This week’s “Free for All” letters.

Overlooked, even in death

It’s amazing that women appear to be dying at a much, much lower rate than men, as indicated by The Post’s obituaries. On Feb. 3, of the 11 obituaries printed, 10 were for men and only one was for a woman. That’s truly remarkable, considering women are slightly more than 50 percent of the population, while their representation among your obituaries appears to be about 9 percent.

Please excuse my obvious sarcasm, but in the age of #MeToo and increased media coverage of the dearth of women represented on boards of directors, in executive suites, as directors of movies, as firefighters, in trades, etc., you’d think we’d at least be represented at par in death.

Maybe it’s time for the news media to stop contributing to the invisibility of half the population, even in death. It seems that it should be remarkably simple to gender-balance the reporting on who died. Surely there are enough women of note who die worth mentioning.

Overrepresenting men is the very definition of systemic bias. It would be nice in this age of cynicism and seemingly intensifying strife, polarization and corruption if The Post could see its way to remedying this one injustice.

Diane Baker, Boularderie, Nova Scotia

A unique, ethical example

As John O. Marsh Jr.’s deputy for House legislative affairs until he was called to the White House, I can tell you from close personal observation that Marsh was the most ethical political person I have met in 50 years “working” the Hill [“Served in Vietnam while a lawmaker, was Ford’s ‘conscience,’ ” obituaries, Feb. 5]. He refused to take the Democrats’ loyalty oath and did not run for reelection in the House of Representatives in 1970 because he felt it was not right to retain his congressional position and commit his constituents’ vote if he couldn’t take his party’s oath.

Marsh took unpaid leave to serve in Vietnam in 1966 on the condition he not be assigned to a desk. He wanted to see what the combat situation was up close and personal. When he returned to the House, he was the go-to guy for members of both parties for a true accounting of what the Vietnam War was like. The resignation and the unpaid combat tour were examples of a level of ethical conduct missing from much of today’s Congress and clearly define Marsh as a unique participant in his profession. We may not see his kind again — unfortunately.

H. Hollister Cantus, McLean

The writer was deputy assistant secretary of defense for House legislative affairs and a staffer on the House Armed Services Committee.

The Post's most invigorating section

Every week I am reaffirmed in my belief that the Sunday Metro section is the consistently most invigorating part of The Post. Feb. 3 was no exception. Just a few examples: an article examining how people gather to study issues of morality [“A time-tested tool for understanding”]; a typically charming Martin Weil article on new babies at the zoo [“4 pups born to mole-rat queen thriving, zoo says”]; a Theresa Vargas column discussing social-justice aspects of reproductive health rights and maternal mortality [“Where is D.C.’s panel on maternal mortality?”]; a Skywatch preview of the impending “celestial kiss” between Venus and Saturn in the predawn sky [“Venus and Saturn move closer for a celestial kiss”]; sensitive reports of tragic deaths and hate crimes [“Hate crime reports hit record high in District”]; and several obituaries introducing readers to people who led distinguished but mostly obscure lives. The Metro staff is a talented crew, and each Sunday it plants a lot of ideas to ponder the rest of the week. 

I have one request, however: Bring back Dr. Gridlock.

David Culp, Fairfax

Thank you

Regarding the Feb. 2 news article “Washington Post creates Super Bowl spot honoring slain, missing journalists”:

I appreciated the most powerful and effective ad that played during the last five minutes of the Super Bowl. Everyone should thank journalists for their dedication and important contributions and for keeping the United States and the world aware of any threats to our great democracy.

Elizabeth Brooks, Santa Barbara, Calif.


A scene from “Harlequinade.” (Erin Baiano)
The difference a shoe can make

I am grateful to Celia Wren’s Jan. 31 Style review of “Harlequinade” for pointing out the ballet’s cheerfulness and the wonderful, “pert, flitting, sharp-edged” Pierrette [“ ‘Harlequinade’ has jest enough to entertain”]. I thought Wren’s review was missing only mention of the roles the variety of shoes played in the American Ballet Theatre’s performance.

The interspersion of a few pairs of commedia dell’arte-style low heels in the bustle of pointe shoes brought a particularly expressive element to the sumptuous costumes designed by Robert Perdziola. When the Good Fairy walked serenely toward the center of the stage in lowered light, her long gown twisting, the little heels emphasized her measured steps; they both dominated and required the periods of sudden stillness when the whirling world of Harlequin grew quiet in her honor.

On the other hand, the caricature-like pigeon-chested Cassandre deployed his heels to two brilliant effects; at times, he puffed his chest out, anchored on the little heels, and yet he could also frolic as lightly on them as if they were the lithe hoofs of Pan.

And when the heel-wearing couples — women in bright regency gowns and their partners in tails — watched the stage from behind the columns, these decorative couples formed an intermediate layer between the general audience and the dancers, a more stately audience but one that, like us, was only looking in on the leaping, fleeting fantasy of it all.

Alice Baker, Washington

Far from first

The Feb. 4 Retropolis article, “A carefully monitored goodbye,” called a nuclear power plant at Fort Belvoir the first nuclear power plant to put power on a grid. But the first grid-feeding plant went online in Obninsk in the Soviet Union in 1954. The first full-scale power station, Calder Hall, in Britain, started operating in 1956. SM-1 at Fort Belvoir opened in 1957. Facts matter, even in details. This particular one propagated that the U.S. plant was first. It was not, by far.

