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      •  Saturday Q&A

Saturday Q&A

Sometimes the big news stories of the week inspire a lot of questions, and sometimes less. This is one of the latter weeks.

Q: I'm really terrible at guessing stuff, but I saw something late last night (on Facebook, most likely, but I can't honestly remember) that implied there are people who want Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) ousted, specifically so that someone more amenable to issuing a state pardon to the Pobrecheetoh can occupy the governor's chair. In our hyper-partisan world, is the idea believable, in spite of a distinct whiff of conspiracism? Conspiracy-ness? Conspiriosity? If so, who would be the amenable person aiming for the big chair? J.Z., Baltimore, MD

A: So, the general idea here is that a Republican is more likely to win if not facing an incumbent Cuomo next year, and the "right" Republican might get themselves elected and then pardon Trump?

Yeah, this is not plausible. First of all, Cuomo was already weakened by the scandal before AG Letitia James (D) released her report this week. The Republicans would be better off with him remaining viable, and as a possible 2022 contender, rather than clearing the decks of him.

Second, the type of candidate that would be needed to pull this off is virtually impossible to imagine. New York is a blue state that went for Joe Biden by 23 points and has elected only one Republican governor in the last half century (George Pataki). So, the beneficiary of this scheme would have to be Trumpy enough to unify the Republican vote, but anti-Trumpy enough to win a bunch of independents and Democrats. Then, once elected, they would have to reveal themselves as a mole who was ultra-Trumpy all along and pardon the former president. Oh, and this person would be sacrificing their own political career, since they would immediately be impeached and removed upon issuing the pardon.

There is only one plausible way Trump gets a pardon out of all of this. And before we say what it is, we want to underscore that we do not believe this will happen, and that there is certainly no evidence that this is in the cards. However, if Cuomo was planning to resign anyhow, and if he wanted to go scorched earth on the way out the door (and give James a little payback), and if he wanted to craft a golden parachute for himself, he could reach a backroom agreement with Trump to issue a pardon in exchange for being hired by the Trump Organization at the modest rate of $10 million per year for the next 5 years to make sure the headquarters is always supplied with swizzle sticks, or to serve as Trump Jr.'s hunting buddy, or to consult with Trump Sr. on hair replacement strategies.

Q: It seems like Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and Governor Greg Abbott (R-TX), both of them POTUS Wannabes, are currently making the most noise about putting state-level roadblocks to COVID restrictions and resisting pretty much anything the Biden Administration tries to do to stop the spread of the disease, especially of the Delta variant.

I'm wondering, if it comes to a "slugfest," could the Biden Administration do any of the following?

    • Ban all domestic and international airline, cruise line, and Amtrak travel into and out of those states.

    • Ban all domestic and international shipping, trucking, and rail into and out of those states.

    • Slow down, if not prevent, the sending any of the new infrastructure funds to those states.

J.E., Boone, NC

A: There are ways to do this officially, particularly if we are talking about discretionary funding, or if the president has Congressional approval (or can discover an interpretation of the law that implies "approval"). During the 1960s, the withholding of funds was used a number of times to compel compliance with civil rights legislation and Supreme Court rulings, including in 1963 (to force the integration of transportation) and 1968 (to force the integration of schools).

There are also ways to do this unofficially, as Donald Trump showed many times, particularly in terms of withholding emergency relief funds from California after various massive wildfires.

It is improbable that Joe Biden would do this officially, as there would be a lot of collateral damage to people, both Republican and Democrat, who wear their masks, have gotten their shots, and have nothing to do with DeSantis' and Abbott's shenanigans. Biden has never shown an appetite for that sort of take-no-prisoners, the-ends-justifies-the-means approach. If Biden did do it, however, he would do it unofficially and would give himself plausible deniability. Think a phone call like this: "Hello, governor! I really want to send the $10 billion Congress has put aside for upgrading freeways in Texas/Florida, but I'm worried there won't be enough healthy construction workers due to COVID, so I may have to think about impounding the money, or possibly rerouting it to San Francisco for cable-car upgrades."

