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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Travel Extensions for Blog Vacation

I know my vacation was technically supposed to be over, and I had promised a return to active blogging. However, between flying to BC, visiting madly with some family friends before they left my hometown (they were only there for the cherry season), and then turning around to drive to Calgary to pick up my girlfriend, I haven't had a lot of time to sit down and do some proper writing. Combined with the fact that my computer seems to want to act up no matter what operating system I use, and even when I do get a moment to sit down and do some work it is usually trying to figure out how to fix some lack of functionality on my laptop.

Anyway, excuses are no good... Hopefully I will do a proper return to regular blogging soon, but for now you will have to be patient.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Midweek Quotations

Although quotations have only recently returned, this will once again be the last quotations post for a few weeks as I head off to visit my family in BC on Thursday.

"Food comes first, then morals." - Bertolt Brecht, German dramatist, 1898-1956

"Politics are usually the executive expression of human immaturity." - Vera Brittain, English writer, 1893-1970

"The essence of science: ask an impertinent question, and you are on the way to a pertinent answer." - Jacob Bronowski, Polish-born mathematician and humanist, 1908-74

"Everybody favours free speech in the slack moments when no axes are being ground." - Heywood Broun, American journalist, 1888-1939

I'm a Role Model...

I seem to have rubbed off on my friend Scott, as he has begun publishing puzzles as well, starting with this one. I'm still thinking it over in the back of my head while I ostensibly get some work done...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Software Review: LyX

This summer I learned to use a piece of document composition software called LyX. I think it is quite an interesting and useful piece of software, so I thought it would be worth giving a brief review about it. More information (as well as the software itself, free to download) is available on the Lyx website, so, aside from a brief description of the software, I will concentrate my commentary on my impression of the program.

LyX is, essentially, a more user-friendly layer thrown on top of the typesetting program TeX and the widely used language based on it, LaTeX. If you have never heard of LaTeX before, it is worth looking at its Wikipedia article. LaTeX is, basically, a language which allows one to produce professional looking documents with automated consistency for a wide range of typesetting requirements including citations, section numbering, and formulae.

While LaTeX documents being developed often end up looking similar to html documents or even a program under development (with brackets and labels, such as \title{}), LyX partially compiles a document as it is prepared so that items like section titles and mathematical formulae are displayed with their desired appearance. The final document layout, however, remains unfixed until the document is finished and exported. LyX also provides a set of drop-down menus and toolbars such that you don't have to learn an entire typesetting language. Rather, you simply need to find the necessary option in the correct menu (which, granted, can be frustrating at well, but I think it is quite a bit easier for a first time user than trying to figure out the correct programming syntax). Although menu and toolbar selection is slower than keyboard shortcuts and typed commands for experienced users, LyX does also accept a wide range of keyboard shortcuts and TeX commands to be written in directly.

For an experienced LaTeX user, therefore, LyX does not offer a lot of functional advantages (other than perhaps making the development process a little more aesthetically pleasing and reducing the burden of keeping track of your brackets - much like the difference between composing a blog post using Blogger directly in html versus the 'Compose' option). For someone who needs to quickly learn how to do complicated typesetting (such as a thesis or report), however, but has never learned how to use LaTeX, LyX can be quite valuable. It provides a program with nearly the same power as LaTeX, but with a much shallower learning curve. There is a very worthwhile tutorial bundled with the LyX installation (and I highly recommend a first-time user go through at least the first part of the tutorial - using LyX is, in several important respects, a great deal different than traditional word processing programs like Microsoft Word and Open Office, and the tutorial helps get those concepts across fairly quickly), as well as more extensive help documentation. Even for tasks which are relatively straightforward in a standard word processor, it might be worthwhile experimenting with LyX to accomplish them. LyX can be easily combined with a bibliographical TeX program like BibTeX to create a database of references which can then be automatically compiled into individual reference sets for multiple reports, drastically reducing one of the main sources of frustration in laboratory reports and even essays in the humanities and social sciences.

Rather than continue rambling on about LyX, I will again reiterate that it has quite a straightforward website and accompanying set of documentation. In final summary: if you are in need of a powerful typesetting tool but have not had a chance to learn how to use a typesetting language like LaTeX, or if you know how to use LaTeX but find it generally unpleasant to use due to its tendency to feel more like programming than linguistic composition, you might be interesting in using LyX.

