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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sorry this is quite late; we had a couple of unexpected, but now resolved, roadblocks.

Sunday Mailbag

Another large number of letters on Afghanistan, which should surprise nobody. We also got many "dinner guest" suggestions; we'll split those over 2-3 weeks, as we often do.

Afghanistan: Primary Sources

J.C. in Washington, DC, writes: I take umbrage with last week's comments by S.S. in Detroit. Specifically, the assertion that, "the blood and death and dismemberment and destruction is on our soldiers and on the people of the countries we have so recklessly invaded."

I am a currently-serving Army officer and veteran of both the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Others in last week's mailbag alluded to this, but here is the plain and simple truth: The American Armed Forces are instruments of policy, not makers of it.

The blood and death and dismemberment and destruction referred to by S.S. are, and always have been, on the hands of elected policymakers, both in the legislative and executive branches, even if they aren't doing the actual fighting.

Those of us in the military are just doing our jobs.

G.C. in Alexandria, VA, writes: First thanks to R.M. in Williamstown for your service. I too, served. USMC '69-'73. I don't doubt that points 1,2 & 3 will have an impact, but for point 4: "...this is a slap in the face of the military personnel who fought, were wounded, and died in Afghanistan over the last 20 years." I also lost my son on March 4, 2002, an Army Ranger during the Battle of Takur Ghar. I think he would be proud that his service led to our country's completion of its mission. I think my opinion has some relevance.

The original mission(s) were to depose the Taliban and disrupt the ability of Al-Qaeda to base training camps there to train future terrorists. Second was to find and capture or to kill Osama bin Laden. Both missions were accomplished by May 4, 2011. Barack Obama subsequently didn't have the guts/foresight to decide "mission accomplished," time to bring them home. Donald Trump compounded it by negotiating with the Taliban, thus lending legitimacy to them.

Joe Biden, I think, finally said "Enough!"

V & Z respond: We hope it is not inappropriate to extend our condolences on the loss of your son, even at this late date.

D.B. in Winston-Salem, NC, writes: In 1980, I was in Europe on site, in indirect support of USAFE and NATO. When the situation in Poland became dire, it just so happened that it was time for the annual briefing on the evacuation of dependents from Europe if war was imminent. Those briefings were normally very poorly attended. That year, the auditorium was jammed. That was when we learned about the Civil Reserve Air Fleet, 'though I don't remember it being identified as such. The general plan was to bring reinforcements over on the planes and to evacuate civilians on the planes that flew back to get more reinforcements. The main takeaway was that there were three levels of evacuees: (1) Military dependents, (2) DoD civilians, and (3) Other. I was "Other" and I had my 13-year-old son with me. I began making plans for driving him to Spain, until others started speculating on France closing its border. Gulp. There were those that made book on which day the Soviets and the Warsaw Pact would invade, but I was too tense to place a bet.

O.Z.H. in Dubai, UAE, writes: Being from the region, but having done my B.A. and J.D. in the U.S., I have a relatively "realistic" view of my home region. That being said, there are a few answers to last week's mailbag which are fairly inaccurate. Firstly, I was surprised that you did not dispel the suggestion in the question from E.W. in Skaneateles that current day Iran and Pakistan are similar in their governance or socioeconomic structures. They most certainly are not. Pakistan is not a theocracy (at least, not yet), and while the true power behind the scenes is the military, it is ostensibly a democracy. Iran's Supreme Leader is most definitely not elected by the Iranian public.

Secondly, referring to Afghanistan under the Taliban as being "in the 8th century" is not a reference to how Islam was practiced when it was first introduced into Afghanistan (and if it is, it's a very misleading trope). To begin with, Islam reached Afghanistan in the 7th Century not the 8th. Further, Islam as practiced and espoused by the Taliban would be unrecognizable to the typical Muslim in the 8th century. It was in that century when the "Islamic Golden Age" began which "refers to a period in the history of Islam, traditionally dated from the 8th century to the 13th century, during which much of the historically Islamic world was ruled by various caliphates and science, economic development, and cultural works flourished." The center of global learning was Baghdad for many centuries. The Taliban, on the other hand, care not for any of these things and disdain science or any other sort of progress.

Finally, just to show that I am fairly clear-eyed, I would put Pakistan far higher on your list of who shares the blame for the current situation in Afghanistan. While the military was acting out of self-interest and were truly alarmed by the amount of influence India had suddenly started to wield in Kabul (thereby threatening an encirclement), Pakistan played a double game and did not go after Taliban sanctuaries within its borders. The reasoning was that the Americans will in fact someday leave, and the military wanted their guys ruling Afghanistan, regardless of how backwards and unruly they may be, rather than have India's guys. Let's see how it works out for them.

Afghanistan: HDJD? (How Did Joe Do?)

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: I find myself completely agreeing on your take on the current Afghanistan "crisis," but would like to add a few footnotes. First off, let me say that I was an original supporter of the Afghanistan War but not the Iraq War, Part One or Deux. It's coming; that time of the year that I remember my friend who was part of the flight crew of American Airlines 77. The madman who ordered that attack was in Afghanistan and the Taliban was celebrating his presence. Something had to be done. In the intervening time, while I have supported the invasion—not only in memory of my friend but because I know the Taliban were/are monsters—I came to recognize that the situation had become a quagmire.

I agree with D.R. in Portland that George W Bush deserves a great deal of blame for what is happening in Afghanistan because he decided to work out his Daddy issues by diverting forces to Iraq. In doing so, not only did W. let Osama bin Laden—may he perpetually rot in Hell in excruciating agony and filth—escape, but he all but made clear to the Afghans that America wasn't serious about their country. He might as well have had a Message from the President to the Taliban saying, in his horrible fake Texas twang, that all they had to do was wait the U.S. out until one day we would withdraw. So is it any surprise the Taliban was ready to pounce when Trump made his "Art of the Deal" with them?

Speaking of the Orange One, very little has been made of the fact that as a part of his "Deal," thousands of imprisoned Taliban fighters were released. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that few of those released prisoners returned to Afghanistan to open up a Roz Apothecary, specializing in artisan body washes and facial creams. So why is everyone so surprised that the Taliban, with its ranks now swollen, is able to march through Afghanistan with frightening ease?

Of course that leads me to the Afghan people and to agree with D.E. (Great initials) of Austin, TX, that they share a great deal of the blame. They know firsthand the barbarity of the Taliban yet they seem to be welcoming them back with open arms. The U.S. and its allies have been there almost 20 years. The average U.S. military enlistment is 15 years. All I could find about the average Afghan enlistment is that it is considerably less than that. Which means that we've gone through a couple of generations of military personnel. Even with all the training and superior weapons they let a ragtag collection of scruffy guys in the back of a pick-up trucks armed with decades old Kalishnikovs plow though them like wet tissue paper. The Afghanistan military is no better than they were 20 years ago. What I will say next will probably get some negative feedback, but when I watched those Afghan men try to cling to the sides of the departing plane, I thought "if only they had tried just a fraction as hard to defend their country, the Taliban would not have regained power so easily." Seriously, what kind of person forgoes defending their country for the alternative plan of hanging to the side of an inflight aircraft traveling thousands of miles at extremely high altitudes? Maybe similar in intelligence to ones who take a horse dewormer on speculation as opposed to a clinically approved vaccine designed for human consumption. I look at these actions and have to assume that the Afghans want to go back to being a forgotten medieval country. Then today I read that there are groups in Afghanistan resisting the Taliban's rule. I felt a brief glimmer of hope until I read that this resistance is in the Northern Provinces. So after 20 years, we are almost exactly back where we started.

As much as I blame the Afghanis I also think a fair portion of blame has to go to most Americans. For one thing, the utter presumption of one party that what Afghanistan wants and needs is an exact replica of American democracy, especially at a time when our form of government is faring so poorly. I also blame some Americans for their naive expectations of those in power. This week I have read so much gnashing of teeth over why Joe Biden and the military said that the Afghans would be able to resist the Taliban. Since the Pentagon had a report waiting to be released detailing how hopeless the situation was, one can only assume that both Biden and the generals knew the truth. But what if both had announced that they expected the Afghanistan government to fold quicker than a cheap, made in China, Walmart lawn chair? Can you imagine the carnage that would have taken place? Of course they had to lie, they had no other option.

But the people I blame the most for this whole sorry mess are the folks that make up the American media. Just by reading The Washington Post (I can only imagine the fake umbrage and venom being spewed on Fox), I see reporters running around with their hair on fire screaming "The sky is falling!" Yet when I look up in the sky I see nary a crack. There's no mention that almost 25,000 Americans have been airlifted out of the country. To hear the hyperventilations of the press one would think millions of American were cowering in a covered wagon as the bloodthirsty savages encircle them, waiting to rape their women folk and butcher the rest. Whether you call it a withdrawal, evacuation or retreat, I can't think of one in history that has run picture perfect and smoothly. One of the most famous evacuations is called "The Miracle of Dunkirk," and even there the evacuations started slowly, then gained momentum. Still, with the huge number of people saved, some 68,000 lost their lives during the evacuation, not to mention downed ships and aircraft and the military equipment left behind. So for our press to expect some inhuman perfection in this situation is unreasonable, even with the foreknowledge. After thinking along these lines all week, I was surprised to see similar thoughts in an article from the Huffington Post.

