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.


Author Marianne Williamson, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, speaks to Iowa voters at the Iowa State Fair on Aug. 9. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

Here is what New Age politics gets us

Tara Isabella Burton’s Aug. 4 Outlook essay on the United States’ “intuitional religion,” “The self-centered gospel of Williamson and Trump,” was spot-on. Sloppy New Age mantras are now part and parcel of the country’s ambiguous but pervasive civil religion.

If you add New Age thinking to (1) an anonymous digital culture in which anything can be said without fear of contradiction or even detection, (2) a widespread old-time (white) religion impervious to critical thinking, and (3) the resentment of scholarship, science and professionalism as “elitism,” you get a mental fog in which many can no longer distinguish between fame and infamy, optimism and narcissism, celebrity and merit, patriotism and xenophobia, truth and fiction.

When you’ve done the math, what you get is: President Trump and his base.

Winston Davis, Gaithersburg

Many of us are simple souls who don’t track all the latest and greatest trends in the zeitgeist, even though we read the print edition of The Post.

What in the name of all that is holy was meant by “woo-inflected” in the Aug. 4 Outlook essay by Tara Isabella Burton? Even the great and mighty open-source research autocrat Google.com could not enlighten me about what “woo-inflected” means.

Denis Cotter, Middleburg, Va.

While I appreciate that the candidacy of Marianne Williamson creates a compelling subject, I urge The Post to cease and desist from providing this self-help guru with reporting and analysis that only enhance her name recognition. The power of the press is a potent force. It provided at least $1 billion of free coverage to the unlikely candidacy of the current occupant of the Oval Office.

Sheri Clark, Richmond

The voyage(s) of life

I enjoyed Philip Kennicott’s Aug. 4 Arts & Style review, “A river runs through them,” about the exhibit “From the Schuylkill to the Hudson: Landscapes of the Early American Republic” at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. I hope to see it soon.

Kennicott wrote that Thomas Cole’s “The Voyage of Life” cycle paintings are held by the National Gallery of Art. That is partially accurate. Cole painted two versions of “The Voyage of Life.” As stated on the National Gallery of Art’s website, the first set (1839-1840) is in the permanent collection of the Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute in Utica, N.Y., near the Mohawk River. I have had the pleasure of viewing both sets on several occasions, having grown up in the Mohawk Valley and now being a 38-year resident of Maryland.

Steven White, Derwood

What we know about gravity

Although I am reluctant to enter into a philosophical debate with a Guggenheim fellow, I feel compelled to venture a few comments relating to Richard Panek’s Aug. 4 Outlook essay, “Everything you think you know about gravity is wrong.”

I am quite sure Panek is aware that the currently accepted views on the subject are those of Albert Einstein, but he did not reference this. Einstein’s views were based on his insight that Isaac Newton’s non-inertial forces (e.g., those experienced when a car accelerates) and the force of gravity were of the same nature. He called this the principle of equivalence. Translation of this observation into the language of mathematics led him to the completion of his theory of relativity and predicted new phenomena such as the change in direction and wavelength of light, some hitherto unexplained peculiarities in the orbits of the planets and the possible existence of what has come to be known as a black hole in space-time. Newton invoked the concept of a vector (in space), and Einstein generalized this to what mathematicians call a tensor (in space-time). Einstein’s advance consisted in the realization that Euclidean coordinates were not the most useful representation of space-time in the presence of mass/energy.

It is most unlikely that Einstein’s theory is the last word on the matter; nor was Newton’s. This is in the nature of natural science: There is never a last word, only improved conceptions. Newton and Einstein made great advances in our understanding of gravity. (Incidentally, Nicolaus Copernicus, Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei had nothing to say about gravity.)

Panek was right in his perception that there is more to gravity than meets the untutored eye. Indeed, a lot of what I have written here may well be covered in the book he has written on the subject, but his essay was not enough to satisfy the curiosity of The Post’s readers.

Eamon Harper, Alexandria

Lost in translation

I am a dual U.S.-Italian citizen. The Aug. 2 Common Sense Media review of “Leo da Vinci: Mission Mona Lisa” [Weekend], an “animated adventure that portrays the famous painter and inventor as a young adult,” referred to the protagonist twice as just “da Vinci.”

