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Was or were, right or wrong, not to worry, just read on

On a day not really all that far back in time—22 June, 2009—I submitted a letter to our local daily newspaper, the San Antonio Express-News, the only daily newspaper in the seventh largest city in the United States in the hope that it would be published. An offer was made to publish it but the editor e-mailed me to say that certain parts would be cut out. In an e-mail I told him to not publish the letter, and I chastised him for his response to a long-time subscriber to the paper. What follows is the initial response from the public editor.

From: BRichter@express-news.net (the public editor of the paper)
Mon, Jun 22, 2009 1:34 PM
H.M. – Thanks for your letter. May we publish it? I think I’ll cut all the whining about your letters not getting published when they strike a nerve. We’ll just go with the criticism of the photo in question (which I didn’t really think was so bad).
Bob Richter

I rejected publication because the public editor slimed me—well, perhaps slimed is a bit too strong—let’s just say that he whined me and because of that whining, the same label he placed on my submission, I vowed to never submit another letter to the public editor for consideration, but instead post my whining on WordPress, a far more appreciative audience than the Express-News. I have never had a submission rejected or criticized.

Now to get to the crux of this posting—everything I’ve said up to this point was intended to explain my criticism of the public editor’s grammar in his article that appeared in Metro of the Sunday edition of March 6, 2011.

Yes, grammar—with all that supposed talent he has at his beck and call, he started and finished an article he wrote by improperly using the verb was. The article centered on budget cuts proposed by Rick Perry, the governor of Texas that involved disabled Texans, and much to his credit he began the article with disclosing that his son has disabilities and lives in a group home that receives state aid.

I can readily understand and admire the title of his article:

Budget Cuts: What if it was your kid?

The final paragraph is a one-sentence closure with a wish from him and a question for Governor Perry:
What I wish is that Perry would put himself in our shoes:

What if it was your kid, Rick?

The verb was is the subjunctive mood of the verb to be, a mood suggesting that something is not or perhaps may not be. The subjunctive mood gets really complicated if one digs too deeply, but one does not need to dig deeply, or even pick up a shovel in order to determine whether was or were should  be used.

There is an incredibly simple way to remember whether to use was or were. If the word if is lurking anywhere in the sentence, whether visible or concealed, the proper usage is were, and if if can neither be seen nor assumed, the proper usage is was. Please forgive me for the double if in the previous sentence—I just couldn’t resist it—when read aloud it sounds like a puppy barking.

The article’s title should read, What if it were your kid?

The ending should read, What if it were your kid, Rick?

Some more examples of the subjunctive verb were:

What if the copywriters were better versed in English?
What if the current public editor were reassigned?
Were he reassigned
, would it lower the paper’s ratings or raise them?
Was
he reassigned?
No, he was not reassigned.
Note the absence of if in
the last two sentences above.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Postscript: In all fairness I must state that, in my somewhat unlearned opinion, the public editor’s article was highly cogent, nicely constructed, timely and well presented, with the only exceptions noted in this posting.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on March 6, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Let’s put the blind to work . . .

Listen up, Homeland Security!

Listen up, Janet Napolitano!

Listen up, Barack Obama!

I have a suggestion that will provide work opportunities for a group of our citizens that is in far too many instances overlooked for employment, and in too many instances are limited to stringing beads for costume jewelry or similar work. There is a niche in our federal government that can utilize the blind. Our nation’s Department of Homeland Security can provide well-paying jobs and economic security for such people, jobs that will produce immediate results by helping protect the traveling public from harm.

I propose hiring those in our society that are blind—not just legally blind, able to distinguish form and function but completely blind, or perhaps able only to distinguish light from darkness. Such persons can contribute significantly to the security of the United States of America.

First, as is necessary in public speaking, let me establish my right to speak. I am a retired U. S. Customs inspector, having worked on the Texas-Mexico border for twelve years as an inspector trainee, journeyman and first-level and second-level supervisor, at Customs’ Headquarters in Washington DC as a Program Officer and Program Manager, at Customs’ Regional Headquarters in Houston TX, and finally as Chief Inspector at one of our nation’s top-20 international airports. During my 26-year career with Customs I conducted and supervised and observed countless personal searches. I therefore feel that I am qualified to speak on that subject—nay, not simply qualified—I am eminently qualified—I am in fact damn well qualified, so to speak.