Friday, August 21, 2009

End of Blog Vacation and New Toys

I think my blog vacation is coming to an end. It was a nice break, but it is time to plough back into being a productive writer. Of course, being that I am ending my vacation on a Friday (and the fact that weekends are inevitably light traffic days for blogs), it will still likely be light posting for the next two days before we properly get back into the swing of things around here.

One exciting recent development is that I bought some new toys today. The first is a 1 TB external harddrive. While an entire terabyte of space seems excessive, the price difference between 1 TB and 320 GB was surprisingly small, so I figured I might as well get the terabyte and back up both my desktop and my laptop. The acquisition of an external harddrive in order to save off the data from my laptop was necessitated by my desire to switch the computer over to a Linux machine... I am so thoroughly unimpressed with Windows Vista that enough is enough and I'm switching to Linux.

The second toy I got is a new digital camera. My old camera is from my first year of university (back in the days of being an engineering student), so it is getting on six years old now. Over the course of its life it has started to develop some annoying quirks (you have to tilt the coverslide just right to make it turn on or off) as well as the fact that it lacked some functionality that I always wished it had (namely, the ability to take videos that are longer than 12 seconds and have sound - I specifically asked the salesman if it took videos with sound, and he said yes. It turns out he lied), so I think it was time for a replacement. The new camera is technically my birthday present from my parents*, and I have to say that I am rather pleased. It is a Canon PowerShot SX200, and packs a surprising amount of functionality into its relatively small frame. While not as tiny as many of the cameras available these days, it makes a happy medium between functionality (it has 12x optical zoom, for example), portability, and ease of use. To test it out, I took a couple of quick shots of the CN Tower from my apartment balcony (one without zoom and the second on maximum zoom). I was rather impressed.

Picture of the CN Tower without zoom.

Picture of the CN Tower on full zoom

*For the record, my birthday is actually in the spring. Also, I believe this is the first year in the last two or three that I have actually gotten a birthday present (not to fault my parents - every year they ask what I want for my birthday as it approaches, I shrug and say I will get back to them, and then forget all about it. When I do actually get a present, though, it tends to be something rather nice (like a digital camera), so I think it balances out in the end). I think the reason birthdays are like this with my family (gift giving is fairly sporadic) is because of how spread out we are. With my parents on the other side of the country (and Canada is a big country to be on the other side of) and both my sisters living in South America, it gets rather hard to do gifts. Excitingly, though, my whole family is going to be together in a couple weeks when I go back to BC.

Monday, August 17, 2009

"What's in a name?"

In a recent comment, Regan asked if I could explain what my pseudonym 'Mozglubov' means. It is a cobbling together of two Russian words, 'mozg' which means 'brain' and 'lubov' which means 'love' (so, the name literally means 'brain-love'). I picked it as a pseudonym when I started this blog for a number of reasons: it is distinctive, I enjoy messing around with Russian words, but most of all because it was tongue-in-cheek. That last bit requires some explanation.

As anyone who knows me or has been reading this blog for a while has likely noticed, I find the brain and how it functions to be a fascinating subject. Understanding how a collection of electrochemical interactions in a distributed network of cells is able to compute the complex behavioural and cognitive life found throughout the animal kingdom is not only a wonderful puzzle, it also provides a beautiful source of inspiration for reproducing similar capabilities in artificial systems (whether you are talking about a physical robot or software operating in a virtual world). While this blog itself might meander all over the place in terms of subject matter, my fascination with the study of intelligence and subsequent desire to share what I learned on the matter is what motivated me to start writing here. Having said all of that, one of the things that really bothered me as I began devouring books on neuroscience was that the vast majority of people writing about the brain seemed to consistently fawn obsequiously over it to a degree that I felt was counterproductive. If you set out to explore a subject that you feel is so complex it can never be properly explored, there is a good chance you will let yourself be confounded. The reverence shown for the brain, of course, also tended to also be exclusively held for only the human brain (something which annoys me, too, and which I have previously gone on about at some length).

Since it seemed like an unofficial rule that to write about the brain required at least an adoring introductory passage paying homage to how wonderful, complex, and magical the human brain is, I figured I would just get it over with and include such genuflection within my very name (albeit hidden within the Russian language). Mozglubov, therefore, is my own private joke about the neuroscience field.

Start of the Week Quotations

Even though I am on a blog vacation, I figured that was no reason to skip out on my quotation posting duties.

