Wednesday Night #1537

Brian Morel introduced his good friend Jean-Louis Thémis, chef cuisinier at the Quebec Tourism and Hotel Institute (yes, where Will & Kate dined with the Charests) and founder of Cuisiniers sans frontières. Born in Madagascar, Jean-Louis is an  engaging individual whose enthusiasm for his métier and his project is infectious. The project consists in training young people  in the developing world who have no financial resources to cook, and also to teach them about such related subjects as health and the environment, giving them an opportunity to survive and thrive in developing economies.

News of of a long-time Wednesday Nighter’s recent health problems and related difficulties in caring for a dependent spouse prompted a lengthy discussion of  how networks of friends may replace the traditional social/familial  structures.

The homes of our ancestors housed three generations, namely grandparents, children and grandchildren. Each played a role in the health, wealth, care and education of the youngest, oldest and middle, and in a largely rural setting, where a large part of the population was engaged in agriculture., and the sense of community was strong.  Subtle, though significant changes occurred thanks to Cyrus Hall McCormick, who introduced the mechanization of farming, releasing men to work in an urban environment; and, later, women to work in urban factories, when the men were at war. Although this mechanization significantly improved the family’s earning capacity, its integrity as a unit was disrupted. Young men going off to war – often, not to return –  further weakened the family group as did advances in transportation, facilitating migration in the search of personal as well as familial financial enhancement. By the end of the twentieth century, increased longevity of the younger generation, a decrease in family size and increased mobility resulting in family members migrating to distant cities and countries, further weakening traditional family ties. A growing number of older couples, singles, widows and widowers have seen that  infrastructure  of the pre-McCormick period disappear while social services, although often well conceived and carried out, do not offer the same personal and community support.
There is a multi-generational aspect to the problem. Often the younger generation, who may be far away, are concerned about parents’ and grandparents’ well-being, but do not feel capable of contributing to a distant support system. They need to be able to turn to someone near-by who is touch with the situation and local conditions.
Recognizing the changes over the last two centuries, Wednesday Nighters see  a need to engineer a structure that will fulfill the needs previously met by that of the 19th  century rural family and community. Wednesday Night, being a microcosm, appears the ideal point of departure. The major criterion is to avoid placing an undue burden on individual, aging members of the group, but to ensure their availability as support pro res nata matching the varied skills and knowledge of each to the specific problem. This has proven to be a very successful formula in developing and realizing events and has every reason to do so in times of stress. This function is currently being performed on an ad hoc basis, but a defined structure would most certainly prove at least as efficient, while taking greater advantage of the talents, experience, and professional backgrounds to be found among the members of the Wednesday Night family. Is there a need to structure WN’s existing support system, or should  the informal arrangement that already exists simply continue? A structure might serve as a useful model for others; the informal model is harder to export.

It would appear that the only countries that have not run into financial difficulties have been the oil-rich African countries. As for the rest of the world, Wednesday Nighters have diagnosed both likely and unlikely causes, hence solutions. What does, however, appear to constitute a problem, whatever the cause, is the relatively small number of corporations that  control some seventy percent of the global wealth, hence influence on the government, hence presumably unjustified tax privileges. Conversely, it is claimed that corporations should not be taxed because the fruits of their operation are currently taxed as they are passed along to shareholders in the form of dividends. What has changed over the years, however, has been the complexity of the income tax system. The personal income tax return form has grown from a single sheet, four page document including personal as well as income information, to a multiple-page complex form; an uninformed observer might conclude that this has been the result of the desire to favour some groups or individual over others, or to solve problems perceived or real that could have probably been solved through simpler, more direct measures.
It appears that in the United States, the Republicans have been taking great national risks, presumably in the hope of changing their fortunes in the 2012 presidential elections. If true, it would be deplorable that political party members might favour their own ambition over the national well being. If ever a picture of a political figure or in the case of Canada, Her Majesty engraved on fine paper, were to be more influential in determining public policy than the paper or electronic ballot, the best interest of the country would cease to be well served. While there is no evidence of this being so, the recent theatrics over raising the U.S. debt limit, the ultimate result of which was foreseeable and foreseen, may very well have added to the U.S. financial problems even if the actions were in good faith. In the light of the simple mathematics of the matter, the reluctance on the part of the U.S. to raise taxes in order to avoid future problems remains inexplicable. Logic would indicate that tax income should be raised sufficiently to ultimately ensure debt-free government and, recognizing the constantly increasing income gap between the poor and the wealthy, that such tax increase should apply more especially to the most affluent.

In the stock market the probability of another recession, placed by some at fifty percent, would have an adverse effect. Had the Republicans not created uncertainty, the stock market mavens would have been bullish. The presumption of Barack Obama’s re-election, previously a foregone conclusion, may now be uncertain. As it is, the market is chugging along nicely, with an estimated further good week before the end of the rally. However, there remains a strong possibility of 1987 revisited, with a huge sell-off and then a two-month period of inactivity until investors again become bullish.

