Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Importance of the Right Word

In a post a few weeks ago (sorry, I don't remember which one), I talked about the difficulty of having a rational discussion on the subject of Second Amendment issues when even the vocabulary of guns permeates our culture - we shoot from the hip when talking without forethought and look for silver bullet solutions to tough problems, for example. And Superman just wouldn't be quite the same if he was faster than something other than a speeding bullet.

Linguists and philosophers have always known that the words we use to describe things have power, and frame our discussions for better or worse. The knowledge of a person or thing's true name, or the ability to give it a name, grants power over that person or thing, and is a central idea of many cultural or magical beliefs.

If you doubt the power of words, just mention gun control to a strong advocate of Second Amendment rights and watch her spin hysterically into an orbit of righteous indignation. If, on the other hand, we want to discuss ways of reducing gun violence, the chances of a rational discussion are greatly enhanced ... for who, on either side of the argument, could argue against such a worthy goal?

Words matter. By being first to choose the words we use to frame an argument, we gain early ascendency and force our opponents to react to our positions, rather than engage in a careful and reasonable discussion. Consider pro-life versus pro-choice, and liberal versus progressive. Conservatives opposed to the estate tax had more luck in building opposition when they described it instead as a death tax.

So ...

As we sit and watch the asinine gridlock that has paralyzed our government and threatens to crash the economy yet again, listen to the loaded terms (another gun-based idiom!) being used by both sides to force the discussion into irreconcilably opposed channels. Start cutting through the passionate - and often unnecessarily incendiary - language and we can start getting to the heart of issues that require rational thought rather than visceral reactions.

Mark Twain once said that the difference between the right word and the almost-right word was like the difference between the lightning and the lightning bug. So how about a bit less lightning and thunder and a bit more calm, eh?

Have a good day. Choose your words carefully, because you may have to eat them.

More thoughts coming on Cartoon Saturday.


Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Off-Schedule Odds and Ends

I had almost forgotten that I have a dental appointment this morning, so I have time both to do my time on the elliptical machine* and write a short blog post. Aren't you lucky?

Just a few odds and ends for today ...

In a tragic accident yesterday, a huge, aimlessly-floating bag of gas crashed and burned. But enough about Congress - a hot air balloon caught fire over Luxor, Egypt, and fell 1000 feet in flames, killing 19 tourists and crew members. I don't think I'll be doing any hot-air balloon flights in the near future. Or the far future.

How about a few things culled from Facebook and other assorted sinkholes on the Internet ...

There'd be a great many people working at Faux News and MSNBC with badly scarred legs ...

Who cares about the new player token in Monopoly? The game is out of date, anyhow ...

I've sent the address to my Congressional delegation, along with a gift certificate ...

This may help Congressman Paul Broun (R, GA) deal with all those "lies from the pits of hell" that he courageously fights from his position on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology ...

This may help frame your righteous indignation as you petition whomever for redress of grievances ...

No question about it ... 

And finally, this one just about sums up the way I feel on most days ... 

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* It's sort of like the rack, but a bit less medieval.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Off to 3D Print with the Wizard!

One of the upcoming movies I'm looking forward to seeing is "Oz the Great and Powerful," which opens on March 8th. It's the backstory of classic film "The Wizard of Oz," and tells the story of how the man who became the famous Wizard originally came to the land of Oz.

If you recall the story, you will remember that Dorothy was blown in her house from Kansas to Oz by a tornado, which dropped her house on the Wicked Witch of the East, incurring the wrath of the Wicked Witch of the West and leading Dorothy to seek the aid of the Wizard of Oz in returning home. Along the way, she picked up three traveling companions, each of which also wanted the assistance of the Wizard: the Scarecrow wanted a brain; the Tin Woodsman wanted a heart; and the Cowardly Lion wanted courage.