"Truth exists; only lies are invented." - Georges Braque, French painter, 1882-1963

"Basic research is what I am doing when I don't know what I am doing." - Werner von Braun, German-born American rocket engineer, 1912-77

"The aim of science is not to open the door to infinite wisdom, but to set a limit to infinite error." - Bertolt Brecht, German dramatist, 1898-1956

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The post-stress let-down

I just wanted to briefly apologize for my lack of recent activity. I took my last exam on Thursday, so now I am completely finished with school work (at least undergraduate work) and mostly devoid of responsibilities (I still need to arrange tickets to go back to British Columbia and visit the family and a few other errands, but for the most part my life is suddenly much less complicated). That should in theory mean I would let loose with a barrage of blog activity, but I think I actually just need a couple days to unwind. So, thinks are going to probably be quiet for a few more days around here while I take a vacation. I have lots of interesting stuff in mind for my return, though: I still need to give an overview of Pawelzik's talk (which means tracking down the notes I took...), I have started putting together a series of posts on computational theory and its relation to the brain, and quite a few other things. As always, if anyone has something they would like me to write about, suggestions are also welcome.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Passing the torch

My friend Cornucrapia was kind enough to take over where I left off concerning Canadian health care (as I haven't really had time to devote to the matter... plus Cornucrapia studies economics, so I figured he'd be a good guy to ask for input) by writing a general response to Freddy Boisseau's statement that he cannot accept Canadian health care could be as good as American health care. Cornucrapia's post gives a good overview of the general failings of the "free market fixes everything" mindset, so I think it is worth checking out. I doubt Freddy is still around, but on the off chance that he is, I hope he will follow the link and think on the matter.

Remiss in my duties

I just realised something I should have done several days ago: restarted the quotations series! Now that I am back from Germany and have returned to my apartment (and, subsequently, my small personal library), I once again have access to my excellent anthology The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. So, while I am still in the studying state (I wrote neuroanatomy and linear algebra yesterday... they could have gone better (damn my forgetting of the reticular formation's role in posture and the Cayley-Hamilton theorem), but I suppose they could also have been worse), I think I have enough time to take a quotation posting break. For the first time since the end of May, here are some famous things other people have said:

"Truth lies within a little and certain compass, but error is immense." - Henry St. John, Lord Bolingbroke, English politician, 1678-1751

"If I am a great man, then all great men are frauds." - Andrew Bonar Law, Canadian-born British Conservative politician and Prime Minister 1922-3, 1858-1923

"Metaphysics is the finding of bad reasons for what we believe upon instinct; but to find these reasons is no less an instinct." - F. H. Bradley, English philosopher, 1846-1924

Monday, August 10, 2009

Study Study Study...

Tomorrow I have two exams - neuroanatomy in the morning and linear algebra in the evening. Studying continues to creep along... I think I am almost done reviewing neuroanatomy (if one can ever be done trying to memorize such an annoyingly large collection of names and functions for nuclei, regions, and nerve tracts), but I still have to badly refresh many of my linear algebra skills.

Similar to my pre-talk stress response earlier this summer, I decided to post some destressing photographs. Rather than simply cute critters, though, the theme this time is interspecies relationships.

A dog and orphaned fawn (source found here).

A house cat and lion cub (source here).

A squirrel and a litter of puppies (I was actually unable to find an informative source for this picture with my very brief search, but it has a referential caption so that is good enough for me).

Time to refresh my memory on the properties of the Jordan Canonical Form (and methods of finding it). Enjoy the pictures!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Solution to Puzzle Number 8

I am back safely in Canada and dealing with jet-lag, laundry, and the need to study for my upcoming exams. However, I still have a few puzzle solutions that need to be posted, so here are the solutions to puzzle number eight. This set of oblique titles had quite a few responses, so I will list all of the puzzle solvers underneath each solution.

1.) Every Canine Travels to Space
The movie All Dogs Go to Heaven.
This title was solved by: Scott, Sarah, Cornucrapia, Regan, Robert, Jesse, and my cousin Kevin

2.) Strange Peeper
The television show Queer Eye.
This title was solved by: Scott, Kevin

3.) The Soricidae Domestication
The play The Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare.
This title was solved by: Scott, Sarah, Cornucrapia, Regan, Jesse, Kevin

4.) Stopping Device, Inventory, And a Pair of Wooden Containers Giving off Vapour
The movie Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels.
This title was solved by: Scott, Sarah, Cornucrapia, Regan, Jesse, Kevin

5.) Ritual Starvation and Feeling Enraged
The movie Fast and Furious. I also accepted The Fast and the Furious (the original movie in the series) and any combination of articles between the two.
This title was solved by: Scott, Regan, Robert, Jesse, Kevin

6.) The Sightless Horologist
The book The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins.
This title was solved by: Scott, Sarah, Cornucrapia, Regan, Robert, Jesse, Kevin

7.) Story Breakers
The television show Myth Busters.
This title was only solved by Kevin.

