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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

There really were questions and answers yesterday, even if they were posted quite late. If you'd like to read about Israel and the shenanigans in the House, click "previous report" at the upper right.

Also, we neglected to give our usual second hint, as to the Friday headline theme. It is that when you discover the theme, you might well say "Aha!"

Israel: I Stand with Israel

B.D. in St. Agatha, ON, Canada, writes: Last week, J.B. in Hutto wrote: "I stand with Israel."

I, however, stand with all of the innocent people, especially the children, ON BOTH SIDES, who have been victimized over the many decades of turmoil in that region of the world. Each round of violence claims innocent lives and radicalizes the young people on both sides of the conflict. I'm not a historian or a diplomat or anything relevant like that, but it seems to me that there needs to be more adults, real adults in the room to even begin to solve this before the next round of violence. Maybe the whole point of the most recent round of horrific violence from both sides is that it's now too late.

D.M. in Burnsville, MN, writes: You wrote: "One thinks of Operation Eagle Claw, which is pretty much the textbook example of a hostage rescue gone wrong."

On the other hand, one thinks of the Israeli Operation Entebbe, in which virtually anything that could have gone wrong... didn't. I still trust the Israelis to pull rabbits out of hats on demand.

Israel: The Other Side(s) of the Story

J.C. in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, writes: Violence in response to 75 years of apartheid is evil and completely unjustified. At the same time, no one should be surprised at violence in response to 75 years of apartheid.

V.P. in New York, NY, writes: I unequivocally condemn Hamas' actions. Everyone involved in carrying out the attack absolutely deserves anything that's coming their way.

That said, it's time the world focused on finding a permanent solution to Palestine. If the world forgets about millions of people living under occupation until violence breaks out, it guarantees that violence will break out.

There is not going to be a solution where everyone involved gets 100% of what they want, but it's time for the rest of the world to force some compromises on both parties to create a sustainable situation.

C.L. in Boulder, CO, writes: First, I want to acknowledge the horrific bloodshed in both Israel proper and in Gaza. I wish we lived in a world where disputes were always settled through negotiation, never bloodshed.

Second, I've been hearing charges of antisemitism, but what if Hamas' attack on Israel had nothing to do with Israel being a Jewish state and everything to do with the following?

  1. The mistreatment of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank under Israeli occupation
  2. The continued increase of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and Israel's enabling the settlements with infrastructure such as water, electricity, trash pickup, and private roads
  3. Continued restrictions on Palestinians' access to basic needs and restrictions on freedom of movement—from checkpoints up to and including imprisonment
  4. A feeling of helplessness, the world not paying attention to the plight of Palestinians, and a "what have we got to lose?" mentality
  5. Believing that Israel's intelligence apparatus has some weaknesses

If any action against Israel is automatically deemed antisemitic, then how can those under occupation ever engage in a fair fight with Israel? The Palestinians aren't responsible for the Holocaust, but Palestinians subsequently were displaced from their land in 1948 and lost all autonomy.

What if the U.S. stopped arming Israel (which has its own nuclear bomb, by the way) and directed a couple years of that aid to Palestinians to help them build up a civil society—with proper safeguards to make sure the aid is used for its intended purpose? The U.S. and the rest of the world should let Israel know that we will defend Israel against attacks, but that, meanwhile, illegal settlements, mistreatment of Palestinians, and what Jimmy Carter calls Israel's "apartheid system" have got to go. The U.S. will no longer look the other way when Israel doesn't follow international law, nor will the U.S. rubber stamp Israel's actions or give Israel special privileges until Israel improves its human rights record. For instance, perhaps the U.S. should airlift food and water to the Gaza Strip for as long as Israel cuts off water and food in violation of international law.

Jews were victims in the Holocaust, but like many abused children, Israel has grown up to be a bully and an abuser.

D.C. in Portland, OR, writes: Iran is obviously involved and for the reason explained here: to prevent normalization of relations between Israel and neighboring Arab states.

Normalization of relations is a huge carrot for Israel. If only Arab nations and Saudi Arabia in particular, along with the U.S., would use the "stick" part of that equation, to insist on meaningful compromise and action from Israel, on forging a sustainable path forward for Gaza and the Palestinians. Because we have seen only the exact opposite from Benjamin Netanyahu and yet we do nothing but support his actions.

