This week’s “Free for All” letters.

The effect of 'deepfakes' on news

I was surprised the Jan. 7 editorial “ ‘A wormhole of darkness,’ ” about “deepfake” videos, touched on all the horrible ways individual fake videos can be used but missed how the mere possibility of their existence could lead to what is possibly their most damaging consequence of all: further erosion of public trust in news reporting.

If it is known that videos can be faked so easily, how then can truthful videos or even audio recordings retain trust? Even print journalists who use recordings of interviews with sources could have the legitimacy of their reporting called into question. Certainly, science will eventually be able to sift out many of the forgeries, but as facts already matter less and less to tribal partisans, this will give dishonest newsmakers one more way to deny what can plainly be seen and — up until now — proved.

Zach Alger, Annville, Pa.

A glowing self-evaluation

Why would The Post allow an author to review his own book? 

Brad Meltzer’s glowing self-evaluation in his Jan. 7 Book World article “Plot to kill Washington teaches something that is still relevant” was only marginally disguised as a feature story about the first U.S. president. Meltzer seemed more interested in focusing on the allegedly great difficulties he found in co-writing the book and in praising himself — “thankfully” — for persevering.

If The Post’s Book World believes “The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot to Kill George Washington” is worthy of its readers’ attention, it should find someone else to review it.  

Steve Taylor, Reston


Hillwood Mansion in Washington. (Katherine Frey/THE WASHINGTON POST)
Another premier art museum

The Jan. 11 Weekend article “Art museums the shutdown didn’t ensnare” omitted one of Washington’s premier art museums. Hillwood Estate, Museum and Gardens contains about 17,000 items from Marjorie Merriweather Post’s collection of Russian Imperial art, French 18th-century decorative art and jewelry, apparel and decorative arts. One of the finest Russian painters who is considered a major representative of academic art, Konstantin Makovsky (1839-1915), has his most popular work, which won a gold medal at the 1885 World’s Fair in Belgium, “A Boyar Wedding Feast” (1883), prominently displayed in the mansion.

Executive Director Kate Markert has made Hillwood a treasured destination for art lovers.

Kathy A. Megyeri, Washington

Their religion wasn't the point

The headline on the Jan. 7 news article “Jewish teenagers arrested in October stoning death of Palestinian woman” should have used the words “Israeli teenagers” or “Muslim woman” (unless she was a Christian Palestinian, which is possible). Judaism is a religion. Palestinian is a geographic designation. Unless the paper is trying to make a point about Judaism being a violent religion, which I doubt, headlines should be more accurate.

Glenn Easton, Chevy Chase

Who's driving this thing?

The Jan. 6 Metro article “Looking beyond the conventional car” repeatedly referred to “self-driving cars” and “self-driving vehicles.” This is a misrepresentation, because such vehicles are actually driven by computer programs written by programmers who may or may not have any familiarity with, or have anticipated, the conditions in which the vehicles are actually being operated. They should be referred to a “computer-driven vehicles.”

Chip Watkins, Arlington

Nation-state? Not yet.

The Jan. 10 Book World article “A princely lesson for Trump and others” brought a welcome and important reminder that each generation needs to reflect on the significance of Niccolò Machiavelli’s significant insights into the art and practice of governance. He instructed us not only how “princes” actually govern through deception and intrigue but also how they should. As such, he is eminently relevant to our current domestic travails,  as well as those around the world.

A quibble: The statement that Machiavelli was “interested in promoting the unity, stability and integrity of nation states, chiefly his own Italy” could be read to imply Italy was a nation-state at the time, although this undoubtedly was not the intention. Machiavelli died in 1527, and the process of unification of Italy was accomplished between 1859 and 1870.

David Cosson, Washington Grove

To split unfortunately

Regarding Alexandra Petri’s Jan. 5 op-ed, “You may already be running ”:

On her point, Petri is brilliant. But to criticize while splitting infinitely (“to prayerfully weigh”; “to better hear”) is infinitely oppressing.

A wood is cut. Reveals whatnot. Splits shun prepositions at the core. 

She loses nots. Forgets me knots. And leaves the branches hanging.

Stan Marcuss, Washington


People protest outside R. Kelly’s studio on Jan. 9 in Chicago. (Ashlee Rezin/AP)
Not nearly enough

Chris Richards’s Jan. 8 Critic’s Notebook, “What we now know about R. Kelly (and ourselves)” [Style], was an interesting commentary. But he went very light on himself. I kept waiting for the “I’m sorry I didn’t listen” or “didn’t care” or “simply couldn’t be bothered by the misery of just girls.”

Where was Richards’s apology? Why was that so hard?

Does Richards deserve absolution because he now sees what he should have earlier? The music industry needs to step up and do the bare minimum of apologizing to those people who were condemned to hellish conditions because it couldn’t bring itself to believe that they mattered.

I am disgusted at white people, and white men in particular, who can barely bring themselves to acknowledge their participation in racism and misogyny but don’t seem to think anything more is demanded of them. (I am a white woman who was raised in the South and raised to be “nice.”)

As a certain occupier of the White House might say, pathetic.

Jeanine Hull, Washington

It's not just Down syndrome

Regarding the Jan. 8 Health & Science article “An early, safe prenatal test gains popularity”:

Non-invasive prenatal screens are outstanding for detecting Down syndrome early in a pregnancy, but any discussion of such prenatal testing ought to make clear that Down syndrome and the other conditions detectable by current non-invasive screens account for just 24 percent of the detectable, medically relevant genetic abnormalities. The other 76 percent are detectable through comprehensive diagnostics such as chorionic villus sampling and amniocentesis, and many of these conditions are more debilitating (or lethal) than Down syndrome.

It is unwise to allow Down syndrome alone to drive the narrative around reproductive genetic testing choices, and there is danger in letting convenience be the mother of biomedical invention.

Lee Cooper, Somerville, Mass.

The writer is founder of the Institute for Genetic Disease Prevention and of Enlight Bio.

The philosophy is a bit more complex

Most often, Michael Gerson’s reflections on politics and morals are persuasive. But his presentation of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s teaching in his Jan. 8 op-ed, “It’s moral laziness, not authenticity,” missed the mark. Indeed, Gerson omitted any reference to how Rousseau taught human beings to break the social chains that bind them and return to their natural goodness. He did so in “Emile,” not “The Social Contract.”

This education is long and onerous, and nothing in it resembles the performance art Gerson correctly rejected. To overcome false social conventions requires strict adherence to what is simply necessary for independent living — the kind of life that demands nothing of others. One who reaches that end, aware of the frailties of fellow human beings, is willing to help them live better. Thus, Rousseau is by no means a thinker upon whom President Trump and his acolytes would pattern themselves.

Charles E. Butterworth, Washington

Michael Gerson’s Jan. 8 op-ed, contrasting the philosophies of Aristotle and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, was edifying — but Gerson presented a false dichotomy.

Aristotle’s brand of rationalism is reductive and absolute. The dominance of his philosophy led to the hairsplitting dualistic logic that history notes in the millennium or so following him with the Dark Ages, feudalism, the Inquisition, etc. Rousseau’s reification of “authenticity” can lead to the appeal of the guillotine, Nazism, white supremacy and Trumpism.

Life, the universe and everything are more complicated than any single philosophy or point of view can encompass. Every solution has its problems. We are on a false path if we have to choose between our reason and our hearts. Both and more are required. Only deeply considered complex integrations of mind, heart, spirit, logic, emotion, knowledge and experience have any hope of coping with ineffable reality. Let’s keep it complex, folks. Nothing is simple.

