Friday, November 23, 2018

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
  • Decency in politics and civility in society haven't disappeared.  Why, they're as easy to find as your local neighborhood Radio Shack.
  • It looks like the construction industry people didn't get the memo about the end of the construction season.  And, of course, they've never explained why there are miles of lanes barricaded off when nothing resembling construction activity is in evidence.  I guess they've got us over a barrel . . . .
  • Gender-reveal parties: If there is a social aberration that defines the "Dancing With the Stars"/head-to-toe-tattoo generation, that would be it.  (Here at the seniors' home, I'm advocating a Surgical Scars Reveal Party.)
  • Stop the World  department:  Now we learn that there are mini-bars in the back of Ubers!
  • "[A] traveling minibar without the alcohol  . . . is in about 12,000 ride-share vehicles; passengers who catch a ride in one that’s equipped with the box can buy snacks and energy drinks  . . . ," reports  Bloomberg's Kate Krader.  "The boxes are stocked with about a dozen products, which vary but could include Korean beauty masks and last-minute electronics such as iPhone chargers."
  • Korean beauty masks?
  • From a Nov. 17 Kenosha (Wis.) News story headlined "1 dead, 3 hurt in home invasion":  "[Police said] it wasn't clear whether it was a drug deal gone wrong or a drug-related robbery."
  • Right.  As opposed to legal, church-sponsored drug deals.  Do drug deals ever go right?  You mean, when you get your tainted heroin without overdosing and the price is--like, you know, man--right!
  • Drudging Around (or actual story links from the Drudge Report, Nov. 17):  "Dog Acccused of a HATE CRIME," "Walking Backwards Boosts Your Memory," "Number of Witches in USA on Rise," "Woman Sues Hospital for Resuscitating Her," "Report: 1/3 of Workers Would Prefer Robot Boss," "School Bans 'Expensive Jackets' Due to 'Poverty Shaming'," "How Kevin Spacey Vanished Off Face of the Earth," and last but deservedly least, "San Francisco Sidewalks Graffitied With Feces."  (Must be all that diversity they're so proud of.)
  • Chicago newspaper headline:  "Walgreens opens a drug store without a pharmacy."  No word yet if McDonald's is opening a franchise without hamburgers.  But don't rule it out.
  • Just finished reading a magazine article about "The colonization of space."  Yes, good idea.  Now that we've repaired all of our crumbling infrastructure, fixed health care, solved all the Earthly environmental problems and eliminated our huge federal deficit, what better place for our tax dollars than outer space?   
  • I'm not Mr. Anti-Science, or Mr. Anti-Exploration, but  . . .  someone who has trouble feeding the  family or paying the rent shouldn't be in the Bentley showroom.
  • Life was simpler when we didn't have to keep track of charging cords, user names and passwords  . . . and the time and date of the next Gender Reveal Party.
  • Early Bird wish for the New Year:  To not contract a disease that will end up being named after me or have the next international villain look like me.  (I once knew a guy whose life changed when his "twin" broke into the news:  Some guy named John Wayne Gacy!)
  • jimjustsaying's Suggestions for "Dancing With the Stars" spinoffs:  Seeing as "Bowling With the Stars" has already been done, how about:  "Wood-Carving With the Stars"?  Or . . . "Oven-Cleaning With the Stars"?  Or, more earthily:  "Barn-Mucking With the Stars"?  Check your local listings, as they say, to see if any of these ideas take wing.
  • Attention all Spanish-speaking people:  What have you got against the letter "J"?  (It's "Hayzooss," "Hozay," "Halisco," etc.   I wonder if you ever listen to my favorite form of music--hazz? (I'mjustsayin' . . . .)
  • Newspaper Headline Nickname of the Month:  "Poogie." As in Orion "Poogie" Reynebeau, Green Bay (Wis.) Press-Gazette Obituary, Nov. 21, 2018.
  • jimjustsaying's Revised Rules of Thumb:  Never eat at a place called Mom's, never play poker with a man named Doc, and never ask someone a question you wouldn't want posed to you. 
  • jimjustsaying's Do You Really Want a Driverless Car? report: Although 99 percent of routine driving skills have been relatively easy for robots to achieve, the last 1 percent haven't--and those are crucial for safety and consumer trust.
  • According to Gene Loup of Loup Ventures: "For those  who love to drive and dread the thought of an autonomous car: You’ll have your chance to drive, but it will become a hobby, like horseback riding. And you’ll have plenty of time to prepare for your horseback ride on the way to the track—in your self-driving car."
  • jimjustsaying's Redundancy Patrol:  "Free bonus," "absolutely free," "icy cold,' "each and every," and "fit together." 
  • You don't hear much about think tanks anymore.  Did these people stop thinking . . . or did they get tired of tanks and moved on to something else?  Tents?  Cubicles?  
  • "Each generation thinks it invented sex."--Author Robert Heinlein
  • jimjustsaying's Party Ice-Breaker of the Month:  "Say [actual partygoer's name here], did you know that dolphins have the ability to put only half their brains to sleep at a time, known as unihemispheric sleep, and that migratory birds are thought to sleep-fly and sharks sleep-swim?"
  • Failed Restaurant Franchises Hall of Shame:  Beefsteak Charlie's, Red Barn, Horn and Hardart, Burger Chef, Lum's, Steak and Ale, White Tower, Minnie Pearl's Chicken, Sambo's, Henry's Hamburgers, Naugle's, Chi-Chi's, Bennigan's, Ponderosa and Bonanza Steakhouses, Bob's Big Boy, Yankee Doodle Dandy, Doggie Diner, A&W Drive Ins, Po' Folks, Country  Kitchen, TCBY, Tony Roma's, and Blimpie Subs and Salads.
  • I wonder if they're ever going to hold a Donald Trump Look-Alike Contest?  The contestants could hold a convention at a place that looks a lot like Mar-a-Lago.
  • Today's Latin Lesson: Cur quae cadunt in area semper est aliquid sub virtualiter inaccessibilis evolvere? ("Why do things that fall on the floor alway roll under something virtually inaccessible?")

