Chatological Humor: Monthly with Moron

Jun 26, 2012

Join Gene Weingarten Tuesday, May 29 during his monthly chat with readers.

Take the polls:
- New Yorker cartoon contest
- Abortion map poll (I am anti-abortion | I am pro-choice)

Want more? Here's Gene's latest chat.

Gene Weingarten's humor column, Below the Beltway, appears every Sunday in The Washington Post magazine. It is syndicated nationally by the Washington Post Writers Group.

About this chat:
At one time or another, Below the Beltway has managed to offend persons of both sexes as well as individuals belonging to every religious, ethnic, regional, political and socioeconomic group. If you know of a group we have missed, please write in and the situation will be promptly rectified. "Rectified" is a funny word.

On one Tuesday each month, Gene is online to take your questions and abuse. Although this chat is sometimes updated between live shows, it is not and never will be a "blog," even though many persons keep making that mistake. One reason for the confusion is the Underpants Paradox: Blogs, like underpants, contain "threads," whereas this chat contains no "threads" but, like underpants, does sometimes get funky and inexcusable.

Important, secret note to readers: The management of The Washington Post apparently does not know this chat exists, or it would have been shut down long ago. Please do not tell them. Thank you.

Weingarten is also the author of "The Hypochondriac's Guide to Life. And Death," co-author of "I'm with Stupid," with feminist scholar Gina Barreca and "Old Dogs: Are the Best Dogs," with photographer Michael S. Williamson.

New to Chatological Humor? Read the FAQ.

Ed's Note: If composing your questions in Microsoft Word please turn off the Smart Quotes functionality or use WordPad. I haven't the time to edit them out.

Good afternoon. Long intro. Sorry. The upside is that it will change your life. But feel free to remain unmoved, and skip ahead to the super simple math riddle you won’t solve because you’re stupider than a child.

Two years ago I predicted that President Obama would be re-elected in a landslide. In the face of absolutely universal opinion to the contrary, I still feel that way.  Until a few days ago I could not explain why, but then it hit me with all the force of a great metaphor I haven’t yet come up with: I have intuited a new political paradigm, an entirely novel way of thinking about presidential elections. At least, it is novel so far as I know. I haven’t researched punditry precedent here, but am nonetheless willing to take full credit. My thesis is no less comprehensive and startling than, say, than Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History,” which unfortunately proved to be wrong after earning him fame and huge amounts of money. We’re in that territory here. Timidly, I tested my new paradigm against the implacable facts of history, and it proved nearly infallible:

Year after year, through two centuries and nine wars, through economic booms and recessions, adjusting only for changing concepts of the principle variable, voters almost always choose the candidate they perceive to be ...  cooler. Not more qualified, or more handsome, or even simply more likeable; none of those metrics reliably predicted outcomes, nor did the supposedly mighty fact of incumbency. None of those proved more reliable than an objective comparison of cool. 

With only one clear exception and two more that might be arguable, the presidential winner has always been the guy with the most juice: personality, sense of self, unflappability, and a quality I’d define as “with it.” Bill Clinton defeated George H.W. Bush the instant that he instructed the older, suspected-weenie president of the United States, during a debate, to “chill.”

That election, like a few others, featured a matchup that presented a crystal clear choice between cool and uncool. Kennedy v. Nixon was another, of course, where the vastly more qualified man lost to the vastly more cool. Likewise, Truman-Dewey, Roosevelt- Hoover and (we’ll get to this presently) Jackson-J.Q. Adams, which is where I began my research, for reasons I’ll explain. 

American politics being what it is, attracting the sort of people it does, the electoral judgment  often comes down not so much to who is cooler, but to who is less uncool. Before having to face the saxophone-playing Clinton, the first Bush -- a man who looked and acted like a grouchy insurance salesman -- had the astonishing good fortune to run against the biggest stiff ever to win a major party nomination. Few remember it, but Michael Dukakis started out way ahead in the polls – American knew George Bush and considered him a “wimp,” until Dukakis proved himself incapable of mustering even a thimbleful of juice when lobbed a softball question about the theoretical rape of his wife. In the end, he wound up making H.W. look like Miles Davis.

Being cool is a total-package thing, a life-story thing, and is not completely congruent with being “personable.” There are elections in which the more personable candidate lost – the dour, laconic, painfully introverted Ulysses S. Grant defeated the far more outgoing Horatio Seymour in 1868, and, four years later, the quirky, charismatic Horace Greeley. But back then – pre-TV and radio -- the public knew next to nothing about the candidates personally; their resumes and sloganeering mostly presented the person, “war hero” was the apotheosis of cool. (Until the TV era, we elected war heroes all the time, a hit-and-miss, cool-driven system that gave us excellent presidents like Andy Jackson and Teddy Roosevelt, good ones like Ike, and feebs like Zach Taylor and William Henry “Tippecanoe” Harrison. Cool is not always better, but it almost invariably gets the votes.)

It was sloganeering that elevated the dour, dyspeptic, James K. Polk over Henry Clay, one of the most eloquent, effective, and personally colorful legislators in American history. But  Polk’s slogan – “Fifty-four Forty or Fight” – was indelibly cool. It was exactly the right slick, pugnacious tone for a young country drunk on expansion and spoiling for conflict. The choice was between that feisty little title and, um, “The Great Compromiser,” a man most famous as a conciliator. A plodder. The illusion of cool won.

The least cool man ever to hold the presidency was probably the hulking, stubble-faced paranoic, Richard Nixon.   The contest between him and Hubert Humphrey was definitely one of those “less uncool” elections, and here the paradigm bends but does not break.  Nixon had the cool cachet of a zombie – he’d somehow engineered a return from the political graveyard. Humphrey, a political hack who could give rousing speeches and was clearly the more likable man, fell most uncoolly silent during the debacle of the Chicago convention that nominated him.

Something similar but more dramatic happened four years later:  Nixon faced George McGovern, the clear choice of young America.   What could possibly be cooler than young America? It’s hard to imagine McGovern having beaten Nixon in any event, but we’ll never know because McGovern started his campaign with as dreadful a lapse of cool as we’ve ever seen. When  news broke that McGovern’s newly chosen running mate, Sen. Tom Eagleton, had once been treated for depression with electric-shock therapy, McGovern declared himself “one thousand percent” behind Eagleton. It was quite a moment for cool.  Alas, McGovern's support quickly fell to roughly 240 percent, and then, a few days later, when the furor did not cease, McGovern dumped Eagleton. I was 21, with hair at my shoulders and a joint in my mouth, a rabid McGovern supporter, and I remember watching that wretched skinback on TV and specifically thinking, “very uncool, man.”   