Harald Griesshammer, Springfield

More history of religious teaching

In his Feb. 2 Acts of Faith essay, “Studying the Bible in schools is good. But Trump’s aim is off. ” [Religion], Mark Chancey summarized what’s happening today. But I was puzzled that no mention was made of the 65-year-long 20th-century practice pioneered in my hometown of Batavia, Ill., of releasing public school students on Thursdays for an hour of religious instruction in the town’s churches, with provision made for nonparticipants to remain in study hall at school. The idea originated with local ministers during World War I but was not put into place until the 1919-1920 school term. The practice was abandoned in 1985.

Rod Ross, Washington


Moke, a Western lowland gorilla, is recovering from a broken femur at the National Zoo. (National Zoo)
Monkey business

The photograph at the top of the Feb. 5 Metro section referencing an article inside was of a young orangutan; it was not a young gorilla. Orangutans and gorillas are different species native to different parts of our planet. The photo accompanying the article inside, “ ‘Daredevil’ baby gorilla has a broken leg, zoo says,” was of a gorilla.

Bruce Grant, Charlottesville

Blowin' in the snow

A caption with the Feb. 2 Metro article “As snow falls, spirits are up” said, “A snowblower reveals frozen footsteps Friday over Lake Anne Plaza in Reston, Va., as a blast of frigid air over the region endured.” The photograph was of a man clearing snow off a Reston sidewalk with a leaf blower. A snow blower is a large, wheeled machine (often found in less temperate climates) that ingests snow with an auger and launches it out of its path. I’m pretty sure somebody on The Post’s staff has seen one.

John Connerney, Annapolis

A group's name isn't enough information

I find The Post uses many third-party sources, quotes from these sources in its reporting and expects the reader to believe these are unbiased sources. The Feb. 1 news article “Praise for policies but less for Trump” was an example of this practice. The article cited a study by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a rather reputable-sounding group, as just another unbiased entity. But it is a neoconservative organization. Readers were not informed of the group’s leanings or, more important, its funders.

The Post should always provide the reader with background on each organization it uses in its articles as a matter of practice. The Post should include the organization’s partisan leanings and the major funders for the organization. 

Thomas Deyo, Bethesda

Next time, define that

As someone who occasionally reads articles on the Sports pages, I was appalled that there was an entire article on Sabrina Ionescu and her “triple-doubles” without once explaining that term [“The triple-double threat,” Sports, Feb. 5].  Fortunately, Wikipedia answered my question, but I should not have to read The Post with Wikipedia at the ready.

Edith Holleman, Silver Spring

An inspiring expression

Chris Visions provided a marvelous illustration to accompany Martellus Bennett’s Feb. 3 Outlook essay, “Beyond the game,” which encouraged black boys to dream beyond sports. The look on the child’s face will stay with me for a long time.

Joy K. Reynolds, Washington

History repeats itself

Reading the Feb. 3 obituary for Leonard Dinnerstein, “Historian chronicled scourge of anti-Semitism in U.S.,” I couldn’t help but notice his description of anti-Semitism in the United States in the early 1940s. The obituary said, “He described one alarmist speaker stoking fears about ‘200,000 Communist Jews at the Mexican border waiting to get into this country,’ ready to ‘rape every woman and child that is left unprotected.’ ” Substitute immigrants for Jews, and you get something eerily familiar to the rhetoric we hear today. We have so much to learn from history.

Jeanne Kadet, Annandale


Elaine Chao and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.). (Melina Mara/The Washington Post)
An insider by marriage

In the Feb. 3 Washington Post Magazine Just Asking interview with Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Chao asserted that “I don’t feel as if I’m very connected,” portraying herself as some sort of Washington outsider.

For readers who may not know and were unable to assess Chao’s remark fairly, The Post Magazine neglected to identify Chao as the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), to whom she has been married since 1993. Chao could not be more connected unless she were married to President Trump (and perhaps not even then).

In the context of this particular piece, it was journalistic malfeasance not to identify Chao’s relationship with McConnell.

Judith E. Schaeffer, Alexandria

Respect the home of the brave

Alyssa Barna’s Feb. 3 Outlook essay, “How great singers transform the anthem,” may have captured some of the problems of popular singers performing the national anthem (graphically illustrated that evening at the Super Bowl), but it missed the cardinal issue of the anthem at public events. Singing the anthem should be treated by all with dignity — not as an opportunity for some star to ad-lib his or her particular stylistic capacities.

However difficult the anthem is to sing, and this has been evident since it was designated that title, the sincerity of the singer and the audience should be paramount. Whatever one’s vocal talents, and whether one stands or kneels and puts their hands on their heart or behind their back, this should be a serious event, not a celebrity celebration. I do not suggest that we imitate the unconstitutional attempts a generation ago to prevent the desecration of the American flag and call for a standardized rendition of the anthem or the audience response, but the popular renditions thrust on the American public are an insult to those who take seriously the United States, with all its accomplishments and continuing problems.

David I. Steinberg, Bethesda

There's more to the law

In discussing the recently passed New York abortion law (and controversy it has generated), Kathleen Parker mischaracterized the law [“The banality of evil, 2019,” op-ed, Feb. 3]. She called it “a law allowing abortion up to the moment of birth.” However, the New York law allows abortions past 24 weeks only if one of two medical conditions is met: “there is an absence of fetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.” Parker omitted these significant conditions, at least one of which must be met before a third-trimester abortion could even be considered or permitted by the law. Omitting these necessary medical conditions could give the impression that third-trimester abortions would be elective.

Opinion writers and their editors should require any law be characterized accurately before it is subsequently discussed, let alone criticized.

John M. Whealan, Chevy Chase

Diana Blacker Whealan, Chevy Chase