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To the Editor   

 The Transformational Yukon

Our feature story on the Yukon seems to have struck a chord with Artsforum readers.  See our feature story athttp://artsforum.ca/travel

Flight-seeing above Kluane National Park (courtesy of Government of Yukon)

What a gorgeous story you have written!  How I wish I could describe things half as well as you do!  The feelings you emote from your venture to the Yukon make me imagine that I am there myself, having been whisked away in both time and space.

The pictures are lovely.  Priska Wettstein’s artwork is fantastic.  I was trying to decide if some were paintings or photography (with effects) or some combination of both.  I not only was impressed by the story’s content but with the way that you arranged all of the artwork to enhance the words.  Very simple formatting on one level, but on another level, you are allowing the pictures to speak for themselves.

You have an amazing talent that needs to be publicly acclaimed.

Glacier in Kluane National Park (courtesy of Government of Yukon)

J.R.
Chicago, Illinois
May 14, 2017

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Congratulations on yet another amazing travel review of your adventure to the Yukon!  I love the title, “Transforming the Human Spirit,” and your opening quotation by Kipling:  It was like a personal invitation to the adventure!

I love all of the haunting images that you included to showcase the talented artist!  Her artwork is mysterious, enchanting, majestic and captivating alongside your poetic and descriptive narrative!  I also loved her inclusion of poetic captions for each work (Stripped to the

Dall sheep in Kluane National Park (courtesy of Government of Yukon)

Soul, Roam Free, Quest for Solitude, Embracing Solitude, Drifting, I Only Hear Silence, and Try to Listen) along with her images of wildlife (caribou, wolves, ravens) and nature (trees, barrenness, clouds, storms, and the Northern Lights).  Her art work is far more powerful than merely including landscape photographs.

Your article painted the Yukon and its inhabitants in a very enticing and favorable manner in your poetic and artistic style.  It will make others (myself included) want to visit the Yukon themselves and see the wonders of the north first hand!

D.K.

Emerald Lake (courtesy of Government of Yukon)

Brampton, Ontario
May 13, 2017

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I wish I had your writing talent to express how moved I was by this piece.  After reading “The Yukon:  Transforming the Human Spirit,” I have concluded that this is your finest writing to date.  If I used the term masterpiece previously, I was premature, as this ‘canvas’ is more deserving of that status.  Clearly, this was a “labor of love” from start to finish.

Carcross Desert (courtesy of Government of Yukon)

I can’t help bringing up James Hilton’s name, as your writing, like his, awakens a dormant part of our natures. Whereas previously we knew little about this remote territory, with no yearning to travel there, you have given us new interest and focus largely stemming from the way you embraced Dawson.  This was a journey of the spirit that guided you to your heart’s true home.

The photography by Priska Wettstein complements your writing…  Her images suggest illustrations inspired by a work of fiction or fantasy, causing readers to wonder if Dawson is accessible to all or to only a few who are inwardly guided to its “otherworldly” borders.  Although time and circumstances forced you to leave the Yukon, I

Tombstone Territorial Park near Dawson — (courtesy of Government of Yukon)

hope that you, like Hilton’s character Hugh Conway, will one day find your way back.

K.F.
Pennsylvania, USA
May 17, 2017

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As always your writing is excellent… I think I want to go to the Yukon!  The pictures are amazing.  The photographer is very talented.

Dawson from the Midnight Dome (courtesy of Government of Yukon)

S.R.
Courtice, Ontario
May 14, 2017

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I thoroughly enjoyed your story.  Illuminating, evocative, and, dare I say it, enticing.  Personally, I feel most alive when communing with nature and could certainly relate to your sense of awe and wonder.  The only problem lay with the fact that, sitting at my computer, engrossed as I was with your description, I forgot all about dinner cooking on the stove.  I do not recommend burned quesadillas.

Dog-mushing in the Yukon (courtesy of Government of Yukon)

C.J.
Whitby, Ontario
May 15, 2017

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Ohhhhh cannot wait to read this!  I love the photos your artist provided!

L.A.
Vancouver, B.C.
May 13, 2017

Kluane National Park (courtesy of Government of Yukon)

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What a read!  Fabulous!  I felt like I was there.

S.R.
Oshawa, Ontario
May 16, 2017

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What a delightful article!  Priska’s photos are a perfect accompaniment.

Canoeing on Kluane Lake (courtesy of Government of Yukon)

A.C.
Whitehorse, Yukon
May 13, 2017

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Really well written story of the Yukon!

A.R.
Whistler, B.C.
May 14, 2017

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Dawson street scene (courtesy of Government of Yukon)

 

I thoroughly enjoyed your article on your trip to the Yukon.  What a wonderful and mesmerizing journey you experienced!  And, how beautifully written!  For me, your descriptions conjure up a physically different world, as if it’s located on a different planet.  How nice also to know that Toronto and the GTA do not have a monopoly on culture, that the arts are cherished and celebrated wherever people gather and live.  The photos are stupendous.  They have an impressionistic texture.

L.R.
Whitby, Ontario
May 20, 2017

Yukon River at Dawson (courtesy of Government of Yukon)

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Wow – what a trip!  You are such a good writer; reading this article, I felt as if I were actually there.  Makes me want to visit the Yukon!  (Though probably not in the winter!)  Wettstein’s pictures are beautiful and evocative; she has a good eye.  Thanks for sending this – I have printed it out for a second read.  Anyway, great article!

M.S.
Indiana, USA
May 21, 2017

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This is wonderful on so many levels!  Super article – loved it all,

White Pass Railway en route to Carcross (courtesy of Government of Yukon)

including your choice of photography (they seem to be the perfect images to illustrate your words).  Thank you so very much!  I’ll be reading this many more times!

I.M.
Pickering, Ontario
May 25, 2017

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It was great to get to read your story… hot off the press.  You really did get around to some wonderful locations during your Yukon adventure!

A.F.
Whitehorse, Yukon

S.S. Klondike in Whitehorse (courtesy of Government of Yukon)

May 30, 2017

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I found your descriptions really interesting!  I had, until now, no image at all of what the Yukon would be like.  Whitehorse seems to be a ‘regular’ city in many ways, with lots of amenities.  Dawson, on the other hand, seems like a gem, as you say, frozen in time.  I love your descriptions of the people living there:  Fascinating, one and all.  I suspected there would be a lot of outliers in Dawson; but, it never occurred to me that it would be such an artistic place.  The work of Priska Wettstein is enchanting.

L.F.
Pickering, Ontario

A Yukon husky (courtesy of Government of Yukon)

June 2, 2017

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If the Yukon wasn’t already on my list of “must visit” places, it certainly would be after reading your article.  You have painted a beautiful picture for my mind’s eye with your words.

I’m pleasantly surprised to find out that the people of the far north have such a love of art and culture.  Us “Big City Folks” always assume we have a monopoly on all things sophisticated…

I also love to visit a place where the locals are so warm, welcoming, and genuine.  That was my first impression of my trip to Newfoundland many years ago – you’d meet someone in passing and next thing you know you’re invited for dinner.  I’d love to go back:  maybe one day.   So, where’s your next adventure going to be?

R.R.
Whitby, Ontario
June 4, 2017

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Your very special Yukon story is a work of art.  It must be such a special place.

C.K.
Fife, Scotland
United Kingdom
June 24, 2017

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This is indeed a lovely piece and quite frankly gets me all excited about my upcoming trip to Kluane.  You write beautifully and the photos are exquisite.

J.H.
Toronto, Ontario
June 26, 2017

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It sounds like a wonderful place to visit – and maybe live.   I particularly like the illustrations you included.

N.R.
Boston, Massachusetts
USA
June 27, 2017

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I really enjoyed your article on the Yukon – you are such a good writer!  And the pictures by Priska Wettstein are so beautiful.   It is an amazing place.

S.P.
Durham Region, Ontario
July 1, 2017

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Thank you very much for this!  I especially loved seeing the mountains through your eyes.  Nature is what brings life to me, but mountains are really wonderful.  I am so glad to have experienced hiking way up high.  Still…even here, close to home, there is no limit to the wonder we experience walking a narrow trail.  The artwork in your article is very lovely!

I was particularly interested to read that some of the dog teams are treated in proper, ethical, and kind ways.  I know that a dog will run to its death to please an owner.  Not all animal husbandry groups treat their animals with love and ethics.  (Horse racing is another questionable sport.)

Y.D.
Oshawa, Ontario
July 2, 2017

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How lovely to make this trip with you!  Thank you for this evocative text.

M.M.
Barcelona, Spain
July 5, 2017

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You capture the imagination with your beautiful descriptive prose; and I have stored this folder away to re-read in the not too distant future.

B.G.
Ancaster, Ontario
July 4, 2017

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My, oh my… what a grand adventure!  I’ve only read the first couple of pages and I’m already mighty impressed.  The accompanying art work is splendid.

M.N.
Stratford, Ontario
July 13, 2017

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You have beguiled me.  What an inspirational and captivating journey you took me on.

B.V.
Charlotte, North Carolina
September 16, 2017

Tombstone Mountains near Dawson (courtesy of Government of Yukon)

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The Toll-Road Travesty that is Hwy. 407-ETR

An Open Letter to the Premier of Ontario

Dear Premier Wynne:

As you know, the provincial government transferred operation of most of Highway 407 to a private company in an absurdly long-term contact.  That arrangement is manifestly harmful to the interests of the people of Ontario.

In the first place, the whole idea of a toll highway in the extremely busy traffic environment of the GTA is terribly inequitable.  Highway 401, and other major non-toll routes, are heavily congested and frequently slow and stressful to use:  They are a madhouse in (slow) motion.  And then there’s the long stretch of the 407, built with the taxpayers’ money, but restricted to those who are well-off enough to pay to use it.  The perversely unjust result is two classes of commuters (and other drivers) – divided solely according to their ability to pay.  I almost never use the 407, because I cannot afford the exorbitantly high cost of doing so.  I resent being effectively barred from using what ought to be a public thoroughfare which should be equally available to all.

That brings me to my second concern:  On July 10th, I decided to ‘splurge’ and use the 407 in order to retrieve a family member who had arrived for a visit from far-off B.C.  I took the 407 from Oshawa to Brampton – and back on the same day.

The round-trip tolls were $49.95.  That’s a lot of money in and of iteslf.  But what really made me mad was the imposition of over 28% more in charges for various extra fees – incidentals that artificially boosted the bill from $49.95 to $64.05.  That extra $14.10 was attributed to: so-called “trip toll charges” (2 @ $1 per trip), so-called “camera charges” (2 @ $4.10 per trip), and a so-called “account fee” (of $3.90).

To add an extra 28% to the toll charges (which are already very expensive) is nothing short of highway robbery!   The operators of the 407-ETR might just as well have reached into my wallet and stolen my money.  Surely, in signing away operational responsibility for the 407-ETR, the province cannot have irresponsibly relinquished any and all oversight of the charges levied – for the distance-based tolls themselves and for bogus “extra” administrative fees like those enumerated above.  In our system of governance, parliament (in this case, the provincial legislature) is supreme, and one government cannot bind successor governments of the same jurisdiction.  Can the province have recklessly ceded its right of expropriation?  And, aren’t there other, less drastic, measures by which the province can exert pressure on the private company that operates 407-ETR?  Such intervention by the province, on behalf of its citizens is long-overdue:  We are being held hostage by greedy profiteers.  The many who cannot afford the tolls are barred from using an underused expressway that was built with our tax money, but which is only accessible to the few.  And, when we do use it, we are being shamelessly taken advantage of through insupportable extra ‘administrative fees.’

