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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

Gerrymandering is the subject of the week, and so we'll begin there.

Notes on a Gerrymander

S.C. in Mountain View, CA, writes: I was gratified to see (V) mention that gerrymandering could be eliminated entirely by Congress mandating that states elect their Congressional representatives using statewide proportional representation (PR).

While the example he gave, of closed party list PR, is the simplest form of PR, the system that many PR advocates in the United States are proposing (myself included, as well as the good folks at is the proportional form of ranked choice voting (PRCV), called the "single transferable vote" by political scientists. Instead of voting for a party-created pre-ordered list of candidates, with PRCV each voter creates their own ordered list, and that list can include candidates from more than one party, as well as candidates not affiliated with any political party. (This fits better with the mind-set of "independent" voters that believe that they vote for the candidate, not the party, despite evidence to the contrary.) To keep the lists manageable, states with more than five representatives would be divided into multi-member districts of three to five representatives each, with a preference given to five-member districts.

This system is the one called for by the Fair Representation Act (H.R. 3863). Even though such a multi-member-district proportional system is much harder to gerrymander than a single-member-district system, H.R. 3863 also calls for independent commissions to draw the districts. Unfortunately, H.R. 3863 has even less of a chance of passing Congress than H.R. 1.

L.G. in Thornton, CO, writes: In Namibia (I lived there for many years before retirement), parliamentary elections are held in a manner similar to your recent radical solution to gerrymandering, whereby the parties submit a slate of candidates statewide and they (not the voters) select their representatives based on a proportion of the statewide popular vote. In such a scheme, the candidates are entirely beholden to the party rather than the voters. Vote against the party's wishes on any parliamentary vote and you get dropped from the list (or at least dropped down in the list) in the next election. As much as I hate gerrymandering, the system you mentioned is much worse for democracy.

R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, writes: At-large elections often run afoul of what little remains of the Voting Rights Act, because of the fact that racial minorities rarely have the ability to elect their own representatives in state-wide elections.

For this reason, California has banned at-large elections.

J.C. in Boulder, CO, writes: M.C. in Oak Ridge asked an extremely important question: "In redistricting, how to objectively distinguish between the relatively fair boundaries that good-hearted folks might draw, and obvious partisan perversions of such?" There are no easy answers to this question; the complexities of political geography simply can't be effectively captured by any single measure, whether the efficiency gap or any other one-size-fits-all measure of political bias.

Enter the mathematicians! Perhaps the best answer that anyone has come up with is that the opposite of "gerrymandering" is "not gerrymandering"—i.e., drawing district boundaries according to traditional principles like preservation of city/county boundaries and other communities of interest (including minority communities, as required by the Voting Rights Act), but without taking any partisan political information into account. This is hard for humans to do, but computers can do a great job!

This leads to the idea of "ensemble analysis": have a computer use a random process to draw a large collection of thousands or even millions of legally valid district plans (an "ensemble" of plans) and use past election data to determine how many seats each party would have won in that election for each plan in the ensemble. This process produces a statistical range of "reasonable" outcomes for what might be expected for unbiased plans. If a proposed plan produces a result that is an "extreme outlier" compared to the ensemble, then gerrymandering is strongly suspected.

The major advantage of this approach is that it can provide a rich context for what might reasonably be expected for unbiased plans. In some case the "reasonable" outcomes may be surprisingly non-proportional; a dramatic example is Massachusetts, which has not elected a single Republican to the U.S. House in the past two redistricting cycles despite Republicans consistently receiving around 30-40% of the statewide vote. It turns out that this is not due to gerrymandering, but rather due to the geographic dispersion of Republican voters fairly evenly across the state. Moon Duchin, et al., analyzed 2 decades of election results in Massachusetts and concluded that it would be mathematically impossible to draw even a single majority-Republican U.S. House district in Massachusetts! Measures such as efficiency gap would flag ANY district plan in Massachusetts as an egregious partisan gerrymander, but ensemble analysis shows that this is in fact the expected result. As their paper concludes, "Though there are more ways of building a valid districting plan than there are particles in the galaxy, every single one of them would produce a 9-0 Democratic delegation."

And ensemble analysis isn't limited to evaluating partisan outcomes; it can identify reasonable ranges for anything one might want to measure—minority populations, numbers of competitive districts, etc. It can even evaluate other measures of partisan bias such as the efficiency gap—so if the political geography of a state tends to produce a lopsided efficiency gap, ensemble analysis can tell you so.

This approach is starting to gain traction in the legal/political world. It was the subject of a "Mathematicians' Brief" in Rucho vs. Common Cause, and Justice Elena Kagan's blistering dissent in that case indicated that she found it persuasive. It has played an important role in several state court cases, some of which have resulted in extreme partisan gerrymanders being overturned. During the current redistricting cycle, some redistricting commissions are using it proactively to evaluate new plans as they are being drawn. This is where I get to toot my own horn: My research group was hired to provide ensemble analysis for the Colorado Independent Legislative Redistricting Commission, and the reports that we wrote can be found here.

The application of ensemble analysis to redistricting is still relatively new, and it has lots of room to grow, both in terms of algorithmic improvements and applications. Look for it to play an increasingly large role in the legal fight against gerrymandering!

W.R. in Tyson's Corner, VA, writes: In your item "Republican Gerrymanders Have Locked in Control of Key State Legislatures," you offered two alternatives to gerrymandering in the US: (1) a constitutional amendment requiring independent commissions to draw all maps and (2) a change in federal law to allow direct proportional representation.

There is a third way however, known as Mixed-Member Proportional Representation (MMPR). Under MMPR, voters vote twice, once for a representative for their district, and once for a party. Half the seats in the House would go to district representatives, and the other half would be allotted to representatives from the parties based on the percentage of votes the party received. This means that if you live in a highly gerrymandered district and you do not share the political views of the majority of the voters in your district, you still get representation through your party vote. Such a system is used in Germany, New Zealand, Scotland, Wales, and South Korea, among others.

I would offer that MMPR would be a much fairer and more democratic system than what the U.S. currently uses, while partially preserving the existing first-past-the-post system. Thus, it would be more palatable to people who like the existing system and more likely to see the light of day than switching to pure proportional representation. It also benefits smaller parties, who have long suffered from systemic biases in the U.S. electoral system. MMPR would not require a constitutional amendment, just a change in federal law. I think MMPR deserves serious consideration.

M.H. in Salt Lake City, UT, writes: I'd like to respond to your very reasonable suggestion that a plausible solution to the gerrymandering problem is that "the matter gets put directly to the people, through the initiative/referendum process."

I moved to Utah as a young adult in the late 1970s. We had a Democratic governor, many Democrats in the legislature, and a Democrat usually representing relatively liberal Salt Lake County well into this century. Then the 2010 census gave us an extra congressional seat, the County was split up into 4 districts, and the trifecta that the Republicans were developing for the past 40 years was entrenched.

