Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Sunday Mailbag

Make sure to read to the end; there's some pretty good gallimaufry this week, we'd say.

The 2024 Elections

M.P. in Leasburg, MO, writes: After evaluating "State of the Senate Fundraising," I was stymied! I cannot, for the life of me, understand how this much money gets thrown around, particularly on media ads. Adding up the column in the chart equates to over $225 million—a quarter of billion dollars, and for what? To talk about all the problems that our country faces and to chastise their opponents for what is not being done in ad campaigns that are of no value after the fact? Nothing productive ever comes from this. And this is just the end of the second quarter; the gain is exponential. Clearly, there seems to be no tangible return on investment for the people or the country. It's like maxing out your credit card to exclusively purchase food for consumption. The only return on investment is excrement. So by default—either way—the money is figuratively and literally just being flushed down the toilet! Truly disheartening to see that much money being used in such an unproductive way.

B.C. in Farmingville, NY, writes: In response to R.P. in Northfield, both parties' frontrunner candidates for 2024 seem have a hard ceiling of 43% approval. That may be even a little high at times. No Democrats I know actually like Biden, and I know plenty of Republicans who despised Trump, but both groups voted for their respective candidate in 2020.

F.S. in Cologne, Germany, writes: In my opinion, Joe Biden hasn't achieved all that much. I mean, he had a Democratic congress in his first 2 years as president. Did he raise the minimum wage, did he strengthen unions, did he reduce income inequality, did he implement criminal justice reform and strengthen voting rights, did he implement paid sick leave during his first 2 years as president? I don't think so. So, all in all, life for most Americans doesn't seem to be better now than in 2019 (it's probably better than in 2020, when life was dominated by COVID, but that time is over all around the world). This could explain his low approval numbers. So I guess it's likely that many Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents will stay home on November 5, 2024.

P.L. in Denver, CO, writes: I am a lifelong Democrat. So, it goes without saying that I am NOT on the MAGA train. I heard some encouraging information recently. I have two couples that live by me that are Republicans. I would not describe either of them as MAGA people—they are more "traditional" Republicans.

Both of them have told me in casual conversations that they voted for Trump and that they regretted it. Further, they felt Joe Biden was a good man and he was overall doing a good job and they planned on voting for him.

While this is anecdotal, I found it encouraging.

S.C. in Lincolnton, NC, writes: Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) rigidly staying on message while being grilled by Jake Tapper instead of showing us DeSantis v2.0 reminds me of people's failure to understand Moltke's maxim: "No operational plan ever survived contact with the enemy's main force." For all of his so-called smarts, DeSantis just proved to everybody watching that he's not ready for prime time. My guess is he won't be in 2028, either. Meanwhile, Trump is laughing his way to the nomination, indictments and all.

R.V. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: Not only does No Labels have no real platform, they have absolutely zero plan to get to the needed 270 EVs to win a presidential election. And even if they had money to burn, Michael Bloomberg's 2020 presidential run showed that while money may be able to buy you love, it won't buy you the 2,375 delegates or so needed to secure the Democratic nomination for president. For all of Bloomberg's billions, he was only able to win American Samoa, a place that doesn't even vote in the general election.

Ross Perot did mount a rather successful third-party run in 1992. But despite getting around 20 million votes in that year's general election, he did not win one state or one EV. It is going to be really, really difficult, if not impossible, for a third party to win a presidential election or even to be seriously competitive.

No Labels may be nice people who really do want moderation in politics, but they have no real plan, money, or infrastructure to win a general election. Unfortunately, they are just attention whores and political spoilers.

S.P. in Montgomery Village, MD, writes: I'm a big fan of any organization that claims something is their highest priority while listing it 8th on their list of priorities:

#8: Public safety is the highest priority. We need to fix the criminal justice system so career criminals can't keep committing crimes.
Politics: Student Loans

G.G. in Shreveport, LA, writes: C.P. in Fairport asked "I don't understand the rationale behind forgiving student loan debt—why has the Biden administration chosen this kind of debt to forgive, presumably with conditions, vs. other debts like credit card debt and mortgage debt?"

