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Sunday Mailbag

We got quite a few messages in response to the two "Lexico-Political" items from Monday; the letters you see here are a representative selection from a vastly wider array of responses. There was also a sizable contingent that had thoughts on the elements of Trumpism. After the heavy stuff comes some dessert in the form of one last round of dinner guests, some state mottoes, and couple of thoughts on naked booties.


J.O. in Raleigh, NC, writes: I will admit, I'm irked. That's not something you manage to do on a regular basis. I am sure your article Lexico-Political Battles, Part I: What's a Woman? will draw a letter or two from your trans readership, but I know they must get tired of defending themselves, so as a good (I hope) ally, I will take my turn. My issue isn't with the main thrust of the article (which I would state as an argument about the best tactics on fighting the Texas abortion law), its with your rather cavalier methodology for defining the word "woman" (i.e., just taking's word for it). Out of curiosity, I looked up's definition of "gender identity." Their definition is "a person's inner sense of being male or female, usually developed during early childhood as a result of parental rearing practices and societal influences and strengthened during puberty by hormonal changes." The first 9 words were ok (not great, assumes a binary is all that is possible), but after that it might as well be 1960 and "If you hadn't let Billy play with those dolls, he wouldn't be [insert slur here]." It's 80% of the way to saying trans people don't really exist. Which is utter rubbish.

Words matter. And words change. Here is the definition of "gender identity": "a person's internal sense of being male, female, some combination of male and female, or neither male nor female." A definite improvement, and much closer to what the trans people, therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists I have spoken over the past ten years have said. But still not quite there. The LGBTQ+ community I have been exposed to says that "man" and "woman" are all about gender identity, what you feel on the inside. I have a family member who is non-binary (they do not feel strongly like a man or a woman), and were born with female equipment. They are fine being called "female," but object to being called "a woman." Mis-gendering them this way is an assault with words just as real as punches.

Which brings me full circle back to your item. The emotion I sense coming from the author is frustration. Frustration with the activists that won't toe the line. If this is a "women's issue," if the suggested tactic is "talking endlessly about women who were raped and then forced to bear their rapist's child," then you are telling transmen and non-binary females that they have to either be a woman or that, when they get raped and forced to bear their rapist's child, it doesn't matter as much.

So be conscious that when you tell those activists and their loved ones to be quiet and toe the line, you're also asking them to suffer in silence. Same goes for the Black Lives Matter activists who (I assume) came up with the "Defund the police" slogan. Maybe it's bad tactics, maybe it's not. Maybe it's worth the silent suffering, maybe it's not. But it definitely comes at a cost, to be paid by people who have already paid enough.

J.M. in Seattle, WA, writes: Regarding the "What's a Woman" item from Monday, the framing here rubs me the wrong way. While it's tempting to look at everything from a "what's politically expedient" angle, invariably that approach leaves people behind. Just as it was and continues to be important to discuss and debate the role of police in our communities (even if that makes some people uncomfortable), it's also important to be inclusive of trans people.

We may think of sexual assault, domestic violence, and abortion as "women's issues" because they do very disproportionately affect women. But just as we can (and should) acknowledge that men can be victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, we can acknowledge that trans men have reproductive health needs too. It doesn't have to dominate the messaging and we can still focus on how the issues are very gendered in who they mostly affect, but we don't have to do that in ways that dismiss and invalidate others in the process.

D.C. in Birmingham, AL, writes: Your item Lexico-Political Battles, Part II: What's a Religion? seems to be both inappropriately flippant and conceptually misconceived. The key difference between Pastafarianism and Christianity is sincerity of belief: Pastafarians are wise-asses who made up a religion to mock the religiously observant, whereas Christians tend to be people who sincerely believe in the tenets of their faith (whether or not those tenets are true or sensical). Your conflation of cynicism and sincerity is unhelpful and perhaps says more about you than about the religions in question.

J.H. in Boston, MA, writes: I'll say that your writeup references to justify the assertion that "a woman is anyone with XX chromosomes" is insufficiently considerate towards the trans movement, who say that "trans men are men." Biological essentialism of the sort espoused by and at least indirectly by, is transphobic. So I expect you to be taken to task by some of our trans readers. I can almost hear A.B. in Wendell furiously typing even as we speak.

Still, I agree with the ultimate point that getting distracted by this issue will endanger the fight against Texas' S.B. 8 and the coming Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Supreme Court case. Instead of defining trans men out of existence, I think a better framing would be just that we need to focus on the fact that women are the overwhelming majority of people who need abortions so it makes sense to talk about them. But, of course, men also are harmed by the law, both as partners of women, and as transmen in need of their own abortions.

S.B. in New Castle, DE, writes: I'm a Christian transgender woman within 10 days of the necessary surgery to complete my gender transition. It's not surprising that the "Lexico-Politico Battles" items caught my full attention.

My main observation/opinion on both of these topics is "What's the primary goal?" This is a grounding point I use whenever I'm in a meeting that seems to be drifting about with lots of thoughts and emotion, but little direction.

While I have a vested passion for transgender and nonbinary people being acknowledged as the people we are, the topic at hand is abortion. As privileged as I am to "pass" as a woman in all settings, the DNA reality is that I have never had a period, feared being pregnant, nor dealt with menopause. A transgender man has had to deal with all of this.

I recently heard Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) talking about the Texas abortion law using phrases like "people with a uterus" instead of "women." It felt awkward, frankly. I felt like she was using a definition of a word instead of the word itself, which then skews draws attention to that linguistic oddity at the expense of the primary goal—women's reproductive rights. I'm sure there may be a group of trans men that would feel slighted by the use of "women" in this context, but the overwhelming majority of women with a functioning uterus are the people who need health care protection. I'm happy to sit in the second row and cheer on the people defending women's rights to own their own bodies at whatever minor expense that costs the transgender community in the way of lexiconic accuracy.

Regarding religion: Deep sigh. In my youth, I grew up in Southern Baptist Churches. The emphasis, even then, was on Biblical inerrancy to the ironic point of making the Bible an idol (one of the Big Ten no-no's). I am now a member of a liberal Presbyterian (USA) church where the emphasis is much more on helping the less fortunate people in our world. I mention this to make the clear point that religion is all over the place, even within a particular branch/sect.

While I am a huge fan of colonial American history, I am not a constitutional scholar. However, my take on "religious freedom" has always been: (1) no theocratic governance and (2) freedom to practice your faith ... as long as it doesn't harm others. Not getting a vaccine harms others.

I ditched conservative churches because my own liberal views were growing as I matured and it was at a time that conservative politicians began courting conservative churches. I heard very conservative political views espoused from pulpits then, and I hear very liberal political views espoused from pulpits now. Honestly, I'm at a point where I think churches should no longer be tax-exempt because of this, but that's a discussion for another day.

