Wednesday Night #1501

                            The moving finger writes;  and, having writ,

                                 Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit

                                Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,

                                Nor all your Tears wash out a word of it.

— The Rubàiyát of Omar Khyám

Personal privacy and WikiLeaks
The evolution of and paradox of the concept of personal privacy is fascinating and in some ways frightening.  Up until perhaps half a century ago, vaudeville shows with their strippers packed theatres, their main goal being to bring to the supposedly otherwise refined public, scenes that can be viewed on any beach today.  Today, the paradox is that, with the exception of members of some religious cults that demand a higher level of modesty, including Chassidic Jews and some Muslims, we walk the streets at ease with the concept of being seen, without concern about being seen, yet bristle at the thought of being photographed by security cameras or Google Earth.  London Bobbies refuse to be photographed as do Swiss Vatican Guards, but the Gendarmes of Paris or RCMP constables are most obliging about being photographed with visitors  and/or their children.  It would appear that the apparent human obsession with leaving a pristine footprint, whether it be looking their best in a photograph, concern about being filmed coming out of a bar, or worse seeing one’s hitherto spotless past being tarnished by a compromising photograph, speech, note or action that has thus far gone unnoticed, or today, being damaging by the changing mores of a constantly evolving human race.
It is in this context that the revelations of Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks may be viewed.  Whether or not the subsequent allegations against him are valid, it appears that current government reaction to his web publications is an attempt to diminish the perceived sins of the perpetrators by attacking the past of those who have brought them to light.
In order to put the affair into perspective, it is useful to view it in a larger,  probably more potentially damaging framework.  Although, in diplomacy, one must hold the cards close to the chest, the really important state  documents have been and will be protected with higher classifications.  The disclosures on WikiLeaks, although as embarrassing, perhaps, as some personal secrets that one carefully protects,  have not as yet and probably do not have the potential for releasing carefully held government secrets.   The importance of Assange and WikiLeaks, however lies in them bearing witness to an important change  in the world to which we have recently become accustomed.  Our dependence on and almost religious faith in the integrity of the cyber world belies the ability of a fictitious but nevertheless possibly real teenager to not only reveal our savings for what they are, namely two entries on an electronic disk that can be easily erased.  An older  individual might decide to investigate and reveal parts of your past that remain on a disk or tape somewhere in the world.   There is no value in permitting the hypothetical negatives to turn us into hermits.  The world is evolving in a hitherto unanticipated manner.  It may be that the government may attempt to control the Internet, a mixed blessing, but what is certain is that our notion of privacy and of social amnesia may very well be over.  Not only the physiognomy and personal bodies of travellers are subject to scrutiny, but the sins and folly of  our personal past risk becoming more difficult to conceal, from our governments and, more worrisome, from corporations in a position to influence and/or control the Internet.  Many, if not most, do not give a second thought to the relative security of information sent by snail mail as compared with e-mail. One Wednesday Nighter poses the hypothetical question: in this technological environment, will governments continue to control the environment and if not the government — who?

Unemployment and the economy
In the last month or so, we have seen the highest unemployment figures and highest profits in 60 years.  This may prove to be the precursor of social unrest and bodes ill for the whole economy.  In Ireland, it is the private sector, not the government that goofed.  The government  could not cope and cut pensions to the people.  One cannot be certain that the people will accept it in the longer term.  Some blame the failure of leadership in both Ireland and the United States, obviously not to the same extent.  The problem in the U.S. is aggravated by the two-year electoral cycle.  It is pointed out that in the U.S., Reagan created a deficit, reduced by Clinton.  In Canada, Mulroney created a deficit, eliminated by Martin.
There are many stresses on the economies of the world and they will come back to haunt us.  There is a lot of vulnerability.  Although Canada is in better shape, the U.S. and much of Europe are vulnerable to shocks.  Canadian households have a lot of debt, but higher interest rates won’t affect us too greatly, while in the U.S., a rise of interest rates could be disastrous.
In Europe, there is a major political battle between the people who caused the mess and those (not the same ones) who pay for it. Ratio of debt to GDP is falling because government , people and business are all cutting, leading to a  contraction of the economy.

