Matt Gaetz Gets Married
Roger Stone to Sue ABC News
Political Environment Moves Towards the GOP
‘Tent City’ for Afghan Refugees Going Up In New Jersey
Yellen Backs Powell for Another Term as Fed Chair
GOP Lawmaker Blames Trump for Afghanistan Crisis
Apparently, there was some sort of news in Afghanistan this week, as we got over 100,000 words' worth of messages on that subject alone. And that is in a week where we also managed to touch on abortion, crime, global warming, and the pandemic, as well. Oh, and we also have to finish up the "historical person to visit" letters, though we will hold the last wave of "theme song" letters to next week.
In short: Buckle up.
Afghanistan: Primary Sources
J.R. in Baker City, OR, writes: I worked for over 2 years in Afghanistan and there are a few things that aren't mentioned or mentioned strongly enough in the media regarding the Taliban's quick return to power:
- The Taliban had been making gains over the years, so if the U.S. had decided to stay they would have had to drastically increase the number of troops in country and engaged to hold the Taliban off.
- Whenever the U.S. pulled out its troops and its embassy staff, a power vacuum would have been created as the corrupt Afghan government folded (rapidly or slowly). The only way to get the embassy staff and all Americans otherwise working in Kabul/Afghanistan out safely would have been to do this before the troops left. This could not happen, however, as the U.S. was trying to help the Afghan government stand during the troop withdrawal, and the embassy has to be staffed in order for the U.S. to continue to help the Afghan government succeed/survive. You could have pulled all non-military Americans out first, but this would signal zero faith in the Afghan government and guarantee that it would fold quickly. Almost no one in the U.S. thought the collapse would be so quick, so no one was prepared to go with this drastic route.
- The Afghans who helped the U.S. are much more than just translators. I worked with many engineers and other support staff who received Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) and are now living in the U.S.; I have met up with former Afghan co-workers now living in California, Pennsylvania, Texas and Michigan. The bureaucracy to process any US visa of this sort is long and complicated. This process has not been funded and staffed by Congress for rapid implementation, and recall these SIVs have been around for over a decade. So, the mess of leaving behind Afghans who will be punished or killed by the Taliban is not something that can be easily changed, especially as the number of people trying to get out is enormous.
R.M. in Williamstown, WV, writes: I am a retired military officer, who (in addition to many others) served two tours in Vietnam, one in Korea, and one in the great white north, surrounded by those ever-crafty Canadians. I was born and raised in a small town in West Virginia. I graduated high school, and received a B.A. from West Virginia University, and later a Master's degree from Auburn University. I completed the Air Force Squadron Officer School and Air Command and Staff College, and the Defense Department Industrial College of the Armed Forces. My political leanings place me in a minority among my fellow military retirees. I am generally liberal on domestic issues, and fairly conservative on foreign policy.
Enough about me. Now, about Afghanistan. My comments pertain to the current state of affairs. There are certainly arguments to be made and matters to be debated about how we got there, how the war was prosecuted, how long we stayed (or should have stayed) and whether we should withdraw and when. Those are not the subject of my comments. What I'm concerned with is what has taken place over the last couple of months. Let me say, at the outset, that my field of expertise in the military was not in planning military operations. However, all branches of the military do have large numbers of people dedicated full time to that activity. We have contingency plans for almost any conceivable circumstance (possibly including how to cope with the takeover being plotted by our northern neighbors). Certainly, the decision to leave Afghanistan was a political decision. However, the execution of those marching orders was, or should have been, a military decision. Clearly, something broke down. Whether it was bad intelligence, poor planning, or sloppy execution, we may never know for certain, since there is enough finger pointing going on to muddy the waters. However, Joe Biden was correct about one thing: He is the Commander-in-Chief, and it was, and remains, his responsibility. Blaming his predecessor does not wash. Trump may have screwed things up royally, which heaven knows would not be unusual. However, we are 8 months into the Biden Presidency. That is plenty of time to review the situation, identify the weaknesses, and fix them.
What we now have is a catastrophe on at least four levels:
- First, and possibly most important, is that this is a moral catastrophe for the nation. We enlisted help of Afghans to conduct our operations there. We could not have done it without them. We promised them we would not desert them. And now, we are making a mockery of those promises. Those people have every right to feel betrayed. And it will, without a doubt, make it very difficult to convince others whose critical help we may need in the future to trust us to keep our word.
- Second, it is an international political disaster for the United States. We enlisted our allies to come to our aid, and many of them made the ultimate sacrifice along with our forces. And apparently, we did not consult with them, ask for their advice, or consider the impact of our actions on them. How quick will they be to answer the next time we call "wolf"?
- Third, it is a domestic political disaster as well. The debacle we see taking place in Kabul undercuts all the confidence and respect that Biden had built up to this point. It smacks of incompetence and plays into the hands of his political adversaries. You can count on the pictures of that C-17 trying to take off from Kabul Airport, surrounded by terrified Afghans appearing in many political ads in 2022.
- Finally, this is a slap in the face of the military personnel who fought, were wounded, and died in Afghanistan over the last 20 years. Not only for their sacrifice, but for the obligations they rightly feel toward their Afghan allies. The military will survive. They have been through this before, and still they serve. But it will give pause to any young man or woman who is contemplating service in the future.
Can this mess be salvaged? Certainly not completely. But perhaps partially. At a minimum, we need to make it clear to the Taliban that we intend to stay long enough to not only evacuate the Americans from wherever they are in Afghanistan, but also to make good on our promise to do the same to those brave Afghans who worked for us, and without whose assistance we could not have achieved whatever success we have managed over the last 20 years. And if that requires more time (and more troops) to safely get those people out of the country, then so be it. The political damage has been done. But at least, we could and should make good on our moral commitment.
P.S. in Arlington, TN, writes: Watching the collapse of the Afghan government was tough on this 23-year vet who has 249 Combat Sorties flying the C-17 into Iraq and Afghanistan. Despite the tragedy that unfolded the last week, I hope the American public remembers our service as a victory for the American military. It should be noted that no matter how the press tried to paint the war in Afghanistan, we were never there to ensure little girls went to school and that the country became a Democracy with a similar culture to ours. We went to Afghanistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden. "Wanted: Dead or Alive." Ultimately, two presidents wasted our time and energy following the accomplishment of that mission, with Joe Biden getting us out in a less-than-perfect manner. The day we killed bin Laden was one of the greatest of my life, particularly after a career specializing in air evacuation sorties, where our squadron witnessed so many tragic outcomes for our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.
Afghanistan: The Blame Game
R.C. in Des Moines, IA, writes: I want to push back on your "percentage of blame" assessments. I think the lion's share of blame goes to the American people. At no point in 20 years did we hold anybody accountable. You covered this in your write up, but I believe the blame percentage was far too low. Our political class abdicated leadership a long time ago, and are mostly followers—of polls, of lobbyists, of high-dollar donors, of the loudest voters. We citizens looked the other way because doing otherwise would have been too hard and distracted us from our various vapid 21st Century pursuits. I assign blame thusly:
- George W. Bush, 5% (can we really blame someone so intellectually deficient?)
- Congress, 10%
- American People, 40%
- Military Leadership, 10%
- Barack Obama, 10%
- Donald Trump 20% (increased because his poor negotiations with a bunch of duplicitous terrorists effectively sabotaged Biden, which I would not put it past Trump to be intentional)
- Biden, 10% (increase because I strongly disagree with your contention that the FUBAR withdrawal was unavoidable)
Yes, I know that is more than 100%, but that's how FUBAR the Afghanistan Adventure is.
J.A. in Henderson, NV, writes: The blame for a Taliban takeover lies with the Afghan people. They apparently don't want a democratic and secular society that respects human/women's rights enough to fight for it. It is like a drug addict that doesn't want to change...not much you can do for them. It isn't really that surprising, though, that there are people that don't give a whit for democracy and/or human rights. See Trump and his Taliban-like cohorts on 1/6.
B.J.L. in Ann Arbor, MI, writes: I'd add near the top of the list Charlie Wilson, former Democratic representative from Texas, now dead, but the primary connection between the U.S. arms supply and the Mujahideen going back to the late 1970s and the Afghan resistance to the Soviet invasion. His singular focus on this one issue probably led to the Reagan Doctrine, so he probably shares whatever blame you were giving to Ronny.
C.J. in Burke, VA, writes: I would disagree on giving such a high percentage to the military. They knew better than anyone how weak the AFG military was and as I recall they tended to oppose the drawdowns and withdrawal proposals in recent years—probably for the very reason that they expected something like what is happening now to happen. They may not have expected it to fall in a month, but I would be surprised if they expected it to last more than a year. Further, the military still pretty much does what the president wants them to do—they are not that much of an independent actor. By and large, they don't create policy, like presidents and Congress, they carry out policy directed by others. Frankly, I would give the military about a 5%, not a 20%.
J.S. in Vancouver, BC, Canada, writes: I read with interest your analysis of who is at fault for the current situation in Afghanistan. While I could agree with much of your logic I think that you let George W. largely off the hook on this one. He is the one who invaded Afghanistan. And he is the one who set the conditions for failure in Afghanistan.
I should note that I was a supporter of the invasion of Afghanistan. I, like most of the world, saw it as an appropriate and necessary response to 9/11. Operation Enduring Freedom—the invasion of Afghanistan—began on October 7, 2001. And it is important to remember the countries involved in that operation. There were NATO countries like the UK, Turkey and Canada, traditional allies such as Australia, traditional enemies such as Iran and Russia, traditional neutrals like India and Pakistan and Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. It was a remarkable gathering of diverse nations willing to invest treasure and lives to stop what the Taliban was doing in Afghanistan. In fact it was ultimately sanctioned by the United Nations Security Council.
Further the operation was successful. The Taliban were quickly defeated. A new, admittedly imperfect, government came to power. Human rights began to be recognized. Girls could go to school. It wasn't perfect but the country was moving in the right direction. George W. should be given credit for all of this. He moved mountains to get the diverse international backing for the operation and it was successful.
Then what went wrong? Simple answer: the invasion of Iraq.
