Thursday, October 5, 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
  • Real men don't tweet.
  • Everybody fantasizes about winning the lottery.  Me, I'd rather get a voice-over "job," which  could be defined as printing money with your voice.  Show up, wear whatever, read script, cash check.  Commercials, animated cartoon shows or movies, you-name-it--count me in.  
  • I used to think "awesome" and "totally" were the two most mis- and/or over-used words in the English language these days, but "literally"
    is rapidly closing in on them, unfortunately.  ("Figuratively" is probably safe for now.  And thanks to Target for the photo-op!) 
  • When did the word "playoffs" become anathema in baseball and other sports?  To me, the "postseason" starts the day the World Series ends.  
  • Memo to all sports announcers (especially radio guys): No one has ever complained about a  play-by-play announcer giving the score too often.
  • As soon as news hit about the massacre in Las Vegas, every 6 seconds you heard, "The big question is 'Why'."  As if there could be a good reason?  Knowing "why" is not going to resurrect the 59 dead people or undo the deed in any way.  Those people are still dead and/or wounded, the shooter is dead, and trying to determine the motive is a useless exercise.  
  • And no, knowing "why" will not help us prevent further such atrocities.  Twisted Psyches A,  B , C or Z will not be identical, nor will the trigger events that caused their acts of carnage.  What did Stephen Paddock and Timothy McVeigh have in common?  Or any of the perpetrators of mass murders.  Nothing.  You can no more prevent these kinds of atrocities than you can prevent rain or snow.  You can just go where those things are less likely, but total avoidance is next to impossible.  
  • (When someone says a mass or serial killer was "kind of a loner," that doesn't reveal much of anything.  Of course, they're loners.  It's not like a Tuesday bowling night with the boys!  And you just knew that as soon as the smoke cleared, the "did he act alone?" conspiracy theorists would be in full cry.)
  • Chinese Fortune Cookie of the Month (from Hong Kong Buffet, Sturgeon Bay, Wis.):  "The fortune you seek is in another cookie."
  • Life ain't easy these days.  Not when the movers and shakers keep moving the goal posts instead of leveling the playing field, while the rest of us have to have a multitask mind-set while fighting a never-ending learning curve.  So all you can do is hit the ground running,  play hardball when you have to step up to the plate, and at the end of the day, pick all the low-hanging fruit.  
  • Let's face it, the fat cats have us on an emotional roller-coaster, no matter how much they try to downsize the elephant in the room.  So cut to the chase, and before the whole ball of wax reaches critical mass,  we'll take stock of the benchmarks and the Big Picture and our footprint and come to the realization that we must go back to the drawing board.  It is what it is.  
  • "There is nothing quite so tragic as a young cynic, because it means the person has gone from knowing nothing to believing nothing."--Maya Angelou
  • Sure-fire concert package no promoter ever dreamed up (back in the day):  Johnny Cash, Eddie Money, Johnny Paycheck . . .  and--for diversity--50-Cent.   Tickets would surely be top dollar; no refunds.  
  • (How often have you ever had your money “cheerfully refunded”?  About the same number of times you've heard the words "NO restrictions apply.")
  • jimjustsaying's Party Ice-Breaker of the Week:  "Say [actual partygoer's name here], did you know that we cannot sneeze in our sleep due to REM (rapid eye movement) atonia--a bodily state wherein motor neurons are not stimulated and reflectory signals are not relayed to the brain?"
  • If Andy Warhol were still around, he'd probably revise his "15 minutes of fame" trope to "just about everyone will be in a Hall of Fame of some kind."  
  • Somewhere there is probably (or soon will be) a Bowling Alley Pinsetters Hall of Fame. A Curtain Rod Designers Hall of Fame and, eventually, an Underwear Purchasers Hall of Fame.  Enough!  I'd like to see a moratorium on establishing these dubious, who-gives-a-bleep "Halls of Fame."  They're probably a vestige, writ larger, of the "Every soccer player gets a trophy" syndrome that has infected the country in the last 20 years.
  • "We have created a Star Wars civilization with Stone Age emotions."--Biologist E.O. Wilson
  • jimjustsaying's Newspaper Obituary Headline Nickname of the Month:  "Pukeweed."   As in, Davale R. "Pukeweed" Arveson, Green Bay Press-Gazette, Sept. 20, 2017.  R.I.P., Mr. Arveson.
  • If there is a law that every garbage truck has to have screechy brakes, then all trucks seem to be in full compliance!
  • "Someday is not a day of the week."--Novelist Janet Dailey
  • jimjustsaying's Word That Doesn't Exist But Should of the Month:  "Halaska, n. The boxed area on a U.S. map where our 49th and 50th states are located."--"Unexplained Sniglets of the Universe," Rich Hall and Friends.
  • "The surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that it has never tried to contact us."--Cartoonist Bill Watterson
  • Today's Latin lesson: Quis est in is mihi? ("What's in it for me?")

