Friday, November 30, 2018

Elvis’s legacy, the origins of turkey and a possible ‘super Earth’

This week’s “Free for All” letters.

Don't be cruel to Elvis's legacy

Cena as the WWE World Heavyweight Champion in 2013.Regarding Chris Richards’s Nov. 16 Critic’s Notebook essay, “With Medal of Freedom for Elvis, Trump sends a message” [Style]:

Richards is a purveyor of social crutches to obscure the failures of cultural leadership. Apparently, it is unseemly for a white man (Elvis Presley) to have gospel roots or sing traditionally black American music. Richards seemed to have a memory lapse in ignoring that white audiences then and now make great black American musicians rich beyond avarice.

Presley was an entertainer of great import. He sang and created music. He promoted it better than most. 

Cast not the first stone — unless it is the Rolling Stones. The movie business and music business have enough sinister problems. How about reviewing them?

Wilson Faris, Gaithersburg

Chris Richards should look up the accomplishments of Elvis Presley.

Presley did more to further black music than any artist on the planet. He made it acceptable and paved the way. Almost all rock historians agree.

The article quoted an obscure obscenity from one racist musician but did not include even one of hundreds of positive quotes from his rivals of the day, who loved Presley and his uniting spirit.

Sonya Lynn Snyder, Palm Coast, Fla.

The writer is a founder and administrator of the Facebook page Elvis Aficionados, theOn-Line Elvis Club With Class.

Chris Richards criticized Elvis Presley’s racial appropriation and referred to Chuck D and Public Enemy as an example of opposition to the Presley legacy. Yet during their career, Public Enemy publicly supported, cited and endorsed the message of Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader and an avowed anti-Semite. Farrakhan has made statements such as “satanic Jews have infected the whole world with poison and deceit.” Professor Griff, a member of Public Enemy during the release of “Fight the Power” (the song to which Richards referred in his piece), stated “Jews are responsible for the majority of the wickedness in the world” in an interview with the Washington Times. 

Perhaps what makes America great is that we can produce talents such as Elvis Presley and Public Enemy.  

Barrett Jones, Washington

No substitute for serving

The Nov. 19 front-page article “President at risk of alienating military” referred to President Trump’s attendance at the New York Military Academy. That could convey an illusion of equating attendance at a military high school as a substitute for military service. It is an illusion the president has consistently promoted.

Equating military service with attendance at a high school military academy is ludicrous nonsense. I served at three high school military academies, as a teacher and academic dean. My experience was that those schools serve mostly as repositories for wayward teenagers of wealthy parents.

Al Dahler, Staunton, Va.

The writer is a retired Air Force major.

Sweep NASCAR under the rugby

Well, it has happened again. On Nov. 17, the Irish rugby team defeated the famous New Zealand All Blacks for the first time on Irish soil. The All Blacks are the No. 1 team in the world and have been for the past nine years. The Irish are the No. 2 team. They have been playing each other for more than 100 years, and the Irish had never beaten them anywhere until they played them in Chicago’s Soldier Field in 2016. 

There was nothing in the Sports section — not a sentence nor even a word in the “Digest” section.

This was so reminiscent of The Post’s lack of coverage or disinterest of international rugby matches. The Welsh rugby team played and defeated the South Africa Springboks at RFK Stadium in June. Not a word about these two great teams, and the game was played in our own backyard. I think that’s disgraceful. Rugby union is a truly exciting game: 15 people per side with one referee, who orchestrates 80 minutes of continuous play. It’s worth at least a mention. I know it’s not NASCAR.

Kevin Dyer, Brookeville, Md.

More important than a tweet

In the Nov. 18 paper, readers were treated to a front-page above-the-fold tweet from a former tennis star who is playing the gender card in regard to the selection of the speaker of the House [“Speaker battle sets off national campaign”], while we had to go to Page A12 to see a bottom-of-the-page article telling us that our “U.S.-led coalition” may have been responsible for killing dozens of civilians in Syria near the Iraqi border [“U.S. tied to airstrikes, alleged civilian deaths”]. Which item is more important? Where are our journalistic priorities?

Betty Booker, Salisbury


I was dismayed that The Post devoted four columns to an “artist impression” of a possible planet orbiting Barnard’s Star, six light-years from Earth. As the accompanying Nov. 16 Politics & the Nation article, “A big, cold ‘super Earth’ — and, relatively speaking, it’s right next door,” made clear, astronomers are not 100 percent certain the planet actually exists, and, if it does, they do not know whether it is rocky like Earth or gaseous like Neptune. Yet the large image, which a casual reader might mistake for a photograph, is unambiguous: The planet is rocky, with peaks and valleys and with clouds in its sky. The unnamed artist is entitled to his or her personal impression, of course, but for publication it should be bounded by the available science.

Harvey Leifert, Bethesda

Weighty measures

Oliver Morton’s Nov. 18 Outlook essay about a change in the definition of the kilogram, “The inevitable, tragic — and ultimately necessary — death of the kilogram,” stated that “in almost all countries . . . the kilogram is the official unit of mass. Only the United States, Liberia and Myanmar have held out.” It turns out the United States is not as backward as this implies.

In 1893, T.C. Mendenhall, superintendent of weights and measures, issued an order establishing the legal basis of U.S. weight as the kilogram and of length as the meter. The customary units we use legally are defined in terms of the International System of Units units. As I used to tell my students, an inch is exactly 2.54 centimeters. It’s not just a good idea; it’s the law.

Robert A. Morse, Washington

Just two orders of magnitude

If GE’s debt-to-equity ratio really “stood at 3.7 percent at the end of the third quarter” as reported in the Nov. 13 Business article “GE plans asset sales to cut debt, CEO says,” debt service would be no problem, GE would have no need to sell off assets, and the ratio might warrant a mention in the press only for being imprudently low. The debt-to-equity ratio is calculated by dividing a company’s total debt by its equity. GE’s was 3.7 — meaning debt was 3.7 times equity, or 370 percent — not 3.7 percent. The article’s observation that this is more than four times the industry average is still valid, since that average is 0.77 — not the reported 0.77 percent. Numbers do matter.

Frank P. Homburger, Alexandria

Years and man-years

The Nov. 16 Politics & the Nation article “Veterans aren’t getting their GI Bill payments — because new formulas broke VA’s decades-old computers” stated that 16,800 wasted man-hours is nearly two years. Assuming three weeks off for vacation and holidays, a person works 49 weeks. Times 40 hours per week, that is 1,960 man-hours per year. By my algorithm, 16,800 man-hours divided by 1,960 equals 8.5 years, not nearly two.

Also, as an IT practitioner and a veteran, I would like to know what kind of hardware and software the Department of Veterans Affairs is using for GI Bill processing. Is finding people with antiquated skills the problem, or is it mainly bad management? The article described the impact but did little to research the root causes of this failure.

Glenn Kerr, Davidsonville

The roots of belief

Costica Bradatan’s Nov. 18 Book World review, “The reason so many atheists think like believers,” provided a faithful sentence or two on contrarian John Gray’s “Seven Types of Atheism” but little critical analysis. This is a shame because so much more can be said about exposing and dismantling the web of popular ideas, convenient labels and lazy thinking that makes up not just atheist philosophy but religious orthodoxy and their common sources in mental life.

It is useful to say they are similar in that regard. Take Gray’s provocative argument that there is no such thing as secularism since “secular thought is mostly composed of repressed religion” and, as Bradatan put it, atheism is “rarely to be found in a pure state. Philosophically, it’s a position difficult to articulate independently of religion.” But arguing this way seems just to be caught in the religious side of popular ideas, convenient labels and lazy thinking as was claimed for atheism.

Religious claims, it might be argued, are like some of today’s alt-facts: echoes in an ecosystem repeated by determined factions. In the language of today, religious positions float on the phenomena of cognitive laziness and the “fluency effect.” It is a growing psychological realization that people judge the accuracy of information by how easy claims are to recall or process. Religious messages are familiar like that.

In contrast, contemporary neurophysiological and anthropological research into the roots of belief suggest a common origin for religious and nonreligious belief in cognitive processes that operate on narratives and rituals to construct belief systems in individuals and social groups. Such research may provide more light than heat on the underlying issue of why believers’ and nonbelievers’ stances are related to knowledge, real understanding and mental life.

Gary Berg-Cross, Potomac

The writer is a member of the board of the Washington Area Secular Humanists.

Insult to injury

Was the point of mentioning Alex Smith’s four-year, $94 million contract extension, in the caption of the Nov. 19 front-page photograph of him in agony after suffering a horrific injury, that the Redskins now won’t get the benefit of their bargain? What else is the reader to conclude? Without the financial information, the explanation would be appropriate: “Alex Smith is carted off the field in the third quarter after breaking two bones in his right leg. He will miss the remainder of the season.” You might have added “and the prospects for his full recovery from this injury are not clear.”

Adam Wenner, Washington

Good gamer

Thank you for a fine and balanced review of the Notre Dame vs. Syracuse football game. The Nov. 18 Sports article “Irish render Orange’s potent offense virtually pointless” was a very good write-up of the No. 3 team defeating the No. 12 team. The article accurately described the big risk to Notre Dame’s football future, which is the potential hiring away of defensive coordinator Clark Lea. Coach Brian Kelly has done very well, but the defense has won a lot of these games.

Henry J. Gordon, Falls Church

The nation's librarian

I was very sad to hear about the death of James H. Billington [“He saw the Library of Congress as a ‘catalyst,’ ” Metro, Nov. 22]. In my role as head of the Chinese and Korean Section, I worked with him often until I retired in 2004, after 47 years at the library. When Billington became librarian of Congress, I had already served under his predecessors Lawrence Mumford and Daniel J. Boorstin. He came in with ambition, a love of reading and an eagerness to share the wonders of the Library of Congress with people from all over. 

Of course, his tenure was not always easy. In later years, he was met with a challenging time for libraries and with deputies who often led him astray. His accomplishments are often overshadowed by his later missteps. While he may not have been the most successful of all the librarians, his love of the library cannot be matched.

I first knew Billington when he was director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. He had a clear passion for knowledge, respect for learning and interests that went far beyond his own area of study. He was a good man, a great scholar and a dear friend. He will be missed and remembered.

Chi Wang, McLean

Bordering on condescending

Who would dare judge Rep. Elijah E. Cummings’s (D-Md.) spirituality as “border[ing] on hokey” [“From pain to power,” Style, Nov. 20]? Where was the Style editor’s delete button to save an otherwise interesting profile of a remarkable man?

Kitty Kelley, Washington

From the other India

In his Nov. 21 Wednesday Opinion essay, “The turkey made my family American,” Oanh Ngo Usadi wrote that, in French, the origin of the turkey “is assigned to India.” This is a common error, probably because the French word for “turkey” is “dinde,” i.e., “from India.” However, the “India” referred to in French is the Americas, once commonly called the Indies.

Maria Brau, Washington

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