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Dem pickups: (None)
GOP pickups: NV

Sunday Mailbag

Normal order is resuming for us, though we'll begin today with letters about the lack of normal order across the pond.

Anarchy in the U.K.

É. óhA. in Dublin, Ireland, writes: As someone who was born in Ireland and has effectively lived here all of my 50+ years, I'd like to take you up on your offer to take a comment regarding the U.K.'s political crisis.

I have seen some suggestions that the Irish are delighting in what's happening, in particular the Irish political class. I don't believe this is true.

Roughly 25 years ago, the vast majority of the Irish who would like to see the whole island united into one independent country, accepted the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. We did so explicitly by amending our constitution to remove the territorial claim to Northern Ireland, in favor of accepting the principle of consent. This amendment was approved in a national referendum, as required by the constitution itself, with a significant majority.

Ireland's economic success over the last 50 years (since joining what was then the EEC) has allowed us to become economically independent of the U.K., to add to our political independence. This is evidenced, at least in part, by how there is no credible call from anyone for Ireland to follow the U.K.'s lead and to leave the E.U. (emphasis on "credible").

In all the discussions since the Brexit vote, Ireland's diplomatic position has been to protect the peace process that was formalized 25 years ago (which is predicated on freedom of movement between the two parts of the island) and to otherwise protect the interests of the E.U. and its membership within that club. We Irish question the motives of those who say that Ireland's stance over the last 6 years has been to "punish" the U.K.

The simple fact is that we all have friends and family living in the U.K., and we could tell from the outset that Brexit was a half-baked notion with no considered strategy behind it, and therefore was going to cause trouble. And we were right.

But those friends and family living in the U.K. are going to be very badly hurt by what has transpired, and there's nothing delightful about that. For me, personally, I think what's going to happen to the 60 million or so hardworking people in the U.K. is dreadfully sad. I know those I talk to also see it as sad. There's a certain vicarious comedy in watching the Conservative Party tear itself to shreds, but that's because it's the Conservative Party, traditionally no friend of Ireland's political ambitions (its full name is "The Conservative and Unionist Party" after all, and the term "Tory" comes from the old Irish word for a bandit!).

But, for me, my friends, and the political leaders in Ireland, what's happening in the U.K. is objectively horrifying, because we know what's going to happen to the people who live there, through no fault of their own.

P.K. in Marshalltown, IA, writes: When Brexit passed, I hailed the decision as the beginning of the end of the Evil (British) Empire. Back in the day, clever Irish pols like Éamon de Valera used the structure of the Dominion empire to carve away more freedom for the Irish Free State, using the abdication crisis of Edward VIII in particular to remove Ireland from formal British control. I think there are clever Irish and Scots pols who can use the current instability to hasten the creation of an independent Scotland and united Ireland. That clock is moving faster with the current state of affairs at 10 Downing.

L.T. in Vienna, Austria, writes: Still around 30 hours to go for the first deadline, but I will stick my neck out and make my prediction (if I'm wrong, you can laugh at me tomorrow already).

If the vote goes to the 170,000 rich, older, white, male Tory members, whoever is the other candidate besides Rishi Sunak—either Boris Johnson or Penny Mordaunt—will likely win.

Of course the 350 or so MPs know that. They probably also have a gut feel that Rishi will be the best of the lot, though even he will struggle in the current environment and with the party splintered. They will fear that if Boris or Penny become PM, and they screw up again, the Party will get routed in the next election.

So the only way these MPs, fearful for their future jobs, can avoid sending the decision to the 170,000 is to have only one candidate, and keep Boris and Penny from getting the necessary 100 votes. Plenty of them dislike or even hate Rishi, but they know it's Rishi or their future jobs. Of course, they could get Rishi and still lose their future jobs.

I can imagine dozens of them squirming today and tomorrow morning, wondering what to do. They will frantically call the pundits for advice (I have put my phone on silent).

So here's my prediction. In around 30 hours: Welcome, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak!

History will be made.

D.C. in Toronto, ON, Canada, writes: While reading the letters from your English readers commenting on the frankly baffling situation currently happening over there, one quote came repeatedly to mind: "Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way."

Thanks to them for the insight into what is happening and how people are feeling across the pond.

E.B. in Seattle, WA, writes: A British friend calls the post-mini-budget era the Trussterfuck. Humor on that side of the pond has a fine edge and cuts deep.

J.A. in Austin, TX, writes: How is Liz Truss like the Titanic?

Both were defeated by an iceberg.

