Thinking of language on a beautiful, hot summer day.

Languages evolve. That’s a truism, of course. It’s inevitable but some of us like to hold on to some of the rules of grammar, syntax, spelling and composition we learned in school and the new constructions grate a little.

I learned both French and English in school including their different yet sometimes related words, spellings, compositional dictates and tone. Of course, both French and English have evolved but it might be more precise to say  that English actually evolved from French and German. English, it has been said, is the garbage pail of languages. Everything gets thrown in there and very few seem to mind. That said, English has done very well for itself, especially with a helping hand from colonialism.

In English, generally, if one wants to pluralize a word, one simply adds an s to it although there are a number of exceptions. That’s clear with words that end in y. Baby becomes babies, and so on. Army becomes armies. But, hold on, why do the British in general refer to army in the plural, as in: “The army, they marched for days on end.” Now, that’s perverse in my mind. An army is a unit and the word army should always be used in the singular. Now, if more than one army is the subject of interest, then, by all means, use armies. So,  there are many ways of indicating the plural in English, but there is a lot of confusion these days with words like data, media, agenda and  the like. The singular forms of these words, for your edification, are datum, medium and agendum. It’s rare these days in the communications media to hear or read the word media used as a plural noun. It’s consistently used as a singular noun as in: “The media is going to get it with Trump as president.”

Data is the same thing. That famous character on Star Trek named Data should probably have been called Datum. Scientists and science broadcasters should know better. When they report that the data indicates this or that, I must confess that I cringe a little. The data may indicate many things and I’m quite happy about that, but the data ‘it’ does this or that is just wrong. In a recent CBC interview I heard a scientist being interviewed by a well-meaning but slightly inattentive interviewer. He properly referred to a particularly virulent bacterium several times and the interviewer returned with bacteria in reply every time.

Same thing for agenda, which is the plural form of agendum. If you have a meeting you have an agendum, I suppose, if you’re properly organized. You may, however, have hidden agenda, meaning that you may have several preferred outcomes for a discussion you may be involved in leading you to steer decisions in your favour.

However, things aren’t always so simple. Lacuna is the singular of lacunae and algae is the singular of alga.

I know the language is evolving. I’m not tilting at windmills here. Still, there is a part of me that is somewhat nostalgic for the ‘proper’ use of English. There, I said it. Send in the trolls.

 

 

 

 

 I finally understand poetry: my dance with Matt Rader (with choreography by Denis Dutton).

Enough of politics for a bit. This post is about my mistress, art, and Matt Rader, of course.

One of my favourite poets is Matt Rader. Not only because I know him personally, but because of the evocativeness of his poetry (and his prose) and the stunning imagery with which it teases and challenges me.

I’ve been re-reading his book of poems called Desecrations which he published in 2016. It’s a delightful acid trip of a romp through the brush strokes of words and sentences that eventually come together in his poetic evocations.

I’m a painter. I put paint on canvas, paper or wood sometimes with the intent of producing an image that is recognizable, sometimes I stretch my own imagination, pushing the viewer to see the world in ways that challenge long held pathways of recognition and understanding. But, whatever my intent, I cannot control the viewer’s experience of my work.

In the same way, Rader’s intentions in writing his poems are essentially outside the reader’s remit. The reader must read Rader’s poetry just as he or she might gaze upon the images that are the realm of the visual arts.

I’ve attended a few readings by Matt Rader. They’ve always been a challenge for me. I’d think to myself: “What does he want to say with this poem? Where does his imagery come from? What do his lines, as evocative as they are, mean in relationship to one another?” I think that I might have provoked him occasionally to inwardly give his head a shake with my questions which, I admit, were coloured by decades of teaching sociology. I hadn’t realized that his poems, his words, his lines are akin to strokes of the brush on one of my paintings or pencil marks on one of my drawing. I myself have sometimes bristled when a viewer of my work questioned my use of colour or line or imagery. I often don’t know why I’m drawn to certain subject matter or approach and why I would use acrylic paint or watercolour rather than oil paints, or why, on occasion, printing appeals to me more than simply producing one off works.

Matt Rader paints poems with exquisite brush strokes, modelling and carving design, energy and landscape in much the same way I create a drawing or painting. There is no need to explain things to me anymore, Matt, not the juxtaposition of incongruity, not the process by which you carefully craft images, not the incredible research you undertake to bring historical moments, characters, places and events to a life they could never previously have known. You especially don’t have to explain to me the sources of your choices. I get it. At least I think I do.