Your response listed several good reasons as to why Biden has zeroed in on relieving student debt. Among the reasons you missed is that Biden may well, and damn well should, have a very guilty conscience regarding this issue. The reason I say this is that in 2005, then-Senator Biden was a crucial supporter of a Republican bill that severely penalized student loan debtors. The awkwardly, judgmentally, and deceptively named Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCPA) of 2005, signed into law by George W. Bush, amended the Bankruptcy Code to make it almost impossible to discharge student loan debt in bankruptcy.

Before BAPCPA, student loan debts were treated in bankruptcy like other unsecured debts such as credit cards. I can find no principled reason to distinguish between these types of debts. But the greed-heads in the private student loan industry wanted special treatment, and Biden, while receiving almost $500,000 in campaign contributions during the 2003-2008 election cycle from persons in the so-called financial services industry, gave them that special treatment by becoming the leader of only 18 Democratic senators who voted for the Republican bill. In the competition for the lowest point in his career, Biden's role in this smothering of millions of students ranks right down there with his abuse of Anita Hill. Hopefully, Biden realizes that in a very real sense he owes these former students. (Full disclosure: I voted for Biden, will do so again, and am wildly supportive of most of his acts as President.)

L.A. in Huntington Beach, CA, writes: In you response to C.P. in Fairport, you missed a significant reason. Since Congress, in an outrageous gift to the finance industry made student loans immune to bankruptcy, executive forgiveness is the only hope for those unable to pay their debt. It is a blunt tool benefiting those who can repay as well as those who can't, but until Congress removes this ridiculous exception, it is all there is.

A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: Although the student debt forgiveness represents a very large chunk of change. I think the more egregious issue is the debt forgiveness (not to mention the fraud) involved in the various government COVID emergency-relief programs (Cares Act or PPP, to name a couple). How much money did Rep. "George Santos" (R-NY) score?

Yes, I had student debt, and so did my wife, and we paid those off years ago; it took a while, but we did it. Now, my children and grandchildren are struggling under the load.

Politics: Anti-Trans Republicans

S.B. in New Castle, DE, writes: Where does it end?! I just finished reading "Republicans are Now Going After Gender Transition for Adults," and I'm pissed. Again. Again, for the Nth time. You two have done a wonderful job providing a discussion forum for transgender issues. I appreciate that. Thank you. Thank you for a place of open debate. A place for the pen to work more mightily than the sword.

I love writing. I love words. But, I am beyond words now. I'm sick and tired of a small, fanatical bloc of people alleging to defend our country's individual freedoms while at the same time overtly seeking to destroy the lives of others. It's not just transgeder rights. It's voting rights, gay rights, women's health rights, children-safe-at-school rights, literature-reading rights, justice-is-blind rights, and pretty much how-dare-you-be-different-than-me rights!

You've graciously published many of my comments on your site. Thank you. I wish I had something more constructive to say, but what's left to be said? I've advocated in-person and online for trans/human rights, I've voted to support broad freedoms, I've been an influencer in my circle of life, I've preached spiritual peace many times. But right now, as I write this, my emotions are speaking louder than my words. And before my calmer spirit takes over, what I want to tell all the neo-fascist, "America: love it or leave it," big f-ing, MAGA-sized, compensating for small "hands," TRUMP picture/slogan/flag people is F.U.!

I don't believe in hell, but if I'm wrong, I hope you exist in it as exactly the person you're most afraid of.

Politics: Artificial Intelligence

C.A. in Atlanta, GA, writes: I was one of the people who got 100% on the real vs. AI-generated image quiz (I work in an AI-related field and have photography as a side hobby). In the future, spotting AI-generated images may become just another modern survival skill—just like recognizing Photoshopped images now—so I wanted to send a few tips in case you are ever in doubt:

  1. Zoom in on anything with fine details. Look for any obvious defects with strands of hair, whiskers, teeth/gums, eyes (particularly pupils and irises), jewelry, leaves/grass, etc.

  2. The AI image generators don't have any logic built in, so focus on items that require some mental model of the world (e.g., apples/oranges should only have one stem each; humans have five fingers; many man-made objects have right angles). Shadows should all be going in the same direction when there is one light source. Window reflections should reflect the surrounding environment.

  3. Look for repeating patterns, which are likely to be inconsistent in an AI image (e.g., the weave of the basket, the hair net of the doctor, architectural features on buildings).

