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Sunday Mailbag

We got a lot of proposed slogans for the Democrats to use this cycle, so we're going to divide them up and run the best ones over several weeks. The mailbag also remains open for additional suggestions. We also got many messages about Ukraine, of course, and our item on Bill Maher produced quite a response. Before we get to any of that, however, we must begin with some sad news closer to home...

Hail Fellow Well Met

P.M. in Currituck, NC, writes: A little more than a year ago, when I first wrote into this site about why people from my hometown in Pennsylvania were motivated to vote for Donald Trump, I did not envision it would lead to me writing this tribute to my friend Steven.

Steven Skuzenski—known to the readership here as S.S. in Detroit—passed away in late January. I met Steve through this site; he read what I submitted, commented back, and saw that—even though he disagreed with a number of my political views—I was a kindred spirit. He offered to buy me lunch if I were ever in town, and that led to our "Summit Meeting" dinner at Bates Burgers (location chosen by Steven partly as a shout-out to Z) in Livonia on April 6th of last year. We spoke in a park for hours, and forged a genuine friendship which lasted from that point forward.

He had a very wry sense of humor, which is what I will miss most about him. Before we met in the park, he said he would be "the old fart dragging an oxygen tank around." After our great talk, we discussed the somewhat precarious nature of meeting a veritable stranger off of the internet, I told him that I figured if he were dangerous, I could probably handle an old guy with an O2 tank, to which he responded "Really? You ever get hit with an M9 tank?"

We were e-mail and texting buddies; we would share Slavic legends (he being of Polish, and I of Slovak, background), and talk over the issues of the day, plus preview each other's letters into this site. He introduced me to the old CBS Radio Mystery Theater drama program, for which I have developed a great affinity.

When we met in the park, he asked me to watch a few movies: Bubba Ho-Tep, Pi, and Nearing Midnight. I made a note on my phone to watch these movies, but never did—it's one of those things that I was going to "get around to," and talk to him about them afterwards... but that never happened.

And that is a lesson I have taken from this: You never know what might happen, and when. He wrote into the site this past Jan. 22. I texted him the next day that there were comments to his letter—he replied that he was in the hospital, then called me that afternoon when we talked for more than an hour. Three days later, his daughter sent me a text that he was in hospice care, and then the next day she told me he had died. I never expected that from the cheery conversation we had only 4 days before, so you never truly know.

One thing I think it's important for the readership here to remember—and I have to remind myself of this periodically, as well—we are all people. Most of us are Americans, united by a common love of this country. We may disagree (vehemently) about some topics, but as "Dr. Stevie Lee" (a nickname given to him by a friend) and I proved, far more brings us together than what sets us apart. We must never—ever—lose sight of our commonality as people, and that needs to be what guides us in our steps as we engage in political discourse.

When I was on my cross-country driving trip last summer, Steve asked me to bring him rocks from places along my route, as collecting rocks from different areas was a hobby. I picked up three for him: one from near the Colorado River (in Colorado), one from along the Payette River in Idaho, and one from the headwaters of the Missouri River in Montana. All were given to him in Detroit on my drive back east. I promised him I was next going to take him a piece of anthracite from Luzerne County. Due to my traveling schedule, I was unable to take it in December as originally planned, and intended to bring it to him when I again visited Michigan in April. That is a promise I will keep when I give the anthracite to his daughter this month.

A picture of S.S., with his cardinal
dates, 1952-2022

V & Z respond: Thank you for the tribute. The world, and the site, will be poorer for his loss.

The Ukraine War: The Russians

J.H. in Boston, MA, writes: As a follow-up to my Saturday question about how vulnerable Russia is to other threats if their entire military is in Ukraine, I add that today I read a report that U.S. intelligence estimates that despite higher than expected losses, Russia still has 90% of its ground force. The conclusion drawn was 90% is enough that Russia can still overwhelm Ukraine if they want. But to me that number was quite astonishing. Russia has lost a tenth of their military in three weeks! They're literally decimated! Maybe you can bribe the staff mathematician with some Ukrainian vodka to work out exactly how many more weeks Russia can sustain this war if this attrition rate holds up.

V & Z respond: Like Bela Lugosi late in his life, he only drinks formaldehyde these days.

E.M. in Milwaukee, WI, writes: As a preface to this diatribe, I want to give three disclaimers: (1) While I have read lots of narrative military history, I am no historian and have zero military or defense experience; (2) It is still very early days in the Russian invasion of Ukraine; (3) As in some sports, in war, offense is generally harder than defense.

Now to my core premise: Russia's invasion is an absolute epic fail for which there are few parallels that I can think of, though I'm sure they exist. It is a fail tactically, operationally, and strategically.

The operational failures are the worst part. It boggles my mind that the Russian Air Force has not even tried to establish air superiority over north central and northeastern Ukraine. I see two failures here. First, that their pilots and their bosses are so afraid of Stingers, etc., that they are unwilling to fly over contested airspace. Second, that coordination with ground units is too poor to make it useful to try. Then there's the matter of supply. Logistics is the heart and soul of making war. There are stories of Russian troops being given 20-year-old Meals-Ready-to-Eat. This is a side effect of deep, deep corruption, plus an unwillingness to address fundamental supply issues. The fact that Russia is already asking China to send arms suggests that they don't even have enough, say, 155mm artillery shells to bombard the Ukrainians into submission. The 20-or-40-mile long convoy that is not actually a single convoy is a sign of a fundamental inability to organize a military operation. The Russians lack sufficient military police and other services to untangle this mess. And their leadership at the general staff level seems to be inadequate to jump in and force a reorganization that could produce something effective.

Strategically, I'm going to ignore the epic fail on the "NATO is hopelessly divided" front, which has been well-discussed. But let's consider the deep wisdom of starting an all-ground campaign in March, which all upper-Midwesterners know is the start of the fifth season of the year, the Mud Season, when the surface is thawing but a meter of ground below that is still frozen. "Boot-sucking mud" is really charming to live with. You can drive your really heavy military vehicles anywhere you want as long as it's paved. Oh, and the invaders going towards Kyiv are crossing the Pinsk/Pripet Marshes, which is one of the larger marsh systems in the world, having stymied invaders of the East many times over. Another issue that I will call "strategic" is their decision to build an army with lots of expensive vehicles that are full of conscripts. You can build an army of cannon fodder, but if you want to make them fight, you really need the Party commissars who are prepared to shoot conscripts that refuse to sacrifice themselves to the bullets of the oppressors. The Russians seem to have forgotten to send along those guys with the pistols.

