Illustration by Marc Bell Hot Water Chris Turner’s “The Age of Breathing Underwater” (October)—a terrific article by one of today’s most important writers—unfortunately falls victim to a common trap when …

Illustration by Marc Bell

Hot Water

Chris Turner’s “The Age of Breathing Underwater” (October)—a terrific article by one of today’s most important writers—unfortunately falls victim to a common trap when dealing with climate change: an overemphasis on, in Thomas Homer-Dixon’s vernacular, technical ingenuity over social ingenuity. The fact is that we now have all the technological solutions required to significantly reduce climate change, including tried and tested renewable power, energy-saving initiatives such as Smart Grid applications, more efficient transportation, and better building design. What we lack in spades is the social ingenuity and, in the end, the political will to put a plan into action. This may be a more significant barrier to overcome than a dearth of technology, of course. But we should understand that if we turn to solutions such as geoengineering, with all the potential risks, it is not because there are no other options available to us.

Andrew Heintzman
Investeco Capital Corp.
Toronto, ON

Chris Turner’s reportage on the health of our oceans raises many provocative issues and some difficult questions. What can we do to head off this impending catastrophe? Will anything we do, as Turner wonders, ever be enough? And how can the media document this bleak scenario without making its audience want to run for the hills? Our biggest challenge when contemplating the various global initiatives, or lack of them, however, is how to come to terms with the fact that, as veteran fisheries conservationist Bill Ballantine put it, “what we most need to manage is us.”

Michael Allder
The Nature of Things, cbc
Toronto, ON

Into the Mystic

The Secret,” by Brett Grainger (October), is a fascinating digest of the intellectual and spiritual landscapes that informed the work of several members of the Group of Seven. To Lawren Harris, J. E. H. MacDonald, and others, Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical teachings offered hope that life on earth could be redeemed, that history had an aim, and that art provided a glimpse of a holy, unified realm of pure essence.

To the art historian, this is no secret at all. Esoteric spiritualism abounded in European fin de siècle art, and the Group of Seven, in particular Harris, were highly literate in these movements. What Grainger could have mentioned is why Theosophy took hold so strongly within the Canadian art scene. First, one must consider the context: the Great War was destroying a generation of young men entering their prime. Harris, for example, was severely traumatized by the war and suffered a breakdown. He and his contemporaries in Europe and North America now saw the world in apocalyptic terms. The challenge before them was to find a new iconography of the imagination, of the nation, and of the quest for God.

But while the Europeans turned to nihilism, Dadaism, extreme social critique, formalism, and various modes of abstraction, the Group of Seven looked for their gods in the earth. The mountains and the Canadian Shield proffered geometric glyphs that could be plumbed for enlightenment. Scarred forests cast the allusive tropes of battlefields, and the cleansed aureole atmosphere hinted at divinity.

The real secret doctrine that has yet to be decoded is why the northern landscape was regarded as post-apocalyptic in the first place. Grainger might now lead us pilgrims through the complex confluence of ideologies, social conditions, and anxieties that caused subsequent generations to see in these paintings an essential national truth that for many is still mystical.

Tom Smart
McMichael Canadian Art Collection
Kleinburg, ON

I thoroughly enjoyed Brett Grainger’s observations about our “spinster” art star Emily Carr and the Group of Seven’s fascination with Madame Blavatsky. These colonial Canadian artists of the Roaring Twenties roared in a new way, striving to find inspiration in our Mystic North. Lawren Harris, arguably the aristocrat of the group, brought this nature worship to new heights in his stunning primal renderings of bleak northern landscapes. Together, the group provided us with front-row seats at nature’s circus.

For some of us creative souls who have renounced entrenched dogma for a more pantheistic, cosmic relationship with nature, this article was reassuring—especially now, as we ruthlessly destroy much of the planet’s bounty and beauty.

Charles Pachter
Artist and author of Canada Counts
Toronto, ON

Charlie Horse

Oh, Walrus—you are hilarious! Comparing Camilla Parker Bowles to a horse? That is fresh comedy (“Carbon Foot Prince,” Jason Sherman and David Parkins, October). And Prince Charles rides her (nudge, wink)… uproarious! The punchline is a corker, too! He’s trying to reduce his carbon footprint, but his security detail uses cars!! Oh, stop with the merriment. Maybe next month you can treat us to another comic with as many bold, contemporary themes. I hear there are some silly ladies who wear slacks! There’s a topic for your keen-eyed cartoonists.

D. Smith (online)

Union Spirit

While Christopher Shulgan’s depiction of 1980s Windsor as a working-class utopia was bang on (“Requiem for a Union Town,” October), he was way off track in blaming the CAW’s supposed lack of fight for its decline. At the core of the city’s economic slump is the fact that power over investment and trade has been given to corporations, which are not then held accountable to society for the consequences of their decisions. Governments exacerbate the problem by making their financial support of these corporations directly contingent on cost reductions from the union.

Moreover, Shulgan’s claim that the recent contracts with GM and Chrysler are the largest concessions in CAW history is false. When Chrysler went broke the first time, in 1979, our members accepted a 10 percent wage cut and proportional reductions in wage-related benefits. This time, we accepted no wage cut, and fully defended our pensions. Incredibly, Shulgan didn’t even mention our historic fight on this count, which included sponsoring the largest political rally at Queen’s Park in a decade, and the occupation of several MPPs’ offices.

If Shulgan wants proof that our fightback spirit is alive and well, he should go down to the picket line at the Zellers warehouse in Scarborough, Ontario, where over 300 CAW members are fighting hard against an $8 wage cut demand from an arrogant American private equity boss. It may not bring back sentimental memories of the good old days, but it symbolizes the bold fight of today’s modern working class for dignity and security.

Ken Lewenza
Canadian Auto Workers
Toronto, ON

Gag Reflex?

I was disappointed that Nicholas Hune-Brown featured the “Blind Race Start” stunt in his profile of Just for Laughs Gags (“Gaga for Gags,” October). As someone who is losing his sight due to an inherited eye condition, I try to reconcile my experiences in a sighted world with my emerging identity as a blind person. What I’m finding is that this identity is shaped as much by popular culture schlock like JFLG as it is by reality. Thanks to director Jean Kohnen’s depiction of blindness—a motif he returns to time and time again for easy laughs—viewers of the program are encouraged to see blindness as something funny.

Jeff Overmars
Dartmouth, NS


For those of us who still regard the dismantling of CBC Radio 2 as second only to Nazi book burning in reprehensibility (“This Right Here Is Rick Terfry,” October), it is downright Orwellian to suggest that the new format is a success because its plunging ratings are not as bad as anticipated. That’s a bit like saying the economy is improving because it’s still going down the toilet, just not as fast.

Sure, the classically oriented old Radio 2 served a smaller niche market, but it did so better than any other broadcaster, by employing supremely talented presenters, producers, and recording engineers who offered a consistently challenging repertoire.

With this latest makeover, CBC management has chosen to toss out the Wedgwood for Tupperware and retune its once singular and internationally award-winning voice. Now it joins thousands of other mediocre broadcasters in providing what is, by and large, three-chord pablum without a point.

Michael Bean
Gabriola Island, BC

“The time has come,” The Walrus said, “to talk of many things.” Send us a letter, an email (letters@thewalrus.ca), 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

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