Q: I've heard the CDC mentioned a lot in recent reports about eviction moratoriums. Why do they have a role? I gather that President Biden has the power to tell them to announce an extension. R.H.D., Webster, NY

A: CDC Director Rochelle Walensky serves at the pleasure of the president, and thus is indeed required to follow his orders. And she, in turn, is relying on the statutory authority granted by 42 CFR § 70.2, which reads:

Whenever the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determines that the measures taken by health authorities of any State or possession (including political subdivisions thereof) are insufficient to prevent the spread of any of the communicable diseases from such State or possession to any other State or possession, he/she may take such measures to prevent such spread of the diseases as he/she deems reasonably necessary, including inspection, fumigation, disinfection, sanitation, pest extermination, and destruction of animals or articles believed to be sources of infection.

In other words, when it comes to preventing the spread of disease, the CDC Director can demand a lot of things, including some that directly involve people's dwellings, like cleanliness inspections. You will notice that the word "eviction" does not appear. Further, the Supreme Court has already observed that the statute speaks to things involving direct mitigation of disease. Stopping evictions, by contrast, is basically indirect. That is to say, it's not the evictions themselves that cause disease, it's the possibility that having more people on the street will allow the disease to spread.

Q: How is requiring vaccinations in workers any different than mandating the use of other safety measures, such as the use of safety glasses or hearing protectors? B.B., St. Louis, MO

A: We are the last people to make the anti-vaxxers' arguments for them, but the wearing of safety equipment is temporary, and makes no permanent change to the body. Neither of those things are true of vaccinations.

On the other hand, if you can tell us why it's wrong to force people to get vaccinated, but it's ok to force a woman to carry a fetus she does not want to term (particularly one that is the product of rape or incest), then you are cleverer than we are.

Q: What exactly does the U.S. Constitution say about the authority of state legislatures to apportion electoral votes? L.G. Lafayette, CO

A: Article II, Sec. 1, Clause 2 reads:

Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress: but no Senator or Representative, or Person holding an Office of Trust or Profit under the United States, shall be appointed an Elector.

Someone might look and that and say "If the Georgia legislature wants to step in and award electors itself, the Constitution clearly allows it." However, there are two potential problems with that argument:

  1. There is a well-established school of legal thought that says that once the right to choose electors has been bestowed upon the voters, a legislature cannot reclaim the privilege.

  2. Even if a legislature is allowed to reclaim the right to appoint electors, it is not at all clear that they can set up a situation where an election is conducted under one approach (the people choose the electors) and then is post facto switched over to a different approach (the legislature chooses the electors).

Both of these are going to be significant legal hurdles to overcome, and in the next few years we may see if packing the Supreme Court with six conservatives is enough to do it.

Q: Suppose Joe Biden is unable to continue to serve as president and Kamala Harris assumes the presidency. How do you predict this would affect: (1) The Democratic party's success in achieving their primary agenda items for this term?; (2) The Democratic party's electoral success in 2022?; (3) The Democratic party's electoral success in 2024?

Let's suppose this occurs due to apolitical circumstances (perhaps natural death or illness) and by the end of 2021, as to give some time before the midterm election.
P.L., Atlanta, GA

A: The loss of Biden is not likely to affect the Democrats' successes on policy too much. Most of the cogs in that machine, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), and the various arm-twisters that are being sent to the Hill from the White House, would remain in place.

As to the elections, the Republicans have been about outrage and culture wars for a number of years now. They haven't had much success getting people angry about Biden, in large part since he's a genial white guy who reminds people of their grandpas. They had considerably more success getting people angry about a woman, and about a Black man. So, we have to imagine they would do even better when the target is both a woman and Black, with another minority group in there to boot. You can already hear the talking points: "She's so arrogant!" and "Are we sure she was actually born in the U.S.?" and "Is she more loyal to the U.S. or to China?" and "She's the most divisive president ever!" and "What? A California socialist as president?" And yes, we know she's actually Indian, and not Chinese, but such trivial details do not seem to bother the Trump faction of the GOP.

So, we think the Republicans would have more success in 2022 and 2024 running against Harris than against Biden.