In 2020, the people overwhelmingly voted for an independent commission in response to years of egregious gerrymandering (is there any other kind?). The commission convened, did its work diligently, took public comments, and presented its work. But there was a catch. The language establishing the commission made their product a recommendation only. The Republicans in the state legislature looked at the proposed map, tossed it in the trash can, and presented their own suggestions. Governor Spencer Cox's (R) response? The people (that is, the legislature) spoke, and it's likely he will ignore the commission and adopt the legislature's proposed map.

So, yes, your suggestion is a good one, but at least here in Utah, we are only given the option of good government, responsiveness to the public, and election integrity or else a Republican trifecta.

R.F. in Waukegan, IL, writes: I see you are talking about Republican gerrymanders quite a lot.

The "Democratic" party in Illinois spent the last few years getting ready to rig the census and then drew maps without waiting for real census data, which is illegal.

These are definitely the most crooked and corrupt maps ever in state history, and along the way they even went to court to sink an independent redistricting committee like what California has.

It's time to stop calling them the "Democratic" party, I suppose. There's more turnover in the Kremlin than in the Illinois state legislature, and it just got worse. When you make Putin blush, you need to stop calling yourself Democrats.

The attitude towards redistricting seems to actually be that both parties are for gerrymandering when they can get away with it, and scream bloody murder when they can't and the other side does it.

It's the Stupid Economy

E.D. in Saddle Brook, NJ, writes: Your breakdown of Joe Biden's spending in "Democrats Warn Biden: It's Not Enough" is incredibly misleading and significantly overestimates how much Biden is actually spending. Of the $1.2T infrastructure bill, $650B is just adjusting money previously allocated for infrastructure. Only $550B of the spending is newly allocated money. But that doesn't mean $550B in new spending. $200B of that is repurposing unspent COVID relief funds, which means these funds are included in your count twice. We're now down to $3.75T in new spending.

For comparison, just last year Donald Trump signed COVID-related bills for $8.3B, $225B, $2.2T, $483B, and $920B. These bills total up to $3.8T, meaning that to top Biden's spending, we simply have to look at last year. That's before considering that Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) are likely to demand further cuts to the reconciliation bill, so Biden's final spending is likely to be lower. If we want to keep going back to find another year with a similar impact on the budget, we have to go as far back as... 2017. Although it's not a spending bill, the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act cut taxes enough to add over $4T to the national debt.

When looking at spending, it's helpful to look at it on a per capita basis rather than just looking at the total dollars. The numbers sound big because most of us are used to doing the budget for a house with a few people in it, but budgets for 330 million people are a very different thing. To look at one piece of the puzzle, if you divide the $550B in new infrastructure spending out by 330M people over the 10 years it covers, it's about $166/person per year. That doesn't feel like enough to maintain an enormous country that's had its infrastructure neglected for decades. It costs more than that just to maintain a single family house.

C.H. in San Jose, CA, writes: I have never written before, but I believe this comment "The Fed is expected to both manage inflation and aim for full employment. Unfortunately, making one of them better tends to make the other worse. Powell knows this as well as anyone on the planet, but he can't work miracles," is no longer supported factually by the actual data. Paul Krugman and others have written about this for some time in blogs and other sources, but here is his most recent summary.

M.S. in Alpharetta, GA, writes: I really dislike this running narrative of runaway inflation I keep reading about (from more than just this site). I'd like to make the following points:

  • Inflation may seem high to younger people, but people with gray hair like me remember much higher inflation than this.

  • Core inflation (which removes the volatile parts like gas and food that move quickly up and down) isn't out of control.

  • For the years preceding the pandemic, we (as a country) were much more worried about deflation, rather than inflation. Deflation is much more scary, because while we "know" how to fix inflation (as you pointed out, the Fed takes the punch bowl away) but we really don't know how to fix deflation. Look at the inflation rates from 2009 through 2016, mostly below 1%. A year ago, Jerome Powell said that because we had been running below the inflation target for so long, when we did experience some inflation, he would be inclined to allow it to run for some time.

  • Keep in mind that inflation is a sign of a good economy. Rising prices of goods or services means that the demand is outstripping the supply.

  • In macroeconomics, there is rarely just one thing that is the root cause of anything. Roughly 5 months ago, the mainstream economists said that our inflation was temporary, as the economy restarts, and outside of some things like OPEC constraining the supply of oil, I haven't seen anything that changes this dynamic. It's simply what an economy looks like after it gets shut down and is starting back up again. And we see this happening around the world. From my perspective, it's still a short-term problem.

J.A. in Philadelphia, PA, writes: The low unemployment figures may be partially explained by the end of the federal programs. These benefits stopped by Labor Day. People getting these benefits often had no wages from employment for over a year. These people do not qualify for unemployment compensation benefits. They know this and so do not apply for them. They are looking for work, but are not counted as unemployed.

Legal Matters

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: I think I might have a prime candidate for the upcoming "This Week in Schadenfreude"! Before Thanksgiving, Kenosha vigilante Kyle Rittenhouse was interviewed on NewsNation, where he said that Lin Wood—QAnon fanatic and Stop The Steal lawyer—was insane. Rittenhouse said of Wood, "He thinks he's God and he just says all these weird things." Evidently Rittenhouse does not believe that Trump lost the election through underhanded Deep State means! Although it does sound like Rittenhouse's big beef with Wood lies with the fact that Wood won't fork out the $2 million that he raised for Rittenhouse's defense of Kyle's twitchy trigger fingers. Don't you just love when the nut jobs feud over who gets the grift?

This has thrown the QAnon crowd into dispute in that some believers can't tolerate shade being thrown at one of their heroes, Wood, while another faction worship Rittenhouse as the second coming of the Well-Armed Messiah. After his initial comments about Wood, on the Tucker Carlson show Rittenhouse said that "I was being used for a cause." You don't say!

This has to be the most oblivious non-self-aware comment ever uttered! One has to wonder how this "Elf on the Shelf" lookalike views his being nominated by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) for the Congressional Gold Medal or having Donald Trump, Don Jr, Rep. Madison Crawthorn (R-NC) and Tucker Carlson swooning over his not-being-found-guilty-of-murder celebrity status? The ego on this man-child must be massive. But then what do you expect from a guy who says he supports Black Lives Matter but flashes a white supremacy hand sign while hanging with a group of Proud Boys? This reminds me of the perennial question of what came first, the chicken or the egg, and I find myself wondering who is using whom in this situation.

Tick tock, Kyle, your fifteen minutes of shelf life are racing to a close, especially when the Former Guy finds out you don't believe he won! The schadenfreude is strong with this one!

