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Sunday Mailbag

We should note that we only put a specific link one time per section. So, if three successive letters make reference to, for example, a letter from last week's mailbag, we will only put the link to the mailbag in the first letter. See the second section today for an example.

Also, the mailbag is long enough today that we're going to hold the suggested theme songs to next week, so if you have a suggestion, you can still send them in.

Vaxx on, Vaxx Off, Part I: Success Stories

D.F. in Carlton, Victoria, Australia, writes: F.S., in Cologne, Germany, writes: "I ask the readers of Were you ever successful in persuading an anti-vaxxer to get vaccinated? If yes, how did you achieve it? Perhaps (V) and (Z) can publish some answers next Sunday."

My ex-wife refused to get our 14 year old son vaccinated. They live in a foreign country so I could not take care of it myself. After several months of arguing, I instructed the child support services office in our state to stop deducting her alimony and child support from my account. The very next day our son received his first Pfizer shot.

G.A. in Nashville, TN, writes: I am a bankruptcy attorney, the farthest thing one could be from a medical professional. Regardless, a client asked me if she should get vaccinated. She works in a job where she deals with the public all day, so to me this was a no-brainer. Her hesitation was from hearing conflicting information, and more importantly from hearing people she knew say they did not trust the vaccine and would not get the vaccine. She asked me because "unlike them, you are actually smart and I trust your judgment." After our brief discussion she was vaccinated within a couple of days. Sometimes people just need to hear it from an intelligent person they can trust.

V & Z respond: We hate to correct you, but "bankruptcy attorney" is not the farthest thing from a medical professional. "Junior senator from Kentucky" is.

R.T. in Arlington, TX, writes: I got my first dose in January because my wife put me on the waiting list and it moved faster than I ever dreamed. She bailed on going the same day. She has a long history of being hyper-focused on her health because she functions as her mother's social worker and mom has lots of chronic conditions. My wife does care about data, but she tends to take in so much that she gets lost in the details. I know pushing her is a sure way to get her to resist because her dad (long deceased) was domineering.

I left the issue alone until May, when the waiting lines were abating. At that point, I asked her to either get vaccinated or to not let her guard down (masks and distancing). My fear is simple. I don't want to lose her to a disease that can be avoided. Three weeks ago, I had another talk with her and explained that it looked like eventually everyone is going to get COVID and that some of them were going to die. I would not be able to relax or to sleep at night while that risk hung over her. A couple of days later, she went and got the Johnson&Johnson shot. I got no credit for her decision, she attributed it to the rise of the Delta variant and her personal research on the J&J vaccine. I told her that I was just glad she was vaccinated, and I didn't care if she had consulted a Ouija board to make her decision as long as she had her shot. Though honestly, that last line did not go over well. Strangely, she seems more concerned with her exposure now, after being vaccinated, than she was before. She is unduly afraid of breakthrough infections and thinks media silence on breakthroughs is suspicious.

D.F. in Ann Arbor, MI, writes: I know of two people who convinced reluctant anti-vaxxers to get vaccinated against COVID by taking a very hard line and refusing them access to family events until they did so. My nephew is a 40-year-old Trump fan who believed that the vaccine could kill him, but his father refused to allow him to visit with any of the family members until he got the jab. He decided that his father must really think it was the right thing to do if he was that serious about it and he made an appointment for himself.

On the other side of the political spectrum, my friend's lefty, hippie sister is into holistic medicine and herbs, and maintains that the vaccine is dangerous and you can protect yourself from the virus by simply eating the right combination of fruits. Their family was arranging a 90th birthday celebration for a beloved family member in California, and my friend refused to tell her sister the location of the party until she texted her a photo of her completed vaccination card. She bellyached for a while but she really wanted to see the family after more than a year apart, so she complied.

Just as the government is doing in France, I think the anti-vaxxers need to feel personal pain for their refusal to help society get past this pandemic. For many, access to other vaccinated family members can be enough to make a difference.

B.B. in Newtown, PA, writes: I've used this argument a few times and gotten positive feedback, but I was talking to strangers and have no way to know if my argument led to vaccinations. Nonetheless, here it goes.

It appears that just about everyone in the country will come in contact with the Delta variant sooner or later. The odds of dying after catching COVID are low for the unvaccinated, about 1%. So, imagine you are going on a trip and flying out of town. One hundred planes will leave the airport today and you know that one of them will crash with the loss of all aboard. But the odds of the one you are on crashing is low. In fact, 99% of the planes will get to their destination safely. Just the odd one will crash. Do you board your plane?

I suggest that if you would be reluctant to board the plane, then you should be reluctant to contract full blown COVID, and you should get the vaccine as soon as possible.

D.R. in Portland, OR, writes: Your comparison of going unvaccinated to driving drunk put me in mind of another possibly useful analogy from the world of traffic safety. Experts who have studied the effects of driving distracted (texting/talking) have repeatedly concluded that while this is very dangerous, as long as there are other drivers nearby who are paying attention, your chances of disaster are low. But as the percentage of distracted drivers rises, the risk rises exponentially. So for example, if only 3% of drivers are distracted while 97% are not, things are pretty safe. But if it's 20%/80%, accidents are highly likely. This is exactly how it is for unvaccinated people. They are making a personal choice that puts them at risk, while relying on those around them to make a different choice in order to reduce that risk.

I don't know how persuasive an analogy that is, given the number of people who know texting is dangerous and do it anyway, but I think it makes an interesting companion to the drunk driving case.

D.R. in Slippery Rock, PA, writes: When went to school in Los Angeles, I became friends with Iris Rainer Dart. She is best known as the author of The Boys in the Mail Room and Beaches. She was going to be in Pittsburgh to promote her then-new book, and I called and asked if I could come to the reception, to surprise her. I'm in the green room, and a man walks up to me and introduces himself. He says, "My name is Robert McNamara." I think, my God, I'm shaking hands with a war criminal. He was there to promote his then-new book, Argument Without End: In Search Of Answers To The Vietnam Tragedy. The premise of the book is that erroneous mindsets, mutual ignorance, and misunderstandings between Washington and Hanoi drove the escalation of the Vietnam War. His sincere remorse changed my mind about him. If the generals and the defense ministers had only talked to each other, the war would have ended quickly, saving untold thousands of lives. If the Covidiots and the libtards don't talk to each other, even if it seems pointless, nothing can change.

G.H. in Branchport, NY, writes: Just a note on what some who won't get vaccinated are thinking, from their mouths. I was talking with my auto repair person/friend this week and found out he had not been vaccinated. I believe he is a pretty strict conservative (more on that in a bit) so my assumption was: anti-vaxxer. Not the case, as he strongly stated (as did his employee listening in). He said he has had all the other vaccines. Their position is that this was done too quickly (warp speed, literally). I pointed out that by now more people had been vaccinated than most, if not all, other approved vaccines so we have a good idea of any bad effects. Then I thought, and said, at least short-term. His response was "that is my problem" (long-term).

This is one of the very smartest and nicest people I know and leads me to item two: "us" libs and "them" conservatives are not as polarized as media makes out on a personal level. I was able to rationally discuss this with him/them.

Yes, there seems to be political polarization out there thanks at least in part due to what's-his-name, but I believe that at the street level and even in a small town, rural setting, libs and conservatives get along just fine on most things and can be friends. I am very friendly with my two closest neighbors and we help each other out when need arises. One had a Trump sign this year (and we had our Biden/Harris sign). The other, a military retiree—Air Force—says he wishes things were like they were when he was a kid (he is in his fifties). He also warned me that Joe Biden will tax us all. I told him I could tell what news show he watches, and we laughed.

