Letters and responses.
Timothy Brennan's article ("Beyond Shame and Outrage," June 2006) exposes the vanities of the new breed of warrior intellectuals who have signed on to the 21st-century imperial project. Whatever their intellectual and ideological origins, and they are various, Michael Ignatieff, Niall Ferguson, Robert Kaplan and Thomas Friedman, among others, are self-proclaimed guardians of civilization against the onslaught of the new barbarians. What unites these thinkers is more their tone of studied hardness than any intellectual consistency. In their approaches to the challenges of failed states, terrorism and Islamic jihadism, they have contempt for those they see as soft liberals who hope for a world in which tolerance, the rule of law, greater social equality and peace might be sought without the power of empire to sustain them.
When he is asked tough questions about why he supported the American-led invasion of Iraq, Michael Ignatieff quickly mentions that he has been shot at. Apparently this arresting fact is among his qualifications to lead provincial Canadians who understand little of the real world. The fact that most Canadians were right that the invasion of Iraq would make the world a less safe place and that he was wrong doesn't come into it. It's a matter of tone, of pose.
It's much the same when Niall Ferguson dares to challenge political correctness by quoting Rudyard Kipling's "White Man's Burden" approvingly. How better to shock us into realizing that despite the blots on its record, such as the massacre of hundreds of civilians by British troops at Amritsar in India in 1919, the British Empire was a good thing on the whole. His message is that the world needs America to take up where the British Raj left off.
Robert Kaplan, in a characteristic phrase, declares that "Machiavelli says good men bent on doing good must know how to be bad." The realists love pithy, epigrammatic phrases that highlight their toughness.
Not all has been going well for these thinkers, however. The debacle in Iraq has been prompting some to leave their ranks. With his recent book, America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power and the Neoconservative Legacy, Francis Fukuyama, whose The End of History and the Last Man proclaimed that the American way of life would become that of the whole world, has abandoned the cause. He has written that the invasion of Iraq was a foolish error that America could ill afford and has announced his departure from the ranks of the neoconservatives. Lately too, as a candidate for the leadership of the Liberal Party, Ignatieff has tried to put his pithy past behind him.
Rather than converging for underlying intellectual reasons, I believe these thinkers adopted a common muscular tone when it was opportune for them to do so. Now that the winds are less favourable for empire, these thinkers are likely to be blown to quite disparate destinations.
To the Editor:
In his review of Eric Helleiner's Towards North American Monetary Union: The Politics and History of Canada's Exchange Rate Regime ("NAMU and the Neo-Liberals," June 2006) David Laidler makes two analytical points. First, he suggests that the proponents of a North American monetary union failed to take account of the political-historical obstacles facing their proposals, which explains why they were not adopted. Second, he argues that the Bank of Canada institutions and recent performance are perfect and therefore should not be changed.
On the first point I plead not guilty. Awareness of political obstacles has caused me to modify my detailed recommendations for NAMU institutions and practices to be different from those I would have recommended if only economic efficiency were at stake.
However, it is essential to the operation of a supra-national central bank that its member countries give up their own monetary sovereignty. There is no way to modify NAMU proposals to take account of the strong Canadian desire to remain sovereign and independent of U.S. influences, which both Helleiner and Laidler considered to be the most important political and historically based obstacle to NAMU.
At the same time I remain optimistic that Canadian nationalism is not an insuperable obstacle to NAMU. After all, both Canada and the United States gave up some national sovereignty when they joined the North American Free Trade Agreement, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and other international organizations. The economic case for monetary union is as strong as is the case for free trade, which led to NAFTA.
Laidler is right in praising the success of Canadian monetary policy and related institutions in achieving price stability and full employment in recent years. However, Canada's monetary policy should also be judged on the basis of its success in fostering productivity. By this criterion, Canada has not done particularly well by historic and international standards.
One reason is that the Bank of Canada during the 1990s allowed our exchange rate against the U.S. dollar to fall persistently and significantly. Tom Courchene and Richard Harris argued that these trends caused Canadian firms to face much higher costs of imported capital goods than did the Americans, resulting in relatively lower investment and productivity growth in Canada.