8.) Conflict Cudgel
The movie and novel Fight Club (with the novel written by Chuck Palahniuk).
This title was solved by: Scott, Sarah, Cornucrapia, Robert, Jesse, Kevin
Additionally, Regan sent in the solution of Warhammer, which also works fairly well (although it is primarily a title from table-top and computer games).

9.) Maritime Marauders of the West Indies: The Profanity of the Dark Mollusk Bead
The movie Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl.
This title was solved by: Scott, Sarah, Cornucrapia, Regan, Robert, Jesse, Kevin

10.) The Quiet Equine Speaker
The movie and novel The Horse Whisperer (with the novel written by Nicholas Evans).
This title was solved by: Scott, Sarah, Cornucrapia, Robert, Jesse, Regan, Kevin

Monday, August 3, 2009

Göttingen in Review

As my time in Göttingen draws to a close, I thought I would give a recap of some the highlights (both good and bad). Life is continually escalating up on the hectic scale, so I'm not sure what the schedule is going to be like around here. I have the most recent puzzle solutions to post sometime before the end of the week (so get any remaining solutions in!), and I might expound a bit to serve as some random stress relief, but other than that I should be getting stuff done in the real world.

Scariest Moment (Intellectual): Being asked during my talk by the head of the research group why our method was unable to predict the phase response of a multi-source network.
Most Relieving Moment (Intellectual): Realising (after not too long a moment of deliberation) that the multiplicity of the zero eigenvalue in a multi-source network was greater than one (thus solving the conundrum of the aforementioned moment).
Stupidest Moment: Crashing a borrowed bike into a brick wall.
Smartest Moment: Understanding and then explaining the transient response of a reciprocally coupled network to my Ph.D. student collaborator (who spent most of the summer having to explain everything to me).
Scariest Moment (Physical): Not realising my landlady had forgotten to turn the oil off after she showed me how to use the heater in my room and subsequently lighting the oil a little while later. The accumulated oil began to boil (a state which turns a slow-burning liquid into an explosive vapour), resulting in an hour of terror as the heater rumbled and shook and I wondered if I was about to blow up my bedroom (thankfully, it did not blow up).
Most Satisfying Moment (Physical): Driving a well-placed shot through the narrow window in the opponents' goal during the Ph.D.-night soccer match and thereby winning back a small portion of honour for my country's (admittedly justifiably) much maligned soccer prowess.
Most Annoyed Moment: Discovering my landlady had disconnected the internet without any forewarning (this actually requires some explanation... she inexplicably decided she wanted to move a few weeks after I arrived (while I suppose it is a possibility, I am fairly sure this had nothing to do with me). So, I said it was fine if she had to start moving things out, but I would appreciate a warning if she had to move anything that I also used. The only thing that seemed to happen with was the dishwasher). My annoyance over the loss of the internet is closely followed by my annoyance over the disappearance of the washing machine the week before (also as part of my landlady's move, and also without any warning).
Most Indebted Moment: Being generously lent a bicycle for a month and a half simply so it "wouldn't have to just sit there" while its owner was off on a trip (Carsten, if for some reason you ever read this, I'm sorry for crashing your bike into a brick wall).
Most Stressful Moment: Realising I have only a day left to finish my final report, cram in some studying for my exams, pack, and tie up every other loose end I have left.
Most Stress-Mitigating Moment: Realising I have only a day left before I fly back to Canada and get to see my girlfriend again.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

My Personal Perspective on Canadian Health Care

Robert has asked for my perspective on some of the comments being thrown around about Canada's health care as the American government continues to debate health care reform. As I am rather busy right now, I have not had a chance to do any proper statistical research, so my response here will be motivated by personal experience and anecdotes (in defense of my personal anecdotes, I have lived at various times in my life in two provinces in Canada (British Columbia and Ontario) as well as four years in the United States (Pennsylvania). While I recognize that such experience is not equal to statistics and other forms of hard fact, it can at least help explain where some of my perspectives come from). I have numbered and put in quotation marks the remarks Robert picked out of the media and sent me, and then written my responses beneath them.

