Wednesday Night #1630

Written by  //  May 29, 2013  //  Wednesday Nights  //  No comments

Sixty-five years ago this Wednesday, on May 29, 1948, officers were sent to monitor the truce established following the First Arab-Israeli War. Canadian prime minister Lester B. Pearson was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for promoting “peacekeeping,” as it came to be known; a project that helped to define our national identity and character. Today more than 100,000 peacekeeping personnel operate in 15 missions in the most dangerous parts of the globe. Read Ottawa Citizen story

One could only wish that there were more areas where there is truly peace to be kept, including (to name only the most obvious)  Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Sudan, and of course Syria.

We are bewildered by the logic employed by the EU regarding the lifting of the arms embargo on Syria – according to the BBC “the move is seen as a step to reinforce international efforts to reach a diplomatic solution to the conflict in Syria“. Thus, the Russians instantly announce they will go ahead with deliveries of S-300 anti-aircraft missiles to Syria, and that the arms will help deter foreign intervention. In our old-fashioned concept, this sounds like escalation, not a solution – as Aslı Ü. Bâli and Aziz Rana  say in Why There Is No Military Solution to the Syrian Conflict  If anything, it is intervention, not its absence, that fuels the blood-letting in Syria
And WHAT was John McCain thinking taking a secret (not any more) trip to Syria?

In Asia/Pacific there has been a certain hiatus in news regarding China’s aggressive stance on the China Seas question, however, Cleo Paskal writes that the underlying attitudes among the Chinese military prevail and there is an option for the US to strengthen its allies: New Lend-Lease for Indo-Pacific Allies One way to undermine Chinese strategic calculus, and to ensure peace, is to build up a credible regional deterrent. Korea, Singapore and Japan have advanced (though small compared to China) navies and, if they work together, can start to head in that direction.
Additionally, the US could offer ‘lend lease’ agreements to other, less militarily advanced nations that are persistently targeted by China, in particular Vietnam, Philippines and India.

Happy news: Qatar has withdrawn its bid to host ICAO in Doha. Good summary in The Gazette ICAO stays in Montreal after Qatar stumbles

It’s hard to determine whether many of the events of the past week belong in the category of serious news or tabloid fodder, but at least the Senate Follies appear (finally) to be generating some thoughtful debate about the future of the institution of sober second thought, e.g.
Five things to love about Canada’s Senate which reminds us first that “For every bad apple, there’s a good one”first on the list is Senator Dallaire; and Glen Pearson’s A Senateless Canada Might Not Be As Effective As We Think

Poor Stephen Harper – as though he did not have enough on his plate – with Arthur Porter’s arrest in Panama (and the first mention we can remember of Mrs Porter as an accomplice), some media are delighting in pointing out his role as head of the Security Intelligence Review Committee … one more of Mr Harper’s dodgy appointments.

Since Gawker has managed to raised the $200,000 to pay for the video allegedly showing Rob Ford smoking crack, the Ford Follies have given rise to another debate – should the media pay for information (chequebook journalism)? This is not a new phenomenon and the Guardian featured an excellent airing of the pros and cons in an October 2009 blog. Ethan Zuckerman of MIT posts the following comments (part of a longer piece) in HuffPost.
Gawker, Crackstarter, and Crowdfunding Checkbook Journalism
Paying sources for stories is a controversial practice. In the English-language press, it’s often called “checkbook journalism”, and it’s frowned on in elite U.S. media (though it’s certainly happened through history), though quite common in tabloid media. In the U.K., it’s significantly more common, and underpins much of the scandal around the behaviour of Rupert Murdoch’s newspapers there. U.S. journalist Jack Schafer argues that there are practical, as well as ethical, reasons to avoid paying sources – you’ll cultivate sources who want to sell you bad information as well as good information.
We are pleased that the author also addresses some of our concerns about crowdsource funding – although not what happens when (as appears possible in this case), the information can no longer be obtained? Gawker has promised to give the money to charity (and get the receipt?), but if the funders had wanted to do that, they would have given to charity themselves.

