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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

We begin with a few letters occasioned by yesterday's somber anniversary, followed by the several hot button issues of the week. After all of that, more dinner guests and theme songs for dessert. Oh, and more than you ever thought you'd read about state mottoes.

My City of Ruins

R.H.D. in Webster, NY, writes: Here's something I wish to offer on the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

My experience with 9/11 actually began four days prior to that fateful day. I was driving to Long Island to attend the wedding of two college classmates. Along the way, I stopped at Liberty State Park in NJ to get a good view of the Statue of Liberty and take some pictures. It was a bright, sunny day. Not too far from view were the famous Twin Towers in all their glory. I took some pictures of that, too. When I headed back home from the wedding that Sunday (9/9), I could see those towers from 20-30 miles away. As I got closer to them, they became bigger and bigger. If I had more time, I wanted to go up one of them just to experience it. That never happened.

As I reflect on the 20th anniversary of that fateful day, I ask myself where are we now today as a country. Three thousand of our fellow Americans were viciously and brutally murdered on that day alone. They died because a bunch of radicalized terrorists twisted a great religion to promote an idea that people shouldn't live freely as they wish. They hated our ideals, our beliefs, and our willingness to defend them no matter where, no matter what the cost.

There were the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. There was also supposed to be another attack on Washington, DC, most likely the US Capitol. But due to the brave souls on Flight 93, that never happened, as that plane eventually crashed on a field in southwestern Pennsylvania. That act of heroism spared us additional grief.

Later that night at the Capitol, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle congregated on the steps and spontaneously sang "God Bless America." No one had ever seen anything like this before. We prayed for the deceased and their families. We supported the new President, even though he came into office under questionable circumstances. We wanted swift and convincing justice. For a moment, Americans acted like Americans, not Republicans or Democrats.

However, I come back to the question of where are we now today as a country after 20 years have passed. Sadly, I hold a pessimistic view about us being currently united. We can't agree on anything today. Not on the pandemic, climate change, immigration, abortion, guns, race, or even who won last year's election. That last one led to another infamous, historic day: Jan. 6th. Though it took 20 years, the Capitol eventually was attacked by terrorists. But it wasn't because a plane smashed into it, on the commands of a bearded fanatic halfway around the world. It was ransacked based on lies repeatedly told by the supposed leader of the free world.

What will it take for us to finally come together, and this time, stay that way? The deadliest act of terror on our soil, nor a global pandemic that has taken about 220 times the lives lost on 9/11, nor an act of blatant insurrection has done the trick. I don't have the answer. We are on the cliff's edge, teetering between saving our republic or falling into an abyss of eternal and irrevocable destruction.

Those who lost their lives on 9/11, and those who gave their lives in response to preventing another one, are wondering what they died for. Is it in the words of Benjamin Franklin: "A republic, if you can keep it"?

God Bless America!

D.S. in Edinburgh, Scotland, UK, writes: In answer to F.S. of Cologne, who asked why the weapons of the September 11 terrorists weren't detected before the terrorists entered the airplanes, you wrote that airport officials were looking for bombs and guns, not bladed weapons, and then added: "Obviously, these assumptions have been revisited and corrected for, and it would not be possible to duplicate 9/11 today."

But objects made of glass are allowed in carry-on luggage, and can be bought inside the security zone at airports; for example duty-free shops sell bottles of liquor. A broken bottle is probably at least as good a weapon as a box-cutter. For that reason, I find it difficult to take airport security very seriously.

V & Z respond: Possibly, but even if someone tries that, the passengers and crew of the plane aren't going to remain passive, as they likely would have before 9/11.

G.G. in Chicago, IL, writes: In response to the question from F.S. in Cologne: Around 2000-1 I had a consulting job where I'd fly around a fair bit, work on servers, install software, that kind of thing. I regularly carried a Leatherman Super Tool on my belt, including on flights. If you click on the link, you'll see that it has lots of tools useful to a server tech: needle-nose and regular pliers, wire cutters, multiple screwdrivers, etc. It also has multiple knife blades (straight and serrated) and a saw. Pre-9/11, there were limitations on larger knives (e.g., you couldn't carry on a Bowie knife), but that limitation was 4 or 5". The blades on my mutlitool were just under 4", but I never once had it questioned at security (it would go through the scanner with my wallet/keys). If you look at the picture of the blades with both the straight and serrated blades open, you can close it like that and the two blades are opposed and offset by about 1/2". You could absolutely harm someone with it.

I flew into Newark on 9/10/2001 with my multitool on my belt as usual. When I managed to get a flight home out of Philly on 9/14, it was checked.

Just Do It

P.S. in Portland, ME, writes: On September 11 we lost 2,977 people due to the attacks. At the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we were losing more than 4,000 per day.

P.M. in Currituck, NC, writes: I applaud Joe Biden's efforts to mandate that people get vaccinated against COVID-19, but I fear there is a rather significant chunk of the population that never will. You wrote recently that you don't monitor right-wing communications, but there is a site I peruse regularly (click through, if you dare) that falls into that category. It originally began as a paranormal/conspiracy theory site (which is what attracted my interest initially), but has evolved since Barack Obama's election into a full-blown alt-right, racist, hate-filled, anti-science, "crazy people" forum. The netizens on there are convinced that COVID is nothing more than the sniffles, that it is 99.8% survivable, and that the vaccine is clearly a "death jab" engineered by Bill Gates/Anthony Fauci/Klaus Schwab to bring about genocide so as to impose a Satanist world order. I could go on, but you get the idea. No amount of profanity-laden essays by the Wendy Molyneuxs of the world will ever budge these people.

It is tempting to dismiss those people as just a small group of crazies who have no impact, but I think that is a false premise. I have noticed among mainstream right-wing talkers (Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Dan Bongino) a great degree of absolute vitriol directed toward Dr. Fauci in particular, and I think I figured out why: a good portion of their listeners/viewership is composed of such crazy people, and Hannity/Carlson/etc. will blast Fauci in order to boost their ratings. By the same token, Hannity, etc. are smart enough not to go full nutso (à la Alex Jones), so they will massage the message in order to get the ratings but not get silenced/sued. And with guys like that saying things like that, the unvaccinated folks will continue on, no matter how many policies the President implements.

One major downside to the Internet is that it has allowed crazy ideas to propagate completely unchecked. The QAnon insanity is but one example; one person has a crazy idea, which is built upon by another person with a crazy idea, and so on. These crazy people always existed but, before the Internet, they never had a chance to communicate with each other. Now, they do, and such ideas rapidly enter the mainstream, especially when egged on by the likes of Donald Trump. If you want to see what Republican talking points will be in a few months, take a look at that site I mentioned. And, it's because of crazy people coming together that I, with great sadness, fear the pandemic will stretch on indefinitely.

J.H. in Boston, MA, writes: In response to W.R. in Tyson's Corner, you listed several excellent reasons why Democrats should not encourage the spread of COVID, even if it may currently disproportionately affect Republicans.

One reason that you didn't give, but I think you've covered in the past, is that the number of dead are generally not enough to swing an election. Maybe if you count every family member or community member who knew the deceased or near death COVID patient, but my experience on the r/HermanCainAward subreddit suggests those people don't change their politics. Only a few of them even change their minds about the vaccine. So even if a politician were cynical enough to try to use the virus impacts for their gain (and we know some who did!), it wouldn't yield electoral success, and it would have a high risk of backfiring (as it did for those who tried!).

P.N. in Austin, TX, writes: While your answer to W.R. in Tyson's Corner did include this, it's very important we emphasize it, so I'm going to say it again, some parts "loudly."

It's all about the variants. This is not seat belts. If someone dies because they don't wear their seat belt, then maybe we lose a loved member of our community. Maybe we lose a skilled mechanic, or a doctor, or a wonderful chef. BUT IT DOESN'T SPREAD.

Worse yet, every minute that COVID has a large enough breeding environment (a.k.a. enough people to infect), there's a chance it can mutate. And every time it mutates, there's a chance it can mutate into a deadlier or more virulent variant.


This holds internationally as well. If, for instance, a new, more deadly, variant develops in Haiti (which currently has the world's second lowest vaccination rate)... DO YOU THINK IT WON'T GET HERE?

GET YOUR F***ING VACCINE (BTW...Wendy Molyneux and her sister are known for their writing on "Bob's Burgers")! CALL YOUR SENATOR AND ASK WHAT THEY ARE DOING TO GET DOSES TO COUNTRIES IN NEED.

