Chatological Humor: Updated <a href="">March 8 </a> | <a href="">March 15</a> | <a href="">March 22</a>

Mar 01, 2011

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.

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. This month, that day was Tuesday, March 1 at Noon ET. 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.

Please take this week's polls:

Poll 1: I lean liberal | I lean conservative

Poll 2: Success poll

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

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

New to Chatological Humor? Read the FAQ.

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

Okay, I'm told that there has been an odd snafu with the intro to the chat, that it has now been posted piecemeal, and that in some fashion a non dyslexic person ought to be able to figure it out within a few hours.   So I am sorry about that.   This is the Liz Kelly memorial chat. 

Good afternoon.

Today I am typing on a PC loaner from The Post, instead of my usual Mac. This experience has reacquainted me with the essential differences between the systems. There are only two of any significance, but they are enormous. The first is that only the PC has a "delete" key, which is a key that deletes forwards, not backwards. The Mac, which  designates one key for the exclusive use of a tilde and a French backwards accent mark, nonetheless cannot find the space for a forwards delete, which, I repeat, is an essential key for any reasonably sophisticated writer. Good writers do not write sentences and then immediately decide they are bad and delete backwards. Good writers write paragraphs, then do surgical strikes on individual words and sentences, and insert new things, and deleting forward is the smartest way to do this, so you can read forward as you are deleting, and stop at the appropriate place.    To delete forward on a Mac, you have to use two keys in combination, which is extremely primitive.  I am right about this and if you don't see why -- well, please do not take this personally, but you probably are better suited for mining or fishing or farming or logging, or another of the "extractive" trades.  The creative trades are not your thing.

So are PCs better? They WOULD be if it were not for their hideous deficit. The PC is connected to its power source by a power cord that latches on to the computer the way a pit bull latches on to a bone.    This means that should one arise from one's laptop and inadvertently get one's leg tangled in the power cord, the computer flies off the table and onto the floor, fracturing its screen so it looks like little ink ampules had exploded, something I am quite familiar with. The Mac has a breakaway, magnetic cord.

Why has neither system fixed its one enormous problem?  My theory is that this is the operation of Adam Smith's "Invisible Hand," the deity of a free market that ensures economic  success over time.   The Invisible Hand has essentially fed stupid pills to the decisionmakers in both companies, preventing them from seeing how easy it would be to corner the computer market, thus assuring that competition will survive.

Fair warning:  I will not let this chat devolve into a geekfight between Mac and PC proselytizers. Only a few such posts will be allowed.

Sunday marked the 58th consecutive year that I did not watch, or give a crap about, the Oscars, a record of which I am very proud.  I do not possess that simpleminded gene that makes someone interested in celebrities. I do watch movies, but I do not follow the developments in the lives of actors, any more than I care about the private lives of the athletes I root for.  To me, an entertainer or writer or athlete exists only within his ambit of particular talent and achievement, which I am happy to admire.  All else inevitably disappoints.

As a result I will watch shows and movies and not really be aware of which actor is playing which part.  The following is completely true, and almost, but not quite, causes me shame:  It was only yesterday, from my daughter, that I learned that the Sheen who has been in the news lately for vomiting up his own liver or something is not Martin Sheen but Charlie Sheen, who is apparently Martin's son, and somewhat younger.

Some of this has to do with my mild prosopagnosia, which I've written about in the past.  Because I don't distinguish faces well, actors don't distinguish themselves. I can see the same guy in two consecutive films, and not realize it is the same guy.  This all hit home one day recently after the Rib and I saw The Social Network, and I remarked that I felt the director should have found two actors who looked more alike than the two guys who played the supposedly idential Winklevoss twins. It was only afterwards that I learned that the Winklevoss twins were PLAYED BY THE SAME GUY.

Anyway, on Sunday an enthusiastic memo went out to all Post employees from a top editor in Style, explaining how the Oscars would be covered. I am not a historian, but I am pretty sure these were no less complicated than Eisenhower's plans for D-Day. While I am certain that it was smart journalism, and justified, and well read and all that, I would like to note that more space was devoted to photographs of ladies wearing dresses (this is literally true) than for the last two weeks' coverage of the events in Libya.

Here is my review of the dresses: They were pretty much identical, in that they appeared to have been made of fabric, and successfully concealed most of the ladies' breasts and all of their groins. Some of the dresses were red, some were white, and some were black. Everyone  looked pretty except someone named "Jackie Weaver," who is fat.

I agree, by the way, with the choice of The King's Speech for Best Picture. I thought it was brilliant. But afterward, Tom The Butcher told me that he noticed a pretty big Hole in the plot -- a huge, gaping plot device that created a mammoth logical leap requiring an unacceptable suspension of disbelief. He's right. It has almost ruined the movie for me. I haven't seen this anywhere else. Can anyone guess what it is?   


What we have here is a wonderful Mother Jones compilation of songs for each of our 44 presidents. Some are modern, but many are contemporary to the president.  I wasted two hours listening to this wonderful collection -- which includes an ode to Franklin Pierce I co-wrote with Christine Lavin -- but one of the most bizarre campaign songs you will ever hear. Listen to the one for John Quincy Adams. It may be the most negative campaigning ever. It's basically warning the nation that if  Andy Jackson gets into office, the Devil will destroy the Earth. 


An old coworker of mine emailed me this photo he found in a drawer. It is of me at my first newspaper job, in the city room of the Albany Knickerbocker Newsm, in 1973. The most remarkable fact about this photo, according to Tom Scocca, is that it appears to be post Star-Trek but pre Rolodex: those little metal boxes held index cards full of contacts. Also, my tie seems to be made from draperies.

The man throroughly enjoying my earnest eager-beaverness is Larry Brown, an excellent writer who died recently, far too young.


I want to thank Kim Chapman for directing me to one of the oddest, and best, aptonyms EVER. You have to go two thirds of the way down this story to find it.


If you haven't already, please take today's polls.

And now to your questions:

First off, I love that I can read your article A WEEK in advance...that is the date of your women crying article online.


But I hate the article, it is the one article that you, as a self-professed, lover of all women, should never have written, even with Gina.


Crying at work is probably the one thing I loathe about myself, yet no matter how much I steel myself, it is the one thing I cannot control. I am ashamed and embarassed when I cry at work, I seem to have no mechanism to prevent it, and hate that you have made a joke about it. I've even taken antidepressants for 12 weeks prior to my annual (haha, I typed anal) review in order to be disassociated and I still cried - even though my review went fine.


