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Sunday Mailbag

This week: Yet another homage to Conway's Game of Life.

Vaxx On, Vaxx Off, Part I: The Underlying Dynamics

C.B.L. in Warwick, RI, writes: I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing more to be done/said/explained about the people in America, who, for whatever reason, have not been/will not be vaccinated against COVID-19. I am done with them.

Why other people got vaccinated I cannot say, but I made the decision to be vaccinated, with medical science and common sense as backing, to preserve my health and life, and most likely, the health and life of my husband, other family members, neighbors, and yes, complete strangers, too.

I got vaccinated because I'm an educated woman, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, an American, and a Democrat. In that order. I can continue to be all those things without going to a movie theater. My continued existence is much more important to me, and I hope, to my family, country, and party, than any other "freedom" I might lose.

Yes, anti-vaxxers are going to still make my life a challenge, but I can send my regrets to attend a wedding or birthday party—with no regrets. I won't miss dining out again, or going to concerts again, if it means I have one more visit with my granddaughter or quiet dinner with my husband. Wearing a mask is nothing compared to being intubated; not attending an event where people are unvaccinated is nothing compared to having lots of people at my funeral. I'll give up traveling to my favorite beach in Florida, forgo the company Christmas party, and never see certain neighbors again, all without any real hardships. Will my life be diminished? Of course. Maybe not as fun? Definitely. But it won't be gone.

Maybe there will be those who say I am missing the point—that anti-vaxxers will continue to put us all at risk, will further the course of COVID-19, and change our society and economy forever. Maybe so. But haven't they already?

To the best of my ability, I will continue to be vigilant about not contracting deadly viruses, whatever that entails, and I will continue to enjoy my "diminished" life, for however long it lasts. What I won't be doing is worrying about those who aren't worrying about the risk at all. I'm done with them.

T.K. in Fairlawn, OH, writes: Given the large number of "osteopathic physicians" in the disinformation dozen rundown, I think it's prudent to point that in the U.S., the degree "Doctor of Osteopathy" (DO) is generally recognized as a legitimate medical degree (unlike chiropractic), and there are thousands of well-trained, science-embracing DOs practicing in the US today. I don't think you intended to imply otherwise, but I still thought it wise to bring up.

V & Z respond: Yes, we went back and adjusted our language slightly to make things clearer. On one hand, there are DOs (and chiropractors, for that matter) who do much good in the world. On the other hand, osteopathy is a branch of medicine with a disproportionate number of quacks, and it's not just a coincidence that fully one-third of the dozen are osteopaths.

L.F. in Edina, MN, writes: I never thought I'd find myself defending Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), but the world is a strange place these days. You declared him a grandstander (and, by implication, a moron) for disagreeing with Anthony Fauci over the need for vaccination in the previously infected. Note that "no vaccine needed for the previously infected" is a far cry from "no vaccine needed." Both infection and vaccination appear to give immunity. Both have occasional breakthrough infections. Which is better? That's a debate that actual virologists working in the field are having. So yes, Paul is an ophthalmologist, and Fauci is a former researcher and a public health policy expert. I expect both are reading the various reports and papers coming out. Both have the background to understand issues like epitope number and T-cell responses. At this point, we still know little enough about COVID-19 for people to reasonably come to different conclusions. Even if one of them is an idiot on other issues.

V & Z respond: We think you're being very generous if you assume Paul is keeping up-to-date on the scientific literature.

O.Z.H. in Dubai, UAE, writes: In your item "Prominent Right-Wingers Are All Over the Place on Vaccination," you suggest that there is a fear among some Republicans that fatalities from COVID-19 could negatively affect the GOP in the next election because dead Republicans can't vote. But doesn't it go beyond just fatalities? Wouldn't anger also play a part? Someone who believed Donald Trump's or Tucker Carlson's anti-vaxxer comments, and therefore didn't get a vaccine, and then ended up in the hospital, would probably be less likely to happily vote for the Trumpy Senate or House candidate. And what about the relatives and friends of someone who died because they didn't get the vaccine? Surely the effect could be greater than just people not voting for the GOP candidate because they are dead. Frankly, I don't understand why we didn't see this happen in 2020.

J.O. in Columbia, MD, writes: You—and many others—frequently refer to the question over whether or not to get the vaccine as "politicized." This implies that conservatives are being fed a consistent message of suspicion over the vaccine, and if only Fox and OANN and Donald Trump and other conservative leaders would start a pro-vaccine message—or, at least, drop the anti-vaxx one—people would be rolling up their sleeves.

While I recognize there is a partisan divide over whether or not to get the vaccine, I believe that you have cause-and-effect relationship wrong. The individuals whose personalities lead them toward suspicion and seeing conspiracies everywhere were always going to resist anti-COVID measures (at least, until they themselves get sick). Because of the current political tone and climate, those people have largely gravitated towards conservative media outlets like Fox News and the combative politicians like Trump. It isn't that conservatives are suspicious of the vaccine because that's the conservative messaging, it's that people who are suspicious of things like vaccines have largely self-sorted into the conservative political camp. And to keep them in that camp, conservative messengers—like Fox and Trump—have to cater to what these folks want to hear. When they veered off from that message, the reaction from the "Don't Tread On Me" crowd was a chorus of boos at the message...and the messenger.

Vaxx On, Vaxx Off, Part II: Doing Better

J.K. in Short Hills, NJ, writes: Arguably, the most bipartisan thing accomplished in Washington in the past two decades was the COVID-19 vaccine. The Trump Administration supported the development of the shot and Biden's has overseen most of the distribution. One way the President can increase inoculations across the country is to heap effusive praise publicly on those who led the Operation Warp Speed effort, which includes his predecessor. His lack of doing so has bothered many in the Republican Party and could help with convincing at least some of those reluctant to get jabbed.

P.M. of Currituck, NC (currently in Seattle, WA), writes: It occurred to me that if the Biden Administration is serious about wanting to have as many Americans as possible vaccinated, and is as committed to bipartisanship as Joe Biden claims to be, then there's a simple approach: Give credit where credit is due, acknowledge the Trump Administration's excellent work with Operation Warp Speed, and record time in developing and rolling out the vaccine so that millions of American can be inoculated against the virus.

Donald Trump is often on Fox News encouraging the viewership to get vaccinated, and he (rightly) takes credit for the vaccine's development. Biden should capitalize on that, work with Trump to get the message out, and save lives. A secondary purpose would be to show unity, something which everyone will agree is badly needed now.

Instead, with the hyper-partisan culture we live in, even something as simple as this is taboo. Why? Wouldn't it make sense for the Biden team to reach out to the Trump folks and push for this effort? Biden claims to desire bipartisanship and unity among Americans, and such a simple gesture—acknowledging his predecessor's role in this truly miraculous effort, and seeking his help—could go a long way.

L.S-H. in Naarden, The Netherlands, writes: In your item "The Pandemic May Be Reaching a Tipping Point--in the Wrong Direction...," you noted possible actions Joe Biden could take to get the coronavirus under control, among them: "He could sign executive orders requiring an officially approved vaccination certificate from anyone trying to (1) enter any federal building, park, or property, or (2) enter an airplane, train, bus, or boat that operates interstate or internationally."

Here in Europe (or at least the Netherlands), the airlines are already requiring proof of vaccination (the digital corona certificate, a QR code) and/or a negative PCR or antigen test just to get on the airplane.

M.S. in Hamden, CT writes: During the Vietnam War, the television networks reported weekly casualty numbers. I don't know if those numbers led or followed public opinion, but they sure were impactful. I'd like to see a bare-bones approach in which the current news outlets (including Fox, which seems to be heading in the right direction) report daily deaths from COVID-19, broken down by vaccination status. Keep it simple and stark. Just the facts; avoid any commentary. Something like the following (roughly estimated from recent numbers):

Yesterday's COVID-19 deaths:

Unvaccinated: 235

Vaccinated: 2

Avoid percentages, which many find too abstract, and report daily numbers, since single digit numbers of deaths (with the occasional zero) really hit home.