Getting Out the Crystal Ball

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: For A.S. of Orlando, who's looking for an antidote to doomscrolling, check out Truth #21 of Michael Moore's tsunami of truth. I find it amazing that we're all so willing to accept the media narrative that the Dems have lost "momentum" and suddenly everything is reverting back to form and historical norms. Meanwhile, no one seems to be drawing a line from the heavy early voter turnout in Georgia to better news for Democrats in House races across the country on Nov. 8.

Turnout is key in these close races as is candidate quality, which correlates to voter enthusiasm. And the obvious talking point to counter the Republicans weaponizing inflation is that corporate America is hiding behind inflation to raise prices to make record profits. Drug industry profits alone are up $382 billion.

Turn off the news and keep working and don't stop working until the polls close.

B.C. in Farmingville, NY, writes: In response to A.S. in Orlando, FL: What we can do in the next few weeks is volunteer as much as possible! Everyone who is concerned about the upcoming election like myself needs to be volunteering as much as we can. Even if your state may be a lost cause, there are tons of close races all over the place that need donations and online volunteering.

J.S. in York, PA, writes: I care deeply for the results of the upcoming midterms, but if I turn off my anxiety and bring back my old poli Sci days, I am totally intrigued as to what is going to happen this midterm. There does not seem to be a massive amount of polling and I could completely see any outcome. I could see a massive underweighting of Democrats and women and see a "Roevember." I could also see the economy causing a GOP wave due to inaccurate polling. I could also see it being close either way.

I do, though, get a bit frustrated at some of the coverage. It seems to me that all I have seen the last month is how the polls could be underestimating the GOP, like it's accepted as a foregone conclusion. But if you look at some of Nate Silvers stuff, polling errors go both ways. I don't know, I just wonder if sometimes these elections create foregone conclusions because of the coverage...

C.J. in Branford, CT, writes: I agree with your assessment of Cenk Uygur's viewpoint versus Michael Moore's. Although Michael speaks from the heart like Cenk, he also has the ability to separate emotion from objective observation. And while I share Uygur's frustration at the Democrats' lack of a unified and broad-based message, that frustration frequently colors his broadcast opinions.

My unscientific but intuitive feeling is that pollsters seem to overcompensate for their mistakes from election to election. Or, in this case, from 2016 to 2022. Because they undercounted Republican voters in the last two elections due to their reluctance (or honesty) in interacting with polling surveys, they likely have now overweighted their population in order to rectify past inaccuracies and errors. Therefore, most polling organizations will miss the proper level of enthusiasm both Democrat and independent voters will display on Election Day.

D.A. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: You've mentioned Michael Moore's rosy predictions for the midterms in several posts now. Now, I'm a huge fan of Michael Moore, and subscribe to his Substack blog and read his Democratic Tsunami predictions. Although his headlines and intros are always very rosy, the devil is in the details—in the actual text of his blog, his prediction of rainbows and unicorns is always predicated on the progressive base getting out there and working hard to increase turnout. I suspect his loud expressed optimism is aimed at preventing the paralysis of pessimism. I'm all for that, and I hope his predictions prove right, and I'm trying to be a good progressive activist... but it is hard, real hard not to be pessimistic.

F.S. in Cologne, Germany, writes: I love Michael Moore, but in my opinion, Cenk Uygur is right and Michael Moore is wrong. From a progressive viewpoint, the current Democratic trifecta is a huge disappointment. There are many laws that should have been passed, but weren't, in the last 2 years: no new Voting Rights Act, no strengthening of unions, no meaningful gun control legislation, no higher taxes for rich people, no law that codifies Roe into federal law, no paid sick leave, no expansion of the Supreme Court, no law that eliminates the problem of high student loan debt, no public healthcare option and so on. Even the climate change legislation wasn't enough. Progressives can't be satisfied with the Democratic trifecta. Now Joe Biden promises abortion-rights legislation if Democrats have a majority after the midterms. But they have the trifecta right now and can't pass it. So Joe Biden is apparently a liar. I don't like liars. All in all, I wouldn't vote in the midterms. I'm not an American citizen, so my opinion doesn't matter, but I guess that many progressives in the U.S. have the same opinion. So it's likely that both chambers of Congress will be controlled by Republicans after the midterms.

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: To all the readers who are fretting over polls, I'd like to remind you all that no one really knows what is going to happen. The New York Times released a poll that says that Republicans are gaining ground. The guys at Pod Save America are concerned. However, Michael Moore and Michael Steele (far left and center right in agreement!) both believe that the Democrats are going to hold both chambers. All this polling has as much authority as sports pundits telling us on Sunday morning who is going to win later that day, for no other reason that they have time to fill and talking to do. If you are really concerned, find a way to help your favorite candidates whether by donating (although at this point, donations to candidates will only be burned up in more TV ads), making phone calls, text banking or knocking on doors.