This is probably one of the only times I have been upset with you in any "real" way. Consider my panties "unflung"...for a few days anyway...until I stop crying in my cube and read your next chat.

You read that column wrong.   It is not making fun of your tears, it is empowering your tears.  YOU are the one being antifeminist. 

Gina's entire argument is that a woman's tearfulness in the workplace (and elsewhere) is a simple gender difference, no more noteworthy or cringeworthy than that she has a higher voice or a lower center of gravity.  

Cry proudly.   It's valuable nonverbal communication.  It's time men understood that and didn't try to infantilize it.   

Okay, so pop singer botches the words to the national anthem. I missed it (was subjected to the replay on WTOP news radio) because I changed the channel before the singing started. I despise the way pop singers render the national anthem. Perhaps Ms Aguilera's dreadful ululating, warbling, trilling style of adding about 10 extra syllables to each word made her lose track of which word she was on...since all the words sounded the same...ending in uh-eh-eh-UH-uh-uhhhhhha. Is there anyone who likes listening to the national anthem sung like that?

Yes, Christina butchered the anthem, and no, I do not give her a pass because it is "hard," but I should point out that it is just a dreadful song to sing.

In two successive upcoming columns,  I deal with the National Anthem in depth, articulating why we need a new one.     One reason that is self-evident is that there is a terrible disconnect between the current anthem and its current words, forcing every singer to stret-et-etch out the words to fit the music.    

Oh-ho say does tha-hat star spangled ba-ner-her ye-het way-hayve, oer' the la-hand of the free .. 

Not good.  Not good at aw-hawl.   


Hi Gene - Inexplicably, I read the New Old "For Better or For Worse" strips online. They are chauvinistic and outright sexist. Why is Patterson doing this? I don't get it. Also, they are poorly drawn. As for the new "Reply All," I am reserving judgement. Today was better than yesterday. Finally, I'm very much enjoying Barney & Clyde. Love the tycoon's family characters, especially the daughter though I cannot fathom her friend's gender. And LOVED the inclusion of the vet, Dr. Mollyfruedenhoffen or whatever you call her. Hope your daughter is enjoying it too. Congrats on the lovely intertwining of your family & work lives with that strip.

I think it's funny that you are already judging "Reply All" after two days. 

Seriously:  Six months.   You cannot measure a strip until six months. 

We gave you a clue about the gender of Cynthia's friend: Her name is Katy. 

Gene, On Saturday, did we witness the first ever nationally syndicated comic character shown sitting on the toilet?

It may be the first, but if you look at it carefully, Rob seems to be pooping with his underpants still on.   This is an odd convention often used to make the unpalatable more palatable.    Note the cover of Dave Barry's excellent "Dave Barry is Not Taking This Sitting Down."

Ooh, this is interesting.  I am told the chat is happening but the 10,000 word introduction is not yet out. 

Maybe it's coming out now. 

You can all stop to read it.   It is entertaining.  I'll see you in an hour. 

Is there a confirmed date yet? Some of we dweebs have nothing else to look forward to.

June 5.     If that is a Sunday.   If it is not, the nearest Sunday to June 5.  

This is my favorite "Comment":

If his career in conservative politics doesn't pan out he will always be able to fall back on voicing over a cartoon character of himself.

Just kidding! Hi Gene! About the success poll, I wish there was a category for success that said something like, you're financially comfortable AND happy with and love what you do. I'm financialy comfortable, but hate my job, so I don't feel successful. I just feel the job is a means to an end so I can have a house and car and go on vacations.

See, I'd call that success, especially if you do something creative with your money that isn't just about feeding your face. 

OK, maybe not everyone has seen this yet, and I only scored 3 out of 10!


Charlie Sheen v Muammar Gaddafi: whose line is it anyway?

Wow.  I only got five.   These are hard.   They don't tell you which is right, though. 

Academy Award winner Jeff Bridges appears to be a fan of your 'Pearls Before Breakfast' piece. He has a version of it on his web site. Will you sue for damages? Accuse him of mis-attributing your copyrighted works? Or maybe just shrug and move along? is more of a blog than a web page promoting the actor, he seems to be a pretty cool guy. I thought you would like to know that he probably thinks you are pretty cool as well.

This dreadful little Web meme is probably what most people know of the Josh Bell experiment.   It's only a few sentences long but has at least 7 serious errors of fact.   Not 6 Bach pieces, only one.   Not 2,000 people, only 1,000, etc.    

It's Liz's last day, is she here for a final reunion? Will she chat with us in the future?

Liz is an enormous loss for The Post.   Plus,  Liz is the sole reason this chat exists:  She persuaded me to do it, then talked me out of stopping it several times.   I grieve. 

I had some trouble answering the Success Poll because you left out what is for me the crucial factor in the choice. What do I think of my own work? If I'm happy with my production, then I don't care what contemporary critics or posterity may think. So, if I'm happy making what others call schlock and that has ancillary benefits of fame and fortune, count me in. Otherwise forget it. I'm the only critic I wish to satisfy.

Yeah, it's a good point.  I think most hacks know they are hacks.    I wonder what John Grisham thinks of his own place in literature?  Not much, I suspect. 

Gene: "It is iodene because that is the proper way it is pronounced, scientifically, and Lehrer is a scientist. You cannot make something right just by saying it loudly enough. Fluorine, astatine, chlorine, bromine.'' And of course, logically, English chemist Sir Humphry Davy, having isolated and named sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium and barium, would then come up with aluminum, wouldn't he? Come on Yanks, give it up and put the extra syllable back where it belongs. And while I'm at it, why do you Yanks say "oh, that's a Brit thing'' when it's actually a "rest of the English-speaking world thing''? When it comes to aloominum, apologize, driving Jagwar cars, pronouncing bouy as booey and using defense as a noun, you're up on the wall howling at the moon on your own.

I am seldom gobsmacked, but you have just gobsmacked me.  

It IS aluminium, isn't it?

Some women, apparently, always wipe from the front because "front to back" is a mantra that our mothers and gynecologists repeat to us from birth. The reason is that you will get bacterial vaginosis if you do it the other way. But it wasn't till your chats (a few years ago) that I learned some people actually reach all the way back there FROM the front. You can reach from behind and still wipe front to back.

Okay, this is about a very very very dangerous post to a chat update last month.  A man wrote in to say that his girlfriend / wife wipes herself -- REGARDLESS OF THE NATURE OF THE REASON -- by reaching down between her legs.   He points out, quite reasonably, that all men reach around from the side.   When they need to wipe.  

