Wednesday Night #1581

Written by  //  June 20, 2012  //  Herb Bercovitz, Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  No comments

The Scribe’s Prelude
Since the beginning of civilization, innovation has proven to be a mixed blessing, beneficial to some at the expense of others, but in the long run, usually profitable to the comfort and knowledge of humans. 

Publishing Today
The successful launch of Robert Landori’s 3rd novel of intrigue and suspense provoked an examination of the recent drastic changes in the publishing industry.
In the mid-fifteenth century the Gutenberg press made  traditional scribes all but redundant.   The introduction of the computer has made the role of the typesetter redundant, a mixed blessing as there appears to have been an inevitable declining emphasis on language, grammar and accuracy in many of our dailies, as they face the competition of the electronic media.
The escape provided by the written word penned by great authors has been the gift provided by the evolution of the printing press and the availability of books through authors, publishers, lending libraries and booksellers.  Just as the ubiquity of music available through the Internet has transformed the manner in which it is acquired to the detriment of the purveyors of recorded music, so electronic books are invading the purview of publishers and booksellers as even public libraries currently lend electronic books.  In the latter case, it can be very difficult for authors, readers and booksellers to adapt.  Booksellers may very well prove to be an endangered species. Meanwhile, with the advent of electronic self-publishing and concurrent print-on-demand, the relationship between author and publisher, so important to both, is being changed. The publisher no longer gives the editing, design, distribution network and promotional support needed by authors; while the cost of producing a book is greatly reduced, authors have many more up-front costs and must deliver a finished work to the ‘publisher’, which is really no more than a sophisticated type-setting operation. But authors now receive 60% or more in royalties and, if they create market niches for themselves, can do quite well.
Although the relationship between the reader and the printed characters can be difficult to duplicate when the book is electronic, the e-book is more portable, the font can be enlarged as required, and the traveler can carry dozens of books in a very light, compact form.
In the final analysis, electronic publishing may actually prove to be a boon to authors (more individuals can make modest sums of money for their endeavors) and readers alike, at the expense of paper book publishers and retail booksellers.
However, before embracing the news of the demise of the printed book, consider the resurgence of public and commercial radio after being condemned to the trash heap with the advent of first TV and then social media. People still listen to radio; it serves a useful and often thought-provoking purpose. It is likely that there will still be many readers of books – it is simply a question of discovering how to modify the business model and make money on it.
People are still willing to pay for content of particular interest, e.g., almost everyone subscribes to one or two special publications, journals or magazines or will contribute to a particular website. People like to have a sense of participation.
The Internet does funny things to the economics of the market – the causes people will give to and why.  Liam cites the case of Oatmeal, the site that was sued by another site that had stolen and used its material for years. When the creator finally called them out, they sued him for $20K – he went public and the public responded with more than $200K, all of which he plans to give to charity.

The Market
Recent news reports that RIM has cancelled Celestica’s manufacturing contract elicited two diametrically opposed analyses in the Globe (a bad occurrence) and the Financial Post (positive development for Celestica), leading Ron Meisels to wonder who do you believe – and to conclude that you should stick to analysis of trading patterns.
His outlook for the stock market is that having experienced a bull market for over three years, it will continue to do well until early August, following which, partly depending on the outcome of the U.S. Presidential election, a lower market can be anticipated by the middle of next year.
There is some movement in oil stocks indicating that somebody believes that something is going to happen, but opinions are mixed about what.  The current decline in the price of petroleum is an indication of the world-wide slow growth outlook, and could be further taken to indicate that there is an oversupply (recent stories suggest that there is sufficient oil in the U.S. to meet the demand for the next two and a half centuries, although the cost will undoubtedly rise as a function of the difficulty of extraction). The oil companies may be positioning themselves for maximum gains in the next few years as they contemplate the increasing popularity of electric cars and consequent reduction in demand – at least in North America and Europe.

Rio+20
Meanwhile the damage to our environment – the living planet – continues. Too often, the concept of ‘sustainable growth’ is undermined by the greed of the élite, or security concerns of nations who lack natural resources of which China is the outstanding example (see Dambisa Moyo’s piece Symbiosis: How the World Is Becoming Dependent on China’s Money  and her new book Winner Take All: China’s Race for Resources and What It Means for the World ) in which she posits that China’s growing role and relevance in global commodity markets means it will ultimately drive how resource prices are derived. For the governments of some nations, development implies living standards (for some citizens) that meet the excesses of the developed nations.
The outlook for Rio+20 is not favorable; as long as the UN model requires consensus, there is no mechanism for the nations of the world to agree to the measures that are necessary. One promising possible outcome is the development of Sustainable Development Goals. The purpose of SDGs is to address the broad challenges of poverty eradication, environmental protection and sustainable consumption and production, and to provide the foundation for a global green economy. The SDGs address the shortcomings and challenges of the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which have nonetheless challenged the world with specific targets and yardsticks by which to measure progress.
It may well be that in the absence of agreement among the 193 nations at Rio, a broad range of civil society from environmental activists to corporations, community groups and NGOs of all flavors will  accomplish what governments are unwilling or unable to do.
There are rays of hope among a number of groups including the cooperative movement. Note that the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA) and the Conseil canadien de la coopération et de la mutualité (CCCM) are meeting in Montreal – June 27 to 29 for their National Congress with the theme Co-operative Enterprises Build a Better World.

