Wednesday Night #1434

Westmount Examiner: Bercovitz marks 85th in style

This Wednesday Night, we plan to celebrate Herb’s milestone 85th birthday and achievements – not least of which, his years of devoted service as Official Scribe of Wednesday Night. We hope that you can be with us, but, if not, do please send a message – TO US – that can be read and given to him.

Man of many talents – scholar, sculptor, scribe he is,
No mischigass escapes him as in his chair he sits,
Noting for posterity
Both gravitas and hilarity
None other than our beloved Mr. Bercovitz
All the best to Herb on another milestone. Sam Stein

While we believed that as we were celebrating Herb’s milestone birthday and coincidentally, his unflagging and unstinting contributions to Wednesday Night, he would join us around the table in the inner circle to be feted, Herb, characteristically, persevered with his note taking throughout the evening. Thus, there are two accounts of Wednesday Night #1434, and for the second, affectionate report, we refer you to Sam Totah’s version. Meantime, here below is Herb’s account of the discussion.

Incarceration, Prosecution and possibly persecution
In 1938, the report of the Royal Commission on Penal Reform was introduced in Parliament, changing the emphasis from retribution to rehabilitation.  Although it is understandable that victims of crime and their family might prefer a biblical penalty, a decreasing crime rate in Canada speaks well for the wisdom of our nation’s philosophy.  Britain’s practice of exporting criminals to the colonies where the survivors were ultimately released, although satisfying to the victims, does not appear to have resulted in either a decreased crime rate in Britain nor an increased crime rate in Australia.  Canada’s crime rate is lower than that of its neighbours who have maintained the death penalty and a punitive approach in the treatment of convicted criminals.
It is understandable that the families of the victims of the Lockerbie bombing are outraged at the release of Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi and his return to his native country but the Scottish judge who ordered this course of action undoubtedly recognized the futility of allowing him to complete his life sentence in captivity in favour of the more humane approach that has proven to be effective although admittedly painful to the family of victims.  In this instance, too, there has been a lingering doubt as to his actual guilt, especially following the nature of the evidence, apparently considered questionable by some and the acquittal of Al Amin Khalifa Fhima, his co-accused. That is one view. There are other, more sinister, or cynical views, attributing the release to one or another form of real politik which are bolstered by the world-wide reaction to the hero’s welcome he was given on his arrival in Libya and the less-than-transparent actions of Mr. Gaddafi

Omar Khadr and what Canadian citizenship means
The Khadr family is not particularly lovable in the eyes of the Canadian public.  As a start, a father who sends his fifteen-year-old son to become a soldier in another country cannot be considered a great role model.  Canadians, however, do not turn their backs on citizens who have been accused of but not convicted for crimes and do not sanction incarcerating them for seven years without bringing them to trial.  Furthermore, children who have committed crimes, however heinous, are not treated as harshly as are adults in this country.  Omar Khadr was born in Canada and deserves to be repatriated and be given a fair trial.  Our reluctance to do so speaks poorly of the importance placed by our government on Canadian citizenship, so valued by the citizens of our own country as well as by foreigners.  Our reputation as peace keepers should stand as testimony to our objectivity in separating philosophical from legal differences.  Once we treat people differently according to their likeability we have contributed to the erosion that reputation.
Possibly, part of the problem may be Khadr’s dual citizenship and perhaps we have been too generous in granting dual citizenship. But if so, that problem is our own not theirs.  Perhaps, the reduction of the five-year waiting period to obtain citizenship to three years, has lowered the perceived value of Canadian citizenship.  If so, that, too, is our problem rather than that of our most recent citizens.  It has been suggested that the government’s reluctance to repatriate Omar Khadr caters to the view of those who resent the actions and statements of his family or possibly even his own actions, hardly a worthy motivation.  The test of an ethical society is how it treats the least of us.

Climate change, migrations and states
No matter how the Khadr drama plays out, it appears certain that previously rigid territorial boundaries are weakening as climate change affects productivity of agricultural lands and availability of water and rising sea levels threaten the very existence of island states and low-lying coastal cities, while populations continue to increase in many parts of the world. massive migrations of humans across the planet will continue to make those boundaries less meaningful.  Perhaps what is required in order to maintain the type of civilization and government that we have constructed over the years is a better filter of immigrants seeking Canadian citizenship.

Canada‘s Foreign Affairs
Many observers of the Harper government’s conduct of foreign affairs are deeply disturbed by shifts from Canada’s role as an influential and principled middle power to one of support for the (now largely discredited) philosophy and policy of the Bush-Cheney administration in the U.S. Concerns are focused on three issues: 1) rights of Canadian citizens abroad – what does a Canadian passport mean? 2) immigration policy (and closely related visa issues); 3) changes in the language of diplomacy employed by Canada’s diplomats and the implied reversal of support for institutions such as the ICC, which Canada has not only supported, but helped to create under past governments – both Liberal and Conservative.
There appears to have been a delayed shift in the philosophy of the current government of Canada towards the Bush government’s approach to national and international policy – in other words, Canada is again out-of-sync. Evidence has recently become public of what one expert observer terms changing of policy by stealth by, among other things, changing the context and meaning of words in diplomatic discourse, presumably in order to deliberately make them less precise, more open to interpretation.  The complexity of international discourse demands the standardization of expression using stock phrases that, although sometimes stilted and cumbersome, have acquired a precise meaning understood in all languages.  The deliberate fudging of diplomatic discourse may be driven in the case of the elimination of the term Child soldiers to the government’s position on Omar Khadr [Editor’s note: see “Gender Equality”, “Child Soldiers” and “Humanitarian Law” are Axed from Foreign Policy Language]  and may be of some value for domestic politics but risks diminishing Canada’s position and image on the international scene.