My own case for NAMU rests fundamentally on the fact that flexible exchange rates that are influenced by the interest rate policies of the Bank of Canada and by private speculators contribute much to the risk facing investments in Canada. This higher risk resulted in lower investment and productivity growth than would have been the case had the exchange rate been fixed permanently and credibly under the proposed NAMU institutions.
The size of this effect has been very large in recent years as the exchange rate against the dollar fell from $0.89 in November 1991 to $0.62 in January 2002 and then rose to $0.90 in May 2006. Firms cannot protect themselves against such exchange rate changes by any available hedging strategies and dealings in forward and futures markets.
During that period the NAMU currency circulating in Canada, Mexico and the United States would also have fluctuated against all of the currencies in the rest of the world, much like the value of the U.S. dollar did. However, the effect of such fluctuations on Canadian firms would have been minimal since 87 percent of their trade would have been within the NAMU currency area.
Vancouver, British Columbia
To the Editor:
Canada's monetary order, though not perfect, is coherent, is well run and deserves an "if it isn't broken don't fix it" defence against the only kind of NAMU that is politically feasible, namely the adoption of the U.S. dollar as Canada's domestic currency. Grubel's new North American currency and supra-national central bank are non-starters, because the U.S. has no interest in creating them.
Officials of both the Clinton and Bush administrations have unequivocally ruled out any change in monetary arrangements in this hemisphere that would commit them to policies serving the interests of any country but the U.S., so the only version of NAMU that is available would destroy the Canadian electorate's ability to hold those who make monetary policy for them responsible for its consequences. It is not Canadian economic nationalism, therefore, but a Canadian attachment to accountable government that constitutes the political element in the case against NAMU.
Grubel seems to think that the Bank of Canada could have held the exchange rate constant during the 1990s with no further consequences, but such a policy would have needed very tight money. The resulting domestic stagnation would have had its own effects on investment, productivity and living standards.
To the Editor:
For the most part, Ingeborg Boyens's review of our book is accurate and fair ("The Wal-Martization of Wheat," June 2006). However, she has inserted a few misleading claims that deserve a response.
She states that our work is "part of the campaign to win ... wider acceptance" of transgenic wheat. She is putting words in our mouth, and in doing so completely misrepresents our goal. We provide economic analysis using a commonly accepted framework. All of our assumptions are stated, and our work can be replicated. The Canadian Wheat Board and other industry stakeholders agree that a full benefit-cost analysis of the economic impacts of genetically modified wheat is necessary. This is precisely what we set out to accomplish, and we believe that our book provides economic analysis on a very important Canadian agricultural issue. We conducted a complete, relevant and accurate analysis with the information available over the 2002-04 period.
The reviewer states that we used a real options approach (a modified benefit-cost analysis), which resulted in a "rosy picture of an engineered future." This statement is also misleading. The Canadian Grain Industry Working Group on GM Wheat, which consisted of representatives from a broad spectrum of the wheat industry, including the Canadian Wheat Board and the Canadian Grain Commission, endorsed the real options approach for the purposes of evaluating the introduction of transgenic wheat. Traditional benefit-cost analysis would conclude that transgenic wheat should be introduced if the economic benefits outweigh the costs. Real options analysis, on the other hand, is a more conservative approach that accounts for the fact that decisions are made in an uncertain world. Because of the uncertainty, the expected benefits must exceed the expected costs by a significant amount before the introduction of transgenic wheat is recommended. Our analysis indicates that the time for introduction of this specific type of transgenic wheat is already here.
The reviewer is correct that we do not directly address gene flow issues with genetically modified wheat, but incorrect when she says "the authors don't deal with the issue of how farmers will deal with volunteer Roundup Ready wheat that comes up where it shouldn't in subsequent years." In fact, our analysis of the farm level benefits of Roundup Ready wheat addresses the control of volunteer wheat using conventional herbicides.
