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February 4, 2014

10:59
A.M.

Chatological Humor: Monthly with Moron

Total Responses: 74

About the hosts

About the host

Host: Gene Weingarten

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 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing.

Gene's latest columns, chats and more.

About the topic

Gene Weingarten chatted Tuesday, February 4 at noon for his monthly chat with readers.

Results of the pre-chat polls.

Poll 1 asked your opinion about a joke:
- Poll for males
- Poll for females

Poll 2 was on Dylan Farrow's New York Times piece:
- Poll for males
- Poll for females

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.

His most recent book, "The Fiddler In The Subway," is a collection of his full-length stories. He is working on a new book, called "One Day," about the events of December 28, 1986, a date chosen at random by drawing numbers from a hat.

New to Chatological Humor? Read the FAQ.
Q.

Gene Weingarten :

Good afternoon.

I was in Dallas a couple of weeks ago to interview someone for the book I'm working on. Whenever I am in Dallas, I try to see Dealey Plaza. It's not that I am morbid (though I suppose I am), it's more that I am awed by the banality of it all. The whole frozen moment in time is laid out there for you to triangulate, if you are of a mind to do so. There it is, the fatal triptych: The beady-eyed sniper's lair, up there on the sixth floor of seven, next-to-last window on the right. The place on the street, just past the Stemmons Freeway sign, where your imagination can still see the limo, a slow and fat target; and over to the right, the perch atop a concrete pedestal, where Abraham Zapruder -- standing in for all of us, taking it all down, watched aghast. The Watcher.

So, what of it? Well, it's all instantly familiar-- you've seen it all before you've ever been there -- but it all looks so small and compact. Cameras have an expansive effect on architecture and cityscape, and so does the gravity of history. We think of this place as big as a battlefield. But Dealey Plaza isn't a plaza so much as a utilitarian connector -- a homely bit of grass and concrete transitioning from downtown to highway out of downtown. The Depository building is right there, looming over it -- you can look up and across and gauge the unremarkable angles and distances, and understand exactly how a decent marksman with an adequate gun could easily have fired two true shots.

But what really strikes you is how ordinary it is. There are one or two people wandering and looking, but mostly it's just a city going about its business, as though nothing of great moment had ever happened there.

On one hand, it reminds me of something we tend to forget: We forget that history is not foreordained, the way we tend to think of it when we read history books -- everything, studied as the past, seems to have been inevitable, the relentless march of some manifest, familiar future. We tend to forget that history, as it is being made, is so often terrifying and uncertain and arbitrary.

And you see it in Dealey Plaza, this completely ordinary place, where the assassin happened to be free on lunch break at the moment the car passed, and no one had happened to walk in the storage room as he lay in wait, and Abe Zapruder's secretary had just happened to persuade him to go home to get his camera ...

My final thought, as I was standing there in what had been the line of fire, was that there's one small ray of solace to to draw from Dealey Plaza. It's not tarted up, the way we tend to do with our historic places. It's unexploited, not treated like a monument, because, really, what does it memorialize except violence and shame? I was standing right in the middle of it, thinking this somewhat benevolent thought, when two men trundled past me with a big package, from which they took something and planted it in the ground. I pulled out my phone and captured it. I was laughing. Here it is. (They were selling assassination-based maps and magazines.)

--

I thought this year's Super Bowl ads were dreadful. Pandering to cheap and easy sentiment. Low on humor. High on treacle. But there was one commercial that started weak, became excellent, made me laugh, and then, alas, made me think more. The more I thought the less I liked it. (Sort of like many journos' reactions to the Caleb Hannan piece on the transsexual golf-putter designer, which we'll be briefly addressing again later.)

Did you see this commercial? For Volkswagen? The engineeers getting their wings. Nice subtle penis joke within. Super funny anus joke at the very end. Watch it again and then decide if anything's wrong with that ad.

Something is wrong with that ad! All the engineers getting their wings are white men. ALL. This seems to be quite deliberate. If you look carefully, even the elevator scene features a white male engineer (dutifully carrying a laptop) with a very attractive, overly sensitive, cheek-slappy woman, likely a secretary. (She is carrying not hardware, but a file folder.) And even if she is an engineer, she's not a very good one or SHE'd be getting the wings.

Ew.

--

Okay, please take the polls because the results are interesting and we will discuss them soon. The most startling result so far is how amazingly wrong literally 99 percent of you are, on the soft spot in the British bar joke.

The Woody Allen thing you are mostly getting right.

Lastly, two absolutely wonderful obituaries. This is the first. And this is the second.

Let's go. We start promptly at noon Eastern Time.

Q.

Dazed and confused

No, not so much about the Big Game. I'm talking about the fact that BOB DYLAN was in a commercial. In the category of people I never expected to appear in a commercial, I think he would be near the top for me.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

He's done commercials before.  This was a particular sellout, for .... Chrysler?  A purely for profit big-ass company.   Plus it was jingoistic.  "Let Asians assemble your phones" ... cut to earnest close-up  "America will make your cars."  Ew.  Did not like it at all.

– February 04, 2014 12:00 PM
Q.

Cubs new logo

A.
Gene Weingarten :

Okay, look.  Dang it.   It's not like Clark is the first beloved pantsless icon.   But until just a few minutes ago, I thought they were very different matters.  As a bird, I figured Donald had a cloaca, not a penis, so pantslessness was far less dire.   But it turns out I am wrong.  When aroused, ducks have HUGE extremely creepy penises, as this very disturbing video reveals.   I am pretty sure it is safe for work, but MAN.   So. 

– February 04, 2014 12:01 PM
Q.

New York, NY

I'm moving back to Australia tomorrow after 6.5 years in the same time zone as the chat. I enjoyed eating lunch at my desk on Tuesdays (weekly at first, then monthly), watching the chat live, throwing in the odd question (or tease). Thanks to the Chatalogical Humor community! Youse are all great.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

What time will it be in Australia?  Whatever it is, I expect you awake and at your computer.  Bon voyage.

