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Sunday Mailbag

Lots of questions about Donald Trump's third indictment (and counting). Lots of letters, too.

Politics: Donald Trump's Legal Troubles

S.B. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: There has been a call for Donald Trump's eventual jury trial to be televised. Of course, based on current law, procedure, and practice, it seems unlikely this will come to pass. Before the proponents of televising the trial embark upon their campaign, they should keep in mind that everything in the trial would be televised around the nation (and the globe, for that matter).

I could see Trump thinking he is going to get convicted anyway, and he's never actually going to see the inside of a real jail/prison cell, so he might as well use this platform to go 110% MAGA and stolen election conspiracy. His audience wouldn't be the jury but the millions of people watching their TVs. Attorneys would object but the question gets out and, in some respects, getting shut down would let Trump say they "couldn't handle the truth!"

Be careful what you wish for...

L.B. in Savannah, GA, writes: In your answer to D.B. in San Diego, you write: "They usually let a person out while they appeal, unless they are violent or a flight risk." While it's possible that a convicted felon could be released while their appeal plays out, it's not automatic. Keep in mind, if Trump is convicted, he will be a convicted felon. This means the default is "go to jail." In addition to not being violent or a flight risk, the convict must also demonstrate that he is likely to prevail on appeal. It can't just be "I'm appealing the verdict because I can." No judge would grant freedom on a pro forma appeal where the goal was obviously to stay out of prison as long as possible.

T.K. in Fort Collins, CO, writes: While I understand that a jury of "one's peers" generally means "any citizens," the latest indictment of TFG this week made me think that for once, I'd be willing to accept a much more restrictive interpretation of "peers." Specifically, presidents of the U.S. So the jury pool would be:

  1. Joe Biden
  2. Barack Obama
  3. George W. Bush
  4. Bill Clinton
  5. Jimmy Carter

Since that doesn't get us to 12, maybe add all the living VPs:

  1. Kamala Harris
  2. Mike Pence
  3. Dick Cheney
  4. Al Gore
  5. Dan Quayle

We're still not quite there, so maybe expand peers to be those who have received electoral votes.

  1. Hillary Clinton
  2. Mitt Romney
  3. John Kerry
  4. Michael Dukakis

Granted, that doesn't leave room for many dismissals, but with that group it would be pretty tough to argue that they can't understand the issues, or lack the character. From what I gather, only #1 has a real job (sorry #6) that they need to get to. It's bipartisan and has men, women, and minorities. I'm guessing if anyone asked, they'd be willing to serve (OK, maybe not #5). It would definitely add credibility to any verdict they returned, and I'm guessing they wouldn't be terribly susceptible to jury intimidation.

K.M. in Tacoma, WA, writes: Yale history professor Timothy Snyder noted: "That Trump will be tried for his coup attempt is not a violation of his rights. It is a fulfillment of his rights. It is the grace of the American republic. In other systems, when your coup attempt fails, what follows is not a trial."

J.A. in Kansas City, MO, writes: You wrote: "...Tanya Chutkan is his worst nightmare. She's an Obama appointee, but one who came to the bench with an impressive résumé, such that she was confirmed by the Senate 95-0. She is both Black and an immigrant (from Jamaica). We only mention that because with a Black immigrant judge appointed by a Black president, the odds of Trump eventually saying something racist are... very high, to say the least."

I had to laugh.... so Trump drew a judge from a "sh**hole country"?

If that isn't karma, I don't know what is. I'm going to have to forward this to Merriam-Webster to update their dictionary definition!

D.H. in Boulder, CO, writes: For indictment #1 (Porn Star Hush Money!) I enjoyed a Buffalo Trace. For indictment #2 (Classified Documents!) I upped my game to Laws 8-Year-Old Bonded. For indictment #3 (Federal Election Interference Conspiracy) I went with Blanton's. I'm running out of quality bourbon options as I look forward to Indictment #4 (Georgia Election Interference!) and beyond. And one can only dream about how to toast future convictions, I'm sure I'll be partying with the E-V staff mathematician when those come down!

(V) & (Z) respond: Just note that he usually gets his bourbon in a box. Or, failing that, wrapped in a paper bag.

Politics: Donald Trump's Defenses

T.M.M. in Odessa, MO, writes: In your response to R.M.S. in Stamford, you addressed the First Amendment issue. While there are potential some things that President Trump did that would be core political speech, the Supreme Court decided a case earlier this year—United States v. Hansen—in which the defendant claimed that the criminal offense for encouraging illegal immigration violated the First Amendment.

In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court rejected that claim and reaffirmed the traditional position that speech in furtherance of criminal conduct was not protected by the Constitution. And even the two dissenters essentially agreed with that position and only disagreed on whether the statute in question was narrowly drawn to only cover unprotected speech.

In the case against Trump, the acts covered by the charges only cover some of Trump's speech—that directed toward illegal acts like forged certificates by fake electors and encouraging individuals to disrupt the election—although other things that he said (which otherwise would be protected by the First Amendment) may be used to prove his knowledge and intent.

One other defense that he might try is that his lawyers thought that they had come up with a scheme that was legal. But a lawyer's interpretation of a statute (while hopefully informed and correct) does not prevent a judge or jury from finding that the proposed scheme was actually illegal. If all that Trump had done was file frivolous lawsuits asserting harebrained interpretations of the law, he would only have been facing potential civil sanctions from the courts for wasting their time. But by engaging in other acts (like calling state secretaries of state to press for them to alter vote totals), Trump exposed himself to criminal liability if courts find that Trump was soliciting illegal conduct by those state officials.

M.S. in Canton, NY, writes: Your response to R.M.S. in Stamford about Jonathan Turley's defense of Trump on First Amendment free speech grounds was excellent, but I think there is also a bigger context: This line of defense appears to be the center of unified Republican talking points. In just a few days I have heard this same argument nearly verbatim from Rudy Giuliani, from Trump's lawyers, and from my own Congressional district embarrassment, Elise Stefanik (R-NY). In fact, I would bet that they had agreed on this defense before the indictment was even announced, because—as you pointed out—it does not at all address what is in the actual indictment itself. Possibly they expected that he would be indicted for his January 6 speech as an incitement to insurrection, or some such, but that is not remotely what the indictment says. But one thing you can say for Trump's true believers: They will stick with an argument, even it can be easily refuted with facts.

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Thank you so much for dispelling this notion that has somehow gained traction that if Trump genuinely believed the lies he was peddling, that's a defense to the charges. I'm dismayed that some legal pundits are actually pushing this. This theory relates to the first count of the indictment, violation of 18 U.S. 371, which makes it a crime to defraud the U.S. This statute encompasses a conspiracy to "obstruct one of its lawful governmental functions by deceit or dishonest means." That's why the indictment has a whole section about the "federal government function" of counting and certifying the election results. That's the "U.S." part of defrauding the U.S.

