Dem 51
image description
GOP 49
image description

Sunday Mailbag

Which item this week got the largest amount of feedback? The one on electric vehicles.

Politics: The 2024 Presidential Race

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: The Taylor Swift conspiracy theories are going to backfire spectacularly with her fans because they love and admire her, know her character and personality well via her music, and will collectively laugh their asses off at the absurd notions MAGA world is promulgating. Consequently, a considerable chunk of a younger demographic will decide the Right is compromised of laughable lunatics.

Go on, keep shooting yourselves in the foot, Bubbas.

R.M. in Bryan, TX, writes: You wrote: "...they will screw their courage to the sticking place, put clothespins on their noses, vote for Biden, and then puke as soon as they have exited the polling station."

To me, that seems like a perfectly honorable way to discharge one's civic duty to vote. Far better than puking inside the polling station.

B.S. in Charleston, SC, writes: Maybe I'm just cynical, but why do Democrats primarily campaign on policy and logic? Obama succeeded in his first presidential campaign by connecting with people emotionally ("Hope" and "Change").

For my entire adult life (and especially in response to President Obama's success), Republicans have engaged in, at best, hyperbole. However, that thin veil between hyperbole and outright lies has been stripped away in the last decade or so. And Democrats seem to have this idealistic view that if the nation is more informed about specific policy issues it will result in better turnout for their candidates. In an idealistic world, that sounds great, but that's not the world we live in.

I think Democrats should weaponize the truth in the same way that the Republicans have weaponized lies. For example, Joe Biden has been outspoken about how he believes electing Trump will present a real threat to our democracy. That's a view I share, and so I tend to believe it's true. But it doesn't connect with people who act more on strong emotions over reasoned logic. Instead, Democrats should start talking about how Republicans will take away the freedom to vote. From everyone. Talk about how Trump will cancel elections and proclaim himself President-for-life. Paint the picture of dystopian capitalism where the government is controlled by corporate elites.

The main idea being that they should play off the fears that Republicans have seeded for the better part of the last 2 decades and flip it, even if it's not exactly true. The Democrats actually are doing something like that with abortion, except that's just factual. If given the opportunity, Republicans would absolutely ban all forms of abortion.

H.R.S. in Oak Creek, WI, writes: You showed a screenshot of the "front page of yesterday." One of the prominent articles confirms Biden did indeed wear his hardhat backwards in a photo-op.

I spent the better part of 4 decades in power plants and construction environments. I supervised or managed workforces of proud union members. For a number of years, I was the company's liaison to the building trades. Here are my two observations:

  1. The stickers on the hardhat indicate it belonged to a longstanding union member. The stickers are often used to indicate the member has passed the facility's safety training, with multiple stickers for those who travel. They often add their own stickers—insignia of their union local, American flag, banana labels, etc., just to personalize their headgear. My guess is one union member decided it would be an honor for the president to wear his hardhat.

  2. Many workers wear their hardhat backwards. The most prominent are those that weld, since the visor gets in the way of the weld mask.

My summary? "The hardhat backwards will emphasize to those who know, he really is one of us. Thanks for making our point, Fox News."

S.W. in New York City, NY, writes: In response to the question(s) from the knitting group of C.S. in Cincinnati, about how Joe Biden made a commitment to serve only one term: I remember seeing news video during the 2020 campaign when Biden was asked by reporters if he would serve, if elected, only one term or run for re-election in 2024. His response was something like this: "Let me get through one campaign at a time and then I'll decide if I will run again."

Politics: Trump Legal

B.R. in Eatontown, NJ, writes: I've seen articles on this site, along with any number of articles in news websites (The New York Times, The Washington Post, etc.), and comments/questions by readers here, all wondering what's taking so long for the Court of Appeals panel that's considering the presidential immunity challenge by the ex-president to render an opinion. Having been involved in some major appellate cases in New Jersey in the past, and having served as a law clerk to a judge, I think these are unrealistic about what's involved in producing an opinion in a case like this one.

First, you have to understand how judges work, particularly in cases like this that involve novel issues never before considered. Based on what they read in the briefs submitted, and what's said in oral argument, they will reach preliminary decisions. But in the American legal system, they can't just issue a document saying we rule for this party or that. They have to prepare an opinion explaining and justifying the outcome they've reached. If they care about doing the job right—and the vast majority of judges serving on appellate courts that I've encountered in my 40 years of practicing do care about doing the job right, a lot—this opinion will be very much like the sort of article an academician would write to submit for possible publication in a peer-reviewed journal in their particular academic field.

Just as such articles would have to discuss the relevant prior literature on the topic, including primary and secondary sources, with footnotes galore, and then explain why the opinion being expressed in the article is correct based on research and so on, in legal writing of this sort, the court's opinion will comprehensively address the issue. It will include a discussion of any prior case law on the subject, even if it does not directly address the issue at hand. Where there isn't controlling case law—and there isn't in this case—then it will have to review whatever other sources there are that can shed light on the question. In the case of questions under the Constitution, such as the question in this case, that would include the available sources about what was said and occurred during the Constitutional Convention and then during the ratifying sessions of the various state legislatures, and then will also review other documents used to shed light on the meaning of the Constitution such as the Federalist Papers (the collection of essays drafted by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay that were intended to influence the debate over ratification in various states, that have become one of the most influential sources for interpreting the Constitution). Even if there are amicus briefs from groups of lawyers and historians presenting arguments based on these, and I'm sure there were in this case, the judges will not just accept those analyses, but instead will independently research the sources to confirm the accuracy of what's being stated in those briefs. As anyone who's prepared an academic article or similar submission knows, this takes time—a lot of time.

Now, judges have assistants (law clerks) who can and will do a lot of the legwork, just as established academics will have research assistants. But most self-respecting judges want to verify even that research. After all, in the end, it's the judge's name on the decision, not the law clerk's.

And in a decision from an appeals court, it takes even more time, because all the judges hearing the case have to have an opportunity to review the opinion once drafted, and then get to throw in their two cents on what edits they might want to see. Only after the all agree does it get approved in final form, and then published. And if one of the judges disagrees, it takes even longer, because while that judge will probably have started drafting a dissenting opinion right after the oral argument, the judge can only finish it after seeing the presumptive majority decision and then drafting whatever responses to it the judge thinks are necessary. And then the majority gets to add to their opinion whatever comments they think appropriate regarding the arguments in the dissent. That all adds time. Not that I'm saying I think a dissent will be coming here, but who knows? My crystal ball is in working order even less than that of

In this case, from what I read about the oral arguments, it seems likely the panel will rule against the ex-president. I would strongly suspect that the panel that heard the case wants its opinion to be airtight. So tight that maybe, just maybe, SCOTUS will choose not to even hear the case, because there's nothing they can add to what the appeals panel writes.