My main point to both of these topics: Govern in the best interest of the people and do not allow exceptions that endanger the health of a vast majority of people. Mandate vaccinations. Let women decide what's best for their own health.

V & Z respond: Inasmuch as this letter is nearly a week old, that means that the day of the operation is almost here. Good luck, and be well!

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: Regarding your comments in "Lexico-Political Battles, Part I: What's a Woman?" I have to admit that I resonate. I'm in my fifties. I live in the bluer-than-blue bubble of the San Francisco Bay Area. My kids are teenagers and in their twenties. My daughter is gay and my son is trying on "non-binary" (although he has not asked to change his pronouns or to use gender-neutral language, so "son" rather than "offspring" is still ok—for now). I am close with one person who is trans and non-binary and uses they/them pronouns. While my kids are very fluent in this language, it has taken much practice for me. Fortunately, they are very gracious when I slip up and use pronouns ascribed to their birth gender. I'm all-in on calling people what they wish to be called, but it isn't always easy for old guys like me.

All that being said, is there not a Democratic-friendly PR person who can advise millennial politicians (such as AOC, of whom I am a big fan) to be thoughtful about when, where and among whom they use this newfangled language? Stacey Abrams has pointed out that knowing your audience is important. Politicians should practice fluency in this language and use it where appropriate, such as on college campuses. However, when speaking to the general public (and especially when on TV) they need to realize that something like 95% of the country either won't understand or will be turned off by this language. They are not helping their cause.

Social change takes time. When's the last time we've heard people on the right complain about gay marriage? It is now a done deal and seems to be widely accepted. I might even say that we have fought that culture war and won. And it took most of my adult life to get here. My advice to millennial politicians is patience. We'll get there, but let's focus on what is possible today (like, say, saving abortion rights) and allow the new language to seep in organically as more young people step into power and more old people who don't and will never "get" it leave this mortal coil.

V & Z respond: We find your premise objectionable. Someone in their fifties is not an "old guy."

K.Y. in Olympia, WA, writes: I appreciated Monday's "Lexico-Political Battles, Part I: What's a Woman?" Unfortunately, (V) will probably get reader pushback for this.

But: (V), you are right, and I thank you for your analysis and for publishing it to a wider audience. Abortion is absolutely a women's issue. Everyone understands this, and there is no way, in our political environment, that forcing a line like "trans men can get pregnant" into this debate will result in better results for women seeking abortions.

Anyway, I hope you stick to your guns. This word game is fantastically stupid.

D.S. in Palo Alto, CA, writes: Religion, per and "A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs."

At some point I decided I could not accept that we are the result of a superhuman agency or agencies—at least, not recently and not one that continues to pay much attention to us—and have come to see the ritual observances as odd and giving too little credit to one's own moralities. But I don't like the terms used for people like me, such as "atheist" or "agnostic," which define one based on what one is not. Thus was born the first Evolutionary Church of the Big Bang. We Evolutionary Big Bangists have a service once every million years or so, just to see how things are going. The next one is in the year 503787, on Tuesday, August 23, at 3:30 p.m. CDT, an anniversary of the date and time of the Big Bang. Because most current human issues are likely to be moot by then, we EBBs tend to behave ourselves and follow most of the civil laws and regulations, without idolizing them of course. As to who or what might have, at a time before there was time itself, produced the conditions for the Big Bang, the best any of us can say is that it's turtles all the way down.

V & Z respond: Wait. Mitch the creator of the universe?

Other Word Choices

A.S. in Hawkins, IN, writes: Let's stop calling the people who follow right-wing conspiracy theories "crazy." It implies they have a medical condition that can be treated. Most of them don't. It suggests that we shouldn't take them seriously. We should. They may be misguided, misinformed, gullible, and/or stupid, but they're not crazy. Some of them know that it's B.S. but see it as the means to an end. Many of them are armed.

We should consider them all sane, and very dangerous.

P.M. in Currituck, NC, writes: You note that Friday marked "the 6-month anniversary" of the Dutch parliamentary election. Ugh. An "anniversary" can not be for a period of 6 months. I would expect this sloppy description illustrating the passage of time from a 24-year-old former student posting something on Facebook...but from such esteemed academicians as yourselves? When I saw that, I literally cringed.

V & Z respond: So, we can't say something was "decimated" unless exactly one in ten people were killed, we can't speak of someone's "accent" unless they are singing, something cannot be "confused" unless unlike substances are being poured together, a person cannot be "eager" unless they smell bad, and a letter-writing reader is only full of "manure" if they own or manage property?

M.C. in Oak Ridge, TN, writes: The list of links at the bottom of your main page, to recent days' sections, is a useful idea but it would be much enhanced if headings were to clearly relate to the topic. For example, if I wish to look back at your recent material on the California recall or the Democratic ground game, I am unlikely to find them via the rather vague titles you gave them today.

A few times lately, I have noticed myself thinking, "didn't just say something about that?" then having to use a more generic search engine's "" restriction with a recency constraint because my first resort of your link list comes up empty. While the variety and wit is appreciated, I wonder if titles like a previous day's "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better" and "Well, That Pretty Much Settles That" are much of why I have such poor luck with it.

V & Z respond: Speaking as experts in needing to look back at things we wrote, we'll tell you that more descriptive headlines don't actually help.

Putting the "Trump" in "Trumpism"

R.G. in Oceanside, CA, writes: I completely agree with your answer to J.R. in Sarasota, who asked about the elements of Trumpism. I would argue that the first three bullets of your response are classical Nixonian Republicanism. The fourth bullet is the gateway drug into Trumpism and the fifth bullet is Trump's true innovation.

For the first three, let's take a set of examples from George W. Bush:

1. "Saddam was involved in 9/11 and is making weapons of mass destruction."

2. The omnipresence of Roe v. Wade and gay marriage

3. Didn't serve in Vietnam, but "Imma wartime Preznit" or "You're either with us or against us," plus those sharp quasi-military-looking gray windbreakers.

Trump's contributions served to emphasize elements that were already there and bring them to the forefront:

4. A subtle shift from the American mythos of "rugged individualism" to something more like "I would be a rugged individual if not for the libs and immigrants." This is Reagan-style complaining about political correctness dialed up to 11.

4. Overt personalization as a raison-d'être. This is Trump's true innovation, but even so is probably a logical outgrowth of Nixon's enemies list.

In fact, I view Trumpism as the logical outcome of Nixon's Southern Strategy that was nursed along by every subsequent Republican President not named Ford.

E.W., in Skaneateles, NY, writes: I would say that an "America First" attitude (i.e., every nation for itself, especially the sh**hole ones), nationalism, and distrust of globalization are collectively a major aspect of Trumpiness that you left off. After all, that's exactly how Trump kicked off his campaign after that famous escalator ride.

