the better."
--Jeff Jacoby, Boston Globe

The myth of the dying middle class
Politicians on both sides of the aisle agree:  The American middle class is disappearing.  Whether it’s Sen. Bernie Sanders or President Trump, the message is the same. The average American worker is being squeezed out for the benefit of those at the top.  But what if they’re wrong?  On closer examination,  the American middle class has been doing just fine.  In 1967, for example, 33.7 percent of American households earned between $50,000 and $100,000. That number (adjusting for inflation) fell to 28.5 percent by 2014, but not because the middle class is stagnating.   It turns out that everybody just got wealthier.

Today, nearly 25 percent of Americans earn more than $100,000 a year, up from about 8 percent in 1967.  That’s not a collapsing middle class. That’s a growing upper-middle class.  But even so, income  is a poor indicator of economic wealth.  Looking at what people actually consume, Americans  live far better now than they did in 1980.  We have nicer products, enjoy affordable new technologies, and live in bigger houses.  Yet many Americans seem to believe they have it much rougher than they used to.  Perhaps the real problem is  politicians constantly drilling into Americans that they’re being screwed by the guy at the top, and that only government can fix that problem.
--Ben Shapiro, National Review

The shift to a cashless world
An increasing number of U.S. businesses are saying goodbye to cash.  Some small businesses, like Baltimore coffee shop Park Cafe, have stopped accepting cash after issues with robberies; others, like salad chain Sweetgreen, which has 66 locations nationwide, have gone cashless to speed up transaction times.  Expect plenty of other companies to follow suit in the near future.  The U.S. has been moving toward becoming a cashless society ever since the introduction of credit cards in the 1950s, but  it’s only now possible to ditch cash altogether.  Smartphone-connected card readers like Square now allow virtually any business to accept credit- and debit-card payments, and payment apps like Venmo make it easy to order takeout or pay back a friend without ever touching a twenty.  As a result, the global value of card-payment transactions exceeded that of cash transactions for the first time ever last year;  in the U.S., we crossed that milestone in 2004.  And there’s little reason to mourn paper money’s passing.  Criminologists have found that reducing the amount of cash in any given area significantly reduces not just theft but also violent crime.  Cash will probably always be around in some form or another.  But there’s no doubt we are losing our cultural attachment to it.
--Christopher Mims, Wall Street Journal

THE LINK TANK

The folly of Trump's 'Buy American and hire American'
Ancient superstitions about trade abound in the president's philosophy
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman/ct-trump-clueless-trade-jobs-trade-nafta-perspec-0126-20170125-column.html#nt=blogroll 

Meet the bloodthirsty Count (Judge) Gorsuch
Fundamental to his heresy: Legislatures, and not courts, should create laws
http://www.jsonline.com/story/opinion/contributors/2017/02/05/parker-meet-bloodthirsty-count-judge-neil-gorsuch/97526020/

A lesson in Black History
Donald Trump has much to learn from Frederick Douglass
http://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/06/opinion/a-lesson-in-black-history.html?ref=opinion 

Intelligence knows no bounds
Smart people can--and often do--come in many varieties
http://on.jsonl.in/2jF54bg

Why time flies  . . .
 . . . but sometimes doesn't get off the ground
http://online.wsj.com/news/article_email/SB12742076995748244426504582551561308860528-lMyQjAxMTI3NzI0MTIyMDE3Wj?mod=wsj_share_email

How compulsions help us cope with the Age of Anxiety
Repetitive behavior can be troubling and reassuring
http://online.wsj.com/news/article_email/SB11776928018298894384504582565431984532976-lMyQjAxMTE3NzI3MTYyOTEyWj?mod=wsj_share_email

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.



