Wednesday Night #1640

Written by  //  August 7, 2013  //  Reports, Wednesday Nights  //  1 Comment

Catherine Gillbert read a delightful essay from The Guardian Weekly about salons.
Let’s seek inspiration from Dorothy Parker – and revive the salon, with the sub-head
When members of the Algonquin Round Table had soirees they didn’t have ‘outcomes’ in mind. They wanted an argument [See Comment below for our subsequent exchange with the author].
The return after many years to Wednesday Night of Stan Grossman generated an affectionate discussion of our mutual friend Michael Meighen. We first met Stan when he served as Michael’s campaign manager in his doomed run in the Westmount riding against Liberal cabinet member C.M. “Bud” Drury.

Just as the sun has set on the British Empire, the U.S., for all the power and might that it still can muster, appears to be losing some of its world influence to Russia. as demonstrated by the latter`s ability to grant asylum to Edward Snowden with impunity, without reprisal, or more concretely, through enriching the country by supplying oil and gas to Europe by pipeline. Currently, Russia may be said to have a greater impact on Europe than has America.

It would appear that the old adage, namely “To the victor go the spoils” apparently does not apply to the Middle East. One might argue, with accuracy that Great Britain, in permitting the creation of Israel, was guilty of granting land that it did not own for the creation of that state. However, Israel has existed for nearly three-quarters of a century and has defeated neighbouring nations which had attempted to destroy it. Aside from the question of humanity which enabled its creation, the discussion should no longer center along armistice lines, on which nation or nations were the aggressor nor on whether Great Britain acted in a cavalier fashion, but how neighbours whose similarities greatly outweigh their differences, can live in peace to their mutual benefit. The entire Gaza situation has been badly handled by the world; there are two sides to every situation.
There is a very sharp division amongst North American Jewry; the very influential older group are conservative Jewry, whereas the younger generation is more likely to be more reasonable. The older generation more generously supports a hard line recalling the impossible situation of European Jews in the first half of the last century, viewing Israeli Jews as playing on an even field for the first time since Moses led them out of slavery in Egypt.
In instances such as the present one, to attempt to prove by force or otherwise who was right or who was wrong would be as useless as to attempt to redress the wrongs perpetrated on the Aboriginals in North America. In the name of common sense and the preservation of human life, a solution must be found. All it would take is pressure from the international community and good will on both sides.

The developed world is suffering from problems historically related to automation and longevity. One of the victims is pension funds. The effect of pensions payable at the age of sixty-five results in a virtual transfer of wealth by the less affluent to the wealthy through pension plans, as longevity appears to be a function of earning ability. The major current problem, however in the well-being of pension plans is the low return on permissible investments by pension funds.

Quotes of the Evening
— Putin is not an idiot at all. He is backing the right horses and the U.S. is not one of them. I don`t think that there will be any more major wars because nobody will start a nuclear war.
— We are getting older but there are more people over fifty-five looking for work.
— Unlike Scandinavia, we resent paying taxes.

May you live in interesting times
(do follow the link for the history of this phrase, which is neither Chinese nor ancient)

 We can perhaps all agree that we do indeed live in an interesting age, whether we believe ourselves to be happily following the yellow brick road, or the road to Calvary.

Media matters
Topping the list, because we depend on media for our daily information injection, would be the news of the sale of the venerable Washington Post to Jeff Bezos  founder of Amazon, which so far appears to be a win-win with everybody happy (Jeff Bezos on Post purchase).
So far, the comment on the Washington Post deal we have liked best is: Based on your previous purchases, Jeff Bezos, you might also like: — The Los Angeles Times — The Orlando Sentinel — Newsweek. Of course Newsweek is no longer on offer, or at least not for now.
AND  there is the sale of Newsweek – Newsweek is dead. Long live Newsweek? – which has been dying a lingering death for years. The purchaser of record is the International Business Times however rumours tie IBT to one David Jang, a controversial messianic figure who bears watching.  The Daily Beast is not part of the Newsweek deal.
The IBT coincidentally is reporting (supported by the august Financial Times) that Marina Berlusconi: The ‘Workaholic Nymph in Black’ [is] Ready to Take over Italy’s Right while Daddy is serving time.
Close to home and Wednesday Night is the news that the Local Media Association  NORTH AMERICAN NEWSPAPER AWARDS have selected The Suburban (Beryl Wajsman) as Number One for Best Editorial Writing and, Beryl placed Third for Editor of The Year. And there’s more Congratulations to Beryl and his Suburban team!

World events include the distorted results of elections in Zimbabwe (Mugabe Tightens Grip on Power After Disputed Zimbabwe VoteLongtime President’s Large Win Likely to Exacerbate Political Instability, International Isolation) – hardly a surprise – and Cambodia.
Meanwhile, Battered Mali will vote again Aug. 11 as two veterans face off
With millions not voting in round one, and several hundred thousand ballots rejected, analysts expect the runup to Aug. 11 vote to be full of the dealmaking and the promising of favors that has come to define Malian politics.

News of Egypt tends to be a repetitive litany of visits by high ranking members of assorted concerned governments, but two recent pieces are noteworthy. The first is the lengthy Christian Science Monitor Weekly cover story In Egypt, journey down a Nile of discontent and the second is Al Jazeera’s report on the tangled web of The Egyptian army’s economic juggernaut often mentioned at Wednesday Night, but not often raised in the media.