Under current procedures used for pat-down personal searches at our airports no searcher, whether male or female, will ever find anything by wearing plastic gloves and using the backs of their hands in an effort to detect something that may compromise the safety of an aircraft and its occupants. I realize that the searches have been modified to include using the fronts of their hands, but you may be assured that most will not do that except when the search is being observed by a supervisor—in all the searches I conducted and witnessed in my years on the border, not once did I see the searcher use the crotch-crunch technique mandated by Customs’ Headquarters. As for my own searches I tried it once, didn’t like it and didn’t do it again—at least I’m honest about it—most inspectors aren’t!

That mandate is a hard one to follow, so to speak, for any self-respecting male officer searching another male. Female searchers can detect the presence of bras and breasts on females (depending on dimensions, of course)  and male searchers can detect testicles and penises on males (again depending on dimensions), and not much of anything else. Any squeeze of a woman’s breasts by a female searcher will generate a complaint, and any squeeze of a man’s private part or parts by a male will do the same.

I doubt seriously that a sighted searcher, blindfolded and wearing plastic gloves and using the back of the hands can even distinguish whether the suspect is male or female (again depending on dimensions of certain body parts). The person being patted down may be a man posing as a woman or vice versa, a ruse that is used frequently in Middle Eastern countries by would-be suicide bombers.

You don’t believe it? Please consider Braille, the contact alphabet of raised dots representing letters and numbers that enables the blind to read texts and operate elevators. Take any blind person, male or female and ask that person to don plastic gloves and then read a sentence printed in Braille using the back of the hands. Better yet, have them use the back of the gloved hands to read Braille numbers on an elevator. Unless the elevator is in a two-story building with no basement, they are likely to stop at the wrong floor. Use the same experiment on a sighted but blindfolded person and that person will wind up on the wrong floor also.

Get the picture?

If blind people can read text and numbers with their fingers, then they can conduct pat-down searches effectively if allowed to use their fingers. Their touch is so sensitive that even wearing the required plastic gloves they will detect any anomaly. Hell, they may even find an unevenly shaped mole and by calling it to the suspect’s attention they may even save a life!

Think about it—the sex of the person being searched and the sex of the searcher should not be a factor. The blind searcher could be searching his own wife or her own husband, and it is unlikely that they would know it. And it should make no difference to the person being searched, because the blind person, regardless of what the search may reveal, could never identify that person.

That’s it—that’s my suggestion. I could ramble on indefinitely on the ramifications and possibilities  should my suggestion be adopted but that should not be necessary. The proof will be in the pudding—my suggestion to use blind people to conduct pat-down searches at airports will produce positive results, reduce complaints from the traveling public, protect our pilots, flight attendants and passengers from harm by keeping aircraft airborne and safe from actions of would-be terrorists. The benefits are many and obvious, and more discussion should be unnecessary.

Just as an aside, I seek no remuneration should my suggestion be adopted. A simple Nobel Peace Prize will do, and it should be considered. Our system will work so well that other nations will follow by utilizing their blind people to conduct pat-downs. In that event I will of course donate the monetary award to my favorite charity. Other than the Nobel Peace Prize I would consider the award of a Congressional Gold Medal, to be presented by our president, but the presentation would have to be at my home rather than the White House—I’ve been there and was not impressed, and I have no desire to return.

Of course the Nobel Peace Prize or the Congressional Gold Medal could be, and probably would be, handed over to UPS for delivery by the driver to my home just as the plaque, the one given in recognition of my 48 years of dedicated federal service that included 22 years of military service during which I helped our nation lose two wars (Korea and Viet Nam). The plaque was delivered soon after I retired—the driver placed it, gently of course, on my porch, rang the doorbell and hotfooted it back to his truck—such adulation! Such personal recognition! I teared up!

That’s my suggestion and that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

 

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More dumbing down of America . . .

Today is Tuesday, March 2, 2010.

I am noting the date in order to record the day that I peeked into the future of America, and my opinion is that our future does not shine nearly as brightly as it should, and certainly not as brightly as it did before the promulgation of certain documents by our government.