– February 04, 2014 12:02 PM
Q.

Holy aptonym!

Great aptonym starting in paragraph 5. Very striking in paragraphs 6 and 7, and made me re-read to see whose side he was actually on. http://www.citizen-times.com/article/20140118/NEWS/301180029/Challenger-emerges-Boy-Scouts-America

A.
Gene Weingarten :

Very confusing !    To paraphrase Madelyn Murray O'Hair, this is the battle of Christ v. The Christers.     Christ appears to be winning.  

It does occur to me that the Boy Scouts' kind of grudging new position on gays -- we'll let boys in if they are gay, but no gay Scoutmasters -- isn't very different from Putin's stance on gays for the Olympics.   We won't ban you IF YOU STAY AWAY FROM OUR KIDS YOU PERVS. 

– February 04, 2014 12:02 PM
Q.

12/28/86

So, has finding interesting stories been harder or easier than you thought?
A.
Gene Weingarten :

This is in reference to the book I am working on, about a single day chosen at random.

It's not finding the stories -- many interesting things happened that day.  It's reporting them out after so much time, and then figuring out how to present them as a meaningful whole.  Very , very difficult job.  Much harder than I thought.  And it's only getting worse.

– February 04, 2014 12:04 PM
Q.

Outing

Unless it's a politician working against LGBT rights, you don't out people. I wouldn't go so far as to call it murder, but being outed led to Dr. V's suicide, and I think the journalist bears responsibility for that.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

I don't want to keep dwelling on this case, but the relentless  vilification of the writer Caleb Hannan has been one of the more disgusting Twitter crusades I've ever seen.   Here's a recent one:  "There are literally no words in any language to describe just how despicable you are, you absolute sub-human trash."

No.   The original story was problematic in tone, and was in places, insensitive to transgender people.  Caleb is a talented young writer with much to learn.  But this was mostly a failure of editing.   And, most important:  journalistically, writer and editors had a very difficult decision to make, with no completely good option.  To try to tell the story of a person operating in a fraudulent fashion, seeking funding through fraudulent claims, you cannot tell a half story.    How do you write a magazine-length profile of someone like that and ignore their first thirty years of life, as though it didn't exist?  Because that would have been their only option, short of lying or killing the story outright. 

 

 

– February 04, 2014 12:04 PM
Q.

Post Hunt 2014

Have you set a date for the 2014 Post Hunt? I'm trying to get my family to come visit me for it but, alas, they are Planners, and are enthusiastic for a date. "Early June" is just not cutting it for them.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

The first Sunday in June, whatever that is.

– February 04, 2014 12:04 PM
Q.

Woody

Woody Allen's long history of being tremendously creepy about young ladies and girls makes it impossible for me to give him the benefit of the doubt: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/02/woody-allen-and-young-girls-a-history.html

A.
Gene Weingarten :

Indeed.

– February 04, 2014 12:04 PM
Q.

Coke and Cheerios

So, what do you think about the people complaining about (1) the Coke commercial ("How dare they sing America the Beautiful in foreign languages!!) and (2) the Cheerios commercial ("How dare they highlight an interracial couple!!"). Why should this not make me sad for America?
A.
Gene Weingarten :

There is no reason it should not make you sad for America.

– February 04, 2014 12:05 PM
Q.

Dealey Plaza

Hi Gene, I have been to Dallas a few times for my job; I also go to Dealey Plaza on every trip. It is one of those public spaces that would be neglected and forlorn if not for its infamy. I would also agree that the view from the sixth floor to the "X" on the road makes conspiracy theorists look like the fools they are.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

It's a VERY clean head shot, especially since the president had a stiff back in a brace, and wasn't pivoting or swiveling much.  I think I could probably make  that shot.

– February 04, 2014 12:05 PM
Q.

VW

Gene - check the commercial at around the :38 mark. I believe an engineer of color has wings there.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

You are right.   A second and a half of screen time, but yes. 

– February 04, 2014 12:06 PM
Q.

VW ad

You didn't say this outright, but the fact that a GERMAN company had such a white-washed, male-centered ad made it even more troubling to me. You'd think they'd go out of their way to be a little more diverse, no?
A.
Gene Weingarten :

And when you know how much planning goes into an ad like that -- how carefully the actors are chosen, for example, you can only conclude it was deliberate --  but why? 

– February 04, 2014 12:06 PM
Q.

Commercials

I must be the least critical person ever! I watch something like the Volkswagon commercial and see....just a commercial. I don't dissect it. I might get an overall feeling of "well, I like it" or "well, that was stupid", but rarely anything more. Happens with music, concerts, and more. I hate to think of what this says about me!
A.
Gene Weingarten :

Okay, but now?  In retrospect?

I really liked the ad.  Funny.   Give me just a couple of winged women engineers, and I love the commercial !

– February 04, 2014 12:06 PM
Q.

the obit for the rat

The story of the rat's funeral was shockingly incomplete. Were grief counselors made available to the kids? And did the kids all wear helmets to the funeral, for their safety?
A.
Gene Weingarten :

The line I liked best was "There was no pushing."

The writer of that story, I bet, was a parent.   Showed a sweet understanding of kids.

– February 04, 2014 12:07 PM
Q.

being outed led to Dr. V's suicide

Did it, though? I thought the outing for fraud was the cause. Or perhaps it was Dr. V's ultimate cackling revenge on the journalist.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

Suicide, in general, is a hostile act.   Surely not always, but more often than not.

And yes, exactly.  We have no reason to assume, no good reason, that she killed herself because she was going to be outed as transgender.  I assume more like because she was going to be outed as a fraud.

– February 04, 2014 12:08 PM
Q.

NSFW!!!

Did you see what videos YouTube recommended after watching the duck penis video?!?
A.
Gene Weingarten :

Uh oh.  I did not.

Does anyone feel that duck video was NSFW?   If so, I apologize for not better labeling.  

– February 04, 2014 12:09 PM
Q.

