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Feb. 6: Letters to the editor Add to ...

Double standards

One must understand Russia and China's reasoning in blocking Security Council action on Syria (In Backing Al-Assad, Russia Reveals A Willingness To Defy The West – online, Feb. 5). Both are candidates for popular uprisings and certainly wouldn't want to weaken the option of jackbooting their own serfs by voting Yes to even a diluted, nay impotent, UN resolution. After all, they wouldn't want to be accused of contradicting themselves.

Jean-Claude Lefebvre, Sutton Junction, Que.


It's easy to condemn Russia for blindly backing Syria, its regional client. But how different is that from Canada's backing of Israel?

Duncan Bath, Peterborough, Ont.


While the Syrian regime massacres its own people, where are the demonstrations and calls for boycotts and sanctions demanded by those shrill “defenders of human rights” in academia and CUPE? Could it be they're all on a boat trying to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza?

Alex Hacker, Toronto

Truculent standards

Jeffrey Simpson's truculent disdain for our government's Middle East policy is wrong-headed (Truculent Moralizing For A Domestic Audience – Feb. 4). The Harper government has been supportive of Israel because Canadians and Israelis share common values, including a commitment to democracy and human rights. If the Harper government were only interested in pandering to a domestic audience, surely it would make it a priority to cultivate the “Muslim vote.”

Our government's stand is consistent with that taken by the international Quartet that the Palestinian Authority negotiate directly with Israel. Canadian taxpayers have contributed millions of dollars to the development of the West Bank and Gaza and shouldn't be timid about expressing views that might be unpopular in the Arab world.

Joel Eisen, Richmond Hill, Ont.

Sad and sober

Your coverage of the job losses at locomotive maker Progress Rail in London and the reminder of recent closures of Talbotville's Ford factory and Chatham's Navistar truck plant were indeed sobering (Caterpillar Pulls Plug On London Plant – Report on Business, Feb. 4). Yet, I was cheered when I saw the labels of historic London beer makers such as Carling and Labatt in your Focus section (Through A Glass, Smartly – Feb. 4).

The label for the product Carling's Stout for Invalids seemed a staggeringly appropriate cure for the ailment of manufacturing job losses in the London area. But, alas, Carling is gone, too.

Steve Buchanan, London, Ont.


Remember when Ronald Reagan and the Bush boys said overtaxing corporations would make them move jobs away? Remember they kept corporate tax rates low and the jobs moved away anyway? Remember when Stephen Harper touted corporate tax breaks for companies such as Caterpillar? Remember to give to the food bank this week?

Peter Keleghan, Toronto

Sad and shocking

Your editors hit a new low with the headline Ontario, Lie Back And Think Of London (Feb. 4) atop Adam Radwanski's column on austerity measures. Am I to understand that the metaphor is of a woman (Ontario) about to submit to being screwed over against her will (economist Don Drummond's austerity plan) and being exhorted to think of her rapist (Caterpillar)?

Perhaps someone thought this would be amusing. It's not; it's appalling and offensive.

Sylvia Leigh, Kincardine, Ont.

Brave new world?

Margaret Wente (We're Ripe For A Great Disruption In Education – Feb. 4) commits the common error of assuming that the only purpose of education is to transmit determinate knowledge from those who have it (teachers) to those who don't (students). But education is a critical and argumentative exploration of a “great ocean of truth” whose content always exceeds the personal knowledge of any individual.

So students are expected to be on campus not just “to listen to professors lecture at them” but also to talk to their teachers and to each other, in the common project of understanding their subject. Ms. Wente's brave new world of digital distance learning would be an atomized purgatory rather than a scholarly community of teachers and students.

Hamish Stewart, Faculty of Law, University of Toronto


Two of Margaret Wente's arguments illustrate the dangers of the online educational model that she supports.

First, the “medieval model,” which Ms. Wente scorns, has endured because it provides both students and faculty an opportunity to test their ideas in an environment that promotes creative and innovative thinking, away from the prying eyes of educational bureaucrats who already intrude too much into academic areas where they don't belong. Second, having more than one professor teach the same subject ensures students aren't limited to one point of view.

Googling our way to a postsecondary degree merely as a means of cutting costs is an affront not only to academic freedom but to the fundamental values of a truly democratic community.

Geoff Ondercin-Bourne, Hamilton


Yes, the university lecture is an anachronism, but it wasn't the digital revolution that rendered it so – it's been archaic since the invention of the printing press.

The essence of a university education begins in the third or fourth year, when students can work in small seminars or on a one-to-one basis under the guidance of scholars and researchers in their fields. No online university can ever replace that.

Irwin Silverman, professor emeritus, York University


Margaret Wente wants universities to adopt a new model. Students would study a work by someone with scholarly expertise but be taught and graded by a “teaching specialist” without such expertise.

Actually, this model is not new: It's called high school.

Glenn Parsons, Department of Philosophy, Ryerson University

Classic conundrum

John Ralston Saul demands that the Mexican government bring an end to violence against writers (Where Words Are ‘Rags To Cover Corpses' – Focus, Feb. 4). What does he think it's tried to do since President Felipe Calderon first sent troops against the drug cartels in December of 2006?

Mexico's goal is to ensure that journalists, as well as all Mexicans, enjoy the same freedom and security they enjoy in other countries. So all requests for law and order should be addressed to the drug cartels.

William Christian, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Panda fever

Your articles Harper's New China Gambit (Feb. 4) and How Panda Diplomacy Became Bear-Knuckle Haggling (Feb. 4) read as though this is the first time the Toronto Zoo will be playing host to Chinese pandas. Didn't I see two of them, Qing Qing and Quan Quan, there in 1985?

Suellen Seguin, Ottawa

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