Colin Carter, Derek Berwald and Al Loyns
San Francisco, California,
and Saltcoats, Saskatchewan
The authors' efforts at an unbiased "real options" analysis of the economic benefits of genetically engineered wheat are unfortunately undermined by the fact that their research was financed by Monsanto Canada and was based on the company's own data regarding its Roundup Ready wheat. And although the authors may want to portray their assessment as pure economic analysis, they do bluntly state in the book that they were hoping to trigger a "gestalt shift" in the worldview towards biotechnology.
To the Editor:
Ray Conlogue has performed a public service with his insightful piece on the shift to the political right in the Canadian print media and the dumbing down of content ("Skulking to the Right," May 2006). Although Canada has never produced a daily that comes close to the quality of Le Monde, The Guardian, El Pais or the New York Times, some of our newspapers used to reach in that direction, especially The Globe and Mail. No longer, it seems. As well as running columns of frothy "Chick Introspection," that paper cut back on its influential op-ed section to make space for a page of health tips.
Conlogue also notes that in the reduced space Canadian papers still reserve for serious commentary, there is a growing ideological divide between the right-wing tone of what is published and the more liberal values of the Canadian public. This may be true, for the moment, but I suspect that our vaunted "Canadian values" may soon be a subject for PhD theses in history departments. Values are never static. Faced with a steady barrage of commentary directing them to think differently about issues, people will eventually fall into line.
In my book The End of Days: Tolerance, Tyranny and the Expulsion of the Jews from Spain, I explored how a major shift in the political consensus was effected centuries ago in medieval Spain. Once the most pluralist, religiously tolerant country of Europe, Spain eventually became the most rigid and closed, with an Inquisition and two ethnic expulsions. How did this happen? With the limited communications of the day, it took the determined elites (the Catholic church, the monarchy) several centuries to alter the national ideology by manufacturing and propagating bigotry. A values shift of similarly major proportions would take far less time today.
Here's a more contemporary example. As I write this letter, the Canadian parliament is preparing to debate extending our Afghan mission. Public support for the war has been dropping, but the Harper Conservatives are intent. In anticipation of the discussion, this morning's Globe published a column by Marcus Gee, in which he scolded Canadians for not supporting the mission in language that openly mimicked the Bush White House ("Evil must be resisted with force"). An editorial in the same edition said much the same: Our "honour is at stake." Marcus Gee is also editorials editor. As such he carries responsibility for the unsigned Afghan editorial as well as for his signed column.
The Afghan issue shows every sign of becoming a watershed; and since the Globe remains Canada's most influential newspaper, it is disturbing to realize that one individual has been accorded so much power over the shaping of public opinion on Canadian foreign policy. In terms of their content, both the column and the editorial deliberately reinterpreted commonly understood "Canadian values" where "honour" has traditionally consisted in making peace, not war. Like it or not, unless there is a prominent debate in our media, Gee and others like him will alter the "values" consensus in the country by virtue of the media space they control and the constant repetition of their message.
To the Editor:
I don't know Ray Conlogue. I don't know your
publication. Perhaps that makes me illiterate.
No matter. What I do know is that comparing
me to Ann Coulter--even "Ann Coulter Lite"--is
an, eek!, absurdity, but typical of the intellectual
laxity that characterizes so much of polemical
commentary in this country.
Again, no matter. I understand that Conlogue
is using Coulter as the worst insult that comes to
mind, regardless of how unfitting the correlation.
She is a pretty idiot. I would say I'm neither.
But Conlogue goes beyond the pale by snidely
mocking the death of my father, or at least the
manner in which I wrote about it. My God, are
there no depths to which some people won't
descend? Unforgivable--indeed, grounds for
doing violence to him--is Conlogue's assertion
that I feel guilty for having disliked my dad. From
where does he get this astonishing invention?
I have no lack of guilt in my life. But I've never
professed, in person or in print, anything other
than love for my father. To think that anyone
reading this article would be misled into believing
such a gobsmacking lie makes me, literally,
sick to my stomach.