A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: In your reference to Wendy Molyneux's article, you suggested that she may have been a sailor in a previous life. I had read the entire diatribe prior to your reference and it is a thing of beauty to behold (read) and perfectly expresses my attitude. Although a lot of "colorful language" is attributed to "sailors," I have found that they are not the only ones predisposed to such outbursts. For every sailor there is a soldier, marine, airman, carpenter, steelworker, truck driver, mechanic, farmer, plumber, electrician, longshoreman...either male, female, or indeterminate...who could keep up with Ms. Molyneux in turning the air blue in their descriptions of some person, place or thing. Please don't leave the rest of us out.

V & Z respond: We are reminded of the Louisiana farmer Pete Muggins, who wrote this in a letter to Abraham Lincoln: "God damn your god damned of hellfire of god damned soul to hell god damn you and god damn your god damned family's god damn hellfired god damned soul to hell and god damnation god damn them and god-damn your god damn friends to hell god damn their god damned souls to damnation god damn them and god damn their god damn families to eternal god damnation god damn souls to hell god damn them and God Almighty God damn Old Hamlin to go hell God damn his God damned soul God all over everywhere double damn his God damned soul to hell."

E.M. in Poughkeepsie, NY, writes: Friends of mine have shared Wendy Molyneux's piece in McSweeney's on social media and I suspect part of the reason is that it's cathartic to direct all those fricatives at the vaccine resisters (let's not call them "hesitant" any more). But speaking of sailors, I think Kathryn Baecht's piece "Wake up Sailors, Scurvy is a Hoax" (also in McSweeney's) is a bit more clever and on point.

A.V. in Cambridge, MA, writes: S.H. in San Francisco asked about a study that concluded a dose of ivermectin could help prevent COVID-19 infection. I am also not a virologist, but on reading the paper, I noticed that the group of people who were given ivermectin were not selected randomly. Instead, the entire hospital was given access to ivermectin, and about 2/3 of the workers chose to take the drug. The study found that COVID-19 infections were less common among those who chose to take ivermectin than those who chose not to take it. While it's possible that ivermectin really protects against COVID-19 infection, it is also possible that the study participants who were concerned enough about COVID-19 to take a preventative dose of ivermectin were more likely to take other preventative measures (masks, limiting social contact) as well. This is why double-blind studies (like the ones that established the COVID-19 vaccine efficacy) are so important. It's also worth noting that the study was conducted in India in September-November 2020, before vaccines were widely available, but also before the Delta variant arose.

Interestingly, the study links to the results of a small randomized clinical trial (so no bias from the choice of whether to participate) that shows similar effectiveness for ivermectin in preventing COVID-19 infections. So maybe ivermectin really does prevent infections, but it's still too early to tell.

M.H. in Seattle, WA, writes: I'm not Anthony Fauci either, but I'm happy to look at this peer reviewed study while your staff virologist is out on delivery. The journal's peer-review process is unorthodox, but the study itself has some big flaws. Their methods read: "... the study cohort... included the clinical staff engaged in inpatient care activities, administrative staff, and students." Certainly, admins in an office are less exposed to COVID than folks treating patients face mask to face mask. This was not controlled for in the statistics, but perhaps they can correct the oversight through the journal's post-publication review process.

The second issue is a total deal-breaker. "Ivermectin was made available free of cost to the [subjects]... telephonic data collection was done for the consumption of ivermectin tablets." Sounds like instead of randomizing subjects to treatment and placebo groups, everyone was given ivermectin tablets to take home and decide whether to take them or not. People who perceive a high risk from COVID will often wash their hands, wear masks, socially distance, and volunteer to take an unproven prophylactic on the off chance it might help. Folks who perceive less risk from COVID are less likely to take an unproven drug, and could also be less vigilant about taking other preventative measures. There is no way to tell if the difference in infection rates between the two groups is due to drug treatment or the other behavioral differences. This invalidates the results by itself. This is why randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials are the gold standard for clinical research.

I could go on, but it's not necessary. Sadly, the authors had a chance to run a sizable study with >3500 subjects, an opportunity many researchers would (not) kill for, and they blew it. I don't mean to imply incompetence or malfeasance (although I won't rule those out). Perhaps they didn't have enough funding to support a better trial (a situation we academics know all too well). However, when such a big headline from such a large trial can be dismissed so easily, is it any wonder the credibility of "experts" is in low regard?

C.B. in Fresno, CA, writes: Many thanks to S.S-L. in Norman for the diabetes/booster shot information! Two of my relatives are in the category described and are soon to receive booster shots. I've forwarded the comments to them.

More on Abortion

L.S. in Utrecht, The Netherlands, writes: Abortion should be legal, because if not, "people will do it anyway." According to E.W. in Skaneateles, this is a bad argument which undermines the idea of the rule of law.

That may be true, but a bad argument can nevertheless be good policy. Women would, in fact, obtain abortions illegally, and they would be worse off because those procedures would more often than not fail to meet any acceptable standard of care.

There is no parallel with the argument made against gun control ("if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns"). Ample data is available from jurisdictions where strict gun control laws are in place (Europe, Australia, Japan, South Korea). In those places, gun related violence is not higher, but in fact much lower than in the United States. Banning guns is good public policy; banning abortion is not.

F.H. in St Paul, MN, writes: A.B. in Wendell wrote in last week about how the Texas law limiting abortion will make all its citizens snitches, and using Mary, Jane and Kate as fictional stand-ins to illustrate that point. A.B. proposed that Kate, though unconnected to any abortion, could be framed by Mary and Jane, leaving Kate in some legal trouble and the other two with $5,000 in their pockets.

Suppose that this technique is used against some (or many) prominent and not-so-prominent conservative Texas citizens, male and female, who support this crazy law. How long would the laws supporters put up with being on the sticky end of the stick? Is this ethical? No, but nothing connected with this law is ethical.

P.V. in Kailua, HI, writes: I, with two X chromosomes, am pro-choice and anti-abortion. I look forward to the day when education, birth control, and pre-natal healthcare are so advanced, affordable, and available that no woman, couple, or family is ever again faced with the awful decision of whether or not to terminate a pregnancy. But until that day, it is not for me or the State to make that decision for anyone else.

I am sure that many anti-abortion activists honestly believe that all abortions are murder. However, if they are not also pro-contraception and pro-sex education, I cannot take their opinion on abortion seriously. And, as many on the right are clearly anti-contraception and anti-sex education, logic leads me to form the opinion that the issue is not actually abortion—the issue is sex. As in, who gets to have it and whom they get to have it with. Sex is a powerful motivator. If you control who gets to have it and whom they get to have it with, well then, you have an awful lot of power over those people.

Abortion and birth control are always presented as "women's issues" with anti-abortion laws being condemned for "trying to control women." And it is true—women bear the brunt of it. But think about it: If you control the sex lives of straight women, you also control the sex lives of straight men. Of course, that doesn't cover gay men and women, so homosexuality is condemned a priori. This leads me to believe that, just as we will never have a reasonable discussion about voter ID laws, because the Republicans' real issue is not election security but voter suppression and power, we will never have a reasonable discussion about abortion laws because the real issue is not abortion, it's sex. And power.

G.W. in Oxnard, CA, writes: L.S. in Ann Arbor wrote a fascinating item about late-stage abortions and how the issue is misrepresented and misunderstood. I also wanted to add to that there is misrepresentation and misunderstanding regarding the medical science.

There seems to be a perception that fetus viability and the life of the woman is a binary situation; that the doctor knows with certainty if the fetus is viable or that the woman will survive without permanent damage/disability. Medical science doesn't know such things with accuracy in most cases; that's why these sorts of decisions should be left between the woman and her doctor. In 2010, a nun-administrator was excommunicated because she authorized a late-stage abortion at a Catholic hospital for a woman who was having an extreme high-blood pressure crisis and was on the verge of death. Building on that concept, the Texas law would demand of a woman to attempt to carry to term even if the fetus is severely deformed and lacks a vital organ like a brain or lungs, so long as the fetus has a heart—even if the woman's life was in extreme peril.

I suppose the concept is that the woman has a duty to God to carry the fetus regardless of the probabilities of death or fetus viability, because if the woman's faith is strong enough, a miracle will happen. Or, if the woman's faith is strong but the woman or the fetus dies, then they will be called to Heaven, while if the woman's faith wasn't strong enough and something went wrong, then she had it coming. The definition of "God" is such that God is the hero in all possible scenarios. And as long as I'm writing about probabilities, if this law stands it is a certainty that women will die in Texas due to complications of pregnancy unless there are doctors willing to take the risk of being sued or take the risk of filing false medical records such that "spontaneous miscarriages" become more common.

