Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Sunday Mailbag

It's a pretty big mailbag today and yet, it's the first one EVER where we didn't have to track down a single location for a letter writer. Each submitter remembered to include that information, which makes our lives much easier.

Politics: In Defense of Joe Biden

J.I. in Regina, SK, Canada, writes: I would like to reply to F.S. in Cologne, who listed all the things that they blame Biden for not getting done. I think it's important for those of us who live in parliamentary democracies to understand just how different the U.S. system is, and how weak the President of the U.S. is within that system:

  1. Biden has never had a Democratic-controlled Congress. For the first 2 years of his term, the Senate was evenly divided, and the Democrats only had the tie-breaking vote, which is not a situation where much legislation gets done, if it's at all controversial. Since Jan. 2023, the Democrats have had the Senate, but the House of Representatives is controlled by the Republicans. Biden's ability to get things through Congress is very limited. This is unlike most parliamentary systems, where the Prime Minister/Chancellor/Taoiseach normally has a working majority in the primary house, whether through an absolute majority of seats, or an arrangement with other parties on passage of legislation.

  2. The President does not control the legislative agenda. This is another significant difference from a parliamentary system. As President, Biden's legislative agenda is a wishlist, not the government policy, unlike the powers of the PM/Chancellor/Taoiseach and Cabinet in a parliamentary system. In a parliamentary system, the PM and government set the legislative agenda. Depending on party strengths in the lower chamber, the PM's legislative agenda has a very good chance of passing, and the chance of opposition bills passing is generally low. Particularly in the Westminster system, if the PM and government is defeated on major legislation, that might be the end of that particular government. There is nothing similar in the U.S. system, where defeat on a major bill favored by the President has no constitutional significance.

  3. In particular, the President's budget is just a wishlist. This is completely different from the rules governing a budget in a parliament, particularly in Westminster systems. The budget proposed by the PM and government is of prime political importance, and almost invariably passes in the form proposed by the PM and Cabinet. In the Westminster system, a defeat on a budget bill means the government is defeated, and normally triggers an election. There is nothing similar in the U.S. If the budget doesn't pass, the government services start to shut down, but the president and Congress are unaffected.

  4. The minority rules in the U.S. Senate. This is another huge difference. Those of us in parliamentary systems assume that the majority rules in the Parliament. If you have a majority of the seats, you get bills passed. That's not the case with the U.S. Senate. The minority gets to control whether a bill is passed, through the filibuster. Parliaments like the U.K. and Canadian Parliaments have rules to prevent that; typically called "time-management rules" by the party in power, and "the guillotine" by the opposition parties. Whatever the name, the rules ensure that the PM and Cabinet will be able to get their bills through Parliament. That's not the case in the U.S. Even though the Democrats currently have a very slim majority in the Senate, they have to contend with the Republican minority, and cannot pass a controversial bill without support from at least some of the GOP.

I appreciate I'm painting with a broad brush here, as there is considerable divergence within parliamentary systems, particularly the differences between the Westminster system, modelled on the British Parliament, and the continental parliaments, such as Germany, and countries like India, which have put their own adaptations on the parliamentary system. (And then there's the Australians, with a very powerful upper house, unlike most parliaments).

But, the basic point is that those of us in parliamentary systems have to be careful about criticizing Biden for "not getting things done." His powers are much more limited than a PM/Chancellor/Taoiseach. The fact that he did get some things through, like the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, approximately $1.2 trillion in spending on infrastructure, is to me a mark of how skilled a politician he is.

In conclusion, any of us from parliamentary systems should read about the "Green Lantern theory of the presidency". Vox has a nice explainer.

B.R.D. in Columbus, OH, writes: I am a Democrat, and I want to say, loudly and clearly, that I like Joe Biden. And yes, I know other Democrats who feel the same. I genuinely like him. Let me name the reasons why:

I cannot tell you how much I like waking up in the morning knowing that we have someone steady at the helm. I cannot tell you how many times I have thought, "Thank God, Biden is the President right now, not Trump." I can disagree with my President in normal ways, not be worried sick that he will join forces with autocrats around the world, or start a nuclear war, or start "seizing" anyone who disagrees with him or expresses some independence. He models normality in so many ways, which in this climate may seem passive, but it's not—it shows courage to keep showing us how to fight opponents, not create enemies, to keep promoting democracy and the Constitution in the face of fascism. I still feel plenty of outrage, but none of it is directed at the President, his Cabinet, his campaign, his press secretary, etc. All the chaos comes from the Republicans, who have to manufacture scandals rather than deal with the huge ones at their own doorstep. Truly, I like knowing a strong, quiet, firm, compassionate leader is the President. I am grateful for his leadership every day and will enthusiastically vote for him, write letters to encourage others to vote for him, and join efforts to get him re-elected.

Finally, and I know this is a long response, but one of the worst things Democrats ever did was lean away from Barack Obama on Obamacare during midterm elections. Democratic candidates and we, the people, need to lean in, not pull away, from Joe Biden. (Follow Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-NY, on this one, folks!) The right wing loves the narrative of "no one likes Biden," but I refuse to accept their narrative on him along with all the other narratives they peddle. We have a "keeper" in Joe Biden, and the sooner we start recognizing that, the better.

E.S. in Maine, NY, writes: B.C. in Farmingville writes: "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."

Maybe B.C. needs to git out more.

Both my wife and I were supporters of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in 2020. We voted for Biden in the general, of course. Both of us would have said we "approved" of Biden, but reluctantly for the first 1½ years. But now we have been very pleasantly surprised. Of course, much is not done. As F.S. in Cologne writes: "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?"

No. But he needs the votes for that and they were not there. FY, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ)! For 2024, we will enthusiastically vote for Biden, proudly put up our three lawn signs from 2020 on our 1200' road frontage on our rural road (placed behind the electric fence).

Politics: The People vs. Hunter Biden

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: While it is true that Trump appointed Maryellen Noreika, focusing on that is misleading. She is a Democrat, and her appointment was part of a bipartisan Senate deal that also got Republican Colm Connolly appointed and confirmed. That she is playing it straight and raising legitimate concerns about the plea deal just shows that Delaware's Democratic Senators put up judicial nominees who are honest and highly competent.

What makes the plea deal unusual is that it tries to insulate Hunter Biden from a vindictive, spurious, subsequent prosecution by a Trump Justice Department should he be in office in 2025. The parties tried to hand off that prosecutorial decision to the Judge, but she is rightly concerned that implicates separation-of-powers issues—she's a judge, not someone who makes prosecutorial decisions.

M.R. in Albuquerque, NM, writes: I'm a long-time federal criminal defense practitioner. It is not at all unusual for the feds to agree to forego bringing charges of one sort or another in exchange for a plea to other charges, typically with less severe sentencing impact on the defendant. Your piece about the Hunter Biden deal suggests otherwise.

J.M. in Silver Spring, MD, writes: You wrote:

That said, on one side you have a presidential relative who has legal issues. On the other side, the actual presidential candidate (very likely) is the one who has legal issues, and they are rather more serious than the ones faced by Hunter Biden. So, if there are voters who are influenced by these things, it's hard to see how they can convince themselves that a vote for Trump is more OK than a vote for Biden.

