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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

We got a lot of letters this week about two subjects that begin with the letter 'a,' but otherwise don't have a whole lot in common, namely abortion and Afghanistan. So, we'll start with those, despite the somewhat jarring transition from subject #1 to subject #2. In both cases, the opinions all pretty much came down on one side of the issue. In the case of Afghanistan, we were very surprised about that, since we expected at least some folks to push back on what we wrote.

We are also going to run some more "historical figure I would like to meet," including a complete Top 10 from D.E. in Lancaster, since they submitted the question in the first place. And also some more theme songs; as a reminder, we're leaving the complimentary language about intact in those because it is generally organic to the explanation.

A Can of Worms We Did Not Actually Intend to Open

J.P. in Lancaster, PA, writes: I read the letter from P.M. in Currituck last Sunday about their moral objection to abortion based upon their moral guide, the Catholic Church. Let's forget the record of the Catholic Church on relatively ancient moral issues, e.g., the Crusades, the originator of anti-Semitism (if you don't believe me, read Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews, A History by James Carroll), the Inquisition, etc. While the Catholic Church claims to make every effort to protect unborn children on the basis of morality, once those children are here, not so much. Witness the relatively recent revelations with respect to priests molesting children and the efforts to cover up those transgressions. It seems the Church has relinquished the moral high ground here.

Another troubling aspect of the Church's crusade against abortion is its stance against birth control. It seems to me that a major incentive for abortions is the prevalence of unwanted pregnancies. If the Church supported the idea of birth control, the number of abortions would decrease. By discouraging effective birth control, the Church actually causes the thing they ostensibly hate even more. The Church could discourage one or the other, but being against both simply makes no sense. The Church should pick one.

R.S. in San Mateo, CA, writes: P.M. in Currituck decries people "who believe they have all of the answers, are the self-appointed moral guardians, and who want to impose their values on everyone else." They then point to their Roman Catholic faith as their moral guide that apparently we should all follow, and deridingly paints those with a different guide as "some secular academics." P.M. seems to lack a sense of irony. Do they not realize that Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Shintoism (among many other religions) allow abortion? Which one is the correct moral guardian who gets to impose their values on everyone else? Is it P.M.'s? Or mine? Perhaps we should have a cage match among all religions to decide who gets to be the moral guardian for society. Or, perhaps we should keep religion out of public policy and let people be their own moral guardians.

V & Z respond: We gotta be honest; if that cage match was on pay-per-view, we'd pony up the $49.95.

D.C. in Brentwood, CA, writes: To P.M. in Currituck, I won't try to dissuade you from your position on abortion, but please don't act as if the leaders of the Catholic church aren't "self-appointed moral guardians".

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: I'm starting to wonder if P.M. from Currituck is a world-class-level satirist like Stephen Colbert, holding right-wingers up for mockery by asserting ridiculous and hypocritical positions with no apparent self-awareness. Here's P.M.'s brilliant take-down of the religious anti-choice crowd's hypocrisy: "I am a devout Roman Catholic, and Church social teaching [on abortion] is quite clear ... versus some ... self-appointed moral guardians ... who want to impose their values on everyone else." Comedy gold! P.M. highlights the cognitive dissonance between right-wingers wanting to impose anti-choice laws on others, while the pro-choice crowd isn't seeking to force anyone to have abortions. "I can impose my values on you, but you can't choose what values to have for yourself!"

While we're on the subject of Catholic Church teachings, I've seen a lot of coverage of how some U.S. bishops want to deny Communion to pro-choice lawmakers like Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi. Yet I have heard nary a whisper about denying Communion to Chief Justice Roberts and Associate Justices Alito, Gorsuch, Kavanaugh and Thomas, all Catholics who regularly vote to impose the death penalty, which is forbidden under Church teaching. Maybe letting people make their own reproductive choices really is much worse than being responsible for sticking a needle full of poison in one's fellow man. Or...could it be that those bishops are using the guise of their religious offices to promote only the secular political positions with which they agree? I can't wait for P.M. to turn their satirical skewer on these shameless hypocrites!

B.C. in Phoenix, AZ , writes: P.M. in Currituck wrote that the reason abortion is wrong is "simple: because aborting the fetus is murder, and kills someone."

Nope, that is incorrect. Science and scripture both agree: life begins when breathing starts and ends when breathing stops. A fetus does not breathe. All biological science disciplines agree that one of the primary characteristics of life is "respiration," and the book of Genesis concurs (emphasis is mine):

"Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." (New International Version, Genesis 2:7)

"I am going to bring floodwaters on the earth to destroy all life under the heavens, every creature that has the breath of life in it. Everything on earth will perish." (New International Version, Genesis 6:17)

I could quote about a dozen other passages which support this understanding of life, but we'll leave it at that. For a religious person, another view of the basic nature of life requires an enormous amount of logical gymnastics interpreting other scripture like Exodus 21:22-25, Luke 1:41, etc.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: What P.M. in Currituck doesn't grasp about Roman Catholic doctrine on abortion is that it is an admonition to the individual not to terminate a pregnancy. It does not mean that said individual should judge or condemn anyone else for doing so. The heart of Christianity is to improve oneself, not to sit in judgment of others. Reduced to bumper sticker simplicity: "Abortion: None of your damn business!"

D.L-O. in North Canaan, CT, writes: P.M. in Currituck has struck the same note that all of the anti-abortion factions in our culture have used in the attempt to deny women the right to make decisions about their own reproductive systems. My own opinion on the basis of this belief is that for the most part it's simply a mechanism through which men, who cannot nurture life physically within their bodies, can control women who are essential for men to fulfill the innate creative instinct to reproduce. Without women men are reproductively sterile, and because of that and hormonally induced male aggression, their drive to reproduce also drives them to try to control women so that they can ensure the survival of their genes. Or maybe it's just jealousy.

P.M., your religious beliefs are irrelevant to this conversation for anyone other than yourself or someone else who believes as you do. I do not believe that Jesus died and then was resurrected and taken up to "heaven" by "God." I think you would agree, although maybe reluctantly, that I have the right to believe or not as I choose. So, please set that aside for just a few minutes while you read this.

Paternalistic religious cultures whose doctrines were formed and set in concrete more than a thousand years ago must not be used as an excuse to control the reproductive lives of women any longer. They have already killed hundreds, thousands, possibly even millions of women over the intervening years who died from infection, bleeding and other complications after being forced to go to a "back door" abortionist or try to induce an abortion or miscarriage on their own in desperation.

J.M. in Boulder, CO, writes: I am not a member of any religion. I do not want to impose my beliefs on anyone, and I resent the attempt by P.M. in Currituck to do so. They are the ones trying to force others to abide by their beliefs by banning abortion. If a woman who believes otherwise obtains an abortion, that does not "impose" anything on P.M. The only way for that to happen would be to force a woman to have an abortion against her will. No one is doing that, and I would fight like hell against any attempt to do so.

P.M. needs to realize that no one can ever end abortions. They happened before Roe v. Wade and would continue to happen if it were overturned. Desperate women will get abortions no matter what. If the anti-abortion forces succeed, they will just deprive those women of safe, clean procedures and force them into the clutches of the Kermit Gosnells of the world. These monsters will stay out there to kill and maim the women P.M. pushes into their cesspits.

G.W. in Avon, CT, writes: P.M. in Currituck writes: "I would never presume to be more clever than either of you, but the answer of 'why is it wrong?' is simple: because aborting the fetus is murder, and kills someone."

It's homicide, and the law recognizes that some homicide is justifiable.

It is also the only scenario I'm aware of in the U.S. where anyone has felt it is appropriate to legislatively force someone to give of their own body and risk their own health in order to sustain the life of another. Does P.M. also support compulsory living kidney donation?

S.B. in New Castle, DE, writes: I've always thought it interesting that nowhere in the Constitution does it count or address "partial people" other than slaves. In other words, an unborn child is not a citizen. It is not yet a countable part of the population and by strict interpretation, it has not yet been born, even though their parent's citizenship is obviously influential.

To use (V)'s and (Z)'s phrase "I'm not a legal scholar," but it seems like the child is within the full legal domain of the woman until the point of birth.

For what it's worth, my personal feeling is that until an unborn child can live outside the womb without medical technology, it's the woman's right. After that, barring personal horrors, there should be some sort of social support to ensure the child is adopted or otherwise cared for at point of birth. Too many people are all about getting babies born and then withholding social support for the mothers who bear them.

R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, writes: This is not my original idea, but consider this variation on the Trolley Problem: "A train approaches a fork, and you have the switch in your hand. If you do nothing, the train will run over a ten year old child. If you throw the switch, the train will turn and run over a test tube containing a blastocyst."

A person who truly believed that fertilized egg is just as valuable as that ten year old child would have to flip a coin to decide whether to throw the switch or not. Nobody would have to flip that coin.

Everyone (other than the Jeffrey Dahmer types) would throw the switch, even if the test tube contained fifty (or fifty million, or fifty quadrillion) blastocysts.

The Graveyard of Empires

C.R. in Pelham, AL, writes: You wrote: "The United States was in Afghanistan for 20 years. If whatever it is the U.S. built—Afghan government, Afghan military—collapsed this fast, those 20 years don't appear to have been spent well, and it's hard to see how another, say, two months (a.k.a. 0.8% more time) would change much."

You are exactly right. It was always going to end this way, after two years, 20, or 200. Better to rip the band-aid off now and let some other regional power (China?) deal with it. By the way, the quick accommodation reached between Beijing and the Taliban proves that this is all about power and not about religion, or protecting Muslims like the Uighurs from persecution.

The U.S./NATO training mission was more about defense budgets and lining contractor pockets than it was about setting up a free and stable Afghanistan. The U.S. military refused to learn from history and repeated the exact same mistakes it made with the Army of the Republic of Vietnam 50 years ago—training a force without an educational or industrial base to fight like it did, and not ridding the government it was supposed to defend of corruption and incompetence. The only thing left is the inevitable image of a Blackhawk on the embassy roof. And these twin failures will make it virtually impossible for any struggling nation to trust or work with the U.S. military again. That might actually be a good thing, in terms of limiting U.S. foreign intervention and "nation building" experiments.

This piece is illuminating, and also confirms that it never occurred to the people in charge to pick up a history book and study why we failed in Vietnam. I hate to give Santayana any more publicity, but his aphorism applies perfectly here!

