Commentary  Letters: Ex-SSMUshies harvest sour grapes, plus fan mail for the Public Editor!

Szpajda Smug?!
Re: “The Daily’s integrity problem” | Commentary | Jan 17, 2008

Another year, another tired ramble from Stefan Szpajda, The Daily’s Public Editor.

His last column about The Daily’s faults was served up just like the ones in 2007 – sparsely researched and poorly argued. His tone was smug and self-congratulatory, just as last year. His point, as usual, was completely unclear. The man seems baffled with himself. Can’t he just say what he wants out of the newspaper with some clarity? Is it his goal to make a point about bad opinion-writing by performing it himself?
To this day I don’t understand what exactly it is he dislikes about the paper, and I’m even farther from guessing why. I can’t wait until The Daily is sufficiently happy with its public image that it stops wasting column space on this in-house gadfly.

Sarah Thau
U2 History

Lukacs takes all comers
Re: “The Daily’s integrity problem” | Commentary | Jan 17, 2008

My feature on the Canadian tax system has met with a lot of huffing and puffing. According to readers and the Public Editor, the article was a “diatribe” lacking “integrity,” containing “egregious” and “grossly misleading” arguments and “poor methodology.” But I think my arguments still stand.

Whenever a minimal tax raise is suggested for the richest, conservative pundits love promising to scream fire. Our investors and CEOs, they shrilly insist, will vacate the country for the tax haven to the south. I pointed out that top federal income tax rate in the U.S. is actually higher than in Canada, but was branded with some nasty adjectives for leaving out the complicated comparison of provincial and state income taxes. While state income taxes are generally lower than provincial ones, the richest investors in New York pay about a 50 per cent top marginal tax rate – much higher than the richest Canadians.

The Public Editor thinks this distracts from concerns about higher taxes deterring investment: “We may hate the rich,” he writes with keen insight into the common mind, “but when they invest their money, it can create jobs.” In other words, going too hard on the rich might end up hurting the poor.

Those who prefer empirical analysis to empty bluster can easily discover this is false. Studies consistently show that higher tax rates on the rich don’t cramp economic efficiency. Canada’s peak periods of growth after WWII also witnessed the very highest marginal tax rates on the richest Canadians. Rich people, bless their hearts, aren’t driven by a desire for absolute income, but higher relative income.

The Public Editor sternly reminds us that “taxes are an enormously complex endeavour.” That the rich can find endlessly ingenious and complex ways to evade taxes is undoubtedly true. But there’s nothing complex about making our taxation system a little fairer in principle – and it’s easy to figure out why some wouldn’t want us to think that.

Martin Lukacs
U3 History and Philosophy
Daily Features Editor

More calls for CAMR reform
Re: “Suffering at internationally competitive prices” | Letters | Jan 7, 2008

Russell Williams, president of Canada’s Research-Based Pharmaceutical Companies (Rx&D), claims that Canada’s Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR) is “straightforward and efficient.” He is mistaken.

CAMR should enable the production of low-cost, generic pharmaceuticals for people in the least-developed countries. Since it became law in 2004, not a single pill has been produced under CAMR, while over 25 million people have died because they could not access existing medicines and vaccines.

So how can Williams maintain that CAMR works? His only evidence is that Rwanda recently initiated a CAMR application. Williams fails to acknowledge that, for years before this application, MSF and generic drug producer Apotex tried to navigate CAMR but were thwarted by bureaucratic hurdles.

Plus, under CAMR, a manufacturer can only be licensed to make limited numbers of pills for a single country, and must get a renewal every two years. These inefficiencies mean that producers cannot maximize economies of scale. If this were fixed, medicine could be provided more quickly, consistently, and cheaply.

During the push to reform CAMR last year, pharmaceutical companies urged the government not to change legislation that had “never been tested.” Apparently, since no one had managed to use CAMR, we didn’t have enough information to fix it. Now that Rwanda has initiated a process, we’re told there is no need for revisions. This reversal of logic is clever, but it does not help the millions of people worldwide without access to medicine.

Williams praises Rx&D’s various health initiatives. Certainly, any effort to promote the global right to health is positive. But millions of people without access to medicine are evidence of more to be done. William’s strategy of pointing to existing charity projects while lobbying against new strategies is not helping. People are still dying unnecessarily and CAMR still isn’t “straightforward and efficient.”

The Human Rights Working Group on HIV/AIDS and Public Health

Post our grades whenever
Re: “Post our grades sooner” | Commentary | Jan 17, 2008

I don’t know how other faculties were graded, but as someone enrolled in one of the programs with biggest classes, Mechanical Engineering, I can tell that for my courses the marks came fairly soon. I am sure the University has special arrangements in case some teacher is late with the corrections, if not, an unwritten rule would reverse the registration of the student without penalty in case of failure.

On the other hand, we also need to remember that teachers are only human, and not robots. The two week break, plus or minus Christmas and New Year’s, can sometimes be quite an impossible deadline for some teachers with more difficult and numerous exams to correct. Instead of taking money from the salaries of the teachers, which is outrageous, maybe the University should think about postponing the winter semester start date, as other Canadian universities have cleverly done.

But I guess if you’ve failed a course you pretty much can figure it out before the transcript is posted. In all seriousness, university is not a place to play the lottery with your final exams and pray till the last minute that you’ve passed the course.

Alexander Kunev
U1 Mechanical Engineering

Thou doth protest too much

In response to the peaceful protest against paid tuition:
Stop…please. The population at this school of people who want to protest for the sake of protesting has reached a pinnacle. When one protests, one should wish to make a difference, or at the very least, bring substantial attention to one’s cause. The next words are for the 10 involved and anyone who agreed with it. You wasted four hours of your time, a few lengths of bungee cord and rope and two-thirds of a page in a good school newspaper. Think of how the 10 of you could have spent those four hours more effectively. You could have given four one-hour presentations to students interested in the tuition crisis. Or, you could have gone to your jobs and worked to aid in paying your tuition which is not going to change at all as a result of your efforts. Because, in the end, all that was accomplished was a small self-gratifying joke.

This is as bad as the group of students who broke into Leacock to remove the media boards from the bathrooms. A small group of students breaks into school property and steals some cell phone and energy drink ads. That isn’t a protest, it’s prepubescent mischief. In fact, I distinctly remember sneaking into my elementary school at lunch (when we weren’t allowed to be inside) to steal posters from the bathroom. Did I call myself a radical? No! Because I was acting like the nine year old I was. Did I tell the world what I had done to show my lack of comfort with a commercial presence in my school? NO! I told everyone what I had done so girls would like me. Are we beginning to see my point here?
I’ll be the first to admit, the world has problems. Genocide, racism and sexuality-based prejudice sucks. And yes, it is a pile of crap that tuition in Canada continues to rise into the unimaginable. But in order to change the system, sometimes you have to play the system, and not a self-indulgent game of “King of the Castle.”

Jonah Greisman
U1 Cultural Studies

Towards a future of teeth-grinding geniuses
Re: “Academic pressure encourages study drug usage” | Sci+Tech | Jan 14, 2008

I was sent your article on cognitive enhancing drugs in The McGill Daily.

While I’m glad to see nootropics and cognitive enhancing drugs getting any press at all, I was very disappointed to see that the potential benefits of human cognitive enhancement were not mentioned.

Dr. McKinney is concerned that too much emphasis is being put on making people smarter rather than solving the overwhelming problems that the world faces today. While the initial emphasis may be on getting better grades, the widespread adoption of cognitive enhancement would mean that there are more smart, motivated people able to work harder than ever whatever they choose, including addressing these incredible problems we are faced with.

Dr. Hoffman brings up the perennial comparison to the sporting context. This comparison is apt, but not for the reasons of fairness cited by Hoffman – as in sports, academia is never a level playing field, with or without performance enhancing drugs. Some people have more resources for training and studying, some are naturally gifted, and some benefit from great coaching, instruction, and support from family while others lack all of those aids.

The real comparison should be the arbitrary nature of the decisions on which aids are acceptable and which are not. High altitude training, special diets, and oxygen masks are all acceptable in sport, but pseudoephedrine is not. In academia, coffee and nicotine are acceptable performance enhancers with their own set of nasty side effects. Why should more useful substances with fewer side effects be disallowed?
Philip Campbell, Editor-in-Chief of Nature magazine changed his mind about cognitive enhancing drugs in 2007 (see Let’s hope more people follow his lead in 2008.

Greg McMullen
Law II
University of British Columbia

Opt-out, quick!
This is to inform people that they have until Jan 29 to opt out of a bunch of optional student fees, such as “SSMU Environment fee” and the Midnight Kitchen, among others. For Arts students, it adds up to about sixty bucks. Go to Minerva, Student Menu, then Student Accounts menu. Maybe one day this ridiculous system will end, and it will be opt-in as opposed to out, though I imagine that if that were true this letter wouldn’t be needed, with everyone instead inundated with instructions for and emotional pleas to “support student life,” or whatever other bullshitty slogan is invented.

Jeffrey Fisher
U3 Latin American and Caribbean Studies

Not that I’m bitter…

Re: “SSMU on ice!”| News | Jan 10, 2008

A brief note regarding your January 10 comments that “Angus campaigned for his position on a platform of improving libraries and advising, but there have been few concrete results on those fronts” as well as the claim that “we just haven’t seen any tangible results from his notoriously chummy relationship with the admin.” Told ya so; told ya so; told ya, told ya, told ya so.

Malek Yalaoui
U3 International Development Studies and Political Science

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