Tuesday, January 19, 2021

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

POPCORN

 By Jim Szantor

Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric and whimsical observations 
about the absurdities of contemporary life

  • What if they found out that an endangered animal was eating all the endangered plants?
  • Memo to Joe Biden and all other politicians:  Enough already with the stentorian, officious, stilted speechifying, the carnival barker-like proclamations and the pretentious hand and  arm waving!  We’re interested in information, not oratory, so please start talking in a normal tone of voice.  Easier on you, easier on us. 
  • Any candidate for political office who promises to crack down on the widespread abuse of "handicapped parking spaces" has my vote!
  • Sorely needed:  An explanation of how 7 inches of rain can make a river rise 22 feet!
  • In our PC-driven world--in which you're not manic-depressive anymore, you're bipolar, and you're not retarded, you're developmentally disabled--it's time to expand the euphemistic nomenclature:
  • Serial killers?  Let's call them, er, "prolific demise facilitators."  
  • So-and-so is a hit man?  No, he's  an "eternal reward concierge"!
  • Scam artists?  No, they’re "Machiavellian marketplace opportunists."
  •  jimjustsaying's Tip o' the Week: Never play poker with a man named Doc, never eat at a place called Mom's--and never call a hit man a Machiavellian manic-depressive.
  • "The neurotic has problems; the psychotic has solutions."--Psychiatrist Thomas Szasz
  • There will never be a Bill Murray Look-Alike Contest.
  • Sometimes I feel like a 100 percent cotton guy in a Dacron/polyester world.  
  • (I wonder if anyone has ever named their daughter Polly Esther?  If so, I’m thinking they have second-guessed it.)
  • Drudging Around: Fossil reveals how dinosaurs peed, pooped and had sex . . . Cannibal sandwiches: Wisconsinites urged to stop eating traditional raw meat . . . Husband arrested after letting friends gang-rape wife . . . Wearing someone else’s face: Hyper-realistic masks to go on sale . . . Armed 67-year-old woman holds detains suspected burglars . . .  Video: Creepy clown waving long knife robs convenience store . . . Wisconsin dentist accused of breaking teeth in fraud scheme . . . Panama orders men and women to shop on different days . . . NY bans diners from using restaurant bathrooms . . . Vaginal warts and all:  Singapore’ taboo-breaking podcaster . . . Lethal nerve agent planted in underpants . . . Prof: Sex-crazed “Roaring 20s” awaits post-pandemic . . . Paragliding Santa rescued after crashing into power lines! . . . White Christmas:  74 pounds of cocaine found floating off Florida Keys . . . Archaeologists uncover ‘fast food’ in Pompeii . . . Frozen solid 15-ton whale stuck on NJ beach . . . Stowaway survives 5,600-mile flight by clinging to jumbo jet wheel . . . Giant vagina sculpture fuels culture wars in Brazil . . . Angry chickens attack McDonald’s customers . . . Mayor Houston suburb chosen by pulling name from hat . . .  Family faces eviction—for having too many children . . . Hell to pay: Arson shakes Church of Satan community. (Thanks again to Matt Drudge and his merry band of aggregators for this month's jaw-droppers.)
  • “The advantage of being a pessimist; a pessimist gets nothing but pleasant surprises, an optimist nothing but unpleasant surprises.”—writer Rex Stout, quoted in ArtsJournal.com
  • You want fries with that? Researchers have said that they had discovered a frescoed thermopolium, or fast food counter, in an exceptional state of preservation in Pompeii.
  • The ornate snack bar counter, decorated with polychrome patterns and frozen by volcanic ash, was partially exhumed last year but archaeologists extended work on the site to reveal it in its full glory.
  • (Pompeii, for those who don’t know or have forgotten, was buried in a sea of boiling lava when the volcano on nearby Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, killing between 2,000 and 15,000 people.  It was in all the papers.)
  • “Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.”--Writer Marjorie Barstow Greenbie, quoted in the Yakima, Wash., Herald-Republic
  • jimjustsaying's Newspaper Obituary Nickname of the Week: “Jerry Bananas.” As in, Jerome F. “Jerry Bananas” Banaszynski, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Nov. 11, 2020.
  • “The owner of the fence drove it back onto the road and removed the keys.”—New York Herald Tribune, via “Still More Press Boners,” by Earle Tempel
  • jimustsaying’s Word That Doesn’t Exist But Should of the Month--“Gyroped.”  n. A child who cannot resist spinning around on a diner stool.”–“More Sniglets,” Rich Hall and Friends.
  • I strongly suspect that people who are refusing to wear masks during the pandemic are probably the same people who routinely leave the fresh meat or dairy product they decided not to buy somewhere else in the store where it is sure to spoil or rot (and possibly wind up later in YOUR shopping cart).
  • Today's Latin Lesson:  EGO sum rumex si I've ledo vos. ("I'm sorry if I've offended you.")

jimjustselling . . .


