Wednesday Night #1578

Written by  //  May 30, 2012  //  Cleo Paskal, Herb Bercovitz, Wednesday Nights  //  Comments Off on Wednesday Night #1578

Unfortunately, Dr. Peter Frise was unable to pack Wednesday Night into his very busy schedule. However  his absence was more than compensated for by the welcome surprise appearance of Cleo Paskal, taking the conversation in a number of unforeseen directions.

The Scribe’s Prelude

Prior to the beginning of World War II, a popular misquote was, “Britain waives the rules.”  The struggle for tribal dominance of the species, however, did not start with Great Britain, but, whether explained by divine favoritism, evolution or animal instinct, has motivated tribes and nations for millennia.  Evidence of internecine struggles, the emergence of the exploitation and/or enslavement of victim nations by the victors, predates biblical times.  The end of the Second World War saw the United States succeed Great Britain as the dominant nation although the Empire, transformed into the Commonwealth, continued to have influence throughout the globe.  “The sun never sets on the British Empire” remained a catch phrase, with member nations on every continent with the obvious exception of Antarctica.   Australia, a prominent member of the Commonwealth and viewed as a member of the club of western nations, is rapidly creating closer ties with Asia than with Europe.  World leadership now appears to be shifting to ubiquitous China, which is making strategic investments across the globe, notably  in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.   China works on longer terms than do most Western countries and is not concerned about immediate returns.  India is developing a good relationship with China following a history of reluctance to do so.  The shift in the world’s economic and geopolitical climate, must give rise to rethinking the security architecture of the Pacific.  The big strength of China is the Chinese diaspora, which although physically distanced, is considered as overseas Chinese.

The ‘student’ protests

The length of the student strike and the intransigence of both sides raise the question as to the nature of the hidden agenda on both sides.  Whether or not one sympathises with the students, a strike, by definition, infers a withdrawal of services; consumers, if dissatisfied withdraw their patronage.  The involvement of the union is equally difficult to understand as unions are usually primarily concerned with salaries and working conditions.  The government has lost support from some as the issue has expanded far beyond tuition, generating wider participation in the demonstrations and the new phenomenon (to Canada) of   appears to have angered some, who have turned their support to the students.  A totally free or minimal fee education would certainly be desirable, but would siphon resources from other programs and/or place an additional financial burden on the electorate.  The issue appears clear enough, but the resulting action and reaction have not become clear to at least some of the electorate.

The market
Wednesday Night financial mavens appear to continue to be pessimistic, some predicting a drop in the market by as much as ten percent per within the next few weeks, partially related to the impending Greek elections.   It is unlikely however, that Greece will go back to the drachma. Meanwhile, Spain remains problematic.  The Spanish state is buying up bank shares and getting its money through the issuance of bank bonds.

As lifespan becomes longer but pensionable age remains fixed, most pension funds are currently underfunded, an issue yet to be faced.


Following last week’s very special evening this is to be yet another exceptional Wednesday Night thanks to two special guests and one intriguing topic offered by a returning Wednesday Nighter (after a long absence).

Our first headliner is Dr. Peter Frise, Scientific Director and Chief Executive Officer of AUTO21, a federal Network of Centres of Excellence, and the Executive Director of Automotive Research and Studies at the University of Windsor. He has also been a member of the NRC Council since 2006. Previously, Peter was a professor in mechanical design as well as the Daimler Chrysler Canada/NSERC Senior Industrial Research Chair in Mechanical Design at the University of Windsor. He has also held the position of Associate Professor in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at Carleton University. Go ahead, Google him!
Christopher Schoch will introduce Danièle Heinen about whom he says “Though both her parents were French she lived most of her life outside France, and in fact has US citizenship- she lived in DC, and worked in development for different private companies. She has travelled extensively and managed projects in such difficult places as Tchad (during the civil war,) Sudan (ditto), and Ivory Coast. She has also worked as a technical translator (engineering and business) for all the major mining and engineering companies in Montreal (SNC Lavalin among others). Her French side is analytical and thinks critically. However her experience overseas has made her flexible and very aware of different cultural contexts.” Ah, flexibility – that hard-to-find commodity.

