Wednesday Night #1125

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Diana is back from a meeting in Washington which, despite its long and incomprehensible title proved to be a fascinating intellectual marathon with the communications gurus of the world – and chaired by David Suzuki! She was even more impressed, however, with the general ambiance of good humour, courtesy to visitors and THE TOTAL LACK OF TORONTO-TYPE WHINING, despite six days without power thanks to Hurricane Isabel.
She didn’t see George. But is cheered that his ratings are falling.
The outcome of the World Bank/IMF Annual meeting in Dubai is on the agenda.
The coronation of St. Paul will no doubt be another topic.
The peripatetic Jeremy Jonas will be with us. And we hope you will be too!

Preamble: The gathering was enhanced by the presence of Marion Canute and the unexpected return of Me Donald Bunker from Dubai, in town for a couple of weeks to meet one of his teaching commitments, to which he continues to be faithful. Marion, a broadcast journalist with a special interest in Environment and Health, is based in Berlin where she works as a freelance journalist with Deutsch Welle. In October she returns to Kabul for several weeks to give training to broadcast journalists. Marion hopes to return to Montreal in the not-too-distant future and is therefore alert to possibilities in her field.

Julius Grey started the evening by introducing his guest Yoanna Skrobik. She is a senior MD working in intensive care at MUHC and Maisonneuve hospitals, where she is also doing research. She in turn introduced her guests Marta and Igor from Poland. They are working in the world of theatre with Marta specializing in the folkloric tradition and Igor has directed a work based on the second volume of Proust.

Jeremy Jonas provided some insight in to the Alcan acquisition of the French company Pechiney. The European Commission has given its blessing to the acquisition, with certain conditions. Since the Alcan stock has gone up over the negotiation period, there has only been a small increase in the amount offered. The activity will catapult Alcan into first place from the point of view of the production of aluminum, while Alcoa in the States is first in profitability. These are exciting time for Jeremy with considerable travel involved. Among the conditions of the sale was that the main Pechiney Research Centre in France will remain there. They are a Centre of Excellence and a world leader in metallurgical research and should be maintained as such.
Bob Edgar asked what would be the deciding factor in the closing of one of the two rolling mills. This is still under wraps and has not been announced.

Dress code
The discussion then turned to the case of a teenager, Irene Waseem, expelled from Charlemagne College, a private Pierrefonds School, for wearing a hijab. The traditional Muslim headscarf violates the school’s dress code, and she won’t be allowed back as long as she’s wearing it. She now attends Riverdale High School. It was asked if this is a religious or cultural matter. Me Julius Grey said that this type of case has to pass the “Test of Sincerity” and it is up to the individual to prove that they believe this would violate their beliefs. There was a case of a Catholic asked to work on a Sunday. When the local bishop was asked if this is allowed the answer was yes, but yet the individual felt that it was sacrilegious and their opinion had to be respected. Julius felt that the student with the hijab should be accommodated, but wearing a veil would restrict the educational environment for the student and for the teacher. Schools have a right to set dress code standards, but should be flexible enough to respect the odd exception. He hoped that in a generation these children would be sufficiently assimilated that this will not be an issue for the next generation. Diana asked about community rights, while Jeremy pointed out that we assume “good will” will apply. Tolerance has its limits and there are cases where “undue hardship” will come into play.
Yoanna spoke to different kind of dress code, where she asked a medical student to wear a lab coat to cover the student’s clothes, which included a crocheted top, with nipples showing through!
Igor joined the discussion by saying he had been teaching in a private school in Poland. While this concept was done away with under communism, it is now coming back. The uniform creates a standard and is a symbol of the society.
In many private schools there is the concept of a contract between the parents and school that is binding. Clearly the parents have the choice of not signing such a contract and sending the child to another school.

New York Stock Exchange – executive compensation
The room then focused on the ridiculous settlement of some US$200 million paid to the Chairman of the New York Stock Exchange.
“The board of the New York Stock Exchange forced its chairman Richard Grasso to resign over the salary and benefits it agreed to give him. Several members of the exchange’s board, who claim not to have known how much Mr Grasso’s package was worth, may also be forced out. Mr Grasso, who worked for the exchange for 35 years, this year accepted a one-off cash payment of $US140 million in salary and benefits. The lump sum was in addition to $US48 million Mr Grasso earned but did not claim, and his $US1.5 million salary.”
Alan Mass stated that this situation is clearly outrageous. However, the board approves executive compensation and the responsibility, in part, rests there. We live in a greedy society, and there is a lack of moral principle in asking for and getting such large settlements. In the case where executives agrees to a percentage of revenue or profit, and then the organization does well – there are cases where large payouts are justified.
One solution would be to donate excess earning to charities. Julius took this idea one step further suggesting that all salaries over $300,000 – the additional amount is taxed at 100% – thus returning excess funds to the government.

