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Sunday Mailbag

We have a lot of Israel-related messages in the inbox. Look for some of them during the regular week; that's the only way to do them justice.

Politics: The 2024 Presidential Race

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: I hate to be a heel; but I absolutely have to put my foot down and insist that you devote some pixel space to the ongoing controversy regarding Gov. Ron DeSantis' (R-FL) footwear. In other words, it's time for the Staff Podiatrist to earn her pay! Even Donald Trump is not pussyfooting around. He has veered off his usual path of just threatening judges and prosecutors to devoted several "Truths" to elevating the discussion about DeSantis' footwear—which looks like a cowboy boot but isn't one—and the ridiculous curl of the toe (although it might go a long way to explain DeSantis' foot-long snarl). I'm waiting on tiptoes for your post.

Update: Aha! I see I finally got an item on DeSantis' exotic footwear! Boots on the ground, so to speak, even after 20 days! I guess it kept getting kicked back.

P.R. in Arvada, CO, writes: Is it just me or does anyone else think that it is odd that Ron DeSantis gets minimal flack for wearing high heels? One of the main justifications for trans hate is that the Bible tells us that a man shouldn't wear women's clothing. Yet one of the most bigoted people pushing an anti-trans agenda wears women's clothing.

A.J.A. in Elk Grove Village, IL, writes: I'd like to congratulate Ron DeSantis on learning how to walk in heels before this particular trans woman. May it be the final success of his political career.

G.W. in Oxnard, CA, writes: In your item "Das Boots," you wrote, "And people do not generally prefer to vote for candidates who are manipulative and have strange priorities."

I direct you to the political career of one Donald J. Trump. He claims to be taller than he is. He claims to weigh a couple of stone less than he does. He has yet to admit that he slurs his words sometimes because he wears dentures. He has comically obvious makeup/spray tanning that gives him an orange appearance to conceal is pale pallor. He has a comically bad combover. He has manipulated his voters and even manipulated some to commit crimes. He has manipulated employees into doing things that landed them in legal trouble, some convicted, some still presumed innocent. He has manipulated seasoned politicians who know full well how damaging he is to the Republican Party's future and the country into supporting him. His political priorities are certainly strange, some dictated by self-interest, some contrary to conservative principles, some partially or entirely divorced from reality. Perhaps DeSantis' problem isn't that he is a phony, perhaps his problem is that he isn't phony enough to catch on in the modern Republican Party.

(V) & (Z) respond: That's exactly it. Trump's voters don't perceive these things in him. They do perceive them in DeSantis.

E.F. in Baltimore, MD, writes: Mike Pence's aborted presidential campaign was based on the entirely reasonable assumption that Donald Trump's myriad legal difficulties would have forced him out of contention by now. Had Trump already been convicted on a couple of charges, a sizeable chunk of his support would have shifted to the 7 (8?) dwarves, Pence being foremost in the Dominionist lane, and with some meaningful executive experience as well. If you'll remember, Dominionist stock is on the rise lately. Just ask Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA).

If Trump suffers a debilitating stroke in court this week, expect Pence to ressurect his campaign instantly. He's not quite dead yet.

G.W in Oxnard, CA, writes: In "Nancy Mace: Now and Then," you wrote, "And [Trump's running mate] could turn out to be very important if they're the only person on the ticket who can campaign because they're the only person on the ticket who is not in prison."

I agree that Trump will need to choose well for his VP should he see the inside of prison, but I don't agree that he can't campaign from prison. I believe that if he is in the clink, he will be able to campaign by videoconference. He will need a good warmup act for the rallies, and the VP is the logical choice to have as the main surrogate, but other surrogates could do it, too. Once the crowd is whipped up into a frenzy, Trump would come up on the jumbotron and he would make a spiel about how they must reelect him president to prevent the "lawless Democrats" and the "deep state" from going after other Republican politicians and Trump supporters to jail them, too.

(V) & (Z) respond: If this does come to pass, we envision something like this:

(V) & (Z) respond: That said, to get the 200 bald men Apple needed, while still staying within their budget, the crowd in the commercial is comprised entirely of skinheads, whereas the crowd at a Trump rally... oh, wait.

