Wednesday Night #1435

The rise and fall of real estate values never ceases to fascinate. John McAfee, founder of the antivirus company has recently lost some 96% of his fortune and consequently put up his New Mexico desert home for auction.  In a sign of the times, the property went for roughly 10% of his investment. Video

Swine Flu (H1N1) – panic or pandemic?
One of Wednesday Night’s medical practitioners led the discussion based on  useful  information he compiled and circulated to friends regarding what evidence there is for the effectiveness (or not) of vaccination programs and/or antiviral medications including their potential harm. He stresses that what he has put together is current facts and information that individuals should evaluate for themselves, but in no way constitutes a  formal review of all available material.
The WHO has placed the risk of a H1N1 epidemic at level six.  Canada has stated its intention to vaccinate the entire population with a new vaccine that has as yet to undergo clinical trials. [Update: Canada’s swine flu vaccine coming in October.] The risk of death or serious consequences following immunization has been very small, but the U.K. has warned Neurologists of a small incidence of Guillain-Barré syndrome, a severe illness ultimately resulting in paralysis.
Wednesday Nighters were divided over the value of being immunized, considering the absence of time to conduct the clinical trials for the new vaccine developed to combat the new virus; the relatively benign consequences of the illness thus far (and possible serious side effects in a small number of cases) versus contributing to the perversion of the aim of the mass vaccination, namely the protection of the entire population from a pandemic rather than individuals. It appears that a significant percentage of the population is uneasy about  – if not opposed to – being vaccinated. This reluctance is not exclusively related to the decision to accept or decline immunization against the H1N1 virus, but was also an issue when William Hingston was Mayor of Montreal in 1870 relating to the smallpox epidemic of that era.
An ounce of prevention (including a dose of sunlight)
We may expect  a number of people to experience a flu-like reaction to vaccination and some individuals have experienced serious problems with previous vaccination (in particular, Tamiflu) programs. Whatever the personal decision, taking vitamin D, adequate sleep, exposure to sunlight in moderate amounts, personal hygiene and a healthy diet are recommended to minimize the probability of infection.China
Majorities are always challenged by minorities
The Great Wall of China continues to attract visitors, the Three Gorges Dam remains intact and despite continuing discontent and riots, the country is still stable.  This is said to be largely due to the continuing growth of the Chinese economy, with its planned expansion from within.  Although popular discontent resulted in the post-war collapse of the governments of U.S.S.R. and other communist governments of Eastern Europe and although the destruction of the Berlin Wall was unanticipated by most, it is unlikely that these phenomena will be repeated in Communist China.  Although great risks have been taken by certain groups, the state reacts forcibly and rapidly against demonstrations of discontent by engineering major movement of ethnic (Han) Chinese into potential dissident areas including traditionally Muslim and Tibetan regions.  It is believed that the unique stability of Communist China lies in an annual 8.6% increase in G.D.P.  Although admittedly not equally distributed, the continuing increasing affluence of the population is a major factor in the stability of the government.  Notwithstanding that stability, recent world history tends to indicate that ultimately, no communist regime has thus far proven to be immortal.  Ironically, in a sense, U.S. current indebtedness to China theoretically places its future well-being in Chinese hands as well.A federal election this fall?
It’s almost autumn again, the season when the football and politics, our national autumnal sports take over and, at Wednesday Night, as elsewhere, as the weather cools, political debate warms up. Certainly that was the case this week, with a highly-charged and entertaining debate.
At the federal level, as the economy recovers, the current Conservative government will be looked on more favourably – or less unfavourably – dependent on one’s point of view, and if re-elected with a majority of seats, would be in a position to send the Liberal party to political purgatory for some time to come.  This being so, although it would now most likely (at best) lead to a minority Liberal government, the Liberals will attempt to seize the opportunity to force an election.  However, it would take the consent of all three opposition parties to force an election and while the Bloc is doing well in Québec – neck-and-neck with the Liberal Party – there is said to be an internal power struggle within the N.D.P.  A bewildered returning (after a long absence) Canadian asks whether there is any burning issue that requires an election. The answer:  it is not a question of real dissatisfaction with the present minority Conservative government, as much as a lingering fear among voters of what Stephen Harper would do if the Conservatives were to win a majority of seats.
Does Ignatieff have to show that he is ready to pull the plug (knowing that one or both of the other parties will prevent it)?
[Update: the WN pundit (Alan Hustak) who predicted that the Bloc would support the Conservatives was right –Bloc support for Tories to avert election call. The Bloc Québécois will support the Conservative government’s budget motion on Friday, averting a federal election call this week.]