Part of my epiphany came from my reading of Denis Dutton’s The ART INSTINCT: Beauty, Pleasure, and Human Evolution (2009). Reading Dutton it came to me that I was being too analytical in my assessment of poetry and maybe of art in general. Instead of riding the waves of imagery and luxuriating in the richness of expression, metaphor, simile, and characterization, I was losing myself in my frontal cortex, judging rather than enjoying. Now, reading Matt’s Desecrations again I can simply feel the words as they interweave and congeal into images and sensations, much as I l did in the Orangerie museum in Paris a decade ago surrounded by Claude Monet’s majestic paintings of his beloved Giverny water lilies. Thank you, Matt.

 

 

Let’s not dump on The Comox Valley Record. I may have forgotten to press ‘send’ when I submitted my letter re: Ronna-Rae Leonard last week.

Okay. So the lesson for today is not to forget to press ‘send’. I’m not positive that’s what happened but Terry Farrell, the editor of The Record swears they never got my letter and I believe him. Next time, if there is a next time, I will send it directly to Terry’s email address and probably call him to confirm that he got it!

Some folks posted disparaging remarks about The Record on Facebook because in my blog post I wrote: “My letter was not published. I don’t know why…” In doing so, I chose my words carefully so as not to blame The Record directly for not publishing my letter. Some people interpreted my words as an attack on The Record. They were not intended to be and if I’ve caused Terry Farrell and The Record undue stress, I apologize.

In hindsight, I did wonder why the paper didn’t pick up my letter. I should have picked up the phone at that moment and called Terry to confirm whether or not he had received my letter although, in my defence, I thought that Terry was out of town collecting a Ma Murray award for editorial excellence and that was maybe why it hadn’t been picked up. Just goes to show you, assumptions can be completely unfounded and we can all be fallible…even me!

So, sorry if I may have prompted some of you to dump on The Record. It was no doubt unfounded in this case. That doesn’t mean we should give the paper an easy ride. Newspapers, although privately owned, have a responsibility to the public to report the news accurately and in a timely fashion. I’m sure Terry would agree with that. He didn’t win the Ma Murray for nothing.

All this said, I don’t retract for one moment the content of my letter. My original blog post containing my wayward letter and the following post stand as written. Furthermore, I don’t intend to let this issue just fade away.

We need good quality, safe and affordable housing in this Valley and not just for the people with lots of money. If we don’t believe we’re all in this together and that we have a responsibility to every member of our community, we’re deluding ourselves and setting ourselves up for serious discord and social breakdown.

 

Why are mittens and soup so superior to affordable and social housing?

This is an addendum to my last post. Please Share.

So, in my last post I defended Ronna-Rae Leonard, NDP candidate for the riding of Courtenay-Comox, against ridiculous and scurrilous partisan attacks published in The Comox Valley Record by people clearly associated with the Liberal campaign in that riding. I wasn’t wrong in doing that, but then I thought about it again and realized there was just something not quite right about my approach because the letters to the editor by Clancy and Murray were right in a sense and I hadn’t really addressed clearly why and how they were right. During a wakeful period last night I finally put it all together and figured out what the issues really were (and are).

According to the letters to the editor by Clancy and Murray, Ronna-Rae’s failing was that she, or rather the Comox Valley Housing Task Force that she chaired, “didn’t provide one pair of mittens, bowl of soup, pair of socks or shelter for one needy or homeless person.” (this quote is from Murray’s letter in the May 4th edition of The Record). Well, that’s true. And there’s a good reason for that.

Charity does not solve the problems of homelessness and poverty. It perpetuates them. Over the last decade or so municipalities all over North America have come to realize that and have moved to an entirely different way of tackling the homelessness issue. It’s called Housing First. I’ll get back to that, but for the moment I need to address the issue of charity.

So what’s so appealing about charity? Why is charity so important to Murray? Well, to put it simply, charity is about the giver and not the receiver. According to Christian morality, a morality that’s infused in all of our culture whether we believe or not, charity is a way of buying our way into heaven or in secular terms it’s a way of making us feel better, a way of dealing with our guilt. This is all very complicated and requires a whole other blog post. For now, suffice it to say that charity by way of soup kitchens and shelters is fine because soup kitchens and shelters provide givers with a place to give and feel good about it. Affordable, supportive housing doesn’t do that at all so, for some people, it’s useless. The implication is that the poor are morally corrupt. We don’t want to provide them with too much help because they are responsible for their own misfortune. Mittens and soup are as far as we want to go in helping out.

