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Opinion Readers critique The Post: This comic got the Three-Fifths Compromise wrong

Every week, The Post runs a collection of letters of readers’ grievances — pointing out grammatical mistakes, missing coverage and inconsistencies. These letters tell us what we did wrong and, occasionally, offer praise. Here, we present this week’s Free for All letters.

So they got it three-fifths wrong?

In the Oct. 8 “Candorville” comic, Lemont misstated the history of the Three-Fifths Compromise (regarding the counting of all other persons, i.e., slaves, in determining electoral votes). Lemont’s version is a common misconception. The evolution of the compromise took a number of years, and the eventual accepted proposal was made by James Wilson of Pennsylvania, not James Madison. More important, counting other people on a less than one-for-one basis was because of Northern objections, not Southern objections.

Martin Weiss, Potomac

More hyperbole in your headlines, please

The Oct. 3 Sports section “celebrated” the Nationals’ win of its wild-card game with a bizarre headline: “Dodgers will present a stern test, but Nats aren’t certain to fail.” The Nationals proved that to be true. They did not fail, but thanks for nothing. The Nats are an asset to this town and deserve much better from headline writers.

Mary Anne Sullivan, Washington

Objection, your honor

The Oct. 6 editorial “Listening, for a change” noted with approval the Supreme Court’s plan this term to limit interruptions during the first two minutes of an advocate’s arguments. In support, the editorial cited a “comment” by Justice Sonia Sotomayor “a mere 16 seconds” into Solicitor General Noel Francisco’s oral argument in the census question case. Francisco said “Secretary [Wilbur] Ross reinstated a citizenship question that has been asked as part of the census in one form or another for nearly 200 years.” The justice said: “I’m sorry, it’s not been a part of the survey, which is where he reinstated it, since 1950.”

The rule change is, generally, a good one, but the editorial used a bad example.

Laurence Pearl, Washington

Warren earned that media coverage

David Byler’s Oct. 4 commentary about Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) media coverage was inaccurate and insulting to the women running for president, their supporters and journalists [“Why the press loves Warren,” op-ed]. Byler acknowledged Warren’s “genuinely newsworthy rise in the polls and her status as the clearest alternative to Joe Biden.” And yet he still questioned whether she deserves media coverage. Warren — and every other Democratic candidate — has, in fact, received significantly less media attention than the former vice president. This has been a disadvantage her campaign has overcome as she has climbed in the polls.

Byler argued, “Journalists love covering a campaign based on policy ideas, rather than issues such as electability.” Why on earth would coverage of a candidate’s stance on issues be a bad thing? In reality, we’ve seen quite a bit of punditry about the misunderstood notion of electability. What’s often missing from these discussions is the context that none of the three female senators running for president has ever lost an election and how their policy ideas are popular across the political spectrum.

Byler had one thing right: “Media coverage is crucial and positive coverage is a big advantage.” So, let’s give Warren credit for generating it and let voters decide what to make of it.

Stephanie Schriock, Washington

The writer is president of Emily’s List.

Nothing is 'further' from the truth

Norman Chad’s Oct. 7 Sports column began with a headline using the three most annoying words in football: “Upon further review” [“Upon further review, the call stands — and sometimes you just have to let stuff go”]. It’s an abomination repeated every autumn weekend by referees with microphones under their noses and cameras at their command.

Did fans somehow miss the original review? The dictionary says “review” means (among other things) “renewed study of things previously studied.” The adjective “further” means “additional.” When football officials say “further review” they are calling for additional study of a thing previously studied with no evidence of an actual previous study beyond a yellow flag that itself is only a snap judgment, not an actual study. In other words, there was no original review to further review. These people should just say “upon review,” which, I believe, is what they really mean.

Jim Stasny, Falls Church

More cross words for Evan Birnholz

Would The Post please find a better crossword maker than Evan Birnholz? Enough of puzzles within puzzles with missing letters, anagrams, etc. We’ve all suffered long enough; please, please, please replace Birnholz. Doing his puzzles is like playing poker with a dozen wild cards and other bizarre rules. Let’s get back to the standard game.

Ken Williams, Alexandria

Strip away the lewd fascination

Why did the Oct. 8 news article “American won’t deny affair with Johnson” fixate on pole dancing? Jennifer Arcuri was described, in quotes, as “the pole-dancing American tech entrepreneur.” Later the article said her “apartment has a pole for dancing.” Oh my!

In case The Post has not noticed, there are pole-dancing studios all over the United States. Their purpose is not for teaching women how to work in strip clubs. Rather, they are places that offer exercise classes to (mostly) women and provide a place for women to feel comfortable with their bodies, no matter how big or small. If you have ever taken a class, you know it takes a lot of upper body strength and is an enjoyable workout.

Enough with the lewd fascination with pole dancing. Stick to reporting the news.

Kathleen Atkinson, Leesburg

Keep the apple butter, hold the stout

I enjoyed the Oct. 9 Food article about apple butter, “How apple butter can make apples better,” except for the description of Mary Digges. Why was it necessary to describe her as a stout woman? Why are women always subject to these slights? Digges’s husband was mentioned with not a hint of his stature. It’s an old adage, but if you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything.

Ruth Baskin, Frederick

Women in the news, many of them

The Oct. 11 news section was one for the ages. Not only did the front page feature two iconic photographs of women in such stark contrast — “D.C.’s newest champions” and “Turkey intensifies push into Syria” — but also half of the news pages in the section included a photograph of a woman. I didn’t notice on the first quick read. But as I returned to the section and turned page after page, it struck me how The Post duly noted that women are front and center on so many front-burner issues. Including the photograph of the Ecuadoran indigenous woman in a gas mask was masterful. I don’t know whether I would have noticed any of this on an electronic reader — but it jumped out at me in the paper version.