In the end, of course, they vanquished the Wicked Witch of the West, Dorothy went home to Kansas, and each of her companions got his wish. It's a perfect cautionary tale for modern-day ultraconservatives, as it tells the story of four mooching characters who went to the government in search of handouts rather than solving their own problems.

Well, of course, it's just an entertaining fairy tale, isn't it?

Not so fast there, amigo!

You may have seen this interesting news report a few days ago: 3D Printers Help Scientists Grow Prosthetic Ears. Yes, Dear Readers, it seems that the new technological marvel of the three-dimensional printer is being used experimentally to grow replacement body parts ... in this case, ears, which are notoriously difficult to create or repair because of their intricate design of flexible cartilage.

Considering that most of the press surrounding 3D printers has focused on their use in creating plastic gun parts, toys, and other frivolous things, the use of such printers for medical purposes provides a look into a marvelous future in which hospitals may be able to produce spare body parts at an enormous markup.

And they might also be able to help resolve our ongoing crisis of gridlock and lack of leadership in Congress!

Perhaps we could use 3D printers to create hearts and brains for Republicans and backbones and brains for Democrats. Hmmm ...

Of course, once the sequester goes through, there won't be any extra money for frivolous spending. Experience has shown that both parties have been carrying on quite well for years without hearts, brains, and backbones, so why should scarce dollars that might be better used to give tax breaks to businesses and the wealthy be used to fix a non-problem?

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!

Oh, hell, pay no attention to Congress, either.

Have a good day. You already have a brain and a heart ... use them to look clearly at what your elected reprehensives are doing in your name. Then get angry and use the backbone when you next go to the polls.

More thoughts on Thursday.


Sunday, February 24, 2013

Making a Clean Breast of Things, As It Were

We seem to have had a sudden rash of posts about breasts and related topics in my little corner of the blogosphere.

The other day, Angel had a delightful post in which she discussed appropriate terminology for the various glimpses curvaceous young ladies often offer of their mammary gifts, including "Australian cleavage" (or underboob, for the less erudite) to describe that which is made visible by tops which expose the underside of the breasts,  and "lateral cleavage" (or sideboob) to describe a breast visible from the side as it attempts to escape the confines of a halter top made with too little material*. And then Heidi wrote a post about breast ptosis**, in which she described the so-called "pencil test" that is supposed to indicate whether or not a given lady is sufficiently cantilevered as to require the support of a bra ... you can read more about breast ptosis, the condition otherwise known as "drooping breasts," here.

There was also the newsworthy story a few weeks back in which the organizers of the Grammy awards issued guidelines for appropriate dress for those presenting and receiving awards, intended to prevent unfortunate wardrobe malfunctions*** which might boost viewership, but incur the wrath of eagle-eyed moral watchdogs who view such things as clear indicators of the decline of Western Civilization. I was reminded of an interview I read many years ago in which the costume designers of the original Star Trek TV series were describing their difficulties in developing appropriately ... um ... exotic costumes for female aliens. I remember they commented that the censors would allow them to expose almost the entire top surface of the breast as long as none of the aureole or nipple showed, and that they were forbidden to create any costume which revealed the underside of the breast (that would be the Australian cleavage we talked about earlier) ... one of the designers commented that "perhaps they're afraid moss grows there."

Oddly enough, though, our infatuation with the female superstructure may be waning somewhat.

According to this article on plastic surgery trends from CNN, for the first time in six years, the number of women seeking surgery to enhance their breasts and plump up their buttocks+ is declining, while the number of people seeking various types of facial improvement is increasing. The story notes that breast augmentation remains the number one cosmetic surgery, but the number of boob jobs performed in 2012 declined 7% from the year before. In addition, the number of people undergoing buttock enhancement also declined in 2012, down a whopping 36% from the previous year. By contrast, last year face lifts were up 6%, eyelid lifts 4% and cheek implants++ 6%.

What does this all mean?

