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Sunday Mailbag

We got a lot of platitude comments in response to the question from J.K. in Boston, so we will start with some of those. We also got a lot of comments about Democratic messaging in response to the question from M.R. in Acton. However, we don't want to overdo it, so we'll run those next week. This week, we also have to finish the pivotal years in world history, and the suggestions for most influential artists (with D.E. in Lancaster getting the last word on that one).

Multitudes of Platitudes

R.M.S. in Lebanon, CT, writes: The political clichés which are the worst are the ones designed to stifle conversation rather than facilitate conversation. And the political figure of my lifetime who has been the most flagrant with this is Sarah Palin. One of her most infamous ones is the expression "lamestream media," which has become a daily phrase in conservative commentary. She frequently uses that expression to criticize political bias in order to stifle conversation about her or her party's mistakes. It shifts conversation towards how she is being represented and away from the actions of her and her party.

As a side note, you have to wonder: If they are so lame, why waste so much time talking about them?

Another one she popularized is the phrase "gotcha question." It has become another popular accusation used to evade tough questions. In 2008, Katie Couric asked Palin what newspapers she reads to stay informed and shape her worldview. Palin replied, "All of them, any of them that have been put in front of me over all these years." Palin later attacked that question as a "gotcha question." (Another side note: How can anyone read all the newspapers?)

Couric herself believes Palin's way of communicating created a path to our current political culture. She doesn't think her interviews with Palin would be nearly as damaging today as they were in the 2000s because there has been a rise in reverse snobbery and anti-intellectualism in the 2010s that would cause people to view not reading newspapers as a badge of honor.



S.K. in Sunnyvale, CA, writes: "I'm just asking questions." A cousin of "People keep telling me," this allows the speaker to push their views while seeming to remain neutral, at least to viewers unfamiliar with the trope. The fact that it's a favorite of right-wing talking heads is instructive.



S.K. in Bethesda, MD, writes: My least favorite political platitude is variations on "we live in an evenly divided country." While it is true that our uniquely anti-democratic form of federal government, by virtue of systematically overrepresenting small states and rural areas, tends to lead right now to a fairly even divide in the House and Senate, on virtually any issue, the divide is closer to 60-40, and on quite a few it is more lopsided than that. And of course, the Democrats have won the popular vote in 7 of the last 8 presidential elections.

This is a destructive trope, because it suggests that both sides of many issues are equally popular when they are not even close to equal. And since the media lazily repeats it constantly it is a culturally accepted "truth" that is not true. How would things be different if the media and leaders consistently said variations on "a clear majority of Americans prefer _____________ (fill in the blank with "action against climate change," "access to abortion in the first trimester," "policies that make it easy for every eligible voter to vote," etc.)? Hard to say for sure, but I'd like to find out.



J.J. in Golden Valley, MN, writes: You missed my favorite. If I start reading an article or column and the words "both sides" come up, I immediately stop reading and turn to the next page or whatever. These fake attempts at neutrality are awful!



M.S. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: When it comes to political platitudes, leaving "to spend time with my family" always makes me laugh. Although perhaps rather than a platitude, this is just a lie. Sometimes I wonder if any folks who go into politics actually want to spend time with their family.



S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes: Here are some of my most-loathed political platitudes:

"Mainstream media": This goes along with your "liberal media" entry. What, the most-watched news network is not "mainstream"? And since when did being out of the mainstream become a compliment? And I guess it isn't always. Workers' World Daily is not mainstream, but...

"Let's not politicize this": Most often heard after a mass shooting. Any politician or pundit who says this is doing exactly what they say shouldn't be done.

"In a bipartisan way": This has come to mean "in the way my party likes it" (or, if you are Sens. Joesten Sinechin, D?-AZWV, "in the way the other party likes it"). The last truly bipartisan major legislation was, what, the 1973 Clean Water Act? See also "reach across the aisle," akin to your "my friends across the aisle."

"Bureaucrat": Somehow, people who choose to work for the public have a bad reputation, while people who also work in "bureaus" (and nicer ones) for the purpose of making corporate CEOs richer don't.

"We can't spend our way out of this problem": Actually, most of the time, we can. If we are willing to.

"In this house, we believe in the Constitution...": We do that in my house too. We just don't agree with you about what the Constitution means.

"God bless the United States of America": The de rigeur ending of a major political address. Why? I have never heard the leader of any other democracy solicit a deity's beneficence on behalf of the nation-state.
The Cold Civil War

P.M. in Currituck, NC, writes: The majority of responses to my letter are exactly what I expected (and predicted): passive-aggressiveness from those who are left-leaning, taking potshots at me as one of the few resident conservative voices here. As I have said before about my interactions with others on this site, because I hold a contrary position, I suddenly become one of "them," and as such, I am lumped in the rest, despite having quite different views.

As an example, J.M in Norco writes "you all had such a good time attacking the Capitol on Jan. 6." I had a good time doing that? Did I not condemn that attack in my letter on the Sunday afterwards? I have further stated before that my political position is that of a centrist who leans to the right; i.e., somewhere between Reagan and Bush the First. People who adhere to principles espoused by those two were the ones who sacked the Capitol? The knee-jerk response to lump me in with those QAnon and associated nutjobs, in a passive-aggressive way, just proves my point that the left bears much culpability in waging the Cold Civil War.

This important fact must be remembered by people who are left-leaning: most people who are opposed to your political point of view are rednecks. People like the Viking horns guy are the ones who won't listen to reason, are just generally crazy, and will oppose you at all costs because you're just "libs." As a non-redneck, I resent being lumped in with them, and I think it may behoove you to attempt to communicate with folks like me—who are generally reasonable—rather than just damning us as "them." Remember, we're Americans too, and we also love this country—and I, personally, hate seeing this streak of insanity taking over the Republican Party. Whatever happened to intelligent discourse from people on the right, spearheaded by the likes of William F. Buckley, Jr.? It's dead, deader than Elvis (or or Paul McCartney, if you prefer to live—as those crazy people do—in conspiracy fantasy world).

S.S. in Detroit and I have become friends because even though we hold differing views, we both recognize that we share more in common than we do not, and appreciate each other's perspective. That's how you do it, not engaging in groupthink and thinking everyone opposed to you is exactly the same.