K.F. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: In my opinion, although most federal district court judges would likely rule against the Texas abortion law and would likely issue a preliminary injunction against its enforcement, once an appeal is taken to the federal Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (a court that is even more conservative than the U.S. Supreme Court), that appellate court will very likely stay any preliminary injunction and will likely later rule in favor of the Texas abortion law. And then another appeal will be taken before the U.S. Supreme Court which will rule both on an emergency basis and ultimately on the merits. By that time, the Supreme Court will likely have rendered a decision in the Mississippi abortion case (Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization; bans abortions after 15th week) and overruled its long-standing precedents of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood of PA v. Casey. At that time, even if the Supreme Court rules that the S.B. 8 Texas abortion law is unconstitutional (on grounds of faulty procedures in allowing private citizens to sue, or on such similar grounds), the red state legislatures will pass new laws in line with whatever the Supreme Court states in its new decision from the Dobbs case from Mississippi.

C.S. in Meridian, ID, writes: I'm going to quote you on this even though you said not to. Regarding Mexico legalizing abortion, you wrote: "Perhaps—though don't quote us on this—America's neighbors to the south are offering up an object lesson on the separation of church and state."

In spite of the strong association of the pro-life movement with religious beliefs, it is not a "religious" issue. Just ask Secular Pro-Life.

The pro-life movement is diverse and includes many voices that are not fans of the right-wing Republican movement, including women (Feminists for Life) and Democrats (Democrats for Life). I invite you to listen to these voices and broaden your perspective of the pro-life movement.

M.C. in Santa Clara, CA, writes: This is undoubtedly naive, simplistic, and insensitive in many ways, however: Could we eliminate or greatly reduce the need for abortion by supporting those young ladies governmentally with wellness and other support, and then have the babies be adopted by loving gay couples?

Perhaps Pete and Chasten Buttigieg's example begins a tsunami of adoption requests by gay couples?

V & Z respond: We will note that the current issue is not primarily a lack of willing LGBTQ+ couples, but public and private agencies that discriminate against prospective LGBTQ+ parents as a matter of course.

Off to the Races

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: R.T. in Arlington wrote: "...but after a lifetime observing visible physical differences between populations from different parts of the world, 'no biological difference' is hard to choke down."

Try this: There are biological differences, eyelid shape being one. But there is no significant biological difference, no difference that marks one human being as a different kind of human being from another, no difference that would signify or explain anything that an historian or a psychologist, for example, might be interested in understanding or explaining.

Try it this way: One of the most distinctive markers of "race" is skin color. (I'm old enough to remember when every "race" was assigned a particular color, even thought that color had little to do with actual appearance, i.e. brown-skinned people being assigned the color black, or light-skinned people being assigned the color white, even though neither group had people who were actually black or white.) The color range of human skin shows the adaptability of human skin, not anything about the person under the skin or their biology or their inherent characteristics. Human skin is capable of producing melanin, which gives human skin color, in varying amounts. Human skin is capable of taking on different colors for different purposes. (My wife, the artist, would correct that statement: "It's not color that you mean. It's value, in artistic terms: relative scale of light to dark.")

Or this: There are no breeds of humans. I can see a dog, recognize it as a Bernese Mountain Dog or a Newfoundland, and predict fairly accurately its characteristics and behavior. You can't look at a human being and know anything about them with certainty. Race as a biological concept was avidly pursued for a century or two and ultimately failed, as (Z) noted. No one was finally able to prove any clear, objective distinction between one "race" of humans and another. For the last 8-10,000 years, since the extinction of Homo sapiens neanderthalensis, the only people have been Homo sapiens sapiens. We're all the same group, biologically.

Put another way: You may remember from high school biology the classifications of living things: domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species. These is no scientific classification called "race," despite long and varied attempts to define such a classification for humans. All humans are members of the same species, and even the same subspecies, and that is the most specific scientific classification to describe us. As an individual, I am different from you. You are different from your son. Being of European descent, I have certain minor differences from a person of East Asian descent. But all these differences are small, superficial, and of no consequence. They will not explain differences in our behavior.

Or this: One reason racial categorization collapses is that it quickly becomes clear that there is more genetic variation within [what anyone defines as] a racial group than among [what anyone defines as] racial groups.

B.B. in Panama City Beach, FL, writes: There was an issue of National Geographic that had pictures of skin color from everywhere on the planet. Every color you might imagine was represented, except for green. The variety of shades was eye-opening, and really brings home the point about how minor the distinctions are between people.

V & Z respond: It would seem that they overlooked The Grinch.

M.S. in Gonzales, LA, writes: The best recent discussion I have seen of this perceptual issue appears in Adam Rutherford's A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived: The Human Story Retold Through Our Genes. He's a geneticist with a special interest in historical DNA research and he makes the point—several times, and stating it in different ways—that the concept of "race" has absolutely zero meaning to geneticists. And he explains the reasons why it's entirely a social construct very clearly and convincingly and in detail. It's a well-written book and I recommend it.

S.T. in Copenhagen, Denmark, writes: As a biology teacher I have found it useful to define "race" as 'animal subspecies engineered by man' (dogs, cats, horses) and "species" as something developed by natural selection. This is certainly not perfect, since we don't even have a good definition of "species." But it is helpful, I think, to explain why "race is a social construct."

J.M. in New York City, NY, writes: My junior high social studies teacher, Ms. Headley, proclaimed numerous times during the semester, way back in the late '60s, that "People talk about the different races. There's only one race: the human race."

Ms. Headley struck me then and now as a Trumanesque, shop-steward type; she had a brisk, serious-yet-sensitive approach to teaching our motley class of adolescents, and would occasionally sidestep the Socratic method to deliver such authoritative declarations. As an impressionable youth in an electrifying era, I gladly assimilated such slogan-like takes on human affairs as part of my American identity.

The MAGA Crowd

J.K. in Washington, DC, writes: As someone who lives in D.C. and who does, in fact, monitor and write about far-right online discourse, I just wanted to chime in regarding the rally in DC on Sept. 18.

You are most likely correct that it will not be a major event or reach anything like the scale or intensity of Jan. 6. The rally does not have significant support among members of the Proud Boys nationwide. On the contrary, their participation was called by a single local group leader in New York and, at this point, many other members are calling for him to be kicked out of the organization on account of their fear that a demonstration in D.C. may actually imperil, colleagues who are awaiting trial (particularly if there is significant fighting in the streets).

I can tell you from genuinely terrifying firsthand experience that the "rallies" in Washington last November and December, which have largely been forgotten because they didn't center on any important federal buildings, involved gangs of sometimes hundreds roaming through the streets and attacking people, sometimes with knives, bear mace, or "flag poles" made of baseball bats or hockey sticks. Those mobs were overwhelmingly led by the Proud Boys, with additional support from various militia members, MAGA-oriented people, and "groypers." Without a significant Proud Boys presence, it's hard to see where that impetus is going to come from. It seems likely, then, that Sept. 18 will be more of a conventional rally and people will just go home afterwards.

One thing to watch out for, though, might be the fact that Ashli Babbitt's mother is now involved. Babbitt was shot and killed while trying to climb through a window inside the Capitol on Jan. 6 and has become a martyr and an extremely potent symbol for various far-right factions. Depending on her mother's performance (if she speaks, it will undoubtedly be recorded and, if it's of any value at all, widely disseminated on far-right social media), there could be some fireworks some time after the fact, although even that seems like a bit of a stretch. We'll see...

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: When are we going to give up the pretense that the Republicans don't have an unbreakable lock on the "This Week in Schadenfreude" award for the foreseeable future?

For example, Mike "My Pillow" Lindell has admitted that his promotion of the Big Lie has increased his sales of My Pillow so much so that he had to hire 250 additional employees to keep up with the demand. The problem is that his lawyers are arguing in the defamation lawsuit brought by Dominion Voting Machines that their client's pursuit of the Big Lie has hurt his profits. Oops! Someone must be lying here, but who? Either way it makes the case all that much easier for Dominion to win. If the Pillow King of Self-Promotion is brought down by his own braggadocio then that's my definition of Schadenfreude!

All Politics Is Local

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: Kevin Paffrath may have put a D next to his name on the California recall ballot, but he's against mask and vaccine mandates, lockdowns, and any and all business operating restrictions, making him an unacceptable DINO in my book. Yet, he'll get my vote because he'd be less bad than any of the other viable alternatives. The sad truth is that there just aren't any viable pro-public-health contingency candidates in this election.

R.V. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: Republicans are already using voter fraud as an excuse, as I guess they fear losing the California recall race this week.

This is so dangerous it's impossible to overstate. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) will win by 10%+ but Fox will convince their cult that the election was stolen and this will lead to violence at the already planned protest next weekend in DC.