M.B. in Menlo Park, CA, writes: Friday's post about the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan brings to mind a previous war where the United States spent over a decade propping up an Asian government that never won the support of its own people and promptly fell when the U.S. left. Despite huge military support from the U.S., the South Vietnamese government never won the "hearts and minds" of its own people, as Lyndon B. Johnson put it, and as an Oscar-winning documentary showed. After 20 years, the current Afghan government has been unable to convince its own people to resist the Taliban, either in their hearts or minds. The end result in Afghanistan is as predictable as the end result was in South Vietnam.

A.M. in Olympia, WA, writes: It was inevitable that Talibanistan would prevail regardless of the U.S. presence. The Taliban will is extraordinary in comparison to the Afghan will.

M.C. in Friendship, ME, writes: Afghanistan has withstood quite a few subjugation attempts. When I read about U.S. travails in Afghanistan, the last verse of Kipling's "The Young British Soldier" comes to mind:

When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.

T.B. in Tallahassee, FL, writes: Concerning Afghanistan: The United States is learning, in grim fashion, what the Soviets learned from 1979-1989; it's just taking us twice as long (2001-2021). Will the U.S. crash in two years, as did the Soviet Union? Or will it take us four years, because we're slow?

M.O. and S.H. in Arlington, VA, writes: We very much agree with your comment(s) that the talking heads are adding nothing to the Afghanistan discussion. In my Federal career we were not allowed to present a problem without making some effort to provide thinking on the "so what" part of the equation. Telling our readers that Afghanistan was a problem would not have passed muster and so doing would have earned us an "F" for the day.

C.S. in Duluth, MN, writes: We've been warned to look for "tells" when playing poker. Those good at minimizing their tells and skilled at seeing and understanding them in others are likely to do well. Those less skilled lose.

With wars, too, there are tells.

When we're told of existential threats, do the wealthy and those close to power—people who have the most to lose—send their kids off to war? If politicians send family members to bleed and die, we can reasonably assume the threat is real. If the powerful and connected keep their kids far from international conflicts, it's an obvious tell, and voters are being played. What was Vietnam? Grenada? Iraq? Afghanistan?

My answer: A series of lies, lies obvious in real time.

When we're told that the military is advising and training local forces, there might not be tells, only history? How did the Vietnamization of that little conflict turn out? Iraq? Afghanistan? The warning about knowing who is the mark at the poker table might be an appropriate metaphor. $88 billion equipping and training the Afghanistan military. Geez! Investing with Bernie Madoff had a better ROI.

While I would like to believe there is reason for hope for the people of Afghanistan, I expect unimaginable horrors. If 20 years and $88 billion couldn't save the people, what would? How much more blood and treasure would bring success—something our government cannot seem to define?

If our government and military leaders cannot define success and explain what success can reasonably be expected to require, then stop the insanity.

Alternatively, tell the public, "We'll stay in [X] country fighting the war only if we can pay for it by raising your taxes and drafting your children to go and fight—everyone's children, especially the progeny of pundits and politicians." If the public agrees, then fine. If we're only interested in warfare that uses the credit card and the sacrifices of others, I suggest we find a better hobby—maybe a nice card game.

D.G. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: The biggest mistake the United States has made in Afghanistan is not training and equipping/arming a womens' army, as they will be the ones suffering the most under the Taliban rule. The U.S. should have helped them protect themselves, and trained them in insurgency operations.

R.M. in Baltimore, MD, writes: I have a family member who runs a division of the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan. When I talked to her on Tuesday or Wednesday she was making long term plans for vacations to the U.S. and returning to Afghanistan. She was carefree, looking forward to having a break, and not worried about anything blocking her return to work.

Two days later and everything had changed from long term personal and countrywide plans to evacuation details. Some staff are arranging for family evacuations and others are feeding the fires going in different parts of the embassy as documents are destroyed. It looks like some officials will go to other countries, some will be based in D.C., and some will work remotely, but every day they change where her next posting will be. As of Saturday night she had no known time of departure but the priority is getting the families of the local staff out first and then hopefully she will get out before the city falls or the airport becomes unusable. If she does not get out she becomes a political hostage. If the local staff do not get out they and their families will likely be killed. She is joking that all of her packed belongings will simply make the looting easier.

O.D. in Lisbon, Portugal, writes: In your answer to B.B. in St. Louis, you said that "anarchy and warlords" is more likely to foment potential terrorists (see Osama bin Laden).

I have to say I completely disagree: Osama bin Laden actually thrived in Afghanistan thanks to a stable Taliban regime that lasted for a few years. So I would say that the Taliban gaining power now will generate a situation pretty similar to what Afghanistan experienced before 9/11. Let's hope this time they will not harbor a terrorist mastermind.

B.B. in Panama City Beach, FL, writes: The effects of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are yet to be written. Primarily, I believe they will have disastrous effects on the structure and functioning of the Middle East, giving legitimacy to Anti-American hardliners. These effects will last decades, if not centuries. The Vietnam War did not have similar effects on Buddhists or on the political structures of Southeast Asia. So I think the invasions of these nations will come to be seen as the worst decision in the past century.

The Democrats' To Do List

D.A.Y. in Troy, MI, writes: With all the talk about the soft infrastructure bill and inflation and taxes and everything else, I think we need to realize we've been living a lie since the 80s. George H. W. Bush himself called it "voodoo economics." Yet, we continue to believe the voodoo over and over again, as soon as the last time it came back to bite us is far enough in the rearview mirror.

The lie we're telling ourselves is civilization can be inexpensive. That wealthy and large corporations can be taxed at a low rate and they will use that extra money to create jobs for the rest of us. That we can pay the service and care sectors peanuts. That we can have small government and have as many services as possible handled by private enterprise.

The truth is that large corporations will take their extra money to drive up their stock prices with buybacks to improve the portfolios of their stockholders. The wealthy will take their extra money to buy watches at the price of cars, cars at the price of houses, and houses at a price that is hard to find a comparison for. None of these activities create more jobs or improve the jobs already out there. If anything, they funnel money to the top, where it has a nasty habit of staying. The labor realignment we're seeing is showing us the service and care sectors are worth a lot more than we're paying them. And leaving everything we can to private enterprise has never given us a better service nor a better price.

The thing is, we're taxed in more ways than what Uncle Sam takes out of our paychecks. A lack of good public transit taxes us by forcing most people to have a vehicle for any mobility, with all the costs that entails. A college education is becoming more vital for any kind of career, and it only gets more expensive every year, making it so young adults start off with crushing debt that delays other things like starting a family. We're taxed by natural disasters that cost us a refrigerator of food when the power fails, or possibly the destruction of all our worldly possessions by fire, flood, or wind. We're taxed by a health care system where you have to go to doctors in your plan or else pay out of pocket. We're taxed by the cost of raising children, especially before they are school aged, either by foregoing employment to raise them personally or paying a steep price for daycare.

So, when people wring their hands about the cost of the human infrastructure bill, they should remember we're already paying more for these services (or the consequences of not having them, for those who cannot afford them).

Also, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) should really sit Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and the other moderates down and provide them a history lesson of how the shellacking in 2010 was suffered most acutely by the Blue Dogs who derailed Obama's agenda in the belief it would endear them to their conservative states and districts. Today's Blue Dogs should knock this off and fall into line, for their own self-interest if nothing else.

J.D.M. in Cottonwood Shores, TX, writes: Let's look at some of the numbers in the bipartisan infrastructure bill. First, realize that these big numbers are going to be spread out over 10 years. Second, to get some perspective let's compare them to 10 years of Pentagon spending: $800 billion/year * 10, or $8 trillion dollars.

So the roughly $1 trillion infrastructure bill is 0.125 Penta™. Oh, but only 0.07 Penta is new spending.

Some individual parts of the bill (in Penta):

Expenditure Original Proposal Final Bill
Roads and bridges 0.019 Penta 0.014 (experts say we need 0.100 Penta)
Electric vehicle stuff 0.020 0.002 (2/10ths of 1% of Pentagon spending)
Green R&D/Manufacturing 0.071 0.000
Clean energy tax credits 0.045 0.000
Powerline upgrades 0.010 0.008
Broadband programs 0.013 0.008

So, just maybe we need the larger reconciliation bill (0.438 Penta) too!

R.V. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: While I applaud Chuck Schumer and Democrats for passing the infrastructure bill, the budget resolution, and discharging the voting rights bill from committee, they could have done more on nominations.

Last year, then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) kept the Senate in session for most of August in a presidential election year solely to confirm judges.

Schumer should have taken a lesson from that. Instead, a nominations hearing scheduled for Aug. 11 was canceled, as was a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Aug. 12. Schumer should have threatened Republicans, saying something to effect like "We are going to confirm some judges before we leave for break." He might have been able to skip the cloture votes and move right to a floor vote. Hell, maybe even Republicans would have even "voice voted" approval for a few nominees, just to get out of town. The Majority Leader held all the cards but didn't play his hand correctly, in my view.

I yield the floor—and note the absence of a quorum. I'll be in withdrawal, since the Senate will be out for a month.

P.B. in Sønderborg, Denmark, writes: I really think you're underestimating how big an issue rising crime in U.S. cities will be in the next couple of election cycles. One of the central arguments you have used is that the most crucial votes to attract in 2022 and 2024 are in the suburbs, not the cities. However, I think most people who live in suburbs identify strongly with their nearby big city. If you aren't from New England and you ask my parents where they live, they would likely say Boston, although they don't actually live in the city proper. The same would be true for my friends who live in the Seattle suburbs. They wouldn't tell strangers from the East Coast that they live in Green Lake or Kenmore. They would say "Seattle."

Speaking of Seattle, this summer I visited my beloved city in the Pacific Northwest for the first time in nearly 14 years. I went in with the attitude that the crime problem there was surely a Fox News fabrication. After being there in person, however, I honestly think that Fox is understating how bad it is. On every block downtown there is either a tent where someone is living, a crazy person yelling something, a panhandler aggressively soliciting money, or someone openly using drugs. I frequently felt unsafe walking around downtown Seattle. This is a city where I worked for the better part of the 2000s and never felt threatened, not once. There is so much graffiti now covering signs downtown that, had I not already known where to go, navigating around the city would have been impossible. There is garbage everywhere. This is absolutely not the way Seattle used to be. I am heartbroken.

I did not get the impression from my friends in the suburbs that they felt this crisis unfolding in downtown Seattle was safely removed from them. I got a sense of deep concern. In fact, one friend, probably the most liberal/progressive person in my entire circle of friends, complained about how far to the left Seattle has gone. Would she vote for one of the crazies from Trump's GOP? Absolutely not. But I would not be the slightest bit surprised if she were to pull the lever for a Republican candidate who runs on the platform of making America safer.