I appreciate that T.P. in Kings Park was aware some of the snarky behaviors they were doing was not helping—and took steps to stop engaging in those actions. Small steps are the way to go—and the left should lead the way in attempting to make things better. Did not Michelle Obama say "when they go low, we go high"?



P.N. in Austin, TX, writes: I feel the need to chime in on the discussion of the Cold Civil War. Despite being a long-time progressive and far to the left of most Americans, I have to agree with P.M.'s opening statement, "In particular, I feel that your characterization that the Cold Civil War being unilateral (from the right-wing) is off the mark." While I find P.M.'s reasons for why the Cold Civil War is not unilateral to be completely unsatisfying and dismissive of the needs of transgender youth, the broad conclusion—one that many on the right share with P.M.—is correct. I believe they've gotten to that conclusion intuitively, with their feelings.

As recently as 20 years ago most Democratic politicians would not support gay marriage, let alone transgender rights. Only 30 years ago, our current president wouldn't believe a Black woman when she credibly accused a Supreme Court nominee of sexual harassment. While school integration was outlawed in 1954, it wasn't until 2016 that the last school was completely integrated (Cleveland High School in Cleveland, Mississippi). Women weren't allowed to vote for nearly 150 years of our nation's history, and that came to an end only 100 years ago.

Progressives today seem to forget that, while we may be demanding changes that are just, or for the better of our society and planet, they are still changes. And while humans may occasionally like change, most of the time we are quite averse to it. The Cold Civil War is absolutely not one-sided. We on the left are trying to change the world, and even the act of changing it is a threat in a scary world for some people. We are fighting for human rights, and we should be damn proud of it, but we should never forget where we started.

I'll part with a final thought that occurred to me a few years back, a bit scary in my view. Businesses are a big part of our local cultures. They help create and reflect our local identities. They become meeting places and provide common experiences, and they help drive the daily cycle of a city. But does a large corporation reflect a city's local identity? When the local hardware store is replaced by Home Depot, does a town lose a little character? When a McDonald's opens up and out competes the local burger joint, forcing it to close, what does it do to a city's culture? Where are most corporations based? Where does most of the wealth from corporations accumulate? In big cities, of course. So maybe conservatives aren't so wrong when the blame the left (which dominates our metropolises) for destroying their culture. Maybe they're just blaming the wrong people in those metropolises.



R.T. in Arlington, TX, writes: While reading the responses to P.M. of Currituck, I had a hard time believing that I had read the same letter. No one gets enough space in this forum for a full explanation of what they think, to list all their supporting evidence, and answer all the contradictory evidence. The point I took from P.M. is that the Cold Civil War is not an exclusively one-sided thing and liberals are engaged in the war in their own way.

I will respond in the shortest possible way to P.M.'s critics. Just because the liberal side uses passive-aggressive ways of speaking doesn't mean they aren't being aggressive. Just because two combatants in a war have unequal passion or different weapons doesn't mean there are not two combatants. F**k flag flyers are obnoxious outliers and shouldn't be used to symbolize the whole conservative camp. Until you actually talk/correspond with someone, conservative or liberal, you don't know what they actually think, you are just guessing. I'm glad E-V.com gives us this forum to do so. It is hard to hate anyone when you see them close up.



J.J. in North Plains, OR, writes: A.A. in Branchport asked for examples of "F**k (conservative politician)" from the left. The top hit when you Google "F**k Trump" is this project, wherein 75 artists offered up their renditions of "F**k Trump."

V & Z respond: You might want to be careful with Google searches like that; you don't know what's going to come up.



B.B. in St. Louis, MO, writes: Your readers distraught at "F**K Biden" signs may be misinterpreting the message. These signs, displayed in rural communities where President Biden is revered and acknowledged as a vigorous and active near-octogenarian, are a command to wives and daughters to obtain some of his prized genetic material to revitalize local gene pools made thin by generations of inbreeding. I foresee two difficulties: (1) the President's wife Jill would likely protest, and (2) the President would be unable to fulfill more than a fraction of these requests. Perhaps the problem could be solved by his engaging in a vigorous program of sperm donation? Since the signs do not specify which Biden, his son Hunter could also probably lend a hand.

V & Z respond: Lend a hand? It works on so many levels.

National Politics

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: You read my mind. One of the many reasons I love reading your site is that you call out the pundits for their constant hand-wringing and their neverending quest for eyeballs. But I was still surprised by all the piling on by people who've been doing this politics thing for awhile and who should really know better.

How many times have we seen this movie? But true to form, Democrats are so prone to panic that this is the obvious reaction by anyone trying to get their attention. Like you, I agree Biden certainly has some challenges, many of which were inherited because of the last guy's concerted efforts to destroy everything. How anyone could think this ship could be righted in 9 months is beyond me—it's going to take years, maybe decades, to clean up the mess he left behind.

I'm also optimistic that the Democrats will get some kind of reconciliation bill passed along with the hard infrastructure bill. That will have real impact with families where Democrats have to work the hardest to keep or flip seats in 2022. Then, keep the campaigns focused on local issues like they did in 2018 and with Trump continuing to peddle his Big Lie, the Democrats may yet buck the trend and hang onto their majorities. To paraphrase the Terminator, we have to have courage during these dark years because the future is not set, so don't get your panties in a bunch—not yet anyway (actually, that last part was me, not the Terminator).



J.F. in Houston, TX, writes: You quoted Jack Shafer: "Instead, pundits presage Biden's end because in the reductionist tradition of political pre-obituaries, it's never too soon to assert that something has dealt a fatal blow to a presidency."

To that, let me add that the headline "No News Here" has as few adherents in the field of journalism as it does in scientific publication. There will always be a race to be the first person to predict a political demise, so there are certain to be doomsayers on every streetcorner and on at least half of the URLs.



E.K. in Brignoles, France, writes: As you may know from my previous letters, I'm really fond of your president. He's the most human and likable guy elected to this office since a long time (well, I loved Bill Clinton, too, but I guess you can't say that loudly anymore).

However, when President Biden keeps saying "This is not who we are," I get his intention and I theoretically agree with him, but the problem is: Joe, half of your fellow citizens were willing to vote not once, but twice, for a completely deranged fascistic charlatan, and will very probably give to this cult a majority in the House and maybe also in the Senate in 12 months from now.

