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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

We let a number of unusually long letters stand unedited today because we liked them so well.

Age Is Just a Number

V & Z: You raised good points about the impracticality of comparing each president's age to their life expectancy at birth. I think an appropriate solution would be to consider each president's life expectancy at inauguration, given their age at inauguration (and gender). One could compute the expected years remaining of a president's life on inauguration day.

For example, a 65-year-old white man in 1989 could expect to live 15 more years, according to the CDC. In 1950 (no value for 1949), he could expect to live only 12.8 more years. This makes Harry S. Truman (upon election in 1948, not taking office in 1945) a little bit "older" than George H. W. Bush in 1988.

This paper, and a bit of reasonable linear interpolation, suggest that George Washington, age 57 in 1789, could have expected to live about 15-16 years after inauguration. John Adams, at 61 in 1797, had an expected 13-14 years remaining. (John Adams considerably exceeded that expectancy, and Washington did not live as long as expected.) I think from this that Washington and Adams were comparable to Bush Sr. and Truman. A.T., Union City, CA

V & Z: Bonus question, but probably harder to get the data, especially historical: How likely candidates are to develop cognitive impairment while in office (dementia, Alzheimers, etc.). Not that cognitive impairment is necessarily a show-stopper these days, as illustrated by the current occupant of the Oval Office, who was elected with a "Mean Forrest Gump" profile. N.T., Dallas, TX

V & Z: A thought on how to normalize such a chart that you ran with the various presidential ages: the simplest thing to do is to normalize with respect to the average life expectancies of adults that get to their age when they took office. There's a chart that does this here. It only goes back to 1850, but I suspect you could find data from the earlier decades. In any case, what this tells us is that if we take the age at which people become president we could use that as our normalization: What was the life expectancy for a 55-year old in say, 1900? And check that against the presidential age.

For example, Theodore Roosevelt became president in 1901. He was 42, and according to the chart, his life expectancy was 27.74 years beyond 40. He was relatively young, even by standards of the day, for such an office. Compare him to John F Kennedy, though, and we see that Kennedy could expect to live another 31 years or so. Consequently, Kennedy would be "younger" than Roosevelt, by a significant margin, given his life expectancy.

Ulysses S. Grant, on the other hand, took office in 1869, was 46 when he took office, which again is relatively young (he is one of the younger presidents we have had) and in 1870 he could expect to live about 23 years or so, given the numbers in the table. Again, he had a while to go. But Bill Clinton, who was about the same age, could expect to live another 30 years. Bill Clinton was only a few months younger than Grant chronologically, but taken against life expectancy he is considerably "younger."

Taking an outlier, Bernie Sanders would be 79 on his inauguration if he won the presidency, and could expect to live another 8 or 9 years—enough to finish two terms. He would actually be in better shape (actuarially speaking) than just about anyone elected in the 20th century. Ronald Reagan could only expect to live another dozen or so years (11.35 to be exact) when he was elected.

Anyhow this is just some spitballing, but I suspect one could work out a chart with this kind of data—compare ages and life expectancy at that age of inauguration and see who is younger by the standards of the day. J.E., New York, NY

Note: We probably can't pull off N.T.'s proposal, due to the lack of accurate data, but maybe we'll try to do a piece on expectancy at time of inauguration, based on these suggestions.

Presidential Psychology

V & Z: I really liked your piece about cognitive dissonance and Trump supporters. As a biopsychology professor, I do have to point out that the anterior cingulate cortex is also involved in a lot of non-emotional conflicts, such as the Stroop effect when you're asked to name the color of the word "blue" written in red ink.

I also wanted to share this humorous example of cognitive dissonance on full display at a Trump rally. When I teach introduction to psychology, this clip is my go-to example, because you can see how uncomfortable the Trump supporters get when confronted with their inconsistent attitudes. The last guy is particularly good. E.W., Skaneateles, NY

Note: As (Z)'s grandmother used to say, "that guy's not the sharpest knife in the drawer."

V & Z: My daughter is getting her MS in psychology soon and she described Donald Trump's speech about windmills as a "word salad." This is actually a diagnostic term used in the psych field.

I would say it is an example of "logorrhea", which is "a communication disorder that causes excessive wordiness and repetitiveness, which can sometimes lead to incoherency." I'm not sure if the latter is actually in the DSM. F.L., Denton, TX

Note: The formal term for "word salad" is schizophasia. Also, both that and logorrhea are indeed addressed in DSM-V.

