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Sunday Mailbag

Here are the 10 subjects we got the most letters about this week, in no particular order: Latinx, homeopathy, abortion, names for the right-wing version of the squad, Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), limericks, nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, movies, and German politics. Undoubtedly, the person who edits The New York Times' letters page has a very similar list.


E.L. in Dallas, TX, writes: As a physician in Texas and member of a hospital ethics committee, I wanted to write in response to the question posed by B.B. in St. Louis.

Unfortunately, Texas actually did go in the opposite direction. What preceded the current abortion law was actually a 2018 law known as SB 11. It was passed due to huge groundswell and lobbying support from right-to-life groups. It is a very poorly written law (not my opinion, but an intention of the crafters to leave much up to interpretation) that makes the legality of DNR and end-of-life decisions questionable in a vague set of circumstances. The "premise" of the law was to make it illegal to invoke a DNR without consent. The realities of the law are, and it was supported entirely by pro-life groups, that it makes it of questionable legality whenever any person dies in Texas without physicians performing any and all possible medical procedures to preserve life.

This has affected our hospital, and there have been instances where we have discharged patients so that they could die at home, peacefully, without CPR, which can be traumatic physically and emotionally. The law helped to generate momentum and financial support for the movement that finally "birthed" the Texas abortion law. It is likely, that if the Supreme Court reverses Roe v. Wade, these end-of-life laws will become less ambiguous and more threatening to physicians and hospitals.

R.C. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: You wrote, "[W]e doubt a Thirteenth Amendment argument would be the choice, as that implies that motherhood is akin to slavery." I would argue that tending to a farm isn't slavery either, but being forced to tend farms against one's will is. And forced pregnancies did, in fact, happen during slavery. My own guess is that if this Court does turn out to be ideologically opposed to acknowledging a right to abortion, it will not agree with any other legal argument either, regardless of which amendment it's based on.

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: In Saturday's response to L.B. in Savannah, your conclusion is probably correct that the Thirteenth Amendment would not be an effective pro-choice argument, but your reasoning—that such an argument would imply "that motherhood is akin to slavery"—is too facile and misguided. The Thirteenth Amendment prohibits "involuntary servitude" (with exceptions not relevant here). Of course motherhood is not slavery. Picking cotton isn't slavery, either, unless you are being forced to do it. Indeed, the Thirteenth Amendment is the ultimate reason an employer cannot obtain specific performance of an employment contract to force a worker to perform promised work; at most, the employer can get money damages from the worker for having to hire someone else at a higher cost. Forcing a woman to be pregnant and give birth is, on its face, involuntary servitude.

The reason the Thirteenth Amendment probably doesn't work here is that it's already been implicitly rejected by the Roe-Casey line of cases with the trimester and viability standards. If you get to a certain time in the pregnancy, the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that the State can force you to go to term. Since you can't enslave someone even for a short time, that suggests that pregnancy is already outside the ambit of the Thirteenth Amendment, and certainly this group of justices would so find.

G.W. in Oxnard, CA, writes: The Supreme Court declined to stay the Texas abortion law, but did not rule on the merits of the law or of the case against the law. This was presented as a partial victory for opponents of the law. As I see it, declining to stay the law is equivalent to saying that allowing the law to stand while the case works its way through the courts causes no irreparable harm. The human gestation period is about 40 weeks and the case will take longer than that, so every type of harm that can possibly be done by an abortion ban will be done while that law works its way through the courts. Therefore, SCOTUS has ruled that a total abortion ban causes no irreparable harm. Ergo, SCOTUS has already ruled in favor of a total abortion ban. Q.E.D.

R.T. in Arlington, TX, writes: In the abortion discussions, T.B. in Alva wrote one sentence that needs to be talked about: "It is better for the states to be disparate and stable than for either side to be forced to honor federal laws they despise."

I'm assuming T.B. was being serious, but I don't see how we can be one nation with that solution. In my view, one of the best things to happen for America was geographically mixing World War II service members in units, which changed their mindset to a place where we were all in it together. That lesson is being lost with time.

The other philosophical problem is that no U.S. state, county, or city has a population that is so uniform in its beliefs that you could draw a wall around it and ignore the others. If you could carve yourself off, I think you would end up fighting among yourselves within your own border. Obviously, we can tolerate some differences. I can't speak for the Oklahoma-Kansas border near Alva, but at the Oklahoma-Texas border we have the liquor and adult video stores on the Texas side and the casinos and cannabis shops on the Oklahoma side. But big differences need to be dealt with, rather than tolerated.

S.S-L. in Norman, OK, writes: T.B. in Alva wrote: "It is better for the states to be disparate and stable than for either side to be forced to honor federal laws they despise."

I respectfully submit that not everyone is so privileged as to allow our states to decide our freedom. I give you: Slavery! Also important for women's rights, disability rights, LGBTQ+ rights... the list goes on.

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: Wait. So, according to TV from Alva, because Amy Coney Barrett has borne 5 children, she gets to decide that bringing a pregnancy to term (let alone an unwanted pregnancy) is no big deal? As if her experience with pregnancy is the exact same for every other woman on the planet. I know she's Catholic but that is some major chutzpah!

I witnessed my ex-wife give birth to both of our children. I will never know a woman's experience, but in witnessing it, I think I can safely declare that it is a big deal!

I'm also responsible for another pregnancy that ended in an abortion. We were too young, not established in careers and simply not ready. My then-girlfriend and I made the decision together and it was not easy or taken lightly. But we both agreed, even years later (we eventually got married), that it was the right thing to do. In my personal belief system, that soul simply wasn't ready to come to Earth yet. Call it rationalization, if you must judge me, but that is what I believe.

My point is, and I can't believe that I'm still having to say this 48 years after Roe, is that this decision is none of anyone's damn business!

J.A. in Austin, TX (deep in the heart of the Bible Belt), writes: Both J.A. in Redwood City and G.W. in Oxnard wrote about overpopulation, as if the purpose of anti-abortion legislation was about making every possible baby be born. But while "What about the babies!" is the rallying cry, the birth of babies isn't the intended goal.

That said, you may find the response to "What about overpopulation?" instructive toward uncovering that goal. And the anti-abortion answer is, "Well, they shouldn't get pregnant in the first place." Couple that with the parallel work of removing sex education and contraceptive access, and you may find that it isn't about the babies at all.

It's about sex. You aren't allowed to have it outside marriage, and within marriage only for the purpose of deliberate (or, "We'll let God decide for us") pregnancy. That's it. Anything else is a sin. And if you have more babies than you can afford, obviously you were flaunting God's will by having sex for fun (otherwise, God would have provided you the financial wherewithal to afford those babies). And since you were sinning, you certainly don't deserve any financial assistance (like WIC, or government-sponsored childcare, etc).

J.T. in Marietta, GA, writes: I was disappointed (but not surprised) to see that nowhere in the discussions and comments about abortion was any consideration of the core issue: When does human life begin?

In the years since the Roe decision, the left has argued for legal abortion primarily as a women's rights issue; the right has argued against it largely based on religious convictions. Both viewpoints eventually became dogma that skirted the difficult philosophical and moral questions at the heart of the controversy. Is a zygote or a fetus a human life? At what point does said zygote or fetus become a human life?