I simply have to ask, when is the last time (V) has visited the downtown area of a large American city, particularly on the West Coast? How often has (Z) ventured into downtown L.A.? I suspect you both are severely underestimating how bad things actually are, and how heavily the crime issue will weigh in upcoming elections.

V & Z respond: We'll leave others to respond to most of your letter, should they choose to do so. However, as to your question about us, while the pandemic has stopped (V) from visiting the U.S. for a couple of years, (Z) is in downtown L.A. nearly every week, where he walks around on foot, both at night and day, since he no longer has a car.

This Week in TrumpWorld

J.E. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: There's one angle to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's (D-NY) demise that I haven't seen covered on, or any other outlet: the existential ramifications for Donald Trump with regard to the ouster of arguably the most prominent Democratic governor in the U.S.

If (when?) Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance and New York AG Letitia James eventually come down on Trump, the predictable Republican outcry of "partisan witch hunt" won't have a broomstick to lean on. "Just the facts, ma'am."

S.S. in West Hollywood, CA, writes: In response to S.W. in New York City speculating that Donald Trump's narcissistic personality and disposable use of blonde, buxom women while surrounding himself with good-looking men may be due to closeted homosexual feelings:

  1. No. Just stop.
  2. Good-looking men? What? Who? Where?
  3. Really, just stop. You're not laying this at our feet. We already get blamed for earthquakes, hurricanes and tornadoes. We're not taking responsibility for Trump, too.
  4. My skin is crawling. Going to go vomit now.

S.R. in Ottawa, ON, Canada, writes: If I were Donald Trump (and thankfully I'm not), I would give Rudy Giuliani money just to keep him off Cameo, where he can probably embarrass himself and the past administration further. At least he isn't on least not yet, anyway.

V & Z respond: You'll know if Giuliani ever joins OnlyFans, because there won't be an post the next day; we'll be with S.S. in West Hollywood, throwing up uncontrollably.

D.A. in Parish, NY, writes: My recent road trip (8/4 to 8/12) across nine states left me with this overall impression of the Cult of the Orange is OVER. We drove secondary roads in rural areas of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan and I saw virtually no signs for the Treasonous Cheeto. Across 2,600 miles I saw less than 10 yards with signage and none of the over-the-top displays I expected everywhere. Our local upstate New York county has also seen the disappearance of his signs—even the solar-powered one illuminated at night next to the Interstate.

The meaning of this anecdotal data is debatable, but it could be in a few years few will admit supporting the Big Liar. As their fervor fades, I hope their turnout in the midterms will fall.

A.D. in Las Vegas, NV, writes: J.L.J. in San Francisco wrote about how their own father lied to them, claiming he never watches Fox and hasn't even heard of OANN and Newsmax. If his father insists on acting childish, maybe next visit it's time to treat him like one and block those channels through parental control while he's out of the room, using a pin he'll never guess (like 2020, when Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump).

Bonus points if J.L.J. is able to put some keyboard shortcuts on dad's phone that automatically correct words like "communist," "senile," and "questions" to "patriot," "brilliant," and "no doubt Trump is a Russian mole."

M.G. in Chicago, IL, writes: Is it actually a good thing to have the Cheney-Rumsfeld neocons overtaken by the incompetent Trumpists? One wanted to take over the world and the other just wants to take over America.

All Politics Is Local

W.K.D. in Houston, TX, writes: It was a breath of fresh air to finally see an accurate portrayal of Greg Abbott presented on Up until this point, you, like other left-leaning media, have imagined Abbott as a wingnut firebrand somewhere to the right of Satan. (V)'s description of Abbott was precisely on the mark, right up until the very last sentence: "Abbott is definitely not your standard-issue Texas governor, but people seem to like him nevertheless".

In truth, Greg Abbott is possibly the most hated man in Texas for reasons that should abundantly be clear after reading the description of his governing style. The Governor stands for...nothing. When push comes to shove, Abbott will put his foot down for...nothing. He is the ultimate and consummate politician. Given his amorphous shape-shifting triangulation, he is a Rorschach test. People see what they want to see in him. Case in point,'s previous notion that Abbott was an extreme right-wing ideologue who planned to foist his right-wing extremism onto the rest of America through an inevitable run for President. I don't know where any of those ideas came from. Greg Abbott will be 67 years old in 2024 and has zero interest in running for President. None. Nevertheless, the left projects its deepest and darkest fears onto Greg Abbott, a curious phenomenon that is faithfully reciprocated by the right, precisely because he is a blank canvas.

Unlike most states, Texas actually has three political parties. We have the tea partiers, who are the real uncompromising right-wing firebrands. We have the mainstream Republicans, who are the adults in the room and hate the tea party folks, but know that they need them to beat the Democrats. And we have the aforementioned Democrats, who more or less mirror the national party, an uncomfortable marriage between aging moderates and young social justice warriors with an affinity for handouts. Anyhow, Abbott is too right-leaning for the Democrats, so they hate him. He's ultra-far-right, as far as they can tell. Abbott is also way too moderate and sensible for the tea partiers, so they really hate him. He's not one of them (they can spot a fake). He's ultra-far-left, as far as they can tell. That's about two-thirds of the electorate who have very strong, very negative feelings about Abbott.

The moderate Republicans don't hate Abbott because they can't really be bothered to hate anything (except maybe Democrats and tea partiers), but the Governor's blank-canvas/empty-vessel leadership certainly doesn't excite anyone. So for those keeping score, two-thirds of Texans hate Abbott and one-third are indifferent to him. Does this work electorally? Absolutely. But a kind word about the Governor is never spoken by anybody. The far right, in particular, dismayed by his lack of ideological purity, spews unfiltered vitriol in his direction at every opportunity. Nonetheless, he'll win the next gubernatorial election (and the one after if he wants) without issue. Too many tea partiers are unwilling to let a Democrat take over the governor's mansion in Austin. They will continue to hold their noses and show up on Election Day.

V & Z respond: We actually went back and tweaked the final sentence to be more precise..

J.F. in Houston, TX, writes: In your item on Greg Abbott, you wrote that his being wheelchair-bound would be a disadvantage in a presidential run, "especially against someone like DeSantis, who is young (42), vigorous, and telegenic (which Abbott is definitely not)."

OK, boomers (from one who recognizes his own), this sounds like old-fart unenlightened discriminatory analysis to me. I'm not sure what digital representations you may see in your blue environments, but telegenic and vigorous, Abbott definitely is. He is abbottsolely a flaming abbotthole, but he looks and sounds extremely convincing as he spins anarcho-fascist vitriol. Before this quote, you wrote that a national campaign in a wheelchair is a particular challenge. I would put it to you that I-10 through Texas is almost 900 miles long, that Dalhart is closer to three or four other state capitals than it is to Austin, and that Brownsville is closer to two Mexican state capitals than to Austin. And in that environment, Abbott has now been elected to statewide office three times. Greg Abbott is living proof that use of A.D.A. ramps does not prevent you from obtaining public office or from being a complete jerk.

V & Z respond: Note that one of us was technically born a couple of years too early to be a Baby Boomer, while the other was born 10 years too late.

D.F. in Norcross, GA, writes: Your item in Thursday's posting about Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX), and the Politico profile about him, reminds me a lot of this (fictional) Texas governor:

R.H.D. in Webster, NY, writes: You were right on in writing that Andrew Cuomo's saga was just like Richard Nixon's 47 years ago, even to the point of it happening in early August. I was an infant when the 37th president announced his resignation. When Cuomo's speech came on, I was glued to the set to see which way he would go. Stay defiant, or reach the final stage of grief, acceptance? I was anticipating a similar line to the one Nixon used, "Therefore, I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow." Didn't quite happen, but his speech followed the same pattern.

Cuomo came to realize that staying on would only be a lose-lose proposition for everyone. His reputation and character would have taken more of a beating. The state would be further paralyzed as it's still trying to fight COVID-19 and its effects, among many issues facing us. Plus, these women who spoke out would have been subjected to more unwanted scrutiny and the possibility of having to testify publicly in an impeachment trial.

Speaking of impeachment, the state Assembly is still mulling over that. The Judiciary Committee began meeting this past week and will be working on completing their investigation. That should be done by the end of next month. I know that's slow for some, but they really want to cross their t's and dot their i's here. I give the chances of Cuomo still being impeached at about 50/50. I say that because, as we saw with Trump's second impeachment, some really don't want to see him run for any office ever again. By going through this, they can still convict him and penalize him with a lifetime ban. I'm not certain on the rules of procedure for impeachment trials here in New York, but I would guess it could be similar to Trump's in that both sides can just make speeches, present evidence, and then hold a vote. The difference, though, is we don't have any turtles or sycophants here in Albany like they have on Capitol Hill.

As for Cuomo himself, he's done, toast, goose fully cooked. I laugh at the idea Chuck Todd of NBC raised that he could be in public office again by the end of this decade. What would Cuomo run for? Nobody wants to be near him anymore. He's as toxic as Love Canal in Niagara Falls was in 1980. Remember the last governor here who resigned in disgrace, Eliot Spitzer? Anyone has heard of him lately? Nope. At least he and Cuomo are now two peas in a pod.

Of course, the Republicans here are treating this news like it's Christmas Day. They're probably measuring the drapes for the governor's mansion, thinking it's within reach. However, among their leading candidates for the nomination are two Trumpists, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) and Andrew Giuliani. The former voted to overturn the election results in Arizona and Pennsylvania and the latter is the son of another disgraced man who fed the lies that led to the Jan. 6 insurrection. They're counting their chickens before they hatch and underestimating both Letitia James and our soon-to-be new governor, Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY). Remember, this is still sapphire-blue New York we're talking here.

Speaking of the Dear Leader, if I'm him, I'd be really worried right now. It's only a matter of time before he faces the long arm of the law in AG James. By taking on Cuomo, she has proven to have the fortitude to take on any powerful person, regardless of party. She very well can become the first elected Black and female NY governor rolled into one in short time. Her star is rising!

On the other hand, in a year's time, Cuomo has gone from hero to zero. What a shame.

M.B. in Pittsboro, NC, writes: The current buzz regarding the two top contenders in North Carolina's Democratic 2022 primary race for a precious Senate seat is worrisome. As the media have recently reported, Cheri Beasley, the former state Supreme Court chief justice, just lost her campaign manager and treasurer. Rumor has it that there were too many cooks in the kitchen issuing countervailing orders, which never ends well.

