Chatological Humor: Monthly with Moron

May 28, 2013

Some of the chat is based on Gene's poll questions on traffic laws.

Join Gene Weingarten Tuesday, May 28 during his monthly chat with readers.

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.

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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.

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Good afternoon.  

We begin today with my asking you to read this short essay from last Sunday's New York Times magazine, about a plane that almost crash-landed. The story is well written, but it bothers me, and, as a writer of features, it also angers me.  I hope our discussion can determine whether it bothers you, too, and if so, why.


Here's my problem with it: Feature stories rely for their strength on a certain covenant between writer and reader; namely, that the story is true. That the time and the emotion the writer asks the reader to invest in the story is justified by the central, literal truth of the tale. Otherwise you are in the emotions racket, which is the purview of fiction, which entails an entirely different covenant; this is also the playground of lesser folk: fabulists, liars, and whatnot. 


I am not saying this story is made up; it may well be literally true. In fact, it gets the benefit of the doubt from me because it is in The Times, and I presume The Times checks things out.  But everything about how this story is presented raises red flags in my mind.  I don't know whether this is a failure of writing and editing, or something worse, but I do know it should not have been in print in this fashion, and that's what makes me angry.  When you have a story this thin and coy and suspect on its face, in small ways it subverts all feature work, which relies on a reservoir of reader trust.  


Consider this tale: We are not told which airline this was, or when this incident occurred.   We are presented with a scene of almost unimaginable terror, with a satisfying cast of characters (a disaster expert from FEMA!  A scared, weepy  cute young woman!  A taciturn, Clint Eastwood pilot!), ending with an amusingly ironic anticlimax.  It all works, leaving the reader desperately curious to know why this had happened -- ("could this happen to ME?") -- but it is a curiosity not shared by the writer, a supposed journalist. We journos are a notoriously curious lot.  Not this guy. He doesn't give a rat's patootie about what happened!  Never asks!  Not even later when he decides to write about it however many months later!  


The pilot's speech to the passengers is wildly dramatic and, to my ears, wildly improbable.    Pilots in crisis are famously soothing and under-emotional.  (I do like the pit stains.  Nice detail!)   I spoke with an FAA official who told me that the pilot's terse, scary speech "sounds unlikely."  Also, that killing the electricity for a landing gear problem seemed inappropriate.  


I've emailed The Times to ask if they confirmed the story before running with it -- shouldn't be that hard, right?  A plane diverted from Denver to Philly because of landing-gear woes?  -- but I have no response yet.   (I can tell you as a feature editor, when you are presented with a story this wonderful, you have to fight the urge to interrogate it less than you should, lest it fall apart.  I am hoping that is not what happened here.) 


Nor am I saying the story is a lie. I lean toward believing it is true, or mostly true as remembered. But if it is, why was it presented in a way to raise every possible suspicion in the mind of every reasonable reader that it is totally, thoroughly  piped?  Ultimately, that's my point: You run a story like this, as an editor, you lead with your chin, and you deserve all the criticism you get. (By the way, I do note there is another highly skeptical group of people out there on the Web, about this story.) 


In conclusion, let's crowdsource: Is there, within the reach of these pixels, anyone who was on this flight or who knows anyone who ever talked about having been on this flight, or who has had an experience on a flight very similar to this flight?  


 --
Moving on: 


You may recall a column of mine from several years ago, in which I reported on the smallest house in Washington, which is located in my Eastern Market neighborhood.   Well,  I am pleased to report that the smallest house is once again available for rent, now at the increased price of $1,200. And well worth it!   Owner Marta Mirecki met me there on Sunday to demonstrate how it is really much larger than it first appears to the naked eye. 




--


So run, do not walk, to this craigslist ad
Finally, and most important, I hope you all saw this teakettle that looks like Hitler:
That's it.  Chat begins at noon sharp.

Take the poll questions before we begin!

Gene: You DID know it's "Leibniz", didn't you?

Sigh.   Okay, yes, this is in reference to what SOME people might think was a misspelling in my column Sunday chastising others for misspelling.   Some readers charitably suggested that the so-called misspelling was intentional, to see who caught it.  Thank you, but no.  The true story behind this alleged misspelling is much more interesting.

There is a general rule about the pronunciation of Germanic names containing the letter combinations ie or ei.   In general, one pronounces this combination stressing the hard sound of the second letter:   ei, therefore is pronounced "eye" and ie is pronounced "ee".   (Just to be a punk, I was tempted to begin that last sentence with an i.e., but restrained myself.)

 

Using the above rule, you almost never go wrong in German.  Weingarten, therefore, is Wine-garten, and Liebowitz is Leeb- ow-itz.

Now, to Leibniz.   I spelled it correctly -- ABSOLUTELY CORRECTLY -- if the name were pronounced LEEB nitz, as I have always heard it pronounced, and as I pronounce it myself.   However, it turns out that Mr. Leibniz himself prounounced  it Lie-bnitz , meaning that Leibniz is correct.

Now here's where it gets tricky:  While misspelling a name in this particular column would be embarrassing, that is not what happened.  What happened is that I had an error of PRONUNCIATION of a name, which I CORRECTLY spelled in the column, given the erroneous pronunciation.  Ergo, it was not a spelling error in a spelling column, and I am still a God of language. 

 

Oh, I should mention: Today we welcome a new chat producer.   He is Ryan "Machine Gun" Kellett.   Take a bow, Ryan.

