Letters

September 2004

Money for Nothing
Clive Thompson’s article on economist Edward Castronova (“Game Theories,” June) described how virtual property can be exchanged for real dollars. Let us explore the possibilities of inverting this paradigm.

In Canada, under Powers of the Parliament in The BNA Act, the federal government, in addition to collecting money through taxation, can create money. To create money where there is no surplus of goods or services would simply fuel inflation. But there exists a body of goods, services, and capital equipment that is rationed for lack of money. It’s called health care. It is a provincial responsibility under the constitution, but the provinces do not have the power to create money. For this reason, downloading financial responsibility is a cynical and cold-hearted act of rationing.

Instead of making people line up for services until tax money is available, resulting in many becoming more critically ill and, so, more expensive to treat, let the government set up a program to create the money to balance supply with demand. In a sense, virtual money would pay for real services, but, in the hands of providers of those services, virtual money would become real money, to be spent or invested.

With the tools existing today to guide a space probe to a block of ice in remote parts of the solar system, this economic balance is certainly within human capability.
Ross Andrews
Straffordville, Ontario

The answer to the question at the outset of Clive Thompson’s article should be a resounding “No!” The question I am referring to is: “Are these virtual worlds the best place to study the real one?” The outright rejection of most universities of Edward Castronova’s work may be a little extreme, but from what is presented in this article, I support the position of the universities. My opinion was formed mostly because of the line early in the article stating that the players were overwhelmingly male. When will it be accepted that women make up the majority of our population? All aspects of society are affected by the subtle but real differences between men and women. Until supposed sciences such as economics address this, they will remain flawed tools for understanding our current situation or predicting our future. In this article, we are presented with a view of a “modern,” technically advanced world that is entrenched in the patriarchal beliefs of our past. It is not surprising so many of these games are set in medieval Europe.
Roger Payne
Waterloo, Ontario

Weapons in Space
Though I found Paul Webster’s article (“The Ultimate High Ground,” June) quite interesting, I thought it lacked a complete enough historical analysis of the United States’ Strategic Defence Initiative (SDI). In particular, I think Webster ignores the often overlooked intention when SDI was initially launched by the Reagan administration in 1983.

One of the main motivations behind SDI was to force the Soviet Union to launch a similar “Star Wars” plan by creating the impression – true or false – that the United States could engage in a nuclear war and win.

Of course, that realization would provoke the Soviet Union to spend money on a missile defence system it simply could not afford. That, in turn, would lead to a spending race between the two economies, a race that the U.S. was confident it could win.

As it turns out, the Soviets’ over-spending on defence was a major contributing factor to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

This point should have been acknowledged in Webster’s article, for it brings to light questions about the current U.S. government’s intentions. Why does the Bush administration want to develop a missile-defence system now, when the threat of missile attack is so remote?
Steven Gorman
Calgary

Mind your Metaphors
I just finished reading “The Art of the Bad Review” by Andy Lamey (July/August). One detail of the article caught my attention: a reference to mixed metaphors. Mr. Lamey points out the irony of a book critic using the mixed metaphor “hack away at the dead wood in order to discover the heart of the novel.”

I assume, therefore, that mixing metaphors is still frowned upon by teachers and critics. However, there is a school of thought that argues that metaphors are the very basis for our use of language and that, as a result, mixing them is not only inevitable but a positive, creative act.

Most metaphors are so imprinted on our minds that we don’t even notice them. There was one in that last sentence. The metaphor of a slate (blank, initially) on which thoughts are inscribed or etched is just one metaphor that English speakers apply to the mind. Another is of the mind as a brittle object, expressed in phrases such as “His mind snapped” and “She broke under cross-examination.” These examples are from the book Metaphors We Live By, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Their theory of metaphor as the defining principle of how we experience and understand reality is explained in depth in their subsequent book, Philosophy in the Flesh.

Metaphors are so omnipresent in our daily use of language that their mixing is unavoidable. The usual reason mixed metaphors are criticized is that they stand out because they haven’t yet become invisible by overuse. Bad mixing is one thing, but if readers understand a sentence such as the one quoted in my opening paragraph, there’s nothing wrong with it, and critics ought to grind their axes at the scenes of other literary crimes.
John Dutton
Montreal

Not Smart Enough
“The Downsized Dream Car” (Larry Krotz, Field Notes, July/August) is a great idea. I wonder, though, if the car is smart enough to protect riders from the threat to their hearing posed by air bags, which produce about a hundred and seventy decibels at deployment. (A jet on take-off emits a hundred and fifty.) Yet Larry Krotz cheerfully writes of the “smart car” having “enough air bags to surround me . . . with a pillowed cloud.”

