Wednesday Night #1346

Written by  //  December 19, 2007  //  Herb Bercovitz, Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  2 Comments

Do see last week #1345 – a wonderful evening with Marc Garneau – good conversation and great photos by Robert Galbraith
If two weeks ago our theme was Let it Snow, this week should likely be Winter Wonderland. However, we confess that after digging ourselves out of the house (resisting the temptation to hi-bear-nate), aching muscles preclude flights of poetic fantasy.


The Report

The Scribe’s Preface
The abacus, printing press, flying shuttle, steam engine, mechanized farm machinery, telegraphy, the Wright Brothers’ flying machine, television, satellite, space shuttle, have all contributed to the nations of the world competing for financial and political world dominance while maintaining a balance between the preservation of national and ethnic culture and success in attaining a dominant position on the world scene. Unfortunately, there remain nations in which ethnicity takes precedence over contribution to the evolutionary process, as well as those in which greed dominates over the well-being of its own citizens. The pace from the time of the hunters and gatherers to the present cultural and economic competition between Asia, Europe, Middle East and America is so rapid that the balance between as yet unimaginable human success and total disintegration should be of great concern to the citizens of all nations. The routes to financial success without selling national birthright are varied as has been the human ingenuity required to achieve an acceptable balance.

The evolution of the United Arab Emirates is particularly striking in its compromise between ethnic tradition and western liberalism. Dubai, the largest of the Emirates is the fourth or fifth city in the world in terms of growth and wealth. Much of its success is attributable to the vision of the Royal Family. As a secular Muslim area, Dubai attracts many Arabs along with citizens of many other countries, notably wealthy Indians and British – 85% of the residents are expats and, with no taxes to pay, many if not most are there for the money to be made. (As housing is extremely expensive, it is usually included as part of the package offered by employers to foreign employees.) It is “New York without the culture”, whereas neighbouring Abu Dhabi is attempting to compete by offering cultural development including branches of The Louvre and the Guggenheim on Saadiyat Island. There is some concern that it may be a bubble, but in the opinion of one recent visitor, the fundamentals are there. Dubai lacks oil, but is a major trading port, world-class financial centre, and tourism is a major industry, with great beaches (along with an indoor ski hill and skating rink where Canadians play hockey), fantastic shopping, excellent food. The Palms are the world’s largest man-made islands with breathtaking beaches, residences, hotels and entertainment centres.
In order to establish a business in Dubai, it is necessary to have an Emirati partner. This creates a situation in which most natives are extremely affluent, at the top of the economic and social pyramid, and more importantly, there is a sense of entitlement – that they are more important than any non-Emirati. Expats in professional and managerial positions accept this condition and are delighted to be living in this exciting region, however, there is a majority subculture (domestic and construction workers, etc.) that lives in horrendous conditions and earns miserable wages. These predominantly Indian, Pakistani and Filipino workers, having paid for their flight and visa, find that most of their income is required to repay these expenses for the better part of a year. If they demonstrate any dissatisfaction with their working conditions, they are immediately shipped back home; only if they were sufficiently organized to protest en masse would things improve, but most recognize that they are still better off than in their home country.

Donald Trump’s [not so excellent] Scottish adventure
Scotland has historically gone to great lengths to retain its culture and tradition, so it might be surprising to some that it is seriously considering that culture and tradition may be ceding their traditional place to what has been qualified as public or national interest, but might possibly be interpreted as economic interest. Donald Trump‘s proposed development of a billion dollar golf resort in Scotland which would require changes to the hitherto protected landscape, was narrowly voted down by the local Council (See Comment #1). In the past, the protection of the dunes probably would have been non-negotiable, but the prospect of North Sea Oil running out within the next half century may soon outweigh patrimony concerns. This project might well be proven to be in the long-term public interest, but here as elsewhere , that interest has seen a shift from the historical situations under which eminent domain might be invoked towards more recent broader definition of the concept.

The return of Wednesday Nighter Chantal Beaubien from Cambodia for her swearing-in as a member of the Québec Bar prompted a discussion of the economic climate and growth of Cambodia, foreign investment opportunities in Cambodia, and the Cambodian legal system, which like Québec is based on a Civil Code with common law influences. One of the more interesting aspects of Cambodian law is that no judicial decisions are published, thus there is no reference to precedents and arguably a resultant lack of transparency in the court system.
The Cambodian people do not often have secure hard title rights to the land on which they live and often hold only possessory rights to land, or do not have formal rights recognized under the law. The sometimes tenuous or undocumented ownership rights of the people is the fallout of the Khmer Rouge regime’s abolition of private land ownership and the forcible removal and relocation of landowners. After the regime was toppled, people returned to their lands or occupied whatever land or structures were available, but very few have purchased the certificate of ownership that would confirm indisputable ownership rights. The Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Cambodia, Yash Ghai, has reported that land grabbing is now a major human rights issue, and while there is often organized resistance by communities, their calls for assistance are at best answered only on a case-by-case basis and only after land grabs are attempted or made and upon the protest of the communities involved.

