Writing about how Morrison put her “measured and magisterial” voice into words, Norris wrote:
“It had the quality of music, in the way that an artist can take a single note from a single instrument and make it hang in the air like tendrils of cigar smoke, move it back and forth like an old porch swing or send it drifting toward the moon like an owl in flight.”
The same could be said of that one astounding sentence.
James M. Truxell, Ashburn
Words that still matter, 51 years later
Joe Kennedy III’s Aug. 15 op-ed, “My grandfather’s true legacy,” inspired me to revisit Robert F. Kennedy’s thoughtful and empathetic address delivered in the wake of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination on April 4, 1968. As I reread, I wondered whether the current cadre of leaders and aspiring leaders could mobilize and galvanize with the same passion and sincerity as the 1968 presidential candidate did.
This country had overwhelming challenges then, just as it does today. Kennedy’s words were searching as he reminded the assembled crowd of their options. He asked about “what kind of a nation we are and what direction we want to move in.” Are those questions any less relevant today? When he offered the choice of being “filled with bitterness, with hatred” and moving in the direction of “great polarization . . . filled with hatred toward one another,” does it sound vaguely familiar? When he countered with the idea of making an effort “to replace that violence, that stain of bloodshed . . . with an effort to understand with compassion” and calling out against division, violence and lawlessness and replacing it with “a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country,” does that apply in 2019? Is it still true that “the vast majority . . . want to live together, want to improve the quality of our life and want justice for all human beings who abide in our land,” or is it not?
Words mattered in Indianapolis in 1968, and they matter today.
We know who they are
Perhaps we will soon see further references to “Pablo Picasso, a noted painter” and “Willie Mays, a significant baseball player.”
Steven Silverman, Takoma Park
'Rhetoric' doesn't cover it
The word “rhetoric,” at its worst, implies bombast or pomposity. President Trump’s words and telling silences have long transcended mere rhetoric.
A better term to describe Trump’s speech is “stochastic terrorism”: Just as yelling fire in a crowded theater would likely result in mayhem and injury, so, too, do Trump’s divisive words. In a large population, there will be a number of people who are on the edge, who can be goaded into action, who are waiting for a signal. Speech from a leader that lowers the level of national discourse, normalizes violence against classes of people and coddles extremist views, even without directing anyone in particular, statistically will result in some number of people answering the dog whistle to perform horrible acts that mirror or fulfill the sentiment of the speech.
On the scale of a nation, such speech exacts a devastating toll. Call Trump’s words what they are: stochastic terrorism.
Robert Whitestone Jr., Fairfax
The rhetoric diminishes the proposal
The Aug. 6 Tuesday Opinion essay by George T. Conway III and Neal Katyal, “A sensible compromise on regulating guns is within reach,” included the statement that a House-passed bill would “close the gun-show loophole, which outrageously allows individuals to buy weapons without any background check whatsoever if they buy their weapon on the Internet or at gun shows.”
There is no “gun-show loophole.” A gun show is nothing more than a venue. The same federal and state rules apply to purchases at gun shows as anywhere else. They are talking about transfers by private individuals. Requiring background checks in these cases is problematic in a practical sense and completely unenforceable.
If Conway and Katyal support “regulating” the transfer of a gun from a father to a son or the sale of a used firearm by a private individual, they should at least say so. Draping such proposals in the guise of closing a nonexistent gun-show loophole diminishes such proposals for “common-sense solutions.”
Frank Spiegelberg, Silver Spring
A chain reaction's beginning
The Aug. 13 obituary for Kary Mullis, “An unconventional Nobel laureate who made strides for DNA technology,” captured his contribution to science, as well as his unique personality. It failed to mention, however, the revolutionary difference in the world of justice and law enforcement that polymerase chain reaction (PCR) made. My brother-in-law, John Sninsky, and others also worked on the PCR breakthrough at Cetus Corp. Sninsky said of all their achievements, of which there are many, he is humbled and proud that DNA testing,
expanded significantly by PCR, has made possible the release of many people wrongly convicted and, by the same token, made possible the arrest of many perpetrators, sometimes years after the crime.
The replication of minute DNA material has become a signature breakthrough thanks to the dedicated scientists of a little-known corporation called Cetus. Their research was subsequently recognized and absorbed by Hoffmann-La Roche.
Graham F. Bardsley, Arlington
Use your words
I was admiring the Aug. 14 Style article “Boies vs. Dershowitz: A history of animus,” about the conflict between lawyers David Boies and Alan Dershowitz, until I read this line: “As the Boies-Dershowitz conflict has dragged on, Boies, his partners and his allies have tarred Dershowitz in personal affidavits related to a bar complaint and a defamation lawsuit for allegedly bedding [Virginia Roberts] Giuffre when she was an underage teenager.” Why use “bedding” to refer to an allegation of statutory rape?
