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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

We got a lot of letters about Democratic messaging, so we'll start with some of those today, and we'll run some more next week.

Democratic Messaging

D.G. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Sorry, but I am not buying your response to the question from M.R. in Acton concerning the perceived failures of the Democrats' messaging. I share M.A.'s frustration to the Nth degree.

Where is Frank Luntz when you need him? Oh, wait, he is a Republican.

It starts with terminology. "Defund the Police" is neither smart, now what the people are really protesting about. Maybe it is "De-militarize the Police," getting the tanks and MRAPs and other lethal wartime weapons out of their hands; maybe it is "Re-humanize the Police," making sure the force is less aggressive when dealing with the public—not every encounter must produce blood flowing (especially not minority blood); maybe it is some other term, Frank, for sure, would know.

Then there is "abortion." The term carries with it a negative connotation. You abort a (debatable) life form, even if it is not even a fetus, let alone a human being. How about "terminating a pregnancy" instead? The focus is then on the pregnancy, and the woman's life, rather than a collection of cells which are not a persona.

And what about the "$3.5 trillion?" That is such a failure of imagination in messaging! First, it is "only" $350 billion per year, a number easier to swallow and comprehend, especially since it is less than half of what we spend on war material with a $780 billion Pentagon budget. Then, the true cost of it to the treasury is much smaller (pick a number and run with it), considering the increase in revenue it will bring without raising taxes; then come the actual proposed programs, and the value to you and me when they are implemented.

The Democrats must address the real population of this country, where a sound bite's effect is what moves the needle, and what Frank Luntz so brilliantly understand. But he is busy on the other side.

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: I no longer recall where I read this, but I have seen the theory that conservative people tend to be interested in business and marketing in college while liberal/progressive people are interested in social justice issues. Therefore, conservative types learn how to promote their policies in a way the liberals don't and are, therefore, light-years better at it. They are skilled at promoting their policy ideas (such as they have any) on an emotional level and hanging negative slogans on Democrats.

In last year's Congressional elections, it has been said that one factor causing Democrats to lose seats in the House was because of Republican messaging that they were all in favor of defunding the police, despite the fact that not a single Democrat supported defunding the police. Consider other (in my opinion) mis-steps currently at play. Can you name the Democrats' twin infrastructure proposals? Is it Build Back Better? The Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework (the BIF)? The reconciliation bill on human (or soft) infrastructure? None of this sounds sexy and definitely doesn't play well in sound bites. Furthermore, I believe that focusing on the dollar amount of the package was a mistake. $3.5 trillion (or even $1.5 trillion) sounds scary. Breaking it down over 10 years, doing some simple math and calling it a $350 billion/year package doesn't sound as scary.

There are a couple of other factors at play. Republicans have a messaging apparatus in Fox News, OAN, Newsmax, etc. that the Democrats simply don't have. MSNBC is not an opposite equivalent to Fox because they actually do journalism. Finally, Democrats tend to be better educated and respond to logic, charts and graphs while the GOP base is less educated, doesn't dig deeply into policy and responds to emotional, fear-based appeals. Just look at how effective The Former Guy's fear mongering was (and is).

In short, Democrats aren't great messengers, in spite of being the professionals that they are, and face major headwinds in getting a coherent, easily understandable message out.

S.H. in Sutherlin, OR, writes: For years I have lamented on the fact that Democrats do not use the microphone like the Republicans. The GOP has mastered the talent of being louder and longer than the Democrats, and thereby the attention of the American people is directed more to them than us. In spite of your arguments to the contrary, there is precious time and emotions wasted by the Democrats because of their failure to grab the spotlight. It has always seemed to me that the Democrats are almost shy about getting out front. Whatever the reason, opportunities are being missed right and left to get out the message, to trumpet the achievements and to persuade those otherwise who are not paying attention. M.R. is right to question this, and I agree wholeheartedly with their comments.

J.S. in Quincy, MA, writes: I suspect that one reason Democratic campaigns seem to have a harder time with aggressive, effective PR is that (and I assert this with no real evidence) Democratic-leaning voters tend to be less tolerant of hypocrisy than Republican-leaning voters. That makes it easy for Republicans to use different messages with different audiences, while Democrats have to worry about how all reachable voters will react to any of the messages their campaigns put out, so they have to thread the needle and find a message which appeals to—or at least doesn't deeply offend—wealthy donors, progressive activists, blue-collar union members, and so on.

I feel like this has been an issue for Democrats for some time, but now the Republicans are getting their own—much more extreme and distilled—version of the same problem. Now, for a large and loud fraction of the Republican electorate, there is only one issue that matters, and that is obedience to Donald Trump. Much of the Republican grassroots will not tolerate anything less than absolute obsequiousness to Trump anywhere in the party, no matter how damaging it is to a particular candidate in a particular race. So a GOP candidate in a relatively educated, suburban, R+5 district is going to be criticized for admitting to the local radio station that Joe Biden won the 2020 election, while a no-chance GOP candidate in a highly educated, 50% minority, D+20 urban district can count on lots of small-dollar donations from around the country and lots of national press for saying Biden is an illegitimate president and the election needs to be "audited." This isn't so much an intolerance for hypocrisy on the Republican side as a single litmus test that dwarfs all others, but it has a similar effect of constraining GOP messaging, and it will be interesting to see how that plays out in the next cycle or two and whether that sort of unitary partywide litmus test outlasts Trump himself.

S.K. in Edina, MN, writes: Another reason for the impression that Democrats are not very good at messaging is that the Democratic coalition is broader and more diverse than the Republican Party.

It's easier for the Republicans to come up with one or two simple political messages that appeal to all or nearly all of their voters.

D.A.Y. in Troy, MI, writes: On the subject on the issue of persuasion and the difficulty Democrats have with it, the truth is everything is backwards. The young, progressive, college-educated staffers are not the ones in the bubble and out of touch. The issues of climate change, racial justice, etc., are very real and need to addressed for the good of America and its people. The ones in a bubble and out of touch are the "real people" that need to be convinced.

The average American is more concerned with the antics of celebrities or the latest sports score than with the political issues looming over our country. Part of it is we're not really programmed to think on these scales of time and space.

Take climate change. Many Americans conflate climate with weather, believing they're one and the same even though they're different fields under the atmospheric science umbrella. Weather is easy to understand, what the weather will be like for the next week or so for a certain location is typically the largest scope people consume weather in. Climate has a timescale of decades and areal scale of the entire planet. When scientists talk about the change in global average temperature, they mean global average temperature.

Republicans understand this and take advantage by stirring up culture wars. Why worry about the state of the climate in 2100 when the white race is going to be destroyed by the Democrats? They even do this to torpedo some issues. Police reform becomes a movement to abolish law enforcement. Racial justice becomes shaming white people for their whiteness. They define things as a zero-sum game and convince voters they will be the loser. This is the thinking behind the Southern Strategy, the Reagan Revolution, the Tea Party, and now the MAGA movement. Sadly, this regressive mindset is shared by enough Americans in just the right places it works to keep the Republican Party in its current form from falling into irrelevancy and if anything moving it into more extreme territory.

Democrats in the meantime have to fight against the current. Getting people to embrace progress is hard enough. Having to fight an opposition party with a built-in propaganda infrastructure and the mainstream media bullied into following the propaganda makes it all the harder. So, American people are allowed to remain out of touch to the issues that will and are currently affecting them. I believe the term is "Bread and Circuses." Though, the providers of bread (well, cereal and snacks) and circuses are going on strike. But that's a different topic.

Old Soldiers Never Die, They Simply Fade Away

R.H.D. in Webster, NY, writes: Like many, I was stunned to hear of Gen. Colin Powell's death this week. Again, it's a reminder of how vicious this virus has been for 1½ years. Pardon the pun, but no one, not even a decorated 4-star general, is immune.

I considered Gen. Powell as a modern day Dwight D. Eisenhower. Like Ike, he served in the Army and rose through the ranks to the highest echelons of political power. Like Ike, Powell was well respected and revered by nearly every American, not just for breaking barriers, but for his steady leadership in times of crisis. And like Ike, Powell was nudged to run for President a few times.

