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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

We got a lot of feedback about the mailbag, and so we're going to start with some of those before moving on to more responses to the question about faith vs. good works in Christianity.

Notes on a Mailbag

E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, writes: Please keep the Sunday letters page! I like most of the letters (even those I disagree with), and I especially enjoy reading the opinions of experts in various fields—law, policing, government, politics, etc. If people don't like the letters or think they are too long, they already have the option of skipping them, so no change needed there. Sometimes it will take me until Monday morning to get through the letters page, but I always read them all. I like being a part of a intellectual community of sorts, and now that the Internet has moved to an unregulated attention economy, a thoughtful, moderated forum like this is very hard to find.

If you absolutely had to make it shorter, you could limit the number of similar letters per section, but I think letting it unfold organically makes sense, rather having than a hard and fast rule. You could make the individual section headings linkable in the top table on Sundays to make navigating the page easier. Other than that, I vote for changing nothing!

C.K. in Rochester, NY, writes: I would hate to see the Sunday mailbag go. You do such a great job of grouping topics together, it's easy to skip a topic that isn't of interest. Why do I love the Sunday mailbag? The feedback you choose to print isn't a repeat of your opinions: you choose items that broaden the perspective. Your site has veered sharply to the left over the last few years, so much so that whenever I recommend the site to friends, I find myself apologizing for the (relatively new) "lefty cruelty." I cringe at the mean-spirited limericks. I cringe at the sarcastic asides that detract from your main points. The reader participation helps give balance to the site, and no doubt to both of you. I wanted to jump up and down in almost total agreement with the post from S.S. in Tampa; the fact that you printed it bolsters my confidence in the value of your site. Thank you, S.S., for a well-written post, and thank you, (V) and (Z), for all the time and effort that goes into the site.

P.S.: I am also confident my husband would totally disagree with S.S. in Tampa.

J.M. in Silver Spring, MD, writes: I will admit that I am not a big fan of the Sunday mailbag and sometimes don't read it or read it late. My complaints:

  • I think it needs more "curation." I am not advocating for censorship so much as, perhaps, a "limited space/pick only the best" philosophy. I feel that the "signal to noise ratio" is getting low and it's becoming a burden to read it (or sometimes to wade my way through it).

  • While I think a little bit of "back and forth" between opposing viewpoints can be good, it cannot be allowed to devolve into a shouting match. In particular, if I never, ever see anything from P.M. in Currituck, or anything in response to them, ever again, I will be quite happy.

B.M. in Birmingham, AL, writes: I don't disagree that at times I skim the mailbag as it is mostly a progressive echoing of what you wrote, or else some fanatical corrections of minutiae. You guys spend a lot of time putting together a segment that seems to be just variations on the same theme. If you wanted to "spice it up," consider a debate-type set up where—as you do during the week by summarizing political opinions from left leaning and right leaning media—you make every mailbag topic a reader led debate from both sides. It could potentially increase your conservative readership (if you care) and spur informative dialog. If you don't get both sides to respond, consider the matter closed and save yourself the trouble.

J.M. in Seattle, WA, writes: I don't know if this will be helpful, but since you asked I'm kind of neutral about the mailbag. There are some letters that I do appreciate—for instance, I really liked your "BoJo" and post-Merkel letters during the week, as those letters gave perspectives I'd not have gotten elsewhere. There are a number I don't care for, especially some of the very liberal "preaching to the choir"/"conservatives are dumb" type letters I don't feel I gain much from, but it's also easy for me to skip/skim if I'm not interested (just as I can skip some news posts on topics I'm not interested in either).

I think it would be interesting to have more "solicited" feedback posts on areas where you might feel you lack perspective or are more curious about readers' responses. Those seem less "peanut gallery" and more "meaningful discussion." But mostly, I'd say do what you enjoy most. I'm always kind of surprised at how much you post every week and I'm surprised the two of you don't get burnt out or take breaks. I really like the site's editorial independence and authenticity, so whatever helps you keep going will probably work for me.

V & Z respond to all of those who sent feedback: This selection of letters does a pretty good job of characterizing what we heard in response to our request for feedback last week. We are persuaded that this feature is worth keeping, but also that it can be improved. Starting today, we're going to work on reducing the length. Expect additional changes in the future.

Christ, Knowing You Ain't Easy, Part II

D.B. in St. Louis, MO, writes: B.B. in St. Louis asked: "Which is more important for the faithful, belief in the divinity of Jesus or following the teachings of Jesus?" Easy. Belief is expressed by what you do and not what you say. Anyone who professes "belief in the divinity of Jesus" but does not follow the "teachings of Jesus" is trying to have it both ways. Such individuals therefore do not really believe what they profess.

