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Sunday Mailbag

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.

A lot of the items we wrote this week inspired a lot of response. So, today's mailbag is a real mish-mash. And isn't that an appropriate descriptor to use on the weekend of Rosh Hashanah.

Politics: Old Joe Biden

H.R. in Jamaica Plain, MA, writes: My mother had an important career in science education policy that included international travel, testifying before Congress and many, many publications. She worked until almost 86, though she had gone to part-time a couple of years earlier. The main thing that stopped her was losing her eyesight. She worked most of her adult life, taking off only about a decade when her children were young. She was a role model to me and to many, many other younger women. After she stopped working, she wrote a memoir (with help from others, because of the eyesight issue). She died at age 93.

I might have followed in her footsteps, in terms of working, but was laid off at age 69 (a few months after she died). I wanted to keep working, because I felt I still had contributions to make to my field (software engineering), but I discovered that there were some advantages to stopping, such as more time to exercise and more time to sleep. I have since devoted myself to working hard at various volunteer endeavors for which I have a passion and all of which have to do with trying to make the world a better place. I'm not writing to toot my mother's horn or my own (though hers definitely deserves tooting). I'm writing to make the point that age is only loosely related to one's ability to continue contributing, either in one's professional field or in other ways.

Age definitely presents some obstacles, but they are often surmountable. I might not be as swift as I once was, but I'm blessed with some wisdom that comes with age and experience. I'm really tired of folks criticizing Joe Biden's age. As some of your contributors have pointed out, including this week, his record of accomplishments is quite impressive. He's not slowing down all that much that I can see. He has some serious challenges ahead of him, but his age is not a reason for him to quit and folks should really think about how age can also be an advantage. Working in your 80s might not be for everyone, but there are enough examples of success at this age (and even older) for us to move on from this simplistic ageism.

B.C. in Soldotna, AK, writes: It seems like almost everyone, especially those with no formal medical training, love to rip on old Joe Biden for his "obvious" infirmity. He's a demented fool who, at best, has his handlers wind him up with talking points and push him in front of a podium and then pull him off the stage when he starts rambling incoherently. He's old milk that's succumbed to the natural consequences of time and chemistry. This is patent nonsense housed in either ignorance or naked partisanship.

I work in rehabilitative medicine. I spend at least half of my day with people on Medicare and I see someone with formally diagnosed dementia or cognitive decline literally every day for hour-long appointments. The public doesn't have the hands-on experience working with these people, but I assure you all, they cannot fake not having a dysfunctional brain. From what they say, to how they say it, to their lack of social awareness, to them requiring painfully rote repetition to learn, they cannot hide it.

But that's dementia. Let's talk about "mild cognitive impairment" (MCI) which is kind of like pre- dementia and is even sometimes reversible. Here's a list of symptoms from the Mayo Clinic:

You also may experience:

Now honestly, does it seem like Biden even has MCI? One way to think about this in clinical practice is that people with MCI can care for themselves and follow a routine, but new learning or problem-solving in unfamiliar environments/situations is very challenging. There are videos of Joe, a man with a former brain injury (his aneurysm in the 1980s), stuttering, fumbling his words, and getting confused in public, yes. But there are also video of him speaking coherently in front of crowds, dignitaries, reporters, etc., for lengthy periods of time while responding and reacting to new complex information in the year 2023. He done so well in public, that it, almost by definition, rules out MCI and certainly rules out dementia. He is old man and old brains slow down and make errors, but Biden simply couldn't do his job right now if he was as infirm as people suggest.

I'm dying on this hill that "Biden is fit for duty" and that opinion is not based in partisan hackery. That being said, in the year 2023, the President is fine. I can't confidently say he will be fine in 2027 because cognitive decline is progressive and if he starts developing it today, tomorrow is a new ballgame. But I could say that about any aging politician. In the year 2024, when we are asked to vote, at least we can be confident Biden hasn't surrounded himself with alleged criminals. This stands in contrast to his likely opponent, in case either of them is bit by the dementia bug and the USS Presidency needs some occasional course correction from the Cabinet, as during Ronald Reagan's last few years.

M.B. in Washington, DC, writes: As someone in the clinical practice of medicine for about 40 years, one thing I have observed consistently is that chronological age (by which I simply mean the number of years a person has lived since birth) is only one number, and not necessarily the determinative one. I have seen people in their early twenties who are physiologically many decades older and far too frail for any demanding job (usually due to chronic illness). I have seen people in their eighties who still ski black diamond runs and people in their mid-nineties who still work and teach 3 days a week.

Joe Biden is 80, but trim and fit and exercises vigorously on a regular basis. His speaking style is not compelling but he has also had a lifelong speech impediment, which is not an indicator of cognitive decline. He also has the voice of an 80-year-old, not a 40-year-old. But he is one wily old fox, with decades of Senate and foreign policy experience which he has already used to outwit his opponents. He is not being given credit, even by Democrats, for the substantial achievements of his first term—a messaging problem that needs to be fixed, pronto. BTW, Donald Trump may have some cognitive decline. If you look at interviews done with him 40-50 years ago, there does appear to be a change in his speech. He's always been an a**hole, but he used to be an a**hole with a larger vocabulary and some abstract and complex thought.

P.D. in Charlottesville, VA, writes: For several years, I taught investigations courses. We spent a good deal of time on the topic of remembering specific events (like where one was on 9/11, 9/12, 9/18, etc.) and used an exercise in which I had the students observe a short incident (on video and without forewarning them), then recount their observations. Despite being asked to recount the incident only minutes later, most got some details wrong. I would estimate that ¼ of the students correctly recounted the incident in full. The others got the essentials right but misreported a detail or two like the appearance of the perpetrator or victim, their clothing, or words exchanged between them. And this was a biased sample that one would expect to perform better than the population at large.

Clearly, ¼ of my students were not lying. They had no reason to lie. Nor were they suffering from dementia. Their errors were attributable to normal memory fallibility. People make mistakes. It's as simple as that.

BTW, this is a common teaching method and can be quite engaging. It reportedly has similar results whether teachers opt for a live, in-person "incident" or a video. I always used a video for safety reasons. It allowed for the surprise of an unexpected incident without the risk of someone intervening.

D.R. in Portland, OR, writes: Back in high school or college political science class somewhere, I read something that has stuck with me. It said you can accuse a politician of incompetence, or you can accuse them of corruption, but it rarely works to accuse them of both. That's because being corrupt requires a certain amount of cleverness. In the current case, Republicans and their media friends have been fairly successful with the narrative that Joe Biden is too old and feeble to be an effective President. By adding the impeachment inquiry, they are suggesting that he is also a clever criminal mastermind. In doing so, they don't just overplay their hand, they actively undermine the attack that is working.