I have to be very careful here, because this is a potentially disgusting subject for which I will be severely reprimanded. 

I have since checked with MANY women and have determined that about half do this.   HALF. 

I... don't know what to say.   These women SEEM to have confused the stricture on how to wipe -- which is medically sound -- with the notion of how to approach the entire field.    

It's really not that thrilling . . . for ladies, we have to go from front to back because doing the opposite could introduce germs to our, ah, #1 area, which can cause yeast infections. Always front to back!


But you don't have to come in from the front!  That's nuts!    

Darth Vader is a boy but it's a touching story, nonetheless. He had congenital heart disease and has undergone several surgeries, apparently.

It is true the actor is a boy, but I contend that within the context of the ad, he was presented as a girl. 

Gene, The Volt review was the first thing from you, since the cover you did when your comic came out, that was longer than three pages on my laptop. Any chance there's some more longer, feature-type stories coming out in the future? Also, was that you at Harry's on E street, during the ALCS. I think I was your waiter.

Don't think that was me at Harry's.  

And I'm not sure about upcoming features. 


My definition of a good life was not in your list -- I count my life as successful because it has been adventurous and interesting. I've lived in a lot of places, I've travelled, I've had different challenging jobs, and wonderful intimate relationships. I've lived my life as fully as I can. All of the other things are certainly important to me, they miss the mark as far as I'm concerned. For the record, I picked doing things to make the world a better place as my measure of success, given that my option wasn't there.

Thanks.   Yes, I missed that option. 

I was brutally honest and chose to be the rich schlock. Here's why: I've done the starving artist thing. Money can't buy happiness, but not having any certainly can buy a lot of misery. I could take my shlock money and do so much with it-- charities, family, etc. Demanding renown that will not manifest until after your death is simply selfish and egotistical. Take your McFortune and start a scholarship program, pay for a cancer wing in a children's hospital, do something that actually makes a difference in people's lives. Hell, fund a broke artist!

I asked that question because it gave me a real problem.   I wanted to say that, given the real choice, I'd be Van Gogh.   But you know what?   I'm with you.     I think I'd feel differently if I weren't an atheist.   On some elemental level, I believe the world ends when I do.   

Would that be the super-dramatic, last-minute confrontation over Lionel's qualifications (or lack thereof), something a member of the royal family who'd tried countless speech therapists would have looked into and found out well in advance? Because if so, yes, that bothered me, too.

That's a minor plot contrivance, nothing remotely near the enormity of the one I have in mind. 

Actually you can do all of the things you say you want to do on a Mac, and it doesn't "take 2 keys" to delete forward, either. Perhaps you should just learn how to use a computer, first? As for the (regular, backwards) delete key: I mostly use it to fix a just-made typo. I hit the wrong key, hit the delete key to erase what I just fat-fingered, and keep going. I can't imagine using the delete key, forward or backward, to do great swaths of text. That just sounds painful. Again, please learn to use your tools before complaining they don't work right.

Please tell me how to delete forward on a Mac without using two keys.  Because I called Apple, and they said you need two keys. 

Yes, I have a mole question, since you seem to know something about everything. I'm a 26-year-old woman and I've had this cute little mole by my belly-button for as long as I can remember. A couple weeks ago I noticed it was pretty sore, so of course I poked at it until it bled. It's still the same shape and size, but still sore and there's a darker spot in the middle of it, so I'm not sure if it just needs more time to heal and go back to normal, or if it's something I need to get checked out. I know they say that whenever you see any change in a mole you should get it checked out, but my health insurance is less-than-stellar and financially, I'd rather not. Is it possible to get a zit (or something else, seeing as it only bled) underneath a mole? And would it be more tender than other areas on the skin? Many thanks!

I know about this.   It will not, alas, reassure you. 

Melanomas tend to be bigger in diameter than a pencil eraser.   They tend to be rough surfaced.  They tend not to hurt.   They tend to be multi-hued.  All of those things are true, but they are not definitive.   

I'd watch it for another week or so.   If it doesn't resolve one way or another, you may want to see a doctor.   Melanomas don't kill you if you get them early. 

Yours does not sound like one.  


Okay, I am now going to share a story I have never before told to anyone other than a close friend.   In 1974, in Albany, I was working on an expose involving the local police.    As I was reporting it, on the street, a cop came up to me and told me the police chief wanted to speak with me, right away, in his office.     I was not prepared for this, but was glad for the opportunity.   

I sat down across from the chief, and he began saying some outrageous thing.   I took out a pad of paper, then fished in my pocket and pulled out a pen.   Only it wasn't a pen.   It was a big, fat joint.  

I just calmly put it back in my pocket, and got the pen.  He never noticed.   

I'm enjoying 'Barney & Clyde' enormously. Any plans to collect the strips into a book? I promise to buy a copy.

Thanks.  It's a little early for that.    Typically, you wait two years, so you can publish "best of" instead of "all of."

Help us, Gene! In the same way that Jews can lament a "shanda for the goyim" when another Jew does something scandalous that perpetuates the stereotypes, conservatives need a phrase for the fervent anti-anything-but-heterosexual-married-missionary-sex conservatives who inevitably end up caught with a wide stance, luggage toting rentboy, or (in the most recent case) pervy masturbatory habits while parked next to a kids' playground. Any suggestions?

Wow.   Also note that this guy is from Metairie, which was also the home of erstwhile almost House Speaker Livingston, snared by a sex  scandal, and current senator David Vitter, who liked to use the services of prostitutes, but who remains in office. 

You have intelligently understood the nature of "shanda for the goyim," and the basic principle applies here.    It's not just that a Jew does something bad, it's that he has done something bad that perpetuates a stereotype.   Madoff is a terrible shanda; Lewinsky, no.  

This guy, yep.  

A universal, non-Jew specific term might be a "tolja."     This guy is a tolja for the lefties.     

I consider myself a connoisseur of comic strips; I only read a few in the Post every day, and compare every cartoonist to Watterson. Speaking of which, why must the comics section get smaller every few months? Doesn't the Post have priorities? Anyway, I'm writing to ask what is going on with Barney and Clyde. I was extremely excited when I first heard that my favorite columnist was co-authoring a strip with his son, and followed the strip daily for a while. However, I quickly I noticed that the jokes were muted, the puns were subtle or nonexistent, and the character development was slow. Since its inception, I don't think it has improved by a great amount. Did you just use your fame to publicize this strip for your son's benefit, when in fact he is doing all the writing? Or does the skill of a columnist simply not transfer over to a story based strip? I already know how you will respond, but I've sent this comment in for the humor value.

