Wednesday Night #1548

Europe and the EU

The miracle of the European Union is that has united disparate countries into a common region, the test of which is how the Greek debt crisis will ultimately play out.  The amount of money involved is, in relative terms, not significant, especially in relation to the sums owed by Spain, Italy and the other PIIGS countries, but a default following a referendum would not only have a negative effect on other indebted countries of the EU (see EU economy 2011 Part III), but a possible worldwide monetary crisis.  Greek debt fades into insignificance in comparison with that of Italy.  In effect, the existence of the banking system depends on trust, earned or ephemeral. No matter what the outcome, the European Union remains strong, the worst-case scenario being the possible expulsion of the defaulting countries from the Union.  The stronger members will prevail, and in the case of expulsion, the weaker ones would rejoin when they qualify.

Occupy Montreal  
Tribalism is alive and well throughout the world, to the detriment of the concept of the equality of Man.  Tent cities are appearing over the face of the globe.  Many who may not have actually visited Victoria Square in Montreal, see a second Woodstock, a group of young people who believe themselves to be socially excluded, protesting against the closeness of government with the wealthy to the detriment of the majority, by making things work outside the system.  They see themselves as socially excluded, looking for a forum to make their voices heard in their wish for changes in the present political and social system and a more equitable distribution of wealth.  In the case of Canada, unlike other countries where freedom of expression is discouraged, this quiet protest has the appearance of a group of young people bound together by face book, but those Wednesday Nighters who have visited the site report that the principal issue is serious and clear, namely the disparity of the distribution of wealth in Canada.  We, in Canada, have been fortunate in having tribal leaders who, as yet, have not declared themselves to be either omniscient or omnipotent, but who act as spokesmen for those who have expressed a common sentiment.

Iran today
Recent visitors to Iran (see photos) report that the country appears to be prospering – shiny new cars and lots of traffic, comfortable homes, many women wear beautiful jewellery and have exquisite make-up.  Industry thrives and imports of U.S. products are ubiquitous. Technology is often bought from other countries, e.g. steel plants built by Italians; nuclear plants built by the Russians.
The power of the Ayatollahs appears to have diminished somewhat with the death of the Ayatollah Khomeini. People are openly critical of government and there seems to be a stand-off between the government and the opposition – “criticize, but don’t organize and you won’t be prosecuted”. However, leaders of the opposition movement have been imprisoned, although neither charged nor brought to trial; it seems that some are permitted family visitors, but not others. There are some similarities to Quebec following the Quiet Revolution notably only some 15 to 40% of university students practice religion.
Women visitors are expected to adhere to the strict Islamic dress code, with hair covered (hijab) and a long outer garment that masks the body form when in the streets. Iranian women are represented in every profession, move freely in public areas and drive their own cars. In family settings, they are listened to and respected. Some 20% of university students are female.

(Almost) nothing new under the sun
Chauvinism extends beyond belief in citizen, tribal or national superiority to the belief in the superiority of the intellectual capacity of the present generation as perceived in its intellectual and physical achievements.  The accuracy of that myth can be frequently destroyed in examining the intellectual achievements of our ancestors. In the Iranian desert city of Yadz, homes are cooled or heated by means of windcatchers, stone structures that channel wind down into a shaft which in turn cools or heats the rooms below, allowing them to remain comfortable all year with zero carbon impact.
Qanats (man-made underground water channels up to 1,000 feet deep beneath the surface of the earth) carry cool water from an aquifer at the base of a mountain to towns for both agricultural (irrigation and drinking water) and domestic use. The eminently efficient qanat technology for combating the parching heat of the desert dates back to the earlier part of the first millennium B.C. One of the oldest is 2,700 years old and still brings water to some 40,000 people; up to 50,000 were in use in Iran in the 20th century, and about half that number continue to operate today. Some of these tunnels flow through basements of houses of prosperous citizens, providing not only reservoirs of drinking water, but also a complementary cooling system to the air supplied by windcatchers.
Recent visitors to Iran report that Iran appears to be in transition, in some ways similar to the Quiet Revolution in Québec; its evolution will be interesting.  The power of the Ayatollahs has been diminished with the death of the Ayatollah Khomeini.  People are openly critical of government and not unlike Québec, between 15 and 40% of students practice religion.  Unfortunately, leaders of the opposition to President Ahmadinejad have been imprisoned.  Imprisoned opposition leaders are apparently permitted visitors, but not others.  Industry thrives and imports of U.S. products are ubiquitous.  Nuclear plants have been built by the Russians.  Young people are very disciplined, with twenty percent of university students, female.