HuffPo attributes the media's playacting as evidence of them being beholden to the Military-Industrial Complex. Perhaps. But I tend to view the press' irresponsible behavior as something predictable and ultimately damaging to America's prestige. It was the summer of 2009 that the MSM started playing up the GOP talking points about Death Panels. I cynically can't help but think that, like Afghanistan after 21 years, we are right back to where we started, with the media running like love-starved puppies after the GOP's approval and their idea that there is both-siderism to the truth. Yes, I believe fully that the press should hold the president, no matter the party, accountable, but the coverage this week seems manufactured and hysterical for hysteria's sake. Then I sink even further into cynicism by thinking that ultimately it probably just comes down to a couple of more newspapers sold or a couple of more internet clicks. So yeah, let's just forget reality, competent government, and democracy so Jeff Bezos can afford another ego trip to space.

J.K. in Freehold, NJ, writes: There is much criticism of the handling of the Afghanistan exit and resulting chaos. Such criticism is easy, but where are the suggestions of what should have been done? Sure, we could have started the evacuations earlier but would that have really resulted in less chaos, considering the huge numbers who would have wanted to leave if given the hope of a chance?

Also, I keep hearing that this will "erode trust in America." Really? Trust must always be defined in context, so what are the contexts of these criticisms? We were there for 20 futile years; how many years does it take to be "trusted"? If there should be any erosion of trust, it should be directed at the military and/or civilian intelligence communities as, once again, we dabble without very good knowledge of the societies we are dabbling in, in our usual self-centered way. The only way I could possibly see less chaos in Afghanistan is if we decided to stay there forever. We still have a military presence in Germany, Japan and Italy, but the American electorate wouldn't have tolerated that kind of staying power in Afghanistan. Any exit, with the Taliban as so-called "partners," would have led to chaos no matter how long the involvement may have been or what we did.

O.E. in Greenville, SC, writes: As one of the few voters who consider foreign policy to be a primary issue (and one of the fewer who vote against the establishment), I see no problems with Joe Biden and Donald Trump getting us out of Afghanistan. (I do have criticisms of their withdrawal planning, but that is different.)

As for the media's anti-Biden reaction, I can remember how others have faced similar criticism from the media for going against the foreign policy consensus, since at least 2000. As someone who considered Biden as the worst candidate in the Democratic field, I am rather astonished at the harsh reaction for one of the best things Biden has done, and for the fact that he's fulfilling a promise from the previous administration (an administration which I didn't support, either).

M.O. and S.C.H. in Arlington, VA, write: How about we all agree that Biden lost the battle but won the war! Not a bad outcome.

In my work life, a goal was to fathom how decisions/sausage by senior USG types were made. At one point, I got to sit in on the daily meetings of the Dons of the three-letter Agency that ruled the roost on certain types of "information." Decisions were made, then changed, and the people/institution moved on to the next big issues. I asked how this happened/could be. The answer given surprised me at the time but now seems eminently reasonable. I was told, "The people in charge make decisions based on the information available, knowing full well that all the relevant facts are not known. They change decisions as necessary based on new information. At the end of the day what distinguishes the leaders from all others is that they are able to make a decision, learn from the outcome of same, and move on to make the next decision without being overly impacted by the last decision." I was also told that, "Most people allow past decisions to overly influence the next decision. Failure was an inherent fact of life/business and was not seen as a knock on a person's ability/success as a leader." I was then told that decision makers in my organization were probably right only 40% of the time. A pattern of making multiple bad decisions, would, however, adversely impact a person's career.

I suppose an everyday analogy would be a baseball player who judges each ball as a new event rather than allowing the previous pitch to influence how to/whether to swing at the next ball over the plate.

I relate this story as much to suggest that this, to the two of us, describes what Joe Biden is doing. He sits and operates at a much higher level than the pundits of the day. Perhaps we/the pundits are still suffering from Trump withdrawal syndrome—we can't get beyond the fact that knee jerk decisions/policy actions aren't normal or acceptable?

C.S., Cincinnati, OH, writes: I have just been listening to commenters from England, the Netherlands, and possibly France complaining about the Afghanistan evacuation efforts, and these comments of course echo complaints from both the Democrats and Republicans in this country. Granted, the situation looks ugly, and granted, some of our troops have paid the ultimate price for their thankless task of trying to safeguard operations at the airport. The substance of most complaints centers on our abandonment of the Afghans who aided our mission. How can any country henceforth trust the United States to do the right thing, keep its word, do its duty, and so on.

However, the number of Americans evacuated is only a small fraction of the number of Afghans: something like 5,000 Americans out of over 100,000 airlifted out. Are all those Afghans the wrong ones? Were we expected to evacuate every single Afghan in the country who wanted out? Why does the administration not get credit for what they have managed to achieve under desperate conditions, even if the process has been ugly and chaotic? As you suggested in answer to a question about how the previous administration might have handled this situation, we could very well have brought in transportation enough to get our diplomatic staff and troops out and leave every last Afghan behind. If we'd done that, I think we would have richly deserved the vilification that is currently being heaped on Biden. As the administration has done everything it can to get our people out, along with many, many Afghans, I would like to hear just a few words of gratitude, if not praise.

R.H.D. in Webster, NY, writes: Clearly, the saga in Afghanistan has consumed President Biden and he has taken a beating from all directions for his handling of it. Some of it is fair, while others are partisan histrionics filled with paranoid doom and gloom.

We must all remember one important thing here. Whether it be Afghanistan, immigration, the pandemic, etc., President Biden was not afforded the traditional smooth transition from Donald Trump and his administration, full stop. In contrast, four years earlier, Trump received a very gracious transition from President Obama, even though the latter was the recipient of racist birther conspiracies and other over the top rhetoric from the former in the 2016 campaign.

President Biden has had a lot on his plate since being inaugurated. He's been trying to do what he can with a wide variety of issues, both foreign and domestic. It's not easy when dealing with a divided nation, a divided Congress, and an opposition party that claims the last election was stolen from their guy and that doesn't feel the Biden presidency is legitimate. I feel he has done his best to address these issues and sincerely wants to do what's right for the country.

This by no means suggests President Biden should get a pass. The 5% of the blame you gave him on Afghanistan is fair. Maybe more t's needed to be crossed, more i's had to be dotted, and more ducks lined up in a row before acting. Yet the clock was ticking ever since The Donald made his "deal" with the Taliban, and Biden's hands were tied when he took office.

To his credit, President Biden is owning up for his part in this mess. Despite the ever-fluid situation on the ground in Kabul and the sniping from the right, he is doing what he can to make this right. Our entire country must support this mission and pray for our military and those they are rescuing from harm's way. Republicans better be very careful in how they attack the Commander-in-Chief because the Taliban, and now ISIS, are definitely watching and will gladly take advantage of this distraction to their benefit. It can even backfire on the GOP, if Biden reclaims the narrative of being the steady adult in the room—who, by the way, had a son that served in uniform overseas—and not the senile old coot who lost his marbles a long time ago.

There will be a time and place to Monday-morning quarterback the Afghanistan crisis and Biden's role in it. But it's not now.

B.J. in Boston, MA, writes: My thought on the seemingly inevitable Biden impeachment: Go ahead, make my day.

An impeachment has to be followed by a Senate trial. The trial would either be a landslide for acquittal, making the Republicans in the House look like fools, or much closer than a landslide, making the Republicans in the Senate look like fools, too.

If such a stunt did not cause them great difficulty in the next election, then the problem is with the country and its voters and we are doomed no matter what.

Afghanistan: Colonialism

H.M. in Paris, France, writes: You responded to A.N. in Memphis that "there aren't really any 'unspoiled' non-European nations to point to." Thailand was never colonized. I think Ethiopia also always remained independent.

V & Z respond: True, but they were nonetheless subjected to invasion by Western powers, which means they were certainly profoundly affected by colonization, even if they weren't colonized.

S.R. in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, writes: You responded to a question on colonialism by A.N. in Memphis by noting that the Europeans and Ottomans basically colonized the entire world. The obvious outlier to this is Japan. In 1868, in response to increasingly aggressive imperialist moves by a variety of European countries and the United States (see, for example, Commodore Matthew Perry's 1853 expedition), the Japanese overthrew their prior feudal social order (with the so-called Meiji Restoration) and rapidly embarked on a period of nation-building and industrialization to preserve their independence.