Politics: Trump Legal Matters

R.W. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: One need not be paranoid to conclude that Judge Arthur Engoron's clerk is influencing his decisions. Of course she is; that is one of the many things that law clerks do—help judges to decide things. Having clerked for a judge on the Third Circuit and another in the SDNY, I can tell you that no one is closer to a judge or more relied upon than a law clerk. Obviously it is the judge who makes the final decisions, large and small, but it is invariably with the input of a law clerk. There is nothing even vaguely improper about that.

R.C. in Des Moines, IA, writes: Donald Trump Jr. graduated from Wharton with a B.S. in Economics and he knows nothing about GAAP? Riiiiiiiiight.

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: Ivanka Trump, who is scheduled to testify this week, is the wild card and the most interesting case: She's smart, she's savvy, and she's up to her neck in the business dealings that involved fraud. Taking the Fifth doesn't seem to be her style—too common, too gauche, too low. And of the three, she's the true Trump, the real deal, which means that she could happily throw her father and her two brothers under the bus in order to save her own skin, money, neck, and reputation. It would just be so Trumpy of her to abandon everyone else in her family before they abandon her.

R.R. in Pasadena, CA, writes: You wrote: "Unless the jurors are sequestered, which is unlikely in a long trial, probably some of them will watch Fox every day and get their information there."

Any juror who is watching media coverage of their trial will very likely be violating the jury orders the judge gives them, which exposes them to sanctions by the judge. In the trials where I have served, the judge included an instruction that was basically "don't search in the media/Internet for this case or the people involved". When it's probably the biggest media story going, I'd bet that instruction will read "don't read anything related to this case, at all, period."

Jurors that read Fox, MSNBC, or anything else expose themselves to outside information, which violates the edict that they are only supposed to render a verdict based on evidence presented at trial (that was another jury instruction). That goes for other knowledge they have as well... jurors may have heard something about a case, but they have to discount it and focus only on the evidence. Googling for evidence is tempting while you're there... I did it after the trial where I was foreperson, and learned some things that fortunately convinced me the verdict was right, but also saw things that could have sown doubt without further investigation (which I did, and understood well enough to ignore).

Listening to political pundits ranting about a Trump trial would taint a juror so badly that the judge would have no choice but to toss them, as the very last thing you want is a juror spouting those rants in the jury room to people who can't respond to them and don't have context for them. It could also convince a juror to vote one way regardless of the evidence. Jurors just can't do "research" or watch any media, and the judge will order them not to do those things... if you're right and someone does and gets caught, I would think the punishment will be pretty vigorous to stop it from happening again, unless it causes an outright mistral. Which, of course, could be what a Trump supporter could hoping would happen, which is why there will be lots of alternate jurors as well.

C.B. in California, MD, writes: You forgot one Halloween meme:

Trump drops the Halloween candy when 
a kid in a Fani Willis costume shows up at his front door.

R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, writes: Sidney Powell had a colloquy as part of her plea, in which she said she was pleading guilty because she IS guilty, and her insistence that she was actually lying during that colloquy is not going to get her charged with perjury, but there is a (perhaps very slight) possibility the U.S. Attorney may make a motion to set aside her plea and set her for trial.

She certainly doesn't want that to happen—which is why she pled guilty in the first place.

Her current assertions of innocence won't make any difference, since there's no chance she would be asked to testify anyway, and you can't get any less chance than none.

Politics: Violence

L.D. in Bedford, MA, writes: Your answer about political violence dealt almost exclusively with racial-based violence. You could have gone in other directions and looked at violence against (and sometimes by) organized labor—the Molly Maguires, the Haymarket Square "riot," Homestead, the Ludlow Massacre, the Mingo County War (Matewan Massacre/Battle of Blair Mountain), etc.

You also could have included the anti-Italian riots in 1891 ("Who killed da Chief?"), or the pervasive anti-Irish sentiment and violence of the 1840s and 50s, such as the Philadelphia riots in 1844.

I suppose you could have had a two-fer with the NY City Draft Riots in 1863, which were political and simultaneously dealt with race AND class.

