The Washington Post

Chatological Humor: Monthly with Moron

Jun 28, 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.

This chat is going to include a robust discussion of Gene's Sunday column, which was a rant against "branding," and which led to this firestorm of reaction, as curated by Steve Buttry.

Take today's polls:

- Journalism Poll
- Sex Poll (men | women)
- Second sex poll (Dilbert)

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 will be Tuesday, June28 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.

Recent chats:

Chatological Humor: April 26

Chatological Humor: May 31 - June 14 update

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

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

New to Chatological Humor? Read the FAQ.

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

Good afternoon.


A serious journalist is idealistic and persistent, a person who does what he or she must to ferret out the truth, to get the goods at whatever cost, using the old-fashioned shoe-leather techniques pioneered by noble muckrakers like Upton Sinclair, Lincoln Steffens, and Ida Tarbell -- and carried forward in glory by timeless giants of the industry such as Edward R. Murrow, Bob Woodward and me.   A serious journalist’s goal is not self-aggrandizement.    A serious journalist is not the dweeby, self-burnishing PR image-machine “branding” enthusiast who has been turning our profession into a frantic, rat-humping orgy of screechy self -promotion. 


And so it is with humility and professional pride  that I present to you today the results of  my 13-month investigative humor project exploring the dark soul of the ironic arts.   For more than a year I have been returning to the same place nearly every morning in order to obtain, for you, a single indelible image that defines humor in the most elemental way possible.   I am delighted now to share the fruits of my hard work. 


Image one


Image two


Image three


The money shot. 




With that established, we will now examine the journalistic furor of the day that was occasioned by Sunday’s column, in which I answered a j-school students question with a denunciation of “branding.” Branding is a trend in modern journalism to feverishly self-promote your work, and to sell the supposed uniqueness of your voice, across multiple platforms.  (Even typing the expression “multiple platforms” distresses me. Sorry.)    Branding” creates stridency, in my opinion, and it wars with depth.  Ubiquity replaces quality.  Branding sucks dead weasels.   But, you know, that’s just me. 


Anyway, a foofaraw ensued.    It was largely a fight between older and retired journalists – who applauded the column as long overdue -- and younger ones who hated it.   Those in this second group tended to be people who were born into this cold new world and know little else, or those who  found themselves in the middle of it in mid-career, and now must embrace it enthusiastically or become embittered, and/or jobless.    It’s Old Media vs. New Media.


Here is a very well- executed curation of the entire foofaraw by Steve Buttry.  Steve, who is my friend, contends that I am something of a mischievous hypocrite; he says that far from being an opponent of branding, I am a master of branding whose brand – crusty curmudgeon – compels me to publicly condemn it.


It’s an interesting allegation.  It is wrong, but it is also impossible to disprove it on his terms, since advocates of “branding” choose to define it so broadly (and benevolently) that almost every  effort to make one’s work public qualifies as branding – including this chat.   Including my links to this chat on Twitter.   Including the fact that my column appears online with a photo of myself.


Sorry, folks, but that’s not what we are talking about.   At least it’s not what I am talking about.    Here is what I am talking about:

I started my first newspaper job, covering city hall for a newspaper in Albany, N.Y.,  on my 21st birthday.   In my job interview, the city editor, John Schoolfield, asked me what I hoped to accomplish.   I said, “I want to put the mayor in jail.   He’s a scumbag, and I want to put him in jail.”    John held out his hand.  I was onboard.

(The mayor was a delightful, charming, sophisticated crook.   I never did put him in jail, but I tried mightily, succeeded in embarrassing him a bit, and when I left Albany four years later, he celebrated.   So it was a tie.)

Back then, if you were a journalist, you swaggered.   You felt invincible.    You worked enormous hours, generally on one deadline a day, meaning you could go deep without wasting time “updating” the same story every 15 minutes to make it seem fresh for the Web.    There was money in the business, so there was not a lot of cost-effective decision-making.    If a story needed a team, a story got a team.    At the Miami Herald, when a boatload of Haitian immigrants capsized in the Caribbean and were said to be trapped on a remote atoll somewhere, we hired a  helicopter to find them and interview them.   As I recall, this decision was made, ad hoc, by a lowly assistant city editor, and he never asked what it would cost.

The current, lamentable situation in which our profession finds itself  started long before the Web.    It started when the economics of newspapers first began to soften.  I remember one day in the late 80s when the publisher of the Miami Herald introduced a new company-wide slogan, and joyfully told the newsroom about it.   The slogan was “Customer Obsession.”  He was a businessman.   He didn’t understand why everyone in the newsroom suddenly looked nauseated. 

Here’s why:  In one crappy word, he had completely redefined who we were.   We no longer had “readers,” we had “customers.”    We had clients.   We no longer were the smartest people in the room, telling people what we knew they needed to know – we were servants, giving people what we think they wanted.   We didn’t know best anymore.   We were supplicants, salesmen, trying to interest a customer in our wares.