So, I would like to believe that "this is not who you are," but there's a cancer devouring your country as of now, and you can't just ignore it by calling to the better angels of your nature on a weekly basis. I love you, but you have to face this ugly reality, Joe.



J.S. in Houston, TX, writes: Which Family Policy Is Best? To be honest, I think none of them are best. I would prefer if both parties would stop pandering to people that have kids. I'm tired of my taxes going to people that choose or can have children. Why is me paying for your kid better than paying for crumbling infrastructure? The national debt? Higher education? Research and development? Why should I have to pay for your personal choice to reproduce?



S.B. in New Castle, DE, writes: Thanks for answering my question about Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). It reminded me of a line from the movie" Ghost Story," which features Ricky Gervais as Bertram Pincus—a real ass of a dentist and human being. Pincus has this exchange with Dr. Prashar, a co-worker, at a point of internal crisis:

Dr. Prashar: Dr. Pincus, at some point in your life, you're gonna have to stop and ask yourself the ultimate question.

[Pincus nods curiously]

Dr. Prashar: "This business of... being such a fu**ing prick, what is it really getting me?"

I wonder if Sen. Cruz will ever have that moment.



P.N. in Austin, TX, writes: You wrote: "If the Cruz faction is ascendant..."

Please sirs, this is a family site. The idea of a (pardon my language) "Cruz faction" is nauseating. I know you like to play with words in your daily postings, but some language is not appropriate. I assume this is some new slang for "cowards who flee to Cancun," but I think the imagery is just (gag) too disgusting to be used in public.

All Politics Is Local

J.A. in New York City, NY, writes: Regarding your request for those of us who are tuned-into the New York governor's race to chime in:

Brooklyn's Bill de Blasio started his political career in the New York City Council. In 2009, he was elected as New York's public advocate. In 2013, he became mayor.

Brooklyn's Tish James started her political career on the New York City Council. In 2013, she succeeded Bill de Blasio as public advocate. In 2018, she won the race for the open New York State Attorney General position.

Brooklyn's Jumaane Williams started his political career on the New York City Council. In 2018, while still on the council, he challenged then-Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul in the Democratic primary, losing by 7 points. In 2019, he was elected to succeed Tish James as New York's public advocate. He is a self-described Democratic Socialist (which means that, with the possible exception of Buffalo, he will have almost no support outside New York City).

If you're seeing a trend here, it's because there is one. De Blasio, James and Williams are all cut from the same (or at least similar) cloth. I'm sure Gov. Hochul would love to see all three run. With their overlapping constituencies, they would divide their support and give her an easy win in the Democratic Primary (especially since she will be running with Brian Benjamin—from the Bronx—as her running mate).



D.A. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: There could be no sweeter Christmas present for our new governor, Kathy Hochul, than an announced run for office by Juumane Williams, whose entry into the race would split the progressive vote in the primary between him and Tish James. Keep in mind, James is also a progressive (less so than Williams, but still) and is also Black, and is female (which has particular value in this contest given that the last three governors were males with serious issues). As for de Blasio—please, he couldn't win a race for dogcatcher in New York City, and if there is one thing upstate has more contempt for than a New York City mayor it's a New York City mayor who has progressive pretensions.



A.H. in Newberg, OR, writes: You wrote: "there are readers who know the politics of the Beaver State far better than we do, and perhaps some of them will weigh in." So, here is my two cents' worth:

Time to stock up the larder with more popcorn and Oregon Microbrew IPA.



R.H. in Santa Ana, CA, writes: Yes, Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) beat (Republican) Anne Northup to take that seat, but before her it belonged to Democrat Mike Ward (one term), and before him to Democrat Romano Mazzoli (since roughly the Cretaceous Era).

Republicans took over the Kentucky Senate for the first time when Dan Seum switched parties, around 25 years ago. They can crack and pack to their heart's content, because although the Governor is (as usual) a Democrat, they can override his veto with a simple majority vote.

Most likely they'll pack some more of the affluent Eastern Louisville suburbs (KY-04, Rep. Thomas Massie, R) in with KY-03 and some of the Democratic-leaning Lexington suburbs (KY-06, Rep. Andy Barr, R) into KY-04, in order to make KY-06 a little more Republican-leaning.

Massie is not likely to lose KY-04, no matter what they do, but Barr can use all the help he can get.

TrumpWorld

G.K. in Mansfield, CT, writes: In your answer to J.D. in Fennimore, you write that Donald Trump "had been passively encouraging Republicans to withhold their votes from an allegedly corrupt process, and late Thursday, he came right out and said it in a statement released by his office: 'If we don't solve the Presidential Election Fraud of 2020 (which we have thoroughly and conclusively documented), Republicans will not be voting in '22 or '24. It is the single most important thing for Republicans to do.'"

A subhead on The New York Times website also claimed that Trump had come right out and said it. The headline over yesterday's Best of Late Night column was "Late Night Isn't Threatened by Trump's Latest Stunt," and the subhead began, "This week, Donald Trump said Republicans should not be voting in the 2022 or 2024 elections." The column went on to quote from the late night hosts' jokes about this.

But a Times reader, Gary from Austin, posted this comment: "Trump did not say that Republicans should not vote, he said they would not vote if election irregularities were not addressed. His words were not very clear and you have to read them carefully. Or not—if your goal is to misinterpret them." I found myself agreeing with Gary: the "single most important thing for Republicans to do," according to Trump's statement, is to "solve the Presidential Election Fraud of 2020," not to refrain from voting. But Trump's language is so sloppy that it's easy to take it the other way, which EV, the Times, the late night hosts, and many others (including me, at first) did.

I certainly don't mean to be defending Trump, just advocating slower, more careful reading. Lord knows the right has often twisted people's language to make it say something it does not, but I hate to see us do the same.



J.J. in Des Moines, IA, writes: You replied yesterday to J.D. in Fennimore about Donald Trump urging Republicans to not vote in 2022 or 2024 unless his voting fraud claims are addressed. You mentioned that Trump is either "not right" (mentally) or flexing his muscles by saying this, since it would be disastrous for the Republican Party if voters followed suit.

