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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

A few more thoughts on last week's elections, another group of letters on Democratic messaging, and then off we go from there.

The 2021 Elections

R.H.D. in Webster, NY, writes: The Democrats can't handle success! They have the trifecta in D.C., but Virginia is now purple, and what the heck happened in New Jersey?

Since the most famous person who did autopsies (Quincy, M.E.) is himself now dead, let me offer my own version, albeit an amateur one:

  • People are angry. They're angry about rising prices, the continuation of COVID-19, not enough jobs being filled, and the overall economy stalling. They have historically taken it out on the party in power, especially the guy in the White House. But you can't pin this on Donald Trump anymore since he's been out of office for nine months.

  • People are also angry about the continuing divisions in our country. Yes, the former guy was mostly responsible for all of this. Racism is real and needs to be addressed. However, "woke culture" and CRT has been used effectively as bludgeons by the GOP and the Dems now have a massive headache.

  • In the wake of George Floyd's murder, police reform is needed. But going totally radical by demonizing and defunding the police are terrible strategies. We saw proof of this in places like Seattle, and in New York City, which just elected a former cop as mayor. What the people want is to keep the good officers who protect them and get rid of the bad apples. This will take time and good faith on all sides.

  • We should have seen the train wreck coming in Virginia. Terry McAuliffe (D) was a terrible candidate. He did the same exact thing Hillary Clinton did in 2016. Plus, his gaffes in the debate and during the campaign were of Dukakisian proportions. Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin (R) walked on a tighter rope than Nick Wallenda and lived to tell about it. He used his folksy charm to hoodwink the Virginia electorate into believing that he represents the post-Trump GOP. Now that he will become governor, will he be the kinder, gentler version of Trumpism, or will he just be the new A&D (Abbott and DeSantis)?

  • The Democrats must develop a new generation of leadership that will excite the base and persuade the moderates and independents, like me, that they are the responsible party. They need another JFK or Obama, now! President Biden, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have all done admirable jobs, but they are running out of gas, and they're frankly not charismatic. The good news is there are folks on the blue team right now who are ready to pick up the torch, if only given the chance.

You're right that, a year from now, things can look a lot different politically. But if the Democrats want to hold onto their majorities in next year's midterms, the work must begin now! Develop a comprehensive messaging strategy, pray that the economy and the pandemic gets better, and hope the Republicans will overreach again.

Otherwise, 2022 will be a red wave year. A House controlled by Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) will make the days of Newt Gingrich look like Sunday school. We already know what the Turtle would do in the Senate. Let's just say we better pray for continued good health with Justice Stephen Breyer.

The election results should be a loud alarm to the Democrats their house is on fire. There is time to save the structure and rebuild it stronger. But if they continue to ignore what's in front of them, and not change course, everything will burn down to the ground and nothing will be saved. Only they can put this out. If they want to.

D.G. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Once again, I see the political punditry class making the mistake of digging and analyzing a loss (or win) of a specific candidate, and attributing this loss or win to all sorts of reasons but the personality of the candidate him/herself.

In many circumstances, the message, ideology, or political bend is of less importance than how "sympatico" the candidate is, how trustworthy s/he seems to be, and how believable his/her pronouncements may be.

In the case of Virginia, beyond Terry McAuliffe's former association with the detested Hillary Clinton, and his gaffes about parents' importance vis-à-vis schools, all of which the punditry was quick to endlessly harp on, there is the fact that McAuliffe does not sound genuine, and has the aura of a fake politician around him, which must have turned off some of the voters who did not show up.

E.F. in Baltimore, MD, writes: Between Tuesday's election results in New Jersey and Virginia, and the six progressive House defections on the infrastructure bill, the prevailing media narrative is "Democrats in Disarray." Howzabout those 13 Republicans who crossed over to get infrastructure bill passed, and now face threats of primary challenges from their own side? Does that qualify as disarray?

I submit that the Democrats' real problem is poor messaging. If this identical bill had been passed during one of Donald Trump's innumerable Infrastructure Weeks, he'd have been shouting to the rooftops about how it was the most wonderful thing since [insert your favorite trumpian hyperbolic exaggeration here].

I'm not suggesting that Joe Biden should emulate Trump's crass snake oil salesmanship, but he needs to do a better job of blowing his own horn. Perhaps he's too busy actually creating accomplishments.

Democratic Messaging, Part IV

L.C. in San Diego, CA, writes: While the Democratic messaging problem has been pretty well flogged here, a line in your item "Poll: Americans Think Facebook Is Making Society Worse," is worth repeating because of its relevancy and scant mention in the discussion. (V) wrote: "Democrats want to make it impossible to post outright lies whereas Republicans want to prevent Facebook from banning people who post outright lies."

That's the problem in messaging: Republicans lie, Democrats don't. One can argue degrees, but it's not close. Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, et. al., are continuing, in a more shameless fashion, the decades-long legacies of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove. They lie to anger and scare their uneducated and/or credulous base: think communists, taxes, abortion, terrorists, socialism, illegals, Antifa, CRT, etc. There will always be another bogeyman. And angry, scared people are more motivated to vote [or resort to violence] than those who aren't.

Lying is a simple and effective strategy which Democrats will always have difficulty countering with truth. Knife, meet gun. Messaging problem? More like a 'truth handicap.'

D.S. in Davis, CA, writes: I'm a reader since 2004, but this is only my second time writing. A long-suffering friend from New Zealand recently remarked to me that the difference between Americans and the rest of the world is an unusual emphasis on freedom, while much of the rest of the world concerns itself primarily with fairness.

I think this is an apt description of the difference between the Republican and Democratic media narratives as well. Freedom is a much simpler and less nuanced concept to convey than fairness, especially when it comes to social policy. Unfortunately for Democrats, in this country, freedom trumps fairness every time.

But all is not lost. Democrats simply need to find those issues where increased freedom does produce more fairness and hammer them for all they are worth. They can't talk about what is taught in school, but they can talk about funding education and giving parents the freedom to choose the education they want for their kids. They can't talk about legalizing abortion (doing so engages in a debate about what is fair for a fetus), but they can talk about making sure patients and doctors are free to choose the care they need—especially when there is a clear and present example of Republican attempts at fairness backfiring.

I wish it was more complicated than that, and that logic and critical thinking would prevail, but I really think the key to Democrats winning any rural area comes down to how effectively they can raise the banner of freedom and avoid a flaccid, one-sided debate on fairness that is a turn-off to so many freedom-loving Americans.

To the extent that Donald Trump represents freedom over fairness, he will remain a real threat to our democracy as well, unfortunately. And no one exploits freedom better than Trump. It's so unfair.

C.R. in Fayetteville, PA, writes: I felt the item "Democrats Have No Solution to Their Problem in Rural America" deserved further discussion. As a young person in rural America, I feel as though the Democrats have totally given up on us. Instead of shaming everyone in rural areas as backwards cretins that can't tell their ass from their elbow, they should be getting back to the issues and policies that affect people in rural America. There are a countless number of polices where Donald Trump screwed up in glorious fashion. One that immediately comes to mind is his tactless trade war with China. The trade war was particularly devastating for the agricultural sector, dropping American exports to China by 63%. That's a drop from $15.8 billion to $5.9 billion. According to the Department of Agriculture, farm debt reached a record high of $416 billion in 2019. To summarize, the trade war blew up the agricultural sector, and it is squarely on the shoulders of Donald Trump and the Republicans. This is a perfect opportunity for the Democrats to take control of the message and show how their leadership would produce different results. Democrats need to give themselves a hard look in the mirror and recognize that they are out of step with what works and that many Democratic voters, especially those in rural America and suburbia, are only doing so begrudgingly.

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: T.J.R. in Metuchen misses the point that J.K. in Short Hills made. And validates my point. The fictional Mr. Smith is the typical voter, who doesn't follow politics regularly like we do, looks at all of (what he perceives as) the inconveniences that J.K. described and, based on very little information, pulls the lever for the party not in power. And how did T.J.R. respond? With a long diatribe full of bullet points. While I agree with everything that T.J.R. wrote, the fictional Mr. Smith will have glazed-over eyes midway through the first point about tolls. The way to get Mr. Smith on board is with a simple statement, repeated ad nauseam. He doesn't give a hoot about T.J.R.'s bullet points.

This pretty much sums up the problem that the Democrats have with their messaging.

K.C. in West Islip, NY, writes: At the suggestion of a couple of the commenters last Sunday, I took the time to watch the mockumentary C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America. After the hour and a half (or so) was up, and having some time to digest it, I scrolled through the comments and it occurred to me that I had seen what, precisely, is wrong with the Democrats in this day and age.

Many Democratic voters and politicians are completely devoid of a sense of humor and it's this lack of awareness that sometimes things are just a joke and not meant to be taken seriously or literally that I can only assume emboldens the Republicans in their quest to hold onto power and label the left as extreme and out of touch. I read comments about the commercials in the mockumentary being patently unfunny, but this long-time Democrat voter found them to be not only hilarious but the highlights of an otherwise generally boring video. Somewhere along the way it became a crime to find humor in touchy topics and I frankly don't blame the folks on the right (and James Carville) for going after wokeness as the possible death knell of the Democrat party. When progressives suck the fun out of something which was clearly meant to be humorous and not malevolent in any way, shape or form, it makes everyone on the left look like stick-in-the-mud bores who have no tolerance for anyone—left or right—who doesn't fall into line with their way of thinking. It's a huge tent that should appeal to a broad swath of voters, but under that tent is a section reserved for the perpetually offended who somehow manage to drown out the overall goals of the party and end up making the whole shebang just positively unappealing to the very voters whom it should be a cinch to secure.

As long as the general opinion of the Democrats is that "we're smarter than you and you're just mean-spirited," the rest of the country will just become shut off to whatever messages get put out there. They're bad enough at messaging as it is, and the amount of time spent on that very topic on your site speaks volumes to that. I will continue to vote Democratic because the platform is one with which I strongly agree, but the perception that people have of us has got to be turned around. The focus isn't on presenting ideas that can make us stronger as a society but rather on the absurd notion that we're just a bunch of self-righteous jerks who want everyone else to be miserable too.

To that aforementioned group of the perpetually offended, I offer this: if you want independents and even folks on the right to listen or give two hoots about what we're trying to do to bring this country out of the dark ages, laugh a little and don't be so standoffish and unapproachable. If we share a chuckle here and there about something which is intended solely to be funny, it might just be possible to open up an avenue of trust and communication that may lead to planting a seed in someone's head that there is a better way to approach policies which can make things better for all of us.

All Politics Is Local

W.K.D. in Houston, TX, writes: J.B. in Hutto asked: "What about the statement he (Beto O'Rourke) made in a Democratic primary debate on October 10, 2019, asserting that religious institutions refusing to support same-sex marriage should be stripped of their tax-exempt status?" J.B. suggested that this statement could be highly problematic for him Beto. In response, (V) & (Z) wrote: "The type of people who are truly offended by the religious institutions comment are never going to vote Democratic anyhow."

I could not disagree more.

First, let me state that my preference would be that no religious organization enjoy tax exempt status. Religious organizations are businesses just like any other and should pay taxes just like any other. That said, Beto's comment suggests he believes in an arbitrary, government-enforced litmus test for maintaining such tax exempt status. That litmus test is, apparently, lock-step agreement with Beto O'Rourke's political beliefs. Beto says, "Agree with my political positions or I will punish you." That's abhorrent and, if he really said it and really believes it, would make it really difficult for me to vote for him. I may not agree with your beliefs. In fact, I may hate your beliefs. But I will walk over hot coals to ensure that you continue to have the right to espouse those beliefs, however misguided they might be. That is the essence of the United States of America, and when we stop fighting to let the guy we don't agree with have his say, there is no more United States of America.

Sad to say, this is where we are going as a nation. Once upon a time, the old left, led by the ACLU, understood that free speech meant free speech for everyone, not just people you agree with. Today, the intolerance of the new left is leading us rapidly down a path of totalitarianism. Now, don't get me wrong—I recognize the American right would also prefer to silence its critics, but folks on the left seem to have a lot more time on their hands and vitriol in their souls—or at least are more savvy in the use of social media to broadcast their preferences.

R.T. in Arlington, TX, writes: I have to confess that I have done irrational things in hopes of removing Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) from public life. I'd love to consign him to the Dancing With The Stars purgatory of Rick Perry. In March 2016, before we knew the impossible was possible, I even crossed over and voted for Donald Trump in the Texas Republican primary, just to keep Cruz from getting more oxygen for his presidential campaign.

This brings me to Beto O'Rourke. He seemed to have a puncher's chance in 2018, so I donated to his Senate campaign against Cruz and put a BETO sticker on my car, which was the first time in my life I had done that for a candidate. That was then. Now that we have the 2020 presidential campaigns under our belts, I don't see Beto having a chance against the Republican machine of Texas or its avatar Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX). Beto might be the best the thin bench has to offer in Texas, but the presidential campaign revealed him to be too lightweight to win a major political office. I predict that the news media will hype Beto to try to keep an otherwise boring contest interesting, but it won't change things. Given the alternative, Beto can have my vote, but he won't get my enthusiasm or money this time.

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: I'm usually pretty good about predicting the stories you will comment on during the week. So, I was surprised that you guys ignored the article in The Washington Post about how Republicans in Texas are eager to move past book banning and are preparing lists of books for the bonfires. Book banning has been an ineffective, but American, experience. It used to be a badge of honor, plus marketing bonus, for a book to be labeled as "Banned in Boston!" No matter the super sanctimonious effort that the banning took, still the books survived and even thrived.

When I was a kid, I had the unfortunate experience of being in a religious school for one year (Norfolk Christian). Never has there been a bigger collection of sadistic hypocrites in the entire universe—and, surprise, they also loved being censors. Being a normal boy in third grade, I loved all things dinosaurs. When we got our science books, I flipped through the pages. I was surprised to see no dinosaurs. Disappointed but not undaunted, I turned to the index and saw that dinosaurs were listed on pages 78 through 80 (funny how I can still remember that so vividly). But when I tried to turn to those pages I discovered that on turning to page 76, I was on page 81. I could see that no pages had been ripped out but, on closer examination, by holding the pages up to the light, that they had been meticulously glued together. Where the light shined though, the ghostly outline of a brontosaurus appeared. To paraphrase a supposed quote from Galileo, "But they still existed" despite their censorship. So with book banning, my reaction is usually a disgusted chuckle.

But now they're talking about book burning and bonfires, which takes it up significantly more than a notch. To be making lists of books you want to destroy is just the rage of an incoherent beast. This is not just an unwillingness to consider things that might challenge your beliefs; this moves on to "others' points of view need to be completely destroyed, to eradicate them from the Earth." From there it's such a small short step to the unthinkable. What's next, relocation camps? Arm bands with the ugly spider on them? But clearly the unthinkable is being embraced with pleasure. We've been talking about America's slow, steady slide into fascism. When I read about this gleeful talk about book bonfires, I think the correct verb tense should be "slid." We are there.

To quote Ray Bradbury, "The books are to remind us what asses and fools we are."

V & Z respond: We looked at that story and, to us, it seemed to be a couple of loudmouths in a small town in Texas who were not worthy of the national exposure that the Post gave them.

M.D. from the Poconos, PA, writes: In "Do Pennsylvanians Like Snake Oil?," you noted that Dr. Mehmet Oz is looking to get into the Pennsylvania race for Senator. Were you aware that there is another, much less well known cardiothoracic surgeon who is now running for Pennsylvania Governor? Dr. Nche Zama. Maybe they can run as the team to mend the broken heart of Pennsylvania GOP? Though since most elected Republicans here appear to be heartless, that may be quite an undertaking.

Zama announced his run just this week, here in the Poconos, which is probably the only part of Pennsylvania where he is well known since he practiced here for about a decade before being told the hospital could no longer afford his enormous salary and he wouldn't take a pay cut to stay. And, as seems more and more common here with the Republicans, he's not originally from Pennsylvania. He was born in Cameroon in Central Africa, came to the U.S. as a teenager, and was trained at Harvard. Republicans love the rags-to-riches story. He no longer practices surgery, but he should have enough money left from being a heart surgeon to last a few decades.

Zama's very charismatic, but the question is: Will rural Pennsylvania Republicans vote for someone who is both well-educated and Black? But he is working hard at ticking as many of the right-wing boxes as he can when he speaks, without taking a real stand. He claims he's pro-life, but doesn't condemn women who have abortions. He thinks money spent on "illegal immigrants" should go to veterans (a two-for with that one) but says nothing about "stolen elections." He acknowledges that climate change is real, but he only sort of supports "clean energy" eventually.

Until a few years ago, he was a registered Democrat. In fact, some of my Democratic friends were surprised when I told them he was running as a Republican. I don't see him getting Donald Trump's support, though, as each of their egos would make it tough for the two to fit in the same room together. The same would probably apply to Zama and Oz. But I do predict that snake oil sales are going through the roof over the next year.

T.M.M. in Odessa, MO, writes: Respectfully, I think the Democrats have a decent chance at picking up Alaska.

When the Democrats have run a serious challenger, they have typically gotten over 30% of the vote over the past decade and most of the time have broken 40%. The Democrats' biggest problem will be avoiding shedding votes to Murkowski, but the top 4 format may actually help in this respect. If the Democrats can stay mostly united, the Democrat should get between 35-40% of the vote, which would assure the Democrat of being one of the last two.

The issues for the Democrats will be how to stay united and how to convert 38% in the first round into 50% in the third round. If I were the campaign strategist for the Democratic candidate, I would spend the primary building up my positives. I want to do just well enough to be in the mix with Murkowski and Tshibaka. Having proven that the Democratic candidate is competitive (which hopefully will encourage the Democratic base to rank the Democrat first in the general), my general election strategy would have two prongs. First, I would join the pile-on against Tshibaka. Second, around the time that voting starts, I would expressly put out the idea that Democratic voters should rank Murkowski second on their ballots. I would play this rank second two ways—first, as giving Democrats permission to not rank Murkowski first (ranking her second will still allow you to show support for Murkowski while still showing your preference for her to support more of the Biden agenda) and second as a way of unifying to protect Alaska from Tshibaka.

Both prongs of this strategy are based upon the fact that the race for the other spot in the final two is neck and neck between Murkowski and Tshibaka. If the Democrat is at 40% and Tshibaka and Murkowsi are at 30%, both Murkowsi and Tshibaka will need to unify the Republican votes to win. By creating the impression that Democrats and Murkowski are working together and driving up Tshibaka's negatives, the Democrats could create a win-win scenario. If Murkowski holds on to second, this strategy increases the likelihood that most Tshibaka voters will simply not rank anybody number 2. This likelihood will increase if Trump intervenes to tell his supporters to not rank Murkowski. Since Murkowski would need about one-third of the Tshibaka supporters to catch the Democrat (assuming that no Tshibaka voters would swing to the Democrats), getting these voters to not complete the ballot could be enough to hold off Murkowski. If Tshibaka gets second, this strategy could lead to just enough Republicans and independents deciding that the Democrat is a better second choice than Tshibaka. The Democrats would only need about one-third of the Murkowski supporters to rank the Democrat ahead of Tshibaka for the Democrats to win.

I would not say that Alaska is a likely pick up, but I think that the odds are certainly better than, say, one in four. And with the Senate being close, it's worth taking a shot.

J.A. in New York City, NY, writes: Your item was correct in stating that former senator Kelly Ayotte announced that she would not run for Senate in 2022 before Gov. Chris Sununu's (R-NH) announcement that he's going to stay where he is. However, following Sununu's announcement, according to the very respected John DiStaso, she reiterated that she would not run in 2022.

From what I understand, bearing in mind that I'm in New York not New Hampshire, she's been vocally anti-Trump and does not believe that she could win the Republican primary.

R.G.N. in Seattle, WA, writes: In regards to your answer to the question from E.F in Brussels about the profitability of slave labor in the American South, I cannot escape the thought that, aside from the differences between the labor pool (mining coal is often a family tradition where miners are paid well and not enslaved), there are many similarities between an economic system based on growing tobacco and cotton and the West Virginia economy that is based on the coal mining industry.

Coal mining ruins the soil (strip mining), pollutes the watershed, ultimately pollutes the air (contributing to global warming), and cannot compete with more economic forms of energy; but West Virginians have so much invested in the coal industry, both in terms of capital and also in terms of their social system and their culture, that they are essentially chained to an uneconomic and destructive industry.

This Week in TrumpWorld

J.F. in Fort Worth, TX, writes: A number of years ago, I attended a genealogical lecture at a local library. During the presentation, the lecturer asked if anyone in the audience was a descendant of a Revolutionary War soldier. Being an older, WASPy crowd, quite a number of us proudly raised our hands. Then he asked if anyone was a descendant of a Tory or Loyalist. A few people slowly raised their hands, sheepishly and apologetically.

At this point, the lecturer said, "There is no shame in being descended from a Loyalist. If one of your neighbors were to tell you that the next day, he and a bunch of the townsfolk were going to storm City Hall or the state capitol, would you join them? If you're thinking 'no,' then you have an idea of what the Loyalists felt."

I've thought about this a lot since the January 6 insurrection. The reason the lecturer's words were so shocking was because (at the time) the very thought that this crowd of comfortable, older, white Americans would storm a government building was absolutely unimaginable. We have traveled very far down a terrible road in the past few years.

(And no, I do not see any valid comparison between the Capitol rioters and Revolutionary War soldiers, despite the rhetoric of the MAGA crowd.)

J.J. in North Plains, OR, writes: Your recent mentions of losing candidates (primarily Republicans) refusing to concede brings to mind what is, perhaps, the most famous (infamous?) example from Oregon. In the 1994 gubernatorial race, Democrat John Kitzhaber defeated Republican former U.S. Representative Denny Smith, who refused to concede. Come inauguration day, a door slammed loudly during the ceremony and Gov. Kitzhaber immediately quipped "must be Denny coming to concede!" Makes me smile every time I think of it.

R.G.N. in Seattle, WA, writes: Jack Ciattarelli's refusal to concede the New Jersey governor's race after losing by 65,000 votes seems a bit amateurish. Loren Culp (R) lost the 2020 Washington State governor's race by 545,177 votes and still refuses to concede his loss. Now that is a major-league sore loser.

V & Z respond: Culp is now running for the U.S. House, so that's at least a tacit acknowledgment that he lost the governor's race.

G.W. in Avon, CT, writes: You wrote, as part of a list of possible future platform planks for the Republican Party: "Maybe throw in a caravan of migrants heading toward the southern border. We haven't heard that song in a while, but anything that might scare people."

Less than 24 hours later:

A fundraising email from the RNC, warning that

S.T. in Philadelphia, PA, writes: While I do believe it was in extremely poor taste for you to reprint Kathy Griffin's gory image, there is one other difference between her "art" and that of Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ).

Griffin, who promptly apologized for her work, was likely responding to Donald Trump's then-recent comments about Megyn Kelly's "blood coming out of her eyes" and, more generally, his boast about "grab[bing] [women] by the pu**y," with a reference to the oft-depicted Deuterocanonical story of Judith beheading the general Holofernes. It's a fairly common artistic reference to the power of womanly wiles to overcome violent oppression, and fits within an established (and protected) artistic tradition that is centuries old.

Meanwhile, Gosar was conflating his colleague with the "threat of invasion" he perceives from all brown people, despite Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) having been born in the U.S. He was responding not to anything she has said or done, but to what she represented for him. The anime clip he used was much less broadly known and much less well established within classical art history. In short, Gosar's mashup is much more likely to be perceived as a direct threat than Griffin's, which is more easily recognizable as artistic parody and commentary.

R.B. in Cleveland, OH, writes: The fact that Paul Gosar will probably go unpunished while there's talk of stripping committee assignments from GOP representatives that voted for the infrastructure bill truly demonstrates the priorities of the current GOP.

D.K. in Oceanside, CA, writes: Long ago, when a woman had to be twice as qualified to make half the salary, all female comedians tread lightly around the male ego. She could refer to her husband as "Fang," as long as she also made a joke about how her "living bra" starved to death. Male comedy was based in denigrating women ("Take my wife...Please") while female comedians denigrated their own appearance for laughs. Obviously, the times have not changed so much when the consequences of comedic violence against a man are exponentially greater than with a graphic video, with no comedic value, that depicts violence against a woman.

T.B. in Tallahassee, FL, writes: Classy response from AOC!: AOC Slams Paul Gosar for Fantasy Clip of Him Killing Her

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) hit back at Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) after he posted an altered anime clip that showed him killing her, the Washington Post reports.

Said Ocasio-Cortez: "While I was en route to Glasgow, a creepy member I work with who fundraises for Neo-Nazi groups shared a fantasy video of him killing me."

She added: "This dude is a just a collection of wet toothpicks anyway. White supremacy is for extremely fragile people & sad men like him, whose self concept relies on the myth that he was born superior because deep down he knows he couldn't open a pickle jar or read a whole book by himself."
Cancel Culture

D.W. in El Segundo, CA, writes: You wrote: "In short, to the extent that 'cancel culture' means anything, it means 'I don't like people who disagree with me expressing or acting on that fact.' Cancel culture can only be perpetrated by 'the other side,' and when 'the other side' does disagree, it doesn't matter one whit if there's any actual canceling going on."

In shorter: "I always get to be the victim, because I feel I have been victimized..."

The assumption of the feeling of being a victim is consistent with a core value of privilege.

D.M.C. in Millwood, SC, writes: Cancel culture is the free market working in a way that the right wing doesn't like.

That is all.

M.M. in Plano, TX, writes: Cancel culture is one of many examples of a dance I call the "Extremist 3-Step":

Step 1: Someone on the outer reaches of the radical left, beyond the broad span of the spectrum occupied by the Democratic Party, utters a phrase or slogan repugnant to the vast majority of the American people, e.g "Defund the Police", "Political Correctness", "Wokism" etc.

Step 2: The Republican Party grabs this utterance, obsesses about it, frightens its base into thinking that the phrase or slogan means the end of the world, and succeeds in pinning it on every elected Democrat, even though most Democratic office holders probably never heard of it until the Republicans started shouting it.

Step 3: The Democratic Party does nothing.

H.G. in Charlottesville, VA, writes: I am a Democrat, and I would have been among the 70% of them who said in the Hill poll that "cancel culture" does go too far, and is annoying. It does exist, and in my opinion, it comes largely from social media bullies.

Alexi McCammond, a young woman was who hired to be the editor of Teen Vogue, resigned in response to "outrage" over insensitive anti-Asian tweets that she sent when she was around 18 or 19...8 years ago. Kevin Hart had to withdraw as Oscar host because of homophobic jokes he had made years earlier. He even apologized, but apparently not enough for the woke crowd. Dave Chappelle's Netflix special recently got him disinvited from a fundraiser at his D.C. High School.

In the aggregate, all of these people will be fine. Chappelle and Hart are millionaires, and fortunately, Ms. McCammond landed on her feet, though I do feel for her that she lost out on opportunity that I assume she wanted. And yes, Aaron Rodgers will be more than fine. However, to say that there are not occurrences of people losing gigs, jobs, etc. over un-pc/un-woke statements is false. Nobody is perfect. Every single person alive, I would imagine, has said something offensive that we wish we could take back (especially, I would imagine, at age 18 or 19, as Ms. McCammond was). And comedians, as Hart and Chappelle are, have always existed to push the envelope, and someone, somewhere is going to be offended by a comedy routine. I think there is sufficient evidence that "cancel culture" does, in fact, exist.

Department of Complaints about Complaints (a.k.a., the P.M. in Currituck Fan Club)

S.K. in Bethesda, MD, writes: I've never written to respond to P.M. in Currituck before, but his two comments last Sunday finally made me take the bait.

The thing is, I mostly agree with the first comment about "woke" language: I do think that the Democrats keep digging political holes by aggressively accommodating the linguistic demands of every identity group and insisting that everyone else does too. And after reading that letter, I thought I'd write something in support. But then I read the comment about the Braves.

P.M. strikes me as a smart and thoughtful person whom I disagree with about many (but not all) things. But the Braves comment made no sense at all. The reason the All-Star game was covered in this blog is that it was a political decision by Major League Baseball (MLB) to move it in response to a political decision to pass restrictive (and, in my view, racially charged) voting laws. That was about politics—the law, the threat by Black players and veterans to boycott, the decision by MLB to move, and the reaction of various factions to the decision.

By contrast, the Braves' World Series victory was big sports news. But it wasn't political news in any way. I suppose you could argue that Donald Trump's attendance at one of the games, participation in the racially insensitive "chop," and lying about having been invited to attend was political news, but that's a very big stretch. Or I guess could have pointed out the irony that Trump and the others who so vocally defended the poor citizens of Atlanta against losing an All-Star game have no problem at all with them losing the right to vote or control over elections in their own county. Because what's more important, after all? An exhibition game or voting rights?

Congrats to the Braves. As a Nationals fan it was hard to root for them, but it was easy to root against the trash-can bangers!

C.K. (and friends) in Albuquerque, NM, writes: We have been taking a break from reading the weekend mailbag items for a while, but finally returned shortly after the recent elections, if only to gauge what readers took away from those. Naturally, the first thing we saw was P.M. from Currituck bemoaning those wacky out-of-touch leftists and how their zany PC-gone-mad vocabulary fails to resonate with ordinary people (like P.M., presumably.) Sigh. Nothing has changed since we left, we see.

Look. We are not the first to point out the hypocrisy of this rhetoric (P.M. being very quick to call us out for not doing enough to try to understand or relate to them, yet suspiciously slow to expend any effort whatsoever to try to understand or relate to us) and I doubt we will be the last. Nor is P.M. the first person on the right from whom we've had to deal with this sort of treatment. As the very much leftist transgender daughter of a conservative father, I've long since learned that keeping the peace at home and enjoying Thanksgiving means keeping objections to myself and not discussing controversial topics. This has never stopped him from conveniently leaving Fox News on the television at home, or right-wing talk radio in the car. We ignore it, because the alternative is to cause a scene, to pick a fight. We close our eyes and go to our happy place while we let his media of choice, espousing his viewpoints of choice, dominate every space we share. This is not a new phenomenon. We suspect the vast majority of liberal children of conservative parents with whom they're trying to maintain a relationship do this. I suppose this is why congressional Republicans' idea of a compromise is when Democrats let them say and do absolutely whatever they want. And yes, living like this absolutely is as exhausting as it sounds.

This is not the first P.M. letter we have let slide, in other words. However, something about the tone in this one particularly struck a nerve. Liberals are bad because blah blah whatever pundits are mad about today? Sure, fine, whatever. It's grating but it's nothing we're not used to from my father. Liberals are bad because they aggressively push and won't shut up about their weird vocabulary? *How dare you!* I've swallowed so much blood from my own bitten tongue at this point that my stomach would probably be of interest to Dracula, and you think the problem is that we're not doing more to shrink into the corner and take up as little space as possible? You, who have never once considered anyone's comfort but your own your whole time on this site, want people who've worked so hard to maintain peace through silence to advocate for themselves even less?

It would be less galling if the examples cited weren't so laughable. I'm sorry, but no one has ever told anyone that the term "mother" is transphobic. As far as leftist threats to the poor working man's sensibilities go, this one is even more fictitious than CRT. It hasn't even happened on the hotbeds of leftist social media where we spend most of our time, let alone on Main Street in Currituck. And "chestfeeding?" While that word at least technically exists (good job there, I suppose,) I am very much transgender myself and I can assure you that there is no agenda, secret or overt, to force it into anyone's spaces in order to replace anything. Here is a Snopes article debunking an uproar over the use of it in U.K. hospitals, pointing out that it was an addition to existing terms for those who wish to use it, and that people who still identify with existing terms will not have anything changed. Why would they? The entire point of inclusive language is to meet people where they are and refer to them how they prefer, in the manner that makes them comfortable—you know, that thing P.M. claims we don't do enough around here.

K.K. in Minneapolis, MN, writes: Once again, P.M. in Currituck has voiced their objection to "woke" language, saying: "Continuing to say 'Latinx,' telling people the term 'mother' is transphobic and they should instead say 'birthing person,' and laughing at the working class for being so backwards and using terms like 'breast-feeding' instead of 'chest-feeding' will certainly not help with winning the votes of ordinary people."

As I was reading their complaint it occurred to me that, other than Latinx, I haven't heard any of this language coming from the Democratic Party, elected officials, or mainstream media or even among my very left-leaning children. I read The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Minneapolis Star Tribune, and several progressive newsletters. Can you give me examples of where this language is routinely used? Also, I have not witnessed any of my progressive or LGBTQ+ friends laughing at anybody for using the words "mother" or "breast-feeding." I suspect that this language is being used and advocated for by a minority of folks in the LGBTQ+ community and their allies, but not much by mainstream Democrats, even those who lean pretty left. I strongly suspect that this language is being hunted for, amplified, and weaponized by conservatives as a way to show how out of touch and bizarre the Democrats are.

My point is not to disparage the language, or deny people their right to self-define who they are, I am simply wondering where P.M. is seeing this language routinely used and advocated for among mainstream Democrats or the party. Who in the Democratic Party is laughing in public at folks who don't use this language? Perhaps I've missed something and you could point it out to me?

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: P.M. of Currituck doesn't hate Democratic messaging. No, P.M. hates a parody of Democratic messaging. Actual Democrats don't laugh at "breast-feeding" as a hopelessly backwards term. There was one obscure group who suggested "chest-feeding" as a more inclusive term, and P.M. explodes that into a monolithic theme across all of Liberaldom, mis-characterizes it, then gets upset about it. I understand that you like to sometimes let disagreeable voices be heard, but I don't understand why you let such blatant dishonesty go unchallenged. I see you finally take PM to task when it's your own rhetoric that gets misrepresented. That's something, I guess.

If P.M. wants to complain about Democratic messaging, let it be about messages that come from actual Democrats rather than a Tucker Carlson fever dream. P.M. should put up or shut up.

V & Z respond: Since Sunday is for the readers, we generally only comment to: (1) add a little levity, or (2) provide information that only we could know. So, we responded to P.M.'s remarks about our stylistic rules for rendering presidential names (since only we know our style guide), but did not address the other points that are now being discussed in this section.

P.R. in Arvada, CO, writes: The complaints from P.M. in Currituck struck me as very odd. This isn't a sports column, so why would you write about the World Series? You wrote articles about moving the All-Star games out of Georgia because it was related to political actions. Why would you talk about how much money the World Series brought into Texas and Georgia? If P.M. is looking for sports commentary, then there are better sources than a couple of guys who think Green Bay is a good football team.

There is another bit that just blows my mind. "unflattering appellations (such as your own cheeky 'El Donaldo'), rather than a proper term befitting the office." Can P.M. name anything that Donald Trump did that was respectful of the office he held? There is a significant difference between showing contempt for a person and contempt for the office they hold. Respect is earned and while Trump may have done some things that earned respect, it was very quickly followed up by something that was shocking only for the fact he managed to somehow get further into the gutter.

V & Z respond: Note that we are not "a couple of guys who think Green Bay is a good football team." One of us, namely (V), doesn't follow football. And the other, namely (Z), KNOWS Green Bay is a good football team.

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: It doesn't really feel like Sunday without an analytically unsound, borderline absurdist remark from P.M. in Currituck. Last week's mailbag did not disappoint: blasting's left-wing bias in covering MLB's decision this summer to move the All-Star Game from Atlanta in response to the voter suppression laws passed by the Georgia legislature, while refusing to mention the economic benefits to Georgia of the Braves winning the World Series.

It's obvious, isn't it, that teams from Georgia and Texas won their respective leagues' pennants as a result of the voter suppression and anti-choice vigilante laws enacted in those states! Teams from liberal California, Massachusetts and New York did not make the World Series, did they? That has to be the connection tying the location of World Series revenue to legislative action, right? Because if which teams played in, and which team won the World Series had nothing to do with politics or legislation in their home states, then of course a website focused on politics would ignore it, and anyone who argued the website should have done otherwise would sound like a fool.

V & Z respond: You seem to have forgotten the important role that prohibitions on mask mandates play in baseball success.

J.D. in Greensboro, NC, writes: I think K.J. in Chicago should direct their attention away from the miniscule damage this blog afflicts on Christianity and instead focus on the myriad evangelical and Christian groups who are actively perverting the gospel for their own wealth and power. These groups drive away scores of young and idealistic people from the faith every day. Perhaps these disaffected folks can repair the damage these "heretics" have inflicted in a few years, but in the meantime the rest of us can only mourn how much the gospel is twisted on a daily basis by the unprincipled use of its power by the likes of politicians like Ted Cruz and faith leaders like Franklin Graham.

M.G. in Boulder, CO, writes: Apparently some of your readers—including me— were critical of your inclusion of the icky Trump crucifixion image, but it did make a point, and the same one the JFK Jr. story did: Some people are way too far gone for reason to reach them. We need to know that people actually believe things that are beyond our imagining and to recognize that their votes will reflect their belief. It's probably a problem beyond fixing, at least in this generation, but we can't try to solve problems if we don't know they exist, and that horrible image made the problem clear and unforgettable. I can't help but be glad it's gone, but I think you were more right than wrong to have included it.

It's the Stupid Economy

J.K. in Short Hills, NJ, writes: Since it's my job to figure out whether Joe Biden has an inflation problem, I figured I'd offer my thoughts on this subject. I have steadfastly stayed in the "persistent" camp, and still contend that a supply gap in labor will continue to fuel uncomfortable consumer price increases longer than those who believe inflation is transitory. Soaring costs on Main Street depressed this week's University of Michigan survey on consumer confidence to its lowest point in a decade. Pantheon Economics' Ian Shepherdson, who for my money is the best market economist in the world, believes that the Core CPI (i.e., food and energy stripped out) will spike to nearly 7% by the spring before subsiding to levels still well above the average from the past 30 years. Such sticker shock will be tough for the Democrats to overcome in the midterms, in my opinion.

As for energy, I do believe the President has some responsibility for the surge in crude prices, but not for the tiresome reasons the GOP usually offer. Frackers and horizontal drillers, along with their investors, were slaughtered in the early days of the pandemic. Hence, rig counts are well below numbers from early 2020. OPEC+ has therefore achieved its long-term aim of acting as the world's swing producer. The cartel tends to follow Saudi Arabia's lead. The White House's less friendly relationship with the Kingdom compared to that of the previous administration plausibly keeps Riyadh from acquiescing to the supposed pleas from Biden to pump more. Oil supplies subsequently stay tight, and prices rise. One may reasonably argue that America should have a cooler relationship with Saudi Arabia given their actions (e.g., killing Jamal Khashoggi). However, taking this stand will likely keep energy costs elevated for the foreseeable future.

T.S. in Mansfield, OH, writes: Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich suggests another source of recent inflationary trends (namely, unchecked corporate power) here: "We need to talk about the real reason behind US inflation."

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I, too, have been reading all the breathless headlines about inflation and the end of Joe Biden's presidency. Gee, where have I heard this before? Oh right, Biden's presidency was over a couple of weeks ago, before they passed the infrastructure bill. I'm not sure why the media is so obsessed with predicting the demise of Biden's presidency.

But back to reality, it's fascinating to me that the articles about the backlog at the ports and the supply chain issues aren't finding their way into the articles about inflation. Prices have risen because of simple laws of supply and demand, and those issues are already being fixed. The ports are beginning to clear thanks to Biden's efforts to incentivize 24/7 work as well as penalties for not moving empty cargo ships out fast enough.

Also, we can't forget that the labor market is also heating up and wages are rising. Unlike high prices, these changes will continue into the foreseeable future. This article from New York Magazine has a really interesting take on the relationship between labor and inflation and the government's role. It's worth a look and shows that this one snapshot doesn't reflect the true picture of a growing economy that could benefit everyone, even those historically left behind, which should be a welcome change.

S.T. in Glen Rock, NJ, writes: While I think your assessment of Inflation in Friday's post is largely correct, I think the headlines around "Inflation" are perhaps a more short-handed way to say what we might otherwise say is the "right direction/wrong direction" debate, or what is becoming more broadly defined as "supply chain." Said differently, the issue may be around overall supply chain of which one portion, but not the only one, is the CPI number.

Right now, the average family is dealing with several challenges, all of which fall into supply chain:

  • Goods shortages. The time to get goods delivered is longer. So if your stove or refrigerator breaks, it can now take around 3 weeks for a delivery instead of 3 days. Same for iWatches, cars, etc., etc. It is frustrating to live without a new refrigerator for weeks. Now, one can argue this is a "first world" problem, but it exists.

  • Service shortages. Probably due to deferred procedures in the pandemic and labor shortages (next point), everyday tasks take longer. For example, getting an appointment with a primary care doctor or specialist can take a lot longer than it used to. You are sick, need to see a gastro doctor, and have to wait a month if it is not urgent. Again, it grates.

  • Job shortages. While much of the labor market story is good (e.g., low unemployment, high numbers of job postings, higher pay raises and wages), what is missing is "burnout." Regardless of the sector—retail, healthcare, education, manufacturing—burnout is real. Again, knowing you got a raise and have good job security is a good thing. But not if it is at the expense of more hours, more pressure to do more work with fewer resources, etc. Telling a middle manager "Hey, you got a raise" when that manager is working weekends to cover shifts as the workplace is staffed at only 75% of pre-pandemic levels is not going to result in someone who is happy.

  • Childcare and Education. Again, hopefully this is a positive-trending story, but there is still quite a bit of stress with kids and schools. For example, one positive COVID test in some schools leads to quarantines, which adds pressure. You are stressed at work, as above, and now you now have kids to deal with and the cost of day care, if you can find it, is astronomical.

So yes, someone is not happy to paying more for milk or gas. But when asked about inflation and the economy, it is shorthand for all of the above issues.

A.W. in Beloit, WI, writes: I don't know where you two grocery shop, but I can assure you that inflation at the supermarket is very real and has been for some months now. That is a piece of inflation that is also hitting all households, every week.

J.E. in Gilbertsville, PA, writes: Lately, you have commented a number of times in a number of ways something along the lines of "We are somewhat skeptical that, except with a few indicators like gas prices, voters are acutely aware of inflation." I am finally moved to comment on your perspective.

Obviously, I don't know how many people live in your households, but I'm going with "not many," because in my experience your comment is true for smaller households, like those where there are no children at home. But trust me when I say larger households most definitely have noticed the inflation, to the point we grouse about it daily.

My son, who is 19 and had to drop out of college because he didn't benefit from all the online learning and decided it was a waste of time, recently got a job at Costco. He makes $16/hour. But he didn't have a car to get to that job, so we had to look for a used car for him. We had to spend $17,000 because there are no cheaper used cars for sale (unless you enjoy breaking down all the time). His "new" car is not fuel efficient, and he has greatly noticed the increase in gas prices.

Our 21-year-old daughter, who, before the pandemic, was attending an excellent university in Australia (the University of Sydney) can no longer get back into Australia to attend school. (Blame us: We brought her home super fast when they started shutting U.S. borders in March of 2020.) She tried to attend classes online for 3 semesters, but she just couldn't handle the time difference anymore (her classes were in the middle of the night). She now has a $13/hour job that she loves, but it is a 40-minute drive to get there. She has absolutely noticed the increase in gas prices.

Then there's my husband and me. We can work from home, thank God, so no gas-price issues for us. But our grocery bill has gone up $100 per week. I honestly have no idea how, as I buy much less now. We do prefer healthy foods like fresh vegetables and meats. Maybe that's why? We also have a number of things that need fixing around our 20-year-old house, but we cannot find any tradespeople who are willing to come do the work. The few who are willing to come are charging outrageous prices for their time. And we haven't even discussed my hair salon: As someone who is nearing 50 years old I have a lot of gray, and a simple hair dyeing that used to cost $140 (which is already too much, if you ask me) now costs $200. And that's if you can even get an appointment, as they are understaffed. Our favorite pizza place also closed recently, as the pandemic and understaffing proved to be too much. And don't get me started on vacations—we can't even afford to rent a beach house at the Jersey Shore anymore; the prices have doubled.

This is just what we have experienced, but I hear the same from everyone I know who lives in our area. Everywhere we turn we are slapped by the inflation, and the understaffing, and the supply chain issues, and we are fed up. And I'm a lifelong Democrat. Imagine how others feel.

M.L. in San Francisco, CA, writes: Regarding your post on inflation: Most Americans are on a fixed income. They know how much is coming in each month and how much is going out whether they are hourly, salaried, or retired. They budget as such.

When inflation gets out of hand, they notice very quickly, but there is little they can do. Stop buying groceries and clothes for the kids?

Two modern presidents with high inflation rates were one-termers: George Bush the elder and Jimmy Carter. If inflation does not get under control, I predict the same fate for Joe Biden, along with the loss of the House and likely the Senate, and that will be the end of the myth of "representative government."

D.A. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: You posed the question: "If they [consumers] don't tend to notice slightly larger tax refunds, why would they notice slightly higher prices for chicken thighs, celery, and wheat bread? Especially since both producers and stores take pains to keep prices level as much as is possible."

In pre-pandemic times, when we'd go shopping, my wife would notice every fluctuation in price of every item. Now that she does all the shopping (online ordering) I get a full CPI report every two or three days. It's not a gender thing, it's a class thing: She grew up working class while I've always been very comfortably middle class. Tax refunds? That's a once-a-year abstraction that goes into a checking account in April and soon gets whittled away. Cottage cheese going from $3.19 to $3.49? That's a kick in the shins twice a week.

Oh, we are both still AOC-ers and we "get" all the Krugman analysis, etc. But the psychological impact of higher prices on basic food items cannot be overstated, and the same goes for the material impact for the very many people on the financial edge. Political shoals ahead for the Democrats.

In the same article, you point out correctly that there is very little the POTUS or the Democrats as a whole can do about inflation and the Fed can't just put the brakes on the economic recovery, which will hurt people even more. But there is a way out for the Democrats. Restore the many people-oriented cuts made to the Build Back Better bill and pass that sucker tout-suite. It contains a great many elements that would offset the economic burdens of the current bout of inflation.

T.S. in Bainbridge Island, WA, writes: Your piece on the different arguments about the significance of the recent inflation brought to mind one of my favorite Harry Truman quotes. After a meeting with Dr. Edwin Nourse, the first Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors, President Truman was heard to say: "Whenever I ask their opinion, they say on the one hand, so-and-so; but on the other hand, so-and-so, On the one hand... but on the other hand. I would like to meet an economist with one hand!"

M.O. in Arlington, VA, writes: I found your item on the Great Resignation to be of particular interest. I recommend The Great Wave: Price Revolutions and the Rhythm of History by David Hackett Fischer. This is the best all-around discussion of economic history that I have come across.

Tales from the Crypto

H.G. in Orlando, FL, writes: Uh oh. (Z) has officially weighed in on dunning-krueggerands and it wasn't 100% blindly glowing and bullish. I predict a massive wave of Sunday comments techbro-splaining crypto to us all.

J.G. in Canton, MA, writes: I'm writing in response to "Eric Adams: Let's Get Digital." You make a number of good points around energy consumption and economic bubbles, but I think you've overlooked some things that are important—at least to me.

First, the U.S. dollar has exactly as much intrinsic value as Bitcoin: none. Fiat currency works because we all agree to treat it as valuable. Even tulip bulbs would work as a currency if enough people wanted to go there. Pointing out that Bitcoin has no real backing is distracting and largely irrelevant—even to its disadvantages, which I agree are important.

Second, there's no mention of the pseudo-anonymous nature of transactions. Neither U.S. dollars nor credit cards can both work online and offer a high degree of privacy. That facilitates ransomware and other bad behavior, so this is both a blessing and a curse in practice. Still it seems odd to ignore an important reason cryptocurrencies were invented in the first place.

Finally, you ignore decentralization. One might argue that a million times the energy is a small price to pay for decentralizing the financial system. Maybe you'd disagree and it would be easy to show that Bitcoin and other contenders have largely failed to achieve that decentralization so far, but that has always been the exciting thing about cryptocurrency. (It also makes the current tulip-style mania around blockchains especially disappointing.)

I appreciate that time is limited and that you didn't set out to create a complete documentary on this topic. Still there is real idealism behind this stuff that doesn't get a lot of attention. It feels unfair to ignore that even if it hasn't cracked the hard shell of reality. Yet!

V & Z respond: There is at least one important difference between dollars and bitcoins: The U.S. government insists that taxes be paid in dollars. This creates an inherent demand for dollars. There is no inherent reason anyone must have bitcoins or any other cryptocurrency.

S.C-M. in Scottsdale, AZ, writes: I heard Mayor-elect Eric Adams' (D-New York City) interview on NPR where he made the bitcoin comment. My reaction, as a retired IT professional, was "WTF?" Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are simply a scam. The distributed ledger which underlies cryptocurrencies is an interesting piece of tech and may have some useful purposes, but cryptocurrency is not among them. Besides being energy-intensive, it is also grossly inefficient as a means to support financial transactions.

As a currency, bitcoin is fatally flawed since the design is also deflationary—there can only be a finite number of bitcoins. And don't get me started on the Non-Fungible Token (NFT) nonsense. I guess this all goes to show there are a lot of gullible, cynical or uninformed folks out there, including the new mayor of NYC. How embarrassing.

E.R. in Irving, TX, writes: It should be noted that the week that Eric Adams announced he would take his initial pay in Bitcoin is the same week that an NFT conference was in town, and in the year where NFTs are becoming a "thing." Mayors make all kinds of interesting "I'm with the people" decisions when industry conferences come to town; they want those conferences back every year.

Legal Matters

M.B. in Menlo Park, CA, writes: There have been complaints about the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals granting Donald Trump a temporary stay of the District Court's refusal to enjoin the release of his January 6 papers. However, the Appeals Court didn't do Trump any big favors. Trump had originally asked for a temporary stay and an expedited briefing schedule only on his motion to stay the district court's order pending the entire appeal. Had the Court done that, after the motion to stay was ruled on, the actual appeal could have dragged out for months (briefing, oral argument, etc.). But what the Court actually did was to construe Trump's motion for an expedited briefing schedule "as a motion to expedite consideration of the appeal of the district court's order denying the motion for a preliminary injunction," so the entire actual appeal was expedited on a very quick schedule (all the briefing and oral argument by November 30). This will dispose of the matter with a full Circuit Court opinion in December or January, giving the Supreme Court an opportunity to duck the matter entirely if Trump loses.

B.G. in Teaneck, NJ, writes: Most of the public, and unfortunately most custody court professionals, are unaware that custody courts have a serious problem when trying to respond to cases involving possible domestic violence or child abuse. Domestic violence is about control, including financial control, so abusers often have most of the family resources to hire lawyers and experts. The courts have been slow to integrate important scientific research coming from the CDC and National Institute of Justice that courts need to recognize and respond effectively to abuse cases. At the same time, abusers tend to be good manipulators and inadequately trained professionals often assume someone successful in other parts of their life could not be an abuser. All this is to say that there is a serious risk that Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidate Sean Parnell (R) could win custody or co-parenting despite his alleged abuse.

In the last 13 years, based on a study from the Center for Judicial Excellence, over 800 children involved in contested custody have been murdered nationally, mostly by abusive fathers. Judges and administrators have dismissed these tragedies as "exceptions" instead of seeking needed reforms. In Pennsylvania, a judge who thought that just because a father hurt a mother doesn't mean he would hurt the child sent seven-year-old Kayden Mancuso to a fatal visitation with her abusive father. This was a particularly painful case and has led to an important reform called Kayden's Law. It is based on the Safe Child Act that I created; I also participated in drafting Kayden's Law. Kayden's Law passed the Pennsylvania Senate, and the Assembly Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing Monday. The defensive judiciary and legal establishment are trying to kill this reform and the judiciary committee is allowing 8 witnesses opposing the bill and only one supporting Kayden. This is the context in which Parnell's case will be decided.

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Maybe AG Merrick Garland's spine is stiffer than I thought. And maybe he knows what most of us have known for a long time—that until you hold these people accountable, until there are real consequences for their actions, nothing will change. I'm still skeptical but maybe this will also push them toward holding the organizers of Jan. 6 accountable instead of punishing just the foot soldiers. Hope springs eternal.

G.W. in Oxnard, CA, writes: In the item Hatch Act? What Hatch Act? you suggest the Hatch Act is toothless. While that may be true for the high-level officers if the president has no intention of following the law, it is not true for the rest of the civil service and military. There are millions of people for whom the loss of their job or even 3 days' suspension without pay would be devastating. The Hatch Act made life among coworkers with extreme political views tolerable for me when I worked for the government. I rather enjoyed being a rat fink when I had less than a year before I retired, complaining to management when coworkers posted political things in the workspace. I did it earlier than that in my career, but was careful to preserve anonymity. Employees almost always comply after a talking to by management (albeit with some grumbling).

Down with DST (Yeah, You Know Me)

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: I keep saying that if I ever manage to get elected, I will be drafting a bill to end Daylight Saving Time (DST) faster than you could fart and say Mississippi!

It screws with people's sleep cycles, thus imposes costs in health and productivity, not to mention a well-documented increase in car crashes every year around the time change, especially in springtime. Additionally, DST causes there to be times of year when young schoolchildren are waiting for the bus while it is still dark... this can't be a good idea.

Count me as totally and forever against DST.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: Those proposing year-round DST don't understand how latitude influences sunrise and sunset times. During winter, the farther north you are, the later the sun rises. Anywhere above 40 degrees north will have an extremely late sunrise in winter on DST. Does anyone want their kids starting school at 8:00am in total darkness?

B.B. in Columbus, OH, writes: There is a very fundamental reason permanent Standard Time (ST) is better than permanent Daylight Saving Time: DST is incorrect at a basic level. The abbreviations "a.m." and "p.m." stand for "ante meridian" (before the sun crosses a line running north-south across the sky), and "post meridian" (after that happens), respectively. (Yes, there's a weird handling of the 12s because of a historic allergy to using 0 for anything, but that doesn't affect the core of the system.)

Historically, local time was set this way: noon was when the sun reached its highest and (in the northern hemisphere) most southerly point in the sky. The time zone system modified this to use a local average once transportation and communication became fast enough for the differences in local solar times to be an issue.

The point is that DST is not that local average: it's that local average plus one hour. So use of Daylight Saving Time causes noon to be out of line with the sun's peak, and midnight to be something other than the middle of the night. This causes a few minor practical issues when trying to estimate time or cardinal direction from the sun (which I have experienced at times of the year when DST is currently used). The point, though, is that DST makes the entire system by which times are specified incorrect by definition.

H.H. in Columbia, SC, writes: I, for one, welcome permanent DST. More light at the end of the day has better outcomes for people with seasonal affective disorder. Plus, having daylight after 5 p.m. allows for at least a little bit of yard work after work. And everyone loves some sunlight during happy hour!

J.H. in Camano Island, WA, writes: I have to comment on DST vs ST. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is a co-sponsor on the permanent time change with Sen. Patty Murray (D- WA), a very liberal senator. The Washington state legislature, which is controlled by the Democrats, in a bipartisan vote voted to permanently change to DST, as did the Oregon, California and Nevada legislatures, none of them exactly Republican bastions. The only argument really in favor of ST is the early morning darkness regarding getting school children safely to school (standing at bus stops in the dark). And what has been happening in the parts of the country where that is an issue is that they have changed school hours, giving kids an extra hour of sleep (which they need), and some of those have now become permanent school hours.

The medical professionals in Washington strongly support a year-round same time, and their pronouncements seem to favor DST. I'm not sure about the circadian rhythm argument you presented; through the years, I've never heard that one. There are many studies that show that each time change—in either direction, but especially in April (spring forward)—does cause heart attacks and other immediate health issues, as well as missed meetings, lost productivity, and more car crashes, but those are short-lived, a week to 10 days (and it is not DST which causes the problem, it is the moving of the clocks forward).

There has been a minor political divide, since some conservative religious leaders consider ST to be God's will. Long before DJT was on the scene, more Washingtonians favored DST than not. As a Democrat, I couldn't care less about Rubio's views on the subject. I have favored, and will favor, year-round DST over ST. In the summer I like the late sunsets, in the winter I'd prefer that extra hour of sunlight in the afternoon. Some states wish to be ST year round, some DST year round, let's just lock down the preferred time choice and make it permanent.

D.R. in Old Harbor, AK, writes: Our state observes this peculiar custom, and no one likes it. Every year, one branch of the state legislature votes to abolish it, and then the other branch supports it—so nothing is done. We have plenty of sunlight in the summer, obviously, so the only rationale to keep it is... status quo.

R.C. in Louisville, CO, writes: I live in Colorado, where even on Daylight Saving Time the sun sets at about 8:30 during the summer. If we were on ST year-round, the sun would set at 7:30. If I wanted to do anything fun after dinner, I would have to start eating an hour earlier, and so I would have to work 7 to 4 instead of 8 to 5, and so I would have to get up an hour earlier. Businesses that close at 5 would start closing at 4 ("summer hours") so their employees could take advantage of the nice evening weather. The problem is, all the businesses and employees would start doing this at slightly different times of the year, depending on when they felt like the weather was nice enough. Eventually, some genius would suggest we just all set our clocks ahead an hour in late spring and set them back again in the fall, so there we are. We have DST for a reason.

On the other hand, DST all year would be really lousy in the winter: Sunrise at 8:15? No, thanks. I would, however, be thrilled if we reverted to the quite reasonable pre-George W. Bush schedule.

K.N. in Lynchburg, VA, writes: You presented the DST/ST argument as one or the other, but there is a third option: move the clocks 30 minutes and leave it at that. I guarantee it is the best option, because it will make everybody equally mad!

E.F. in Baltimore, MD, writes: I remember, back in the 1970s during the first oil crisis, we went over to year-round DST. I still can't understand how going to school in pitch darkness, and then coming home in pitch darkness, was saving us any energy, but I was a stupid kid.

If golf courses need to squeeze in an extra couple of rounds (why isn't Congress addressing our critical shortage of golf courses?), maybe they could try opening an hour earlier, before forcing the rest of us to adjust our clocks to accommodate them? Sounds like communism to me!

I firmly believe that whenever Congress monkeys with Daylight Saving Time, it's a clear sign that they have no solution to whatever the problem is, but feel an overwhelming need to demonstrate that they're taking Decisive Action to solve it.

Senator Li'l Marco is an exceedingly ineffective senator. He's now proposing a solution in search of a problem. But you can't accuse him of doing nothing. In my working career, we call this "creating accomplishments."

Sorry, Not My Type

T.F. in Potsdam, NY, writes: Regarding the item "Neither Party is Completely Homogeneous," your readers can find out which subgroup they belong to by taking the Pew Political Party Quiz.

J.L.J. in San Francisco, CA, writes: I took the Pew Research political survey and my result left me thinking. Perhaps that is part of their intent.

To begin, suppose I do not know what I am. I tell people, if asked, that "I have a liberal political philosophy with progressive ideals." I quote that because it has become verbatim what I say. This represents a shift for me, as I used to simply say "progressive" back in my twenties. Now if I say "progressive" here in San Francisco, what that means to the listener never comes close to what I mean. I have grown to see the term interpreted as "radical" which I most certainly am not, hence my retiring the word in favor of a sentence.

I see a "radical" as one seeking populist revolutionary progressive change, or the opposite of the "reactionary," whom I see as seeking populist revolutionary regressive change. I am a pure institutionalist, and value liberal democracy and the rule of law more than anything else, as it gives the legitimacy needed for all subsequent achievements. Radicals and reactionaries are, to me, two sides of the same coin, with both perfectly happy to set aside such things if they get in the way of their revolutionary populist goals. All things being equal, I consider both radicals and reactionaries to be equally threatening to liberal democracy and the rule of law. Of course, things aren't equal, as the American reactionary has done a fine job in taking over the term "conservative" and with it, the Republican Party, whereas the radical still has much work to do in their equivalent Trojan Horse project.

That all noted, I am extremely invested and pay a great deal of attention to what is going on in the world, up to and including reading legislation and judicial opinions, or reading up on the election in Portugal and the border issues between Poland and Belarus, and so on. That I'm a regular here is also testament to that. Additionally, I'm no spring chicken—I'm not "old," but I'm at that age where I say "I'm getting older." I've also never missed an election in my life. However, my Pew result was "Outsider Left" which is "by far the youngest and least politically active of the nine groups." What?

My "progressive" friends assert that I'm an "Establishment Democrat," I suppose sort of a merger of Pew's "Democratic Mainstay" and "Establishment Liberal." I do not push back on this, as this came largely because I loathe Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) with a passion, and see him as the opposite of Trump—two sides of the same coin—the radical leader versus the reactionary leader, both equally dangerous to liberal democracy and the rule of law. It was the fights I had with my "progressive" friends that led to my label as "Mr. Establishment." For example, I blame Sanders for normalizing the absurd notion that a state-run primary election can be rigged, as he's the one who made it a thing in the 2016 election against Hillary Clinton. Prior to Sanders, that was unacceptable and ridiculous. All those "progressives" I argued ad nauseam with over this issue now think Trump's claims are unacceptable and ridiculous, yet none have ever owned up to having the same opinion when concerning their guy. If anything, it was "different" somehow. Funny how that works.

So, in a way, "Outsider Left" sounds right. But it doesn't feel right. It feels like I'm only an "outsider" because I so loathe the radicals, but otherwise I share many progressive policy aims. We just disagree so completely on the whole liberal democracy/rule of law thing that I can never ally with them in earnest. To this, I mean that if 2024 came down to Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Sanders, I'd have a huge problem, because while I disagree with Cheney on (almost) everything, the one area we completely agree is the area I consider far and away the most important. Whereas, I mostly agree with Sanders on a great many things, but fundamentally disagree with him on the paragon of all things—the thing he's already proven to me he'd happily toss aside if the needs of his revolution demand it. It is, for me, disqualifying.

Am I an "Outsider" or am I an "Establishment Democrat"?

A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: I must confess, I saw the Pew story yesterday on another site and did the test to see where I landed.

Per Pew (no comment on that one) I am an "Establishment Liberal."

I shall wear that title as a badge of honor.

V & Z respond: Uh, once you've taken the blue pill (not THAT blue pill, the other blue pill), you're not allowed to read any other site. Didn't you see that in the Terms of Service?

J.C. in General Trias, Cavite, Philippines, writes: I took the Pew poll, and came out as "Outsider Left." I don't find that an accurate representation of who I am and my beliefs. I also very much question the "religion" question, where I am completely opposed to both options (Note: See page 18 of this PDF for the question). In other words, I have my reservations about this poll.


J.B.C. in St. Louis, MO, writes: Last week, you ran a letter from B.B.D. in Sonora who wrote about the "very little problem" of Y2K. As someone who was very involved in Time Synchronization (and wrote a complete implementation of the Network Time Protocol for Novell Servers) at the time, let me assure you that the only reason Y2K was a "very little problem" was because of the millions of man-hours poured into fixing it in the decade prior. I recall one of the first instances of it rearing its head was a 104-year-old man receiving a letter from his School District in 1994, addressed to his parents, informing them of the need to register the gentleman for kindergarten before the next fall.

And it's not Y3K we need to worry about—we're 21 years closer to Jan. 19, 2038, and I don't see a whole lot of corrective work being done to the Unix Epoch problem. With more and more minor technology being time-sensitive and non-updateable, I don't doubt we're already selling things that will cause problems on that date. Although given our tendency to throw out expensive technology every 2 years, it may not be an issue for another 15 years.

D.N. in Waltham, MA, writes: I'd like to expand on the mention from B.B.D. in Sonora of Y2K as a "turning point dud." The "Mad Max" doomsday predictions were admittedly absurd, but the problem was very real. It didn't go away on its own; a lot of work was put in across the whole computer industry to ensure that this became a dud, correcting problems that might have brought a lot of computer-reliant infrastructure to a halt due to the lack of foresight in storing years as two digits. The effort was a massive success, and it's unfortunate that it was so successful that it resulted in people thinking that it was never a real problem.

As for Y3K, you don't even have to wait that long! There's another turning point coming up just 17 short years away, catchily branded the "Epochalypse," which comes from how computers represent numbers as a collection of zeroes and ones. With one digit, you can only represent two possibilities: the numbers 0 and 1. With two, you can represent four possibilities—00, 01, 10 and 11—and the maximum number you can represent in binary continues to double with each digit you add. When we talk about "16-bit," "32-bit," etc., systems, it means they perform the majority of their internal thinking on groups of that number of binary digits. These days, you probably have a 64-bit computer at home, but up to a couple of decades ago, 32-bit was the absolute maximum.

Unix—the operating system that powers most Internet infrastructure—represents time as the number of seconds that have passed since midnight on Jan. 1, 1970 (the "Unix Epoch"), stored as a 32-bit number. 32 bits gives us just over 4 billion possible numbers—one digit is reserved for representing whether the number is positive or negative, so we can count up to just over 2 billion seconds past 1970. The moment Unix will run out of numbers to represent time is 03:14:07 on Tuesday, Jan. 18, 2038.

To avoid running into this limit, the goal is to rewrite all of these systems within the next 17 years so that they represent time with a 64-bit number instead. Though it sounds like a small bump, this will let us correctly represent dates up to some time in the year 1.75x1013, which is generally considered sufficient.

I first learned this in computer science in university, from a book by someone called (V).


J.B. in Boston, MA, writes: B.K. in Philadelphia asked: "Can you recommend a good text-to-speech app for Android? It would be so much easier to keep up with your weekend fare if I could listen to it while I drive."

I use the Online Reader version of this site to read longer passages from your site, especially the weekend letters:

The Android version of this site may be what the letter writer had in mind.

J.A. in Austin, TX, writes: Daily I text-to-speech, which is how I catch some of the weird errors that I catch. I use the MS Edge browser on a Windows PC (actually a Surface, but the OS is no different from my actual desktop PC) and I have Microsoft David read it at top speed (which is still a bit slow for my taste—the t2s on Outlook tops at a higher speed, for... reasons? I guess).

On the weekends, my wife is the "text-to-speech device"—we read it together for the mailbag and questions.

B.T. in Albany, NY, writes: Microsoft's Edge browser has a built in "read aloud" function that I use to listen to the smartphone link. It previously worked on the main page, but now for some reason only reads the header. It also will randomly have problems with the smartphone page. In those cases, I launch the "immersive reader" function. Only problem it has is that it won't stop the screen from turning off, which stops playback. So perhaps this isn't a great solution for the car.

L.R.H. in Oakland, CA, writes: This is built in to Android these days. I'm using Android 10 on a recent Motorola phone, so the operating system is close to a stock Google distribution:

  1. Tap the Settings app.
  2. Scroll to Accessibility and tap that.
  3. Under Screen Readers, tap "Select to Speak."
  4. Tap the "Use Service" slider. This enables the feature.

You'll see an icon appear in the interface. When you want something read to you, select the text and tap that icon. Then tap the right arrow key to actually start the screen reader.

I expect that there's a similar function in iOS.

E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, writes: When I was recently recovering from laser eye surgery and needed to reduce eyestrain, I "read" with my Samsung Android's native screen reader TalkBack, which can easily be enabled in the accessibility settings. The screen reader was not only already installed, but it also worked pretty intuitively with my phone. It did take a quite a while to listen to the site, especially the Sunday letters, and there were a few minor hiccups, but it was great to be able to keep up while recuperating.

One of the most useful tips I read about getting laser eye surgery was to enable lots of accessibility settings before the surgery, rather than after. I still use some of those settings, and I now have a much better appreciation of the challenges faced by people with low vision. Happily, my vision is now an amazing 20/15 with no complications, and my mask no longer fogs my glasses approximately 1.0x1019 times a day, so I'd say the temporary inconvenience was more than worth it!

L.O. in Atlanta, GA, writes: @Voice for Android is the best text to speech app I have found. It can read html/web pages like this, as well as almost anything you can throw at it. I confess to using it to listen to your insanely long weekend posts while driving.

B.D.B. in Columbus, OH, writes: I use Read Aloud for Firefox on my desktop computer to read your site every morning. It's also available on Chrome and Edge and has multiple voices to choose from. I chose the GoogleTranslate English voice as I've found it has the best record for pronunciation of names.

S.S-L. in Norman, OK, writes:

  • Android: TalkBack
  • Mac/iOS: VoiceOver (built in)
  • Windows: NVDA (free); JAWS (free in demo mode)

C.L. in Durham, England, UK, writes: My text reader of choice is called Husband.

Husband is getting a bit old now, so bugs have started appearing, such as snoring, hair falling out and complaining when there is no milk left in the fridge. Husband still has excellent performance in the bedroom.

Parting in Such Sweet Sorrow

S.T. in Tuscaloosa, AL, writes: I am a long-term reader of your wonderful site—6+ years. Lately, though, world events, national events, the current national political narrative and then the subsequent political reactions (or non-reactions, such as with climate change) to all of this/these things has left me very upset and depressed on a continual basis. There is no sugar-coating it. Things are bad in this country—there is the possible loss or "modification" of our democracy, the existential crisis of climate change, the violence and rhetoric of the conservative voters, and also corruption emanating from the conservative and religious side of the country. If I hit the wrong dial on my radio, my ears get blasted by an evangelical pastor decrying vaccinations, with claims of genetic manipulation, and "going against God"—everything everywhere seems bad, and we seem to have the conservative side of the country actively trying to make it much, much worse. And what makes it even worse is the apparent glee and joy gained by conservative voters when they are successful in some violent or obstructive effort.

So I am finding that I can basically no longer come to your site or engage in any political activity. The news is too depressing and affects my well-being, either from depression, or from inciting a massive storm of rage, or both. It's not the site, of course, but the news, the amount of it, and how utterly awful, depressing and ultimately non-actionable any of the solutions seem to be. So I am leaving you guys, generally speaking. Maybe I will take a peek or read an analysis once a week, or every few weeks, but I can no longer get my daily dose from your news desk, I am sorry. They have won. The conservatives, with their Jerry-Springer-style insanity have successfully worn me down and out. And all good Southern boys know that playing defense is way harder than playing offense, and I have been on the field for what seems to be 20 years of games, and I am out. Take care.

V & Z respond: Be well, and here's hoping your spirits eventually rebound to the point that you can rejoin us.

Gallimaufry (Hollywood Edition)

J.L. in Mountain View, CA, writes: (Z)'s recollection of seeing Return of the Jedi struck a chord with me. One day in the spring of 1977, I went to my best friend's house after school. His father said he wanted to take us out to a movie, and that it was going to be the next big thing. I had never heard of Star Wars; I had no expectations whatsoever. We went to Grauman's Chinese, one of the fanciest, most technologically advanced theaters in Hollywood... and I was totally blown away. Maybe more so than any other time in my life.

Looking back, I think the date may have been May 24th. I remember it being a Tuesday and I remember there being no lines and it was definitely long before it became the first movie to be brought back to the Chinese after its initial run. My friend's father was an advertising producer and thus may have been in a position to get preview tickets before it opened to the public. (Z) is absolutely right about the initial experience being all-important. I saw Star Wars a couple more times that summer, but each time it was a bit of a letdown. Still, thinking back on that first screening gives me goosebumps.

V & Z respond: (Z) saw The Phantom Menace on its opening night at that same theater, and coming out of the movie, was interviewed live by a news station in Tokyo, Japan, despite the small problem of not actually speaking Japanese.

J.D.M. In Cottonwood Shores, TX, writes: (Z)'s explanation of why he preferred Return of the Jedi to A New Hope explains exactly why I list A New Hope as my favorite movie of all time. I was a senior in college when it first came out and its impact was transformative because it was the first Star Wars movie that I was exposed to (obviously) and the new level of special effects was really something for that time. (I have just seen the new Dune movie, and that makes A New Hope look like a 1950s space movie!)

Two main reasons for its impact on me were: (1) the open discussion of the Force, which, for the first time in my life, gave a public expression to my understanding of the mysteries of the universe, and (2) I saw the movie seven times in that first year and it was not until the last of those that I had not inhaled illegal vapors before attending the movie. It turns out those movies have a very different impact after said inhalation.

E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, writes: You mentioned the plot twist at the end of The Empire Strikes Back, but something else that is extremely underappreciated about that movie is the revelation that the funny old creature rooting through Luke Skywalker's stuff and generally being a pest is in actuality the fearsome Jedi warrior Yoda. Given the amount of Yoda-everything everywhere now, it's impossible to explain that surprise to anyone who didn't see the movies in order (on VHS, in my case). When I first heard about a Jedi warrior named Yoda, I definitely didn't picture anything remotely like a tiny green muppet!

However, one thing that makes The Return of the Jedi special for me is that my youngest brother (may he rest in peace) used to watch that movie almost every weekend, so it always brings back fond memories of him. Sometimes movies (or other media like music) take on their own meaning unique to a person's life situation.

L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: I think you may have overlooked a reason why The Empire Strikes Back is so highly regarded, at least among science fiction fans.

Star Wars was a fun, entertaining, comic-book, Saturday matinee, space-opera—basically, a comic/action Western set in outer space. Empire, on the other hand, was the first, and maybe the only, film in the series that entered the realm of good science fiction—thought provoking, examining the human condition through alien people and ideas which are really just extrapolations of human concepts and conditions. That is why, I believe, the movie is rated so highly.

I think a lot of non- or casual science fiction fans might be surprised that many science fiction fans don't believe the genre translates well to movies. Movies tend to become special effects extravaganzas while great science fiction tends to be much more psychological in nature. Ursula K. LeGuin's introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness describes good science fiction better than anything else I have read. It's not surprising that most of the best science fiction, like The Dispossessed or The Book of the New Sun have never been successfully filmed.

Probably the best example of good science fiction translated to the screen would be the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica. While there were some fine effects, they really were secondary to the characters and relationships.

Note that the movies and programs can certainly be very entertaining. They just generally aren't good science fiction.

C.J. in Redondo Beach, CA, writes: While I do appreciate your comments on the effects of nostalgia on our memories, I can't entirely agree. One of the first movies I ever saw in a theater was Return of the Jedi. I know I saw Bambi on a re-release before that, and undoubtedly other kids movies that I don't remember.

I'd seen the original Star Wars, but had never seen Empire. I knew the twist, though, even as a 5-year-old. Not sure how, it must have been discussed at school or something. Anyway, as a kid, I loved Jedi. But the older I got, and the more times I watched the three (at the time) movies, the more I fell in love with Empire. I think it was the 15th anniversary VHS tapes that my folks got me, but I watched the hell out of all three of them. Probably wore my tapes out. But that was when I really fell in love with Empire and knew it was the definitive Star Wars movie.

Jedi probably places seventh on my ranking of the nine films in the saga. It has some of the best stuff, but much of the weakest as well. I still enjoy it, as I enjoy all of the films to some degree. That enjoyment is just tempered by quite a bit of eye rolling.

Nostalgia certainly does enter into my love for many movies, though.

P.R. in Kirksville, MO, writes: The question about Spielberg's Lincoln prompted me to write. Lincoln almost made my list of favorite movies (it certainly gets an honorable mention) for the accuracy of the sets and costumes and the cinematography generally. It just seems to capture the setting of 1860s America, although that may be wishful thinking on my part. But for those readers of this site who haven't seen it yet, this analysis from Roger Ebert elevated it to classic status (for me, anyway).

It's well worth the read, and explains many of the choices made in writing the screenplay and filming it as a form of Shakespearean drama. In essence, it doesn't matter if the film is 100% historically accurate because it's telling a timeless story.

B.H. in Greenbelt, MD, writes: I would like to second your comments on the movie Lincoln as to how carefully Steven Spielberg employed actors who strongly resembled the historical characters. In general the resemblances were almost eerie. You mentioned U.S. Grant as the obvious case of coming up a bit short. When I saw the movie, the case that struck me as a complete failure in this regard was Hal Holbrook (right) as Francis P. Blair Sr. (left):

The real Blair had a thin face, bad
teeth, and no hair. Holbrook has a round face, perfectly fine teeth, and a full head of hair.

One other aspect where the movie really strove for verisimilitude: A retired professor of art history noted how dark many of the inside scenes seemed, and that this was likely an attempt to suggest the lighting conditions under which people lived at the time.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Nov13 A Sleeping Giant Awakens
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