In Italian, “da Vinci” means “from Vinci,” which is a town in northern Italy. At the time that Leonardo da Vinci lived, from 1452 to 1519, many Italians had not yet adopted family names, instead preferring to distinguish themselves from others with the same given name by tacking on their place of birth at the end of their given name. Artist Antonello da Messina is another example. Messina is a city on the island of Sicily. Thus, when talking or writing about the great artist, it is proper to refer to him as just “Leonardo” or “Leonardo da Vinci,” but never just as “da Vinci.”

Joseph Scafetta Jr., Falls Church

For your health

The Aug. 2 editorial “In need of a grounded vision” said of Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), both candidates for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020, “They should make the case for a government monopoly on health care if they want, but they should be honest about the trade-offs.” Neither senator advocates a government monopoly on “health care.” Most likely, the editorial meant “health insurance.”

This is a frequent error that causes a lot of confusion.

Lawrence Heinen, North Bethesda


Latkes, all ready for Hanukkah. (Deb Lindsey/For The Washington Post)

A holiday mix-up

In the Aug. 1 crossword puzzle [Style], the “correct” answer to 33 Across, “Pancake at a seder,” as confirmed in the solution published the next day, was “latke.”

Wrong.

The latke — a fried potato pancake — is associated with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, which takes place in the fall or winter and celebrates the victory in 165 B.C. of the Maccabees over the Hellenistic occupants of Jerusalem.

The Seder is the traditional meal that marks the beginning of the holiday of Passover. It falls in the spring and celebrates the exodus of the enslaved Israelites from ancient Egypt. Sometimes Seders are held on the second night as well. I’ve taken part in countless Seders over the years, and none featured latkes.

As delicious (if not particularly healthful) as latkes are, they are not pancakes at a Seder.

Jeffrey Liteman, Arlington

What the pragmatists would have to say

On his way to trashing progressive candidates and their policies in his Aug. 4 op-ed, “Politics could use a dose of pragmatism,” David Von Drehle appealed briefly to the United States’ distinctive contribution of pragmatism to philosophy. He  listed three early stars: C.S. Peirce, William James and John Dewey. While notably ignoring the vacuum of detail on the GOP side, he argued, “Most Americans aren’t philosophers, thank goodness, but we are a nation of pragmatists.” I can imagine that the three pragmatists cited would have a good deal to say about dumbing down pragmatic thinking to the level of GOP talking points while putting the task of pragmatic details all on the Democrats. 

James, a progressive by any definition, is well known for declaring that we all hold philosophical beliefs. Peirce might see the Democratic discussion as progress, because he was concerned with full understanding of a concept like health care. He emphasized that we should be familiar with a concept from regular encounters, be able to offer a definition of it and reason with evidence deliberately to know what effects to expect from holding that concept to be true. Talking about the flaws in the current health-care system, for example, would seem to be an important element in such pragmatic thinking, supplemented by pointing to the overall ability of systems such as Canada’s to function, might we say, practically. And Democratic candidates seem conspicuously more detailed and reasoned than their lurking GOP contender. One might forgive them for striving to be practical and balance impressions and details. 

Finally, we should understand that Dewey, like James, did not espouse pragmatism in a purely technocratic sense. Rather, it meant the opportunity to learn from personal and cultural experience, and from testing beliefs that arise from experience. Pragmatists such as Dewey recognized that knowledge is always partial, fallible and contingent, and so needs to be explored. In modern parlance, talking points aren’t good enough.

At any one time, each citizen and candidate will have opinions and outright biases, but they should be open to a challenge by new facts in light of the failure of old systems. One thinks of our inadequate health-care system as something pragmatists might point to as an example of where we might change our views based on reasoned experience, and the current debate conversations are at least opportunities to become more practically knowledgeable.

Gary Berg-Cross, Potomac

Light in the darkness

On Aug. 7, I spent several hours reading The Post. I skipped over articles about the shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio. I had read about them and other violent and, frankly, depressing events happening in this country the day before.

Instead, I read, among other news, about a Buddhist temple in China where they teach Sanskrit and where overworked Chinese go to find some spiritual peace, even though Sanskrit is a very difficult language to learn [“Leaving the rat race to move at a monk’s pace,” The World].