Dylan Farrow poll

was surprised by how many women believe Woody molested Dylan, seems much more likely that she was used by Mia as an instrument of horridly cruel revenge. Is it that women can't fathom that a mother would encourage a daughter to believe abuse happened when it didn't? Seems Mia may think the Soon-Yi situation was abuse, and transferrred it to a legal target, aka poor Dylan.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

I think this is far less likely than the alternative.

– February 04, 2014 12:10 PM
Q.

Poll 1 joke

It's not a rape joke. The sister is a hooker. It says she's a regular at the bar/whorehouse.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

Yes, exactly.   Good thinking.  Less than 1 percent of you are answering correctly, in my opinion. 

This is not a rape joke; if it were, the sister would not keep coming back to the bar.  (I see no suggestion it is a whorehouse, by the way. It is a bar that likes to get ladies very intoxicated.)    But by going back "several times," this seems to establish she is a willing participant.  She is, arguably, a "loose woman."

Therefore, the  underlying engine of the joke seems to be that she is Irish, suggesting Irish ladies are slutbunnies.  

(Unlike most of you, I find this joke very funny, by the way.   Didn't see it coming, so to speak.  And I don't care much about the ethnic thing, though I might if this were Britain and my employer was The Times of London.)

– February 04, 2014 12:10 PM
Q.

Scarlett Johansson

Reading about her controversy with Sodastream today, I seem to recall that you have had something to say on the topic of Ms. Johansson. Can you remind us of your incisive insights about her? Thank you, sir.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

My most recent published observation about Ms. Johansson is that a discussion of her elbows was beside the point.   To this end, her elbows can be seen here.

– February 04, 2014 12:11 PM
Q.

VW commercial

Um... they're supposed to be German engineers and it's a commercial in the US, where the stereotype for German is not only white, but Aryan white. No?
A.
Gene Weingarten :

So does that make it more or less objectionable?

– February 04, 2014 12:11 PM
Q.

"small and compact"

That's what I thought when I first visited Dealey Plaza. And it made me realize that there was no way JFK was getting out of there alive that day.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

Well, there were plenty of ways, which is sort of my point.   Someone walks in on Oswald, in that room.    The route changes slightly.   Etc.

– February 04, 2014 12:12 PM
Q.

olympics

Gene, I am strangely fascinated with the debacle that is the Sochi Olympics. What an absolute cluster-bomb all the way around. At this point, I would be very surprised if there IS NOT a terrorist attack during the games. While I certainly don’t want anyone to get hurt, let alone lose life or limb, it certainly feels right now like it's a disaster of epic proportions waiting to happen. I hope I’m wrong. PS, I agree with you on the commercials. All dreadful. Except the multi-lingual America the Beautiful Coke ad. I thought that was great. And the resulting racist backlash to boot.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

I know a journalist who is going to cover it, and is not at all a hysteric, or a coward, and is genuinely worried about safety. 

– February 04, 2014 12:13 PM
Q.

Shakespeare liked to abuse young goats.

Does that alter your appreciation for the Sonnets or Lear?
A.
Gene Weingarten :

I demand proof.

We know so little of Shakespeare we're not even sure who he was.  AND YOU KNOW HE BOINKED GOATS?

– February 04, 2014 12:14 PM
Q.

Dallas

Gene -- It's interesting that you went there for an interview. In this age of Skype and e-communication of all sorts, what do you find in the face-to-face interview that can't be replaced? (Perhaps instructive for J-students.)
A.
Gene Weingarten :

Whole different experience.  You learn about people on a whole different level.   You feel what it is like to be with them in a room.   If it were financially possible, I'd visit everyone in the book.

– February 04, 2014 12:16 PM
Q.

PSH

Gene, in light of the tragic death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, what was it that made you kick your own heroin addiction?
A.
Gene Weingarten :

I was never addicted.   Used on weekends, basically.  

Philip Seymour Hoffman was an incredibly gifted actor.  I feel only pain and loss.  Even his minor roles -- Art Howe in Moneyball -- he pulled off with astonishing skill and devotion to his art.

– February 04, 2014 12:16 PM
Q.

Not an Aptonym

In searching for a new dentist this week, I came across this unfortunately named website. http://www.anusmile.com/ I have not yet made an appointment. Do I have to go just to find out who registered that domain and if they have been fired?

A.
Gene Weingarten :

This just made me snort coffee !

 

– February 04, 2014 12:16 PM
Q.

Good taste, or not

Is moron is a euphemism for someone who is mentally retarded? If so, shouldn't we not make fun with the word?
A.
Gene Weingarten :

I have actually researched this.  The modern meaning is inoffensive.  

It belongs to an old, highly insensitive psychological classification system for mental retardation (idiot, imbecile and moron, in increasing order of intelligence) that hasn't been used in 60 years.  I'd say that meaning is gone.

But, yeah.   Idiots were adults with a cognitive age of below three, imbeciles 3-7, and morons 7-11.)

– February 04, 2014 12:17 PM
Q.

Coke and Cheerios

Who are the people complaining?
A.
Gene Weingarten :

Tea party people, I am guessing.   People who do not one little bit that there is a world out there of black, brown and yellow people, and they are gaining on us AND INFILTRATING US INSIDIOUSLY.    They remember an idyllic America that never was, and see it threatened. 

– February 04, 2014 12:19 PM
Q.

Sochi diasater of Olympic proportions.

Isn't it much more likely that all the attacks will occur elsewhere in Russia? Just to show that the terrorists can strike where they choose? Sochi is the best diversion that any terrorist could hope for.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

That's not how the optics work.  

– February 04, 2014 12:19 PM
Q.

Arrogant Arses

Come on! They are poking fun at German Engineers! They tend to be white, male, and arrogant. Ask anyone who has to deal with them..... German Engineers are a perfect target....
A.
Gene Weingarten :

I very strong suspect that VW is not consciously poking fun at German engineers.

– February 04, 2014 12:20 PM
Q.

