Dem 51
image description
GOP 49
image description

Sunday Mailbag

Sometimes we are surprised at exactly which content moves readers to write in. This week, it was Fani Willis' letter and the question we answered about the current state of the education system. Who knew?

Politics: The Trials and Tribulations of Donald Trump

J.B. in Chicago, IL, writes: In a question on Saturday, F.D. in St. Paul wondered about the chances of a "grand deal"—TFG pleads guilty to some or all of the charges against him and gets a light sentence in exchange for either: (1) agreeing never again to run for office, or (2) stipulating that he is disqualified under the Fourteenth Amendment from ever holding office. A deal like that might be acceptable to many. But I doubt that a prosecutor, district attorney, or special counsel could properly pursue such an overtly political, rather than legal (i.e., criminal law-oriented), result. (Full disclosure: I am a lawyer, but have never practiced criminal law.)

Many who oppose TFG's 2024 candidacy see the criminal prosecutions as the possible means by which to prevent his re-election. They may also wish to see a trial, followed by an appropriate sentence in the event of conviction. But those are different outcomes—one achieves a political goal, and the other achieves a goal grounded in our legal system. And I suspect they arise from different motivations—one that is political in nature, and the other that is civic, legal, or justice-oriented. I sincerely hope that prosecutors would avoid political motivations that are designed to achieve political ends.

Further, the statutes that define criminal behavior also establish the penalties for those crimes. It might be beyond a prosecutor's authority (or outside the scope of his/her discretion) to seek a penalty that is so different in kind (and not merely different in degree) from what the relevant criminal statute allows.

T.M.M. in Odessa, MO, writes: With the caution that a trial judge has a lot of discretion as to how they rule, I think there are three big reasons why none of the judges (except for Trump's favorite judge) would postpone the trial to let Trump get new attorneys.

First, the current set of attorneys have already tried to delay the trials. Judges tend to not be happy when defendants who have been trying to delay a case think they have found the magic bullet to force a continuance. In that circumstance, judges often tell the defendant and both sets of defense attorneys that it is up to the defendant if he wants new attorneys, but the trial is going ahead as scheduled. Amazingly, in that circumstance, defendants tend to decide to keep their current set of attorneys rather than hiring new attorneys.

Second, Trump has private attorneys. Judges tend to be a little more sympathetic to those who have been represented by court-appointed attorneys and who manage to hire private attorneys shortly before trial. Basically, the courts, in interpreting the right to counsel, have taken the position that defendants should have the option of having private counsel rather than court-appointed counsel, and courts are sympathetic to the claims of poorer defendants that it took them time to get the money together for counsel. But when you have already hired one attorney, courts tend not to accept a claim that "I changed my mind" about what attorney you want to use and demand some explanation of why you are dissatisfied with your current attorney.

Third, Trump has a full cadre of attorneys. That is going to make it hard for Trump to claim that he is "justifiably dissatisfied" with all of the attorneys (the legal standard that applies). If Trump wants to let one or two attorneys go on the eve of trial, the judges will probably let those attorneys out of the case, but require the remaining attorneys to be ready to go to trial as scheduled. And if Trump wants to let nine or ten attorneys go on the eve of trial, the judges are likely to see the problem as Trump not understanding what the attorneys are supposed to be doing rather than a legitimate reason for changing attorneys, and tell Trump that he has to go to trial with his current attorneys.

One last note, judges are people and courts, being composed of people, tend to build up customary practices. As such, there may be some districts and counties in which judges are much more lenient in allowing last second switches and others where judges are very strict in requiring real reasons. As such, the experience of attorneys in Northern Illinois may be very different than the experience of attorneys in Western Missouri and both may be very different than the experiences of attorneys in Manhattan, D.C., Atlanta, and southern Florida.

A.B. in Chesapeake, VA, writes: I see that Enrique Tarrio just got 22 years for seditious conspiracy. Trump has told these folks that he would consider pardoning them. If that is not aid and comfort, I do not know what is. Disqualified!

S.S. in West Hollywood, CA, writes: I found the FU letter from Fulton County DA Fani Willis to Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) to be an interesting and often entertaining read. You are correct, it's an exceptional example of the art of the takedown! However, you left out of your summary the best LOL sentence: "For a more thorough understanding of Georgia's RICO statute, its application and similar laws in other states, I encourage you to read 'RICO State-by-State.' As a non-member of the bar, you can purchase a copy for two hundred forty-nine dollars [$249]."