Also, the first point you made, "a complete and total willingness to assert things that they want to be true" already had a name: "truthiness," coined by Stephen Colbert and judged as the 2005 Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society. As such, it became a popular tactic in the Bush 43 administration, so it predates the rise of Trumpiness by almost a decade. One could convincingly argue that truthiness as practiced by Dubya et al. (Iraq's supposed WMDs and involvement in 9/11, American Muslims dancing in NJ on 9/11, "mission accomplished," etc.) laid the groundwork for Trump's "alternative facts," "Mexico will pay for it," "promises kept," "stop the steal," the Capitol insurrection, ad nauseam. When people felt strongly that The Great, Powerful, Victimized Trump "won" and the Sleepy, Senile, Criminal Mastermind Biden "cheated" and that the Loyal Traitor Pence could have somehow "corrected" the Electoral College vote, despite and perhaps even because of the lack of evidence, they would of course then feel compelled to "do something" even if they had no idea what that was. I'm particularly vividly reminded of the January 6th video of Capitol rioters reading Sen. Ted Cruz's (R-Cancun) statement of objection to the vote count, angrily feeling that he'd "sold them out," and then needing to be corrected by others. In short, "truthiness" has been around for almost 20 years, it fueled much of the Rise of Trumpiness, and it sadly isn't going away anytime soon.

G.T. in Budapest, Hungary, writes: You listed five defining characteristics of Trumpism. I regard a complete disregard of (even contempt for) the rule of law such a characteristic and missed it from your list.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: Trumpism is also fundamentally authoritarian, equating dissent with sedition.

P.F. in Fairbanks, AK, writes: In addition to your list: (1) worship of (false) demigods, (2) an ends-justifies-the-means approach to policy; (3) a greater focus on who is "against us" than who is "for us," which may tie closely with your observation about culture wars.

D.W. in Evans City, PA, writes: In response to the question asked by J.R. in Sarasota regarding what exactly defines "Trumpy," I do believe you missed one. I live in rural western Pennsylvania, an area with a large number of Trumpists. I have talked to more than a few of them, and am always struck by their absolute belief in their own superiority, strength, and general awesomeness. Everyone who is not them, i.e. Democrats, RINOs, etc., are automatically soft and weak. Even acknowledging that someone else might have a valid point is viewed as weak. Compromise, in any form, is evidence of such weakness, so as to be downright repulsive. They are so convinced of their utter, complete, and total superiority that they will inevitably win any conflict or confrontation, because they are strong and the other side is weak. Their obsession with strength is really insane. How many times did their Dear Leader say something ridiculous related to strength, like "we are looking at that very strongly." What does that even mean? How do you look at something "strongly"? That wasn't important to his supporters, though. All they heard was "strongly", and that was enough for them.

I realize this is in direct contradiction to another characteristic you list, that of always seeing themselves as victims. I would submit that Trump and Trumpists have no problem accepting that which is in direct contradiction to something else they also hold dear. The far right is basically a bundle of such contradictions. You guys could fill entire days just listing the more obvious ones.

K.B. in Hartford, CT, writes: I would add that if a Trumpist is not actually a racist or white supremacist, they are certainly okay with people who are.

J.W. in Newton, MA, writes: I'd add two additional essential features of Trumpism. First, you mention xenophobia under the category of "culture wars," but racism is an essential feature and deserves its own entry. Second, Trumpism is a fascist-adjacent movement that promotes mob violence for political ends.

Financial grift is ubiquitous among the politicians and media figures associated with Trumpism. I suppose this is not an essential feature of the movement, but rather a recognition that the Trumpist mob is jam-packed with easy marks.

G.B. in Buffalo, NY, writes: I'd add: a propensity to use politics for personal financial gain.

J.J. in Minneapolis, MN, writes: To me, the most obvious one you missed is the absolute transactional nature (often financial) of policies, rules, regulations, candidate endorsements, whatever. And the fact that many of these actions appear to be corrupt attempts to take public and private funds. The abuse of using Trump hotels with public funds, for example, and the abuse of Trump (and GQP) web sites that pre-check future or doubling of contributions are just two examples of many.

M.B.F. in Oakton, VA, writes: Here are a few additional facets of Trumpism, though some of them might be subsumed under one of the five you mentioned:

  1. A comprehensive contempt for scientific expertise and expertise in general if it does not match Donald Trump's own beliefs or agenda, shown most clearly with regard to climate science and COVID-19.

  2. An untroubled willingness to apply extreme double standards for behavior of many kinds that argue for maximum punishment for Democrats and other opponents of Trump and the GOP (guilty or not), and minimal or no punishment for supporters of Trump or Trump himself. Examples would include instances of corruption, ethics violations, violence against others, and sexual abuse or harassment of others.

  3. Part of a belief in nonsensical things, a conviction that white Americans are, in the recent past, much more the victims of racism than the practitioners of it.

J.O. in Louisville, CO, writes: In regards to your five defining characteristics of a Trumpist, I would say that you may have missed the tendency for Trumpists to become malleable in an attempt to align themselves with their authoritarian leader. In a very North Korea-esque style, it seems that Trumpists start under the premise that the Dear Leader can do no wrong in this world, and then work backwards from there, rearranging their morals along the way, if needed. Case in point: some Trumpists I know lambasted Bill Clinton for dodging the draft, and having extramarital affairs. When the same accusations hit the Very Stable Genius, it wasn't a problem whatsoever.

A.S. in Black Mountain, NC, writes: The law doesn't apply to us. Until it does.

J.A. in Redwood City, CA, writes: I can't help but note that all of the characteristics you listed have one overarching trait in common: They exist solely to support the political career of Donald J. Trump. In other words, the single defining characteristic of a Trumpist is simply an unwavering loyalty to, and support of, the man himself.

In that vein, we could readily append a sixth specific item to that initial list: A willingness to "follow the rules" (i.e. the law, legal precedence, and/or procedural norms) when they benefit Trump personally; and to disregard any of those rules when they don't.

A common criticism of Republicans used to be that they "put party over country". Trumpists distinguish themselves by putting just one person, their Dear Leader, over the country.

R.M.S. in Lebanon, CT, writes: I read your item on Rep. Anthony Gonzalez's (R-OH) retirement this week and I think you left out an important part of the story: a harassment and intimidation campaign directed towards him and his family. In an interview with The New York Times, Gonzalez stated that his household, which includes his two young children, have had threats directed towards them since he voted to impeach Donald Trump. He said he wants to leave office in part because he doesn't want his family to grow up under a state of constant surveillance and threats. Gonzalez is only about my age and should be in the beginning of his career, not in a state of retirement.