Cheerios Commercial

I don't know if it was deliberate, but I loved that this was such an overt "back at you" to everyone who was turned off by the racist nature of the ad. Showing the mom as pregnant puts it right out there that this couple had SEX (since the last commercial), actually did the horizontal mambo to produce another child. Yes, this black man had sex with this white woman who WANTED it! I think this would disgust (or disgust again) the people who were complaining about this family in the first ad. Brilliant. I hope it was deliberate.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

Oh, it was DEFINITELY a thumb in the eye of the racists.  (I think you meant racial nature of the ad, not racist.)  

– February 04, 2014 12:22 PM
Q.

Heroin

Okay, need your help here. I came of age in the late 80s/early 90s in what I felt like was a time of less drug experimentation. Certainly that was the case for me. I'm risk averse, not particularly rebellious, and have always enjoyed my own company. I also understood the degrees of risk associated with various drugs, with heroin being just short of PCP or crack in terms of severe danger. So, honestly, what leads someone there? Does one start off "damaged" and turn to increasing highs to heal? Or is it like the proverbial frog in boiling water? You don't see where you're headed until you get there? I'm now a parent of boys, not currently at risk, and I want to do what I can to inoculate them. What would you suggest? For context, I'm rearing them in a large East Coast city where there's plenty of access to anything (although perhaps unlike the suburbs, lots of obvious signs of the dangers). Thanks!
A.
Gene Weingarten :

This is an oddly naive question!  You seem like a lucky person, completely clueless as to why people might use drugs.   Good for you.  

To many, many many people, drugs feel good.  Create a feeling of euphoria.   Seem harmless if used in moderation.    You don't have to be dysfunctional or empty or soulless to have this craving.   Particularly creative people tend to have this particular craving.   Drugs do not necessarily replace something important that is missing in your life.   They seemingly improve your life, make it more exciting.

It's why drugs are so dangerous.   It's why I urge extreme caution.  Abstinence is good, in fact.

– February 04, 2014 12:23 PM
Q.

Dr V

One of the things I thought of (not the first, more like the 91st, or maybe the 901st) when the whole Dr. V kerfluffle happened was I wondered what you would make of it. And I see you will not disappoint. Here's my take, fwiw. This is mostly the media falling all over themselves showing how sensitive they are to these types of issues. While the article had a couple of flaws and the writer should not have outed her to an investor while she was alive, there was absolutely nothing wrong with reporting that she was transgender. She lost all right to privacy when she publicly used a fake personal history to market her putter. If her "qualifications" hadn't been used in describing why this putter was such an advance over previous models then sure, it's irrelevant and would not be needed in the piece. But as it was, her past is an integral part of the story.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

So answer me this: If the writer knew he was gonna out her in the story, why is it significant that he outed her to an investor, presumably just days before the story would appear and the investor would find out anyway?

 

– February 04, 2014 12:24 PM
Q.

people complaining about the Coke commercial, where "America the Beautiful" is in foreign languages

Wait till they find out that "America the Beautiful" was written by a lesbian.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

And that it's not our national anthem !

It was written by a lesbian?  THERE WERE NO LESBIANS BACK THEN, as the Queen of England famously said.

– February 04, 2014 12:25 PM
Q.

SB Commercials

winner hands down was the puppy and Clydesdale commercial. Totally cute. Doesn't make me more likely to drink a Budweiser, however.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

I contemn "cute."   I bet you are a girl.

– February 04, 2014 12:25 PM
Q.

VW commercial

There is a glimpse of a non-white male engineer with wings at the 38-second mark. I guess I thank VW for making the gender/race thing so pathetically obvious.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

Yes. 

I tend to watch acting in commercials, because I know how hard it is.  (Try delivering a personality with, like, nine words including the name of a product.)  I think the little girl in that commercial is a really talented actor.

– February 04, 2014 12:26 PM
Q.

That Joke

Gene, I first heard that joke about "my sister has" in the movie And Justice for All. No ethnic component in that version, which I think helps the joke (I'm Irish). Also, I saw you at the Kennedy Center last week. How did you like the show?
A.
Gene Weingarten :

Loved the show (Peter and the Starcatcher.)   Speaking of acting, the man playing The Black Stache  is world class.  His four minute, three-word monologue was spectacular.

– February 04, 2014 12:28 PM
Q.

Super Bowl Commercials

I agree this was the weakest crop of Super Bowl commercials since the Apple 1984 commercial debuted, making Super Bowl commercials a THING. However, I have to admit, I turned to my daughter after the Jaguar "British Villains" spot, with Mark Strong, Tom Hiddleston, and Ben Kingsley, and said "I certainly don't need or want a Jag...but I REALLY want someone to make this movie!!" She agreed.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

Missed that one.  

– February 04, 2014 12:29 PM
Q.

So stup, ID

The joke is not funny. Once again, the world's puritanical views about women's sexuality are being used for humor. We place a bizarre value on a woman's "virtue", whereas with men, it is seen as a healthy drive. Virginity is something to be given or taken away instead of "hey, we are two people, let's find pleasure in our bodies." This is the same reason rape is a different crime than a violent assault without sex. It is absurd. I am a woman, by the way.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

Sorry, but this is just political noise to me.   The joke is funny because of the way men and women behave to each other.

– February 04, 2014 12:30 PM
Q.

you can only conclude it was deliberate

Actually, no, it probably wasn't deliberate, just extremely ignorant. If I pass around a manuscript to 20 people with my same background, nobody will catch a certain bias. The key is to ask 20 people who don't look like me, didn't grow up like me, etc. That is the main reason for diversity in college admissions. That VW advertising agency is probably less diverse than VW itself. People don't "catch" their own biases.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

But it is the JOB of an ad agency to appeal to the masses.  It's theire JOB to think about diversity.

– February 04, 2014 12:31 PM
Q.