Eventually, Ike did take the plunge and won two terms in the 1950s. On the other hand, Powell declined, citing his lack of fire in the belly and family considerations. I could understand Powell's reluctance. It takes a certain kind of person to undergo a grueling, year-long presidential campaign where every facet of their life is scrutinized to the Nth degree. Ike succeeded because back in the 50s, there wasn't the hyper partisanship and fractured media there is today. Respect for institutions was still the order of the day, and there was no better example than the military. Plus, Ike has the added bonus of defeating the Nazis and ending World War II. Not to say Powell defeating Saddam Hussein in the Persian Gulf War was insignificant.

Had Gen. Powell decided to run for the presidency, the best year for him, in my opinion, was 2000. We were coming out of the scandals of Bill Clinton that led to an impeachment. Americans were yearning for character and leadership. But the question is: How would he have done? Had he run as a Republican, that meant going up against George W. Bush and fellow military vet John McCain. If he was an independent, he'd get a lot of votes, but probably not enough to win a state's electoral votes, à la Ross Perot. To me, Powell would have been best served running as a Democrat. He would have been a great antidote to Clinton and, let's face it, Al Gore was a bore. The Democrats should have kindly told Gore to step aside, to continue working on the Internet and the environment, and then promised the moon and stars to get Colin Powell to run. It would have been just like was happened with Ike in 1952.

Supposing Powell ran as a Democrat in 2000, I think he would have defeated Bush, or whomever the GOP nominated then. A President Powell would have restored trust and honor to the White House. We don't know if 9/11 would still have happened under his watch. But supposing it did, I'm certain President Powell would have done the same thing in going after the terrorists and bring them to justice. But he would not have been distracted going into Iraq under false pretenses. He would still be focused on defeating Al-Qaeda and getting Osama Bin Laden. I would even dare say Bin Laden would have been dead sooner.

A Powell presidency would have eased racial tensions in our country, though they wouldn't have been eliminated. Maybe Powell would have found the job rewarding and run again in 2004. Had that happened, he, like Ike, would have won re-election in a landslide.

Who knows what would have happened after a two-term Powell presidency? Would we have had Barack Obama, or even Donald Trump, after that? It's hard to say. But I believe the country as a whole would not be as polarized and divided as it is now.

Of course, when looking at the realities of one's life, you have to examine the bad along with the good. The obvious stain on Powell was his infamous U.N. speech prior to the Iraq invasion. Looking back, was he duped or was he complicit in going along with the big lie of that time, that Iraq was involved in 9/11 and was sponsoring terrorism? History will now have the opportunity to judge him.

On the whole though, I view Gen. Colin Powell in a very positive light. I certainly would have voted for him as president. His service to the country and his devotion to it puts him among the most notable of Americans we've had. We must thank him for all of his contributions and hope there will be someone like him in the near future, because Lord knows we need that now!

RIP, Gen. Colin Powell.

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: During the 2008 presidential campaign, when then-candidate Barack Obama was being "accused" of being a Muslim, many people came to his defense, stating that Obama is, in fact, not a Muslim, but rather a church-going Christian. Colin Powell was the only person that I am aware of who said (I'm paraphrasing because I can't find the clip), Barack Obama is not a Muslim, but so what if he is? Many Americans are Muslim and it is not a crime to be one, nor does it disqualify a person to run for president. I think this statement says a lot about Powell's character and never got enough coverage.

C.J. in Burke, VA, writes: My only comment on your Colin Powell item is about "the big stain on his record." I don't think he knowingly lied to the U.N., nor was he an unwilling patsy. He accurately and faithfully portrayed the findings of the Intelligence Community (IC) after it conducted an in-depth review of Iraq's WMD programs. The WMD analysts were the experts and they sourced their findings. That doesn't mean some folks in the administration, particularly Rumsfeld, didn't try to cook the books and cherry pick the data, or that the IC wasn't flat-out wrong in its assessment, but I don't blame Powell for not overriding the IC when he did not have the information or the expertise to do so.

A.H. in Monterey, MA, writes: Regarding your response to the question from J.F. in Fort Worth:

That said, we do have the problem that Powell eventually came out in support of the Iraq War, and used his prestige to sell it to the world and to the American people (pretty much emptying his "prestige account" in the process). Our guess is that the general did not really have a sincerely held belief in the war, and instead that he was playing the role of dutiful soldier. That is to say, his commander made a decision, and it was his job to execute it as best as possible.

The problem is, of course, that by the time Powell "used his prestige to sell (the Iraq War) to the world and the American people" he was no longer a soldier, but held the civilian office of Secretary of State. Since he was by definition not a member of the U.S. military, President Bush was not his commander-in-chief, and it was therefore not "his job to execute (his commander's decision) as best as possible."

Colin Powell's behavior in the lead-up to the Iraq war is the best argument I can think of against appointing recently-serving ex-military officers to civilian Cabinet positions.

J.H. in Camano Island, WA, writes: In all of the much-deserved praise of Colin Powell—though invariably qualified by a mention of his United Nations speech where he presented evidence (later proved to be false) of Iraqi possession of weapons of mass destruction—little noticed was his role in formulating and presiding over the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy theoretically permitting LGBT individuals to serve in the military.

When Powell presented the policy before television cameras, using flipcharts, he commented that during his service he had never met nor encountered any service member with same-sex attractions. Immediately after that presentation, in the privacy of a side room, the officer who had been flipping the charts for the General saluted and informed the General that he was incorrect, and that service members who were LGBT had worked for him and been in his presence, including himself. Having "told," that officer was discharged—his case, along with many others, going before the Supreme Court, where they all lost. The flawed policy was a compromise created to appease Congress so that a bill prohibiting the presence of LGBT individuals to serve in the military would not be enacted (by a veto-proof margin). DADT caused disruptions and much harm to uncountable service members. The highest profile member having to hide his orientation because of DADT was Pete Buttigieg, who served in Afghanistan. Like many others, it does appear that Powell's view of gays did evolve over time.

National Politics

B.B. in Columbus, OH, writes: In your item on Peter Thiel, you wrote that "The Koch brothers were ideological, but the ideology is libertarianism and free markets, which most Republicans also support."

My experience is that Republicans claim to support those things, and to be defending them from Democrats' "socialism," but when you get into concrete examples they prove to be just as interventionist in a different way. For instance, the Libertarian Party platform supports greatly expanded immigration of workers, but even the pre-Trump version of the Republican Party had little support for that (Gallup polls showed that 14% of Republicans supported increased immigration in 2014, compared to 26% of Democrats; today, it's 11% versus 47%, respectively). Likewise, a Data for Progress poll found that a majority of Republicans oppose, and a majority of Democrats support, decriminalization of sex work. Republicans have always talked about economic freedom, but when time comes to set policy, it has for decades always taken a backseat to nationalist chest-thumping (see Reagan's military spending, Republican attacks on Clinton's "peace dividend," literally everything Bush II did) and the demands of would-be theocrats (see abortion, gay rights, etc.). And that is why I've voted for Libertarians, but not once for a Republican.

B.C. in Huntsville, AL, writes: J.S. in Houston questioned why they should pay for the support of the children of the people who choose to have them. The answer should be obvious: These children will become the people who will pay to support J.S. when J.S. is too old to support themselves.

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: I like means-testing benefits, because I don't see why I should have to pay taxes to give free money to Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, especially when they will hardly notice anyway. But I do see the problems, especially in setting a cap that is fair in New York City and in Austin, TX and in Sundance, WY. So, do it the same way we do in affordable housing programs and base it on a percentage of Area Median Income (AMI). Since AMI is different from place to place, setting the threshold this way evens out regional differences. AMI is also based on household size, so a family with four kids could make substantially more than a single person and still qualify. You could even set the bar pretty high, like 300% of AMI. Who says "means testing" has to mean "only poor people"?