R.H. in Middleton, MA, writes: I have a simple way to get the Trumpsters to flock to get themselves vaccinated. Produce a special version just for them, which consists of the normal vaccine with one part per million added of hydroxychloroquine and one part per million added of bleach. You market it as "Donald Trump's Homeopathic Covid Prevention and Treatment." You get him to agree to the use of his name by charging $50 or $100 per shot "with all proceeds going to my efforts to investigate and overturn the fraudulent election of 2020" (i.e., to his Save America PAC). If we can get Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Anthony Fauci to denounce it as a dangerous fraud, we're home free. Every one of the Trumpsters will be vaccinated by Labor Day.

J.M. in Summit, NJ, writes: Stories with real people, especially those featuring individuals similar to themselves, are more likely to change opinions than anything else. So to get anti-vaxxers to get vaccinated, I offer up this narrative and plea from an Alabama doctor, which went viral this week. It was enough to get Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) to publicly promote vaccination.

Vaxx On, Vaxx Off, Part III: Viral Advice

F.S., in Cologne, Germany, writes: R.M.S. in Lebanon, CT wrote that their college-educated brother is refusing to get vaccinated. So 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.

V & Z respond: We will be happy to publish a selection, should people care to send them in.. It could be instructive, we think. Meanwhile, keep reading for one story of this sort.

J.L. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I decided to take your pithy wisdom about getting vaccinated against COVID and turned it into a convenient meme that your readers can post to their various social media accounts. Use it in good health!

The meme has our phrasing from last week,
that being vaccinated is like driving 100 miles on the freeway, and being unvaccinated is like driving that same 100 miles at night,
drunk, and has a clear, daytime photograph and a blurry nighttime photograph

V & Z respond: Excellent!

K.D. in San Jose, CA, writes: For months I've tried to convince a lifelong friend to get vaccinated. He was too skeptical and nothing seemed to work—including desperate pleas from his wife. I shared your response last week to G.D. in Louisville, which resonated so hard with him that the very next day he got the Pfizer vaccine. Who would have ever thought a political analysis website would save a life!

I just had to let you both know this.

V & Z respond: Wow, we're floored! Thanks so much for letting us know!

In Congress

L.M.W. in Mckinleyville, CA, writes: After Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) took House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) back to school (again) this week, I can only imagine the swarm of clown car passengers who are salivating over his job.

J.R. in San Francisco, CA, writes: While Speaker Liz Cheney (R-WY) is not very plausible, it is not without precedent.

When Republicans wrested control of the California Assembly from Willie Brown in 1995, he engineered the election of Republican Assemblymembers Doris Allen and then Brian Setencich, whom Democrats elected after losing their majority in the chamber.

The arrangement lasted about seven months. Not a very effective legislature, perhaps, but it embarrassed and infuriated California Republicans inordinately.

Speaker Pelosi may yet have the last laugh.

P.W. in Edmonds, WA, writes: Last Sunday, I was honored to have my letter selected for inclusion in the discussion about potential Democratic Speakers of the House, post-Nancy Pelosi. I noted that the speakership could be used by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) "to better launch a bid for the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination."

I did not mean to cut off President Biden from a second term! Obviously, the staff proofreader and continuity expert were both impaired, and likely from different causes. They might have suggested using "2024/2028" instead of just "2024."

Of course, when one writes an astonishing 4 items to in 17 years that are all well in excess of 100 words each, some errors will be inevitable.

V & Z respond: If you've been reading since 2009, you should know we do not tolerate errors around here. Especially chronological ones.

R.V. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: I'm surprised this is not a bigger story, but current D.C. Circuit judge David Tatel announced he was taking senior status in February. The seat still has not been filled! That's 5 months of a vacancy on the second most powerful court in the country.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), while vile, despicable, ruthless, and an all-around horrible human being, moved faster in confirming judges. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died in mid-September of 2020, and by mid-December, Amy Coney Barret was on the Supreme Court and Thomas Kirsch had filled Barret's seat on the 7th Circuit (and all in a presidential election year).

You can take your good old time confirming judges when you have a 55-45 Senate majority, but when you have a 50-50 Senate and one party is the current Republican Party (which includes obstructionists, people who have made mask wearing and vaccines political, 2020 election deniers, etc.) it's best if the Democrats pick up the pace on judicial confirmations.


A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: You wrote: "So again, [Trump's] name shows up a lot, even if he technically does not."

This is his business model. License his name and get others to bring in money for him and he doesn't have to show up. I wonder if Republicans know what total rubes they've become—a failed businessman moved into politics to fleece the folks primed by decades of anti-Democrat rhetoric by spouting slogans he didn't believe, like "build the wall" and "witch hunt" and "rigged elections" and watched the money and power come pouring in. And now he's slapped his name on the Party, just like he does on buildings, and they all keep paying him for the privilege. And he can sit back and watch the money continue to roll in and only occasionally show up to keep the outrage going and remind everyone who's the boss.

I continue to be amazed that supposedly intelligent and powerful people in their own right are either completely cowed or taken in by him or, of course, are surreptitiously profiting off the grift themselves.

The more insidious grifters are those who are using Trump to peddle their efforts to politicize every aspect of government to serve their own nefarious ends. As you have mentioned several times, these people are out to politicize the bureaucracy, which was deliberately set up so employees could do their work free from politics. They've been remarkably successful so far—for instance, by taking their false claims about the election, which was the most secure with the highest turnout in history, and using it to delegitimize all elections and paint dedicated election officials as partisan.

Unfortunately, the media does not know how to handle this propaganda. Once the Republicans complain about something, it's immediately labeled by the press as "politicized." That makes it too easy for the red team to achieve its goals. We need to push back on that moniker. It's exactly like their claims that the media are "liberal." The media respond by trying to prove they're not and end up with the false-equivalency reporting we see so much of.

The law assumes that officials, like judges, are capable of performing their jobs free from bias in the absence of affirmative evidence to the contrary. This concept is similar to that of being innocent until proven guilty. We need to apply this concept to all of the Republicans' claims of bias against government officials and media outlets. We've been too willing to take these claims at face value and waste valuable time and space defending against these fictions.

They couldn't prove their election fraud claims in court—the outcome should be the same in the court of public opinion.

C.Z. in Sacramento, CA, writes: The question from S.S. in West Hollywood, positing that "Donald Trump must have read 'Dictatorship for Dummies'", reminded me about the PBS 6-part series, "The Dictator's Playbook." It came out in 2019, but they are re-running it right now. I doubt if His Lardship ever watched it, because, well, it's on PBS, but it shows how Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, Saddam Hussein, Manuel Noriega, Kim Il-sung, Idi Amin, and Francisco Franco came to power. The similarities to Dolt 45 are unmistakable and chilling.

P.R. in Saco, ME, writes: OMG! You finally took that stupid mug off the top of the page! Surely a new day has dawned in America. Now that's what I call a you-know-who free day! Bless your hearts.

On Cuba...

C.R. in Fayetteville, PA, writes: I wholeheartedly disagree with your reply to A.W from Northglenn. You wrote: "That said, communism has proven over and over to be a not-viable form of government and economy."

To quote Michael Parenti's Blackshirts and Reds: Rational Fascism and the Overthrow of Communism:

To say that "socialism doesn't work" is to overlook the fact that it did. In Eastern Europe, Russia, China, Mongolia, North Korea, and Cuba, revolutionary communism created a life for the mass of people that was far better than the wretched existence they had endured under feudal lords, military bosses, foreign colonizers, and Western capitalists. The end result was a dramatic improvement in living conditions for hundreds of millions of people on a scale never before or since witnessed in history.

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.

M.G. in Chicago, IL, writes: Wow, I do believe you truly punted on the Cuba questions. I agree that communist "governments" are basically corrupt and "regulated" capitalism may be the best form for an economy/government, but you babbled on quite a bit without addressing one basic comparison. Fulgencio Batista or Fidel Castro. The "slavery," murder, and corruption under Batista is what gave Castro his power when the Cubans needed a change. Cuba may not have been as bad as the Belgian King controlling the Congo, but there were a lot of similarities. If the Batistas of world had maintained power in Cuba what would it look like today? Haiti, Guatemala, or worse, and possibly run by Meyer Lansky's successors? The ends do not justify the means, but not removing the Batistas of the world is always a mistake, as no progress can ever be made under a morally, ethically and spiritually bankrupt regime.