The "out" the Bible provides is that belief in the divinity of Christ supposedly provides for forgiveness of sin and everlasting life. However, circumspect theologians have taught, for centuries, that ignoring Christ's teachings by willfully engaging is sinful behavior does not guarantee absolution at the end. In other words, belief is necessary but not sufficient—it must be accompanied by "good deeds."

Unfortunately, the modern world has more hypocrites than it does True Christians who follow Christ's teachings and share Christ's values. "Followers of Christ" do not include many American Evangelicals who do not follow or understand Christ's "Sermon on the Mount." Pope Francis clearly does and is therefore a True Christian.

The situation is akin to Conservatives who profess support of the Constitution of the United States but have issues with the 14th Amendment's provision of "Equal Protection under the Law," particularly for those who do not look like themselves. You can't have one without the other. If you try, you are, by definition, a hypocrite.

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: I am firmly in the camp that believes the teachings are far more important than Divinity where Jesus is concerned. Let me break down why I believe this.

I have practiced my own form of what I call Jesusianity for 20 years, attending a Unitarian Church...and, officially, I am an agnostic.

Jesusianity began as a discussion between myself and another member of my former congregation in turned out we had a lot of the same beliefs. And so we began to develop the concept of "Jesusianity"—so named as to differentiate ourselves from Christians, who have frankly earned themselves every negative connotation that is applied. Prosperity Gospel is the worst thing to ever have happened to Christianity.

Now, what Jesusianity would say is: We do not know if God does or does not exist. Thus, we cannot postulate the existence of a Son of an entity we cannot prove exists. But we do have the story of his life, and his teachings.

Jesus may have been a real person, and maybe even the Son of God. He also might have been an amalgamation of several people...or made up out of whole cloth. It does not matter.

What does matter is that, 2000 years ago, someone had the right idea about how to live among their fellow humans, and how to treat them fairly, equitably, with dignity and respect. That alone makes his teachings and life example worth following. It matters not if Jesus was the Son of God, was a real person... or did not exist at all. Jesus was a cool guy!

This is why the teachings matter far more than divinity. We can apply the teachings and life example in our everyday lives to make a better, fairer, kinder and nicer world for everyone. Instead, mainstream Christianity has weaponized that message, and used it to serve their own agenda. Which is not an agenda the Jesus I have read about would ever support.

A.H. in Ocean City, NJ, writes: I went to a Catholic school until 8th grade (class of 2002), was forced to say "Grace," and would go to mass every week. Initially, I ignored the inconsistencies of the church (and the casual anti-LGBT propaganda), although I was still shaped by the morals and general teachings of how to be a good person.

The same year I entered high school, The Boston Globe released their reporting on sexual abuse in the church. Once I no longer was forced to attend church, and once I made friends with people of other faiths, my interests shifted to how the world actually works: its history, science, culture. By my second year of college, I came out as a proud queer atheist. Even though I disagreed with the teachings and the divinity of "Jesus" (quotations because I'm not sure I believe the Nazarene actually existed or was an amalgam of different people), I was still shaped by the morals and teachings of the church, and learned the classic Catholic guilt at a young age. As an ex-Catholic, I'd say the teachings were more important, since at its core, the message of loving neighbors/feeding the hungry/welcoming outsiders meant much more to me than any divine belief that I never really understood.

J.T. in Greensboro, NC, writes: Raised Catholic, though long since lapsed. Nevertheless, I was most certainly "assigned Christian at birth" and grew up in a very Catholic home.

Recognition of Jesus Christ as the savior and son of God is the fundamental tenet of Christianity. Generally speaking, you could follow every other teaching of Christ to the letter, but if you didn't follow that one you're not going to Heaven (indeed, you wouldn't really be a Christian). However, in my family, in Sunday school, and in the Catholic high school I attended, I was taught that accepting the divinity of Christ was necessary but not sufficient. You can't just go on believing in Christ and doing bad stuff and expect eternal salvation, you have to abide by the law. My understanding of most Protestant denominations is that they tend to think of acceptance as both necessary and sufficient, though there are thousands of them and I'm sure their adherents will speak for themselves.

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: OK, now that the Christians have spoken, here are some thoughts about Jesus from one of the Jews in the room. I appreciate the theological takes from readers, but I suspect that B.B. from St. Louis was digging for comments on the politics of the Religious Right.

I grew up in the 70s and 80s in a Detroit suburb that was a remnant of a time when people generally kept with their own. Although my public high school had diversity on paper, the Jews, Blacks, Chaldeans (Christian Arabs) and white Christians mostly socialized within their own groups and there was little mixing. Thus my Jewish community was quite insular and I didn't have much interaction with people not like myself until I went to college. My perception of Christianity was purely political, as this was the time of the rise of the Moral Majority, Jerry Falwell and his ilk. Growing up in a Jewish, Democratic family, I was left feeling pretty negative about the whole religion.