Westmount
On the Municipal level, Peter Trent has indicated his intention to once again run for Mayor in Westmount.  His popularity will very likely result in his return to politics but if, as expected, he is re-elected, he will no doubt find himself in an updated version of the re-enactment of the merger scenario.  Unfortunately, the current Montreal municipal administration appears to have recently had some image issues and opposition candidate, Louise Harel has run an extremely effective, well thought out campaign.  Mme. Harel, while in provincial politics, was the architect of the municipal mergers that were reluctantly reversed by Prime Minister Charest in fulfillment of a campaign promise.  Having been not the originator, but the architect of the “une île, une ville” concept, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that she will attempt to reshape the agglomeration council to the detriment of the demerged municipalities as part of the very necessary reform of the Montreal municipal council.  Understandably, Mme. Harel, while engendering great popularity among Montrealers, is believed in the independent Montreal suburbs to represent a threat to their integrity.

The future of the British monarchy
The monarchy has long been an anachronism in democratic countries.  Just as the British Empire has evolved into the Commonwealth, although some staunch monarchists remain, there are growing questions as to whether the Prince of Wales will ever ascend the throne.  On a personal basis, Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II enjoys great popularity, but the probability of change in this, the twenty-first century, appears more and more inevitable. Some experts suggest that, upon the Queen’s death, Canada’s Parliament could refuse to ratify the succession [of Prince Charles] and thus quietly back out of the Empire without a major constitutional hassle.

Oil, Tar sands and related Environment matters
Nuclear energy, whether for the production of medical isotopes or electrical power, is important to Canada. We should continue to develop it and to produce medical isotopes. The failure of governments – liberal and conservative –  to address the issues and maintain Canada’s capacity is deplorable.
As our dependence on oil continues, so does extraction, but we are going more and more  into ecologically sensitive areas that are harder to get to and include associated risks. An oil well in the Timor Sea northwest of Australia has been leaking for more than a week. Operators continue to wait for a new rig to be brought to the site so that they can drill a relief well and cap the leaking one. Meantime, the oil slick spreads. Our focus on liquid forms of carbon-based fuel is taking us down a dangerous path. The tar sands from which liquid oil is derived,  are as bad, (if not worse); there continue to be allegations of destruction of sensitive areas in the Alberta oil sands, not only during the extraction process but in the transportation process as well.  There are ‘improved’ extraction techniques e.g. steam-assisted gravity drainage that avoid the destruction of topsoil – but, they not only require the use of natural gas, but do not reduce the amount of water required for the process.
[In response to this week’s invitation, our friend Felix sends the following:
“The thing about oil is that Peak Oil means the peaking of the easy stuff to reach. If we think hydrocarbons then we have the tight gas, shale gas, methyl hydrates not to mention it might be a good idea to capture permafrost methane before it shoots straight up into the air with a rather massive global warming potential.
There are others who say that new reservoirs are easily found beneath existing reservoirs and that small technological innovations can significantly extend life of field.
Moving for other forms of oil affect food security often creating deforestation; gas to liquids from coal etc. are massively carbon intensive.
However, the IEA still predicts something close to 80% of energy in 2030 being derived by fossil fuels.
What we need to really focus on as a global society is a New Energy Security where we meet our needs without harming the environment. And let’s identify the issue – the problem with energy is that you cannot store it effectively (vanadium batteries etc., might help!) Of course, a new energy security will happen with Stephen Harper remaining in power. [sarcasm dripping]
US oil consumption is 912,000 barrels per day lower than a year ago. Globally oil consumption is about 4 million BPDs lower than last year. Down roughly to 82MBPD from 86MBPD. The oil price is scheduled northwards, it’s a case of how much and when. It should stabilize above $75 by the end of the year. An oil price significantly over $125 per day would likely see a 1% transfer of global GDP to non-western oil-producing nations and this is insufferable to any Realist reading of international political economy!]

A new means of harnessing solar energy to produce liquid fuel developed by start-up Joule Biotechnologies in Cambridge, Mass.  was cited by Jan Davis. However, this still is liquid fuel, it will produce CO2 when burned (but presumably the creation process uses photosynthesis, so that will be a net more or less zero); however, no combustion is complete, and so there will be byproducts – carbon monoxide, uncombusted hydrocarbons, oxides of nitrogen, which combine to make ground level ozone….