The paradigm can be successfully applied quadrennially, beginning with Jackson because his was the first genuine presidential election: The first six presidents were essentially legacy hires – founding fathers filling out a tacitly understood  succession.)  Jackson’s very first election seemed to violate the paradigm, until you go to the numbers.

Jackson – a man so cool he had a scar on his face earned at the age of 13, when he was slashed by a British soldier after refusing to polish his boots -- lost to the saturnine incumbent John Quincy Adams  in 1824. Except, it turns out he didn’t. He won the popular vote convincingly, but there were so many candidates he didn’t get a majority of electoral votes; the election went to the House, where ratty politics prevailed. Four years later, Jackson trounced J.Q. man to man, better than two to one.

Other seeming violations of the Cool Paradigm also fall under statistical scrutiny. War hero William Henry Harrison lost to phlegmatic Martin Van Buren in 1836 only because his party made a huge gamble, and lost. The Whigs ran four candidates against Van Buren – each in his region of popularity – on the hope of getting another election without an electoral majority, sending it again into the House, which they controlled.   Didn’t work, though. Van Buren won a majority, though Harrison beat him one-to-one. Any doubt about who was more popular was erased four years later when the same war hero trounced the same bureaucrat in the biggest electoral landslide to that time.

In 1912, bigger-than-life Teddy Roosevelt lost to the ramrod-stiff Woodrow Wilson (“looks like an apothecary’s clerk,” TR once scoffed of his opponent) only because it was not a man-to-man race.  There was a third candidate – the incumbent Republican W.H. Taft, who was LITERALLY bigger than life – and who split the Republican vote nearly in half. 

One of the few times a war hero actually lost was in 1852 – for reasons of cool. The loser, Winfield Scott, was one of our country’s most successful and decorated military man.   Scott’s problem is that, within and despite the cachet of the military, he was hopelessly uncool. His nickname was “Old Fuss and Feathers” because he looked like this and was a foppish fan of pomp and pageantry. Worse, at the time of the election he was well on his way to becoming a gout-plagued slab whose weight no horse could bear and who would earn the derisive title “Old Fat and Feeble”. His resume might still have carried him, unlike the horses, except he had the misfortune to be up against the handsomest man to run for the presidency – and one with a fabulous publicist. The dreadful Franklin Pierce had been college buddies with Nathaniel Hawthorne, who wrote for his friend a campaign biography that was a beautifully written best-selling lie that turned Pierce’s ineffectuality into a strength. Pierce had not seemingly accomplished much, Hawthorne explained, because he was cool -- a man who had the strength of character and self-possession to work great feats while remaining in the background and letting others take credit; he was not for slavery, exactly; he believed slavery would eventually end of its own accord, like a bad dream.   (This fawning biography, which also failed to notice that Pierce was a drooling drunk, cost Hawthorne much of his reputation and many of his friends.)

The most fascinating election to pivot on cool was that of 1884, featuring two colorless walruses – Grover Cleveland against James G. Blaine. It was the dirtiest presidential campaign ever, conducted almost completely in competing smear campaigns, since each candidate had a major skeleton. Blaine had taken bribes from the railroads, and there were compromising documents to prove it.   The corpulent Cleveland had apparently fathered a child out of wedlock, with a woman of ill repute about whom little was known except the saucy, apparently damning fact that she … “spoke French.”  Cleveland owned up to having slept with the lady, and accepted paternity to save the reputation of his law partner, who was probably the father but who, unlike Cleveland, was married at the time. In short, what you had in 1884 were competing scandals, of ENORMOUSLY different levels of cool. Guess who won?

Time and again, the paradigm holds. The only election where I throw up my hands is Johnson-Goldwater. By any measure, Goldwater was cooler. I offer only the feeble hypothesis that Johnson retained some Kennedy cool by proxy. But as a revered historian, I cannot prosecute that enthusiastically.

I could go on, but won’t. We have come here to the current campaign, which features a man who even his haters concede is cool, against a man who even his supporters concede is not. Obama is the guy who sings Barry White. Obama is a guy who once – Mr. Miyagi like – basically caught a fly in midair, with chopsticks.    

Obama is the guy who performed this perfectly cool evisceration of Donald Trump.

In short, Obama is the guy who inspires this sort of bin-Laden based parody.

Whereas Romney invites this sort.

Obama, by a landslide.

Meanwhile, here is a math puzzle given to me by my son Dan, a math major at George Mason.    It is fair, and the instructions are accurate.  That last sentence is important. Please do not send in a solution if you already have seen this. 

Please take the polls.  We’ll be discussing them early:

- New Yorker cartoon contest
- Abortion map poll (I am anti-abortion | I am pro-choice)

We’ll start promptly at noon.

And then he gets Osama. Yeah, Obama wins in a landslide,

Yes.   The great thing is that when he did that to Trump, he knew -- or hoped -- he'd have bin Laden in a matter of hours.   Private little head game. 

Your denunciation of tl;dr on twitter is mostly correct, but there is one very good use for it, and is probably its original and intended purpose: to let someone on the internet know that they are a over-wrought, self-indulgent, blithering idiot to whom the effort of writing an actual response telling them that much is more than they deserve. It's more a tool of internet forums and message boards when you inevitably run into someone who is: so in love with themselves, is trolling for all the love and attention and pity they think they deserve, or both, and giving them the courtesy of an actual reply is only feeding the monster.

For those confused here, I derided the internet abbreviation "TLDR," which means "too long, didn't read."  I said it was a a succinct modern confession of shallowness.

So, yeah.  I can see where it might be a deserved putdown, though the context in which I had just read it was not that; it was in response to a thoughtful analysis of something. 

Gene, I became a naturalized American citizen when I was 25. I am under-educated in American history, and your fabulous intro to today's chat reminds me of this sad fact. Please help me. Please recommend a few good books on American presidents (preferably books that are shorter than Mr. Caro's). Thank you.

Write to me at weingartn@washpost.com

I don't have a problem with "showing your papers." If I am pulled over for something, I have to show license, registration and sometimes insurance info. My problem is the so called probable cause to get to that point. So many things can be used to stop someone for "legitimate" reasons that are really bogus because its the cop's word and can be easily fabricated: weaving, following too close. A couple of favorites where I live is expired tag (even when its not expired) and tag light is missing or out (state requires a light over your license plate). Ask any black person how often they get stopped for DWB. A friend of mine bought a Crossfire and in the first year he had it got pulled over 6 times for some trumped up reason just so the cops could check his papers to make sure a black guy should be driving a sports car. He sold the car at a loss just to cut down on the cop stops. I guess I'm just not as trusting that law enforcement will do the right thing as the Supreme Court is.

Yeah, this is exactly the problem.   There is no way that law will be enforced without obvious racial profiling.  I'd NEVER be asked to show papers.    

Well, I might be because I could plausibly be middle eastern. 

