Dem 51
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GOP 49
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Sunday Mailbag

We got many hundreds of e-mails about abortion this week. We cannot reasonably pare them down to just six or seven letters, nor can we run 40 letters on the same subject on one day. We conclude the only option it to take some time to organize them, and to run a selection during the regular week. So, that's the plan.

Politics: The 2024 Presidential Race

R.T. in Arlington, TX, writes: If I was a Republican strategist and I could pull all of the other Republican candidates into a closed room, I would tell them this: "None of you stand a chance of becoming president unless Donald Trump becomes ineligible to run for the office by death or criminal conviction. You have no control over that. But if that happens, a lot of you have a chance to become president. So for now, the rational thing for you to do is ignore Trump as an opponent, and try to win the primary between you. As long as you can raise money to campaign, do what you can against one another and hold your breath to see if Trump is taken down by something else. Decide for yourself how much you embrace the Trump legacy or Trumpism, but between you it is an open field."

The actual actions of these candidates are consistent with this view, so it may well be "the quiet part" they all know but can't say out loud. Looked at in this way, the actions of the other candidates is a lot less hopeless and pointless than it has been portrayed on and elsewhere. All they have to be is the best available alternative, not to beat Trump.

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: You think/suspect that the GOP candidates other than Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) can be safely ignored. So what is the race now?

It's not the armed giant vs. the shepherd boy with a sling and five smooth stones. It's not the gladiator with the sword and shield vs. the one with the net and trident. It's more like the guy playing 3-D chess vs. the checkers player who thinks that if he grabs the board and throws the pieces across the room, he wins.

It will be interesting. Neither one of them has any commitment to truthfulness at all; reality doesn't seem to bother them a bit. Their campaigns against each other will be a fact-checker's nightmare. Winner of that match goes up against the man born during the Franklin Roosevelt administration, which many people over 90 remember fondly.

H.F. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: (Z) wrote that Ron DeSantis' snapping at a reporter while campaigning in New Hampshire would prove a negative, making him look ill-tempered. I strongly disagree. For today's Republican voters, a candidate showing anger and contempt to journalists isn't a bug, it's a feature. In 2017, Greg Gianforte (R-MT) assaulted a Guardian reporter who persisted in asking him questions he didn't want to answer. Despite this, Gianforte was elected to Congress and is now the governor. During an interview in 2014, Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) threatened to "break... in half" and throw a reporter off the Capitol balcony when the reporter asked Grimm questions he didn't want to answer. Grimm saw nothing wrong with saying this on camera. Teddy Roosevelt called the presidency a "bully pulpit". A century later, the voters in his party simply admire bullies.

A.B. in Wendell, NC writes: L.B. in Savannah suggests that, by 2028, maybe Ron DeSantis might have mastered retail politics.

As someone who has run for office (my state Senate) let me assure you that retail politics is not something that can be learned or mastered. You have it or you don't... it's that simple.

I ran a very retail campaign. I had to, because I lost 3-4 months lead time on my opponent due to a redistricting fight that left me unsure what District I would be in. On top of that, I was our state's first openly-trans woman to run for such a position, and my opponent was a heavy establishment favorite who got almost all the endorsements. I did get The Freethought Society, and Planned Parenthood South Atlantic refused to endorse either of us, because we had both returned what they said were "perfect questionnaires." Additionally, EqualityNC took the easy path and endorsed both of us, which, frankly, annoyed me, since I was trans, and my opponent, while being pro-LGBTQ, was not herself LGBTQ.

My opponent was also married to a lobbyist, meaning she had a fat Rolodex of wealthy donors to tap, while I did not. My one and only choice was to run a retail campaign. Fortunately for me, that is precisely the sort of campaign I prefer. I raised about $2,000 for my campaign. My opponent raised tons more.

I hate fundraising. Always have. My favorite part of campaigning was to get out and meet the voters, and talk with them about the issues impacting their lives... and to listen. Too many politicians do not know how to stop talking (and I admit, even for me this is sometimes a struggle), but, when doing retail campaigning, listening is more important.

I'm very good at it. And it can't be learned or "mastered." You have it or you don't. If you are not genuine, people will see right through you. Against an establishment favorite that got almost all the endorsements, who had several months lead time on me, and every possible advantage, I managed 26 percent of the primary vote.

I might add there is no bad blood between my former opponent and myself. After a week of licking my wounds (losing hurts) I rolled up my sleeves and volunteered and worked my tuchus off to get her elected in November. We are still friends to this day. It is genuine and people know it.

Every person I met, whether or not I thought they would vote for me, I asked: "If I am elected, what is one thing I could do that would make your life better?" And then I listened. Because I cared. And people could tell I cared. And that is the key to retail politics. Ron DeSantis will never learn or master retail politics, because he is not genuine. He does not care. He looks down on people. And it shows.

D.C. in Brentwood, CA, writes: I joined Truth Social purely to troll Donald Trump. I have an NSFW handle, and signed up using a throwaway e-mail and phone number. I comment on many of his posts calling out his criminal behavior in language I would never use if it was linked to my name. And I haven't had any pushback or takedowns. So I guess it really is a free speech haven. It's probably unrelated that content moderation costs money.