We are at a very bad place in this country right now, in large part due to right-wing media.

C.W. in Carlsbad, CA, writes: I wanted to share a little bit of "back-of-the-envelope" modeling for the benefit of L.K. in Los Angeles, who asked about how well Gavin Newsom has managed the pandemic. If you apply the "COVID deaths per 100k" figure for Florida to California's population, we would see nearly 17,000 more deaths here than what we experienced under Newsom.

It's obviously more complex than this, but let's just say there are more than a few Californians who owe Newsom a "No Recall" vote this coming Tuesday at the very least.

J.F. in Sloatsburg, NY, writes: You wrote that you don't know what Sen. Joe Manchin's (D-WV) game plan is. I believe there's an easy answer: He is running in 2024—whether for Senate again or for governor, I do not know—and he is trying to run up as many PITA points as possible ahead of time, as the only way he can realistically win.

Think about it: His state is deep red, and yet he votes with the Democrats some 70-75% of the time. Even if we flipped those numbers to 25% of the time, he is still far, far too liberal to ever win the Republican primary in West Virginia. So he has to run as a Democrat, and he is a Democrat regardless of what loud voices in the Twitterverse might feverishly declare.

But in order to win as a Democrat, he has to show that he is not beholden to the Bernie and AOC wing of the Democratic Party, and he has to do so continuously (he can't start in late 2023 and expect it to stick). Remember that this is the guy who ran the commercial where he took the ACA out to the shooting range and put a few rounds through it. Being a Pain In The Ass—frequently, loudly, and publicly—is another way for him to demonstrate that independence.

D.R. in Yellow Springs, OH, writes: Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) has a real problem now that it looks like she will have only one major challenger in the 2022 Republican primary. Before Donald Trump endorsed Harriet Hageman (R), it looked like there might be a crowded primary where Cheney could win with a plurality, but that doesn't look like a viable option now.

However, she does have another path to re-election that she'd be wise to consider. She could form a new political party and run as its nominee. If she were to form the Conservative Party of Wyoming, she could skip the Republican primary. Cheney would probably win a general election against Hageman and a Democrat and would almost certainly win in a two-way general election with Hageman.

Also, it's safe to say that Cheney isn't the only Wyoming Republican who's dismayed by the way the party is acting now. Probably many members of the state Legislature feel the same way, even if they don't dare say so in public. Cheney and her father, who are both highly respected in Wyoming, might well get a lot of Republican state legislators to bolt to her new party and break up the existing Republican supermajority in the state Legislature.

It's plausible that such a party could spread to other states. There are plenty of Republicans who miss the days when their party believed in the rule of law and wanted to advocate for conservative principles from a standpoint of reality.

It would be far more viable than Andrew Yang's proposed third party.

J.F. in Houston, TX, writes: You wrote about Arkansas CD 2: "...this does not seem a great opportunity for someone on the left. Apparently, others disagree, because the Democratic primary field now has two contenders in it."

Quite simply, you miss 100% of the shots you don't take. A major reason the Democratic party is not the dominant party in this country is that for years it "played it safe" and only tried to compete in D+x districts, leaving large parts of the country with no opportunity to think about the issues, and thus with only right-wingers explaining them. Beto O'Rourke demonstrated that all you have to do is go talk to those people, and they will hear what you say. And if you talk to them regularly and respectfully, they can change their minds. If you don't try, you are praying for miracles instead of working for them.

W.T. in Lowell, AR, writes: I know Arkansas politics very well and can assure you that covering any election, even as a funny anecdote, is a waste of your time.

If nuclear scientist and pastor Chris Jones (D) can get any traction against Sarah Sanders (R) by painting her as part of toxic Washington politics, then he may pull a respectable 45% of the vote and get to deliver his concession speech from a podium and not from the corner booth of a Chili's, but I doubt it.

Arkansas does not have competitive state politics. Not even at the Republican primary level, honestly.

M.N. in Lake Ann, MI, writes: In your item "Abbott Is Sinking," the assumption seems to be that the folks who don't approve of him are wanting a more rational and scientific response to the pandemic, among other things. However, I have family there, who are rabidly for the "previous guy," and they absolutely hate Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) because...wait for it...he is doing too much in regards to the pandemic, and is generally not seen as Trumpy enough. Abbott is undoubtedly in serious trouble, but moving to a science-based approach to anything is not necessarily what folks in Texas actually seem to want. I'm fairly certain that one can't actually do less in response to the pandemic than is currently happening in Florida and Texas, but when not constrained by actual reality, I guess anything really is possible.

The Price of Service

E.S. in Maine, NY, writes: I appreciate your bringing up the draft. I have said something like what I write here to several people with no effect. In 1942, my father did not want to get drafted but he did and he went. He killed people and watched his buddies get maimed and die, and came back with PTSD. He had nightmares till the day he died, pushing 70 years. He would kick and thrash in bed and wake up sweating. A few days before he died, he woke up exclaiming "My partner is covered in blood!" One of the last things he said to me.

But I get how wearing a mask, keeping your distance and getting vaccinated is a huge sacrifice and tyranny, just like Hitler. And you do not know what is in the vaccine, unlike hot dogs, Mountain Dew and just about everything you eat. And of course you know what was in every other vaccine you got as a child and gave to your kids if you have them. Oh, wait...

So since we all live in a society, we have to follow the rules. None of us could live more than a few days without the benefits that human society has given us. Just one example: the shirt on your back. You did not grow the cotton, spin it into thread, weave it into cloth, or sew the cloth into a shirt. All of that was done by other members of our society. And, of course, you did not make the needle needed to sew the shirt. Every item you own was made possible by others. As the saying goes, "no person is an island."

R.M.S. in Lebanon, CT, writes: I am very glad you mentioned the death of Kyle Van de Water last week because people need to pay more attention to the mental health crisis affecting tens of thousands of U.S. military veterans. Since this week is the 20th anniversary of 9/11, I wanted to share a story of a man I knew who volunteered to serve as a result of 9/11. Shortly after 9/11, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps. He spent 4 years in the armed forces, serving in Afghanistan for 2 years, and then in Iraq for 2 years starting in 2003. After being discharged from the Marines, he went to college and got a Bachelor of Criminal Justice degree and became a police officer for a local police department in my area. I met him at a gym where I used to work out and over the next 2 years we lifted weights together a few nights per week. After that, I moved to a different area of the state and lost touch with him.

Over the next several years, he developed an addiction to fentanyl, which is a synthetic opioid 100 times stronger than morphine, and 50 times stronger than heroin. He lost his job as a police officer due to his addiction and struggled with his mental health. He was able to maintain a steady relationship with a girlfriend over this time, but I think he felt inadequate due to his addiction and loss of his career. In December 2016, 10 days after his girlfriend gave birth to his first and only child, he shot himself in the head in his car in the middle of the night on a rural roadway, where he was discovered by a motorist the next morning.

Although I am not a mental health professional, I am almost certain he suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The stress of war and being a police officer must have taken an immense toll on him. It is common for people with PTSD to abuse drugs as a way to cope. It is essential that the United States reach out to our veterans and provide them with the mental healthcare they need to recover from their experiences. No one should ever feel ashamed or embarrassed about needing help.

V & Z respond: We are 100% in agreement, of course.

History Matters, Civil War Edition

E.M. in Milwaukee, WI, writes: Dana Milbank wrote a column this week describing Robert E. Lee as a "stone-cold loser." I think this is arguably correct and Milbank makes the argument well. But Richard Ernest and Trevor Dupuy, in The Encyclopedia of Military History from 3500 B.C. to the Present, say "[during the Civil War] two men alone displayed military genius ranking them among the great captains of the world: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee." The Dupuys wrote in the 1970s, when condemnation of slave-holding and white supremacy was more muted.

From my amateur reading of Civil War history, I would say that Lee's strengths lay in defensive improvisation and in maintaining morale in a situation where it was difficult. He fought long defensive campaigns that frustrated two talented generals (George McClellan and Grant, though McClellan's heart was never really in the fight). I would say that his weaknesses were in all areas. In tactics, he allowed frontal assaults with inadequate artillery support at Malvern Hill and Gettysburg. In operations, he didn't always coordinate units well, such as sending the cavalry off on a wild goose chase just before Gettysburg or the confusion among sub-units at Malvern Hill. In strategy, he invaded the North twice and it never went well, even if there were some victories that embarrassed the Union. Those invasions wasted resources that might have been better spent on defensive and counter-attack efforts. And as Milbank points out, Lee wasted uncounted Confederate soldiers and was forced to accept something close to unconditional surrender. Also, Lee's post-war writings show that he was a dyed-in-the-wool racist.

