Readers critique The Post: What are these popular children’s books really about?

Although we read to our children and then encourage them to read independently, I suspect we adults are finding less and less time to read to ourselves. There’s work, and then more work, and, when we’re finally done, there’s the endless glow from our smartphones, devices that are portals to a bottomless web of information and disinformation from which we emerge both richer and poorer but decidedly less well-read.

Yosef Lindell, Silver Spring

In his article on the New York Public Library’s list of the 10 most checked-out books in its 125-year history, Ron Charles implied that the popularity of “1984” was “distressing” because the dystopian world it depicts “has not been enough to keep it from coming true in America.” This suggests Charles does not understand what “1984” is really all about.

While it’s commonly believed that George Orwell’s vision of the future was a “totalitarian society under constant surveillance and devoted to a cult of personality that suffers no dissension,” it might be helpful to remember that nowhere in the novel does Orwell offer even a hint of the political bent of the regime. Whereas we are conditioned to equate totalitarianism with the right wing, Orwell knew better. Thus it would be even more helpful to know what Orwell himself was trying to convey, i.e., that a people divested of their history can be made to believe anything because they have no point of reference. To wit: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” And, “There are some ideas so wrong that only a very intelligent person could believe in them.” And, “So much of left-wing thought is a kind of playing with fire by people who don’t even know that fire is hot.” Orwell popularized the terms “thoughtcrime” and “Thought Police.”

This brings us to another of the books, Ray Bradbury’s masterpiece, “Fahrenheit 451.” Again, Bradbury never tells us the political bent of the forces the fireman, Guy Montag, serves. We know only that they want to censor literature and destroy knowledge, and it’s Montag’s job to burn books. In the end, Montag becomes disillusioned, quits his job and commits himself to preserving the written heritage of the past. In fact, “Fahrenheit 451” is a story with a conservative perspective.

So I’d ask here, who today wants to censor and control language, thought and culture? The comparison between “Fahrenheit 451” and the film “The Lives of Others,” which won the Academy Award for best foreign language film of 2006, is eerie especially because “Lives,” while fiction, is a story that occurs in a real place: East Germany in the late 1980s.  

Lawrence Cherney, Annandale

More muddying than myth-busting

In his Jan. 12 Outlook essay, “Five myths: War powers,” Scott R. Anderson created rather than dispelled at least two fundamental war powers myths.

Contrary to Anderson’s assertion that Congress is effectively handcuffed in employing the power of the purse to stop war, Congress did so in 1973 to end U.S. hostilities in Indochina. Section 307 of Public Law 93-50 provided: “None of the funds herein appropriated under this act may be expended to support directly or indirectly combat activities in or over Cambodia, Laos, North Vietnam, and South Vietnam by United States forces, and after August 15, 1973, no other funds heretofore appropriated under any other act may be expended for such purpose.”  Since then, Congress has cowardly bowed to limitless executive war power to avoid hard political votes.

Also contrary to Anderson, Congress alone is empowered under the Constitution’s declare war clause to commence war, leaving the president power to respond to sudden or imminent aggression against the United States. Alexander Hamilton, ardent champion of a muscular executive, spoke for every participant in the drafting and ratification of the Constitution in confirming: “ ‘The Congress shall have the power to declare war’; the plain meaning of which is, that it is the peculiar and exclusive province of Congress, when the nation is at peace, to change that state into a state of war; whether from calculations of policy, or from provocations or injuries received.”

George Washington and many others of the founding generation echoed that understanding. Yet the executive branch, including Attorney General William P. Barr, takes the Orwellian view that the three-year presidential Korean War involving millions of U.S., Chinese and Korean soldiers and risking use of nuclear weapons did not require a congressional declaration or equivalent authorization. 

The writer was associate deputy attorney general under President Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1983 and author of “American Empire Before the Fall.”

Misplacing blame

In her Jan. 14 Metro column, “Va. could right a 100-year-old wrong,” Petula Dvorak wrote, “Virginia has a 100-year-old debt to pay.” She claimed this is a debt Virginia owes for “arresting, imprisoning and abusing” women’s suffrage advocates at the Women’s Workhouse in Occoquan over a century ago. Supposedly, Virginia can atone for this now by passing the Equal Rights Amendment.

Though there may be valid reasons for Virginia to pass the ERA, the disturbing events described by Dvorak are not among them. As she must know — and as a simple Internet search confirms — the Women’s Workhouse in Occoquan was a District of Columbia institution, established by an act of Congress and built on condemned land in Virginia. It thus had nothing to do with Virginia other than the accident of its location. It could just as easily have been located in Maryland, as other District institutions were.  

For The Post to publish uncritically such misinformation is not only ahistorical but also dangerous. In an area where so many residents are from somewhere else and lack knowledge of local history, it may lead to important actions based on a misunderstanding of events.

David W. Stanley, Washington

The terrible obstacle Jewish refugees faced

When U.S. universities turned refugees away,” Michael S. Roth’s Jan. 12 Book World review of “Well Worth Saving: American Universities’ Life-and-Death Decisions on Refugees From Nazi Europe,” by Laurel Leff, stated that “hundreds of thousands” of refugees fleeing Nazi Germany and hoping to immigrate to the United States had to compete for “the small quota of visas available.” Actually, the immediate obstacle to their immigration was not the number of visas but the harsh way in which the Roosevelt administration administered them.

The administration suppressed Jewish refugee immigration far below what the law permitted. The annual quotas for immigrants from Germany and, later, Axis-occupied countries were filled in only one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 12 years in office; in eight of those years, those quotas were less than 25 percent full. Some 190,000 quota places that could have saved lives were never used, because the Roosevelt administration piled on extra requirements and bureaucratic obstacles to discourage and disqualify Jewish refugees seeking to come to the United States.

