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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Happy New Year to all!

Sunday Mailbag

Some weeks, we have no idea what will trigger a response. Some weeks, we have a very good idea. This is one of the latter—there was a lot of feedback on the item "What's a Woman?," so that's where we will start.

I Am Woman?

J.R.B. in New York, NY, writes: Your item concerning the issues facing the transgender community in the next year or two on a national level gave me chills, especially following the vast number of legal attacks already unleashed on transgender people, notably transgender children and their parents. In the midst of all of the actual dangers threatening our world, Republicans will squander valuable time and resources punching down on the most vulnerable and marginalized in our society under the guise of "protecting" people from something that, for the majority, presents no actual threat to their lives or livelihoods. It is disgusting. I'm taken back to 2008 when people were gearing up lies and fear tactics, and also putting lives in danger, prior to the vote on the anti-gay-marriage California Proposition 8 The difference between then and now is we used to have a fair-minded SCOTUS that accepted only the facts and corrected injustice, while today we have a SCOTUS that will have no problem allowing the dehumanization of a group of Americans.

Now, I must acknowledge that I am a white, cisgender gay man, who has privilege and lacks the authority and knowledge of the lived experience of being transgender. So, I am speaking as an ally/accomplice who hopefully has his facts correct and his perspective focused in the right direction.

A cisgender man can no more simply check a box for "woman" to obtain a grant than I could by checking a box belonging to a marginalized group I do not belong to—or legally use a name that is not on my driver's license for purposes of this magnitude. There is an entire process that is quite exhaustive and includes changing one's gender on legal documents. We do not need to discuss other people's genitalia—that is not anyone else's business and causes harm when we do.

The implication is that a transgender woman secretly possesses the privileges of a cisgender man and therefore should not be taking that grant. And that's the most ridiculous assessment when the truth is transgender women don't even possess the privilege of cisgender women.

Transgender people, especially transgender women, and more especially transgender women of color are the most marginalized people in this country. Letting transgender people choose which restroom or to not be put in the same prison population as cisgender men isn't about special rights or treatment—it's about protecting marginalized groups from violence.

If people are behaving inappropriately in a public restroom, that should be dealt with accordingly. Based on who has made national headlines for such, there should have been a nationwide call to arms with votes, bills, and hysteria to ban pop stars and Republican congressmen from public restrooms. There has been no such response. In fact, the only time anyone had cared about who was using a restroom inappropriately before transgender people were villainized had been local politicians trying to win votes during a local election season.

Cisgender women do not need protection from transgender women, nor do they need protection from transgender men (many are also directly affected by the Dobbs decision). No transgender people took away the right to choose/body autonomy. Transgender people didn't force invasive medical procedures on pregnant people. The truth is that those who uphold patriarchy and white supremacist values and systems pit marginalized groups against each other. And when we take the bait, we give them exactly what they want. We destroy each other while they sit atop their castles or plantations laughing and admiring their handiwork.

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: Just let them try this on me. I fought HB-2 here in North Carolina and I am ready to fight more if they want a fight.

I am defined on my Illinois birth certificate as female, and, if marriages that are legal in one state are legal in all states, then so, too, is my definition as a female, by the state of my birth, Illinois... and the state of my residence, North Carolina, which has issued me a driver's license that says I am female.

JUST LET THEM TRY IT! I'll take it to the Supreme Court myself if I have to.

NOBODY defines me... except ME.

J.E. in Manhattan, NY, writes: The "what is a woman" question isn't one that can be answered by a biologist, it's very much a social question as well, and much of the anti-trans propaganda is predicated on this idea that there is something innate and ineffable about being a woman, when a large chunk of what people experience as being women is dependent on the context they are in—their experience. Think of all the things that we traditionally think of as "feminine" occupations, and which were in some ways rigidly enforced in schools—for example, in generations past, when girls were sent to "home economics" classes and boys were sent to shop. (That such distinctions were also very much class-based—dependent on living in the suburbs and assuming that women had enough income to be non-working housewives, is often missed).

In any case, the other problem is that gender dysphoria exists, and the people who want to codify in law the definition of a woman based on biology are also engaged in bad biology. One of the funny things about humans is that sexual dimorphism (for the uninitiated, the differences between male and female humans) is much less than it is for other great ape species. There's not much size difference, for example, between make and female humans compared to say, gorillas and chimps. Human males, unlike mandrills, don't have big red behinds and red and blue faces where females do not. Our behavior is so flexible that there's effectively no difference at all that can't be ascribed to socialization. If you start talking about "innate" male and female behaviors, odds are you're probably wrong, outside of some very large generalities that tell you little or nothing about human social systems. There's a reason evolutionary psychology is often classed as a pseudoscience.

I might add that the trope of a man "faking" being a woman and assaulting people in bathrooms is just that, a fictional trope, and obscures the fact that if you're going to be sexually assaulted the most likely person to do it is: (1) male, (2) heterosexual and (3) someone you know and trust. Strangers are the least likely people to do it.

What a woman is, relative to where a person is in our society, simply isn't something that can be answered in the context of biology by itself, nor can it be codified into law like an algorithm in the way these proposed laws do. The purpose of such laws isn't to protect women, but to attack transgender people and make their lives more difficult than they already are. Because for many people (especially more religious types) the very existence of transgender people contradicts parts of scripture. The Bible is very clear that gender-non-conforming people should be killed (in both the Torah and New Testament, the penalties for homosexuality are clear and explicit). Since they can't legally kill LGBTQ people (yet), the right wingers will make do with laws that harm therm.

S.O. in Springfield, MO, writes: If conservatives insist on defining gender against biological sex they will be shocked to learn how much variation there is among biological sex.