Gene, Thought you might enjoy this. A friend of mine posted a sonnet about sonnets on FB: The stanza which comes first will introduce The subject of our musing little rhyme, And differentiate from Dr. Seuss The meter, foot and sundries of the time. The second will the first elaborate, With other instances of our great theme, Enough to know for certain what we state (Though not enough, quite, to create a meme.) Ah, but the third! The volta! Here, the turn! Where point of view is twisted to reveal The little whit of insight, which we learn Was the whole point of essaying this spiel. The couplet last, to me, always did seem Of little point, except to fill the scheme. In response, I wrote my first ever double dactyl. I hope you approve: Higgeldy Piggeldy actor and singer Sean muses on Facebook 'bout sonnets and verse Trying to answer him double-dactylically was quite a challenge, but could have gone worse.

This is lovely.  I have recrafted it below for better flow:

 

The stanza which comes first will introduce

The subject of our musing little rhyme,

And differentiate from Dr. Seuss

The meter, foot and sundries of the time.

 

The second will the first elaborate,

With other instances of our great theme,

Enough to know for certain what we state

(Though not enough, quite, to create a meme.)

 

Ah, but the third! The volta! Here, the turn!

Where point of view is twisted to reveal

The little whit of insight, which we learn

Was the whole point of essaying this spiel.

 

The couplet last, to me, always did seem

Of little point, except to fill the scheme.

--

I disagree about the final two lines of a sonnet.  They are whimsically  summational of the whole, and that is a noble purpose.

Your Higgledy is adequate. This is better:

--

Higgledy Piggledy

Sean the fine sonneteer

Deconstructs poetry 

For lowly folk.

 

Sadly, we see how this

Teleologically

Lays bare the crime of ex-

Plaining a joke

 

Hello, Gene. I'm a Unitarian/Universalist Minister. While I grieve the devastation and loss of life, it is clear that the reason tornadoes always strike the Red States is that God is unhappy with their opposition to gay marriage, reproductive rights, and proper pronunciation. Oklahoma has offended the Lord because of their insistence on building more pipelines while fighting carbon taxes. Repent, Red States!

I think you are right, and your points will hold up under rigorous scientific scrutiny.

Also:

Q: What do you get when you cross a Unitarian with a Jehovah’s Witness?
A: Somebody who comes knocking at your door for no apparent reason.

Gene, I think you don't like the essay from the NYTimes Mag because the author is smoking hot and you're intensely jealous.

At least one Commenter to the original piece noted his hotness, and said he was too hot to die young.  Another commenter noted that he himself was a hound, and so probably should die young.

I read them every week and assume they are all, if not outright fiction, then completely based on someone's unresearched, un-factchecked, unreliable memory. (The opposite of David Carr's "The Night of the Gun".) I just see them as nicely written essays, sometimes with a point. Just as I assume that the trend pieces in the Times and NY Magazine are based on three or four of the writer's friends, and are really just a this-is-what-my-friends-are-doing article.

This is exactly why I hated that story.  Because it suggests we all cut corners.   We don't.

What about "oops" being written as "opps?" Have you seen this? It drives me absolutely nuts.

I have.  Me, too.   I also have seen Leibniz misspelled.  Shocking.

Someone shared your Style piece about the Eastern Market eviction, and I read it without noticing the byline. I got to the bit about the "oversold wink" and thought "This is good writing, the kind Gene Weingarten would like - I should send it to him for the chat." I was convinced it couldn't have been written by you for 2 reasons: 1. I assumed no man would admit to being scared of another man in a column, and, 2. If it had been by you, it would have mentioned your dog by the 6th paragraph. So bravo on a good piece that defied expectations.

Aww.  Thank you much.

And yes, for those who are wondering, the candelabrum that Marta is holding is part of Michael's cache.

Those two words in that combination have to be the single oddest thing I've ever seen show up in the Post's "In the News" set of links at the top of the site. Before the NASCAR driver passed away, were you aware that someone with that name existed?

You think that in 30-plus years of being the world's foremost curator of the aptonym, that that name somehow would have eluded me?

Okay, it's probably not an "aptonym," per se, but aptonym almosts are always appreciated.

Here's a great legal aptonym, amirite? A personal injury lawyer named Bonebrake.  

See?  See how enerringly these things get to me?  Yes, this is absolutely excellent.

That airline story is a total fabrication. Not that individual details might not be "true" (though zero chance they all are), but it's impossible that those were his reactions, in the moment. Not for a second did I believe that. Maybe he was on a flight that had its landing gear stuck and circled Philly for a while; maybe there was a cute girl and a lady from FEMA; but no way was he thinking those thoughts in those ways. That's the greatest lie. It's a piece of fiction.

I am not ready to say this, mostly because I do not believe the Times would be that irresponsible.   But -- and I hope this point came through in my rant -- I think running it as is was a dreadful editing error, simply because it SEEMED made up.  It violates the covenant.

I agree that journalists are often too unwilling to question feel-good stories, and if you want to criticize SI for publishing a first-person story instead of an interview with real questions, that;s fair, But beyond the first-person part, I think you are wrong about Jason Collins. I am reminded of something a queer studies professor I had in college said: that there is never a good time to come out--too early for those who aren't ready, too late for those who already know or don't regard it as a big deal. Most public figures who come out are given direct impetus by some aspect of self-interest: for example, that's they think they're going to be outed by someone else and they want to get ahead of the story, or they want to date someone else who's already out. It's hard to criticize them for that: there has be *some* impetus. In the case of Collins, as my professor would have stressed, none of his choices would have been great. His reasons for not coming out during the season (too much media attention while trying to play) were sound ones, and the same would apply to just before the season started. He's at a time in his career when he's likely going to be playing 1-year contracts, so his choices were either during the season or while he was a free agent. Yes, it probably occurred to him that, if he handled this right, the free publicity might benefit him, but we shouldn't assume that's the reason for the timing.