J.D. in Rohnert Park, CA, writes: I read your comments about Cuba, and while I basically agree with them, I'd like to provide more context, since Americans' attitudes toward Cuba seems to be so black and white. I visited Cuba back in 2010 (legally, as an educator), after Cuba had endured a terrible depression following the fall of the Soviet Union. Cuba may be communist, but it is also a relatively poor Latin American country, and compared to most other countries in the region, it has accomplished a lot. Everyone has good medical care (one of the lowest doctor/patient ratios in the world), seniors have good care facilities, the populace is well educated at government expense, and I saw no evidence of homelessness.

On the other hand, few ordinary citizens own cars (and the ones they have are famously ancient); most travel around on motorbikes or pedal-powered vehicles. There is no private property, thus no motivation to invest in home improvements; few examples of private business or agriculture, although those opportunities HAVE been improving; and of course, there are many political prisoners and no meaningful democratic elections. In short, most people live a subsistence lifestyle, but with greater benefits in health care and education compared to most poor countries, and to some developed ones.

Finally, although the U.S. does provide Cuba with food and medicines, the embargo really has hurt the Cuban people, since ships that dock in Cuban ports are forbidden to dock in American ports, and the Cuban people know it. So while there is plenty of dissatisfaction with the communist regime, some of the chains on the people have been loosened a bit, and there is also justified antipathy towards the United States and a certain pride in Cuban nationalism in the face of half a century of economic sanctions. It seems to me that, with the Castros gone, there is a window of opportunity between the U.S. and Cuba to do some diplomatic horse trading—say, more open trade for some democratic reforms. Hopefully despite Joe Biden's public pronouncements, something like this is going on behind the scenes.

...and Canada

P.D in Leamington, ON, Canada, writes: I would like to build on the comment by M.B. in Montreal regarding politics in Canada. As a United States citizen (and die-hard Cubs and Packers fan) transplanted to Ontario, I was unaware of the political landscape up here. I find the Canadian system to be a strange way of doing things. We do not have the ability, as M.B. mentioned, to choose our own candidates for Provincial and Federal offices. That is done either at conventions of each party, where only dues-paying members of the party choose who gets the nod (Federal) or at local party gatherings (Provincial). What then happens is that we vote for the candidate we want to represent our area or riding (who may not even live in that area). Whatever party has the most candidates elected has their party leader (chosen only by the party at convention) put into place as Prime Minister.

So, in essence, there are a lot of people who do not pick the best choice locally in order to have a Prime Minister that they like from a different party. I am constantly hearing that I should not vote for who I like but rather who I think is going to win the most votes in order to have our locality represented in the current government. Since Canadian sausage only goes to those areas who have a representative of the ruling party, to vote for any other party always leaves you with nothing as punishment. Canada is always run by a prime minister that the vast majority of citizens did not, or even have the opportunity to, vote for personally. There are many other things I find dysfunctional about Canadian politics, like the lack of order during parliamentary sessions where everyone just interrupts, jeers, yells like a free for all. I also miss the good old referendum, which is unheard of here.

In short there are good things up here but, if truth be told, I much prefer the American system of government to Canadian. Now can someone send me some American chocolate bars?

N.A. in Hopkinton, MA, writes: This story made me laugh:

When I went to check in at United, Japanese authorities also wanted another written pledge. The gate was jammed with athletes in Team USA gear and Canada apparel. One was a trap shooter for Team USA and his press attaché. I noticed one water polo player who had a name tag. It turned out the entire USA men's water polo team was on the flight, as were members of the Canadian track team and a couple Team USA table tennis players. The gate agent greeted members of Team USA, who started chanting: "U-S-A!"

One of the fliers said: "And Canada!" To which a member of the Canadian delegation replied: "Sitting here quietly in the corner, like we usually do."

V & Z respond: And probably eating a mediocre chocolate bar.

All Politics Is Local

D.R. in Portland, OR, writes: The thought of Nicholas Kristof running for Governor of Oregon is the best idea I have heard in a long time. Oregon has a deep divide between its urban and rural citizens, and Kristof has a real heart for both Oregons. Nick, if you are listening, know that I will be there to donate, volunteer—whatever you need.

F.M. in Hatfield, PA, writes: In regards to the question of who Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) represents, I cite Edmund Burke, who observed that your representative owes you not only their industry but also their judgment and they betray you instead of serve you if they sacrifice their judgment to yours.

D.S. in Lakewood, OH, writes: I live in a district adjacent to OH-11 (the even-more-partisan gerrymandered coastal OH-09). Unfortunately for us poor souls who just want to watch the news or our favorite sports team, we get an advertisement from Shontel Brown and Nina Turner every break. They are dragging each other through the mud with corruption, insinuations and endorsement-palooza. As you have noted several times, Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) is in the ads, but would you believe also prominently featured is Marcia Fudge...'s mother? It's getting weird, and I bet Republicans are loving the show.

V & Z respond: Your favorite sports team? Would that be the Cleveland...Guardians?

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: As I was born in Illinois, and still have a lot of family there, I am pretty dialed in to Illinois politics. And you are right, they are much like Massachusetts in being sapphire-blue for the presidential election, yet often willing to elect a Republican Governor. That being said, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) is, the way I see it the only person with a viable chance against Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D), and that would even be a longshot. J.B. is very popular in Illinois, and if he does win (I think he will) then he will be the governor to break the streak and complete two full terms.

It's worth noting that, recently, Illinois had not one, but two former Governors in prison at the same time, as former governor George Ryan was still in prison when they popped Rod Blagojevich. One from each party. It's also interesting to note than Blago was the lucky recipient of a Trump pardon. Eat your heart out, Joe Exotic!

Incidentally, Illinois being sapphire-blue is a relatively new thing; as recently as 1988, they were reliably red for the presidential election. That being said, I don't see Illinois going red for the President again for a very long time, even if they do still seem to be willing to elect Republican Governors.

J.L. in Chicago, IL, writes: To a degree, I agree with C.G. in Felton about the hypocrisy of the "Texas-style" filibuster. However, I think there are at least two important distinctions from the U.S. Senate filibuster:

  1. The Texas state legislators are having to exert some real effort and feel some pain to use parliamentary rules to block a vote on a bill. For that reason, unless they are able to move public opinion, they likely are merely delaying a bill, not blocking it permanently. That is more analogous to the classic talking filibuster, which has long seemed to me like a reasonable balance point for the U.S. Senate. The real problem is the effortless virtual filibuster because it effectively creates a 60-vote requirement for all bills.

  2. Realizing such a thing would be hard to craft in reality, I suspect that in principle Democrats would (as a whole) be ok with eliminating the ability of legislative minorities to block votes on bills if implemented completely across the board. Republicans (as a whole) probably would not. I suspect the same is true of gerrymandering. In my home state of Illinois, it is the Democrats who use it shamelessly. I see no reason for them to stop unilaterally but would be fine with a national ban that had the effect of increasing the number of Republicans in the Illinois General Assembly and U.S. House delegations.

F.C. in DeLand, FL, writes: I went to our local weekly farmers market/artist showcase (Artisan Alley, starting at 6 on Friday nights) and passed by a voter registration tent set up by the local Democratic Party. Since I was trying to find my boss, I went by their tent several times.

One of the times I passed by, one of the people at the tent asked me if I was registered to vote. I answered in the affirmative. He then asked if I wanted an absentee ballot application. I explained that I liked the ritual of everyone standing in the same line, no matter what their political affiliation. A bonding experience, reminding us that we're all in the same community. But I didn't object to others voting absentee or early. (My wife, for example, doesn't like the communal experience. She normally votes early.)