I am extremely alarmed by this development, and anyone who believes in democracy should also be disturbed by this. There is a growing darkness visible in the United States, with elements akin to fascism and communism. It is a sign of a shift towards illiberalism when threats and harassment force public servants to resign from their offices. Gonzalez's pressured resignation will incentivize other extremists to try this in the future. In fact, tactics like these are exactly what Chinese communists are doing in Hong Kong right now to try to silence political dissidents.

The man running to replace Gonzalez, Max Miller, is a Trump surrogate with a history of rude and uncivilized behavior. He has multiple arrests on his record for assault, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and driving while intoxicated. He is also alleged to have engaged in domestic violence against his ex-girlfriend, former White House Communications Director Stephanie Grisham. Miller seems to be a textbook example of what us Millennials would call a "douchebag." Is this the kind of person the people of Ohio want representing them in Congress? Maybe so, since Trumpists seem to value objectionable behavior if it suits their goals.

All Politics Is Local

D.T. in San Jose, CA, writes: If I were to offer a takeaway from the California recall election, it would be "Republicans are right to be worried about vote-by-mail."

That is purely from a partisan strategic perspective. Obviously, vote-by-mail is great. But Democrats are already less reliable voters, so Republicans have a pretty big incentive to block anything that makes voting easier. An "enthusiasm gap" is much easier to overcome when voters can cast their ballot from home in under 10 minutes.

I feel like the California recall could have easily gone the other direction, if not for automatic vote-by-mail. The handful of fringe Republicans in California were very excited to vote in this election. Most of the rest of the state saw this election as a nuisance. "Why do we have to go vote again? We already voted for governor." It is hard to get voters excited when the best possible outcome is merely maintaining the status quo.

I will admit, my own ballot sat on my desk, in the "I'll get to this later" pile for a few weeks before I finally bothered to fill it out. I cannot say with 100% certainty that, had I been required to drive somewhere and stand in line, that I would have bothered to vote this time. Perhaps the earlier polling, showing a closer race, may have been the result of pollsters trying to calibrate their "likely-voter" screen.

Conversely, this means that Democrats should be very motivated to continue fighting to make it easier for people to vote.

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: I totally relate to what you were saying with regards to Larry Elder and Identity Politics.

As I am a transgender woman, one might assume I would have voted for Caitlyn Jenner. They'd be dead wrong. I think those who have read my writing here and else where know precisely how I feel about Ms. Jenner.

My antipathy for her has everything to do with her politics, her stand on issues, her personality, her sense of entitlement within my community and absolutely nothing to do with her being trans.

As far as I am concerned, Caitlyn self-identifies as a trans woman, and so that is what she is, and it is how I will refer to her. As she is a trans woman, that makes her a sister. That is how our community works. But I'd never vote for her. Guessing that a lot of Black people would feel the same about Larry Elder....and many gay men would feel the same about a guy like Peter Thiel.

When I ran for my State Senate in 2020, as North Carolina's first-in-history openly trans woman to do so, opponents did everything they could to make the race about me being trans. It did not work. While I did not win, I gathered a respectable vote total given what I was up against. In the most-conservative part of Wake County and all of Franklin County, I got over 7,500 votes, and I am pretty sure that 99.9 percent of them were from cisgender people....and at least 95 percent of them knew darn well I was trans and voted for me anyway.

So identity politics, as you also pointed out...can cut both ways.

G.R. in Clive, IA, writes: While you are undoubtedly correct that gubernatorial recall elections have only been held four times, there was at least one more time when enough signatures were gathered to force such an election. In 1987, Arizona Governor Evan Mecham—a perpetual candidate who rode a string of unusual circumstances to the governorship—"inspired" a recall drive with a rather extensive collection of impolitic statements and policy decisions, including rescinding the state's Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. I was a freshman at the University of Arizona when the recall was picking up steam, and I registered to vote for the first time and signed a Recall Mecham petition at the same time. Enough signatures were gathered and verified, and a recall election was scheduled.

Before the election could be held, however, Mecham was impeached and convicted by the state legislature for filing a false statement (hiding a $350,000 contribution to his campaign from a developer), obstruction of justice, and misuse of government funds. The state supreme court then ruled that with Mecham out of office, the recall election should be canceled, and longtime Secretary of State Rose Mofford finished out Mecham's term.

This also served as proof that once upon a time, the Arizona State Legislature had members who actually cared about truth and the rule of law. Seems impossible today.

D.D. in Boston, MA, writes: The item about the Boston Mayoral race noted that none of the Black candidates made to the finals because they split the vote. While that was certainly part of the reason (Black candidates combined got more than 40% of the vote), there were other factors. One was low voter turnout. Perhaps higher voter turnout in areas of the city where Kim Janey and Andrea Campbell had the most support would have made a difference. Another factor is Janey and Campbell had never run for a city wide position before. They were elected to the Boston City Council from a specific district. Michelle Wu and Annissa Essaibi George did previously run for a citywide position as at-large members of the Boston City Council. That may have helped Wu and AEG build more name recognition and support across the entire city of Boston. In particular Wu, who is popular with progressives.

S.R. in Ottawa, ON, Canada, writes: I must confess, although I used to believe in Larry Sabato's auguring, I think his crystal ball has grown cloudy. I know the GOP will try to "pack and crack" as many Democrats as they can through gerrymandering this cycle, but this is not a sustainable strategy when literally all the growth in the country is in major metro areas, with more and more suburbs turning away from the GOP. Trump only won Texas by five points, and all the growth in the state is in increasingly Democratic metros. Greater Atlanta is where all of Georgia's growth is happening. Ditto for almost every other state. In my home state of Pennsylvania, almost all of the state is stagnant or shrinking—all of the growth is in the southeast around Philly. I'm not nearly as pessimistic as most about the Democrats holding the House. And if the GOP somehow manages to steal it through chicanery if the country votes something like 8-10% more for the Democrats? Eventually something's gotta give.

D.A. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: In reference to Simcha Felder (D), New York State Senator from the 17th State Senate district, you wrote: "He most definitely understood the power of being the swing vote and milked it for all it was worth. He didn't bring home any pork or bacon, which wouldn't exactly be kosher, but he brought home a lot of other goodies. Think of him as New York's answer to Joe Manchin."

I live in that district and, despite my frustration with Joe Manchin, I believe you do him a disservice and give Felder far too much credit. I have not witnessed a single "goodie" that Felder has brought home to my district. That's because he doesn't really represent the district—he represents the (perceived) interests of Orthodox Jews in New York City and its environs. In that regard, he's brought funding for and special treatment of Orthodox Jewish religious schools, along with other benefits for that community. He has only one "principle": Is it good for the Orthodox Jews? Quite recently he was primaried and survived by a whisker... one that could easily be trimmed by a moderate dose of redistricting.