We all want to hold off the ravages of time and gravity. Some do it with diet and exercise (i.e., the hard way), and some with surgery. Me, I'm okay with my saggy baggy body, although I've been trying to exercise more and watch my diet ... at least as much as I can for someone who loves to cook. So far, Agnes hasn't indicated any desire to trade me in on a newer model, and I remain happy with her, so I guess we won't be going the cosmetic surgery route any time soon. And I'm perfectly happy with the unaltered appearance of all my female dancing friends, too.

But no matter whether the female form is enhanced or not, there remain lurking dangers for the men ...

Have a good day. More thoughts coming on Tuesday.


* She helpfully includes illustrations!

** Heidi also includes a helpful illustration, but it's just a line drawing, so don't get too excited.

*** At my age, a wardrobe malfunction is most likely represented by the awful sound of the seat of my pants ripping when I bend over.

+Sorry, J Lo and Kim Kardashian.

++ Those would be the upper cheeks, not the lower ones.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Cartoon Saturday

And away we go ...

With the huge budget cuts of the so-called sequester poised to jolt the country back into recession, Congress remains on vacation with all sides trading blame rather than ideas; on Thursday, shooting and a fiery crash left three people dead on the Las Vegas Strip ... oddly enough, the killer used a gun rather than chasing after his target's car and beating its occupants to death; another huge winter storm is marching its way across the country, threatening the northeast with "staggering" amounts of snow and rain; the nation's fleet of F-35 fighter jets ... all 51 of them, valued at nearly 400 billion dollars ... has been grounded for investigation of cracks in the engine compartment; and former Olympic hero Oscar Pistorius - known as the "Blade Runner" for his unusual prosthetic legs - has been released on bail in South Africa as he awaits trial for the murder of his girlfriend.

There's not much to laugh about in the news, so that's why I bring you Cartoon Saturday.

This week, in honor of Congress's decision to go on vacation and President Obama's decision to take a golfing trip to Florida instead of dealing with the looming threat of the "sequester," I thought a collection of cartoons about clowns would be appropriate ...

I've used this one before, but it just seems appropriate to lead with it ...

I thought this was a clever twist on the "cloud computing" craze ...

It's not always funny when clowns need counseling ...

Clowns are noted for wearing outlandishly large shoes. This cartoon takes off on that idea ...

And this one uses the same basic idea, but with a clever pun as well ...

Even clowns can suffer from the occasional embarrassing social faux pas ...

Occupational hazards for an Ob-Gyn attending to a pregnant clown ...

There are all sorts of specialized video games out there ...

When clowns go to war ...

And finally, Congress returns from its vacation on Monday to continue shamefully pointing fingers instead of soberly addressing the nation's problems* ...

And that's it for this week's edition of Cartoon Saturday, brought to you by the clowns you elected.

It's going to be a wet, miserable weekend here in Disneyland on the Potomac, great for staying inside and doing fun things, like finishing the letter I promised my granddaughter in Germany. And recovering from the happy beating I took from my local granddaughters while babysitting last night. You have no idea how much kinetic energy can be stored in a five-year-old and a two-year-old. Well, I guess Amanda does.

Have a good day and a wonderful weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.


* If you don't get the joke, just think of famous songs by Judy Collins.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Things to Worry About

Last week's literal bolt-from-the-blue, when an unexpected meteor exploded over the Chelyabinsk region of Siberia and caused massive damage and many injuries, has ratcheted up the level of public angst about the danger of asteroids, meteors, and other cosmic junk crashing to earth.

This is, indeed, worrisome, and a danger with which we must contend. But is it the worst thing we have to worry about?

This interesting chart, which appeared in The Economist on Valentine's Day, graphically illustrates the odds of dying in the United States from various causes. If it doesn't blow up enough to read clearly when you click on the image (and it probably won't), you can see the original here:

What lessons do we derive from this chart? Here are a few ...

1. The danger of being killed by an asteroid impact is approximately 1 in 75,000,000. Rough, but not very likely.

2. The danger of being killed by lightning is about 1 in 10,500,000. A bit riskier than asteroids, but still relatively unlikely*.