Q: Can you think of any good reason or reasons why congress is not working on Big Tech regulation? Both parties are continually railing against the Big Tech companies in one form or another, and they both absolutely hate Facebook. Even though they disdain Big Tech for different reasons, it seems to me that their shared mutual hate would jump start legislative proceedings to some degree. Facebook itself has continually called for regulation (apparently, it's easier to dance around the rules when you know what they are). Wouldn't this be another great crack at "beautiful bipartisan legislation"? So, what am I missing here? M.U., Seattle, WA

A: It takes a while to write, amend, and pass legislation, and the Democrats have only been running the show for 7 months. During that time, they have been awfully busy with things like COVID-19, infrastructure, and the 1/6 Commission.

They may eventually get to work on this and, indeed, they may already be at work. However, this is going to be an enormously complicated problem to tackle. Not only do they have to avoid running afoul of the Constitution and other protections for free speech and for private commercial interests, they also have to anticipate and try to plug loopholes.

Also, we think you are gliding over the extent to which the Republicans and the Democrats have different motivations here. It's not just "different," it's basically "polar opposites." Truth be told, we're not 100% sure that the Republicans actually want change here, or if complaining about Big Tech is just a useful talking point. But, in any case, what the Republicans desire is open season, especially for Republicans, and even more especially for Donald Trump. The Democrats, by contrast, want content to be regulated, and for social media platforms to police certain content. So, unless we're just talking about a resolution that declares "Mark Zuckerberg is a poo-poo head!" then it is unlikely that there's much room for bipartisanship here.

Q: A friend of mine asks me the same question every week: Why isn't Donald Trump in jail? He led an insurrection against the United States. How would you answer this? D.D., Somers, NY

A: First of all, criminal cases take a long time to put together and prosecute. That's doubly true with a high-profile defendant, and triply or quadruply true when it's potentially the most high-profile defendant in the United States, whose arrest/trial could trigger riots. Every single "t" needs to be crossed, and every single "i" needs to be dotted. So, even if he's going to be prosecuted for what happened on 1/6, it's going to be a while.

Beyond that, did you know that there's no law against turning your shoe into a nuclear weapon? That, of course, is because it's never been needed. If someone started making shoe nukes (Nuk-ies? ReeBombs? Nuke Balance?), then a law would presumably be passed pronto. Similarly, federal law—from the Constitution on down—never anticipated that the President of the United States might stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue and encourage his followers to storm the Capitol. So, finding a statute that suits these circumstances, and making the case that it applies to Trump, is a tall order. Not impossible, necessarily, but tall.

Q: Couldn't a judge find that Donald Trump's tax returns are protected by the Fourth Amendment's "right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures?" Furthermore, couldn't the entire law that allows the chairman this power be ruled unconstitutional because it's the province of the judicial branch to issue search warrants under the same amendment? S.J., Taipei City

A: These arguments would not work with any self-respecting judge, though we'll see what happens with Trevor McFadden.

The issue is that, in the end, Donald Trump is not really a party to this dispute. The federal government already has his information, and is clearly entitled to have it under the terms of the Sixteenth Amendment. Nothing at all is being seized from him.

Instead, this is actually a dispute about the division of powers between the branches of the federal government. The executive branch already has everyone's tax returns. And the judicial branch can get them, if desired, through a subpoena. So, the 1924 law in question is based on the notion that the legislative branch should have access, too, since the other branches have access, and since the legislature has the power of the purse.

That means that the best line of argument here—not that it's a great line, mind you—would involve separation of powers, and Congress usurping the prerogative of the executive branch. However, as a private citizen, Donald Trump doesn't have the standing to make that argument, since he is no longer the leader of (or a member of) the executive branch.

Q: I am once again confused about the release of Donald Trump's tax returns. Weren't they already released to Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance? If so, can't House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal (D-MA) just ask Vance to hand them over via a congressional subpoena? O.Z.H., Dubai, UAE

A: Congress certainly can demand documents from state governments; that's exactly what the House is doing right now in the Cyber Ninjas case. And Vance presumably wouldn't resist, unless he decided that surrendering the documents was inconsistent with New York law. Even if Vance would not like to officially hand them over, he could certainly put a USB drive in the mail, addressed to Neal, and with no return address. In that scenario, who knows how Neal got them? Maybe Vance leaked them. Or maybe Trump's accountants did. Or the IRS. Or someone else.

However, Neal wants this to look as legal and above-board as possible. He, and many of his colleagues, would also like official confirmation of their right to look at presidential (or any other) tax returns. So, he's doing things by the book.