On the tactical front, the issues don't separate well from the strategic and operational. But having said that, where is the commitment to the doctrine of combined arms? This is where you use infantry, artillery, armor and air power to complement each other, each one covering for the weaknesses of the other. In modern warfare, a key piece is this: armor is very powerful, but it can't go everywhere and is vulnerable to modern guided weapons. It can be well protected by infantry with small arms, but those troops must be willing to go out into the open or near open to suppress the enemy with the fancy missiles. Armor can also be well-protected by air support, but you need an air force that's willing to come in close, where infantry-based missiles are a big risk. (The U.S. seems to have given up on this idea, but the A-10 Warthog is a thing to behold.) And artillery can also support armor or infantry against opponents. But this only works if you have forward observers hiding in the woods or the cities, who can call in the artillery strikes. Frankly, Russia doesn't seem to have any of this. So, instead, they must resort to shelling residential apartment buildings. Those buildings can't move, so observers are less necessary. You can shell them into rubble without much effort. But it's not clear that you can destroy your enemy by doing so because you haven't addressed your enemy's own supply problem. You can terrorize the population, but can you stop the fighters from sniping your soldiers?

I'm hesitant to be too confident in my assertions because I've never been a good prophet. But Russia is begging to be a complete loser, top to bottom, in this conflict. The strategic position has already failed. The operational situation is awful and it's hard to see how they resolve their problems. OK, they can slaughter 5-10 million Ukrainians without doing anything other than buying shells from China at an inflated price. But that doesn't achieve any strategic goal that I can envision. And there is zero evidence that they can improve their tactical operations. Maybe Putin can personally execute 3-7 generals to show that incompetence will be punished, but I don't see that he has a plan that produces someone competent.

Russia has shown that in spite of all its equipment, etc., it would struggle to win a direct conflict with France. France has about 1/3 the population and has restrained its total defense spending. But they have world-class weapons manufacturers, top-notch special forces, and a strong military culture that is not heavily reliant on conscripts. They aren't close enough to fight directly and France could not "conquer" Russia. But if they were to fight directly, I think France would crush Russia.

How about some historical comparisons?

What is striking to me is that the similar examples I can think tend to have the form where things start OK, but deteriorate. But it's hard for me to come up with examples where things are terrible at the start and then get way better. The ones where things were terrible at the start... well, they tend to stay terrible, such as France 1871 or France 1940, but those were defensive.

R.M.S. in Lebanon, CT, writes: I came across this fascinating video this week while on YouTube. Radio Free Europe, an American-government radio station, conducted interviews in Russia showing people pictures of the results of Russia's invasion of Ukraine. Several of these people outright deny the invasion is happening, they blame the violence on Americans and Volodymyr Zelenskyy, or they justify the violence based on lies being fed to them by the Russian government. These people remind me of Fox News viewers in the United States when you show them court rulings saying no major electoral fraud has been proven for the 2020 presidential election. It doesn't matter to them how the courts rule; all that matters to them is that Fox News commentators and Donald Trump say the 2020 election was ruined by fraud and that's enough proof for them. It's also fascinating to me that it seems to be mostly Baby Boomers in this clip who toe the Putin line. The younger people here seem much more skeptical of their government's actions, but they are afraid of the consequences of being too outspoken.

I would not be surprised if, this summer, as the 2022 midterm election season heats up, we start seeing hundreds of anonymous accusations online that there is evidence in Ukraine that Joe Biden "stole" the 2020 presidential election from Donald Trump. Vladimir Putin is a former Soviet intelligence agent who is very skilled at manipulating people with disinformation and propaganda. U.S. intelligence has reported that the Russian government wants to weaken the United States by exacerbating social and political divisions and also undermine U.S. support for Zelenskyy. Millions of American Baby Boomers, who seem to me to be the most susceptible to propaganda, would believe these allegations and their heads will explode.

I read an excellent book in the Summer of 2018 called The Road to Unfreedom: Russia, Europe, America by Timothy Snyder. Snyder is a professor of European History at Yale University and specializes in the history of fascist and communist oppression in Europe. This is my favorite book that I've read since the beginning of the Trump presidency and I cannot recommend it enough. He discusses how Putin supports far-right and far-left parties in the U.S. and Europe to try to destabilize democracies and bring them down to his level since he cannot compete with them economically. Spreading misinformation about what is happening in the world is one his key tactics to sow distrust in their governments.

The Ukraine War: The United States

S.B. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: The possible transfer of Polish MiG-29s was completely mishandled by those government officials who actually wanted to help Ukraine as you observed: "By all indications, the transfer of planes to Ukraine was going to go forward until E.U. officials started talking a little too openly about it."

Now it is so open and in the front and center of the news it has become way too conspicuous. The MiG-29 was a front-line Soviet fighter/attack aircraft that is still in use by Poland and six other NATO countries: Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia. It is also still in use outside of NATO in several countries that might be open to some type of deal including: India, Malaysia and Moldova.

The United States should quietly help Ukraine arrange some type of lend/lease like FDR accomplished in the late 1930's for MiGs from one of these other nations. (Promises to quietly backfill or defer payment, etc.) Then all those black ops personnel we're not supposed to know about take over to quietly move the planes to nearby airfields, repaint the liveries to either "plain wrap" or Ukrainian Air Force. Then quietly bring Ukrainian air force pilots across for them to quietly fly them to home airfields. The operative word here being, "quiet." Maybe keep the Polish jets in the news as the shiny object to distract.

Maybe this is already happening. One can always hope.

P.S. in Portland, ME, writes: The war in Ukraine is all about democracy. The right to self-determination. Everything we in the country have fought for from the beginning, from the onset of this "Great Experiment." The Russian and Chinese elite do not fear NATO, they fear democracy, because there should be no stopping it over time. If done right, it is the best form of government. There is no getting to that utopian world without true democracy.

If Putin's Russia succeeds in taking Ukraine, then the path towards world-wide democracy and the utopian outcome is set back 40+ years. The problems that exist in the world are urgent and can only be solved by working together, lest we also end up at the dystopian outcome. Thus, if Putin succeeds in Ukraine it will be almost certain that the dystopian outcome will prevail. I can't stand the thought of the dystopian outcome, so I say it is time to push things to the limit and institute a no-fly zone over Ukraine. It is perhaps the only path to where we really want to end up, with Stacey Abrams as the President of the United Earth. I also point out that Star Trek has a World War III in the general plot. Maybe it is time we just get it over with.

