Class Dismissed, Duly Noted, A Lost Cause, and Safer Trip

I find it even more troubling that he fails to comment on how health care funding is distributed. There are ways to reduce our health care expenditure without making cutbacks. Fee-for-service physician billing, for example, is a considerable pubic expense; doctors’ fees are barely regulated, and medical professionals frequently overcharge for their services. This is at least in part because med school fees are enormous, and graduates take aggressive measures to repay their student loans. Perhaps our investment in higher education could go towards lowering tuition fees, and thus limiting these debts. This would put many young MDs in a better position to take salaried posts in community centres rather than charging the public system in private practice.

It’s clear that investment in higher education can reap enormous benefits, some of which would trickle down to our public healthcare system. Health and education do not constitute a dichotomy. Instead, they can go hand in hand.
Robert Huish
Halifax, NS

Duly Noted

The November “Editor’s Note” states that a society’s best investment in its future is in higher education, and cites as proof the fact that prominent Canadian entrepreneur and philanthropist Mike Lazaridis is a graduate of the University of Waterloo. Not so. He dropped out a few months before graduating and went on to become one of the wealthiest men in Canada, following in the footsteps of Bill Gates in the USA. Perhaps the message here is that higher education is not the only path to prosperity.
Brian Hendley
Waterloo, ON

John Macfarlane concludes his editorial with the assertion that “a society’s best investment in its future is in higher education, not artificial hips.” This makes me wonder just how he thinks we ought to dispose of all those limping, wheelchair-bound seniors. (Death panels, anyone?) His editorial reinforces the ripple of worry inspired by the cover illustration and blurb: “Healthy But Stupid: How health care spending is shortchanging education.”

To illustrate the value of education, Macfarlane points to how we’ve benefited from Research in Motion, a company that provides 12,000 jobs and has “a market capitalization of approximately $46 billion.” But are Blackberries more valuable than care for the sick and elderly? In a time when landfills are littered with plastic devices, shouldn’t we be looking for a different model of development?

Both Macfarlane’s editorial and Roger Martin’s cover story advocate increased spending on a badly starved educational system, not out of altruism, but as a way to assure future prosperity. Although Martin doesn’t quite advocate abandoning handicapped Canadians, he frets that the bulk of health care dollars are spent on elderly, retired citizens who are no longer contributing to this country’s economic advantage. Does he forget that these are the people responsible for our current prosperity?

Education and healthcare spending need not be seen as a zero sum competition, as if the only way to restore education budgets to a reasonable level is to decrease health spending. There are other sources of fiscal income. For example, Canada’s tax rates are far below those of many European countries. Why not tax luxury purchases like Blackberries? A great deal of health care spending is indeed irrational, and money could be saved by making service delivery more efficient and by refusing to cover unnecessary procedures. We should also rein in subsidies to Big Pharma who, after all, reap the benefits of our educational system when they employ scientists who have been trained at the public’s expense.

(Disclosure: I am a member of The Walrus Education Review Committee — our job is to rate The Walrus for educational content. In that capacity, I have a particular concern about how and whether The Walrus educates its readers. However, the opinions expressed above are my own and not necessarily those of other members of the committee, although I would like to think that some of them agree with me. Finally, although I am a retired senior, my hips are fine.)
Olga Eizner Favreau
Montreal, QC

A Lost Cause

I am rather stunned that Alex Hutchinson’s “Global Impositioning Systems” (November) completely ignored a major factor in cognitive mapping: gender differences. It has long been held that men tend to navigate quite differently than women do. Hutchinson did begin to address the issue when he spoke of the two major categories of human mapping strategies, but he left out that males tend to favour the spatial strategy, while females favour the stimulus-response approach. We all know this is rich fodder for stand-up comedians, who joke about the husband who refuses to ask directions. But, in fact, there is a solid scientific basis for it. In early human history, females remained at camps, tending to all the other business of life. That “tending” engendered considerable communication among them, which could explain their propensity to adopt the stimulus-response approach. Meanwhile, “back at the ranch,” men were out chasing game; those who couldn’t use an adaptive spatial strategy to find their way home tended to be naturally selected out by hungry predators...

