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Sunday Mailbag

Just so it is clear, we're running "new" comments on trans issues during the regular week (something that will continue for a couple more days this week) and responses to those comments in the mailbag.

Politics: The Willow Project

D.V.T. in Anchorage, AK, writes: I have been an energy professional in Alaska for many years and was thus interested in your response to P.S. in Gloucester, who asked: "Why did the Biden administration approve the Conoco drilling operation in Alaska, after Biden had campaigned in 2020 on no new drilling in Alaska?"

I very much agreed with the first part of your answer, which was: "...because the Biden administration is tacking to the right, at the moment, in anticipation of next year's elections."

However, I cannot agree at all with the second part of your answer "...because the Biden administration is scared to death about the possibility of another spike in gas prices, and will do nearly anything it can to forestall that, in anticipation of next year's elections." Willow is a long-term project that requires the construction of major infrastructure (roads, pipelines, processing facilities, and the drilling of numerous wells) before actual oil production can begin. Financial analysis of the project released by the State of Alaska projects Willow production to not begin until 2029, five years after the election. Willow will in no way affect gas prices before the 2024 election.

(V) & (Z) respond: We recognize that the Willow oil won't reach market anytime soon. We only wrote that because petroleum is very much a futures-based market, and so we imagined that the possibility of increased supply could affect certain planning and purchase decisions. But maybe not on a 5-year timeline.

S.H. in Sutherlin, OR, writes: Regarding the Biden administration's approval of the Willow Project allowing Conoco to drill in Alaska, your answer to P.S. of Gloucester was woefully inadequate. Please refer to this USA Today article. It gives a fair synopsis of the entire story without the political overspin. Too often the headlines make the news and the details get lost in the weeds. This article tells all of the story with the various shades of gray involved.

Politics: Mike Pence, Always the Bridegroom, Never the Bride

D.H. in Waterloo, ON, Canada, writes: When I read your transcript of Mike Pence's joke about Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, my immediate reaction was none of the four things you mentioned. I just did a mental double-take, because Pence seemed to be implying that the entire transportation system would have collapsed by now without Pete Buttigieg to keep it together. What a fantastic job Mayor Pete must be doing!

D.S. in Palo Alto, CA, writes: I find it interesting that you did not address the main contention in Mike Pence's speech about the result of Pete Buttigieg's leave: that the entire transportation infrastructure collapsed due to his absence from the helm.

In truth, the Secretary of Transportation can do little about ongoing failures, although they may be in a position to use these events as guidance in setting new policy and proposing new legislation to prevent future ones. It is unclear what the DOT's role might have been in the East Palestine disaster even had they been more assertive. The gobsmacking implication, apparently, is that the GOP believes the U.S. is, or at least should be, a socialist nation, where the means of production, etc., should be owned or at least controlled by the government. Otherwise, how could they blame the government more than the negligent owners of the railroad for the disaster and its aftermath?

If any organization should be criticized, it might be the EPA, because after the derailment, the issue was no longer transportation-related. Had this been an Amtrak train carrying dangerous chemicals, then maybe.

K.F.K. in CleElum, WA, writes: Regarding your item about Mike Pence's weak attempt at humor with the Pete Buttigieg joke: The joke not only is about stereotypical gender roles and anti-LGBTQ, it makes light of postpartum depression. I'm sure any individual who experienced postpartum depression was not amused at being made the butt of a joke.

Politics: Ron DeSantis and Ukraine

D.E.M. in Canterbury, NH, writes: While I understand your point about Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) believing that Ukraine is just a local spat and your argument that he is comparing it to attitudes about the Vietnam War, I believe that the Republicans, and Democrats, who feel this way should take a deep look at the events of September 1938 and the Munich Pact. Much to the dismay of Neville "Peace in Our Time" Chamberlain, we all know how that turned out. Allowing Putin any territorial gains will only feed the monster, not sate it.

G.D. in Chicago, IL, writes: I strongly take issue with your extolling the supposed wisdom of younger, Republican hawks like Sen. Todd Young (IN). Young decries the danger of Russia taking all of Ukraine and then (horrors!) having the Russian army standing on NATO's border.

Is Young or too young to recall that Poland, Hungary and (Czecho-)Slovakia used to have the Russian army inside their borders? And yet all that was rolled back. The only reason NATO abuts Ukraine is because NATO expanded.

Donald Trump is right that NATO is obsolete. We are better off cooperating with Russia than having the Victoria Nulands of the world misuse our foreign policy budget to foment fights between brother nations.

Politics: Bathroom Bills

L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: Reading about the Arkansas bathroom bill brings back memories of when the North Carolina bill was passed. When it was first passed, I thought it was dumb, but didn't really feel that strongly about it. But my views really changed when I read an article in the local paper about a young local college student who was a trans man. He said he had always been more comfortable using men's restrooms, but when SB2 was passed, he started using women's restrooms since he didn't want to break the law.