3. The risk of death from "Post Surgery Complications" is 1 in 117,500.

4. "Assault by Firearm" (includes firearms of all sorts) is ranked as 1 in 25,000.

and ...

5. The greatest risk of death in the United States comes from Heart Disease, at approximately 1 in 470.

So ...

As you read stupid Facebook posts or other items that tell you how much less likely you are to be killed by gunfire than by (insert cause here), now you have a chart to which you can refer for a reality check. Or you could just consult the bizarre TV show 1000 Ways to Die. Whatever.

Now, go out and buy that shotgun Vice President Biden says is your best bet for home defense**. And protect yourself at both ends of the threat spectrum by installing a reinforced roof on your house for asteroid protection, and eating better to take care of your heart.

Have a good day. Be careful out there ... the world is full of asteroid clowns, ha, ha.

See you back here for Cartoon Saturday.


* Oddly enough, my wife was named for a member of her mother's family who was killed when she was struck by lightning.

** For what it's worth, I agree with him. Assault rifles are cooler-looking, but nothing beats a good old 12-gauge for intimidation appeal.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Bilbo's Recommendations for Budget Cuts or Plus Ups

Is Congress still in recess? It's hard to tell, as it's difficult to tell if they're actually doing anything, anyhow. I assume it's still in recess because the level of ad hominem attacks and useless finger-pointing is somewhat lower than usual. And the President may still be in Florida playing golf, who can tell? Actually, we may be better off with everyone out of town. I need to think that one over.

Anyhow, one of the things that frosts my knickers about the ongoing ass-clownery in DC is the fact that everyone seems to agree that the government spends too much money. This is true. You and I, and other Real People, would be in jail or the poorhouse if we spent money like the government does. Of course, we are not able to generate money by levying taxes ... most of us actually have to have jobs. You remember those, right? Where you do work and someone pays you for it, as opposed to Congress, where you do nothing and get paid for it ... by people who have no jobs.

Something's wrong here.

The big issue is that while everyone agrees that the government spends too much money, and that "the budget needs to be cut," nobody in a position to do the cutting can agree on what should be cut. In broad, general terms Republicans want to cut things like entitlement programs, science, and education and plus up defense, while Democrats want to cut defense and plus up entitlement programs, science, and education. Unfortunately, nobody wants to get any more detailed than that, because it would gore the ox represented by some important voting bloc.

Enter Bilbo, stage slightly right.

Here are some of the things I would cut*, and some of the things on which I would increase spending:

Part 1 - Cuts:

Foreign aid of any kind to any country in which a US Embassy is attacked by a mob. They clearly don't need us, and we need them like submarines need screen doors.

Subsidies to any industry that exports jobs to other countries. Why reward companies which don't support the larger economy by giving people jobs?

Subsidies to the oil and gas industries. When you get record profits, chances are you don't need tax advantages and subsidies.

All tax advantages and shelters for persons with a gross income in excess of a million dollars.

Withdraw all military forces from Europe and close all bases there. I had three wonderful assignments in Europe over my career, but I doubt that we really need those bases any more.

Close embassies in smaller countries and consolidate diplomatic representation in regional embassies covering two or more countries.

Eliminate all free public services for persons in the country illegally.

Part 2 - Plus-Ups:

Block grants to public schools and libraries. Let them decide how to spend it based on their needs.

Student loan programs, because an educated electorate is vital to a democracy. Of course, an educated electorate is anathema to both major political parties, so we'd be in for a fight on this one.

Health care programs. People who are sick don't generally work, pay taxes, and contribute to the economy (other than to the health care industry). Programs that provide affordable (not free) health care should be thought of as a long-term investment rather than a short-term cost.

Infrastructure repair and upgrade. Many of our schools, highways, bridges, sewers, water purification facilities, and similar infrastructure elements are in dire condition. By spending money to fix them, we can also put construction workers and the workers who supply them back to work.

