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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

Some mailbags have a little "dessert." Some have a lot. This one is definitely in the latter category, which is probably a good thing once in a while. In particular, our question about the unusual word in one of the answers from yesterday generated well over 500 responses. We've edited them into a group of letters that we think is very interesting, and that says something useful about the peculiarities of language, and about the creativity of readers' minds.


M.D.K. in Portland, OR, writes: As you wrote, Catherine Rampell asked "Are Republicans hiding their agenda or do they not have one?"

Let me suggest that the field of animal behavior has an answer.

"Machiavellian Intelligence" is the ability, in great apes, to deceive or manipulate others for personal gain. "Tactical deception" is behavior, in apes, that misleads another ape. Common examples are: looking in a different direction from newly discovered food; and males hiding an erection, with whatever is convenient, when a dominant male approaches. One mark of tactical deception is the appearance of having an objective that is different from one's real goal.

Naturally, the behavior has been found in humans as well, and humans can fill out questionnaires. Machiavellian personality traits can be measured, from High Mach to Low Mach. In a 2015 study of cooperative exchange games in the lab (Give X dollars to Player A, B, C, or D, who may give X-N dollars to their fellow players), Low Mach players give equal shares of what they receive, trusting others to share equally. High Mach players keep more and give less, even if they have received equal shares from Low Mach players. These Machiavellian personality traits may have evolved to exploit people with cooperative personality traits.

Newt Gingrich knows this. He put Frans de Waal's book, Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes, the first to describe the Machiavellian society of chimpanzees, on the reading list for Congress in 1994. We can wonder how Republicans and Democrats would score on Machiavellian personality tests—but we already know. As (V) speculated, the Republican agenda is "cutting taxes for billionaires, appointing right-wing judges, and gutting environmental regulations," and that "it has made the calculation that acting like there is no agenda will get more votes than laying out the real agenda."

To answer Rampell: Yes, they have an agenda. And they don't dare tell voters what it is. It's worked before.

T.P. in Kings Park, NY, writes: I think the Republican agenda is pretty clear, and can be expressed in three words. I won't say what they are, but they were once misheard as "Let's Go Brandon."

P.S. in Arlington, TN, writes: In response to the question from J.K. in Silverdale, Coronavirus was a crisis that did spur a very brief "Rally Around the Flag" affect. It should've been a slam-dunk opportunity to lead as America faced Coronavirus together. Unfortunately, we lacked a competent leader capable of simply saying, "Listen to this doctor and I'll get him every resource he needs so we can fight this together as Americans." Trump's supporters refused to recognize the blatant incompetence that followed, but I wonder if we would've seen a "Rally Around the Flag" event had a competent Republican leader been in charge.

W.K.D. in Houston, TX, writes: I was intrigued by your observation that the combination of socially conservative but fiscally liberal is rare. It's very rare in certain circles, but pretty common among people that you (and I for that matter) never meet. My wife is a good example of someone who has the economic sensibilities of a communist combined with the moral sensibilities of a nun. But she's not a unicorn. Many evangelical Christians are obviously right-wing in their social beliefs but less obviously very far left-wing in their economic beliefs.

The media likes to focus on evangelicals who believe in the prosperity gospel because, of course, that makes them seem even more cartoonishly evil which is the whole point of writing about them. However, huge swaths of evangelical Christians really believe the general anti-capitalist slant of the Bible and believe everything should be shared, usury should be illegal, no one should have too much wealth, people should give generously to the poor, etc. The caveat here, of course, is that all this kumbayah should only apply to the faithful. If you wonder how my wife and I have remained married for 22 years (often happily), that is an entirely different conversation. I also think that my close relationship with someone who comes pretty close to being my polar opposite helps to explain the unique perspective I have of the world. So few people venture significantly outside their tiny little bubbles that of course everyone is both heavily siloed and adamant that his/her particular silo must be the right silo.

J.N. in Columbus, OH, writes: You wrote: "Actual centrism is not really defined by a set list of policy positions, but instead by an attitude about the operating of the government. What makes someone a centrist, more than any other defining characteristic, is a preference that policy change come slowly and be implemented cautiously."

As a self described "Militant Centrist," I take serious umbrage with that. You're describing a classic conservative. A centrist is more of a "Both sides have both good ideas and terrible ideas. What is the fine point between them?" For instance, the Republicans support and Democrats oppose trans "bathroom" bills. A centrist would say "Why don't we make all the public bathrooms one-person rooms, and solve this with no conflict at all?" And some organizations, such as the Wendy's fast food chain, have started doing this very thing.

As a centrist, my biggest gripe in American politics is that most of the commonsense compromise or avenues of least conflict are already kind of taken by the Democrats, and taboo for the Republicans. The latest one that has made it so I can never vote for a Republican in this climate, no matter how good the candidate might personally seem, is that the commonsense centrist position that rule of law should be a thing is now openly under attack by the Republican Party.

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: I just had to comment on your response to T.J.R in Metuchen, because in your response you may have just made the understatement of the millennium!!

You wrote: "[The Democratic Coalition] is not as strongly in agreement on, say, trans equality...[/snip]"

This is absolutely the understatement of the millennium, in my view as a trans woman. I will go so far as to say that I truly believe that society has largely decided that we trans are the last and only minority group that it is still okay to crap on. This is certainly how it looks from where I stand, anyway.