When he did so, he was regularly verbally assaulted and, on at least two occasions, physically assaulted by women who didn't want him in their restrooms. So he was left with an impossible choice. If he used the men's room, he felt safe, but was breaking the law; however, if he used the women's room, he was doing what was legal while risking psychological and physical harm. It really brought home to me how evil the bill really was, and I became an out and out opponent.

When conservatives address trans people, it's always from the perspective of trans women. The pontificate about "men" in women's restrooms or "boys" competing on girls' sports teams. They never seem to consider trans men, yet there are as many of them as trans women. Indeed, I suspect those concerned about the impact on young girls of having people of a different assigned gender at birth using their restrooms would find they would be far more bothered by bearded trans men than feminine trans women using the facilities. While most of your readers who have commented on trans hate recently do not fall into the trap, even some of them seem to equate the concept of trans solely with trans women, forgetting the other half of the story.

While we'll never change the minds of people using trans hate solely for political gain, I do applaud our local paper for producing a story that shone a different light on the situation and showed how much harm the continuation of the law would cause in reality as opposed to in the fevered imaginations of the trans haters.

A.K. in Alexandria, VA, writes: Mentions of bills that would restrict public restroom use by sex assigned at birth makes me think of the Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival. This event is held every year on the first full weekend in May at the Howard County Fairgrounds. Those in attendance are overwhelmingly women. While the fairground buildings have restrooms, the men's and women's restrooms are equal in number. Women stand in long lines, watching as men easily breeze in and out in minutes. Invariably, women get tired of waiting and take over one or more of the men's restrooms. In recent years, organizers have supplemented the restrooms with porta-potties, but I wonder if I would have been arrested if these proposed laws were in effect in those earlier years.

R.S. in Tonawanda, NY, writes: Ah, for the days when "crimes and misdemeanors" just meant "graffiti." For many years, I've attended Buffalo's Shakespeare in Delaware Park, one of the biggest (and best; plug-ola) outdoor Shakespeare festivals in North America. These days, there are plenty of porta-potties for the playgoers, but years ago the crowd would form two lines at intermission: for one men's room and one women's room in a park building. Sometimes, I would leave the men's room, last one out, and there would still be a long line waiting to get into the ladies' room. Possibly inspired by some chivalrous character I'd seen on stage, I would "stand guard" at the door to the men's room while some of the "ladies in waiting" availed themselves. If New York had the legislation now working its way through the Arkansas legislature, those women would have been guilty of the crime of using a public bathroom not in accordance with their birth certificates. And I would have been guilty, I suppose, of criminal facilitation under New York's (ahem) Penal Code. Every day, I become more convinced that our nation, or a significant chunk of it, has gone bat***t crazy.

Politics: Dark Times

J.L. in Mount Vista, WA, writes: You wrote about the distressing poll showing that 70% of Republicans think that America's best days are in the past. But I suspect that many non-Republicans would also agree.

We now live in a country where some teachers are removing books from their classrooms because they're afraid they'll be charged with a felony if their students have access to newly-banned books. Unfortunately, the teachers weren't told exactly which books are now illegal, so some of them removed all their books in an effort to avoid prison.

We now live in a post-Roe America, where some women who suffer a miscarriage cannot receive the necessary medical treatment for it. The treatment for a miscarriage is identical to an abortion, and the new anti-abortion laws don't always distinguish them, so some doctors no longer treat miscarriages in an effort to avoid prison.

We now live in a country where an armed terrorist insurrection tried to overthrow the government and snuff out democracy, and was considered to be "legitimate political discourse" by the party that now controls over half the Congress.

If someone looked at these new developments and came to the conclusion that America's best days are in the past, I would be unable to offer a coherent rebuttal.

T.K. in Warsaw, IN, writes: You wrote: "This kind of hyper-negativity isn't generally very popular with the electorate, and it doesn't generally lead to success at the ballot box. What it does sometimes do, however, is cause the True Believers to conclude that the system is hopelessly broken and that there is no downside, and plenty of upside, to rising up in violent rebellion. It already happened in 2020 and, unfortunately, the pieces are falling into place for it to happen again. The good news is that, this time, the authorities know what could be coming, and will presumably be more prepared."

You make one big assumption here, which I have seen elsewhere, in that the authorities will do something. The two of you are lucky enough to live in areas that are reasonably sane and not filled with right-wing hate, and have many progressive, educated people. There are, however, large swaths of America where it's valid to think "if the True Believers start, say, rounding up and killing trans/gay/black/whatever persons, will the police actually stop it?" There are plenty of authorities that are True Believers themselves. As Rage Against the Machine put it, some of those that work police forces are the same that burn crosses. It's entirely possible that some American police officers, for example, would actually be among those killing trans/gay/black persons.

All of us liberal/progressive/non-MAGA citizens have one thing we can do (besides voting and helping others to vote) and that is to practice your right to bear arms. It has been my experience that many of the True Believers are cowards, and can't stomach the thought of facing anyone who can fight back. Trumpism is what caused me to change my beliefs on guns in America, and I am now a strong supporter of owning a gun (and knowing how to both store and use it safely). We can't count on the authorities to do something. All of us need to be ready to defend our trans/gay/black neighbor, because the True Believers, like Nazis before them, won't stop there.