Heck, our third neighbor still has a "Don't Tread on Me" and a Trump "F**k Your Feelings" flag flying, but when our dog got loose and we were chasing him around the neighborhood, he was right there helping try to catch him.

I have hope this local ability to get along, even be friends despite, will win out in the end.

C.S. in Chicago, IL, writes: You wrote: "It is also expected that many restaurants, entertainment venues, and other such concerns are going to begin making proof of vaccination a condition for receiving service."

Expected by whom? Call me cynical, but as much as I'd like to see that, it's never going to happen. Either fear of driving away customers or DeSantis-like legislation tells me this is never going to happen.

V & Z respond: Well, even if you believe that 100% of restaurant owners put profits above all else, there are plenty of places where there will be no DeSantis-like legislation, where many more people are vaccinated than are not, and where a laissez-faire policy could cost a restaurant more vaccinated customers than it gains them non-vaccinated customers. These things being the case, numerous restaurants in Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles already have vaccine mandates. And Shake Shack just became the first national chain to adopt a mandate.

Vaxx on, Vaxx Off, Part II: Giving Credit Where Credit is Due?

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: I've been trying not to rise to the bait but the latest bleatings by P.M. of Currituck just can't be ignored. In their last letter, P.M. stated that if President Biden truly wanted to be bipartisan and to get people to take the vaccine, he would praise the efforts of Donald Trump's Operation Warp Speed. OK, P.M., how about this? On December 21, 2020, after receiving his first dose of the vaccine, President-elect Joe Biden had this to say, "I think the [Trump] administration deserves some credit getting this off the ground with Operation Warp Speed." So why aren't all the Republicans vaccinated yet, inasmuch as Biden's lack of praise for Dear Leader was causing their knickers to get all in a bunch? I actually know the answer to this—it's because this bit of persecution has only recently become a prepackaged and untethered-from-reality GOP Talking Point that P.M. is mindlessly parroting. P.M. has made a great protestation of not watching Fox News, yet somehow they are always up to date on all the GOP preapproved messaging. I think what I find so upsetting about this Republican Zombie Repetition is not so much that it is blatantly false, but that it was so easily disproven. Seriously, it took me one simple Google search to show how nonsensical this garbage is! PM has made a great show of wanting to be taken seriously and of putting forth a point of view from the other side, and I did take them seriously because I do believe there are always legitimate alternative points of view. But this is at the level "typical mouth breather always angry at something, usually something not real or worthy, GOP Hack," and I just can't take that seriously because it shows the person lets others do their thinking for them and facilitates them being used as pawns to further lies.

Even beyond the fallacy of P.M.'s statement there are meta applications to their comments. Isn't it ironic that the dear sensitive Republicans are so vulnerable to slights against Trump that they forget that Trump never ever gave his predecessor, President Obama, one kind word of praise? As was mentioned in yesterday's Q&A, Trump was so childish and malignantly spiteful to Obama he never even hung Obama and his wife's official portraits in the White House, as so many of his predecessors have done. In fact, at times it seemed like Trump's only goal as president was to completely obliterate Obama's legacy. On top of that, Trump was constantly taking credit for legislation passed during the Obama administration—and did anyone see one Democrat refuse to take life-sustaining medicine because of it? So for the Republicans to go into palpitations about Biden dissing Trump moves way past the land of irony and into the pathetically absurd.

Let's also take a look at what the poor persecuted Republicans are all in a tizzy about. It can be agreed that Trump implemented Operation Warp Speed, which gave money to pharmaceutical companies to come up with a vaccine, and also took down some of the obstacles that might delay the vaccine's approval. Let's be real here, that's not a real heavy lift. Giving money to pharmaceuticals to make drugs is like giving me money to laze around on my day off. It's not so much an incentive but rather icing on the cake. But ok, credit where credit is due; Trump gave money to drug companies to quickly find a vaccine.

But let's also be real: During the early part of the pandemic. when much needed ventilators were scarce, Trump had to be reminded by the media that he could use the Defense Production Act to coerce companies into making more. Trump and his lackeys were so ill-informed about how government works, and had no curiosity to learn even in a time of crisis. Of course, Trump manged to overpay for those ventilators by the tune of $500 million—whatever happened to the "Art of the Deal?" Let's also remember that Trump spent the majority of the pandemic ignoring/downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic—fruits that are still bearing a deadly harvest to this day—and promoting quack cures for the disease. Anyone want to sing the praises of The Donald while getting a bleach enema for old times' sake? I didn't think so.

To get back to Operation Warp Speed, yes Trump initiated this program, but when the time came for the heavy lifting, the distribution of the vaccine, just how did Trump do? The Trump administration originally gave a goal of 100,000,000 doses of vaccine to given by the end of 2020, but they then decreased that goal down to only 20,000,000 because nothing says "powerful leadership" like decreasing expectations! To quote Wikipedia, "As of January 6, 2021, the CDC was reporting 17,288,959 doses distributed, but only 5,306,797 actually administered to a person." Whoo-hoo, that Greatest of Presidents made 27% of his goal that was only 20% of their original goal, and after the original date! I'm not a math wizard like E-V's staff mathematician but I believe that adds up to a stunningly underwhelming failure. BTW, I would not recommend that any E-V readers, at their annual review, brag to their boss that they accomplished only a fraction of their yearly goals and late to boot, but something tells me they already know that what a pathetic showing looks like.

Now let's compare Trump's leadership prowess to old Sleepy Joe's. Biden initially had a vaccination goal of 100,000,000 in his first 100 days in office, which was later raised to 200,000,000, a goal which was met several days ahead of schedule. Yes, it is true that Biden gave a 70% vaccination rate by July 4 of this year, which fell short by a whopping 3%. So yes, let us all get outraged that a true leader hasn't praised the inept bumblings of his predecessor more! But at least the GOP can rest easy knowing that on January 6, 2021, when Operation Warp Speed was more like Operation Impulse Speed, that Trump was holed up in the White House with his aides tirelessly working to get the vaccine out to those most susceptible to the virus. Well, except he wasn't. Instead, Treasonweasel wasn't the least concerned about the vaccine because all of his attention and energies were devoted to inflaming a mob to attack the U.S. Capitol in order to subvert an election and our democracy. And this is the guy you are willing to get sick and perhaps die for because his very fragile ego is not being stroked enough?

Consider the absurdity of that last statement. The GOP talking point that they are willing to risk their health and life for something so worthless as Trump's hurt fee-fees is so morally corrupt that it beggars any rational comparison. Two years ago, I was being rushed to the hospital in an ambulance because doctors thought I was having a heart attack—I wasn't. but that's another story. Even as the EMs rushed to give me medicines to blunt the attack they were expecting, I not once entertained the thought of refusing those drugs because Trump wasn't giving his predecessor credit for Obamacare. You know why? Because I'm a somewhat sane rational human being who is not going to risk my life because someone says so. I can think for myself. Not once in my lifetime do I remember a Democratic leader saying "I want everyone who voted for me to get sh**faced drunk and drive around at high speeds tonight because no one said anything nice about me today!" With that, we have sped way past the land of absurdity and driven right off the edge into insanity. That's why I can't take these GOP Talking Points as anything but the most mindless drivel.

M.B. in Cleveland OH, writes: P.M. of Currituck (via Seattle) is exactly right when they say that giving the Trump administration credit for the success of Operation Warp Speed in helping develop the vaccine would be a generous and positive step toward bipartisanship. But I'm afraid that doing so publicly wouldn't help convince people to get vaccinated—it would only drive them further into their partisan holes. Any PSA that features Biden, even if it praises Trump, would be instantly seen as suspicious, not bipartisan.

