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Opinion | Readers critique The Post: Bull-riding is animal cruelty

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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.

I was dismayed to see another article glorifying bull-riding [“Pain or glory in eight seconds,” front page, Dec. 27]. These events show animal cruelty for entertainment and profit.

According to the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, “Cattle prods are often used repeatedly to shock the bulls as they stand trapped in the bucking chute. Bucking straps and spurs can cause the bull to buck beyond his normal capacity and his legs or back may thus be broken.”

History and heritage shouldn’t justify this barbarity any more than they support retaining vestiges of the Confederacy.

Caryn Ginsberg, Arlington

The writer is board chair of Faunalytics, a nonprofit dedicated to market research to help advance change for animals.

We should reckon with history honestly

The Dec. 28 front-page article on depictions of enslavers in our Capitol, “One-third of Capitol’s art honors enslavers,” did an excellent job summing up the data found in a building-wide art survey. Through examining the presence of former enslavers chosen to represent our history and identity, the article provided clear examples of how institutional racism functions and is perpetuated.

I was disappointed, however, to read the description of the Ebenezer Creek massacre of 1864, an event initially created by Union generals, made worse by Confederates. The article noted the role of Confederate cavalryman Joseph Wheeler but made no mention of Union Gens. Jefferson C. Davis or William T. Sherman — the two men who abandoned hundreds of formerly enslaved people to drown at the water crossing. Wheeler’s role was abhorrent, and the presence of a statue in his honor in the Capitol deserves to be questioned, but so do the actions of Davis and Sherman.

A full accounting of our racialized past will occur only when we begin to examine the actions of every person living and benefiting from that system of oppression. We must dismantle narratives that place all the blame at the feet of the Confederacy and take a true and honest accounting of the widespread brutality of American racism. By omitting mention of Davis and Sherman, the article cut the legs off its own efficacy, exposing another layer of social narrative that deserves to be questioned.

Unwrapping the history of tamales

Regarding the Dec. 21 Food article “Tamales, all wrapped up for the holidays”:

The gift of tamales is a celebration of culture and community that extends beyond Mexico. Tamales are part of a regional cuisine that embraces the formation of pre-Columbian Mexico and Central American identity — Mesoamerica, the historical and cultural area stretching from approximately modern central Mexico through Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and northern Costa Rica. And the tamal, with its staple ingredients, is a cornerstone food in the cuisine of each of these countries because the Aztecs and Mayan civilizations ruled the region.

To glorify the tamal as an “iconic Mexican dish” and portray it as a celebration of purely Mexican culture was misguided and took away a staple food from a civilization that extended beyond the current Mexican southern border. And the need to accurately identify its cultural as well as geographical origins not only ensures the preservation of Mayan heritage, it also acknowledges the gastronomic contribution of the Central American region, culture and diaspora.

A lot more can be said about the food other than how Mexican it is. For example, although “tamal” derives from the Nahuatl word tamalli, meaning “a type of bread-like steamed cornmeal,” the word in the Aztec language does not do justice to the spiritual connection the ancient Mayan people associated with this food. The Maya even had a hieroglyph for the tamal, which highlights just how important it was for pre-Hispanic civilizations extending throughout southern Mexico and Central America.

As in Mexico, the tamal has been the original takeout meal for Central Americans since the Mayans. They’re filling fare that can easily be packed for a journey. As in Mexico, they are also an integral part of holiday and special occasion celebrations throughout Central America — a family or a small group might come together to make hundreds to eat, share or sell.

In a 2021 study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, researchers revealed that pits discovered in Guatemala were full of maize starch spherulites, a microscopic byproduct of nixtamalization. That is “a food preparation process essential to making tamales and tortillas, where corn kernels are soaked and washed in an alkaline solution of water and lime.” Because the pits were also dotted with parasitic worm eggs from human waste, the archaeologists concluded the Maya were using the pits as latrines, flushing their toilets with lime water leftover from making tamales.

Marvin H. Andrade, La Puente, Calif.

‘Feel-good’ stories should do better

The Dec. 25 front-page article “A secret Santa for kids in need” relied on misguided tropes about “poor” children, wealthy saviors and what families in need actually need.

Many of us who work in social services are quietly appalled by what happens in December. The outpouring of material donations is astounding, and so is the media’s coverage. Focusing that level of resources and attention on economically vulnerable families for just one month out of 12 means that when December rolls around again next year, there will still be children in need of basic essentials, housing and toys — many of them the same ones receiving help this year.