Governing or governance
Human beings are complex and it is not accurate to ascribe greed as their only motivation.
And Wednesday Night is not representative of the world population. How can we comprehend the motivations and sentiments of the many and disparate citizens of so many regions? What about those for whom an increase in standard of living would be enough food, or clean water? How do they perceive the world 20 years after the promise of the Rio Summit? The Guardian asks on its Rio+20 interactive page : is the world getting better or worse?
While the indicators offered by the survey are representative, there remains an important unasked question: are we becoming better at governing … at giving people meaningful lives … is there a capacity to deal with problems better than 20 years ago? Are there new doors opening whereby interest groups (e.g. activists, consumers) can by-pass traditional forms of regulation and politics, ultimately contributing to improved governance?  We are living in a period of transformation probably not equalled since the Renaissance; and we do not yet know how to sustain and analyze the incredible amount of information that is transmitted at lightening speed. If and when we manage that, then maybe we will know some of he answers to these questions.

Europe
The European situation appears to be one indication of positive change. Who could have imagined after the drama of the past years that Europe could come together again, with Germany footing the bill. There is still a long way to go and many decisions about shared power to be made, but the outlook is more optimistic than it has been for some time.

Pessimism is a luxury of a decadent society.

 

PROLOGUE
It’s all over, including the shouting. The Omnibus Bill (C-38) has passed and the helpless, hapless majority of Canadians who did not vote for the Harper government are (somewhat) resigned to living in a dictatorship that is equally dismissive of Parliament and civil society. In case you missed it, the final At Issue before the summer break offers some good commentary and very candid evaluation of the state of Canada – let us hope that some of their forecasts prove to be accurate.

One of the more depressing media events of the week was The House on CBC Radio. Not only were we subjected to Peter Kent’s prevarications (to be polite) but even Jim Flaherty whom we have always regarded as a relatively benign personality sounded disgustingly self-congratulatory.
Mr. Kent, who has little hope for (or interest in) the outcome of Rio+2 will lead the Canadian delegation. It will be a far cry from the Canadian presence at the original Rio Summit when, as we are reminded by Daryl Copeland, “Canadians, including members of the NGO community, who for the first time were invited to join the official delegation, provided the main animus for the organization and delivery of the conference. Canadian money and human resources, elements most notable these days for their scarcity in the public sector, helped make it happen. Maurice Strong was conference Chair; Art Campeau was the PM’s Special Rep and PM Mulroney gave a major address; Jean Charest was fully engaged as Environment Minister. DFAIT had the better part of an entire bureau devoted to the cause.” Mr. Copeland only omits Pierre Marc Johnson, then Special Advisor to Maurice Strong, who wrote in an article The State of the Earth on the Eve of the Rio Summit: “The twin challenges of development and environment will force us to question some of our values, and to ask ourselves why we consume so much. We are far from what Maurice Strong has called ‘sophisticated modesty’….The first nations to adapt to the new environmental realities of the 1990s will be the winners of the beginning of the next century.”  We’ve certainly come along way away from that optimistic leadership.

On a somewhat more optimistic note, it has been a busy Sunday for voters; not only have French Socialists [won an] absolute parliament majority, but more vital to the world’s wellbeing, according to Reuters,  parties supporting a bailout saving Greece from bankruptcy won a slim parliamentary majority, beating radical leftists who rejected austerity and bringing relief to the euro zone which was braced for fresh financial turmoil. Will this mean a fresh approach to Austerity in Greece? Will we now be seeing some form of Austere Growth as Kemal Dervis suggests? Not surprisingly, AP reports that there is a Sigh of relief at G20 summit over Greek election – but the G20 has other problems to solve.

News is less promising from Egypt where the Generals guard Egypt power as Islamists claim lead – Egypt’s Islamists claimed a lead on Monday in vote-counting for the presidential election but the generals who have run the country since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak issued new rules that made clear real power remains with the army. That sounds like a situation that will make nobody happy. So much for the outcome of the Arab Spring in Egypt.

And Tony Deutsch sends along this discouraging item: Crisis-Weary Hungarians Lose Faith in Government, with the comment that The worst part is, not stated in the article, that well-educated young people are contemplating moving abroad (mostly to Germany) in unprecedented (since 1956) numbers.

On the other hand, perhaps we should be encouraged that Moscow is hosting talks with Iran on Monday in an attempt to solve the nuclear stand-off. Negotiators from Britain, the US, China, Russia, France and Germany will meet with their Iranian counterparts starting at 0700. We imagine that a number of the G20 leaders will be watching developments carefully.

There is also some good news of Wednesday Nighters.
Margaret Lefebvre informs us that her husband, Ron Walker and Nancy Robinson have been working for several years to have the amazing twins Rhona and Rhoda Wurtele named to the Hall of Fame. Their efforts have been successful and these icons of skiing will be inducted this fall. Congratulations to all!
It may be slightly premature, as it won’t be on the shelves (virtual or otherwise) until October 1, but we are delighted to promote Peter Trent’s oeuvre that has been many years in the making, The Merger Delusion: How Swallowing Its Suburbs Made an Even Bigger Mess of Montreal. According to the Barnes & Noble web page “he presents a stirring and detailed account of the battle he led against the provincial government, the City of Montreal, the Board of Trade, and many of his former colleagues. Describing how he took the struggle all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, Trent demonstrates the ways in which de-mergers resonated with voters and eventually helped the Quebec Liberal Party win the 2003 provincial election [that’s our emphasis]. As the cost and pitfalls of forced mergers become clearer in hindsight, The Merger Delusion recounts a compelling case study with broad implications for cities across the globe.” Bravo Peter!
Peter’s learned tome may not equal Robert Landori’s latest as a page-turner, but we see possibilities for a political thriller follow-up to “Mayhem on the Danube” which will be featured Thursday, June 21, 2012 at 12:30 p.m. as part of The Atwater Library Lunchtime Series.

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