Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Wacky politics!

It’s always difficult belonging to a union when the industrial action you take hurts not the rich capitalist bosses who are trying to rip the shirt off your back, but an innocent third party who gets caught in the crossfire. It is particularly difficult when you’re a teacher and it’s your students who get hurt, and not the school board or the government. Where do your loyalties lie? To your colleagues or your students?

Gary Mason writes in the Globe this morning about a teacher who is defying his union and upsetting his colleagues by continuing to coach his girls’ soccer team rather than let them down and spoil their year. Good for him!

Why has it come to this? I haven’t been following BC teachers’ politics, but why can’t the issue be settled by binding arbitration as in other provinces, or final-offer arbitration as in other countries?

Much as I love the climate out here, I have to say that the politics are often wacky!

Sunday, 13 May 2012

An open letter to the Globe and Mail

For almost a year now I’ve been amusing myself by writing a blog. It helps to pass the time and satisfies the inner need to be creative in some way. As a retired English teacher, and a former member of a raging grammarian group of like-minded curmudgeons, I decided to write a grammar blog. And what really prompted me, and provided most of the substance of my blog, was the growing number of errors that I was noticing in my favourite newspaper, the Globe and Mail. One in particular incurred my wrath, and threatened an apoplectic fit, but I’ll come to that later.

I realize that some people would call me old-fashioned. I have to admit that language evolves and that many of the neologisms that I abhor have found their way into the dictionary. I still say “sneaked” instead of “snuck” or “dived” instead of  “dove”. I can’t bring myself to “access” my bank account. Nor would I ever have a “fun” time. I admit that I’m probably picky, and many of my bĂȘtes noirs have now become common currency.

So I just have to get over it when the Globe uses “forecasted” instead of “forecast”, or “fortuitous” instead of “fortunate” or “disinterested” instead of  “uninterested”, or “fulsome” instead of “full”, or “comprises” instead of “constitutes”, or “enormity” instead of “enormousness”. When enough people use a word incorrectly, it eventually becomes correct.

However, many of the changes in usage I observe in the Globe have not yet become acceptable, even if they are current among the young. Just recently, in the Travel section I read:

For people bored of playing war on their video-game systems, the "Seal Team Six" package comes with a semi-automatic rifle so advanced that it can only be named with a series of letters and numbers - the MR556A1.... (Globe, 13 March, 2012)

True, there is no rhyme or reason behind which preposition goes after a particular verb. Thus one may be "tired of", "exhausted from", "fed up with", addicted to", "intrigued by" playing video games. But most people would be bored with it.

Indeed, many of the errors that I notice have not yet become acceptable in standard English, and should not be found in a newspaper that used to take pride in modelling correct usage, and still follows, I believe, its own stylebook, which would decry the errors it makes.

For example, the Globe and Mail stylebook would explain the distinction in Canadian English between “licence” (the noun) and “license” (the verb). In the example below, the writer has probably let his better judgement be overruled by the American spell-check on the computer.

Unlike health cards, which usually aren't sent out for a few weeks after a replacement request has been fulfilled, a temporary driver's license can be issued after the forms have been processed (Globe, 23 August, 2011).

A glance at his own driver’s licence would have confirmed the correct spelling.

Similarly the Globe seems to have a problem with “prophecy” and “prophesy”, another pair of verbs where the noun is spelled with a “c” and the verb with an “s”. In a review of a modern derivative of the play Macbeth, we read that:

Bearing news of the witches' prophesies, [the letter] was somewhat carelessly left lying around.... (Globe, 11 September, 2011)

The reference should, of course, be to the witches' prophecies.

Even worse is the error in an article on the Paris Fashion Week.

"Everything is changing," prophesized the designer post show. (Globe, March 18, 2011)

The verb “prophesize” won’t be found in any dictionary.

Apostrophes pose a problem for some of the writers at the Globe.

Statistics Canada released it's annual survey of police-reported crime on Tuesday (Globe, 22 July 2011).

The writer probably knows the difference between "it's", the contraction of "it is", and "its", the possessive. The above error is a slip that would once have been picked up by a proofreader, but in the newspaper industry today, proofreaders have likely been replaced by Spell-check, which has its obvious failings. The same may be true of the following error:

Islamist group's such as the Muslim Brotherhood... argue that... only a parliament chosen by free election can set the terms for a constitution. (Globe, 29 July 2011)

As Pope said, "A little learning is a dangerous thing." Some people learned at school to put an apostrophe before the "s" and extended the rule to every "s" they wrote, including plurals and verbs. Although I haven’t seen it yet, the day may come when I read in the Globe that rock and roll rule’s.

