In plain sight

Elizabeth A. Johnson’s article “Darwin’s Tree of Life” (January 24, 2014) is excellent. It’s amazing how something as revolutionary as the theory of evolution can seem almost obvious once it is presented. Thomas Huxley said, “How stupid of me not to have thought of that.” It was lying there in broad daylight for centuries, and no one could see it, though human breeders had been modifying animal and plant species for a long time. (I suppose they didn’t publish their results in journals or at meetings of learned societies.) And even when the insight came, it took half a lifetime of exploration and study for Darwin (and Wallace) to build a case for it, and another half a century or more for it to gain wide acceptance.

Conventional models of thought don’t easily release their hold on us. We still say “sunrise” and “sunset.” And we keep on calling it a fallen world, though all around us it is burgeoning and teeming with “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful.”

John Prior

Sunnyvale, Calif.


Give diplomacy a chance

Please mass-produce and send Margaret O’Brien Steinfels’s column “Blank Checks” (January 24, 2014) to each U.S. senator. The seeming recklessness of many senators with regard to Middle East policy, especially when it comes to Iran, has the look of a deliberate flirtation with war. It’s worth a try if this essay could prompt just enough of a pause to permit an attempt at diplomacy before guns are unholstered again.

R. K. Hessley

Cincinnati, Ohio


Elements of fun

If you really enjoyed Mary Poppins—I mean, really enjoyed it—not just for the catchy music, fine acting, and great whimsy, but for the challenges it posed, you may, like me, take issue with Richard Alleva’s good, yet incomplete review of Saving Mr. Banks (“Odd Couples,” January 24, 2014). Alleva is correct about the great acting of Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, and even Paul Giamatti, but he shortchanges the redemption story of Mr. Banks. In Mary Poppins, it wasn’t just the Sherman brothers’ great tunes and lyrics, the daffy dialogue, or the talented David Tomlinson’s portrayal of Mr. Banks that captured the metanoia required for Mary Poppins’s redemptive intervention to be realized. No, it was seeing what this new film portrayed—memory itself redeemed. Even through a gossamer lens, I loved the scenes of her Australian childhood. Mr. Banks—and through him Mrs. Banks, their children, the greedy old banker, his sons, and all of class-conscious pre–Great War Great Britain—was redeemed. Would that it were so!

This time I saw the “prequel” with my own teenagers, who, for all their sophistication, loved it as much as I loved Mary Poppins when I was their age. After viewing the film, we just wanted—symbolically at least—to go fly a kite.

David E. Pasinski

Fayetteville, N.Y.



A small point on the Niebuhr conversation between Bacevich and Fredericks in “American Innocence” (January 24, 2014): Reinhold Niebuhr was not a Lutheran. He was ordained in the Evangelical Church, a German low-church denomination of the Reformed tradition. The Evangelical Church was a sort of cousin to what is now the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, but it went on to become part of the United Church of Christ.

Daniel Schultz

Fond du Lac, Wis.


Published in the February 21, 2014 issue: View Contents
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