Politics: The Debt-Ceiling Deal

F.S. in Cologne, Germany, writes: In my opinion, the debt limit deal is a bad deal for Democrats. I mean, a federal spending freeze for 2 years means a reduction of 10% if yearly inflation stays at 5%. A reduction of 10% is a lot. Poor people and the middle class will probably feel the pain. I also can't understand why spending for the military will increase while non-defense spending won't. Rich people won't have to pay higher taxes. So it seems that Republican priorities are (at least partially) addressed, but Democratic priorities aren't. It seems that poor people and the middle class will be the losers of the deal, whereas rich people and the military-industrial complex are the winners.

Joe Biden should have introduced the trillion-dollar platinum coin so that the debt limit doesn't have to be raised, but he didn't. It seems that the Democrats are the second plutocratic party in the U.S. and all readers of who really believe that the Democratic Party wants to reduce income inequality should ask themselves if that is supported by evidence. I mean, Democrats had the trifecta during the first 2 years of the Clinton presidency, the Obama presidency and the Biden presidency, respectively, and they didn't pass major legislation that substantially reduces income inequality in the long term, so I don't think that Democrats really want to reduce income inequality.

S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes: In all the reporting on the debt limit agreement, I had not learned until I read your Saturday Q&A that the 2025 deadline was assured not by setting a sufficiently high amount but by setting the amount as "whatever it takes." This is a masterful political stroke by Biden and the Democrats. If any precedent has been set by the deal, this is it. The fundamental absurdity of the debt limit has been demonstrated. What are the odds that the debt limit will ever again be set at a fixed amount? The argument against is: "choosing arbitrary amounts does nothing more than create manufactured crises that put the world economy at risk at unpredictable times." By contrast, the argument for "whatever it takes" is: "we're still limiting the debt—to the amount of borrowing needed to pay for whatever Congress chooses to buy. If the Republicans are serious about limiting the total amount the USG borrows, let them vote for what they want to stop buying and see if the voters like it."

That said, lost in the weeds of the debt ceiling bill are some pretty important changes in environmental law. The reporting all says "the deal makes permitting some energy projects easier." But what the Republicans and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) got was a rewrite of the nation's keystone environmental statute, the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA, signed by Richard Nixon on January 1, 1970). This has been a dream of the anti-environmental caucus since, oh, about January 2, 1970. It has never been able to pass through the ordinary legislative process. So at least one hostage died.

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: I have to wonder if cutting the new funding to the IRS will become another example of GOP talking points not aligning with people's experiences. My wife is a self-employed psychotherapist with her business organized as an S-Corp. Occasionally the IRS's numbers don't agree with my accountant's and I get notices from them that he then has to deal with. In years past it could take 6-9 months to get a response from them (so long that, when there were multiple notices pending, we often forgot which was what). And he never, ever tried to call them because no one would answer the phone. Since the new funding kicked in last year, all pending notices have been cleared and the 2022 tax season was the smoothest one ever. (Federally, that is. The state of California is a whole other issue.)

In my experience, the increased funding has been a big win and has greatly simplified and expedited paying taxes for her business. (Not that we enjoy paying taxes and, yes, we take every deduction we can find. But we see it as a necessary evil.) My bandwidth is no longer taken up with frustrating accounting errors that I cannot get anyone to correct. Are other business owners (and individual taxpayers) having a similar experience? Is the GOP's demonizing of the IRS is yet another losing issue that they have glommed on to? I'd be interested in hearing from others.

Politics: Culture Wars, General Comments

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes:

Part I

I just have to call out bull**it on a statement by Target in response to uproar caused by their Gay Pride Month collection of clothing and other items. The company announced: "Since introducing this year's collection, we've experienced threats impacting our team members' sense of safety and well being while at work. Given these volatile circumstances, we are making adjustments to our plans." Those plans include moving the Pride displays to the back of the store in some Southern states. Yeah, moving a minority to the back of something in the South has worked so well in the past.

Let's face it, Target, gays and young urban hipsters were the ones who built your chain. Back in the mid 2000's, one of my friends, a person who hated all chain box stores, said to me: "Hey gurl, you need to check out this Targé (French pronunciation) store. They have some awesome stuff and their sh** doesn't look like the illegitimate incest child between Cracker Barrel and Southern Living." And sure enough, going to the local "Targé" was like going to a gay bar but with red shopping carts. Maybe that's why all my nonessential essentials came from there. I read that, at the time, that particular Target store was one of the busiest in their whole chain, so yeah, you might be a little grateful. But hey, if the company wants to ditch the ones who brought them as they pursue the deer antler, gun rack and Confederate-flag-dust-ruffle set then that's your choice. I expected more from the company but hey, we gays are used to fixing up rundown neighborhoods only to be forced out when the redneck family pickup trucks show up. We have a history of moving on when we're ditched. Word of advice, if you are going for this crowd you better put in a Guns and Ammo Department because with they only accept complete and total capitulation to their every demands.

What makes me say "Bull**it" is the claim that this is to protect Target's employees. Sure enough, there are plenty of videos out there showing supposedly adult white males screaming at employees, throwing articles of clothing on the ground like a three-year-old having a tantrum and taking displays and stomping on them while yelling "Devil Worship," because it takes a special kind of Macho Man to strut up to a cardboard "Pride" sign and show it who's the boss. Just last week, several stores in the Southern states of Ohio, Pennsylvania and Utah received bomb threat e-mails from reported Pride activists, but which police have determined originated from a country overseas (my bet would be gay-hating, MAGA loving Russia, or fundamentalist Uganda, where the Born Against have outsourced their hate). So here's a thought, Target Bigwigs, instead of capitulating to the hostage takers and bad actors, why don't you put on your Big Boy Pants and take the people who are being abusive to your employees and who are destroying your property and escort their happy bigoted asses to the cops waiting at the front door and then later, in court, tell the judge to bar these yahoos for life? Speaking not only as someone who has worked in retail but who is a shopper, these people who come in to take out their anger issues make for a very unpleasant shopping experience for your good customers who are actually buying something and are not there to witness Nazi performance art. In pursuit of every last cent, you are trying to be all things to all people and ending up pleasing none. But don't use your employees' safety as a cover up for your cowardice. If you really value your employees, let it be known that you have zero tolerance for threats and abuse. How's the old saying go? If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything. So best of luck with those who are driving your employees and your once loyal customers away in order to please some right-wing incel lunatic with a stick up his butt.

