Let's get this party started, beginning with the issue of the week.
J.L. in Mountain View, CA, writes: Deuteronomy 15:1-2 says: "At the end of every seven years thou shalt make a release. And this is the manner of the release: Every creditor that lendeth ought unto his neighbour shall release it; he shall not exact it of his neighbour, or of his brother; because it is called the LORD'S release." (King James translation).
Jews break the first five books of the Bible (Torah) into sections that are read weekly, so that over the course of a year, the entire Torah is read. As it happens, the week that Joe Biden announced the forgiveness of student debt is the week Deuteronomy 15 is read. Further, by Jewish tradition, we are currently in that seventh, release, year. Probably a coincidence, but I wonder if there aren't some Jews advising Biden who thought this would be a particularly appropriate time to make the announcement.
J.P. in Lancaster, PA, writes: With respect to the cancellation of some student debt, I have the following observation. I matriculated at the University of Pennsylvania in 1968. I put myself through 4 years there and graduate school with no help from my parents. I started working in a bookstore at age 16 when the minimum wage was $1.10 per hour. Eventually, I worked my way up to $1.60 per hour when that was the minimum wage in 1968. I continued working through summers and winter break while in college, often working 12-hour days and occasionally 84-hour weeks at two different jobs in the summer. I also was in a work-study program in college. My loan payments were postponed until I was out of grad school and I had some debt principal forgiveness during my first few years as a professor. It still took me almost 20 years to pay off the accrued debt of a few thousand dollars.
Tuition at Penn in 1968 was $1,950, not including housing or food. Currently, tuition at Penn is $56,212, not including housing or food, which, included, would drive the cost per year into the region of $81,000. Taking living costs out of the equation, tuition has risen about 29-fold since 1968, while the minimum wage has risen about 4.5-fold since then (currently at $7.25 per hour). If the minimum wage increase had kept pace with the increase in college costs, I could understand the complaints about the loan debt cancellation President Biden introduced for those with lower incomes. However, Congress hasn't done a very good job increasing the minimum wage over the years. I realize that using an Ivy League college as an example might be extreme, but that is the example with which I am most familiar. Tuition at other universities and colleges has risen more than the minimum wage as well, just not quite as much.
The burden of paying off what I assume are much larger loans is, I imagine, much larger than 60 or even 20 years ago. I am not an economist, but I would guess that such large loans would eventually be a drag on the economy. Despite the fact that people like me had to pay off their loans, I believe that cancellation of some of the debt for those currently making less money is, on the whole, better for society in the long run, especially those who are in debt to for-profit colleges that did not provide the results they promised (like Trump University and the University of Phoenix).
R.B. in Cleveland, OH, writes: You wrote: "Nobody will get a check for $10,000. Instead, monthly loan payments will go down a little bit. That means former students will have a little bit more spending money. While that could have a slightly inflationary effect, it is not likely to be noticeable."
Keeping in mind that there's been a moratorium on student loan payments for over two years where many likely weren't making payments at all, this action appears even less inflationary. It's almost as if those critical of student loan forgiveness are using inflation as an overhyped excuse.
P.M. in Edenton, NC, writes: Regarding Joe Biden's decision to cancel student debt—in all of the discussions in the media about this, doesn't anyone see the unfairness here?
So, the people whose debt was canceled just happened to be the right age and to have gone to college at the right time to be beneficiaries of the cancellation plan. The only talk I have seen about people who are angry with this are "blue collar Republicans;" I guess no one with a college degree is upset about this. That is absurd. What about the millions beforehand earning less than $125K now who actually paid their education loans off? Will they receive a check for $10,000 (hopefully adjusted for inflation)? I know I could use the extra money. And what of those who chose to go to a more affordable college because they lived within their means? Or the parents who sacrificed a lot to help pay for their education? "Too bad, you were born/had children at the wrong time..."?
Also, what lesson does this teach to future generations? I'll tell you: Take out a debt, and the government will bail you out. That's a great lesson to be passing on to young people—let's make you even more dependent on the government than what you already are. I'm sure the Founding Fathers would be all for that.
I understand and agree that education costs are out of control, but giving away money to those people who are just fortunate enough to be the right age and benefit from it is not only unfair, it's simply stupid, especially given the already-ongoing inflation problem. It's going to result in a backlash politically against Biden and the Democrats. Let's hope they find the cost of that worth it.
K.T. in Oakdale, NY, writes: I can't imagine the politics of this move being beneficial for Joe Biden and the Democrats. In effect, taxpayers are being forced to fund other people's college education. It redistributes money from those who receive no benefit from this, and gives it to the people who did. The only beneficiaries are the student, and arguably the families of that student. Everyone else loses.
The arguments being thrown in support of this fail to acknowledge the imbalance. The stimulus impact of cancelling $100 billion in debt could have been accomplished by lower taxes by $100 billion for low-income taxpayers, and not been so discriminatory. The whataboutism that floods this particular issue is mind-numbing, I haven't heard a single argument about why non-college-educated people should pay for the college education of others. Ironically, the most common argument I've heard is "if we can bail out the banks, we can bail out our students to invest in our future," which drives me nuts since TARP was a loan, one that was paid back in full.
The single most important issue to me is the national debt. I have a 3-year-old and hate the idea of reaping benefits while putting more and more on the government credit card for him to pay. If Republicans somehow put up a candidate in 2024 who isn't an election-denying nutcase, and who has real ideas for lowering the deficit to slow the growth of debt (doubtful but I can hope), I'll vote Republican for the first time in my life. I'm tired of Democrats using taxpayer money to buy votes and I've never seen a more egregious, transparent example of it.
S.G. in New York City, NY, writes: You'll get plenty of letters this week about the student loan forgiveness that President Biden announced yesterday. I want to address a side argument associated with it: the problem of "exploding tuition costs," which are routinely blamed—without comment or correction—on either the greed or the mismanagement of the universities. Full disclosure #1: I am a faculty member at a private university in NY, and previously have been a faculty member at two public universities, one in Texas and one in the Midwest. Full disclosure #2: I am well aware of, and have been a vocal critic from the inside of, all of these universities when it comes to their financial choices, and their sometimes-failure to serve students, faculty, staff, and taxpayers well. Universities aren't perfect. Tenure gives me the right to tell them so.
But it is simply wrong that universities themselves are the cause of skyrocketing tuition, and the fact that this mythology is repeated, or at least allowed to stand, in conversation after conversation about this among "news" types is unfortunate. It's largely a talking point manufactured by the right, who have spent the last 40 years trying to dismantle the system of public universities that began to flourish in the wake of the GI Bill, and that right-wingers began to despise amid the activism that emerged during Vietnam.