Stéphanie Lalut, our young journalist friend, returns to Wednesday Night seeking ideas for an article about careers. She is looking for a few couples (3-4) in which one spouse had to put his or her career on hold for a while (long term or short term) to follow the other person for his/her job. The focus of the article is “how do you choose your spouse” when you have that kind of career? She has in mind maybe people who work for the government abroad, doctors, or scientists with a very specific field of work (someone working up North maybe?). She already has a couple of university teachers, a farmer and someone in the army. Stéphanie adds: “Of course, it would be wonderful to find a man who put is career on hold for his wife too, but I don’t expect miracles”. When Stéphanie first asked us about this, our son suggested Michele Obama. But we think she simply stepped into a new career.

We have been so preoccupied by the protests that have dominated the local and national news that we have sorely neglected what is happening in the world. It’s time to get back to our mission. We will merely note that the Quebec’s university student federation has confirmed negotiations between student leaders and the provincial government will resume Monday afternoon and wait to see what develops – if anything.

So, instead, we offer a few random thoughts on other matters:

The European situation continues to be troublesome although reports indicate that the pro-conservative parties are gaining support in Greece. But Spain is quickly becoming the focus of concern. Spiegel reports  that to counter François Hollande, Angela Merkel is calling for structural reforms to save the euro with a six-point plan aimed at harmonizing austerity and growth in Europe once again. Amartya Sen published an excellent analysis of the underlying problems in the NYT, “The crisis of European democracy” . Her conclusions: Europe cannot revive itself without addressing two areas of political legitimacy. First, Europe cannot hand itself over to the unilateral views — or good intentions — of experts without public reasoning and informed consent of its citizens. … Second, both democracy and the chance of creating good policy are undermined when ineffective and blatantly unjust policies are dictated by leaders. The obvious failure of the austerity mandates imposed so far has undermined not only public participation — a value in itself — but also the possibility of arriving at a sensible, and sensibly timed, solution.
Kelly Evans of CNN adds that Europe’s is A Political Crisis Not for Economists to Solve and asks Are you willing to diminish your national power within Europe in order to maintain, if not enhance, your regional power in the world? Are you ready to become a European first, and a German, or a Spaniard, or a Greek, second? She continues, citing the suggestion of Goldman Sachs Asset Management Chairman Jim O’Neill that one of the “three easy steps” by which Europe could solve its crisis would be to declare that “from now on, no euro country will individually participate in G7, G8, or G30 meetings. They would all be represented by the eurozone, as one entity”. And the likelihood of that is?

Syria – The Houla massacre has added another dreadful dimension to the ever uglier and more impossible situation that the UN’s collective wringing of hands is not helping.

Egypt – a run-off that puts voters between a rock and a hard place, e.g. a Muslimist or a former Mubarak associate. Whoever is successful in the final vote will displease an important part of the nation. And whatever happens, there are sure to be claims of ‘irregularities’ (such a nice all-embracing term).

Media Matters – The Levenson Inquiry into the role of the press and police in the phone-hacking scandal (aka News International/Murdoch/Rebekah Brooks et al) continues to out-do itself in uncovering sleaze – Tony Blair’s testimony on Monday  has been a masterful performance of wriggling away from any responsibility for inappropriate relationships with the media.

The feel-good category (we need it!)

In the run-up to Rio+20, the Guardian, which is commendable for its coverage of environment issues, has a great story about beneficial effects of reality TV “A Kenyan reality television show is working to plug the gap between smallholder farmers and researchers — and has the potential to boost crop yields for millions of viewers and generate millions for rural communities, according to its creator.” A version of “This old house” with an agriculture twist? Just think of how this could be applied elsewhere to other sectors.

If you missed it, Robert Reich’s piece: The Fable of the Century is an interesting endorsement of President Obama – or, rather, a strong argument against George Romney .

Reminder for your calendar:

Book Launch for John Schwinghamer’s Purple Chips: Winning in the Stock Market with the Very Best of the Blue Chip Stocks at Paragraphe Books on Thursday, 31 May



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