Monday, August 1, 2022


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 Yakov 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.

The book is also available at:



     By Jim Szantor 

    Rhetorical questions, questionable rhetoric 

    and whimsical observations

    about the absurdities of contemporary life 

  • I never metamorphosis I didn’t like.  But that could change!
  • I'm so old, I used to eat at NHOP--you know, the National House of Pancakes!
  • Five favorite T-shirt messages from the new What on Earth catalog:
  • If you met my family, you'd understand.
  • Another day gone by, and I didn’t use algebra once!
  • 90 percent of being married is yelling “What?” from other rooms.
  • My favorite childhood memory is my back not hurting.
  • My favorite: I only do what the voices in my wife's head tell her to tell me to do.
  • People who make a vocal sound that is supposed to approximate the "Twilight Zone" theme are in need of immediate counseling (if not deportation).
  • Sometimes I feel like a Polaroid in the Instagram of Life. 
  • A woman is only helpless when her fingernail polish is drying!
  • Quick:  How many married people could put their hands on their marriage license inside of 5 minutes?  5 hours?  5 days?  Driver's license?  Almost instantly! (Draw your own conclusions.)
  • Why people don't like the sound of their own voices:  According to Dr. Edie Hapner, a speech-language pathology expert, you don't hear your voice as others hear it. Voices travel through the bones of the head before reaching the speaker's ears, changing the way it sounds, says Dr. Hapner. (Kind of hard to work into a conversation, but there you have it.)
  • Speaking of voices, ever notice that British singers don't sing with a British accent--you hear it only when they speak?
  • explains: Because singing forces the singer to pronounce "true" vowel sounds. "English vowels are the same, no matter where you're from. Speaking employs gliding vowels--transitions from one to the next. Singing is phrased such that vowels are held longer (to the note), which more or less erases regional accents."
  • (Whatever the case, calling Mick Jagger a “singer” is a stretch!  He struts and he prances and he shouts and somehow got rich and famous for doing it.)
  • I was wrong about paparazzi. But I decided to give it another try with a red clam sauce, and it wasn’t half bad.
  • Ever wonder how some of the “classic” TV shows of the past would have fared if remote controls had been around and there had been more than a thousand program options back then?  (“ ‘Gilligan’s What’?  Never heard of it.”)
  • There will never be a David Gruber Lookalike Contest.  (And he is surely the first lawyer to use preschoolers in TV ads!)
  • The Gruber ads are so ripe for parody that a rival law firm is now subtly poking fun at them in their television spots.  (What took them so long!)
  • How come you never see guys with pencils behind their ears anymore?
  • I don't care what anyone says:  We never had weather like this when Mr. Wizard was alive!
  • Why do people in the movies always hear a dial tone when somebody hangs up on them when this never happens in real life? (A dial tone you can hear from across the room!  How does that happen?)  And the villain always snaps off the radio or TV when he hears his crime reported on a news broadcast.  Sometimes it appears that all the movies have been written or directed by the same guy!
  • Just what we need: More gloom and doom--the so-called “vulture apocalypse.” 
  • A catastrophic decline of vulture populations in Africa and Asia is causing alarm among researchers, who fear that a “cascade” effect could lead to the spread of deadly old and new diseases, including plague, anthrax, and rabies, the London Telegraph reports.
  •  If the lion is the king of the savannah, the vulture is the hardworking, unsung groundskeeper. A flock of vultures can wipe a dead antelope clean in about 20 minutes, stopping the carcass from turning into a toxic soup leaking into water sources. Maggots and bacteria are the only things more effective at disposing of dead meat.  (And now back to your breakfast, lunch, dinner or snack! Sorry.)
  • When did guys start getting haircuts that look like the barber had a seizure  . . . and kept on cutting?  Or wearing that puffed-up wedge of hair (with gel?) in front?  When did it become "cool" to look like you just lost a bet with someone? 
  • Getting old and slightly annoying:  Calling any update or revision of something "2.0." Soon to be followed, no doubt, by "3.0."  Oh, so clever.
  • Redundancy Patrol:  Continue on, pick and choose, absolutely free.
  • Sign of the Times (literally):  “Fairbanks Airlines Flight C20 departs at 8:57 p.m.  Boards at 9:04 p.m.” (per Consumer Reports reader Charlie Kranuall). 
  • Sign of the Times II:  Hotel web site pitch: “Upgrade to a room with a toilet for just $19.04.”  (per Consumer Reports reader Liz Burden)
  • Misspelled Sign of the Year!