But perhaps if the Biden administration quietly supported the public health departments of Florida, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Ohio, and other spiking red states, they could accomplish something. They could send funding and footage to produce a PSA featuring Trump claiming credit for the vaccine and put it into heavy rotation. But it has to be listed as "this message sponsored by the Missouri Department of Public Health" rather than "this message sponsored by the CDC."

This kind of campaign would have to be under the radar rather than overtly bipartisan, unfortunately. It might even be going on already, behind the scenes. So if it's a choice between saving lives and looking bipartisan, maybe the Biden administration would choose lives. P.M. is right about the sad bottom line, though: It's taboo to be seen working together. There's plenty of blame to go around for that situation.

J.E. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: I intended to refrain from responding to P.M. of Currituck's comment re: giving Trump "credit where credit is due". But I would like to send P.M. my dry cleaning bill for the resultant vomiting induced by this idea. Truly emetic.

Trump encourages the vaccine with the same degree of passion that he denounces white supremacy. After a year of lying about the pandemic and discouraging the use of masks, we're supposed to thank The Donald for his "miraculous effort"? We've gotten as far as we have due to the hard work, intelligence and lifelong experience of medical researchers. Americans should be thanking the medical establishment, not Dear Leader.

Jared Kushner once referred to the pandemic is a blue-state problem and said therefore a national plan wasn't necessary. Well, guess what? I live in New York City along with 8.4 million other people and I played bar pool till midnight Saturday night with a bunch of unmasked, vaccinated locals. Meanwhile, 99+% of people being admitted to hospitals are unvaccinated. And we know which states are below the national average when it comes to vaccination and which states are seeing the greatest increases in hospitalization rates. Thanks to Donald Trump, it's now a red state problem.

J.K. in Waukesha, WI, writes: This note is in response to P.M. in Currituck and J.K. in Short Hills. While just heaping effusive praise seems like an easy approach and I think that the Biden administration would be amenable to it (if they thought it would work), it isn't nearly that straightforward. Trump had very little to do with the creation of the vaccine. In fact, I would say that Al Gore has a stronger argument for inventing the Internet, a claim he actually never made, compared to any Trump claim related to the vaccine. Simply put, any claim made about Trump being instrumental in developing a COVID vaccine doesn't stand up to any level of scrutiny. It would be pure appeasement to try to get Trump and conservative media to change its collective tune.

In truth, the vaccine was created due to decades of work that formed the basis for these sorts of vaccines. While many people are very enthusiastic about ignoring these longstanding contributions made by scientists, this can create a problem. A person (Trump, or someone in Trump's orbit) might be asked about some aspect related to how the vaccine was developed or specifics as to what was done and how they helped. For example, some reporter could be asked "If Warp speed was so successful, why did Pfizer elect not to participate in the program? They were first in achieving approval so what benefit did the program actually provide?" There could be a number of other questions like that would crop up.

Once those questions are asked, the claim falls flat on its face. For some reason, some individuals believe that the guy that advocated injecting bleach somehow has the know-how to make a meaningful contribution to vaccine development. J.K. and P.M. need to think about that for a moment. Would this sort of assertion pass the least stringent smell test imaginable? In short, no way. Many would view this as an attempt by the "deep state" to curry favor with Trump and be evidence of a deeper conspiracy.

This is one reason why Trump and many Republicans have been dead set against the vaccine; they know that they haven't been involved in any aspect of its creation. And, they also realize that a party that has many notable examples of being anti-science suddenly taking credit for a product that comes from science is not very believable. Additionally, very few of these individuals want to present this to their group of vaccine skeptics because they will then be viewed as part of the conspiracy.

I.K. in Portland, OR, writes: In last Sunday's mailbag, you published letters from J.K. in Short Hills and P.M. in Currituck pushing the idea that Joe Biden should praise Donald Trump for helping develop the Covid-19 vaccines with Operation Warp Speed.

Let me Google that for you. I searched for "Joe Biden praising Trump for vaccine development" and got many responses. Here are just a few:

Note that praise from Biden was even published in right-leaning news sources.

Furthermore, if people think that COVID-19 or the vaccines are a hoax, why would crediting Trump change any minds? They will continue to ignore Democratic praise for Trump, just as they have ignored it in the past. If Trump craves more praise, he should start wholeheartedly encouraging his followers to get vaccinated.

The 1/6 Commission

E.S. in Maine, NY, writes: So the Republican argument is that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) is responsible for the attack on 1/6/21. She was asking for the Capitol to be attacked. Sound familiar? I mean, why do we put people in jail for robbing banks? The banks just about advertise that they have a lot on money there! It is there for the taking! They do not have armed security for the most part! It is the banks' fault they get robbed! Maybe the banks really enjoy being robbed! If they did not want to be robbed they would not have all that money there now, would they?

S.S. in Detroit, MI, writes: I read where the four G's of the GOP—not God, Guns, Guts, and Glory, but Gohmert, Gosar, Gaetz, and Greene—are expressing concern for the treatment of imprisoned 1/6 insurrectionists. Let's give credit where credit is due. We all know that these folks are false-flag rogue deep-state FBI agents, Antifa terrorists, and card-carrying BLM members (along with a few innocent patriotic tourists sporting bovaric headgear that got caught up in the melee). I feel that it is touchingly magnanimous of them to reach out in support of a group so antithetical to their positions; this tends to restore my faith in the grand party of Lincoln. I'm expecting that the Select Committee hearings will be very interesting.

M.H. in Seattle, WA, writes: I would like to submit into evidence Yascha Mounk's interview with Sabrina Tavernise, a New York Times journalist who was with "the crowd" on Jan. 6, 2021. The interview is worth a listen in its entirety, but if you start at about 13 minutes, you'll hear her impression upon entering the Capitol Building, and how most of the people there were in desperate need of a bathroom. Clearly these were just poor lost tourists who had to pee so badly that they literally walked over broken glass through clouds of tear gas to find a urinal, because forcing their way past police while folks tore artworks off the wall and threatened to hang Mike Pence is no big deal compared to urinating in public.

Too bad for Trump, it still seems to be his fault for not having enough port-a-potties at his rally (mentioned around 5:30). I think the Trumpocrat explanation of the events of 1/6/21 makes a lot more sense when you realize it's foundation rests on a pile of Honey Buckets.

M.C. in Austin, TX, writes: You wrote: "Since the Democrats don't agree with Cheney, and 95% of Republicans would resist her, she'd have a power base of something like 10 members. That's no way for a Speaker to get things done, and it's unlikely that Cheney would consent to trying it."

Something very much like this actually happened, and in Texas, no less!

Speaker Tom Craddick (R-Midland) had a vengeful, dictatorial style and had become unpopular with some members of his own caucus, culminating in his refusal to hold a vote to expel him as Speaker in 2007.

In the next session, Democrats cut a deal with 11 Republicans—the "Anyone But Craddick" group, or ABCs. The Democrats agreed to support en masse any of the 11 members the ABCs chose to be Speaker. Moderate Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) was elected, and he then oversaw one of the most bipartisan state houses in the nation.

After becoming speaker, Straus appointed 18 Republicans and 16 Democrats to committee chairmanships, which reflected the 76-74 makeup of the House. Republicans continued to chair major committees including Appropriations, Calendars, Public Education and State Affairs.

Unlike in most other states, where the lower house is often more polarized, this led to a relatively collegial and effective House, compared to the highly partisan Texas Senate under the dictatorial Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R). Straus was an old-school center-right Jewish Republican, who focused on business-friendly issues and largely avoided the culture wars; for example, he killed Texas' "bathroom bill" in 2017. This setup gave individual members a lot more power, and they liked it so much that Straus was reelected overwhelmingly by both parties as Speaker until his retirement in 2019.

Could this happen in the U.S. House with a narrow GOP victory in 2024 and 10 or so "ABTs"? Seems less likely, but the situation is similar enough that it's within the realm of possibility. Nobody expected the outcome in Texas either.