George W. had always wanted to invade Iraq. He expressed that prior to 9/11, and 9/11 gave him the opportunity. Starting in the fall of 2002 he and the government began a massive campaign against Iraq. And it was effective. Polls showed that the vast majority of Fox viewers believed that Saddam Hussein and Iraq had a direct role in the 9/11 attacks when, of course, that was not true.
On February 5, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell effectively ended his career by providing a series of obviously false statements to the United Nations General Assembly. Statements that were so ridiculous that he was effectively laughed out of the chamber.
The U.S. also aggressively attacked the work that the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMVIC) was doing in Iraq to ensure that Hussein was not attempting to build nuclear weapons. The suggestions were that UNMVIC was either naive or in the pocket of Hussein. Of course, one thing that the invasion of Iraq resolved was that UNMVIC was correct and Iraq had been complying with the restrictions that had been put upon it.
In March 2003, the Iraq invasion began. Prior to that time George W. had not been able to get U.N. support, had not been able to get NATO support (in fact the vote on the invasion was withdrawn when it was obvious that it would fail), and was not able to get the diverse support for that invasion that he had for the invasion of Afghanistan. No former enemy was willing to join the coalition. No traditionally neutral party. No Muslim country. And most NATO allies refused. In fact Turkey, an enthusiastic member of Operation Enduring Freedom, was so upset with the lack of any rational explanation for the invasion of Iraq that, even though it was a member of NATO, it would not allow U.S. forces to cross any part of Turkey in the operations in Iraq.
The only countries willing to take an active part in the invasion of Iraq with the U.S. were the U.K., Australia and Poland. Tony Blair later wrote that he had the U.K. join the coalition because he was concerned about the tremendously negative world view that the world would have of this baseless invasion that it was necessary for the U.K. to be there to give the invasion some credibility. This decision led to the end of Mr. Blair's political career, led to the election of David Cameron and arguably led to Brexit—but that is a topic for another day.
To make matters much worse, George W. gave his asinine "Mission Accomplished" banner and speech on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003. Any casual observer knew that the mission had most certainly not been accomplished—unless the goal of George W. had been to take out Hussein and leave Iraq in shambles. And if that was the goal then the ultimate result would be a significantly more powerful and influential Iran and an even more unstable Middle East. Further, by May 1, 2003, 104 Americans had died in the fighting in Iraq. Over 3,000 more would die in combat in Iraq during George W.'s Presidency.
The invasion of Iraq is central to the failure in Afghanistan for the following reasons:
- It took America's eye off the real prize—stability in Afghanistan.
- It destroyed the good will that George W. had built up with the diverse group of countries that invaded Afghanistan—particularly with the Muslim countries that had joined in the invasion.
- It made it appear that the U.S. was more interested in destroying governments and destabilizing countries than actually building anything concrete and productive.
- It also made it clear that the U.S. was willing to blatantly and foolishly lie to support its foreign policy goals thereby eroding the trust that the invasion of Afghanistan had created.
- Reasons 1, 2, 3 and 4 all combined to cause the entire effort in Afghanistan lose the necessary support to enable a successful outcome.
I think that George W. and his entirely unnecessary invasion of Iraq established the conditions for the ultimate failure in Afghanistan. And to suggest that he personally bear anything less than at least 50% of the blame is to ignore how we all got to these unfortunate current events.
C.P. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: While I agree that there is plenty of blame to go around, I think that you underestimated the amount of blame that should be assessed to George W. Bush. What was left out of your summary was the unnecessary incursion into Iraq. There was no immediate threat coming from this country and we should have kept our focus on Afghanistan. Had we concentrated on this effort at the earliest stages of nation-building, perhaps we could have built a more stable foundation.
I also wonder if 5% is too little an apportionment for Biden, if only because he had a seat at Barack Obama's table and should also be held responsible for those 8 years.
The question then becomes where to offset the blame. I would lean toward the U.S. military leadership, if only because the buck is supposed to stop with the commander-in-chief.
T.J. in Manila, Philippines, writes: Instead of playing puerile parlor games allocating this, or that, percentage of blame to the various principals, face up to the fact that one individual is responsible for this debacle: Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr. We voted for him to end the inhumanity of the Trump presidency; instead, he has perpetuated it. There would be no Taliban takeover of Afghanistan if the 7,000 NATO troops and the 2,500 U.S. troops had remained there with Bagram Air Base fully operational. Full stop. Furthermore, the incompetence with which the evacuation has been conducted, borders on the criminal. This nightmare is bookmarked daily by the pathetic Taylor-Kirby dog-and-pony show at the Pentagon, which makes the Vietnam-era "5 o'clock follies" look like cinéma vérité.
R.I. in Hoboken, NJ, writes: I love Joe Biden as an individual and as our commander-in-chief; I love your website, too, but I feel like your assessment of this catastrophic exit has a dash of lazy and one-sided justification to it that only considers what Americans think.
As an American who was born and raised in one of those oppressed countries, I find it appalling that in his address he ignored Afghan people. What happened to his empathy when it came to others?
I understand U.S. priorities come first and I support that, but U.S. created Taliban in the first place (and I am not speaking metaphorically here; Taliban is the creation of the United States) and now is abandoning all those women and children...he could have at least apologized.
No matter how Biden's exit is perceived in the U.S., it is a shameful moment in history and a stain for the U.S. leadership in the world that will be remembered to be worse than Vietnam. Wait to see the bodies hanging and women raped and tortured. Afghanistan will not go off the map or off the news for a long while because it now has one of the worst rulers in the world.
After what Trump did to Kurds and Biden did to a generation of hopeful Afghans, it is hard to convince many that U.S. is the leader or a supporter of human rights in the world. America is losing that magic humanitarian touch that used to win the hearts of people around the world.
One last note (and I apologize for the language here but): Somebody has to fire all those dumb fu**s in U.S. intelligence; they have miscalculated situations that are very difficult to get wrong. Their next (and original) big mistake in the region is already in the making: Iran.
S.H. in Sutherlin, OR, writes: You did an outstanding job in your synopsis of the Afghanistan situation and particularly Joe Biden's speech. You needed to leave it there and not second guess yourself with new analysis on Wednesday.
Biden did take ownership of the situation. "The buck stops with me" pretty much wraps that up with a bow. AND he was not defensive, but rather he was affirmative in his standing by his decision as the right one.
I love your postings, but you rather blew it with this second guessing in today's wrap-up. You can do better.
S.S. in Detroit, MI, writes: I give Joe Biden credit for having more guts than Lyndon B. Johnson, who knew that he should pull us out of that other war, but didn't. But being that we're (something similar to) a democracy, we get the government we deserve. The egg is on all our faces. But the blood and death and dismemberment and destruction is on our soldiers and on the people of the countries we have so recklessly invaded. What more can we say than, "We are ashamed, and very, very sorry. We promise to try to do better." Cold comfort to our victims, but it's a start.
D.B. in Winston-Salem, NC, writes: Reading your sentence about the footage of Joe Biden opposing the withdrawal of Vietnam refugees in 1975: "On top of that, people do change over the course of nearly half a century, and the view of issues when sitting on Capitol Hill is sometimes very different from the view when sitting in the White House. In other words, we don't buy it that the old footage is terribly damning for Biden," I was reminded of a line (it may have been in a book he wrote) from John Kenneth Galbraith: "When the situation changes, I change my mind. What do you do?"
Afghanistan: Other Thoughts
J.K. in Short Hills, NJ, writes: I have had the gross misfortune of being in the middle of events that have dominated the global news cycle on several occasions in my life. I was less than 15 miles from the epicenter of the Loma Prieta earthquake that shut down the World Series in 1989, had a tree fall on my house and lost power for two weeks as a consequence of Superstorm Sandy, cruised on the Seine underneath Notre Dame Cathedral an hour before it burned, and caught COVID-19 (thankfully, I had an extremely mild case) as the New York Metropolitan Area was the epicenter of the pandemic in March 2020. The most traumatic—by far—was the attack on September 11. I worked across the street from the North Tower of the World Trade Center that morning and witnessed things that I never discuss with anyone and will haunt me for the rest of my life. The thought of Afghanistan being ruled by the same "government" that allowed the perpetrators of the worst act of terrorism in history to fester just makes me uncomfortable.
J.M. in Laguna Beach, CA, writes: I saw a headline that said Steve Bannon predicts Afghanistan will be Joe Biden's downfall. It actually galvanized my firm belief that our withdrawal from the place where empires go to die will have very little lasting influence. My reasoning is based on the last headline I remember reading which quoted Bannon. It was a prediction that Trump would win by a landslide.
M.D. in The Poconos, PA, writes: Honestly, this is going better than I had expected. The military is flying people (Americans and Afghans) out without anyone shooting at them. They are in contact with the Taliban and getting some accommodation from them. The Taliban is not an organized sane force. It is a bunch of fanatics, so some people will die during this just out of ignorance and stupidity, but it's incredible that so much is being accomplished right now.
Multiple people in the Department of State and the military screwed up royally by either not knowing what the real situation was or outright lying to protect their own asses. Why anyone would believe that a Potemkin government that was mostly corrupt would stand firm is beyond me. But this is not Vietnam. The Taliban is terrified of accidentally killing Americans and bringing hell rained down upon them.
S.D. in Atlanta, GA, writes: Let me get this straight, a 20-year occupation that was a sh**show, with no clear goals or objectives, across four administrations, was going to lead to a graceful, clockwork exit?
A.S. in Brewster, MA, writes: The bitter irony of this entire situation is that the Republicans have been trying for 20 years to build a democracy in a country that doesn't want it while simultaneously working to destroy our own democracy here in the United States.
G.W. in Oxnard, CA, writes: The rapid collapse of the Afghan military and government indicates that the whole situation has been a con. The Taliban appears to have been the real owner of the country for some time and the Afghan military and government evidently knew and conned the U.S. into believing that there was a military and a government. They were apparently content with the status quo for some time. The military got salaries and power. The government officials stole liberally from the U.S. aid. The Taliban siphoned off a handsome sum from the U.S. aid. Trump, as a near lifelong con man, recognized the con. The Trump administration negotiated with the Taliban without the Afghan government in the room and told them to get new funding sources.
G.T.M. in Vancouver, BC, Canada, writes: A maxim that the U.S. government should have remembered is: "Rent-A-Friends tend to vanish (along with all portable valuables) as soon as you indicate that you are going to stop paying the rent."