And other background talk suggests that state Senator Jeff Jackson is a mixed bag: an excellent and conscientious communicator with the public (important for sure), but perhaps not so congenial with other politicians, which makes a run even harder in a close race. And so far, his campaign seems noticeably unaware of the importance of appealing to Black voters—an absolute must for any Democrat in North Carolina.

So, we North Carolina Democrats will have to see who wins the primary and then work like hell to get that person over the finish line next fall, hoping that the Republicans have a messy primary and end up with a weakened candidate. My bet is on Jackson, and that fear of returning to a Republican-controlled Senate will be enough to inspire Democratic voters to come out strong. But it will be a slog, for sure.

T.B. in Waterloo, IA, writes: In response to your Iowa Update, for me as a native Iowan, the fact that a mainly rural, aging, majority-white small population of people has such an impact on who runs this multi-cultural, multi-racial country of 300+ million is the very definition of insanity. With all due respect to Rep. Randy Feenstra (R-IA), his district IA-04 is not the "pulse of Iowa" let alone the rest of the country. Sioux City (pop. 82,531) is only marginally larger than Ames (pop. 66,772; also in IA-04), where Iowa State University is located. The University of Iowa is in Iowa City (pop. 96,053; IA-02) and the University of Northern Iowa is in Waterloo/Cedar Falls (pop. 208,564; IA-01). Add in the capital, Des Moines (pop. 552,000; IA-03) and Cedar Rapids (pop. 134,268, IA-01) and you can conceivably argue that the pulse of Iowa lies in the south central/eastern half of the state.

Iowa may be majority white, but you're going to see the most diversity in the cities listed above and much less diversity in district IA-04. I'd even be willing to wager that there are people living in that district that have had very limited interactions with "non-whites" and get their knowledge of "non-whites" from gossip and news articles. Perhaps the GOP's seeming dependence on rural areas explains why they're losing ground in the suburbs and with women. After all, it's in IA-04 especially that you're going to find people who are Trump supporters, who will go to their graves fighting Roe v. Wade, and are willing to discriminate against gays, transgendered people, and anybody else who doesn't fit their definition of what their God decreed to be the "normal order of things". This plays well with the base; the bad news is the base doesn't seem to be increasing. Perhaps the GOP needs to re-think their strategy?

D.R. in Harrisburg, PA, writes: Just as a comment on the 2022 Pennsylvania Senate race: As a Democrat who lives in Charlie Dent's old district and a person who considers himself a moderate Democrat (maybe with some Libertarian leanings), I feel like I am finding myself in a weird spot. I like Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D-PA) because even though he's a little more left than me, I feel like he genuinely cares about people. Maybe that's just because he's good at selling that persona, but it feels real. However, if Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA) is the nominee, I am 100% ok with that. He seems like a solid choice. I don't know any of the possible Republican nominees, except for Dent, but (unfortunately for the Democrats, election-wise) he also always came off as a pretty decent, level-headed guy who I was sad to see go. I am fine with Republicans being in office if they are decent people who I can trust that, while they may be right of me on many issues, will at the end of the day do the right thing and behave like respectable adults (looking at you, Doug Mastriano).

It'll be a weird spot for me if everyone running is an acceptable choice, that's for sure. I thought we were supposed to hate one candidate with the fire of a thousand burning suns these days.

The Vaxx of Life

L.R.H. in Oakland, CA, writes: You wrote that "Pretty much everyone in the U.S. who doesn't need persuading has already gotten the vaccine." I expect that you're aware that this is an oversimplification, but I want to spell out some issues that are limiting the percentage of the U.S. population that has received the vaccine.

First, none of the vaccines are approved for children under age 12, leaving something approaching 50 million children unprotected. Second, there are still issues of access, for many reasons. I've seen anecdotal writeups of teens age 13-17 who want to get vaccinated but whose parents aren't giving permission. That problem will solve itself but it will take up to 5 years for these youths to reach age 18 (except for those in states that allow younger kids to seek this kind of care without parental consent). A recent New York Times opinion piece listed, among the unvaccinated, low-income people who don't know that the vaccine is free; people who are undocumented and afraid that they will be arrested; people who can't get child care and aren't allowed to bring their children to most vaccination sites; homeless people; people who have difficulty scheduling the vaccinations at a location that they can travel to, and so on.

The Times piece is well worth reading. Yes, there are far too many holding out owing to misinformation, stubbornness, willingness to take risks, and ideology, but there are still gains to be made among those who do want the protection offered by the vaccine. Right now, the biggest gains to be made might be among children, so the FDA really does need to approve the vaccines for them.

V & Z respond: Thanks for the clarification. Sometimes the last paragraph of the last item of the day is the weakest, for obvious reasons. And by "obvious reasons," what we mean, of course, is Justin Bieber.

G.B. in Durham, NC, writes: I'm a longtime reader and a nurse who's been involved in the COVID-19 fight since the start. My sister is also a nurse (practitioner) and is the head of Student Health at the University of Wyoming. Yesterday, she forwarded this message, which she received at work, to me and the rest of the family. It details what's going on with COVID and, more specifically, with the Delta variant. The basic thrust is that due to Delta's infectious nature, even those of us who are vaccinated can/will get it (but will, in most cases, have mild/no symptoms) and can/will spread it, and therefore, the U.S. will never achieve herd immunity, thanks to the anti-vaxxers.

Legal Matters

S.C-M. in Scottsdale, AZ, writes: When I was a member of the Austin, TX City Council, we had issues come up which concerned the immunity of council members. In general, a council member acting in an official capacity (e.g., voting on an ordinance or adopting a budget, etc) was immune from liability for those votes.

We had a case come up where a council member wanted to gut the city health department's budget to eliminate restaurant inspections, which were a mandate from the state. Our city legal counsel advised that if the Council voted to gut this mandate, then the city would have liability if anyone was injured as a result of the lack of restaurant inspections. Further, individual council members who voted to gut the requirement in contravention of state law would not be defended by the city if they were sued individually. Needless to say, this caused the swing voter in favor of this proposal to change his mind and retain the restaurant inspections.

In another case, a majority of the Council voted against a zoning change, and both the city and the council members who voted the change down (including me) were sued under a federal civil rights statute. The council members were almost immediately dropped from the suit by the court because of qualified immunity, since the zoning change denial was completely discretionary on the council's part.

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: Regarding the tax return case before Judge Trevor McFadden: The House could have asked for an expedited hearing (and not taken a month to respond), but I haven't seen anywhere that they did. So a November 8 hearing is consistent with a normal litigation schedule, and is not by itself indicative of the Judge slow-walking the case.

Regarding the financial records case before Judge Amit Mehta: I think the Judge got it right. The case is about emoluments only, and thus only Donald Trump's financial records during his administration are relevant. In other words, it's not about whether Trump was in hock to the Russians before January 20, 2017, but whether he received money from foreign entities after that date.

Regarding Dominion Voting Systems and the First Amendment (which applies not just to Congress, but the states, through the Fourteenth Amendment): The amendment is relevant to defamation actions between private parties because of the courts' (i.e., governments') involvement. It's the basis for the limitation in N.Y. Times v. Sullivan that where public figures or matters are concerned, a plaintiff has to show the defendant knew or was reckless about not knowing of the falsity. The point in these cases is that Dominion can meet that standard (which you did point out). But I think you overlooked that (Trump-appointed) Judge Carl Nichols has agreed with Dominion that the cases before him can go forward against Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, etc. That ruling suggests that all of Dominion's lawsuits are going to go forward.

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Regarding the item on mandatory vaccinations, just a point of clarification. For groups that are not considered a protected class, the standard is the rational basis test. In other words, if there is a rational and articulable link between the purpose of the government action at issue and the classification it's drawn, then it will survive judicial scrutiny. So, a compelling interest is not required, just a plausible one—a much lower standard that almost always passes legal muster. When the compelling interest standard is involved, the government generally has to show that there is no less intrusive alternative or that it's only as broad/intrusive as necessary. There's no requirement to make that showing under a rational basis standard. In fact, as a California court recently articulated, "the burden of demonstrating the invalidity of a legislative classification under the rational basis standard rests squarely upon the party who assails it, who must negate every 'reasonably conceivable state of facts that could provide a rational basis for the classification.'"

Mandating vaccines certainly meets that standard. Given that the vaccine has been proven to actually prevent COVID-19 transmission and stopping the spread is the intended purpose to protect public health, it's rational to make distinctions between the two and it's reasonable to require the vaccine in the public's interest. It would open up a whole can of worms for even the most partisan of judges to give more teeth to the rational basis test.

I also wanted to point out that this challenge was brought in May, but we already have a ruling at the district court level, which is pretty expeditious. I bring this up as a counterpoint to the statement made last week that Donald Trump's abuse of the judicial system is proof of how "broken" it is. There are many ways to improve our judicial system—probably the biggest way to improve it would be for Joe Biden to fill the many vacancies that still exist, as federal court caseloads are ridiculously high—but our judicial system is not broken. Rather than focusing on one case where Trump, who has shown himself more than willing and able to abuse the judicial system and happened to get a judge willing to indulge him (so far), the best example of the health of our judiciary is the uniformity with which they rejected each election challenge. Across all courts, at every level and by judges appointed by elected officials of both parties. Our system is certainly not perfect but it isn't "broken."

Take This Job and Shove It

G.B. in Manchester, England, UK, writes: B.C. in Walpole wrote in about labor shortages in Maine. The United Kingdom has also been experiencing labor (or I should say labour) shortages, as mentioned in several news articles during the past few weeks (see here and here for examples). One of the issues that is repeatedly mentioned in U.K. news is that many jobs are vacant in part because many foreign workers who would fill those roles, especially workers from European countries, have left the U.K., and other foreign workers are not coming to this country to replace them. This is largely related to Brexit and the immigration policies implemented by the U.K. afterwards.

It would be interesting if someone could look into whether a drop in immigration is affecting job vacancies in the United States in the same way that it is affecting job vacancies in the United Kingdom. I would expect some of the southwestern states (California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas) to be particularly badly affected if immigrants stopped travelling from Mexico and other Latin American countries. While Maine would not be affected by immigration from Latin America, it has been a destination for people from Quebec in particular. If the Quebecois decided to stay home, that might explain some staff shortages in Maine specifically.

V & Z respond: Wait. Someone may have found a way to convince Canadians (French-speaking ones, no less) to stay in Canada? Hmmmm....

M.A.H. in Akron, PA, writes: The question from B.C. of Walpole talked about a labor shortage.