R.H.D. in Webster, NY, writes: I'd like to offer my two cents on the recent Kyle Rittenhouse case, albeit a week late.

The events in Kenosha last year were a classic example of the First Amendment colliding with the Second Amendment. This particular combination led to two people losing their lives and another being seriously injured.

I'm afraid we'll be seeing more of these confrontations in the near future as we continue to see passions from both the left and right intensify on the current, divisive issues of the day. Let's not forget what started this in the first place: a black man shot by a white police officer just a few months after George Floyd was murdered.

Rittenhouse benefited from two things. The first was location. His actions were protected by Wisconsin law, written by legislators who received support from the NRA. Now, had he been doing this in New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles, I'm pretty sure he would have been apprehended by the police immediately. The second was race. Can anyone here say that had he'd been non-white, he'd still be roaming the streets with his rifle? No! He'd been either arrested, or even shot, on the spot.

Now there are many ways to look at this case, and many shades of gray in between. But that doesn't excuse Rittenhouse from his responsibility in this matter. I find it hard to accept a teenager crossing state lines to carry a weapon in the middle of the night. For me, I place most of the blame on law enforcement and city leaders in Kenosha for either being incompetent or complicit in allowing their streets to turn into the wild, wild West. While I support the right to peaceful protests, and the right to protect one's person and property, once chaos ensues, order needs to be restored ASAP.

Kyle Rittenhouse was lucky this time. The next time, he may not be.

D.E. in Austin, TX, writes: In your item Arbery Trial Goes to Jury, I feel comparing that trial to Rittenhouse was a bad idea. The few coincidental points in common are nearly trivial (guns, vigilantism, jury). What will go on in a typical reader's mind, after reading it, is that the Rittenhouse trial deaths will start to feel racist because the Ahmaud Arbery death is racism of the highest degree. It rubs off. We don't need that.

What happened with the Rittenhouse case is a lot of things, but the racism level is absent, save, of course, the event that caused the riot. The rioters might be Black and the "protectors of property" might be predominantly white, but that is just the way it is going to be. We don't need more casual breezes fanning the flames of racism, in my view.

G.H. in Chicago, IL, writes: The long, dirty toenails reference may have backfired on the defense, but it was pushing back against the assumption that Ahmaud Arbery was jogging in Satilla Shores. If the defense were to have conceded that as fact—you seem unaware that it was even in dispute—they may as well have pleaded guilty.

The state didn't present any witnesses to the effect that Arbery had ever been seen running in Satilla Shores before that day. The defense had seen him on nighttime surveillance video in the same house on four previous occasions. As a runner, I would say that Arbery was either doing speed work or interval training that day, or realized that a guy on double felony probation and a history of using "out for a run" as a cover for burglary and/or thievery had just been spotted in that house again and had to get the hell out of there. That was not a jog pace. The attempt to admit his record as behavioral evidence was rejected by the judge and will be a basis for appeal.

As a 5K runner I buy two pairs of running shoes per year; marathoners, or 42K runners, probably have to buy a new pair every 3 months before the cushioning wears out completely. Long toenails are no good for a variety of reasons: (1) you want shoes that fit; (2) black or raised toenails are common even if you don't aggravate the condition by letting them grow long; (3) you don't want holes or tears in your socks. Good running socks, if you're concerned about avoiding blisters and chafing, cost about $11 a pair. Arbery wasn't even wearing socks, an invitation to bacteria and a good way to destroy the shoe's cushioning with trapped perspiration.

Unable to introduce evidence of Arbery's past use of running as part of his "modus operandi," the defense lawyer may have been gambling that there was a runner on the jury who would know that serious runners take better care of their feet and shoes.

V & Z respond: You are in error in your assumption about what we are, and are not, aware of. And while the length of the victim's toenails might be a legitimate point to raise, a remark about their cleanliness cannot be read as anything other than a dog whistle.

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: Regarding the Charlottesville case, I haven't seen any discussion about Virginia law, which governs the counts on which the jury rendered verdicts, capping punitive damages at $350,000 (and per the statute, the jury was not told about that provision). I don't know if that's per plaintiff, per defendant, per claim or some kind of aggregate, and I'd welcome insights from Virginia lawyers on the subject. That statute, however, should substantially reduce the final judgment amount. I realize the jury verdict is a cause for celebration and that the defendants are unlikely unable to pay even the reduced amount, but I worry that the lack of press discussion is going to create dismay and disappointment when the court enters the final judgment.

A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: You wrote: "and so [Alex Jones] just digs the hole a little deeper."

He knows that with all that horse s**t down there, that there has to be a pony under all of it. Just give him another shovel!

R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, writes: Why is the RNC paying TFG's legal bills? My first thought was "If the RNC doesn't pay them, no one will," followed by "So that's why TFG said he might form a third party—to extort money from the Republicans!" (And that's why they're paying his bills—to keep him inside the tent, pissing out. I wonder if anyone has explained to him that this is taxable income to him?)

V & Z respond: Doesn't matter. He doesn't pay taxes.

All Politics is Local

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: Some extra context on why Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) keeps getting elected: To start, he won in the first place by painting his run-off opponent in the primary (the sitting lieutenant governor) as "too moderate for Texas." Apparently Texas conservatives are so frightened of liberalism taking hold that even "moderate" is too risky since they might occasionally spend a moment thinking about compromise. Second, I think all this "nobody likes Ted Cruz" rhetoric is a bit overhyped. Yes, people who deal with him on a personal basis don't seem to like him much, but Texas voters appreciate how he "owns the libs." And when he ran for re-election he didn't get any significant primary challengers and then he got 80% of the primary vote. The voters don't seem to be at all concerned that he's a weasel in person.

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: You wrote: "If Sara Gideon had won her Senate race in Maine and Cal Cunningham had better zipper management policies in place, things might have been different. But they didn't so it isn't."

If I may engage in some wild speculation: if the two said candidates had won their races, Democratic control of the Senate would have been known right after the general election. This may very well have sapped enough urgency from the Georgia runoffs to result in a similar 50/50 split Senate as we have today.

Progs Rock?

D.A. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: Your explanation of the six Democratic votes against the infrastructure bill was good. I would make two additional points:

  1. Even more than putting the kibosh on a primary challenge from the left, I believe that the six members of The Squad are very conscious of being the spearhead of a movement of strong progressives that are committed to moving the Democratic Party in a left-populist/democratic-socialist direction. They answer not just to their local supporters and voters, but to people like me—Bernie Sanders supporters and the like—who share that goal and make contributions, both money and legwork/phonework, to extend their influence. Were they to have caved on this one, some of us (not me, as it happens) might get discouraged and look elsewhere politically.

