Saturday, September 20, 2014

Cartoon Saturday

We are now two thirds of the way through September. How about a nice round of applause for ourselves for surviving this long, eh?

The introductory news summary will return in this space next Saturday. In the meantime, why not let's just get to the cartoons ...

You all know the old expression that everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it, right? Well, Ol' Bilbo is doing something about it - this weeks selection of theme cartoons deals with weather and climate change ...

And you thought the fancy weather radar your local TV station cites was a new invention ...

Makes sense to me ... 

Oddly enough, there is an upside to the drought that's now ravaging the West ...

If it works for the weatherman, why not for the general public? ...

This seems about as good as most weather forecasts, anyhow ...

They don't make lemonade stands like they used to ...

This is becoming more true every day ...

Those machines where you swipe your credit card are getting more nervy all the time ...

This is some high-tech I can really use ...

And finally for this week, rescue pets are said to be the best ones. Still ...

And there you have it - another batch of cartoons to help keep you sane as you navigate the final third of September. Cartoon Saturday will be back to its regular format next week when I once again have time to include the weekly summary of bad news and, of course, you are certainly welcome to come back tomorrow for Poetry Sunday. I'm not just doing this for my health, you know.

Have a good day and a great weekend. More thoughts on the way.


Friday, September 19, 2014

The Second Ass Clown of the Month Award for September, 2014

How quickly two weeks go by! It's time once again to crown our second Ass Clown of the Month for September, 2014 ...

It goes without saying that the choices are difficult to make, but this time the choice was no shot in the dark (if you'll pardon the expression). The award goes to

Oscar Pistorius

Mr Pistorius this month became the most famous person to get away with murder since O.J. Simpson, being convicted by a South African court of "culpable homicide" rather than murder after the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp last year. Ms Steenkamp died after Mr Pistorius shot her ... four times, and with hollow-point expanding bullets, no less ... through the closed door of a small bathroom, claiming he thought she was an intruder.

For his skill in evading justice, Oscar Pistorius is named as our second Ass Clown of the Month for September, 2014.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Are You Going to Wear THAT?

A few days ago I noted on my Facebook page the following: "It's the birthday of fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, famous for his work both alone and with such other famous designers as Coco Chanel in creating extraordinarily expensive clothes that don't look any better than the ones you buy at JC Penney's."

I was immediately called to task by my old* friend Marilyn, who said in response, "You have GOT to be kidding, Bilbo! You cannot see a difference?"

Well, it all went downhill from there.

The point that I was trying to make, with all the humorous ineptitude for which I am justly renowned, was that people (particularly women) frequently spend obscene amounts of money on designer outfits that look wonderful, but not necessarily to a degree that is commensurate with the price demanded. When you buy something that's been designed by a Lagerfeld, or a Chanel, or a Vera Wang, or a Donna Karan, or whatever, you are paying an enormous surcharge for a name and the social cachet that goes with it. When you buy the right outfit at JC Penney's and clean up well, you can look good for much less.

And it's not just the designer names attached to ladies' dresses and men's suits (can you spell "Armani" or "Hugo Boss" or "Ermenegildo Zegna"?) that are an issue in pricing. Consider also Bilbo's Law of the Proportional Economics of Garments, which states that, "The price of a woman's evening gown or bathing suit is inversely proportional to the amount of material used in the construction thereof." I've seen women's bathing attire that covers virtually nothing, yet costs the equivalent of the GNP of Burkina Faso. "Wieso das?"**, as my father-in-law is fond of asking. This is related to the factor I have previously referred to as the Degree of Gasp, which is a measure of the desirability of a garment for a teenage girl ... my daughter was fond of selecting her prom dresses based on this factor - the louder my gasp at the sight of her in the dress, the more attractive and desirable it became ... and the Law of the Proportional Economics of Garments naturally factored into that reaction as well.

So, ladies, consider your purchases well. Your men love to see you looking good ... but they also like to be able to do other things like make mortgage payments and feed the family.

Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


By which I mean, "long-time and cherished."

** German, loosely translated as, "What's up with that?"

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Critical Shortage of Buzzwords - a National Crisis

In the last two posts I’ve discussed the specialized languages of the military and of advertising. As I noted – and as you certainly don’t need me to tell you – specialized language is employed by various trades, the legal profession, and especially the government to enlighten insiders and obfuscate things for the uninitiated. In the words of George Orwell, “Political language ... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.” Despite the existence of the Plain Writing Act of 2010, which requires government agencies to use clear, plain language when dealing with the public*, and a wonderful website called Plain that extols the virtues of clear and precise writing in government service, it can still be a sore trial to understand what your elected reprehensives and their minions are telling you**.