  • (INSERT your own joke here!   Gently.)
  • jimjustsaying’s Newspaper Obituary Headline Nickname of the Month: “Grampa Thunder.”  As in Thomas J. “Grampa Thunder” Michelson, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, July 3, 2022.  (Obviously a family that doesn’t know how to spell “Grandpa,” but R.I.P. anyway, sir.  I’m sure you deserved better.)
  • I've found a strange omission in all of Donald Trump's books:  No Chapter 11!
  • jimjustsaying’s Faded Word of the Month: "skedaddle." 
  • TV Guide fun facts:  The person who appeared on the magazine's first issue also made the most cover appearances ever:  Lucille Ball.   (What, you thought it was Durward Kirby?)
  •  jimjustsaying’s Fortune Cookie Message of the Month: “Your reality check is about to bounce.”
  • DRUDGING AROUND:  Vegas hotel to offer first VR porn delivery robot as part of room service . . . SURVEY: 2 in 3 adults don’t know whom we declared independence from . . . Don’t know how many stars on flag . . . Serial killer called in tips, collected rewards when bodies found . . . Baby born on 7-11 at 7-Eleven! . . . One roommate is 85, the other is 27; such arrangements are growing . . . Women’s armpit hair is back (and on cover of Vogue) . . . Monkeys throw human baby to his death off roof . . . “Nap boxes” installed in offices to help Japan workers sleep while standing up. . . Rotten Apple:  NYC odor complaints hit record high . . . “Water police” patrol drought-stricken LA streets . . . How Brazilian Butt Lift became one of deadliest cosmetic surgeries . . . Sperm extraction technique turns dead men into fathers . . . Depression NOT caused by “chemical imbalance” in brain, scientists insist . . . Why insects are sustainable superfood of the future—better than beef . . . STUDY: Drop in air pollution INCREASED global warming . . . Bad habits? Chewing gum sharpens memory; biting nails boosts immunity . . . She seemed like an elderly landlady.  She was actually a serial killer . . . Fireman in France accused of being serial wildfire starter. (Thanks as always to Matt Drudge and his merry band of aggregators.)
  • Florida comments per the Associated Press: “The Sunshine State has become internationally notorious for the oddball miscreants who populate its police blotters and local news reports--known collectively as Florida Man. There are murders and mayhem, like anyplace else, and then there are the only-in-Florida incidents like the man charged with assault with a deadly weapon for throwing an alligator through a Wendy’s drive-thru window in Palm Beach County in 2015.”
  • Latest consensus in a Quora survey about Florida:  Mostly thumbs down from those who either just moved there or those who are leaving. Why? No state income tax . . . but little or no services, either—or services that are being discontinued or are being watered down (no pun intended)!  Prices and traffic are mushrooming, and the specter of catastrophic climate change looms large.  (Full disclosure: I spent 20 years there one week!)
  •  jimjustsaying’s Great Baseball Broadcast Gaffe of the Month: “Last night I neglected to mention something that bears repeating.”—Angels analyst Ron Fairly.
  • jimjustsaying’s Baseball Rant du Jour: Remember when your favorite team had two uniforms:  White for home games and those "gray traveling uniforms," as announcers used to call them?   Now they've got 5 or 6 sets, from "throwback unis" to camouflage outfits (for all of us veterans out there) to special hats for Mother’s Day, among other commemorative regalia.   You turn on a game and are a bit puzzled about who really is playing.  (“Funny, that doesn’t look like the Brewers.”)
  • Why don’t the teams use some of the money spent on what has to be expensive haberdashery and give it to a food bank or any other worthy cause?  But apparently this diamond fashion show takes precedence.  Who started this?
  • “Miss Miriel Clark of Winfield, Kansas, has become the bird of Neal A. Sullivan.”—Charlotte (N.C.) News, via “Still More Press Boners,” by Earle Tempel
  • jimjustsaying’s Word That Doesn’t Exist But Should of the Month: “Vacubeam.” n.  That useless headlight on the front of a vacuum cleaner.—“Unexplained Sniglets of the Universe,” Rich Hall and Friends
  • He said it: “In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some diehard’s vote.”—David Foster Wallace 
  • She said it: “It costs a lot of money to look this cheap!”—Dolly Parton
  • jimjustsaying’s Party Ice-Breaker of the Month: “Say [actual partygoer’s name here], did you know that the size of your eyes remains same after birth, but your nose and ears never stop growing?”
  • Today’s Latin Lesson:  Cum ad inscitiam vel corruptionem negotii vel rei publicae fit, putrescat pisces de capite. (“When it comes to incompetence or corruption in business or politics, the fish rots from the head.”)

    Special thanks to Hugh Briss, this month’s Popcorn intern.


How technology has made your car . . .

. . . a candy store of distractions

 Owning up

8 New York Times columnists on what they got wrong

Climate disinformation leaves lasting mark

Many Americans distrust the scientific consensus

 The lucrative world of expert witnesses

The Depp-Heard trial was the latest courtroom battle to call attention to the gainful microeconomy of expert witnesses!&&p=2b19e8c1b0d26fd16a274db6304be29d2cb06698ae39cdb7b03d2062c327173bJmltdHM9MTY1NDU2MDAwMCZpZ3VpZD0yMjVlY2E0Mi0wNGRiLTYzNDQtMTgxNC1kYjZmMDViOTYyN2MmaW5zaWQ9NTE4MQ&ptn=3&fclid=225eca42-04db-6344-1814-db6f05b9627c&u=a1aHR0cHM6Ly90aGVodXN0bGUuY28vdGhlLWx1Y3JhdGl2ZS1lY29ub21pY3Mtb2YtZXhwZXJ0LXdpdG5lc3Nlcy8&ntb=1

Inflation ate your lunch . . .

