Wednesday Night #1311

On this unseasonably cold and miserable day, it seems that the news is generally more bleak than usual.
The awful tragedy at Virginia Polytechnic hangs over us all, compounded by the anger and frustration that reasonable beings must feel when confronted with the following:
“Virginia laws allow any state resident over 18 years of age to buy a firearm, including assault weapons, if they pass a check of any possible criminal background against state and federal databases.
According to the Brady Campaign lobby for gun control, the state merits a C-minus on a scale of A to F for the strength of its gun-control laws, with 32 of the 50 states ranked D or F. “Buying and owning a gun in Virginia does not require a permit, but without a gun permit only one handgun purchase a month is allowed, and there is no waiting period to acquire the gun.”
How appropriate that the NRA national convention opened on April 14. For those who have never been to the NRA website (we were among them until today), don’t bother; check out the range of comments by bloggers.
As there is, unfortunately, little Canadians can do to defeat the NRA’s vast influence, we will move on to other topics
It is dismaying (but probably inevitable) to note the re-emergence of immigration issues
in a presidential campaign that the International Herald Tribune’s Roger Cohen calls “frivolous”. In his view, “France is a discombobulated country. It looks lovely; it has many world-class corporations, hospitals and high-speed trains. But it is frustrated at some fundamental level. About 25 percent of the electorate will probably vote in the first round for extremist candidates. That is no coincidence.”
Iraq: As the Shiite cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, ordered his six Cabinet ministers to quit the government, the endless killing continues. Iraq’s government is holding talks with some insurgent groups, including members of the former regime, as part of a reconciliation plan, … as at least 58 people were killed or found dead. The latest violence came amid claims by a top Iraqi insurgent leader that his Al-Qaeda-linked group had begun manufacturing its own rockets.
Meanwhile a reported 50,000 Iraqis are fleeing the country each month. The UN is pleading for assistance from Iraq’s neighbors to keep their borders open to Iraqis and looks to other countries to share the burden of these refugees.
And from another oil-rich nation comes news of violence and death in the week before presidential elections. “The United States and European Union have called on Nigeria to curb violence and take action to prevent vote-rigging in Saturday’s presidential election, while a Supreme Court ruling has added to turmoil surrounding the poll”, and the price of oil rises accordingly
Continuing the past two Wednesday Nights’ focus on Climate/Environmental Change, we warmly (no pun intended) recommend Tom Friedman’s long piece The power of green in the New York Times magazine We would also point you in the direction of the USA Today story Global Warming May Put U.S. in Hot Water that reconfirms the overwhelming importance of water to the survival of life on earth. For further discussion on the topic, we hope to have with us Désirée McGraw, just returned from Al Gore’s “climate change boot camp”.
Paul Wolfowitz clings to his job, but his credibility is badly damaged. What on earth was he thinking and what will be the effect on the World Bank, not to mention the crusade against corruption in governments? While his relationship with Shaha Riza has dominated the news, there’s more to the storm of criticism than just the spicey part, notably reversal of World Bank policy on family planning
Even the optimistic note struck by our favorite economists last week looks less hopeful. U.S. market is losing its appeal, Chinese say: At booth after booth at China’s main trade fair this week, the refrain from Chinese business executives is the same: the American market is still important, but not as crucial as it used to be.
More than five years after 9/11, global aviation security is still an “uncoordinated mess” that’s costing the industry millions of dollars, the CEO of the International Air Transport Association charged.
On a lighter note, because there must always be a lighter note:
Chicago – The trial of Conrad Black got off to an odd start this morning when one of the defence lawyers had trouble stopping his cell phone from ringing and playing the theme from the film The Exorcist.
and this (possibly related?) from Malaysia
A Malaysian museum has closed an exhibition on supernatural beings after Islamic religious authorities issued a fatwa, or decree, against it, state media have reported. The National fatwa Council had ruled on Thursday that exhibitions on ghosts, ghouls and supernatural beings were forbidden, as they could undermine the faith of Muslims.
Fans of The Lord of the Rings will be thrilled to hear that a new book by JRR Tolkien has gone on sale, 34 years after the writer’s death. Presumably the topic will ensure that it is covered by the Malaysian fatwa.
In light of all of the above, we welcome Kimon Valaskakis after a long absence, looking forward to hearing what solutions global governance can offer for the mess our world is in.