Regarding whether or not 2 years of Republican shenanigans, should they take the House, would help Democrats in 2024, I remind you all that we just lived through 4 years of Republican shenanigans, including 2 years of a GOP trifecta, and the only actual policy they accomplished was to lower taxes on the super-wealthy. This has already been forgotten. When recent history is completely forgotten (let alone the longer-ago history of Bush the Younger lying to start a war and tanking the economy), nothing matters anymore.

Tracking the Returns

T.M.M. in Odessa, MO, writes: For the question asked by N.E.H. in Rochester, the problem is that there are just too many races on the ballots.

In almost all of the states, besides the federal races, there are races for state offices—executive in some and legislative in almost all. And some of the major websites will have links to places to look for those state races.

But, in many states, there are also races for county-level offices. Those county-level races are not reported to the state election authority as the results are certified at the county level. And while the newspapers in the major urban centers will post the races from all of the counties in their metropolitan area on their websites, for the rural counties, you would need to go to the website for the local election authority. But not every county posts election results quickly on their website. You might have to go to one of the county newspapers, who will have somebody down at the election authority to get the results as they are released.

The bottom line is that there is not one website that will include every election result in the country. Fortunately, while county officials can become national figures by making things difficult for residents of their counties and unwillingness to follow the law, they really do not have much power to impact folks beyond the residents of their own counties. Thus, people in Georgia have little need to know who won the elections for county treasurer in Multinomah County, OR. And the sites that (V) & (Z) listed and the state election authorities will have the results in the races that can have broad impact.

D.T. in Parsonsfield, MR, writes: I completely agree with your suggestion to monitor The New York Times' election page on election night. I have referred to that page during several elections in the past.

I think another interesting option is not a webpage but television coverage. I have enjoyed watching Steve Kornacki on MSNBC on election nights. He typically covers statewide elections. He has detailed maps of a given state and has well-researched knowledge concerning bellwether districts that may predict election outcomes. He likes to compare the ongoing results of the current election with final results of past elections within a district.

On election night, MSNBC usually has a panel that discusses the election as it unfolds. They go to Steve when he has something relevant to contribute. His enthusiasm is boundless and he is not only informative but entertaining.

Black Gold... Texas Tea

V.P. in New York City, NY, writes: My website Facteroid has a recent entry on Biden's announcement about releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve that R.C. in Des Moines and other readers might find useful. The page includes a chart of SPR inventory levels, which helps put things in context.

The chart goes back to 1982, when the Department of Energy first started publishing data. It is updated every time they release new weekly numbers.

S.M. in Toronto, ON, Canada, writes: While the U.S. only produces 12 million barrels per day, that of course is supplemented by the 3.5-3.7 million barrels per day that are (net) imported from Canada. So the actual stable domestic production is more like 16 million per day—and it looks like Mexico and Colombia are two other assuredly friendly countries which would add another million barrels or so to that total. So the total shortfall would be around 15% before any other measures (rationing, targeted use reductions) were taken.

(I suspect the actual hit would be to plastics imports and other such indirect oil usage/consumption) but I can't figure out a way to tease out those numbers).

Note that, in spite of cancelling the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada, the U.S. import amount has barely budged for years. Almost as though that was a totally pointless optics gesture that meant nothing for the environment... like Obama's state department figured out years earlier.

V & Z respond: You don't have to tell US that the Canadians are up to no good.

Secret Agent Man

T.I. in Oceanside, CA, writes: You wrote: "Q level is essentially the DOE equivalent of Top Secret, and L level is essentially the DOE equivalent of Secret."

There are many levels of security clearance, varying between and among subsets of all the departments. I found that in the Defense Department when working for a contractor. My Secret clearance allowed me access to many sections of the facility (I was a film producer, doing training films for DoD on the company's products) but I had to bring a Top Secret holding camera operator since I wasn't allowed to film the things I was allowed to see. And in areas where NASA equipment was built/stored/tested, the level was Crown Clearance (black badge), held by few outside the C-suite and engineering.

M.S. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: I'm a Top Secret-holder married to a Q-holder. In the Q&A yesterday, you wrote that the Q-level clearance can see everything a TS can. Not so.

Q-holders are not allowed see DOD nuclear secrets: locations of subs, exact targeting capabilities of ICBMs, etc., while I could if I had the need to know (I don't). Likewise, I will never have access to the exact storage mechanism for nuclear waste, or the method of producing weapons-grade plutonium my partner might (but I have no idea what he does—we take our clearances VERY seriously).