E.S. in Half Moon Bay, CA, writes: I totally respect your take on history but I would like to pose an additional bit I think you missed taking into account about "violent eras," namely gun deaths. With approximately 48,000 gun deaths in the U.S. and with an approximate population of 350 million, that's 0.013%, give or take. Applying that to say the population of 1870, and you would have almost 6,000 deaths. As horrific as two lynchings a week are, that is dwarfed by the violence due to the ridiculous access to and infatuation with guns in our country, supported by the gun lobby paying off our elected officials.

(V) & (Z) respond: This assumes that gun violence is political violence, which may or may not be the case. And even if it is, in the nineteenth century, the U.S. had more gun violence (proportionally) than it does now. See, for example, Murder in New York City by Eric Monkkonen.

Politics: In Congress

T.P. in Cleveland, OH, writes: Having passed his Israel aid bill in just 8 days, Mike Johnson now has an opportunity to demonstrate his sincerity on Ukraine. With Israel done, nothing prevents the House from immediately passing a Ukraine aid bill. Should be done by Nov. 10 (8 more days), right?

Perhaps it was worth the 12 votes just to clear the Speaker's desk so he could "focus" on Ukraine.

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: In your response to M.R., the military officer currently stationed in Washington, you write that majority leaders of either party are leery of trickery that involves waiting until some Senator or a number of Senators are absent.

I call BULLS**T. They have no problems doing this in North Carolina, where they tricked Democrats on 9/11 into thinking no votes would be taken, so they could go to the memorials, then rammed thru a veto override in the House on the Budget in 2019.

That was followed up by them repeatedly scheduling votes in the Senate and then not holding a vote when they saw all 21 Democrats were present... Rep. Jeff Jackson (D-NC) even called them out for refusing to take a vote when all 50 Senators were present!

(V) & (Z) respond: Fair enough, but we were speaking only of the U.S. Senate.

Politics: Abortion

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Thank you for the item on the increase in abortions since the Dobbs decision. The fact that the numbers have increased despite the ever-increasing barriers to women receiving legal abortion services tells you how desperate women are and that they will go to any lengths to get the care they need. We also can't lose sight of the costs of these harmful barriers and the increased risks to the women and their families of inevitable delays in care.

But even with all the difficulties in getting care, I suspect some of the higher numbers can be explained by the Streisand effect. In and around the states where abortion is being banned or where measures are being put on the ballot to protect abortion rights, people are talking about this subject in a way they never have before. As a result, there may be women who are realizing this is an option for them and taking steps to exercise that right when they wouldn't have before. At the clinic of which I'm board president, we're seeing this firsthand. Our call volume alone has increased so much that we've had to hire staff just to answer the phones. And in addition to telehealth options that are tracked, with self-managed abortions on the rise, the real numbers are probably much higher.

So, not only has overturning Roe not had the intended effect, it's actually afforded an opportunity to increase awareness and conversations about a topic that had been taboo for too long. And that awareness is leading to more support for reproductive rights, including abortion.

M.S. in Parma, OH, writes: You wrote about the Ohio Abortion Initiative: "One thing some Democrats are worried about is that the guy who counts the votes, Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R), who is also running for the Senate, strongly opposes Issue 1. Will he use his power to put his thumb on the scale? If he thinks he can get away with it, who knows."

That statement, unfortunately, furthers the fraudulent Republican argument that American elections are hopelessly corrupt and easily stolen. The Ohio Secretary of State does not "count the votes." He has no power to "put his thumb on the scale" to affect or change the outcome of the vote. The county boards of elections (consisting of two Democrats and two Republicans) supervise the counting of the votes. The voters are actually counted by voting machines and optical scanners. The boards of election report the totals to the Secretary, who has no ability to change them. I doubt very much that any state is much different.

LaRose has powers that could, and sometimes are, be used during the run-up to the election to tilt the playing field unfairly, by helping to decide on the ballot language (as one of 5 members of the 3-2 Republican-controlled Ohio Ballot Board) and interpreting various laws to affect who is eligible to vote and the like. (For example, the ballot board approved language that LaRose drafted that referred to "abortion before an unborn child is determined to be viable," over the pro-choice organizations' argument that the correct medical term is "fetus." The Supreme Court upheld that language.) And the Republicans who control state government have certainly done their best to try to limit Democratic votes by stringent voter ID requirements.