Okay, Johnny Carson NEVER would have been asked. 

I am pro-choice. I'm a woman and feel strongly about this. However, I have known women who have used abortion as a form of birth control - meaning they are having unprotected sex and getting pregnant and getting an abortion. There were various reasons for not using some kind of protection, but it was the only case I seriously felt uncomfortable about a woman's right to choose. What are your thoughts?

I think a woman has a right to do anything she wants with a very early fetus.   I think it's not healthy to use it as a form of birth control.  But my views on abortion, very early, are unequivocal.   The more we ask a woman "why" the more we are violating her privacy, and her rights to her own body.  

I am not sure that abortion map is accurate. I am originally from Canada (although I have lived for almost 20 years in tis country), and there are some limits on abortion in Canada, although you would not know it from that map. That makes me wonder how accurate it is for other countries as well.

Yeah, I think "no limits" is a very loose designation.  There are limits in the United States, too. 

Assume you are familiar with this website since it touches on topics dear to your chat, but sending it along just in case,

I have not seen this before, and will spend time with it.   It does remind me of a conversation I once had with an old man who grew up in the rural south and informed me that one of the great secrets of  the world, and plagues of modernity, was that NOTHING works better in the bathroom than an old corncob.   He explained this with great specificity, to the point that I got uncomfortable.   

But the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to make sense.   Has anyone within the reach of these pixels used a corncob?

Okay, what about Ford v Carter? All bets off because Ford pardoned Nixon?

Not at all.  Ford was boring.  Carter was very interesting, at first.  He was a famer and a nuclear scientist, as I recall.   Great, interesting mother.   This was a very clear choice for cool.   He turned out to be more boring and wishy-washy than we'd thought. 

Gene, I am worried about what that math problem says about me. I had seen it before and, after a cursory glance, ignored it as a waste of time. But because you brought it up this time, I felt like I had to figure it out. And I did, in about fifteen minutes. I'm not sure where I fall on the "higher education" scale (bachelors in engineering from a pretty prestigious university), but so far I'm closer to the pre-school side of the spectrum and that worries me. Hopefully some more of your readers will put me at ease! For what it's worth, it was really the first sentence that helped me out. Originally I was looking at all these weird relations between the numbers, and then had to dial it back to what a pre-schooler would know.

I didn't get it at ALL. 

Not sure your abortion map is accurate. It says that the US is a place where you can legally get an abortion for any reason. But haven't the states been passing hundreds of resrtictions that limit abortion access?

They can't pass restrictions that go beyond Roe v. Wade, and subsequent limiting decisions.   But yes, in general this map is over summarizing.   The key is that a woman can abort for any reason EARLY.   First trimester, our Supreme Court has not yet nullified this. 

Of course it is a trick question, but it is unusual in that you can figure out the answer without knowing what the trick is. This wouldn't have been the case if the last number had been, say, 2481.

Before I publish the answer, write back and explain why you say this.  I am not sure you are getting it.   And it is not really a "trick."  It is completely fair. 

Don't hide the list in an e-mail where only one person can read it, post it in a later update so that the rest of us can see it, too.

Okay.  I just need time to think about it, and consult Von Drehle, my personal historian. 

The answer is 2. I've never seen this before. It took me about three minutes.

Correct.  Now let's see if people who didn't get it can figure out why it is 2. 

I'm sure other veterans responding to the 11 June B&C have already told you that D-Day is short for "Debarkation Day", but I love correcting people, so I'm chiming in. What's more, I now have an opening to explain that every amphibious landing launched by the US military has its own D-Day. 6 June 1944 is THE D-Day only because it was by far the largest. You're so very welcome!

You're right about the second point, but wrong about the first.  "Debarkation Day" is a common misconception, but it's a misconception.   The strip got it right.    All invasions happen a D day and H hour.   

Oddly enough, there was some discussion online on whether this strip was disrespectful, somehow, to the dead.  Or the country.  Or something.   Not sure why anyone felt that, but some did. 

How about that Betsy Rothstein?! She's really professional, mature, adult, insightful, analytical, intellectual and profound, isn't she? Isn't that website she lords over just full of incredibly intellectual, insightful and profound news, discussion and analysis about media and the news industry? Isn't it fascinating how well-received that website is by journalists, politicians, businessmen and intellectuals?!!!

It's kind of amazing how professional, fair and breathtakingly FUNNY FishbowlDC is.    But you're right, the most remarkable achievement is their maturity and their unnerving ability to land big stories that others don't get, completely changing the landscape of journalism in the nation's capital.   They're never in the sort of situation where they just don't KNOW anything, and can't find OUT anything because no one will talk to them anymore; therefore, they're never reduced to baseless snarking and adolescent-level sarcasm to hide their inability to actually report.     That's the main thing. 

And yes, all real journalists envy Betsy.   We just don't have her talent and writing ability, or her ability to surround herself with such luminous talent.   What that website has, frankly, is class. 

They are so good, and fair, that journalists would happily criticize them publicly, if there were anything to criticize, which there isn't.   No one would be afraid of Betsy relentlessly savaging them back in an infantile fashion, just to punish criticism and provoke reaction.   That's because she's just not that kind of person.   She's a pro.   All journo men want her, and all journo women want to be her.   

Gene, for the good of the Post -- and indeed, as I will explain below, possibly the entire planet Earth -- I need you to tell me I am wrong about the following issue, and why. Otherwise I need you to make this right. The Post's radio ads end with the narrator voicing the paper's advertising slogan: "If you don't get it, you don't get it." But every time I've heard the ad, the stress is on the second "don't" -- "If you don't get it, you DON'T get it." Am I crazy that this drives me CRAZY? The point of the repetition here is presumably to play on the dual meaning of the phrase "get it." If you don't get the paper, you don't "get" what's going on in the world. Clever. Not bad, as tag lines go. But vocally, this play on "get it" must be delivered by stressing the second "get," right? If you don't get it, you don't GET it. You're a schlub who just... doesn't... GET it. Emphasizing the DON'T, however, makes the narrator sound like he is the one who doesn't quite get it. It is a self-evident fact that if I don't receive the paper, I DON'T receive the paper. There is no contradiction to overcome here; no one is protesting that if they don't get the Post, they actually DO get the Post. (Though, as I type this, it occurs to me that maybe the brass feels exactly this way about people who read the paper exclusively online... is this a Freudian slip into the unconscious fears of the Post's graybeards? "No, if you're not paying for it, you DON'T actually get it, OK?") In any case, to my ears, your radio announcer sounds like he is scolding a pushy child rather than hawking newspapers ("No, you DON'T get another cookie.") This impacts the entire planet because, as we saw in the movie Contact, these radio transmissions are broadcast out into space where any alien can hear them. Is this sloppy misunderstanding of our primary mode of communication really how we want to be perceived by potentially hostile aliens? I think you see the problem here, Gene. Please advise. Alternatively, use your great power within the company to set this right and save us all.