Q: This week, The Washington Post published an article headlined "What Trump Got Right." Scanning the article, I thought that every item is a stretch: The contributors give Trump too much credit, they make things that were not important sound important, they don't discuss how he seriously undercut the good things he did, and sometimes they seem to be flat-out wrong. Thoughts? B.C., Walpole, ME

A: We are reminded of Sherlock Holmes' observation from "A Scandal in Bohemia": "It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts."

Clearly, the WaPo decided not only to write a "Trump did some things right" piece, they also decided exactly what right things he did, and they recruited contributors who would make the point that the editors already had in mind. Of course the anti-war guy talked about Afghanistan. Of course the Latino political scientist who writes books about Latino Republicans talked about bringing Latinos into the Republican Party.

Even then, the selections often damn Trump with faint praise, or smack him upside the head with backhanded praise. Ana Marie Cox, for example:

Donald Trump's greatest gift to the United States was to reveal hard truths about who we are. His bigotry, shallowness and greed made our own harder to bear. Trump's dark mirror effect may have manifested most forcefully in the way he warped the annual White House Correspondents' Association dinner, a.k.a. "Nerd Prom."

We're not exactly sure what the point of this whole exercise is. We doubt that people who think the paper is hopelessly biased, is the propaganda arm of the Bezos empire, is socialist garbage, etc. will be mollified by one article.

Q: I recently overheard a conversation about the midterm elections here in Pennsylvania. One gentleman boasted that he was going to write in Donald Trump for all races. His buddies thought that it was a great idea. Do you think this could be something that spreads, and if so by how much? What consequences could this have? K.B., Pittsburgh, PA

A: This may sound good (not to us, but maybe to some people) when it's idle talk, but it's both difficult and foolish to actually follow through.

Let's start with the "difficult" part. Write-ins are basically a pain in the rear for poll workers, and for everyone else up the chain. So, in most precincts, they make it deliberately hard to cast a write-in ballot.

As to the foolish part, there are only eight states where a person can write in any name they want: Oregon, Wyoming, Iowa, Alabama, Delaware, New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Vermont. You will notice that Pennsylvania is not on the list; it is among the states (plus D.C.) where someone can vote only for a registered write-in candidate (and that's only in some municipalities).

What this means is that most people who tried to write Trump in for auditor, water commissioner, and dogcatcher—including the gentlemen you overheard—would be throwing their votes away. Between that, and the hassles involved with even trying to cast a write-in, we doubt that many people will try it.

Q: In your piece on GETTR, you used the phrase "unwanted mouthbreathers". I'm just curious, are there any mouthbreathers who are actually wanted? J.S., Durham, NC

A: Tycho Brahe?

Someone actually wrote in and objected to the use of that term, so we switched it. See tomorrow's mailbag for that letter.

Q: My brother and I were discussing the difficulty that we were having understanding how people who call themselves "patriots" won't even accept a little discomfort in their arm in order to protect their country. Or how "Christians" suddenly don't see themselves as their brother's keeper when it comes to keeping others safe.

It then dawned on me: Had we finally, after almost a century, seen the triumph of Ayn Rand's Objectivism on conservatives? Has the "Gospel of Selfishness" finally won out? It seems like a long way from "I won't pay taxes to have good roads to drive on," to "I won't get a shot to save a million lives," but is it?

Once you've accepted selfishness as the guiding principle, is there any room for altruism? If you're only looking out for number one, do you even see the effect you're having on those around you?
S.M. in Pratt, KS

A: There has always been a portion of the U.S. populace that embraced an "every person for themselves, survival of the fittest" philosophy. There has always been another, larger, portion that is willing to do good deeds, but only on their own terms, and that rebels against anything that seems compulsory.

In other words, we don't believe Ayn Rand influenced anyone. At most, she gave some people who were already inclined to her way of thinking some justification for a self-centered lifestyle.

Q: Speaking of misnomers based on the mistaken belief that Columbus was in India, how did Indiana even get its name? Have there ever been efforts to rename the state and its capital, which, after all, are both based on that misnomer? Would there ever be a possibility of renaming them? Even if not, what name would you pick? I like Hoosier/Hoosieropolis, but it might not work well in all instances (e.g., The University of Hoosier Hoosiers). E.W., Skaneateles, NY

A: In 1800, Congress passed a law that split off a piece of the Northwest territory, and called that new region the "Indiana Territory." Part of the territory was ultimately admitted as the state of Indiana (other parts became Illinois, Wisconsin, a portion of Michigan, and a portion of Minnesota). So, that's where the name came from.