 . . . but believe it or not, you’re still better off!

What animals can perceive that we can’t

The human sensory experience is limited


Opinion Shocker: Almost no one trusts TV news

It’s one of the 21st Century’s evergreen stories: Public confidence in the U.S. media has reached a new low! Such was the announcement from Gallup on [July 18}, as the company published results of a June poll on Americans’ views of institutions. A mere 11 percent of U.S. adults have either “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in TV news, Gallup found, with the share for newspapers slightly higher, at 16 percent. The Gallup confidence trend line reflects inexorable momentum toward zero.

Only Congress, at 7 percent, secured less confidence than TV news.

The polling indicates that the partisan gap spanning viewers’ confidence in TV news is closing: In 2020, 33 percent of Democrats had “a great deal/quite a lot” of confidence in TV news, compared to just 7 percent for Republicans (a 26-point gap); in 2021, it was 26 percent of Democrats and 6 percent of Republicans (a 20-point gap). This year, that gap closed to 12 points, suggesting that dim views of TV news are becoming an across-the-aisle phenomenon, something we can all agree on.

Because the polling doesn’t delve into the reasons behind these trends, the Erik Wemple Blog feels duty-bound to speculate. Here goes: The Gallup confidence numbers reflect, at least in part, the role of major TV news providers in discrediting their competitors. Turn on Fox News in the prime-time hours, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to hear the latest blasts against MSNBC and CNN. “Fake news CNN” is the term that host Sean Hannity frequently uses to introduce the network so despised by his mentee, Donald Trump. A staple of Fox News programming is a mash-up of voices from CNN, MSNBC and other networks--assembled and packaged for maximum sneering potential. Most of the criticism is baseless tripe hatched to advance Trump or some other Fox News hobbyhorse, though there have been plenty of legitimate reasons to bash MSNBC and CNN over the years.

For their part, CNN and MSNBC do good work in attacking and debunking the lies, distortions and hatred on Fox News. There’s a lot to work with, from the segments that promoted the “big lie” after the 2020 presidential election--which triggered two ongoing lawsuits from two voting-technology companies that were attacked on Fox News without basis, they argue--to the credulous coverage of Trump to the racist rantings of host Tucker Carlson. 

Just to be clear, we’re not alleging equivalence between CNN/MSNBC and Fox News. There is none. Yet the professionalization of the cable wars surely plays a role in the plummeting numbers that Gallup finds. Our line of analysis downplays the role of the legacy broadcast networks and other competitors such as PBS and C-SPAN, but let’s face it: Fox News, CNN and MSNBC play an outsize role in popular conceptions of what TV news has become.

So, do these confidence numbers spell doom for the cable networks?

Nah. Pew Research Center tracks the size of the cable-news audience, and here’s a look at how it trended in the Trump years: Daytime audiences followed a similar trajectory. So while the cable-news audience increased from 2016 to 2020, according to Pew, confidence among American adults in TV news dropped, according to Gallup. Those two phenomena may appear incompatible,but think about it: Viewers of MSNBC/CNN may well have been tuning in to hear more reasons they should lose confidence in Fox News; and viewers of Fox News may well have been tuning into hear more reasons they should lose confidence in MSNBC/CNN.

Now there’s a sustainable business model.

--Erik Wemple, Washington Post media critic 

Has Florida man met his match?  Meet Florida Sheriff

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP)--When a naked man in southwestern Florida recently raised a ruckus outside his house and threatened a deputy with a kitchen knife, the SWAT team swooped in and apprehended him.

Soon afterward, Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno stood on the man’s driveway in combat gear for a news conference while the suspect went to the jailhouse that the sheriff likes to call the “Marceno Motel.”

“He’s an oxygen-stealer and a scumbag, and I’m glad he’s outta here,” Marceno told reporters. “I’m proud to say that in this county, if you present deadly physical force . . . we meet you with deadly force every time, and we win. It’s pretty clean, pretty quick.”

The Sunshine State has become internationally notorious for the oddball miscreants who populate its police blotters and local news reports--known collectively as Florida Man. There are murders and mayhem, like anyplace else, and then there are the only-in-Florida incidents like the man charged with assault with a deadly weapon for throwing an alligator through a Wendy’s drive-thru window in Palm Beach County in 2015.

But an equally eccentric cast of hard-boiled sheriffs make a career of going after these guys. Florida Man, meet Florida Sheriff.

All but one of Florida’s 67 counties have an elected sheriff, and they wield enormous influence in part because they’re often the only countywide elected official. They head agencies that typically patrol unincorporated portions of their county but also provide backup to city police departments and sometimes patrol small cities that lack their own force. Many, like Marceno, hold made-for-YouTube news conferences and use TikTok and other social media--frequently going just as viral as the perpetrators.

Take Santa Rosa County Sheriff Bob Johnson, in Florida’s Panhandle.