Sadly, I think that boycotts are rarely effective, mainly because the competition is just as morally weak and dubious as the object of the boycott—plus to be honest and fair, I have my moments of weakness, such as my occasional indulgence in Fascist Theocratic Chicken, i.e. Chick-fil-A (Who knew bigotry tasted so good!), but now even Chick-fil-A is too "woke" for their mouth breathing rageaholics. So, I won't say I'm going to boycott Target. In fact, I received a package from them the day they made their statement. Sure, I can take my business back to Amazon, who makes their workers wear crap and urine filled diapers all day long, or to foreign-child-labor sweatshop Walmart, but I don't really go for the "Truck Mudflaps showing Calvin peeing on a Race Car Number" kind of merchandise. I'm not going to be like the right-wing idiots who are spending $20 for a six pack of weak (4% alcohol—why even bother?) conservative beer because of something... something... made up about Bud Light. I don't have a lot of good options when it comes to soulless mega-corporations. But what I can do is look at my purchases and, to take my recent one for example, did I really, really need those Guardians of the Galaxy t-shirts? Not really, but they do look damn cool. Maybe next time, I'll look to take my business to Esty or just bypass the middle man and take my money directly to our Most Benevolent Ruler, King Mickey, the First of His Name. It all ends up there anyway. At least, he kind of stood up for us.

Part II

I actually wrote and sent the first part of this letter the week prior to (V) and (Z) posting their item "Who Is Winning the Culture Wars?" (V) and (Z), being the upstanding guys they are, gave me the opportunity to amend or add on to my original e-mail after I read their post. There were some comments I wanted to add that didn't fit the sassy tone I had adopted in the first part, but when I stripped that tone, the letter seemed bland and didn't capture what I wanted to express.

First, I do want to say that even with the article's list of right wing moral umbrage, (V) and (Z) managed somehow to miss another outrage involving Disney. In Florida (where else?), a fifth grade teacher, Jenna Barbee, in Hernando County, showed her class the Disney animated movie Strange World because it had the theme of humans' relationship to their environment. That alone is enough to rate a full fledged panties-in-a-twist meltdown from Faux and Friends; but this film goes the extra mile and then some to guarantee MAGA clothes rending and ashes on top of the head reaction. It's a veritable smorgasbord of right-wing terrors: the main protagonist is in a happy mixed-race marriage ("Gasp!"), the son is happily gay ("The horrors!"), the mayor of the town is a strong Latino woman ("Shriek!"), the town gets its power from renewable energy ("Blasphemy!"), and, for heaven's sake, even the dog has a physical disability ("Stop the Madness!"). This movie was where GOP bigotry and dog whistles goes to die. Frankly, I don't see how Ms. Barbee didn't foresee the Conservative Sensibilities Meltdown that it produced. Of course, one parent, Shannon Rodriguez, who was a newly elected member of the school board and belonged to the conservative outrage mouthpiece Moms for Liberty complained and started an investigation. Incidentally, with most of these incidents, like the teacher who got disciplined for showing Michelangelo's David statue to his classroom, and the calls for book bannings, it all usually originates from one parent who is a member of Moms For Liberty.

Rodriguez stated that her anger was due to this teacher taking away her right as a parent to discuss sexual matters with her kids when she deemed it appropriate. First off, why is it that the "mothers" who take this line are usually the ones who refuse to talk about sex with their children until after the grandchildren have gotten married, if even then? Second, when I was in fifth grade, that's when I learned how to cuss so as to make a sailor blush. It was also in fifth grade that a classmate, a year before my parents, told me what sex was—in case anyone is wondering, according to this kid, it "was when a man and a woman's tits touched!" So glad I got the scientific explanation on that matter! Which only goes to highlight, that even with my parents trying to be super diligent and responsible, kids always find out first but it's a damn sight better then waiting until your kids have kids to talk about sex education because you're too much of a prude and because you're already on your second box of wine before the kids even get home. But at the end of the day, there are now calls for Rodriguez to resign from the school board, and Barbee has quit her job teaching in Florida to move to another state. Her former position now joins the nearly 10,000 teacher and education support staff vacancies in Florida so far this year. It seems these Moms For Liberty crowd is more concerned about fake outrage than giving their children the education they will need to survive in the real non-Fox world; but hey, they sure showed those libs.