I am definitely against taxing unrealized capital gains and here's why. This is essentially how property taxes work and is a throwback to a Jeffersonian view of yeoman farmers using their property to generate income. My house doesn't generate any income, and once I retire, I won't be generating income either but my tax burden will still be based on the local tax assessor's best guess what somebody might pay for my house if I sold it. When I lived in Austin, that meant all the Californians who were used to paying quite a bit more for quite a bit less house would bid up the prices, forcing families who had inherited a paid-for home but didn't have a lot of income of their own, or retirees dependent on Social Security and/or retirement accounts, to make tough decisions about how they were going to pay for food and utilities and property taxes at the same time. And really rich people—or, more often, corporations—could afford to pay lawyers to argue for a lower evaluation and/or buy a legislator or two to write property tax law to favor really rich people or corporations and still come out ahead. I would much rather go with a tax system based on whether you actually have money or not than one based on money you might have, someday, maybe.

R.V. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) seems like he needs to have his way all the time, no exceptions. It's bad enough he wants to say exactly how much the reconciliation bill should be, but he also has to dictate the terms of the voting rights act. So, a bill was crafted that he could support, but he's still not willing to break the filibuster for an issue that is about as close to life and death as an issue could be in Congress. A normal human being would say "Ok, I want the reconciliation bill to be no more than $1.8 trillion but am flexible on voting rights..."

The Senate race losses in 2020 of Steve Bullock, Cal "Zip" Cunningham, and Sara Gideon have completely altered Joe Biden's agenda. What a different world this would be if the aforementioned trio had won their races.

D.A.Y. in Troy, MI, writes: I saw a Business Insider article where someone submitted 60 applications over September to local companies that complained the most about the labor shortage. He got 16 response e-mails, which led to 4 follow-up phone calls, which led to a single interview where the company revealed they were going to pay minimum wage (despite advertising a higher wage) and offering only part-time work though requiring full-time availability (meaning taking on another job was out of the question). He admitted this was just a local experiment, but it shows that there are companies that only want to complain about the fact potential workers aren't a dime a dozen anymore rather than adapting to the new reality.

It's like with the vaccine and mask resistance. Our best chance of getting control of COVID is, and always has been, slowing its spread. Vaccinated people give COVID less chance to mutate into new variants. Wearing masks means a person carrying the virus is less likely to spread it. These are simple things people can do to help their fellow Americans. Yet, they fight it tooth and nail, inconveniencing themselves far more than just doing it.

It's not enough for the Party of Trump—and calling themselves the Party of Lincoln when they worship the Confederacy is beyond sick, by the way—to just not do anything. They need to actively sabotage the efforts of the Democrats. And it's not just in Washington; they're doing it on the streets. And, sadly, the media blames the Democrats for it. Even ran an article decreeing that the filibuster of the latest voting bill was the Democrats failing people of color. Fortunately, the commenters were quick to point out the wrongheadedness of the article. Still, that's the narrative. Everything is the fault of the Democrats and the Republicans are never responsible for anything.

Knowing all this, is it any surprise conservatives are happier? The manner in which we've structured our government has made obstruction obscenely easy. And obstruction is all the Republicans care about while out of power, while rolling back the clock on everything when in power. Why shouldn't they be as happy as a pig in mud? Meanwhile, even the most basic things liberals are trying to get done for the good of the country are practically impossible and the inequalities and crises our country faces go unaddressed day after day.

P.J. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I was a field supervisor for the U.S. Census, and the idea that the Black population was undercounted is undoubtedly true. I had many enumerators on my team who balked at entering Black or minority neighborhoods, and judging by their quick output, one can only conclude they never stepped into these areas. Rather, they either fabricated numbers or, in many instances, said that no one was home.

The Census Bureau quietly encouraged these actions by constantly emphasizing that time was paramount, as the Bureau labored under the belief that the Trump administration was going to abruptly end the census without notice, and in fact did end the effort, knowing full well that work was left undone. Marking neighborhoods as "complete" was much more important then accuracy.

M.D. in the Poconos, PA, writes: In reply to E.K. in Brignoles stating that the Mango Mussolini received support from "half the citizens," that is not quite correct. He received well less than half of the votes of the people who bothered to register to vote and then bothered to show up or apply for a mail ballot. So something like less than 30% of the actual eligible population in 2020 and a little more than 25% in 2016 voted for this awful criminal and yet he won. And this was a presidential year election. In off-year elections here in Pennsylvania, we are lucky to see 20-25% participation, which allows complete nutjobs to win local offices and then keep them.

Low interest in most of our elections is the problem that allows a minority of government hating, determined lunatics to get power to destroy our democracy. We need to do better to make sure it doesn't happen again. Unfortunately, one party is so invested in maintaining this corrupt system that they continue to make it harder for people to vote (See Texas, Florida, and my own state of Pennsylvania for examples).

Locally we keep trying to get people registered and we run into some common excuses, like they don't want to be called for jury duty (fact is the jury pool is picked from both voter registration and driver license data bases), they work in a different state and can't establish residency here even though they live here, "all politicians are corrupt," and along with that "They are all the same so what difference does it make?" Is that the experience in other states? Does France have these issues with getting people to give a damn about their government?

All Politics Is Local

C.L. in Durham, England, UK, writes: When pro-remain opposition MP Jo Cox was murdered by a white supremacist, there was nary a peep from the UK government about the state providing security for MPs' surgeries.

When pro-leave Conservative MP David Amess was killed the government decided security is a necessity.

R.M in Williamstown, WV, writes: A comment regarding your answer to the question from R.K.P. in Chicago about Joe Manchin's chances for reelection in 2024. As a West Virginia Democrat, I think that he does have a reasonable chance of being reelected. However, I would not go as far as you did, and say they are excellent.

You mentioned that "most of the Democrats in West Virginia are pretty conservative." While there certainly are conservative Democrats, I doubt that it is "most." The problem that Manchin faces is that to win reelection, he needs the vote of virtually every Democrat, and a chunk of independents and Republicans. Right now, he is rapidly losing the support of many Democrats. They are not likely to vote for his opponent, whoever that is; however, we are a fairly demoralized group, and enthusiasm for Manchin is at a low ebb. He could well fall prey to Democratic apathy, and that could be his undoing. Right now, the only good thing Manchin is doing, in the eyes of West Virginia progressives, is preventing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) from becoming the majority leader. That's certainly something, but it may not be enough to overcome the frustration of many Democrats here. I'd put his chances at no better than 50-50, unless he draws a really horrible opponent, which is certainly possible (after all, perennial political hopeful and previous prison inmate Don Blankenship still thinks he has what it takes.)

V.S. in Charlottesville, VA, writes: Another week of early voting in Virginia is almost in the books. Through Friday, over 610,000 Virginians have now voted. That's an increase in five days of over 200k voters. I had hoped that early voting would pick up as Election Day drew near, and thankfully Virginia voters haven't disappointed me. With this being the first off-presidential election with the new early-voting period, I wasn't sure how voters would respond. Starting this weekend, Virginia also has early voting on Saturday, October 23 and 30, with the 30th the last day to vote early in person. Currently, there are still about 170,000 outstanding vote-mail ballots. The last day to request a mail ballot online was yesterday, October 22.

With the uptick in early voting, I've increased my expectation to between 800,000 and 900,000 early votes before Election Day. I'm still not sure where the total turnout will stand after the election. I doubt it will be less than 2 million voters but also likely no more than about 2.5 million. For reference, about 2.6 million voters turned out in 2017.

I've been using the site from to track the early vote in VA. The site is usually updated early in the morning.

G.T.M. in Vancouver, BC, Canada, writes: I have been following the proposed redistricting maps with interest (and barely concealed hilarity). The ones in Monday's post were real knee-slappers.

As near as I can tell, none of the electoral districts proposed in either of those two maps would pass muster if the silly criteria that the Canadians use to determine electoral district boundaries were to be used. To see how primitive the Canadian system is, just take a look at Maps Corner from Elections Canada. I mean, come on now—electoral districts with straight line boundaries? How déclassé can you get???