THE QUOTE RACK

The market is comfortably numb
Just how much political risk can the U.S. economy tolerate?  Quite a bit, it seems.  Markets mostly shrugged off the recent threat of a U.S. government shutdown, and they remain blithely calm in the face of NAFTA renegotiations, President Trump’s threats to pull out of a trade pact with South Korea, and North Korea’s latest nuclear provocations.  In fact, despite all the uncertainty and budding threats, stocks are trading at near-record highs and economic growth appears to be accelerating.

How could that be?  Because political risk has been a constant in the years since the financial crisis, and it has lost some of its shock value.  Investors have built a large degree of risk into their decision making, which is why government-bond yields around the world are so low. Cautious corporations have also been more likely to hoard cash or spend it on share buybacks instead of investing it.  When markets do consider truly unprecedented events, like a U.S. government default or a nuclear war, the usual reaction is to assume they won’t happen.  Those events are so alien to a business’s frame of reference that they can’t be planned for.  Of course, that’s not to say we won’t blunder into a worst-case scenario.  But until the unthinkable happens, don’t expect it to tank the economy.
--Greg Ip,  Wall Street Journal

America’s forgotten center
My political views put me in the solid center, yet they’ve turned me into a political pariah--a man without a party.  I’m socially liberal, in favor of LGBT rights, legal abortion and immigration.  But I’m fiscally conservative, think entitlement spending has to be brought under control and believe we need to beef up our military to contend with multiple enemies.  Which party represents this fairly commonplace combination of center-right views, held by tens of millions of Americans?  None.  Under Donald Trump and other pied pipers of the far right, the Republican Party has become a party of cultural resentment and nihilism, organized around hatred of "libtards" and "snowflakes."  Much of the party’s leadership and rank and file have become morally compromised because of their justification of Trump’s unjustifiable racism and authoritarianism.  But Democrats are moving leftward, toward Bernie Sanders’ European-style socialism, with "free" goodies for everyone.  Where does that leave the forgotten middle?  What this country needs is a truly independent and charismatic candidate not beholden to extremists, who would chart  a sensible, centrist path for America.  What we need, in other words, “is a sane Donald Trump.
--Max Boot, ForeignPolicy.com

Anger over Trump’s North Korea strategy
Washington needs to learn that it  does not hold absolute authority over the world.  Starting a trade war with China is impracticable, because it would cause a much worse crisis  than the North Korean showdown.   And threatening Pyongyang with military action won’t intimidate Kim:  He knows the U.S. won’t follow through because a war in the peninsula would cause unacceptable devastation.  Washington should accept China’s dual suspension plan, whereby North Korea would halt nuclear and missile tests if the U.S. and South Korea suspended joint military drills.
--Global Times (China)

Undetectable fake reviews
Fake reviews written by artificial intelligence could be a major threat to sites like Yelp and Amazon.   Researchers from the University of Chicago have developed AI-powered software capable of writing  extremely believable online reviews that are virtually indistinguishable from human-authored ones.   Sample fake reviews were created via a neural network trained using thousands of real online reviews, and contained specific recommendations and believable backstories ("I went with my brother and we had the vegetarian pasta and it was delicious.")  The research team said their experiment shows that a site like Yelp, which  sells itself on the reliability and helpfulness of its reviews,  is uniquely vulnerable to AI-generated evaluations, which could undermine public trust in online reviews and news.
--Rob Price, Business​Insider.com

Unmasked by artificial intelligence
It won’t be long before facial recognition software can figure out who you are even if your face is covered up.  A group of researchers based in the U.K. and India say they’ve trained an algorithm to identify people even when they are wearing disguises.  The results are "far less accurate than industry-level standards"; for instance, the system can correctly identify someone wearing a cap, sunglasses,and scarf only 55 percent of the time.  But the research shows how quickly facial recognition technology is progressing, meaning "staying anonymous in public will be harder than ever before."  Facebook can already recognize people based on their hair, body shape, and posture.
--James Vincent, TheVerge.com

