Notes from the front lines

–being an irregular compilation of occurrences that aren’t important enough for us to spend a whole lot of time doing a full-blown blog about. .

We now are being told this has NOT been an Arctic Cold Air Mass that has made many parts of Missouri colder than Hell. (Just before we started writing this entry, we checked the weather in Hell, Michigan. It was only minus-11. Some of our Missouri cities wish it had been that warm for them in the last couple of days). It’s a “Polar Vortex.” We fear the word “vortex” is going to become an irritant in future weather descriptions.
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And that reminds us of our late and longtime friend Derry Brownfield, a co-founder of our company with whom we worked at a radio station that used to serve Jefferson City before the company was founded. Derry used to do a five-minute weather show between the newscasts and sportscasts each morning. Derry, who raised horses on his farm west of Jefferson City, was always afraid that he would get his tongue tangled around the phrase “cold air mass” and tell listeners that Missouri was being hit by a “cold mare’s ass.”
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Has the word “factory” become outmoded? Or is it politically incorrect in economic development circles? In all of the discussion about Boeing in recent weeks, we didn’t hear the word “factory” used to describe what Missouri wanted Boeing to build at, near, or adjacent to Lambert-St Louis International Airport. We used the word in some of our news stories because that’s what Missouri offered hundreds of millions of dollars to Boeing to build in Missouri. It’s a place that manufactures things (originally the word was “manufactory,” in fact). Today they’re called “facilities,” a word that years ago was used in genteel circles to mean “bathroom.” They’re also called “plants” in today’s discussions. But nobody except us seems to use the word “factory” any more. Maybe it’s because “factory” carries an image of dirty smokestacks and sweaty, underpaid and overworked employees, an image that doesn’t match the image of an assembly line of gleaming aluminum fuselages.
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We were watching one of those panel discussions that C-SPAN runs when Congress isn’t providing more entertaining fare and were distracted by a young woman who answered each question by starting, “So….” It must be the latest trendy verbal crutch some people pick up that drives those they’re talking to crazy and distracts the listener from following the point the speaker was trying to make. We’ve even caught ourselves starting conversations with something like, “So what did you do on your vacation this year?” So we’re doing our best to not use “so” at the start of a sentence.
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An economist, perhaps describing the possible location of a facility (factory)—-we can’t remember exactly what was being discussed because we were distracted by another trendy crutch—referred to “downside risk” and “upside success.” Think about those two phrases for a minute. Switch the adjectives around. Think of people soliciting change at the subway stops in Washington, D.C. They might be considered “downside successes.” And we’re not sure “risk” needs an upside or a downside. Aren’t those words implied with the word “risk?” We suspect there is a secret federal agency called the Bureau of Unnecessary Adjective Creation (BUAC) somewhere.
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A few weeks ago (Dec. 3), Kansas City Star business columnist Keith Chrostowski called our attention to a list of “stupid things I hear a lot” from financial journalists. The list has been compiled by Margan Housel, who writes for th Motley Fool website. You can look up all 29 of the stupid things on your own. But a couple caught our attention as we slip deeper into winter grumpiness. One was the observation that “we are trying to maximize returns and minimize risks,” to which Housel notes, “Unlike everyone else who are just dying to set their money ablaze.” Another was “They don’t have any debt except for a mortgage and student loans,” which Housel says is the same as ‘I’m a vegan except for bacon-wrapped steak.'”
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We realize it is probably best that we not examine our own writings too closely when we jab at the inconsistencies and slovenliness by others in the use of our language. Blame it on the gloom of winter. As with many of you, we get grouchy when it gets cold and getting around becomes a hassle. But in our case, we have an outlet for our winter grouchiness. The legislature begins its session tomorrow, January 8th. We have learned through the years that if we are not at full grouch when a session begins, we certainly will be by the time it ends.
After hearing and reading statements from legislators and their leaders indicating 2014 in many ways will be the same song, second verse of 2013, we find the grouch gauge is reading “full.”

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