This Week in TrumpWorld

J.C. in Washington, D.C., writes: Last week, Donald Trump, on more than one occasion, tried his last minute, ham-fisted, brute attempts to de-rail the bipartisan infrastructure bill; and did so after many weeks of negotiation by members of his own party.

I was very pleased to see, despite the admonition of the angry cheeto, so many Republicans come out in favor of the bill. 17 Republicans added to the 50 Democrats. While in my head, I know there was nothing to this, I am enjoying that they defied Trump with the exact number that would have been required to convict during an impeachment. I know it's probably not the case, but I'm just dreaming a little that it was Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) way of saying, "STFU, Donald. Stay out of our business." It was nice to see, regardless.

D.B. in Winston-Salem, NC, writes: I realized this morning I was concentrating on the former guy's legal circumstance and thinking not at all about his medical situation. His medical situation is not at all good.

Before the pandemic, he wasn't the picture of health. He was overweight. He played a lot of golf, but that's not aerobic. He tended to eat poorly. There was the video of his being helped as he slowly walked down an inclined plane.

COVID-19 has significant after-effects. According to Johns Hopkins and the Mayo Clinic (among others), the long-term effects can include damage to lungs, to the heart, and to the brain. The risk of long-term health problems is also present.

The former guy is at risk of significant health problems in the long term. That is worth paying attention to.

B.B. in Panama City Beach, FL, writes: Once bitten, twice shy. Trump will not take the chance of losing again.

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: Aside from anything the fictional Robin Hood did to the real Prince John, the latter made a comeback, becoming King of England in 1199 and ruling for 17 years (and most famously being forced by his barons to sign the Magna Carta). So I really hope Biden and Trump do not follow the Robin Hood-Prince John model—though it would be interesting if eventually Barron forced Trump to sign the MAGA Carta, and what might be in that document.

I.H. in Meridian, ID, writes: Regarding the biggest grifter question posed by J.A. in Kansas City, I first want to point out that the $64.8 Billion figure associated with the Bernie Madoff scheme is based on the "fake" profits he claimed his clients possessed and not on the actual money that he stole from them. The actual number is probably closer to $18 billion. Note that Madoff conned tens of thousands of investors over more than 4 decades.

As to whether Madoff or Trump is the bigger fraudster, I will point out that Trump did manage to convince 74 million Americans to vote to re-elect him in 2020 (bad enough the number who voted for him in 2016, but these voters knew what they were getting into the second time). While as a financial grifter, Trump may not be very successful beyond his cult, as a political grifter, is there anyone who ever pulled off a feat like that?

V & Z respond: Silvio Berlusconi?

P.Z. in Great Falls, VA, writes: Sounded like it might be fun to see Pillowman in action, so I clicked the link. In order to get anywhere you have to give him your e-mail address and mobile phone number. No. Way.

Shouldn't you have warned us that getting to the fun had an admission charge?

V & Z respond: Truth be told, he might be a more skilled grifter than Trump.

N.M. in West Chester, PA writes: I can't help but feel the continued repetition of that the Aug. 13 date by the MyPillow Guy and others is a plausibly deniable dogwhistle to the crazies for an assassination attempt on Joe and Kamala that date. It feels eerily reminiscent of the January 6th comments that were everywhere and summarily ignored.

R.S., San Mateo, CA, writes: You wrote about the Arizona audit and the subpoenas for the routers. To me, this seems to be setting up a clear exit strategy for the botched audit. They will start issuing subpoenas and demanding "evidence" that they know will be denied. Then they will declare that while they have uncovered significant fraud, they are unable to prove it due to the obstruction of those responsible for the fraud. Thus the audit ends, the narrative stands, and they avoid admitting either failure or incompetence.

S.K. in Holyoke, MA, writes: Wow! The Arizona GOP might really be on to something by looking at network routers! This has the potential to shed new light on old investigations. For example, did anyone ever think to look at the routers used by Hillary Clinton's e-mail server? Or the routers used by Comet Ping Pong Pizza to take online orders? Or even any routers used by the Whitewater Development Corporation?

And then imagine what could be uncovered by investigating network switches.

S.C-M. in Scottsdale, AZ, writes: Cyber Ninjas asking for the physical routers was always insane and shows they do not know anything about modern network configurations or security. If they are looking for logs, then the logging information is probably on a logging server. The router configurations would show them the network topology, but for Internet connections they would only need to see the configuration of the router (or routers) plus any firewalls directly connected to the wider Internet and check and see if packets are allowed to the critical ballot counting systems. I also suspect the County has had a security auditor do an audit on the network already. Most reputable organizations do this sort of audit periodically.

Personally, I hope Cyber Ninjas' reputation is completely destroyed by this boneheaded effort. I would not be surprised if this whole effort was simply a way to make some money for a possibly failing company. No reputable firm would do this sort of job. It also sound like our Senate President is not the brightest bulb, having been taken in by this fiasco. Did she not do any due diligence on Cyber Ninjas before she hired them?

D.K. in Oceanside, CA, writes: The continuing Republican audits of the Maricopa County ballots remind me of something I heard long ago, namely that a great number of monkeys with typewriters given an infinite amount of time could write the complete works of Shakespeare. There is also the one about horses and manure. With all this manure, there has to be a horse here somewhere.

What a Sneaky Tucker

N.B. in Marathon, TX, writes: Tucker really has no leg to stand on with his outrage at being confronted in public after he told people on his Apr. 26 show to confront people in public for wearing masks.

M.H. in Coralville, IA, writes: A while back, Nate Silver posted a taxonomy of "civility" on his site, which went something like:

  1. Powerful being rude to powerful: bad for democracy
  2. Powerless being rude to powerless: bad for democracy
  3. Powerful being rude to powerless: very bad for democracy
  4. Powerless being rude to powerful: essential for democracy

I'm paraphrasing, but Tucker regularly engages in 1 through 3, so I have limited sympathy when he is on the receiving end of 4. For him I play the nanotech violin.

The Thin Blue Line

A.J.C. in Williamsburg, VA, writes: M.H. in Boston wrote about seeing a "Thin Blue Line" flag and not being able to explain why it gave them The heebie-jeebies.

The first time I saw that symbol, I was immediately disturbed by it, and I continue to find it disturbing every time I see it. I have a visceral reaction.

It looks like the symbol of a different America—a dystopian America. It is like the flag used by the American Nazis in the Amazon series "The Man in the High Castle." It's a perversion of our national flag. I see the American flag in its cheerful-yet-bold red white and blue, and I feel uplifted. I see that black and white rendition with a single blue line (not even the right shade of blue!), and it feels fascist. It makes me shudder.

It does not represent unity. It represents division. Police officers do not need their own American flag. It sets them apart from the people they take an oath to serve, and it represents an almost worshipful stance towards police authority, which is another step toward fascism. I'd rather see someone wearing a t-shirt or poncho or bikini with the good old Stars and Stripes on it than perverting our national flag in this way.

M.M. in Bloomington, IL, writes: People make a token contribution to the Policemen's Benevolent Association (or some such organization) in return for a bumper sticker they hope will make the local police give them the benefit of the doubt—not stopping that particular car, or giving a warning rather than a ticket. For a Black family car, a Thin Blue Line sticker does the same thing, and makes perfect sense.

I would think the Black family made the conscious choice of Thin Blue Line (rather than Blue Lives Matter) as the lesser of two evils.

V & Z respond: At least two dozen readers wrote in to suggest that possibility.

