Tuesday, January 1, 2019


By Jim Szantor

Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric and whimsical observations about the absurdities of contemporary life
  • As our population continues trend older and older, I boldly predict the newest must-have Apple device:  iDefibrillator.
  • If you ever have a star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame, you'll be in elite company--that is, if you considered being one of 2,600 (at last count) to be elite company!  
  • I simplified my gift-giving to the grandchidren this year:  Batteries for everyone  (toys not included).
  • And I sent a calendar to my insurance agent--just to see if she had a sense of humor.  (Jury still out.)
  • Best quotation recently discovered:  "You never realize you have a reputation until you find out you're not living up to it."--Classical pianist Jose Iturbi (the only classical pianist to earn two gold records).
  • Why is everyone suddenly using the word "agency" this year?   Last year, it was "dystopian."
  • Point to ponder:  During many of the peaks and troughs of history, the people living it didn't fully realize what was unfolding:  Societal change builds slowly, and the events only are added up in retrospect.--Axios AM by Mike Allen
  • Gas pump shocker:  No, not the lower price; I knew that driving in.  It was while filling up during a blinding snowstorm and seeing the pump display ask, "Car wash today?"  Er, no, but thanks for the comic relief.
  • The money you may have saved at the pump recently could be used to pump quarters into the formerly free air-hose machine.  Who do we blame for that--the Arab Air Cartel?
  • It is appalling to encounter the number of gas stations without working air pumps (especially in winter); sometimes even the coin-operated ones are hard to find.  
  • jimjustsaying's New Rule:  All stations with non-working air hoses would have their gas pumps automatically shut off and all electricity shut off in their "convenience" stores until said service was restored.  
  • I recently saw a guy in one of those store, someone who looked like he had never been to a dentist in his life, paying $73.45 for a carton of cigarettes.   Figuring that lasts him about a week, that's an annual outlay of about $3,800.  But the dentist?  Can't afford that.  (Might have the commonplace fear of going to the dentist . . . but apparently no fear of lung cancer.)
  • “Fear is that little darkroom where negatives are developed.”--Comedian Michael Pritchard
  • All-Overrated Club:  Ellen DeGeneres,  Amy Schumer,  Whitney Cummings.
  • I had this dream recently:  It was 2070, Mars was just colonized . . . and Lesley Stahl was still on "60 Minutes."  
  • Headline I just saw:  "EX-NFL Punter to WWE."   (WWE, I learned, stands for World Wrestling Entertainment.)  Headline I'm waiting for:  "Ex-pro wrestler nominated for  the U.S. Supreme Court."
  • There will never be a Michael Jackson Lookalike Contest.
  • Faded Phrases:  "Don't take any wooden nickles. "  "It takes one to know one."  "Don't cut off your nose to spite your face."
  • Death, as they say, took no holiday in the literary world in 2018, with such luminaries as Tom Wolfe, Phillip Roth, Charles Krauthammer, V.S. Naipaul and Harlan Ellison departing this mortal coil.   R.I.P., great writers.
  • Parking-lot mystery: It's 10 degrees, and there's plenty of room inside the warm fast-food restaurant, but more often than not, there's someone (invariably a guy) eating in his car or (usually) truck, with the engine running, polluting the air and wasting precious fuel.   As they say in Standup Land:  "What's up with that?"
  • Overheard: "I love asking kids what they want to be when they grow up, because I am still looking for ideas."
  • It's a tossup as to who gets lied to the most--doctors or policemen.
  • ("Yeah, doc, I have a drink once in a while, but that's about it."  "No, officer, there's nothing in the vehicle you need to be concerned about.")
  • (A gendarme of my acquaintance, commenting on the latter, said: "It cracks me up when I ask if there's anything in the vehicle I need to be concerned about, and there's a long pause, and they say:  "I don't THINK so." (In other words:  Did I put my incriminating stuff  under the seat or did I leave it at home.)
  • Why do stores with double doors almost always have one of them locked?
  • Speaking of doors,  here's an actual sign on the door of Brooklyn pawn shop:  "Closed due to death in family." (Penciled in below:  "Not Sam.")
  • Today's Latin Lesson:  Totum in cuius bove cornu est.  ("It all depends on whose ox is being gored.")