Politics: Hunter Biden

B.B. in Dothan, AL, writes: ATF form 4473 asks: "Are you an unlawful user of, or addicted to, marijuana or any depressant, stimulant, narcotic drug, or any other controlled substance?"

The problem with such a question is that the terms "user" and "addict" are so vague as to be meaningless. For example, how frequently does one have to use drugs in order to qualify? Daily, weekly, monthly, yearly? It is left to the user's personal opinion whether they qualify here, because they are not an expert in this matter. So, if in their opinion, at the time, they were NOT a user or addict, then they answered truthfully.

R.G.N. in Seattle, WA, writes: I have to wonder how many gun owners in this country have smoked marijuana in a state and time when it was illegal. I am willing to bet that when purchasing a firearm, the majority of gun owners in this country lied about their use of illegal drugs. Likely, a lot of the people calling for Hunter's head are guilty of the same crime. We do indeed have a two-tired system of justice in this country.

M.G. in Baltimore, MD, writes: While it's clear that Joe Biden is not pulling strings for Hunter Biden, does anyone seriously believe that Hunter won't be pardoned on 1/20/25 or 1/20/29, results pending?

Politics: The 2024 Presidential Election

T.W. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Your item on Joe Biden's potential vote assumes that "people without college degrees" is the same as "blue-collar workers." In fact, "no college degree" is NOT equivalent to "working-class" or "blue-collar." There are millions of small business owners in the U.S. They are 86 percent white and overwhelmingly Republican and are a key part of Trump's base. But most of them do not have four-year or higher college degrees. So your assumption is mistaken. They should not be confused with blue-collar workers or working-class people, like factory workers, bus drivers, Amazon delivery drivers, retail clerks and the like. A different set of class interests.

J.D. in Cold Spring, MN, writes: Your reminders that presidential polling at this point is relatively worthless suggest that maybe it is time to return to the occasional feature of anecdotal reports of lawn signs. With that in mind...

My wife and I just returned from a camping circle tour of Lake Superior. This provided the opportunity for some serious driving through northern Minnesota, northern Wisconsin, and the upper peninsula of Michigan—all solidly part of MAGA-land. In seven days of driving, we saw a total of four Trump signs (two leftover from 2020), and three anti-Biden signs (two "F**k Biden," and one "Impeach Biden"). We've traveled in these regions before and were surprised that there were so few around. Perhaps the heartland is getting tired of the chaos?

The good news for the future of the U.S. is that Trump apparently has little support in Ontario. We saw absolutely no Trump signs anywhere in the 700 kilometers from Sault St. Marie to Thunder Bay. (OK, fair enough, we didn't see much of ANYTHING from Sault St Marie to Thunder Bay, but still...).

However, we did see lots of signs on both sides of the lake that should concern some in the U.S. In bold font, across a background of a Lake Superior outline, was "Our water is not for sale." Forget about shipping heartland water to the desert areas of California and the southwest. Ain't gonna happen.

Politics: The 2016 Presidential Election

E.D. in Saddle Brook, NJ, writes: You claimed that double-haters tend to favor the status quo, then claimed we can't compare with the 2016 election to 2024 as there was no status-quo candidate then. I can't express how strongly I feel that's missing the mark on the 2016 election.

Hillary was the ultimate status-quo candidate. She lived in the White House for most of the 90s and was involved in policy decisions. She spent the Bush administration as a Senator, then held one of the highest ranking jobs in the White House for the Obama administration. From about 2000-2016, she was one of the most influential people in the Democratic Party. She may not have ever been the person sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office, but she spent a lot of years sitting in front of that desk giving advice. Her policy proposals all boiled down to "keep doing what we're doing, but make it a little bit better." That's as status quo as it gets.

Trump's entire campaign was based around him being against the status quo. He wasn't a politician. He didn't play by the same rules they did. He didn't care what the political establishment wanted. He was happy to do things the politicians said not to do. He went out of his way to offend as many people as possible. Everything he did was against the normal rules of a political campaign.

That election came down to: Do you want the ultimate political insider to maintain the status quo, or do you want an outsider to rock the boat? Trump won because a ton of people were unhappy enough with the status quo that they were willing to take a risk and try something different.

N.D. in Duluth, MN, writes: With regard to polls, you wrote that Harry Enten's article suggested: "Among voters who really don't want to vote for Trump or Biden (which is about 20%), Trump is slightly more appealing (or, if you prefer, slightly less odious), roughly 53%-47%. Needless to say, if those voters ultimately decide to suck it up and vote for the lesser of major-party evils, and if they break the way they are feeling now, and if the other 80% of the electorate sticks with their current horse, then Trump would probably win. As Enten points out, the numbers here are similar to 2016, when there were also two widely disliked candidates on the ballot, and where the so-called double-haters broke pretty decisively for Trump, thus handing him the win."

I'm thinking that in 2016, Trump was an unknown quantity in terms of governing, so some votes broke his way with the thought "Let's try something new." I'm not sure Trump would get that bump in 2024. I have a story that might illustrate that fact. When I was teaching at the University of Minnesota Duluth, I always did a unit on voting in late October/early November. One year, a student held up a binder with a bumper sticker for Jesse Ventura. He said his dad told him he would be wasting his vote. In response (and to still encourage him to actually get out and vote) I said his vote is his own decision and that if he truly thinks Jesse Ventura is the best candidate and the one he wants to see as governor of Minnesota, that he should follow his conscience and cast his vote that way. So, first class meeting after the election, and Jesse Ventura is now the governor-elect of Minnesota, and I commented "Hey, (name of student here), your guy won! How about that?" He responded with "If I knew he was going to actually WIN, I never would have voted for him!"

Politics: Gavin Newsom (and Gretchen Whitmer)

J.L. in Chicago, IL, writes: First, I assume/hope that the choice of "Newsom/Whitmer" instead of "Whitmer/Newsom" was to put them in alphabetical order?

Second, I am not saying Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) cannot win, but some of the facts you cite may go the other way. Being Californians of one sort or another may not give you the greatest view of your governor's prospects in the other 49 states. No one is quite so convinced of the merits of everything California as a Californian. The rest of us would elect him in spite of his being your governor, more than because. As to (Z)'s students, if one were looking for a quick indicator that a candidate might not be a fit for the country, as a whole, being beloved by college undergraduates might not be the worst one.

To some degree, of course, I am razzing California, but not totally. Newsom is a credible candidate but I am far from enthused by him and I suspect that is true of a lot of other Democrats, let alone persuadable swing voters and Republicans. And he may bring no state the Democrats do not already have locked down. Does a California nominee even bring Arizona or Nevada? Meanwhile, realizing my own regional bias, I think Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) is a strong candidate and has the potential to tip or hold Wisconsin, Michigan, possibly Pennsylvania, and (a stretch) conceivably Ohio—although Michigan/Ohio State is not going to help.

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: I agree with your assessment that Gov Gavin Newsom (D-CA) and Gov Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) are both going to be presidential candidates in 2028. However, I think you got it backwards. The ticket I'd like to see is Whitmer/Newsom.

I have a unique perspective here in that I was born, raised, and spent my first 41 trips around the sun in Michigan. And I have lived in the Bay Area since 2008. I love both governors for all the reasons that are frequently cited in this space. However, I feel that Gavin Newsom comes off as slick and arrogant, which won't play well in the middle of the country. Gretchen Whitmer is a down-to-Earth midwesterer that, I feel, more people will be able to relate to, once they get to know her. As an added bonus, she is part of a blended family. She has 2 children from her first marriage. Her husband has 3 children from his first marriage. They have none together and have raised the 5 of them as a family. This reflects my blended family of 2 of mine and one of my wife's, all from previous marriages. Representation matters. I'd love to see her in the White House, having raised a family that looks like mine (among all the other good things she stands for).

N.E. in San Mateo, CA, writes: In regards to the question from S.N. in Charlotte about Gavin Newsom, I have been impressed by him as governor.

As much as I'd prefer him to be farther to the left, he is liberal enough to be acceptable and seems to be the same for the Democratic base in this state, and he's effectively able to keep things running and work with the legislature—neither one being an easy thing out here.

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 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.

Does that make Newsom qualified to be president? I don't know, but we are the largest state in both population and economy size, and that's about as close to a dress-rehearsal as you can get.

N.G. in San Jose, CA, writes: In response to the question from S.N. in Charlotte regarding Governors Whitmer and Newsom's presidential ambitions, I read a recent commentary by Los Angeles Times columnist George Skelton. He says Newsom will not run... because of the herculean effort it takes for him to deliver speeches, since he has dyslexia: "For Newsom, a five-minute speech may require six hours of preparation and research, which is why he appears so good at talking off the cuff. There's nothing off the cuff about it."

Skelton says conventional wisdom is wrong and Newsom will not run. Plus, the slicked-back-haired liberal issue means he does not have a chance nationally (months ago, I reassured my alarmed Texas cousin that I doubted Newsom would run for president).

I.S.A. in Orlando, FL, writes: I've never donated to a presidential campaign before, but a Newsom/Whitmer ticket would get me to do it, without hesitation. At this point in time (I know 2028 is light years away, politically) they are the top two Democratic presidential candidates of the next generation of politicians. Together, the ticket may be well unstoppable. I'd love to see them take the Democratic Party into the 2030s and beyond.

Politics: Gavin Newsom's Wine

J.E. in Boone, NC, writes: Your response to M.G. in Boulder regarding Gavin Newsom's $21,000 bottle of wine leads me to suggest that he could do just that—turn wine into water—by donating the profits of his sale to the non-profit Wine to Water headquartered here in Boone, NC! They've been doing so since 2004. Check out Of course, readers of this site can/should do the same!

D.H. in Silicon Valley, CA, writes: I think your suggestion for Newsom to "hold a wine auction and then donate the proceeds to an appropriate charity" would be excellent advice. On a do-over I'd suggest to Newsome that he not at all acknowledge owning a $21K bottle of wine let alone one from outside California. He could have easily said, "For a really special celebration I'll probably open a bottle of one of the so many superb California wines such as Dominus Estate Bordeaux ($345). I do own a half case (or something like that) of Screaming Eagle, which I happened to purchase for a small fraction of their current worth, and which I am committing to donate on auction to Meals on Wheels." With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, he surely must recognize that there were more politically effective answers without having to appear evasive.

J.A. & A.W. in Morrison, CO, writes: When having our daily morning coffee and reading this morning of the question from M.G. in Boulder (hello from Morrison!), upon reading of (V) and (Z)'s suggestion of what the good governor from California should do with his wine my partner immediately piped up "He should donate the proceeds to the people in Flint!" That would not only be a nice gesture to those folks who still are in need of that help, but also a poke in the eye of the Republican leadership there—a twofer!

A.S. in Black Mountain, NC, writes: So, I am imagining Gavin Newsom and Mehmet Oz getting together and having wine and crudité.

S.P. in Fort Worth, TX, writes: If it were Donald Trump who had wine that had appreciated that much in value, his base would be lining up to compliment him on a prudent successful investment.

Politics: Trump Legal Matters

A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: You wrote, in response to a question about Donald Trump's motion for Judge Tanya Chutkan to recuse: "That means there are only four plausible explanations for why this doomed-to-fail motion was filed: (1) Trump's team is grasping at straws, because straws are all they have; (2) Trump's team is providing fodder for political, rather than legal, maneuvering (e.g., "this deep state judge is so biased against me we tried to have her removed, but the deep state wouldn't allow it"); (3) Trump's lawyers filed because they had to in order to keep the boss happy; or (4) the more motions, the more billable hours."

You left out explanation (5): ALL OF THE ABOVE!

A.B. in Chesapeake, VA, writes: In your response to L.S.-H. in Naarden, you left out the most likely plausible explanation for the doomed-to-fail motion by Trump's lawyers for Chutkan to recuse: (5) delay.

G.H. in Richmond, VA, writes: Sometimes perfection just appears out of nowhere:

RICO brand baby wipes

Politics: There Is No Republican Party

E.H. in Westford, MA, writes: Just a couple of quick comments on the discussion of "There is no Republican Party."

The first is that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) is very powerful. Because of her strong social media presence. And because she is the Donald Trump lieutenant who helped elect Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) at his behest, and is currently spearheading the drive for impeaching Biden. Also at Trump's behest. Some of the other media players, like Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO), are not nearly as effective.

The second is that the dynamics of the Republican Party have completely changed in the Internet age. Big donors and big corporations have lost control, as candidates like Trump have been able to turn to Twitter and podcasts to go directly to the people, whether they were formerly voters or not, and rake in small-money donations, and gin up threats to those who oppose them. Apologies to the Mainers, but sitting legislators such as Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) can't be said to be powerful if they are bullied or scammed into betraying their own policy positions (see: DACA under Trump, Dobbs, etc.).

A.H. in New York City, NY, writes: You wrote that the modern Republican Party has no policy goals. I fear that they do: They want a dictatorship. Proving to the American people that democracy has fallen off the rails and can't get things done is conducive to that agenda.

They don't need the majority of voters to endorse what they're doing. They stopped caring about that some time back. They merely need enough people to be less than certain that a takeover coup in this country is necessarily such a bad thing. They believe that governmental dysfunction is an argument in favor of putting a strong man in charge, someone who can't be disobeyed.

Oh yeah, and they have someone specific in mind, in case that's not blindingly obvious.

Politics: In Congress

M.F. in Burlington, ON, Canada, writes: In response to R.T. in Arlington, (V) & (Z) wrote: "If [House Minority Leader Hakeem] Jeffries [D-NY] were to try to form a governing coalition, it would probably be the Democrats plus the 18 Republicans who represent districts won by Joe Biden. Any budgets or other legislation that coalition hammered out could probably get through the Senate, could probably get a presidential signature, and would likely to be salable to voters in the 18 House districts represented by those Republicans (since those districts are clearly pretty centrist), while also being salable to voters in the Democratic-controlled districts (since getting something done as the minority party is a heckuva lot better than getting nothing done)."

I suggest the 18 Republicans in blue districts have a strong disincentive to any long term cooperation with Jeffries and the Democrats. If we look at parliamentary systems, we can see how that sort of arrangement usually works out electorally for those who prop up a minority administration. In case you can't see where I'm going, it usually works out quite badly.

The most dramatic recent example would be the fate of the U.K. Liberal Democrats who entered into a formal coalition with the Cameron Conservatives in 2010. In the 2015 election, the LibDems lost two thirds of their vote and 85% of their parliamentary seats. This is also a common phenomenon in Canada following minority parliaments.

Your system being what it is, you wouldn't have quite so many examples to look at, but I fail to see why it would work out any differently. For the compromised 18, it would likely mean primary challenges from the right. If they survive that, it still likely loses them some portion of their vote because they're seen as RINOs. It gains them few, if any, Democratic voters who would surely prefer the real thing. And it plays into the message that Democrats can govern while the GOP can't.

In that respect, the blue-district Republicans may be the least interested in working with Democrats. There is no political upside for them. In theory, a Republican from a deep-red district but with a strong personal brand could conceivably be more interested, but the Liz Cheney experience suggests that sort of Republican simply doesn't exist.

R.J.J. in San Francisco, CA, writes: I agree with the analysis offered that the Democrats are best served by not siding with the Freedom Caucus to oust Kevin McCarthy, but I disagree about them not being in the chamber. Show up in full force so the visuals show that the Democratic Party is always prepared to carry out the business of the House. But when the roll is called vote "present," so that it is clear the GOP is the sole party doing damage to the country.

M.M in Atlanta, GA, writes: If a vote for Kevin McCarthy to vacate the chair actually happens, it was suggested that Democrats should abstain or (largely) leave the floor. A much better strategy would be to negotiate a deal with McCarthy for their support. Can he be trusted? Maybe not, but at least if they make a deal with him they have a chance of getting something instead of just throwing away a large bit of leverage.

M.G. in Chicago, IL, writes: It is thinking like that of B.R., also called appeasement, that emboldens the morons and miscreants. Would the Democrats "supporting" McCarthy be "good" for the country or would it merely be kicking the can down the road... which is the definition of appeasement. There is a cost to 218 members agreeing. Ask the Israeli Knesset. Giving it away for free is—did I say this before?—appeasement and will lead to what appeasement usually leads to, namely lies, broken promises, and "my way or the highway."

J.O. in Las Vegas, NV, writes: In response to M.A. in Knoxville, (V) & (Z) wrote:

The reason that members are paid, even during shutdowns, is that the Constitution says they must be paid. It is literally not legal to cut them off.

There have been efforts to make congressional staffers shutdown-proof over the years, but they've gone nowhere. Some members are opposed to nearly any spending on government functions. Others like it that not paying staff creates pressure on the members to reach a resolution.

I have a family member that works for a member in Congress. The way they are dealing with the impending shutdown for staffers is by offering 0% interest loans. I don't know how people know how much to take out, because we don't know how long the shutdown would be for. I also don't know how many times they can take out loans or which entity is offering them the loans, or the repayment schedule, but at least it's a solution. There really isn't a good solution and people are still going to be stressed, but at least staffers won't starve during the shutdown.

I feel bad for everyone else the shutdown harms. Pretty sure my other family member won't be working until it's resolved. He'll get back-pay afterwards, but what's he supposed to do in the meantime?

M.S. in Phoenix, AZ writes: When I staffed the Arizona legislature and a government shutdown loomed, we were assured we would be paid because the legislative branch has a slush/rainy day fund to be used at the discretion of the presiding officer. I have no idea how Congress works, but it seems impossible to me that the leadership there doesn't have a similar fund.

Politics: Boebertjuice

D.E. in Lancaster, PA , writes: I think we're being a little bit unfair to Lil BoBo (R-CO). If you rewatch the video of her at the theater watching the stage production of Beetlejuice, you see her churning the air with her fist, doing the faux bronco ride (you know, that move that every 18 year old girl with a fake ID who drank a half of a frozen piña colada two hours before the concert started but who now swears she just "so wasted"*), broadcasting to everyone around her that she is a girl gone wild, just looking for some fun.

Clearly, what happened is that poor BoBo looked at the stage and saw a guy with scary white and black makeup and thought she was at a Kiss concert. She just wanted to show everyone around her that she was ready to rock and roll all night (and party every day). I mean, who hasn't made that kind of mistake? Back in my youth, I went to a production of Shakespeare's The Tempest, and when this guy with long flowing hair appeared on stage amid flashing lights and booms of pyrotechnics, I made the honest mistake of thinking I was at a Van Halen concert. Let me tell you something, for a place devoted to the fine arts, they had absolutely no appreciation for my air guitar solo with knee slide!

Actually, that never happened but I guess it could. Maybe. OK, probably not, but still let's lighten up on BoBo for doing something none of us would ever do cause, as she likes to remind us every chance she gets, she's special.

* - For all the non-bartenders out there, know that it is practically impossible to become "so wasted" off a half of a frozen piña colada and those that swear they have are lying through their teeth. They're not called wuss drinks for nothing.

Update: Oh my stars and garters! This from The Advocate: Evidently BoBo's date owns a bar, Hooch, that hosts annual... wait for it, wait for it... drag shows! I swear if a film had this kind of coincidences in it, no one would believe it. Maybe BoBo was auditioning for the next Drag Show and Burlesque. She was going to performer as a Republican pretending to be human. That would be some Booger Drag, for sure.

R.S. In Ticonderoga, NY, writes: I had just seen this meme on Facebook when I read your reply to E.R. In Loomis:

A picture of Lincoln with the tagline: 
'Rep. Lauren Bobert says getting thrown out of a theater for disruptive behavior is the worst thing to happen to a politician in a theater?'

M.J. in Oakdale, MN, writes: I can't be the only reader who is grateful that in your recent article about Lauren Boebert's antics, you didn't say "that name" three times.

(V) & (Z) respond: You mean "Beetlejuice"? Beetlejuice... Beet... wait a minute...

Politics: Susana Gibson

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Thank you so much for the way you presented the non-scandal of Susanna Gibson. The scandal is really The Washington Post trolling for clicks, and a reminder of the lengths men will go to take down a woman who's gotten too big for her britches. How can she possibly get away with this? Clearly, she had to be stopped and her Republican opponent and a national newspaper hoping to burnish its "see, we go after Democrats too" credentials were just the ones to do it.

I'm so glad this has backfired spectacularly and that Gibson has come out swinging. I, for one, donated to her campaign. Frankly, I wish Katie Hill had done the same when she was being bullied in much the same way. The only way to stop this is to fight back.

A.J.C. in Williamsburg, VA, writes: I was delighted that you ended today's (Tuesday's) entry with the story about Susanna Gibson. It was the last story I read before leaving for work, and I was so incensed by the "slut shaming" tenor of the story that I immediately sent her a campaign contribution. Men get away with "locker room talk" while women get labeled sluts. Enough is enough! And I truly hope she wins her lawsuit against the operatives that attempted this smear!

D.E. in Ashburn, VA, writes: I think (Z) was way too hard on The Washington Post and far too generous toward Susanna Gibson, the Democratic candidate for Virginia state legislature who performed online sex acts (with her husband) in exchange for payment. How can you blame the Post for the "salacious tone" of a story that is—c'mon!—inherently salacious? And though of course it was Republicans who tipped off the Post, Gibson did, after all, have sex online. The fact that everyone now knows about it seems like a predictable consequence of actions that, for a political candidate, were simply reckless.

If Gibson (as you approvingly suggest) were being "sex positive" and "unflinchingly [taking] ownership" of her actions, wouldn't she be saying, "Yes, I did that, but I'm not ashamed"? Instead, she calls it all "gutter politics." Personally, I'm just glad I don't live in Richmond. While I'd never vote Republican (Gov. Glenn Youngkin, R-VA, makes my blood boil!), I would not be happy having someone with such poor judgment representing me and my district. I will blame Gibson—not the Post or Republicans—if/when we lose that seat!

B.C. in Glen Allen VA, writes: I live in the district that Susanna Gibson is running in, and I thought you might like a boots-on-the-ground report.

While the story has hit the national news, it doesn't seem like locals are talking too much about it. There are no posts about it in my NextDoor feed (which is usually surprisingly political, even though the site claims to disallow such topics) and I haven't seen it pop up on facebook or anywhere else. The comments on Richmond's sub reddit (/r/RVA) are generally of two minds: "it's nobody's business" and "better than Joe Morrissey."

To his credit, Gibson's Republican opponent has not gone on the offensive: "Me and my team found out about this story today like everyone else," David Owen said in a written statement Monday afternoon, soon after The Post published an article about Gibson. "I'm sure this is a difficult time for Susanna and her family, and I'm remaining focused on my campaign."

Considering how small most of these local races are, this may blow over before the election, especially if it doesn't get passed around local social media. As of yet I haven't heard anything about it from my local friends or co-workers.

The district is split about 50/50, as you noted, but there are a very high percentage of tech workers and immigrants here (my local elementary school is about 80% minority, and the vast majority of those are the children of Indian and Pakistani parents). I suspect from my 25+ years in tech that the majority of my tech-adjacent neighbors will be more concerned with the privacy issues than the salaciousness.

C.J. in Fairfax, VA, writes: As a Virginia Democrat, who really cares which party controls things in Richmond, maybe no one is the bad guy in the Gibson saga. Certainly not the Post or the Republican operative that tipped them off. In an election, a candidate performing porn on the internet is a valid issue that at least some voters would want to know about. It doesn't matter which party tipped off the Post, the bottom line is that facts are facts and the Post reported them. Now the voters will decide who they want in the state Senate.

R.B. in Pittsburgh, PA, writes: Susanna Gibson only did to her husband what Republican voters have done to Trump for years.

Politics: Abortion

P.V. in Kailua, HI, writes: (V) expressed some puzzlement about why upper-income well-educated women would name abortion as their top issue. There are several reasons why this demographic (which currently includes me) would not think, "Oh well, I can just catch a plane to another state if I need an abortion. LOL, suck it, poor women!"

Firstly, while it may be feasible to travel for medical reasons, the financial and logistical challenges are not necessarily inconsequential, even for higher earners. There is the cost of transportation, possibly lodging, cost of the procedure or pharmaceuticals (potentially outside of one's insurance network), time off from work to travel and, for many women, childcare. Furthermore, it is clear that these laws affect not only women seeking an abortion—which has a certain amount of scheduling flexibility—but also those who are in the process of miscarrying and unable to get appropriate care from local doctors who are nervous about breaking the law. In these cases, not only is a woman's need for medical attention immediate, but she may not be able to travel without increased risk to her health. It is also clear that some OB/GYNs are choosing not to practice in states with draconian abortion laws. No woman wants to wait 6+ months for an appointment or go out of state for a pap smear (early detection of cervical cancer) or a D&C (early detection of uterine cancer) because there is a dearth of OB/GYNs in her state.

Secondly, not all upper-income women started life that way. These woman no doubt recall a time when going out of state for healthcare would have been prohibitively expensive for them. No doubt many of them have friends and relatives who are still in that situation.

Thirdly, many well-educated women realize that a government unwilling to recognize their bodily autonomy regarding abortion is also one that is less likely to care about their rights concerning sexual assault, sexual harassment, domestic violence, birth control, and gender equality. One of these issues could affect any woman at any time, regardless of her level of education or income, and cannot be circumvented by buying a plane ticket to another state.

As to why abortion is not the number one issue for lower-income women (a demographic which used to include me), I would speculate that it's because financial security gives one the luxury of being able to think longer-term about problems that may arise. Lower-income women are more likely to be worrying about immediate concerns such as whether they can afford to put gas in their car and pay for groceries this week.

P.S.: FWIW, while I care deeply about access to abortion and women's healthcare in general, my top issue is the future of democracy.

J.M. in Houston, TX, writes: You wrote: "This inverts what you might expect, since if a well-paid female lawyer in Texas gets pregnant by accident, she can probably afford to fly to Albuquerque or San Diego for an abortion, whereas a factory worker in Texas might not be able to afford it. In other words, in theory, blue-collar workers should be much more upset about banning abortion than upper-middle-class women."

If the red team had overturned Roe v. Wade and passed their 15- or 6- or whatever-week abortion bans at the state level and stopped there then I could see the argument.

But as you have reported multiple times, they have NOT stopped there. There are significant factions that want to abolish the filibuster and ram through a national 6-week ban the second they get the trifecta again. They're trying to make travelling out of state for the procedure a crime. They're trying to ban safe and efficacious methods of abortion nationwide via judicial review.

I'm not a woman, but this scares the sh** out of me. I can't imagine how pro-choice women feel about it, even those safely in blue states and even those with enough of a safety net to travel 500 miles and miss multiple days of work to receive an abortion.

Politics: Capital Punishment

Nearly every person who wrote letters on this subject noted they do not favor the death penalty, and/or that they do not wish to write anything that might give ideas to those individuals who may have suicidal thoughts. As a reminder, the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline can be reached by calling 988 on any phone. You can also click here to chat with them over the Internet.

D.K. in Chicago, IL, writes: That was an interesting item about the execution of Kenneth Smith by nitrogen hypoxia and how execution by lethal injection may go away simply due to inability to obtain the necessary drugs to carry it out. Some additional information to put this item into context: (1) The "botched execution" was due to the inability to find a vein in time; (2) It was Kenneth Smith himself who requested nitrogen hypoxia as the means of execution after the failed attempt at lethal injection.

I don't know Alabama procedure for having people witness executions, but if it is carried out and is particularly gruesome, the witnesses may be so "grossed out" their reactions might be enough to say "no more" to this particular form of execution.

T.M.M. in Odessa, MO, writes: I disagree with your suggestion that Alabama's use of nitrogen hypoxia on the method of execution will be something that Democrats will be able to use, politically.

First, all of the states proposing to use it are deep red states. There just are not enough swing districts to make a difference. Additionally, the death penalty is just not a big voting issue. Even if it were, polling tends to show majority support for the death penalty.

Second, the reality is that all new methods of execution are necessarily experimental, as there is no mechanism to test them on humans. But it's my understanding from what I have read in the cases discussing this mechanism that nitrogen hypoxia has been used for the euthanasia of some animals (although lethal injection is more prevalent).

Third, while you are correct that the Eighth Amendment is an issue, the current caselaw from the Supreme Court finds that the "cruel" element of the cruel and unusual punishment clause requires comparison to the practically possible alternatives. And, over the past decade, the idea of nitrogen hypoxia has been floated as a preferred method of execution by the attorneys for the inmates. These arguments have tended to fail on the theory that it is not a practical alternative because the states did not have a workable method (or did not authorize) to use nitrogen hypoxia. All of the evidence that inmates have been presenting on why nitrogen hypoxia is less cruel than lethal injection will be used now to defeat any legal claim.

D.T. in Berkeley, CA, writes: After a long, productive and generally happy life, our 91-year-old mother told her adult children that she was wished to end her life. At that point she was confined to a wheelchair but otherwise healthy in body and mind. She had no terminal illness and she was not depressed or anxious—she just had little to look forward to and did not want to die in a hospital bed. Our family was fortunate to find a wonderful non-profit organization that helped facilitate our mother's wish to end her own life on her own terms. The process involved completing a questionnaire about her background and spiritual beliefs and a couple of interviews with a facilitator. Once reviewed and approved by the organization detailed instructions were provided for her "self-deliverance."

On the appointed day, our mother spent time alone with each of her many children and grandchildren, and then, surrounded by candles and flowers, she took her last breath in the presence of her loved ones at home. The process was a simple form of nitrogen hypoxia. While the news media (including has described nitrogen hypoxia as "astonishingly cruel," from our perspective this was the most gentle of deaths with no tinge of violence or struggle. In many respects it was not unlike witnessing a birth. Though some readers may find this odd, there was a sense of celebration about it. Since having had this profound experience I am a firm believer that one should have personal autonomy at the end of life and the right to self-deliverance. As for the use of nitrogen hypoxia as a means of capital punishment—though I am opposed to the death penalty, this method seems to me to be more humane than the alternatives.

R.P. in Kāneʻohe, HI, writes: With no small amount of trepidation, I am writing to you regarding your recent item, "Alabamians Do Not Seem to Have Read the Eighth Amendment," which discusses that state's plan to begin utilizing so-called "nitrogen hypoxia" (more correctly: "asphyxiation") as a substitute for lethal injection or other more violent means to implement capital punishment. First, let me make it clear that I am personally opposed to the notion of the death penalty on various grounds, and by no means should anyone interpret what follows as an endorsement for such, in any way whatsoever. However, by my nature, I value the sharing of accurate information above almost anything else, including my own political inclinations. With that disclaimer, I feel compelled to comment.

Part of my profession involves activities that put me at elevated risk of experiencing hypoxia (oxygen deprivation). As such, I have experienced it myself to (or nearly to) the point of unconsciousness on several occasions (once intentionally and under controlled, supervised circumstances, in order to experience the symptoms first-hand; the other times very unintentionally, but luckily with non-fatal outcomes). Several close friends and colleagues of mine have likewise experienced it first-hand (some fatally, some well beyond the point of unconsciousness but were very luckily saved). So it is with some empirical experience that I say that, based on my own experiences and those of people I know who survived, hypoxia is perhaps the least violent way to end one's life I can think of. The best way to describe the experience is that it is akin to falling asleep, or perhaps succumbing to general anesthesia.

Unlike drowning or suffocation due to inadequate access to fresh air, which involve serious symptoms of terror (drowning) or dread and unpleasantness (from an increase in carbon dioxide in the blood and brain), breathing a hypoxic or anoxic gas mixture without CO2 buildup leads to unconsciousness very peacefully (at least in my experience and in the experience of my friends and colleagues). While it's certainly true that there is variation in how different people react to the experience, I'm not alone in my general assessment. The FAA has a good summary, which notes: "One factor that makes hypoxia dangerous is its insidious onset; your signs and symptoms may develop so gradually that they are well established before you recognize them. Hypoxia is painless, and the signs and symptoms vary from person to person." Note that the last sentence is not a contradiction: All the symptoms are painless; but the variability is more about how some people are better than others at detecting the onset of these symptoms.

I have always wondered why hypoxia wasn't a standard method for implementing the death penalty (this is only academic curiosity as, again, I am personally opposed to the practice in a civilized society). Perhaps the moment of hypoxic-induced death is much less pleasant than what I and my other surviving friends and colleagues have experienced (although some of these experiences were likely right on the edge of ending fatally). Or perhaps in some unidentifiable portion of the population, the experience can be much more horrific. But, to be grimly honest, if I was ever in a situation where I might seek the services once offered by the late Dr. Jack Kevorkian, I would choose hypoxia as the most peaceful path. Unless I and the people I know who have experienced severe hypoxia are outliers, Alabama's approach to implementing capital punishment may not be as incongruent with the intentions of the Eighth Amendment as some appear to claim.

C.L.C. in Petaluma, CA, writes: You point out that lethal injection sometimes does not work. It is worse than you believe—by design!

In animal euthanasia, one administers an anesthetic, causing loss of consciousness. Then, one stops breathing by an overdose of opioids (if any consciousness returns, the animal would feel euphoria from the opioids).

In lethal injection, one administers a paralytic, an anesthetic, and a drug for stopping the heart. How can one tell if one did not administer enough anesthetic? One cannot! Executing criminals who look like they sleep peacefully, but are fully conscious is a feature—not a bug!

Hypothetically, asphyxiation with pure nitrogen would be more human than putting a plastic bag over the head because the sensation of asphyxiation comes from the buildup of carbon dioxide. Still, if the lawmakers really wanted to be humane, they could use an anesthetic gas such xenon, cyclopropane, nitrous oxide, etc., instead of nitrogen. This would significantly shorten the time between transition to a different atmosphere and loss of consciousness.

Just remember that a veterinarian using a paralytic, anesthetic, and heart-stopper for euthanizing animals would be guilty of animal cruelty.

Media Matters

L.T. in Vienna, Austria, writes: Henry Olsen's newest column is even more hypocritical than the one you wrote about. He strongly criticizes New Mexico governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) for—gasp—defying the Supreme Qourt ruling on guns with her executive order. Of course, we have not seen his column on Alabama defying the Qourt on redistricting. Nor do I remember his column 2 years ago on Texas defying the Qourt on abortion. I have requested him to re-post those 2 columns.

J.S. in Las Vegas, NV, writes: Henry Olsen? He is David Brooks, but two ticks to the right. DELUSIONAL. Can't see his own feet.

W.S. in Austin, TX, writes: There exists a phenomenon I refer to as Reverse Darwin Syndrome, that occurs when someone who is not very insightful realizes a basic truth about reality, known to everyone else already, and then announces this truth as if it were some sort of discovery.

In pop culture, people who fall prey to Reverse Darwin Syndrome are sometimes, after making this announcement, referred to by the other parties as Captain Obvious.

It could be that Mr. Olsen is a victim of this syndrome, and if so, we should react not with contempt, but sympathy, and refer him to the medical establishment for treatment.

C.G. in Bologna, Italy, writes: You wrote: "While we have no reason to think [Harry] Enten is in the bag for Trump, and significant reason to believe that he's left-leaning, he's also made something of a cottage industry of pumping out 'good polling news for Trump' pieces."

In fact, I don't think journalists are "leaning" in the way we might think of. They seem to be completely amoral (in the Banfieldian sense), which would explain why the media likes Republicans and wants them to win.

Education Matters

E.M. in Milwaukee, WI, writes: Regarding the issue of "teaching to the test"...

There are times when it is essential to, in some sense, teach to the test. For many years, I taught the second course in a three-course introductory programming sequence for computer science majors. I felt lucky to discover a textbook on Java programming that could get students to the point that they could write simple user interfaces (usually board game oriented, with playing grids, text fields, buttons, and text labels). I felt this was critical to show them that real graphical user interfaces (GUIs) were within their scope.

A challenge I faced was that I wanted to test the students on this skill in our paper-based final exam. It is ridiculous to ask students to hand write code of this sort... they would waste mountains of time simply writing boilerplate code that has little real meaning. So, instead, I developed an exam problem that called for them to specify which "layout managers" had been used to create an interface, based on 3-5 screen shots of that interface at different sizes and aspect ratios.

The first time I gave this problem, it was a total disaster. Students had no idea how to perform this task, because while they had done "forward engineering" in a programming assignment, this was "reverse engineering" from the screen shots, which they had zero experience with. I felt I had been unfair.

I solved this problem by deliberately giving later instances of the class a sample problem of the same type as an exercise and providing the solution after a modest delay. I told the students they should expect a similar problem on the final exam. The exam problem would be different in detail, but require the same skills. Student performance improved noticeably overall, though as always, there were some students who struggled with it.

So, I taught them how to do this reverse engineering problem, because that problem is not what their other homework assignments (programming) taught them. In a sense, I was "teaching to my test," but I believe I was simply teaching them a new way of thinking about the material.

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: In response to A.J. in Mountain View, who wrote about the amount of math that is being forced on high school students: Between 2018 and 2022, I had 3 kids graduate from high school. I agree with A.J. that we are teaching way too much math. Unless a kid is planning on going into engineering or science, they don't need anything beyond pre-Calculus, if that. There is no reason why this couldn't be pushed into the universities, when the young adults have a better sense of the direction they want their education to go. This time would be better spent boning up on basic arithmetic (my daughter can do all the advanced math with seeming ease, while struggling to do basic arithmetic in her head). Furthermore, this time would be better spent on basic adulting, including financial literacy, household budgeting and teaching them why they don't need a credit card until maybe their senior year of college.

L.A.O. in Las Vegas, NV, writes: Last week, M.M. in San Diego asked for and received a link to (Z)'s 9-page reading for the lecture on early 20th century California. When I opened the pdf and started reading I could not put it down!

Having attended Southern California public school from 3rd through 12th grades, I knew who/what Aimee McPherson was on a very superficial level. But Richard B. Rice's article covers so much more and efficiently ties all of the significant events affecting society during the early 20th Century into a coherent package (in only 5 pages!).

I'm also old enough to have watched all the old noir movie reruns on the three available local channels, and I'm still a fan. So the Maltese Falcon portion of the handout has me making lists of movies to stream.

Also, in my much-later undergrad studies in 2 other states, I don't recall any assigned materials as interesting and informative as (Z)'s 9-pager. Love that you shared it.

(V) & (Z) respond: Glad you liked it! Finding engaging readings is one of the toughest things for a modern-day college history course.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: Thanks for the link!

A replica of the Maltese Falcon

History Matters

K.R. in Austin, TX, writes: Given the question from M.A. in Knoxville, it might be interesting to readers that Justice Richard Bernstein, who was first elected to the Michigan Supreme Court in 2014, is blind.

W.V. in Andover, MN, writes: Minnesota had a blind senator from the mid-1920s through the mid-1930s: Thomas Schall.

T.B. in Durham, NC, writes: Regarding disabled members of Congress, I right away thought of Bob Dole. He famously lost most of the use of one of his hands, but "hid it in plain sight" by having it hold something. "Hid," in this case, is a bit misleading, because his condition was well known, so most people looking at him would keep taking a glance at the disabled hand.

C.J. in Lowell, MA, writes: Regarding your answer to the question about presidents seeking renomination, you allowed that James K. Polk may have pretended to be done to save face and that Franklin Pierce hated being president and knew he was "dead in the water." However, Polk pledged from the beginning to serve only one term and Pierce's name was placed in nomination at the 1856 convention. He was hoping to at least lead on the first ballot and was part of an ultimately unsuccessful coalition to stop James Buchanan.

C.J. in Redondo Beach, CA, writes: John Tyler seriously considered a third party/independent run for president. Obviously, he wouldn't be nominated by the Whigs, who threw him out of their party over another banking fight. Though he was maybe more of a Democrat than a Whig philosophically, he didn't really fit in with them either (not to mention they didn't trust him, given he abandoned the party on account of Andrew Jackson).

Tyler actually wanted to stay president, though, and tried to build a network of supporters, staffing government posts with folks loyal to him rather than party insiders the last year or two of his term (prior to that he was still appointing Whigs, despite being thrown out of the Party, which shows he must have considered himself a loyal Whig despite the banking showdown). That cadre of people in government positions could in theory help him build a strong, national, movement. The most important cause to Tyler was the annexation of Texas. It really wasn't until Martin Van Buren (at best agnostic about the idea, at worst anti-annexation) was denied the Democratic nomination in 1844 that Tyler stood down from a third party bid.

J.W. in Philadelphia, PA, writes: In your answer to F. J. In Brussels, you listed "those who were so toxic when they left office that they could not possibly have been renominated (Tyler, Pierce, Buchanan, A. Johnson, Hayes)."

My understanding was that Franklin Pierce was the only elected president who sought re-nomination and was denied it. John Tyler and Andrew Johnson assumed the office and James Buchanan and Rutherford B. Hayes announced at the start of their administrations that they would only serve one term.

Pierce, on the other hand, was elected in the 1852 landslide and, according to a fascinating biography written by Roy Franklin Nichols, made strenuous efforts to win re-nomination in 1856. He even held his own for a few ballots at the convention before losing to Buchanan.

J.I. in Regina, SK, Canada, writes: J.H. in Boston asks why it was so difficult to abolish slavery in the U.S., stating that it was abolished in the British Empire by "royal edict," an option that was not available in the U.S. That's not correct. The answer to the question is that it took major political developments in Britain, and a heavy financial cost.

First, it's a mistake to say that slavery was abolished by "royal edict." The British monarch does not have a general legislative power, either in Britain, or in the colonies, which had representative government at that time. Only Parliament could pass laws that applied generally throughout the Empire. Abolitionists such as William Wilberforce had campaigned for decades to end slavery, but had not succeeded.

Why? Because the wealthy sugar plantation owners in Jamaica could buy influence in Parliament, through the antiquated representation system in the House of Commons, which enabled wealthy people to essentially buy members, through "rotten boroughs" and "pocket boroughs."

So what changed? The Great Reform Act of 1832, passed by the Whig government of Earl Grey, eliminated the worst excesses of the existing system, abolishing the pocket and rotten boroughs and many that were no longer representative, created new constituencies in areas that were badly underrepresented, and expanded the franchise. That was followed by the general election of 1832, where the Grey government was returned with a solid majority, and the influence of the planters was wiped out.

Not surprisingly, the very next year, Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act of 1833. And even then, it was at considerable financial cost, as the British government compensated all slave owners who lost their slaves, to the tune of £20 million, which was the equivalent of 40% of the annual budget of the British government, which had to take out a massive loan to cover the cost.

In short, considerable political effort was needed, including a significant reduction in the influence of slavers in Parliament, and a huge financial cost.


D.R. in Thousand Oaks, CA, writes: (Z), having been an Angels fan for all of my life, I second your portrayal of the current state of the Angels "baseball organization." However, you failed to mention that while Arte Moreno is fine with spending money for the "shiny toys" he has on the MLB playing field, he has refused to do the same with the part of the organization that makes for winners (scouting, player development, etc.). Heck, he won't even spend the money to send his radio announcers on the road, with the only other team doing that being the Toronto Blue Jays. Another Canadian plot? Hmm. Finally, in response to the organization's comment that "we have unfinished business...", I agree. Arte didn't sell the team. I look forward to the completion of that business.

M.B. in Windsor, CT, writes: You wrote, "Also, if someone is actually a local, they don't eat cheesesteaks. They eat roasted pork sandwiches with broccoli rabe." Ummm... I was born and grew up in greater Philadelphia, eating cheesesteaks among other things—Taylor pork roll, scrapple, wooder ice, real (that is boiled before baking) bagels with cream cheese and lox, ice cream with jimmies, etc.

I never even heard of broccoli rabe until my late 20's, when I met and married a Bronx-born Italian! Roasted pork was for dinner, with starch and veggies. No clue who pretended to be from Philly and conned you with that canard.

Of course, I grew up Jewish, albeit in a secular home where pork was a regular item on the menu. So I also ate plenty of matzoh ball soup, kasha varnishkas, bobkah, chopped chicken liver, etc—though I admit, to my adult regret, passing on the gefilte fish.

(V) & (Z) respond: FWIW, (Z) learned that from a friend who is dialed-in enough to be one of the current managing editors of the Philadelphia Inquirer. It's also worth nothing that Los Angeles is where the French dip was invented, but not every resident knows that.

G.M. in Vista, CA, writes: I know folks like to claim that Kerry lost the 2004 election because of a culinary gaffe, but we all know (thanks, in part, to that there was more to it than that.

I have never been a big fan of the former Secretary/Senator, whom our family considers a policy lightweight, but Swiss cheese tastes fantastic on a steak sandwich, and I might never have tried it if not for Kerry's "mistake."

It is now my policy to substitute the rich, bold flavor of swiss for the blandness of provolone every time. Thanks, John!

Final Words

D.B. in Mountain View, CA, writes: An anecdote about Huey Long, by way of Inside U.S.A by John Gunther:

Sheriff: Any last words?
Condemned man: No.
Huey Long: May I then use the condemned man's time to make a speech?
Condemned man: Hang me first.

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