As you can imagine, we got a boatload of letters about gun violence. We've selected a couple dozen of those to share this week, organized in a—hopefully—digestible manner. There will be more next week, you can be certain. We also got a surprisingly large number of letters about... grading and/or student excuses. That will also begin this week and continue next week. If that's not enough in terms of multi-part entries, we have additional sets of letters on important musicians and where an Ohioan should consider relocating to.
Also, be forewarned: Under the circumstances, we decided not to redact four-letter words today.
Gun Violence: We're Mad as Hell and We're Not Going to Take It Anymore
D.H. in Marysville, WA, writes: There is a war happening in the United States. The war is being perpetrated by a force of white, straight, Christian men (and adjacent women and hangers-on) on all of the rest of us. Note that I am not lumping all white, straight, Christian men into the attacking group but there are certainly more than enough of them—especially in places of power—to make the situation existential for women, young people and children, people of color, non-Christians, LGBTQ+ persons, etc., etc., etc. It's clear that these men are determined to keep the historical power structure in place at all costs; you know, the one where they feel that power over everyone else in the world is their birthright. Think white supremacists, authoritarians, the gun lobby, evangelical extremism, LGBTQ+ discrimination, the war on poor people, etc., etc., etc.
The bottom line is that there are more of us than there are of them. There is indeed a civil war coming in this country but it's not the one people think. It's going to be all of us against them. We are being pushed to greater and greater subjugation and at some point we simply will not take it any longer. That point does not seem very far away. And while I have no doubt that these men will literally come out with guns a-blazin', in the end we will defeat them or they will take all of us down in the process. For a little context, I'm a white, straight, older woman in a family who owns guns responsibly. And I've had ENOUGH.
J.K. in Silverdale, WA, writes: In general, I strive to understand perspectives different from my own and embrace nuance. When it comes to guns, I fail. I can't see shades of gray.
I've haven't been able to put my thoughts into coherent form, so I'm going with bullet points (and that is more literal than pun):
- If you are pro-gun, you are not pro-life.
- If you are pro-gun, you are not a Christian. Your God's commandment is "Thou shalt not kill," and you defy His will.
- If church leaders are truly Christian, they should organize mass gun buybacks for their congregants and destroy the guns.
- George Floyd's murder rightfully sparked mass protests. So should the slaughter of school children. Black Lives Matter. Kids' Lives Matter. Schools Not War Zones.
B.E. in Long Island, NY, writes: First of all, let me say that the tenor of your site on Wednesday matched my mood entirely—not sad, not shocked, but seething. Seething that this kind of thing can happen again. Seething that this kind of thing continues on a seemingly unending basis in this country. Seething that I should be afraid to put my kid on the bus to school every day and seething that I should be embarrassed to live in this country—no, not embarrassed, appalled.
I have so many things that I want to write: About living in a family that reflects our country—where one side has no interest in guns whatsoever and the other side is so proud of owning guns that they push it in everyone's faces constantly; about first learning to be afraid of mass shootings after the Luby's massacre in 1991; about discovering a disturbing drawing on a colleague's desk in the late '90s and not being sure what to do, even though I was afraid he might show up and shoot us all, then being relieved when he quit shortly thereafter; about the 16-year old child of an acquaintance that took a rifle from his father's gun safe and shot himself when the whole family was asleep—destroying the family when he destroyed himself; about the family member who very recently shot himself in a place that his parents loved—who knows the reason why, but to everyone's devastation.
It's all too much. I'll just say this: Almost 10 years ago, I heard the news about Sandy Hook shortly before my kindergartner's Christmas sing-a-long in the courtyard of his school. It was a painful occasion, watching those 5- and 6-year olds singing "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and thinking of the horrors that the parents of the dead were enduring in Newtown.
This time around, I heard the news of Uvalde shortly before my now-15-year-old's spring concert at our local high school. I thought of all those Newtown kids that should be his age by now, playing in their own high school's concert, but not to be. And then I thought of those Uvalde children, who will also never get to be 15 years old. I told my own child to keep his ear to the ground, listen out for any kid that might seem "off," and if a shooting ever occurs at his school, run for his life. Do I really live in a country where I have to have that kind of conversation?
On Thursday, I received an e-mail from the school that some kids were planning on staging a walk-out in protest of what happened in Uvalde and our country's lax gun-control laws. When my kid came home from school that day, I asked him if he walked out with the other kids and he said he did. 300 kids from his school did. Good. Maybe there's hope for the future. But I don't expect any type of change right now or even for the next few years. A portion of our country lives in the grip of something I don't understand, and that portion of the country somehow claims to be "pro-life." I don't understand.
C.S. in Apple Valley, MN, writes: You made a mistake making Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX) the asshole of the day Tuesday. Should have waited until Wednesday. HE IS THE BIGGEST ASSHOLE. These people have no soul. All they can do is offer their empty prayers. MAJOR ASSHOLES.
Gun Violence: Policy Ideas
G.C. in South Pasadena, CA, writes: Any time there is discussion about gun control (and all permutations of such issues), I always think back to the very early 70s. I had a summer job remodeling some office spaces. We were tearing walls down and making the offices smaller to accommodate more people. Since the offices were full during the day, this was a night job. But it was summer, I was home from school, and it was a paycheck.
One lunch period, we got to talking about guns and I was the lone person who was trying to find something to compromise with these folks. My idea was the if you wanted to own a gun, you needed two licenses: one for guns in general and the other for the specific kind of gun(s) you owned. The license was to be given by the NRA (this was before they turned very evil). The NRA would provide the classes and the tests. If you wanted to buy bullets, you needed to present your completed tests from the NRA showing that you had some training/knowledge of guns, weapons, safety, etc. As far as the objection that people can make their own bullets, I felt that those who were sufficiently knowledgeable to make their own bullets were probably shoo-ins for the tests so it was irrelevant.
The idea was laughed at and shot down without any discussion.
As we walked back to the work area, one guy who I had some level of connection with put his arm around my shoulder and said to me "You have to understand, we've stopped thinking."
Talk about a sentence that will live with you forever.
T.V. in Moorpark, CA, writes: The idea that a background check would not have stopped the Uvalde mass murder is absurd. Just like getting a security clearance, the level of scrutiny in a background check for a firearm purchase should be commensurate with the risk involved. Purchasing a weapon capable of accepting a high-capacity magazine should require a background check that includes an in-person interview. El Al Airlines conducts a brief interview with every passenger prior to boarding and this has proven to be highly effecting at identifying "bad guys" with little inconvenience to travelers. Even getting a CBP Global Entry card requires an in-person interview. While I know nothing about the scum who did this, I have no doubt that numerous red flags would have been identified during a short interview. Yes, this would be inconvenient for law-abiding gun purchasers, but hundreds of dead children are inconvenient too.
R.T. in Arlington, TX, writes: To tie two recent themes together, imagine blue states doing what Texas and others did with abortion. The right to keep and bear arms shall not be abridged, but guns may only be purchased from a licensed gun dealer and a licensed gun dealer must have a fully equipped Level 1 Trauma Center on the premises with sufficient capacity to treat 10 gunshot victims simultaneously. Surgical personnel must be in attendance 24-7 regardless of the hours of the retail activity.
From principled point of view what is the difference between a back-alley gun sale and a back-alley abortion?
J.D.M. in Salem, OR, writes: In light of the latest mass murder of children, I submit the following proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution your consideration:
- The Second Amendment is hereby repealed.
- The right of States to create and maintain a well-regulated and deputized militia shall not be infringed.
- Well-qualified individuals may bear arms as regulated by Congress.
- Congress shall have the power to enforce this Amendment via appropriate legislation.
It's self-evident none of the attempted solutions—more guns and more security, easier access to guns, mental health rubrics, thoughts and prayers, legal half-measures—have any impact whatsoever. The debate is not about gun rights, it is about our tolerance for the mass murder of children. It is about how much we value our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Gun Violence: Politics
E.S. in Maine, NY, writes: High-powered bullets make big holes in kids going in and out. Not just holes, but big parts of the child's body... just gone. I do not have any idea how to ask this of the parents of these kids, but I hope that at least one of them does an Emmitt Till. Have an open casket, have their child just the way the bullets left them. Insist that the media show them to the world. Insist that all Americans see what these guns are doing to our kids. Maybe this would help convince us to do what it takes to stop this.
R.N. in Englewood, CO, writes: The Vietnam War has pretty strong political support until parents started seeing the broken bodies of their children televised and plastered across newspapers. Racism in the south was fine and dandy until the folks up north saw the images of black citizens lynched and beaten beyond recognition. Even abortion activists line the streets with posters and billboards of dead fetuses in order to garner support for their cause. I think it's time to take a page from their playbook.
When these mass shootings happen, the country needs to see what it looks like when a bullet rips through the skull of a nine year old. I think the image of the top of just a mouth with the top of the head turned into a bowl of gray soup might just drive home how horrible this is. Politicians and the public need to see what happens when the limbs and heads of small children are ripped from their torsos. They need to see what the first responders have to see. They need to see what the medical examiners see. They need to be walked through the halls of these places of education, a place that's supposed to be safe, and maybe the country will actually do something for a change.
D.L-O. in North Canaan, CT, writes: I should have made clear, and if you choose to publish my comments please do this, that the speech I referred and linked to was given on March 18, after Buffalo but before the Uvalde, TX shootings.
Changes/additions to my comments email sent yesterday. I included a URL, which I'm not sure you support:
Just writing to thank you for your excellent series of comments and articles today (May 25) on the tragedy in Uvalde, TX. I congratulate you on your courage to "say it like it is" even though some of what you said was deservedly harsh criticism of certain (human?) beings. I was very moved by Joe Biden's speech, and we know that he has personal experience of the death of a child. I was also very moved by Chris Murphy's speech/harangue on the Senate floor and found myself feeling very proud of being a citizen of the state that elected him to serve in the Senate since 2012. I agree with a lot of what P.B. in Chicago wrote. Again and again I'm amazed at Republicans who can actually hold two polarly opposite irrational opinions at the same time, anti-choice and pro-gun. They apparently value the lives of fetuses (feti?) over the lives of both women and children. How can anyone justify doing nothing to stop the carnage?
I needn't write to my Senator since he already spoke up. He has done a lot already to push the gun control issue forward a number of times in the Senate and that effort continues today. Unfortunately, no long-term effective legislation has been successful yet due mainly to the obstructionism of NRA-supported Republicans. I urge all of my fellow EV-ers to push their Senators to join Murphy and others in pushing forward gun-control legislation.
I can testify that staring at the poster from the Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey circus on my office wall that features a roaring lion does not help solve the conundrum. Inspired, I say, "I am Woman, hear me roar!" (Thanks, Helen.) Write, protest, and most importantly, vote!
E.D. in Dansville, NY, writes: This was a very unwanted child who should have been aborted.
He was unwanted by his drug-addicted mother. There seems to be no father, or maybe his grandfather was his father. He was foisted on his grandmother for his upbringing. He had physical problems. He lisps. He was mercilessly bullied. He had 18 years of a horrible life.
By aborting him, 21 lives would have been saved.
Gun Violence: The Republican Response
P.N. in Austin, TX, writes: You asked why Republicans might be willing to talk turkey about red flag laws suddenly. Well, the jury is still out how long this will last, but if it does, I think the answer is fairly obvious. The gun debate is a political winner for Republicans, abortion is not. Moscow Mitch would love nothing more than to have Democrats failing to pass legislation again on the eve of the election.
Incidentally, if you want to know why Republicans will never lift a finger to stop mass shootings, the answer becomes clear if you admit one premise (dare I say fact?): Most Republican officeholders are fascists, or at least happy to use fascist methods.
Mass shootings and stochastic violence benefit fascist political movements. Episodes of mass violence are blamed on an outgroup (those with mental illness, terrorists, immigrants, etc.), or, when that is not possible, used to create fantastical fears about the existing democratic institutions (cue Charlton Heston).
With every tragedy like this, American's fears grow. We grow more willing to see politics in moral, absolute terms. We grow more willing to vote for anyone who will promise to keep our families safe. We grow less critical, less rational.
If I had to offer a solution, short of doing what we did in World War II, I would suggest stochastic mass kindness. Get on a bus, play a loud alarm, and announce, "Congratulations! If you're on this bus, you're now 100$ richer. There are no strings attached, just remember, sometimes good things happen." Then pass out the money and leave. If I were a bit richer, and a lot braver, that's exactly what I'd do.
R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: Among all of the commentary this week regarding Uvalde, I heard this: You are only as safe as the gun laws in the closest neighboring state. Republicans like to bring up Chicago as an example of a city with tough gun laws that still has a lot of gun violence. What they fail to mention is that Chicago is right next to Indiana, where it is easy to buy a gun and that this is the reason why so many guns are floating around there. Don't blame Chicago. Blame Indiana.
Perhaps as red states figure out ways to keep pregnant women from crossing state lines they can do the same with guns. Oh, wait. That wouldn't work because the red states want more guns on the streets. So they need a membrane that keeps pregnant women from leaving but allows anyone carrying a gun to leave. Maybe pregnant women seeking an abortion should stop at a gun shop before they reach the state line.
These people are ridiculous.
S.K. in Chappaqua, NY, writes: The New York Times reported that speakers at the NRA convention this weekend "blamed [mass murders] on factors that had nothing to do with firearms—the breakdown of the American family, untreated mental illness, bullying on social media, violent video games and the inexplicable existence of 'evil'."
Even if NRA members, as stereotyped, are not Latin scholars, they surely understand the idea of sine qua non—"not without which." The blame due to the named factors cannot obscure that fact that mass murders such as those in Uvalde and at other schools and at churches would not have been possible if the shooters had not obtained and used military-style assault weapons capable of and specifically designed, and marketed as useful, to kill many people very quickly.
Had "evil" shooters been unable to get those weapons, those mass murders could not have occurred. That fact is inescapable.
M.B. in Overland Park, KS, writes: No one seems to notice that Donald Trump hasn't said shit about this shooting.
One can speculate as to the reasons. He's speaking at the NRA? He doesn't care? They're brown people? I could go on.
Quite a deafening silence if you ask me.
Gun Violence: Legal Issues
B.B. in Columbus OH, writes: The two proposals you discussed on Friday may run afoul of the Constitution as currently interpreted.
There are the Second Amendment issues, which you've already discussed in some detail. However, there's also the problem of enumerated powers. As another reader pointed out recently, in theory, the federal government can only act in ways specifically authorized by the Constitution. In practice, changes in the economy and jurisprudence since 1787 have caused the interstate commerce clause to give the federal government power over nearly everything—but not quite everything.
In United States v. Lopez, the Supreme Court ruled that a federal law prohibiting carrying firearms into schools was unconstitutional because carrying a gun into a school is not "interstate commerce." The law was revised to require that the prosecutor prove that the gun carried into a school have moved in or affected interstate commerce, and it has been applied without further judicial opposition since then.
Given the current SCOTUS's demonstrated willingness to be ultra-originalist when it suits their political philosophy/objectives, a federal background check or "red flag" laws could easily be overturned on the same basis. The former could at least be justified on the basis that buying guns is commerce and can be regulated accordingly. The latter seems very vulnerable though, as possession of a firearm one has already legally obtained is not "commerce" in any meaningful sense.
Also, if the "moved in interstate commerce" "hook" is necessary to pass such laws, one wonders whether a market will develop for "intrastate" guns to which federal gun laws are not applicable. For example, if an iron mine and iron smelter/scrapyard, lumber mill, and firearms manufacturer, all owned and operated entirely by Texas residents and Texas-registered companies, got together and started making "100% Texas" guns with no out-of-state components or processing whatsoever, would those guns be exempt from such federal laws?
K.H. in Albuquerque, NM, writes: You wrote: "So, the grammatical style characteristic of that era strongly argues that the subordinate clause and main clause were inseparable, and that gun ownership was specifically meant to be tied to militia service." Yet as you point out, in Heller "the Court found that most of the Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975 was largely unconstitutional, and that the right to own guns was not, and could not be, linked to militia service." Horrors! The originalists on the Court failed to correctly read the minds of the founding parents. I guess séances are not the best method of jurisprudence.
Gun Violence: The View from Schools
B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: A school where I taught hired a security officer who turned out to be retired from 20 years on the New York City police force. He'd had training to deal with every imaginable situation. One day I asked him, "How often did you fire your gun in the line of duty?" The answer was, "Never."
He recalled three times in 20 years when he had unholstered the weapon, but he never got to the point of taking the safety off. He told me that the large majority of good police work is community service. He told me that you get to know people, help them, serve them in any way you can. They don't want trouble, and if they see trouble brewing, they'll let you know and you can usually stop it before it starts. He never used his gun. But he was trained in every conceivable way to serve and protect, including first aid, emergency first responder, mental health issues, encounters involving languages (he was bilingual) and cultures, on and on and on. His gun was a necessary piece of equipment, but not a tool he needed to use.
J.F. in Bronx, NY, writes: I've been a teacher for 31 years, including 26 years in my current job as a Special Educator in the New York City school system. My plan is to retire in 7 years. Try to put a gun in my hand or that of my colleagues and I will hand in my retirement papers tomorrow. God bless all these beautiful souls we're recently lost to gun violence.
M.A. in West Springfield, MA, writes: In my (contracting) line of work, I am often in public schools. On the day of the shooting, I was in a small town elementary school.
That day another local elementary school had a gas leak, and the children there had been brought to the school I was in for the day, so the place was buzzing. I love kids, always have. They're just so adorable and friendly, always so interested in who I am and what I'm doing, I can't help but laugh at how they jump and play and run up to me and wave and yell "Hi!" over and over and have to be dragged away by their teachers explaining to them that I'm working and busy.
When the news broke, it hit me that the children who died that day could have been just like any of the children I had interacted with the same day. They probably had that same adorable energy, and hell, it's barely even a metaphor. The same exact children I had seen that day could one day die in a mass shooting right here, and it wouldn't even be shocking anymore. I held it in as best I could and cried on the drive home.
It's no longer that we've turned our backs on the children on this country. When this happens, and we do nothing, and it happens again, and we still do nothing, as I suspect... and will happen again, in the future, inevitably. It's as though in so many ways, we hold the children of this country by the shoulders, look them straight in the eyes, and say "I don't care about you. Whether you live or die makes no difference to me."
God help us.
D.R. in Massapequa Park, NY, writes: With all this talk of arming teachers let me see if I understand a few things.
Teachers are not allowed and can't be trusted to discuss sexuality, gender identity or acknowledge a child may have two dads, two moms or any form of same-sex relationships.
Teachers have to pay for most or, in same cases, all of their supplies because no one wants to pay maybe an extra 25 cents in taxes to help them out and probably because they don't trust them to handle "our" money.
Teachers are being told they are not allowed and cannot be trusted to discuss anything race-related that could possibly put a certain group of people in a bad light even if it IS part of American history (we can just "erase" that part), all the while unironically declaring that if we take down statues that glorify traitors to the union we are "erasing history."
Teachers can't be trusted, and are not allowed to keep certain books in their libraries as they might contain bad words or cover themes that parents don't like.
Teachers can't be trusted, and are not allowed to enforce any measure that prevents kids from getting sick. While I concede the mask-wearing dragged on way too long, there was a time when it was needed.
But, Teachers can be allowed and can be trusted to carry a firearm in full view of your child who is too fragile to hear the words "gay" "civil rights" other so called naughty words or wear a friggin' face cover. And don't worry about the cost to train, supply, and insure these teachers for these guns, either. I'm sure everyone will be dumping money by the truckloads to pay for this since they save so much on stiffing teachers for books and supplies. Or is this a program that the money fairy pays for? Or are Teachers footing the bill?
I may be a liberal, but I fully favor the Second Amendment. However, that does not mean any idiot off the street, especially one who posts scary shit on Facebook, can just buy a weapon that our police and military need special training to operate. And news flash: An AR-15 will beat a handgun in a shootout any day of the week. Or can teachers be trusted with semiautomatic rifles, just in case? Just as long as they don't mention gays or segregation.
Gun Violence: The View from Abroad
T.C. in Tokyo, Japan, writes: In 1996, a gunman entered a restaurant in Port Arthur, Tasmania, and began shooting. He killed 35 and wounded 23. So far, so familiar. What happened next was remarkable. Prime Minister John Howard, newly elected, went into overdrive. He immediately pushed the Australian parliament to pass a new gun control act and insisted that all states pass the same law, threatening at one point to amend the Constitution if they didn't act. The new law banned assault rifles and pump-action shotguns, and had bipartisan support.
The whole process took about a month. The government bought abut 700,000 guns from people in a buyback program that cost about AU$100 million. It was a fair reduction, considering the Australia has about 20 million people. One should remember that John Howard' led the conservative party in Parliament. He went on to win re-election twice, and still considers passing the gun-control law the high point of had government. He reflected, 25 years later, that "we secured a safe community."
L.A. in Villigen, Switzerland, writes: While I do agree that the U.S. should be more restrictive with handing out guns, I think one point is missing in the reports so far.
I would argue that the U.S. has a problem with too many people promoting violence, and with too many people considering violence their only option. Even if guns were to be restricted, like they are in any sane country, the problem would not just go away. And nobody has really started to work on that problem. On the contrary, mainstream political discourse often considers violent threats legitimate. Somehow the society is broken and many people who require help don't get any. I think that this contributes significantly to the problem, and it would be insufficient to merely control the distribution of automatic weapons. Americans can either start to embrace some European "socialism" or they can continue killing themselves. I think those are the real alternatives.
J.K. in Dublin, Ireland, writes: I am writing this in despair for a country that I have loved and admired all my adult life. Yes, there are lots of things in your history (slavery, treatment of Native Americans ) which will always be stains, but the U.S. also acted as a beacon across the world, for no nation more so than my own country of Ireland.
I first visited the U.S. in 2002 and have been there a further nine times, all on holidays and have loved every minute of those trips. I have visited, to date, 18 states.
Like most outsiders the one thing I have never been able to understand is your irrational love of guns and worship of the Second Amendment. I appreciate that many, if not the majority, would welcome commonsense gun-control laws, yet nothing ever changes.
I have written before that I believe your democracy is on life support and may not survive the next two election cycles unless Americans wake up before it is two late. It is ironic that the party which has finally got its way in the overthrow of Roe v. Wade in the name of saving the unborn shows such a total disregard for the lives of the born. And this includes the conservative majority on the Supreme Court, who are now the greatest danger to the freedoms currently enjoyed (especially those enjoyed by women).
I write this with great sadness but cannot see how your country can long survive unless its citizens wake up and take back control.
J.H. in Boston, MA, writes: All three of Donald Trump's state-level primary challenges in Georgia failed: his picks to replace the governor, attorney general, and secretary of state. There is a lot of press about how much he had riding on those, how much more important they were for Trump than generic primaries in Ohio or North Carolina, as the epicenter of the "stop the steal" movement. One aspect that I'm not seeing discussed much is how Rep. Jody Hice (R) didn't just fail to become the MAGA nominee for secretary of state. He also gave up a very safe seat in the House of Representatives. GA-10 is now going to a close runoff between a former Democrat and a businessman. It's a tossup, and probably whichever wins will not be the ultra-MAGA member of the House that Hice would have been.
All else being equal, surely most Republican candidates for office would rather have Trump's endorsement than not have it. But who in the future would ever take Trump's advice to give up a safe seat for life, just to tilt at windmills and try to primary an incumbent Republican? Probably no one, and that is a tangible loss in Trump's soft power.
D.E. in Austin, TX, writes: I was taken back by your item about CPAC in Hungary with Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson as noted speakers (albeit via video link). I had to search pretty hard to find it. It really bothers me that this news feels to me like it is barely being reported and I would not have seen this if it were not for your site. I think CPAC being supportive of Russia's war, as well as Trump and Carlson, should be spread far and wide.
Should I Stay or Should I Go, Part II
R.M. in Williamstown, WV, writes: A response to the comment from A.H. in Columbus about where to relocate: You might want to consider Oregon. It's been a long time, but I spent 3 years in Portland as my first military assignment, and really liked the place. It is a reliably "blue" state, the climate is surprisingly mild (though it does rain a lot in the winter), and the people, at least when I lived there, were friendly. Don't know what the housing costs are now, but they were moderate when I lived there. It's not perfect (no place is), but A.H. might want to check it out.
S.H. in Sutherlin, OR, writes: In response to A.H. in Columbus, may I suggest they consider Oregon as the place to relocate. This state offers a diverse palette of locales, has a wonderful Pacific coastline, and no state sales tax! What more could anyone want? We live in the picturesque southwest area of the state and the scenery can't be beat.
S.S. in Portland, OR, writes: I would suggest considering Oregon or Washington state.
I grew up in Wisconsin, lived a few years in Chicagoland, and lived another few years in Maine. All those places have crap weather—6 months of winter, a month of mud season, black fly season and, except for Maine, hot humid uncomfortable summers. I have been in the Portland, OR, area since the late '70s. In Oregon and Washington state, the west side of the mountains is temperate. Yes, we have seasons. We occasionally get snow. I have flowers in my garden year round. People golf year round. In the midwest, you drive for 500 miles in any direction and all you see is corn. Here, I'm 90 minutes from the Oregon coast, 3 hours from Seattle. If you drive about 2 hours east, crossing over to the east side of the mountains, you are in the high desert, a totally different ecosystem from the west side. And, of course, you have the beautiful Cascade mountains. Mt. Hood is about an hour east. If you like the outdoors and beautiful scenery combined with a milder climate than the Midwest, this is the place to be. I still can't believe I live in a place with such natural beauty.
If you want to avoid MAGA-land, I suggest you stick with the larger cities—Portland metro, Eugene, Bend, Ashland (but avoid its neighbors Medford and Grants Pass). Some towns on the coast are nice, for example Gearhart, Florence, or Newport. The coast is glorious in the summer, but I find it dreary in the winter. As for Washington, I don't know it that well. I would suggest staying on the west side of the mountains in the large metro areas.
Now for the downside. Both Seattle and Portland are experiencing serious problems with homelessness and crime. This is a nationwide problem, so this is not unique to this region. You need to do research about which areas are less affected. My neighborhood is a little oasis, almost no serious crime. The reports in the national press (I'm looking at you, Fox) about Antifa rioting in the streets are overblown. It's mostly confined to an area downtown. And yes, downtown looks tough right now, due to the loss of businesses from the pandemic and crime. You can live a few miles outside the metro areas—for example, Canby is getting an influx of Portland people. Property taxes are high, but I see it as paying for the services that make a town livable. Oregon has a state income tax, Washington state doesn't. Home prices have skyrocketed, but again, it's the same story for the entire country.
Lastly, climate change is something to consider. Having been here since the late '70s, I have seen the changes. Winters are drier and warmer, there is less snowpack in the mountains. Rainfall patterns have changed. Summers are hotter and drier. It used to be the few hot days we got in summer were from the hot desert air coming in from the east side. Now we have more humidity, heat coming from the west. You didn't need air conditioning when I first moved here. Two years ago, we were surrounded by wildfires and had the worst air quality in the world for a few days. It was eerie. But this is a concern all across the country. I would think climate change is gonna affect the states you mentioned—more destructive hurricanes and tornadoes, more flooding. For me, the benefits of living here outweigh the risks.
D.S. in Fort Collins, CO, writes: I'm not an expert in most things for which you request expertise from your readers, but I did grow up in North Carolina, so I may be able to help A.H. and their spouse in Columbus with their decision about moving from Ohio. The Tar Heel State is definitely beautiful and more purple politically, and I know my liberal parents (longtime NCians and E-V.com readers) would love to have you help push that purple into blue. But I suggest you first spend an August there before deciding. It's trite but true: it IS the humidity, and I for one couldn't spend another summer day living in hot soup.
On that note, may I humbly recommend my adopted home state of Colorado? We have the sun but not the soup, and our snow is so different than Ohio/New England snow that we really should have different words for it. Plus, in the couple of decades I've been here, the politics have transitioned from stay-out-of-my-financial-business Republican (insane tax rules in the state constitution) to stay-out-of-my-personal-business Democrat (legalized marijuana, an openly gay governor, and firm commitment to abortion rights). I'm also a work-from-anywhere worker, and I couldn't be happier.
D.C. in Atenas, Costa Rica, writes: I think the person who is thinking about moving from Ohio should consider Costa Rica. I live in a place with the best weather in the world. Costa Rica has new laws which encourage people who work from home to move here.
N.G. in San Jose, CA, writes: In California a big pastime seems to be speculating "What other states could we move to?"
Jonathan Lansner of Southern California News Group wrote a column that may be of interest, using "benchmarks for wealth, nurturing, livability, foundation and popularity for the 49 other states. The data was taken from state-by-state "best places to live" scorecards, other gradings of key economic factors, plus a dash of government data."
My Gift Is My Song, Part V
D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: While I agree with your list, and some of the added mentions for most influential musicians, I have found myself waiting to see one essential name but so far haven't. So I would like to add Billie Holiday. Not only does she have a uniquely American voice, but her ability to convey a wide range of emotion in just one subtle note is beyond compare.
What makes her essential listening is her most famous song, "Strange Fruit," a haunting but nonetheless chilling song about black lynchings in the South. This 1939 song has been described by some as the start of the Civil Rights Movement. It started out as a poem that was later modified with a melody. How Holiday came to learn of the song is in dispute, but it is known that she was leary of singing it because of Southern retaliation. Her record label was also wary of Southern strife. When Holiday sang the song at the Cafe Society in 1939 it was always at the end of her show with the house lights off, her face with closed eyes in the spotlight and the waiters silenced to add to the sacred mood of the piece. The song has been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, appeared on the list of "The Songs of the Century" by the Recording Industry of America and the National Endowment of the Arts, and preserved by the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress. Holiday herself has been inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame, the National Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The song is powerful sublimity. Just listen to the pain in Billie Holiday's voice to harrow you to the bone or read the simple but powerful lyrics to rend your heart in two:Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood on the root
Black bodies swingin' in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin' from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulgin' eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burnin' flesh
Here is a fruit for the crow to pluck
For the rain to gather
For the wind to suck
For the sun to rot
For the tree to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop."
M.R. in Belleville, NJ, writes: Just a couple of points: I totally recognize Les Paul's prowess as both a musician and an inventor, but I'd give his place on your list to Leo Fender. While Les Paul claims to be (and may have been) the inventor of the solid-body electric guitar in 1941, his guitars were pretty much just things he hacked up and used experimentally on his own recordings. But the first electric guitar was actually invented several years before that, in 1931 by George Beauchamp (patent issued in 1937), and produced/sold by Rickenbacker Electro. Les Paul ultimately partnered with Gibson to produce his solid-body design, which was first offered for sale in 1952.
But before that, in 1947, Leo Fender began selling his solid-body electric guitar, not based on Les Paul's design, which he initially called the Broadcaster and then renamed the Telecaster. The Telecaster still dominates in country music today (and has also been used by Blues greats like Muddy Waters and Albert Collins, and by Rock greats like Keith Richards and many others). It was a more modular, cheaper to produce guitar than the Les Paul, and has had a much greater impact on American pop music than the Les Paul. Then, in 1954, Leo Fender hit another one out of the park with the Stratocaster—probably the most influential guitar in Rock history, played by... just about everyone. These two designs have been copied by many other makers and are still probably the two most popular solid-body electric guitars around today.
Another person who belongs on your list would be Alan Lomax (and possibly Harry Smith). Lomax's field recordings of American folk music made for the Library of Congress in the 1930s and early 1040s, and then independently by him after the funding dried up, had an enormous influence in terms of bringing the roots of what became modern folk, rock and country music to the attention of several new generations of musicians—including Bob Dylan, and just about everyone from the 1950s on. Harry Smith's anthology of American Folk Music, released in 1954, was probably the record responsible for launching the folk revival of the late 1950s and 1960s, and brought to light many of the iconic songs that would later be covered by just about everyone. Modern Country music and Rock probably wouldn't have existed without the efforts of these two guys.
A.C. in Kingston, MA, writes: As a musician myself (and longtime director of both curricular and extracurricular choral groups) I'd either make the first entry a tie or give it entirely to William Billings, widely credited as the first American composer. I might be a bit biased here, as my dad was born and raised in Stoughton, MA, but his works had a huge impact and laid the groundwork for the composition, study, and performance of serious classical music in America. (Another contender, though I don't think he quite rises to the level of Key or Billings, is Mozart's librettist Lorenzo Da Ponte, who wrote the lyrics to my all-time favorite opera and spent the last 33 years of his life in New York, eventually becoming an American citizen.)
D.R. in Old Harbor, AK, writes: I would suggest James Weldon Johnson and his brother, J. Rosamond Johnson, who are best known for "Lift Every Voice and Sing," proclaimed by the NAACP as the Nego National Anthem in 1919.
B.S. in Denville, NJ, writes: I believe Harry Burleigh deserves a spot on your list. More than anyone else, he was responsible for spreading African-American spirituals to wider audiences and was really the first to bring Black music into classical concert halls. He trained many prominent Black vocalists who came after him and had a significant influence on Antonín Dvořák, who was the first classical composer to introduce Europeans to an American musical aesthetic.
D.C. in Delray Beach, FL, writes: Yes, she was born in Canada, but Joni Mitchell has lived for a long time in the U.S. and has had great influence over music in those countries and the rest of the world. Her songs have been covered by many others and several other singer-songwriters credit her as a great influence in their autobiographies.
C.M. in Raymond, NH, writes: Thanks for the great list. As a former working chanteyman (at a museum, not on a ship) and organizer of a sea music festival in New Hampshire, the Hutchinson Family Singers are important to me. Hailing from Jaffrey, NH, their gold rush song "Ho! for California!" hybridized with a tune Stephen Foster used for "Camptown Races" to become the popular gold rush chantey "Sacramento." I didn't know they are considered the first professional musical group! It's great to see them recognized.
You mention Monty Python's use of Sousa's "The Liberty Bell"... the background to that is amazing to me. The Pythons used it because it was used for the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. The Palace had to change the song after the success of the TV show, because tourists would make a big raspberry sound at the (in)appropriate time. But why was British royalty using a march that celebrated a symbol of rebellion against them? I've never figured that part out.
Making the Grade, Part I
J.C. in Binan, Laguna, Philippines, writes: I am shocked—SHOCKED—that the first grade complaint didn't arrive before 2:35. If there's anyone who can violate the laws of time and space, it's a student complaining about their grades.
M.S. in Canton, NY, writes: My classic example of a grade complaint came from the other end of the scale: The student's grades on the three midterm exams and the final exam were D, F, F, and F. He called to ask me why he had gotten an F for the course. After all, the first midterm showed that he had learned something.
R.B. in Lyme, NH, writes: Back in the 80's, a Government professor at my university remarked to me that the advent of computers had a marvelous effect on the longevity of grandmothers. In earlier years, the professor would receive requests for extensions to deadlines "...because my grandmother died." After the computers arrived, he never heard that excuse, but that "the computer ate my paper..."
T.H.W. in Marlboro, VT, writes: I had a colleague, and one of his students did not turn in her required paper. When asked why, she said that she had an excellent excuse, but that he wouldn't believe her. He assured her that he would believe her, and she relented, telling him that she had been working on the paper until she was visited by the campus ghost (reported under many different names in many different locations over the years). As she was telling him this, with persuasive details, he began shaking his head. She exploded in righteous indignation: "You see? You see? I said you wouldn't believe me!" To which he replied, calmly: "Oh, I believe you absolutely. But it's not an adequate excuse."
S.S. in Etobicoke, ON, Canada, writes: Not me, but my partner taught Humanities at the University of Southern Indiana for many years. One year she had a student tell her on the first day of term that he would be missing the Friday class that week. When asked why, he explained that he was going to California to receive the Temple Award for Creative Altruism from the Institute of Noetic Sciences.
That seemed to her like a reasonable excuse for missing class.
M.C. in Reno, NV, writes: (Z)'s Wordle score is deeply suspicious. 128 played, 100% wins, 42 current streak, 44 max streak. That implies at least 2 losses. How is a 100% win rate possible? You should be at best 98.5%.
V & Z respond: Do you really believe (Z) would manipulate his stats? The "streak" ends if you don't play for a day.
J.K. in Portland, OR, writes: You really owe your non-folk-song-loving readers more on the etymology of "mondegreen." The song "The Earl of Murry" begins (contemporary English words and orthography):
"Oh you highlands and you lowlands,
Oh where have you been?
They have slain the Earl of Murray
And laid him on the green."
Somewhere, somehow, somebody misheard this and added a victim to the carnage as the fourth line: "And Lady Mondegreen."
I recently encountered a German version of a mondegreen in a published text of a 2014 pop song "Auf Uns" that confused lovers' commitments with flying pianos. It took a while for our choral group to sort that one out, but when we did, it was good for a laugh.
F.C. in DeLand, FL, writes: I have to say the timing on your comment about mondegreens and eggcorns is interesting. I've been listening to The History of English Podcast, and recently started supporting the author on Patreon. The extra benefit I get from sending him a little money every month is a bonus episode. So I've been playing catch-up on those bonus episodes, and a week ago I listened to several episodes on mondegreens and eggcorns. And yesterday I listened to an episode about words created in song lyrics. (That's actually pretty rare.)
I was wondering if you've also been listening to the podcast, or if it's just an example of great minds thinking alike.
V & Z respond: We were not listening to this podcast, so that leaves the latter option, we suppose. Actually. (Z) has a lecture built around mondegreens. This is for a comm class he sometimes teaches on interpersonal conflict.
A.B. in Lichfield, England, UK, writes: Your reply to K.F. in Madison about mondegreens and eggcorns reminded me of an infamous British example, though whether this is an eggcorn or a Spoonerism might be a matter of debate.
There's a senior UK Conservative Party politician called Jeremy Hunt. Hunt was Boris Johnson's main opponent in the last Conservative Party leadership election, and is a likely candidate in any future leadership election. From 2010 to 2012, Jeremy Hunt was Secretary of State for Culture. More than one broadcaster inadvertently reversed the 'H' and the 'C' in the phrase 'Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary'; I'm sure you can work out the rest.
V & Z respond: We are reminded of the Metallica video Cunning Stunts.
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