Of course, one of the things they copied from the Westerners was imperialism itself, starting a series of wars that eventually ended with the atomic bombings and the democratization of Japan (I condensed a lot of history there, but it holds true). Japan occupies a unique place in the world, straddling the line between "the West" and Asia. Most would say that things worked out better for the Japanese than the Afghans, but even before they managed to resist Western colonialism they were operating a relatively centralized, fairly wealthy, proto-industrial state, so they had a good starting place. For those interested in Japan's history, I recommend Conrad Totman's Japan before Perry: A Short History and James McClain's Japan: A Modern History (or, if you're really into monster movies, my own Japan's Green Monsters).

H.R. in Jamaica Plain, MA, writes: Your response to A.N. of Memphis brought me up short. Perhaps Iran is somewhat analogous to Afghanistan, though maybe Pakistan would be a better example. But I can't let this answer stand without pointing out, at least briefly, the history of constitutional monarchy in Iran. Iran's first constitution was enacted in 1906. It was amended in 1949 and the democratically elected 35th Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammad Mosaddegh, was overthrown in a coup led by the CIA and the British MI6 in 1953, which ultimately led to the regime that is in place today. Mosaddegh is widely regarded as the leading champion of secular democracy and resistance to foreign domination in Iran's modern history. So the U.S. interference in the process of Iranian national development is significant. It is widely believed that Iran would be a secular democracy today, if the U.S. and Britain hadn't interfered in 1953.

In Congress

T.B. in Bay Shore, NY, writes: In a normal world we could "pooh-pooh" the impending Republican 2022 midterm victory as par for the course. However, we are not in a normal world. We are in two worlds—one that respects the democratic process a wee bit too much and one that has their own narrative made up and there's no amount of truth or consequences to sway it. Make no mistake—if the Republicans continue to gain, we could be on a course to become the new Hungary.

E.R. in Irving, TX, writes: Over at Taegan Goddard's, he made a comment: "Nancy Pelosi is worthy of the Robert Caro treatment one day."

I wholeheartedly agree. I first read The Path to Power at something like age twelve and continued on from there. Robert Caro's series on LBJ led to political biographies being a favorite genre; he set the standard for me. For those who keep seeing his name and haven't read his works, here's another recommendation you do so.

As for an in-depth, multi-volume biography of Nancy Pelosi's career, I think it would make an excellent read. Like her or not, she is good at what she does—very good—and she has one of the longest and most successful political careers of anyone in government. Her path to power, how she maintained it, and what she has done with it is a story which I hope to read in full one day.

I confess I haven't read Madam Speaker: Nancy Pelosi and the Lessons of Power; I prefer to read retrospective political biographies only after the subject's retirement, when the whole story can be told. I can't imagine reading a political biography of Pelosi which doesn't include what's going on right now ($3.5T budget, $1.2T infrastructure, voting rights). I'm younger than her by a healthy number of years; I'm sure I'll get the chance someday, though how I wish it could have been Caro telling the story, even if it properly spans multiple volumes accounting for her long tenure in politics.

J.J. in Johnstown, PA, writes: Regarding your item about H.B. 4, I caught a mistake and wanted to send this correction along to you: "If he (Joe Manchin) relents and says it is time for some filibuster reform, then it might pass, possibly after a full reading of the Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas telephone books—assuming their respective senators can find actual telephone books to read."

All Politics Is Local

S.A. in Downey, CA, writes: In your response to S.R.G. in Costa Rica, regarding whether Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) will or will not support the release of RFK assassin Sirhan Sihan, you wrote: "we think it is overwhelmingly likely Newsom will grant parole."

I think it is overwhelmingly likely that the exact opposite will happen. Newsom has twice denied parole to Manson family follower Leslie van Houten. There's absolutely no reason Sirhan would be judged differently.

Supposed mitigating factors are nothing of the sort. The parole recommendation came in the wake of Los Angeles County DA George Gascon not even sending a representative to the hearing to oppose. Such maneuvers have sparked a recall effort of his own. Newsom surely has his finger on the pulse of public sentiment enough to see that.

And yes, two of RFK's many children support Sirhan's release: Douglas and Robert Jr., who are, respectively, a Fox News correspondent and a rabid anti-vaxxer conspiracy theorist. Six of the late politician's other children have condemned the parole board's decision and are lobbying Newsom to reverse it.

Newsom needs Democratic supporters to enthusiastically turn out in his favor to avoid being recalled. Releasing Sirhan Sirhan would be a gut punch to many who still lament Kennedy's assassination, and they might decide to sit on their hands rather than vote to keep Newsom. He will deny Sirhan parole or he will cook his own political goose.

V & Z respond: Fair points, all. We'll have an item on this tomorrow, too.

G.B. in Kailua, HI, writes: Regarding your item on Kinzinger's future: Depending on what the Democrats do to protect Rep. Lauren Underwood (D-IL), his best bet might be to run against her. A loathsome loser almost beat her this past year, and having grown up in her part of Illinois that was historically rock-ribbed Republican (growing up I knew only one friend who came from a Democratic family), he might be just the kind of Republican that, if he could survive the primary, just might be able to swing a few of those reluctant Democratic voters over to him.

M.S. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: You left out one obvious option for Adam Kinzinger to survive: switch parties.

S.P. in Wheaton, IL, writes: If Adam Kinzinger were to run for governor of Illinois, he would be the most honorable man to do so in decades. Not that that will help, because it's Illinois. In most states, the governor's mansion is viewed as a stepping-stone to the White House; here in Illinois, it's a stepping-stone to the Big House. Sigh.

A.L. in Enfield, CT, writes: While it is true that Joe Biden won Connecticut's 36th Senate District district by more than 20%, you did not mention that Alex Kasser (D) won reelection to the state Senate for that district by a margin of less than 3%. Her opponent was Ryan Fazio (R). He ran for the same seat in the special election following Kasser's resignation. He was a formidable candidate in both elections. Meanwhile, the Democratic nominee in the special election had no previous political or electoral experience. Also, unlike Kasser, the Democratic nominee in the special election wasn't able to self-fund her campaign. It would be better to compare Fazio's 48.6% share of the vote in the 2020 election to his 50.1% share of the vote in the special election than to compare Trump's less than 40% share of the vote to Fazio's 50.1% share of the vote. This was a much smaller swing than political junkies are implying.

A.P. in Washington, D.C., writes: I agree with your analysis of Herschel Walker's weaknesses, but I was concerned by the fact that you listed 'debilitating mental illness' was one of them. Mental illness is one of the most pernicious glass ceilings in politics, pernicious because history demonstratively shows that it is very possible to be a great politician and suffer from serious mental illness. Both Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln suffered from well-documented, severe depression. Hell, even Sen. Thomas Eagleton, who we view as the poster child for mental illness as a political liability, was elected three times to the Senate, twice after he was forced to go public about his psychiatric treatments.

I do not doubt that for some voters, Walker's mental illness will be a problem, but why not consider that for others, it will be viewed as a classic American story of overcoming adversity? For all his flaws that should rightly disqualify him from office, his openness about and advocacy for mental health is not one of them. We view mental illness as a weakness only because we are taught by society to view it as such, and as a long-time reader of your brilliant analyses, I am quite disappointed that you have chosen to perpetuate this false and harmful narrative.

V & Z respond: The first item we wrote about Walker's candidacy, we started by pointing out that mental illness prejudice is not fair. But, we also observed that does not mean it's non-existent, and also that his particular condition (dissociative personality disorder) could flare up and could affect his ability to campaign and possibly his ability to be an effective senator.

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: For whatever it's worth, in his Texas political career, Greg Abbott's wheelchair use has been pretty much a non-issue so far as I can tell. It's certainly well known but not exactly publicized. I've never seen or heard him trying to get sympathy with it nor have I seen any of his opponents try to use it against him. There was some discussion a while back about how he was pushing for tort reform after he used the court systems to get compensation after the accident that put him in the wheelchair. The complaint was about the hypocrisy of it, but that's a dog-bites-man story in Texas politics. Whether it would continue to be a non-issue on the national stage, I couldn't say.

TrumpWorld 2021

K.H. in Corning, NY, writes: I am so looking forward to the day you stop using the cutesy and affectionate term "The Donald" to refer to the damaging and toxic dumpster fire that is our former president.

I cringe every time you do it. As far as I can tell, it is a term coined by his first wife Ivana Trump, who, using grammar common in her native language, put a definite article in front of a person's name. When the translation was pointed out, it became a term of endearment from her and a term of dominance for him. The Donald. What narcissist doesn't love that?

When you use it, I assume you are not being loving as Ivana was, but it comes off as subservient and ingratiating. I can't imagine that's the vibe you are intending to deliver; a cringey discomfort and a sense of a putrid odor, but when you do it, over and over again, that's exactly the vibe I receive. Maybe one of you knows enough about computer code to help me craft a script that will search for instances of "The Donald" and replace it with a descriptor that has a more accurate energy when I read your otherwise excellent site.