C.P. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: The Constitution gives Congress the power to declare war. If "there are prominent members on both sides of the aisle who think Joe Biden is being too cautious," why don't they do their job and take up the issue themselves?

C.P. in Silver Spring, MD, writes: During last week's Q&A you mentioned how Marc Thiessen, as a neocon, will sometimes "get out his weapon and wave it around." As in so many other cases, George Carlin summed it up quite nicely:

V & Z respond: We wondered if anyone would pick up on our choice of the word "weapon."

D.E. in San Diego, CA, writes: Regarding your item about seizing oligarch property, I want to point out that the statement "Fundamentally, to seize a property, the government must prove that the real owner has broken some law" is inaccurate. Both state and federal LEOs seize property all the time without charging the owners with any crime whatsoever. This is called "civil asset forfeiture" and while a few of the worst abuses have been curbed, there is much horrifying activity still taking place on this front in this country. It has happened countless times that people travelling with large sums of cash have had that cash seized, and sometimes their vehicles as well, on suspicion of that asset being the proceeds of a drug case. Here's one example from a couple of years ago.

The government charges the property itself, not the person, and the owner has to prove they didn't acquire it with the proceeds of criminal activity to get it back. This is not an easy process, nor is it cheap. Many times the amount seized is less than it would cost to pay for all the appeals. In other cases, the government (which has no incentive to not drag its feet) stretches out the process so long many people give up out of frustration.

I'm no lawyer but it seems to me we already have plenty of ways, albeit immoral ones, to seize oligarch property at least in the U.S. or at the borders. All it takes is for the law enforcement officers to deploy their tools against the rich and powerful instead of the poor and weak. But what are the odds of that?

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: In response to G.T. in Truro, you discuss how WNBA players can make ten times or more in Russia than what they earn from the WNBA. That's true, but to take Brittney Griner as an example, she makes $230,000 a year for 6 months of work. She's not exactly struggling to put food on the table or a roof over her head. Putin's oligarch cronies have to pay that kind of premium to induce the players to come to Russia. Griner, a lesbian, made the choice to grab the cash from a corrupt system that, among other things, persecutes gay people. It's like a Jewish soccer star going to play in Germany in 1934. If the Russians framed Griner (which is entirely plausible and deplorable), she has my sympathy, but she knew with whom and what she was dealing and assumed the risk when she took Russian money.

A.S. in Bedford, MA, writes: An interesting watch: Arnold Schwarzenegger speaking directly to the Russian people:

The Ukraine War: Duck and Cover?

T.H.W. in Marlboro, VT, writes: In your response to R.M. in Norwich, you wrote that the American wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq all seemed likely to be "easy," going in. Having opposed all three, I would point out that the number of people opposed to these wars at the beginning has grown each time. Occupying another country will never be easy, and it saps both the energy and the moral confidence of the occupier. Too often the question is considered only from the perspective of getting in, without including what to do once there and how to get out. Consider the previous war against Iraq to drive Saddam's troops out of Kuwait. It stopped at the border. Incidentally, most people don't know that the most effective weapons in that war were armored bulldozers, which swept in and buried thousands of Iraqi soldiers alive in their trenches and bunkers.

And as to "Duck and Cover," I was in the fourth grade for that, just outside Boston, rehearsing hiding under our desks with our hands clasped over our necks to protect our carotid arteries! I can assure you that even without the Internet, even most fourth-graders thought that was an entirely absurd response to nuclear weapons.

E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, writes: Nuclear war can seem abstract or not that bad to some people (hence, "duck and cover"), so the idea of a "tactical nuke" might appeal, stupidly, as a measure between "regular war" and "end of all humanity." This less than 9-minute video from Kurzgesagt shows, in great detail, what would happen if a single nuke were to hit a city (spoiler: it's like all natural disasters happening at once). And just in case you were curious, here's another video bout what would happen if we detonated all of humanity's nukes (or possible nukes) in the same place at the same time (spoiler: the nukes tell the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs "hold my beer"). In sum, nuclear weapons are the most terrifying thing that humans have come up with... by an order of magnitude above any other horrors we developed.

L.D. in Bedford, MA, writes: My dad grew up in New York City in the 1940s-50s. He was in junior high school when "Duck and Cover" was introduced. I asked him about how he and his classmates reacted to the drills and the cartoon (my favorite turtle in U.S. history, #2 being the Ograbme cartoon regarding the Embargo Act, and the bronze going to Mitch McConnell). He said that they responded with amusement and disdain. As he put it, "the only thing good about 'ducking and covering' was that you got your head closer to your ass to kiss it goodbye."

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: I was born in 1968 and grew up in western South Dakota, which was home to Ellsworth Air Force Base, a major Strategic Air Command base with both bombers and missiles in their arsenal. Within a 10-mile radius of the house I grew up in, there were three Minuteman missile silos that I knew of. I was aware of various buildings around town being designated at fallout shelters, but we had no "Duck and Cover" drills in school (well, unless the tornado drills where we went into the hall away from windows did double-duty, and they very well could have). By the time I went to high school I had come to peace with the idea that if there were ever a nuclear war, I would probably be one of the lucky ones who didn't have to worry about fallout (literal or otherwise), really, since I was most likely to be instantly vaporized. On the other hand, I know of people younger than I am who did have explicitly nuclear duck-and-cover drills, so I do think it's possible that I wasn't the only one who figured there wasn't any point in practicing things that wouldn't make any difference even if the worst did come to pass.

The Ukraine War: Ukraine, China, and Other Nations

J.B. in Hutto, TX, writes: Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine emphasizes to me something I have long believed: the whole concept of the left-right political spectrum is absurd. The world is not divided between liberalism and conservatism, but between freedom and authoritarianism. We might call Hitler and Mussolini far-right and Stalin and Mao far-left, but in truth they're all basically the same person and it's foolish to call them anything other than authoritarians. Among those who favor freedom, there are obviously certain groups that fixate on different things, such as progressives (haves vs have-nots), conservatives (order vs. chaos), and libertarians (choice vs. coercion), but they're all on the same team, whether they realize it or not. The problem, historically and in our own time, is that freedom-loving people spend so much time and energy arguing with one another about trivial matters (often subtly encouraged by the authoritarians themselves) that they ignore the dangers of rising authoritarianism until it is too late.