Three weeks ago, we mentioned the changes to the NRC and our hope that some of our Wednesday Night science and policy mavens  might consider the wisdom of the new focus. As a reminder, these selected comments (more to be found on Canada 2012 – 2013 Science & Technology):
National Research Council: Harper Tories Tell Agency To Focus On Industry, Not Raw Science
(Canadian Press via HuffPost) The government says the council traditionally was a supporter of business, but has wandered from that mandate in recent years — and will now get back to working on practical applications for industries.
The council has become a loose web of individual fiefdoms, each pursuing its own goals, Gary Goodyear, minister of state for science and technology, told a news conference Tuesday.
The result, he said, was an inflexible agency that had lost its ability to respond to the demands and needs of industry. (CBC) National Research Council now aims for ‘commercial value’ ‘Job-neutral’ restructuring to make agency streamlined, efficient and functional, president says
Michael Den Tandt: Behold, the revamped National Research Council — now at your service
The NRC has always been primarily an applied science body – but one whose work was led by scientists. Its notable historical successes, noted in the minister’s media kit, include the invention of the pacemaker (1940s), canola (1950s), computer animation (1970s) and the space shuttle’s Canadarm (1980s). That begs this question: Can the system that produced these innovations be so fundamentally flawed, that it needs to be reinvented?
One benefit of paying smart people to invent and develop technologies they think will be useful, as opposed to business managers requesting help with their research, and NRC staff having to choose among these requests, is simplicity. Another benefit of pure research, obviously, is that scientists bent on furthering knowledge have often reached breakthroughs that only later proved to have commercial applications. I’m thinking of Crick and Watson and their discovery of the structure of DNA in 1953. There are other examples too numerous to mention.

We have had several thoughtful reactions to the news including this from Tom Haslam-Jones:
My father was an academic mathematician, specialising in the theory of functions. He published research papers on the Fourier series in the 1930’s and 50’s. His oldest grandson, my nephew, inherited the gene, studied exactly the same subjects in the 70/80’s, got his PhD – and joined the cell phone industry. He is a consultant and is now the chairman of the Wireless World Research Forum.
The Fourier series? It and a host of other parts of the theory of functions are vital parts of handling and compressing data in computers, cell phones etc. When my father was publishing his academic papers in the 30’s, Alan Turing was publishing an academic paper that laid the foundations of the structure of the first digital computers that came along in the 40’s and 50’s…

One more Ottawa item:
How did we miss the resignation of the (former) chief librarian last week? Makes Mike Duffy look like a piker: “Caron’s bloated expenses caught up with him and he resigned amid questions about charging $170,000 in expenses over two years, during a period when 220 staff from Library and Archives Canada were laid off.” It will be interesting to see what action (if any) is taken.
And then, we see this in The Gazette.
Huge cache of Canadian history hits U.K. auction block, tests Library and Archives
A huge cache of Canadian history, stored for 200 years in three wooden chests held at a British estate, is set to be auctioned next month in London — a possible test of whether the controversy-plagued, funding-challenged Library and Archives Canada is still in the business of acquiring newly available treasures of documentary heritage
… with LAC facing deep budget cuts, wrenching restructuring and leadership turmoil over the past few years, historians have decried the institution’s reduced research services and limited capacity to acquire new material for its holdings.
At the same time, however, the Conservative government has pumped tens of millions of dollars into commemorations of the three-year bicentennial of the War of 1812, casting the conflict as a pivotal precursor to the Confederation agreement struck a half-century later.
The estimated value of Sherbrooke’s papers is between $160,000 and $230,000 — coincidentally close to the $170,000 spent by LAC’s recently resigned national archivist, Daniel Caron, in travel and other expenses over the past two years.

Two reminders for your agenda:

Tuesday June 4th, Madeleine Fequiere is hosting a luncheon  event at the University Club (11:45 for 12:15). Part of the Distinguished Speakers series, it features Renée Daoust. Madeleine invites anyone interested to contact her and she will register them.

Next Wednesday, June 5th, David and Terry Jones will be with us. Earlier that evening, David will be the speaker at a CIC event at the Atwater Club (very handy) where he will address the topic of Alternative North Americas – he assures us that there will not be a consensus view.

 

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