Chatological Humor: Updated <a href="" target="new"><b>Aug. 3</b></a> | <a href="" target="new"><b>Aug. 10</b> | </a> <a href="" target="new"><b>Aug. 17</b></a>

Jul 27, 2010

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 is Tuesday, July 27 at Noon ET.He will chat about anything. 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.

This week's polls:
Obnoxious poll

Tasteless poll

Sexist poll: MEN | WOMEN

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.

Good afternoon.

On Sunday, John Callahan died at 59.   He was among the most brilliant and original cartoonists who ever lived.   If you never heard of him, it is because he assured his semi-obscurity by venturing into some of the most unnerving, taboo areas imaginable, in a fearless pursuit of humor.   What he did, and when he did it, was startling and rude -- the forerunner of today's edgier mainstream comedy.  

A man is selling puppies on the street.    The grim reaper has walked up to him, accompanied by her three little grim reaper children.   They are excitedly bouncing around, saying, “Mommy!  Mommy!  Can we kill the puppies?”

Callahan was a quadriplegic; he drew with two spastic hands, held together as if in prayer, each giving the other just enough support to fashion a semi-straight line, a line just squirrely enough to give the drawing a slightly lunatic feel.   As it happens, “slightly lunatic” was perfect.

Two elderly people are walking, with walkers, in a nursing home.   On the wall is a sign that reads, “Thank You For Not Dying.”

In the late 1980s, when we were editors of the Sunday magazine of the Miami Herald, Tom Shroder and I first saw a Callahan cartoon in a small weekly newspaper in Oregon – the only sort of paper at the time that would run his stuff.   This was it:

 Two horseflies were sitting on a couch.  The male  fly was putting the moves on the female fly.  On the floor, in front of them, were some little round objects.    The female fly was saying “Darling! Not in front of the maggots!”   

A few weeks later, Tom and I began running Callahan’s work every week in our magazine.  I believe we gave Callahan his first big mainstream media break, and it began a long collaboration and friendship.   

Headless bodies are stumbling out of a restaurant, blood spurting from the necks.  The restaurant’s name is “The Low Ceiling-Fan Café.”    

Where does a sense of humor like this come from?   It’s a cliché to say “from pain,” and it’s not always true, but in Callahan’s case the connection is self-evident.   He grew up grew up in Oregon as a teenage alcoholic.   He was was 21 and drunk -- a passenger in a car driven by another drunk who fell asleep at the wheel – when the car hit a wall at 90 miles an hour, and Callahan’s spine was crushed.    Even that didn’t stop his drinking.  He stopped one day six years later when he was in his wheelchair, trying to gnaw the cork out of a bottle of wine with teeth chipped from battle with so many corks.   The bottle slipped out of his claw-like hands, and rolled away on the floor where he could not reach it.    He burst out crying.  In that moment, he saw the ruin of his life as a pathetic parable.   He never took another drink. 

A man is at a bar.   He has two prosthetic hooks for hands.   The bartender is denying him a drink:  “Sorry, Mike, but you can’t hold your liquor.”

Typically, Callahan’s humor was judged against the backdrop of his disability – he was, in effect, given a pass for what would be considered tasteless if done by anyone else.    He objected to that, and for good reason.    Callahan’s genius – and it was genius – may well have been informed by his disability, but it was not dependent on it or beholden to it; Callahan’s work needed no special accommodation for the handicapped, and to suggest it did is a disservice to him and to humor itself.   Callahan’s crippled characters were stand-ins for all of us; he saw all of humanity as being lame – disabled by prejudice, by sanctimony, by egotism, by small-mindedness, by self-absorption. 

A gunslinger is standing on the Great Wall of China, shouting into the wind:  “I’m sayin’ you’re all yella.”

In person, Callahan was as sweet and gentle and unassuming as his cartoons were not.    He was so soft-spoken you sometimes had to strain to hear him.   He found himself to be a perfectly ridiculous character, and seemed genuinely surprised that anyone liked his work well enough to publish it.   All he was doing, he felt, was holding up a mirror to a world that was spectacularly, hilariously nuts. 

A cowboy lies dead, his gun at his side, an apparent suicide.  The title is:  Shootout at the Schizophrenic Corral.

Like me, Callahan felt that so long as humor was delivered in a good-natured effort to entertain, absolutely nothing was tasteless.    Unlike me, Callahan didn’t seem to understand that not everyone felt that way.   And so it often fell to us, his editors, to save him from himself.   Tom and I would typically reject a half dozen Callahan cartoons a month.    Once, something went wrong, and it resulted in catastrophe.  

If you search for Callahan art on the Web, the one that you find most often, unfortunately, is a cartoon that never should have been published.   It came in one day, Tom looked at it, blanched, and immediately faxed it to me – by then, I had left The Herald for The Washington Post. 

 The cartoon shows a boy beside his bed, in the middle of which is a puddle.    His mom is looking at him angrily.     The boy is saying “I had a dream.”   The title is:  “Martin Luther King, age 13.”

Tom and I both laughed, not at the joke, which was hideously offensive and not even particularly good, but at the wonderful tone-deafness of Callahan, who simply had no idea that there was a line – let alone, where that line might be.    The cartoon was, of course, instantly rejected.  Except, somehow, through an error by a production worker, it got into the magazine, 500,000 copies of which had to be destroyed at a significant cost to the Herald.   The result was predictable: The newspaper’s brass went ballistic – they had never liked or understood Callahan, and nearly every week his cartoon unnerved them -- and they banished him forever from the paper.    In the ensuing media storm, the cartoon was described as racist, which was unfair to Callahan.  It wasn’t about race at all; it was just phenomenally crude and rude and outrageous.  