The OECD PISA Test, education and unemployment
International testing of students in sixty-five countries has placed Canada in sixth place, others being in Asia and one in Finland (Top Test Scores From Shanghai Stun Educators).  One might interpret these data as foreshadowing a bright future for Canada, but considering the mobility of brain power and the fact that brainpower is not necessarily a measure of employment opportunity, one must interpret with caution.  One advantage Canada has over the United States is its relatively even distribution of educational facilities.  In the U.S., the unemployment rate ranges between 4½% and 5% for college and university graduates, 8.5% for those with only high school education and 15+% for those without high school education. (Ref: American Century)  Canada is better off because it does not have the same income gaps as does the U.S.  In either case the real unemployment figures are significantly higher than those issued by the government, as at one point, potential employees unable to find employment disappear under the radar.
However the emphasis on education without social evolution risks creating an overqualified class of unemployed.  Haiti, the poorest nation in the Western World is said to have a good education system.
Two important factors are income and income direction.  A widening of the income gap between the wealthy and the poor is a recipe for eventual disaster. “New Census figures show the income gap between America’s richest and poorest has never been so wide. The Associated Press news agency has reported that ‘the top-earning 20 percent of Americans – those making more than $100,000 each year – received 49.4 percent of all income generated in the U.S., compared with the 3.4 percent earned by those below the poverty line.’ ” (Global Perspectives: Wide Income Gap Creating Two Americas )


The Prologue
As we recover from the extraordinary celebration of Wednesday Night #1500 (see #1500 , and on Rob Galbraith‘s amazing photos and much more to follow), we now move into the 16th century of Wednesday Nights.

As “The Tudors” moves off the screen, this new century provides us with not only some fascinating parallels for our topics, e.g. 1557: Spain became the first sovereign nation in history to declare bankruptcy, and European politics became dominated by religious conflicts. In the Middle East, events sound familiar: the Ottoman Empire continued to expand, with the Sultan taking the title of Caliph, while dealing with a resurgent Persia. Iran and Iraq were caught by major popularity of the once-obscure Shiite sect of Islam under the rule of the Safavid dynasty of warrior-mystics, providing grounds for a Persia independent of the majority- Sunni Muslim world. (Thank you, Wikipedia.)

Despite continuous warring and conquest the era was replete with larger-than-life rulers: François 1er of France; Charles V (Charles Quint) of Spain, the Holy Roman Emperor; Henry VIII of England; and Suleiman the Magnificent; even Ivan the Terrible. So far, we have not identified their equals, although there are some lesser competitors for the latter, perhaps.

The 16th century also offers a number of challenging yardsticks.  Dubbed the Age of Scientific Discovery, it saw major breakthroughs that form the basis of today’s science and technology.

It was also the Age of Discovery, something that is doubtless still viewed as a mixed blessing by the peoples of Africa, Latin America and numerous island states, establishing the basis for a number of the geopolitical issues of today.

The 1500s were an era of wars – we can relate to that. But today’s major war is one conducted in cyberspace and the dominant news topic of the past weeks: the WikiLeaks. What a fascinating range of opinions is out there. Should/will Assange be assassinated – would it do any good? Is he a knight in shining armour, shedding light on deep dark secrets of nefarious diplomats, or is he an anarchist determined to bring down anyone/institution in power?  Will we feel the same about him after he releases/dumps similar information about the banks (Wikileaks puts focus on banks’ data security).

Some pieces on the subject that have attracted our attention:

Dan Gardner’s Losing the moral war  and David Warren: Matters of life and death
(Montreal Gazette) … whether he fully understands what he is doing – as I’m sure he does not – he is advancing the cause of the enemy in quite direct ways. The question of whether WikiLeaks revelations endanger the lives of specific persons in the field (and of course they do), only scratches the surface. For the issue here is not the arithmetical one of body count, by which media are too easily distracted. The sabotage goes much deeper, and the possible consequences are on a scale vastly beyond a few bodies here and there.
Assange and colleagues are doing something that undermines the functional integrity of the whole western security apparatus. And whether we sneer at this or not, our very survival depends upon that “security apparatus.”

