Bilingual people think twice as fast

Mythili Viswanathan, a graduate student in psychology at York, was featured in the Toronto Star’s Deep Thoughts column on April 3.

Viswanathan is looking at whether being bilingual from a young age can help the brain’s abilities as we grow older. Cognition isn’t rigid, she says, so life experiences can change its ability over time. Bilinguals were consistently faster at performing certain tasks, no matter the age group. This is not because they’re more intelligent, she says, but because their brains are used to suppressing the information they don’t need to use. "You’re able to fully focus on the task at hand," says Viswanathan, who speaks English, Tamil and Cantonese.

The importance: This can help promote learning another language early on. "Globally we’re moving towards bilingualism more and more," she says. "It’s important to understand how the bilingual experience changes your experiences across the life span."

Waterway claims are behind seizure of sailors, says Rahnema

As Britain and Iran narrowed their differences over 15 British naval personnel seized in the Persian Gulf, some experts warn the situation is still volatile, wrote the Toronto Star April 3. "We must understand how significant claims to the waterways are in this region," said Saeed Rahnema, head of the School of Public Policy & Administration in York’s Atkinson Faculty of Liberal & Professional Studies. "The Iran-Iraq war was fought over the Shatt al Arab," a waterway flanking the two countries, he recalled. The combined death toll was more than 1 million.

Loophole allows for big campaign spending

Critics have seized on the practice of Toronto’s city politicians spending much more on fundraising than on actual campaign expenses thanks to a provision in the Municipal Elections Act that excludes fundraising and certain other expenses from spending limits, wrote The Globe and Mail April 3. Robert MacDermid, political science professor in York’s Faculty of Arts, who has studied local campaign financing and is part of a watchdog group called Vote Toronto, said the loophole "makes a mockery" of the spending limits. "It makes the whole thing seem unethical, almost, because there’s a cap that doesn’t prevent expenditure on the largest expense," MacDermid said. "…something has to be done about it. It’s absurd."

Host of new mortgage choices lure buyers

Traditional thinking has been that young or first-time homebuyers should go with a long-term fixed rate mortgage, while seasoned homeowners opt for a variable rate mortgage. But that thinking has been clouded of late, wrote the National Post April 3. More than five years ago, Moshe Milevsky, finance professor in York’s Schulich School of Business, did a study of five-year rolling interest rates during the previous 50 years. It showed that 88.6 per cent of the time, homeowners would have saved money having floating rate mortgages.

"At that time, the bulk of mortgages in Canada were fixed-rate mortgages, yet the research showed you were probably better off with floating-rate mortgages in the long run," Milevsky says. "That was when the yield curve was upwards sloping, so the insurance premium for going fixed was pretty steep – you were really paying a premium to lock it in." Today’s flat bond yield curve, which means paying only 0.5% to 1% extra to lock in a rate long-term, makes fixed mortgage rates more attractive than five years ago, wrote the Post.