Callahan, of course, trafficked in that realm all the time; outrageous humor is funny because we are outrageous, as a species.   We are crude and rude and do ridiculous things; we are bloodthirsty and vainglorious and prejudiced and silly, and we live in ridiculous denial of our flaws, and even of our mortality.    Callahan’s cartoons took these things and exaggerated them, and threw them in our faces.  

I believe Callahan, who never achieved any significant degree of commercial success, was the first and best to apply this idiom to the comics; this sort of edge is now almost mainstream.    If you watch “Family Guy,” or “South Park,” or “American Dad,”you will see they are Callahan’s children.   

I want to end here by telling a story that I never thought I’d be able to tell in any public forum.   The Post has permitted it, in this chat, on this day, in this context, for this discussion.   Warning:  You may be offended by what follows. 

Many years ago, Tom Shroder and Dave Barry and I were discussing Callahan’s dark brilliance, and the fine lines between humor and pain, and how, in a sense, Callahan was right:  Among friends who understood that each other’s motives were honest, nothing is tasteless.   So we decided to pray an elaborate prank on our friend Mr. Callahan.    

First, we each tried to come up with a concept for a cartoon so offensive that even Callahan wouldn’t draw. 

Dave's involved Jesus on a cross, with sexual innuendo.    Mine involved mastectomies.   Tom won the contest:  He managed a cartoon combining baseball and Auschwitz.  

Tropic’s art director, Philip Brooker, was an expert forger.    He drew each of these cartoons in Callahan’s style, and signed them “Callahan.”   They were, to our eyes, indistinguishable from Callahan’s real work.      We mailed them to Callahan, anonymously, without explanation, postmarked from another city.

Several days passed.   No word from Callahan.   Then, one day, a letter in the mail,  addressed to all of us.    Callahan  just knew there was only one place that first letter could have come from.   What he sent us was his answer, a single drawing.  It showed a man walking down the street, popping candy into his mouth, from a bag.   The candy were little shapeless blobs.   The bag was labeled “Chocolate Thalidomide Babies.”  Better than ours.  

I once told John that I intended to tell this story, one day, somewhere.   He laughed.   That day will never come, he said. 

I wish it hadn’t, my friend.  Not this soon.  


My column last Sunday which lamented the death of the good newspaper headline, got a great deal of mail from journalists, many of whom remembered some of their favorite headlines.   One of these I mentioned in the update last week, for a story about a woman who sought damages on a man who bit her derriere:


But it also reminded me of two headlines I wrote in the Post. 

On a story about the doctor who reattached John Wayne Bobbit’s penis:


And on a story about a man whose job it was to empty public porta-potties:



Okay, please take today’s polls.   Yes, those cartoons in the “Tasteless” poll are Callahan’s.    By now you should have decided whether they are tasteless.

Many fine questions await.  Let’s go.  


Okay, please take todays polls. Yes, those cartoons in the Tasteless poll are Callahan's. By now you should have decided whether they are tasteless.

Obnoxious poll  

Tasteless poll

Sexist poll: MEN | WOMEN

Many fine questions await. Let's go.

Gene, as of 9:33 am, 25 percent of women didn't find any of the ads funny. Does a full quarter of the female population of your chat really have no sense of humor?

Well, it's dropped to 21 percent, but I find that appalling, and I think the ladies need to answer for this.  C'mon, there's serious humor in the cluelessness, if nothing else, isn't there?  

You know who also would have been upset?  Callahan.  

See, that didn't offend me because it is - well - silly. It's a statement that is just false. But "It's nice to have a girl around the house" has a touch of truth to it, which makes it more offensive.

I seem to be in the minority in thinking that the spanking one is the worst.   

what is the deal in matching up a Palistinian and a Jewish guy? Seems like it would be almost guaranteed to be awkward.

This is Date Lab.  What's wrong with it being guaranteed to be awkward? 

How would you explain the amazing pitching we have seen this year in baseball? Two* perfect games and three other no hitters and we aren't even close to being done! Could it be drug testing is having that much of an effect? And will the Mets ever, ever throw one? (*we all know it should be three)

I've heard an interesting theory.   That the drug era made the hitters so much better that the pitchers had to become supermen, to counteract this.    

You and I are both from the New York metropolitan area where it was verboten to husk (or "shuck") as my dad used to say. I think other parts of the country have no such rules. I can't stand watching people do it, especially this time of year. Just spend another quarter on two more ears and spend 15 fewer minutes in the store, plus keep your food mess to your own home (or yard).

Exactly!   See the next answer. 

Okay, I want to discuss the Obnoxious poll.    Many of you are a little wrong about what is obnoxious and what is not.   Your most egregious error, of course, is the corn.   It is obnoxious to peel back the husk, but you are to be forgiven for not knowing this.  You are a philistine; you boil your corn.   To you, it does no violence to peek, since the husk will be stripped anyway. 

To those who understand food, peeling back the husk destroys the corn.  We bake the corn in the husk: A tight seal is essential.   You have gaily trashed our corn -- you might as well have peed on it and put it back on the rack.

Please observe better behavior in the future.  Yes, you are risking an occasional bad ear; poor you.   Woman up.  