I concluded some time ago after years of research that the solution to homelessness and a lot of its related consequences in mental illness, drug abuse and alienation lies not in charity but rather in a program called Housing First (Google it) that puts homeless residents in homes first where they can experience some security and peace and where they can work on their personal issues in safety with support from health professionals as needed. I’m sure Ronna-Rae Leonard agrees with me in this. Of course, in the Valley there is a huge shortage of affordable housing making the Housing First model difficult to implement.

The reality is that charity costs a lot of money. The Salvation Army Pidcock House is not cheap to operate and receives some public money. Hundreds of hours of volunteer time go into providing meals for the homeless at Saint George’s church. From what I know, most, if not all, Maple Pool residents receive government subsidies in the form of social assistance. It’s my understanding that the housing allowance of $375 per month they receive goes to the operators of Maple Pool. Hypothetically, if there are 50 residents in the Maple Pool campground that amounts to $18,750 per month. That’s money that essentially keeps residents in substandard, unsafe and unsanitary conditions with little in the way of support for addiction or mental health issues. I swear that if I had to live in conditions like those at Maple Pool I’d want to get drunk or stoned every day. What other means of escape are there? You tell me. The cost to the health system of dealing with the homeless is very high. We know that Housing First substantially reduces those costs.

As I noted above, one of the major problems we are experiencing these days is the fact that there is precious little affordable housing available in the Valley. It’s a crisis according to many front line social workers. Shelters and soup kitchens aren’t going to do anything to alleviate that problem. Because the market has not been able to build affordable housing, it’s up to the federal, provincial and municipal governments to step in and do it. We need all kinds of housing in the Valley, not just fancy, single family homes for the relatively well to do. We need affordable, supportive housing and we need it now. If we don’t do it, the cost to all of us will soon be overwhelming with social unrest, increasing crime and poor health taking more and more effort and money to manage.

People who advocate charity over supportive housing just haven’t thought the problem through carefully enough. Maybe it’s time to get serious about real solutions and not just perpetuate ways to allow charitable givers a vehicle to feel good and buy their way into heaven.

Ronna-Rae Leonard, local NDP candidate, unjustly slammed by her political foes.

This blog post is for residents of the Comox Valley. Please SHARE! Yes it’s long, but please read it to the end. 

Below is a letter I sent to the publisher of the Comox Valley Record last week in response to a letter published in an earlier edition by Dick Clancy, a close associate of our last Conservative MP John Duncan and reputedly now associated with the Liberal campaign although, I admit, I don’t know him personally nor much about him. However, his political affiliations and his letter (see it here) don’t leave much doubt about his political leanings. To suggest that Ronna-Rae would want the residents of Maple Pool thrown out onto the streets is ludicrous and insulting in the extreme.

My letter was not published. I don’t know why, but I think it’s worth publishing myself here because I just can’t sit by and do nothing knowing Ronna-Rae and what she stands for, her integrity and commitment to social housing. I’m quite certain I know where the truth lies and it’s not in Clancy’s letter.

Here’s my letter:

To the editor, Comox Valley Record.

I read with interest the letter in your April 25th edition by Dick Clancy. He’s pretty coy is Mr. Clancy for a person who says everyone running in the election agrees that this should be a ‘transparent’ campaign. If he really believes in transparency, he should declare up front which candidate and party he supports in the election because his letter looks like an attempt to smear the NDP candidate. It looks a lot like a political hatchet job. Come on, Mr. Clancy, tell us who you’ll be voting for so we can judge your letter for what it is.

I will tell you up front that I am voting NDP in the coming provincial election. I would vote for Ronna-Rae Leonard, but I don’t live in her riding. I will be voting for Scott Fraser.

I don’t blame Mr. Clancy for being partisan, I am. I do blame him for hiding behind a call for transparency in order to suggest that Ronna-Rae Leonard would want the residents of Maple Pool thrown into the streets. That is a patently absurd accusation. I worked with Ms. Leonard on the Housing Task Force here in the Valley before its mandate expired about 4 years ago. Ronna-Rae Leonard has worked tirelessly over the years on behalf of homeless residents of the Valley.

In my opinion, it’s people like Dick Clancy and Larry Jangula who have blocked the construction of decent affordable and supportive housing in the Valley, not Ronna-Rae Leonard.

The in-camera council votes don’t tell the whole story. Frankly, I’d love to see an independent inquiry into exactly why Maple Pool continues to exist and why there hasn’t been any supportive and affordable housing built in the Valley for decades.