And in that vein, please know that I just signed off from a United States government web site that provides everything one needs to know in order to become a naturalized U. S. citizen. I left in haste because I was stricken with extreme nausea, a condition that developed in less than five minutes of reading the basic conditions that an applicant must meet in order to become a bona fide citizen of our country, entitled to all the rights and benefits appurtenant thereto.

Numerous inhalations and exhalations, plus several Tums tablets, plus some fifteen minutes in a supine position on the sofa (lying down face up, on my back, so to speak) enabled me to recover sufficiently enough to return to the site for further reading. My nausea returned immediately on arrival, but I managed to control it. I felt that it was the least I could do in order to understand the requirements enough to pass the basics on to my blog visitors.

I stayed at the site long enough to capsule the requirements into a few brief statements—actually,  they can be expressed in one statement, namely that an applicant wishing to become a naturalized citizen must be alive. I found no evidence that our Immigration officials would grant, or even consider granting, naturalized citizenship status to non-citizens that have departed this vale of tears for another world, regardless of whether they ascended or descended into their new world.

At this point it would perhaps be beneficial to define a naturalized U. S. citizen. Such citizens begin as resident aliens, those that hold a green card, a federal document that gives the resident every right enjoyed by U.S. citizens except for the right to vote and the right to hold public office. Under current regulations, any resident aliens that have held their green card for a certain number of years may apply for naturalization, the successful completion of which will entitle them to all the rights and benefits accorded to citizens born on U.S. soil, or born on foreign soil to parents, either one or both, that are U. S. citizens, regardless of the place of birth.

I could ramble on interminably—just as I normally am wont to do—by replicating all the requirements, but you can read them for yourself at this site, The U.S. Naturalization Test. Rather than repeating the requirements verbatim, I will compare them with the basic rules that determine whether our children will, at the close of the school year, either ascend from their present school grade to the next level or remain at their present level for another year.

While our schools may vary in some degree, most require students to attain a final grade of C, an alphabetical term corresponding to the numerical requirement of 70 points earned by students from a total of 100 points. I know of no legal exceptions to that requirement, although in the past some schools have elevated students that failed to achieve the minimum points by granting them the necessary points—70, a C. That practice was labeled a social promotion—I am very familiar with a school district in South Texas—deep in South Texas—that used the term Circle C. That district’s report cards featured a C within a circle, indicating that the student had failed to attain a passing grade but was allowed to pass to the next level—that’s the concept of social promotion in action!

No, my children never presented their parents with a circled C—had they received a report card with such, I venture to say that they would not have dared to bring it home—they would have probably claimed, wisely,  that the dog ate it!

I am not privy to statistics concerning social promotions in American schools, neither past nor present, and any prediction of future social promotions could not possibly produce accurate figures. However, I can accurately predict that social promotions—read granting U.S. citizenship—will be awarded by our U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in direct proportion to the numbers of applicants that minimally qualify for U.S. citizenship.

Unbelievable? Read on!

An applicant for citizenship must be able to read one sentence in English from a group of three sentences presented in English. Reading that one sentence correctly awards the applicant the qualifying grade of 33 percent in the quest for U.S. citizenship. Thirty-three percent is far below the 70 percent required for children in our public schools to attain in order to pass to another level. Thirty-three percent would be considered an F-minus in our schools, but it’s a passing grade for the legal resident alien on the path to citizenship.

And here’s the exact sentence, copied from the English & Civics narrative—the catcher in the rye, so to speak—Your ability to speak English is determined during your interview on your naturalization application. Well, I say good luck with that!

In this instance the official becomes the catcher in the rye—whether the applicant passes or fails the spoken English requirement is determined by that official. Based on my experiences accumulated over a period of 26 years while working in proximity to Immigration officials, I found that some lacked full literacy in at least one language—English. All such officials were bilingual, but I could neither determine, nor vouch for, their literacy in languages other than English. To apply the term catcher in the rye, I believe that in some, perhaps most, of the time the examiner will catch the examinee as the need arises (see the post script below for an explanation of the term catcher in the rye).

Wait, there’s more:

An applicant for citizenship must be able to correctly answer at least six of ten civics questions—six of ten—that’s another grade of 60 percent, an alphabetical grade of D in our schools. And guess what? An applicant that fails to attain that lofty 60 percent may test again, anywhere from 60 to 90 days after initially failing the test—the same version of the test the applicant failed. Based on my knowledge gleaned over 48 years of military and federal civil service, bootleg copies of every test will soon be available, and new tests will be developed to replace the existing bootleg copies, and soon after that bootleg copies of the new tests will be made available, etc., etc.