Phone at cashier:  Really, really rude.   You are treating the cashier as though he is an inanimate object.   Blowing on soup: Gauche beyond  belief.    Not letting someone cut in: Petty and vindictive; sometimes you just get caught by surprise having to make that exit.   Furthermore, it can be really dangerous.    Talking during coming attractions: Obnoxious.  Who are you to decide what other people care about seeing?  

The rest are either okay, or we will deal with them later. 

So what's your take on Andrew Breitbart? He smeared ACORN with doctored video footage, but that didn't do anything but increase his popularity among conservative. He then smeared an innoncent federal employee - that too seems to be a plus to those railing against an NAACP plea for the Tea Party to rid itself of racist elements. Have we entered a new age where people no longer want unbaised news; they no longer care about the truth, and only want to read and hear things that conform with their worldview? How about Tucker Carlson? He's posted some e-mails from Journolist - a liberal listerve made up of opinion bloggers, columnists, and academics. Supposedly, this confirms what conservatives have known all along - the liberal media conspires to get liberals elected. Never mind that reporters were not part of the listserve, only opionion bloggers and jouranlist who's job is to expresss their opinion. Where does Tucker Carlson lie on the sleezball spetctrum for his "outrage" over this?

Breitbart should out his source on this.  The source, or the source's source, has no plausible deniability here--someone went to a lot of trouble to frame low-profile, innocent black people in both cases, apparently for the fun of it.  This person never gets to be a source again.  I don't think he WILL out his source--his biggest reaction so far has been to accuse the farmer's wife of lying--so I don't think Breitbart gets to be a journalist ever again.  Oh, wait, you asked Gene.  Sorry. 

I'll add, if Rachel permits me, that I don't think Carlson did bad.    The journolist thing was quite unwise; as a lefty, I wince to read it, but I think it was fair game. 

Rachel's right about Breitbart. 

Judging from the answers apparently most of your audience is ignorant. Pulling the husk back speeds up spoiling of the corn and is totally unnecessary. Any normal human with feelings in the hands can tell if the ear is ripe by just squeezing it very gently.

There is the matter of organic corn, which can be totally eaten up by worms but look fine on the outside. 

Suck it up, Manteuffel.   Buy a few extra ears.  Don't ruin the corn for people who know how to make it. 

To be fair, the cartoons you described in your intro are much funnier than the ones you picked for the poll. Were you trying to get us to say he was unfunny/offensive?

No, I couldn't find any of those online!  I found them in old issues of Tropic.   

I had difficulty answering #8 because I think that men splaying their legs is always obnoxious, and anyone putting a bag on a seat is justified if there are empty seats available. The whole leg splaying thing is gross and obnoxious, because men do it even when people are sitting next to them.

I agree about the splaying.   It's plain rude.  And ugly.   I disagree about the bag: I wouldn't do it unless there were a LOT of seats available.    It's not your right to force someone into one of, say, two available seats.  

 Seems pretty familiar. How is something like this viewed in professional journalism? While it clearly does not meet the definition of plagiarism, the author used just about all of the same sources as you did.

This is not remotely plagiarism.   The writer did her own work, reinterviewed people I interviewed, etc.   It is lazy journalism.    

Wow....I think people are just lying to themselves when the majority says the cartoons aren't that tasteless. They are incredibly tasteless, but they are also pretty funny. I think the two are not mutually exclusive.

Me too.  If they didn't zap you with the tastelessness I'm not sure they would be much funny at all.  

Rachel's right -- the shock is part of the humor, because they are making fun of the fact that these subjects are taboo.   


Whenever we have this rich man vs bum dynamic going on the American Indians always get thrown in there by virtue of not owning any land directly. I'd love to see a week's run on how an unproductive non working begger/philosopher would survive in an actual native american society. We get all the obvious irony of a man who has everything but isn't happy, but none of the irony of the man who is only able to survive on handouts from the society he is determined not to participate in. Are the homeless supposed to be the new 'nobel savages'?

Well, the old nobel savage is Henry Kissinger. 

I cannot improve on Rachel's answer. 

East Coasters--and particularly New Yorkers--are the leading purveyors of rudeness. And are also the first to take offense at others' relatively benign foibles. Here in the heartland, we just don't get all worked up over soup-blowers. Probably because we're too busy boiling our corn.

You corn boilers are so pathetic.   That should be a new term for a rube.   Cornboiler. 

Like Rachel, I peel back the husks because corn often has worms in it, and I don't want those ears, they're gross! And I'm going to keep doing it, no matter what you say!

Fine.  And I will pee on your squash. 

Why are we reading about Callahan as an intro to the chat instead of as an obituary in the paper?

Because the chat was there. 

I'm now preparing for a more appropriate career as a burgler or a bully. What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up, Mr. Doctor? ScienceDaily (July 9, 2010):  New research in Names: A Journal of Onomastics has found that people's names can influence the type of career they take. The studies, carried out by Professor Ernest Abel of Wayne State University in Michigan, found that people with the surname Doctor were more likely to be doctors than lawyers, whereas those with the surname Lawyer were more likely to be lawyers. One study also showed that the first few letters of physicians' surnames were significantly related to their speciality: for example, Raymonds were more likely to be radiologists.

Okay, I'd love this to be true, but I bet the sample sizes invalidate this.   

I've been reading your work for about 7 years and had read most of the pieces, but I enjoyed rereading those as well as reading the ones I had missed. I don't know how I missed the column about your father's final words, but I found it oddly powerful considering it was about someone I didn't know. Any reason it was never discussed in the chat, or did I somehow miss that chat too? Anyway, there was one column I was suprised wasn't there and that's the one about your father voting. It ends with something like "What's your escuse?" Considering the two pieces about your father and the one about the non-vote, I'd have thought it'd have fit right in. Any reason it didn't make it?