Jacques Clément report
He started his summary of the economic situation by pointing out that the U.S. economy continues to expand from both a percentage as well as a trade point of view. The second half of 2003 is likely to show a 4% – 5% rise for an annual growth of 2.5% to 3 %. All the leading economic indicators are up for the fifth consecutive month. The US is close to a 17 year high in housing starts and there is a record number of housing permits being issued. Added to this is strong personal consumption (autos) and improvement in the manufacturing sector. Business investments are strengthening and recently announced profits are very strong. There is record fiscal spending – particularly in the defense sector. All this is due in part to the easiest monetary policy in 45 years.
It is now projected that the U.S. economy will outpace Canadian growth for the first time in 5 years. This would place the U.S. at the head of the G-7 economies. It is expected that Canada will be in the 2 to 2.5% range, Japan at 2%, the UK at 1.9%, and the EU at 0.5%. As a result – no further Fed easing is expected. Other economies that are doing well include China 7.5%, India 6.5%, Russia 6.0%, Argentina 6.5%, Thailand 5% and Australia 3.5%.
The Canadian economy is recovering at a moderate pace, with leading indicators for July and August strengthening. Manufacturing shipments have recovered strongly, and new manufacturing orders are up 4% (June-July). Housing starts increased 4.7%, while housing permits were up 11% over the same period. Both wholesale and retail sales were up in July, with one of the strongest sector being automobiles with a 12.6% rise. The trade surplus has recovered as well.
One factor affecting international trade is the strength of the Canadian dollar, which has reached close to 75 cents US. This is a 17% year-over-year improvement. The outlook is for the Canadian dollar to continue its rise to maybe 77 cents by year-end. Foreigners bought over $2 billion of Canadian stock in July. The Bank of Canada core CPI is at 1.5%, and with the economy underperforming against its potential, a further rise in the Canadian dollar is expected. This in turn may lead the Bank of Canada to ease the bank rate at its mid-October meeting. Gold is at a 7 year high and is heading for $400US. Also OPEC has just reduced production, which is forcing the price to go up to over $28/barrel. There is concern in OPEC that when IRAQ oil comes back online, this will flood the market, and they want to keep the price close to $25/barrel.
These factors may cause the US to ease further to bring the Japanese yen close to 100 per US dollar, and the euro trade in the US$1.14 to 1.15 range.

In a change of topic we turned to the case of the woman who had a child born out of wedlock in Nigeria who was condemned to death. We can report today that Amina Lawal, the single mother who attracted worldwide attention when she was sentenced to death by stoning, had her conviction overturned today by an Islamic appeals court in northern Nigeria.
A panel of judges rejected Ms Lawal’s conviction by four votes to one, citing procedural errors and saying she was not given “ample opportunity to defend herself”. Ms Lawal, 32, was sentenced to be stoned to death under Sharia law in March 2002 after she gave birth to a child outside marriage. Twelve mainly Islamic states in northern Nigeria have adopted Sharia, though the Nigerian government had argued for Ms Lawal’s release. In an hour-long ruling, the judges in black robes and white turbans said Ms Lawal was not caught in the act, and was not given enough time to understand the charges against her. They also complained that only one judge was present at her initial conviction, instead of the three required under Islamic law.”

The Ecosystem
Diana was then given a chance to cover the excellent think tank she attended in Washington. About 20 experts from around the world had a 12-hour session chaired by David Suzuki. They had to develop a communications plan for the release of documents over a 2-year period about a global assessment of the ecosystem we live in, with the entire flora and fauna and their interaction. This is an important packaging and selling job. Rather than having hundred pages of reports – how can this be presented by the best scientific communicators? There may be BBC films with David Suzuki, but also 90 second CNN-style sounds bites.

Dame Margaret completed the evening by thanking our guests from Poland in Polish, and likewise for those in English and French.
Quotes of the Evening

All men are continually in need of “intensive care”.
We recommend “Assimilation with kindness” so that in a generation immigrants are fully integrated into Canadian society and have no need for special clothing or treatment.
Tax all salaries over $300,000 at 100%!

Notes by Prof. Gerald Ratzer
Wednesday Night Salon #1125
September 24th., 2003

 

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