It's easy enough to see how this happens: There's a certain group of voters who look at this and see nothing but made-up persecution of Trump and a nefarious "Biden Crime Family." That's all they see and they won't let the facts dissuade them. That said, perhaps one can argue that these are not the voters who will actually decide the election? But maybe some of those see "Trump's a criminal" and "Biden's the head of a crime family"? Perhaps those will vote third party or stay home. That will do the GOP's work for them.

(V) & (Z) respond: We recognize that many people will excuse Trump while lambasting Hunter Biden. But we don't believe those people's votes were ever actually up for grabs.

Politics: This Week in TrumpWorld

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: I just experienced emotional whiplash. After getting off work, I read that Donald Trump was being indicted for additional crimes relating to his Top Secret Document theft. While I had hoped to read about 1/6 insurrection indictments for Trump, still I was pleased to see that Jack Smith is not playing when it comes to a game that Trump keeps stepping right into—like Sideshow Bob and the rake or the Road Runner and the Coyote, except the Coyote and the rake are much more likeable than Trump.

Then I traveled down the Internet equivalent of "beneath the fold," saw that Randy Meisner, one of the founders of the Eagles, had died and I was absolutely crushed. When I was in my teens in the 70's, my favorite band was the Eagles. No scratch that, they were more than my favorite band, they were Rock God's to me—and this was at a time when the Rock Intelligentsia looked down their noses at the band. It was years after their breakup that they were taken seriously. As a kid, I remember that I wanted a poster of my heroes in my bedroom and that while it was easy to find posters of Led Zeppelin, the Beatles and Pink Floyd, at that time it took my mom forever to find me one of the Eagles. While I love each member of the band and would always see both sides' points in their many public squabbles, still Randy was my favorite. Yes, his songs were some of my favorites—"Take It To The Limit," "Try And Love Again" and "Too Many Hands"—but probably a lot of it happened to be part of a nascent gay boy crush, as Randy not only sang like an angel he looked like one too. He was born a Nebraska farm boy and his bandmates described him as one of the sweetest guys in the industry. He suffered from painful shyness that often made performing in front of larger and larger crowds extremely difficult. After he left the band, he had a tumultuous life. At one point, he lost consciousness after food lodged in his throat and spent some time in a coma. His former bandmates paid for all his hospital bills. His second wife accidentally killed herself while moving a gun. Plus, Randy suffered from alcohol addiction on top of being diagnosed as bipolar. Still many people described him as a gentle soul.

Thus, as I was reading about Trump's new indictments, some of my favorite Eagles songs were running through my head. Hopefully Randy, Glenn Frey and Don Henley will forgive me butchering their song in this parody, although I suspect they would approve of the sentiment:

All alone at the end of my relevancy
When the bright lights have changed to flashing red and blue
I was thinking 'bout a crime
That I never knew
You know I've always been a schemer
(Spent my life grifting round)
And it's so hard to change
(Can't turn any crime down)
But the schemes I've schemed lately
Keep on turning out and burning out and turning out the same
So put me in the limo
And show me which crime
And take me to be indicted
One more time

You can spend all your time making money
You can spend the rest of your life doing time
But if all my schemes fell to pieces tomorrow
Will MAGA still be mine
And when you're looking for your Freedumb
(I really don't care do U?)
And I can't find the stolen votes
(Can't find them anywhere)
When there's nothing to believe in
Still MAGA keeps coming back
They're running back
They're coming back for more
So put me in the limo
And show me which crime
And take me to be indicted
One more time

T.G. in Lee's Summit, MO, writes: The response of E.R. in Padova to this week's reader question got me thinking. They outlined a specific set of criteria but were unable to identify a suitable candidate due to geographic unfamiliarity.

Let's accept the criteria with some adjustments: (1) Media savvy, as well as social media savvy, is a requirement; (2) I'm not sure about having existing credentials on a hot-button issue, but the ability to take up the cause is key; (3) If they aren't already doing so, being able to take on the opposition as nemesis and (4) Equal opportunity criticism of the Democratic establishment would be key. Comedians in particular fall into this category.

So a comedian who is equal opportunity, capable of bomb-throwing, already universally popular, very media savvy, and likely outside the mainstream.

No, not Bill Maher. He's already too far gone. And Jon Stewart is just too nice. My choice of candidate is... Stephen Colbert!

D.R. in Hillsboro, VA, writes: Someone who was not mentioned in response to the question of the week, but who bears a strong comparison to Trump, right down to the fascistic tendencies, grift, and lies regarding personal wealth, was the late Lyndon LaRouche, who ran for President, presented himself as a Democrat, but was widely reviled by the Democratic regulars. I even have a local history tie-in with LaRouche, as the local county Democratic Committee had to take certain evasive measures in order to prevent LaRouche and his brainwashed followers from gaining control of the party mechanism. This happened a bit before I arrived here, admittedly, but the old-timers of the committee when I joined were still wary of the possibilities of infiltration.

B.G. in Teaneck, NJ, writes: I understand it is scary for Republican leaders to speak out against Trump and risk their careers, but that is no excuse.

I always wanted to be in politics from the time I was inspired by President Kennedy when I was 8 years old. I started working on campaigns when I was 16. I went to college in D.C. so I could focus on politics. I became national treasurer of College Young Democrats and spent many evenings working from the Democratic National Committee. When I returned home, I worked in many campaigns, became a district leader and president of the local Democratic club, and went to every city council meeting to prepare to run for office. I won the nomination for city council and ran an active campaign in which I rang every doorbell in the district. I lost to a very popular incumbent, but it was a good experience. And then the Democratic city leader was indicted for extortion. I was part of a group of district leaders that forced a convention to require him to step down. We lost because of many job offers to district leaders and threats of retaliation. I was clearly never going to get another nomination.

Not long after, I was asked to serve on the board of a battered women's shelter. This would change my career and my life. Once I learned about domestic violence, an ever-greater part of my law practice concerned DV cases because few lawyers or other court professionals have this specialized knowledge. Most people are unaware that the custody courts routinely fail to protect children in abuse cases because they have been slow to integrate important scientific research, use a multi-disciplinary approach that includes DV expertise, or counter the money advantage of abusers who control the family finances. As a result, according to the Center for Judicial Excellence, over 940 children involved in contested custody cases have been murdered in the last 15 years, mostly by abusive fathers.