Maybe you think that’s good.   Wipe away some arrogance.    You wouldn’t think that if you were a journalist.   In journalism, you shouldn’t ACT arrogantly, but you need that inner swagger to do your job right.   When you’re suddenly in the business of guessing what the reader wants to hear, you have diminished yourself and failed your reader.   Your job is to find out what the reader needs to know, and then tell it in a way that keeps him interested.

In the Miami Herald newsroom in 1988, we fought bitterly against “Customer Obsession.”   In the end, we lost.   But we fought.     One of the best fighters was Janet Chusmir,  the executive editor who pushed back hard against the bean counters in an incredibly frustrating and exasperating and personally grueling fight.   She died of a brain aneurysm at 60.    Janet lost, but she fought.

We’re not fighting anymore. We’ve taken this term, branding, straight from the evil, cynical world of marketing, and we are embracing it.   We’re all salesclerks now.  

This is only partly about semantics.   Isn’t branding just another word for “reputation”?

No, it’s very different, and the difference was explained to me several years ago by a man who, better than most people on Earth, knows what he is talking about here.    I was interviewing Garry Trudeau for this profile.   This is an excerpt from that story:

“We're sitting on the roof deck of Trudeau's studio, talking about the cartoonist's famous aversion to publicity. The conversation goes right to his father.

"Late in his career, he was sued by a patient. He didn't share it with me for three years. It was nothing, just a nuisance suit that was thrown out, but it shattered him to have his integrity challenged in a public forum. I grew up in a household where reputation was placed above all else."


"So it helped me when fame was introduced into the mix."

There's a difference between reputation and image, Trudeau explains. "These get confused in people's minds," he says, but one involves character, the other public relations.

"I just refused to get entangled by issues of image maintenance that fame implied. “


Image maintenance.  That’s what branding is, exactly.

But that’s not really what’s bothering me most about all this.  It’s something else, something that really has me worried.   I’ve been happily reading a lot of the denunciations of my column by people who don’t get it and never will.   One of these, though, I find really troubling.   It is a blog item by a very smart, earnest young woman who is a recent j-school grad, talking about her hopes for her career, and how they pretty much center around branding.   She writes well.   She talks about building contacts, cultivating sources, strengthening her brand, networking with other journalists for maximum cross-pollinating, multi-platform exposure, taking advantage of social media, and so forth. 

The problem is, there was not a word of joy in there.  There was no swagger.  There was no brio.   Not a single mention of righting a wrong, giving voice to the voiceless, putting a mayor in jail.   She may as well have been outlining her plans for a career in the insurance business.

Is this what we’re teaching?  Is this where we’ve come?   Are we this afraid?

There are young writers out there who still know what’s important.  I know many of them. To the kids -- Caitlin, Rachel, Tricia, and the others -- please don't lose it.   

Is this one, from Old Jews Telling Jokes. 

Okay, let's start the chat at noon.   

Could I just interrupt you for a moment to say this is my first time posting in your chat?

Bet you never expected to see this as the first post, did you?  

Last weekend I threw a party at my house, and one of our guests got incredibly drunk and acted like a class-A creep. Basically, he let himself into my room, climbed into my bed and I woke up to one of his hands down my pants, and a hand over my mouth. I flipped out, ran out of my room, and locked myself in the downstairs bathroom. He barged in, and I ran upstairs to get my roommate. Thankfully my roommate woke up and told me to stay in his room while he dealt with the situation. I'm pretty upset about everything that happened, but I'm also not trying to blow things out of proportion. I have gotten locks on my doors and he is never welcome in my home. I will never see this person again. HOWEVER - I do have the power to report this to his employer, effectively ruining his career. My roommate asked if I wanted to pursue this further; the two work together, and my roommate has the authority to make such decisions. The guy is already on probation for behavioral problems. This would be the final straw. I don't necessarily think I want to do this, because I can't see any gain for me if I report him. Part of me thinks I'd be acting in a vengeful manner for no reason other than to seek revenge. And honestly, I just don't want to deal with him or the situation any more. BUT - the guy is deploying in a month to go to Afghanistan. My roommate says he will make the creep sign a letter that says his continued employment is contingent on enrolling in counseling upon his return, if I choose not to report him. Roommate and others, in attempts to make me feel less guilty about the situation, have attributed his actions to his PTSD. (He also tried fighting another friend at the party.) All I have to do is say, "Go" and my roommate will put the balls in motion to stop his deployment. I don't know if I could deal with the guilt of ruining his current career... however, I'm sure the guilt I'd feel if he did something terrible over there would be far worse. What do I do?

Given all these factors, including his deployment, I would report him, so long as you are ready for the blowback.  Lawyers and whatnot.     

To me his being spectacularly drunk is no factor at all.   Men who are not rapists do not rape when drunk.   Rapists rape when drunk.   

Anyone disagree here? 

The first question in the journalism poll didn't contain enough options. If a young person comes to my office and asks to speak confidentially, I would respond, "Within reason." What if he tells you he just slaughtered his family that morning? You have to leave some breathing room between being a trusted mentor and putting yourself in legal peril. Having that option would have also changed the question about whether he had to right to expect you to maintain confidentiality, because you have already indicated that parameters existed.