Bad rap for millennials?
Millennials are serial scapegoats.  Older generations blame them for "killing grocery stores" by eating out too much, and killing the auto industry by not driving cars.  Guess what? Everybody eats out more--especially those over 65--and replaces their cars less often. Older generations might be angry because Millennials have noticeably different politics.   Young people are not only to the left of the country, but also to the left of previous generations of young people.   You don’t need to look very far to guess at some reasons for their cynical view of capitalism. They grew up thinking the economy offered them a fair deal:  Go to college, and everything will work out.  Then their elders reneged on it.  If Millennials seem angry, it’s not because they’ve rejected the American dream,  but because the economy has not only blocked their path to attaining it, but punished them for trying to.
--Derek Thompson, The Atlantic

Car ownership pulling over
Is owning a car quaint and unnecessary?  For a growing slice of American drivers, it may be.  More and more auto companies, dealers, and startups are offering monthly car "subscription" plans. "  For car owners, these plans aim to make things simple by bundling the monthly fee, insurance  and maintenance into one lump sum each month, without a long-term commitment.   One big draw: You can usually switch between several car models, sometimes as often as you like. But amenities vary from subscription to subscription, so shoppers need to closely examine the fine print.   Luxury-car shoppers could try out BMW’s subscription, which starts at $1,099 a month, with insurance and roadside assistance, and allows for unlimited car swaps. Prices go up at the highest end: a top-of-the-line Porsche program with a choice of 22 models costs $3,000 a month.
--Mike Monticello, Consumer Reports

Betrayed Catholics must act
Catholic clergy can no longer be trusted to fix the church’s sex abuse problem.  The laity must act.  This much became clear after a Pennsylvania grand jury revealed hundreds of children to be victims of both sexual abuse and a cover-up by high-level priests, spurring investigations of the church in at least six other states.  It became clearer still when Pope Francis recently ordered U.S. bishops to delay implementing any sex-abuse reform proposals. These betrayals compel faithful Catholics to act to save our church. 

First, the laity should demand, via petition, that the church turn over all pertinent records to law enforcement, and support--not oppose--revising statutes of limitations to enable prosecution of past abusers.  Lay leaders should get involved in overseeing clergy assignments and develop better screening procedures for priests. We should consider allowing clergy to marry and women to be ordained as priests. 
Most important, Catholics should withhold donations until the clergy hear us and respond. Those of us in the pews need to stand up, make our voices heard, and demand results.  The safety of our children and the fate of our church are at stake.
--Tim Roemer, USAToday.com

Politics and professors
Professors confuse indoctrination with teaching. To test this proposition, I regularly posed the following question to my students:  Do you feel pressured to answer questions during class discussions or on examinations to satisfy the political or social leanings of your professors?   No less than 85 percent of the students answered this question in the affirmative.   This is not quite the burning of books, but it is the suppression of free thought in a less drastic (but still worrisome) way.   Too many professors use the classroom lectern to advance their personal political and social viewpoints to the exclusion of all others.
--Prof. Dennis Weisman, TheFederalist.com

A Chicago surgery museum
The International Museum of Surgical Science knows how to play up the yuck factor.  Created in the 1950s as a hall of fame for medicine’s pioneers, the Chicago museum lately has been hosting after-hours "morbid curiosities" tours and treating student groups to interactive amputation demonstrations using replicas of Civil War surgical tools.  

Housed in a 1917 mansion on Lake Shore Drive, the museum’s galleries mix medical artifacts with grand paintings that depict great moments in surgical history.  There’s even some relevant contemporary artwork.  Donations from around the world include tools of the trade from ancient Rome and a collection of skulls that surgeons in Peru drilled open some 4,000 years ago.  Step into the old-time apothecary shop and an animatronic pharmacist behind the counter begins babbling about the elixirs found on his shelves. It’s like "a creepy Disneyland."
--Menachem Wecker, Washington Post

Yankee, come home?
A New Mexico couple who applied for a marriage license in Washington, D.C., were delayed because the clerk thought New Mexico was a foreign country.   Gavin Clarkson says the clerk refused to accept his driver’s license as ID and asked instead for his "New Mexico passport."  The marriage bureau later apologized for the clerk’s failure to recognize "New Mexico’s 106-year history as a state."
--The Week

The threat of genetically edited babies
Gene editing is here, and it poses an enormous threat to humanity.  A Chinese scientist, He Jiankui, [recently] claimed that he used the gene-editing technique known as CRISPR to alter the DNA of two embryos to make them resistant to HIV and then implanted these edited human beings in their mother’s womb, leading to their live birth. 