Okay, these are a few of my suggestions. Are they practical and politically do-able? Maybe. But I've at least put some ideas on paper. Or electrons. Whatever.

What are your ideas? Leave me a comment.

Have a good day. More thoughts on Thursday.


* This is a short, visceral-level list, and I recognize that as it stands, it won't cut nearly enough to help fix the current mess. It is, however, relatively specific and draws a line in the economic sand ... which is more than I can say for either party. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Odds and Ends

A few unrelated, yet potentially interesting items for today ...

Sixty-eight Burmese Pythons were captured or killed during this year's Python Challenge in Florida, where the gigantic snakes are becoming a nuisance. Florida state wildlife officials estimate that there may be as many as 100,000 of the huge reptiles living in the Florida swamps, where they have all but eliminated rabbits, foxes, raccoons, opossums, and other small animals. The snakes are a dangerous invasive species that is very powerful and breeds rapidly ... much like lawyers and lobbyists in Washington.

Congress is still on vacation while the nation lurches toward the next economic wound our elected reprehensives have inflicted on it ... the so-called "sequester." I vaguely recall a time when going on vacation without finishing your assigned work was cause for being fired, and I definitely recall a time when my parents wouldn't let me budge from the house until my homework was done ... but I guess times change. Do you wonder why government at all levels is held in such low regard?

It seems that the next season of the hit "reality" TV show Survivor has started pre-production ...

Russia is cleaning up after the spectacular meteor impact that hit the Siberian region of Chelyabinsk last week. The impact injured more than a thousand people, most of them cut by flying glass from shattered windows, and caused damage estimated at more than a billion rubles (about $33 million). According to scientists, it was the largest amount of damage not attributable to Congress in the last ten years.

Pope Benedict XVI is finalizing plans for his retirement as the Catholic Church prepares for the conclave that will select his successor.  Many different opinions are circulating as to the most appropriate choice for the next pope, with various groups arguing for selection of an Asian, Latin American, African, or even a female pontiff. My father once told us a story about the selection of the pope following the death of Paul VI in 1978. It seems that the front-runner was an unknown cardinal named Emilio Sicola who had attracted a great deal of attention because of his piety and good works. Unfortunately, he was passed over because of opposition by the very powerful Italian soft drink lobby, which maintained that Pope Sicola would provide an unfair advertising advantage to ... well ... you know*.

Troubled country music star Mindy McCready** has been found dead, having apparently committed suicide by shooting herself in the head. A gun didn't kill Ms McCready, Ms McCready killed herself. With a gun. Just an observation.

And that's it for today. If you are a federal government worker, I hope you're enjoying the President's Day holiday today. If Congress has its way, you'll be getting a lot more holidays in the near future ... of course, they'll be called furloughs and you won't get paid for them, but your elected reprehensives will continue to draw their salaries and enjoy their perks of office. Just something to consider as you watch the ongoing kiddie circus operating where good government used to be.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Shamelessly reproduced from a comment I left on Angel's post a few days ago. You've gotta love self-plagiarism.

** The link takes you to a Wikipedia page ... the singer's personal website is offline.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Oh, What the Heck ... More Great Moments in Editing

With so many serious matters available to write about, from falling meteors to floating petri dishes to an inept and worthless Congress and national leadership bereft of ... well ... leadership, I should be writing something meaningful and incisive. Instead, I'll just emulate our esteemed lawmakers and take the low road.

How about some more great moments in editing?

The cruise industry is taking its lumps. So should the people who lay out the front page of some papers, like this one ...

and this one ...

I'm going to stock up, because that toilet tissue with bones is very uncomfortable ...

Yes, Agnes and I would like to get a new dog. No, I don't think we'll be interviewing this one ...

Even with the attempt at punctuation, this is a little odd. Of course, I guess if you're going to die, you may as well just do it briefly ...