P.G. in Berkeley CA (where else?), writes: I read this morning that the pandemic program that expanded food stamps has ended and that many more millions of Americans will fall back into food insecurity.

Then there were articles about how all customers of SVB and First Republic will be guaranteed their money by the Federal government, including those whose deposits exceed the $250,000 FDIC limit. (Like Peter Thiel, who apparently had $50 million in SVB.)

This "inflation" crisis has largely been a fake crisis courtesy of the Federal Reserve. Although the rich grabbed most of the money generated by low interest rates (bailouts, easing, etc.) they didn't get it all. Ordinary people got some and life for many marginally improved. That's intolerable to the billionaire class. (Carl Icahn said that the expansion of food stamps was meant to be temporary because of COVID. Marie said let them eat cake.) So now we have high interest rates and cuts to social programs as the Thiel/Musk/Ellison class scoop up what they missed.

There is no "free market." There never was. There are just different ways of choosing winners and losers. This isn't any better than China and probably worse, at least economically. At least in China the very rich answer to the Party. Here it's obviously the other way around even if there seem to be two parties. And so many Americans continue to be distracted by "gender." Quelle farce.

Politics: Outstanding Pat

K.E. in Richmond, VA, writes: Thank you so much for your excellent recap of Pat Schroeder's life. I'm too young to really remember her tenure in Congress, but she sounds like a caring, quality person—and a real pip.

I happen to think the Democrats have additional, current riches in this regard, but it's wonderful—and moving—to hear of such forthrightness and humor from someone who was a real pioneer in her day.

C.Z. in Sacramento, CA, writes: Thanks for your tribute to Pat Schroeder. She was the Queen of Quips. While in office, she said what most of us women were thinking but were not as artful at articulating as she was. She made me proud to be a woman, and hopeful for the future of women in the USA. She is gone now, along with my hope for women's rights in this country, at least in the near future.

C.H. in Sacramento, CA, writes: What an excellent commentary on Pat Schroeder's political life. I remember some of the quotes you included, but not all. This obituary reminded me how valuable and/or funny she would've been had she been a regular on the cable commentary channels over the last 23 years or so. I'll miss her.

I.H. in Washington, D.C. , writes: All the while I read your tribute to Pat Schroeder I waited for a reference to her 1988 run for president, especially since a previous item that day included a dissertation on the various campaigns women have waged for president over the years. I was surprised when I finished the tribute and there was no reference to Schroeder's bid for the Democratic nomination. For the record, here's a story from The Nation about her short, but notable, presidential campaign.

All Politics Is Local

J.T. in Lexington, KY, writes: This hankus-pankus with the timing of Kentucky legislation over the drag-ban bill calls up an incident in previous Kentucky governor Matt Bevin's term. The legislature re-wrote a sewer bill that had already had readings, and turned it into a pension cut for Kentucky teachers. That effort was later invalidated by the Kentucky courts. Gov. Andy Beshear (D-KY) was Attorney General then. I'm sure this latest rule-bending is going to court also.

S.O. in Madison, WI, writes: Quick note on the upcoming Wisconsin election. The state Supreme Court race is the driver, of course (though here are also various mayoral, school board and lots of referendum questions). The spring nonpartisan race turnout was way higher than expected. Our ward (Madison, "Fighting 71st") came in 4th with 60%. We ran out of ballots and ballot slips (twice). The City Clerk is gearing for 100% turnout for the general. The last time that happened our ward went over 100% (with same-day registrations).

C.M. in Raymond, NH, writes: Of the California Senate race and behind-the-scenes choreography, you wrote: "And it wasn't necessary because California is so blue, and the Republican bench there is so thin, that the seat will remain in Democratic hands pretty much no matter what happens." Except... it might not. The top-two system in California can produce weird effects. In the primary, all the candidates, regardless of party, compete in an open election. The top two vote-getters advance to the general election. (In effect, the "primary" is the real election, and the general is a run-off.)

If there are four credible Democratic candidates and two credible Republican candidates, it's entirely possible that the top two finishers in the primary might be Republican. And write-ins are forbidden in the general election (a friend of mine lost a case on that point), so if it happens, that's that.

If anything, the behind-the-scenes choreography is more important in California than in Michigan, since there's no gatekeeper primary!

International Politics

B.C. in Hertfordshire, England, UK, writes: I've noticed how you like to report occasionally on an election somewhere in Europe, and to highlight the apparent chaos which results from the use of a proportional representation (PR) system, like this week's election in The Netherlands.

Obviously, PR encourages a lot of parties because they all get a bit of representation, and certainly the subsequent, lengthy horse-trading which follows in order to form a government can seem chaotic. However, by contrast with the archaic first-past-the-post systems used in the U.S. and the U.K., most European countries using PR are among the most stable, progressive democracies in the world, The Netherlands being a prime example. PR leads to coalition government and coalitions knock off the extreme edges from every party, which many would consider to be a good thing. Even when an ostensibly-extremist party does become the largest party, it has to temper its behavior in government lest its coalition partners pull out and bring down the administration.