In the item, (V) and (Z), in the last paragraphs, wrote this: "Bud Light is still feeling the pain, yes, but it was a rather unusual choice for a product with a blue-collar, Trumpy customer base to try to break into the trans market." I would like to try to throw some light on that, by doing a short history of gay boycotts against breweries. Coors Brewing started things off in the 70's with some homophobic comments by members of the Coors family and their discriminatory hiring practices. The famed Harvey Milk partnered with unions and other minority groups, who already had a beef with Coors' ultraconservative stances and statements, and made sure gay bars across the nation refused to stock their products. At first, the Coors family took the position that they didn't need no stinking gays and that they were just fine, in fact, proud with the boycott. When I was bartending at the busiest gay bar in Washington, DC, in the late 80's and early 90's, this was still Coors' attitude. At the same time, it was revealed that the Miller Brewing Company was donating money to Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC). For those who don't remember Helms, try to imagine the meanness of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-NC), mixed with the arrogance of Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), the stupidity of Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), the vindictiveness of Donald Trump, the self-righteousness of Ron DeSantis and the habitual need to showboat of Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) and pour it into the butt of a water buffalo and you would get Helms. This was a time when HIV was decimating the gay community and there was not one cent of funding for research or aid to combat this disease that Helms did not joyfully and belligerently filibuster and try to defeat. Helms was probably the most hated man by the gay community and it wasn't going to take Miller donating to his reelection funds (Come to find out, Miller, who was at that time owned by Philip Morris, the cigarette company, was more concerned about keeping their cancer sticks legal than Helms' pogrom against gays).

The bar where I worked, upon the revelation of the donation, promptly stopped purchasing Miller products. Equally as prompt, Miller sent a representative from the company's main headquarters to our bar to plead and beg to end the boycott. Even after we refused, Miller kept sending that representative every few weeks to beg us to reconsider. I guess it pays to be the #2 bar in all of DC for Miller Lite sales. All during the boycott, the boxes and boxes of Bud and Bud Light kept rolling in. Eventually, due to Miller's proactive stance, the boycott ended and their products started to reappear in gay bars. At the tail end of the 90's, Coors finally saw the error of their decisions and proceeded to try to sponsor every Pride event they could, but not to much avail. To this date, it is still rare to find a gay bar that serves Coors, although they are still trying to get their foot back in.

I relate this all to make a few points. Gay men, for the most part, have a lot more disposable income than a straight married male. Gay men, like most minorities, also have long memories and we tend to stick up for all the other letters in LGBTQ and vice-versa. We might be a minority but we do carry a big economic stick. Companies that stand up to the Bullies on the Right have a special place in our group consciousness. Up until this latest feigned outrage, Budweiser has been a staunch gay ally, being one of the few large companies to score a perfect 100 from the Human Rights Campaign, although in the last few years, they have made some hamfisted statements and donations. In fact, 4 prominent gay bars, this time in Chicago, have initiated a boycott against Bud. Perhaps that is why Budweiser made a $200,000 donation to the LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce just a few days ago, despite the huffing and puffing of the MAGA crowd. In a similar story, Disney World just had one of its biggest Gay Days despite the Human Rights Campaign issuing a warning that Florida might be a dangerous place to travel if gay. We remember the companies that stick by us.

I do fear though that if the country continues on its current course, if the Alt-Right and Fascist Rabble Rousers continue to manufacture fake outrage over increasingly silly and trivial matters, that it will lead to a kind of balkanization of the economy, where certain companies cater to the snowflakes on the right and the other companies seek the sane people's business. The good news is that means the Rage-a-thon Republicans will be eating grease at White Castle, drinking weak-ass Ultra Right Beer and being stuck at the top of the old, rusted, looks-like-it's-about-to-collapse ferris wheel at South of the Border. Which means we get all the good stuff while they continue to shell out their money and get nothing but the satisfaction that they owned the "woke" crowd. Seems like a fair deal to me since the Space Ark to Betelgeuse is at best, a few decades away.

C.B.L. in Warwick, RI, writes: Time to weigh in on the "Culture Wars" discussion. In my humble opinion, this subject really and truly is the most ridiculous load of hooey going. In my almost 68 years of living in America, there have been more "this means the country is going to hell in a handbasket!" causes than I can even begin to mention.

For me, personally, the "war" against mini-skirts started it, then it was the boyfriend whose hair went past his collar, and then when I was (finally) able to wear pants (yes, pants!) to school! Yep, that's what the good people of this country used to expound against. Too many "causes" since then to mention, but nothing to get my knickers in a twist to the point where I would stop buying something, or not read a good book, or not have friends of a particular color or gender. I guess my point is there will always be something that someone feels is dooming this country to hell and back, and nothing will ever change it. Time we all stopped paying attention to all that stupid malarkey and concentrate on the important things in life. Like which really is the best Star Wars movie.

P.S.: Yesterday, on our trip to our local Target store, we saw no one rending their garments (or Target employees, thank goodness) over the Pride display. If we had, I could possibly have kicked at them 'cause I was wearing pants. My husband, alas, would not have been able to help 'cause he had nothing to tie back his hair.

T.D. in Noble, OK, writes: You wrote: "Target reportedly removed some of the [LGBTQ] merchandise from their stores, though it's not entirely clear which merchandise and which stores. (Z) visited a Target in liberal Los Angeles yesterday, to see if anything was obviously missing, and the various "offensive" items listed in news reports, including the tuck-friendly suits, were all still there. Presumably the story would have been different at a Target in, say, Oklahoma City."

I just so happen to live within shouting distance of Oklahoma City and, as a card-carrying member of the "alphabet mafia," I have a vested interest in the availability of Pride merchandise. A short trip to one of two OKC Target stores proved (Z) partially correct. I was pleasantly surprised to see the Pride section at the front of the store, right next to the entrance:

A display of Pride merchandise, framed by
a mirror-shiny waxed cement floor

There were several clothing items for all ages available, from toddlers' overalls to knit skirts to a teal boiler suit, along with various household items like plastic bottles, journals, and window clings. Tuck-friendly swimsuits, however, were nowhere to be found.