Susana Limon, University Park

Cruising for an ecosystem bruising

I just finished reading “We know what we have to do to save the planet. But we just don’t care.,” Bruce Watson’s Oct. 6 Book World review of Jonathan Safran Foer’s “We Are the Weather,” about the destruction we humans are bringing upon ourselves and the Earth by our rampant consumerism. The headline seemed to indict the thinking behind devoting the entire Oct. 6 Travel section to cruises.

This form of travel, often to fragile places inundated with tourists, has been shown to use more fuel and be more polluting than other forms of travel. Cruises can also damage ocean ecosystems. Encouraging readers to travel on cruise ships catering to every traveler’s whim is not the kind of responsible journalism to be found in the other pages of The Post. I don’t want to believe that you just don’t care.

Teresa Dickinson, Rockville

Want us to know something? Spell it out.

I have a small concern with The Post’s style, and it’s not entirely personal. In talking it over with friends, they thought it was a Legitimate Beef (LB). My LB is that generally an acronym or initialism is brought into an article story without notice, causing the reader to go tracing back through the story in hopes of determining its meaning.

A representative example was the Oct. 5 article about Kurdish holding camps in Syria [“Camp in Syria at risk of falling under militant control, Kurdish general says,” news]. In it, one met the initialism “SDF.” The first time “SDF” occurred was in the seventh paragraph of the article. It obviously was important — it was repeated five times by the article’s end. What is SDF? Maybe known beforehand to some, but not to me, and I go tracing back and find, five paragraphs earlier, “the Syrian Democratic Forces.” I suspect that, over many such instances, a lot of unnecessary collective reader time is consumed in such back-tracing.

It would be a service if the first use of the initialism were in conjunction with what it stands for, as in “the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).” That would signal a usage the reader could expect to see repeated and would cut down on the need to trace back, or, for those of us who are slow on the pickup, make it easier to trace back.

So that’s my LB and suggested remedy for your consideration. 

Alan H. Dorfman, Bethesda

If you can't believe Groucho, who can you?

As a dedicated Marxist (the brothers, not the economist), I must take this opportunity to correct a popular meme, invoked by Eugene Robinson in his otherwise spot-on Oct. 4 op-ed, “The illusionist in the White House”: “Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?”

Rather than a broken reflection on mendacity out of Glenn Frey or Don Henley, the whole “who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?” meme is a canard, a portmanteau of Marx and the Eagles, traceable to the Marx Brothers film “Duck Soup” and invariably attributed to Groucho.

Directly before the shattered-mirror pantomime between Groucho-in-pajamas (“How he got in my pajamas, I don’t know”) and Harpo (counterfeiting Groucho-in-pajamas), it is Chico (simultaneously counterfeiting Groucho), responding to Margaret Dumont’s rejoinder “But your Excellency . . . I saw you with my own eyes!” who actually says, “Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”

While the popular song’s reference is to someone’s eyes belying their owner’s true feelings, Robinson’s popular usage is about adopting someone’s belief as fact. I would argue that the difference between “your own eyes” and “your lying eyes” is epistemologisticly significant: Rather than claiming you should believe in him because your eyes have proved untrustworthy, Chico argues that you should believe him regardless of whether your own eyes are trustworthy: Nothing can ever justify disagreement with his great and unmatched wisdom. Facts can never be distinguished from opinion. Sound familiar?

The full quote provides a much starker context than the more recent popular misquote. But the 1933 film satirized many objects worthy of this age, including musical glorifications of war and a proto-NRA version of “They got guns / We got guns / All God’s children got guns.”

I invite all Post readers, including Robinson, to review the 20-second YouTube clip “Chico not Groucho.” Then I would ask President Trump’s supporters: “Who you gonna believe, Trump or your own eyes?”

T. Chappell Aldridge, Alexandria

A story with, ahem, heart

Gene Weingarten’s Oct. 6 Washington Post Magazine article “The beating heart ” was an engrossing, eloquently written story. The human drama pulled the reader in. I have enjoyed Weingarten’s warped humor for years without necessarily always agreeing with him, but the beauty of the writing about the events of murder, suicide and lifesaving was remarkable.

Janice Keyes Clarke, Middleburg

A glaring omission from Kevin Blackistone

In his Oct. 9 Sports column about the National Basketball Association and Commissioner Adam Silver’s lack of support for protesters in Hong Kong, “While Silver tries to straddle a line on China, the NBA misses a golden opportunity,” Kevin B. Blackistone mentioned the 1968 Olympic Games that took place in Mexico City 10 days after the shooting of Mexican protesters by that country’s army. Blackistone amazingly omitted a more notorious sports-related incident. During the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, Palestinian terrorists took 11 Israeli team members hostage and later murdered them, along with a West German policeman.

Although competition was suspended for 34 hours, Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage, reportedly a notorious anti-Semite, made little reference to the murdered athletes in a speech praising the strength of the Olympic movement and equating the attack on the Israeli sportsmen with the recent arguments about encroaching professionalism and disallowing participation of Rhodesia in those Games. When he said “the Games must go on,” the crowd cheered. Do you believe if 11 American athletes or 11 Russian athletes or 11 Japanese athletes or 11 athletes from India had been murdered instead of Israeli athletes that the Games would have continued?

Paul Elstein, Columbia

A different destination every Sunday

This is a bit of a “love letter” to let you know how much I treasure the Navigator column produced by Christopher Elliott each week in the Travel section.

The columns are so well written and informative that I’m drawn to them every week, despite the fact that I’m in my 80s and, therefore, quite limited in my travels. Please pass along my support and encouragement that he continue to do the job that he does so very well.

William A. Grove Jr., McLean

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