Wednesday Night #1331

Written by  //  September 5, 2007  //  Herb Bercovitz, Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  1 Comment

The Report

The attack on Charles Taylor & the Templeton Prize
Richard Martineau of Le Journal de Montréal, the uninformed and anti-intellectual journalist who launched the campaign to discredit Professor Charles Taylor and embarrass the co-chair of the Consultation Commission on Accommodation Practices Related to Cultural Differences (CCAPRCD) has quickly been discredited himself. The accusation that Professor Taylor was unfit to serve as co-chair because of his acceptance of the Templeton Prize earlier this year was based on a total lack of appreciation of the reasons for which the prize is awarded and of Professor Taylor’s unblemished role as a philosopher .

Jim Wright
It has been said that there are three levels of recognition, namely celebrity, fame and greatness, celebrity consisting of fleeting acclaim accorded by fellow humans. Fame, also accorded by fellow humans, is said to require a great deal of effort and is longer lasting, but the highest level, namely greatness, is granted only by God and frequently not recognized by humans.
His sudden death caused those many people on whose lives Jim Wright and his wife, Nancy, had an impact, to realize his greatness and the extent of his influence for good during his lifetime. Wednesday Nighters, representative of many communities he touched, reflected on his kindness and ability to reach consensus. With his mild manner and even disposition, without ever raising his voice, he was able to bring people together to work towards a common purpose, whether as a neighbour, in his Law practice, on Municipal Council, President of the University Club, at McGill as a student or on the Board of Governors. Many otherwise intractable problems found an acceptable solution around the Wright kitchen table under Jim’s guidance. As Executive Director of the Sauvé Scholars Programme Jim and Nancy’s extraordinary dedication and hospitality to each of the Sauvé Scholars ensured that they were warmly welcomed and integrated in every respect into life here during their studies, thus creating a very special group of international future leaders.

Shock Doctrine
Catherine Gillbert arrived fresh from a sell-out lecture at Concordia by Naomi Klein (“an extremely bright individual, so articulate, so convincing and so charming…”), whose provocative book Shock Doctrine has just been released. Reviews are generally laudatory, although not everyone buys into the conspiracy theory that she espouses, nor the links she makes between the shock therapy experiments carried out at McGill under Dr. Cameron and the “shock treatment” administered by free-market economists to nations in crisis. The jury will be out for some time and we eagerly await articulate reactions.
When I got into management I realized that every single thing they (the unions) thought was conspiracy was just incompetence
Ms. Klein argues that applying extreme capitalism to war-torn or disaster-struck areas can worsen the situation for ordinary people, supporting her thesis with examples that range from Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile to takeovers of waterfront properties for development as resorts in post-Tsunami Sri Lanka. (Some Wednesday Nighters suggested that resort development in nations like Sri Lanka provides jobs and markets for local produce.) She concluded her lecture by urging the Left to be as ready as the Right to respond to disasters, whether natural or man-made, with a plan that does not involve imposing an abrogation of civil rights. The inference appears to be that a shift to the left as in Scandinavia would serve to make for a better, more secure North America or, indeed, world.

Let me first express my admiration for Naomi Klein who manages to turn non-facts into very profitable books
We should not forget that the degradation of the coastline caused by over-development, whether in Louisiana, Thailand, Indonesia or other coastal areas contributed to the vulnerability of these areas when hit by natural disasters. There is an opportunity for the Left, if by Left we imply those with a more advanced conservationist outlook, to develop plans and militate for good environmental planning.

Naomi Klein points to the widening gap between the wealthy and the poor in the former member countries of the U.S.S.R., blaming this state on the Chicago School, World Bank and other ‘capitalist’ icons. However, a counter argument made by several Wednesday Nighters emphasizes that the previous totalitarian regimes had permitted certain individuals to gain power and influence, and those were precisely the people in positions to make the most gains from the subsequent introduction of “Wild West capitalism”. An important sub-text to this argument was that true Communist or Socialist believers were removed very early from positions of power, which, as idealists they were ill equipped to exercise, in favour of those who ruthlessly profited from the totalitarian system and moved easily into the new economic order.
One observer notes that under China’s totalitarian system, the government is able to implement 5-year plans that at least make an attempt to permit more of the 800 million peasants to participate in some small measure in the economy. That this is being done in order to minimize the dangers of social unrest rather than in a spirit of brotherly love is irrelevant, the result is what will count.
Two African countries promised a redistribution of wealth, namely South Africa and Zimbabwe. South Africa did not keep its promise but Zimbabwe did. The result of Zimbabwe’s redistribution of wealth has resulted in near bankruptcy and a uniformly poverty-stricken population while South Africans find themselves far less destitute.
There are claims that the recent fires in the Greek Peloponnese were deliberately set to enable development of prime land; it seems that arson is often suspected as a cause of wildfires in that country, as no construction is allowed in Greece in areas designated as forest land, however, under Greek law, there is no provision for reforestation of areas destroyed by natural disasters.
Whether it is humans or other members of the animal species, genocide, or the cat playing with the mouse before the kill, domination stands out as a driving force in nature and politics. However, as long as humans remain carnivores, we feel a need to distance ourselves from the rest of the animal kingdom but nevertheless, retain much of the survival instincts of our genetic ancestors, as the species is said to have climbed its own family tree. Benevolent animals are eaten as the more aggressive take over. Thus it has been in the U.S.S.R., Cuba or in China – and in most capitalist economies as well.