The references in the indictment to Trump's "knowingly" false statements are an element of fraud. But "knowingly" does not mean the lack of belief in the falsity of the statements. Under federal case law, a "false statement is made 'knowingly' if the defendant knew that it was false or demonstrated a reckless disregard for the truth with a conscious purpose to avoid learning the truth."

That's why Smith includes all those examples of officials, whose job it is to know, telling Trump that the election was secure and that there was no fraud. This demonstrates Trump's recklessness in avoiding the truth. He ignored the experts and deliberately sought out the wackos like Sidney Powell who would tell him what he wanted to hear. Not surprisingly, that's part of the crime here. What he genuinely believed is irrelevant on these facts and with this evidence.

B.P. in Pensacola, FL, writes: The "throwing the attorneys under the bus" strategy actually has a formal name: "advice of counsel." The idea of that defense is that it can, theoretically, mitigate the "intent" element of some crimes or other types of claims. I'm not a criminal defense lawyer, so can't speak to the viability of that defense for Trump. But, the most important thing here about that defense is that it waives the attorney/client privilege. One can't say "I relied on my lawyers" and simultaneously claim that the conversations that led to that advice are privileged. And that waiver opens the door to the lawyers to throw the "client" asserting that defense under the bus, too.

Politics: Jack Smith

S.R. in Kansas City, MO, writes: I've pondered Merrick Garland's seemingly lackadaisical approach early on to the investigations concerning 1/6. I now wonder if Garland had Jack Smith identified as the lead prosecutor early on but felt constrained in the appointment until Smith could complete his work at the Hague.

O.R. in Milan, Italy, writes: You noted that Trump is selling t-shirts "that can be yours for the low, low price of $47 (Get it? 47th president)."

How ironic that the 1/6 indictment should be 45 pages long.

J.K. Freehold, NJ, writes: My understanding is that in the planning of the speech Franklin D. Roosevelt was to give to Congress the day following the attack on Pearl Harbor, FDR's Secretary of State Cordell Hull implored the president to give a long and detailed speech as to why war should be declared on Japan. As we know, the speech as delivered was short and to the point, becoming one of the most historically memorable and significant speeches, perhaps on the level of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. I couldn't help but think of FDR's Pearl Harbor speech as I heard Jack Smith's brief and clear announcement of the latest Trump indictment. Talk about "perfect words"...

P.R. in Arvada, CO, writes: An AI-generated video of Jack Smith Serenading Trump? Ask and ye shall receive. I have taken a couple of liberties to make this one stand out from the others I am sure you will receive. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

Politics: The 2024 Presidential Race

P.M. in Port Angeles, WA, writes: It is becoming increasingly clear that a significant fraction of the Republican hierarchy wants to wrap all electoral malfeasance around Donald J. Trump's neck and divest themselves of any or all charges or inference of culpability in the insurrection promulgated by TFG that played out on Jan 6, 2021.

Their desire is to divorce themselves from the fascist fringe of the Republican Party (i.e., crime family) yet keep the ever faithful voting block in the fold. The testimony that will unfold will show that a fair number of the Republican illiterati have, in fact, flipped on "The Don" to avoid/obfuscate their own personal culpability in the insurrection plot. I expect that the playing-out of this strategy may not go all that well with that party overall. This is something that I have noted among friends that we may be, in fact, witnessing the death of the GOP as a political party and instead their emergence as an organized criminal enterprise.

If Fulton County DA Fani Willis does in fact bring RICO charges against the Trump team's efforts to overthrow the election, that would certainly underscore this perception.

R.R. in Nashville, TN, writes: You have written several times that you don't see how the TFG's lead would fade, short of his death.

Have you seen the movie Dave?

J.W. in Rochester, NH, writes: I'm a librarian. After reading "Can DeSantis Recover?", imagine my surprise to discover that he was right here in Rochester just the day before! This was the first I was hearing of it, and I learned about it from an article in my local newspaper... on page A3, written by an AP correspondent. Here is the news deemed front-page-worthy:

The A1 story is about a local beauty pageant

And here is his unassuming little piece tucked off to the side:

DeSantis is shunted off to a corner of page A3

But I'm sure he can totally turn it around, right?

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: You wrote: "it is at least possible DeSantis is strongest is the states where no one knows anything about him and he has carefully avoided visiting."

(Z)ing! Or, I guess, (V)ing!

S.D.R. in Raleigh, NC, writes: The letter from A.T. in Seminole County encapsulates perfectly why the far left will continue to accomplish nothing except hand elections to the Republican Party for the foreseeable future.

First, A.T. states that they applaud the left "finally being willing to blackmail the Democratic Party into actually fighting for leftist ideas." Finally??? Does A.T. think this is something new? It isn't. It is exactly what the Green Party tried to accomplish in 2016. It is exactly what the Green Party tried to accomplish in 2000. And what happened both times? The Democratic Party tacked to the center rather than the left, and the Republican Party won the White House while losing the popular vote, leading to a Supreme Court that is tilted 7-2 in favor of the right. Why, precisely, would anyone expect a tactic that backfired spectacularly twice before to work?

Second, A.T. admitted to being jealous of the Freedom Caucus' willingness to "risk burning everything down to get their beliefs enacted." But the only reason the Freedom Caucus is in a position to do so is because it, unlike the Green Party, is actually represented in Congress. And the reason the Freedom Caucus is actually represented in Congress is because it is actually part of the Republican Party and thus isn't shut out of power by Duverger's Law. One can question how much of their beliefs the Freedom Caucus is actually getting enacted (they got little if anything during the debt ceiling showdown, for example), but they are certainly in a better position to do so than the Green Party is.

If the far left wants to get its ideas enacted, then it needs to work within the American political system as it actually exists. That means working as a faction of the Democratic Party and not as a separate party. Trying to "blackmail the Democratic Party" actually set back the progressive cause in 2020, it set back the progressive cause in 2016, and if tried again in 2024 it will likely set back the progressive cause in 2024 as well. It is time to quit trying the same thing over and over while expecting different results.

(V) & (Z) respond: Would you be implying that the Greens are insane, Professor Einstein?

Politics: In Defense of Joe Biden, Redux

J.A. in South Salem, NY, writes: I voted for Joe Biden in 2020, with modest hopes for what he could get done with the composition of Congress and Supreme Court. I am thrilled to have him overachieve my expectations and expect to enthusiastically vote for him again in 2024.

N.N. in Murray, KY, writes: In response to the letter from B.R.D. in Columbus: Amen! And thank you.

S.V. in Camarillo, CA, writes: To B.R.D. in Columbus: Well said! I am grateful every day I wake up with an adult at the helm too! Thank you for your long and necessary response.