1.) "In Canada, if you are old, but have a treatable illness, the government will deem you not worth the investment in health care dollars, and will let you die."
- I really have no idea where this claim comes from. I would have to see some pretty strong evidence showing age-based discrimination for treatment in Canada. I have a number of well-aged relatives (my mother's side of the family seems particularly robust), and I have never known any of them to be refused treatment. As one example, almost fifteen years ago, my grandfather (a retired school superintendent) suffered a rather devastating heart-attack. He was flown to Vancouver and operated on, resulting in a quintuple bypass that saved his life. I think that disproving this claim, though, is rather difficult, as it depends a lot on definitions (such as what is old, what the treatments being talked about are, and so forth). This is one of those fear-mongering statements that is slippery enough to retreat under scrutiny rather than admitted incorrect.

2.) "In Canada, if you have cancer, you have to wait 6 months or more before getting a bed to be treated, time that will of course cause the cancer to spread and kill you."
- Once again, I am not sure what this claim is based on. For one thing, many cancers don't require a hospital bed for treatment (or, if they do, it is on a rotating basis... you need to spend a couple nights in the hospital every few months). There is also no set time course for treatments (treatment once again depending on the cancer and its stage), but everyone I have known has had treatment options proposed as soon as cancer is diagnosed. Some of those treatments might be delayed somewhat due to the availability of facilities (such as surgery or imaging equipment), but I doubt it would be in a manner which would seriously endanger one's health without some unforeseen circumstance (such as a miss-diagnosis as to the cancer's initial severity or aggression).

3.) "In Canada, you cannot see whichever doctor you would like to."
- Well, neither can you in the States... doctors have finite amounts of time and resources, just like all parts of the medical system. There are systems in place for requesting a new doctor or a consultation visit, however. This actually factors in to the availability of medical resources in Canada in general, which I am going to talk about at the end of this post.

4.) "In Canada, you cannot choose your treatment option."
- A ridiculously worded statement... I'm not even sure what it means. In the United States you cannot choose whatever treatment you desire, either. When multiple treatments are available, Canadian doctors usually outline them and go over the various advantages and disadvantages between them. Of course, some doctors have personal biases which might influence their decisions, and not all doctors are good at communicating available options to their patients. Rather than a national thing, I think the number of treatment options one ends up with is more dependent on the individual doctor and the given ailment. Also, many treatment options are not always a good thing. While it gives the patient a better sense of control, I would rather doctors ignored dubious treatments (particularly things like "alternative medicine"). If there is only one treatment option supported by evidence, then there is only one treatment option I want my doctor giving me.

5.) "In Canada, a government bureaucrat stands between you and your doctor, and that bureaucrat often determines that you do not need the health care that your doctor prescribes you."
- Much like the first claim, this is a misleadingly slippery statement. How often is often? It is not as though every medical decision needs to be approved by a bureaucrat. There are oversight committees to ensure that doctors are not making uncalled for treatments, but for the most part the doctors prescribe what they feel is necessary. In general, I believe, bureaucrats design general guidelines for healthcare practice (and determine the allocation of funds for equipment and other health facilities), but within that framework doctors are relatively free to act (it is not like every treatment decision must be scrutinized and approved). In many ways, having the "government bureaucrat between you and your doctor" makes things run more smoothly, since the doctor is aware beforehand what resources are available for treatment and there is little worry of finding out later that it is not covered (which is the situation with having a private bureaucrat between you and your doctor). Whenever I have dealt with the more privatized forms of health care (while living in the States and with dental care in Canada), I have found it much more confusing and bureaucratic. Every insurance group has their own sets of policies and coverage plans, so there is often a great deal of confusion as to how payment should be made and what will be reimbursed. When there is a private insurer, it is in their interest to not cover as much as possible, and thus there is always a bureaucrat involved in treatment decisions.

6.) "In Canada (this claim was actually made on the floor of our House of Representatives...sorry about this) 1 out of 5 people DIE because of the health care system."
- Of all the claims being thrown around, this one confuses me the most. What the hell does it mean for a person to die because of the health care system? In order for such a statement to be supported, one would have to be very careful about defining what it means to die from a health care system. As Colbert pointed out, five out of five people die... 20% of deaths being caused by our health care system seems just plain ridiculous. To make such a claim, I imagine it would have to be a fairly loose set of rules for assigning blame, and so I would be interested in what proportion of deaths in the United States were caused by the American health care system under that same definition of blame.

