Letters

October 2005

Greens Bite Back

Murray Dobbin outlines an important debate between two distinct factions within the environmental movement (“Green Party Blues,” July/August). The first, which he seems to favour, envisions an endless fight between those preserving nature and those exploiting it—between environmentalists and economists. The crux of this outlook is that capitalism is, and always will be, anathema to the natural world.

The second faction envisions a full-scale structural change of our economic system—a change in market behaviour based on tax and consumer incentives, favouring environmentally friendly goods and practices while punishing those who are destructive. Dobbin sneers at this “eco-capitalism,” insinuating that it is somehow treasonous to the movement, or at least misguided.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Environmental preservation will remain a fruitless endeavour unless we begin to treat an even sicker patient: status quo business economics. This will entail economic tinkering and solutions that strike at the root causes of systemic environmental degradation, in addition to ongoing regulation and conservation efforts.

The jury is still out on the efficacy of Canada’s Green Party under Jim Harris. But he should be commended, not maligned, for moving in this direction.

Fraser Los
Toronto, Ontario

Murray Dobbin’s suggestion that the ndp is more environmentally friendly than the Green Party, echoed by some in the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, should be closely scrutinized. In 2004, the ndp government in Saskatchewan cut eighteen conservation officers, leaving some to drive more than 160 kilometres to investigate complaints with little chance of catching alleged poachers. The government refuses to bring in regulations to control and limit the burning of wheat stubble near Regina’s city limits, causing heavy smoke to blow into the city. Earlier this year, the ndp opened part of the Sand Hills region of southwest Saskatchewan to oil and gas interests, where previously there had been none.

The sad reality is that, according to a recent poll, the environment ranks among the lowest priorities for Saskatchewan residents. Whatever the faults of the federal Green Party on the environment, I put Jim Harris ahead of most New Democrats in office.

Richard Jack
Regina, Saskatchewan

While Murray Dobbin is an intelligent and accomplished writer, he cannot in good conscience write about the leader of the Green Party and be taken seriously. Mr. Dobbin was actively involved in the New Politics Initiative, a short-lived version of the ndp. He also supported a thinly veiled plan to persuade Green supporters to vote ndp in order to defeat the Liberals.

At the very least, I would expect The Walrus to detail Mr. Dobbin’s previous activities and allegiances. I am not so naive as to think no journalist has biases. But when they are this frighteningly obvious, I shudder to think what else is being passed off as balanced critique.

Andrea Horan
Ottawa, Ontario

Mr. Dobbin’s readers would have been better served knowing that one of his primary sources, Matthew Pollesel, is a former Green Party employee whose contract was not renewed. As a result, this individual’s objectivity might be tainted. And while we regretted the loss of Gretchen Schwarz, it was not to the Peace and Ecology Party, as Mr. Dobbin wrote, but first to a short fling with the ndp. Finally, the unique circumstances surrounding the loss of two Green Party council members do not illustrate any disagreements over political direction, but rather show the high standards of personal conduct we expect from members of our executive body.

While Mr. Dobbin raises a number of valid observations, which we take to heart, I invite readers to visit our website, greenparty.ca, and judge for themselves.

Bruce Abel
Chair, Green Party of Canada
Guelph, Ontario

Murray Dobbin responds:
Fraser Los puts me in the camp of those who view capitalism as anathema to the natural world. More accurately, my position is that the current form of capitalism, increasingly deregulated and able to pollute with impunity, is inherently hostile and will ultimately prove fatal to the natural world. That is why, like many environmentalists, I believe in extremely strong regulation with relentless enforcement and fines that are sufficiently high to function as a disincentive to pollute. Eco-capitalists, by contrast, suggest that we can change corporate behaviour through tax incentives and consumer action. I’m afraid we don’t have that much time.

Richard Jack points to the sorry record of the ndp in Saskatchewan. I come from Saskatchewan and spent many years fighting the ndp’s support of the uranium-mining industry. But this record has nothing to do with my analysis of the Green Party. Federally, neither the Greens nor the ndp are going to form a government any time soon. Until then, the point is to have as many critical voices in the House of Commons as possible—preferably speaking from a strong set of policies. The relevant fact is that the Green Party has put very little thought into its environmental policies.

Andrea Horan suggests that I am a closet ndp supporter and can’t be trusted to write an unbiased article. I have never been a member of the ndp and spent most of my political life in Saskatchewan criticizing the party. As both a writer and a social activist, however, I encourage people to vote to protect and enhance what generations of progressive Canadians have accomplished. The New Politics Initiative was not a version of the ndp, as Ms. Horan claims, but an effort by party members and non-party social and environmental activists to create something new: a genuinely democratic political movement.