The Report

Harry Mayerovitch R.I.P.
On the Wednesday closest to the third anniversary of Comrade Harry’s death on Friday, April 16, 2004, his characteristic tweed hat sat on the table in front of his empty chair to remind us of the Sage of Wednesday Night who contributed so much wit and wisdom to these gatherings. As Derek Drummond wrote for the memorial held at Victoria Hall: “he was always perceptive, passionate, provocative and playful”. His death came in the early hours of his ninety-fourth birthday, some 36 hours after his last appearance at Wednesday Night.

Had Harry been here, he would have said that he always feels like dying after Wednesday Night

OWN Awards
Kimon Valaskakis and André Pasternac, who were absent for the induction ceremony on February 21, were officially inducted as 2007/25th anniversary members of the Order of Wednesday Night. Peter Trent read their respective citations.

Global Governance – the New School of Athens
The Club of Athens has evolved into the New School of Athens. In addition to holding a series of conferences and being a think tank, there is now a plan to make it a physical monument to Hellenism in Athens. The New School of Athens will serve as a school of management of globalization with emphasis on concrete strategies, workable solutions and positive outcomes – “not just a think tank, but a ‘do’ tank where working strategies can be taught and a world government in the style of the European Union – as opposed to the United Nations* – can be born, to implement the strategies. Funding for the project from governments has been insufficient to bring it to life, but large private foundations have the capacity and increasingly, the will to bring this plan closer to reality.[*Editor’s note: Some 541 politicians, academics and business leaders from Europe and around the world have signed an appeal for the creation of a UN parliamentary assembly to overcome the “democratic deficit” in global affairs and give citizens a bigger voice. … The Israeli peace campaigner Shimri Zameret said … “On global warming, it has become obvious that without some sort of global democracy, it will be impossible to solve this problem.” more]

Climate change revisited
The lengthening, brightening post-equinox April days appear to favour the physical reawakening of hibernating beasts and reflective reawakening of humans. The winter, though not severe in this part of the world, has borne witness to the deterioration of the habitat of both. Although there is still some debate on whether climate change is merely a continuation of the great ice-age meltdown, or whether, if some humans profit from it other humans have the right to interfere, there is increasing acceptance of its existence and danger to life on earth. Conflicting hypotheses concerning melting ice abound. Think tanks have discussed the issue and increasingly recognize its importance but the time for discussion with little action is rapidly running out.
It is questionable whether the world can afford to await the organization of world government that might have the capacity to put us on the road to effective measures. The only glimmer of hope is the measures that some countries have already initiated, particularly in Europe and significantly, to some extent, in China. It is interesting that, although as Canadians, we have chided the United States for not signing the Kyoto protocol, the initiatives in that country, at the state and municipal levels, have by far, exceeded measures taken at any level of government in our country.
It’s not about Kyoto, it’s about what we are doing about climate change
At the government level it comes down to creating a climate of policy certainty so businesses can get ahead of the curve and take advantage of the economic opportunities
Some parts of the world will benefit from climate change (warming)
What is the social responsibility for the people who will suffer?

[Editor’s note: On Earth Day, April 22, Mayor Bloomberg unveiled a wide-ranging plan including 127 projects, regulations and innovations for New York and the region. The plan is intended to foster steady population growth, with the city expected to gain about 1 million residents by 2030, and to put in place a host of environmentally sensitive measures that would reduce the greenhouse gases it generates.]

Al Gore’s climate change “boot camp”
Al Gore’s goal is to train 1 000 (mainly) Americans who will help to spread the truth about climate change by presenting the slideshow of An Inconvenient truth to a minimum of 10 different audiences each year. Désirée McGraw was one of a handful of Canadians who attended the sixth training session in Nashville last week.
Few people appreciate that it took 18 years to develop the slide show and one of the interesting aspects of the training was to see the evolution of the presentation along with the science, while hearing Mr. Gore’s personal anecdotes.
Désirée is translating the presentation to French and will also be adjusting its focus to take into account that most people in Québec are quite convinced that climate change is happening, but now want to hear solutions. She has already received a number of requests for presentations locally.
The one problem I had with the film was that after presenting a detailed apocalyptic vision of the effects of climate change, only in the very last minutes were there any solutions proposed, such as changing incandescent for fluorescent light bulbs – I found this a total disconnect