That is exactly right.   The answer to that question is no, after the disclosure, the writer had no right to expect the editor to keep his secret.   As you say, he could have confessed to a murder, and in fact, he confessed to something that put the editor in an untenable position.  Vargas had no right to expect the editor to keep his disclosure confidential.   But to me, the editor did the right thing, which I will explain later.    

As of 10:40 am, 31% call Dilbert a creep and suggest that there's something wrong with him. Here's the problem - I could have written the same thing. Sure, it's being played for laughs. But he speaks for many men. If I gave in to my sexual urges - I would go to jail. Am I less of a human for having these desires? And yes - I know how creepy this sounds. Which is why I would never express these thoughts (outside your august forum, Gene). I also don't act on my desires, because it would be "immoral". But boy, does it suck. Chemical castration doesn't sound so bad by comparision....

Hoo boy. 

I think he's a creep.   This doesn't look good for you. 

He is suggesting that all/many men would be rapists, harassers, etc., except for laws that would punish them for such things.    I suspect that reveals the contents of his mind, and I find it troubling.   I think I can speak for most men in saying we don't have those urges, remotely.   Some may have those fantasies, but a fantasy is very different from an urge.   

I'm going to choose to believe that you are confusing the two terms, too.   You are welcome.  


My neighbors recently put up a sign that they will charge a "pee fee" to the owner of any dog caught peeing on their bushes - $25 to "replace the cost of the bush that the dog pee will kill." Any tips on how to get my dog to pee on that sign?

It's all about patience.   If you get a photo, I will publish it.   

The craziest thing about that Vargas story is the venom in the comments section. I mean, there's always venom in the comments section for any story, even a story about puppies and kittens, but it's surprising that no one seems to have any sympathy for a man who was put in this situation against his will--he did not make the choice to come here; his mother did. I think most people would do exactly as he did--lie on paperwork and hope against hope not to get caught, because his life is here now. I know I would've done the same thing.

Me, too. 

I don't know Vargas, but I can say that many people at the paper who do know him did not like him.   And many feel he put the editor in a terrible position, and never should have told him.   I agree with that.   But I do think I would have lived my career as Vargas did. 

Now, to the editor, Peter Perl.  Peter is a friend of mine, but that does not color my feelings about this at all.   I have also not talked to him about it.    This is just from me. 

There are times in someone's professional life when he must weigh what is right with what his official duties require, or even what his obligation to his employer is.    This was one of those times.   All I can say about it is that I think it would have been awful to destroy Vargas's life and career -- and that's what would have happened -- if he had told a superior.    As matters go up a chain of command, each successive person has less at stake in the original dilemma -- the next editor up would have promised Vargas no confidentiality, for example, and wouldn't know him as well as a friend -- and so decisions become less human and more corporate. 

Peter did a very difficult thing.  He made the moral and ethical decision, knowing he might have to answer for it, and might have to pay with his job.  I respect him enormously for that.    

I had to do something like that a long time ago, something I believe I never before disclosed.   The issue was not moral or ethical -- it was journalistic.  In the course of a complicated story where I was having trouble getting the trust and cooperation of my subject, he offered me some marijuana, in the company of his friends.    I knew that at my newspaper,  doing something illegal for a story was a fireable offense.  I also knew I needed this man's trust, and would have lost it for good if I turned down that pipe.  I didn't.   As it happened, once everyone was stoned, the entire story unfolded brilliantly.    

I did it because I knew I had to, and I also knew that if it ever came out, I'd likely be fired.   The test I used in my own  case was the one I suspect Peter used in his:  If I was fired, and had to explain why I did what I did, would I be embarrassed or ashamed?  If the answer is no and no, you do it.   

Oh, and this is important:  I didn't tell my editor.  For all the reasons above.   Including that I didn't want to force him to accept part of the risk. 

A long, long time ago, you defended a short joke about a sexual position where the guy is having relations with his girlfriend from behind, then switches with someone else and goes to stand outside the window to wave at the girl. You said it was funny because nobody would ever do that in real life, it was so absurd. I present to you this.

Wow!  They don't give the details, but it COULD be the case.    This quirk in the law is horrible.   Rape should be applicable here. 

So, Rep. Weiner - shanda or not?

I am so glad you asked this.   In the recent updates, I wrote a series of Weiner poems, which I hereby reprise here: 

Weinergate, in Double Dactyl:

Higgledy piggledy
Anthony Weiner twote
Explicit pictures and  
Everyone laughed.

I'm un-astonished, since
Congressmen always give
People the shaft. 



Weinergate, in quatrain

To everyone's amusement, ('cept perhaps the gal he married)
Tony Weiner mailed a picture that was just a bit too bone-y.
Then he claimed that he'd been pranked (although he looked a bit too harried)
And his explanation, like his tweet, turned out to be bologna.


Weinergate, in Japanese haiku

Nothing is new here
A politician loses
In an erection


Weinergate, in impromptu ballad

Today I mull an issue that's on all the Jewish tongues,
And deal with it forthrightly through my words in this here poy-im.
We're all shouting out our question at the top of all our lungs:
Is Tony Weiner, congressman, a shanda for the goyim?