A.C. in Zenia, CA, writes: You wrote "Russia has a seat on the U.N. security council, and Iraq does not. Russia has nuclear weapons, and Iraq does not. There are other differences, but those are the two that matter."

Here's the bumper sticker version. "Iraq was not invaded by the U.S. because it had weapons of mass destruction. It was invaded because it did not."

L.B. in Savannah, GA, writes: I'm not sure where the two "y"s come from in the official English version of Zelensky's name.  The original spelling in Ukrainian is "Зеленський."  The letter "и" is equivalent to the English letter "y," but "й" is equivalent to "j," so the closest transliteration would be "Zelenskyj" with "y" pronounced like "i."  But two "y"s obscures the difference between "и" and "й," which are not the same letter.

V & Z respond: The goal is to communicate the equivalent English pronunciation, of course, not necessarily the equivalent English spelling. In any event, "Zelenskyy" is how he himself spells it.

F.L. in Denton, TX, writes: In response to J.H. in Boston, you mentioned that Japan is making noise about the Kuril Islands.

They are claiming the nearest four, and the northernmost is called "Etorofu" by the Japanese and "Iturup" by the Russians (long ago it was called "Staten Island"!).

One last little wrinkle: Over 60% of the population of Etorofu/Iturup is ethnic Ukrainian.

Maybe they should have a referendum, like they did in the Crimea. Would the locals want to be under Japan or Russia? If it went through, Russia could hardly claim the moral high ground.

R.C. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: P.B. in Gainesville warned that China could attempt to use their U.S. debt holdings against the United States in retaliation for any economic sanctions the U.S. might levy against them.

This CNBC article makes clear that vastly overstates the damage they could cause to the U.S. economy, and understates the damage they would inflict on themselves. The U.S. Treasury will honor those bonds when they mature, just like the treasury bonds held by everyone else, and no sooner. China cannot demand early payment.

The article instead suggests that China could sell their holdings on a secondhand bond market, and do so at an enormous discount, to flood the market with cheaper treasury bonds. This would increase the supply for treasury bonds and likely force the U.S. treasury to increase the interest rates they offer to compete. That then increases interest costs on the U.S. government and could have ripple effects on the value of the US dollar and on global interest rates.

The problems with this are threefold: first, China would be selling a trillion dollars of their own holdings at a huge discount, costing themselves hundreds of billions of dollars at least. That's a lot, for something that only might harm the value of the U.S. dollar.

Second, China's holdings of $1.1 trillion are now equal to about 3% of the total U.S. national debt. Thanks to the Trump tax cuts and COVID, the U.S. is now selling almost three times as many treasury bonds every year. The dump-and-run maneuver would then increase treasury bond supply by only one-third, for only a year, before China's supply would be exhausted.

And third, investors buy treasury bonds because they are an incredibly safe investment. There are always investments with higher returns available to those who want them. If China dumped their bonds on a secondhand market, it's very likely investors would snap them up instantly for the relatively quick guaranteed returns they'll offer. And then still buy all of the treasury bonds offered by the U.S. government.

S.C-M. in Scottsdale, AZ, writes: In response to the issue raised about China selling US T-Bills to threaten the U.S. economy: First of all, China holds less than 4% of T- Bills sold. Also, the Chinesee need to keep the dollar strong so its exports remain cheaper. Dumping all its T-Bills will cause interest rates to rise, but it also makes the dollar weaker which in turn makes the Remimbi stronger, which hurts China's export economy.

R.K. in Mill Valley, CA, writes: The comments from R.C. in North Hollywood on China and Taiwan are accurate, but miss the counterweight.

China would want Taiwan because it could further control the manufacturing of semiconductors, and expunge a West-loving influence so near to its own doorstep. If need be, Xi would save that action for a time when domestic politics requires a distraction.

That doesn't mean Pooh Bear is drawing up plans as we speak. The U.S. is showing the future roadmap for 21st century war between major powers, which is almost entirely economics and finance. Post-Crimea, Putin attempted to sanctions-proof his economy, including building up $640 billion in currency reserves. Which, of course, he no longer has access to, showing China their own preparation for fallout likely requires far more planning.

P.B. in Gainesville is also right about the damage to the U.S. economy, yet mutually assured economic disruption between the U.S. and China makes that tit-for-tat unlikely.

K.H. in Burbank has the right of it, which is the long game. China can continue to subvert Taiwanese media and manufacture islands out of whole cloth in the South China Sea, and at some point in the next 5-50 years, they will have a rationale to stage a coup or it will happen naturally, and the West's handwringing will be much the same as Ukraine's Revolution of Dignity in 2014, which opened the door for Putin to carve off a tiny piece with no real reprisals.

International Politics

P.B. in Gainesville, FL, writes: You explained the origin (Australia) of the term "first past the post" for elections, in answer to a query from D.T. in San Jose. I've always thought it interesting that Australia actually experimented with several different election approaches after it became a sovereign nation on Jan 1, 1901 (although it probably wasn't the only country that tried different things).

To start with, Australia's federal government was designed to combine both the British parliamentary system and the American bicameral one, with a lower chamber (House of Representatives) that initiates legislation, and a functional upper chamber (Senate) which reviews said legislation. As in the U.S., each representative comes from 1 district (a "Seat"), while 10 Senators come from each of six states. There is no separate administrative branch of government, however. All ministers are members of Parliament; e.g., the Prime Minister is chosen from among the majority party in the House.

Initially, all elections used first-past-the-post, and for the first 25 years or so, these produced very lopsided partisan Parliaments (in both chambers) for both major parties, which was seen as unrepresentative and unsatisfactory. In order to make the outcomes more reflective of the parties' actual popular support, which was more closely divided, in the late 1920s everything switched to preferential (ranked choice) voting. For the House, this has worked pretty well ever since.

However in the Senate, the very lopsided partisan results continued, which meant that its intended role as a "House of Review" was not being fulfilled. So around 1945 (I think), elections to the Senate used a proportional representation system (like the one in Israel), implemented with a "vote quota" system in each state. This actually has worked pretty well since then, in producing a balanced Senate that reflects each state's vote. And, the system usually tends not to produce much "extreme" legislation nor gridlock. Usually (e.g., there are no filibusters).

One other aspect is probably important. The whole system is run by a non-partisan bureaucracy, the Australian Electoral Commission, including setting of seat boundaries. There are no gerrymanders or partisan election officers.