Yeah, it was mostly about his blindness, as was the piece about his hallucinations.  I needed to choose between them. 

Gene, Sunday's Family Circus was the raciest ever. Mom wore a strapless bikini with visible navel and *very* prominent cleavage. Are these the end times?

It's especially amazing since Thel is 75 years old. 

And this is more amazing:  Back in 1960, she had a bigger butt.  And the Dad was older, and was a lush.   

Vis a vis the Palinization of the Ameringlish language, where do you stand on "refudiation"? I think it's a neat word, to be used when confronted with a statement both false and vile that one wants to simultaneously refute and repudiate. Of course, Palin used it incorrectly, since there was nothing about the NYC mosque to refute (or, really, repudiate). This also reminds me of when Fred Durst of the band Limp Bizkit coined the term "agreeance" a few years ago and got vilified by the language police. He meant agreement, but I kind of liked agreeance, it has a certain ring, don't you think? Or would you have refudiated poor Fred?

I love refudiate.   It actually surprised me because it told me that, on some level, Palin knew the words "refute" and "repudiate."  

My favorite stupid made-up word is "allegator."  As in, one who alleges.   

I thought the spanking one was the worst--the girl-rug was "out there" enough to just be kind of silly--but the spanking one is realistic enough to be disturbing. The rest I found pretty funny, mostly by virtue of being so out of touch. I am a woman under 30 so I don't know what it would be like to have surrounding society take these ads seriously though. But my question is, how did the oven-cleaning wife break 14 fingernails?! Is she talking about a cumulative effect or does she have 7 fingers on each hand?! That would be cool.

Pat the Perfect made the point that women under 40 have NO IDEA the sorts of astonishingly sexist things were considered fine not very long ago.   These ads are not all that old.  


Okay, now there is one ad that I don't actually consider sexist.  Hardly at all.   The "burn the beer" one.    Aside from the fact that the woman cooked the meal -- and is dressed as a domestic -- it's just funny.  He's being nice to her.   I don't find that objectionable, hardly. 

The funniest one, by far, is "projection."  

News of John Callahan's death is sad. Loved his book, "Don't Worry. He Won't Get Far on Foot."

A great book, with a great title.    Also, he once approved a headline for a story about him:  Tales from the Crip.  

One great thing Callahan had in the book:  When he was a kid, his mom used to serve fish sticks all the time.  He hated them because he heard it as "fish dicks."

stores are now giving into people by placing large garbage cans by the corn. people shuck right in the store. what's worse is that entire families shuck there - clogs the entire area up. I don't get this.

My whole family shucks together.

It is pretty much the end of civilization. 

How was your hooker play? I couldn't make it.

It was great!  and not over.  Eight, if Hooker Play doesn't help you find it. 

Rachel is amazing in this play. 

Hi Gene--  I came across this blind item on a gossip website that indicates a famous singer/performer is borrowing from your Pulitzer story to make a documentary. You may have missed an opportunity. Would have preferred it to be you even if you have more of a face for internet. xo

A big difference, I think, between this, the Jewel karaoke thing and Gene and Joshua Bell's thing is that Jewel and blind item guy have songs considered theirs that we've all heard.  The L'Enfant Plaza thing was beautiful music you'd probably never heard before.  Unless Gene disagrees. 

Like she cares if I disagree. 

But I don't disagree.   

A relative of mine was recently murdered in a very brutal fashion, and it was a very strange experience reading the comments on the local paper's article about it. 30 comments complaining that the address of the suspects was listed as "X City", when in fact it was in "X County." "According to the postal codes," someone would rejoinder, "the men in custody lived in 'X City.'" "Preposterous," another would spit; "I live near there myself, it is in fact in 'X County.'" Then someone would jump in: "What is everyone's problem? A young person was brutally murdered." And another would explain that his property value is brought down when a murder is said to happen in X City, this paper should get its facts straight. Someone else would point out that the murder itself was listed as occurring "near" X City, which is just terribly vague and gosh the media has no care for facts and it's shameful that two days have passed and this obvious mistake still has not been fixed, therefore confirming said commenter's continuing disgust for the media. Then someone started an immigration debate. No one involved was an immigrant, or even hispanic, for which "immigrant" seems to be shorthand these days. Anyways, it was disconcerting. Maggots, indeed. In the Post's favor, I thought all of the comments on its article about the murder were relevant and compassionate.

Indeed.  This is a perfect example of the downside of "Comments. "  The subject line refers to my recent column noting that Comments seem to be an odd thing -- spit-flying rants that are appended to products that at least try for dignity and objectivity.   I said it was as if " your sirloin steak came with a side of maggots."

Hi Gene--Have you ever had sex with a man? Had a three-way? Sex with a prostitute? If not, I'd have to say you seem appallingly incurious to me. Ever run with the bulls? Parachutted from a plane? Bungee-jumped? Base jumped? If not, I'd have to say you seem appallingly incurious to me.

Sigh.  Okay, this is a continuation of a discussion from some weeks ago -- my guess, by the same person, who cannot let it drop.   He or she cannot let it drop because he or she  is miffed that I, by implication, called him or her an incurious person because he or she grew up in the 1960s and did not try marijuana.     He or she is attempting to challenge this assertion by throwing out spurious comparables.   Well, we are not fooled, mizz or mister.   I stand my ground.  