Doubtless some will scream "Italy," as if the turmoil of Italian politics somehow invalidates the stability of, say, Germany and The Netherlands, but Italy has always been addicted to chaotic politics (and nonetheless still seems to hum along OK as one of the world's largest economies).

If I were able to choose between a European-style coalition and some of the crazies who have been in power in the U.S. and the U.K. in recent years I know which I would favor! And that's before we get into the philosophical dimensions of the matter (i.e., the massive democratic deficit inherent in first-past-the-post electoral systems). In the U.K., only twice in the past century has a government been elected with a majority of the popular vote (both occasions in the 1930's) yet the winning party is able to function as an elective dictatorship whilst the majority which did not vote for it is completely disenfranchised. You have similar issues in the U.S.

Responses to Trans Hate Comments

C.S. in Chicago, IL, writes: Thanks is a sentiment that is a long time coming, as I have been following your site now for almost 20 years (I think. John Kerry was running at the time I found you.)

What prompted my e-mail, however, is the item dedicated to trans-adjacent people. As I continue to learn about trans, nonbinary, pronouns, et al., I am grateful to have you folks to break it down for me in a non-condescending manner. I imagine there are a lot of us wanting to learn, but not really sure where to start.

(V) & (Z) respond: We appreciate the kind words, though the primary reason we are running your letter is because we want to make sure readers know that a lot of people are writing in and saying they find the trans material helpful and instructive. Remember that, in the end, we are both teachers, first and foremost.

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: In response to M.A. in Knoxville: I actually did have my surgery in Bangkok, in 2002. I did not find it painful. In fact, I was up and walking two days after surgery...albeit trailing a catheter bag behind me. The most painful part was that the Thais didn't seem to be up on "creature comforts"—the beds were hard and I was forever asking for fresh pillows to soften my hospital bed. And there were no biometrics... no blinken lightzen... no, they woke you up every 4 hours to take your vitals. Just like being in the hospital in 1970's America, really.

I did have a scary experience, though: post-anesthesia aphasia. For those not versed in medicine, let me explain what this does to you: I was unable to form words. I could read, write, and people could talk to me and I understood everything. I could also write just fine. I just could not speak... other than forcing words out one at a time.

Fortunately, versed in medicine as I was, I knew what was happening, and that it was temporary. But it was still scary. Other than that one thing, my surgery journey was relatively pain-free, and I have no regrets whatsoever. It did take me about a week after the catheter came out to re-learn how to hold my pee but, other than that... no complications, minimal pain... and no regrets. I was back to full-time work in the States 4 weeks after the surgery, and probably COULD have gone back after 3 weeks, but decided to stay out the extra week.

S.C. in Mountain View, CA, writes: I wish to respond to the comment from L.E. in Putnam County that it is a mistake for someone "to insist that they are of the sex opposite to that dictated by their genes." L.E. seems to equate "genes" with the equipment below one's waist, when one's gender identity, as dictated by one's genes, could very well be at odds with the equipment one has below one's waist.

I would ask L.E. to consider that there could be a biological basis for gender dysphoria, and would invite him or her (since I do not know what pronouns he or she prefers and do not know if he or she is willing to be referenced as "they") to read the Wikipedia articles on human chimera and mosaic. Not that these are the causes or are the only possible causes of gender dysphoria, but just to acknowledge that the genetic determination of sex, let alone gender, is a lot more complicated than L.E. seems to realize.

I would then ask L.E. to consider the advances in medical science over the decades. We have insulin for people who would otherwise die from diabetes. We transplant organs into people who would otherwise die from the failure of the organs they were born with. We can surgically correct cleft palates and club feet and allow people born with those conditions to live more comfortable lives. If someone's genetics puts their gender identity at odds with the equipment below their waist, shouldn't we allow them the opportunity to treat that condition with medicine and surgery, so that they can then live more comfortable lives?

I would compare the struggle for trans rights with the struggle for homosexual rights. The United States is about 90% heterosexual, yet we have slowly, gradually, fitfully, and, for some, painfully, come to accept that the other 10% have the right to live their lives as first-class citizens as well, free from discrimination and scorn. (Does L.E. accept that people with a given set of equipment below their waist can be attracted to people who have the same equipment?)

Similarly, about 99.5% of the United States is cis-gender. But that does not give anyone the right to look down upon the 0.5% of people who are not. We should work to create a society where everyone is accepted for who they are, even if (especially if) they are struggling to figure out who they are.

L.R.H. in Oakland, CA, writes: Reader S.S.T. in Copenhagen writes: "I have myself been through a very bad experience on the social media when I opined that the term TERF is not supported by any scientific evidence..."