The U.S. of course deserves considerable blame for the creation and perpetuation of the current situation by our unwavering, one-sided, black and white, biased resolve on an incredibly nuanced situation.

Donald Trump, in particular, acted as if Palestinians never existed and gave Israel everything it desired, for the sake of cheap, short-term political gain. And so Israel policy moved further to right-wing extremes.

There will never be peace while Israel holds 2.2 million people in a hopeless, isolated ghetto while continuing to expand their illegal settlement footprint. We MUST hold Israel to account because they have by far the greater power and control. They alone hold the key to a peaceful future but successive governments have shown they will not use that key willingly, again due to short-term, ideological and political considerations.

It is many decades past time that all sides face up to this reality, starting with the Biden administration. But sadly there are no signs that anything will change. Yet again.

E.B. in Seattle, WA, writes: Benjamin Netanyahu may be getting high marks now for his response to the attacks by Hamas, but let's not forget that he and the Israeli right-wingers supported Hamas for years as a means of dividing Palestinians and preventing a two-state solution in the West Bank. He enabled Hamas, knowing full well that Hamas was dedicated to the destruction of Israel. Hopefully, he and his movement will be called to account for that support.

C.B. from Indiana, but currently teaching in Guangzhou, China, writes: I thought I would more publicly share the letter (or email, rather) I just sent to my representatives (Rep. Victoria Spartz and Sens. Mike Braun and Todd Young) in reference to Israel and their continued bombardment of Gaza. I would, of course, urge other readers of your site to write similar notes to theirs should they be so inclined.

In light of the recent events in the Middle East, I am writing to ask that you oppose any and all new or continued support for Israel, military, economic, or otherwise, until such time that vile regime ceases its blatantly criminal occupation of Palestine and oppression of the Palestinian people. Reasonable persons of all political positions ought to be able to agree that both Hamas and Israel are behaving in inhumane ways and proudly engaging in war crimes and crimes against humanity. It has been common to hear members of Congress denounce Hamas; I urge you to remember our shared Hoosier values, show integrity, and strongly condemn Israel for their behavior as well.

R.G. in Minneapolis, MN, writes: A couple of years ago, I recall reading an extensive story in The New York Times about the targeted assassination of Iran's top nuclear scientist by Israel. Rereading that reporting, I was astounded to learn that for the past 17 years, Israel has been systematically killing off Iran's top nuclear scientists. As Iran's proxy in the Gaza Strip, Hamas' recent invasion of Israel is Iran's payback. In the reports on the latest fighting, it surprises me that there's been no linkage to the long-running animus between Iran and Israel and Iran's desire to get even. Just as the Iranian security services were punked by the Israelis in their assassination campaigns, now the Israelis were caught off guard by Hamas' attack. Judging by the cell phone video posted to social media, it looks like Hamas was able to carry out their attacks with low-tech means; a bulldozer penetrating a chain link fence, motor bikes, AK-47s, and a group of volunteers willing to bring the fight to the Israelis.

Politics: Israel

R.H.D. in Webster, NY, writes: They say that elections have consequences. We usually refer that in the domestic context. But it's also true on the foreign stage. That's never been more clearer than the current events in Ukraine and Israel.

All I will say is thank goodness we have President Joe Biden in the White House today. It's not hyperbole to suggest that if TFG was still in office, we would be in the middle of World War III, or even IV. I don't need to remind everyone of 45's disastrous foreign policy of kissing up to Vladimir Putin and being one sided in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This past week we saw what a real statesman looks like. We saw how a President facing a crisis is supposed to act. President Biden delivered some of the most eloquent and powerful speeches given by any commander-in-chief. Two in particular were the Oct. 10 speech announcing that Americans were killed or taken hostage. Then, a day later, he was speaking to a group of Jewish Americans about the rise of antisemitism in this country. This was Biden at his best, displaying raw emotion and passion.

President Biden is leading during this unspeakable time for Israel. He's also been rock solid on our commitment to Ukraine. But as president he can only do so much. Nothing can really happen now due to the dumpster fire known as the Republican-led House.

