December 2011

Contents Related Letters

Re: “It’s Not Easy Being Green,” by Joseph Heath

Countries are failing to reach an effective agreement on climate change in part because politicians have intentionally banished science to the sidelines. Science limits their political options and denies them the chance to serve their ideologies and cater to the corporate interests that fill their pockets and keep them in power. My Arctic ventures, far from being “off-topic,” pit the overwhelming power of the scientific evidence against the truly devious and delusional politics of global warming. In the Arctic, this is made evident by the alliances forged among the Arctic Five to exploit the melting glaciers for economic and political gain at the ultimate expense of all humankind. All of which is a pretty good example of the social trap, of the tragedy of the commons and of the “remorseless workings of things” all rolled into one. That Joseph Heath would find this off-topic indicates he has missed the point.

Climate change is an uncompromising beast. It does not care about the politics of the possible. It does not care about the economic needs of nations or its individual citizens. All it cares about is how much carbon dioxide we emit into the atmosphere. And then it dictates by how much we have to cut back. That is the only measure of success. Our total failure is found in the vested interests we use to justify our inaction and in the psychology of the flatterers and manipulators we elect to lead us.

I do not offer a solution to this dilemma. I do suggest, however, that the door will open a crack if we bring the scientists and other experts out of the wilderness and back to the negotiating table. Their task would be to lay out a plan of action based on the science. My conclusion states quite clearly that this call to arms sounds rather “lame” in light of the ferocious vested interests that have shaped these negotiations. Yet the failure of our political institutions to forge an effective climate change strategy is monumental and frightening if not criminal. We are losing time here. We need to banish our conceits and work out a strategy. We need to replace the schmoozers with knowledgeable men of action. It will take nothing less than a revolution.

William Marsden
Westmount, Quebec

Re: “Memoir as Utopia,” by Nachman Ben-Yehuda

In support of my claim in The Moral Lives of Israelis: Reinventing the Dream State that the Zionist movement was “messianic,” which Nachman Ben-Yehuda emphatically denies, I could quote a dozen sources, beginning perhaps with the philosopher Leo Strauss and Baruch Ben Yehuda, who penned the History of Zionism: The Movement for Renaissance and Redemption in Israel, and ending with a recent book by the Israeli sociologist Oz Almog, who wrote in The Sabra: The Creation of the New Jew that “most Zionist spiritual and political leaders … sincerely believed that the Zionist enterprise was a kind of ‘building of the Third Temple’.” Indeed, when ultraorthodox Jews in Israel demanded that Israel’s first prime minister explain why, if Zionism was the incarnation of the Messiah, did they not begin construction on the holy temple, Ben-Gurion did not wave off the moniker but replied—look about you, this entire state is the Third Temple.

The argument is important if only as a way of underscoring the need for a fully humanized concept of agency that can be embodied and, if it is, could—albeit with great difficulty—empower Israelis to redirect Israel from the theocracy to which it seems headed (and with which Ben-Yehuda has apparently made his peace) to a secular cosmopolitan state in which secular Jews, Muslims and Christians and self-consistent orthodox Jews could coexist as easily as they do in Canada. Jews in the middle—a thousand varieties of orthodox and secular lite—would indeed need to be brought around. But the fact that Ben-Yehuda believes this project is well-nigh impossible and that my wish to return to Herzl’s vision state is a fantasy means that he, like the old shtetl Jew, has lost not only the faith that the pioneers had in spades but large swaths of his imagination.

Nachman Ben-Yehuda is not of course entirely to blame. In large measure his is the legacy of living in Israel, experiencing the interminable frustration of an immature democracy and a parliamentary system that allows parties who are there not to reason but to demand and invoke God as the last word on issues that are entirely unrelated to divinity. But then again, the good professor would probably discover more energy to deal with the complexity of Israel by simply wasting less time bashing fellow Israelis whose evil ways he does not really believe are so evil. I have given a great deal of my life to Israel, have lost many friends in its wars and I am sorry that Nachman Ben Yehuda feels he needs to defend the country and its complexity from the likes of me.

David Berlin
Toronto, Ontario

Re: “Searching for the Ideal City,” by Frances Bula

I would like to thank Frances Bula for her very thoughtful review and the LRC for the opportunity to open a dialogue on a couple of key points she raises. I take the point about finding the right balance between the panorama and the close-up, the concrete and particular, and the world of ideas and theories that often drives change. But for better or worse, a powerful set of abstract guiding ideas transformed the urban world in the two generations after World War Two. Walking Home: The Life and Lessons of a City Builder was written, not only for those insiders for whom the drivers in this phase of urban history have become old hat, but also for people who might never pick up a book on city planning or design and for whom this “grounding” of what they see and experience every day is fresh news. Part of my goal was to form easily crossable bridges between the inside baseball discussion of these issues and those whose lives are affected in myriad ways by these unseen guiding hands.

I am hardly dismissive of suburbs. The truth is that most North Americans now live in them. The allure was and still is powerful and I lived it as a teenager, as I recount in the book. But cracks have appeared in the “dream” and, like it or not, this way of life is under stress. The combined effects of rising energy costs, congestion in big city regions and a public health crisis reflecting a sedentary life style, climate change and deteriorating air quality are taking their toll. From 2000 to 2010, the poverty rate in suburbs across the United States rose twice as fast as it did in cities, as people with more choices opt for more walkable places while first-ring suburbs experience deterioration and neglect, putting people who need them most out of easy reach of transit and services. But this is not “their” problem. We placed a collective bet and now have to face the consequences. To do that we need to get beyond the unhelpful “them and us” characterization of a cultural divide. The good news is that people are resilient. Some of the most interesting and important challenges I am involved with today have to do with the transformation of suburban settings by finding ways to introduce new transit options, redevelop struggling malls, diversify older subdivisions and introduce new employment.

Ken Greenberg
Toronto, Ontario

Re: “Golden Boys,” by Hugh Winsor

One has to feel sorry for Hugh Winsor, trapped his whole professional life in the back­water of Queen’s Park in Toronto and of the Ottawa Press Gallery in the town that fun forgot.

Never once forced to work in dull old Washington. Or put in time on Fleet Street. That seems to be his complaint about the literary efforts of Craig Oliver and myself. A journalist who has never ventured outside Canada to earn a living, chosen to review those who have. He obviously has never been to Hollywood either, since he mixes up Gina Lollobrigida with Zsa Zsa Gabor.

Autobiographies are supposed to be about your life. That includes your kids’ hockey adventures. And your struggles and failures on the way up. The good and the bad. If it forces the scribbler to wander through 91 countries, them’s the breaks.

One would suggest shyly that “Fothisms” have become part of the Canadian psyche, not “overused clichés.” They are picked up abroad, while encountering foreigners—all those funny people who don’t live in Canada, a nice country but a small one. Journalism is all about travel, the finest education a reporter (and autobiographer) can ever have.

Allan Fotheringham
Toronto, Ontario

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