Putting it bluntly, university costs have skyrocketed among public universities (I'll get to the privates in a minute) because state legislatures have simply ceased supporting them with state appropriations. It really is that simple. Yes, all universities engage in high-expense projects, typically buildings, but these are often paid for principally by alumni gifts, endowment revenues, etc. If you look at the operating budgets of big public universities, they are "public" these days in only the most nominal sense. The state allocation covers only a tiny portion of what it takes to run the university and educate its students. So naturally the cost gets shifted to those paying the tuition.
My alma mater, Penn State, is a perfect example of this. According to their website, their total operating budget for 2021-2022 was $7.7 billion. But their total allocation from the state was just $339 million, some of which was designated to things like "agricultural extension" and the university's medical center in Hershey. So state support for the university generally was a hair under $269 million, or about 3.5% of the total operating budget (or 4.4% if you prefer to count the whole $339 million). With some 46,000 students on its main campus, and more than 98,000 students enrolled total in main and branch campuses combined, the state is literally "supporting" higher education to the tune of less than $3,500 per student. This clearly does not pay for the classrooms, technology, custodians, faculty, and others who make their learning possible.
And it's a problem that has intensified over time. In graduate school, I earned some extra money by editing the transcripts of the faculty senate meetings, which meant attending the meetings so that I could get the gist of the conversations. In 1997 or so, while doing this work, I attended a presentation about the university's appropriations request to the state and remember that at that time, state appropriations paid for roughly 25% of the operating budget. Compare that to the figures I just gave for 2021-22. Looking back over the history of Penn State's appropriations from the state, the university got roughly the same amount in 2000-2001 as they got in 2021-2022. Just to keep up with the rate of inflation, they should have gotten $571 million. As far back as 2005, I attended a conference for new university administrators, and even then a provost from a university out west referred sardonically to the "nationwide race to see which state can be the first to achieve 0% support for its public universities." The issue is decades in the making.
Private universities have different issues—principally, being regarded as "prestigious" enough to warrant their price tag. And unfortunately, many universities understand that, for some pretentious parents, the idea of prestige comes about because a university is expensive, not because it's selective. Some months ago I was present at a meeting at my own university in which our admissions officers talked openly about raising tuition, not because we had to, but because there was a "perception" out there that we weren't as good as our peer institutions because we didn't cost as much. So began a multi-year phase in of a roughly 30% tuition increase... which the university then has to offset by awarding students more financial support. It looks like madness. But it's a cutthroat environment in which many small privates are struggling to survive, and they recognize that the struggle will intensify over the next 5-10 years because fewer students will be graduating from American high schools. But part of it, too, is about private universities appearing to have "prestige" not just relative to one another, but relative to the public schools that are now charging $30k+ each year in tuition. How can the privates charge just $40k—with no public appropriation at all to fall back on—if the publics are charging almost that same amount? It must not be a very good private school... or so the story goes.
My point in all this is: We need to stop wagging fingers at universities as if they single-handedly created some hideous tuition death-spiral. Support public education. Elect legislators who will do it. Watch the tuition costs come down for public schools, and watch how that stabilizes costs in the privates, too. But above all, stop swallowing—or, worse, regurgitating—the right-wing talking point that's been with us since Saint Ronnie, then governor, took a sledgehammer to free tuition in the California university system.
D.A.Y. in Troy, MI, writes: I've seen much hay made about how Sen. Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) PAC will be spending big bucks starting after Labor Day. However, going into the details, it might be too little, too late (yes, I'm saying that about $150M+).
Even with McConnell's PAC, the Republicans' Senate campaigns are still projected to be outspent by Democrats by almost $20M in the Labor-Day-to-Election-Day period. Part of this is many of the Republican candidates have had paltry fundraising efforts (and those who have had better success are hoarding) while the Democrats have had cash flowing in. The Republican campaigns are so far behind, McConnell's PAC will account for about 80% of GOP ad spending. PACs pay much more for ads, while the Democrats will be able to buy a larger proportion of their ads in the discount rate extended to the campaigns themselves.
Also, the Republicans conceded the summer, and the Democrats have used the summer to set the narrative. This election is not about inflation and the economy. It is about our rights and the fate of democracy. It is starting to show up in the polls where "Threats to Democracy" is now topping some lists of voter concerns. The Democrats can take this message straight into the fall with the January 6th hearings beginning their "Season 2," as more is learned about classified material retrieved from Trump, while horror stories resulting from the bans on abortion will be a constant drip at least.
Things have started to look up for the Democrats, and they are starting to be favored to keep the Senate and keeping the House is entering more and more into the realm of possibility. We will have to see as campaign season finally ramps up in earnest and consistent polling begins. However, if the Republicans do lose, I think they will have many things to blame and one of them is giving up the summer to the Democrats.
O.N.E. in Greenville, SC, writes: You wrote about the possibility of Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) running for president in 2024 as a Libertarian. I think it's very unlikely, for several reasons.
First, the Libertarian party is antithetical to Liz Cheney on two major issues. One is the police state, and the other is foreign policy. When Bob Barr ran on their ticket, he lost support from much of the base.
Second, the current Libertarian Party has been taken over by a fringe faction that appears to be pandering to the alt-right. (The leader of said faction appears to be fond of Jordan Peterson shirts.)
As someone who voted for libertarians in the past (primarily based on comparative electability and foreign policy), but does not want to support the new trend, I am reminded of why small-L libertarian Robert Anton Wilson said he did not back Libertarian party candidates, "I'm a libertarian. I just don't hate poor people."
(As an aside, one reason why I didn't vote Libertarian last time was that both candidates did not meet the Article II/ 12th Amendment standard, both being from my home state of SC.)
J.C. in al Wakrah, Qatar , writes: Well, I'm not so impressed with Joe Biden's record on reuniting families. Just to remind you, our personal experience is that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) continues to try to separate families at the U.S. border (as of a year ago). The only reason we weren't separated is that I made a decision that it was better to die with my wife from a pandemic than to live without her. Otherwise, CBP repeatedly made the declaration that me and my two American children—ages 1 and 4—were welcome to leave her behind at any time. The U.S. Government is just fine with child trafficking under the Biden administration.
H.M. in Paris, France, writes: I was wondering how I would translate "popular vote," say, in French. After a moment's consideration, I realized that, in democracies, we call that "the vote." Or "universal suffrage." Or, you know, "a win" (a.k.a. "a victory," for Latinate languages).
C.G. in Santa Cruz, CA, writes: My siblings and I have taken on the task of filtering our aging mother's email account to weed out the garbage before she sees it. She is a pro-life Republican and has apparently donated to various such causes. It is incredible how many blusterous, over-the-top political emails she gets on a daily basis, virtually every one with a request for money. Yesterday, I saved each of the sixty-three emails she received, redacted them, and put them into an image-only PDF.