I did not contend that you and others like you are boring or unworthy, as a person.  I contended, however, that unless there were certain unusual factors at play -- a familial tendency toward addiction, other health exigencies, youthful Clintonian concerns such as retaining your political viability, etc, you and people like you are, or were, lacking curiosity.  

Using marijuana in the 1960s was not remotely comparable to skydiving, sexual experimentation outside your orientation,  or running with the bulls --  and the fact that you equate them seems to neatly prove my point, and then some.   I didn't mean to suggest, nor do I believe, that failure to smoke grass in the 1960s was a form of cowardice, though in your case it seems to have been!  You compare it to highly reckless behavior.      

A young adult in the 1960s saw marijuana all around him -- in popular culture, among friends,  -- oversold as a magic elixir that enhances creativity (partially true; see The Beatles), makes food taste better (true), gives an erotic boost to lovemaking (often), encourages depth and clarity of thinking (false), enhances the likelihood of inspirational thinking (occasionally true) and whatnot.  It was illegal, but in most places the risk of penalty was small, and the thrill of being a demi-outlaw offered a bit of a frisson.   Mostly, the users knew how preposterous were the warnings about the evil weed, and were gaily conspiring in a screw-the-man movement.  And it was fun. 

I can see many valid reasons why someone might still have abstained, given all this, but those people did not have an abundance of curiosity -- what curiosity they had was outweighed by factors such as fear of being bad, concerns about health, worries about losing control of oneself, etc.  All fine, but if these things overwhelm your curiosity over something THAT omnipresent and interesting... curiosity is not your strong suit.

That's all I was saying.  In YOUR case, however, I now add wussiness and weeniedom.    Take it like a man.  Or woman.     

Any new additions to your household?

You'll be reading about one in an upcoming column. 

We're here for Gene's dyspeptic drivel, not yours, Rachel.

I know!  It's awful. 

Gene, First off, welcome back. Despite the fact that chats are apparently going the way of the dodo here at it's still nice to see you mustachio'd face every month (at least proverbally). I'm wondering what the definition of "Splayed Legs" is. Like most men, I don't sit with my legs together, it ummm... hurts some of my best friends. But I don't think my legs are overly wide. Is there an acceptable width of legs that I should conform to? I try not to be obnoxious, so I could use the help.

Glad to help:  if a line were drawn from knee to knee, the triangle made by your legs has to be strongly isosceles.  Anything approaching equilateral is very, very bad. 

Hi! Could your poll next week be about whether we want our questions answered by you or your producer?

IF he gets a poll.

I believe John Callahan also drew the cover for a John Prine live album.

He did.  The one about dogs.    Prine is a big Callahan fan.   Callafan. 

I come from the area that grows the best tasting sweet corn. However, the grocery stores ALL have bins placed next to the sweet corn so that people can peel the husks right there and place freshly de-forested corn cobs in their plastic baggies to take home. However, anyone who REALLY appreciates corn around here buys it off the back of a pick-up from a farmer who grew it him/herself. Then takes it home and prepares it in the proper way. Best corn I've ever had is at a booth at the Minnesota State Fair. Corn is freshly grilled in the husk. When you hand over your ticket, an attendant grabs a freshly grilled cob, peels back the husk back to fashion a handle, dunks the full cob into a vat of fresh drawn butter (if you want) and hands it to you to season as you like with salt and pepper provided on the counter....

I really need to make this a crusade.    You corn-boilers are not BAD people.  You are IGNORANT people.   But once you have been told THE WAY now, and if you choose to ignore it, you are consigned to hell.   

Hi Gene, Since you've been writing movingly about fatherhood lately, I thought I'd ask; did you want to have kids, or were they primarily your wife's idea? I'm a 30-year-old woman married to a man I love dearly. I had thought we were on the same page about children, but as it turns out I've never thought I WOULDN'T have kids, while he says he thinks he could be equally happy with or without them. My father-in-law says that most men only feel paternal instincts when they're actually presented with their offspring. To me, this seems like an awfully risky gamble, not to mention profoundly unfair to the kid. "Well, your father wasn't sure he wanted you, but we decided to see if he'd like you when you were born." What do you think?

Well, this isn't really helpful, but this is a discussion you should have had long ago.   My feeling is that children are a huge stress on a marriage; don't have them unless either 1) you are both completely committed to the idea, and enthusiastic about it, or 2) the one who is more committed to children is willing to sacrifice the marriage, and risk single parenthood, and all that entails, if it doesn't work out.  


My guess is that if your husband is unenthusiastic about children, getting up at 4 a.m. is not going to make him more enthusiastic.  

A question for you about journalistic practice. Do you think that a journalist sometimes overuses the normally-very-valuable "sic", in such a way as to be downright snotty? I was struck, when reading the article about residents of the Gulf Coast expressing their feelings through handpainted signs, just how often the author felt necessary to point out the artists' bad spelling and grammar. When you've got it within quotation marks, and set up within the article such that there's really no doubt what we're reading, and you STILL have to [sic] every misplaced apostrophe... snotty, right?

Correct.  I am not sure I have ever used (sic).  It's snide, in part because it is Latin.  Have just re-read "The Fiddler in The Subway" (now available at startlingly low prices) I noted several places where I scrupulously AVOIDED using (sic). 

In one story, about people banding together to save a trapped starling, I noted that "the sign had been written in haste but with good intention."  (sign: "Animal Control is Comming.")

