Allen Tobias, Huntington, Md.
Ashley Parker’s March 18 White House Debrief, “Pandemic response has become a reality show — and everyone has a role,” accurately and cleverly described the various roles played by the president and administration officials during ongoing news conferences on the coronavirus. The “Trump cheerleaders” (of whom the vice president is a prime example) and “competent government bureaucrats” trying to clearly explain what’s going on reveal themselves with great consistency as we watch daily.
I urge reporters to refrain from asking provocative questions. They lead to exaggerated statements by the president (rating himself a “10” as Parker reported) and to fights with the usual “enemy”: the media. For example, on March 18, the media didn’t report what the president did (restrict entry from China and elsewhere) to make the situation so good. On March 19, it was “fake news” — reporting without asking his opinion. And on March 18, in describing how popular he is (in response to a question), he managed to slip in that he’s beating former vice president Joe Biden in Florida. I hope that The Post continues to report its factual stories about the real issue, the pandemic.
Ruth Salinger, Bethesda
Kudos for the March 25 news articles “This pathogen isn’t alive. That’s why it’s so hard to kill” and “Slow mutation rate encourages researchers.” The interviews with seven distinguished virologists and biologists lead us to urge Congress to hold televised but unattended hearings so that the public can better understand what is going on with the coronavirus and the covid-19 illness it causes and the efforts to develop an effective vaccine.
These articles were a timely and reassuring reminder of the great wealth of scientific and medical expertise that our nation enjoys and the importance of our political leaders relying on that expertise.
Judy Israel, Rockville
Elihu Leifer, Chevy Chase
Entitled to titles
With the new enforced time indoors, more of us than ever are trying to solve the daily crossword puzzles. The March 20 Los Angeles Times puzzle would have been solvable if only The Post had used the titles that the L.A. Times assigned to it. Searching online, I found that the March 20 puzzle should have been called “Anagram That.” Suddenly, the four meaningless anchor clues became meaningful.
Ellen Korb, Silver Spring
Entitled to complete captions
The caption with the photograph that accompanied the March 22 obituary for Wolf Kahn, “Celebrated painter of lush landscapes relished his bold palette,” stated, “Mr. Kahn said his work was inspired by the landscape of his.” As you see, the caption ended mid-sentence. I would have liked to know what inspired Kahn.
Joseph Scafetta Jr., Falls Church
Spring breakers and rule breakers
The March 20 news article on spring breakers in Florida, “In Florida, older set anxious as spring breakers try to keep the party going,” devoted an entire page and 1,400 words to young revelers ignoring social distancing calls, thus endangering the elderly. In the center of the page was a photograph of elderly people dancing in tight embrace. The caption said, “Betty Pochinski, 77, and Ed Wilson, 83, dance as a band plays March 11 in The Villages, Fla., home to a large retirement community.”
There was not a single word in the article about old people partying while their peers complain about the young. That should have gotten a few paragraphs, at least, to highlight the contrast.
Concepcion Badillo-Debusmann, Washington
A Harvard success story
“Race, privilege and toilet duty: Life at Harvard for a black freshman in 1959,” Randall Kennedy’s March 22 Book World review of Kent Garrett and Jeanne Ellsworth’s “The Last Negroes at Harvard: The Class of 1963 and the 18 Young Men Who Changed Harvard Forever,” bespoke his point of view.
I had the enormous luck to spend my 1955-1956 starter year at Harvard College in the Hollis South freshman dorm. Outranking other good friends who were graduates of the Bush family’s Phillips Academy Andover, the clear “grandee” in Hollis South was Robert Patterson Watkins III of the iconic Boston Latin School.
Watkins’s “upper class” years were in Eliot House. He went on to Columbia Law School, to the “other Cambridge” in the United Kingdom and to the Justice Department and the U.S. attorney’s office before decades as a senior partner of the preeminent litigation firm of Williams & Connolly.
Watkins was a good friend in our freshman year, and our families have been close friends for decades. He and I are longtime members of what The Post recently called the “posh” Metropolitan Club, and, with others in our 1955-1956 freshman dorm, our couples jointly attended our Class of 1959 60th reunion in our Cambridge last May.
To Kennedy, who has made a career of laments, another good lawyer respectfully replies: Enough already.
Terry Murphy, Bethesda
An unusual lack of coverage
I opened the March 24 Post, expecting coverage of a major event from the previous day. But nowhere, from the front page to A26, was a column inch devoted to Colorado’s governor signing into law the repeal of that state’s death penalty, bringing to 22 the number of states without capital punishment.
At one time, the national strategy was to wait until the number of states without the death penalty reached 26 before a test case would be brought before the Supreme Court. Then an argument could be made that the punishment is unconstitutional because it is both unusual and cruel.
I oppose the death penalty, along with about half the country, because it keeps society no safer nor deters violence any better than long, harsh sentences. It revictimizes survivors of the deceased who wait an average of 20 years for an execution. It extinguishes any possibility of rehabilitation. (It’s called a “corrections” system, right?) And because a death sentence drains more tax dollars than a life sentence, it depletes resources that could be used to heal victims’ families and underwrite crime prevention measures (education, housing, job training).
Regardless of one’s moral stance on capital punishment, certainly the issue merits media coverage.
Richard Stack, Silver Spring
This drink burns
The March 23 print edition featured historical ironies in the comics section. “Loose Parts” featured a bar named “Molotov’s” serving the eponymous cocktail, very droll on its surface. The first true molotov cocktails were “served” by inventive Finnish soldiers, facing Soviet tanks in the 1939-1940 Winter War, in honor of Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov’s birthday on March 9. The irony? The publication date of the cartoon strip just missed both the architect of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact’s birthday and the 80th anniversary of the formal end, March 13, to that brutal war that preserved Finland’s independence.