I have said this before: The strip is deliberately bad.  It is a subtle joke on how our disaffected youth loves ironic detachment.   So by being bad and lame, we are actually quite funny. 


I am not funny, but my son is even not funnier.  It's a brilliant collaboration.  David Clark, as it happens, is funnier than either of us, so we do not let him do any of the writing.   We can draw funnier than he can, so we never draw. 


I thought IT services like loaner PCs were for actual employees, Mr. Buyout Boy. Or does your freelance contract work for the Post include a clause that allows you to continue to be coddled like a real staffer?

Yes, they treat me good.    It is because I am bad.   Same principle at work here! 

Just hook a windows keyboard to the Mac. OsX supports the del key, Apple just doesn't put one on their keyboards. Same thing with a Win style two button mouse -- right click works fine.

I cannot understand this.   How do you attach a PC keyboard to a Mac?  

Macs do have delete keys. You just have to get the larger version of the keyboard. I am staring down at one such right now. Of course, this doesn't help if you're on a laptop...

I should have specified:  Yes, laptop.   But i DO have the damn tilde key. 

I don't see underpants, I see a shadow from his shirt.

I say it was a deliberate ambiguity.   A plausible deniability. 

we don't need a new anthem, we need new singers and new attitudes. You don't see Canadians butchering their national anthem in vain quests for individuality. They sing it as written. Somehow any good (read, not Pop Singer) singer can sing the national anthem as long as they maintain the tempo, stay on pitch, and choose the correct key for their voice. The song is a march, not a ballad or a dirge.

Oh, we definitely need a new one.   Fortunely, I have written it.   You'll see it in a few weeks.  

There is a 20-something ukulele player whose YouTube videos, I think, someone mentioned in this chat 3-4 years ago. Regardless, her name is Molly Lewis -- for a while she was only known by her YouTube alias: sweetafton23 -- and she is really cute and talented.


A few months ago she wrote a very funny song in "honor" (there is a better word, but that would ruin the surprise!) of the actor, author, comedian, etc., Stephen Fry.


After it hit the internet, she was invited to perform the song at the Harvard Secular Society, which honored Fry last week with their Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism.


First you need to listen to this almost studio quality version.


Then you need to watch her singing it to Stephen at the event  and watch how he turns beet red!


Sadly, the sound quality and laughing in the live version is too much to hear the lyrics on the recording, but Fry's reaction is great.


I am curious of your reaction.

Same reaction as yours.   It's very sweet.  And the song is very funny.  She's a talent. 

I'd rather be the rich hack. You ask the question as if there's no value in the hackiness - i.e., living a valueless life. But I think there's a lot of value in creating something people enjoy. A lot of movies/music/books/comedies/tv shows/etc are junk, brain candy, no artistic merit - and yet a lot of people enjoy them. Sometimes you need brain candy. I think there's a lot of value in bring people any kind of happiness - and if you can bring even a mild amount of happiness to a lot of people, and get rich in the process, that seems like a pretty sweet deal. Besides, there's nothing that says that the rest of your life, outside of your career, will be empty - you could use your money to do a lot of good things, or lead an otherwise very "value-filled" life. And as brilliant as many artists were, and as much joy as they may have brought many (subsequent) humans, it's not like their art measurably improved people's lives or cured cancer or anything... What I'm saying is, if you chose the poor-but-genius path, you're: A) probably lying, and B) wrong. Ha!

As I just said ... yeah.   

I see you have gone to the dark side with your chat format. I knew when Hax succumbed that you wouldn't be able to hold on much longer. Sigh.

I had no choice.   The other system is being phased out as of today, I believe.   I held out as long as I could. 


And you see how successful it has been so far.  

Since you know everything I thought I'd ask this. What is the average number of miles a driver can expect to get from a clutch? What is the highest number of miles you have gotten out of a clutch? My car is a 1999 Ford Escort ZX@ and I have 115,000 miles on it. Original clutch. It seems fine to me (hot chick who is a good manual transmission driver) but since I have had to spend some money on the car in the last 2 years, I am on the cusp of having to decide if I spend money on the next repair and a clutch job just might put me over to the other side.


Also one more question. Do you put your car in neutral when you stop at a long traffic light and let up on the clutch? I won't tell you what I do, just in case I don't do it like you do, but I think I am doing it right. But you know how you like to tell people they are wrong.


Thank you

Clutch life depends on several factors.   In decreasing order of importance:  Skill of driver, amount of city driving versus highway,  size of vehicle.   

A good driver driving a small car  mostly on highways could get 150,000 miles on a clutch, easy.    Mine have lasted 75k, 110k, 95k, but I have always driven mostly in cities.   Stop and start driving is much harder on a clutch. 

At a red light, I generally shift into neutral and release the clutch.   I have heard the wisdom of this debated, with knowledgeable people taking my side, and other knowledgeable people claiming it's slightly better to keep the car in gear, depress the clutch, and keep it depressed.  

I believe the only difference is how careful you are:  In this second scenario,  if you let your clutch foot ease up a little, you might "ride the clutch," which increases wear, which is bad. 

By the way, apropos of nothing, if  a situation is "all downhill from here," that's a good thing, not a bad thing.  Upill is Sisyphean.  Downhill is easy.   Why can't people get this straight?






I have a question regarding how much control cartoonists have over the placement of their work in newspapers. The Austin American Statesman, in its infinite wisdom, has moved Doonesbury to the classified section. What do you think Gary Trudeau thinks of that? What would you do if a newspaper moved your cartoon to the classifieds?

I don't want to generalize here, and please forgive me if this seems a broad-brush statement, but all newspaper editors are idiots about comics.   Every single one.   

For one thing,  they think that if they take a successful comic, and move it to a page no one reads, everyone will suddenly read that page.   In fact, everyone will suddenly forget that comic.   I didn't read Dilbert for years after The Post moved it to inside the business pages, in an effort to move eyeballs to the business section. 

When I was assisting the Czar in the Style Invitational, we had one contest to come up with Bad Pickup Lines.  The winner was "Hi.  I'm the guy who moved "Dilbert" to the Business section."   

 Moving a good comic strip next to the classifieds is like moving your refrigerator  next to the toilet.  


This made me laugh out loud. I always thought Vince Lombardi's name was Vincelam Bardi. Didn't know the true name until he died.