In another, I simply noted that the cozy sign outside the home of Adele Coffelt, the woman who would prove to be the mother of Bill Clinton's half brother, said, "The Coffelt's."    The point is better made, in each case, through understatement. 

Gene, you sound like you disagree with lazy journalism. This is lazy chatting - you can't keep agreeing or disagreeing with Rachel - get your view out there. Be a man!

If Gene ever finds out I'm not testing these questions for freshness...

Rachel can be very, very cruel. 

Sunday's B&C was really good.

Thank you.  I'm guessing someone has done it before; there are SO many ideas out there.   

But remember this is America. Here in the Richmond area the grocery stores put out big trash barrels for people to shuck their corn in, so some do it. I suspect if you look in their grocery carts, they'll be the people with Wonderbread, plastic "American" cheese, margarine, hydroponic tomatoes, and twinkies. They are happy. Leave them to boil their shucked corn in salted water for inordinate amounts of time. You like it your way, they like it theirs.

But I know the truth.   I am obliged to proselytize. 

the tips of one's toes and the plane formed with one's knees should not exceed the width one's shoulders. (if you have other parts exceeding the width of your shoulders, use the aisle seat)

This is another way to say it, yes. 

Hypothetical (I don't pull corn back because we usually get it from the CSA and are stuck with what we've got). If shoppers pull corn back, and leave it there, doesn't that stand to reason that it's bad and you didn't want it anyways? If it was good, they would take it, shuck the rest, and boil it. I guess unless their standards are higher than yours, but as corn-boilers, are they?

I don't want to be cruel here, but if they are stupid enough to boil their corn, they are stupid enough to not know good corn from bad.  For example, they probably favor large kernels.  Cause they think they are "meatier." 

Pleeeeeeeease, less Rachel Manteuffel, more Gene. Please.

It depends.  Are you interested in purchasing advertising in The Washington Post?

Did you write the script for her?

No!   Becky Madeira was great.    

Remember, there were 10 no-hitters per year in the early '90s. Perhaps 10 per year, in this modern era of low pitch counts and all, is a "normal" pace when there are no hitters on steroids messing things up. And this is one of the first years since then where we had "true" results.

Okay, I'll accept this.  Though I believe there has never before been a year with three perfect games. 

Gene - how is it that you can crank out about one question & response per minute when other chatters, (sports, traffic, cars, doesn't matter) can only handle about one every 3-4 minutes? It can't be just because of Chatwoman because you've held that pace whilst Rachel is filling in. What's your secret?

I am a maniac.  I pre-answer dozens of questions in the hours before the chat.    Shhh.  The Post thinks I am a fast-pitch genius. 

Gene, I've been a cashier. Its not that rude to talk on your cell phone. Explain to me why it is ruder than standing in awkward silence or talking to a companion. As long as you interrupt your conversation long enough to do the basic courtesies, its not a problem.

Hm.  This concerns me because I disrespect people who always take offense on behalf of others.  Can we hear from another cashier?  If you guys don't mind, I'll withdraw my opinion. 

If your lady doesn't use the right brand of bitters in your Manhattan, just stuff her in the fridge. That oughta get your point across! From the New Yorker in 1950.

Wow.  the trapped hair is particularly scary. 

My favorite made-up word is syllogoid, as in, something that has the form, but not the logical force of, a syllogism. Justice Scalia coined the term in a dissenting opinion, and had this to say about whether he had, in fact, coined the term: ''There are only three possible responses to your note,'' Justice Scalia responds to my written query, ''none of which is satisfactory. The first displays illiteracy ('You mean syllogoid is not a word?'), the second confesses incompetence (since a coinage that has to be explained is a failure) and the third risks giving offense. I pick the last, and shall not respond at all, which I hereby do. Best regards.'' (

In a Palin-esque way, Warren Harding -- another high-visibility moron --  invented "normalcy."   It eventually became a word.  

I thought the Mini automatic one was funniest and least obectionable. I've seen so many men freeze up when having to deal with a clutch that to me, the fact that the photo of the terrified driver is a woman is just a happenstance. Maybe that one's more sexist in England?

I don't think that was happenstance.  I think that woman was chosen for ditz appeal.  She resembles Goldie Hawn's ditz character.   Right era, too. 

Can you advise how to do this? Some recipes call for soaking the corn beforehand. Some call for removing the top layers of husk. Others call for peeling all the husks down, removing the silk, basting in butter, and then tying the husks back on. What say you, oh cooker of the husks?

You soak for 20 minutes to 45 minutes.  Put it in the grill wet. 

Is there such a thing as a corporate inaptonym? If so, I submit to you a business near the new Harris Teeter grocery in Fairfax. I got a good laugh the first time I saw a place called Appalachian Dental. Surely someone must have seen the folly of that name!?

Wow!   That is spectacular.   Ozark Dental would be a little better.  


It sounds like you'll have something to say about Inception, but I want to throw in my two cents. I didn't like the film for many reasons, but I was annoyed to distraction by the score. The surging tri-tones (at least I think that's what was happening) are about standard in movies around the 70-minute mark to really ramp up the stress. Inception started this at about minute two and kept it up for hours. It was irritating and it threw off the pacing. Was it to cloak the boring story? As a side note, after the movie I was so frustrated I cried in a restaurant and had to go home. It wasn't my best day. Love you!

