This week’s “Free for All” letters.

The big picture

Suzanna Danuta Walters’s thoughtful May 1 Wednesday Opinion essay, “It’s time for the men to lean out,” presented a timely and provocative challenge to the status quo. But irony of ironies, the accompanying photographs of four women candidates were crammed into about 26 square inches of newsprint real estate, while Pete Buttigieg’s solo shot on the front page of the Style section that same day [“Vogue gives Buttigieg a look that says it all”] splashed across about 66 square inches. It’s hard to imagine a more effective way to drive home Walters’s point about “gender discrimination” in media coverage. Could this be a male candidate’s first opportunity to lean out, to ask himself what steps he “can take to even the playing field”? Could it be an opportunity for a national newspaper to ask the same question of itself as well?

Kristi Elle Jemtegaard, Richmond

Missing Mueller's caveats

The May 4 news articles “House Democrats give Barr deadline for access to complete Mueller report” and “Trump talks to Putin on ‘Russian Hoax’ but not potential election interference” summarized the Mueller report’s findings on Russian interference in the following manner: “Mueller did not find a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russian officials seeking to interfere in the 2016 presidential election” and “The special counsel did not find sufficient evidence to bring charges of criminal conspiracy with Russia against Trump or anyone associated with his campaign,” respectively.

These statements failed to accurately inform their readers of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s findings. A subordinate clause to these statements, drawn from Pages 9 and 10 of the Mueller report, would help illuminate the troubling reasons Mueller postulated for his findings of insufficient evidence:

The Mueller report states that people affiliated with the campaign lied to the office and to Congress and that “those lies materially impaired the investigation of Russian election interference.” It also states that some of these individuals asserted their Fifth Amendment right, deleted relevant communication and used encryption devices. It also asserts that the office was constrained by “practical limits” to examine witnesses, subjects and documents overseas. Summarily, “The investigation did not always yield . . . a complete picture of the activities undertaken by subjects of the investigation. . . . Given these identified gaps, the Office cannot rule out the possibility that the unavailable information would shed additional light on (or cast in a new light) the events described in the report.”

These statements are important qualifiers, if not predicates to, the findings of no conspiracy and insufficient evidence. The president and his defenders will continue to spin, deflect and obfuscate to minimize the concerns and questions citizens should rightly have regarding the campaign’s conduct in the 2016 election. The Post need not, however unintentionally, reinforce President Trump’s disinformation tactics by repeating their simplistic tag lines and omitting key facts, which will educate their readers regarding the office’s findings.

Natalie Lauren Patten, Washington

Pawel's vowels and consonance

I have been doing the crossword in The Post since high school five decades ago, but in recent months there has been a sense of ennui with the daily puzzles. Many repetitions of the words, some really mundane clues — not the challenge and amusement I had once enjoyed.

Then, on May 4, readers were treated to a crossword with elan, a puzzle whose clues had a sense of whimsy, with vocabulary that was fresh but not obscure.

To be sure, the clues still did not indicate if the response was a word or a three-word phrase; is that the puzzle writer’s duty or the newspaper editor’s? But the entire puzzle, the gestalt, was a challenge and a pleasure.

For the first time in a long while, I wanted to know the author. It was Pawel Fludzinski. Can we please see more from this writer? It would greatly enhance the appeal of the daily crossword.

Jim McSherry, Frederick

'Big' hair

In her April 27 Free for All letter, “A ‘Big’ disappointment,” Melanie Gross Greenfield expressed some consideration for both the subject matter and timing of the ongoing theme of the unusual hairstyle worn by the protagonist of Lincoln Peirce’s “Big Nate” comic strip. One aspect of Nate’s hair that has been overlooked by all of the characters in the strip and, as far as I can tell, its fans, is that unless Nate’s hair is somehow detached from his scalp, its main weirdness is the fact that it defies Newtonian physics in that it always lies in the plane of the paper, no matter the orientation of Nate’s head! Other characters in the strip change the perspective of their hair with their head, just as actual 3-D objects would. I have read this strip for years and am reasonably certain of this observation; it could be tested, however, if Peirce will simply have Nate listen to any random 10 minutes of the May 1 House Judiciary Committee hearings on whether congressional staffers can directly question the attorney general (should he testify before the committee). If Nate’s hair does not spin as his head inevitably will, we will know.   