There is zero chance that the name will change as long as Indiana is a very red state that has no truck with the libs and their political correctness. And just in case, the Indiana Senate has passed a bill that makes it illegal to rename Indianapolis (as well as a bunch of other cities). The Indiana House is expected to pass the bill later this year.

If and when things do change, redundancy isn't necessarily a problem. After all, the Los Angeles Angels, who just last night showed the Dodgers who the king of the (Signal) hill is, are—in translation—The the Angels Angels. Similarly, the famous La Brea tar pits, just a few miles from Dodger Stadium, are—again in translation—The the tar tar pits.

That said, in these circumstances, the new name is often a more appropriate tribute to Native American heritage—usually the name of a historical, local tribe. So, how about Shawneeopolis, Shawnee? Or, probably more correctly, Shawneeopolis, SH? Alternatively, the state could honor a prominent local. At the top of that list is surely Abraham Lincoln, who spent many of his formative years in the Hoosier state. Lincolnopolis, LN?

Q: In response to a question regarding the federal and/or state government owning slaves, you wrote: "...taking responsibility for a slave commits the government to future expenditures, which was arguably illegal, since money is budgeted by the year..."

How is/was slave owning different from maintaining a state/federal prison system, since incarceration can last considerably more than a year (a lifetime, sometimes) and responsibilities are essentially similar?
A.A., Tartu, Estonia

A: Because Congress has the power of the purse, it is allowed to decide how the government spends its money, including committing to future expenditures. However, federal infrastructure projects are executed by the executive branch, which does not have that power. If Congress had passed a specific "slave purchase" budget, it would have been ok, but they didn't, in part because slaveowners who were making a killing renting out their laborers would have been furious.

Q: In your response about the U.S. Government ever owning slaves, part of your answer included, "So, when the state/federal governments used slave labor—which they most certainly did—they hired the slaves on a contract basis from the slaveowners. In some states, prisoners were used for forced labor, but those governments already had the responsibility for housing them."

Was this the process for how the White House and U.S Capitol Building were built? The government contracted out slaves from nearby Virginia or Maryland plantations?
D.B. in New York City, NY

A: That was precisely the process, except that you're overlooking the fact that D.C. had a large population of slaves (and a very large slave market, incidentally), and so many of the hires came from within the District. This is a payroll record that shows which owners were paid for work on the White House (that week), how much they were paid, and which enslaved person's services were being paid for:

It's not especially legible, given
the flowery early 1800s script and the fading that comes with time, but there's clearly a column of names, then a column of
numbers in both numeric and alphabetic forms like on a check, then another column of names.

Q: In your response to F.S. from Cologne, you attributed: the singularly divisive nature of gun control in the U.S. to the American preference for militias over standing armies and to the need to conquer a frontier. Your explanation makes a lot of sense to me. Do you think that another reason for the fervent resistance to gun control in this country might be carried over from white fear of slave rebellion? I wonder this because the U.S., unlike most other slave powers, allowed extensive slavery on its own soil rather than in some far-away colony. It seems like this old baggage feeds into the major overlap between white supremacists and the anti-gun-control movement in this country. M.K., Poughkeepsie, NY

A: Absolutely. To give a more comprehensive list, for at least two centuries in the U.S. (and often longer), guns played an important role in:

  • National defense
  • Self-defense
  • Controlling the enslaved population/maintaining white supremacy
  • Feeding families (especially in winter)
  • Conquering the Native Americans
  • Leisure
  • Male bonding/rite of passage

These things were not all true for all people, but enough of them were true of enough people that guns became closely associated with freedom, patriotism, masculinity, and status. For many folks, they still are.

Q: You answered a question from F.S. in Cologne about gunslingers and the American frontier. I accept everything you wrote as true.