As readers of this chat by now are perfectly aware,
A shanda for the goyim is a Jew who is a rat --
And whose sins confirm a calumny that isn’t true or fair,
But is fuel for carping gentiles:  “See? All Jews are just like that! "

Now, Anthony’s flirtations clearly prove that he’s no prince, 
His boorish, crass behavior surely does not make us proud.
But the guy is not a shanda (though the reason makes me wince)--
For a Jewish boy, the Congressman is pretty well endowed.




Weinergate as a second quatrain.

Congressman Weiner's career is in doubt.
Some say he's intact; others say he's now rubble. 
His advisers contend he should just stick it out --
Says Weiner:  "But that is what got me in trouble!"




The congressman might well have weathered this storm

(Though matters still would have been rocky.)

But he chose to tell lies, which was very bad form –

His undoing was that he got cocky. 




You wrote: "I also chew not only Bic pen tops, but the little plastic plug from the top of the pen." When you chew those plugs, do you ever put the hollow end against the tip of your tongue, and then squeeze it with your teeth so that when it expands again there's suction and it remains stuck on your tongue? I used to do that all the time in school.

Yes!  That is exactly what I do.    This is the most detailed analysis of an insane habit imaginable.  I am overwhelmed.    

This article confirms your belief that the taste of today's tomato does not measure up to what we remember from the 60's and 70's.

I haven't time to read this mid-chat, so I hope you are not, like, linking to porn.   But if it confirms what I know to be true about tomatoes, that's good enough for me. 

Not related to anything discussed recently, but I was extremely saddened to note a blatant misuse of this word in the New Yorker, of all places.


Fourth paragraph from the bottom: "[The cave's] enormity - a network of passages that are nearly a mile deep from the entrance gallery..." Is it time to give up on this one?

Remnick is a friend.  I am going to savage him over this.  

Yeah, have to agree with Buttry. You are the master of journalistic brand. I'd recognize your writing anywhere and I know what I'm getting with you. The fact that you got there the long way, doesn't change anything. I think in today's world, in many cases, you have to get famous before you can "get great stories that improve the world".  Getting yourself on that platform allows you the access that is necessary to "get great stories"

Being a brand and having a distinctive voice are not the same thing.   "Branding" is a verb.   It means managing your image.  Blech.   

It is great that there are 4 links to this chat in the list on the Conversations page. Makes it so easy to select the chat! It would be nice if the chat times were listed on that page.

From the Producer:  You can find a list of chats and their times on the right-hand side of the Conversations page, or by clicking over to our Live Discussions page.  I hope this helps!

Wish you had it further broken down by age. When I was in my 20's I would have answered "frequently" instead of "sometimes" think about sex like I do now in my 50's (I'm female BTW).

I'm not sure it changes with men, at least until very let.   I am very frequently scoping, though of course in a deeply respectful way.    I think the male-female differential shown in the poll is a little less dramatic than I expected!   Women are a bit hornier than I thought, men a little less so. 

I'm a reasonably hot 43-year old single woman and I'm angry about nature's cruel joke. Why is it that just when I got to the age that I became as ***** as a teenage boy, my looks started to go so nobody wants to sleep with me anymore? My eggs know they're on their way out, so they're throwing out every hormone they can in a desperate bid to fertilize the stalwarts remaining in my ovaries. Ovulation is torture and I very often feel like literally banging my head on my desk at work in frustration. At home I can scream. Masturbation's lost it's fun. I'm in hell.

Hm.   Okay, this is a little odd, and I'm probably going to get in trouble for this, but Gina Barreca once told me that there is no such thing as a woman who can't have sex if she wants to.    You might be settling for a lesser bedmate than you want, possibly, but if you are determined, he is out there.   Is this wrong, ladies? 

Obviously, the context of this conversation with Gina is that this is definitely not true for men. 

Please note that your modesty is adorable.  In the last post, I USED the word that you *****ed, above. 

Gene, this is Steve Buttry. Though you and I have disagreed about branding, I do want to stress that I am a longtime fan of your writing, including this column. I appreciate that you raised the valid point that fame starts with hard work, because it most certainly does, regardless of how you view branding. I also want to point out that this is a friendly disagreement. I enjoyed our extended private exchange about this matter over the last few days. Despite your carefully cultivated brand as a curmudgeon and your disgusting rubber-novelty-item avatar, you are at heart a classy guy. I hope that I've sucked up to you enough to get away with plugging my most recent blog post, in which I discuss how I've built my personal brand.

Done.   And of course there is nothing personal in any of this.  It's an honest disagreement.   I am a fan of your work, too.    

I just want to say that while this is not my first post to your chat, I am in Nirvana, because I am sitting at my desk knitting a sweater while I watch the Q&As flood into Post chats. Petri, followed by Weingarten, followed by Robinson...who could ask for anything more?

Since ours is a written medium, I am going to disclose something now that will take many readers, even devotees of Ms. Petri, by surprise.    She pronounces her name PEE-try.      Try, as in  try, try again.   

The woman who was the victim of an attempted rape should not report it to the attackers employer, she should report it to the police. There may be other victims out there and this jerk's behavior needs to be addressed. The Catholic Church has tried the "push the pervert to another parish" method. Ultimately, the victims keep piling up.