During a recent news conference about a burglary, Johnson, elected in 2016, said a homeowner had fired shots but didn’t hit the suspect. Johnson encouraged that homeowner to take a gun safety course offered every other Saturday at the sheriff’s office so he could better take matters into his own hands.

“Learn to shoot a lot better,” Johnson said. “Save the taxpayers’ money.”

On the Atlantic Coast, near Cape Canaveral, Brevard County Sheriff Wayne Ivey makes a game of crime--literally. His weekly “Wheel of Fugitive” videos feature the sheriff spinning a wheel with photos of 10 of the county’s most wanted.

“Everybody watches it. Even the fugitives watch it” to see who becomes “fugitive of the week,” Ivey said.

The lucky winner of one recent episode was a 32-year-old white male accused of petty theft and failure to appear. The sheriff, first elected in 2012, looked into the camera as if speaking directly to the man and urged him to surrender: “Stop messing up and stop breaking the law. Get all of it behind you.”

The Twitter account of Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco--who has starred in A&E Network’s “Live PD” show--made a splash with local “Sad Criminal of the Day” posts. His agency also copyrighted the now-viral hashtag, #9pmroutine, a reminder to lock car doors and homes every night.

In January, the department cut off social media comments because the accounts fell victim to their success. With over 300,000 Facebook followers--more than double that of much larger Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in nearby Tampa--Nocco said people were too often reporting crimes online rather than calling 911.

Over in central Florida is, perhaps, the highest-profile enemy of Florida Man (and Florida Woman).

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, who constantly targets gangs, drug dealers and prostitution rings in his folksy Southern drawl, has been a frequent hit on TV since he was first elected with no party affiliation in 2005. Judd says of school shooters: “We’re going to shoot you graveyard dead.”

He also has praised homeowners for firing on intruders, including one last December: “He gave him an early Christmas present. Only Santa Claus gets to come in your house,” Judd told a news conference.

Judd often refers to the Polk County Jail as the “Polk Pokey,” and last holiday season, his office sold their version of the popular Elf on the Shelf doll, dubbed Sheriff on a Shelf, and he personally autographed Sheriff Judd bobbleheads.

One of Judd’s latest targets was not exactly the crime of the century. But Judd had plenty to say about a woman accused of assaulting workers at a McDonald’s because her order was wrong.

“She’s a pretty lady. But she was McMad,” Judd said on May 20. “I don’t know if she was two fries short of a Happy Meal, but she created a McMess and acted like a McNut. ... This is Polk County. We don’t put up with that McJunk.”

--Freida Fisaro and Curt Anderson

Blaming social media for academia's ruin misses a larger, darker truth

It is tempting to postulate technological determinism as the answer to this question: Why are extremism, irrationality, fear and censoriousness especially rampant where they should be next to nonexistent? However, to blame social media for the anti-social behaviors that today characterize academia misses a larger, darker truth. 

What is still referred to, reflexively and anachronistically, as higher education is supposedly run by and for persons who are products of, and devoted to, learning. Today, this supposition is false. The Chronicle of Higher Education, the reading of which is in equal measures fascinating and depressing, recently published Joseph M. Keegin’s bracing essay “The Hysterical Style in the American Humanities: On the ideological posturing and moral nitpicking of the very online.” 

Keegin, a philosophy student at Tulane University, argues that, confronted with “the slow slide of academe into oblivion,” scholars — especially in humanities departments, which are losing undergraduates, prestige, jobs and funding — “desperately grasp for relevance.” They seek it by becoming “professors of ‘academic Twitter.’” They have, Keegin says, “by and large subordinated their work as professional intellectuals and historians to the news cycle, yoking their reputations to the delirious churn of outrage media.” Succumbing to “Twitter-induced presentism,” academics are “captured by” and “shackled to” — Keegin’s terms — social media, and they treat the past as “not of interest either for its own sake or as a means of illuminating the complexity of the present. 

It is, rather, little more than a wellspring of justifications for liking and disliking things in the world today.” Follow George F. Will's opinionsFollow Keegin cites the cultural critic Katherine Dee’s hypothesis: “What motivates someone to spend 10 hours a day on Twitter” resembles “what motivated people to camp out in front of theatres to see the next installment of Star Wars, or dress up in costume for the release of the latest Harry Potter book.” Dee considers this a species of “fandom.” Keegin says, “Whatever it is, it certainly isn’t the fruit of serious reflection and study.” 

It is purely performative, done for the performer’s satisfaction of doing it. Although it is, superficially, all politics all the time, it actually lacks what gives real politics gravity: concern with patiently, incrementally achieved consequences. Extremely online academics embrace a debased intellectual Darwinism: survival of the briefest. So, they lean on status and credentials for authority. They resort, Keegin says, to “prefacing an opinion with ‘as a scholar of’ or ‘as an expert in,’ perhaps putting ‘Dr.’ or ‘PhD’ in one’s Twitter display name.” 