I know someone who always thought the NPR lady "Snigda Prakash"  was "Snig Paprikash." 


Edward abdicated in '36, Great Britain declared war 3 years later. Is that the problematic plot hole?

No.   I am going to give the answer now, so this is something of a spoiler alert. 

Early in the movie, the teacher has the king read Hamlet's soliloquey and he does it perfectly, without a stutter, because the teacher had put earphones on the king and was loudly playing music.   Supposedly, when this happens, you can eliminate a stutter. 

Why the heck couldn't he have done that with ANY speech?   

Huge hole.  No good explanation.   Tom the Butcher is right.      The director just loved that early moment, to the point where he forgot his responsibility to be plausible. 

For instance, John Galliano is exactly what I pictured a fashion designer to look like. Pat Tillman would be the typical Army Ranger. And Scarlett Johansson would be the typical actress in a bikini.

I like this idea.   Probably the most stereotypical president was McKinley.    

Oh, heavens, please don't put out a "greatest hits" collection of Barney & Clyde. I hate those; I'd much rather have a complete collection, where I can follow the continuity, see the growth of the characters, etc.


Because "going downhill fast" describes a situation going to hell. Sp people get confused.

I know.   But it is clearly a confusion.   No one can plausibly defend "all downhill from here" as meaning things are going to get worse. 

Many years ago (too many years ago), I worked for a New York literary agent who represented many many Rich Hacks. To a person, they thought they were the reincarnation of Tolstoy. (My job was to read the unsolicited manuscripts. That's why I have this twitch in my left eye that will never go away.)

Okay, noted. 

How come when a Democrat, namely Ed Muskie, cried, the Republicans pummeled him mercilessly as unfit for office ... but when a Republican, namely John Boehner, cries, the Republicans talk about what a lovely, sensitive guy he is -- and the Democrats say nothing? It's clear from everything else that the Republicans have NOT evolved as human beings since the Muskie "incident" ... and it appears the Democrats are still just too nice to use the same ugly tactics the Repubicans use, even though they clearly work. Your thoughts?

My thought is that you cannot ignore the passage of time here. 

I would point out that when Boenher cries, it is in maudlin  celebration of the wonderfulness of his own life.  Muskie was crying with fury over attacks on him and (I think) his wife.    A more acceptable cry. 

My dog's birthday is today -- he's nine years old, which in human years makes him about the age of Dave Barry. My question is, if Dave Barry were a dog, how would he celebrate his birthday?

I have asked Dave.  Here is his answer:

"I'd just want dinner at home, then sex with furniture."

The Assistant Brewer at the Elevator Brewing Co. in COlumbus, OH: Mark Beery

Thank you. 

As of this writing, I am one of the 8 or so people who labeled myself as a "failure, so far." Any other people want to chime in with their stories? I know I am being hard on myself, but after getting, "good grades" at a "good college," and always having some idea of what I wanted to do, I thought I would be well launched in a career of some sort. But after, essentially, failing out of law school and not wanting to be an attorney, losing a chunk of cash in the stock market, not having contributed much measurable to society, and still not finding something that I want to do with my life, its hard to get past the notion of the "failure, so far" label. Fortunately, I am putting much emphasis on the "thus far." Happily I am still young, although, I never thought over 30 would feel young. Hopefully, some industry will be willing to take me on in an entry level position, because that is going to be the first step to shedding this current label.

Well, okay, you do sound like a "failure, so far."   But, you know, a lot of "success, so fars" of my age would trade what they have for your age, and the opportunities ahead of you. 


How's this for a great name? There's a player on the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets named Grant Clitsome. Even though I'm not a fan of the team I'd considering buying a Clitsome jersey.

Thank you. 

I'm wondering if the reason that the "don't listen to yourself" method of speech giving worked was that it was one of the most famous solliloquy of all time and that a very well educated Duke would not only be familiar with it, but probably have it memorized. Besides, as a public figure, he would have to make speeches that were not over the radio, such as when he ascends to the throne, opens Parliament, or in general, needs to do the sort of PR that the royal family does. It isn't really practical that he lug around a record player at all times, both because people are going to wonder what the heck that is all about, plus he might have to actually hear something.

Ah, but the entire movie was geared toward a final scene of a final speech delivered from a private room.   Could have easily done it for that.   

Yes, it is. Coming from Canada, it cracks me up when American's make fun of our speech and writing. We didn't dumb down the English did. The rest of the world has a standard and then there is the Unites States...but you "A-Mercans" think we are all the idiots. The good English writer will know the difference between American written and spoken English...and proper written and spoken English. As a technical writer in Engineering, I work with Americans, Canadians, Brits and Europeans - the differences really are gobsmacking betwee4n the US and the rest of the world....but you are you are on so many things...because we are not America.

I have made fun of Brits for saying aluminium.  I feel so unclean now. 

Some of your most thought provoking polls in quite a while. I'm surprised so few people regard their lives as successful. I am a middle-aged, middle class public servant (environmental protection), happily married for 28 years, healthy, and as generally contented as anyone I know. I call this a successful life.

I do, too.    And yes, I am surprised at how unwilling people are to call themselves successes, unambiguously. 

...stop calling the customer service people and thinking it is funny. It is not.

Apparently, this wasn't a very good one.   A few complaints are here in the chat.    And Tom The Butcher didn't love it, either.     He's usually their biggest fan. 

I liked the one on Yogi tea.   

Sparky, can you link to this bad column?  Tragically, it ran Sunday. 


Gene: My husband and I have a dilemma, and we've decided to turn to you as the arbiter. I was taught that you change your underpants twice a day, morning and night. He was taught (or possibly just figured out) that he should change his shorts at least once a day. I find it kind of skeevy that he goes to bed in the shorts he's had on all day. He thinks I'm weird for changing my skivvies so often. So we're wondering if this is a male/female divide? Or just a difference of upbringing? Or, as I suspect, is he woefully uninformed (this same man did not know what a bathmat was for until we got married) about this facet of personal hygiene? He doesn't think this is a topic to bring up with his buddies. We're hoping you, or the peanuts, can provide some perspective. Also, sadly, I can't participate during the chat, so I'm submitting early. Thanks!

Okay, I can speak for all men:  You change once a day, maximum, but  always after a shower. 

I have just consulted with three women: You change once a day, minimum, but always after a shower.  

In short, for both sexes, the shower seems to be the controlling factor.   Consensus:  If you shower in the mornings, but still change undies before you go to sleep, you are atypical.   

Which comic was replaced by "Reply All?" Please tell me it was Mark Trail, Judge Parker, Classic Peanuts or one of the other blights on the comic pages.

No, it replaced "Watch Your Head."   

I am not a fan of "Watch Your Head," mostly because I am too old and out of it to entirely understand it, but I'm not sure I would have replaced one young-skewed strip by another.    Classic Peanuts should be number one on everyone's hit list.  

Sparky, can you link to Day One of Reply All?   

Here it is: Reply All (Choose Feb. 28 in the pull-down menu for the first one)

Gene, I can think of no one more highly qualified to answer the following very important question. Does this hand gesture have a name?

You came to the right place. 

From this moment forward, it shall be "flipping the bone." 




I chose the life of misery with public immortality, but that was based on the assumption that I would remembert this choice and the ultimate consequences as I was toiling away in anonymity. The knowledge that my work would live on would make the mortal toil bearable. This is the basically the root of all religion and some madness - the strong belief that what you are doing now will have some meaning beyond your immediate life. The problem with the human condition is that we do not KNOW for certain that this belief is true. If I was given that knowledge, that what I was doing absolutely would or would not have meaning would be a powerful certainty indeed. I think I'd change my mind, though, if I wouldn't be able to remember the choice. Knowing there is no afterlife, why not then let my next incarnation enjoy that life while he's got it.

This is a good observation, but I think implicit in the question is that you would not remember the choice.   I interpreted it that way.  Otherwise, hell, your life would be a joy, regardless of how unrecognized you were.    

Okay, I'm completely puzzled by this "coming in from the side" thing, and I'm normally very good with spatial relations. How am I supposed to get my arm in there from the side to wipe without standing up? Also, Gene, you promised to send a signed copy of "The Fiddler in the Subway" to the person who explained the Pearls Before Swine pun to you in the Nov 30 chat. That was me - I've emailed twice and never gotten a response. Did someone gazump my book, or are you just not getting my emails?

You deftly elevate a cheek.   

Your book was sent two weeks ago!   I am worried now. 

So what do you think of the new Post comic "Reply All?"

After two days? 



My husband loves baseball and is not of Jewish descent. I am, although practicing another religion. We are having a terrible time coming up with a name for our third child that fits all of our criteria (two syllables, unique, relatively easy to spell, not shortenable). He has recently fixated on Koufax, thinking it is a cool, interesting, super unique name, and he thinks I should also dig it because it connects with my Jewish heritage. Thoughts?

You have to go with either Koufax or Greenberg.   Both are excellent first names, and either would be memorable when he is arrested for killing you. 

Okay, thank you all, and sorry for the logistical problems with the chat. 

If any of you might like a few potshots at Tom The Butcher -- he can be forced to answer for me -- he is going to be at Politics and Prose on Sunday at 5 pm to talk about his new book,  "Fire on the Horizon: The Untold Story of the Gulf Oil Disaster."   I might be there, too. 

I'll be updating as usual.  

Happy first update of the month! This will be brief but entertaining.

Many of you who read last Sunday's column are excitedly anticipating this next Sunday's column in which I rewrite the national anthem.

Many of you have been speculating, incorrectly, about what it would be. Some of you guessed, incorrectly, that I was just joking and would not actually write a new anthem. Others of you guessed, incorrectly, that I would merely satirize the current anthem. As you will see when you read my actual new national anthem it's neither of those things. It's a new anthem, based on what I believe are America's greatest components.

In doing national anthem research, I did happen upon the Brits' "God Save the Queen," which as you can see contains this lyric: "Oh Lord, our God arise / scatter our enemies / and make them fall.   Confound their politics / Frustrate their knavish tricks..."  which has to be the weirdest, wonkiest, least cool anthem language in history. But the most astonishing and appalling part of this song is ..... they stole the music!   They stole it from us! They stole it from "My Country 'Tis of Thee," which I do admit is a terrible title for a song. But still. Knavish thievery is wrong, wrong, wrong and as a scholar of anthems, I hereby denounce it.

(By the way, how many of you have noticed that the alphabet song and "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" have the same music? Which do you think came first?)

In researching nationalism and political philosophy, I ran across my favorite observation by Al Franken, which is pertinent to this task, and which I paraphrase here:  Far-right conservatives love their country exactly the way four-year-olds love their mommies:  Their mommies are the bestest, smartest, prettiest ladies in the whole wide world! Liberals love their country like adults, the way spouses love each other:  Deeply, richly, honestly, seeing imperfections and working to make things as good as they can be.

With that in mind, I re-encountered a song I'd almost forgotten. I knew it as a teenager, and back then it had actually occurred to me, through a thick haze of marijuana smoke, that it really ought to be our national anthem. It is "Power and Glory," by the great Phil Ochs.

This song is an improvement over Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land," to which it was written as homage.  In "Power and Glory," Ochs delivers Guthrie's message, with added context. Ochs describes America as a noble, daring, imperfect work in progress. He notes that we are only as free as the most oppressed of us are free -- whether we fulfill our dream is up to us.   

I think it poignant that this richly loving song was written by a man whose politics were complex enough, whose dissatisfaction was profound enough, to make stupid people question his patriotism. Phil Ochs fought political  hammerheads all his life (along with his own demons) until he just couldn't take it anymore. This is a man who really, really wanted to die: He hanged himself from a doorknob. What he left us was a dozen or so deep, angry beautiful songs, including "Power and Glory."  Here's another one I love: "Outside of a Small Circle of Friends."  

And here is Ochs's forgotten masterpiece, "When In Rome," an anti-violence song so brutally disturbing it must be absorbed in doses: Part 1 | Part 2

Listening to old Ochs made me cry. And I almost offered up "Power and Glory" as my nominee for a new anthem. But then I realized there was another writer whose work I even more deeply admire, and with whom I wanted to partner on this project. So I did.   He and I wrote the anthem together. I then gave it to a great singer, who recorded the new anthem on a video.


Yes. There will be a video. You'll get it in a few days. Okay?

This just in:  Woody was no wuss, either.  From the original "This Land":

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn't say nothing;
That side was made for you and me.

In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?

Also, Jim Adams points out that "Baa Baa Black Sheep" has the same tune as Twinkle Twinkle AND the alphabet song.

Good afternoon, update readers.


For those of you who expected a chat yesterday on my new national anthem:  We decided to cancel it because we felt that it would seem trivial and self-involved in light of the catastrophe in Japan. Of course, it remains trivial and self involved, but with one day’s grace, we have created some distance, and the illusion of a semblance of a measure of plausible deniability.


I’m sure many of you have seen videos of the Japanese disaster, particularly this one, which was shot by a still-anonymous videographer who may well someday be thought of as the modern Abraham Zapruder.   Standing on a walkway above the center of a small town, the cameraman records the arrival of the tsunami from the first trickle of water in the streets - which a doomed car still dares to navigate -- to the moment, a mere five minutes later, when the town is practically washed off the map.   The sounds of this apocalypse – groaning metal, popping rivets, the almost polite thud of objects colliding in water --  seem disturbingly mundane.  


This was so eerie. We are accustomed to hurricanes and earthquakes, which are natural disasters that arrive with a roar and a crash and dispense death with blunt trauma. This monster had no such fury, no passion at all. It was bloodless, silent, suffocating murder. It is mesmerizing, and horrifying, to watch.

Okay, the anthem. I’d like to begin with a message to the story’s many “Commenters,”  addressing your questions in order of their frequency.  

Yes, I really get paid for this, and no, I also don’t know why;  no, I do not hate America; yes, I know this is actually harder to sing than our current national anthem; no, I am not seriously proposing it as a new anthem;  yes, I am seriously proposing it as a real song, and it has been registered with ASCAP, and Christine Lavin sang it live last night twice at the Bitter End in New York, and, yes, that is to date the happiest moment in my life, and I am counting the birth of my children.




I like the Star-Spangled Banner as a poem. It’s actually elegant, when you think about it: a moment frozen in time from two hundred years ago, still speaking eloquently to love of country and the fragile nature of freedom. And I really like that it is entirely secular, which your most prominent alternative choice – America the Beautiful – is not.   The problem with the Star Spangled Banner is how weird it is, as an anthem, rooted as it is to one ambiguous moment, gathered as it is into what reads as only two sentences with multiple clauses that seem syntactically interchangeable. It’s weird.

In my two columns about the anthem (Part 1, Part 2) I neglected to mention an important fact about my co-author, Mr. Madison. While it is true that he gave us the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, he also performed another service of arguably greater value to this great land. It was he who persuaded George Washington that presidents should be addressed as “Mr. President” rather than what George preferred: “Your High Mightiness."

A few stray notes about the anthem:


As I wrote, when I was considering using “Clementine” as the music, I discovered this  wonderful original final lyric:


How I missed her!  How I missed her!

How I missed my Clementine!

Then I kissed her little sister

And forgot my Clementine!


I knew that I had never learned that line -- it was usually cleaned up for children -- but it seemed vaguely familiar.     It was only after the column was written that I realized from where I sort of knew it.   When I was a kid, I used to listen to Tom Lehrer records, and one of Tom’s first albums had a wonderful parody of Clementine, in which he rewrote the lyrics as if they had been written by Cole Porter, Mozart, and, finally, Gilbert and Sullivan, from which came this dizzying, brilliant bit of doggerel.   (I’d never realized to what he was referring, with all this final talk about a sister):


That I missed her depressed her

Young sister named Esther

This mister to pester she tried.

Now a pestering sister's a festering blister,

You'd best to resist her, say I.

The mister resisted,

The sister persisted,

I kissed her – all loyalty slipped.

When she said I could have her

Her sister's cadaver

Must surely have turned in its crypt…

Yes, yes, yes, yes!

For I love she and she loves me

Enraptured are the both of we --

Yes I love she and she loves I

And will through all eterni-tie!      



The whole masterful song is found here.

And finally, many of you no doubt wonder about the creative process that produces a song as fine as “The Star-Spangled Paper,” which, I’m not sure if I told you,  was performed at The Bitter End last night not once but twice. The creative process, as it turns out, is pretty messy. And for those of you who hate “The Star-Spangled Paper,” I’d urge you to consider the following effort, on which I had spent a great deal of time before abandoning it, at the suggestion of Tom the Butcher, for something about The Bill of Rights.


These were to be the first stanza, and the refrain,  of my revised anthem, which was to be an homage to our personal freedoms. It was to be sung to “Clementine”:


In Cincinnati, Batty Hattie 

Wants to build a public shrine

To her holy pork stromboli   --

And it’s absolutely fine.


O this country, what a country

In this land of yours and mine

You don’t fear to be a weirdo  

That’s the way we’ve been designed.



So, you see, you lucked out.

Good afternoon, update readers. Before taking some questions, we have two dramatic national anthem-related items. First, for those few of you skilled at doing acrostics -- these are, by the way, the world's best word puzzles, and if you are a skilled cruciverbalist but have yet not learned acrostics, you should -- do this one. The result is rather dramatic.


And second, what we we have here is a video of Christine Lavin performing the new national anthem last week in New York City. After she did it at The Bitter End, she did it at the famous jazz club Birdland, during their famous open-mic cast party.

I wrote a crime brief for my old newspaper (articles sadly behind a pay wall) about a sting operation the cops ran to catch a man who thought he was meeting up for sex with a 16-year-old. When the cops arrested the man, they found he was carrying a bag with chocolates and condoms. There was a receipt in the bag, and on the receipt was the clerk's name: Chastity.

That is a weak, weak aptonym but I am publishing it here because the subject matter  allows me to mention a news story from yesterday.       It's about a journalist who responded to a cut in pay by making an oddly horizontal career move.   He became a pimp.    

It wasn't just about making a speech. It was about his reluctance to ascend to the throne, his need not to just make one speech but to conquer the stutter as a way to get past emotional and physical abuse he suffered as a child...I'm sorry, did you fall alseep during the movie?

Okay, yalls are missing the point about Tom the Butcher's completely valid discovery of a gaping, yawning, horrifying plot hole in The King's Speech. 

Tom and I are not arguing that there was no need for the King to be getting speech lessons.   Of course there was.    What we are saying is that this entire movie came down to drama over his ability to deliver one vital speech, the most important speech in his life.    The movie would not have existed without that speech, and the drama and tension surrounding it. 

Now, if there were a simple "trick" that he could have used in that one case only to assure that his speech was impeccable -- the same way he read Hamlet's soliloquey perfectly when music was blasting in his ears -- then, by God, he would have.   In fact, the situation was perfect for it -- he was alone in a room; could easily have donned earphones and no one would have been the wiser. 

Ergo, huge, inexcusable plot hole.   How to have fixed it?  The director would have had to sacrificed that nice scene with Hamlet.   It would have been an  act of creative honesty.   He chose the other route: deceit.   

"How am I supposed to get my arm in there from the side to wipe without standing up?" Um, I stand. Do other women not stand??

I believe, from the responses I have seen, that relatively few people of either gender ... stand.    Most tip, lean, elevate.  

Explain "lef-tenant."

No one entirely knows!   I checked into it.   There are theories as to why the Brits pronounce it that way -- long time ago, "v" and "u" were the same letter, and looked like a "v,"  but no one is certain about this.     The Brits do very odd things with pronunciation.   My favorite is the name Featherstonehaugh," which is pronounced "Fanshaw." 

It reminds me of the excellent joke about the American who was so fed up with British fluffed-up contractions like Featherstonehaugh and Worcestershire, that he told his British friend "Niagara Falls" was pronounced "Niffles." 

Meanwhile, why do we all pronounce "colonel" as "kernel"?

Gene, since MLB regular season will likely be in full swing by the next time to choose to chat with us peonuts, any predictions on the season? In my ideal world, the Yanks and Red Sox would spend the entire season battling each other and both miss the playoffs. And, as a DC area resident, it would be nice to see the Nats take some additional steps towards mediocrity this year.

The Nats won't get exciting till next year.  

The Yankees will either have a very good season or a very disappointing one.  It will entirely depend on the performance of two pitchers:  A.J. Burnett and Ivan Nova.   If both do well, they will beat the Sox. 

I could care less about your uphill/downhill situation. Let me change tacts and return to the shanda for the goyim question. I told my husband about this expression (which I learned from you) when we were discussing a news article. Some random unfortunate incident was described, and the concerned black woman interviewed was: single, the mother of 3 children with 3 different last names, and unemployed. She may also have been eating fried chicken and watermelon, but the reporter left that out. I guess "Tolja" works, but I feel my tribe needs a specific word or phrase, since we frequently get tripped by this sort of thing.

A Soulja Tolja?

Was that you I saw jaywalking at the very dangerous intersection of 7th, N Carolina and Independence SE on 2/1/11? You looked mad. And you should be careful -- the cops have been giving out tix to jaywalking pedestrians there (also, you could get hit by a car.)


Signed, An observant neighbor

I'm sure it was me, though I don't remember being mad in public.   That is right across from my house. 

I ALWAYS jaywalk.  I am from New York.  

Obama will win because the Republicans will be unable to field anybody plausible, and because their antics up til then will tick off too many people: Latinos, union members, gays, public employees, Muslims, immigrants, blacks, etc. Their antics will also keep the economy in the doldrums and unemployment high, which enough of the public will blame on Obama to make it a squeaker. Obama's main failing, which I put under "economy" in your poll because it seemed the best choice, has been to cede the narrative to Republicans, so that the deficit is now so widely accepted as our biggest problem that we can't do the kind of spending needed to get the country back on track.

Obama will win big, but not for the right reason.  The right reason is that he has been a pretty good president after having been dealt a pretty bad hand.   

He'll be reelected in a landslide because he is, by far, the biggest superstar on Earth.   

What are your views on the nominal nature of vegan foods? By that I mean, why do vegans insist on eating vegan "burgers" or vegan "bacon" when most vegans I know have a commitment based on ethical principles or taste preference? Why try to emulate the foods they reject, instead of just eating different forms of vegetable that don't attempt to replicate the taste and texture of animal flesh? Perhaps it is more an issue with the companies that produce these foods, but people are clearly consuming them.

Well, there's an "official" answer.   My friend Bruce Friedrich, the PETA guy who heads vegan outreach, has no problem at all with soy-based foods that try to taste like meat.   He'll eat em, in fact.   It's all about not torturing and killing animals.   There is nothing remotely unseemly about liking the taste of animals.    It sort of makes you an even BETTER person, no?  If that's what you love, but you abstain? 

Gene - Have you watched the video on the WaPo site of a bull jumping into the stands a rodeo in NC? I think it is weird that during the local news interview with the guy whose family got the brunt of it (no serious injuries), the guy exhibits no sense of humor about it. I mean, it is a little funny, right? A bull comes charging at you and sends everyone screaming. Am I callous, or was he just preserving his right to sue someone for emotional distress?

You are being callous.  Callous enough, in fact, that it doesn't even occur to you to ask the real question:  Should tormenting animals be a form of human entertainment?   Something to take the kids to?  

Gene, since you are giving free medical advice, I hope I can sneak this one in. I have noticed that I can no longer sleep on my back without getting short of breath. I am fine on either side or my stomach, but I feel uncomfortably breathless after only a few seconds on my back. This does not happen at any other time. I am 41, female, generally in good health although about 40 pounds overweight. I am worried that I have a heart condition that is going to leave my child motherless. Please advise.

As a highly skilled  professional former hypochondriac and author of a fraudulent medical book, I have decided to do the responsible thing and take your question to my daughter, the veterinarian.  

She says that if you were a dog, being overweight might explain this -- something called a Pickwickian Syndrome, where excessive weight on the diaphragm can cause breathing problems.    

But, all in all, to both of us, this sounds potentially problematic.  You should see a doc.    Probably nothing to worry about, but see a doc.  

Gene, I have a problem. I have dutifully been driving my beloved car for about 6 years now, and absolutely love having a stick shift. The problem I'm currently faced with is that last week I fell on my shoulder and absolutely destroyed my rotator cuff on my right arm. I can manage to get into almost every gear (despite some pain) except Reverse. It just hurts too much. I've been trying to make sure that I can always pull out of a spot in a parking lot...but I work downtown and have to parallel park. Normally, this is something I'm incredibly gifted at, and can do quickly without holding up traffic. But now, I am forced to use my left hand to shift into reverse, which delays the speed of parking and makes drivers behind me angry. Any tips so that I don't get egged?

Move to England.   You shift with your left hand. 

The power cord discussion has long since past and became a commercial for Mac

Cool.   This ad ends great.  Greatly.   With greatness. 

Gene, I usually defer to you on all items word-related, but you are just so wrong about this one., Merriam Webster, and even the OED all give eye-o-dine as the preferred pronunciation (well, the OED's first choice is actually eye-o-DIN, but they're British and so can't be trusted). If eye-o-deen appears at all, it is always the last choice.

Okay, we'll end this update with this


See you all for a full chat next Tuesday. 

Gene's next chat will be on Tuesday, March 29.

Submit your questions here.

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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