This is not to say we are the only group that suffers injustice or discrimination... far from it. But we are the ones least likely to have legal recourse when we do suffer injustice/discrimination, and we also are the ones least likely to have others stand up for us.

As an example of this... tens of thousands march for BLM... and a goodly amount of them are non-Black people. Tons of people show up for rallies against anti-Asian hate, as well they should. In the past, thousands have shown up for the Dreamers, when DACA was being threatened, and yes, thousands showed up for the Muslims.

Anti-Semitism is a very real problem in this country, and while marches are not common, support for the Jews is shown in many ways in this country when anti-Semitic actions are taken, disgust and disapproval of these things is very apparent in the media, and so on.

But, we trans ...we have to pull teeth to get a hundred to show up for us, and when we get that many, at least 96 of them are fellow trans people. My point is: So many show up for other minority groups, who are not members of that minority group, but that doesn't happen for us.

Fifty-three people were murdered last year, just in the United States, in anti-trans hate crime (not to mention the thousands who took their own lives because society has made their lives intolerable, and I count that as a form of murder). And I bet most of your readers could not name a one of them without Googling it.

Yet, we still know the names of victims of hate crimes that belong to other minority groups. I submit part of the reason is that trans people are often killed in ways that are not easily videotaped and then blasted to the world via social media... they are not sensationalized. The second reason, I submit, is because there is a general lack of sympathy in our society for trans... something in my view that no other minority group faces to the extent we do.

Some of your readers may disagree with this and that is fine, but I am trans, and this is how it looks to me. Even at the height of the HB-2 debacle here in North Carolina, we never had a hundred people show up for the performances of the AHO (Air Horn Orchestra) It feels to me like this country generally does not care about the injustice and discrimination we face, and that includes many Democrats.

Beyond the Palin

S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes: Readers may have wondered why, if Judge Jed Rakoff concluded that Sarah Palin failed to prove actual malice in her defamation case against The New York Times, the judge allowed the jury to continue to deliberate (and eventually to reach the same conclusion). The answer is to promote economical use of court resources in case of an appeal.

For the judge to decide that Palin must lose her case, he had to determine that the evidence of actual malice was so thin that no reasonable jury could possibly conclude Palin had proven malice by a preponderance of the evidence. A disappointed Palin might have appealed that ruling, and it's conceivable that an appellate court might hold that "well, the evidence is thin, but maybe it's not so thin that only crazy people would find the evidence in her favor." Ordinarily, that would result in a new trial, and a colossal waste of a trial judge's most precious asset: trial days.

But Rakoff already had a jury that had started to deliberate. Once the jury said "we're not crazy, and we didn't see enough evidence of actual malice either," then it doesn't matter if Rakoff was right that only an unreasonable jury could have ruled otherwise. The actual jury reached a decision, and a jury finding of fact is almost impossible to overturn on appeal.

Of course, Palin and her lawyers probably never really expected to satisfy the actual malice standard as a matter of fact. What they really want is for the Supreme Court to say that the actual malice standard is incorrect as a matter of law. As you pointed out, that would go a long way toward saying, "Freedom of Speech? Oh, never mind." And would likely end up biting the Fox's hand that has fed Palin for so long.

M.S. in Chicago, IL, writes: It never fails to amuse me how the (now older quotient of) libs who can't get over their obsession with Sarah Palin, a VP candidate on a losing ticket from over 13 years ago! She holds no office, has no political influence, and is hardly in the media, but her every move is followed and reported and gleefully attacked.

To show how crazy this is, it would be like Republicans doing the same with John Edwards.

Look, Obama won, the blow to libs' psyche after her convention speech still burns, but she can't do him any harm now—let it go.

V & Z respond: This is a curious comment to toss in our direction. More than just about any other politics-focused site, we try very hard to avoid items about former politicians doing outlandish things. In part, this is because we do not rely on clickthroughs, and so have no need for clickbait. And in part it is because our time has value and our readers' time has value, and we do not care to waste that time on "gotcha" crap (with the weekly "schadenfreude" pieces as the possible exception). If people really want to read about Donald Trump's latest rant and rave, or about Palin's latest setback, or about Rudy Giuliani's latest embarrassment, there are plenty of places where that can be done.

That said, when one of these folks does something that might actually have a meaningful impact on the world, then we have to write it up. And with some items, we have to think long and hard if they clear that bar. Trump's bloviating often puts us in this situation. However, for Sarah Palin to mount a frontal assault on the First Amendment, bankrolled by wealthy conservative supporters? That clears the "worthiness" bar by a mile, and we'd be writing up that trial if the plaintiff was Palin, or Edwards, or Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), or Paul Ryan, or the estate of Spiro Agnew.

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: It only looks inevitable after The Onion does it:

Following a lengthy five-year legal battle, sources confirmed Tuesday that a federal judge had dismissed a libel suit brought against The New York Times by cannibal terrorist Sarah Palin. "The law sets a very high standard for actual malice, and in this case, the notorious anti-Semite and serial killer was unable to provide sufficient evidence," said U.S. District Court Judge Jed S. Rakoff, who noted that despite the paper's "unfortunate editorializing," the former Alaska governor and convicted arsonist had failed to prove the publication had acted with "actual malice." "If anything, the evidence she put forward was more damning of her own time as a children's cult leader. With that said, I am immediately dismissing the ISIS fighter's lawsuit." At press time, Rakoff added that Palin was free to appeal, given she wasn't too drunk to file the paperwork.