It's true that AI models are improving all the time, but none of them so far contain logic or a mental model of the world, so points #2 and #3 above will hold up for the foreseeable future. (Once an AI has a true "understanding" of the world we've basically reached the singularity, so we'll have bigger things to worry about.)

Also, it's true that someone could use Photoshop to fix all the details that look off, but often that process can be just as time consuming as Photoshopping existing real images, which people have been able to do for many years now (and I would argue that society has already adjusted to it). I predict troll farms will use AI to pump out big batches of images and cherrypick the decent ones without further edits.

I also noticed that the real images people incorrectly marked as AI-generated were those that were either shot in a studio, had a lot of artificial lighting, were heavily edited, and/or photo composites (like the real estate photo). People are right to be skeptical about the reality of the photo in these cases, so whether or not a particular AI model was used seems besides the point.

J.O. in Las Vegas, NV, writes: I thoroughly enjoyed taking the AI quiz. Having some experience with generating AI images as well as having watched an artist live-stream the process, I would like to point out some tells for AI images. Check out the hands. AI, like actual artists, struggles to get hands right. It will often have odd angles to the subject's digits, or they will be on backwards, or reversed left to right. There could be extra digits or detached digits. I believe one photo in the quiz had one such detached digit.

Sometimes AI also struggles with the eyes. Subjects could be abnormally cross-eyed or have different sized eyes. Also look for odd asymmetry in the subject. I believe one of the images had a subject missing a clavicle. Sometimes AI duplicates body parts. I did not observe that in any images, but it is a common error.

Look for things that don't make sense. One image had a road that ended in a raised bridge-like structure which didn't have a reason for being there. Also look for things that don't belong or don't seem like they naturally fit in.

Having said all that, AI is improving all the time. These flaws exist today, but many of them may be addressed by the time the 2024 rolls around. If people struggled with this quiz as it exists now, they might not stand a chance during the 2024 electoral cycle. Also, people generally have the AI produce dozens of images until they get ones that are passable. If 99 of the images are obvious fakes, they'll go with the one that looks real. All it takes is time, money, and the willingness to lie; something I'm sure some campaigns will have in spades. Good luck, everyone.

Q.F. in Boulder, CO, writes: You wrote: "The image is not scarfed from the Internet, but actually generated by the program."

I have over 40 years doing computer special effects for film, television and games. I have a strong background in tech and art. And like so many of us in these fields, I am also a fine artist.

The program is NOT generating a picture all on its own. Every image is made using a database of stolen copyrighted artwork from artists like me. To put it in a very simplified description, that database is then used to train the algorithm which recreates an image from our existing images. Without our stolen artwork, without that database, no AI program can create anything. How do you think a program can create an image "like Adam Hughes"? It has to have his artwork in that database. It's theft, and we need to be aware of what these art programs are and are not. They generate nothing without using copyrighted artwork.

And what's the difference between an artist going to a museum and getting inspiration, and a program using stolen artwork to do the same? The act of inspiration is a sentient one. This is a subject that is very important to present accurately. We need laws to protect and remove our copyrighted artwork from those databases.

F.S. in New York City, NY, writes: I disagree with your AI-generated content comments. I have found it's quite possible for AI to write content that isn't flat or lifeless. It just depends on what you ask. As an example, I asked ChatGPT to write a joke about Trump's hair stylist and makeup artist going to jail together. ChatGPT wrote thie joke below immediately and it made me laugh!

Why did Donald Trump's hairstylist and makeup artist end up in jail together?

Because they were charged with "conspiring to groom and style the most notorious comb-over in history!"
Politics: Zoomers

J.E. in Gilbertsville, PA, writes: Your piece this week "2024 Will Not Be a Rerun of 2016" really struck home. I am a parent to three Zoomers, all of whom are now old enough to vote, as are their friends, and hoo boy have I noticed exactly what you are saying. These Zoomers are fascinating. They are very politically-dialed in. And they are passionate haters, especially of the Republican Party! As an example, my straight white Christian son and his straight white Christian male friends want to burn the straight white Christian governing class to the ground. I am not exaggerating. They are all for a salted earth approach. (My son even once said he was OK with the entire government collapsing. "Maybe then we can build something better," he said.)