We then talked a little more. Turned out that he was Ken Russell, a Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate. He seemed to be very personable, and was emphasizing environmental issues in our conversation. This is an area he feels that Rep. Val Demings (D-FL), his fellow U.S. Senate candidate, isn't focusing on. He also feels that Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is losing support in South Florida. (On the other hand, if he wasn't optimistic about his own chances in the race, why would he run?)

He didn't blow me off when I mentioned my libertarian friend who's running for the House, so that's a plus. And he says he's going to all 67 counties in Florida, building up grass root support.

Since I'm not a registered Democrat, I'm not worried about voting for him in the primary. And the general election is over a year away, so who knows if he'll end up on the final ballot.

But it was interesting meeting one of the candidates this early in the process.

Tex Ed

J.C. in Portland, OR, writes: In response to the question about a Texas education, I thought it might be good to share a firsthand account. I grew up in rural eastern Texas and graduated in the late 90's. I have both my bachelors and masters from one of the larger state colleges.

My education at the middle/high school level was extremely lacking, especially in history and science. Both were heavily sanitized or distorted. Probably the biggest examples were no bad guys in Civil War, Texas was "freed" from Mexico, and evolution was only discussed on one day with the "theory" part heavily stressed. One teacher actually took time out of trigonometry to try and mathematically "prove" creationism.

I can comfortably say that this hasn't gotten better, based on reports from friends and family who have had kids go through the system since I graduated.

That said, Texas does have a very good university system and a surprisingly good community college system. In my case, I went to the local community college and my first history teacher made a point of starting the term by saying, "forget everything you thought you knew about history." One of his favorite retorts to the "states rights" contingent was, "Yes, the Civil War was fought over states rights, the right of the state to enslave people," followed by quotes from Southern leadership.

Math, and particularly science, followed a similar course, with most professors making a point to address areas they knew were breezed through or not discussed in public schools.

All of this to say that the colleges and universities know what they are getting and aggressively address the issue in the first year or so of school. Unfortunately, this means a lot of people quit then and there. They will spend the rest of their lives blaming a professor they had for having it out for them because they were "Christian," which builds even greater resentment towards education and thus support for more reactionary laws.

J.M. in Tulsa, OK, writes: In your item of the impact on Texas students' future prospects after being educated under H.B. 3979, you addressed the original questioner's queries about employment and admissions to college and graduate school. As a high school social studies teacher in a deep Red state, with legislators that freely make pronouncements based on conspiracy theories that speak to a part of their base, my main worry is the impact that these trends in education will have on young people as civic actors and as neighbors in societies that are never as homogeneous as local and state elections would suggest.

The South Will Rise Again?

S.C. in Mountain View, CA, writes: When I read your item about the poll that said "that two-thirds of Southern Republicans say that, if given the choice, they would be happy to secede from the United States and to form their own country," my first reaction was "Let them, let them, please let them."

I then looked to see what that would do to the Senate. The removal of 22 Republican and four Democratic senators would leave 46 Democrats to 28 Republicans. That would mean the Democrats would have a filibuster-proof 62% of the seats, meaning H.R. 1/S. 1, H.R. 4, and other important legislation could be enacted. (The margin would be by 2 votes, so just one Democratic Senator couldn't block things.) And while I haven't checked, I assume the House would also have a larger (by percentage) Democratic majority than currently.

Once the new laws were in place, we could then offer to let those states back in again, but only after their new state Constitutions were approved by Congress.

Of course, the U.S. would have to close down all the military bases in those states, removing all the armaments in the process, before letting them secede. But that's just a logistical detail.

C.S. in Cincinnati, OH, writes: If secession of the former Confederacy (plus Kentucky and Oklahoma) means I no longer have to grind my teeth or suffer blood pressure spikes when hearing or reading the ignorant, inflammatory blustering of the likes of Lindsay Graham (R-SC), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mitch McConnell, and especially Rand Paul, I'm all for it. I would feel a pang for the citizens of Georgia who overcame steep odds to deliver their state from the forces of darkness, but I suppose they can continue their role as the opposition party. The New South can slide gratefully back to former times of draconian social rule, elect Donald Trump as president for life, and let the rest of us get on with making a better future.

J.R. in San Francisco, CA, writes: Why is a secessionist movement in the old Confederacy a disturbing bit of news?

The United States would become another Switzerland without the burden of maintaining the squeal-like-a-pig states that slop at the federal treasury and then gripe about "socialism".

Perhaps if Abraham Lincoln had bought the freedom of the 4+ million slaves (valued at $800, that's a total of $3.2 billion) and invited them north to participate in the industrializing economy, we would have made a wise decision, given the devastating cost of the Civil War, the Reconstruction, and the maintenance through to this day.

When somebody says "Lincoln saved the union," I am always prompted to ask why that is a good thing.

D.C. in Portland, OR, writes: You quoted Randall Munroe: "There are more Trump voters in California than Texas, more Biden voters in Texas than New York, more Trump voters in New York than Ohio, more Biden voters in Ohio than Massachusetts, more Trump voters in Massachusetts than Mississippi, and more Biden voters in Mississippi than Vermont."

I cannot think of a more insightful lens through which to view our divisions. Somewhere in there is hidden a seed of unity and hope.

Reenactment and the Lost Cause

M.B. in San Antonio, TX, writes: Regarding your excellent discussion of the reputation of Ulysses S. Grant, it appears Lost Cause attitudes are still alive and well in the 21st century. I was recently in Sequoia National Park, and happened to be standing in front of the Robert E. Lee tree. There was a couple from Ohio there, and we got into a friendly discussion about the names of the trees. Their opinion was that it would not be long before "Antifa" came to the park and changed the name of the tree. When I asked them why the name should be preserved, they said that Lee was "a gallant man, a gentleman," despite his role in the war. Then I asked if the name of the Ulysses S. Grant tree should also be preserved, and while they reluctantly agreed that it should, their enthusiasm was clearly diminished. I didn't ask them about the General Sherman tree.

J.T. in Greensboro, NC, writes: Lost Cause historians tried to paint Grant as a butcher, yet somehow Pickett's Charge (conceived and ordered by Robert E. Lee, commanded by James Longstreet, but named for George Pickett) is remembered as a gallant sacrifice and commemorated as the "high watermark of the Confederacy" at Gettysburg. The charge was arrogant, tactically foolish, strategically disastrous, ordered over the protests of the general tasked with leading it, and resulted in a total slaughter. Yet nobody ever thinks of Lee as a butcher.

If General Lee and Donald Trump have one thing in common it's that in the minds of their followers, they're incapable of doing anything wrong.

V & Z respond: Grant lost more troops overall than Lee, because he had a larger army. However, as percentage, Lee actually lost more, and it's not particularly close. That is a particular black mark against the Virginian, since he was usually on defense rather than offense.

P.K. in Marshalltown, IA, writes: I suspect (V) and/or (Z) have read Tony Horwitz's Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War. Might be a good read for folks trying to understand the survival of "The Lost Cause."

V & Z respond: (Z) has indeed read it, has talked to Horowitz a couple of times, and interviewed the "star" of the book, Robert Lee Hodge, for his dissertation (despite his name, Hodge is not a Lost Causer, though Z would have interviewed him even if he was). The book is a very good, and pretty quick read. If anyone wants the academic take, meanwhile, get a copy of The Myth of the Lost Cause and Civil War History, by Gary Gallagher and Alan T. Nolan. Full disclosure: Gallagher was on (Z)'s dissertation committee, and is one of the dozen or so people referred to yesterday who would be able to fully answer the question of why Ulysses S. Grant's reputation faded relative to Robert E. Lee's. Nolan would be one of the dozen or so, too, except that he passed away in 2008.

A.W. in Northglenn, CO, writes: I was very interested to read (Z)'s thoughts on Civil War reenactment having arisen during the difficult decade of the 1960s out of nostalgia for a "medieval" past. When my son was 12 or 13 years old (he's now 22), he expressed interest in getting involved in Civil War reenacting. I promptly found a local group and signed him up. He and I spent the next 5 or so summers attending reenactments -- we were at the 150th anniversary of Antietam and 150th Gettysburg, as well as lots of smaller events. Since at first he was too young to carry a musket, he ended up taking fife lessons, and eventually got good enough that he joined a group of fifers and drummers that was paid to appear at various civic festivals and reenactments all across the Rust Belt (we lived in Pittsburgh at the time).