The problem of obfuscatory language in government is bad enough, but it’s getting worse, because the federal government and its subordinate agencies are running out of buzzwords.

The General Services Administration (GSA) today published the results of a lengthy study which confirmed that, at current rates of use, the pool of available buzzwords will be completely exhausted by the end of 2016. The study documented alarming trends in the gratuitous use of buzzwords with no consideration being given to moderation in use or conservation for future requirements. The situation is grim for both liberals and conservatives, although it appears to be much more dire for conservatives, who require a large supply of politically-correct buzzwords to accommodate the requirements of a broad spectrum of traditional political conservatives, religious conservatives, libertarians, neocons, Reagan Republicans, RINOs, Tea Party zealots, isolationists, survivalists, and many others.

As a result of the study, the GSA today announced a new program to identify new and exploit previously untapped sources of buzzwords. The program will explore such potential new sources as buzzwords used by previous generations and once thought obsolete, buzzwords used in various foreign languages which can be carried over into English (with or without translation***), and the tapping of the National Buzzword Reserve which, like the National Petroleum Reserve, is a resource meant to be drawn upon only in times of the most dire national emergency. Another aspect of the program will encourage the worlds of business, academia, and entertainment to cooperate in developing new and sustainable sources of buzzwords.

In a statement accompanying the public announcement of the new plan, The Honorable Frank Lee Speaking, GSA's Principal First Deputy Vice Under Director for Buzzword Management, said "At the end of the day, the American people must step up to the plate, take the bull by the horns, and get down to brass tacks as we face this existential threat to our national linguistic security."

Do your part. Volunteer your buzzwords today. The nation is counting on you.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* It actually says, “The purpose of this Act is to improve the effectiveness and accountability of Federal agencies to the public by promoting clear Government communication that the public can understand and use.”

** If you doubt me, take a few minutes to read the instructions for calculating and reporting your income tax. Have aspirin ready.

*** An example is the recent popularity of the expression “Not my circus, not my monkeys,” the translation of a Polish proverb indicating that the speaker is not responsible for the activity under discussion. This is a particularly useful expression for members of Congress, who are in constant need of creative ways to deflect blame for their own incompetence onto the other party.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Translating Advertising-Speak

We're all familiar with hard-sell advertising and with the bright colors, bold fonts, and questionable claims that are made by those who want us to buy their products. It can be hard to separate the wheat of reality from the chaff of advertising hype, but here's a handy guide, courtesy of my friend Bob, that may help out ... with a few of my editorial comments, of course ...

NEW - Different color from previous design.

ALL NEW - Parts are not interchangeable with previous design.

NEW AND IMPROVED - Different color and parts not interchangeable with previous design.

EXCLUSIVE - Imported from someplace or other.

UNMATCHED - Almost as good as the competition.

FOOLPROOF OPERATION - No provision for adjustments.

ADVANCED DESIGN - The advertising agency doesn't understand it.

IT'S HERE AT LAST! - Rush job. Nobody knew it was coming.

FIELD TESTED - Manufacturer didn't have test equipment.

HIGH ACCURACY - Unit on which all parts fit.

FUTURISTIC - No other reason why it looks the way it does.

REDESIGNED - We think we fixed the previous flaws.

DIRECT SALES ONLY - Factory had a big argument with distributor.

YEARS IN DEVELOPMENT - We finally got one to work.

BREAKTHROUGH - We finally figured out a use for it.

MAINTENANCE FREE - Impossible to fix.

MEETS ALL STANDARDS - Ours, not yours.

SOLID-STATE - So heavy you can't lift it.

HIGH RELIABILITY - We made it work long enough to ship it

Caveat emptor.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, September 15, 2014

How to Speak Military

Being a linguist, I am fascinated by all aspects of language, and particularly the field of semantics, which studies the origin and meaning of words and phrases. Listening to people speak can tell you a great deal about where they come from and what work they do, and every business, trade, and field of endeavor has its own set of terms unique to it's needs and derived from its history.

As you know from my endless reminding you of it, I spent 23 years in the Air Force dealing with my fellow blue-suiters and with the soldiers, sailors, and Marines with whom we planned and carried out the nation's defense. The military is, as are all organizations and careers, chock full of distinctive jargon and unique phrases. Here are a few military phrases you may (or may not) have heard, based on an article by Captain Victoria Hight in the Air Force Blog (and, naturally, containing my additions and editorial comments). Not all of these are unique to the Air Force, but many are …

"Stand By."