A.B. in Brussels, Belgium, writes: Latin is not so dead in the water as you think. You should beware of the Ufficio delle Lettere Latine della Segreteria di Stato and mons.

V & Z respond: We know the Catholic Church still translates documents into Latin. Note that "dead language" is a technical term; it does not mean "language that is no longer used," it means "language that no longer has any native speakers." In other words, everyone who speaks Latin today, including the seven fellows in that office, speaks it as a second (or third, or fourth) language.

J.H. in North Salem, NY, writes: Lego quotidie electoral-vote et amo omnia quae vos scibitis, sed doleo quod oppugnatio vestra contra linguam latinam erat saeva et non vera. Latina, et scirpta et dicta, viget per totum orbem terrarum, etiam in Canada. Autem, veniam vobis do...hoc tempore...

I read electoral-vote every day and I love everything that you all write, but I am sad because your attack on the Latin language was harsh and not true. Latin, both written and spoken, is thriving throughout the world, even in Canada. However, I forgive you...this time.

V & Z respond: See the above explanation, and then fiat lux.

J.U. Farmville, VA, writes: In your introduction to Grift of the Magai, you expressed concern about your potential crimes against Latin grammar. I say, have at it. Latin grammar has been criminally employed by grammarians against the English language for centuries. Famously reacting to criticism that he occasionally ended sentences with prepositions, Winston Churchill sarcastically replied, "This type of errant punditry up with which I will not put." Further, claiming that one should not split infinitives in English is nothing more than a contrivance to unnaturally conform English to Latin. One almost suspects this is a Canadian plot to confuse linguistically their neighbors to the south. The next thing you know, grammarians will require us to add "eh" at the end of our interrogatives.

Split infinitives are not only natural in the English language, nine times out of ten, a split infinitive adds clarity or force to a sentence. Imagine the opening of "Star Trek," if the writers insisted on Latin grammar rules: "To go boldly, before where no man has gone." And Trekkies and Trekkers of the world would become powerless, if they were forced up to rise! Resistance would be futile. So, my advice is to ditch Latin and give MAGA a Greek etymology. Many feminine plural nouns have an -ai (alpha iota) ending. It's a win-win. You can keep "Magai" and be released from the shackles of Latin oppression. (And, yes, you can begin a sentence with "and" in Greek.)

V & Z respond: We've always suspected the Canadian angle.

F.R. in Berlin, Germany, writes: With respect to the wrath of Julius Caesar, I can assure you that Μάγαι is a completely accurate ancient Greek plural of MAGA, and Greek was the educated Roman's second mother tongue. Acronyms were not part of Ancient Greek or Roman style, but in the case of naming this movement, the die is cast, so inflection must go on.

D.K. in Oceanside, CA , writes: Personally, I like the word MAGATs to refer to the MAGA faithful. It has a ring to it, don't you think?

S.S. in West Hollywood, CA, writes: I now refer to Govs. Greg Abbott (R-TX) and Ron DeSantis (R-FL) as Govs. Grave Abbott (R-TX) and Ron DeathSantis (R-FL). I suggest you do the same.

"Call him Voldemort, Harry. Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself."

— J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

B.R.J. in San Diego, CA, writes: Thursday's item on the Ohio Republican U.S. Senate nominee wannabes (Mandel, Vance, et al) found you gentlemen struggling for the right term to give the candidates' group audition with the former guy at his Florida version of Bushwood. Was it a Bake-off? Was it a Trump-off? Neither seemed right. Instead, it had all the makings of a true Cluster-Trump.

G.W. in Oxnard, CA, writes: The schadenfreude involving the wax figure of Donald Trump at the San Antonio, TX, location of Louis Tussaud's Palace of Wax reminded me of a visit I made to the Madam Tussaud's Wax Museum in San Francisco in 2018. I put my "Make Racism Wrong Again" hat on the Trump figure:

A wax figure that actually 
looks like Trump, wearing a blue baseball came that says 'Make Racism Wrong Again'

It had not occurred to me to punch the figure, but if it had I would not have done so.

R.H. in Seattle, WA, writes: When I saw that picture of the Trump wax figure, I thought it bore more of a resemblance to Chris Matthews than Trump.

C.S in Linville, NC, writes: I had the good fortune to be at our Local DMV again this week and couldn't help but bask in the glory of the Trump painting I first wrote in about last week:

The same godawful painting
of Trump, where he looks nothing like himself.

The plaque reads:"Avery County in the White House, Painting by Ann Appleton. Larry Smith, Avery County fraser fir tree farmer, presents one of his prize Christmas trees to President Donald Trump and his wife Melania to decorate the White House for 2018 Christmas Season. Assisting Larry are his sons Andrew, Wally, and Stephen. The plaque also includes a link to a video that some may find interesting; it includes a brief history of the White House Christmas tree.

In Ron We Trust

S.A. in Downey, CA, writes: In your response to M.M in Newbury Park, you wrote: "[W]e're now into our second or third generation of Republicans claiming to be reincarnations of him. That despite the fact that often there isn't much overlap between their policy positions and his..."

Much digital ink has been spilt examining the supposed disconnect between Republicans who lionize Reagan and their own political views, with it being frequently asserted that a GOP politician running on Reagan's political platform wouldn't make it past the primaries these days.

However, there's one aspect of Reagan's legacy that explains Republicans' love of him, as well as their current beatification of Trump: Both presidents, when faced with a reality that contradicted their worldview, would invent mountains of counter-factual crap to back up their positions.

Many people I know lament that so many people believe lies because they watch Fox News. However, last year, when Fox began covering the election more truthfully, allowing for the fact that Trump might legitimately lose the election, their viewership dropped in favor of OAN and Newsmax. Viewers didn't start believing facts. This (along with the worship of Reagan and Trump) suggests that Republicans don't believe lies because they watch Fox News; they watch Fox News (and follow Reagan and Trump) because they are looking for someone who will lie to (and for) them.

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: I've been trying to get inside the minds of people who will try anything for COVID other than medications and vaccines that are actually approved for COVID. Hydroxychloriquine. Injecting bleach. Ivermectin. And I keep going back to Reagan. In his first inaugural address he famously said, "Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem." Five years later, at a press conference he said, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: I'm from the Government, and I'm here to help."

For 8 years, he planted seeds of distrust in government. These seeds have turned into a big effing tree that, a generation later, has the entire Trump base not trusting government. My theory is that this is why no amount of approval from the FDA will convince these people to take the vaccine. They'll trust any snake oil salesman who claims to have an easy cure, but not the experts at the FDA or CDC. Thanks, Ronnie.

Alternative Vaxx

L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: Kudos to Delta for charging more for health insurance to their unvaccinated employees. This has been the big unreported part of the whole "personal freedom" argument. How can it be a personal choice when all the rest of us will pay higher health insurance premiums because of that decision? Companies routinely charge their smoking employees more for health insurance. Charging more to those who, because of their selfishness, are far more likely to require medical treatment, makes all the sense in the world and publicizes how their choice is costing everyone more money.

S.A.J. in Elberon, NJ, writes: The Ivermectin story is contentious enough so most respectable publications have a "just the facts, no color" policy on publications (censorship?...Scientists have passions too, and editors tend to want to send the personal attacks elsewhere...I could write a long-ish article...) But anyway: Ivermectin is given to humans once every few months to cure the parasitic disease onchocerciasis, "river blindness." It is extremely effective and has no reported disadvantages. This has made significant land area habitable, where the condition used to be endemic. The biological mechanism by which it eliminates parasites is completely unrelated to the mechanism by which it eliminates viruses (and it does eliminate viruses; the issue is whether it does so in a practical way).

T.O. in Portland, OR, writes: Why do you guys find it necessary/appropriate to take cheap shots at your fellow American citizens? Referring in this case to your line about "family trees that don't branch," which is not the first cheap shot I've read in your daily writings. Frankly, comments like that are beneath you, and they only serve to reinforce the narrative that Democrats are a bunch of coast-hugging elitist snobs that look down on large portions of the country.

It's a particularly interesting choice when you chose to publish letters to the editor condemning the use of "voodoo economics" and other phrases in common use, which initially felt like virtue signaling to me, but I'll quote from your response to J.H. from Boston: "If it's plausibly offensive, why not switch?"

Please be better. You could have omitted those nine words from your paragraph without losing any impact. In fact, I would argue it would have had more impact, since you're trying to express sympathy for people who are afraid of COVID, and that's better done without simultaneously insulting them.

K.K. in San Diego, CA, writes: When I saw Pfizer had chosen the name "Comirnaty" for its COVID-19 vaccine, my very first thought was that it sounded like a party organ for the Politburo. Then I saw that (Z) had the same idea!

I thought some more and realized this wasn't an accident. Between the "Com-" abbreviation for "Communist", the intact Russian word "mir" ("peace") in the middle, the "-at" ending typical of Russian nouns, and the plural suffix "-y," this name is as Soviet as it gets.