TLDR. 

Haha.   Just kidding.   No, I'm not.   That was too long.   Except your point is exactly right.  If I haven't made it here before, I meant to.     It was a brilliant slogan that they are completely ruining with their inflection.   Someone needs to do something about it.   

I'm having to actually refresh your page all by myself. It's getting rather tedious. Is this something my government-work computer is forcing on me, or yet another problem on the Post website?

Anyone else having this problem?

One of the things I have wondered, long before we knew who would win the 2008 election, was whether the eventual victor could win a second term based on this: Only once have three consecutive Presidents each won two full terms of office - Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe. All of the other instances where three straight Presidents served more than 4 years in office was due to a VP taking over after a President's death (e.g. TR and Truman only won one election each at the head of the ticket). Adding to it is the fact that he three consectuive two-term Presidents were founding fathers, not just three mid 19th century schlubs. I have no clue if there's a mathematical argument for or against it happening again from a probabliity standpoint - I'd be interested to know though. Just a curious bit of history.

Interesting.   At least to me.   

Since we're talking about presidents, I just wanted to add that my old high-school gang of political nerds and I devised a measurement to describe extreme obesity, called a taft, which is approximately 336 pounds. Manuel Uribe, the heaviest living person, used to be 2.35 tafts, until his recent weight loss, which brought him down to a svelte 1.30 tafts.

I like it, but it's not really a measure of obesity since it is weight only and not girth.   There are plenty of offensive linemen who weigh in at a taft or more, but aren't obese. 

I HATE HATE HATE when people say this. I am pro-choice and I feel like morons like to say this a lot. "I'm against women using abortion as birth control." ABORTION *IS* A FORM OF BIRTH CONTROL! THAT'S WHAT IT IS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Technically yes.   You win.  But I think we all know what we mean here. 

Gene, as you requested I just emailed you at weingartn@washpost.com but the email bounced back as undeliverable. Is your address actually weingarten@washpost.com?

Yes, sorry. 

Gene, What was the real kicker as to why you wanted children? All I can think of are reasons not to have children because I don't want them to have entered a world full of suffering and hate. I also don't think we are financially ready and we don't even own our own home yet. On the other side, I would really like to have a child or even adopt a child. I can't explain it - I just want it. Is that how you felt?

The simplest answer is that we wanted a child because it would be an interesting bite to take out of life, and because we didn't want to die alone.    I wanted a second child, mostly, in case one died. 

I know that sounds horrible, but I am being honest.   

Gene, I noticed that the two choices for this poll were "I am anti-abortion" and "I am pro-choice." Isn't that a little slanted? How about "I am pro-life" for the former or "I am pro-abortion" for the latter? Let's either use euphemisms for both or for neither. For the record, I am anti-abortion and anti-euphemism.

Huh?  You are arguing against logic. 

Pro-life is a misnomer.  I don't accept it at all.   I am pro life, but I am also pro-choice.  I think life is good.   Pro-life is a loaded term.  Anti-abortion is not.     Someone who is pro-choice is not in favor of abortion.    I would much prefer that there are fewer abortions. 

Pro-life is one of the most loaded terms out there.  

All three suggestions for the first cartoon are awful. The image alone without a caption would be the funniest, were it an option. The second cartoon's suggestions are only slightly better. When I read the immigration policy caption, for about one-tenth of a second I felt something inside my gut that may have been a tiny spark of joy, but it quickly died as my eyes moved on to the rest of the entries. Let's just end this terrible contest and let the NY pros make their lame jokes for us.

My, what a sour person you are. 

You are wrong.   In the first cartoon, the Godfather answer is VASTLY superior to the others, and very good, because it creates a hilarious mental image.  But it didn't win.   The "younger crowd" one did.     

The second group is more interesting.   The top three responses are the three finalists -- none has been chosen yet.   The second two are my entries -- I actually sent them in --that were not chosen.   To me the funniest is the one so few of you chose:  It's the same idea as the "immigration policy" but this is not a country, it's a GATED COMMUNITY.    Thus, riff-raff, and "I move" as though dealing with stilted condo rules.  

Explain why this was not the best.   I am all ears.   Willing to be put down and lectured and whatnot.  

I'm interested in why you feel Andrew Jackson was an excellent president. He was certainly one of the more genocidal.

Yes, he was arguably a genocidal maniac, but most historians agree he was a vitally important president; he was the first president who was not an anointed aristocrat.  He was the first people's president; he changed the very nature of the office, and our assumptions of what it took to be a president.   

This is not a math problem -- it's the last four digits of each of my recent dates' phone numbers, followed by the number of time we boinked. I'm mortified.

You should be proud! 

I saw that the Anti-Gene on twitter announced that his new favorite song lyric was, "before I met you I missed you so bad", trumping, "they're sharing a drink they called loneliness". I don't know if you even know the catchy Carly Rae Jepson song this is referencing, but it got me thinking. I'm willing to overlook the terrible lyrics in a modern pop song, but I can't get past Joel's awful lyric. But the two singers were roughly the same age when the songs were released! Seems unfair, but there you go.

The amazing thing about Piano Man is that it has one of the worst lyrics ever written and one of the best.  The very last line of that song is a killer.  Pure poetry. 

I wish I'd never discovered this chat. A few weeks ago I had the dreaded "B" seat on a cross-country flight on a low-cost airline. Being conscious of the lack of legroom, I did not tilt my seat, though the inconsiderate dolt in front of me leaned his all the way back, basically into my lap. It was five and a half hours of sheer misery that I could have avoided if I had tilted my own seat back, but I was too mindful of how this chat would have made me feel like an evil person.

Good.   Why not complain to the guy in front of you?  Or pass him our card?

The country-by-country abortion laws map is too simple to support either of the weighty conclusions you provided as options in the survey. The map makes no effort to represent factors such as repressiveness or cultural bias. Demographic and economic variables(population, education, types of industry, etc.) are also conspicuously absent. There's no meat here, just a lot of visual fluff. In addition, I couldn't find the source data used to create this map, and the map's creator is an organization that advocates for reproductive rights. This doesn't mean the map is wrong, but I refuse to draw any conclusions on such a flimsy foundation. Designers of graphics like this should expect more of themselves and their audiences.

Okay, but don't we know certain things about many of these countries?  Intuitively? 

Gene, I'm horrified. I was reading an online article and I saw this phrase "for all intents and purposes." My entire life I have always said and heard "for all intensive purposes." I'm usually fully aware of correct pronunciation and grammar and I want to hide under my desk if I have really be wrong about this phrase for all this time. Tell me it was a victim of the lack of copy editors in online journalism and that I can show my face again. Please.

