This week’s “Free for All” letters.


Justices of the Supreme Court on Nov. 30, 2018, in Washington. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Contributing to a false equivalency

The Post should stop contributing to the artificial and inaccurate perception of a “liberal vs. conservative” divide on the Supreme Court. The Feb. 9 news article “Recent rulings offer clues about justices’ leanings” referred to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. “siding with the court’s liberals” in a decision to block a Louisiana law.

There are no liberals on the current Supreme Court. There are moderates and conservatives or, more accurately, moderates and radical conservatives. There hasn’t been a true “liberal” on the Supreme Court since Thurgood Marshall, and that has been more than 25 years.

The continuing use of “liberals” contributes to a false equivalency that both parties are equally extreme, when the reality is that for the past several decades, the Republicans have mostly nominated extremists and the Democrats have nominated centrists. 

Robert B. McNeil Jr., Alexandria

Crucial details that came too late

The Feb. 9 front-page article “ ‘My whole town practically lived there’ ” did not mention until almost the end of the article that when Donald Trump visited the golf course where undocumented immigrants were working, great pains were taken to hide the illegal workers from him. The article did not lie; it merely accused the golf course of benefiting from illegal workers, but it seemed to have been written so that the reader would assume President Trump knew about the illegal workers.

That late-in-the-article revelation was almost as irritating as the failure to mention until almost the end of the Feb. 9 front-page article “Second woman accuses Fairfax of sexual assault” that the accuser featured in that article had accused another man of rape before she claimed to have been raped by Justin Fairfax (D), now Virginia’s lieutenant governor.

Betty Clark, Silver Spring

What memoirs can teach us

Memoirs: Are they autobiographies, or are they stories as parables? The latter is what Henry Marsh wrote about in his Feb. 12 Book World review, “Memoir is an example of how to live and die,” about Julie Yip-Williams’s book “The Unwinding of the Miracle.” Memoirs as parables aim to confront the existential dilemmas experienced by readers and writers of the uncertainties in life and the relationship of those uncertainties to our life purpose. Marsh asked, “What matters in life?”

We find out in these memoirs what happens at the arrival of cancer, with all that it simultaneously reveals and conceals. Marsh’s example, from early 2016, of this genre’s conversation is Paul Kalanithi’s book “When Breath Becomes Air.” My own memoir, “Sky Above Clouds: Finding Our Way Through Creativity, Aging, and Illness,” came out about three months after that memoir. It drew from the writings of my late husband, geriatric psychiatrist and author Gene Cohen, and it too starts and ends with death and challenges all the miracles in between.

On book tours across the country over the past three years in this conversation around illness, grief, sorrow, hope, expectations, dying, caregiving, loving and losing, I have come to understand why our culture is so unmoored by this discussion. Our memoirs become literary activists, challenging the denial we all carry — there should be no part of the life cycle that we are not able to talk about; no conversation that leaves us isolated and alone with our experience, pushing us to the outer edges of our social right to a lived life. It is within these memoirs that we confront our own contributions to the outward push to the hinterlands of such important human dialogue.

Wendy Miller, Kensington

Frozen out, okay, but from what?

The Feb. 5 World article “Afghan government is frozen out of Moscow peace talks with the Taliban” said Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s “government was invited to participate but declined to do so this time because the meeting did not provide direct talks with the Taliban, and the attendance of Ghani’s rivals would put them on an equal footing with the government.” A following paragraph said that previously, “Officials in Ghani’s government were excluded from [the meetings between U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban] because of the Taliban’s objection to direct talks with an administration it regards as a U.S. puppet.”

From the article, it seemed clear that it was not the Moscow meeting that Ghani’s government was “frozen out of” but the previous meeting between the U.S. government’s representative and the Taliban.