While he loved the historical aspects of the hobby— making his own hardtack, marching around in his wool uniform and kepi, talking to the public about the life of a common soldier—he eventually decided he just couldn't do it any more, because it became too difficult to keep silent about the politics of his fellow reenactors. Although all of his experience was with Union groups, mostly based in Pennsylvania and surrounding areas, the reenactors he knew were almost universally conservatives who viewed the Civil War as being "about" states' rights and seemed to really romanticize the South. While they loved to argue over details about battles and generals and such, I'm not sure I can remember a single conversation about slavery or the realities of antebellum life. We're not really in contact with anyone from the groups anymore, but I'm fairly certain that most of them would now be part of Trump's base. (Their conservatism went well beyond the "Lost Cause" romanticism—I remember very clearly one woman, who was at an event with her 17-year old grandson, telling me with disgust in her voice that the college he was planning to attend required him to take a course on women's history. "Why would he want to learn about that?" she asked.) My point being that the nostalgia for a "chivalric, romantic, gallant" past is still very much a motivation in the culture of reenactment.

My son still has his old uniform, still plays fife, and still loves history. But he doesn't go to reenactments anymore.

As a side note, I want to add that you don't know the meaning of the word "awkward" until you've tried to use a porta-potty after dark while wearing a hoop skirt.

War, American Style

T.B. in Tallahassee, FL, writes: You were asked: "Why did the US invade Iraq under Bush II?" and you gave a lengthy reply that I think is all (accurate) political rationalization and little "cause," per se. Bush I, the statesman and student of history, undid Iraq's annexation of Kuwait, and stopped his retributive invasion of Iraq on the outskirts of Baghdad (then gave "all" of Iraq back, except for its northern airspace—to protect the Kurds). Bush II was under the influence of a(n) ickday (as you wrote) but he was also obsessed with the disgrace of his father not beating the holy c#*p out of Saddam Hussein. In person; Bush II acted as a drunk (or dry-drunk) would. Bush I "got it done," but Bush II "got his man." And the Kurds are just collateral damage, right? Not to mention the ascension of Iran in Southwest Asian influence.

T.H.W. in Marlboro, VT, writes: With regard to the "causes" of the war in Iraq: In the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq, several of my colleagues and I were teaching a course preparatory to leading a group of our students on a trip to Vietnam. We included a good deal of history, including substantial readings on the American War in Vietnam, its justifications and its conduct. It was a pretty spooky experience for all of us, because the arguments for that war we found in our readings seemed repeated in the daily newspaper as justifications for invading Iraq, and they seemed no more convincing for Iraq than they seemed for Vietnam. Moreover, seeing—as we could in the historical instance—how many of the arguments had been based on lies or distortions, and then seeing those very arguments presented in such a sharply different context as Iraq made even the most unskeptical students begin to wonder whether this new war too would turn out to be a disastrous sham.

J.C. in Binan, Laguna, Philippines, writes: You wrote of the raison d'êtres for America's wars, including fighting evil and riding to the rescue. This is what we did for the Cubans in the Spanish-American War. I can't help but notice the irony of the subsequent forgotten war, the Philippine-American War, where America in no way rode to the rescue, but became the evil we claimed to fight against. The Filipinos overthrew the Spanish-Mexican yoke of oppression, only to have American gunboats show up in Manila immediately afterward, declaring that America had "won" their new empire, and then fighting a bloody 3-year war, with 200,000 to one million Filipino civilians killed. Or, as former president Grover Cleveland observed:

No greater national fall from grace was ever known than that of the Government of the United States ... while still speaking words of sympathy with the weak who struggled against the strong, and while still professing to exemplify before the world a great Republic's love for self-government ... it embraced an opportunity offered by the exigencies of its beneficent undertaking, to possess itself of territory thousands of miles from our coast, and to conquer and govern, without pretense of their consent, millions of resisting people ... it slaughtered thousands of the abject possessors of the soil it coveted, and sent messages of death and disease to thousands of American homes.

V & Z respond: Indeed. The title of the lecture that (Z) summarized yesterday is: "America Becomes an Empire: The White Man's Burden, Cuba, and America's Forgotten War." There was just no good way to work the Philippine-American War into the narrative, since that one was launched basically surreptitiously, with the American people largely kept in the dark by the fact that it was going on halfway around the world.

Dictatorship for Dummies

A.S.W. in Melrose, MA, writes: I have to take issue with the comment that "[Donald[ Trump is indeed the only American who can reasonably be deemed to have had dictatorial aspirations." I know what you meant, of course, but taken at face value, this is clearly wrong: many Americans have had dictatorial aspirations, starting with this letter writer. (I would be a benign dictator, naturally. My first actions would be to ban pennies and Segways, mandate street signs at every intersection in Massachusetts, and trade Terra Haute to Canada in return for Vancouver. Vote for me!)

More interesting are the several Americans who actually succeeded at becoming dictatorial to one degree or another. Soldier-of-Fortune William Walker comes to mind, as does James Strang, who declared himself absolute monarch of the Strangist Mormons in 1844. I'm sure (Z) could list several more colorful examples if he wished.

V & Z respond: Yes, we understood the question to be limited to folks who aspired to control of some sizable portion of the United States' citizenry or land, and not to folks who aspired to (or exercised) dictatorial power over a particular religious group (Strang), city/county, or foreign nation (Walker).

D.R. in Yellow Springs, OH, writes: In response to a question about Americans with dictatorial aspirations, you made a good case for saying that Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and Aaron Burr didn't. But I disagree with your conclusion that "Trump is indeed the only American who can reasonably be deemed to have had dictatorial aspirations." Other examples that come to my mind are Huey Long, Charles Coughlin and Gerald C. MacGuire.

To his credit, Long did create tangible improvements in education and public works for Louisiana, but he wasn't concerned with pesky things like winning elections honestly, or even with being discreet about election fraud. Voting records showed people voting in alphabetical order and votes being cast by celebrities who didn't live in Louisiana, including Babe Ruth and Charlie Chaplin.

Coughlin never ran for office as far as I know, but his radio show reached tens of millions of people and he was overtly sympathetic to Hitler and Mussolini in the 1930s. (Yes, he was born in Canada, but he was naturalized as a U.S. citizen.)

MacGuire is known for his work with the "Business Plot." Retired Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler testified under oath before a congressional committee that MacGuire had tried to recruit him to lead a coup against President Franklin Roosevelt. Butler testified that MacGuire had claimed to be working on behalf of a group of wealthy businessmen. I'm skeptical that MacGuire really had as much support as Butler testified he claimed to have, but it seems that MacGuire really was trying to plan a coup and establish a dictatorship.

I'm sure you'll get a lot of comments from other readers about this; I'll be interested to see what other names readers come up with as Americans who may have had dictatorial aspirations.

V & Z respond: We thought about mentioning the Business Plot yesterday, but (1) we've talked about it before, and (2) the guy who would actually have become dictator, namely Butler, categorically rejected the notion, and so didn't seem to fit the parameters of the question.

Mailbag, General Comments

B.W. in Suwanee, GA, writes: You wrote: "We often know that a particular letter will aggravate some readers. And what we say to ourselves when we run such a letter is that, if given the choice, it is better that the letters be annoying 5% of the time than that they be comfortable and unchallenging 100% of the time."

If all you did was pander to the left, I'd probably stop reading this site. I still recall reading an article from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about an interview with a 45 (I've stopped using t****) supporter and it was very informative.

C.L. in Durham, England, UK, writes: I like to read about the views of others who hold different opinions and who have different experiences to me, to have my views challenged and, where appropriate, to challenge the views of others when I have the knowledge to do so. I don't want to live in an echo chamber surrounded only by people who think the same as me.