I was asked to represent a protective mother who lived about 100 miles from my office because the local attorneys were afraid of her judge, who was a notorious fathers' rights supporter. The judge was extremely hostile and even threatened a group of DV advocates who were in the courtroom to support the mother. After we lost custody, but were appealing, I needed to leave the divorce part of the case for health reasons. The judge forced the mother to come to court on short notice without an attorney on the father's motion to move to Texas, where the mother was likely to never see her children again. When the judge said things she disagreed with, the mother kept saying "Objection" in order to preserve her right to appeal. Instead of informing her she had her exception, as he did when I was in the case, the judge yelled and threatened the mother, and held her in contempt. He sent her to jail for almost a month—WHILE SHE WAS SEVEN-MONTHS PREGNANT. I wrote an article on the Internet in which I asked the legislature to pass a law so no other woman would be similarly mistreated. The judge didn't like any criticism and decided my opinions and statements must be lies. He filed a complaint with the grievance committee and his friends on the Appellate Division supported their colleague instead of the children. They suspended my license in an attempt to silence me. I have refused to seek reinstatement and now work full-time as a domestic violence, author, speaker, advocate, and expert witness.

I don't think I did anything special or unusual. In each case, I did what any decent person would do. There are Republican leaders who sacrificed their careers to speak honestly about Trump. Their courage and integrity stand out only because most have stayed silent. There is no excuse for them to keep silent because we are talking about the very survival of our democracy.

Politics: The 2024 Presidential Race, Major Parties

N.S. in Milwaukee, WI, writes: Reading your coverage of Gov. Ron DeSantis' (R-FL) presidential run, the basic story is this: Republican wins the governorship in a swing state, governs as a hard-right "conservative" (with much "own the libs" bravado and clearly anti-democratic tendencies), wins reelection by a larger-than-expected margin, enters the presidential primary having been preordained by some on the right as the next generation of Republicans, is considered a frontrunner, then runs a hapless campaign and starts sputtering out soon after he's in.

As a native Wisconsinite, I can say this exact story has already been written, 8 years ago, by Scott Walker. Although a darling of the right at the time, as soon as the microscope got a just a little bigger, and a broader audience started looking through it, it became apparent to many, even to some on the right, that Walker's policy chops mostly consisted of undoing anything that Democrats did (even the popular things), that he was not particularly good at communicating much of anything, couldn't handle going off-script, and that he was just such an unbearably obnoxious jerk. So, just a bit of optimism here for all your left-leaning readers: if you think a campaign like DeSantis's will make major waves, just ask President Walker how it turned out. And when you're done with him, you can ask Governor Walker how well it served him in the long run.

B.R.J. in San Diego, CA, writes: You wrote: "It is not very easy to create a narrative that one is a viable presidential candidate who should be taken seriously. However, it may be even harder than that to reverse a narrative that one reached for the stars, flew too close to the sun, and is now plummeting to Earth..."

Wouldn't this make DeSantis a modern-day Icarus (or Icky-rus)? Did the wings melt, or did those white "disaster boots" swell and cut off his ankle circulation? Never mind, the reason doesn't matter.

B.C. in Walpole, ME, from aboard our boat, TROUBLE (Taylor's Version), writes:

Terrestrial transportation disaster metaphor? Check: train wreck

Aquatic transportation disaster metaphor? Check: shipwreck

Aerial transportation disaster metaphor? Check: Icarus reference

In case you're in a hurry, I thought I might remind you about the possibility of a sub-aquatic disaster metaphor (submarine implosion) and a terrestrial/aerial interface disaster metaphor (Hindenburg!). God knows, I would not want you to suddenly need a disaster metaphor and not have one readily at hand. In an emergency, break the glass and grab a 1970s disaster movie: Earthquake, Towering Inferno, or both ("Shake and Bake"). These things practically write themselves. Earthquake: "Today, the DeSantis campaign felt the earth move... but not in a good way."

I hope you guys are developing a Plan B right now. I'm thinking, of course, of the Lone Ranger: He could range the West righting wrongs because he had the income from his secret silver mine. But all it would take is repeal of the Sherman Silver Purchase Act to wipe out his wealth.

Right now, Ron DeSantis is practically a platinum mine of snarky humor. What if you lose DeSantis? In a way, needs DeSantis more than anyone (including, as you have pointedly pointed out, Casey). Who would fill the gap he might leave? And it could happen mercifully soon. Should all the readers maybe send a few dollars to the DeSantis campaign to keep him on life support?

A.L. in Highland Park, NJ, writes: Kudos to you for having predicted how empty the early Ron DeSantis hype was. I suspect he thought "anti-woke" would turn out to be less ephemeral in the zeitgeist. I do not think anyone in the DeSantis organization actually believes in this nonsense any more than executives at Coca-Cola actually liked the taste of New Coke. The spirit of the times seems to have turned more thoughtful and serious. Neither of this weekend's blockbusters, Barbie and Oppenheimer, are the usual simple summer fare. Maybe folks are no longer averse to reflective and, dare I say, nuanced?

Anyway, on to Chris Christie. He was my governor for eight years and I disagreed with him on just about everything, especially trying to gut one of the best pre-K to 12 education systems in the country. But I recognized his effectiveness. He can sound reasonable as heck. So here is my opening for him given the current mood: He promises if he is the nominee, he will engage Joe Biden in a series of serious debates about the issues facing the country. Not the usual posturing and ad-hominem attacks with cleverly placed sound bites, but substantial debates about the economy, climate, infrastructure, immigration, AI regulation, etc. Given that both are cradle Catholics, he could describe them as debates that would make the Jesuits proud. Perhaps, post-Barbenheimer, we are ready?

E.L. in San Diego, CA, writes: While the presidential job approval/disapproval surveys are invariably top of mind in any election cycle, it can be theoretically proven that in a polarized society, such as ours, they are meaningless.

To illustrate with a simple example: Suppose we divide the electorate equally into three ideological positions: (1) "leftist", (2) "centrist," (3) "rightist." And, to make the numbers simpler, let's further consider that 10% of the electorate is in the "don't know" category. Thus, each of the three ideological positions would have a 30% solid support.

In a highly polarized electorate, crossover approval tends to be minimal. Therefore, a president—whether "centrist", "leftist" or "rightist"—will command a solid support of only 30% of the electorate. And best case, adding a plausible number of crossovers, the approval may move up into the 40%s. Approval into the 50%s or above is extremely unlikely.

It can be similarly argued that the perennial survey regarding whether the country is going in the right or wrong direction is meaningless.

Politics: The 2024 Presidential Race, Third Parties

A.T. in Seminole County, FL, writes: As someone who plans to vote for Dr. Cornel West in the general here in Seminole County, I applaud the left finally being willing to blackmail the Democratic Party into actually fighting for leftist ideas.

I will freely admit to being jealous of how the Freedom Caucus will risk burning everything down to get their beliefs enacted, even if I hate those ideas. I wish the left had that when it came to Medicare for all, a $20 minimum wage, rebuilding the power of unions and so forth.

If we must drag Joe Biden, kicking and screaming, into acting more like Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson on domestic policy, then so be it, I say, and I hope the Greens get ballot access in more swing states such as Georgia, Arizona and Pennsylvania.

(V) & (Z) respond: We feel duty-bound to point out that on the day he took office, FDR had a Senate where 58 of 95 seats were held by Democrats (59 a week later, when a vacancy was filled) and a House where 311 of 433 seats were held by Democrats. LBJ, on the day he succeeded to the presidency, had 66 of 100 senators and 257 of 435 representatives. After the 1964 elections, LBJ had 68 senators and 295 representatives.