Like several of the phrases on the list, this one originated in the early days of radio communication, and most often means “wait for the next transmission.” If you've ever called a military person and had to be put on hold, you were probably asked to stand by rather than wait or hold.

"Voluntold" and "Mandatory Fun."

Voluntold combines the words "volunteer" and "told" to create an expression which implies that one is expected to volunteer for a particular task you really don't want to do, and to enjoy doing it. This is not a strictly military concept, of course, as many companies require their employees to do things on their own time, such as take part in charitable activities or make "voluntary" contributions to specific charities ... but only the military has its own term for it, as far as I know.

"… And a Wake Up"

This phrase is of obscure origin, but was probably developed by someone on an endless deployment to an undesirable location full of sand and murderous creatures to make the time remaining on the deployment seem to pass more quickly. “Five days and a wake-up” sounds a day shorter than “Six days,” and manages to convey a sense of anticipation and excitement about whatever's coming.

"Say Again."

This is another of those radio communication terms, and requests the person on the other end of the line to repeat their last message to ensure understanding and clarity of reception. One of my favorite variations of this is an expression popularized in my own office by one of my co-workers, who was fond of reading messages and saying, "Say again ... you're coming in broken and stupid" (see also broken, below)

Clock Positions (as in, "At your three o’clock")

This expression refers to a system of situational awareness for a pilot, in which the position of an object on an imaginary clock face relates its relative location to that of the pilot. Imagine yourself in the center of a clock, looking toward the 12 o'clock position ... "twelve o’clock" would be straight ahead, three o’clock would be 90 degrees to your right, and six o'clock would be directly behind you. The warning to “check your six” or simply "check six" means to look behind you for an approaching danger. The title of the classic World War II film “Twelve O’Clock High” referred to the position of an enemy aircraft located directly ahead and at a higher altitude (more than likely attacking out of the sun).


This phrase often refers to anyone who is sick or injured, or any piece of equipment or software which doesn't work. Most often email systems seem usually to be broken. It can also refer to the quality of a garbled radio transmission (see say again above).

Military Time

Most military members (and most everyone in Europe) refer to time on a 24-hour clock*, rather than as "AM" or "PM." The picture below relates the two ...

The military also generally refers to "Zulu Time" as a standard for coordination of activities across various time zones ... it refers to "Greenwich Mean Time**," or the time at the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, England, which has long been used by the military, airlines, and others as a standard to reduce confusion.

"Squared Away."

This phrase most likely stems from having a uniform with sharp, nearly square creases, the tidy arrangement of a barracks room in which everything is put neatly in place, or a bed made with the sheets squared and stretched so tight you could bounce a coin on them. It describes an individual whose appearance and performance of duty are above reproach.

"Spun Up."

A person who is "spun up" is familiar with the current situation, and the action of getting someone (especially a senior officer) ready for a meeting or other event is often referred to as "spinning him/her up." The Air Force Blog article suggests that this term derives from the acronym SPINS, meaning "special instructions," but I have a different theory. In the early days of flight, when aircraft had more than one wing, the engine was often started by a member of the ground crew who grasped the propellor and gave it a mighty shove to get it spinning (much like starting an old car by "popping the clutch") ... you've probably seen this in the movies. I think it's more likely that this is the derivation of the term.

and finally ...

"Roger That!" or simply, "Roger."

This is yet another of those expressions from radio, and it means "I have received and understood your last transmission." It's a universal military expression to acknowledge receipt of an order.

Are there any specialized expressions you use in your daily work? Leave a comment ... inquiring minds want to know.

Have a good day. I say again, have a good day. Roger!

More thoughts tomorrow.


* Which explains the old joke in which a young woman at a party asks an old soldier why he's so glum. "I haven't had sex since 2002," he explained. "That's terrible," the young woman replied. "You're telling me?" the soldier sighed ... it's already 2130!"

** Nowadays usually referred to as Universal Coordinated Time, or UCT, so as not to piss off those who view time itself as a manifestation of colonialism.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Poetry Sunday

As nice as it is to have Agnes' father visiting us for a few weeks, it's also nice to have some peace and quiet. And solitude ...

by Margaret Gibson

For today, I will memorize
the two trees now in end-of-summer light

and the drifts of wood asters as the yard slopes away toward
the black pond, blue

in the clouds that shine and float there, as if risen

from the bottom, unbidden. Now, just over the fern—
quick—a glimpse of it,

the plume, a fox-tail's copper, as the dog runs in ovals and eights,
chasing scent.

