Wednesday Night #1455

Written by  //  January 20, 2010  //  Herb Bercovitz, Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  No comments

Photos and videos

Kimon reintroduced a most welcome face from the past, Concordia Associate Professor (Communications Studies) Scot Gardiner, whom he had first known at Cornell when both were graduate students. Scot has taught, written books – as each of my courses evolves into a book, I become more obsolescent – , traveled the planet and worked with Kimon at the Gamma Institute. In addition, Kimon reminded us that Scot was one of the very earliest adopters of Internet website technology.
Katherine Borlongan brought Liam McHugh-Russell, one of this year’s Sauvé Scholars, whose self-introduction showed the beneficial effects of the excellent workshop conducted last week by Ion Valaskakis on Self Branding. (Scot Gardiner needs no lessons.)

The ups and downs of democracy
Last year’s dreams and expectations of a new era in U.S. politics appear to have evaporated, the nation is in deep debt, the President’s initiatives facing apparently insurmountable problems, a great opportunity lost.
Whatever injustices were perpetrated by Mother England on its former colonies, the legacy of British style democracy has helped them to thrive.  Democracy holds different meanings to different people.  The Magna Carta, signed by King John on June 15, 1215, served the English barons well, but did little to alleviate injustices.
Universal suffrage in the United States, as elsewhere in the western world, has the potential to further the aims of both electors and elected, but the danger of self-interest increasingly obscures the objectives of those whose altruism resulted in the vision of true equality among citizens.  Will this be the fate of President Obama who, some  believe  could prove to be a one-term president, primarily due, not only to the legacy left to him by former President George W. Bush, but also to the October 2009 financial meltdown and other issues, including the death of Senator Kennedy and opposition in the Senate to the President’s health care reform bill.  The two-year cycle of the U.S. House of Representatives, along with one-third of the Senate, has always been an obstacle to long-term planning.  The incredible obstacles overcome by the President have been masked largely by the self-interest of legislators.
Although most Wednesday Nighters support President Obama, some believe that the stimulus money should be spent on highly visible infrastructure rather than on Wall Street where it has the sole appearance of enriching individuals.  Others believe that the time has come to stop the spending on stimuli that continues to increase national debt, a proposal that ignores the near catastrophe of post-1929 measures, avoided only by the obligatory spending of World War II.

Canwest’s newspapers – a Wednesday Night White Knight?
Despite the financial difficulties of Canwest, its debts are said to not be solely due to problems in its dailies, but to investments, other than in the newspaper field, that have not proven profitable.  The dailies having successfully evolved from the Gutenberg press through electronic typesetting, remain profitable but are now facing competition, not only from print media and locally distributed advertising flyers, but from the electronic media as well.  Unfortunately, the response to this competition appears to have included sacrifice in quality of reporting, editorial writing, [copy editing!] the consolidation of both reporting and advertising across Canada, and literary quality.  In Montreal, prior to the demise of the Montreal Star, the Gazette provided the latest in overnight news and the Star published two to three updated editions during the day.  The English was precise, the reporting unambiguous, and initially, the only electronic competition was radio.  Television and especially, the Internet, have introduced strong competition that unfortunately, until now, has been met with cuts in coverage by the print media and in the extent and quality of expression, presumably in order to maintain the bottom line.  Fortunately, a temporary reprieve for the print media exists in the eyestrain and inconvenience of copy from a light source as opposed to reflected light, an advantage that appears to becoming endangered by such advances as the Kindle technology.  To continue to succeed in the twenty-first century, the dailies will have to once again become part of their community rather than attempting to save money by consolidating business and reporting in remote areas; to modernize their presses and run them twenty-four hours a day, printing not only the newspapers, but commercial output as well; to reformat their size and shape; and especially, to do what they can do best, namely to return to a recognition of the importance of superior reporting, analysis and editing, their greatest edge over the competition.  In the new, competitive world, the distribution system of the dailies would be changed from door-to-door to free local bulk distribution, the cost of the distribution to be borne by the advertisers.  Whatever the advantages of free electronic news media, the advantages of well-planned, convenient, professionally produced print would enable the dailies to continue to thrive. They are optimistic, despite CanWest’s declared preference for a one-bidder-takes-all approach.

The market
In the stock market, the 2009 meltdown has now produced a cyclical low, thus a buying opportunity.  Cash has been accumulated looking for a home and January and February are predicted to provide an important investment opportunity.