Well, at least you know it doesn't contain horse meat ...

Oh, the horror, the horror! ...

I hope the driver at least wears pants ...

Does this mean the repairman used Preparation H as a lubricant instead of WD-40? ...

And finally, there are some people who seem to not quite get the whole Valentine's Day concept ...

And there you have it ... proof positive that education has been wasted on some people other than members of Congress. 

Since this is the Presidents' Day weekend and tomorrow is a federal holiday, I'll have time to both do my morning exercises and post the blog ... so have a good day and come back tomorrow for more thoughts.


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Cartoon Saturday

What a week it's been!

The crippled cruise ship Carnival Triumph, described as a "floating petri dish" after a fire crippled its engines, power was lost, and toilets overflowed, has finally been towed into port in Mobile, Alabama; a large meteorite exploded in the skies over Russia, causing numerous injuries and damage across the Chelyabinsk region; having once again failed to do its job and deal in a rational, adult fashion with the nation's economic problems, Congress has gone on vacation; South African olympic hero Oscar Pistorius is under arrest, charged with murdering his girlfriend, model Reeva Steenkamp; and a growing scandal in Europe involves the finding of horse meat in products labeled as beef ... the first clue found by investigators was that meat formerly labeled "prime," "choice," and "good" was being sold as "win," "place," and "show."

Bring on the cartoons!

The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI - the first papal resignation in centuries - has caused widespread comment and not a few excellent cartoons, like this one ...

No comment necessary ...

Dishes may still run away with spoons, but nowadays they have to be more careful about it ...

And speaking of using the wrong utensils ...

As I noted in the introduction, Congress has decided to go on vacation again, having utterly failed its duty to the nation. That's the only reason the danger level isn't higher ...

Medical care is a great thing if you can get it ...

 and ...


This one is so obvious, I'm surprised I haven't seen it before ...

I found this interesting cartoon at the intersection of Valentine's Day and gun control ...

And finally, the sort of budget perhaps Congress might be able to pass ...

And that's the way it is for this week's edition of Cartoon Saturday. We're not sure quite what weather we're expecting for the weekend ... it'll either be just wintery enough to cause havoc, or just springlike enough to trick all the plants in to starting to bud early. Just pick the forecaster you like.

Regardless of the weather where you are, have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's Day

Today we celebrate Valentine's Day - a day dedicated to love and romance, or at least to general once-a-year approximations of the same. The truth is that Valentine's Day is the public front for a sinister conspiracy on the part of the world's florists, greeting card manufacturers, candy makers, restauranteurs, and jewelers dedicated to separating insecure men from their money by preying on their fears of displeasing their women. Men have always known this, but are afraid to admit it. Women have always known it, but accept it as their due for putting up with men for the rest of the year.

The tradition of sending cards or notes on Valentine's Day goes back to - appropriately enough - Saint Valentine, a Christian martyr who lived in the third century and was put to death on - also appropriately enough - February 14th. St Valentine had been imprisoned and sentenced to death for performing clandestine weddings of young Roman men in defiance of the emperor, who needed lots of young, single men to flesh out his army. Valentine fell in love with the daughter of his jailor, and before he was led away to death, he supposedly passed her a note signed, "With Love from your Valentine."


I used to host a weekly radio program on WEBR, the public access radio station here in Fairfax County, and each year during Valentine's Day week I'd host my "Anti-Valentine's Day Show." The playlist included hits like, "I Hate Myself for Loving You" (by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts); "Love Stinks" (by the J. Geils Band); "Love is a Battlefield" (by Pat Benatar); and "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" (by Tammy Wynette). It tended to be my most popular show each year, at least in terms of the number of on-air calls received. Coincidence? I think not.

How about a few cartoons for Valentine's Day? ...

Such is life for us men ...

Cupid tries to keep up-to-date with the technology ...

This one's pretty obvious, if you think about it ...

And finally, do other species observe their own version of Valentine's Day? One wonders ...

