This week’s “Free for All” letters.


From the Dec. 12, 2018 “Mark Trail” (James Allen/North America Syndicate)
The ungreat indoors

What happened to “Mark Trail”? Bring back the Boy Scout “savior of the wilderness” and his sweetheart, Cherry, and their adopted son, Rusty, instead of wherever the heck we are now, with some shady characters doing God knows what indoors and in caves.

It’s supposed to be about the great outdoors! James Allen, get back to your Doddian and Elrodian roots.

Ray Arnaudo, Brussels

Ante-the-other-bellum

I do not fault Michael Dirda’s review, “Surrender yourself to Grant’s candor” [Style, Dec. 20], of the new annotated version of Ulysses S. Grant’s famous “Memoirs” for any lapse of judgment concerning the quality of Grant’s writing or the man himself. Alas, Dirda’s statement of historical truth is, as I emphasize with my Advanced Placement U.S. History students, somewhat flawed. 

Dirda wrote: “In Grant’s view, the highhanded American ‘invasion’ of Mexico — part of Manifest Destiny — was callously conceived by Southern politicians and was ‘from its inception . . . a conspiracy to acquire territory out of which slave states might be formed,’ starting with Texas.” Happily, the quotation from Grant himself ends before the last three words. For surely Grant knew that the admission of Texas as a slave state was a done deal, Texas having been annexed on Dec. 29, 1845, as a result of President John Tyler’s lame-duck presidency and well before the first shot was fired in the sordid Mexican-American War.

Yes, the war was fought with the notion of expanding Texas’s border to the Rio Grande, and gaining additional territory that might allow slavery to spread, but not to gain the Lone Star Republic as a slave state.  

Richard Avidon, Washington


Members of the Encore Chorale rehearse in 2008. (Giuliana Nakashima/The Washington Post)
For bluehairs of all ages

The Dec. 24 paper brought members of Encore Chorale a gift and a lump of coal. We were thrilled to see our concert that Wednesday at the Kennedy Center’s Concert Hall listed on the front-page “Week Ahead.”

But then looking for the back story, we found just this inaccurate line in the Metro article “ ’Tis the season for singalongs”: “More than 500 people will join in a Christmas caroling event for the elderly.”

Yes, the singers in Encore Chorale are 55 or older, but our concerts are open to members of the public of all ages. We rehearse for five months with professional conductors to deliver highly polished and lively performances — this year’s holiday repertoire ranged from Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” to a sophisticated take on “Jingle Bells” that included a rather flamboyant opera singer. The blue hair you might spot in the audience could come just as well from a punky teenager as from a senior citizen.

The Post missed the real story of the phenomenon that is Encore Chorale, now in its 11th year with more than 1,000 singers in just the Washington area, and other chorales around the country.

Rayna Aylward, Annandale

I take great umbrage that Encore Chorale singers were referred to as “elderly,” as that term connotes that we are past our prime. We work very hard to be the best singers we can be, and while we are all “senior citizens,” any who have seen us perform will see and hear the great energy that we put forth.

As an Encore singer for the past four years (I am 74), I think that my age is not a limitation but an advantage as I have the time to rehearse and practice and perform with my Encore family. We are super-stoked seniors who love to sing and do so with energy and vitality. We may be older, but we are not “elderly”! 

Edward Bomsey, Annandale

I'm dreaming of a fair puzzle

Since Evan Birnholz took over the Sunday Crossword puzzle after the sudden death of Merl Reagle, many puzzlers have written to express their frustration with Birnholz’s style, his (overly) innovative puzzles and his use of pop-culture clues and answers. I was not among the naysayers, but with Dec. 23’s “White Christmas” puzzle [Arts & Style], I find I have more sympathy for their point of view.

“White Christmas” evidently referred to blank boxes that yield some pattern after all other boxes are properly filled. Clue solutions included “Hester Prynne” and “Clark Kent,” with references to special letters. Okay, so I assume that the letters A and S are part of the deal. But in this puzzle, Birnholz’s clues (many of which were virtually identical: “White Christmas piece, literally” was used over and over) and his lack of any hint or explanation at the top of the clues left this puzzler puzzled and frustrated. 

Birnholz, have mercy on us poor puzzlers yearning for a satisfactory (and fair) challenge.

Howard Bass, Arlington

Endangering newsworthiness

I disagree with the Dec. 22 Free for All letter that objected to the use of “first female director” (of two museums) in two Post headlines [“Feldman, Hartig hired”]. The letter writer stated that it was “patronizing” of The Post to cite the gender of the new directors in the headlines. I disagree. The Post is a newspaper. It publishes the news.  And certainly when women gain the top jobs at two major museums for the first time, that is big news and belongs in the headline.

Judy Cusick, Arlington

Empty calendar

For three straight Sundays, the very helpful calendar of book events for the week was missing from the Outlook section of The Post. For me, that is a painful sacrifice. “Book World This Week,” although nice, can’t affect my behavior, because the reviews will come to me in any case. But the calendar could alert me to the appearance of authors in the area addressing issues of interest, and I now have to live with the prospect of missing things of importance to me.  Any chance The Post would not repeat this unfortunate policy?