The Pandemic

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: During my perpetual roaming of the Internet this week, I stumbled across this great quote from one of my favorite authors, thinkers and humanitarians, Carl Sagan, from his 1995 book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark: "The dumbing down of America is most evident in the slow decay of substantive content in the enormously influential media, the 30 second sound bites (now down to 10 seconds or less), lowest common denominator programming, credulous presentations on pseudoscience and superstition, but especially a kind of celebration of ignorance."

The quote alone would have been worthy of sending on to you (and Sagan said this at the start of the cable news explosion and before the horrors of stupidity that is social media). The same day I read this, while out in public, I overheard a conversation between 4 young adults, 3 women and 1 man. They were discussing the vaccine and the Biden vaccine mandate. While eavesdropping to their conversation, I found out many things about the mandate that I didn't know and which (V) and (Z) have not brought to the attention of us loyal readers—for shame, guys! Did you know that Biden has ordered that if seniors don't get the vaccine then their Social Security will be taken from them and they'll be denied their Medicare coverage? How horrible. Would you be surprised to know that Biden has ordered that anyone not getting the vaccine will be deported to Mars? Not Mars, PA, but the planet Mars! IS called the Red Planet! Now that I think of it, this might not be a bad idea, though of course Republicans will be horrified to learn that living on Mars means having to wear a face covering and that their lives will be dependent on some God-awful pinhead scientists. I nearly bit through my tongue as I heard these young adults put these "facts" and others forth in all seriousness.

The conversation then morphed into a discussion of the effectiveness of the vaccine. All sorts of horror stories about the vaccine causing a cousin's best friend's brother being unable to move his arm or being unable to conceive were put forth. One young lady proudly declared that she was unvaccinated but that she would be willing to get it once she did some research. My poor tongue was almost severed in half and I couldn't resist saying something: "Two questions: We've known about this vaccine for almost a year now, so when are you planning on doing this research? And by research do you mean going to college and spending about 10 years getting advance degrees in Immunology and Epidemiology and then poring over the mountains of evidence from the drug trials to determine if the vaccine is safe and effective or do you mean signing on to Facebook to see what Nicki Minaj's cousin's best friend's brother has to say?" These young adults just stood there eyes blinking like Bambi in the headlights.

Just recently, after being called out by officials for spreading a fantastical made up story, the previously mentioned Ms. Minaj dug the stupid well deeper by saying that she wasn't anti-vaccine and that she would consider taking the vaccine once she—say it with me—did some research. Crack those books, Nicki, crack those books!

V & Z respond: Clearly, they are just waiting for Kuato to assume leadership of the anti-vaccine resistance.

W.R. in Tyson's Corner, VA, writes: I wanted to provide a few thoughts to follow up on the exchange I started last week about COVID deaths disproportionately affecting Republicans voters and how this could affect the 2022 elections.

Again, up front, let me stress that I want everyone to get vaccinated and I support President Biden's efforts towards that end. The points made by yourselves and P.N. in Austin about vaccination being critical to stop COVID's spread and mutation are spot on.

It remains a fact that COVID is now disproportionately affecting the unvaccinated. According to studies recently released by the CDC, the unvaccinated are 5 times more likely to get infected, 10 times more likely to be hospitalized, and 11 times more likely to die from COVID than the vaccinated. In August 2021, an NBC News poll showed only 12% of Democrats remain unvaccinated, compared to 45% of Republicans. So currently, there are four times as many unvaccinated Republicans as Democrats. I'm inclined to believe these unvaccinated Republicans would rather die than take the COVID vaccine. While the number of unvaccinated Democrats may approach zero, the Republican numbers will likely hover around where they currently are, at 45%.

How will this affect the 2022 election if the Republican resistance to vaccinations continues? I am not convinced the number of COVID deaths are too small to be inconsequential in next year's election. Let's take a look at Florida, for example. As of Election Day in November 2020, Florida had approximately 17,000 total COVID deaths. Fast forward to September 2021. Florida's total COVID deaths now stand at 51,240, an increase of over 34,000.

And let's not forget we have over a year to go before Election Day 2022. Florida is currently averaging 12,627 new COVID cases per day. Of these, 83% (10,522) are among the unvaccinated, compared to 2,104 new cases among the vaccinated. If 1% of these cases result in deaths, that amounts to 105 unvaccinated (likely Republican) deaths compared to 2 vaccinated (likely Democratic) deaths per day. If these death rates continue, Florida could add (105 x 416 days until the next election) 43,680 more unvaccinated (likely Republican) deaths compared to 832 vaccinated (likely Democratic) deaths—over 50 times more Republican voters dying than Democrats. Again, this is if nothing changes, but such numbers would have significant consequences. A similar scenario is playing out across the country in varying degrees.

On top of this, consider that if you are sick and in the hospital from COVID, you can't work on a campaign, canvas neighborhoods, make calls, or fundraise. And if you are a Republican candidate who happens to catch COVID and die (like House Member Ronald Wright, TX-6, and Republican Congressman-elect Luke Letlow, LA-5), then your party has to find replacements.

I can only conclude that if things don't change, COVID is going to have an adverse effect on the Republicans' election results in 2022. The Republicans may well retake the House, but their loss of voters is going to cost them some otherwise winnable seats in close congressional and state legislative races.

Consider that the Republicans flipped a number of Democratic House seats in 2020 by razor thin margins: IA-2 by only 6 votes, NY-22 by 109, CA-25 by 233, CA-21 by 1,522. If the 2020 election had happened under current and projected COVID circumstances, these four seats would almost certainly still be Democratic, and I'm sure Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) would prefer to have 226 Democratic members in the House now rather than 222. State races where the Republicans flipped Democratic seats by narrow margins in 2020 could swing to the Democrats in 2022 too due to this Republican anti-vaccination stance. My point is this: Every. Voter. Counts. Democratic voters are holding up their numbers much better than Republican voters are, and unless something changes, this will help the Democrats on Election Day in 2022.

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: My wife is an avid TikTok-er. Last night she saw one that showed a bunch of unmasked parents with their unmasked kids outside a high school in Manchester, MI. This is in liberal Washtenaw County (Ann Arbor is the county seat), but in the rural "Kentucky" part of the state and county. A lone security guard patiently explained that masking is a county order but that he alone couldn't do much to stop 20 or 30 unmasked kids from entering. So the parents told their kids to go on in to school, unmasked. And they complied.