John SanFilipo, Reston

Respect, not etiquette

The May 4 front-page headline “For Democrats, a lesson in etiquette” trivialized a thoughtful analysis. The way folks treat each other is not a point of “etiquette.” It’s an indicator of character and connection. Women, especially women of color, are looking for a candidate who treats them with dignity and respect; a candidate who values the people in the kitchen, as well as the career politicians and the corporate donors. 

Ginger Hankins, Shepherdstown. W.Va.

The lucky ones

In her May 4 Free for All letter, “A compelling, silent beauty,” Ellen Goldstein wrote that “you cannot visit even the tiniest village in France or Britain without finding a memorial” to the fallen of the Great War. Actually, you can. Just one: Thierville, in France, and as many as 53 “Thankful Villages” in England and Wales, from where all the individuals who went off to war returned safely.

Julian Blackwood, McLean


Eugene Robinson’s May 3 op-ed, “Give Mueller the mic,” appropriately excoriated the testimony of Attorney General William P. Barr before the Senate Judiciary Committee. However, I must take issue with the trope attributed to former judge and Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitano that “this sophistry [Barr’s testimony] would make the Jesuits proud.” While I don’t disagree that Barr’s testimony employed the most tortured form of hairsplitting, sophist false logic, maligning the Jesuits as exemplars of this form of argumentation is itself, ironically, a sophist trope.

For several centuries, the Jesuits have been reviled by doctrinaire Catholics and fundamentalist Christians for their liberal views and openness to critical examination of all ideas. As one educated by both Jesuit and non-Jesuit scholars, I can tell you that during more than 50 years of academic life, I have met none who were more open-minded and devoted to honest, rigorous discussion and debate than my Jesuit mentors.

David P. Fago, Washington

Extinction by the numbers

The May 7 front-page article “Extinctions put humans at grave risk, report warns” was great but missed three huge points. First, rather than giving several anecdotal cases of species in danger, it should have listed how much each species has lost in numbers and percentages.

Second, how soon could we lose these species? I have read that all insects could be wiped out within several hundred years, even though they have lived on Earth for billions of years.

Third, once a species is gone, we can never get it back. It takes thousands or millions of years to develop through evolution. And I don’t think we have “Jurassic Park” technology at this time to re-create a species. Just the extinction of all insects could impact our ecology to the point that humans couldn’t exist.

This situation is so much more dire than the article suggested. We need to sound the alarm much clearer so readers understand what we are up against.

Tena Turner, Silver Spring

Not again

Regarding the May 3 Style article “Oh Lord! Another Trump Day of Prayer.”:

Well, another offensive opinion article mocking our American Christian values, with offensive comments about the prayer day ceremony in the Rose Garden. The article insinuated a sexual connotation about Wynonna Judd when none was specified and made out that a nation of believers was a bad thing.

Mocking Vice President Pence because he believes in God and prayed about the recent massacres around the world was a low blow. And what’s with the “Merry Christmas” bit? The snarky report on a nice White House tradition ended with a political question, as if that were much more important.

Connie Steelman, Salisbury

Giving hate a platform

Regarding Stephen K. Bannon’s May 7 op-ed, “We’re in an economic war with China. It’s futile to compromise.”:

The fact that The Post has handed the respected megaphone of professional journalism to an international leader of the white-supremacist movement is beyond comprehension. I stand with the millions of Americans who work every day to end the institutional racism that Bannon has expounded through lies and fear. And I am afraid of what will happen to our democratic institutions when these become legitimized by mainstream media like The Post.