Interesting that this question, left over from a chat update several weeks ago, seems to speak to the subject of today: Going with a too-good-sounding story.

I think you misrepresent my feelings on Jason, though. I said I thought he showed courage, and that his timing was his timing, and we shouldn't second-guess it.  I was more cricitizing the media, for jumping all over themselves to make the point that he is a "current" player, when, in fact, he isn't necessarily that.

If he used the timing to maybe get himself a one-year contract he might not have otherwise gotten, swell.  Smart.  I don't think it diminishes his act; it qualifies it a little.

Oh good, I'm not the only one! I salute his courage - something like that can be very hard especially in the machismo world of pro sports - but this "hero" bit is too much. He doesn't have as much to risk as a NBA rookie. I look forward to the day when a statement of one's sexual orientation is taken for the non-issue that it is.

Agreed.  But don't deny him the courage part.  As you say, this can't have been easy. 

I often get e-mail destined for someone else -- airline itineraries, alumni functions, newsletters. Most are no big deal; many are hilarious. I received one today from an escort service contacting some fellow who failed to enter his e-mail address correctly (but did have his name, phone #, hotel details). Some internet sleuthing has revealed much about this man, including his employer, the fact that he has a wife & child. I am not planning to reveal to anyone that this man has arranged to see an escort -- in Nevada, moreover, where it is legal -- but I did want to hear another person's take on the matter. What would you do in this situation? One funny idea I had was sending him flowers or some other prank delivery. (Some very loose rebuke of his behavior.)

I'd like to open this for discussion.

I believe in pranks and practical jokes if they are not hurtful.  I'm not sure it's possible to be un-hurtful here.  The whole area is fraught.  

The truth is, you are in possession of information that maybe could ruin his life.   Pretty sure I would do nothing with it, particularly idle gossip, even among friends. 

However, the floor is open.

I'd take the shoulder when I felt relatively certain that no one in front of me is taking the same exit. To do otherwise is to be a jerk.

What?  Why?  They could do the same thing, if they wish.  As most people are guessing I automatically do all the supposedly rude things that all you folks automatically do not do, because, to me, they Make Sense.   Taking the shoulder even helps relieve the clot, if others did it.

I need to add that my good friend Tom Scocca read thi poll yesterday, correctly surmised my position, and labeled me a murderer.  He says people who take the shoulder are endangering others both by creating a likelihood of a crash, and blocking the way of an emergency vehicle.  I responded that I do these things with utmost safety, at which point Scocca hauled out Kant's Categorical Imperative.

Dirty pool.  I am a admirer of the deontology of Kant, and yes, technically a case could be made that even though EYE might operate safely under these circumstances, many people would not, and universalizing these behaviors MIGHT result in death and mayhem.    So.   The real lesson here is don't get in a fight with Scocca.

Seems as though your poll questions are designed to find how many of us think that we shouldn't have to follow laws that we personally believe we can violate without causing any harm. One of the compromises of living in a larger society is that we pay taxes for things we personally don't need and follow rules that wouldn't be necessary if everyone were just like us. I have never been in such a hurry that I couldn't wait for a long red light to turn green. It's frustrating, sure, but part of a larger social compact. Even if I didn't get caught by someone who could punish me, I'd be contributing to the deterioration of the social contract if I follow rules only when I feel like it.

How is it helping society for you to sit for 90 seconds at a red light with no other car as far as the eye can see?  Your argument is that docile adherence to pointless laws is part of the social contract, and I don't think i buy that.

For years I did not keep my belt fastened while seated, because the belt restricts motion. On a flight from San Fran to DC, somewhere over one of those mountain chains, the pilot warned of clear air turbulence, turned on the seat belt light, and repeated the order to keep seat belts fastened. I'm not good at following orders, so I did not fasten mine. Then we rapidly dropped a couple of feet. I fastened my belt before we rapidly dropped maybe twenty feet. At what point did you know I made this story up?

At no point.   Did you make it up?

Because I think I came across a similar type of argument - the disaster nullification. In a story on a local blog about Rolling Thunder, someone commented about how silly everyone is complaining about such a trivial matter when there are people in Oklahoma who have lost everything. But, where does this line of reasoning end? Isn't there always someone, somewhere who has undergone a worse tragedy? Does this mean that no one can ever complain about anything ever again?

It's a fair question, but I think there is a tipping point of tragedy.  I think we know where it is, instinctively. 

My problem with this story was that it was posted on NYTimes.com the day after a flight from Philly made a belly landing at Newark. Of course I assumed this story was about that, and its references to landing at Philadelphia only confused me more. Only after reading it twice did I realize this story was about some other flight (and that the story kind of sucks anyway).

Just so you know: Magazines have long turnaround times.  That story was probably edited and sent to the printer two weeks ago, or more.

And we did nothing, because we don't like the Tea Party and we love the Obama administration. Then they came for the diplomats, and we did nothing, because we don't care about the diplomats, and we love the Obama administration. Then they came for the liberal journalists at the AP, and we finally decided to do our jobs. Welcome to the fight, Gene.

Er, and the conservative journalist at Fox.  

I think we all know Benghazi is not a scandal.  It is a breakdown of security for which we can all be blamed, including the obstructionist, penny-pinching Congress.

But sure.   In fact, I have a rant, which I will go into now!