My question is somewhat different. Perhaps it is a fiction of Hollywood, but there are scores of books and movies in which the local sheriff either demands the de-arming of people with guns, or declares that they have to leave their guns with an authority before entering the town. It certainly seems to make sense that there was a period of pacification, since it was rare to read of gunfights in the streets of Texas, Nevada, Colorado, or New Mexico (Arizona was a territory until fairly late, and I'm not up on how territories are affected by the Constitution).

How was that pacification achieved, and though it seems unlikely, are there any possibilities of using the same kind of political reasoning with Second Amendment supporters today?
B.G., West Hollywood, CA

A: You're right that the notion of the Wild West as a violent and lawless place is generally overblown. In particular, these tales of gunslingers who killed 10 or 20 or 30 people are usually exaggerations. The gunslingers themselves often inflated their totals to burnish their image, and then later pulp biographers, who prioritized drama and intrigue over accuracy, reiterated the numbers or inflated them even further. As the newspaper editor in "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" said: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

Anyhow, strict gun control was actually quite common in the Wild West, including in Arizona (as shown in the movie "Tombstone," where it is a key plot point). The basic logic is pretty simple: These towns badly wanted to attract businesses and new residents, and constant violence in the streets worked against those goals. So, ordinances like the ones you describe were often implemented to keep the peace. Normally, "it's good for business/the growth of the community" was enough to get most folks to buy in. Sometimes the ordinances were challenged in court, but the jurisprudence of that day generally took note of the "well-regulated militia" part of the Second Amendment, and concluded that regulating guns was entirely within the prerogative of state and municipal governments. If you'd like to read a bit more about this, the sixth chapter of Gunfight: The Battle Over the Right to Bear Arms in America covers the Wild West.

As to your final question, we don't see much here that modern, anti-gun folks might find instructive. The courts have now completely reinvented the Second Amendment, and few gun zealots are going to accept that fewer guns is good for business/society.

Q: You wrote: "Think, for example, of Richard Nixon foreseeing that the Republican Party of the late 1960s would be very different from the one of the early 1960s."

Could you please tell us more about the changes that Nixon foresaw, and how he rode them to the presidency?
K.G., Seattle, WA

A: For the first decade and a half of his political career, Nixon was a one-trick pony—all Cold War/anti-communism all the time. After losing the presidential election of 1960, he realized the Cold Warrior bit was no longer enough, and that to the extent that he could retain it, he needed to focus more on diplomacy and less on war. He also grasped that while Black voters were leaving the Republican Party, Southern whites were increasingly up for grabs, and could be won over by certain policy positions (anti-busing, for example) and by dog whistles.

Q: If you could go back in time and meet one historical figure, who would it be and why? I would like to narrow that to exclude religious figures, because saying Jesus, Muhammad or Buddha just seems too precious. I think most people would find the historical religious figures and their teachings so completely alien to their perceived conceptions that disappointment is almost guaranteed. D.E., Lancaster, PA

A: We couldn't narrow it down to one, so we're going to give you 10. Here are the ground rules, beyond the ones you stated: (1) We assume that the person who invented time travel also invented a universal translator or some other means of managing the communication gap, (2) we also assume that the interaction will have no effect on the course of history, and (3) the meeting will take place near the end of the person's life, so they can comment on their entire career.

And with that said, here are our 10, in rough chronological order, with a brief summary of the main goals of the meeting/interview:

  1. Boudicca/Wu Zetian/Joan of Arc: To get the views of any of the trio as to how they were able to rise to prominence in a field and a world that was in their time, and was for centuries before and after, dominated by men. That is to say, other women tried, but why did they succeed?

  2. Ibn Battuta: To get his impressions on how Asia, Africa, and Europe compared to one another on the cusp of the Age of Exploration.

  3. Leonardo da Vinci: To get his response to modern-day implementations of his ideas (like the helicopter).

  4. The Author of the Voynich Manuscript: To figure out what the heck the book says.

  5. William Shakespeare: In the spirit of the interviews John Lennon conducted with Playboy, to get his views on each of his plays, and the extent of his contributions to each.

  6. Abraham Lincoln: To get a sense of his charisma (reportedly massive), to hear his actual voice (reportedly somewhat high-pitched), but mostly to hear his vision for Reconstruction, and how he plans to implement it. Obviously, we can't tell him that it's not gonna happen for him.

  7. Jack the Ripper: To find out who he really was, so we can solve the greatest unsolved crime of all time. Then we will write a runaway bestseller whose royalties will fund the other nine trips through time.