Philip Brookman, Takoma Park

A masterpiece's salvation

I really enjoyed reading Philip Kennicott’s well-written article about Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece “The Last Supper” [“Leonardo’s lasting impression,” Style, May 3]. My husband and I stood in that same spot last year in awe of this timeless and breathtaking piece. An image so familiar to us and so copied by others becomes so much more moving and extraordinary when seeing it in person. I am glad crowd-control measures have been taken to protect it.

But the article failed to mention how this painting survived the Allied bombings in World War II when Santa Maria delle Grazie was heavily damaged. Da Vinci’s iconic painting survived, some say miraculously, but it largely was saved by proactive measures taken by officials by sandbagging and scaffolding it as the war broke out. A photograph, shown to us by our scholar guide, of the wall standing erect among the ruins shows the visual reality of how close it came to being destroyed. Even more sacrilegious, for lack of another word, is how soldiers bunking in Santa Maria Della Grazie during the Napoleonic Wars used “The Last Supper” for target practice when they got bored, using Jesus’ face as the bull’s eye. They hit the mark at least a couple of times, but the mural has since been restored.

I’m not sure what else can be done to ensure its survival going forward, but this is one time when the word “masterpiece” is fittingly used, and it needs to be protected. It is an irreplaceable treasure.

Carrie Cerdeiras, Oak Hill

No buts about it

On April 27, The Post covered the 3.2 percent annualized growth in the U.S. economy in the first quarter of 2019. The article was worthy of its placement above the fold on Page 1 [“Shades of 1990s growth in 2019”]. In the continuation of the article on Page 7, the headline read, “Strong first-quarter GDP delivers a boost for Trump, but it may not endure.” I would like to suggest that The Post’s editors ban the use of the word “but” in any article. My observation is that any good news for the Trump economy is always accompanied by a “but.” It’s like saying, “The sun is shining brightly, but there may be clouds on the way.” It’s meaningless unless accompanied by something concrete.

Dave Caplan, St. Michaels, Md.

Dreams deferred

A cause bigger than the name at Woodrow Wilson High,” Nathan Kohrman’s compelling May 5 Local Opinions essay that neighborhood gentrification and school integration should proceed together, might have referenced Bolling v. Sharpe, the District’s landmark challenge to racial injustices that the Supreme Court decided along with Brown v. Board of Education (1954). For various reasons, as Chris Myers Asch and George Derek Musgrove point out in “Chocolate City: A History of Race and Democracy in the Nation’s Capital,” “the end of legal segregation did not end racial inequality in Washington.”

Now, 65 years later, given a vastly different historical context, the District has an opportunity to fulfill the promise of civic progress imagined by Kohrman.

James Kirkpatrick Flack, Washington

For maximum security, wait till they're older

Sally Jenkins came up just short of calling for an end to horse racing when she recommended changes to the present system in her May 6 Sports column, “The only real foul here is the sport of horse racing.” Her recommendations, however, missed the root of the problem: Three-year-old horses are too young to withstand the rigors of the track, especially the closely spaced Triple Crown races.

The way thoroughbred ages are figured compounds the problem. Country House, the eventual Kentucky Derby winner, for example, was foaled on May 8, 2016, which meant the horse was four days shy of 3 — chronologically — on Derby Day. But because thoroughbreds celebrate their first birthday on the first New Year’s Day following their birth, Country House turned 1 on Jan. 1, 2017, and 3 on Jan. 1, 2019.

Horses mature at about 5 and should not be expected to do any hard work before that. Most young racehorses do survive, but each year several hundred break down and are euthanized at tracks around the United States without causing much of a ripple. At least, not until 23 died in a short period recently at a single track (Santa Anita).

Will racing leaders address this issue? I’d give long odds on that one until the public has had enough of the collateral damage.

Mac Greeley, Annapolis

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