A Conservative majority in the next election?
The disappointment of many Wednesday Nighters in the Conservative government’s approach does not appear to be reflected in the population.  The diminishing popularity of the Liberal Party foreshadows a Conservative majority government in the next general election.

The market
We are witnessing an impressive rise in the stock market.  There is cautious optimism in the short term.  Earnings have been above expectations largely due to the excellent performances of the banking sector and most of the other sectors holding their own.  Southeast Asia has done exceptionally well and warrants attention. A very effective tool in predicting short term stock market activity, barring unexpected political or geographic disasters, is the two hundred day moving average.  Perusal of that tool indicates that the recent dramatic market recovery will continue until at least March 2010 and possibly continue to rise for another one and a half to two years.

China and religion
Any change in the sheer size or nature of the population of China has the capacity to impact the entire planet and the rapid spread of  Christianity in that country’s population is worthy of watching.  The number of Christians in China has reached about one hundred million and Islam, too, is said to be making inroads.  Although the future effect of these changes in the population is unforeseeable, the sheer size and impermeable nature of that country possibly foreshadows an interesting impact on the rest of the world.

The energy file
The movement to reduce world carbon emissions by eighty percent by 2050 can only be an impossible dream unless clean sources of energy as yet undiscovered, can be harnessed.  The use of natural gas, solar or wind power is not a practical solution.  Nuclear energy still faces resistance and is not suitable for all applications.  World food supply, especially in the face of a rising world population and the reduction of the availability of arable land, is dependent on fossil fuels.  Although hydrogen is considered by some as a possible alternative, the separation of hydrogen from the water molecule requires a great deal of energy in one form or another and even if it were possible, the hydrogen atom is so small that it is very difficult to contain. Margo Somerville mentioned promising being work conducted in Australia on the solar-hydrogen cycle. Jan Davis spoke of a new – and somewhat mysterious  biofuel project in Boston –  Joule Biotechnologies announces new biofuel jargon, scant details   Still, fossil fuels represent eighty percent of our energy source and at this point, their replacement by a clean energy source is difficult to imagine in our lifetime.

T H E   I N V I T A T I O N

As we reach the end of whatever summer we have had, and the rentrée des classes is upon us, we were seized with the desire to do some research – not that we don’t research the topics for every Wednesday Night.

We thought that you should know that  August 26 is the anniversary of  (1498) – Michelangelo receiving the commission to carve the Pietà  ; (1858)  the first news dispatch sent by telegraph;  (1883)  the great Krakatoa   eruption ;  (1920) The 19th amendment to United States Constitution taking effect, giving women the right to vote- would someone please tell the Chairman of Wednesday Night? ;  (1944) Charles de Gaulle’s entry to Paris (which did not burn) ; (1977) adoption of the French Language Charter in Quebec  – and of course, for history buffs and trivia specialists,  there is more .
In the present, we have any number of issues – more or less (mostly less) glorious than those commemorated.
The Afghanistan elections: The preliminary assessments are not very good    with accusations of voter fraud  and we are appalled that the Taliban are making good on their promise to cut off the fingers of those who have voted.
Then there is Stephen Harper’s annual foray to the Arctic – not everyone is impressed. Don Martin in the National Post suggests that the Arctic strategy is melting
Ben Bernanke
gets a second term as Fed chief   – it’s doubtful President Obama could have done anything else.
We continue to harp on Canada‘s policy regarding protection of its citizens overseas.  After the Suaad Hagi Mohamud debacle, we note that Abdihakim Mohamed is on his way home, but as the Toronto Star notes, “From Mexico to Nairobi, they wait in vain for help from ‘amateur-hour’ Canadian officials – Canadians travel at their own risk”  – is it the fault of Canada’s foreign service, or is it a matter of political indifference until the media raises the issue?
The U.S. deficit – $9 trillion – should we worry? Not necessarily, says Paul Krugman
The healthcare reform battle continues   while the President tries to get some down time in Martha’s Vineyard.
Rudy Giuliani
back – this time as Governor of New York?  (Note to MML – this one he could win)
It’s hard to keep track of all the elections around the world, but we should sit up and take notice of the ones in Japan  on the 30th
World Water Week
in Stockholm 
has concluded – some thoughtful pieces in the IPS Troubled waters pages  deserve reading. Also noteworthy is Gwynne Dyer’s ‘Climate Wars’ series, dealing with the geopolitics of climate change, airing this week on CBC radio  and the news from the World Food Program is dire –  in Kenya, up to 10 million people are at risk of “severe hunger” due to drought

Leave a Comment

comm comm comm