Actually, I'm not, but the good folks at HenschelHAUS are.
https://henschelhausbooks.com/product/lol-i-gags/


The book is also available at:

THE QUOTE RACK

Why Biden won’t have a honeymoon
Like George W. Bush and Barack Obama before him, Joe Biden “has called for unity” and bipartisan cooperation.  He will run into the same harsh reality that has dominated politics for more than two decades: a “stalemate” between “two parties that are closely divided electorally but deeply divided ideologically.” After a relatively narrow victory in several swing states, Biden takes office without strong congressional majorities to push his agenda through. The resistance he will face in Congress and the country is the result of “a profound disagreement over values, over how best to improve America.” In an era of intense polarization, there is little political incentive for cooperation: “The parties’ hold on power is so tenuous that every concession disheartens supporters and energizes opponents.” Once Biden begins making choices, his political capital as a new president will quickly be used up. “Half the country” will angrily reject more coronavirus restrictions, an easing of restrictions on immigration, “green” energy policies that halt oil and gas development, new limits on gun rights, and an expansion of abortion and LGBTQ rights. Bush and Obama tried to “unify the nation around them” but failed. “Now it’s Biden’s turn.”
--Matthew Continetti, CommentaryMagazine.com

Trump:  What he did accomplish 
                                                               
*****Few presidents have left office with so little accomplished as Donald Trump.  The once-strong economy he claimed credit for was inherited, and the Republican tax cut he signed ballooned the deficit to $1 trillion while failing to stimulate business investment or boost economic output. 

Yet nobody does nothing as president, and here are some accomplishments Americans regardless of party can reckon as successes of the Trump era.  His administration’s First Step program took “cautious but humane” steps toward prison reform.  He launched Space Force, smartly consolidating space defense operations under a central command.  He safeguarded our 5G networks from Chinese control by insisting on using Western technology, sped generic drug approval that will save consumers money, and brought long-delayed justice to Iranian terrorism mastermind Gen. Qassem Soleimani.
--David Frum, TheAtlantic.com

 *****On the foreign policy front, Trump presided over historic “normalization” agreements between Israel and four Arab states.  Under Trump’s watch, the U.S. destroyed ISIS’s caliphate in Iraq and Syria and killed leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.  Most foreign policy experts agree that Trump’s instincts were right in getting tough on China for its trade practices.
--Kim Hjelmgaard and Dierdre Shesgreen, USA Today
 
*****Trump also delivered on his central campaign promise.  As a South Korean immigrant long enamored of America’s democratic principles, I watched aghast as he attacked American institutions and moved the country down the road to tyranny. But the press and the courts held firm, and tens of millions of Americans rallied to defend democracy by voting in unprecedented numbers. Trump did make America great again--just not in the ways that he envisioned.
--Jason Han, Philadelphia Inquirer
 
Signs of life on Venus?
Scientists have found hints that life might exist on Venus—a notoriously inhospitable planet where surface temperatures hit 860 degrees Fahrenheit. Using powerful telescopes, researchers detected traces of the gas phosphine in the Venusian atmosphere.  On Earth, that gas is produced by human industry—and by microbial organisms that live in oxygen-free environments.   Phosphine is quick to react and disappear, so something must be replenishing its supply on Venus. Researchers say it’s not implausible that single-celled life might survive in the Venusian atmosphere, floating in a region where liquid water exists.  Study co-author Sara Seager says the only way to confirm this theory is by actually going to Venus.
--The Week
Garland’s huge task at Justice
If he’s confirmed as the new U.S. attorney general, Merrick Garland will have one of the toughest jobs in the Biden administration.  President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to head the Justice Department is widely respected for his careful, thoughtful, and centrist jurisprudence over 25 years as an appellate court judge in the District of Columbia.  
 