Another common error in the Globe results from the confusion of the uses of  the preposition "like" and the conjunction "as". We often hear this error on sports programs as players make statements such as,

"Like I said, we have to give 110%." 

instead of 

"As I said, we have to give 110%."

But we shouldn't be seeing it in the Globe and Mail.  In an editorial on August 20, 2011, on the crackdown by the Syrian authorities on their people, we read:

Like in Egypt, they (the police) may soon tire of killing the innocent.

Now to the egregious error I have seen many times in the Globe. When it appears, I know that howls of horror are heard across the land. I refer to the writers’ ignorance of the distinction between the transitive verb “lay” and the intransitive verb “lie”. Here’s an example.

She (a tiger) was tranquillized, placed in a snare and forced to lay in wait as the famously tardy leader (Vladimir Putin) got to the site (Globe, 17 March, 2012).

In another example the writer makes two errors in the one sentence as he confuses “careen” and “career” as well as “lie” and “lay”.

Travelling at highway speeds in a wind-powered go-cart.... Who’s it for? Those who would rather careen down a sandy beach than lay on it. (Globe, 12 August, 2011)

As I’m sure many an English teacher has said, we lay our towel on a beach but we lie on the sand. And as Stephen Sondheim put it, you career from career to career, whereas Captain Cook careened his ship on the beach after striking the Great Barrier Reef.

And here is the example of the lie/lay error, which made me tear my hair, scream “What is happening at the Globe?” and post this essay to affirm that some readers still care. In the May 11 edition of  “A moment in time”, with reference to the death of Bob Marley, the writer begins, “

He got up, he stood up, and then he laid down.

Now that error is so bad, that I have to wonder, What is going on at the Globe? O the enormity of it! Do they not know, or do they not care?

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Why I love Victoria (4)

It's a dog city.

The birds around me hopp'd and play'd,
Their thoughts I cannot measure,
But the least motion which they made
It seem'd a thrill of pleasure

Now old Shep has gone where the good doggies go.

Everywhere in Victoria, people walk their dogs. There are even five dog patrol officers to make sure those dogs are licensed. Along parts of Dallas Road the dogs run free, prancing around and chasing each other, fetching balls, and having such fun. Some of them go down to the beach and dive in the sea and proudly swim to shore with a stick or even a small log in their mouths.

Religious sceptic and rational being though I am, evolution doesn't explain for me the ineffable joy these and other animals display as they bound about.

I don't think I've seen so many or such a variety of dogs in any other town.

I used to have a dog with a more outgoing personality than mine. Her name was Tia. Today, when I walk down the street by myself, few people stop and chat. Some even look the other way. But with my dog, it would take me some time just to walk just a few blocks down to the coffee shop. Everyone would stop to pat her. Teenagers would find her cute. Old ladies would tell me about the dog they had lost and we would share our stories.

The veranda of the Moka House on Cook Street was chockers with dogs having coffee with their companions. Big dogs, small dogs, a cross section of the canine kingdom from little lappies to lumbering labs. Tia was less friendly with members of her own species than with humans, so we often had to run the gauntlet to find a spot.

Tia loved the coffee shop. Even in her last days, she wanted to go down for a coffee. Truth to tell, she loved the scraps she would pick up off the floor. She would pull me down the hill in quick time, but on the way back she would take forever. Eventually, it became a one-way trip: I would have to arrange for us to be picked up in the car.

Really, the Moka House is somewhat shabby in appearance, dark inside and rather wooden without, a coffee shop from an earlier time. But the dogs give it colour and character, and you don't notice its dullness. Once, a health inspector banned the dogs from the veranda, and for several months afterwards it was barren and bare. Business dropped off by 25%. Apparently, the health inspector had responded to a complaint from a unsympathetic member of the public. Now who would be so miserable? Eventually reason prevailed, and the dogs came back. I hope the health inspector was reprimanded for not exercising discretion.

I still go to the Moka House from time to time, but it's not the same. I sit alone without a dog.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Why I love Victoria (3)

It's a railway city.

After the first powerful, plain manifesto

The black statement of pistons, without more fuss

But gliding like a queen, she leaves the station.

Victoria is a railway city. Or it was. And will be again soon, I hope. Real towns have railways. The Esquimalt and Nanaimo, the Island's one remaining railway line, is temporarily out of action, but it's supposed to reopen next year with commuter trains running south to Victoria.