It's true that presidential elections aren't usually determined by foreign policy. But for next year, there is a clear choice. Go back to the bats**t crazy that got us into this mess in the first place, or stick with an experienced person who speaks with compassion and conviction. This is why I voted for Biden in 2020 and will do so again next year.

R.V. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: After Israel had their own 9/11 attack on 10/7/23, you would think the GOP would unite around President Biden, sort of a rally around the flag moment. Even in these ultra-partisan times, it should be easy to NOT be on the side of team terrorists (i.e., Hamas).

But you would be wrong. Mere hours after the attacks, members of Team Red, including Lauren Bobert (R-CO) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) were already blaming Biden for the attack. Part of me wants to laugh off such idiocy and just say, "Well, you know the GOP, they have to have a fight on everything." But part of me wonders if a terrorist attack cannot bring teams red and blue together, what will?

If we had a second Great Depression, or if World War III broke out, or if the aliens came down to attack earth like in the film Independence Day, I'm not sure that even these things would bring Democrats and Republicans together. Most, not all, GOPers of today have too much hatred in their hearts, they only see things in the red vs. blue, us vs. them prism. The modern Republican Party is truly rotten to the core.

J.M.M. in Scarsdale, NY, writes: As a strong supporter of Joe Biden since his first run in 1988 (the first presidential election in which I was eligible to vote), one of my complaints has always been his excessive rationality and niceness in the political arena. Of course, it's a big part of what makes me respect him as an elected leader, but the colosseum calls for brass knuckles sometimes, and he always seems to prefer a big hug.

What I would have liked to have seen over the last few days of Republican attacks over Israel and Biden's "complicity" is for him to have gotten on television, and with a strong tone of righteous indignation say:

I would suggest that my Republican colleagues stop playing politics with Israel at this time of tragedy and grief. We must unite and stand firmly together to condemn this naked aggression against innocent civilians. I suggest that those Republican politicians who are looking to cast blame, instead go back to what they normally do in times of tragedy in our own country, and offer their thoughts and prayers, since any constructive response to support our allies in Israel appears to be beyond their capability.

J.O. in Las Vegas, NV, writes: Hindsight is 20-20. But knowing what we know now, the correct move for Joe Biden would have been to take whatever Donald Trump had done and done a 180 to get away from whatever consequences could result. Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved to make treaties between Israel and other countries without any regard to the Palestinian people and their plight. When Biden's foreign policy team saw that there were little to no apparent consequences for such treaties, they began to move to have similar treaties made, a continuation of Trump's policies in the Middle East. The treaties normalized Palestine's dire situation by giving Israel more normal standing in the world without doing anything to help the Palestinians. Such agreements told the Palestinians that they were alone in the world and a new administration was not going to change that. If you give only one side a spot at the negotiating table, you'll have only one outcome: war.

Politics: The House, Divided

D.C. in Teaneck, NJ, writes: You wrote: "Fox's Bret Baier, who's pretty dialed in to Republican politics, reported yesterday that, according to what he's hearing, 'Jesus of Nazareth could not get 217 votes right now.' Probably right; Jesus was a Jew, so there go the votes of Paul Gosar (R-AZ) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) right there."

Oh, Bret, how quaint! The truth is that if Jesus of Nazareth appeared and uttered a word in the House chamber, virtually the entire Republican caucus would tar and feather him, then run him out of town on a rail, and your network would be leading the parade. His being a Jew would be only one of many reasons for their contempt.

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: Speaking of "George Santos" (R-NY), you might find this interesting. When the superseding indictments (and thank you Donald Trump and "Santos" for making the rare word "superseding" to auto-populate on my phone!) against him we're revealed, "George" was in the party Caucus meeting to determine the next Speaker. Because the dysfunctional party of performative artists known as the GOP don't trust each other to keep their Super Secret meeting secret, all the phones of their members were confiscated at the door to the meeting. This means "Santos" didn't know he was in even more legal trouble until he got his phone back, and, judging by his reaction when a reporter asked him about it, he didn't check his messages before charging out to talk with the reporters. "George" being "George" instead wanted to talk about how he was staunchly anti-Scalise. When asked, he declared strongly that it was not because Scalise never returned his phone calls. In his very next breath, he explained that he was against Scalise because Scalise showed a lack of leadership skills, based on the fact that he never returned "Santos'" calls.

And that, my friends, is in a nutshell everything that is wrong about today's Republican party. In my lifetime, the GOP used to be about doing what they thought was right for the country. But that devolved over time to their main focus of keeping the party in power no matter what. Now we see that the party be damned and it's all about the one narcissistic habitual liar's grift and the ongoing performance. It's become the Party of One and nothing else.

R.C. in Des Moines, IA, writes: You wrote: "Jordan Becomes Speaker, Proves Capable"


B.W. in Suwanee, GA, writes: While I agree at this point that there is nobody that has any chance at speakership, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution ran a story on Rep. Austin Scott (R-GA) on Friday. He seems like a stand-up guy. According to the article, he is okay with reaching across the aisle.

You are probably right that he has no chances of becoming speaker but as a Democrat, I have my fingers crossed as he seems the best alternative to Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH).

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) suggested Tom Cole (R-OK) as a unity candidate on the conditions that he abide by former speaker Kevin McCarthy's (R-CA) budget deal with Biden and scuttle impeachment. You noted that Cole's support for "stop the steal" might be a deal breaker for Khanna's fellow Democrats. I don't see why Cole would want the job under those conditions, either. If he did either of those things, he'd be primaried from the right before the ink was dry, or the electrons were done spinning, or the pixels were... um... fully pixelated (whatever; you know what I mean). If Oklahoma is anything like Texas (and it is), any deal of that sort is going to be his political death knell. And that's going to be a serious problem across the board for any kind of unity candidate.

C.B. in Portland, OR, writes: What about Arnold Schwarzenegger for Speaker of the House? He's a former Republican governor, and not of the far-right contingent. He couldn't assume the presidency, so Senate Pro Tempore Patty Murray (D-WA) would still be on deck, but he could call balls and strikes and would be a presence.

His recorded remarks on the January 6th attack on Congess were certainly strong and should give him credit with Dem moderates.

Am I crazy? Could the Governator become the Speakernator?

(V) & (Z) respond: We considered including him, but think the Republicans would not want to give up the small glimmer of a possibility that a Republican could succeed to the presidency.

S.B. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: In your segment on the ongoing Republican Speaker saga, I agreed with your analysis of former speakers except when you mentioned John Boehner. I had to laugh! While it seems he would be well suited to the task, this was the guy who was literally whistling and singing, " Zip-a-dee-doo-dah" while walking out the door! You probably couldn't get him within a country mile of the House during normal times, much less now.

D.R. in Tetovo, North Macedonia, writes: I'd like to propose a possible House speaker I haven't read about anywhere, but who I think would make a good deal of sense: Jenniffer González.

She's the "resident commissioner" from Puerto Rico, which is their member of the House of Representatives who has a vote in committees but not in full votes of the House. Her mainland political affiliation is Republican, but in island politics, she's a member of the pro-statehood New Progressive Party. She has experience as a legislative speaker, having served four years as speaker of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives.

González wants statehood for Puerto Rico, and most Democrats would be perfectly willing to go along with that. She would probably be willing to cut off any impeachment inquiries into the Biden administration, plus agree to a number of other things Democrats want, in exchange for Democrats being willing to make Puerto Rico statehood a high priority. And because she's a longtime Republican, she can probably get a number of Republicans to agree to support her as well.

González would be an unorthodox choice, but no crazier than Mike Pence or John Boehner. If Democrats aren't already talking with her about this possibility, they ought to.

Politics: The 2024 Presidential Race

T.H. in Edmonton, AB, Canada, writes: Yesterday was something of a seminal moment for in that Donald Trump was not mentioned as a person at all in your post and his name only appeared as a descriptor in the word "Trumpers" merely as a synonym for hardliners. Florida Man's ongoing presence in the zeitgeist is critical to his "success." The House speakership fiasco domestically and the Ukraine/Russia/Israel/Hamas wars internationally have squeezed out Florida Man's erstwhile domination of the news cycles. Neither war shows any signs at the moment of releasing their grip on the public's attention. What's a poor grifter to do? He'll be back soon enough, of course, but in the meantime let's just savor this moment.