I have seen people express skepticism over reports coming out of Russia concerning former members of the Afghan government arriving with "suitcases bulging with cash." I have absolutely no idea why anyone would be skeptical about reports of members of failed and corrupt governments fleeing their former country and taking as much valuable material with them as they could—after all, it's not like it has never happened before. (Of course, it is considered "bad form" for "us" to report it when "our guys" are the ones with bundles of stolen property [that was likely stolen from "us" in the first place] and this applies regardless of who "us" is.)
L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: There is one piece of the situation in Afghanistan that no one seems to be emphasizing. Namely, there is absolutely no way that the Taliban could have taken over so quickly and with so little resistance if the vast majority of Afghans actually hated them. Either the movement has broad support in the country or the nation was so disgusted with their government that they felt anything was better, even the Taliban. But regardless, it seems to me that Taliban rule is more or less what the people of Afghanistan want right now.
I give you credit for pointing out that the Taliban are Afghans and not some foreign invading force. But built into the inevitability of their takeover is the likelihood that Taliban control was actually seen as the best alternative by many, if not most, Afghans. It's hard to argue that the U.S. should be continuing to impose something that the people of Afghanistan don't actually want.
A.K. in Santa Barbara, CA, writes: A military historian, I don't recall the name, said that training for war is not about how to kill. That is easy. It's about following deadly orders, having such a strong commitment to a cause that the soldiers are willing to die, like going "over the top" in World War I. It does not look like that was ever approached in the mock American-style Afghan Army.
A key indicator of probable success in war is the age of the soldiers. This point was emphasized by Frank Viviano, a great war correspondent for The San Francisco Chronicle, reporting on the early phase of the Yugoslav wars, when the Serbs overran the Croats. The Serbian force included many 50-year old men, the sons of the Serbs killed by the Croatian fascists in World War II. If men go to war, they have committed to die for their cause. They are on a mission. In recent wars, the North Vietnamese sent their men to fight our conscript youth. In the first Armenia/Azerbaijan war, Armenia sent men to fight and defeat more numerous Azeri forces. Kurds versus uncommitted, often conscript Syrians and Iraqis. In the War of Israeli Independence, Israeli men and women, outnumbered and outgunned, fought Egyptian and Syrian youth. Ben Gurion would not even let the Kibbutzim evacuate women and children. They had to win and they mostly did.They had a harder time with the disciplined Arab Legion. In each of these cases the men were often less equipped, often fewer in number. If you want a truly brutal war, find one where both sides sent their men—the American Civil War. Sadly, the Taliban are men committed to their cause.
For most of the past 20 years it has been pitiful to hear how the Americans are "training" those benighted Afghan soldiers. Coupled with an Afghan government that offered no leadership, no commitment to any cause (other than corruption), this was doomed to failure. Recognizing what could have been fought for is too long for this venue, but I will offer a recognition that there are four main ethnicities in Afghanistan: Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek and Hazara. These people are really different, and I venture all would have fought for their own people, their own communities. Certainly the horribly abused and persecuted Hazara (Shia and Asiatic) deserved better. Yet we created a "national" Afghan army organized as a fantasy version of the American army. Doomed.
And here we are.
E.M. in Milwaukee, WI, writes: In spite of the many worthy comments on abortion last week, I might have something to add to the conversation, though R.H.'s point about the Trolley Problem comes close.
If a fetus is a person and abortion is murder, there are many things that follow from this that anti-abortion advocates seem too scared to say. To wit: the mother is a first-degree murderer; the doctor is a murderer and likely a serial hit man; women who miscarry could be subject to coroner's inquests; a child conceived while in the United States is a U.S. citizen; as soon after conception as possible, a birth certificate should be filed; a pregnant woman should declare so when traveling to the U.S. in order to know how many people are entering the country and to deny birthright citizenship to the fetus/child; likewise, pregnant travel from the U.S. must be declared to track possible murderers leaving the country.
After the first two items, the suggestions are a bit less obvious and are either profoundly cruel (miscarriages) or complex bureaucratically, but they all follow logically from the assertion that a fetus is a full-fledged child. Finally, I have never heard a serious proposal for preventing rich people from using interstate or international travel to obtain abortions. This suggests to me that the goal of many is to prevent "those irresponsible people" from getting abortions and to punish them with the burden of raising a child, while the rich should have the convenience of avoiding parenthood at will.
My personal opinion is that most anti-abortion advocates do not hold the fetus-is-a-child opinion deeply and that their implied position on appropriate punishment is a "tell." Rather, saying that a fetus is a child is a simple, dramatic argument that they have no desire to follow to its conclusion because they know they could never get majority support.
M.M. in Newbury Park, CA, writes: While we're on the topic of abortion, I've often thought that Democrats need a different angle here. So I put it to the readers. If a Democratic politician running for office were to say this in a speech, would it get him any crossover votes from conservatives? Or am I dreaming?I am against abortion. I want to be very clear on this. I believe every abortion is a failure of leadership and a failure of society. Like my opponent, I believe the ideal abortion rate in this (city, county, state, country) is zero. Where my opponent and I differ is how to get there. They want to criminalize abortion and make it illegal and punishable by prison time. They want to make a horribly desperate situation more horrible and more desperate.
But there are policies that WILL bring the abortion rate down, and are proven to work. I'm talking about education, access to birth control, and community health clinics. These policies work. We have the data. But teaching abstinence only, making birth control harder to obtain and closing community health clinics is not just counterproductive to the goals they claim they want to achieve...it's just cruel.
I am against abortion. And I have a humane plan to reduce them in our community dramatically.
D.F. in St. Paul, MN, writes: I imagine the back-and-forth over abortion could continue unabated if you allowed it. If you'll permit, I would like to add my own two cents.
I was entertained by one letter-writer who proposed a train on a track that will run over either a child or a fertilized egg in a test tube. True, I would choose to run over the test tube. I would also choose to run over a 90-year-old person versus a young child, yet I could not use that choice to condone killing 90-year-olds. The train hypothetical may make us choose one life over another, but it doesn't tell us which lives are human or not.
Personally, I consider myself pro-choice, but struggle with "where to draw the line." I am convinced that an 8½-month-old fetus should be protected under the law. But I also believe that humanity does not begin at conception and that at some early point in the pregnancy a woman should have the absolute right to terminate. That some believe a zygote or blastocyst is a human life is of no consequence to me without evidence that we should consider it so ("it will become a human life" is not enough—so will an unfertilized egg or a sperm cell, if they meet). There's a reason that we've gotten nowhere on this issue, folks—it's a complicated one. If you think you have a simple answer, you haven't thought hard enough.
G.O. in New York City, NY, writes: I don't generally wade in on the more long running discussions. However, the lead item by J.P. in Lancaster misses the point, I think. Let me qualify that I am a fervent atheist and have no agenda or support for the Catholic Church (or any other).
However the argument that says, "Pick one of the two, abortion or contraception," fundamentally misunderstands the point. While I think it is wrong, the church's stance is perfectly consistent. If you believe humans should not be contradicting God's will and killing embryos or preventing the creation of life, that is a consistent viewpoint and I respect it while (strongly) disagreeing. As opposed to right-wing support for the death penalty and against abortion (which is indeed contradictory). We all need to see the other side's view when it is logical and consistent and work against it through argument—to contrast with the Majorie Taylor Greene-style insanity.
J.C. in Binan, Laguna, Philippines, writes: R.T. of Arlington asked about abortion, and as an aside in their question mentioned that "the only direct reference in the Bible to this was prohibiting human sacrifice of children to an idol." It's interesting. R.T. is correct on this point, but not in the larger scheme of things. What Christians call "The Bible" is only such because councils agreed to it—a series of them. They felt they weren't making a new decision but were ratifying what the Church believed. But there were, of course, disagreements. There were many in the Early Church who were uncomfortable with Jude, II Peter, II John, III John, and Revelation. And there were other books that were included in early canons, but just not by the Church Universal—only in certain areas. In an overly-simplistic reading of history, they were so busy arguing about in what manner Jesus was both divine and human that they ran out of time and said, "Let's just accept Athanasius' canon." (And of course, to this day some churches, like the ancient Abyssinian Church, have a larger canon than we do in the West.)
Here's the interesting part: There were five books that were considered canonical by parts of the Early Church and were not considered heretical at the time (and largely are still not considered heretical), but they did not make the final cut. They were: the Shepherd of Hermes, the Didache, I Clement, the Epistle of Barnabas, and the Revelation of Peter. Many of the prominent leaders of the Early Church considered them to be canonical. And three of them—Didache, Epistle of Barnabas, and Revelation of Peter—directly state that abortion is immoral, as opposed to infanticide.
Wherever one might fall on the current political discourse on this issue, and although these books are not part of the current canons, they do reflect a general milieu of the Early Church in rejecting abortion as immoral.
A.J. in Mountain View, CA, writes: Thanks to S.L.C. in Arlington for a good question on the Catholic Church's position on abortion and to (Z) for a well-researched answer. As a Catholic, I would like to amplify on (Z)'s response from an "inside baseball" point of view.
I think the problem with the "next guy will reverse the stance" argument is that it assumes a legal positivist framework which is not at all the approach taken by the Catholic hierarchy. The attitude of the hierarchy and of traditional Catholics is that the pope's job is not to make determinations on issue of faith and morals, but instead to understand and interpret faith and morals as dictated by God, and to implement rules which help to promote those morals. Even when speaking ex cathedra, the pope is not infallibly making policy so much as infallibly comprehending God's intention on a certain issue. One might say, within this view, that the pope and Church serve as the executive and judicial branches, but God is the sole legislative branch. (And there are no checks and balances against the Divine!)
So part of the difficulty of reversing doctrine is that it has to be presented as a development of our understanding of God's intentions, and an explanation of why the current understanding is "better" than what was practiced for any of the 2,000+ years of church history prior. In the case of Church practice, the argument is relatively easy (e.g., it is not that hard to argue that Church services in the vernacular help the modern laity participate more easily), but in the case of a core doctrine, it is extremely challenging (e.g., trying to come up with an explanation of how God really meant to allow abortion all along, but the Church somehow misinterpreted that for 2,000 years). Change in doctrine does in fact happen, but as (Z) points out, usually in small degrees and over centuries, as a small development is usually easier to explain than a large one.