Most conservative anti-abortion fanatics today are not guided by any real principles in this regard. They just oppose abortion because they've been told it's evil and leftist. They're not really "pro-life," as they care nothing for the baby after it's born, and typically favor the death penalty. However, the roots of opposition to abortion lie in the belief that human life starts at conception. There are still some thoughtful, intelligent people out there who have a principled opposition to abortion. They sincerely believe that human life is sacred, and begins at conception. (They also are dedicated to the care of children after birth, and are opposed to the death penalty.) If you truly believe the zygote is fully human, then abortion is murder, and cannot be sanctioned. I think it's important to acknowledge that this position—even if you don't share it—is ethically and philosophically sound when applied consistently. The stand that "women have a right to control their own bodies" denies this belief simply by ignoring it, without offering any counter-argument. I'm not aware of any mention of this issue in the recent Supreme Court arguments (maybe it just didn't make the news because it's too subtle for the general public?)

I happen to believe that the "fetal viability" argument is the practical course. I don't consider the fetus a human being until it is able to survive on its own after removal from the womb (a moment that increasingly early with modern medical technology). But I think it's important for both sides to recognize that there are serious and difficult moral and philosophical issues at stake. Not every pro-life person is an ignorant person screaming outside an abortion clinic; not every pro-choice person is a heartless baby killer.

Politics, American

D.A.Y. in Troy, MI, writes: I know I wrote about this last week, but I'm going to talk about the shooting in Oxford, Michigan again. This time I'm going to talk about how this happened against the backdrop of the Republicans adopting the battle cry that parents should have more power over our schools. That dark day at the end of November demonstrates the folly of that notion.

Make no mistake, when the Republicans talk about parents having more say in how their kids are educated, they're not talking average Americans. They're talking about radicals. They're talking about the anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers and people who don't want their children learning about the more troubling aspects of our country's history. Republicans have been very adept at masking the radical aspect of these people when they're used in political ads, presenting them as normal people. The "Beloved" ad in the Virginia race is a perfect example, as it overlooked the fact her child was a high school senior in an AP English class and the offending book was an award-winning classic that dares to suggest white people were mean to Black people during the antebellum South.

Schools being at the mercy of parents is part of what led to the Oxford shooting. Despite the disturbing behavior of their son, the parents resisted the notion he needed therapy and refused to take him home. He was instead sent back to class at the parents' behest and would proceed to kill four of his schoolmates and injure six others and a teacher hours later. There's your parental control over schools, Republicans.

A.P. in Washington, DC, writes: My parents came to the U.S. as refugees from the U.S.S.R. in 1989. They, like the vast majority of ex-Soviet Americans, are fierce Republicans, a position stemming from lived experiences in a totalitarian communist state. Yet they, like all ex-Soviet Americans of the appropriate age, were members of the Young Pioneers (Soviet boy/girl scouts). My father, an engineer, and my mother, a trained librarian, both had mandatory coursework across multiple classes on Marxist-Leninist theory, coursework that they had to do well in if they wanted to receive high marks in college. In both of their workplaces (the construction site and the library), they had to attend mandatory political education meetings, even without being formal Communist party members. There was never any question of resigning or not taking part in such events. That is the nature of living in a totalitarian society.

And so, it sickens me to think that even though my entire family all hold polar opposite fiscal views from Saule Omarova, they and their patriotism would be viewed as suspect before a Senate committee. And this is a pattern when it comes to Soviet Americans. I well remember how Lt. Colonel Vindman, a Soviet Jewish refugee, was not properly addressed by his rank by multiple Republican senators in committee, senators who I am damn sure would flay any Democrat alive for referring to a serving officer as "Mr."

Every year at Thanksgiving dinner, for as long as I can remember, my Republican family of Soviet-Americans (and I the token Democrat) always offer the same toast: to America, our country, which took us in and has given us so much. No one has the right to question our loyalty to this country, and no one has the right to use Saule Omarova's background against her.

D.C. in Delray Beach, FL, writes: I once had the opportunity to go to a Q&A style town meeting with former senator George Mitchell at the Town Hall in Falmouth, ME, where he spoke calmly and carefully about his work in the Senate. He detailed his relationship with Bob Dole here. If you long for a time when there was civility between leaders of the Senate, you can watch minutes 7-12 of this clip. It should be mandatory viewing for current Senate members.

J.F. in Ft. Worth, TX, writes: I'd just like to point out that in the 1976 Presidential Election, Carter/Mondale beat Ford/Dole. The ages of these men are 97 (and counting), 93, 93, and 98. Methuselah ain't got nothin' on them!

M.G. in Boulder, CO, writes: Last week, D.S. in Newark wrote: "I agree with most people who believe the Democrats have a messaging problem and feel that all Democrats running for office should be required to listen to Barbara Jordan's 1976 keynote address to the Democratic Convention. The message in this speech is timeless and extremely relevant in today's political climate."

Unfortunately the link you included shows only the first two pages of Jordan's speech, and it's too good not to have the whole thing. The text is here.

V & Z respond: We went back and substituted a better link, but it is good to bring readers' attention to the text, as well.

D.T. in San Jose, CA, writes: If I had just one sentence to illustrate the depressing absurdity of the world we are now living in, it's this: In 2022, the Republican candidate most likely to stand up for the integrity of our democracy... is Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA).

D.C. in Brentwood, CA, writes: Off the top of my head, I could think of a different approach for the U.S. government to express displeasure with China, which sidesteps the Olympics-based options of diplomatic boycott vs. total boycott: Have a total boycott, but host U.S.-only games, which compare times and scores against the Olympics results, and issue medals as if the athletes contested the Olympics events, but using some pumped-up patriotic-sounding medal names. Freedom gold, freedom silver and freedom bronze?

It's a stupid idea, but in this reality TV show of U.S. politics, I'd probably watch an episode or two.

E.C.W. in New Orleans, LA, writes: Steve Bullock has it all wrong, as do all of the urban-shaming writers who over-simplify the political realignment of rural America. Democrats didn't "lose" rural voters by promoting the woke agenda; it has been a decades-long decline that mirrors the overall decline of rural America. The Republican party certainly didn't win over rural America by talking about kitchen-table issues or having a coherent farm policy. Older, white, non-college males in rural America now routinely identify their top issues as immigration, abortion, and guns (i.e., things that have little to nothing to do with the problems facing rural America). It would be politically foolish for Democrats to prioritize rural voters over urban and suburban voters, especially when rural voters demand policies unacceptable to the rest of the country.

F.S. in Cologne, Germany, writes: After I read the comments from readers of The New York Times regarding Steve Bullock's article, I must say that P.M. in Currituck, NC, is definitely onto something. There appear to be many urban folks (presumably Democrats, though not Democratic politicians) who despise rural voters and the rural way of life. When P.M. first complained about it, I thought it was mostly made up by him or her. In my opinion, Democratic politicians should denounce urban people who despise people that live in rural areas. Otherwise I don't think Democrats have much of a chance of winning a substantial number of rural voters. Furthermore it would probably help if some of the leading Democrats came from rural areas. Right now all leading Democrats come from urban areas, as far as I know.

V & Z respond: Another edition of the P.M. in Currituck fan club is coming next week; we held it because today's mailbag is already pretty full.