N.F. in Brussels, Belgium, writes: You wrote "But what they're going for with 'Comirnaty,' we do not know."

You were probably just being snarky, but I'll fill in the blanks anyway:

Co = short for COVID
m(i)RN = mRNA, the active ingredient, with a vowel thrown in for pronunciation
aty = to make it kind of rhyme with immunity

Although the brand name is new in the U.S., it has existed in Europe for most of 2021. In the U.S., the vaccine was under "Emergency Use Authorization," a designation that doesn't allow for a brand name. In Europe, the regulatory mechanism used has been "Conditional Marketing Authorization," which, although "conditional," still allows for marketing, and thus a brand name.

For once, Europe beats the U.S. in marketing pharmaceuticals.

V & Z respond: Reportedly, they were going for "community" rather than "immunity," though.

M.N. in Lake Ann, MI, writes: As a pharmacist, I see a lot of drug names (both the brand names and the generic ones) that don't make sense...but Comirnaty actually parses pretty well to me: COVID mRNA with the "i" added for pronounceability, and the "-ty" seems to be as reasonable a suffix as any other. Also, there are a lot of (international) rules for naming new chemicals and drugs, including making sure that there is no potential for confusion in either written or oral communication. There are already a lot of chemicals out there, some of which are commercially marketed so have brand names as well, and the available choices are probably more limited than it may appear to those not used to naming these things.

M.S. in Westport, CT, writes: Like many other people, I'm trying to figure out the logic of the name Comirnaty.

I get that maybe the Co is for Covid. Is the mir for miracle? It does have the letters MRNA in it, if not for that pesky i. Is it supposed to be reminiscent of community? It sounds more like comorbidity to me, or is it a joint project with Moriarty?

There are so many great drug names out there, this inspired me to list a few:

  • Plan B: Plan A was not part of the plan.
  • Aftera: Because something happened Befora?
  • Welbutrin: Who doesn't want to feel well?
  • Flonase: People like good nasal flow.
  • Provigil: May have a problem with the anti-vigil crowd.
  • Sonata: Those things always put me to sleep. But why did Hyundai do that, too?
  • Synthroid: Synthetic thyroid? It's genius.
  • Procardia: Who would be against cardia?
  • Diabeta: At least you know why you're taking it.
  • Concerta: Concentrate!
  • Advair: Sometimes you need to add air.
  • Flomax: Max might be too much, but Flonorm just doesn't sound right.
  • Lopressor: It even autocorrects to what it does.
  • Ecstasy: Not exactly a prescription, but excellent branding!
  • Levitra: Rise!

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: M.M. in Newbury Park and B.C. in Halethorpe demonstrate that common ground is possible in the abortion debate.

B.C. is correct that pro-lifers aren't going away and won't be logic-ed and argued into changing their minds. Same could be said of people on the pro-choice side. (Substitute the most divisive issues, such as gun control, vaccines, election "fraud" and this would be just as true). Yet so much rhetoric from both sides seems predicated on the notion that, "if only those people would disappear, then all would be right in the world." This suggests to me that a lot of people aren't actually interested in finding common ground but rather wish to perpetuate divisiveness in perpetuity.

M.M. points out that there is common ground between us. Simply put, no one wants abortions. (There is a reason that the movement is "pro-choice", not "pro-abortion.") However, it is unrealistic to simply prohibit them. Prohibiting behavior never works. See Prohibition and the Drug Wars. There will always be women and couples who make this difficult decision, no matter the circumstances. However, if both sides would redirect their energy away from prohibiting or preserving abortion and begin to work together on ways to reduce abortions, imagine what we could accomplish.

Better sex education. Letting go of the notion of shame around sex. Promoting healthy, connected, consensual sex. (I've been raising teenagers for the past 8 years. Guess what? They're horny all the time and sooner or later they're going to have sex). Access to contraception. Access to women's health services. Access to obstetric care for women who choose to continue a pregnancy. Access to adoption services. Access to health care, day care and other services that young parents might need. Parenting classes. And yes, access to abortion. All of these things would reduce the number of abortions, ensure that women who continue their pregnancies have proper pre- and post-natal care, ensure that women who choose to give their baby up for adoption can do so without difficulty, and ensure that babies who are born and their parents have the basics for a healthy upbringing.

In order to accomplish this, we need pro-lifers to accept that their morality cannot extend to everyone and that there will still be abortions. If you can do that, we can work together. Everyone wins.

S.S. in Detroit, MI, writes: So many thoughtful letters to comment on—so little time! I could write a lot on the abortion section, but will just note appreciatively that none of the comments were absolutist, and all were rational. Good argument, in my mind, for the decisions being between the woman and God. I would just throw in Jesus' attitude in response to the Samaritan woman at the well, and the woman caught in adultery. (One assumes that there was also a man caught, but he never seems to be part of the story).

D.L-O. in North Canaan, CT, writes: I'm inspired by some of the comments in last week's mailbag. This topic is the cause of much pain and anger for many people. And currently it's a political football that seems to hang suspended in mid-air without a solution agreeable to all. Nevertheless I think the sharing of views is worthwhile.

To M.M. in Newbury Park: I agree with every word and I'd love to hear any politician make a statement as clear and forthright as you wrote. Unfortunately, it would have absolutely no effect on anti-abortion conservatives. They are not arguing on the basis of logic, they're arguing on the basis of belief in a religious doctrine. That religious doctrine also prohibits sex education and access to birth control. See my response below to A.J.'s comments. So, the argument would only confirm for them the biases they already hold.

To A.J. in Mountain View: You characterize yourself as a moderate pro-lifer who wants to help women to "want to have their babies." I'm happy to hear that you have enough empathy to care about the predicament of women who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant and alone. While having a baby that one can't keep and love and support economically must be extremely painful, I hope that what you do is helpful to those women, rather than punishing them. However it may disillusion you, I don't think that "societal and cultural pressures" lead many women to have abortions. I think that those pressures would actually be a strong influence against the choice to abort a fetus. What I think is that many women consider things like: can they support this child, feed it, clothe it, provide adequate health care and education, often facing that as a single parent abandoned by the man who did the impregnating. There may also be health concerns or any raft of other fears.

I looked up Feminists for Life, one of the organizations you mentioned. They have promoted spurious, provably false claims about the efficacy of birth control methods as well as opposing abortion in all cases. However, it doesn't seem as though they do anything actively to help pregnant women obtain health care or financial assistance. Providing childcare does not even begin to address the economic and health care issues that these women face.

Also, nowhere in your post do you mention preventing unwanted pregnancies. I'm fairly certain by this omission that you personally agree with Feminists for Life and do not believe in providing sex education and birth control to young women. (Please correct me if I'm wrong.) Those are the two single biggest factors in preventing unwanted pregnancies in our society today. Preventing unwanted pregnancy also...wait for it...prevents abortions!

K.A. in Miami Beach, FL, writes: Regarding abortion, M.M. in Newbury Park, CA, asks: "Am I dreaming" [to think that a speech from a Democratic candidate could win votes from conservatives]?

Yes, I believe you are dreaming. In reality, many Democrats have already said similar versions of what you suggest saying. Just as (Z) has explained, when talking to a Trumpist about anything: Conservatives have a completely different mindframe on issues, including abortion. Logic, which is perfectly delivered in your suggested speech, is just not appreciated or understood by conservatives. You can't use a deck of cards to play baseball with them.

P.M. in Currituck, NC, writes: G.O in New York City may be a fervent atheist, but I did want to chime in that I 100% agree with them on the matter of the Catholic Church's pro-life stance being consistent: The vast majority of right-wingers are pro-life when it regards abortion, but also pro-"let them fry" when it comes to the death penalty. That is not only inconsistent; it is hypocritical. I have nothing but contempt for those folks, as they only wave the pro-life banner when it suits them to do so. It doesn't work that way; you are either pro-life all the way, or you aren't.

A.J in Mountain View is a moderate pro-lifer, like me. Allow for government supports to help the parents so they want to keep the babies and not terminate them. If the right-wing hypocrites I outlined above were truly pro-life, they would do this, rather than just ignoring those women and not providing any help for them. Not only is that wrong, it is un-Christian—and those same folks will be sure to show you how "Christian" they are, but only when it suits them to do so. Like what I said above, that just disgusts me.

Additionally, the readership here might find this anecdote amusing and/or terrifying. Last weekend, I spent some 4 hours in the car with my 86 year old great-aunt, as I ferried her to and from my brother's wedding. She has always been a strong evangelical Christian, and listens to way too much right-wing talk radio. I heard her repeat the same talking points about four times, before I finally interrupted her and told her she's forgetting those Democrats/media people/whomever she was blasting were Americans, too. When I pointed that out, she said back to me that "you talk like you're a Democrat!" Because, you know, I dare to have a reasonable perspective where I look at both sides of an issue. So, as bad as some of you may think I am in my views...there are others who are far, far more extreme.