It is said when the U.S. sneezes, the U.K. catches a cold. So, this blog gives me an insight into where the U.K. might be heading, It broadens my horizons. I also like a bit of snark.

I am a member of one Facebook group that, at times, has posts that would make even a certain former president blush. On one occasion, I challenged someone who made a post implying people of Asian descent could not really be British. The other members of the group piled in. There were around 700 back-and-forth posts before the whole group blocked me, although most of my replies were repeatedly asking how they know someone in a picture was not British. No one was brave enough to say they just don't like people who do not appear to be 100% Anglo-Saxon, Welsh, Scottish or Northern Irish. Eventually they all blocked me. If they can't even say what they really believe, they are not only racist they are also cowards.

I have never read anything on this site that personally offended me. As a gay man, I just roll my eyes at the poverty of the arguments from the occasional homophobic, transphobic and racist correspondent. You and other correspondents have dealt with them perfectly. The bottom line is if some random person wants to demean themselves pontificating with prejudiced comments on a subject they clearly have no knowledge, that is their problem.

I am fortunate in that I am fairly straight acting ( least when vertical) but when hundreds of people pile on one person or a minority group who cannot hide their differences so easily, whether that be in the real world or on the Internet, then I feel they must be challenged.

At times in the recent past, I have been dismayed about where the U.S. is heading and what that could mean for where the U.K. is heading, but having read the comments from some of your correspondents who have faced challenges far greater than I have ever faced with incredible bravery and eloquence I know there will always be hope.

J.G.D. in Bellevue, WA, writes: Count me among those who understands C.Z. from Sacramento's inquiry about letters from [X], although not quite for the same reason.

While I read and greatly appreciate the points of view of other visitors to your site, looking at who made them and where they come from often brings to mind something my brother says a lot: "God loves us all, but he has his favorites."

Not that I believe you select questions and comments to stir the pot, far from it. I do wonder why the correspondence of a selected few regularly appears on the weekend pages, sometimes more than once a day, when you have stated that "we have received roughly 27,295 questions. And, including today's entry, we have written 1,565 answers. That's an answer rate of about 6%."

I understand the content of many of the e-mails you receive should never grace the page of your site, obviously, and I have nothing at all against the feedback of those repeat contributors. I got involved in my company's Diversity, Equality & Inclusion initiative because hearing everyone's voices matters to me. Hope it does for you too.

V & Z respond: Note that the rate of letters accepted for publication (Sundays) is higher than the rate of questions accepted (Saturdays). As to people appearing regularly or repeatedly, some correspondents are pretty good at anticipating the issues of the week and giving an interesting or pithy response. Also, some of them send in more than one message per week. Finally, when a person appears twice on the same day, that sometimes means we split one message into parts, so that the parts appeared in the logical sections. Anyhow, we do indeed try to include a wide variety of respondents, and not just the same few.

O.Z.H. in Dubai, UAE, writes: I understand why you would want to publish letters that contain an opposing viewpoint. But surely such letters should only be published if they are logical, well-reasoned or illuminating in some way. I am unsure why you would publish a letter with a conservative/Trump-favorable slant even if its assertions are "trite, or full of holes, or self-involved, etc." All your readers already know opposing views exist and that much of the country supports Donald Trump. If we wanted to read illogical or internally inconsistent alternative viewpoints surely we could just read Tucker Carlson's daily column.

V & Z respond: People do know that much of the country supports Trump and yet, five years in, many are still trying to figure out why. And not all wide held and/or genuinely held points-of-view avoid the pitfalls of being "trite, or full of holes, or self-involved." Heck, virtually everything Trump himself says is trite, full of holes, and self-involved, and yet is received as pearls of wisdom by millions of people.

Mailbag, Specific Correspondents

S.G. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Hi, I am 70ish (LOL) and last week's letter from C.R in Fayetteville is the most intelligent and insightful I have read on your site! 18 years old—I am impressed! So, there is hope for the future. Thank you, C.R.!

R.T. in Arlington, TX, writes: Recently the question was posed about what the unnamed Doctrine of foreign affairs is right now. I was going to leave this alone until I saw C.R. in Fayetteville's post, coming from the viewpoint of an intelligent 18-year-old. I hope C.R. never loses the edge of questioning what is going on and why.

When I was that age, the Russians were in Afghanistan, attempting to impose their will and the U.S. was arming the mujahidin. Arguably, the Russians were smarter than us because they didn't stick around as long. I cringed on the day after 9/11, knowing that we were going to lose more lives attempting to subdue Afghanistan than we lost on 9/11 itself. I think the latest iteration of American foreign policy is "Accept the world as it is, rather than as we wish it would be." I wish I could give this concept one president's name, but Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Joe Biden have all followed a similar course in this regard. Obama withdrew from Iraq. Obama and Trump both resisted the call to put a large force into Syria, only enough troops working out of Iraq to squelch ISIS. Trump moved the embassy to Jerusalem, signaling that the U.S. has accepted that Israel is never giving up the 1967 land acquisition. Biden is withdrawing from Afghanistan. Will this shift give us more peace or just delay the next war? I don't know.

D.L-O. in North Canaan, CT, writes: The letter from C.R. in Fayetteville made my heart hurt and also rejoice in an odd way. I was born in the early 1950's and grew up in a home where politics were firmly liberal and Democratic. Since the time that I was a bit younger than C.R., I've worked and voted for what I thought was right and patriotic through the Vietnam War, the Richard Nixon impeachment, the idiocy of two Republican administrations' "trickle down economics" policies, the first Iraq War, the horror of the Twin Towers/Pentagon attacks, the Gulf War/Second Iraq War, the election of the first Black President, the decline of the Republican Party (formerly thought to be the "respected opposition") into a bunch of whiners led by Mitch McConnell, the election of the Great Orange Menace and the decline of American democracy over the past 4½ years, led by said GOM and his acolytes. I feel deeply for C.A.'s generation, who are now called on to join the fight to prevent this decline from spiralling downward into oblivion.

To C.R.: You have a choice whether and what to do about your disappointment. You have obviously been paying attention to what's going on around you. You clearly have a keen mind, a good start on your education and are concerned about what's happening in the world these days. And you follow one of the very best blogs on the Internet! That's a great start on your life.

Not meaning to sound preachy, but I offer you some advice from my own experience.

Please, please, please don't get discouraged. The fight is worth it, but change is glacial and sometimes (like right now) seems to go in the absolutely wrong direction. Don't blame Joe Biden so much; he's really trying but is walking a very twisty and treacherous road right now with 50 Republican hyenas circling, as well as some of his fellow Democratic lions biting at his heels. Congress consists of two packs of animals fighting among themselves and with each other for precedence and power on the Capitol plains. Tough going...

You don't have to march or carry signs in protest, unless you're strongly moved to do so. It's exhausting, and even non-violent protest can be dangerous, as we've seen in the past year. So if you choose that path, make sure you know and are prepared for what might happen. I didn't and I was just lucky that I never got hurt or arrested. What happened at Kent State convinced me to stop my protest activities, and it's gotten much worse recently. Promote true democracy in our society and good government in whatever way you can. Believe in and promote the worth of every individual in this world, regardless of any arbitrary classifications of said worth: race, religion, sex/sexual orientation, education, wealth (or lack of it), job/profession, political affiliation, whether they agree with you or not, etc., ad infinitum. Reject and repel hate, exploitation and anyone who tries to hurt, denigrate or debase other people for their own advantage. Do your best at whatever you decide to do. Lastly, vote your conscience when you can but don't waste your vote on a candidate that you know can't win. Whatever your ideals and your disappointment now, you need to be practical sometimes. Choosing "second best" (even if that's how you think of Biden) is better than ending up with GOM or another like him.

To sum up: As my Dad would have said, "Be a mensch" (Google it if you don't know). In the long run and IMO regardless of whatever else we do, those are the most basic and important accomplishments any of us can attain in this world.

L.R.H. in Oakland, CA, writes: P.M. of Currituck notes that they only get emotional about politics when it affects them personally.