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: By the time this runs, I will once again be a candidate for North Carolina Senate, as my plan is to file on Friday. Today, I am going to Johnston County, to support another transperson who is filing for the North Carolina House. And she will be here in Wake County for me on Friday. Afterwards, we both are having a press conference in front of Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson's (R) office.

But Bullock is right. When I speak to rural voters—and there are many in my old District I ran for in 2020, and many in my new district that I am running for this cycle—I speak of how I can help make their lives better.

I speak of broadband expansion—which I have called "The Electrification of Our Century"—and I tell them how the latest precision agricultural equipment requires a broadband signal. Being able to use these tools would increase productivity and efficiency, and thus return better profits, enabling these people to keep the family farm in the family.

In my new district, which includes an area I have never needed to know about before, I quickly discovered a serious water-quality problem affecting communities in the southern part of that County, and I was on it like a bear! And not for an elective strategy, but because water is essential to life. People don't think much about water until there is a problem. Well, there's a biggie in my new district...and I will be talking about it.

Undoubtedly, some will try to make my campaign about me being transgender. And they will try to bring this up. And if they ask me, my answer is simply—I think you know my position on that, so let's talk about X, or Y, or Z, which will help make your life better.

If they want to talk about restricting trans people, my response will be: "I did not ask how I could make other people's lives worse, I asked how I could make yours better! I will keep that focus: focusing on making their lives better in any way I can, just as I did in my last campaign—where, though I lost in the primary, I outperformed everyone's expectations against an establishment favorite who had all the endorsements locked up before I got out of the gate.

That had a lot to do with the court-ordered redraw of our maps. My opponent had been able to announce 6 months previous that she was running. I literally had to wait for the new maps to come out, and then get the street-level detail to know which district I would be in before I could announce if I was running or not...and where. I live that close to lines.

The bottom line is: Bullock is right. But it's more than this. We need to be seen in these areas, and not just during election season. We need to get to know our voters, and meet them where they live.

Now, my district is, by population, about 2/3 in northern and eastern Wake County, and 1/3 is the entire county of Granville. I would be foolish to ignore Granville. It would be at my peril, were I to do that. I do not write off any voters. Nor should other Democrats.

P.S. My new district is Lucky Number 13, and it is shaped like a lady's high-heel boot. Look at it on a map and you can see this. Coincidentally, that happens to be my footwear of choice. It's an omen!

V & Z respond: Good luck!

M.A. in Denver, CO, writes: You wrote: "One thing Bullock didn't mention, but could have, is talking about how hunting deer for food or sport is fine, but you don't need an AR-15 or an AK-47 to hunt deer. If you can't bring down a deer with a standard rifle, you need to work on your marksmanship."

This comment made me chuckle especially in the context of the message of the passage (i.e. that urban dwellers need to seek to understand the "rural" point of view better and not be so condescending in order to win more elections). As anyone who has actually spent time around firearms knows, it is just as difficult, if not more difficult, to hit a target at 200-300 yards with an AR-15 or AK-47 than a "standard rifle," by which I think you mean a traditional bolt-action hunting rifle. If your inference was that somehow those weapons have a higher rate of fire or you can use some sort of "automatic fire" setting, both of those inferences would be incorrect and in any event would be pretty much useless in any hunting situation.

Politics, German

B.G. in Houston, TX, writes: Thank you so much for the perspectives from Germany. Angela Merkel, for better or for worse, has been a giant on the world stage, and I the letters with great attention.

V & Z respond: The response was very positive, and so running more of them today seems to be a good plan.

J.N. in Columbus, OH, writes: You wrote: "We think there's some very interesting stuff here about where Germany's headed, but also about how their political situation compares to that of the United States."

I just want to point your attention to the YouTube channel Feli From Germany; she is a German-born woman living in Cincinnati who just did an episode about some of this. My takeaway from what she said is that the former East Germany is exactly what West Virginia of today is, if West Virginia had been ruled by the Soviet Union for 40 years. It is amazing how much alike they are, all the way down to the anti-vaxxer attitude and the wish for things to be how they were 50 years ago.

A.C. in Aachen, Germany, writes: I bet after your offer to share our thoughts about the recent change of government you received dozens of contributions of Germans who heard your call. And so I am willed to queue up and provide you with my two cents:

Regarding the legacy of Angela Merkel

Contrary to the very positive perception abroad, and contrary to the goodwill of large parts of the public in Germany, I think it's important to point out three things.

First: Merkel received tons of respect now when she left office—from media, the people, even from political opponents. But this was not always the case, and there lays a certain development behind that, which s the result of many, many factors, the weakness of her opponents one of the most important among them. In 2005, her result as a candidate against then-chancellor Gerhard Schröder was a disaster. Schröder was quite popular as a person, but implemented some very, very unpopular (but necessary?) reforms and was in power in a time of economic trouble. Merkel was the leader of the conservative party, which—more or less—is the leading party in Germany by default (they had come in second in elections only twice in the history of our state then). And she had the worst result for her party ever and beat Schröder by just one point. So, nobody really waited for her and she just came into office because the other guy was—at least at this certain point in time—even weaker than she was. And this pattern went on in the following three elections. The SPD (Social Democratic Party) always sent quite weak candidates. Also, in two of these three elections the SPD was part of the Merkel-lead government—a very inappropriate position to effectively attack their own partner.

And so, within the course of time the narrative evolved, that Merkel is unbeatable. But a closer look reveals her results have been quite weak. She was not at all able to stop the downswing of her party. With very rare exceptions, the conservatives always landed in the 45%+ area, while her results have constantly in the range of 33-36%, nothing to show off. Yes, she gained some inches, yes she earned some respect from some. But isn't this a quite natural, expectable dynamic when somebody is in office for quite long?

Secondly: what is her secret, what is the pattern behind her success? One answer is: "no convictions, provides no points of attack." Merkel has a certain sense of power which puts results over convictions. In Merkel's view, the weak election results outlined above are a success. Her aim always was to be above one point over the other guy, that's it. Merkel brought the concept of asymmetric demobilization into German politics. She rarely offered a point of attack, neither on a personal level nor with her rather unambitious politics. Ask 100 people and I bet not 10 of them could name three convictions Merkel really stands for (this might have changed in 2015 when Germany opened its borders for refugees). So in effect, for long there were very rare Merkel fans, but more important: not many people disliked her vigorously. The opponents simply had no rallying point to mobilize their supporters. She delivered not much to vote for her, but even less to vote against her. In a way, she put Germany to sleep. Controversial political debate became the exception, Germany became quite depoliticized in the Merkel-era.

Thirdly: in terms of actual accomplishments her resume is quite disastrous. I know that this is a point where reasonable people may have different points of view. And I know that many people may say that she led through an era of stability and that she faced and managed major crises (Euro, economy in 2008, refugees, COVID). Okay, fine, agreed. But on the flipside:
  • Administration? In a shambles
  • Infrastructure? In a shambles
  • The military? In a shambles
  • Public transport? A mess
  • Pension scheme? Close to collapse
  • Wealth? Social gap bigger than ever
  • Climate change? Who cares?
  • Future technologies? Ignored or weakened
  • Housing? A disaster
  • Education? A disaster
  • Health? A debacle. Even without COVID
  • Foreign policy? Could not manage the EU to find a shared solution for refugees, could not avoid Brexit
The list could go on and on. I think with her calm, unvain personal appearance, she was the precise opposite of Trump and so in the light of this contrast she gained influence and respect on the international stage and at home as well. But to me she is like an illusionary giant. Gets smaller and smaller the closer you come.