S.H. in Sutherlin, OR, writes: To the readers/communicators who wrote in praise of Joe Biden in last week's mailbag, I say "Hear, hear!" and "Amen!" Since the inception of Biden's presidency, far too many people have been lamenting on his lack of accomplishments. Within our complicated system of governance, and divided as it presently is, it is simply not possible for one person, president or not, to achieve the many things asked of him/her. I have grown weary of the attacks on Biden for lack of action or delivering on promises. Biden's accomplishments during his time as president are actually astonishing and worthy of our praise as citizens.

Politics: When Congress Works

P.M. in Edenton, NC, writes: You didn't mention this in any postings on the site, but I wanted the direct the readership to this House Subcommittee hearing about Unidentified Aerial Phenomena (UAP) that took place on July 26. In addition to being notable for the topic (where three extremely credible witnesses testified about some truly incredible stuff), it was also notable in that each member of Congress acted professionally, asked good and appropriate questions, and never once mentioned any partisan political points (and this with Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, and Matt Gaetz, R-FL, both on the committee!). One of the members of the committee stated at the end how impressed he was by how bipartisan the hearing was. I have hope that despite all of the noise and political posturing which seemingly occurs constantly, the members of Congress really can get some work done—and proof they could was how this hearing was conducted. I strongly urge all to watch it, whether or not you have an interest in UAP.

(V) & (Z) respond: We didn't write about it because we really didn't have anything to say about it. However, it's rather instructive that "Congressional committee members act like grown-ups and do their jobs" is now "man bites dog"-type news.

Politics: AIDS

L.L.G. in Thornton, CO, writes: I appreciated your Freudenfreude item on the value of George W. Bush's PEPFAR program. I lived in Namibia (southern Africa) from 2002 to 2018 and saw first-hand the effectiveness of this program. When I arrived in Namibia, AIDS deaths were rampant. Every weekend, the roads were crowded with AIDS-caused funeral processions (in Namibia, funerals are almost always held on Saturdays). I had a close friend who had two siblings die of AIDS on the same day.

Once U.S.-funded ARV drugs were available free-of-charge at state hospitals, AIDS-related deaths became a rare occurrence. Hats off to Bush and all others involved in funding this program.

After hearing for decades how U.S foreign-aid is co-opted and ends up in the pockets of corrupt government officials, it was refreshing to see U.S. foreign aid getting into the hands of those who so desperately needed it.

I was disappointed, though, in your characterization of the Republican Party being in the control of "Slimeballs." Granted, there are bad actors in the Republican Party, just as there are in the Democratic Party. But to bandy about such derogatory labels (with the indirect assumption that the Democratic Party is free of such actors) was bad form. You can do better, you should do better. Calling out bad behavior is acceptable, but broad brush defamatory characterizations of a single party was hitting below the belt, something I appreciate that you rarely do.

(V) & (Z) respond: We thought carefully about that characterization before writing it, and while we are happy to share your critique with the readership, we stand by it. If you or anyone else can name, say, five Republicans who can be ranked among the 25 most important Republicans in the country right now (a mere 20%!), and who have not directly engaged in extremely undemocratic behavior, or enabled such behavior, or pointedly looked the other way while such behavior took place, then we are happy to reconsider our assessment once again. We will spot you Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), but you still need four more. Also, there are undoubtedly slimeballs in every political party, but we similarly reject the bothsidesism argument that the Democrats are equally in the thrall of such people, because it's just not so.

Politics: Boycotts

K.H. in Maryville, TN, writes: To the question from R.S. in Ticonderoga about boycotting businesses owned by people of differing political ideas... there was a little BBQ place just down the road from us; we could just about walk to it (great ribs!). We knew they were conservative, but so are the majority of businesses in our county. Then the 2020 election happened. And this little place, where we would dine (pre-pandemic) or pick up carry-out every week or two, advertised that if you came in wearing TFG apparel, you would get a 10% discount. Never set foot there again. (They also followed approximately zero COVID protocols...)

In a delicious bit of schadenfreude, a few months ago they moved "into town," into a bigger restaurant space that had been empty for a year or so. They lasted less than 2 months.

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: I would address this question myself... thought you also did a decent job of it. I speak now as a sitting member of the NC Democratic Party's State Executive Council (the same body which Gov. Roy Cooper, D-NC, leads), and as a transgender North Carolinian who suffered the indignity and injustice of HB-2.

Some may recall that eleven Democrats voted for HB-2. One, I have personally forgiven. Bobby Richardson has earned that forgiveness—not because of his self-eviscerating op-ed a month later in The Charlotte Observer, but because of his actions since that vote.

As a member of the State Executive Council, I am expected, generally, to support the candidates of the Party, or at least not support opponents of same. Nobody there actually expects me to support those Democrats still in office who voted for that horrible bill... but they do expect me to keep quiet about my lack of support, which need not really be spoken, anyway. Everyone knows well how I feel about these men... and why.

On the personal side, I do not do business with any person or organization that has openly and actively supported the injustice and persecution that has been heaped upon my community, and I never will.

It is perfectly ethical to not want to give money to people or organizations who would actively prefer you not exist! Now, my own situation with those Democratic officeholders mentioned above, is not one most would find themselves in, but I do, because of my unique position as a member of the Council. And, as I said, nobody expects me to actively support or otherwise help them... just to be quiet about my dislike for them.

As to anyone's personal finances and preferences about with whom to do business... well, those are personal choices and any choice made can be said to be "ethical." I do not think anyone should be forced to boycott or avoid doing business with anyone, nor do I think they should be compelled against their will to do business with anyone.

If the MAGAts want to boycott Bud Light over Dylan Mulvaney, then let them. I don't drink Bud Light because I think it is a crappy beverage that only technically qualifies as beer. On the other hand, if my plumber or electrician showed up with a Trump bumper sticker on their truck, I would politely ask them to leave and not do the work.

To close it off, someone once asked Michael Jordan why he does not get more involved, and he allegedly responded "Republicans buy sneakers, too." So, frankly, any small business or independent contractor who chooses to wear their politics on their sleeve get whatever is coming to them for it. Free speech is well and good, but it does not mean that it should be consequence-free.

Politics: Ranked Choice Voting

E.D. in Saddle Brook, NJ, writes: In "Ranked-Choice Voting Takes a Hit," you wrote that ranked choice voting isn't needed in the primaries. I think 2016 is evidence otherwise. The Republican field was one crazy candidate versus a lot of mediocre generic Republicans. The generics split the vote, enabling the crazy one to get a plurality. I think if the Republicans used ranked choice voting then, the crazy one would not have come anywhere near the top of the results.

R.W. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: Your view that ranked-choice voting isn't needed in primaries misses two important points. First, some primaries are hotly contested and contentious, with large fields and fringe candidates. Ranked-choice serves the same purpose there that it does in the general—you can vote your heart while knowing that you're not throwing your vote away. Perhaps more importantly, in places (like New York City) where the winner must have a majority and not just a plurality, ranked-choice eliminates the need for hugely expensive runoff elections.