You were also spot-on when you said Zoomers are open to third-party candidates. The Zoomers around here hate both parties and talk a lot about voting third party even if it means the Democrats lose. They like the Democratic Party more than the Republican Party (they see that party very clearly; this generation may be lost forever to the Rs), but that doesn't mean they like the Democrats much more. They want the Democrats to fight back a heckuva lot harder on abortion, women's issues, equality, anti-racism, gun control, and financial opportunity issues, and they are fed up that they aren't. I think that Zoomers may end up creating within the Democratic Party something semi-analagous to the Freedom Caucus—meaning, bomb-throwers who don't compromise. However, the Zoomer Caucus won't just be about posturing. They are going to want to get things done.

L.S.-H. in Naarden, The Netherlands, writes: Recently, my husband and I attended a family dinner out, as did our three children; one born at the tail end of the Millennial period and two who are squarely Gen Z-ers. Four out of our family of five have U.S. passports, so it seems that every time we get together as a family the talk soon turns to U.S. politics. Your post about what Zoomers are looking for in a politician reminded me of our conversation.

My daughter kicked it off by asking when we need to vote next. (Don't get me started on voting from abroad; in 2020, our four absentee ballots were returned by the Dutch postal service @?*! so I had to repackage them. I ended up taking them with me—harvesting, anyone?—on an already planned trip to New York City, where I posted them by mail. We four all vote in the State of New York, since that is where I last lived before moving abroad. New York has very lenient rules for allowing children of registered voters to also register, even though these children have never lived in the U.S. Never mind that our four Democratic votes end up on the huge N.Y. Democratic pile and don't actually make a difference in Federal elections, but I digress.)

During our family dinner, my daughter and her (Dutch) boyfriend expressed dismay that Biden is running for a second term. (Never mind that the 2024 cycle is well underway!) The boyfriend especially seemed concerned that it's obvious Biden is suffering and would rather not run: Have I seen him talk and walk recently, and isn't there anyone else who could run instead? My daughter asked about Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) running for president. I tried to explain that: (1) Biden is the right person at the right time; (2) Very rarely does a President give up the power of incumbency and (3) The country is not ready for a candidate like AOC (with a district that is D+ a zillion) to become President—just wait about 40 years. Never mind the first gay President. Needless to say, they didn't seem satisfied with such answers.

There was also (semi-related) talk about famous people who were involved with Jeffrey Epstein, including Bill Clinton. These types of situations/decisions are very black and white for young voters and are a definite turnoff. The fact that Clinton could be both a "friend" of Epstein as well as a successful President doesn't seem to register with Zoomers. The nuances and the many gray areas of politics seem to elude them.

Politics: "Education" in Florida

M.S. in Canton, NY, writes: Your questions and answers on the new Florida standards for teaching Black history helped me to realize just how cynically vacuous is their claim that "slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit." Everyone who survives infancy, no matter what circumstances they were born into, learns some collection of skills that can be "applied for their personal benefit." So, at one level, the standard says nothing at all, which makes it hard to refute. However, the vile unstated implication is that if these people had not been enslaved, they never would have developed valuable life skills. This is just one more variation of a racist trope that has been around for centuries.

K.S. in Irvine, CA, writes: I came across this button in a high school in NC. You and some E-V readers might appreciate it:

It says: 'Those who can, Teach. Those
who can't, make laws about teaching.

Politics: The Woke Police

J.S. in Rockville, MD, writes: In your discussion about the controversy surrounding Jason Aldean and his newest song, you correctly put him in the running for Worlds Biggest Poseur, but it's hard to believe you didn't note that he is also the poster child for "all hat, no cattle," a phrase you've used a time or two.

(V) & (Z) respond: Can't believe we missed that opportunity.

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: After reading about the Jason Aldean song, "Try That in a Small Town," I looked at the lyrics to see what the fuss was about. For the record, I have lived in cities, including Nashville, and yes, I pick guitar and play my share of country music, most of it pre-mid-1970s, a lot of it pre-1945. I've also lived in some small towns, including a village of three hundred, and my current location.

The song doesn't have much content. You've got the title, and not much more to flesh it out. It's kind of a vague celebration of vigilante/mob rule/KKK-style enforcement. It threatens people who are different or foreign (= 50 miles away?). It stands opposed to city ways, which are rude and violent, but while threatening violence. The song is filled with macho He-Man Club posturing.