Keegin directs his readers’ attention to something worth watching, Mark Sinnett’s 2022 commencement address at St. John’s College in Annapolis, whose splendidly eccentric curriculum emphasizes the great books, not excluding those by dead Europeans. A retired tutor at the school, a mathematician specializing in quantum mechanics and a Presbyterian minister with a theology doctorate from Cambridge University, Sinnett spoke without a text, as someone with a well-stocked mind can do. On YouTube, you can see him unpack St. Paul’s statement that we are perplexed but not despairing. 

For many Americans today, Sinnett said, perplexity means despair. So, various public personalities’ pronouncements consist of supposedly “determinant, unrevisable knowledge.” Sinnett told the diploma recipients that after you’ve forgotten the details of your studies here, “I hope you’ll always remember how terribly difficult knowledge is, and how rare.” Knowledge “is a very small part of what any of us have at our disposal.” People inundating us with spurious claims of knowledge feel free to condemn to perdition those who doubt their authority. Dogmatism even infects discourse about what is now suddenly termed “the science,” placed beyond debate by the definite article. 

But everyone, scientists included, is perplexed. “Perplexity,” Sinnett said, “is what human existence is.” And every person’s perplexity is unique. Society needs “joyous perplexity” because “we are joined in a great community of perplexity.” 

Sinnett’s deeply civilized call to rejoice in life’s rich diversity of perplexities is discordant with the tenor of dogmatism in academe. There, diversity is praised in the abstract but suppressed in fact.

 In flight from perplexities of their own, and intolerant of those of others, many academics are not “captured by” Twitter; it is their “safe space.” Their febrile shallowness is not “Twitter-induced”; Twitter is a response to it. They are not “shackled to” social media; they cling those platforms as shipwrecked sailors cling to flotsam. Academe is increasingly populated by people who, having neither an inclination nor an aptitude for scholarship, have no business being there.

--George F. Will, Washington Post

10 more David Foster Wallace quotes

1. “It is often more fun to want something than to have it.” 

2. “I’d tell you all you want and more if the sounds I made could be what you hear.” 

3. “That no single, individual moment is in and of itself unendurable.” 

4. “Every love story is a ghost story.”  

5. “To be, in a word, unborable… It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.” 

6. “If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means, stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.” 

7. “It takes great personal courage to let yourself appear weak.” 

8. “Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think.” 

9. “Everything I’ve ever let go of has claw marks on it.” 

10. “How odd I can have all this inside me and to you it’s just words.”  


Liars, losers and the lessons of ‘Antiques Roadshow’ 

When a writer of my age (42) and sensibilities (vaguely anarchic) is tasked with reporting on PBS’s long-running hit “Antiques Roadshow,” his first impulse is to lengthen the sentences, ramp up the pathos and do his best impression of Hunter S. Thompson’s “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved.” Unfortunately for me, but perhaps to your benefit as the 2/4 reader, I was accompanied to the “Roadshow” by my parents, who are both in their 70s and not particularly interested in seeing their middle-aged son trying to resurrect the ambitions of his literary youth. 

The premise of “Antiques Roadshow” is relatively simple: People bring antique items — often things they found in their parents’ attic — to the show, where a rotating host of appraisers ask them to relate each object’s story, which usually winds through a family lineage (the most common phrase on the show might be “my grandfather was an avid collector of …”) and includes some noncommittal, open-ended declaration, like “and it’s been sitting on top of our fireplace ever since.” These mostly strike me as the whitest of lies — surely, at some point, the person put in some time to Google the mysterious and ancient-looking heirloom. 

We weren’t all that innocent, either. My parents have an ancient Chinese scroll they wanted appraised. Part of the scroll is made up of two colophons, which are calligraphic accompaniments to a painting that are usually written and signed by the painter. The other part of the scroll is a landscape painting. My mother, in true “Antiques Roadshow” fashion, found this thing in a thrift store. After some close examination, my parents realized that it might be very old. After quite a bit of digging and some consultations with experts, they determined that it was indeed very old. There is not yet an agreement on how old it is — the process of authenticating ancient art can be highly subjective and open to debate — but estimates indicate it’s from sometime in the late 17th century. Intriguingly enough, the calligraphic part of the scroll carries the signature and seal of Dong Qichang, a very well-known painter and calligrapher who was active in the 16th and 17th centuries. 

The mystery of this scroll has been occupying my parents for the past couple of years. My wife, in the hopes of finding some resolution for all this, entered us into a lottery for “Roadshow” tickets and won. Our strategy was to play a little dumb — it’s true that we have no real idea what this thing is worth, but my father has tracked down a few academics and museum curators to give their assessments — but I told them that they should keep the story simple, and as truthful as television would allow. If they were asked, for example, if they had ever had an expert look at the scroll, they should just pretend not to have heard the question or quickly change the subject. That was my job — I was the guy who was there to change the subject. 

Which is all to say, there was something both decadent and depraved about “Antiques Roadshow.” This episode was filmed at Filoli, a country estate built in the early 20th century by one of California’s gold mining barons. Today the site is a museum of sorts, with dozens of acres of well-kept gardens filled with camellias, daffodils and wildflowers. If you’ve seen the film “Harold and Maude” and can recall the gigantic, austere house where Harold plays grisly pranks on his mother, you’ll have a pretty good idea of how these California Gilded Age-style mansions make you feel an even mix of revulsion at their garishness and appreciation for just how well the garishness has been executed. 

