Wednesday Night #1599

Written by  //  October 24, 2012  //  Herb Bercovitz, Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  1 Comment

Video of a great tribute to WN from our guest What you have here is something really special

It`s hard to beat the flexibility of a car. That`s why the car will survive.

An unexpected pleasure: Margaret Lefebvre introduced her good friend and NRC/Auto21 colleague, Dr. Peter Frise, who is currently the Scientific Director and Chief Executive Officer of AUTO21, a federal Network of Centres of Excellence ( there are about 24 devoted to a wide variety of research/industry sectors); he is also the Executive Director of Automotive Research and Studies at the University of Windsor. 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, in Ottawa. His impressive profile belies his pixie sense of humor and deep interest in a number of topics with no apparent relationship to his own areas of expertise.

Predictably, Wednesday Nighters are preoccupied with the outcome of the 2012 US elections. According to the polls, the probability of the re-election of Barack Obama decreases as the final days of the campaign draw near. The presidential race has come down to just a few battleground states, but none are more important than Ohio, hence the aggressive air and ground wars by both sides as the race comes to a close. As of now,  not only does it  come down to Ohio – but a few counties in that state – maybe just a handful of ‘little grey men’ (or women)  in those counties. The run-up to the election is somewhat reminiscent of the 1970 election of George W. Bush and there is deepening worry that the outcome will be determined by the electoral college. To many around the table, it is incomprehensible that the President is in a virtual tie with Mitt Romney.

The checks and balances guaranteed by the Constitution have the potential of leading to legislative gridlock but more probably, a healthier if not less pretentious government or possibly, a Republican House and Republican Senate. The candidates agree on foreign policy. Whereas the United States will not accept humiliation, it will resist going to war. The Middle East will remain a wild card, however, right up until Election Day. Historically, most wars have been initiated by Democrat Presidents (Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy), ended by Republicans (Eisenhower, Nixon). Indeed, the next four years will undoubtedly be interesting to observe, but the U.S. will certainly survive and successfully meet the challenges.

Romney – no content; he has never explained anything – and it’s working

Some appear to consider Governor Romney to be the consummate liar, but a closer examination of his history reveals him more as a deal maker. The sales pitch is that  should he be elected President, he would  be the president to resolve hitherto unresolvable differences and to solve hitherto insoluble problems. In some ways this is reminiscent of the Regan presidency and the manner in which he resolved the Air Traffic Controller strike, or how he put the backbone back in American aspirations and created an atmosphere that `we were not defeated` as he welcomed the returning hostages from Iran. However, these skills are useful when there is an easily defined problem to be solved through negotiation, or skillful communication; Mr. Romney’s economic (very similar to Regan’s Voodoo Economics) and foreign policies are framed by advisers who also served George W. Bush and at no time has he explained HOW he will accomplish his goals , e.g. create 12 million jobs.

Ownership of natural resources
Most Wednesday Nighters are opposed to the sale of Nexen to CNOOC. Even though Nexen contributes little, if anything to R&D or job creation in Canada, it is foolish to allow China to roam the world buying up natural resources.

Why does the Canadian cross the road? To get to the middle.
But that’s the most dangerous place to be

At the same time, it is obvious that Canada`s wealth of natural resources has acted as a damper to creativity in innovation in the manufacture and development of goods and services. And perhaps there is also the inherent risk-adverse nature of Canadians? The 1989 destruction of all physical evidence of the Avro Arrow`s existence remains a sad but powerful reminder of  the ignorance of Canada`s politicians who failed to understand that the revolutionary aircraft was the key to a new industry, and thus  were  indifferent to the creative potential of its only renewable, potentially wealthy resource, namely an educated, intelligent population, in favor of our buried, currently valuable but not inexhaustible supply of petroleum and mineral resources.