Sure.   I didn't mean just to the employer.   This is a bad and dangerous man. 

Your definition of terms was near perfect; when I first read his screed, I thought, geez, while it might flash through my mind to do those things, I would never actually WANT to do them. I wouldn't even call it an urge, but I thought it was more urge vs. desire. The thought came to me about basic urges that people with abstract reasoning skills should be able to suppress in order to coexist in a society, which I think we can all agree is a good thing: I might be absolutely starving and suddenly have the urge to cram some non-food item or even living creature in my mouth, but I would never actually consider doing it in real life. Even primates largely resist those urges when they live in tribes or bands.

It's not even "desire."    A man might, y'know, for kicks, when all alone, fantasize about rape.   It not only doesn't mean that he would ever COMMIT a rape; it also doesn't mean that he even WANTS to rape.   It would be a mind game.    

Did you see this, Gene? A police dog trainer attempted suicide after accidentally locking two dogs in a car on a hot day -- they roasted to death. A necessary reminder -- don't leave your kids OR your dogs in the car.

Oh, man.  I totally understand this.   It's hard to read.   

When I left the house for a particularly painful interview on that story, I almost left Murphy in the backyard in July.   She would have been out there for about three hours.    Would not have died, probably, but it would have been awful.   And a stunning irony.   

Here's what I think is going on with Adams: He knows what he's saying is controversial (repugnant, even), but there's a core of sincere anger: He thinks men are getting a raw deal. Because of that, the attempt to wrap up his argument in a Swiftian bow winds up looking rather ungainly. Whereas Swift's satire overreached in a way that revealed his whole argument to be absurd, Adams's overreach never makes it that far. The chemical castration bit is tacked on, gutless, and weak. The "satire" fails to collapse on itself the way a good satire does, probably because Adams can't bring himself to demolish the argument that men are oppressed -- he believes it, at least a little. That ain't satire; it's anger in drag. Yuck.

I agree with this one hundred percent.  Well stated. 

I have perhaps the most important thing I will post in my life. After this, I may live my life knowing I have made one positive contribution to the world, and this is probably what will be in the lead paragraph in my obituary, for I believe this may well resolve much of the unspoken, and often spoken, tensions between men and women. Men make a mess of toilets. As a male, I have to admit that it is obvious that many men are pigs. Men don't aim. While, as a man, this does not bother me, it seems to irriate women. I one who does not contribute often to this problem, I have often wondered why men do not aim like I do. If you aim, women won't be inwardly mad at men, which often is boiling inside them and erupts at some men that leaves men totally confused over why a woman is upset. It suddenly occured to me that truth is not that men don't aim, but that men can't aim. Why? Because of something I learned in reading Gene Weingarten. Men don't use their underwear as designed, There is a hole in the front center of underpants which allows for aiming. That is how I was taught, and that is how I am. Yet, I have learned that most men does not use this hole, but that they move the entire front of the underpants to the side and they urinate from the side of their underwear. Having experimented with this, I can obviously deduce that aiming is difficult and often impossible. No wonder there a mess results over the toilet and the floor. So, if men will learn to use underpants as they were intended, there will be greater peace between men and women. We will live in greater harmony. Now if we can just figure out why a woman can use an entire role of toilet paper in one sitting, we may have solidarity between the sexes.

I believe you are incorrect.   To my recollection, most men urinate ABOVE THE TOP of their undies.   It's what I do.   That is a centrally located spot and does not deter true aim. 

A relatively small minority shot from the side, as I recall. 

I think Scott Adams tainted his point when he settled on the word "castration" to describe his theoretical pill. I wish had instead used "tone it down" pill instead. I think it would give us a clearer reaction to what he was proposing: Guys, if you could take a pill that would subdue your sex drive enough that your life isn't being overtaken by it, would you?

I don't think most men feel their lives are being overtaken by their sex drives.   I think men who do might like such a pill.  

I've got one too. There is a person in my neighborhood with a sign posted on their tree asking owners to take their dogs elsewhere to pee. I wonder, however, if the tree is perhaps more bothered by the sign stuck in its trunk than a refreshing zing of dog pee on a cool morning. I do try to keep my dog from peeing there but inevitably when he tries to pee on it he misses anyway (he has poor aim).

I demand proof that peeing has any effect whatsoever on vegetation.    And then I would demand a second source.   

OP here. My mentor/coworker made the argument that my obligation to report starts and ends with the police but that my roommate, who works with the guy and has an idea of what his missions will be when in theater, has a moral obligation to report him to his boss. She says that this isn't "my call to make, but that my roommate needs to report him." I hadn't thought of that perspective... if you were my roommate, even if I said I didn't want to report (but didn't explicitly ask you not to), would you report him? (And thank you for calling him out for what he is. It was helpful for me to hear that. No one else has said it.)

Difficult question to answer, since you both actually have a stake in this.   He's not just a disinterested bystander.  

If I were the roommate, I would not report it without your approval, because you are the injured party, but you know, this is almost a Peter Perl like dilemma.  He DOES have a responsibility, right? 