Will you act to rectify this grotesquely unfair situation?

J.A.
Ontario, Canada
September 5, 2017

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Post Election Blues

Your letters in the aftermath of the presidential election:

The beast is no longer at the door, but it has attacked, won his new territory, and is in the process of making himself at home.  I am sick about it.  All my life, older men have ruled and ruined us all.  They blocked our Equal Rights Amendment (which we still do not have):  All the marching I did in Washington, Springfield, and elsewhere made no impression.  We were spat upon, burned with lit cigarettes, and much more….  I think I just have to wait until they die out.  After all, the older white men are the ones who put the beast in the Oval Office.   Now I can’t wait for them to get their just desserts as it roars through the Republic destroying everything good we built up.   I am in despair.

A reader in Chicago, Illinois
November 10, 2016

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We Reply:

Me too – feeling despair, that is.  I was dumbfounded (and aghast) at the election result.  Whatever my critique of Clinton; Trump is just beyond the pale.  How on earth could this circus barker and con man be voted in by half of those who cast a ballot?  It’s appalling.  It’s bad for America and for the world.   The title of Artsforum’s pre-election editorial, “Cry the Beloved Country,” feels all too apt.

So many things were said that ought to have ruled Trump out in the minds of thoughtful voters – things like his crassness, his insulting of all and sundry, and his crudeness toward women.  And what of his irresponsible remark that maybe America wouldn’t come to the defense of NATO allies, when the iron-clad guarantee of mutual defense is the essential pillar of NATO?  The core principle of the alliance is that an attack against one is automatically an attack against all.  Trump has undermined our most important and successful mutual defense alliance with his carelessness and ignorance.

I don’t know what’s worse:  Trump or the fifty percent of those voting who think putting him in high office is a good idea.  Not all of his supporters are stupid or hateful, of course.  Many of his supporters may have somehow been convinced (or conned?) into seeing something in the man that’s just not there.  I just hope we’re wrong and that Trump doesn’t prove to be a malign, destructive leader.

Did the candidates even mention the failed ERA in this election, or in any of the last few presidential election cycles, for that matter?  If not, why not?

The Editor
Artsforum Magazine
November 2016

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Some Unitarian ministers in Canada have opened their offices to parishioners who need to talk about their reaction to the election.  I imagine it is much worse in the U.S.  I saw that there was a sudden spate of bullying of African-Americans and immigrants in school yards of many states – also some immigrant bullying in Montreal.  That’s leadership for you.   Now parents are trying to explain to their kids why they can’t act like Donald.  There should soon be a spate of groping incidents as well.

In 2008, John McCain had more votes than Trump, and, in 2012, so did George Romney.  In 2008, Obama got 10 million votes more than Clinton did.  In 2012, he got 5 million more.  So Clinton’s support did not materialize.  I think that was mostly due to the demonization she was subjected to by the Republicans.  Also there was a lot of hatred of Obama by Republicans.  I think that much of the hatred was racially driven.  Over the last eight years, I’ve met well educated people who are seething with Obama hate.  They would be shocked to have anyone suggest racism; but I think in many cases that is what it is.

The Hispanic voting in Florida was widely misunderstood.  It consisted of Cuban-Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Mexican-Americans.  Altogether Trump received about 37% of the Hispanic vote in Florida.  The biggest impact was that he received 52% support from Cuban-Americans.   They were angry about Obama’s rapprochement with the Castro government.  Personally, I thought when news came that Trump tried to deal with Fidel Castro in the 1990’s, it would really hurt him; but it did not.  Then, finally, almost two-thirds of whites who voted did so for Trump.   The only segment for Clinton (by just 1%) was college educated white women.

I grew up in the lower class, blue collar neighborhoods of Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Back then, people there were mostly Democrats.  They were not well educated and they were quite bigoted.  But they had jobs.  Now, people like that are struggling – not because of bad trade deals, but because technology has taken many of their jobs and left them working part time.  People like that and the white middle class turned out for Trump.  He won’t solve their problems, and many of them know it; but they liked his bigotry, racism, xenophobia, and anti-political correctness stance.  They want to feel that he will somehow return them to their former status, and they want revenge on the elites.

So now we are at real risk of having the U.S. move toward a pseudo-democracy and an authoritarian police state like Russia.  What might happen to the Western democracies then?  Many already have Russian supported right wing parties full of hatred.  As for the likes of ISIS, they must not have heard that Trump will bomb them out of existence.   Or maybe they already know what Trump voters do not:  Bombing doesn’t stop guerrilla action even when your new President knows more than the generals do.  There is good reason to be anxious.

A reader in Ontario, Canada
November 10, 2016

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I feel like I am in an alternate reality.  I was so sure Clinton would win.  How wrong I was!  I think the media are as stunned as I am.  Wow!  I guess the American people want change more than anything, but at what price?   Now that he has won the presidency, I hope that Trump will clean up his act and behave with some maturity.  I knew that I would be depressed no matter who won, but I wasn’t prepared to feel shocked.   Maybe when I wake up tomorrow, it will have all been a dream!

A reader in Pennsylvania, USA
November 9, 2016

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Is your offer of marrying a Canadian citizen still on the table?  Do you believe in “Sister Wives?”  I have two (single) girlfriends who said that now that Trump has been elected that they too would like to marry a man from Canada…..

I think that there were several problems with Clinton’s campaign.  First, a lot of people who voted for her did so with little or no enthusiasm.  I was one of them; I had been a Bernie Sanders supporter.  I was still upset about Debbie Wasserman Schultz and other Democratic insiders trying as hard as they could to sabotage Bernie’s campaign.  Being “too old,” “a Jew,” etc.  I voted for Hillary but wasn’t excited.  One friend was excited the day she received a campaign button she got off the internet:  “Holding My Nose for Hillary.”  She had hated the Clintons even before Hillary ran, in part because they had gotten rich off public service – not that they had done anything illegal (the Republicans kept trying to push that line, which was highly objectionable).

Second, the slogan for her campaign was a non-starter:  “I’m With Her.”  Big deal….  It’s an appeal to wanting a woman president but says nothing about what she’ll do in office.  It also separates the individual from the collective.  A much better slogan that emphasizes that she’s a woman would have been:  “She’s With Us” or “She Stands With Us.”  Trump’s slogan (whether I agree with it or not) says something about what he will do (i.e. “Making America Great Again”).   Feeding into that, there were a number of people who did not want a woman president.  I would somewhat discount that because a lot of people did not want a black president either.  But, there was a lot of enthusiasm behind Obama.  Plus his slogans “Yes We Can” and “Hope and Change” were very catchy and aspirational.

Even Clinton’s other slogan “Stronger Together” says little.  Yes, you have to know about Trump’s divisive campaign, so “together” is a good word.  But, again, she doesn’t say what she will do in office.  The closest Hillary got to saying what her plans were was to mention that her administration will be a third term of the Obama Administration.  Not smart – especially if so many people were against “Obamacare.”   (And then the premium statements for the health insurance plans were made available on November 5th – and the rates had gone up 21-25% on average; some plans went up 51-54%.)

The bottom line was not so much voter suppression per se but that Trump appealed to a segment of the population that seemed “forgotten.”  That said, these people were in plain sight.  Just go to my neighborhood.  Quite a few Trump signs; none at all for Clinton.  Of course, Illinois was expected to go for Clinton, so why spend the resources here?  That holds for both candidates.  Who knows what the impact was of the third party candidates?  Also there seems to be a “disconnect” in some states between exit polling and the actual vote counts.  All I know is that Clinton won the popular vote but not the Electoral College.  Once again, another instance where rural interests triumphed over the national will.   Let’s see what happens next!

A reader in Chicago, Illinois
November 11, 2016

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Presidential Politics 2016

Editor’s Note:  Our October 24th editorial, “Cry the Beloved Country,” attracted the following comments from readers in the United States, Canada, and Europe.   Our article appears on Artsforum’s front page at:  http://artsforum.ca/

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Your articles stun me!  I learn so much when I read them. I can’t think why other people don’t talk and write like that.  I want to make copies and send them all over the country…. I think they would stun a lot of people.  No one is talking about the real issues of globalization and nationalism and all you dissect about their effects and alternatives.  If either candidate had half your brain, they would be more suited than what we have here.

M.M.
Chicago, Illinois
October 25, 2016

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I thought your editorial about the U.S. Presidential election to be right on the money! : Very accurate!

J.R
Chicago, Illinois
October 25, 2016

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Quite an election in the U.S. this year, isn’t it.  Lots of Facebook jokes out there; e.g., if Trump wins, Canada will need to build a border wall to keep out the fleeing American hordes.  Ha ha.  Seriously, though, Trump is just beyond the pale as a candidate, and fortunately the polls are showing him dropping ever further behind.  It’s sad that a major political party has such an unqualified (and personally horrible) individual running for president.  As for Clinton, I actually like her!  And not just because she is a fellow Wellesley alumna.  I think the press here is too uncritical in the way it picks up Republican propaganda regarding various flaws and alleged scandals, and repeats and amplifies it, making her seem less appealing.  The press could also be doing much more to bring real issues to the fore; many of us are quite tired of hearing DT’s scandal of the day as what passes for news.  Sensible Canadian politics is inspiring much envy on this side of the border.

M.S.
Indiana, USA
October 25, 2016

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What an excellent article about the poor choices of both candidates running for President!  It’s pretty sad when all Americans can do is vote for the lesser of two evils.  I also thought your article on ‘The Riddle of the Skittles’ was hilarious and also poignant!  Congrats!

D.K.
Brampton, Ontario, Canada
October 24, 2016

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As always, your editorial is fantastic!  Congratulations.  Wish the candidates had that vision.

A reader in Paris, France
October 30, 2016

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I read your paper on the presidential race.  In the broad sense, I don’t find much to disagree with in your analysis.  About Trump, I would add my deep concern about his inherently tyrannical approach to leadership and governing.  His pronouncements often ignore the real constitutional prohibitions to his solutions.  However, at the same time, he has many supporters who are fanatical, and I can see them taking to the streets in brown shits to battle anyone opposing them.  And that fear is why I would vote for Clinton if I could vote in a battleground state; but, I’m limited to Illinois, where she has a 15 point lead, so I won’t bother.

I do believe Clinton is a mendacious politician bent on self enrichment.  But after 30 years of Republican attacks, I can see why she was tempted to use private servers.  However, she did not bother to understand the risk.   Anyway, she has many issues, and I can only see voting for her because I think Trump imperils the democratic process.  I see you make a searing indictment of the U.S. and its political process.  I have no disagreement with your major points, but would differ as to the degree.  Now, if you are right, the Western democracies are in huge amount of trouble to have the U.S. as their defender.  All I can say is: consider the world without the U.S.