Regarding the new government

Prediction: This coalition will either collapse within 2 years or stay in power for at least 8 years.

Don't underestimate Olaf Scholz.

Germany will be a closer ally to the U.S. There might be different views whether this is a good or a bad thing, especially with an eye to the situation in the Ukraine.

J.K. in Seoul, South Korea (but originally from Murnau, Bavaria), writes: I'd like to share a few more thoughts on the new German government, focusing on Russia and Nord Stream 2. I'm afraid Olaf Scholz will not be much more on the same page as the White House than Merkel. Both his party and Merkel's favor the pipeline, not because of a pro-Russia posture but because of economic interests. Similarly, I don't believe that the party of Moscow Mitch and Putin's Useful Idiot opposes Nord Stream 2 to express an anti-Russia posture. Punishing an administration that was neither authoritarian, nor properly kowtowing to Dear Leader, as well as U.S. economic interests, seem more credible motivations.

If Biden can expect any help on this issue, it could come from the Greens, who occupy the foreign ministry now and would like to place more emphasis on human rights in foreign affairs, thus favoring a firmer stance against Russia and China. And of course they oppose the pipeline for environmental reasons. However, it's highly doubtful that they will be able to kill it. Note also that the third party in the government is pro-business above all else, and hence in favor of Nord Stream.

Another area where the U.S. won't be terribly happy with the new government is defense. Neither of the governing parties wants to increase spending a lot. Within the Social Democrats, a pacifist faction has been gaining influence, opposing, for example, Germany's participation in NATO's nuclear sharing. The Greens are traditionally pacifist and NATO-skeptical anyway.

Also noteworthy, as you often point out, are the difficulties of forming governments in parliamentary systems with proportional representation: 73 days passed between the parliamentary elections and Scholz's election as chancellor. The Norwegians were even faster this year, completing the task in 31 days.

Finally, Gute Besserung to your Teutonic Affairs Consultant. For their next Schweinshaxe, I recommend Karg Brewery. Barack Obama can vouch for them. Ok, maybe not for the Schweinshaxe, but at least for the beer.

F.S. in Cologne, Germany, writes: You wrote: "That means that the new chancellor is nowhere near as friendly to the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany as the old chancellor was." I don't agree. Olaf Scholz hasn't said much about Nord Stream 2, but I guess that this pipeline will deliver natural gas from Russia to Germany by next spring. The new German government wants to get rid of coal power by 2030. It's already the law of the land that Germany will get rid of nuclear power by the end of 2022. I don't think all of it can be substituted by renewables, so probably natural gas is needed, and natural gas from Russia is far cheaper than LNG from the U.S., so I can't imagine that the new German government will cancel Nord Stream voluntarily. If Russia invades Ukraine, then I think Nord Stream 2 will be canceled, but that is the only way.

You also wrote "Merkel had emerged as something of the leader of the free world during the Trump years, inasmuch as Trump himself was not especially interested in the job." I don't agree with this, either. That was a talking point by some newspapers and TV stations in the U.S., but I don't see a single issue in which Germany led the free world during the last several years.

Finally, I wish your staff Teutonic Affairs Consultant well. Hopefully the sauerkraut was better than the schweinshaxe.

More Weird Science

K.H. in Orlando, FL, writes: I enjoyed the responses that my comments on John Bardeen and Albert Einstein elicited and think they tie back into the archetypes discussion well.

J.H. in Boston displays a common misconception about physics when they say "a theoretician works with ideas and mathematical models, not silicon and germanium." To this I point out that the principle of symmetry breaking, central to (but not called by that name in) BCS theory, was later adopted by high energy physics and has been extensively used there. Are we to believe that particle physicists don't work in theory either? Of course not, and I'd encourage anyone unsure whether the theory of stuff is real theory to grab a graduate-level condensed matter textbook and judge for themselves.

A more comprehensive response would be to dismantle the reductionism underpinning this point of view. What BCS theory showed was that fundamental properties of our universe occur in materials (or other complex states) that can't be explained (or predicted, or discovered) by the underlying principles that drive the individual constituents. If readers would like a light—if extremely eccentric—review of this, Nobel prize winner Robert Laughlin's book A Different Universe: Reinventing Physics from the Bottom Down is a great introduction, with many examples (for instance, that of the thirteen phases of ice known, zero had been predicted before being observed). Another great introduction would be Nobel prize winner Philip Anderson's article "More is Different," in which he says "The ability to reduce everything to simple fundamental laws does not imply the ability to start from those laws and reconstruct the universe." We now have more 60 sixty years of both theory and evidence that the whole is more than the sum of its parts (where the minimum energy state isn't described by the underlying Hamiltonian, pre-critical point). We're not going back.

But on to archetypes A.L. in Highland Park writes: "this opinion would get laughed at in any physics department anywhere." That certainly wasn't my experience. I believe if A.L. and I were given the chance to debate and physics professors the chance to vote, opinions would split by subfield. Those who spend most of their time in astrophysics, HEP, relativity, and similar areas would likely vote Einstein, but I'd have a good shot of winning over the condensed matter and materials science folks. And that's in my favor, because there are a LOT of condensed matter physicists.

And that's important! Any reader who has made it this far should ask themselves if they have even heard of condensed matter physics? Are they aware that condensed matter physics graduates more PhD's and (therefore) has more practicing members than any other area of physics? It's been this way for more than 20 years and shows little sign of change. Do they know what condensed matter physicists do, what types of physical phenomena they study, and what tough questions they face?

Everyone has their own experience with physics, but mine is that the people I worked around, and the work they performed, were very different than the physicists I saw on TV or the articles in popular media. The archetypes, whether Einstein or Sheldon Cooper, didn't seem at all like the people I worked with, talked to, or communicated with (whether students, professors, or Nobel prize winners), and the work was wildly different as well. I believe people's familiarity with a few smaller areas of physics results in a skewed view of the field, and I think if they knew more about the rest they'd actually find a lot to appreciate. Who knows, maybe the whole of physics would be even more than the sum of its parts.

That's a very different area than politics, but I believe there's a great parallel in there.

In Defense of Lauren Boebert?

C.P. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Chris Truax is absolutely correct, "the House of Representatives is not your typical workplace." Most workplaces don't have the threat of customers violently storming the worksite because they don't like the product.

I do agree with the part about making Lauren Boebert the face of the party, as I wrote about last week.

S.C-M. in Scottsdale, AZ, writes: Truax makes an interesting, if flawed, argument. First of all, Lauren Boebert is blatantly violating the House decorum rules. She should be sanctioned and stripped of her committee assignments until she decides to play by the rules.

Truax makes the mistake of arguing that "If the Democrats enforce the rules, then what is to stop the Republicans from doing the same?". This reminds me of the flawed "getting rid of the filibuster is a bad idea" argument by certain Democrats because the Republicans will simply turn around and get rid of it in the future. Well the Republicans did get rid of the fillibuster for Supreme Court nominees without worrying about what the Democrats did or did not do before. How did that work out for you, Democrats?

Where the Republican Party is right now, it is a fool's errand to try and play nice with them. They have made it abundantly clear who they are.

