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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

We continue the discussion of guns, of places to move, and of grading, among other matters.

Up in Arms

M.N. in Madison, WI, writes: I, like a great many others, am tired of the "We've tried nothing, and it isn't working" approach to addressing gun violence. No other developed country in the world has gun violence anywhere close to what the U.S. sees.

I think the only way we are going to get proper gun control in this country is if Democrats take a page from Cato, and every Democratic politician from the President to the local dogcatcher ends every speech with "Furthermore, gun control must be passed." Every time they speak, to anyone. Not just until some weak, meaningless show bill is passed. For decades, if necessary, until America's sick fetish for guns is ended and the Second Amendment is repealed.

K.F.K. in CleElum, WA, writes: After years supporting and working with state and national groups trying to curb gun violence, I became discouraged at what I saw was a lack of interest among fellow progressives with the issue. They might express horror at a particular event or nod in agreement that there was a problem but they surely weren't going to base their votes on this issue. Today, I looked at the websites for my former Minnesota senators and my current Washington senators. Their homepages contained nothing about the recent massacres. I actually had to use the search window on one site to find a statement from one senator and I had to scroll through numerous other places to find anything on others.

I am amazed at my ability to still be shocked, but this shocked me. These are Democratic Senators from blue states and their treatment of recent events was already buried after a week. I have gotten e-mail from Rep. Ilhan Omar (DFL-MN), but her home page has nothing on gun violence. What a sad statement that the murder of 19 children and 2 adults followed by a second spree at a medical facility garners no more interest among my representatives than any other issue before them. Shame on them and shame on us for allowing them to behave this way.

A.M. in Brookhaven, PA, writes: I hate to say this but I think the only way to get any legislation passed is for the children/grandchildren and other relatives of the anti-gun-control politicians to be the victims of future mass shootings. Like so many other things, until it hits home for them, nothing will change.

I have written the following to my Republican Senator, Pat Toomey:

Dear Senator Toomey,

Yesterday we heard the news of another mass shooting at a school, this one in Texas. This was the 248th mass shooting in the country this year, the 27th at a school. Many of your Republican colleagues have publicly come out warning Democrats not to use this latest shooting as an excuse to implement gun control. They seem to be oblivious that we are not talking about one "excuse," we are looking at 250 of them.

My understanding is that this is an issue where you don't see eye-to-eye with your fellow Republicans. If this is indeed the case, it's time for you to reach across the aisle, join with the Democrats to eliminate the filibuster on this issue, and pass significant gun control legislation. This is your chance to make your mark on the Senate and be remembered as a hero long after your time in the chamber is done. Do you want to be remembered for standing with the Republicans in support of the perpetrators of these cowardly acts or do you want to be remembered as the man who stood up for the millions of Americans who are potential victims of gun violence?

H.L. in Carmichael, CA, writes: I want to share my experience regarding an overseas view regarding American gun policy. I retired in 2000 had a couple hundred thousand miles in my United Airline award account. Asking my wife where we should go to celebrate my retirement resulted in the decision to use my reward miles for a trip to Australia.

As part of our trip, we traveled to norther Australia to visit Cairns. We stayed at a bed and breakfast 2 or 3 miles out of the city. I will never forget the conversation we had with a taxi driver while returning to our B&B one evening.

The taxi driver said something like, "What's up with you Yanks and guns? We had a mass shooting here in Australia a few years back. We changed our policy about guns. Anyone can own a gun here, but we have gun clubs where our guns are stored. It keeps us safe from mass shootings."

I had no good answer for our Aussie taxi driver then. I have no good answer now. What is up with us Yanks and guns?

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: Responding to E.D. in Dansville: Suggesting that someone shouldn't have been born is pretty edgy stuff, and I applaud you for saying a really uncomfortable thing out loud. A different way of looking at this is discussed in Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything, by Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, which was published in 2005, and has since spawned a sequel, a blog and a podcast/NPR radio show. In it, the authors detail studies, using economic theory, that indicate that the reduction in crime that occurred 18-20 years after the Roe decision not only correlates with the availability of legalized abortion but also that there is a causal link. These studies, of course, have their critics (as many do), but all I can say is that, intuitively, this makes a ton of sense. Because, of course, an unwanted baby is more likely to grow up with the challenges that correlate with future criminal behavior.

Sometimes I feel like I'm spitting into the wind as I repeat so many of the same arguments that I have been hearing since I became politically active in the '80s. But giving up is not an option and if there is one thing I have learned from watching the GOP over the years, repetition is completely necessary if you want to get a message to sink in.

P.S. in Plano, TX, writes: Both of the Uvalde shooter's parents were involved in their son's life. He was not the product of incest. He only recently had begun living with his grandmother, seemingly due to a dispute between his grandmother and his mother over his mother's drug use. Since this dispute over drug use only happened almost 20 years after his conception, it is not evidence that his mother was "a drug addict" at the time of his conception. He was named after his father, and there is no reason to believe he was unwanted by either parent.

You know who else was bullied and had a stutter? Joe Biden. I humbly suggest to E.D. that it would be better to provide speech therapy for children who have speech impediments and to protect them from those who would bully them than to just kill them all before they're born on the assumption that they're irredeemably defective and a useless burden to their parents and society. I'd also like to point out that E.D.'s philosophy that it is useful and moral to deny life to those considered to be defective was put into practice in Germany and German-occupied territories during the 1940s. The policies implemented in service of that philosophy are now widely considered to shock the conscience.

L.C. in Brookline, MA, writes: You wrote, in case Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) would happen to see it: "How about you grow a pair, put your big-boy pants on, and do something meaningful for once?"

While I applaud the desire for the very much justified insult to Joe Manchin, this falls right into the trap of also insulting the entire 51% of the population that doesn't have "a pair" and yet has just as much courage as the 49% of the population that does.

V & Z respond: We have written, many times, that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has the biggest pair in Washington. We've even encouraged folks like Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) to see if they can borrow one of her backup pairs.


G.T.M. in Vancouver, BC, Canada, writes: The position of the U.S. government is that "For around 98.13% of the earth's land surface, the inhabitants have the absolute right to declare that they no longer wish to belong to the country that currently controls their area and to leave the jurisdiction of that country and either establish a new country or amalgamate with another country."

My question is "Where is the remaining (approximately) 1.87% of the earth's land surface located?"

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: You wrote: "...for many voters, just the existence of an investigation is proof of malfeasance."

The simple reading of this is that the voters you refer to consider a Republican-led investigation to be proof enough of the guilt of those under investigation. But I chuckled when I realized that it also works for Democrat-led investigations; it's just that in that case, they perceive it to be proof of malfeasance on the part of the investigators.

M.N. in Madison, WI, writes: While reading your item "Republicans' Plans to Steal the 2024 Election Have Leaked Out," the part about registering poll workers stood out to me as a something with potential downsides for the GQP.

First, a bit of backstory: My father is and has always been a (small c) conservative True Believer™. For as long as I've been politically aware, I've been hearing about whatever the bogus voter fraud talking points of the day happened to be. Then, a few years ago, he was approached by his town's clerk in charge of elections and asked to work the polling place for the (then) upcoming election as they were chronically understaffed. He agreed to help, and afterwards, his experience on the inside convinced him that there was simply no way that the multi-decade believed-in voter fraud was actually taking place. Long story short, I would like to hold out hope that the GQP's polling worker recruitment efforts could backfire in a similar way, reducing the number of people believing those voter fraud claims.

All that said, my pessimism insists on its dark cloud to the silver lining above. First, the number of poll workers recruited is likely to be too small to alter the number of "Stop the Steal" believers significantly. Second, not all of the poll workers so recruited may be as motivated to remain internally consistent as my father is. Finally, it will do precisely nothing to convert the political hacks at higher levels of election administration and/or political office, since they know it's bogus but are simply exploiting voter fraud claims for political gain.

J.C. in Binan, Laguna, Philippines, writes: This Quaker looking at the Voter Challenge Card you posted thinks that the RNC is in for a world of hurt on First Amendment grounds if they try to make a Friend take an oath.

D.G. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I am sick to my stomach to see price rises of various products, especially foods, way beyond the inflation rate, and the hardest-hit are those least able to afford it.

Dollar Tree recently raised their base price by 25%. How much of that is greed and how much of it is true cost increase? 25%?

Celeste Pizza, a single serving, which used to sell for 99 cents at Smart and Final, now sells for $1.29. Really? a 30% markup from last month? Give me a break!

I strongly believe that merchants are taking advantage of the talk of inflation to jack up their prices by large amounts to line their pockets, aggravating an already legitimately bad situation.

Plain old greed.

All Politics is Local

C.W. in Carlsbad, CA, writes: Since we're doing recommendations here for places to live, I want to remind our readers in California that our primary in this coming Tuesday. Remember that California follows a "Jungle" system, and entire parties can be shut out of the November election if their voters don't show up in June. There's still time to mail it or drop it off at various locations like libraries. But all that is over on Tuesday when the polls close.

I.S. in Durango, CO, writes: You wrote: Recall that the term "ratfu**king" covers any attempt by voters of one party to influence the nominations of the other party, and doesn't refer only to sticking the other party with the worst and least electable candidate."

Maybe we need a less-loaded term (one that doesn't require expurgation?) to refer to the practice of attempting to bypass the U.S. two-party system's tendency to amplify fringe voices.

Here in Colorado's CD3, we Democrats (which I count myself among even though, see below) have been consistently nominating very good people for Congress who are handily beaten by the Republicans, because our district skews conservative and now, after redistricting, is even more so. Our last Democratic congressional representative was potato farmer John Salazar (brother of former Colorado Attorney General, U.S. Senator, and Secretary of Interior, and current ambassador to Mexico Ken Salazar), who was a centrist and a member of the Blue Dog Democrats. But every year since his defeat by Scott Tipton in 2010, the centrist Democratic candidates have lost in the primaries to the more liberal candidates, and Rep. Lauren Boebert (R) defeated Tipton, so here we are. Now that CD3 has been sacrificed to the bipartisan redistricting gods, Democrats have even less chance to prevail.

Our primary is "coming up" on June 28th, in quotes because Colorado has universal vote-by-mail and ballots will be sent out June 6th. Republican Don Coram, who is currently our state senator but is term limited, is challenging Boebert, casting himself as a candidate for the 80% in the center who feel left out by the extremists, and as a hard worker who will work with both sides in order to serve his constituents, rather than posture and throw mud and get nothing done. Our (Democratic) state representative, who has worked with him on issues in the state house, likes him a lot and says that this portrayal of him is an accurate one. He's still a Republican, but he's a reasonable one.

Unaffiliated voters will receive both parties' ballots and may vote either one (though not both). Because of this, many Democrats (including me, my husband, and many of my friends) have switched parties to "Unaffiliated," in order to vote for Coram in the Republican primary. Most pundits who have deigned to look at this race think he has little chance to win because of Boebert's high profile and large pile of cash, but there is a definite groundswell of unhappy non-Trumpy Republicans, unhappy unaffiliated voters (who tend to skew libertarian-conservative here), and desperate ("former") Democrats. So here's hoping that our ratf... or rather, our attempt to counter the Trumpublican Boebert Brigade, bears fruit.

R.S. in Tonawanda, NY, writes: No matter how stupid she may act, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) cannot be as stupid as she comes off. At least some of her gaffes, I think, are intentional. Take her reference to a "peach tree dish" instead of a "petri dish" in talking about Bill Gates supposedly growing "fake meat" in, well, one of those things. Come on. She has a high school education and a college degree. According to Newsweek, the "peach tree dish" clip has gotten over 1 million views. Which is exactly the point.

G.M. in Laurence Harbor, NJ, writes: Regarding Rep. Liz Cheney's (R-WY) chances in the Wyoming primary:

Dick Cheney smiling

V & Z respond: If we've said it once, we've said it a hundred times: Readers, please don't send us Dick pics.

P.F. in Fairbanks, AK, writes: In response to J.A. in Madrid: When Lisa Murkowski announced her write-in campaign for the 2010 U.S. Senate race, a radio host began an effort to flood the ballot with "Murkowskis." Since the write-in only had to "resemble" the name of a write-in candidate, the hope was that misspelled write-ins would resemble any number of candidates and be disqualified or miscounted.

Funny enough, Murkowski was misspelled at the end of her first write-in ad.


C.L. in Boulder, CO, writes: After reading "Republicans' Plans to Steal the 2024 Election Have Leaked Out," I can't help but think that the Democrats should be advocating loudly and continuously for universal civic-duty voting (a.k.a. compulsory voting), as practiced in Australia. What better way to push back against voter suppression than to have universal voting? Everyone eligible is expected to vote—voter suppression disappears, and the government has to make it relatively easy so voting is not overly burdensome. No voter has to fill in the ballot or vote for a specific candidate, but everyone is expected to cast a ballot. (My understanding is that in Australia if you never register to vote, then the government doesn't check up on whether or not you vote.)

Many places have some form of universal voting. E.J. Dionne and Miles Rapoport have a new book out called 100% Democracy: The Case for Universal Voting on how we can implement universal voting in the U.S. It evolved from a report called "Lift Every Voice: The Urgency of Universal Civic Duty Voting." I think "urgency" is apropos. Dionne and Rapoport suggest that universal voting could be tried out first in local jurisdictions first, but the arguments should be made nationally, regionally and locally.

Legal Matters

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: Thanks for answering my questions about the discrepancy in the charges against Donald Trump's goons. I just have to wonder how well only partially cooperating with an investigation would work for your average person? No need to wake your staff lawyer from his drunken stupor, I don't think I want to even test that hypothesis out.

F.C. in Sequim, WA, writes: In your reply to D.E. in Lancaster, you have forgotten one thing: DoJ only prosecutes slam-dunk cases. By submitting some material and doing some negotiating, Mark Meadows and Dan Scavino became questionable cases to take in front of a jury. But that's just for contempt; they will both get their due in the long run. That said, as you mentioned, now people see a pattern that will work in future. Does make me wonder if we will see Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) charged with contempt since he is putting up some really lame negotiating.

B.B. in Dothan, AL, writes: Another possibility is that the others are either working with or are negotiating with prosecutors. If that's the case, then indictments might just be on hold pending the outcome of those talks.

R.V. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: Another opening on the D.C. Circuit:

This seat needs to be filled—yesterday.

Did You Say "Gay"?

R.S. in Lebanon, CT, writes: Since June is Pride Month, I wanted to share a suggestion for a great LGBTQ-themed movie I saw recently from a genre that is frequently marginalized or ignored in the United States and even banished in other countries. God's Own Country is the best dramatic film I've seen over the past 2 years. It is a 2017 British film starring Josh O'Connor and Alec Secăreanu. It is a story about two young men who meet while working on a farm in Yorkshire, England. Johnny, portrayed by O'Connor, is a British farmer living with his father and grandmother on their sheep farm. After his father suffers a stroke which impairs his abilities to do heavy-duty work, Johnny has to take charge of the farm. However, his father realizes that it is too much work for one person to do, so he hires a Romanian worker named Gheorghe, portrayed by Secăreanu, to assist.

The two men have polar opposite personalities. Johnny is very emotionally distant. He frequently has a scowl on his face and he doesn't enjoy socializing with people very much. He is a heavy drinker and feels like the weight of the world is on his shoulders because he isn't prepared to run a farm. He feels trapped in his current situation due to his family obligations. Gheorghe, on the other hand, is a very warm person. He is very approachable. He loves taking care of animals and feels very grateful for the opportunity to live in England. However, he doesn't see how he fits in as a Romanian immigrant in England and feels isolated and segregated from the rest of British society.

While the men are living together on the farm, they develop an intimate relationship. The film is about how their relationship progresses and how they find true happiness together. Johnny comes to appreciate farm work because he meets someone who helps him to find himself, and Gheorghe feels desired and appreciated as an immigrant to England. I find the film very touching in many ways. First, it avoids the cliché endings of gays and lesbians in movies dying in the end, or living otherwise tragic lives. Secondly, it is also very working-class in its values and theme. Both men are blue-collar workers who live in a rural setting. Not all LGBT people live in wealthy metropolises like Los Angeles or New York. Many people don't realize that there are lots of gays and lesbians, such as myself, who are more introverted and prefer living in rural communities where we have more privacy and time away from people to recharge. Probably the single most important message of the film is that there is no "one true path" to reach a state of happiness. True love and happiness are defined by the individual, not by a set mold everyone needs to fit into.

Here is one of the funniest scenes in the film:

Johnny rushes his grandmother out of the living room so he can have some alone time with Gheorghe. But Gheorghe is hesitant and wants to go back to the camper where he is staying instead. I'm with Gheorghe here—I wouldn't want to get busy with grandma in the next room either.

J.T. in Greensboro, NC, writes: The discussion of Christopher Rufo and Disney seems apt to the moment considering that we're entering the month in which companies from Revlon to Raytheon will adopt rainbow versions of their logos to show their "support" for LGBTQ+ people. While Rufo might delude himself that most people are against Disney, nobody better understands mass appeal and catering to the mean (average) viewer, and understanding how to provide the best combination of satisfying and inoffensive content possible. At the end of the day, my guess is that for the most part the boards and shareholders of Disney (and Raytheon, Revlon, Coca-Cola, Bank of America, and even John Deere) wouldn't give a hoot-in-hell about gay rights if they didn't think it would affect their bottom line. Publicly traded corporations exist to create value for shareholders, they're usually legally obligated to make decisions that are in the best interests of shareholders (i.e. making the most money possible for them).

These companies do this because at the moment, LGBTQ+ rights are good for business, which is why you now see articles every June mourning the commercialization of Pride, which began as a riot, and in some cities the organization of counter-pride events without corporate sponsorship.

I'm expecting that in the next few decades—if there are still history PhD programs that aren't asynchronous Amazon/Meta operated asynchronous history bootcamps brought to you by LinkedIn Learning—we'll see an intrepid grad student write a fine dissertation that makes that case that much of our current political turmoil resulted from silents/boomers (writ large, obviously not all) aging out of a profitable demographic and becoming a toxic demographic for advertisers and getting cranky that they were no longer being catered to. You can't capture the Tucker Carlson or Laura Ingraham audience without alienating virtually every other audience.

By the same token—as a person that currently teaches at an engineering/STEM focused college—the new generation of STEM professionals support LGBTQ+ rights and have the power to pick and choose where they work, and smart companies aren't going to alienate that talent.

Go back 20 or 30 years and LGBTQ+ rights were bad for business and you barely heard big business say a whit about it and all seemed right with the world to the folks who hated "those people" and would prefer they'd disappear. Now the worm has turned and all of a sudden they're no longer big fans of the free market and private enterprise.

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: You wrote: "It's also a matter of time until one or more trans Americans are killed by a Trump Supporter. And those individuals' blood will be on the former President's hands."

As you know, I have been out trans in this country for the better part of thirty years. This year marks 20 since my surgery. And I would argue that thousands of trans have already been killed by Trump supporters, and by conservatives in general.

Not every trans that dies an unnatural death is taken by a gun or a knife. In fact, most of us that are killed are taken by economic deprivation that leads to death or suicide. While this may spill less physical blood, in my view it is no less violent. In fact, in some ways it is worse and more insidious—because first they kill your hope, your joy, your spirit, and your will to live.

They put you into a place where no way forward can be seen. This is what led to Leah Alcorn's death in 2014. And this is what the GOP seeks to replicate in my community, by denying us validation, support... or, in fact, anything but shame and secrecy, hate and scorn.

I would argue that thousands of my fellow trans (mostly trans females) have been murdered over the 30 years I have been out, by the GOP and their hateful policies. I'd also point out that not only in life, but in death, we are often denied validation, our obituaries misgender us... denying even in our death the very reason why we died. And the reason is hate and anti-trans legislation and anti-trans actions which are designed to suck us of any hope or joy we may have.

I can tell you, sadly from personal experience, that a life without hope or joy is a fate worse than death. It is so common in my community we even have a name for it: We call those trans living in that condition "the walking dead." Because they are dead in spirit, alive in body. Many of them choose to end that body life—and who can blame them?

I am reminded of my favorite poem, by my favorite poet... "Harlem" by Langston Hughes. I wrote one in a similar vein, with Hughes being the inspiration for it.

"A Million Paper Cuts," by A.B., November 2016

Every right denied; every dream deferred
Every injustice and indignity endured
Is one more paper cut
They are cumulative
And deadly as any gun or knife.

In my own personal experience over 30 years as a trans woman in America, I have been denied jobs, fired from jobs, and forced to drop out of college over personal safety issues in the wake of the murder of Matt Shepard. I have been driven to the edge several times.

Forty percent of trans, in the most recent U.S. Trans Study, conducted by NCTE (The National Center for Transgender Equality), reported having attempted suicide at least once in their lifetime. That compares to just four percent for the general population. For full disclosure, I was a respondent in the above-referenced study... and one of that forty percent. And I am here to tell you it has nothing to do with being trans, and everything to do with how society treats us because we are trans, that we have a suicide rate ten times as high as the general public.

I have struggled all my life with employment issues and thus economic security. All. My. Life. And you need to understand that, among my people, I am one of the fortunate. Because somehow, so far, I have managed to find a way through, and to survive. This has led to my suffering from what psychologists call Chronic Acute Depression of the Agitated Type. In layman's terms, this means I suffer from frequent bouts of severe depression—but a bout requires an outside trigger... and for me, the trigger has always been economic insecurity.

Additionally, though not officially diagnosed, I am pretty sure I also suffer from trans-related PTSD. I have been through so many horrible experiences as a trans that I exhibit many PTSD symptoms in certain situations, most notably, in job interviews... which scare the hell out of me, because I go in almost positive I am going to be discriminated against.

This is what the legislation—and the culture of trans-hate—engender in so many of us. And for too many of us, it leads us to take our own lives. To my view, every last one of those suicides are nothing short of murder by proxy. So, I would argue that you are late to the game: Thousands of us have already been murdered by Trump Supporters, and by conservative/GOP politicians...and by the culture of trans-hate they have created.

And, while I have made two attempts in my life (my last one was 28 years ago), I will never do that again, for the simple reason that I refuse to give them that kind of satisfaction. If they want me dead, they are gonna have to come and do it themselves, and get the actual blood on their hands.

But I am often forced to live a joyless, hopeless life where all my dreams are dead, murdered by a society that refuses to accept us for who we are.

I will close with this statement: If I had but a nickel for every person who says they support us trans, I would be a millionaire. And if I had a nickel for every one of them who has actually stuck their neck out on our behalf to attempt to create positive change for us... I could not buy a cup of coffee.

My biggest fear now is that I will not die a natural death. That the fascists in this country will eventually get their way, and that it is me and my people who will be the first to be marched off to be "dealt with." And that all those who say they support us now... will stand aside and allow us to be marched off, because on that day, they will know that to speak up for us will be to risk sharing our fate.

And to me, a true ally is one who is willing to risk sharing our fate. There are precious few of those.

Should I Stay or Should I Go, Part III

S.B. in Hood River, OR, writes: Interesting coincidence, a number of people said A.H. in Columbus should move to Oregon. I was born and raised in Columbus. After college I moved to the west coast and in 1990, to Oregon. For around 15 years, have been living in Hood River. It is a neat little town, tending to being liberal. But tourism and a limited housing market have driven up home prices here to where we are way above Portland and not all that far from the Bay Area. But even if one were not inclined to move here, the Columbia Gorge is one of the most beautiful areas in the country to visit.

S.J. in Sanford, NC , writes: In response to A.H. in Columbus, I'm about as North Carolinian as you can get. Born and raised in High Point, went to undergrad at NC State University, Masters from UNC-Greensboro, and currently live in Sanford, NC, where my wife grew up. But I am well traveled and progressive. Other than living in Vermont as a summer camp counselor and living in Auckland, New Zealand, during a study abroad, I have lived in NC my entire life. (High Point, Raleigh, Winston-Salem, Greensboro, Sanford, Asheville are my areas in NC expertise, if you will).

North Carolina is a great place to live and is constantly growing. My wife and I recently drove to The Cryptozoology & Paranormal Museum in Littleton, NC. As I drove there, I had the thought that it truly amazes me how diverse this state is. We have the mountains, the Piedmont, and the coast/beaches. We drove through small towns, farmland, suburbs, larger cities, and the capital within just 2 hours. The people are just as diverse. If you can't find your clique here, then you're not really trying. I've been around conservatives, liberals, progressives, Trumpers, centralists, and non-political people my entire life here. It is truly the definition of a swing state.

I've been in Sanford for almost 9 years now. This place is the epitome of the state's changing culture/politics. Sanford's city motto is "Well Centered!" It is right in the middle of North Carolina. We are close to everything but is a smallish city of around 30k. The city started out as railroad depot then expanded to industrial (textiles and bricks) but in recent history has diversified to pharmaceuticals. Vinfast, a Vietnamese electric car company, is building a large car/battery plant off of US-1 about 15 minutes away in the neighboring county.

I write all this because I have a feeling that Sanford is about to explode in the coming decades. It is no longer going to be the small town that people remember growing up in during the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Sanford is building a multi-sports complex we voted for, dozens of new housing developments are being approved, more pharmaceutical companies are coming, possibly a commuter train downtown, a downtown revitalization, more restaurants/stores, etc. to name a few things going on in Sanford and Lee County.

And here comes the cultural/political clash: Liberal-leaning people from the Raleigh-Cary-Apex area are expanding outward to get away from the hustle and bustle of the larger cities. They can commute back into the larger cities, make $80k+, get a bigger house for cheaper, enjoy a lower cost of living, and pay less in taxes. Some locals do not want the big city problems they will bring, like traffic, overcrowded schools, more people, stretched out resources, etc. However, I believe this to be a half the truth and that they really don't want those types of people living in the little, conservative Sanford they have always known.

Personally, I say: Bring on the growth! I'd rather have the problems that come from growth than the problems of decline and decay. My wife and I visit my parents in Winston-Salem often. There are many more restaurants/stores in that area but now Sanford is getting some of those places too. Restaurants/stores we never thought we would ever get. If you are looking for a small town feel that has potential and is still growing, and is centrally located within North Carolina, I'd recommend looking at Sanford. We are 45 minutes from RDU or Fayetteville, 40 minutes from where the U.S. Open is sometimes held, 2 hours from Charlotte, 1 hour from Greensboro, 2 to 3 hours from the beach, and 3 to 4 hours from the mountains.

For you or anyone else interested in local politics, events, or ongoings in central North Carolina, I would recommend this local news website. You can see many things I have written about in the articles and comment sections.

As far as North Carolina as a whole goes, it is a great place to live. The winters are mild and the summers are hot and humid but not too bad. Spring and Fall are the best seasons. And the state has many things to do. It's great for outdoor activities like hiking, biking, hunting/fishing, and camping. It's got sports, with many ACC schools around if you like football and/or basketball. It's even got cricket if that's your thing in Morrisville. Check out Pinehurst if you like golfing. There are 123 wineries throughout the state. Great for a day trip. Charlotte has NASCAR and the national whitewater center. Asheville has Baltimore. Into theatre? DPAC and the newly built Tanger theatre (recently went there to see Hamilton) has you covered. PNC Arena hosts large concerts and professional ice hockey. More of a homebody? NC broadband internet covers 95.8% of people in the state and fiber-optic covers 41.7%.

Hope this helps and after sounding like an infomercial for NC and to attempt to rival JobsOhio, I'll just leave it with this original slogan: North Carolina it's a great place to be y'all!

S.C. in Lincolnton, NC, writes: A year ago my wife and I moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to Lincolnton, NC, near Charlotte and could not be happier with our decision. We settled on this area after winnowing a long list down to Charlotte, Daytona, and Atlanta. Charlotte is up out of the hot and muggy coastal plain. We have four distinct, mild seasons up here in the Piedmont with endless outdoor recreational opportunities from the sea to the Appalachian Trial. Lincolnton's motto is "Near the Sea. Near the Mountains. Nearly Perfect!"

Our kids started working remote for their employers at the start of COVID, and now are on permanent remote. Our son and his wife came to visit last summer after we'd moved into our fully restored and updated century-plus-years-old home in Lincolnton's Historic District. They liked the area so much they returned to New Jersey, sold their home, and were moved into their new home on Lake Norman in time for Thanksgiving. Our daughter and family came from Portland, OR, for the holidays and liked it so much they have relocated to just outside Charlotte city limits. We were concerned at first about living so far from the kids, but now our homes form a rough equilateral triangle about a 30-minute drive from either of the others.

As the old saying goes, all politics is local. Charlotte is deep blue, as is the town our daughter lives in. East of Lake Norman is purple-to-blue. Lincolnton, west of the lake, is reddish turning purple. Yesterday, I even saw a Clinton-Kaine bumper sticker in the local supermarket parking lot.

I don't know Columbus' culture, but enough of the Old South polite-and-friendly culture remains here that we have all felt very welcome. It's not at all like the standoffishness of my wife's native New York City or left-coast big cities. Even the smallest towns have gigabit connectivity, and housing is available at every price point. North Carolina's cost of living is only slightly higher than Ohio's, but still below the national average. If you are serious about potentially moving to the Tar Heel State, I encourage you to come visit and explore. I am confident you will not be disappointed.

S.O. in Woodstock, GA, writes: As to the inquiry from A.H. in Columbus about places in the South where one might want to move, I would like to put forth the option of Georgia. While it can get a bit hot in late July and early August, it does not get nearly as cold as North Carolina or Ohio do. Usually we only get snow once a year, and only an inch or two. Of course, that is enough to send the locals into a tizzy, but only once a year is sufficient for me. Add to that beautiful mountain landscapes in north Georgia, a coastline that is quiet and mostly pristine, and you get what I think is an absolute paradise.

Atlanta is a big blue oasis in an otherwise mostly red state, but many folks are moving here from bluer states to escape higher taxes and bringing their ideals with them, so Georgia is slowly becoming more purple. Many tech industries are setting up shop here, and Georgia is also a big player in the film industry, and as these folks move here it is slowly turning districts bluer—even though I live in the 11th Congressional district (represented by Barry Loudermilk, R), which is pretty red, of late the county Democratic club (which was virtually unheard of prior to 2016) has become a lot more visible around town.

Just like you, I considered myself to be center-right on some issues and center left on others. We moved here from Florida several years ago, and the two states appear to be headed in polar opposite directions. My brother moved up shortly after us. Then my parents. Now my sister is moving here—and she is far more liberal and outspoken than I. We all vote Democratic—and we feel our vote matters here.

C.B.L. (a coastal grandmother long before it was trendy!) in Warwick, RI, writes: I can't even begin to put my thoughts in writing about the current sad state of affairs in our great and glorious country, so disheartening they are in so many ways, so I thank you for the opportunity to write about something that gives me happier thoughts.

You think you might leave Ohio for North Carolina, A.H.? Come to Rhode Island instead. Yes, that's right, Rhode Island, not Long Island.

My husband and I are retired, and for many years we talked about all the places we would go once we could leave Rhode Island. We considered almost every state—and have come to the (surprising to us!) conclusion that we're going to stay right where we are. And this is why:

Politics and People: We live in a good (for us) political climate—not "all blue"—but still pretty much so, and although there are people who vote differently we still seem to respect each other. Our population is not all any one color, race, or religion, and we have all genders and ages. We have diverse neighborhoods, schools, and churches. I would say we are culturally, politically, and religiously respectful of others. I am white, so maybe I don't know of everyone's experiences here, but in all the years I've lived in Rhode Island, I've known great diversity and tolerance for others.

Weather and Climate: Yes, we do get snow, but not tons of it every winter. We have four very beautiful seasons, sometimes in the same month. Or day. Our weather is changeable, but not too unpredictable. Hurricanes, yes, but we can prepare. Humidity, yes, but we can run the AC on the few days it's really bad. At this time, no real concerns for wildfires, droughts, floods, or tornados. (Of course we know any of those events could occur here, but they are not reasons to leave the state.)

Drivability: While it is not exactly true that everything is within a 20 minute drive of where you live, it pretty much is—unless you live in the "boonies." Traffic can be bad, but for the most part "all roads lead" to our destination one way or the other, so we rarely spend too much time wasting gas stuck on the highway.

Geographical Location: If we drive 1 hour East we're on Cape Cod. 4 hours West we're in New York City, but we usually take the train. 1 hour North is Boston (or take the T), and 2 to 6 hours North we have New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine.

We have an airport (and can drive to two international airports), train stations, and ferry access to the islands of Block, Martha, and Nantucket. Too be honest, we don't have the best public transportation system going, which we should, being such a small state, but maybe that will improve. Oh, and also in our favor—over Columbus—is that we are further away from the Canadian border and can retreat to the sea if we needed to. ;)

Amenities: We can lose money at several casinos, spend a day at too many to count beautiful beaches, hike, swim, sail, boat, ski, or enjoy just about any outdoor activity—all within a reasonable driving distance. We have historic houses, old forts, a fantastic zoo, state parks, public gardens, more restaurants then you can ever eat at in one lifetime, scenic locations, and extensive recreational areas of all kinds. We have many internationally recognized medical facilities in and around our state. We have great school systems, and many higher educational facilities that offer us cultural and sporting opportunities. We don't have any major or minor sports teams in Rhode Island any more, but we can attend Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins, and Patriots games without having to stay overnight somewhere. We can attend concerts, plays, and shows, and some of the finest museums in the world are here or not too far away.

Cost of Living: Yes, our insurance rates can be high, and we still depend too much on the burning of fossil fuels to heat our homes, but we have access to such a wide variety of close-by amenities—grocery stores, restaurants, and gas stations, etc.—that some of our costs can be mitigated. Looks like Rhode Island and Ohio are close in tax rates, although our property taxes can be higher. I can't speak to rental housing, and for sure the real estate market is pretty bare right now, but we do have a wide variety of locales to choose from. Cities, woods (boonies), shorelines. Our property values keep rising. Solar panels and wind turbines are not frowned on.

So, I could continue, but all in all, A.H., every time we have considered moving away from here, we have come back to the idea that we really don't need or want to. We have (mostly) everything here, and what we don't have we can visit—for far less than moving there. We do have family here, but more and more, like you, people we don't have much, especially politically, in common with, so for us it's come down to the things, people, and places that we want to have in our lives, not just have to have. For now, we can't imagine that we would even have to think about moving because of an adverse political climate. I am sorry you might have to. Think about visiting—we'd be glad to show you around!

Making the Grade, Part II

M.B. in Montreal, QC, Canada, writes: Your last answer, on flirting for grades, reminds me of something that happened to a friend of mine when I was in grad school around 1960. A friend who was a TA had a girl come up to him and say, "Isn't there anything I can do to improve my grade?" "Actually, there is," he said. "Oh, what?" "Study."

D.R. in Yellow Springs, OH, writes: In response to A.N. in Tempe, you mentioned a number of unusual undergraduate major/grad school combinations. But the strangest I've heard of was someone who got a bachelor's degree in philosophy before studying large animal veterinary medicine.

That was truly putting Descartes before the horse.

J.N. in Freeland, WA, writes: As a graduate teaching assistant, I would from time to time make assignments that the students had 1 to 2 full weeks to complete, and that were to be submitted online. There needed to be a submission deadline, of course, so I usually set it to be 11:59 pm on a Sunday. And you know what's coming next, of course—despite having 2 weeks to complete an assignment that required about 1 or 2 hours of actual work, I got complaints that the deadline was 11:59 pm on a Sunday.

J.H. in Durham, NC, writes: I'm sure you will hear many stories from professors with fun grade change/student complaints. My favorite: I teach a Principles of Economics class, where I would say my main thesis of the course is that the most valuable thing people have is time (rather than money, as most students taking an intro to Econ class assume that the class will be about).

I once had my top student in the course lobby for an extra point on a quiz near the end of the semester that was worth 0.4% of her overall grade in the class. Since her overall grade was something like a 98, I said that I would give her that point if she could calculate what she would have to make on the final exam for that 1 point on one quiz to be a deciding factor between an A- and an A, and if she could then put into words what the payoff per minute of her time would be. She immediately calculated that it would only matter to her grade if she got a negative score on the final, and thus her conclusion was that there was no payoff per minute of her time. I responded "I may or may not have made an error grading your quiz, but it wasn't worth your time for you to even send an e-mail, much less do all those calculations. That makes me feel like maybe you shouldn't get an A in the class...." (Which, of course, she got.)

J.E.M. in Seattle, WA, writes: Another thing about the "within minutes" grade change request: I would propose that anyone asking for a grade bump so quickly is asking every professor for a bump, every semester. There's no downside, and even if only one grade gets a bump, it's worth the minimal effort (to that kind of person).

V & Z respond: You are probably correct. There are certainly students who employ that strategy on exams, coming to office hours and haggling over every point that was taken away.


B.C. in Manhattan Beach, CA, writes: In response to the comment from D.E. in Lancaster about Billie Holiday's song "Strange Fruit," that song has an interesting backstory.

While there is some dispute about who wrote the music to the song, there is no doubt that the lyrics were written by a high-school English teacher from New York City named Abel Meeropol (under his pseudonym Lewis Allan). Meeropol was a communist and sympathetic towards (if not a friend of) Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. A few years after the Rosenbergs were executed for espionage, Meeropol and his wife adopted the Rosenbergs' two sons.

Meeropol also wrote the lyrics of the song "The House I live In," which was a hit for Frank Sinatra (who also starred in a short film of the same name that won an Honorary Oscar and has been inducted into the National Film Registry). Just as "Strange Fruit" decried lynching, "The House I Lived In" opposed prejudice and said that we are all Americans.

There may be many reasons to decry "communism" (which is a rather inexact term), but the pre-McCarthy era communists were some of the earliest advocates of civil rights.

J.B. in Hutto, TX, writes: In response to the expressed desire by S.B. in Hadley for Texas to leave the Union, I shall only say that the rest of the country would miss our barbecue, chili, breakfast tacos, kolaches, and Tex-Mex food so much that they would be begging us to come back within a few months.

L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: You wrote: "Do you really believe (Z) would manipulate his stats?"

No, but the staff mathematician surely would!

V & Z respond: C'mon. The mailbag is compiled on Saturday night. We all know where the staff mathematician is on Saturday nights, and it ain't in front of a computer.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Jun04 Saturday Q&A
Jun03 Democrats "Tackle" Gun Violence
Jun03 Biden to Meet with Saudi Crown Prince
Jun03 DeSantis' Map Will Stand, at Least for This Cycle
Jun03 Michigan Gubernatorial Candidates Will Stay off the Ballot
Jun03 Trump Endorses in Arizona Senate Race
Jun03 "Stop the Steal" Descends into Predictable Madness
Jun03 This Week in Schadenfreude
Jun02 Supreme Court Orders Pennsylvania to Stop Counting Ballots
Jun02 The Investigation of the Leak is Leaking
Jun02 Republicans' Plans to Steal the 2024 Election Have Leaked Out
Jun02 Republicans Will Start Investigations Immediately if They Win the House
Jun02 Select Committee Gives Jordan More Time to Comply with Subpoena
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Jun02 South Texas Special Election on Flag Day Could Be a Bellwether
Jun02 Top Impeachment Lawyer Is Running for the House
Jun02 Californians May Vote on Numerous Ballot Initiative in November
Jun01 Biden Writes an Op-Ed: His Economic Plan
Jun01 Biden Writes another Op-Ed: Rockets for Ukraine
Jun01 Sussman Not Guilty
Jun01 SCOTUS Blocks Texas Social Media Law
Jun01 Walker Snipes at Trump
Jun01 Barnes Is Slipping in Wisconsin
Jun01 You Gotta Love These New York City Mayors
May31 The 1/6 Committee Is About to Be Front and Center...
May31 ...Meanwhile, Is the DoJ Gearing Up?
May31 Cheney Is in Trouble...
May31 ...But How about Malinowski?
May31 Biden Looks Set to Answer the $10,000 Question
May31 Total Ban on Handguns Proposed
May31 Memorial Day Quiz: The Answers
May30 Uvalde: Situational Analysis
May30 Down Goes Schrader
May30 Trump/Stefanik 2024?
May30 Trump's Got a New Obsession
May30 Gretchen Whitmer's Life Just Got Easier, It Appears
May30 Happy Memorial Day!
May29 Sunday Mailbag
May28 Saturday Q&A
May27 The Uvalde Shooting: The Politics (Short-term)
May27 Five Comments: The Uvalde Shooting
May27 This Week's Trump News
May27 This Week in Schadenfreude
May26 A Dozen Storylines from This Tuesday...
May26 ...And One Storyline from Last Tuesday
May26 The Uvalde Shooting: Let the Gaslighting Begin
May25 A National Tragedy (Part, What, 1 Million?)
May24 Four More States Take Their Turn, Part II
May24 Democrats Fire First Salvo on Abortion
May24 A**hole Watch 2022, Part II: Greg Abbott