As for who is addressing what, you are right there has been almost no opportunity to discuss the issues, but I believe Trump makes it impossible to do that.  Even Bernie Sanders did not address the real core issue – by [instead] blaming bad trade deals and globalization.  Part of the problem lies there, but the rest is, to a large extent, due to the use of technology.  It diminishes the need for workers:  the ensuing unemployment and underemployment now impacts a failing middle class.  I believe Bernie understands this but he still addressed the issue by offering simple solutions that were far from enough.

I did appreciate your article.  It was a good analysis.

A.P.
Whitby, Ontario
October 30, 2016

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Bravo!   You have just about nailed it, once again.  You were very reasonable describing both of these obnoxious egotistical characters.  I have been very disillusioned over the past few months by the totally one-sided views submitted daily by the media (such as CNN).  That bias, and the use of the media to try to sway votes, sickens me so much that if I were voting, I might vote for Trump just for spite!   I have to say one thing which most people will find hard coming from a woman; but my friends and I have spoken of it quite a bit in private:  When Trump said that woman let you ‘touch’ them if you are rich or famous, let’s face facts – it is very true, unfortunately….  I find it much more disgusting that Hillary Clinton’s husband Bill used his office as President of the United States to entice young women to… well, we all know what.  Hillary (and CNN) never mentions how appalling that behavior was.  I would have respected her more if she had denounced his behavior at the time and left him.  Your article was very well written; I will forward it on to friends.

A reader in Ontario, Canada
October 27, 2016

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I read your recent commentary on the U.S. candidates: Very well written and thought-provoking too.  I don’t think I’ve ever read anything on a topic that is as comprehensive as your summation.  Tis’ true that there is plenty wrong with the world, but it’s foolhardy to expect any one person to make significant change in a four year term – after all, at least two presidents have tried to rectify the nasty health care system at home and they can barely put a dent in that dinosaur.  As many of the issues you raise could sink a presidential candidate, it’s no wonder the prickly stuff doesn’t ever get addressed.  I’d like to see your essay tossed into a university poly-sci class for debate fodder.  And then I’d like to be there when it’s discussed.  Waddya think?

A.W.
Ontario, Canada
November 1,2016

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Your editorial is outstanding.  “Cry the Beloved Country” is the most informative summary of our candidates since the start of the campaign, exposing more than I was aware of.  Clinton is better at keeping things hidden, but obviously not to one as keen-sighted as you.  I never did support her; but now the thought of her being president is positively chilling.  I do not feel, however, that Donald Trump is the answer.  Even if I could overlook his lack of integrity, I question his experience and ability.  The presidency is not a reality show that can be cancelled if ratings are low.  I want to see positive change as much as anyone; however, I am not up to four years of dramatics and cliffhangers.  This may be one time that I stay away from the polls.  I have not made up my mind as to whether I will vote for a third party candidate.   Will doing so help one of the monopolizing parties win?  There will be no elation in our house on election day.  No matter who wins, the victory will be depressing.  Our country is crying out for so much more!

A reader in the United States
November 1, 2016

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I thoroughly enjoyed your article “Cry the Beloved Country.”  It was brilliant!

Tina I.
Whitby, Ontario
November 15, 2017

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A Cool Incentive to Put Down the Smart-Phones

A quick note abut your “Self Affirmative Device” commentary:  When I was recently in a restaurant with my grandson, a sign on a small red box sitting on the dining table read, “If you put your cell phones in this box while in the restaurant, you will receive a free ice cream when you have finished eating.”   I thought this was great and really enjoyed the ice cream too!

Barbara Stafford
Brighton, Ontario, Canada
September 13, 2016

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On ‘The Voice of Our Wilderness’

Artsforum is one of the rare places where I can immerse myself in photographs and the written word and feel a sense of renewal.   My true “home” is where the trees, the wind, the sun, the sea are as one.   I sense this blending of the elements in the photographs by Sandy Sutherland:  How wonderful it would be arrive at each place simply by wishing!  His images make me feel as if I am “almost there.”

As for Owen Neill, the light of the earth flows through his pen.  He is so attuned, at times I feel as if he is an eternal balladeer whose words will be forever carried in the songs of an ageless wind.  “Spirit Wolf,” like [Byron’s] “the pathless woods,” speaks of realms where mortals rarely tread, and that is what my heart yearns for, as “I love not man the less, but nature more.”  Your biographical introduction to Owen is like a work of art, bringing to ‘canvas’ the depth of the poet’s character, so evident in his writing.  A beautiful tribute!

A reader in the USA
August 12, 2016

Editor’s Note:  This correspondent alludes to Artsform’s new combination of words by poet laureate Owen Neill and images by photographer Sandy Sutherland at:  http://artsforum.ca/word/poetry

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On Those ‘Not So Smart’ Phones

[Your editorial on] “Hand-Held Self-Affirmation Devices” should be nominated for a journalism award! Your mirthful observation of this obsession with cellular phones will be most enjoyed by our generation and those before us who lived full and rewarding lives without these devices.  It used to be that someone talking aloud in a grocery store or on the street was labeled as crazy.  Amazing how every grocery cart you pass now is pushed by someone either with his/her nose buried in a phone or bellowing into one.  When walking, I still find myself turning to greet someone I believe to be calling to me, only to be passed by a phone-wielding bicyclist or jogger, totally oblivious to my beautiful collie and me.  My [family] finds it exceedingly rude when phone-calls or text messages are accepted by guests who do not regard them as intrusive or interruptive.  Someone should write a book of cell-phone etiquette!  [My sister] jokingly predicted that several generations from now we will evolve into beings who are all nose and thumbs with one big eyeball!   My father would have laughed at your referring to the phones as “idiot boxes.”

A reader in the USA
August 4, 2016

Editor’s Note:  Our correspondent refers to the July 30th commentary on our front page: “Artsforum Coins a Phrase (and looks behind the proverbial curtain):  Behold the ‘Hand-Held Self-Affirmation Device!’”

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We Reply:  The Zombie Apocalypse Has Dawned?

A couple of days after waxing indignant over the ubiquitous and addictive ‘Hand-Held Self-Affirmation Device,’ we happened to be strolling with friends at a lakeside park at dusk.  Normally, most people have left by then.  Not this time!  There were crowds of people milling about, all of them intently staring at the phones.  Can you guess why?  They were playing the new online ‘Pokemon-Go’ game.  It’s been in the news, but we had no idea people in this quiet neck of the woods were hooked.  You get a message to go somewhere, then, you search for an animated creature that appears on your phone:  A higher-tech variation on the old pastime of bird-watching?  But there was something strange about these silent throngs.  The zombie apocalypse – without the zombies:  Or maybe they were “zombies” of a kind, with all their attention captured by a sort of online virtual monster hunt, and oddly disinterested in their actual surroundings.  ‘Zombies’ in need of brains:  That might be the uncharitable way of looking at it

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No One Wants to See in the Country of the Blind

The Republican Party: a group of disgruntled white folk who feel their idea of the nation slipping away.  Longing to return to an irretrievable past, which probably never existed.  Never able to embrace the idea of a president who isn’t white. Their attraction to Trump as an avatar cuts well across class and party lines and settles upon a huge cleavage in American culture, worshiping Mammon while extolling the virtues of a Christian God and the values of the historic Producer Culture. The contradiction is huge, “Yuge!” as the candidate would say.  But as Thomas Frank wrote in “What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America, no one wants to see in the country of the blind.

Geoffrey Smith
Professor Emeritus
Queen’s University
Kingston, Ontario
July 20, 2016

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On The Nature of Durham Region in Artsforum

This was just the sort of diversion I needed!  I love going to this section of Artsforum when I am longing for an “escape.”  The new entries are exquisitely beautiful.  When I see photographs such as these, I feel a flicker of the “magic” that in recent years has been… elusive.  I love the photographer’s description “a gnarled finger of a tree….”  The branches of the trees in the second photo are delicate enough to suggest lace.   The third photo is almost too beautiful to be real.  It looks like a dream world.  How wonderful to have such a place so close to home!  The photographer does extraordinary work.  You could not have matched poet to photographer better, as Owen Neill’s written expression is deeply attuned to the elements.  His emotional response to nature reminds me of Byron.

Kathie Freeman
USA
July 18, 2016

Editor’s Note:  The writer refers to three new B&W entries in our ongoing coverage of the Nature of Durham Region project,  gorgeous images by Andris Pielbalgs & Martha Weber which are accompanied by four poems by Durham’s poet laureate, Owen Neill.  Neill’s work has appeared in a dozen or more books of his poetry and in his 2010 prose novella for young adults, Voices in Sherwood.

See the Nature of Durham Region project at: http://artsforum.ca/photography

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On Accountability

© By Jane Burbage

June 27, 2016

An event in my law practice this week caused me to press ‘pause’ and reflect on something I’ve noticed a lack of – in our schools, our workplaces, our country, and the world – namely, accountability.  A client I respected and cared deeply for passed away, and because she embodied so many of the attributes I admire, I am dedicating these thoughts to her.

We seem to be living in a period of “entitlement.”  Certainly, in North America, we have come to expect that good things will come to us if we do the work, have the talent, and connect with the right people.  Are we just naïve?  Yet, how remarkable that reality cooperates so that things often turn out the way we expect even while all around us we see injustice.  As North Americans, we are usually spared experiencing the most horrific injustices like genocide, racial cleansing, and brutalities towards certain groups simply because they think, worship, or love differently from the “norm.”  But then, what about Orlando?  San Bernardino?  Boston?  Tucson?

Anyone attuned to news media must be wondering how the atrocities going on in the world right now will be addressed by the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party in the United States!  It is staggering that someone whose entire psyche and political “platform” is grounded in selfishness, greed, ignorance, and intolerance for anyone who doesn’t think like he does has risen to the position he has.  People actually “believe” that he can make the changes the world needs right now.  Does he speak the truth when he indicts judges, whole religious groups, and cultures?  Do we share his values?  Is he or will he be accountable?

It seems to me that, more than ever before, we require accountability in our political candidates, our business leaders, and one another.  We need to stand for something.  Our values, our intellects, and our strengths are being tested like never before.  The stakes are high and we are being called upon to be the very best we can be as citizens, friends, and family members.  It is simply not acceptable any more to look the other way and consider it someone else’s problem.

Bringing this discussion back home to where we live, study, work, and play out our lives, what could and should we be doing to right the wrongs we see every single day?  Sometimes the simplest of efforts can make a difference.  It’s like ‘paying it forward.’  If everyone decided for just one day to think in terms of service to other people, to our country, and to our planet, think of what it could mean for a generation.

Let’s consider examples.  Our environment:  Are we practicing accountability?  David Suzuki has identified tangible ways to stop climate change:

(1)  Remind our governments and the media that reducing greenhouse gas emissions will build healthier communities, spur economic innovation, and create new jobs.

(2)  Be energy efficient.   Turn off the lights. Use LED bulbs. Unplug all electronic devices not in use. Wash clothes in warm water and use your mother’s clothes line!  Call our utilities provider and ask for an energy audit!

(3) Eat wisely.  Support organic farms and grow your own, if you can.  18% of greenhouse gas emissions come from meat and dairy production.  Consider going vegetarian – just one day a week!  Don’t use bottled water – filter your own.

(4)  Compost and recycle paper, plastic, metal and glass.

(5)  Walk, cycle, or take transit whenever you can.  Car-pool. Or walk!  It’s a great way to get in shape.  When buying your next car, consider the smallest, most fuel-efficient vehicle possible.

