Monthly Archives: August 2014

Don’t Make an ‘S of Yourself

It’s time for a language lesson – that bugaboo of so many: the possessive s.

Let’s start with the worst offender: its. Notice that there is no apostrophe. None of the personal pronouns use the apostrophe in their possessive forms. We don’t write hi’s, her’s or our’s, so don’t write it’s for the possessive. What makes it confusing is that, unlike the other pronouns, “it’s” is a valid word. It’s the contraction of “it is” or “it has,” like the first word in this sentence. Got it? Good. It’s reassuring to know that you understand its rule.

The standard rule for nouns is even simpler. Add apostrophe S to make the possessive of a singular noun, e.g. a dog’s life. If the noun is plural ending in s, then the apostrophe goes after the S, e.g. dogs’ lives. If the plural ends in another letter, like children, treat it like the singular and add apostrophe s (Children’s Hour). Nearly everyone gets this right. Where the trouble usually begins is with nouns that end in S, especially names. Like mine. This blog is not Russ’ blog. It is Russ’s blog. That’s right. Even as I am typing this, the Firefox spellchecker is marking Russ’s as wrong and Russ’ as right, even though it should be the other way around. In short, the correct way is to treat words ending in S the same as all other words.

The only exception is for those rare words that end in two successive pronounced S sounds, like Jesus or narcissus. One easy way to think of this is to think how you pronounce the word. The possessive of Russ is pronounced differently from the singular Russ, i.e. it rhymes with trusses, not truss. You pronounce an extra S sound, so it is spelled with an extra S after the apostrophe. But the possessive of Jesus is pronounced the same as the word Jesus, i.e. in Jesus’ name we pray. So Jesus just take the apostrophe without the extra S. Take another example. Suppose you had a friend named Jones. If you wanted to visit him you might say “Let’s go to Jones’s house.” You wouldn’t say “Let’s go to Jones’ house” because that sounds like you’re saying “Let’s go to Joan’s house.” In other words, you pronounce the possessive S, so it takes the apostrophe S. And if Jones had a family, you might say, “I see the Joneses.” There is no possessive and no S; it’s just the plural. But if you visited them, you might say I went to the Joneses’ house.” Notice that you pronounce the plural possessive the same way you pronounce the simple plural. So you just add on the apostrophe without another S. In short, if you pronounce the plural with an extra S sound, you must add the extra S after the apostrophe. If not, no.

Our Ignorant Newsies – Chris Jansing Edition

Pearls from the mouth of Chris Jansing, the Barbie doll-like White House reporter for NBC news, all in one 5-minute report today:

“The administration acknowledges that they underestimated the ability of the Iraqi security forces to protect against ISIS…”
(Since the Iraqi security forces utterly failed, she meant they overestimated their ability).

Speaking of the President…”You could see his palpable reluctance …
(“Palpable” means something you can feel, not see. It’s like saying you could smell the sound of his voice.)

He reiterated once again…”
(Reiterating is saying once again).

I don’t think she was chosen for the job for her IQ. It is a visual medium. Just sayin’.

My Blackberry is frozen

A long time ago I posted a link to this video in a geocaching log. I was reminded of that recently by a post in . I don’t know why I posted that link in that spot, but it’s certainly worth watching again.

TV driving

Have you ever noticed how people drive on TV? I’m not talking about the car chases or scenes from a distance. They drive like pros there. I’m talking about those close-up shots in the front seat where the driver is talking to a passenger. They wiggle the driving wheel all over the place. If they drove like that in real life they’d flip the car every time they went to the grocery store. Not only that, they don’t look at the road. They look over at the passenger for 30 seconds or more at a time. I can’t pay any attention to what they’re saying because I’m waiting for the crash. Or for the pedestrian to fly over the windshield. Of course I know that they aren’t actually driving. They’re sitting in a car on a flatbed truck and the truck driver is doing all the actual vehicle operation. Which is why all the buildings don’t look right, either. They’re too low when you look out the car window. Is there no TV director in the world who actually drives himself or herself? It’s Hollywood, for heaven’s sake. Everyone drives in LA. Why do they let their actors do that? Sheesh.

Unabomber – a very mixed bag

Unabomber: How the FBI Broke Its Own Rules to Capture the Terrorist Ted KaczynskiUnabomber: How the FBI Broke Its Own Rules to Capture the Terrorist Ted Kaczynski by Jim Freeman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoy real-crime books, especially those involving the FBI, and I enjoyed this one, but it’s not for everyone. It’s full of many nuggets of fascinating facts buried in a mountain of pedestrian writing. Since I do offer some criticisms, let me first say that the authors and the whole Unabomber Task Force members mentioned here presided over the identification, capture and successful prosecution of the Unabomber, a serial killer. You or I might have been his next victim had they not succeeded. Results matter and they got the results, so they deserve credit for that. Bravo. But this is a book review, not a performance review.