  2. The Progressive Caucus, led by Pramila Jayapal (and which the Squad members are part of), was truly caught between the proverbial rock and hard place. The original $6T+ measure was divided into two bills, then each bill went through the sawmill; they were promised that the bills would be taken up together, and that promise was reneged on. There have been other "betrayals" (in quotes because, after all, this is sausage-making). If they had a Tea Party approach, they would all have just said "no," but they do care about the people of this country and the future of the Democratic Party. At the same time, if the right wing of the party, along with the centrist leadership (Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-CA/Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY/Joe Biden) "know" that the progressives will cave every time, they will lose all their leverage. So the Squad's votes were a warning: You can't count on all progressives caving all the time.

Following the vote, I immediately sent grassroots political love letters accompanied by $27 donations to every member of the Squad plus my own representative, Yvette Clarke (D-NY), who is a member of the Progressive Caucus and who voted for the bill. As far as I'm concerned, they all did the best they could in a hard situation, with the result that the bill passed (yay!) and that as strong a progressive message as possible under the circumstance was sent.

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: Regarding your item on Democrats warning Joe Biden that passing what remains of his original proposed agenda isn't enough, this is a prime example of why Republicans win and why progressives drive me nuts. I support progressive policies. However, being a 54-year old man who has seen plenty of politics, I've learned that we have to take what we can get and then keep fighting for more. Progressives (who skew younger than me) just haven't learned the patience game. They want everything right now(!) and when they don't get everything they want, they pack up their toys and go home. I have this debate with my 21-year old son all the time. Republicans, by contrast, never give up. If they behaved like Progressives, the abortion debate would have ended by 1980.

Big social change takes time. Persuading more people to support progressive policies takes time. Indivisible co-founder Ezra Levin's quote is telling. Here is how he can explain this to Indivisible members. "You've done a great job of getting Progressives elected and persuading people to push this agenda. Look at what we have accomplished. But the fight for a better, more compassionate nation is not over. So take a moment to celebrate what we have accomplished. Then let's get back to work because we have so much more to do."

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), of all people, said it best recently. If we want more progressive policies passed, then progressives need to do the work of getting more progressives elected. And by the way, the Congressional Progressive Caucus was founded in 1991 with 19 members. It had 77 members by 2010 and now has 95 members. The caucus has grown large enough to have real power and influence over legislation and they absolutely had an impact on both the infrastructure law and the Build Back Better bill. So now is not the time to pout and give up. Now is the time to celebrate their accomplishments and push membership in this caucus to 100, then 110, then 120.

Don't give up, young Progressives. Double down and keep on going! This is how real change happens.

The P.M. in Currituck Fan Club

J.D.M. of Cottonwood Shores, TX, writes: First of all, I want to thank P.M. of Currituck for staying with us and continuing to give their viewpoint. Being very encouraged by their thoughtful consideration of our comments, I would offer some more in a spirit of ongoing discussion.

Merriam-Webster lists the origin of "diversity" as being from the Latin for "condition of being different." Calls for more inclusiveness in our society are just asking us all to recognize that we already are a diverse people. Word choices are a simple way to make that point. In P.M.'s examples, the speakers apparently were just choosing to use some different words. You do not report that they in any way asked you to start using those words. You also do not report that the speakers were in any way officially associated with the Democratic Party.

Let me share with you some word choices that have been troubling me lately. The Proud Boys have been associated in several ways with the Republican Party. After the Rittenhouse verdict, a member of the Proud Boys called for stacking up leftists' bodies "like cord wood." Can you understand how this seems more objectionable to me than someone using the phrase "pregnant people"?

T.R. in Vancouver, BC, Canada, writes: I hope P.M. in Currituck won't take this as a lecture, but the root of "diversity" is not "to divide": it comes from Latin diverto: "to turn different ways, to differ." More broadly, I certainly agree with their plea that we should focus on what unites us rather than what separates us; what baffles me is why they seem to see this as a reason to support a party that has doubled down on white Christian identity politics rather than a party that is actively working to improve the lives of Americans from all backgrounds.

On the idea that Democrats are constantly scolding people for their choice of language, I'd like to suggest an exercise that should be easy for P.M. given their near-perfect memory. Please count the number of times you remember hearing a Democratic politician scold someone for using an improper term. Then count how many times you've heard someone in the right-wing media tell you how Democrats are always doing this. Hopefully the conclusion will be clear: the "Democrats are in thrall to cancel culture" meme is just that, a meme with little or no basis in reality, which is constantly being pushed by Fox and company to distract you from the fact that Democrats, far from spending their time language-policing, are enacting economic policies that are massively popular with the American public while Republicans' only policy is whatever will keep their donors rich.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: For once, I am in complete agreement with P.M. of Currituck, and I'm sure they will feel my pain. A couple of days ago I was reading an article on The Lily linked from The Washington Post about a documentary on the harmful side effects caused by hormones in birth control pills. Sure 'nough, in black and white, I was informed about "people with uteri." There are women who have two!? Poor dears...

P.M. and I have something else in common because I also have hyperthymesia.

C.K. (and friends) in Albuquerque, NM, write: I wanted to call attention to the rhetorical sleight of hand that P.M. in Currituck employed in their last letter, because it is such a common tactic among the right that it's normalized almost to the point of invisibility these days.

Twice in a row now, P.M. has accused the left of being aggressive and hostile, specifically on the topic of terminology and inclusive language. In last week's letter, P.M. specifically said that "Folks like [me] are reachable by Democrats ... if they only drop some ridiculous notions and stop scolding us for use improper terms, etc." This comes after their letter from November 7, wherein they complained about the left "laughing at the working class for being so backwards" for not using the preferred terminology. Scolding. Laughing. Backwards. The left is picking on and going after the right—that's a point on which P.M. has doubled down every time this discussion arises.

So, last week, several readers called P.M. out on this accusation because it simply isn't true. We demanded specific charges to back up these allegations—"put up or shut up," as R.L.D. in Sundance so aptly put it. Speaking far more politely, K.K. in Minneapolis simply asked, "Who in the Democratic Party is laughing in public at folks who don't use this language?"

And last week, we saw P.M.'s long-awaited response:

K.K. in Minneapolis says they have not heard phrases such as "birthing person" or "chest feeding" on any mainstream media. K.K., then, must not consider the supposedly-neutral reporting of Nothing but Politics and Race (NPR) to be "mainstream media," because I personally heard "birthing people" spoken in a completely serious manner on Georgia Public Radio when driving near Toccoa on Thursday, June 10, 2021, which led to my subsequent aghast reaction of "what did I just hear?" And I had an identical response when I heard the same on NPR's 1A while driving around the Wyoming Valley on Friday, Oct. 1, 2021, when they repeatedly used the term "pregnant people."