The automotive industry  is Canada’s largest business center and Auto21 is the largest of the networks of excellence with 47 member universities, and extremely successful, having created over 100 patents, licenses and technology agreements.  Note that the IP generally is held by universities and/or professors – a topic for another night!
Our knowledge creation, chiefly residing in the universities, does well, but does not translate into either job creation or competitive advantage for the country.  With 1/2 of one percent of the world’s population, Canada produces 4.1%  of the world’s academic papers, including 5% of the most-cited papers. BUT, we have only 1.7% of the world’s patents.  Universities are extremely concerned about basic research, but applied research should be done by other than academics. Currently in Canada, we are good at making products, but not at conceiving them. Our principal interest appears to be in mining and forestry.
The automotive industry seems to be an exception. Although few — if any – Canadian-built automobiles are exported, 85% of Canadian manufactured automobile components are exported. Most automobiles are built using car parts rather than  the car manufacturers manufacturing them themselves. Generally, the Fords, GMs, etc. decide what the car will look like and design the engine – sometimes also the transmission and occasionally certain aspects of the exterior. All the rest is designed and supplied by the auto parts companies. Increasing globalization is forcing small Canadian companies out of the markets as they are not able to locally supply their customers whose plants are located in a number of different countries.
In the light of the inevitably increasing difficulty in petroleum discovery and extraction, the average automobile will have to double fuel efficiency in the next decade. What are the trade-offs in safety, comfort, speed, design quality … ? Diesels are currently thirty to forty percent more efficient than gasoline-fueled vehicles, but ultimately, other solutions must be found, especially in Canada where population centers are so distant from one another. Electric cars on the market today are costly ($42,000)  and not now the answer for medium and long distance travel.
Another factor to be considered is the direct correlation between income and energy use. The growth of suburbia where people could own homes with spacious gardens was largely dependent on their ability to commute to work. If they were to return to the city, near their place of work, their consumption of energy would decrease, but so would their standard of living /quality of life — the less energy  used, the lower the standard of living.  One of our  economists, citing Europe in particular, argues that this may be true in poor countries, but the perfect linear relationship does not apply to the wealthier ones.

(See the video of Peter’s remarks on why the car is here to stay)

The price of energy determines for the next 30 to 50 years how our society is going to be organized

Efficient public transportation is part of the solution but currently appears unable to provide the convenience of private vehicle transport. Furthermore, the infrastructure costs of less flexible transportation systems are infinitely greater than those of  the automobile. Working at home using a computer as a substitute for the office setting has been frequently suggested as an alternative (Why does anyone need to fight their way through traffic to go to an office to sit in front of a computer terminal?) , but although attractive in theory, there are some sectors, e.g. medical, that require physical presence and for others, mass telecommuting would prove both cumbersome and detrimental to the creativity as well as team spirit required for the success of a business enterprise. Some people say that densely-packed cities give rise to more creativity and innovation. If true, that could alter the underlying nature of the transportation system.
A successful goal of making public transportation more convenient, affordable, comfortable and reliable might make some dent in an otherwise impossible attempt to reduce private transport, but remains far from feasible currently, and would have to be made attractive to a growing, more affluent aging population which appears to place a greater value on convenience than on cost, thus, for example, the desire for convenient, adaptable  ‘jitney-type’ transportation.  Japan, it was noted, is making great advances in transportation geared to an aging market, but the problem is in meeting safety standards.   That was the problem with the ZENN car.
We need solutions that embrace all forms of transportation, not just automotive. Engineers love technology – of whatever kind – give them a problem to solve.

No one has ever managed to force a ‘small esthetic’ on America … small is anti-American

On a very different topic, Diana’s mention of John Curtin’s documentary on Sibling Rivalry gave rise to a post-WN discussion of nature versus nurture (see Comments below)