A.H. in Atlanta, GA, writes: Your points on the politics regarding a strong Democratic response to Boebert's bigotry are well-taken. However, I do wonder if Traux is being somewhat disingenuous. For one thing, let's take in consideration the district she, or Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), or any of that ilk represents: heavily gerrymandered districts where representation is crafted by the party. Is it really fair and democratic? Second, I don't think that Rep. Ilhan Omar (DFL-MN) enjoys the endless parade of death threats she receives, mostly as a result of rhetoric like Boebert's. I know that Congress isn't a normal workplace but that doesn't mean you get to endanger your colleagues, directly or indirectly.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: Regarding the dust-up between Lauren Boebert and Ilhan Omar, I think Omar needs to understand that when you are a public figure in the U.S., anyone and everyone gets to say just about anything about you—it goes with the territory, unfortunately. My advice to her is to publicly decry the puerile level of discourse some members stoop to and leave it at that. You know, when they go low, we go high.

J.P. in Lancaster, PA, writes: I read with interest the comment about bullies from R.L.D. in Sundance. I had a similar experience when I was a kid. I was fat, short, wore black horn-rimmed glasses, and got good grades in school (I'm now a retired Professor of Biology). I was the tetrafecta for bully victimhood. After a number of experiences being harassed by a group of four or five neighborhood bullies, I had finally had enough. Perhaps stupidly, and at some risk of bodily harm, I told them to have their fun now because one day they would be working for me. Instead of beating me senseless, they left me, huddled about 20 feet away, and never bothered me again. It was then that I learned that bullies are inherently cowards and that they generally cave when someone (anyone) stands up to them, even verbally. The problem with the Republican Party is that many, and maybe even most of them, are bullies. They didn't stand up to the Orange Guy because they perceived him to be the bigger bully, and they didn't have the cojones to stand up to him one-on-one. Thus, he still has them in his thrall. Maybe some individuals need to stand up to the Gosars, Boberts, and Greenes in a similar fashion and go straight at them with an appropriate insult. I won't hold my breath.

A Confederacy of Dunces

J.A. in Redwood City, CA, writes: In yesterday's Q&A, S.K. in Sunnyvale requested a "villainous team name" for a certain triad of Republicans who currently serve in the House of Representatives. OK, challenge accepted. Now, at the risk of further diminishing any opportunities for serious discourse with our so-called "friends" ("frenemies"?) across the aisle, I'll offer the following suggestions, which I'm sure are not original to me:

First, if you fancy a moniker for three dim-witted lackeys who throw caution and competency to the wind at every turn, then The Three Stooges is the obvious choice for Representatives Lauren Boebert, Louie Gohmert (R-TX), and Marjorie Taylor Greene. Besides, isn't the juxtaposition of those three names a clear echo of "Dewey, Cheatem, and Howe"?

But, let's not stop there. Further digging into the entertainment archives yields another rhetorical choice. If what S.K. really called for is an insulting nickname that can be applied to the entire Republican party, then from now on their new name should be ... the Looney Tunes party. In one fell swoop, that disparages all of their cartoonish members (aka the "Looney Tuners"), as well as the comical messages that they promote in the media. And it further implies that those truculent red teamers can be amusing for whatever trouble they bring upon themselves (schadenfreude, yay!), but their disruptive behavior will never be mistaken for distinguished conduct.

That's all, Folks!

D.C. in Portland, OR, writes: I suggest we leave Boebert, Gohmert, Greene etc to define themselves as they appear to be doing a spectacular job already.

Here is Lauren Boebert, revealing she is a member of the Floor Action Response Team.

Team FART.

Beat that readership.

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: The Undefendables

S.N. in Santa Clara, CA, writes: Ding Dong Brigade

J.S. in Peterborough, ON, Canada, writes: I like "democricide" better than "democracide"; the "icide" suffix is based on Latin, and implies killing. As for alternatives to "squad," I first thought of gang, and then thought of "clique" (more negative), but then thought of "faction," which reminds the reader that these politicians (and I wouldn't limit it to just the three you've mentioned) are all Republicans.

So it could be "the GOP democricide faction," and if it gains traction, just "the democricide faction," or even just "the faction."

K.L. in Sterling, VA, writes: Cracker Caucus

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: The Krazy Kaukus

V & Z respond: You might want to write that as "Krazy KauKus."

J.D. in Greensboro, NC, writes: The Unmenschables

A.M. in Eagle Creek, OR, writes: A**hole Axis would fit the bill. Bonus for evoking the World War II trio opposite the Allied cause.

J.B. in San Francisco, CA, writes: Margie-Marge and the Thuggy Bunch

S.G. in Rochester, NY, writes: The Sedition Coalition

R.C. in Des Moines, IA, writes: Team Idiocracy

E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, writes: The Dreckfest Club

N.P. in Santa Rosa, CA, writes: The Screw Crew

R.L. in Tucson, AZ, writes: The Clod Squad

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: Dems might want to refer to Boebert, Gohmert and Greene collectively as "Bag o' Hammers," as in "dumb as."

F.D. in Albuquerque, NM, writes: The Minions of Mayhem

D.G. in Ocala, FL, writes: Band of Nutters

B.L. in Ann Arbor, MI, writes: The Odd God Squad or the OGS for short

R.W. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: The Treasonous Trio

D.F. in Norcross, GA, writes: I was struck by a couple things I heard from former RNC chairman (and former Maryland Lt. Governor) Michael Steele the other day. He was referring to more specifically to the recent suggestion of Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) and echoed by others that gargling mouthwash could kill COVID-19, but he called it "A Bucket of Stupid" (and later, "A Bucket of Crazy").

That seems a little too wordy and not alliterative enough for my tastes, so I thought of a couple of other possibilities. To wit: The Bats**t (Crazy) Brigade or, alternatively, the Bulls**t Brigade.

T.R. in Tucson, AZ, writes: I see these "deplorables"as being a larger population than these three considering there's also Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Madison Cawthorn (R-NC) and others to be included. Over the past few years, I've been referring to Republican right wing-nuts in the general population as "MAGAts," so I would suggest labeling this group in congress as the "MAGAt Brigade" since we would expect this group to be much larger than the Democrats "squad." If "MAGAt" sounds much like "maggot", that's intentional.


L.F. in Elgin, IL, writes: I wanted to thank you for your piece on the polling data pertaining to the word "Latinx". I am a middle school Spanish teacher. I teach reading and writing in Spanish to Spanish-speaking students.

I translated your piece, had the students read it, and then we broke down the arguments for and against using it. I was very careful to frame both sides of the argument as clearly and objectively as possible.

At the end of the day, my three language arts classes, composed almost entirely of Latin Americans, were against using Latinx.

When it was clear that it was nearly unanimous, I strenuously argued in favor of using Latinx to see if I might sway some heads. Not a single one.

Latinx is clearly circling the drain.

V & Z respond: We are glad to hear this! The teaching part, we mean. We regard the site, first and foremost, as an extension of our teaching.

M.B. in Menlo Park, CA, writes: For those who want to call Latinos "Latinx," they're not even pronouncing it correctly. I've almost always heard it pronounced (mostly by anglos) as "Latin-ecks," with the "x" using the English pronunciation. But if the point is to create a gender neutral name for Latinos or Hispanics, then one should use the Spanish "equis," pronounced "eh-kees." In other words, the full word should be "Latin-equis," pronounced "Latin-eh-kees." This is fairly ridiculous, so I'm sticking to "Latino."

