Wednesday Night #1851

Written by  //  August 30, 2017  //  Wednesday Nights  //  No comments

Among the fascinating historical trivia regarding the year 1851, it was the year the Chrystal Palace was built to house the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London. Its revolutionary use of slender iron rods sustaining walls of clear glass was a departure from traditional ‘bricks and mortar’ and introduced a new era of architecture and construction techniques.

The wide-ranging discussion kicked off with Gerald Ratzer’s account of the past two weeks spent in the UK. Among his observations: the absence of any rising (young) stars in the Conservative Party – only Boris Johnson appears ready to take on the leadership – a suggestion that was met with a number of eye rolls. Many doubts about Brexit.

Catherine Gillbert spoke of viewing the prototype electric cars on exhibit during the e-car race prompted a discussion of the problems with whole-sale acceptance of e-cars by the public, especially the environmental challenge of disposal of the lithium batteries.
Several Wednesday Nighters are skeptical of any huge increase in demand for the cars, pointing out that Millenials are moving away from car ownership in favour of mass transport, Uber, and cars-on-demand. In fact, a number of Millenials seem to eschew learning to drive. [See: The Guardian view on electric cars: they’ll change the worldCar drivers dream of freedom and autonomy but the future may be robotic public transport]
Another consideration is the impact on government revenues as outlined in the Ottawa Citizen Opinion piece When we all drive electric, government loses big time “What we don’t hear about is the huge effect on federal and provincial revenues if the government’s rhetoric becomes reality and people turn to electric cars in large numbers. A big reduction in gas tax would seriously affect Canada’s ability to pay for roads but it would also undermine a top source of transit dollars.”

News analyses from and about Harvey and Houston are grim condemnations of deregulation run amuck, however there are incredibly heartwarming stories about citizens’ acts of bravery and compassion. One such is about Jim McIngvale aka Mattress Mack, who has opened a couple of his Gallery Furniture stores for people displaced from the storm to come and rest and sleep on his inventory. CBC ran an interview with him today that included one of his ‘rescues’ who says that in return, she is working just like one of his employees. A great lesson in the rewards of treating people with respect.
On the other side of the world Floods in India, Bangladesh and Nepal kill 1,200 and leave millions homeless in one of the worst flooding disasters to have affected the region in years.
We are seeing little about this disaster in western media. Why? Is it inherent racism, do we value brown lives less than white ones?  As this piece on Quartz points out, It’s human nature to care more about disasters closer to home, and our moral duty to overcome it “Depending on where you are in the world, one of those natural disasters will probably evoke more viscerally disturbing images—of people you know, or could know, of city streets and infrastructure that you can easily picture—than the other.”

30 August marks the beginning of the 2017 Hajj. This is not an activity that one undertakes spontaneously. The Saudi Ministry of Hajj controls the process and the rules are strict. Hajj visas are not issued to individuals. Each applicant for a Hajj visa must apply through an approved travel agency in his/her country and depending on the quota for that country, one may wait for several years before receiving a visa. To the uninitiated it all sounds pretty daunting, especially having to surrender your passport (Check out some of the FAQs on the Ministry site).  Thanks to Sam Stein’s work in Saudi Arabia, we were treated to an informative discussion ranging  from a description of special arrangements at the Jeddah airport  (a designated Hajj terminal) to the 24/7 broadcast on state-owned TV of pilgrims in perpetual motion.

 

P R O L O G U E

We offer our deepest condolences to dear friend, and for so many years Wednesday Night’s faithful scribe, Herb Bercovitz OWN, and his family , on the death on Saturday of Miriam, his lovely and much-loved wife of 71 years. In a gesture so typical of her warm and generous nature, Miriam requested that “in lieu of contributions, please do a kind deed (mitzvah).”
There is an online guest book at http://www.legacy.com/guestbooks/montrealgazette/miriam-bercovitz-condolences/186501970? should you wish to send a message to Herb.

On 2 June, Esquire published this cheery reminder: Trump Has No One in Charge of FEMA or the NOAA, Just in Time for Hurricane Season
As Hurricane Harvey wreaks havoc in Texas and Louisiana, “The man responsible for coordinating the federal response to the damage done by Hurricane Harvey has only been on the job for two months.” But, William “Brock” Long “is battle-tested, with decades of experience in emergency management.”
Meanwhile, there is still no administrator of NOAA, which oversees the National Hurricane Center (which also has no director – Ed Rappaport, is serving as acting director.). Benjamin Friedman is the acting head of NOAA. And just a week ago, the Trump administration dismissed the climate change advisory panel One more thing: Trump Rescinded Obama’s Flood-Risk Rule Weeks Before Hurricane Harvey Hit

We have been worried about our good friend (former US Economic Consul in Montreal) Rick Sindelar and his family in Houston. Happy to report that he has messaged us indicating that he and his sense of humor are intact:
“KPRC TV Channel 2 reporter inadvertently sums it all up for Houston and climate change: “I can’t keep all the (Houston area) floods straight any more…”

For our Climate Change skeptics, we suggest Is Harvey the Latest Freakish Weather Event Linked to Climate Change? which notes “This year, 2017, is on track to be the hottest year on record. If it is, it will steal that superlative from 2016. Before 2016, the hottest year was 2015; before 2015, the hottest year was 2014. Notice a trend?”

The NYT graciously recommends the coverage of Harvey in The Washington Post, “which has made the smart decision to hire a team of reporters who specialize in weather. In a digital world, journalistic expertise has become even more valuable than it used to be.”