P.W. in Valley Village, CA, writes: The rainbows are exploding from everywhere—way more than I've seen in previous years.

I work in the stodgy insurance industry, for a company of 7,000 employees. A number of my colleagues have also added the rainbow NFP logo to their signature block. Then add to this that the DEI team has been pumping out tons of stuff for Pride month that's distributed throughout the company. And this isn't just happening at NFP. It's happening throughout the industry.

My assessment is that all of the nastiness in the political space surrounding the drag and trans issues, has ratcheted up to 11 the resolve to fight back. Given that members of the LGBTQ+ community—and their supporters—are so well entrenched in all aspect of the public, private and nonprofit sectors, they can do something, and they are. They're leaning heavily into pushing back inside the spaces within which they have influence as hard as they possibly can. But even if the efforts aren't as widely-publicized as they have been with Disney and the Dodgers, these quiet efforts are equally as impactful.

Pull up a chair, and get plenty of popcorn popped. It's going to be quite a show. Yours truly, having been born into the community, have myself a front-row seat to the entirety of the proceedings. A seat I wouldn't trade for anything in the world.

Politics: Culture Wars, Kind of a Drag

M.F. in Oakville, ON, Canada, writes: In responding to E.W. in Skaneateles about the definition of a drag show, you raised the question of whether a Roman Catholic (or presumably Orthodox or Anglican/Episcopal) priest in a cassock constitutes drag.

I am absolutely convinced, if these ridiculous laws are allowed to stand, that Amerevangelicals will eventually try to use them against historical liturgical expressions of Christianity where clergy (and others) where vestments of any type, as well as against adherents of other religions.

F.L. in Denton, TX, writes: In consideration of the brouhaha over drag queens reading to children...

There is a male character in a very popular series of children's books, who is (apart from being a bit gluttonous) as pure and sweet as hunny. Yet, he is named after a female bear from Winnipeg that was transferred to the London Zoo (and also a swan of undetermined gender, but I digress).

That said, this particular trans character could not be accused of "drag," as he never wears anything except, occasionally, a shirt.

Politics: Culture Wars, Under the Sea

S.M. in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, writes: I don't think it's reasonable to say that The Little Mermaid is a hit—in fact, it's trending towards losing a rather large amount of money.

That's not really apparent if you look at the North American numbers, where it did okay (not great—people were thinking it would have a shot at Top Gun: Maverick's Memorial Day record and it didn't come close), but it badly underperformed overseas to about $68M, an astonishingly low number for a worldwide Disney release. The best comparable to that figure would be Solo (also a Memorial Day release), and that movie was a legendary flop.

In particular, it did horribly in China, running about 90% behind most recent Disney live-action remake movies while doing a paltry $2.5 million (Aladdin is the interesting comp, since that also had a largely non-white cast... but, then again, one of those actors was Will Smith, who's well-known in China. Aladdin did $18M on opening in China, which was considered a disappointment at the time).

It's also likely to be a heavily front-loaded movie, since there's three big movies out in the next three weeks that'll eat up a lot of the screens. So it might be lucky to get close to $300M domestic and $500M worldwide—numbers that sound impressive until you consider that The Lion King's remake did nearly a billion dollars more than that.

The best box office analyst around has set himself up at a new site, strongly recommended reading for stuff like this.

(V) & (Z) respond: (Z) wrote that and, as a resident of Los Angeles, is well-versed in breaking down box office grosses. The point was not that it's a hit of epic proportions, it's that the machinations of the right-wing outrage machine, which would largely only manifest in the domestic grosses, are not actually keeping people away. Whatever is going on in China, the problem is surely not "the people on The Daily Wire say the film is too woke."

A.K. in Santa Barbara, CA, writes: Regarding Matt Walsh and the color of the Little Mermaid: Deep sea fishes are usually black (some are red). Few if any are translucent or white.

(V) & (Z) respond: We will note that this reader is a professor who holds an endowed chair in marine biology, so it's fair to assume they know a wee bit more about the subject than Walsh does.

J.C. in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, writes: As someone who has studied and taught marine biology, if we are going to be "scientific" about it, deep sea creatures are more likely to be red and black than transparent (as red light disappears at 5 meters, so red creatures appear black). But of course, the Little Mermaid doesn't live deep in the ocean—she lives in the photic zone, where mysterious light shines on all of her neat complete collection. And at that level—well, we find all of the colors. Kind of like America.

J.L. in Albany, NY, writes: Regarding black mermaids, there is actually mythological reasoning for why a mermaid might be black. This NBC News piece points out that enslaved Black people who jumped from the ships carrying them were often thought of as turning into mermaids.

Now, of course, this isn't true as mermaids don't really exist. Those people, sadly, drowned. But if we're arguing about the skin color of fictional/mythological creatures, then mythology is a valid "historical source."

Then again, I doubt anything would convince the "mermaids have to be white" crowd. Their complaints aren't really that a mermaid is Black, but that Black people are getting screen time instead of a white person. Mermaids might be fictional, but their racism is all too real.