And who can pass Valentine's Day without enjoying the timeless classic by Spike Jones and His City Slickers, "You Always Hurt the One You Love" ...

But nevertheless, I'll take a moment to shelve the cynicism for a moment and wish - via this classic poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning - a happy Valentine's Day to Andrea, Amanda, Angel, Peggy, Buggie, Fiona, Heidi, and all my other digital heartthrobs out there in the blogosphere ...

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints — I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Happy Valentines Day, ladies! Men, good luck ... you'll need it.

Have a good day. Come back for Cartoon Saturday. More thoughts then.


Tuesday, February 12, 2013

How Your Government is Saving Money on Travel

With the looming threat of sequestration* just two weeks away, agencies of your federal government are taking draconian measures to reduce their spending in expectation of massive, across-the-board budget reductions.

At the Department of Defense (DoD to insiders), one area which is being sharply reduced is travel funding. Military personnel are frequently sent from their normal duty stations on short (179 days or less) trips known as temporary duty (or TDY)**, and there are special budgets set aside to pay for such trips. The rules for what can and can't be paid and how travel reimbursements are calculated are contained in an enormous volume known as the Joint Travel Regulations, or JTR, which is utterly unintelligible except to lawyers and accountants.

In order to reduce the cost of TDY (or TAD) travel, the JTR documents are being updated with special rules driven by the inability or unwillingness of Congress to do its job. Here are a few of the changes which will be going into effect immediately:

Part 1 - Lodging:

a) All DOD personnel performing temporary duty (TDY) are encouraged to stay with relatives and friends while on government business travel. 

b) If weather permits, public areas such as parks should be used as temporary lodging sites. Travelers may bring their own tents, if desired. 

c) Bus terminals, train stations, and office lobbies may provide shelter in periods of inclement weather. 

d) For a small (non-reimbursable) fee, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency will provide traveling personnel with maps showing the locations of:

(1) Steam grates which will allow comfortable sleeping in colder climates.

(2) Empty, abandoned, or under-construction buildings which can provide shelter.

(3) Caves.

e)  Sleeping in government facilities during or off-duty is henceforth prohibited for TDY/TAD personnel.

Part 2 - Transportation: 

a) Hitchhiking is the preferred mode of travel in lieu of commercial transport. Luminescent safety vests and flashlights with translucent red cones will be issued to all personnel prior to their departure on TDY but must be returned upon completion of travel. Traveler is responsible for any damage or stains and will reimburse the government for cleaning and/or repair. Replacement of flashlight batteries will be at the traveller's expense.

b) Bicycle, cross-country skis and horse rentals do not qualify for mileage or reimbursement. 

c) Bus transportation will be used only when work schedules require such travel. Personnel are expected to travel on foot; this not only saves transportation funds, but also contributes to personal fitness, reducing long-term medical costs.

d) Airline tickets will be authorized only in extreme circumstances and the lowest fares will be used. For example, if a meeting is scheduled in Washington D.C., but a lower fare can be obtained by traveling to Omaha, NE, then travel to Omaha will be substituted for travel to Washington D.C. In group travel, smaller personnel will consider travel as checked baggage using pet travel rates whenever possible; documentation of cost/benefit assessment of such travel must be submitted with other travel paperwork.

e) Regardless of mode of travel, reimbursement of checked baggage fees is not authorized; thus, "layering" is encouraged.

Part 3 - Meals: 

a) Expenditures for meals will be limited to an absolute minimum, and will not exceed two meals per 24-hour period. 

b) It should be noted that certain grocery and specialty chains, such as Costco, Sam's Club, Hickory Farms, General Nutrition centers, and occasionally Safeway often provide free samples of promotional items. Entire meals can be obtained in this manner, which is already being used by lower-ranking enlisted families with great success. 

c) Travelers should also be familiar with indigenous roots, berries, and other protein sources available at their destinations. 

d) If restaurants must be utilized, travelers will patronize "all you can eat" salad bars. This is especially effective for employees traveling together, as one plate can be used to feed the entire group. 

e) DoD Personnel are also encouraged to bring their own food on business travel. Cans of tuna fish, Spam, and Beefaroni can be consumed at your leisure without the bother of heating or costly preparation. Ramen noodles are also a low-cost alternative; however, costs of heating will not be reimbursed. In all cases, cost of these items will not be reimbursed.

