Discussion of our March Issue

Feedback from our readers

(Smithsonian Magazine)
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To commemorate Norman Rockwell’s famous Four Freedoms, we commissioned four major artists to create new versions for our time. The images provoked as well as inspired. Joseph H. Shaffer, a retired immigration special agent, objected to Edel Rodriguez’s “Freedom from Fear,” saying: “To portray children and parents in the United States as living in fear of being ripped from their beds in the middle of the night destined for a shadowy, Nazi-like concentration camp patrolled by soldiers with WWII-era rifles and attack dogs is despicable.” But most readers approved of the project. “The question of what the Four Freedoms mean today is a fair one,” Donald I. Craig Jr. of Indianapolis noted. Each artist “bravely pointed out idiosyncratic new directions in our dynamic and sometimes struggling democracy,” Shelby Morrison of Orlando wrote. “I think Rockwell himself would approve the results.”

Hamsters of the Corn

Your article about wild hamsters on farmland in France (“Cereal Killers”) discusses the work of Dr. Joseph Goldberger, who discovered that pellagra is caused by a dietary deficiency. What you don’t mention was that Goldberger was an officer in the U.S. Public Health Service, a little-known organization whose roots go back to 1798. Today’s USPHS officers deploy to the field and fight disease just as Goldberger did. This 6,500-member corps of professionals deserves to have its part in the fight against disease recognized by Smithsonian.

James T. Currie, Commissioned Officers Association of the USPHS | Landover, Maryland

Talking Trees

Lincoln Taiz, the retired professor of plant biology, is probably correct that natural selection can explain everything that he knows about plant behavior (“The Whispering of the Trees”), but that does not mean natural selection can explain everything there is to know about plant behavior. Peter Wohlleben and Suzanne Simard are showing us that there is a lot more to learn. Blinders are not a useful tool for studying nature; we should not be afraid of what we might see.

James A. Schoettler | St. Paul, Minnesota

As a reclamation scientist, I’ve conducted studies on trees. In a number of sites, trees grown in circles and clusters survived and thrived while those grown in lines often died or lacked vigor. There is so much to learn from nature.

Mary Ann Simonds | Wellington, Florida

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