Wednesday Night #1673

Written by  //  March 26, 2014  //  Wednesday Nights  //  1 Comment

One of the lighter moments in the evening was the reference to the story reverberating across media (social or not) of a decree that all male university students in North Korea are now required to get the same haircut as their leader Kim Jong-un; women reportedly had a limited choice of approved hair styles. If true, that should cause an uprising. [Editor’s note: the story was later debunked]

For our friend Gerald Ratzer’s entertainment: the year 1673 was notable for a number of reasons, however we choose to cite the auspicious entry of Edmond Halley (of Halley’s comet fame)  to The Queen’s College, Oxford.

The 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez disaster. Although this has attracted relatively little attention, given the ubiquity of the top news stories that just don’t go away, it is important to consider lessons learned (if any) and above all, how to avoid a repetition. As the Guardian points out:
25 years since the oil tanker spilled millions of gallons of crude oil in the Gulf of Alaska, we remain callously unprepared to mitigate a future oil spill in the Arctic waters (Exxon Valdez: what lessons have we learned from the 1989 oil spill disaster?)
Writing in The Hill Times, Kiera-Dawn Colson reminds us that the Arctic Council, which coincidentally meets on Tuesday- one day after the anniversary- is not offering much beyond the binding, but toothless document  Co-operation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic. Canada (The Honourable Leona Aglukkaq ) chairs the Council until 2015.
We are glad to see that someone is asking a question that has been bothering us: How will the crisis in Ukraine affect the Arctic Council?  Long-time observer of the Arctic Council, Timo Koivurova, research professor and director of the Northern Institute for Environmental and Minority Law, Arctic Centre at the University of Lapland in Rovianemi, Finland, provides some reassurance in a recent interview.

While the hunt continues for the wreckage of MH Flight 370,  the Malaysian PM has announced that the plane crashed in the Indian Ocean. With the delicacy that has characterized the treatment of the relatives of the passengers, it is reported that Malaysian Airlines advised them of this development by SMS message.
The frantic speculation and wild theories should now diminish – if not disappear – as cable news turns another news story into a spectacle of anti-journalism reporting.  From the start, Malaysian authorities have shown the world how not to handle crisis communications and irresponsible media have been positively gleeful in peppering reports with wild imaginings including consultations with psychics, witch doctors and other self-proclaimed experts. The Atlantic’s James Fallows gives a clear-eyed assessment of the good, bad and ugly in After the Latest MH370 Report, How to Think About SpeculationWeeks of wall-to-wall coverage offer lessons in cable news’s dealings with the unknowable. He includes a nice compliment for our friend Miles O’Brien of PBS:Two of the panelists who consistently met this test were Les Abend, a former commercial pilot, and Miles O’Brien, a TV veteran and (Cirrus) pilot. There may have been others, but they were the ones I saw most consistently talking sense.”
One of the more encouraging developments was highlighted in Miles O’Brien’s  PBS report Using social media to scour the ‘haystack’ that showed the useful work by more than 3 million people  — a crowd-sourced search for Flight 370 harnessing the energy and time of the people who desperately wanted to do something and volunteered to scour satellite imagery.

The annexation of Crimea is a fait accompli. Speculation now focuses on the fate of Moldova and eastern Ukraine.  As G7 leaders convened in crisis talks at The Hague to decide what to do next, Russia played sanctions  tit-for-tat. The list of Canadians barred from Russia includes, naturally, Irwin Cotler, who responded “I see my travel ban from Russia as a badge of honour, not a mark of exclusion.” Stephen Harper is taking a strong stand, declaring that “We will not shape our foreign policy to commercial interests” (there are those who might say this is a considerable departure from recent practices). Harper, Fellow G7 Leaders To Meet Without Russia
The exclusion of Russia from the G8 has been much talked about, but is it a good idea? If you can’t sit down and talk at that level, there isn’t much hope of the diplomatic resolution that the G7 wants. On the other hand, Mr. Putin doesn’t seem to care about a peaceful resolution, so maybe that’s a moot point. What about sanctions? Are they accomplishing anything? Bloomberg says yes, Russia Facing Recession as Sanctions Likely to Intensify , on Monday, Reuters (UK) headlined Russian economy grinding to a halt as Ukraine crisis takes heavy toll  and Tuesday’s Financial Times  states that Andrei Klepach said capital outflows in the first quarter are expected to be closer to the top end of a $65bn-$70bn government estimate,  but is pushing Russia into recession a desirable outcome?
Kimon has returned from the smog capital of Europe, formerly known as The City of Light, his vision unclouded, and may have more thoughts about the sentiment in France and what the EU is prepared to do. It is, after all, easy for Mr. Harper to cheer on the good guys, but Canada’s role is only a minor one and many Canadians are not convinced that Canada has even a small dog in this fight.