Ethics question

I saw an article in the NY Times (http://tinyurl.com/lshul8f) that discussed some of the ethical issues related to genetic testing of embryos (mostly for diseases, but in a small percentage for predisposition to certain conditions and for the sex of the child). In a number of previous chats, you have mentioned that the number of children with Down Syndrome has decreased drastically in the past 30 plus years, and that the decrease is due to increased testing and the decisions by many parents to terminate pregnancies that will result in a child with Down Syndrome. I have to admit that I get a little scared of the possible ramifications of this kind of testing. As the Down Syndrome example shows, a likely result is that embryos and fetuses with certain genes or markers may never be born. There’s a certain logic behind that, but where does that end? With embryos that will result in children who are deaf or blind? With ones that might have a predisposition to certain cancers or to having addiction issues? With those who are found (whenever scientists can determine it) to be homosexual, or transgender? I would like to think that society would know where to draw the lines, but then I watch the news and see what’s happening in our country and world and realize that may be misplaced optimism. What are your thoughts? At times like this, I need a good poop or fart joke.

A.
Gene Weingarten :

Well, where we are not talking about genocide or infanticide, when we are talking about very early termination of an embryo, I am at heart something of a eugenicist.    

Since I don't consider 6-week pregnancy termination to be "murder" or even "killing" (I know, many disagree) I don't require reasons that sound Extremely Important.  I might not LIKE a couple that decides to abort at 6 weeks because they wants a boy and not a girl, because that seems awfully frivolous and sexist, I would not think that laws should stop that, or society particulaly condemn it.   So, aborting a fetus that might be a person extremely susceptible to cancer?   Okay with me.

Yes, I know.  I suspect I am pretty far to the left (or right, depending on how you look at it) here.

Needless to say but I'll say it anyway, the closer to viability you get, the more my feelings about this shift to the majority's.

– February 04, 2014 12:31 PM
Q.

Trouble in scientific paradise

Gene, you may be interested in this kerfuffle: http://sarahhillenbrand.com/2014/01/23/on-power-and-powerlessness-in-anonymity/ (I don't know no HTML, so my links are crude, uncultured, and obvious). Seems an elder scientist wrote a humor piece that was published in the respected journal Nature in 2011, about how he and his buddy are incompetent men but women-folk seem able to reach through the barriers of time and space to find all sorts of useful items that men-folk cannot find. He appears to have assumed that a science journal would have an all-male audience that would enjoy a bit of benevolent sexism, but it turns out that there are some women in the clubhouse and they did not appreciate the humor. Three years of criticism and nastiness have ensued, capped by a journal editor who sneered at a younger scientist of a female and ethnic minority persuasion who publishes scientific papers and thus should rightly be among his constituency, if he weren't such an unforgivable ass. He outed her nom-de-blog, in a transparent attempt to damage her professional reputation and make her radioactive to peers who would like to be published in his journal. Among other questions, I ask your professional opinion on this: could the whole problem have been avoided if the original writer had chosen the same stance as you often portray, of being a uniquely oblivious individual surrounded by competent persons, regardless of gender? It seems like the required changes would have been small, and a good editor of humor could have saved this writer, the journal, and the field from much unpleasantness.

A.
Gene Weingarten :

Well, now, this is very interesting. And it is not entirely unrelated to the VW engineer discussion!

  The woman blogger you link to curates this very competently, but its a czitload to read for anyone in this chat.  I will summarize.   Old science guy who can't find children's panties in a department store writes a sweet piece in awe of women's abilities to shop efficiently.  Concludes men are hunters and women are gatherers (while basically elevating gathering to the higher art) and jokes that women have figured out how to shop in parallel universes, a skill he is in awe of.

The piece is sweet to women viewed in one way, but subtly condescending in another.  It turns out that the doofy scientist's wife -- though she is presented her doing matronly housekeepy chores -- is also a serious scientist, and he loves and respects her.

So, all of that would not have made much of a ripple, in my view.  I have written things not all that dissimilar, but often in conjunction with Gina, who publicly hands my my head, thereby inoculating me from blame.     But in general, this piece would not have made much of a ripple had it appeared anywhere but a Science Journal, meaning it was read mostly by scientists.

Women scientists were not amused.   To them, this was dangerous material, indicative of rampant sexism in their field (I don't doubt this) and they had to SQUASH IT, AND HIM, FLAT.     Plus, one of the ladies, by the pen name Isis, is a better writer than the original doofy guy, and does a pretty good job performing an orchiectomy on him.  (Look it up.)

That brought out the vicious men, and blood was let.

My conclusion: The original sin here was mild.  The original reaction was overblown but understandable, led by a deeply partisan, highly sensitized group.    Then the blockheads took over.

This is similar to the Caleb Hannan thing, actually.  The understandable rage was fed and directed (and overreacted to) by a partisan, emotional activist group.   And finally the jerks took over.

– February 04, 2014 12:32 PM
Q.

"Woody" Allen

The Daily Beast article about Dylan Farrow's allegations just seems like he's trying too hard. Multiple times he says he's not blaming the victim, but then he goes ahead and highlights every way in which one could doubt the veracity Dylan's, Mia's and Ronan's comments, like he's trying to show there's reasonable doubt about the claims. I guess that's how it would work in court, but here it seems like he is, as a proxy for Woody, "lawyering up." As it is, I want to be able to like Woody Allen, but it has become increasingly hard to do so.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

Yesterday I twote that Crimes and Misdemeanors used to be one of my favorite movies all time.  Top Ten or Eleven.  Now it's crap, you know?

– February 04, 2014 12:34 PM
Q.

Gene Weingarten :

I just had an interesting thought, apropos of not much.

I wonder why Sinatra never had Woody Allen offed.

Q.

Listen to Christine Lavin

There's a fine, fine Christine Lavin song called "The Sixth Floor" about the experience of visiting the museum. (Note: I am not Christine Lavin, a relative, a friend, ...)
A.
Gene Weingarten :
– February 04, 2014 12:36 PM
Q.

I almost forgot!

