Letters

June 2004

Continental Divide
Regarding Michael Adams’s “Continental Divide” (April/May): Americans, generally, I think, regard us with good-will, but they don’t quite understand why Canada exists.

I think we should be careful to stroke American feelings with well-constructed diplomacy. What the Chrétien government did in response to the Iraq crisis may not have been wrong, and certainly it had majority support in Canada, but what it said was ill-considered.

Canadian nationalism is usually low-key, and in many circles “nationalism” is a bad word. That is not unwise, for though we are free to be different, we should not trumpet the differences too loudly. The United States will not tolerate a rival on its border.
James Allan Evans
Mayne Island, B.C.

Michael Adams argues with his usual verve that the values Canadians report they have differ sharply from those of Americans. I have no quarrel with that; I applaud his attempt to preserve the difference.

The reality that many Canadians face, however, is not as rosy as he depicts. He lumps our social-assistance programs in with those of Europe, in contrast to the U.S. Usually, those who study the problem link Canada and the U.S. together. For instance, despite all the blathering by politicians over the years, one in six Canadian children still lives in a poor family – a far cry from European figures.

How is the disconnect possible? For one thing, three of the most populous provinces have had right-wing governments who savaged the social-assistance programs and their recipients. But behind all that, none other than Paul Martin, in his 1995 budget, cut the provinces fiscally adrift when he cut back on the cost-sharing of social expenditures. Cost-sharing was a quintessentially Canadian device, arising from the recommendations of the Rowell-Sirois Commission in 1940 on how to avoid the political and social chaos of the Great Depression, patiently negotiated during the early 1960s. Martin rammed through Parliament what was tantamount to a constitutional change.

Martin has already demonstrated his ability to move Canada closer to the U.S. Who knows? Would presiding over a minority government stop him?
Pat Kerans
Ottawa

I think Michael Adams is generally correct about how Canadian society has diverged from the values of many Americans. The problem with all of this is that as we have become more different, we have also become more smug, interpreting our difference as a sign of superiority.

Ugh! It’s fine to be different but do we need to belittle ourselves with such an attitude?
Mary-Beth Laviolette
Canmore, Alberta

I am disappointed. You allowed an offensive photograph to appear in your magazine, the magazine of which I was so far an avid and enthusiastic reader. The photograph was chosen to illustrate an interesting article (“The Continental Divide”), but it showed the Last Supper, symbol of Christianity, covered with what looks like a prostitute’s legs in a grotesque pose. The fact that it was done by a renowned photographer is of no consequence. Religious symbols of any kind should be treated respectfully. I was expecting more of The Walrus.
Eva Konopacki
Ottawa

Crazy Horse Revisited
I was deeply interested in your article by Rita Leistner (“The Burning Tip of the Spear,” February/March) about the 7th Cavalry. You see, I am the mother of a 3/7 Cavalry Scout, “B” Troop. Same squadron, different troop. I was equally interested in the response it would get from your readers so I was anxious to read the next issue.

As Rita explained herself in her rebuttal (Letters, April/May), this was about the soldiers as ordinary people like you and me. They are for the most part young boys who found themselves in a very difficult situation and were just trying to come home in one piece. They, like your Canadian soldiers, followed the orders they were given, never imagining the horrors and hardships they would endure. Yes, many Iraqis have died. But, as my son witnessed, many died at the hands of their own people.

I was not for the war in Iraq but I do support my son and the troops who are doing the best they can. When he joined the military to serve his country he could not have imagined where that would take him. He came home a different person, a man, but still feels that removing Saddam was right for the Iraqi people. He will be returning to Iraq for a one year tour of duty this Thanksgiving and you cannot imagine the sense of dread I feel. All I ask is that you put yourself in their boots.
Susan E. Gleason
Battle Creek, Michigan

Some of your readers’ responses to Rita Leistner’s article display the kind of narrow parochialism that seems to be a Canadian specialty. In your April/May issue, one of them is “dismayed by the cover” of the issue containing the story about American soldiers in Iraq, and goes on to ask, “What about the experiences of Canadian soldiers abroad?” Well gee, wasn’t that only the third issue of the magazine? I daresay The Walrus may get around to a Canadian military story sooner or later, but in the meantime, Rita Leistner’s account is one that needed to be told, no matter who the protagonists were.

As for Ellen and Steve Levine, they need to reread the story altogether. It’s anything but “propaganda,” as they claim. In particular, they might study the passage toward the end, where a group of innocent civilians gets shot up by an Air Defense Artillery unit. Would that make you a proud American? Can you seriously imagine anything like that in Time or USA Today?

War is the most terrifying, gut-wrenching, destructive, dehumanizing process ever invented, as Leistner makes plain. Indeed, as she says in her response to the Levines, “In truth, nothing at all was okay.” Take another look at that “beefcake” cover photo of Sergeant Michael Soprano, age twenty-one. Beefcake? Don’t be silly. Those eyes aren’t “sensitive” – they are as dead as those of the corpse that was shoved into the body bag. The things that young man has seen are far more terrifying than any nightmare.
Richard Griffith
Ravenna, Ontario

Mapping the Blues
I found myself angered and distraught by Mark Witten’s piece, “Mapping the Blues” (April/May).