Also, in response to D.L.-O. in North Canaan, who wrote: "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."
I would like to point out that there are "moderate" pro-lifers such as myself who believe that (1) there are real societal and cultural pressures that give women very good reasons to have abortions, and yet (2) the fetus is a living thing and therefore deserves some consideration. Therefore, it is incumbent upon us to advocate (not impose, but advocate, as participants in a pluralistic society) for policies that will allow more women to want to have their babies. These policies include better childcare in universities and workplaces, harsher penalties for deadbeat dads, etc. It is our hope that, by supporting moderate pro-life organizations such as Feminists For Life and Democrats for Life of America, we can promote a society that both gives more babies the chance at life as well as giving women more and better choices for their lives.
I am not so naive as to think there are no pro-lifers who do indeed fit D.L.-O.'s description and want only to control women's bodies. I am naive enough to hope that E-V.com readers will consider the possibility that it is pro-lifers like those that give pro-lifers like me a bad name.
L.B. in Savannah, GA, writes: Jerry Falwell wasn't known for his opposition to abortion prior to Roe v. Wade. He started his career as a segregationist, not an abortion opponent. What motivated Falwell to become more political was the Green v. Kennedy decision in 1970 (three years before Roe in 1973), which prohibited federal funding for religious schools that practiced segregation. Religious conservatives in the 1950s and 1960s were better known for their opposition to "miscegenation." Famously, Bob Jones University prohibited interracial dating among its students until 2000. However, by 1973, segregation was losing favor with the general public, so Falwell made the decision to pivot to opposing abortion, gay rights, and "feminism," the trifecta that the Moral Majority was established upon.
M.S. in Minneapolis, MN, writes: R.S. in San Mateo, CA, writes: "Do they not realize that Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and Shintoism (among many other religions) allow abortion?"
From brief internet research, and a conversation I once had with a Theravada Buddhist monk, I have the opposite impression. I would say the Theravada Buddhist position is that abortion is murder.
B.C. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: "Science and scripture both agree: life begins when breathing starts and ends when breathing stops. A fetus does not breathe."
Human fetuses do not use their lungs for respiration, but they do take in oxygen through the placenta and convert it into energy. They would therefore satisfy a scientific requirement that something has to breathe to be alive. I don't think there is such a requirement, though. It was recently discovered that salminicola parasites have no respiration system at all. The consensus view seems to be that salminicola are living organisms anyway.
B.C. in Halethorpe, MD, writes: I'm among the smaller portion of readers on this site who agrees with P.M. in Currituck on the issue of abortion, and I appreciate P.M.'s willingness to express an opinion contradictory to this site's overall readership in a more concise way than I can.
I have no delusion that I can somehow out-argue the countless well-spoken readers on this site whose academic credentials leave mine in the dust. Many can and possibly will outmaneuver what I'm writing verbally and make any portion of my words appear frivolous, and I'm at peace with that. But there are still two important things you need to hear from pro-life Americans: we're not who you think we are, and we're not going away.
As has been pointed out many times on this site, looking exclusively at someone's presidential voting record and cited "most important issue" is a weak approach to understanding political futures, let alone understanding that voter's character. We in the pro-life camp are not all religious and not all Trump supporters. We get no sick joy from "controlling women" and have no doubts as to what a personal and painful journey pregnancy can be. Many of us support a more compassionate immigration policy, better environmental stewardship, and tax reform beyond "trickle-down" cuts for the wealthiest.
The second point, which I mean not to be threatening or even annoying, but rather factual: The pro-life movement isn't going anywhere. We're not going to die off or be shamed or ridiculed into disowning our beliefs. We aren't convinced by pointing out stronger abortion rights in other, usually whiter, countries. Frustrating hypocrisy from religious or political groups that many of us aren't even part of admittedly weakens the moral high ground in the public perception but doesn't obviate the issue. You can criticize me to no end, and (V) & (Z) can post 11 such rebuttals, but it's not going to make me suddenly think that a fetus one week before birth or out-of-womb viability is infinitely less human than after. I don't care what any political or religious official says: Like many pro-choice individuals that I adamantly disagree with yet can respect, I will not abandon my conscience out of convenience or pressure.
For many of you on this site who seem to accept these ideas about pro-life thinkers and are willing to limit your criticisms to pointing out logical fallacies that only weaken our movement from within, I appreciate your civility. There's almost no chance you'll cause me to revert to your side, but you definitely get me thinking of how we handle things ("maybe we should insist to the bishops that a Communion-denial policy should be all-or-nothing with pro-choice and pro-death penalty politicians").
For the rest of you who can't accept that we deserve a place in the national dialogue and can't explain your distaste for our views without citing clerical abuse or the GOP, I'm sorry for what you're putting yourself through. You will endure many more election cycles of rolling your eyes and incredulously gasping "How is this debate still around?" But, rest assured, it will be.
Also as an FYI, there are, in fact, thousands of pro-life non-profit organizations dedicated to assisting women in crisis pregnancies that reduce abortion rates without propping up any political parties or candidates. America: The Jesuit Review has a small sample list, a few of which I can personally vouch for as entirely apolitical. Feel free to join in the good works, or at least read up on what we do beyond enabling the GOP with its single biggest wedge issue.
J.B. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: In response to P.B. in Sønderborg, who, in describing a trip to Seattle, writes, "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..." and concluded that this indicates that there is a huge crime problem: I beg to differ.
What P.B. described is only "crime" in their perception. What I see is a breakdown of the social safety net. People wouldn't be living in tents if they hadn't been driven out of their homes by COVID unemployment evictions and/or greedy developers and gentrification, there wouldn't be "crazy" people yelling on street corners if the GOP had not dismantled our mental health system beginning in the 80s, and how is "openly using drugs" any different than "people drinking alcohol in the outdoor section of a restaurant?"
So if there is an increase in crime in urban areas, it's not the citizens perpetrating it on each other. It's the grifters at the top who are taking all they can and are leaving scraps behind.
I live in Los Angeles, and yes, I do see tents lining underpasses and the river, and more than usual. But I haven't seen an uptick in actual crime, even downtown. So P.B. can go back to their original supposition: Yes, this "OMG, URBAN CRIME!" pearl-clutching is another Fox News bit of fake news. I'd be more concerned about the meth labs in rural areas.
L.R.H. in Oakland, CA, writes: The comments on big-city crime from P.B. in Sønderborg interested me. P.B. mentions panhandling, people with mental health issues living in tents, graffiti, and drug sales as the crimes worth mentioning, omitting violent crimes such as rape, murder, burglary, and robbery.
None of the things P.B. mentions are at all new in big cities, and if they were previously invisible to P.B., I would ask why. Can P.B. point us to statistics demonstrating an increase in these specific issues?
I suggest that P.B. look at the Seattle and state of Washington budgets to see where money is spent. Can P.B. find expenditures that address drug use in meaningful ways? That make it easier for homeless people to obtain mental health services and housing?
I definitely think it's a crime that a country as wealthy as the United States fails to adequately house and provide health care to its citizens. Things are undoubtedly better in Denmark, where the citizens are more willing to pay for government services than Americans are.
R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: P.B. in Sønderborg was heartbroken about the "crime problem" in Seattle after describing homelessness in the downtown area. Let me assure you that none of the problems described can reasonably be solved with arrests or fines. We know this to be true, as cities and states have been criminalizing camping in public, panhandling, being crazy on the street corner, etc. for decades and not one of them has seen an end to the problem. I do agree that Seattle and other cities with these issues need to do something, but continuing to cast it as amenable to a law enforcement solution only serves to perpetuate both the myth and the reality of homelessness.
I've spent the last 10 years of my life working in the field of homelessness data. I now live in a town of not quite 1,200 people but the majority of my adult life was spent in Austin, TX, and I know about urban homelessness and how efforts to criminalize it affect things. In the 1990s, the city passed ordinances forbidding public camping and sitting or lying on the sidewalk in their efforts to handle the homelessness problem. All these ordinances did was force people to hide their campsites away from public view. When the city repealed these ordinances in 2019, there was a hue and cry as it seemed the population of people experiencing homelessness was exploding when, in reality, they were just seeing the true magnitude of a problem that had been swept under the rug for 25 years. There was a small increase in the annual census but there was not a dramatic swing in the number of people served throughout the community in the year following the ordinance change. Decriminalizing homelessness did not dramatically change the scope of the problem, just as criminalizing it in the first place did little to reduce it.
I could go on and on as this is a particular pet peeve of mine, and one about which I know quite a bit, but there are better sources of information on homelessness for anyone who truly cares about solving this problem. See the National Alliance to End Homelessness, the National Low Income Housing Coalition, or OrgCode Consulting for good information about what does or doesn't end homelessness. This is a problem we know how to solve if communities would only quit spinning their wheels with quack solutions and follow the science.
R.H. in Seattle, WA, writes: After reading the letter from P.B. in Sønderborg, I felt somewhat compelled to write a reply. I'll start by saying the problems they mentioned are a problem. However, I can go on about how these issues always existed before COVID but were easy to sweep under the rug. It's more visible now as a result of closures due to the pandemic and fewer people being downtown. A city councilor who, from my point of view, has been a very toxic presence, hasn't helped, and having the last three mayors go one-and-done isn't helpful either in finding workable solutions.
While acknowledging problems exist, it's not a surprise that it's more "shocking" if you've been away for a significant length of time (14 years in P.B.'s case). Further, national and local media outlets have sensationalized the problem (also not helpful in search of solutions).
I could probably go on much longer about city politics, especially with mayoral and council elections this fall, but for now, I yield back.
G.R. in Tarzana, CA, writes: Just over two weeks ago, my wife and I, along with our two daughters in their early 20s, spent four days vacationing in Seattle. We stayed downtown, walking distance from Pike's Pier and Pioneer Square. Or, at least, I thought we had until I read about the Seattle that P.B. in Sønderborg claims to have visited earlier this summer. Surely, one of us must have been in a parallel universe Seattle. At no point did we feel unsafe walking around the city, and while we were using Google maps (it was, after all, Seattle) for navigation, we still relied on street signs to inform us where we were, and they were easy to read and not to any noticeable extent covered in graffiti. As for garbage, we remarked often at how clean and how beautiful the city of Seattle was. We visited Ballard and Bainbridge Island, took a boat tour of the city and yes, by Pioneer Square there was a section where some homeless and others with problems were roaming the area, but it wasn't anything threatening or significantly worse than in any of our major cities, especially during this pandemic.