A Helpful Correction

V & Z: In response to one of your comments in last week's Sunday Mailbag, you referred to two of (Z)'s students who attempted suicide as not having had "success" in their attempts, indicating that they were still alive. Of course, I'm happy to hear that they are alive, and I gather from the fact that those students confided that very personal information with (Z), that maybe he had some role in helping them, so thank you for showing compassion toward your students.

As a college professor and mental health professional who has worked with many individuals who have attempted suicide, and others who have died by suicide, I'd ask you to consider not describing a suicide attempt that results in death as "successful," or one that results in continuing to live as "failed" or "unsuccessful." I know that's common parlance to describe suicide attempts, but such language may unintentionally convey that suicide would have been a favorable outcome. It's probably clearest and least judgmental to simply describe one as suicide and the other as a suicide attempt. To emphasize to readers that neither of (Z)'s students died as a result of their attempts, you could say that both are still alive, thankfully.

As this comment relates to mental health and suicide, and since suicides unfortunately are more prevalent during the holiday season, I'd like point out to any U.S. based-readers currently in crisis that there are mental health professionals who can help you, including at the 24/7, free, and confidential National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. G.E., Baltimore, MD

Note: Thanks for the benefit of your expertise. We have updated the wording on that page, based on your suggestions.

This Week's Impeachment Thoughts

V & Z: Yesterday, there was a question about former NSA John Bolton or Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney testifying in the Senate trial without any previously sworn statements.

I am a county felony criminal prosecutor and, of course, (V) and (Z) are correct that it is always better to have a previous statement in hand. It is also true there are many instances when testimony must be taken "on the fly," followed by dealing with whatever consequences flow from that.

In this case, there are some factors to consider that would probably weigh in favor of taking the chance with them. Mulvaney made a public statement on national television regarding quid pro quo diplomacy that he would have to explain. Short of a full and complete mea culpa (unlikely), whichever way his explanation went, it would probably not be favorable to Donald Trump.

In regard to Bolton, there are multiple witnesses who have testified to his "drug deal" comments. Also, he has signed a book deal with Simon & Schuster. Perhaps (V) and (Z) have signed book deals or have researched this but my understanding is that before a publisher would sign such a deal they want a sample of what the book will be about. Seems doubtful they would sign a deal for a book telling us that "everything is fine."

Finally, since this is a political exercise rather than a strictly judicial proceeding, the value of their statements in the U.S. Senate would carry a fair amount of ethos beyond the basic evidenciary value.

On balance I would seek to try to get their statements. S.B., Los Angeles, CA

V & Z: Like you, I couldn't figure out Speaker Nancy Pelosi's (D-CA) game when she withheld sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate right away. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) even said that he doesn't want the articles anyway, so she has no leverage. Given recent news, it seems to me that she was hoping for some unknown unknowns to play out over the holiday break. And now we have the Christianity Today editorial, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) speaking out, and former representative Dave Trott speaking out. Seems to me that there is some leakage in the dam. If this actually busts out into an all-out flood, McConnell could find himself facing a very different situation by Jan. 7, and Pelosi will (once again) look like a genius. R.L., Alameda, CA

V & Z: With respect to the example given in the instance of the Harding-Coolidge succession, I'd like to point out that there has been a more recent one. In fact, there is an iconic photo associated with it. But it was a (federal) judge and not a "civilian," which I think was the reason you cited the event that you did. The case in point occurred upon the death of JFK, aboard Air Force One, when LBJ was sworn in. D.M., Burnsville, MN

Note: That is the also the only time a woman has sworn in the president.

V & Z: That look from Nancy Pelosi upon announcing the impeachment vote is clear as a bell. It was the look that a Catholic mother of five shoots at her children when they'd better behave—or it'll be no dessert after dinner for a month. P.W., Valley Village, CA

Note: Great description! Our confusion was centered on the look that flashed across her face immediately before that, though.

Jesus Is Just Alright with Me

V & Z: Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) says Jesus was born on April 6. The Church was officially organized on April 6, 1830. He said he was given the date, by revelation, as the anniversary of the birthday of Christ.