 

Like many Libs, I have been  a little bothered by the onslaught of demi-mini scandals of the Obama administration. The only one that is really worrisome to me is the administration's obsessive, years-old leak-plugging plumbing enterprise that culminated in the thinly pretexted AP-Fox News media fishing expedition by the Justice Department.  I don't like that, and its not just because I am a journalist protecting my own sorry butt.   (I am that, but I am so very much more.)
Before Thomas Jefferson was president he wrote this in a letter to a friend: "Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."  
Stirring, eh? Unequivocal.  But after he'd been in power for a while, and had to deal with the the press, which annoyed him relentlessly, Jefferson wrote this: "The man who reads nothing at all is better educated than the man who reads nothing but newspapers."  And this: 
"I deplore the putrid state into which our newspapers have passed and the malignity, the vulgarity, and mendacious spirit of those who write for them... These ordures are rapidly depraving the public taste and lessening its relish for sound food." 
The point being, there is and must be a contentious relationship between the power of government and the power of the press.  It is the job of the media to hassle the president, and it is strongly in the interests of democracy that we do so.   We are natural antagonists of people in power, and that is a healthy state of affairs for the nation at large. 
Within that framework, in general, historically, both the media and the government have conducted themselves responsibly and intelligently in weighing the needs of national security against the public's need to know when and if their government is behaving badly.   Leaks have always been a part of this process.  So have been appeals to patriotism by administrations; deal-cutting; negotiated delays in reportage, etc.   Most administrations have learned to operate reasonably while protecting important secrets and also protecting press freedoms.   But this president seems far more determined to stifle and stonewall this whole process than any president before him, other than Mr. Nixon.  
(Before The Post's Dana Priest exposed secret international torture-rendition sites, there were meetings between Bush administration folks and Wapo folks, and some details were omitted from the stories, such as the names of the countries doing the rendering.  No, the Bushies really didn't like that the whole thing came out at all, and it gave them a black eye as it should have, but nobody threatened to throw anyone in jail.  Similarly, I am sure the Post didn't love withholding pertinent information, and we were criticized by some media watchdogs for doing so.  The point is, people were reasonable.  Deals were cut.  And it's not as though the final stories were infantilized.  They contained lines like this: 
"Members of the Rendition Group follow a simple but standard procedure: Dressed head to toe in black, including masks, they blindfold and cut the clothes off their new captives, then administer an enema and sleeping drugs. They outfit detainees in a diaper and jumpsuit for what can be a day-long trip. Their destinations: either a detention facility operated by cooperative countries in the Middle East and Central Asia, including Afghanistan, or one of the CIA's own covert prisons—referred to in classified documents as "black sites" which at various times have been operated in eight countries, including several in Eastern Europe."

 

--
Now, to the present cases.  The AP fishing expedition was deplorable.  The Fox News matter, equally so.  While Fox reporter James Rosen apparently did not act with great skill in hiding his dealings with this secret source, sort of hanging him out to dry, I'm still on his side.   He was doing his job.  Reporters doing their jobs should not be the subjects of criminal investigations; indeed, the government papers in the case describe him as a potential suspect in a criminal investigation.   Reporters must be allowed to report without the threat of being jailed.  This is as central to who we are as a nation as is any one of the Bill of Rights. 
However, lest I let Mr. Rosen entirely off the hook, I would like to remind us all of something that happened a few years ago, and discussed in this chat.   Reporting for Fox, Rosen weighed in with an obituary of Kurt Vonnegut that was as bizarre, mean-spirited and inappropriately political as anything you are ever likely to see masquerading as an obit.  Here it is.   

 

 

I am getting a couple of complaints that the link to the airplane story do not work.  Anyone else have that problem?

Budget troubles at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

Yikes.  They've had to endure cuts!

All seemed perfect about the tiny little house on the Hill until I saw the "no pets" part. Whenever I see that, I know the landlords must be unreasonable types who will make living there a nightmare. Boo to them.

They're nice people.

How does it compare to the smallest house in Alexandria, a mere seven feet wide?

Pretty sure it is smaller in square feet.

The city i live in is going to spend $200,000 to put up a barrier where a young man jumped over a jersey barrier on a bridge and fell to his death. While it is horribly tragic, I don't see why we have to spend that money when anyone with good sense teaches their children to stay off vehicular bridges, and if disobeying rule 1, DON"T jump over a wall and expect there to be anything but death on the other side. Naturally one can't say this without being considered a cretin. All the posts on the news article blame the city for letting this happen.

Interesting.  I think I agree with you.

I could identify with the Times story because the same happened to me. Yet there was something missing from the story, and the perhaps the fact is it is not much of a story. I don't know how often it happens, but it is not as tragic as one might think. In my case, the plane was landing in Pittsburgh and pulled back up. The pilot told us the control tower noticed one of the wheels was not all the way down. We flew around Pittsburgh for two hours, and the pilot told us he was burning off fuel. He did not say why, but I believe most of us knew the reason without being told. I remember thinking that, chances are, everything will be fine. I did have some moments of contemplating that I may soon die. Yet, that was it. No great panic, no screaming passengers, nothing that would visually appear off. We landed and all was fine. They gave us a coupon for a free flight (which got stolen from my desk so I never got to use it: to me, that was the great tragedy and that was it, It may be worth mentioning in this chat, but not as a Times magazine feature.

Noted.  But that's not the sort of scene he is describing.

Hannibal Burress does an excellent bit about being issued a citation for jaywalking in Montreal. If I may paraphrase: I'm sorry, not for the act of jaywalking but for how my jaywalking made you feel. But trust me, I will continue to jaywalk as this is the best way to go about being a pedestrian.

Exactly.

Were you surprised that the Post wouldn't print yesterday's "Barney & Clyde" strip? Did you know you were pushing the outside of the envelope?

Time and again, the Post exercises more delicacy in comics editing decisions than other papers!   We've had to rewrite or replace strips several times for the Post, but for none of the many other client papers.  This was the one The Post didn't run. 