TERF stands for "trans-exclusionary radical feminist" and there certainly are such people. It's a description of a social phenomenon, not a scientific issue. And there's plenty of evidence for the existence of such people. Consider, for example, the history of the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival; consider the book The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male; consider the debates that have taken place within many feminist and lesbian organizations over the last 40 years.

On a related note, I can't believe there's a discussion of singular "they" going on. The first recorded use of "they" as a singular pronoun was in 1375, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. Here's an article on the history of the usage; I would think that nearly 650 years of this usage legitimizes it.

A.B-G. in Vancouver, BC, Canada, writes: I've loved the trans coverage you've done on your site so far, and it does go a long way. However I was... well... disturbed by the letter from I.F. in Toronto. Most of the points seem fine, but when he noted that his trans friends call certain people "Transtrenders," my OOF radar immediately went off.

Here's the thing. Like every marginalized group, we have our own internal fights and struggles. I'm trans-femme myself but have dated and are friends with folks in the non-binary spectrum of identity. This is just for reference.

"Transtrender" is a term popularized by a portion of the trans community known as "Transmedicalists" or more commonly: "Truscum." These are trans people that think you have to be a certain way, convincingly, to be trans. The notion that one can be "not trans enough" to actually be trans or non-binary. It's being trans plus being a TERF essentially. Not a great look.

I agree that I.F. shouldn't be forcefully labeled as non-binary for being a guy with some "feminine" leaning interests, if he's quite clear that he's a guy. No one should tell someone what their own gender identity is. However it does, from the small amount of information given, seem like he's fallen in with a Transmedicalist crowd. They are very much in the minority within the trans group and include such, uh, wonderful examples of trans people like Blair White. If you do not know who she is, let's just say she does everything she can to try and get Ben Shapiro to like her, including invalidating her own gender. It's... mind-boggling.

The arguments I.F. gave about non-binary folks are the same ones used against gay men themselves just a few decades ago:

"Have Pride but why do you all have to be so flamboyant about it?"

"If we could all just act like 'normal men' the Conservatives wouldn't hate gay people so much."

"The problem with LGBT people is it's all their personality is, and it ruins the discussion"

Please reconsider your standpoint. It's extremely harmful, as the only way things will get better is if all marginalized people group together to fight as one. This viewpoint is just helping the wedge issue become a bigger wedge.

C.K. in Rochester, NY, writes: I'm thankful to J.L. in Albany using left-handedness as a trans analogy. I think it works. Like many of your readers, I have struggled to understand gender perspectives outside of male/female/gay. One of my fears is that childhood is filled with self-discovery doubts of all kinds: Does the push to identify potential gender disconnects end up creating them where they wouldn't have otherwise existed? Even if that's the case, it doesn't mean we shouldn't be doing everything we can to enable children to experience the best that life can offer without fear of discrimination or shame.

I recently read a book, This Is How It Always Is: A Novel, by Laurie Frankel, that helped me appreciate the struggle from the perspective of parents, siblings, and the trans child. It is billed as fiction, but the author has a trans child, and she drew from her experiences. It was an amazing read: well written, and highly recommended to anyone looking for a better understanding. It was also a great read just for reading pleasure alone! I have a couple family members who are convinced that any non-traditional gender roles all fall into the category of sin—and I am pretty sure that if they were to read this book, they would gain empathy and understanding even in view of their own religious beliefs. (The book is on its way to them!)

S.H. in Laval, QC, Canada, writes: I read the comment from M.H. in Ottawa, ON, Canada regarding their analogy where they compare having a cleft palate with being trans.

I am not a trans person, but as someone born with a cleft palate, I find their analogy brilliant. I too suffered both physically and socially. This was 68 years ago when surgical treatment was not as refined as it is now.

However, I benefited enormously from the medical help that was available to me—and this was Canada, so it was socialized medicine and therefore free—and from the emotional help of friends and family who did not ostracize me because I was "different."

So, I say let's give transgender people the medical and social help they need to become the person they truly are. No questions asked.

J.G. in Olympia, WA, writes: In your item about neo-Nazis turning to transphobia, you suggested that neo-Nazis were responding to trans people in the same way that they did for Jews since the bases for being scapegoated were the same. You didn't really need to make any reach; the original Nazis were notoriously anti-trans as well. One of their earliest and largest book-burnings targeted nonconforming individuals. Here are a few starting off points for anyone interested: "The Forgotten History of the World's First Trans Clinic" and "Transgender Experiences in Weimar and Nazi Germany."

J.R.B. in New York City, NY, writes: I know you know history way better and deeper than I do. And you likely know the following but I just wanted to say that the victims of the Holocaust included a small number of homosexuals and transgender people—viewed as one group marked by the pink triangle (which was merged with the Jewish star if they were a gay or queer Jewish person).

Laverne Cox recently spoke on MSNBC that going after the gays and trans people was primarily in the early days of the Holocaust, which I take to mean we are in eerily similar, scary times to some extent.

