Wednesday Night #1659

Written by  //  December 17, 2013  //  Wednesday Nights  //  4 Comments


December 18th  – #1659 – Wednesday Night will be particularly festive and include Catherine Gillbert’s annual contribution of her truly marvelous mince pies

December 25th – #1660 – will be held at the Banff Springs Hotel and co-hosted by the next generation(s) of Nicholsons – any and all Wednesday Nighters in the neighbourhood are welcome

January 1, 2014 #1661 – Wednesday Night will resume in its usual Montreal setting in the company of Peter Berezin, who will help us launch the New Year with the latest Bank Credit Analyst Report. That should clear the heads of all the New Year’s Eve revelers!

There’s not a lot of Christmas cheer in the news as evidenced by the fact that the item that comes closest to an evocation of the spirit of the season is that  the U.S. Congress seems to have (temporarily) overcome its dysfunctionwith the passing in the House of the compromise two-year budget deal. The NYT reports “[Senate] Republicans concluded they could not allow a measure that passed the House with overwhelming bipartisan support to die in Congress’s upper chamber.”

And, yes, the selection of Pope Francis as TIME’s Person of the Year is a recognition of positive developments within the Catholic Church and beyond. As James Carroll says in The New Yorker (Who Am I to Judge? A radical Pope’s first year.), “the Pope unilaterally declared a kind of truce in the culture wars that have divided the Vatican and much of the world.” This is good.

But the humanitarian situation in Syria continues to worsen as the UN  has appealed for a record $6.5 billion for that country  and its neighbours to help the 16 million victims of a conflict with no end in sight. Any hope of resolution lies in the Geneva talks scheduled for January 22nd, but as Dr. Charles Cogan points out in his recent post Rewind in Syria , “It remains to be seen whether Russia has the willingness, or the capability, to tip the balance away from its client Bashar and towards an acceptable compromise candidate for the leadership of Syria.” Russia’s attention, for the moment, is focused on the tug-of-war with the EU over  its western neighbor, Ukraine. While most media reports feature the demonstrations in Kiev against Viktor Yanukovich’s rejection of the EU accord, the Guardian reminds us that the country is not unanimous in its desire to cleave to the West  Ukraine: tale of two nations for country locked in struggle over whether to face east or west

With the funeral and burial on Sunday, the 10-day period of mourning for Nelson Mandela is ended and the news cycle will move on, although we believe that the world is now perhaps more aware of the simmering  long-term problems of government and governance that afflict South Africa, and may keep a more watchful eye on the country’s shaky leadership. The crowd’s reaction to President Zuma at the memorial service was telling. And we can only imagine the uproar that would have been created  in many countries had there been the same types of glitches and/or snubs (read political payoffs) as we saw in the public events. The importance given to every detail of the events in South Africa derailed coverage of the conflict  in the Central African Republic, where there is now a looming food crisis. So far only France has attempted to intervene in the conflict, while the EU is taking its time to ‘consider’ any action.

The announcement that Mayor Bloomberg of New York is creating a high-powered consulting group to help him reshape cities around the world long after he leaves office would, a few months ago, has triggered an immediate rush to the phone to invite him to take on Montreal as his first case study, however, we must admit that we have been surprisingly impressed by Mayor Coderre’s first weeks in office. From facing down Quebec on Bill 61, and Ottawa on the Champlain Bridge to creating an alliance with Mayor Régis Labeaume and most recently his scornful reaction to Canada Post’s announcement of the elimination of home delivery – “Les maudites boîtes, y vont les mettre où?” We also commend the backing he has given to the new initiative of the new services to aboriginal homeless announced on Monday. As many will remember,  Damien Silès discussed this initiative at Wednesday Night.

The  Canada Post announcement, coming on Friday,  as is traditional with this government in particular, has stirred up a hornet’s nest. While many may not consider Thomas Walkom of the Toronto Star the most neutral source, his summary of the situation seems pretty accurate to us  “a solution was found: Delay the pension deadline and have Canada Post devise a scheme to cut costs by shedding up to 8,000 employees. For the government, the benefit of the new arrangement is clear: A better chance at four more years of Harper. For the rest of us, the cost is equally clear: the end of Canada’s postal service.”  He also offers some interesting analyses of the statistics offered by Canada Post in defense of the new policy.   The day is not far off when, for $5, the post office will refuse to deliver your letter at all glumly predicts Andrew Coyne

On Saturday, the one-year anniversary of the devastating Newtown school shootings President  Obama once again called for tighter gun control and expanded mental healthcare. Despite “a concerted push by the president and Vice President Joe Biden to tighten gun laws, legislation that would have stiffened background checks for gun sales and banned rapid-firing “assault” weapons died in Congress in the face of the powerful gun lobby.”  In both the U.S. and Canada, we are failing miserably to address the issues of mental health and there seems to be no political will to do so.

Another anniversary – of a different sort –in North Korea. It is the second anniversary of Kim Jong-il’s death and his nice son for whom many had high hopes seems to have honoured the Dear Leader’s memory by executing Uncle Jang Song Thaek for a list of sins ranging from corruption to  attempting to overthrow the government. So much for family ties. On the international level, the Hermit Kingdom has few family ties other than China which has duly noted the anniversary with appropriate solemnity, however a BBC report quotes Shi Yongming, a researcher on Korean studies at the China Institute of International Relations, [who] says Mr Chang’s execution has a “direct impact on China-North Korea economic ties as some enterprises might consider withdrawing investments from that country for fear of political risks”.

China, meanwhile, is justifiably proud of the moon-landing  of Jade Rabbit, further evidence of that country’s technological abilities, but there are concerns  about whether it will be “a responsible steward of space,” as,  along with Russia and India, it has yet to endorse the European Union’s international code of conduct for the use of space. In the spate of articles and commentaries  looking back at 2013 and predictions  for 2014 (more of that for January 1)  China in 2014: The three Rs  may be of interest to the China watchers among us. In the introductory paragraph, the author refers to the delay in issuing visas to American journalists, which brings us in a round-about way to the latest from our two Wednesday Nighters.

David (Jones): Time to accept the inevitable conclusion, newspapers are moving into a niche category of interest to a limited category of citizens. Papers such as Financial Times or The Hill Times focus on specialty professional groups. Just as opera or “theatre” rarely have the mass audiences they once did, newspapers’ appeal is becoming tertiary. Some seek survival by increasing ideological content. Just as Torstar provides ritualized support to Liberal/liberals, Sun Media endorses conservatives. There are no “must read” columnists of the Walter Winchell, Scotty Reston, or Drew Pearson type.
Others, including the iconic Washington Post have sold themselves to new billionaire magnates before going broke (for the Post it was Inc.’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos). And finally there are local community papers of the give-away/throw-away nature recounting the tribulations of school boards and the triumphs of local sports teams.
David Kilgour: Newspapers vital to democratic culture
World Press Trends in its 2013 report concluded that print circulations continue to grow in many developing markets, while declining in mature ones. Consumers are turning to digital platforms to interact with news media. More than half the world’s adult population reads a daily newspaper: 2.5 billion in print and more than 600 million in digital form. Five hundred million read both print and online editions. The global newspaper audience has grown by 4.2 percent since 2007. Circulation rose 4.8 percent in the Middle East and North Africa. Western Europe and North America still have the highest levels of readership by region.

As the New York Times proclaims one hitherto ignored benefit of climate change (British Wine Benefits as the Climate Changes), Tony Deutsch asks when we will see them at the Wednesday Night table. Presumably not likely to be carried in the SAQ under the present regime. Speaking of which, who has noted that ma tante Pauline, accompanied by her shadow, M. Lisée ( This PQ provocateur is divisive, but no Machiavelli), has been on a European jaunt (Pauline Marois à Monaco ) – sorry, that would be ‘economic mission’ –  that included participation in the ambitious (not to say pretentious) World Policy Conference? Une rencontre annuelle de puissances de taille moyenne qui se veut un contrepoids en matière de gouvernance internationale. – Une sorte de sous-G20 privé. Son objectif ? La stabilité du système mondial. La sauvegarde du monde. Happily, Kimon will be with us and may perhaps cast some light on the private think tank behind the conference.

On a final note, some items of Christmas cheer:

—  the Canadian version of The Twelve Days of Christmas (A Moose in a Maple Tree) – we expect you ALL to know all the words by January 1st. – with thanks to Terry Jones

—  Holiday Dinner Song – with thanks to Margaret Lefebvre

—   Health Consequences of Actually Living the 12 Days of Christmas
“If you ate all of the birds in one day, including the pheasant pie, but not including all the trimmings for the other dishes, and subtracted the energy you expended milking, dancing, leaping, and drumming, you’d have consumed 2,384 net calories. That’s really not bad, considering the average American Thanksgiving dinner adds up to about 4,500 calories.”

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