M.B. in New York City, NY, writes: I found your response to M.H. of Boston, woefully lacking, since you didn't include this very relevant information:

Political Economy

J.K. in Short Hills, NJ, writes: You wrote: "...but with unemployment still so high, few economists see inflation as a real threat at the moment." Inflation is actually already here. The Core CPI, which excludes food and energy, has jumped to its highest point since 1991. The more important question is whether this inflation is "transitory," the most overused word in the financial markets this year, or something more sustainable. I maintain that this debate has a long way to go before being resolved, with some very smart people on both sides (I am still in the sustainable camp but do not presume to count myself among the "very smart people").

Unlike that from other recoveries, the high unemployment rate has resulted from a dearth of supply of labor as opposed to demand, as you imply. There presently is a record number of job openings. Hiring people will likely require a significant uptick in wages or those "underemployed" reentering the workforce on their own thanks to the probable return to in-person school full-time, the elimination of the Federal supplemental unemployment insurance benefit for most of the country on September 6, and confidence that the pandemic is mostly behind us (the Delta variant notwithstanding). If employers do fork over more cash, then inflation will plausibly stay uncomfortable for long enough to force the Federal Reserve to get more restrictive. I doubt that the proposed bipartisan infrastructure package will be the straw that breaks the camel's back. My contention, however, is that the camel's back might already be broken given the amount of stimulus already in the pipeline.

G.C. in Washington, D.C., writes: How can Moody's and the like be "highly respected," as you wrote, when they basically took bribes to rate subpar filled CDOs as AAA, pretty much guaranteeing the housing crisis of 2008?

It appears "highly respected" is highly subjective these days.

I'm sure someone "highly respects" The Donald, but I can't find them in my circles. Then again, what do I know? I thought anyone who voted to authorize invasion of Iraq in 2003 should be automatically disqualified from becoming president. Such a horrific and tragic lack of judgment ought be politically fatal.

Moody's lack of morals pales by comparison, but it would be nice if accountability for attributable disasters even slightly existed in the 21st century.

All Politics Is Local...

J.T. in Marietta, GA, writes: I'm going to have to challenge your conclusions about the effectiveness of "tough on crime" messaging. You contend that it's not going to be effective in areas where the actual crime rate is low. Clearly, you don't live in an actual American suburb. Here in Cobb County, GA (where all county-wide offices were narrowly won by Democrats in 2020 for the first time in decades), plenty of people are freaked out by crime, even though there is nothing unusual going on with our crime rates. For one thing, they've been fed a steady diet of misinformation by Fox News, et al. But there's also just a lot of inherent fear and suspicion.

I joined a year or so ago. I am constantly amazed at the number of people posting dire warnings just because somebody was walking down the sidewalk "looking suspicious," or (heaven forbid) rang their doorbell. A significant segment of the population seems to live in terror of...I don't know what, exactly. Home invasion? People always think their lost dogs are "stolen." Reading their comments on NextDoor reminds me of Gladys Kravits from Bewitched, peeking out the window looking for something to be alarmed about. Maybe all of those people are already voting Republican. But we all know the importance of swingy suburban areas in elections, and I think some of that population could be susceptible to "tough on crime" messaging even without experiencing an actual crime wave.

M.B. in Cleveland, OH, writes: In response to a question from J.M. in Silver Spring, you wrote: "If you are a Republican in San Francisco, [an open primary affords the] opportunity to weigh in on which Democrat is least offensive to you."

It's a safe bet that many thousands of Democrats here in Ohio will make exactly that choice next spring. We have (so far) no serious Democratic primary competition in either the Governor or U.S. Senate race, but many candidates ranging from "Almost Reasonable" to "Foaming At The Mouth" on the Republican side. I'm certainly planning on doing everything I can to defeat the Jim Renacis and Josh Mandels of this world.

V & Z respond: You don't regard Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) as a serious U.S. Senate candidate?

D.C. in Brentwood, CA, writes: Regarding the item on would-be Senate candidate Herschel Walker, maybe the Democrats, instead of saying that he is "a great football player but a truly despicable and dishonest person," could just call him the O.J. Simpson of football.

V & Z respond: That a killer line.

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: I had to respond when I saw the comment from J.L. in Chicago about getting more Republicans into the US House from Illinois. I'd like to ask (no, challenge) J.L., without gerrymandering on the Democratic side, and even WITH Republican gerrymandering, to draw a U.S. House District that is "safe Republican" in the Chicagoland area. By this I am counting Cook, Will, Lake, Kane, McHenry and Kendall Counties.

My best effort with Dave's Redistricting managed an oddly-shaped District with all of McHenry, the western part of Kane, the northwestern part of Cook, and much of Lake (excluding the Waukegan area)—and that was 50.4% Republican.

I managed one other District like that in the area, also 50.4 percent Republican, using all of Will County (excluding the northwestern parts) a part of southeastern DuPage and some of Southwestern Cook. Both were very oddly-shaped, but that was the best I could do while trying to create a Republican district in the area (unless you wanted to expand outside that six County area to jam in some more Republicans...for example, expanding into Boone County on the one side, and Kankakee on the other.

Even a Republican-leaning district that is wholly contained within either Cook or DuPage Counties is tough. I bet J.L. can't do it. I know I couldn't. So where, in J.L.'s mind, are these more Republicans going to come from? Downstate Illinois is where all the Republicans are (there and the northwestern part of the state.) Because of this, I can scarcely even see an Illinois with fewer than 6 Republican districts in the new 17-district redraw, though none of them will be in Chicagoland.

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: I wanted to provide some more detail on the Wyoming Legislature's consideration of implementing a run-off for partisan primaries, presumably so as to make it easier to unseat Liz Cheney. The legislation in question is SF0145, and was defeated on third reading in the Senate. There was some thought to a special session this month—primarily to handle appropriations of American Rescue Plan money—in which the primary run-off could have been re-considered, but they have decided they don't want to take on the expense of a special session. Even if there is still a special session in our future, one of the reasons the bill failed was concern that it couldn't be implemented for the 2022 election without running afoul of the Wyoming Constitution and other laws.

C.L. in Washington, DC, writes: I think you did a disservice to Senator Mike Enzi and your readers when your item on his death reduced him to his political affiliation. I'm writing this as a former staffer for the Senator—however, as the party went right, it pushed me left. I'm now a registered Democrat and I regularly support Democratic candidates because I think the Republican Party is a danger to democracy. So, I want to be clear that this is not a partisan defense of Senator Enzi or his political positions.

Your implication that he "veered" with the Republican party into bombast or bad-faith political stunts is incorrect. He was always going to vote conservatively but he was also clearly not in the mold of Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY). He preferred committee work and writing legislation (yes, even hyper-conservative legislation, along with bipartisan bills) to slinging mud on cable news, antagonizing people who disagreed with him, grandstanding in hearings, or self-promotion. I know I may not be considered an unbiased source on this, but the most consistent comments about him from other senators and their staff were how nice he was to work with and how much they appreciated his willingness to work on a bipartisan basis (which of course became rarer as the political environment changed). He really did have more friendships across the aisle than most of his colleagues, even in the Trump years—and yes, people are prone to encomia at times like this, but when Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), former majority leader Harry Reid (D), and many others repeatedly and specifically praise his friendship, civility, bipartisanship, and generous nature, maybe it's not just hagiography.

I don't think you gave us the "unvarnished" truth—it looks more like a quick-and-dirty hot take, leaning on generalizations about Trump-era Republicans rather than facts about the senator's life and career, for the sake of being contrarian. Which is too bad, because I think your readers can handle the idea that a political figure can be complicated and multi-faceted, especially in complicated times.