But the counting of the votes is secure, and beyond the power of the SoS, or any other official, to corrupt. I have not heard of any of my fellow Democrats saying they are concerned that the votes will not be honestly counted. If Democrats are actually saying that they are concerned about how LaRose "counts the votes," should be telling them how the system works, and not to worry about that part of it. You shouldn't be giving credence to such conspiracy theories.

Politics: Taxes

B.P. in Salt Lake City, UT, writes: Thanks to you and your readers for the thoughtful responses to my original question about taxes and the follow-up by another reader. W.S. in Palm Springs correctly understands the political spirit of the suggestion, to obtain some credit for counter-wealth transfer, however small it seems except to those for whom a little seems like a lot. The idea was intentionally to be small enough that it could even be offset by existing increases in IRS enforcement against tax avoidance by the wealthy, while further highlighting Democrats' efforts for the 100-1%. And yes, absolutely, more tax credits for the lower income brackets and higher rates for the upper ones would be even nicer if they were politically possible.

R.H. in Macungie, PA, writes: I've read the recent discussions about possible ways for Democrats to propose tax cuts with incredulity. The Trump tax cuts were practically criminal in nature. The ONLY way out of our deficit problem is to raise taxes, and the only folks who can EASILY afford more taxes are those who have more than they need. I'm retired and live comfortably. I have no debt and pay an effective federal tax rate of about 7% on my pension plus Social Security. The Trump tax cuts were very beneficial to me, but I simply didn't need them. I could easily afford to double my tax liability and would gladly do so to assure that our government had the funds to carry out its programs without running a deficit. Our deficits endanger the future of my children and grandchildren. If the Democrats ever get the trifecta, I pray they eliminate the filibuster and enact significant tax increases for those who can easily afford it.

International Affairs

J.A. in Puerto Armuelles, Panama , writes: Just a note on your comment that some countries want the next Secretary General of NATO to be from an EU country, and so Americans and Canadians (as well as Brits) are ruled out.

It has historically been understood that the Supreme Allied Commander Europe, the military head of NATO, would always be an American and that therefore the Secretary General, the politcal head of NATO, would always be a European.

So the next person to hold the role was never going to be an American. Obviously Canadians were ruled out, anyway, because of all of the nefariousness and what not.

Also, because of perennial Greek-Turkish tensions (they nearly came to blows as recently as 2021) the secretary was never going to be from either of those countries. And two Norwegians in a row would be a bit much, so the "should be from the EU" suggestion is just a polite way of saying "we don't want a Brit."

Religion: Getting Biblical

J.M. in Somerville, MA, writes: In answer to M.G. in Boulder, about what people are calling the books of the Bible, what I heard from a relatively conservative pastor was that he calls them the First and Second Testaments. This is out of theological accuracy, in understanding the Old Testament as not inferior to the new, but as foundational. A lot of bad Christian theology was developed to be hostile to the Jewish people.

J.W. in Kent, WA, writes: As a progressive Christian, I wanted to add a bit of clarifying context to the overview from M.R. in Atlanta of the differences between Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. In discussing how Christians use the Hebrew Scriptures, M.R. wrote "Translations are also changed; for example, making a text in Isaiah refer not to a young woman giving birth, as in the Hebrew, but to a 'virgin.'" The implication being that Christian translators apply Christian theology to the Hebrew texts in order to alter the clear meaning.

That's not quite fair. Jewish translators in Greek Alexandria translated the Hebrew and Aramaic scriptures into Greek in the third century BCE. That translation, called the Septuagint, was the version that the writers of the Christian Scriptures all quoted. So when the author of the Gospel of Matthew quoted Isaiah 7:14 to indicate that Jesus' birth was the fulfillment of prophecy, the quote was from the Greek, which uses the word "παρθένος" (parthenos). The Greek word can mean "girl" but it's also pretty strongly associated with Virgin Athena (hence the Parthenon).