Releasing, reporting, or dumping?
(The Economist) … I think the current dump of diplomatic cables is basically a poor editorial decision. I think the format of “document dumps” is an attempt to evade the very idea that the organisation is making editorial decisions, to make it merely a neutral throughput for leaked information. But I don’t think that works. I think it’s clear that the institution of WikiLeaks needs to recognise that it is making editorial decisions, and that those decisions need to take place in a fashion at least as transparent as WikiLeaks would like corporate and governing institutions to be. Basically, I think WikiLeaks needs an ethical review board.

Wednesday Night’s David Jones writes for the Ottawa Citizen: WikiLeaks document deluge remains a diplomatic, public relations disaster, says former diplomat (He was also on Crosscountry Check-up this past Sunday).

But the world is not all about WikiLeaks – believe it or not. Rodrigue Tremblay‘s new book A Code for Global Ethics – a timely subject – merits this good review We also recommend his blog piece, The Fed and the Debased “Imperial Dollar”: Future Inflation, Timid Economic Growth and Higher Interest Rates Ahead and look forward to your comments. Guy Stanley has already submitted his thoughts: The question it poses is what is the operational difference between the two golden rules it compares–do unto others etc. vs do unto others what you would have them do you if you were in their place. If one thinks of such economic concepts as an efficient price, Pareto optimality, or Nash equilibrium, they have in common the idea that one cannot improve any participant’s position without harming the position of another. This position could be said to correspond to the first formulation of the GR.
However, underlying this conventional view is an assumption of equal power: if power is unequal, or one participant has an effective threat power over another, then the static bliss point described above cannot be achieved under assumptions of individual maximization. Only if the “game” is expanded to include alliance formation and collusion can that change and a stable equilibrium be constructed under maximizing assumptions.
The new GR formulation suggested by Prof. Tremblay offers another solution–but the question arises whether it is both welfare maximizing and stable. Consider:  assume a benign global hegemon that ensures stable Nash equilibria even for the weak–except that a rival for hegemonic power may well insist that the new GR formulation obliges the existing hegemon to share power with its rival. This could be a permissible outcome if stability would be enhanced–but it is not welfare maximizing compared to the first solution: either the first hegemon must give way to the second OR the others must pay to support both. Clearly then, this is inferior to the first rule in welfare terms or else it is unstable.

Kimon Valaskakis has just returned from the very successful “Dialogues de Bordeaux“, the launch of the Nouvelle École d’Athènes France. He wrote immediately after the end of the conference:
“Bordeaux, by the way, is a beautiful city, bathed in a micro-climate of sun and ocean breezes, (45 kilometres for the Atlantic Ocean)  with imposing medieval and Renaissance architecture. It has a charming car free downtown core, with the longest pedestrian avenue in Europe, their Rue St. Catherine. An example to considerThe city even  managed to impress the Parisian snobs, a major feat, in itself.
The Conference itself was well attended and highly productive. It managed to go to the heart of the French ‘projet de société and what it has to offer in terms of both strengths and weaknesses.”

We look forward to hearing more from and to his views on WikiLeaks vs Global Governance.

The UN Climate Change conference in Cancun may not have attracted much attention in competition with Mr. Assange et al., but we cannot resist pointing out that once again Canada is one of the major spoilers (see Canada & the environment) and the local (Quintana Roo) media have had fun with the tar sands contribution to greenhouse gas emissions

George Archer suggests Michael Hudson’s Adam Smith Shreds the Bowles-Simpson Tax Madness: Deficit Commission Follies in the hope that “It should give rise to some spirited responses.” And Tony Deutsch points us to the Economist’s  Buttonwood column Hands off our pensions — A tempting target for impoverished governments with the comment that “I spent at least two years of my life trying to get this set of institutions going”.

With these topics as a kick-off to our first evening of the 16th century, we eagerly anticipate an evening packed with wisdom and perspicacity.

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