I often hear people in Los Angeles and other cities talking about how horrible America's cities have become, with rampant crime and liberal polices destroying their once safe and beautiful suburbia, and regardless of what you explain about actual crime rates and other imagined horrors of their 2021 surroundings, they will just regale you with stories of others who have been victimized by all that is wrong with modern day American cities. Luckily, none of them have actually been victimized, but they've heard stories from "everyone else," and you start to realize that their major, unsaid gripe is that the place they are living is no longer the place they grew up in 40 and 50 years ago.
And for those who haven't been to Seattle, all I can say is the Emerald City should be on everyone's destination list. Beautiful area, friendly people and great food.
A.M. in Olympia, WA, writes: P.B.'s letter was regrettably spot-on about the state of affairs in Seattle. As a lifelong Washingtonian who is quite familiar with Seattle, I have to say that the city is abysmal compared to former days. P.B. hit the nail on the head. The streets are threatening and uninviting. The charm has vanished in "Crane City." It has become the Amazon jungle. Sad commentary on a city that has such natural beauty.
I graduated from law school in Los Angeles many years ago and still find that city more comfortable and appealing than the current Seattle. But it was a private university, so that might have made a difference.
S.D. in Oxnard, CA, writes: S.S. in West Hollywood asked "What is your take on climate change..?" In response, you a referenced an article in The New York Times, headlined: "Amid Extreme Weather, a Shift Among Republicans on Climate Change" with the sub-heading: "Many Republicans in Congress no longer deny that Earth is heating because of fossil fuel emissions. But they say abandoning oil, gas and coal will harm the economy."
Well, for once, the Republicans speak the truth about climate change. But they are hedging when they say it will "...harm the economy." Fact is, if we are to abandon oil, gas, and coal, as we must do soon, we will surely do great harm to the economy. We may, in fact, destroy the economy as we know it today.
The burning of fossil fuels (oil, gas, and coal) is the proximate cause of climate change. It also provides the energy for a vast array of human endeavors. So clearly, if we humans want to slow down and ultimately halt climate change, we need to severely curtail, and ultimately halt, our consumption of fossil fuels. That means that we need to rethink how we are going to live our lives. This is especially true for those of us living in first-world countries where much more energy is used. And then we have to act.
And we need to get our leaders to act on our behalf. But these days they are pretty much unwilling to even acknowledge the magnitude of the problem, much less act.
As far as I can tell, it's either our present life style or a livable planet, it can't be both. And, we really don't have any time to spare.
A.A. in Branchport, NY, writes: Let me begin by saying that I've been a fan of this site since 2004 and recommend it often to friends. Both of you gentlemen are experts in a great many fields, and I appreciate the effort that you expend to share your expertise. Thank you!
That said, nobody is an expert at everything, and there are times when I have seen you cede the floor to experts in law and epidemiology, to name a couple. I was bewildered that you didn't call in the experts to respond to S.S. in West Hollywood, who was inquiring, "What is your take on climate change and where we're heading as a country and planet? " I was also surprised at the tone of the last sentence, which was almost flippant: "Some permanent damage is likely, but total disaster is not."
There is an awful lot wrong in those few words, and rather than chase the errors, I'm going to offer some reading suggestions:
- The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by Elizabeth Kolbert
- How to Prepare for Climate Change: A Practical Guide to Surviving the Chaos, by David Pogue
- The Death and Life of the Great Lakes, by Dan Egan
- Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed: Revised Edition, by Jared Diamond (I'd also highly recommend the other two books in the series.)
I think that those books will provide a good start for any interested parties.
For what it's worth, I think our response to COVID provided an excellent example of how we as a people, nation and world will deal with the looming catastrophe. The superstition, ignorance, stupidity and sheer selfishness that characterized our response to a matter that is really quite puny (compared to global warming) provides an excellent example of how successful we as the human race will be in dealing with the huge problems presented by climate change.
My money is on permanent damage. Then total disaster.
I.D. in Richmond, VA, writes: S.S. in West Hollywood mentions the possibility of the end of life on Earth due to climate change. While I generally take the view from your answer—that we will successfully prevent the worst potential impacts but still have plenty to deal with—I do occasionally find myself feeling a bit like I imagine S.S. does. When that happens, I remember flourishing colonies near deep-sea vents, bacteria that survive 1,600 feet below the Earth's surface in a cave system that has never seen the sun, and Ideonella sakaiensis, a bacterium which has developed the ability to break down and consume plastic as a sole energy source, and am reminded living beings are unimaginably resilient. Sure, the planet may become uninhabitable by humans one day, but it will likely not be truly uninhabitable until the Sun expands and consumes it in roughly eight billion years (more than enough time for a new dominant species to evolve if we're all extinct). Lives end. Life goes on.
It makes me feel better, anyway.
A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: I am as progressive as they come, but I promise you I do not understand the love affair with electric cars. Maybe I do, though—and it is that a lot of people think electricity comes out of the wall.
Electric cars alone will not solve anything—they just move the problem from one place to another, as the main way in which we produce electricity in this country remains burning fossil fuels! If we don't radically update our power infrastructure (notably the means by which electricity is produced) we will not make any progress by simply driving electric cars.
In fact, I argue that our means of energy production are a bigger problem than all the worst gas-guzzlers in the nation.
Why is there such a love affair with electric cars among my fellow progressives? Why do they think this and this alone, will solve the problem? Do they really not know how energy (electricity) is produced? I'd advise them to have a peek at this:
R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: With all the news of governors and school districts who seem hell-bent on making COVID-19 endemic at the cost of preventable COVID deaths, I would like to share some good news.
My daughter just started her senior year of high school. This past summer she was a CIT (counselor in training) at her summer camp. This was a special summer as it was her first back on the land in 3 years. The camp burned down in the Tubbs Fire, which also devastated Santa Rosa, CA, in 2017. After 2 years of camp on a nearby college campus and Zoom Camp last summer, this was a big deal. The camp took COVID very seriously. Many of the vaccine-eligible 12-17 year olds had not received their vaccine when camp started because there was less than 5 weeks between eligibility and the start of camp. (My daughter got hers in April based on her status as a student-teacher at a religious school). Every camper was required to get a COVID test 7 days and 3 days prior to camp. They also had to get another COVID test on the way to camp, in a location in Santa Rosa before arriving at the camp. There were no buses to the camp. Parents had to drop off kids individually. Parents dropped their kids off some 20 feet away from staff. I was allowed to get out of the car to hug my daughter, but could not interact with staff. Kids had to wear masks nearly all the time, even outside. Kids were only allowed to interact closely with others in their bunk (they were in pods). Testing continued throughout the summer. Even with Delta hitting mid-summer (there were kids arriving for various sessions throughout the summer), there was not a single positive COVID test all summer long.
School started last week. She attends Encinal High School (Go Jets!) in the Alameda Unified School District (AUSD). About 70% of 12-17 year olds in the district are vaccinated, roughly mirroring the city of Alameda. Everyone is required to wear a mask in school. Testing was not required prior to school, but highly encouraged. The district sponsors testing and vaccination clinics frequently, at different schools throughout the district. Kids in the elementary and middle schools are kept in pods so that a positive test doesn't shut down the whole school. There were 4 positives at 4 different schools during the first week of school. The superintendent announced them right away. Contact tracing and further testing made it possible to isolate other students and staff to contain potential outbreaks. While the kids' names could not, of course, be disclosed, they even announced which schools had the positives. They are going to do routine testing at elementary and middle school sites for as long as necessary. And finally, just yesterday they announced an agreement with the teacher's union that allows them to mandate the vaccine for all district employees.
Testing. Contact tracing. Vaccination. Taking this seriously. If only the nation mirrored the attitude of my smallish town, so much of the death and economic devastation caused by this pandemic was avoidable. I'm wary of Delta, but it is not devastating the Bay Area. It is being handled responsibly. And it is such a delight, after a year and a half, to see kids in school yards and high schoolers walking the streets of Alameda when I am coming home from work (working in construction means I get home early). My heart goes out to people all over who do not have responsible adults managing this crisis. Because it just didn't have to happen the way it did.
Anonymous in a Very Red State, writes: I attend a public university in a state where our legislature has banned mask/vaccine mandates and segregating the vaccinated and unvaccinated. Approximately 40% of our population is vaccinated overall and only 15% of our twenty-somethings. Meanwhile, we have vanishingly few ICU beds, a shortage of nurses, and one of the highest rates of underlying conditions among both adults and children in the nation. My university decided that banning mask and vaccine mandates wasn't good enough. They decided to stop all social distancing measures, remove all plexiglass barriers, remind us that attendance policies apply equally to students sick with COVID, and establish a policy that even students with documented immuno-suppression would no longer be permitted to work remotely because professors are "ready to be done with Zoom." To the latter point, the university finally relented yesterday because some disabled students who had already returned to campus tested positive for Delta. School starts Monday. We are not prepared.
V & Z respond: We granted anonymity at the request of the letter writer, as there is some small risk that they could be identified and could suffer recriminations.
This Week in TrumpWorld
P.C. in Austin, TX, writes: Hindsight is improving. I agree with your conclusion that "Trump Got It."
I believe he got it even more than he wanted to. He didn't run to win, he ran for brand awareness. A grifter like him lives off of the image, not any innate value. Indeed, he didn't really want the job, and his performance reflects that. He reluctantly accepted the job, and muddled his way through, mostly doing things suggested by the swamp creatures surrounding him that kept the spotlight fixed on him, quite successfully at that, and kept him out of jail.
I was about to say that he would only run again if he was reasonably confident that he would lose, but I'm rethinking even as I write this. Nothing would raise his fairly anemic current profile more than to run again, win or lose. If he wins, he figures he can muddle through 4 more years of whatever, including apparent immunity from prosecution. If he loses, he can construct an even BIGGER (BIGLIER?) LIE, not about a stolen election, but about the RIGGED system... whatever keeps him in the news. And the COT ("Cult of...") will continue sending him money (monthly!) and hanging on his (and Q's) every strange utterance.