This is by design. One person with access to how to build and use a bomb would be an incredible danger. What if they left both halves of the whole lying in their underwear drawer?

(For what it's worth, most classified information is quite boring. For example, most people know that cruise missiles exist, but only the trustworthy should know the exact frequencies used to guide one. It's a snoozer, but could be very dangerous in the wrong hands.)

All Politics Is Local

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: I guess my fellow Pennsylvanians wanted to prove a liar of me what with my letter a few weeks ago commenting on the lack of political yard signs because, since that time, they have been sprouting up like mushrooms on cow patties. Here in the Lancaster area, of course, the signs are heavily bent to every Republican candidate under the sun—well, almost. A local candidate for State Representative (the same candidate, if you go to her website, makes no mention she is a Republican—you're kind of left on your own to piece together the clues) must have gotten a terrific printing deals on her signs because there are enough of them everywhere to stretch around the world a couple of times. Doug Mastriano also has a sizable footprint in the yard signs acreage; but this is Trump-crazy rural Lancaster county, where the Kentucky in Pennstucky begins, so of course they're all in for the cray-cray candidate, that no one is predicting to win. There are a few Fetterman and Shapiro signs, and probably more Shapiro than Fetterman. The only candidate running who I haven't seen one yard sign for is Doctor Oz. Not one.

The reason I bring this up is that there was an article in The Washington Post talking about split-ticket candidates this election. They mention possible Warnock/Kemp voters in Georgia, which I can see as a possibility, and Oz/Shapiro voters in Pennsylvania, which I think has to be the most ridiculous idea the paper has put forth in years. Yes, I realize that I live in only one area of a fairly big state but I think the fact that here in Deep Deep Red Lancaster, where the GOP operatives have done their best to put a Mastriano sign on every sliver of curb grass but no one has thought to bring along a single Oz sign, speaks volumes. No, I don't think there will be Fetterman/Mastriano split tickets unless the voter is themselves schizophrenic. What I do think is more probable is that there are No Vote/Mastriano ballots or, as the race between Shapiro and Mastriano widens (538 has Shapiro up by almost a 9 point lead), that Mastriano voters become disheartened and don't show up. Remember, I'm talking Lancaster County, where the Republicans can run Road Kill Rat for office, with that all important "R" by its name, and the locals would be singing the dead rat's praises at the top of their lungs. If you think I'm exaggerating, then I present our Congressional Representative, Lloyd Smucker (R-PA), who frankly makes the Road Kill Rat sound like Albert Einstein. If Oz can't get any love from these people, I just don't see where that support is going to come from. Since Trump has made it acceptable for Republican supporters of losing candidates to hold a grudge, we have to take into account that Oz won his primary by only .1%, which is pretty damn slim. Our current Senator, Pat Toomey (R-PA), who is retiring, won his election by only two points after handily winning his primary; and Bob Casey Jr. (D-PA), has won his elections by 17, 9 and 13 points after trouncing his opponents in the primaries. Plus no mention is made of the Libertarian candidate, who will pull every vote he receives from Oz's column.

P.S. I just completed my ballot and put it in the envelope to be mailed. Because I felt sorry for Oz and didn't want WaPo to look too foolish, I split my vote Oz/Shapiro. And if you believe that, I've got a genuine Oz Pennsylvania mansion to sell you, very cheap! It comes with a life supply of crudités and dead puppies.

D.T. in San Jose, CA, writes: I believe I have an explanation for why, by attacking Fetterman for his stroke, Oz appears to be improving his poll numbers. The increased nastiness of his campaign has actually appealed to some of the more deplorable fringes of the Republican Party.

Consider this: The voters are highly polarized right now. Nobody who loves Fetterman (or hates puppy killers) is going to be motivated to switch their vote to Oz because "My guy might not be up for the job." Nor would they let Oz have the job by default, by simply staying home on Election Day.

The votes that Oz is picking up are coming from people on the far right, who were previously unsure about giving their vote to Oz. The candidate doesn't have a long history of overt bigotry, or culture-warrior stunts. Also, he is a Muslim, which sadly is a pretty big negative for many right wingers. So, despite Donald Trump's endorsement, a lot of Republicans just weren't that convinced that Oz was the real deal.

But by shamelessly politicizing the health issues of his opponent, Oz has found a way to get the alt-right excited. They like that he isn't afraid to fight dirty. They cheer that Oz is finally "owning the libs." In short, by stooping to this level, Oz has reassured the fringe voters that he is, in fact, their kind of a**hole.