Point being, the system evolved from its original concepts, and seems to work reasonably most of the time, although it still has its peculiarities and flaws. Maybe readers familiar with other countries' democratic machinery can chime in with how well their systems work, to compare with the U.S. and each other.

V & Z respond: We are happy to have those contributions.

P.B. in Lille, France, writes: As you have broached the subject of the French presidential election several times recently, I allow myself to bring you my point of view as a French voter on the matter.

Before the beginning of the war in Ukraine, I assessed Emmanuel Macron's chances of being reelected at 80%. Now, I put this probability at 95%.

Macron is now the only candidate occupying the centrist niche of the political spectrum; the candidates on the left and those on the right drift toward the extremes. And the president is now experiencing a "rally 'round the flag" effect. These two elements guarantee that Macron will be clearly ahead in the first round of voting.

As for the second round, Macron is what we call a Condorcet candidate. He is the candidate who beats every other candidate in the second round, no matter the candidate, although margins and turnout vary greatly depending on the candidate he is up against.

National Politics

C.L. in Fairbanks, AK, writes: Regarding your item "Manchin is a Flake": I'm not a neurologist, but it seems possible that Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), a former football player, may be suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). In 1965, he entered the University of West Virginia on a football scholarship. He was considered a promising quarterback, but an injury during practice ended his football career. Prior to that he was presumably a standout football player at Farmington High School, from which he graduated in 1965, since he would not otherwise have been awarded a football scholarship at the University of West Virginia.

L.E. in Santa Barbara, CA, writes: This might explain why gasoline prices have spiked so rapidly—they have to cover their costs: "Oil Companies Lament Rising Price Of Joe Manchin."

V & Z respond: The Onion does hit the nail on the head sometimes.

D.A.Y. in Troy, MI, writes: I've come to the conclusion Republican policies (such as they are) are meant as political painkillers for the masses. Like painkillers, they are not meant to fix anything but rather hide the pain and are highly addictive to the point that people want them versus the pain of just living. Sadly, it appears to be working, if the polls are to be believed.

I've seen many people who say they vote for Republicans for security, low taxes, low inflation, fiscal responsibility, strength abroad, etc. Yet they never say how the Republicans will get us those things. Neither neocons like the Cheneys nor isolationists like Trump have given us those things in any sustainable way (perhaps low taxes, but at the cost of exploding debt during Republican administrations).

However, things are messy at the moment, which causes people to be scared and looking for answers. Like a snake oil salesman, the Republicans are there with simple answers that are not really answers, but sound good to certain people who tend to vote. The Democrats want to actually address the problems that face our nation and people, but that is messy and means moving past things some people hold dear. America has become so pain adverse, I'm afraid they'll go back on the painkillers and try to act like our problems do not exist.

E.S. in Maine, NY, writes: N.O.D in Chicago asks: "Since TFG is notoriously cheap, when he endorses a candidate, does he or his super PAC donate financial support or does he only offer his recommendation?"

I know the question was about candidates, but you maybe should have one other donation. I think the most significant bribe... er, I mean donation, was to Mark Meadows' employer: "Trump gave $1M to Meadows nonprofit weeks after Jan. 6 panel's creation."

E.F. in Baltimore, MD, writes: In your thumbnail bio, you left out Georgia U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker's most important qualification. He didn't just play football, he played football for Donald Trump, during Trump's "incredibly successful" foray into trying to con the NFL into handing him a free franchise. I forget which one they gave him. Oh, right, the NFL expects buyers to actually spend money. All part of Trump's business model of pretending that anything that has ever had his name on it, immediately doubles in desirability and value. Including Walker.

Point being, Trump can point to Walker's success as his success. And it seems pretty clear, without Trump's endorsement, Walker's campaign would be even more of a joke than it already is. As for Georgia voters, specifically Black Georgia voters, I think they're more likely to vote for an actual Black preacher (incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-GA), than a Black football player who's joined at the hip to Trump, especially if he keeps spouting such incoherent creationist nonsense. No, Trump's calculation, is that white Georgia voters are more likely to vote for a football player, even if he's Black, because, after all, football! Hey, it worked for Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-AL). Trump has a very stereotypical attitude towards working-class Southerners. You'd almost think scored four touchdowns in one game for Polk High!

L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: I was surprised by your praise for Donald Trump in your answer to R.S. in San Mateo. I've always thought that Trump has the emotional maturity of an 8-year-old. You clearly think he is 50% more mature than that.

All Politics Is Local

J.F. in Ft. Worth, TX, writes: (Z) wrote that he thought it was inconsistent that a large number of poll respondents said that "[Andrew] Cuomo would have their vote [but] also said they don't want him to run." I don't find that inconsistent at all and in fact, if I lived in New York, that's how I would've responded too. I believe it reflects the reality that, for the most part, he was a pretty good governor, especially during the early days of the pandemic, but that the Republicans would make hay out of his return to politics, smearing all Democrats as hypocritical.

And that brings up a difficult question that I've thought about a lot, which is "How do you distinguish between what type of person someone is versus what their policies are and how effective they are at their jobs?"

If one were to put this on a two-axis graph, one quadrant would be "generally good people with generally good policies" and would include such politicians as Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Dwight D. Eisenhower, John F. Kennedy, Barack Obama, and Joe Biden. The opposite quadrant, "generally terrible people with generally terrible policies," would include Andy Jackson, Newt Gingrich, Donald Trump, and... a good percentage of those in your "worst political figure" brackets. These are easy categories for most people: nice personable people espousing policies you agree with, or odious human beings pushing policies that cause misery and suffering.

But how do deal with the other quadrants? Cuomo might fall into "problematic people with generally good policies." I'd call this the "LBJ Quadrant," as Lyndon B. Johnson was absolutely a misogynistic, paternalistic jerk of a man, but would we have had the Great Society programs without him? Same for Winston Churchill. Some would put Richard Nixon into this category, as well. Disagreeable, sometimes disgusting, people who, nevertheless, oversaw some real substantive change for the better. This sort of contradiction is hard to resolve.

Worse still is the last quadrant, "generally nice people with terrible policies." I would put Ronald Reagan squarely in this category as he was (reportedly) a very charming man in person, but enacted horrific policies as governor of California and president. Some would put George W. Bush in this category because of his folksy demeanor (although I've heard anecdotally from a lot of people who interacted with him that he's still a bratty rich kid in person). This category is problematic for most people, especially those who look to forgive the "terrible policies" part in favor of the "they're such a nice person" part. The sentiment "Scalia loved opera and was good friends with RBG!" comes to mind, as does the infamous "Hitler liked dogs" defense.