I read two articles about Toni Morrison — the front-page obituary, “Nobel laureate transfigured American literature,” and Ron Charles’s Style appreciation, “The tenacity of hope” — and thought that despite her death, she will for a long time be remembered for the beautiful prose in which she so profoundly wrote about one of the most hideous, despicable issues in U.S. history, slavery.

In Ann Hornaday’s Style appreciation, “A force behind the modern documentary,” I read about D.A. Pennebaker, also recently deceased, who was a documentary filmmaker and did most of his work in the time in which New York was a vibrant artistic community for writers, actors, folk singers and filmmakers — some, including him, who preserved this time period for others to reflect upon.

These articles referred to censorship and crackdowns in China and a range of horrific times in the United States, but they showed that out of the pit of humanity, beautiful sanctuaries and people arise and, despite all the doom and gloom, remind us that beauty can emerge from truth, and truth can’t destroy beauty, to roughly paraphrase the poet John Keats.

Thanks to The Post for bringing some enlightenment with the darkness.

Karine S. Rafferty, Gaithersburg


Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.). (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)

Is it really Medicare for all of us?

The Aug. 5 op-ed by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), “The facts about Medicare-for-all,” admirably called for a fact-based debate regarding single-payer health care. But it would help if she accurately represented the facts surrounding her bill — starting with its title — because the legislation has little to do with providing Medicare to all.

Jayapal criticized her fellow Democrats for “incit[ing] fear and sow[ing] confusion” by stating that, under her proposal, “Medicare goes away as you know it.” But a HuffPost article conceded that, “as a point of fact, the Medicare program envisioned under [Jayapal’s bill] is not the program as it exists today.” Moreover, Section 901(a)(1) of Jayapal’s own bill states that “no benefits shall be available under title XVIII of the Social Security Act” — Medicare — after the bill’s new program were to take effect.

A fellow with the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center at the Urban Institute recently wrote of the plan from Jayapal and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), “You can call it many things — from ambitious to unrealistic. But please don’t call it Medicare.” That Jayapal refused to describe her own plan accurately should cause readers to question what other inconvenient truths she has ignored regarding her socialized-medicine scheme.

Chris Jacobs, Washington

Don't give it oxygen

The Aug. 11 news article “Trump retweets Epstein conspiracy theory that claims connection to Clintons” reported that President Trump retweeted an unsubstantiated conspiracy theory. This is how the birther theory started. It is how rumors of caravans invading the United States with smallpox and members of the gang MS-13 started. Our president is doing this for diversion and other purposes. Newspapers are supporting his objectives by reporting his retweets and quotes. Ignore his actions, please.

Howard Pedolsky, Rockville

Who pays?

I was perplexed by the misleading Aug. 2 front-page headline “Trump imposing new levy on China,” referring to tariffs on goods imported from China to the United States. These tariffs are paid by companies, largely American, that then largely pass on the cost to their customers, U.S. consumers and businesses. At no point in the process does “China” pay anything.

The article accompanying the headline accurately described how the tariff mechanism operates and characterized President Trump’s claim that Chinese companies absorb the costs as “false.” Even Larry Kudlow, the National Economic Council director, acknowledged in a May 12 interview that Mr. Trump’s view is inaccurate. So I’m baffled that the headline bought into the president’s false narrative.

Wayne McDaniel, Columbia

We may all need adaptive clothing eventually

I thank The Post for giving daylight to the issue of “adaptive” and “normalized” clothing in the Aug. 6 Health & Science article “Fashionably adaptive.” As a member of Dupont Circle Village, a community of more than 250 members of a certain age, I have become aware of the need for easy-to-wear, hip clothing when our members fall into some sort of health mess.

In one case, it was a broken ankle and the need for jeans that could be donned easily over a cast. In another, it was someone who had shoulder surgery and needed to be able to dress independently and painlessly. In a third, it was a member who was in seriously failing health and wanted clothes that were easy to get on and off as she became more mobility -challenged.

I learned a ton from this article that will be very helpful in my community work and even down the line for me. Whoever knows what calamity will strike?

Abigail B. Wiebenson, Washington