Now that the venerable New York Times has seen it perfectly fine to run a whole story dedicated to the natural decoration of a woman's private parts, can we finally PLEASE do a poll? I'm a hot woman quickly approaching 30, and I need to know what the consensus is. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/30/fashion/Brazilian-bikini-wax-women-hair-removal.html?_r=0

A.
Gene Weingarten :

I will try again for the next chat.

– February 04, 2014 12:37 PM
Q.

Shakespeare and goats

You want proof? It's all over his writings, e.g.: "Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend, and borrowing dulls the edge of animal husbandry". - (Hamlet, Act I, Scene III) ""A goat! a goat! my kingdom for a goat!" - (King Richard III, Act V, Scene IV) ""Cry "Havoc," and let slip the goats of war" - (Julius Caesar, Act III, Scene I) "Lambition should be made of sterner stuff" - (Julieus Caesar, Act III, Scene II) ""The first thing we do, let's kill all the shepherds". - (Henry VI Part II, Act IV, Scene II).
A.
Gene Weingarten :

Thank you. I am now convinced.

– February 04, 2014 12:37 PM
Q.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

His death has struck me pretty hard because I completely understand why he did it. I was given Demerol for a medical procedure years ago and have joked that if heroin were legal I'd be strung out in a gutter. I've also said I could never have been a singer because if I got famous and were surrounded by all those drugs I would have ended up in the dead by 27 club. Then I looked in my recycle bin and...it looks like the equivalent of 70 bags of heroin. Any advice?
A.
Gene Weingarten :

One of the major reasons I decided in college not to be the doctor I assumed I'd be all my childhood.... was I realized I could not have survived the access to drugs.

– February 04, 2014 12:38 PM
Q.

Genotyping

I find it querulous that my religion would be cool with checking my spunk and my wife's eggs for genetic malfunctions and stopping the thing right there, but if they get together first, it's unstoppable.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

I'm not sure your church would be fine with the first part.

– February 04, 2014 12:39 PM
Q.

The original reaction was overblown but understandable, led by a deeply partisan, highly sensitized group.

Deeply partisan perhaps because of the ingrained sexism and viciousness of males in STEM professions. Harvard Business Review did a study of this about six years ago, and it is borne out by my experience of the STEM guys in my federal agency. And, as always, no woman dares to complain about it because of the consequences.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

Understood.

– February 04, 2014 12:40 PM
Q.

VW vs VOA

Volkswagen of America has had a sometimes contentious relationship with the parent German Volkswagen AG parent company. I would not be surprised if it was a very conscious attempt to poke a bit fun of the German parent company's image.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

Maybe!  Interesting!

I found the choice of actors in the elevator to be significant.  

– February 04, 2014 12:41 PM
Q.

Dylan Farrow

I don't think that there's any question that Dylan believes what she said about her experience with Woody Allen. On the other hand, I lived in L.A. at the time of the McMartin Preschool scandal in which small children made lurid accusations (hidden tunnels, killing animals, Satan worship, orgies, etc.) via their hysterical parents, against the employees of a day care center. One crazy mother in particular was the driving force for these accusations. In the end all charges were dropped. This leaves me deeply troubled about the conflict between protecting children and not accepting accusations of child molestation at face value. Given that these accusations arose in the context of a very nasty divorce, am I wrong to give Woody Allen the benefit of the doubt even in the face of the adult Dylan's repeated accusations?
A.
Gene Weingarten :

I don't think you are morally wrong to give him the benefit of the doubt.  I think you are logically wrong.

– February 04, 2014 12:41 PM
Q.

Woody vs Dylan

OK help me find the flaws in my thinking here. I have no personal experience of molestation nor have I ever been falsely accused of anything. Unless you come to the table predisposed to either "believe the victim" or a blind adherence to the presumption of innocence, how can anyone reach a conclusion? If the Dylan's version is 100% true, everyone's actions seem plausible but the same hold's true if Woody is telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Concluding that therefore the truth must be somewhere in between, feels like wimpy cop out. I cannot imagine anyone coming forward like Dylan did unless it was the truth but quite frankly i can't imagine anyone doing the things she accused Woody of doing either. Neither scenario lacks precedent. It feels like choosing Dylan's side is the 'safe' choice since otherwise you might be siding with a child molester but often times the 'safe' choice is also the correct choice so that is no reason to doubt Dylan. The whole situation seems to have resulted from the truly ugly break up of Woody and Mia. Tons of examples of vengeance over ruling the truth in these situations but if Woody is what he is accused of, then that would certainly explain why the break up was so ugly.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

Well, we cannot "know."  I very strongly suspect that Dylan is telling the truth, or the best approximation of the truth, as she remembers it from age 7.

Now, I know that horrifying custody disputes often result in the use of accusation for leverage, and that these accusations can be lies.   When people of both genders seem to feel wronged, they can and have been willing to lie as punishment.   I once edited a story, in Miami, in which I became completely convinced that a father sent to prison for 25 years for allegedly molesting his son had been unjustly accused during a custody case.   We had obtained a tape of the mom browbeating the child into changing his story.   Happens.

This case is not that case.  In that case, there was nothing out there suggesting the father ever had any but the most normal inclinations toward young people.  Woody Allen 's situation is very different, obviously.   Here is a piece that explains it all very well.  

Here's an intriguing  quote from an interview with Woody in People Magazine, 1976:

"I'm open-minded about sex. I'm not above reproach; if anything, I'm below reproach. I mean, if I was caught in a love nest with 15 12-year-old girls tomorrow, people would think, yeah, I always knew that about him." Allen pauses. "Nothing I could come up with would surprise anyone," he ventures helplessly. "I admit to it all."

-

And finally, I give very little weight to the piece in The Daily Beast.   It was written by someone with a strong financial interest in Woody's reputation not being further sullied.   Moreover, I was repelled by the tone of it. It felt snide and sarcastic, exactly the wrong way to argue Woody's side. 

– February 04, 2014 12:42 PM
Q.