C.S. in Madison, WI, writes: Regarding Latinx: "It's too weird. It's dumb. It's foreign. It's not Spanish."

It also violates the liberal principle of "Call them what they want to be called. Meet them where they are."

K.C. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: It seems that the new Bendixen & Amandi International poll regarding the "word" Latinx is asking a question that is already outdated in progressive circles. Most of the very partisans of the invention of Latinx have already moved on to the term "Latine," which at least has legitimate grammatical roots in the Spanish language. Of course, while Latine may become the new word hardcore progressives will use to offer condescending correction when someone uses the words Hispanic, Latino, and Latina, it doesn't appear that it will improve their electoral fortunes, since "Something Else" only registered in single digits when poll respondents were offered "Hispanic," "Latino/Latina," "Latinx," or "Something Else" as their options for describing their ethnic background. That is to say, I will be watching your site for the new poll that demonstrates how the use of the word Latine tends to drive Hispanics, Latinos and Latinas into the Republican voter base sometime around December 2022.

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: Thank you for your piece on Latinx. I have stated in many letters to this site that I am a big believer in calling people what they want to be called. "Latinx" bugs me because certain segments of the media insist on using it even though few Latino people want to be called "Latinx." I recall an interview with Julián Castro that I heard about a year ago, after the election. The host noted that Joe Biden did not do as well among Latinos as expected. When asked what Democrats should do about it, his first response was (I'm paraphrasing), "They could start by no longer using the term 'Latinx.' We didn't ask for it and it is unpronounceable in Spanish." That was all I needed to hear.

That being said, I have heard Stacey Abrams talk about how organizers should learn to be nimble with their language. If they find themselves in a room with Gen Z or younger Millennials, using new-fangled "woke" language such as "birthing person" or Latinx" could be helpful. When speaking on national TV, however, this language will be a turn-off. Gettable votes, such as from folks like P.M. from Currituck, could be lost. While my judgment is that people get upset over this out of proportion to the "crime" of using weird language, the reality is that we need their votes. Rather than persuade them to change, it is so much simpler to keep the "woke" stuff in check (I think I just gave relationship advice).

We are asking people for their vote. We can't do that while at the same time lecturing them about how their language isn't inclusive enough. We need to meet people where they are at. (More relationship advice).

V & Z respond: At the start of his lecture "Mexicans in California," (Z) has a segment on the various descriptors, and why they will or will not be used in the lecture. Many times, a Latino student has come up after and thanked him for not using 'Latinx.'

J.M. in Seattle, WA, writes: I thought you might be interested in the "Inclusive Language Guidelines" the American Psychological Association recently released. Some people might find these changes PC and overreaching, but I also think they give us a lot to think about in our efforts to be supportive and inclusive of others (and in 40 years, we may be using a lot more of this language than we currently do). Reading it, it made me think of your posts about Steve Bullock and about "Latinx."

V & Z respond: It is remarkable that the APA felt it was necessary to warn members that they shouldn't speak of someone getting "Jewed."


P.A. in Redwood City, CA, writes: Regarding the question from D.T. in San Jose, I have always found your use of "Black folks" as a little cringey and condescending for reasons that I've not been able to exactly put my finger on. And I have tried. Perhaps the definitely-rural "folksy" and common-people "folk music" lend their connotations to "folks" for me. There is an odd lack of symmetry... "rich folks" or "white folks" just sound informal and colloquial, while "poor folks" and "Black folks" sound condescending.

It has never quite risen to the level where I felt like writing to you about it (until now) but it does jump out at me every time you use it.

R.K. in Pepperell, MA, writes: You wrote: "You are almost certainly right, however, that "Black folks" is a bit more common. Maybe a lot more common."

Possibly that is from The Souls of Black Folk.

A Moving Situation

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: You bring up a lot of good points on the difficulties of turning, say, Wyoming blue. You're off base on one thing, though: "...they want restaurants other than Applebee's, Chick-fil-A, and a coffee shop called 'Eats.'" The bustling metropolis (read: college town) of Spearfish, SD, is only a half hour away but outside of that, we're a good hour away from even a McDonald's or a Subway, let alone fancy places like Applebee's (Spearfish has all three, plus Taco Bell, but, like I said, Bustling Metropolis™). Truly rural areas are mostly going to have the local diner/cafe, if that. Here in Sundance we have Cowgirl Pizza and Laundromat (not kidding, but it is really good and they deliver... most of the time) and the Longhorn Grill and Bar, and maybe the Dog Pound (burgers and fries) will re-open if they can find a buyer. Or maybe when the tourists come back after Memorial Day.

And you may be right that the relatively less expensive land and housing possibilities here in the heartland might be tempting for businesses to move, and the states will definitely be open to the kow-tow to try to steal jobs away like South Dakota did with their banking laws to lure Citibank in the 80s. But I can tell you from experience that the housing market in the Black Hills area (Western SD, Eastern WY) is already hot, not so different from the housing market we left behind in Austin "The Silicon Hills" Texas. In any case, there's little point in getting a big tech firm to open a facility in Cheyenne, or Rapid City, or Chadron if it isn't to provide jobs for the people who already live there. Also, good luck trying to sell California executives on moving to a land where they put up snow fences next to the highways to prevent them being routinely obstructed by snow drifts.

And there is already a lot of local pushback from current residents against people moving to Wyoming, because of the upward pressure on real estate and because they already perceive a threat to Republican dominance. So far, I've only seen it in online bullying; we'll see if it stays that way. But another thing that would affect the ability of Democrats to purple-up the Cowboy State is that working-from-home doesn't only open up options for progressives. My wife and I have already had our votes canceled out by a couple we met who moved here about the same time from Wisconsin "because we didn't like the way things were going there." These two are almost stereotypically Trumpy Republicans. Honestly, at first, I was not sure they weren't putting on an act to try to fit in with their preconceived notions about Wyoming with their six-inch-high "T R U M P" emblazoned across the back bumper and obscene-hand-gesture t-shirts. But by now, I'm pretty sure they are completely genuine. Stalemate!

L.B. in Savannah, GA, writes: In The Devil You Know: A Black Power Manifesto, Charles M. Blow asks Black Americans living in the North and West to move back to the South, where their roots in the U.S. are, and where, today, their treatment overall is better than it is elsewhere. Blow offers some surprising statistics: while the total incarceration rate in the South is higher than elsewhere in the U.S., the Black incarceration rate is lower. In San Francisco, Black people comprise 5% of the population, but over 50% of people in prison.

But more significantly, Blow explains that properly distributed, Black people could become a voting majority in as many as six states, sending 12 senators to Congress and having more electoral votes than California and New York combined, forcing the Democratic Party to take their concerns seriously. Georgia is proof of concept, with the recent elections of Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock (both D), and Joe Biden winning the states electoral votes, attributable to the "reverse Great Migration" of Black people over the last ten years from other parts of the country to the Atlanta area.

History Matters

K.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: It is very hard to address World War II. You'd think it was easy: the Good Guys vs. the Nazis! Captain America punches Hitler in the jaw, right?

I will confess to you that I have a fascination with the strategy and tactics of the war. It's easy when you just moving cardboard counters around on a map.

I read a lot of history and I've discovered that people in the past were just as limited by their choices as we are. In every age, we look forward to the possible.