The crowd of liars, mostly between the ages of 65 and 95, was in good spirits as they dragged their curiosities between a series of tents set up all around the estate. It wasn’t quite a pilgrimage, more like a music festival for the Lexus-driving fans of Eckhart Tolle. At every cluster of tents, there was a television setup with lights and sound equipment and a series of cameras. 

In our quest to make it in front of one of those cameras, we had to first present our scroll to a preliminary screener, who then directed us to the Asian art tent. We were introduced to an appraiser named Lark Mason III, the son of Lark Mason Jr. of Lark Mason Associates in New York City, which is something I learned when the youngest Lark introduced himself with, “My name is Lark, my father’s name is Lark, and my grandfather’s name is Lark.” This was all great theater. My mother handed him the scroll, which he unfurled and began to read in Chinese. He asked my parents if they knew what the scroll said, which they said they did not. (It’s unclear to me if they were lying about this.) While scrolling, Lark III went through the usual litany of questions: Where did you get this? How much did you pay for it? Do you know what you have here? But once he got to the painting part of the scroll, he suddenly stopped, and a look of concern fell over his face. “Excuse me,” he said. “I need to show this to someone.” 

We had him! Lark showed the scroll to an older appraiser, who quickly went through and whispered her assessment to Lark. The only words I could make out were “colophons” and “apocryphal,” which weren’t great signs, but then Lark came back and said that he needed a producer from the show to come by to take a look and could we please wait nearby. 

I texted my wife and tweeted that we had made it through the first round. For the next 45 minutes, we sat in the hot sun and waited. Our little perch was next to the Native American tent, and I watched as a procession of old people emptied out boxes of moccasins and arrowheads. Nothing seemed to be worth all that much, but everyone was happy just to be in the presence of the appraisers who had been seen on television. 

My parents were under the impression that this producer was going to be the real expert in Asian art. They speculated that she must not be particularly good on television, at least compared with Lark, with his royal blue blazer and his young Kennedy haircut. I told them that this producer was probably just someone who would decide whether the scroll was worthy of being on television. Would our story hold up?

 Knowing we had a chance to perhaps get on television was thrilling and gave me a fleeting sense of superiority, which was ridiculous, given that I wasn’t even going to be on camera, nor was it my scroll. Last year, the writer Stephen Lurie wrote a touching ode to “Antiques Roadshow” in which he argued that the show’s “popularity might stem from the paradox at its core: This show about putting a price tag on coveted possessions is not actually about money. It’s not about getting rich, playing the market, amassing wealth or even acquiring nice things. In a show whose segments are punctuated by dollar amounts, there’s actually a quiet, persistent suggestion to direct our aspirations somewhere else: history, family, sentiment, even love.” 

All these heirloom tapestries, Coca-Cola signs, baseball cards and old chairs get appraised for disappointing amounts and then are lugged back to the attic to eventually get handed down to the next generation. Lurie points out it’s estimated that more than 90 percent of people who come to the show end up keeping their objects, which he sees as proof that the animating spirit of the show is not capitalism but rather “the sanctity of stories, family, empathy.” People watch “Antiques Roadshow,” in other words, to come away disappointed at the price, but also to find that perhaps the connection to, say, their grandmother’s Tiffany lamp (fake) was more important than whatever money it could fetch. It’s a nice thought. 

After about an hour wait, the producer came over and asked my parents a few questions, took the scroll, had a hushed conversation with Lark and then hurried away. Lark walked over and said he was sorry, but the producer had said it was going to be too hard to display the scroll on television, which did seem reasonable enough. He then told us that the calligraphic section of the scroll was definitely not a genuine Dong Qichang, but that the painting, which he noted was “beautiful,” was probably from the 19th century and was worth anywhere up to $2,000. “Now tell me again how much you paid for it,” Lark said. When my mother said $50 again, Lark said, “I want to go shopping with you!” 

On the way out to the parking lot, my mother, who talks to everyone within a 10-foot radius, struck up a conversation with two women who were carrying a set of tapestries. They were incensed that they had only gotten a valuation of $40 and asked my mother if she had gotten good news. My mother laughed and said not really. “These people have no idea what they’re looking at!” one of the women told her. They shared another laugh. 

This, I believe, is the actual spirit of the show, at least for the losers like us who walk to the parking lot without getting on TV. It’s true that when I watch the show, I always feel a slight resentment toward the big winners, especially when it’s clear they just inherited some priceless painting that they clearly know is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. But I don’t think the televised losers — the ones who visibly wince when they’re told that their chair is, unfortunately, a reproduction — go back feeling more connected with their families. Instead they feel something much more animating and pure: a stubborn, American distrust of experts, and the camaraderie of the underbid and underappreciated.

--Jay Caspian Kang, a writer for Opinion and The New York Times Magazine, is the author of "The Loneliest Americans."