Roger Albert

Cumberland, BC

On May 2nd The Comox Valley Record published a letter by Fredrick Smith challenging Clancy. It was fine but somewhat off topic in my mind. It didn’t challenge to snide innuendo in Clancy’s letter about Ronna-Rae wanting to throw Maple Pool residents out on the street as evidenced by her in-camera Courtenay Council votes on a lawsuit around Maple Pool.

On May 4th, The Comox Valley Record published a letter by Irene Murray full of innuendo and attacks on Ronna-Rae, attacks which are groundless and based on political ideology. It’s true that the Housing Task Force had limited success. I know. I sat on one of its committees and was paid to write a report on what municipalities can do to encourage affordable housing in the Valley.

There are some people in the Valley who are fine with giving poor people charity (soup and mittens) but not with providing them with adequate, safe housing. Every community around us (Campbell River, Port Alberni and Nanaimo) have built affordable social housing. The Comox Valley is alone in not doing so. I can assure you that’s not Ronna-Rae’s fault.

The Wealthy Need The Poor

Just a quick note to start off the day. The title says it all. The wealthy need the poor. In fact, it doesn’t matter who ends up poor, it just matters that many people do. I mean, who can know if someone is wealthy if there are no poor people around to compare them to? No, poor people are essential to the wealthy for many reasons. First, they make a great cautionary tale, as in, “see what can happen to you, my child if you don’t put your nose to the grindstone, work hard, aspire to the things that make us rich and believe in free entreprise, because mygawd it’s our way to glory and eternity.” Of course, in the same vein, they are also a great example of how not to live your life. “Those people have made a poor choice in parents. You’ve at least started life not making that mistake!” They are also a great source of cheap labour and can’t save any money so everything they make goes right back into the hands of business. What a great setup.

Actually, it’s  really quite simple. We live in a class society no matter how much we attempt to deny it. Wealth and poverty are a consequence of that, not the cause. So we have rich and poor people as an inevitable consequence of the way our society has evolved. Wealth is a major moral goal so poverty must be a major moral failure. So we merrily blame the poor for their circumstances and for all the ills of the world. We don’t have the good sense to see who and what are really to blame.

Strangely enough, there is no such thing as ‘capitalism’, which is a word that would describe a system of wealth accumulation that can be compared to the evil isms, socialism and communism. Capitalism is an a-historical concept that fails to take history into account. Capital accumulation and the rapid concentration of wealth in finance capital will come to an end. What will come after? I have some sense of that in very broad terms but that’s the subject of another post.

The Dorm

When I was twelve years old my parents sent me away to boarding school in Edmonton. It was at great sacrifice for them and for the family because with my many siblings needing attention and money spent on them, investing as much as they did in me was surely a hardship. The parish paid for my tuition and that sort of thing, but my parents still had to dish out lots of cash for my expenses like hockey equipment, clothes, outings and sundry other things. Attending Collège St-Jean was a privilege because I got a very good classical education in French and English and I can still speak French more or less fluently to this day because of it. I doubt if I would have gone to university later without this early experience.

I was a student at the Collège St-Jean on the south side of Edmonton for 4 years starting in 1959. I went for a fifth year but couldn’t handle it and came home after a couple of weeks. I was a bit of a psychological mess. I’m sure I badgered my parents to attend this boarding school over a thousand kilometres from home because all of my friends were going too. In fact, there were 40 of us boys from BC attending the College in the early 60s. As I said, it was a privilege attending the College, but it was not all fun and games. The testosterone alone was choking as was the odor in the dorm. We played a lot of sports and not all of us were careful with our personal grooming…and that’s putting it gently.

The first 2 years I attended the College I slept in a dorm with 124 other guys 12 to 15 years of age. Five rows of bunk beds were the main feature of this building along with a narrow washroom/shower room containing probably 5 or 6 shower stalls and as many toilets along with a whole row of sinks where we would wash, brush our teeth and admire ourselves in the mirrors. This is  how I remember the dorm:

Dorm

This is how I remember my relationship with the priests who ran the school:

Blue me.jpg

Well, that’s a little unfair because some of the priests at the College were caring and respectful men. Some were less so and some were downright violent, not that my friends and I didn’t deserve a little chastisement from time to time. In fact, at times we were not the best examples of good behaviour. In fact, we were often little shits. I won’t go into detail but I’m sure we deserved any punishment we got.

It’s only in recent years that I’ve been able to look back on my College days with some degree of objectivity. It was a very emotional time but that’s the way it is for teens.