Friday, January 6, 2017

POPCORN

By Jim Szantor

Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric and whimsical observations 
about the absurdities of contemporary life
  • You know you're an old-timer when you can remember putting your car (or have it go automatically at a certain speed) into "overdrive."  
  • I always pity anyone who wakes up one day and realizes they're a lookalike for the latest Notorious Figure of the Day (whether it be Dylann Roof, Julian Assange or Vladimir Putin).
  • Overheard during the holidays:  "I went to a TGIF party.  It was BYOB, and I had enough VO and JB to send me to AA with the DT's!"
  • Speaking of New Year's:  Is there anything more cringeworthy than watching Kathy Griffin and Anderson Cooper acting like a coosome twosome on New Year's Eve?  Who came up with this pairing?  But you can bet they'll be back at it next year. TV stations cling to bad ideas like barnacles to an old garbage scow.
  • Isn't it possible that Donald Trump is taking his cue from Don Vito Corleone regarding his remarks about and relationship with Vladimir Putin?  Remember "Keep your friends close but your enemies closer"? ("Give this to Clemenza; er, I mean, Pence. . . .")
  • Above it all?  My favorite from the list of new products on display at this year's Consumer Electronics Show:  Levitating Speaker--Crazybaby's floating speaker atop a speaker for a new way of listening to music, we are told.  (Accompanying picture shows a flying-saucer-looking object, ostensibly the speaker, floating above another speaker.  Outta sight!)
  • (The story concludes by saying "there will be thousands of products shown here, and most will never see the light of day."  I don't see much hope for the levitating speaker, but who saw the Hula Hoop and Pet Rocks coming?)
  • Quite amusing, in some way, all the celebrities who have turned down Inaugural performance invites.  Rumor has it the president and his wife will be dancing to the recorded strains of the Time/Life Greatest Hits Orchestra! (And sources tell jimjustsaying that Emo Phillips and Yakof Smirnoff aren't returning the transition team's calls!)
  • It's interesting to look back at all of the famous folks who died in 2016.  Prince was one of the biggest surprises, most would agree.
  • In that connection, Dwight Macdonald once essayed:  "There seems to be a Law of Negative Compensation that the Fates visit upon the outrageously famous--one of those deaths Yeats had in mind when he wrote of a friend's lost son: "Whatever made us dream that he would one day comb gray hair?"
  • I love when someone is identified as a "social critic."  I guess people never do anything right, we're always wrong.
  • Memo to all guys wearing backwards baseball caps:  It was a lame look when it started and the situation has not improved.  (Hmmm; caps on backwards but life and career trajectory all in order, right? Mensa members all.)
  • Charles Manson probably isn't worrying too much about the gastrointestinal problems that have landed him in a prison hospital recently.  Since he's serving nine life sentences, I see him pulling out of this in catlike fashion.  (If he dies after this is published, justice obviously was not served.)
  • Why does ABC's "20/20" program need not one but two people (Elizabeth Vargas and some other guy) to deliver (standing, of course!) a two-sentence introduction to what follows? Shows like "Forensic Files" seem to accomplish this arduous task quite nicely with one (!) offscreen announcer.  Incredible.  I guess they feel they've got these folks under contract so they might as well get some work out of them.  What other reason can there be?  No one tunes in to see Elizabeth Vargas speak a sentence.  Competent?  Yes. Drawing card?  Doubtful.
  • jimjustsaying's Party Ice-Breaker of the Week:  "Say [actual partygoer's name here], did you know that bubble wrap was invented in 1960 for use as wallpaper, not in packaging?"
  • This just in:  There hasn't been a baby boy in the U.S. named Orville in 37 years.  (No figures yet on how long it's been since a girl was named Orville . . . .)
  • Am I the only one irritated by the fast-and-loose (and highly misleading) dating of magazines?  On Dec. 10, I got an email notice that the digital edition of one of the magazines I subscribe to was available--the February issue, not the January.  That one came out before Thanksgiving.   Somewhere there is a March or "Spring" issue of a magazine on the stands right now!
  • Did you know that Wisconsin is the only state with a Sturgeon General cabinet position?
  • "Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes."-- Henry David Thoreau
  • Newspaper Obituary Headline Nickname of the Month:  Popcorn Bob.  As in, Robert J. "Popcorn Bob" Mazurek, Kenosha (Wis.) News obituary, Dec. 4, 2016.
  • One wonders who is worse off today:  The kid with virtually no education to speak of and no job (or a McJob) . . . or the guy with a master's degree (or higher) and no job (or the so-called McJob).
  • At least Mr. No Education doesn't have $200,000 in student loans to worry about while he's worrying where his next meal is coming from!
  • All-Over-rated Club, Comedy Division:  Lewis Black, Dave Chappelle and Kathy Griffin.
  • Favorite recent Drudge Report headlines:  
  • --"Why some artists no longer want to be famous."
  • --"Do you want to know?  Blood test reveals how long you will live."  
  • --"Naked woman in stolen police cruiser leads cops on chase."  Comment:  Did we really need the word "stolen" in that headline?  Where I'm from, naked women do not enjoy cruiser joy-riding privileges. (Just naked men!)
  • Today's Latin Lesson:  O homo, quid putris odor?  ("Oh, man, what's that rotten smell?")