In this regard, several things must be noted about how SCOTUS takes cases. Each year, SCOTUS receives requests in approximately 7,000 cases to hear an appeal. Of those, it normally grants review in somewhere between 100 and 150 cases. Obviously, those statistics indicate that they are very selective about what they take. And that's because they're well aware there's only so many hours in the day, so many days in the week, etc., between the beginning of October and the end of June, and so only so many appeals they can give attention to with the kind of scrutiny they give to their cases. There are certain kinds of cases that they almost have to take. One set of those are the cases where federal Courts of Appeal in two or more different parts of the country have reached conflicting decisions on how to interpret a federal statute or some other issue. Having inconsistencies of that sort is obviously not a viable way to run a country. And then there are the cases—whether from the lower federal courts or the state courts—where the decision deals with an important federal issue in a way that a majority of the current Court finds unacceptable. By the time these and the other similar categories of cases the Court really has to take are done, there isn't much room left for cases to be taken just because they raise questions that are interesting.

Normally, they don't take cases where the decision below has addressed the issue, whatever it might be, in a manner that's not only obviously the only correct outcome but where the decision is comprehensive in explaining why that's true. The Court of Appeals, knowing this, would certainly want their opinion to fit that description.

Now it is possible that SCOTUS will take the case anyway. Even if they would ultimately rule against Donald Trump on the merits, the three judges appointed by the ex-president may be willing to do him the favor of taking the case just to delay the trial some more. And finding a fourth (which is what is takes for SCOTUS to agree to hear a case) would probably not be that hard—not with Justice Clarence Thomas and his connections to the ex-president's political operation. It's a lot easier to predict who will win the Super Bowl than what the current crop of justices on SCOTUS will do in any given situation involving the ex-president.

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: I haven't seen much discussion about the amount of Nathan Wade's compensation as a special prosecutor in Fulton County beyond the pearl-clutching, "Oh, my, $650,000 is a lot of money!" It is in absolute terms, but consider the breakdown. The billing rate is the standard $250 per hour that Fulton pays for special prosecutors, which is a very low rate—a partner at a leading firm could easily charge six times that, and even at a boutique firm, $700 per hour is common (in New York, at least; I assume it's somewhat, but not massively, lower in Georgia). The time period is 2 years, so an average of $325,000 per year. That works out to about 26 billable hours a week. If Wade is running the day-to-day aspects of an 18-defendant RICO prosecution, that's pretty reasonable; there is no sign at all that he's churning to up his billables.

There are certainly appearance issues, but the defendants can point to absolutely no prejudice to them—heck, if Wade actually is incompetent, defendants are benefitting from his presence. Even as to the appearance problem, I respectfully suggest that someone who has not done something stupid in connection with romance cast the first stone.

(V) & (Z) respond: Fulton County lawyers might well be just as expensive as the New Yorkers. Remember, Matlock charged $100,000 per case.

D.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: Alina Habba's letter complaining about the connection between the lawyer and the judge in the E. Jean Carroll case is a hilarious, on-brand self-own. Not only is she not in the club, she didn't even know it existed! I bet she sees fewer party invites than ex post facto pictures on Facebook.

P.C. in Yandina Creek, QLD, Australia, writes: I recall great concern on this and many news sites about the possibility of the one "holdout Trump juror" (One angry man?) in any of his numerous legal entanglements. Cue distress over the "tainting of the jury pool" (with horse feces).

The E. Jean Carroll defamation case may provide an example of how this has been overstated.

What chance the one angry juror in question has only heard the Fox/OANN/Newsmax/MyPillow TV version of events?

What is said on the courtroom steps and repeated in the right-wing grievance echo chamber may not resemble what jurors may hear in the courtroom, where those pesky "truth on the stand or consequences" rules apply.

If 10 or 11 sensible, rational thinking persons have decided on a set of facts, then the rules of "Asch Conformity" study should apply (i.e., the power of conformity in groups). Chances are that, as MAGA types, they are possibly already susceptible to this and will fall in line.

Hope springs eternal...

Politics: Not a Prayer

O.R. in Milan, Italy, writes: J.C. in Ulaanbaatar writes that nobody nowadays prays palm to palm, fingers straight, tips pointing upwards.

When I was little, I was taught to pray like that. So I find that AI photo of Donald Trump quite appropriate, really: not only does TFG throw temper tantrums like a toddler, he prays like a toddler.

Politics: The Border

R.H.D. in Webster, NY, writes: Since the Super Bowl is upon us, it's appropriate to use a football analogy to describe the southern border crisis and Washington, DC, dysfunction.

Remember when Lucy would take away the football just as Charlie Brown is about to kick it? Well, that's what House Republicans are doing to the proposed Senate deal to fix this problem. Or, using another analogy, the House GOP is again changing the goalposts to make it impossible to score anything.

This is the first time in nearly 40 years that something substantive might be done to address the problem and it's being torpedoed because the Republicans want to use it as a campaign issue for November. Talk about bad faith.

Well, if the GOP wants this to campaign on, then I'd say President Biden should do the same. Specifically, channel his inner Harry S. Truman and run against a do-nothing House. Tell the people he wanted to fix the border and show leadership, but they are only interested in sham impeachments and investigations.

This is why I favor term limits for members of Congress. If they are given a certain number of time to serve, that might motivate them to do what they were elected to do in the first place, to solve problems and not worry about the next election.

My justified rant is over.

D.T. in Columbus, OH, writes: I question the wisdom of Democrats trying to get some bipartisan border legislation passed, just to deprive Trump of the campaign issue.

Democrats would essentially be giving Republicans exactly what they already wanted: more money for border enforcement, closing the border, etc. The only thing Democrats get in return is... making it harder for Trump to criticize Biden's handling of the issue.

If Donald Trump were capable of listening to strategists, someone should advise him to let the Republicans work with Democrats to pass the bill, and then immediately take credit for the results himself.

"Can you believe the deal I just got for America? The weak Democrats were so desperate to make a deal, they gave me everything we wanted. I tricked them into thinking I didn't want this to happen, so Democrats tripped over themselves to pass it. We gave them nothing in return. Even while out of office, I am still driving the agenda!"

Politics: Rape and Abortion

P.M. in Port Angeles, WA, writes: Commenting on your item about rapes in states with abortion bans: First, This number of rapes is absolutely appalling, there something terribly wrong in this country that accepts that level of physical assault, apparently with minimal reprisal.

Second, the number of rapes that result in pregnancies is 1 in 8 (or approximately 12%). This percentage is far greater than the Republican talking points on pregnancies from rape. They claim it is very rare, perhaps 1% or less. This is standard Republican propaganda, twisting and distorting the facts and data (you know reality) to feed people their lies.

Third, as an aside, this data indicates that a woman is viable for pregnancy about 4 days each month. I'm assuming that these victims are young women mostly of child-bearing age. Of course it is already well known that a woman's menstrual cycle has 4 or 5 days of fertility and that this is the basis of the rhythm method of birth control.

Fourth, I am surprised that the 14 states were not identified explicitly. We should know exactly which ones they are: I did a little googling and found that these 14 states are the ones most likely being reported on: Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.

These states represent about one quarter of the U.S. population so if we simply multiply by 4, those 520,000 rapes could translates to 2,080,000 rapes in the United States since the Dobbs decision! That is truly unconscionable. It is little wonder that women fear so much for their personal safety and personal, bodily integrity. These numbers suggest that something like 1 in 100 women will be raped each year in the United States. How can we live with that?

B.G. in Grayson, GA, writes: I was interested in the article that connected the frequency of abortion and rape in states with the most draconian abortion laws. While the thrust of the article was the lack or ineffectiveness of exceptions for pregnancies caused by rape, I was more interested in the fact that our poor response to preventing sexual assault causes society to tolerate a frequency of sexual abuse that should be intolerable. In the fourteen states mentioned in the article, there were reportedly at least 520,000 rapes that resulted in over 64,000 pregnancies. The actual numbers are certainly higher because sexual abuse, domestic violence and child abuse are the most underreported crimes. As a society, we permit one-quarter of our children to be sexually abused by the age of 18.

Rapists have about a one percent chance of ever being jailed for their heinous crimes. Abortion supporters and opponents should easily be able to agree to reduce abortions by preventing sexual assault. It is not inevitable that we have this horrific level of rape and sexual assault. We have not made the prevention of assault the high priority that it deserves. Part of the problem is the myth that women frequently make false complaints. In our custody courts, deliberate false reports of child sexual abuse occur less than 2% of the time, but courts believe the reports less than 2% of the time, which means the courts are getting most of these cases wrong and failing to protect our children. One of the children interviewed after the conviction in the Penn State child sexual abuse scandal was asked why he didn't report Jerry Sandusky's abuse sooner. He said he didn't think anyone would believe him. I believe it is nothing short of outrageous that we tolerate so much sexual abuse and fail to believe survivors.

M.A. in Knoxville, TN, writes: In your piece Wednesday about the number of births due to rapes happening in red states you stated (emphasis added), "A new study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, has findings that cannot make anyone happy, regardless of where they stand on abortion access."

This is what the forced birthers wanted. Whether for actually twisted "Christian" beliefs or because of not-so-hidden misogyny and wanting to punish women, they want women to be forced to give birth to babies conceived from rape. Remember that they oppose exceptions for rape and even incest. They may be smart enough to not say it openly, but they are absolutely happy about this result. At the saner end they're thinking "That's 65,000 babies we saved from abortion!" God only knows what the misogynists are thinking. It's probably not the kind of thing you'd want to run in a letter, even if I knew.

The really, truly disgusting part is they also oppose birth control. I'll bet a significant portion of the 520,000 women raped in those 14 states were on birth control and avoided pregnancy that way. Take that away, like the forced birthers want to, and it won't be 13% of rape victims getting pregnant, it'll be much higher.

I think it's abundantly clear that women are second-class citizens in those 14 states.

J.O. in Lynchburg, VA, writes: I rewrote the headline for you.

"Nearly 65,000 Pregnancies Resulting from Rape in States with Abortion Bans"

Should have been:

"States Force 65,000 Rape Victims to Host the Rapists' Spawn"

Politics: Israel

D.G. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: I disagree with some of your speculative comments in "Biden Sanctions Four Israelis."

As you wrote, the sanctions imposed by the president are purely a political stunt, to appease the U.S. Arab population. In practice, they are not a big deal at all. The four being sanctioned are not Russian oligarchs, they do not have yachts, they do not have private jets, they do not have Swiss or Cayman Island bank accounts, they do not conduct business with the U.S. They are despicable hoodlums, hooligans, bullies—four small-time inconsequential criminals, terrorizing their neighbors, and causing mayhem. Nothing more. The only real consequence of the sanction is the barring their entry to the U.S. Great. No big deal, regardless of what one commentator said or did not say. A purely political gesture for internal U.S. consumption.

This is a matter for the Israeli police to deal with, not for the U.S. President to address (unless it is an election item for him,) and Benjamin Netanyahu (whom I personally despise), as PM, is correct to tell Joe Biden to bug off and not interfere with internal Israeli criminal matters. I am sure the U.S. would be equally upset if any foreign leader intervened in a case of violent demonstration in the U.S. and the prosecution of the perpetrators.

And no, it does not indicate that Biden is slowly changing his posture towards the Israeli government and its war against Hamas. You are conflating the West Bank situation with Hamas, and that is a mistake. And neither was detestable Netanyahu put on notice by this or the other admonitions he had received—he does not give a hoot so long as his seat is safe, and he avoids prison time.

People in the United States tend to make a mistake in assuming that the decision structure between the civilian and military echelons in other countries are similar to the ones in U.S. They are not. Netanyahu is the PM, but he is not the Commander in Chief, U.S.-style. He sets the political goals, but not the military strategy. He does not authorize or supervise particular operations. For that there is the war cabinet, in which he is just one vote. The military strategy and tactics are determined by the military echelon, which is solely responsible for limiting casualties on both sides. It is headed by the commander of the headquarters of the military, not quite the equivalent to the Joint Chiefs in the U.S. That difference may be subtle, but still significant.

B.G. in Palo Alto, CA, writes: It seems Joe Biden may be targeting Israelis operating in the West Bank. Seen in light of recent rumors about the Biden administration potentially officially recognizing a Palestinian state, what may be about to happen is official recognition of the West Bank as a Palestinian state, but not Gaza.

Biden needs to get the Michigan Arab community back on board, but without losing too much support from Jews and other pro-Israel constituents. Hamas' horrific attacks rule out any concessions to Gaza, but also makes the Palestinian Authority and West Bank look downright friendly by comparison, and a palatable political partner.

Fully supporting Israel against Hamas, while granting the West Bank and Palestinian Authority statehood but not Gaza, may solve Biden's domestic political problem, and keep both the Arab and Jewish constituencies on board for November.

T.G. in Boston, MA, writes: I am not at all prepared to echo the following conclusion: "In any event, it is very clear that Biden is slowly changing his posture toward the Israeli government and its war against Hamas." Perhaps the first part is true, but it is important to note that these sanctioned Israeli settlers have been largely, if not entirely, acting in the West Bank, and not Gaza itself, where Israel's alleged genocide continues, with ongoing American military and intelligence assistance. Until Biden meaningfully conditionalizes that aid, or eliminates it altogether, it is hard for me to see any change thus far in America's stance on the Israeli Defense Force's war on both Hamas and the civilian population of Gaza.

N.E.L. in Eugene, OR, writes: To anyone who knows history, the culture war over the Israel-Hamas war is increasingly surreal.

Last week Samantha Power, head of the USAID, and a leading scholar who literally wrote the book on genocide, was interrupted while giving a speech by a member of her staff. Her employee said, "You wrote a book on genocide and you're still working for the administration. You should resign and speak out." Another employee chimed in, referring to the "U.S.-funded genocide in Gaza..."

The absolute, blinkered certainty of these two, that they know better than their boss, the world-renowned expert on genocide, is gobsmacking. Yet their conviction that Israel is committing genocide—and getting away with it—is common this winter, along with their cold-eyed, unbending certainty that only those who agree can be right.

Israel? Israel, of all countries, which was created for the survivors of explicit, unequivocal genocide—they think Israel is practicing genocide? Because the country defends itself?

Israel has been well and truly swift-boated.

Politics: Electric Vehicles

D.P. in Oakland, CA, writes: I loved your item "The Devil Is in the Details" about electric vehicles. Who knew there were such weighty social justice issues involved—how the access to easy charging is tilted towards home owners?

Before we bought our Tesla, I did a lot of research, and after wrestling with Elon for the last three years I've read a lot more and nowhere, nowhere did I find the information you presented.

Never buy a Tesla! There is too much attitude in that company; buy an EV from a car company, not a computer company. The only good part is the amazing charging network. I've never had to wait at all. Luckily, Ford will soon get to share the system. That will open up new options.

The clincher was when gremlins got into my home charger and I had to call out a Tesla technician. I got to ask some of the questions that I'd been storing up, since with Tesla it is almost impossible to get to talk to a real person. I asked how come my battery maximum charge—much ballyhooed when I bought to be 326 miles—has dropped over three years down to around 311. He said, "You're doing good. You should expect to lose 5-7 miles of capacity a year. Teslas are calculated to only last ten years and then you'll need to buy a new one. All those gaskets and seals in the car? The are all soy-based; they won't last. The entire car is biodegradable."

Who knew?

(V) & (Z) respond: Charging access is also tilted toward white people. We noted yesterday that (Z) was stuck with the only bank of chargers he could reach in Fox Hills. Residents of L.A. know that is a predominantly Black, middle-class neighborhood. And he had to go to Fox Hills because he started in Inglewood (middle-/working-class predominantly Black neighborhood), which didn't have ANY accessible chargers. If he'd had enough electricity to get back to Westwood/Brentwood (middle-class/upper-class majority-white), there would have been no problem.

J.D.M. in Cottonwood Shores, TX, writes: A quick note about the $60 a month figure you quoted for the cost of charging an EV. To understand such a generalized estimate, you need a comparable generalized estimate. For gasoline-powered cars, fuel costs average between $150 and $200 per month in the U.S. So, about three times as much as the electricity cost for an EV.

Maintenance costs for an internal combustion engine dwarf the costs for an electric motor, which has no oil changes, radiator fluid or spark plugs, etc. (This shift will require automobile manufacturers to make major adjustments to their business model, which currently records a majority of its profits from the maintenance sector.)

R.G. in Washington, DC, writes: I have been driving an EV since June, and I have had nothing but a positive experience. Washington, DC, might not have quite as many EVs on the road as Los Angeles does, but I have never had an issue getting to a charger. Generally I use the free charger (6.6kWh) at the parking garage I use for work. There are six chargers that are usually full during the week, but being in the restaurant industry, I always work on the weekends and the chargers are almost always available. I just plug my car in before work and come back to a fully charged car after work. There are also many free chargers around town, including 16 at the local casino and many at shopping centers. I can also plug into a regular wall outlet, although that takes a long time to charge. On the rare occasion I do need to use a pay charger, I use the bank of four chargers that are across the street from and owned by the U.S. Department of Transportation (Thanks, Mayor-Secretary Pete!). They cost me $1/hour, charge at 6.6kWh, and are three blocks from my apartment. Since I bought my car, I have spent less than $20 on charging. I have had a great experience with my EV.

B.H. in Frankfort, IL, writes: Life is just full of compromises. My wife and I have a leased EV that she drives almost exclusively. We've found that the electric car is great for commuting. No gasoline or oil needed. Maintenance is checking tire pressure and adding windshield washer fluid. However, we had to spend about $1,700 to purchase and install a charger. Charging the car has not dramatically changed our electric bill, as long as we charge it at night when rates are generally lower. A home charger is a necessity because public chargers are inconvenient, at best, unavailable at worst. Another devilish detail is weather. Cold weather dramatically degreases the range the battery can deliver. Here in northern Illinois we have some brutal winter weather, and the expected range on a fully charged EV battery drops by 25-30%, more if the car is left outside.

The conclusion I've come to is an EV is great IF it is used for commuting, meaning it's at home every night for charging, and IF it is parked inside.

I do think a plug-in hybrid is a more versatile option. It gives you straight electric driving for 40-50 miles, and then gas/electric power for long distances. Depending on the type of driving you do, a plug-in can give you 100 mpg or better. However, they are hard to find outside of the east and west coasts.

J.G. in Farmington, CT, writes: Your item on charging infrastructure made me want to share my story of getting an EV to illustrate some of the challenges and planning associated with it. It's abundantly clear that the business is still having teething problems and the various stakeholders aren't talking to each other or doing things in the most efficient manner. If it wasn't for the clear superiority of the product and the environmental benefit, they'd be in serious trouble.

We bought a Polestar 2 after a lot of research and test drives with different EVs and comparisons of the financial incentives available for new and used vehicles.

We had to learn on the fly what the requirements were for charging at home, including available utility incentives for both installation of the charger and the electrical work involved; the code requirements for the charger; and the optional managed charging program by the utility. At the end of the day, we were committed and we did it all, but we're also unusually dedicated to reducing our carbon footprint among our peers and we are also very technical and process-oriented people who deeply research everything. I can't imagine the stress level of navigating this regulatory thicket if, say, you need to make a decision quickly or you have other mental demands you need to juggle on top of one of the worst purchase experiences anyone goes through (true story: surveys show people hate the car buying process, with good reason—all dealerships are incentivized to be scummy). We also had to arbitrate conflicting information from the manufacturer, the sales team, the electrician and the utility. It was maddening.

Once we received the car, we had to change the way we think about long-distance drives to ensure we built in time for charging stops and even the way we drive to optimize energy usage and regen-braking. Range anxiety is real. And unlike a gas car, there is a significant desire to keep your battery topped up no matter what, because you know chargers might not be available at one of your stops.

Ultimately, we're happy with the outcome. But getting here was not the easiest process, and it's not surprising that widespread adoption continues to loom in the future.

R.P. in Warminster, PA, writes: I would like to introduce you to Aptera. A highly efficient and low-air-resistance car designed and made in America that is about to become real and available to North America first and eventually to the whole world.

It has solar panels that can get up to 40 miles of range free from the sun on sunny days, and 20 miles of range on many cloudy days. It uses small battery packs because of its efficiency, so it can get 400 miles of range via a fast charge in 15-20 minutes for the launch edition, which I am getting. I believe it can get about 120 miles of range plugged into a 120 V AC outlet that comes standard in the U.S. The introductory version is a 2-seater but once these are well into production, they will design a 4-seater and a 6-seater/SUV version. The 2-seater ranges in price from $25,000 to $50,000. The primary cost driver is the batteries to enable 250, 400, 600 and 1,000 mile versions, as well as the solar panel coverage. An advanced driver assistance system is optional, as are a tent package, off-roading and a few other things. It doesn't use paint as that is environmentally insensitive and adds weight, but rather uses a wrap. Production is anticipated to start late this year.

(V) & (Z) respond: We wonder how many people will be willing to drive a car that looks like it came from The Jetsons.

S.C. in Philadelphia, PA, writes: You wrote:

Among the provisions [of the new EV-charger directive from the White House] is a very liberal redefinition of "nonurban," which makes funding for more EV chargers available to roughly two-thirds of Americans.

Of course, that means that one-third of Americans are still excluded, mostly those living in areas that are really non-urban. You know, places like West Virginia, where Billy Bubba's farm and Jim Bob's restaurant "Eats" are still not eligible for government EV-charger assistance.

It's actually the opposite. The chargers have to be installed in low income or non-urban areas, and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is complaining that the definition of non-urban is too expensive, such that the funding can go to more than just the areas he presumably had in mind in West Virginia.

Specifically, the guidance defines non-urban census tracts as any in which at least 10 percent of the census blocks are rural. The argument for this definition is that the administration didn't want to exclude large groups of people living in rural areas, even if they are near urban areas. The argument against is that it allows many urban or suburban residents to qualify as well.

However, it's important to note that low-income community census tracts are also eligible and some of the urban residents that are included in the relatively more expensive definition of nonurban would have been included anyway by dint of living in a census tract with at least 20% poverty, or where the median family income is no more than 80% of the statewide median family income, or, for tracts located in a metropolitan area, no more than 80% of the metropolitan area median family income.

E.B. in Seattle, WA, writes: The complaints about the NEVI program are absolutely maddening. What people are complaining about is that a $5B project being stood up from scratch by the federal government took 21 months to award its first money. That is light-speed for government contracting, particularly where the contracts are going to be subject to political sniping and any failures will be used to tar the entire program (see also: Solyndra). And they're further complaining that final drawings, state contracting, permitting, ordering long lead time equipment, and construction aren't done within 6 months. That shows that none of the reporters involved cover state contracting projects.

Joe Manchin's complaints are, if possible, even more infuriating. And disingenuous. First of all, the low-income census tracts are consistent with rules set up in the early 2000s to encourage investment in low-income areas. So that definition isn't new. As for the urban-rural divide, Manchin is all over expanding the definition of rural areas for grant programs when he feels like it. Also, rural communities have generally been the most hostile to EV adoption. Manchin would be the first to complain if EV chargers were installed with federal funds and then sat idle because of few nearby users. It's all performance, no substance.

S.G. in Morgantown, WV, writes: As a Tesla owner living in West Virginia, who has even charged in Wheeling in the past, I was amused by your latest piece regarding Joe Manchin.

While I don't claim to know specifically what's going through his mind, I can assure you that his comments play directly to the local electoral base. Any time a local news outlet posts a story regarding electric vehicles or any type of clean energy, the public reaction you'll see on Facebook is absolutely bewildering. People are utterly shocked that someone would willingly drive a car that is:

  1. A death trap that will catch fire at any time
  2. Takes ages to charge
  3. Is far worse for the environment than any gasoline-powered vehicle ever could be

I do occasionally like to post notes on these stories relaying my experiences as an EV owner, but it's abundantly clear that many people have no interest in considering alternate viewpoints. Not to say that everyone in West Virginia holds these beliefs—one of my frustrations is that people tend to view my state as a monolith, where everyone and everything is colored deep-red. Plenty of strangers like to strike up conversations about my car, and I see more Teslas on the road every day. But overall, EV acceptance is a tough hill to climb.

One of the things your piece nails is the unreliability of public chargers. Originally (currently, even) the United States had two major fast-charging standards: CCS and Tesla's Supercharger. A CCS charging network was supposed to be build out via Electrify America and funded by Volkswagen in wake of the Dieselgate emissions scandal (something I can say with pride was unearthed by researchers at my alma mater, West Virginia University). However, those charging stations have notoriously not been maintained, and that has played a major role in virtually every manufacturer (I believe Stellantis is the only major holdout at this point) choosing to switch over to NACS, which is Tesla's charging standard. This resolution to the modern version of the VHS/Betamax war should be good for everyone involved, and it will undoubtedly help accelerate adoption of EVs.

Politics: Proportional Representation

S.C. in Mountain View, CA, writes: In your answer to B.L. in Hudson, you imply that the electoral vote allocation by Congressional district that Maine and Nebraska use is the same as a proportional allocation of electoral votes. That is not true.

A proportional allocation does exactly that; it allocates a state's electoral votes in direct proportion to that state's popular vote.

For example, in the 2020 US Presidential election, the Trump/Pence ticket received 58.22% of Nebraska's popular vote, Biden/Harris received 39.17%, Jorgensen/Cohen received 2.12%, and "others" received 0.49%. Since Nebraska gets 5 electoral votes, this would result in Trump/Pence receiving 2.9110 EVs, Biden/Harris 1.9585 EVs, Jorgensen/Cohen 0.1060 EVs, and "others" 0.0245 EVs.

Of course, we don't really have fractional electoral votes, and while there are various ways to deal with the fractions, the simplest is the "largest remainder" method. Each ticket gets the whole number of EVs to the left of the decimal point, and any EVs left over get assigned, in order, to the tickets with the largest remainders.

Allocating the whole numbers gives Trump/Pence 2 EVs and Biden/Harris 1 EV with 2 left over. Biden/Harris has the largest remainder so they get the first leftover EV. Trump/Pence has the second largest remainder so they get the second leftover EV. This would result in Trump/Pence with 3 EVs and Biden/Harris with 2.

But that's not what happened. Nebraska uses a winner-take-all allocation for both the statewide EVs and the CD EVs. Trump/Pence had the most votes both statewide and in CD1 and CD3 so got 4 electoral votes. Biden/Harris got the most votes in CD2 so got 1 electoral vote.

Similarly, in Maine, Biden/Harris received 53.09% of the popular vote, Trump/Pence 44.02%, Jorgensen/Cohen 1.73%, Hawkins/Walker 1.00%, and "others" 0.15%. A proportional algorithm using largest remainder would result in 2 EVs for Biden/Harris and 2 EVs for Trump/Pence, instead of the actual allocation of 3 EVs to Biden/Harris (for winning the most votes both statewide and in CD1) and 1 EV for Trump/Pence (for CD2).

But before one starts advocating for states to use a proportional allocation, one should consider that, when there is a strong third-party candidate (e.g., Ross Perot in 1992, Ralph Nader in 2000), a proportional allocation could result in no candidate receiving a majority of the electoral vote, throwing the election into the House of Representative where each state gets just one vote. The result in that case could end up being be very non-proportional to the popular vote.

All Politics Is Local

C.J. in Burke, VA, writes: Regarding "One Judge Could Upend the Georgia Elections": AAARRRGGGHHHH!

I am a poll worker in Fairfax County, Virginia, which has lots of complicated races, jurisdictions, and ballots. Voters get a paper ballot and fill in the bubbles for their candidates with a pen and then run it through a scanner that counts the voter's choices. Obvious mistakes are immediately kicked back for correction. At the end of the day, the scanner prints out a tape with the results. The results are also saved on a thumb drive. The paper ballots are saved in the scanning machine for later recounts if needed. It is simple and easy. Forget the bar code stuff. This isn't rocket science.

A.A. in South Orange, NJ, writes: You wrote of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ): "Sorry, Mr. Senator, but the writing is on the wall." As a New Jersey resident and observer of politics, I have to agree. Rumors of his corruption have swirled for at least two decades, so I think a lot of New Jersey Democrats were sick of him by the time his first corruption charges ended in a mistrial in late 2017. This explains why he gave up 37.7% of the 2018 primary vote to a complete laugher of a candidate, who was invisible on the campaign trail, raised a measly $600 (if memory serves), and whose campaign website looked like a kid built it in 1992. I have to assume nearly all of those 37.7% were protest votes. This strongly suggests that any serious Democrat who challenged Menendez back in 2018 would have taken him down. Now that he has been indicted again and the big guns have shown up in 2024, it would seem his goose is cooked.

S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes: I've been in New Jersey for more than 15 years, and I don't consider myself an expert on the very odd world that is New Jersey politics. However, my gut take on the upcoming Democratic Senate primary is this: Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ) enters as the favorite; he's got plenty of name recognition and I think is generally viewed favorably. But First Lady of New Jersey Tammy Murphy brings some major assets to the race. Machines still matter in the Garden State and if the kingmakers line up behind Mrs. Governor, Kim will have his work cut out for him. The money difference you reported for the last quarter is not huge but it is significant, and if that financial edge continues for Murphy, she could easily swamp Kim.

Bob Menendez, of course, is toast. I am hoping his son Rob isn't tarred by association. Rob's a decent and smart guy, even if he did get his current job only because of his dad.

J.A. in Puerto Armuelles, Panama, writes: I have to disagree with your assessment that, despite anemic fundraising by Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ), she is fine financially because she has $11,000,000 in her campaign account.

$236 million was spent on the last U.S. Senate election in Arizona two years ago. $11 million is a drop in the bucket, especially if that number is going down and you also can't rely on much—if any—help from outside groups. And I expect the election this year will be more expensive than in 2022, unless it's not at all close.

So I think things are looking fairly bleak for Sinema.

R.L. in Alameda, CA, writes: There is even more to the story of the CO-4 candidates forum. When asked who had ever been arrested, 6 of the 9 candidates (including Rep Bo-Bo) raised their hands. Here is a clip from local news; the question is asked at :50, although the entire 3:20 piece is worthwhile. Raucous applause for candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives who have been arrested? Seriously? From the so-called party of law-and-order? This is too rich.

I look forward to seeing Lauren Bo-Bo slip into the same irrelevancy as Madison Cawthorn and "George Santos" (remember them?). She can slink back to the mountains and spend her time teaching her grandchild how to use a gun and looking for public places to be groped by her boyfriend. So long Bo-Bo. Not gonna miss ya!

C.R. in St Louis, MO, writes: Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) may indeed be in trouble with her spending security funds on her husband's services. It is unlikely that she'll be drummed out of Congress quickly, though, unless the feds indict soon. She was acquitted of wrongdoing by the House Ethics Committee. Would they circle back and toss her out after doing their own due diligence not long ago?

Her main political threat is the St. Louis County District Attorney Wesley Bell, who decided against a senate run in 2024 to challenge for her House seat that was created as a single, very safe Black district when Missouri lost a House seat in 2010. Combining two former Democratic districts, it assured the Republicans a vast majority in the House delegation. Republicans (and moderate Democrats) would probably consider Bell an improvement, as he isn't likely to be a firebrand pitching a tent on the Capitol steps or "Squad" member. Bush also frankly leaves a lot to be desired as a speaker, as seen in press conferences where she is reading her statements directly from her phone.

J.T. in Marietta, GA, writes: Regarding the schadenfreude item about the Republican legislators in Oregon being punished because of their quorum-breaking ways: The only new thing about this is that Oregon recently passed a constitutional amendment preventing it. I'm a little uncomfortable with the partisan glee I've seen in various recent media accounts of this event. This technique was basically invented by Democrats—in the Texas legislature in 1979. Remember the "Killer Bees"? I do. And I have the impression it's been occasionally used by state legislators of both parties in the intervening years. This trick is one of those things that one thinks is great when your own side does it, but inspires outrage when one's political opponent does it. Yuck.

History Matters

D.H. in San Francisco, CA, writes: You wrote: Yes. "Off his beam" meant exactly the same thing [in the 1950s] as "off his rocker" means today.

I'm calling foul on this. The etymology of "off the beam" derived from an early aviation technique developed by the German Lorenz company in the early 1930's. Two parallel narrow radio audio beams with a slight overlap were projected from the ground in a specified direction to guide airplanes back to their home base. If you watch 1940's movies, you'll see the navigator wearing headphones in which each of those radio signals were received. By tracking for equal volume signals in each ear, the pilot could guide the plane down the center of the two signals. The technique is distantly similar to the VOR signals broadcast for aviation today, though navigation has evolved to largely use GPS today.

So, "off the beam" meant something more akin to being mistaken, lost, heading the wrong direction, much more similar to was "out in left field" or "clueless" would mean today. Whereas "off his rocker" has a connotation of losing one's wits similar to "losing one's marbles," "going nuts," or "going bananas."

M.B. in San Antonio, TX, writes: Regarding the question from T.J.R. from Metuchen regarding the mythologization of historical figures, and the Robin Hood archetype, I have always been amazed at our propensity to elevate historical bad actors to romantic heights. Certainly the "steal from the rich and give to the poor" myth has appeal, as has the element of "fighting the man/beating the system." But it is also the case that letting enough time go by often whitewashes these bad actors. Think, for example, of how modern American culture celebrates pirates and buccaneers; they are some of the most wretched human beings who ever lived, and yet we name our sports teams after them. Another example are the Vikings, genocidal maniacs who raped, murdered and pillaged, and yet to whom we also give a pass by including their name on our sports teams. But in both those cases, that happened long ago, so their nefariousness is diminished. Pirates and Vikings have become lovable, if slightly flawed, historical figures. If you extend that principle far enough into the future, will we someday have sport teams such as the Toledo Hitlers or the Poughkeepsie Nazis?

S.L.H. in Sausalito, CA, writes: Click onto Netflix's The Highwaymen. Kevin Costner and Woody Harrelson play the lawmen who track down Bonnie and Clyde. As they get close, they are mystified that the two cold-blooded murderers have become folk heroes and are being protected by the heartland public. The movie was released in 2019, and definitely is a profound comment, in my view, on Trump's popularity with the scared, excitable and ignorant. Bonus: Woody Harrelson tones down his acting and the result is a wonderful performance.

C.S. in Tucson, AZ, writes: S.W. in New York observed: "It appears to me that two good things came out of the disastrous Vietnam War: the end of the draft and lowering the voting age to 18."

S.W. might be right or not. As someone affected by that pesky conflict and the equally pesky draft, I too favored the elimination of the draft. An argument for eliminating the draft and its deferments was akin to this: "Without the draft and its deferments, every mother's son will have an equal opportunity to die in foreign mud. This will make future wars much less likely." Since those who volunteer for military service do not broadly represent U.S. demographics, this seems to be an unrealized benefit. After all, how many families do you know who have a son or daughter (grandson/granddaughter/nephew/niece) in the military? My answer: Zero. How many families do you know who would encourage a family member to join the military? Same answer. How many elected officials have a relative serving in the military? Not many.

You may recall that Bobby Kennedy on a college campus spoke about the need to eliminate college draft deferments to make warfare more politically difficult. (His audience did not embrace his logic, and I don't know how often he made this point beyond the one time I heard a report of this speech.)

If you really want to do something about needless wars, force Congress to pay for them. No more wars on the nation's credit card. Also, require Congress to send its progeny and their age-eligible progeny before any "ordinary" citizen goes to war. Ain't gonna happen, but those two things are what is needed. You probably remember George W. Bush's request for the nation's "sacrifice' when the country invaded Iraq—he told people to go shopping. Nice. Some go to bleed and die while America goes to the mall.

As for lowering the age of voting, is there any evidence that it has accomplished anything? Low voter turnout of young adults suggests an answer. Maybe I'm misinterpreting the data.

One final comment about the war's benefit: A couple million people died. Seems like an interesting return on investment.

Time to take a Prozac.

A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: "Old enough to die, but not old enough to vote' or some variation thereof was a common refrain during the Vietnam War era.

1968 was my first election. I had turned 21 that summer and was staring down the anticipated delivery of my induction notice. I was still on my student deferment. My parents were Eisenhower Republicans, so I was a little predisposed towards the GOP, BUT I also grew up as a Kennedy Kid.

I was torn between Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon. I truly believed that Vietnam was a gross mistake; it had already taken the life of two high school classmates, I had a brother in the army sitting in Japan and going on temporary duty assignments into Saigon on a regular basis (he was a radio repairman, not a ground pounder). A close friend who was a "Jarhead" entered the country from a landing craft at Cam Rahn Bay, and later I would learn of many classmates and friends who had been "in country," whether that was Vietnam or Thailand or Cambodia or in the South China Sea. The final factor in my decision in that election was the infamous Nixonian (Republican) promise to "Get us out of Vietnam." I think there were a lot of young voters besides myself who filled in that little box behind "Tricky Dick" instead of HHH. That was my first, last, and only time voting Republiscum in a presidential election.

I have voted for people I knew to be members of the GOP in state and local elections. Some have been good votes and some not so good. At this point in my life, I wouldn't trust a Republican as far as I could throw there phuquing elephant. How is that trickle down working for you? NEVER underestimate and old man with a DD-214, and yes, I still carry my selective service card. I am classified as "4-A."

I wholeheartedly agree with S.W.'s assessment as to anything good that came out of our national misadventure in Southeast Asia.

A.G. in Scranton, PA, writes: S.W. (my blood is a little up this morning so please forgive the tone of what follows)... I'm certain you're a good and thoughtful person whom I would like were we to meet.

The end of the draft, this supposed good thing, made the military an undemocratic and unrepresentative arm of our nation's power. While the rich generally found a way around the draft in Vietnam (see: spurs, bone), the draft, on the whole, pushed the military extremely far to the political right by making it an "all volunteer" force.

This "all volunteer" force has given politicians the pretend balls to go to war easily whilst using the justification that "everyone there signed up for this," all the time not recognizing that many joined the military out of an economic necessity and hail from towns and regions where there is no future.

The military (most especially the enlisted, non-officer, ranks), once a relatively representative slice of America, wherein celebrities could, and did, get called up and some of whom fought and bled and died, is now a force comprised largely of Southern, White and conservative males and females, Black people (whom Marines refer to as "Dark Greens") from economically deprived cities all across America, Latinos and Latinas from similar circumstances as our fellow "dark green" soldiers and Marines, and a relatively few of the more privileged and middle classes.

I know everyone got all interested in military service after 9/11 and that shifted the demography slightly, but all of that jingoism faded with yet another failed nation building exercise in Iraq and the demographics, which trend more and more towards those I mentioned above, and including even fewer of the middle and more privileged, are not a good snapshot of who and what America is supposed to be. The Pat Tillman story and the stories of tens of thousands of other young men and women who watched in horror as our nation changed that beautiful, clear, cloudless morning—damn, I even remember saying on the way in to the city just how beautiful that day was—are now old memories of a time many of us who served have now grown sour on, due to their misuse, the lies told to all of us, and the needless loss of so much human talent and potential and loves and lives.

If those in the upper middle and upper classes have gained the most for our system, why is it that they are the ones who sacrifice the least? Lower taxes (see: tax cut, every), easier justice for worse crimes (see epidemic, opioid, for profit, who cares about the millions we'll kill we'll just get a fine, anyway?), better education (see: better off towns, every one is America vs. the cities), lower crime (see: better off towns, every one in America vs. the cities), better healthcare... you get the idea.

Yes, many old white people want the draft to come back because "these damn kids know nothing about love of country." This argument gives me a massive migraine every time I hear it from someone whom I know never served a day in uniform.

But no, the draft is a good thing. Many intelligent Americans want the draft back because it will re-democratize the decisions our leaders make to go to war. Who will vote for a war based on false pretenses when it might be their son or daughter bleeding out, screaming for "Mama!" in the sands of a far off land? Who will send General Colin Powell to ruin his sterling reputation on jingoistic nonsense any smart person should have seen through (and which many readers of this site fell for... despite what they now say, 90% of America supported that war) when it is their son or daughter who may return with physical scars that might fade and mental scars that never will (see: A.G. in Scranton, post military life).

Yes, what a "good thing" it is now easier to go to war. Yes, what a "good thing" there are now even fewer ways the rich and privileged might have to actually give something back. I know it seems such a good thing to people who simply haven't bothered to look into it or read up on it or ask any intelligent veteran about it. There is just this knee-jerk reaction that the draft must have been bad because... reasons!

More men were drafted into World War II than Vietnam. Was that a bad thing? Taking down those Nazis who were murdering millions? I dunno...

The Sporting Life

M.G. in Newtown, PA, writes: There's quite the dichotomy between fans' political bent in baseball (many fanbases tend to skew liberal/left) and the players' political views. I suspect some of this is due to the fact that most MLB teams are in cities or adjacent to cities and 20 of the 30 MLB teams are in blue states (with one team in Canada, of course). On social media, at least, Cardinals fans tend to skew the most right/conservative.

(V) & (Z) respond: Of course, one day, all 30 teams will be in Canada.

C.J. in Redondo Beach, CA, writes: I am responding to the letter that said that Scott Norwood misses a relatively short field goal in Super Bowl XXV. It was NOT a short kick. These days kickers are pretty dang accurate until it gets to over 50 yards, I guess, but back in the early 90s a kick from over 40 was already getting into the fairly dicey stage. It makes whatever criticism he received after even worse, honestly. Buffalo's reaction after, cheering him at the team's homecoming rally at City Hall after, was a beautiful moment.

(V) & (Z) respond: We almost added a note that it was a 48-yarder, and with wind. Hardly a chip shot.

S.M. in Morganton, GA, writes: Let me be 100% clear. When it comes to queer male stereotypes I missed one wide and I hit one on the bullseye. The best way to describe the one I missed is to share when a cousin who was meeting me as an adult exclaimed, "I have a gay cousin!" She then started asking me about my favorite musicals and I was required to demur politely. Now that we are friends, I am able to share with her that I find musical theatre forced, silly, and lacking any artistic merit.

On the other hand, I have been referring to "sportsball" since middle school. Maybe it was the obvious homophobia from my peers, but I wanted nothing to do with kicking a ball, catching a ball, or high school gladiatorial contests (football). Or watching said exercises.

But, I LOVE THE SPORTSBALL STORIES ON EV DOT COM. I have picked up cultural references I didn't know, I have learned about public figures doing good (and bad) work that I would have never known of otherwise, and I have learned metaphors and allegories that allow me to communicate more effectively with those who are sports obsessed.

Thank you for bringing sportsball to our polling and politics blog. I also thank you for bringing history, anthropology, law, sociology, pop culture, and social psychology to your blog. Keep it up!

(V) & (Z) respond: (Z) once had a gay roommate who was stereotypical in all the things that were useless to (Z)—loved musical theater, hated sports, drove a Volkswagen Rabbit, meticulous grooming. And he was not at all stereotypical in the ways that would have been useful, in roommate terms. In particular, he was both highly insensitive and the world's biggest slob.

Tickled By Elmo

R.G. in Portland, OR, writes: This week's freudenfreude is a wonderfully written feel-good piece. I wanted to share it with friends and (gasp) even on Facebook! I'm not a computer genius but I hold my own, usually. Is there some secret sauce I need to share this? Also, I needed to make sure you were OK with my doing this. If not, I do understand.

(V) & (Z) respond: We are happy to have any and all items shared that any reader sees fit to share. And if you click on the headline, it will take you to a page that has JUST that item, so you can copy and paste the link. The link for that item is:

P.K. in Marshalltown, IA, writes: I went to an on-campus training session Friday to learn about recognizing signs that students (or anybody) may be suicidal. While volunteering at a crisis intervention hotline in graduate school 40 years ago, I kept a woman who had deliberately overmedicated on the phone for 45 minutes to enable her location to be traced and emergency personnel to find her in time. A nephew died by suicide. Freudenfreude made me cry this week. Thanks Elmo and Sesame Street (NASA, the United Nations, and our president, as well) for responding to the outpouring of hurt that message provoked. More proof we must be ever vigilant and that there are people who care in the world.


H.R. in Brookeville, MD, writes: to J.C. in Chicago for going above and beyond in their comment in last Sunday's Gallimaufry about the East Cupcake scandal: "The Great Hall Pass Hullabaloo!"

The author (or someone) seems to have acquired (purloined?) the domain name, created a website (with two pages), and written up this fascinating story.

And they covered their tracks well. A whois lookup on the domain name reveals no clues.

Nicely done!

D.H. in Boulder, CO, writes: With respect to J.C. in Chicago and the link to "The Great Hall Pass Hullabaloo," I'm now 70 and well past needing a hall pass (except from my wife), but it's time to come clean. In high school in the late 60s, I was part of a hall pass scandal that allowed me to cut a wide number of classes and either leave campus or hang out in woodshop, which I found more interesting.

The mechanics of our own "hullabaloo" were simple. One person working in the administrative office stole the blank carbon copy absence slips, I learned to forge the principal's signature, and a third person collected the slips that were returned to the office so the absence was never recorded.

We were never caught, and obviously nobody was harmed with this caper, except that we might have missed a few valuable lectures. In fact, I think one of my teachers (a five-time Jeopardy! champion, by the way) figured it out and didn't turn me in; maybe she appreciated the cleverness.

Youthful indiscretion perhaps, and maybe showed a personal penchant to take chances, but I actually look back on that minor scandalous episode with a touch of fondness. We took on the system and got away with it!

This is the first time I've written about this and I feel better. Thanks to J.C. and for the forum for giving me the impetus to unload my deep, dark past of near felonious scandal.

B.W. in Easton, PA, writes: Regarding the "We Didn't Start the Fire" theme, thanks for the fond memory trigger! I am married with one son who is now 26 years old. When he was young, we vacationed in upstate New York and spent several summers over the years in a cabin on a lake near Ticonderoga. One of our fond memories is listening to Billy Joel CDs on the 5 hour trip up and back. To this day he will inevitably put on Billy Joel when we are in the car together (not using CDs, or course). "We Didn't Start the Fire" was one of his favorites. As he grew older, the lyrics would come up in his growth and learning, especially in his high school years. Learning about Nixon, the Vietnam War and reading Catcher in the Rye became an emotional flashback and instant link to our common emotional past. More recently, the film Oppenheimer created the opportunity to revisit history via Billy Joel.

As I am horrible at trivia, your initial posting went over my head, but I must thank you for the smile you brought to my face.

M.S. in Canton, NY, writes: Since you got "We Didn't Start the Fire" stuck in my head (and probably the heads of many other readers), I thought I would create a few extra verses specifically for a retrospective look at

Swift boat, Iraqi War, Dubya gets another four,
Sarah Palin, John McCain, winner's middle name's "Hussein,"
Health care, ACA, Tea Party out to play,
Economy is better then, Man of "Hope" wins again,

Bernie, Marco, Jeb!, and Cruz, they all run, then they lose,
Hillary, Orange Guy, polls are wrong—don't know why,
Grifting, tantrums, impeachment twice,
Trump lets his freak flag fly, Biden's win makes Proud Boys cry.

We didn't start the polling
But the world was waiting for some aggregating,
We didn't start the polling
But the news keeps raining, so we'll keep explaining...

I could go on, but certainly it's best if I don't.

M.Y. in Alto, NM, writes: Jeopardy!, on Thursday evening, had a category "Canadians Invade Your Living Room." Maybe people are starting to wake up to the threat! Do the Jeopardy! writers read your site?

(V) & (Z) respond: We don't know, but we are not surprised that switching from a Canadian to an American host caused the wool to no longer be pulled over the eyes of the show's staff.

Final Words

B.H. in Frankfort, IL, writes: I don't have the background on this, but I'm assuming B.P. Roberts was a hypochondriac. Good to know he died laughing:

The headstone says: 'I told you I was sick'

If you have suggestions for this feature, please send them along.

This item appeared on Read it Monday through Friday for political and election news, Saturday for answers to reader's questions, and Sunday for letters from readers.                     State polls                     All Senate candidates