It was later in life that I began to learn the beauty of Christianity and Jesus' teachings. Without ever having read a word of the New Testament, I follow a lot of these teachings, which I believe can be summarized in a simple sentence: "Be a good person." As I learned to distinguish political Christianity from actual Christianity, I came to understand that Jesus would probably be disgusted by what many of his followers have done in his name.

My wife grew up Masonic and went to a small Christian college in Southern California. She left her religion long ago due to many of the same things that repulsed me about Christianity. But she still loves Jesus. The divinity part isn't important to her. It's all about the teachings and the type of man he likely was. Following his teachings doesn't take faith. Believing in his divinity does. To me, that is the difference.

D.K. in Oceanside, CA, writes: I am one of the 'none' people. I follow no religion. This is because I see organized religion as having totally perverted the teachings of Christ. The readers' letters on this subject have restored some of my people.


M.D.K. in Portland, OR, writes: I have been surprised to see (V) and (Z) fall for Sen. Joe Manchin's (D-WV) song and dance.

It was obvious all along that he would never vote for Build Back Better, the human infrastructure bill. To offer just three reasons:

  • His daughter is a drug profiteer. He would never vote for the BBB's drug-price controls.

  • He told Senate colleagues he thought parents were using child tax credit money to buy drugs. (Not his daughter's drugs.) What has he ever done for West Virginia families? He was never going to vote to extend the child tax credit in the BBB.

  • He and his family make money from coal. He has never voted for the planet over fossil fuels. Why did anyone think he was going to vote for the climate policies in the BBB?

The only surprise in his declaration last Sunday that he would not vote for the bill was the timing. The session still has months to go. Why stop the game now? Did leading the Democrats around by the (donkey) nose get too pathetic, even for him?

It has been painful to watch Manchin, time after time, exploit the peculiar gullibility of liberals, who are always willing to believe that people are really good. If Democratic leaders don't have the guts to investigate his corrupt ass, they should at least stop jumping when he snaps his fingers.

E.L. in Dallas, TX, writes: This past week, for the first time, I have started to feel that Trumpism will actually outlive Trump. Maybe it has already moved past him, and left Dear Leader in its wake. The response to Trump's new tactic of taking credit for the vaccine has been quite harsh. From cartoons mocking him to crowds, in my hometown, booing him for saying that he received his booster and that the vaccines have saved lives.

It seems clear to me that the MAGA movement has moved past focusing on the person and onto focusing on the message. I think is the first step of a move even farther to the right. I would not be surprised if, by 2024, Trump was considered a moderate Republican. Trumpism is now a snowball that Trump started rolling down the hill, and he has no control over it. It will continue to grow larger and more destructive to our democracy. I think that Trumpism is a movement with many religious zealots as followers. We are getting to the point where many do not consider Trump to be a "true believer." I strongly believe that the survival of MAGAism/Trumpism is no longer tied to Trump, but to the ideals and factors that tend to eventually tear apart extremist movements.


M.S. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: My opinion as an Arizona-based elections expert (I have worked for both the legislature and Secretary of State developing policy) is that Arizona's new Congressional maps will be very hard to challenge in court.

Your item on Arizona redistricting said that you don't know if Erika Neuberg was a good independent chair for the Independent Redistricting Commission (IRC). Democrats hated her. She was a longtime Republican before switching her party designation to PND (the Arizona term for "independent") just before the legal deadline to be able to be considered for the commission, when she suddenly started donating to Democrats, too. Neuberg was nominated by the Arizona Commission on Appellate Court Appointments (ACACA), which has been stacked by Governor Doug Ducey (R-AZ) to the chagrin of all non-Republicans.

However, ACACA nominated a few others for independent chair, including a GOP-connected lobbyist for the state utility monopoly, and a rural gun store owner who hosted a Trump rally in 2020. The Democrats on the commission really had no choice but to choose Neuberg, the least objectionable candidate, who broke ties in Democrats' favor only three times out of dozens of votes.

It's also worth noting that the IRC gave the Congressional maps unanimous approval. The Democratic commissioners believed the map was, while not their best-case scenario, fair enough.

P.T. in Branchburg (formerly Parsippany), NJ, writes: In regards to the item "Democrats Get Their New Jersey Congressional Map":

I was not aware of the details of how New Jersey's independent redistricting commission was chosen, but as a New Jersey lifer, I must point out that the lopsided redistricting you wrote about is a very recent phenomenon. My understanding is that the commissions always used to do a good job of making as many seats as possible safe for both parties in order to save them resources in the general elections, with the end result that only one or two races were competitive each cycle. (The obligatory battleground district used to be NJ-07, in the 90s when I was growing up there.)