Did you catch that? Here is the trap, laid bare: (1) P.M. claims that the left is scolding, laughing at, and otherwise bullying them for not using inclusive language, as if it is a sign of backwardness or bigotry. How dare they not get with the times!; (2) Readers demand to see proof that any such thing has occurred, and (3) P.M. points to... times when people on the left were using inclusive language.

And there it is. P.M., the question was "Who in the Democratic party is laughing in public at the folks who don't say 'chest feeding'?" not "Who in the Democratic party happens to be saying 'chest feeding' themselves?" The demand was for proof and citations that the left looks down on you for not using inclusive language, not for proof and citations that the left uses inclusive language. I will note, per the unanswered charge in our letter, that you still have yet to tell us who in the world ever said that the word "mother" was transphobic. You claim to have HSAM and nearly-perfect recall, so I hope it's not too much to ask you provide either some names (of people who said that "mother" is transphobic, not just of people who used the term "birthing persons") or an admittance that you made that one up for hyperbole.

In lieu of that, the only thing we are left to conclude is that you believe the mere existence of inclusivity is a threat and an affront to your way of life, despite the goal being, you know, inclusivity. That when someone says "I am a birthing person," you hear "mothers and motherhood are now illegal and you are not allowed to refer to them by those terms anymore, unless you're some kind of bigoted yokel." The same argument that gay people getting married destroys the sacrament of marriage, in other words, but even less justified because we're not even talking about anyone's religion this time.

Also, "ridiculous notions." "Nothing but Politics and Race." "My subsequent aghast reaction." You know, if anyone is making the first aggressive moves here, if anyone is scolding, laughing at, or otherwise picking on the language that other people were just trying to use among themselves, I don't think it's the left.

Which brings us to our final point. In the one part of your letter that was a response to ours, you asked why we can't all just follow the advice of Morgan Freeman and stop pointing out what divides us. It sounds nice and flowery when you put it like that, but that's... really not how it works. The colorblind, "Why do we have to make separate categories, can't we just focus on all being People?" rhetoric sounds good on paper, but in practice it only tends to benefit the people who are already fairly well off in the current status quo. The people who have theirs and don't understand why everyone else has to be so upset about not having theirs. It may not intentionally come from a place of privilege, but as an accidental side effect it is how it tends to come across in practice.

To explain why, I'm going to have to ask you to put yourself in a hypothetical other person's shoes for a moment. We accused you of showing an alarming (not to mention hypocritical) lack of empathy due to never having made even the slightest effort to understand, relate to, or even show basic "I'm not into this but if you are I won't knock you for it"—level respect toward us, even as you demand we show all that and more to you. Here is an engraved invitation for you to prove us wrong.

Let us say, for the sake of this hypothetical scenario, that you, P.M., are a transgender man, assigned female at birth but since having transitioned to male. You are on hormone therapy, have experienced the voice drop and facial hair growth. You still have the original interior plumbing, possibly because bottom surgery is risky and hideously expensive anyway—not being particularly wealthy, you just can't justify the thought of dropping four or even five figures' worth of money just to give yourself some dangly parts that may ultimately prove more decorative than functional anyway. So, because of the logistical limitations and lack of affordable access to gender-affirming care, you are now a man with a uterus.

And now you're pregnant. Because you still have those parts and that's a thing that can happen. Maybe it was an accident but you're too pro-life to not want to carry it to term, or maybe you deliberately wanted children. Either way, you have now given birth.

What are you? How do you refer to yourself?

"Mother" doesn't feel like the right word in your case. There is nothing wrong with it, for all those mothers out there, whom you definitely admire and support. It just doesn't fit *you*, because you are a man. "Father" doesn't really fit either, because that implies being the one with the external parts who provided the sperm sample, whereas you're the one who carried and birthed the child.

"Birthing person" maybe feels a bit clinical and awkward, but since there isn't really anything better on the market right now, it will do in a pinch, you suppose. It at least accomplishes the stated goal of explaining that you are the one who was in labor a few hours ago, without saddling you with all the feminine trappings of being a mother.

Only, now you have people writing angry letters to political websites about how you're trying to destroy the concept of motherhood, how you think people like them are backwards, how you scorn and laugh at them. Excuse you? You were just trying to describe yourself, who even are these people who are upset at you now? And to add insult to injury, they apparently are free to pepper said letters with how ridiculous your terminology is, how aghast they were when they first heard it, all the while claiming that you're the one who's acting too mean and aggressive toward them. Why do you have to be so weird and uppity about all this? Can't you just focus on what unites us?

How do you even respond to all that?

That last question was not rhetorical. That's your empathy test. Can you put yourself in that position and tell us what you would do in this birthing person's shoes? (Perhaps after you tell us who told you that not using this language is transphobic? We're still waiting on that, too, after all.)

K.K. in Minneapolis, MN, writes: I agree with P.M. that the Democrats' talking points are too long and lecture-y so I will try to make this as brief as possible: You gave no examples of mainstream media shaming or requiring people to use those words, just examples of them being used. While you said you could give more examples, you only gave two from one media source over the course of four months. If these words are being required to be used by the media and others I'm going to call it a fail. I remain steadfast in my belief that "word policing" is a dog whistle meant to scare folks into thinking LGBTQ people, brown skinned people and immigrants are all coming for their way of life. You can find the language ridiculous but it's hardly meant to oppress or ridicule an entire group of people, as racial slurs are intended, for example.

D.C. in Portland, OR, writes: Having personally heard phrases such as "birthing people" and "pregnant person" more frequently from P.M. of Currituck than from any other person on the planet, I was compelled to search NPR for the alleged offenses.

The phrase "birthing people" or "birthing person" appears in their articles exactly twice, both times quoting a politician, one Democratic, one Republican (Sen. Josh Hawley, R-MO, similarly whining about its usage.) Not one original use of either phrase by NPR exists.

By contrast, "pregnant person" does indeed appear many times and is apparently something of a word choice policy. So, someone with editorial authority at NPR has made a decision on phraseology that grates on P.M.

In turn that perceived offense has been amplified and distorted by P.M. to include a wider set of phrases and a bigger "problem" than supported by fact.

This is confirmation bias. P.M. identifies as "conservative" and has a perception of Democrats that is shared by folks with similar identity. When he encounters these trivial offenses his identity is triggered and his biases reinforced. This perception did not materialize in these conservative identities in isolation. It is a product of the conservative ecosystem in which they exist.

I would wager that like me and probably 99.9% of the readers on this site, P.M. has never once encountered in the flesh any person using the phrase "birthing people." The animus is entirely fed and nurtured by the media P.M. consumes. It is the product of manufactured cynicism and division by those who share P.M.'s identity and know how to manipulate the masses.

Language evolves and cannot do so without some stretching and twisting and from uses that go beyond current mainstream. At some point I'm sure there were people who got all worked up like P.M. over "thou art" being squeezed out by "you are." What, then, is the point of getting one's knickers twisted by the natural evolution of our language?

Ridiculous phrases like "birthing people" will find their own way to oblivion, as already appears to be the case. And if "pregnant person" does eventually make it into the common vernacular, well, so what? As long as we can understand what is being conveyed, does it really matter?

Anyone getting irritated by anyone else's non-offensive language could really benefit from some self-reflection. Is their annoyance really a product of the speaker's word choice or is it a result of them being triggered and sinking a little deeper into their group identity? An identity that is partly a construct of the right-wing outrage machine that produces the annoyance and irritation that P.M. regularly writes in to express.

Please, just give it up already.

S.S. in Kansas City, MO, writes: For once I agree with P.M. in Currituck's lament about being lectured, in which they write: "Democrats give long-winded bullet points which just lose people, whereas Republicans are concise and to the point." So, let me just say: "OK, Boomer."

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: Responding to P.M. from Currituck. I have two points to make.

  1. Words matter. I am all in on calling people what they want to be called. And I'm all in on finding inclusive language where possible. However I, too, find phrases like "birthing person" and "chest feeding" to be pretty silly. I guess the difference between me and people on the right is that, when I hear something like that, I roll my eyes and move on. When a person on the right hears that, they invariably make a really big deal about it. It gets characterized as an attempt to divide us. Or it is the end of society as we know it.

    Lighten up, everybody. Have a little grace. Words matter but is the response that we so often hear commensurate with the perceived infraction?

  2. This is not the first time that I have seen this particular Morgan Freeman clip as evidence that we should stop talking about race. However, this interview was recorded in 2005, a couple of lifetimes ago in terms of politics and race relations. I couldn't find any evidence of whether or not Freeman still believes what he said 16 years ago. So I'll speak for myself.

    I think a key lesson of the Obama presidency is that we are not "post-racial" and that pretending to ignore race isn't helpful. So now we have a GOP that claims that every time anyone notices race, we are being divisive. In terms of policy, how would we reverse institutionally racist policies without paying attention to race? The problem, in my mind, isn't whether or not we notice race. The problem is that seemingly a vast majority of people in this country don't (or aren't willing to) understand nuance.

    I sit in a men's group that meets weekly. We talk about our lives, our emotions, and lend support to one another. (The recent SNL "Man Park" skit is sorta adjacent to what we do.) There is one Black man in the group amongst 11 white men. We don't talk about race very much, but I can't ignore the fact that he is Black and, therefore, has had a much different experience of life than I have had. Sometimes race will come up though, mostly when it is in the news. After Derek Chauvin was convicted, he had some comments about this. No one else had anything to say until it was my turn to share. I noted that none of the white guys had anything to say and that I, too, had feelings about this. His response. "Thank you. I feel seen." And that was it. My noticing this created more closeness between me and the other man because I was validating and showing interest in his experience.

And thus ends my object lesson on nuance.

D.L-O. in North Canaan, CT, writes: I live in a "blue" state but I also live in one of two somewhat purple and rural counties in that state. Nevertheless, most of my family, friends and acquaintances are or lean Democratic. I've never heard anyone use the terms "birthing person" or "chest feeding." I think they would be laughed out of the room if they did. When I asked one of my friends who had a baby in September "are you breast feeding?" she simply answered "yes." Last week, when I was at my local curling club with two women who had brought their infants with them, I heard "I have to feed the baby," period full stop. As for mainstream media, I don't watch TV news any more, but I do read The New York Times, Politico, The Hill and The Washington Post every day, as well as I've never seen those phrases used in any of those publications in a serious way other than to report on the phenomenon of politically correct language.

Have you ever, personally, been chastised by anyone, friend, acquaintance or enemy, for using "pregnant woman" rather than "birthing person"? Or "chest feeding" instead of "breast feeding"? And if you have, what was your reaction? In my opinion, getting angry about this is on the same level with a schoolyard "did too"/"did not" argument. Language is mutable and changes in a more or less natural way. Do you use the word n****r to refer to Black people, as was common in many parts of the U.S., including North Carolina, until the 1960's? If these terms catch on, then they will become part of American English. If they don't catch on, then they'll fade away.

To get angry because some people feel that there is a "correct" term for something is ridiculous. Use the words you want to use and feel comfortable with. (Notice I did not write "with which you feel comfortable," so even I can change.) Really, no one is going to sue you or send you to jail for using a term they don't like. If you're ever confronted by someone on this, my advice would be to laugh it off (in a polite way) or say something like "I've used the word 'pregnant' all my life. It's not that easy to change language usage and I don't understand why it needs to be changed. 'Birthing person' sounds odd and wrong to me." You may not like the response you get but at least you'll be seen as having a reason for your reluctance to change and being polite without sneering at someone else's sensibilities. Maybe they'll even be able to explain to you why they think "birthing person" is better.

History Matters

K.H. in Orlando, FL, writes: I enjoyed your comments on archetypes, and I think Albert Einstein is a great candidate for understanding how someone might become one.

Objectively, by any reasonable measure, the finest theoretical physicist of the 20th century was John Bardeen. The only person to win two Nobel prizes in physics, he won the first for work on transistors, and the second for work understanding superconductivity. In both cases Bardeen and his team demonstrated a staggering depth of physics knowledge and intellectual ability, and both have significantly impacted our daily lives.

Einstein, meanwhile, was a great physicist. However there has been a divergence between what we can positively say about his work and what people believe—time has not been overly kind. The next time a trivia question asks who first wrote E=mc2, please say "Henri Poincaré."

So why is a physicist with crazy hair who filled books with silly quotes known by everyone, but a quiet Midwesterner who enjoyed barbeque when he wasn't changing physics (and eventually our world) relatively unknown?

Maybe I answered the question?

S.K. in Bethesda, MD, writes: Great women in American history? I think there's a decent argument to be made that Nancy Pelosi has already cemented her place (high) on that list. Not just the first woman Speaker, but one of the most consequential Speakers at a time when closely divided government made the job immensely complex.

D.M. in Spokane, WA, writes: There seems to be disagreement as to whether displacement of Black neighborhoods by highways has been purposeful or not. Certainly, in Spokane, WA, I-90 was run through the only sizeable Black neighborhood in the city. Not only that, but that neighborhood at the time had one of the largest and understood to be nicest public parks in the city. The highway not only took many Black homes, but was run through the park, reducing it to remnants. An industrial neighborhood nearby was spared, as were more affluent and white neighborhoods adjacent to the route chosen.

Perhaps the choice was the consequence of that being the best from an engineering standpoint, as other neighborhoods were more likely to be on hilly terrain, while the chosen route ran through the flood plain of the Spokane River. The other land may also have been more expensive.