Ask yourself which makes more sense. 

Ask yourself, in fact, whether what you have been saying all your life makes ANY sense. 

Sorry.  

In response to a question last week, you said that there were a lot of Nazi heroes, under your definition, which is that if anyone who fights and dies for his (or her) country is a hero. Thanks for making that comment, because it helped me clarify my problem with your definition of hero. Willingness to fight and die for your country is heroic, even when your country is in the process of unleashing carnage on an untold scale because of the megalomania of a mad man? No, I just can’t agree with that. But the people who were executed for refusing to serve in the military during the Nazi regime? Yes, those people are heroes.

Hm.   I see your point.   I strongly suspect that none of this was crystal clear to the average German soldier.   The SS knew what they were doing; you're not a hero if you die during ethnic cleansing.   

But your common grunt who dies defending Berlin?  I think in the fog of that sort of war, I can appreciate the bravery, for a cause that seemed patriotic.  

As always, you can find the answer in dialogue from Seinfeld: JERRY: Elaine, what percentage of people would you say are good looking? ELAINE: Twenty-five percent. JERRY: Twenty-five percent, you say? No way! It's like 4 to 6 percent. It's a twenty to one shot. ELAINE: You're way off. JERRY: Way off? Have you been to the motor vehicle bureau? It's like a leper colony down there. ELAINE: So what you are saying is that 90 to 95 percent of the population is undateable? JERRY: UNDATEABLE! ELAINE: Then how are all these people getting together? JERRY: Alcohol.

Thank you. 

aptonym in 6th graf this story about efforts to discourage alcohol abuse: Link

Wow.  First-class aptonym!    A plus. 

Gene - I saw this story today and for some reason, immediately thought of you. Have you ever heard of this? Link -  Apparently, it's a way to help fight C. diff by transplanting the good bacteria from one persons feces into the colon of the infected person.

Do you seriously think I have never addressed this subject???

because it's not a math problem; it is a puzzle, but it has nothing to do with the properties of numbers, their relationships to each other, or our ability to manipulate them to tell us something. It's about shapes. IMHO, telling us it's a math problem/puzzle is calling on us to use a particular set of skills and a particular method of analysis that is completely useless and inappropriate to the puzzle. That's why preschoolers get it - they have no concept of "math"

I wouldn't call that a "trick."  In fact, it announced what it was, in a very valuable hint. 

I loved the strip where the grandfather explains that Abner Refrigerator invented the refrigerator. My dad would always make jokes like that, and so do I. I told my daughter that Jim Camp invented camp so his daughter, Summer, would have a place to go during vacation. That's why it's called summer camp. Does everyone tell jokes like this? What's the origin?

Nice. 

And I don't know the origin.  Maybe it was Ebenezer Pillsbury. 

What I'm really seeing in 2012 is a through-the-looking-glass re-run of 2004. The opposition is really really angry at the president, and hopes that this will motivate their supporters to turn out and vote for the barely likeable out-of-touch rich guy in a suit that they've nominated. Of course, I like to think that the anger at Bush was actually motivated by what he did rather than fantasies about what he might do... and of course, Obama won convincingly in 2008 while Bush had that narrow 5-4 margin. But Romney definitely seems to be a guy that the more you get to know him, the less you like him.

Romney is amazingly unlikeable.   I haven't quite put my finger on why, except that he seems like a total phony.   My only reservation is that Ann Romney seems to have seen something in him. 

I looked at the math problem for fifteen minutes before my 7 year-old daughter strolled over, said "lotsa circles," then sauntered away. Just last night I was listening to a magician tell me that children are harder to fool because they're able to see the big picture better than adults, she just proved it.

Excellent.  And yes, that's the answer.   Just count the circles. 

Gene Weingarten, Herald Tropic, 1985: "A giant Drinking Bird on the shore of Biscayne Bay, just like the novelty store version. Remember those made-in-Hong-Kong Drinking Birds, nodding forever up and down up and down up and down into a glass of water? It would be just like that, but 1,000 feet high. Ah, what the hell. Make it 2,000 feet. How appropriate for the kitsch capital of the world! Curio lovers would flock here from all parts just to gawk at Miami's giant drinking bird, thereby giving South Florida's tourism industry what we in the publishing industry invariably call a 'a needed boost.' The Drinking Bird could even be harnessed to a generator, solving South Florida's energy problems into the year 2100." Gene Weingarten, Washington Post, 2012: "Me: I envision giant drinking ducks, colossuses on the scale of the Hoover Dam, standing over every lake, river and reservoir in America, generating enough power for every American to operate hair dryers, toasters and circular saws 24-7. With your pedigree and my ability to generate publicity, we attract investors and become international drinking duck tycoons." Took you 27 years to get around to asking a physics professor if that would actually work? What if he'd said yes? We could have solved the energy crisis a long time ago.

Wow.  Thanks!   Good work.   Yes, I have been fascinated by the drinking duck for most of my adult life. 

I have another column coming out on it, I believe this weekend.  I shan't tell you what it is, but it will make you cry. 

I remain convinced, as is often the case that my entry was better than all of the three finalists. "No, you giddy up!" Is that the case for you as well?

I don't even UNDERSTAND that answer. 

I was thinking about abortion the other day. There will always be the unanswerable question - when does life begin? Some believe it's once the egg and sperm meet, some believe it's when the fetus is viable on its own, and some believe it's at birth. These are opinions which we will never be able to scientifically and absolutely prove or disprove. However, I don't think anybody would say the pregnant woman is NOT a living person. So the anti-abortion side is willing to subvert the rights of an living person (to which everybody must agree) for the "rights" of something which - depending on your opinion - is or is not a living being. Because of this, it's my opinion that the anti-abortion people are absolutely wrong.

Well, wait a minute.   I think most Americans, including anti-abortion people, would draw a line at circumstances where the life of the mother is in jeopardy. 

I look at the countries that don't draw that line and can very easily say, bad country. 

I had always learned that the appropriate use of the word anymore was in the negative context (You can't park here anymore). But lately I'm hearing it in a positive context, essentially replacing nowadays--Metro is too crowded anymore. Can this possibly be correct?

No.

Hi Gene - I've never written to you before, but your column last weekend struck a chord, and I have a quick story (submitting early as I have a meeting). My good friend (female) and I (female) are college professors. We are happily married with small children. A few months ago, I had this very realistic George Clooney dream, where he took me out to dinner and drinks, and we spent the entire time talking about my research and goals, current events, platform heels, etc. I told my friend the next day - because it really was a very vivid dream - and she told me she had the exact same Clooney dream a month or so before, except he took her to a baseball game and they talked about similar things, he went to the concession stand to get beer for her, etc. We marveled at the fact that our Clooney fantasy dreams have turned into dreams about someone paying attention to us and finding us interesting. Hmmmm. And no, I haven't read 50 Shades of Grey, but mostly because friends I know who have read it haven't been able to finish it because they say it's kind of stupid.