Politics: Culture Wars, Artful Dodgers

B.R.J. in San Diego, CA, writes: As a long time reader and a long time practicing Catholic, I've noted an under-reported element of the Dodgers/Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence controversy, which is simply this: Why poke fun at nuns? Yes, they're the butt of many jokes among the grizzled veterans of a parochial school education, and often those derive from real life experience. However, they're hardly a power source within the Church. They get stuck doing much of the basic toils of the faith—including many of those care-giving roles for which the parody Sisters are given praise. Actual nuns cannot say Mass, administer most of the Sacraments, or serve in the clerical hierarchy. The faux sisters might have a better foil if instead of satirizing the women of this vocation by taking on the male dominated clergy instead. Just a thought.

M.K. in Toronto, ON, Canada, writes: You suggest that the L.A. Dodgers really should mark Faith and Family Day when they play the Padres or the Angels. Another possibility would be the St. Louis Cardinals.

M.D. in San Tan Valley, AZ, writes: You wrote: "Since the team can hardly cancel the Sisters again, they compensated by re-instituting what was once an annual tradition, namely Christian Faith and Family Day, which will be held on July 30. The Dodgers' opponent on that day is the Cincinnati Reds. If they are going to celebrate Christianity anyhow, why wouldn't they choose a day that the Dodgers are playing either the San Diego Padres or the Los Angeles Angels? Seems like a missed opportunity. Well, unless the team was thinking about a different meaning of the term 'Reds,' and thought it would be good to bring a little Jesus to a bunch of godless commies."

On August 25th, I'm taking my wife to the Faith and Family Night of our home team. the Arizona Diamondbacks. That night, they face... the Cincinnati Reds! Commie coincidence???

(V) & (Z) respond: There can be no question that the Canadians are behind this. Note that the only color on their flag is... red. Even China, Vietnam and the U.S.S.R. mixed in some yellow.

Politics: Culture Wars, Fox

M.C. in Austin, TX, writes: Saw another reference to the Fox homepage, and wanted to write in to point out that homepages have become so irrelevant that it's not very useful to draw much in the way of conclusions from what's on them.

With the dominance of social media, search and mobile apps, hardly anyone visits homepages anymore. It's not uncommon for them to get less than 1% of a site's total traffic. So, many sites just don't put much real work into their homepages these days. They often program them algorithmically, taking into account what the small number of readers coming to the homepage are likely to want, or manually, according to relatively simple guidelines.

I ran some experiments like this on one of the nation's largest news sites, and we discovered that straight news only performed well on the home page at the beginning and end of the day. Otherwise, feature content got far stronger engagement. So that's what we promoted.

M.E.T. in Garden City, NY, writes: Regarding your criticism of Fox News for prioritizing a rant about Target's trans-friendly swimsuits above a news story about the budget deal, well, Fox does have a history of poor judgment when it comes to Tuckers.

Politics: 20 Years

M.B. in Cleveland, OH, writes: There were some feisty and thoughtful replies to my suggestion last week that the Democrats have moved leftward while the Republicans moved rightward, and that not acknowledging that might be due to not being exposed to diverse viewpoints. Perhaps I can elaborate.

About a third of the country thinks the Republican Party has gone completely off the rails. And they have a lot of evidence to support this belief, especially in the realms of culture wars and election denial and fiscal irresponsibility. Most of the readership presumably falls in this category.

Another third of the country thinks the Democratic Party has gone completely off the rails. The evidence they use to support this belief includes the vast number of cultural changes in the past twenty years, primarily supported by Democrats, some of which I listed. Almost none of the readership falls in this category, which is why I suggested confirmation bias might be at work.

And then there's the third third of the country, who thinks that both parties have gone completely off the rails. They support racial justice and don't like election subversion or gay-bashing, but they also support their local police and roll their eyes when they see college students shouting down conservative speakers before they can even be introduced (along with their pronouns).

I'm not trying to set up a false equivalence. It's clear to me that the Democrats' shift leftward has generally been a shift toward acceptance, understanding, and celebration, while the Republicans' shift rightward has been toward bigotry, authoritarianism, and hatred.

But one-third of the votes is seldom enough to win an election. And if you don't understand your opponent, you are going to have a hard time beating them. Consider their arguments. Figure out why they are effective, so that you can counter them. And then choose whether it will be more effective to try to squash your opponents like a bug (the second third) or convince them to join you (the third third). As Abraham Lincoln said, quoting Albert Einstein, "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing."

I agree with M.R. in Belleville that many kitchen-table issues have sadly vanished from the national conversation. But I think they are being a little too pessimistic in their assessment of the state of health care, the environment, and consumer protection. The Affordable Care Act, the "Inflation Reduction Act" (really environmental protection), and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau are all products of the last dozen or so years, and while there's inevitably a backlash against any new laws and programs, so it seems like they are going backwards in the moment, the long-term trend is in the positive direction. Thus I feel comfortable using secant lines rather than derivatives. And I'm positively overjoyed that some issues have both moved in a liberal direction and become bipartisan—witness 11 Republican votes in the Senate last year to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, signed by Bill Clinton.

Thank you, (V) and (Z), for moderating a forum where people can openly and honestly have discussions about sensitive topics (the trans series, the abortion series) and truly listen to one another. The country certainly needs more listeners.

All Politics Is Local

T.C. in Olympia, WA, writes: Living in Washington State, I wanted to clarify the response to P.C. in Santa Monica regarding state legislative districts. Washington State is divided into 49 state legislative districts, each electing two state representatives (titled "Position 1" and "Position 2") and one state senator, using the same map. A second map divides the state into 10 congressional districts used to elect our U.S. House of Representatives' delegation.