I'm sure the resident historian has a much more detailed accounting and analysis to provide after he recovers from his visit with the staff mathematician.

V & Z respond: It's not so much a visit as "paying the bail." We've had some requests to respond to Donald Trump's statement this week about Lee, and we're thinking about it, though it's kind of like shooting fish in a barrel...if the gun is a bazooka, and the barrel is five feet away.

B.P. in Pensacola, FL, writes: I enjoyed your item on Civil War memorials. We've had a battle over one ourselves here, and it is now removed and in storage. Some of the positions articulated in a lawsuit by the Confederate apologists include such claims as "the cause of the Confederacy was morally correct" and that Jefferson Davis was "an American President." One important point that often gets missed is that Robert E. Lee himself was opposed to such memorials. There are several recorded examples, but the best known and clearest was in 1869, when Lee declined an invitation to attend a ceremony at Gettysburg to erect "enduring memorials of granite" there. He wrote a letter in response to the invitation, observing: "I think it wiser moreover not to keep open the sores of war, but to follow the examples of those nations who endeavored to obliterate the marks of civil strife & to commit to oblivion the feelings it engendered."

So while Lee is perhaps the most frequent individual subject of many of the memorials, another of the great Civil War ironies is that, if asked, he would not have consented to his likeness being used for them.

J.S. in Cambridge, MA, writes: Per your useful primer on Southern monuments to various Confederate figures, especially Robert E. Lee, I strongly recommend a 2021 book, Robert E. Lee and Me: A Southerner's Reckoning with the Myth of the Lost Cause, by Ty Seidule. While head of the history department at West Point after a long military career, Seidule confronted a movement at the academy when there was a serious proposal to honor all former West Pointers killed in wartime, including those who fought for the Confederacy. He grew up idolizing Robert E. Lee, having lived in Virginia, Georgia, and Alabama, and chose Washington and Lee for college largely as a result of a lifetime of Lee-worship. Only gradually did he come to the realization, after training and work as an historian, of the implications of the facts that Lee had violated his oath to the United States, fought as a traitor to enlarge a "slave republic," and that Lee's choices were not at all inevitable given his family, Virginia loyalties, etc.

In telling his very personal tale, Seidule mixes in considerable relevant history, including the cultural evolution of the Lost Cause myth, the stories of numerous Confederate leaders in addition to Lee, monuments to various Confederates, military base/installations named after them, the fraught histories both of West Point and of Washington and Lee University as microcosms of some of these issues, and so on. For me, the personal and historical aspects of this book complemented each other powerfully.

D.R. in Old Harbor, AK, writes: On the subject of monuments to the Confederacy, it occurs to me that these statues were erected by partisans of the South, which were at the time Democrats. It is only fitting that current Democrats would be the ones to lead the effort to remove such statues—to atone for the racism that motivated them in the first place.

G.W. in Dayton, OH, writes: I enjoyed your quoting "Oh, I'm a Good Old Rebel." I was the research historian in 1976 for a college honors consortium that produced a program on Civil War music and we used that piece. I was disappointed that you didn't quote the most significant lines, which still reverberate in my mind and are, sadly, a bellwether of politics in 2021:

Oh, I'm a good ol' rebel,
Now that's just what I am.
For this fair land of freedom
I do not give a damn.

And the final words of the song:

And I don't want no pardon
For what I was and am.
I won't be reconstructed,
And I do not give a damn.

V & Z respond: We didn't like excluding those, but we decided that the passage referring directly to Robert E. Lee was more relevant.

E.V. in Derry, NH, writes: J.G. in Albany wrote asking about dissenters in the South during the Civil War. I liked the thought about the connection between hushing up any dissent and the rise of the Southern war monuments and the reframing of the war narrative to favor the South.

Books are out there! I visit Gettysburg fairly frequently. About 15 years ago, I noticed a decided increase in the number of books on sale in the National Park visitors center that dealt with the anti-secession/pro-Union forces in the Confederacy. The fact that the South was not unified is no surprise—societies are not normally homogeneous. But it was nice to see more books on the topic finally more readily available. I bought several, and still have two. Disloyalty in the Confederacy, by Georgia Lee Tatum was a reprint of the original from 1895! Tatum taught at the Mississippi State Teachers' College, which I find interesting in itself. North Carolina Civil War Documentary, edited in 1980 by W. Buck Yearns and John G. Barrett, is a collection of primary sources grouped by subject with introductory comments. It focuses on the state's experience, rather than military exploits. It has sections on groups that were against the war and secession, and is a good overall look into the experience of the citizens in a somewhat divided state during the war.

V & Z respond: The Yearns and Barrett book was an inspiration for the book Cold Mountain, which was turned into the movie Cold Mountain.

J.W. in Newton, MA, writes: In your response to S.G. from Newark, you make the case that in the antebellum period, pro-slavery forces had even more grossly disproportionate power than rural white people have now. However, it's worth noting that in the elections before the Civil War, we never saw the electoral vote winner capturing less than a plurality of the votes nationwide. For example, in 1852, Franklin Pierce won all but 4 states (including most "free" states) and won the popular vote by 7%. The dominance of the pro-slavery Democrats during this era had much to do with the weakness of the Whigs and the fact that majorities in the North were quite willing to vote for a pro-slavery President.

History Matters, Other

J.M. in Arvada, CO, writes: Responding to M.M. in Houston about how best to teach history, my education is a good example of how not to. I'm in my mid-40s so you can work backwards to figure out the time period of my primary education. We were required to take year-long U.S. history in 4th, 8th, and 11th grade, along with at least two units on local history (state of Washington) in 4th and 8th grade, if I recall correctly. Each time we went through U.S. history it was supposed to be the full history of the U.S., from early explorers to sometime in the 20th century. The only time I ever was taught anything about 20th century U.S. history was when I took AP History in 11th grade, and even then the last major event I remember being taught was the sinking of the Lusitania event (though I do remember a bit about Anne Frank and the Holocaust, but I think that was taught out of order to align with Holocaust Remembrance Day). We would just run out of time at the end of the year to go any further. Everything I know about "modern" U.S. history including World War I, World War II, Vietnam, etc., I've learned on my own through osmosis or my own reading.

V & Z respond: Because elementary schools run out of time like this, and university professors are largely disinclined toward military history, (Z) has never once been "taught" World War II by anyone. The stuff he covers in his three U.S. history survey lectures on the subject, he taught himself.

F.H. in St Paul, MN, writes: You wrote, in "Biden Lays Down the Law," that "After World War I concluded, Americans generally concurred that fighting the war had been a pretty good idea."

After reading a couple of books and listening to many podcasts on the Great War, I believe that even though the U.S. contribution to the war effort was measured in months, not years, the only feeling the public could have had was anger after seeing the wounded soldiers and hearing their stories and knowing families grieving for those who died in the mud in Belleau Wood. Angry that their loved ones had to go through hell for no reason other than national pride.

Of course, as we're seeing today, pride can be a strong force that can blind some from the truth and what they see in front of their very eyes.

F.D. in Portland, OR, writes: As a lifelong pro-union Democrat, a former union member (Teamsters and AFSCME), and a long-time reader, I had thought I'd do pretty well on the Labor Day quiz. Alas, I only got two answers dogs and Oscar nominations! I hope (Z) is grading on a generous curve!

V & Z respond: We forgot to mention that current and former union members get eight points of extra credit. So, you got 10/12, which is good enough for a B.

C.J. in Redondo Beach, CA, writes: Warren Harding was nearing the end of a long West Coast swing and was scheduled to get to Los Angeles on August 2, 1923. It was still a big deal in those days when the President came to town (as opposed to now, when most people complain that traffic is going to be made that much worse).

Exposition Park was putting on a Tri-Part Expo (back when it actually lived up to its name and did Expos) that was commemorating the History of the U.S., the 100th Anniversary of the Monroe Doctrine, and was in part produced by the rapidly expanding motion picture industry (who were also showing off their new business during the Expo). Every night, grand spectaculars were held and were the first events ever held in the brand-new Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Harding was going to tour the city and make two speeches—one at the Hollywood Bowl and another in the evening at the stadium.

Unfortunately, all those plans had to be changed as when Harding got to San Francisco, he was gravely ill. So, the L.A. portion of the trip was canceled. He sent some staff to still make an appearance, and a tree was dedicated in his honor at the Hollywood Bowl before a fete there that afternoon. That night, the crowd in the Coliseum (even without Harding, there was a night show scheduled) was told that the President had just died after an apparent stroke.