For the record, I have no problem with a newspaper editing the comics.  It's not censorship, it's editing.   I do find the Post's Victorian standards a little amusing, but it's also sort of cute.

I'm a recent American transplant to the UK and it KILLS ME to see a full size washer and dryer in even the tiniest house in DC. We looked at dozens of spacious 2 to 3 bedroom houses and every single one of them has a breadbox size washer in the kitchen (the KITCHEN!!!) and not a one had a dryer. In one of the rainiest cities in one of the rainiest countries... they rely on line-drying. AAARGH. Thanks, I feel better.

Noted.  I feel your pain.

This weekend in our little city, a woman ran a red light and T-boned a cop car. I know you think you're smarter than everyone, so maybe you should just run all red lights as a display of your superiority. I like the odds.

Well, then the woman was a careless idiot.  You don't do this unless there is NO RISK.  To anyone.

My answer to the question about being stopped in traffic a half mile from the exit depends greatly on the state of my bladder.

Understood.

I am a bad speller, so after I read your recent column I thought, oh damn, now I won't be able to spell even more words. Guess I could just spell the words the way I want though. Though that sure didn't work when I was in 7th grade and on a science test I spelled enough as enuf. The teacher made fun of me in front of the entire class. I started having trouble with spelling in 7th grade when our homeroom teacher had the task of teaching spelling. My homeroom teacher was the home ec. teacher and her idea of teaching spelling was to hand out the words, and give tests on Wednesday and Friday. When I would do poorly the teacher's idea of teaching me was to make me sit in the corner at the front of the room away from all the other students. I am not lying.

If you've never read this story, by a talented journalist who cannot spell, you should.

Actually, I should add to the previous:  EVERYONE can spell.   It's spelling CORRECTLY that is challenging.

Ooh, I wonder if Hendrix ever does chats.  He'd be totally naked there, with his dysfunction.

Don't people know this causes more accidents than alcohol?

But, as with alcohol, everyone has his or her own abilities.  There are people who can drive perfectly well after drinking a beer. Others cannot.  You need to know yourself.  And not be wrong about it.   I'll drive and talk, sometimes.  I won't drive and text.

NYRA (Horse racing) has a Handicapper by the name of Jason Blewitt!

Very nice.  Arguably he works in any field, but horse racing is pretty good. 

Okay, you know what is bothering me?  The number of chatters who are saying that they disbelieve the Times story but don't really hate them for it.   Or expected no better. 

RAGE!  RAGE AGAINST THIS!

Please bring back the old one. Any turd can post a cartoon pic.

Well, I am thinking about it.   This post is in reference to my Twitter icon, which for four years has been a pile of poop but which I lately replaced with the cartoon from this column.  I have received more thank-yous than complaints, and got a bunch of new followers who claimed the change was why... but I'm still waffling.  I liked the old one better. 

I am also completely befuddled by people (many people, including Wait, Wait's Peter Sagal, who you would think has a strong tolerance for just about evrything) who said the old one nauseated them.    It's a photo.  Of a rubber novelty item.  And it's a half inch high.

My mother, an otherwise wonderful woman who has dedicated her life to teaching children, has the following practice that drives me batty. She refers to "rotisserie" chickens as "roastateer" chickens. This might not be too bad, except that Giant runs a special every friday where you can purchase two for $10, and she is fond of pointing this deal out to others. I have tried to use the word correctly in her presence multiple times so that she would pick up on it, to no avail, but I have never just flatly said she was misspeaking it. Do I just let her go on? (She is 66 and otherwise a fully rational, empathetic, contributing member of society.) Or do I tell her she's got it wrong?

My mother in law believed there were two main kinds of screwdriver heads: Normal and "Richardson."  She could never explain how Phillips became Richardson, and she never ever came to terms with Phillips.

There's something bloodless about the story. Either it's phony, in full or in part, or the guy is a bad writer. It reads as a bad TV movie, cast and crew full of stereotypes and no details.

I think there are some fine moves.  The pit stains were great.   The attention to detail was smart.   Gives texture.   I think he is a promising writer for a young guy.  I want him to be telling the truth.  And to prove it.  

Also, they do not have screens in their windows. This is rank insanity.

The Brits have no window screens?

The DC house is 252 square feet, Alexandria house is 480 square feet.

Ah, good.

You know, I could live in that D.C. house.  It's got a nice yard where you could put up a hammock.   To me, privacy is everything, so if I were money challenged I'd rather live in the 252 house than in a large house with roommates.  

James Rosen's less-than polite obit of Kurt Vonnegut includes an actuality in which Vonnegut says that male American writers do their best work before age 55. I took the trouble of figuring out James Rosen's age. He's 44. That gives him at most 11 years to to produce something that is at least half-decent. He'd better get a move on.

Haha.   Wasn't that obit just ... poisonous.

Sadly, I am six years over the hill, as must be obvious.

Should the Oklahoma senators who voted against Hurricane Sandy disaster aid stick to their principles and not let any federal money get spent helping Oklahoma tornado victims?

Yes.

Here's why: Red Light: I'm making an assumption here, but this kind of long light/low traffic situation usually happens at night. You can easily see that there are no cars coming. But are you absolutely *sure* that there are no black-clad pedestrians or bicyclists whizzing up to the intersection, about to jump in front of you secure in the knowledge that they have the light? I'm 15 years younger than you and I'm not confident that *my* vision is that good anymore. Murderer. Shoulder: You're absolutely right. If you're the only person on the entire highway who's going to that exit. If everybody goes for the exit, then the shoulder jams up, too, and there's no way for emergency vehicles to get by. Murderer. Cellphone: Studies have repeatedly shown this to be as dangerous as drunk driving (but then, you're also on record as supporting drunk driving, so I see why you don't care!). The rest of us, though, would prefer not to be killed because you lack the superhuman ability that you think you have that makes you alone, of all mankind, immune to distraction. Murderer. Jaywalking: I'll give you this one, since the only person you're endangering is yourself. Although if your criteria is "without UNDUE disruption of traffic" rather than "without forcing any drivers to slow for me or swerve" than you're a glass owl.

I like "glass owl."

Just for the record: I have never said I support or excuse drunk driving.  I do not, or anything close.  I have said I support low-impairment laws, even those that are so low they single out some people driving safely, because you need that low limit to protect against others.

You seem angry.

There is no record of any incident matching the description on the FAAs database. A search on Airport Code PHL lists 21 incidents, none of which involve a plane diverted from Denver due to landing gear failure.

I have to say tht the FAA official I talked to emphasized that if this were true, it would not be that easy to search the pertinent records, particularly if you don't know the day it happened, or the airline.   So I'm not sure your research is valid.

Gene, I grilled out for every single dinner this weekend for a variety of friends and family (different groupings each time). Each night included grilled corn on the cob -- in the husk, soaked for a couple hours, and then put on the grill. You have multiple converts now thanks to my preaching of the Gospel of Corn.

You have no idea how happy this makes me, seriously.  And think how much better that corn will be in about a month.

Of course these examples are of traffic rules that make no sense, but I follow them, and I'll tell you why: I am a lawyer by profession, which isn't relevant to the answer, except that I think a lot about the rule of law in daily life. Democracy works (reasonably well) in this country because we have all informally agreed with each other to obey the law. Put another way, the rule of law works because we all pretty much understand that we'll obey the strictures, even when they're kinda stupid. But I believe, all the way down to my core, that democracy and a corruption-free government only works if we make it work, and I want to do my part in that. So maybe I carry it to an extreme (and there are people who simply are rule-followers by nature), but there you are. I don't, however, get in a twist over a little bumper-tapping. After all, one can be rational.

Thank you.

No, no. The fine Senators from the great state of Oklahoma explained their position. They voted against Sandy aid because it was a "Superstorm"; what their state experienced was a "Tornado" - entirely different. My vote would be FOR aid but these citizens keep electing these boobs thinking the consequences will be for someone else.

Wow.

I'm mad because the writer took a clearly plausible situation and made it implausible. Like when someone ruins chocolate cake by making it vegan or replacing the oil and butter with fat free yogurt or applesauce.

Or when "Titanic" saw the need to put in a car chase.

I'm a weenie about obeying the law. I think maybe once did I run a red at a long light when no one else was coming, but that was only because it was late at night and I think the light cycle skipped my turn arrow. However, the light right by my house is notorious for being a long one. This really sucked if you wanted to turn left (which I always do to get home) because the turn arrow worked separately from the through light and would go to red when traffic going both ways was green, so even if there was no oncoming traffic (which is often), we left turners had to wait at that stupid red arrow. I finally figured out I could just skip the light by cutting through a small business parking lot and did so gleefully almost all the time. Evidently so did other people, and the town finally changed the stop light to allow people to turn left when no oncoming traffic was coming. Success!

Don't yalls feel silly waiting at a light when there is no one around for MILES?   Don't you feel a bit like a tool?

My answers depend on if my grade school-aged children would witness the act. For example, when we walk to school we pass an intersection that is a green light for one direction of traffic, a stop sign for the other, and the light goes red only when pedestrians push the crosswalk button. On the way to school, we always use the crosswalk button. On my solo walk back home, I wait until there's no traffic coming and dash across, to avoid making cars stop for me at the red light.

Hm.  So this is like going to church only when the kids are young.  There's a small if excusable degree of hypocrisy, no?

I realize you jaywalk a lot and advocate for it, but it only works out if everything works out. You think you're not disrupting traffic, but you ARE causing drivers to have to pay extra attention to you - potentially at the expense of paying attention to other things - because they don't know if you're a good jaywalker or not. They can't trust that you'll cross fast enough, that one of your bum knees won't give out, that you won't drop something and have to pick it up, that you're not a crazy person wandering into the road. Unless the cars are REALLY far away, quit jaywalking so much. It's annoying.

Now, see if this were true: If my jaywalking were so close-shavey, I wouldn't do it.   No driver needs to give me any thought when I am doing it right.

I have erred, rarely, and when I do I feel guilty about it.

Big debate between my wife and me: you're in the far right lane of a suburban street approaching a red light. You'll be the first car in the lane and there are no cars in the lane to the left of you as you approach. There's a car behind you. What is the proper move: stay where you are as is your right or move to the left on the off-chance the car behind you plans to turn right, so as not to block him from turning on red? You can probably infer my answer. I feel strongly about it.

I would move to the left, as a courtesy, if I thought about it   Because why not?   My big peeve is drivers who are so timid they won't pull out into a four-way intersection in preparation for making a left turn.  It consigns people behind them of waiting through the light, for no reason.

Would a Post WWII French philosopher sit through the long red light, or would he simply just kill himself?

He would give the baguette to the dog.

My advice: mind your own business, or someday someone will mind yours when you least need it. Don't bring bad karma onto yourself. Also - you seem to have too much time on your hands. Do you perhaps have a broken leg, a wheelchair and a pair of binoculars (but you are missing Grace Kelly)?

Yeah, I am with you on this.  A friend of mine once got an email intended for the lover of a married woman he knew.  My friend is a very very mischievous man; I strongly urged him to do nothing.  I don't know if/what he did. 

