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Oct. 12: Letters to the editor Add to ...

Mush-brain legacy

In the adulation of Steve Jobs (Jobs' Biggest Contribution? He Made Us Bolder – Report on Business, Oct. 8), may a random thought be permitted? In the worldwide use of his gadgetry, people may indeed be constantly connected – but at the expense of turning their brains into mush. In the torrent of aimless prattle on Facebook and Twitter, what time is left to read, reflect and form independent conclusions?

Mr. Jobs, his genius notwithstanding, undermined the social fabric of the planet much in the way the founders of the fast-food chains are undermining people's health. It may take a while, but, ultimately, cause can't be divorced from effect.

G.A. Spencer, Vancouver

Just say no to China

There's a difference between encouraging foreign investment and surrendering to foreign ownership, and there are profound problems with Chinese ownership of Canadian strategic resources (China's New Play For Canada's Oil And Gas – front page, Oct. 10).

Chinese companies are either directly or indirectly controlled by the Chinese government, they act as instruments of the Chinese state, and the resources they develop and the profits they make will be for China, not Canada.

Sinopec's Canadian oil and gas holdings will become part of the Chinese domestic supply, and the Canadian origin of these vital resources will be an artifact of geography. Lest we forget, China, despite great economic progress, is a nation run by a dictatorship that has shown little hesitancy in stamping out dissent when it threatens the hegemony of the Communist Party.

Trade, investment and engagement are essential for Canada, and for China, but allowing Chinese state ownership of Canada's strategic resources is not in the interest of Canadians.

K.S. Hanna, Waterloo, Ont.

Insite insight

The senior judge quoted in your article on the Supreme Court of Canada's Insite ruling (Landmark Decision Threatens Peace Between Judges And Legislators – Oct. 11) is mistaken. All laws are normative and involve value judgments. The difference between parliamentary laws and ministerial judgments and the Charter is that the courts are the final arbiters of whether the Charter has been breached. This is clearly what the drafters intended when the Charter was adopted, and it's too late to reverse that division of powers.

It is mischievous to suggest the Supreme Court's decision threatens “peace between judges and legislators.” The judgment was factually based and affirmed the careful findings of the B.C. trial judge. It gives no licence to future courts to ride off in all directions under the shelter of Section 7 of the Charter.

Jacob Ziegel, professor of law emeritus, University of Toronto

1812 adagio

Ignorance about the War of 1812 is indeed an issue (Drumming Up Canadians' Interest In The War of 1812 – Oct. 11). The Harper government plans to construct a permanent 1812 memorial in the National Capital Region, where not a single event related to the war ever occurred.

Craig Sims, Kingston, Ont.

.......

One of my favourite memories about the War of 1812 did not involve a battle. In 1976, to commemorate the U.S. bicentennial, McClelland & Stewart published Between Friends/Entre Amis, a celebration of the friendship between our two countries. One of the stories it unearthed was that of the towns of St. Stephen, N.B., and Calais, Me.

“When war was declared in 1812, a Methodist minister who preached on both sides of the St. Croix River, Duncan McColl, convinced the two communities to declare their own separate peace. Later, he personally confronted both American and British soldiers and sent them elsewhere to do their fighting.”

I hope the Harper government can find room to celebrate that sort of spirit as well.

Garth Goddard, Toronto

Connecting the dots

Your editorial Reform Or Perish (Oct. 11) maintains that universities “ought to produce critical thinkers, scientifically and culturally literate people who can assess evidence, connect the dots and communicate with clarity.” This may seem logical, but the university can only refine and direct these traits; it can't “produce” them in individuals who've shown little inclination or aptitude in years of prior education.

The major factor in the decline of undergraduate education is the lapse in admission policies and practices rather than the quality of instruction or the size of classes.

Irwin Silverman, professor emeritus, York University

.......

I was heartened to see your editorial expounding on the value of a liberal arts and science education at a time when universities are facing increasing pressure to focus on specific skills training instead. But it was disappointing to see the accompanying clichéd attack on unions and pampered academics. These are easy targets to blame for increasing class sizes and the declining quality of the undergraduate experience, but they don't reflect the evidence.

Universities are spending less, not more, of their total budgets on academic salaries, and governments are funding smaller and smaller proportions of university operating costs.

According to the latest figures from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, government funding made up 84 per cent of total university operating revenue in 1979. By 2009, that had dropped to 58 per cent. In the same period, spending on academic salaries dropped from more than 30 per cent of total university expenditures to under 20 per cent. The fact is, fewer profs are teaching more students.

Glenda Wall, Department of Sociology, Wilfrid Laurier University

.......

It's a shame that mediocre and unmotivated professors are being paid the top rate when there are so many good ones banging at the doors. The solution is to fire the bad ones, not to invent new ways to exploit the good ones.

Andrew Goodman, Fredericton

Tragic: No magic

Re For Atwood, This Medium Is A Message (Review, Oct. 11): In the fairy tale, it's the evil Rumpelstiltskin who rescues a naive girl from a boast by spinning straw into gold. In the 21st-century version of the story, it's the good fairy Margaret Atwood who rescues a well-meaning but naive environmentalist by spinning straw into gold in the form of one of her books.

Unfortunately, the first tale is an iconic story of enchantment while the second is just a farce.

Eric Mendelsohn, Toronto

Death and taxes

The thought of paying more tax after death (Bring On The Death Tax – Oct. 10) could motivate some of the old codgers in this country into spending some of their money while they're still alive. I can only imagine how many billions of dollars sit dormant, waiting for “the children” who're themselves getting old.

Maybe the fear of this after-death tax could be just what our economy needs to give it a good kick-start.

Ross Taylor, Victoria

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