...Unless It's in Canada

D.J.M in Salmon Arm, BC, Canada, writes: P.D. in Leamington, Canada, who is an American citizen, writes how they finds many things about Canadian politics dysfunctional. It is a classic display of American exceptionalism that represents the U.S. as superior to other nations. P.D. should recognize that among other things, our "dysfunctional system" has given us universal health care, parental leave, reasonable post-secondary tuition, and a fairly positive reputation on the international stage. Of course, the American system is much more functional with its gerrymandering, filibuster, and Citizens United which has yielded such useful policy outcomes as the wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan; wildly permissive gun laws; and undemocratic restrictions on voting rights (to be brief).

This is not to suggest that we have not had serious political challenges in Canada, such as the treatment of Indigenous people and residential schools, but it is laughable that P.D. doesn't even recognize the inconsistencies in their experiences north of the border. They point out that we do not elect our Prime Minister (true), but fail to note that Donald Trump (along with other presidents) lost his election, but was inaugurated as president anyhow thanks to the oh-so-functional Electoral College.

If I was in the U.S., complaining about the government, I am sure I would promptly be told to go home. However, in true Canadian spirit, P.D. is welcome here. They might try expanding their understanding of Canadian culture and the dysfunctional nature of the U.S.'s political system. P.D., we understand—after all, you are a Cub fan.

M.F. in Leamington, Cambridge, New Zealand, writes: P.D. in Leamington assures us that they understand Canadian politics despite being an American, then proceeds to get one of the fundamentals wrong, writing: "Whatever party has the most candidates elected has their party leader (chosen only by the party at convention) put into place as prime minister."

No. The individual who can win the support (confidence) of a majority of members of Parliament becomes prime minister (or, at the province level, a majority of members of the provincial legislature becomes premier).

Most often, one party wins a majority of seats and the party leader becomes (or remains) prime minister/premier. However, in a minority or hung Parliament, other possibilities arise.

As to American chocolate. I direct you to this from the BBC program QI:

M.C., Oak Ridge, TN, writes: P.D in Leamington provided reasoned comment on Canada's strange system of politics. My having grown up in England, the Canadian system makes more sense to me, perhaps one of the better colonial legacies, whereas the American system still seems a strange way to go about things.

As to, "Now can someone send me some American chocolate bars?," this must be among the most tasteless jokes that you have ever printed.

M.C. in Troy, AL, writes: As an Aussie transplanted to the U.S., I have to respond to P.D. from Leamington. The U.S. does not have chocolate... only Hershey's!

Legal Matters

J.L. in Paterson, NJ, writes: In discussing a possible lawsuit over a new federal law on voting rights, you wrote: "An election would have to be held under the new laws, then a person or entity with standing to sue would have to file..." I disagree. A person or entity credibly threatened with injury by enforcement of a law has standing to attack it prospectively.

For example, in March 2016, Arizona enacted a law that prohibited people (with very few exceptions) from collecting and conveying others' absentee ballots at their request. This effectively disenfranchised many Native Americans who don't have cars and who live on reservations that have no postal service, let alone mass transit. Opponents of the law were not required to wait for such a flawed election to be held and then try to overturn it. In advance of the election, the Democratic National Committee sought an injunction against enforcement of the prohibition. A preliminary injunction was denied by the district court, granted by the circuit court of appeals, but stayed by the Supreme Court, and all this transpired before the 2016 election. (The Court's recent 6-3 final decision in the case allowed the Arizona law to stand.)

Suppose a new federal law were to outlaw this discriminatory ban (or again outlaw it, since, in my view it violates the existing Voting Rights Act). The State of Arizona would immediately have standing to sue to overturn the federal law, so that it could conduct its next election with its law against "ballot harvesting" in place. A court would have jurisdiction to enjoin enforcement of the federal law pending the final resolution of the case.

R.E.M., Brooklyn, NY, writes: Saturday's answer to J.S. in Cambridge had one bit that was off. Requests to individual circuit justices are routinely referred to the full Supreme Court for action, and it does not mean the referring justice wants the case taken. It merely reflects usual practice. Indeed, the referring justice's own view may be that the application should not be heard, but that his or her colleagues should have the opportunity to weigh in and even to decide to take the matter. So in your hypothetical, Alito could have referred the application to the full Court and then voted to deny it.

Medical Matters

S.H. in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, writes: I wanted to add my voice, and some additional thoughts, to your prescient comments about the high prevalence of osteopaths in the "Disinformation Dozen."

Like Dr. K.P. in Brooklyn, I have worked with a large number of highly competent DOs over the course of my career as an infectious disease physician. But as you note, it does not necessarily follow that just because there are DOs who are indistinguishable from their MD counterparts, there isn't also a much higher tendency toward quackery among DO grads. And you outline some very good explanations about this (although I'm less sold on the difference in grades as a contributing reason; getting into med school in the US is so competitive that the average GPA of most osteopathic schools is still way above the average, so it may be a meaningless difference).

Even within the MD community, there are subcultures that can have a higher proportion of doctors with questionable judgement, a penchant for antiscientific stunts that rival those of Joseph Mercola, and who have practices that rely on business models that place heavy emphasis on vague pseudoscientific concepts (like "natural health," which sounds good, though means very little unless, say, you wish to apply a poultice of dung on a patient with an ulcer). Family Medicine physicians likewise are disproportionately represented on various illegitimate medical organizations (such as "Chronic Lyme" societies) that are quackery in all but name. Like the DOs, I have worked with a number of outstanding Family physicians, and there is much in the overall Family Medicine "philosophy" that specialties like Internal Medicine (my field) would do well to adopt in some form. But as with Osteopathy, I would argue there are structural causes that take some young, well-meaning physicians and turn them against the practice of responsible medicine.

D.L. in Cary, NC, writes: As a person who's lived 61+ years with an undiagnosed, non-specific (which means "we can't figure it" out in physician-speak) auto-immune disorder that will remain so even when I eventually take it to the grave, I can tell you this canary in the coal mine has run the gamut of medical professionals. And while many of the "alternative" doctors are expensive, unnecessary, and often quacks, many others are great. DOs and chiropractors have saved my bacon on countless occasions. A more accurate description of American medicine would describe how the profit motive has made treating, rather than preventing (let alone curing) disease the sad state of affairs. The money's in treatment, and not in prevention or cure. Along with ammosexuals and using six times our share of resources, these are the things that make American Exceptionalism so ironic. And that's why I'm in the process of leaving.

History Matters

J.Q. in Pequannock, NJ, writes: R.M. From Pensacola asked about former presidents who remained active in politics after leaving office.

The last president that I can remember staying active was Gerald Ford. He came very close to winning in 1976 and the mainstream Republicans thought Ronald Reagan was too extreme and wanted Ford to run again in 1980. Ford wanted to do so, and not be seen as just an "accidental" President. He waited in the wings in the late 70's, but the Republicans veered more and more to the right as the decade ended. Texas governor John Connally was seen as the party favorite in 1979, so Ford ended up not running. After Connally and then George H.W. Bush faded, Reagan picked up more and more steam and eventually won the nomination.

The Reagan people didn't want George H.W. Bush as a running mate, so Ford was approached to be the vice president. The mainstream Republicans feared that Reagan was still too far on the fringe so they wanted to balance with the ticket out with Ford. There were serious discussions between Ford and Reagan, but Ford wanted to be something of a "co-President" in the administration. This was unacceptable to the Reagan people so the talks broke down with Ford, and Bush was approached to be the running mate.

C.J. in Redondo Beach, CA, writes: I think one could argue Andrew Jackson continued to have as large an influence over politics as any other President after his time in office. At the very least, Presidents Martin Van Buren and James K. Polk both sought his counsel, and he sort of played kingmaker for both (especially Polk).

J.F. in Houston, TX, writes: On the Era of Good Feelings, you wrote "If we had been doing Electoral-Vote back then, we would have had a lot of trouble coming up with enough content for each day's broadside before it was posted in the public square for all to read."