The nonoise.org website of Noise Pollution Clearinghouse reports that, in the U.S., associations of hearing specialists have been trying since 1997 to persuade the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that the noise of air bags should be reduced, their use made optional, or that they should at least have warning labels attached because they can damage your hearing – all to no avail.
We’re as far away as ever from a car that’s smart enough not to harm our health in some way.
Ewa Jarmicka
Toronto

Friends and Neighbours
Prior to the summer’s federal election, we heard rumblings that a victory by the Conservatives would signify Canada’s willingness to function more or less as a fifty-first state. Your Sightings column (Ken Alexander, “Buddies in Bad Times,” July/August) seems to suggest that a Liberal government offers a scarcely different scenario.

A governor of a northern state (your prime minister) goes to Washington in the hope of wringing favours from the Bush administration for his constituents back home. The man in the White House condescends to meet him. Vague promises are made. The visiting governor of the fifty-first state agrees to support the president in return. He flies back to his capital to announce that Washington will aid the state’s timber and meat industries – or at least recognize their problems. About the president’s war conduct and absence of respect for international law, he utters nothing publicly. And why should he? Confederate states do not typically advertise their concern about the management of federal external affairs. When a neighbouring nation, however, does have that privilege – even obligation – and fails to exercise it, one must ask how it is distinguishable from a fifty-first state.
John Fry
Katonah, New York

Summer Reading
No magazine can satisfy a reader with every single piece. To have just one article that reaches deep, perhaps even explodes with meaning, is rare. You did it twice for me in your July/August Summer Reading issue.

The David Bezmogis piece (“Dubbing, Italian-Style,” Field Notes) is a window into what it is to be Italian. We understand a person, a people, not from the general, but from the particular. This little piece tells us as much about what it is to be Italian as any treatise could. Banana Yoshimoto’s story (“Platanus”) is so profound it burrows subtly and only then is its impact felt. “Time would hand our . . . lives back over to nothingness,” the narrator writes. That’s true for us all. But at least we can read Banana Yoshimoto. I’d never had the privilege before. Thank you for that.

Daniel Perlitz
Toronto

The new kid on the magazine block keeps getting better. Wayne Johnston’s “Gained in Translation” in the June issue is Canadian humour at its best, the high point of a stellar edition. And then there is the Summer Reading issue. What a treat! Solid non-fiction essays, shrewd and cheeky critiques (see Andy Lamey’s “The Art of the Bad Review” and the always enjoyable “Sightings”), and literature by Guy Vanderhaeghe, Damon Galgut, Banana Yoshimoto and more – this is clearly a magazine with vision.
Marcus Pratt
Toronto

That’s Entertainment – Now Stop It
If, before my subscription runs out, The Walrus does not stop trying frantically to “entertain” me, I will not be renewing. I’m too old (sixty-five) to be interested in being titillated by articles on video games, German fascination with North American Indians, pastry sculpture, and participatory narrative games. It is too late in the day for a magazine to come into being and not have a profound agenda.

Those preferring to think dead seriously have an obligation to inject awareness into the public consciousness, to introduce fresh language into the political lexicon, to showcase ideas that might even capture the world’s attention. Seriousness is vital because we are living in an age of unprecedented knowledge being trivialized by unprecedented shallowness, and this in a culture dumbed-down by materialism to an extent never before seen.

Even more maddening is that never have we understood so well how critical the health of the natural world is and yet been so apathetic about letting it survive.

Humankind is in the process of crossing the point of no return in its destruction of this planet. Any publication professing to be a fresh forum for ideas that has not even touched this subject after six issues is quickly forfeiting its brag about being truly “fearless” and “inspiring” and “provocative.”
Barry Peterson
Nanaimo, B.C.

Depression Revisited I would like to make some clarifications to the version of my letter that appeared in the June issue in response to Mark Witten’s “Mapping the Blues” (April/May). Both depression and happiness are related to the life situation of the person; brains are not to be confused with people. Brains are safely encased within the skull and are related only to the other parts of the body through the central nervous system, while people are in the world and have social and institutional relations that determine their sense of well-being or the lack of it. The best cure for depression would be an improvement in the conditions of a person’s life, but since that is often not easily arranged, antidepressants and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy can be useful. The improvement of social and institutional relations generally, however, would be a great deal more useful.
E. J. Bond, Professor Emeritus
Department of Philosophy
Queen’s University, Kingston