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Judging Mr. MacKay

Re Judging Judges (letters, Jan. 1): I never felt that reading The Globe and Mail's editorial page over breakfast might be dangerous to my physical well-being.

That is, until I read Justice Minister Peter MacKay's letter to the editor about an article in your newspaper that he suggests undermines confidence in Canada's judicial system (Appointments Of Judges Favour Prosecutors Over Defence – Dec. 29). This from a member of the cabinet that drew international condemnation for attacking the country's Chief Justice?

There was more.

Reading Mr. MacKay's opinion that judges who were former prosecutors would not be tougher on an accused than former defence lawyers, I choked on my corn flakes. And while I have no doubt that Canada's judges act "openly and impartially," seeing the phrase employed by a member of Stephen Harper's cabinet caused me to guffaw loud enough to frighten our cat.

But when the minister signed off with the Fox News slogan, I howled so hard, I risked falling on the floor and cracking a rib or two. Please preface similar letters from the minister with an appropriate warning.

John Lawrence Reynolds, Burlington, Ont.

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The integrity of the judges is not impugned, the integrity of the government appointing them is the issue.

Linda Hume-Sastre, St. Catharines, Ont.

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Pols and polls

What a terrific suggestion Jeffrey Simpson made in Here's A Resolution: Forget The Polls (Dec. 31). Of course, he's suggesting that people think for themselves. How revolutionary! I think that I'll give it a try.

Nance Gelber, Toronto

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Re Harper Lifts Tories Ahead Of Liberals In Latest Polls (Dec. 24): I spent 15 years trying to teach journalism students how to report polls properly, but the pros continue to misreport them. Based on the Abacus Data poll that's cited, it's not possible to conclude that the Conservatives enjoy a "slim lead."

Here's the thing: Polls show a range within the margin of error. In this case, that range is 2.9 percentage points (not per cent) for committed voters.

To make things easier for this demonstration, I'll round up to 3 percentage points. Therefore, the range for the Conservatives would be 37-34-31 and for the Liberals, 36-33-30. Assuming the poll was conducted properly, the parties could be anywhere within that range.

For example, let's say the Liberals are at 36 (the top end of their range) and the Conservatives are at 31 (the bottom end of theirs). Reported that way, the Liberals would appear to have a hefty lead. Based on this poll, however, the reverse may be true with the Conservatives 7 points ahead.

I know that pollsters and journalists follow the convention of reporting the number in the middle of the range, but from a statistical point of view, that fixed number is as meaningless as choosing the top of the range for one party and the bottom for another.

I leave you with this sociological observation, which I think comes from Philip Schlesinger: "News, like fiction, is at heart an exercise of power over the interpretation of reality."

Bruce Wark, Inglis Professor of Journalism (ret'd), University of King's College, Halifax

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What would be really great is if all Canadians of voting age were to tell pollsters during the lead-up to the next federal election that they are "undecided."

Then, just maybe, political parties would run a campaign actually based on real issues, not false, vote-getting promises.

Debb Crawford, Victoria

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Syrup, oil … ink

Re A Veritable Fort Knox Of Maple Syrup (Folio, Jan. 1): You compare the price per barrel of maple syrup to crude oil. Try comparing it to the price for the ink in my printer – respectively: $1,551 (U.S.) for the syrup, $57.33 for crude and … more than $92,000! for the ink.

Barry Devonald, Vancouver

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All over at 50?

Re It's All Over Now, Baby Boomers (Dec. 31): Someone is "old" and it's all over at 50? Or at 65?

If that were true, the economy and society would certainly be on the brink of disaster.

Ages 50 to 65, and now well beyond 65, are prime earning years. As the great philosopher George Burns noted, "Retirement at 65 is ridiculous. When I was 65, I still had pimples."

Retirement in Canada often occurs way after 65, and decades after age 50. It is far from over for the boomers.

Susan McDaniel, Canada Research Chair in Global Population and Life Course, University of Lethbridge

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I have long pondered the definition of "baby boomer." It's my view that if you were too young to attend the defining moment of the generation – Woodstock – in August, 1969, then you are no boomer.

John Grimley, Toronto

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As the well-circulated quip has it: Age is an issue of mind over matter – if you don't mind, it doesn't matter.

Frederick Sweet, Toronto

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Nigeria's place

I cringed at the statement, "The Western world does not much care about Venezuela and Nigeria" (While Low Oil Fuels U.S. Surge, Russia On Brink Of Disaster – Report on Business, Dec. 29).

Many of us do care.

It would be a tragedy for Africa's largest economy to fail, with the resulting untold hardships for Nigerians. Sure, corruption is endemic, Boko Haram is spreading, seemingly unchecked, in the country's northeast, and who knows what will happen in the country's federal election?

But Nigeria has been successful fighting Ebola, its people work hard when they can find jobs, are warm, peace-loving and courageous. Nigeria's place in Africa, and Africa's place in world can not be dismissed so easily.

Beryl Kirk, Surrey, B.C.

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Words on the street

Re Abused English (letters, Jan. 1): The demise of the adverb is all around us, even on signs: "Go slow" (slowly, please). Then there's "We did good" (well, please!).

We are treating our English language very bad – er, badly!

Margaret Hewgill, Orillia, Ont.

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My biggest pet-peeve word? "Iconic." It appears in The Globe constantly, in Sports, Report on Business, Life & Arts – everywhere, overused and often misused. Please, could your reporters find some new adjectives?

Margaret McLaughlin, Roberts Creek, B.C.

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My pet peeve is the use of "issue" as synonymous with "problem."

"Issue" means a topic, good or bad; "problem" is always … well, a problem.

When debating the merits of various brands of snow tires you are dealing with an issue; when your tires start spinning on ice, you have a problem.

Andrzej Derkowski, Oakville, Ont.