I contend there could be another possibility, although it assumes Trump is smarter than most of us give him credit for: He wants Republicans to lose (especially "moderate" Republicans) so that he can weed out "non-toadies" from the Party, and so that he can continue to claim election fraud, slanted courts, "fake" media, RINO election officials, etc. This keeps his base inflamed and opening their wallets, ramping up his massive grift operation. This would give him "fuel for the fire" for his fraud arguments (and more echo-producing, loud-mouthed supporters in the party) giving him even more reasons to appeal to his suckers...er, I mean "supporters," for money.

Voting Against Self-Interest

D.H. in Pueblo, CO, writes: C.L. in Durham asked: "Can you recommend a book that discusses why some low-paid workers vote against their own self-interest?"

In my opinion, Jonatahn Haidt made an excellent start on explaining this in The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. In short, the problem is that you are assuming they are selfish; they aren't. Self-interest is a poor predictor of voting. Group identity is a much better predictor. Somebody that identifies with any of the groups the Republicans cater to will tend to vote Republican—to support their group—regardless of their self interest.

I think there is room to argue that they sometimes vote against their group's interest as well. But, again, you need to reconsider how you look at it. Fighting the out-group may well be more important to them than serving the in-group. I think many Republicans view stopping what they see as social justice run amok as far more important than getting government handouts.

You also need to consider their moral outlook. Some people focus on "fairness" as in "equal outcomes"; others focus on "fairness" as in "equal results for equal efforts." Selling increases in welfare-like programs to somebody that strongly believes in pay in proportion to effort is folly, even if they personally are poor and would benefit from those programs. They want jobs and fair pay for the work they do, and they want to take pride in earning their living. They do not want increases in free government handouts, even if they take those handouts when given a choice between government medical care and no medical care.

This is, of course, a gross oversimplification. But Democrats need to stop assuming "Many Republicans are idiots that vote against their self interest." They need to and start respecting their fellow Americans as their fellow Americans and trying to understand them as the complex human beings that they are with all the bad and good that entails.



H.R. in Jamaica Plain, MA, writes: C.L. in Durham asks for a book recommendation on why some low-paid workers vote against their own self-interest. I haven't read either of the books you recommended (though I'll add them to my overwhelmingly long list), but I did recently read The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together by Heather McGhee. McGhee uses the story of municipal swimming pools that were closed rather than integrated (access to swimming was lost by all but the wealthy) as a metaphor for the cost of racism across many different realms, but the book is also full of examples where people benefited when they came together across the racial divide. In the end, she writes that we have yet to overcome racism: "We have not touched the root because the laws we make are expressions of a root belief, and it is time to face our most deep-seated one: the great lie at the root of our nation's founding was a belief in the hierarchy of human value. And we are still there." I've found this statement to be a touchstone for thinking about what needs to be done to overcome racism and truly move our country forward. We need to overcome this belief in the hierarchy of human value.

The Job Market

T.S. in Memphis, TN, writes: In response to yesterday's questions on the present labor shortage, add:

Result: The incremental impact of those three sources of money for people in the lower income brackets could explain why some parents with children only have to work one job ... for now. Unless we have passed the tipping point and head into an inflationary period.

I studied economics at a conservative university outside D.C. in the early, 1980s when/where trickle-down economics was king. The deeper I got into my major, the more I realized what a bunch of hooey our professors were spouting. I'm also deeply concerned about the economic inequality that's been growing at the same time that corporate execs are being bailed out, realizing huge increases in pay/bonuses, and taking advantage of tax loopholes. That said, shoveling out cash to those at the bottom half of the earnings ladder isn't the panacea. Instead, I'd say that it's putting us further into debt, and raising the likelihood of inflation. We've got to get back to taxing fairly those who have benefitted the most from this country.



D.S. in Palo Alto, CA, writes: It's possible that part of the phenomenon is related to the fact that many jobs can now be done by automata, or can be converted. It's already clear that some employers continue to use people only because they know that people want jobs. Such jobs are likely to be unrewarding. This relates to the growing support for the guaranteed basic income and the ability for people to decide how to contribute to mankind's ongoing story and their own self-satisfaction either by finding more rewarding work or by doing things, useful or otherwise, that nobody is willing to pay them for. If this is true, I see it as an earlier such transition than we would otherwise have experienced, and possibly a good thing. I will now take off my rose-colored glasses, give up the chemicals, and reface reality.



C.M.W. in Myrtle Beach, SC, writes: I can confirm that working from home and being your own boss have exploded since the pandemic began.

My core business is a marketplace that makes it possible for people to make either "side hustle" or full-time income doing micro jobs based on whatever they are good at.

Business was going well in 2019, but since the pandemic began it was increased nearly 5,000% (that's not a typo. I mean five thousand.)

Both the customer side (people buying stuff for their side hustle) and the people signing up to freelance have exploded.

I think it is more than just "They are getting paid to stay home" like conservatives say. That may have been the spark, but the fire is that people are tired of spending 5/7ths of their lives for 40 years just getting by so they can still just get by in their golden years. All the while being told what to work on, how much they can make, what hours to work, when they can go to the bathroom, when they can take time off, etc., not to mention how can they trust that they won't be forced to stay home again after everything that has happened.

I think we are seeing, in real time, a permanent shift in the way labor is going to work in the coming years and its honestly long overdue, and I think will help push us forward as a society.

Virtual Money

P.S. in Plano, TX, writes: Hello again, C.C. in St. Paul. I think I understand your question better now. Here's how the virtual money you're asking about gets created.

Imagine Person A deposits $100 in the Bank of Banking. The bank then makes a loan of $100 to Person B so B can pay C to buy a (extremely cheap) house. C takes the money and deposits it back into the Bank of Banking. Now, the bank makes a $100 loan to D so D can buy equipment for his business. D buys his equipment from E and E deposits the money back into the Bank of Banking. Now, let's look at the bank's balance sheet.

Assets: Liabilities:

The balance sheet balances out, and yet, the Bank of Banking has turned an initial $100 deposit into $300 worth of deposits. This is how money is created. The name of this system is fractional reserve banking because, in normal times, the Federal Reserve will require that banks keep, say, 1/10 of their deposits—a fraction of them—either in their vaults or in a deposit account with the Federal Reserve Bank itself, instead of lending that money out, just to keep this process from "getting out of hand." At the present time, the Federal Reserve, in an attempt to counteract the economic damage of COVID, has temporarily lifted that requirement.