K.M. in Pullman, WA, writes: In the letter from Fani Willis to Jim Jordan, one of your executive summaries was "F**k you." Some further evidence for this, and subtle shading is found in the last paragraph (emphases added):

As it seems you have a personal interest in the Fulton County District Attorney's Office, you should consider directing the USDOJ to investigate the racist threats that have come to my staff and me because of this investigation. For your information, I am attaching ten examples of threats this office has received. See Exhibits F through O. I am providing these examples to give you a window into what has happened to my staff and me as I keep the promise of my oath to the United States and Georgia Constitutions and do not allow myself to be bullied and threatened by Members of Congress, local elected officials, or others who believe lady justice should not be blind and that America has different laws for different citizens.

The choice of those exhibit endpoints raises a question. Did she mean "F**k off" or the latter part of the phrase FAFO (F**k Around, Find Out)?

J.K. in Portland, OR, writes: You wrote, "In any event, as anyone who has studied the prisoner's dilemma (PD) knows, it's better to sing early than late." I have studied the PD, in both its two-person and multiperson forms, and there's some logic in what you say, but I believe you miss the full story here.

The essence of the two-person PD is that each prisoner has the choice of confessing to the conspiracy (because both prisoners are involved) or not. All it takes is one confession and both are going down. The reward for a solo canary is the lightest possible sentence, whereas the penalty for the solo denial is the heaviest possible sentence. The Catch-22 is that two confessors are worse off than two deniers. So an important factor in the decision calculus of the subject prisoner is the likelihood of the other prisoner confessing. The higher that likelihood, the greater the incentive to confess.

And now we get to the genius of District Attorney Fani Willis. By linking all 19 indictees together in a 19-person PD game, she exploits the fact that any canary damages the other 18 indictees, and the more canaries sing, the better off each of them will be (even up to no charges brought to trial for minor actors), and the greater the weight of evidence on the heavyweight center of gravity, who is by his very nature incapable of confessing. Therefore, the likelihood of convicting the heavyweight increases as the number of lightweights join the chorus. And that appears to be a potential trend. May the music commence.

M.C. in Parker, CO, writes: In your most recent update on Trump Legal News, you linked a very enjoyable morning read of Willis' sharply-worded letter, and also mentioned the Prisoner's Dilemma and how "it's better to sing early than late." While this is true for "single play" (agents play one game only), the "iterated prisoner's dilemma" (agents play several games in succession) may be more apt here given the number of indictments.

A stable solution to the iterated prisoner's dilemma has been consistently shown to be the tit-for-tat solution. In other words, the agent should cooperate on the first iteration, then mirror the opponent's previous move on the next iteration (i.e., if the opponent defects on the first iteration, the agent should defect on the next iteration.)

Trump has made his first move, and it wasn't cooperative. Game theory dictates that the others should now respond in kind.

In other news, yet another "The Simpsons Predicted It!" may be right around the corner. S6E4 centers around a plot involving the machinations of the Republican Party to attempt to pardon a disgraced-former-entertainer-turned-convicted-felon so he can run for high office. The Republican Party rallies around the felon who, in this episode, wins (aided by significant election fraud) and immediately uses the power of his office to seek revenge on his enemies.

Our current reality is, indeed, stranger than fiction.

P.M. in Morelia, Mexico, writes: I've rarely felt there was any lack of creativity in your writing. But really, you could not find a way to work the title "Minnie the Moocher" into your coverage of TFG's fundraising? That one seems like a slam dunk to me.

Politics: The 2024 Presidential Race

P.W. in Springwater, NY, writes: I will be 70 when I cast my vote in the next presidential election. Had CNN asked my opinion, I would be among the "61% of respondents [who] believe Biden is too old to be president," although NOT among the "61% [who] also believe there's a connection between Joe and the dubious activities of his son Hunter." I am also among the "45% of Americans [who] think Biden cares about them." And I guess only 42% of us (or less, if some are undecided?) do approve of the job Biden's doing; I'm with that group, too. Honestly, in spite of your explanations, I am completely flummoxed that those numbers are so low—by most measures, this has been an incredibly productive and successful presidency. I guess most Americans really do compare Joe Biden to the Almighty (and no, I don't mean DJT).

However, primarily because of his age and the uncanny ability of the MAGA crowd to make age (and Hunter) THE issues, I am also among the "66% of Democrats [who] would prefer a different candidate." Biden deserves our thanks for restoring a modicum of decency and for all that he has accomplished; it's time to celebrate these accomplishments and pass the torch. But in spite of this, I plan to vote for Biden next November. There is no way I will vote for any of the current Republican candidates, or even someone like Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R-VA). My primary concern is not age, or even integrity (or belated integrity, in the case of Chris Christie)—it's the fact that the Republican Party is setting us on a path to destroy democracy and even those Republicans who are not complicit are enablers.

Maybe it's wishful thinking, but I believe there are enough voters like me to keep DJT an his ilk from the White House, ever again.

R.B. in Cleveland, OH, writes: I've recently noticed a lot of pieces detailing the Biden Administration's difficulty with selling voters on the economy despite most major economic indicators demonstrating it's on the rise. I can't help but wonder if the Biden re-election campaign should instead shift its focus and highlight different metrics to voters. Since President Biden took office the number of U.S. Presidents staring at the sun has leveled off, accidental poisonings prompted by U.S. Presidents have decreased significantly, and "infrastructure weeks" are way, way down. I can only speak for myself, but these are clear trends that grant me peace of mind.

J.T. in San Bernardino, CA, writes: When John Nance Garner referred to the office of the vice presidency as less valuable than a vessel of 72° urine he was, one imagines, referring to the political power and influence of the office.

However, if one isn't actually interested in enacting policy and is simply interested in raising their profile from "regional curiosity" to "national outrage" in order to accumulate more political contributions, book deals, television appearances, and merchandise sales, then I bet the vice presidency is worth substantially more than a pi**bucket. Perhaps even in a way that is measurable.

Since I've personally seen no evidence that Kari Lake or Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) are actually interested in policy, I imagine imagines they see the vice presidency as a way to accumulate cash, and not as a lever of power. For Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD), on the other hand, who seems to be somewhat more interested in policymaking, it might be her only option to climb the ladder out of SoDak, since one imagines Mike Rounds (R-SD) and John Thune (R-SD) plan to remain in their offices for at least another decade or so, and potentially longer.

H.G. in Bellingham, WA, writes: I just want to point out that, having received my second $20 gift card from a political millionaire, we now have concrete evidence for the validity of trickle-down economics and I am therefore converting to supply-side econotheology effective immediately.

Politics: Ron DeSantis

R.J.J. in San Francisco, CA, writes: The first thing that came to mind after reading about "The Snub Heard Round the World" was season 5, episode 8 of The West Wing. Titled "Shutdown," President Bartlet at one point walks to the Capitol, knocks on the door of the Speaker's office, and then... is left waiting while the Speaker tries to game plan this impromptu meeting. After seven minutes, the President leaves to conduct other business while the Speaker is left looking like a rube, and a petulant one at that.

I am unsurprised by Gov. Ron DeSantis's (R-FL) behavior as being anything other than about the aggrandizement of Ron DeSantis and the belittling of anyone who opposes him. I haven't seen this sort of self-centered gamesmanship since the days of President Nixon, but Nixon had the good sense to do his back-stabbing behind the scenes.

R.H.D. in Webster, NY, writes: Let me get this straight. The governor of the state that was ravaged by Hurricane Idalia refused to meet with President Biden because it would harm his own presidential chances?

So if Ron DeSantis somehow became president, does this mean he will not visit Illinois after a tornado, New England/New York/New Jersey after a Superstorm Sandy event, California after an earthquake, or Hawaii after another wildfire?

Part of the job description of being president is going to places that don't like you or voted for you after a tragedy. We don't have a president of only the Red States, or Blue States, or Purple States.

We have only a president of ALL of the United States, and some seem to understand that better than others.

M.R. in Albuquerque, NM, writes: In "The Snub Heard Round the World," your take was spot on, but you missed a somewhat disturbing piece of the story. The list of headlines reporting the snub included seven (out of 17) which "both-sidesed" the issue by making it appear that Biden was the reason that the two didn't meet.

J.N. in Freeland, WA, writes: So, Joe Biden is able to travel to an active war zone without problem, but Ron DeSantis believes he would be unable to safely visit the hurricane victims?

J.M. in Arvada, CO, writes: You wrote that Public Opinion Strategies is DeSantis' choice when polling. So you're telling us DeSantis' preferred pollster is a POS?

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

P.H. in Bradenton, FL, writes: C.L. in Boulder wrote: "Floridians loved that Ron DeSantis didn't shut down the state when COVID hit." Did you also know that we Floridians (I actually hate calling myself that) also don't know how many of us died during COVID? The reason is that DeSatan stopped the official publication of all COVID data. While staying open may have pleased some DeSatanists and businesses, those of us with more sense, and who lost friends and relatives, didn't think it was such a great idea.

C.Z. in Sacramento, CA, writes: I think it's time for another injection of humor from Randy Rainbow:

I bet all the folks who participated in the Creepublican debate secretly listen to this one, well except Rhonda SandTits, that is.

Politics: Mitch McConnell

D.M.F. in Ann Arbor, MI, writes: I am a faculty member at a medical school. I am a clinical psychologist by training and would not consider myself an expert in neurology or neuropsychology, though I have expertise in neuroscience, broadly construed. I am also no fan of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) as a politician. There are some saltier words that are coming to mind but I will settle for "duplicitous" and "disingenuous" to characterize my view of his service to the Senate.

With that said, I find it really bothersome that you and others are decreeing his freezes to be disqualifying for him to serve in the Senate. As you have carefully noted, there is probably a more serious medical condition that causing his freezes, but there is no evidence that he has disabling cognitive decline. It's not part of his job description to be loquacious. There is no evidence that he is any less duplicitous and dangerous as a foil to the policies of President Biden. Thankfully, most reasonable people do not hold Biden's stammer as a disqualification for his job. Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) had a stroke and a voluntary hospitalization for major depression and I gather he is still in office.

My point is essentially that McConnell deserves some dignity and respect as a fellow human who is struggling with a neurological issue that is troubling, but not yet known to be disabling or disqualifying.

(V) & (Z) respond: We do not disagree with you, but we also did not decree him to be unfit to serve in the Senate, as we are in no position to make that determination. What we did say is that he clearly needs to see a doctor, and that the politics of the situation demand that he provide compelling explanations for what happened to his two constituencies (Kentucky voters, the Senate Republican Conference).

Politics: Life Is A Highway

S.B. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: You wrote about Alabama AG Steve Marshall attempting to prosecute people who travel out of state, or those who help them, for the purposes of obtaining reproductive medical services. In your item, you observed the federal government has the power to regulate interstate commerce as a means of curbing such vigorous use of state power. The commerce clause is one of the traditionally most powerful sections in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Working separate but in concert on this issue would also be the right to travel itself found in the Privileges and Immunities clause, which is in Article 4, Section 2. This has been interpreted to convey that the right to travel is part of the liberty a citizen cannot be denied without due process of law. This could also be a potential tool to check state overreach.

Politics: Foodies

R.H.O. in Portland, ME (but formerly of Philadelphia, PA), writes: While I agree John Kerry erred in ordering a cheesesteak with Swiss cheese, I cannot abide by the comment "They (cheese steaks) are properly served with Cheez Whiz."

Provolone wit' every time.

M.I. in Jenkintown, PA, writes: You wrote: "...For example, when John Kerry asked for a Philly cheesesteak with swiss cheese (they are properly served with Cheez Whiz)."

NO, NYET, NON, NUNCA! Only low-end shops use Cheez Whiz. Most suburban shops won't even stock it and will use provolone if not directed to do otherwise. A few default suspiciously to American cheese, so I'd check for green cards there, and any shop also selling hoagies will have Swiss on hand, which is perfectly acceptable. I do that all the time. But to use Cheez Whiz is strictly a move for a prol... or by a Californian.

(V) & (Z) respond: We're not making it up that it was an issue worthy of much comment at the time.

Also, if someone is actually a local, they don't eat cheesesteaks. They eat roasted pork sandwiches with broccoli rabe.

A.H. in Midland, GA, writes: While I am not a New Yorker and have only visited the city once in my short life, I will admit that I looked unfavorably upon Bill de Blasio when he ate that pizza with a fork. I know people shouldn't be judged for how they eat their food, but how can anyone lack enough self-awareness to eat pizza with a fork in public while campaigning for political office? It boggles the mind.

(V) & (Z) respond: For what it is worth, Pizza was invented in Naples, Italy, and there everyone eats it with a knife and fork.

Foreign Affairs: Mexico

D.K. in Chicago, IL, writes: You wrote in "This Week in Freudenfreude: Oh What a World" that "it's at least possible that an independent candidate could consolidate the 'macho' vote and win a plurality of the ballots." Well, apparently it didn't take long—later that very day I received an alert from one of the many lists I got on that actor Eduardo Verástegui, one of the forces behind the film The Sound of Freedom, filed to run as an independent candidate.

F.J.V.S. in Acapulco, Mexico, writes: I think some Mexicans may be pissed off by the fact that the two major candidates are women, to the degree that a man pulls a chunk of the votes. The MORENA Party selected Mexico City's Head of Government Claudia Sheinbaum in a bruisy internal process, while Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard is probably going to leave MORENA and launch a campaign either as an independent or as an opponent. But I do not see him earning the most votes over the women.

There are a bunch of candidates who are independents but have no option; the best-known in an actor and far-right nutter, Eduardo Verástegui. I see not many people, and not many men voting for any of those men just because the main contenders are women. Probably, if Head of Government Sheinbaum or Senator Xóchitl Gálvez start to abuse their sex as a political tool ("Vote for me just because I want to be the first female Mexican president"), probably some people would punish them and vote for their male rivals, but I think both of them feel confident that the election is just between them so that speech of "Because I am a woman" would not be deployed. So, I consider it a fact that on June 2, 2024, Mexico will vote for its first female president.

R.W. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: Further to your point about heavily-Catholic Mexico being poised to elect its first female president... there is a good chance that female president will also be Jewish. For me, at least, freudenfreudenfreude!

J.K. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I do have to point out that in your write up of the failed border fence, you made a mistake when you said walls have never proved effective at keeping out invaders. Clearly, you have never been to Lucca in Tuscany.

Of course, as citizens of Lucca are quick to tell you, the reason the walls are still standing is that no one has ever actually attacked them. Whenever a problem arose, the citizens of Lucca would simply use their vast silk trade wealth to pay off any invaders (including Napoleon) before they were even in sight of the walls.

I guess maybe a better lesson to take away is not so much that walls keep invaders out but that money can...

R.D. in San Diego, CA, writes: Of note, the possibility of obtaining abortions, particularly surgical abortions, in Mexico might have additional effects. Here in San Deigo, right across from Tijuana, the major hospitals have a rotation set up to distribute the patients who come up from the border. Medical care in Mexico is cheap, but also risky. I've seen someone whose tummy-tuck went poorly, so a plastic grocery bag was sewn to their abdomen and they were taken to the U.S. border so that someone could call 911 to have a U.S. ambulance come pick them up to try to fix them. How many news stories about desperate women coming back from the border after a botched procedure will we see? Given the lack of oversight and the opportunity for a quick buck, con artists could set up their border pharmacies and not worry about the consequences. I foresee the right joyfully looking at these examples as "proof" for their scare campaigns about reproductive health care, but also the left pointing at these stories to say "Remember when this was safe, regulated, and available locally?"

J.M. in Eagle Mills, NY, writes: Although Mexico is within a few hours of much of Texas, there's still an international border in the way. In order to cross said border, you need a passport, a passport card, a military ID or an enhanced driver's license (EDL). Given my fellow Americans' (lack of) propensity to have such docs, that could be something of a problem.

More on Junk Fees

J.S. in Germantown OH , writes: I must disagree with the assertion by S.K. in Atlanta that the airline industry is not guilty of junk fees. The problem is that the advertised price of the ticket is not the true price that most passengers will pay once they choose to sit next to their traveling companion and check a bag, something most people expect when flying. Recently, my wife and I flew on a major carrier and had to pay a fee to be able to sit together. When a connecting flight was canceled and we were re-booked, the replacement flight was so full we were unable to sit together. They fee we paid for that "service" was not refunded. I appealed to the airline and was told that all fees were non-refundable even if the service was not available. If S.K. doesn't think that fits the definition of a junk fee then they're just playing semantics.

B.C. in Selinsgrove, PA, writes: I'm not sure how useful it will be to require companies to disclose all junk fees. They will just continue to charge them and add a Disclosure Fee.

Education Matters

A.J. in Mountain View, CA, writes: Thanks to (V) and (Z) for a great answer to the question posed by J.R. in Buenos Aires, detailing a number of reasons why students need to the "taught to the test" in order to pass. I work as a private STEM tutor for high school students, and I wanted to mention at least one additional factor I see: the much greater breadth of material that is considered "normal" for the average high school student, at least in the domains of math and science.

I am consistently astonished at the amount of material that high school kids are asked to learn today relative to that in the ancient past when I studied in school. When I took 9th grade Biology, we learned about different species and the various human physiological systems; 9th graders these days learn all that plus the Krebs cycle for cellular respiration and the Calvin cycle for photosynthesis. I learned about circuits with resistors in Physics, but I am tutoring high schoolers about transistor circuits, which I personally did not study until college. In my day, it was only the advanced students who made it to first-year Calculus, but now it seems like everyone feels the need to go through both years of AP Calculus before even embarking on college. Considering that this entails getting through 6 years' worth of math classes (Algebra 1, Geometry, Algebra 2, Trig/Pre-Calculus, Calculus AB, Calculus BC) in 4 years of high school, students are now obligated BOTH to start the sequence while still in Middle School AND compress at least two of the years into one (they either take an accelerated Trig class that includes Calculus, or take a combined Algebra 2/Pre-Calc class).

So I think that one other reason that the students of yesteryear didn't need to be "taught to the test" is that it was still possible in those days to actually absorb and retain all the material that they were taught. I think the students of today, while enjoying more technologies and opportunities than we ever had, also labor under a more crushing burden, and need additional support (such as teaching to the test) just in order to manage the incredible volume of information that comes their way.

A.C. in Kingston, MA, writes: I loved, loved, loved your answer to J.R. in Buenos Aires. As a classroom teacher with over two decades of experience, I have a few additional observations. Overall, I don't think students are doing "worse" now. What's changed is who the students are, what we expect them to know, and what they're being taught in prior classes and levels. I've got a lot of thoughts on this, but I'll try and stick to just two main areas: math and expected volume of reading.

Math expectations for the average student have skyrocketed in the last decade or two. As a senior in high school in the late 90s, I was one of 12 students in a class of about 200 to take AP Calculus AB, the only calculus offered in our school. As a fortysomething math teacher in 2023, I have 22 students in my AP Calculus BC (harder and more content than AB) class, with another 30 or so students taking AB with one of my colleague—in a class of about 160. Both school districts are consistently among the top-ranked in Massachusetts, sport similar demographics, and are within 10 miles of each other. The only variable here is time. This may play out differently in other states, but there's been enough change nationwide that the SAT has ramped up its math difficulty to include a number of more advanced topics. It's natural that more students will struggle when they're expected to engage with more challenging content.

The ELA standards have changed even more drastically, and not necessarily (in my opinion) for the better. My children, in honors and AP English classes, have averaged 2-3 books a year; my English-teacher friends assure me this is the norm now. I was reading 6-10 books a year in similar classes in high school. There is definitely teaching to the test here, as both state exams and the SAT/ACT emphasize short, primarily nonfiction passages and multiple-choice questions. I'm sad, but not at all surprised that students coming out of such circumstances would feel unprepared for longer, more frequent reading assignments.

There are obviously other factors at play here, but those are two that I see up close every day.

M.B. in Granby, MA, writes: Your answer to J.R. (U.S. citizen presently wandering about) in Buenos Aires made me think about my last 31 years of teaching high school.

Today's students lack the stamina—academic, social, and emotional—to do the work that students did even ten years ago. There are no simple causes for this seismic shift happening with education right now. The pandemic added to, rather than caused, this trend:

  1. For my first 20 years of teaching, the students were not hugely different from their predecessors. We now have some students being escorted to class by paraprofessionals because they would otherwise not go or show up very late. This didn't happen 10 years ago. They don't get punished for skipping. (Most of these kids are in special education, but this didn't happen with special education students in the past).

  2. Socially, they don't interact as students once did. Ten year ago, I bantered with kids as I taught. Joked and teased. It was a back and forth. This week, I struggled to get them to acknowledge "yes" or "no" questions. The simple question "Does what I just said make sense?" received blank stares. A simple nod or shake of their head was all that was required.

    What I think was happening: The kids don't speak body language very well because they spend most of their lives with their phones. They react to TikTok or Instagram as they scroll through, but they don't communicate with nods and shakes of the head.

  3. Twenty years ago, I assigned Pride and Prejudice and Heart of Darkness to my Honors students. Student were required to take 100-150 notes for each book and write an essay for each book. Today, our AP English students would refuse to do that much work. Honors students would laugh at it. Parents would call and complain. We stopped assigning summer reading to the rest a long time ago. Summer reading is now voluntary for all but AP students.

    Smart phones are clearly a factor in education today. There are also state laws that discourage suspensions, so old-fashioned methods of deterrence do not work. The assumption is that counseling and restorative discipline should take their place. These methods may work, but the changes in behavior from such interventions come slowly for the school community.

    Suspensions served a purpose. A student who misbehaved at a certain level was ejected from the school community. The school community was relieved of this bad behavior for a few days. This benefit, however, came at the expense of the suspended student who missed class time and was more likely to be a student of color. (The racial skew of suspensions may have more to do with most students in being in urban school systems).

It's a complicated situation and certainly reflective of changes in society. The idea of the common good has been steadily eroding for decades, and schools, the only social institution where everyone is involved at some point, our schools are increasingly atomized, individualized to the point that a sense of common purpose or belonging is dying.

J.B. in Hutto, TX, writes: Regarding Your response to J.R. in Buenos Aires: If students do not complete the required readings for the course, why not simply fail them? To be brutally honest, if a person is unable or unwilling to complete a nine-page reading assignment, they have absolutely no business having a college degree.

(V) & (Z) respond: We did not say the students refused to do the reading. We just said they groaned at the "excessive" length.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: You mentioned your students groaning about reading a measly 9-page assignment. A couple of years ago, my friend told me about her grandson asking her if she had to read a book when she was in high school. A book—singular. Stunned, she said yes, many, and many more she hadn't been required to read. Grandson confounded. So, for whatever reason, feeder schools don't seem to use many materials beyond a textbook anymore.

(BTW, I'll gladly read that 9-page assignment! What is it?)

(V) & (Z) respond: It's the reading that lays the groundwork for the lecture on early 20th century California. If you really want to read it, it's here.

Complaints Department

A.D. in Charleston, WV, writes: I have been a reader of the site since 2004, back when I was a youngster forced to report on "current events" as they were, in my high school history class, and not spend my afternoons playing on my Playstation 2. Back in the days of periodical posts on the site, I'd be excited to take Votemaster's take on the issues of the day, because it felt unbiased, honest, and to-the-point, and generally made me reconsider my own cognitive biases with the news and how I saw things. Being an independent voter (my voting record is McCain, Obama, Johnson, Biden...) I think the latest poll you mention in your item does, actually, matter, because it highlights people like me who are super dissatisfied with the current state of our national politics. I cannot fathom, out of 330,000,000 Americans, the best we can do is sour orange juice and spoiled milk, and not once do we have to pick between these two, but TWICE?! Give me a break, already!

Zenger, for your part, your bias and unwavering defense of the spoiled milk is just plain starting to stink at this point, and your constant dismissal of all the legitimate concerns that are raised about Biden (I can literally link these all day, if need be) is starting to undermine that aforementioned unbiased report blogging that made people like me come to to begin with. We get it. You don't like the orange one; me neither. I do, however, challenge you to pick a Democrat you like better than the incumbent president, because I assure you, there are way better options than him.

S.Z. in Parma, OH, writes: You wrote: "The top five members of Congress ranked by percentage of their money that came from small donors are Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) (70%), Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) (68%), Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) (58%), Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) (62%), and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) (58%)."

Horrible comparison. Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez are sane, diligent, and honest. Greene is insane. Gaetz is a reprobate. Jordan is an extreme liar. You know this.

(V) & (Z) respond: We weren't playing "Which one is different from all the others?" We were simply citing data showing that the people on the edges of their respective parties were the big fundraisers among small donors.

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Boys, boys, boys... catfight, really? Jealousy between women, really? How often have Republican men gone after each other, almost coming to blows, without being subjected to these types of labels? Don't confuse sexism with snark. Feel free to condemn the conduct, but please avoid descending into these outdated tropes.

M.L. in West Hartford, CT, writes: Love the site. I have learned more on than almost any other website.

However, you wrote that, "...everyone in Texas is armed to the teeth." Is this true, though? Most Texas Republicans—and even many Democrats and liberals—love to project this image, of course, but each side has good reason to exaggerate this fact in an attempt to promote their political positions.

This article in The Texas Tribune cites a RAND Corporation study that concluded that Texas is fairly close to the national average in terms of gun ownership.

Seems like we should avoid perpetuating the myth of Texas as the Wild West, and ensure that our discussions are grounded in the facts, as best we can perceive them.


S.S. in Portland, OR, writes: I found "The Fourteenth Amendment, Part II: Let Us Have Peace" most interesting and informative. I tried to share it to a private FB group I belong to. There's only about 50 of us in the group, and we discuss politics and history. So I did a cut and paste of part of the article, and the Facebook gods decided it violated community standards and deleted it. Was it because the KKK was mentioned? The word "insurrection" was there too many times? The phrases "white Southerners" and "Black Southerners"?

I thought you would find it interesting that Facebook removed something so inoffensive.

(V) & (Z) respond: Just remember, AI is going to take over the world. We know because breathless articles in The New York Times, Slate and WIRED told us so.

A.S. in Black Mountain, NC, writes: You wrote: "...the U.S.S. Jack Smith keeps chugging along."

As a U.S. Navy veteran I can assure you our ships do not "chug." I cannot speak for Jack Smith, perhaps he does.

Update: Well, this one may "chug!" The Inside Story of How the Navy Spent Billions on the "Little Crappy Ship." Ike was right about the military-industrial complex.

S.M. in Austin, TX, writes: When you two get tired of reporting on Trump, here is the proof about our evil neighbors to the North (I grew up in Detroit, where we had to deal with their change contaminating our money when we were lured across the border-without-barriers decades ago):

(V) & (Z) respond: Be forewarned that link is (moderately) NSFW.

A.B. in Brussels, Belgium, writes: My son (5 years old) wanted to have this... A picture is worth a thousand words:

Everyone is awesome lego set, with
bricks and Lego people in every color of the rainbow.

S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes: B.C. in Phoenix wondered why Ronald Wilson Raygun wasn't identified as a California president, while D.E. in Lancaster remembered Thomas Woody Wilson as a Virginny president.

Both letters struck a chord. Wilson was the only President from New Jersey, but he wasn't born here. Grover Cleveland was; his birthplace is a state park and a number of parks and roads, not to mention a rest stop on the Turnpike, are named after him. Of course, he moved to New York State when he was four, and his political base was in Buffalo.

And people wonder why New Jerseyans have a complex.

B.C. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: Thanks, and a hats off to R.L.D. in Sundance for explaining the subtleties of the meaning of the word "skosh." I believe I can be of similar service addressing the definition of "gack."

As many readers of know, especially D.K. in Oceanside (who is owned by Harley) and B.D. in St. Agatha, ON, Canada (who is owned by an anonymous black kitty), the word "gack" has an actual dictionary meaning which is perhaps best relayed via an example:

Gack. Example: "Whenever my son scolds my granddaughter, her current cat owner will gack a hairball in a location where my son will invariably step in it."
Final Words

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: This week brought more sad musical news what with the unexpected death of Jimmy Buffett. Despite having few hit songs or top-selling albums, Buffett had a long and very successful career. He played a combination of Country and Western mixed with Caribbean melodies that was know as "Gulf and Western." His loyal fans were known as Parrot Heads, of which I was one, although for clarification's sake, I never wore a parrot or a shark fin to one of his concerts. Growing up, when asked what I wanted to be, I would always say that I wanted to be Jimmy Buffett. Who wouldn't want

that, because he did what he loved and loved what he did.

When most people think of Jimmy Buffett, they think of feel-good songs about drinking, island living and more drinking. While his melodies were unremarkable but serviceable, it was his lyrics that drew me in. Despite his image of drunk, stoned beach bum, he was an avid reader and a lover of the Library of Congress. Of course, I would love him because he appreciated a good pun (The Coral Reefer Band) and a delicious turn of a phrase (The Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful). In his later years, he cultivated a look like he was an Everyman's Dad and his songs dealt with bourgeois themes but never in a bourgeois way. One might falsely assume that he would be a Republican, with his emphasis on instant pleasures and family, but that would be far from the truth. Buffett was a passionate Democrat (President Biden's favorite Buffett song is "Come Monday" and Buffett referred to TFG's term as "The Big Cheeto Follies!"). One of his early songs, from the era he rarely let his politics show through, but which endeared him to me was "Manana," where he sang "I hope Anita Bryant never ever does one of my songs" (for those not born alongside the dinosaurs, Anita Bryant was the original Gay-Hating, Concerned Floridian Mother, Ex-Beauty Pageant Winner and Wannabe Singer).

One of my favorite stories Buffett told was about starting his career as a music journalist in the early 70's in what he describe as the Hell of Nashville and of his discovery of Key West, where he was welcomed by the many and varied communities that lived there: military, gay, Hispanic, literary and hippy. He loved the life of diversity. As he would later sing, "I think I Have Found Me A Home." What most don't realize about Buffett is that the majority of his lyrics contain a great deal of melancholy and a wistful reflection and remembrance to them. His most famous song, "Margaritaville," is not an ode to the tequila drink but rather a song with wonderful concrete images about the slow realization that one screwed up. That's a rare cognizance, especially in today's lyrical wilderness where everything is everyone else's fault.

While in high school, I saw one of Jimmy's concerts. After 40+ years, I can still feel the emotion I felt as the concert lights dimmed to blues and greens. He sang, "Down around Biloxi/Pretty girls are swimming in the sea/They all look like sisters in the ocean/The boy will fill his pail with salty water/And the storms will blow from off towards New Orleans." Yes, I know that lyrics are Jesse Winchester's, but another quality about Buffett was his vocal delivery. He could capture with his voice that moment of the timeless stillness the ocean gets as the summer sun sinks into its waters at twilight. His singing would communicate that I feel, I am, I've ponder what lies between me and the horizon. "Mother, Mother Ocean, after all the years I found/My occupational hazard is my occupation just not around/I feel like I'm drowned."

I can't help but think of a lyric from one of his favorite songs (and a favorite of Bob Dylan), "He Went To Paris," which tells the story of meeting an old man, a vet of the Spanish Civil War. After the old man tells the events of his life, he sums it up with:

Some of it's magic, some of it's tragic
But I had a good life all the way.
And he went to Paris looking for answers
To questions that bother him so.

While not his exact last words, his daughter revealed that he told his family "not to be sad or scared, but to keep the party going." There are cheeseburgers, pirates, boat drinks, coconuts and margaritas somewhere in paradise tonight!

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