Wednesday Night #1598

Written by  //  October 17, 2012  //  Herb Bercovitz, Margaret Lefebvre, Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  1 Comment

Superseding all other world events, Wednesday Nighters take pride in having discovered the virtues of our OWN Margaret Lefebvre long before she was awarded the Diamond Jubilee Medal, notice of which arrived today. All present join their voices in a congratulatory chorus dedicated to Margaret on having been granted this cherished token of recognition of her achievements and contributions.


The presence in the Old Port of the 65′ Tall Ship Ecomaris, Quebec’s first sail training vessel, offers the opportunity to stage a unique Wednesday Night on board this beautiful German-built sailing ship. Her ample cabin has a long table and room for at least 35 seated around the table, with 15-20 more in the ‘cheap seats’ We are looking at a spring date – probably in May. More pictures from our visit to the ship

The presidential debates
The imminent U.S. presidential election remains a source of discussion and concern.Following the first one, during which President Obama appeared so disengaged as to be barely present, Tuesday night’s debate offered much encouragement to those who support Mr. Obama. He was certainly engaged, passionate and combative and seemed more comfortable with the Town Hall format of this event.
Generally, Mr. Romney also performed well, although his women in binders remark has gone viral and will certainly create damage among women voters.
The advent of television in the mid-twentieth century has added the element of physiognomy and physical appearance of the candidates to the pre-election debates. Many have stated that the physical appearance was as great, or perhaps a greater factor in determining the winner of the debates than content. Richard Nixon refused to have makeup and thus his ‘five o’clock shadow’ gave him a sinister appearance on the television screen; this has been considered a greater factor in his loss to John F. Kennedy than were the topics debated. The cynics claim that lost him the debate and in all likelihood, the election. Some say the winner of the debate is the candidate who can best point out the weaknesses of his opponent; thus Ronald Regan, a professional actor, did well by learning his lines in advance. What contributes to making these debates different is that Mitt Romney is said (by some) to have a more ¨presidential¨ appearance than does Barack Obama.
The cynics claim that we have reached the point where these debates serve no useful purpose, that truthfulness has become a weakness.
In fact, most debates probably do not change the beliefs and/or support of the viewers, although they do constitute a contributing factor for the undecided voter. More frequently, the incumbent has the advantage, but this year the President, unrealistically supported by many, including women and Latinos in the last election, may lose some of that support this year as voters declare that they are disappointed that he has failed to deliver on his promises. Historically, no President that has ever presided over an economic slump has been re-elected. Next month will either reinforce or destroy that mantra. Either President-elect will face a formidable challenge in dealing with Congress and introducing legislation to get the machinery of government moving once again. That China holds U.S. bonds is of no importance. The important issue will be rehabilitating jobs to the U.S., as well as the next chapter in the Iran drama.

The market
Uncharacteristically, the stock market has been doing surprisingly well this month. Historically, September has been the worst month of the year with a potential for the market to sell off in the second half of September, culminating in October, but this year has been an exception.

Why have so many Jews been Nobel laureates?
A discussion of the statistically high proportion of Nobel prize winners who have been of the Jewish faith [according to Wikipedia: Nobel Prizes have been awarded to 838 individuals, of whom at least 22% were Jews, although Jews comprise less than 0.2% of the world’s population.], led to several theories but no credible explanations. However, it was suggested that those who have been oppressed try harder, e.g. captured enemy prisoners used by the Romans to tutor their children. Whatever the topic, there are times when, by definition, the inexplicable defies explanation, however, for those interested in pursuing the debate, there is a fine article in The American Magazine The 2011 Nobel Prize and the Debate over Jewish IQ


UPDATE: Unfortunately, Wayne and Peter are unable to attend this WN and we have agreed to postpone Peter’s WN début to early December, either the 5th or the 12th.
We look forward to having Wayne Larsen with us and to welcoming his guest, Peter Downie, who, during 25 years at CBC became both a household name and a household voice for so many of us. A senior lecturer in Concordia’s department of journalism, Peter is now researching and writing his MA thesis examining the impact of the 2010 Haitian earthquake on the practice of journalism. He is also affiliated with McGill University’s World Platform for Health and Economic Convergence project and leads annual Think Tank sessions with international scholars and activists on areas of pressing concern from childhood obesity to international food supply and security to the challenge of chronic diseases worldwide. He is a patron of Child Haven, a Canadian organization that serves as a sanctuary for destitute women and children in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. We are very much looking forward to his first visit to Wednesday Night.

Presidential debates
As we reflect on the mixed reviews of the Biden/Ryan show of last week (we thought Biden won) and ponder the conflicting polls and predictions for Tuesday’s Obama/Romney II, it is hard to imagine that there will be many other topics as riveting on Wednesday. While we offer a few suggestions below, we would also encourage you to read The Self-Destruction of the 1 Percent, a fascinating analysis of what is wrong with the U.S. socio-economic model which traces the origins to 14th century Venice. The author is the editor of Thomson Reuters Digital and the author of “Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else”.