I am not saying that I think children shouldn’t have holiday toys. In my work, we often distribute them along with essentials for their families. It is clear from this article that those who give the toys get a lot from it. The article stressed that these families feel great about helping others. It was less clear what the families who receive these items get, because other than a single, brief mention at the end, the article glossed over the recipients of the donations.

This kind of journalism traps us. We can’t critique it, because we get slapped with “these folks just want to help; why knock them down?” or “you don’t think kids should have toys at Christmas?” These are losing narratives that don’t allow us to have necessary and difficult conversations about reallocating resources in our communities, the viciousness of poverty and the problems with “benevolent help.” The woman who receives gifts for her child at the end of the article journeyed by foot and bus from Honduras twice seeking asylum, and it’s a throwaway line, but the double granite counters and the hardship of how messy a giant house in Potomac gets during the collection were given more ink. Another hard line to read was the glowing report that this nonprofit has no overhead — perpetuating a dangerous and pervasive idea that nonprofits should be volunteer-run rather than professional, sustainable organizations, which require overhead to successfully function.

Readers would be better served learning more about year-round needs in their neighborhoods and the ongoing work at the policy level, in homes and schools by community members, nonprofits, mutual aid organizations and governments. Articles about the messy, uneven and often painful work of creating a more just and equitable society are not always sweet or “feel-good.” But the way we talk about poverty and those living within its grip helps create the world we can envision. Those messy and hard stories can create far more lasting change than highlighting massive one-time purchases during the holidays. I wish we had a newspaper that was invested in telling that story.

Corinne Cannon, Washington

The writer is founder and executive director of Greater DC Diaper Bank.

Regarding the Dec. 20 Health & Science article “Images show snowflakes’ inner beauty”:

How lovely to see Jason Persoff’s snowflake images, just as I was dreaming of a white Christmas. Wilson Bentley, a meteorologist born in 1865, was the first person to successfully photograph snowflakes. He was from Vermont, where snowflakes are particularly beautiful — as mentioned in the article. The award-winning picture book “Snowflake Bentley” tells his remarkable story.

Cheers to poetic science writing

The Dec. 23 news article “A web of magma chambers is discovered under Hawaii” was a poetic, scientific article. The allusions (“pathways for magma to travel from the hadean depths”), alliteration (“scientists detected surges in seismic activity within separate sheets … surmised that these sheets were sills …”) and metaphors (“scientists cannot only see this previously hidden heart, but also can perceive the convulsions of the ventricles within”) made me smile and reflect on the mystery of volcanoes.

Thanks for allowing the space for the writer to weave a web of words and images, demonstrating the truth of John Keats’s ode: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty, — that is all/ Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”

Keep it strictly business

I’m a faithful reader of The Post’s Business section, but a full page touted an article with the headline “Unleashed: The most popular people names for dogs” [Dec. 25]. Give me a break! It was a holiday weekend, so fewer reporters and less news, but to devote an entire page to dog names is not, in my humble opinion, in any way, shape or form business-related. Please don’t destroy a good section. Business section, business news.

I’m 81 years old, a college graduate and a 35-year subscriber to The Post who has done crossword puzzles daily for the past 65 years.

Evan Birnholz and, presumably, The Post will probably be happy and proud to know that, after spending several hours, I was unable to complete a single clue in whatever it was that was presented as a crossword puzzle on Dec. 25.

I wonder what audiences Birnholz and The Post are trying to serve, impress and/or attract. Clearly, that audience doesn’t include me or many others like me.

Ivan D. Socher, Rockville

The best representation of scoring proficiency in the National Hockey League is total points, which adds goals and assists. The total points metric shows the top 10 players leading the league in scoring. When The Post prints statistics, it instead shows total goals, total assists, total shorthanded goals, total power play goals, plus/minus leaders — everything but total points. Please consider including total points in the statistics, as it is the best hockey-scoring metric.

Neil Herron, Falls Church

We’re all having a moment

I groaned when I read the headline of the lead Arts & Style article on Dec. 25: “Josh Groban is having a moment.” Must The Post, I thought, resort to such a current cliche? Then I read No. 20 in the editorial on the same day, “22 good things that happened in 2022,” which read, “AI is having a moment.” As a fictional icon might have said, “Good grief!”

Paul Boudreaux, Takoma Park

The first paragraph of the Dec. 27 news article “New iPhone technology aids couple’s crash rescue” stated, “After pulling over to let another vehicle pass this month, their car had slipped on some gravel, sending them on a terrifying free fall.” Unless it was a self-driving vehicle (which was not suggested anywhere in the article), the car shouldn’t be the subject of the sentence, which would be more accurately cast as “Zelada pulled onto some gravel and lost control of their car.”

