Wednesday Night #1438

September 24 3:10AM
I apologize that – given the late hour – this must be a somewhat generic message, but it is none the less a heartfelt thank you to each and every one who made this Wednesday Night #1348 a most uncommon Wednesday Night! What a wonderful evening it was, thanks to superb organization (Roslyn, Wanda, Catherine, Susanna) and the incredible generosity and kindness of so many. The flowers, gifts, wine, champagne, music, words, gestures – and above all your presence … eventually I will be able to thank each of you personally, but I cannot go to bed (as the dishwasher attacks the first – massive – collection of glasses) before I say how profoundly touched I (and David too) was by everything you did for me – and us – tonight. It was truly a brilliant evening and I will treasure the memory for many years.
I only hope that you enjoyed it as much as we did and, in the spirit of Wednesday Night, you were challenged intellectually, made new friends – ‘flirted and exchanged cards’.
As Wednesday Nighters, you are truly a special family and have a very big place in our hearts.
Thank you each and every one!
With great affection,
P.S. I loved the role reversal … Thank you Wanda/Marianne for leading the revolution!

WN-Proclamation-09-09.doc ; Ode to a Chair ; Photos and more on

A note from the Chair
Our Scribe’s note below does not begin to describe the glorious evening. Wikipedia informed us that 1438 was a common year [significantly] starting on Wednesday, but we were thrilled by the most uncommon WN# 1438, with a cast of -if not thousands – many, many friends, all joyously celebrating one another and our institution. Beginning with Wanda’s forceful Oyez, Oyez, the
Proclamation on behalf of the Backbenchers Association (see above) proposed a revolutionary role reversal, which  proved to be both fun and instructive. Diana learned that – even without tapes – the role of Chair is not easy, while David in an unaccustomed secondary rank, found that it too has responsibilities – though few rights.
Even in the celebratory atmosphere of this special evening, we were impressed by the serious and intelligent discussion of important issues – a tribute to the dual nature of Wednesday Night.
The exquisite (‘Musical Interlude’) introduction to the evening, provided by Susanna and the talented Ilario would have been as fitting at the National Arts Centre, and succeeded in achieving a total silence among the audience such as Wednesday Night Chairs only dream of.
Dispensing with the usual videos, Diana called on Tony Deutsch to introduce the economic topic of his choice (maximum 2 minutes) The distinguished ‘front bench’ of economists, along with numerous articulate and thoughtful backbenchers, ensured that the quality of the discussion of how to reward decision makers was of the highest level. Margo Somerville’s provocative topic of the allocation of scarce health resources  stimulated lively discussion and left many with unresolved issues – food for thought.
We are only sorry that there was not time to address all of the pressing topics that had been proposed in the Invitation. However, the able Gatekeeper cut off the discussion more abruptly than even David to acknowledge the appearance of Catherine Gillbert’s magnificent chocolate cake accompanied by the popping of champagne corks  and “drink, flirt and exchange cards” portion of the evening was signalled by the Ode to a Chair.

Scribe’s Note
Diana’s birthday gift to Wednesday Nighters (including David) was to chair this week’s salon to the great delight of the unusually large assembly.  The celebration, accolades, cake sharing and group photograph of Wednesday Night Virgos, of necessity, abbreviated the debate.