Refugees in Mexico

B.H. in Sherman Oaks, CA, writes: In the item "SCOTUS: Refugees Must Remain in Mexico," (Z) wrote: "We know absolutely nothing about conditions for migrants in Mexico, and are happy to be enlightened by anyone who does know something."

The last issue of Mother Jones has a good profile of a Salvadoran refugee family stuck in Remain-in-Mexico limbo: "One Family's Escape From Trump's Border Hell: A 130-Week Diary."

The conditions don't sound like an improvement over the American-side version of limbo. Here's a money quote from the article:

"We only know a fraction of the harm that the policy enacted on people because we only know the stories that were reported by journalists and that we were able to speak to," said Robyn Barnard, the senior advocacy counsel with Human Rights First. The organization reported more than 800 cases of kidnapping, rape, assault, and torture for asylum seekers forced to wait in Mexican border cities in just the first year of the policy.

K.D. in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, writes: Long-time reader, rarely write in! You made a mistake on an issue near to my heart (and my work) and invited your readers to enlighten you.

You wrote: "We know absolutely nothing about conditions for migrants in Mexico, and are happy to be enlightened by anyone who does know something. However, we do know something about conditions for migrants being held in the U.S., which are not great under the best of circumstances, and get positively awful when things get crowded, or when Stephen Miller is calling the shots."

You are correct that the conditions of detention in the U.S. are deplorable. But many (most?) of refugees being forced to wait in Mexico—in violation of international obligations to refugees—would probably tell you they'd rather take their chances on being detained in the United States.


  • Many are living in unsanitary tent cities or crammed into church sanctuaries. The conditions were dismal when I visited, and coronavirus has made the health issues more extreme.

  • They are living in a dangerous area of Mexico where gangs are very active. The refugees are very visible, and they are actively targeted by the gangs operating there. For example, in the first year of the "Remain in Mexico" policy, there were 816 public reports of kidnapping, extortion, rape, murder, torture, and violent assaults faced by refugees living along the border. By the second year, that number was around 1,500.

  • The Remain in Mexico policy undermines due process for people who are trying to prove their fear of persecution. It interferes with access to experienced legal counsel—86% of people in Mexico don't have a lawyer. Cases with a lawyer are five times more likely to be successful. For someone who fears persecution, losing an asylum claim obviously presents a huge risk to their life.

One final note. While the U.S. has long detained many asylum seekers—and ramped up detention along the U.S.-Mexico border under Trump (hence the conditions you referenced)—there is no practical reason to do so. Few countries detain newly arrived asylum seekers on such a massive scale, and detention rates were even lower 10+ years ago. The answer to poor conditions in detention is to stop detaining people seeking refugee protection.

I don't know the details of the court case, but from my superficial understanding it was a procedural issue rather than substantive. My hope is Biden tries another way. An end to "Remain in Mexico" is urgently needed.

V & Z respond: Thanks to both of you for writing in to enlighten us.

Electric Vehicles

M.W. in Frederick, MD, writes: In response to A.B. in Wendell, I agree that a huge change in our energy infrastructure is crucial in the near future. However, I have never heard any environmentalist or otherwise progressive person say that buying electric vehicles (EVs) alone will solve the climate crisis. Of all the people I know that drive EVs, most of them know much more about where their electricity comes from than the average person, and quite a few of them have had solar panels installed on their house to do what they can to reduce fossil-fuel generated electricity.

Buying a car is something we all need to do at least a few times throughout our lifetimes and it's something we have 100% control over, unlike the amount of fossil fuels burned at our local power plant. The love affair with EVs is because they offer many practical advantages over a gas car, like near-silent operation, instantaneous torque, very low maintenance costs, no more trips to the gas station, etc. They also offer many environmental advantages over gas cars, like being 4-5 times more efficient at using energy (factoring in the conversion of kWh to BTU of energy in a gallon of gas), moving the disease-causing air pollution associated with burning fossil fuels from roadways and cities to more remote power plants, a much more recyclable end-of-life (including the rare earth minerals in the battery packs), and taking advantage of the renewable energy already flowing into the power lines (close to 20% in my area) and all future additional renewable energy added to the energy mix. Because the transportation sector is such a huge contributor to carbon emissions (15-20% globally), EVs are and will continue to be an important piece of the solution to the climate crisis.

F.L. in Denton, TX, writes: A.B. in Wendell, wrote: "I am as progressive as they come, but I promise you I do not understand the love affair with electric cars...Electric cars alone will not solve anything—they just move the problem from one place to another."

As a licensed professional engineer (retired), and a certified STEM teacher (also retired), I hope I can give a satisfactory explanation. Consider the following numbers for the U.S.:

  • An electric car can go about 5km on one kWh
  • The average cost of a kWh is about $0.12
  • A gasoline car averages about 11 km per liter of gasoline (25mpg)
  • The average cost of a liter of gasoline in the U.S. is $0.83 (approx. $3.16/gal)

Bottom line?

  • 42 km/$ for an electric
  • 13 km/$ for gasoline

Granted, monetary cost is not an exact measurement of greenhouse gases emitted, but it's a fairly reasonable estimate. With a gap that wide—over 3:1—it's abundantly clear that electric vehicles are far more efficient. Thus, even with no further renewable/nuclear development, there would be a very substantial reduction in fossil fuel use.

To further put things in perspective, here is the divvy of electricity generation in the U.S.:

  • Fossil fuels: 60%
  • Renewables: 20%
  • Nuclear: 20%

True, just having everyone drive an electric car won't, by itself, solve the problem—but it does make a pretty sizeable dent. Furthermore, with all the subsidies and incentives, renewables will increase, and very rapidly.

And if I might proselytize a little bit... Nearly all energy use is put towards something that is, well, useful, like food, transport, construction, etc. There is however, one notable exception, and that is cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin. The processing power involved is huge—more than Argentina uses. It serves no purpose that cannot be accomplished by PayPal, Wise, Western Union, or other remittance/transfer companies. Well, except to facilitate money-laundering and cyber extortion. Okay, stepping off that particular soap box...

My hope is that, sometime soon, we will unlock the holy grail of clean energy, namely, commercially viable nuclear fusion. The standard joke is that it's been 20 years away for the past 70 years. Regardless, I think that's where we should invest our R&D dollars. We are getting closer and it will, eventually, come.

E.B. in Seattle, WA, writes: I'm an electric car driver who considers myself progressive, and couldn't help but respond to the question from A.B. in Wendell about progressives and electric cars. First of all, I need to challenge the premise. I think there are very few, if any, progressives who think that electric cars alone will solve the climate change problem. The progressives I know all talk about power generation, heating, transit, and other issues in addition to electric cars. There's also a strong strain of Urbanists who want to completely re-make the transportation system to reduce or eliminate the U.S. dependence on cars.

So why electric cars? Because they are pretty spectacularly efficient. My early Nissan Leaf model gets over 100 miles of travel on the energy that's in a gallon of gasoline. Even the best hybrids get around 55 miles per gallon.

But what if your local grid is coal-powered? Electric cars can still come out ahead because they are so much more efficient. Even in a coal-dependent state like West Virginia, an average electric car has about 75% of the annual CO2 emissions of a non-hybrid gasoline car, though hybrids win the efficiency race in that state. In most other states, the electric car wins hands down. Also, new electrical power coming on to the grid nationwide is overwhelmingly (80%+) renewable. So as we add demand from electric cars, we're largely getting the new power from green sources. Even new fossil fuel plants coming online tend to be natural gas, which are substantially more efficient than coal plants.

And what about the batteries? A common complaint is that lithium comes from dirty production processes in unstable parts of the world and is saddled with massive environmental problems. One could say the same of petroleum products. Nothing is clean, but I'll take the massive efficiency gain and a steadily greening grid that electric cars offer.

R.T. in Arlington, TX, writes: A.B. in Wendell is on point about us needing to know where our electricity comes from. As an engineer, I am slowly and painfully coming around to the idea that we need to electrify everything, even though the hydrocarbon equipment works so well. The reason is not that all electricity comes from clean sources, but that electricity is the only way to distribute power from clean sources as they become cheaper than hydrocarbons. I'm not willing to buy an electric car yet, because I sometimes need 500-mile-per-day range for work purposes and I can still have a choice. But, I am thinking about replacing my gas furnace and water heater with electric heat pump units. Politically, progressives should be pushing harder for a no-loopholes carbon tax more than for electric car subsidies. Personally, they should be buying electric cars and replacing gas appliances. Hmmm, maybe a carbon tax could pay for the infrastructure bills? Or, just give a refundable tax credit to each person with it?