Threat of al-Qaida Attack Keeps U.S. Diplomatic Posts Closed
PBS reports that there was new information today about the closure of American embassies and consulates in the Muslim world. According to a number of news organizations, the United States intercepted communications between the leader of al-Qaida, Ayman al-Zawahri, and the terrorist branch of that organization based in Yemen.  According to these reports, al-Zawahri asked his colleagues to carry out an attack as early as yesterday.  American embassies and consulates in 19 cities around the world remained shut today as diplomats and travelers alike grappled with the fallout from the closings which were announced this past Friday. Al Jazeera has more

Edward Snowden has been granted ‘temporary’ asylum in Russia which likely means that the Obama-Putin meeting following the September St Petersburg G20 economic summit is off. Probably a good thing not to repeat the frosty images from their tête à tête in Ireland.
As Bloomberg points out, the Snowden affair is only one part of the mix:
“If you’re the Obama administration, there are a lot of reasons to hate on Russia right now. Vladimir Putin’s regime is actively arming Syria’s dictator, Bashar al-Assad, in his war against Western-backed rebels. The country continues to block international measures aimed at stopping Iran’s nuclear program. Last month, Putin signed a law that makes the public discussion of gay rights or relationships punishable by arrest or fines.”

The anti-gay law has caused world-wide reaction and much discussion of whether or not countries like the U.S. and Canada should boycott the Sochi Olympics. The same Bloomberg article Boycotting the 2014 Sochi Olympics Is a Really Bad Idea makes some reasonable arguments that boycotts generally damage the boycotters far more than the boycottees.

A new analysis, published in Science, that explores the links between climate change and conflict has concluded that there is a clear link between climate and violence [and that] Global warming raises the spectre of more conflict. (Christian Science Monitor)  “Examples include spikes in domestic violence in India and Australia; increased assaults and murders in the United States and Tanzania; ethnic violence in Europe and South Asia; land invasions in Brazil; police using force in the Netherlands; civil conflicts throughout the tropics; and even the collapse of Mayan and Chinese empires.” (UPI Science blog)

In addition to the on-going discussion of severe weather and climate change, a number of other challenging environment issues have been raised recently. Briefly, the debate over Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), particularly golden rice, is back, with a haughty London Times piece GM crops don’t kill kids. Opposing them does whose argument was countered by young Rachel Parent who took on Kevin O’Leary . A somewhat balanced, albeit anti-corporate, view is offered by John Robbins column on The Food Revolution Can GMOs help feed the hungry? One of our favorite sources is which offers an analysis of China’s questionable golden rice trials.
We find that we are still not fully convinced by either side and hope for guidance from wiser Wednesday Nighters.

A few more briefs for consideration:

Rohani Taps U.S.-Educated Minister to End Iran Sanctions  “Rohani has picked technocratic, non-ideological people,” said Alireza Nader, a senior analyst in the Arlington, Virginia, office of the Rand Corp., a research group. “They have been in crisis situations before.”
Pipeline safety will be focus of new group
(RCInet) The federal government, the provincial governments of Alberta and British Columbia as well as the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers and the pipeline association are forming the Canadian Pipeline Technology Collaborative.
— The announcement that Chrystia Freeland is to run for Bob Rae’s old seat in Toronto Centre has sparked much interest. The middle class is good politics but a curious crusade

And finally, an inspirational read: Atul Gawande is always a compelling writer. His account of bringing simple, effective medical solutions to the populations of developing countries – and the huge importance of the personal touch combined with cultural sensitivity – is a Must Read.
Slow Ideas — Some innovations spread fast. How do you speed the ones that don’t?
by Atul Gawande
We yearn for frictionless, technological solutions. But people talking to people is still the way that norms and standards change.
(The New Yorker) … This has been the pattern of many important but stalled ideas. They attack problems that are big but, to most people, invisible; and making them work can be tedious, if not outright painful. The global destruction wrought by a warming climate, the health damage from our over-sugared modern diet, the economic and social disaster of our trillion dollars in unpaid student debt—these things worsen imperceptibly every day. Meanwhile, the carbolic-acid remedies to them, all requiring individual sacrifice of one kind or another, struggle to get anywhere.

One Comment on "Wednesday Night #1640"

  1. Diana Thebaud Nicholson August 16, 2013 at 2:04 pm ·

    From: Christina Patterson []
    Sent: August-16-13 7:44 AM
    Subject: Re: Dorothy Parker and salons
    What a lovely email! And apologies for not replying sooner.
    Your salons sound wonderful! I wish I could come to one! If I ever come to Montreal, I’ll certainly get in touch. Many thanks for the invitation!
    Christina Patterson
    Writer and columnist

    8 August
    Dear Ms Patterson,
    Thank you for the delightful article on salons, Let’s seek inspiration from Dorothy Parker – and revive the salon , which we shared around the table at the 1,640th iteration of our Wednesday Night Salon (shades of Queen Christina) in Montreal.
    Your comment that “We talked about books. We talked about banks. We talked about business and art. We talked about big issues, like unemployment and debt in the western world; and small issues, like the rise of the twirly moustache” struck a chord.
    We did not discuss the twirly moustache tonight, but we did talk about Russia, Israel, nuclear capabilities, Iran, and the prospect of organizing an evening aboard a wonderful sailing ship dedicated to environmental education. We also dealt a glancing blow at GMOs. The small group (it’s summer and many ‘regulars’ are away) included two Iranian Ph.D. students, an Egyptian Copt who is a statistician, an independent writer, a professor emeritus of computer science, and a retired college administrator and professor of environmental science, who is an avid trekker and has recently completed the Camino de Santiago de Compostela. And, thanks to the latter, we enjoyed your article in the Guardian Weekly, which is now posted on my website in its entirety. I have also shared it on Facebook to the delight of our son in Singapore.
    No-one discussed their marital status or their children.
    If you are interested in knowing more about what has become a Montreal institution, do have a look at
    Should you ever come to Montreal, we would love to have you as our guest on a Wednesday Night!
    Again, thank you for a delightful article.
    Kindest regards,
    Diana Thébaud Nicholson

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