Until last year when the poor condition of the track forced closure of the service, you could set your clock by the "whistle" of the little diesel train pulling out of Victoria at eight o'clock in the morning. You couldn't set your clock by the sound of its return because it was rarely on time. But that was part of its charm.

This was a train you would catch for the pleasure of the journey, not to arrive anywhere on time. It would amble along, swaying from side to side on dodgy rails, stopping, before crawling across the ancient wooden trestle above Goldstream Park. It would begin and end at the quaint little station just on the Victoria side of the Johnson Street Bridge, where, alas, it will stop no more, since the short-sighted authorities have failed to fund a railway line across the new bridge.

 There is nothing quite so much fun as walking along a railway line, balancing on the rail, imagining the hordes of navvies building the line a century ago and hearing the old steam trains chugging along.

Victoria was once the terminus for a number of lines running north to Sydney and east to Sooke as well as up to Courtney. Would that they still ran! Three ran up the peninsular, one to Deep Cove and two to Sydney. Parts of these discontinued lines have become the Galloping Goose and Lochside Trails and the path on the west side of Elk Lake. All that remains of Victoria's glorious railway history are the rusty rails of the E&N. For now, all is silent.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Why I love Victoria (2)

It's a sunny city.

Fear no more the heat of the sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages

Victoria is a sunny city. Don't laugh. It is! Victoria is the sunniest city in Canada outside the prairies. And when it's sunny on the prairies, it is usually so bloody cold that it freezes your proverbials. 

Victoria is sunnier than Montreal or Toronto, and all those other soggy cities down east. It ranks sixth in the list of sunny cities in Canada, in the average number of hours of bright sunshine, the average number of days with some bright sunshine, and the percentage of daylight hours that are sunny. That's sixth out of the 26 Canadian metropolitan areas that have a population of more than 150,000. 

Not only that, but everyone knows that the City of Victoria is much sunnier than anywhere else in the capital region, which is measured in the survey. It can be sunny in Fairfield, for example, when it’s raining cats and dogs in Saanich. So the more northern parts of the peninsular with their greater rainfall have skewed the stats, and the City of Victoria is probably higher on the list than sixth. Perhaps it's really the sunniest city in Canada. 

Rare are the occasions when the sun doesn't peep through the clouds at least once during the day. It's something to do with the little microclimate we enjoy on the tip of the island. The clouds swirl around, driven by  conflicting winds which blow the rain away. It can be raining one minute and sunny the next.

It's not unusual for rain to be forecast but not to arrive and it's sunny instead. I call this kind of day - when the weather forecast is delightfully wrong - an ARDIV: another rainy day in Victoria.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Why I love Victoria (1)

Sitting on my couch in pensive mood this morning, enjoying the bliss of solitude, I thought about why I love this place. In no time at all I came up with ten reasons why I love Victoria. Here's the first.

It's a walking city. 

Moreover, he hath left you all his walks,
His private arbors and new-planted orchards,
On this side Tiber. He hath left them you
And to your heirs forever – common pleasures,
To walk abroad and recreate yourselves.

There are walkers everywhere – on the streets and in the parks - slow walkers, fast walkers, power walkers, walkers alone and walkers in groups, walkers with walkers, walkers with dogs, and even walkers with cats.

If you have to take your dog for a walk in the wee small hours of the morning, you will pass someone else doing the same thing. And I used to pass a man walking his cat in the middle of the night. The cat was very timid, and would disappear into a front yard if anyone approached. This would leave his master standing alone on the sidewalk speaking into the darkness. I gave him a wide berth until he explained what he was doing.

In Victoria, motorists stop for pedestrians. They stop for you if you're on a crosswalk, or even if you're not.

You can walk around the harbour, along the ocean front, on the beach, in the city, or through the leafy suburbs looking at heritage homes and modern mansions. Or you can walk in the park.

I maintain without fear of contradiction that Victoria has more parks than any other city in Canada. And I'm not thinking of genteel parks like Beacon Hill with its cultivated gardens, duck ponds and petting zoo. I mean serious parks with real hiking trails like Mount Doug or Thetis Lake or John Deane Park, where you can be in old-growth forest within 20 minutes.

We enjoy these parks today because of the foresight and generosity of our ancestors. The colonial Brits set aside tracts of crown land as public reserves, and some of them have survived subsequent governments and developers. Mount Douglas is one such park. Others like John Deane Park were bequests to the municipality on condition that they never be developed.

In Victoria, you can walk any day of the year. And that is a hint at the second reason why I love this place.