Regardless, the Black neighborhood was decimated.

Hooray For Hollywood: General Comments

C.L. in Durham, England, UK, writes: I don't understand why people are objecting to a list of favorite films. If the article does not interest someone, why can't they just skip that article, read a different website, or write their own blog?

V & Z respond: We wondered the same thing.

J.L.G. in Boston, MA, writes: Timing your countdown so that you revealed #1 on the anniversary of its 1942 release date? Guys, you've outdone yourselves.

V & Z respond: That was a little Easter egg (admittedly, one served up over the Thanksgiving holiday). We wondered if anyone would catch it.

D.R. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: While reading the list of readers' favorite films, I am reminded of the motto of the Wonder Motion Picture Company, "If it's a good movie it's a Wonder."

J.M. in Silver Spring, MD, writes: Just a suggestion: Consider listing the vote count each movie got in your rundown. It would be interesting to see that, especially with the "#1 winning by a mile".

Ironic that fails to list a vote count!

V & Z respond: Something like that just might be coming up next week.

S.F. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: You gave it away by writing that one of the top ten is from 1977. It was what we all suspected: Saturday Night Fever.

V & Z respond: Before you sent this message in, did you spend the night on disco mountain?

C.P. in Silver Spring, MD, writes: Before I actually read the Top 10 entries of readers' favorite films, I wanted to write in a prediction:

  1. 1987: Ishtar
  2. 1994: North
  3. 1975: At Long Last Love
  4. 1968: Finian's Rainbow
  5. 1942: The Mad Monster
  6. 1980: Heaven's Gate
  7. 1981: Honky Tonk Freeway
  8. 1994: Car 54, Where Are You?
  9. 1977: Sorcerer
  10. 1972: Santa and the Ice Cream Bunny

I think this is going to be pretty close. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go finalize my application to USC.

C.C. in Palo Alto, CA, writes: What a delightful new trope!

Indiana Jones and the Six Wives of Henry VIII

V & Z respond: Once you open it up to all films, and not just the ones on our list, the possibilities are endless. Heck, just working from the previous letter, you've got Indiana Jones and Heaven's Gate, Indiana Jones and the Mad Monster, and Indiana Jones and Car 54, Where Are You?. If readers would care to submit other possibilities we'll run some of the best ones next week.

P.J. in Coopersburg, PA , writes: In response to the 10 best movies of all time... I have no problem with the list, since everyone has an opinion and all the movies on the list are, in my opinion, all excellent.

The one thing I do take issue with is the comment attributed to The Shawshank Redemption. If you honestly think "Everybody's innocent in here. Don't you know that?" is the essence of the film, you have no idea what the movie is about. Of course it's "Get busy living, or get busy dying." In my opinion, this is the best non-comedy movie I have ever seen and that line becomes more important with each passing year.

L.R.H. in Oakland, CA, writes: I'm shocked, shocked that I was the only person to name Casablanca as a possibility for the number one position. The film's enduring popularity is based on the excellence of its script, acting, and cinematography. Its blend of romance, idealism, and cynicism, situated at a particular historic moment, is irresistible.

I'm grateful that you sensibly made this a list of favorites, a yardstick with which no one can argue, as opposed to The New York Times Book Review's witless attempt to determine the "best" book of the last 125 years based on reader voting. I had a few things to say about that on my blog. It's a miracle that some garbage by Ayn Rand didn't make it into their alleged top 25.

All of that said, seeing The Empire Strikes Back changed my life. I went to college in the Boston suburbs, but I had a flute lesson in Brookline the afternoon the film opened. I knew that a bunch of my friends were planning to see the film that day, and after some consideration, I joined them. I was standing with them in a long line when an interesting-looking redheaded woman walked by. I thought "Hmm, I would like to meet her, but...[I'm not in the habit of buttonholing strangers on the street]."

It turned out that she was with my party (!), and although one of us was there specifically for one member of the group, we wound up sitting next to each and chatting. A few weeks later, we were in love. I lived with her in Berkeley, CA, during the summer of 1981, where I took a self-defense class and then signed up for jujitsu classes as well. We broke up a few years later and I haven't spoken to her in 30 years, but jujitsu has been an enormous part of my life for the last 40 years. I'll always be grateful for that. My life would be very different, and I'll never know how, if I hadn't moved to California.

M.D. in the Poconos, PA, writes: I didn't vote because it was too tough to come up with a list of just 10, but I have to say you nailed it with #1. My favorite movie of all time has always been Casablanca. The story is fantastic and definitely at the time a huge propaganda point that holds up even to the present. The near endless number of memorable quotes from this movie is astonishing. The script was a work of art, despite the tale being a bit hokey and transparent. I wanted to march off into the desert with these slightly corrupt guys to be their friend and fight evil with them.

Bogart at his best. And who didn't fall in love with Ingrid Bergman? Of course, the scene where they sing "La Marseillaise" in response to the Nazis singing their Nazi song, always tears my heart out. We need a film like this today to get people motivated to fight today's fascist bullies.

Thank you for a pleasant diversion from the reality of all the evil and depressing news around us.

B.G. in Strafford, VT, writes: I also know every line to The Princess Bride—I once was on a canoe trip and my paddle buddy and I recited the movie from beginning to end!

However, the book is most certainly worse than the movie—its sexism is rampant to the point of disgust, and every magical scene in the movie is an improvement from the book. For instance, isn't it better to have the Dread Pirate Roberts and Inigo Montoya reciting their fencing strategies rather than it all taking place in Inigo's mind?

S.B. in London, England, UK, writes: It's appropriate that one of the films you've featured is The Wizard of Oz. It is, after all, a film all about political skulduggery in the pursuit of power. Glinda, being a master manipulator, uses the gullible patsy Dorothy as her instrument in removing her rival, the so-called Wicked Witch of the West, from the scene.

The way is now clear for her to seize absolute power. I hope Trump hasn't seen the film. He may get ideas.

V & Z respond: Maybe this helps explain why he didn't want to get wet during that trip to France. Look what happened to the Wicked Witch of the West.

Hooray for Hollywood: They Shoulda Been Contenders

S.A. in Clinton, WA, writes: How could The Rocky Horror Picture Show not make's top 100? At very least, it has to be on the list of must-see films. However, to get the full effect, one must see it in a theater. A word of caution: If it is your first time, don't sit in the front half of the theater. You have been warned.

V & Z respond: Note that it wasn't a Top 100, it was a Top 60 along with 40 unranked honorable mentions. Had we actually run through the top 100 point scorers, Rocky Horror would have been #94.