Anyway, the disappointment in the overall attendance led the film business to conclude that large scale Expos wouldn't entice the public anymore. So that, in addition to the labor issues, led the higher-ups to look for other ways to engage the public and improve their image, which was another factor in the creation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. That obviously begat the Oscars as a way to get the public excited about the industry.

H.M. in Wilmington, DE, writes: Probably you are both familiar with the short documentary "The Umbrella Man" by Errol Morris, which is germane to the current conspiracy theory discussion, but I thought I'd send the link for those who don't know it and might find it interesting.

V & Z respond: Quantum history!

Word Choice

K.C. in Louisville, KY, writes: You referred to people who pronounce "rights" as "rats."

When living in Tennessee years ago, I learned those same folks pronounce "war" as "wowa."

In fact, the "Wowa of Northern Aggression" was still quite a passionate topic for discussion.

V & Z respond: FYI, a reader more familiar with the dialect corrected us, that "riots" gets closer to the pronunciation than "rats."

K.C. in Portland, OR, writes: Although I am a liberal Northerner, I must take issue with your comments in the piece "The South Will Fall Again" that twice ridiculed people for pronouncing "my rights" as "my rats." This is purely an ad hominem attack, i.e., attacking an aspect of the person making the argument instead of the argument itself. Regional accents are as old as language itself. The fact that someone naturally speaks in the regional accent of their place of birth is no more an indication that their positions are ridiculous or that they are stupid than that a fish naturally "breathes" water instead of air. Such comments stoke tribalism and hatred of the other—whichever other it might be—and impede any possibility of mutual respect, understanding, or reconciliation.

How can the U.S. hold together as a nation if all sides have descended into caricaturizing the other? And I realize many "carpetbagging" politicians may adopt a regional accent they did not grow up with, but that is neither here nor there. If we are all just going to degenerate into reflexive ridicule of each other's innate but irrelevant differences, then there does not seem to be much hope left of holding together, and we might as well Balkanize now and get it over with—except you have shown with an earlier map that red and blue are so interspersed with each other that this is not really a viable solution either. So let us at least refrain from ridiculing each other for our trivial differences—it just stokes the flames of hatred and division.

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: In response to T.C. in St. Paul, who dislikes the use of "hard" vs. "soft" infrastructure, the point is well taken. But just to throw out a different perspective, in the computer business, hardware and software are both equally important; you literally can't have one without the other. Neither is considered manly or womanly or greater or lesser. The "hard" and "soft" are simply references to the presence or lack of physicality. Coming from that world, that's how I perceive the difference between hard and soft infrastructure. I can, though, see the value in using "human infrastructure" instead, but don't think it's going to make it seem any more necessary to the people who already think it's unnecessary. A rose by any other name...

J.H. in Boston, MA, writes: I had to roll my eyes at the suggestion that the hard/soft dichotomy is sexist, and should be deleted from the vocabulary. As in "hardware" versus "software." Hint: One is made of physical objects which are hard. One is not. Same applies to roads versus daycare infrastructure.

I understand the principle that I cannot be the judge of what others find offensive, but it sometimes seems like people are making up things to be offended by. Also what does this have to do with sex? Is she making a penis joke? One could just as well turn the tables and call that the real sexism.

Oh, and for the record, I always took your usage of the moniker "The Donald" as snarky, not endearing.

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: M.G. in Boulder expressed interest in how other readers interpret the moniker "The Donald," as well as potential alternatives. For my part, I think it points to his highest ambition, or (semi?) private fantasy: to be "The Don" of a New York crime family, in the heyday of New York's organized crime. My eyes roll at his sense of his own competence.

As for alternatives, I've used "The Muppet(-in-chief)" more than once. His skin's orange, his hair's outrageous, he's easily manipulated, and the cherry on top is that it's British slang for "idiot."

T.W. in Norfolk, England, UK, writes: A bit of a plea, because the last 18 months haven't been good for my blood pressure on this topic: Can we stop calling conspiracy theories "theories"? A theory is a set of systemically arrived-at ideas derived from evidence from which plausible propositions can be deduced. Please, for the common good, can we call conspiracy theories what they really are: "conspiracy fantasies"?

D.K. in Oceanside, CA, writes: I just want to air a little pet peeve. Lately I've seen several references to "pregnant people." I have often been accused of being too PC, but this is really a bridge too far for me. Pregnant people are always women. A prospective father may say, "We are pregnant," but he does not have morning sickness or difficulty putting on his socks when nearing term. If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament and not a crime in the state of Texas.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: Cordwainers? Thanks for that one, as it is completely new to me.

V & Z respond: It's based on a particular type of leather that used to be used frequently in the making of shoes. A crude modern equivalent would be if suit makers in the 1970s were called "polyesterers."

Sunday, Bloody Sunday

S.S. in West Hollywood, CA, writes: You didn't ask, but it did come up and I otherwise never get to give my opinion on this.

I watch "Meet the Press," "This Week with George Stephanopoulos," and "Face the Nation" every Sunday and have for decades since my mid-20's. Here's what I can report:

Meet the Press: The best of the three, though Chuck Todd sometimes drives me crazy when he does interviews. He has the habit of nodding and saying, "uh-huh," which gives the impression that he's agreeing with the person who might be saying some very unagreeable things.

This Week with George Stephanopoulos: A close second. I really like Martha Raddatz, who is the permanent guest host and, I think, the strongest host of all three shows. The problem here is the group discussions with commentators who too often just parrot back the messaging of the political parties. They each know the role they're supposed to play, from the left or the right, and that's what they do. Not much nuance to be found. Former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is the worst. If a Democrat does it, it's bad and unforgivable. If a Republican does it, it's good or at least understandable.

Face the Nation: Used to be the crown jewel of Sunday morning network news shows. It's barely watchable now with Margaret Brennan hosting. They've done away with the group discussions, which was often the most interesting part. The interviews can be interesting and informative, but can also be bland and repetitive, because Margaret Brennan is a terrible interviewer. That's a problem when all you do is interviews. She doesn't listen to the answers to guide the interview, but instead forces it to follow her list of questions. Even worse is her habit of trying to look tough by repeatedly asking for a "yes or no" answer when the person has already answered the question, but with more nuance and context than "yes or no." She also has the habit of cutting the person off and ending abruptly when out of time. That said, their weekly updates on COVID with Dr. Scott Gottlieb are consistent, level-headed and informative.

The most frustrating thing for me watching these shows is that almost every week there will be a Republican senator or representative interviewed who attacks the Democrats with misinformation and lies and rarely gets challenged. (Chuck Todd sometimes tries.) Democrats are not on nearly as often, and when they are they never attack Republicans with the same viciousness nor do they try to correct the lies just told in the interview before them. Just once, I'd like to see a Democrat show a little righteous indignation. Republicans have raised that to an art form. Of course, that's the difference and problem with the two political parties and why we often get the election results we do.

P.S.: I also watch "Washington Week" every Friday night on PBS. With a smaller scope and budget, it's easily digestible with intelligent and fair-minded conversations. I give it two thumbs up!

V & Z respond: For our part, we're not sure any show in this genre will ever outshine "The McLaughlin Group."

I Read the News Today, Oh Boy (Reprise)

J.G.D. in Bellevue, WA, writes: Thanks to you for posting the letter from A.B. from Chesapeake and to that reader for putting so eloquently into words what I have felt for some time about the sorry state of affairs in this country. Like A.B., I began skipping entire sections of your daily page due to a total lack of interest in the subject matter, regardless of how good I consider your analysis, the feedback from other readers, and the other things I have learned along the way. Other pieces I have read, but with a growing sense of disgust.

To add to A.B.'s list of irritants, a Supreme Court filled with nine Ivy Leaguers and for which I started losing respect in 2000 with Gore v. Bush until it reached bottom when enough of them sat on their collective hands with regards to the Texas Abortion Law does not work for me. When you have only two major political parties and one of them, whose supporters feed willingly on the unbelievable lies made daily by Kool-Aid makers, has turned into a cult to the point of not caring how it wins power so long as it does, that does not work for me. Refusing to get vaccinated at no cost and arguing that your freedom matters more than the health of your family, friends and fellow Americans does not work for me. Having a dysfunctional legislative branch because of a DINO from West Virginia and repulsive members in both houses does not work for me. Watching the growing lack of decorum and respect in the public space in the U.S. getting exported to Canada does not work for me. Seeing resistance if not outright disbelief and actions not following all the nice words people say about combating climate change does not work for me. I could go on, though I think you get the point.

In short, I need a break, too.

M.v.E. in Kitchener, ON, writes: A.B. in Chesapeake wrote: "About a month ago, I started skimming the articles and skipping items I found less interesting." And that really struck a chord with me, too.

