We're picking up a few ongoing series of letters, and also blending two weeks' worth into one. So, this is an unusually eclectic mailbag.
A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Still on a high from our landslide victory in Kansas! Thanks to everyone who supported our coalition, Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, especially readers like G.G. in Shreveport. I was in Wichita for the final push ahead of the Aug. 2 vote. This may have been a primary, but no one was talking about the candidates. The only topic of conversation was abortion. That is definitely the first time I've ever written that sentence, but it won't be the last. The fascinating thing about this election is we've learned that putting abortion rights on the ballot has broken the taboo on this subject, and the voters I spoke to were eager to talk about it. I doubt that the politicians who allegedly wanted to give the issue back to the people counted on that.
The fact is that abortion care is a fundamental part of reproductive health care. Abortion care takes place in a brightly-lit, safe and welcoming healthcare clinic with dedicated professionals who care about their patients.
In speaking to people in Kansas, across the political spectrum, they recognize that pregnancy is risky and complicated and each case is different. They recognize that politicians are not doctors and should not be banning medical procedures that doctors need in order to give their patients the best care. And stories coming out of the states that rushed to ban abortion after the Dobbs decision are realizing people's worst fears: doctors afraid to treat patients with ectopic pregnancies; 10-yr old rape victims unable to get an abortion; women who have miscarriages being accused of having an illegal abortion; doctors refusing to treat cancer patients who are pregnant.
The big question was always whether that support for abortion rights would translate to the ballot box. And now we know that it did, and among Republican and unaffiliated voters whose support we needed to get us over the finish line. The vote totals broke all records for a primary election—final turnout is said to be 47%, which is completely unprecedented. In Wichita, people waited over an hour and a half, in 104 degree heat, to vote—a task that would normally take 10 minutes. Unaffiliated voters, who normally can't vote in primaries, also turned out in record numbers. More advance ballots (mail-in ballots) were requested than in any other primary. The folks who put this issue on the primary ballot instead of the general were clearly counting on a lower turnout. I'm so proud of Kansans that they made their voices heard and just said no. Or, to quote a slogan from the horse folks in Western Kansas: Just Say Neigh! (Frankly, pundits can say what they want, but when you have rallies called "Ponies to the Polls," I'm not really sure how you can lose.)
There were lots of tears of joy when we learned the result. And after a day of rest, our staff and doctors went back to work serving their patients.
R.V. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: After Tuesday's stunning vote in Kansas protecting abortion rights, I don't think there is any doubt the impact of the Dobbs decision by the Supreme Court. If the GOP candidates win governorships in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, abortion will be illegal in those states by Jan 2023. Two of those states have Senate races, as well, and abortion should only help John Fetterman (PA) and Mandela Barnes (WI). .I think the question is: can this help Beto O'Rourke in Texas, Cheri Beasley in North Carolina, Trudy Busch Valentine in Missouri and Tim Ryan in Ohio? Before Tuesday, I truly thought the Dobbs decision in June was the one SCOTUS ruling that could bring a significant number of Democratic voters to the polls. Now, I think that times 100.
Rarely are elections life and death, but after the Dobbs decision, the 2022 midterms are just that...
J.K. in Portland, OR, writes: There has been some commentary in the news (and even on this site) about the illegitimacy of working to sabotage a possibly popular opponent so that one's own favorite candidate might have a better chance of prevailing. Whether or not it is "fair" to do this can be debated, and I believe it would not be one of the greater sins committed in these days of disenfranchisement, gerrymandering, filibustering, and deliberately miscounting votes. And given that most elections in the U.S. are conducted by "first-past-the-post" (FPP) general elections following partisan primaries, the practice is certainly rational, if rationality means doing everything legitimately possible to maximize the chance of one's most-favored candidate winning. And since the practice is at the primary stage and not the general election stage, it is even more personally satisfying instead of having to hold one's nose and vote for the second-worst candidate in the field.
But all of that happens because FPP really does nothing to insure that the voter is motivated to vote for the candidate that person most preferred. Why not switch to a system where the voter's preference and strategic way to realize that preference are in as much concordance as possible? Kenneth Arrow long ago proved that there ain't no such thing as a perfect solution to the voting problem when there are more than two candidates. But Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV), in its most frequently-found incarnation of Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), comes pretty close and is pretty easy to understand. Yes, there are other variants of RCV that do better than IRV, but they are complicated and might well confuse the typical voter. And it is true that RCV does better than all flavors of FPP or approval voting in terms of the outcome expressing voters' actual preferences.
So if you don't like ratf**king, then convince your election officials to go for RCV. And when you get rid of primary elections, think of the money you'll save and the less wasted time putting the mute on political television advertising.
K.T. in Oakdale, NY, writes: I wanted to respond to A.T. from Elkton regarding student loan cancellation and why anyone would switch their vote.
Back before Republicans went from mostly gerrymandering (which both parties do, but Republicans won big in 2010 at census time) to outright corrupt denial of elections and taking plans to subvert the process, student loan debt cancellation was a red line for me that would get me to switch, and would get me to think long and hard about switching if Republicans abandon this extremism in the face of potential prosecutions going forward. I worked hard to pay off my student loans. There is absolutely zero rationale, besides whataboutism comparing to an equally awful expenditure like corporate welfare, to justify taxing people who don't go to college to subsidize those who do. College education comes with benefits that each individual weighs for themselves, but to retroactively shift the goalposts on one of the biggest decisions young adults have already made in their lives is reprehensible. Saying it will "stimulate the economy" still does not reconcile the imbalance; if that expenditure was affordable then send checks to everybody, not just the college educated who don't want to pay them and may not need the help anyway. I don't need the help either; send stimulus to low income or lower the bottom bracket.
F.S. in Cologne, Germany, writes: The proposed climate change legislation in the U.S. is reminding me of climate change legislation in Germany and Europe: a few subsidies here, a few incentives and tax breaks there, but no one is really hurt. This kind of legislation was passed in Germany during the last 25 or 30 years, with little success. This approach is good for a certain reduction in carbon emissions, but it won't lead to a country with zero carbon emissions. For such a goal you probably need a much more forceful, comprehensive approach that makes fossil fuels extremely expensive, but honestly I don't see any country on this planet that is on its way to zero carbon emissions by 2045. And if we don't reach zero carbon emissions on this planet by 2045, the 1.5 degree Celsius goal is likely unreachable.
M.L. in Encino, CA, writes: Regarding the comment you passed along from the website of The New York Post: "This was a stolen election & anybody with half a brain knows it."
True. And people with full brains know better.
The "Inflation Reduction" Act?
A.P. in Kitchener, ON, Canada, writes: Stephanie Kelton's book The Deficit Myth: Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People's Economy, while about modern monetary theory, offers an excellent plain language introduction to macroeconomics that most mainstream economists would support. She explains that governments, in addition to the action of central banks, have two ways to address inflation: cut spending or increase taxes. The way a government can address inflation is to ensure government is spending less than they take in from revenue. Essentially this is the opposite of stimulus spending to prop up an economy entering a recession. A $309 billion dollar difference between new revenue to the government and additional expenses seems like a pretty good action on the part of government to address inflation.