If you want to know where the little green papers come from, well, the Federal Reserve is a bank (technically 12 of them, but whatever). On the Federal Reserve Bank's balance sheet, all the little green papers show up in the liabilities section, and they are balanced by Treasury bonds held in the assets section. You can sort of think of the little green papers like Federal Reserve Bank cashier's checks written to "cash," and which everybody just passes around as currency instead of ever trying to actually cash. That analogy breaks down because you can't go to the Federal Reserve Bank and "cash" the little green papers, but you can use them to pay your taxes to other parts of the federal government, so that's sort of like cashing them.



R.M. in Lincoln City, OR, writes: C.C. in St Paul asked for further explanation about the existence of "physical cash vs. virtual cash," sayng: I'm trying to understand where all that virtual money came from in the first place. Part of the answer is that it never existed in physical form, but what is the mechanism behind the expansion of the pool of virtual money?

I think the answer C.C. is looking for can be found in the history of check-writing, which goes back hundreds of years.

As soon as people started to accept checks in exchange for their goods and services, virtual currency was created. Fast-forward to the 20th century. Even before digital currency existed, it's easy to see how average people would get a paycheck for, say, $100; deposit the fictional $100 in their bank account, maybe keep $10 in physical currency in their pocket; write out checks for, say, $80 to pay various bills, and keep the other $10 in their account for a rainy day.

Multiply that scenario by the millions and it's easy to see why there's so much more virtual currency than physical. The government office in charge of the printing press keeps a certain amount in circulation, but there's no need to match the level that exists in everyone's accounts.

Word Choices

T.F. in Banks, OR, writes: The use of "people of color" on your site is way down—thank you!—but not zero. Your item North Carolina Group Wants to Emulate Stacey Abrams talks about her "registering hundreds of thousands of new voters, many of them people of color... [Aimy] Steele is going to try to get a million eligible voters of color in the Tar Heel State who didn't vote in 2020 to vote in 2022." These people of color—are they Red? Brown? Yellow? The U.S. Census Department doesn't use those three categories. Asking Google, I see North Carolina is 69% White, 21% Black, 3% Yellow (Asian - although maybe these are really Brown people from India working in the tech sector), and 1.2% Red (Native American). So in addition to perpetuating racist pseudoscience and indirectly referring to people by pejorative category not identity (identity like, say, Chinese or Japanese, or a non-pejorative category like Asian instead of Yellow), "people of color" here is just a sloppy synonym for Black with tiny numbers of non-White and non-Black people. And it would not surprise me to learn that non-White and non-Black people (and White Latinos, which is how 2/3 of American Latinos identify themselves) are not targets of the outreach.

Beautifully underlining the absurdity of characterizing people by color is the work of Angelica Dass. Her Humanae project has 4,000 pictures, and counting, of human variation in color. Most compelling is a series of four larger prints about halfway down the page. There are four people, conventionally Black, Brown, White and Yellow, whose skin color is exactly...the...same: Pantone 58-6 C, which is a shade of Red.

V & Z respond: Note that the website for Steele's project makes frequent use of "people of color," "communities of color," and "voters of color." This speaks to two things: (1) that usage is generally acceptable, and (2) there isn't a great alternative.



D.A. in Long Beach, CA, writes: Please, please stop using the phrase "owning the libs," which is shorthand for the original "owning the libtards."

This is the far right's phrasing to express "ownership of a person," mocking disabled people, and anti-elitism.

A dog whistle for the right, and fingernails on the chalkboard for the left.

V & Z respond: Except that we use it only to describe the thinking of people...who think this way.



C.W.M. in Monroe, WA, writes: I've always thought of the term "civil war" as an oxymoron.

Given today's realities, instead of "Cold Civil War," perhaps we should be referring to these times as an Uncivil War. It seems much more descriptive (and possibly even prescriptive).



T.H.W. in Marlboro, VT, writes: With regard to your distaste for the term "liberal media," I would suggest that the more penetrating term is "corporate media." The degree to which corporate interests, rather than news interests, arguably give rise even to the "other biases" you identify, of sensationalism and pot-stirring, make the term useful. Moreover, the concentration of ownership of newspapers, radio and TV stations, and now social media in the hands of almost invisible organizations whose interests often conflict with the interests of those of us who must rely on them as the sources of our information seems worth calling attention to routinely.

Artistic Licenses, Part III

S.W.N. in Portland, OR, writes: Alexander Gardner. Gardner took photographs of the aftermath of the battle of Antietam, later publicly displaying the pictures of unburied bodies scattered across the landscape. This brought the war home to viewers in a way that had not been made so viceral before. Historians criticized Garnder for "improving" his compositions by re-arranging the bodies, but this act of documentary desecretion qualifies Gardner as an artist, albeit one whose medium is corpses rather than paint or marble. Here is his "Confederate dead along the Hagerstown Pike":

About 10 Confederate soldiers'
bodies are scattered along a fenceline on the Antietam battlefield



G.K. in Portland, OR, writes: I would add Augustus St. Gaudens. In addition to his statues, monuments, medals, and coins, he influenced a generation of sculptors who came after him.



M.M. in San Diego, CO, writes: If we're considering Industrial Design, without Raymond Loewy, there's no Viktor Schreckengost. Loewy took all those Edison eyesores and created Streamlining for everything from refrigerators to locomotives, and he designed the only good looking Studebakers ever—the Avanti and the Champion.



M.E.T. in Garden City, NY, writes: Responding with comments on your list of influential American artists: Jony Ive is certainly currently influential in creating a "look," but I believe other artists were far more influential in achieving what you praise him for. If a major criterion for his inclusion is that "his work, or stuff derived from his work, is surely in more American residences than any other artist," then he's a laggard both historically and presently.

I would choose Henry Dreyfuss over Ive. His Western Electric Model 500 Telephone is literally iconic, as even today the icon for a phone on our computers and yes, on the iPhone, is a version of Henry Dreyfuss' handset design:

A black phone with 
standard handset and rotary dial

When we are miming "call me" to someone, we don't place our hand flat against the side of our face; we make a hand gesture resembling Dreyfuss' handset. The ASL sign for telephone is also the handset gesture. Then, he followed up with the Princess phone:

A pink phone where the 
receiver sits directly above the rotary dial, such that you can't dial until you pick up the receiver.