How to compensate/reward decision makers
[There are few issues surrounding the financial crisis that arouse more indignation/fury than the compensation of executives whose reckless decisions precipitated the crisis – George Monbiot’s The Great Cop-out gives eloquent expression to the near-universal sentiment.] It is difficult for taxpayers, especially those in the U.S. to accept to reward with large bonuses, effectively paid by those taxpayers, the decision makers whose greed or error in judgment, were the source of the problem.
The issue is how to align the interests of the decision makers with those of the share holders, which we don’t know how to do because the corporation is supposed to be immortal, while decision makers’ tenure is usually limited. It is doubtful that an incentive structure exists that can eliminate the decision maker’s desire to assure his/her own well being over the short term in favor of the corporate long-term well being. Can the G20 bring in an international regime to regulate the matter? Not until it has enforcement mechanisms and authority to regulate and harmonize the global economy. The regulatory framework is equally to blame, but most issues can be fixed if  more attention were paid to create vigilant citizens, mobilized in their own self-defense who could the empower the regulatory agencies.
There is an important distinction to be made between the financial sector (institutions  ‘too big to fail’) and the private sector where the taxpayer is not going to be liable for a bail-out.
Why not pay the decision makers the same way everyone else is paid – while they work – and get rid of long-term options and other benefits that extend long after the employment period?
The public policy issue is whether government should enact legislation to limit compensation or whether the shareholders should be active in decision making.
The most obvious, but probably not the most effective solutions include the early education (high school) of future investors of the role, rights and responsibility of the stockholders in ensuring fair remuneration and policies within the corporation. As relatively few students show an interest in studying finance, this does not appear to be a viable solution. An engaged and educated population is fundamental to the exercise of democracy. Unfortunately, in the U.S. – the epicenter of the financial crisis – there is a large percentage of the population which is neither. And the intelligent, educated élite have and will continue to dominate the decision making.
With nothing to lose and much to gain, it is difficult to prevent people from spending other people’s money recklessly.
The United Kingdom, at one time, attempted to control the problem by instituting an unduly large tax rate (95%) on income generated over a predetermined income level.  The foreseeable although unintended consequence  of this endeavor was the rapid exodus of the most creative and talented to countries that rewarded rather than penalized talent. High taxes also drive the economy underground.
One obvious solution would be to award bonuses retroactively on the basis of long term performance – and in cash – rather than options.
As compelling as the picture is of the subsidization by the victims, especially in the U.S., of those who were responsible for the changing financial position , the picture is incomplete if the primary source of the problem is not factored in, namely that the basic trigger to the current crisis is the recklessness of the financial sector, a sector so insured by the government that there was little concern about the risks involved in investing in questionable loans and investments.  When the risk paid off, the company, employees and stockholders were happy; if not, the government, taxpayers and other sectors of the economy, suffered the consequences.  Canada’s financial sector’s more conservative approach, while avoiding the worst of the recession, would also have been responsible for a less positive financial picture due to an aversion by our financial institutions to risk taking.
As for other sectors than finance, small shareholders’ input has far less impact than that of major shareholders and directors and barring a major stockholder revolt, the bottom line carries far more weight.

Recent research indicates that human decision making is even more complex than we had thought and many decisions may be classified as ‘overly utilitarian’  as well as individualistic which affects decisions about societal good and long-term consequences.

Medical ethics versus the need for triage
The Hamilton General Hospital is said to be making history in an area so sensitive that it has the capacity to change the thinking on the mores of medical care.  It is anticipated that the predicted number of victims of swine flu (H1N1) with severe respiratory symptoms will exceed the number of available respirators (a situation already experienced in Australia) and so the H.G.H. is said to be thinking of dropping current guidelines on who will die that were so clear and logical up until the present.  This is a situation that has not been experienced in least a century, one that violates the basic objective of Medicare.
Facing a pandemic with limited resources, more particularly, a limited numbers of respirators, looking at the triage problem objectively, should one treat patients of equal intensity of infection on a first come, first served basis; on the basis of age, considering those most likely to be affected will be young adults in the eighteen to twenty year range; or by random selection?  At first glance, first come, first served appears to be the fairest system, but the more educated, best connected and more affluent would be most likely to be favored over the impoverished, poorly educated.  As distasteful as it is, a random selection (lottery) would appear to be the more logical (but hardly the more likely) choice.
Sometimes decisions on health care appear to be discriminatory but are acceptable because of the logic of the situation.  Hearts for transplants are in short supply and so the decision to refuse heart transplants in patients over sixty-five years of age is logical, if difficult to accept.  The potential contribution to society of heart recipients is unquestionably a function of age.
The logic and necessity of making decisions on who is treated in a life-threatening situation conflicts with the position of most on the unequivocal sanctity of human rights. In situations where the resources for treatment are less than the number of those requiring treatment, without some parameters for decision making, we must inevitably agree that all have the human right to die.
Without doubt, this will be a fascinating Wednesday Night topic following the end of the expected swine flu pandemic.