7.) "The Canadian government will only allow so many operations per year. Once this figure is reached, they will stop paying for them."
- This seems like a horribly twisted statement. There are a finite number of surgeons in Canada, and thus they can perform a finite number of surgeries every year. The government pays the salaries of those surgeons, so yes, the government pays for a finite number of surgeries each year. However, it's not as though, if somehow surgeons across the country started finishing operations extra fast and thus reached a set number of surgeries by mid-October, the government would say, "No more surgeries!" and the surgeons would all go and have a nice two and a half month vacation (at least, this would be news to me). Also, this statement suffers from the same ludicrous vacuity as the cancer statement. Not every surgery is equal in either time or resource requirements, making this statement not only obtuse and twisted, but also overly simplistic.

8.) "Because of the socialized nature of the health care, in Canada, people do not innovate, and Canada's health care is not as advanced as America's."
- This statement is stupid in so many ways... for one thing, our two countries do a lot of intellectual sharing. Also, innovation is done for more than just profit, and other than theoretical science I don't think that is more true anywhere than in medicine. People are motivated to innovate for prestige, for the betterment of society, and simply for the joy of solving a difficult problem. For an example of not only intellectual sharing but also innovation not motivated by profit, insulin was first isolated as a treatment for diabetes at the University of Toronto by Banting and Best, who then sold the patent for a dollar to the university as they trusted it to disseminate the treatment for the betterment of humanity rather than for monetary gain. As a result, insulin is a widely available treatment around the world (yes, this is a fairly old treatment, but it did not require research on my part). Finally, the "socialized nature" of our health system does not completely remove monetary rewards, although it does possibly diminish the factor that they play (something which I think can easily be argued to be a good thing).

Finally, Robert asked me a few questions of his own:
"Those are some specific claims. What is your impression of the Canadian health system? Do you like it? Have any horror stories? Do you pay 60 percent in taxes to get that health care?"

If it hasn't become clear from my responses, yes, I do like our health system. I think it is a decent system which does a good job of providing care for as many people as possible. This does not always translate to the flashiest care or even the fastest (and no one likes to wait several hours in the emergency room, but that happens in the States too). I cannot really think of any horror stories, but perhaps people reading this will chime in. This has actually gone on longer than I intended, so I just want to make one last point about the Canadian health care system. Canada is a large and sparsely populated country. While we do have regions of fairly dense population (like southern Ontario), a lot of the country is decidedly not dense. This makes providing specialized health care very difficult for certain things. My grandmother, for example, has Parkinson's disease. While she has a general practitioner in my hometown, getting specialized advice from a neurologist is more of a challenge. The nearest center larger than my hometown is about an hour and a half drive away, but even that town only has a population of 20,000-30,000 people (depending on how you define the town boundaries, like always). Thus, to get a consultation, my grandmother has two main choices: go to Calgary (a six hour drive) to see one of the neurologists there, or wait for a traveling neurologist to come through the area (I think the traveling neurologist is still a two hour drive away, but that is closer than six). Going to Calgary provides the most flexibility in appointment times, but six hours is a long drive. Seeing the traveling neurologist generally leads to the long wait times that are so often touted as failings of our system in the U.S. Really, though, many of those long wait times are actually caused by our geography and population distribution. Likewise (from question 3), assuming the drive to Calgary was impossible for my family to execute, my grandmother would only have the option of seeing the traveling neurologist, and in that way she would not have the option of picking her doctor. But once again, that is not a direct outcome of our medical system, but is actually a result of our geography. In a similarly isolated region in the United States, it would not make individual economic sense for a specialist to go there, so she might not have any option.

Anyway, like I said, this got a lot longer than I intended, but it is an issue I feel strongly about. While Canada is certainly not perfect (health care is expensive, and we do therefore have perpetual budgetary issues and a certain level of unpleasant bureaucracy), I think the maligning that takes place is overly simplistic, disingenuous, ignorant, and rhetorical fear mongering. Perhaps when I get more time I will go and dig up some proper statistics on the matter, but I encourage others to look into these things as well. If you feel I have made mistakes, left anything out, or would otherwise like to add something, be sure to let me know.

P.S. I realise I did not answer the tax question... long story short, I pay very little tax as a student. I'm sure my dad, who actually makes a decent amount of money, has a different impression of the tax situation in our country, but I don't want to put words in his mouth. I have a lot of thoughts on taxes, but those are for another time.