Of course, those silly Canadians don't have access to the information that is really needed to draw proper electoral district boundaries, because they don't insist that people declare their political leanings when registering to vote. (They also don't require that people register their skin color either, and evrewunknoz that you can't run a proper election if you don't know what the level of melanin in the electorate's skin is—right?)

But what else could you expect from a country where the national food is seal blubber and everyone lives in igloos?

V & Z respond: This is why a great American like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) had no choice but to leave.


C.L. in Durham, UK, writes: The BBC has produced a documentary about the Trump insurrection, which may be of interest to readers.

I don't know what is more frightening: the scenes of violence or the rioters taking pride in explaining how what they did was a beautiful thing.

D.R. in Yellow Springs, OH, writes: You wrote about the prospects for Donald Trump's grave recently, but from the perspective of protecting it from his detractors and the concern about what his admirers might do. I think it's instructive to look at London's Highgate Cemetery East, the final resting place of Karl Marx and many others. The cemetery is private property and has an admission charge of £5.50, a little more than $8.00. Presumably this keeps the number of visitors manageable and makes it less likely that someone will do something disruptive. (Yes, it does seem ironic that Marx would be buried on private property with an admission charge.)

In the case of Trump, I'd imagine his family will develop a new cemetery. They might insist that visitors have a "Trump card," one of those cards that are sold for $45, which would keep protesters out. But the big money would come from the sale of burial plots. Plenty of Trump's admirers would be delighted to pay an inflated price to be buried near Trump. Since many people buy burial plots years before they die, the prospect of Trump's popularity waning in the future won't be a problem for this business venture.

I doubt that the National Park Service will manage Trump's grave as you said. Although it's the norm for the federal government to manage the burial places of recent presidents, I'm not aware of any law requiring it. And Trump is hardly one to follow presidential norms.

J.M. in Norco, CA, writes: You had two posts on Thursday that prompted me to write. In the first, you wrote that "many people thought that the nuttery in the Grand Canyon State was over," and went on to talk about Ron Watkins (Q) and some other kook candidates in Arizona. Let's step back and remind ourselves that Arizona is the state that gave us both Jan Brewer and Sheriff Joe Arpaio. The nuttery in Arizona is sport.

And #2: "Why Are Conservatives Happier Than Liberals?" The source is The New York Times, and they refer to "studies," in the plural, so it is inappropriate to counter with random, anecdotal observations. But here I go, because I just don't see a lot of happiness in the population of modern "conservatives." Rather, they appear to live in hate-filled bubbles, where their fear and anger are propelled to ever higher levels by right-wing pundits and their own peers. And then, of course, consider their spiritual leader, "the former guy." Really, has there ever been a White House—or I hope maybe any house—more completely free of joy and laughter?

D.C. in Portland, OR, writes: D.H. in Pueblo hit the nail on the head.

Yes, self-interest is a factor in making electoral choices but not nearly one so powerful as personal identity.

Who we perceive ourselves to be, and which groups we believe we "belong" to and what views those groups espouse, are far more compelling forces than practical self-interest.

TFG ignited the emotions of the MAGA base by giving them an identity that enhanced their feelings of self-worth and providing the security that comes from being on a team.

Ultimately the game is to keep them invested and engaged in that identity, and feeding them a constant stream of anger and outrage is the perfect way to do that.

It's their identity, stupid.

C.Z. in Sacramento, CA, writes: Thanks for your recommendation of What's the Matter with Kansas?: How Conservatives Won the Heart of America. I read it during Bush Jr's administration, when I foolishly thought he would go down in history as our worst president. (Dolt 45 has made Jr. seem like a gift from heaven.) From what I recall, the book showed that RepbliCONS, as the name implies, utilize the same tactics as the average con-man. They distract you with their left hand (using culture-war issues like flag-burning, abortion, gun control, the so-called "war" on Christmas, etc.) while they are picking your pocket with their right hand. If you want a shorter and more entertaining explanation of the phenomenon, as executed by Don the Conman, watch the Randy Rainbow video "Distraction." You can pair it with his subsequent video "Sedition." Enjoy!

D.R. in Slippery Rock, PA, writes: The question from S.B. In Cambridge about black American flags raises something I encounter all the time in the dive bars I frequent. Guys wearing American flag baseball caps, bikers wearing American flag bandannas, women wearing American flag shorts (which is to say they are literally sitting on the flag). If the vibe is right, I show them Section 8(d) of the Flag Code, "Respect for Flag," which flatly provides: "The flag should never be used as wearing apparel". The usual response is that they have a freedom of speech right to disobey the Flag Code (which the Supreme Court so held in Texas v. Johnson). I then say, "Oh, like Colin Kaepernick?" The usual response is, "That's different," at which point I feel that I have made my point and let it drop.

D.S. in Fort Collins, CO, writes: Given your knowledge of history and predilection for snarky asides, I would have thought you'd point out the historically on-the-nose aspect of Trump's new media outlet, TRUTH. At the very least, I imagine there were a number of people who remember the Soviet era, learning about this news in Russian-language sources, who did a double-take when they heard that Trump had just launched a project called "PRAVDA."

G.T.M. in Vancouver, BC, Canada, writes: I read your Friday posting at 8:53 a.m. on Friday.

I tried to guess how many e-mails you would get before this one that noted that Mr. Trump's new channel is"Правда" (in Russian)?

Quite frankly, it should have been "Известия" in order to line up with the Russian saying "There is no news in Правда and no truth in Известия."

G.W. in Oxnard, CA, writes: The last time Donald Trump launched a new media venture and it turned out to be a simple blog I almost felt sorry for the gullible, ignorant supporters who invested their meager savings with the belief they were getting in on the ground floor of the next big media empire. Almost, but not quite sorry. This time around, I have zero sympathy for anyone gullible and/or ignorant enough to fall for this self-evident grift.

Rolovich Fumbles

P.J.T. in Raton, NM, writes: Your item "Washington State Football Coach Terminated" showed that justice can be meted out to the powerful, who should not be allowed to follow their own set of rules while those of lesser power play by the rules in place. Kudos to Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA) for sending Nick Rolovich packing. However, I was aghast, and truly distressed, by the following sentence: "The highest-paid state employee in Washington was Washington State University football coach Nick Rolovich." Just try to let that one sink in. A football coach is better-compensated than a college or university professor? Better-compensated than the Governor himself? Better-compensated than kindergarten teachers who have an outsized influence on the development of our children? No wonder our country is so topsy-turvy, when our cultural priorities deem a football coach more valuable than a Doctor of Physics, Literature or History. This is a sign of an America in decline, rudderless and vapid. It makes me sick—not only to my stomach, but to my very soul.

V & Z respond: You may not want to look at this map, then.

B.C. in Spokane, WA, writes: As a Washington State University alum, the whole Nick Rolovich situation has been very disappointing. This has split our fan base like never before; it seems the west side of the state (more liberal) wanted Rolovich fired months ago, while the east side of the state (conservative) took the view that the governor's mandate was wrong. While I liked Coach Rolovich, and thought that he was doing a good job, I hated his decision not to get the vaccination. Coach Rolovich was making $3.2 million a year at WSU, a huge sum of money, and it is hard to believe that he just walked away from that much money over the vaccination issue. WSU had won three straight games, and the administration was put in a terrible situation (donors backing out if either decision was made).

The people hurt the most in this situation, of course, are the players. Most had come to love Rolovich, and what he had done for them. Now they are left with a skeleton coaching staff for the last 5 games of the season.

Finally, one thing of note: Our school's president said at his press conference that 97% of the WSU students are vaccinated, and that WSU Pullman, with about 24,000 students, has 7 positive COVID cases. Vaccination works!

Go Cougs!

Color Is Only Skin Deep

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: Last Sunday T.F. in Banks wrote about Aimy Steele, and her efforts to duplicate Stacey Abrams here in North Carolina. In the letter, T.F. questions the use of the phrase "people of color."

I might be outrageously dating myself, but when I hear that phrase, I am reminded of the old episode of Sanford & Son, where they were robbed...and at one point the white cop asks Fred Sanford if the robber was "colored." Fred responds: "Yeah...white!"