The chili could be malicious and downright unforgiving.  The omelets sometimes look like yellow Play-Doh flecked with foreign bodies.  The coffee isn’t strong enough to defend itself, and the waitress puts the plates down with an offhand finality.  Breakfast served any time.  Eggs any style.  The soup? It’s navy bean.

 It’s easy to put down the greasy spoon, that ubiquitous testament to the tacky and the Tums.  But by whatever name—luncheonette, diner, café, grill, coffee shop, ptomaine parlor—it used to account for 40-50 percent of the eat-out dollar, according to industry sources.  Now?  Not so much, as changing tastes and the sweep of urban renewal have relegated it into a virtual museum piece--a slow-food square peg in a round hole of a fast-food, instant-everything, drive-through and highly hyphenated universe. Some things just sort of happen, with no grand design or Machiavellian malice aforethought.

 But the greasy spoon was a slice of Americana that clung to the fork with nary a nod to fad or fashion.  There were no vegetarian plates, as meat and potatoes carried the day and the night and the mortgage.  The Serv-Naps filed out of their countertop compartments as the daily duet of eat-and-runs and lingerers played their way through an unconducted arrangement.  The beef was “govt.-inspected”—but did it pass?  There was a counter-top jukebox selector, with some pop, some country, some rock but definitely no Rachmaninoff.

You know the place.  Everyone, whether through happenstance, resignation or momentary indifference has ended up at one of these Edward Hopper-esque establishments, clutching a greasy knife or fork. How the spoon, which generally just stirred the coffee, got left holding the bag is a mysteryforever lost in the mists of time.

Whatever their culinary merits, one could develop an irrational affection for the emporiums of this genre.  And they were more than eating places.  Sociologically they could be an over-the-counter salve for the tattered psyches of the urban disenfranchised, who hoped they wouldn’t close on Christmas and trap them in their cheap hotel rooms.  They were sort of halfway hash house social clubs, with no membership list but plenty of dues, where the help was as transient as the trade.

Some of these motley establishments were actually respectable—sometimes good—and do not deserve to be painted in such tawdry tones.  Almost always locally owned, they were probably more consistent at their level than some tonier “destination dining” spots and had a more devoted clientele, who prided themselves on being regulars, never had to state their orders and were probably as good as the National Guard should someone get surly with the waitress.  Perhaps the key to their fate is how many such places are opening these days, not how many are closing.

But while there’s time, the eyes above the menu survey the scene and laugh and marvel at a few things:

--The waitress always looks like she is glad they sre out of whatever they are out of.

--The catsup bottle says “restaurant pack,” whatever that’s supposed to mean.

--The busboy is a strong man--a bit too strong—but he didn’t shower up with Irish Spring.

--There’s a fill-up-the-sugar-container fetish that is hard to fathom.  Today’s two fingers’ worth on top of yesterday’s two fingers’ worth.  The sugar at the bottom was refined in 1952.

--The “chef” has more tattoos than specialties and thinks “Guide Michelin” plays for the Montreal Canadiens.

--The cream pies and such are kept at a tongue-numbing 33 degrees.

--The sandwich plates are larger than they need to be, but the dinner plates. . . .

--The cashier/owner always seems to be eating ice cream out of a coffee cup on a stool near the cash register.

--They honor the “law” that says coleslaw shall be served in flimsy paper or plastic cups and in minute amounts.

--The spaghetti always comes with “rich meat sauce.”

--The menu always has an item or two that no one has ever ordered.  Who orders Red Snapper in places like this?

--If you want something to go, you have to stand in a special place, probably so they won’t confuse you with people who prefer to eat standing up with their hands in their pockets.

--The floor is usually brown-and-yellow tile squares, in accordance with the Seedy Restaurant Color Scheme Act of 1942.

--Some old guy always comes in about 10 p.m. and orders a bowl of bran cereal.

---The menu is a Sargasso Sea of misspelled names and fanciful if not fraudulent descriptions.  From the Broiler.  From the Sea.  But never From the Freezer.

--The server never fills in all those bureaucratic squares at the top of the “guest check” and writes diagonally across the lined form.  What’s more, she has a Ph.D. in abbreviations.

--One of the customers always looks like he is doing his income tax at one of the tables.

--Somebody always walks by the window and waves in just before he disappears.

--You’re the only one at the counter, and some guy walks in and sits right next to you.

--The french-fried shrimp comes with enough cocktail sauce to cover about two pieces.

--The table’s wobble is always half-corrected with a dirty folded napkin or three.

--The clock is always stopped at something like 2:42.

--The Muzak is always playing something like “Never on Sunday” or “Nom Domenticar.”

--The cook  flip-slides the plates across the high stainless-steel counter, and they always stop short, as if equipped with disk brakes.

--The cashier always puts your change down on a spikey rubber thing that looks like an oversized scalp massager.


In the early morning lull, after the midnight rush hour subsides, the buzz of the fluorescent now equals the sizzle of the grill as the beat cop walks in and sinks into the house booth.