Dimitry Zarechnak, Silver Spring


Rep. John D. Dingell Jr. (D-Mich.) in Washington in 2011. (Rebecca D'Angelo for The Washington Post)
John Dingell's environmental legacy

I was dismayed to read the negative obituary for John D. Dingell Jr. [“Hill titan, longest-serving member of Congress and auto industry champion,” Metro, Feb. 8]. It is certainly true that then-Rep. Dingell fought hard for the auto industry. (Imagine that, a representative from Detroit representing such a constituency!) But the obituary created a false narrative that he was somehow a sworn enemy of the environment. It missed the fact that Dingell, a park ranger before he entered Congress, also played key roles in the passage of many of our bedrock environmental protection laws, such as the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. He was a tremendous advocate for wildlife and clean water.

I have worked as an environmental advocate for more than 20 years, including working with Dingell’s office on numerous occasions. While there are many things I disagreed with him on, I consider Dingell a personal hero for his passionate work to protect wildlife and defend the Clean Water Act. He certainly deserved a more balanced obituary.

Julie Sibbing, Falls Church

The writer is associate vice president for land stewardship at the National Wildlife Federation.

As the Feb. 8 obituary correctly pointed out, then-Rep. John D. Dingell Jr. (D-Mich.) was “one of the American auto industry’s most stalwart, influential friends on Capitol Hill, and he invariably resisted efforts to regulate car manufacturers.” This is not entirely correct, as I can attest, and misses a part of Dingell’s history that has always reserved him a soft spot in my heart.

In 1975, my first year as a Senate staffer on Capitol Hill, I prepared a first draft of a piece of legislation that responded to the OPEC oil embargo of 1973 to 1974. It set fuel economy standards for new car fleets of the U.S. auto industry and, just before Christmas 1975, was enacted into law as part of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act titled Corporate Average Fuel Economy (the so-called CAFE standards).

To move this legislation forward, I had to work closely with the House subcommittee on energy and power, chaired by Dingell, and with his excellent staff. As you might expect, the auto industry strongly resisted this legislation, but Dingell did not. Throughout the course of this legislation’s movement through the Senate and the House, he was a strong supporter.

A little-known fact is that when the bill was signed into law by President Gerald Ford, also a congressman for Michigan at one time, Dingell attended the celebration ceremony at the Hawk ’n’ Dove restaurant near Capitol Hill, along with the House and Senate staff who were intimately involved with the legislation. He is a prime example of someone who put national interest ahead of parochial interest at a time of critical national need.

Allan R. Hoffman, Reston

The writer is retired from the Energy Department.

The true impact of Cameroon's secessionists

The Feb. 6 front-page article “Cameroon’s lethal linguistic fault line” discussed the insecurity caused by terrorist secessionist groups in the Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon, which the government is working to quell and fulfill its duty to protect civilians and their property.

Though I appreciate attention to this issue, the article mischaracterized the nature of the conflict, focusing excessively on the military forces and insufficiently addressing the ongoing havoc and brutality perpetrated by secessionists. The article’s presentation of secessionist fighters as poorly armed and limited in their impact failed to acknowledge the immense damage they have caused and the widespread support they receive from certain elements of the Cameroonian diaspora in the United States. These activities have been documented by Human Rights Watch. They have also been described as acts of terrorism in a complaint to the FBI and a lawsuit submitted to U.S. authorities by victims of the violence seeking damages under the 1992 Antiterrorism Act.

I also contest the article’s description of our country as on “the brink of civil war.” The violence has affected civilians’ safety and livelihoods in just two of our 10 administrative regions. More than 90 percent of individuals displaced by the unrest have relocated to other parts of Cameroon and have access to emergency government support. We have offered to help those who disarm reintegrate into Cameroonian society and to further empower local authorities. We are determined to achieve a return to normalcy with all who seek it, and to preserve the unity, stability and security that benefits both Cameroonians and the entire region.

Henri Etoundi Essomba, Washington

The writer is ambassador of the Republic of Cameroon in the United States.

Call a lie a lie

The Feb. 12 front-page article “Tentative deal set to avert shutdown ” quoted the president calling immigrants “violent criminals.” It failed to point out that studies have shown immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than people born in the United States. Why? Surely a blatant lie deserves a brief rebuttal. It would take only a one-sentence paragraph.

