Saturday, December 21, 2019

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.
https://henschelhausbooks.com/product/lol-i-gags/


The book is also available at:

jimjustsaying's 

Most Treasured Holiday TV Specials 


1.  "Christmas With the Gingriches"
2.  "Winnie the Pooh's Holiday Pot Party"
3.  "Police Navidad"
4.   "Joey Buttafuoco's Last Incarcerated Christmas" (encore presentation)

And last but not least:

5.  "Christopher Walken in a Winter Wonderland"

(See your local listings for time and station information.)

POPCORN

By Jim Szantor

Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric and whimsical observations 
about the absurdities of contemporary life
  • What is it about romaine lettuce that seems to make it a magnet for E.coli bacteria?
  • (There are about 20 different varieties  of lettuce, but romaine seems to be the leader in the clubhouse in the contamination sweepstakes.)
  • Every time I hear someone say these days--and it happens almost daily, whether the subject is what the stock market will do in response to this or that development or what the latest Trumpian action will produce--that something  "is baked in the cake," or, simply, "baked in," I want to throw a pie in that person's face.
  • Who starts these things?  All of a sudden, some phrase or term pops up and spreads like kudzu.  (Can you bake kudzu?  Probably, but who would want to?)
  • Good name for a new casino:  Luck Dynasty.
  • Gay marriage at some point will inevitably yield gay divorces.  Therefore, what would be a possible grounds for divorce in a gay marriage?   Irreconcilable sameness?
  • I don't have any animals at home, but I do have a lot of pet peeves!
  • Message to Big Pharma, whose latest obsession seems to be selling testosterone-boosting products to any male over age 10:  Aging is not a disease, it's a process.  If aging is a disease, then infancy is a disease.
  • I have the feeling that the 2010s will be the first decade in history that will never undergo a revival.  I also have the feeling that most people don't know that the 2010s won't be over for another year yet!  (There was no Year Zero; the "2010s" started on Jan. 1, 2011. So there's probably a better name for the decade, but I don't know if the decade deserves one.)
  • I dreamt that the Moscow Ballet performed "Dancing With the Czars."
  •  jimjustsaying's Party Ice-Breaker of the Week:  "Say [actual partygoer's name here], did you know that the Waffle House Index is a term actually used by meteorologists?"
  • It actually is.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency does use information from several national chains to help determine how hard an area has been affected by a weather event. The Waffle House, a restaurant that is open 24/7, is one of them. The chain prides itself on remaining open following natural disasters, which requires a lot of planning by management, so if a Waffle House is closed, conditions in that area must be really bad.  During Houston’s encounter with Harvey, some Waffle Houses had to shut down, but the vast majority stayed open.  The term Waffle House Index was coined by FEMA Director W. Craig Fugate in 2011.--Tom Skilling, Chicago Tribune's "Ask Tom Why"
  • True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.”--Kurt Vonnegut
  • jimjustsaying's Party Ice-Breaker of the Month:  "Say [actual party-goer's name here], did you know that the music for "Citizen Kane" and "Taxi Driver" was composed by the same man?  Yes, and that would be Bernard Hermann."  He was nominated for an Academy Award for both.
  •  "I am not afraid of an army of lions led by a sheep; I am afraid of an army of sheep led by a lion."-- Alexander the Great, quoted in the LaGrange, Ga., Daily News.  (I guess Mr. Great is a regular contributor to that small-town newspaper.   Who knew?)
  • Redundancy Patrol, Menu Division:   Baked Lasagna.  Is there any other kind?  (Let's see--let's take some ground beef, some lasagna noodles and some ricotta cheese and throw it into a pot of boiling water and see how it comes out.)
  • "She is a friendly little dog," said one woman with a short tail and a large brown spot on her hind leg."--Florence (Colo.) Citizen, via "Still More Press Boners," by Earle Tempel.
  • jimjustsaying's Word That Doesn't Exist But Should of the Month:  Scotchrotor.  n.  The wheel left behind when all the cellophane tape is used up.--"Unexplained Sniglets of the Universe," Rich Hall and Friends.
  • "Americans have always been able to handle austerity and even adversity. Prosperity is what is doing us in."--James Reston
  • Web sites are like sex:  When you interact with one, you're interacting with every Web site that that Web site has ever interacted with.
  • Today's Latin Lesson:  Bono non omnino Offer participating Locusta Rubrum. ("Offer good only at all participating Red Lobster.")