It is an excellent example of fashion and design driving additional sales of an otherwise-mundane product, and at a premium price. And of course, since AT&T had a monopoly, if you had a phone, you likely had a Dreyfuss one.

Leaving the world of telephone technology, let's consider Donald Deskey. Among his designs are the Crest and Tide logos, which alone would qualify him for contention in the competition "...surely in more American residences than any other artist." The bold (garish?) full-package colors of the Tide logo influenced package design from then on. Though Deskey retired in 1975 and died in 1989, his firm continues to produce design work for major brands.

And finally, leaving homes to go to the office: How about Robert Propst? You likely don't know his name, but you know his work. He's the original designer of the office cubicle, for Herman Miller. I can't think of any piece of commercial/office design that is more influential than the open office/cubicle in changing the everyday office work experience—for better or worse.



D.A. in Riverdale, NY, writes: ´╗┐You rightly included Thomas Nast but you erred in not including Herblock (Herb Block).

His drawings of the malevolent atom bomb and the equally malevolent Richard Nixon were unforgettable. Did you forget his famous drawing where he offered Nixon a shave when he was elected President?

The cartoon shows a workspace that
has elements of both an artist's studio and a barbershop, and has a sign on the wall that reads: 'This shop gives
to every new president of the United States a free shave, signed H. Block, proprietor.

And how could you exclude Bill Maulden, who spoke for every World War II GI?



D.C.H. in Shaker Heights, OH, writes: I would nominate Walt Kelly. He did comic strips about civil rights, political extremists/crazies such as Sen. Joseph McCarthy, and pollution. He coined the phrase "We have met the enemy, and he is us." Also, his strips were absolutely beautiful!



D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: If I didn't have enough reasons to love you guys, you cemented the deal with "The Art of (Culture) War." What I loved was your meta reference within an article about Republicans trying to go apes**t about the announcement that Superman's son is bisexual. In the article you write, "And they don't have Trump's own Twitter account to serve as their cultural wars North Star." That is a great shout out to the very first gay superhero, Jean-Paul Beaubier, a.k.a. Northstar! For those nit pickers who spot the difference between North Star and Northstar, in all fairness there have been several instances in the comics where the "S" has been capitalized—plus if it had been written out as one word, it would have been a bit too obvious.

The fact is that I am a self-described comics nerd since my teens; I am a huge fan of Marvel Comics, who published Northstar; a huge fan of John Byrne, who created Northstar and decided from his first appearance that he was gay; and am gay myself made what was a pretty crappy day change instantly into something better. Now there's an awesome superhero power!

One of the things that certainly myopic people always fail to do is attribute the importance of representation to minorities. In the late 70's/early 80's I was in my late teens and early 20's. These were the years I was coming to terms with my being gay. Despite some prevailing myths to the contrary, I did not wake up one morning and say to myself "Let's see, I'll wear my black shirt, go biking to the oceanfront and, oh for the hell of it, I'll become gay." Far from it, those were painful years of back and forth acceptance of myself followed by lies and rationalizations followed by self-loathing. I knew a guy in college who was openly gay who became my best friend, and remains so even now. He likes to jokingly remind me of how it took me almost two hours together talking music and Star Trek for me to finally blurt out "By the way, I am too" as my first step to acknowledge that I was gay. The first time I went to a gay bar, I drove around the block over 20 times trying to get enough courage to go in. Not only was nearly every part of society against me being gay, but there was the horrible way gay men were represented in the media. They were usually effeminate and either died alone and bitter, killed themselves, or were monsters that preyed on young boys. Tell me—given that kind of representation, who in their right mind if given the choice would go for that? One of the films that started my love of politics also was the first to start the parade of negative images, Otto Preminger's "Advise and Consent," in which (spoiler alert) the gay character is driven to suicide rather than face the shame—I know, shock. I now realize that this was at the time a door-opening example that tried to show that gay people exist instead of being creatures who should not be named in proper society. Another gay friend of mine told me that during Thanksgiving dinner, his Dad had said that if he had a son who was gay he would take the shotgun off the mantle and blow his son's brains out. I saw how shaken to the core my friend was because he was an only son. My mom loved me more than her own life and even she had a hard time accepting that I was gay. Years later she admitted to me that she just didn't want to see her boy grow up to be miserable and alone, the only options she could see (dhe later became wonderfully accepting with one of my favorite memories of us looking at People's Sexiest Man Alive issue and agreeing that year's choice was a mistake, preferring the runners up instead). I remember an incident from the latter part of this turbulent time, but at a time when I was a bit more confident. Leaving class with an acquaintance one day, he started ranting about how much he hated gays. His words were: "Faggots make me want to puke. In fact if I was anywhere near a faggot I would be puking my guts out." Somewhere in my own confusion and self-loathing, I managed to draw forth some self respect and shot back, "Well, you better start puking." My rejoinder was greeted with silence and I continued walking away. Suddenly I heard footsteps running up behind me and I thought "I guess today's the day I'm going to be beaten to a pulp or killed." I was lucky and instead the guy said he was surprised to find out I was gay and that he didn't really believe that "stuff." It was just things that guys say to other guys, he explained. But I know I could have easily been given the business end of at baseball bat up against my head instead.