The yard is a waiting room. I have my chair. You, yours.

The hawk has its branch in the pine.

White petals ripple in the quiet light.

Have a good day, and enjoy the rest of your weekend ... in solitude, if possible.

More thoughts tomorrow.


Saturday, September 13, 2014

Cartoon Saturday

Time marches on ... with hobnailed boots.

We're two weeks into September and halfway through my father-in-law's visit from Germany. While he's here, I don't have the time to do the usual Cartoon Saturday news summary, but I need the cartoons as much as everybody else, so let's get to them ...

This week's collection of theme cartoons celebrates that marvelous invention that we didn't know we couldn't live without ... the Global Positioning System, or GPS.

You can do things without going too high-tech, as the Amish have found out ...

GPS works for crash-test dummies, too ... more or less ...

Sometimes the programming is very simple ...

And sometimes, the programming is simple without going in straight lines ...

GPS is getting better and more specialized all the time ...

Dethany Dendrobia, the lovable corporate goth from "On the Fastrack" is one of my favorite cartoon characters ... with her own specialized GPS in her customized hearse ...

So much for GPS ... how about a few other assorted cartoons to round things out. As those who know me well can attest, proud grandparents can be a little tiresome sometimes ...

Keeping it all in the family ...

This is the sort of advice I can see my granddaughter Elise giving me when she digs out her doctor play set ...

And finally, sometimes one can go overboard with the latest fads ...

Have a good day and a great weekend. Come back tomorrow for Poetry Sunday.


Friday, September 12, 2014

Is There an Editor in the House?

Last week it was ass clowns, this week it's once again the turn of the editorial gems. Here we go ...

Last week's Cartoon Saturday was dedicated to cartoons about food. Food is also a great source of editorial mishaps.

Where's the beef?

Something to serve to the vegetarian you don't like ... 

Chinese restaurant menus can be great sources of mirth ... unless you're a cowboy ...

I'd ask to see the children's menu, but there's no telling what it would feature ...

It may be a family event, but only on the Jerry Springer Show ... 

That was nice of him ...

I think it might miss something of the event, don't you? ...

When spell-check is not your friend ...

I think I'll just have the regular coffee, thank you ...

Well, I'll bet he's relieved ...

And there you have it - another collection of Great Moments in Editing, fresh from the bottomless collection at Chez Bilbo. Have you seen one? Scan it in and send it to me in any format, and I'll give you credit in this space when I use it. 

Have a good day. Kiss an editor. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Notes on Football Season

We're into September now, and that means that baseball season is on the way out and football* season is on the way in. So, let's talk about football** for a while ...

Ohio State football coach Urban Meyer recently said of one of his players: "He doesn't know the meaning of the word fear. In fact, I just saw his grades and he doesn't know the meaning of a lot of words."

Why do Tennessee fans wear orange? So they can dress that way for the game on Saturday, go hunting on Sunday, and pick up trash on Monday.

What does the average Alabama player get on his SATs? Drool.

How many Ohio State freshmen football players does it take to change a light bulb? None. That's a sophomore course.

How did the Georgia football player die from drinking milk? The cow fell on him.

Two West Virginia football players were walking in the woods. One of them said, "Look, a dead bird!" The other looked up in the sky and said, "Where?"

A Notre Dame University football player was almost killed yesterday in a tragic horseback-riding accident. He fell from a horse and was nearly trampled to death. Luckily, the manager of the Wal-Mart came out and unplugged the horse.

What do you say to a Michigan State University football player dressed in a three-piece suit? "Will the defendant please rise."

If three Florida State football players are in the same car, who is driving? The police officer.

How can you tell if an Auburn football player has a girlfriend? There's tobacco juice on both sides of the pickup truck.

What do you get when you put 32 Arkansas cheerleaders in one room? A full set of teeth.

University of Michigan Coach Brady Hoke is only going to dress half of his players for the game this week; the other half will have to dress themselves.

How is the Indiana football team like an opossum? They play dead at home and get killed on the road.

Why did the Texas linebacker steal a police car? He saw "911" on the side and thought it was a Porsche.

How do you get a former Illinois football player off your porch? Pay him for the pizza.

Welcome to football season and all the strange people who love it. Have a good day. More thoughts coming.


* Not to be confused with what the rest of the world understands as "football" - soccer.

** Someone once commented that football combines the two worst aspects of American life: violence and committee meetings.