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: Last weekend there was some discussion of the term "people of color." One day in my classroom some years ago, a student blatantly made a disparaging remark about "colored people." Everyone turned, looked at him, and burst out laughing.

The satirist is an albino. His skin, unlike all the rest of us, has no color, no capacity to produce melanin. From inside his skin, all of us, regardless of what shade, are "colored people." Every time I hear "people of color," I think of him, a person of no color.

P.M. in Currituck, NC, writes: With regard to the term "people of color," I have a simple question I would like to see answered. During my summer trip, I had the convertible top down a great deal. My arms were so tanned from the sun that they were several shades darker than my half-Filipino niece's skin tone. Yet she qualifies as a "person of color," and I do not? What gives? This proves to me that such terms are just made up and arbitrary.

Legal Matters

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: A would-be SCOTUS Justice can learn 95% of what they need to know in a semester of Constitutional Law, although some time on the courts or in some kind of federal office would also be instructive. That raises the question of how Justices Thomas, Alito, Kavanaugh, and Coney-Barrett don't have it figured out yet.

S.B. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Read the item on Rep. Jeff Fortenberry being criminally charged with misconduct in connection with, "campaign contributions made by Nigerian-born billionaire Gilbert Chagoury." Who knew? There actually is someone trying to get their money to the United States from that e-mail.

History Matters: Genocide

T.P. in Toledo, OH, writes: The U.S.A. systematically destroyed the indigenous population within its borders to the best of its ability, full stop. You can dance around the details but it's irrelevant.

Coincidentally, all three of the "genocided" groups Raphael Lemkin named are still around, and far, far better off today (they have their own countries and two even have nuclear weapons) than the supposedly "not-genocided" indigenous North Americans—so staunchly defending his definition is a strange hill to die on. Why don't we just absolve the Conquistadores while we're at it because they didn't know or care that there were more than one tribe in their way and they were just looking for gold anyway?

Been a reader since the 2nd Shrub election but now I'm done with you guys.

S.M. in New York City, NY, writes: I have been a regular reader of your site since the very beginning. The balanced and erudite history lesson in today's "...American Genocide?" is exactly why I make your site a daily morning read. Your balanced, wise, and deep scholarship are rare qualities for these times, as our poor benighted country plummets down the rabbit hole of Idiocracy (a journey begun, IMO, with "useful idiot" Ron Raygun and the debased criminal filth he brought along).

Your site and scholarship is almost always of great value, and today's essay shows why.

L.H. in Corvallis, OR, writes: You constrained definitions from the forties using "implicit aspects" to reduce the ongoing decimation of indigenous peoples into an etymological argument. Although you say your argument is "not to downplay," it very much does, as I don't see any other purpose for this piece of writing. Whether it is called a holocaust or a genocide, surely there is current research, including from indigenous scholars that you could have examined. Tellingly, although your website focuses on current political events, you couldn't even be bothered to put your article in the context of changing Columbus Day to Indigenous People's Day, or the recent revelations about children's graves at former Indian Schools, and the traumatized recollections of former students and living family members. Do these people think it is a "tricky" question whether they are survivors of genocide or holocaust?

I have read your site every day for many years, although I usually skip Sundays. Some days I think to myself that I am very glad I also read other news, because your perspectives are sometimes very much that of two white guys. Today was the darkest of those days. Of course we are all limited in our perspectives, but good academics seek out other experts and recent scholarship to fill in the gaps.

C.K. in Holland, MI, writes: Honest to God, that piece demonstrates, more than almost any other, why I'm grateful to for your site and analysis. Not everyone is going to agree with your analysis, but they can't fault that you've explained and defined your frame clearly and provided a respectable jumping off point for a conversation on the matter. I really miss the days when all I read was this, instead of sensationalized bulls**t and hit pieces devoid of context, framing and perspective. Whether I agree or not, your approach and fealty to some of the rules of logic and deliberative thought, reaffirm my faith in the world daily.

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: I think you overlooked some points in your analysis of whether the U.S. Government's treatment of Native Americans constituted a genocide. First, when it comes to "group," I think the better view is to consider it from the perspective of the perpetrator, not the victim. For example, Ashkenazi, Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews are different groups with different traditions and different languages. German Jews of the 19th and early 20th Centuries saw themselves as vastly different from the "low" Eastern European Jews. But all would have been targeted by Nazis for extermination.

Likewise, regardless of the diversity among North America's indigenous peoples, the white Government saw them all as "Indians," as in the aphorism attributed to Gen. Philip Sheridan, "The only good Indian is a dead Indian." Thus, I believe Native Americans fit the "Group" requirement.

I also don't think your analysis takes into account key elements of the UN definition that you quote: "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, an ... ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part..." Each of those elements was present in the U.S. Government's actions. "Kill them all," while a policy of the Nazis, is a sufficient, but not necessary condition for applying the term "genocide."

Regarding the "time" component, the thing that stopped the Nazis was their defeat by the Allies. Had the Nazis prevailed, worldwide genocide against the Jews would have continued for decades, and the duration would not have converted the Nazis' actions from genocide to not-genocide. The fact that the Turks and Soviets were more efficient in achieving their ends than the U.S. Government doesn't imply a time limit.

That said, while I believe the U.S. Government's actions fall on the "genocide" side of the line, this discussion is a useful and proper one to have, as it focuses attention on the undeniable Holocaust aspect of what happened, not to mention another term that hasn't come up yet, "ethnic cleansing." If you had decided not to write about it, I certainly would not have spent the time I have today thinking about it.

T.B. in Tallahassee, FL, writes: I believe a key part of the U.N. and Raphael Lemkin definitions of genocide is "a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of [a group]," including the killing of individuals in that group (cannot leave out the "-cide"!). By this metric a historian should be able to assess if Andrew Jackson and his government intended to wipe out the Cherokee Nation (destroy its essential foundation) with a mixture of direct killing (of the renegades, etc.) and forced removal to a presumed inhospitable territory (was the death of thousands by starvation and disease a feature or flaw in the plan?). Jackson, like many others, did not fully succeed. So what? I'm convinced the Trail of Tears was part of a genocide. The maniacal "destroy a people by several means," in this case, transformed into the more sublime sending of children to boarding schools "for their own good": perhaps aiming for the same end (destroy a culture), but no longer genocidal in nature (unless boarding school cemeteries are the consequence of institutionalized killing).

R.M. in East Providence, RI, writes: Your item on American genocide, while trying to be diplomatic and scholarly, misses a big point. Genocide is not about murder. It is about erasing a people out of a desire to not have them exist.

As such, considering that Native Americans at one point flourished over this whole continent, and are now scarce to be found. And that for those that do still exist their culture and ways of life have been irreparably altered or harmed, shows that for about 400 years or so, the intent of all European settlers/invaders was to erase the people they found inconveniently already living on the land they sought to take. And? They did a very effective job at erasing them, so much so, that it is likely the most effective genocide in the history of the world. (More than 95% of native Americans were killed off in that 400 years.)

G.K. in Blue Island, IL, writes: It strikes me that those who object to putting limits on the definition of "genocide" are themselves experiencing a Lemkin moment—there is no good word to describe a societally habitual manner of treating certain ethnic (or ethnically similar) groups of people in an injurious, even deadly manner.

"Discrimination" doesn't quite cut it because, while generally perceived as unjust, calling a pogrom unjust (for instance) seems a ridiculous understatement. So too the conquistadors' treatment of indigenous peoples, or many of the other examples previously mentioned in your pixels.

Sticking with Greek-rooted words, I submit "genonoxia" for consideration, the suffix denoting harm or injury.

Or, if one prefers adding a couple syllables—ensuring the word will never be used—"ethogenonoxia", "etho-" denoting customary or habitual.

And, of course, it's one small step from there to coining the term "ethoethnonoxia", meaning customarily injurious treatment of a race or culture, but really only existing as a word for the purpose of tormenting one's spell checker.

C.J. in Boulder, CO, writes: Thanks for trying to keep a stricter definition for genocide in play, but I fear that this horse has left the barn. For instance, High Country News ran a story on the Chinook Nation's efforts to gain federal recognition. In the print version, there was a reference to a "genocidal regulation." Was this a bounty on Chinook members? A rule preventing them from getting food? No, it was a rule allowing federally recognized tribes to block the application for recognition from non-recognized tribes. Not exactly sending the cavalry in to murder people. Now, is this good policy? The tribe that blocked the Chinook might think so, but others could certainly dispute it. Is it genocidal? No.

We've endured five years of gaslighting from the right (well, more if you take examples like "war on Christmas" into account). The misappropriation of "genocide," largely from the left, is part of the same game: generate outrage from false equivalence. Aside from diluting a term referring to a horrible event, the misuse of the term is also contributing to making discussions purely black and white with no gray to be found. And ironically this could boomerang on those expanding the definition: If the California genocide of the 1800s is no different from an obnoxious rule today, just how bad was that earlier event, really? Instead of inciting outrage at modern actions, this might well diminish regret over truly awful behavior that still reverberates today.

N.A. in Northampton, MA, writes: Christopher Columbus was an explorer, which means he took chances to find something across the sea. Whether he was a good man or bad is irrelevant. Like any explorer the key characteristic of importance was a tolerance for uncertainty and bravery. Whether it was Columbus or some later explorer from Europe, the indigenous peoples were going to be destroyed by battle, disease, or some other mode. The American natives were weapon-deficient and that was going to do them in. There is no point in making value judgments. It is what it is. Nobody is good or bad, we do what we do. Enough of this moralistic claptrap about the past. At best we can hope our behavior improves slightly over time, but don't count on it.

History Matters: Secession

M.S. in Gonzales, LA, writes: In response to the question from F.S. in Cologne: I'm a retired big-city librarian with a couple of history degrees and a specialty in local history, especially in Texas, where I lived and worked all my adult life. While, as you say, there were no opinion polls in 1860-61, there are actually some useful numbers available where Texas is concerned. Even though 166 members of the Secession Convention in Austin voted to secede and only 8 members voted against it, the decision actually was made by a referendum of the voters of Texas—the only Southern state to refer the matter directly to the people, as far as I'm aware. Texas was the last of the Southern states to have become a state and because of its peculiar settlement history, Texans had a well-established history of grass-roots democracy, not rule by a wealthy elite class.

In that referendum, held in February 1861, 46,153 votes were cast for secession and 14,747 against—75.8% to 24.2%. More important, the pro-secession forces carried 122 counties but lost in 18 counties. And most of the anti-secession counties were those in which slavery was almost non-existent because the local economy depended on corn, wheat, and stock raising, not cotton. Those results should suggest some ways in which pro- and anti-secession sentiment was likely divided elsewhere in the South.

R.P. in Alexandria, NY, writes: I have found that maps that show the county-by-county secession votes after the 1860 election are the most illustrative of Southern opposition to secession, and also how we got West Virginia. The geography of the Appalachian portion of the Confederacy dramatically shows that where the topography did not enable large plantations, and therefore ownership of large numbers of slaves, support for secession was much weaker. Eastern Tennessee is fascinating for this reason, because of the interest in seceding from the rest of the state that was put down by the Confederacy:

The map shows the Confederate
states; the counties that voted against secession are mostly inland, urban, or located in West Virginia. Probably 35%
of the land in the South was in counties that opposed secession.

Thanks so much for this site. The table you provided showing the majorities in some states for presidential candidates against secession is especially heartening these days, when we need these kind of stories the most.

History Matters: World War II

R.R. in Pasadena, CA, writes: I realize you were glossing things over a bit with your answer about the readiness of the U.S. Navy to fight in the Pacific in 1942, but saying that "the U.S. Navy was fairly well ready to begin waging war in the Pacific, as indicated by a tactical win at Coral Sea (May 1942) and a crushing victory at Midway (June 1942)" really oversells the state of the navy and what happened during that time. The Navy really wasn't much more prepared than anyone else, and ignored clear signs of the upcoming conflict and incoming attack on Pearl Harbor that could have mitigated the devastation of the attack. Heads rolled, and rightly so, because of how poorly the Navy leadership had prepared for possible attack. After that, the Navy was scrambling to hold the line against the Japanese, who were far better trained and had superior equipment for the most part, and the Navy suffered severe losses. Coral Sea was barely a victory, and the Navy lost one carrier (Lexington) and almost another (Yorktown), which was critical when the Japanese navy had so many more carriers to deploy.

Really, the thing the Navy had going for it most was luck. Some of that the U.S. created itself, such as the Doolittle Raid (which is a heck of a story if you haven't heard of it) which helped push the Navy into the Midway operation, breaking the Japanese codes, or the impossible repair of Yorktown in time to participate in Midway (where it was subsequently lost) And some of that luck was critical, such as the U.S. carriers being out to sea when Pearl Harbor was struck. If they had been in port and the battleships were out, the Japanese would have been unstoppable in the Pacific until the U.S. started producing the Essex class carriers en masse in 1943.

Admiral Yamamoto, the Japanese navy commander, was correct that the US would eventually outbuild the Japanese, but with continuing losses through 1942 the U.S. would have been in a much bigger hole. The late declaration of war was also a stroke of luck for the U.S., as it enraged the population; if the Japanese had declared war a day earlier, they might have taken some more losses but the U.S. population may not have been as enraged over Pearl Harbor, as the question why the Japanese did so much damage would have been much more of an issue.

In the end, the U.S. was going to prevail in World War II in the Pacific; Japan never could have stood against the US long term. But, the U.S. Navy wasn't any more prepared to fight than the Army, and it was a combination of excellent commanders, sailors sacrificing everything to defend their nation, and a lot of luck, that allowed the Navy to cut off the Japanese navy, the world's best navy at the time, from running amok.

S.C-M. in Scottsdale, AZ, writes: M.G. in Indianapolis got my attention with the question about the timing of D-Day. One of the big problems with invading northern France was supply. The British (mostly Canadian) troops raided the port of Dieppe in 1942 and the operation was a complete failure. I believe the lesson learned was it was very difficult if not impossible to capture a fortified port with an amphibious assault.

As a result, the D-Day planners had to figure out a way to land on open beaches without an available port. They came up with the Mulberry harbor system and the Pluto petroleum pipeline. Both of these basically supplied the allied army well into 1944, until the Scheldt approaches to the Antwerp harbor were finally captured late that Fall.

Without those logistical projects being available, an invasion of the magnitude of Overlord would have been extremely difficult. I do not think they would have been available in 1943.

P.B. in Gainesville, FL, writes: I was particularly interested to read the question from J.L. in Chicago yesterday, and your reply. When I was younger, I had always thought that the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was morally reprehensible, despite the widely known counter-argument that it likely accelerated the end of World War II, and so in effect saved many lives. I had never found that argument acceptable.

When I was 26, I had occasion to visit Japan for a work-related conference, and used the opportunity to travel around the country afterwards, for a couple of weeks of vacation on my own dime. Eventually my adventures brought me to Hiroshima, and the Atomic Bomb Dome and Peace Memorial. What a devastating experience. I remember most piercingly the sight of melted bricks left where they had fallen under the blast 50 years before, but now sitting among lush blades of grass in the courtyard of the Dome.

Another thing that was very surprising about the exhibits there was the tone of self-criticism: the Japanese were effectively saying that they should have sought peaceful development of their country earlier that century, instead of being warmongers, and that they bore some responsibility for the bombings themselves.

The next day, the proprietor of the hotel I was staying at asked me to join him for tea. This is not as odd as it sounds, since non-Japanese people were (and still are, I suspect) a rare sight to the locals, even in the cities, and the proprietor wanted to practice his English anyway. After some pleasantries, he wound up telling me about his experience of the bombing as a young child, which was a little bit surreal to hear about, drinking tea and all in a comfortable chair. He was badly injured, but obviously had survived and thrived afterwards. He also echoed the sentiment from the Memorial, that they "brought it on themselves" (his words). I was pretty stunned.