THE QUOTE RACK

Facebook really did kill the news
Thanks to Facebook, hundreds of journalists have lost their jobs and readers have deserted news outlets in droves.  A new lawsuit filed by aggrieved advertisers alleges that for years, Facebook egregiously overstated the success of videos posted to its social network.  Based on the data they got from Facebook, news organizations chased the promise of web video.  As media companies desperately tried to do what Facebook wanted, many made the disastrous decision to pivot to video.

Cue the layoffs: 70 at Fusion.com, 60 at Vice.com, 25 at Mic.com--all organizations that slashed writers and editors to focus on web video.  As text-based stories disappeared, so did audiences. Three months after switching to video, FoxSports.com had hemorrhaged 88 percent of its audience.  Instead of investing in content, news sites focused on stunts. Some "800,000 people watched a pair of BuzzFeed.com staffers explode a watermelon on Facebook Live. B uzzFeed never repeated that success.  

Even if it had, it wouldn’t have mattered.   Facebook transformed its News Feed into a stack of videos, but the advertisers never came; they weren’t interested in the "window shoppers" who watched Facebook’s videos for as little as three seconds before clicking away.  In its haste to reshape the media, Facebook ended up laying waste to the information landscape.
                                                       --Alexis Madrigal and Robinson Meyer, TheAtlantic.com


Why the U.S. is still in Afghanistan?
America cannot win the war in Afghanistan, but we should continue to fight there anyway.  Since a U.S. invasion toppled the Taliban from power in 2001 in the wake of 9/11, every U.S. president has been forced to accept the same strategic reality.  Though we cannot eradicate the Taliban and other Islamist radical groups from Afghanistan, letting the country once again become a jihadist stronghold and training ground would be a massive defeat for the U.S. and directly endanger its people.  It was in Afghanistan that al Qaida had the space and resources to evolve into an effective terrorist organization that sent airliners crashing into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. 

 If we leave, Islamist radicals are likely to mount a new attack--perhaps with chemical or biological weapons next time.  After trial and error, the U.S. has settled on a "medium footprint" approach to defending Afghanistan, with several thousand troops, special operations forces and air power working to destroy terrorist havens and strengthen Afghan forces.  That policy has been successful in its limited goals but will have to go on indefinitely as the terrible price of security in a hostile world.
--Michael Gerson, Washington Post

Supplements' hidden health perils
Hundreds of dietary supplements sold in the U.S. contain unapproved and potentially dangerous ingredients.  That’s the conclusion of a new analysis of the Food and Drug Administration’s "tainted products" database.  Researchers from the California Department of Public Health found that from 2007 to 2016, the FDA recorded 776 dietary supplements containing unlisted ingredients that were either unsafe or unstudied.  Nearly 46 percent of the tainted supplements were for sexual performance, 41 percent for weight loss and 12 percent for muscle building.  