R.W. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: Your labored attempt to draw parallels between the neo-Nazi hatred of Jews and of trans people was facile, intellectually lazy, and frankly beneath you. There have been dozens (hundreds?) of books written about the centuries-old hatred of Jews. It is multi-faceted, multi-determined, and intractable. Hatred of trans people is a new phenomenon that is easily explained: it's a recruitment tool (as you point out) and it arises from gender panic. I would not for a moment minimize the danger and harm of trans-hatred, but to compare it to the antisemitism that killed six million Jews is simply offensive.

Legal Matters

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: It's understandably frustrating to see some of the justices of the state Supreme Courts of North Carolina and Wisconsin exercise their power in such a brazenly partisan way. And it's tempting to take those examples of partisan behavior and extrapolate that to all state courts, for example. But to write "all state Supreme Courts take an oath to do whatever their party wants of them" is absolutely false.

There are more examples of courts acting independently than otherwise. In fact, just this week the North Dakota Supreme Court, whose members were all appointed by Republicans, voted to block an abortion ban because the justices found that the state constitution protects the right to safety and health, which includes the right to an abortion. And let's not forget the remarkable uniformity with which the courts, including many Trump-appointed judges, rejected his 60 election challenges. So, it's best to avoid generalities maligning the courts when the evidence actually shows that most judges take their oaths of office very seriously and work very hard to not let politics or ideology influence their decisions. It's absolutely appropriate to call out anyone in government who is abusing their power or violating their oath of office. But it's not appropriate to falsely accuse everyone of engaging in that behavior—it does a grave disservice to the men and women who do their jobs with integrity and independence.

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: I love the comments from D.E. from Lancaster, but last Sunday's letter has a number of fantasies about what the legal system can do that need addressing.

First, the ratings and labels on TV and film are mostly voluntary (that's why there are un-rated films), and ones like those required by the FDA are pursuant to legislation. But any statute requiring ratings for "propaganda organizations" would run afoul of the First Amendment. Forcing Fox talking heads to speak disclaimers absolutely infringes on their free speech—forced speech is as oppressive and unconstitutional as restraints on speech.

Second, although D.E. is right that Fox could settle voluntarily on a basis where it has to provide on-air mea culpas, that is not relief that can be ordered by a judge. Even assuming that the defamation aspect takes a forced-speech remedy outside First Amendment strictures, quite simply, Dominion did not ask for it in its complaint. Courts very rarely grant litigants relief they didn't ask for, especially more relief than they asked for. The remedy Dominion elected is "at law," i.e., money damages, which is why it brought the case in Delaware Superior Court. To get equitable injunctive relief ordering Fox to admit lying, Dominion would have to assert that money damages were not adequate ("no adequate remedy at law"), and bring suit in equity in Delaware Chancery Court. Finally, while we're down here in the weeds, a minor point: Fox cannot be "found guilty" of defamation. Guilty/not guilty applies only in criminal matters. This is a civil matter, so Fox can only be found liable/not liable.

History Matters

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: I was going to make a snarky comment about Gerald Ford, midwestern boy, biting into a tamale with the corn husk still on. I was going to point out that the midwest is corn central. Then I, a South Dakota boy, whose parents grew corn in the backyard garden, remembered the first time I met a Texas tamal (I majored in Spanish; that is the correct singular form) and how I too bit into it husk and all, despite being very familiar with corn husks. So, I guess I'll refrain from tossing any stones around this very transparent and brittle house of mine. Runzas and hotdish are definitely a lot more obvious about their wrappers or lack thereof.

Also, I think the biggest problem of trying to discern what any given historical figure thinks about modern issues is that first you'd have to figure out how to explain everything that's happened in the interim and/or find an era-appropriate analogy. There's a networking group in Austin that had a George Washington impersonator as a guest speaker doing Q&A in character and it was a real exercise in historical thinking to pose questions as if we had the real Washington in front of us. How do you explain mass e-mail surveillance to a man whose most rapid long-distance communication medium was a man with a satchel on a fast horse?

C.J. in Lowell, MA, writes: You noted that George Washington did not have children, so we can't judge if he were a good father. However, my understanding is that he was in fact a devoted stepfather to Martha's children from her first marriage. Of course, he was also an excellent "Father of His Country."

P.F. in Fairbanks, AK, writes: You wrote: "John Tyler must have been a great president because he had children coming out of his ears (15 in total)."

It might be time to bring on a staff doctor. Since you have readers in Florida, I'll spare them the criminal liability of knowing the details, but his children started out well south of the ears.

(V) & (Z) respond: The staff doctor says that she sees nothing wrong with our original statement. Of course, she spent Friday hitting Irish pubs with the staff mathematician, so it's at least possible her assessment might not be reliable.

C.J. in Redondo Beach, CA, writes: I find this conspiracy theory about President Wilson extremely tired. "After running on a supposed peace ticket, he jumped into World War I, possibly to save Wall Street banks their loans to Britain."