The Post uses this kind of driver-absolving language all the time when reporting on motor-vehicle accidents. (Indeed, a digest item originally from the Los Angeles Times on the same page states that someone’s “car drove off a cliff in Ventura County.” No, a human being drove the car off a cliff.) Stop coddling bad drivers. You would never see such a description of a bicycle crash.

I needed a laugh, and the Dec. 23 Politics & the Nation article “In our stockings: ‘Once in a generation’ winter weather,” about the rush in the Midwest to buy supplies before the winter storm intensified, provided one. The article quoted a Lansing, Mich., shopper: “Never in my life have I seen every single loaf of bread gone from the shelves. … They even took the pumpernickel!”

The wrong way to achieve hygge

The Dec. 25 Travel article “9 bucket-list trips to experience peak hygge this winter” recommended elegant and exclusive inns, hotels and cruises for winter travelers seeking “hygge.” Hygge is a Danish concept described by the author as a feeling of comfort, coziness and well-being that can be achieved or at least sought within the recommended trendy hideaways. The pricy accommodations guarantee spectacular views, fully appointed spas, bathrooms with heated floors, and (frequently) locally crafted and sourced furniture, toiletries and meals. For those seeking carefully curated self-care in opulent surroundings, the settings will almost certainly meet expectations for service and comfort.

I wonder, though, whether the lodgings will supply hygge, at least as envisioned by Danes. Marie Søderberg points out that hygge is related to concepts of shelter, rest and safety. Danish hygge promotes simplicity, frugality and a sensible work-life balance. It is deeply rooted in the nation’s welfare state, which provides an enviously egalitarian society. Denmark’s consistently high ranking in the World Happiness Report does not derive from its masseurs and saunas but from material security and societal trust.

To Danes, hygge means general contentment in the long term, not the convenience of evening turn-down service, the feel of high thread count bed sheets or the taste of fresh fruit compote at breakfast. Hygge occurs when citizens meet each other as fellows, rather than enemies or competitors, and recognize that, in the end, they are all in the same place. It is a communal, cooperative, anti-competitive ethic that thrives amidst high levels of social trust. However, Hygge can prove elusive for Americans. Social trust in the United States continues to plummet and economic inequality grows. With its strong safety net and deep reservoir of fellowship, Danish culture gives ordinary citizens the possibility, space and freedom to practice hygge and to strive and struggle a little less.

As the Travel article demonstrates, the Danish concept of hygge is not only difficult to translate into English, but is also virtually impossible to grasp in our nation outside a context that trivializes it. The opposite of hygge, it seems to me, is a Christmastime message heralding exclusive chic settings filled with one-percenters and orbiting service staff, each in their own, entirely separate, social worlds.

John F. Seymour, Arlington

A new life for a weighty 1944 Marguerite Duras novel,” Marion Winik’s Dec. 20 Book World review of Marguerite Duras’s recently translated work, “The Easy Life,” was disappointing because, as Winik admitted, she is unfamiliar with Duras’s extensive oeuvre. The novel was originally published in 1944 and would be of most interest to and perhaps be most comprehensible to readers who can critique it in light of her later works, several of which have been made into movies, and many of which share similar themes, motifs and moods. The final comment, that Winik will stick with Annie Ernaux, was pointless — suggesting that one French female writer might or might not equal the other.

The Post’s readers have reason to expect that book reviews, like the news, will be presented by writers with a degree of expertise in the topic.

Alison Westfall, Williamsburg, Va.

Karen Heller’s Dec. 19 Style essay, “The Great Deaccession,” was a superb read for booklovers. I can relate to everything Heller touched on in this treatise to book collectors. But I’m more partial to Fran Lebowitz here, in that I also hold on to my books. Proof in point: I have donated many books to the Friends of Rockville Public Library. And also to Wonder Book.

When I retired from my 37-year stint of tending a bar in D.C., my wife and I moved to Ocala, Fla. After we weeded out some of the 2,000 books in my collection after moving, the library here sent a truck to pick up my 12 boxes of books to donate, the ones I thought I didn’t want anymore. So, what does a true booklover do then? Why, he or she has no choice but to go to the next library book sale and buy many of them back. Which I did, and still do! But only when my wife is taking a nap.

I’m still trying to reach the amount that the science fiction writer Harlan Ellison had amassed: 50,000.

Nick Wineriter, Ocala, Fla.


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