“Males tend to favour the spatial strategy approach, while females favour the stimulus-response approach.”

Thanks for the comments — interesting stuff. I just wanted to point out, though, that the above statement is incorrect. Here’s what McGill University researcher Véronique Bohbot had to say on the topic:

“There are sex differences in navigation; however, women and men use spatial and response strategies in equal proportions. In fact, there are many studies that show that women are better than men on spatial tasks that require knowledge about the relative position of objects in an environment. Studies of hippocampal volume in men and women support this: women have bigger hippocampi than men!

So women navigate using objects/landmarks more than men. We showed, in one of our experiments, that if you remove landmarks, women become impaired relative to men. This study suggests that men are better at using non-spatial strategies than women to compensate for the lack of landmarks. Many other studies in the literature suggest that men use Euclidian and polar coordinates (e.g., Go two miles north, then head west for 1.5 miles). So sex differences in navigation show a male advantage or a female advantage depending on the nature of the task.”

Alex Hutchinson

Safer Trip

In “Fly At Your Own Risk” (November), Carol Shaben alerts us to Transport Canada’s dilatory response to questions surrounding the inadequacy of its safety oversight program: an apparently irrelevant $690,000 consultants’ study. Indeed, this is precisely the type of bureaucratic game I discussed some eighteen years ago in connection with the disintegration of the Transportation Safety Board’s sad predecessor, the Canadian Aviation Safety Board, in my book Improbable Cause.

But while Shaben looks to Justice Virgil Moshansky’s brilliant report on the 1989 Air Ontario crash at Dryden for a solution, his analysis was by no means the first. Roll back the clock another decade to the Commission of Inquiry into Aviation Safety, initiated in the wake of a deadly air crash at Cranbrook, BC. Based on exhaustive hearings and frightening case studies, Justice Charles Dubin urged the creation of a long-sought-after independent tribunal to investigate aviation accidents and conduct public inquiries in the interest of aviation safety. Had the resulting casb functioned as intended, Moshansky’s inquiry would have been unnecessary. (Judge C. H. Rolf had, presciently, made this very observation about his own inquiry into the 1984 Wapiti Aviation crash.)

After the CASB’s collapse, following the scandalous investigation of Canada’s worst-ever aviation disaster — the crash of the Arrow Air DC-8 in Gander, Newfoundland, in 1985 — the legislation drafted to replace it didn’t incorporate recommendations from a study (yes, another) by future Supreme Court justice John Sopinka that reiterated Dubin’s call for a truly independent tribunal. Instead, the new multi-modal tsb became “an agency of inefficiency, secrecy and chronic timidity,” according to yet another long-forgotten study — a year-long review of the TSB’s first three years of operation conducted by former Alberta cabinet minister Louis Hyndman.

Do we need yet another inquiry at this point to rediscover Justice Dubin’s remedy? Or should we focus on the record of thwarted reforms and the twice-failed implementation? Remember, every time history repeats itself the price goes up.
Les Filotas
Ottawa, ON

"The time has come," The Walrus said, "to talk of many things." Write to us at letters@walrusmagazine.com or 101–19 Duncan Street, Toronto, ON, Canada M5H 3H1. Letters may be edited for length, clarity, and accuracy, and may be published in any medium.
Tatsuro Kiuchi illustrates a serialized novel that appears daily in Asahi, a popular Japanese newspaper.
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2 comment(s)

GaiamDecember 09, 2009 01:11 EST

It seems that Alberta’s intellectual shortfall has risen higher than anyone could have predicted during Klein’s ascent in the early 1990s.

owl city musicDecember 27, 2009 00:37 EST

"Who Killed Canada’s Education Advantage?"'s trailer http://www.vimeo.com/6984408

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