T H E  I N V I T A T I O N

Last week’s delightful celebration of Herb’s 85th birthday (see Sam Totah’s charming account) was a great combination of festive chatter and some serious discussion of the issues.
This week, we follow up with some more items for your consideration, starting with this quote forwarded by John Evdokias: “If you hear that everybody is buying a certain stock, ask who is selling.”
We are recovering from the drama of Ted Kennedy’s death, which was – in our opinion – handled with dignity and an impressive show of deep affection by (almost) all. Using the nastiest of the Kennedy critics as a departure point,  Janice Kennedy (no relation)  published an excellent article Getting mean and distinctly ugly  in the Ottawa Citizen  and made reference to Stephen Harper’s peculiarly callous one-line statement on Kennedy’s death. Of course Mr. Harper was too busy reaching around to pat himself on the back over his appointment of Manitoba’s Gary Doer as the new Ambassador to Washington – not a bad appointment. The timing was interesting, especially coming alongside his flagrant Senate stacking effort – the Mayor of St-Eustache? Really?
For those who are gluttons for serious reading (along with some possible indigestion) , the current issue of Foreign Policy  is full of diatribes on Obama (see the piece by Paul Wolfowitz and the 4 pieces by his critics ), but principally is devoted to OIL – well worth the long read.
Our friend Michel Kelly-Gagnon at MEI/IEDM is also focusing on oil  – the MEI website is promoting  Viewpoint on peak oil by Etienne Bernier , with the following blurb
“The price of oil has been swinging for a number of years. Alarmist talk about resource depletion and overpopulation is coming back into fashion after an earlier peak in the 1970s. However, the Earth contains all the resources required to produce oil (synthetic oil, if need be) in any quantity demanded. Economic logic indicates that lack of demand, rather than of supply, will cause oil production to decline, with no particularly harmful impact on our standard of living. Let’s take a look at what could well be the non-event of the century.”  There are some who suggest that this might have come from the Flat Earth Society. But we are sure that the author will point to the announcement that BP unveils ‘giant’ oil discovery in Gulf of Mexico.
To cap (forgive us!) it all, there’s the FP headline that CHINA [is] IN OIL SANDS DEAL   Why are we not reassured by this assessment by the dean of University of Alberta School of Business: “China’s strategy is to take bite-sized portions initially to get an understanding of [Canada’s] business practices … [and] to give the government a sense China will be a good corporate citizen”?
Isn’t it nice to contemplate the election in Japan – neat and tidy, no accusations of fraud, rioting in the streets, etc. Changes in policy likely, but nothing horrific.  (Foreign Policy) The DPJ faces a laundry list of economic problems and an impatient electorate. The Party has promised robust social spending measures to combat the crisis, but with high deficits, it’s not clear where the money is coming from. It’s also an open question how a DPJ led government will reorient Japan’s role on the world stage and its relationship with the United States. Japan’s opposition party, which has returned to power, pledged a shift away from deregulation and market-led growth, but its economy may in fact need more of that. (NYT)   The yen is stronger and everyone seems happy. Though we aren’t too sure about the news that Japan’s new first lady says [she] rode in a spaceship.
We wish we were as sanguine about today’s news out of the Liberal caucus Liberals will move to topple Harper government . Much as we (or at least some of us) don’t like the current government, we are even less thrilled by the prospect of another election – especially timed around our municipal elections, which will be much more fun!
While we are on the subject of politics and Canada, Steven Lightfoot (who will be leaving us for an assignment out West for several months after this week) sends this question: Whatever happened to the blue-ribbon report Pour un Québec lucide? Remember that one? Was the whole idea of a ‘lucid’ Québec deemed an impossible dream? Or a charm-less possibility? Any updates would be received with interest.
As much of the western world marks the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II , you will no doubt be thrilled to note that Libya is celebrating 40 years of Mr.Gadhafi/Gadaffi  and there’s an interesting footnote. It is reported that Abdelbaset al-Megrahi really is on his death bed.
From Iran (another not overly well-balanced leader) comes the news that their senior nuclear negotiator has said his country is ready for fresh talks with world powers over its nuclear programme.
Gleaned from our – that’s collective –  readings:
Awful forest fires in California nonetheless generate one piece of quite charming news reported on Bloomberg — Dogs, cats, birds, fish and even one hermit crab forced out of their homes by the wildfires in the mountains north of Los Angeles found themselves in upscale digs: the Huntington Hotel & Spa, a 103-year-old luxury resort. The Pasadena hotel, where the presidential suite costs $4,200 a night, has taken in about 50 evacuated families, charging $149 for rooms that typically rent for more than $300 a night. Almost half the families brought with them pets, who stay with their owners and are supplied food dishes and beds, said Elsa Schelin, a hotel spokeswoman. — Now that’s a class act.
Most bizarre headline of last week has to be CIA interrogators used Transport Canada manual – we won’t spoil the fun with an explanation – make up your own!
Possibly reassuring thoughts about mitigating climate change: “Engineering Earth ‘is feasible -, a Royal Society report concludes.”
Whatever else you read, at the end of the day, do not miss Robert Fulford on The most irritating phrases in the English language – we take it as a cautionary tale and going forward promise to basically avoid earning the derision of Martin Amis for texts dominated by “herds of clichés, roaming free.”

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