Since 2004 I've read every word of every daily posting. This last year some installments have been a bit of a slog, and some weeks ago I stopped reading every letter on Sunday, and I even passed on some topics on Saturday. Some letters make my eyes roll because they don't add anything new for me. This is especially frustrating when I note that they come from frequent letter writers. Over the years, I've read letters on the strength of your recommendation by virtue of their inclusion, but you've started to lose me. The thought that occurs to me when I have the most severe reactions is "tell me something new, dammit!" Continuing sagas of tit-for-tat arguments in the letters section is a big turn-off for me.

I'm glad to hear you're looking to freshen things up a bit, but I would suggest you have more than enough inches each week to consider pruning a bit. (I noticed some considerably shorter weekday installments recently, and it was quite refreshing.) It takes so long to finish weekend reading sometimes that it wears on me more than it informs and entertains. You also get complaints about failing to add [whatever fine point], sure, but I am comfortable trusting you to edit and omit that which is less valuable than which you leave on the page, even at the rate you guys put out the inches.

P.R. in Saco, ME, writes: A.B. in Chesapeake complained of the growing distaste with the deterioration of this country's politics and culture and you replied that you were working up a possible palate cleanser. I discovered your never-miss-an-issue postings through They list a number of good sites. I've been following up editions of with another site, All Hat No Cattle. It's not new every day, but I've found it to be a very good "palate cleanser." Looking forward to yours.

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: I feel bad for A.B. in Chesapeake. I know exactly how they feel. Really. And if next year's election goes the way it very well might, I may be at my own breaking point as well. Any of us could have written that letter.

But the news is always depressing: "99.9% of all airline flights successfully reached their destination today!" is not a headline you will ever see. And what's in the news and what is happening in this country are not the fault of your reportage, analysis, or opinions. A.B in Chesapeake can perhaps do a news cleanse and separate themselves from news media entirely for a while. As my mother always said, "if you can't stand the heat, get the cooks out of the kitchen before they spoil the broth."

There is no reason for any sort of change in the site you've been publishing, A.B.'s personal crisis aside. If you have the time to add other features, that's your business, but it is not your responsibility to make us all happy or tell us everything will be okay when that may not be the case.

If, on the other hand, you do decide to add more upbeat features to the site, as you indicated you might, may I suggest that you include the Brewster Rockit: Space Guy! comic strip, and JUMBLE (That Scrambled Word Game). Everybody likes JUMBLE (That Scrambled Word Game). Not Dilbert, too depressing; and we don't need another Sudoku source. And the Labor Day quiz might have been really depressing for those of us who did not do well. Many readers, for example, may only know the Wagner Act by the name National Labor Relations Act. But if you do decide to offer more quizzes, the readers would really like to see a reference to the Smoot-Hawley Tariff of 1930. You could hear the fans' huzzahs all the way from here to the Low Countries.

More Dinner Guests

S.H. in Broken Arrow, OK, writes: Regarding your answers to M.C. in Reno, I would have to say Bill Hicks would be a far better dinner guest. Everything he put out, from his routine on the L.A. riots to drugs to the Kennedy assassination to adult entertainment and video games, was pure gold.

D.L. in Houston, TX, writes: Fan of 19th Century art, music, architecture, design, etc. that I am, I noticed your list of dinner guests, with Mark Twain and Oscar Wilde, included two of my three favorite commenters on society at large. Missing is George Bernard Shaw, who also had a few things to say regarding human behavior and the state of things. As a cheater's bonus, all three could be seated at a late 19th Century table.

An alternate bearded fellow would be semi-fictitious: Monty Woolley, in character as The Man Who Came to Dinner. And perhaps cheating even more...with Bette herself.

M.S. in San Diego, CA, writes: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was after attending a dinner party with Oscar Wilde that Conan Doyle decided Sherlock Holmes should be something of an unorthodox bohemian based on his impression of Wilde, whom he did not realize was gay. (I suspect that might be why so many have thought Holmes must be a repressed gay fellow.)

Conan Doyle was quite the adventurer with a considerable number of interests, not the least if which was his investigations of the paranormal.

E.R. in Irving, TX, writes: In the interest of helping support more levity given the weight of news lately, I'll throw in my dinner guest choice: Jimi Hendrix.

If I'm going to share a meal with someone, I sure as hell don't want it to be a politician or a religious leader or an academic (sorry, guys); I want to party like a rock star and forget all the world's problems for a night.

V & Z respond: Are you experienced? Have you ever been experienced?

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: I know the basic rules said one person, but in this case, since they are father and son, I hope you would allow me two. I am speaking here of Oliver Wendell Holmes (the poet) and Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (the Supreme Court Justice).

You may or may not be aware that my hometown is named for the father, Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. Being as I have pride in my town, and because I dabble in some fairly decent poetry myself, I'd love to have the father at my table. And because of my keen interest in politics, I'd love to have the son.

Having them both at the same time would be a very interesting thing; seeing in what ways the poet, the father may have influenced his son, maybe even influencing his views of some things that may have shaped national policy.

Notably, because the father was not alive when the son was a Supreme Court justice, and because the father was also a physician, I'd be very interested in discussing, with the father present, his son's writing in the case of Buck v. Bell (approving state-compelled sterilization; in my view, not an admirable ruling), even though he is better known for his ruling in Schenck v. United States which gave us the anecdote that you can't shout "fire" in a crowded theater. I'd be interested, in light of that view and ruling, what he'd think today about the various "infringements," real or imagined, that exist on so-called free speech today.

Anyway, I'd like to play off father vs. son and have both Oliver Wendell Holmeses at my table. I did mention my town was named for the father and not the son...right?

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: For my dinner party I choose:

Susan B. Anthony: It's a little known fact that she was hilarious and could drink anyone under the table.

Mae West: It's a well-known fact that she was hilarious and could drink anyone under the table.

And J.L. in Los Angeles: I'll see you at Tara's, which is literally around the corner from me, and one of my favorite L.A. eateries. (And no one believes me about the yak, either.)

It's All Latin to Me

R.C. in Lincoln, RI, writes: A.J. from Baltimore asked "Which state has the best motto?" After reviewing your choices and their lack of...shall we say, came up with the best sounding as Wyoming: "Let weapons yield to the toga."

I'm curious if any readers had flashbacks to Faber College?

V & Z respond: We can't speak for others, but that is precisely what we were thinking of when we chose that one.

A.J. in Baltimore, MD, writes: I asked what state had the best motto, and you were so hard-pressed to come up with a decent one that you actually picked one from the Wyoming territory that hasn't been an official motto since the 1800s! The state's current motto is "Equal rights," which I think fits into the empty platitudes category.

I decided I had to do a thorough analysis to answer my own question. Most state mottoes are bad. They generally fall into one of a few categories of terribleness:

  • Generic lists of one to three abstract nouns, like liberty, justice, virtue, independence, union, etc. (applies to about 25% of the states)
  • Aggressively militaristic mottoes (e.g., Massachusetts's "By the sword we seek peace, but peace only under liberty"), or Southern state mottoes that reek of Lost Cause ideology (e.g., Alabama's "We dare defend our rights"), or overlap between the two (e.g., Mississippi's "By valor and arms")
  • Phrases that sound nonsensical when removed from their context and only make sense if you look them up (e.g., North Carolina's "To be, rather than to seem," or New Mexico's "It grows as it goes")
  • Violations of the separation of church and state (e.g., Arizona's "God enriches," or the slightly subtler Connecticut's "He who transplanted sustains," which also falls into the previous category), or the worst example, which is Florida's adoption of the same "In God we trust" motto that is used by the U.S. as a whole
  • An obsession with directions (e.g., Wisconsin's "Forward," Alaska's "North to the future," etc.)
  • Other short, boring phrases that mostly have little readily apparent connection with their respective states (e.g., Maine's "I lead," Arkansas's "The people rule," etc.)

I am ashamed to admit that the worst one is probably the one used by my home state of Maryland, due to its outright sexism: "Manly deeds, womanly words."

What about the good ones? I will say that the following states use common Latin phrases which, while not particularly unique to each state, are great lines, in my personal opinion:

  • Kansas's "Ad astra per aspera"/"To the stars through difficulties" (okay, it sounds better in Latin)
  • Missouri's "Salus populi suprema lex esto"/"Let the welfare of the people be the supreme law"
  • Oklahoma's "Labor omnia vincit"/"Labor conquers all"

But as for states trying to do something more unique and original with their mottoes, I think there are maybe five mottoes in the whole country that could compete for the best-sounding one:

  • Iowa's "Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain"
  • Indiana's "The crossroads of America"
  • Oregon's "She flies with her own wings"
  • Hawaii's "The life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness"
  • And, clearly the best one in my opinion, which I think both sounds charming and meets your criterion of a motto that captures the essence of a state (at least to some degree), is Michigan's "If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you."