J.R. in Berlin, Germany, writes: And once again, entrenched politicos drag out the "stupid voter" argument to scuttle ranked choice voting in Arlington. Did they bother to review their instructions and work with and incorporate into the ballot pamphlet? Or was this simply a way to perpetuate the disenfranchisement of the first-past-the-post system, which forces the vote for the lesser of the evils?

Ranked choice voting is the gold standard of the future. Say good-bye to the machinations of the political machines (of both parties) which force the voter to pick a favorite Menendez brother.

All Politics Is Local

J.G. in Covington, KY, writes: In "The Sharks are Circling McConnell," you mentioned (and expressed skepticism about) the rumor that Gov. Andy Beshear (D-KY) would appoint a Democrat to an empty seat, despite the recent law.

I have lived in Kentucky for more than 20 years, and I'm willing to guarantee that it would never happen. Not only would it sink his re-election campaign (as you pointed out), it would also run counter to ALL of his messaging over at least the last 4 years.

Beshear has unwaveringly stuck to the basic premise that he's just a humble Kentuckian, trying to make things better for everyone. The D or R are all but irrelevant, what matters is helping our neighbors. If you'd like to see him beat people over the head with this idea, watch any of his daily press conferences during the pandemic lockdown. That was when he really coined the term "Team Kentucky," and he's been leaning into it ever since.

Last fall, the state even began offering Team Kentucky license plates. It's the only specialty plate you can get for free.

Team Kentucky license plate

If you do watch one of his press conferences, the other thing you'll notice is his obvious earnestness. He believes we're all in this together. Whether you agree with his political positions or not, it's hard not to respect and genuinely like the man. If you've ever wondered how a Democrat could remain popular in Kentucky, there's your answer.

H.Z. in Point Pleasant, NJ, writes: I'm having a lot of trouble wrapping my head around Rep. Jim Jordan's (R-OH) "Hillbillies in Ohio..." remark in defense of Donald Trump. Perhaps at 73 years of age, the culture wars are a bit much for me to relate to. I spent all of my life here in New Jersey, home of the Pine Barrens, and when we refer to someone as a Piney, Hick or Hillbilly, it's an insult—a big insult! Just what is he trying to say about his constituents? If I'm wrong here, could you two gentleman please straighten me out? I promise, I won't be upset!

(V) & (Z) respond: Sometimes people appropriate slurs and make them into badges of honor; think "Deplorable," "Fag," "Dark Brandon," and even "Yankee Doodle." That's our best guess, particularly since Sen. J.D. Vance's (R-OH) political career was powered almost entirely by the success of his book Hillbilly Elegy.

T.B. in Leon County, FL, writes: If I were the court-appointed special master redrawing Alabama's district boundaries, I'd draw it with three majority-Black districts, and let the state legislature chew on their ass-wiped (but otherwise ignored) court order to redo their gerrymandered map.

T.G. in Daleyville, WI, writes: On Wednesday, one day after Judge Janet Protasiewicz was sworn in as a Wisconsin supreme court justice—finally tipping the court liberal—Law Forward and a coalition of anti-gerrymandering white-shoe law firms dropped a gerrymandering challenge suit directly on the State Supremes. They argue that this needs to be dealt with before the 2024 state Assembly and Senate elections and will certainly end up before the Wisconsin Supremes anyway, so there is no reason to go to a lower court first.

Gov. Tony Evers (D-WI) backs this, as obviously do the local Democrats. A dramatic change would likely happen if the insanely gerrymandered state House and Senate districts got fairly apportioned. The Assembly is now 64-35 GOP and the Senate has a 2:1 super majority for the GOP, despite the state leaning slightly Democratic. The suit asks for special Senate elections in the districts not up for election this cycle (senators serve 4-year terms), with the winner serving the remaining 2 years of the senate cycle. Pretty heady stuff!

The Red Team has had its way with us cheeseheads ever since the brutal gerrymander of 2010, and we are not happy with that, as evidenced by the number of Democrats winning statewide, non-gerrymandered, elections.

Dare I dream of a new dawn?

L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: You wrote that in North Carolina, "most likely the state will go the same way in both the presidential and gubernatorial races." This, however, would be very unusual. Consider the most recent elections:

Year Pres. Vote Gov. Vote 
2020 Rep Dem
2016 Rep Dem
2012 Rep Rep
2008 Dem Dem
2004 Rep Dem
2000 Rep Dem
1996 Rep Dem
1992 Rep Dem

As you can see, the state voted differently for president and governor in six of the last eight elections. The narrow win by Barack Obama in 2008 and Pat McCrory's win in 2012, achieved by falsely presenting himself as a moderate mayor rather than the fire-breathing conservative he proved to be as governor, were really the exceptions. If I were a betting man, I would expect the 2024 election to go the same way, with Donald Trump and Josh Stein (D) winning.

All Politics Is Local: Ballot Initiatives

P.P. in Columbus, OH, writes: Standing here in line the Franklin County, OH, Board of Elections in a 45-minute-long line to vote in this special election at 12:40 the Friday before Election Day. I'm 100% convinced the Republicans overplayed their hand here and managed to make a lot of people very angry. Will they learn from this? Probably not, but I suppose one can foolishly hope they do.

S.P. in Fort Worth, TX, writes: Indeed, it has been reported since day one in Ohio independent media that Richard Uihlein has been sponsoring and bankrolling Issue 1. And yet rural conservative cockbites like state Rep. Adam Bird (R) keep putting out ad after ad talking about keeping "California liberals from buying their way into Ohio." I get there is a certain degree of hypocrisy inherent in politics, but damn if it's not reaching weapons grade these days (high irony coming from a lawyer). Lies like these take especially big balls to do in this era when factchecking is but a Google click away. Being presumably somewhat rational actors and dialed in politically, they are probably well aware they are outright lying and don't care because they don't believe they will suffer any consequences for it. And the scary part is they're probably correct.

Essentially, Trump-style politicking has seeped down to the local level. How does one effectively govern in an environment like this?

G.R. in Tarzana, CA, writes: The comment from M.S. in Canton reminds me of my feelings when I arrived in California in 1979 from New York. The idea of ballot propositions seemed intriguing and often provided a chance to vote on interesting proposals that might be of benefit to the state. Over time the number of propositions on each year's ballot grew exponentially, along with the potential damage they could wreak on the state and its citizens. Eventually it got to a point with so many confusing and conflicting propositions on each ballot, that during my stand-up comedy days, when the election season would roll around, I would always remind the audience to vote No on Proposition Yes.

Not Necessarily the News

A.C. in Monterey, CA, writes: You wrote: "News avoidance is a result of a built-in problem. Sometimes the news is good, such as a scientist discovering a new and effective treatment for some disease, but a lot of it is inherently negative and that is turning people off."