D.R. in Massapequa Park, NY, writes: In two of the last six elections, Republicans lost the popular vote but won the White House, thanks to... the Green Party.

People forget in 2000 that if Al Gore won New Hampshire, the state of Florida would've been meaningless. If Gore won a little less than half of Ralph Nader's votes he would've won the state and the presidency but that didn't happen. What ended up happening? We lost over 4,000 soldiers to a war based on false pretenses (Iraq). Maybe 9/11 was unavoidable (I'll give George W. Bush benefit of the doubt), but would Gore have given up looking for Osama bin Laden the way Bush (arguably) did? Would we be further ahead with Green policies? Would the Great Recession have happened? Even though it was Bush's second term, Gore might well have been able to appoint Chief Justice William Rehnquist's successor. Do the Green Party voters think of that when they pat themselves on the back, saying "I'm so progressive!"

Fast forward to 2016; the Green Partiers again had to prove their purity and voted for Jill Stein, handing Donald Trump the presidency. How did that work out? If you lost a loved on to COVID, congratulations, you helped cause that, If you are upset about the rollback of gay and reproductive rights, you caused that, too. Student loan debt hurting you? I bet your progressive purity helps pay the bills. There was an open Supreme Court seat, but you were too pure to vote for Hillary. How did that work out? Then, Ruth Bader Ginsberg died and Trump appointed a Gilead wife. You cost us 2-4 Supreme Court seats.

Actually, in thinking about that, the Green Party is very much like the Gilead wife; they are the ones holding down Lady Liberty while the religious-zealot GOP commanders rape her.

F.D. in Albuquerque, NM, writes: The No Labels Party should rebrand itself as the Seinfeld Party. They are obviously a party about nothing. They would have an immediate fan base of TV rerun watchers. Perhaps they could entice Jason Alexander to run for president.

Politics: Abortion and Birth Control

P.V. in Kailua, HI, writes: W.S. in Austin asked why some GOP politicians want to ban birth control. The political Right wants to pass legislation that will force people into their preferred social structures by controlling people's sex lives and economic opportunities. They want to stop unmarried women from having sex without the risk of pregnancy and keep married women from participating in the economy.

Birth control is an economic issue. Sexually active women who cannot chose when they get pregnant have no control over their or their families' economic future. Their career plans can be derailed at any time by an unplanned pregnancy. It is difficult, if not impossible, for the majority of women who have young children to work full-time. Without birth control, the only choice for most women who want to have heterosexual sex but also be financially stable is to be married to someone (presumably a man) who earns enough to support a family on a single income when necessary. These gender-normative roles are held up as the ideal by many on the Right, despite the fact that it has never been the reality for many. In low-income families, women with children have always had to find paying work.

By banning birth control, the GOP is attempting to exert control over gender roles and family structure via access to sex and the economic cost of raising children. Whether they do this because it is what they want or what their constituents want is immaterial, IMO. As I have said before, and will say again and again, the real reason behind abortion as a political issue is not saving the unborn. It is about controlling people's sex lives. Attempts to ban birth control clearly support this. If you really want to reduce abortions, you are very pro-birth control.

R.O. in Santa Fe, NM, writes: Why do some GOP politicians want to ban birth control?

Because they are Puritans. H.L. Mencken characterized their position: "Puritanism is the haunting fear that some one, somewhere, may be happy."

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: C.F. in Nashua wrote: "I thought the point of the anti-abortion movement was to stop all abortions."

That is what they say the anti-abortion activists want, but in practice, the only thing I've seen them willing to do is make abortion illegal, which is obviously not the same thing. A few of the pro-life folks we heard from earlier this year said that repealing Roe was a necessary step on the path, but that's just not true. Look, we know what the world was like pre-Roe and it was not an abortion-free utopia. Abortions didn't start when Roe was announced and won't be ended, even by the most draconian of abortion laws.

Abortion will only ever end when every pregnancy is wanted and appreciated. Not only is making it illegal insufficient, it isn't even necessary. It starts with good sex education, both clinical and moral. It includes easy access to birth control. It includes medical research into preventing and/or treating birth defects. It's probably going to require a culture that fosters responsibility for children in both boys and girls. And it's definitely going to require support for couples in dire economic straits when they find themselves on the brink of parenthood. Without all these things, making abortion illegal is a sideshow. At best, it is an attempt by anti-abortion activists to feel like they're accomplishing something even though they're not. At worst, it is a way to pass judgment and punish people they don't like. If the anti-abortion movement was really about ending abortion, they would be embracing these other things in addition to, or instead of all this hoohaw about banning the procedure.

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Thank you so much for the item on the unintended consequences of abortion bans. One that wasn't mentioned is the exodus of OB/GYNs from states with abortion bans. This has led to a palpable decrease in adequate prenatal care for wanted pregnancies. The maternal mortality rates are already the highest in states with abortion bans; those numbers will only increase as a shortage of competent physicians grows.

We've said it before and we'll say it again: All of these outcomes were entirely predictable. Politicians should not be making medical decisions, full stop.

Politics: Transphobia

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: I second the words from S.B. in New Castle... I have been fighting this fight since 1995, when we were struggling to get trans inclusion in the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Soldier up, we got a loooong fight ahead, one I expect to last longer than my remaining time on this planet.

I keep fighting now, so that, in the future, someone will no longer have to fight as I have for their basic right to exist, and do so without harassment or unfair sanction. If that happens, then MY LIFE MATTERED. Someone else will benefit and have the life that should have been mine... but at least they will have it.

Like S.B., I do not believe in Heaven or Hell (but I do believe in Rainbow Bridge!)—and I think a fitting karma for those who stand against us would be to be reincarnated as the very thing they harmed most in this life... and to have to suffer for that life what they dished out in their previous one.

P.S. As a trans North Carolinian, I sure wish House Speaker Tim Moore (R) would worry about HIS OWN sex life instead of worrying about OURS! I've lost count of the number of sex scandals this guy has now been involved in, and yet he is STILL House Speaker!

E.R. in Irving, TX, writes: In regards to the passionate words from S.B. in New Castle, which you published last week: ditto.

Politics: Slavery and the Lost Cause

L.C. in Boston, MA, writes: S.S. in Koloa wrote: "Since slaves were provided with such valuable skills, don't you think the descendants of plantation owners are due tuition payments from the descendants of former slaves?"

And you responded: "Don't forget transportation costs from Africa. Those trips weren't cheap."

Shhhh... don't give the Republicans ideas...

T.B. in Leon County, FL, writes: Further to what S.S. in Koloa asked concerning the valuable skills entrusted to enslaved people, my heart goes out to the very many women who were raped under enslavement and whose "learned skill" was therefore prostitution. (You know, make the man think you liked it.)