William Hayes, Arlington


Jim Mattis at the White House in 2018. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Retired Gen. John R. Allen at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in 2016. (Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
Pay close attention to the generals' words

By merely occupying the office, President Trump has the right to many things, including his choice of a Cabinet. But, to borrow now-Sen. Mitt Romney’s (R-Utah) phrase, since Trump has not “risen to the mantle of the office” [“The president shapes the public character of the nation,” op-ed, Jan. 2], his detractors don’t necessarily feel the president “deserves” all those things. One detractor, former defense secretary Jim Mattis, stated in his resignation letter that Trump has “the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with” his own. Presumably with purpose, Mattis used “[has] the right to” and chose not to use “deserves,” but The Post has subtly misrepresented Mattis’s word choice over and again, most recently in the Jan. 7 front-page article “Bolton contradicts Trump on Syria,” saying Mattis “stated that Trump deserved a defense secretary whose views would be more aligned with his. ”

Marvin Solberg, Edgewater

Although I fully enjoyed reading John Nagl’s excellent Jan. 11 Friday Opinion essay, “A ‘Revolt of the Generals’ for the Trump era,” I must point out that there is yet another former general who has publicly taken on the commander in chief and his foreign policies and international relations experience (or lack thereof). Retired Gen. John R. Allen’s criticism of President Trump in his Jan. 4 Friday Opinion essay, “Our gains against ISIS are now at risk,” was seen by military experts and defense analysts as being spot on.

Allen, a retired four-star Marine Corps general and president of the Brookings Institution, is a well-known authority on our war against the Islamic State, having served as special presidential envoy to the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL (now ISIS) from 2014 to 2015. The first time he publicly spoke of Trump’s lack of foreign policy expertise was at the Democratic National Convention in July 2016, and, as a result, he was chastised by then-candidate Trump and referred to as “a failed general.” For all of this and more, Allen deserves a special position in a recent movement that could very well be titled “Revolt of the Generals, Part II.”

Fred C. Lash, Springfield

What's the government got to do with it?

I found “A long journey to prove her identity,” Neely Tucker’s Jan. 6 Book World review of Darnella Davis’s book “Untangling a Red, White, and Black Heritage: A Personal History of the Allotment Era,” highly interesting and informative about a topic that is not well-known. Her attempts to prove her Native American heritage and the bureaucratic hurdles she had to face were both a sad commentary on our government’s relationship with the Native American population and amazing. For Davis, it must have been incredibly frustrating and anger-provoking.

However, one statement could be easily misunderstood by unknowing readers: “To this day, the National Archives lists the ‘Index to the Final Rolls of Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory, March 4, 1907’ with ‘citizens’ and ‘Freedmen’ as different categories. It’s as if census rolls for the former slave-holding states read ‘citizens’ and ‘Negroes.’ ”

The statement that “To this day, the National Archives lists” the index might lead one to think the National Archives takes an active role in the list that draws distinctions between citizens and “Freedmen.” The role of the National Archives is to accession, maintain, preserve and make available records created by federal agencies. To be clear, the list described above is a list created by a different federal agency, presumably the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The National Archives’ sole connection to the list is preserving and making it available to the researching public.

Ed McCarter, Ellicott City

The writer is a volunteer at and
retired from the National Archives.

I’m confused. The Jan. 6 Book World review of Darnella Davis’s book about proving her identity as an American Indian chided those “bureaucrats” who wouldn’t accept her evidence of her origin. Are these the same government workers who tirelessly work for our benefit, as The Post has described those who are now missing paychecks?

Maybe it’s time to retire the term “bureaucrat” as a pejorative and simply tell us which government agency’s employees are doing what to whom — and why — and let us decide if it’s fair or good policy.

Reginald Rhein, Glen Echo


William & Mary forward Paul Rowley in Charlottesville on Dec. 22, 2018. (Geoff Burke/USA Today Sports)
Include the Tribe

As a William & Mary graduate, l was very happy to read John Feinstein’s Jan. 6 column, “Rowley juggles basketball and law school with a smile ” [Sports], about a true student-athlete, Paul Rowley. However, l do get upset when the score of an early game is not in the paper, as was the case Jan. 6. And when will The Post start considering William & Mary a local team? It is certainly closer than Virginia Tech.

Mary Ellen Coffey, Silver Spring