Surely there must have been a few cranks around who thought that life was better in the glory days of the French and Indian War back in the 1750's.

V & Z respond: Make America Great (Britain) Again?

S.S. in Clayton, CA, writes: Your discussion of the terms "Native Americans" vs. "American Indians" took me back to when I was working on my Ph.D. in the history of the American West at the University of Colorado, Boulder (and thanks for the shout out last Sunday). A faculty member there (I can't remember which) made the comment that "American Indian" is what you hear on reservations, and "Native American" is what you hear off reservations.

You are correct in your observation about how the terms "Asian" and "European" are problematic in their own ways. And that is also true with the term Latino (and the new and improved, and even more problematic, "Latinx"). If my memory is correct, the trouble with the term "Hispanic" is that it was invented by the Census Bureau.

Your mention of the mythic figure of the gunslinger in the American West in response to the question "What's the deal with Americans and guns?" reminded me of a short book I read in grad school called No Duty to Retreat: Violence and Values in American History and Society by the historian Richard Maxwell Brown. In it, he talked about a crucial difference between British and American laws regarding the use of violence. Under British common law a person is obligated to avoid using violence in self-defense for as long as possible, and until all other measures have failed (this is why, for so long, British police did not carry weapons). In the U.S., by contrast, the law supports your right to use violence immediately in self defense (shoot first and ask questions later).

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: Given the premise that history is written by the victors, in the face of evidence to the contrary in the Lost Cause narrative, you posited that the premise is faulty, i.e. history is in fact written by the losers. Not to pick an argument with (Z), but just for a different perspective, one could also suppose that maybe the South didn't actually lose the Civil War, much like how the United States didn't really lose the War of 1812. Some years ago, I was visiting a newly opened call center for the Fortune 500 company I was working for at the time. I was co-teaching a new-hire class for the call center in Edmonton, Alberta, and after introducing myself, just about the first thing the class had to say was, "We kicked your ass in the War of 1812." And, yeah, I had to admit that was right, although I did refrain from pointing out that only one of us had the Queen of England on our national currency. That same trip I bought Canadian History for Dummies, which had this (paraphrased) description of that war: "The Americans think they won that war. And they're kind of right."

My point is that the United States didn't do well on the battlefield in the early 18th Century, but we definitely won the peace. There's a similar dynamic with the Confederacy in the mid-19th century. Yes, they didn't continue existence as an independent nation, and they didn't get to continue the practice of slavery, but they were allowed to oppress the Black population for another century and more, and they did get to go back to running their own governments without Northern interference pretty quickly after the war ended, as the Union decided civil rights weren't that big of a priority after all and ended Reconstruction. The South may have lost the Civil War, but they ultimately won the peace.

G.T.M. in Vancouver, BC, Canada, writes: I am a military reenactor who chooses to live in Canada. Having been militarily trained as an Engineer ("Demolitions, WOW!—big bangs") and Armoured ("Tanks, WOW!—big bangs"), I don't mess with calibers that start with decimal points and stick to U.S. Civil War Artillery and Canadian "Militia" Artillery of the same era ("Cannons, WOW!—big bangs").

Although this is anecdotal, it has been my experience that the American Civil War reenactors in this area do have a tendency to have more"conservatives" in the Confederate units than in the Union units, but that tendency isn't so strong that I would reach the same conclusions as A.W. in Northglenn reached. Of course, most of the American Civil War reenactors in this area come from Washington and Oregon, so the demographics of those states probably plays a goodly part in that (as do the Colorado demographics).

Admittedly, I do find that there is a somewhat higher proportion of "evangelicals" among American Civil War reenactors than among Canadian reenactors, but that is also likely due to the difference in both demographics and culture of the two countries.

In general, I find that the majority of American Civil War reenactors to be less dogmatic than the political statistics of the U.S. would appear to indicate they should be, and, as A.W. will likely concede, Civil War reenactment is a great family hobby because you very seldom see "bad kids" in attendance (and if they do show up, they almost never come back because they simply don't fit in).

I also find that it is quite a useful venue for educating people about just how bloody and lethal war can be and like (I hope) most people who have actually served in combat roles, dissuading people from thinking that "War is Heroic and Glamorous." It is something that I put a lot of effort into. Demonstrating how a Civil War infantry soldier advancing in the first few lines had an almost zero chance of remaining unkilled and/or uninjured when faced with Civil War artillery has created quite a few blanched faces. Showing that those "Confederates" knew and accepted those odds indicates that they must have believed in something beyond "the defense of slavery."

Stay safe, stay healthy, and get vaccinated if you haven't already done so.

M.A.K. in London, England, UK, writes: C.R. in Fayetteville writes: "I think to make the claim that socialist governments have proven to be non-viable ignores the near miraculous accomplishments and the massive improvements in the conditions for their people made by socialist governments..."

I ask two simple questions in response:

  1. Why was it necessary for these government to create institutions like the KGB and the Stasi?
  2. Why did they fail to prevent their regimes falling to popular revolutions?

It's easy to talk about the wonderful achievements of repressive dictatorships if you've never had to live under one. For an insight I recommend Gary Bruce's The Firm: The Inside Story of the Stasi.

More Tex Ed

B.S. in Denville, NJ, writes: Your answer to C.H. in Sacramento, about the influence of Texas on school textbooks used beyond its borders, doesn't give the complete picture. In short, Texas has structured its education-funding machine to be very attractive to publishers who provide the state with shiny new things (e.g., textbooks).

I worked for over 10 years for various educational publishers (though not since 2015 or so, so my info may be a little out of date) as an editor. I would not have had this career were it not for Texas and its textbook adoption process.

School districts in Texas get money from the state annually to buy new materials, but only one subject area is eligible for the free money in a given year. Further, any materials so purchased must be approved (adopted) by the state board. (Districts are generally free to buy whatever materials they like at any time, but the state money is only available for one year and only for the products on the adoption list.) The state board reviews all textbooks and supplementary materials that have been submitted to ensure all Texas state standards for that subject are adequately covered. If a product is found lacking, publishers have a chance to make changes to it before the deadline to get it on the adoption list. (Of course, making changes to published books is grossly inefficient, so publishers try really hard to give Texas everything it asks for...there are bragging rights to be had for making the list without revisions.)

Since a publisher knows that every school district in Texas will get money from the state in, for example, 2025 to buy new science books that year, they will start the process of developing those books soon if they haven't already. They can justify the huge investment of creating a new textbook specifically for Texas because all the sales happen basically at once. This new book then becomes the template for editions for other states, who either don't have statewide adoptions or are too small to matter, for the subsequent however-many years, until the next Texas science adoption. Yes, there may be an "insert-State-here edition" of the same textbook released, but it will be mostly identical to the Texas version, with an added index of how that state's standards are correlated throughout the book, plus perhaps an extra insertion of science materials unique to that state (where any state standards not already covered by the Texas version would be). All the heavy lifting is done for Texas.

You can read more about the process here.

G.W. in Oxnard, CA, writes: In reading the accounts of the Texas education system in the Sunday mailbag, I was reminded of an incident I was party to in 2014 while visiting San Antonio.

I was visiting The Alamo, and was standing in line to visit the church site. Two men in line were having a conversation in front of me. One was a transplant to Texas from a different southern State and was asking the other man, who was a born and raised Texan, about the Alamo and the Mexican-American War. The Texan was telling the story all wrong. He did not seem to understand that Texas was a part of Mexico at the time and seemed to think Mexico was invading U.S. territory when they attacked The Alamo. He was way off on other facts as well.