Modern Bible translations generally put more weight on texts in the books' original languages (so Hebrew and Aramaic for the Hebrew Scriptures) than on translations, so scholarly translations (including the Revised Standard Version and its successors) translate Isaiah 7:14 with "young woman," as the Jewish Publication Society does. In translating Matthew 1:23, though, they go with the author's clear intent and Greek language, and render "virgin."

Religion: Theists and Atheists

P.S. in Bellevue, NE, writes: In reply to C.F. in Waltham, who asserts that religion damages people's critical thinking skills: I find that this is an unwarranted and sweeping stereotype that is disingenuous, almost bordering on personal offense.

When I was in the service, I had a girlfriend who was also a fellow service member, an evangelical Christian from the upper Midwest. She invited me to attend her church and adult Sunday school, and we also enjoyed hospitality from church members in their homes, including dinner and conversation.

From interacting with these members both in and out of the church, it became quickly clear that this congregation was full of street-smart people who were deeply faithful, with love and obedience towards God, but were also very pragmatic, with obvious skepticism of the world with its flawed leaders and institutions. Not liberal or even "woke," but many were obviously labor Democrats, or at least centrist independents.

Politics was not directly discussed in the "College and Early Career" age-group Sunday school we attended. However, outside of church and in their homes, some participants independently offered the opinion that "single-issue voting" is not a path to a just world, nor to desirable political outcomes, nor will it necessarily get those practicing it into the Kingdom of Heaven. And remember, these were evangelicals.

To the faithful, and to theologians, faith is a special gift from God, not to be proven or disproven, but just is. Either you have it or you don't. Faith does not automatically make you an unquestioning drone.

I have also more recently attended political events held in churches, but it was obvious that the organizers were just renting the facilities. At one event, the senior pastor even asked them to make sure that all political signage was taken down that evening. He pointed out that many of his flock's members belonged to other political parties, and would not take kindly to seeing it when arriving for services on Sunday morning. Even in a denomination deeply steeped in the Bible and scripture, they appeared to be quite mindful of Jesus's admonition in Mark 12:17 (NKJV): "And Jesus answered and said to them, 'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.' And they marveled at Him."

These are the kinds of voters that can flip close elections, and probably won't take kindly to being told that they can't think for themselves.

K.F.K. in CleElum, WA, writes: As a left leaning, progressive Christian who was taught to question my faith from an early age and as somebody who feels she might have one or two critical thinking skills, I was going to write a pithy response to C.F. in Waltham regarding their feelings about religion. Instead I will simply dedicate this Steve Martin tune to them: "Atheists Don't Have No Songs."

R.T. in Arlington, TX, writes: I have to call bloviating sanctimoniousness (B.S.) on a couple of recent missives from atheists that blame religion for our ills and are dismissive of people of faith. If I pretend that atheism is not a religious belief system of its own, and accept the premise that there is no higher power, then I should believe that humanity's ills are humanity's fault, and not religion's. Applying Hanlon's Razor; rather than assign blame to a religious conspiracy, we should blame basic stupidity until proven otherwise.

As a believer, I am obligated to think through all of the conundrums the other writers cited as evidence, and I have. I am comfortable believing in a beneficent and complex higher power. But, I struggle to believe in a malevolent supernatural power like Satan, because there are plenty of selfish, mean, vengeful, and stupid people in the world to explain all the evil I see.

Religion: Mike Johnson

J.D.M. in Cottonwood Shores, TX, writes: Oh wow, I didn't see that coming! As I was doing some more googling about Mike Johnson and the Creationist Museum (to make my point stronger that this makes him way out there), I found that about 40% of the country believes some version of the dinosaurs-on-Noah's-Ark myth.

Hmmm... About 40% of the country also believes the rapture is 5 to 25 years away. Wonder if there is any overlap?

Makes democracy an interesting project!

P.S.: Don't even ask how many people still believe the Sun goes around the Earth...

J.N. in Freeland, WA, writes: You wrote: "What [Mike] Johnson and his wife entered into is called a 'covenant marriage.' Basically, they have agreed (with state sanction) that they cannot divorce but for a very limited list of reasons: abuse, abandonment, imprisonment of a spouse, or lengthy separation."