J.L.C. in Columbus, GA, writes: After learning about Florida's commitment, under Ron DeSantis, to teach students about the benefits of slavery, I saw a meme on social media announcing that Florida would also be teaching about the benefits of lava to Pompeiians. While I chuckled at this bit of wit, it also set me to thinking about the benefits of slavery that we should suggest be taught to young Florida students. I thought of a top ten list:

  1. Routine skin exfoliation, particularly of one's back and hind quarters
  2. Receiving credit for being the inspiration for the world's first "Amber Alert," in the form of the Fugitive Slave Act
  3. The opportunity to have babies born progressively lighter over the years
  4. Seamless job transfers, coupled with no-paperwork divorce, and no child-support obligation
  5. Healthy exposure to unlimited vitamin-D
  6. No lines waiting at the polls
  7. Never having to think about those uncomfortable parts of the Bible, particularly the Exodus
  8. Job security
  9. More pronounceable names
  10. No jury duty

H.R. in Jamaica Plain, MA, writes: Thanks for the piece on The Lost Cause. I grew up in Northern Virginia and was taught Virginia and U.S. History multiple times in the public schools in the 50s and 60s. The textbooks and curriculum, I know now, were very influenced by The Lost Cause narrative. We learned that slavery was not the cause of the Civil War and that many slaves benefited from good treatment and being taken care of by their masters. We also sang incredibly racist songs, such as "Carry Me Back to Ol' Virginny" While I didn't buy the lies about enslaved people, I didn't realize that what I learned about the causes of the Civil War was a lie until many decades later, partly through the information about the Lost Cause narrative on So my reaction to the Florida Education Standards was "this is nothing new," but I hope the students in Florida discover the truth more quickly than I did.

Recently, when visiting the National Museum of African-American History and Culture, I learned about how rice cultivation came to South Carolina. It was the enslaved people who had the detailed knowledge of irrigation management from rice cultivation in West Africa that allowed the ignorant white plantation owners to build a rice cultivation operation in South Carolina. This is just one of many examples of the skills that built the U.S. that came from Africans brought to our shores against their will. All of us who benefit from the prosperity of this country owe a huge debt to those enslaved people and their descendants.

G.W. in Dayton, OH, writes: Both I (high school 1974, B.A. 1978) and my wife (high school 1980, B.A. 1984) learned that slavery was a "contributing" factor to the Civil War" but that the real cause of the war was "states' rights." Even then, I had a hard time believing that Southern states would have gone to the effort of seceding and then endured the horrors of that war just to prove they had the right to do so.

D.S. in Winnetka, CA, writes: I've seen the effects of the "Lost Cause" indoctrination in education in my own family.

My father's paternal line goes back to the 1600's in NY and the Northeast, and we have several ancestors who fought for the Union and otherwise participated on the Union side during the Civil War.

No one from our family ever stepped foot in the South until three brothers moved to Louisiana in 1910. Several other cousins emigrated South post-World War II and into the 1960s and 70s.

Every single one of those family members who were educated in those Southern states, with zero family connections to the South prior to the 1880s, have bought into the Lost Cause propaganda lock, stock and barrel.

C.K.R. in Cabin John, MD, writes: I have been reading your work for years, and there is no one with a better, more well-written, and humorous column.

It is much too late to suggest an essential book, but I believe a good understanding of history is essential to understanding the United States and its people. My favorite is Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James McPherson. To my mind it is the best one-volume Civil War book, and of course he has written many others about particular aspects of the war. As an immigration lawyer, I frequently meet people who need/want to learn more about the U.S., and that is a book I recommend. I also appreciate that it is not a Southern glorification.

(V) & (Z) respond: BCOF 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. So, (Z) also suggests people take a look at The American War: A History of the Civil War Era, by Gary Gallagher and Joan Waugh, which is only a few years old and checks in at 304 pages. As always, (Z) will note, in the interest of full disclosure, that Gallagher and Waugh were on his dissertation committee. That said, McPherson also advised on the dissertation, so it's not like there's an anti-McPherson bias going on here.

P.V. in Kailua, HI, writes: C.P. in Silver Spring asks if there any good books that cover the day-to-day living conditions of enslaved people in the South before and during the Civil War. I would recommend American Slavery: 1619-1877 by Peter Kolchin. It is a fairly short overview but covers the variety of the slave experiences in the U.S. (none of them good, some not as bad as others) and the ways in which 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.

Politics: Mitch McCo...

S.H. in Hanoi, Vietnam, writes: Regarding your item on Mitch McConnell's freeze, you wrote of the incident that "[w]e are inclined to think that McConnell is OK." As a physician, I am far less confident of that prognosis, and since you have a disproportionately older audience, it's important to understand why.

First: Without knowing specifics, we cannot know precisely what happened to the Senator. However, the two most likely causes was that he suffered a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA, a so-called mini-stroke), or that he had a seizure. Without further testing, there is no way to know, but if it was a TIA, his status would be highly concerning, as approximately 20 percent of people who suffer TIAs will suffer a full-blown stroke over the next three months. Several neurologists interviewed about McConnell's episode noted that he should have gone to a hospital immediately for further evaluation, especially to prevent a major event from occurring in the next 24-48 hours. And he's not out of the woods yet.

The exact level of risk that McConnell will develop a full-blown stroke (if indeed it was a TIA) is hard to quantify, but his age, other medical problems, and recent trauma from his fall all suggest he is at least in a moderate-risk category, and possibly a high-risk category. So he really needs to be seen by a neurologist, and right quick.

For anyone reading, but especially those older than 60, please make sure that you, or your friends and family, receive immediate medical evaluation if you witness an event like what happened to the Senator yesterday, as your life or theirs could depend on it. There's a good basic overview here.

(V) & (Z) respond: Thank you for the benefit of your expertise. Note that we wrote that we think he's probably OK in the sense that he's not mentally infirm. We also wrote that he should see a physician immediately, since there's obviously something concerning there.

All Politics Is Local

T.K. in Akron, OH, writes: I'm skeptical about claims that Ohio's Issue 1 is about abortion. Yes, it's a good rallying cry for the pro-life crowd, but I believe there is a longer game at play: It's really about limiting the statewide initiative process overall.

Statewide initiative campaigns are expensive. Issue 1 has drawn a total of almost $20 million in donations (for and against). On the contrary, state legislature campaigns are cheap. In 2022, major-party General Assembly campaigns took in an average of $118,000 in contributions (median was $43,800). Both numbers come with a barrel of caveats, but it should be clear that a campaign donation of $10,000 will go a long way to get a receptive ear at the State House. A $1 million dollar investment might bend 100 different ears, and that's an investment that grows over time.

If Issue 1 passes, wealthy donors can more easily/cheaply get favorable legislation passed without the constitutional check provided by an accessible initiative process and a surly electorate. While the 60% + 1 threshold has gotten a lot of press, Issue 1's other two provisions are designed to make initiative petitions exponentially more likely to fail at the signature-gathering stage.

S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes: Sometimes the singular of data is anecdote.

I have four adult relatives who live in Ohio. All four are voting "no" on Issue 1. Two of them are voting early, as they will be thousands of miles away on Election Day.

I should add that these four people haven't always agreed with me or with each other on political issues. The disaster of Trump helped unify their views, however.