Other than finding that the path to citizenship for a long-time legal U.S. resident is a piece of cake, there’s lots more learning to be gained by spending some time on the citizenship site. You might consider taking the sample tests. They could prove to be an eye-opener for you concerning your knowledge of our nation and its government.

I took the tests, and yes, my eyes opened wide indeed—the tests were not the cakewalk I expected and I stumbled on several questions. Actually, I gave the wrong answers but I managed to eke out an A overall.

Try it—you’ll like it!

I have striven mightily to avoid any semblance of purposely projecting personal political preferences (how’s that for alliteration!) in this posting. I trust that I have retained my anonymity, whether I’m standing stolidly and solidly in the center, or I’m leaning toward the left or to the right of our political spectrum.

I realize that any readers will be able to satisfactorily discern for themselves which political party, if any, will benefit (if there is any benefit to be gained) from this kindergarten approach to determining qualifications for U. S. citizenship, whether Democratic, Republican, Constitutional, Green or Libertarian, or any of the plethora of third parties that infest the United States.

I must resume my supine position on the sofa now—I am sorely in need of more Tums.

Postcript:

My reference to the catcher in the rye was prompted by Holden Caulifield’s thoughts expressed in J. D. Salinger’s 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye. Holden says he pictures children playing in a field of rye on the edge of a cliff, and in expectation of them accidentally running over the cliff he stands ready to catch them—he thus pictures himself as the catcher in the rye, and says that’s all he wants to be.

It’s one of America’s greatest novels, a read that you’ll enjoy.

I believe that—I really do!

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 

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A letter to Laura . . .

This posting was prompted by a comment made by a viewer on one of my previous postings (see at https://thekingoftexas.wordpress.com/2010/01/24/letter-to-the-editor-san-antonio-express-news-obama’s-reeling/).

The original posting was prompted by an apostrophe placed in the surname Obama. It was meant to form a contraction, “Obama is,” an other-than-normal contraction and somewhat misleading. Obama’s is the possessive form of a singular noun, and the apostrophe thus implies that the president possesses a reeling, whatever that might be. “Obama’s reeling” was the heading of a letter to the editor of San Antonio’s Express-News, the only daily newspaper (and fading fast) in the seventh most populous city in the United States. The subject of the letter was Massachusetts’ recent  election to fill the Senate seat held by the late Senator Edward Kennedy. The race was between a Democrat and a Republican. Would anyone want to hazard a guess as to which candidate won?

You’re right!

I felt that this venue was more appropriate than replying directly to the viewer’s comment on that posting—any reply I made would have been buried and would have rarely, if ever, been exposed to the brilliant light of a separate posting.

As an incidental but closely related thought, I recently encountered this phrase on a blog: “I’d have,” meaning “I would have . . .” I consider “I’d” to be an improper contraction, and ambiguous even if it were proper—it could also mean “I did have” or “I should have,” etc. Would anyone want to hazard a guess as to whose website it was on?

You’re right!

And now on to Laura’s comment and my letter to her:

From: (http://www.bartleby.com/141/strunk.html#1)

William Strunk, Jr. (1869–1946).  The Elements of Style.  1918

II. ELEMENTARY RULES OF USAGE

1. Form the possessive singular of nouns with ’s.

Follow this rule whatever the final consonant. Thus write,

Charles’s friend

Burns’s poems

the witch’s malice

This is the usage of the United States Government Printing Office and of the Oxford University Press.

Note: (The italics and bolding in Strunk’s rule above are mine).

This is Laura’s comment on my posting:

“The Chicago Manual of Style agrees with Strunk and White re: forming the possessive of a proper noun ending in S by adding an apostrophe and S. Also, I’m wondering if you meant “feign” and not “fain,” which doesn’t seem to fit neatly in your sentence. — Laura.” (http://terriblywrite.wordpress.com)

Letter to Laura . . .