The point made by the creator of the video is that these parents are modeling and teaching their children that rules don't apply to them. They are special and can do whatever they want. I fear that this generation will not become a monolith like previous ones. My kids and their cohort are learning to follow the rules and care about their fellow human beings. They are learning compassion and sacrifice (as if a freaking mask is a big sacrifice). These kids (all white from what I could see and know about this small, rural town) are learning to care only about themselves and their comfort. And to be incredibly entitled. I think the only way this doesn't happen is if these kids see their friends become sick and die or be hampered by long COVID for the rest of their lives. Sadly, this may be the best-case scenario because if humans don't return to a state of caring about one another and how individual actions impact the collective, then I fear we are all doomed.

G.B. in Sun City, AZ, writes: When I was a graduate student in Arizona in the late 1950s I made several field trips into Sonora, Mexico. On return to the border, I was always refused reentry unless I could show verifiable proof of a recent vaccination against smallpox. My old vaccination scar was not proof, so I was forced to receive another vaccination or stay in Mexico until I did. I was never given the choice of saying "no." Current healthy whiners about COVID vaccination are beyond contempt, and that includes a few of my relatives.

B.B. in St. Louis, MO, writes: To persons of color who refuse to get vaccinated against COVID-19 because they don't trust the medical community, I would point out that in the Tuskegee syphilis study, none of the participants were given syphilis as part of the study, they all acquired it in the usual fashion. What was reprehensible was that a safe and effective treatment for syphilis was available and deliberately withheld from the subjects so that the natural course of the disease could be observed. If you refuse COVID-19 vaccination, a safe and effective preventative treatment for the virus, then it won't be the medical community that is experimenting on you by withholding treatment, you will be doing it to yourself.

T.C. in Tokyo, Japan, writes: The reluctance of millions to get vaccinated puzzles many of us who see it as a way to protect ourselves from the pandemic. It seems to me that the reason, in some cases, might be simple: They are afraid of the needle, and he constant talk about freedom is just a way of voiding embarrassing admissions. I symphasize: I'm a needle-phobe myself, albeit a vaccinated one.

Needle phobia is a real thing; it even has a scientific name—typonophobia. It ranks up there with fear of flying, fear of snakes, fear of heights. Depending on the source you believe, about 10-15% of Americans are needle-phobes.

I trace my own phobia to time when I was about 10 and our family moved abroad. At that time in the mid-1950s, Japan was a kind of third-world country. We had to get shots for everything. I was in the Air Force for just one day before they marched us to the infirmary for a whole bunch of shots. They were delivered by something called a jet injecter—not needles. It was a kind of gun that shot the medicine into the arm. I wonder what the "my body, my choice" folks would say about that.

The development of a vaccine for polio was a modern miracle. For me, the miracle was the development of an oral vaccine. Hooray, no need to get shots, just take a pill! I wonder if the popularity of ivermectin stems from the fact it is delivered in a tablet, not through a needle.

It seems to me that the media has a lot to do with needle hesitation. You can't turn on the TV without the pictures of some nurse jabbing a needle into he flesh. They seem to be obsessed with the subject, with loving closeups of the needle puncturing the skin, the nurse plunging in the medicine. I avert my eyes.

For the record, I have been vaccinated. Phobias can be overcome. My advice for fellow phobes is to turn away from the TV, and if possible, get the shots in the familiar settings of your doctor's office.

Geopolitical Matters

B.R. in Cotonou, Republic of Benin, writes: As a French citizen living in West Africa, I think I might at last be free from my pathological interest in American politics. To me, the AUKUS deal is a sign that American politics are now utterly irrelevant to anyone not living in the United States. No more sleepless nights every four years for me. Also, I won't have to cry when the Republican Party gets back in power at the federal level—in 2024 maybe, or more likely in 2022.

My interest in U.S. politics stemmed from my long-lasting interest in 19th-century American history. I have actually been following U.S. politics more closely than French politics since at least 2006. Allow me to quickly explain why this period of my life is most likely over.

As most French editorialists wrote in the last few days, "America First" is here to stay. I see no problem in a sovereign government favoring the interests of its own citizens. But I see a problem in a sovereign government showing such contempt for some of its traditional allies. In that respect, it is now perfectly clear that Joe Biden's election will make absolutely no difference. While I absolutely despise what the Republican Party has become, I don't have much more respect for the Democrats and their policies. Geopolitically, there is nothing to hope from the non-progressive wing of the Democratic Party (aka Joe Biden), which will soon be out of power anyway. The progressive wing won't be in power either in any foreseeable future and its focus on emotion-driven identity politics is another way of ignoring the rest of the world, anyway.

I don't know about Australia—its geographical proximity to China may have left the country with no other choice. But I have a hard time understanding why the British government regards the deal as a victory. Why don't the British understand they will also be thrown under the bus at the first occasion, as the unilateral withdrawal from Afghanistan recently demonstrated?

France's future lies in a more integrated European Union. Of course, it will most likely not be enough to cope with the immense economic and geopolitcal challenges France will have to face in the next years and decades. While I also despise the Russian brand of authoritarianism, and as much as I hurt having to write this, France and continental Europe might be better off realigning with the Russians, be it only to secure their energy needs with Russian natural gas. Vladimir Putin's Russia is absolutely not to be trusted, but at least France and Europe would have something to gain from such a realignment. France and Europe should also carefully avoid falling in line behind the U.S. in its global struggle with China—and should occasionally take sides with China when such a move is the our economic and geopolitical interest. My message might not be anything more than a worn expression of a traditional brand of French anti-Americanism. But how would such a realignement be so different from "America First "? I have yet to find a credible answer to that question.

R.L.D. (formerly of the former 109th Engineer Battalion) in Sundance, WY, writes: The U.S. Army has, or at least used to have, a program called "Fuertes Caminos" (Strong Roads) where we built roads in Central America. In the early 90s, I was part of the withdrawal of all the equipment used in a project in Panama. I was in country for a month in support of that withdrawal, which included cleaning all the equipment of anything that might contain invasive species and inventorying all the smaller things (communications gear, camo netting, tents, etc.) to make sure it was all accounted for and returned to the units that brought it, then to pack it all into shipping containers. It was post-Just Cause, so there wasn't anyone shooting at us, or even particularly angry with us. We had access to a port, so that we could load everything onto a ship. The whole operation had been planned out ahead of time. In short, it all went fine, but you can probably tell that the circumstances were nothing like the withdrawal from Afghanistan. I'll concede that there may well have been things that could have been done better in Afghanistan, but I don't have any reason to believe that what we saw there was particularly incompetent given the circumstances.

Legal Matters

D.W. in Westport, ON, Canada, writes: Am I the only one who finds the hounding of Justice Stephen Breyer to be irksome? Members of the left-leaning press seem to think that his refusal to step down from the Supreme Court is a display of inexcusable selfishness. Perhaps I've missed it, but I have read no words supporting what I consider to be a perfectly reasonable stance that the Justice is taking. Not even from you guys.