M.S. in Canton, NY, writes: The general issue of voter initiatives raised in the question from J.C. in Ulaanbaatar is, as is implied in both the question and your answer, a complicated and difficult one. When I arrived in California in the 1970s, the long-time residents I met were very proud of the state's robust tradition of referenda and ballot initiatives, which goes back to reforms of the Progressive Era of the early 20th century. However, as it played out in the years that I lived there, I never saw an instance where the system resulted in "ordinary people" triumphing over big money. Instead, there were a fair number of lamentable outcomes achieved through the system, often by aggressive misrepresentation of the underlying issues, and the few results that I counted as victories were just exercises in beating back the mischief. And when it came to showdowns between well-funded corporations and the needs of ordinary folks—a central concern of the Progressive movement—it turns out to be easier (and more legal!) to buy an election than to buy a legislature.

Back then, I came to the conclusion that framers were well justified in their deep suspicion of direct democracy and their preference for representative government. Now, however, I'm not so sure. It is clear that on some hot-button issues, the legislatures in many states are acting in a manner that is demonstrably at odds with the wishes of substantial majorities of their own constituents. Increasingly it seems that ballot initiatives are the only recourse in states where one party has latched onto power and is implementing their agenda irrespective of the desires of the voters.

International Affairs

J.H. in Boston, MA, writes: D.M. in Berlin writes that Vladimir Putin cannot be considered a communist because he's violently patriotic, ultranationalistic, and autocratic. I think D.M. is inappropriately viewing Putin through a western left-wing/right-wing lens that does not apply. In the west (or at least in the U.S., I'm less sure about Germany) a core tenet of conservatism is small government. In Russia it is quite the opposite; the core tenet of Russian conservatism is statism, autocracy, interventionism, and imperialism. Since those were all highly prevalent under Soviet regimes, there are plenty of ways in which the Soviet regimes could be considered conservative, under the Russian conception of that term, and Putin's current regime is a continuation. See conservatism in Russia for some discussion.

I'm not arguing that Putin is running a Marxist-Leninist regime today; he's clearly not. Just that "he's too conservative and bigoted to be a communist" is not correct reasoning.

Of course, I think (V) was being tongue-in-cheek when describing Putin as a "godless communist" in the hypothetical voice of the organizers of the Iowa Family Leadership Summit. The Soviet Union and its successor state Russia was then, and is now, a geopolitical rival of the U.S., and hardliners in the U.S. need a way to stir up division and hatred toward them, and also indict the domestic political opposition by insinuating that they're too aligned. That's the point of Republicans calling the Russians "godless communists." And I think that is how is usually using the phrase. It has little to do with how communist the regime actually is.

A.B. in Lichfield, England, UK, writes: M.M. in San Diego wrote that it was "delightfully British" that I could date the formation of the "modern" Conservative Party to 1834. To which I'd simply point out that the formation of the modern Democratic Party is frequently dated to 1828.

M.M. also asks if "today's Tories pine for Benjamin Disraeli's fantasy of Medieval England," which is a little unfair on our only ethnically Jewish Prime Minister (serving 1868 and 1874-1880). For what it's worth, the current One Nation Conservative caucus, which explicitly draws on Disraeli's namesake political philosophy, is considered to be on the left of the 21st-century version of the parliamentary Tory Party. Make of that what you will.

Too Many People?

G.H. in Richmond, VA, writes: I'm surprised that you would toss off such a specious answer to D.T.R. in Schaumburg, about overpopulation, and that with a "just sayin'" attached. A 200-year-old argument is not invalid simply because of its age. "Climate change? Oh, they've been complaining about that since 1896. When are they going to just get over it?"

P.C. in Toronto, ON, Canada, writes: In response to D.T.R. in Schaumburg on overpopulation, as a Professor of Geography who teaches demography and statistics, I can tell you that people have been saying that there are too many people on the planet for over 2,000 years. Even Confucius had something to say: "Excessive (population) growth may reduce output per worker, repress levels of living for the masses and engender strife." His sentiment was echoed most notably by Thomas Malthus, who proposed imminent population collapse in 1799, as did Paul and Anne Ehrlich in 1969 who proposed in their famous Population Bomb book what has become known as a Malthusian end to civilization: As population numbers (a.k.a. resource use) balloons and outstrips food supplies (a.k.a. resources), we would face mass starvation (economic collapse). But estimating how many people the earth can sustain is fraught with problems.

Once we try to estimate an optimal population size, one that includes some reasonable standard of living, we need to establish quantitative and qualitative expectations of what a "good life" might be, and these are subjective measures at best. One society's "good life" might be considered profligate excess by another, even when each remains within their carrying capacity, if that is even possible given the porosity of environmental, spatial and social economic boundaries. Several studies have looked at what such optimal population sizes might be using single variables such as food supply or the current standards of living of high-income nations. Others have looked at multiple variables or world productive output levels and growth rates necessary to attain given standards of living measured in income per capita. There is also the question of what philosophical basis we should proceed from; that is, should we strive to optimize human well-being over personal wealth accumulation?

Of the several attempts at estimating a sustainable population level for the Earth (see examples here, here and here), one of the best is Lianos and Pseiridis, who, with the aid of a regression model and a sustainable living level based on ecological footprints (such that it is the earth that must survive if its population is to also survive), suggested that if we wish the global population to live at about the E.U.'s current standard of living, the population cannot be higher than about 3 billion—a size it has not been since 1960. It is also a population that is far below any current forecasts for the end of this century that currently predict that we will have somewhere between 8.8 billion (Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation and the Wittgenstein Centre) to 11 billion (United Nations Population Division); that is, about 2.9 to 3.6 times the sustainable population required for the global population to live at the current E.U. standard of living.

Even with calculations aside, this is conceptually a more difficult question than it appears because it begs the question "what standard of living would that population want to have?" Obviously, in a general sense, a smaller population could live at a higher standard of living than a larger one on the same resource base, so the question of size is relative to standard of living expected. But perception of living standards varies widely; what is comfortable for one group might be considered abject poverty for another, and what is a fair and equitable distribution system in one culture might be considered a draconian application of authority in another. Also, the political-economic system required to achieve any of this is quite different than any we currently have. These considerations aside, several estimates have been made, either through guesswork or modeled calculations.

So, we are faced with a dilemma: If the goal is to create a sustainable global population living at the current E.U. standard, either we have to reduce population or reduce standard of living by about three-fold or allow three-quarters of the world's population to continue living well below the E.U. standard.

D.G. in Smithfield, VA, writes: Your response to D.T.R. in Shaumburg respecting concerns about overpopulation overlooks a very fundamental truth that absolutely must be reckoned with, namely the fact that almost all economic systems—especially, and fundamentally, capitalism—are based on the pursuit of perpetual material increase. "Growth" is considered the sine qua non of all economic endeavors. Investments and savings must have percentage returns, or they are deemed failures. Markets demand exponential growth, and that means they need expanding populations of consumers. The worries of China, many European countries, the U.S., and others that their populations are shrinking, or at least not increasing sufficiently to create more market demand, are the stuff of much official hand-wringing lately. I'm not optimistic about it, but I would really hope that those who are much smarter than I am and who are in positions where they can act on it, invent a new way to go about operating a civilization that gets around this problem.