Wow.  I love this!    

You know, I have received a lot of emails from women saying that Gina's point in this column was right on target.   I thought she was mostly playing this for laughs, and stretching, but she says no, as do several readers. 

I actually drove right past my son's day care yesterday with him in the back. Nothing came of it because I realized what happened when I got a weird feeling at the next intersection, but things easily could have gone the wrong way. My son is 2.5, and probably would have started talking to me, but if he had fallen asleep who knows. It's always kills me that people have so little empathy as to not be able to see those situations as the tragedies they are, and after having a "near miss" I have even less respect for those people. Lack of empathy... probably in three words sums up what's wrong with our country, and the world as a whole.

I think I judge other cultures to a great degree based on empathy or lack of empathy.    

It's my 53rd birthday today and I am here in my office in San Francisco. My husband still thinks I'm hot, but my Tuesday mornings will always belong to you.

And mine to you.   

Gene - Sally Jenkins recently held a chat discussion about Lance Armstrong and the recent allegations of doping. She acknowledges a friendship with Armstrong that affects her ability to be impartial. When asked whether it was ethical for her to host a chat on this topic, she responded that not answering the questions would be "ducking." What say you, Gene? Is this ethical journalistic conduct? Does the fact that it is a chat make a difference?

I think it's quite reasonable for her to attempt the chat, attempt objectivity, confess the possibility of bias, and let the readers judge for themselves.  Where's the sin?

I 100% agree with Gina. Beyond any Red Room of Pain, I think many women are wholly attracted to the idea that their partner lavishly devotes himself to her pleasure. She comes first, and all that. It seems that's missing in a whole lot of sexual relationships (mine included). I've actually taken to reading BDSM erotica (far, far better than 50SOG) almost solely because that type of devotion appeals to me even when the idea of getting hit with a flogger does not.

Your use of "she comes first" is poetry. 

Really? Being a genocidal maniac doesn't automatically disqualify you from being a good president?

Really.   You have to judge him against the times.   Remember how many great presidents had slaves. 

I have a bigger problem with Wilson, who served too late to excuse his problems with race.  Wilson was a shocking bigot.  

I did not know why except the "smarmy" numbers were high. Then I remembered Steve Carell of "The Office." That is my reason and I am sticking to it.

Smarmy is a good word.  People said that about Gore, but I don't think that was quite the right word.   Gore was haughty.  

Cool- your link to the fecal transplant discussion got banned by my government computer as a security risk or inappropriate for government use. The joke is that I work in a medical place where I can pull up all kinds of articles about this.

Ha!  Well, I linked to a website about poop, so that might be why.  They had the column. 

It's a column in which I interviewed the doctor who pioneered in fecal transplantation.  His name, I swear, is "Dr. Aas."

My husband and I have been rewatching "Arrested Development." I think it's the second-best show to ever be on TV, behind "Seinfeld." Maybe M.A.S.H. should be before it, but I'm too young to know. What do you think? (The refreshing problem is fixed by nothing I did. Phew.)

I believe the best comedy ever on TV was The Honeymooners.   More ahead of its time. 

"So you want to be President" is a terrific kids' book about the presidents with some excellent drawings. It's a kids' book, so it's not all that deep, but it's interesting and full of fun facts about all the presidents, e.g., who played the violin, who was short/tall, who was born/raised in a log cabin, etc. The drawings alone are worth the price.  Link

Interesting. 

According to the lyric site I jsut visited, the last line of Piano Man is "And say, `Man, what are you doing here?'" This is pure poetry?

Yep.  It is poetry because of what it delivers. 

The suggestion is that he is too good to be playing in that bar.   The first extra thing it delivers is that the person asking the question has low self-esteem. 

But the main thing it delivers is what you understand from the song, deeply:  He DOES belong there.  He is one of them, one of the lonely. 

You aren't allowed to submit more than one caption...maybe that's why neither of yours was chosen.

I submitted the second in someone else's name. 

An astonishingly high-ranking co-worker once wrote in an email to many: "with malice of forethought." I had a good time with that one.

Nice.  It almost makes sense. 

So what do you think of him (or her, I guess)? Do you think he does a good job of being your opposite? Do you know who he (or she) is?

This is in reference to an alter-ego of mine on Twitter. 

1.  I think he or she is excellent.  Creepily my opposite. 

2.  Have no idea who it is. 

3.  There will be  a column about this in two weeks. 

Gene -- I'm an aspiring writer working on a screenplay. Things were progressing quite well until I recently found myself experiencing the phenomenon you describe so well in the intro to your book. Having been told by a manager I need to rework the opening, I am now panicked by the realization that there are infinite ways to write those first few scenes and I keep writing and rewriting and rewriting, sure that the one I haven't come up with yet is the "right" one. Any suggestions for moving past it? Many thanks!

Get something out.   Bull through.  Do NOT freak.  Write something even if it sucks.  Because it might not. 

the zeros and I'm more lost than ever. I guess my advanced degrees are working against me.

Not the zeroes.   The circles.   The closed loops. 

...from one of the MANY "Piano Man" discussions in earlier chats, is Paul the "real estate novelist" is probably going to hook up with "Davy, who's still in the Navy." I never thought of it that way until someone said it in a chat, but it seems obvious.

I think the hookup is between Davey, and the guy who "never had time for a wife."   Was that also the real estate novelist? 

Got it! Each number is just a variable corresponding to an actual numerical value. '0'=1,'1'=0,'2'=0,'3'=0,'5'=0,'6'=1,'7'=0,'8'=2,'9'=1; so 6666 = 1+1+1+1 = 4, 8809 = 2+2+1+1 = 6, etc. So 2851 = 0+2+0+0 = 2. My demographics: 48, female, caucasian, mother of 11-yr-old son and 8-yr-old daughter, IT specialist by trade (used to program, now push papers and attend lots of meetings) for the fed. govt. Love you!

Brilliant! 

"He was a famer and a nuclear scientist, as I recall. Great, interesting mother. This was a very clear choice for cool. He turned out to be more boring and wishy-washy than we'd thought." And that's what worries me, a card-carrying liberal, about the election. In this age, it's harder than ever to control your own narrative and Obama doesn't do a good job with that (yeah yeah he's too cool to worry about it). If he gets elected again, he'll be the Reagan of the Democratic party, but unfortunately, I have a feeling he's going to be Carter, Part II.

Nope.  He's too cool for school.  He is the coolest guy in the room. 

I say this while being quite disappointed in him.   