I find a lot of people, including myself, wrestling with the contradictions in those latter two categories.

R.H.D. in Webster, NY, writes: A strange ad has popped on my TV lately. It is for former governor Andrew Cuomo, pointing out that he hasn't been criminally charged with any crimes and attacking those who drove him out of office last summer. I've never seen what looked like a political ad, but one where the subject wasn't a declared candidate or running for anything, at least not yet.

I'd never have thought I would see the day when a Democrat would blast "cancel culture" or quote Fox News talking heads to defend himself.

I don't know where this is heading, but I for one am feeling a bit nauseous over it. Though it's been seven months since he resigned in disgrace, Cuomo appears to be waging a comeback effort and, simultaneously, a PR battle with New York AG Letitia James.

Though I firmly believe any person is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, I also feel there has been credible evidence presented that Cuomo committed acts of wrongdoing that warranted his removal from office. As a refresher, when these allegations first popped up, Cuomo was pressured to have James investigate. She launched an independent inquiry by hiring outside counsel. That lasted about 3 months. We New Yorkers went though this saga for a long time, in the middle of a pandemic.

There's no doubt James wanted to move up to the governorship and taking out, or weakening, Cuomo would have helped. Ironically though, when Cuomo resigned, that elevated Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) to the top spot as our first female governor. She has done an impressive job and appears she'll be elected in her own right this November. She's also endorsed term limits for all statewide offices, including governor, which is a badly needed reform. James, for her part, won't be governor anytime soon and is stuck being AG.

I know of one person who is looking at this drama between Cuomo and James with keen interest, namely The Former Guy. As he has his own issues with the AG, I'm sure he's taking notes and strategizing his plan to counter what comes down the pike. It's a matter of fact that James once publicly bragged of wanting to go after Donald Trump. Doesn't politics make strange bedfellows when you have Cuomo and Trump on the same side?

No matter what Cuomo says or does in the future, you won't see him in elected office again. Nobody wants him here. In the end, he's got so much baggage the plane wouldn't take off. If it wasn't the sexual harassment, then it was the nursing homes scandal, or the questionable book deal, or naming the new Tappan Zee bridge for his dad, or that he has an abrasive personality that turns people off.

To Cuomo, I'd say this: Thank you for leading us when the pandemic first started two years ago. But please just shut up and leave us alone! You're done!

A New Deal for the Democratic Party

S.Y. in Skokie, IL, writes: As a onetime ad copywriter (I apologize!!) I've always believed that when trying to deliver a message to the public, less is more. I have felt frustration about the Democrats' inability to effectively message what they're trying to do for the country. Build Back Better always felt clumsy and off target. M.H. in Boston has come up with a very succinct and to the point slogan in "Protect Democracy."

It could be tweaked a little, "Democrats Protect Democracy," or "Vote for Democracy, vote Democrat" (which is as long as a slogan should be).

Thank you M.H. in Boston, I hope the right people in D.C. are reading this.

R.P. in Kaneohe, HI, writes: In response to the letter from M.H. in Boston, you solicited suggestions for "bumper sticker" slogans the Democrats might consider. The answer has always been obvious to me: "Truth Matters."

Sure, all politicians lie (or at least stretch the truth), but ever since Newt Gingrich was Speaker of the House, and especially since the Orange One somehow became the nation's president, the Republicans have taken the art of disingenuity to the extreme. We're now in an age where flat-out, demonstrable falsehoods are core rallying cries for many (though not all) Republican politicians. Shining a spotlight on hypocrisy in politics, by itself, has proven to be a generally ineffective strategy. But a coordinated campaign across the Democratic party to paint a picture of Republicans as much more reliant on distortions of the truth (at best) and outright bald-faced lies (at worst), could have legs in branding the Republicans as the party of dishonesty. Of course, the key part of this strategy would require Democrats to much more consistently represent issues honestly (and also to give props to the few Republicans who do honor the truth above political gain). Perhaps that's too much of a stretch for any professional politician, but I think such a strategy would simultaneously establish the Democrats as the party of integrity, and the Republicans as the party of charlatans.

K.F. in Framingham, MA, writes: You asked us to come up with catchy bumper-sticker slogans for the Democrats as they head into the midterms. I'm sure there are many who will come up with some good ones, but here is one that I'm sure was considered and then immediately rejected: "Build Back More Betterer." It's still better than "Make America Great Again Again."

A.M. in Olympia, WA, writes: How about: "I'm ABiden by Joe—Puck Futin"?

F.C. in Sequim, WA, writes: The "Rockwell" photo.

The Background is a curtain of red and white stripes (top to bottom).

Foreground is a blue ballot box with white stars.

Around the ballot box are 5 people.

First person: special ops, Black female. Second person: fireman, white male. Third person: doctor, Asian male. Fourth person: teacher, Native American female. Fifth person: policeman, Mexican male.

Caption for this and the bumper stickers: "We Make America Great"

T.H.W. in Marlboro, VT, writes: "Keep America Democratic!"

The convention of initial capitals in slogans makes this nicely ambiguous, and it links to the international effort, though subtly.

Legal Matters

T.M.M. in Odessa, MO, writes: Yesterday, you answered a question about how the Supreme Court handles certiorari petitions.

The practice of dividing petitions between chambers is a voluntary practice among the justices. At the present time, seven of the nine justices participate in the practice of dividing petitions among the chambers (a.k.a. the cert pool). However, Justices Samuel Alito and Neil Gorsuch do no participate in the cert pool.

Putting a little more detail into what is publicly known about court operations, when a petition is filed, the opposing party has a period of time to file a "brief in opposition." During that period of time, supporters can file suggestions in support of the petition as "friends of the court" or amicus curiae. Often the opposing party will waive the right to file a brief in opposition (as given the percentage of petitions filed, a brief in opposition is usually a waste of time) although a brief in opposition is mandatory in capital cases and the justices will often request a brief in opposition if they are interested in a case. If a brief in opposition is filed, the party who is seeking review may file a reply.

After all of the papers have been filed, the papers are officially sent to the justices and the case is set for "conference," the weekly meeting (at least when the court is in session) when cases are discussed. Because there are only approximately 30 conferences during the year and over 7,000 petitions, it would be impossible to discuss every petition during those meetings. As such, the justices typically put together a "discuss list" of the cases that they think should be considered for review based on their review of the materials (including the memorandums of the clerks).