Rafael Medoff, Washington

The writer is director of the David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.

Carson = Castro

The Jan. 10 editorial “A retreat on fair housing” mentioned Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson more than either President Trump or former president Barack Obama. If this is a Carson action, then why wasn’t the 2015 rule a former HUD secretary Julián Castro action rather than Obama’s?

Specifics, please

However, the article also declared that Americans in rural areas “watch the same cable TV talk shows and read the same national news websites as people anywhere else” without providing any supporting data. Left unsaid was the percentage of conservative-to-right-wing news sources (Fox News, National Review, Breitbart, InfoWars, etc.) compared with moderate-to-liberal-skewing news sources (NPR, Politico, the New York Times, the Guardian, etc.) that these rural populations consume.

Given the degree to which specific news sources shape political opinions as well as determining a grasp of reality, a more in-depth comparative analysis of the rural vs. urban news sources would have given readers a better perspective on why the divide between these two populations continues.

A gentleman and a scholar

The obituary also ignored Scruton’s ties to the Washington area. Between 2004 and 2009, his primary residence was in Sperryville, Va. He had affiliations with two Washington think tanks: the American Enterprise Institute, where he was a visiting scholar, and the Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he remained a senior fellow until his death.

Martin Morse Wooster, Takoma Park

A fuller background

While I have no particular opinion regarding the merits of his argument, I do, as a general practice, like to know a person’s credentials and background before deciding how much weight to give his opinion. The blurb at the end of the op-ed said Ellis was a former columnist for the Boston Globe and editor of News Items, a political newsletter. A little digging at Wikipedia revealed that he is a cousin to former president George W. Bush and former Florida governor Jeb Bush and works with a venture capital firm. Even more telling, he was a consultant for Fox News during the 2000 election. While this information does not necessarily negate his argument, it cast light on how readers should evaluate his opinion and arguments. The Post should provide readers with more information regarding op-ed contributors so we can make informed decisions. In this instance, it failed.

Bill Reynolds, Tallahassee, Fla.

How do black boys get coverage?

I seldom read the Sports section, but I flick through it occasionally. I was stopped on Jan. 16 by Kevin B. Blackistone’s thoughtful column, “Suicide rate of black teens rises into crisis territory,” about suicides among black teen boys and a Congressional Black Caucus report on the issue.  

Is having a connection to sports the only way black boys will get coverage? This is a national issue, so why was it buried on Page 3 of the Sports section? Would it not contribute to the national awareness and conversation if the newspaper of the nation’s capital discussed this in a newsier section? As a service to our children and their mothers, please consider this a more newsworthy topic.

Sarah Zapolsky, Alexandria

The wrong take on China

Fareed Zakaria’s statement in his Jan. 17 Friday Opinion column, “Why Trump caved on China,” that “Beijing has not gone to war since 1979, a record of nonintervention that makes it unique” was incorrect. Beijing fought a bloody 10-year border war with Vietnam that only started in 1979.

The Chinese Navy attacked Vietnamese naval vessels in the South China Sea in 1988, sinking several Vietnamese ships and killing dozens of Vietnamese sailors.

To this day, Beijing continues to use the threat of military force against other countries in support of its dubious territorial claims in the South China and East China Seas. 

Merle Pribbenow, Falls Church

The writer is a retired CIA Vietnam specialist, Vietnamese language translator and author of a number of articles on Vietnamese military history.

The real payoff of a liberal arts education

I have become increasingly frustrated and perhaps bored by debates on the value of a liberal arts education or, indeed, a college education at all.

Education is frequently confused with job training. Yes, a college degree is expensive: Don’t buy it if you can’t afford it. If you buy and finance a car, do you not plan to make those payments and enjoy the car driving places you want to go? If you go to a liberal arts college, do you not plan to make the payments and enjoy the learning you obtained? And to carry that on, if you can’t afford a BMW, get a Chevrolet.

I do not remember my father, hardly a wealthy man but one who sent two daughters to liberal arts colleges, ever suggesting that we were there for vocational training. If so, he certainly would not have let me major in fine arts and English literature. No, he said to get a grounding in many subjects: art and music and history and geology and literature and writing and critical thinking and debate and, if I could pass them, even some mathematics courses. (There was some well-founded doubt.)

And then go to secretarial school or nursing school or cooking school or even become an electrician for your vocational education.

Does a liberal arts education “pay off”? It clearly depends on your values. If job training is the objective, go to trade school. If a love of lifelong learning is the objective, go to a liberal arts college. And besides, it will make you enjoy “Jeopardy!” even more as you shout out answers in many categories.

Start the timeline earlier

The timeline of events in the Jan. 12 news article “How U.S. sanctions are paralyzing the Iranian economy” stated that Iranian strikes against U.S. military bases were “retaliatory” and “triggered” by the U.S. killing of terrorist and Iranian military mastermind Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani.

If that is the case, then how does The Post account for the recent downing of a U.S. drone, the killing of a U.S. contractor and the attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, all of which pre-dated the U.S. retaliation? Why start the timeline after the United States or its allies respond to aggression by its enemies? 

Michael Berenhaus, Bethesda

Fielding errors

First, the article said the Astros cheating scandal was “the best news since the Washington Nationals won the World Series” but provided no explanation for this statement. Second, the sentence, “It’s time to get the cheaters out of sports” appeared twice in this brief piece.

Sure, that’s an important concept for kids to learn, but so is: All materials for publication deserve top-notch copy editing.

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