Dem 51
image description
GOP 49
image description

Sunday Mailbag

A useful reminder: We link to the relevant item or letter once per section. For example, the first two letters today both refer to the same item, so there is only a link in the first of those. If that item was to be referenced in a different section, we would link it again.

Politics: The 2024 Presidential Race

M.L.M. in San Jose, CA, writes: You wrote: "One of those polls shows that only 34% of voters think Biden could complete a second term. In contrast, the Social Security Administration believes that an 80-year old man will live to be almost 88. That will get him past the end of a second term."

As a scientist and math teacher, I think I can add to this. Using the Social Security actuarial tables:

So for Biden, it's 50/50 that he will survive until Jan. 1, 2029, while Trump has about a two-thirds chance. Even that doesn't make me feel good. Who is Trump's choice for VP? Of course, when fitness is accounted for, Biden's chances improve while Trump's get worse. Their survival chances aren't all that far apart.

Worth noting: The relatively high likelihood of some sort of mortality before inauguration, regardless of who wins. My personal demon is the possibility of hidden incapacity, such as may have occurred with Ronald Reagan or Woodrow Wilson. How do we handle an elected president who can't take the oath of office? How do we handle a duly sworn president who can't feed himself? Would this incapacity ever become known to the public?

A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: You wrote: "[A]nd all the top specialists will drop whatever they are doing and rush to treat [Biden] if required."

As a side note and for a little background: My wife was diagnosed with epilepsy 50+ years ago. After much testing and stress she was scheduled for experimental surgery at the University of Washington. At the time, only three institutions in the U.S. were involved in brain surgery to treat epilepsy. In addition to treating my wife, the surgery was experimental and a teaching experience for training student doctors. Fast forward a couple of years to the Reagan assassination attempt, when Press Secretary Jim Brady was severely injured with head wounds. My wife's lead surgeon, Dr. George Ojemann, received a phone call. He was told that a helicopter would be setting down on the campus of UW to pick him up. He was told not to worry about clothes, instruments or anything else, just get onboard, whatever he needed, everything would be taken care of. Short hop to McChord AFB, then an Air Force executive flight nonstop to DC, where he was of several physicians attending Reagan, Brady and the other victims.

It is not just that the "top specialists will drop whatever..." Our government will reach out and touch whomever they think they need, even from 3,000 miles away, and will spare no time or expense, in the most part, providing the care our officials need.

My wife has been seizure-free for just over 45 years now. Thank you George Ojemann.

J.F. in Fort Worth, TX, writes: I have to admit that I burst out laughing when I read the statement from R.L. in Alameda: "I feel that Gavin Newsom comes off as slick and arrogant, which won't play well in the middle of the country."

I cannot think of two more apt (non-expletive) words to describe Donald Trump, and the Midwest absolutely adores him.

Politics: Harris Hatred

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: S.J.B in Rolling Meadows asks why there is such vitriol towards Kamala Harris, and poses that the only reason is that she is the wrong color and/or wrong gender.

I will present the flip side: Those who were members of what was known as the K-Hive who think she is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and that she is great. And in my opinion, they think so for the same reasons... her color and/or her gender.

Now, understand that Kamala Harris was never my pick and never will be, but for very different reasons. My reasons go to her actions in the Norsworthy v. Beard case when she was California AG.

For those not familiar with the case, Michelle Norsworthy, who was transgender, was in prison on a murder conviction. Norsworthy was raped in prison, resulting in her contracting syphilis. A licensed California physician prescribed gender reassignment surgery for Norsworthy, with an eye towards reducing/eliminating her need for hormones, as they put stress on the liver... and syphilis can affect the liver.

Kamala Harris fought against Norsworthy, and even wrote three briefs in the case, which she later claimed were written by underlings in her office without her knowledge or consent. I always felt that was, at best, a half-assed excuse, and at best a half-hearted apology to my community. I will point out that Roy Cooper, who was AG in North Carolina at the time of HB-2, refused to defend the state in that case, so Harris could have done the same. She didn't, and she wrote briefs trying to obstruct Norsworthy from getting treatment prescribed by a licensed physician... as a direct result of the state failing to protect her from being raped in prison... which caused her syphilis and the need for the surgery.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) once also opposed gender reassignment for prisoners, but reversed herself and apologized. I feel Kamala needed to do the same. And I don't care what anyone thinks, but, to my view, when you have custody of a person, then it is incumbent upon you to provide whatever care they are prescribed by a licensed physician, whether or not you agree with it. And that goes double when the state's original failure to protect was the direct reason for the treatment being prescribed!