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: A.B. in Wendell makes good points about switching all the energy we spend on transportation to the electric grid. Having personally experienced the fragility of the Texas grid, increasing demand in that way to that order of magnitude is certainly not a task to be taken lightly. For me, the value of electric cars is that having a zillion little point sources of CO2 zipping all over the place is a much more complicated problem than having a few high-volume point sources of emissions that are already regulated in their emissions and can potentially sequester CO2 in bulk. Also, you can't use clean (from a CO2 standpoint) nuclear energy at the individual car level, but you can distribute that nuclear generated electricity from a central source to individual customers. Also, fossil fuels will eventually run out and when they do, we'll still have other ways of generating electricity, but all those gas engines will be useless. Electric cars are certainly not a panacea, but they do have advantages.

V & Z respond: You can't use nuclear energy at the individual car level? Doc Brown would beg to differ.

Legal Matters

D.A. in Santa Clara, CA, writes: Some forms of defamatory statements are presumed to be harmful. Meaning, a plaintiff need not prove damages ("Per se" means "in and of itself.") Things like (falsely) claiming someone has "loathsome disease," or that a woman is "unchaste," statements accusing someone of "moral turpitude," or that a person was involved in criminal activity. As you can tell from the first three examples, the underlying rationale for this specie of defamation rests on old-timey and patriarchal notions of dignity and feminine virtue. Be that as it may, it is still good law in most states, many of which have modernized the language to better fit our current sensibilities. Maryland, it just so happens, is one of those states.

In short, Kimberly Klacik need not prove damages to succeed against Candace Owens. Owens claimed that Klacik engaged in tax and campaign finance fraud and in money laundering (illegal activities and crimes of moral turpitude), is an abuser of illegal drugs (illegal activity and moral turpitude), and once ran a strip club (unchaste behavior?). These are defamation, per se.

Presuming all claims are false, as you pointed out, Owens can claim she is an entertainer expressing her mere opinion. But putting the words "I just think" or "It's my opinion" before a defamatory statement rarely suffices. Courts know a fig leaf when they see one. Owens' best defense is that Klacik is a public figure, thus shifting the burden of proof to Klacik, who must demonstrate that Owens engaged in actual malice, not mere negligence. Proving actual malice is a hard sell. To preserve our ability to criticize the powerful, the Supreme Court, since New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, has made it very difficult to succeed in defamation cases against public figures and officials, and even cases against a nobody like me in instances of "public concern."

S.A.J. in Elberon, NJ, writes: A couple years ago I suffered great personal harm from distribution of an outrageous falsified video on social media. The legal advice I received was that because the defamation was neither spoken (slander) nor printed (libel) the legal structures for arguing a case were very sparse.

The Power of Their Evictions

A.C. in Zenia, CA, writes: I am always impressed by the absolutely vast amount of information you two can gather and, on a tight deadlinem synthesize, and give to us, every single day. That's why I am a daily reader and have been for years. But every once in a while you say something that makes me angry. This week, you wrote: "Undoubtedly, the President feels great empathy for the folks who are about to lose their homes [but] this was a band-aid that likely had to be ripped off at some point..."

I wonder if processing so much information, polling data, and historical fact might have the effect of closing your hearts. Imagine for a moment sheriff's deputies coming to an apartment, armed, to pull a mom and her two kids out of it at the behest of a property owner. Imagine that times 10 or 100,000 people. Can you imagine yourself sleeping on concrete, vulnerable to rape, theft of your last belongings? Can you picture a young child made homeless coming to school hungry after having spent the night in the cold rain, maybe in a tent, maybe that tent having just been confiscated by the police? (As is happening in Santa Cruz, CA, now.) Take a moment to just feel that. To blithely call it "ripping off a band-aid," borders on inhuman. And these evictions are carried out to make people who have multiple properties even wealthier (a person with more than one house is by definition a rich person, in comparison to someone who cannot make rent at all)—or to benefit investors in predatory hedge funds that want to turn properties into short-term vacation rentals to get the maximum return on investment. (I don't want to make an ad hominem argument here, but do either of you two make some of your income from rental properties?)

And, to state the obvious, in a very few months it will be the middle of winter. Do you think all those evicted people will be housed by then? Was it an error in wording as a result of very tight deadlines, or do you sincerely believe that half a million or more human beings becoming homeless in the middle of a pandemic, with rental prices continuing to soar, is comparable to pulling off a band-aid? Pulling off a band-aid is a short bit of pain that makes things much better in the end. Have a heart, guys.

M.W. in Richmond, VA, writes: "Ripping off the band-aid" is an inapt analogy to use for the U.S. Supreme Court's abrupt ending of the CDC eviction protections, which never were a "moratorium" but rather protections which tenants who met five criteria could invoke if facing eviction for nonpayment of rent. The apt analogy would be removing the cast before the broken bone has fully healed. Bipartisan COVID-19 relief legislation in December 2020 and March 2021 appropriated $46.5 billion for rent relief, almost all of which will end up in the pockets of landlords to make them whole, allow tenants to stay stably housed, and protect public health. This may be the largest direct industry subsidy since the $80 billion auto bailout, which was given the needed time to work. The landlord bailout also needs time to work. Only $5 billion of the funds have been spent, and more time is needed to spend the remaining 89% of the money.

Congress still could do what Virginia has done—require landlords to apply for the rent relief funds and allow 45 days for the completed application to be processed before the landlord can proceed with eviction litigation. This simple requirement, combined with an efficient program, has given Virginia the best rent relief program in the nation, having spent one-third of our funds, a higher percentage than any other state. Removing the cast before the broken bone heals is bad medicine, and ending the CDC eviction protections with billions of rescue funds still unspent is bad public policy.

M.S. in Houston, TX, writes: "The Court issued its ruling yesterday, striking the moratorium down."

Oh, really. That's nice.

Maybe it isn't this decision. Maybe it is. At one point, the President will say "no", and that'll be it for the Supreme Court. The interest of interpreting laws will be overwritten by the power of actual enforcement. Interpretation means nothing without enforcement. At some point he or she will say "no," and they'll be done.

In this era of lack of respect, why not extend it to the Court?

Criminal Minds

E.S. in Maine, NY, writes: The mixed comments on crime in Seattle, reminds me of an old story. Other versions exist but I found this with a quick search:

A man pulled up to a gas station in the country.

He asked the gas station attendant, "What are the people like in the next town up ahead?"

The attendant said, "What were the people like in the town you just came from?"

"Awful people," the man responded. "Rude, cold, hostile, abrupt, unfriendly. They wouldn't give me the time of day."

"Well," said the attendant, "I'm sorry to say it, but you're going to find exactly the same sort of people in the next town up ahead."

A bit later, another driver pulled in, heading in the same direction as the first.

"What are the people like in the next town up ahead?" the second man asked.

The attendant said, "What were the people like in the town you just came from?"

"Wonderful people," the second man responded. "Friendly, warm, helpful, patient, kind. They went out of their way to help a stranger."

"Well," said the attendant, "I'm happy to tell you that you're going to find exactly the same kind of people in the next town up ahead."
Food Corner, Peachy Keen Edition

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: You wrote: "Black has already opened up that line of attack, decreeing that Walker can't possibly know 'what Georgians have on their minds.' (Z)'s guess is pecan pie. However, in one of those very rare cases where (Z) and (V) disagree, (V) thinks it is actually peach pie."

I hope you two are still on speaking terms. Will the website still be published next week?

V & Z respond: Let's just say that if we lived in the same city, the scene would have been something like this:

J.K. in Silverdale, WA, writes: Oh no! In this hyper-polarized world, now even (V) and (Z) are in disagreement. In an effort to show that compromise is still possible, and to guess "what Georgians have on their minds," I offer this recipe: Georgia Peach and Pecan Pie.

See, you can both be right!

L.A.O. in Las Vegas, NV, writes: Regarding "what Georgians have on their minds": Georgia dessert preferences are diverse, and both (Z)'s guess of pecan (pee'can) pie and (V)'s guess of peach pie are applicable to parts of the population.

However, as a prior long-term (18 year) resident of Atlanta, I would bet money that Banana Puddin' would win in Fulton Co., followed closely by the pecan pie (assuming that the state legislature would allow a fair, inclusive vote there). Yum!

A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: Although a resident in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, I have had occasion to visit Georgia a couple of times, first stationed at Moody AFB in the 70's, then dear daughter stationed at Robins AFB for several years.

I never left anything there that I seriously wanted to go back after, BUT:

You can fill both taste treats at one stop.
They also make their own ice cream to top everything off.
My only regret is that my eyes were bigger than my stomach, and I couldn't try everything.
I skipped the entrees and went straight for the dessert.
The Fresh Peach Cobbler à la mode was awesome.

Started in 1908, Lane Southern Orchards has been growing peaches and pecans continuously for over 100 years! You can even order online for delivery. My wife has had some of the jams and jellies ordered in for delivery.