Hi, Laura,

Thanks for visiting, and thanks for the comment. Please note that I approved it exactly as you posted it—I’m sure you are aware that I could have edited the comment to fit my taste, and had I chosen to do so I could have deleted it in its entirety. You, however, cannot edit your comment after it is posted, nor can you edit my reply—that leaves me free to change, rebut or delete any comment that is less than complimentary. I chose to let your comment stand as submitted in order to expand my response via this posting.

As used in that sentence, the phrase fain to know means if one desires to know, or is inclined to know or is willing to know (desirous, inclined and willing are three of fain’s many definitions). Had I used the word feign, it would have meant pretend to know. I know that fain is archaic and sparsely (if ever) used in today’s writings, but I do not feel that I misused it in my posting. As for my choice of a word “which doesn’t seem to fit neatly” in the sentence, I am satisfied with its fit and its neatness—nay, I’m more than satisfied—I am proud of both attributes.

On your trek through a flourishing crop of words in the process of nitpicking, you managed to harvest only one nit, and that one nit apparently prompted you to rate the posting with a negative thumbs down. I say apparently because I can’t be sure that the thumbs down is yours. However, this I know with certainty—yours is the only comment on the posting, and of the five votes existing at this time four are mine, so I must surmise that the thumbs down vote is yours.

A grammatical note—I realize that the graphic for the voting process shows only one thumb up and one thumb down. I use the plurals (thumbs up and thumbs down) because I cannot remember ever hearing someone giving someone a singular thumb up or thumb down—sounds a bit naughty.

Yes, I vote on my own postings, and I always give myself a thumbs up vote—to do otherwise would be self-defeating, so to speak. Please let me know whether the lone negative vote is yours, and if it is not I will willingly—just willingly, not humbly—tender a public apology.

I give nothing less than excellent ratings to any posting, whether items posted by me or by other bloggers (I suspect you would agree with me that consistency is a desirable trait). I strive mightily to adhere to the adage that says, “If you can’t say anything positive, don’t say anything.”

As an aside, I believe the practice of one voting on one’s own posting is widespread, a belief that is supported by a comprehensive poll of several (three) bloggers. Such actions are simply the result of writers tooting their own horn, a perfectly normal and common practice that is neither prohibited nor restricted by rule or law.

As regards your statement that The Chicago Manual of Style agrees with Strunk:

I do not agree with your statement, nor do I trust or agree with anyone or anything related to Chicago, whether that person or thing be animal, vegetable, mineral, publication or president. I visited the Chicago Manual of Style online, but went no farther than the second page (the result of a search phrase) because I was unwilling to subscribe and pay for the “privilege” of going farther. However, the results of my search (admittedly brief) appear to contradict your contention that the Chicago Manual of Style agrees with William Strunk’s The Element of Style, circa 1918. In fact, the Chicago Manual of Style appears to leave a fair amount of choice for ways to show the possessive forms of words ending in ess—Strunk offers no alternatives and states that we should “Follow this rule whatever the final consonant.”

Check it out at http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/search.epl. I used the search phrase possessive of words ending in s and it returned eight entries dealing with that subject.

Here are the first two entries:

7.21:   Words and names ending in unpronounced “s”

To avoid an awkward appearance, an apostrophe without an s may be used for the possessive of singular words and names ending in an unpronounced s.

The following is a personal note, intended to clarify the term unpronounced: The ess is pronounced, but it takes the sound of ze, the twenty-sixth (and final) letter in the English alphabet.

7.23: An alternative practice

options outlined above may prefer the system, formerly more common, of simply omitting the possessive s on all words ending in s

Those entries do not show agreement with Strunk—they show that there are alternatives that may be used to “avoid an awkward appearance,” and they give the option of “simply omitting the possessive s on all words ending in s” in stark contrast to Strunk’s imperative to “Follow this rule whatever the final consonant.” Two of the examples given are Charles’s friend and Burns’s poems, both wrong and neither in complete agreement with the Chicago Manual of Style.

Laura, I spent some time on your site at http://terriblywrite.wordpress.com. I enjoyed my visit, and had you provided a counter for votes similar to the one I use on my blog, I would have rated your work excellent. You are quite thorough and successful in your quest to find errors in the writings of others, and you effectively use humor in pointing out the errors albeit, in my opinion, humor tinged with a certain measure of contempt for the inept writer.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

 

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