Larry Butler, Reston
Big companies and little birds
Regarding John W. Mayo and Mark Whitener’s March 22 Outlook essay, “Five Myths: Antitrust law”:
I have a great deal of respect for both authors and worked closely with Mayo on projects and litigations during the all-too-brief golden age of competition in telecommunications and broadband in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Though I agree generally with their responses to these common myths and have made similar arguments over the years, I disagree with their response to Myth No. 2, “Antitrust protects smaller firms from their big rivals.” They are certainly right that the law has developed to make clear that the antitrust laws protect competition itself, not any individual competitors. The basis of our economy and of the antitrust laws is that vigorous competition produces the best outcomes for consumers. Therefore, the antitrust laws protect the competitive process itself, and they do that by ensuring competition is not constrained by any single company abusing its market power (under Section 2 of the Sherman Antitrust Act) or any group of companies abusing the competitive process (generally under Section 1 of the Sherman Act). The authors concluded their response to Myth No. 2 by noting that “enforcers and courts tend to take competitors’ complaints about their rivals’ behavior with a grain of salt.” That is true, and, in my view, more unfortunate the more true it is.
Competitors are the first ones to notice that other, usually bigger companies are abusing their market power, and they often notice that by observing that they are being hurt by the anticompetitive conduct of those companies. So while some competitors’ complaints may not be true, one would hope that enforcers and courts have become sophisticated enough to look carefully and not just take all competitors’ complaints with a grain of salt. In the olden days of coal mining, before there was technology to do the job, miners (it is said) would take a canary into the mines, because canaries were more sensitive than people to the poison gases that could lurk in the mines. If the canary died, the miners took it as a warning that the air in the mines was poisonous. So rather than simply writing off competitors’ complaints as whining, enforcers and courts would help consumers much more quickly and effectively by understanding that competitors’ complaints and the damage they are seeing to their businesses could be the “canaries in the coal mine,” warning that one or more companies had poisoned the air for competition.
Jeffrey Blumenfeld, Washington
The writer is an antitrust lawyer.
Movies with running times
Thank you to the Post staff who contributed two pages of sports movie recommendations in lieu of the real-time action that we prize but cannot enjoy during social distancing [“Sports movies for when there’s no sports,” Sports, March 22]. Perhaps the staff was preoccupied with the pandemic because there was no mention of films about running. The absence of running movies is noted particularly as the sport makes headlines: USA Track & Field requests postponing the Tokyo Olympics, the Boston Marathon moves from April to September and the District’s historic Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run switched to a virtual race.
For starters, the following films have an IMDb rating of seven or higher and are broadly appealing: “Chariots of Fire” (1981), “Forrest Gump” (1994), “Without Limits” (1998), “The Long Green Line” (2008), “Unbroken” (2014) and “Skid Row Marathon” (2017).
Please let readers know great sports movies also include those without bats, balls, pucks and clubs.
Anne Pitchford Coia, Washington
The writer is head of community outreach for the DC Road Runners Club.
It irked me that none of the writers mentioned the 1932 Marx Brothers’ classic college football movie, “Horse Feathers.” Never was football so funny.
Bruce James, Silver Spring
It was discouraging to note that in the list of sports movie recommendations, which did include films about such borderline “sporting” activities as pro wrestling, fishing, auto racing and pool, not a single film about soccer was deemed worthy.
There is no doubt that in the sports world of the United States, soccer is subordinate in significance to football, basketball, etc. However, I would think that in a list of 32 movies there would be space for at least “Bend It Like Beckham,” “Chasing the Game,” “The Other Kids” or “The Miracle Match.”
If “Mr. Baseball” Thomas Boswell can single out a movie about shooting pool, I would think that soccer would at least be on someone’s radar.
Daniel W. Keiper, Falls Church
Charter schools make the grade
I enjoyed Kevin Carey’s March 22 Washington Post Magazine article, “What happened to school reform?” I, too, believe 2002’s No Child Left Behind Act was a ham-handed federal effort to improve public education and was riddled with mistakes. But on one point, Carey was dead wrong. “As for charter schools,” he wrote, “studies have shown that they have not on average performed appreciably better than regular public schools.”
This may have been true of standardized test scores more than a decade ago, when the oft-cited Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) issued its first national report, which included data through 2007-2008. But that was a long time and many studies ago. In 2015, a CREDO study of 41 urban regions showed that in urban charter schools, students received the rough equivalent of 40 more days of learning in math and 28 days in reading every year compared with demographically similar children who remained in district schools. Children who remained in a charter for four or more years gained roughly 108 days of learning in math and 72 days in reading. If you average those two, you get 90 days — the equivalent of attending school for 50 percent more time every year.
CREDO studies have also shown that online charter school students perform abysmally on standardized tests, dragging down overall charter results. And what about non-urban charters? Though I can find no studies targeting suburban charter schools, broader studies suggest they have average test scores that are no better than their local district schools. Why would this be? Perhaps because few suburban parents send their kids to charter schools to get higher test scores. More often, they choose charters to engage their children who are bored or uncomfortable in district schools. Many suburban charters use project-based learning, for instance, and don’t particularly care about standardized tests.
Finally, Carey’s assertion also failed to capture non-test measures of performance, such as attendance rates, graduation rates, college-going rates, and student and parent satisfaction. The few studies that have focused on these measures also find higher performance in charter schools than in district schools.
David Osborne, Washington
The writer directs the education work of the Progressive Policy Institute and is the author of “Reinventing America’s Schools: Creating a 21st Century Education System.”