If they tie gender markers to biological sex at birth, they will be forced to acknowledge the existence of intersex people. There are as many of them as there are redheads in the world.

If they start testing chromosomes, they're going to be surprised to find that there's variation from the grade-school binary there too. Enough that you could disqualify many cisgender women from participating in sports.

Even testosterone levels vary wildly among cis women. There is simply no test they can adopt that will not bite them in the rear.

G.L. in Memphis, TN, writes: Any discussion of sex at birth, testing for sex, and explicit sexual assignment is bound to fail because of Swyer syndrome and other birth conditions. Swyer syndrome females are genetically XY, but have a full complement of female attributes from birth, including the rare ability to deliver children. Of course, those people who believe we are genetically R or D from birth might not believe this.

Politics: Congress

S.L. in Glendora, CA, writes: D.E. in Lancaster suggests the scenario that "a fire-breathing Freedom Caucus member gets the Speakership but would be totally inept at running the House, causing government shutdowns and missing the debt level change. It would be a true nightmare of a dumpster fire that would show independents which party believes in responsible government, possibly."

I wish that were true, but if the dumpster fire that was Donald Trump didn't convince enough independents to vote to keep the Democrats in the majority in the House, I doubt that another dumpster fire will capture their attention either. I suspect that large numbers of "independents" describe themselves that way simply because they can't be bothered to pay attention to which party is governing and which party is simply playing at political theater. And if they notice that there is chaos in the government, half of them will think the president is to blame.

T.M.M. in Odessa, MO, writes: L.V.A. in Idaho Falls asked a question about the recent budget bill. The formal name of the bill is the "Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023." Unlike many of the creatively named bills that Congress passes with punchy acronyms that could have been written by George Orwell, this title pretty much explains the substance of the bill, which is further set forth in its preamble: "Making consolidated appropriations for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2023, and for providing emergency appropriations for the situation in Ukraine and other purposes."

While there are some substantive provisions in the bill (such as changes to the Electoral Count Act and rules about the transition between administrations) which might require future appropriations, the general rule in Congress is that Congress only appropriates money for one fiscal year at a time.

As your answer noted, Congress never finishes the appropriations bills on time for the new fiscal year. (In a good year, they may finish one or two bills funding a handful of departments—with defense at the top of the most likely bills to be finished.) But, when Congress fails to meet the September 30 deadline, the prior year's appropriations are not automatically extended. Instead, Congress has to pass a "continuing appropriations bill" to fund the government in the interim while Congress completes the appropriations process. While, typically, the continuing appropriations merely keeps the government going at the previous year's level, as we regularly see (including this year), there is a lot of back and forth and brinksmanship that occurs surrounding the continuing appropriations bills with both parties trying to get adjustments to spending into the continuing appropriations bills, and those bills typically only cover a few weeks and are usually passed just before or just after the prior bill expires with the media hyping the risk of a government shutdown if Congress does not act.

R.C. in Des Moines, IA, writes: It strikes me that while most House committees have dozens of seats, there are only 10 seats on the Ethics Committee. To me this offers some insight in how unimportant ethics are to the members and offers one possible explanation why someone like Rep.-elect George Santos (R-NY) will not be sent packing before he is sworn in. Furthermore, I do not think most voters give a rat's hind parts offering a possible explanation why there has been a rather obvious erosion in standards across all strata of American society.

Politics: The Arresting Joe Biden

A.B. in Chesapeake, VA, writes: In September 1970, 2 weeks into my first semester at the University of Maryland, College Park, I, my identical twin brother and 10 other friends and dorm mates piled into cars to check out the antiwar protest in Georgetown. Georgetown was blocked off by police, but I knew a back way in by going under the Western Freeway near the Potomac. As we walked up the hill, a group of 20 police let us into the site of the protest and 5 minutes later, everyone was arrested for "failure to move," a statute that does not exist. As we were 17, Steve and I went to juvenile holding, everyone else was 18 and older and was booked into D.C. City Jail. Imagine my father's surprise at the call at 2 a.m. to come in and pick us up from jail after only 2 weeks of college. Needless to say, the ride home was extremely quiet. At the judicial hearing several weeks later, the charges were dismissed. It turned out that, 25 minutes prior to our arrival, an announcement was made that everyone in the area would be arrested after 30 minutes if the area was not cleared and the mass arrest that followed included folks coming out of restaurants and movie theaters.

I graduated in 1974 with a physics major. My arrest as a teenager makes for a good story after medical school and a great career as a surgeon; who would have guessed of my "criminal" background. There is no record of my arrest and the fact that no record exists does not mean it didn't happen. Just because President Biden tells a tale does not mean it is one of the Biggest Lies of 2022. Glenn Kessler may have included this on the list for the appearance of balance, but please... to include this with anything that TFG or Carlson spout is ridiculous.

M.B. in Windsor, CT, writes: On August 29, 1974, I was one of perhaps 30 teachers arrested during a protest at Timberlane Regional HS in New Hampshire. While you will find a story about the arrest in The Boston Globe, you will not find my name (nor, I suspect, any others) as arrestees.

The arrests were illegal and were thrown out the same day; thus no charges were filed, and no record should exist of my arrest. Nonetheless, I was indeed arrested: I was seized by state police officers in black leather gloves accompanied by dogs, thrust into a school bus, driven to the county lock-up, only then read my Miranda rights, fingerprinted, photographed, and herded into the jail yard, where other incarcerated folks watched us teachers milling around.

Later that afternoon, we were all herded back into the school bus and taken to what I guess was a county courthouse, where a judge heard the charges, where Frank Rasmussen of blessed memory addressed the judge on the U.S. Constitution (he was a history teacher), and the judge voided the charges.

Perhaps the same situation occurred with Joe Biden: arrested, but not charged? Charged, but charges dismissed without being filed?