The new U.S. Energy Bill
Following the public relations disaster for the U.S. and Canada in Bali, President Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act today. While the proposed measures have been welcomed, they are deemed incomplete with one major objection being the lack of strong restrictions on SUVs and at best, they merely delay the inevitable by very little, with the ultimate development of safe nuclear energy the only realistic solution.

Alternative sources of energy
Solar panels are dependent on sunlight. Even when the sun shines, it moves around so that a large area of land – a diminishing resource – is required for wind farms, and other energy sources such as fossil fuel backup are required when sunlight is not available. Solar hot water is the exception because it can be stored and retain some of the heat for a short period of time and returned to the desired temperature using less fossil fuel. This is a prevalent practice in newer buildings in China on the outskirts of cities.
Wind power has the similar drawbacks. It requires fossil fuel backup when there is insufficient wind.
The law of unintended consequences as it applies to biofuels has been discussed frequently here and elsewhere including a recent OECD report, using grain for fuel or arable land for non-edible crops for fuel merely solves fuel problems by creating food problems and shortages for humans.
Using the heat of the earth’s core to produce geothermal energy provides a good means of producing usable energy but is not feasible everywhere, requires a certain amount of land, is expensive and requires electricity to operate, providing five kilowatts of output per kilowatt of input. Certainly, as a supplemental energy source it is a very acceptable way to go.
Just as many of us have converted – or are gradually converting – our lighting from incandescent to fluorescent bulbs, [well ahead of government regulation targets], we are now encouraged to move on to the brighter, even-more efficient LED (light-emitting diode), which emits a very bright white light (other colours also available) . Some may remember that over four years ago Vithal Rajan spoke enthusiastically about the work of the Light Up The World (LUTW) Foundation which applies LED technology in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka to light up an entire village with less energy than that used by a single, conventional 100-watt light bulb.

Cycles and climate change
Some Wednesday Nighters have been consistently insistent that recent climate change has been the result of the historic cycles of nature that moves from desert to floods to glaciers, while others point to the recent historic sharp rise in world temperature. It appears that both may very well be right. A recent visitor to the Arctic who had the opportunity to speak with older Russian scientists who have been observing the ice melts and water temperatures for decades quoted them as saying that this appears to have been the longest (11,000 years) interglacial warming period (‘sweet spot’) and world climate is overdue to get colder, with unforeseeable effects on humans. Is it possible that the rise in CO2 emissions (the ‘hockey stick effect’) since the 1970s, concurrent with increased temperatures, is merely circumstantial? Are human emissions overriding the trend to colder temperatures?
As the Wednesday Night debate continues over the cyclical nature of climate change, the anthropogenic effects on global warming, the achievability of the Kyoto targets and the wisdom of the Harper government stance that India and China must sign on before Canada will do anything, there is nonetheless a sense that we cannot contemplate with equanimity the possibility of millions of deaths from the effects of global warming because we have done nothing to avert disaster.

Bombardier Inc.
The recent news that Pierre Beaudoin will replace his father, Laurent, as President & CEO of Bombardier Inc has been generally welcomed. He has a reputation of being a hands-on executive who, after over 20 years with the company, knows every aspect of its operations. Karl Moore reiterated what he told The Star at the time of the announcement: “Replacing the elder Beaudoin is someone who has earned the respect of his peers and who has been in training for the position almost since birth …Regardless of his last name, he’s a real executive and deserves a job like this.” The decision not to launch the C-Series of planes during Robert Brown’s tenure is still debated, but appears to have been prudent, given the risks that the company ran of bankruptcy. Thanks to design developments since that decision was taken, and with the agreement with China Aviation Industry Corporation in place, the program will be better and more competitive on world markets.

The AECL Chalk River generator problems and their effect on world supply of radioactive isotopes has become major news. The government’s decision to countermand the decision to close down the reactor and the lack of public outcry of possible disaster from that decision leads one to ask whether the entire drama was not more politically than safety related. In either case, Canadians’ confidence and pride in our Chalk River facility has surely been shaken, if only minimally.