Reflections on the Virginia Polytechnic Institute slaughter
The cruelty of the Crusades, the Armenian genocide, as well as many equivalent but almost forgotten historical human tragedies, appear to pale in our minds in contrast to random killing of students or the pointless killing of close to two hundred people in Baghdad or even the “partial birth” abortion issue in the United States. It is estimated that close to a half million Iraqi civilians have been killed during the current conflict. In addition to the increased literacy of the world’s population, the ubiquitous nature of digital cameras and the rapidity with which news of human torture and death is disseminated throughout most of the world provides the appearance of deteriorating civilization and hopelessness.
I couldn’t help but think back to October 3 1990 when 2 or 3 million people celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall in front of the Brandenburg Gates – it was such an optimistic moment in history. I cannot think of a more pessimistic moment in my entire life than the time we are living through right now
With instant communications we have become desensitized to horror. There is no time to reflect and thus our ethics and moral compass are being lost – the way we find light is to turn off the TV and the Internet

The right to possess firearms
Whether it is the fact of, or the rapid reporting of human-induced death that has jogged the conscience of the western world, the enigma of the desire to possess firearms, especially on this continent, stands out. Those supporting the possessions of firearms claim it as a right, apparently offering very little support for their argument other than the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America (written in the 18th century when muskets were the arms of the day and no revolvers or semi-automatic firearms existed) or the ability to kill those who would kill us. Those who would ban guns except for the military and police point out that although knives, automobiles and other potential weapons can kill, it is only guns that are manufactured solely for that purpose. In addition, guns offer the killer the advantage of the capacity to kill rapidly, effectively and at a distance, enhancing the ability to remain anonymous, as well as being less distasteful and safer than manual slaughter with an instrument, possibly not intended for that purpose. Those who point to murders by firearms in Canada despite the existence of an expensive gun registry ignore or consider insignificant data indicating that the number of per capita gun-induced deaths in the United States is five times greater than in Canada. Gun control, while useful in controlling gang violence and some crime is not, however, the solution to rampages by crazy persons. Bombs made of readily available household products can kill as many or more than did the VPI murderer.
Some blame the entertainment media for presenting violent films and video games without showing the consequences of violence. This is a possible explanation but if so, one must also accept that in these presentations even the good guys frequently act violently even when not engaged in killing scenes.
While the NRA argues that gun control infringes on civil liberties, think about the schools with metal detectors, the museums and public places no longer open to the public without security measures

We worry about crazy people with guns – what happens when there are high-tech crazy people with high-tech weapons

There’s rarely a negative consequence for the good guys in Hollywood films; in Japanese films violence is always portrayed alongside drastic consequences for the good guys

The Charest Cabinet
Prime Minister Charest has announced the first balanced-gender cabinet in North American history and the appointment of the first black female Cabinet Minister (Yolande James). News that Monique Jérôme-Forget will serve as both Minister of Finance and Chairman of the Treasury Board has been greeted with enthusiasm. Health Minister Couillard’s continuing acceptance of that portfolio will provide the Charest government with the capacity to ameliorate what appears to be a sagging health care system. However, the reduction of Anglo representation to one, and the continuing exclusion of Pierre Paradis mitigate the general applause.

Selection of candidates
In a parliamentary democracy there is an inference that with an occasional exception, seats are held by people residing in the riding. However, it appears to have become the custom for Prime Ministers and party leaders to assign their personal choice of representative in what is considered a safe riding, regardless of that candidate’s place of residence. While not necessarily universally unhappy about the quality of candidates so imposed in their area, Westmounters show signs of dissatisfaction with the process and [curiously] would prefer to exercise their democratic right to select a candidate representing their personal choice rather than that of the leader of the political party that they support. Rumour has it that Stéphane Dion has reserved 6 “safe” ridings for appointed candidates, four of whom would be women. Informal canvassing indicates that there are several competent candidates-in-waiting in Westmount who would infinitely prefer an open nomination process that would allow for discussion and debate. As it seems less and less likely that the writ will be dropped before summer, is there anything that the citizens can do to provoke such a process?

Healthcare
In health, introducing a human gene into the safflower plant to produce insulin opens the door to an eventual medical cure for diabetes in humans. Health care professionals are now thinking in terms of inducing people to live healthier while young, thus minimizing very expensive treatment at the end of their lives.

One Comment on "Wednesday Night #1311"

  1. Diana Thébaud Nicholson April 18, 2007 at 8:40 am · Reply

    David Mitchell OWN, who had posed the question: “if something happens and a TV camera was not there, did it really happen?” subsequently forwarded the following, unfortunately without attribution, for our consideration: “… what we saw at Virginia Tech was just a concentrated node of a larger, nationwide killing spree that goes on day after day in the USA. Eighty thousand Americans take a bullet from a handgun in any year. Thirty thousand die. That’s one thousand shooting deaths off-camera for each victim at Virginia Tech.”

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