Beyond that, it shares a great deal with everyday right-wing tripe: The author is not in touch with reality. Cities: Where people stomp on and burn the American flag all the time. If Clinton/Gore/Kerry/Obama/Biden is elected, HE'LL TAKE AWAY YOUR GUNS. In cities, if you walk down the street, somebody will sock you in the face; happens all the time.

I mean, this guy has been to Nashville: Can he ever name one time that he witnessed any of these things ever happening? My sisters and I have all lived in Nashville for various lengths of time and we never saw a flag defaced, much less burned. And someone should explain to Aldean what a "sundown town" was.

My point is that the song, and whoever likes it, is out of touch with reality. Reality is much more complex, unexpected, and interesting. Here are two stories:

Some decades ago, I took a train from probably Philadelphia (where I never witnessed what Aldean sees as characterizing cities—a carjacking, street violence, or a flag burning) into New York City (ditto). Somewhere across New Jersey, when the conductor came to punch my ticket, he discovered I had boarded the wrong train. I didn't know what to do. But the train car was full of New Yorkers. Real New Yorkers. Hard-core New York City people. They rallied. One worked out the ticket problem with the conductor. One asked where I was trying to get to in NYC and formed a committee to give me directions. Another group wrote directions to other things I'd certainly want to see or do after my main destination in the City. Others gave me moral support. You may not have heard a lot about New York/New Jersey hospitality, but I've experienced it. Those city folks were what Aldean calls "raised up right." They had too much pride in Their Fair City to let a Memphis boy's visit go badly.

These days I live in a rural area. The USPS does not deliver to my street. I have not been able to get fiberoptic cable and instead get my Internet, TV, and phone via satellite. The electrical grid is so likely to go down, no one would attempt to live here without a generator. A couple of years back, at the local post office, a truck that I recognized pulled in. On the back, there is a prominent bumper sticker that reads, "GOD BLESS OUR TROOPS." Underneath that, in smaller print, the sticker says "Especially the Snipers." The owner, who spent 20 years as a U.S. Marine, got out, walked around his truck to where I was about to get into my car, and stepped in front of me, shoulder to shoulder, closer than we normally get to people we don't really know. Now, I am certain that if we could have sat down together, person to person, citizen to citizen, and talked politics, we would quickly figure out that we disagree on nearly everything. But he confronted me, looked me straight in the eye, and pulled out a large paper bag. He said, "I don't know if you heard, but my dog died. I had these treats left over, and thought your dog might like them." We talked about our dogs. Suddenly, we were standing there together in the parking lot crying like two 5-year-old girls.

(Epilogue: I had a great time in NYC; everyone was swell to me. The ex-Marine, deep in grief, finally broke down and got another dog, a rescue who is absolutely devoted to him. At our little post office, if you're a Mainah, the postmistress will talk full-on Mainah to you; if you're "from away" like me, she'll talk in generic American English.)

L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: Ron DeSantis's comment that Anheiser-Busch may have "breached legal duties owed to its shareholders." by using a trans spokesperson would be hilarious if it weren't so sad. A study by McKenzie has found that "Companies in the top quartile for racial and ethnic diversity are 35 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians." Yet DeSantis has proposed laws that would make it illegal for companies operating in Florida to have diversity and inclusion programs. So he is trying to force companies to breach their legal duties to their shareholders. The hypocrisy of the man surpasses understanding.

J.C. in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, writes: Republicans aren't the only ones that are kvetching about the 9-dash line. The Filipino government almost banned Barbie over it—not because of a supposed Communist government, but because the territorial games and brinksmanship in Filipino waters against Filipino ships are a very real threat. Luckily, cooler heads prevailed when they looked at the movie and they realized it's just a child's map and is 8 dashes at that. But it's just to say that there are others concerned over these same real political issues. And now perhaps now we can start to address the real problems with a movie built around an anti-feminist doll that has given generations of young girls an unrealistic body image.

R.R. in Mesa, AZ, writes: No comment on the line indicating Canada's claim of Greenland?

(V) & (Z) respond: Shhhhh. You'll blow Barbie's cover.

K.C. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: You noted on Friday that Ted Cruz (R-Toy Hatred) "has a particularly long and loud history of railing against fictional children's characters." I'm sure he is grateful to you for reminding us about the utter contemptibility of Big Bird, Elmo, Mickey Mouse, Pluto, and much of the cast of Toy Story. However, I suspect he is horrified that you failed even to mention that heinous character beloved by children the world over, the Green M&M. After all, none of the others, as reprehensible as they are, were responsible for bringing on the apocalypse.