You, on Piano Man: 1) "The suggestion is that he is too good to be playing in that bar." 2) "The first extra thing it delivers is that the person asking the question has low self-esteem." As to sentence #1: duh. As to sentence #2: sez who? Could it not be that the person asking what Piano Man is doing here is simply a fine judge of talent? After all, he's asking the question of the then-undiscovered BILLY JOEL, fer cryin' out loud.

Oh, we presume he is talented.  The key is that he is metaphorically belonging in a place of desperation and loneliness. 

There are mindless bureaucrats out there who live in paranoia that a freedom of information request will show that their underlings were using government computers to read about poop, fecal transplants, BDSM, and you do realize, it will all be your fault?

This is a very educational chat.  No employer would begrudge it at all. 

Today was about ... American history!

And corncob toilet paper. 

If I purchase a print with your caption, will you sign it for me?

Sure! 

The previous comment about the last question being 2481 had a point. There are no 4s on that list, probably because the number 4 confuses the "trick" - it's unclear whether 4 should be counted or not.

Ah, right.  Well, that could have been solved by drawing the fours open.   Without a closed loop.  

After years of resistance, I just got a Kindle. To my surprise, I'm loving it... so many classics are free, and it's easier to conceal than a physical book for reading when one should probably be paying attention to something else (in church, at the dinner table, at the office...). Anyway, I'd really like to buy your books for my Kindle, but they cost as much or MORE than the hard copies! What's up with that? I know your publisher probably controls your prices, but it just seems insane. Can I just send you a few bucks and/or underpants in return for PDFs of your book manuscripts? I'm only kind of joking.

I'm not seeing this: Amazon tells me the Kindle versions of foth "The Fiddler on the Subway" and "Old Dogs" are one buck cheaper.   No?     Old Dogs is not a good Kindle idea, though: The photos are important. 

Have you seen this, on a small number of women who can see colors the rest of us can't? I seem to remember you writing an article about how women see more color than men...

Interesting.  Yes, the theory is that because, in the animal world -- particularly birds -- males tend do be more colorfully plumaged, the females need the better color perception to distinguish among mates.  

Gene, check out this mugshot. Again... Florida!!!  Here are some of my observations: 1. You'd have to be a real pinhead to think you could get away with that crime; 2. The whole trial will be a pain in the neck; 3. I hope he can shoulder the responsibility of his sentence

Wow.  That is a mugshot! 

I am in general agreement with your "cool" theory. Basically it is the same as the question commentators always ask about "who would you rather have a beer with?" And I have long thought that this is Obama's ace in the hole. In addition to being a mean-spirited square, Romney just seems so untrustworthy with his ever-shifting positions and refusal to really say anything about what he would do as president other than to offer a bunch of substance-free platitudes. He's the rich kid who thinks he's cool, but who everybody hates.

It's not exactly having a beer with.   FDRoosevelt was probably too aristocratic for people to feel comfortable with -- they'd probably think he'd be aloof.    Grant was downright disagreeably terse.    But they were both "cool"  in that they were interesting, commanding, whatnot.  

I'm a big person. At my last annual physical, the doctor asked me to make some changes in diet since my blood sugar number was getting high. I did - fewer carbs, more veggies, smaller portions, but no real exercise (I mean, let's not get crazy here). In the year since, I've dropped two clothing sizes. Old pants fit, old blouses button. My face is thinner, my hips are smaller, my thighs are smaller. My husband has noticed, friends have noticed, even casual work acquaintances have noticed. And at my annual physical... the scale said I gained a pound. I can't tell you how disappointing, frustrating, devastating that number was. It was the first time in my life I was actually looking forward to being weighed - so much for that. I think the sheer violence of my reaction scared my poor husband. So... where did the weight go, or maybe it's more, where did the pounds stay after the body got smaller? The annoying "muscle replaced fat and muscle weighs more" answer really doesn't apply - trust me, I am definitely not "toned." The rest of the universe observes the Conservation of Mass - how could I have lost size without losing weight? And dear God it's frustrating to have people cheerfully (and kindly) compliment me on the drop and then say, "how much have you lost?" when I haven't. I hate this. Thank you for the chance to vent. Have some virtual panties.

I don't know.  I have been going to the gym almost every day, race-walking a mile or two.   I have not lost a pound.  I think I am getting heavier, but not fatter, hammies. 

Gene, I think my husband needs therapy. Not in a goofy "Take my husband! Please!" way, but in the sense that he exhibits many symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder that leave him paralyzed when it comes to even basic decision-making, and unhappy 85-90% of the time. He believes that feeling this way is normal, and that -not- feeling this way would mean altering his personality. Thus, he refuses to see a therapist, and he gets hurt and angry if I bring it up. It is exhausting to live with him. I want him to see a therapist. I want to know how to encourage him to do so. I thought about sending this to Carolyn, but I know what her response would be: "You can't make someone do anything, you can only focus on yourself." I get that. But I also think you are a smart man who might see things differently than Carolyn, and who might be able to offer some suggestions. The whole "Wouldn't you see a doctor if you had a sprained ankle?" argument doesn't work. He wouldn't see a doctor. He would just quietly hobble around until it got better on its own or his foot fell off.

There is one way to do this.   It is what I recommend.  Make it about you.   Tell him that he is causing you pain and jeopardizing your marriage, which sounds like the truth.  Ask him to see a therapist to save you pain, and save your marriage.  If he still doesn't, you have a next step.  

Oh, please. The most avidly anti-choice people are the MOST likely to view the USA as morally/culturally/religiously superior to the anti-choice countries identified in your map. Also, it is okay, IMHO, to view countries that are more repressive of women as inferior to those that are less so. To do otherwise is to engage in that "moral relativism" that the fervidly religious/conservative/anti-choise folks get all up in arms about.

I agree.    To me a country that is repressive to women is a "bad" country.   I feel this is not culturally chauvinistic at all.   There are certain universal truths.   