Governments have become too reliant on central bankers to control inflation, when they should also play a role. Kelton in particular suggests automatic stabilizers which kick in during a recession (e.g., increased unemployment rates) then automatically decrease after the recession ends (e.g., people come off unemployment as they get jobs). For those that want a deeper dive I encourage you to pick up her book, even if you reject modern monetary theory I think you will find the macroeconomic explanations informative.
J.A. in Puerto Armuelles, Panama, writes: It is somewhat overblown to call the deal between Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) "The Inflation Reduction Act," since we are talking about approximately $750 billion in revenue and $400 billion expenditure, spread out (for the mist part) over 10 years. A $20 trillion economy is hardly going to be jerked one way or the other by such sums.
On the other hand, broadly speaking, there are three ways to reduce inflation.
You can directly reduce the amount of "money" floating around; either by raising interest rates or taking money out of circulation (the latter is seldom practiced, but it is the opposite of "quantitative easing" where a central bank puts notes and their equivalents into circulation). This is up to the Fed and depends on interest rates and how many notes are put into circulation.
You can also indirectly reduce how much money is swirling around the economy. The most common way to do that is by have the government suck it up, in one way or another. For example, by reducing the amount government spends or increasing how much it takes in.
The third way is by directly reducing prices. This is often then choice of unEconomists like Hugo Chávez and can work short term, but tends to wreak havoc in the medium to long term. But just because some people do it wrong, doesn't mean it can't be done right.
So let's look at the meat of this deal.
The first option is Fed territory, and even a Trumpish coup can't change that. Trillion dollar coins notwithstanding.
This deal clearly takes in more money than it spends. These are not "dynamic scoring" numbers. More taxes will accrue to the federal government than the federal government will spend. That takes money out of the economy and is anti-inflationary. Of course, we are talking marginal amounts considering the size of the U.S. economy. On the other hand, better a light touch than a heavy hand, especially since inflation is one of two things the Fed is supposed to do.
As for directly reducing prices, this bill scores quite well and is anything but Chávez-esque. Negotiating drug prices is something every other industrialized nation does, whether the government of the day is from the left or the right. Honestly, it's Free Market 101. Big buyers get better prices. Obviously, reducing drug prices is anti-inflationary.
The other direct effect on prices is subsidies for various forms of "clean energy." Now, one can argue about what that exactly means until we are up to our necks in whatever, but the gist is that these investments are likely to bring down energy prices, as well as the price of electric vehicles. And it should be noted that there are no penalties for fossil fuels, financial or otherwise.
So, sure, it's smallish beer, but if there aren't any hidden loopholes, this bill would be anti-inflationary. That stands in contrast to the Trump tax-cuts.
I would rate it zero Geppetto puppets, with no need to have an extinguisher near one's britches, but with a thumbs down for getting carried away.
E.N.A. in Olalla, WA, writes: In response to the question from J.P. in Vienna about hedge fund managers' contributions to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), you wrote, in part, "So, the U.S. is stuck with the current system. The two of us don't like it, and certainly don't approve of Sinema's willingness to take money from fat cats in the world of finance. However, we are both California voters, and have no power over her whatsoever. Which means all we can do is write snarky comments about how she's been bought and paid for."
I don't think you meant it, but when I both read and reread this, it sounds like Sinema is a bit of an aberration when she's not. Virtually all politicians, at least in the U.S., have campaign donors that they have to "answer to." We could go on and on about the way Republicans jump when the NRA speaks, asking only "how high" on the way up. I just don't want anyone, particularly foreign nationals, to think for a moment that this is limited to the few or the one. Additionally, as you point out, we now have much or most of this out in the open. I have no doubt that in other countries, politicians are equally bought and sold. The citizens just don't know by whom and by how much.
M.S. in Parma, OH, writes: In your answer to J.P. in Vienna, you should have clarified that unlike Boss Tweed, the money doesn't go into Sinema's pocket. That might not be clear. Not saying she's not bought, though...
E.F. in Baltimore, MD, writes: You wrote: "Sinema has gotten big bucks from fund managers and, they will be pleased to learn, she stayed bought. So, as anticipated, this provision, and the $14 billion it would have raised, are out the window. That said, the fund managers are on notice that they're one more Democratic senator from their sweetheart deal coming to an end."
Unfortunately, they'll have $14B in spare change rattling around in their pockets to buy themselves another senator. While electing a few more Democrats to the Senate this fall would be a good thing, it's easy to forget that Sinemanchin's high-profile obstructionism has been very convenient for some other Democrats. They don't have to take inconvenient votes, knowing they have Sinemanchin running interference. If we do succeed in expanding our majority, I expect some other Democratic senators will suddenly express "concern" about any bill that might make meaningful changes.
M.B. in Windsort, CT, writes: You wrote: "Right now 15% think the country is going in the right direction and 82% think it is going in the wrong direction. Numbers like these tend to precede a 'throw the bums out election,' except Democrats are leading in the generic poll."
I'm one of the people who regularly says "wrong direction" on such polls. And I vote blue all the way. We need to remove from power those who have already driven this nation to the edge of disappearance and who seem determined to create from its ashes the Christian Dominionist authoritarian confederation that they so deeply desire to protect their cisgender hetero male "privilege." So the bums many of us want to throw out aren't Democrats, but Republicans!
E.B. in Seattle, WA, writes: I am getting increasingly frustrated by the political commentariat assuming that polling that shows that the vast majority of Americans think that the country is on the wrong track is bad news for Democrats. Sure, one would like those numbers to be better if you are the party in power. However, it's a sad fact of our current politics that no matter who is in power, 45% of the country will say we're on the wrong track. Throw in a large percentage of Democrats upset about Supreme Court decisions, and it's not hard to see why the polling is where it is. Just because people are angry doesn't mean that they're necessarily angry at Democrats.
It feels like that particular metric isn't very useful in this election, but we will need to get to November to really know for sure.
J.F. in The Bronx, NY, writes: If a pollster were to ask me if I thought "the country" was moving in the right or wrong direction, I would not know how to answer the question properly. On the one hand, I think the fragile coalition of progressives and moderates that the Democratic Party leadership has cobbled together are doing their level best to move the country in what I feel is the right direction. But on the other, there are large numbers of election denying/vote suppressing radical-right Republicans aiming to move the country in the wrong direction. The threat they pose is palpable and adds to my angst about where we are going. I consider their actions to be downright un-American. But, are they not part of "the country" too?
Perhaps it is the inherent lack of clarity of the question that leads to situations where 50% of Americans want the Democrats to control Congress despite 82% of us thinking "the country" is headed in the wrong direction. Maybe a better question for getting to what, I think, the pollsters really want to know, would be: "Is the __________ Party attempting to move the country in the right direction?
P.W. in Springwater, NY, writes: I appreciated the comment from W.C. in Walpole on the "right track, wrong track" question so often asked. I've been thinking the same thing. If you're right-leaning, the answer is to vote out the Democrats, and get back to MAGA. If you're left-leaning, the answer is to double-down on the Democrats, assure a real majority, and get on with the 21st century. The real problem is that although most of us would answer "wrong track," there's no consensus on how to get to the right track and I'm afraid there won't be for a very long time.
The Pundit Class
D.M.C. in Seoul, South Korea, writes: As an addition to your response to O.Z.H. in Dubai, I would like to point out that FiveThirtyEight has three models: the 'Lite' model which only looks at the polls, the 'Classic' model which includes "polls, fundraising, past voting patterns and more," and the default 'Deluxe' model which adds "experts' ratings to the Classic forecast."
In contrast to the 'Deluxe' model (the one O.Z.H. discusses), the 'Lite' model is much more in line with O.Z.H.'s and E-V.com's predictions, giving J.D. Vance a 31% chance, Herschel Walker a 33% chance and Mehmet Oz an 11% chance of winning. They also have Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) at a 63% chance.
On the other hand, their Lite model does have Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) at 65% and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) at 85% of winning. Although, the polls in FiveThirtyEight's database do seem to support their prediction for Rubio (all of the rated pollsters have Rubio at least +6).
Then again, the fact that there are three different models definitely supports (Z) and (V)'s criticism of Nate Silver's "Milquetoast predictions."
W.S. in Austin, TX, writes: You wrote: "There were two columns yesterday that speak to this. The first comes from CNN's Chris Cillizza, whose past work suggests that he is left-leaning, but who has been ripping into the Democrats recently."
Cillizza undermines his own competency as a politial commentator in two ways. First, he doesn't even vote. If you can't be bothered to vote, you have no business discussing, let alone complaining about, political outcomes.
Second, as recently exposed by his failure to comprehend the definition of "recession," his work is consistently immature in both intellectual depth and tone. For instance, he frequently begins sentences with a sarcastic "Um"—a preferred tactic of teen girls trying to mock a celebrity's outdated fashion style.
M.A. in West Windsor, NJ, writes: A minor note from my early years reading Chris Cillizza when he was with CNN: He is the most toxic prick in the media. His faux outrage, mountain-out-of-a-molehill click-bait crap is about on par with The New York Post's level of journalism. Headlines like "Pelosi just handed a huge gift to the GOP" for something like stepping on a crack on the sidewalk are typical of him.
Anyway, just venting.
E.F. in Baltimore, MD, writes: A successful third party doesn't need to win elections, or replace one of the two majors to be deemed successful. It needs to get its platform adopted by one of them, and this doesn't happen in just one cycle. To that end, George Wallace's 1968 American Independent Party has been wildly successful in becoming our modern day Republican Party since 1980.
Your excerpted Tim Miller article explains, in some detail, how Andrew Yang's new party won't draw any Trump voters into the fold. That's not their objective. But it will peel off some naive Biden voters, hoping to end all the partisan rancor in Washington. Not enough of them to win, but possibly enough to prevent Biden (or any other Democrats) from winning. That's their objective.
Grossly oversimplified, our three most divisive issues today are guns, taxes and abortion. Republicans want lots of guns, and none of the other two. The Yang group hasn't announced anything so mundane as a platform yet, because there is no middle ground on any of these issues that the Democrats don't already occupy. There's already a centrist party in America. It's called the Democrats.
K.M. in Philadelphia, PA, writes: The news about the Forward Party brings me to the same conclusion I've always drawn about such matters: Any new party that's truly serious about gaining a foothold in American politics should be devoting all of their attention, resources, and effort to competing and influencing politics at the local level upward, particularly in state-level politics. In particular, it's at the state level that one can actually challenge the first-past-the-post system that shuts out third parties from meaningful competition. They should be using steady and persistent pressure to have more states join the select few—currently Alaska and Maine—which have introduced ranked-choice voting systems that would make their hypothetical candidacies anything other than afterthoughts. This is something that would take many years of coordination and cooperation to even stand a remote chance of succeeding.
So a new third party should do that. Or they can just keep writing self-aggrandizing op-eds in The Washington Post and make their first campaign a shambolic 2024 presidential candidacy whose only hope of getting any attention, as you pointed out, is being a spoiler for enough voters who'd otherwise vote Democrat to help the GOP retake the White House.
With someone like Andrew Yang at the helm of the Forward Party, I think we can guess which of the two scenarios is more likely to happen.
A.M. in Miami, FL, writes: A couple thoughts on third parties. In 1987 or so, I was co-founder of the Miami Green Party. I had recently come back from spending about a year in Europe, where I saw the Green Party in action along with other minor parties, and was impressed. I knew that in the U.S., third parties had a tough uphill climb without the ability to "get your foot in the door" in a proportional representation system, and that to succeed, it would take a commitment to play the long game. For a third party to succeed, I believed, it would not only need a niche not adequately represented by a faction of the major parties, it would have to be content with getting people in local offices first, then counties and state houses. And it needed a commitment to principles that could not easily be co-opted by the major parties, and also not antithetical enough to invite a line of attack.
I quickly discovered that people excited by third parties are not content with getting a council member or a clerk elected—they want the White House. They want the party to burst on the scene and be so compelling that everyone jumps on board and carries them to Pennsylvania Ave. And likewise the people that donate to third parties want the same thing. Why spend money on electing someone to Podunk Town Council when you can blow it on a beautiful glossy ad for your presidential candidate who has no hope of getting a single electoral vote? Very disillusioning.
V & Z respond: Gotta admit, "Miami Green" sounds like the name of... well, not a political party.
R.J. in Seattle, WA, writes: I generally enjoy reading your website, with one notable exception: anytime you talk about third parties. The "discussion" of the new their party formed by Christine Todd Whitman, David Jolly and Andrew Yang has made my blood boil.
First, you minimize the reasons independents support third party candidates by saying that independents are not really independents, and by asserting that in a winner take all system, there is "little value" in voting for a third party candidate. It is the argument that those entrenched in a two party system make, but it demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of those who support third party candidates. I am sure that some voters who are forced to pick between the lesser of two evils may ultimately "vote for" the perceived lesser of the two evils in a winner take all system, but that does not mean that alleviates the need for an alternative—either process or party. One cannot say that they "support" a party's position when they are making a relative choice on the lesser of two evils. What is missing is a voice for what the preferred course of action should be, as opposed to a binary construct that does not represent the true wishes of the voter.
And you "conveniently" neglect to mention that the Forward Party is a proponent of ranked choice voting. Implementation of ranked choice voting would change the balance of power away from the Democratic and Republican parties, and directly undercuts your "winner take all" arguments. Maybe that is why those political parties defend the existing system and do nothing to change the current system—it benefits them. Still, I understand completely that we are operating under a winner take all system.
Second, one's preferred change does not always occur in one giant step. Sometimes change is incremental. I am in my late fifties and I have never been aligned with any political party and have always voted my convictions, even while knowing that my preferred candidate or the issues they seek to push forward may not win in this "winner take all" system of ours. For me, there are many reasons to support a candidate or issues, even if those views are not currently adopted or advocated by those within the Democratic or Republican parties.
Third, you criticize the concept of the perceived need for a third party with an ad hominem attack on Andrew Yang. Just because you dislike and discredit Andrew Yang's ideas does not make the notion of the need for a third party "his" idea.
But what really gets my blood boiling is your claim that those who support third party candidates are "spoilers." It is a claim you can only make after the votes are cast. And it is condescending and insulting. Why do you get to define my vote as "wasted" or "short sighted" or a "spoiler" to another defeated candidate in a winner take all system? Why do you get to decide what the importance of my vote should be? What makes you think that I have not considered what you think is important and have not made a conscious decision to exercise my right to vote based on my beliefs? What makes you think I have not already considered the lesser of two evils, and decided to exercise my vote by making a positive statement about a candidate or issue I support? At the end of the day, in a winner-take-all system, my vote in favor of a third party candidate who does not win counts exactly the same as a vote for Joe Biden in a state that Trump carried in the 2020 election—zero. It counts the same as a vote for Trump in a state Biden carried. But your criticism is directed to those who voted for third parties based on your post hoc rationalization of who won and who lost.
I wish I was done, but I am not. You see, this website has spent considerable time criticizing those who claim "there was fraud in the 2020 election" and have mocked (rightly so) the lack of proof to back the claim in a way that would have changed the election result. But then again, when it comes to third parties, this same website labels Ralph Nader and Jill Stein as "spoilers who handed the White House to a member of the red team." You seem to ignore the fact that we use the electoral vote system in these elections, and you offer zero proof that voting for a third party candidate "switched" any state from one party to another. Sure, you may argue "What about Florida 2000?" but I'm pretty sure the United States Supreme Court had a role in that decision as well. You can't ignore the Court's responsibility. And it is incredibly inconsistent for you to identify voters in the Republican and Democratic parties who might choose to sit an election or two out based on the choices presented in that election, but to then assume that those who voted for third party candidates would have voted and chosen the lesser of two evils if a third party candidate had not run. It is not safe to assume that any of the votes cast for a third party candidate would have gone to another political party.
Contest Every Race
T.M.M. in Odessa, MO, writes: W.R.S. from Tucson asked a question about why parties want to contest every race. You gave two reasons: 1) being in the race "just in case" something happened that created an opportunity to win; and 2) gaining experience for the candidates.
The political parties have a third reason. Some analysis of recent election results (basically comparing the "lean" of state legislative districts to the results in those districts for statewide offices) indicate that having a candidate for the state legislature in a seat that is "solid" for the other party bumps up the vote in that district for the statewide candidates. I have not seen any analysis looking at the impact of having candidates for county offices on the statewide numbers, but I would assume that having some contested race in a county would be similar. This impact is dependent upon the candidate having some level of funding that allows them to run a campaign (something on the order of $2 per voter, which is still lower than what is needed to run a winning campaign in a swing district).
In short, it benefits parties in swing states to contest losing races in order to encourage their voters in those districts to turn out (which increases the votes in the closely contested races at the state level).
S.J. in Taipei City, Taiwan, writes: On Saturday, you wrote: "There are two primary benefits to running a candidate in a hopeless race..."
I would argue there are two more. First, keeping up motivation among your party's voters. If low-interest voters find they can't vote for their party's candidates in whatever election, they get used to not voting and don't turn up for future elections, where higher stakes might be involved.
Second, boost the party's vote haul. Even if you don't win an election in a district, the numbers can boost your party's overall popular vote count—a few thousand extra votes or a couple of extra percentage points provide some momentum.
M.S. in Canton, NY, writes: I emphatically disagree with your answer about the supposed lack of value of a party fielding candidate in a race they know they are destined to lose. I live in a very Republican, and now fairly Trumpy, congressional district in New York state. In 2002, I went to the polls intending to vote yet again for whichever sacrificial lamb the Democrats had nominated that time around. (How hopeless was it? At the time, parts of our district had been represented in Congress by a Whig more recently than by a Democrat.) But I became saddened and angry when I discovered that there was no Democratic candidate on the ballot. If I'm going to the trouble to show up, the least they could do is give me a candidate to vote for. As I said that time: In my life I've often been depressed to be a Democrat, but this was the first time I was embarrassed to be a Democrat.
Giving a political minority in a region a chance to at least make their presence known can be a source of motivation and engagement for citizens who take their civic responsibilities seriously. It can remind office-holders that they are not invulnerable. Also, there is real rhetorical value at the national level in being able to report how many voters nationwide supported your party's candidates for Congress. That can't happen if your party's supporters can't even show their preference at the polls. Yes, it takes time and resources to qualify a candidate for the ballot, but for a healthy democracy, it's worth it.
All Politics Is Local
R.P. in Pullman, WA, writes: I have followed/been involved in local politics off and on since the early 80s. The Blue Dogs, which you seem to report on as a group so glowingly, have become almost nauseating. The Blue Dogs are one of the least self-aware groups in Washington. Every bad thing that happens to the Democratic Party is blamed on progressives and every success is in spite of progressives. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA) is the worst of the group; she gets lots of coverage blaming progressives and progressive legislation for terrible things that happen to Democrats. She blamed the loss of the Virginia governor's race and the loses in Florida's 2020 congressional races on progressives. Yet, according to at least three stories I've seen, many of the women who voted for Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA) said the reason why they did was the dismissive comments made by the moderate and Blue Dog-friendly Terry McAuliffe (D) about parental involvement in education. But, you can't tell Ol' Abigail that. As to Florida, it's been obvious to many who follow the state since 2019 that the Republicans have worked harder in the state to get Hispanics Latinos to vote, and get them out to the polls.
In addition, the Blue Dogs spend much time watering down and sniping at legislation and then claim they have to because of their next election. They treat every single issue as if it is crucial; there is no vote too small that they can make that will not end their career and deliver the district over to the Republicans—even if the Republican is a far-right crazed lunatic.
Maybe the Blue Dogs, and E-V.com, ought to wonder if maybe the Blue Dogs aren't losing because they stand for almost nothing, they stick their finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing and then make their decisions. That they practically campaign on their contempt for the progressive wing of the Democratic Party—I mean, nothing gets people out to vote like knowing their representative has nothing but contempt for them and their positions on issues. Maybe I've missed it, but please provide references to the numerous times that Republicans running for the House and/or Senate, base part of their campaign on their contempt for the religious right and how damaging they are in their state or district.
Maybe, just maybe, like the Republicans in Florida, maybe the Blue Dogs should work harder to build a more solid constituency, instead of looking at others within their party to blame.
C.W. in Haymarket, VA, writes: I wanted to comment on one aspect of Glenn Youngkin's victory that gets overlooked. He is frequently described as having won by virtue of being against teaching CRT in public schools. This is an oversimplification of his appeal to voters who have school aged children. There are many upper-middle-class moms in my area, and several have told me the reason they and their friends voted for Youngkin is because they are very angry at the teachers' union. Terry McAuliffe really embraced the teachers' union and had a widely publicized campaign event where he had one of the union leaders up on stage with him. The history of this is that when COVID vaccines first became available, then-governor Ralph Northam (D) made a big deal about making the vaccines available first to doctors, nurses, and hospital workers, and shortly thereafter to teachers. Special immunization clinics were set up for teachers only when many, many people wanted a vaccine really badly. After making this big deal about vaccinating all the teachers so they could get back in the classroom, the union strongly resisted having the teachers go back to in-person learning, and it was delayed for quite a long time. Parents who had been stuck at home for a whole year with their school aged kids—many of whom lost their jobs due to having no childcare for their school aged kids—were really pissed off that teachers were not running back to the classroom as soon as they got vaccinated. I really believe this lost the Democrats more votes in my area of Northern Virginia than anyone's concerns about CRT.
R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: I think I have mentioned before that I'm voting in the Republican primary because I figure they are the ones who need my moderate input the most and I trust the Democrats to make good decisions without me. We are now just shy of two weeks until primary day and I looked up the League of Women Voters' voter guide at vote411.org. I researched the various candidates on my ballot to try to discern who was least Trumpy and I'll tell ya', it wasn't easy. There was one state senate candidate who actually didn't seem too bad on the voter guide, but who also sent me a mailer about how he opposes Critical Race Theory and supports school choice and how one of his opponents is weak on those issues ("All hat, no cattle!" Well, what did you expect from the Cowboy State?). I figure, with an anti-CRT stance being front and center on the agenda, either he's ignorant or he assumes I am. Either way, he's not for me.
My usual practice is to eliminate anyone who doesn't bother to respond to the LWV's questionnaire, which would have eliminated Rep. Liz Cheney (R). However, in that race, there are enough ads and news stories floating around that I knew to a good first approximation the relative trumpiness of the candidates without full info in the voter guide, so I'm fine with my choice in that race, too.
I don't have a good feel for who will ultimately come out on top. I know that nobody in town is willing to admit to supporting Liz and everyone with yard signs is supporting Harriet Hageman, but I have no idea how Laramie, Cheyenne, or Jackson feel. All in the fullness of time, I guess.
J.G. in T9O, WA, writes: Last Saturday, I attended the Oregon Trail Days festival in my adopted burg of Tenino, WA. "T9O," as the locals call it, sits in Thurston County, at the northern edge of Rep. Jamie Herrera-Beutler's (R) district. The "Let's Go Brandon" signs were ubiquitous, but some with a new twist: under the "Let's Go Brandon," there's "FJB" printed on a lot of the material. So apparently, it's not quite yet OK print the actual words "Fu** Joe Biden" on your flag or sign or shirt, but it's getting close. I also saw a lot of signs and flags mocking "Joe and the Ho." Chatting up my friends and neighbors, I heard things like "Dust-farting Joe is senile," "That fu**ing stuttering simpleton..." and "Token Harris is just waiting for Joe to croak..." The usual Gov. Jay Inslee (D) haters were out in full force, and they were trying to collect money to support their quixotic campaign to recall the governor. It looked to me that most of the anti-Inslee crowd already gave, based on the number of "Fu** Jay Inslee" and "FJI" t-shirts I saw.
The Democrats were not to be outdone, however. They pulled out the "Dem Burger" food wagon, and were trading decent burgers for $5 that would go to the pols' coffers. The irony ran thick, however. Next to the burger wagon, someone placed several "Blue Lives Matter" and "Back the Blue" signs. I learned you can also now get a sign that reads "Black Guns Save Lives," with an AR-15 style weapon displayed. I lost count of the number of men and women packing heat at the festival; Washington is an open-carry state. I stopped at the gas station on the way out of town, and chatted up a dude with an awesome Leitner rack system on his truck. I noticed he was carrying a weapon, so I asked him what it was: "a Glock 30 Gen 4" he proudly answered, as he put his hand on his pistol and asked my what I carried. I asked him why he thought he needed such a heavy load? Zombies? Meth heads? Maniacs in light body armor? "Have you seen the price of fu**ing gas?" was his answer. Yeah, diesel is still over $6.50/gal here in Greater Cascadia.
Joe "For America" Kent was in the parade, and several businesses put his signs in their store front. Joe wants us to know that he has decided to honor his wife's sacrifice (she was killed in Syria) by fighting for us and driving "RINO Jamie" from office. Herrera-Beutler and her people were nowhere to be seen. She's apparently busy trying ratf**k Joe by clandestinely backing the local version of Marjorie Taylor Greene, yet she's still trying to siphon off Democratic votes (all 26 of them?). It's a delicate dance, to be sure, and probably best that she doesn't show her face in T9O. The "rubes" are pissed, and they're not bashful about saying it.
E.F. in Baltimore, MD, writes: No one accused Gov. Larry Hogan (R-MD) of being a RINO in 2014. The term wasn't nearly as widely used in those days. He had been a sane County Executive. And with a Democratic supermajority in our legislature, he was as conservative as any governor could manage to be. Like Massachusetts' recent GOP governors.
But Hogan was fortunate in his opponents. In 2014, he faced then-incumbent Lieutenant Governor Anthony Brown. Maryland is deep blue, but a lot of our Democrats can be unenthusiastic about voting for a Black man. And Brown ran a less-than-effective campaign. 4 years later, Ben Jealous had the same challenges. Never really campaigned.
Dan Cox (R) is too extreme for Maryland, but I'm still waiting to see if Wes Moore (D) is capable of running an effective campaign. He's certainly been invisible in my neighborhood, so far.
E-V.com Does EVs
A.A. in Branchport, NY, writes: Yesterday's question from M.G. in Boulder caught my attention because of "ownership of such a vehicle [electric/hybrid car] is now a political statement."
I live in Upper New York state, where temps can vary from -20 in the winter to over 100 in the summer, and energy costs (electric, gasoline, propane) are expensive and increasing.
Accordingly, years ago I made the transition to solar-powered geothermal and a Camry Hybrid. At this writing, I own two Camry Hybrids. It never crossed my mind that I was making a "political statement." My choice to go green was motivated solely by economics. One Camry (with over 150 K) still gets over 35 mpg and the newer Camry, purchased in 2019, gets over 55 mpg. This is quite the money saver. Add in the fact that maintenance is much cheaper than ICEs (brakes last forever) and it's a no-brainer.
Propane to heat my house costs approx. $2,500 per year, but the solar array powers it and gives me excess electricity to boot. The solar will be paid in a couple of years, and from then on it is all gravy.
As I said, my choices were purely economical, yet I am certain some people see my hybrid and assign unflattering epithets to me. Fearing vandalism, when I put my solar array in 5 years ago, I made sure that it was not visible from the street.
It seems that anything can trigger the culture wars. Cracker Barrel just added Impossible Vegan Sausage Patties to their menu, awakening the snoozing trolls who wasted no time labeling the chain as "woke." It would have been just as easy and accurate to applaud the chain for taking proactive care of a small demographic segment of their customers, but that's not the way a lot of people roll today.
This country has real problems. It is really disheartening to see so many people invest so much time and bile and hatred in defense of their so-called values. I guess that they are triggered by anyone who doesn't share their views.
I don't hold much hope for our future as a country.
V & Z respond: Did you know there are people who have modified their trucks so they can blast hybrid vehicles with a plume of coal smoke?
D.M. in Oxnard, CA, writes: I bought a Ford C-Max hybrid, for one simple reason: to keep the oil I would have used in the ground. I drive it mostly around town and am getting the equivalent of over 90mpg.
B.J.L. in Ann Arbor, MI, writes: We have a legacy Nissan leaf (2013) that is about 10 years old, the expected lifetime of the battery. We acquired it (2015) with 11K or 12K miles on it and installed our own home-based charger. Fewer chargers around Ann Arbor than Los Angeles, apparently. The Leaf is a one-engine vehicle but our model only had approx. 90 miles of range at the factory and now is more like 85 miles max. We now have >42K miles on it and expect to drive it for several more years locally. The Nissan people do battery assessments and its all good at least for now. The Leaf would never make it in LA with everything being miles away. Also, when you have more than one, is it Leafs or Leaves? Sorry... Toronto reference.
Agree with the analytics. Solid acceleration, quiet, and kind of fun. I wonder whether (Z) coordinates his chargings near USC to accommodate his paintball interest. Win, win baby.
J.R. in Sarasota, FL, writes: You wrote: "EVs are not great for long-distance trips."
I must respectfully disagree with this statement. We have owned three EVs. The first, a Nissan Leaf, was in fact a very good around-town vehicle. It was never practical for long distance travel. The second was a 2014 Model S Tesla. We bought it when the Tesla Supercharger network was completed from Sarasota to Western New York. It was our only vehicle. Besides many round trips to New York and Dallas from Sarasota, we did a 9,000 mile trip around the US and into Canada. We sold it in 2018 with 117,000 miles on the odometer. We bought a 2018 Model S Tesla. As of this date we are just turning over 100,000 miles.
So I know the subject of long distance travel in an EV. First, the Tesla Supercharger infrastructure is robust and reliable and continuing to grow and improve. Electrify America is working hard to catch up with their CCS standard (the charging standard everyone but Tesla is using). Does a trip in an EV take a little longer than an ICE? Yes, it does. However what we have discovered is that those stops to charge every 2½ to 3 hours provide much needed breaks in driving. We hit the restrooms, maybe a snack and usually a little walk to stretch the legs. We arrive at our destination feeling relaxed and awake as opposed to the wasted state of an uninterrupted ICE journey. We think our EV is great for long-distance travel.
T.B. in Leon County, FL, writes: You wrote that "it's really difficult to get an EV or a fuel-efficient vehicle right now due to supply-chain issues."
I know it is partially a supply-chain issue, but mostly it is ballooning demand; EVs are 5.6% of the U.S. market now whereas they were at 2.7% a year ago. While gas-using car sales are down or stagnant, EV sales are up. Tesla, for example, produced and sold about 30% more EVs thus far in 2022 than it made (and sold) in the first half of 2021, and they supply about 66% of new EVs in the U.S. right now. True, they would have produced and sold more without (mostly) COVID shutdowns in China (which actually affected Chinese and European deliveries) and probably some new-factory teething (ramp-up is happening in the new Austin, TX, and Berlin, Germany, gigafactories) and maybe some supply issues. Other car companies are early in their EV ramp-ups.
E.O. in Medford, MA, writes: I think it's important to add that just changing how vehicles are powered (while it's helpful) is not enough. It takes decades for the entire fleet of vehicles to turn over. Electric vehicles still require energy, and producing them still requires enormous resources—and of course, disposing of them involves dealing with large amounts of problematic e-waste and un-recyclable plastic.
In addition to encouraging the use of electric cars, we also need to be doing a lot more to make it more realistic for more people to get by with fewer cars, period. One vehicle per adult in every household is not sustainable, even if they are electric. It causes fights over parking that overflow into housing affordability; it causes paralyzing congestion; it is a massive contributor to the cost of living.
We need to be doing much more to make the alternatives easier, safer, more reliable, faster, and more convenient. That includes bicycling, walking, public transit, regional transit, and longer distance passenger rail. In the Boston area where I live, traffic grinds to a halt every day, and huge amounts of extremely valuable square footage are given over to vehicle storage. But in many places, people do not feel safe riding a bike even for short, easy trips; the subway system has been cutting back service; in many suburbs, the buses are infrequent and unreliable especially at off-peak hours; we even had a subway train catch fire on a bridge recently. This state of affairs is inexcusable, and fixing it should be just as high a priority as selling electric cars.
And meanwhile, American cars have only gotten bigger and heavier, even though most of the time they contain one person who is often only traveling a short distance. That means they take up more space and consume more fuel (even if they're electric). And it means they are increasingly dangerous to share the road with as a bicyclist or a pedestrian.
While funding electric cars is great, we also need to be making the structural improvements that let more trips be realistically made in other ways.
I applaud (Z)'s enlightened choice of an electric vehicle, but for many households with more than one driver maybe the more enlightened choice is to share one vehicle that is no bigger than necessary, occasionally rent a van when needed, and make the balance of trips some other way.
S.H. in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, writes: Regarding the question from P.M. from Edenton asking for good books about the US involvement in the Philippines, Daniel Immerwahr's How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States has an outstanding section on the Philippines (to say nothing of the rest of the book).
S.R. in Knoxville, TN, writes: The point you were making about Hillsdale College—they've been embroiled in a huge controversy here in Tennessee. There is nothing quite like calling all public school teachers "stupid" to torpedo your chances of running charter schools that have to be approved by local school boards. Our Republican governor, Bill Lee, refused to rebuke the comments made by Hillsdale's Larry Arnn, infuriating educational professionals across the state. Mr. Lee's not a very bright individual but he did somehow figure out that just maybe some school boards and teachers are Republicans, and is now trying to distance himself from the issue.
By all accounts the people running "Hillsdale College" are horrible, awful people, here's just one article. Lots of angry ones in the Tennessee press the last few months.
R.E. in Birmingham, AL, writes: The letter today about Hillsdale College brought back memories from a few years ago, when I was a middle school civics teacher and attended a one-day event that Hillsdale put on for local history and social studies teachers. Several professors made presentations, and the overall message was that the United States got on "the wrong track" during the presidency of Woodrow Wilson (League of Nations, etc.) and has stayed on it ever since. I sat at a lunch table with the Hillsdale guy in charge, and in that more casual setting he revealed himself to be very Trumpy.
Based on my experience, your understanding of that institution is exactly correct. They're right-wing nutters, and they are on a mission to influence public education in what I think is a dangerous way. Beware anything associated with Hillsdale College.
Inclusive Teaching, Part II
F.L. in Denton, TX, writes: You have had comments and letters about how a teacher/professor would promote inclusive teaching.
I was in a freshman English class at the tiny Centenary College of Louisiana, in Shreveport, in 1980. Our instructor (who was barely a few years older than most of us students) asked us to write a brief essay, either supporting or refuting a certain 'question.' If (my very old and feeble) memory serves, it was something that, politically, was fairly neutral, like, "The sole purpose of a college education is to become a productive member of society."
As it happened, the split was roughly 50/50.
She then set up a debate. Those who opposed the statement had to support it. Those who supported the idea had to oppose it.
Of course, topics that are a little more "hot button" could be used, such as Affirmative Action, voter ID laws, taxation, religious exceptions—all of which are matters of inclusion (or exclusion).
M.G. in Boulder, CO, writes: The college (now university) where I taught, Metropolitan State College of Denver, was actually designed for middle-class/working class students living locally (there were no dorms for many years, though there are some now) and non-traditional students. I had heard about it from a middle-aged woman who was a student there. She liked that students called teachers by first names, and vice-versa, and that students introduced themselves the first day. Later, as I wondered why the classes I taught were so much different from those I had taken, I decided that's where the difference started.
As time went by and the economy changed and MSCD acquired a reputation, the student body attracted more traditional students and a fair number of international students, so there was a lot of diversity in age, economic status, country of origin, and educational background.
The first day of class was the syllabus and the day I called roll twice to start memorizing names. One of my own best teachers had advised, "Learn their names. If you know their names, they think you know them." On the second day, the students got into groups and interviewed each other, which was both relaxing and non-threatening. Basically, if students know the people they are with, they feel comfortable. The student from Japan or the one from the Black Muslim community is not so different when you've talked to them.
Then we turned the desks toward the middle of the room and each student introduced someone else to the class. When there were deaf students in the class, their interpreters also introduced themselves and explained their role. By the end of the second day, I knew everyone's name and everyone else knew the names of some classmates and a little about their personalities and backgrounds. Watching me work on learning names, students felt recognized as individuals. No one needs a rainbow thermos, which, as (Z) pointed out, excludes some people if it includes others. Everyone in the room just needs to know that everyone there is OK.
I followed the introductory day up with two lessons that involved group work. By the time those were done, the class was usually functioning well as a unit so well that when, late in two semesters, I had to miss a class, the students carried on because they knew what they were supposed to do (one was a review day and one a presentation day).
You can't reasonably manage individual introductions in a giant lecture class, but in a class of 25, it works well.
J.C. in Binan, Laguna, Philippines, writes: As a biology teacher, I find my biggest issues with inclusion are (surprise) around evolution and dealing with conservative Christian students and the occasional conservative Muslim student. To head that off at the pass I have them all write essays about how the world was made that are not biology—from their religious tradition, another religious tradition, or a completely made-up story. Then I ask them to write how they will scientifically test their explanation. (Of course, it is not possible, and we walk through that.) Then I spend a day going through all the eleven major philosophical/religious paradigms one can have in their approach to evolution, and I share that I myself didn't accept it as true in high school and my first two years of college, so I can empathize. I share with them that I don't want them to do damage to their integrity, so they are free to do as I once did, and write on the tests, "If evolution were true, then..." I ask them to freely share how they feel about the subject, no recriminations, without response from me. I want to create an environment where they feel comfortable and safe. I tell them that they should go home and discuss with their families how they feel about the subject. But I tell them that, in the end, this course will treat evolution as true, as does the scientific world. I expect you to understand the complicated and beautiful theory, even if you don't agree with it.
And often, by the end of the course, they do find themselves in agreement.
The Great American Novel, Part II: Huckleberry Finn
T.K. in Salem, MA, writes: My jaw dropped when you named Tom Sawyer as the greatest American novel. Tom Sawyer is a high-spirited comic YA novel.
Surely—surely?—you meant to name Tom's much greater sequel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Huck is the one that addresses "racism, entrepreneurialism, exploration, gender roles, mistreatment of Native Americans and religiosity."
Huck is "one of the most banned books of all time."
Huck—the character—is the one who delivers one of American literature's most memorable, essential quotes: "All right, then, I'll go to hell," when he decides to tear up the letter he has written to Miss Watson, informing her of the whereabouts of her runaway slave, his friend Jim.
M.B. in San Antonio, TX, writes: Twain's Huckleberry Finn is the better novel. Told from the first person, it explores the themes you mention to a far greater depth, and more of them. Tom Sawyer is more straightforward, Huckleberry Finn more complex. Particularly effective is Huck's relationship with the escaped slave Jim as they travel down the river, his use of vernacular English. It's also a much funnier novel.
S.P. in Tijeras, NM, writes: Same ballpark as you, but my pick is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for the same reasons as you stated for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Twain was one of the earliest writers of fiction who had the characters speak as they did contemporaneously which, in my opinion, is a major literary development. Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer are companion stories much like The Iliad and The Odyssey, so preference is a matter of taste. Since The Odyssey is my favorite Homer, Huckleberry Finn is my favorite Twain due to the journey aspect.
I.W. in Palm Springs, CA, writes: Well, you definitely got the author correct, but while Tom Sawyer is unquestionably right up there, Huckleberry Finn tops the list, because it is the most brilliant anti-slavery book ever written, and therefore illustrates exactly how bottomlessly stupid the right-wing book-banners are.
B.H. in Frankfort, IL, writes: As much as I love The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn would be my choice. Huck deals with the influence of a corrupt society on the individual, and the corruption is racism. Twain paints a realistic picture of pre-Civil War America and uses the innocent eyes of a young person to show us the corruption. The satire is biting and relentless. The hero shows us how to win the struggle between what our heart is telling us as opposed to what society is telling us. When Huck says," All right,then,I'll go to hell!" He becomes a hero, and the reader is left to examine his own conscious. This novel is as timely in 2022 as it was in post Civil War America.
Hemingway said, "All American literature comes from one book, and that book is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." If it's good enough for Ernie, it's good enough for me.
D.R. in Unalakleet, Alaska, writes: Well, Ernest Hemingway and others gave the nod to Twain's companion novel, Huckleberry Finn, but I have always preferred Tom Sawyer.
A favorite memory of my father echoes Tom Sawyer.
My brother and I grew up in rural Alaska. One day my brother asked our father how to tell the difference between Red Salmon and Silver Salmon.
My father told us that as we clean the fish, sometimes, but not always, you might find a small bit of gold. If you did, that was a Red Salmon. And sometimes, but not always, you might find a small bit of silver. If you did, that was a Silver Salmon.
So my brother and I quickly went about the task of cleaning and preparing the day's catch of salmon—maybe 40 fish. At the end of the day, we had not found any gold or silver, but my dad had a ready reply. "Maybe tomorrow, boys."
A few years later I read Twain's masterpiece, and I laughed. Our father got us to whitewash the fence.
Some Fictional Bada** Women...
G.M.K. in Mishawaka, IN, writes: I would suggest that the first female action hero was in Beethoven's opera Fidelio, which was originally entitled Leonóre, or The Triumph of Marital Love. Florestan gets locked up as a political prisoner, and his wife, Leonóre disguised herself as a prison guard named Fidelio, and busts her husband out of prison. It features typical Beethoven themes of sacrifice, justice and redemption, and a great trumpet call to action! And she did it all the way back in 1805!
C.J. in Redondo Beach, CA, writes: Though by our standards the film serial Patria (1917) would probably have her a bit too much as a damsel in distress based on the two episodes I've actually seen—the reviews of the time breathlessly discuss what a brave, valiant, heroine she was and how she was a model of the "new woman" that World War I was helping to create.
J.H. in Redlands, CA, writes: The only "action film" I've ever really enjoyed was the original Star Wars. In general, for me, the genre is too stupidly macho and violent—even if it has a female lead. I loved Mrs. Peel in the Avengers, and Katharine Hepburn was a gift from the goddess for me—especially in Woman of the Year (1942), Adam's Rib (1949), African Queen (1951) and Pat and Mike (1952). Very early in her career she starred in a play titled The Warrior's Husband (1932); the photo looks remarkably like Wonder Woman:
B.F. in Kent, WA, writes: When I was a little girl, I wanted to go to the movies every Saturday, regardless of the films playing, because I ever wanted to miss an episode of the serial Sheena, Queen of the Jungle. That was late 1940s or early 1950s.
D.L. in Uslar, Germany, writes: Another possibility for a cinematic female action hero that predates Ellen Ripley is Modesty Blaise. Although she started out in the comics and then novels, there was a film in 1966. The film has some odd elements common to its period and Modesty's character diverges somewhat from both the comics and the one novel that was out at the time, but I think she's still a contender.
Also, Emma Peel gets all the notice, but don't forget that John Steed's first female partner was Cathy Gale (played by Honor Blackman), who very much paved the way for Mrs. Peel.
J.D. in Asburn, VA, writes: I'm sure I'm not the only one who will tell you that Honey West was an early action hero.
That show aired on September 17, 1965, to April 8, 1966. The series starred Anne Francis as female detective Honey West. This was the first time that a woman played the lead character in a network TV series with the character's name as the title.
B.S. in Half Moon Bay, CA, writes: I agree Diana Riggs was awesome, and one of my "heroes," but an obscure one to add to this list is the 1968 series The Champions. Like The Avengers, the three leads would take turns saving the world (and each other) with Alexandra Bastedo as Sharron Macready the female lead. And she was smart—a scientist and doctor, too!
Definitely one of my role models.
...And One Real One
N.A. in Hopkinton, MA, writes: I love the new finale you are featuring, whatever you wind up calling it.
In these terrifically unsettling times (understatement, I know) it is extremely important to be reminded of all of those wonderful people who have inspired, uplifted, encouraged or thrilled us. I knew nothing about Nichelle Nichols and stopped paying close attention to Star Trek once our son no longer lived at home. What a great story! What a fine reminder.
We see so much terrible behavior from people who should know better, it is great for you to offer a little balance. I bet these stories will be told at dinner tables and dinner parties and on hikes and at water coolers (if anybody goes into work anymore). So cheering. So balancing. So needed.
V & Z respond: The feedback about the new feature in general, and about the Nichols item specifically, has been substantial and very, very positive—far beyond what we could have imagined.
L.A. in Belmont, MA, writes: I really appreciated "Insert Headline Here (Again): A Life Well Lived" from this Friday. It was the feature that I did not realize I needed, but was so glad to read. In case you are wondering, that article about Nichelle Nichols does indeed have the ability to bring tears to the eyes of curmudgeonly middle-aged white guys, even if they are not particular Star Trek fans.
E.M. in Poughkeepsie, NY, writes: I welcome the new feature, whatever you end up calling it, and after reading about Nichelle Nichols I nearly had that same tingle of awe and joy I would get as a kid when Star Trek's opening music played. But let me suggest that she deserves a full 47 phaser salute, not just 44, because of the connection between Star Trek and 47. One of the writers/producers for Star Trek: TNG, DS9 and Voyager was Joe Menosky, who attended Pomona College, where the number 47 holds special significance. Menosky used 47 throughout his scripts, and the practice was adopted by his writing partner, Brannon Braga, and later by J.J. Abrams. And I confess I use it more than randomly in writing exams and homework problems. So please add 3 more phasers.
K.B. in Hartford, CT, writes: Thank you for your piece on Nichelle Nichols. I grew up in a small, lily-white town in upstate New York in the 70s and 80s where racism was natural as breathing for most folks. I watched Star Trek reruns as well as All in the Family. Star Trek's portrayal of racial equality contrasted so sharply with Archie Bunker's overt racism that it helped me see people much differently than those around me. This was especially true of Lt. Uhura, who was one of my favorite characters. Representation really does matter, and she pulled it off with grace and dignity. I was saddened by her passing but appreciate her life, well lived.
D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: Guys, you made me cry today. Thank you for that wonderful tribute to Nichelle Nichols. When I read of her passing this week, it was like hearing of the death of a family member. Live long and prosper!
Normally I'm not a fan of memes, as I find them too saccharine and overly sentimental but man oh man, this one really hit me in the gut. So I thought I would share. Don't judge:
G.M. in Laurence Harbor, NJ, writes: Your tribute to Nichelle Nichols was excellent. I would like to add information which has been omitted on every obit and bio I have seen. In 1969, Nichols and Greg Morris (Mission: Impossible) toured Vietnam with, I guess, USO sponsorship. During the course they visited An Son, Vietnam and the 129th Assault Helicopter Company, with which I was stationed. It was announced at morning reveille and, not having a mission that day, I was able to attend. They gave the few attendees all the time they wanted to ask questions. I spoke with them but, having seen little of either Star Trek or Mission: Impossible, I had little to discuss other than thanking them for their support. I hope this can be reported on E-V.com so readers can learn about something that isn't being reported elsewhere. Also, thanks to the USO as they brought a little bit of hometown comfort every month to hundreds of the small air fields and fire bases.
R.R. in Pasadena, CA, writes: Your item about Nichelle Nichols mentioned that William Shatner had a huge ego, and made him out to be a jerk. While some of that is true, it's not the entire story, which can be seen from how the first interracial kiss on TV, between Shatner (Kirk) and Nichols (Uhura) came about.
Nichols tells the story in an interview you can find on YouTube, so I'll just summarize it here. They had a script where Kirk and Uhura are forced into a kiss by powerful aliens. When the time came to perform it, at the end of a shooting day, the two actors actually kissed on the first take, and the director freaked out and said that they just couldn't do that! The director understood the consequences with TV in those days, and that it would be controversial... it's not quite clear if he was really racist as well. Lots of discussion ensued, and in the end Gene Roddenberry said that they should shoot it both ways. So, they reshot the scene, starting with the real kiss.
Hollywood has set rules on how long a production can last during a day, and how overtime kicks in and greatly increases the cost, so no one wants to run over time, which meant they could only do a few takes. After the first real kiss scene, Shatner insisted they do it again, and again, and again, coming up with excuses and reasons why it wasn't a good take or things to do better. This went on until someone noted that they only had time for one more take, at which point the director insisted on the non-kiss take. When they did that, Shatner leaned Nichols over towards the camera, looked directly at it, and crossed his eyes, intentionally spoiling the take. Only the camera operator saw it, perhaps someone behind them as well, but the director was pleased to have the take he obviously would use so they wrapped for the day. When they looked at the dailies later, everyone locked up when they saw what Shatner had done, trying not to laugh because it was obvious that they either had to use the kiss or cut the scene completely. The director was apoplectic, because he really did not want to put that kiss out. The "suits" were at the filming and in the room for the dailies, and they stood up and said to use the kiss, at which point pandemonium broke out. Everyone knew what that meant, and they were excited to make some history.
While Shatner may have had a big ego, that's not unique among movie stars, and there weren't a lot back then who would have used their power to push through the first interracial kiss, so he deserves kudos for that. And remember that the production company was run by Lucille Ball, so she may have had a hand in it as well, since the suits signed off on it. The original Star Trek broke a lot of boundaries in TV just by showing that people, and aliens, are human and should all be treated with respect... such a simple thought is still needed even today in some quarters.
C.Z. in Sacramento, CA, writes: While the staff is recovering, I thought you might enjoy the newest from Randy Rainbow:
V & Z respond: "Lindsey's back on his knees..."
M.W.W. in Port Orchard, WA, writes: I.K. (definitely a Blanche!) in Queens asked about how you identified as a "Golden Girl," and I couldn't resist. Way back when the series was still new, our local gay watering hole would have the new episodes playing on the TVs in the bar. A group of us had personalities that kinda/sorta fit the characters. The mailman was less Cliff Clavin (Cheers) and more Blanche, hubby was Sophia, I was Dorothy, and one member was Violet, Rose's dumber sister.
We did the same for Star Trek: Next Generation, but that story is not as funny. (I was Riker because of the beard, hubby was Dr. Crusher because of the red wig.)
J.P.R. in Westminster, CO, writes: I feel filthy after clicking the "cattleman's balls" link which you provided. Filthier, I believe, than if the website actually had something to do with the innuendo I believed it had suggested.
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