I've seen two posts, one about a sex survey and one about Dilbert, that I can find no connection to. Is there a poll somewhere on the page that isn't showing up?

From the producer:  Before a chat begins and after it ends, the polls (and the chat's description) appear at the top of the chat page.  While the chat is happening, however, they appear below the Q&A's at the bottom of the page.  Scroll down to take the polls at the time.  Thanks!

I'm bothered by the implications of your question, specifically that men are being victimized through no fault of their own. It reminds my uncomfortably of men who fret more about false accusations of rape than actual rapes. And I think you're mistaken that women's desires have been generally treated as acceptable. Until recent decades, sexual desire in women was regarded as threatening by men because wives were property and female desire was something out of their control. You seem to make the very broad assumption that men's desires conflict with monogamy but women's don't.

You should be addressing this to Mr. Adams, no?

Refer to your first poster's situation. Sure, there's always a creep around who'll do something horrible. That's not sex. I, too, am a woman who's wanted way more sex than she knew how to get. Currently, I'm really underserved!

Gina wasn't suggesting that you have to settle for a creep.   She didn't mean that.   She meant that there are a LOT of men out there who want love/sex, and that if you are willing to settle for Mr. HALF Right, you should do fine. 

Maybe she's wrong. 

.... one the Monday morn of Memorial Day weekend, I ventured outside to retrieve my Washington Post (still a subscriber, going on 30 years). As I headed down the driveway, I was surprised to see a well-dressed woman I had never seen before with a small dog on a leash in my side yard. The area is fenced (except for the driveway opening), meaning that she had not merely stepped off the sidewalk; she had made some effort to get 20 feet onto my yard. The woman made an embarassed comment about the doing having "chosen" our yard before boarding their five-hour flight home. The woman was not carrying a, um, "doggie bag." I was not fully awake, and I was left uncharacteristically speechless. The dog finished its business, and the woman left somewhat hurriedly. I did nothing except tell my wife what had happened. What would you have done or said?

If you are talking about pee, absolutely nothing.   I don't think a dog peeing does any more damage than a butterfly flapping its wings.     Whatever they say about that butterfly and tornados in Singapore is wrong. 

Gene, your taking the pot and not telling the editor is not the same as Perl's concealing Vargas' immigration status. If an employer knowingly employs an undocumented immigrant, there could be major penalties and sanctions for the employer. Perl, as a member of senior management, was putting the Post in a very compromised position by sitting on this information. And the longer he sat on it, the worse the compromised position.

I wasn't meaning to compare them directly, but there was a similar calculus in my mind about what to do. 

I am not a lawyer, but I suspect that by NOT telling his superiors, Perl was protecting them.   "Management" did not really know.   One guy did.    If that one guy was the executive editor, that's one thing.   But he was, like, seventh on the chart.  

"Your job is to find out what the reader needs to know, and then tell it in a way that keeps him interested." But isn't this the EXACT attitude that runs Fox News? (obviously you would disagree with their viewpoint, but this sums up their attitude to news, no?) Are you saying that Fox News is the exemplar news organization of our day?

No, and no.       Fox slants.     I wasn't talking about slanting at all. 

Wait--most guys pee over the top of their shorts? Isn't that a little awkward? Why not use the hold that's there for a reason? (and yes, I'm a man)

Because over the top is a lot quicker.   

Notwithstanding he pronunciation of her name, is Ms. Petri a dish?


You'll get no answers here. 

Some previous poster addressed a sensory loathing of yarn, and my wife asked whether it was me. I have long had a completely irrational fear of biting yarn. I don't even live a life where I would plausibly have to bite yarn, or encounter someone in the act of biting yarn. But nevertheless the thought hovers in my mind as an object of terror. Yes, I am yarn-bite-phobic: I have unutterable, incomprehensible fear of it. The dryness, the (assumed) squeaking sound, the indiscriminate splaying of fibers, the futility, the grinding between the teeth. ARGH.

Okay, this is weird but I think you just now infused me with this fear. 

Sorry about the all caps in the subject line. I just really loved your Sunday column. I am young (27) and was a journalist until about 2 years ago (local paper. It was a terrific job but you just can't survive on that salary in DC), and I agree heartily with you. I see the value of marketing, as it is (and has been since the 18th century, when good ole consumerism really started to take off)--but the hyper, hideously enthusiastic way in which it's practiced now makes me cringe. The aim is to reduce all of us to shells. I embrace new media. I love blogs, especially special interest or personal ones. But you can tell when a writer "moves up," either gaining followers and ad interest, or takes a class on developing a "brand," and revises his/her writing accordingly. It becomes hollow, retooled for maximum viewership and a nice dull broad base. You can always tell. I always stop following.

I am sorry we lost you.  You write well. 

I have three requirements for men I sleep with. 1) I have to be attracted to him. 2) I have to like him as a person. 3) It has to be mutual. And in my experience, darned if the men don't get pickier as they get older, ergo more likely to turn a woman down. It's like they've been through this so many times with having to perform and expectation afterwards that it gets to the point where they just say ehhhhh no thanks.

Do other women find this familiar?   

