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Sunday Mailbag

You never know what's going to generate a big response. This week, it was Roald Dahl, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene's (R-GA) nonsense, and AI. If that trio were to be on an episode of Jeopardy!, we assume the AI would win. We are honestly not sure who would finish in second, though, given that Dahl is dead and all.

Politics: The 2024 Presidential Race

R.S.B. in Palm Springs, CA, writes: I have been thinking about President Biden and how he could approach the nomination for 2024. I have come upon a solution to some of the potential problems that seem to be apparent to people both inside and outside the beltway.

Problem one, Joe is old. I do not know him personally but I have been around old people enough to know that if or when medical or physical problems occur they can move rather fast. An 82-year-old man could be diagnosed with cancer of the liver and be dead in just a few months. And that, of course, is just one possible health issue out of many.

Problem two, Kamala Harris is not seen, rightly or wrongly, as a strong VP, nor is she seen as a strong potential presidential candidate, is she a liability to the ticket? Maybe, maybe not, no one—including the Biden reelection campaign—can or will actually know the answer to that question until Election Day.

Problem three, finding a way to deflect the constant negative and divisive drumbeat of the Fox media machine that then gets amplified by the rest of the inside-the-beltway-press-bubble people.

Problem four, the low approval and somewhat negative view the voting public seems to have toward both political parties, Congress, the courts and the executive branch. One of the main factors for this seems to be a belief that most of the elected representatives do not actually care about we the people, nor do most of them seem to have much of a desire to listen to the voting public when it comes to a number of consequential policy issues.

So here is what I think could help the President and the Democratic party maneuver around some of these issues: President Biden announces his candidacy, with one caveat—he will not campaign for the nomination. Instead, he and the DNC will invite anyone who wants to run for the presidency to do so with their blessing, while also encouraging the candidates to share their vision for the country. The premise of the campaign would be to have strong, vetted and well known candidates ready for a general election if something were to prevent President Biden from accepting the nomination. If, on the other hand, when the convention occurs, President Biden is still going strong with no apparent issues, the candidate with the most delegates will be the vice-presidential running mate.

One of the most obvious advantages for creating a hybrid-style campaign of this nature is security. We accept the fact that if Joe Biden is healthy and capable, he would be the nominee, but we, the Democratic base and establishment, get to choose who will be his successor. Another advantage is media coverage. Who does Fox attack? If there are 10 candidates running, as well as the forgone acceptance of Joe Biden, who will they vilify to maintain the rage machine? Fox would still be able to come up with lots of stupid, but I propose this format could limit the negative influence of that stupid on the normal press corps as well as those middle-of-the-road voters that can make or break an election outcome.

Most significant, in my opinion, is the foresight and humility President Biden shows to the voting public. Through an honest recognition of his age and the uncertainty that comes along with it, President Biden would be showing us it really is country first. That he truly believes we the voters should be involved in the choices about our future. In addition, having a viable candidate for whom the country can vote if an unforeseen event were to occur, shows a capability of strategic thinking that Republicans simply do not possess.

M.H. in Salt Lake City, UT, writes: I think there's a solution to the "Kamala Harris problem," and the answer is "Merrick Garland." Regardless of when/if the AG brings charges against Trump, his time in office can't end soon enough. Harris has considerably more experience as an attorney general. I suggest President Biden encourage Garland to retire from a distinguished career (perhaps a promise of his stolen seat on the Supreme Court?) and replace him with Harris. If Biden can find an acceptable running mate, then announce the switch prior to the election. Then the challenge will be to find that acceptable running mate.

R.B. in Cleveland, OH, writes: What will it take for Democrats to reframe Social Security, Medicare, etc. as a "return on investment" rather than an "entitlement"? Can your politically connected readers pass that along? It's exasperating to hear the GOP trotting out their plans for cutting "entitlements" again, as if we're children demanding candy, and receiving no pushback on that framing.

Politics: National Divorce, Logistics

M.P. in Chicago, IL, writes: While your discussion of the "national divorce" proposal was quite obviously tongue-in-cheek, perhaps your readers (and Rep. Greene) should know that the U.S. Supreme Court long ago determined that states are not legally permitted to secede from the Union. Texas v. White, which has never been overruled.

F.C. in Sequim, WA, writes: I have frequently thought about letting Texas go. They have run their mouths several times about wanting to go. Just the thought of removing 40 Texas Congresspeople from DC makes me smile! And no more FEMA for them! A 5-year time buffer for people who want to switch jobs, sell houses, etc. Borders would be friendly like Canada, hopefully.

But an all-out divorce won't work as well. We are too intertwined. The military, as is, would be impossible. Moving goods and people could become a nightmare with tolls and tariffs. If you were really unhappy, just move to Texas. I'm sure the electric grid can hold another three or four people!

(V) & (Z) respond: Maybe even five, depending on how often Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and his family leave the state to visit Cancun.

A.B. in Wendell, NC, writes: Does Marjorie Taylor Greene realize that 40 percent of Alabamians are Democrats? That 30 percent of New Yorkers and Californians are Republicans? How does she plan to resolve, as you point out, "the great number of people who would be in the 'wrong' country"?

As I live in North Carolina (the very blue Triangle, by the way), I sure as HELL do not want any part of being in Redistan. Will they help me relocate to Blueland? Will they get me a job there? How will I be made whole? This would be played out millions of times.

Could an "exchange" program be set up, whereby people who wish to relocate could exchange equally-valued houses? Now, in my case, I work for a national employer, and am very valued where I work (I just got top marks on my most-recent evaluation in all but one category... where I got four out of five points), so I know my employer would gladly transfer me to a location that suited my desired country, but many would not be so lucky.

Could a job exchange also be set up? And who would pay for it? Also, North Carolina is very purple... maybe part of it goes to Blueland and part to Redistan? Just please, everyone, make sure I somehow end up in Blueland, okay? And when I do, I will volunteer to help—with my bare hands if I must—to build a wall between them and us... never the twain shall we meet.

So, yeah, there's people on OUR side (I am one) that would find a national divorce somewhat attractive in theory. I'd sure like my rights as a transgender woman to no longer be up for debate. But the logistical problems of this suggestion are certainly insurmountable, just from a human perspective, not to mention the military bases, weapons, the national debt, etc. etc. etc. that you have noted.

If we needed any more proof Large Marge is crazy, she just gave it to us! While the idea, as I freely admit, is attractive in theory, there is no way in hell it works logistically. I sure would like to live in a place where no Republicans had power, though!

R.E. in Birmingham, AL, Wybamakota (the nation formerly known as Agoddamerica), writes: My unviable home country notwithstanding ("And the Confederate States of Wyoming, Alabama, and South Dakota is not a viable nation," as you wrote in the Q&A), I do entertain daydreams of MTG's "national divorce" going to a vote, and her home state of Gawja voting blue like it did in the last three Senate races. Her head might explode, and some days I think that might make the whole idea worthwhile.

O.Z.H. in Dubai, UAE, writes: Not that I disagree with your response to Z.C. in Beverly Hills, CA., but the partition of British India did not lead to the creation of contiguous states. West Pakistan and East Pakistan were separated by thousands of miles of Indian territory (although that didn't work out all that well, as East Pakistan became Bangladesh about 25 years later). Another example of non-contiguous borders is East Prussia after World War I and the current Russian enclave of Kaliningrad (and that place with all the Inuits).

Politics: National Divorce, F MTG

E.D. in Dansville, NY, writes: Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) should give Marjorie Taylor Greene the privilege of leading the Pledge of Allegiance every day they are in session. She either believes in the pledge or she is lying when she says it: "One nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all." She needs to say it, over and over and over.

(V) & (Z) respond: Don't you think that would be a little insulting to Rep. "George Santos" (R-NY)? After all, these kinds of stunts were not what he had in mind when he wrote the Pledge in the first place.

S.W. in San Jose, CA, writes: MTG wants a divorce? I'm all for it. I totally support divorcing her from this country. She wants her own county so send her to Greenland (Greeneland?). Of course, then we'd be at war with Denmark, but it would be worth it.

T.B. in Waterloo, IA, writes: I had to respond to MTG's suggestion that "Walmart would not be allowed to place sex toys next to childrens' toothbrushes." I shop at Walmart every week. When did dental floss get recharacterized as a "sex toy"? I must have missed that memo.

J.G. in Chantilly, VA (future province of the United States of Canada, or USC), writes: As much as I like the idea of partially merging with Canada (and Canada finally getting nukes!), I would prefer that no one give any more attention to MTG's brain farts.

W.K.D. in Houston, TX, writes: It would have been better and also more becoming of a site like to completely ignore MTG's utter insanity. It's not even worth mentioning all the hundreds (thousands, really) of reasons why this just ain't happening. We are one nation, indivisible. Period, full stop. MTG may not understand the nature of relationships since she never even understood her own marriage, and far lefties/righties may not understand what it's like to live inside a normal person's head, but you are permanently married to your neighbors of the opposing political party. Til' death do you part, so get used to the idea. It is harmful to even put the idea of balkanization into words so just don't do it.

(V) & (Z) respond: We generally don't like to write it up when a politician or a media figure issues forth with a bunch of hot air. That said, we know that there are readers who expect us to keep them up-to-date on what is going on in the world of politics. And when a story lingers for 4-5 news cycles, as this one did, it gets hard to ignore.

Politics: Off the Rails

C.J. in Branford, CT, writes: After reading your item on the Ohio train derailment, specifically the portion covering Donald Trump's response, it jogged my memory back about a dozen years ago (or about 5 years prior to his run for President). The reason why is that Trump's water bottler was a client of mine at that time. That bottler is situated close to the UConn campus in northern Connecticut. It's a relatively small concern that happens to be lucky enough to own a property next to the family home with a pond that sits 50 feet away. They are blessed with a cornucopia of limitless pristine water that originates from somewhere in New Hampshire or Vermont.