Bruce Abel questions my choice of sources for the article. Unfortunately, several supporters of Jim Harris declined to be interviewed, including Andy Shadrack, a key party activist from BC. When I spoke to Matthew Pollesel, I detected no bitterness, only shock at some of the party’s actions and sadness at how it was being run.

While my article certainly had a point of view, I stand by its accuracy and its fairness. I found that the Green Party under Jim Harris made radical changes to its entire policy package, with no policy convention and only cursory, non-binding attention to members’ wishes. This makes the Greens the most top-down of all federal parties. I also found that many candidates campaigned on the party’s previous socialdemocratic policies. When people vote for a political party, they should know what they’re getting.

57 Channels And One Thing On
When Jake MacDonald asks retired army Colonel John B. Alexander whether the Pentagon would invent the news Americans are watching (“Arsenal Of Illusion,” July/August), he answers, “As sure as a heart attack, I guarantee that they are doing it already.” The question then becomes, could the Pentagon fake things any worse than Fox News? Using such luminaries as Geraldo Rivera, Fox manages to create a world with so little resemblance to the real one as to be totally irrelevant to what is actually going on.

Not that other media are much better. The world according to George W. Bush gets a pretty good airing on the pages of Newsweek and Time. And in this country, when the cbc tries for some balance, the Fraser Institute accuses it of anti-American bias or some such nonsense.

Our corporate media adjust the world to their liking. If the Pentagon is going to fake it, just how much further into fantasyland will they have to journey? Aren’t we living in a largely manufactured world as it is?

Dennis Peacock
Clearwater, BC

Affairs Of The Tusk
Dearest darling Walrus,
I was away in the country and came home to find your love letters (“Love Letters,” July/August) on my bed. I had no idea you felt this way. I have been savouring your words slowly on the deck of Laurier Pool; the pages have become wrinkled from my forlorn splashing. The voices were so remarkably distinct, none the typical love letter at all—no syrupy platitudes, no brokenhearted requests to return belongings (that John Coltrane album, that favourite sweater), and they held tricky and immense emotions in such small spaces, so diverse and compact. I have read them again and again. Oh my beloved tusky one, I am looking forward to our continued correspondence next summer. Please, please write again.

Heather Jessup
Montreal, Quebec

Thank you for making a twenty-five-hour flight—to, around, and back from Europe—so enjoyable with your smart, sexy Summer Reading issue (July/August). I don’t know of any other Canadian magazine that manages to stir in a who’s who of CanLit with a splash of first-class international writing, to create such an exciting refreshment. Thanks, also, for putting Juli Zeh’s “Love In Eight Chapters” online. I will send it to my friends abroad, and I eagerly await your Winter Reading issue!

Jutta Brendemühl
Toronto, Ontario

The Pirate’s Song
Matthew McKinnon may have come to terms with the moral burden of downloading videos using BitTorrent (“Torrential Reign,” July/August). However, he is incorrect about the applicable Canadian law, an area that is hard enough to keep straight without being misstated. Contrary to what Mr. McKinnon states, Canada does have a firm legal stance on the unlicensed sharing of video content on the Internet: it is copyright infringement. The levy on audio-recording media only allows Canadians to make private copies of copyrighted sound recordings or performances of musical works, and only for non-commercial purposes.

In fact, the so-called “private copying exemption” is even more limited in application than that; more so, in fact, than most Canadians realize. That exemption applies only to copies made onto audio-recording media subject to a levy. Last year, the Federal Court of Canada determined that mp3 players, including the hugely popular iPod, are “devices” and not “media,” and threw out the $25 levy imposed by the Copyright Board. While this prevented iPods from being more expensive in Canada than elsewhere, the consequence is that it is now illegal in Canada to copy music onto mp3 players, even if you bought and own the CD, a conclusion that makes virtually all owners of mp3 players “pirates.”

Andrew Kaplan-Myrth
Ottawa, Ontario

Seeding Hysteria
In perpetuating clear-cutting hysteria, Patrick Lane joins so-called “responsible ecological organizations” in bamboozling the public (Letters, July/ August). Clear-cutting is entirely appropriate in the evenly aged stands that predominate around Prince George, subject as the practice is to reserve blocks and reforestation plans validated by the BC Forest Service.

Forestry and logging are honourable professions that produce enormous social wealth and decent livings for thousands of hard-working people. Foresters and loggers are as concerned about sustainability as Mr. Lane, because they have a stake in the outcome. Mr. Lane and his ecological organizations have engaged in a ferocious attack on the livelihoods of these people. The fact that these attacks have won the hearts and minds of far too many people should not be taken as proof that they are even loosely based on facts.