Here is how I analyze the movie: Vastly overrated because it is essentially an adolescent what-is-reality movie, overlaid with middlin' action-drama fare.   There is a central cynicism at work: I can see the screenwriters thinking, "okay, how do we get car chases in here? "

Gene, I get your point, but isn't there also a valid point to be made that for women who are pregnant (as opposed to adopting a kid) they feel it more in a visceral way for 9+ months? I think my husband was on board from the beginning but when my daughter was born he fell in love in a way that I think surprised both of us.

Yes, but:  If a baby happens over one parent's objections, the chances of the baby becoming an emotional  wedge increases a hundredfold. 

Seeing all those "wonderful" ads from the recent past reminds me of how chilling it is to hear certain groups YELLING about "taking the country back." I'm never sure if they mean taking it back from people they don't like, or taking it back TO a better time in the past. I think we can see their logic laid out in these ads. If only women and ethnic agitators would go away and we could have the great world of the 50s. Great for well off white men that is.

Ethnic agitators reminds me:  What did we think of the "You're all yeller" Callahan cartoon?   I say: hilarious. 

Gene, a few years back you had a saying about the last drip always running down your leg. For the life of me, I can't remember or find it, and it's driving me crazy. Can you please help?

There are two that I know of:

No matter how you twist and dance / the last few drops go down your pants.  


No matter how you shake your peg / the last few drops go down your leg. 

I have been a chatter for a while and love all questions, but I am now very interested in poop. I thought I was a normal person but this chat has me quite worried. I poop 3-4 times a day and I am in and out in under 60 seconds. Is this not normal? I go twice in the morning and at least once in the early afternoon.

We established in an earlier chat that this is high normal.   I can guess, though, from your minute-long poops, that you are a girl.  Right?   No guy does this, and many women do. 

Gene, I'd recommend you listen to this interview on Fresh Air of Louis C.K., especially when he discusses his use of the "f-----t" word. It's quite an interesting, and ambiguous, discussion.

Okay, so, I just want to say that the video clip in here is completely brilliant.   And moving.   In the spirit of Callahan, in fact.    It is STUNNINGLY UNSAFE FOR WORK. 

But it's masterful comedy.    It's about a word.   

I see nothing ambiguous about it.  It is making a very clear point about the intersection of humor and pain.  

hi Gene, Not a question, just a comment. Please please don't ever switch to doing this chat via a live video. I can't tell you how disappointing it is that so many chats have moved to that format. It's not just that the reporter or commentator gets through far fewer questions, it's that there's no back and forth in response to the the answers. And in any case, while I can read chats over my lunch hour, sitting at my desk at work, I can't ever watch a video with the sound on. It's so depressing and I miss Post Politics hour more than I can say. Thank God for you and Howard Kurtz and Steven Perlstein and the few who still type to us.

I won't.  But I think we're going to try to do the next few updates live.   I will try to make them manic and fast and make use of the video.   Maybe get some women here.  

Gene! Enlighten me! Assuming I don't have an outdoor grill, how do I prepare my corn with the husk on?

In the oven, on broil.    About 20-25 minutes, until the husks are dark to black.   Keep turning them.  

I saw Eight after a plug in a previous chat and really enjoyed it. For those of you who have not heard of the Fringe Festival I strongly encourage you to attend an event. At the very least you will see something different that will give you something to think/talk about. Also, Ms. Manteuffel is excellent. The Fringe Festival is one of the things I love about DC.

While we're being obnoxious, this interview with the people who won the Director's Choice award is pretty awesome.   It was a very passionate, fearless show about being a loser.  My favorite sketch was about eight minutes long and was one person doing an impression of those sketches people do in talent shows where one person is the arms for another person and does prop humor.  Since I suck at explaining it, she was using her own arms and pretending they were someone else's pretending to be hers.  A lot of her vs. her arms antagonism--brilliant idea and very sharply performed.  I'm glad everyone cares about this. 

Although I am a bit hesitant to get food advice from someone who hates dark chocolate. But you were right about Sushi.

I am also right about the best part of the lobster being the elbows.     Then the claws.   Then the goo.   Last: The tail. 

She's hilarious. Until she gets her own chat, it's great to hear from her on yours. Congratulations on your knack for collecting funny friends.

They have to apply for friendship, then answer a grueling  questionnaire. 

Not to rain on the funeral but I don't think Calahan is all that funny regardless of his condition. His humor seems to be of the same flavor as Andrew 'Dice' Clay. No need to think of anything clever just try and shock people and hope that by being shocked they will laugh. You might not admit it but I would be extremely surprised if you would find him AS funny if he didn't have a compelling backstory.

You are very, very wrong.  

"My guess is that if your husband is unenthusiastic about children, getting up at 4 a.m. is not going to make him more enthusiastic. "

But that's only a short period of time, right? I mean at some point they will walk and talk and he can bond with the child even if the baby turns him off. Say it!!

A baby doesn't really become a person until about three.    That's a long time to wait, sullenly. 

There was a type of German wine that ran a series of ads around the the theme "take a little German with you" and each ad featured a Little Person dressed in traditional German costume. One ad in particular used the phrase "keep a little German in your fridge" and it showed this Little Person crammed into the door of a fridge between the milk and condiments. The idea of storing little people in your fridge like a side of beef always struck me as both tasteless and incredibly funny.

Fraulein Manteuffel?  Do you have an opinion on that? 

Before or after the same joke was in Hot Shots?

Of the Callahan cartoons you described, the one that made me actually laugh out loud was the cowboy on the Great Wall. Much of that was the juxtaposition of a familiar insult with a statement of -- mildly cringe-inducing-- fact. By the way, why can't we call Asian people "yellow" anymore? It's no more inaccurate than "black" or "white" and seems semantically equivalent. An Asian friend said his family still refers to their fellow Asians as yellow. It's also a term black people often use for lighter skinned blacks. (For the record, while I'm officially, I think it would be more accurate to call me pink.)