J.L.J. in San Francisco, CA, writes: Regarding Joe Biden's "arrest" story, I thought I'd share one about my "arrest". On my 17th birthday—or, more accurately, after midnight on what had been the day before, but was now the day of—I was with friends, and we stopped at a 24-hour supermarket. There were few cars in the parking lot when we parked, and I got out to go into the store to get tea as I intended to make sweet iced tea when I got home. While in the store, my friends thought it would be a riot to park somewhere else and laugh at my confused look upon exiting the store (we were teenagers). It didn't work, though, because I saw them immediately on account there were so few cars in the parking lot, and my friend drove an easy-to-distinguish 1968 Plymouth Valiant.

However, two officers killing time in their squad car saw all this and thought it was "suspicious," so they drove over and intercepted me as I walked to my friends. I was patted down and thoroughly checked, and asked if I had weapons or drugs on me. I was then handcuffed and placed in the back of their squad car as they went over to harass my friends. I watched as they got them all out of the car, and thoroughly checked them and the car (including the trunk) for what felt like ages, though I could hear nothing from where I was. Eventually, they came back, let me out, uncuffed me, and were kind enough to leave me with a "Happy Birthday" as I walked back to my friends. Late at night + teenagers + a very liberal view of "suspicious" + bored cops = justified stop?

Anyhoo, being detained, cuffed, and locked in a squad car for 30+ minutes meets, I think, the definition of "arrest." I don't think I'd be lying were I to say I was once arrested on my birthday. It does make for a nice hook for an amusing story. However, because there was no Miranda nor paperwork involved, there would be no record of it happening. I suppose, then, that my "arrest" doesn't meet the legal definition. And if I told this story as a candidate for office, I imagine reporters would call me out for lying. This isn't to say Joe Biden isn't lying, but I can see it possible he may have been detained or some such and, in his mind, it felt like an arrest. Perhaps, I don't know. But I do see how someone could make this "error," if that's what's going on.

Politics: George Santos, International Man of Mysteries

T.G. in Lee's Summit, MO, writes: Listening to NPR this week has been quite the experience:

Year in Review (animal stories)
Who We Lost (music edition)
George Santos
Year In Review (science stuff)
Who We Lost (sports edition)
George Santos

Wash, Rinse, Repeat.

V & Z respond: There are definitely certain stories that, for whatever reason, are in NPR's wheelhouse and then some. When Salman Rushdie was attacked, you would have thought it was Pearl Harbor, Part II, if you'd only been listening to NPR.

J.T. in Greensboro, NC, writes: Comparing Elim Garak to George Santos is a great injustice to one of the great characters in one of the great fictional universes of our time. Garak managed to live as a possible enemy agent connected to an enemy foreign intelligence service within a hardened military facility of strategic importance during the greatest war in Federation history without anyone ever truly knowing all that much about him or where he came from.

The second Santos was exposed to even moderate scrutiny he was completely destroyed. The only people who benefit from a comparison of Santos and Elim Garak are the oppo researchers at the New York State Democratic Party, who should be absolutely scandalized by this whole affair.

P.R. in Kirksville, MO, writes: My favorite Garak line is when he gives an alternate moral for "The Boy who Cried Wolf": "Never tell the same lie twice." Seems very appropriate for George Santos.

K.C. in West Islip, NY, writes: B.L. in Hudson wrote about New York State not having a turnpike. If one goes by the generally accepted definition of turnpike then sure, they're correct. However, we do in fact have Jericho Turnpike and Hempstead Turnpike, both of which hold significance in Long Island's Native American history as well as later on being instrumental in connecting the city to points east in the suburbs. They're not toll roads anymore, thankfully, but they still maintain the designation as turnpikes.

As a somewhat related aside, these days, Hempstead Turnpike—at least the part near where I used to live—has a spectacular bagel store where I frequently purchased bagels with cream cheese, sliced lox and capers. Inquiring minds want to ask George Santos: does that make me Jew... ish?

All Politics Is Local

A.B. in Miami, FL, writes: In the ongoing saga of what yard signs and other such flora and fauna people observe in their area, I now conjecture that in Florida, Donald Trump is done for. Stick a fork in him. His balloon is flaccid. The "signs" for this? I haven't seen any Trump flags on yachts and boats on the intracoastal waterway for some time now. Likely many of those even come down from near Mar-a-lago. No more "Let's Go Brandon" or "F*** Biden" flags, either. These all used to flap on tons of boats parading past, even two to a boat. Now it's zip. None. Nada. Same for pickup trucks on the road. Instead they fly American flags, Florida's state flag, and assorted sports teams' flags. Also, red team people I know don't talk about Trump any-more. They do mention DeSatan in a positive light, a little; and maybe the Florida flags are a secret handshake nod to the Governor? Nothing for Trump, though. He must be sad. Buh-bye!

K.S. in Harrisburg, PA, writes: The Arizona governor's race was very close and was within .6%, or a margin of 17,000 votes. With 32,000 total COVID deaths in the state, the number of additional Republican deaths over Democratic deaths was probably less than that margin (though COVID was certainly a contributing factor). The Arizona AG race, though, was decided by only 280 votes. COVID alone was certainly enough to make the difference.

The Republican Party, which allowed Trump to downplay the threat of COVID, encouraged anti-vaxxers, and discouraged taking health precautions, has committed one of the greatest own goals in politics. If this is "owning the libs," keep it up!

R.S. in Ticonderoga, NY, writes: One can only hope that, after his stunt of dumping immigrants at the vice president's home on Christmas Eve, Texas Governor Greg Abbott was visited by three ghosts that night. If so, then unlike with Ebenezer Scrooge, the visits were to no avail.