For example, in 2016, when Josh Gottheimer (D) flipped NJ-05 to make it 7-5 for the Democrats, every other race in the state except NJ-07 was a blowout of 20+ percentage points. Similar margins have traditionally been observed in most years, to the point that 2002 and 2004 saw no close races at all. The result was that, between 1998 and 2016 inclusive, the only election in which either major party won more than 7 New Jersey seats was 2008, which went 8-5 for the Democrats.

It wasn't until the wave/realignment year of 2018 that our Congressional delegation suddenly went from 7-5 to 11-1 (before Jeff Van Drew switched from Democratic to Republican), as more races became competitive. In 2020, NJ-02, -03, -05, -07, and -11 were all decided by single-digit margins.

So you could say that, if the effect of the new map is (as you asserted) to make NJ-03, NJ-05, and NJ-11 safer for the Democrats and NJ-02 safer for the Republicans, then this is really just restoring the status quo ante Trumpum for us, as far as minimizing the number of competitive seats again after the recent upheaval. The only difference is that this time the Republicans are starting with far fewer seats to make safer.

Of course, it looks like the one remaining perennial battleground district will be... NJ-07. Guess where I just moved back to a few months ago?

The Pandemic

S.H. in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, writes: R.H. in Santa Ana asked about Dr. Anthony Fauci being described as "America's top infectious disease expert." Leaving aside the fact that such a term is overly simplistic (and therefore loved by many mass media outlets), it is nonetheless a reasonably accurate assessment of his standing within medicine. At the very beginning of the outbreak, before he was a household name, I explained who he was to a friend and described him as "the patron saint of infectious disease." I'd say the bulk of U.S. infectious disease doctors regard him in a similar light.

Fauci's early career focused on the body's immune system, and he made seminal contributions to the understanding and treatment of autoimmune diseases (such as polyarteritis nodosa). The NIH is a scientific institution—indeed, the premiere biomedical research institution in the U.S., more like a Harvard-on-steroids than like its more bureaucratic cousins, the DHHS or CDC. When HIV hit, he was perfectly placed as a very young head of NIAID, the post he still holds today, and was instrumental in directing large-scale studies on the mechanics of HIV, and in speeding up the process of experimental drug trials for the disease.

On several occasions he has been offered the directorship of the NIH, which is an administrative post, but has refused it to remain active in science and medicine, where he has overseen many important events in the world of infectious diseases, including treating American patients with Ebola at the BL4 "hospital" in Atlanta. I can say from personal experience that Ebola care is physically challenging, and attempting it at any age is no small feat, but he did it when he was in his seventies, and long after the time he needed to burnish his credentials.

But perhaps the most important reason Fauci is given this unofficial honor is that he is remarkably talented at making complex ideas understandable, whether to fellow infectious disease specialists, or to presidents attempting to understand the impact of a given outbreak. I leave to R.H. and other readers to judge his efforts, but for me, I've heard Fauci speak three times in my career, and each time I've been blown away by his command of the technical literature and his ability to translate the specialized language into everyday English, all the while never sacrificing the complexity of the topic.

In medicine, a mind like that comes along once in a generation if we're lucky. He has more than earned the label.

C.K. (and Friends) in Albuquerque, NM , writes: In the item "More Good News on the COVID Front," you quipped that "'molnupiravir' unscrambles to 'murr pavilion,' which would mean something like 'place for people with congestion of the nose or throat.'"

As members of a certain very specific subculture (the furry fandom) we just wanted to warn you that is not what that word means to us, and that you should probably be careful not to say it in our circles if you don't want there to be... misunderstandings.

(To clarify: It's a pleasured noise, like what you hear if you're listening to the audio of an adult film. "Murr pavilions" sound like something we'll have to set up in order to help celebrate when this pandemic is finally over and we can gather safely again. Molnupiravir may or may not be provided at the door.)

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: This article describes the process by which the name Molnupiravir was arrived at. It's apparently meant to evoke Mjölnir—a.k.a. Thor's hammer—leaving me with the question: if you can lift it, are you worthy to rule Asgupiragard?

Legal Matters

A.S. in Hawkins, IN, writes: In regards to your response to M.M. in La Crosse regarding the whether/when Trump and/or the Trumpettes will face consequences, there's another facet to the issue. Years ago I did some work with federal and state prosecutors, and I asked them a similar question. I was told that it's about double jeopardy: The prosecution only has one chance in court; if they lose, that's it, they can't come back later and try again. So it's in their best interest to take their time to make sure they have everything they need for a successful prosecution.

That means that they don't just find one piece of evidence of a crime and say "Let's file charges now!" They're more likely to say "What more can we find?" Especially for a high visibility case such as The Insurrection, or The Great Tax Evasion, they want the evidence to be thorough and damning. They don't just need to have their ducks in a row, they also need their geese in formation, the chickens in the coop, the eagle in the nest, the cows in the barn, and all the other metaphors.

V & Z respond: Do they also have to make certain that the cat's in the cradle with the silver spoon?