THE QUOTE RACK

Silicon Valley can do better than this
Whatever happened to the new industrial revolution that Big Tech promised us?   For decades, we’ve turned to Silicon Valley to show us the future of American endeavor.  But while tech’s innovations have made a handful of people quite rich,  they haven’t offset manufacturing’s decline or done anything for deteriorating infrastructure, climate change, low growth, rising economic inequality.  The machinery of today’s physical world—lights, automobiles, airplanes, subways—was the product of 19th- and 20th-century innovation, not bytes and code. 



Technology advocates argue that coding has increased human ingenuity by allowing individuals to tinker, talk and trade with unprecedented ease.  But Americans today are far less likely to start a company than they were in the 1980s.  It’s not hard to understand why:  Silicon Valley has produced über-monopolies that have grown so large that they scare off entrepreneurs in their path.  Much of Silicon Valley’s effort is now devoted to companies such as Uber, DoorDash and TaskRabbit that make yuppie life convenient.  In the next decade, I’d like to see Silicon Valley deepen its investments in biotech or construction automation or carbon capture. It’s time to find out “what could be accomplished if American ingenuity came back down to Earth.

--Derek Thompson, TheAtlantic.com

Trumpian defense for a murder rap
Had [Donald] Trump pulled out that (so far) proverbial gun and shot someone on Fifth Avenue, Republicans would trot out the exact same defense they have [recently]:  The shot was fired at 2 a.m. and there were no eyewitnesses.  Those nearby who claimed to have heard the shot had actually heard a car backfiring.  The closed-circuit video capturing the incident is, as the president says, a hoax concocted by the same Fake News outlets that manufactured the Access Hollywood video.  The confession released by the White House was “perfect” evidence of Trump’s innocence.  Election records show that the cops who arrived on the scene were registered Democrats and therefore part of a deep-state conspiracy to frame the president for a crime he didn’t commit but that the Democrats did.  The victim was not killed and will make a complete recovery, so no crime was committed anyway.  And even if Trump had killed the young woman he gunned down, the argument advanced by Trump’s lawyer would apply: “'The person who serves as president, while in office, enjoys absolute immunity from criminal process of any kind.'  Next case!

--Frank Rich,  New York Magazine 

Insurers and hospitals love secret prices
Price transparency in health care is one issue where the Trump administration may have actually got it right.   As costs skyrocket, the Department of Health and Human Services is proposing new rules that would require hospitals to publish their minimum and maximum rates for 300 common services.  It would also make insurers reveal the prices they’ve negotiated for services and publish them on an interactive website that lets customers compare providers. 


Hospitals and insurers have teamed up to fight this. Hospitals claim that the rule would compel them to stop offering discounts and raise prices.  That’s nonsense.  Look at New Hampshire. The state began listing how much customers of different insurance plans would be charged at different hospitals and labs for medical imaging such as X-rays, CT scans and MRIs.  After five years, out-of-pocket costs fell 11 percent while the cost of imaging for insurers went down as well.  And the insurance companies? You might think lower costs would make them happy.  But they don’t actually want to drive down prices; in fact, both hospitals and insurers profit more when prices and premiums are high.  The thing the insurers really care about is whether they are getting a better price than their competitors.  Transparency would expose this con game.

--Steven Pearlstein, Washington Post

Saving the world’s code
A cave in the Arctic holds the world’s most important software codes.  The Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway, “the last stop for civilization before the North Pole,” is known as the Doomsday Vault because it stores seeds for the world’s most important crops in case of an apocalyptic famine or war. But nearby, Nat Friedman, the CEO of GitHub, is on a mission to preserve several terabytes of code, including source code for the Linux and Android operating systems.  It’s kept on what look like old-school movie reels and can last 2,000 years in a cold, dry, low-oxygen cave.  The reels are stored in the Arctic World Archive, a repository of some of the world’s irreplaceable records, including Vatican archives, masterpieces of Italian cinema and the recipe for a certain burger chain’s special sauce.

-- Ashlee Vance,  Bloomberg Businessweek

The world isn’t coming to an end
Climate change is a real threat,, but no scientific body has ever said climate change threatens the collapse of civilization, much less the extinction of the human species..  As an environmentalist who is not a skeptic or denier, I am dismayed by activists’ apocalyptic warnings that the world will soon end if we don’t dramatically cut emissions over the next decade.  That’s not what the science says, and framing the issue that way is self-defeating, because it alienates and polarizes many people.  The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has predicted that sea levels will rise by about 2 feet by 2100—a problem, but not one that threatens civilization.

As for wildfires and extreme weather, the role of warming remains murky, but thanks to economic development the global death toll from natural disasters has plunged 99.7 percent since 1931, from 3.7 million people to 11,000 in 2018.  Despite the impact of warming, scientific bodies are predicting that crop yields will increase 30 percent by 2050, and the IPCC projects the global economy will be as much as 500 percent larger in 2100 than it is today.  Some perspective, please. There is plenty of middle ground between climate apocalypse and climate denial.