If evangelistic Christians believe that marriage is under the eyes of God, why do they need state sanction? Further, the state sanction plays directly into the hands of the abuser in an abusive relationship—"Not only will you be offending God if you leave me, you'll be breaking the law, too." As if the abused party doesn't already have enough trouble getting to safety.

J.E. in Whidbey Island, WA, writes: In "What Kind of Man Is Mike Johnson," you explain that he has a so-called "covenant marriage" and describe what that means. Then you make an unsubstantiated leap of logic that his marriage somehow does not actually conform to those principles, citing this as a supposed example of his duplicity. Is there some evidence (unmentioned in your piece) that in private he is not actually honoring his public covenant?

(V) & (Z) respond: We know nothing about the dynamics of the Speaker's marriage. What we were alluding to was that Johnson has lobbied states to make covenant marriage available under one pretense ("It's best for the kids") when his real motivation was something else ("God is not happy that it's easy to get a divorce.")

J.M. in Silver Spring, MD, writes: You noted how people who support "covenant marriage" (e.g., Mike Johnson) argue that divorce is bad for the children. I am not a child of divorced parents. Instead, I am a child of a hideous marriage where my parents stayed together until my father died in spite of how painfully obvious it was that they were not happy together. As such a child I say: Just get divorced. You are not fooling the children and they will be happier if you just end the facade.

J.F. in Toronto, ON, Canada, writes: Excellent item on Mike Johnson. Your mention of the outfit NAR reminded me of the meaning of that term in Yiddish: "fool."

Civilian Casualties

L.R.H. in Oakland, CA, writes: I am also Jewish and I am in full agreement with M.R. in Atlanta about the need for compassion and mourning all deaths in the current Israel/Gaza war. I want to add a bit to flesh out M.R.'s mention of civilian deaths caused by the Allies in World War II. The Axis also caused an enormous number of deaths.

The Nazis had an extended campaign of aerial attacks on Great Britain, known as the Blitz. Wikipedia has a good article on the Blitz.

There were civilian deaths in every country where the war took place, which was all of Europe and many East Asian and Pacific Island locations. The estimated total of civilian deaths far outstrips estimated combatant deaths, with an estimated 20 million deaths in the Soviet Union alone, many during the failed German invasion.

J.P. in Glenside, PA, writes: War will always have civilian casualties, which are tragic and often unintentional. In my early youth, when visiting Lyon in France (where I have a large extended family from my mother's side), my oldest aunt Marthe took me up to the Basilica of La Fourviere from where the entire city of Lyon can be seen in panoramic view. When I asked her where the Lyon train station Gare Perrache was (where I had arrived from Paris) she became emotional and tearful. She was a schoolteacher and she explained to me that when the Allies were trying to liberate Lyon from the Nazis, the RAF had a bombing raid to try and blow up the railway lines running into Perrache station. They missed the railway line and flattened everything along the side of it, including a children's primary school with very, very tragic consequences.

Neither Marthe nor any or my aunts and uncles in France who lived through World War II ever held any grievance against the allies, whom they welcomed as liberators, but I am sure they all experienced the horrors of war and were traumatized for life by them. They understood, for example, that the Brits had lived through the Blitz in London. However, many Germans of my generation that I have talked to do in fact consider Winston Churchill and the Allies as having committed war crimes in the firestorm carpet bombing of Dresden. There have been decades-long gestures between the U.K. and Germany to promote reconciliation for what happened in World War II including contributions to the reconstruction of Dresden.

My father, who lived through the Blitz in London, and was posted to Vienna for 7 years after the end of the war, would always tell me this: "No matter how many war movies you see or whatever you think about Hitler, the Nazis and the Germans, remember always that this is the country and the people that created so much that is beautiful in our world—Bach, Handel, Beethoven, Goethe. Always remember that and never let go of it." The problem I have in looking at the conflict in the Middle East is that there never seems to be a process of reconciliation once the horrors of the latest conflict are concluded. It is a cycle of mutual hatred that just goes on and on and on. I am not hopeful that anything good will come from the current war. I do not see leaders with true compassion on either side. I commend the rabbi for what they are trying to do and hope the light of their compassion will be allowed to shine and be accepted and understood for what it is.