"Thank you for your service"

"...is a cowardly and deeply cynical thing to say to men and women who lost more than they ever bargained for." Can you explain why? Is it cowardly and cynical to say to any serviceperson or just those who "lost more than they ever bargained for"? Also what can I say instead?
A.
Gene Weingarten :

Why would you robotically repeat a line that is served up for you by some etiquette manual suggesting words to say to veterans, because the moment is so fraught with ambiguity?  Why not say something that you really feel, that might be honest and spontaneous? You think they want to hear "Thank you for your service.  Beep boop.  End obligatory message here." ?    

To someone injured, how about "Hey, I appreciate your courage."     Or how about what it occurs to YOU to say?

– February 04, 2014 12:42 PM
Q.

Sinatra Hit

When Ronan's paternity first came into question, Farrow (in Vanity Fair?) recounted that Old Blue Eyes indeed offered to "take care of" the Woodster when the Soon Yi debacle occured.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

Really?  Wow!

– February 04, 2014 12:42 PM
Q.

"four minute, three-word monologue"

So did it take four minutes to get all three words out? Or were they repeated in some fashion? Studio Theatre, back in the fall of 2012 mounted a production of "The Aliens" which feature one of two actors on stage during the second act repeating the word "ladder" for what had to be a minute or two. It was at once painful and fascinating, and took real talent to pull off.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

A single, three word phrase, repeated about 90 times.   I don't want to give it away.   Those who have seen the show know how great it is. 

– February 04, 2014 12:43 PM
Q.

VW

Secretaries don't have glasses and lab coats, you oversensitive nancy. Plus she gets to slap him, yay girl power. I am kind of kidding but you're really reaching here. Plus I don't know how you cry foul on that and then plaster ScarJo's ass up here. She doesn't even have a head in that picture. Dude.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

I am without morals. 

– February 04, 2014 12:44 PM
Q.

re: Woody Allen

Listening to Mia Farrow, I leaned towards her brainwashing her daughter, but the more I read about this whole sorted affair, the less inclined I am to believe Allen. It seems to me that, if I were Woody Allen, and I were innocent, I'd pine for a trial just to clear my name.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

Sordid.

And yes.

– February 04, 2014 12:44 PM
Q.

Allen/Farrow

I have a lot of trouble with this situation. As a bleeding heart, I like to believe the best of people, but in this case, the best of one is the worst of the other. I have a Facebook friend who keeps posting articles about how anyone who says Allen could be innocent is a rape denier and an anti feminist. But, ignoring the fact that these allegations came about during a horrible split, and that children are very susceptible to false memories (daycare satanic ritual abuse anyone?) just seems like going too far. Is Woody Allen kind of a creep? For sure. Is he a rapist child molester? I don't know.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

Fair enough.   There is one thing people should remember.  The child in this case was 7.    That is substantially different from 3 or 4, which were typically the ages in those awful preschool cases from the 1980s.    Seven is not nearly as impressionable as 4.   That distinction means a lot to me.

– February 04, 2014 12:46 PM
Q.

Good obituary but....

...there's a nasty note at the end. "In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you cancel your subscription to The New York Times." Unnecessarily political and preachy to the reader in a piece that was otherwise a wonderful celebration of the man. Really unfortunate.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

I completely disagree.   Best line in the piece, and I assume it has to do with the dead man's view of the NYT.

– February 04, 2014 12:46 PM
Q.

Ostensible Putter Story

One of the biggest problems with the story ostensibly about a revolutionary putter is that there wasn't really a story there until it became a story about the putter's inventor. The Grantland editor, in his pretty good apology, admits as much. She was pretty clear from the first email that she wanted the story to focus on "the science, not the scientist," which was about the time I started to suspect she was transgender. I admit that I expected the lies about her background to be explained by her gender reassignment, rather than to be lies from start to finish. I think I said in the poll that the story shouldn't have run; but I can certainly see how it built from a weak story about putters to a fascinating investigation for the writer. Perhaps you're right that tonal correction would have made it better. I definitely don't think the writer is morally culpable for Vanderbilt's suicide--she seems to have been a troubled woman. But I'm still not sure it was worth it to publish the story, given the outcome.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

I feel very strongly that under ordinary circumstances, you can't blame an honest writer, attempting to write truth, for unfortunate outcomes.  People are responsible for their own actions.   The classic case study in this was the excellent piece by Leonora LaPeter Anton of the Tampa Bay Times about a woman with persistent genital arousal syndrome, followed almost immediately by her suicide.   Months later, Leonora followed it up with a beautifully done, frank appraisal of her responsibility in the case, and (in my judgment) misplaced feelings of guilt.   You can't do better than this.   And Leonora had taken extraordinary measures to make sure the subject was comfortable with the story, and knew exactly what would be in it. 

– February 04, 2014 12:46 PM
Q.

One crazy mother in particular was the driving force for these accusations.

Not so. Overenthusiastic investigators asking incredibly leading questions were the driving force. Do you really believe that Mia Farrow used this interrogation technique on a seven-year-old?
A.
Gene Weingarten :

The case in Miami I wrote about involved just such an interrogation.  We got the tape.  It was awful.

– February 04, 2014 12:47 PM
Q.

Joe's comes to DC!

Joe's Stone Crab just opened a restaurant in DC! http://www.washingtonian.com/blogs/bestbites/new-restaurants/take-a-look-inside-joes-stone-crab-photos.php And chance of you and Dave doing a new story about going to wait on line to see how long it takes without tipping the guy up front?

A.
Gene Weingarten :

This is in referece to a fabulous Tropic cover story by Dave Barry in which he went under cover (wore a beard I believe) to prove the long-held suspicion that generous tips to the maitre-d resulted in dramatically reduced wait times.  The story was clearly satirical, but exposed (in my mind) something pretty ugly.   Joe's in Miami didn't take reservations, which implies egalitarianism -- everyone waits.  Only everyone didn't wait.  I think Dave tipped $50, and was seated almost immediately.

Haven't visited Joe's here yet.   Am excited.  If you have never had fresh stone crabs.... you should.