D.C. in Brentwood, CA, writes: I'm really surprised that neither My Cousin Vinny, nor South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut were to be found on the lists. The former is really funny, has great social commentary, and the legal procedure is on point, and the latter is the best musical ever, based on storyline, social commentary and musical numbers.

V & Z respond: Vinny was number #134, South Park #188.

S.V. in Skokie, IL, writes: I didn't see my favorite movie in your Top 10, which has my all time favorite line from a movie: "What could possibly go right!"

What's the movie? Hint: There's a song in it with lyrics about the faster pace of the master race.

V & Z respond: Not Top 10, but it did make the overall list at #52.

W.K.D. in Houston, TX, writes: Titanic did not make the top 60 list at all. That is ridiculous. It doesn't necessarily deserve #1 or anything but it's unconscionable that it's not in the top 60. I mean, for God's sake, they actually built a 90% scale replica of the boat, and then actually built a giant swimming pool large enough to hold it, and then they actually sank it. That in and of itself is more than enough to make up for Leonardo DiCaprio's dud of a performance. Tremendously compelling story as well, of course, outstanding directing, and yadda yadda yadda. Should be somewhere in the top 60.

V & Z respond: It wasn't too close, at #122, right behind Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

E.K. in Brignoles, France, writes: I regret the total absence of David Fincher and Clint Eastwood. (Seriously, folks, you snub the most talented living director and the one who made Unforgiven and Gran Torino? I don't get it. At all.)

V & Z respond: Fincher's highest-ranked film was Fight Club at number #170, while Eastwood's was Million Dollar Baby at #215.


B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: You wrote: "If they [The Washington Post] cut Thiessen loose and keep George Will, though, they can still say that [they have Republican voices] without facilitating a propagandist twice a week. At least Will has something interesting and/or thought-provoking to say, much of the time."

I read the Post every day, and as someone who used to read students' essays for a living, I have to say that Theissen's are especially bad; he would not have done well in one of my courses—not for his positions but for reasons of logic and rules of argument alone. Will, on the other hand, wrote a piece, in 2017 or 2018, I think, in which he asserted, concerning Trump, that "there is no rock bottom," that there is no level that is so low that Trump will go no further. He turned out, of course, to be exactly right.

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: Replying not to C.S. in Linville, NC, but to your reply to them: I find it depressingly telling that you forwent the opportunity to offer any reasons for optimism of your own, jumping instead straight to the crowdsourcing.

V & Z respond: We're not sure what you find it to be "telling" you, but the only reason we chose not to respond was to afford readers a blank canvas for their submissions.

D.K. in Oceanside, CA, writes: I can't believe you missed this one. Am I mad, or is this not a striking resemblance?

Roger Stone alongside
the black spy from Mad Magazine's Spy vs. Spy.

V & Z respond: You make a fair point.

S.B. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Two white male turkeys at the Willard Hotel and you don't make a Trump Command Center joke? Come on now! You guys are slacking!

V & Z respond: You also make a fair point.

W.K.D. in Houston, TX, writes: Um, what? The Green Bay Packers have thirteen championships? No. You don't get to count the stuff that happened before the merger. The merger created modern football as we know it. Think of the merger as the birth of Jesus, i.e. the year 1. So...the Green Bay Packers therefore have four championships (Super Bowl wins). Respectable for sure. But second fiddle to the Patriots (6), the Steelers (6), the Cowboys (5), the 49ers (5), and tied with that ridiculous dumpster fire of a team, the New York (Football) Giants. Apparently having four Super Bowl wins is not really reflective of anything special. And I wouldn't get your hopes up for Superbowl #5 in 2022. By my reckoning, the Packers are only the sixth most talented team in the NFC behind the Cowboys, the Cardinals, the Bucs, the Saints, and the Rams.

V & Z respond: It wasn't the Super Bowl until Super Bowl III, which means that the NFL apparently named its championship trophy for a coach who won...absolutely nothing. Curious choice.

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: The only reason the Packers have been so successful for the past 50 years is because they play the Detroit Lions twice a year! They start every season with a free 2-0 record!

V & Z respond: That actually puts them at a disadvantage compared to the Tom Brady-era Patriots, who started every season with a free 6-0 record.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Nov27 Saturday Q&A
Nov26 Republican Gerrymanders Have Locked in Control of Key State Legislatures
Nov26 Maybe the State Courts Could Save Democracy
Nov26 One of Biden's Nominations Is Opposed--by Democrats
Nov26 Greene Introduces a Bill to Honor Rittenhouse
Nov26 Maybe the Democrats Can Find a Senate Candidate in Missouri after All
Nov26 This Week in Schadenfreude
Nov26 Hooray for Hollywood: Readers' Favorite Films (Nos. 10-1)
Nov26 And Now for Something Completely Different...
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Nov25 Democrats Warn Biden: It's Not Enough
Nov25 Biden Picks Two Women of Color to Put Together the Budget
Nov25 Will Powell Take Away the Punch Bowl Soon?
Nov25 Jobless Claims Hit a Half-Century Low
Nov25 The U.S. Has a New Ally in the War on Terror--The Taliban
Nov25 White House Staff Is Well Aware of Buttigieg's Game
Nov25 Hooray for Hollywood: Readers' Favorite Films (Nos. 20-11)
Nov24 The Gas Is a Go
Nov24 MacDonough May Allow Immigration Provisions in Reconciliation Bill
Nov24 A Bad Day for Right-Wing Wackos
Nov24 Arbery Trial Goes to Jury
Nov24 Dubious Polling, Dubious Journalism
Nov24 Why G.K. Butterfield Retired
Nov24 Hooray for Hollywood: Readers' Favorite Films (Nos. 30-21)
Nov23 It's the Economy, Stupid
Nov23 1/6 Committee Wants to Get Stoned
Nov23 Trump-Backed Senate Candidate Goes Belly Up
Nov23 Two More House Retirements
Nov23 RNC Is Helping to Pay Trump's Legal Bills
Nov23 Two Fox News Contributors Resign in Protest
Nov22 Update on Redistricting
Nov22 Sinema Is Adamantly against Modifying the Filibuster
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Nov22 Is the Republican Party Destroying Itself?
Nov22 It Looks Like Deja Vu All Over again in 2024
Nov22 Another House Democrat is Quitting
Nov22 Max Miller Is Switching to a New House District
Nov22 Hatred of the Other Party Is Way Up
Nov22 Biden Pardons Two White Male Turkeys
Nov21 Sunday Mailbag
Nov20 House Passes Build Back Better
Nov20 Rittenhouse Cleared on All Charges
Nov20 The First Female President
Nov20 Saturday Q&A
Nov19 McCarthy Shoots, CBO Scores
Nov19 Could the Senate Actually Avoid another Debt-Ceiling Showdown?
Nov19 One Day after Gosar Vote, He and Other Republicans Are Defiant
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