I actually never really looked into how other states devised their district maps, and just assumed it was something similar to Washington's process. After reading your response, it looks like Washington and Nebraska have something uniquely in common; namely, only two different district maps!

(V) & (Z) respond: Yes, we meant to note that setup in the answer, and we did eventually go back and add that possibility, using Maryland as an example.

M.S. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: In your answer to A.J. in Baltimore about what part-time legislators do for work, you mentioned small business owners and others with control over their schedules. In my experience as a staff member for a part-time legislature, this was only a small percentage of members. These professions were also common:

And then there's corruption. If you ever see a member and wonder how this person without a discernible income is able to make it on $24,000 per year, it's through corruption. We had several cases where a member was "employed" as a "consultant" for a lobbyist-run "non-profit" with mission statements like "liberty and justice for all" or "freedom and prosperity" but without such formalities as actual programs to help others. Their job is often to "make introductions" and "emcee events." Part of their compensation, on top of decent money, would be a car and rent on a swanky condo near downtown. Both parties do this. (Clearly I am cynical, and I deserve to be!)

Don't cry for part-time legislators. Not a one of them is in danger of going hungry.

C.K. in Kailua, HI, writes: A.J. in Baltimore, MD, asked: "What kinds of non-legislative jobs do part-time legislators have?" When I used to live in a rural county in Kentucky, our representative to the State House was a butcher in the local Kroger grocery store. One always knew where to find him.

R.W. in Dallas, TX, writes: I was floored by your insulting comments about Texas legislators making $7,200 and therefore being "not the best and brightest." I have friends in the legislature and they are some of the smartest and hardest working people I know. And the Republicans in the legislature just proved that they put citizenship above party! (Even a Democrat like me takes notice.) Being in government is public service. I have many political differences with Texas representatives, but to make personal insults based on their pay (twice in the same item) is immature and poor analysis.

Legal Matters

T.P. in Kings Park, NY, writes: J.H. in Edison asked: "One defense made by former President Trump and by his supporters is that he declassified documents simply by thinking it. Can't journalists get a court to test that defense by seeking the documents by a FOIA request? Since it is clearly nonsense, the courts should be able to weigh in quickly and puncture the talking points being used by right-wing types."

(V) & (Z) answered: "Since the documents are classified, the FOIA request would be denied, of course. And Trump and his acolytes would just claim that, after Trump declassified them, Joe Biden reclassified them."

In fact this theory was already tested during the Trump administration no less than three times. In each case, tweets or press releases from Trump or his administration were used by the media to argue that the information they sought had been declassified, and in each case the courts ruled that information cannot be declassified simply by the President saying that it is.

R.S. in Vancouver, WA, writes: Attacks on birthright citizenship, based on the Fourteenth Amendment's allusion to "subject to the jurisdiction thereof," are even crazier than you think.

At law, the term "jurisdiction" functions as a multipart test of fairness: (1) Is it fair for this decision maker (court/administrator/prosecutor/police officer) to act in this geographic area? (2) Is it fair for this decision maker to address this subject? (3) Is it fair for this decision maker to settle disputes with these individuals? (4) Is it fair for this decision maker to settle disputes over this property?

If the federal government makes the claim that it does not have jurisdiction over someone, the government is making the claim under law "my courts, police and administrators don't govern this person."

I'm sure there are more than a few people right now in federal prison who would be very interested if the Government were ever to make that claim.

D.B. in Deer Park, NY, writes: In your item about Texas changing the election rules for Harris County but not the rest of the state, you noted that it involves doing an end run around the state constitution. In theory, this should be a federal matter because the ruling in Bush v. Gore determined that different standards in different parts of the same state are not legal. But I suppose that's why the Rehnquisling Five made sure to include that nothing in that particular decision should be taken as precedent in any other case going forward.

Educational Matters

C.R. in Washington, DC, writes: I'm writing to comment on the item about homeschooling. The timbre of the piece seemed to be fairly negative, and even the concession: "For the right kids, and the right parents, operating with the right set of goals, homeschooling can certainly work" feels a tad bit narrow. I don't take offense at this assessment (I've had this conversation many times) but as a homeschooled kid myself, I have to disagree.

My parents were anthropologists who taught at the University of Malawi in Zomba; we traveled back and forth from the States often enough that it didn't make sense to put me in school while we were stateside. I didn't have a set of defined goals or a curriculum. The extent of my instruction was "go outside and read."

Now, I have to admit that I'm only speaking from personal experience, but at least in my case, that worked just fine. When it was time to go to college, I got my GED, sat the SATs, took a major in biochemistry, and graduated with a 3.7 GPA. Since then I've worked in biotech and software engineering.

Whenever I ask my friends about their childhood education—particularly high school—the first response is typically some variation of "oof." Based on their accounts, the bargain-basement United States public school experience that most children suffer through is abusive, dehumanizing, and often requires parents to become deeply involved anyway in order to secure a decent education. Conversely, my experience of sitting under trees, listening to the birds, and reading to my heart's content was generally positive and fruitful.

Socialization can be an issue, but there are plenty of easy fixes. When I was stateside, I did local theatre, and I made friends in that context. Although I was never named Orange County's Artist of the Year (smirk, wink, nudge), I did play one of the titular characters in a high school production of Disney's Beauty and the Beast.

Now, a case could be made that my experience was more of autodidacticism than of homeschooling, but the point stands that alternatives to public school are perfectly viable, even without the "right" kids, parents, or goals.