Politics and Infrastructure Projects
Canada is often viewed as being a leader in Public Private Partnerships (P3) – a term which is too frequently bandied about without full comprehension that the concept has very specific attributes in the Canadian context. The advantage of such partnerships in that government can rely on private sector expertise to carry out a project on time, on budget and to well-defined specs. However, the disruptions caused by frequent elections, changes in government and/or in government priorities can create costly delays and multiple frustrations for the private partners. We have only to consider the sad history of the construction of our two major university hospital centers to be justifiably leery of any optimistic time frame for the construction of the new bridge across the St. Lawrence. But these are projects whose delay is an annoyance mostly to taxpayers. When Canada’s in the international spotlight as for the Calgary and Vancouver Olympics or expos 86 and 67, there’s more than inconvenience at stake. Thus, there should be some concern over the delays already incurred with respect to the Toronto PanAm Games in 2015. The National Post recently published how-to advice about hosting the Games, starting off with “The importance of having venues completed well in advance cannot be underscored enough. Toronto still has plenty of time, but it also still has plenty of work to do” – we wonder if there really is plenty of time – and some of us might add that a prayer that Tony Clement will be kept out of the budgeting.

On another note, the assembled Wednesday Nighters noted that media reaction confirmed the opinion expressed earlier (WN #1546) that despite regret that Quebec had lost the 450,000 man-years of work provided by the federal shipbuilding contract, the Harper Government award process had been transparent and judicious.  While perhaps politically unfortunate, it was logically correct to ignore Québec in awarding contracts to east and west coast shipbuilders, the indication of a healthy choice of logic over political expediency.

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Prologue

This is a special date in our calendar – the first anniversary of our move to Haddon Hall. As you all know, we are very happily ensconced and have made remarkable progress since the early days – although there are still some tweaks to bring about final order.

We are so very grateful to our Wednesday Night family – too many to name – who helped us through the somewhat traumatic move with incredible kindness and generosity. You advised, sorted, packed, schlepped, assembled, washed, put away, gave favorite items and plants a new home, and cheered us on from near and far. Some of you took pity on David and fed us; others walked dogs, or hung pictures. And you came in droves to the last WN at 33 to celebrate the wonderful house that had been home to us and Wednesday Night for so many years. We are also grateful that you have adopted our new home and WN venue with enthusiasm, encouraging us that we made the right decision.

October 31, 2011 — A crowded world’s population hits 7 billion

This Wednesday, we offer a couple of special attractions to add to our 1st anniversary celebration.

John and Holly Jonas have offered to share their perspectives (his and hers) on their recent trip to Iran. Not only was John the keynote speaker at a conference held at the University of Shiraz in Tehran, and invited to a couple of steel research centres, but they also had the opportunity to spend time with some of John’s former graduate students and their families in private homes. We are fortunate to have John with us this week as he leaves for China on Saturday.

Which offers a great segue to our new guest Stephanie Jensen-Cormier. One of the 2011-12 Sauvé Scholars. Stephanie, who has lived for a decade in Asia – including Hong Kong, Singapore and Mainland China – believes that there is much for Canada to learn from China regarding climate change policy and will spend her time as a Sauvé Scholar developing her project to influence Canada’s Climate Change policy by informing Canadians about China’s new energy sources and greenhouse gas reduction strategies.

One might say that all roads lead to China this Wednesday as we will be watching with interest the evolution of negotiations with China to bail out Europe. So far, last week’s Eurozone Summit has generated more scepticism than approval from the pundits (when the Economist and China Daily agree, there should be some concern) and the Chinese authorities have not greeted proposals to help the eurozone out of the crisis with unbridled enthusiasm. For more on this, please see EU economy 2011 Part III Possibly the G20 meeting in Cannes will offer an opportunity during corridor time to smooth things over? The Globe & Mail reports that according to John Kirton, co-director of the G20 Research Group at the Munk School for Global Affairs, “the assembled leaders will dispense with the original agenda to discuss the fine points of the newly announced plan to save the eurozone”.