My hope is that this is the manifestation of the death throes of a slowly dying ideology, splitting the (R) vote between those that are convinced they have principles and the true believers (be-LIE-ers)?
C.L. in Boulder, CO, writes: To B.D. in Seabrook: Trump didn't drain the swamp.
A.D. in Las Vegas, NV, writes: Your answer to S.B. from Narragansett, RI, about how you can't win an argument with a Trump supporter was so perfect and familiar I had to send it to a Trumpy friend (that I've had many similar arguments with) to test it out. His response proved your point exactly (the parentheses list the various "tricks" I detected):
"Sounds like when you try and speak to a Liberal about any of their beliefs??? Are you sure they didn't just substitute Trump Voter for Liberal???:-)" (Gaslighting, deflection, misdirection)
D.W. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Thanks for your nifty real-world example in response to S.B., Narragansett regarding "winning an argument." Great work from E-V.com every day!
I have learned from smart professionals (in other contexts) that it's impossible to have a rational conversation with an addict who is in his disease. I don't engage with intrusive members of the right, because for me, they appear addicted to victimhood, like Their Leader, and substitute blame in place of personal accountability.
So there's no argument to be "won"—just my time to be wasted taking their bait. I view the irrational, illogical, and ignorant challenges from the right as manipulations of my attention, so I don't engage. Un-sidelined, I am free to move forward.
R.B. in Cleveland, OH, writes: I appreciated the social media "debate" from (Z). Can he confirm that the other person is actually a Harvard-trained lawyer, or are they just a "credibly accused" HTL?
V & Z respond: There is absolutely no question that they are really a Harvard-trained lawyer.
J.R. in College Station, TX, writes:
"OWNING THE LIBS"
Doctor Fauci may think I'm not very bright,
and I'm not looking for a fight,
but OWNING THE LIBS is always the RIGHT thing to do
Now Gramps worshiped Sean and Tucker,
he thought his doctor was a sucker.
He knew it was just the flu,
dosed himself with ivermectin too
If he hadn't already croaked,
he would have had a stroke
to find that Jesus is WOKE,
but I'm so proud that he went out OWNING THE LIBS
Science is a joke when it tells me I shouldn't smoke,
or wash down my Twinkies with a Coke.
I got flooded out by the hurricane,
but there's no such thing as climate change
My thought processes may be hazy,
but I know immigrants are criminals and blacks are lazy,
not racist just telling it like it is.
Don't tell me what to do even if it's killing you.
I'll put you all in danger,
don't care if you're a friend, child or stranger,
it's all about ME proudly OWNING THE LIBS.
A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I write to add some detail to the piece on the court's dismissal of OAN's suit against Rachel Maddow and MSNBC. It's actually more pertinent to the suits by Dominion against Fox, OAN and others than it might appear at first. The district court had dismissed the case on the defendants' motion to dismiss, so there hadn't been a trial and the court issued its ruling based only on whether the complainant's allegations even stated a claim. The appeals court affirmed that the statement that OAN alleged was defamatory ("OAN really literally is paid Russian propaganda") was one of opinion, not of fact, so it didn't even meet the threshold for a defamation claim. So, it wasn't thrown out because the statement was true—it was tossed out because it was an opinion that the court said was clearly "hyperbolic" and "exaggerated." Per the law in this area, the court looked at the context in which the statement was made and found that it was sandwiched between accurate reporting on the Daily Beast article, which said that a reporter on the OAN payroll was also being paid by Russian media outlet, Sputnik. So, her "color" to that story was her take on it and nothing more and, therefore, not defamatory.
One of the best parts of the decision was the court's note that OAN itself knew Maddow's audience expected her to give her opinion and use "rhetorical hyperbole" because OAN referred to her in their briefs as a "liberal television host" of a "liberal program." (And while I hate to play this game because the nominating official's party so rarely has anything to do with judicial decisions, and didn't here, and promoting that notion undermines judicial integrity and independence, I will note it was a 3-0 decision by a panel comprised of a W. appointee, an H.W. appointee and an Obama appointee). Interestingly, the reason OAN now has to pay Maddow et. al's attorneys' fees is that the motion to dismiss was brought under California's anti-SLAPP statute, which prohibits lawsuits aimed at chilling free speech, such as spurious defamation claims like this one. If the defendant is successful in knocking out a case under this statute, which applies to federal cases brought in California federal courts, then they recover their attorneys' fees. As an aside, this statute has been very effective in preventing many frivolous suits. Some attorneys hate it; personally, I'm a big fan and have used it myself successfully several times.
No doubt OAN is now thinking, "Well, OK, we can try that against Dominion." But there are a couple of important differences: the first is that Dominion's case was brought in D.C. federal court, which does not have an analog to CA's anti-SLAPP statute; the second is that OAN was, arguably, not only repeating false allegations but also concealing the true facts and adding their own false statements. So, under the law as applied in the Maddow case, the context in which these statements were made is quite different and OAN and others are going to have a tough time getting rid of these suits early.
R.M. in Providence, RI, writes: I am an attorney, one that would share majority opinion that Jeffrey Toobin is often too cautious/short sighted in analysis.
That said, he may be correct in this week's piece about Donald Trump being prosecuted for federal crimes. Some of these charges that seem obvious can and will get clouded by the murky question of intent. There is plausible deniability to much of what Trump has done, especially in the field of the insurrection.
The investigations into his taxes seems much easier case to make, as they will be evidenced by data and numbers that can be verified and are hard to refute.
I could discuss more, but of the charges Toobin and you discussed, obstruction would be easiest to show.
R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, writes: While it is true, as Jeffrey Toobin wrote, that no former presidents have ever been prosecuted for fomenting insurrection against the United States, it is also true that no former President (until January 6 of this year) had ever fomented insurrection against the United States.
Well, Jeff Davis did, and he escaped prosecution, but he was President of a different set of States, so that's different.
S.W. in New York, NY, writes: I cannot understand how two commentators in the mainstream media are successful. One is Maureen Dowd of The New York Times, who has nothing new, analytical or interesting to ever write about, no matter who is president. The second is Jeffrey Toobin, who always behaves as if he has the "inside edge" on every legal story. I remember quite distinctly the day before the Supreme Court issued its first ruling on Obamacare. Toobin said, with conviction and some drama showing his brilliant legal scholar/reporter skills, that he had a contact within the Supreme Court who reported to him that Obamacare would be defeated. He wanted the early scoop on this ruling. Of course, the next day the ruling appeared and supported Obamacare. I never understood why CNN didn't dump him right then.
Perhaps Toobin should remove his hands from his keyboard and spare the rest of us his idiocy.
J.L. in Conway, MA, writes: I must say that I find your somewhat juvenile assertion concerning Toobin managing to keep his hands on a keyboard long enough to write his essay unwarranted and uncalled for. Why don't you give Toobin the benefit of the doubt? He could have typed the essay with one hand.
A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: I have been both an appointed and elected official: appointed to the city planning commission, elected a city council member, and currently an appointed county planning commission member. That string goes back to the mid-70's. That is over 40 years' involvement in local politics. I understand the idea of term limits and strongly support them for presidents and governors, and to a degree, for Judges. I oppose term limits for other elected officials, however.
After my first stint on the city planning commission and then on the city council, I was just learning what the job entailed and how the system works. Fine little details about Robert's Rules of Order, the difference between the words "shall" and "may," and all of the reasons for the "Whereas and now therefore" clauses. No, I wasn't sending our children off to war, but I was affecting the lives of the citizens of the jurisdiction. I was called a bleeding-heart liberal commie, and a few names that you can't print in a publication of general circulation. The knowledge and learning of on the job training and an institutional memory are extremely important attributes in our officials. Yes, there are some that have exceeded their shelf life and, in my opinion, should be replaced, but that is the duty of the voters to make that decision. The idea that some uninformed reality star can come in and shake up the system and make everything better is a fallacy that has been demonstrated by the last administration.
All Politics Is Local
R.V. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: I think Democrats got the opponent they wanted in Nevada in Adam Laxalt. He is certified kook. He's the guy in the park yelling at pigeons about how Todd Gurley didn't get him enough points in his fantasy league. Laxalt was one of those who insisted Donald Trump won Nevada in 2020.
The candidate who I think Democrats really feared was Brian Sandoval. He is a two-term former governor who would have had strong appeal to Latinos and moderate voters.
R.H.D. in Webster, NY, writes: How ironic it would be if the two main governors who got it right on the COVID-19 response at the start, Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) and Gavin Newsom (D-CA), are both out of office in a month's time, while those who have consistently downplayed it like Ron DeSantis (R-FL) and Greg Abbott (R-TX) keep their jobs, and even get re-elected next year? What does that say about who we are as a country?
J.C. in Daytona Beach, FL, writes: You wrote: "An 11-point blowout in a state race [in Florida] is very rare... we are inclined to believe St. Pete's here." However, I would note that former senator Bill Nelson (D) won reelection twice, by 22% in 2006 and 13% in 2012 (until, of course, he lost in 2018). Last time Sen. Marco Rubio (R) ran for reelection, he won by eight points, this during a presidential year. So, I would argue that not only is the Susquehanna poll more accurate than you think, but likely to be on target. Rep. Val Demings (D) is fairly unknown in Florida (better known than most representatives, but definitely not as well-known as Rubio). Also, Rubio is likely to win big in North Florida, because of the (R) after his name, and also in South Florida as a Latino. So Demings will have to rely on Central Florida, which simply does not have enough votes for her to win.
The Chair of Government in Texas
L.V.A. in Idaho Falls, ID, writes: Your recent discussion, and reader questions and comments, on Greg Abbott's ability to campaign in a wheelchair prompts me to respond. Twenty years ago, I was diagnosed with a degenerative neurological disorder that, while not yet requiring full-time wheelchair use, has severely limited my mobility. "Normal" people seem to have no conception of the difficulties encountered routinely by the "mobility challenged." I occasionally have to gently point out to people (particularly medical professionals) that their "help" is doing the opposite. The people who present the most difficulties are those who "understand" my difficulties. In the last 20 years, I have been amazed at how differently I now view everyday things. I see a doorway very differently than I did 20, or 10, or 5 years ago. My entire world is viewed through a very different lens than the general public. I view a sidewalk, parking lot, hallway, restaurant, chair, stairs, and innumerable things very differently than the general public does. As for Abbott, only one person can have any conception of the difficulties he might encounter during a presidential campaign: Greg Abbott.