People who don't try to consider things from others' viewpoints don't realize the ubiquity of straight relationships being portrayed constantly in films, TV, stage, ads, music, etc. can be perceived as an echo that being gay was the worst possible sin and that it was better to be dead than gay. During those years, as I grappled with my sexual identity, I could often only see death as a viable course. The thoughts of suicide were constant and there were a few attempts. But do you want to know who saved my life? It was Steven Carrington, the gay son on the TV soap Dynasty, and Jean-Paul Beaubier—Northstar—who premiered in 1979. Steven was sensitive and confused while Jean-Paul was arrogant and haughty—strangely, the characteristics I find most attractive. Even with these breakthrough gay characters the censorship was still so strong that the Dynasty writers had to put Steven —in relationships with women every other season—damn you, Sammy Jo. Or, due to the prejudice of Marvel's editor Jim Shooter, Jean-Paul's gayness could only be refered to obliquely. Still just knowing that both characters were able to survive from episode to episode, issue to issue, was the flimsiest of straws that I could grab onto as I frantically scrabbled for a foothold to perch my life on. I remember one time, as my parents had to check me into a mental facility because I was threatening to take the kitchen knife to my throat, that the only thing to calm me down was knowing that Dynasty was on that night—I remember the episode so well because it ironically was when Steven's Mom, Alexis, made her first appearance at the trial of his father for murdering Steven's gay lover (soap operas, what can I say?). But it was just enough to make me want to see another day and that's what mattered. And while Steven was confused and vacillating, Jean-Paul was confident and, reading between the lines, I could tell there was no doubt he was assured in who he was. That was the reason he was the first comic book superhero to come out gay and the first to be gay married! (Don't hold it against him that he's also a Canadian and a Quebecois—we all can't be perfect). But mostly he was a hero. Just think about that for a second and try to realize the impact on a kid or young adult that they too could be hero, someone that people respect and look up to instead of a sexual predator or someone, something better off dead. It's a sad statement on our world but an effective positive role model can be the tipping factor between life and death.

I know it has become "fashionable" among those who consider themselves "true artists" to bash comic books and comic book movies but I would argue that comic books and films have done more to improve society than the majority of their "artistic works." (As a lover of all kind of films, I'm often shocked to see how many hateful stereotypes some of the great directors have perpetuated.) So, hats off to Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, John Byrne, Don MacGregor, Roy Thomas, Gene Colon, Marv Wolfman, Steve Englehart, Chris Claremont and Steve Gerber to name a few! While he wrote mainly for Marvel's rival, DC Comics and a decade later, I would be horribly remiss if I didn't include the incomparable and thoughtful Neil Gaiman—and if you're interested in gender identity issues then his wonderful "The Sandman: A Game of You" is a great place to start. If you're not crying by the end, then you're made of stronger stuff than me! So yeah, they all had their problems but they taught me that Blacks, Asians, Native Americans—in fact, people from all over the world—can be heros; that women can be strong and powerful in their own right, the those with disabilities still mattered, that being different from what society thinks you should be can be Fantastic and X-tra Special, and that no matter who we are we all have dreams! A couple of years ago, as I left the premiere of "Black Panther," and then this year with "Shang-Chi," I saw the look of joy, hope and pride on the faces of Black and Asian kids and adults and remembered how it feels like to know that just maybe your life means something. No one can ever take that away.

So thank you for acknowledging the first gay hero, Northstar.

You guys are also my heroes!

V & Z respond: Thanks for the kind words, and for the useful postscript to this discussion, reminding us that many artists, and many different kinds of artists, have had an impact far beyond the art world.

Interpretation

L.R.H. in Oakland, CA, writes: I read the comments of L.E. in Putnam County, NY with interest. L.E. wrote: "I dislike when a work is altered in any way by an adaptation, and believe that all performances a play ever has should strive to be as identical as possible to what was in the mind of the playwright."

Well, we have some big problems here. Shakespeare and his contemporaries wrote their plays with the assumption that they'd be performed outdoors, with female characters portrayed by young men or boys. In the world of opera, we'd have to drop a large number of works from the repertory because leading roles in them were written for castrati, male singers who had been castrated before puberty. We can't go back to committing human rights violations to match composers' expectations. Speaking of opera and Shakespeare and any number of other playwrights and novelists, I guess that L.E. would prefer that no theatrical works or novels be adapted for the operatic stage. Opera librettos are necessarily much shorter than the works they're based on because singing words takes longer than speaking them.

Then there's the matter of translation. Because of the thousands of decisions that must be made when you translate a literary work, every translation is an interpretation. I wish I had the time to become fluent in French, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian, ancient Japanese, and more so that I could read novels and plays in their original languages, but that's not happening in this lifetime. I will have to settle for translations.

Going a bit farther afield, the piano works of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Chopin were written for what's now called the fortepiano. These were wooden-framed instruments with a softer and less percussive sound than the modern 9-foot, steel-framed concert grand. Fortepianos also varied a great deal from maker to maker and country to country. For better and for worse, today's pianos are far more homogenous than 18th and 19th century pianos. Personally, I would love to hear more 18th and 19th century music on period pianos, but I wonder whether L.E. is willing to give up recorded performances on modern instruments or performers who only play modern instruments.



M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: When I read "It is not the artist's privilege to tell the audience what to take from their work," all I could think of was, "I am the author! I outrank you!" from "The Producers."

V & Z respond: Better not tell L.E. in Putnam County that Mel Brooks went back and remade that one as both a play and as a second movie.

History Matters: Pivotal Years

D.B. in Deer Park, NY, writes: My entry is 1066, since this changed not just the history of England and Europe, but everywhere that eventually became a part of the British Empire.

Before the main event at Hastings, there was the battle of Stamford Bridge, which essentially ended the Norse run as a superpower and probably delayed a more permanent European follow-up to Leif Erikson's brief exploration of North America by quite some time.

And as for William's defeat of Harold Godwinson, the Norman overlords and their Saxon subjects eventually created a culture, political system, and language that was uniquely English. And in the person of Edward III they returned to the continent some 300 years later as a terrifying aggressor.

The effects of this are still felt to this day, even in the form of relatively minor incidents such as last month's submarine deal where Britain took the side of two of her former colonies against (who else?) the French.



D.H. in Boston, MA, writes: I can't pick just one.



F.S. in Cologne, Germany, writes: A few more pivotal years in world history:



T.B. in Tallahassee, FL, writes: As a student of geology, I suggest "our ancestors" who figured out how to turn light and water into energy, releasing oxygen, was the single most important evolutionary innovation ever. These cyanobacteria "ancestors" did this around 3 billion years ago. Before that, there wasn't any free oxygen in the air. Think what a totally different world we had back then!