The hidden ingredients included sibutramine, which is banned in the U.S. because of cardiovascular risks, and anabolic steroids, which when taken in excess can cause mental health problems and liver and heart disease.  Yet in most cases, the FDA didn’t order product recalls--only 360 of the tainted products were taken off the shelves.  Because dietary supplements are classified as foods, not drugs, they aren’t subject to the same rigorous pre-market testing as pharmaceuticals.  With the supplement industry now worth $35 billion, the study authors say it is essential to further address this significant public health issue.
--CNN.com
Competition is alive and well
Competition is dying.  That’s the latest complaint against corporate America from critics, who argue that lax antitrust enforcement has allowed supersize firms to dominate the economy.  But is it true?  Yes, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple and some other tech firms are massive and have dominant market positions.  And yes, many industries have seen mergers and consolidations--amounting in 2015 alone to about $2.5 trillion, the highest annual number on record.  

But if giant firms really have so much market power, why don’t they raise prices more often?  Inflation, once a scourge of American consumers, averaged only 2.4 percent a year from 1990 to 2017.  Undeniably, consumer choice has expanded dramatically, thanks to deregulation and the internet.  Over the past decades, the U.S. economy has become more competitive, not less.  In the 1960s, for example, NBC, CBS, and ABC owned the airwaves; cable customers today can view hundreds of channels.  Mergers can be wasteful and inefficient, but the market is far more effective than the government at punishing firms that grow too bloated.  

This debate over competition is really about politics, not economics.  Critics want to lay blame for the economy’s ills at the doorstep of corporate America and give government the power to favor certain companies through regulation.  It’s a path best not taken.
--Robert Samuelson, Washington Post

Obama’s climate goals still in sight
The U.S. is on track to meet targets established by President Obama’s signature climate policy, the Clean Power Plan, despite the Trump White House’s aggressive efforts to roll back its requirements. According to a U.S. report released [recently], the power sector’s carbon dioxide emissions have fallen 28 percent since 2005, ahead of schedule to meet the Clean Power Plan goal of reducing emissions by 32 percent before 2030.  Emissions, lower last year than at any point since 1987, have fallen because power producers have largely gravitated away from coal.  In August, the Trump administration proposed a replacement plan that would let coal-fired plants release 12 times more CO2 into the atmosphere than the Obama-era standards.
--The Week

Organic food may reduce cancer risk
People who regularly eat organic food are much less likely to get cancer than those who don’t, a major new study found.  Scientists in France recruited nearly 70,000 volunteers--most of them women, with an average age of 44--and asked how often they ate organic fruit, vegetables, meat, dairy and other products.  Participants were tracked for an average of  4 1/2 years, during which time 1,340 of them developed cancer.  

Researchers found that the quarter of participants who ate the most organic foods were 25 percent less likely to get cancer than the quarter who ate the least--even after taking into account age, income and other risk factors. The most frequent organic consumers had 76 percent fewer lymphomas, 86 percent fewer non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas, and a 34 percent lower incidence of postmenopausal breast cancers.  Lead author Julia Baudry says the lower level of pesticides in organic food is the most likely explanation for the disparity. Pesticides can mimic hormones in the body and elevate cancer risk.  Jorge Chavarro, a Harvard nutritionist who was not involved in the research, says the findings are "incredibly important."  But he says it’s possible the higher cancer rate in people who don’t eat organic food could be caused by other bad health habits, such as not eating much produce. "The relationship between organic food consumption and cancer risk is still unclear."
--Los Angeles Times

Trump and the troops
[Calling in the troops at the border] may be reality television for Trump.  But it’s real life for the soldiers.  Every military operation entails hardship and risk.  Vehicles crash.  Soldiers get injured operating heavy machinery.  There’s psychological distress, illness and heat exhaustion.  Over a recent 12-year period, nearly 4,600 active-duty personnel were killed in accidents.  Soldiers and their families bravely accept these risks, but the commander in chief should not to ask them to sacrifice for no reason.  Instead, Trump is  treating men and women who have volunteered to fight and die for this country like toy soldiers.
--Rex Huppke, Chicago Tribune

Prenups aren’t just about money
If you think prenups are just for celebrities, you’re wrong.  There are some unexpected reasons more couples are considering prenups--an agreement about how you split assets in the event of divorce--such as protecting the right to use frozen embryos for in vitro fertilization.  And you’d do well to think early on about what will happen with a business launched during the marriage.  "All of my retirement assets went into building this business," says one entrepreneur, who felt that giving her ex-husband a share, as they would have shared retirement savings, was the fair way to go.
--Jillian Berman, MarketWatch.com