V & Z respond: Strange. They seem to have overlooked Palin's longtime service as a mafia caporegime and her hobby of kicking puppies.


D.L. in Albuquerque, NM, writes: Last week's letters about Ukraine and a Ukraine-Russia conflict started me thinking. Most of the letters presented views which seem unsupported, other than what might be gathered from popular American media. The letter from J.R. in Vinnytsia, Ukraine, would be the biggest exception. I believe the Ukrainians have reason to be more optimistic than the Americans. The Russian military has been studied by countries around the world for years. The U.S. Army sees ways to defeat Russia's main combat unit, the battalion tactical group (BTG), based in part on some successes of the Ukrainian military eight years ago. An Indian source sees a similar window of success. I assume that Ukraine's release of a video showing a javelin missile destroying Russian cage armor on a tank is a message to the Russians, the Ukrainians, and the world that Ukraine can take on the Russians in asymmetrical warfare and win. Ukraine begins its spring thaw in mid-March. The prime time for an invasion of all of Ukraine is running out. As time runs out for the most aggressive option, smaller options become more likely.

The related issue that Americans have yet to talk about is how do we pay for open military aid, covert military aid, and upgrades to American military hardware, software, maintenance, and training to stay strong enough to avoid war where success is not assured. Repealing the Trump tax cut on corporations and individuals making over $400,000 is one way to do this while funding the full Build Back Better plan. Messaging on this or some other method of funding and motivating Americans to pay for the projection of power without using American troops will put us in more "interesting" times than we are in now.

S.B. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: The situation in Ukraine seems to be escalating by the hour. I hope and pray Donald Trump stays squarely out of it! I have this nightmare scenario in the back of my mind: Trump suddenly shows up as a last minute peacemaker. Putin would respond to this new "honest broker" because it would give him a way out of the corner into which he has painted himself, a general war in Eastern Europe, while also boosting Trump's stature in the U.S. and the world. Everyone would have to be supportive if Putin de-escalated because of the potential loss of life, democracy, etc., that has been averted. It would be a two-fer for Putin since he would get out of the Ukraine situation and boost his boy Trump in U.S. domestic politics. Please, God no!

V & Z respond: Note that this would be illegal, and would leave the federal government with no real choice but to arrest Trump and charge him with violating the Logan Act.

E.C.R. in Helsinki, Finland, writes: Your readers would wake up shocked if Vladimir Putin were to announce next month that nuclear-armed medium-range cruise missiles or nuclear-capable drone aircraft have been deployed in Cuba or Venezuela. As (Z) knows, such weapons would not contravene Nikita Khrushchev's agreement with John F. Kennedy, and if Ukraine is within its rights to join NATO then what's so special about Cuba? Furthermore, land-based cruise missiles were never range-limited in the Western hemisphere—only in Europe.

If that's not enough, I could go on about the U.S. Army routinely deploying tanks in the Baltics. Hint: Narva in Estonia is as close to Russia's second largest city, St. Petersburg, as Tijuana is to Los Angeles. But no doubt there's a special reason why Mexico will never be allowed to let the Chinese PLA conduct tank exercises near Mexicali. Enjoy next month's crisis. Both U.S. and Russian national security hardliners have been wishing for it since at least 1961.

Oh, Canada...

P.R. in Saco, ME, writes: (Z) wrote about his harrowing experience crossing into Canada for a wedding in Montreal. My husband and I can sympathize, though generally we have found the Canadian border guards upta Jackson, ME, in moose country, to be way more friendly than their American counterparts. The Canadians, in our experience, are like a Great Dane, which will let the robber in the house but not let the robber back out, it is said.

While we have had a number of fright-making experiences at the northern border, and the worst was similar to (Z)'s. After canoeing the Bloodvein River in the wilderness for twelve days to its mouth on Lake Winnipeg, a band of us stanky, manky paddlers in our rented mommy van headed south to the border north of Fargo, ND. For some odd reason at 11:00 at night we got pulled into one of those side bays that makes your heart sink. Sure, officers, you want to go through several plastic storage tubs of warm and wet life jackets, leftover pita bread, hummus, and oranges, damp sleeping bags, and neoprene booties that would make a petri dish blush? You go right ahead. But I did not appreciate being yelled at when I asked if I could go to the bathroom. Really, officer, I need to pee, not dispose of drugs. How naive could I have been? And you know, they're just grumpy when they've been disappointed they can't clap you in chains because they didn't find anything incriminating. That all was just to get back in our native country—welcome home, chumps. So the Americans are meaner, in our opinion. Generally, we find the "eh" guys to be relaxed, if not cheerful. Never cheerful, no, never. We really feel for (Z) and are sorry that happened; it is a singular experience to know almost all the civic rights you have are suspended in the inter-country zone.

P.M. in Currituck, NC, writes: I once had a similar experience crossing at none other than the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls. After interminable delays with no explanation, and a thorough car-searching, and after they gave me my passport back, they asked "have you ever been arrested anywhere in the world within the past year?". Once I said "no," I was free to proceed. I too am waiting for that apology from Trudeau.

J.T. in Ottawa, ON, Canada, writes:

A picture of Justin Trudeau with the text: 'Dear Zenger--We're sorry, eh!

T.C. in Denver, CO, writes: The story about (Z) getting stopped at the Canadian border reminded me of my own horror story from a few years back. I had never been before, and while visiting Glacier National Park, on the U.S. side of the border, we decided to day-trip to the Canada side just so I could say I'd been.

Maybe it was our Colorado plates in a day when we were still known as the Marijuana State, maybe it was the fact that we were crossing at an obscure checkpoint in Alberta, maybe something else. But the guards insisted on searching our car, and even wanted the passcodes to our phones. So my partner and I sat in a room looking at a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II while they rifled through our camping gear and browsing history, leaving us to put away the mess when they found nothing. It was not a good first impression, and thoroughly disabused me of the Canadian stereotype.

D.M. in Oakland, CA, writes: At last we learn the source of (Z)'s mysterious anti-Canadian bias!

For what it's worth, in my many border crossings in more than 35 years as a Canadian living in the U.S., the only negative experiences I had came from the U.S. side. Once, a time long ago, I was traveling with friends, one of whom was such an ardent astrology enthusiast that he brought astrology books wherever he went so he could cast charts for people he met. When we were crossing the border from Alberta to Montana, the U.S. customs agent saw the astrology books, and she began a grim interrogation as to their purpose. Long story short, we were turned back at the border because—the agent claimed—she believed my friend planned to work illegally in the United States, doing horoscopes. From various things she said it was clear her worry was more along the lines of "he will practice witchcraft in the United States," but I guess there was no rule to prohibit that.

We went back to the Canadian side, where the customs agents were very surprised and sympathetic to see us return. They asked us what happened, we told them, and one of them said, "Oh. It's Marge, isn't it?"

The Canadian customs agents were thoroughly solicitous and helped us pack up the offending books so my friend could ship them back home. They did everything possible to smooth things over and get us back on our way, and to make us comfortable in the meantime.

We went back across again and, with the offending books gone and a different agent checking us through, we passed without incident. But I believe Marge was glowering at us from the next station.

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: Two anecdotes about my own experiences at the US/Canada border:

Speaking to the priorities of the two countries at the time, when we crossed into Canada, we were asked questions like "Do you have any firearms with you?" "Explosives?" "Weapons of any sort?" When we crossed back into the U.S., we were asked if we had any... fruit, or other produce. (We joked that maybe the agent was just hungry for a snack.) Ok, invasive species are a problem, sure, but not one question was asked about guns. I guess there are so many here already that another handful wouldn't matter?

In an earlier incident (which occurred when I was too young to remember it, but it's been related back to me by my parents), my family apparently fit a kidnapping profile, and my brother and I were grilled with questions like "Is [SK] your real name?" and "Are these really your parents?" Aggressively interrogating 5-year-olds; so much for Canada's reputation for friendliness, eh?

G.S. in Spokane, WA, writes: At first, this appears to be a lovely article about international cooperation to provide library materials for the blind, disabled, and so on. How could this not be a good thing?

The devil's in the details. Far down in the article you find this: "Some of the service's most popular English audiobooks are Amish romances imported from Canada."

The insidiousness of Netherlands West has no bottom.

V & Z respond: Wasn't it Aldous Huxley who said: "The principles underlying propaganda are extremely simple. Find some common desire, some widespread unconscious fear or anxiety, and then produce a Canadian-Amish book about it"?

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: From my daughter-in-law (one of them; the other D-i-L is a Canadian!):

It's a Venn diagram where the overlap between 'Canadian Geese'
and 'Toddlers' is 'Always pooping,' the overlap between 'Canadian Geese' and 'Anti-Vaxxer' is 'wants everyone dead,' the overlap between 'Toddlers'
and 'Anti-Vaxxer' is 'incoherent ramblings,' and the overlap between all three is 'can't reason with them.'

L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: Wow, you guys were way ahead of the curve on this story!

A chyron from Tucker Carlson's show that 
has the headline 'Canadian-Style Tyranny Is on Its Way Here

V & Z respond: It's not a secret that we created this site in order to give Tucker Carlson his cues.

Also, our thanks to the many folks who sent this in. We were much amused.

Time for a Map

R.M. in Williamstown, WV, writes: Just a comment on the question from P.F. in Fairbanks regarding which kind of map would be most appropriate when showing Crimea. No argument with your reply, but there seems to me to be an additional possibility. If one has the ability to obtain it (or modify an existing map to reflect it), how about showing Crimea with a cross-hatch pattern? If it is a color map, the cross hatch could be the two colors on the rest of the map allocated to Ukraine and Russia. If it is a back and white map, simply diagonal lines, or a grid design could work. This is often used in maps to denote either disputed territory, or sometimes, stateless areas (Western Sahara in Africa, for example.) This approach could serve as a basis for a more thorough discussion of the actual status of Crimea.

T.B. in Tallahassee, FL, writes: I recall looking at National Geographic maps as a kid, and noting the area in South Asia that were claimed by both India and Pakistan and others by both India and China, and maybe with a dotted line showing actual control.

M.G. in Boulder, CO, writes: You wrote: "(Z) actually has a whole lecture about how maps often serve to obfuscate as much as they serve to clarify. Perhaps he will write an item on the subject sometime."

This sounds interesting, and if you already have the information...

V & Z respond: Quite a few folks wrote in, so we'll probably have something on this soon.

Woke Island

D.T. in San Jose, CA, writes: For at least the past 5 years, I have not once heard a young progressive person (unironically) use the term "woke." It is almost exclusively used dismissively, to mock (often legitimate) concerns.

Whenever a speaker uses the word "woke," it instantly reveals their own views, and foreshadows how they will be framing any further discussion. "Woke" is largely just a shibboleth among conservative circles, used to identify likeminded individuals. Other examples include "cancel culture," "social justice warrior," and "real America."

You should consider avoiding the use of "wokeness"; you wouldn't, with a straight face, use the phrase "lamestream media," right?

Obvious exceptions would be when writing about the perspective of certain voters, or when using it ironically to make a joke. I'm not trying to weigh in on the merits of social justice issues, as a political platform. But loaded phrases can impact the framing of an issue.

P.S.: Unfortunately, I don't have a great suggestion for an alternate phrase that succinctly captures the same range of issues. Maybe your readers do? I would suggest at least wrapping "woke/wokeness" in quotation marks, when using it to relay the views of others.

V & Z respond: That's the rub. If there's a better way to communicate this particular notion, we're happy to hear it.

O.D. in Lisbon, Portugal, writes: I really like your site! I do. But I found myself disagreeing with you quite a lot recently.

I consider myself a progressive. But I also support the police (the "good" ones, not the racists).

When I watch this interview with Brooke Jenkins on Real Time with Bill Maher (starting at 7:40) I'm appalled. Is this how the Democrats want to be seen? We really need to stop making it so easy for the Republicans. This sh** is hurting us so badly. We used to be the grown-ups. Now we are competing with the QAnons to see who is the wackiest. America (and the world) is hurting because of this. We have to find back our common sense.

V & Z respond: Note that Maher has a long history of finding extremist outliers and then using his home-field advantages in order to make them look even more ridiculous. He is, in many ways, the modern Wally George.

Also, disagreeing with us is a good thing. We are educators whose purpose is to make people think; we are not CIA human programmers whose purpose is to make people think the same things we do.

M.G. in Newtown, PA, writes:

A tweet that reads: 'Every day
I beg my colleagues in the Democratic Party to pass good policies. 'Shut up loser,' they say to me. 'We will be woke

M.H. in St. Paul, MN, writes: In your Thursday item on the recall election in San Fransisco, you wrote that "the recall elections show that even in woker-than-thou San Francisco, there are limits to how much wokeness people will take."

As a freshman at a left-leaning liberal arts college, I have noticed that there is an enormous difference between people's opinions on wokeness when they are in public, and when they are in private. In public, wokeness prevails; an unquestioned truth that imprints itself on every conversation on public policy and social constructs. In private, there is nothing but critiques and complaints about the same, including by many students who otherwise support progressive policies.

This explains, to an extent, the seemingly anomalous results in San Fransisco: It is not that there are limits to the wokeness accepted by woke people, but instead that far fewer people are woke than it might seem at first glance.

J.L.J. in San Francisco, CA, writes: The "defund the police" trope is profoundly irritating. I do not mean the slogan, "what it really means," or any of that. Yes, all of that is irritating for different reasons. What I mean is this: After the pandemic hit, states and local governments were facing serious budget issues. Police, a large driver of many a budget, were facing cuts. Depending on the size and kind of jurisdiction or government (from small towns all the way to state governments), threats ranged from closing whole departments forever to immediate layoffs, to hiring freezes, and the like.

Facing this, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan, designed in part to prevent cuts in public services caused by pandemic-induced revenue losses and to avoid additional cuts. This included over $350 billion to state, county, and local governments for first responders. This one act saved literally every single police department in the country, with the exception of federal policing agencies. No closure, no layoff, no hiring freeze. In addition, it helped give first responders bonus pay. So, every state and local cop in the land had their job saved and many got a bonus!

Thus, while all the "defund the police" rhetoric is banding about quite liberally, the one time Congress actually had a vote on, again—literally—funding every single state and local police force in the nation, and saving many from outright closure (some may call that "abolishing" those police departments), every single Democrat in Congress voted in favor of saving every last one of them, while every single Republican voted to, let us generously say, "allow" the defunding of every state and local police department in the United States of America—all of them—while eliminating many others. The House vote was 220-211, and the Senate vote was 50-49; Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) did not vote.

There is a lot of rhetoric in politics, but at the end of the day, what matters is the legislation that actually passes, and how people voted on that legislation. The whole country has exactly one and only one example of how the parties voted when it came to funding all of the state and local police departments, and its resoundingly clear who voted to fund the police, and who voted to defund them, regardless of all the talk.

Now, Republicans got a mulligan here with the comparatively paltry $2.1 billion for the emergency funding bill for federal policing agencies (this primarily funded the Capitol Police but also other agencies, including the FBI, the Federal Police, and the National Guard). For this one, every Senator present voted in favor, 98-0, with Senators Roger Marshall (R-KS) and Mike Rounds (R-SD) not present. The House vote was 416-11, with 4 not voting. Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), Cori Bush (D-MO), Bob Good (R-VA), Thomas Massie (R-KY), Rom McClintock (R-CA), Ralph Norman (R-OK), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Ilhan Omar (DFL-MN), Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), Chip Roy (R-TX), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) voted against it. Representatives Brian Babin (R-TX), Clay Higgins (R-LA), Jim Jordan (R-OH), and David Scott (D-GA) did not vote.

So that's it. The only people on the record that actually matters, who oppose funding any police in any context are Reps. Babin, Good, Higgins, Jordan, Massie, McClintock, Norman, and Roy, along with Sens. Marshall and Rounds. These folks either did not vote or voted against funding all of the police across the nation from local to state to federal. All Republicans. Yet, for those Republicans, voting in favor of $2.1 billion in funding for federal police agencies, but against $350 billion in funding for state and local police, the evidence does point heavily in favor of them opposing police funding.

As for Democrats, only Bowman, Bush, Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Scott, and Tlaib voted to fund every state and local police force, but either did not vote or voted against funding federal police agencies. Yet again, though, that was $350 billion versus $2.1 billion, which does point heavily toward funding the police rather than defunding them.

So, until proven otherwise by action versus rhetoric, I am quite finished entertaining thoughts about this "defund the police" crap, unless it is explicitly targeted towards those who have already proven they'll do it when faced with a vote on it. Especially those who proved it twice. And for now, that means the Republicans.

And Now, a Little Bookkeeping...

M.C. in Newton, MA, writes: The word "bookkeeping" has three consecutive pairs of double letters, though my dictionary also includes "bookkeeper," which has the same property. Of course, my dictionary goes even further and contains "subbookkeeper," which has four consecutive pairs, but I think few would dare to consider that a "common" word (and now I see that my e-mail spellchecker does not consider it a word at all).

V & Z respond: That is the answer we had in mind, though we should have clarified that the phrase "English word" is generally understood to mean "all variants of that word." Also, we did not deliberately include any "decoys" in that answer; we actually added the trivia question about 5 minutes before the post went live.

M.M. in Newbury Park, CA, writes: "Bookkeeping" is the only word in the English language with 3 consecutive pairs of repeating letters. Though one could argue "bookkeeper" also shares this distinction. Also, depending on what dictionary you use, the person receiving a tattoo, the "tattooee," would also fall in this category.

V & Z respond: We can only hope the person receiving the tattoo isn't a Hutt, because then they'd be a Tatooine tattooee.

C.A.G. in Athens, GA, writes: Based on my immaculate bookkeeping, there are very few words in the English language that have three consecutive double letters.

Now, if you can find a way to work "jibboommaker," "sheeppoodle," or "maxillooccipital" into your blog, I will be impressed. I would challenge you with "buffoonness," but you frequently write about Donald Trump, so that would hardly be a challenge.

I wonder what the "underrookkeeper" thinks about all this?

V & Z respond: What about the Caannoole River, just outside the town of Daaddaale in Somalia?

E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, writes: A dam has something called a "flooddoor." The controls for the flooddoor are in the "flooddoorroom." someone who attends a meeting in this room would be called a "flooddoorroommeetinggoer."

V & Z respond: Read that last word very carefully, or else you might conclude E.W. is a racist.

W.H. in San Jose, CA, writes: It is indeed a rare trait. Of course, since accepting the job to handle Trump's taxes is such a booby-trap, perhaps we are talking "boobbookkeeping" here.

V.A. in Amsterdam, Netherlands, writes: It must be "bookkeeping" that is unusual: two o's, two k's and two e's in succession.

But more importantly: I believe that (V) mentioned this during one of his lectures in 1984 or so at the Vrije University. As I was in the audience and was paying attention (as all his lectures were pretty awesome), I think the teacher gave away the answer 38 years or so before presenting the puzzle today.

V & Z respond: True, though note it was (Z) who wrote the question and (Z) who chose to run this letter.

S.C. in Revere, MA, writes: The unusual word is "bookkeeping"... the only word in common use in the English language with three double letters in a row. For any avid readers of Encyclopedia Brown, this was likely an easy catch, as Encyclopedia solved one of his many mysteries using this piece of information as the key "a-ha" moment.

V & Z respond: And this is where (Z) learned this particular piece of information. There was almost an Encyclopedia Brown reference in the original question as a hint.

F.R. in Union Mill, WA, writes: "Bookkeeping" reminded me: A paperback book of republished Ripley's Believe it or Not! material my dad bought me when I was a kid in the 60's listed a palindromic Finnish word for soap vendor: "saippuakivikauppias."

A web search of saippuakivikauppias revealed a James Joyce-coined palindrome with 3 doubled, but separated, letters: "tattarrattat."

V & Z respond: In addition to the Encyclopedia Brown books, (Z) also read all the Ripley's books as a kid.

C.H. in Arlington, TX, writes: "Bookkeeping." Only a handful of words use a double k. "Jackknife" would be another.

V & Z respond: There are several dozen, actually, including "knickknack," which also starts and ands with a 'k' in addition to the double-k in the middle.

D.R. in San Jose, CA, writes: The unique word from todays answer was "bookkeeping," due to the triple-double letters.

Although "efficacious" is pretty uncommon too, because it contains all five vowels, but it isn't the only word that does that trick.

R.C. in Newport News, VA, writes: There is a word in this answer that has an extremely unusual characteristic? "Efficacious" contains all the vowels. "Efficaciously" has the bonus of containing "y."

J.G. in Philadelphia, PA, writes: "Efficacious" has both a hard "c" and a "c" pronounced "sh."

J.F. in Fort Worth, TX, writes: I'm tempted to say it's "sesterces", because it's typed entirely with the left hand. But that can't be right because: (1) the Intertubes tells me that there are a lot of such words, including "reverberate" and "stewardesses" and (2) this would be using a definition of "common" I'm unfamiliar with. So I'm going to instead go with "bookkeeper" because of the three consecutive pairs of double letters.

S.S. in Etobicoke, Ontario, Canada, writes: "Sesterce" is an unusual word. It has 2 different singular/plural noun forms.

  • sesterce-sesterces
  • sestertius-sestertii

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: "Sesterces" is hardly common, but it does have an unusual meaning as it isn't a whole number unit of measure, and an unusual unit at that. However, you are usually craftier than that, so I say "accountancy," primarily because the first time I heard it used was in a Monty Python bit and thought they had made it up as an insult.

M.S. in Canton, NY, writes: "Sesterces" is the only word in the English language with 3 e's as its only vowels, each pronounced with a different vowel quality (short e, either "ur" or "air" depending on your accent, and long e), and 3 occurrences of another consonant as well... OK, that's almost certainly not what you were going for, but prove me wrong!

V & Z respond: You are right that this is not the answer we were going for, and also that we can't prove your answer wrong.

T.P. in Sun Prairie, WI, writes: The word you're referring to is "serene." It has 3 vowels, which are all the same, and three different consonants.

There are actually a fair number of words that have this quality. In fact, "beekeeper" has five e's and no repeating consonants.

M.S. in Parma, OH, writes: "Unravel" means the same as "ravel."

H.R. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: My guess: "sanction."

The unique characteristic is that it can be used to invoke two opposite meanings:

  1. "He was sanctioned for his ill deeds" as in "punished for wrongdoing"
  2. "He was sanctioned to perform his duties" as in "allowed to perform his duties"

V & Z respond: "Unravel" and "Sanction" are good guesses, but as you've both helped demonstrate, this is actually an unexpectedly common occurrence in English. Indeed, common enough that there is a term for it. Or, actually, two terms: "contronym" or "Janus word."

A.T. in Quincy, IL, writes: I believe I ran into this in a book before. Possibly one of Martin Gardner's, or maybe Richard Lederer. Anyway, if I recall correctly, "bookkeeping" is the only "common" English word which contains three consecutive doubled letters: "oo," "kk," and "ee."

Could have been one of Isaac Asimov's essays, now that I think about it. He wrote about language quirks, too. I recall a story of how he once challenged a group of folks at a party to guess the one English word which contains the three-letter sequence "ufa."

G.J. in Spokane, WA, writes: It's "bookkeeping"—with its double O, double K and double E. That may be unprecedented in English.

Any words you can think of that begin with "und" and end with "und"?

I cite these words, among other unusual ones, in my new book, Meet the Dog that Didn't Sh*t: 101 Reflections on Words and their Magic.

V & Z respond: Your book looks like a fun read, so we are happy to be able to pass the title along.

D.E. in Ann Arbor, MI, writes: Now you're in my wheelhouse, word puzzles! "Bookkeeping" has three consecutive double letters. I'm a former Jeopardy contestant, guest on Will Shortz's Sunday NPR word puzzle, and author of two of his on-air challenges.

Here's one that I wrote: Add two letters to "Trump" and two letters to "Biden. " Now, the letters in each name can be rearranged into an appetizer you might order at an ethnic restaurant. Hint: Of the two letters you add to each word, one is the same letter in both cases...

V & Z respond: We'll answer the three questions that we've concluded with here—"ufa," "und," and Trump/Biden—in the mailbag next week. Of course, readers are once again welcome to send in their guesses before that. And it's more fun if you don't get help from Google.


S.S. in Santa Monica, CA, writes: I'm a proud Bruin who graduated twice from UCLA (29 years apart!) and played trombone in the UCLA Band from 1981-1983. In the 1981 UCLA-U$C game, our band took the field first for the pregame show, which we performed admirably. Perhaps too admirably. As we marched off the field, the Trojan "band" was lined up and waiting for us to clear the way so they could do whatever it is they do. When we reached our part of the sideline, a Troy freshman (obviously) saxophone "player" looked up at us with eyes as big as his BMW's logo, and gushingly said, "You guys are GOOD!" Before you could say "Muffy and Biff," a larger, non-freshman Trojan took his elbow and jammed the wiser-than-he-looked little freshman in the ribs as hard as he could. Needless to say, we burst out laughing before covering our ears to escape the jerky, high-stepping, annoying sounds they forced from their instruments. Incidentally, that was our last home game at the Coliseum; our football team moved to the Rose Bowl for the 1982 season, so I had the distinct honor of playing on two different home fields!

And when I first attended UCLA in 1981, there wasn't any tuition. We paid "reg fees" (registration fees) instead of tuition; it was $210 per quarter in 1981, and I believe it rose to roughly $450 per quarter during my senior year. And yes, this is my original first reg card; it was the top portion of a standard computer punch card:

A very old, paper student ID

E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, writes: With regards to Jason Voorhees, I've long said that, with some clever (or sometimes not-so-clever) writing, no one in any fictional work is ever really dead.

There's always magic, technology, faking death, it was all a dream, time travel, and on and on and on. Maybe this applies to politics? People counted Nixon and Biden out...

V & Z respond: And don't forget "only MOSTLY dead."

R.R. in Pasadena, CA, writes: I noticed this in your item on the San Francisco recall: "In fairness, everyone knows historians are sketchy, always helping themselves to a second bagel from the refreshments table."

I'd bet that (Z) is the one that actually wrote this, even though (V) was the author of the article. But it's much more amusing to think that (V) wrote this as a fun dig at (Z); and makes me look forward to the zingers the two of you would be shooting at each other. I'll be looking for "Everybody knows that computer programmers live off of Mountain Dew and LED mood lighting" in the next few weeks.

V & Z respond: (Z) did write that. If there were going to be any potshots of the sort you describe, they would probably be related to our respective alma maters. Recall that (Z) went to UCLA, while (V) was forced to settle for Berkeley. And as to the Mountain Dew/LED thing, it's not a zinger if it's true.

C.T.P. in Lancaster, PA, writes: You wrote: "She also defended the decision not to include any historians on the board-appointed committee that voted to get rid of Lincoln, Washington, and Revere. The committee consisted entirely of 'community members.' In fairness, everyone knows historians are sketchy, always helping themselves to a second bagel from the refreshments table."

Actually, it is the fact that they lick the plate after all the bagels are gone!

V & Z respond: Those who don't get the reference would do well to click here.

G.R. in Tarzana, CA, writes: Just wanted to let you know that your piece on P.J. O'Rourke was possibly the best that I read, as it really captured him, rather that just told about him. Additionally, your comments on humor, left and right, and the suggestion of reading O'Rourke and Dave Barry back-to-back were spot on. It's easy to write humor that pushes your own ideology to those waiting to embrace it; it takes a bit more dedication to the craft in order to write jokes that are contrary to your own personal beliefs, and the best are those that who can frame a joke so that everyone laughs, despite their personal views. P.J. was one of the best.

V & Z respond: Thanks! When we do obits, we try to do something different from the usual, since if you want a standard obit, you can find those in a million places.

B.H. in Greenbelt, MD, writes: I think this is the best P.J. O'Rourke quote, from Parliament of Whores:

The Democrats said, "We don't know what's wrong with America, but we can fix it." The Republicans said, "There's nothing wrong with America, and we can fix that."

V & Z respond: That seems an excellent way to end this week's mailbag. Vaya con dios, P.J.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb19 Saturday Q&A
Feb18 From Deposed to Deposed
Feb18 McCarthy Turns Traitor
Feb18 Government Shutdown Averted
Feb18 Oregon's Next Governor's Ain't Nick
Feb18 Facebook's Feed Frenzy
Feb18 This Week in Schadenfreude
Feb18 Looking Forward: The Readers Predict 2022, Part IX: The Economy
Feb17 Biden Orders Trump Visitor Logs Turned over to House Select Committee
Feb17 Lots of Legal Action Coming Up This Year
Feb17 Senate Republicans Are Blocking Fed Nominees
Feb17 2022 Elections May Be Underfunded
Feb17 Do Republicans Stand for Anything?
Feb17 Missouri Senate Race Is Up for Grabs
Feb17 Portman Backs Timken
Feb17 Three School Board Members Recalled in San Francisco
Feb17 Election Denier Is Running to Run Elections in Colorado
Feb16 Democrats Have Seen the Enemy, and He Is... Tough to Beat
Feb16 Sandy Hook Families Reach $73 Million Settlement with Remington
Feb16 Palin Completes the Sweep
Feb16 Biden Administration Will Restore California's Vehicular Emissions Waiver
Feb16 Another Long Island Iced (D)
Feb16 P.J. O'Rourke, 1947-2022
Feb16 Looking Backward: How Did The Readers Do?, Part IX: The Economy
Feb15 What McConnell Is Up To
Feb15 Rats Desert Sinking Ship
Feb15 Eastman Has Many Secrets (or So He Claims)
Feb15 Palin Loses Once--Do We Hear Twice?
Feb15 Manchin Would Definitely Probably Maybe Possibly Support a Second Supreme Court Nominee
Feb15 But Her E-mails, Vol. CCXLV
Feb15 Abbott Is a Beto Blocker
Feb14 Tensions over Ukraine Are Running High
Feb14 Giuliani Is Negotiating with the Jan. 6 House Select Committee
Feb14 Trump Proactively Tried to Cover His Tracks on Jan. 6
Feb14 Democrats Are Beginning to Campaign on Supporting Democracy
Feb14 Voters Are Split on Who They Want in 2024
Feb14 Trump Is Now Battling People Who Used to Support Him
Feb14 Florida Is a Breeding Ground for Far-Right Groups
Feb14 Val Demings Pushes for More Police Funding
Feb13 Sunday Mailbag
Feb12 Saturday Q&A
Feb11 Papersgate Becomes Toilet Papersgate
Feb11 Ukraine Might Soon "Go Crazy" (or Not)
Feb11 Iran Nuclear Deal En Route to Being Resurrected
Feb11 All the Way with the ERA?
Feb11 Susan Collins May Have Some Trouble on Her Hands...
Feb11 ...While J.D. Vance May Have a Different Kind of Trouble on His
Feb11 This Week in Schadenfreude
Feb11 Someone's Gonna Get Killed
Feb10 What Is McConnell Up to?