M.S. in Alpharetta, GA, writes: My father was stationed in the Pacific theater, under Gen. Jimmy Doolittle. He was in Australia, and was sitting in a troop transport off the coast of Japan. If the Japanese hadn't surrendered, he would probably have been part of the invasion force.

Anyway, dad said it was a 3-day boat ride back to the states (which I assumed was from Hawaii, but not really sure). There was a 3-day craps game on the boat. Apparently my father was a pretty good craps player. In an era when a good salary was $3,000/yr, at one point my father was up over $3,500. He got out of the game up roughly $1,600, plus a bunch of souvenirs from battles he never fought. He gave half the money to his father, to invest in what became slum property in Philadelphia—they never saw anything from that. The other half he used to buy my mother's engagement ring.

Hope you enjoyed the story.

M.D.H. in Coralville, Iowa, writes: My father, who died a couple of years ago, was an Assistant Professor of History by the time I was born. He served in the Pacific Theater of World War II. He was not one of those veterans who made loud political noise about being veterans, but he was sufficiently angry about the Swift Boat attacks on John Kerry to get a "Veterans For Kerry" bumper sticker.

Three things that he said about the War have long resonated with me.

First, he thought at the time, and continued to think all his life that what the U.S. did to citizens of Japanese ancestry was very wrong.

Second, even though the atomic bombs may have saved his own life, he thought then, and continued to believe throughout his life, that the U.S. should not have used them.

Third, he said to me a number of times that the early chapters of Wouk's The Caine Mutiny are the best description in print of what daily life was like on a small American ship in the Pacific during World War II. He didn't like the later parts (the captain going crazy, the crew taking action to save the ship, and the court martial) as much.

J.L. in Paterson, NJ, writes: Your discussion of the bombing of Hiroshima implicitly accepts the pro-bomb contention that the only alternative was a costly invasion of the Japanese home islands. That overlooks a fact that you mention merely in passing: the Soviet declaration of war on Japan, after which Japan surrendered.

You note that Japan hoped for help from a neutral Russia in ending the war. Washington knew, as Tokyo did not, that the U.S.S.R. would declare war on Japan. Washington even knew the timing: three months after V-E Day, pursuant to a secret provision of the Yalta Accords. That presented a third alternative: The U.S. could have simply delayed the bombing for a couple of weeks, to see what happened. Japan would lose its hope of help, and the largest army in the world (the Red Army) would pour into Japan's conquests in Manchuria.

Operation Olympic, the invasion of Japan, was set for November 1945. If the Soviet declaration of war did not induce Japan's surrender, there was still plenty of time to drop the bomb.

The case against the bombing of Nagasaki is even stronger. Nagasaki was incinerated only three days after Hiroshima, and just hours after the USSR declared war. The U.S. obviously had no interest in waiting a short time to see whether those two blows would induce surrender. Instead, scores of thousands of (nonwhite) lives were sacrificed because, as you note, Truman hoped that this demonstration of power would cow the USSR. His decisions are not consistent with a supposed motive of rendering an invasion unnecessary.

V & Z respond: In fact, we deliberately wrote the answer to leave open several (bloody) possibilities. In addition to the nuclear strikes, for example, there is a conventional bombing campaign, which was also on the table, and was the preferred option of Curtis LeMay.

D.H. in Chicago, IL, writes: A quick note for F.D. in Ninove: Dr. Bret Deveraux has a very readable summary of some of the reasons that chemical weapons are not used in World War II.

His posts on "Bread" and "Clothing" are also quite engaging.

M.B. in Chicago, IL, writes: Rick Atkinson's The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 mentions a Luftwaffe raid on Allied ships in the harbor at Bari in which a ship loaded with mustard gas was damaged, the gas leaked out, and doctors discovered changes in white blood cell count. This led to chemotherapy.

B.F.E. in Sierra Vista, AZ, writes: In response to N.E. in San Mateo, who asked for appropriate films for teaching World War II to 10 year olds, may I suggest the classic The World at War series?

Yes, it's old, but the narration by Sir Laurence Olivier and the interviews with the actual participants are compelling and the opening music still gives me a chill.

As for age appropriateness, I was 10 when it came out in the U.S. and watched it avidly, with full parental approval.

J.D. in St. Paul, MN, writes: Regarding your advice to G.W. in Oxnard: A catastrophic 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis destroyed the personnel files of 80 percent of persons who served in the Army during the Second World War. Like G.W. and tens of thousands of others in my demographic, I'd love to know certain details of my father's service (he was in Europe in 1944 and 1945 and at Camp Campbell, Kentucky for two years before he deployed), but alas, it all went up in smoke. I hope G.W. is one of the lucky ones who can obtain some or all of his father's file, but he should know his chances are not great.

V & Z respond: Thanks for the clarification.

H.R. in Chapel Hill, NC, writes: You wrote: "The Confederacy, its leaders, and its soldiers really did fight to sustain white supremacy."

It would have been difficult for Southern soldiers to fight for white supremacy because the Northern soldiers were not fighting against it. Lincoln was a white supremacist. Almost all white Americans were white supremacists. This was true at the time, and well into the 20th century.

Common soldiers fight for many different reasons. Some thought they were fighting for white supremacy. Others fought because they were invaded, and that was their stated reason at the time. Some fought because they considered it a matter of honor. Others fought simply because their friends fought. And, as is true in every war, some only fought because they got drafted.

If you want to say that the leaders of the Confederacy seceded in order to preserve slavery, you are on firm ground. They seceded to preserve their wealth, and their wealth was based on slavery.

But to say that the common soldier fought for slavery, or white supremacy, or any racial issue, is just a mistake. Most soldiers did not own slaves—in fact, had no prospect of owning slaves. They were poor. It was a rich man's war, and a poor man's fight.

Y'all are too smart to conflate the political leaders with the common soldiers. These were very different people.

V & Z respond: Putting on his hat (a kepi?) as a university-trained Civil War historian, (Z) will point out two things. First, it is a gross misrepresentation to suggest that the racial views of, say, Abraham Lincoln were no different from those of, say, Jefferson Davis. Second, it is an even grosser misrepresentation to assert, as so many "Lost Cause" advocates have, that non-slaveowning Confederate soldiers had no opinion on the institution. They aspired to be slave owners, even if they were not yet there, and even if they might not get there. More importantly, they understood very well the benefits they derived from a system that granted significant legal and social status to anyone with white skin.


S.H. in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, writes: M.D. in Portland wrote in to complain about your characterization of homeopathy and Dr. Mehmet Oz's embrace of the practice. They feel Oz is giving homeopathy a bad name, but it's not an accident that a peddler of fake elixirs such as Oz would gravitate toward something like homeopathy. It is the quintessence of quackery, so to speak, which is exactly why he's a proponent. And (V) was right to call it out.

Contrary to M.D.'s claims, homeopathy bears no legitimate resemblance to the practice of modern vaccination. There is not only ample scientific evidence to demonstrate the effectiveness of vaccinations, but there is also an extensive scientific framework that elucidates the mechanisms by which they work. Homeopathy, by contrast, is a practice that has changed little since it was first proposed in the late 18th century, even though a modern understanding of human biology has proven its philosophical foundations to be totally invalid. The theory behind it hasn't managed to win over the scientific establishment, nor has it demonstrated via rigorous scientific trials that its approach has any clinical value.