UPDATE 23 October
First reactions to the debate and various commentary & posts we have viewed. Bob Schieffer did a good job as moderator. It is doubtful that any minds were changed, especially given that the two men agreed on many positions, including Iran. From what we have seen so far, the entrenched supporters of each side are as entrenched as they were before. (For a sampling, see Who won the debate?) Politico says “There was far from a consensus view on who won the debate in the hours after it ended. Two instant polls gave Obama a clean edge over Romney, but the pundit class was, to quote Obama, all over the map.”
In a debate on foreign policy NOT ONE WORD ABOUT EUROPE? But Mali made it into the discussion. Other African countries did not, nor was there any mention of China’s foreign policy/investments as creeping forms of hegemony. Africa, except for Mali and relatively brief references to the North African hot spots – ignored. China Seas – ignored except by inference. Romney raised Latin America, but the subject was not pursued. Israel, Israel, Israel, with each trying to prove that he was the better friend of that country, but Palestine mentioned only once. Iran’s spinning centrifuges was a favorite of Romney.
Nothing about foreign aid as an instrument of foreign policy? But both managed to come back to domestic issues, e.g. support for business, tax policy, education, investment in R&D. Makes sense, as sadly most voters don’t know or care much about foreign policy, aside from military issues.
We wonder how many watched the expressions of the two men as they watched one another – Obama was intently focused on Mitt; Mitt sat back with a supercilious (annoying) smile. As always, the PBS Newshour commentary was worthwhile, especially the discussion between Politics editor Christina Bellantoni and P.J. Tobia, reporter-producer for foreign affairs, who continued the post-debate analysis online, and we loved this from Upworthy In Which President Obama Sinks Mitt Romney’s Battleship, but the meme of the night was of course ‘horses and bayonets’
22 October 2012
Several noteworthy and highly political events frame this week; first and foremost the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Today marks the anniversary of President Kennedy’s nationally broadcast address in which he publicly revealed the presence of Soviet-built missile bases under construction in Cuba and announced a quarantine of all offensive military equipment being shipped to that nation. As some of you will remember, we have a framed copy of the telex of the speech that was sent from Washington headquarters to all U.S. Information Agency posts throughout the world. Alan Hustak remembers that “Fifty years ago today I was hired to read news bulletins during the Cuban Missile Crisis. (We really did think World War III was about to begin), and my career as a journalist began.”
Among many pieces written about the anniversary is Discordant Canada and the Cuban Missile Crisis by Fen Osler Hampson who writes that “the principal lesson is that if it happened today the outcome would likely have been dramatically different: there would be war. The simple reason is that Kennedy and his national security advisers had the luxury of a full week to figure out what they were going to do. Although the New York Times early on got wind that the Russians and the Cubans were up to no good, a simple phone call from the president to the Times kept the lid on the story until the president had decided his course of action and gone public with his message.” The world without WikiLeaks.
A different perspective, and fascinating teaching tool, is The Armageddon Letters – a transmedia project (multiplatform storytelling) launched on the 50th anniversary which “takes visitors behind the scenes during the October 1962 Cuban missile crisis, the most dangerous crisis in recorded history.”
There is the inevitable comparison with the Iranian nuclear weapons capability today. Writing in the Huffington Post, Richard Javad Heydarian:
“Rising tensions over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions represent a baffling conundrum, which is rapidly exhausting the political will and diplomatic imagination of Western leaders. Growing frustrations are contributing to a worrying climate of mutual-hostility and brinkmanship, raising the possibility of a large-scale conflagration in an already turbulent region. The so-called ‘Iran Premium’ – the growing risk of oil-supply disruptions in the Persian Gulf – has repeatedly sent energy markets into tailspin, deepening uncertainty and punishing a fragile global economy by higher oil prices. An actual conflict could send oil prices above the $200 threshold and/or lead to the collapse of the free-market mechanism, as panicky consumers scramble for dwindling supply.
Recognizing the deleterious impact of the Iranian nuclear crisis, one should expect a vigorous international effort at peaceful diplomatic resolution. Yet, the current situation is far from pretty, as belligerent nations edge closer to ultimate abyss.”   Iran and the lessons of the Cuban missile crisis
As we neared the 9pm witching hour when the final presidential debate began, the Economist offered a quick video (It’s not easy being indispensable) run-down of some of the issues with the following introductory comment: In a world still hungry for American leadership, Barack Obama has made mistakes, but he’s learnt from them. Mitt Romney draws upon Ronald Reagan’s idea of “peace through strength”, but his plans differ from the president’s more in rhetoric than in detail.
Whatever the outcome of the vote, there is at least some light at the UN, where the new Security Council makeup is expected to help U.S. diplomacy, given that four of the five new non-permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — Australia, Luxembourg, Rwanda and South Korea — are expected to be more supportive of U.S. efforts during the next two years. Bay blog (10/19)
Canada’s energy policy – or lack thereof – continues to make headlines. The latest is of course the midnight announcement of the rejection of the proposed takeover of Progress Energy Resources by Malaysian state-owned oil company Petronas, what this may portend for CNOOC/Nexen and whether the Harper government has any coherent policy on foreign investment Stephen Harper sheds no light on why Ottawa spiked Petronas deal, promises clarity soon At the same time, The Canada-China Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (FIPA) is stirring up major concerns as expressed in this Open Letter to Stephen Harper from Gus Van Harten of Osgoode Law School.
Media and ethics
On a somewhat related matter that also harks back to the Globe & Mail’s recent sins regarding Margaret Wente’s copious (and unattributed) borrowing of the work of another journalist (commonly called plagiarism), the G&M recently published an eight-page “Information Special” on The Future of the Oil Sands. Although in appearance, this was a special section focused on a matter of national interest, closer examination revealed what is called an ‘advertorial’. Armed with the G&M’s discreet statement on their website “ ‘the Globe and Mail’s full-service, integrated content-marketing group’ offers for sale various versions of “custom content,” and makes a distinction between something called “branded content” that is said to be “produced with the same approach to quality journalism that you find in the Globe and Mail every day” and Special Information Features which “offer clients a greater degree of control over the storytelling and messages that accompany their brand ads.” , current Sauvé Scholar Jonathan Sas is the author of a well-researched and highly disturbing piece published in The Tyee which examines the ethics (or lack thereof) of this money-generating effort by the publication that calls itself the national paper of record.
George McGovern and Lincoln Alexander R.I.P.
The deaths of two admirable public figures this past week serve to remind us that politics should and can be an honourable profession. Of the many tributes written about George McGovern, the Guardian is perhaps harshest (we would say unfair) in its assessment of the man; we prefer William Greider’s very personal account of covering the 1972 McGovern campaign George McGovern, the Last Honest Democrat
Canada’s Lincoln Alexander exemplified so many of the qualities that are singularly lacking in today’s Conservative Party. We had the privilege of spending the better part of a day with him at a PC convention (yes, David was actually a delegate) many years ago. It was a truly delightful occasion and has become a treasured memory. While all the tributes emphasize his sense of humor, one from John Tory best sums up those other traits so absent today: “He was always decent. He was always willing to sit down and talk to other people who had a different point of view than his own. And I think if we had a lot more Linc Alexander in the people who are in public life today, we’d be a lot better off.”
The Economy
We are quickly becoming fans of Chrystia Freeland whose latest piece for the HuffPost is about Henry George “the most famous American popular economist you’ve never heard of, a 19th century cross between Michael Lewis, Howard Dean and Ron Paul.” We certainly had not heard of him and found her description of his thinking and political activism quite fascinating.
Tony Deutsch continues the discussion of the Nobel Prize for Economics with the Economist article A golden age for micro: “microeconomists seem to be very good at building new findings on old foundations. Take the Nobel Prize, covered by a colleague in the Free exchange print article—Game, set and match—this week. The prize went to economists who built on cooperative game theory, an ancient development by economic standards (one of the main papers was published in 1962). Cooperative game theory looks at how well people can do when acting together; by examining all the possible combinations, theorists can spot outcomes that individuals acting alone cannot achieve. They then focus on something called the “core” of the game—those outcomes that are “stable” in the sense that no subgroup would do better by breaking away and acting alone. So far, so theoretical. But the theory is pivotal in understanding how to set up medical job-matching system in a stable way so that no hospital or medical school wants to break off and set up alone. Fifty years on, there are other applications too: cooperative game theory is still being used in cutting edge auction design. And the Nobel is just one example of real-life problems solved by micro.
As Mitt Romney declares that on his first day in office he will take China to task as a currency manipulator, this from Foreign Policy is timely To Renminbi Or Not to Renminbi? — Why China’s currency isn’t taking over the world. Tony Deutsch and Guy Stanley have started a discussion with Guy reminding us that The Peterson Institute for International economics has been watching this for some time and sending this link to some of their recent research.
And, as we prepared to watch the debate, we hope this lighter note might appeal to you Romney Foreign Policy Debate Prep In Crisis Mode After Discovering Existence Of Country Called ‘Womania’
Formed after World War I and the dissolution of the Not-a-man Empire, the internationally recognized independent state of  Womania has from its earliest days upheld universal suffrage and unrestricted access to birth control, and is celebrated worldwide for its empowerment of all its citizens—from those living in the wealthiest areas of the Womanian capital, Feminopolis, to the poorest working mothers inhabiting the nation’s countryside.
You will note we have not even mentioned Quebec or the Marois Follies. However, we would be derelict did we not point you to Julius Grey’s opinion piece:French predominance, bilingualism should be goals and Beryl Wajsman’s passionate No mandate! A prejudiced, “not-ready-for-prime-time” government – now if he would only tell us what he really thinks!