Deactivating a hurricane
Hurricanes are extraordinarily ­powerful, re­leas­ing as much heat energy as a 10-­megaton nuclear bomb exploding every 20 minutes.  But some scientists think there may be ways to stop or weaken them.  Several companies have developed systems that use pumps to replace warm surface water--from which hurricanes derive their strength--with cooler water from the ocean depths.  But it would be extremely difficult and costly to transport, say, 100,000 pumps to the required location when a hurricane begins gathering strength.  Another possible solution is to use aerosols to make clouds reflect more sunlight in areas where storms are brewing; in theory, this would curb evaporation and prevent the waters below from warming up.  Alas, most scientists believe neither ocean cooling nor cloud brightening is practical.  Mark Bourassa of the Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Pre­dic­tion Studies at Flor­ida State Uni­ver­sity warns that attempts to interfere with powerful hurricanes could have dangerous unintended consequences.  “I’d be really nervous about trying them,” he says.
--The Week

Washington turns on Silicon Valley
--Big tech is falling out of political favor.  For years, Silicon Valley giants such as Google, Facebook and Amazon have enjoyed a hands-off approach in Washington.  Lawmakers have praised them as engines of economic growth and innovation and allowed them to operate largely unfettered.  But amid growing concerns over the companies’ size and influence, the tides are turning, with Congress floating new proposals on transparency and privacy that could roil the industry.
--Eric Newcomer, Bloomberg.com

--Tech is manifestly unready for this new era of scrutiny.  The companies’ approach in Washington has been to  play small-ball politics, fighting specific regulations and coasting on their products’ popularity.  Google has done this particularly well, but its long, quiet game of gentle Washington influence turned darkly thuggish last month when a left-leaning think tank pushed out an anti-monopoly scholar after Google chairman Eric Schmidt complained about his work.  Google has always been vulnerable to criticism that it’s a monopoly--it controls more than 85 percent of the U.S. search market--but the episode suggested it prefers silencing critics to engaging them.
--Ben Smith, BuzzFeed.com

--Facebook, meanwhile, appears headed for a  bruising encounter with lawmakers over the Russia investigations. The social network has become a key focus of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe and recently revealed that fake accounts from Russia spent $100,000 on ads during the 2016 election.  To the consternation of Congress, the company has been less than forthcoming about how Facebook vetted those ads.  Lawmakers increasingly appear eager to send a message that the social network is not God, not a government, not the law.  It’s just a website.
--Josh Marshall, TalkingPointsMemo.com

--Except it’s much more than that.  Facebook and the other tech giants  have become the most powerful gatekeepers the world has ever known,  filtering our news, powering our social interactions and remaking our markets.  Their currency is  a bottomless collection of data, which they exploit to deepen their dominance.  And their ambitions are mind-bogglingly grand:  They want to wake us in the morning, have their AI software guide us through our days and never quite leave our sides.  Policymakers have long treated Silicon Valley  as a force beyond control; we, too, as citizens, have enjoyed these companies’ free products and next-day delivery with only a nagging sense that we may be surrendering something important.  Such blitheness can no longer be sustained.
--Franklin Foer, Washington Post

THE LINK TANK

Six things to know about mass shootings . . .
Debunking the most common misconceptions
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-perspec-mass-shootings-1003-story,amp.html

 . . . and about Fox's clueless coverage
Contradictions, hypocrisy, stupid ideas, amazing pivots!
https://s2.washingtonpost.com/1bf2a/59d505b7fe1ff635a764e557/anNqYXp6QGxpdmUuY29t/27/122/e034c632441cd1939b205c30aad51ebb

It's not hopeless for a  health-care deal
2 senators crafting a plan both parties could stomach
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/02/opinion/obamacare-bipartisan-healthcare-deal-.html

The best thing single-payer has going for it
It's the right thing to do
https://s2.washingtonpost.com/b5b7/59bbabb7fe1ff671d4f29c7f/anNqYXp6QGxpdmUuY29t/9/83/e034c632441cd1939b205c30aad51ebb 

Republicans trapped by their flimflam
Fraud keeps catching up with the fraudsters, first on health plans and now on taxes
https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/03/opinion/republicans-trapped-by-their-flimflam.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fpaul-krugman

Young voters are not Democrats
They're independent-minded, don't like politics,  mistrust institutions
http://link.washingtonpost.com/click/10634956.97522/aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cud2FzaGluZ3RvbnBvc3QuY29tL2Jsb2dzL3Bvc3QtcGFydGlzYW4vd3AvMjAxNy8wOS8xMi9ob3dhcmQtZGVhbi1vbi15b3VuZy12b3RlcnMtdGhlc2UtcGVvcGxlLWFyZS1ub3QtZGVtb2NyYXRzLz93cGlzcmM9bmxfb3BpbmlvbnMmd3BtbT0x/5483c2293b35d0de428f8e75Cd0bdf3f4

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!