By stopping at nothing to diminish me,
Conlogue has done harm to a dead man he never
met. Shame, shame, shame.
You are a disgrace, Conlogue. I hope I can tell
you that to your face, some day.
Erna Paris Toronto
Ms. DiManno's reply illustrates perfectly the double standard on which "personal" journalism is based.
Had her article been about the Toronto police, or the deployment to Afghanistan, Ms. DiManno would (I hope) have gracefully accepted reader disagreement. Hundreds of thousands of readers are not obliged to share one pundit's view.
But notice what happens when the writer recounts an intimate and painful personal story. A different standard is introduced. Here, as in a family gathering, she demands sympathy. Should a nephew break in with, "Yeah, but, Rosie, your father was a colossal pain. I don't know why you keep pretending you liked him," a solicitous aunt would make disapproving sounds and tightened lips all around would alert the nephew to his faux pas.
However, it is different when this story is recounted in a forum where it will be read by countless strangers. Here the writer has herself broken the rules of private decorum. It is unreasonable to order anonymous readers to respect them.
In the case of the story about her father, we read that he is "the angriest man I have ever known," that "he'd swear at me, rain curses on my head," and that when he was dying he refused to hold her hand, saying, "go away or I'll rip out your heart."
Having recounted these things, Ms. DiManno now observes that she has never professed anything but love for her father. Perhaps that's true. However, I have formed an opinion in reading this publicly published article--as I have every right to do--and my opinion is that Ms. DiManno disliked her father. She may also have suffered from unrequited love, because the human heart is full of paradox. The two can coexist, and my view is that in this case they do.
Ms. DiManno is outraged that I have this opinion. She says I have demeaned a dead man. She all but cries vendetta.
In other words, she is informing the world that it must respect the rules of private decorum when she writes about her private life--even though she herself is breaking those rules by doing so.
This is why traditional political journalists were taught never to use the pronoun "I" and never to recount personal material in their columns. To do so confuses the reader, who expects well-informed analysis and does not seek an emotional relationship with the writer.
It is a sign of the desperation of Canadian newspaper publishers that they have broken this covenant with the reader. They know, of course, that most people can't resist peeking into the personal lives of celebrities, and journalists are minor celebrities.
By encouraging this, publishers are treating both journalist and reader as patsies. The journalist becomes a monster of vanity, and the reader wakes up one morning to find she has lots of thoughts about Margaret Wente and Rosie DiManno and not many about anything else.
To the Editor:
I appreciated and enjoyed Peter Calamai's review in the May 2006 issue ("Half Full or Half Empty?"). Undoubtedly, there are mistakes in my book. But Calamai makes me look better than I deserve by erring himself in the two mistakes he takes issue with. He calls a "schoolboy howler" my statement on page 176 that "warming may also melt part of the polar icecaps, causing sea level rise." My scientist colleagues confirm the veracity of this statement. Because some of the Arctic and most of the Antarctic polar icecaps are over land, their melting will indeed raise sea levels. Calamai then notes that my focus on greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 when discussing the Kyoto protocol deadline, instead of the average of 2008-2012, is "factually wrong" and "makes a huge difference." Actually, it does not. Because of the inertia in a given economy's infrastructure, buildings, plant and equipment, greenhouse gases must be trending downward in 2008 for a country such as Canada to hit its Kyoto target in 2010 and they will still be falling in 2012. This means that emissions in 2010 will be very close to the average of emissions over the period 2008-12. I can confirm this from my energy-economy model of Canada and those of my colleagues in other countries. To avoid unnecessary and confusing pedantry, many analysts therefore focus just on 2010 when discussing emissions commitments under Kyoto.
Vancouver, British Columbia
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|Author:||Laxer, James; Grubel, Herbert; Laidler, David; Carter, Colin; Berwald, Derek; Loyns, Al; Boyens, Ing|
|Publication:||Literary Review of Canada|
|Article Type:||Letter to the editor|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2006|
|Previous Article:||Let me tell you my life: one Canadian publisher focuses on "life writing" as a serious academic genre.|