One difference between us is that although I live in California, where it's easy to vote (and there are no signs or fraud, or "fraud," in voting), I get emotional, as in enraged, by persistent Republican voter-suppression attempts elsewhere.

So sorry P.M. got stuck in a traffic jam!

A.J. in Baltimore, MD, writes: My condolences to P.M. in Currituck for having to sit in traffic in Denver. I'm sure it delayed and inconvenienced them almost as much as Georgia's Election "Integrity" Act will delay and inconvenience thousands, if not millions, of minority voters who will no longer be able to vote absentee or even be able to receive free water while waiting in line. It's amazing that P.M. managed to write last week's letter without a hint of irony to it.

Perhaps more to P.M.'s point, is it really "both sides" if you're comparing the disgusting, pretextual, oppressive legislative actions of elected Republican politicians in Georgia, on one side, and a private business (Major League Baseball) making a decision that no Democrat politicians ever mandated or even called for, on the other side?

A.B. in Denver, CO, writes: I hate to burst half of P.M.'s bi-partisan anger bubble, having blamed "both sides" for the "massive traffic" during the MLB All-Star Game in Denver on July 13th. However, as an all-but-one-year lifelong resident of Denver, who was at and quite enjoyed that very same All-Star game, that's pretty common downtown Denver traffic these days. It would happen most any day there's a Rockies game or, depending exactly where P.M. was, a Broncos game, Nuggets game, Avalanche game, rock concert, large convention, road/building construction, or just the sun in people's eyes. Not to mention ordinary rush hours (noting the gates opened about 3pm and the game got underway a bit after 5:30). Denver's downtown and highway traffic can be annoying, like most large cities. Indeed, we drove down to the game and parked one block away from Coors field, and I thought the traffic in and out was better than average. Sorry, P.M., can't blame politics or the libs for that one![*].

([*]Unless you want to get into who wants to fund or not fund road improvements and/or mass-transit around here. Let me think, which group knee-jerk votes against all taxes and hates mass-transit, hmm...)

C.Z. in Sacramento, CA, writes: It was heartbreaking to read that P.M. of Currituck was inconvenienced by a traffic jam in Denver this week. The jam was presumably caused by the MLB's moving the All-Star game there, in protest of Georgia's attempts to destroy democracy. So evidently, P.M. doesn't care about democracy as long as "the trains run on time." Hmmm—I believe that's what they said about Mussolini...

I hope that P.M. does not come to California on their current vacation to enjoy any of our 10 National Parks or 163 State Parks, since there might be a traffic jam somewhere, sometime, due to California's population of 40 million. Since California is the world's #1 producer of almonds, we already have enough nuts here, anyway. However, if P.M. does come, since they have such a deep interest in baseball I would suggest they take in a Modesto Nuts MiLB baseball game, and be sure to take home some souvenirs, known as "Nuts Gear".

The Nuts actually have three mascots: Al the Almond, Wally the Walnut and Shelley the Pistachio. Although I think "Shelley" is a cute name, it acknowledges their female fans, and pistachios always seem to be sold in the shell, I still wondered why "The Nuts" didn't stick with the naming convention they had used on the other two. I only realized later that would have resulted in "Piss the Pistachio."

V & Z respond: Several years ago, the Angels' roster included catcher Bengie Molina. The team's color commentator at the time, Rex "The Wonder Dog" Hudler, tried to establish BenMo as a nickname for Molina. Hudler had to drop that immediately when the Angels signed Molina's brother, José.

S.A. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I will personally vouch for the Angels as being baseball's most beloved franchise. In fact, I just got home from going to the game today. I paid for college by working at what was then Anaheim Stadium in the late 70s and early 80s. It was the first workplace that I belonged to a union, and being on the negotiations committee led to a lifetime of involvement in unions. I grew up about 13 miles away in a town called La Habra. An obscure town few people know exists.

Also to answer P.M.'s question, the All-Star game was moved due to pressure from the Players' Alliance, an organization of mostly Black Players, who let Commissioner Rob Manfred know that the game would be boycotted if the game stayed in Atlanta.

On Schadenfreude

J.K. in Bremen, Germany, writes: Schadenfreude may be entertaining on a website like yours. But the inherent lack of empathy for the victim makes me feel ashamed. Schadenfreude should be applied in homeopathic dilution only. Otherwise it can easily turn into bullying, and that is un-christian.

You have already noticed that this summer the tide may be turning against Trump and friends. Criminal investigations on him and his allies have become reality by now, and events are turning so fatal these days that even his allies in Alabama seem to be turning against him. When death walks around you and people discover they followed a false prophet, disappointment can turn the most adoring follower into the most cruel enemy. Since guns are in widespread use among Trump's followers, ugly scenes might occur. Would you publish such pictures in your weekly Schadenfreude Report?

V & Z respond: Certainly not. If we are able to keep that feature going on a regular or semi-regular basis, it will focus primarily on things that are funny, embarrassing, ironic, etc. There will be none of "Ha, ha! [X] was badly injured in a car wreck this week!] or "[Y's] kids just died of COVID-19!" In other words, our definition of "schadenfreude" will be pretty narrow.

L.B. in Savannah, GA, writes: Technically, Roy Moore and Matt Gaetz are not "accused pedophiles." Pedophiles are attracted to pre-pubescent children; the term for someone who is attracted to adolescents is "ephebophile" (from the Greek word "ephebos"). Moore and Gaetz are accused of consorting with adolescents, not children. Of course, it's possible that they are also pedophiles in addition to being accused ephebophiles, and just haven't been caught yet.

On Polling

J.M. in New Glasgow, NS, Canada, writes: Your comment to A.L. in Rutgers on polling accuracy surprised me for a veteran polling site. "Calling" states when it comes to accuracy is not nearly as important as how close the polls were to the vote percentages. Nearly all Americans can call 40-45 states most elections, so boasting about calling 47-48 states is not that impressive. A poll saying the Democrats will win California by 10 and then they win by 20 is less accurate and "worse" than a poll saying Democrats will win that.

V & Z respond: We would point out that (1) we weren't boasting, merely trying to suggest that the "death" of polling may be greatly exaggerated; (2) Nate Silver got 49 states right in 2008 (a.k.a., one more than 48) and became an instant legend, and (3) our experience is that people come to the site primarily to figure out who is most likely to win the presidential race, not the margin of victory by which they will win.

On Word and Grammar Choices

J.S. in Peterborough, ON, Canada, writes: I was disappointed to see you write: "That means that you're at least 75 times more likely to die due to COVID if you're unvaccinated."

The ratio of the numbers you cited is about 75.316, but let's use 75 for convenience. The fact that you intended to convey is that you're 75 times as likely to die. If you want to talk about "more likely," the correct number is 74.

The difference is negligible in this case, the error (about 1.35%) is nothing compared to the degree of uncertainty in the underlying numbers. But it's a habit that should always be avoided. A scientist might write that the rainfall had doubled, but many journalists would present this as "two times more," or "a 200% increase" (implying a tripling) when it's actually only a doubling. We need to address climate change on the basis of science, and it doesn't help to have errors in our understanding created in this way.

It's not difficult to write "75 times as likely" instead of "75 times more likely" (it even requires fewer characters). I suppose some people like to puff up the facts. Please let the facts speak for themselves.

V & Z respond: Fair enough. Because, as everyone knows, when you mistakenly use "more" in place of "as," the terrorists win.

J.E.M. in Seattle, WA, writes: You wrote: "So, we just take the position that a few errors are inherent to the medium and that readers understand that."

Due to a spot on my monitor, I thought that word was "medjum," which would have been hilariously meta.

V & Z respond: When Marshall McLuhan wrote a follow-up book to The Medium Is the Message, the cover was accidentally rendered thusly:

The word 'message' is misspelled as 'massage'

The publisher was horrified, but McLuhan thought it was great, since it underscored his point very effectively, while also opening up the possible reading "The Medium is the Mass Age."