Then the Washington Post is branding you.

The Post is not.   The Post is showing off things they like and think will attract readers.    

I posted a minute ago without realizing that Scott Adams wrote that rant and you didn't. Sorry for the embarrassing error.

Ah.  Noted. 

Somewhere now in the interwebs will be archived something suggesting those odious thoughts were mine. 

"There are young writers out there who still know what's important. I know many of them. To the kids -- Caitlin, Rachel, Tricia, and the others -- please don't lose it. " So, do you have anyone under your wing that isn't a woman? Just wondering...

It is complete coincidence.  My proteges have been of both genders.   My first was Joel Achenbach.    

A few times, you've made it clear that a person should have the right to decide when to end his/her own life. I definitely agree with that premise when someone is sick or elderly. At what point though in a middle-aged parent's life is it ok for them to decide they don't want to live anymore? My spouse had made several suicides attempts all thwarted by me (and usually because of a gut instinct to check on something as opposed to coming home as scheduled). At what point should I let him make his own decision? Does it matter if we have kids? He's otherwise healthy and isn't "insane" although he does suffer from depression and is medicated for it. He rationally explains that he just isn't happy and doesn't want to continue on. What is the right answer here? Keep fighting for him or let the decision be his?

Give him every reason to make the other decision, so you will carry no burden (even unjustified) of guilt.  Then, it's his call.   

How does he feel when you have stopped him?  Grateful, or angry?   An amazing percentage of jumpers who live say they regretted the decision the moment they began to fall.     He should be told that, by the way. 

As all of you have probably realizede, unless you are still catching up in real time, this chat (and all overs at the Post) crashed about 20 minutes ago.  

I theorize it is because I published the word "horny" without prior authorization, but the other possibility is that Buttry sabotaged it.  

We will go on,  and I will remain past one pm.   Hope some of you are still there. 

I once asked my Vietnamese interpreter to tell me a "dirty Joke" and although I understood it, I did not think it was all that funny. Humor does not travel. A boy with raggedy pants was climbing a tree and a man came by, saw his private parts and gave him a large sum of money. He told a young girl. She tried the same thing and got only a few cents.

Er, any sense of what the engine of that joke was SUPPOSED to be?

Gene, Although the hub-bub has already died down over Roger Ebert's tweet after the death of "Jackass" star Ryan Dunn, I hope you'll address it because the controversy seems right up your alley. I don't believe Ebert did anything particularly wrong and he was too quick to apologize afterward when confronted by Dunn's distraught fans. While others have made good arguments for Ebert's motivation (his own struggles with alcohol, his particular appreciation of life since he's fighting his own illnesses), I think the real defense of Ebert (and condemnation of Dunn's fans) comes from the wording of Ebert's tweet: "Friends don't let jackasses drink and drive." I admit Ebert's intent was obvious, but nowhere does he mention Ryan by name (his movie doesn't hold a copyright on the term "jackass"). If any fans took offense at the comment and accused Ebert of criticizing Dunn too soon and before the facts were known, aren't those fans guilty of precisely the same thing? The moment they interpreted an unspecific comment about jackasses and drinking as a specific reference to their hero, didn't those fans essentially admit that they, too, acknowledge that alcohol was probably somehow involved in the death of their idol?

Well, you're letting Ebert off too easy.  It's pretty disingenuous to suggest that the tweet was not responding to Dunn's death; even Ebert says it was.    So the question was: Is it okay to his having such a hair trigger on this, without the facts?   I don't think so.     I think he doesn't think so either, in retrospect.   

Same thing happened on yesterday's chats.

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Gene's wireless internet connection seems to have crashed.  He'll be back shortly, so keep the questions coming!  Thanks.

And for the record, at this point, I'm pretty sure it's Buttry. 

This was EXACTLY my reaction. "Have a nice day" is crappy (as George Carlin once riffed). But what can we replace it? My favorite from travels was from South Africa, where people would say "go well" to a person leaving, while the person leaving would say "stay well" to the person staying.

I like that!  

Scott Adams makes me glad I'm a lesbian.


You may have addressed this forever ago, but I wanted to ask anyway. I recently saw "The Hangover" for the first time. Funny movie, it's my kind of humor. BUT one bit really bothered me. The scene where the Wolf Pack is going into the Vegas wedding chapel...dude 1 leaves the baby in the car. Dude 2 says "shouldn't you get the baby?" dude 1 says "nah, he'll be fine." I get it was a joke about dude 1's total cluelessness. And I get no babies were actually left in any cars. But that gag made my stomach churn. I couldn't find anything amusing about leaving a baby in a car in the Nevada heat. You excel at finding humor in Highly Offensive jokes, so I wondered at your reaction to this one.

You're asking the wrong guy.   I saw that scene, too, and felt the same way.  Then again,  I have lived days with parents who did this by accident.  I see no humor in it; but I have the humorlessness of an advocate.   Try someone else. 

Do you think Chris Wallace was wrong to have apologized to Michele Bachmann for having asked her the "flake" question? I think he should NOT have apologized.

I think he was right to apologize.   It wasn't the question, it was the delivery of the question.   It needed better context.   

