Critical Ammunition; A Class of Their Own; Bottled Up; In the Dark; Cross Reference; Moving Memoir

Illustration by Alex Westgate

• 961 words

Illustration by Alex Westgate

Critical ammunition

I appreciate Chris Hedges’ passion (“Vigilante Nation,” September), but as an American citizen I recognize that his fervour distorts the United States. Loaded phrases (“the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party,” “survivalist cult,” “language of violence”) are more emotional than reasoned. Yes, the US has a serious problem: too many mass shootings. Were the causes as simple and one-dimensional as Hedges contends, we might simply rely on legislation and gun control. But we can’t.

I would encourage anyone to read this cover story, but Canadians should not accept the writer’s perspective as the singular truth—or even a close approximation.

Misty A. Sampson
Sudbury, ON

The Walrus traditionally provides a balanced view of how Canadians view Canada and the world. “Vigilante Nation” is an unfortunate exception.

American gun violence cannot be explained by Chris Hedges’ deplorable rant. The US lacks a revolutionary tradition, he claims. The government has absolved itself of true responsibility over gun control, because guns have never been turned against the state. Such bald, unsubstantiated assertions will only appeal to those readers who enjoy a good bashing of anything American.

Lewis Ware
Montgomery, AL

“Vigilante Nation” is worth the price of admission—passionate, yet sad and troubling. It is one of the most provocative articles I’ve read in some time. Well researched and blunt, but also full of caring, this essay needs to be read and understood by every Canadian, especially those who govern us, and hopefully by our neighbours to the south.

Don Graves
Hamilton, ON

Growing up in the US, I learned from teachers, John Wayne, the Lone Ranger, Zane Grey, radio, comic books, and Disney that the gun is America’s primary icon. I also learned that frontier history can evolve quickly into myth, empowering a nation with intense purpose, a political compass, and a moral justification for almost anything (so it was for the Greeks and the Romans, who enrobed their conquests in the mythic mantles of Homer and Virgil). The American Revolution, the Civil War, the Indian Wars each reinforced manifest destiny, and all were possible thanks to the likes of Smith & Wesson, Winchester, Remington, and Colt.

Let us remember Nietzsche’s observation that “madness is rare in the individual—but in groups, parties, peoples, and ages it is the rule.”

Thomas McKeown
Montreal, QC

A class of their own

Maybe I would not envy the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan so much if my personal savings occupied a similar economic universe (“Pension Envy,” September). But such funds pay no tax—a point John Lorinc fails to make. For those of us who work for ourselves, capital gains and income tax do much more to stunt retirement growth than management fees do. Our more humble investments in small businesses and real estate do more to foster innovation, and to enhance social cohesion. Not everyone can aspire to the kind of wealth Ontario teachers have lucked in to.

James Palmer
Ottawa, ON

Bottled Up

For all the focus on drug abuse (“The Fix,” September), the elephant in the room—the drug that likely affects more families than all other substances combined—is still alcohol. Despite its pervasiveness, effective treatments and social supports remain limited. Today heavy smokers can access prescription drugs (Wellbutrin) to reduce their cravings; alcoholics have the Twelve Steps. We have come a long way in treating the abuse of illicit drugs, but we should focus on the seemingly pedestrian drug that hits closer to home for many of us.

Noel Chester
Hamilton, ON

In the Dark

In “Masters of the Universe” (September), Craille Maguire Gillies makes subtly misleading statements about dark matter (“thought by some to constitute more than 80 percent of the universe”). In fact, its existence is a consensus position among physicists; consistent evidence comes from multiple independent sources, including the motion of stars, the large-scale structure of the universe, and the cosmic microwave radiation formed in the early universe. Furthermore, the writer does not distinguish between the mass and energy composition of the universe. It is necessary to qualify that dark matter comprises over 80 percent of the mass but only 20 percent of the total energy. The dominant contribution comes from dark energy (distinct from dark matter and responsible for the universe’s accelerated expansion), which comprises about 70 percent.

Gordan Krnjaic
Waterloo, ON

Cross reference

My one complaint with Emily Landau’s excellent review of David Rakoff’s Love (“American Dreamer,” September) concerns her characterization of Christianity as a religion that “focuses on spirituality and the afterlife,” rather than action. This is an unfortunate caricature: churches offer shelter for the homeless, lobby on behalf of the poor and incarcerated, and so on. Landau could have discussed Rakoff’s ethos without such a polarizing and incorrect comparison.

Ann Jervis
Toronto, ON

Moving Memoir

This appeared in the November 2013 issue.

“The time has come,” The Walrus said, “to talk of many things.” Send us a letter, an email ([email protected]), or a tweet, or post on this website. Comments may be published in any medium and edited for length, clarity, and accuracy. Mail correspondence to: 411 Richmond St. E., Suite B15, Toronto, Ontario, Canada  M5A 3S5

Alex Westgate was commissioned by the Royal Canadian Mint to commemorate twenty-five years of the loonie.

  • Sigmund Roseth


    Stephen Harper might yet go down in history as the Prime
    Minister who finally managed to reform the Senate.

    It could not have worked out much better if he planned it
    this way. Harper came to power vowing to reform or abolish the senate; and indeed, the first senators he appointed had to agree to support his reform efforts. Then it all went off the rails. Did he foresee that by appointing shallow “pseudo-celebrities” like Duffy and Wallin; or borderline cretins like Patrick Brazeau, whose only claim to fame was being native Canadian and having some role in a marginal native organisation, he would set the stage for the Senate’s exit?

    It would be ascribing too great sagacity and prescience to
    Mr. Harper to suggest he planned it this way. He seems, however, to have stumbled on the perfect solution to getting Canadians behind him on the Senate file.

    He is no longer promoting “abolishment”; his new mantra is “reform”
    (wasn’t that Preston Manning’s bailiwick?). He certainly has the opportunity now, with his self-inflicted (or planned?) senate scandals on the front burner in Parliament.

    Abolishment was likely a non starter in any event. Reforming
    the sleepy hollow would be easier, and make more sense, if by reform we mean an elected senate; which Harper alluded to in question
    period. Not all our senators are “political retirees”; many, nay most, are honest and do useful work in committees and other groups. However, the senate lacks effective oversight; policing oneself
    is no policing at all. With an electorate to answer to directly, there should be more real and responsible work done.

    Democracy is never easy; but, paraphrasing Winston Churchill, it is better than all the other ways of governance. Yet, when major changes are made, reversing them is not usually an option, an never easy; so any tinkering with governmental structures like senate reform must be due with due diligence and extreme caution.

    There is a danger that an elected senate; especially if
    elected by the provinces as a purview of the provincial electorate will become just that: provincial. We could also, inadvertently if not careful in its construct, create a countervailing force that could become brake rather than a check on parliamentary power; and we could end up in the polarized, confrontational upper and lower house a la the American two-house spectacle we have recently witness across the border.

    We can only hope that if this comes to pass; it will be handled
    with the same steady hand, wisdom and foresight our political representatives had when they repatriated the constitution and gave us the Bill of Rights.