What about social justice?  What are we doing to help the 35.8 million people enslaved in this world, the millions who are victims of human trafficking, and countless vulnerable children affected by circumstances beyond their control?   We could give – money, time, and a platform for organizations charged with helping victims of war or abuse.  We could get involved, join these organizations, and actually do volunteer work to help make a difference.

Perhaps the biggest change we could all make right here and right now is to practice compassion and tolerance and openness to ideas and attributes with which we are unfamiliar.  Every single one of us could make a list – today – of ten ways of practicing exactly this in our schools, our workplace, and our community.  Many of you already do, but more of us are needed.  Will you make that list?  Even five things would help, but ten are needed.

“Compassion hurts.  When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything.  And you cannot turn away.  Your destiny is bound to the destinies of others.  You must either learn to carry the Universe or be crushed by it. You must grow strong enough to love the work, yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors.”   (Andrew Boyd)

Dedicated to Gail, who was always accountable and who taught us to strive to be as courageous as she.

Jane Burbage is a lawyer practicing in St. Catharines, Ontario.

Copyright © by Jane Burbage.

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On Travels with Amy

“Travels With Amy” is a most enjoyable addition to Artsforum.  Amy sounds like a sort of kindred spirit, the difference being that she is a traveler and active participant in her passions, while I am merely an observer, rooted like a tree to one place, but nevertheless allowing my spirit to take wing to such places.

Kathie Freeman
Pennsylvania, USA
June 5, 2016

Editor’s Note:  Artsforum’s new roving correspondent, Amy Hall, reports on her adventures in the South Pacific at:  http://artsforum.ca/travel/travels-with-amy

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On Artsforum on “Game of Thrones”

I very much enjoyed your review of Game of Thrones.  If [the series] wasn’t so compelling and well done, I don’t think I would overlook the sexism and violence.

Cindy S-C.
Durham Region, Ontario
May 23, 2016

Editor’s Note:  See our review of Season Five of Game of Thrones at:  http://artsforum.ca/film/on-dvd/on-dvd-3-0

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About Our Editorials on Globalization and Duffygate

I read your opinion pieces on “Globalization” (February 23, 2016) and “Duffygate” (August 2, 2015) in Artsforum.  You make passionate, informed and persuasive arguments in both cases.  As a result, I feel better informed and my own understanding on these subjects is expanded and challenged in the process.

Shawn Moore
Oshawa, Ontario, Canada
May 1, 2016

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Reaction to our editorial on globalization

See our February 23, 2016 editorial – “The Big Lie that is Globalization: When a political and economic system benefits the very few at the grievous expense of the many” – on Artsforum’s front page at:  http://artsforum.ca

I understand what you are saying about the market economy:  I think I’m one of those that it doesn’t benefit – every day of my life!  The bottom is falling out of the bottom of my car, the medical bills are rapidly piling up, and there’s no end in sight for ways the government [employs] to wring every drop that they can out of my 3% pension raise before I even get it.

Martha McMillen
Chicago, Illinois
February 29, 2016

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Your words of truth come from the heart. You should send a copy of your editorial to Bernie Sanders and encourage him to speak up about this taboo subject.  I think he might be surprised at the support he would receive from the people, if not from his party….

K. F.
Pennsylvania, USA
February 29, 2016

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I have was so happy for your ideas and comments, which hit me as quite original – or if they were not, a grand amalgamation.  At last, a viewpoint which suggests different, more positive possibilities, not only for the West but [also] to hopefully rebalance the some of the negative energies of globalization. Back to the future, with civility and democracy leading.  Refreshing. Thank you!

Irene Moult
Pickering, Ontario
March 1, 2016

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About the “Big Lie of Globalization,” this shows a few things to me:
1) A lie cannot go far without tacit acceptance by the victims who, in this case, appear very eager not to be confronted with reality;
2) Victims still confuse social interests and corporate interests;
3) And, most importantly, victims are unashamedly betrayed by political figures who get away with it.

Paul-Andre Larose
Oshawa, Ontario
March 14, 2016

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Two on Blue Icebergs

Indeed, there is no Photoshop or anything else used:  it is the pure, real picture!  It is not just a reflection of the water because other icebergs just around the blue ones are all white.  It is something within the melting process (the density or structure of the ice crystals, I’m not sure) which makes the ice look blue for a short time.  It is only a short process or time period, when looking at the same icebergs which are blue at one moment they will be white or transparent a few hours later!  It’s amazing.  I saw it with my own eyes.

Belinda Martschinke
Germany
November 25, 2015

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Just to let you know that the pictures in Artsforum are really great!  But how do icebergs become blue?  I’ve certainly seen white ones off the coast of Alaska and in the Atlantic near Newfoundland as well – but never blue.  This one looks a bit surreal to me actually – Photoshopped a bit perhaps?

Allan Willison
Ontario, Canada
November 22, 2015

Editor’s Note:  Good question about the blue ‘bergs.  I’ve seen pictures of glacial ice in Antarctica that look blue.  But how do they get that way?  As far as I know, the photographer didn’t alter the color.  But, I’ll check with her to be sure.

The photograph referenced in the two preceding letters can be viewed on Artsforum’s front page at: http://artsforum.ca

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Conversations about our editorial “Qui est Charlie? The Contagion of Terrorism”

Editor’s Note:  In the aftermath of the brutal crimes in Paris in January 2015, we published an editorial entitled “Qui est Charlie? The Contagion of Terrorism.”  That editorial prompted several of our readers to comment.  Our editorial can be found on Artsforum’s front page at: http://artsforum.ca

 The Targets of Hatred

I just finished reading your editorial “The Contagion of Terrorism,” and although I have never responded to any editorial, this was well worth a comment.  You hit the mark on everything, until your comment on “the murder of mere bystanders at a grocery store.”  From everything I have read, this was a targeted Jewish grocery story, and those murdered were Jews.  They were probably targeted as much as ‘Charlie Hebdo’ was.

D.M.
Durham Region, Ontario, Canada
February 2, 2015

Editor’s Note:  You raise a good point.  I hesitated over the words “mere bystanders” when I used them.  Perhaps I should have elaborated…  What I was getting at was that the victims at the magazine office were targeted as specific individuals:  The killers were looking for particular people and knew their names ahead of time.  The kosher store victims were targeted, too, of course – but as members of a group (Jews), rather than as specific individuals.  So, they were akin to “mere bystanders,” in the sense that it wasn’t them as particular individuals that the killer was targeting – rather, any Jews would do.  Something about that, namely, the fact that simply being Jewish was a good enough reason (in the killer’s noxious thinking) to murder them, gave it an added element of arbitrariness, randomness, and hatefulness in a different way than the equally repellant mass murder at the magazine office.  But, maybe it’s a distinction without a difference, since the victims at both crime scenes were murdered in cold blood by killers whose humanity, and empathy for others, was obliterated by unreasoning hatred.

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What Place for Principles in the War with Terrorism?

Thank you for your insightful article.  These are fine ideals, but they can only work if the other side has one iota of respect for such principles.  If not, then we are left to deal with their mayhem in practical terms.  If, as you suggest, we must use caution in how we react, we must also learn not to adapt to this new threat.  It is the newcomer who must adapt, not us.  We must not accommodate to the point of turning ourselves inside out to be devoured by a species with alien ideas.  Inclusiveness will not fix the problem because there are people among us who do not wish to be integrated.  There are others who live in a permanent state of offense against anything that doesn’t conform to their own ideas, many of whom are the first to run to the shelter of our human rights code.  The French president said it best: ‘We are at war.’

We also live in a cyber-world where jihadist plotting and recruitment takes place.  Yes, these people are criminals, but we would never have won the Second World War without vigilant surveillance and the expertise of codebreakers.  We cannot on the one hand think nothing of sharing half our lives on social media and [then] complain about increased surveillance to protect us.  There are many laws on the books that have never been applied, but they are there if needed.  We are also in an election year and a recent survey indicated that the majority of Canadians, 70% – especially those in the over-55 bracket – approve of applying whatever measure it takes to stop this curse.

As for the opposition parties who rail against increased participation by our special-ops, they are patently naïve.  American, British, and Australian operatives have all been involved in similar activity without our knowledge.  If Mulcair and Trudeau [the leaders of Canada’s two main federal opposition parties] don’t believe in what we are doing, let them travel to the combat zone to witness for themselves what really goes on – or forever seal their lips and leave military decisions to ‘the boots on the ground.’

Tina Ivany
Whitby, Ontario, Canada
February 2, 2015

Editor’s Note:  The worrisome thing on the home front is that our governments cynically use fear of the bad guys to curry favor with voters by purporting to ride to our rescue.   And, fear is used as a way to subdue democratic opposition to intrusive surveillance, detention without trial, and the like – core rights that our forbears gave up their lives to secure for us.  Oppose the terrorists, certainly, but not at the cost of meekly surrendering our basic rights.  Those must be inviolable – not for the sake of coddling criminals, but for the sake of you, and me, and the rest of the West’s law-abiding citizenry.

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How Far is Too Far in the Struggle Against Terrorism?

I agree with most of what you say.  I also worry about abuse of power, [including] detention of the innocent for whatever reason; but, when you think about it, our entire presumption of innocence (our civil right) has been turned on its head and abused for years.  We arrest people and jail them on suspicion of a crime, whether or not they have committed anything.  This is what we do to non-terrorists, so it stands to reason that people who plot or commit terror-related crimes should be treated in a proportionate manner.  The more incidents of mayhem, the more countries struggle with how best to deal with the problem.   If they tighten laws they’re in danger of going overboard and infringing on everyone’s basic rights to catch a few; but I think what strikes fear in the vast majority of people is the danger of doing nothing.

Tina Ivany
Whitby, Ontario, Canada
February 4, 2015

Editor’s Note:  But the distance between doing nothing and doing too much is immeasurable.  Certainly, let’s take sensible and measured precautions and use all the tried and true (and very robust) capabilities of our normal criminal investigation and criminal prosecution systems to go after those intent on committing violent crime.  But, we can (and must) do that without dismantling our core freedoms, subverting our most cherished principles (the very values that set us apart as a civilization), and without incrementally taking on the characteristics of a surveillance state (or, worse yet, a police state).

Also, the former federal prosecutor in me must beg to differ with your suggestion that we already incarcerate people suspected of non-terrorism-related crimes “whether or not they have committed anything.”  If that happens now, one hopes that it is an unacceptable anomaly, not a commonplace or acceptable occurrence.  No one is supposed to be arrested save on demonstrable “reasonable and probable grounds,” a legal standard that is higher than mere “suspicion.”  Most defendants are released on bail while awaiting their trial, on the strength of the presumption of innocence (unless they pose a flight risk or a demonstrable danger to the public).  And criminals are only to be incarcerated if they are convicted in a fair, open trial and sentenced to a term of imprisonment.

All the usual safeguards that pertain to persons charged with “ordinary” crimes must (and do) also apply to persons charged with terror-related crimes.  Among those safeguards are the right to legal counsel, the right not to incriminate oneself, the right (for serious offenses) to be tried before a jury, the right of a defendant to face his accusers in court and to hear the evidence brought against him, and the prohibition against the use of wrongfully gathered evidence – like coerced, involuntary confessions and evidence seized without search warrants.