  8. Sigmund Freud: To ask him to psychoanalyze Donald Trump.

  9. Winston Churchill: To get his unvarnished opinions about the key figures and events of World War II.

  10. Martin Luther King Jr.: To ask his opinion on recent developments in American race relations, and to get his views as to where to go from here.

If anyone would care to send in an answer, along with explanation, we'll run some of them tomorrow.

Q: Not sure if you have answered this before but how do (V) and (Z) do this which is investing a significant amount of time and effort into this site, while maintaining a 'day job' in academia?

As you know much has been written especially in these COVID times about burnout and I'm sure many of your readers have these pressures. You obviously have developed some excelling time management and/or work-life balance techniques, or you would have flamed out long ago (or you have developed some super human capabilities).

Any practical advice you have for your readers would be greatly appreciated.
S.T., Glen Rock, NJ

A: Victor Hugo, of "Les Misérables" and "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" fame, had a trick for getting work done. He would have his servant take his clothes away, leaving him only with pen and paper. So, he could write, or he could sit in the room and do nothing, but he couldn't really leave. Some accounts suggest he actually worked in the nude, but the "take the clothes away" bit appears to have been limited to formal, going-out clothing. So, he wasn't writing in his birthday suit, but he was dressed in a way that made it socially unacceptable to venture out in public.

We don't do that, but it is helpful that we have to do the work every day, by a (somewhat) set time. Although through a different mechanism than Hugo, it still means there's no choice but to get it done. And necessity is the mother of invention. If you can't set things up to make it necessary to work, at least try to work on whatever your big projects are a little bit each day. This is the #1 piece of advice given to grad students about their dissertation-writing, and it's on target.

Q: I've been reading you guys for at least ten years now, and maybe my memory is foggy but I am fairly sure that between (Z) and (V), you both usually contributed to each day's posts. I started noticing last week that you are taking turns on a daily basis. I started to check back dates and July 23rd was the last date there was a posting that was signed by both of you. Are you changing up your system, maybe trying to lighten the load for the waning days of summer break? J.K., Las Vegas, NV

A: We both used to write items every day, but we switched several years ago to having one person handle most of a particular day's posting. Usually, (V) writes Monday and Thursday and (Z) writes Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. This gives each of us a breather, and also makes it easier if we need to spend a day focusing on something else. That said, whoever is "off" on a particular day still reads over and edits the post, and sometimes adds things. If that person adds enough things to an item (usually a couple of paragraphs or more), then we both sign the item. This is most common with stories that develop throughout the day, where (V) will write the base item and (Z) will update it based on subsequent developments.

Q: When (V) and (Z) work together, how do y'all communicate? Do y'all ever call each other on the phone, or is all communication done via email? D.M. Austin, TX

A: Occasionally we are able to meet up in person when (V) visits the United States. However, 99.9% of communication is done via e-mail. The phone is not a great option because of the time difference, and also because (Z) doesn't particularly like talking on the phone and tries to avoid it.

Q: You referenced the "newfangled, fancy-pants metric system" (whatever that is—must be foreign) and then used a non-defined abbreviation, "km." Knowing one of you knows more about computers than the average Joe or Jo, I figured it might be a computer term. My internet search offered "killing machine"; Canadians are bad, but Russians and Chileans? Then I noticed (Z) wrote this item, so I thought maybe "km" was an internet chat term: "kiss me" came up, but that's a lot of kisses! T.B., Tallahassee, FL

A: You may be familiar with the Smoot? It is, of course, named in honor of Oliver R. Smoot, whose body was used to measure the length of the Harvard Bridge across the Charles River (it's 364.4 Smoots +/- an ear). Every year the Smoot marks are repainted. The local police like it because sometimes people call up and say: "There is an accident on Harvard Bridge at the 100-Smoot mark," so they know where it is. As a little aside, one of us (V), met Smoot once at a conference. He turned that fraternity prank into a career and later became chairman of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and then President of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). He told (V): "I not only make standards, I am a standard."

Needless to say, everyone feels the need to copy the U.S., and so 'km' is for "Kylie Minogue." Yes, she's Australian and not Canadian, but you know how those Commonwealth countries are. And it just spread from there.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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