My daughter is in Pittsburgh and has been looking for part-time work this fall. There are a number of restaurants that have "Help Wanted" signs posted, but evidently when she applied as a server, they didn't call her back. It seems some friends of hers are having similar problems.

There is some speculation that this is the result of the terms of the PPP or EIDL loans, such that they don't have to be repaid if a business does not hire back a full capacity staff.

When I was looking over the Small Business Administration's site , I didn't see anything that indicated this was the case, so at this point I can only say that it is a rumor going around to explain why businesses are not hiring even when they put out "Help Wanted" signs.

Civics 101

C.W.M. in Monroe, WA, writes: The U.S. Constitution is proving to be woefully inadequate for the complexities of the 21st century.

It's like a 234-year-old Operating System for Democracy that has only been patched 27 times (with 10 right on the heels of the initial release, and one later patch rescinded).

How would this be designated as a software version? US_Constitution v1.10.17-2?

J.I. in San Francisco, CA, writes: It is indeed inefficient to require 100 senators to sign off on over 1,000 job positions. But rather than reduce the number of Senate approvals needed, it seems like the easiest way is to just have the Senate make a rule that all nominations will be automatically approved after a set period of time (say, 6 months) if the Senate declines to review an individual.

Note that I'm including even Supreme Court appointments here—if the Senate refuses to take it up, then the nomination goes through, preventing a Merrick Garland-type situation from lasting too long.

Plus there would be no need to change the civil service status of these appointments, making them easier to get rid of if and when necessary.

C.L. in Boulder, CO, writes: The "experiences with both [Mario and Andrew] Cuomos" has reinforced the strong belief of R.H.D. in Webster that "term limits are absolutely necessary here in New York State." R.H.D. plans to convey this message to their state legislators. I'm wondering how (V) and (Z) and other readers feel about term limits.

I want term limits for presidents, governors, and other single-seat offices that get to name judges, some of whom get a lifetime appointment. If one person in the executive branch stays in office forever and gets to name all the judges/justices, then can we really claim that the judicial branch is a check on the executive branch? Meanwhile, I'm not (yet) convinced that there is a benefit to term limits for other positions, especially technical/professional positions, such as treasurer or coroner. Yes, we do indeed elect coroners and surveyors in Colorado.

For multi-member bodies such as state legislatures or city councils, I'd prefer a proportional voting method (like in Cambridge, MA, and soon in Albany, CA) over term limits. An argument against term limits on legislators and city council members is that the real power in government belongs to long-term lobbyists and staff members. If the lobbyists and staff are looking out for the people, then all is well, but the electorate have no ability to fire these unelected powers if they happen not to have people's best interests at heart.

An advantage of proportional representation in multi-member bodies is that, even in a one-party-dominant county, a minor party can probably get representation in a multi-member body. This position gives the minor party an official platform to more visibly raise questions about incompetent behavior of appointed or elected officials—I'm looking at you, Broward County, FL—perhaps spurring a better major-party candidate to challenge an incompetent official at the next election. In this case, the term limit is imposed at the ballot box in the primary election rather than by fiat.

V & Z respond: All we can say is that term limits for dogcatchers is an issue that has been ignored for far too long.

D.J.M. in Salmon Arm, BC, Canada, writes: So, Kathy Hochul announces her re-election bid before she even becomes governor, while Canadian PM Justin Trudeau announces an election for September 20 of this year. As presidential candidates line up for 2024. it seems that the American system is in permanent election mode while Canadians get it done in six weeks. Six weeks! I suppose we shouldn't be surprised; in the U.S., it takes four downs to get what Canadians accomplish in three.

V & Z respond: We're pretty sure this has something to do with the metric system.

The Census and the Gerrymander

P.M. in Currituck, NC, writes: You guys couldn't work "Dynasty" in among your 1980s TV show references about the 2020 Census? I was thinking something about Donald Trump's apparent ability to draw Latino male voters to the Republican Party would have a potential long-term effect...especially if someone else in the Trump family eventually ran for president. Given that Latinos are such a fast-growing demographic, and endless pundits have discussed how they apparently should be in the bag for Democrats, but aren't, this may bear watching.

V & Z respond: This is going to come up when we return to the subject this week. And if we had used a TV show for this purpose, it would have been "Chico and the Man." Not quite a 1980s show, but close enough (especially since we cheated on one of the others, and used a 1990s show).

A.T. in Toronto, ON, Canada, writes: I somewhat disagreed with your characterization that the trend of senior citizens moving to Florida is an advantage to Republicans. Just like Virginia becoming a blue state with the influx of young educated people, if there are enough Democratic-minded senior citizens moving to Florida or other sunny, red states, they may turn those places back to the blue team's side. Granted, people tend to lean more conservatively when they are older, but I cannot see how a Democratic-voting person from the North would suddenly vote Republican just because they relocated to a red state.

J.A. in Austin, TX, writes: I'm not sure the advantage is to the Republicans in the final bullet point in your census analysis.

The 131% growth of McKenzie County, ND, means, what, a 90% increase in the population of the entire state of North Dakota? Which increases their representation in Congress from one all the way up to...I'd have to say, one? Until the population of North Dakota increases to the size larger than that of a small city, I find myself unconvinced of the advantage, even after discounting my snark (when you're from Texas, snarking at small states, like North Dakota and Alaska, is reflexive).

On top of that, North Dakota might have the same issue Texas is having, as you noted Thursday. With the new population coming from other states, it would only take about 122,000 Democratic new residents (net) to flip the state.

E.F. in Baltimore, MD, writes: You make the point that owing to anticipated population growth, Republicans could draw districts that would be safely GOP in 2022, but might not remain so, a couple of years down the road. But you forgot to mention that the Texas GOP hasn't been shy about mid-cycle-redistricting. Anything to keep their majority.

As for North Carolina, while the courts did invalidate their map, repeatedly, the NC GOP was never forced to accept a "fair" map. Essentially, they ran out the clock. Lessons learned? Draw as partisan a gerrymander as possible, then fight any court-ordered remedy for 10 years. Rinse, repeat.

R.T. in Arlington, TX, writes: My gut reaction to gerrymandering in any form is to say it's unfair. I want to be mad at Republicans over it, especially where I live, and I'm not thrilled with Democrats that do it in other places. But it just occurred to me that simplistic anti-gerrymandering is another means of propagating systemic racism. In the 1970s, voting rights reforms forced many city councils to transition from at-large seats to single-member districts, with some districts intentionally drawn (gerrymandered) in a way to elect minority politicians to the city council. As much as Texas' congressional gerrymander turns my stomach, Texas currently has 13 minority representatives out of 36, when a minimum boundary length map and latent racism would produce only 4 or 5 south Texas Tejano representatives. All but one of the 13 representatives are in gerrymandered Democratic districts. I guess my point is if we want a diverse legislature that looks like America, we need to redefine what is fair and maybe have a nuanced and thoughtful gerrymander.

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: As a euphemism for gerrymandering, how about, "Squeeze the Illinois map until they've wrung all the hot air out of the windy city"?

V & Z respond: Do you really want to advance global warming by 10 years in one fell swoop?

T.H. in Pflugerville, TX, writes: While they may look like bacon to those in less-enlightened parts of the world, TX-15, TX-28, and TX-34 are, of course, fajita districts.

V & Z respond: That take is sizzling hot.

(V) & (Z)'s Bogus Journey

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: My top 10 historical figures to visit, in chronological order, with a few cheats:

Akhenaten: First off, to see Ancient Egypt at the height of its greatness makes it worthwhile. But also to talk to one of the first men to embrace not only monotheism but a caring deity, and who tried to change everything about the Eternal Kingdom from religion to art to architecture would be mind-blowing. Then there's the added incentive of seeing Nefertiti and Tutankhaten (later Tutankhamun)!

Julius/Augustus/Livia/Tiberius/Gaius/Claudius/Messalina/Nero: O, this is a bit of a cheat and would involve a lengthy stay or repeat visits, but it comes from an early influence in my life, watching BBC/PBS' "I, Claudius." Yes, I know if I met these people I would probably be filled equally with disgust and shock, but man it would be one hell of a party! Although before I went I would have to come up with a way to turn down any food or drink Livia might offer!

Hypatia: I became aware of this Alexandrian philosopher, astronomer, mathematician and writer through another huge influence in my life, Carl Sagan (more on him later) in his slightly skewed retelling of her death in his PBS series, "Cosmos." Maybe I could gather evidence to strip Cyril of his sainthood afterwards. She was reportedly quite the teacher, speaker and person.

Michelangelo: Let's face it, the line to meet Da Vinci would be too long. Besides who wouldn't want to watch Mr. Buonarroti paint the Sistine Chapel, or watch him sculpt the David? If it hadn't been for Da Vinci, Michelangelo would be our ideal Renaissance Man. Afterwards I could come and go, talking of Michelangelo with great aplomb!

William Shakespeare: I've read and reread so many of his plays and sonnets. He was one of the greatest, most humane minds in all history, and yet we know so little. He would probably get annoyed at my asking so many questions. To be able to put to rest that indeed Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare and no one else did would be great. And if I managed to "procure" a manuscript of "Love's Labor Won" or "Cardenio"... well, that's not really altering the sacred timeline.

Blake/Wordsworth/Coleridge/Byron/Shelley (Percy and Mary)/Keats/Brontë: OK, my biggest cheat, but there is no way I could chose only one favorite British Romantic! Who wouldn't want to take a nude air bath with a man who saw angels (Blake)? Have dinner with a man who put pepper on his grapes so he could taste it more acutely (Keats)? Been there to tell ghost stories on that dark and stormy night on Lake Geneva when Frankenstein and the prototype of Dracula was invented? Taken laudanum with Coleridge and find out how "Kublai Khan" ends? Walked the Lake Country with Wordsworth or the moors with Brontë? Or hung out with a devilishly good looking man who was known in his time as "mad, bad and dangerous to know" (Byron)?

Abraham Lincoln: I know this might be hagiography on my part, and that I will make a hash of expressing the respect I hold for him, but Lincoln represents the best of humanity for me. His intellect, strength, idealism, kindness, compassion and his unrelenting quest for morality I find inspiring beyond words. To me, he always seemed the giant who by sheer force of will held the idea of democracy together as it threatened to fall apart. Yes, I know he had his all-too-human dark sides as well with his bouts of depression, but those dark touches enhance his greatness by relief. Or as Edwin M. Stanton said of Lincoln, "He is the rock on the beach of our national ocean against which the breakers dash and roar." Plus, Lincoln was one hell of a great story teller and I would love to hear just one of his anecdotes. Even just a few minutes in his presence I can't help but feel would make me a better person.