One reason I avoid news is that almost every website I have ever looked at for news other than this one is either copy-and-pasted from press releases by an involved party, or is missing any kind of meaningful analysis, (NPR for example) or is some pipe dream or nightmare scenario about something that will never happen (e.g. The House of Representatives votes to repeal Obamacare seven zillion times). Either that, or it is simply meant to drive fundraising or build someone's e-mail list. I know this and I think a lot of people do, or at least sense it, and it's vapid and tedious. In short, a waste of time. That's why I go to, even though I sometimes disagree with the premises of the authors.

This brings me to another reason I avoid "news." A lot of it results in sounding like some kind of intellectual puzzle a writer or a news agency gives themselves: "How can we describe some event/law/phenomenon without mentioning [X] driving force?" For one example—to me, the most egregious—in almost of the news agencies you listed (NYT, WaPo, WSJ and "thousands of sites on the Internet"), the [X] issue that cannot be spoken is capitalism, or to put it a finer point on it: the imperative for companies to extract excess profit from workers and the natural world, ad infinitum, and to externalize all costs, no matter who has to suffer for it.

An example, the "burn pits" story about all the vets in Iraq who were poisoned by inhaling toxic fumes and were being charged for treatment by the VA. What was being burnt? Plenty of toxic military waste, but also just regular e-waste, computers, office furniture, anything that was broken, and could be sold again by a military contractor that was given a blank check by the U.S. Government. One simply cannot understand that story without the fact that the Iraq war was "war for profit" as Juan Gonzales put it for Democracy Now. So, if I'm constantly been deceived, distracted or hoodwinked by news agencies that make a profit by doing so, I might choose to stop reading/watching. Not because it's "depressing." The Vietnam War was nothing if not depressing, as was the racial violence and turmoil of the late sixties. But people were glued to the tube. Perhaps that was because the deception/distraction machine was far less sophisticated, or the ruling class hadn't quite caught on to how showing body bags and napalmed children would weaken their position.

Take any other issue: trade disputes with China, the drug wars in Mexico, Brexit, etc. If the news agency ignores the extractive imperative of the major actors and tries to explain the issue any other way, they are basically deceiving readers, and, worse, leaving the issue to be explained by "populists" who can say it's "the foreigners." And, voilà, you have today's Republican party.

D.H. in Pueblo, CO, writes: Over the past year and a half I moved strongly toward the "no news" category, now glancing at it about twice a week. Why? After all, the idea of being a well-informed citizen is generally accepted as good. Three problems: (1) The abysmal quality of modern news, (2) I think the idea of being well-informed and following the news has become perverted into something quite different and unhealthy and (3) I think overexposure to modern news is psychologically unhealthy.

On the abysmal quality of news: While not every point applies to every news outlet, here are some of my problems. News is engineered to maximize engagement. News aims to be emotionally gripping, frequently telling you how horrid the issue of the day is and how righteously outraged you should be, but not accomplishing anything useful. News provides shallow information. News is written such that it never truly challenges your echo chamber. Worse, it is written to make you feel like you properly challenged (and confirmed) your views while not really challenging them. Topics are presented to maximize emotional impact while utterly failing to support rationally considering the issues and addressing the topics.

On being well-informed: The point of being well-informed is to support your role as a contributing member of society, and to support self-improvement. With this in mind: If I have 20 hours to spare, is it better spent reading or serving as a poll worker? If I can spare 10 hours/week, should I support one of those real-life social/service organizations that we lament the loss of and spend time in real-life conversation with my friends and neighbors, or follow NPR/CNN/Fox and post comments on social media? Should I study the latest outrages by current and recent presidents or actually show up and help run my local city/town/village/county government? Should I spend time learning the boring poll worker rules or understanding the latest political outrage? Should I study to improve my career prospects or to understand the legal nuances of the hot-button issue of the day? Should I become good at a fulfilling hobby or do some in-depth research into whatever NPR/CNN/Fox just talked about?

My conclusion: News is only useful when it tangibly improves your life and/or contribution to society. Modern news seldom does. Especially since I think commenting on the Internet almost never counts as a useful contribution to society (Hmmm, should I bother writing this?). For example, shortly prior to voting I should inform myself about what is on the ballet well enough to vote, including the history of a candidate's behavior. But there is no need to follow every political performance for years prior to the election.

To address reading the news to take a break, and touch on the psychological health: What is your emotional state before and after checking the news? Is reading the news truly relaxing? How often does reading the news make you think "I never thought of it that way, that is an interesting viewpoint" or "I better understand the rank-and-file voters in the other party, they seem more human to me and less worthy of my hatred"? How often does the news make you think "Wow, people really can improve themselves, there are some good people out there, and I can be one of them"? Or something more mundane like "Ah, now I better understand the challenges my local government faces, it turns out the problems are hard to solve, and maybe I can help by adjusting my demands"? This isn't happening. News is not relaxing, it is enraging. It is not thought-providing and mind building, it encourages shallow thinking and short attention spans.

I think my opinion is clear: We are getting little value from the news and it is causing real harm. So your posting on no-news is, to me, good news. I want the hate-merchants and echo chambers to (figuratively) crash and burn. If we get enough people turning the trash off maybe some news organizations will start writing better news.

Lastly, avoids many of the problems with modern news and deserves credit for the substantial effort at doing something better. Excepting the off years, I followed regularly from 2004 to 2022. But I stopped last year as part of a huge reduction in news consumption. I now only give it the occasional glance. And I think this was the right choice. Expanding upon what would be good news in general, and also feedback for, would be additional letters, and I don't know if that is worth it or not.

R.M. in Pensacola, FL, writes: I wanted to add to your item regarding the loss of local newspapers. When I was in undergraduate and graduate school, from 2002 to late 2007, I worked for the Erie Times-News as a sports stringer and it was a very positive experience for me regarding not only personal, but professional development.

I started out collecting and aggregating statistics for area high school teams, as well as the local D-II and D-III teams, generally in football and basketball. This evolved into answering phones and e-mails when teams were reporting results of games and eventually putting together the agate page (often known as the scoreboard page, where standings and scores of teams and leagues would be compiled and reported). During big nights, often Friday and Saturday nights, it would not be uncommon for more than a dozen of us to be hustling to get information gathered, compiled and edited before the deadline. It was fast-paced and trying to get updates onto a page at 1:03 a.m. with a 1:05 a.m. deadline was so thrilling.

I was proud of the work that I did, the growth that I experienced and the friendships that I developed. As a team, we won numerous awards, including top newspaper in Pennsylvania from the Associated Press twice during my time there.

But the storm clouds were on the horizon. It was an open joke among all of the staff in the department about how poor the website was. We were able to take stories and box scores and upload them straight to the website... only it rarely worked! Hell, the website itself was clunky, difficult to navigate and was a boondoggle more than anything. With the benefit of hindsight, it was obvious that the family that owned the newspaper since the 1880s were treating the Internet as more of a novelty, than a threat.

When I left and moved out of the city, the newspaper was very robust, as you described. When I went back home to visit family a few weeks ago, the newspaper had two sections, mostly filled with USA Today content and 3-4 local stories that were just plugged into the holes that were to make it appear as though it was still a local newspaper.

I don't think anything would have saved the local paper that I worked so hard for two decades ago. But based on my experience, I think the newspaper industry basically ignored modern technology, and in particular, the Internet. Had the industry acknowledged the threat that it posed back in the early-mid 1990s, perhaps it could have evolved with the change in technology.

People still crave local news. They want to know what their mayor and state representative are up to. It may come down to some small, local website or a random person on Facebook that posts stories about what's going on. But newspapers had their chance, and like Sears, they ignored the threat to their business, and are generally now on the scrapheap of history.

B.C. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: As the son-in-law of a guy who was in the news and politics business, as well as being associated with printed news and editorial pursuits myself at various times in the past, I have long lamented the dying of printed newspapers. Reading seems to be much too difficult for folks these days; for a lot of shallow minds on both sides of the aisle.

I think the problem with all of the various news websites losing viewers is of a different sort. I believe people are tired of the sensationalized-headline-accompanied-by-an-obnoxious-advertisement business model. The thing I've always liked about is how a couple of educators (you know, guys who are in the business of teaching people stuff) distill the most important news of the day - from a myriad of sources - into what amounts to a bullet list of succinct information; along with maybe some snarky comments or contributions from some cute doggies. I don't remember ever having to click on one of the "here, here or here" links to understand the content, I've sometimes done it just so I could harvest the link to share with somebody else.

One of the things which really frosts my cojones about some of the major news sites is how a viewer will not notice the little icon next to the link on the site, and when the link is selected, instead of informative text appearing, a video pops up with some "newscaster" gabbing at volume 10+. This causes the guy in the red ball cap sitting across the waiting room from me to look up with a prune-faced expression which says "OMG, another LIBTARD!"

As a retiree I have to watch my expenditures very closely, and I consider my monthly contribution to via Patreon to be money well spent.

B.R.J. in San Diego, CA, writes: A line in your death-of-newspapers piece struck a chord: "it kept residents apprised of "the city council, school and hospital board meetings, the impacts of droughts and wildfires, the babies born, football games won, and residents lost."

As a lifetime resident of Southern California, for well more than half a century, I've watched the slow deterioration of local newspapers, from the local Union-Tribune (just sold again recently), to the "World Champion" Los Angeles Times, to the recently reported demise of the Santa Barbara paper. The analysis that the ad revenue losses have led the charge seems spot on—money that used to go to the aforementioned papers now flows toward the likes of Zuckerberg and Musk. The void which neither is filling—and which each seems uninterested in doing—is the journalistic integrity beat. No one is checking sources, making sure material is fit to print before it is booted up "on screen" and this goes hand-in-hand with all of the express coverage losses. Not only are we not hearing about the goings-on in our city council or school/water/sanitation/hospital district board rooms, what we do receive is superheated, hyper-partisan and largely unchecked for factual accuracy.

Local television news has similarly atrophied. It's becoming harder and harder for those who wish to stay informed to continue to do so, and the detriment to a republic dependent upon the votes of an informed citizenry is greatly imperiled by this shift. Somehow, this void in standards must be filled by some imposition of responsibility upon the platforms, or troubles will continue to increase and multiply.

M.M. in Newbury Park, CA, writes: Regarding the struggles of The Daily Bruin, they now seem to be selling advertising on the front page!

The lead story is about the opening of a new dim sum restaurant

(I don't know for a fact that this is paid advertising, but I had just read your story about the struggles of local newspapers when I saw this. I'm sure the food there is delicious, but I'm not it's "above the fold" delicious.)

D.C. in Delray Beach, FL, writes: Your piece today about the sad state of local newspapers was timely for the folks of Portland, ME, and its suburbs. The Portland Phoenix said goodbye last week, as it printed its final edition.

It was my privilege to be a public servant for many years in the Portland area. I served as a volunteer high school building committee, party official, appointed town planning board member, and elected town council member, I want to give a shout out to Marian McCue (author of the above linked editorial) for her great career in providing local coverage. We as local officials came to rely on the detailed and accurate reporting she and her staff did. I expect this situation is common around the country.

I urge the readers of to be involved with and informed about your local government. It's where most of your tax dollars go. You can help make things better for your community if you bring an open mind, a cooperative attitude, good ethics and a reliance on the truth to the tasks at hand.

Literature and Psychology

R.M.S. in Stamford, CT, writes: I have to reply to J.M. in Somerville: No, the question of whether a book is fiction or nonfiction is not determined by the intent of the author. It is determined on the basis of whether its assertions and narratives can withstand independent scrutiny, and ultimately, it is up to the owners of the book to make the decision on how it should be classified based on the results of the scrutiny. It is not up to the writer or publisher to decide this.

A famous example of a book being reclassified is the 2003 book A Million Little Pieces by James Frey. Frey claimed the book was an autobiography of his journey through addiction and rehab. It sold over 3 million copies, especially after Oprah Winfrey recommended it in 2005. However, in 2006 it was revealed that while the book was based on a true story, many of the narratives in the book were embellished or happened differently than he described. Today, about half of the libraries in Connecticut have reclassified their copy of the book in their fiction section, while the other half keep it in the autobiography section. I agree with reclassifying it because it's deceptive to readers to pretend that it is something it isn't.

When the Bible is scrutinized, I find many of the assertions in it to be unbelievable and fictional. One of the most famous Biblical narratives is the story of Noah's Ark. This story is found in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. The basics of the story are that God found the world to be full of wickedness, so he created a worldwide flood to purge the planet. However, he chose to spare Noah, his family, and examples of animals to start over. They survived on a ship that ended up atop a mountain either in far eastern Turkey or Armenia. Once the flood receded, Noah and his animals were said to have repopulated the world.

However, archaeological research has disproved this story. If the story were true, we would be finding a trail of fossils of raccoons traveling from West Asia to North America. We would have seen evidence of sloths crawling to South America. We would find evidence of hippos leaving remains traveling down to Africa. And kangaroos would have taken several generations to hop down to Australia. Nothing like this has been found. Instead, we are discovering animals existing where the principles of evolution say they should be.

T.P. in Kings Park, NY, writes: In discussing the battle between Florida's Board of Education and the College Board over material related to gender identity and sexual orientation, you wrote: "[Y[ou can't exactly pass if you haven't learned 20% of the material." I've been teaching AP psychology for 19 years, and I have to tell you that those topics do not comprise even 2% of the curriculum. I also sometimes tutor students from other districts, and some of my colleagues in the New York metro area have always avoided those topics, presumably due to squeamishness.

