Don’t deceive readers about the bigger picture.
We are already in a sixth great wave of extinction, “tens to hundreds of times higher” than in prior history, according to the New York Times. Twenty-four percent of native bees “are threatened with extinction,” The Post has reported. We have “insect Armageddon” and “insect apocalypse,” says the Times; the Associated Press reported “the Midwest lost 4 percent of its bugs in a year,” a pace for near-extinction in 25 years. We are engineering an insect desert.
Many iconic species — sage grouse, grizzly bears and great cats and wolves — are already extinct in more than 90 percent of their historic ranges.
Spare us the optimism. If anyone is optimistic about biodiversity, they’re either ignorant or delusional. Yes, we need hope, but we need to confront very hard facts.
Thomas O’Brien, Charlottesville
Men eat of it and die
Sugar is addictive. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t have Food and Drug Administration-approved anti-obesity medication that uses Naltrexone (anti-opioid) and bupropion (anti-depression) called Contrave that directly targets the pleasure centers of the brain to result in clinically significant weight loss.
Processed foods are unhealthy. We know this from large epidemiology studies that link processed food to the development of most of our chronic diseases today. Further, they act differently in our bodies than whole foods do, according to studies from the National Institutes of Health and the World Health Organization and the Journal of Internal Medicine.
There is an abundance of evidence that eating constantly during the day and at night — not having a fasting period — is associated with disrupted circadian rhythm and weight gain leading to obesity-related diseases.
Shannon Aymes, Chapel Hill, N.C.
The writer is a board-certified obesity medicine and preventive medicine physician.
Because I could not stop for Death, He kindly stopped for me
The Jan. 5 Health & Science article “Having a sense of meaning in life may aid longevity” cited a study that found that “having purpose in life can lower your mortality risk by about 17 percent.” Does this mean that if I have a purpose in life, I have only an 83 percent chance of dying? This is not the first time I have seen The Post repeat claims that various healthy life practices can lower the risk of death. Unless someone has a magic potion that can make us immortal, the risk of death is 100 percent. Always has been, always will be. Nothing we do can change this. I urge the writers and editors to be careful not to equate increases in longevity or decreases in premature death as an actual lowering of mortality risk.
Patricia Maillett, Annapolis
Inebriate of air
The Jan. 3 Metro article “Pandemic telework has left some longing for their commutes” said of one woman, “The drive home, she said, allowed her to catch up with loved ones via speaker phone.” According to the National Safety Council, 80 percent of drivers in the United States think using a hands-free device while driving is safer than using a handheld phone. Studies have, unfortunately, indicated this simply isn’t true. The council finds that 24 percent of all call crashes involve cellphone conversations, handheld and otherwise. Some research even suggests that talking on the phone through a hands-free device is more dangerous than driving drunk.
Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul
I was thankful for Monica Hesse’s Jan. 2 Style column, “An awful year taught me things about hope,” about loss and resiliency in 2020, including her fertility struggles and loss through miscarriage. By being vulnerable in sharing her pain, something she shares with millions of other women whose pregnancies ended too soon, she gave voice to their grief, which too often is overlooked or dismissed in our society.
I am glad Hesse still seeks solace in hope, as do I and so many who pray for a better year in 2021.
Veronica Clarke, Ellicott City
There is no frigate like a book
As a Vietnam veteran and member of the staff of the Christian Science Monitor, I was given the honor of interviewing Sheehan when he came through Boston on a book tour for his magisterial account of the war years, “A Bright Shining Lie.” I asked him what he thought the Vietnam War meant. He paused and said, “They’ll never be able to do that again.” He meant the U.S. government would never be able to mount a war in a foreign land for political change. I hesitated, but my own experience in being drafted and serving with several units in South Vietnam made me just slightly doubtful. I said, “Mr. Sheehan, you’re a smarter man than I, but I think you’re wrong.” He paused and said, “Maybe.” Subsequent years have sadly proved me at least partially correct.
I based my doubt on experiences in the war with American soldiers, officers and enlisted, who, despite knowing or at least suspecting that the war was wrong and indefensible, looked on it as an adventure that gave meaning to their lives. Subsequent wars have had a similar appeal, and will probably do so in future. In fact, Sheehan’s book, in its exhaustive examination of the how and why of the Vietnam War years, agrees with my unhopeful conclusions.
I wonder if “A Bright Shining Lie,” despite its towering importance, is read by the right people in this country today.
Jeff Danziger, Dummerston, Vt.
The writer is political cartoonist with the Rutland (Vt.) Herald.
It solaces to know
The Weekend section doesn’t get enough attention, and we especially appreciate how it accommodates the current times. In the Jan. 1 edition, “The movies of 2020 that gave us solace” provided us harmony in choosing the diversion for the evening without endless platform surfing. Her choices are starred. Mine are checkmarked. Movies seen receive a hash mark. Thank you for serving up ease in finding quality films.