D.T.R. in Schaumburg, IL, writes: You wrote: "Even if you believe the current population of Earth (7.8 billion) is too much, calling for a reduction of 95% seems a little nutty to us."

Don't worry. We're working on it.

If the Gulf Stream will indeed collapse sooner than expected, then we may actually succeed in generating a healthy reduction of humans well before the end of the century.

R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, writes: I had a dear friend who got rich doing algorithmic trading before all the cool kids were doing it, and he retired young to be a curious sort of hermit—he communicated with people around the planet via e-mail, but he rarely left his rural redoubt save for resupply.

He was convinced that there are too many "monkeys with car keys" on the planet, and he insisted that Gaia would be better off if there were a 90% reduction in the human population.

He did not, however, do the one thing to somewhat address the problem that was entirely in his control.

Matter of fact, very few of these population reductionists kill themselves—it's always someone else who is extraneous.

X Gon' Give It To Ya

M.M. is Atlanta, GA, writes: Elon's obsession with X makes me think of this:

Screen capture from 'The Dictator' with Charles Chaplin

J.C. in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, writes: You wrote that people don't like one-stop apps, a portal to everything. But that seems to me to be exactly what WeChat/Weibo is. I'm not saying that's a good thing, but perhaps there's something in Chinese culture that is different than American culture, where Americans don't want that but the Chinese do?

M.A. in Knoxville, TN, writes: In your write-up about Elon Musk changing Twitter to X, you mentioned that Twitter's CEO-in-name-only, Linda Yaccarino, tweeted out a thread about how the plan was to turn Twitter into an everything app. This isn't new, Musk said he planned to do that when he was forced to complete his purchase of Twitter, but it goes back further than that. He wanted to turn into an everything app in the 1990s. The other PayPal founders overruled this, as well as rejecting calling it, but Musk has never given up on making it happen. Once WeChat in China became such a huge success there, it made him even more determined to replicate it here.

The biggest problem for this goal isn't that people don't trust Musk, nor is it that Twitter/X is circling the drain, not paying its bills and getting evicted from some its offices. It's that conditions in China were significantly different than in the U.S. when WeChat launched. Most people didn't have a computer, and their first experience with accessing the Internet came when they bought an iPhone. Unlike the U.S., they didn't already have dedicated sites for various niches, letting WeChat to fill those roles with little competition.

Also, money is used for social communication in China. There's a long tradition of giving red packets, or hong bao, to friends and family for holidays, weddings and other social or family gatherings. One good example, from the article linked above: "During Chinese Valentine's Day, couples might send 5.20 yuan to each other to signal their love," as the characters for "5.20" are within shouting distance of the characters for "I love you." When WeChat added the ability to send red packets to other users, with a campaign that gave away over $80 million USD worth of them during the 2015 New Year's Celebration, users signing up for WeChat Wallet exploded.

And finally, the Chinese government is just fine with a Chinese company having so many services in one app (but wouldn't let a foreign-owned app to do so). Regulations in the U.S., and especially Europe, would never allow this to happen. Musk is so obsessed with making an everything app that he's completely delusional about it even being possible.

M.B. in Menlo Park, CA, writes: I had some additional thoughts on why Threads isn't a Twitter/X killer. I'm an active user of social media, including Facebook, Instagram, Mastodon, and others. I have two Twitter accounts—one general account for things like politics, law, technology, and Internet humor; and a second account dedicated to a global pop star who's currently having a highly successful tour.

I spend much more time consuming social media on my two-screen desktop than I do on a mobile device. Twitter lets me use the desktop, so I can frequently switch over to the Twitter window to see if anything new is happening. I can use both Twitter accounts by using two browsers on my two screens. On my phone, Twitter makes it easy to switch between the two accounts, simply by tapping my profile icon in the upper left corner—my phone stays logged into both accounts at all times.

Threads doesn't do any of this. Threads isn't available on the desktop (without a difficult workaround), so I rarely check Threads at home, and certainly not as often as Twitter. Threads also makes it very difficult to set up and regularly use a second Threads account—you have to log out of one Instagram/Threads account and then log back in to a second account. Who's going to do that?

These are easy technological fixes that Threads could make, but apparently Meta isn't interested.

(V) & (Z) respond: You have a Twitter account dedicated to Wayne Newton?

S.N. in Charlotte, NC, writes: You guys are dead on when it comes to the social media bubble. I've been using it since roughly 2005, and used Twitter for a long time before dumping it the day of the announcement that a Musk takeover was imminent. I thought it had gotten too bot-heavy and, frankly, stupid, pointless and redundant anyway and that was just a great excuse. I'm 53 and will also never, ever join another new social media platform again, I don't care how "good" it is. Done.

D.L. in Uslar, Germany, writes: This doesn't really rise to the level of Schadenfreude, but it's at least amusing. While Elon may own free and clear, there's another little hurdle he's going to have to clear. It seems that somebody else holds the trademark for "X" as it relates to online social networking services and social networking services in the fields of entertainment, gaming and application development. No problem, he can just buy the holder off, right? Nope. The trademark is held by Meta.

I don't know if that's coincidence or if somebody at Meta was aware of Musk's fondness for X and/or his reacquisition of and got out ahead of him. Either way, we can expect the Musk-Zuckerberg slap fight to flare up again.

J.O. in Las Vegas, NV, writes: Don't expect the "X" rebrand to last long. Elon doesn't seem to think decisions through before he makes them nor does he have his staff analyze the feasibility before he announces them. My wife is an attorney that specializes in trademarks, patents, and contracts for a private company that operates here in Las Vegas. In fact, she recently successfully acquired trademark rights from a rival company for their failure to maintain currency of the trademark. She, through my browsing of Twitter, X, or whatever it's going to now be called, became aware of trademark documents making their rounds on the social media platform.

She verified their veracity and currency and apparently, in support of their Xbox ecosystem, Microsoft filed trademarks for online chatrooms, online communication, for a service they call, "X" back in 2003 and renewed the current status of that trademark as recently as 2018. I should clarify she did not research if these documents are filed in the trademark database, only that if these are filed as they appear here, they would be legitimately filed and would have supremacy over Twitter's claim to the trademark or any usage of the name. She went on to say the chances that Microsoft would allow Elon Musk to use the trademark or go through with his proposed rename of his service is nearly zero. There is simply too much room for confusion of their two services and their purposes are too similar.

Maybe Elon thought he was the biggest boy in the street and he and his attorneys could strong-arm whomever he came up against, but there are few legal teams larger than Microsoft's and their trademark department would undoubtedly be strong considering their company focus of technology and related intellectual property.

Twitter's X doesn't seem long for the world.

History Matters

J.H. in Durham, NC, writes: The question from F.J. in Brussels about the history of left- and right-wing parties over U.S. history made me think of this XKCD graphic. I can't speak to its accuracy, but it seems to broadly line up with your response.