Gov. Greg Abbott  activated the entire Texas National Guard in response to the storm, pushing the total deployment to 12,000. Also, on Monday, the Pentagon said that active duty units were heading to staging areas in anticipation of a formal request for help, saying national guard units from across the country had readied cargo jets, Black Hawk helicopters and others to help with the response. In addition, a Pentagon search and rescue team was deploying to Fort Worth, Tex., to help. FEMA said federal agencies have more than 5,000 employees working in Texas.
(WaPost) Harvey may force 30,000 people into shelters while flooding will linger, officials warn. Donald Trump flew to Texas on Tuesday and has promised to get the state a comprehensive relief package as fast as possible, but has been widely criticized for his lack of empathy for the victims.

Right now there is only one positive note: the need for huge amounts for disaster relief could mean that any talk of The Wall will come to an end – at least for the foreseeable future.
As Vox reports in their comprehensive The coming fight in Congress over Hurricane Harvey money, explained: “For months, the Trump administration and its allies in the Freedom Caucus have signaled their willingness to shut down the government if Congress does not agree to fund a border wall with Mexico. If that threat came to fruition, federal agencies like FEMA and the flood insurance program would be effectively crippled at the very moment they’re most needed.
Houston could change that calculus. Vice President Mike Pence promised to swiftly pass hurricane aid for Congress, with no mention of the wall, and it doesn’t seem likely that Congress and the White House would risk a government shutdown right now amid such a high-profile natural disaster.”
We highly recommend Tuesday’s PBS Newshour segment As Harvey floods Texas, Congress due to debate insurance program that’s underwater for an understanding of what is it stake.

Note: The New York Times is providing free digital access to coverage of the storm.

Politico helpfully reminds us that “The National Flood Insurance Program expires at the end of September. … The FAA needs its authority renewed by the end of September. … SCHIP, a state-based children’s health-care program, must be renewed by the end of September. … AND, the government runs out of money Sept. 30 and the debt ceiling needs to be lifted by Sept. 29.
THERE ARE ROUGHLY 50 LEGISLATIVE DAYS left in 2017.”

Under the heading of “what is it you do not understand about the word ‘No’?”
MEXICO TO TRUMP: WE’RE NOT PAYING FOR THE WALL In response [to a Trump Sunday tweet], the country’s foreign ministry released a statement saying Mexico would not pay for a wall or other physical barrier at the border ‘under any circumstances.’ ‘This determination is not part of a Mexican negotiating strategy, but a principle of national sovereignty and dignity,’ the statement said.” A propos The Wall, do see Brookings’ The Wall – The real costs of a barrier between the United States and Mexico.

Maeanwhile, after North Korea hurled a ballistic missile directly over Japan, a move Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called “an unprecedented, serious and grave threat,” President Trump warned North Korea that “all options are on the table” . The U.N. Security Council went into emergency session, and South Korea pledged to defend itself.  The Japanese pacifist Constitution may be ripe for revision. The Atlantic  warns that this may be its riskiest and most aggressive test this year.  Any option the U.S. does pursue will have to take into account North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal, as well as China, which is prepared to fight the U.S. rather than let that arsenal be used.

The increasing violence in Myanmar has prompted the The UK to urge the UN Security Council to convene to discuss reports of mass civilian casualties after raids by Myanmar security forces against Rohingya fighters.

On a much more positive note, our friend C. Uday Bhaskar writes that  “The Doklam resolution will represent a new benchmark for the India-China relationship and will also be closely studied by the extended Asian neighbourhood – as also the major powers – to appropriately comprehend the sub-text of how Delhi was able to satisfactorily deal with an unacceptable degree of assertiveness.”

Other Wednesday Nighters have published pieces this week.
Brett House coauthored How the federal government can shape Canada’s Development Finance Institution
And Wednesday Night’s two Davids were at it again in the Epoch Times: David T. Jones writing on The Universal Persistence of Racism and David Kilgour on Racism Persists and Revives Around the World

Although BC has been coping with an unprecedented wildfire season, we can be very thankful that Canadian news is largely focused on the mini-Cabinet shuffle with emphasis on the fact that the Ministry of Indigenous and Northern Affairst has been split in two “in an effort to end “colonial” structures and build stronger relations with First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.” Accordingly, Jane Philpott, the former health minister, becomes minister of Indigenous services, responsible for providing services for non-self-governing communities, while the current Indigenous affairs minister, Carolyn Bennett, becomes minister of Crown-Indigenous relations and Northern Affairs.

However, in a pale reflection of the debate over statues honoring Civil War generals – and others – Canada has its own  controversy over naming places and buildings for historical figures whose records are not unblemished.
The Langevin Block has been renamed to the Office Of The Prime Minister And Privy Council. Hector-Louis Langevin, for whom the building was named, was an architect of the horrific residential school system and Justin Trudeau said he made the change as a symbol of reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous communities.
We are encouraged by this wrap-up from the Globe & Mail: A new poll from the Angus Reid Institute suggests Canadians are supportive of that change. But what they do not support is the far more contentious topic of stripping symbols of John A. Macdonald from public spaces. That debate began because the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario said Macdonald’s name should be taken from schools because of his attitudes towards Indigenous people, something Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne says will not happen. Robert-Falcon Oullette, a Liberal MP who is Indigenous, acknowledged our first prime minister wasn’t perfect and put it this way: “Everyone has warts. That’s what makes us human beings.” Good for him!
Check out :  Everything is offensive: Here are Canada’s other politically incorrect place names
A lesson for Ontario teachers who want to strip Sir John A. Macdonald’s name from schools; almost nobody from history looks good by modern standards

Finally: a lighter note: Confounds the Science – (Parody of) Sound of Silence is an absolute must listen-to and keep.

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