Wednesday Night #1365

Written by  //  April 30, 2008  //  Beryl Wajsman, Herb Bercovitz, Local news & events, Margaret Lefebvre, Reports, Wednesday Nights, West Wing (WWWN)  //  Comments Off on Wednesday Night #1365

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News and Events
The Metropolitain went to press as Wednesday Night was assembling. Distribution of the first edition starts on Friday. Excitement is intense. Beryl brought proofs for inspection and the consensus is that it not only looks good, but will provide major stimulus to intelligent discussion. Kudos to Beryl, Tony Philbin, Rob Galbraith and all others involved.
Those who attended the Octet Plus concert on Saturday were delighted by the quality of the singers and the programme. The next time the opportunity presents itself, it should not be missed.

Leading up to this summer’s Annual Conference (The Power of Knowledge, the new global currency), on Tuesday evening the first Couchiching Institute of Public Affairs Montreal round table examined “The Role of Online Communities as Agents of Change“.
Online social networks are an enormous medium of change in terms of scope and rapidity, enabling the spread of uncensored news, group ideas and action with unprecedented speed. Virtually all knowledge is now available, almost instantaneously, through Internet-based interest groups, sometimes before publicly edited sources. News events are posted and errors corrected within seconds. Global exchanges will soon be enhanced through technology currently being perfected that will not only enable accurate voice activated data entry, but will have a global translation component, enabling exchanges between people currently incapable of conversing because of language barriers.
The social networks (e.g. Linked-In, Face Book, My Space) are a phenomenon that is also changing our relationships. Linked-In, principally dedicated to business networking, confines its members’ information to professional biographies and exchanges; the others provide a means for younger users, starting with pre-teens, to share any and all information.
While some use it for doing homework and gossiping with friends, there may be much personal information that would best be eradicated later when potential employers (adult friend, in-laws) can view it. The problem is, as was recently reported in the New York Times, “While the Web site offers users the option to deactivate their accounts, Facebook servers keep copies of the information in those accounts indefinitely. Indeed, many users who have contacted Facebook to request that their accounts be deleted have not succeeded in erasing their records from the network . Furthermore, BBC has recently released a report that demonstrates that personal details of Facebook users could potentially be stolen. [there is also the ugly threat of paedophiles and others preying on young children which has been recognized by Facebook and MySpace] On the positive side, many long-lost friends and family members have been identified and connections reestablished.
A second Couchiching round table is planned for June 17 at 7pm to which all Wednesday Nighters are invited. The topic: The Death of Intellectual Property. Is it a nineteenth century concept imposed on a twenty-first century world? is obviously timely. On May 6, the Fraser Institute is holding a luncheon conference entitled Piracy and Other Policy Impediments to Export Growth with guest speaker Stevan Mitchell of the Entertainment Software Association, who will address intellectual property rights and piracy, and how they relate to the video and computer gaming industry.

Wednesday Night – a social network?
It has been pointed out that Wednesday Night constitutes a social network, albeit not Internet-based. The difference is that the core group is face-to-face in the same room, and is possibly more diverse than the communities of Facebook Friends.
Steven Lightfoot confirmed that the recently launched monthly West Wing of Wednesday Night (WWWN) held a very successful inaugural evening in Vancouver. The quality of the guests and the discourse was superb and augurs well for the continuing effort. Unfortunately, Alexandra advises that the West Wingers are not yet ready for publication, even on an anonymous basis. We hope someone will maintain archives in preparation for a change of mind. Steven mentioned the possibility of an exchange visit from West Wing-er Shauna Sylvester, a Fellow at the Simon Fraser University Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue and the Director of Canada’s World, a national citizens’ dialogue on Canadian international policy. She sounds like a great addition and we look forward to a visit from her. Meantime, Ron Meisels will carry the flag at the May 7 session of WWWN.