D.R. in Slippery Rock, PA, writes: Section 2283 of Title 28 of the United States Code, the "Anti-Injunction Act," provides that a federal court cannot issue an injunction to stay an ongoing state court proceeding (with three exceptions not relevant to Trump v. Jones). In Younger v. Harris (1971), the Supreme Court held that federal courts are required to abstain from even hearing a case attempting to enjoin a prosecution under state law.

I think that the factual allegations in Donald Trump's complaint show that Letitia Jones has too big a mouth for a prosecutor (compare Merrick Garland), which may hurt the case down the road. But for now, Trump's case is absolutely hopeless.

History Matters

D.B. in Nixa, MO, writes: Yesterday, (V) and (Z) answered a question on the ethics and methods of (Z)'s profession by starting with an analogy on the difference between learning to play your favorite Christmas song (the Mariachi version of "Winter Wonderland," in my case) on a piano and learning how to read music and play piano. You used this as an analogy for the difference between learning historical fact and learning history. That is such a brilliant analogy, not just for history, but for almost any subject—anyone can be given a small snippet that goes no further, but that training/education is needed to know. I love that this applies not just to history, but to any of the knowledge-based professions, and the arts and the crafts and other skill-based professions as well. Again, thank you.

V & Z respond: We are glad you found that answer instructive! It took a while to get it right.

P.J.T. in Raton, NM, writes: Thank you for publishing my letter decrying the blind spot that appears when applying such superlatives as "worst mass shooting" or "worst domestic terrorist attack," when those actions so assigned do not account for events of even greater magnitude committed against indigenous peoples. I wish to make it clear that I do not, have never, and I expect never will consider you to be racists, though it's probably my fault that you read my letter that way. I should have been more elegant in my phrasing.

Technically, what I decried as racist was the denial of the mass violence—including acts of terrorism—committed against First Peoples (a racial "other"). I do not hold responsible for that sort of residual, unconscious racism (the very thing that Critical Race Theory, if I understand it correctly, seeks to address); I was, however, dismayed that such an historically sensitive site as yours would let such assertions go unchallenged. But I also believe that wasn't your intention; it surely didn't even cross your minds. And in the end, that's the real issue: American Indians are now invisible, because the terrorism committed against them en masse was so distressingly effective. But that's not on you. It's on us all.

E.P. in Nagano, Japan, writes: I am E.P., formerly of Gunma, Japan, and have now moved to Nagano, Japan. I've watched with interest the discussion of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II because I have a special connection to Japan (living here, but not being Japanese myself). The question originally posed by M.G. in Boulder is something I myself have been pondering for over a decade. I have been to Hiroshima, and had the distinct privilege of meeting with a Hibakusha, a survivor of the bomb. I heard her story, and I will never forget it (as an aside, if you have any chance at all to meet with one of these people, you must take it, there is nothing like hearing this story from someone who lived it). I also had the privilege of meeting with a group of American veterans and former POWs, and heard their stories.

When approaching the subject of the bombs, people often make the mistake of looking at them from the perspective of today's world, today's ethics, today's hindsight. We know what the bombs can do, generations have grown up fearing it, we have seen its horrifying effects on people over decades. But in 1945, no one had any of that context, it wasn't considered at all. That this was an unusually powerful weapon was evident—but how powerful, exactly? That was up for debate. Before dropping the bombs on Japan they had previously only been tested in barren desert. At the time, there was not much question of "if" the bombs would be used. As far as I know, there is no "order" from Truman saying "bomb Japan" or "bomb Hiroshima". The orders came from a general who was placed in command of them according to plans that had been drawn up previously. Would such a thing happen now? Doubtful.

The single biggest loss of life from aerial bombing in the whole of World War II was in the fire bombing of Dresden. The most destruction and death in Japan was the fire bombing of Tokyo, a city that had been built of highly flammable wood. But we do not often look back in horror on those bombings because they were "conventional." So, in the perspective of the times, these were single bombs that could do what it once took many bombs to do. That people decades later would be suffering from cancer was not really a consideration for those responsible for the decision making. So little was known about what the bombs would do or how they would work that behind each bomber that carried the weapons to Hiroshima and Nagasaki was another full of scientists to study what happened. During the occupation afterwards, scientists flooded both cities to find out what happened. It is from that research that we learned what we know today. Truman couldn't have known the full scale of those consequences, no one else could have either.

Then there's the question of whether the bombs were needed. As I said before, there wasn't really any doubt that if they were ready, they would be used. The U.S. government needed to show what it got for all of those billions spent on laboratories instead of on GIs. But did it save lives? Certainly it did. While most of the former POWs I met were keen on not insulting their Japanese hosts, one man told of how he had been starving, and would have died before August 1945 was out, but for the bomb. And let's not forget that the Japanese strategy at that point was not to win the war, but to make fighting that war so incredibly onerous and costly that America would give it up. Even after two bombs were dropped, even after the Soviets invaded, it still took the personal intercession of the emperor himself for Japan to surrender. And even then, when the emperor recorded a surrender speech to be broadcast to the people (the first time commoners heard the voice of an emperor), the palace itself was attacked by soldiers who tried, and very nearly succeeded, to stage a coup and stop the surrender.