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On “American Sniper” and Terrorism Generally

I think that you and I are exactly on the same wavelength [regarding the film] “American Sniper.”  As for why it’s gotten so much attention, I can venture several guesses…  There are some of these ‘hoo-hah’ jingoist people who see this as a pro-war movie.   A few of [them] were interviewed after seeing the film, and now, with everything that’s been going on with ISIS/ISIL, they say they just want to ‘kick some Muslim butt’ – not understanding that there are major distinctions between various sects, or the fact that ISIS represents a warping of Islam.

In fact, President Obama has been recently criticized by the hard right-wing for his statements about the fact that some religions can (and do) get warped by followers who are not adherents to the true meaning of the faith.   I really feel sorry for these right-wing sorts who pop up on talk radio and have no sense of history and have no idea that Christianity too was warped during the Crusades, and in the Inquisition, and in the years of American slavery (these are the examples that the President used in his speech).   He has gotten a lot of flack from this in the right-wing press who claim that he should concern himself with what our policies are now and not worry about what happened the past.  And they even cast doubt about whether people could do these sorts of brutal things in the name of Christianity.  They argue that he is always putting America down and [putting] Christianity down.  Incidentally, I would add two more major events to his list: (i) Columbus and his men brutally killing the American Indians in the name of Spain and Christianity, and (ii) the Salem witchcraft trials.

Julia W. Rath
Chicago, Illinois, USA
February 10, 2015

Editor’s Note:  One thing about Islam’s extreme adherents that seems unique to them is the appalling frequency with which they shout “Allahu Akbar.”  Whenever they launch an RPG, when something explodes, when flames rise to sky, those perversely inappropriate words ring to the heavens.  It is difficult to imagine a fundamentalist Christian invoking God’s name for every bullet, missile, or explosion.  Might it be that there is a skewed connection in Islam itself between violence and faith?   That’s emphatically not to say that all (or even most) Muslims are violent, of course.  But maybe the underlying doctrine is more susceptible to fanatical interpretations than Christianity ever was?

Artsforum’s capsule review of “American Sniper” appears at: http://artsforum.ca/film/at-theaters/at-theaters-2

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Governments on a Slippery Slope to Totalitarianism

All governments, in time, tend to totalitarianism – of which we have a splendid example in Ontario and another in Ottawa.  The behavior of the local police forces recently is terrifying – shooting the mentally ill (multiple times!) and storming a plane with heavily armed military-looking police to get another mentally ill unarmed person.  And that plane was followed by two F-16s as it approached Toronto.  And for all the snooping (there was ample warning of the 9/11 debacle), governments are powerless to defend us….so they turn on us.  Are you listening, Obama, Wynne, Harper?  Maybe Hitler was right when he said, “How fortunate for governments that the people they administer don’t think.”

John MacAlister
Whitby, Ontario, Canada
July 31, 2014

Editor’s Note: The foregoing letter was prompted by our recent review of the film “V for Vendetta,” “Man, Freedom, and the State in ‘V for Vendetta’” which can be found at this link: http://artsforum.ca/film/featured-film-reviews

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Re: “Postal Follies” editorial

This was a fabulous piece of writing and your indignation is absolutely correct.   Well done.

Richard Wilkinson
Ashburn, Ontario, Canada
May 27, 2014

Editor’s Note: Our editorial “Postal Follies” can be found on the front page of Artsforum online.  An excerpt from the editorial was read on CBC Radio’s “The Sunday Edition” on May 18, 2014.

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The End of Privacy as We Knew It

Re:  Your review of “We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks.”

Your analysis is the most concise and articulate statement of our current state of affairs I have read to date:  I agree completely.  I always look for remedies or alternatives, and, frankly, I don’t see any relief now the barn door is open.  Bell Canada’s recent announcement that they are following in the footsteps of Google and Facebook in the gathering, packaging, and sale of our personal buying and viewing and calling patterns is another step along this continuum of “loss of privacy as we once knew it.”  I guess we must find solace in the anonymity of the crowd in this digital new world.

Alan S.
Wellington, Ontario, Canada
October 23, 2013

Editor’s Note: The Artsforum review to which the writer refers can be found at:  http://artsforum.ca/film/on-dvd/on-dvd-2-0

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If It’s Not Broken, Don’t Fix the Curried Soul

An open letter to CBC Radio’s “As it Happens”

I have been a lifelong listener and active supporter of “As it Happens”and of CBC Radio generally.  I have always adored your theme music, Moe Koffman’s “Curried Soul.” Indeed, I’ve been whistling along (nightly) since I was twelve years old.  And I have appreciated the musical continuity over the years.  Many other CBC programs (such as television’s “The National”) periodically switch themes.  “As it Happens” has, happily, resisted the impulse to make a change for change’s sake (if only “Quirks & Quarks” had resisted that same temptation, too, and kept their distinctive theme music) — until now! The new, “remixed” version of your theme is a weak imitation of the original.  The aphorism, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” applies every bit as well to your musical theme as it does to your longstanding two-host call-out format.  Howling dogs may like your theme, but so do I, and, so, I’d venture to guess, do the vast majority of your many loyal ‘fans.’  It was a dissonant mistake to gratuitously fiddle with this mellifluous tradition.  You had a classy, unique musical theme.  Why not count your lucky stars and leave it be?   Bring back the tried and true “Curried Soul:”  No half-baked substitutes accepted!

John Arkelian
Ontario, Canada
September 4, 2013

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Radioactive Pandas

Journalists have been hoodwinked by Harper’s panda ploy.  By failing to inform Canadians of the full significance of the Sino-Canadian deal underlying the panda distraction, journalists have demonstrated how easily Harper outmaneuvers them.  Canada secured the pandas’ visit only after agreeing in February 2012 to reduce our controls on uranium exports to China.  China insisted on this, as it did in a similar agreement with Australia in 2008 — an agreement that attracted criticism from Harper’s government then, but won Australia its own panda visits.  Harper amended Canada’s nuclear co-operation agreement in 2012 to allow the export of uranium concentrate to China.  This means that our country may now be supplying China’s military nuclear programs, not subject to accounting or inspection.  This is hardly a matter for celebration.  Journalists should elaborate the full impact of Harper’s agreement with the Chinese, instead of getting so excited about a new zoo display.

Penny Gill
Dundas, Ontario
April 13, 2013

Editor’s Note: The writer refers to the ten-year loan of two panda bears by China to a pair of Canadian zoos.  The arrival of those ursine visitors in late March 2013 was given the red-carpet treatment by Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who positively gushed with excitement over this purported diplomatic (and zoological) triumph.  According to Harper, the pandas are a symbol of “peace and friendship” between Canada and China that will serve as “a reminder of our deepening relationship, a relationship based on mutual respect and growing collaboration.”  It’s nice to know that our government holds in such high esteem a tyranny which thinks nothing of crushing unarmed demonstrators underneath its tanks, propping up poisonous regimes like those creating havoc in North Korea and Syria, forcibly occupying the land of Tibet, and demonstrating active, aggressive hostility toward the West through its ongoing activities in cyber-espionage and cyber-warfare.  With “friends” like those, who needs enemies?

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The Senate, Disproportionate Representation, and Canada’s Democratic Deficit

It is great to see increased support for abolishing the Senate.  However, even with its scandals and foibles, the Senate is not the worst affront against democracy in Canada.  That, in my view, is the flagrant failure to represent voters fairly in the House of Commons.  Thanks to our first-past-the-post system, voters may see not one MP from their party elected in their province, despite a substantial popular vote.  That the present Conservative government could get a majority of seats with only 39.6% of the popular vote, and then run the country as if it had 90%, is worse than anything the Senate does.  So, first bring in proportional representation to the House of Commons.  The Law Commission of Canada has excellent recommendations, tried out in countries like us, such as Scotland, Germany, and New Zealand.  Get the system working, see it foster cooperation across party lines, reform its committee rules and private members’ business to give individual MPs more scope for constructive work. Then chop the Senate.  When the House actually represents the people, works more cooperatively and even lets MPs give legislation that “sober second thought,” any remaining need for the Senate will evaporate.

Lynn McDonald
Toronto, Ontario
March 21, 2013

Lynn McDonald is a former Member of Parliament (NDP).

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This Film Critic Will Take This Waltz

Gotta say I had a very interesting reaction to the film “Take This Waltz.” Truth be told, I actively hated a good chunk of it — I found it overly precious; I thought most of the characters were annoying or simply off-putting; and I loathed the echt “Canadian-ness” of it all — while watching.  Yet, by the time the end credits rolled, I somehow managed to muster up a surprising amount of affection for it.  My first thought (“This is very much in the style/spirit of a ’70s movie:  a really bad ’70s movie!”) gradually evolved into (“This is why I loved ’70s movies so much!”).  Even though her character can be phenomenally grating at times (deliberately?), I actually liked Michelle Williams in this.  And even though he’s sort of a poster boy for “Toronto Life Today,” I rather liked Luke Kirby, too.  Seth Rogen is flat-out terrific (I really ached for his character at the end), and Sarah Silverman kind of shocked me since I’d previously thought that she could only do “Sarah Silverman.” This is a pretty solid dramatic performance.  The New York Times’ A.O. Scott was right about the first 90 minutes being all of a piece (I wouldn’t say “perfect,” though) and the final half hour kind of going off the rails.  But, like Scott, I don’t think the movie would have been the movie it is without that strange final act detour.  Color me impressed.  And very pleasantly surprised.

Milan Paurich
Youngstown, Ohio
November 12, 2012

 

Editor’s Note: The writer is a film critic and theatrical director.  The Artsforum review of “Take This Waltz” to which he is responding appears at:  http://artsforum.ca/film/on-dvd

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Hollywood Has Been There, Done That

Hollywood has done it again — taken a hit movie and reproduced it by dressing it up with young hot ‘now’ actors in order to entice a new generation.  This time it is with the popular 80’s teen drama “Red Dawn.” To refresh the memory of anyone who hasn’t seen “Red Dawn,” the original 1984 movie focuses on a group of teens who set out to defend their hometown, after America is invaded by Soviet forces.  The only premise that has changed in the new adaptation is that it is now the North Koreans invading, to make it more relevant to current global issues.  Granted, judgment should be reserved until the movie actually comes out (in November 2012); but my point is not to discuss the quality of this particular movie.  The issue here is that it seems we are no longer able to come up with original and exciting ideas — and instead fall back to the usual modus operandi.  Hollywood is reproducing movies that honestly really do not need to be reproduced or dressed-up with hot, young, hip, now actors and actresses.   For instance, in recent years, Hollywood has released new versions of the horror movie “The Fog,” the teen dance flick “Footloose” and most recently the sci-fi hit, “Total Recall.” I cannot help but wonder if it is really necessary to remake a movie — whether it was a hit in the case of “Total Recall,” or a complete flop in the case of “The Fog” — just so a new generation can see it and the movie companies can capitalize?  Would it not be just as easy to re-release the original movies into theatres for a brief time, advertise them like crazy, and then release them on DVD?  In a world where there are people with no shortage of fresh new ideas, who are just itching to have their thoughts heard, it is sad that in the end we must always fall back on what has been rendered before, instead of looking forward and being innovative.  Why not release a movie about America invading North Korea and the group of teens there who must defend their town?  Now that would really be a fresh and innovative idea for a movie.