I think that would agree, a bit better, with the time when a census would be done. Spring is a much better time for people to travel to the city of their ancestors than mid-winter. Though outside of the LDS, and splinter groups from same, I don't know of anyone else who holds to that date. T.C., Hanover, MD

V & Z: You had a couple of religious items that I wanted to comment on. Firstly, JG of El Cerrito referred to "mainstream" white American Christianity. That is not the general use of the term "mainstream"—to include evangelicals. Mainstream would be more the Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, etc. And if we consider the largest Christian denomination in America, namely the Roman Catholics, we see that mainstream is definitely not the evangelicals.

Secondly, on Jesus' birth: Most scholars of Christianity agree that it was more likely in the Springtime. The shepherds were in the fields, and that's during the lambing, and the lambing takes place in the Spring. Ergo, Jesus is a Spring baby.

As to the idea that the dating of Christmas falls at the time of a "pagan" festival: Dr. Andrew McGowan makes a powerful case that this idea does not hold merit. The short version is that when the dates of Christmas were settling on what we have now, early Christians were trying to avoid association with pagans. But they did have an odd notion to us moderns, along with Jewish scholars of the day, that creation and redemption should happen at the same time. Therefore they believed Jesus was conceived and died on the same day. 9 months before Christmas? Passover. J.C., Binan, Laguna, Philippines

V & Z: As an atheist, the discussion of who Jesus would vote for is terrifying. The answer is nobody. He was an apocalyptic rabbi who made it perfectly clear that he expected the world to end within the lifetimes of his followers. If he were alive today, he'd be considered severely mentally ill.

Even if he would vote, it wouldn't be for anyone who would be considered morally acceptable in the 21st century. He lived in a society in which slavery was widespread, in which homosexuality was punished by death, and in which raping a virgin was considered a property crime against the woman's father. He never bothered to specifically denounce any of those things. Even if he was an extraordinary moral teacher by the standards of the 1st Century (which is debatable), 2000 years later, he would be considered a monster, basically in line with Westboro Baptist Church. J.W., Indianapolis, IN

V & Z: You wrote that "When Jesus was executed, He turned control of the movement over to Peter, who became the first pope." I would like to draw attention to a different point of view, based on historical Church Fathers such as Augustine. M.J., Dublin, GA

V & Z: Call me cynical. But is it not possible that the editors of Christianity Today have read the tea leaves and concluded that an incumbent President Pence would offer a better chance of maintaining Evangelical control of the White House than would a compromised and widely-loathed Trump who might not even keep VP Pence on the ticket? S.G., Newark, NJ

The Pro-Gabbard Perspective

V & Z: Bashar al-Assad and Kim Jong-Un are already entirely legitimate heads of their respective governments. They do not require the approval of the United States or the United Nations to be so, and for you to imply that only leaders that are official U.S. puppets are legitimate is shockingly offensive and conceited. You may hate Assad, disagree with his form of government, or object to his poor treatment of his population (a lot of which has been made up to slander him, as you would know if you ever left your liberal filter bubble), but to put it bluntly: it is none of your damned business. The U.S. government is not the world government and has no right to impose its values or its will on every country in the world. This is precisely what Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) is saying on the subject and if you continue to viciously slander her, you should at least get the facts straight. M.S., Annapolis, MD

V & Z: "Support" is probably too strong a word for Tulsi Gabbard's stance toward Assad. She made a serious error in meeting with him, inexplicably seeming to believe she might learn something of value from, or have a positive impact on, a master of deceit like Assad. A foolish, rookie mistake that I hope she's learned from.

But she is the only Democratic candidate stringently calling for an end to the U.S.'s disastrous interventionism, rightly pointing out its cost in gold, blood, political capital and geopolitical instability.

After the first Iraq war in the early '90s, after Iraqi forces were expelled from Kuwait, George H. W. Bush wisely refused to invade Iraq and depose Saddam Hussein. It would have been relatively easy militarily, but his noble objective was to set an international precedent that strong countries do not invade weak ones. This was part of his vision for his "New World Order."

Clinton, to his credit, mostly continued that policy. But George W. Bush and his cadre of neocons discarded it, and launched the US into a multi-decade series of military interventions.

This has blown up the US national debt when we're already facing increasing strains from coming entitlement payouts, killed or maimed thousands of U.S. servicemen and women and tens or hundreds of thousands of foreigners, exhausted the U.S. military at a time when more dangerous threats are rising, created a perception of weakness in the U.S. that encourages authoritarians around the world, made it impossible to bring North Korea to heel, and has given Russia and the Chinese Communist Party total justification for pursuing the same kind of interventionism when they have the ability and opportunity.

We have completely squandered Bush Sr.'s vision, and The New World Order is a chaotic, dangerous shambles. And Gabbard is the only candidate addressing this strategic error directly, talking about it to the electorate, and advocating for a course correction.

She is more of a peacemaker than all of the other candidates except perhaps Bernie. Jesus said, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the Children of God." I suspect that if Jesus could vote, he would be more likely to vote for Tulsi than any of the other candidates. F.G., San Francisco, CA

Presidential Experience

V & Z: I am no statistician, so I will leave the math up to (V), but when reviewing the data as presented, I noticed something that should concern Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

It appears that a combination of both FT and lower-level time (LT or ST) increases the likelihood of being ranked in the top 25% of U.S. Presidents.

Among the top 25% of presidents only 2 (18%) had only FT. Among the bottom 75%, 12 had only FT (36%). If my math is correct, that number should only be 6.

I don't think this answers the questions as outlined in the title of this piece but I think it is interesting. R.E., Tampa, FL

V & Z: Any federal experience has not helped much recently:

Carter, 0 years
Reagan, 0 years
Bush 41, 15 years
Clinton, 0 years
Bush 43, 0 years
Obama, 4 years
Drumpf, 0 years

A product of unhappiness with establishment? Having a legislative record for opponents to hammer you upon? P.C., Chicago, IL

V & Z: Looking at the chart in the "What Does a Promising Presidential Résumé Look Like?, Part I," it occurred to me that government experience may relate to either obtaining the presidency or success as president depending on the time period. In other words, the government experience has to be placed into context. Without analyzing the numbers too closely, I noted the following:

  • The first seven presidents all rank in the top half of the chart. All had a minimum of 10 years' government experience. Except for the two generals (George Washington and Andrew Jackson), each president had a minimum of 20 years government experience. I would expect that government experience (and the political connections that go with that) would have been important to getting nominated to the presidency in that era.

  • Millard Fillmore, James Buchanan, and Andrew Johnson had more government experience than Abraham Lincoln but are ranked lower than him. This could be indicative that legislative experience was a negative for the time period, as it would have been indicative of people willing to compromise on slavery-related and racism-related issues, which were the biggest issues of the day, and therefore people who would generally be poor presidents. This is not to say that having little government experience was useful, as demonstrated by the low rankings of the less experienced Franklin Pierce and Zachary Taylor, but it may be indicative that being too enmeshed in the system in the 1850s and 1860s was a bad thing.

  • No president from between 1865 and 1901 ranks above 20 or below 36 on the list. This seems like an era of bland presidents (although I suspect that Chester Arthur's civil service reforms have been underappreciated). (Z) could probably comment on why the presidents were so lackluster in this era.

  • The presidents from 1932 to 1968 benefited significantly from government experience, potentially because government experience was needed in this time period to get legislation passed and to make the modern U.S. government function effectively. Alternately, government experience may have also been needed to get nominated, as the political connections may have been important. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, and Lyndon B. Johnson had more than 15 years of government experience and are ranked highly. The exception is Eisenhower, who "commanded the mightiest army in human history" but has 0 years in government. (Also notable is that Roosevelt took over from a less experienced Hoover, who clearly did not handle the Great Depression well.)

  • The experience of the seven presidents since 1976 has been limited in comparison to previous eras. Four of the presidents had less than 10 years of prior government experience, and two others had only about 12 years of experience each. Only George H. W. Bush had more than 15 years of government experience. This could be indicative that the modern presidential primary and national election system leads to the selection of "fresh faces" rather than experienced lawmakers.

Of course, it's also worth pointing out that subdividing 44 people into smaller subsets leads to statistically small datasets. Nonetheless, I would suspect that government experience is connected to either being nominated or elected for president in some eras or to governing well in some eras. G.B., Manchester, UK

President Cheney?

V & Z: I just wanted to make an observation on Rep. Liz Cheney's (R-WY) possible Senate run that I think you may have overlooked. Yes, she'd be a backbencher for a while should she hop from the House to the Senate, but it's important to note the legislative branch is not the be-all-end-all of her political aspirations. It's much easier to grab for the brass ring of the presidency as a sitting senator than it is as a member of the House. If Trump falls in 2020 (and even if he doesn't, as he'll be gone in 2025 at the latest), there will be a massive power vacuum that Sen. Cheney would have a better shot at filling than Rep. Cheney would have at gaining the Speakership. M.P., York, PA

Owning the Snowflakes?