Until 3 days ago, I would have answered your red light question with a definitive no. The other stuff doesn't bother me: jaywalking is a favor to turning drivers, as long as you don't interfere with the traffic that has the green; going 75 on roads built to handle 85 or 90 is perfectly safe, as long as you're not swerving in and out of traffic/tailgating/going too fast for conditions. Etc. But I do NOT run red lights. I guess all those horror stories from drivers' ed must have stuck. And then at 9:30 last Friday, after a 13+-hr workday, I exited the interstate and saw the light in front of me turn red, so I stopped as usual. And sat. And sat. Thought maybe I didn't trip it, so I did the back-up-scooch-forward thing. Nothing. For a full five minutes. So I said, um, forget it, and ran it.

There are people here on this chat who might yell at you.

I was watching a "Mary Tyler Moore Show" episode on TV last night (one of those stations that specializes in old sitcoms in prime time), and was shocked that the final segment consisted of Mary's character -- yes, America's sweetheart! -- going on a full-out rant in praise of, and embroidering upon, the word "feeb" (which she'd used to describe a particular inept and lazy person employed briefly at the TV station, as well as to describe anchorman Ted Baxter). That would never be allowed on network TV today, would it?

Feeb?  What is wrong with feeb?  I think I have written feeb, in my column. 

Today is the centennial of my late mother's birth. I'm not sure how I feel about this. How do you think you'll feel upon the 100th anniversary of either of your parents' birth?

You seem to mistake me for a younger man.  My father was born in 1914.   Coming right up!

After college I returned home and volunteered with the youth group at my church. The director was a guy in his mid-20s, just starting out from seminary. One time we took the group to the bowling alley and he drove the Beltway, at the speed limit the whole way, on a Sunday afternoon (when traffic would have allowed much faster speeds). I gave him a hard time about it later and he said something to the effect that he was an example to the kids, and if they saw him bend rules in one area when he was telling them to live by rules in another, they might easily connect the two and consider him hypocritical. I'm not sure Christianity demands this, and I don't live it by it myself, but I can understand the thinking of those who do.

Yes, I am being an old grump -- it is my job -- but I don't disrespect this thinking.

Hot young professional woman here. I used to commute on a motorcycle and had the worst time with red lights not "detecting" me. Some lights stay red only until they detect a vehicle. The detection devise is often a magnet or weight located in the driving path. My motorcycle was neither heavy enough nor contained enough metal to set off the detectors and I was often forced to wave cars either forward or around me in order to set off the detectors. In the middle of the night, I had no such luxury (though sometimes flashing my headlight at the detectors above the lights worked - this is how ambulances change lights to green when they are running Priority 1). Very annoying and not safe. I learned quickly how to arrange my commute such that I either avoided such intersections or was able to make a right-on-red. I actually called the town planners to ask about this and they said it was a common complaint, but nothing they could fix. And if I were caught "running a red", I was still subject to the ticket.

Interesting.  Thanks.  Are there as few lone female morotcyclists as it seems to me there are?

Here is what bothered me about the story. The last line is: "It never occurred to me to ask what saved us." But it did! Or you wouldn't have written that sentence! If you mean, "It only occurred to me months later," then guess what -- you can still call the airline and ask! "Hi, I'm writing an op-ed piece for the New York Times, and I want to thank the captain who saved us -- can I talk to him?" Or something like that.

Precisely.

You forgot to add the caveat if you're a New Yorker. I live in Brooklyn and will jaywalk at any time or place, assuming that my odds look good. I was in DC this weekend and realized that the rest of America has rules for crossing the street. Please shed some light on this one.

I have a column coming out on this.  I am a New Yorker; Washington doesn't jaywalk all that much, but i just got back from a place in California that makes D.C. look like N.Y.  More to come.

Okay, so here's the thing. I am a married man with a large set of close female friends - many of whom I have known for many years. Whenever I say goodbye to these women there is typically a mutually-initiated hug involved. However, I have always supplemented these hugs with a quick kiss to the neck. While none of the women have ever objected, it is been brought to my attention (by my wife..) that doing so is grossly inappropriate and is, indeed, the equivalent of patting them on the bottom. This just seemed like the kind of thing you would have an opinion on.

The neck? 

Well it reminds me of something that happened many years ago when my friend Meg Laughlin heard her daughter (then 13 or so) talk about some boy "going down" on one of her friends.  Meg calmly inquired what she meant by that, and her daughter said, well, you know, he kissed her cheek and then her neck.

Back to your point: I'd like to hear from the ladies.   I personally do not, nor would I, engage the neck in such circumstances UNLESS PERHAPS THE GIRLS IN THIS CHAT SAY IT IS OKAY.

Gene, you've repeatedly fallen into the habit--some would call it lazy--of referencing Google searches as some kind of gauge of popularity, authority, or relevance, even for stupid things like misspellings and erroneous thoughts. It appears, from your writing, that you don't know just how much Google tracks each individual user/computer, and tweaks the results it returns accordingly. See this article from US News. I'm not engaging in some "Google-is-evil" tirade here, but I can tell you that my Google search results will be markedly different from yours, my wife's, my friends', etc. I've demonstrated this time and time again. I, who do a lot of research on technical history and transportation technology using multiple search engines on Firefox, and freely uses Google.co.uk when I need British-sourced information or Google.de when I need German information, get markedly different Google search returns and numbers than my wife, who searches for artistic and graphics information, reference imagery, and the like on Google Chrome. Of course, you could probably get a column or two out of THIS factoid, once you figure out how to exploit it.

Yes, thank you.  I am already planning it.

However: Do you think the numbers of "Ghandis" to "Gandhis" would vary dramatically from user to user?

Very nice.   I'd also like to nominate the columnist's photo for whiteguy dweebshot of the week.   He might be giving TimJGraham's twitter icon a run for its money.