Update: How quickly things change – no doubt genteel discussion of the ‘fine points’ will be trashed in favor of gnashing of teeth over Greece’s plan to hold a referendum on the bailout plan — EU Shocked and Furious at Greek Referendum Plan

Stephen Harper goes from the Commonwealth Heads of State meeting in Perth, Australia to the G20 (fortunately, Qantas has been legislated back to work so all the VIPs can get off). The news from the Commonwealth meeting is (to our minds) pathetic. The Washington Post reports “Commonwealth nation leaders insisted Sunday that they had made sweeping progress at their biennial summit, despite failing to agree on a key human rights reform recommended by a group that questioned the forum’s very relevance [our emphasis]”.
We forgot, “Leaders did make several noteworthy decisions during the summit, including agreeing to lift a ban on monarchs marrying Roman Catholics. The forum also changed royal succession rules to allow the British monarch’s first-born child – whether a girl or a boy – to ascend the throne, reversing centuries of tradition.” Maybe another topic for a John Curtin film, but beyond that ….
Update – could someone please explain this as reported by RCI: “Harper pleased with Commonwealth Summit results.  Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other Commonwealth leaders wrapped up their meeting in Perth, Australia on Sunday, agreeing to develop “one clear, powerful statement” of values for the 54 member countries.  But the Commonwealth leaders failed to act on two-thirds of recommended reforms. [Emphasis added]”
At least they pledged more money to fight polio, but we would bet they wouldn’t have done that without Bill Gates’ shaming them. Oh, in the final communiqué – filled with voeux pieux – they also pledged war on terrorism. Haven’t we been there, done that?
The next summit will be held in two years in Sri Lanka, which stands accused of war crimes and human rights violations in the final months of its civil war with the Tamil Tigers in 2009. Already Mr. Harper and others are talking about boycotting the meeting. Good on them!

There is so much more in the news, but we will limit ourselves to a few random suggestions.

Tunisia‘s elections were by-and-large trouble free. Commentators seem to agree that there may be bumps in the road, but things are on the right track.

On the other hand, Syria becomes more and more worrisome as Bashar al-Assad, has warned that Western action against his country would cause an “earthquake” that would “burn the whole region” Assad: challenge Syria at your peril

With current developments in India regarding prosecution of corruption, here is a take on Rajat Gupta’s arrest that is worth considering – the effect of his arrest on the middle class in India, for which he was a role model.

What to do about the Canadian submarines acquired from the Royal Navy? We are all aware that they have been a less than felicitous acquisition: One, HMCS Chicoutimi, has been in active service of the Royal Canadian Navy exactly two days in the 13 years since it was purchased from the Brits. The others haven’t fared much better. Much has been written/discussed. Should Canada purchase nuclear subs that can patrol under the Arctic ice? Especially now that we learn that Canada’s new multibillion-dollar stealth fighters are expected to arrive without the built-in capacity to communicate from the country’s most northerly regions (read more)

Finally, there are many interesting events in Montreal during the next week or two, notably:

Wednesday, November 2
Annual Fundraiser for the Atwater Library
The guests of honour for our sixth annual Benefit Cocktail Party are Richard Pound and Julie Keith, a couple who are both writers and distinguished community leaders. And acclaimed journalist Dennis Trudeau has generously agreed to serve as our master of ceremonies again this year. Please join them for a fun-filled evening in support of the Library with a fabulous silent auction, live music by the Dave Turner Jazz Trio, and … smoked meat sandwiches!
Tickets are now on sale for $125 each ($100 tax receipt). Contact Tanya Mayhew at 514-935-7344 or [email protected]

November 3
Kimon’s colleague Professor Michel Godet
Economist and professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers Paris, holder of the Chair in Strategic Prospective, and a leading figure in la prospective in France. (www.laprospective.fr)
will deliver two lectures at HEC
3-4:30 PM
Lecture (in English): Strategic Foresight and La prospective
and en français
17h00 à 20h00
Libérer l’innovation dans les territoires (“Tap into Regional Innovation”) which represents the findings of a group looking at reviving depressed economies in French regions.
For more details on M. Godet’s visit, please contact Ms Kathryn Radford, [email protected]

8pm
Professor Jeffrey Hutchings of Dalhousie University
Canada: Leader or Laggard in Sustaining Marine Biodiversity
Oscar Peterson Concert Hall (7141 Sherbrooke St. W.), Loyola Campus

November 4-5
From the indefatigable Paul Shrivastava
Balance-Unbalance 2011 Montreal –
arts, science and transdisciplinary actions on the environmental crisis

Concordia University

5 November
Vernissage of Wayne Larsen’s recent landscape paintings
Galérie Nôta Bené

8 November
6pm
Book launch for The Someday Funnies
Michel Choquette’s unique view of the 1960s “It’s the greatest comics collection of all time: even the former PM wanted to contribute”
Paragraphe Books

Do consult our Calendar of events for more information.

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