It seems that, according to the scientists whose work is discussed, and especially Dr. Helen Mayberg, that the seat of the emotions is to be found in the lower limbic areas, and the seat of thought in the frontal lobe, even though there are connections between the two. The implication is that thought is one thing and emotion another. However, there is no thought without feeling (such as what I am feeling now), and there is no emotion without judgment or belief. We feel anger, for example, at or about something; fear is tied to the belief that I am under some sort of threat; love has an object, as does hatred; sadness or gladness is about something; guilt is tied to the belief that I have done something morally wrong, and the feeling of shame to something I am ashamed of. It seems to be a presupposition of these brain scientists that thought and emotion are separable, however much there is communication between them.

Depression, of course, is not an emotion, but rather the state of a person when near the bottom of the scale that runs from a glowing sense of well-being to suicidal despair. Not surprisingly, the brain of a depressed person shows a different PET-scan image from the brain of a happy person, but this does not mean that depression is a disease of the brain, any more than happiness indicates a healthy brain. Depression is often, if not always, related to one’s life situation and one’s ability to cope with it. Loneliness, for example, is a major cause of depression.
E. J. Bond,
Professor Emeritus Department
of Philosophy,
Queen’s University Kingston

Mark Witten’s provactive article on Dr. Helen Mayberg’s pioneering work on depression has now found its way into the hands and minds (I hope!) of my students in the course I am teaching on personality and abnormal psychology. Each year, at about this time, several students attempt (through their work on course assignments) to understand the nature of the malady known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). In addition to researching academic material, I encourage them to examine the popular press for ground-breaking research on various disorders. Witten’s report on Mayberg’s research, noting the interface between neurology and psychology, and specifically the role that various brain sites have on mood states, certainly helped their efforts. The interdisciplinary cooperation shown in the article leaves no doubt that the understanding of psychological functioning requires a thorough acquaintance with brain science and the techniques required to measure brain-mood interaction. A true mental science, as well as applied efforts in the form of psychotherapy, must recognize a mind-body interplay in all psychological phenomena, both normal and abnormal, and Witten’s article makes this abundantly clear.
Frank J. Marchese
Department of Psychology
York University, Toronto

Rare Birds
Regarding Barbara Nichol’s “A Concise Guide to Birdwatching” (April/May): Something that I shall cherish for the rest of my life – and possibly after – is the look on my friends’ faces when my partner and I invited them for a picnic and birding at the sewage plant.

My hometown is the proud custodian of the Iona Island Wastewater Plant with its sewage ponds (lagoons sounds way too posh), and its several gazillion birds. Not only is it blessed with bountiful wild-life (including cyclists), it also offers a view of the mountains to the north and the salt chuck* to the west.

As for Barbara Nichol’s invisible birds – I know what you mean, ma’am. Twenty years ago someone reported sighting a tufted duck, a stranger in these parts, paddling a pond amid the scaup. The Great Tufted Duck International Stampede has passed into Iona legend. I still have the scars.
Joan E. Davies
Richmond, B.C.

* For Charles Foran (“Idiom Proof” April/May): west-coast idiom for saltwater mud flats

The Cosmic Geometer
I was fascinated by Siobhan Roberts’s account of the discovery by the mathematician Jeff Weeks that the universe may have dodecahedral symmetry (“The Cosmic Geometer,” February/March). The Greek philosopher Plato guessed nearly 2,400 years ago that the universe might be structured this way. The Greeks had recently discovered that there were only five regular polyhedra: the cube, octahedron, tetrahedron, icosahedron, and dodecahedron. Plato, who believed that the properties of matter could best be understood in terms of mathematical symmetries, assigned the first four solids to the elements earth, air, fire, and water, respectively, and then grandly proclaimed that the dodecahedron was the shape of the cosmos itself. Scholars have long assumed that Plato did this because he believed that there were only four elements and couldn’t think of anywhere else to put the dodecahedron. Plato himself would, of course, have given all the credit for his lucky guess to the gods.
Kent Peacock Associate Professor,
Department of Philosophy,
University of Lethbridge, Alberta

Dinner is Ruined
The reason a potluck supper works, when it does, is that those contributing to it, even without direction, belong to a community of sorts with known tastes and expectations. Too often The Walrus reads like a potluck by individuals with little knowledge of the appetites they are called on to serve. Articles don’t have to be about Canada or things Canadian, but we read enough elsewhere written without any reference to or acknowledgment of us as a Canadian audience. The Walrus should be inviting writers to address a Canadian audience rather than picking up anything out there waiting to be served up on anybody’s table.
Jane Rule
Galiano, B.C.

Outlook
As a former volunteer for the Göteborg Film Festival, I found your comment about “Hollywood’s work” not being welcome (Outlook for January/February) at the festival more telling of The Walrus’s attitude towards American cinema than that of the festival itself. While it’s true that the festival’s focus lies elsewhere, American films are welcome and indeed several Hollywood productions have made the program over the years.
Lech Linkiel
Camrose, AB