T H E  I N V I T A T I O N

As we move though the Equinox and officially enter the Fall season (presaged by the brilliant blue skies, early scattering of leaves and berries on the ground and reports that the Snow Geese have reached Chibougamau on their south-bound trek), we also leave the birth month of Virgos – of which there are a number among our Wednesday Nighters. Therefore, this Wednesday is a splendid occasion to salute the Virgos among us -notably, Herb, Judith, Pierre Arbour, Guy Lalonde, Cleo, Susanna E-J, Margaret Lefebvre, Sabra,  John Curtin, Beryl, Felix, Germaine Gibara, Mouse  (who proudly shares her birthday  – not year –  with Leonard Cohen and has sadly come to realize that he’s “never gonna bring my groceries in“), and Michael Judson.
We recently learned that Lower Canada College is a Virgo institution, having opened its doors 100 years ago on Tuesday September 21, 1909 – we’re not sure how to handle that invitation, but there are surely enough alumni (though not from the original class) to represent the centennial celebrant.
For those of you who are not familiar with the characteristics of the amazing Virgos, we found the following description of Virgo characteristics – leaving it up to you to decide how much applies to the afore-mentioned Wednesday Nighters (and Leonard Cohen).
Virgos are very intelligent; they have an excellent memory and a highly analytical mind. This makes them good investigators and researchers. They also have the ability to probe into a person’s emotions and they can often see into people and detect what their motives are. This makes them great policemen or interrogators. [We don’t believe we have any of those at WN, but who knows?] Virgos are very good at problem solving; this is what they do best. They are confronted with a problem, they will pick apart the pieces and put it together in the proper order. They are rational thinkers and are good at settling other people’s disputes and putting them on the right track for reconciliation. … They keep the world in order. And this comment: The Virgo motto could be “Perfect is almost good enough.”
That being said, given all the intelligence and analytical capability that will be assembled on Virgo Night 2009, it behooves us to suggest topics of interest and worthy of analysis.
There is the opening of the fall session of the UN, the annual general debate, which starts Tuesday, and the presence of presidents Obama and Ahmadinejad on Wednesday when both will address the General Assembly. Mr. Obama faces a quandary, having said earlier that he would meet the president of Iran for talks without preconditions; today, for many reasons, including not wanting to discourage the courageous opposition (see below), he will likely avoid being anywhere near the Iranian.
In Iran, the opposition is maintaining its fervor as indicated by last Friday’s demonstrations coinciding with Quds (or Jerusalem) Day and some of Mr. Ahmedinejad’s more hateful pronouncements – he obviously does not share our desire for new beginnings.
With only 70 days until the Climate Change meeting in Copenhagen, the Climate Group and its partners have organized an eventful Climate Week in New York, which kicked off on Sunday with an unusual and symbolic event, the creation of an origami tropical forest.
On Thursday and Friday, the G20 Summit meets in Pittsburgh. Like most of the rest of the world, we wondered aloud ‘why Pittsburgh’? when the venue was announced, but have recently seen some very convincing arguments including the first – LEED certified – green convention center in the U.S.
Tony Deutsch
– who will take a brief break from his bucolic existence to join us this Wednesday – continues to point us in the direction of economic topics worthy of dissection including the revival of the idea of a global tax on securities transactions (Tobin Tax), which he and the Economist believe to be a poor idea; and the attempts of the Fed and Treasury to develop new rules to control remuneration of financial executives. The aim, as expressed by Timothy Geitner is worthy: “you don’t want people being paid for taking too much risk, and you want to make sure that their compensation is tied to long-term performance”, the how is not so easy to define because, as Tony has pointed out before at Wednesday Night, ” the life of the corporation is assumed to be infinite (although returns far out in the future vanish when discounted at any reasonable rate of interest) but the tenure of the decision-makers is very much finite.”
In Ottawa, we have avoided the election and today, Jack Layton tells us (or at least the Ottawa Citizen) why the NDP is voting with Stephen Harper, making sure to stress we are supporting this EI proposal, not this government. He makes an interesting point: “The choice before New Democrats is simple: We can direct nearly $1 billion to families in desperate need or waste $300 million on an election.”
We can hope for a quick report on the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the PC 1984 election victory, which L. Ian MacDonald terms the beginning of the healing process. From the photo in the Gazette  (Mr. Mulroney looking past Mrs Harper, obviously to greet an old chum), we are not sure that there isn’t a long-ish road to travel.
On a somewhat related topic, we believe the Conservatives should be congratulated on attracting Christopher Alexander the young former ambassador to Afghanistan, to run in Ajax-Pickering. He will be a strong and convincing voice in the debate over Canada’s role in the conflict in Afghanistan.
Finally some events to which we would like to draw your attention:
On Tuesday, the 22nd, The Montreal Chapter of the Canadian International Council and McGill’s Institute for the Study of International Development present a discussion of “Guerilla Diplomacy: Rethinking International Relations” By Daryl Copeland – more info
On Wednesday, our MP Marc Garneau will hold a Town Hall meeting for his Westmount constituents from 7PM to 8:30PM at Westmount Park Church. You can easily attend AND come to Wednesday Night.
On Thursday, the 24th, Ingrid Betancourt will receive the first Reporters Without Borders – Radio Canada Prize for Women of Courage at a gala event held in conjunction with the Institut du Nouveau Monde at the Sofitel from 6:30 PM to 10 PM and on Friday, the 25th, Mme Betancourt will give a live interview with Radio Canada, on What is the future of human rights in Colombia ? This is open to the public and will take place at the Palais des Congrès de Montréal, room 511 at from 6PM to 7.30PM. More info
And be sure to put the date of Thursday October 8 in your calendar – Wayne Larsen’s book “A.Y. Jackson, the Life of a Landscape Painter” will be launched at Nicholas Hoare on Greene Avenue. Details to follow.
Do join us for what promises to be a wonderful Wednesday when the Virgos will do their best to keep the world in order.

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