V & Z respond: We must point out that Scrooge was actually visited by four ghosts. Don't forget Jacob Marley.

J.L. in Chicago, IL, writes: I had a few thoughts in reply to your item on the Chicago mayoral election.

Paul Vallas was, indeed, CEO of the Chicago Public Schools, but a long time ago. This is more than a technical correction. Setting aside the formal separation via the school board, the practical reality is that the CPS CEO is chosen by the mayor and serves at their pleasure. So, if he were currently in that position, he would effectively be trying to unseat his boss. That certainly is not unheard of in Chicago but is not the case here. Vallas is also, while probably still a Democrat, perceived as being a conservative candidate, at least bordering on Republican positions.

You more or less got Willie Wilson right. He has run for a bunch of things, as I recall, some possibly in Democratic primaries (the mayoral election is officially non-partisan). However, I think he said he voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and has declined to say how he voted in 2020. Not just for that reason, he is perceived as being even to the right of Vallas and possibly a true MAGA Republican. However, he is and always has been an unconventional candidate, to put it diplomatically. So, trying to map him to any otherwise-known political party or political approach is, indeed, missing the point. The Willie Wilson Party is about right.

As to Lori Lightfoot, no doubt crime and other law enforcement matters will play in, along with her approach to COVID-19 and other policy positions. However, the bigger driver if she loses (and I am not saying she necessarily will) is buyer's remorse. As a first-time candidate for any elective office, she won in 2019 with a plurality in an even-bigger first-round field and then a crushing victory in the runoff. As I recall, she won 75% of the vote and all 50 wards (city council districts). And this was against a very-credible, longtime holder of a number of elective offices.

Lightfoot started out with a ton of goodwill and political capital. Since then, while certainly having some achievements and degree of popularity at times, she has become known primarily for being thin-skinned and needlessly combative. Rahm Emanuel's defining characteristic is being an a**hole, but one always had the impression that it was strategic and under his control. Lightfoot seems to lash out in the moment and leave people wondering what she was trying to accomplish—except, not really, since I think most people now assume she had no purpose in whatever was the latest outburst. If I remember correctly, even political allies have been quoted as saying things to the effect that she seems determined to piss off everyone who interacts with her. She may win re-election, anyway. She lucked out in that a number of high-profile prospective candidates took a pass on the race. With the incumbent being kind of the default vote, a large field probably increases her chances of making the runoff. That large field also may increase the chances of a candidate distasteful to 50%+1 of the voters getting the other runoff slot. However, she also may lose in either round and if she does, the reason likely will be more general impressions of her than specific issues.

International Affairs

L.G. in Thornton, CO, writes: As a U.S. citizen, and temporary resident of Namibia from 2002 to 2018, I greatly enjoyed reading G.G. from Johannesburg's description of South African politics and infrastructure. Namibia is a former province of South Africa, but has been an independent country since 1990. In Namibia, the people vote for the president directly, but for Parliament, they only vote for their choice of party. Then each party selects its own parliamentarians based on its proportionate share of the parliamentary vote. Thus, the parliamentarians are answerable to the party structure rather than the voters. Needless to say, there are no Joe Manchins or Kyrsten Sinemas in Namibia.

Namibia's infrastructure challenges are similar to what G.G. described. Once, when a friend's house was being burglarized during a power outage, I rushed to the police station and demanded that a reluctant policeman come with me in my car to my friend's house to interrupt the crime. It's either that or a private security company. The police only fill out reports for insurance purposes.

But back to South Africa. G.G.'s comments concerning the political situation in the RSA only underscore what a giant among giants Nelson Mandela was when he ruled the nation. I fear the world will never again see a leader with Madiba's level of wisdom and integrity.

H.B. in Halifax, NS, Canada, writes: As a follow-up to my recent letter about the evolution of Canadian currency, I see that they'll soon dispense with the nickel. I presume that cash transactions will then be rounded up or down to the nearest dime.

This Week in Trumpworld: Pardon Me?

M.S. in Parma, OH, writes: C.S. in Charlotte is wrong in their defense of the pardon of Richard Nixon and seriously wrong to advocate a pardon for Donald Trump.

Nixon should have been prosecuted for his multiple crimes (including tax fraud). Then he wouldn't have been able to somewhat rehabilitate his reputation later in life and argue that "if the president does it, it's not illegal." And Republicans might have felt less cheated by his forced resignation, once all the evidence came out at trial. Further, the message of the pardon was contrary to the essence of American justice that no one is above the law.

Trump is so obviously guilty of so many crimes (including tax fraud) that he cannot be allowed to evade accountability. It would send the message that a President is above the law—even if he tries to overthrow our system of government. The idea that Republicans would be put in a "pickle" is delusional. The very substantial Trump wing would gloat that their cult leader got away with insurrection and all his other crimes, and be emboldened to support other scofflaws in the future, and perhaps try other insurrections. The so-called moderates would gloat that they got the things they wanted by supporting Trump—tax cuts, judges, the overturning of Roe—and that they suffered no long term adverse consequences. They would be reinforced in their core principle of at least the last 6 years: the end justifies the means.

L.E. in Putnam County, NY, writes: In contrast to C.S. of Charlotte, I would say that few things would tarnish President Biden's legacy more than revealing he had failed to learn the lesson of Gerald Ford's pardon of Richard Nixon by repeating the error by pardoning Donald Trump. A no-trial pardon is not closure but a prohibition of closure... it is a mandate that a wound be immediately stitched up rather than cleaned, and leads to scarring of a body (politic) for life.

M.I. in Jenkintown, PA, writes: A pardon for Donald Trump? BBonkers with two capitals "B's." Pardoning a convicted Trump, especially by a Democratic president, would prove that politics is more powerful than the law. It would embolden every living MAGA voter to press on instead of fade away. It would generate division not yet seen in this country since the Civil War. The real problem is how to punish Trump adequately for all that he's done. Hard labor? Four life sentences? Daily salads? What to do?

Antisemitism and Israel

H.R. in Jamaica Plain, MA, writes: M.C. in Reno makes a common mistake in their letter, confusing the left's criticism of Israel with criticism of Jews. Equating Israel with Jews is, in itself, a form of antisemitism, in my opinion. And to address the "whataboutism" that is often raised in this context, much of this criticism of Israel is coming from those of us on the left who are Jewish. Many of us (myself included) feel that as Jews, we have a specific duty to criticize the gross violations of Jewish values that Israel's oppressive treatment of Palestinians represents.

A.J. in Baltimore, MD, writes: I am writing this letter to push back against the comments last week from H.R. in Jamaica Plain and R.L. in Alameda in regards to Israel. I believe Benjamin Netanyahu and the further-right members of the Israeli government are abhorrent and absolutely worthy of criticism. There are many things the Israeli government has done over the last 50-plus years that none of us should attempt to justify. However, the use of extreme words like "colonialism" and "apartheid" are inaccurate and harmful to the discourse. They speak to something fundamentally invalid about the nation of Israel, fostering a false perspective of Israel as an illegitimate state. Yet if the peace process is ever to move forward, both sides have to recognize the other's legitimate claim to land in the region.

The idea that the literal definition of colonialism is "a group of people not native to the region showed up, formed a government, and kicked out the people who were there before them" glosses over the many ways in which Israel fails to meet the traditional conception of colonialism. When you think of colonialism, don't you think of a more powerful, well-organized force taking land from a group of people who had sovereign control over the territory but far less sophisticated weaponry? Dominant nations subjugating local populations and extracting their resources for the nations' benefit? None of that occurred in pre-1948 Zionism. Pre-1948 Zionism entailed a large number of Jews from all over the world trying to escape persecution and purchasing new homes in an area where the Jews had a historical connection. They did not represent any national interests. They did not have a military to ensure they could re-settle in the area. They did not come with weaponry. And they were happy to accept the U.N. partition plan (the original two-state solution) even though it meant ceding certain territory and rights to the other side. Characterizing the situation in Israel as "colonialism" forces a Eurocentric or Americentric framing upon circumstances that don't fit the definition.

What about "apartheid"? When you think of "apartheid," don't you think of institutional racism imposed purely for the sake of racial animus? The current situation in Israel was imposed in the wake of the Arabs' loss of multiple wars where they were the initial aggressors. It's an occupation that has gone on far, far too long, but not one that was based in prejudice over the color of the Palestinians' skin. After all, there are more Israeli Jews who identify as Mizrahi, Sephardi, or Ethiopian than Ashkenazi, and the non-Ashkenazi Jews don't look any different from the Palestinians. Moreover, the occupation imposes restrictions on the Palestinians living in the occupied territories, but Arab Israeli citizens enjoy almost all the same rights as Jewish Israeli citizens (with the main exception being that most Arab Israelis are not subject to mandatory conscription, which obviously has its disadvantages as well as advantages; also, some Arabs are drafted, and many volunteer for the army). Israeli Arabs can vote. They can and do serve in the legislature. They can and do serve in the court system. They can and do serve in the Cabinet. They serve as doctors, lawyers, professors, media personalities, and in the thriving Israeli tech industry. All of that would be unthinkable in apartheid South Africa. Of course, Israeli Arabs may well be subject to prejudice, the same way that minorities in the United States are. But it isn't legalized racism to the extent of apartheid or of the segregation era in the States.

We would all be better off if these inaccurate characterizations were left behind. The peace process would be able to progress more productively if Israelis didn't think that many were doubting their nation's legitimacy on a fundamental level. These widespread beliefs just cause the far-right fringe to dig in its heels. And they have little pragmatic value for those who would try to put pressure on Israel. The BDS movement, for example, has been a dismal failure, in my view. Israel is more connected to the global economy now than it was before the BDS movement started, not less. Thus, the words "colonialism" and "apartheid" are not only incorrect, they're also unproductive.

R.M. in Philadelphia, PA, writes: I went back and forth on getting into this debate about antisemitism on the left. But there were a few things written last week—by Jews—that really shouldn't go unchallenged.

Let's get a few things out of the way:

  1. The Israeli government's treatment of Palestinians is abhorrent.
  2. That Netanyahu's hard-right government keeps getting elected is a pretty damning indictment of Israeli voters.
  3. Right-wing antisemitism is by far the most apparent, overt, and violent form of antisemitism in America.

For context, I'll add that I'm a millennial gay Israeli Jew living in Philly. I consider myself far-left enough that I wish I was born maybe 50 years into the future. I hold a lot of disdain for Jewish Trump apologists. Some of the same people who taught me as a kid to recognize the incremental acceptance of antisemitism that brought about the Holocaust are still on Trump's side. Their political tribalism is killing us.

Of course there's antisemitism on the left, and plenty of it. Surely we're nuanced enough to understand that it can come from both directions—even if lopsided—and pointing that out isn't in itself engaging in false equivalency?

Hasidim and other visibly Jewish people in New York are routinely physically attacked and injured. But there are two more common forms leftist antisemitism takes, both of which were reflected in last Sunday's mailbag (again, by Jews!).

One is this habit the left has of conflating American Jews with Israeli Jews with the Israeli government. As a fun exercise, pick any tweet from the ADL condemning an attack on non-Israeli Jews and read the comments. (There are tons to choose from, but here are two examples from the last couple days.) Aside from the garden variety pro-Nazi comments, there's always at least one talking about how Israel does worse than Germany on a daily basis.

Progressives are supposed to understand that fighting bigotry is not meant to be conditional. We understand, for example, how represensible it is to talk about Iran's murder of LGBTQ people or China's treatment of Uyghurs as a response to an anti-Muslim or anti-Asian attack. For some reason, this rule applies to every marginalized group except Jews. I completely agree with H.R. in Jamaica Plain that all Jews are responsible for fighting oppression everywhere—but that doesn't excuse attacks against us.

The other common form of leftist antisemitism is perpetuating this idea that Jews are colonizers in Israel. This is simply rebranding old antisemitism in progressive language to give progressives cover for participating in it. I agree with the assertion by R.L. in Alameda that, given how long Palestinians have been there, they have claim to the land. But the idea that they have more claim because Jews left and then came back ignores a lot of history. Jews weren't exactly on vacation, we were pushed out by conquering forces—i.e., colonizers. We didn't spread to North Africa and Europe and the Americas for fun, we did it to survive—until those places in turn pushed us out again. Do we just lose any claim to land because a lot of time passed while we were forced to relocate from one place to another? If so, does R.L. believe Palestinians will lose their claim to the land if Israel keeps them second-class citizens long enough?

Again, right-wing antisemitism is much worse and more violent than that coming from the left. But P.G. in Boston hit the nail on the head when he said that the rise in leftist antisemitism is increasingly leaving us without a safe spot on the political spectrum. When that happens, it gives right wingers more and more cover to attack us. Because if no one cares—if the left doesn't actually see us as a marginalized group but simply as oppressors—then who'd bother coming to our defense?

S.F. in New York City, NY, writes: To G.M. in Acton, who wrote that your joke "It's all about the Binyamins" is a dog whistle" for antisemitism:

The original line is the title of a Puff Daddy song, and the "Benjamins" are $100 bills.

Benjamin Franklin, of course, wasn't Jewish.

V & Z respond: Nor is Puff Daddy.

Southwest Goes South

B.W. in Boston, MA, writes: In your answer to D.C. in Atenas, you wrote about Southwest not having much "fixing" that it will be able to do. But many articles have talked about how the weather problem snowballed (pun intended) because of the antiquated computer scheduling system that could not move employees into position once the weather event ended. Other airlines were not as adversely effected as Southwest.

M.G. in Chicago, IL, writes: My wife took a job in Dallas in 2015 (great career opportunity). Family stayed in Chicago. Airline-wise, United and American flew every hour but Southwest has large operations at Midway and at Love Field. We also few to San Diego. I shot price every time (4 or 5 times a year). Southwest was the most expensive every time. I have spoken with others who fly a lot and they do not consider Southwest the low price competitor. Their reputation as low cost is misplaced.

High Times

R.T. in Arlington, TX, writes: I have read a lot of items in recent years that give the impression that cannabis is somewhere between harmless and beneficial and that as a matter of public policy we should legalize it. Recently, I was at a conference where a therapist that worked with adolescent substance abusers presented a starkly different perspective. In his experience the cognitive impairment associated with cannabis use lingered for several months after the last dose, long after the person tested clean on a drug test. He was personally concerned that the strength of the product today is orders of magnitude stronger that what Baby Boomer policymakers experienced in their youth and was also concerned that with no regulations, THC concentrations in edibles were all over the map. As a concerned citizen and taxpayer, I worry about the number of people that currently and naively consume cannabis in high doses that we will end up supporting for decades with mental health care or on public assistance because their brains just don't work anymore. I see no reason to blithely let people spiral down into unemployability and homelessness with a Wild-West-style unenforced regulatory environment.

D.R. in Slippery Rock, PA, writes: And another thing. The nicotine in the tobacco paralyzes the lung cilia and eventually destroys them so that they can't clean out the tar.

Weird Science

R.C. in Newport News VA, writes: I want to comment on Anthony Fauci's last day in public service: December 31, 2022. In addition to being a brilliant scientist with many, many papers on infectious diseases, more importantly Fauci was a well-rounded person and that contributed perhaps even more to his success as chief administrator of a federal agency and advisor to presidents.

Fauci had serious training in the humanities. In high school he took 4 years of Latin, 3 of classical Greek, 2 of a modern language, 4 of literature, 4 of history, 3 of mathematics, but only 1 of science (all required in his high school). He was a classics major in college, where he began to study science seriously in the pre-med track, perhaps influenced by his family which owned and ran an independent pharmacy.

"Mens sana in corpore sano," a sound mind in a sound body, also applied above and beyond to Fauci. In high school, the 5'7" Fauci was captain of his high school basketball team. After school hours he used to play on various NYC basketball courts, a marvelous source of diversity. He always exercised later in life with running (and then power walking after age caught up). His interest in staying fit no doubt enhanced his administrative performance.

I don't think we could have had a finer person to tackle AIDS and Reagan, COVID-19 and Trump. He saved many lives.

J.C. in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, writes: Another problem with WeChat, and possibly TikTok, is that while possibly the Chinese government doesn't spy on accounts not created in China, they definitely use the data they gather from Americans to figure out how to impose even greater censorship and control over their own citizens. This is why we finally deleted our WeChat accounts—we didn't want to be part of an effort to read Orwell prescriptively.

D.M. in Burnsville, MN, writes: Regarding academics who have gone off the deep end, I'm rather surprised that your response didn't include at least a reference to one of the most egregious examples in modern times of an honored and esteemed academic and researcher who did so, namely William Shockley.

J.G. in Fredonia, NY, writes: In your "What a Year" paragraph on solar energy, you compared 1 TW of storage capacity with 20,000 TWs of annual electricity use worldwide, but were dealing with apples and oranges. Some basic electricity (physics): A watt is a measure of power or flux—that is, it refers to a flow of current through a device. A watt-hour is the measure of energy, that is, the amount of energy used (or generated) by a device. For a household example (more relatable than tera-anything), a 100 watt bulb draws close to 1 amp on household current. Ten 100 watt bulbs would draw 1000 watts or 1 kilowatt and here in western New York a household would pay about 20 cents to run the 10 bulbs for 1 hour (1 kilowatt hour).

A thousand kilowatts is a megawatt and power plans generally produce a few megawatts. A thousand megawatts is a terawatt, which is lots of power plants output. 1 terawatt is the amount of power recently attained worldwide from solar power.

20,000 KW-HRS is the electrical energy used worldwide in a year. To describe flux or flow in watts one needs to divide by the number of hours in a year, 24 x 365. Doing the arithmetic, the usage result is about 2.9 terawatts average over the year.

Of course, this varies by time of day, and a solar panel capable of, say, 100 watts only produces that near noon of a not very cloudy day, and zero at night. So, if it results in, say, 25 watts average the 1 terawatt capacity is more like 0.25 terawatt actual output. That is nearly 10% of the total global usage and certainly a significant step in the right direction.

History Matters

C.K. in Kailua, HI, writes: In response to your answer about the specific date, General George Washington voluntarily resigned his military commission to the Confederation Congress on December 23, 1783, at the State House in Annapolis, MD, which was then the seat of the new government. Visitors to the State House can see a display of Washington's personal copy of his resignation letter (along with his handwritten corrections), and can access a pdf copy of the letter here. As a former resident of Maryland, I've seen the letter several times. It's worth the trip to Annapolis. While you're there, another must-see is the sarcophagus of John Paul Jones below the chapel of the United States Naval Academy.

D.K. in Oceanside, CA , writes: On April 11, 1951, I was a 7-year-old student at St. Patrick's school in San Francisco. That day we were all called out of class and led to what I believe must have been the faculty lunchroom. We all watched a small black-and-white television (the first I had ever seen) as Gen. Douglas MacArthur was relieved of his command by President Truman. I believe most of the students had no idea what they were viewing. I certainly didn't. However, due to the solemn mood of the adults and the strangeness of the event, the moment remained in my mind. It was many years before I realized the historic nature of what I had seen.

C.J. in Lowell, MA, writes: I debated whether to continue the back and forth regarding statues, but the letter from B.S. in Ottawa made a point that gives me an excuse to make an additional observation I intended to make originally anyway. B.S. says that the statue of Ulysses S. Grant at the Capitol was not enough to change attitudes toward the Civil War nor prevent the 1/6 insurrection, and on that I agree. Statues will not likely make people think differently. The relevance here is that so often we go on an iconoclast rampage right after a high-profile incident of lethal racism, such as a Black person being murdered by police. Do we really think the statue made them do it, or even encouraged them to? Racists are going to be racist and bad cops are going to be bad cops with or without the statues. They are pieces of stone which will not jump down off their horses and hurt anybody.

I can understand heat-of-the-moment topplings like King George III in New York City or Saddam Hussein in Baghdad that mark the end of the current regime, but once they are already history I think they should be seen as such. Even if the original intent was to honor, I say let the previous generation tell their story to us and we are free to disagree with it. Richmond was the Confederate capital, so of course that city has a story to tell about that period. My own solution is to add new statues that tell our generation's story and maybe to add/revise signage around the older statues that update the interpretation thereof. Maybe a future generation will have issues with people we choose to honor, but I hope their statues don't get dismantled either. I will close with a line from my all-time favorite TV show, The West Wing. In response to concerns raised about some items displayed and used in the White House which some found to have a problematic history, the First Lady says, "It's our history. We shouldn't hide it in the basement or brush it with a new coat of paint. It's OUR history."

In Praise of Poets

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Thanks for posting that incredible missive from J.L. in Walnut Creek. I think I learned more history in that one poem than in most of my classes.

D.W. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: After my breath was taken away, I recovered to lead thirteen and fifty-one prime cheers for the Bard of Walnut Creek! A marvelous and memorable history lesson—thank you, J.L.!

C.Z. in Sacramento, CA, writes: The parodies of "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General" were spectacular!

B.D. in St. Agatha, ON, Canada, writes: This poetry event has been great! My favorite was the parody on "The Ballad of Jed Clampett," but I loved everything. Bravo to all the creative people in the E-V readership! But now that you have admitted that there were more verses for the Modern Major General, you have to somehow make those verses available for all of us Gilbert-and-Sullivan-philes. Please?

V & Z respond: We will set something up tomorrow, in the last post of the series (for now).

What's In a Name?: People

T.L. in West Orange, NJ, writes: In response to the comment from J.C. in Lockport about his urologist...

While the urologist I had in the late 2000s and early 2010s had a "regular" name, two of the other urologists in his practice were Dr. Seaman and Dr. Yanke. Make of that what you will.

K.R. in Austin, TX, writes: I thought you might appreciate that a well-known urologist in Austin, TX, is named Dr. Dick Chopp. He performs a lot of vasectomies.

M.P in Leasburg, MO, writes: Over the years, we have most definitely met some characters with interesting names. We both went to school with a Richard Head; different schools in different states. Ben Gay lived in a town close to us and Dick Weid was a salesman of veterinary supplies to a feed store we owned (he really should have chosen to go by Richard). But our best ever connection was Pleasant Phelan. We always laughed about how he should have owned an adult toy store. With marijuana and CBD coming of age, now we laugh about how he could have included that as an addition to the franchise!

S.Z. in New Haven, CT, writes: Couldn't help but chuckle about this one:

The name of the chairman of the 
Congressional Caucus for Advancement of Torah Values is Don Bacon

What's In a Name?: Restaurants

W.G. in Salem, OR, writes: Regarding the funny/ironic restaurant names, some years ago, in the heart of what was then the historically gay part of Houston, a Thai family opened a restaurant named—without a trace of irony—Bangkok Inn.

J.E. in San Jose, CA, writes: Keene, NH, had a noodle house called Pho Keene Great, but they had to change their name after a dispute. Seems there was a trademark lawsuit involving a food truck.

I.K. in Portland, OR, writes: Concerning your response to B.T. in Bogalusa about restaurant names, and to keep Portland, OR's, weird reputation, I call your "Pho King," and raise you this restaurant near where I live:

The restaurant is called 'Pho King Good'

D.L. in Oaxaca de Juárez, México, writes: From my hometown, Berkeley, CA:

The restaurant is called 'King Dong'

S.M. in Morganton, GA, writes: I see your Young Dong and raise you a Hung Far Lo Cock(tails) in Portland Oregon (if it is still there, I haven't been back in a while).

The restaurant is called 'Hung Far Low Cocktails, and someone has blacked out the tails portion of the sign'

We are reminded of the Hotel Coral Essex from Revenge of the Nerds, Part II. Is Going to the Dogs

D.M. in McLean, VA, writes: Thank you for sharing the photos of Flash and Otto. They must be very patient dogs to put up with costumes.

Now, would you please swing by and collect your staff mathematician? I found him sleeping off his eggnog in my kitchen:

A medium-sized dog is passed out on his back

S.G. in Lufkin, TX, writes: If Otto and Flash find their workload at to be too much, my two helpers Sammy and Bella are willing to pitch in and help—remotely of course:

Two smallish dogs, one tan and one brown and white


A.C. in Aachen, Germany, writes: I am sure that you already received many e-mails from other Germans, who are irritated about the comment from L.S. in Greensboro about German chocolate cake. In response to L.S., I have to insist that German chocolate cake is quite probably never topped with coconut-pecan frosting. Pecans are known and available here, but they are not that popular and not used nearly as much as they seem to be in the U.S. For refinement of a chocolate cake, quite everybody would use either hazelnuts or almonds. But if so, as we are people who are still quite attached to correctness, we would call it a chocolate-nut cake.

V & Z respond: We don't know about chocolate-nut cakes, but we do know about an orange nutcake.

S.S. in Santa Monica, CA, writes: As a lifelong cartography buff, I was thrilled to learn about the "man in the middle of the map" from M.A. in Knoxville. I've never seen that before! But while those Montana/Idaho faces were the first things I saw when I played with my puzzle-map of the states as a 5-year-old, it took me another 50 years to finally figure out what they're looking at:

It does look like a grizzly bear

See, there's a large, grinning bear created by the terrain of central/eastern Washington state smack in the middle of this picture. I saw this a few years ago while flitting around on Google Maps; it's still there, and it still makes me laugh! Happy New Year to my fellow readers, as well as (V), (Z), (F), (O) and your (SM), if you can wake him!

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Dec31 Saturday Q&A
Dec30 House Republicans Have a Couple of Weeks to Figure Things Out
Dec30 DeSantis Aide Used Fake Name when Arranging Migrant Flights
Dec30 Feds Are Taking a Look at Santos' Finances
Dec30 Kris Mayes Wins Arizona AG Recount
Dec30 Foreign Affairs Desk, Part I: Netanyahu Sworn In
Dec30 Foreign Affairs Desk, Part II: The South African Election
Dec30 A December to Rhymember, Part XVII: Grab Bag
Dec30 This Week in Schadenfreude: Check Your Calendar, Jim
Dec30 This Week in Freudenfreude: What a Year!
Dec29 Is Murdoch Jumping Ship?
Dec29 What's a Woman?
Dec29 The Biggest Lies of 2022
Dec29 The Five Biggest Known Unknowns of 2024
Dec29 The Bennie and Liz Show Was a Hit
Dec29 Biden Takes on China
Dec29 Presidential Transition Is Also Updated
Dec29 The Country Is Incredibly Evenly Divided
Dec29 A December to Rhymember, Part XVI: My Gift Is My Song, Part II
Dec28 Burn, Baby Burn
Dec28 Trump Tax Returns to Be Released Friday
Dec28 Santos Story Isn't Going Away
Dec28 Title 42 Will Stay in Place for Now
Dec28 2023 Elections, Part I: Domestic Elections
Dec28 A December to Rhymember, Part XV: My Gift Is My Song, Part I
Dec27 Putin Says He Is Ready to "Negotiate"
Dec27 Santos Explains Himself
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Dec27 Missed It by That Much, Part III: 6,670 Votes
Dec27 Pennsylvania Legislature Is a (Temporary) Mess
Dec27 A December to Rhymember, Part XV: Nevermore? Try Even More
Dec26 Takeaways from the Select Committee's Final Report
Dec26 Who Pleaded the Fifth Amendment?
Dec26 Trump's Tax Returns Are Full of Red Flags
Dec26 Five Signs That Biden Is Going to Run Again
Dec26 What's an Abortion?
Dec26 Abbott Strikes Back
Dec26 John Eastman and Clarence Thomas Go Back 40 Years Together
Dec26 Lake Lost the Rest of Her Case as Well
Dec26 Santos Voters Don't Care
Dec26 Trumpworld Is Like the Mafia
Dec26 A December to Rhymember, Part XIV: Rebel without a Clue
Dec25 Sunday Mailbag
Dec24 Saturday Q&A
Dec23 Select Committee Releases Final Report
Dec23 Senate Passes Budget
Dec23 House MAGAmaniacs Are Going Scorched Earth
Dec23 McClellan Wins in VA-04
Dec23 First Poll of Arizona Senate Race Released
Dec23 Hochul Nominates Conservative Judge for New York's Highest Court