Some troubling developments in the tone of the  Quebec election campaign. Notably the accusations that ‘foreign’ students (e.g. not purest of pur laine) are attempting to vote. The DG of Elections has rejected the theory, however Mathieu Vandal  [head of the election revision board for a downtown Montreal riding]  told Le Devoir there had been an increase in the number of non-francophones trying to register and he wasn’t confident voters were being properly screened.” – So, we are screening for non-Francophones? Vive la démocratie. If you have the patience and a really high threshold of tolerance for bureaucratic argument, listen to the recording by a doctoral student trying to register in St-Henri.
Paul Wells – almost always a good read – ridicules the PQ paranoia, citing Jean François Lisée’s blog and  sums it up:  “This election is turning into a referendum, not on Quebec’s constitutional status, but on its mindset. Is the world basically a threat to Quebec, or is it basically not a threat to Quebec? The Marois-Lisée PQ is the party of the siege mentality. Increasingly it is proud of that identity.”
The latest Léger/Journal de Montréal poll, conducted between March 21 and 23, and released late Monday evening, indicates that the PQ is losing ground to the Liberals  33 % to 40 %,  which would give the Liberals a majority government.  Very good news, but there are still 13 days to go and some tight races in the regions.
Wednesday Nighters have not had idle pens (or keyboards)
Tyler Cavell’s blog  continues to offer very complete and up-to-the minute references on the economic issues so blithely dismissed by Mme Marois and her team, along with other policy questions/questionable policies, while Margo Somerville’s op-ed in the Ottawa Citizen,  A Quebec voters’ guide to values  , posits that Quebecers’ choice will be heavily influenced by the values they most want upheld, when no politician stands for all their values and they must choose which should take priority.  She analyzes the choice between secularization and the abhorrent Charter, and the legalization of euthanasia. “In combination the two bills are separating Quebec society internally into four distinct groups on the basis of their values: those who support the values charter and reject euthanasia (many rural Quebecers); reject the charter and support euthanasia (urban “progressives”); support both (some feminists); and reject both (human rights respecting conservatives).”
Wednesday Night’s two Davids have their say on the election and possible outcomes:
David (Jones) Quebec votes: Election result is a long way from a referendum result
David (Kilgour) Quebec votes: Supporting the PQ agenda a dangerous and expensive gambit

In case you missed it, here’s the update on Europe’s Latest Secession Movement: Venice? 2.1 million Venetians just voted to leave Italy and restore their medieval republic. This was the gold standard for referenda:
“Last week …, an organization representing a coalition of Venetian nationalist groups, held an unofficial referendum on breaking with Rome. Voters were first asked the main question—”Do you want Veneto to become an independent and sovereign federal republic?”—followed by three sub-questions on membership in the European Union, NATO, and the eurozone. The region’s 3.7 million eligible voters used a unique digital ID number to cast ballots online, and organizers estimate that more than 2 million voters ultimately participated in the poll.” 89% voted yes. [Our friend Nick Rost van Tonningen commented that “While non-binding … this could further compound the Italian government’s political and  economic problems since the region accounts for a disproportionate share of Italy’s GDP & its tax revenues.]