Claude Monet and John Singer Sargent: My two favorite painters and not a cheat since there was a brief period where the Father of Impressionism and the Gilded Age portraitist painted together. Thus to see the virtuoso skill of Sargent alongside the eye—and what an eye—of Monet would be sublime!

Billie Holiday: While we have the recordings, there is still nothing like a live performance. To see and hear Holiday sing "Strange Fruit" and "Gloomy Sunday" in person would take my breath away!

Carl Sagan: This one might cause time travel issues since I was a teen/young man while he was alive. Still, probably one of the biggest influences on so much of my life is this brilliant and utterly compassionate man. Before I lost everything and had to move from D.C., for every Christmas season I would light the tree, watch the final episode of "Cosmos," titled "Who Speaks For Earth?" and inevitably cry at its beauty and promise of what it means to be human. "Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another." "We are a way for the universe to know itself."

J.B. in Memphis, TN, writes: By far my first choice of a historical figure to visit would be Heloise (c. 1100-1163). The most educated and probably most intelligent woman of the Middle Ages, married to Abelard, the greatest philosopher of the century, her letters have seemed modern to every age, but her mentality has not been fully understood by any of them. Also featured in two Charlie Kaufman films.

Z.P. in Washington, DC, writes: On the subject of a historical figure to meet and talk to, I've always thought Anne Boleyn would be an interesting choice. Here's someone who had a huge hand in pushing forward the English Reformation—she must have been terribly fascinating.

V & Z respond: Dunno; we've heard that she's the type who would lose her head if it wasn't attached. Too soon?

J.G. in Albany, CA, writes: I would love to meet Tisquantum, Konrad Weiser, or any number of other influential early multicultural Americans whose knowledge and experience was mostly written out of the mainstream narrative of American History.

Furthermore, if I were not conceding to the wishes of D.E. in Lancaster, who advised excluding religious figures since "most people would find ... their teachings completely alien to their perceived conceptions," I would indeed wish to meet Jesus, then later his brother James, then Paul, then the members of the Nicene council, etc. to learn and track the very process by which those early figures' teachings became alien to us!

But if I had to pick just one person, I would likely choose the mother of the child Denny, whose 90,000-year-old bones revealed she was 50% Denisovan and 50% Neanderthal. To learn a bit about both of those ancient human ancestors? Priceless.

K.C. in West Islip, NY, writes: Given the opportunity to go back in time and meet any historical figure, I would absolutely want to meet Frederick Trump pre-immigrating to America and tell him there's no future here and he should go to Canada instead, thus ultimately making the Trump family Canadian instead of American and allowing Der Orange One the opportunity to, at some point, MCGA but leave America alone.

A.W. in Keyser, WV, writes: I would like to go back and speak with Helen Keller. I do not have any specific questions for her, I just believe that she is probably the most amazing human in history.

O.Z.H. in Dubai, UAE, writes: Regarding historical figures one would like to meet, I think one additional ground rule is required, and that is the assumption that the person in question will reply truthfully to all questions. That being said, I would wish to speak to Mohandas Gandhi, following the partition of India and Pakistan upon the departure of the British from their former colony. Partition resulted in the largest human migration in history (an estimated 20 million people leaving or being forced to leave their homes) and as many as two million deaths in the ensuing communal violence (not to mention the three wars subsequently fought between India and Pakistan and the hostile relationship that persists till today). I would want to ask him what he would have done differently, whether he thought such an outcome could have been entirely avoided and whether, given the outcome, he believed his decades-long struggle against British rule ended successfully. I would also ask him his opinion on who he thinks is most to blame for the violent result (hence the requirement that he must answer truthfully).

R.M. in Ocala, FL, writes: A partial list:

Johannes Vermeer: To understand how he painted his remarkably photo-realistic paintings, and if he used a camera obscura. Edward Leedskalnin: To get a full understanding of how he built The Coral Castle. Duke Kahanamoku: To hear his thoughts on the state of modern day surfing, the sport that he is credited with popularizing. Galileo Galilei: To hear his views on modern day astronomical knowledge. Vincent Van Gogh: To hear his response to learning about the value and popularity of his art, both of which happened after his death.

I'll stop there. This could go on indefinitely.

History Matters

F.S. in Cologne, Germany, writes: M.A.K in London asked why communist governments failed to prevent their regimes falling to popular revolutions. I think it's instructive to look at the comparison between the communist East Germany (the DDR) and West Germany (which was a democratic country with a regulated capitalism). I—and probably most historians—think that there are two main reasons why the DDR failed:

  1. At the beginning of the Cold War, West Germans and East Germans were about equally wealthy. At the end of the Cold War, West Germans were far wealthier than East Germans, and East Germans knew it and wanted to be as wealthy as West Germans. The most instructive example is probably the car industry: Mercedes, VW, Audi, Porsche and BMW, which were all produced in West Germany, were far superior to Trabant and Wartburg, which were produced in East Germany.
  2. People generally like freedom—for example the freedom of speech, the freedom of travel and the freedom to vote for a new government if the current government does a lousy job. East Germans didn't have these freedoms, West Germans did. East Germans wanted to have these freedoms, too.

Reader C.R in Fayetteville compared the Stasi and the KGB to the FBI, CIA and NSA. I simply want to add that the KGB oppressed every kind of opposition (unlike intelligence agencies in western countries) and murdered far more people than all intelligence agencies in western countries combined. In the end, communist leaders (especially Mikhail Gorbachev) simply weren't willing to use force to preserve their system.

N.E. in San Mateo, CA, writes: M.J. in Oakdale asked about why the elder President Bush's initials were so often used. Beyond what you mentioned, I'd make a few other points:

  • The two Bushes served much closer together: 8 years, vs. both Adams (24), Roosevelts (28), or Harrisons (48)

  • It's not unknown for the opposition party to play up the President's middle name as if it's something embarrassing; I can't say for sure that's the reason Richard Milhous Nixon's middle name is well known (making him sound weak to some) but it is certainly why some folks in the opposition played up George Herbert Walker Bush ("out of touch upper class family" angle from the left) and Barack Hussein Obama (playing up the foreignness of his name, for the racist part of the right.)

  • I've often seen "Bush 41" and "Bush 43" used in online discussions of history; for those who prefer not to disambiguate via the middle names.

  • Lastly, while I don't have anything to base it on besides how often the full name shows up on official records, I get the impression that the man himself preferred the long form of his name as some people are prone to do.

There are a few other presidents who are known by a middle name or initial as well, even when the first name is sufficient to tell them apart. In particular, I'd be very curious why William Henry Harrison and Chester A. Arthur are essentially always referred to in that way when it's in no way needed to distinguish which president is meant.

P.S. in Gloucester, MA, writes: H.M in East Lansing compared Franklin D. Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan favorably. I find that ironic in at least one dimension: FDR began the empowerment of the middle class and started its evolution into the stable fulcrum of American politics and governance that it was for 40 years... until Reagan began the subsequent undermining of the middle class, particularly the blue-collar middle class. Destabilization of the middle class has provided fuel for the demagogues and grifters, another 40 years hence.

J.M.P. in Asheville, NC, writes: In your response to M.R. in Yelm, you wrote: "The need for currency, particularly in the 1780s and 1790s, was filled in three ways. One was that foreign currencies, particularly Spanish pesos and British pounds, were used."

A few interesting historical numismatic facts: (1) The Spanish Peso was legal tender in the U.S. until the Coinage Act of 1857; (2) the Spanish Peso was worth 1/8 of the Spanish Real, so pesos were commonly referred to as "Pieces of Eight;" and (3) because hard coinage was often in limited supply, it was common practice to cut a Spanish Real into eight wedge-shaped sections (like a pizza). Each section was worth a Peso and was typically referred to as a "bit." Therefore, to have "two bits" was to have ¼ of a Spanish Real. The phrase stuck and many Americans began calling their own U.S. quarters "two bits."

V & Z respond: That certainly sounds better than "Shave and a haircut—¼Real."

E.B. in Germantown, MD, writes: Coincidentally, I'm in the middle of reading The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe, and I find it fascinating. I downloaded it on a whim when I saw the Kindle edition being sold for $1.99 on Amazon.

I, too, doubt its prophetic powers but its overview of Western history is interesting and provides lots of jumping-off points for further learning. Maybe it's because my (undiagnosed) OCD loves to categorize things. I was not aware of the fascination that the likes of Steve Bannon have with this book when I began reading it, and that certainly doesn't make me take its central thesis any more seriously.

One can argue we are in the middle of their prophesied Crisis era, but it's hard to imagine a coming High. Millennials as heroes? We shall see. More likely than Xers perhaps.

V & Z respond: A perfectly enjoyable read, but that book should really be shelved right next to The Da Vinci Code

M.W. Northbrook, IL, writes: The item about Donald Kagan is not what I would expect on this site, but great to read and remember. Can't believe it has been almost 30 years since I took his Periclean Athens course. It is interesting how Yale has been a hotbed of both conservative and liberal (not to mention shadow CIA) leadership through the years.

D.R. in West Trenton, NJ, writes: Don't know for how much longer, but the Kindle version of Kagan's full, four-volume magnum opus is available for $0.99.

Testy About Tests

L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: I really appreciated your commentary on standardized tests. I've never been a fan of them. I've always done well, just because I'm a good test taker. As a result I often received higher scores than friends who knew the material better than I did. It also seemed ludicrous to suggest that I was more intelligent than someone skilled at automobile repair just because I could outperform them on a multiple-choice IQ test, even though I'm totally lost when it comes to cars and greatly admire anyone who is adept at keeping them running well. The same holds for many other skilled trades which require a high degree of intelligence not measured by standardized tests.

It reminds me of when I was a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In a test-construction class I took, the instructor pointed out that high school grades were far better predictors of success at the university than were scores on SAT or ACT tests. This made sense to me since high grades, even at a school which was considered poor-performing, indicated good study skills, ability to complete projects, paper-writing skills, and class-discussion ability, none of which were measured by the boards.

Interestingly, the group of students who performed the best were those who, like me, spent our first two years at a UW Center school. This also didn't surprise me. Most who attended UW-Madison as freshmen had their education paid by their parents. While most were excellent students, there were plenty who saw their time at Madison as an excuse for full-time partying. Most who went to Center schools, on the other hand, were paying for their own educations. Those who, like me, worked 50-hour weeks in summer in a stifling hot factory, held part-time jobs during the school year, and who still had to take out some loans to pay for our educations, were not going to waste our time in school by not making the most of our opportunities.

J.C. in Binan, Laguna, Philippines, writes: I graduated from high school in Ashland, OR, in the late 80s. There was no state test for graduation back then. I'm a high school educator now. I would have been as horrified at the idea of a final exam back then, as I am of standardized tests today. Yeah, I probably would have aced the test—I was 3rd in my class of 200. But to imagine all of those classes focused on making the grade in that final test, rather than getting an exceptional education in debate, philosophy, literature—and yes, grammar too. (Mr. Vondercheck was the only teacher I ever met that made grammar interesting and fun.) AHS was the best school in Southern Oregon, in my opinion, but I don't think that in-depth schooling would have been at the same level if my instructors were all teaching to the test.

Department of Word Choices

B.B. in Panama City Beach, FL, writes: You have written before that if you were ever going to fabricate a writer, you would use the initials and birthplace of famous persons. I wondered how someone could know that "words were removed," and then I noticed the initials and birthplace of John Hancock... did I get it right?

V & Z respond: No, J.H. in Boston is a real (living) person, and a somewhat regular correspondent. Also, we specifically said it would be the initials and hometown of 19th century presidents. And we'd pick obvious ones, so U.S.G. in Galena, IL, or A.L. in Springfield, IL, or J.Q.A. in Quincy, MA.

S.S-L. in Norman, OK, writes: In disability spaces, we don't use terms like wheelchair-bound, retarded, impaired, etc. (though impaired is still used by those subscribing to the medical model of disability rather than the social model). We avoid language that implies that your quality of life will be determined by your disability. Wheelchair users aren't bound, they're freed. At least, in contrast to the other realistic alternatives.

I was surprised that you wondered if Greg Abbott would be up to the rigors of the presidency. I can't think of anything apart from navigating historic sites that would pose a particular problem for a wheelchair user ascending to the presidency... even though I really hope it isn't that particular wheelchair user.

V & Z respond: Thanks for the heads-up. Though if Franklin D. Roosevelt thought it was a potential wildcard, we think it's fair to wonder if it still is, though as we argued, we think the issue would be more likely to express itself in subconscious ways. And running for president is indeed grueling, often with four or five events in as many cities in a day for over a year. Add to that the logistical complexities of getting in and out of small airplanes 10 times a day, dealing with venues that are not ADA compliant, having to respond to primary opponents who revel in playing tennis for the cameras to show off their vigor, etc. makes a run more challenging than for able-bodied candidates. In any event, we don't intend to hammer on the question repeatedly.

L.B. in Savannah, GA, writes: You added scare quotes to "doctor" Mehmet Oz, implying that he's not a real doctor. Oz may be responsible for pushing some questionable treatments on television, but he definitely has a real medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania. He also maintains a full-time surgical practice, and holds 11 patents for medical devices. In addition, he is Professor of Surgery at Columbia Medical School, and directs the Cardiovascular Institute and Complementary Medicine Program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. Despite his popular association with pseudoscience, Oz is considered to be one of the leading heart surgeons in the world.

V & Z respond: We are entirely familiar with his credentials. We also know about the oath he took, which is entirely inconsistent with peddling quackery in order to make millions of dollars off of desperate and/or gullible people. Similarly, we are aware that many of his colleagues tried to get him stripped of his academic appointments due to his behavior.

M.H. in Salt Lake City, UT, writes: Gentlemen, your statement acknowledging your lack of expertise was quite refreshing. In fact, it was profoundly reassuring. I present it here in full: "We're not so sure about Schumer's assessment of the situation, but we don't feel strongly enough about it to substitute our judgment for his, given his vast experience as a political operator. So, we'll guess—but without much enthusiasm—that he's performing a more skillful dance than McConnell is here, until we're presented with evidence that shows otherwise."

That kind of humility and self-awareness was, quite honestly, shocking—and rare—in its honesty. Thank you. I wish all our pundits and bloggers and keyboard warriors were so forthright.

V & Z respond: We try to write with authority, but also to make clear that we do not pretend to know everything or to have all the answers.

J.A. in Austin, TX, writes: I don't believe the term "voodoo economics" is meant to be a substitute for "junk economics," though I freely admit "superstition" may be closer.

The term is meant to be a reference to one of the two voodoo practices that non-Voodoo-practicing Americans may be commonly familiar with (the second being zombie creation, though not the brain-eating variety that popular culture has morphed the practice into). The practice of representation, the so-called "voodoo dolls," where an object that represents the target can be used to affect the target via that representation is what is being referred to. Poke this thing over here, and that thing over there is affected—in the economy, supply-side economics would be the representation, and the whole economy would be the target; poke the one, the other is affected.

So the proper corresponding term would not be "Catholic economics" but "prayer economics"—healing the economy through the power of prayer. Though might also be offensive to believers...

(Capitalization used to differentiate the religious practice vs. the common cultural shorthand.)

M.C. in Reno, NV, writes: As a Caltech graduate, I was taught that the origin of the word "ratfu**ing" was the practice of taking a dead rat, flash freezing it in liquid nitrogen, and then taking it to a room with tile or linoleum floor and smashing it with a hammer. The pieces of the rat go skittering everywhere, and as they melt they create an abominable stench.

J.C., Binan, Laguna, Philippines, writes: I can't believe you'd be so speciesist as to now insult H. neanderthalensis, implying that they were less intelligent than we H. sapiens. All humans are valuable—even the Hobbits. H. neanderthalensis had a larger brain capacity/body weight than us, and may have been smarter than us. As someone who carries them in 4% of his DNA, I was personally insulted.

V & Z respond: Waaaaait a minute. Did you once do a bunch of commercials for Geico?

Cool Kids Can Skip This Section

C.M.W. in Myrtle Beach, SC, writes: P.C. in Schaumburg writes: "I know every episode of 'Star Trek' by heart (except 'DS9,' that was a waste)."

You respond: "[W]e disagree about 'DS9.'"

I am glad you disagree. "DS9" probably had the best writing and some of the best episodes—"In The Pale Moonlight," "Far Beyond The Stars" (the writer actually wanted it to turn out that "DS9" was a dream of Benny Russell's but couldn't because of continuity), "The Visitor" and tons of others are peak "Trek."

"TNG" was my gateway drug and seriously shaped my political and world views and is where I wish the world were headed...but I think from a purely creative standpoint "DS9" is the best series.

J.T. in Greensboro, NC, writes: While I know that the whole mediascape is shot through with problems at the moment, I little expected that your site would become a pernicious purveyor of fake news by publishing P.C. in Schaumburg's irresponsible misinformation about "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine." While letters like this may seem relevant in order to achieve "balance," I think you're falling victim to the "both sides" fallacy in an effort to seem balanced.

I hope you two understand that you're better than this and will be more discerning about the letters you print in the future.

May the Prophets watch over you.

V & Z respond: Sometimes we run letters by people whom we imagine to be conservative Republicans. And sometimes we run letters by people whom we imagine to be Pah-wraiths.

J.B. in Waukee, IA, writes: Imagine thinking that "Star Trek: Deep Space 9" is a waste with regards to "Star Trek" programs when "Star Trek: Voyager" and "Star Trek: Enterprise" exist.

D.P. in San Jose, CA, writes: I believe G.M. of Laurence Harbor is remembering I Will Fear No Evil by Robert Heinlein. I vividly remember the quote and have thought about it a lot because it was a provocative statement with minimal context.

I think the "genders" Heinlein meant were what we now call orientations: gay, bi, and straight men, and gay, bi, and straight women. This is followed by another character wondering if there are two genders: those who like sex and those who don't.

As an avid science fiction reader, I grew up believing in Heinlein's sexual philosophy until I hit puberty and discovered my body had a much stronger opinion about my orientation than my intellect did. Still, kissing beats the hell out of card games.

B.J.F. in Minneapolis, MN, writes: I'd vote for Ra's Al Ghul over Mitch McConnell any day. At least Ra's acts on principle.

Food Corner

P.D. in Leamington, ON, Canada, writes: I want to thank S.S. from Detroit for giving me my ear worm for Sunday: the Nestlé's theme song from the early 60s, when I was just a youngster. Farfel was a favorite of mine, and indeed I had the opportunity to meet Farfel and Jimmy Nelson back at the Chicago Auto Show sometime back in prehistoric times. I also wonder what ever happened to Nestlé's chocolate, since it seems to have disappeared. Perhaps some tampering from Hershey, Pennsylvania?

I feel I must clarify my comment about "American chocolate," however. When I first moved up here to Ontario some 20 years ago, I was aghast to find that Canadian chocolate (or, at least, the chocolate marketed here) is made with a higher milk content, which makes it creamier. This is not the chocolate my taste buds crave. While I am able to buy Hershey's chocolate here, it tastes nothing like it should, in my opinion. So on my runs to Detroit (or its suburbs) to shop at Target or Meijers, I buy up chocolate: Hershey's, Butterfingers, Mounds and Almond Joy and my particular favorite when I can find it: Chunky Bars. Neither of the last three are found in Canada at all. Lest people think it is just some delusional thinking on my part, I would have them know that every single Canadian I have offered a bite of American chocolate to agrees that there is a significant difference in taste. So while I would dearly love to be able to blame Trump for the chocolate debacle, I think this has been going on much, much longer...maybe even back to Ronald Reagan.

There are many more things I could have asked to be sent to me: Campbell's Chunky Bean and Bacon and Chicken and Dumplings, LaChoy Chicken Chow Mein, Keebler cookies, or American cottage cheese. When I am finally able to make a U.S. store run, my car is going to look like a mini mart.

V & Z respond: FYI, the reason that American chocolate in general, and Hershey's in particular, taste different from chocolate elsewhere is that American chocolate has butyric acid in it, something that was true even before Ronald Reagan was born. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle.

A World of Tears

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: You wrote "Ok, clearly 'It's a Small World' exists on its own level of monstrousness, one that mortal man cannot hope to achieve ever again, as much as the Cyrus family has tried."

I know you're doing this just to irritate me.

Still ... as an exemplar of cultural awfulness, Small World really does check all the boxes...

V & Z respond: Remarkably, when Disneyland was still using ride tickets, it was an E-ticket ride. In other words, the best of the best.

T.S. in Bainbridge Island, WA, writes: As a daily reader of your site since 2004, I take great umbrage at your treatment of "It's A Small World." To even imply a connection between that ride and Plessy v. Ferguson is beyond the pale. This aggression will not stand, man!