Before that, as a federal prosecutor, he oversaw several major domestic terrorism cases, including the Oklahoma City bombing—experience that will serve him well in a nation now threatened by white-supremacist violence.   Garland, of course, is best known as President Obama’s nominee to fill Antonin Scalia’s Supreme Court seat; that nomination was blocked by Republicans for 293 days.  He will head a critically important department that was left in ruins by Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr, who blatantly used its powers as a tool to protect the president and punish his opponents.  
 
Garland clearly understands the stakes he faces.  At his nomination press conference, Garland vowed to protect the independence of the department from partisan influence  and to establish clear new guidelines for FBI investigations and federal prosecutors. What a refreshing change that will be.
--Chris Truax, USA Today
 
The politics of perpetual victimhood
The central concept in modern conservatism is victimhood.  Since Barack Obama was elected president, a political philosophy that once emphasized personal responsibility has degenerated into a sour collection of grievances and delusional claims of persecution.  In recent years, conservative media has led a group-therapy session for Trump believers, validating their paranoia and resentments and offering them a safe space shielded from contrary facts.  After the president triggered a violent attempted coup, the mood in the pro-Trump world became one of profoundest self-pity.  As Facebook and Twitter ban QAnon diatribes and threats of violence, his supporters are comparing themselves to victims of Stalin’s purges or the South’s Jim Crow laws.  

Many of Trump’s Republican defenders, of course, never intended for things to spin out of control.  They wanted the Fox News spotlight, big social media followings, and in some cases, to extract money from Americans they cynically whipped into a frenzy.  But if the conservative world is to pull itself out of the moral wreck into which it has been led by Trump, its leaders will have to reckon with their descent into a politics of fear, resentment, and inflammatory deceit.
--David Frum, The Atlantic.com
 
Melatonin vs. Covid
The over-the-counter sleep aid melatonin could be used to help prevent or treat Covid-19. That’s the surprising finding of researchers at the Cleveland Clinic, who used artificial intelligence to analyze a registry of nearly 27,000 patients at the hospital. The team discovered that patients who took melatonin, widely known as the sleep hormone, were 28 percent less likely to test positive for Covid-19, with that figure rising to 52 percent among black patients.  Other scientists are also looking into the correlation between melatonin and Covid-19, with eight clinical trials ongoing around the world, reports The Atlantic.
 
It remains unclear whether people who take melatonin are less susceptible to the virus because of the supplement itself, or because they’re getting better sleep.  Lead researcher Feixiong Cheng says he and his team don’t yet know the exact mechanism at play.  But he thinks it may be linked to the fact that melatonin has a role in regulating the immune system, helping to prevent self-defense responses from going into overdrive and turning on the body.  If melatonin does prove effective, it will be the cheapest and most readily accessible treatment for Covid.
--The Week

Buying a car without the dealer hassle
It took a pandemic to drag the car-buying process into the 21st century.  For years, purchasing an automobile had remained stubbornly low-tech, thanks to car dealerships protected by state franchise laws and worried about missing opportunities to upsell customers.  But after the Covid-19 outbreak, dealers had little choice but to embrace a new model.  Many have added software that allows customers to browse inventory, apply for credit and choose a payment schedule.  Others even offer virtual test drives to show off in-car technology, and touchless vehicle deliveries to shoppers at home. Surprisingly, dealerships have been more profitable than ever.  Online customers know exactly what they want, and the typical three-hour showroom visit has been reduced to a 15-minute online purchase.
--Joann Muller, Axios.com

The ongoing Bitcoin frenzy
Bitcoin continued its record surge in the first week of the new year.  The digital coin [recently] hit $40,000 last week to lift the entire cryptocurrency market above $1 trillion for the first time, as more investors fear missing opportunities to make a quick, easy gain from the bull run.  Bitcoin’s value surged 40 percent in the past 12 months.  Investors have tapped Bitcoin as a safe-haven asset and hedge against inflation concerns as governments around the world embark on large-scale fiscal stimulus programs.  A recent research note from JPMorgan said Bitcoin could hit $146,000 in the long term as it competes with gold as an alternative’ currency.
--Arjun Kharpal and Ryan Browne, CNBC.com
 

THE LINK TANK

God bless Trump for blowing up the GOP
Principled Republicans will always have a place
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/12/opinion/republicans-trump.html

Trump might fade away faster than people think
Don't bet on the outgoing president holding sway over the GOP

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!