Yes, the Democratic campaign focused on "He Kept Us Out of War." Wilson personally didn't like the slogan, though he did seek to keep the country out of war. The idea that we entered primarily to pay the bankers or arms dealers was really popularized by the Nye Commission, which drew huge condemnations by the Democrats at the time. In fact, Sen. Carter Glass (D-VA) was so ticked off he banged his hands on his desk so hard that he drew blood. By the time the U.S. entered, the country was mostly on board. Were there dissenters? Sure. However, the country had been moving toward a more hawkish footing for some time. I'd say by April of 1917, Wilson was following rather than leading public opinion.

To move on to the Espionage Act of 1917. Did it go too far? In hindsight, we can say "yes." But one also has to put it in the context of the times. There were German espionage and sabotage rings working in the United States, and had been for several years by the time we entered the fray. Munitions plants were blown up, ships carrying supplies were destroyed, a plot to sicken the country's horses and cattle was discovered, Congress was bombed, German agents spreading anti-war sentiment in German and Irish newspapers was documented, etc., etc. Even the Zimmermann Cable had been sent over our own diplomatic channels to get to Mexico.

Wilson also had President Lincoln to look at. Lincoln wasn't necessarily shy about stamping out anti-Government feelings when his country was in existential crisis. The Wilson administration may have been a bit paranoid about the German network in the U.S., but they also thought the country was in a similar scenario. With Germany offering an alliance to Mexico and Japan in regards to capturing U.S. territory, what wasn't Germany incapable of?

No Comments, Continued

P.M. in Palm Springs, CA, writes: J.D. in St. Paul opined that adding a possible comment section to this site would be a negative. I have to agree with J.D. in that it is not necessary, given that your Monday through Friday commentary is a voluminous institution on its own and we do not need to hear from the peanut gallery every day, but can enjoy our plebeian thoughts on Sunday. However, I must disagree with J.D.'s disparagement of the commenters on Teagan Goddard's Political Wire. We are a "community" that kinda sorta knows one another, empathizes with others on occasion, and sometimes asks why we haven't heard from a regular lately, etc. Most of our comments are intelligent and some of our humor is prescient and sharp. Teagan also uses the comment section to update news in real time, such as election results. We commenters are part of the blog and part of its strength and generally a pleasure.

D.J.M. in Salmon Arm, BC, Canada, writes: I also support not having a comments option. There are several positive aspects of, especially the writing and opinions of (V) and (Z), and the informative responses of the readers. The curation of these responses has always been well managed by (V) and (Z) as shown by the fact that they often include criticism and opposing opinions.

The inclusion of various other diversions (March Madness etc.) is a great way to remind ourselves that there is more to life than immersion in politics.

(V) & (Z) respond: We are glad that some/many folks recognize that the "fun stuff" is a conscious choice in response to the heaviness of politics, and the need for occasional respite. On that same note, notice that the mailbag is always organized to start "heavy" and end "light." The Q&A too, for that matter.

J.H. in Boston, MA, writes: Although I and a few others have written in suggesting some form of discussion forum or comments section, it's clear that the bulk of the readership, as well as you, the authors, yourselves, do not favor it.

I was going to offer an alternative. The discussion forum could be more informal. You needn't host it or moderate it yourselves. An off-site discussion page devoted to, but not hosted there nor even having any formal affiliation.

Then I remembered that this already exists. There is an EV subreddit on reddit already: r/ElectoralVote. A user called loonling has been posting every day's post for 6 years like clockwork. The next time I think I want to try to have a discussion about a piece that I don't think would work as a weekly e-mail, I could try submitting it there. Although it looks like the readership is not measurably different from zero, so IDK.

O.Z.H. in Dubai, UAE, writes: Having or not having a comments section is, of course, your choice, but I think you should allow responses from people when someone else specifically cites something someone wrote. For example, P.M. in Port Angeles mentioned something I wrote, but seems to have mischaracterized what I was saying. Firstly, I was asking a question and not making a statement, and secondly, I would never say that Tucker Carlson is being anything other than duplicitous—most of the time. That being said, my point (to the extent I was even trying to make a point) was that, if you are going to say that the contents of Carlson's private text messages are his true feelings when he says stuff like how much he hates Trump, then you can't pick and choose which of those text comments are his true feelings and which ones are not. If one of those texts says he has "no doubt" that fraud occurred, you have to take it at face value, just like you would any of his self-damning text messages.

Anyway, I humbly suggest you allow responses by people when their comments/questions are specifically cited, or not publish comments that specifically cite other people's comments/questions.

(V) & (Z) respond: We often do run responses, if we get them, as we are doing at this very moment. But "guaranteeing" that opportunity would be a greater logistical commitment than we are able to make.