Adriana Pacheco
Oshawa, Ontario
September 21, 2012

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A Study in North American Contrasts?

As we prepare for another presidential election in the United States, I think with envy of the (usually) much more calm and sensible approach to politics in Canada.  Yes, I know there are problems; but, for example, when my family and I were in Moncton this summer, we turned on the television one evening and stumbled upon a local city council meeting, which was being conducted bilingually.  All, or most, speakers had some fluency in both English and French and slipped easily from one language to the other; and in any case, there was a simultaneous interpreter for each language to ensure that all listeners could fully understand the discussion.  We were watching the Anglophone channel; it turned out that there was a parallel Francophone channel covering the same meeting. There seemed to be general agreement that New Brunswick needs to work toward becoming a fully bilingual province.  Wow.  It was impressive to see these descendants of former combatants so committed to making their society work.  By contrast, in the U.S., we have angry talk of making English the “official language” of the country, and forcing immigrants to learn the language (without, of course, providing them any easy means of doing so).  So, that televised meeting was very interesting for us — as outsiders — to observe.   Canadians should be proud of such rational behavior in their political life!

Margo Shearman-Howard
South Bend, Indiana, U.S.A.
September 3, 2012

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Riding for a Fall: The Middle Class Embrace of Conformity as Dangerous Delusion

We are dealing with a commuter campus in a car town, where cheap money (i.e. credit) and debts have turned many people into obedient slaves, knowingly or not, serving the system and the greater powers at play.  The globalisation of the world is really a globalisation of the world’s middle class.  Some kind of Gleichschaltung.  While it slowly disappears, it tries to preserve by all means what it once had, ignoring all obvious signs of decay.  Blending unpleasant truths out of one’s life is what keeps people going these days.   For now.

From a former resident of Canada
July 5, 2012

Editor’s Note: The municipality alluded to in the foregoing letter is Oshawa, Ontario (on the eastern extremities of the Greater Toronto Area), a city that has relied for most of its existence almost exclusively upon automobile manufacturing (as the headquarters of General Motors of Canada) for its prosperity.  Although Oshawa is now home to both a large community college and a growing university (which concentrates on science, math, and technical subjects, to the near exclusion of liberal arts), as well as having a partial presence (through satellite campuses or practical internships) of two other universities, it is by no means clear that intellectualism is a prominent part of the region’s make-up.  For its part, the term “Gleichschaltung” compares our present headlong rush to embrace so-called “globalization” with the policy of coercive conformity that was utilized in Nazi Germany from 1933 to silence or co-opt potentially independent centers of power or influence like labor unions, political parties, and churches.

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Peace on Earth; or Mammon, the new God-King

War and terrorism are amongst the greatest plagues of mankind.  In this, all of the inhabitants of this planet might for once agree.  But this is also where unity ends.  And those two greatest plagues exist because there is so little agreement on many questions.  Religion and power are often at the core of many disputes.  Who can you trust?  To whom do you pray?  Who is the ruler of the world?  Those questions prompt people to murder, bomb, slaughter, torture, and fight.   With endless effort, peace researchers, pacifists, theologians, and good people of all kinds search for a way out of this spiral of violence.  But guess what: we already live with the solution!  We already have an all-embracing god who all people likewise adore, turn to, need, and honor.  And we have a world government with almost absolute power in every single country.  ‘Money rules the world’ is what has been said for a long time and we should at last realize that that’s exactly how it is.  Money is everywhere.  Almost every person carries this symbol of power around with him or her; it determines the weal and woe of the individual as well as the future of whole states and continents.  Money is power and everyone submits to it.  The utopia of a world government with a law that is valid for everyone?  We already have it: It’s the law of the market.  Capitalism is the constitution and globalization answers for freedom, equality, and fraternity.  All the dreams of our youth, the fantasies and longings for a better world are basically already reality.  And what’s best:  Like in ancient Egypt, the king Money is at the same time a god — the only existing god.  We praise and honor him, we slave away for him; we lie, humiliate, and kill for him.  “Hallelujah!” one is tempted to call out, because heaven is so near.

Anja Es
Germany
February 21, 2012
(translated by P.B.)

 

Editor’s Note: If Money is god; then there are no shortage of philistines to worship at its altar.  In Canada, some prominent ones (including our head of government) recently made a pilgrimage to China (home of all the manufacturing jobs exported there by North America) to make abject obeisance to the latest favored sons of the god Mammon.

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Putting Foxes in Charge of the Chicken-Coop

Now let me get this straight.  Don Drummond, a bank economist, is going to tell our provincial government how to get its financial house in order.* Wasn’t it bankers and bank economists who very nearly ruined the world’s economy by losing trillions of dollars virtually overnight and plunging the world into its worst recession since the Great Depression?  Then they demanded — and received — a 40 billion dollar bailout here in Canada and then paid themselves $8 billion of that in bonuses.  Having so screwed the world’s economy, what makes a banker an expert on anything?

Now, without any consultation with the public, one of these geniuses has been given the task of totally remaking our remaining government public services and restructuring our society to make both more efficient.  They cannot manage their own business, yet, somehow, a banker can determine how many caesarians Ontarians deserve?  Instead of cutting services, it’s time to cut the fiscally irresponsible 3 billion dollars in corporate tax cuts due to be handed out to Bay Street this July and put Ontario’s finances and government back on a responsible track.

David Lundy
Ontario, Canada
February 12, 2012

*Editor’s Note: Drummond heads a commission set up by the current government of Ontario to examine the full range of services provided by the provincial government and to recommend what Drummond promises will be “steep cuts” across the full panoply of government services.  Why the critical job of analyzing government programs and formulating policies which will dramatically impact the lives of Ontarians has yet again been needlessly delegated to highly-paid consultants and not handled by our non-partisan civil servants, or by our elected representatives, leads one to question the priorities of those we rashly put in positions of trust.  (Let us not forget the debacle of e-Health Ontario’s grossly over-compensated cadre of consultants, to name just one recent travesty that masqueraded as a responsible use of public monies.)

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Choosing the Lesser Evil for the Good of the Environment

The view from Germany:  Here is my open reply to my dear friend K.D.!

Dear K.D.:

It is very instructive to read your response.  I think that different countries could learn a lot from each other in order not to make the same mistakes.

I suppose we are talking about two different issues here:  One is the comparison of the pollution situation in Germany with that in Canada.  The other is the complaint about the situation in Canada (and possibly elsewhere), regarding the focus on oil as a source of pollution instead of all the other sources of pollution.

As you may have gathered from my December 14th letter to the editor, I am not following the pollution situation professionally.  From your letter, I understand that it may sound like I am anti-Canadian, which, I assure you, is not at all the case!  I meant my comment to be understood as “now even Canada, which has as yet been seen as having an unspoiled nature, has joined in the pollution!”  I didn’t mean to say that there is no pollution in Germany.  Unfortunately there is. And I agree with you that it is sad that power plants for winning energy from coal are being built again.  The question is: what other option do we have?

In Germany, up until the nuclear power plant blowing up in Japan (in March 2011), the current government had postponed the gradual closing down of nuclear power plants that had previously been agreed upon by the former government.  So, I personally think that it is a step in the right direction that at least now Germany has begun to close down the eldest of its nuclear power stations.

Unfortunately, industry seems to need energy; and, for the time being it looks like this need cannot yet be fulfilled by environmentally friendly energy from solar, wind, or water power — or bio-gas, alga, or whatever the newest developments are.  If I recall correctly, the status quo in Germany is that around 20 % of the energy used comes from environmentally friendly sources.  Note that term “energy used.”  One question that occurs to me is, how much energy is actually “needed?’  This is where your remark on the traffic lights, etc., comes in.

I suppose that a lot of energy could be conserved if we took a look at several energy consuming situations.  And we should definitely do something about it!   Actually, we have a brand of toilet paper (“Zewa”) over here with different hints on how to preserve energy in your household printed on it!

But speaking of ‘demagogues:’  Do you drive a car or do you use public transportation?  Do you cut the light in every room you leave?  Do you have electrical devices in your place that are on standby all the time?  Do you heat your house/apartment with oil or gas?  Do you burn wood in your fire place?  Do you take your paper and your glass, plastic, and tins to be recycled in order to not only save energy but also resources?  Do you drive short distances instead of walking or taking the bike?

I do have a car, but I take my bike or walk short distances.  I try to recycle, and I live in a house that is heated geo-thermally, so there is no immediate pollution arising from our house.  And I am frustrated that on a cold winter night I have to close the windows due to exhaust because almost everybody around is heating their houses with oil or gas and use their fireplaces constantly, even though it is only allowed to use them “once in a while.”

Unfortunately, it seems, though, that most of the energy (at least here in Germany) is being used by industry, not by cars or households.  So then we would have to turn to industry and try to reduce their need of energy and to reduce or filter their exhaust.  This would be done by regulations of the government; and I can understand that it is a touchy issue, when the competitiveness of the country compared with other countries is in question.  And that is the reason why I think it is inevitable to try and set the same standards for every country, because then those costs would be implied upon the products in every country and the competition would be even again. Therefore I am in favour of the Kyoto contract.

But after the first step of trying to reduce the need of energy the question remains:  From what sources do we get the energy we absolutely need and which exceeds the amount we can get out of regenerative sources?  My personal view is that it is safer to get it, for example, from a coal power station than from a nuclear power station!

Neither Germany nor Canada (at least eastern Canada) has been directly affected by the nuclear disaster in Japan.  But, some 25 or so years ago, Germany and other European countries were affected by the “accident” at the nuclear power station in Tchernobyl.  The East didn’t give any timely information about the accident and tried to play it down; so many people were still outside when they shouldn’t have been for their own safety.  It wasn’t very funny being afraid to drink milk or sit in the grass or wondering if one should take iodine tablets.

I daresay that nowadays nobody thinks of the nuclear contamination any more in daily life — but it is still existent!  Check the time those nuclear materials need to be reduced to half!  Just recently, I read that there are certain sorts of mushrooms that are still to a very high degree contaminated and that, for example, wild boar, at least in certain areas, are also still highly contaminated (probably because they eat those mushrooms).  So if you ask me, I would rather have a (preferably well-filtered) coal power station in my country than a nuclear power station!

The result of the above is, in my eyes, that:  (1) we have to reduce the use of energy, and (2) we have to work on ameliorating and accelerating the use of alternative, regenerative sources of energy.  And here is a third point: If, after all, there is a need to exploit oil (or gas) it should be done with the utmost care in order not to inflict harm upon mankind or the environment.  In the case of the exploitation from oil sands, inter alia, it should be ensured that poisonous chemicals do not get into the rivers that feed man and animal alike.  All of these things should ideally be agreed upon by as many countries as possible, and there should be made an effort to find ways to achieve them — perhaps by taxing exhaust, or in some better way.

Dear K.D., I hope you agree with me regarding the result and please accept my apologies if it seemed as if I was attacking only Canada for its environmental behaviour.