Alan H. Dorfman, Bethesda

Empty magazine

Again on Dec. 23, as happens several times a year, we received notice with our daily delivery that The Washington Post Magazine was “on vacation” that week. We don’t take a vacation from timely subscription payments and expect full service from our subscription. Other sections are typically prepared in advance, and we see no reason that the magazine, without time-sensitive content, cannot follow this practice and provide full value for our subscription — or provide a prorated refund for the undelivered content or missing issues.

Barbara and Elery Caskey, Rockville

Full map

There has been an improvement in The Post: the recent inclusion of our 49th and 50th states on the Weather page map. I always get a kick out of seeing -9/-17 in Fairbanks, Alaska, and thinking how lucky I am not to live there. Now if The Post could add temperatures for Utqiagvik, Alaska, a.k.a. Barrow, the northernmost city in the United States, the page would be perfect.

Ati Kovi, Potomac

Skip 'town'

Memphis has a population of approximately 650,000, hardly fitting the definition of a “town,” as it was described in the Dec. 26 front-page article “Quick to evict, properties in disrepair.”

A large town has a population of 20,000 to 100,000. A town has a population of 1,000 to 20,000. A village is a human settlement or community that is larger than a hamlet (which is below 100) but smaller than a town.

The Memphis area, which includes counties in Arkansas and Mississippi, has an estimated population of 1.33 million, which makes Memphis the second-most-populous metro area in Tennessee, after the Nashville area.

Michele Morisy, Annapolis

Fair and square

While I love that the timely Dec. 25 Economy & Business article “A different kind of value shopping for gifts” addressed socially responsible gift giving, I must argue against what seems to be the article’s underlying assumption that fair trade, and ethical sourcing and production, translates to higher prices. In fact, the opposite is often the case.

One principle of true fair trade is transparency in our relationships with our producers and our customers. While paying our producer partners fairly is an important principle, so is the interest in keeping our prices workable for our customers. Small stores survive because they can be nimble but also because they retain minimal profit margins (among other reasons). Real fair trade is about sharing any profit fairly. Stores that practice 360-degree fair trade are very often the best bargain around, on every level.

Finally, small, fair-trade stores may be found in many areas throughout the country. They don’t have the big-box funds to buy ads and promote themselves, but with a quick Google search, you may find one in your own backyard.

Lisa Ostroff, Arlington

The writer is the owner of Trade Roots.

Testing readers' patience

To identify Alfie Kohn as an author of many books is like saying President Trump dabbles in social media. Both are accurate but woefully distort the reality [“Education is about learning to make choices,” op-ed, Dec. 23].

Kohn is the most outspoken anti-testing voice in this nation and regularly wages campaigns against such elemental measurements of what students know. As one educator wrote, “Alfie Kohn, perhaps the country’s most prolific anti-testing writer and speaker, also opposes teacher grades.”

Please share real facts or expose yourself to accusations of distortions of news, a very popular theme these days.

Margaret Dunning, Washington


Volleyball player of the year Jenaisya Moore led Northwest to a 77-2 record in her four years with the Jaguars. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
It's All-Met, not All-Football

As a teacher for 40 years and a coach for 32, I must admit I look forward to The Post’s roundup of the best of the best in high school sports in the Fall All-Met [Sports, Dec. 19]. So imagine my dismay looking at a scaled-down edition: a full-page picture of the All-Met football offensive and defensive player of the year, a two-page collage of the athletes of the year, and the final page with the top half the first-team offensive and defensive football players of the year and, last and least, the magnifying-glass-scale results for everything else.

Being an All-Met coach of the year in 1992 for cross-country and having a number of athletes who won the coveted All-Met honor, I was appalled for the athletes of all the sports other than football. In this time of equal partnerships on so many levels, it is sad that The Post would disrespect the hard work and dedication of all these athletes except for those participating in football. What does that say to everyone else? They are called minor sports, I understand, but not inferior sports that deserve no measure of respect.

Jerry Link, Washington

Sorry, Ferrari

I found Anthony Faiola’s Dec. 28 World Views essay, “A plummeting peso, fears of default — it’s deja vu in Argentina,” very instructive, and I presume quite accurate. But I have a different view of the statement “It’s an Italian car of a country; on its surface, graceful and sleek. But under the hood, it keeps breaking down.” That comparison to Italian automobiles is not accurate. Modern cars from Italy are great-looking, and they work as well as autos made anywhere in the world. The Post owes an apology to the Italian automobile industry.

Edwin Shelby IV, La Crescenta, Calif.

Is Rockville on your map?

I live in one of restaurant critic Tom Sietsema’s wastelands without the latest trendy cocktails and entrees. However, there are 3 million of us in Fairfax , Prince George’s and Montgomery counties , compared with 700,000 in the District. While we may not have the concentration of upwardly mobile youngsters and expense-account lobbyists that the District does, we do eat out a lot. I’m pretty sure most of us don’t hop in our car or on Metro to go to the District to eat.

The Post’s restaurant reviews are overwhelmingly of D.C. restaurants. How about a column (even if you hide it in Local Living) of suburban restaurant reviews for the bulk of your readers?

Ira Silverman, Rockville