I couldn't take it and butted into the conversation and explained that the Americans who came to Texas were on Mexican territory and they had brought slaves and the Mexican government did not allow slavery. I explained that I grew up in New Mexico, and the Mexican government had a bad experience enslaving the native peoples and did not want to go the slavery route again (something they teach in schools in New Mexico). I explained that Mexico had offered land to Americans to come live in Texas because it was sparsely populated and the Mexican government was afraid the French would take it away from them. The Americans had pledged to convert to the Roman Catholic faith as part of the deal, but had used the preservation of their faith as a justification for the war. All this was news to the Texan. I can't know if the Texan was a product of the Texas education propaganda or was a poor student, but I'd bet on the former.

V & Z respond: Do you think he at least understood that The Alamo wasn't actually part of the Mexican-American War?

Gotta Go Back In Time...

E.W., in Skaneateles, NY, writes: Please allow me to recommend a time travel book to T.B. of Tallahassee; one that is exactly what they describe: Ryan North's Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time Traveler. It is a repair manual for the FC 3000 Time Machine, and also tells the reader how to invent civilization no matter what time period the reader happens to be stuck in. A funny, snarky read, as well as being an informative look at some of the failings of humankind.

J.H. in Boston, MA, writes: If you do go visit pre-Columbian societies, in addition to overcoming language barriers and xenophobia barriers, you should figure out a way to not spread any diseases which you might be unknowing carriers of, and which they have no immunity towards.

V & Z respond: We thought about noting that, but then thought it might be a little grim.

J.F. in Houston, TX, writes: You wrote: "You could also take a songbook with all the works of the Beatles, so you could 'write' those." I feel that you have violated your oaths to drop frequent cultural references by failing to render that as:

You could also take a songbook with all the works of the Beatles, so you could "write" those.

Admittedly, not time travel, but definitely some kind of warp of space-time. Incidentally, I'm glad to know that my favorite political commentary and Wacht-Am-St.Lawrence site is now vying to become the go-to for H.G. Wellsian scientific insights.

Word Choices

D.M.C. in Seoul, South Korea, writes: As a follow-up to the question from C.J. in Lowell: I think another reason that both and the original article may have overlooked censoring f***ing is an evolution in the severity of cuss words and what is considered vulgar in English.

Cuss words generally reflect what is considered taboo in society. As sex and bodily functions become less taboo in English-speaking societies the severity of related words such as f*** and s*** are being downgraded. At the same time, as discrimination against oppressed groups is becoming more taboo, the severity of words that disparage oppressed groups, such as b**** or n***** is increasing.

As an example, when I was a TA for an introductory linguistics class a few years ago, the professor had students rate the severity of cuss words, and f*** garnered around a 2/10 whereas b**** garnered around a 7/10. As someone about 10 years older than those students, I had been taught roughly the opposite and, having been informed of the reasoning, have stopped using the latter.

For more information on curse words, I recommend the Netflix documentary "History of Swear Words" and the podcast Vocal Fries, whose second episode is about swearing.

As a warning, both do involve copious amounts of uncensored...verbiage.

J.F. in Houston, TX, writes: You wrote: "Further, there's no great name for the (large) faction of Republicans that follow the Dear Leader."

I would suggest "National Socialists," or, if that's too many syllables, "fascists."

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: In response to the comment from L.B. in Savannah, GA: Thank you! "Pedophile" never sat well for me either as a description for what these men are accused of, but I didn't know there was a term, "ephebophile," that would be a better fit. Although I think I still prefer "accused (statutory) rapist" or "accused sex trafficker." Being a pedophile/ephebophile, by itself, isn't a crime, but acting on such desires is.

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: I think when you refer to creating a Schadenfreude Report, what you actually mean is a Karmic Schadenfreude Report. As J.K. from Bremen correctly pointed out last Sunday, literally schadenfreude applies to taking joy from others' misfortune, whether deserved or undeserved. But the pleasure at others' misfortune that I take (and suspect that you do, too) is when it is caused by the others' stupidity or greed, such as grifters getting arrested.

L.B. from Savannah, meanwhile, expounding on the difference between pedophiles and ephebophiles, reminds me of my son back when he had an 8 p.m. bedtime. I'd look at the clock and say, "Hey, get up to bed; it's 8:30!" and he'd look at the clock and reply, "No, it's 8:27!"—technically correct, but utterly missing the real point. My son eventually grew out of that. L.B. should do the same.

Food Stuff

J.F. in Sloatsburg, NY, writes: You wrote: "Does he have a hankering for cheesesteaks and Primanti's?," in regards to Joe Biden's multiple visits to the Philly suburbs. As a Philadelphia area native, all I can say is that you have not lived until you've had a nice, greasy Philly cheesesteak from Ishkabibble's. Fresh-grilled chopped steak, onions, peppers, provolone. Delicious! Add a gremlin (grape soda and lemonade) for the full experience.

P.C. in Schaumburg, IL, writes: Maybe you should just stick to Wisconsin or Los Angeles when making regional references. Joe Biden is obviously a child of eastern Pennsylvania, which centers on Philadelphia, correctly pointed out in the importance of the Philly suburbs to the next election. Then you throw in a reference to Primanti's? I grew up in the Philly burbs and have never heard of Primanti's; a quick google shows it is a Pittsburgh chain. Perhaps you don't understand it, but Philly and Pittsburgh don't really like each other (see any Flyers-Penguins game from the last half century). Also, your tired old reference to Santa Claus and snowballs goes back even longer than the Flyers-Penguins. There are very few people alive in Philly who even remember that episode, but those of us that do, also remember the pain of a horrible football team and years of losing that led to that clearly justifiable moment. Hopefully you Aaron Rodgers-less Packers fans will get to feel that feeling next year and many more to follow.

R.R. in Philadelphia, PA, writes: Santa had it coming.


L.E. in Putnam County, NY, writes: If you're going to be memorializing John Horton Conway, what I've long considered his claim to fame is his chained arrow notation; it's covered in a number of wikis but the original text in which he and Richard Guy (1916-2020) introduced it is reproduced here.

I've expanded on it myself with my Ultra-Conway-Guy and Super Conway functions.

P.K. in Marshalltown, IA, writes:Q. You know why they won't let Dayton have a professional football team?
A. Then Cincinnati would be jealous.

You've been a wonderful audience. Remember to tip your waitress...

V & Z respond: In fairness, we should have noted that Ohio does have football team that has consistently paid its players top dollar over the years, and so has been consistently been competitive for championships. Of course, the team doesn't play in Cincinnati, Cleveland, or Dayton, but instead in Columbus.

D.R. in Koh Tao, Thailand, writes: Disparaging the flagship of the University of California system, namely Berkeley?

What has UCLA derangement syndrome come to when the child is disparaging its progenitor?

V & Z respond: Even the Roman Empire ran out of steam, eventually. In other words, UCLA is like the Byzantines. At very least, as any current or former UCLA student/staffer can tell you, its bureaucracy is plenty byzantine.

D.M. in Burnsville, MN, writes: Prose like this verges eternal: "...the House minority, who are so impotent they have to freebase Viagra before they show up for work."

V & Z respond: We work hard to keep our prose from becoming limp.

J.A. in Middelkerke, Belgium, writes:

Dear Sirs,

I wish to apply for the position of Staff Herpetologist.

Being familiar with your organization, I understand this mostly involves being unavailable when you need me in exchange for no pay: I assume I will be really good at that.

Any time you need an expert to explain the difference between Ted Cruz and a reptile, I will be at Taco Bell.

When someone writes in about Mitch McConnell and turtles, I vow to have a headache while washing my hair.

Just don't ask me about the difference between the Republican Party and a bag of snakes; I'll feel obliged to answer that one.

V & Z respond: Back when we were writing about Donald Trump's hush payments a lot, we were in the market for a herpetologist, until we figured out that what a herpetologist actually specializes in is different from what we thought.

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