The scientific community has reacted to He’s work with outrage, essentially saying it’s "premature."  But the real question is, "Should we be doing this at all?"  Unlike gene therapy, in which doctors use CRISPR to treat individual patients suffering from genetic diseases, gene editing permanently changes the genetic code of a human being, so that the new code is passed on to future generations. This opens a Pandora’s box, in which scientists could produce "made-to-order babies" with superior intellect and athletic skills, tall stature and whatever color hair, skin and eyes the parents deemed beautiful.  In a genetically modified future, the rich could pay to "lock in their privilege" by buying super-offspring pruned of imperfections, while the poor would go "unenhanced."  If science continues down this road, we will cross a moral line from which there may be no return.
--Marc Thiessen, Washington Post

Why are the Clintons on tour?
The Clintons just won’t go quietly into that good night.   Bill and Hillary have embarked on a speaking tour of the U.S. and Canada, and at a [recent] stop at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena, half the seats were empty.  It was a depressing sight.   Why, with no book to sell or candidacy to promote, are they still seeking attention? #MeToo has rendered Bill "radioactive," Hillary’s failed campaign put Donald Trump in the White House, and the Democratic Party is trying to move on to a new generation of leadership.  Surely, the Clintons don’t need the money, considering that they collectively made more than $240 million giving 700 post–White House speeches to the likes of Goldman Sachs, eBay, and the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries. 

Only one explanation makes sense:  The Clintons simply refuse to be discarded.   For decades, they’ve been at the center of national politics.  And the humiliating way it all ended in 2016 is just too hard for them to swallow.  They would like to rewrite the ending, but there is no way to do that.  So on they go, speaking to rows of empty seats, revealing a pathological need to be relevant.
--Maureen Dowd, New York Times

Let the real economists run the Fed
President Trump can’t seem to restrain himself from attacking the Federal Reserve and its chairman.   This chairman, Jerome Powell, is the very one whom Trump himself nominated.  He even calls him by his nickname. "I’m not even a little bit happy with my selection of Jay," the president told The Washington Post.  

Trump’s problem is that the Fed has been raising short-term interest rates and is reportedly considering another rate increase [in December].  The goal is to pre-empt higher inflation and an ensuing crash.  The downside is that higher interest rates tend to lower share prices, as investors move from stocks to bonds. Trump is not the first president to try to control the Fed and corrupt its independence.  But his innovation is that instead of twisting arms behind closed doors, which is bad enough, he has decided to take his complaints public; the apparent aim is to intimidate the Fed to do his bidding. 

 Trump seems to be ready to propose legislation curbing the Fed’s powers. He is playing with fire. The consequences for the financial markets and the economy are not likely to be good ones.  The Fed is called upon to make complex decisions to keep the economy afloat.  Who do we want making these technically demanding and politically crucial decisions?  Professional economists or the White House?
--Robert Samuelson, Washington Post

The campaign to weaken the IRS
This is the golden age of rich people not paying their taxes.  Over the past eight years, congressional Republicans have waged war on the IRS, cutting its budget and staffing so severely that it can no longer properly enforce tax law.  The result is a bureaucracy on life support and tens of billions in lost government revenue.  

Last year, the IRS had 9,510 auditors--a reduction of 33 percent from 2010, and about the same number as in 1953, when the economy was a seventh of its current size.  From 2010 to 2017 the audit rate dropped by 42 percent.  Corporations and the wealthy have most benefited from the gutting of the agency, as their accountants and lawyers can devise aggressive tax-evasion strategies secure in the knowledge that the IRS is no longer "a force to be feared."  None of this bothers congressional Republicans, who decided to punish and weaken the IRS after it was accused of unfairly targeting Tea Party groups for tax enforcement.  So even as the federal budget deficit soars, Congress is starving the agency charged with bringing in revenue.  Does that make any sense?
--Paul Kiel and Jesse Eisinger, ProPublica.org

Our diminished life-expectancy
Our country’s problems go deeper than economics.  We’ve had 10 years of economic expansion, and the GDP is currently growing at a robust 3.5 percent a year.  Yet many employers can’t find workers with necessary skills, and jobs that provide dignity, and middle-class wages are dwindling.  Millions of people suffer a crisis of connection.  In many rural and working-class communities, people are no longer involved in churches and community organizations; they’re less likely to know their neighbors and less likely to get married. It’s not jobs, jobs, jobs or better welfare programs that will save us from this ongoing social catastrophe.  It’s human relationships, and a society that cares about people more than money.
--David Brooks, New York Times