V & Z: I read your item today about Trump wanting to rip American Families Apart. I am shocked and appalled at your one-sided political bias. I am not a big fan of our President, but you conveniently or purposely never reported that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) also published a pamphlet to young supporters about how to deal with family members over the holidays who support Trump. There is a YouTube video regarding Sanders' divisive tactics, and I also include this article outlining the Senator's plan. If you are going to report on an issue, you should cover both sides, or be labeled just another Trump-hating, politically-left-leaning website. Where is your fairness and objective reporting of an issue? It does not seem to be anywhere in sight. F.C., Palm Springs, CA

Note: We're running your letter because we like to showcase a wide variety of viewpoints. That said, we are going to point out three things. First, this story was reported almost exclusively on extreme right-wing sites like the Daily Wire, RedState, HotAir, and Freedom Outpost. That's concerning, and we have a general policy of not using news items that we cannot find on mainstream sites (this also extends to stories on extreme left-wing sites, like AlterNET, Palmer Report, and RawStory). Second, the pamphlet was the work of "Students for Bernie." While it is possible that is an official arm of the Sanders campaign, we can find no verification of that. Third, the pamphlet, which can be read here, suggests that Sanders supporters record a video of themselves explaining their support for the Senator, that they send a link to that video to five family members, and that they have a discussion of the video when they see those family members in person. That seems, to us, to strike a rather different tone than a website with the URL

V & Z: Isolating people from their families (and other opinions) is exactly what cults do. J.S., Indianapolis, IN

It's All a Matter of Degree

V & Z: The Fahrenheit scale was designed a long time ago (beginning of the 18th century) on really shaky grounds. One needs two reference temperatures to design a scale. The Fahrenheit zero was originally defined as the coldest temperature Dr. Fahrenheit experienced in winter 1708-1709 in his good city of Dantzig. The high temperature reference on the scale is 96°F (and not 100 as in Celsius) and it's the temperature of a human or a horse (sources differ). The important point is that a scale of physical units requires allowing accurate measurement and reproducibility, which is obviously not the case of the original references. Later these references were improved (by Fahrenheit himself) but the Fahrenheit scale remained loosely defined, such that the International System of Units defines it based on the Celsius scale (more precisely, from the Kelvin scale, which is the same but shifted). Today, the Fahrenheit scale is used in the U.S. and almost nowhere else, it is a derived unit in the International System of Units (and if not defined this way, it may differ from place to place) and it is a non-decimal scale. So you were right to call it inferior in the first place. V.R., Grenoble, France

V & Z: One on my quirks is a curiosity into the origins of units of measure. All of them are ultimately arbitrary but made some sense to the inventor, original population, or the autocrat of the time.

Zero on the Fahrenheit scale was the lowest temperature the inventor could create with a mixture of salt and ice. 100 was the core temperature of the human body. The 98.6 we use today represents the error in the precision of the original thermometers and we will never know if the benchmark temperature was oral or rectal.

While I'm on a roll, the original definition of the meter was one one 10 millionth of the distance from the North Pole to the Equator through Paris. (The Systeme Internationale was a product of the French Revolution.) Many other SI units are derived from the meter in some way. My favorite is the mile. The original definition was 1000 paces (2 steps each) of a Roman soldier. "Mile" comes from the Latin for 1000. My own pace is close to 5 feet and I use it regularly to make quick measurements of distance without tools. R.T., Arlington, TX

State of the States

V & Z: My first reaction when I read your list of the 3 "best" states (MA, CA, and WA) was "there's a good example of bi-coastal elitism if I ever saw one!" I chose to move to Minnesota because it is clearly one of the best—even U.S. News & World Reports lists it as number 3 in the country. The environmental benefits, healthcare availability, outstanding educational system, theater and classical music venues, percentage of the population with college degrees (47%), and politics are incredible. Yup, we have tricky winters sometimes (global warming is changing that here too), but no hurricanes, devastating fires, or earthquakes—at least compared to other states. Thinking of Minnesota as "flyover country" is a thing of the past. And Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) would certainly make a better President than the current White House occupant! J.J., Minneapolis, MN

V & Z: Mississippi is so clearly the worst state that there is literally a Wikipedia page for the phrase thank God for Mississippi.