While I think that is a regrettable choice from a student-growth perspective, in most years there is not a single AP question on those topics. The true importance of this issue to me is not the effect on Florida students' AP scores (which will be negligible), but the fact that it utterly explodes Ron DeSantis's defense of the "Don't Say Gay" bill. He has been insisting for a year and a half that the law is intended to keep pornography out of elementary schools, but now it is being applied to remove science from college-level courses, just as its opponents said it would be.

B.C., in Walpole, ME (from aboard our boat, the Walter Scott), writes: You wrote: "Literature (lots of books have LGBTQ subtext, or outright text)..."

Oh, like "Come back to the raft ag'in, Huck Honey"?

History Matters

D.C. in Brentwood, CA, writes: You wrote: "Abraham Lincoln was a skilled played of 3-D chess, as shown when he, for example, maneuvered the South into being the aggressor in starting the Civil War. Franklin D. Roosevelt was a 3-D chessman, too, such as when he used threats of court packing to scare SCOTUS straight. Joe Biden is an occasional player, too, as when he maneuvered Republicans in Congress to stand and applaud his political agenda during his first State of the Union address."

Frankly, getting an opponent to attack on your timeline, or scaring them off with a feint, or jumping on their blunder, sounds like regular chess to me.

G.T.M. in Vancouver, BC, Canada, writes: C.D. in Guernsey mentioned Canada's first Prime Minister (Sir John A. Macdonald). Most Americans won't recognize that name, so I should point out that he stands in Canadian history like Abraham Lincoln and the Founding Fathers (combined) stand in American history (provided that you ignore the fact that he was a notoriously corrupt drunk). He was a better speaker, stewed to the eyeballs, than any current candidate for the office of President of the United States of America is stone-cold-sober. You could not buy Sir John Eh, but you could most certainly rent him and, provided you kept the rent current, he was totally reliable once rented.

T.F. in Albion, IN, writes: Describing Birch Bayh as a "conservative democrat", as this week's Freudenfreude item did, is way off the mark. Were he still here today, I'm pretty sure he would strongly disagree with that characterization.

As you note, Bayh was a leader on women's rights, but that's like saying Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a good basketball player. Bayh arguably was "the leader" of his time on women's rights in the political world. Not only did he author Title IX (and cajole a reluctant Congress and president to enact and sign it), he also authored the Equal Rights Amendment (second time around). Among many other liberal causes he backed: Bayh was an outspoken champion of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, a fierce consumer advocate, a consistent critic of the Vietnam War, supported the ascension of liberal judges to Federal courts, and twice introduced legislation to abolish the Electoral College and elect the president by direct popular vote.

These positions are scarcely hallmarks of a "conservative" democrat, certainly not in Bayh's day, much less in today's inverted political universe, where standard "New Deal" dems like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and AOC are considered socialists and communists, and FDR's "party of the people" is but a hollow, corporatized shadow of its former self. Make no mistake: Birch Bayh was an unabashed liberal and referred to FDR as his "hero."

(V) & (Z) respond: We checked his DW-NOMINATE score before we wrote that, and he was pretty low, which means pretty centrist. Often, that means liberal on one axis (social issues, in his case) and conservative on the other (economic issues).

History Matters: The Civil War

B.R. in Eatontown, NJ, writes: In regards to your response to E.D. in Saddle Brook regarding the teaching of the Lost Cause in history classes: Leaving aside that as a millennial (even as an older one), E.D. would have been less likely to be exposed to that propaganda, because by then the Lost Cause viewpoint had its run and was fading away (like the Lost Cause itself), I have to think there's another factor that needs to be considered—geography.

I'm in the older range of boomers, and I wasn't exposed to Lost Cause thinking, despite it still being (as I understand it) a recognized school of thought when I was being educated. Indeed, I, though very interested in history from a young age, wasn't even aware it was being pitched anywhere until I had already completed by college education. Once I became aware of it, I have always assumed that this was because of geography. I have lived my entire life in the North (living in the New Jersey portion of metro New York City until college and then attending college in Massachusetts, before returning to metro New York City, where I've lived every since). In other words, I grew up in the part of the country that won the Civil War. Here, there was no reason to sugarcoat why the Civil War was fought or any other part of the Confederacy. When we were taught about John C. Calhoun and those who followed advocating "states' rights," we were taught that the rights at issue were first and foremost the right to continue slavery, and that anything that even remotely threatened that was unacceptable.

I would image that Lost Cause thinking was much more predominant in the states that formed the Confederacy as well as those that were sympathetic to that side. And I'd imagine that my contemporaries in age who attended school in those parts of the country got a much heavier dose of Lost Cause in their educations that we in the North did.

While I understand that E.D. might not have been from Saddle Brook or even New Jersey as a youth, I do have to wonder if this is also part of why E.D. was never exposed to the Lost Cause.

L.V.A. in Idaho Falls, ID, writes: A colleague of mine, "Chris," once had an "argument" with a Lost Cause proponent at work:

Chris: "The Civil War" was about slavery."
Lost Cause Proponent: "No! The Civil War was about states rights!"
Chris: "Slavery!"
LCP: "States Rights!"
Chris: "Slavery!"
LCP: "States Rights!"
Chris: "You're right! States rights to own slaves!"
LCP: *Silence*

I found the exchange... amusing.

M.B. in San Antonio, TX, writes: P.V. in Kailua writes: "...the hereditary enslavement of Black people in the U.S. was uniquely awful when compared to the practice of slavery in other times and places."

I'm not sure American slavery was "uniquely awful." It was terrible everywhere, but some places were hell-adjacent in their horror. In particular, the Caribbean (whether English, Spanish, French or Dutch), which concentrated on the cultivation of sugarcane and the production of sugar and molasses, was a singular hell-on-earth for enslaved people. (The U.S. also had some sugar mills in Florida and Louisiana, but sugar was far less prominent that cotton and tobacco.) Conditions were truly horrific in these sugar mills, as documented in Richard Follett's The Sugar Masters: Planters and Slaves in Louisiana's Cane World, 1820-1860. The average lifespan of a sugar mill worker was 7 years. One telling statistic was that in the American South, 400,000 enslaved persons were imported, and at emancipation they numbered about 4 million. By contrast, the English Caribbean alone imported over 2 million enslaved persons, and at emancipation there were only 670,000. Being an enslaved person in the American South was no picnic, but being an enslaved person in the Caribbean sugar mills was for all practical purposes a death sentence.

G.M. in Vista, CA, writes: You wrote: "[Battle Cry of Freedom] is a great book, and the Pulitzer it won was well-deserved. It's on the hefty side (909 pages), and having been written more than 30 years ago, it's not completely up-to-date on the scholarship, particularly stuff related to postwar battles over memory."

What does this mean? BCOF ends with the end of the war, with subsequent history to be covered by other volumes by other historians. Is there anything in BCOF regarding the war and its leadup that has become outdated?

Also, the book may be long, but it is eminently readable, and I have done so many times.

(V) & (Z) respond: If McPherson wrote the book today, it is inconceivable that he would not include at least a chapter on postwar battles over the meaning of the war. It would be like writing a book about World War I and not including Versailles.

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: As chair, I took my department to the American Historical Association meeting in NYC in what my heart tells me was 5 years ago but was apparently 10. There was a session that year on McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom, which my heart tells me was celebrating its 25th year of publication but was apparently its 20th. Maybe you were there. Maybe we were in the same room that day.

At the session, various historians were supposed to critique the work—where it fell short and such—but no one really did. The speakers offered, at best, hero-worship and tepid criticism. I'm sure I would have done the same. Clearly, everyone liked the guy, no one really wanted to criticize him publicly, and they thought the work, whatever its limitations, was still standing up and still an impressive accomplishment. It was a warm audience.

The most trenchant criticism actually came from McPherson himself, and most of that, as I remember, concerned topics that he felt that he had overemphasized or underemphasized, topics that he might deal with differently now that two decades had passed and a great deal more scholarship produced. So his contribution was most useful as a how-the-field-has-changed-in-the-last-two-decades account.

M.A. in Pea Ridge, IL, writes: Regarding the Gallagher and Waugh book, should you be linking to the updated version? It's from 2019. Or do you like the 2016 version better?

(V) & (Z) respond: Actually, the third edition comes out this year, though any of them is fine. We just couldn't find the Amazon link to any other than the original.

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: When I was a young man, HBO was in its infancy. Back before they started producing quality hit dramas, they showed a lot of filler stuff between hit movies. One item that they produced, which will always have a dear spot in my heart, was a TV adaptation of the play Greater Tuna, about the third smallest town in Texas. The radio station's call letters are OKKK and the hottest civic group in Tuna, TX, is the "Smut Snatchers of the New Order." Their mission is to rid the dictionary of questionable words and there's quite the schism going on about the word "snatch!"

The play is both an affectionate look at Southern small-town life and a slice-and-dice biting parody of the same. What makes it extra special is that all the parts, male and female, are played by two of the play's writers, Joe Sears and Jaston Williams, which would now make them personae non gratis in most of the South nowdays. The HBO special, which was produced by Norman Lear, was only shown for 3 months. What made the HBO special extra special is due to film editing, the two men, Sears and Williams, could play multiple characters in the same scene whereas in the play the laws of space and time kept it down to two. Nowadays, multigenerational bootleg VCR tapes (meaning they're really, really blurry) will sell on eBay for over a $100. It's that good. Or as I like to say, it's a spot-on depiction of my relatives!

There are so many great scenes and great lines, that I find them peppering in a lot of my writings, even though I know the allusions probably passed most people by. Today, I was reminded of one line from a scene in the show. Pearl Burras and her friend Vera Carp, resplendent in cat's-eye glasses, are at the town's only funeral parlor to pay respects to the recently deceased town judge. While they are talking, a crash is heard off-camera and both ladies look up. Vera narrows her eyes and yells, "Virgil, that's to write your name in, not to draw in! Quit. It. Now." Pearl then says, "Vera, that boy... he ain't right." Vera then says in a sing song voice, "Glass houses."

When I read this week's Q&A, and in particular, "They would say: California Uber Alles! Wait. Wrong Dead Kennedys..." all I could do was shake my head and say, "You boys... you ain't right." Of course, your only possible response is "Glass houses." I originally planned to write just that to you but realized you would probably think I had dropped a cog or two. So I gussied it up a bit to "Make it look good!"

Speaking of a bootleg HBO special, here it is in its entirety.

J.M. in Moore, OK, writes: Regarding the question from M.G. in Boulder about increasing their donation, I'd like to offer my experience in case it seems useful to you to pass along. After all, while I really appreciate Patreon, their user interface leaves me baffled sometimes. Here's how I was able to increase my monthly contribution (based on the link you referenced, I'm not sure this would work to decrease the amount):

I read the "How to increase your payment amount" section of the page you linked to after doing these steps, and the descriptions are pretty close to what I experienced.

(V) & (Z) respond: Thanks for picking up the ball we dropped!

K.B. in Manhattan, NY, writes: Thank you to your contribution to our city:

A bus stop in New York City has an electronic sign honoring the anniversary of the John Peter Zenger trial

(V) & (Z) respond: We try to be modest, but in this case we must humbly accept full credit.

A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: You wrote: "We hope these numbers stick because having the majority be at 1,234 makes it easier for us to remember (it's also the combination on our luggage.)"

Is it also the pin number on your bank card? Inquiring minds want to know!

(V) & (Z) respond: Actually it is. How did you know?


M.A.A. in New York City, NY, writes: I'm 40 on the dot, so not exactly a kiddo anymore. Sort of bridging the gap in my personal opinion. And I agree that much of Taylor Swift's work is admittedly-catchy-albeit-mostly-adolescent pop. But her album Folklore breaks the mold. It's mature, beautifully woven, tells a great story, and contains a number of really excellent songs.

To that note, her song "Seven" is one of the more beautiful songs I've heard in the past few years. It's sophisticated, sweet, and just plain ineffably lovely—though obviously such things are subjective.

If you want to give it a listen, click right here.

Anyway! Keep on keepin' on, y'all still kick a whole lot of butt.

R.V. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: I know, as a middle-aged male, I'm supposed to say the Beatles and the Rolling Stones are the end all be all of music, and there's no close second. But I just don't like classic rock... I can't think of one Beatles song I like, and only one from the Rolling Stones, "Paint It Black."

I guess growing up in the MTV generation, I just prefer pop music. Give me Taylor Swift, Avril Lavigne, U2, and the 80's band "The Fixx" any day over classic rock. My favorite song is "Saved by Zero," by the aforementioned Fixx.

Hey (Z), Taylor Swift is coming to Los Angeles for six shows. I think it would be an excellent character-builder for you to go attend multiple shows of hers. Go to a couple of shows, and if after that you don't like her music, then you can at least say you tried. I bet you would like a couple of the Eras.

(V) & (Z) respond: Our descriptor should not be interpreted as a negative review.

P.S. in Gloucester, MA, writes: This morning I at first misread the headline "Alito: COTUS Can't Regulate SCOTUS" as "Also: SCOTUS Can't Regulate Coitus." While I sure hope they can't, I may need to be more caffeinated when I read in the morning. And Justice Alito needs to reread the Constitution, paying special attention to all the words in Article III, Section 1. Better attention than he and the others in the majority that decided Heller paid to the first half of the Second Amendment.

Final Words

T.B. in Santa Clara, CA, writes: The Mars Insight's last tweet was adorable and heartbreaking: "My power's really low, so this may be the last image I can send. Don't worry about me, though: My time here has been both productive and serene. If I can keep talking to my mission team, I will—but I'll be signing off here soon. Thanks for staying with me."

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