Nobel Prizes
At the top of our list would be the (to us somewhat bizarre) choice of the EU as Nobel Peace Prize laureate. While most of the media have made relatively approving – if muted – noises, we suggest the contrarian view offered by historian Andrew Roberts in his piece for Bloomberg View, A Nobel Prize for Idiots, Signifying Only Bias; whether you agree or not, he makes some valid points.
The award of the Prize for Economics is less controversial apparently, and although it has been greeted with such flippant headlines as Slate’s How an Algorithm for Finding the Perfect Husband Won These Guys a Nobel Prize, it appears that there are many practical applications, e.g. “many aspects of life where (for better or for worse) the settled view is that monetary exchange would be inappropriate. And here is where Shapely and Roth come in.” We look forward to hearing the views of WN’s economists on the appropriateness of the award for work on economic life that extends beyond what can be or is monetized, and are curious whether anyone has read Professor Shapely’s earlier paper “College Admissions and the Stability of Marriage.”

Which brings us to one of Wednesday Night’s favorite topics – Education. There have been several intriguing items on the topic recently. First the news that Cambridge Sells Its First Bond met immediately with a New York Times piece A Hard Landing for University Endowments The Globe & Mail heads in another direction with an interesting discussion of Why university students need a well-rounded education advocating broader education, or core curriculum at the undergraduate level and pointing to the Yale University/National University of Singapore project to introduce a core curriculum in response to “Asia’s burgeoning appreciation of learning that can ‘develop creativity’ and make students ‘more versatile and capable of moving among different careers.’” The dominant international story this week, however, is that of Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani advocate for girls’ education who was shot by the Taliban because she was promoting Western culture. Horrific as the story is, it may signal a turning point in the acceptance of the doctrines of the Taliban and other Islamic extremists, not only in Pakistan, but possibly worldwide. Malala has become an international heroine, but perhaps more importantly, an iconic figure in Pakistan. “The Taliban claim that Malala was a symbol of Western culture, and thus deserved to die. She is not; she is a symbol of what Pakistan, even in its frontier areas, should become.” (See Why the Taliban are afraid of a 14-year-old girl

Meanwhile, in Quebecthe picture is not pretty: the enlightened Madame Marois and her PQ cohort continue their war on English-language education (and thus on the majority of her Francophone citizens). The Education minister, Marie Malavoy, refers to English as a foreign language , wants to delay a plan to start offering intensive English courses for Grade six students; wants to abolish the practice of mandatory English lessons starting in Grade 1; slow down the implementation of intensive English in Grade 6; and change a high-school history course to increase the focus on the national-unity debate. And Chantal Hébert reminds us that one of Mme Malavoy’s more brilliant suggestions is that she would cut the public funding of the private schools who select their students on the basis of their academic potential. On the flip side, Facebook campaign to keep English CEGEPs available gets over 42,000 Likes and the malcontents of all linguistic persuasions can enjoy the Démission de Pauline Marois FB page – very bilingual and often entertaining. And for all who feel strongly about the value of learning at least two languages (the more the merrier) see the petition started by Kyle Matthews.

Just when we thought things were relatively quiet in Canada (except for the ongoing debates about CNOOC and Huawei and whether Stephen Harper is selling Canada to China bit by bit – see Andrew Nikiforuk: Chairman Harper and the Chinese Sell-Out) comes the news that Dalton McGuinty has resigned as premier of Ontario (is he planning to run for the Quebec Liberal leadership? – joke.) As of writing, there is no detail. By Wednesday (perhaps) all will be revealed.

There is more – much more – last week’s IMF meeting ; some good news about African economies ; the slow-down of China’s economy and, oh, yes, Mongolia removes last Lenin statue

So whatever the outcome of Obama/Romney II, we will still have much to mull over.

In our usual endeavor to offer you at least one lighter item, we recommend 13 little-known punctuation marks we should be using – most of which we cheerfully endorse.


5th McGill Conference on Global Food Security

October 16, 2012
Public Lecture MOYSE HALL
What goes up must come down: price volatility in the 21st century
Dr. Jean Lebel
Vice-President, Programs and Partnership Branch, International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Ottawa


Annual Benefit Cocktail Party for the Atwater Library is Wednesday, November 7 –
Tickets are Now On Sale
The guests of honour for the Library’s 2012 Benefit Cocktail Party are Norman Webster and Patterson Webster, distinguished community leaders. Acclaimed journalist Dennis Trudeau is generously serving as our master of ceremonies and the sensational Dave Turner Jazz Trio are playing as in past years. Please join them for a fun-filled evening in support of the Library!
Tickets are $125 each ($100 tax receipt). For more information and to purchase tickets, contact Tanya Mayhew at 514-935-7344 ext’n 203 or e-mail to:

One Comment on "Wednesday Night #1598"

  1. Antal (Tony) Deutsch October 16, 2012 at 9:49 am ·

    Economics Nobels being awarded for seminal research on micro-issues have happened before. This year’s awards dealing with efficient resource allocation in the absence of explicit prices is welcome, because it will inspire others to work in the field. Social and technological changes keep creating such markets.
    In the days of our grandparents, it was common for the father of the bride to transfer wealth to the groom, who in return for the dowry assumed the father’s obligation to support the bride . In East Africa , the groom pays a price to the father of the bride as compensation for loss of a farm worker. (I discovered recently, that the latter market still works. A young Arab in Jerusalem offered twenty camels in exchange for Julia’s hand in marriage. We did not accept the deal, not only because Westmount does not provide parking for camels on Lansdowne.) Once these markets are gone, it would be useful to have an alternate mechanism to allocate life partners efficiently. The two steps needed are the invention of the algorithm to do the job, and to invent the incentive system to have people follow it.
    Similar problems arise in allocating educational and health resources.

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