Shock Therapy
A number of American prisoners of war captured by Chinese communist forces succumbed to brainwashing (“The Manchurian Candidate“) while all of the Turkish POWs in the same conflict successfully resisted. In the search for an antidote to brainwashing techniques, the C.I.A. funded Dr. Ewen Cameron‘s research into L.S.D., shock therapy and sensory deprivation among other mind-altering techniques. His experiments were carried out on individuals without their informed consent, or that of relatives and who already suffered from forms of mental illness. Many never recovered from the treatments.
Judged by today’s standards, there is no question that Ewen Cameron’s work was appallingly unethical, however, we need to also consider the context of the ’50s and ’60s and how society treated many less favoured groups and individuals – orphans, for example.

Politicians, leadership and public speaking
Should politicians do what they believe is the right thing, or what people want them to do? Should politicians be guided by public opinion polls? Where do you draw the line between public opinion polls that can be designed to come up with whatever answer is wanted, and genuine shifts in public opinion [i.e., Afghanistan and the environment in Canada; Iraq and the environment in the U.S.]? Is how they say it as important as what they say? There are few great orators in public life today and a need exists for public figures to learn how to communicate with and inspire their audiences.
It’s always about the audience and having an empathy with that audience, it’s not about what you want them to know, it’s about answering their needs, giving the audience what they want – it’s not about you.
The solution appears to be for the electorate in democratic countries to be less swayed by expensive slick campaign advertising, debating skills or the physical appearance of the candidates and more by the philosophy and programs they propose. Alas, however,there are too few Jim Wrights in this world.
Television has taken over charisma

The market – a technical view
Although some investors believe that the recent sharp drop in the stock market has been the result of the coincidental crisis in newer creative riskier instruments, it is more probable that the market had already overheated and due for a short, sharp shock. The correction is not over yet as the market will sell off again in mid to late October, although not necessarily to new lows and will rise again through 2008. The energy sector will lead the market in 2008, but the banks will probably continue to have problems.

Dead Certain
The new biography of George W. Bush by Robert Draper paints a surprisingly unflattering picture of the President, possibly because in cooperating with the author, the President revealed his thinking without benefit of the spin-doctors’ touch. Among the revelations that many find offensive is that in talking about planning his career after the White House, Mr. Bush seems more concerned about “replenish[ing] the ol’ coffers” by speaking on the lecture circuit, where he can make “ridiculous” money recounting his experiences, noting “I don’t know what my dad gets. But it’s more than 50, 75 [thousand dollars] … Clinton’s making a lot of money.”

Random Comments on politics

The Republicans win when the religious base turns out – they won’t turn out for Giuliani
John Howard, who has served as Prime Minister of Australia for 11 years has always had a close relationship with George Bush, sharing a lot of the same policies and attitudes on the environment as the U.S. President, however his poll numbers are down and he is being pressed by Labour on environmental issues


The tragic news of Jim Wright‘s death makes it difficult for us to focus on topics for this week. Of all his many accomplishments and services to the community, we particularly admired his dedication to the Sauvé Scholars and can only guess at the enormous void that is left in the hearts of those outstanding young people from around the world whom he and Nancy guided, befriended and welcomed into their home and lives.
This sad event reminds us once again of the power of the individual to influence those around him or her and thus effect lasting change. Last week, we spoke briefly of the role of religion in creating conflict, and in contrast, the good work carried out among the orphans of Africa by the non-denominational Christian organizers of the Orphans’ Choirs. We neglected to emphasize the subtle and vital role played by the hundreds – perhaps thousands – of volunteers who lovingly accept the touring children into their homes, giving them a unique view and understanding of the community they visit. Personal contacts such as these coupled with the labours of those who selflessly work in distant communities to improve the lot of individuals or villages are the true key to achieving peace and harmonious development, – not the earnest pronouncements and frequently self-aggrandizing posturing of world leaders.
At the end of last week’s sombre discussion of greed, the new financial order and outlook for world markets, a young guest asked if the evening’s gurus could offer some final note of hope for the next generation. Speaking for all, Tony Deutsch replied that the wide-eyed enthusiasm, idealism tempered with a certain sense of reality, and desire to accomplish change that is so evident in her generation will serve them and the world well. We would add only their early understanding and respect for one another’s cultures and viewpoints, which in no small measure has come from models like Jim Wright.
This week we are very pleased to welcome Malcolm (Mac) Mercer back into the fold from Owen Sound, and his son Craig for a first visit. We can look forward to more frequent visits from Mac & Elaine now that Craig has moved back to Montreal. Craig, having completed a Masters in Sport Management at Bond University in Queensland, is opening his new company Gestion Sportif Orize Inc ( Orize Sport Management Inc) which offers services including player development, player management and event management. The major focus is tennis, with programs in squash, badminton, and ice sports as well. On behalf of Wednesday Night, we have offered whatever help we can, and understand that the first item on the agenda may be to find Craig a francophone communications student who would be interested in an internship.
Although still not decided, the agenda for the evening will be its usual eclectic mix of world events about which we can do little, and local events about which we can do more.


One Comment on "Wednesday Night #1331"

  1. Peter February 19, 2008 at 5:35 pm ·

    You can read more about Dr. Ewen Cameron’s CIA-funded experiments and all the MKULTRA subprojects in the MKULTRA Briefing Book, which was prepared by the CIA in 1976. The CIA Inspector General wrote in 1958 of MKULTRA: “Precautions must be taken not only to protect operations from exposure to enemy forces but also to conceal these activities from the American public in general. The knowledge that the agency is engaging in unethical and illicit activities would have serious repercussions in political and diplomatic circles.”

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