D.B. in Mountain View, CA, writes: In last Sunday's letters, J.S. in Plainfield suggested that you not use the word "won" in connection with the Congressional Medal of Honor and similar decorations. The reason for this isn't necessarily obvious. For me it was best explained by Quil Lawrence, an NPR correspondent who covers veterans' issues:

It reminds me of—there are these medals that they give out in combat. And there's a certain level of medal that you get for doing your duty. And there's a certain level of medal that you get for doing your duty really well. And then there's this level of medals which get up to the Medal of Honor that you get for doing something that no one could reasonably ever have asked you to do—to expose yourself to danger and to threat of harm and threat of death.

And this is another civ-mil divide thing that, if we were going to write a sort of a glossary of things you never say to never say or I've learned from being corrected by veterans that you never say someone won a medal. You know, it wasn't a happy day. Those medals are always given out because someone did something that they never should have had to do.

M.B. in Kilmarnock, VA, writes: K.H. in Ypsilanti writes, regarding the Oxford comma: "The fact is, it's just as easy to construct sentences where the Oxford comma creates confusion rather than eliminates it, because it is indistinguishable from a prepositional phrase. For example: 'We invited JFK, a stripper, and Stalin." In this sentence, JFK is a stripper.'"

While K.H. is correct that such a construction can be read as JFK being a stripper, there is not a single preposition anywhere in that sentence, much less a prepositional phrase. Surrounding "a stripper" with commas creates an appositive. That is, "stripper" is a noun set in apposition to another noun, JFK, providing a clarification or definition of the preceding noun. And in the preceding sentence, I used an appositive, clarifying that "another noun" is "JFK." Oxford commas are not always necessary, but sometimes they are. That's the best way I can think of to express the comma rule.

H.R. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: In response to D.D. in Portland, you wrote that your resident linguist preferred "crazies" to "kooks" when describing vaccine holdouts. I believe the technically and semantically correct descriptor to be "COVIDiots," which covers both vaccine holdouts and COVID deniers. As a physician, I have heard from colleagues that the sine qua non of "COVIDiots" is to deny that they are sick, let alone dying, even when they are gasping for breath just before they are intubated. 'Nuff said!

Cooking Corner

D.A. in Coopersville, MI, writes: A couple weeks ago you recommended a cobbler recipe. Always on the lookout for new recipes, I tried it was terrible. Granted, food preferences are a matter of taste (pun intended), but this had way, way, way too much sugar. I won't be wasting my time and ingredients on it again. All that to say: stick to your wheelhouse—politics. Please do not inflict your gastronomic recommendations on us again.

V & Z respond: You didn't realize that a recipe from the 1950s was going to be on the sweet side? There's a reason that was the generation that figured out fluoridated drinking water.

D.R. in Old Harbor, AK, writes: I developed a tasty improvement on the Nestlé Toll House recipe: Add a banana to the mix. It improves the flavor, and yet few people can identify what I added.

Forget it Jake, It's Chinatown

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: Not to excuse what Roman Polanski did to a thirteen-year-old child, but I suspect his genuinely traumatic childhood at the hands of the Nazis, and his equally traumatic adult experience of having his pregnant wife and her houseguests violently murdered by the Manson Family while he was away from home might have something to do with his inability to control his inappropriate sexual behavior. Damaged people rarely go through life without damaging others.


A.C. in Kittery, ME, writes: I must credit you on your many witticisms, but this one I had to point out and thank you for: "Also, at least one key senator from a dentally-challenged state thinks that dental care is really important, which helps with the votes."

I hold no enmity toward "dentally-challenged state." My mother is from that state, and, honest to God, she is 93 years old and still has every one her natural teeth firmly and healthily entrenched within the confines of her mouth. (The fact that she's lived in Maryland ever since 1943, and has always been very observant of her dental health practices is no doubt a factor in that.)

Of course, you know that the toothbrush was invented in that dentally-challenged state, right?

You can tell, because if it was invented anywhere else it would have named the "teethbrush."

V & Z respond: We're going to let you get away with that joke, since it's your people (or, at least, your mother's people).

A.M. in Olympia, WA, writes: With all of your delusional comments about the Packers, I wonder whether the cheese is slipping off your crackers. "Mighty" and "Immense Glory"—really? Those terms are best left to political despots. Reality check. Over the last 50 years your "mighty" team has won two Super Bowls. In just the last 20 years, the New England Patriots have won 6 Super Bowls. You ought to reserve your superlatives to truly super teams.

V & Z respond: You're right, in recent years the Patriots have had remarkable success in winning the Lombardi Trophy. Who is that named for, again? Our staff researcher has gone home for the day.

Z.S. in New York, NY, writes: Given your love for the Packers and just mockery of my woeful post-1957 Detroit Lions, I'll point out that a Packer started this whole athletes boycotting White House title ceremonies. (At least, he was the first in my living memory. Perhaps others did so in earlier eras.) Mark Chmura refused to meet with President Bill Clinton in 1997 after Super Bowl XXXI. Like so much else in contemporary politics, this trend has roots in Clinton Derangement Syndrome. At least I got to root for Barry Sanders.

V & Z respond: Sanders was amazing, and Chmura was a sleazeball even before he started getting into hot tubs with teenage girls (which, it would appear, makes him a ephebophile). The fellow who threw the ball to Chmura is no better.

B.L. in Hudson, NY, writes: Thank you for introducing last Sunday's mailbag as a metaphor for John Horton Conway's illustrious Game of Life. Since my letter on Shohei Ohtani was included, I now feel for the first time ever that I've been designated a cell in that game. What a tremendous honor!

Sadly, Conway fell victim to COVID-19 in April of 2020. But what a legacy he left behind!

The game of Life was the subject of my school's Science Fair project in 1972, my junior year at Oxon Hill High School in Maryland. My project somehow managed to win First Grand Prize at the Fair, so your Sunday posting brought me suddenly and unexpectedly back to one of the proudest moments of my youth. Thank you, and a thousand friendly gliders being fired toward you, for that!

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: You write: "discussion of historical assassinations, Donald Trump's penis size, the origin of 'vaxx,' filet mignon with blueberry glaze, baseball, alternate history, the nuances of the North Carolina Senate race, Afghanistan, America's greatest city, and credibly accused pedophile Roy Moore, all in one place."

A group of your loyal readers have begun putting together next week's list: It includes: maracas, spit-roasted boar, the jet stream, white lightning, dialectical materialism, bobsleds, cribbage, Mondrian, high altitude paleohydrology, Aztec numerology, the Van Allen radiation belts, the 5th string capo, the Categorical Imperative, and of course the evergreen topic, left-handed shortstops.

Looking forward to it!

V & Z respond: It's true; we have been slacking on the paleohydrology beat lately.

S.S. in Detroit, MI , writes: I'm not a Computer Scientist, I've never played one on TV, I haven't stayed at a Holiday Inn Express lately, and though you might not guess it, I am wildly enamored of commas (got a thing for parentheses, as well). But, borrowing from my former line of work (health care), we might say the mailbag has metastasized. Takes way more than a donut and coffee to get through now. I had to re-attack it over lunch. It's in remission now.

I'm amused that my buddy P.M. in Currituck, who enjoys driving insanely long distances for fun, is complaining about a bipartisan political baseball game traffic jam. (And what ever happened to political footballs?)

Oh, and Detroit is obviously more important than Los Angeles, Since we invented freeways and affordable mass-produced cars, without which L.A. wouldn't be L.A.

V & Z respond: We're trying to trim the length a bit, but we get a lot of interesting and useful letters these days.

D.C. in Delray Beach, FL, writes: Here's some possible theme songs for your site and a suggested playlist as you compose your excellent daily contributions to the national debate:

Contributions from other readers are absolutely welcome. Keep up the good work!

V & Z respond: If readers have suggestions for a possible theme song, send them in, along with a sentence or two of explanation, and we'll run some of them next week. This will also, albeit not by design, fulfill a similar function to Van Halen's famous M&M rider, since we'll know that anyone who sends in a suggestion clearly reads all the way to the end of the mailbag.

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