All Politics Is Local

M.B. in Cleveland, OH, writes: In response to "Two More Senate Races Just Got Messier":

On Bernie Moreno (R), you are correct. He is a nut-case of the Trumpian variety, and completely unqualified. But that is certainly not disqualifying in Ohio, as we saw in 2022. It might be an asset.

State Sen. Matt Dolan (R), on the other hand, is an actual, thoughtful, sane conservative, who seems to truly believe in the "compassionate conservatism" that the Republican party supported a generation ago. As chair of the Ohio Senate Finance Committee, he championed and passed Fair Schools Funding, which brought equity to school funding, especially in urban areas with declining property tax bases. The state's system of school funding had been repeatedly found to violate the state constitution since 1997, but the legislature ignored it until Dolan made it a priority in 2021. Not flashy, not sexy, but important for all of Ohio's kids, not just Dolan's suburban constituency. (He has since backpedaled on updating the funding numbers to use 2022 as a baseline rather than 2018, because of the cost, but hey—nobody's perfect.)

And you are right that Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) is in somewhat of a pickle. As Secretary, he has to actually do his job rather than just bloviate the way that a used car salesman or state senator can. He will have to certify the petition signatures for the reproductive rights amendment—an absolutely no-win situation. Either he will have to put the amendment on the November ballot or he will have to disqualify nearly 300,000 signatures (more than 40% of those submitted). Either choice could be fatal to him, either in the primary or the general election. Ohio Republicans don't seem to understand the limits of state officials' powers. In March, Dave Yost (R), the state AG, caught a lot of blowback for certifying the ballot language for the petition drive—he had to actually explain that he can't simply say "No, you can't gather signatures" just because he disagrees with the proposal.

K.R. in Austin, TX, writes: When discussing racism in Alabama, I like to remind people that is was only in the year 2000 that they repealed their anti-miscegenation laws. Not only that, but 40.5% of voters preferred to keep the laws and 25 out of 67 counties voted to keep the laws.

Given that vote was just 23 years ago, the extent to which blatant racism affects Alabama politics isn't too surprising.

International Politics

D.M. in Berlin, Germany, writes: You described Vladimir Putin as "a Godless Communist" and expressed some puzzlement over why Republicans support him. You've been saying similar things for years, to my great puzzlement.

The collapse of the Soviet Union was the collapse of communism throughout the Soviet sphere of influence. Russia has not been communist, in name or otherwise, since 1991.

Putin also hasn't claimed to be a communist since then. Quite the opposite: He has consistently claimed to be a bulwark of conservative values, to the great delight of Republicans. Early in his first term, which began in 1999, he made a big show of getting baptized (though it took him a few more years to learn which way around to make the sign of the cross: the Orthodox way is right-to-left), and of having cathedrals rebuilt (with lots of gold) that the Soviets had destroyed or repurposed. More recently he's been making violent homophobia into law and boosting Russian patriotism, nationalism, ultranationalism and ultraultranationalism. Sexism, too; policy-wise Russia is more sexist now than the Soviet Union in World War II. When Putin called the collapse of the Soviet Union "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century", he expressed his view that the Soviet Union was simply the Second Russian Empire and that the red paint on it was, in the end, irrelevant.

There isn't any reason to think that Putin is a communist in secret, either. I've encountered the argument that he was in the KGB, so he had to be a true believer. In reality, Marxism-Leninism is the kind of belief system that provides exactly one correct answer for every conceivable and a large number of inconceivable questions. Learn them all by heart, regurgitate them on demand, and nobody can tell you from a true believer. Merging the mafia and the state isn't a communist act either, and neither are Putin's palace complexes and the private railroad between them, all of which cost orders of magnitude more than his salary. (The biggest complex yet known, near Gelenjik above the Black Sea, was—like Erdoğan's—illegally built in a nature reserve. In communist terms that's "the people's property" he's claimed for himself.) No, Putin laments the First and the Second Russian Empires, and now he wants a Third. I'm writing this in a place that has some experience with Third Empires.