Is the opinion you choose not to share about circumcision? If so, I wonder how much being of Jewish heritage comes into play. I know that when I was pregnant with my first son, my nominally Jewish aunt and uncle were slightly disappointed we didn't plan to raise him Jewish (we're atheists, so we said we'd teach him about various religions and let him make up his own mind), but aghast that we weren't planning on circumcising.

Nope, my secret opinion is not about circumcision.  I am undecided on that.   Could go either way, leaning against, but without conviction.  Mostly, I think it is a less important issue than some zealots do.

While doing some research, I came across a small blurb on the front page of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat (from 1948). The headline that caught my attention read: "Woman Shot When She Sits on Pistol Husband Put on Bed." Her name? Mrs. Irene Butts. It says she was wounded in the hip, but the name seems too perfect for the story. Does it count as an aptonym, or just a coincidence?

It's an excellent situational aptonym.  I read it as "Iron Butts."

Of course you jaywalk. Like me, you were brought up in New York, where it's a recreational sport. I also learned how to drive on the Lower East Side, with little kids running in front me of daring me to hit them.

I also grew up in the Bronx.   At the age of 10, I was playing stickball in the street, dodging cars.  It stuns me to this day that my parents allowed it -- they were otherwise protective -- but that was just how you grew up.

I got one of those once, but it was from the married supervisor of one of my colleagues. Clear violation of workplace guidelines there. I didn't report him but I did tell him that he needed to make the situation clear to management. he didn't. He asked me to write his lover's performance appraisal so he wouldn't have to. So I went to management.

Boy, tough situation.   I would have to think sixteen times before reporting a romance to management.  I'm not saying you did wrong.  Sounds like you did right.  But this is a weak spot with me -- my "don't get involved" gene is overpowering.

There is no such thing as a platonic kiss on the neck. I'm a woman who used to get those from a "friend" who later made a pass at me and turned out to be having multiple affairs w/other married women. I'm not saying everyone should be judged by the standards of this creep, but it is just totally obvious to me and I hope to every living adult that kisses on the neck by someone you are not married to or exclusively dating are extremely intimate and cannot under any circumstances be platonic.

Okay thanks.  Others agree?

I use Zipcar, the car sharing service. One of the rules is that you must return the car with at least a quarter tank. If it goes below that, you fill it up or suffer a possible fine. There have been many times in the past when I've gotten into a car with less than a quarter and it infuriates me. I always call zipcar to report it so that they may discipline the previous driver. Well, as it happens, last Friday, for various reasons, I knowingly left the car I was returning with low fuel. I felt terrible about it, but not enough to remedy it. So my question is, how many times must I abstain from reporting low fuel in the future to repent not only for the transgression, but also my rank hypocrisy?

Three.  Then you must adopt a Muslim child.

than kissed on the neck by anyone other than my husband, especially a married acquaintance. This guy's picture must be in the dictionary under "disingenuous."

Noted.

Gross. Do not kiss me on my neck. That is disturbing ... and I'm surprised you're still getting away with it.

I'm not!  I swear it!    It was the other guy!

It's fine. Oh wait. I'm not a girl.

Haha.

I have plenty. But we do not kiss each other on any body part.

No cheeks?  Whoa. 

A few months ago you wrote about starting to have the problem of typing homonyms sometimes and that it seems to have started out of the blue. I had noticed the same in myself about a week before I read your chat transcript. We are about the same age. What is the hell is up with this? I don't really remember this happening much in the past.

Well, it's a sign of aging, like the tip-of-tongue phenomenon.  It is not good, but it isn't usually a harbinger of anything worse.

As a cognitive neuroscientist, it drives me bonkers to see people on their phones while driving. Study after study has shown that being on the phone drastically decreases your ability to pay attention to the road - and it's not just that your hands are occupied. Our brain's ability to actually pay attention to what is in our field of vision is limited - here's a classic example. Hands-free devices are worse, I think, because they give you a false sense of security. I find the commercial for the Siri car terrifying, and Google Glass is worrisome as well. I had been hoping that using our phones while driving would turn out to be like not wearing seatbelts - something that transitioned from being standard to rare - but I'm still waiting for that transition to come.

I love the Awareness Test -- this is the best of several versions of it -- but you are aware that it is kind of gimmicky, right?  You are being specifically told to follow the movements of something that draws your attention away from the key item.

I loved viewing the "Mr. Peeprs show and I was glad when you posted the video of Wally Cox yodeling. I wondered what the video you linked to was, and it was from "The Seduction of a Nerd". So, I rented the movie, and was saddened how what people found funny back in the Seventies may offend today's audiences. Have you ever seen the movie? Wally Cox, the nerd, actually today would be considered a stalker. The movie ends strangely. A man is doing something to his mother. I think he is strangling her. Wally Cox thinks the son is forcing his mother to have sex with him which is the final joke. I fear that would not be found funny by many today. Anyway, I love the clip, I think Wally Cox was great, and if anyone has seen "The Seduciton of the Nerd, I wonder how it resonates today?

I haven't.  Anyone?

The movie I'd encourage people to find, if they can, is Monsieur Verdoux, in which Chaplin plays a sympathetic serial killer of wives.  Very daring; very troubling; holds up, I think.  It is also notable because William Frawley (Fred Mertz) is in it. 

It's 12:50 and no one has mentioned the Post Hunt. So I am! Cannot wait!!!

I was saving it for the end.   Yes, the Post Hunt is Sunday.  It will be high on both the "devious" and "fun" scale.   We hope to see you out there.  This Friday, Dave, Tom and I have a scheduled HangOut, which is a video chat.  Be on the lookout.

See you then.  All of thens.

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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