This was a government that indoctrinated its subjects with the belief that they should all die for the emperor. Records show that Japanese soldiers often fought to the bitter end or committed suicide rather than surrender. Civilians were told that the Americans were terrible monsters and so they also often killed themselves rather than surrender. And this happened on outlying islands; can you imagine the carnage of trying to conquer the mainland? Japan is 80% mountains, and the plan was to fight to the end for the glory of the emperor. Hundreds of thousands would have died, millions wounded. There is no doubt.

The combination of events as they happened barely—just barely—resulted in surrender. Take away the bombs and I don't see that math adding up. I trust others will correct me where I have erred. But I will close with the sentiment of the brave woman who told me her story: "Don't hate anyone, just make sure that you never forget, and that you do whatever you can to ensure that this never happens again."

P.S. If you're interested in Japanese history, I highly recommend the History of Japan podcast by Isaac Meyer. He covers the breadth and width of Japanese history, from broad strokes to singular biographies across the centuries. His series on the atomic bombs, in particular, is very much relevant to this discussion.

Waxing Poetic

C.R. in Beaverton, OR, writes: Thank you for sharing the poem from T.W. in Norfolk. And thank you, T.W., for those words. They are moving and impactful. And, as a Christian, doubly so. It is a challenge to all of us to encourage others and help move us from angst and despair of today to sympathy and hope in the days ahead.

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Thanks for posting that lovely poem by T.W.! I must admit I got a little choked up. Such a good reminder and a lovely way to begin Christmas Eve!

C.M. in Hillsboro, OR, writes: Being Jewish, I'm very satisfied with the limerick from M.S. in Brooklyn.

Oy, vey indeed!


R.R. in Chewelah, WA, writes: In your answer to J.P. in Horsham, you said that you pronounce the site name as "eh-LEC-tor-al vote-dot-com." Hmmm, I pronounce it as ee-LEC-tor-al vote-dot-com. Perhaps I'm just less susceptible to that insidious Canadian influence, eh?

V & Z respond: Maybe we're trying to curry favour with our future Canadian overlords, and maybe we're not. We have no comment on that, eh.

R.L. in New York City, NY, writes: Being from New York, I always pronounced it E-lectoral vote dot com.

V & Z respond: The reeducation camps will eventually teach you to speak the Queen's English properly, just like our marvellous neighbours to the north. Oops, we've already said too much.

T.B. in Tallahassee, FL, writes: My wife asked what political blogs I read and I said, " and Political Wire." She followed up with, "Why would an electric vehicle site be overtly political?"—probably influenced by the new EV parked in our driveway.

Critiquing a Critic

G.W. in Oxnard, CA, writes: S.S. in Tampa offered some criticisms of that warrant response:

  1. Coup attempt: S.S. objects to calling the Jan. 6 attack as a "coup" attempt because many of the minions either weren't doing anything beyond protesting or else believed that installing Trump as the next president was an act of defense of democracy, not a "coup." There is persuasive evidence that Jan. 6 attack was a part of a broader plan to overturn the election result in Trump's favor. Just because many of the minions in the plot were unaware of the broader plan does not mean the plot wasn't a coup attempt.

  2. Filibuster: I'm pretty sure (V) & (Z) have never referred to the existence of the filibuster or its current use as an "assault on democracy." Also, S.S claims to be " of those rare political junkies that like to get a full range of political opinions, not just the ones from 'my side of the aisle,'" but if so, they should be OK with reading viewpoints represented by from hyperbolic liberals as well as hyperbolic conservatives. It's educational, that's part of why I read E-V.

  3. Critical Race Theory: Again, I'm pretty sure (V) & (Z) have never described people protesting CRT in schools as "racist." S.S. seems to have a reading comprehension issue on CRT. It has repeatedly been explained on that no K-12 school anywhere in the U.S. teaches CRT and what the protesters say about CRT ranges from gross mischaracterization to pure fiction. It has become a boogeyman for the assumption that it means the schools are teaching kids history and civics that is critical of race policy by white people. Certainly many of these protesters are insisting that the schools teach a whitewashed version of history and civics that does not indicate white people did anything wrong. That is certainly racist. It isn't fair to characterize all of the anti-CRT protesters as "racist" but there is definitely a subset of racists among anti-CRT protesters.

V & Z respond: You are correct on point #2; the phrase "assault on democracy" has appeared four times on the site before today; twice in quotes from Joe Biden, once in our writeup of the events of 1/6, and once in the letter from S.S. You are also correct on point #3.

E.R. in Irving, TX, writes: While I considered responding to S.S. in Tampa point by point, they saved me the time of doing so by offering me a single sentence that raises an obvious question, which in turn encapsulates all of my points. S.S. wrote:

We need to stop attacking Conservatives (for example) as hating poor people when they oppose more social programs, when they honestly believe that expanding such programs do more harm than good.

OK, fair enough... but please convince me that conservatives honestly believe that.

K.E. in Enumclaw, WA, writes: S.S. writes: "...the only one killed was an unarmed female protester."

I don't know how one could imply, as a premise, that Jan. 6 was not a coup because not enough people were killed. Note to future protestors: Be sure and get more people killed so it can be a "legitimate" coup.

If indeed the "protestors legitimately believed that they were preserving democracy," then the venue for their grievances is the court system in our liberal democracy. Not a violent mob that not only got one person killed, but got a substantial number of others injured, not to mention the Capitol police officer suicides.

Also, I've never heard refer to someone opposed to teaching CRT in grade/high schools as being racist, probably because, as noted in the past, CRT isn't taught in grade schools and isn't going to be. It's too advanced. (I happen to have had exposure to Derrick Bell as an undergraduate at Berkeley in an upper division Sociology class.)

S.L. in Glendora, CA, writes: I appreciated the letter from S.S. in Tampa, and I agree with them that your writing has become somewhat more biased. As I share the same bias, I usually appreciate that. And I love the snark. But I would hate to see thoughtful conservatives abandoning your blog over it. That being said: Please don't stop referring to the Jan. 6 coup attempt as a coup attempt. S.S. argues that the protesters believed that they were preserving democracy, and that may be true. But it wasn't the protesters who were attempting a coup; it was Donald Trump and his close advisers. The facts as we know them make that very clear.

To Snark or Not to Snark

E.R. in Irving, TX, writes: I hope you hear the worldwide applause this paragraph prompted:

We actually got an e-mail this week tearing into us for having opinions, and proposing that we "just report the facts," and also that we "cut the snark." Again, we don't doubt that our attempts to be analytical are sometimes shaped by our personal viewpoints on the issues. However, if someone wants "just the facts," that's simply not our niche. Go read Politico or Bloomberg News or Taegan Goddard's site if that is what you're looking for. As to the snark, that's part of our authorial voice, and is also meant to keep things from getting too dry. If you want snark-free analysis, then subscribe to The Economist or read ProPublica.

Do not change your style. It's OK to be snarky when the targets of said animus deserve it.

F.C. in DeLand, FL, writes: I read in today's posting that you were attacked for being snarky.

I disagree with you on many political issues. I think you've gotten more partisan over time.

However, if anything will get me to read your posts every day, it's your snarkiness. Please never drop your snarkiness. Even if I think you're way off base on an analysis, it's still worth reading just for the snark.

A.A. in Branchport, NY, writes: Years and years and years ago, I moved from my 1977 Honda Goldwing to a 2004 BMW R1150 RT. The Goldwing was a joy to ride, reliable, cheap and simple to maintain. The BMW, not so much.

I had a severe case of buyer's remorse and did some digging. Googling, I found a letter from a prospective buyer telling BMW management that they would really like to buy a beemer, but the Triumph was superior in a number of ways. The author had a number of specific suggestions. In the published reply, BMW stated dismissively that if the writer preferred a Triumph, they should buy a Triumph. I was amazed that BMW would treat a prospective buyer in such a high handed and arrogant manner. Had I seen the response prior to my purchase, I would have been saved much inconvenience and expense, as I would certainly not have purchased a BMW.

Fast forward to yesterday's posting, where in response to a suggestion/request that you "cut the snark" you wrote: "If you want snark-free analysis, then subscribe to The Economist or read ProPublica."

In other words, your way or the highway. Hmmm. Déjà vu all over again. I was surprised, amazed and disappointed—in that order.

I've followed your site since the George W. Bush presidency. Your mission has clearly changed over the years. I don't know if it is for the better, but...

I was in the middle of composing a letter defining things that I like about your site with those I don't like. I thought that you would appreciate the feedback. Given your response to a valid and constructive criticism from another reader, it appears that you are disinterested in hearing from anyone who disagrees with you on certain matters. I find this interesting as you are both teachers, and this indicates something other than the openness that you have demonstrated in the past. I had noted this tendency in the past, but it seems to be increasing.

Anyway, sensing a certain apathy, I will shelve the letter.

It's time for me to take a time out.

V & Z respond: We are always happy to have feedback, but we think you are misunderstanding or mischaracterizing our response. As we wrote, we fill a particular niche. We can't do what, say, The New York Times does because we lack the resources and the journalistic expertise they have. And they can't do what we do because they aren't as nimble and they are constrained by more formal journalistic standards. Telling us that the mailbag is too long, or that an item on nuclear bombs wasn't very well written, or that a particular sentence could read in an offensive manner? Those things are useful, because we can potentially course correct. But telling us to cut the snark (or, for that matter, to stop offering opinions) is like telling us to stop talking about Joe Biden (or telling the Times to stop covering New York City). It would change the nature of the site and, for every reader that was pleased, a dozen would be unhappy (see above). And if someone is really and truly bothered by the snark, then there are numerous sites whose niche is analysis written in a more formal manner. It's also entirely possible for a person to read more than one site. Quite a few readers, for example, pair our site with Political Wire (as T.B. in Tallahassee does; see above) because one is more information-driven and one is more opinion/analysis-driven.


B.C. in Forest Park, IL, writes: Lately, my wife and I have been playing a lot of Star Wars: The Old Republic on the gaming PCs I built for us, much to the consternation of our very social/needy/tummy-rub-loving cat, Rhysati, who got a shout-out here for her birthday a couple months ago (which she very much appreciated).

Being in a Star Wars mood, I recently realized just how much Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) reminds me of Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin. Tarkin was a brilliant military strategist and an even better politician. His rank was so high that he could bluntly issue orders to Darth Vader. He even intended to use the Death Star to depose Emperor Palpatine once he had dealt with the Rebel Alliance (though his plans ran into a small problem about two meters wide).

Tarkin was ambitious, brilliant, corrupt, cruel, and utterly ruthless. I can think of no better fictional analogue for McConnell.

V & Z respond: So, does that mean Sheev Palpatine is Donald Trump? And Darth Vader is Donald Trump Jr.?

J.P. in Lancaster, PA, writes: As much as I despise Mitch McConnell (and believe me, I do), I suggest that we stop referring to him as a turtle, despite the fact that his resemblance to that animal is startling. My reason for this suggestion is that referring to him in this way denigrates a noble and useful creature.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec25 Saturday Q&A
Dec24 More Good News on the COVID Front
Dec24 Politics Makes Strange Bedfellows, Part 413
Dec24 The Courts Are Busy
Dec24 Biden Administration Pushes Back on Uyghur Genocide
Dec24 Cruz for President, Part II (and III, and IV...)
Dec24 Arizona Adopts New District Maps
Dec24 This Week in Schadenfreude
Dec24 A December to Rhymember (Part 31)
Dec23 Schumer Promises a Vote on the Reconciliation Bill in January
Dec23 McConnell Is Actively Courting Manchin
Dec23 Thune Might Retire
Dec23 Hope Hicks Joins Team McCormick
Dec23 Jan. 6 Select Committee Wants to Hear from Jim Jordan
Dec23 FDA Approves COVID Pill
Dec23 Biden Extends Student Loan Pause
Dec23 Democrats Get Their New Jersey Congressional Map
Dec23 A December to Rhymember (Parts 29-30)
Dec22 Biden Speaks
Dec22 Scott Perry, by Contrast, Declines to Speak
Dec22 Biden Administration Finally Has Its Ambassadors
Dec22 Dominion 1, Fox 0
Dec22 Trumper vs. Non-Trumper Senate Races Already Getting Ugly
Dec22 Iowa May Get a Temporary Reprieve
Dec22 A December to Rhymember (Parts 27-28)
Dec21 The Day After
Dec21 Pandemic: Deja Vu All Over Again?
Dec21 1/6 Committee Turns Inward
Dec21 Trump Sues Letitia James
Dec21 Democrats Get Good News from California...
Dec21 ...But Bad News from Florida
Dec21 A December to Rhymember (Parts 25-26)
Dec20 Manchin Doesn't Want to Build Back Better
Dec20 Democrats Are Hoping They Lose Only 10-20 Seats in the House
Dec20 House Republicans Are Already Planning What They Will Do with the Majority in 2023...
Dec20 ...But Some Republicans Are Worried about Roe v. Wade
Dec20 Omicron Is Going to Take over This Winter
Dec20 Capitol Rioter Gets Sentence of Over 5 Years
Dec20 Another House Democrat Calls It Quits
Dec20 The FDIC Is in Turmoil
Dec20 In Nevada, It's Environmentalists vs. Environmentalists
Dec20 Johnny Isakson Passes Away
Dec19 Sunday Mailbag
Dec18 Saturday Q&A
Dec17 Build Back Better Will Wait Until Next Year
Dec17 FDA Makes More Relaxed Abortion-Pill Rules "Permanent"
Dec17 Rep. Jim Jordan Sent Insurrectionist Text Message
Dec17 Gonna Turn My Red State...Redder
Dec17 This Week in Schadenfreude
Dec17 Is BoJo about to BoGo? Readers Weigh In...