The water bottler does private labeling for many companies, such as supermarkets, gas stations, convenience stores, restaurants and country clubs. Trump had been one of his older clients. On one visit to the bottler, circa 2010-11, the owner showed me their expansion of the assembly-line operation just built featuring newer technology and housed in an oversized barn. While checking out one moving conveyor belt line, I noticed bottles of Trump-branded water flying by with Donald's face on the bottle. I noted to Shaun, the owner (he's a conservative Republican), "hey, I see a ton of Trump water on the line. That is quite a feather in your cap!" He responded with a very disgusted look on his face and said "that S.O.B. owes me a lot of money. Every month he finds a reason to short-pay invoices for no reason. The latest example is that he did not like how his picture looked on the bottles. This after following his instructions to the tee and working with his right-hand man. The picture was approved by him but, nevertheless, he said he was unhappy with the picture and would hold back money until it was 'fixed.' I'm now into him sufficiently that if I threaten him for payment, he will either ignore me or threaten a countersuit. I wish I'd never started doing business with him."

Somehow, I doubt Shaun voted for Trump in 2016 or that he ever collected full payment.

A.A. in Branchport, NY, writes: I think that Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg really dropped the ball on the East Palestine train wreck. His late arrival at the scene turned what could have been a PR opportunity into something... less. There is an effective script available to follow, provided by Republicans! It goes like this: Appear as early as possible, express concern, concede that all the facts are unknown at this time, it's too early to assign blame, empathize with the victims, provide immediate relief, and state that appropriate remedial action will be taken once all the facts are known. It's not that hard, and I'm surprised that Pete, a proven excellent communicator, botched it this time. He's a quick study. I doubt he will fail a similar test again.

Politics: Our Name Is Earle

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Thank you for the item on Jaylen Smith. That was just the sort of uplifting news I needed going into the weekend. It can be really hard these days to keep the faith in our democracy and beat back forces of cynicism that try to say that everything and everyone in all parts of the government are corrupt. As a public employee myself, I feel like I'm constantly fighting a rearguard action against those forces, while my colleagues and I try to continue our work with the same level of dedication for the very people most hostile to public servants. So, it's really inspiring and hopeful that a younger generation sees the potential in good governance and wants to lead the charge. Especially in poorer towns where public services are most critical and will have the greatest impact. So, huzzah to Mr. Smith and maybe one day he'll head to Washington!

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: Just for the record: Growing up in Memphis, I passed through Earle on a number of occasions and even, in the 1970s, had a couple of students from there; such is the vast reach of the website.

Politics: Snark Attacks

E.H. in Vallejo, CA, writes: Your comparison of the Speaker to a hagfish is apt, but you left one thing out.: Hagfishes are also parasites. From Wikipedia, they make their living by feeding upon and often even entering and eviscerating the bodies of dead and dying/injured sea creatures much larger than themselves. They are known to devour their prey from the inside.

Sounds similar to what McCarthy's doing to Congress.

G.S. in Basingstoke, England, UK, writes: If you're going with the the maths jokes (and no, this is not an application for the job of staff mathematician) then you might note for the anguished Democrats that while the President's age certainly isn't prime, nor is it perfect, it is, at the very least, semiperfect.

J.G. in Dallas, PA, writes: I asked the question about the cliché "red meat," and keeping it up way past its bedtime. But my concern that you guys might finally be running out of steam was laid to rest on Monday.

The string of prime ages for men got me smirking. "British Meatballs" had me smiling. But the real cherry that produced audible laughter was, "The leak hasn't been scheduled yet."

Thank you for starting off my week with an endorphin release.

T.C. in Columbia, MO, writes: The Swedish variant of meatballs seems to be intergalactically-known, rather than the Italian variety:

All Politics Is Local

R.L.D. in Sundance, WY, writes: I just turned 55. Not entirely coincidentally, I wrote to my senators and my representative about Social Security and Medicare. They all wrote back encouraging missives to reassure me that they all considered Social Security all-but-sacrosanct. My representative, Harriet Hageman (R-WY), even went so far as to say, "It is critical that we do everything in our power to safeguard Social Security for generations to come as it is a commitment to the individuals who spent their entire working lives paying into the program." I went back to her website to try to remind her that raising taxes on rich people was technically within her power, but I ran into an interesting problem. It's not unusual for a representative's website to check to see if you're a constituent or not, so I entered my address (redacted in this screenshot) as instructed. This is what happened:

It's the error message you get when you are not in the member's district

This is Wyoming. We only have one district. In Texas, where they gerrymander the hell out of everything, knowing the ZIP code wasn't enough to pin down your district, but that's not the case here. So I called the nearest office. Apparently they are standing up a new website and promised they would contact their web developers to let them know that this page is badly broken. The woman I talked to also offered to let me e-mail her with my comments and I told her it was a pretty simple message. But when I quoted to her the above sentence about doing everything in our power, I barely got as far as "safeguard Social Security" before she was interrupting me to claim that there are false e-mails going around and suggesting that I had fallen for one of these hoaxes. I refrained from using bad words with her and she did eventually apologize both for interrupting me and for jumping to conclusions about the source of the e-mail (which very clearly came from their system; there's no doubt in my mind about that). Still, it does not bode well to hear the Representative's staff want to try to distance their office from the very idea of safeguarding Social Security, that such distancing is their knee jerk reaction. As a Trump-endorsed Republican, Rep. Hageman has a steep hill to climb to get my vote already.

J.B. in Hutto, TX, writes: Rep.-elect Jennifer McClellan's (D-VA) victory in the special election for Virginia's 4th congressional district is a historic moment not only because it's the first time a Black woman has won a congressional race in Virginia. It's also a historic moment because it's the first time anyone named McClellan has ever won anything in Virginia.

(V) & (Z) respond: Can't believe we failed to make that joke.

J.R.L. in Cowesett, RI, writes: Regarding the resignation of Rep. David Cicilline (R.I.-01) and subsequent special election to fill his seat, you wrote: "The state is small enough that maybe the people of RI-01 would not be bothered by [a resident of R.I.-02 running for the seat]. But maybe they would be. We don't know."

Well, let me tell you that, as a native of Little Rhody, I would be bothered. Precisely because the state is small (and thus often used as a measure of areal size: "Why, that glacier used to be the size of Rhode Island!"), everyone here would be acutely aware of congressional-district carpetbagging. After all, this is a state where a "mixed marriage" is when the groom is from St. Leo's parish and the bride from Our Lady of Consolation parish, and where directions are given as "Take a left where Gladys' Rest Home used to be"!

M.B. East Providence, RI, writes: It was mentioned that it may or may not make a difference where Allen Fung lives in the state of Rhode Island. While the smallest state, the layout of the two districts in RI include very different demographics and political bases. The city of Providence, as well as the Eastern parts of RI, are included in RI-01 and represent a much more liberal and diverse population (most universities are in RI-01) than where Fung lives and ran for office. Quite simply, the small number of Republicans in RI-01 would be outvoted by Democrats no matter who the Republican nominee will be, even without counting for which part of the state they may live in.

C.M. in Raymond, NH, writes: You wrote, "[Fung] doesn't actually live in RI-01. The state is small enough that maybe the people of RI-01 would not be bothered by that. But maybe they would be. We don't know."

Oh, they will. If you move from Cranston to Johnston (4.79 miles), your neighbors will have a good-bye party and you will never see them again, because you live too far away. At one point (as of the late '90s—not sure if this is still true), Rhode Island had the highest percentage of population who had never left their home state, despite it being necessary to drive through Massachusetts to get between some points in the state.

Providence residents are slightly more cosmopolitan—they are likely to have actually visited the distant metropolis of Boston, for instance—but the rest of RI-01 is likely less forgiving.

Legal Matters

B.B. in San Jose, CA, writes: In response to the question from O.Z.H. in Dubai, and your answer, I would like to suggest a likely source of the incriminating texts published by Dominion, namely Fox News itself.

Many companies, particularly ones in heavily regulated industries or with stock traded on one of the large public markets, have very explicit retention policies on all communications of any sort that happen as part of the operation of the company. This will involve extensive monitoring of all devices, including company cell phones being used by employees. Executives and other highly paid employees will generally be given a company phone. With the right software setup, every message will be captured and archived in a way that makes it simple to search and analyze the whole collection for many purposes, including legal discovery during a lawsuit. These retention policies will say how many years everything must be kept before it is deleted. Two years doesn't seem unusual for this. It's also not just text messages. It's e-mail, chat, and everything else.

While it is possible to evade this sort of monitoring, it's more work and looks bad if it is discovered. A normal employee would be subject to discipline for that, although someone important enough would likely only get a slap on the wrist for it. Hiding the data from discovery during a lawsuit could get a company in big trouble with the courts.

S.C-M. in Scottsdale, AZ, writes: It always amazes me how many people use text and e-mail for communications which, when revealed, can seriously put them or their company in legal jeopardy. Do these folks not realize once something is written down it is easily made public? The Dominion discovery material is certainly a case in point. I'll bet the risk management lawyers at Fox are pulling their hair out or, like the staff mathematician, are doing a lot of heavy drinking.

B.E. in Chico, CA, writes: Just in case any of your readers are doubting that Fox News' reporting and commentary after the 2020 election concerning Dominion Voting Systems had tangible effects, I can report that Shasta County in Northern California terminated a contract with them. The reason given was simply public perception that the voting machines are unreliable.

T.O. in Portland, OR, writes: I agree wholeheartedly with your comments (and the general legal consensus) about the grand jury forewoman; she really should have remained silent. Some states mandate this; I am still legally forbidden from revealing the deliberations that came before me as a New York State grand juror over a decade ago.

One thing your readers may not realize is that grand jurors are paid a pittance ($25 to $50/day in Georgia, depending on county) and there is no law that requires your employer to continue to pay your wages. Service lasts for weeks to months.

I was fortunate; my employer did continue to pay my wage. Had they not, I'd have lost two-plus months of wages, at a time in my life where I lived paycheck to paycheck, and would have been unable to pay my rent (among other bills).

Ms. Kohrs may be seeking her 15 minutes of fame in the hopes of some payday, which of course does not excuse her behavior, but may put it into context.

M.W. in Richmond, VA, writes: Hey! Lay off Emily Kohrs! (I'm not yelling at you specifically. Just everyone in general.) If we're going to fill juries by drafting random amateurs, we can't expect them to know and obey all the unwritten rules of the legal system. We certainly shouldn't expect her to show more decorum and discretion than the trained professionals in this clown show like Rudy Guliani, Lindsey Graham or Sidney Powell. And let's face it, Trump wasn't going to be tried and convicted anyway, so let's not blame Ms. Kohrs when he gets off without consequences.

L.S. in Greensboro, NC, writes: You asked why anyone would still label judicial elections as non-partisan, when everyone knows. Well, consider this. For many years, judicial elections in North Carolina were non-partisan. Every voter was mailed a voter guide in which the candidates made statements, and endorsements were noted. As you wrote, it was easy to tell from the statements and endorsements which candidates favored which party, but party affiliations were not listed on the ballot.

Following the last such election in 2018, Democrats had a 6-1 majority on the court. As a result, they struck down partisan gerrymandered maps and voter ID laws, among other things. Then the Republican legislature changed the elections to partisan. Since then, Republicans have won every seat contested and now hold a 5-2 majority. Soon they will rubber stamp some of the most extreme gerrymanders in the country, unless the U.S. Supreme Court first rules that only the legislature has any say in drawing maps.

So, clearly, there are voters in this state who are willing to vote for Democratic judges based on their statements in the voter guides as long as their party affiliation is not noted on the ballot, but when the races are partisan, those voters reflexively vote for the candidate with the "R" after their name.

It seems to me that labelling the races as non-partisan at least raises the possibility that some voters will vote for the best candidate rather than for their party.

History Matters

T.M.M. in Odessa, MO, writes: In response to the question from J.P.R. in Westminster about the large number of veto overrides that President Ford suffered, there is one other key piece of explanation—the party divisions in Congress. While partisanship was not as intense as it is today, that fact cuts both ways, as Democrats could expect to get support from some liberal Republicans for their legislation and President Ford could expect to get some conservative Democrats to support his vetoes.

But, as a result of the post-Watergate shellacking that Republican took in 1974, Democrats had more than two-thirds of the House and, effectively, a 62-38 majority in the Senate (just barely short of a two-thirds majority). With numbers like that, the chances of a veto override is much higher than when you have a five-vote margin in the House and a one-vote margin in the Senate.

M.F. in Oakville, ON, writes: Since D.E. in Lancaster brought up non-politicians like Oscar Wilde, I think I'm justified here.

Another famous set of last words are attributed to St. Laurence, a Roman Christian deacon and martyr from the year 258. He was the principal deacon of the Church in Rome, and was responsible for the material goods of the Church, including the treasury. When he refused to turn what was assumed to be a substantial fortune over to authorities, he was sentenced to death. Although the tradition is disputed, it is said that he was grilled to death, with his last words alleged to be, "I'm well done on this side. Turn me over!"

G.H. in Chicago, IL, writes: Believing that there was a "Vietnam draft exemption for a B or better average," and that professors acted to assist students in meeting it, is a major distortion of history. I was a student then, trained as a draft counselor.

You may believe the war was unpopular due to the retrospective consensus that it was a mistake. We also have enduring documentary footage of demonstrations against it. But a majority consistently approved of violence against the demonstrators, or at least blamed them for that violence. Most unpopular during the 1960s were young men who wouldn't get haircuts or shave and weren't willing to serve when called. This wasn't seen as merely unpatriotic, or having communist sympathies, but as an immaturity, a failure to accept adult responsibility, a consequence of a spoiled and permissive upbringing. The idea that the academic world sheltered them and accommodated them with high grades to keep them out of military service was not even a doable concept:

We couldn't be further apart on this. You believe "the evidence is clear," citing a graph and article that doesn't address any of these points. I say you're completely misinformed and have confused correlation with causation.

(V) & (Z) respond: In the context of the Saturday Q&A, and indeed in the context of this site in general, we don't always present all the evidence we have. We usually give some of it, favoring that information that is most easily digestible. There is much more evidence that supports the Vietnam War-related grade inflation, including (Z) having spoken to colleagues who conceded grading easier to avoid flunking students out of school.

Also, it does not actually matter if higher grades and/or making sure to pass classes helped a student avoid service in Vietnam. All that matters is that their professors thought it did.

G.S. in San Francisco, CA, writes: R.C. in Des Moines was skeptical that Manzanar and Tule Lake are both within range of most California schools, and you responded: "Actually, even if you leave from San Diego, Manzanar is a 5-hour drive. And (Z), while in 4th grade in Orange County, was part of a 7-hour bus-ride trip to Sutter's Mill in Sacramento. Yes, the class stayed overnight, but if that's doable for a bunch of 4th graders, then Manzanar is doable for a bunch of 9th graders. Other potential options include the various temporary holding centers (like Santa Anita; see above) and the Japanese-American National Museum in downtown Los Angeles."

Allow me to add the Rosie the Riveter World War II Home Front National Historical Park, 20 minutes north of Oakland Airport. A visitor center rich with content, artifacts, recordings, warm and engaging volunteers and park staff from varying ages and backgrounds including direct participants, refreshed, inclusive—we stumbled on it accidentally and spent hours there. Downstairs is a small theater where various excellent short films and presentations occur throughout the day. Excellent visuals of the Kaiser story, and how Kaiser Shipyards came to be, with the last surviving victory ship built there nearby and open to visit. There are other surviving World War II buildings in the area, and a Rosie the Riveter annotated timeline and riveted metallic sculpture the length of a victory ship in a park nearby. Worth a trip from anywhere, and not to be missed.

Of particular relevance: "During World War II, Japanese immigrants and Japanese-American citizens living on the west coast were removed from their homes and sent to federal prison camps by Executive Order of the President. This in-depth film and discussion focuses on Richmond's Japanese-American citizens who were incarcerated during the Second World War. Join presenters from the Japanese American Citizens League who will share stories from their own experiences as children in the camps."

The elderly Japanese couple at the Q&A after the documentary spoke about how special their neighbors were in quietly saving their home and business, which were returned to them after release from the "concentration camp." A week later, on a docent tour elsewhere, the same term was used; apparently "internment camp" is not a term used by those closer to the experience.

Also, if you head across the bay to the San Francisco Civic Center, you could absorb the beauty of the War Memorial Opera House, where the U.N. Charter was adopted unanimously on June 25, 1945. This building is the home theater of the US' first ballet company, the San Francisco Ballet, with its first woman artistic director this year. It also happens to be run by a woman executive director, filled with local and international world-class athletes and new choreography advancing the state of the art.

J.B. in Austin, TX, writes: I can totally believe that the "War of the Worlds" panic wasn't real. In the era of radio fiction, surely that many people wouldn't have been fooled by just one more radio drama. However, that said, there were undoubtedly a few people back in 1938 who did panic, and I say that because I know of one person who absolutely panicked upon first hearing the broadcast, namely me.

Now, I was born in 1977, so obviously I wasn't there for the original airing. But in 1988, on its 50th anniversary, our local NPR station rebroadcast the whole thing. I was in my room doing I don't remember what, when my father came in and solemnly said, "Son, I think you need to come out and hear something." So I went with him into the living room, where my mother was sitting with her hands in her lap and a grim look on her face. The radio was on, and man was speaking, talking frantically about something having landed somewhere and now there were things coming out of it and they had tentacles or something. Now, to be fair, I found the whole thing a bit weird: why were we listening to this on the radio and not the TV, and why was the guy speaking in that sort of mid-Atlantic accent I had mainly only heard in old movies? But nonetheless the content was terrifying to my 11 year old mind, and all the blood drained from my face and I started to go a bit numb—aliens had landed on Earth, real aliens!

My panic grew more visible to my parents, and just as I started to begin to truly freak out, both my parents broke out in huge grins and assured me that the whole thing was fake. They explained what it was, how famous it had been at the time, and also (apocryphally) that 50 years earlier this broadcast had caused panic around the country. I calmed right down, and sheepishly admitted that it WAS a bit too weird to have been real. Over the years I eventually came to take some pride in being the last ever person in the country to be fooled by it (which I took as just a perfectly reasonable reaction, since I was barely 11 at the time). I've told the story countless times, though I'm realizing I've never told the story to my own kids, so I've got a prank to play on them sometime soon, and maybe they'll become the new most recent people to panic.

Anyway, maybe there weren't many, but surely if a young boy in 1988 could panic upon first hearing the "War of the Worlds" at least a few more did 50 years earlier.

Roald Dahl: BFD?

O.E. in Greenville, SC , writes: Your recent item about the editing of Roald Dahl books mentioned the possibility of him getting "canceled." Your readers may be interested to learn another reason for cancelling him.

During World War II, Dahl was a pilot in the RAF. After a plane crash, he was sent to the U.S. as assistant air attaché. During this time he worked for British Security Coordination, ensuring cooperation between London and Washington.

Dahl spent his time both gaining publicity for the British cause, but also gathering information on various things London wanted to know. Methods ranged from stealing a speech by Henry A. Wallace and sending it to be copied, to having an affair with Clair Booth Luce.

For more information, read Jennet Conant's The Irregulars: Roald Dahl and the British Spy Ring in Wartime Washington.

K.C. in West Islip, NY, writes: As a child, my favorite author was none other than Roald Dahl. I read every one of his books, more than once each, and I would stare wide-eyed at Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory on TV, wishing my parents could magically convert part of the house into a chocolate room.

I never imagined that I would agree with anyone on the right, at least in its present form, but honestly I never once read anything deeper into any of those classics than that there was an author with a wild imagination who wrote books that kept me engaged enough that I wanted to read them all multiple times. Mucking around with Dahl's original work is nonsense and they need to leave those books as they were intended. Maybe I'm a different breed of Democrat and I know that people tend to gravitate more towards the center the older they get, but seriously... I know what kind of a person Dahl was. I know his family posthumously apologized for comments he made which were racist in nature. I also know he was a darn good children's author.

Behind the fantastical wordcraft, I also know that there was deeper meaning in many of his books—as an obvious example, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was about honesty and not being selfish or gluttonous, and not spending every waking second of your life in front of a TV. Never once did I read that book and come out at the end thinking racist thoughts. Going after the man and his literature is simply an issue of some people having too much time on their hands and manufacturing something to be offended about where it doesn't exist.

D.M. in Oakland, CA, writes: One thing that seems to have been largely overlooked in discussion of Puffin's overhaul of the works of Roald Dahl is that there's ample historical precedent for such a move.

Consider the Hardy Boys series. The original Hardy Boys series was written and published between 1927 and 1959. In keeping with the times and the worldview of Stratemeyer Syndicate, Edward Stratemeyer and his daughter and successor Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, the Hardy Boys books were filled with racist stereotypes. By 1959, parent complaints had become persistent and widespread enough that publisher Grosset & Dunlop insisted, over Adams' great objections, on an overhaul. Beginning that year, all of the earlier books were rewritten, both to update the stories to a newer era and to remove the strains of racism and antisemitism that ran through them. Ultimately, similar updated rewrites were performed on all the Stratemeyer series: Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, Bobbsey Twins, etc.

A.Z. in Uppsala, Sweden, writes: Let me preface by confessing my deep admiration for the consistently high quality of posts from (Z) and )V). I don't want to be ungrateful of your amazing work by remaining silent when appreciative, and only piping up to nitpick in the rare cases I quibble with. But I'm still going to do just that, believing your post on Roald Dahl to fall short of your usually high standard of well thought through pieces. Three objections:

  1. Children's books are not typically consumed as art. Rarely by grownups, never by children. That's fortunate: I can buy my daughter a translated version of Aesop's fables without guilt that she's missing out since the translator "painted over the Sixtine chapel" (what a comparison!) in changing the language. Similarly, I don't see any innate travesty in updating the editing of a kids' book as if the publisher had received Dahl's manuscript today rather than 60 years ago, a change that is many orders of magnitude smaller.

  2. Teachable moments? Please. They might theoretically be teachable moments, but in practice they are not taught moments in any meaningful quantity. If you sincerely want to aim for such moments, you need to clamor for annotations to original versions (which typically offend even more people, since they're more visible).

  3. It's weird how quickly one can go from bemoaning that people neglect to listen to the experts regarding your own field of expertise (teaching history), to feeling justified in strongly meddling in another's field of expertise (inclusive language) with conclusions like "enormous is just as bad as fat," or "easily avoided sexist tropes don't matter if there's also not quite as easily avoided colonialist tropes around." In the particular case of swapping "fat" for "enormous," it actually makes perfect sense to me that, in fact, "enormous" (70% description, 30% insult) would transport Dahl's original intent much better to a modern audience, where the numbers would arrive at least as flipped if the word remained "fat."

In any case, while I readily believe the British Prime Minister may have no more pressing matters to attend to than whether or not Dahl's artistic genius is being perverted by a sentence affirming women's motives to wear wigs, I am looking forward to the next actually politically relevant items from your respective pens.

M.F. in Oakville, ON, writes: Given that Roald Dahl altered several of his own works after publication (e.g., the reference to Oompah-Loompahs as "pygmies" was removed prior to the original Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movie), it seems odd to get all worked up over his literary estate continuing the process.

G.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: You raise an interesting point with regard to Dahl's work. As a publisher who often reprints classic works from that era, I have a little insight on the situation.

In 1967, Rosel George Brown wrote her first and only novel, Sibyl Sue Blue, about a woman space cop. It's half noir, half interstellar adventure, and it was pretty groundbreaking. After all, it was about a kick-ass mom with a teen daughter, who was a sergeant detective in the far future year of 1990.

It was also highly progressive in terms of racial politics. By 1990, as portrayed in the book, color isn't a consideration anymore—but much of the same prejudices are now turned to the green, scaly humanoids from Alpha Centauri (Sergeant Blue demonstratively does not share in this bigotry).

But there was one word we felt obliged to change. At one point, the story describes a fellow police officer as "a Negro cop." Of course, the word was not only not offensive at the time, it was pretty much the standard. Nevertheless, we felt it jarred to the modern eye, and it would take readers out of the story. With the permission of Rosel's son, we changed "Negro" to "Black," which was a descriptor coming into vogue then, and which is happily de rigueur today.

Of course, modern historians reading the book who don't know about the change might be misled as to language trends of the time. Just like folks who read Doc Smith's reprints of his Lensman stories thought he was a seer for his prediction of nuclear energy (references to which were added decades after the original printing). We took the risk. Historians can find an original copy of the book.

So should Dahl be drastically rewritten? Given that Dahl is so widely read, even today, I don't have a problem with it so long as it is made clear in the forewords that these are updated editions. Hell—if Larry Niven can change the direction of the Earth's rotation at the beginning of Ringworld between printings, I think a bit of tidying is okay.

And I swear, officer, she said she had just turned nineteen!

J.A. in Puerto Armuelles, Panama, writes: Regarding your answer about the changes to Roald Dahl's works, you said, "No, we don't think this is M&M's, Part II."

The Guardian has an article up, from February 24, headlined "Roald Dahl publisher announces unaltered 16-book "classics collection."

I'll leave it up to you and your readers to draw their own conclusions.

(V) & (Z) respond: We did not know about this, but we don't think it makes our answer incorrect. M&M/Mars made a temporary change, one they had no intention of sticking with, to drum up some PR leading up to the Super Bowl. The Dahl estate, by contrast, clearly plans to make the edited versions of the books a permanent offering.

Fun With AI: ChatGPT

B.S. in Denville, NJ, writes: The conversation between J.C. in Gonzales and ChatGPT reads like a comedy routine. I almost feel sorry for the beating the AI program took. My favorite part was its last two responses, wherein despite having been spoonfed all the correct information, it still couldn't manage to regurgitate it in a logical order, claiming that 1980 came after 2012. I feel like a trained chimp could've even managed to get that one right.

T.S. in Bainbridge Island, WA, writes: The discussion with ChatGPT reminded me of a truly hilarious bit I saw recently about Alexa standing in for Hal 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey:

Warning to your readers, this bit is painfully funny and may be inappropriate for those with bladder control issues. Just sayin'

P.R. in Kirksville, MO, writes: I, too, have gone round and round with ChatGPT, in a lengthy exchange to get it to recognize that "physiology" is not actually "psychiatry." In response to the question "what is physiology" I got the response "Psychiatry is a branch of medicine that deals with mental health." I finally gave up after trying to get it to "learn."

I.H. in Jakarta, Indonesia, writes: Looks like Bing Chat is much better (note: PDF) is much better due to its ability to search. Note that the answer to the second question actually links to your post.

Fun With AI: Presidential Images

D.L. in Uslar, Germany, writes: I hadn't seen the AI images of the presidents before. The prompt must have included "Pixar style" in the instructions. A few of my thoughts:

  1. TR is bored to tears.
  2. Harding is really good, though it's possible he's being played by Martin Landau.
  3. Coolidge looks like a mini-boss from the "Dishonored" games.
  4. Nixon was not that burly.
  5. Ford appears to be wearing a Whip Inflation Now button.
  6. Bush 41's suit is too big for him.

P.K. in Marshalltown, IA, writes: Workman Publishing will soon be releasing my wife's book on the presidents done for middle graders. What differentiates this work from many such books is incorporating primary source material. That's neither here nor there. She enjoyed the AI pix and comments; I think she wishes they would use these in her book. Too late—one week before the presses actually roll.

When I first saw Cleveland, I thought it was Taft. Wilson doesn't look nearly smug enough, nor Coolidge as mean as he should. I really hate what the AI did to Ford—he's a much kinder person than it makes him look. Reagan looks like he's gonna Clark-Kent-to-Superman that jacket. Biden is Doc Brown:

'Doc' Emmet Brown from the 'Back to the Future' movies

(V) & (Z) respond: Congratulations and good luck to your wife!

S.S. in Seattle, WA, writes: The presidential AI caricatures were fun but I see a lot of Alec Guinness in President Wilson:

An older Guinness, the Wilson pic, a younger Guinness

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: Pffft! Dubya looks like a Muppet. As AI digests every mention and image of its subject online, the vast majority must be negative, decrying his lack of intelligence (dummy) and accusing him of being nothing more than a figurehead (puppet). Is AI's primary weakness that it is too literal? Does that put AI on the autism spectrum? Explains why Deep Thought decided that the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything is 42.

F.H. in St. Paul, MN, writes: Laurel and Obama:

Stan Laurel of Laurel and Hardy next to the Obama pic


B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: You used the expression "the federal teat"; with apologies to Dave Barry, has any rock band used that for a name yet?

D.C. in Teaneck, NJ, writes: You wrote: "Well, OK, containing Iran is a close second, but everything else is tertiary. Or maybe even quaternary. Or quinary."

So, exactly how long have you been waiting to use the word "quinary" in a post?

That said, thank you. I knew "tertiary" and "quaternary," but not "quinary." I now am smarter than I was just an hour ago, and I like when that happens.

(V) & (Z) respond: We have a large supply of words, and jokes, we're sitting on as we await the correct moment.

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: Replying to L.A.D. in Las Vegas, Arthur Dent isn't an alien. He's a Briton, a human being, native to Earth. It's Ford Prefect who's the alien.

J.G. in Chantilly, VA, writes: You wrote: "[I]f the Canadians show up on a Friday night in December and start dropping maple syrup bombs from Chinese-made balloons."

You have exposed the plot! Obviously you've been able to hack into USC's servers.

Curses, eh!

(V) & (Z) respond: You have to get up pretty early in the morning to sneak something like this past us. Of course, given how late we are up finishing each day's posting, "pretty early in the morning" translates to "anytime before 11:00."

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