Petra Bruenger
Germany
February 6, 2012

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Creative Civil Disobedience

My friend [let’s call her Sieglinde, or Sigi for short — a name whose etymological meaning is ‘gentle battle’] has a gallery on Germany’s Baltic coast.  Shops in the region are normally open on Sundays because it is a tourist area.  One year, however, the church wanted shops in the region to close onthe six Sundays before Christmas.  Sigi put up notices pointing out that she was so impressed by this idea of the church (to tell all the shops how to behave, when she didn’t dare tell people whether they should or should not go to church) that she had decided to preach one of those Sundays herself — in favour of the arts!  And so she did!  On the appointed day, Sigi walked down the streets of the sea side resort towards her gallery in a long red gown and preached about the arts.  People followed her and found that she had put up a “confessional” at her gallery where people openly could confess their “arts sins” (like, “I haven’t seen or bought any art in the last two years”).  Sigi’s impromptu parishioners then had to pay an amount (to the local animal shelter) in order to get a ‘letter of indulgence’ and be told that they were forgiven!  Sigi said the gallery was full of people and they loved confessing.   She had to listen to them for hours.   They also confessed lots of other sins of their lives while they were at it!

Another time, the ferry you had to take from one of the seaside resorts across a river to continue along the beach had raised their prices considerably and people were very cross about it.  So Sigi called the newspaper, hired a trailer, and put a sun-shade and a beach chair on it, along with some palm trees.  Then she put up signs announcing that the increased fees had made the ferry trip a cruise, so she was going on a cruise.  Sigi rode back and forth on the ferry all day and talked to people and lay in the sun and put suntan lotion on, and, knowing her, she probably recited some self-made poems about the joys of going on a cruise.  Now, that’s the “soft and friendly way” to let people know what you think.

Petra Bruenger
Germany
January 9, 2012

Editor’s Note: ‘Gentle battle,’ indeed!  If only more of us would joust so creatively with life’s injustices, be they big or small.

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An Environmental Skeptic Strikes Back!

The writer from Germany should look around her home.  Karlsruhe, Germany is in the process of building one of the biggest power generating stations anywhere — one of many.   And guess what will power it?  Coal — because environmentalists lobbied for closing off all “dangerous” nuclear stations for the much better and “cleaner” coal:  So much for “clean air!”

And what about the alternative to oil sands:  Let’s get “clean and friendly” oil all the way from Saudi Arabia or Iraq, produced by underpaid guest workers from India or elsewhere, and transport it all the way to North America by ship, spilling it once every five years or so.  So much better!  At least we can support an oppressive and corrupt regime or two in the process.

Your correspondent should drive in downtown Toronto and, with the rest of us, be systemically obliged to stop at least at every second traffic light (even on one-way streets) — all 20 to 50 cars, carefully calculated, every 90 seconds at every second intersection, in both directions!  All those cars have to inefficiently slow down and then reaccelerate:   In the process, 30% more gas is used, not to mention the cost in aggravation and extra time.  Do the calculation for all the hundreds of thousands of cars every day.

Instead of parroting demagoguery from cheap magazines and shows created for the uneducated masses, opponents of oil should go after the very people who are responsible for setting the traffic lights, or the industries that create disposable products, which are specifically designed not to last beyond a certain point.  They should ask why we cannot swim in our many rivers and streams around Toronto.  Or, they should question why industry flares off millions of cubic meters of gas due to government regulations.   For some reason, I have not heard a single environmentalist complain about that.  Banning that practice could actually help the environment.

If anybody is dangerous to the environment, it is the so-called environmentalists.  Are they mere agitprops?  They lobby for more taxes, increased government control, and diminution of infrastructure and living standards; but they are dead quiet about real issues, issues that could actually make a difference.

K.D.
Ontario, Canada
January 9, 2012

Editor’s Note: Perhaps you disagree more with the priorities of many environmentalists than you do with their ultimate goal (of a healthy environment)?

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Abrogation of Kyoto Tarnishes Canada’s Image Abroad

Another area where Canada of new isn’t a big success is the Kyoto Accord.  I didn’t follow the whole story; but it seems that the United States didn’t go along with new guidelines for protecting the environment from increasing global warming last time, and now Canada is stepping out of line!  Canada, the land of the thousands of German immigrants, who live in the wild nature; Canada, the land with not so nationalistic and more European people; Canada the land that isn’t as conservative as the States; Canada the land of nature and animals.  This same Canada is now the land of winning oil with doubtful methods out of oil-sands, poisoning rivers and old Indian tribes in the act, scarring the face of the earth, and being negligent with the lives of people and animals.  Canada will sink in the estimation of the ecologically conscientious people in Europe.

Petra Bruenger
Germany
December 14, 2011

Editor’s Note: A great many Canadians share your disappointment about our government’s short-sighted, selfish position on Kyoto (among other things).  It’s sort of a George Bush-lite government, and more than half the Canadian population bitterly loathes their neo-conservative ideology.  But, we’re stuck with them, unfortunately.  The party in power has a lot of support in Alberta, where the infamous Oil Sands are located; so, they aren’t likely to upset their allies there.  And, to play devil’s advocate for a moment, I suppose part of the thinking is that we need to stick closely to the U.S. position, as our economy is so closely tied to theirs.  The argument seems to go as follows:  If we tax emissions, or incur costs in reducing them, and our cousins south of the border do not, then Canada’s would create an economic disadvantage for itself in cross-border trade.  On the other hand, the neo-cons appear to have closed minds and irrationally refuse to believe that global-warming is real (or at least that it is a consequence of human industrial activity); so, they are apt to look for any excuse to do nothing.

Personally, I favor even stronger efforts on the use of fossil fuels and production of carbon emissions than the modest targets set out in the Kyoto Accord.  Canada didn’t even try to live up to those humble goals (even under the Liberal government that signed-on to them), alas, even though we helped negotiate Kyoto!  However, I do agree with the American position that there should be no free ride for the developing world.  How can there be?  The West may have caused the problem; but rapid development in countries with huge populations (like China and India) will deliver poor old Mother Nature a death blow if those developing countries follow the same ruinous course that we in the West followed.

I hate to say it, but I fear that the prospects for the world jointly taking effective and timely action to forestall the worst effects of global warming are apt to be highly unlikely.  Human beings, let alone nations or groups of nations, hardly ever act with benevolent long-term goals in mind.  Instead, we are far more likely to postpone sacrifices in favor of short term gain.  Were it otherwise, war, oppression, genocide, and pollution would all be things of the past.

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Modern-day Serfs, Seatless Trains, and Things That Smolder

An Open Letter to the Premier of Ontario

Dear Mr. McGuinty:

I wish to put three separate matters to you for your consideration:

(A)  Statutory Exclusion of Faculty and Other Staff at Ontario College from Certain Basic Guarantees of Ontario’s Employment Standards Act

Ontario colleges have been designated by provincial statute as “crown agencies” and are therefore exempt from the requirement to pay any of their teaching staff either statutory holiday pay or vacation pay.  In practice, full-time faculty at Ontario colleges may in fact get those benefits — but they only get them as a result of union negotiations on their behalf, since they not entitled to the protection of those sections of the Employment Standards Act. For their part, part-time faculty at Ontario colleges face an absolute bar to entitlement to statutory holiday pay and vacation pay.  The Ontario government denies them the benefit of those basic provisions of its own Employment Standards Act; and, as you know, part-time faculty at Ontario colleges are not unionized.  They therefore have no capacity whatsoever to bargain with their employer.

The Employment Standards Act sets out fundamental rights and benefits that are meant to apply to all employed persons in Ontario.  In effect, they serve as a lowest common denominator or bare minimum of fair-play in the arena of employment standards.  Employees who are able to do so can negotiate more extensive benefits, but those guaranteed by law stand witness to the proposition that each and every employed person in Ontario is entitled to the basic rights and benefits set out in the Act, like the right to be compensated for statutory holidays.  To exclude a large class of employees, namely part-time faculty at Ontario’s colleges, is to deny a group of employees who are least well equipped to negotiate benefits for themselves (again, part-time faculty are not unionized in Ontario) from the most basic rights and benefits that are meant to apply to all employees.  Singling-out a group with little or no intrinsic ability to bargain with employers flies in the face of the very purpose of the Act and also constitutes fundamental unfairness.

Furthermore, the exclusion of Ontario college employees from these most basic provisions of the Employment Standards Act is both arbitrary and discriminatory insofar as no such exclusion applies to employees of universities in Ontario. University staff in Ontario are entitled to statutory holiday pay and vacation pay by virtue of the Employment Standards Act; while college staff are excluded from those statutory benefits.  How can such inequality of treatment between the staff of Ontario colleges and universities possibly be supportable as good public policy?

(B) New Service Guarantee for Go-Train Passengers

(a) I applaud your proposed new good-service guarantee for passengers on Ontario’s GO-Transit; but it is long overdue and it does not go nearly far enough.  You promise full refunds for delays but exclude large classes of delays from the policy.  I have, on several occasions over the years, sat on a Go-Train for hours in the wake of a suicide or accident on the tracks.  Such events may not be GO-Transit’s “fault,” but it should nevertheless accept responsibility for the major disruption delays of that magnitude cause its hapless passengers.  A full refund would take a bit of the sting out of being stranded on a motionless train for hours!

(b) You overlook a major, daily source of terribly poor service:  Passengers getting on trains at certain stations during weekday rush hours are invariably doomed to stand for the whole trip — every single day! For example, I notice that by the time rush hour trains leaving Oshawa for Toronto reach Ajax, or, by the latest, Pickering, every seat is occupied, every single day.  That means every single passenger boarding at Pickering or points west has no chance of getting a seat on weekday rush hour trains — ever! GO-Transit needs to add more trains and/or more cars on existing trains.  It also needs an iron-clad clad guarantee that every passenger gets a seat or he/she rides for free.

(C) Waste Incineration Imposed on an Unconvinced Public in Durham Region

The incineration of waste in Durham Region has been rushed through various approval processes by regional government officials and provincial agencies — in blatant disregard for the grave concerns expressed by members of the public about health and environmental risks and financial feasibility.  Since municipal (and regional) governments are, at law, creatures of the provincial government, and because provincial agencies have been part of the problem in terms of rushing through a practice that may have calamitous health results, this matter is very much one of provincial concern.  Why has your government not intervened to require a process that addresses every reasonable concern with a full, careful, impartial, and independent examination by medical and environmental experts — experts who should have no vested interest in seeing the project proceed?

Can you address the foregoing concerns to help me decide whom I should support in the upcoming provincial election?

Yours sincerely,

John Arkelian
August 15, 2011

Editor’s Note: Neither Dalton McGuinty, nor any of his minions, bothered to reply to the foregoing — which was originally sent to Mr. McGuinty through traditional means before its publication here.

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Dismantling a Needed Resource for the Arts

I am writing to voice my huge concern with Report FA-11-123 in which Oshawa Finance Department staff propose to end all cultural activities at the city’s Arts Resource Centre (ARC).  As artistic director for Durham Shoestring Performers (DSP), I have spent much of my leisure time and effort at the ARC contributing to Oshawa’s cultural landscape for 37 years.  As a citizen with a love of arts and culture, the Arts Resource Centre has meant that my municipal government believed at least a little in their value.  It is unthinkable to me that nearly four decades of programme development might be cast aside for office space.