One Comment on "Wednesday Night #1599"

  1. Diana Thebaud Nicholson October 30, 2012 at 2:54 am ·

    Nature versus Nurture
    A little context to the conversation Catherine and I were having before you others joined in: I brought up the issue of adoption simply to make the point that intelligence, along with most other traits, is heredited and has little to do with environment.
    A word from the experts:
    Bell Curve co-author, Charles Murray:
    “It is no longer seriously disputed that intelligence in Homo sapiens is substantially heritable. In the last two decades, it has also been established that obvious environmental factors such as high income, books in the house, and parental reading to children are not as potent as one might expect. … Even the very best home environments add only a few points, if that, to a merely okay environment.”
    Harvard professor, Steven Pinker:
    “Siblings reared together are no more correlated in IQ than siblings who were separated at birth, and adopted siblings are not correlated at all. Growing up in a given home within a culture seems to leave no lasting stamp on intelligence.” John (Curtin)

    I should have added that your estimate of there being a 50/50 split between nature and nurture in adoption statistics may be absolutely valid, in a random universe, but in the past 40 years, the universes of children available for adoption has been significantly skewed by the availability of the pill and abortion on demand. The profile of the mother who chooses to bring the pregnancy to term and then give up the baby has been narrowed to the point that it has had a major impact on the percentages. I am not including children orphaned by war or other calamities beyond parental control, but particularly in the case of Caucasian babies born in Canada in the 70s and beyond, the gene pool was not representative of the general population. Margaret Lefebvre

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