A look of agony
Wow. From the looks of The Post’s exhaustive survey of Washingtonians to inspire us in our search for “Silver linings in a tarnished 2020” [Weekend, Jan. 1], almost anyone in the over-55 category has either learned nothing, has nothing to look forward to or perhaps is no longer with us. I’m afraid “Silver Linings” left this reader feeling rather gray.
Francesca Piemonte Slesinger, Bethesda
Of last year’s sundered tune
OUT: “Vaccine’s coming.”
I’m pretty confident that baby boomers all over blue D.C. and the heavily blue Maryland and Virginia suburbs were scratching their heads at “The List: 2021.” “Out: Boomers watching Fox News. In: Boomers watching Newsmax.” Is the word “boomer” now synonymous with right-winger? Grandma’s not allowed to be a Democrat anymore?
A bird came down the walk
I savor the few good-news articles in the paper these days — and the Jan. 4 Metro article “Rare avian visitor draws eager eyes to C&O Canal” surely qualified. Curious as to where the sighting of the painted bunting occurred, I read on to learn that it was between the 18th and 19th locks on the canal. Because I am married to an individual who has not only traversed the canal by bike from Cumberland to D.C. but also knows the locations of the locks by number, I was able to find out where the painted bunting was sighted (not too far south of the Great Falls tavern). But in the future, please help us out by telling us where those locks are.
Catherine S. Mattingly, Bethesda
My lifetime folding up
Five years ago, I asked that The Post place the crossword puzzle either above or below the fold, thus minimizing the number of times one needs to fold the paper to have a nice rectangular writing surface — and The Post listened!
Alas, lately, including on Dec. 28 and Dec. 29, the puzzle is back in the middle of the page. Please relocate the puzzle. It really helps my day get started on a positive note.
John Bollinger, Alexandria
The license to revere
The Jan. 2 Free for All letters “Going off ‘Trail’ ” criticized the new “Mark Trail” artist. I have read “Mark Trail” for about five decades. Despite the static art, wooden dialogue and repeated story arcs (how many times did Rusty accidentally take a picture of a crime in progress and then get kidnapped?), I stuck with it. Mostly, it was for the unintentional humor, but partly, I felt invested. Jules Rivera has given the strip a new lease on life. The characters have relatable, interesting backstories, and I look forward to actual character development. Both the art and the dialogue are way better.
The strip is in good hands, and I hope to read Rivera’s “Mark Trail” in The Post for a long time.
The names of gems
The caption of a photograph used to illustrate the Jan. 3 Travel article “UNESCO adds traditions to cultural heritage lists” mentioned a board game that has been added to that list but didn’t call it by the name by which it is overwhelmingly known in the United States: mancala.
Also, the caption said that the game is known in known in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkey. Admittedly, that is what the UNESCO committee said. But it is probably the most common board game played in Africa and Asia. It’s fairly well known in the United States, too. I frequently see it sold in stores here, even in dollar stores. It’s one of the half-dozen most popular board games in the world.
Wendell Wagner, Greenbelt
Who sings the same
The Jan. 4 obituary for Phyllis McGuire, “ ’50s star shined in singing sister trio,” reported that the McGuire Sisters recorded “Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight” and “Sincerely” in 1954. Astonishingly, the obituary did not mention that these were cover recordings of widely acclaimed rhythm and blues hits recorded in 1953 — “Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight” by James “Pookie” Hudson and the Spaniels, and “Sincerely” by Harvey Fuqua and the Moonglows.
William Carroll, Washington
Wild nights! Wild nights!
Apple TV’s “Dickinson” clearly signals to the audience with anachronistic elements — Death rapping with Emily Dickinson in a carriage ride, twerking, etc. — that the audience is not to take the plot events as history. However, my film “Wild Nights With Emily” was based on the actual events of Dickinson’s life.
Therefore, I was taken aback to read Eddie Dean’s characterization in his Jan. 3 Washington Post Magazine article “Emily Dickinson on Spring Break” of my film as a “fan-fiction projection” that “subverts the facts.”
“Wild Nights With Emily,” which received a Guggenheim award in support of its scholarship, is a film about how the facts of Dickinson’s life were subverted by the erasure from history of her relationship with the woman she loved, Susan Gilbert. The erasure of this amorous, literary and lifelong relationship helped create the image of the poet as the “doom-and-gloom spinster” that Dean described in his article.
It was with great irony that I noted that many of the Dickinson quotes Dean used were from a love letter Dickinson wrote to Gilbert from Washington. He made no mention of this context, or even of the letter’s recipient, choosing instead to characterize the remarks as Dickinson “complaining.”
Madeleine Olnek, New York