C.C.C. in Annapolis, MD, writes: Both (Z) and (V) sound like west coast natives when speaking about Southern dishes. In Georgia, we do not eat peach pie—it's peach cobbler!

M.B. in Pittsboro, NC, writes: How about peach-blueberry pie? I've made a lot of them this summer, and it's a delicious combo....

J.L. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Tara's on Venice Blvd...WOW!

My new favorite Eastern restaurant! (And it's so close to me!):

A large amount of take-out food from
Tara's, including naan, vegetables, a couple of stews, some noodles, and some sort of turnovers.

I showed the fellow at the register your blog and the shout-out to his restaurant in Saturday's Q&A. He was very appreciative and gave me a free salt lassi (a flavorful yogurt drink blended with Himalayan spices). The Nepalese food was exquisite, very much like Indian but with a slightly more subtle taste—not quite as "heavy" (overpowering) in the flavoring as their neighbors to the south and with a noticeable Chinese influence in some of the dishes. And the yak stew? Exquisite! (Apparently, they get their yak from a ranch in Colorado right off I-70.)

Thank you for the recommendation, (Z). (A Trekkie and a foodie...this looks like the start of a beautiful friendship.)

V & Z respond: So....where's our cut of the salt lassi? And told you the yak stew is great...

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, Part I

C.J. in Redondo Beach, CA, writes: I like most of your choices for dinner guests quite a bit. My choice for one you left off, though, would be John Muir.

My wife and I love going to our National Parks. I would love to sit down and listen to the prophet of nature. Muir supposedly enraptured everyone who spoke to him—even people that thought he was kinda nutty. Few had the gift of language he did.

"This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never all dried at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls."

Doesn't get much better than that.

H.F. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: Colonel Ely S. Parker, Seneca Indian orator. He was trained as a lawyer and an engineer, and was a translator and informant for the explorer John Wesley Powell and for the ethnographer Lewis Henry Morgan. Without Parker, Morgan couldn't have written "The League of the Iroquois," probably the first serious anthropological monograph about Native Americans. Parker joined the Union Army and became an assistant to General U.S. Grant, helping him to take Vicksburg. At Appomattox Courthouse, as Grant's secretary, Parker wrote out the surrender document signed by the traitor Robert E. Lee. When Grant was President, Parker became the Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. I'll bet Ely Parker could tell almost as many great stories as "Colonel" Tom Parker, the promoter who discovered Elvis Presley.

[OK, you can change 'the traitor' to 'General' in order to avoid hurting the feelings of the descendants of the traitors. As the saying goes, "An Ape's an Ape, a Varlet's a Varlet, though they be clad in Silk or Scarlet."]

V & Z respond: We're going to let it stand.

P.K. in Marshalltown, IA, writes: Henry Adams: He wrote well and was connected, so he could probably dish on some people. As a bit of a crank in the face of the changing world, he could also turn into the "drunk uncle" that makes Thanksgiving dinner awkward.

Hunter Thompson: When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. What better social-political commentator of the late 20th century could you have?

My wife: The daughter of a preacher, she uses great stories in her history classes to illustrate critical points. At one college where I served as an administrator and she on the adjunct faculty, my staffers would jostle to sit next to her at the annual Christmas party because she would have her annual glass of wine and then hold forth.

D.L. in Lancaster, WI, writes: M.C. in Reno declared: "the fun can't come from two historical guests interacting."

While I understand the example M.C. shared about enemies sitting at the same table, the late great Steve Allen actually proved that a discussion between historical figures of all different eras is not only possible, but entertaining and extremely enlightening.

Between 1977 and 1981, PBS aired a show called "Meeting of the Minds." Guests included Martin Luther, Cleopatra, Karl Marx, Thomas Jefferson and Oliver Cromwell. All seasons of the show are easily found on YouTube and I highly recommend watching.

All that said, to follow the rules, my choice is Bob Marley. Marley was an amazing musician, but also seemed to understand his role in history as a representative of freedom. While the meal itself would obviously have to conform to rastafarian dietary restrictions, I would imagine an atmosphere of amazing music and exquisite "dessert" options.

V & Z respond: (Z) was both an undergraduate student of, and a TA for, Prof. Mortimer Chambers, who was a local legend at UCLA. The final exam for his ancient civilizations survey course required students to write a dialog between Jesus, Hammurabi, Charlemagne, Moses, and Cleopatra on the subject of how to design a law code.

S.T. in Glen Rock, NJ, writes: My ideal dinner guest would be Gene Roddenberry. Among other things, the topics would be the origin stories for Q as well as The Borg.

M.M. in Raleigh, NC, writes: I submit one Ambrose Bierce. Anyone who could marry such acerbic wit with a mastery of the English language enough to write The Devil's Dictionary would be a delectable dinner guest.

D.K. in Oceanside, CA, writes: Never mind dinner. I would like to be a luncheon guest in the nineteen twenties Algonquin Hotel in New York City. Specifically, at the round table in the Rose Room. A seat between Eugene O'Neill and Dorothy Parker would be lovely.


S.S. in Toronto, Canada, writes: Why would anyone voluntarily spend a day in Edmonton?

V & Z respond: In hopes of bumping into Wayne Gretzky? Admittedly, we're reaching here.

M.C. in Newton, MA, writes: I may be tempting disaster, but in response to the letter from D.F. in Norcross, I couldn't help thinking of a terrible combination of long-running topics:

To settle the debate over whether Alex Trebek or Art Fleming knew more about hosting "Jeopardy!," we really have no choice but to use two of our time-machine picks to find out. And since we know that standardized testing isn't a reliable way of assessing knowledge, I think we should have them compete in a game show, where of course they would respond in the form of a question. The losing contestant gets assigned 10% of the blame for Afghanistan. Now if only I could pick a theme song for all of this...

V & Z respond: "In the Flesh?" by Pink Floyd? It's on point, and the title is in the form of a question.

N.E. in Anchorage, AK, writes: (Z) wrote: "[A] miracle on the order of the parting of the Red Sea, the virgin birth of Jesus, and the Red Sox winning three World Series in 10 years."

It must still hurt to be an Angels fan and have your team swept from the playoffs by the Red Sox in two of those three World Series Championship years, but we can both try to forget 1986.

V & Z respond: (Z) can assure you that 1986 was orders of magnitude worse than the others. Though he did at least get to see the Angels trounce the Padres in person yesterday, which is a little bit of a consolation.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: I once worked at Disneyland on the Circle D Ranch, which was the area "backstage" where all the draught horses that pulled the Main Street trolleys were housed. We also tended the livestock in the Big Thunder Ranch petting zoo. One day, 2,200 lb."Charlie," a particularly fine Belgian, got away from one of his handlers while crossing over the berm right next to the railroad track running behind Big Thunder Ranch and It's a Small World. Five or six of us went running after him in full view of the park's guests (a big Disney no-no if there ever was one). As Charlie merrily trotted up the track towards It's a Small World, he suddenly froze, transfixed by all the whirling gizmos on the facade, giving us time to catch up and capture him, to the applause and amusement of everyone waiting in line for the ride. So, It's a Small World after all does have its usefulness.

V & Z respond: So, corralling runaway horses, and allowing folks like (Z)'s grandfather to have a smoke without being harassed. Perhaps we dismissed that ride too quickly.

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: Very impressed that our fellow reader knows that the plural of Elvis is Elvi. So few people get that right. Sure, I could read other news sites, but would the other readers know how to properly pluralize Elvis?

M.U. in Seattle, WA, writes: I'm an avid fan of your staff mathematician and the poor man just can't get no respect! Since you took another swipe at him at the end of yesterday's Q&A, I've concocted a limerick in his (dis?)honor:

So sad is the Staff Mathematician,
Who can barely do simple addition.
    Must be hapless and glum
    To carry the sum,
Of (V) & (Z)'s constant derision.

V & Z respond: He will undoubtedly appreciate your support...when he sobers up.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Aug28 Saturday Q&A
Aug27 From Bad to Worse
Aug27 Who Saw This Coming?
Aug27 SCOTUS Nixes Eviction Moratorium
Aug27 TrumpWorld Legal Blotter, Part I: Trump Sued
Aug27 TrumpWorld Legal Blotter, Part II: Trump's Lawyers Sanctioned
Aug27 The Grift of the Magai
Aug27 This Week in Schadenfreude
Aug26 Jan. 6 Select Committee Starts Asking for Documents
Aug26 House Passes H.R. 4
Aug26 The Census Has Some Good News for Democrats
Aug26 Poll: Floridians Do Not Want DeSantis to Run for President
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Aug26 Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who Is the Trumpiest of Them All?
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Aug25 Walker Will Run
Aug25 Another Republican Is Sued for Defamation
Aug25 One-and-a-half Million Votes
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Aug22 Sunday Mailbag
Aug21 Saturday Q&A
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...
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Aug20 This Week's 2022 Candidacy News
Aug19 The Blame Game Heats Up