My takeaway from this was pretty much the same as the quote of George Elsey that J.L. provided: "The whole goddam war was a horrible thing." The struggle of avoiding wars remains difficult, however, as we've all seen in our lifetimes. Without meaning to be trite, I'd say the best antidote to this history is the old bumper sticker: "If you want peace, work for justice." Good advice for us all, even today.

A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: You wrote: "(3) ending the war without bearing the ghastly costs of an invasion of Japan..."

Just as a point of reference, my father was a member of the 329th Combat Engineers, 104th Infantry division, +/-180 days in combat from Cherbourg to Delitz, two Purple Hearts and one Bronze Star, battlefield commission as a 2nd Lieutenant. Immediately after the end of combat operations in Europe, the division was returned to the U.S. to begin training for the invasion of Japan. Operations Olympic and Coronet.

Olympic was not just a plan for invasion, but for conquest and occupation as well. It was expected to take four months to achieve its objective, with as many as 28 divisions landing on Honshu. With the three fresh American divisions per month to be landed in support of that operation if needed. Following the initial assault, eight more divisions—the 2nd, 28th, 35th, 91st, 95th, 97th and 104th Infantry Divisions and the 11th Airborne Division—would be landed.

As we all know, because of Fat Man and Little Boy, these operations were not necessary. My father returned home, married my mother, and I am a "baby boomer." My father was a dyed-in-the-wool, hardcore Eisenhower Republican, but I never heard an unkind or derogatory word from him about Franklin D. Roosevelt or Harry S. Truman. When I, as a Democrat, ran for local political office, he voted for me, but would never ever consider changing his registration.

R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, writes: Harry Truman had another option, rather than invading Japan or dropping The Bombs.

By 1945, the Imperial Japanese Navy was on the bottom of the Pacific and Japanese air defenses were all but completely destroyed, plus there was no petroleum for fuel anyway.

The U.S. Navy could have thrown a blockade around the Japanese islands and sunk everything that tried to cross it, while the U.S. Army Air Corps bombed everything into rubble and then bombed the rubble into sand.

This would have cost a bit of money and there would have been some U.S. casualties, but it would have been far cheaper in American lives and dollars than an invasion.

Oh, and it would also have cost many millions of Japanese lives.

Some insist that Japan surrendered because the Soviets were preparing an invasion after their post-VE Day declaration of war against Japan, but the Soviet Navy was nowhere near capable of carrying off an amphibious invasion, so that threat was rather tenuous, to put it charitably.

The blockade/bombing route would have avoided the use of atomic bombs while killing far more Japanese. It would likely have taken a few years and it would not have demonstrated to Stalin that the U.S. had atomic bombs and that it was willing to use them.

From this POV, dropping the bombs was the least-bad of several bad options.

L.V.A. in Idaho Falls, ID, writes: I would recommend Now It Can Be Told: The Story Of The Manhattan Project (1962) by General Leslie Groves, who ran the Manhattan Project. One thing I took from this book is that the Los Alamos portion (design and testing) was only part of a much larger Manhattan Project. There was also Albuquerque (assembly); Oak Ridge, TN (Uranium production); Richland, WA (Plutonium production); Chicago (testing) and more. Groves also addresses the questions you mentioned: (1) Was Nagasaki purely punitive? (no) and (2) Were there more nuclear bombs available for use immediately after Nagasaki? (yes). There were few in the U.S. government who could definitively address these and related questions. Groves was certainly one of them.


R.P. in Kāneʻohe, HI, writes: Last Sunday's comment by E.W. in Skaneeateles, sharing their wife's suggestion to rename "Columbus Day" to "Explorer's Day," both delighted and perplexed me.

I was delighted because I have always championed the need for more recognition of explorers and exploration. But I was perplexed for the same reason I've been perplexed about the entire public debate about the name of this particular holiday. Whenever I read something about this debate, I ask myself (sometimes out loud), "Has everyone forgotten that we changed the name of this holiday to 'Discoverer's Day' decades ago?!" This morning I asked my wife the same question and she pointed out something that I had never previously realized—that this is only a "Hawai'i thing." Having grown up calling it "Discoverer's Day" most of my life, I just assumed that people who made reference to "Columbus Day" in the national media were simply clueless. Evidently, my home state was half a century ahead of the rest of the nation in recognizing that Europeans were not the only people who have discovered things.

So while I have always thought of the second Monday in October as "Discoverer's Day," I strongly support E.W.'s wife (and others) in rebranding it nationally as "Explorer's Day." While discoveries are great and often worthy of celebration, it's the act of exploration that requires genuine courage. We should honor explorers from all nations and cultures across the history of civilization not because of their discoveries (which have at times led to tragic outcomes), but for the courage they summoned to venture into the unknown with the hope of ultimately improving the human condition.

P.B. in Sherman, CT, writes: I suggest we replace Columbus Day with Garibaldi Day. I'm not sure why you did not select him as one of your choices and would be interested in why you would not consider him. This accomplishes a whole lot more than removing the bad feelings and controversy generated by a day honoring Columbus: It gives Italian Americans a real hero to celebrate. Garibaldi is primarily known for his role in the unification and creation of the Kingdom of Italy and can be compared to George Washington as they can both be called fathers of their country and they both set aside their own ambitions and power for the sake of their country. But he is not only a hero for Italians. He spent years in South America fighting on the side of oppressed peasants and so earned the title "Hero of Two Worlds." That's where he adopted his gaucho-inspired uniform of red shirt, poncho, and sombrero. So, unlike Columbus, Garibaldi is a rallying point for humanity, a unifying figure.

He lived for a short time in the United States, and was respected around the world during his lifetime and since. He opposed slavery and at the start of the Civil War offered his services to Abraham Lincoln, but only if he was given command of the entire army and given the power to abolish slavery. His support for Lincoln, the Union, and the end of slavery was important in Europe.

I'm not a professional historian, and I'm citing most of these points from his Wikipedia page. Apparently, based on this limited look, there are no skeletons in his closet that would sour this holiday. Well, actually, there are two: he was anti-clerical, and he was involved with the First International. I don't think he was more anti-clerical than any of our Founders, and not in a way I would personally find offensive, but that's just me. And his involvement with socialism was of a kind contrary to and opposed to the eventual turn towards Marxism and communism. He believed in the people, but was not against ownership of property, for instance. The list of policies he supported is not controversial: "universal suffrage, progressive taxation, compulsory lay education, administrative reform, and abolition of the death penalty." Could he be the proto-social Democrat?

Everybody loved and respected Garibaldi, including Abraham Lincoln and Che Guevara (who called him "the only hero the world has ever needed"). Besides statues in Italy, there are Garibaldi statues in the U.S. (Washington Square Park and at the Supreme Court), Russia, and many other nations.

F.S. in Cologne, Germany, writes: A Nobel prize may not be shared among more than three individuals, so it's understandable that the Nobel prize in 1962 was awarded to Francis Crick, James Watson and Maurice Wilkins (who were still living), and not to Rosalind Franklin (who was already dead). If you look for a woman who didn't get the fair credit for her scientific work, I would choose Lise Meitner, who was—together with Otto Hahn—responsible for the discovery of nuclear fission. Yet somehow only Otto Hahn won the Nobel prize in Chemistry in 1944, an outrageous decision. Meitner was still alive in 1944. If you look for a woman who got the fair credit for her scientific work, I would choose Marie Curie for her research on radioactivity. So maybe the U.S. could introduce Lise Meitner Day or Marie Curie Day as a federal holiday.

J.L. in Mountain View, CA, writes: How about a holiday for Alan Turing? He was a major player in breaking the German codes in World War II as well as being extremely influential in the early development of computers. Because he was gay, the British rewarded him with chemical castration, possibly driving him to commit suicide. Giving him a holiday would not only honor his contributions to protecting democracy and bringing us into the modern world, but would highlight the evils of bigotry.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: Why not Winston Churchill, whose political will and force of personality saved European democracy from fascism, and who shaped America's destiny and place in the modern world more than any other foreigner?