Getting Smoked

C.S. in Linville, NC, writes: As a North Carolina BBQ restaurant owner, I feel compelled, qualified and confident to comment on the issue that T.H. in Bluffton raised regarding Carolina BBQ. While my gentle neighbor the South may live close enough to smell a hog farm (or is that Hilton Head they smell), they are certainly in no position to lump all Carolina BBQ into one group. There are nuances in Carolina BBQ that are more complex and often vary from region to region. For example, the particular hardwood used in the smoking process. I prefer hickory. mainly due its abundance in our region and its subtle sweet flavor. O how the pork butt is prepared; some marinate, we use a dry rub. Or chopped or pulled? We pull, then chop. Or, what part of the state are you in? Eastern part of the state uses a vinegar-based sauce, while many in the western part use a sweeter ketchup-based sauce. We prefer to let the consumer decide, and so don't add sauce before, but have it in the table.

I invite my good neighbor to the south up to our establishment in the NC mountains, and suggest they bring some of their best South Carolina BBQ. We'll see how they stack up... oh, and do stop by the North Carolina coast and bring us up a bushel of Stump Sound oysters—by far, the superior oyster. ;)

R.T. in Arlington, TX, writes: OK. Now E-V has done it. You thought the third rail of American politics was Social Security. You failed to recognize that the third rail of American life is barbecue, barbeque, BBQ! Not only did you reference North Carolina barbecue in an endearing way, you had the nerve to publish a responding comment about "mustard-based" BBQ (as if a mustard seed should ever occupy the same universe as barbecue). Few things are more contentious than the proper and best form of barbecue. Even people with no clue what barbecue should be think they are experts on the subject. I beg in the name of peace, harmony, and all things good that mentions of barbecue: Cease! (after you publish this comment) ;)

C.R. in St. Louis, MO, writes: T.H. in Bluffton wrote in disparaging North Carolina BBQ and extolling the virtues of the South Carolina sweet mustard variety. I had the displeasure of tasting this sweet mustard atrocity in the Piggy Park BBQ restaurant of the openly racist and deceased Mr, Maurice Bessinger in the early 2000s when a client took me there for the first (and last) time. Now, maybe I was just put off by the pamphlets supporting a kinder "biblical slavery," those claiming invalidity of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, or the large Confederate flag flying above. Likely, it's just the worst example of BBQ I have had to tolerate.

North Carolina BBQ might be the second worst, though.

[BBQ arguments can go on forever.]

B.G. in Palo Alto, CA, writes: Just a quick small compliment. As a software engineer I've long appreciated (V)'s work, from his books on operating systems and distributed systems, to Minix (microkernels ftw!), to his analytical writing on U.S. election minutiae. But I was quite surprised to see this comment: "In other states people are going to give [Ron DeSantis] Polish sausages, hot tamales, knishes, Rocky Mountain oysters, fried Snickers bars, fried pie, grits, clam chowder, South Carolina BBQ, North Carolina BBQ, East Carolina BBQ, West Carolina BBQ and many other local delicacies. Failing to eat them with relish (or, in some cases, without relish) can cost him votes."

As someone who originally hails from Southeastern North Carolina but has since lived in New York, California, and elsewhere, it tickled me that you guys even know about the minutiae of Carolina BBQ. Few people outside the Carolinas know about all the different BBQ styles there. You guys really do your homework in getting to know anything election-related, no matter how niche.


R.R. in Pasadena, CA, writes: You mentioned that you asked the staff astronomer if the charisma void created by Mike Pence and Ron DeSantis on stage together would create a black hole, and said that he would only meet you on the dark side of the moon. Well, as an astronomer, I have to say that you chose poorly, as every astronomer knows that there is no dark side of the Moon. Matter of fact, it's all dark. You should replace that imposter with someone who knows a supernova from souped up Nova.

(V) & (Z) respond: Don't give us that do goody good bull**it.

K.H. in Maryville, TN, writes: Thanks to, I have correctly picked USC to be eliminated in the first round, and UCLA to be moving on.

This truly is an all-purpose site! Thanks, (V) and (Z)!

(V) & (Z) respond: We must admit that figuring out the nuances of Carolina BBQ (see above) was much harder than figuring out that UCLA is good at basketball and USC is not. Nor is Arizona, it would seem.

F.S. in Cologne, Germany, writes: (V) wrote: "Philip Seib, a professor emeritus of journalism at USC, said: 'That audience that Fox has, which is very similar to the core base of Donald Trump, is still going to want information. They're not going to switch to MSNBC or CNN.' That appears to be true."

This was likely the first time that (V) or (Z) agree with someone connected to USC. Apparently, (Z) didn't intervene and agrees with (V) and Seib. Perhaps you will write something positive about the Chicago Bears in the future. That would be really astonishing.

(V) & (Z) respond: Don't hold your breath.

B.W. in Walpole, ME, writes: J.A. in Forest writes: "My son (30 years old) can't understand why no one has picked up on how Tucker's stepmother is an heir to the Swanson frozen foods fortune. He thinks Carlson should be referred to as Fryer Tuck."

Anyone who was thinking of letting their Sunday subscription lapse just whipped out their checkbook and reupped.

Final Words

Today's last words are courtesy of T.L. in West Orange, NJ: Giles Corey, from Arthur Miller's The Crucible, has a terrific set of last words. While being pressed to death, he simply says, "More weight."

If you have suggestions for this feature, please send them along.

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