This week’s “Free for All” letters.


Harris Wofford in 2016. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
Another legacy of Harris Wofford

Michael Gerson, in his heartfelt tribute to the life of Harris Wofford, “Service as the path of joy” [op-ed, Jan. 25], wrote: “The content of Wofford’s communitarian liberalism has always had significant overlap with a kind of civil-society conservatism. In both approaches, solving social problems is not just the work of government professionals; it is also the work of citizens.”

While I agree with this idea, I also note that Gerson left out of his tribute a most important fact about Wofford’s public life. In 1991, while campaigning for the Senate seat to which he had been appointed, Wofford ran on the vital importance of there being a national health-care program. He defeated by a landslide a nationally known candidate who opposed such a program. It would take almost 20 years for Wofford’s idea to become law. But as we think about the many legacies of Harris Wofford, we would do well to remind ourselves of his enormous contribution to what we now call the Affordable Care Act.

Bernard Bloom, Silver Spring

Surely we can hear some other perspectives

Regarding the Jan. 20 front-page article “The man who stood behind Trump”:

While I am familiar with the arguments for publishing in-depth articles on people such as Joe Davidson, I am also perplexed as to the relative lack of alternative perspectives in these articles. Multiple paragraphs of Davidson’s assertions that he is a good person who doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about are not particularly informative.

Surely, we could also hear from the descendants of the families whose labor likely produced the wealth that enables Davidson’s work-optional lifestyle. Do they share his rosy view on the impact of past and present racism on their communities? How do the president’s policies affect them? The answers to those questions would provide important context for Davidson’s seemingly endless excuses.

Claire Christian, Arlington


South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg. (Robert Franklin/AP)
Groundbreaking

What a revolutionary and brave thing to feature a white male candidate on the Jan. 20 Washington Post Magazine cover [“What if a millennial became president?”]. Bravo! Forget about the fact that the recent midterms were a landmark in women and minorities being elected to public office; the answer to the Democratic Party’s future success definitely is another white guy who looks vaguely like Michael Dukakis. He’s exactly the demographic and type of candidate who really needs more coverage. Yes. I can feel the change already stirring in the air.

Lisa Dunick, Bristow


Three Mile Island nuclear power plant. (Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post)
Not shuttered yet

A caption on a photograph accompanying Michael Shellenberger’s Jan. 20 Book World review “Was this ex-nuclear official ‘irrational’ — or just really concerned about safety?,” about Gregory B. Jaczko’s book “Confessions of a Rogue Nuclear Regulator,” stated that the nuclear plant at Three Mile Island is shuttered. There were two nuclear reactors at Three Mile Island. The Unit 2 reactor suffered a major casualty in 1979 and has been shut down since, with most of the components entombed in a thick concrete case.

The Unit 1 reactor operates with a possible 2019 termination. Medical research has proved that there have been no human casualties from the Unit 2 1979 accident. Does this input correct the design and component flaws of Three Mile Island? Not at all, but built correctly and operated correctly, nuclear power plants serve a purpose.

Robert Shvodian, Bethesda

An unexpected appearance, e.g.

After years of seeing Major League Baseball players Mel Ott, the Alou family and others in crossword-puzzle clues, I would have bet I would never see Carl Yastrzemski. I have, at least twice: with his nickname “Yaz,” and recently, just his first name [Style, Dec. 6]. Long live the 1967 Triple Crown Boston Red Sox left-field legend.

Steve Bergmann, Gaithersburg

Overselling it

I was amazed by the Jan. 24 news headline “Chinese retail sales are set to dwarf U.S. sales this year.” The headline did not accurately reflect the actual trade numbers in the article. Chinese total expected sales of $5.636 trillion are only 2 percent higher than the U.S. total of $5.529 trillion. The absolute difference is more than $100 billion — a big number, as the late senator Everett Dirksen (R-Ill.) would have agreed — but the correct measure of the difference is the percentage difference (2 percent).

Given the difference in expected growth rates for retail sales this year — 7.5 percent for China and 3.3 percent for the United States — the United States had greater retail sales than China just last year. Clearly, it is not credible that China would lag the United States last year and then “dwarf” our retail sales this year.

J. Todd Sahlroot, Ellicott City


Sunset at the Toadstool Hoodoos in Kanab, Utah, on Oct. 12. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)
A reminder of what can be lost

Thanks for Bonnie Jo Mount’s photographs of what was formerly part of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, in Utah, on the Jan. 21 front page [“Grand Staircase’s next step?”]. They memorably portrayed what can be lost in President Trump’s defiling materialism and his quest to further despoil our nation with it.