 “Say, where’s Sally?  She off tonight?”

“Nah, she quit.  Went back with her old man.”

“Oh . . . . Say, you got any a that meat loaf left.  Haven’t eaten all day.”

“Nah, meat loaf’s out.  All’s I got left is thueringer.”

“Thueringer, huh.  Well . . . gimme a piece of that blueberry.”

(Illustration:  Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks,” 1942)

Forecast Follies (or . . . "Here's Jim with the Weather")

Mark Twain famously said, ”Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” 

And since reports of Mr. Twain’s death were not highly exaggerated, I’d like to fill in for him and address something we apparently can’t do anything about, either—the nonsensical, downright insulting barrage of verbiage issuing forth daily from what used to be called TV “weathermen” (and they were all of that gender back in the day) but are now known as “meteorologists,” as if space rocks were an omnipresent factor in our lives.  As in, “60 percent chance of precipitation by daybreak, with 0.000001 percent chance of meteor collision.”  (Meteor showers do occur, but usually are not perilous enough to cancel your picnic plans. They have yet to be seen in the Bus Stop Forecasts or the Car Wash Advisories that “humanize” these bloated segments.)

The weather portions (there are usually two—a fairly brief “teaser” early on and later, the Big Production) of most TV newscasts are, first of all, way too long (and coupled with all those time-wasting teasers about “what’s coming up,” leave precious little time for what we actually tune in for—news).  We don’t need to know where the Alberta Clipper fizzled, that an El Nino is in mid-formation or that a front in central Montana caused a “dusting” in northern Iowa.  And as for those “pockets of snow” we were supposed to get last night, I looked in mine and, blessedly, found none. But the station has paid serious coin for all of the glitzy graphics and radar capabilities, and by God, they are going to be used, if even just to show us what the rainfall looks like in downtown Racine “right at this very moment.”  Gripping.

And then there is the universal, comically contrived “personalization” factor, apparently de rigueur on all stations. It’s never “Thursday’s forecast,” it’s (ahem), “the forecast for your Thursday . . . .”  One can only envision the rapturous glow viewers must feel when luxuriating in the warmth of that gratuitous pronoun! (As if that forecast applies only to you, no one else. Ah, exclusivity.)

If one were to awaken from a 30-year coma, he or she would probably be mystified not only by cellphones, laptops and GPS devices but also by the existence of a curious phenomenon known as The Weather Channel: All weather, all the time--a nonstop barrage of jargon, gaudy graphics and arcane factoids.  How did we ever exist without it? When it’s a slow weather day (and in this day of acute climate change, there’s always a crisis on the front burner somewhere), footage of past calamities will fill the bill for weather junkies or the aficionados of disaster porn.

Those with (ahem) backgrounds as editors find the nightly weather segments to be cringefests in the extreme.  Temps don’t just drop into the 20s, they “drop down,” as if “dropping up” were a physical possibility.  Is snow or rain in the forecast? No, we’ll have “snow showers” or “rain showers.”  And it’s never just “sun”; it’s “sunshine,” as if that extra syllable ramps up the warmth.  These folks never pass up an opportunity to gild the lily, because we’re often told of the possibility of “rain events” or “snow events,” which leads me, at least, to wonder if I will need a ticket, if there will be guest speakers and if refreshments will be served.  (Spotty Showers?  That was my clown name back in the day, a story to be told when the Vernal Equinox rolls around.  Which this year, in the Northern Hemisphere, will be at 10:33 a.m. CST on March 20.  Mark your calendar.)

But my pique rises to fever pitch in winter, when we’re often told during our seven-month layered-look season to “bundle up,” as if we lifelong Midwesterners have no prior experience with winter weather--as if we had all just parachuted in from Jamaica in our underwear and had no idea on how to adorn ourselves in these brutal climes.  We don’t need to be told how to dress when icicles form—we’ve been there, done that—and resent the insinuation. One of the local weather wordsmiths hails from San Diego, and he’s telling us what to wear?  Outrageous.  I’d like to send him back to sunny California on his surfboard or his skateboard, preferably when the barometric pressure equals the dew point and, optimally, on a jet stream.

More and more women are seen these days holding forth during TV weather segments, and they have proven themselves every bit the equal of the men—long-winded and grammatically challenged. Positive role models apparently are non-existent; the often-parodied “weather bunnies” are blessedly a thing of the past (their anatomical attributes far outweighed their academic credentials), and the first exemplary female trailblazer with any gravitas has yet to be found. 

So please, Mr., Mrs. or Ms. Meteorologist, do us all a favor:  Stop behaving as if you are getting paid by the word, spare me the details about weather phenomena that have no bearing on our locale and, most of all, stop insulting our intelligence.  Chill out, stick to the weather and let us worry about our wardrobes.  Failing that, my fondest wish is that I could take all of you, get you all bundled up and sent to the Sahara.  There’s a 99.99 percent chance that you won’t need an umbrella or have to worry about a lake effect, a polar vortex or banal banter with the anchor desk. 

And now here’s Al with the Sports.

--Jim Szantor  



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.