--Michael Shellenberger, Forbes.com

The growing superbug threat
Drug-resistant superbugs are a much larger threat to public health than previously thought, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  In a long-awaited report, the federal agency found that bacteria, fungi and other germs resistant to antibiotics sicken some 3 million people a year in the U.S.—up from 2.6 million in 2013—and kill 35,000, reports the Associated Press.  The toll rises even higher when Clostridioides difficile—which infects 223,000 people a year, killing 12,800—is factored in. 

While that gut-ravaging bacteria is rarely drug-resistant, it is often diagnosed in patients taking antibiotics. The study identifies 18 germs that public health officials must monitor, including two emerging superbugs: Candida auris, a fungus that began appearing in hospital and nursing-home patients in the U.S. in 2013; and carbapenem-resistant Acinetobacter baumannii, a bacteria that has evolved resistance to nearly all antibiotics.   “[We] are living in a time when some miracle drugs no longer perform miracles,” CDC Director Robert Redfield wrote in a letter accompanying the report. “Stop referring to a coming post-antibiotic era—it’s already here.” 

--The Week
How Europe pays for its welfare state
Some Democratic presidential candidates insist that America could afford a European-style welfare state if only it taxed the rich more heavily.   But a close look at Europe’s taxation policies shows that countries have learned the hard way that the rich aren’t rich enough to pay for their entitlements and balance their budgets by heavily dunning the middle class.  Germany, for example, imposes a 42 percent rate on married households earning $124,000, whereas in the U.S., such a couple pays 22 percent.  Sweden’s top rate of 55 percent kicks in with individual earnings as low as $47,000, and in the U.K., taxpayers earning just $64,000 pay a 40 percent rate.  Governments also slap workers with hefty payroll taxes they call “social insurance contributions” that are far higher than America’s Social Security and Medicare deductions, and impose a Value Added Tax of 21 percent on all consumer purchases, regardless of a buyer’s income.  As a result, Europe’s tax system takes more than half of most people’s wages and is far less progressive than the U.S.’s.  Beware politicians who claim they can finance free college, day care, and health care for all by taxing billionaires.  The middle class will pay, because that’s where the real money is. 

--Wall Street Journal

Taxing the rich isn’t enough
France tried soaking the rich with a wealth tax, and it didn’t go well.  From 1982 to 1986 and again from 1988 to 2017, France imposed a tax of about 1.4 percent on fortunes larger than $14.3 million.  That’s far lower than the 6 percent and 8 percent top rates floated by Democratic presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.  Still, at least 10,000 wealthy people left the country to avoid paying France’s levies, and the revenue the tax raised was paltry—only a few billion euros, or about 1 percent of France’s total revenue from all taxes.” 


When those richest families left, France lost not only their wealth-tax revenue but their income taxes and other taxes as well, costing the French government about twice what the tax brought in.  In 2012, the country also tried introducing a “supertax” of 75 percent on incomes of more than $1 million.  But it only added to the exodus of wealthy individuals, raising just 160 million euros before it was repealed two years later. France realized it didn’t need these flamboyant taxes on the rich to increase government revenue and reduce inequality: It raised taxes across the board and boosted social-welfare spending—a more effective strategy to raise revenue and reduce inequality that’s less exciting to populist firebrands.

--Noah Smith, Bloomberg.com

THE LINK TANK

The DNA dilemma
What price privacy concerns in the zeal to solve crimes?

http://digitaledition.chicagotribune.com/infinity/article_share.aspx?guid=09dd4d04-3670-4b22-add7-62421783a5d4


Coming to terms with mishmash metaphors
Jargon can swamp lucid business thinking

https://dnyuz.com/2019/12/02/messy-jargon-can-swamp-lucid-business-thinking/



Automation marches on
It's the least understood issue of the 2020 campaign

https://www.axios.com/automation-2020-economy-job-change-6825c5e0-f6f4-4c07-ac73-0d4c2b2275eb.html


Supreme mysteries at the high court
Justices immune from rules others must obey
http://digitaledition.chicagotribune.com/infinity/article_share.aspx?guid=49cf337c-9bc7-44db-be69-d5500a99f12c


The Dutch have a word for doing nothing
It's called "niksen," and we need more of it

https://s2.washingtonpost.com/1ba96c4/5dfa4d0ffe1ff67be62b3e3d/amJvb2s4QHlhaG9vLmNvbQ%3D%3D/22/63/25d5cf3f10e915a36e3d86b990d2a598


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!