(V) & (Z) respond: That was clearly inspired by the rather famous posters charting the development of America's political parties, copies of which just so happen to hang over the desk in (Z)'s office.

R.R. in Nashville, TN, writes: Oh, I really relate to H.R. in Jamaica Plain about 1968. I came up from Atlanta with some friends to campaign and protest at the '68 Convention. We were sent to Wisconsin—Lake Geneva, in fact—to campaign as well.

Some of us were didn't like Robert F. Kennedy Sr. because, as far as we were concerned, he had chickened out of challenging Lyndon B. Johnson in the beginning when it took courage and a strength of belief to declare your candidacy. Eugene McCarthy had done a brave act, and his campaign had forced Johnson out of the race. Then RFK entered when it took no courage and no really hard work to ride the wave of success that "Get Clean for Gene" had started.

I loved the time in Wisconsin. Met a wonderful girl there—girl, yes as we were teenagers in college—but her mother sort of didn't approve. But that's another story.

Returned to Chi-town to avoid cops, run into George McGovern, and tell him he had to run next time as he was sure to win, and to protest with a lot of folks that, unfortunately, I would never see again.

Over the years I have softened only a bit on my opinions of RFK. Certainly, I would have preferred him to "Dump the Hump," but obviously we had no choice. But I remember well daily shouting from the floor of the convention, as a lot of us packed into a hotel room cheering when Senator Abraham Ribicoff said, "And with George McGovern as President of the United States, we wouldn't have to have Gestapo tactics in the streets of Chicago." We knew from our experience, at that moment, exactly the truth he spoke.

D.N. in Elgin, IL, writes: I'd like to second the comments by H.R. In Jamaica Plain. My husband and I were just a couple of years older than H.R., not yet married a year, and we also canvassed for Eugene McCarthy in Wisconsin (Manitowoc). I have a vivid memory of my husband shaving off his beard in a public restroom with a dull razor before we set out to walk the slushy streets. The organizers did not want men with beards or long hair interacting with the voters of Wisconsin, hence their slogan "Come clean for Gene."

Whenever I see "Jamaica Plain" referenced, I can't help but remember the Kingston Trio version of the song about poor Charlie on the MTA.

Complaints Department

J.M. in Somerville, MA, writes: Your comment that those on the left could "demand that copies of the Bible and all works about religion be placed in the fiction section" is definitely a reminder that as a Christian, I'm a Democrat despite their best efforts, and not a Republican despite theirs. I find the comment to be poorly conceived, as 30 seconds of research reveals that the determination of fiction and non-fiction lies with the intent of the author, not the validity of the text. Now, if you wanted to question if the passage, "There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses." from Ezekiel 23:20 NIV, is appropriate for children, then we would have an interesting counterpoint to the claims of conservatives.

J.P. in Cranford, NJ, writes: I read your reference to "Karen and Ken" in this week's schadenfreude item. While it can be handy to have a label for things, both of those labels carry a very negative connotation, and just might be causing people with those names a fair amount of abuse these days. So maybe consider using a more generic label to avoid piling on these unintended people.

Incidentally, you can see from my initials that I am not a Karen or Ken, but I have to bet that people who share those names get quite a bit of kidding these days.

R.D. in Snohomish, WA, writes: In my younger days, in the time before my grandfather's grandfather, I once worked at a hardware store that was owned and run by a man named Charles, but who was always known as "Chuck." I don't actually know how he felt about being called Chuck, but he signed everything "Chuck" and never asked to be called anything else.

The hardware clerks tended to all be snot-nosed kids, or senile seniors, or college grads with English degrees. At times, during the course of a business day we would come across an item in the store that had been damaged and couldn't be sent back for a refund.

"What should I do with this leaky can of 'Big Wally'? Should I just chuck it out?" we would ask the boss.

He would leave whatever he was doing, step out into the aisle where we were working and just look at us. "Just throw it away," he finally said and turned and went back to what he was doing. A little while later he called out and said "I have to go to the bathroom and take a 'Rick' (or an 'Andy' or whoever was working that day). Can one of you watch the front of the store?"

Point well taken, and after a few occasions when we were treated to being associated with feces, we quit using the word "chuck" to denote something being thrown away.

I know a number of Karens and none of them like the association of their name with rude, unpleasant women. It's a small thing but I think we needn't resort to this kind of name calling. I actually am appreciative of Chuck making this point to his employees.

R.C. in Des Moines, IA, writes: I'm not sure "There Will Be an Abortion Shootout Tomorrow in Iowa" is a great headline. Putting a word connoting violence like "shootout" together with abortion in the same headline on a political blog is not a great look. It's too provocative and potentially inflammatory. Maybe go with "showdown" next time?

R.W. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: I must object to your statement that in New Mexico "abortions are legal up until the moment of birth." I expect that sort of incendiary language from anti-choice activists, not from you. As you know (because you've said so previously), third-trimester abortions are incredibly rare and happen almost entirely because of gross fetal abnormalities. The phrasing you use, while technically correct, makes it sound like a woman who is about to deliver can waltz into an abortion clinic on a whim and terminate the pregnancy. That isn't how these things happen. I hope that next time you write about this, you will consider simply saying that New Mexico does not impose time limits on abortion.

D.R. in Slippery Rock, PA, writes: You wrote: "For example, Jewish people, certain sects of Buddhism, and certain sects of Christianity (most obviously Catholicism) are strongly associated with a critical-thinking approach to faith." Why Jewish "people"? Do you say Buddhist people or do you say Buddhists? Do you say Catholic people or do you say Catholics? Is there something offensive about the word "Jews" so that you have to euphemize it? I'm just saying.


S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: If not Clue, the board game, how about Clue, the movie? After all, as far as its usage as a boogeyman in Republican campaigns goes, "Communism [/socialism] is just a red herring."

T.S. in Bainbridge Islane, WA, writes: Regarding the question from M.C. in Austin about 3-D chess, I don't know about your other readers, but this is always the image that comes to mind when I see that reference:

Spock, from 'Star Trek,' plays 3-D chess
while Dr. McCoy looks on

Pretty much says everything you need to know about that concept...

E.S. in Maine, NY, writes: I can't believe you did not link to the most famous truel in cinema history:

I suspect I could be the first but not the last of many, many people who point this out.

(V) & (Z) respond: We actually did try to squeeze that in, but it made the sentence too hard to follow. And yes, many people wrote in with this comment.

R R. in Pasadena, CA, writes: In response to my neighbor, B.B. in Pasadena, you wrote: "You got all the [double entendres] 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."

Sounds like a disappointing evening, well below average.

(V) & (Z) respond: Or, par for the course for well-known golfer Donald "Bad Lay" Trump, as we understand it.

Final Words

C.D. in Guernsey, Channel Islands, writes: Edward Blake, Canada's opposition leader in the 1880s, always struggled to match the charm of the country's first prime minister, John A. Macdonald. Once he asked one of his fellow members of Parliament, "How's your mother?" to which he received the reply, "Still dead."

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