 T H E  I N V I T A T I O N

A year to the day since the Inauguration of President Barack Obama and the pundits have sharpened their knives (pencils would be nice, but we doubt any self-respecting pundit carries a pencil, and one cannot sharpen a mouse).  Paul Krugman leads off with his comments that the President’s troubles result from misjudgments: the stimulus was too small; banking policy wasn’t tough enough; and he didn’t shelter himself from criticism.
Tuesday night, we will have our leading political indicator: the outcome of the unexpectedly close Massachusetts race to elect Senator Ted Kennedy’s successor. Disaffected voters are offered a clear choice, with Scott Brown, the Republican candidate, a poster boy for the Right. Martha Coakley, the Democrat, has run a sloppy campaign -cancelling a 30% initial lead – in a race that is crucial for the Health Care Bill and much of President Obama’s agenda.
Comment from David Jones, our ever-vigilant Washington observer: To be fair, and only mildly partisan, it is a bit inaccurate to label Brown as a “poster boy for the Right.” Actually, the evaporation of the 30 point axiomatic lead of any Democrat running for a seat above dog-catcher level in Massachusetts has virtually nothing to do with the “Right” but rather with baseline discontent among Independents, who are 50 percent of registered Mass voters. Why are they unhappy? Pick a reason: high unemployment; massive deficit spending on the federal and state level; unpopular Democratic governor; rejection of various facets of the Democrats health care bill; and a “send a message” from a surly crowd that loved Teddy (and probably would have elected either his wife or any other member of the Kennedy family) but note the various slips that Coakley has made with distaste.
That said, it would almost be the political equivalent of the sun setting in the east to see a Rep win a senate seat in Mass. But Brown has had the best line in the campaign by responding to a media interviewer asking him about running for the “Kennedy seat” by saying that it wasn’t a Kennedy seat or the Democrats’ seat but the “people’s seat.”
To which we replied:
Thanks for the thoughtful commentary, with which I agree.
I remember the days of Republican senators from Massachusetts – Leverett Saltonstall comes to mind (of course, so do Henry Cabot Lodge and Sumner) and Edward Brooke (despite the affair with Barbara Walters which I deplore not on moral grounds, but because she is so annoying!).]
Will last-minute campaigning by the heavy hitters, including Bill Clinton and President Obama – who certainly had better things to do with their time – save her? [Update: it didn’t]

As is often true, the Economist’s perspective on the issues is well worth reading. Meantime, Tuesday’s results will offer a riveting alternative to the deluge of news from Haiti.

In addition to the hard news coming from Haiti, we have two issues we believe merit serious consideration. One is the question of the multiplicity of NGOs of all sizes and missions, all calling for resources and all anxious to do their part – should there be an umbrella organization in crises?  Or is it more important -even if less efficient –  to ensure access for smaller organizations with specific knowledge of their clientele to continue to operate independently?
The second is the tourism ethical question raised by Royal Caribbean’s decision to continue tours to Labadee in Haiti. Does the contribution of tourism-generated revenues outweigh the inappropriateness of conducting luxury tours to a devastated country? The Independent offers a balanced view, noting that Tourism is vital to this wrecked island’s recovery
Speaking of which, we would like to raise the issue of the media invasion of the disaster scene. It’s nice to know that ABC’s Dr. Richard Besser helped out delivering a baby (while consulting U.S. experts via Blackberry); not be outdone, CNN reported that Sanjay Gupta was left in charge of a medical tent after a UN team left because of security fears, and to top that  Sanjay Gupta performed brain surgery  [it is noted on CNN that “It is being reported that Gupta pulled off the surgery between filing reports on the situation on the ground in Haiti”]. Dr Gupta is also quoted on the “thin line between medicine and media”. Might it not have been even more productive if both doctor/medical correspondents had simply volunteered with MSF and devoted their expertise full-time to practicing medicine in Haiti?
Is it necessary for every super star (think Anderson Cooper, Katie Couric, Diane Sawyer) and wannabe media personnality to be physically present beaming similar news and pious thoughts to the world – don’t their logistical requirements drain already hideously scarce resources?  Where are all these people staying? What are they eating/drinking? How do they fuel their vehicles and helicopters in a country where the shortage of gas is critical? Can the beleaguered leaders of the rescue missions afford the time to answer the stock – and often inane – questions of every individual with a camera, microphone or laptop? We are all in favour of freedom of the press, but isn’t it time to re-think this picture?
Media is always a favorite topic and this item is much closer to home and Wednesday Night where we first heard from Beryl Wajsman about the planned bid for the Montreal Gazette, Ottawa Citizen and National Post which he has spearheaded, along with former Senator Jerry Grafstein and former Montreal Star Editor Ray Heard. As we all know, anything that Beryl is involved in is bound to be exciting – stay tuned!

This seems to be turning into a media discussion, so we will add one of the more bizarre developments of the week: Pope’s attacker says: I want Dan Brown to tell my story  Would-be assassin emerges from prison demanding $7m for film and book deal – any bets that some organization (maybe not Dan Brown) will pony up?

We are not alone in believing that Stephen Harper must be quietly very pleased that the Haitian disaster – and the Canadian government’s more than adequate response, including the news that on January 25th Canada will host a major conference on long-term development for Haiti  – has totally wiped the issue of prorogation off the media map in this country. And we will bet that his cabinet shuffle will attract little attention.

A final and lighter note is offered by Christopher Hitchens writing in Vanity Fair on The Other L-Word: Since, like, the 60s, and definitely since Clueless, one word has been, like, everywhere. Hitchens examines the, like, unstoppable onslaught of “like.”
Comments from a couple of Wednesday Nighters include: Astute, like, you know what I mean… and The next topic to consider is the genuine or affected  stammer found sometimes among British academics. “You see” deserves at least a paragraph of its own.

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