E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, writes: I read this site daily, and I follow political news fairly regularly in general. However, I was very surprised at your recent note that Greg Abbott is a wheelchair user. I think much of the reason I was unaware that he used a wheelchair is that often only his head and shoulders are shown. Also, I like reading political cartoons at The Week.com, and he's often depicted as standing. In any case, I wonder how salient the issue would be, given the relative ignorance of the American people (and I include myself as formerly ignorant but now enlightened by E-V.com). They could be made aware in sneaky, underhanded ways, and it still could hurt him as you describe, but it was interesting that I was not aware of his wheelchair use despite following political news.
Leonard Pinth-Garnell Presents: Bad Art
C.S. in Linville, NC, writes: The Christmas tree at the White House has come from western North Carolina more times then not. In fact, North Carolina has been known as the "Christmas tree capital of the world" (currently, only Oregon produces more). A source of pride for many of the locals. The Fraser Fir (Abies fraseri) is native to only a few areas above 3,900 feet in the southern Appalachians. The farm that grows the tree usually gets to bring the tree to the White House and gets a White House visit.
The "winning" family from a couple of years ago commissioned the portrait of themselves with the First Lady and 45.
Days later, I sent my brother the same photo and his reaction was "Holy S**t, that's sick! Wow! They painted Trump as Jimmy Carter! F**k."
Starring at the photo as I waited in line, I too thought that it looked like Jimmy Carter.
Anybody else think that the painter blended Jimmy Carter into Trump?
V & Z respond: Keep reading.
K.A. in Miami Beach, FL, writes: I found the painting sent in by C.S. in Linville to be both mysterious and fascinating. I would assume the message on the plaque would solve the mystery, but here's what's fascinating: The man on the right actually looks more like Jimmy Carter than Donald Trump. The woman, who is presumably Melania Trump, looks more like actress Julianne Moore when she's acting distraught (as she so often does). Her posture is bad, her coat doesn't fit her, and she is standing in front of. The scene is Christmas in the White House. The four men on the left side of the painting look so much alike, as if they are father and three sons. Clearly the woman and the father figure directly to her right are the focus of the photo with the other men relegated as supporting characters. This is too surreal to be the Trumps, but then again, his whole being is surreal.
A.S. in Hawkins, IN, writes: Regarding the painting: Why is Jimmy Carter standing to the right of Ivanka Trump?
S.G. in Durham, NC, writes: C.S. of Linville asked if the display of that painting in a DMV violated any laws. Given that neither Jimmy Carter nor Melania Trump are likely to aspire to future elected office, it's probably OK.
(V) & (Z) Face the Music
J.H. in Boston, MA, writes: I think the priority for using the time machine to meet historical figures should be resolving the gaps in the record. Solving the mysteries of history. People talking about meeting Caesar or Martin Luther King Jr., about whom we already know almost everything, are missing a great opportunity.
Let's go back and establish the historicity (if any) of Jesus and King Arthur and Buddha and Mohammed and Homer and the Trojan war. Recover the lost works of classical age, the hundreds of lost plays of Sophocles, Euripides, and Aechylus. Document the human race's exodus from Africa, and the crossing of the Bering strait.
D.G. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: My choice would be the political leader Moses. Not the religious one, but the authoritarian figure who led a tribe of slaves out of a 400 years bondage to become a free nation. I would like his confirmation of his decision to lead them out of Egypt rather than freeing them and staying in place, because of the psychological remnants of the relationship with the Egyptians, on both sides, psychology of the master and the slave. I strongly believe that remnant is what still keeps the racism in the U.S. alive so many years after emancipation.
V & Z respond: But what percentage of the blame for the war in Afghanistan goes to Moses?
R.T. in Arlington, TX, writes: I have a couple of biblical characters I would like to meet and interview because of where they were placed in history.
Abigail, wife of King David: A woman of high intelligence and she would have been a first hand witness to a pivotal time in Israelite history. What was her influence on the characters of the day?
Zerubbabel, son of Shealtiel: He led the first wave of repatriates from Babylon. Nehemiah gets all the limelight for a rebuilding Jerusalem, but I'd love to know the story of the first returnees and what they did before Nehemiah's revival. How did their culture change during the Babylonian exile?
J.L. in Mountain View, CA, writes: Any of the authors of the Bible. Maybe J or the author of the Deuteronomic History? To get a better understanding of how they understood the text they were putting down, what their sources were, and their conception of יהוה. All those seemingly contradictory passages explained as they were put down. Ezra, Isaiah and Paul would also all be interesting to talk to with respect to these issues.
Also, I am currently reading 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles Mann, which has stimulated my interest in some of the pre-Columbian figures in the Americas. On Mann's telling it sounds like much of pre-Columbian society was wiped out by disease before the Europeans could grasp what those societies were like. I would find it very interesting to get a better idea of what was here. Maybe some unknown to us member of the tribes from the San Francisco Bay area circa 1491? Or, if I have to be able to specify a person, maybe Túpak Inca?
M.C. in Reno, NV, writes: For me it would have to be Julius Caesar. When Caesar took dictatorial power in Rome, he worked tirelessly to alleviate popular suffering, and to clean up the mess Rome had gotten into after decades of civil conflict between the aristocracy and the common people. What I really want to know is: did he mean it? Was he taking dictatorial power for its own sake (as was alleged by his murderers)? If not, what was his long-term plan? Caesar was one of the most fiercely gifted rulers in history, and his legacy has been argued over ever since.
P.H. in Silver Spring, MD, writes: It is cheating a bit, but getting Isaac Newton and Gottfried von Leibniz in the same room to debate as they did at the end of the fictional Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson might be amazing.
C.A.K. in Louisville, KY, writes: I'd like to bring back Nelson Mandela, to ask him for counsel about the current state of affairs in the U.S.: race relations, judicial equity, voting rights, the Big Lie, anti-vaxx propaganda, and the general war on truth. Could there be an (American) Truth and Reconciliation movement that could guide the U.S. back to ethical and fact-based democracy?
D.C. in Delray Beach, FL, writes: Here's ten people that I want to answer just one question so that we don't have to watch endless speculative shows on cable TV about what might have happened:
- Amelia Earhart: What happened as you tried to find Howland Island on July 2, 1937?
- D. B. Cooper: What happened to you and the cash after you parachuted out of the plane on November 24, 1971?
- Richard Nixon: Which one of your team, including you, was responsible for the 18½ minute gap in the Watergate tape?
- The Virgin Mary: Who really is the father of Jesus?
- Napoleon: What were you thinking as you made war on Russia?
- Anne Boleyn: Why didn't you polish off Henry before he did the same to you?
- Thomas Andrews: Why didn't you insist on a full complement of life boats for the Titanic?
- Baha Men: Who really did let the dogs out?
- Carly Simon: Who is the subject of "You're So Vain?"
- Charlie's Wife: Did you ever think of putting a nickel into Charlie's daily sandwich, or were you just as happy that he never returned from his trip on the Boston MTA?
L.M from Ottawa, ON, Canada, writes: In your response to C.S. from Philadelphia on how the republic might have fared had the heroes of the revolution had access to modern communications, you suggest that since the republic survived the nastiness of the time back then, it would have survived even with Fox/MSNBC. While I agree that the partisan nastiness was as bad in that era (a lot worse, really), I think the real issue in modern times is with the reach of communications rather than their content. At the time the content was enough to, as you note, have Burr and Hamilton face off in a duel. But the reach, via newspapers of the day, was limited. Given a more universally accessible version of the same, via TV, or internet (especially social media) or both, would not the risk be mass duels between radicalised supporters of Burr and Hamilton? With a wide enough net of propaganda, reaching much more broadly, the chances of catching those willing to fight goes up significantly. And surely once violence like that gets underways the chances of spiralling out of control only increase. It seems likely things wouldn't have gotten that bad, but I do not think it is necessarily as straightforward a question as you suggest.
V & Z respond: On the other hand, most people couldn't vote back then, and so weren't as invested in electoral politics.
S.M. in Milford, MA, writes: I wanted to respond to the question from K.A. in Miami Beach about U.S. intervention in Vietnam. After World War II, the United States was initially hostile-to-ambivalent toward France's efforts to regain control of its colonies in Southeast Asia. That changed in 1949 after Mao's forces emerged victorious in the Chinese Civil War. In early 1950, the Truman administration agreed to recognize the French puppet regime in Vietnam and send it aid. That aid increased markedly after the Korean War began in June of that year and by 1954, when the French effort collapsed, the United States was subsidizing 78% of cost of the French war.
The key to Eisenhower's responsibility is his administration's reaction to the Geneva Accords of 1954. At that point, the United States could have walked away. Its ally had lost, and it had not been directly involved in the fighting. But the United States refused to sign the accords and worked to undercut them. The agreement did not establish two separate states in Vietnam. It merely created two regroupment zones to which both militaries would withdraw their troops after the fighting ended. The seventeenth parallel boundary was explicitly rejected as a permanent international boundary and both regroupment zones were barred from joining military alliances. Nationwide elections to unify the regroupment zones were scheduled for 1956. Eisenhower knew that if the 1956 elections were held, Ho Chi Minh would win easily. So instead, the Eisenhower administration created the nation of South Vietnam in 1954 and installed its first leader Ngo Dinh Diem, backed his cancellation of the 1956 elections, and aided him by boat lifting thousands of Catholics to the South.
Diem was a Catholic in a majority Buddhist country and the United States believed his government would be more viable if the U.S. helped him build a constituency in the South. As it happened, most of the Catholics lived North of the seventeenth parallel before 1954. When Diem held elections in the South in October 1955, he beat his main opponent by compiling a "miraculous" 98.2% of the vote. After 1955, Eisenhower steadily increased the financial and military support to South Vietnam despite the fact that few other countries recognized Diem's government. Among the countries who refused to recognize Diem were two NATO allies, France and Great Britain, who had helped negotiate the Geneva agreements. So one might say in this scenario that Eisenhower's decisions are parallel to Ronald Reagan's in Afghanistan or George W. Bush's in some respects. He did not put thousands of U.S. troops in Vietnam, but in the context of the Cold War, he made it more difficult for his successors to abandon an anticommunist ally and surrender territory to the communists.