I find it fascinating that the post-and-response with Steve Buttry where you and he declare yourselves to be big fans of each other's work immediately follows a post relating to masturbation.


Okay, point taken. 

Ebert's response was more polite than my reaction, which was "natural selection works".

With  Ebert there was a timing problem.  NO time had elapsed.    There was also a knowledge problem.  He was PRESUMING he was drunk. 

Doesn't the whole Vargas thing amount, on some level to a hispanic shanda for the goyim -- I mean, now the anti-immigration people have an example of one of "them people" taking away a good job that should have gone to some true-blooded American, right?

That's the bigoted response, yeah.    The contrapositive response is:   See, we are even Pulitzer Prize Winners. 

One reason some Posties do not love Vargas is that he likes talking about his Pulitzer, which isn't REALLY his Pulitzer.  He was one of a huge team that kicked in info for a story written by David Maraniss.   Maraniss had the only byline.

The names of those people at the end were added as taglines.    In exactly that way,  Tom Shroder, Emily Shroder and Rachel Manteuffel were added as taglines to my story on Josh Bell.     They did important work for that story, and did it very well, but none of them claims a Pulitzer on their resumes.   

I completely agree about the missing context of the Chris Wallace question. If Mitt Romney, for example, had called Bachman a flake, THEN it would be a valid question. As it was, it wasn't very classy. And everyone knows Fox News is nothing if not classy.

And Chris is one of their classier guys! 

Haha, I like Haley Crum. She is like Cheerbot 3000, spreading cheer and politeness and exclamation points across the land. I imagine the rudest possible complaints are met with a cybersmile and an exclamation point.

In journalism, we call exclamation points "screamers."    But I am NOT going to call Haley a screamer. 

She does like exclams!     And she is a very good producer!   So, I like her exclams, too! 

My great uncle killed himself a few months ago. While I'm fine with this being his right to do, I don't think it was right that he left himself for his wife to find. So, if the suicidal husband really insists on doing himself in, he needs to figure out a way to do it so his family doesn't find his body. Please tell him to harm as few people as possible on his way out.

Sorry about your loss, and I agree.  

I believe it was in his book, Homicide, that David Simon  wrote about cop who shot  himself in a bathtub so his compatriots would have an easier time cleaning up.    They were mad at him for that; it was too slick a thing to do.  They saw it as contemptuous.  

This just happened a few minutes ago. I work downtown in a old, huge federal office building. I was in the men's room, taking my ease at one of the two urinals (there, I said it). In comes a young man in his early-20s (intern, no doubt; I am in my early 50s) and stands next to me, doing what he needs to do. BUT HE DOESN'T FLUSH WHEN HE'S DONE. Now, I'm not the bathroom monitor, but I see this among men of all ages. It bugs me. It smells, it's unsanitary. I'm about ready to print up Post-it notes to put up at eye level at say FLUSH YOU MORON. My question--is this common? And should I have pointedly gone to the urinal while he was washing his hands (thank God he did that) and flushed?

Hm.  I have no strong feelings about this.    Is this answer printing very small?   The type on my end just went down to agate size. 

Everyone slants. Some are just more honest.

I disagree.   Everything might read slanted to one degree or another, but I think some news organizations try for objectivity.   Remember, objectivity doesn't mean always giving both sides an equal share.  There are objective truths.    I don't think that there is a non-bigoted reason for being against gay marriage.   If I am writing on the subject, I am not going to pretend to give that view equal validity.  

Okay, I think I may have answered the wrong question.   This is the question I was meaning to answer. 

A Frenchman was at the zoo standing by the elephant enclosure listening to a conversation between a mother and her young daughter. The daughter asked her mother, "What's that thing dangling from the elephant?" The mother replied, "That's its trunk." The daugher said, "No, not that, the other thing." The mother answered, "That's its tail." The daugher said, "No, not that, the thing in the middle." The mother, embarrassed, stammered, "Oh, that's nothing!" To which the Frenchman said, "Madame, vous etes tres blase!"

Thank you. 

I have been putting this off for years, in part because I believe you won't believe it, but I am perhaps among the most rejected men ever. I asked every girl in my high school out. Total dates accepted: one, from a lesbian freshman when I was a senior. In college, I asked hundreds of women out. It even became a floor mission, with guys across the hall telephoning as me in an effort to find a date. Total number of women who accepted dating me in college: zero. I have asked literally asked thousands of women and had one date in my life. And that did not involve anything sexual. I presume there will be the usual people claiming this is a fake posting. I don't care. I know it to be true, and I put it out there.

Do you have Ed Zachary disease?

And with that, I declare us down.   Thank you all, I loved how this chat played out, except for the hiatus.  

There were a phenomenal number of questions I never read, let alone answered, so there will be very robust updates in the next few weeks.   Thanks all.   

I have a puzzle for next year's Post Hunt, but I'm not going to submit it to a public chat, because I want people to solve it next year. The puzzle is clever. It's devious. And like all great Post Hunt clues, when you get it, you know it. Additionally, it was road tested last summer in a Towson Hunt modeled after the Post Hunt. How might I submit it to you?

You send it to

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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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