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: In light of your Schadenfreude item this week, allow me to share what is possibly one of my favorite quotes:

Education, I think, is without value if those who emerge from it cannot cope with what is outside the comfy and familiar. - Betty Winston-Baye

I read a lot of her writing when I lived in Louisville, she was often in The Courier-Journal. But, this particular quote has always stuck with me.

F.M. in Roseville, CA, writes: I just thank you for "This Week in Freudenfreude: The Show Must Go On." It warmed my heart to see not only that the kids of a that Indiana town still performed the play, but that 1,500 people also showed up to watch it. It's a great message that even in ruby-red states, there are people still fighting for rights that seem so commonplace in my sunny California. The Freudenfreude stories are always a great way to end the week, as many of the other posts, while keeping me abreast of what's going on in the U.S., often have me cringing a bit. Thanks for all the work you do and for those that submit Freudenfreude "entries."

G.M. in Laurence Harbor, NJ, writes: Your story of the play in Indiana reminds me of an event in my hometown in New Jersey. A warehouse caught fire and the manager and assistant got out safely. As they waited for help the first person to arrive was from a local monastery. This enraged the manager, who yelled at the assistant: "I told you to call a fire truck, not Friar Tuck!"

(V) & (Z) respond: We are reminded of the British church fundraiser where the U.K.'s favorite fast food was being served. One poor fellow had to keep explaining to attendees that he was not the fish friar, he was the chip monk.

History Matters

H.B. in Savannah, GA, writes: Regarding the question from S.C. in Mountain View, I imagine many others will also point this out, but you did indeed previously provide a more detailed comparison of Nancy Pelosi to other highly regarded speakers.

(V) & (Z) respond: We did get a heads up from a fair number of readers. We should note that the list we provided yesterday and the one we provided previously are different, primarily because we were answering a slightly different question. S.C.'s question was specifically about whether or not Pelosi has a claim as #1, and we were answering what that case might look like.

J.S. in Easton, CT, writes: You wrote that: "... blackface was a form of propaganda masquerading as entertainment, and intended to make the argument that Black people are subhuman." This is correct, but a great oversimplification. I am not defending blackface, and it is true that most use of this obsolete (thank goodness) makeup was used in acts that were vitriolic.

Most, but not all. In fact, Al Jolson, whom William A. Donahue sites in his misguided statement, became the first musical superstar in America by using blackface to portray a black character, "Gus," who was always the smartest character on the stage. Gus made fun of bigots, showing them up for the fools they were in hit Broadway show after show from 1912-1926, in ways a Black actor could never have gotten away with. Jolson was Jewish, and strongly identified with Black Americans, becoming a great friend to the Black community. He was one of the most popular Hollywood movie stars among Black moviegoers in the late 20s. Jolson produced the first three-act Broadway drama written by a Black man (Garland Anderson's Appearances, 1925); was a big supporter of the first major all-black musical (Shuffle Along 1923) and was one of the only stars who socialized with people of color in the 30s.

As a Jolson scholar, and the author of a Jolson musical (still in development), I feel confident that if he were alive today, he would be a proponent and ally of Black Lives Matter. And incidentally, he stopped using blackface on stage when he retired Gus in his last two Broadway shows (The Wonder Bar, 1931 and Hold On To Your Hats, 1940).


B.C. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: Kudos to D.K. in Oceanside for bringing Harley onto to join your adorable doggies! My wife and I are allowed to share the home of a fellow named Sugar. He also objects to the use of the term "fat cats" since he tips the scales at a robust 21.5 pounds and one could hardly call him fat. In addition to that, there is an element in the following photo which testifies to his refined views and intelligence:

Sugar is sitting next to
a computer and a monitor which has loaded

B.D. in St. Agatha, ON, Canada, writes: I got a dose of history from the assessments of war leaders. Thank you.

However, I could not help but want to add one more, namely the friggin' squirrels who raid whatever bird feeder I put out for the chickadees. It's impossible to thwart them; I even send my crazy cat to deter them without success. Those squirrels must rank as a 10 in all categories!

My cat is below. What squirrel would not be afraid?

Clem the black cat

S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes: The rule? You left out John Maynard Keynes, who didn't say "Well, when events change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" and Yogi Berra, who didn't say, "Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future."

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: "As Mark Twain observed, 'Sooner or later, every important wise or witty saying, no matter who originally said it, is attributed to Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, or George Carlin.'" - Benjamin Franklin

Final Words

M.P. in Leasburg, MO, writes: Jerry Orbach, a Broadway actor, albeit someone who is better known as Lenny Briscoe from Law & Order and as Baby's dad in Dirty Dancing, spent years writing poems to his wife. He would leave them for her each morning on his way to work. Near the end of his career, sadly, he was diagnosed with cancer. Navigating the illness, he still wrote poems, albeit at a slower pace, until passing away from prostate cancer in 2004.

His wife, Elaine Orbach—a classically trained ballet dancer and accomplished Broadway actress herself—for nearly 13 years read and then saved every poem Jerry wrote; stuffing them in a soup tureen in the kitchen. After a few of his poems were shared at the memorial service, she began to read through them again, reminding her of the wonderful life they had together. She spent the next 5 years compiling them with the intent of sharing them with the world.

Elaine Orbach unexpectedly passed away in 2009, just after delivering her final words, the manuscript for Remember How I Love You: Love Letters from an Extraordinary Marriage.

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