Now, all that being said, I opposed Kamala because I felt she would be horrible for the trans community. She has NOT turned out to be what I feared. But I also don't see anything "great" she has done, either... except, of course, her gender and color, which, to me, do not define greatness. I'll pass on President Harris. But not because of her color or gender. She just hasn't done anything I think is great.

Politics: Interviewing The Donald

B.H. in Southborough, MA, writes: In "Welker Blew It," you wrote, "If a media outlet lands an interview with Trump, then they should engage the services of a guest interviewer, namely... Howard Stern."

Well, that fantastic idea took a step backwards yesterday, when Trump, obviously jealous of the attention-getting public feud between Stern and Bill Maher (see here for details, including Stern's reaction to being called "Woke"), posted on Truth Social:

The real Howard Stern is a weak, pathetic, and disloyal guy, who lost his friends and MUCH of his audience Until just recently, I haven't heard his name mentioned in years. I did his show many times in the good old days, and then he went Woke, and nobody cares about him any longer. I don't know what they (really!) pay him, but it shouldn't be much. His influence is gone, and without that, he's got NOTHING—Just a broken weirdo, unattractive both inside and out, trying like hell to be relevant!

Stern has been hard on Trump (he recently had not one, but three, Trump impersonators on at the same time), and a vocal Hillary Clinton supporter. Stern is the cornerstone of Sirius/XM, works 3 days a week, and takes 2 months off in the summer. He is estimated to have 10 million active listeners and makes an estimated $330,000 per show. Just to take two examples of his interviewing skills, his 2-hour interview with Paul Simon this week and the HBO special of his interview with Bruce Springsteen, show why he's the best interviewer in the business. Oh, and he regularly professes his love for his insanely beautiful and kind wife Beth, the source of the Stern/Maher feud.

It would've been a great interview but, as we know, anybody who criticizes the naked, orange emperor goes into the sh**house, no exceptions.

D.C. in Myersville, MD, writes: Howard Stern is a great choice to interview Trump.

I also believe Jon Stewart would do an excellent job of being relentless. For example:

It's hard to believe Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge (R) didn't get up and walk out. It would have been a better look than sticking it out.

J.R.L. in Cowesett, RI, writes: Reading your comments about the difficulty in interviewing TFG, as Kristen Welker discovered, you wrote: "If we had to develop a battle plan for interviewing him, we'd start with the assumption that it's not possible to fact-check him, and that asking his opinions on things is not useful, since he's just going to produce mountains of B.S.," I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes by Tom Nichols on Rick Wilson's The Enemies List podcast, as he states why it is pointless to try to interview Trump: "People don't do that with [him] because they know that all they're going to get is a big, broken sewer pipe of gushing toxic babble."

R.T. in Arlington, TX, writes: If I could add to your battle plan, after the third time Trump dodges a question, the interviewer should announce that if he isn't willing to answer a serious question he is wasting the American people's time, and then have the crew start packing up to walk out on him. But keep two cameras rolling while the lights and reflectors are being taken down, with one wide view showing the ignominious chaos in the room and the other aimed at Trump until he leaves the room in whatever state he is in.

A.S. in Chicago, IL, writes: There were many things to be offended by in Trump's latest interview. However, one stood out for me personally. He said the price of bacon was up 5 times because of Biden. To show you how out of touch Trump is, I just purchased two packages of Farmland thick cut bacon for $7.00. Just $3.50 a pound. This is just the most recent example of deals on food. I have found many deals online using digital coupons, etc. My food costs have dropped considerably the last few months and I have not paid more than $1.10 for a dozen eggs in months. So those who still insist on saying that inflation is out of control don't know what they are talking about, or are poor lousy shoppers.

Politics: This Week in Poorly Done Polling

W.V. in Andover, MN, writes: If we agree that Americans responded positively (over 90%) that Joe Biden, George W. Bush and Barack Obama benefited financially by serving as president, Trump's 22% is easily explained by his being a multi-millionare. Some remember that he seemingly eschewed his presidential salary. I think nearly a quarter of Americans simply don't think he needed the money and didn't benefit by having received it.