Pointing out lies may seem like a never-ending and thankless task, but readers deserve it.

Rachel Gatwood, Reston


Sofia Campoamor sings with other members of the Whiffenpoofs in Washington on Feb. 7. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)
What did the men think?

Regarding one of the photograph captions accompanying the Feb. 10 Metro article “After 109 years, new range for Yale’s Whiffenpoofs”:

It goes without saying that “many older women give [Sofia Campoamor] praise and well-wishes” for breaking a 109-year-old gender barrier. What about the men pictured?

One could deduce from the caption that the men withheld praise and well-wishes from this talented young woman, a deduction that would appear out of tune.

Kirsten B. Mitchell, Washington

Don't hide shameful history

The Feb. 10 obituary for Yukio Kawamoto, “Soldier served in WWII as U.S. detained parents,” obscured the shameful injustice suffered by citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent during World War II. It said, “120,000 ethnic Japanese considered security risks” were forcibly removed to internment camps. The only reason these people, most of whom were U.S. citizens, were considered “security risks” was their heritage. The Post should not be hiding this shameful racist episode in U.S. history.

Virginia S. Albrecht, Washington


Beto O’Rourke in El Paso on Feb. 11. (Christ Chavez/Getty Images)
Equal time in El Paso

The Feb. 12 news article on President Trump and former congressman Beto O’Rourke (D-Tex.) holding competing rallies in El Paso, “Trump, O’Rourke take their dueling messages to Texas border community,” found plenty of room to quote Trump extensively but nary a quote from O’Rourke’s rally.

Unfair politics, even lousier journalism.

Ron Cohen, Potomac

When a lead container won't help

In the Feb. 11 Education article “Powder at Howard runs afoul of NRC ” [Metro], a quoted statement by Provost Anthony Wutah contained misleading information. Wutah said, “While there was no indication that the substance presented a safety risk, as it was stored in a lead vessel.” The substance in question, actinium-227, emits alpha and beta radiation, both of which are charged particles. Such radiation is easy to block; one’s epidermis can block alpha radiation, and a few millimeters of aluminum can block beta radiation. Lead shielding is used to block gamma radiation, which is massless and much more difficult to block.

As cited in the article, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission correctly noted that the primary concern with actinium-227 is an airborne release. Such a release could allow the radioactive material to be inhaled or ingested, thus exposing unprotected internal tissue to harmful radiation. By itself, the lead vessel for actinium-227 is not a sufficient (or even necessary) precaution and should not have been represented as such.

Jim Gaarder, Columbia


Washington Capitals’ T.J. Oshie in San Jose. (Stan Szeto/USA Today Sports)
Flares on ice?

The Feb. 15 Sports article about the Capitals’ win over the Sharks, “Oshie, Capitals throttle Sharks,” described T.J. Oshie’s “scoring the 500th point of his career with flare.” It would have been clearer to write “with a flare” or “with flares” so the reader would know how many he shot off.

John Greenlees, Burke

No color here

I suggest an edit to the caption with the Feb. 12 obituary for Tomi Ungerer, “Prolific writer and puckish artist.” The caption said, “Ungerer’s satirical stories often included drawings bursting with color, such as this 1968 illustration from his book ‘The Party.’ ”

The only accurate caption that could describe the drawing would read: “Ungerer’s satirical stories often included drawings bursting with black and white, such as this 1968 illustration from his book ‘The Party.’ ”

Ted Landphair, Takoma Park

How unromantic

In her Feb. 10 Outlook essay, “Five Myths: Valentine’s Day,” Mandy Len Catron wrote, “ ‘Valentine’s Day only exists to sell greeting cards’ — it’s the complaint of cynical ex-boyfriends everywhere.” Really? Just boyfriends? Why is this persistent men-bashing by female contributors tolerated?

David Sherer, Chevy Chase