J.B. Fort Kent, ME, writes: I would add two holidays:

  1. Darwin Day: Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection revolutionized biological science as well as the understanding of humanity's position in the universe. Celebrating Darwin Day honors science in general as well as the biological environments in particular.

  2. Tranquility Day: Celebrating science-driven exploration beyond the Earth with the hopes that future humans will not see space as solely a resource to be exploited. It might also be a day to celebrate cooperative international efforts that benefit all humanity.

Thanks for your site and involving your readers in the discussions!

D.C. in Delray Beach, FL, writes: I nominate Dag Hammarskjöld, the second Secretary General of the United Nations, who worked well to resolve conflicts around the world and gave the U.N. some real legitimacy in its early years. John F. Kennedy called Hammarskjöld "the greatest statesman of our century." Hammarskjöld's book Markings is a remarkable guideline for peace and for day to day living.

I also nominate Florence Nightingale, who did much to professionalize the nursing profession and was by training a statistician. As we hear the expression "follow the science" we can thank her for such innovations as the polar area diagram and the histogram which are featured in so many slide decks of presentations.


J.K. in Greensburg, PA, writes: If I were to grade your essay titled "Too Bad We Can't Just Let Teachers Teach," I'd have to give it a 'C.' But is that a fair grade, since I didn't use a rubric to grade it?

All teasing aside, your essay ended with five paragraphs on the topic of "standards and rubrics" with no particular references to where these have gone wrong other than a personal anecdote about (Z) sitting in an ineffective seminar for three days. You didn't do justice to the topic. There is a large amount of professional literature on constructing educational standards and rubrics, and all of it is written by educators, not politicians or parents. I am not dismissing your points—I agree that standards and rubrics seem to be a current fetish—but you failed to relate your points to politics (which is what your blog is about), and you also didn't back your views with any references. The reason references were needed is that your description of rubrics is wildly inaccurate. At the small liberal arts college where I teach, we develop assessment standards that are not "universal" but rather express the particular goals of our curriculum (that we come up with at the department level), and for our particular students. Then we devise rubrics to help us assess our effectiveness in achieving these educational goals. I'm not the biggest fan of this system, but you painted it very negatively with a broad brush that doesn't reflect current pedagogical practice.

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: As an avid and enthusiastic user of rubrics in teaching writing and in evaluating essays, I agree with every word you wrote about rubrics and about continuing education for teachers. I'm so sorry this has finally reached the college level. One is rather reminded of the spread of deadly nuclear radiation from the northern hemisphere to the southern in the classic novel, On the Beach (and movie of the same name).

As a veteran of 40 years in the classroom in independent college preparatory schools, I have to say this as well: There is no basis for your optimism about American education; the situation is much worse than you admit. Last I looked, American education had been fad-driven since before the Civil War.

The fundamental problem is one of leadership. It is the problem. The leadership itself is toxic. We'd all be better off without the leaders in the majority of cases, and the situation is getting worse not better. Right now, anything in American education that is actually effective and successful is automatically targeted for destruction because if it has been around long enough to be successful, it is by definition not new, or cutting edge, or innovative. American education has become a toxic sludge waste site mated with a death spiral.

I am fully aware that I gave no evidence or argument, but only an assertion. Anyone who writes in will be able to fill in the deficit with ease.

L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: I think the Texas school administrator who said that if teachers have a book in their classroom about the Holocaust they must also have one presenting an opposing point of view is being unfairly vilified. If you read the entire transcript of the meeting it is clear that the administrator is opposed to the new Texas law requiring all points of views on controversial subjects. She says that the teachers should be able to make their own determinations. But, she said that they all have to be careful or face legal consequences under the law. When she gave the Holocaust example it was not as a good thing, but as an extreme example of the care that they all had to take.

Now, some have said that she misinterpreted the law. However, given that her own school board had just disciplined a fourth grade teacher for keeping an anti-racism book in their classroom it's hardly surprising that she interpreted the new Texas law in such an extreme manner.

Everyone agrees that having to put pro-Holocaust books in the classroom is absurd, but it's clear that is not the belief of this administrator, rather she feels forced into it by the legislature.

Z.C. in Beverly Hills, CA, writes: I don't know if it's the same group you mentioned (Moms For Liberty), but a few weeks ago a group of protesters followed and harassed an event at my child's school called "Walk to School Wednesdays." Elementary kids and their parents walk a few blocks to school to encourage community and good health and the protesters thought that was a great opportunity to make some sort of insane point about masks and freedom. Some protesters were yelling things like "you're raping your children." The police did very little, and we heard that the police union is also fighting vaccine requirements so apparently they were ok letting adults scream at children on their way to school.

I find this attitude that American freedom somehow morphed into freedom to do whatever you want even if it hurts other people to be a troubling and dangerous trend. Nothing is out of bounds and Republican and right wing politicians are openly supporting these tactics. Dark days ahead when screaming at children is considered winning.

K.R. in Austin, TX, writes: Why in the world would a parent who buys a "We do not co-parent with the government shirt" choose to send their kids to public schools? I don't get it.


K.M. in Olympia, WA, writes: On the recent controversy over Dave Chappelle's alleged comedy special, it only goes to show how quickly someone can go from being young, edgy, and hip to middle-aged, grouchy, and behind the times (see also: Bill Maher).

V & Z respond: Look for some thoughts on Mr. Maher this week.

J.H. in Boston, MA, writes: I have been a lifelong fan of Sandman and Neil Gaiman, and it's certainly true that there's a large amount of LGBT representation. But one of the underlying messages of the "Game of You" issue is that trans women are just men in disguise, as far as what really matters. It's clear that Gaiman was trying to be inclusive, and was probably pretty cutting edge for the 1991-1992 timeframe, but I know trans people who find that arc to be transphobic. Care should be taken before recommending it as a paragon of LGBT representation.

R.M.S. in Lebanon, CT, writes: Since we have been on the subject of comics and superheroes, I wanted to see if you remember this one: Captain Planet and the Planeteers. This was my favorite animated show when I was in middle school. The show heavily promoted environmentalism. It is about a group of teenagers from 5 different cultural areas of the world who acquire elemental powers and try to stop polluters, poachers, and unethical scientists. When they came across a problem they could not solve on their own, they combined their powers to create a superhero called Captain Planet. The series aired 1990-1996 and it was the second longest-running animated series of the 1990s in the United States after The Simpsons. This is one of the few superhero franchises which hasn't been developed into a live-action film series.

I can tell the writers of the show were trying to troll conservatives. The series has a progressive message aimed at children with all the subtlety of a jackhammer. I've always seen it as an uplifting alternative to South Park's mean-spiritedness. It combines two ideologies that seem to really enrage today's right-wingers: environmentalism and multiculturalism. The message is the complete opposite of "America First" and they show how people of different cultures have to come together to solve international problems. The show was relatively uncontroversial in the 1990s, but if they revived it now I'm sure it would be a lightning rod in today's political culture. I really hope they do make a movie series based on it. It would be wildly popular with Millennials such as myself.

Here is a clip.

M.B.F. in Oakton, VA, writes: Rudy Lincoln? Seems to me you only caught two thirds of the character.

Full name, with title: Dr. Zaius Rudolph Lincoln:

A character from 'Planet of the Apes'

J.M. in San Jose, CA, writes: Sorry Rudy. I don't see Lincoln, I see Cornelius from Planet of the Apes, in a top hat.

D.K. Oceanside, CA, writes: B.C. in Walpole almost brought tears to my eyes. I had a Compac ME with a huge 400 MB hard drive. My husband had a Blueberry with a measly 100 MBs. But how I longed for a dedicated phone line... I managed to bring my mother kicking and screaming into the computer age with an iOpener.

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Oct23 Saturday Q&A
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Oct20 Legal Blotter, Part II: Crooked Congressmen
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Oct19 Another Two Bite the Dust
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Oct19 Too Bad We Can't Just Let Teachers Teach
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Oct15 Senate Will Vote on Manchin's Voting Rights Bill Next Week
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