Part 4 - Miscellaneous: Personnel are required to use innovative techniques to defray travel expenses. 

a) Red caps will be issued prior to departure to all personnel authorized to fly so that they may earn tips by helping others with their luggage. 

b) When not on duty, members with musical or performing talents are encouraged will perform on streets, in hotel lobbies, and in transportation waiting areas for tips. 

c) Small plastic roses, ballpoint pens, and other items will be issued to personnel so that sales may be made as time permits. These items will be signed for at issue and carefully inventoried upon the traveler's return. All proceeds will be turned into the servicing finance section at the conclusion of the TDY and will be used to offset the cost of the trip.

... and so it begins.

After all, budgets have got to be cut somewhere so that tax rates for businesses and the wealthy*** can be kept at low levels.

Do your part!

Have a good day. More thoughts on Thursday.


* You know, the budget forcing function that was supposed to be so terrifying it would force Congress to act. Didn't work all that well, did it?

** In the Army and Air Force, anyway. The Navy, which insists on being different, refers to it as "Temporarily Assigned Duty, or TAD."

*** Known in GOP terminology as "job creatorsTM."

Monday, February 11, 2013

Conspiracy Theories

In 2006, commentator Thomas Friedman listed his "Mideast Rules to Live By," which was his attempt to help people in the rest of the world understand the byzantine politics and beliefs of people in that troubled region. Rule #3 (out of a total of 15) was this:

"If you can’t explain something to Middle Easterners with a conspiracy theory, then don’t try to explain it at all — they won’t believe it."

There are indeed a lot of really bizarre conspiracy theories swirling around the social and political cesspool of the Middle East, most of them blaming every ill of the region since the expulsion from Eden on the evil machinations of the CIA*. Unfortunately, belief in off-the-wall conspiracy theories is not limited to the Middle East.

In what passes for political discussion in modern America, some of the most bizarre and outrageous conspiracy theories are gaining traction on the part of people suffering from a lack of independent thought, education, good judgment, or common sense**.

How about this one: the Jack-Booted ThugsTM of the ATF are going to swoop down and confiscate guns owned by law-abiding Americans so the country can be taken over by the UN.

Now, consider that we have somewhere around 11 million illegal aliens living more-or-less openly in this country. The All-Powerful Evil GovernmentTM is unable to identify and deport these 11 million people, very few of whom are likely to shoot back. Now consider whether the All-Powerful Evil GovernmentTM is likely to be able to confiscate an estimated 300 million guns*** from a paranoid and enraged population fired up by far-right propaganda****.

Yea, probably not all that likely.

And that's probably the least of the wild conspiracy theories flying around out there. I found this wonderful guide to "Almost Every Obama Conspiracy Theory Ever" to help you sort through the muck ...

If you follow the link, you can find details of all the individual theories about the President shown in the chart. Be sure to put on your tinfoil hat before you start reading.

Don't thank me ... it's all part of helping you keep what's left of your sanity in a world where real information and rational discussion are endangered species.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* And there's probably some imam over there preaching in his madrassah that the CIA planted the apple tree and drugged Eve, too. And just down the street is his ultra-ultra-ultra orthodox neighbor who believes women's clothing not made with 175 yards of heavy canvas is a CIA plot as well. Oy.

** Usually all of the above.

*** No one knows for sure, because there are no standardized requirements for tracking gun sales and ownership. The 300 million figure is a best estimate based on FBI and ATF data. 

**** And in violation of the Constitution, to boot!