Sure, he could fall down dead tomorrow but couldn't we all. Yes, I'm looking at you, (Z). It seems to be from the video I've seen that you are dangerously overweight. You may consider this an outrageous thing to say based on the paltry evidence of a few fleeting images. And you would be right. Likewise, is it not outrageous to make judgment calls on Justice Breyer simply on the basis of his age? He is 83 years old and, as I understand it, the average white male at that age has a life expectancy of nearly 7 years. And Justice Breyer is not average. As far as I know, he enjoys good health (unlike Justice Ginsberg). He has more money than most of us. He has an excellent medical plan and I'm sure there is a whole slew of medical experts who would rush to his aid if needs be. And, most importantly, he is not idling away his hours sitting on some porch in a rocking-chair waiting to die but is fully engaged in vital work that he loves and which earns him positive feedback from his peers. All these things make it more likely that he will live beyond the statistical average.

Perhaps what I find most insulting about all the pressure being applied on Justice Breyer is the total failure to take into account the value of his brilliant mind and the benefit of years of jurisprudential experience. Such attributes are apparently of no consequence if a shiny newer and younger model is available.

V & Z respond: On July 20, (Z) wrote an item on this exact point, including drawing the comparison to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and pointing out that Breyer has access to excellent healthcare. In other words, we count two different ways in which your message makes entirely unwarranted and unjustified attacks.

History Matters

J.K. in Freehold, NJ, writes: Coincidentally, I just finished the book The Great Dissenter: The Story of John Marshall Harlan, America's Judicial Hero by Peter S. Canellos about the life and significance of Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan. What struck me is that the year you define as the pivotal year in American history, 1877, is also the year Harlan was appointed to the Supreme Court! As a resident of Kentucky, he transformed from supporting slavery to, often times, being the only Supreme Court justice to champion true equality in American society, among other transformative legal concepts relevant to the issues you define as being pivotal in 1877. Unfortunately it took many decades for most of his lonely crusades to become commonplace in American jurisprudence, to the extent they have. His significance in our society far outweighs his historical popularity.

A.M. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: In your answer to M.C. of Oak Ridge, you explained your reasoning for asserting that World War I substantially caused the Cold War.

But there is another way this is true (which I am sure Z is aware of): The Armistice that ended World War I was exploited by Hitler to come to power, which lead to World War II.

World War II ended with the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At least part of the reason for the bombings was to show the Soviet Union that the U.S. had such weapons and would use them (but the Soviets already knew).

The distrust between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R lead to the former allies becoming enemies in the Cold War.

However, I admit I didn't know about Woodrow Wilson helping the White Russians during the Russian revolution, so that is something I learned!

F.S., in Cologne, Germany, writes: The most important way in which World War I contributed to the Cold War was the October Revolution in Russia. Without World War I, this revolution wouldn't have happened. And without this revolution there would have been no communist government in Russia and thus no Cold War. Perhaps Russia could have become a democracy without World War I.

P.H. in Silver Spring, MD, writes: The letter from P.M. of Currituck about presidential security places of worship brings to mind a story, perhaps apocryphal, about the Florida Avenue Friends Meeting House, which was built during Quaker Herbert Hoover's term in office, and which he belonged to during his Presidency. The Meeting House has these odd, small antechambers at the entrances, weirdly built into the room, with tiny benches in each. You can see them here, in the back center and on the far right of this photo:

A Quaker meeting room,
and what appear to be small offices segregated from the main, pew-filled area

Reportedly they were built into the structure as a compromise between the Society of Friends' pacifist sensibilities and Hoover's need for bodyguards. The bodyguards (and their weapons) would sit in the these rooms, outside the actual Meeting room. I've never been able to find independent verification of this story, but obviously it always struck me as an interesting compromise which probably satisfied neither the stalwart pacifists among the Quakers nor the Secret Service.

A.L. in Highland Park, NJ, writes: I don't know if I should send this to "corrections" or "comments."

In your Sept. 11, 2001 vs. Sept. 11, 2021 item, you wrote "...the country came together." I am guessing you do not have South Asian or Arab appearances; that (V) does not stand for Vishnu and (Z) is not Zakir. If so, you could not have written that. Hate crimes against Muslims and those the yokels consider Muslim (basically all South Asians, but especially Sikhs) skyrocketed after 9/11 and have remained elevated ever since.

I share a name with a famous Bollywood star but I was born in the Midwest. I never felt targeted for my ethnicity before 9/11. After? There were anxious calls: reports of car windows being smashed, being followed closely by flag-festooned pickup trucks, uncles talking in resigned tones about their donut shops and convenience stores being vandalized. And of course violent attacks and murders.

Basically, before 9/11 I would not have thought twice about going to a rural area, hiking, antiquing, etc. Now? Hell no. Maybe I'll take the family to the Grand Canyon if we can go on one of those bus tours that are full of people that look like us. But just the family in our car far off the Interstate in Idaho? Nope.

But hey, I'm glad y'all had your moment of unity.

Dinner Guests

R.G.N. in Seattle, WA, writes: To the suggestion from M.S. in San Diego that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would make an excellent dinner guest, I would like to add Harry Houdini before the Doyle/Houdini friendship ended over Doyle's belief in spiritualists. I remember chancing upon Doyle's book, "The Coming of the Fairies" in the mid-60s and my amazement that the creator of the ultimate rational character could be taken in by photographs of little girls posing with paper cut-outs of illustrations of fairies pinned to garden shrubs. Watching Houdini, the rational illusionist, spar with Doyle would have been priceless and instructive in how easily fooled an intelligent fellow like Doyle could be taken in by a childish prank.

S.Y. in Skokie, IL, writes: There are a lot of people from history I'd love to have over for dinner. Imagine a setting with Jesus Christ discussing the power of prayer with Rodney Dangerfield: "At my house we pray after the meal."

But who I'd really like to have as the waiter serving cocktails and one-liners is a certain Jerome C. Horowitz, who had a successful career in short films with his brother Moses and a guy from Philadelphia named Larry. Woo woo nyuk nyuk.

S.S. in Detroit, MI, writes: I told myself I'd stay out of this, but here I am: I'd like to sit by dinner guests Kurt Vonnegut and his buddy Kilgore Trout. I'd be thrilled if Winston Churchill hung with us too, but I'm afraid we'd bore him. And so it goes.

You Say "Tomato," I Say "State Motto"

P.N. in Austin, TX, writes: I'll have you know that Michigan is at least twice as peninsular as Florida, four times as peninsular if we count the thumb and the rabbit ears.

V & Z respond: We don't disagree; we're just telling you that it does not immediately leap to the minds of non-Midwesterners when the word "peninsula" is uttered.