Most of the emails are either from Donald Trump, one of Trump's kids, the Republican National Committee, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ron Johnson (R-WI; possibly, as the e-mail is from firstname.lastname@example.org), other Senate candidates, etc., but some are from other off-shoots, such as "lets-go-brandon.net" and "rightwave.com." Interestingly, she somehow got onto at least one Democratic list, because she gets a few e-mails daily from Rep. Val Demings (D-FL) and a couple of other Democrats. It is somewhat surreal seeing back-to-back Marco Rubio/Val Demings e-mails both asking for cash and vilifying the other.
I can't imagine my mother going through the flood of e-mails one-by-one, but perhaps she might bite at one or two per week with more money, and I guess that's how they get you. But the volume is simply incredible.
J.C. in Crystal City, VA, writes: A mildly amusing anecdote about red hats. My Midwestern white husband was riding with me on the Metro in downtown D.C. the day that Joe Biden's election was confirmed. There was a "whoop!" through the traincar. Then people noticed his red hat and we got some glares. He pointed to the white stitching that said "Biden-Harris" and there were smiles all around.
We got off the train downtown and enjoyed the celebration. MAGA family members later asked us if there was fighting in the streets, and weren't we scared. What? It was wonderful, joyous and absolutely not dangerous, even for old ladies.
G.W. in Oxnard CA, writes: I have done the job of assessing the potential damage if classified material had been compromised. It is a slow and meticulous process, so with Donald Trump, the magnitude of the task is pretty big due to the large number of documents and pages of material. I would not expect a result quickly, though the government will probably have a lot of people working on the job.
The process is straightforward, but you must assess every paragraph, figure, table, etc. You work from the classification guide for the program in question and assess each portion of the document separately. Say, for example, that there is a line item in a classification guide that says that the identity of high-value U.S. intelligence assets in a particular country is TS-SCI NOFORN. You see a paragraph about a person in one of the documents marked TS-SCI NOFORN. You must assess if the paragraph is properly classified. There is a grey area in most line items, and the person who classified the document is not always right, or things can change. Was the author correct about that person being a high-value asset? Is that person still a high-value asset? Can that person be identified from the paragraph? Is that person even identified associated with the right country? If the answers to all these questions is "yes," then compromise of the compromise of that document represents serious damage to the national security. You then have to assess what that means in terms of the diplomatic damage and/or national security damage had that document been compromised.
Note that I'm using an example from the case at hand, not my personal experience. Don't ask about my personal experience. I'm duty bound (and legally bound) to not say anything of value.
E.F. in Baltimore, MD, writes: Trump taking a plea deal? Impossible. But you must have known that. No way in the world he'd ever admit guilt, a condition of any plea deal. And no way would he ever agree to spend even a minute at FCI Miami. I hear their golf course is terribly shabby. And I doubt the Bureau of Prisons would want to have to deal with having him. More likely, he'd get home confinement at Mar-a-Lago. And even that would be unacceptable to him.
He'll flee to Moscow or Riyadh first.
R.D. in Austin, TX, writes: As a long-time voter who is totally blind and who has been my whole life, I have lots of thoughts and experiences with the voting process. In short, what Donald Trump wants likely violates the ADA without significant arrangements put in place by all polling sites.
I work for a disability service office at a university and if a student has a visual or reading disability, when paper exams and scantrons are involved, we will include as part of their accommodations a scribe who can write down or mark the choice that was spoken to them by the student. This would have to be the process implemented by every polling station. Now let me ask the following very snarky question: Do you trust that poll worker marking your ballot that you can't see any more than you trust the computer that is telling you what vote choice you have entered?
My voting experiences were punch cards the two terms Bill Clinton won; he was my choice and in 1992 I knew my choice was properly done because my mom and I both supported the Democrats and she helped me with my card. In 1996, that duty had to fall to a poll worker, so do I know for sure she cast my vote the way I wanted?
Since 2000, voting has been on either an electronic machine that told me what my choices were and left no paper trail, or in my favorite method, a talking autoscribe machine. In this case, I had the benefit of the automated speech via the terminal that told me what all my selections were as I went down the ballot, then once I confirmed my choices, the ballot was printed and I could then confirm with a poll worker how my choices were recorded. Because I entered the choices on my own, all I was needing from them was confirmation that what I chose was indeed what was marked on my ballot. The GOP would be very wise if it wants to have a paper based system, which I actually do agree with, that includes a fully accessible auto scribe system that works in the method that I just described. I would urge my fellow Democrats to make an accessibility argument about the vote that focuses on the various disability communities, who are truly cut off from the process due to limitations in transport or in technical access and know-how at the polling sites.
B.B. in San Jose, CA, writes: In answering a question about why Republicans hate Dr. Fauci, you wrote that this is because Donald Trump hates him. I hate to disagree with you, but I find a lot of room to doubt the causality of that. They may know about Dr. Fauci because Donald Trump hates him, but he is exactly the sort of person they would hate anyway. I know a fair number of people who think that vaccines and science in general are not just wrong but downright evil and destroying America. Keep in mind that even at a Trump rally the attendees booed him for mentioning vaccines in anything but a negative light. They may agree with some of the reasons that Trump hates Fauci, but they already believed those things without his help. They also have their own reasons for hating someone who so embodies the science they already mistrust and even hate.
V & Z respond: We almost added another paragraph to that item noting that, as is so often the case, Trump was leading from behind, and channelling existing prejudices.
S.S-L. in Norman, OK, writes: The note about Rand Paul caught my attention. I'm also uncomfortable that he's a doctor who doesn't have a bachelor's degree. I've always wondered if he's the reason Duke started requiring one. I certainly learned a thing or two about logic, diversity, and the intersection of compassion and critical thinking in my last couple years of undergrad. Maybe he missed those parts?
By the way... is it just me, or does Trump appear to be wearing a Tribble?
E.M. in Poughkeepsie, NY, writes: In your response to M.B. in Singapore about the special election to choose a replacement for Antonio Delgado you wrote "the key here is that the circumstances under which Ryan ran this year are likely to be similar to the circumstances of this year's midterms." I'm writing to dispute that. I work in the old NY-19, Delgado's district, but live in the old NY-18. The winner of the special election in the old NY-19, Pat Ryan (D) is the county executive for Ulster Co, which is entirely in the old NY-19, while his opponent, Marc Molinaro (R), is the county executive for Dutchess county, just across the river and only partly in the old NY-19. I expect both of them to go to Congress next year, due to the major changes of the redistricting that pushed the primaries back to August. Ryan also won the Democratic primary for the new NY-18, which now includes parts of the old districts of Delgado and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D, NY-18) while Molinaro was unopposed in the primary for the new NY-19, which is farther north, more conservative, and does not include Dutchess county (so he will live outside his new district unless he moves 2 miles north).
They are both good guys, well liked even to some degree by members of the opposing parties. Ryan's lawn signs remind people he's a veteran, and in fact he's a West Point grad and West Point will be in his district. Given that background I expect him to have more knowledge of national defense, and possibly national issues more generally. Molinaro was elected mayor of the village of Tivoli when he was only 19 and has been involved in local politics ever since. He's done a good job on local issues, including dealing with the pandemic, but he won't have a lot of background with national issues. Ryan made abortion an issue and challenged Molinaro to a debate on that topic, which Molinaro declined (that part I do expect to be a big part of the midterms). Molinaro is a Catholic who I've heard is against abortion but thinks it's a personal decision, but there is no statement of policy on his campaign website. He's a reasonable and rational conservative, not a crazy, but my fear is that he'll just go along with his party even when they become extreme (extremer?) Or maybe he'll pull them back. We shall see...
So my point is that it's not a big surprise that Ryan won in the old NY-19 where Delgado won twice (though the mid-term opposition to the sitting president's party may have been a factor in the tighter margin). Locally, it's not seen as a big competition just to fill in for a few months when both candidates are pretty reasonable and they are both expected to go to Congress anyway. On top of that, it's summer vacation for a lot of folks before school starts, and nobody is paying attention to elections now compared to how they will in November. I advise not reading too much into the result.
M.S. in Westchester County, NY, writes: In NY-10, Dan Goldman (D) appears to have pulled through the Democratic primary with about 26% of the vote. Of the 13 others on the ballot, Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou captured the second highest vote total with about 24% of the vote. Rep. Mondaire Jones was third with about 18% of the vote. (Please Joe Biden, find the man a job!)
End of story? No. This is New York! We have a progressive third party in the state called the Working Families Party which has automatic access to the ballot (but must fight to sustain that access every 4 years—thank you, Andrew Cuomo). The WFP customarily anoints the Democrat with another line on the ballot. The Republicans have a similar situation with the Conservative Party.
This time there are inklings that Niou will carry the WFP line into the general, where it will be an all-out war between Goldman—the multi millionaire moderate who spent millions to get the D line—against the progressive Niou. Now, with only two viable candidates on the ballot, let's see how this plays out. (According to Ballotpedia, a Republican and an independent are in the race. They have no chance. FiveThirtyEight rates this a D+69 district!)
In my home county, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D) won. However, if viewed closely, this isn't as open-and-shut as it looks. NY-16 contains a portion of the Bronx, where Bowman cleaned up with over 90% of the vote. It was much closer here in Westchester where he won only 52% of the vote. But a majority is a majority. So, all Squad members have survived to compete in the general.
J.T. in Marietta, GA, writes: Why do you have such a chip on your shoulder about Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney? You seem to pick on him at every opportunity. You wrote that he "chose to run" in NY-17, and conclude that, "If Maloney has stayed where he belongs, this wouldn't have occurred." You've continued in this vein since, such as unnecessarily blaming Maloney for starting "a game of musical districts."
You do realize that Maloney's permanent residence is in the new NY-17? He lives there. He did, in fact, stay where he belonged. He did not move districts; the districts moved to him. While I know it isn't a legal requirement, I think representatives should live in their districts. So do lots of other voters. This snide attitude towards Maloney is a longstanding talking point of the professional left, who have always disliked Maloney because he's a centrist. Mondaire Jones was a huge favorite of this group even before he was elected, so it was quite easy for them to blame Maloney for this situation. In fact, Jones no longer lives in NY-17, but in NY-16.
To blame all this on Maloney rather than on the redistricting process seems really unfair. It screwed up a lot of stuff—it's not Maloney's fault.
R.H.D. in Webster, NY, writes: Now that we have finished our primary voting here in New York, here on some observations for the general from a resident of the Empire State.
The outcomes in both the special House elections, NY-19 and NY-23, do offer encouraging signs for the blue team. But as you have warned us many times before, these should be taken with several grains of salt. There is still a little over 2 months to go between now and Nov. 8 and that is many political lifetimes. A lot can happen to change the equation for either side. I will say, though, that the Dobbs decision is proving to be a winning card for the Dems, and they can thank their favorite five justices on the Supreme Court for that.
For weeks now, I've been bombarded with TV ads from each side. What's unusual, though, is they starred two current members of Congress who are in safe districts. In my own district, NY-25, incumbent Joe Morelle (D) has been hammering his GOP opponent, LaRon Singletary, on one single topic. You guessed it, abortion. Meanwhile, in neighboring NY-24, incumbent Claudia Tenney (R) keeps telling us the country is going to hell and that Joe Biden is incompetent to lead. These ads tell me the Republican strategy is all about ginning up their base and driving up the turnout because if the other side wins, we'll be doomed.
Finally, all eyes will be on NY-22 in the Syracuse and central New York region. Because incumbent John Katko (R) voted his conscience in impeaching TFG for 1/6, he was forced to retire. This open seat is ripe for the Democrats to take, for it has trended blue of late. The big question is how big of a margin it will be, assuming they do flip this district. The bigger the margin, the more likely the blue team will have a good night not only in New York, but nationwide.
Again, taking it with many grains of salt, I don't see a red wave coming in November. If anything, the waters may be calm and still when all is said and done. Or maybe, there could be a blue ripple. Who would have seen that earlier this year?
D.C. in Mission, KS, writes: When you go the House forecast at FiveThirtyEight and scroll down to most competitive races, you find KS-03, where I live, at the top. The incumbent, Sharice Davids (D), is facing a rematch against Amanda Adkins (R). Davids won by 11 points last time. According to Politico, the district has gone from Biden +10.8% to Biden +4.5%. Assume the gerrymander produced a 7-point swing for Adkins and everything else remains unchanged. Adkins still loses by 4 points. Factor in the current generic congressional polling, then she still loses by 4, since that polling is a tie.
Then consider the local situation. The legislature proposed an amendment to give themselves the power to regulate abortion. National pro-choice organizations invaded and registered thousands of new pro-choice voters. Thousands of Dole Republicans flipped, which is why the amendment vote was a blowout. Are all those people going to forget what they just voted against to support someone whose website claims "As a pro-life advocate, I am committed to supporting life from conception until natural death"? Roughly 80% of the new district is Johnson County, which is prosperous, suburban and educated. Maybe Adkins had a shot before Dobbs. Now? No way.
L.O-R. in San Francisco, CA, writes: Your item about Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) claiming that his involvement with the plot to overthrow the elected government only lasted "a couple seconds" reminds me of a friend of mine. She was a counselor at an abortion clinic and told me the story about a client who came in for an abortion, confiding to my friend that she was still a virgin because "only the tip went in."
R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: Let's look at some of the defenses proffered to excuse Ralph Nader and Jill Stein voters in swing states from being responsible for the Bush 43 and Trump horrors: 1) Whaddabout Al Gore's and Hillary Clinton's running terrible campaigns. So therefore it was OK for Nader/Stein voters to give the elections to Bush and Trump? If that was their conclusion, boy, they are mental defectives. Even if you think Gore and Clinton were "evil," American politics is designed to elect not the "best candidate," but the "lesser evil." Nader/Stein voters caused the greater evil to win. 2) Whaddabout Democrats who voted for Bush? They voted for what they perceived as the lesser evil. They actually supported the candidate they wanted who could actually win. That's smart, not stupid, even if I disagree with their preference. 3) Whaddabout the Supreme Court/James Comey? Again, if Nader voters supported the much lesser evil who could actually win, Gore would have taken Florida by tens of thousands of votes. The Supreme Court wouldn't have been involved. Comey is the same thing as the "bad campaign" argument. To let Comey convince you to throw your vote away and elect Trump, means you deserve all the denigrative epithets to your intelligence. 4) Whaddabout stupid right-wing third-party voters? Sure, fools gave Iowa, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin to Gore by voting for Pat Buchanan (if one discounts the Nader voters in those states). It's harder to tell what Johnson and McMullin voters in 2016 would have done—for example, I have a friend who voted for Johnson, and who hated Trump but couldn't stomach Clinton. Regardless, those third-party voters didn't prevent the Republican candidate from winning the election. They may be idjits, but their idjitry didn't affect the outcome.
Finally, note that my insults were (and are) devoted to a class of people, not to one individual. The class of people I insulted (Nader/Stein voters in swing states) contributed to the rise of fascism in the United States because of their paramount love of the scent of their own flatus. They deserve nothing but obloquy.
K.P. in Enumclaw, WA, writes: Voting for Nader in 2000 or Stein in 2016 is sort of like buying a Mega Millions ticket with the expectation of winning. The possibility of either of those candidates winning, or you winning the MM jackpot, is so incredibly remote, that for all practical purposes you are absolutely wasting your money...or your vote. You can read the odds, or could have read the most rudimentary poll to figure that out.
R.E.M. in Brooklyn put this in a far less tactful way and that is perhaps why they got the response they did. But some of the rebuttals are preposterous; accusing Al Gore and Hillary Clinton of running lousy campaigns and not "earning" votes? Of course their campaigns were lousy! What difference does that make when you're faced with two night-and-day presidential possibilities: in 2000, a draft-dodging (Air National Guard) war monger chicken hawk? Or, someone that enlisted in the Army (out of Harvard) and went to Vietnam and probably had some idea how bad war was.
Gore's and Clinton's losses had incalculable consequences. Thousands of Americans and over 100,000 Iraqi civilians needlessly lost their lives as a direct result of the Bush administration. Wealth inequality grew precipitously, as did environmental damage, and so on. (I won't even bother bringing Trump into this).
From where I sit, this country would be in a far better place had those Stein and Nader votes gone to Clinton and Gore and not been wasted on non-viable candidates.
L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: I just have to write in response to the defense of third party voters by G.A. in Berkeley. First, they say that in 2004 and 2016 the Democrats lost because they nominated relatively unpopular candidates who ran poor campaigns. However, this ignores the fact that in those two elections the Republicans also ran relatively (or in the latter case, absolutely) unpopular candidates who ran poor campaigns. Unless they want to argue that whenever both parties nominate poor candidates that the Republicans deserve to win, then their argument doesn't really hold water.
Second, they say that if the major parties want to attract third-party voters "they need to adequately address the concerns of third-party voters." The problem with this reasoning is obvious. Most third-party voters have strong opinions on a limited set of issues. Many of them demand absolute purity on those issues, and their positions are generally out of line with the mainstream American voter. For major-party candidates to adequately address those concerns would mean alienating far more mainstream voters than they would ever gain from the third parties. Indeed, I suspect that such an accommodation would lead many third-party voters to proclaim that "voting third-party works!" and continue to vote that way.
In general, third-party voters have decided that purity is more important than having a seat at the table. That is fine—it is certainly their right to do so. But they shouldn't pretend that their votes are "winnable" by mainstream candidates.
P.S. in Arlington, TN, writes: As a former GOP donor, in 2016 I voted for Gary Johnson, who most closely represented my policy beliefs. I would've voted for the Constitution Party candidate second and Hillary Clinton third had there been ranked-choice voting. I grossly underestimated how terrible Donald Trump would be and now recognize my vote as a mistake. In fairness to me, who would've dreamed he'd claim he won a blowout election that he lost and tens of millions of sheep would believe him? My main point is that many of those Johnson voters would've been Clinton voters in 2016 and that many of them were Biden voters in 2020. I'm one of them.
T.M.M. in Odessa, MO writes: You had a couple of questions related to partisan lean of districts.
Those of us who work with campaigns (and my involvement is mostly at the county level) recognize that candidates can make a difference, but that difference is limited. For that reason, we tend to look more at statewide elections than district-level elections because that eliminates localized candidate effects. Using NY-19 as an example, the 2020 results reflect, in part, how popular Anthony Delgado was in the district and the assessment of his opponent. (Name recognition and the opportunities that come with incumbency tend to result in an incumbent doing better than their party would do in an open race.) When it comes time to find a candidate to replace an incumbent, things revert to the baseline tendencies of the district. While you always want to find the best candidate possible, how much better your candidate needs to be than the other party depends on whether the baseline favors your party or the other party.
While the Cook Partisan Vote Index is the best known of the measures, I find it to be a rather flawed measure because it is too simplistic. By focusing on one office (the last two presidential elections), it still incorporates some candidate-based effects. In other words, in estimating who will win the race for Senate or for Congress or the state legislature, you want to know "How do the pro-Trump voters and the anti-Trump voters vote in races in which he is not on the ballot?" My own preference is to look at the last three cycles and count all of the statewide elections—that number will include at least one presidential election, at least one governor's race, usually two Senate races, and several other state offices (depending on the state). In my state, that will typically be either ten (immediately after the mid-term) or fifteen (immediately after the presidential election) races to consider. That number of races with different candidates in them reduces the distortion of an unusually poor candidate or an unusually strong candidate in one race.
In any case, the goal is to figure out the starting position of the two parties in an open race, and that is based on the partisan lean of the district rather than how well the incumbent did in their last election. And, with somewhat rare exceptions, special elections are almost always open seats. While in individual special elections the result does reflect candidate quality, the thought is that candidate quality should balance out across a series of special elections. (Or, if it does not, then one party is having serious candidate recruitment issues which itself is significant.) Thus, the deviation from the partisan norm across multiple special elections tells us something about which party will get the most votes and how much of a deviation from the norm should we expect in November.
With the caution that two months is a long time in politics, the most recent results seem to point to something of a close election. Democrats may get more total votes, but—due in part to geography and due in part to gerrymandering—the median district is actually more Republican than the country as a whole. So the Republicans may eke out a majority (maybe 225-30 seats based on the result in New York this week). But the most recent batch of results show that Democrats still have hopes of keeping the House and a chance to gain seats in the Senate.
D.M. in Berlin, Germany, writes: The day after Ukrainian Independence Day, you took score of the war and wrote: "Early in the war, Biden pushed for heavy sanctions and said he was going to turn the ruble into rubble. That hasn't happened. Here is a chart showing how many rubles it has taken to buy one dollar since Aug. 2021."
From the end of February onward, the chart doesn't show how many rubles it has taken to buy one dollar—it shows how many rubles it would have taken to buy one dollar if the Russian national bank allowed you buy a dollar. Basically, it doesn't, so the exchange rate is a fantasy; the ruble is not freely convertible anymore. This is the result of a long list of legal measures Russia has taken to improve what that very chart looks like (quite literally, because the public perception in Russia of how the economy is going is based on little else than the exchange rate to the US dollars). For example, if you bring foreign currency into Russia (e.g. because you're selling Russian natural gas and get paid in euros), you have to convert most of the amount into rubles, artificially increasing the demand for rubles. Getting money out of the country is similarly restricted. Russia has already spent 75 billion dollars of its rainy-day fund to prop up the ruble (the famous 630, 638 or 643 gigabucks, of which around 300 are frozen in banks abroad and inaccessible to Russia), and that fund is not getting bigger.
You mentioned "the sale of oil and gas to China, India, and Europe" as keeping the Russian economy afloat—yes, barely, for the moment. The sales to Europe have noticeably decreased, in part due to reduced demand, in part due to a blatant attempt to make Germany nervous (Russia has reduced the gas flow through Nord Stream 1 to 20% of its capacity; the rest of the gas, worth 10 million euros per day, is being burnt off in Russia; a total loss). China and India have been picking up some of the slack, but, first, there are no pipelines from the north end of the Urals to China or India, and transport by ship has less capacity and is more expensive; second, China and India buy the oil and gas at a discount of 20%-30% of the market price. Russia does not make a profit on these sales, it merely cuts its losses somewhat. This, too, is not sustainable for years. Meanwhile, the EU has completely stopped importing coal from Russia, oil imports are supposed to stop by the end of this year, and gas imports are supposed to stop next year. If Russia doesn't win the war rather soon (or find a way to declare victory and go home), it won't be able to afford to continue it even if it hasn't run out of tanks by then.
M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: The Russian army may be a second-tier military, but their navy is absolutely first-tier. It is designed purely to fight a major conflict in the Atlantic targeting both North America and Europe. Imagine World War II German wolfpacks on steroids.
Likewise, China's military is designed around its navy to fight a major conflict in the Pacific and is also first-tier, though it lacks operational experience.
S.C. in Bossier City, LA, writes: In response to L.C. in Brookline, you wrote:Depending on whom you believe, the Russians have already got a Trump film...
It's probably more accurate to say this is a streaming video.
M.K. in Sacramento, CA, writes: I wanted to add some additional info in response to the question from B.T. in North Brunswick about EVs and their impact on the electric grid.
The reference to rolling blackouts is likely to the so-called Red Flag warnings that trigger short duration (usually) power interruptions, mostly in Northern California during high winds and dry conditions, which increase the potential for wildfires.
The overall state power supply is in pretty good shape but there is enough concern that it looks like the last nuke in the State, Diablo Canyon, will get some emergency funding and will continue to be operated past the scheduled 2025 closure date.
The issue with growing adoption of EVs is not so much with the overall supply, but more on localized effects of simultaneous charging. For example, if you have a couple of neighbors simultaneously fast charging a Tesla through the same older transformer, you may easily exceed its capacity and cause a localized outage. As you wrote, spreading out charging during the day will mitigate some of these issues. Utilities will likely continue to encourage lower voltage, overnight charging at home for those that have that option. Incidentally, it's not a widespread problem, but there are similar concerns about cannabis growing warehouses that use a lot of juice and may be in areas with older infrastructure.
You are also 100% right that charging will be a big deal, not only in building a sufficient number of charging stations at work sites, shopping areas, schools, etc., but the development of adequate applications to accurately view the location and availability of a charging station Right now, except for Tesla drivers, it's very much hit or miss, so this needs attention.
D.T. in San Jose, CA, writes: I'm going to have to disagree with the idea that California's rolling blackouts are overblown. I have only lived in (northern) California for five years, but the blackouts occur far more regularly than anywhere else I have lived in this country. However, these blackouts almost exclusively target smaller communities, rather than denser cities.
The biggest problem in California seems to be power transmission, rather than generation. PG&E (the utility company) has not done a good job of updating and maintaining their long-haul transmission lines. Equipment failures have caused numerous devastating wildfires. Rather than address the underlying problem, the utility company simply cuts off power to remote areas when high demand strains the transmission lines.
I like the idea of switching to all electric vehicles. But California needs a massive infrastructure overhaul to make this work. Building a ton of solar and wind power generation alone won't be enough, if the power cannot make it to the places where people actually live.
J.E. in San Jose, CA, writes: I know people accuse the two of you for partisanship, but the following statement is proof of your objectivity:To start, note that the rolling blackouts are overblown. They have happened very rarely in the last 10 years. Mostly, the government uses the possibility to scare people into scaling back during peak demand months.
This is so true. I am a California native, and I love it here. Yet this is so true. Thank you for keeping it real.
R.M.S. in Lebanon, CT, writes: I think one of the big barriers to solving the problem of homelessness in the United States is that too many people, including politicians, see homelessness itself as the problem rather than as a symptom of a larger problem. The two major factors that cause homelessness are mental illness and drug addiction. And the U.S. healthcare system, as it is currently designed, is not capable of adequately treating these two issues.
I know I am going against the grain of contemporary thought, but I believe the U.S. made a huge mistake in the mid-20th century in changing how these two difficult health problems are treated. Up until the early 1970s, institutionalized (or in-patient) healthcare for people with severe mental illness and drug addiction was viewed as the best solution. Institutionalizing people gives them structure, reduces the risk of harming themselves or others, and takes them out of environments where they have access to drugs. However, starting in the early 1970s, the U.S. moved away from an institutionalized model for mental healthcare and switched to a community-based (or out-patient) model. Community-based healthcare leaves people to their own devices, putting them into the community and expects them to go to out-patient clinics for treatment. It is clear many of these people cannot function in society and need much more help than outpatient clinics can provide.
We are seeing the consequences of this decision all over the U.S., but especially in cities like San Francisco. The BBC recently did a video segment discussing the severe drug problem in the city. There are people living in tents on sidewalks throughout the city and the city is losing on average about 2 people a day due to drug overdoses. It is absolutely outrageous that a state as wealthy as California is unwilling to institutionalize these people and expects them to get better by seeking out-patient care on their own.
I was in Atlantic City, NJ, in May on a 5-day trip and although the city is doing much better than it was during my last visit in 2009, they still have a lot of problems with mentally ill and addicted people who are unable to function. One morning I went jogging on the boardwalk at 8:00 a.m., and two men with open Corona bottles stepped in front of me to stop me and ask me for money. I didn't say anything but I rolled my eyes at them and continued on my way. One of them said, "You look like a faggot," and I yelled back, "I'm sure most people would say I still look better than you." I probably should not have tried arguing with people like that but I don't like letting homophobia go unchallenged.
S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes: Regarding the question from L.S. in Greenwood, another commonly-used rationale for statutes of limitations is to allow reasonable finality and closure. After a car accident, for example, a driver (or an insurance company) shouldn't have to worry forever (or forever hold reserves against) the potential liability. At some point people and businesses are allowed to exhale and go about their ordinary business. Similarly, an octogenarian ought not to worry about arrest for a minor offense committed in young adulthood.
Civil plaintiffs also gain some benefit from time limits. After all, plaintiffs have to prove their cases, and their evidence seldom improves while they "sleep on their rights."
All that said, statutes of limitations are policy tools, and the policies they serve may promote or impede justice and accountability. For many years, judicial interpretations of statutes of limitations thwarted victims of exposure to toxic substances, such as asbestos or Diethylstilbestrol (DES), that caused disease long after the exposure. Civil rights plaintiffs face tight time limits that have been rigidly enforced by an unforgiving Supreme Court. And shortened statutes of limitations have been a centerpiece of "tort reform" in many states, to the benefit of favored or politically powerful interests (e.g. physicians or insurance companies) or of wrongdoers in general.
J.T. in Greensboro, NC, writes: I've devoted some substantial time to the question of how to create more inclusive classrooms in general, including those who are conservative. The buzzword for what A.P. in Kitchener is describing is "ideological diversity," and while it doesn't specifically refer to conservative ideology, the sort of unspoken idea here is that the "default student" and the "default instructor" are left-leaning, which is probably true.
While I think it's important not to give air to misinformation and hate speech, going too far in the other direction will make students shut down, which is the opposite of what we want if we want to produce a society of critical thinkers. It's also just bad for society and enrollments, because rural white men are actually one of the least likely demographics to attend college.
I think that (Z)'s strategies of really being forthright about allowing multiple perspectives is good, as is the anonymous comment box (though I've never been brave enough to try that). Here are some things I do that—even if they're not particular to conservative students—seem to help them to be engaged:
- Many conservative students show up to college expecting their humanities professors to be something like Kevin Sorbo's character in God's Not Dead. No lie, I actually had a student in end of semester reviews say something like, "I expected him to be a liberal who wouldn't allow me to speak my mind, but he was actually super chill." It's important to remember that a lot of these students are young, almost kids, and they may come from a background where that is simply what people believe about higher ed. That's the viewpoint that was given to them. Let that be your mindset, and then upend their expectations by modeling intellectual flexibility (and compassion).
- I stress from the beginning that while distress and trauma are physical and mental maladies to be taken seriously, they are distinct from "discomfort," which I tell them is "an occupational hazard of being a scholar."
- I stress for them from the beginning that just because I put a reading on our syllabus doesn't mean I agree with it entirely, or even at all. Back before Twitter became a thing mostly for old people, I used to say "retweets =! endorsements"
- I also stress in our earliest lessons: "When confronted with an idea that makes you uncomfortable, you have two choices: (1) become defensive and angry about it; or (2) stop and ask yourself why this makes uncomfortable and whether it should. One of these is critical thinking and the other is not."
- If you teach a class where this is possible, put some conservative authors on your syllabus and discuss them too—even if you and most of the students don't agree, it can be productive for students to test their own ideas against those they disagree with, and also insulates you from accusations of "indoctrination" or "creating an echo chamber." I've assigned evangelical theologians, Infowars articles, Robert Nowak, Lionel Shriver, Francis Fukuyama, and the Holy Bible. These things can lead to productive discussions.
- I also teach film courses, and use films in my writing/research classes. I like to use films that present ambiguous oppositions/dichotomies and ask students to experiment with both sides. For example, I use this scene from Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing very frequently and will say "okay, who's 'Team Bugginout' and who's 'Team Sal?'" Sal is certainly a sympathetic character in the film but definitely occupies the more conservative/libertarian position, and so creates a way for a conservative student to think through their viewpoint.
- Like (Z), I have received some proposals from students that made me uncomfortable. However, the approach should be the same as evaluating any proposal. Can the thesis be proven using scholarly sources? Can the position be defended with credible evidence? Is the proposition falsifiable? If the answer to any of these questions is "no" then we have to rethink this thesis and adjust it until the answer is yes. So a thesis like "God meant for the Civil War to happen" can be adjusted through discussion into a thesis like "Religious conceptions of liberty were significant motivating factors for both sides during the Civil War" or something like that (no idea if that's actually true!)
This is all very long, but what I think it mostly boils down to: Be a model of intellectual flexibility, demonstrate a willingness to understand multiple positions in the same argument, press them to be evidence-driven, and be a guide rather than a commander.
As a side note, I've observed that when I started teaching Do the Right Thing in 2014, my students tended to be more on Sal's side, these days Sal doesn't have many allies.
L.C. in Brookline, MA, writes: D.A. in Long Beach wrote: "... I struggle to find a reasonably moderate, intelligently written, fact-based alternative site to present things from a more conservative viewpoint."
I have bad news for you: You aren't going to find "fact-based" and a conservative viewpoint together, because the facts have a strong left-wing bias.
A.P. in Kitchener, ON, Canada, writes: I would like to thank everyone for the feedback they provided on how to create a more welcoming classroom for all students. Since I kicked off these discussions, I thought I should share a bit about the method I've recently started using in my own classes. The "brave spaces" approach is a different take on safe spaces. The focus of the method is on encouraging controversial topics to be handled with civility and respect. Each student in the class is responsible for owning both the impact and intentions of their statements in class. In this way, a student who offends unintentionally is also challenged to consider how their words may have been hurtful, regardless of their motives. Students are also given the option to participate or not participate as they see fit in controversial topics. I often now let the class deal with inappropriate statements with a simple prompt like "that's a provocative statement, would anyone like to respond?" I am still refining the approach and I thank everyone for sharing some ideas that will help.
P.V. in Kailua, HI, writes: I take exception to the statement by W.C. in Walpole that Uncle Tom's Cabin is unreadable. This is demonstrably false in that literally millions of people have read it. Like W.C., I realized at some point in my 40's that I had not done dso. Unlike W.C., I was unable to put it down and wept copiously throughout. There are many criticisms that the modern reader can make about the Uncle Tom's Cabin. It is sentimental to the point of maudlin. It is rife with racial stereotypes. I would even accept that the writing is "amateurish"—a term that W.C. feels is too good for it. Nevertheless, my experience aligns with that described by literary critic Edmund Wilson, who devotes the first essay in Patriotic Gore to Harriet Beecher Stowe. He writes, "To expose oneself in maturity to Uncle Tom may therefore prove a startling experience. It is a much more impressive work than one has ever been allowed to expect." While W.C. can fairly say that they personally found Uncle Tom's Cabin to be unreadable, to generalize that the book itself is unreadable belies the reality of millions of readers like myself who found great value in it despite its imperfections.
Somewhat related—though I would say Huckleberry Finn, you make a good argument for Tom Sawyer, which I hadn't read since grade school. In re-reading it this past week I find no holes in your logic. However, it has reminded me how, even as a child, I strongly disliked disruptive little boys and flirty little girls. Thus, no doubt, my fondness for Huck, whose anti-establishment tendencies strike me as arising more organically than Tom's attention-getting antics. I also have no argument with The Grapes of Wrath.
P.H. in Meadville, PA, writes: First of all, I agree with the description of Uncle Tom's Cabin from W.C. in Walpole. I have an ancient, falling-apart copy from my family which I started to read but just couldn't finish (and I rarely don't finish a book). The American novel I really love is To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, because it not only addresses racism but mental health, as Scout realizes Boo Radley is not the scary person she thought him to be. The movie with Gregory Peck was true to the book, which sometimes is not the case.
M.G. in Boulder, CO, writes: Huckleberry Finn put America on the map as a literary nation. (By the way, Twain thought The Prince and the Pauper was the book that would give him a permanent place in literary history.) 76 years after Huckleberry Finn, we finally got the girl's version with To Kill a Mockingbird.
Would I put Huck Finn in a spaceship as a gift to aliens? No. Having seen my Japanese student cope with it without introduction or explanation, I have, in effect, seen an "alien" read it. He was horrified by the dialects and by words like "ni**er." He didn't realize that the book appeared in 1884 and was about an earlier era, and, like my 8-year-old self, didn't know it was funny. To Kill a Mockingbird would be a better choice for the spaceship.
In my opinion, Twain's style (saying serious things with humor and intelligence) influences as great deal of modern writing, including, of course, E-V.com's. In one computer class, we were given something to "correct." I gave it back untouched. I said, "This is Mark Twain. It's perfect."
M.H., Kirkland, WA, writes: To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee captures the balance between those in our country who would seek to do better and those tied resolutely to the past. One could complain that it doesn't do enough to give the Black perspective, but it sets out to capture the whole of the community through innocent eyes. Atticus Finch as white savior? He fails and there are subtleties that show him to be less than perfect. In a coming-of-age story that is seemingly relatively simple, it captures so much about America.
It also has been interesting in recent years, because it throws into conflict how those who would seek to do better thinking about race on the one hand and sexual assault on the other. They often teach this book in schools to classes that are far too young to really grapple with the issues it raises.
J.H. in San Luis Obispo, CA, writes: I really don't think it's possible to designate a single novel as the Great American Novel. Our country and history are far too complex and multi-faceted to be captured in a single work. That being said, in an effort to balance the rather sausage-heavy discussions on the Great American Novel, I would offer (in addition to Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird): Toni Morrison (Beloved—Pulitzer and Nobel), Harriet Beecher Stowe (Uncle Tom's Cabin), Louisa May Alcott (Little Women), Willa Cather (My Antonia, Death Comes for the Archbishop), Edith Wharton (The Age of Innocence—Pulitzer). And although it is a stage play rather than a novel, Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun is both powerful and essential.
F.L. in Denton, TX, writes: A.B. in Wendell brought up the topic of neckties being required in the Senate.
A dubious canard is that Rome fell because they used lead pipes, which caused lead poisoning, leading to mental degradation.
This brings to mind a pet theory of mine, namely that the British Empire fell because neckties cut off blood circulation to the brain. I would also add that the word "senate" comes from the Latin "senex," meaning "old man," and which is also the source for the word, "senile."
B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: D.A. in Brooklyn observes, "but if you're selecting an American rock song, you can't choose songs from The Who, The Rolling Stones, or The Beatles. How about Chuck Berry's 'Memphis'?"
As a native Memphian, I have to warn you against opening up a discussion of Songs that Mention Memphis. Of all the locations on earth mentioned in song, Memphis is the one most often referenced.(Having written the Truth, I thought I'd better check the facts. I was shocked to find that it is official: Memphis is mentioned in over 1,074 songs, more than any other town.)
And even if you disagree, you'll have to admit that naming Memphis sets the mood or lifts the spirit or triggers the emotions like no other town can. If you want to test this for yourself, try writing a song of your own. You'll quickly find that if you do not start the song in Memphis, by the third verse, you somehow feel the need to at least allude to the Bluff City, the Big City on the River, the City that Means Well. Even if you try to set the song in another oft-lyricized town, say L.A., you'll notice that your characters will somehow drift off and end up in my home town, Memphis, before the last chorus. Recently, I was playing some bottleneck guitar, trying to learn the Johnny Winter song, "Dallas" ("I'm goin' back to Dallas/Gonna take my razor and my gun"), and I found the song just didn't feel right until I changed the venue to Memphis, where the Mississippi Delta begins. Immediately, my guitar started singing. Yes, a great rock-and-roll or country or folk or Americana song does feature Memphis. But which of the 1000+ should we choose? "Proud Mary"? "City of New Orleans"? I have to go to a family wedding in Alabama in October. Looks like I'm gonna to be "Stuck inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again."