Rocky Curtis, Alexandria


Russell Baker at his home in Leesburg, Virginia in 1989. (Joel Richardson/The Washington Post)
The fine words and deeds of Russell Baker

Regarding the Jan. 24 obituary for Russell Baker, “Humorist, Pulitzer winner was a writer’s writer”:

Much has been said of Baker’s writing and wit, and not enough of his kindness.

I was a young reporter at the Baltimore Sun years ago when rewrite man Jay Spry retired. Then, as now, it was customary to make a mock front page filled with stories about the departing person. Spry considered breaking in “young Russ Baker” one of his chief accomplishments. I called Baker, and he agreed to dictate memories of Spry, in elegant and insightful paragraphs, which we turned into a faux Observer column. Spry was proud and touched.

Years after that, Baker learned that Spry was dying of metastatic cancer at a nursing home in Anne Arundel County. He drove there and read to him, from galley proofs, the chapter about the rewrite men at the Sun in his upcoming memoir, “The Good Times.” Spry figured prominently, but Baker knew he wouldn’t live to see the book between hard covers. 

This would be unknown if another rewrite man, visiting Spry later that day, hadn’t noticed Baker’s signature on the sign-in sheet at the nursing station.

David Brown, Baltimore

Russell Baker was a literary dad to me as a young writer. I turned to his New York Times columns, collected in “So This Is Depravity,” as a way of sharpening my gaze and testing my worldview. This line of his needs to find its way back into print, in the city that Baker eventually had to leave because of all the lies people told him as a White House reporter: “Watergate left Washington a city ravaged by honesty.”

Kelly Cresap, Silver Spring

Peace, love and luxury vehicles

Regarding the Jan. 19 “Rhymes with Orange” comic:

I think Hilary Price must be showing her age (or lack thereof). Her cartoon depicted a sea creature giving the peace sign with its tentacle while wearing a medallion around its neck.

She’s young and hip enough to make a joke about “high tide” at “4:20” but clearly doesn’t know the difference between a peace symbol and a Mercedes-Benz logo. What is she smoking?

David Berenbaum, Annandale

Why mention religion?

The Jan. 20 obituary for Tony Mendez, “ ‘Argo’ spy smuggled hostages out of Iran,” detailed his fascinating career at the CIA but included one jarring sentence. Specifically, “Tony contributed [money] by digging up bat guano in caves . . . and selling it to his Mormon neighbors.” While not a member of the Latter-day Saints, or Mormon, faith, I found the reference to the religion of his neighbors gratuitous and unnecessary. Why not just “neighbors” or “farmers”?

Terry Burridge, Arlington

An odious turn of phrase

A hot breakfast, a fire crackling in the fireplace and a copy of the day’s Post to peruse. What a great start to the morning. That is, until “the devil’s own butthole” arrived on the scene and took center stage in my mind’s eye, courtesy of the opening sentence in Monica Hesse’s Jan. 21 Style column, “The sharp gender truth the Gillette ad left out.” Where, oh where, are the editors? Surely Hesse could have used a less graphic and repulsive image to make her point, especially considering that her column was about the role media plays in influencing the culture.

Paul Moran, Falls Church

Will's word of the phrase

Often, the most delightful aspect of reading a column by George F. Will is discovering some arcane vocabulary that sends this reader to the dictionary. In his Jan. 24 op-ed, “Lindsey Graham, Sen. Windsock,” his very precise word of the day “tergiversations” was used to describe Sen. Lindsey O. Graham’s (R-S.C.) verbal contortions in assessing President Trump’s leadership.

However, I was confused when I read, “When the Trump presidency is just a fragrant memory.” It seems to me that when the miasma of the current presidency lifts, a putrid memory will be a more precise reminder of what once was. Did Will intend to imply that sweet or agreeable sensation would flood our remembrances of this president, or was he just demonstrating his verbal tergiversations?

Clare Jayne, Alexandria


House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). (Michael Reynolds/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
She deserves better than 'spat'

Regarding the Jan. 19 front-page article “Pelosi strikes back at Trump”:

I can’t imagine that The Post ever burlesqued former House speakers Sam Rayburn’s or Tip O’Neill’s conflicts with a president as a “spat.” Please stop so trivializing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) serious political disagreements with President Trump, and stop referring to their contention as “bickering,” as though the house speaker and the president were a disgruntled married couple. “Spat” implies an engagement between equals. A more apt familial analogy in this case is that of a mother attempting to correct a toddler.

Katie Fisher, Accokeek