North America and Europe are, in a sense interdependent, especially in the banking sector and the situation in Europe is increasingly serious, especially in Greece and Italy. If the problems addressed by Sarkozy and Merkel do not lead to a solution, there is risk of  the possible collapse of the European Union and a subsequent drop in the value of the Canadian dollar.


Congratulations to John Curtin who advises that, once again, one of his films is nominated for a Gemini. Chasing the Royals is in the running for a Gemini Award for Best History Documentary. Obviously, if anyone has influence with a member of the jury …

Between the Republican invasion of Iowa and the apparently all-important Ames straw poll, and the growing turmoil in Europe’s economy, the past week has maintained this summer’s decidedly unwelcome crisis/crises-of-the-week flavor.

The London riots have faded into a fog of socio-political punditry (see Social unrest in 2011 for a sampling and RIOTS on  and debate over whether the situation might have been better/worse if the police had been armed; if David Cameron, Boris Johnson et al. had not been on summer hols; whether the British jails can hold all those arrested**; whether arresting and sentencing ALL the rioters  is going to do much good ; the wisdom of taking away benefits from the families of those arrested, thus creating more homeless people; the odd words of congratulation to those parents who have marched their children into the police stations to give themselves up; and learned discussion of why the use of baseball bats rather than cricket bats subtitled a history of mob violence and sporting goods
** it has been suggested that the surplus could be sent to the new jails Stephen Harper is building and thus Canada could (again) become a penal colony

The European economy has replaced the crisis of the United States debt ceiling and downgrade in the headlines, although our friend Rodrigue Tremblay focuses on the U.S. in his latest article “The Aim Should be to Restore Confidence and Avoid a Global Economic Depression“. George Freedman of Stratfor suggests that we should view the current economic crisis as a crisis of political economy. George Soros is flooding the print media with exhortations to embrace the eurobond, while urging Portugal and Greece to pull out of the euro and quit the EU before Tuesday’s Merkel-Sarkozy debt summit meeting.  Business Week points out that The European Central Bank is acting like the de facto finance ministry of Europe Europe Stumbles Toward a Tighter Union and Kenneth Rogoff simply states the obvious ‘Some European Countries Are Fundamentally Bankrupt’
Ken Matziorinis has forwarded links to his two most recent commentaries: Resolving the Euro Debt Crisis and Saving the Euro: Could a Euro-Zone Bond be the Answer? (was he talking to George Soros?) and The Eurozone in Crisis: Change or Fail? This is the Question (an updated version of a paper he circulated earlier to some of the “WN Economists Caucus”).
Finally, on this topic, George Archer has forwarded the link to some excellent graphics on a blog simply entitled Les

Turning to U.S. electoral politics (we try to keep tabs on the early developments) and the results from Iowa – it will come as no surprise that we do not welcome Ms Bachmann’s triumph (the profile in the New Yorker Leap of Faith The making of a Republican front-runner should tell you why). We do take some consolation from Mark Shields’ comment that “if you just look at Straw Poll winners, we’re looking at President Phil Gramm in 1996, in addition to President Mitt Romney in 2008. And, of course, that caucus was won three years ago by Mike Huckabee. So it is – it’s not definitive.” Some keen observers remind us that Rick Perry is a much greater threat than Michele Bachmann and he is a formidable money-raiser. Scarier still is the list offered in GOP Presidential Primary: New Rules Of The Race Emerge

BUT everything pales in comparison to this item reported by Foreign Policy: The congress is in session, it turns out … in Israel “This week’s reports that 20 percent of the U.S. Congress will be visiting Israel this month are stunning. Eighty-one members of Congress – two thirds of them Republicans, 47 of them freshmen – apparently think it is more important to be visiting Israel than it is to be at home dealing with the worst economic crisis in modern memory.”
No wonder the U.S. is in a state of crisis of political economy (not sure that’s quite what George Freedman was referring to, but it gives us our ‘bookend’.

Our attempts to counter predictions of the demise of the American Empire have, however, ultimately been thwarted by the story of the online petition urging the ‘outing’ and marriage of Muppets, Bert and Ernie. Even AFP carries it.

On our traditional – albeit increasingly hard to find – lighter note, we commend to you the Lytonny of grand prize winners of the annual Bulwer-Lytton contest, and if you don’t know what that is, it is time to become educated in the fine art of truly wretched writing. We offer this tempting sample from the 1984 winner: The lovely woman-child Kaa was mercilessly chained to the cruel post of the warrior-chief Beast, with his barbarous tribe now stacking wood at her nubile feet, when the strong, clear voice of the poetic and heroic Handsomas roared, “Flick your Bic, crisp that chick, and you’ll feel my steel through your last meal.”

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