In recent years, the Supreme Court has gotten into the habit of considering a case at one conference and, if the justices think the case is worthy of consideration, "relisting" the case for the next conference (effectively postponing the decision). While this practice gives a clue of which cases are getting serious consideration, not all relisted cases are granted, and sometimes the "relist" is merely because the justices who were unable to persuade their colleagues to take the case want to write an opinion about why the justices decided not to take the case (in the hopes that litigants will bring the same issue back to the court with stronger facts or fewer procedural quirks).

Also, in recent years, and it is a reflection of the judicial philosophies of the justices, the number of granted cases has been gradually declining. Back in the 60s and 70s, it was not unusual for the number of cases that the Supreme Court granted to exceed 100 cases per year (with three or four arguments heard on each day in which the Supreme Court hears arguments, approximately 40 days per year). In recent years, the Supreme Court has heard less than 70 arguments per year.

J.L. in Paterson, NJ, writes: Your answer to J.K. in Silverdale, WA about John Eastman is correct as far as it goes, but might give an inaccurate impression. Attorney-client privilege can arise without a formal retainer, without any payment, and even without an agreed-upon representation. Suppose, for example, someone says he wants to talk with me about possibly representing him in court. I say, "Go ahead." He reveals that, inflamed by bigotry he picked up from some fringe website, he broke into a building at USC and stole lab equipment. I would immediately tell him that I couldn't represent him because I'm not admitted to practice in California. Nevertheless, his statement to me would be privileged. He made the statement to a lawyer in the course of seeking legal help or advice, so I could not be compelled to testify about the conversation. My guess is that Trump's communications to Eastman are a mix of privileged and nonprivileged, which is why Eastman had to submit a privilege log (enough information to support each claim of privilege) and why the judge is reviewing some of the emails without showing them to the Select Committee or its lawyers.


J.M. in Berkeley, CA, writes: Your analysis that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is going to run into conflict with progressives over her push to regulate cryptocurrencies seems to be at odds with political reality and definitions. Modern progressivism, in general, is defined by a favorable attitude towards robust government intervention in the economy, in the style of social democracies in Europe. This would naturally include the regulation of blockchain/crypto, as the sector is certainly no longer anything even remotely grassroots and has lots of investment from financial institutions that progressives fight (including the big banks).

In contrast, crypto has its most enthusiastic proponents among (American) libertarians, whose laissez-faire approaches certainly are not progressive as a whole, even if they dovetail with progressive positions on a few civil rights/individual liberty issues (particularly gay rights and the futility of the drug war). There may be a few people on the fringes of the anarchist far left who are also interested in the potential of cryptocurrency, but as most genuine leftists are anti-capitalist they know a ponzi scheme when they see one.

J.J.P. in Pontiac, MI, writes: I'm glad that there is more regulatory investigation into crypto. You guys pointed out that it is bad because of its speculative nature, but it likely is far worse than that and closer to a multi-level marketing company or a pyramid scheme. Anyone who comes in early has far more to gain than a later adopter. The markets and price can be disproportionately influenced by statements of people with a large stake in it (see one Elon Musk). Progressives who have been sold crypto have been fooled by the libertarians selling it; it is just a more crazy form of gold. Folding Ideas produced a very-well-received two-hour take on NFTs and crypto that probably expresses the concerns far better than me, so it is something I recommend everyone watch.

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: Tulip Mania is an excellent example of one of the big problems with cryptocurrencies, but perhaps a more recent example might be helpful, one that is in the lived experience of your readers. May I suggest: The Beanie Baby Bubble.

I'm Just a Bill

O.D. in Lisbon, Portugal, writes: In your item about Bill Maher, you wrote "Michelle Obama made combating childhood obesity her main cause as First Lady, and Republicans excoriated her for it. Maher never had a word to say about that."

I disagree with Maher on many subjects—for example, when he disparages religions, as he regularly does. It's also true that he misses the mark when he talks about obesity. It's not that there is no obesity problem (there is) and that we should not discuss it constructively (we should), but sadly he over-simplifies the issue and can be quite offensive.

However, it appears to me that you are incorrect about his lack of coverage of the former First Lady's initiative. Maher has praised her many times for that on his show and he also criticized Republicans for mocking it.

You also suggested that he's an extremist. Extremist? Really? He was on the left for most of his life (with a dash of libertarianism). If anything, he might have moved to the center in his later days. So I don't understand how you can call him extremist.

So, is Bill Maher a jerk? I guess I understand why you would think that. Personally I do think he means well, even though he is wrong from time to time. His show is half debate half entertainment, so of course the tone will not always be appropriate.

V & Z respond: He's not extremist on all issues, just a few, most obviously his Islamophobia. That said, most extremists are really only extreme on a few issues.

B.M. in Parker, CO, writes: Did you seriously just write: "Oh, and one more observation: Michelle Obama made combating childhood obesity her main cause as First Lady, and Republicans excoriated her for it. Maher never had a word to say about that. One begins to wonder how 'politically independent' he really is."

Bill Maher spent years criticizing the GOP over this. Years. You obviously never have watched his show. You can just google "Bill Maher get moving Michelle Obama" and see clip after clip after clip of him railing against the GOP over this. Wow, I though you guys at least tried to be accurate on your website. You should be absolutely ashamed of yourself. Either you're just repeating nonsense that someone told you without fact-checking it, or you're straight-up lying. Which is it?

V & Z respond: (Z), who wrote that, has seen many episodes of Maher's show, and has seen him perform live, and also saw his film Religulous. But his memory of Maher's programming is not encyclopedic. He did search for clips of Maher responding to the Republican criticism, and could not find anything (this person had the same exact problem). The Google search you propose is worded in a somewhat wonky fashion, and seems to only produce one clip that is over a decade old. In short, your criticism, while it does have a legitimate basis, is way over the top and incorporates gross exaggerations and incorrect assumptions. Sound like someone you know?

D.A. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: I can't stand Bill Maher, period, and to say that the media has "blood on its hands" because it didn't sufficiently emphasize the link between COVID-19 complications and being overweight (or very overweight or obese or heck, let me throw political correctness to the winds, just-plan-fat) is ridiculous. But making an effort to call out the connection, as Maher did, is not crazy. As one who has struggled with seriously ridiculous excessive weight, I'm quite aware that advice like "just put your mind to it" or insinuations that fat is a personality trait are ridiculous and often hurtful.