The idea is that because Mississippi is ranked at or near the bottom of pretty much everything (education, obesity, poverty, etc.), their existence spares other states like Alabama and my home state of Indiana the indignity of being ranked last. J.W., Indianapolis, IN

V & Z: I don't know which is the best state, but I do know it is not Texas (I was born and live here). Certainly it is not the worst (thank you, Mississippi and Alabama), but in no category does it crack the top ten: quality of life, well-being of citizens, natural beauty, agreeable weather, affordability, historical interest, progressive enterprise, etc. I mention this because there is a particularly ingrained attitude among Texans about their alleged exceptionalism. Many Texans (even those who should know better; see, for example, here and here) are all too happy to drink the Kool-Aid, asserting with no evidence that this is the best place in the world. This macho "Don't mess with Texas," "Remember the Alamo," "My truck is bigger than yours" attitude is continually passed on to the younger generation. I recently ran into an indoctrinated teenager who had the map of Texas tattooed on his arm. When I asked him if he had ever been anywhere else, he said he hadn't and never would, because there was no reason to. The sooner Texans come to terms with their ordinariness, the better off they—and the rest of the country—will be. M.B., San Antonio, TX

V & Z: I will put in a plug for Maine as a great state to live in if you are a fan of (and are OK with snowy winters). My wife and I have had a vacation home up in the mountains of northern Maine for the last 10 years and, for the last 4 years now, also live in an apartment in downtown Portland. Within a 2.5 hour drive we have magnificent oceans, incredible mountains, excellent city life (Portand was voted last year best foodie city in America), and rural life and great expanses of nature to calm our souls. We also, within a much, much shorter drive, go between liberal coastal New England blue and rural conservative New England red. We flip between "Feel The Bern" bumper stickers everywhere, to MAGA hats on an awful lot of heads and Fox News on in the local bar. It is an incredible contrast to both experience and learn from.

In both places, urban and rural Maine, I personally, have run into nothing but good and great people. Hard working people to the core. Willing and wanting to talk and listen. But there is widespread poverty in rural Maine, and all the reasons it exists and all the implications speak volumes as to why many to most who live there follow Trump. For good reasons, they believe they are right and we are wrong just as fervently as we feel the opposite. Living here and there moves one to get beyond the polarization and start fixating on the "why?" What makes a good and smart person follow someone like Trump and stick with the current Republican Party? It is these good folks we need to convince that the progressive Democratic agenda will be good for them, good for their state, good for the nation, and good for the world. I know from talking with folks one-on-one that it is possible, but it will take an army of Jedi Knights consisting of like-minded individuals to win the upcoming battle. We absolutely need to and have to get out there.

So I vote for Maine as a great place to live if you are a fan of this site, and inclined in the coming election to speak out and make a difference. It may just still be true that "As Maine goes, so goes the nation." And, if you like the ocean and the mountains and city life and rural life very close to each other, and seasons and seriously good seafood, there is no place better than Maine. P.S., Portland and Rangeley, ME

V & Z: As an import to Washington from Michigan, there are two factors that immediately changed my relationship with government. One is the lack of state income tax, which removes a huge burden each year, one I had not realized I was carrying so heavily. In Michigan, income taxes would always eat into any federal tax refund. The games played with the state budget essentially allowed property owners to stop paying property taxes for education. Once that dam burst, Republicans began to figure out other taxes that didn't have to be paid as well. As a result, state income taxes kept rising.

The other factor is vote-by-mail. The ease of voting in Washington is shocking, particularly when compared to states in the Deep South. I get my ballot six weeks out, and have all the time in the world to make my choices calmly at home, not in the hurry-up line at the polls (assuming they let you vote at all). There is likely not a federal act that can mandate vote by mail, but it would solve a huge number of polling problems all at once. J.K., Bremerton, WA

V & Z: So glad your list of best states featured the Commonwealth of Massachusetts! You were right about everything but you forgot to mention that we have the best sports teams. I'm sure this was entirely an accidental omission. Though you were right about the infrastructure. Our 100+ year old gas pipes are leaking methane all over. S.M., Acton, MA

V & Z: You probably won't get many people around the country saying my state, NJ, is the best state. We're often the butt of jokes, and no one here pronounces it "Joy-zee." Why are we so great?