Each time a Canadian casualty in Afghanistan is announced, every time that the cost of our commitment in Afghanistan hits the news, we question the utility of our presence there. The truth of the matter is that virtually the only news that the military is permitted (by the politicians) to disseminate is casualty figures. NATO governments are wary of the effect on the population of news that might be offensive, distasteful or embarrassing. But the stories of the good accomplished by the military go untold. On the other hand, [the ‘stone-age’] conditions that existed under the Taliban have been greatly reduced since the arrival of the ASAF, foreign NGOs and others.
What is rarely explained is that it is the southern part of the country that is dangerous because of its proximity to the porous border with Pakistan, the haven of the Taliban. In fact only about five to six percent of the population of 25 million lives in the South, and out of that number a much smaller number are actually radicals – a minority within a minority. Very few journalists [are allowed by their military ‘minders’ to] risk being injured or killed outside the relatively safe haven of Kandahar.
Kabul is the most progressive city in the area. Despite the news of the assassination attempt on President Karzai during Independence Day celebrations earlier this week and some alarmist reports, it is not at risk of being overrun.
According to Wednesday Nighters who have been there, it is not the aid agencies (read CIDA) or NGOs, but the ASAF including the Canadian Forces who have been most constructive in putting Afghanistan on its feet. The army has worked to re-establish not only the physical but the social infrastructure as well. Education, especially of women, and freedom of thought and expression has created a generation with hope and vision. If we persist in efforts to hold back the Taliban until they ultimately mature and take over, they will prevail in the long run thus aiding not only the Afghani, but our own security as well.
There is a sharp division of opinion concerning the responsibility of developed nations to actively pursue the betterment of societies in less favored parts of the world. Recognizing that corruption is a large part of the problem in Afghanistan today, some believe that it is up to the Afghani people to rise up and demand change. Others are convinced that there is a moral obligation for this generation which has enjoyed relative peace and prosperity to assist nations to develop and thrive as we have done. Pragmatists point out that NATO is in Afghanistan to prevent Bin Laden and his allies from setting up more positions from which to launch attacks on the West and that Canada, as a NATO member is bound to participate. The by-product of the military presence is the improvement of the lot of the Afghani people. Moreover, whatever is done to improve conditions in Afghanistan and similar regions will help to eliminate the grievances that lead to violence, denial of civil liberties and attacks on more fortunate societies.
In viewing Afghanistan, it is helpful to draw a parallel with events in World War II and the reluctance of the western world to intervene in a conflict with a cruel Nazi dictator whose goal was to take over the world. It was the belated combined efforts of the allies that narrowly thwarted that plan. That the Afghan population neither looks nor acts like us, should not deter us from viewing the situation from the point of view of prevention of what has the potential of becoming a devastating world conflict.
There has been some talk of the change of crops from poppy to wheat with the rapidly increasing price of cereals. If true, this would be an unforeseeable but desirable event, a single bright spot in an otherwise intractable problem. [Editor’s note: unfortunately, as the Globe & Mail’s Doug Saunders points out in “Solving Afghanistan’s poppy problem”, things aren’t that simple]

The economy
We keep hearing that interest rates are lower than at any time since 2004. How do they compare to 1929? The resident economist believes that they are about as low as we can get and reminds us that everything is being done to avert financial collapse disaster. BUT, there are a lot of loose ends behind the scenes. At some point, all the liquidity that is being pumped into the market will have to be absorbed. Watch for rising interest rates and falling markets. No idea when.
The relationship between the rates announced by the Bank of Canada and the lending rates for banks’ clients leads some to wonder if we might be better off with one national bank, however this solution has been tried elsewhere with dismal results, notably higher inflation. Our economist actually has some sympathy with the Canadian bankers who have discovered risk in the last year. What is often overlooked is the role of the Business Development Bank, a government bank that loans not to individuals, but to small business. The other “socialized” banking arm is that of the credit unions (Caisses populaires) that are owned by the people
With the news that Ontario may have become a have-not province , the question of equalization payments which pay out to poor provinces rather than poor people needs to be reexamined. The erosion of the manufacturing sector of Ontario and Quebec creates a situation in which the Canadian economy is reliant on natural resources that in the past were locally owned and used as an engine feeding our manufacturing sector and today are increasingly foreign-owned, as is the manufacturing sector itself.In the longer term this has the capacity to impoverish us and make us much more dependent on those who own our resources.
At the political level, the redistribution of wealth among the provinces, devolutionist philosophy of Stephen Harper, lack of “executive federalism” (not a new problem) and absence of a vision for the country combine to create a real reason to worry about the future of Canada.

 The Prologue

See also for more current news on the economy and business and don’t miss our updates on Air Canada
April 30 marks the hundred-day countdown to the Beijing Olympics – has everyone seen the news that China plans to clear out students and refugees from Beijing before the Games? Nothing being left to chance.
Don’t forget that this Wednesday the Crime Writers of Canada Presents The 25th Annual Arthur Ellis Awards Shortlist at the Atwater Library (1200 Atwater) starting at 6:30 pm. Wednesday Nighter Robert Landori of Fatal Greed fame will be there – and so will we!
And of course, Linda Leith’s Blue Met begins on Wednesday – this year Blue Met celebrates its 10th anniversary – and we can remember when it was only a gleam in Linda’s eye as she spoke about her plans at Wednesday Night. What an incredible accomplishment! Check out the jam-packed schedule.
Another Wednesday Night author, David Jones OWN, has just published an article on Why Hillary Won’t Quit in the Ottawa Citizen in which he suggests that her reasons may have more to do with her biological clock.
Is it the return to November-ish weather? Or the advent of dreaded Tax Day? We find little that is newsworthy that we haven’t already worried to death as it were (not grist for the crime writers mills). The problem, of course, is the onslaught of news as a crisis looms and the inevitable sense of overload as the situation continues with little change over days – weeks – months. Bulletins become boring.
The World Food Crisis (rightly) dominates the headlines.Canada has stepped up to the plate with a pledge of an extra $50 million
It is closely followed by the Hillary-Obama contest which is moving farther and farther away from issues and is beginning (dare we say it) to be tedious.

[The media has been reduced to such fascinating stories as: Is Obama a Mac and Clinton a PC?
On one thing, the experts seem to agree. The differences between and can be summed up this way: Barack Obama is a Mac, and Hillary Clinton is a PC. That is, Mr. Obama’s site is more harmonious, with plenty of white space and a soft blue palette. Its task bar is reminiscent of the one used at Apple’s iTunes site. It signals in myriad ways that it was designed with a younger, more tech-savvy audience in mind — using branding techniques similar to the ones that have made the iPod so popular. “With Obama’s site, all the features and elements are seamlessly integrated, just like the experience of using a program on a Macintosh computer,” … even down to the playful logos that illustrate choices like, Volunteer or Register to Vote.]

It’s like a novel that starts off with lots of action and intrigue, builds in some great villains and then bogs down in a series of chapters that do nothing to resolve the plot, making one less and less enamoured of the characters. Let us hope the voters do not put the book down because they no longer really care about the ending.
The only current commentary that we can recommend is David Brooks’ intelligent look at the demographics of American voters Demography is King, wherein he concludes that “The upscale liberals who revere Obama have spent their lives championing equality and opposing privilege. But they’ve smashed the old WASP social hierarchy only to create a new educational one.”
Education: One glimmer of good news for the much-maligned Québec education system is today’s story that Quebec students outshone their peers in a new national assessment of 13-year-olds that put them at the top in reading and mathematics – and second to Alberta in science. In our Eyeore/Eeyore mode, we must point out that the article also says “The results were less rosy for Quebec students who took the test in English. Their mean scores in reading and science were significantly lower than those of Canadian students overall who took the test in English.” We don’t dare hope that the finding would result in improved teaching of English.
NAFTA: After all the political transborder caterwauling over NAFTA during the Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania primaries, we are happy to point you to an intelligent suggestion about how to renew the agreement and make it work. Do see Getting a grip on NAFTA
Pakistanis again in the news and this time with more emphasis on the repercussions for Afghanistan. The International Herald Tribune reports that with cross-border attacks into Afghanistan on the rise, Washington faces the fact that its options are now even more limited, in part because of the change of leadership in Pakistan. Nothing from the Conservative government, but then they have probably muzzled Maxime Bernier since his recent diplomatic remarks in Afghanistan.
Serbia too is in the world spotlight after a hiatus, with the news that it is taking a first step on the road to full membership of the EU.


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