COVID, though, put the fear of god, or I should say, fear of fat, in me, and I've made a pointed, difficult, sustained effort during the pandemic to lose a massive amount of weight. (Not being able to go to restaurants helped; so did shopping by browser.) I am grateful for media reports that did link the connection between weight and morbidity, and in the scheme of things, there are much worse things than being a fathead (like Maher) about the subject.

V & Z respond: Congratulations to you! And we are in complete agreement. The basic argument (excess weight makes you more likely to have a bad case of COVID) is sound, but the tone that Maher took, and the demonizing of the media, were unwarranted.

N.Z. in Seattle, WA, writes: You briefly mentioned Michelle Obama's crusade to combat childhood obesity while serving as First Lady, so I wanted to post a brief follow to note that her mission continues after leaving the White House. Obama is the executive producer of a fun show called Waffles + Mochi, which can be streamed on Netflix, Amazon, and more. This show was recommended by my sister, a registered dietitian nutritionist at the University of Michigan, and was actually fun to watch as an adult, but would go over very well with children and parents as well. The show features some great cameos and focuses on nutrition, cooking, and food education.

V & Z respond: Jack Black appeared in an episode. He's a UCLA graduate, so you know the show must be of high quality.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: Bill Maher is laughably uninformed about both science and the military, but that doesn't stop him from pontificating as though his opinions carry weight. Just what you'd expect from someone so fatheaded (oh, yeah, I'm going there...).

D.K. in Oceanside, CA, writes: I happen to be what is considered a normal weight. I have a reasonably good diet and get a reasonable amount of exercise. I have no trouble maintaining this weight. Some are not so lucky in the genetic lotto. If I had their problem, would I maintain a lifetime regimen of disciplined eating and regular heavy exercise? I doubt it. I would probably make efforts from time to time, get discouraged and stop. What I'm saying is that Bill Maher is speaking from the pulpit of his extreme thinness. I have to wonder; is this thinness is normal for him, or does it result from an eating disorder? Being underweight, though less common in our society, is also a risk factor for illness. Among other things, it weakens the immune system and leaves one susceptible to disease.

J.W. in Seattle, WA, writes: Bill Maher is an unfunny idiot.

A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: You wrote: "And while the right has more than its fair share of obnoxious, bullying, sometimes intellectually dishonest pundits (politicians or adherents) ... the right most certainly does not have a monopoly."

Thank you, I most heartily agree with your observation. I have known several on the left, in real life, that I couldn't run away from fast enough.

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: Language fans going wild over "mavericity" and "mavericktion." Submit to the Oxford English Dictionary.

Word Games

S.S. in Santa Monica, CA, writes: S.K. in Holyoke writes: "Give an adjective that would describe current activities of Vladimir Putin, and then anagram it to get another adjective that is not very applicable to Putin's current life."

I think S.K. is looking for "hostile" and "holiest," but I also like "nasty," since "antsy," like "holiest," hasn't ever applied to Vlad the Wannabe Conqueror, currently or otherwise. And because S.K. inspired me to fire up ye olde anagram server, I also discovered you can't spell "Vladimir Putin's War" without "Trump Aids Rival Win." Who knew?

J.P. in Joshua Tree, CA, writes: How about "stained" and "sainted"? Or "serpent" and "repents"? Something of a religious cast, no?

M.B. in Moreno Valley, CA, writes: "Sorties" and "rosiest."

P.K. in Philadelphia, PA, writes: These might be cheating, since they're only part adjectives, but how about "evil's agent" and "evangelist"? Alternatively, "misfortune" and "it's more fun."

H.F. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: The submissions about anagrams reminds me of the saying "If you rearrange the letters in dyslexia you get daily sex".

V & Z respond: Certainly, we've always found that to be the case.

We'll have another one for next week, but we're thinking it might be better to announce it on Thursday or Friday.


L.F. in Edina, MN, writes: You have several times used the phrase "mamby-pamby." Since I (a former east coaster) have always heard and used "namby-pamby, 'I wondered if yours was a left coast affectation. Merriam-Webster and other distinguished sources (Wikipedia) refer to namby-pamby. The source appears to be the eponymous poem written around 1725 in the U.K.

So, is "mamby" a Californication, or just a misheard phrase?

V & Z respond: Could be either. (Z) heard it that way from his grandmother, who was from Johnstown, PA. Maybe she misheard it, or maybe she was corrupted by living in California for 50 years. She wouldn't be the first.

J.K. in Seoul, South Korea, writes: You know when you have been reading too much when you read about a survey on color names and wonder what Critical Race Theory has to do with various shades of fuchsia (in the table under "Spelling and Spam").

M.U. in Seattle, WA, writes: You guys, thank your for bringing attention to one of the funniest sentences in the English language! I adore "Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo Buffalo," and, once you wrap your head around it, it makes prefect sense (well, grammatically speaking anyway). And if you like it as much as I do, you'll keel over for this sentence from Martin Gardner that was shared to me from a friend equally as fascinated in language as myself:

Wouldn't the sentence 'I want to put a hyphen between the words Fish and And and And and Chips in my Fish-And-Chips sign' have been clearer if quotation marks had been placed before Fish, and between Fish and and, and and and And, and And and and, and and and And, and And and and, and and and Chips, as well as after Chips?

It boggles my mind every time I read it.

V & Z respond: And don't forget James while John had had had had had had had had had had had a better effect on the teacher.

R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, writes: Did you guys see this? "The Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at UCLA seeks applications for an Assistant Adjunct Professor on a without salary basis. Applicants must understand there will be no compensation for this position."

V & Z respond: This is not a good look, though it's also not what it seems. Because UCLA is a state school, they must make every job search open to the general public for some minimum period of time (72 hours?). However, sometimes a department already has someone they want to hire. So, they use various tricks to discourage anyone else from actually applying. Another version of this is to post the job on December 23 at 11:59 p.m.

Anyhow, the Chem Department undoubtedly has someone they want to hire, with the plan that when they hire that person, they will "negotiate" a higher salary than $0. That said, the publicity this has gotten probably spoiled the ruse. Further, it was actually an invalid posting, since UCLA policy forbids volunteer professors. That used to be OK, but not anymore. It's surprising the Chem Department's HR people did not know that.

J.G. in Cushing, ME, writes: I'm not surprised that Sunday deadline has gone past after UCLA's big win. Celebration is particularly sweet after the previous day's enjoyment of a USC loss. Take your time.

V & Z respond: The cat's out of the bag.

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