In the same item you wrote: "[Tucker] Carlson is not stupid." Sure, compared to the DFEOTUS*, Carlson is an extremely stable genius; but so is practically everybody else. A while ago, Carlson said you can't have a stable, successful country that isn't ethnically homogeneous. He was in Switzerland when he said that, and he said it as part of giving an interview to a Swiss newsmagazine. I can't find any explanation for this other than stupidity in the strictest sense: He could have thought it through, but he didn't.

* - Disgruntled Former Employee of the United States

O.R. in Milan, Italy, writes: S.P. in Harrisburg "agree(s) with Justice Gorsuch" in that they would have liked to be given "the possibility of debate" before deciding if the COVID measures would be acceptable to them.

I wish I could beam S.P. back to Bergamo, Italy, at the outbreak of COVID in March 2020, when a shocking number of people died in a matter of days, in agony, drowning in their own lung fluids, alone, without hope or assistance, and long lines of army trucks had to ferry the dead bodies away to other parts of Italy because Bergamo had run out of space to store them, let alone bury or cremate them. In Bergamo, then, S.P. may not have gotten "the possibility of debate" either, because the Grim Reaper would not debate.

For my part, I still thank Italian authorities for implementing a strict protocol with masking, limits on gatherings, mandatory vaccination, and the closing of non-essential businesses. In the process I have lost a long-time friend, not to COVID but to the anti-vaxxers—I suspect some strain of the virus also affects the brain.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: Nearly choked on my PG Tips this morning when I read A.B.'s in Lichfield's phrase "since the formation of the modern Conservative Party by Robert Peel in 1834." Delightfully British when 1834 = "modern." So, do today's Tories pine for Benjamin Disraeli's fantasy of Medieval England, when those commoner slobs knew their place and a good portion of them were still serfs (as opposed to Freemen), to be guided and cared for by their betters? Or do they just pine for Disraeli?

Forgive me for sounding so confrontational—it's all tongue in cheek, of course, and what else can you expect from an uncouth, upstart colonial?

D.B.G. in Minneapolis, MN, writes: Just wanted to say "gracias" and "merci" for continuing to provide similar coverage of electoral politics in countries not named U.S.A., especially those of Canada, the U.K., Ireland, and the rest of Europe.

History Matters

H.R. in Jamaica Plain, MA, writes: I was a 19-year-old college student in 1968 and not yet eligible to vote, because the Twenty-Sixth amendment wasn't passed until 1971. But I was pretty active in politics and I have a different memory about the 1968 election than what you wrote In particular, I object to your characterization of Senator Eugene McCarthy (DFL-MN) as "an unknown." He was less well known than Robert Kennedy, brother of the slain president and former attorney general, but "unknown" is just wrong. The Vietnam War was raging and McCarthy explicitly announced his run against President Johnson in November 1967, because he opposed that war. He only got into the race after Robert F. Kennedy and some other better-known anti-war potential candidates declined to challenge Johnson. Lots of us were in the streets protesting the war and this was the main source of anti-Johnson votes in New Hampshire and Wisconsin. Many students across the country organized to support McCarthy because of our opposition to the war. My classmates and I canvassed in Wisconsin the weekend before the primary there. It was clear that McCarthy would win by a large margin and Johnson dropped out 2 days before the primary and 2 weeks after Robert Kennedy publicly announced that he had changed his mind and would run (but he wasn't really organized to be in the race yet). Did Johnson drop out because of the as yet unrealized threat from Kennedy, or because of the very real threat that McCarthy had illustrated of a strong anti-war sentiment in the Democratic Party? Certainly, my impression at the time was the latter. We all admired McCarthy for standing up against the war by running in the primaries when no one else would agree to lead the charge to dump President Johnson.

As a side note, the McCarthy campaign was pretty unorganized. I was a student in Minnesota and our group of college kids were sent clear across Wisconsin to Green Bay. Meanwhile, students from Chicago were sent to western Wisconsin to canvass. Anyway, one of my classmates knocked on Bart Starr's door (Green Bay Packers quarterback at the time) and I had at least one person on my canvas list who confused Gene McCarthy with Joseph McCarthy, who he admired. I wanted the vote, so I didn't correct him.

Compliments Department

B.W. in Olympia, WA, writes: I've read the site for years and year, and would keep reading it for the insightful commentary even without the jokes, but things like "you can't spell ratf**king without R-F-K" continue to make me so happy, and feel so lucky, for the work you do week in and week out. I hope you feel seen and appreciated!