For those who only want to count the behavior of homo sapiens, I'd select a date about 10,000 years ago when "our ancestors" started burning wood in earnest (and forests, sometimes) and developed agriculture. They (and their descendants who started burning coal, and even those who started burning petroleum) unwittingly added "extra" CO2 (sometimes agricultural methane) to the atmosphere, offsetting some consequences of the Milankovitch cycles which were starting to cool the Earth's surface around that time. These ancestors were doing great at keeping the Earth's surface temperatures relatively stable until we got over-zealous in the 1950s and since (which is now our biggest problem, an almost existential one). Without a stable environment, most of the peace and tranquility we have today wouldn't be possible. Yes, I read the headlines, but there might not now be headlines if the Little Ice Age (c.1400-1850) started a thousand (or 8 thousand) years earlier and steadily got worse, without the anthropogenic additions of atmospheric CO2.

History Matters: Columbus

D.K. in Oceanside, CA, writes: Regarding the possibility that Columbus may have been a secret Jew known as a Marrano, I'm sure you are aware that 'marrano' means 'pig' in Spanish. Not a compliment to anyone of any religion.

V & Z respond: Yes, the term that is often used today is crypto-Jew, but we thought that sounded worse to someone not in the know.



E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, writes: My wife, who's not into politics and gets annoyed at culture wars issues, prefers what I think is a brilliant new name for Columbus Day and/or Indigenous People's Day. Her suggestion is Explorer's Day, a name that can cover both Columbus and Indigenous People, plus more. Apparently, she is not alone, as Monday was Explorer's Day in the popular game Animal Crossing, and the name has been suggested before in place of Columbus Day.

While I take your point that Columbus was bad at math (the circumference of the Earth had been known for centuries), and he benefited from a lucky accident of there being a continent in the way, there's no doubt that he and his crew (which may have included free Africans) were explorers venturing into the unknown.

The same can be said for other luminaries such as Magellan, Marco Polo, Henry Hudson, the Vikings who landed in North America before Columbus, Lewis and Clark and Sacagawea, and many, many more. Explorer's Day also covers Indigenous People since all of them were descended from courageous explorers who crossed the land bridge or came by boat, and it celebrates the Polynesians who colonized Hawaii. It also celebrates the folks who ran the Underground Railroad and the newly freed blacks moving up from the South to big cities in The Great Migration. It celebrates the Asian immigrants and refugees who built the railroads in the West.

In a more abstract sense, the name can also cover people who explore the unknown in many realms such as science and medicine, music and the arts, and others. Overall, the name has something for nearly everyone and would most likely make someone from every group upset, which is probably the sign of a good compromise.



S.B. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: Solid analysis about Columbus and genocide. In regard to motive, there is an additional factor that was overlooked. While Columbus was Italian, he sailed under a Spanish flag. Columbus left on his first voyage right after Spain had just completed the, "Reconquista." This was an over-500-year effort on the part of Christians to expel the Muslim Moors from the Iberian peninsula.

The co-monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella were dubbed by the Pope at the time as "Their Most Catholic Majesties." So Columbus' whole endeavor was underwriten by a die-hard Catholic government. In addition to political/monetary conquest, a significant motive was also to convert as many natives as possible to Christianity. Of course, this was mostly done in an improper, often shocking manner, but does support the notion that the motive was not the elimination of the natives.



W.S. in Portland, OR, writes: You conclude your Thursday evaluation of Columbus by saying "...one can acknowledge his venality without turning inappropriately him into Satan. Columbus was not a nice man, but he was not Adolf Hitler, either."

Yes, a mass murdering, child-raping slaver and land grabber who didn't view the native populations as human doesn't sound like a nice man, but that hardly captures the horrors he unleashed. Not quite Jesus or not quite Hitler/Satan is a false dichotomy.

Not up to your usual standards.



M.R. in Nutley, NJ, writes: As an Italian-American who grew up in a working class neighborhood in Queens during the 1950s and '60s, I'd like to present a different take on Columbus Day than either the far-right or far-left views. For us, it was just the Italian-American version of St. Patrick's Day—a celebration of ethnic pride and an affirmation that we actually meant something in America. We didn't know anything about Columbus or what he did, really. All that mattered was that his name was Cristoforo Colombo, that he was an Italian that the Americans respected, and that the country existed because of him and everybody knew it.

When Columbus Day was first becoming "a thing" in cities like New York, Boston, Newark, and Philadelphia, Italians were seen in much the same way that Mexicans are now—a different, lesser, more dangerous race than "real" Americans who came from North of the Alps. While we were seen as a necessary evil—somebody had to build the roads and buildings, clean up the garbage, work in the sewers and sweatshops. We were subject to the same kind of racist treatment that brown people are subject to today. Columbus Day was the day that being Italian-American was something to be proud of. It also eventually became the day to celebrate that many of us had conquered the New World—that we'd worked our way out of the slums, now owned houses and businesses, our kids went to school, even to college. We had become respectable.

Maybe we need to move on and find another way to celebrate our heritage. This isn't the time to celebrate someone like Columbus. But I can't help but envy the Irish—they're fortunate in that the focus of their ethnic pride may have been mythical, and in any case, he did his nasty deeds far enough away from here that nobody objects to celebrating his day.



J.C. in Honolulu, HI, writes: Growing up in Minnesota, we honored and celebrated Leif Erikson, not Columbus. In fact there is a park on the shores of Lake Superior in Duluth called Leif Erikson Park. Scandinavians know that they were the first Europeans to pay a visit to the "New World." We just don't brag about it.

Gallimaufry

J.H. in Lake Forest, CA, writes: Thought you'd like to see this t-shirt I found when I visited Albuquerque a few years ago:

The shirt says 'New Mexico: It ain't new,
and it ain't Mexico'



T.C. in Denver, CO, writes: Years ago, I moved from New Mexico to Georgia. I wanted to exchange my New Mexico driver's license for a Georgia one, and called the DMV to learn how to do this. The lady put down the phone, and I overheard her ask someone nearby: "I've got someone on the phone who has a Mexico license..."

I hung up, called the other DMV across town, and said, "Hello, I have an Arizona driver's license..."



B.C. in Walpole, ME, writes:

56 kbps!

I'm having myself a little cry right now, remembering the good old days of dial-up, AOL, Compuserve, American government before Newt Gingrich, the Cold War ... ah, those were the days my friend, those were the days. When wild conspiracy theories—a Marine colonel running a rogue-elephant foreign policy/military operation out of the White House—turned out to be true! We'll not see times like that again.


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