M.C. in Oak Ridge, TN, writes: We clearly have different definitions of "pleasant." Florida offers everything from alligators to black widow spiders. Even if, as you suggest, one focuses on the weather: what were you looking at there? The heat and humidity that makes air conditioning a necessity, or do the hurricanes provide enough of a respite?

In contrast, Michigan's weather provides four actual seasons, one enjoys everything from hot summers to white Christmases, with beautiful fall colors in between. A friend recently returned from a lovely stay in a Michigan lighthouse and I have traveled there many times for pleasure, doing everything from exploring the State Capitol and MSU's Broad Art Museum to visiting tourist destinations like Mackinac Island.

In moving back from Europe to the U.S., and looking for jobs, I had ruled out Florida on the basis of its "pleasant" weather. Given that my previous job in the U.S. had been in Cambridge, MA, it's true that I did appreciate the point made by P.K. in Marshalltown, IA, that Tennessee typically offers free parking. So does Michigan!

R.G.N. in Seattle, WA, writes: My home state does not have an official motto, but our unofficial motto is "Alki," a native Coastal Salish word meaning "By and by" and applied to the early settlement named New York-Alki that eventually became Seattle (an Anglicization of the name of a Chief of the Duwamish Tribe). I guess Alki is similar to New Mexico's motto, "It grows as it goes," but at least Alki is a poetic Native American word. Thank god the city didn't actually come to resemble New York City. I rather prefer the Seattle tux (gortex parkas) to Power Suits.

K.M. in Olympia, WA, writes: I'm surprised no one made a pitch for Washington's motto, the only other one besides Hawaii's in a native language (Chinook Jargon): "Alki," meaning "By and by"—perfect for laid-back Washington! I suppose they were going to get around it ... by and by.

R.R. in Nashville, TN, writes: Geez, I lived in New Mexico for nearly 20 years and never once heard the phrase "Crescit Eundo." What I heard constantly and consistently as the "motto" of New Mexico were the words written in the 1870s by the then-appointed Governor of New Mexico Lew Wallace (Civil War hero and author of Ben Hur, as I'm sure you already know).

The phrase was: "All things based on experience in New Mexico."

I think the reason that quote is remembered and repeated so often is because since he wrote it, not one damn thing has happened to make those words any less true today than they were back then.

V & Z respond: Still better than what another Civil War general, Phil Sheridan, said about Texas: "If I owned Texas and hell, I'd rent out Texas and live in hell."

E.S.T. in Lake Helen, FL, writes: Several years ago someone in Florida decided that the license plate motto "The Sunshine State" was bland and outdated so they held a contest asking people for suggestions for a snappy new motto. One entry that I was particularly fond of was: "Eat Fruit or Die."

J.L. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: After reading the mottoes of many states, I've decided that most of them could definitely be improved upon. So here's some suggestions:

Arizona: "Yeah, but it's a dry heat."
Arkansas: "Not affiliated in any way with Kansas; we don't even share a border."
Delaware: "Three lovely counties...two at high tide!
Florida: "America's schlong.
Hawai'i: "Our alphabet only uses 12 letters...beat that!
Illinois: "The "s" is silent."
Indiana: "We will never change our name to Native Americana!"
Iowa: "Where castrating pigs can get you elected to Congress."
Kansas: "If you're in Oz, then you're not here anymore."
Kentucky: "Bluegrass is, at best, a very teal green."
Maine: "Come for the cheap lobsters, stay for the cheap lobsters."
Massachusetts: "It's pronounced Chowdah."
Nevada: "Come with a million dollars in your pocket, leave with a million dollars in debt."
New Hampshire: "We're an upside-down Vermont in EVERY way."
New Jersey: "Land of 1,000 smells."
New Mexico: "Not really new, not really Mexico.
North Carolina: We don't really know what a "tar heel" is either."
Oregon: "If you can find a bluer state, it's probably our neighbor."
Rhode Island: "It's true: "we're not really an island."
South Carolina: "We consider tobacco to be a vegetable.
Washington: "Yeah, it's kinda confusing to be the "other" Washington, but we're okay with it."
West Virginia: "Almost heaven...almost...just gotta work on the coal and poverty stuff."
Wyoming: "Now down to only three times as many cows as people."
Naked Booties

C.G. in Pflugerville, TX, writes: In reference to your item on Carl Nassib, I don't think the commentator was making a gay reference or a gay slur when he talked about Nassib being "butt-booty naked." You are correct that there's a football play called a naked bootleg, and that's where the QB runs "naked" with no blockers in front of him. Since you mentioned that Nassib was barely touched on the play where he made the key sack, the commentator said that he was also "naked" and had no blockers in front of him.

D.M. in Houston, TX, writes: "Why is Nassib running butt-booty naked?" is actually a "streaking" reference. When streaking was in vogue, no one tried to stop a naked man running around because no one wanted to willingly touch another naked man, so most men just willingly got out of the way. When a defender "streaks" untouched to the ball carrier and no offensive player tries to stop him, or an offensive player "streaks" untouched through a defense, it's like he's running butt naked through a crowd. Clark was actually comparing the offense to the crowd getting out of the way of the streaker. I'm sure there's some homophobic influence to this societal reference, but it's also just getting out of the way of the crazy guy running wild!


B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: You wrote "Cheney will be down to one opponent, and will need to think about updating her résumé. 'The View' has an open seat for a conservative right now..."

See, there's no end to the political sites I could follow, but the guys that write those don't keep close tabs on "The View."

V & Z respond: We're a full-service site!

A.R.S. in West Chester, PA, writes: A failure of spell check? I have a spell check feature on my e-mail that sometimes suggests alternatives for words not readily identified. In a recent message (a right-wing article) I was forwarding to some friends, the spell check suggests the word "HUMANITY" as a substitute for..."HANNITY."

V & Z respond: Clearly, someone in QA at that software vendor needs to be terminated. Oh, the Hannity!

S.M. in Morganton, GA, writes: You wrote: "V & Z respond: For our part, we're not sure any show in this genre will ever outshine 'The McLaughlin Group.'"

I now understand more of my deep love for Thank you and please continue doing what you are doing.

S.C. in Jonesville, MI, writes: Thanks for remembering "The McLaughlin Group." It was most entertaining 30 minutes of TV I can remember watching. The word laugh was right in the title.

R.V. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: I always think of the Dana Carvey skit from "Saturday Night Live":

V & Z respond: Jacky Jack Jack-o-lantern Germond-O! Wrong!

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: I heartily endorse inserting R.E.M. lyrics into your work, in part because there is such a wide variety. "It's the End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)" alone is a gold mine. Good luck finding two sources that agree on what the lyrics actually are, though.

V & Z respond: We might have to do it, given that you and R.E.M. in Brooklyn are obviously shiny, happy people.

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