M.W. in Ottawa, ON, Canada, writes: I might have answered that Donald Trump did not financially benefit at all from being president. Yes, he clearly violated the Emoluments Clause and has fleeced his supporters. But in comparison to what he would have done were he not president (plaster his name on buildings around the world, be paid to sit on boards, make bigly deals, etc), he may well have been better off financially by losing to Hillary Clinton. To say nothing of how much money he's now spending on lawyers to keep him out of prison.

D.L. in Uslar, Germany, writes: Something else that jumped out at me about that YouGov/Economist poll is the ambiguity in one of the answers. A "fair amount" could be read to mean "an amount which is fair"—say salary and expense account—or to mean "an amount which is significant but not as large as that suggested by another answer." That's very poor wording for an already questionable poll.

Politics: In Congress

M.M. in Graham, NC, writes: As a Federal employee working in a central finance office, the topic of a potential government shutdown is near and dear to my heart. Your recent posts on the subject contain a couple inaccuracies:

A silver lining for us Feds is that, unlike during previous shutdowns, furloughed employees are guaranteed back pay thanks to a 2019 law—which even The Washington Post got wrong in an article earlier this week, though looks like they've corrected that now.

C.B. in Beavercreek, OH, writes: Every time Speaker Kevin McCarthy tries to get anything through Congress, I am reminded of "Cabinet Battle #1" from Hamilton: "You don't have the votes."


J.L. in Lords Valley, PA, writes: With apologies to Irving Berlin:

Kevin, poor old Kevin,
His fondest dream was just to be the Speak
But now the job is gutted and so weak
Beholden to Boebert, Gaetz and Greene
Politics: Time for a Democratic Bob Cut?

R.V. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: Donald Trump gets indicted not one, two, but four times and it's crickets from those on the right. Very few on the right are calling on him to not run in 2024. His fundraising and primary poll numbers are increasing. In most right-wing circles, he is made out to be some martyr who was only indicted because some imaginary deep state organization run by Joe Biden, George Soros and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had it in for him. They believe Trump got a raw deal on all 91 or so counts against him.

On the other side of the aisle, numerous Democrats have already called on Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) to resign in the wake of his indictment. While the charges against him are serious, he has never tried to overthrow the government via a violent insurrection. Unlike Trump, Menendez's fundraising and poll numbers are sure to sink. He will likely have several primary challenges against him next year.

The truth is, Menendez probably should resign, or certainly not run next year. But there is no way the guy who tried to overthrow the federal government in 2021 should be running for any office again either. Basic accountability for politicians facing felony charges should not be a red vs. blue, liberal vs. conservative, good vs. evil issue.

M.S. in Las Vegas, NV, writes: I'm so confused. I'm reading that Robert Menendez has been federally indicted on bribery charges. But Republican politicians like Gym Jordan have repeatedly explained to us how the Justice Department is just a weaponized anti-Republican fascist extension of the Democratic Party. But that same Justice Department just indicted a Democratic senator!

It's almost as if.... Republican politicians are lying to us. But that can't be right, because Fox News told me so. Although... Fox did pay almost $800 million to avoid the mere possibility of being found guilty of lying about politics. So... maybe they're actually lying, too? To help Republicans who are lying? But... but... but... they've told us the media is biased in favor of liberals! So how could any of this make sense? I mean, unless they're lying about that, too?

Politics: Chaturgate

J.A. in Puerto Armuelles, Panama, writes: I find both your original piece as well as your answer to a question about the Susanna Gibson Chaturbate brouhaha deeply flawed.

You may not have any moral or other objections to pornography—and in fact neither do I—but what makes you think you have the right to speak for everyone else? Many voters, on both the left and right, do find pornography troublesome or immoral (albeit mostly for different reasons). So it is completely legitimate for a news outlet to report the facts of that story when it concerns someone running for public office. So the people involved in writing that article have no reason to be ashamed, even if their tone rubs you the wrong way.

As for your argument that because what Gibson did was legal and not unethical, it shouldn't matter, thus implying voters don't really have a right to know about it, that is just completely ridiculous.

There are many, many things that are legal and more-or-less ethical but may nonetheless legitimately influence voters' choices. Off the top of my head: hunting, having a child out of wedlock, driving a Hummer, treating women as sex objects, owning a dancing horse or being a Yankees fan whilst not living in the tri-state area.

Personally, I would be much less inclined to vote for someone who likes WWE. It's fake, infantile, violent and based largely on stereotypes (and there's the racism, of course). But it's hardly unethical and certainly not illegal. It doesn't involve deception either, assuming one is foolish enough to admit such a proclivity. What it does do, is speak to character.

Chaturgate is no different.

D.E. in Ashburn, VA , writes: On the issue of Virginia House candidate/amateur online porn actor Susanna Gibson, you note that many elected officials are likely guilty of "driving drunk, or smoking a joint, or cheating on an exam." Well I would definitely withhold my vote for the first and last of those, though certainly not the middle one. As you yourselves say, do you really not see the difference there?

(V) & (Z) respond: We do see the difference. The point is that one cannot clutch one's pearls about one alleged lapse in judgment, and yet look the other way at other, often more harmful, lapses in judgment.

B.D. in Cocoa, FL, writes: You wrote: "[Gary] Hart was betraying and dishonoring his wife, and he made that worse by lying about it. The public has the right to know if a political candidate has demonstrated their willingness to engage in dishonest and duplicitous behavior".

I disagree. There is no evidence that this affair was real. Gary Hart and Donna Rice both deny it, and Lee Atwater confessed it was a setup before he died.

Also, our obsession with the private lives of politicians has nothing to do with evaluating their character and everything do with the public's voyeuristic appetites.

Politics: Democracy on the Ballot

D.R. in Hillsboro, VA, writes: In your item about Bob Corker's statements in a recent interview, you asserted that "He doesn't want to vote Democratic because he's a Republican, and he doesn't want to vote Republican because he hates Trumpism." You also listed the many recent accomplishments and current issues frequently addressed by Biden and the Democrats, but which are regularly overlooked and brushed aside by Republicans.

I think there is an opportunity here to explore something that we have avoided for way too long. I am sure most of the readership can understand how some Republicans, particularly old-timers, can hate Trumpism. But it is much harder to fathom the intense hatred of Democrats, even by the supposedly moderate Republicans. This hatred is to the point, as described, where there is no recognition of accomplishments, and a greater tendency to still focus on issues rather than on political gestures. Admittedly, there are Democrats guilty of the same, but it doesn't seem to be so universal.

The problem is that, for 40 years or more, the conservatives have been tarring the Democratic brand, and have been redefining the terms "liberal" and "socialist" to the point where they are curse words rather than adjectives. They have been so successful at this that there is now a kneejerk rejection, without examination, of anything so labeled. The inability to analyze, to investigate, to discuss, to negotiate, is the result. I fear that a focus on the survival of democracy, solely by making democracy the flag issue, is doomed to failure, since democracy requires a willingness to share power with someone or something they despise in service to a greater good. The hatred is so deep that Republicans no longer believe there is a greater good. Sane reasoning has failed.

To change the course, the boil of blind hatred must be lanced. The blind hatred must be explored, then countered and proven wrong, and the Pavlovian system of reward that keeps it alive must be taken apart, before ANY progress can be made.

J.K. in Portland, OR, writes: You wrote: "What it boils down to is this: Republicans who claim to hate Trumpism need to radically alter their thinking, and stop considering their votes as being about defense spending or tax rates or school vouchers or whatever. The real issue on the ballot in 2024 is democracy. All those other issues are subsumed under that umbrella, and will be consumed if a proto-fascist is elected president. If Corker can't wrap his mind around that, and put his high-handed words about Trumpism and about America's broken politics into practice, then he is a part of the problem, and everything he says is just hot air."

That is the best, most concise statement of what we are facing in 2024 that I have read. It applies not only to Corker but to everybody who even hints at false equivalency. There are, alas, two types of "Never Trumpers" within the Greedy Old Plutocrats: (1) Classical conservatives who will never vote for Trump (e.g., Bret Stephens of the NYT) and (2) Conservatives who will never vote for Trump unless the alternative is a Democrat (e.g., Ross Douthat of the NYT). Members of neither group appear to be willing to 'fess up to their role in 2016 in putting Trump in the White House in the first place.

B.C. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: You wrote: "Republicans who claim to hate Trumpism need to radically alter their thinking, and stop considering their votes as being about defense spending or tax rates or school vouchers or whatever. The real issue on the ballot in 2024 is democracy. All those other issues are subsumed under that umbrella, and will be consumed if a proto-fascist is elected president."

Thank you.

And without democracy we really have no chance of addressing the biggest issue facing us: saving the planet. Dictators, Republicans and even some Democrats have made the egregious calculation that since they'll probably be dead before the world becomes unlivable, they might as well acquire as much wealth and luxury as possible.

I have a question for anybody who thinks "a good paying job" is anywhere close to the top priority we should have: What good is a job if, when you go to your home at night, you can't breathe the air or drink the water?

Politics: Democrats Can't Win, Media Edition

D.A.Y. in Troy, MI, writes: There are many reasons the Democrats just cannot win a news cycle. First, the news itself is fundamentally stacked against them. The right wing has a dedicated media ecosystem with print, radio, television, and Internet outlets that will treat their lies as truth, the truth as lies, and demonize Democrats and everything they stand for as the work of Satan to their audience. Most of the rest of the media has also been cowed into not calling out conservatives for their lies and misdeeds out of fear of appearing biased and they engage in bothsiderism even when it is uncalled for.

The Republicans have also stacked the courts with judges appointed for life to push their agenda without recourse. Using the courts, Republicans can prevent Democrats from taking action on their policies while getting away with clear violations of precedent and even the Constitution itself.

So, the playing field is very much stacked in Republicans favor before we even get to the games the two sides play.

However, perhaps the fundamental reason Democrats cannot win a news cycle is because they believe in governing while the Republicans only believe in politics. Governing is complex and difficult to comprehend while politics is simple and easily digestible. Governing means not always getting what you want while politics is getting what you want and blaming the other side when you cannot. Governing means caring about the rules (even when they are fundamentally unfair against you) while politics is about not caring about the rules and getting away with as much as you possibly can. Governing is about acting for the greater good of anyone while politics is about making sure you are the winner and your opponent is the loser.

Simply put, governing is boring while politics is exciting. The general public prefers exciting over boring so they pay more attention to, and they have a greater desire for, politics over governing. Yet, governing is what gets thing done, so the Democrats have to stick with it. It might mean losing the news cycles, but it beats the alternative.

Politics: Mendacium, Damnatum Mendacium, et Statistica

S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes: It is gratifying to see the end of the grossly doublespeak-labeled "Project Veritas." (No Lux there, either).

But it's hard to be too happy about it, given that James O'Keefe claimed the scalp of ACORN, a highly effective organization. The false accusations and bad press were enough to cost ACORN its government contracts and its donations, killing the organization. Unlike Dominion Voting Systems, there was no defamation suit that could provide vindication or compensation. The lesson learned by O'Keefe and his ilk? Lies can destroy your political opposition without consequence. The demise of Veritas 15 years later hardly compensates for this.

J.H. in Lodi, NY, writes: Were I a Democratic dirty tricks operator, I would not use the example you provided about 14-year-old girls. Such charges have had no effect before. I'd use something that would really rile up the presumptive Republican candidate and his base: "MELANIA'S HINTS RAISE QUESTIONS ABOUT BARRON'S PATERNITY."

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: Mendacias, mendacium? This is the only website I read regularly that still cares about getting their Latin right.

Update: Perhaps I should have appended this motto: Semper ubi sub ubi.

All Politics Is Local

J.D. in Rohnert Park, CA, writes: In your discussion of Senate prospects, I believe you overlooked two possible Democratic pickups. Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) has won three nail-biters in Florida in his career, and is pretty unpopular, so he could lose. And everyone hates Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), even in Texas, so he could go down too. If those two lose and only Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) loses among the Democrats, that would actually be a pickup of a seat. That seems to me to be well within the realm of possibility.

B.C. in Selinsgrove, PA, writes: There was a very short (less than 30 seconds) blurb on my local news (WNEP, Scranton) about David McCormick (R) announcing his run. The anchor announced him as "Bloomsburg native Dave McCormick," which irked me since while technically true, it's barely relevant given his current and recent residency circumstances. To me, that's akin to spin coming direct from the McCormick campaign.

M.G. in Newtown, PA, writes: If you were just doing an item on David McCormick, your subtitle song could have been Iron Maiden's "Stranger in a Strange Land."

(V) & (Z) respond: Or "The State I'm In" by Belle & Sebastian.

J.T. in Lexington, KY, writes: You wrote: "Many Republican functionaries and media members continue to believe [in] a coalition of right-wingers and Black voters..."

We will see this fallacy refuted in Kentucky's upcoming gubernatorial election, if Daniel Cameron (Black Republican AG) fails in his bid to unseat incumbent Democrat Andy Beshear, who only won his first term by 5,000 votes against highly unpopular then-incumbent Matt Bevin.

Cameron is a former staffer for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the iron fist controlling Kentucky statehouse politics (when he isn't packing the Supreme Court). I don't think McConnell anticipated how jaded a view many Black voters now have of Cameron. I've heard him called "the black face of white supremacy" by more than one Black opinion leader. Cameron got off on a bad foot with activists early in his term by not bringing charges against the police officers involved in Breonna Taylor's death, and also because Cameron fought Beshear over the Governor's anti-COVID measures despite the disease disproportionately affecting the Black community. Beshear is leading in pre-election polls 49-42, which may be about the number of MAGA voters in this ruby-red state who can be counted on to lie low to pollsters about who they're backing. But If Beshear wins by any more than a couple of eyelashes, we can conclude that Black voters and the GOP were not holding hands.

M.H. in Carlisle, KY, writes: It seems not much attention has been paid to our current Governor's race. Kentucky currently is very red but has a popular Democratic Governor in Andy Beshear. The campaign has gotten very nasty as Republican candidate Daniel Cameron has bombarded the airwaves with negative ads about gender reassignment surgery for minors as well as school shutdowns and early release for prisoners during COVID.

The Beshear campaign has mostly focused on our booming local economy and job creation, but the abortion issue has also played a role. As you are aware, we have a current ban on abortions with no exceptions for rape or incest. Cameron has supported this his entire campaign, until he flip-flopped just this week. The Beshear campaign began running a very powerful ad from a 21-year-old young lady who was sexually abused and raped by her stepfather at age 12. Her ad caused Cameron to change his tune in a Trump stronghold.

Polls have Beshear up by as many as ten points but it may be closer. I drove into eastern Kentucky yesterday and couldn't locate a Cameron yard sign, although I hear they are using them for target practice.

M.L. in West Hartford, CT, writes: San Mateo wrote: "Having moved out to California in the mid-1990s, I saw one turkey of a governor after another—Pete Wilson, Gray Davis, and Arnold Schwarzenegger—and had believed the state ungovernable until Jerry Brown proved otherwise. I had not liked [Gavin] Newsom as mayor back when I lived in SF proper, and I assumed Brown was a one-off. Once we elected Newsom, I expected us to go back to one budget crisis (etc.) after another. It didn't happen, and my sense is that California is doing better than the nation overall in most respects."

The real reason why California's state government became more effective during Governor Brown's tenure is not necessarily due to his political skill (considerable though it may be), but to the Democrats' gaining a supermajority in the state legislature in Brown's first term. California law requires a supermajority in order to raise taxes, and so prior to this, Republicans had been able to prevent the Democrats from raising enough revenue to properly fund their legislative agenda. This explains why the transition from Brown to Newsom did not lead to budget crises and other symptoms of gridlock. In California, the majority is once again allowed to govern. Perhaps the U.S. Senate should take note.

S.A. in Downey, CA, writes: Regarding "Cisneros is In": While elections at all levels in the main area of the current CA-31 Congressional District sometimes wind up with two Democrats, most of the time the Republicans line up behind one candidate who claims the second spot in the runoff and then loses in the general.

Either way, the race is Susan Rubio's to lose, in my opinion. Rubio is well-known, and Democrats in the region are used to reflexively checking her name off on the ballot in downballot races. She'd have to really screw up majorly in order not to have this in the bag. Bob Archuleta will not be known to most voters in the comparatively new district, and is extremely conservative. Cisneros last ran many miles to the south of the district, and may as well be from Mars. All the money in the world won't change that.

Unhappy New Year

J.G. in East Greenwich, RI, writes: I am grateful for the greeting you extended to your Jewish readers on Sunday for Rosh Hashanah and the beginning of the new year on the Hebrew calendar. As you noted, the new year of 5784 actually started the previous day, which was the Jewish Sabbath. You stated on Sunday, "We thought it made more sense to wait until today, given that one presumably cannot read the site on the sabbath."

There are a couple of problems with that statement that are more than incidental to American Jews. The problem, unfortunately, also fits a bigger problem on this site in the way you address Jews and think about Judaism. This matters.

Most importantly, there are many ways to be Jewish—one size does not fit all. Your presumption that all Jews (or all Jews who care about Rosh Hashanah) also abstain from using electrical devices on the Sabbath is clearly and obviously false. There are literally millions of Americans who identify as Jewish who have no problem using electricity on Shabbat. (Some of them are actually aware that the prohibition against kindling fire on Shabbat [Exodus 35:3] may not apply to a computer that is not on fire.)

Maybe your comment about the sabbath was meant to be taken tongue in cheek, which I would usually consider to be part of the style of the site that I like. Unfortunately, in this case, your light humor appears to erase a majority of the American Jewish population. Not so funny.

There is another problem, though, which I am pretty sure you did not intend. You said that you waited until Sunday to send your Rosh Hashanah greeting because Sabbath observant Jews couldn't read it on Saturday. However, this neglects the fact that for close to 100% of Sabbath-observant Jews, Rosh Hashanah is a two-day holiday (this year, Saturday and Sunday). A large percentage of those Jews also observe the prohibition on using electricity on the second day of the festival. By your logic, maybe you should have waited until Monday.

So, as I said, this fits a pattern of the way you treat Jews and Judaism on the site. For example, you recently wrote that "Judaism... says that life begins when the baby takes its first breath" (which, incidentally, is wrong). There, you appeared to assume that there is one position on the beginning of life embraced by all Jewish authorities. That is not remotely true and it has never been true. Even the Talmud has a diversity of opinions on this question.

At the same time (and this is what really troubles me), you clearly expressed an understanding that there is a multiplicity of understandings among Christians. On this issue, on the Rosh Hashanah issue, and on other occasions in the past, you have treated Jews and Judaism as a monolith. I will go even to say that recognition of diversity within groups—Christians, Latinos, suburban women, etc., etc.—is one of the core values of this site. Yet, it is often neglected when it comes to Jews. You should examine that bias.

(V) & (Z) Respond: While there may be some rabbis who agree with the evangelical Christian view that life begins at conception, the vast majority believe that a fetus is "mere water" until it is born and takes a first breath. See for example, here, here, here, here, here and here.

R.R. in Potomac, MD, writes: You wrote: "To our Jewish readers: L'Shanah tovah! We know it was really yesterday, but we thought it made more sense to wait until today, given that one presumably cannot read the site on the sabbath."

Actually, Rosh Hashanah is observed for two days (at least by most religious Jews), so Sunday was still Rosh Hashanah.

And the same rules apply on Rosh Hashanah as on Shabbat with regards to using electrical devices, so anyone who couldn't read the site on Saturday couldn't read it on Sunday either (until after sunset, which is why I'm reading it now).

So you weren't really late!

History Matters: Plantation Edition

M.S. in Knoxville, TN, writes: L.O.-R. in San Francisco asked about the use of the word "plantation" and stated they were "trying to use the term 'slave camp' or 'slave work camp' in order to strip away the glossy gentility that 'plantation' invokes." In his book The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism, Edward Baptist used the term "slave labor camp" instead of "plantation," and used the term "torture" to describe the treatment of enslaved people which produced increasing per capita production as forced migration moved enslaved people from the Atlantic Coast to the cotton producing states. Mr. Baptist's book is not without its critics, but L.O.-R. may find it interesting.

D.R. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: I share the disdain of L.O.-R. in San Francisco for contemporary uses of the word "plantation." When I became an appraiser in the early 2000s, "plantation shutters" were all the rage, but after a couple of reports I decided to just call them wood shutters, because that's what they are, and because I wanted to be considerate to any descendants of slaves who might encounter my reports in their workday. Not because of any Communist woke mind virus. (Master bedrooms are long gone, needless to say.)

S.H. in Carlisle, PA, writes: Regarding the question from L.O.-R. in San Francisco about "plantation" vs. "slave camp" or "slave labor camp," check out Peter H. Wood's 1999 article "Slave Labor Camps in Early America: Overcoming Denial and Discovering the Gulag," pages 222-38 in Inequality in Early America, edited by Carla Gardina Pestana and Sharon V. Salinger, where he writes, "I would be both surprised and pleased to see slave labor camp become an occasional synonym for plantation."

A.C. in Kingston, MA, writes: With regard to the question about moving away from the word "plantation," I think it is starting to come under the microscope. Two recent examples local to me. First, in 2020, voters in the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations approved a state constitutional amendment to drop the last half of the name, and all of the conversation surrounding the topic was related to the harmful connotations of the word.

Also in 2020, a mere 8 miles from my house, Plimoth Plantation changed its name to Plimoth Patuxet, which they said in a press release was timed both to coincide with the 400th anniversary of 1620 and to better reflect the full history of the area. Meanwhile, the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is not impressed.

C.J. in Lowell, MA, writes: I absolutely had to respond to the question today about using the word "plantation" because this has been bugging me in the opposite direction of the correspondent. This is to me a prime example of politically correct language policing, especially with regard to slavery, that seems to suggest that no word that can possibly trigger reminders of slavery can ever be used, at least not without the obligatory lecture reminding us of the evils of slavery.

It is not at all "Lost Cause" to refer to large farms that cultivate various products as "plantations." Yes, in the antebellum (another word that is just fine, simply Latin for "before the war") South they were worked by slaves, but slavery existed to work plantations rather than plantations being created to give slaves something to do. Mount Vernon, Monticello, and Tara from Gone With the Wind (again, nothing wrong with reading the book or seeing the movie if you have any common sense at all about context) were all plantations and it's fine to say so, though I also just named two historical properties where the owners of same and their contributions are the much more important story.

"Plantation" can also mean settlement or where people have "planted" themselves, hence Plimoth Plantation (which has been renamed to Plimoth Patuxet, though I think there is merit to including the Native part of the name) and the former record holder for the longest official state name "Rhode Island and the Providence Plantations" until it dropped the last part. Neither of those examples ever related to slavery, but the language police so often fail to acknowledge context. Of course slavery was an evil system and the best thing about it is we abolished it, but sometimes I feel it is treated with such a presentist bias that it's almost as if people are afraid the practice will make a comeback if we do not constantly beat it down along with anything remotely connected to it.

T.J.R in Metuchen, NJ, writes: I must take issue with the description from T.H. in Oakland of "Brown Sugar" by The Rolling Stones. T.H. describes it as "disgustingly racist" and states there is "a bawdy celebration of slave owners raping their female slaves."

Does T.H. not grasp the concept of irony? Does T.H. really think Mick Jagger is endorsing slavery? Or, perhaps could Mick be examining the connection between him and the Black music he undoubtedly loves and its ugly roots, based to some extent on English imperialism?

And if the argument is that Mick and Co., did not intend the song to be racist, but that is how it is interpreted, well, once art becomes commerce, it is susceptible to misinterpretation by the masses. That is not the artist's fault.

I believe the song is far more intricate and complex than T.H. imagines.


P.V. in Kailua, HI, writes: I wanted to say that I found this past Sunday's mailbag particularly informative and insightful. From comments on aging and cognitive function by H.R. in Jamaica Plains and B.C. in Soldotna to the moving account of their mother's last day shared by D.T. in Berkeley—there were many memorable contributions.

I also wanted to say that the Maltese Falcon owned by M.M. in San Diego is a copy. The real one is in my possession:

A Maltese Falcon statue

But seriously, nearly 40 years ago, I saw the one pictured above in the window of a hole-in-the-wall shop in San Francisco, a few doors down from It's Tops on Market St. (IYKYK). The guy I was dating at the time was a big fan of Dashiell Hammett. Thinking that he might be impressed if I got it for him, I went in to take a look. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was within my price range, albeit at the upper limit—about $20 (I was super broke in those days). The fellow who sold it to me told me that it had been cast from the original mold used for the movie. Even better! My guy was suitably impressed, and... we've been married for most of the intervening 40 years, during which we believed the story I had been told about our black bird.

Seeing M.M.'s copy, which appears to be from the same mold as ours, piqued my interest and I ended up going down an Internet rabbit hole. As it turns out, the history of the Maltese Falcon prop used in the movie is as convoluted as Raymond Chandler's story. And, alas, I have to conclude that ours is not from the original. While many of the details are the same, the head is not as flat as any of the ones that can credibly claim an association with the movie. Nevertheless, I consider it $20 well spent.

Final Words

T.R. in Vancouver, BC, Canada, writes: My favorite final words are those ascribed to the Roman Emperor Claudius: "Damn, I think I've shat myself." They are reported in a partially preserved satirical text from the first century CE, which apparently also described the Emperor's transformation into a pumpkin. Fortunately his complaint is likely to remain without a modern parallel as I can think of no contemporary politician who is at risk of turning into an orange vegetable.

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