We're the third wealthiest state (per capita), the most densely populated (so we have a state of the art transportation system), 2nd best education system, and convenient access to the largest and the sixth largest cities (NYC/Philly). Despite being so populated, the state has a large system of parks, including the Pinelands Reserve, which holds 5 trillion gallons of water in an underground reservoir, and which supports millions of migrating birds each year. If you're stressed in your state, wishing yours was as good as NJ, consider this: when you want to relax, we have 130 miles of award winning beaches. A.H., Linwood, NJ

V & Z: Thanks for the shout-out to California. All we hear about is how bad it has become, between horrible traffic, wildfires, earthquakes (still waiting for the Big One to strike), out-of-control housing prices, homelessness, and....fill in the blank.

I left California in 1997 for Massachusetts but returned in 2003; one side of my family came to California from Prussia in 1860 so I guess I am obligated to stay. I hope we can solve our big problems here and remain one of the best states. N.G., San Jose, CA

V & Z: I thought I'd mention, for what it's worth, that after long thought my wife and I decided to stay in Canada for one overwhelming reason: Medicare. We have three children living in MA (Boston suburb), WA (Redmond), and NY (Brooklyn), any of whom would have been happy to have us move nearby. Our Microsoft millionaire son (the one in Redmond, of course) was willing to stake us to a condo wherever we moved if selling our house did not provide enough money. But after thinking it over for years, we finally bought and moved into a condo very near where we had lived for 47 years. M.B., Montreal, Canada

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec28 Saturday Q&A
Dec27 North Korean "Christmas Gift" Is Belated
Dec27 Trump-only Ballot Triggers Lawsuit in Minnesota
Dec27 Democrats Getting Ready to Run on Healthcare
Dec27 What Does a Promising Presidential Résumé Look Like?, Part I
Dec27 The Not-so-Young and Restless
Dec27 Who Are the Snowflakes, Again?
Dec27 Netanyahu Will Keep on Keepin' On
Dec26 House Is Open to More Articles of Impeachment
Dec26 DNC Tightens the Screws Again
Dec26 Billionaires Have Spent $200 Million on the Primaries So Far
Dec26 Murkowski Is "Disturbed" by McConnell's View of the Impeachment Trial
Dec26 It's Christian against Christian
Dec26 Trump Now Wants to Rip American Families Apart
Dec26 McConnell Lards on the Pork
Dec26 Liz Cheney Still Undecided on Senate Run
Dec25 "Christmas Gift" from North Korea Arrives Today
Dec25 Trott Says Trump "Unfit for Office"
Dec25 The Paradox of Choice
Dec25 "Tío Bernie" Leads Among Latino Voters
Dec25 Is Amy Klobuchar Surging?
Dec25 Christmas in Washington
Dec25 I Am Not a Crook: A Look at History's Most Scandalous Scandals, Part IX
Dec24 Who Would Jesus Vote For?
Dec24 Impeachment Never Sleeps
Dec24 Money for Trump That Isn't Actually for Trump
Dec24 Khashoggi's "Killers" Sentenced
Dec24 Does Obama Have His Candidate?
Dec24 Republicans Have Always Engaged in Voter Suppression
Dec24 I Am Not a Crook: A Look at History's Most Scandalous Scandals, Part VIII
Dec23 Poll: Small Majority Still Wants Trump Removed from Office
Dec23 Graham: There Are No Republican Votes to Compel Witnesses
Dec23 The RNC Has Vastly More Money than the DNC
Dec23 Roberts Is on the Hot Seat
Dec23 Jeff Flake Says Republican Senators Are on Trial
Dec23 Doug Jones May Put Country Above Party
Dec23 Trump Is Filling the Liberal Ninth Circuit with Conservatives
Dec23 A Christmas Gift List
Dec22 Sunday Mailbag
Dec21 Saturday Q&A
Dec20 Democrats Debate in Los Angeles
Dec20 Senate Doesn't Have a Deal on Impeachment Rules
Dec20 Mulvaney Looks to Be a Short-Timer
Dec20 To Avoid Conviction, Trump Needs Only 15% of the Country
Dec20 Senate Republicans Are Praying that Trump Won't Tweet During the Trial
Dec20 Christianity Today Calls for Trump's Removal
Dec20 House Passes USMCA
Dec20 Mark Meadows Will Not Run for Reelection
Dec19 House Impeaches Trump
Dec19 Trump Wanted to See George W. Bush Impeached