History Matters

R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, writes: In response to the question about the causes of World War I, I thought sure you were going to recommend Barbara Tuchman's The Guns of August.

(V) & (Z) respond: The original questioner specifically said they did not want a book with "military or logistical statistics." Since that's the last third of Tuchman's book, we presumed the question was really: "Suggest something that isn't Tuchman."

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: Thanks for the most succinct explanation of how World War I got rolling! This has been around for a while, but still has its place: "If WWI Was a Bar Fight."

C. T. in Cape Coral, FL, writes: You answered the question from M.G. in Boulder seeking your justification for using the term "Founding Parents" and you noted that women's roles in their husband's careers in that era are often quite unknown. For more on important women of the Revolutionary Era, I recommend the late ABC, NPR, and PBS correspondent Cokie Roberts's 2004 book Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation.


D.C. in Portland, OR, writes: S.D. in St Paul commented that "It was fitting to reveal all your Monty Python references on Friday, October 27, since that was John Cleese's 84th birthday."

Despite not having 5, let alone 10, minutes for an argument, I must respond: "No it wasn't."

(V) & (Z) respond: That's not an argument, it's just contradiction.

A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: A shout out to D.E. in Lancaster. I thank you for reminding me of "Maxwell's Silver Hammer;" now I have to go pull it up on the internet tubes, haven't listened to it in quite a while.

I was stationed on a little island in the middle of nowhere, see Program 437 Johnston for more info. Nothing gets your attention like watching one of those "Hammers" stand up in the moonlight!

In the meantime, I am a carpenter, so I will take a 20 oz. waffle head framing hammer if you don't mind:

A red, white and blue claw hammer

On a cold morning it really feels good when it stops hurting.

C.M. in Raymond, NH, writes: B.C., my neighbor to the north in Walpole, writes: "Wait. This trick question should separate the Americans from the disguised foreign agents: 'What is the most popular program of study at the Electoral College?'"

I presume that this would play out like asking suspected German spies during World War II to sing the national anthem; Americans would struggle to get out one verse, while the German spies would sing all four. The modern spies would helpfully explain that the Electoral College is not an institution of higher learning, while the real Americans would have their eyes glaze over, or say, "Dunno, football?"

C.H. in Sacramento, CA, writes: B.C. in Walpole is not only a great thinker and daydreamer but also a comedian and potential stand-up.

B.J. in Arlington, MA, writes: Many people on this site have mentioned the growing sense of community here. One way to further grow the sense of community is in-person meetups. I've noticed a number of letter writers and question askers from the greater Boston area. So, would anyone be interested in a Boston area electoral-vote meetup?

(V) & (Z) respond: If folks have interest, please send a message to, and we'll send the info to B.J., who has agreed to do the organizing if there is enough interest.

M.R. in Roch Vegas (a.k.a. Rochester), NY, writes: Your #1 Dachshund reader wanted me to send you her Halloween costume. Josephine (a.k.a. Joey) went as Fluffy from Harry Potter. I'm sure you'll agree that three Dachshund heads are better than 1!

A dappled dachshund with a costume that adds two more heads

(V) & (Z) respond: Staff dachshund Flash would like to know if that costume entitles the wearer to three servings of dinner instead of one. Because if it does...

R.B. in Panama City, FL, writes: The E-V site has lately been quite a lesson in zoology. Recent articles include such topics as "herding the cats," "petting the turtle," and "grabbing the hog."

(V) & (Z) respond: And now, three-headed dachshunds.

Final Words

M.T. in Linköping, Sweden, writes: The gravestone of the Swedish author Fritiof Nilsson Piraten:

A gravestone surrounded by red 
and white flowers, and with an inscription in Swedish

The inscription says: "Here below are the ashes of a man who had the habit of putting everything off until tomorrow. But in his last days he improved, and did actually die on January 31, 1972."

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

This item appeared on Read it Monday through Friday for political and election news, Saturday for answers to reader's questions, and Sunday for letters from readers.                     State polls                     All Senate candidates