V & Z respond: We read the motto for Michigan (again, without seeing the state name) and said: "Looks like a winner; that does a pretty good job of capturing the essence of...Florida." The actual state was...a surprise.

R.L. in Alameda, CA (formerly of Ann Arbor, MI), writes: I'm a native Michigander and most of us learn this (the English anyway) in school. "If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look about you (Si Quaeris Peninsulam Amoenam, Circumspice)." I think this fits your standard of being "so on target that it wasn't even necessary to see the name of the state to know which state's motto it was."

P.N. in Austin, TX, writes: Coincidentally, I ran across this earlier this week. When I saw the question from A.J. in Baltimore, MD, I knew I had to share: All state mottoes, translated to English and showing the original language.

By your definition, Michigan's motto (If you seek a pleasant peninsula, look around you) is spot on. There's only one other peninsular state, and I'm not sure if 'pleasant' is a term I'd use to describe Florida.

V & Z respond: As non-Michiganders, that state does not immediately leap to mind as a peninsula, while Florida does. Meanwhile, "pleasant" suggests weather to us, and, uh, we would not think that Michigan's weather is more pleasant than Florida's. Hence the surprise we describe above.

P.V. in Kailua, HI, writes: "Ua Mau ke Ea o ka ‘Āina i ka Pono" translates to "The Life of the Land is Perpetuated in Righteousness." Though not as familiar to mainlanders as "aloha" and "ohana," "āina" and "pono" are both concepts that are commonly invoked here in Hawai'i. Āina, the land, is sacred. Hawai'i has always been environmentally conscious. Living on an island, we are well aware of how changes to the land in one place affect all of us. There is a constant tension between development and preservation. Case in point: the Mauna Kea Thirty Meter Telescope. Pono doesn't have a direct English translation. Its meaning is closer to "right way of living" than to "righteousness;" there is an implication of harmony and balance. Perpetuating the life of the land by living in balance and harmony is a good summation of the philosophy a lot of us have in Hawai'i. In terms of good state mottoes, I think it's pretty high up there.

P.K. in Marshalltown, IA, writes: I offer my services to any state wishing to create a new motto. Allow me to share a sample of my work. As anyone knows, any college worth its salt must have a Latin motto. Harvard, for example, has "Veritas" (Truth). While working for a massive micromanager at a two-year college in rural Arkansas, I realized we did not have a Latin motto. I took the phrase "Don't Think, Work" and Latinized it, with the result being "Noli Cogitare, Sed Labora." That's good stuff, Maynard.

How's something like this? "Liberum Sciuri, Liberum Radeam" (Free Squirrels, Free Parking). Tennessee, call me.

More Theme Songs

S.G. in Daytona Beach, FL, writes: My vote for theme song is The Beatles' "A Day in the Life." "I read the news today, oh boy..."

V & Z respond: Yep. See the section header above.

S.A. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I'm in favor of making the Angels' fight song the official song of What do you think?

V & Z respond: The problem is that even most Angels fans don't identify that song with the team as much as they do "Jump Around" by House of Pain, because of the Rally Monkey.

S.P. in Foster, RI, writes: How about one of my own compositions, "Those Mid-November Blues"? As its author, I will waive copyright, and might even consider some changes in the verses.

V & Z respond: Good stuff!

P.K. in Marshalltown, IA, writes: Neil Young, "Campaigner." The same guy who excoriated Richard Nixon in "Ohio" came to recognize that "even Richard Nixon has got soul" after the President resigned in disgrace, was hospitalized for phlebitis, and saw his wife's health decline. Plus he's Canadian. Perhaps (V) and (Z) would have a change of heart after making this song their theme.

Also, Alice Cooper, "Elected." Well, "kids want a savior, don't need a fake." Just like, not fake. Plus, it rocks.

S.S. in West Hollywood, CA, writes: When you first mentioned a theme song for, I immediately thought of "This Is America," by Childish Gambino (a.k.a. Donald Glover). I didn't send it in because I thought it was so obvious that someone else would.

V & Z respond: In the introductory meeting of his classes this year, (Z) asked students to suggest a song, past or present, that best captures the state of modern America. This was the overwhelming choice in all four sections.

J.M. in New York City, NY, writes: Here's one for the rare days you don't post "Apolitical Blues," by Little Feat.

E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, writes: Bob Dylan's "The Times, They Are A-Changin'" would make an excellent theme song for It's a highly political song without being tied down to a specific issue or event.

The first verse, addressed to the site's wide-ranging readership ("people, wherever you roam"), mentions climate change ("admit that the waters around you have grown") and suggests we take action ("you better start swimmin' or you'll sink like a stone").

The second verse, addressed to the media ("writers and critics who prophesize with your pen"), exhorts them to stay vigilant ("keep your eyes wide, the chance won't come again") but not jump to conclusions ("don't speak too soon, for the wheel's still in spin") because elections are uncertain ("there's no tellin' who that it's namin') and upsets happen in politics ("for the loser now will be later to win").

The third verse, addressed to political leaders ("senators, congressmen, please heed the call"), mentions obstructionist tactics like the filibuster ("don't stand in the doorway, don't block up the hall") and their potential consequences ("he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled"), as well as the recent protests and insurrection ("the battle outside ragin'") that "will soon shake your windows and rattle your walls."

The fourth verse, addressed to older generations ("mothers and fathers throughout the land"), describes their inability to see young people's perspective ("don't criticize what you can't understand"), inexorable demographic changes ("your sons and your daughters are beyond your command"), political reform/infrastructure ("your old road is rapidly aging") and the need for new leadership ("please get out of the new one if you can't lend your hand").

The final verse, addressed to everyone, describes elections and sore losers ("the line, it is drawn, the curse, it is cast"), Biden's 2020 primary win/Trump's 2016 win/upsets in general ("the slow one now will later be fast"), the relentless march of history ("the present now will later be past") and change ("the order is rapidly fading"), and "cancel culture" ("the first one now will later be last").

The whole song is a perfect encapsulation of the spirit of In fact, you have used the title many times previously, including in a very recent item about LGBTQ governors in Oregon.

Will you make a final pick or leave it open for debate? I see the benefit of either choice.

V & Z respond: A good question, to which we don't yet know the answer.

S.O. in Madison, WI, writes: Gotta be "21st Century Schizoid Man," by King Crimson.


R.S. in Milan, OH, writes: While recognizing that you have an out with your use of the qualifier "enduring," The Romantics' only Top 10 hit, "Talking in Your Sleep," which charted 46 positions higher on Billboard's Hot 100 chart than "What I Like About You" did, would like to have a word.

V & Z respond: (Z) chose that example because he saw The Romantics, not particularly willingly, and at the start of every song but the last one, crowd members said to themselves "Oh, this song isn't 'What I Like About You,'" and resumed their conversations, ignoring the band until the next song started.

D.R. in Kalamazoo, MI, writes: You wrote: "If Lincoln, Wilson, and Roosevelt could order young men to take up arms, then Biden can certainly order Americans to present arms."

I got the meaning, but I might have had an aneurysm caused by my involuntary eye-rolling muscles in reading this. Ugh! (FYI, I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment.)

V & Z respond: It can be a fine line between "clever" and "cheesy."

M.C. in Santa Clara, CA, writes: C.R. in Pelham wrote: "Students, especially women, should refuse to enroll in higher education in Texas (men would likely follow—who wants to go to a college with no women?)."

Obviously, C.R. did not attend MIT in the 60s, 70s, or 80s...

R.T. in Arlington, TX, writes: I think you have stumbled onto a brilliant idea with Texanada. The weather last week was hot enough to have me wishing for a summer home in BC and we already have Canadians that come south for the winter months. Despite my unfamiliarity with living under a parliamentary system, it has to be better than the Texas government. No need to enforce the new border with the U.S. because it is just as impractical as fencing off Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, and Washington.

While we are at this, I suggest granting Louisiana independence as the Netherlands of North America. It already has a unique legal system, culture, and cuisine and being there feels like a foreign country.

W.B. in London, England, UK, writes: The talk about trading Texas to Canada, I mean, Canada already has a Texas. It's called Alberta. (N.B.: I was born in Alberta and can badmouth it as much as I like.)

M.F. in Leamington, NZ (but clearly from Saskatchewan) reminded me of those great Phoenix Advertising bits, but the funniest one was when B.C. came to town: "Vancouver gets hours of sunshine, every year!"

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