E.H. in Washington, DC, writes: I know that thinking about future photo opportunities is no way to pick a president, but I just noticed that if TFG is elected in 2024, we will have to endure the embarrassment of his performance on July 4, 2026, as the nation celebrates 250 years since the Declaration of Independence was signed and on September 11, 2026, which will be 25 years since the 9/11 attacks. Please... anyone else.

J.P. in Lancaster, PA, writes: I am reading Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII by David Starkey. Was reading the section about the legal dealings concerning the divorce (or the King's Great Matter) between Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII. Starkey makes the point that at least initially, until Henry basically took over the church, Queen Catherine got the best of him at every turn in the court manipulations with the Catholic Church's rulings. (Even Anne Boleyn supposedly said that Catherine never lost an argument with Henry before she lost her "argument" with him.) Starkey also makes the case that the reason Catherine did so well in these legal arguments was that she listened to her counselors' legal advice while Henry did not listen to his counselors because he thought that he knew the relevant religious issues and the law in general better than his legal advisors.

Hmmm. Does that sound familiar?

G.D.S. in Wilson County, NC, writes: You were wondering who is going to vote for RFK Jr.? My damn mother will, if he is on a general election ballot in November 2024. She is generally left-leaning, collected signatures for John Anderson in '80, voted Ross Perot two times, hates Donald Trump, thinks Biden is too old, wants universal single-payer healthcare, thinks Vladimir Putin should be appeased so he doesn't nuke the world when his reign ends, is personally pro-choice but in favor of a 15-week ban for some reason, and has a very conspiratorial attitude about all people and government agencies with any real power. (Thankfully, she is not a Q-anon follower.) She maintained a membership in the Lyndon LaRouche newsletter until the mid 2010s. She has personally expressed many of the same views in your list. She's the constituency. Is it enough to get him elected? No. Is there enough possible support for him to be a spoiler in one or more states? Quite possibly, I'd say.

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: If there is a bigger load of nonsense packed into one paragraph than the comment from D.M. in Boston attempting to justify a Cornel West candidacy for president, I've never seen it. Admittedly, it starts out plausibly: "Joe Biden and like-minded Democrats are likely to support a continued increase in military funding." Yes, given that we are arming democracies like Ukraine and Israel to allow them to defend against terroristic attacks by actors bent on their destruction. That's a good thing.

But then we get to, "Democrats will continue to support the expansion of overseas military projects, and endless military conflicts that can't be won." After equating Donald Trump's foreign policy views with that of Cornel West—which would seem a pretty searing indictment of West, but whatever—D.M. continues: "Dr. West is rightfully concerned that the Democratic Party has habit of trying to establish or maintain democracies using military force. The results in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya have been awful."

Last time I checked, the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq occurred under Republican George W. Bush. The U.S. withdrawal from Iraq occurred under Democrat Barack Obama. The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan occurred under Democrat Joe Biden. If the complaint is that the Afghan withdrawal didn't take place quickly enough, Trump had 4 years to do so and didn't because he didn't want that mess on his hands before the 2020 election.

As for Libya, that was a civil war initiated by Libyans trying to depose the murderous dictator Qaddafi. The no-fly zone and resulting NATO bombing were authorized by the United Nations. U.S. military involvement was brief (from February to October 2011) and assisted the rebels in toppling Qaddafi. If D.M. is arguing the Libyan people would have been better off under Qaddafi in a long-running civil war, that would seem dubious at best.

Moving on to the present, D.M. writes, "There are good reasons to be concerned that Ukraine is becoming a hopeless, endless, savage military conflict." That's simply false. Ukraine has beaten Russia's "three-day" war plan and is attriting Russian war personnel and materiel while slowly and steadily advancing to liberate Ukrainian lands and people. The West's support is critical to stopping Russian hegemonic expansionism. "It's hard to believe the Baby Boomers learned so little from the lessons of Vietnam," D.M. concludes. I say it's hard to believe D.M. never learned the lessons of Munich. What D.M., West and Trump seek is appeasement by giving Putin Ukrainian territory in exchange for a ceasefire. The western democracies learned the folly of appeasement after giving Czech land to Hitler. How'd that work out for world peace, D.M.?

Let's also understand that Putin can end this war immediately simply by withdrawing from Ukrainian territory. Ukraine is not seeking to invade Russia, subjugate its people, and destroy its culture and language. Ukraine, a democracy, is fighting genocidal fascist war criminals. Withdrawal of Western support would condemn Ukraine to eradication. Even a ceasefire would simply give Russia the opportunity to rearm and resume its genocidal war at its convenience. Unless Ukraine fights Russia for as long as it takes, supported by Western arms, the only peace Ukraine will find is the peace of the grave.

Politics: Master and Commander

P.N. in Austin, TX, writes: You wrote, regarding the biting incidents with the President's dog Commander: "Once it becomes clear there is a problem, then it's ideally time for some training. Commander has gotten additional training, several times. But once the training is over, there's no way to know whether or not it worked. You just re-introduce the dog into the problematic situation and hope the problem is solved. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't."

I'm surprised you received no pushback on this point. A few important corrections, in my view:

  • Once it becomes clear a dog has aggression or biting issues, you need to consider its environment and socialization.
  • Training will only ever reduce the risk of biting, it will never stop it.
  • Removing the dog from the environment it is not socialized to handle is the wisest course of action.
  • Socializing the dog for different environments and situations takes time, patience, and incremental progress.
  • Socializing a dog gets harder and harder as they get older. Training, on the other hand, can be done at any age with about the same success.
  • You can certainly proof a dog's training and socialization, and should be able to predict with fair accuracy if they will be comfortable (and therefore not a risk) in certain settings.

My older dog Galen (half Dachshund, half Blue Heeler, and pictured attached with his sister Meri), who started life as a feral puppy, would never be comfortable in a setting like the White House. He would always be fearful and would bark constantly. He would always be a risk to the people there. And yet, he is extremely well trained (I've called him off a downed bird 5 feet in front of him). Training is no substitute to early life socialization.

A medium-sized black dog with a much smaller gray cat

I strongly recommend the book How To Teach An Old Dog New Tricks by Dr. Ian Dunbar if you want to learn more about training and socializing dogs.

Honestly, Joe Biden's choices seem like poor dog companionship. The moment it became clear Commander was uncomfortable, he should have chosen Commander's safety and well-being over any other consideration. If you love your dog, you put them in a good place where they can be happy and healthy. With all that said... please, for the love of democracy, vote blue!

All Politics Is Local

D.G. in Santa Cruz, CA, writes: I am voting for Steve Garvey because he could save the narrow majority in the Senate for Democrats. California has a top-two primary system, and we can reasonably expect that Adam Schiff and Katie Porter will be those top two, following a very expensive and divisive primary campaign. Then the general election will be just as expensive and divisive, using valuable resources (including human resources) that would otherwise be used for tough races around the nation. Enter Steve Garvey and, due to his (R) and his celebrity, he could take enough votes to win second place. Then the November election in California is more of a pleasant walk than a race and the consultants and operatives move to Montana, Ohio and Arizona to keep the Democratic majority afloat. Go Steve Garvey.

D.H. in The Bay Area, CA, writes: You left out Steve Garvey's heaviest baggage of all: being a former Dodgers player.

Artificial "Intelligence"

S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes: Your post about Alexa's description of the 2020 election scared the heck out of me. So many of us have gotten used to asking our devices questions and just taking the answers as a given (Hey Siri, what's the capital of Asia Minor?).

On the same day you posted that, law professors on a listserv to which I subscribe were sharing ideas and syllabi about a hot topic in my field. Eventually, a list member reported that ChatGPT produced a syllabus in five seconds. Other diligent colleagues (with too much time on their hands?) shared that ChatGPT's "syllabus" assigned:

  • A court opinion that had nothing to do with the topic with which it was listed (or, for that matter, with any of the subject matter of the course)—and which was attributed to the wrong court
  • An article in a law review in which the purported author has never published (supposedly co-authored with another professor, even though the two have never published together—and at a time when one of the supposed authors, who is now a law professor, had not even started law school)
  • Another article in a law review in which the purported author never published—at a cited source where there is an actual on-topic article written by someone else
  • A court opinion that was actually a statute

I shudder to think what ChatGPT would produce if prompted for a biography of "George Santos."

J.T. in Marietta, GA, writes: For what it's worth, I just asked Alexa and she said there was no fraud in the 2020 presidential election. Her source was... Substack.

S.C.-M. in Scottsdale, AZ, writes: Apparently Donald Trump won in 2020 but, more importantly, I do not exist. I asked ChatGPT about myself and it came up blank even though a Google search of my name comes up with lots of references to my published books, my political career in Austin, TX, etc.

I also asked who authored one of my books and it came up with a famous security specialist, Doug Comer. Weird.

You are correct, AIs have no idea what information is real and which is bogus. ChatGPT either was not trained on any information about me or it decided on its own to just cancel me. At least with a Google search I can peruse the results and determine which make sense.

Oh, Doctor!

H.R. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: I am a physician and I can state categorically that R.W. in Brooklyn is wrong when they state that doctors are "free to reject patients for any reason so long as they do not discriminate against a protected class."

That might apply to physicians in private practice (a diminishing minority, given the proliferation of healthcare monopolies), but even they are nonetheless subject to Medicare constraints against denying care (which I will not detail here). More importantly, that statement most certainly does not apply to physicians like me, as a salaried employee of a large healthcare system (academic, in my case, but no different from non-academic settings).

There are only two circumstances in which I can reject treating a patient. The first is the rare patient who has been abusive or threatening—so rare that I can count them on one hand in 50 years of practice. That includes one patient who physically attacked me for suggesting a treatment that he did not agree with. Even more frightening, if it can be believed, was a patient who actually brought a gun to his appointment—for his own protection, he said, because he feared coming to the big, bad city!

In each case, I called security to escort the patient from the facility—very discreetly, of course, with the armed patient. Even so, I was required to justify my actions in every case in a written report—a pro forma matter that security validated.

The second category, less infrequent but still relatively rare in my experience, is the patient who objects to my ethnicity, skin color, or accent.

Strange as it may seem, it does not bother me that racism—not always explicit, but easily inferred—is the foundation for those objections. That is because patient care depends on mutual trust, which is impossible in the face of such intrinsic bias. My ethics (even more than my employer's policies) do not permit me to abandon such a patient, so it devolves on me to: (1) confirm that the patient declines my care, (2) document it as the reason for terminating care, and (3) transfer their care to a colleague they will accept.

Do my actions amount to enabling their racist behavior? Maybe... and others are free to disagree, but I cannot let their psychological disability impede treatment of their physical illness—darn those pesky personal ethics, yet again!

History Matters: Obscure Presidents Edition

M.S. in Canton, NY, writes: I was amused by your reference to the relative obscurity of Millard Fillmore. I briefly lived in Fredonia, NY, and almost every day I drove down Millard Fillmore Drive in adjacent Dunkirk, NY. It's all of one block long, with a decaying strip mall on one side and a freeway fence on the other. It has to be the least impressive street named in honor of a president anywhere in the U.S.

D.A. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: I'm shocked that you would consider taking seriously a survey that cited Millard Fillmore as the "most obscure president in U.S. history." How can someone with such a funny name be truly obscure? The winner of that contest has to be Franklin Peirce. Or Franklin Pierce? Well, you know who I mean. He's so obscure that he doesn't even get mentioned as the most obscure.

(V) & (Z) respond: Who is this person you speak of?

C.J. in Redondo Beach, CA, writes: I could have sworn a few years ago that is some survey of average citizens, Chester Arthur had the least name recognition among people polled. Millard Fillmore was thought to have ranked higher because of his somewhat unusual name (not that Chester is terribly common either).

S.P. in Queens, NY, writes: Your new least-favorite dead president and punching bag inspired me to write my first message to after being a reader of the site for over 20 years.

When I was in fifth grade our teacher had us do a report on a U.S. president. There couldn't be any overlap so each student picked someone different and there was a drawing to decide who chose first. Being the sort of contrary 10-year-old I was, I'd previously decided that 13 was my lucky number, and someone suggested I pick the 13th president so I did. When I got home from school I told my mother who I was going to write a paper on. She thought I was kidding and was sure there wasn't enough material for me to write an entire report.

When my father got home I told him I had to do a report on a president, and he said "Let me guess, you picked Millard Fillmore." I thought this meant my mother had already told him, but it turns out he was joking because he assumed there's no way anyone (particularly his own daughter) would voluntarily choose Fillmore. "But he didn't do anything!" my father said.

In fairness to the former president, Fillmore was the one who sent Commodore Perry to Japan, which opened up trade and may have been his greatest accomplishment as president. However he also signed the Fugitive Slave Act and was strongly anti-immigrant, so he's certainly not a president we should remember fondly. "Louse" is an apt adjective for him and "systemic racism" certainly describes his choices about race throughout much of his career.

I remember adding in a lot of minor details to meet the minimum length requirement for the paper. Did you know that Millard Fillmore was the first U.S. president to have been born in a log cabin?


T.P. in Singapore, writes: You wrote: "Hm. For some reason, our spell-checker does not have scrumdiddlyumptious in it."

Well of course not. You're missing a P after the first M.

(V) & (Z) respond: Not according to the OED, which added that word back in 2016.

J.G. in Dallas, PA , writes: I will confess that I had to do a quick Google search after reading: "Nonetheless, we are required by the rules of the Psephologists Guild to consider every high-profile candidacy seriously."

Naturally, this led me to the Wikipedia page on Psephology, which lists a number of notable psephologists. There's Nate Silver and Charlie Cook, of course, and...

Andrew S. Tanenbaum and Christopher Bates, who together write the daily website, which tracks polling for US presidential and congressional elections.

Wow! You guys weren't kidding. Now I am curious... What are some of the other rules of this Psephologists Guild?

(V) & (Z) respond: The first rule about Psephologists Guild is you don't talk about Psephologists Guild. The second rule about Psephologists Guild is you don't talk about Psephologists Guild.

A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: Just curious, couldn't find the website with the Google machine, but at least found a definition. Are you card carrying members of the Psephologists Guild?

(V) & (Z) respond: See above.

B.C. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: My long tenure as an IT Systems Admin makes me, unlike Hunter Biden, perfectly capable of opening up my own laptop and cleaning out anything which has been spilled or spit onto it; something I may well have to do after taking a sip of coffee while coming across the unfamiliar word "Psephologists" in your Steve Garvey post and not realizing the "P" is silent.

R.M. in Pensacola, FL, writes: I couldn't help but notice that in your International Politics section of the Sunday Mailbag, that all four of the letters were from Canadians.

I think the Canadian invasion has begun, and it's started with you guys. Good thing I have a few Loonies and Toonies on hand to hopefully ward them off if they get this far south.

(V) & (Z) respond: Shhhh. People aren't supposed to notice, eh. Whatever you do, don't pay attention to the fact that the final words this week are courtesy of one of those Canadian M.F.s.

Final Words

M.F. in Burlington, ON, Canada, writes: I wrote to you last week about Queen Elizabeth's last official act; a message of condolence following a series of stabbing at James Smith Cree Nation and the nearby community of Weldon, Saskatchewan. You were kind enough to print it. But as an afterthought, it occurred to me that the message itself would qualify for your "Final Words" feature.

So here, with no further ado, is the message of Her Late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, the Queen of Canada (in both official languages):

I would like to extend my condolences to those who have lost loved ones in the attacks that occurred this past weekend in Saskatchewan.

My thoughts and prayers are with those recovering from injuries, and grieving such horrific losses.

I mourn with all Canadians at this tragic time.

Elizabeth R

Je présente mes sincères condoléances à toutes les personnes qui ont perdu un être cher lors des attaques survenues la fin de semaine dernière en Saskatchewan.

Mes pensées et mes prières accompagnent les personnes qui se remettent de leurs blessures et celles qui sont affligées par ces pertes horrifiantes.

Je porte le deuil avec toute la population canadienne en ce moment tragique.

Elizabeth R

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