Wednesday Night #1430

Written by  //  July 28, 2009  //  Kimon Valskakis, Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  No comments

Brian Morel introduced his good friend and former colleague at McGill,  Jacques Languirand, certainly one of the most notable and prolific thinkers, writers, commentators and general Renaissance Men of our lifetime, who is, in addition, spokesman for Quebec’s celebration of Earth Day . Jacques’ biography is far too lengthy to reproduce here – he is, in effect, a one-man Salon. Please consult the short form or the (much) longer French versionWayne Larsen  introduced Denis Thérrien, publisher of the Westmount Examiner.

Some things appear inevitable and predictable yet we continue to be astonished as they occur. The financial world inevitably witnesses its ups and downs.  October will see a downturn because we continue to do the same things that originally caused the crash.  The financial world will probably see a jobless recovery.  People are quick to explain the past but appear to be incapable of predicting the future.  Statistics can almost always be found to support any hypothesis.  The June U.S. figures for increased new home sales is considered a talisman for recovery but only when the fact that that number is exceeded by the number of foreclosures is overlooked.

Automation versus employment
One element conveniently forgotten is the fact that, with the exception of two countries in the world including France where layoffs are not permitted, rapidly increasing unemployment concurrent with evidence of recovery from the current recession can be attributed to the increasing rapid rate of automation as the emphasis today is said to be on process innovation as opposed to product innovation.  The resulting producers that have become healthy at the expense of indigent consumers are able to produce figures that do not fully reflect the seriousness of the situation.  Rules have yet to be created to induce industrialists to behave in a socially responsible way.  Although the past may very well be the predictor of the future, that prediction is always subject to interpretation.  Seers like to be the bearer of good news which the public is always eager to believe.

Within the context of the indifferent news from this week’s mavens, Canada seems to be better placed than most countries as evidenced by the rising value of the Canadian dollar.  Despite the fact that we appear to have dissipated our national annual surpluses and are going into debt in order to throw money at construction projects we are doing rather well within the context of the world situation.  Areas in which we excel such as aviation and flight simulators are expected to continue to do well.

Perfection is rare, if indeed existent, in the human species.  The photographs of Yousuf Karsh continue to be considered works of art.  There can be no doubt about Karsh’s artistic skills as a photographer although some considers that it was his subjects who were iconic, given his technical skills an edge in causing the photographs themselves to be considered icons.  It has been said that there are three levels of recognition among humans, namely celebrity, fame and greatness.  Celebrity is said to be conferred by man, unearned and fleeting in nature; fame, also confirmed by man, the result of hard work and somewhat longer lasting.  Greatness, however, is said to be very rare and conferred by God alone  We tend to revere the heroes of former times but technology, more specifically social networks, have the ability to instantaneously reveal secrets formerly known only to family, close friends and colleagues.  One can reflect on the untarnished images of Abraham Lincoln or Winston Churchill, the length of time that J.F. Kennedy or Bill Clinton were in office before the human within them was exposed or the rapid  transformation from human to icon to human of President Barack Obama, thanks to the instantaneous transmission of important news and trivia via social networks.  The population appears ambivalent about perfection in their leaders and seize every opportunity to learn of the flaws that prove that they, too, are human.  The reliability of Wikipedia, blogs and social networks can be debated but they constitute a large part of the source of information conveyed to us by our news media and have the power to instantaneously make or break a public figure.

The Internet has dramatically changed the manner in which we receive our news and the nature of newspapers has and will continue to change dramatically over the next five to ten years, but the direction that change will take remains unclear.  In part due to the anonymity of the source, hence little or no accountability, the web is less reliable but apparently no less seriously taken than professional journalists.  The question for newspapers is not whether they will survive, but how and in what form.  The great dailies in the world are available electronically, a form found by many to be unattractive as compared with print.  Some dailies are experiencing financial difficulties and how it will finally work out remains to be seen.  Part of the attraction of the electronic medium appears to be both the strength and weakness of debate.  Social Networks are seen today as the twenty-first century agora where the population comes to debate and exchange information and ideas.

Considering the relatively recent birth of the universal importance of the electronic media, the important part played by youth is not, therefore, surprising.  The world as viewed by the twenty-year-olds is totally different than that of the baby boomer, their closest predecessors.  Today’s youth tend to be electronically connected to the rest of the world and are more concerned about social issues to which the preceding generation tended to pay lip service.  Truth is no longer absolute and the hierarchy is diminishing.  They will accept to follow leaders but only after the issues have been discussed with them.

Twitter and the other popular social media medium cover an extremely broad gamut.  Opinions abound and the risk is that people gravitate to opinions that they like, which tends to constitute a hazard to objective journalism.  Canadians are said to be more objective than Americans.  If this is so, is it because we are more objective or have a stronger value system, or is it that we are behind the times?  If we really want to know what lies in our future, we must hang around for a while and witness the changes as they occur.

Quotable Quotes

“I am relatively young, relatively old; we should get away from generational walls.  We should get away from generational differences.”

“There are very rarely differences between the older and younger generation.  The problem is more between the generation in between who think they know more than both.  Perhaps ‘middle’ is a problem.”

“They can’t speak, can’t write, are arrogant and expect everything should be given to them.  Previous generations did great things without the expectations of the younger generation.”

“Many students are all over the world doing wonderful things.  Boomers were selfish and will not retire.  They are ‘expectators’.”

T H E  P R O L O G U E

Following a couple of slightly frivolous – albeit highly enjoyable – Wednesday Nights, this week promises a Thinking Person’s Wednesday Night, with the return of Kimon Valaskakis, whose insights into the G8 and global governance will be most welcome and Karl Moore, newly returned from Asia (including a brief stay in Myanmar/Burma) and the addition of Jacques Languirand.
In light of the impressive line-up, we are almost hesitant to propose topics, however there have been many developments that warrant mention.
The ongoing battle over healthcare reform in the United States has far-reaching implications, not only for the some 47 million Americans  who have no plan –  a figure mitigated by the systems that cover the very poor and the old – but for the credibility of the Obama presidency. The weaknesses in the present system are many, much influenced by the  healthcare industry’s concentration on the bottom line as outlined in this whistleblower’s account in The Guardian.
Would someone please clarify the state of the economy.  Last week, the Bank of Canada told us that the recession is over.  On Monday, Bloomberg trumpets the news that the dollar and the yen declined, while oil advanced and metals climbed to a nine-month high on evidence the global recession is abating (note ‘abating’ – NOT ‘over’). Meantime, the Economist warns that the collapse in world trade has stopped, but there is no sign of a recovery. And now we learn that Warren Buffett is starting a new career in children’s entertainment   Is there a link here?
More seriously, we will no doubt all be watching the first meeting of the U.S. China Strategic and Economic Dialogue on Tuesday. Amidst all the predictions and pronouncements, we suggest the Foreign Policy summary  is cogent and easy to assimilate. Felix von Geyer also points us to the Brookings Institution piece: National and Global Implications of China’s Reserve Accumulation, saying : “They think there’s no real likelihood that China is going to be able to do anything different with the reserves than what it is already doing: parking a very large percentage of them in U.S. government debt. And the latest figures from the U.S. Treasury show that China continues to buy US Treasury bills and bonds on a massive scale.”
In the how-the-mighty-are-fallen category
As Earl Jones gives himself up and is arrested [could someone please explain the use of alleged victims in all the media stories], another – and bigger – operator of Ponzi schemes, Allen Stanford,  is protesting the intolerable conditions in his jail; he’s been without air conditioning and shares a cell with up to 10 other inmates. For his sake, we hope none of the 10 are disappointed investors.
The VIA strike is over – almost as soon as it began. We wish that someone would give us a reasonable explanation of the brinksmanship in labour relations. Why are people allowed to work without contract for two years and more until they force the issue by striking, at which point – provided the public is seriously inconvenienced and cranky – by some form of magic hitherto unavailable, everyone gets back to the bargaining table and agrees to arbitration. Shouldn’t there be an imposed arbitration as contracts near their term without agreement?
Bloomberg  has told us that Ericsson has acquired Nortel Networks Corp. for $1.13 billion after beating bids from Nokia Siemens Networks and MatlinPatterson Global Advisers LLC. However, that was Saturday and on Monday, the Ontario Finance Minister has begun a campaign to block the sale. We are all in favour of keeping cutting edge Canadian technology in Canadian hands, but we cannot help but feel that RIM has behaved badly and is using nationalism as a crude form of blackmail.

We suggested the idea below to Mayor Peter Trent some years ago – and would add that people with large lawns might rent the sheep for short periods of time from the City. It might be useful to have a sheepdog or two to keep an eye on them.
Palais des Nations awarded for green efforts

The United Nations Geneva offices, the Palais des Nations, has been awarded an environmental prize by Switzerland’s Fondation & Nature Economie for biodiversity and ecological protection initiatives. The efforts include avoiding pesticides and the use of sheep to cut the grass. AlertNet.org/Reuters (7/24)
There’s ever-so-much more, including John Moore’s piece in the National Post on Just how badly do the federal Conservatives want to lose in Quebec in the next election?;
The unlamented Governor of Alaska has stepped down, but we fear she is just moving on into the bigger as-yet-undefined picture . At least we may have the opportunity to again admire the inimitable Tina Fey in her glory.

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