– February 04, 2014 12:47 PM
Q.

Gene Weingarten :

Urgent correction: Dave has just informed me he wore a mustache, not a beard.  And for $50, got seated instantly 

Q.

"Pearls Before Breakfast" Picture Book?

Gene, how do you feel about this children's book based on your Joshua Bell experiment? http://politics-prose.com/event/book/kathy-stinson-and-joshua-bell-man-violin

A.
Gene Weingarten :

I'm fine with it.  That story has pretty much passed into the public domain.  Well, not the STORY, but the event.

– February 04, 2014 12:49 PM
Q.

Grantland

I basically agree with your sentiment of the story on Dr. V and the golf club. The only thing I would add is that, to me, the biggest blunder he made was adding the line about getting chills when he learned she was transgender. Seriously? Someone isn't evil just because they're transgendered. Sheesh. I think if he had lef that sentence out alone, it would have done a lot to make the story more sensitive. But it definitely was a story. I did have one other problem with it: I don't think it was ever made clear that Dr. V was in a romantic relationship with Gerri Jordan, it was just kind of implied at the end. But if she was in an open lesbian relationship, why would she then be so terrified about being outed as transgender that she would kill herself? That point just seems to be another argument in why she didn't kill herself because he would out her (or at least it not being the only reason). She was clearly a woman with many issues, and it sounds like being outed as a fraud would be much more damaging than as being outed as transgendered.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

I agree with all of this, but the "chills" line didn't strike me as revulsion, or an intimation of evil.  I think he suddenly felt he was probing more deeply into a psychodrama than he had intended.     I think that to any intent the story seemed to be suggesting her transgender was evidence of her personal dishonesty -- well, that was offbase.  You could argue it was evidence of at least one effort at honesty.

– February 04, 2014 12:49 PM
Q.

Old Dog Obit - James Lileks

I expect you would appreciate this: http://lileks.com/bleats/archive/14/0214/020314.html Jim Rice, Falls Church

A.
Gene Weingarten :

This is excellent.  Very moving.  James is a writer.

– February 04, 2014 12:50 PM
Q.

Philip Seymour Hoffman

Gene, I know your heroin use wasn't as an addict, as Hoffman's was, but does it alarm you that a man who was reportedly "clean" for 20+ years could still fall off the wagon so dramatically? From initial reports, it seems the actor's drug binges were massive and even a man of his wealth and connections was apparently the victim of some very dangerous, tainted stuff "off the street."
A.
Gene Weingarten :

It does bother me, yes.  It is a warning.  

I have never quite forgotten the feeling delivered by heroin.  This is urging me to forget it, finally.

– February 04, 2014 12:50 PM
Q.

joke question

I would have felt more comfortable witht he joke if the punchline had been a "your mama" rather than a "my sister."
A.
Gene Weingarten :

But then it becomes a very different joke, and, arguably a lesser one.   It's just a yo mama joke.

– February 04, 2014 12:50 PM
Q.

Drugs and Demerol

Wow. You just posted from someone who had Demerol and liked it. I was exactly the opposite: had Demerol after surgery some three decades ago, and while I loved that it knocked me out enough to sleep well, I hated waking up fuzzy-headed and groggy. I quit using it as soon as I could (three nights). Never could understand the attraction of drugs before that, and REALLY couldn't understand it afterwards. I was baffled that people would actually want to create that mental stupor, on purpose. I am exactly your age, Gene, and certainly was familiar with friends smoking pot in college. Made no sense to me then or now. I really don't understand why PSH would quit for more than 20 years, and then start again when he had to know how dangerous it is, and he had a long-time girlfriend and three children, and such devotion to his acting. So sad, and to me, so inexplicable.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

Consider yourself lucky, but also slightly experientially diminished.

I suspect Philip was not ever completely clean.

– February 04, 2014 12:51 PM
Q.

Plus I don't know how you cry foul on that and then plaster ScarJo's ass up here.

Perhaps because Gene is not a practitioner of false equivalency, and he understands non sequiturs.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

Thank you.

And, yes.  Also because it was funny. 

– February 04, 2014 12:52 PM
Q.

Heroine

I just saw a news report that stated using heroine ONE time can cause addiction. So how is it that you could be a recreational weekend user? I am wondering if the drug is stronger now, or if it was an overly cautious report?
A.
Gene Weingarten :

Heroin.

That news report is utterly ridiculous, unless there is some sort of oddly put-together person who is wildly susceptible to addiction.

That sounds like the sorts of warnings in "Reefer Madness."

I used heroin on and off for about two years.  Never had a moment of physical addiction.   Came closer to physical addiction after my knee operation.   Got to where stopping  gave me mild to moderate cold symtomps.   Never there with heroin.

– February 04, 2014 12:54 PM
Q.

Tipping?

Isn't tipping done *after* a service is performed? I would think money given beforehand would be defined as a straight-up bribe.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

Not at Joes in Miami in the 1980s.  There was always a huge line.   You walked up to the maitre d, ostensibly to leave your name, and you dropped some bucks on him.

– February 04, 2014 12:56 PM
Q.

J.D. Salinger was just as creepy.

Starting with an underage Oona O'Neill.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

Sure.   And the adult women were barely adults, who looked younger than they were.

– February 04, 2014 12:56 PM
Q.

Urgent correction: Dave has just informed me

It makes me so happy to know that Dave reads this chat. I still miss his weekly columns. But do stone crabs travel? I mean, how fresh can they be if they've come up from Florida.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

Oh, sure.  They can travel a day or two.   Just don't freeze em.

– February 04, 2014 12:57 PM
Q.

12/28/86

Were you inspired at all to do this by the novel 11/22/63? Your intro reminded me to ask.
A.
Gene Weingarten :

Nope.  

This is sort of the opposite kind of book, actually.  Mining the mundane.

Okay folks, thank you all much.   Good chat.  See you next week in the updates.   And we'll try again on the issue of minge.

– February 04, 2014 12:59 PM
Q.

 

A.
Host: