Wednesday Night #1366 – The Report

We talked about the moon which made me think about Odysseus who must have spent a lot of time looking at it as he was trying to find his way home. We are trying to find our way out of the energy problem and are looking at the moon again. We talked about nations being born and how that happens; Israel is 60 years old and Kosavo is very new. We are still a planet of nations and we still talk about who has the most weapons and who has the biggest budget -‘you can’t lead with empty pockets’. We talked a lot about economics, – from the Greek for oikos (house) and nomos (custom or law), – hence “household management”.
We went from big ideas to little ideas. We talked about microcredit in India. India is a country that is coming up in the world and microcredit is a very small idea that has come a very long way.
Katia sums up the evening

Israel at 60
In the evolution of homo erectus, since Man first built a fence to herd livestock, he has stood on his little plot of land and said, mostly to himself, “this land belongs to me,” not conscious of the inevitable fact that for millennia thereafter, other men would stand on the same spot and make the same proclamation, oblivious to the obvious fact that the inverse is true, that it is we who belong to the land to which we will inevitably be returned.
As national boundaries create mostly invisible but relatively impermeable fences, little has changed. As Israel, a birth child of the United Nations, celebrates its sixtieth birthday, it becomes evident that despite the physical and intellectual wall between them, useless enmity continues to divide populations historically and intellectually related and will undoubtedly continue do so for at least another sixty years. As usual, the topic of Israel generates passionate debate. Some maintain that as the bulwark of democracy in a region populated by Muslim fundamentalists, Israel matters, because what happens to the Israeli experiment may well be the harbinger of events in Western Europe and North America. Israel is the litmus test of the ability of freedom to survive. Others remind us that all nations have been founded on injustice and bloodshed – the founding of Israel was no different.

The
New School of Athens
(NSOA)
Although these intransigent problems point to the lacunae in the utility of the United Nations, that body remains an extremely important instrument in mediating disputes between nations that recognize the advantages of compromise over the futility of rejection. The European Union model, while accepting the role of the U.N. as essential, has opted for a collaborative rather than confrontational role. It is this concept on which the new School of Athens, founded by Wednesday Nighter Kimon Valaskakis has been built.
The NSOA recently held its third conference in Athens, Greece and generated a new level of excitement, especially among people with the ability to fund a much more ambitious project than was previously envisioned. The format of the conference was a neo-Socratic dialogue in order to arrive at action plans, rather than pure discussion. One participant lauded in particular the level of representation and the openness with which people shared their experiences and considered the views of others.
The NSOA is intended to be a revival of the first university in the western world, Plato’s Academy, which most people do not realize continued until 528, – 800 years after his death. NSOA will, however, incorporate new methods of dialogue and teaching, broad representation from business, government and civil society, and state-of-the-art communications to enhance exchanges at a global level. With adoption of the model of the New Library of Alexandria, it is now envisaged that the NSOA will be a physical entity, a campus where world leaders will study and debate cosmopolitics, the organization of Planet Earth, focusing on global issues and their resolution.
The longevity of these models and the success of the European Union provide the hope that the School of Athens will be successful in training leaders in a new era to arrive at world government of independent states united in peaceful co-existence. Plato’s influence persisted for many centuries after his death and this move to fill the obvious need for a like instrument in today’s world provides some hope for the future of the planet, especially in the contemplation of the fragility of the present world in perpetual conflict, physical, economic and philosophical.
Of particular interest in light of the disastrous aftermath of the cyclone in Burma (Myanmar) was the conclusion emerging from the panel discussions on ‘Globalisation and Security: Managing Man Made Disasters’ that whether faced with a pandemic, a natural disaster or a financial crisis, the common thread is the chasm that exists between the challenges and the institutional apparatus to respond. Natural disasters generally are exacerbated by 1) lack of preparation and 2) lack of appropriate follow-up. Prediction is possible, Prevention sometimes possible, and much better Reaction is almost always possible.
Challenges are worldwide, but the current system of national sovereignty makes it impossible to respond on a global basis. This alignment of challenges and responses is one of the reasons why we are in so much trouble and offers a major justification for global governance where sovereignty is not an impediment to rescues, genocide and other internal problems.

Inexpensive clean energy
The world’s dependence on fossil fuels, their effect on our environment and their increasing cost, have led to cries for conservation but very little in concrete solutions to a potentially devastating problem.
Wednesday Nighter Douglas Lightfoot has proposed the use of nuclear fusion using fast breeder reactors as a clean available solution to most energy and environmental problems at relatively modest cost. The latest development is the setting up of the Lightfoot Institute to further his efforts.
For over 30 years, David Criswell, Director of the Institute for Space Systems Operations at the University of Houston, has proposed the moon-based conversion of solar energy to microwave energy beamed to the Earth where it would be converted to electricity. The moon belongs to no nation (1967 Space Treaty) and hence no national boundaries would be violated; the construction material is readily available there; and the moon has the capacity of collecting solar radiation and redirecting it to earth twenty-four hours a day. The cost of setting up and implementing the project is estimated at a relatively paltry sum ($500 billion to break even), its maintenance, virtually cost-free and the reduction in environmental damage on Earth, significant. The concept challenges the assumptions (and revenue base) of almost every corporate enterprise that generates power today. Critics do not deny the validity of the theory, the energy-generating potential of lunar materials, or that the technology exists, but suggest that Dr. Crisswill ‘glosses over’ the complexity of the process and that the estimated time factor is out by a factor of 10.
Neither of these solutions to a problem that has the potential of ending human life on earth has generated the enthusiasm of those who bemoan the state of the planet’s environment, even less that of the world’s political leaders. It would appear that for motives worthy or unworthy, our leaders are either unwilling to take a risk in launching new technologies or are unduly influenced by those in whose [corporate] interest our dependence on fossil fuels is of particular importance.

The economy
The recent investment crisis has had a profound effect. The Federal Reserve intervention with Bear-Stearns has provided breathing space, permitting markets to rally briefly. How they will succeed in the immediate future is dependent especially on the success of the real economy. Real estate values are expected to continue to fall. The U.S. market follows the economy. They are currently in recession and will take time to recover. An area of concern is the 11,000 highly-leveraged hedge funds. If the rest of the world is resilient, we can expect to see stagnation in the U.S. and a reduced rate of growth in the rest of the world. The next few months of stagnation will influence the market with the most troublesome issue being the rate of inflation, led by commodity and energy prices. It will be an important determinant of the severity of the problem. Ultimately, the U.S. will emerge recovered but with much diminished importance and influence. The hitherto all powerful United States of America has become a seriously debtor nation. A lesson yet to be learned by the U.S. is that it cannot lead the world with empty pockets. The influence of the economic health of the U.S. on the rest of the world points to the need for a truly global economy.
Thanks to measures put in place by Paul Martin, Canada is in a much better position than the United States. As long as the Eurasian economy remains in good health, Canada and the world will continue to do well.
As its leadership position in the world diminishes and as it becomes more evident that China and India can be viable without U.S. consumption, the question inevitably arises as to the ability of the world to exist without a world leader – with no-one in charge – certainly a potent argument in favour of world governance.

Microcredit
There are continuing reports of the success of microcredit in India and other developing countries. Women taking advantage of the loans provided from institutions providing microcredit loans have begun to succeed in penetrating global markets. It is notable that microlending programs report very high repayment rates – usually in excess of 95%. A close observer of the phenomenon in India also remarks that while development plans often insist on the need to educate women and the poor, there is a vast difference between education and information; many individuals with a sixth grade education are able to assimilate and act on information far better than more ‘educated’ peers.

World Hunger
There is much talk but seemingly little action on world hunger. In addition to the effect of government policies favouring supply control marketing and international trade of farm produce, there is the issue of domestic animal feed. Cattle are naturally herbivores, but are fed grain because it is less expensive than sending them to pasture. Thirty -seven percent of grain produced is said to go to feed livestock with indifference to their natural biological needs, in order to provide relatively inexpensive meat. Ultimately, our patterns of consumption are unsustainable without further adversely further affecting the survival of the population of have-not nations.
In less than two weeks the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) will meet in Bonn. Although the meeting will lack the public high drama of the Climate Change Bali meeting, one of the principal topics is Biodiversity & Agriculture, with biofuels a key agenda item, reflecting the change in international views on what was not long ago considered a viable solution to the world’s dependence on oil. Since that early euphoria, intense criticism of some biofuel production has been followed by even harsher denunciation of the changes brought to agriculture – and thus to the world’s food supply. [Editor’s note: A vivid example is the story by AFP that Myanmar is struggling to feed its people in the aftermath of Cyclone Nargis — in part because the regime has been forcing some farmers to stop growing rice in a plan to produce biofuel instead.]

Final note
We could not let the evening pass without reference to the Harper government’s apparent disinterest in – if not aversion to – Canada’s role in international affairs. Thank heavens for the Governor General who appears to be taking France by storm. The gaffes committed by the current Foreign Affairs Minister, who by all accounts has no interest in this portfolio, have now been compounded by the information regarding his (newly?) ex-girlfriend. (Foreign Affairs no place for likes of Bernier)
[Editor’s note: We might add to the evidence of Mr. Harper’s neglect of the niceties of diplomacy, his refusal to renovate 24 Sussex so that it might be more suitable for entertainment of world leaders. Even L. Ian Macdonald is critical 24 Sussex: a national embarrassment]

One Comment on "Wednesday Night #1366 – The Report"

  1. Douglas Lightfoot May 8, 2008 at 8:15 pm · Reply

    … the problem with David Criswell’s proposal is somewhat analogous to the question, “Can the Great Lakes be emptied by men using teaspoons? The answer is “Yes”.
    If we are to get electricity from the moon as suggested by David Criswell, it is centuries away, not decades.
    The point I initially tried to make was that David Criswell has improved how he describes his project. For example, he now speaks of radar, which people feel is benign and useful, instead of microwaves that people use to cook food. They are identical, but the description makes a difference as to how people react.
    Just by the way, one of the problems with photovoltaic cells, and most people do not realize this, is that the active surface for collecting the solar energy and converting it to electricity is a small part of the total cost. Even if the active surface were free, it would make little difference to the total cost of the panel, supports and electricity system. Doug (Lightfoot)

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