Back in the early 70's, my father (USMC, Korea) took my younger sister on the "It's A Small World" ride 8 times in a row! That act has been a defining definition of fatherhood to me.

Thankfully, our 10 year old daughter prefers the "Rushin' River" ride.

V & Z respond: And he thought that war was hell.

J.M. in Laguna Beach, CA, writes: My first wife was at Disneyland in her youth. She was on "It's A Small World" when it suddenly stopped. She was stuck in there for over an hour and music kept playing. Can you imagine her terror? I don't think she ever recovered. Scarred her for life.

V & Z respond: Sounds like a heck of a civil tort to us.

Theme Songs, Part II

G.W. in Oxnard, CA, writes: G.C. in Alexandria suggested The Police's "Every Breath You Take" as the theme song for That song has come to be interpreted as a creepy, sinister song written from the perspective of a stalker. Sting has changed his story about the writing of the lyrics, making it a good example of revisionist history. Since is dedicated to faithful recounting of history, that song is a poor choice for a theme song.

C.L.C. in Petaluma, CA writes: I object to "In The Summertime" by Mungo Jerry because it encourages intoxicated driving, specifically drunk driving. You do not want your site to promote intoxicated driving.

I have an alternate nomination: In 1971, a movie called "Johnny Got His Gun" hit theaters. It features, well, Johnny. He is a volunteer in the Army in the Great War. He joined to fight for Democracy. The thing is that really was not one of the reasons for American involvement.

One could argue that the U.S. was justified in joining the war because Germany tried to bribe rebels in Mexico to attack the U.S. in order to keep it too busy to join the war, and also sank civilian ships with Americans on board. But once we got involved, we added every reason for fighting we could for justifying our entry into the war including protecting and promoting democracy, despite that not really being a reason.

Still, Johnny volunteers to protect and promote Democracy. A shell destroys his pelvis and everything beneath it, shears off his arms, and destroys his face, leaving him with no mouth, nose, or eyes and blind, tasteless, smelless, and deaf. If your site would have existed in 1917, he might have learnt that Democracy really was not at issue, not volunteered, and been much better off than he ended up. Metallica wrote a song inspired by the movie called "One."

Metallica is from Petaluma, as chance would have it.

B.B. in Ewing, NJ, writes: I love the popular oldies of my youth, but my true love in music has always been serious music—often referred to generically as "classical" music. So when the topic of theme songs comes up, my suggested titles range from the very obscure to...the extremely obscure. When I think of your unrelenting efforts to inform and educate your loyal readers, the theme song I think of is Symphony No. 4, "The Inextinguishable," by Danish composer Carl Nielsen.

Although written during the First World War, over 100 years ago, the combination of its unique sonic effects and relentless motion forward makes it sound contemporary. The inextinguishable moniker is apt and perhaps an appropriate theme for electoral-vote.

T.F. in Ridgewood, NJ, writes: I have been enjoying reading your erudite, entertaining website since about 2008. I am thankful to your dedication to educating massive amounts of your followers like me on matters of politics, strategy and prudence. To me, I think your theme song should be "You've Got a Friend" written by Carole King, which resulted in two Grammy's in 1971 for "Best Male Pop Performance" and "Song of the Year." It was first sung by James Taylor and Carole King (in separate recordings and also together at concerts). You guys are my friends that keep me enjoying life, continuing to acquire wisdom, and receiving terrific insight and factual info about political matters—even through the darkest days of COVID, January 6th, Trumpism, voter suppression, etc. Thank you for all that you do.

V & Z respond: Ah! This is very kind, and very generous of you!

R.R. in Nashville, TN, writes: Tom Lehrer's "National Brotherhood Week."

Nothing better represents the country, the problems, the humor, and most importantly, the snark of your terrific blog than Mr. Lehrer and his creation.

R.H. in Chula Vista, CA, writes: Randy Newman's "Political Science." I think it neatly sums up the zero-sum game that is current politics.

A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: Gotta have some Dylan in there. May I suggest "Subterranean Homesick Blues" for your "political underground warriors."

M.G. in Boulder, CO, writes: Joan Baez, "Aint't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around."


J.M.P. in Asheville, NC, writes: In response to D.T in San Jose, you wrote: "[T]he question that generated more letters to "Dear Abby" than any other, by a longshot, was about the correct way to hang a toilet-paper roll."

This is the best response I've ever seen to that age-old dispute:

A roll of toilet paper with the paper going 
over the top says 'beards are cool,' while one with the paper going under the bottom says 'mullets are not'

S.S. in Detroit, MI, writes: You made me laugh, bringing up Dear Abby and the great toilet paper debate. As a young lad, I was already pretty nerdy and habitually read the newspaper (The Detroit News; my dad was a Republican). I recall puzzling over adults debating this issue with such passion, and even on occasion, venom. That was one of the first indications I got that adults were not always as grown up as they pretended to be. I was also mystified by the Ann Landers column when I got ahold of a contraband copy of the Free Press (a.k.a., the Democratic paper). The pictures appeared to be of the same person. It was only much later that I found out they were twins.

For the record, my wife tends to be an inny, while I tend to be an outty, (neither exclusively) but I do not believe that in 48 years of blissful matrimony, either of us has disagreed, or even discussed the matter. The only reason I even notice is because of those long-ago columns.

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: Could please get its mind out of the gutter? I don't know how much more those of us who live on the Moral High Ground can take. First it was Billy Ray Cyrus. Then an entirely gratuitous reference to BDSM. Friday, it was the cultural nadir "hat trick" (to borrow the Canadian phrase) of Kenny G, Snooki Polizzi, and Pee Wee Herman. "Aiiiiieeee!," as my mother used to say, regularly. And worse than that—far worse than that—was your disgusting suggestion this week of Eric Trump for Governor of New York. I've been reduced to singing the "Baby Shark Dance" to get that out of my head.

J.L.H. in Los Altos, CA, writes: You wrote that "your staff mathematician ... doesn't work on Saturday nights. Or any other nights. Or days." If you need a replacement, I have a Ph.D. in mathematics and am willing to work twice as hard (for twice the pay, of course).

S.M. in Toronto, ON, Canada, writes: The tone of ...Or Maybe It's Not Getting Hard at All wasn't cheeky, but it was a tad arrogant.

Cocky, even.

Thank you. Tip your waitresses.

V & Z respond: Peter Griffin has something to say to you:

F.L. in Denton, TX, writes: NBC has rebooted the College Bowl quiz show. I've seen a few episodes and I have to say the questions are not quite as challenging as the original (or University Challenge, being the British clone, which is currently on the air and available through YouTube).

I mention this as USC and UCLA will be facing off this Tuesday and I thought, for reasons I can't fully explain, that (Z) might be interested.

V & Z respond: We foresee The Hindenburg, Part II: "Oh, the humanity!"

J.H. in Lake Forest, CA, writes: You do realize that the actor who played Steve Urkel (Jaleel White) has a degree from UCLA? Whether this would make him qualified as Speaker of the House is still a question, but it would certainly give him a leg up on the MyPillow guy.

V & Z respond: Yes, (Z) had a class with him. And also classes with Danica McKellar and Mayim Bialik. The school was something of a hotbed of former child stars during his undergrad years.

B.C. in Huntsville, AL, writes: Oh Z, Z, Z. I send you a softball USC question and you whiff it. The neighbor's family already owns 3 BMWs so paying for one more would not be a problem. How about some sort of snarky remark about the relative earning power of each school's alumni? Such as "How does a USC grad address a UCLA grad 10 years after graduation? Answer: Boss."

V & Z respond: We just assumed that everyone knows that the best way to get a USC grad off your porch is to pay for the pizza.

If you wish to contact us, please use one of these addresses. For the first two, please include your initials and city.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug14 Saturday Q&A
Aug13 Let the Games Begin
Aug13 The Sh*t Hits the Taliban
Aug13 SCOTUS to Students: Get Vaxxed
Aug13 Hochul Running for Reelection
Aug13 This Week in Schadenfreude
Aug13 It's a Snap Eh-lection
Aug13 Donald Kagan, 1932-2021
Aug12 The Reconciliation Bill Is Not Home Free Yet
Aug12 Judge Orders Trump's Accountants to Give Congress His Tax Returns
Aug12 Dominion Sues the Rest of Them
Aug12 Biden Could Be the Democrats' Last Chance At Winning Back Noncollege White Voters
Aug12 Redistricting in the Big Southern States May Help the Republicans to a House Majority
Aug12 The Government Is Broken
Aug12 Republican Governors Risk Becoming the Face of Anti-COVID Measures
Aug12 Greg Abbott Is Not Ron DeSantis
Aug11 We Told You He's a Dick
Aug11 Onward and Upward on Infrastructure
Aug11 Winning By Losing?
Aug11 Rep. Ron Kind to Retire
Aug11 A Government "Designed for Failure"
Aug10 The Infrastructure Two-Step
Aug10 Trump Buys Some Time on the Tax Front
Aug10 Texas Democrats Buy Some Time on the Voting Front
Aug10 Tim Scott for President?
Aug10 Cuomo Tries to Save His Bacon
Aug10 It's Getting Harder for the Unvaxxed...
Aug10 ...Or Maybe It's Not Getting Hard at All
Aug09 Senate Moves Closer to Passing the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill
Aug09 Indiana University Students Ask Supreme Court to Block Vaccine Mandate
Aug09 DeSantis Goes All in for the Anti-Mask, Anti-Vaxx Voters
Aug09 California Republican Party Won't Endorse in the Recall Election
Aug09 Iowa Update
Aug09 Democrats Will Test 2022 Strategy This Year
Aug09 Republican Candidates Position Themselves in North Carolina Senate Race
Aug09 Warnock Leads Potential Challengers in Georgia Senate Race
Aug09 In Like a Lamb
Aug09 What Is the Purpose of the AFL-CIO?
Aug08 Sunday Mailbag
Aug07 Saturday Q&A
Aug06 A More Respectable Coup
Aug06 Truth, Justice, and the American Way, Part I: The 1/6 Commission Isn't Fooling Around
Aug06 Truth, Justice, and the American Way, Part II: Cyber Ninjas May Get Kunoichi'ed
Aug06 The Missing Piece of the Florida Puzzle
Aug06 Aspiring California Governors Debate
Aug06 We're Not Lyin', Lamb Is In
Aug06 The Readers Have Spoken
Aug06 This Week in Schadenfreude
Aug06 Richard Trumka, 1949-2021
Aug05 Senators Have nearly 300 Amendments Ready for the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill