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      •  Sunday Mailbag

Sunday Mailbag

Some very good letters about polling, among other subjects.

Politics: The 2024 Presidential Election

P.A. in Columbus, OH, writes: I am a young reader [mid-20s] who has long read and enjoyed your site and your readers' comments, but I have to say my piece here because, with respect, I think many of your readers fundamentally do not grasp something fully: The Democrats are choosing to run on the one thing that could feasibly lose them the election, namely anti-Trump [a.k.a. "democracy"].

They could run on education, healthcare, financial reform, tech policy, infrastructure/industrial policy... anything concrete, basically, and win easily, and keep winning. But they continue to pick cultural/vibes/optics/LARPing issues that only serve to alienate workers and disaffecteds. Look at Sen. Sherrod Brown's (D-OH) campaign here in Ohio, look at people like Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) and learn from them.

The two parties don't operate with the same incentive sets or fundamental aims. Two-party systems seldom, if ever, maintain stable equilibria over long periods. This is our history, one of dominant parties. "Democracy," at this scale, isn't a constant process. It's simply a way to get from an oligarchy [like we have now] to a monarchy [as we had under Alexander Hamilton or Franklin D. Roosevelt, and as Richard Nixon abortively attempted to reboot] or vice-versa.

The Republicans are fundamentally incapable of actually governing the country as they stand now. We gave them the country out of pure resentment towards the elites and all they were basically able to do was cut taxes and impose a couple of tariffs. They are the Outer Party and are simply non-viable until someone with a clue takes over the carcass after Donald Trump is dead or gone. The Democrats are the Inner Party. Voting for the Democrats at this point is basically voting for the country to be governed at all.

The Democratic elites [the only elites left, as the Republican establishment have left politics or become Democrats] are so woefully out of touch and self-defeating that they either fail to realize this, or simply don't care, or have calculated that their self-interest is furthered by playing the Republicans' game, the last of which is assuredly wrong. Stop giving Trump oxygen. Invest in human capital. We will all benefit, including the elites.

M.O. in Syracuse, NY, writes: After a Mother's Day gathering with my 3 millennial children, I heard harsh comments about Joe Biden and how he is losing young voters. My kids were not as concerned with Biden's age, as much as they have lost confidence in his ability to communicate his ideas and plans. If he chose Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) as his running mate, he could DEFINITELY recapture the younger vote. Just saying...

J.L. in Richmond, VA, writes: I'd like to remind your readers that in 2020 Donald Trump held a press conference bragging about the Dow Jones hitting 30,000 points for the first time. In his typical self-congratulatory way, he described it as "the highest in history... nobody thought they'd ever see it" and it was a "sacred number" (whatever the hell that means). For anyone who works in the Biden administration who may read this website, please, for the love of God, start running ads immediately showing this clown bragging about 30,000 points side-by-side with a stock ticker of the Dow hitting 40,000 under the Biden administration to remind people that the economy is actually doing very well.

T.J.R. in Metuchen, NJ, writes: Regarding the question from L.A. in Waynesboro about political conventions, I was always under the impression that political conventions were to excite the party faithful. You send them to a "fun" city (New York, Miami, etc.), ply them with entertainment (adult and otherwise) and they go back home excited for their candidate and ready to do the hard day-to-day work of electing them. It's also 2 minutes in the spotlight for the non-presidential candidates (senators, governors, some other up and comers).

(V) & (Z) respond: That's why the prostitutes, and especially the alternate prostitutes, are so important. Especially the male ones, and especially if Larry Craig is attending.

L.H. in Claremont, CA, writes: During the past 4 years, my spouse and I have made nine cross-country road trips, between California and Massachusetts, generally leaving in May and returning in November. During the most recent trip, we noted a grand total of two Trump signs along the way. Of the two, one was in a state of complete disrepair from 2020. Our route took us on back roads through small towns as well as along interstates in Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut. On prior trips, we have felt assaulted by the number of these signs. At one point on this trip, I said, "do you know what we haven't seen?" to which I received an immediate reply: "NO Trump signs!!!" I choose to read the absence of signs as a positive sign for November.

H.R. in Madison, WI, writes: The question you, and so many others, asked is "why did Trump go off on a rant about Hannibal Lecter?".

I submit that the reason is that Trump wanted the media to ask that question and spend time and effort figuring out why. This is classic media manipulation. In my view, perhaps the greatest successful example of this was during the Iraq War. On the day that Great Britain had a ceremony, pulling out all its troops in support of that war, George W. Bush had Air Force One take an unannounced visit to U.S. troops to present them with a turkey for Thanksgiving. The turkey was actually fake (something made for press photos) and the trip was a diversion from Bush's visit to Europe. As a result, the entire White House press corps (accompanying Bush on the plane) covered the surprise visit to Iraq, and nothing was said or even noticed about the British leaving the war.

Republicans are really good at this—and so is Trump. There is only so much shelf space for stories in the media, and if you give the press something to distract them they will run to it, and not cover something else that might actually be important. So we conjure Hannibal Lecter, not Trump's offer to oil industry executives to give them tax breaks and no regulation in exchange for a campaign contribution of $1 billion (for example).

No one can be sure what Trump's real reason was to go off on an out of the blue riff on Hannibal Lecter, but it was probably something that could have hurt him politically. And getting the media to jump on the riff, limits their ability to do cover other subjects. That is a win for Trump. And we think he is stupid!

M.H. in Santa Monica, CA, writes: You made an uncharacteristic error when responding to a reader's question about Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) as a potential running mate for the Orange Man. You wrote: "First, you have to live in the state you represent in the Senate. So, if Rubio establishes residency elsewhere, he would have to resign his seat, and he could not un-resign later."

That is incorrect. A senator, after election, can move away to another state and only has to come back in time for any re-election campaign.

Rubio is thus free to move to Georgia or Nevada next week without giving up his U.S. Senate seat and can come back to Florida later on if he and Trump were to lose the November election as a ticket.

(V) & (Z) respond: You are right. We stand corrected.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: Reading the comment from S.B. in Winslow ending with Shakespeare's, "A tale told by an idiot...," I realized that phrase describes anything and everything that Donald Trump says.

The Bard sees all, knows all.

Politics: The Middle East

S.K. in Bethesda, MD, writes: When I read the comment from A.T. in Oviedo, about being willing to consider holding their nose and voting for Biden if he can get a two-state solution in place in the Middle East in next couple of weeks, I wondered if it was tongue-in-cheek. But, even if it was meant sarcastically, I do think that this view is representative of a population of people who have paid little attention to the region until recent events and now consider themselves experts qualified to judge Biden's actions. The fact is that people (including leaders in the region, the U.S., Europe and elsewhere) have been trying to arrive at a two-state solution for well over a century—so demanding one in the next 2 weeks, or months, or even years is not serious.

Getting to a two-state solution requires several conditions to be in place simultaneously that have thus far never occurred at once. The most important are that there need to be leaders of Israel (or the Jewish residents of the area prior to the creation of Israel in 1948) and of the Palestinian people (or whatever they were called at the time in question) who are open to the idea, able to commit their groups and willing to stake their careers (and lives) on its pursuit. Similarly, the people themselves have to be open to the idea. And realistically, the U.S. and at least several Middle Eastern regional powers need to be willing to commit the resources and political capital to provide for security to the participants. Right now, this last condition is met—possibly better than ever before in history. The U.S. and regional powers (aside from Iran, of course) are aligned. And in my inexpert view—based on what I've read from knowledgeable commentators, it seems that the Palestinian people are at least open to the idea.

But at this moment, neither Israel nor the Palestinians have the leadership to make it happen, and a traumatized Israeli public has moved away from being open to living next to a Palestinian state. Solving these three pieces of the puzzle will require replacing Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, finding a leader for the Palestinians who can commit them to a path forward as a people, and returning the hostages and restoring some sense of security to the Israeli population (like it or not, Israel exists and is a democracy—until the people there can get past the hostage situation and feel safer, they will support leaders who prioritize these things above all else). None of this is likely to happen quickly. And it is unlikely to happen at all if Donald Trump is the next U.S. president. If you want peace and a two-state solution, for now Biden is an essential part of getting there, because he is trying to balance all of the competing interests in the hopes of achieving the necessary conditions. His defeat would move things backwards—for a lot longer than 2 weeks.

D.L.-O. in North Canaan, CT, writes: I am a non-practicing Jew. I do not have the deep (sometimes even fanatical) connection to Israel that many American Jews do. I believe in the rights of both the Jewish State and the Palestinians to occupy their own territory and live in peace next to each other. My understanding is that Hamas does not share this belief.

A.T. in Oviedo wrote:

Joe Biden blocking arms to Israel is a start; keep going towards a permanent ceasefire, getting rid of Israeli settlements and a true two-state solution (with a fully independent Palestine), and maybe he might win my vote back... no promises, but I'm a fair man, I'd be willing to consider holding my nose and voting for him if he can do this in the next few weeks.

It appears that A.T. in Oviedo is delusional and tragically confused about the role of Joe Biden in world politics. First and foremost, Joe Biden is President of the United States... that is, the country both A.T. and I live in and in whose elections we have a vote. What Joe Biden is NOT is President of Israel. He has some limited influence on the real leader of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, which he is trying to wield in such a way as to nudge, nudge and further nudge Netanyahu into a corner and toward some sort of settlement agreement with Hamas that will allow the Palestinians to live in Gaza peacefully and, hopefully, NOT be subject to incursions by Hamas OR Israel. The Palestinians, as a people, I'm pretty sure, would welcome a ceasefire and a safe and spacious piece of land to resettle and rebuild some semblance of a life. Hamas, on the other hand, as has been pointed out by other posters on repeatedly, is a terrorist organization that has little, if any, incentive at this point to agree to a ceasefire or, in fact, to negotiate at all with Israel or the United States.

Further, I have to point out that a number of U.S. presidents and other diplomats have repeatedly over the years since 1947 attempted to broker a "two-state solution." All of them, I guarantee you, tried for a lot longer than 2 weeks, and all have, so far, failed miserably. Look here for lots more details.

If you are really determined to waste your one precious vote in the upcoming election by withholding it and pouting about how Joe Biden isn't following your directions on negotiations with Israel and Hamas, by all means do so. Then if Donald Trump gets elected President, you can feel vindicated that you played your part in electing a U.S. president who rants incoherently to no effect, pouts when he doesn't get his way immediately and has less than a thimbleful of true intellect or honor.

D.M. in McLean, VA, writes: To J.A. in Hell's Kitchen, who wondered, "What the f**k is with these 18-34 year olds [who support Donald Trump because of the Middle East]?," all I can say is "bravo."

You pretty much perfectly captured the issue with the upcoming election. Just being angry doesn't fix anything and not supporting the least bad candidate is supporting the most bad. Like it or not, we have a binary choice. Someday, in a better world where ranked choice voting is used at all levels, we may have non-binary choices. That day is not today.

This is coming from a Gen X-er who is well outside of the 13-34 cohort.

E.J. in Jacksonville, OR, writes: S.P. in Harrisburg asked: "What is the fundamental reason for the college student support for the Palestinians? How is that issue so significant that it is driving the demonstrations that have been occurring recently?"

Ok, I'll take a stab at this one. As a student at UCLA from 1998-2002, I can speak to this with some first-hand experience. First, I would say that part of the (ahem) "liberal" college experience is about going out into the world and attaining knowledge for oneself. You are no longer relying on what your parents told you, what your teachers told you, what the government tells you, or what the mainstream media is telling you. UCLA has over 33,000 undergrads, and another 13,000+ grad students, so you're going to be exposed to some new ideas eventually. And part of the college experience is being open to those ideas. I think this is just an important backdrop to understand people at this stage of their lives...

In my sophomore year, I had a roommate from India. He was naturally very pro-Hindu, anti-Muslim, but he was also anti-Gandhi, which was a trip! He shared his reasonings, some of which were a little hard to swallow, but I wasn't in a position to counter-argue. Now, for those who don't know, "Bruin Walk" is kind of the main artery through campus, where many student groups set up tables and recruit. One day, I stop and chatted with the Muslim Students Association, or whatever comparable organization it was, and have a very conversation about the merits of what I was hearing from my roommate. I definitely received information and perspectives that I was not privy to beforehand, and I would say are actually difficult to attain in American society. It makes you question what you think you really "know" about a subject.

Now, I would argue that information obtained in this manner is somewhat akin to conspiracy theories. You gain knowledge that is outside what your parents and the government wants you to hear, and you feel special and enlightened, having attained it. It sucks you in, and you begin to distrust "the authorities" on any particular subject. Also, there is a David vs. Goliath aspect to the Palestinian issue, and students are more apt to side with David. They too do not possess resources to overcome the dominant regime, and naturally are sympathetic to those who seem oppressed. It's fairly similar to the "Free Mumia" movement from back then as well.

I would like to state for the record, that I'm not trying to "take a side" on the Palestinian issue. I'm merely answering the question: Why do college students tend to support the Palestinian cause? Having walked the (Bruin) walk myself, if I've taken away anything, it is that this issue is not solvable, because when you engage either side, if you ask them "Why does your side do X?" they will engage in 'whataboutism,' and counter with "Well, why does their side do Y??" Both sides provoke each other, and neither takes responsibility for their shortcomings. But the reason students may be sympathetic to the Palestinian cause is because they are learning a more complete history of the region from unconventional means, and there is a natural inclination to take the side of the underdog. Institutional racism, and many other causes are just as popular on campuses, for essentially the same reasons.

R.H., formerly of Santa Ana, now of San Antonio, TX (bluing Texas one California transplant at a time!), writes:

Bill Maher made a point on Friday when he compared the total number of U.S. college students (~19.5M) with the total number of arrests (~2300, of whom many are not college students).

His point being that this is not the mass student uprising it's playing out as on TV.

B.J.L. in Ann Arbor, MI, writes: We just heard that our president here at the University of Michigan was "invited" to go to Washington to explain accountability linked to antisemitism on campus.

It strikes me that Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) seems to have no idea how the average university operates. It's fine to ask the president about his or her views on all of this, but operationally, provosts seem to be in charge of the details linked to exercising free speech, determining what crosses the line, etc. Most presidents I am aware of are outwardly focused, looking for donors, alumni engagement etc. The provost is the chief academic officer and why this subcommittee isn't asking questions of the right people seems to get to the general ignorance of congressional people, at least the idiots looking to make hay.

I think Stefanik got lucky pinging such dreadful public speakers among the choices that were initially soliciited. It's surprising how they made it to those coveted ivies, etc. I suspect the next batch of volunteers run through the ringer are going to be a lot smarter.

M.M. in San Jose, CA, writes: When the U.S. withdrew from Afghanistan, I was struck by parallels with the war in Vietnam:

  • We weren't asked to be there. We barged in to impose our ideology on them.

  • We were welcome only as long as we poured large amounts of money into the country, mostly to the corrupt government.

  • Governments changed regularly and not peacefully. Everyone wanted the graft.

  • There were no clear geographic territorial boundaries (the North/South Vietnam designation was never used and the war was fought almost entirely in South Vietnam, though the Ho Chi Minh Trail went through Laos and Cambodia)

  • When we left, it was in a hurry. The last aircraft to leave had people hanging on the outside.

  • And of course, no buy in from Americans, beyond simple patriotism.

I am wondering whether we will look back on Gaza as round three of this playbook.

Politics: Trump Legal

R.G. in Dallas, TX, writes: I would add a couple of points to the helpful comments from A.R. in Los Angeles about Donald Trump's criminal fraud trial.

First, many pundits have fallen into the trap of assessing whether Stormy Daniels' testimony is truthful and then retreating to the even-if argument that the encounter itself is legally irrelevant. I think the prosecutors have something else in mind for closing. I think they will tell the jury to tune out whether Daniels was honest or lying, and to focus instead on whether she was sensational, lurid, and insulting. Trump wasn't paying to silence truth, but distraction. Prosecutors might say, "Spend just 10 minutes in the jury room politely discussing whether Stormy was honest about the color of the bathroom tiles and the Pert Plus and blacking out and whether she was grifting for money... and when that discussion turns vigorous and you realize it's still happening 45 minutes later—that's what candidate Trump paid $130,000 under the table to bury. The truth didn't matter. He paid to maintain his grip on the voters' conversations."

Second, I believe the toxic aspect of Daniels' testimony is the blackout and the power imbalance. Trump was invulnerable to adultery stories, even gross ones. One can argue they bolstered his allure. But after the Access Hollywood tape, he was vulnerable to "they let you do it" and "I can't help myself." Daniels didn't need to accuse Trump of rape—the media would have.

N.A. in Asheboro, NC, writes: M.J. in Granger inspired me to send in another George Bluth quote Donald Trump might consider using: "I got the worst fu**ing attorneys."

A.D.S. in Calgary, AB, Canada, writes: When the Republicans show up and comment at Donald Trump's trial, they are "playing into" the Democrats' narrative that they (the Republicans) are toadies, disgraceful, anti-democratic, destructive to the judicial system and, as D.R. in Phoenix adds, pitiful, weird and corrupt.

And this does not make one damned bit of difference to the Republicans' popularity, chance of getting elected, general support, their pocketbooks or their potential to scam the voter.

So tell me again what the Democrats are achieving by not touching this with a 10-foot pole? Because it seems to me they ought to know by now that they have the power to stand up, take heat, repeat what they believe in a loud, resounding voice, and if the heavens fall because justice is served, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. Instead, they're cowering in their little corners because a bunch of "corrupt" politicians are claiming Joe Biden's responsible.

Were I Biden, I'd be on the TV every damned day, calling out every corrupt Republican by name, one after another, using as source material.

L.S. in Queens, NY, writes: In response to T.R. in Vancouver, who asked "Why isn't the Biden campaign putting the E. Jean Carroll verdict front and center?", I know what may be said.

On another website, I mentioned that 26 woman have accused Donald Trump of sexual assault. The response was: "But what about Tara Reade. Biden was not charged for Tara Reade. Why are you ignoring Tara Reade? That [insults and expletives] Biden gets away with what he did to Tara Reade!"

Joe Biden is better off letting The Lincoln Project handle it.

Politics: The Supreme Court

D.E. in Atlanta, GA, writes: Please excuse me if this sounds like a rant, but I guess it is.

We hear a lot of male politicians speaking and acting tough in our current political climate. They talk tough about immigrants, the dreaded woke, abortion, how America's god(s)-granted unipolar power has dwindled, etc.

And yet, whenever these same tough male politicians are caught doing something corrupt, they inevitably blame their wives or their children. Associate Justice Samuel Alito blames his wife for flying a flag that sided with a group of terrorists that attacked the Capitol, Sen. Bob Menendez's (D-NJ) reported defense will include blaming his wife for the couple's preference for Egyptian and Qatari gold bars, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) blamed his children for their unscheduled vacation to Mexico during the Texas power outage (the image of that dog will forever be burned in my retinas), etc.

I know this isn't breaking news because after I started writing this, I found that CNN and The New York Times ran similar articles.

That said, I think it bears repeating that whenever you hear/read a tough guy politician detailing (often incoherently) how awful America is and then they get caught being corrupt, the finger is almost always pointed at their loved(?) ones.

Maybe it is because I am married and have children and pets, but this really digs at me. I guess Gandhi had it right with, "A coward is incapable of exhibiting love; it is the prerogative of the brave."

R.H. in San Antonio, TX, writes: It's not a bit surprising to me that those solons who claim to be able to discern the original intent of the long-dead always seem to find that those dead guys agreed with those solons.

Not a bit.

Politics: Polling

W.S. in Austin, TX, writes: You wrote: "It would be nice to know which categories the majority are in; if a big chunk of them are in the 'hold my nose and vote for Biden' category, that would be a big deal."

In Ohio, at least: "Eight in 10 [Haley voters] said they wouldn't vote for [Trump] in the general election, with 47% preferring Biden and 32% saying they wouldn't vote for either candidate."

I would call 47% a big chunk.

This is, of course, only an exit poll of one state, and it's impossible to know whether it's a flash in the pan in either a geographical sense (unreflected across all other states) or chronological sense (unreflected in future general election votes).

Even so, the broad determination and ideological consistency of Haley voters across the Republican primaries has been obvious.

They are still, a month later, taking time out of their days to vote against Trump and for a candidate whose campaign, they know, died on the operating table two months ago.

If I were Trump, my first thought would be to find a way to appeal to her voters. Since Trump is Trump, his first thought is that Judge Juan Merchan is corrupt and biased.

J.E in Brooklyn, NY, writes: Your piece "Who's Gonna Win This Thing?, Part III: A Poll Gone Mad" struck a personal chord. My father emigrated to the U.S. from Scotland when he was 12 years old, after his home was bombed in World War II. He earned an MA in mathematics from Fordham, went on to work for Union Carbide, IBM, Wall Street. He was a smart guy.

Had you asked him whether "Joe Biden or Donald Trump would do more in a second term to weaken democracy?", he would have answered your question before you'd have even finished it: "Biden."

My mother was a psychiatric nurse for 30 years. She went to her grave claiming Biden stole the election.

Both my parents were socially conservative. Despite intelligence and life experience, their vulnerability to right-wing propaganda left them unable to think critically about politics (and hard to talk with). "Nancy Pelosi oughta be shot" was a common refrain. Basically, all the tropes you hear on Fox and elsewhere. I have two sisters and a brother who are the same.

I have personally become obsessed by the interface of confirmation bias and modern media technology and am convinced that while we are all vulnerable to some extent, conservatives are disproportionately vulnerable to a degree by which entire economies have been constructed just to exploit this defect of the conservative psyche. Whether it's conservative talk radio, Fox, or social media, these people are, to be blunt, disproportionately easily manipulated as compared to the general public. I sometimes hear journalists and other commentators touch on this point, but never deeply. Whereas I feel like it's so obvious that it's practically a unified theory.

I try to be as objective as possible and avoid partisan logic. But when it comes to the ability of the media to manipulate segments of the population, there's simply no corollary to scale on the left or anywhere else. Modern algorithmic media technology has disproportionately overwhelmed conservatives' cognitive ability to think critically and detect when they're being manipulated (or even care for that matter).

In my opinion, this accounts for much of the polarization in this country. I'm thinking about climate change and social justice. My brother's thinking about trans athletes and green M&Ms and George Soros (and... and... and...).

J.S. in Orlando, FL, writes: Regarding "Who's Gonna Win This Thing?, Part III: A Poll Gone Mad":

In my opinion, your list of ostensible theories excluded one very salient possiblity: the fact that a huge segment of the electorate is incredibly stupid, programmed by right-wing media, entirely unaware of what's going on, or some combination of the preceding three possibilities.

R.G. in Dallas, TX, writes: Regarding the NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll about who will "weaken democracy," I would offer two other possible confounding factors in the language itself:

  1. The Fox and right-wing propaganda machine has worked hard to associate "weak" with Biden and "strong" with Trump. My teenager—a quintessential low-information (non)voter—has started to parrot some of this, picked up from his friends. All he knows is that Biden is a doddering old fool and Trump scowls vigorously. Further, Biden's policies are more nuanced. Nuance always seems "weak" next to the china shop bull, even if nuance is more effective.

  2. I submit many Americans associate "democracy" with "America" so strongly that they may parse a question about weakening democracy as a question about weakening America. If a respondent feels America is on the wrong track, that respondent may feel Biden is weakening democracy. It might be interesting to see a pollster break down "democracy" into its elements and ask about them.

T.T. in Seattle, WA, writes: Your site is a poll-tracking site, so you obviously value the idea of polling, focusing on who does a better job, what the best polls have to say, etc. But lately, you have also been increasingly noting that something is wrong with the polls. The recent "Who's Gonna Win This Thing?, Part III: A Poll Gone Mad" hypothesized half a dozen reasons why the poll in question might be biased in Trump's favor. But I'd like to suggest that ALL telephone polls of this particular election are strongly biased in Trump's favor for very obvious reasons that you don't seem to have considered.

The problem with current telephone polls is that they do not actually reach a representative sample of the electorate. Roughly 1 in 20 people responds to a telephone poll, and the people who do respond fall into one of two groups: Group A consisting of people who want to talk to a pollster about the election, and Group B consisting of people who are willing to talk to a pollster even if they don't particularly want to.

Group A includes a very large subgroup of people who want to talk to the pollster because they are upset about something. This group tends to be strongly anti-incumbent since the current administration generally gets blamed for everything that is currently happening. Historically, Group B has tended to be relatively unbiased relative to the candidates, but this year it is not for reasons that are somewhat subtle but not hard to understand. Fraud and identity theft have been doubling in frequency roughly every few years for the last couple of decades. It has gotten to the point that almost everyone is far more likely to be contacted by a stranger who is trying to steal their money than by a pollster who is trying to get their opinion. You yourselves have indicated in recent writings that you would be unwilling to talk to a pollster. Certainly, I would be unwilling to talk to a pollster. Nowadays, most intelligent, educated, and/or cautious people would avoid talking to a stranger on the telephone who is trying to ply them for information. Any other policy is dangerous. Consequently, Group B now tends to consist of people who are less intelligent, less educated, less careful, and possibly have less to lose than the population as a whole. I think never in the history of polling has this set of characteristics correlated more strongly with choosing one candidate over the other than in our current election. Clearly Group B is also biased in Trump's favor.

The above pro-Trump bias is a major problem for any telephone poll. It is impossible to correct for using the usual statistical techniques of stratification, etc., because ALL people who are reached are biased by the above reasons regardless of their party, their wealth, or other characteristics. Polls are simply reaching a strongly pro-Trump subset of the electorate and there is no way to know what the rest of the electorate is thinking from such polls. For many months, the media has been proclaiming, "if the election were held today, Trump would almost certainly win...", which is complete garbage. Ever since the midterm elections, I have believed, and continue to believe, if the election were held "today," Biden would beat Trump. There are at least a half dozen reasons Trump is going to do worse in 2024 than in 2020, and the only "compelling" reason cited for why Trump will win is all of these telephone polls which I believe are worse than useless. As the election gets closer, maybe the polls will tighten since maybe Group A will grow in size to include more people who want to voice support for their candidate. But Group B will continue to be strongly pro-Trump right to the end, so I don't expect that even the final pre-election polls will be very accurate this year.

B.K. in Dallas, TX, writes: My comment on the polls is that... I don't participate in polls. Someone calls and I don't recognize the number, I don't answer. I get e-mails from people (who want money), that I don't respond to.

I suspect that there are many people like me who already know who they are going to vote for and don't feel a need to advertise. They keep asking the same questions over and over...

We are suspicious of people who contact us out of the blue.

I hope the polls are wrong about it being close. I hope that the pro-abortion, anti-Trump, etc. people will show up at the polls, with a new blue wave.

M.H. in Normandy Park, WA, writes: You are most likely aware of this, but there was an interesting segment this week on Morning Joe where they discussed the latest New York Times polling. Joe Scarborough makes a great argument about the polls being used as "clickbait" by being amplified in the press. The biggest culprit he is calling out here is the Times, and the ultimate effect of skewed, hyped-up polls is that they warp reality, all in the name of clickbait...

The entire clip is informative, but the most salient points are made at about 6:30 into the video.

T.S. in Monmouth, IL, writes: Just came across this dad joke on Facebook and thought you would enjoy it: "I recently took a pole. It turns out that 100% of the people in the tent were angry when it collapsed."

Politics: Allan Lichtman

A.S.W. in Melrose, MA, writes: I'm not a big fan of tea-reading systems like Allan Lichtman's, either, but I do think he's got a couple more factors in his favor than you mentioned. First, his one "loss" in the last 40 years was Al Gore, who as we all know won the popular vote and might well have won the Electoral College without the Supreme Court's fingers on the scale. That may still not be as impressive as it sounds, but it's not bad.

Secondly, while his "keys" are all very squishy and subjective (as you noted), they do identify some very important components of the narratives that drive candidates to victory or defeat. I wonder if he could make it more rigorous by doing a national poll of Americans' opinions on those specific topics. I'm not sure you'd even have to distinguish voters from nonvoters in that case; just assessing the national zeitgeist in those areas might be enough.

R.C. in Iowa City, IA, writes: It seems unfair that Allan Lichtman's model should be maligned with a 90% success rate when it's really 100%: either 9/9 or 10/10, depending on how you treat the 2000 election. It's 9/9 if you throw out the 2000 election as an anomaly, since no model could have predicted that the U.S. Supreme Court would take the unprecedented step of stealing the election. It's 10/10 if you look at the actual number of ballots cast in Florida for Bush and Gore, since later recounts show that Gore would have won Florida if every vote had been counted. Presumably Lichtman's model is intended to predict actual voter behavior, not SCOTUS machinations, so 2000 could justifiably be counted as a Gore win (and thus a successful prediction for Lichtman) based on actual ballots cast. Whatever you might think about the subjectivity of Lichtman's categories, or the largely foregone conclusions of several of the elections, you have to admit it's hard to beat a 100% success rate.

H.G. in Ashburn, VA, writes: Having been a student of Allan Lichtman at American University (class of '97) in two of his classes, including about the Presidency and 20th Century America, I can tell you that he would continually reference that the keys apply to the popular-vote winner and not on the EV vote—basically, a win is a win. He would claim using the EV vote is misleading since EV votes are winner-take-all. He also readily acknowledges that some of the keys are indeed subjective but he likes to refer to other events to explain why. The social unrest key is one; If you e-mail him I am sure he would be very willing to have a chat with you in regards to this. One thing that hasn't changed is that he never turns away an interview to talk about the keys.

(V) & (Z) respond: And yet, it is constantly noted that he "predicted Donald Trump's victory in 2016," which was an electoral-vote victory, and not a popular-vote victory.

Politics: Medical Matters

J.R.S. in Hanover, MD, writes: You wrote: " sure would be nice if candidates were required to submit complete medical records in order to be eligible for federal office."

Oh, no. You've been covering the fallout from the Dobbs decision pretty intelligently; please open your eyes to how this kind of requirement would immediately cross into the same ugly territory: harassment, civil or criminal cases, rape threats, death threats. Maybe in an ideal world we'd deserve to know if old dudes have still got it, but in this world it's a box we'd do better not to open.

W.F. in Charleston, SC, writes: You questioned the taste of people making jokes about Robert F. Kennedy Jr.'s troubles with a brain-eating worm. You caution that people with brain worms would not like their illness made the butt of jokes. Surely, you jest.

Derision, unlike horse dewormer used as an antiviral, is good medicine. For example, the Republican "family values" members of Congress who've been outed for paying for their girlfriends' abortions haven't been victims of the pro-life movement. There are plenty of victims, but not these. There's no need to paint them or Kennedy as having been insensitively treated by mean-hearted bigots. They haven't been. They've been hoisted on their own petards.

No one I've heard laughing about Kennedy's condition (I've done it myself) has been making fun of other people with brain parasites. We are making fun of KENNEDY, the prophet of deworming agent, having a worm in his head.

Kennedy, the ardent anti-vaxxer, misled untold numbers of gullible people into doubting both vaccines and the science behind them, even to the point of touting phony COVID cures, like using horse dewormer as an antiviral. Kennedy himself is a poster child for using anti-parasitic medicines—at least those meant for human consumption—for their intended use. That irony is well-worth shoving up his bleach port.

Now Kennedy's running, unreformed, for president. His running mate openly says that the purpose of her campaign is to peel voters away from Biden in order to help Trump—the wannabe authoritarian, bulls**t artist, and conspiracist-in-chief—be elected. The jackbooted thugs and kleptocrats, who are among Trump's most welcomed supporters, are happy with the swing-state polls and are waiting in the wings. This is not a time to equivocate or play nice. So, if well-earned derision cuts Kennedy off at the knees, so be it.

Keep on joking (often quite well) yourselves. It underscores your points and makes the depressing slog of political writing more readable. For my part, I never imagined a group of brain-parasite victims who've been set on edge by the jokes that Kennedy brought down on himself. Maybe such people exist, and if they do, I hope they recover and thrive. But every political joke will offend someone, hopefully thin-skinned people who actually need it rather than innocent ones. There is no reasonable doubt that Kennedy made himself a legitimate target here.

Politics: Still in the Doghouse

S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: Hot take on Gov. Kristi Noem (R-SD)/Puppygate: Accepting the explanation from M.O. in Arlington regarding treatment of dogs on farms, this is a microcosm of urban Americans' disdain for the way rural Americans live. The divide is real.

S.B. in Hood River, OR, writes: I need to push back on what M.O. in Arlington wrote to rationalize Kristi Noem's actions. I am not a farmer, it is true. But we have raised chickens and other poultry for almost 30 years now. And we have always owned dogs, anywhere from two to four at a time. I can state from personal experience that "...once a dog started attacking the chickens, there was no return" is demonstrably false. A few of our dogs have killed chickens. We have always successfully broken them of the habit. It takes more effort than shooting the dog in the head, but if you don't view the dog as disposable, then it is worth the effort. This is not obscure knowledge. I can find resources on training going back to the timeframe Noem shot Cricket. There are many other examples available. Noem just didn't care enough. Also, contrary to M.O.'s assertion, this was not some cold, rational decision on Noem's part. Everything that happened on that day was her fault, and was done in rage, as this article explains. It is worth quoting the section where Noem herself describes the reaction to what she did:

Later that evening, my uncle, who was the general contractor building our house, called me and said, "What got into you today?"

"Nothing," I responded. "Why?"

"Well, the guys said you came barreling into the yard with your truck, slammed the door, and took a gun and a dog over the hill, out of sight. They heard one shot and you came back without the dog. Then you grabbed the goat and headed back up over the hill. They heard another shot, you came back, slammed the pickup door, went back. Then they heard another shot and then you came back without the goat. They said they hurried back to work before you decided they were next!"

There have been plenty of negative reactions by farmers, including in South Dakota.

Stating that "it was always done this way" does not in any way mitigate cruel behavior, especially when said behavior is the result of the personal failings of the person responsible.

L.S.-H. in Naarden, The Netherlands, writes: I can understand where M.O. in Arlington is coming from, in relation to shooting a farm animal that has "gone rogue"—i.e., has attacked farm animals that are raised for food.

When I was growing up in a small town in New Hampshire, my father (who had been a hunter since he was a teenager) kept pigs for a few years. My father first hunted beavers, whose pelts he sold to be able to purchase his high school graduation gown, and later hunted deer during the annual (regulated) deer season to help put food on the table. (By the way, when my older brother wanted to get a hunting license, he had to first attend NRA hunter/gun education—the only thing they are/were good for in my opinion, but I digress.)

The first year, we lost our two piglets due to the doberman pinschers of a resident far across town. Seriously, up a huge hill to the center and then down a long winding road to our house. Dogs can apparently smell pigs from miles away. All that grain and good care for nothing. The next year we again bought two piglets, but this time my father covered the open top of the pigpen with wire mesh.

One Saturday morning at the breakfast table, we all heard the pigs squealing in distress. My father didn't hesitate: he grabbed his shotgun and ran to the pigpen. There he found one doberman trying to get under the metal mesh (and was partially successful). Dad fired one shot in the air. One doberman ran off but the one on top of the pen persisted, so my father shot it. He then called the dogs' owner, who promptly arrived and understood: You have to be able to protect your property.

All of this is to say that I understand that a rogue dog must be put down. But, if you have the funds, you can do that in the most humane way possible. I'm sure Kristi Noem could have afforded to have a vet put her dog to sleep. But I guess compassion is no longer part of being a conservative.

L.D. in Petaluma, CA, writes: We've often wondered, and as it turns out, thanks to Kristi Noem: Killing puppies is a line too far for most Republicans.

Politics: Democracy Dies in Darkness?

B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes: On Wednesday, May 14, I went to the website of The Washington Post, that great bulwark of the liberal media, and was greeted with these headlines (to which I have added commentary):

  • "Biden advances $1 billion in arms for Israel amid Rafah tensions" [Subtext: Biden cannot win on this issue; he's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't.]

  • "E.U. condemns operation as Israeli forces push deeper into Rafah" [Subtext: Our allies don't support Biden's approach.]

  • "The GOP's chances at winning the Senate just skyrocketed" [Because Senator Joe Manchin, D-WV, will be replaced by a Republican. But: (1) We already knew that; (2) That's one seat, not a skyrocket; (3) The loss of Manchin isn't going to break Democratic senatorss hearts; (4) If you read far enough into the article, there is a much more sober analysis of this year's Senate race that is not implied in the headline. readers already know all this.]

  • "How in the world is Trump's trial not hurting him?" [Return to our daily theme of Nothing hurts Trump/Nothing helps Biden.]

  • "Biden's false claim that inflation was 9 percent when he took office" [4 Pinocchios for Biden. But if you read the article, inflation did hit 9%, and the author states that no matter who took office in January 2021, he would have faced 9% inflation, and that Biden has gotten control of that inflation.]

  • "Trump gets $1 million from Silicon Valley donor who once gave to Democrats" [Subtext: Democratic donors are collapsing and running to Trump.]

  • "Today's Opinions: Trump is now the favorite. But what if Democrats sweep?" [Subtext: Trump is winning, winning, winning. But what if he's not? What if the Dems win the trifecta?!? If you read the article, the person who is suggesting the Dems could win turns out to be right-wingnut Ramesh Pannuru, who is not the most reliable guide to reality.]

  • "Cohen during tense cross-examination: 'Yes, I would like to see' Trump convicted" [Subtext: Cohen is a biased, untrustworthy witness. No wonder members of Congress are rushing to Trump's defense!]

  • "Biden's extremely big bet" [Subtext: The only way that Biden wins this is by a big, risky gamble, because he's clearly losing it right now.]

  • "With Trump's political luck on the rise, 2024 could be a repeat of 2016" [No need for subtext here! If you haven't been reading between the lines, or you came in late, or maybe you're just a little slow, here it is: Biden is a loser. Everything is rolling Trump's way.]

  • "Americans must prepare for another round of election denial" [Subtext: Even if Biden could win, he won't.]

  • "Republicans flock to court to 'kiss the ring' during Trump criminal trial" [Subtext: The Republicans support their guy. The Dems just grudgingly support their guy, with reservations. The enthusiasm is clearly with Trump. (Though frankly, it looked like a pretty small GOP flock to me.)]

  • "Biden nearly died after misdiagnosis decades ago. His surgeon recounts saving his life." [Rather an odd and random thing to be reporting right now. Subtext: This guy could flop over dead at any minute. I mean, he's nearly done it before decades ago.]

  • "Fact check: Did Obamacare 'massively' increase the cost of health care?" [When you read deep into the article, no. But if you're just reading headlines... Subtext: Even if you lean Biden, you better keep a close eye on those Democrats. They'll launch expensive programs (rather than cutting taxes without cutting expenses).]

Yes, I cherry-picked those fourteen headlines; I didn't include, for example, all the advice columnists, or the yacht-attacking Orcas, or the feuding rappers. But there on the main page were 14 headlines with a Trump-is-winning/Biden-is-losing vibe.

After reading the headlines, I thought, "Why continue with the anguish and expense of an election? Why not just swear Trump in now and save ourselves a lot of trouble?"

Sure enough, the next day, I opened the Post to see the headline: "Navigating the path of presidential transitions"

Apparently, they had already come to the same conclusion, and had already decided that now is the time to start talking about the transition from the current president to the next (since the outcome is pretty clear already).

I read the article. The main idea was: "Despite all of these efforts to streamline the process, politics can still upset it. After candidate Donald Trump appointed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in 2016 to chair his transition team, Trump replaced him with Vice President-elect Mike Pence just days after the election. In 2020, Democratic candidate Joe Biden tapped former senator Ted Kaufman (D-DE), who wrote the 2010 amendment to the transition law, to lead his transition team but a contested election and an attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, delayed the transition yet again."

No Trump agency or responsibility. No explanation of the Obama-to-Trump transition in which Trump refused to let his people work with the outgoing administration, or the Trump-Biden transition in which Team Trump as actively working to prevent transition, to hold on to the White House by any means, and in which, in the end, the President simply decamped from the Office of the President to Mar-a-Lago.

I don't know what to make of all this. Maybe I'm cutting out headlines, pinning them to the wall, and connecting them with red yarn. Maybe I'm the one who's crazy.

Meanwhile, I went over to The Righting, the web site that collects headlines from right-leaning publications. I didn't stay long. I hit the eject button and landed safely. But I learned one thing: If I am crazy, scanning headlines on The Righting explains clearly why I'm still an outpatient crazy person.

All Politics Is Local

C.B. in Joppa, MD, writes: In your write-up of the Maryland election results, you noted shock and surprise about Robin Ficker's (R) performance vs. Larry Hogan (R). I think, given some more localized information, it may not be as surprising. For background, I am a Never Trump Republican in Maryland. I refused to vote for him in 2016 primary as I didn't think he was a serious candidate and wasn't impressed with him leading up to the general. I was going to hold my nose and vote for Hillary Clinton, whom I found condescending, until the James Comey announcement. I thus voted third-party. In 2020, I voted for Joe Biden as I viewed Trump as corrupt and a failure with COVID. Meanwhile, I viewed Hogan as a strong leader as governor. After 1/6, I vowed to stop supporting Republicans who support Trump and his fascist policies. So I was part of the 20% that voted for Nikki Haley.

I am an engaged voter who reads the news. That said, I didn't check out my ballot beyond U.S. House, as I needed to determine who to vote for since Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) is an ardent Trump Supporter. Turning to our U.S. Senate race, Larry Hogan, who has a huge social media presence, went on a tour meeting with voters and everyone knew who he was and that he was running. I was aware that Robin Ficker was running, since I once donated $10 to Ron Paul and got on every mailing and phone list. Robin Ficker bombarded my phone with text messages 2-3 times daily for a month. In them, he outlined he was for "secure borders, safe streets, stop the flow of fentanyl, Pro-Trump conservative, supports law enforcement, against the corrupt Biden DOJ, supports the Jan. 6 hostages..." Essentially, his texts echoed whatever came out of Trump's mouth on a given day.

It is not a secret that Larry Hogan is done with Trump. That said, there is sizable portion of the Maryland GOP that is in the punch-drunk-on-Trump faction that in 2022 they managed to nominate an insane candidate for Governor in Dan Cox (R). This faction even regularly comments on Hogan's Facebook page about him not being a Real republican and other such vitriol. In other words: "If you don't support Trump, we won't vote for you."

Going into the voting booth, I expected to have 2-3 candidates for U.S. Senate. Imagine my surprise when I saw seven candidates and only knew two. I knew I was voting for Hogan and Haley. But the only Trump choice that most Maryland Republicans knew was Ficker, and given Hogan's anti-Trump stance, Ficker was the choice of the Trumpanzees. He fed them a constant barrage of red meat and his hope was the same people who propelled Dan Cox to the GOP nomination for governor would do the same for him. The difference in 2 years was that Maryland local offices were all up in 2022, while in 2024 the only real GOP competitive race of interest was Dan Cox and Neal Parrot running to replace David Trone. The low-information and low-motivation Trumpanzees had no interest in showing up in droves outside of Western Maryland.

So, one weakness Larry Hogan will have is that this portion of the base hates him enough not to show up in November and or just to vote for Trump and not him in November. They are Larry Hogan's version of the Nikki Haley voters. This week's votes predominately come from the 3rd and 6th congressional districts. While I like Larry Hogan and think he is great, given the Trump factor of the current GOP, I am loath to turn the U.S. Senate over to the National GOP with Trump in the picture still. This ultimately means Larry Hogan has two blocs of voters he relied on before that may not be there come November.

J.M. in Silver Spring, MD, writes: You mentioned (former) Republican Senate candidate Robin Ficker. I can tell you a bit more about him. In addition to being a perennial candidate, he is a huge real estate magnate (sound familiar?) in Montgomery County, MD (where I live). He has rarely succeeded in his runs at elected office but, after trying for decades, he sadly managed to get a county charter amendment passed that hamstrings the county with respect to raising property taxes (its primary source of revenue). He's one of the greediest and nastiest fellows you can imagine. Right up there with TFG. I would have loved to see him win the GOP nomination for the Senate. It would assure a Democratic victory.

S.R. in Ottawa, ON, Canada, writes: The ongoing saga of Ohio Republicans trying to keep President Biden off the ballot there has another dimension I haven't seen anyone mention yet. Of course, Biden CAN win Ohio, even if it doesn't look too likely at this point. Barack Obama and Bill Clinton both won it twice, it's not impossible. And of course, Biden being on the ticket affects Sherrod Brown's reelection campaign and several winnable House seats.

But the other angle is how it affects Biden's national popular vote. In 2020, Biden earned nearly 2.7 million votes in Ohio. In a close election, effectively ceding 2.7 million votes could be the difference between another split in the Electoral College and national popular vote, and the possibility of Trump winning both, simply because Biden is only on the ballot in 49 states and Trump is on all 50. I understand that the national popular vote is a moral victory, but if we keep going through elections where the GOP only wins because of the Electoral College, eventually something will have to give. If Trump wins both the Electoral College and the national popular vote because of the Ohio GOP's chicanery, that moral high ground disappears as well. And it provides one less piece of evidence that the Electoral College is undemocratic and eventually must change or go "Poof!"

A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: You wrote: "Next week, it's Kentucky and Oregon, two states that have many, many things in common, like... um... uh... they're both split across two time zones? They're both famous for their grass? Their governors have never been in (Z)'s kitchen?"

As a native son of the great state of Oregon, I know Kentucky is known for its bluegrass. What grass, pray tell, is Oregon known for?

Is it the kind that produces "organic smoking material," "ganja", "Mary Jane," "pot"?

Inquiring minds want to know!

(V) & (Z) respond: That's the one.

History Matters

C.J. in Redondo Beach, CA, writes: It's kind of fascinating to follow the various Presidential rankings (and as a guy who loves history, I have my own list). I've tried to keep up with the official ones, as well as some amateur historians like myself (the deadpresidents tumblr site was a favorite haunt of mine for awhile) for at least 20 years.

It's interesting to watch people's reputation rise and fall, even when I don't agree. Obviously it can be even gratifying when someone I appreciate starts moving up the charts, and by the same token when someone you like reading about falls a few spots, one thinks "what do THEY know anyway?"

I know it's based on a mix of factors, even beyond some of the ones usually listed. Other stuff that comes into play, even if it is subconsciously, likely includes: who served right around the president in question (I think William McKinley is rather underrated given who immediately followed him), current scholarship (having some recent book reevaluating you from a big name helps), even current politics (George W. Bush has risen much more than I figured he would, based on how good he looks next to Trump, in my view), or what is a trendy thing in the zeitgeist.

I don't personally rank anyone who's been out of office less than 50 years to try and take as much of the passion out as I can. I can finally add Richard Nixon in August, so it's time to start from scratch with my list, though I there will be much movement (the last time I re-ranked was in 2019). I've read numerous books since then though, so maybe!

E.M. in Milwaukee, WI, writes: I really enjoy the staff historian's assessments of historical figures. As we all know, these tend to focus on the "greatness" or not of those figures. I hold the opinion that you can also discuss the "importance" of such figures, be they good or bad, and I hope that someday the staff historian might take on the topic regarding various sorts of people.

In general, I think the great presidents were all important. In contrast, I think that Andrew Jackson and Woodrow Wilson were more important than excellent. Jackson, both as a person (bitter, autocratic, racist) and as a symbol of the crudeness and energy of the West and the common man, was the sun around which the early-to-mid-1800s revolved. Wilson, with his progressive domestic program and his internationalism, represented the start of the change in party systems that Franklin D. Roosevelt brought to fruition. John F. Kennedy is another example of a president who might have been great, but whose assassination means that we will never know. But he was clearly quite important: The first Catholic president, he also became an international symbol, and with Jackie he created the modern media president. Barack Obama's race makes him critically important and on top of that he was quite good. I believe that Donald Trump, in all his wretched squalor, will also be remembered as critically important.

As an aside, I spent a lot of time in Brazil. A distinguishing quality of Brazil's politics was the total mediocrity and unimportance of its presidents until the 1930s. Since then, Brazil has had four important presidents: Vargas (complex to assess), Kubitschek (good), Cardoso (really good), and Lula da Silva (grade incomplete, but probably quite good). Lula is Brazil's Obama. He's their first lower-class president and the only one who is proud of a more mixed racial heritage.

M.C. in Newton, MA, writes: Obviously, the greatest president in U.S. history was William Henry Harrison. "I died in 30 days!" Greatness is measured by the ratio of one-liner jokes from '90s Simpsons episodes to duration in office, right?

(V) & (Z) respond: Spoiler alert!

P.K. in Marshalltown, IA, writes: As an historian, though a non-practicing one, I enjoy your various rankings of presidents. I would like to add to your fair assessment of Rutherford B. Hayes (would probably have been "RBH" if he had served after FDR), as he is buried at Spiegel Grove, in Fremont, Ohio, about 20 miles from my hometown of Tiffin. Henry Adams once referred to him as "a third-rate non-entity from Ohio." Nothing inaccurate or unfair there.

A.C. in Kingston, MA, writes: I know your staff mathematician has some issues, but I can't believe you left off what I consider one of James A. Garfield's coolest accomplishments: a unique proof of the Pythagorean theorem involving a trapezoid. In plain English:

  • The area of a trapezoid is the average of the two parallel sides (the bases) times the height. In this case, the bases are, respectively, a and b, and their average is (a+b)/2. The height is also (a+b), giving a total area of (a+b)(a+b)/2.

  • The area of the trapezoid can also be given by adding the three constituent triangles, two of which have areas of ab/2, and one of which has (c^2)/2.

  • Setting the areas equal to each other and simplifying gives the familiar a^2 + b^2 = c^2

I'd argue that's at least as cool as being the grandson of another president.

J.J. in West Hollywood, CA, writes: J.R. in Minneapolis asked for suggestions for books on the money supply and fiat currency. I would suggest Secrets of the Temple: How the Federal Reserve Runs the Country. It provides an excellent non-biased history of the Federal Reserve up to 1988.

D.N. in Panama City, FL, writes: For a faster read on the Federal Reserve than The Creature from Jekyll Island, may I suggest Why We Need The Fed: A Comprehensive Defense of the Federal Reserve, an Indispensable Guardian of Economic Stability, by Joseph Brown.

Brown's knowledge of the financial markets and trading (although not on display in this book) make him a mandatory watch for me on YouTube. He posts there as Heresy Financial.

C.G. in Toronto, ON, Canada, writes: You may want to read Making Money: A Novel of Discworld, by Terry Pratchett. Nice bits of satire that also provoke thought on what is taken for granted by many.


R.M.S. in Lebanon, CT, writes: A little over 3 years ago, I sent in one of my favorite game show clips. It is a question from the British show The Chase about a German athlete named Fanny Chmelar, and it started a whole series of comments of people sending in awkward or terrible names they've encountered. I still think this is one of the worst names I have ever seen, because it sounds extremely close to a person who commits a lewd act. The Chase has a tradition of frequently making its host, Bradley Walsh, ask contestants embarrassing or suggestive questions in an attempt to make him lose his composure on the air.

The BBC has a variety show named Michael McIntyre's Big Show. One of the regular segments is called "Midnight Gameshow" and features McIntyre surprising celebrities in bed in the middle of the night with the assistance of their spouses. I could not picture anything like this ever being done in the U.S. with our high rates of gun ownership.

Recently, McIntyre surprised Walsh on his show. But he brought along a second surprise guest... Fanny Chmelar. This is comedy gold and I can imagine how mortified he must have felt when she entered his room.

J.M. in Arvada, CO, writes: I know we're way off into the weeds for a political site but I wanted to clarify the ownership structure of Major League Soccer. MLS is legally a single-entity model, which means all the team "owners" are actually investors in MLS and the teams don't exist as separate business entities like they do in the 'Big Four' leagues. The players are also all contracted to the league and not individual teams.

However, each team investor (now) controls a single team. Back in the bad days, post-2001 contraction, the 10 teams that existed were split between Phil Anschutz, Lamar Hunt (RIP), and Robert Kraft, at which point they each owned the rights to run more than one team in order to keep the league operational but that's no longer the case. My local team, the Colorado Rapids, are owned by Stan Kroenke and run by Kroenke Sports & Entertainment (who also own and run, among other things, the Colorado Avalanche, the Denver Nuggets, the LA Rams, and Arsenal FC). In fact, everyone employed by the Rapids, other than the players, are employed by KSE and not Major League Soccer. So while all the owners do have an investment in the league as a whole (and there are investors who don't own the rights to run a team) it's not like Stan Kroenke can go over to the L.A. Galaxy and act like an owner. Phil Anschutz, the current Galaxy owner, would have some serious objections.

C.L. in Boulder, CO, writes: Since this is a US-focused website with a certain antagonism against Canadians, perhaps we should revise the "gone south" language—which, having grown up in the southern U.S., I find somewhat pejorative of the South—and use "gone north" or "gone Canadian." So instead of "things have gone south in the Middle East" we would say, "things have gone Canadian in the Middle East."

(V) & (Z) respond: Hamas and Benjamin Netanyahu have suddenly become unfailingly polite?

A.F. in Chelmsford, MA, writes: Now that we know (V)'s taste in keyboards, I wonder about his preferences in graphics and animation:

A black and green screen, with an ASCII Christmas message

Final Words

A.G. in Scranton, PA, writes: In case you've somehow not seen this:


Game. Set. Match. Liberalism and the freedom to love who you want, how you want, when you want, again beat the ironies of conservative "values," those that "stand strong with our veterans" and "protect traditional family values" and (really quietly) forced raped children to carry their rapists' rape babies to full term.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
May18 Dow Closes Above 40,000 for the First Time Ever
May18 Not Again, Sam
May18 Saturday Q&A
May17 Trump Legal News: The Trial (Day 18)
May17 In Congress: This Week in Performative Politics
May17 The Supreme Court: Just a Minute There, Fifth Circuit
May17 Abbott: From 25 Years Down to 1
May17 I Read the News Today, Oh Boy: Heat of the Moment
May17 This Week in Schadenfreude: Giuliani about to Lose a Second Job
May17 This Week in Freudenfreude: Living in the 18th Century
May16 There Will Be a Debate?
May16 LA-06 Is Back in Black
May16 Who's Gonna Win This Thing?, Part II: Keep an Eye on William Davis
May16 Who's Gonna Win This Thing?, Part III: A Poll Gone Mad
May16 Who's Gonna Win This Thing?, Part IV: Lichtman Makes His Pick
May16 Mitt Romney: Hey, Don't Forget I'm Tone Deaf, Too!
May15 Results Are in from Maryland, West Virginia and Nebraska
May15 Trump Legal News: The Trial (Day 17)
May15 And Don't Forget the Other Crooks
May15 Another $1 Billion in Arms for Israel
May15 Who's Gonna Win This Thing?, Part I: The Siena Poll
May15 Carter "Coming to the End"
May15 Today's Presidential Polls
May14 Trump Legal News: The Trial (Day 16)
May14 Voters Head to the Polls in Maryland, Nebraska and West Virginia
May14 Uncovered, Part I: Fava Beans and a Nice Chianti
May14 Uncovered, Part II: Brain Food
May14 Where is RFK Jr. on the Ballot?
May14 House Republicans Tee Up Israel Bomb Bill
May14 They Doth Protest Too Much, Wethinks
May14 Today's Presidential Polls
May13 Netanyahu Is Losing...
May13 ...But What Does That Mean for Biden?
May13 Biden Makes the Ballot in Alabama... But Not Ohio
May13 Republicans Are Anti-Democracy
May13 Trump Legal News: The Trial (Day 16 preview)
May13 Trump May Owe a $100 Million Tax Bill
May13 And Don't Forget the Other Crooks
May12 Sunday Mailbag
May11 Trump Legal News: The Trial (Day 15)
May11 Saturday Q&A
May11 Reader Question of the Week: Donald's Song
May11 Today's Presidential Polls
May10 Trump Legal News: The Trial (Day 14)
May10 Fallout from Biden's Decision on Israel Commences
May10 Trump Environmental Policy: We're Gonna Need a Bigger... Bottle of Sunscreen
May10 Electoral-Vote Presidential Tracking Poll, May Edition: Are We in for a Thriller?
May10 I Read the News Today, Oh Boy: Black Magic
May10 This Week in Schadenfreude: Nights In White Satin
May10 This Week in Freudenfreude: (You're My) Soul And Inspiration