Edmund A. Cape
Vancouver, BC

Saving Sudan
Kathy Cook writes that Canada has not been much help to Darfur, with the exception of $90 million committed to Southern Sudan (“The Peace Wager,” June). This has since changed. The Canadian government has pledged $170 million to support the African Union Mission in Sudan (amis), to renew the lease of fifteen medium-lift helicopters, and to provide additional Canadian military support, including strategic planning experts. In May, Prime Minister Paul Martin announced that Canada would increase its support to amis by providing up to 100 Canadian Forces personnel—an offer rejected by Sudanese officials, who insisted that no non-African military personnel be permitted in Darfur.

Cook also writes that the African Union has accomplished little. While amis has been criticized for having a relatively weak mandate with regard to civilian protection, an increase in security has been widely reported in those areas where AU personnel have been deployed. It follows that an expanded AU mission has a good chance of further stabilizing the region. In April, amis received authorization to expand to approximately 7,700 personnel, planned for arrival in the region in September. Transporting these soldiers and their equipment to Sudan is a role the international community can play in Darfur.

Peter Whelan
Program Associate, Project Ploughshares
Waterloo, Ontario

A Different Drummer
It was with great interest that I read Li Robbins’s obituary for world music (“Off Beat,” June), as I was then en route to the thirtieth Musiques Métisses, the granddaddy of world music festivals, in the city of Angoulême in southwestern France. This festival is the springboard for international musicians to cross borders in Europe and North America. Breaking down borders and perceptions has been the essential and successful outcome of the marketing strategy that has come to be known as world music. Marshall McLuhan’s notion of a global village takes a new twist with each CD release and tour that bring the developed world what one might now call “popular music without borders.”

Riddled with identity issues, world music has never been an uncontroversial development. However, the emergence of the world music brand in festivals in Tanzania, Pakistan, and Malaysia suggests that developing countries are now getting in on the act. Furthermore, world music artists, record labels, and festival directors have been creating new music fusions and collaborations, especially in Canada. Finally, as can be seen in the Toronto market, world music has become a commodity of interest to commercial music promoters. This development is positive, not negative, as Ms. Robbins implies.

Though I may differ with Ms. Robbins’s approach and conclusions, what concerns me most is that her article falls in a very quiet forest of music journalism. The occasional appearance of thoughtful popular music commentary in the media is, to my mind, the bigger issue than her observations about the purported death of world music.

Derek Andrews
Toronto, Ontario

Li Robbins responds:
The concept of world music is a construct, contrived to serve many masters. It’s no surprise, then, that there should be different opinions as to its worth. However, Derek Andrews seems to have misinterpreted two elements in my article. I did not suggest it was negative that world music has become “a commodity of interest to commercial music promoters.” Rather, I suggested it was negative that it has been co-opted by the world of advertising. Moreover, the article was not an obituary for world music, but a criticism of a marketing concept that has, in my opinion, begun to outlive its usefulness.

As for media coverage, I agree with Mr. Andrews. It would be ideal if there were more. But I find it heartening that in some quarters—the Toronto Star and cbc Radio, for instance—there is a gradually emerging tendency to cover music from any cultural source, without necessarily ghettoizing it as “world music.” My point was that music should be written about and listened to because it is good, not because it may or may not “break down borders.”

The Case For Pulling Out
David Berlin fails to encounter a simple and well-reasoned argument supporting the disengagement from the Gaza Strip (“Israel On The Brink,” May). I would like to offer one. First, the disengagement from Gaza will not bring about the destruction of Israel in a direct and unavoidable way. Second, empirical evidence suggests that the presence of settlers imposes a grave and lasting injustice to the Palestinian population. Ending it is worth even a temporary setback in security. Moreover, it is our moral obligation and responsibility. Third, evacuating settlements will strengthen a precedent that is crucial for the state of Israel’s survival in the long run. This precedent is worth paying a price for.

The occupation exerts a heavy toll on Israeli society. It seems impossible to contain racism and the disregard for human suffering in one small strip of land. It seems equally impossible to hand over to a messianic faction certain powers—an occasional blind eye to certain legal transgressions, a certain amount of direct access to the army high command, the legislature, and, indeed, to the government itself—and then contain their hunger for more power and influence on other internal Israeli issues. It is also hard to imagine the ultimate survival of Israel as we know it, or at least an Israel we can live in, if its messianic currents are not contained.

David Biron
Cambridge, Massachusetts