The reason why homeopathy has hung around this long is because it is mostly harmless (at least when viewed narrowly). Because homeopathic remedies are effectively just pure water, ingesting them is unlikely to do direct damage, and so it often "treats" the worried well, or provides a boost to ailments via placebo effect. But as this article notes, it fuels "the dangerous rise of post-science, post-truth attitudes that slowly degrade trust in scientific institutions and science itself." And this describes Dr. Oz—a man once highly regarded by his professional peers who has sold his soul to make a buck—to a T.

J.D.M. in Cottonwood Shores, TX, writes: Your comments about homeopathy brought to mind Bruce Lipton's book The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter, and Miracles. After noting that basically every drug effectiveness study ever done recorded a 10-30% placebo effect, he did research on the effect of thoughts, emotions and energy on various symptoms. Like the study of quantum physics, it produces more questions than answers.

C.L. in Washington, DC, writes: I'm a little surprised that you didn't provide an editorial note on M.D. in Portland's comment that homeopathy has been thoroughly debunked. To give "Dr." Oz the modicum of fairness he deserves: homeopathy didn't get a bad reputation from him, it got a bad reputation because it doesn't work.

V & Z respond: We rarely respond to readers' assertions unless it involves information that only we would have. We did make an exception today for a Civil War-themed letter.

Gallimaufry: Hollywood Edition

J.T. in Greensboro, NC, writes: One of your other replies contains a kernel of an answer to the question from R.V. in Pittsburgh about The Great Escape. That was one of the movies my dad and I always watched together when I was a kid (it was a major rite of passage when I finally stayed awake to the end!). At one point, R.V.'s question occurred to young-me and I asked my dad, "If the Nazis were bad, why is it that things seemed so good in the prison camp?" My dad's explanation I think more-or-less holds up:

The Stalag depicted in The Great Escape (and the Stalag it's based on) is a prison camp for air officers, run by the Luftwaffe. The Geneva Convention required different treatment for officers and enlisted. Generally speaking, my understanding is that officer prison camps were quite different from those of the enlisted, in part because officers wanted to see opposing officers treated well, expecting the same courtesy would be extended to their officers.

Very similar to the explanation you gave for World War II's lack of mustard gas. While I'm sure the Hollywood version of Stalag 3 is probably rosier than reality, Wikipedia notes that prisoners had access to volleyball courts, musical instruments and a library. German officers, however, probably enjoyed somewhat better conditions in Allied camps. Black camp guards in the United States often observed that German officers seemed to have more rights than they did.

For an idea of what enlisted men could expect in German PoW camps, I might refer readers to Kurt Vonnegut's semi-autobiographical account of his captivity during the war in Slaughterhouse Five, in which he was made to work as a slave laborer (Geneva conventions forbade the forced labor of officers, but not of the enlisted).

C.K. in Kailua, HI, writes: With respect, I must object to the characterization of the movie The Great Escape as a "comedy", with World War II serving as a MacGuffin (and yes, I know what a "MacGuffin" is in a film). The Great Escape was based on Paul Brickhill's 1950 book of the same name, which was a firsthand account of the mass escape by British prisoners of war from German POW camp Stalag Luft III. For the most part the movie was faithful to the book, the main exception being the inclusion of Americans in the escape, whereas in fact they were sequestered in a different area of the camp and were not allowed to interact with the British prisoners.

Brickhill states in the book that the German officers running the camp were members of the Luftwaffe, not the SS, and while they were harsh, they treated enemy officers with the level of respect dictated by the Geneva Convention. The movie does not gloss over the toll taken by imprisonment on the mental health of the prisoners, including the suicidal attempt at an escape in broad daylight by the character played by Angus Lennie, or the claustrophobia and despair of the "Tunnel King" character played brilliantly by Charles Bronson. In fact, all the characters in the movie were based on actual individuals or composites of individuals. The execution by the SS of 50 of the escapees (to whom the movie is dedicated) is clearly portrayed as the war crime that it was.

When the camp is taken over by the SS after the escape, it is clear that the former Luftwaffe superintendent is heading to his own execution. Some of the scenes that might be portrayed as "comic relief" were loosely based on actual events when the British officers were attempting to keep up morale among the prisoners. If the filmmakers took some liberties, well, it was a movie. The "comic" scenes did not diminish the clear message that only three of the escapees ultimately reached freedom, that 50 of the escapees were summarily executed, and that the remaining prisoners would have to endure the revenge of the SS for the duration of the War. Hogan's Heroes, it was not.

D.M. in Burnsville, MN, writes: Your comments on prison escape films and TV are appreciated, and I agree wholeheartedly, having seen all the works contemporaneously (Von Ryan's Express, The Great Escape, Hogan's Heroes, Stalag 17) while serving in the U.S. Army during Vietnam.

My primary takeaways from Von Ryan's Express is that in the opening scenes showing Von Ryan'ss downing and capture, are: (1) the commandant of the camp is portrayed as an incompetent Italian officer and blowhard, and for that I grant props to Frank Sinatra for going against his own well-known Italian chauvinism, (2) Sinatra is sentenced to the "cooler," recalling both The Bridge on the River Kwai, and The Great Escape, and (3) to Sinatra's credit, and to the director, the movie convention that escaped POWs with no German can somehow successfully impersonate a German officer/enlisted is thoroughly dashed.

I've always thought that it was a movie that would have received more credence if Sinatra's name and prestige hadn't been attached. I know that I enjoyed the movie, but always thought (until recently) that it rested primarily upon Sinatra's name and persona. I was wrong.

R.P. in Gloucester City, NJ, writes: You wrote: "For example, The Sound of Music isn't trying to say anything about World War II, and didn't really need to be set during World War II. It's compelling to be fleeing the Nazis, but the von Trapps could also have been fleeing Stalin's Russia, or the Francisco Franco regime, or the Ku Klux Klan, or the mafia and the film would still work."

Except that the von Trapps were a historically real family from wartime Austria, and the Sound of Music is based on their true story of escaping the Nazis.

V & Z respond: We know, but there are plenty of films that take liberties with time and setting. Chinatown, for example, is set in the 1930s, and yet is based on events from the early 1900s.

T.M. in Geneseo, NY, writes: Following up on the recent survey about movies, I rewatched Citizen Kane. Considered one of the best movies ever made, it still holds up well, after so many years. But in watching it I was struck by the stark similarities between the main character, Charles Foster Kane, and Donald Trump. Kane attempts to portray himself as a populist, and a champion of the "underprivileged and underfed."

He craves attention, and seeks adulation from everyone around him, but he cares only for himself. His gods are power and money, and despite his ruthlessness, he is able to charm the masses. The similarities are almost too numerous to mention, including his palatial Xanadu, a forerunner of Mar-a-Lago. Kane mounts an unsuccessful run for governor, which is derailed following a sex scandal. Losing the election, the newspaper that he owns, which had been prepared to run a victory edition, instead runs an addition with front page headlines, "Fraud at the Polls." The movie ends with Kane as a broken man, abandoned and reviled by everyone. Could this be Donald's fate?

V & Z respond: The primary inspiration for the film was William Randolph Hearst, who had much in common with Trump as well, and who—in Trump-like fashion—refused to allow ads for the film in his newspapers.

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