The Prologue

We  note a remarkable relationship between our not-quite blizzard (apparently, according to Environment Canada the temperature didn’t justify the designation ‘blizzard’ – thank you, Bert) and a blanket of snowy silence that has fallen over the topics that have been on Canadians’ radar for the last few weeks. Bali is over and the last of the attendees have limped home through the storm. Mercifully, Mr Baird seems to have disappeared into a snow bank – may he remain there until Spring Thaw!.
Messrs Schreiber and Mulroney have been heard by the Ethics Committee and have lapsed into unfamiliar and welcome silence for the holiday season (have they too been blanketed with white stuff?) while poor David Johnston is using the last days of 2007 to complete his recommendations regarding the Inquiry. (Could the taxpayers unite to urge the government to Just Say No to spending $50 million on this exercise?)
Also, mercifully, the Bouchard-Taylor hearings are now wrapped up, and we won’t have the findings under our Christmas trees.
Conrad Black is spending the holiday with his family, contemplating his sojourn in jail and no doubt preparing the files for his next magnificent book.
So, perhaps like some northern species of Meerkat, we can poke our collective head above the snow – periscopes are acceptable – and look around at events in the rest of the world, especially those leading up to the early caucuses (cauci?), starting with Iowa on Jan 3 and continuing ad nauseum (calendar). There are some fascinating developments that bear watching, including the surge of the Huckabee campaign ( “Just one month ago, Mitt Romney’s supporters thought that they had Iowa fairly well in hand. But there was Mr. Romney last week, telling several hundred people at a high school cafeteria in Marion that he was the underdog and pleading for their help to keep him from being derailed at the caucuses by the rise of Mike Huckabee” more). We confess that Mr. Huckabee sounds like a character that Fred Thompson should be playing in a southwestern soap, but as a candidate, we need to take him seriously). And guess what the chief issue is — immigration! But let’s not go there in an attempt to insert Canadian content.
Then there’s the “stutteringHillary Clinton campaign, with Obama and John Edwards hot on her heels in Iowa.
More interesting are the predictions from Chris Weigant on the Huffington Post: “I think the Democratic race will be closer than expected in the early states, with John Edwards surprising the media by doing much better than predicted in Iowa. But I think the Democrats’ race will essentially be over on February 6th, the day after mega-super-duper-tsunami-Tuesday (when almost half of the state primaries will take place). One candidate will emerge as the frontrunner in a big way, and although they may not formally “win” the nomination until later in the primary schedule, I think at this point Democratic voters will line up behind their apparent nominee.” And on the Republican side ” I predict that two (or even three) GOP candidates come out of February 5th still in competition. This leads to a reversal of the media’s expectations, and suddenly the later states become the big and important primaries. While I won’t go so far as predicting a convention fight, I will predict that the Republicans won’t know who their nominee is until late in the spring. This will have the effect of making the “money race” extremely important, as everyone still in the race will have to come up with a lot of dough in such a long campaign. This will help weaken the eventual GOP candidate for the general election race (since they’ll start the general election with no money in the bank).”
The rest of this post , with its predictions for the coming political year is also well worth reading.
Elsewhere: The haj is in full swing (if one is allowed to say that); Pakistan’s Musharraf is trying to make nice with the Commonwealth ; [always described as] Ailing Fidel Castro is making noises about stepping down – at last. ; turbulence in the ANC over the choice of a leader to replace M’Beki; reports from Sudan indicate rebels forces are targetting a Chinese-run oil field ; President Putin’s announcement that he will accept to be Prime Minister after stepping down from the presidency (the better to control the President) ; Russia’s delivery of the first shipment of enriched-uranium fuel rods to Iran; and last, but definitely not least, President Sarkozy‘s new romance (why couldn’t he have made yet one more unpredictable move and gone after Ségolène?) – at least this last piece of news is sufficiently glitzy to adorn our Christmas Tree of Knowledge.
So Come All Ye Faithful, … to Wednesday Night and we will be joyful in your company ….
To those who are already in flight ahead of Rudolph, we send our fond wishes to you and yours for the happiest of holidays – whatever your choice, Peace on Earth and continued good fellowship (how do we make that politically correct?) throughout the coming year.


2 Comments on "Wednesday Night #1346"

  1. Diana Thébaud Nicholson April 8, 2008 at 12:23 pm ·

    CAMBODIA: Property Boom Forces Evictions of Urban Poor
    Andrew Nette
    PHNOM PENH – Sitting in a wooden house in the urban poor community of Dei Krohome, Touch Ratha recounted a tale of intimidation, secrecy and the blurred line between police, government officials and the private company that she says has been trying to evict her and her neighbours.

  2. Diana Thébaud Nicholson July 27, 2008 at 2:48 pm ·

    In Cambodia, Land Seizures Push Thousands of the Poor Into Homelessness
    “Expropriation of the land of Cambodia’s poor is reaching a disastrous level,” Basil Fernando, executive director of the Asian Human Rights Commission in Hong Kong, a private monitoring group, said in December. “The courts are politicized and corrupt, and impunity for human rights violators remains the norm.”
    With the economy on the rise, land is being seized for logging, agriculture, mining, tourism and fisheries, and in Phnom Penh, soaring land prices have touched off what one official called a frenzy of land grabs by the rich and powerful. In a report in February, Amnesty International estimated that 150,000 people around the country were now at risk of forcible eviction as a result of land disputes, land seizures and new development projects.
    These include 4,000 families who live around a lake in the center of Phnom Penh, Boeung Kak Lake, which is the city’s main catchment for monsoon rains and is being filled in for upscale development.

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