First, the good. The book gives a very realistic view of the FBI, exposing many errors, foibles, egos, and so forth without sugar-coating. It provides many details of the case that I had never read about before, like the fact that for 16 years, no one who worked the case bothered to check to see if one of the first bombs, one found lying on the ground with plenty of postage, would fit in the nearest mailbox. All kinds of theories were formed about why the bomber chose to plant it there instead of mailing it. How is it possible no one thought that this might be due to the fact it wouldn’t fit in the mailbox? The federal jurisdiction was so fractured that the various agencies (ATF, FBI, Postal Inspectors) were not even aware that three of the bombs were made by the same bomber for years because they didn’t compare notes or case files. One of the bomb labs thought one bomb was intended to be a dud. Later, the other two agency labs disproved that. And so on. If you’re a fan of this kind of crime detail, as I am, this book is worth wading through.

The high point of the book is not how the case was finally solved. It was solved not by the FBI but by the Unabomber himself the same way most criminals are caught. He kept committing crimes until he made a mistake and exposed himself. In this case, he wrote a “manifesto” and sent it to some newspapers, and when it was published someone who knew him, a relative, turned him in. This sort of crowdsourcing is as old as the hills. Before TV and the Internet it was done with wanted posters. But basically, he outed himself by his arrogance, insane compulsive hatred, and his need to promote his “philosophy.”

That’s not to take away from all the hard work done by the task force, both before and after he was identified. Just because various methods didn’t work doesn’t mean they weren’t worth trying or that anyone was deficient. Many clever approaches were tried but did not pan out. That’s no doubt reality in law enforcement.

Where the book shines is in how it highlights what’s wrong with the FBI and other federal law enforcement. We see in this book the comedy of errors that early investigators made, gleefully pointed out by the main author of this book. Disturbing as it is to see him put down others not under his command, he may be doing the public a service. He takes pride in showing how superior his crew was, at least in his mind. The problem with that theory is that he and his crew came no closer to identifying the Unabomber than his predecessors. It took the Unabomber’s brother, an Ivy League graduate, to do that. Maybe the FBI should be recruiting there, or at MIT and Caltech, instead of in the usual haunts. Maybe they should be looking at SAT scores rather than the ability to wrestle felons to the ground. It’s the Federal Bureau of Investigation, for Pete’s sake, not the Federal Bureau of Patrol. If the FBI had put a couple agents with IQ’s equal to those of the Unabomber and his brother on the case early on, perhaps the fatalities (which came later) might never have happened. We’ll never know.  The FBI still thinks of itself as a police agency instead of an investigation agency. It should be the varsity, but Freeman makes them look like bouncers with college degrees. In the British system, Scotland Yard Inspectors, brainiacs (theoretically at least) who don’t carry guns, do the investigating and call in the brawny constables when an arrest needs to be made. Something like that could be done with the FBI, but of course that will never happen. The pay and early pension of the FBI, higher than regular civil servants and even higher than other federal investigative agencies, is keyed to the “danger” and “stress” and need to carry weapons, so they have to be given police work to justify that. Freeman and his crew do deserve kudos for the excellent planning and execution of the arrest at least.

As for the writing, my description as pedestrian is charitable. The book is replete with grammar, punctuation, and wrong word errors. (Ordinance for ordnance, poured for pored, rationale for rational, feint for faint, etc.) The authors should have splurged and hired an editor, or at least a proofreader. The primary author (the SAC) seems never to have learned the objective case, or maybe just doesn’t recognize a preposition or transitive verb when he sees one. (“joined Terry and I”, “paused to urge both he and Joel” etc.) This mistake permeated the whole book, with only one instance of correct pronoun usage (at 62% of the way through according to my Kindle) when there were multiple objects. Maybe he missed 7th grade. 90% of the book consists of descriptions of meetings and how he wrested or kept control from other bureaucrats. It sounded like he viewed other agency heads and FBI executives as the main enemy rather than the Unabomber. His self-congratulatory tone is also hard to stomach since the SAC’s main contribution, beyond appointing some competent worker bees, seems to be buying donuts and occasionally interrupting his golf game to listen to what the bees actually accomplished.

Perhaps most troubling is the pervasive cowardice described during the end game by FBI executives, prosecutors, and DOJ officials. No one was willing to make a decision about whether to release the manifesto, or whether to arrest or search Kaczynski because if it turned out wrong, it would hurt their career. If you care about your career, you shouldn’t be in the FB I or DOJ. You should be caring about protecting the public from killers. How about just doing what is most likely to result in the capture of the killer? This concept seemed easy enough for the journeyman agents to understand – Puckett, Moss, and Noel, assuming the book has it right. They seem to be the ones who finally got the impetus going to do what’s right. This top-level cowardice aspect left me with a despairing feeling about the future of he FBI, but this stark reality depicted here is probably what is most important in this book. Let’s hope Director Comey reads it.

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