How often has Oshawa declared its desire to improve the downtown core?  Having participated recently in the Economic Development Office’s recent downtown forum about creative use of space organized by David Tuley and having followed with interest the “Art of Transition” movement in Durham Region, I have been hopeful that Oshawa’s vision is expanding to recognize the power of the arts to bring people together and to propel our economy forward.  For 37 years, DSP has been giving citizens of the Region a reason to come downtown at least a few nights a year to see a show, have dinner, and visit a pub afterwards to debate the merits of the production.  To produce our 19 performances annually, our actors and production teams are spending countless other evenings downtown throughout most of the year.  It seems quite simple to me that a need for office space should not be filled at the expense of destroying these opportunities for adults.  The same could be said in consideration of the hundreds of children and their parents who congregate at the ARC for evening and weekend classes and school break arts camps.

Equally troubling to me are these realities, all of which indicate, at worst, that Oshawa operates with no regard for transparency, or at best, a high degree of insensitivity towards community groups:

— Report FA-11-123 was filed June 29, 2011 and is scheduled to be presented to a special joint committee meeting on July 6, with only three business days in-between;
— to my current knowledge, none of the users or tenants of the ARC were consulted or even directly informed;
— no public notice of the report or meetings has been given anywhere, except buried in the special meetings section of the city’s website;
— the report recommends that all cultural uses of the ARC, except DSP’s, terminate in September 2011,a mere eight to nine weeks after the report will be received by committee; and
— no Council meetings are scheduled before September 2011, so there can be no full debate on the merits of this staff recommendation.

Surely, Oshawa Council does not wish to close the only facility it operates which is dedicated to arts and culture, especially one where programs and activities are affordable and centrally accessible downtown. I urge Oshawa Council to consider the message that such a move would send to the public — that Oshawa sees no value in providing any space dedicated to cultural activities, and that Oshawa Council chooses to reduce reasons for people to visit the core, especially outside of business hours.  Is any elected councillor prepared to stand up in support of such a message?  Or will Council stand with those of us who do play downtown and who produce reasons for others to join us?

Arts and culture supporters are urged to send their views on this retrograde proposal to all members of Oshawa City Council through clerks@oshawa.ca

Carolyn Wilson
Durham Shoestring Performers
July 4, 2011

Editor’s Note: This is an odd and unwelcome move by the City of Oshawa.  There are few enough publicly operated spaces for the arts in the area as it is, without eliminating this one.  The Arts Resource Center is no substitute for the crying need in this area for a publicly-operated, professionally-equipped, and affordably-accessible regional center for the performing and visual arts, but it does serve a demonstrable need.  As there are no alternatives to the needs it now meets, peremptorily closing it to arts use seems just plain perverse.

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Reckless Russian Roulette Runs Rampant!

Regarding plans to construct a large waste incineration plant in Durham Region (east of Toronto), despite the grave financial and health risks posed by waste incineration, here’s a novel antidote to the blithe assurances we are constantly being given by those in government and big business that there is nothing to worry about:  Proponents of waste incineration (the same goes for nuclear fission, coal-burning generators, the exporting of asbestos, and a host of other recklessly dangerous undertakings) should be required by law to live next door to the risk-source they are promoting.  And, they should also be held personally liable by law for any damages arising from the project they are promoting — without any quantitative cap to said liability or any statute of limitations to let them off the hook after a passage of time.

John Arkelian
May 2011

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Will That Be One Teaspoon or Two of Pandering to the Unpatriotic?

Shame on Tim Hortons!  The Canadian coffee darling proved to be anything but “proudly Canadian” this past holiday season.  Now, I can get past their no longer baking fresh doughnuts and exponentially increasing prices for my hot drinks of choice.  But this! Oh this!  This was downright nasty.  When Tim Hortons’ 2010 holiday mug was revealed, Canadians nationwide bowed their heads in shame.  The Quebec version of the mug was blatantly and purposefully stripped of its Canadian identity: an image of a maple leaf was removed and replaced with the image of a snowflake.  Tim Hortons defended its choice to rob the mug of its Canadian citizenship, doubtless fancying their decision market-savvy.  They couldn’t be more wrong.  For anyone to imply Quebec shouldn’t honour Canada in the same way as the rest of the country is very dangerous territory.  For a company that relies on the allegiance of Canadians to survive, it’s just plain stupid.  Our great country deserves to be honoured over every inch of this beautiful land.  If someone in Quebec doesn’t want to endorse the maple leaf, they’re living in the wrong country.  I highly doubt Tim Hortons is hurting for profits so badly that a couple of French Canadian anti-nationalists not buying their maple leaf mug would make a dent in the company’s wallet.  A whole country offended by a national slap in the face?  Forget dents, we’re talking craters.  Anyone removing a Canadian image from anything is grossly unpatriotic.  Tim Hortons removing a Canadian image from their product in hopes of minutely improving sales by endorsing anti-nationalism is nothing short of ignorant.  Tim Hortons may have got lucky this time, but they better shape up before their Canadian customers start shipping out.

Tara Hatherly
February 2011

Tara Hatherly is a journalism student.

Editor’s Note: Why do so many in Canada find it necessary to pander to separatists by (among other things) soft-peddling pride in pan-Canadian identity?  Diluting Canadian patriotism to avoid giving any pretext for offense to those who are unabashedly intent on denying and dismantling Canada is an odd way to foster an enduring sense of national identity, let alone national unity.

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On June 9.10

U.S. Health Care Reform–for Whom?

Thirty-five years ago, in 1974, the United States was the closest to health care reform than it ever was.  At that time, its leading proponent, Senator Edward M. Kennedy, of Massachusetts, was working on a bill that mandated sweeping reforms that would have gotten the federal government involved in the nation’s health care.  President Richard Nixon, who was opposed to Kennedy’s bill, also wanted reform, but sought a solely private sector solution to the growing problem of high medical costs.  The debate ended prematurely with the national focus on Watergate, and the resignation of President Nixon from office.   The legacy of the Nixon Administration, however, was that the then highly touted HMO (Health Maintenance Organization) gained a foothold nationally.  Back then, it was believed that the health insurance companies, as the stakeholders most interested in cost-containment, would in fact bring down costs without sacrificing standards.  But as we all know now, the upshot of the increase in bureaucracy was the denial of insurance coverage to many, the exclusion of individuals with “pre-existing conditions”, delays in paying claims or not paying them at all, and “cherry-picking” the healthiest people in order to garner their premiums, so as to make the most profit.  Stockholders and CEOs did well for themselves at the expense of the nation’s health.

Realizing that the current system was unsustainable, several proposals for major changes were made in the early 1990s, in the early days of the Clinton Administration.  But these were perceived as being too rigid and dogmatic, with relatively little Congressional or public input.  And so these proposals died a merciless death, even before the major grievances against the HMOs had come to light at or around 1996.

Once again, the health care debate rages on today.  The current system has only gotten worse, as people in this country have gotten older and sicker as a whole and the insurance companies greedier.  Not only has the cost of health and medical care become highly inflationary, but this is driving up the overall costs of the larger economy.  Moreover, especially in an economic downturn, the ranks of the uninsured and underinsured are growing by leaps and bounds, not to mention the growing limitations on those who qualify for health insurance coverage.

The problem right now is that there are six different bills in the U.S. Congress.  Unfortunately, the bipartisan one that is coming out of the Senate Finance Committee (chaired by Max Baucus) does not appeal to either mainstream Democrats or Republicans.  This bill has no employer mandate for health care and imposes fines on people (on a sliding scale) for failing to purchase health insurance for themselves and their families.

To me, the Baucus bill is a win-win for the private insurance companies, who stand to garner additional premiums from people who were previously uninsured and ultimately from the federal government, which will subsidize those below a certain income.  These companies stand to gain a lot of money between the government mandate for health care and the government subsidies to support it.  But the benefits for the average person are as yet unclear.  For most conservatives, this is a meaningless intrusion by government into the health care decisions of individuals.   For liberals and progressives, the bill is a sham, doesn’t go far enough in preserving and protecting the health of citizens, and is a sell-out to major corporations.  And, for moderates, this bill does not lower the costs of health care, which will go up if the insurance companies are given free reign.   From my perspective, I blame Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for a failure of leadership and direction in the creation of all these different bills, and I don’t think that he should have ever given Chairman Baucus so much power and influence in this debate.

I believe that there will eventually be a health care reform bill, but it will probably be a bill that no one likes.  I am personally in a position where I have to pay for my own insurance coverage, as I am currently self-employed.  I had been hoping that there would be a public option, so that I could get lower health insurance rates, as my premiums for Blue Cross/ Blue Shield keep going up past the cost of inflation.  I have also come to understand that I pay three times more for my insurance coverage than it would cost for an employer to provide it to me.  Now, as things look, I’ll be lucky if I pay the same in total as I do now.

I think that what really needs to be done is to divorce health care premiums and benefits entirely from jobs, so that people are free to go from one job to another without having to worry about whether their insurance plans will cover them.  And if people are unemployed or self-employed, available plans should not discriminate against them or charge them extra.  In short, I do want coverage for the many uninsured in our country and for insurance to be more secure and “there for them” for all those who already have it.  But insurance also needs to be tightly regulated, and in that respect the insurance commissioners in each of the 50 States need to be more vigilant than ever in looking out for their citizens, given the likelihood that not-for-profits cooperatives may soon be forming in an attempt to provide some competition to private insurance.

Finally, President Obama has insisted that he is trying to find a “uniquely American solution” to the issue of health care reform.  He knows enough to know that the dream of a single-payer (government-run) system does not have the votes to win, but he urgently needs to do something significant on this issue while he has a Democratic majority in the House and Senate.  Unfortunately, President Obama let things get out of hand when he decided to do the reverse of the Clintons and left the details for Congress to hammer out over the summer months.  This gave opponents the time to create arguments over bogus issues, like “pulling the plug on Grandma” and about “death panels” rather than sticking to the facts that are in play.  Things took a turn more the worse when former Vice-Presidental candidate Sarah Palin, in chiming in on the issue, only added to these myths in order to circumvent reality,  The very sad part is that there are so many truly serious issues with important consequences for each and every one of us.

Above all, it was a quirk of fate that sabotaged things.  Had former Senator Tom Daschle not had his problems with taxes, he would have been the point person for health care reform.  President Obama by default has become that person, and it’s bad politics:  He needed to share that burden, not only because he’s working simultaneously on lots of other issues but because he’s not the one crafting the law in Congress.  He needed a former Senator or Congressman to shepherd this reform through.  Within the last week or two, though, he has tried to bring the debate back to fundamentals; hence his public address to a joint session of Congress and his appearances on numerous news and talk shows this past weekend.  Now he’s beginning to talk about some more specifics, which in the course of a half-hour broadcast only scratches the surface.  In short, President Obama should have appointed a “health care czar” to handle the Administration’s position and to travel across the country while he was busy crafting policy behind the scenes.  Then we might have been further along on this issue than we are now–and much better off with a more comprehensive public policy.

Hopefully, the pendulum has not swung too far yet in the direction of the status quo, corporate greed, and narrow-minded self-interest, so that we can talk about real ideas and real solutions before it is too late.  This discussion cannot turn into a circus.  We need to get meaningful health care reform done now for the sake of the country and all its citizens, and not just for the very rich, the very few, and the relatively healthy.

Julia W. Rath, Ph.D.
Chicago, Illiniois
(September 2009)

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