A $4.5 billion Great Lakes sinkhole
Wisconsin’s deal to lure the electronics giant Foxconn with $4.5 billion in tax subsidies looks like a politically motivated boondoggle.   Last year, the Taiwanese manufacturer promised a factory that would create 13,000 jobs.  Now Foxconn has downsized to a plant that will employ only 3,000, at an average salary of $54,000.  Even if all the originally promised jobs materialize--and there’s no guarantee they will--Wisconsin will pay $346,000 per worker, a staggering $1,800 from each taxpayer in the state.  Because Wisconsin’s taxes are already low, much of this will come in cash, not tax credits. The state could probably do better for its workers by simply employing them directly.  Heavily hyped by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the deal may have cost him re-election; now he avoids mentioning it.  The Foxconn "fiasco" is a glaring example of corporate welfare, but other cities and states hand out rich incentives. 

The war for Amazon’s HQ2 is a prime case. Estimates of local corporate subsidies range from $45 billion to $90 billion a year. A better way to bring in business is with education and infrastructure. Cities and states could just stop playing the tax-break game.  If all cities and states could simply agree not to give any incentives, companies would still have to put their offices and factories somewhere, wouldn’t they?
--Noah Smith, Bloomberg.com

Florida: The laughingstock state
Eighteen years after hanging chads and the Brooks Brothers riot, the Sunshine State is once again at the center of an election mess of its own doing.

The big picture: Florida is in the middle of three statewide recounts, and three counties in particular (Palm Beach, Hillsborough and Broward) haven't helped the situation.
"We have been the laughingstock of the world, election after election, and we chose not to fix this," U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said while rejecting a request to extend the state deadline for counties to submit their machine recount results.

Driving the news:  Broward finished its recount just minutes before the deadline, the Miami Herald reported.   Palm Beach County missed the deadline, along with several smaller counties.   Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa, won't submit its results after a recount "turned up 846 fewer than originally counted," the Tampa Bay Times reported.
The state's election infrastructure is a disaster.  Ballots tossed out for signature mismatches . poorly designed ballots  and overheated vote tallying machines. . . .
--Axios PM 

Have no fear of OPEC’s oil power
Just three men now control the worldwide price of oil:  Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and Mohammed bin Salman.  The U.S. used to worry about the power of OPEC to cut our oil supply.  Now Saudi Arabia’s 10.6 million barrels–a-day production is more than one-third of OPEC’s total, and the U.S. and Russia between them pump more oil than OPEC’s 14 other members combined.    All three are pumping at record rates.   Saudi Arabia and Russia raised output in June, amid fears of a shortage.  Now those fears are over, and MBS hopes that by cutting production, Saudi Arabia and other OPEC countries can raise the price of oil to $73.30 a barrel, the number the Saudis need to balance their budget.

 Most likely, he won’t succeed. Russia’s own budget is less dependent on oil than it used to be, and Putin shows no great enthusiasm for restricting his production again.   Maybe he’ll decide that maintaining his improved political relationship with MBS is worth a small sacrifice.  But count on Trump’s opposition--most likely via tweet--being much louder. And U.S. shale can fill any gaps in supply.  Between Trump’s wrath, U.S. shale, and Putin’s indifference, the days of skyrocketing oil prices are over.
--Julian Lee. Bloomberg.com

Oil, oil, leaks and trouble
Since 2004, between 300 and 700 barrels of oil per day have been leaking from the site of an oil-production platform 12 miles off the Louisiana coast that sank in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan.  The oil spill, which officials estimate could continue throughout this century, is on pace to overtake the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster as the largest ever, but there are currently no efforts to cap the many leaking wells.
--Washington Post

THE LINK TANK

The upside of vulnerability
Genes that put us at risk of mental illness may also make us stronger
https://medium.com/@Ellie_/the-bright-side-of-vulnerability-35fcf695b11c?source=email-2787111391ac-1541338314760-digest.reader------0-58------------------f1683ea0_29c1_4d81_8034_4f920f49502c-1&sectionName=top

Are the major political parties dead horses?
People seek  other outlets to find a sense of meaning and belonging
http://digitaledition.chicagotribune.com/infinity/article_share.aspx?guid=4a8f990f-49b7-42e4-9193-49d7da5e218d

Inside the guts of the world's strongest men
No one talks about power lifters’ epic bathroom problems — but aside from winning, it’s all they’re thinking about
https://medium.com/@OliverBateman/inside-the-guts-of-the-worlds-strongest-men-fc7edde5ea17?source=email-2787111391ac-1541338314760-digest.reader------2-49------------------f1683ea0_29c1_4d81_8034_4f920f49502c-1&sectionName=top

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!