P.N. in Austin, TX, writes: Your answer to F.S. in Cologne about people murdered by intelligence agencies conveniently defines out of the question the hundreds of people of color killed by the CIA, especially through the use of drone strikes.
There is a certain amount of racism in how we define these things. For Americans, it's not really murder if a drone does it in a "shithole country."
M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: One disturbing thing about the British Secret Service is that MI6 has, up until the recent past, had a low tolerance for traitors within its own ranks. Quite shockingly, MI6 took an extralegal approach and dispatched those viewed as unreliable. CIA officers, when first apprised of this activity, were stunned to say the least. So, while MI6 may not assassinate many foreigners, they aren't squeamish about dispatching their own.
V & Z respond: "And you are James Bond. Licensed to kill...your colleagues."
T.P. in Sherman Oaks, CA, writes: In response to N.E. in San Mateo: Obviously the reason that William Henry Harrison used his full name was so that hundreds of years later, his name could be sung to the same tune as "Alexander Hamilton."
C.J. in Redondo Beach, CA, writes: Replying to C.L.C. in Petaluma: while it is debatable that we were really fighting in World War I to make the world safe for democracy like Woodrow Wilson argued, he truly believed it. He's a complicated figure, and was almost Messianic in his belief that America's gift to the world was democracy and that we would save the world from itself by exporting it abroad.
Testy about Tests
J.S. in Durham, NC, writes: You wrote about SAT questions, stating that "it's not that the College Testing Board uses 'white' words or 'rich-people math,' it's that people with money can afford practice materials and/or prep courses, while poor people cannot". There have actually been several instances of the SAT using words and phrases that are definitely biased based on socio-economic status. Apparently one of the most infamous was a question that included the words "oarsman" and "regatta."
I also remember a more down-to-earth example about "what goes with what," and the example was "cup," the proper answer was "saucer." Clearly, there are people in this country who never experienced a saucer due to income/socioeconomic status. It could well be that they have improved this type of question.
Also, I am old enough to remember the time before there were prep classes for these tests. At that time I think it was believed that you could not significantly improve your test scores on these tests. These have indeed become big money makers for some folks.
V & Z respond: It's true that the occasional class/race-biased question sneaks through, though most of the notable examples are multiple decades old (another famous one involves "raven," which is a bird to suburbanites, and a color of car to inner-city folks). However, the differing access to test prep is an issue that is magnitudes of order more significant.
M.M. in Centralia, IL, writes: According to (Z), "...one has more credibility in criticizing standardized tests if one has done well on standardized tests."
I agree with the premise that the standardized entry tests are no end-all. Taking the SAT in 1971, I scored 1590—800 math (a perfect score then), and 790 verbal. I grew up with the SRA (Scientific Research Associates) teaching method, which apparently made me a whiz on standardized tests. So I didn't think much of the SAT scores other than bragging points, knowing that my practical, applied knowledge sometimes came up short, and study discipline was lacking.
This was confirmed when washing out of college completely in my sophomore year. Apparently some schools were already discounting the SAT (and I presume the ACT as well) as predictors of performance since my application to Caltech was rejected in spite of the high scores plus high GPA. Those smart guys must have been really smart, probably noting "skyrocket" in the margin of my app. Boom.
T.L. in San Francisco, CA, writes: In 1995, the SAT scores were recentered as described here.
There was a redesign in 2016, which resulted in score changes as described here.
There was also a redesign in 2004, but that apparently just added a third section, with the scores for the (slightly changed) existing sections remaining theoretically the same.
So depending on when (Z) scored 700/760, the scores can be converted to current equivalents using one or both of the above.
Again, the Cool Kids Can Skip this Section
A.H., Brier, WA, writes: I missed the derogatory comment(s) about "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine." But I would like to point out that show started on Season 1, Episode 1 with the premise that every character hated every other character.
And it grew from there.
D.L-O. in North Canaan, CT, writes: 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."
I'll give you "Star Trek: Enterprise." However, you're revealing your true (macho) colors by dismissing "Star Trek: Voyager," the first (and only, up until "Discovery") Star Trek series to feature a female captain of a starship. No disrespect to Uhura—she may have been on the flight deck, but she was basically the telephone operator of the Enterprise.
Feminists all over the universe are heaving a simultaneous gasp of horror. For shame, for shame!
R.R. in Pasadena, CA, writes: After the recent "DS9" commentary, it's great to see something from "Babylon 5," the far superior of the two "space station" sci-fi shows of the late '90s...though, sadly, I bet most E-V.com visitors don't know about it. "And so it begins" was spoken by Vorlon Ambassador Kosh on the assassination of the Earth president, pointing to how events would soon spiral out of control and embroil the entire galaxy in war. Another line from Kosh is really appropriate to the Fulton county story: "The avalanche has already begun, it is too late for the pebbles to vote." This is, of course, the intention of the Republican party right now, to sweep across the nation with changes to our electoral system that make it so all of us "pebbles" are unable to do anything about their power grab. The move against the Democratic stronghold of Fulton in an attempt to hold onto power in Georgia will not be the last attempt they make to undermine our democracy.
"Babylon 5" has a whole story thread about an authoritarian government taking over and remaking the Earth into a dictatorship, and it really feels a lot like what is happening now (sans aliens and spaceships, of course). Everyone should be worried that we're looking at the growth of The Nightwatch that will take over our government and turn it into something none of us would ever vote for, if we still had the ability to vote, or raise our voice in freedom.
D.F. in Norcross, GA, writes: Regarding your contention that, "One would assume that there has never been a person who knew more about hosting 'Jeopardy!' than Alex Trebek ...," I must respectfully disagree. All due respect to the late Mr. Trebek, who was a fine host (and perhaps the best, but that's a matter of taste and/or opinion), I have but two words for you to consider: Art Fleming.
V & Z respond: You might just be dating yourself here...
S.B. in Hood River, OR, writes: I found the argument about American vs. Canadian (and elsewhere) chocolate rather amusing. It only considers milk chocolate. My wife and I never buy it. Once you have tried milk-free extra dark chocolate (made in America or elsewhere), milk chocolate seems like a pale imitation. Think Taco Bell vs an authentic Mexican food truck.
P.R. in Saco, ME, writes: To G.B. in Manchester: While I love the English, it is my sorry duty to disabuse you of what the Québécois do when they come down to visit Maine. They do not come to work! They come to wear too-tight Speedos beneath too-large bellies on the few sand beaches that we have here in southern Maine (most of Maine is rock-bound coast). Local comedy routines commonly give voice to this observation. While we miss the tourist dollars of the Québécois, heck, even how French is spoken in many supermarkets come summer, we do not—I believe I can safely speak for most Mainers—miss the Speedos.
We do sorely miss the young men and women from various other countries, such as Peru, who have often staffed our hospitality industry. If they have Speedos, they keep them to themselves.
K.S. in West Lafayette, IN, writes: It appears that the Canadian infiltration of the United States has progressed further than we can imagine. I recently moved to West Lafayette, IN (yes, I am one of your mythical teenage readers and have been since 2018), and spotted a car sporting Indiana plates along with the symbols of our dastardly neighbors. I think it's important to note that Indiana shares only a maritime border with Canada, so we may want to start looking for landing craft soon:
V & Z respond: And a sorority sister on top of all that. Could it be that the real Trilateral Commission is the Canadians, the Hoosiers, and the Chi Omegas?
M.K. in Maplewood, NJ, writes: USC/UCLA in CapOne College Bowl: USC outscores UCLA to advance to quarterfinals.
V & Z respond: As history shows us, the fix is usually in with these things. Were any of the USC players named Van Doren, perchance?
J.L. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: The "It's a Small World" song in your head is a tiny price to pay for getting to sit calmly in air conditioning for six minutes during a day in the oppressive Anaheim heat, with children who have no "off" button. Also, "Small World" remains the only place in Disneyland where you can see Elvis. Legoland California, on the other hand, has multiple Elvi.
V & Z respond: (Z) may have mentioned in the past that it was his grandfather's favorite ride because it's the only ride in the park where, if you light up a cigarette, the staff can't reach you and force you to put it out.
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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug20 Biden Holds Forth on Afghanistan
Aug20 Three Senators Test Positive for COVID
Aug20 Man Arrested for Threatening to Bomb Capitol
Aug20 In California, the Drama Intensifies...
Aug20 ...And in Arizona, the Drama Nears Its Denouement...
Aug20 ...While in Texas, the Drama Ends
Aug20 This Week's 2022 Candidacy News
Aug19 The Blame Game Heats Up
Aug19 Democrats Can't Govern
Aug19 Democrats Want to Try to Pass Voting Rights Bill within a Week
Aug19 Red States Are Fighting Their Blue Cities--over Masks
Aug19 Anti-mask Rules Are Creating a Backlash
Aug19 Republicans Give Up on Blocking Gay Rights
Aug19 Judge Grills Lawyers in Smartmatic Lawsuit
Aug19 Mixed Polls on Florida Senate Race
Aug18 Future Tense
Aug18 Proof of Concept for Fox
Aug18 Today's Rachel Maddow News...
Aug18 Abbott Is Diagnosed with COVID-19
Aug18 And So It Begins
Aug17 Send in the Clowns
Aug17 You Win Some, and You Lose Some
Aug17 Toobin Advocates No Federal Prosecutions for Trump
Aug17 Fox Definitely Has Its Candidate
Aug16 "This Is Not Saigon"
Aug16 Biden Is Pro Electric Car--and also Pro Gasoline Car
Aug16 Trump Rules the House--but Not the Senate
Aug16 Trump Got It
Aug16 One-Third of Native Americans Are Not Registered to Vote
Aug16 Schmitt Is Not the Adult in the Room
Aug16 Five Senators Haven't Decided Whether They Will Run for Reelection in 2022
Aug16 Democratic Choice Will Be Tiebreaker on New Jersey Redistricting Commission
Aug16 Buttigieg Is an Amazingly Good Politician
Aug15 Sunday Mailbag
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