It is sad that this is considered a positive trait for candidates, but the success of Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) has demonstrated that this is a viable strategy.

D.K. in Glenside, PA, writes: I live in suburban Philly, and I honestly cannot recall seeing a single Doug Mastriano or Mehmet Oz sign. Not. One. Sign. Even driving daily along a road that got coverage a few years ago in the local paper because someone was stealing "Black Lives Matter" signs and replacing them with "All Lives Matter"—nope; nothing but Democrats on every yard. Granted, Montgomery County has become increasingly blue over the years, but there were plenty of George W. Bush signs in my parents' neighborhood not that long ago, and now it is nothing but Fetterman/Shapiro signs. (As an aside, we're all basically what at one point in time would be considered liberal Northeastern Republicans—an extinct breed—one that native son Chris Matthews would often reference and now is a bit of a slur/badge of honor). Anyway, everywhere—neighbors of whom I never knew their political leanings, or assumed that because they are white and/or a little older, so probably are Republican—blanketed with Democratic candidate signs. And even in my own neighborhood, which has a strict HOA policy with regards to posting yard signs, and there were basically no Hillary Clinton signs! So I have to conclude that enthusiasm on the Democratic side is high.

Then again, I assured my neighbor on Election Night 2016 that there was no possible way Donald Trump would win a state that went Clinton-Clinton-Gore-Kerry-Obama-Obama, and that you should please calm down and go to bed and have a nice night—so what do I know?

Although I personally have a few concerns about Fetterman (recent coverage about his frequent absences from his Lieutenant Governor responsibilities, and that Oz's attacks on his stroke may have worked, unfortunately), and that I slightly disagree with your opinion regarding his national/presidential viability, I do agree with your assessment (and Michael Moore's? wow...) that it will be a Democratic sweep in this small corner of the country. This is admittedly anecdotal evidence, but I thought I would pass it along. I simply cannot see how either of the two Democratic candidates at the top of the ticket lose Potter County (God's Country, absolutely beautiful, a favorite vacation spot—don't get me wrong) by 5,000 votes, but win Montgomery County by 100,000 votes (and also Philly, and the other collar counties), and could possibly lose this election. Still, 3 weeks is a couple of lifetimes, so we will have to wait and see. Again, I thought I would just pass along that on-the-ground reporting.

Second, and most important: does Q, or any Q, have access to Q-level clearance? Is that why he is a Q? Is that HOW he is a Q? I mean, the spit-take with my coffee this morning...inquiring minds would like to know. And even though you linked, are you pulling one over one me?! Us Philly people have a born BS-detector. Because this is more of a question than a comment, I realize it should be maybe more appropriate for a Saturday publishing, should you be so kind. But, I just had to know, and what better place to go than the expert(s).

J.G. in Dallas, PA, writes: As a resident of Northeastern Pennsylvania, I thought I would write in and share my observations from this neck of Penn's Woods.

In years past, it was always a simple matter to "count the yard signs" to see which way the political winds were blowing. This year is different; yard signage is scant. Of the few posted, most are for obscure candidates running for local and state offices. No one seems to want to make bold statements about their affiliations; that would only invite ridicule (or worse). It reminds me of kids in high school who only like music from bands that no one has ever heard of.

Based off the small sample of national yard signs that are posted (and correcting for the rightward skew of my area), I have concluded the following:

Jim Bognet (R) will knock off Matt Cartwright (D) in PA-08. They are both considered to be somewhat sleazy politicians, and Bognet is riding the momentum of Biden antipathy. I suspect he will ride it right into the office.

The rarest of all yard signs is the Doug Mastriano sign. I've counted exactly two (and one was just put up by my next door neighbor yesterday, sitting next to his "Trump Won" sign). I tend to believe that the same conservatives who held their nose to vote for Biden in 2020 are preparing to do the same for Josh Shapiro.

The most interesting case is the Fetterman/Oz race. Yard signs for each candidate are uncommon, but probably equal in number. You guys seem to be having a very hard time believing that the race is as close as the polling is suggesting. I believe that it is, and that it has nothing to do with John Fetterman's stroke. In fact, I have not even seen that ad in my area. The ad that I have seen running around the clock is the one accusing Fetterman('s non profit organization) of failing to pay their taxes. It includes footage of a local reporter asking him why the taxes were not paid, to which he hems and haws that "Uhm, it, you know, uhh... just slipped through the cracks."

I like the guy, and plan on voting for him. But even I have to go "Tsk, tsk!" every time I see that ad. It is devastatingly effective, and I have no doubt that it has tightened the race to a dead heat.

(Update): I just saw my third Doug Mastriano sign last night on the way home from work. It is hanging, upside down, from a prominent overpass in the middle of town.

I am still not sure if this represents sloppy support, or shrewd iconography, but I am personally hoping for the latter.

J.C. in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, writes: I'm glad that Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) is going on the attack more, but I fear it may be too late. I watched the first debate, and thought, "Oh dear. They've brought a pastor to a gun fight." While with the usual caveats that it wasn't a real debate, I thought that Warnock did better than Walker on the flow—but the audience wasn't flowing. They were listening for the gotcha moments, and Walker scored some, while Warnock let those opportunities slide by, seemingly following the model of the Rev. King's nonviolence. The second debate was to an empty chair. Fewer people are going to tune in to see that.

S.S. in West Hollywood, CA, writes: I know I'm about to step in it, but I don't think LA City Council members Gil Cedillo and Kevin de León should resign over the leaked recording. I listened to it and I've got three reasons why:

  1. This was a private conversation between the Latino members of the City Council. When we are with friends from our own community, we do tend to talk more bluntly and from a perspective that people from other communities are not a part of. Gay friends talk differently when there are no straight people around. Black friends talk differently when there are no white people around. It's human nature and we all do it. Yes, even you. Was it in poor taste and inappropriate? Absolutely. Should City Council members we are otherwise happy with be forced to resign over it? I don't think so. And if it is career-ending, then let them lose their next election. The people in their districts should have the right to decide their fates.

  2. The really offensive and inexcusable things were all said by City Council President Nury Martinez. If anyone deserves to be forced out, it is her and she has already resigned. I think that's a reasonable consequence for her actions. The others didn't say much until they got to the redistricting conversation. That was all a behind-the-curtains inside-politics conversations. There's not a politician alive who hasn't had similar strategy conversations about redistricting. Nobody likes to see how the sausage is made. It wasn't pretty, but it mostly wasn't offensive. Here too, the truly offensive things were said by now-former City Council President Nury Martinez.

  3. This is important. Who recorded this conversation and leaked it? Why did they do it? What are they hoping to gain? Remember, somebody had been sitting on this recording for a year. Why now? Who would most benefit from creating a rift between the Black and Latino communities right before an election? Hmmmm, the most obvious answer is LA mayoral candidate Rick Caruso, who is running against Black mayoral candidate Karen Bass. Regardless if my assumption is correct or not, somebody had an agenda when they released this recording. We shouldn't reward them by allowing ourselves to be manipulated and overreacting. Giving them the exact response and results they wanted.

Before forming your own opinion, please listen to the recording. I don't think reading specific comments taken out of context is a fair representation of the conversation.

History Matters

S.S. in Frisco, TX, writes: In response to M.M. in Plano: First off, greetings from next-door Frisco, TX! Also, in case this isn't already part of your collection of evidence, the first few chapters of the book The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American by Freedom From Religion Foundation principal Andrew Seidel has several noteworthy references to dispel the notion that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation.

B.C., Walpole, ME, writes: You wrote: "[The book] is very similar to Bryson in approach and style."

Now you've crossed over from snarky to cruel. I well remember sitting in a shelter on the Appalachian Trail one night where long-distance hikers discussed Bryson's book, A Walk in the Woods. One group hated it, declaring it to be by far the worst book ever write about the trail. The other group defended it, observing that you could tear out the pages one by one and use them for toilet paper.

J.E.S. in Sedona, AZ, writes: My immediate reaction upon reading the Reddit question forwarded by B.D. in Sunnyvale about the Presidential Gladiator Pit, before I got to your answer, was "Gerald Ford." The strength, endurance, and skills to play as a center and a linebacker for an elite college football team (University of Michigan) could come in most handy in the type of scrum scenario envisioned in this fantasia. As modern broadcasters often note after a fumble, "Anything goes at the bottom of the pile," so Ford might be better trained and accustomed to that sort of group violence than Abraham Lincoln or Theodore Roosevelt would have been with their one-on-one wrestling and boxing experiences. At the opposite end of the spectrum, my money's on James Madison as first to fall, though I doubt the oddsmakers would give me much of a payout for such an obvious choice.

J.V.E. in Madison, WI, writes: Regarding the item about Cenk Uygur, I have no personal opinion on him, but I take exception to your claim that the use of the term "Young Turks" is the functional equivalent of saying "The New Hitler Youth." Turns of phrase usually lose most connection to the original source of the expression, or people just don't care about the specifics. Personally, I have never heard anyone use the expression Young Turk as anything other than meaning something like "young rebel." Your argument is on the level of pedanticness of people who insist the word "decimation" just means reducing by 10% because that is how the Romans used the word 2,000 years ago. You can call your hassock an ottoman, without expressing any opinion on the conquest of Byzantium. Don't be a word Nazi.

M.D.A. in Salt Lake City, UT, writes: Your comment on the Young Turks makes me think of another similar and baffling association. The most popular weather website, especially with people that have amateur home/office weather stations (like mine) is, short for Weather Underground. According to their Wikipedia page, "The name is a reference to the 1960s radical left-wing militant organization the Weather Underground, which also originated at the University of Michigan." It is a strange choice for such a nerdy pursuit... all my years uploading data to their site, and yet I have never blown anything up (that I know of) or palled around with Barack Obama.

History: Top 25 Events, Part III

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: I would have guessed that the legislation creating the federal income tax might have made your list of the Top 25 events in modern American history, especially as avoiding paying taxes seems to be the sole purpose of the genuine Republican Party.

RJ J. in San Francisco, CA, writes: One item that I think merits inclusion in the Top N of modern American History is the pardon of Richard Nixon. To my mind, it gave the current GOP the foundational notion that its actions to secure and maintain political power were "above the law."

J.B. in Arlington, VA, writes: You really need something about the internet on your list. I'd suggest October 29, 1969—the first message is sent over ARPANET.

T.S. in Seattle, WA, writes: I am writing to offer a suggestion for pivotal moments in modern U.S. history: Chuck Peddle's $25 microprocessor in a jar (1975).

In the early 1970s, Chuck Peddle left Motorola, convinced a bunch of his colleagues to come with him, and they designed an amazingly simple microprocessor that could be manufactured for a very low cost. At the WESCON convention in 1975, he set up at his booth a jar full of early 6502 chips with a price tag: $25. In an era where microprocessors cost $200 and up, attendees at the conference were astounded.

Here's why this particular event was so relevant: Chuck Peddle and the 6502 energized a movement that was making progress slowly, but surely. His work establishing the 6502 convinced Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs to found a company to make computers using the chip. The 6502 was responsible for sparking the 1977 "Trinity of Personal Computers," the Commodore PET, the Apple II, and the TRS-80 (which was a competitor that was scared into existence by the 6502 announcement). At the same time, Atari used a variant of this chip to launch the Atari VCS or Atari 2600, the first really successful home gaming console.

The company Chuck Peddle worked for, Commodore, sent envoys to Japan to drum up support for this nascent microprocessor. Their interactions with Japanese companies to design the Commodore MAX machine likely inspired the Nintendo Famicom (or NES).

The success of the 6502 launched companies like Commodore, Apple, Atari, and tons of others. Its success became so huge that IBM realized that it could not ignore this market, which caused it to design the IBM PC using off-the-shelf components to compete with the 6502's incredibly low cost.

When Sophie Wilson took a trip to the U.S. to study how Chuck Peddle's tiny and effective team built the 6502 and its successors, she realized that building a CPU wasn't so hard. She had the inspiration that led her to create Acorn's Risc Machine, which we now know as ARM and which runs virtually all modern smartphones.

All in all, the "$25 CPU in a jar" event galvanized the industry and caused people to realize that everything they did could be computerized. Every computer became affordable, and everyone became a programmer, and two decades later the U.S. economy was transformed to an unrecognizable degree when computers finally gained enough power to deliver on the early promise that sat in a glass jar at WESCON in 1975.

C.F. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: I loved the Top 25 list of moments in history. I would also include for consideration the Citizens United v. FEC (January 21, 2010) SCOTUS ruling. Perhaps no other ruling has fundamentally reshaped our political campaign process and driven dark money into politics.

The Great American Novel, Part XI: The Catcher in the Rye

J.L.C. in Longview, TX, writes: Was surprised, not at the overwhelming support for The Grapes of Wrath as the Great American Novel, but at the failure of the book that had such an impact on me in high school; J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye. I may not meet all the criteria of "greatness," but for those who came of age in the late 50s and early 60s, it brought angst and confusion to life.

H.R. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: Growing up in India in the 60s and 70s, my first explorations of American literature during my pre-teens and teens—what I call "My voracious reading years"—did include many of the titles that you and so many others have cited.

I thought that it may be instructive to you and your readers to get the perspective of an outsider regarding why some of them impacted me so profoundly. Thus, my list includes only those that really took me by the throat and affected me in a way that, years later, convinced me to come to America, which I saw (in my admitted naivete) as the truly greatest nation on earth.

After 40 years of living here and seeing America up close, nothing has changed (other than my naivete). So, my personal "Great American Novels" list remains unchanged, because it still represents the best and worst of America, as portrayed to that naive teenager (who died decades ago) by some of the giants of American literature. I also offer my reasons the list has not changed, even though I am now a Trump-disillusioned but still determinedly hopeful citizen of this great nation (Thank you,!):

  1. Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer: My pre-teen introduction to American literature, and the perfect depiction of the unrepentant rascal my mother labeled me.

  2. Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin: My first introduction to the evils of slavery and its impact on human beings.

  3. Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: My second, albeit unwitting, exploration of the evils of slavery; a theme that seemed almost incidental to a pre-teen reading an "unputdownable adventure story;" it was only a couple of years later (when I read the next book on my list) that it dawned on me.

  4. Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird: I, as a young teenager from an alien culture, viewed this as one of the greatest stories of slavery's evils ever written (along with Uncle Tom's Cabin). It resonated so profoundly with me because I immediately recognized India's Untouchables as being equivalent to the Tom Robinsons of America. I have learned since that he embodies so many others. On a somewhat less profound note, I also identified with the irrepressible spirit of Scout—gender be damned!—and her adoration of her father, which was spookily akin to mine, although God forbid I ever dared call him by his name!

  5. John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath: My first awareness of the Great Depression and its long-lasting consequences, which resonate to this day.

  6. J.D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye: I never understood the title at the time, but I was nevertheless captivated by the central themes of angst, alienation, and disillusionment, which seemed from a different planet to a teenager growing up at a time when neither angst nor alienation were recognized, let alone tolerated, in India.

  7. James Jones' From Here to Eternity: My first realization that World War II, in which my father fought and was decorated for bravery, was not the idealistic triumph of good vs evil portrayed in movies, but a complex event of unspeakable brutality and savagery, and—yes!—honor; it is the closest I have come to understanding my father's resolute unwillingness to talk about what he witnessed.

  8. Joseph Heller's Catch-22: Which I read in my late teens, and loved, not just for its depiction of the absurdity of war, but also for its irreverent blurring of the distinction between friend and enemy, tragedy and comedy, and a good or evil God. Not only did all of those contradictions appeal to the rebel in me, who dared not express those thoughts, it served as a perfect, if farcical, bookend to the earnest portrayals in Jones' From Here to Eternity.

My list is presented chronologically, rather than in order of preference or greatness, because each of them impacted me profoundly in different ways (and still do).

The above list is not meant to be complete or comprehensive. I have read many other books by American authors, but these eight had an outsized effect on me during my formative years, growing up outside America. I hope readers who were born here do not find it surprising that these eight not only informed my perspective of the best and worst of America, they contributed greatly to my later determination to come here. So, apologies in advance to any readers who are offended by my takes on the books, or my leaving out any they think are "better." For example, I was not moved to include F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, even though I recognize that it is lauded as possibly (one of?) the greatest of all American novels. All I can say is that its depiction of 1920s hedonism did not have a lasting impact on me—certainly not in the way the eight I listed did!


S.S. in Frisco, TX, writes: I got a hearty chuckle from the reference to Sneed's Seed and Feed (formerly Chuck's). I first saw this as a teenager on The Simpsons, but quick research suggests that the bit predates the longtime animated series. Regardless, well done!

C.M. in Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK, writes: Congratulations on what must be the first instance of the word 'dildo' thrusting itself upon your fine website. Those 'hookers and blow' parties must be having quite the effect!

As for other "edgy" band names, may I suggest my favorite band, Pearl Jam? I hear that the band members loved the thought of frat boys wearing t-shirts with those words splashed across their chests...

Yours in utter filth...

V & Z respond: And don't forget 10cc and The Lovin' Spoonful.

I.O. in Norman, OK, writes: Grammatically Speaking:

While the word feels awkward to use, thank you for your proper usage of the word "hanged" in response to the comments from N.M in West Chester.

As a journalist for 30 years, in American English (I'm not sure of the King's English): Objects are hung, and people are hanged... even though it may have the mouth-feel of improper conjugation. I think it is fitting that such an awful concept should sound so wrong coming from one's lips.

V & Z respond: If you believe nothing else, believe this: We will never, ever write about Mike Pence being hung.

S.E.Z. in New Haven, CT, writes: As an aerospace engineer, I am kind of hoping that the U.S. Mint comes out with a one dollar coin featuring both of the Wright brothers. Meaning that four Wongs (Anna May) would make two Wrights (Wilbur & Orville).

V & Z respond: S.E.Z. is here all week, folks.

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