The first job I got right out of college required that I travel 5 days a week. I had a company car and covered about half the state of Louisiana. Since I was a 22 yr. old female out by myself in the big bad world, my father decided I needed a gun so he bought one for me for Christmas. At the time, Louisiana didn't require permits or registrations, you could just go into a gun store and buy one. The law also said you could carry the gun openly as long as it was not concealed. Meaning you could leave it on the passenger seat of the car in full view while driving. Having a gun turned out to be a huge burden. I had to remember to take it in and out of the car into hotel rooms, didn't know what to do with it when I made sales calls: leave it in the car on the seat in full view or violate the law and stick it under the seat? What if someone broke in my car and stole it? One day I was driving in a rural area and there was a speed zone change that I didn't see, next thing I know the blue lights are flashing behind me. I looked over at that gun and thought, Holy Sh*t, I don't care what the flippin law says, I'm gonna get pulled over, the cop is going to see this gun and no doubt immediately pull his gun, and the whole situation would get really ugly fast, all for going 55 in a 45 zone. I put it under the seat but figured the cop was gonna know because I was shaking like a leaf. After that, I decided to leave the gun in my apartment in New Orleans. But where to hide it? Not many places to conceal that are not obvious in a small 1 bedroom apartment. Then, I spent the week worrying that someone would break into my apartment and steal it. Instead of providing comfort and protection, the damn gun was jacking me into a constant state of nerves. After 6 months of this, I gave it back to my dad and managed the big, bad world just fine without one and I'm a healthy 54 yr. old today. I now live outside Atlanta and a few years ago, the State legislature went off the deep end. We can now carry concealed weapons into bars. Really? Can you see any good coming out of this at all? The legislature went even further by allowing you to strap on a side arm in Atlanta-Hartsfield Airport. This was AFTER 9/11! Fortunately, the airport authority is a separate body from the city of Atlanta, they took it to court and the court said the state law did not apply to airport property. The airport literally dodged the bullet. I feel less safe in Atlanta with all the guns around, I have no idea when somebody will pull one out for some silly reason, like you cut them off in traffic. Or you looked at them the wrong way. We live in crazy times, Gene, and you're right, people want their guns, dadgummit.

Interesting story!  

Obviously, you are preaching to the choir.  

I would just like to note that as a small child, I believed that the bar patrons were stuffing actual bread into Billy Joel's tip jar. I recall thinking that either they were cheap or he wasn't a very good piano player.

Hahaha. 

Too bad. I did not vote for him, but when I listen to him on television I am in complete agreement. He seems lik a rational person expression pure logic. Especially with the quote about being for religious freedom means you chose for yourself, not others.

Oh, he is terrifically thoughtful and eloquent.  I like him enormously and will of course vote for him.  I think he is a good man who means what he says, usually. 

I think he's made some mistakes and shown greater weakness in certain areas than I expected.   Of course, my expectations were outsized. 

Nice political pap, Gene, but the mere fact that you've found some examples of your unmeasurable coolness quotient test doesn't prove your "theory". I also notice that you've conveniently left Nixon off your list, who not once, but twice, beat "cooler" opponents to become president. In 1968, he beat Humphrey, who, although having a decidely uncool name, was, as VP under Johnson, was a regular, and favorite Tonight Show guest -- if that wasn't cool in 1968 (objectively, as well as compared to how uncool Nixon was), then i don't know what was. In 1972, he beat McGovern, who was a bomber pilot in WWII who flew 35 combat missions over Germany -- again, pretty cool war hero stuff. And before you scream "anomaly -- there was a war going on, and a single major issue presidential campaign throws off the cool factor", what do you think we have this year with the economy? Again, nice try at a theory, but sorely lacking re: the modern world.

I dealt in great detail with Nixon, mentioning both races.   

...but, wow, could he write. His autobiography should be the standard by which all others are judged.

Agreed.   Maybe the greatest political autobiography ever. 

Yes, Carter was cooler than Ford, because Ford stumbled and couldn't remember important information about Poland. Carter lost his coolness when he wore a sweater on national TV, even the older Reagan looked cooler.

Yep.  

Your theory is brilliant and all, but in this election, the Redskins will determine the next president. In every election involving an incumbant up for reelection, the winner of the Redskins home game immediately prior to the election determines the president. I believe if the Redskins win, the incumbent wins. This has been accurate every election where the incumbent is up for reelection with the exception of Bush-Kerry. Which, obviously, means Bush cheated in 2004

Who do the Skins play in that? 

You gave great advice to the person who asked about writers block. Write anything, even it you think it is terrible. It gets your mind going until you might hit upon ideas, Plus you may find something useful, or something that could be reworked, in what you wrote while getting your brain in gear.

yeah, the real enemy is indecision.

Question: Which 3 countries do not use the metric system? The other important issue where we are out of sync with the rest of the world is the death penalty: Link

Thanks. 

Gene: you are a well-known connoisseur and chronicler of bathroom behavior and bathroom humor. The Venn diagram there is of course nearly a single circle, but maybe not quite. Is there a point at which poo stops being funny? Have you been reading Andrew Sullivan's recent "psychology of pooping" threads? How about the website ratemypoo.com -- is that TMI? TMP? Is there any threshold for TMP?

Poop only ceases to be funny with Crohn's disease, rectal cancer, and whatnot.   

 Link - "After we published all these requirements, we received data showing that manufacturers wouldn't be able to fully implement all the requirements until December of this year for most products," says the FDA's Reynold Tan.

Thank you. 

Lasts week's column tickled me for its contrasts with our hound, a treeing walker coonhound, if google is correct - she is a rescue hound, nobody knows for sure. What Murphy says with eyes, jowls, head tilt, & snout, Junie says via exquisitely nuanced vocalization. Her sighs, moans, snuffles, chortles, hiccups are all works of poetry. This spring a raccoon nested in the woods near our house, and the combination of gleeful shrieks/barks/wails that she emitted as we opened the door each morning were some of the purest joyful expressions I've ever heard. Yes, I'm a crazy dog lady. I'll know it's time to check out when I can't find beauty in canines.

You're referring to this column, in which I created an accurate transcript of my conversation with Murphy, and a mouse. 

Murphy has a whole array of barks, brays, and yowls, too.  Supposedly, this is an adaptation of the hound so individual hunters can identify their individual dogs during a chase.  I'm not sure that makes a lot of sense. 

I'm tired of "Piano Man." Are there any other lame songs you can analyze? How about "Margaritaville" or "Stairway to Heaven?"

Gladly.  I think he made a big mistake in Margaritaville in changing the last line, progressing the sequence in each stanza.   It was too "cute."

Who can I lobby to make the topic heading of this question no longer grammatically correct. Even though it is currently correct, I think it sounds awful. It indicates that an element of the weather, not a team named after that element, won the finals. We need to change that rule, don't you think?

Just this morning, The Rib asked me if it was "the couple plans..." or "the couple plan"    

I think the first is technically correct, but I would write the second. 

I see that you have 74 responses in about an hour! That is fast and a lot! How do you do it? Also, I have relatives in Florida and I am wondering if you can give your secret to Debby to move her along!

My secret is that I start answering questions, and writing the intro,  at 4 in the morning.    Shhh. 

This is actually true, as poor Haley can attest. 

Okay we're down.   Thank you all, and see you in the updates. 

In This Chat
Gene Weingarten
Gene Weingarten is the humor writer for The Washington Post. His column, Below the Beltway, has appeared weekly in the Post's Sunday magazine since July 2000 and has been distributed nationwide on The Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 2008 and 2010.

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