“Bedding” is a word from a bad romance novel; it has a benign connotation and is a terrible, misleading choice for describing a sexual violation allegedly committed by a powerful man against a girl.
Use your words. Skip the euphemisms and call rape “rape.”
Otherwise, the article was great. Thanks for the careful journalism and for shining a light on a creepy world.
Another piece of his legacy
I read with great interest “Illinois congressman courted maverick image,” the Aug. 12 obituary for the 11-term Republican congressman from Illinois, Paul Findley, who died on Aug. 9. Findley’s foreign policy portfolio included an abiding interest that is not often discussed as part of his legislative record: nuclear arms control and nonproliferation.
While Argentina and Brazil were under the rule of military dictatorships in 1977, Findley traveled on a congressional study mission to South America. The neighboring countries at the time possessed the most advanced nuclear energy programs in the region, by far, and Findley, as with many around the world, was concerned about the potential for an arms race in South
His innovative solution, proposed to the highest levels of both South American governments and presented on the floor of the House of Representatives, was a “bilateral, on-site nuclear verification agreement,” in which Argentine and Brazilian nuclear technicians would freely visit and inspect facilities in the other country as the embodiment of a shared commitment to use nuclear energy exclusively for peaceful purposes.
Findley’s proposal was eventually debated and adopted by the elected governments of Argentina and Brazil in the early 1990s, giving rise to a nuclear safeguards organization called the Brazilian-Argentine Agency for Accounting and Control of Nuclear Materials (ABACC). Almost 30 years later, ABACC serves as a model during worrisome tremors across the globe in nuclear arms control. Findley’s contribution might remind us of the importance of thinking on a smaller scale to solve the world’s gravest problems.
Christopher Dunlap, Centreville
'Passing' doesn't apply
The Aug. 8 front-page article “In Maryland, honors work for all pupils sparks debate” perpetuated a misunderstanding. It reported that Montgomery County “school system data shows . . . more than 55 percent of the  class passed an [Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate] exam.” However, for AP exams, there is just no such thing as “passing.” The AP exams are scored on a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest score. Too many people are under the impression that a 3 equates to a C, hence is “passing.” True, some colleges do grant course credit for an AP score of 3, but many others do not. At the University of Maryland, for example, in nearly all departments, to get course credit requires a 4 or 5.
Murray Eisenberg, Rockville
Lessons that resonate across cultures and time
“Figure out what your own society thinks of as its best behavior, and then extend that to the most unlikely recipient of your goodwill. . . . Expand the circle of those [you] believe should be treated as full, purposive and dignified human beings.”
What a practical restatement of Christ’s commandments — “In everything, do to others as you would have them do to you, for this is the law and the prophets”; “If you do good [only] to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. . . . Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return”
— and of the Old Testament injunction, “Love you therefore the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
It goes without saying that people must be discouraged from doing bad things, and that our civil systems must address how punishment and physical restrictions can dissuade them. But Jesus didn’t tell us what our civil systems should do; He understood that societal norms differ across cultures and time, and that we would figure out how to design those systems. Jesus reminded us of the eternal and unchanging spiritual commandments.
Sarah W. Gousen, Arlington
Obama drama? Nada.
The Aug. 11 Washington Post Magazine article “The Alliance” tried to make a salacious story out of nothing. By alluding to the fact that former president Barack Obama has not endorsed his former vice president or commented on a tweet that Joe Biden wrote on National Best Friends Day about Obama, the article made it seem as though there is a rift between the two or that they had a falling-out. It neglected to point out that former presidents usually do not endorse candidates, nor should they.
Please don’t create drama where it doesn’t exist.
Leaves of grass?
Timothy E. Parker, Centreville
Truth-telling in the debates
The Aug. 4 front-page article “Democrats wince at sour tone of debates” cited the president of the Center for American Progress as expressing alarm at the recent debates’ so-called negativity. But who is the Center for American Progress? As of 2013, its donors included
Walmart, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Northrop Grumman, America’s Health Insurance Plans and others whose profits depend on electing anyone other than Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) or Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii). Rather than wince, a huge chunk of voters, many of them millennials, cheered. Candidates’ positions on health care, immigration, race and the Middle East wars are being called out — as well as the candidates’ donor bases. Let’s hope the future debates are just as truth-telling.
Laura Schoppa, Alexandria
A secondhand emotion
What a great privilege for readers that Sebastian Smee shared his emotional reaction to the multicolored light streaming in through the windows of the Matisse Chapel in France ["Weeping over Matisse is one way to start vacation," Arts & Style, Aug. 11]. While the critic's job is to be analytical, which Smee does superbly, it is riskier to convey a moment that clearly was overwhelming for him emotionally. Even when I can't get to an exhibit that he has reviewed, not only do I learn from Smee's articles, but also the vicarious experience of "viewing" the art through his eyes and writing is a great pleasure.