Much gratitude!

(V) & (Z) respond: Thanks so much for the kind words! And while we don't usually run letters singing our praises, we put together this section so you (and anyone else who is interested) know that we do get a lot of positive feedback and appreciation.

L.R.H. in Oakland, CA, writes: Thank you for the comments on conspiracy theorists. We know from comparatively recent events that Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was the only family member who favored releasing Sirhan Sirhan, his father's killer, from prison. It would be interesting to ask him who he thinks assassinated his uncle, President John F. Kennedy.

And special thanks for so carefully describing the misrepresentation of the alleged six-week "fetal heartbeat." Your write-up should be included in every article in every publication that says anything about the "fetal heartbeat."

J.M. in Stamford, CT, writes: Although RFK Jr, DeSantis, and Greene are pretty loathsome in their own rights, I want to thank you for a genuine "Trump-free" column on Friday (the couple of lines about his standing in the Monmouth poll barely registered to me, as it wasn't about something he himself had done, said, screamed, belched, cursed, felt up, or shot in broad daylight on Fifth Avenue).

B.T. in Bogalusa, LA, writes: Friday was the best column ever! I hadn't laughed so much in a long time. I'm definitely getting some Gay Water, I could do with a good 6 inches.

B.B. in Pasadena, CA, writes: Since games seem to be the thing, I propose one. Unfortunately, your contestants have to be on their best behavior and honesty since it isn't so much a game as an after the fact report.

In the following sentence which is about the Gay Water slogan "Enjoy 6.1 inches Tonight!," how many double entendres are there and how long did it take you (the readers) to realize it?

We assume that is some sort of double entendre, but we're having a hard time getting a grip on which member of their team came up with baloney like that.

My answer: 5 to 7. They are: hard, getting a grip, which member, their team, came/came up/up (I can't decide how many are in there!), and baloney. Did I miss any?

I got most of them right away. More over several readings, and as reported, totally missed one until writing this note.

How long did it take (Z) to dream it up? And did he need help?

E-V has was the first thing I do in the morning going all the way back to when the site first appeared. Now I usually have to get wordle (and dordle) out of the way first. You guys should apply for a Pulitzer.

(V) & (Z) respond: You may be assured that (Z) needs zero help with coming up with double entendres at a rapid pace. You got all the ones that were intended; there would have been more, but that was the last item of the evening, and time was short. So, he could only spend a couple of minutes.


B.L. in Hudson, NY, writes: In your item "Republican Debates: Game On," you suggested Clue as a board game for "six people, all of them paranoid, all of them plotting to betray the others." The board game you really want for this analogy is Diplomacy. It may not be quite as well-known as Clue, but it's close! Even Henry Kissinger has noted it as his favorite game. Seven players (so, a minor quibble), all sharpening their knives, preparing to stab one another. Perfect!

(V) & (Z) respond: (Z), as an experienced Diplomacy player, considered it, but wasn't sure most readers would be familiar with the game. Whereas just about everybody knows Clue (or Cluedo for the Brits and 'Nades in the audience).

L.S. in Queens, NY, writes: Another thing from Canada to fear: Weinerzilla! The Attack Of The Giant Dachshund!

Hope Otto and Flash enjoy.

(V) & (Z) respond: Otto liked it, Flash was unimpressed.

J.S. in Wada, NL, writes: You wrote: "communist socialist fascist Democrats." I think you neglected to include "woke", "satanic" and "pedophile" there.

(V) & (Z) respond: Oops! Sorry for the oversight!

K.R. in Austin, TX, writes: It was interesting to find out that there are 13 additional Donalds Trump. However, you left us hanging by not listing their names.

(V) & (Z) respond: Oops! Sorry for another oversight! Here you go: Lew Zirr, Noah Rexions-Nau, Anita "Vi" Agrah, Hugh G. Goh, Mai Tsunza Koch-Head, Ron Scarezmi, Fon E. Tann, Lyde Daly, Wayne Kerr (he's originally from the U.K.), Louis Tweiss, and all three name partners at Dewey, Cheatem and Howe.

Final Words

D.E. in San Diego, CA, writes: "Go on, get out! Last words are for fools who haven't said enough!" Said by Karl Marx, to his housekeeper.

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