We are mystified by the reaction of the Harper government to the Supreme Court ruling that Marc Nadon does not meet the criteria to represent Quebec on the Court , and that the attempt to ‘make it so’ by slipping a change to  the Supreme Court Act through a budget bill is unconstitutional.  Rather than going back to the drawing board and selecting a suitable, qualified Quebec judge,    Aside from the obvious inability to take NO for an answer, this exhibits a disregard for the inevitable blow-back from Quebec, and offers a convenient issue for the PQ
Andrew Coyne has sharp words for the Court’s somewhat arbitrary decision, but goes on to say,  “what else did the Harper government expect? It knew the appointment would be controversial, and that Judge Nadon’s credentials would be challenged … why do it? It would be one thing if it was some world-beating legal superstar, but for Judge Nadon — a semi-retired maritime law specialist? The willingness of the prime minister to risk such a debacle, for such an undistinguished choice, is another mark against his judgment. That his government refuses to rule out reappointing Judge Nadon [Peter MacKay won’t rule out renaming Marc Nadon to Supreme Court.] — perhaps after sitting for a day on the Quebec Superior Court — is sheer lunacy.”

While we have been busy watching Russia, Ukraine and Europe, retired diplomat Harry Sterling points out The unforeseen consequences of the Arab Spring – new alliances  to which we should be paying attention and concludes “the serious and potentially explosive changes in power alignments and uncertainty over where they may lead in the always volatile Middle East could ultimately have consequences extending well beyond that troubled region, including for the Conservative government’s own pro-Israel policies.” What will be further effects of Monday’s news of  the sentencing by the Egyptian court of   529 Morsi Supporters To Death?
Although not included in the scope of  Mr. Sterling’s  analysis,  Turkey is a strong supporter of the Syrian rebels as the recent shooting down of a Syrian jet attests. Was it intended to distract from the municipal election campaign, which is reportedly rife with anger, threats and conspiracy theories?  Were it not so indicative of Mr. Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies, his battle to ban Twitter would be comical – the older generation not comprehending the nature of social media.
In a further development in the Middle East Israeli diplomats stage global strike.  Not that there is ever a good time for Israeli or other Middle East diplomats to strike, but this would seem to be a pretty inopportune moment.  Unlike the Canadian FSO action, ALL services everywhere are down including assistance to government officials for the organization of visits abroad and/or visits from foreign dignitaries. This may even affect the Pope’s historic visit in May.

A nice segue to The Passionate Eye segment on Holy Money, promoted as an  investigation into  the financial scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church and the efforts of the new Pope to clean up its multi-billion-dollar business dealings amid allegations of money laundering, corruption and embezzlement of funds. A fascinating topic, but we found the treatment disappointing, the narrator knowledgeable but  not engaging, and the quality of the filming generally not up to the standard we expect.

As the Pope is Argentinian, therefore,  it seems appropriate to introduce Brett House’s piece on  Argentina vs. its Creditors
“Something slightly strange will happen at the U.S. Supreme Court today. It’s the deadline for amicus briefs in support of Argentina’s request to overturn lower court rulings that would force the country to service parts of the debt on which it defaulted in 2001. The strange thing is that governments to which Argentina owes money – and which are deeply frustrated with the country’s scofflaw ways – are likely to be among those filing briefs in its support. They have good reason. If the Supreme Court rules against Argentina, it will effectively undo the settled conventions by which we restructure the debts of financially-distressed sovereigns. Every sovereign-debt restructuring negotiated in the past decade could be reopened.”

Odds and ends
Wonderful historian Margaret MacMillan has a new book The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914,  which is in the running for the Shaughnessy prize. The Globe & Mail ran a good interview  How today is like the period before the First World War in which she discusses parallels with Canada today, the Russia/Crimea situation, and the usefulness of diplomats.
And in case you think our politics are dreary and boring, (how could you?) check out the gorgeous House of Cards parody:
The grammarians among us will enjoy: Have We Hit Peak Punctuation? 🙁  wherein The Atlantic wonders if we are  reaching the twilight of exclamatory excess
There is reason to think that our age of promiscuity will be short-lived—that the punctuational pendulum will swing back in the direction of single marks, or no marks at all. We may well have reached peak punctuation.

One Comment on "Wednesday Night #1673"

  1. Diana Thebaud Nicholson April 25, 2014 at 6:36 pm ·

    Tom’s entry to The Queen’s College, Oxford was in early 1947, probably before the historic snowfalls of March, in order to be christened in the chapel. The entry was less auspicious because his godmother remembered that he was a bit of a handful to carry because he was about six months old… Tom Haslam-Jones

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