Here is a great unpublished headline, by Richard Harrington, for a review of a kung fu movie:


I Am Furious (Yellow)

"Vastly overrated because it is essentially an adolescent what-is-reality movie, overlaid with middlin' action-drama fare."

Huh. I saw a movie about a man unable to deal with the loss of his wife. Very similar to Memento, in the thought that marital love requires shared reality, and what happens when one of the partners is no longer able to participate. Both movies are fairly outlandish in construction, but both had the same theme. My husband and I quite enjoyed discussing it as we cleaned up after our offspring.

That is such a girly view of what is basically an action movie! 

Man, this director was shrewd.       

Wow. You do have a palate (I am surprised because you don't like dark chocolate). This is what I have been saying for years.

I have admitted to possible error on the dark chocolate thing.   

If so, any triangle you make with them is going to be isoceles. The phrase you're looking for is "acute angle".

Hm.  Okay.  

When did the post start charging for old articles? I wanted to read your article about Alaska and it needed payment. Did you cause this with the release of your book?

I don't think so.   But the book is only ten bucks, and you get 18 stories! 

The video is great, but I feel compelled to point out that the guy's description of where the word comes from may not be accurate, though it's widely believed. A faggot or fagot is indeed a bundle of sticks used as kindling, and I'm betting that's why Brits call a cigarette a fag. But the connection between that and the anti-gay slur may be nothing more than folk etymology.

You are correct, though use of the word with "flaming" does give one pause, no? 

Gene, My tomatoes are delicious this year. Skin's area little tough, but, you know... Anyway, I have this odd little ulcer in the middle of my tounge, and I'm wondering if it could be from an overdose? I didn't google it because I might puke my guts out if I see pictures of tounge ulcers. Aloha.


I was very disappointed with this year's crop:  Thick, thick skins like ear cartilage. 

So which is your favorite beer style? Stout, lager, pils, or something else?


John Callahan is a genius. My favourite cartoon of his is of someone pointing to a dog which has a very large pane of glass piercing its torso. The caption: "How much is that window in the doggie?"


Gene, your feelings on bumper bumping while parallel parking are well known. I have a related issue about which I'd be interested in getting your thoughts. This weekend, I noticed dings on both my drivers side door and my passenger side door. These, I believe, are routine dings coming from the fact that I have to park in a parking garage for work, a garage that has small spaces. As a result of the newly-discovered dings, I was aware of my parking routine this morning. The car next to me was close enough where I had to rest my door against it as I got out, and even as small as I am, I had to apply some pressure to my door to exit the vehicle. I anticipate having to do the same entering it after work. Is this OK? Is this akin to a mild bumper bumping? I don't think I ding their door, but I don't always check. I will be honest in that once in a very great while I get irritated enough by folks parking especially close to me, to the point where I have to crawl in thru the passenger side door. On one such occasion, I crawled to my seat, and opened up my drivers side door hard enough where I hoped to leave a ding, and was pretty sure I had. Bad of me? I will note that in this case it was obvious that the person was a very careless parker -- they were so far over they had actually parked on the line. Just desserts, or am I evil?

1.  Just deserts, not desserts.   

2.  You are evil.   Inflicting damage on another's car, deliberately, out of pique, isn't right.   

Okay, I copy us down.  Thanks for a spirited chat.   I will see you in the updates... which, possibly, will be video.    

Update for Aug. 3, 2010

Greetings!    Today's update is going to be exciting!   In additional to the regular fare, we have a SPECIAL UPDATE POLL, and at noon, a special live feature.  Or, in the non-prepositional-ending version:  For which you may wish to return.  

The Truth about Chelsea Clinton's Wedding, Revealed

The link mentioned in the video.

Not sure what' wrong with shucking corn. If someone peeled it back and left it, almost always it's because that ear of corn has been eaten by insects and no one would want to buy it. This is basically a service they're providing to everone else.

Sigh.   Okay, I will answer this quickly, then cede the final, absolutely definitive answer to Mr. Rex Stout. 

First off, people don't just leave the corn open if it has insects; often, it just doesn't look the way they want their precisou corn to look before they boil all the taste out of it:  maybe the kernels are too big.  Or too small.  Or of the wrong color.   Or irregularly arrayed, displeasing their totalitarian sense of order.   The point is, in peeling the husk back, they have ruined this corn for the people who want a clean seal, because they know how to prepare corn the right way.   

I had almost forgotten this.  It is from the Nero Wolfe Cookbook, a section taken from a Nero Wolfe novel.   It is a conversation between Wolfe, a gourmet, and police inspector Cramer, who is, shall we say, not: 

Wolfe:  It must be nearly mature, but not quite, and it must be picked not more than three hourse before it reaches me.  Do you eat sweet corn?

Cramer: Yes. You're stalling. 

Wolfe: No.  who cooks it? 

Cramer: My wife....

Wolfe: Does she cook it in water?

Cramer: Sure.  Is yours cooked in beer?

Wolfe:  No. Millions of American women, and some men, commit that outrage every summer day.   They are turning a superb treat into mere provender.   Shucked and boiled in water, sweet corn is edible and nutritious; roasted in husk in the hottest possible oven for forty minutes, shucked at the table, and buttered and salted, nothing else, it is ambrosia.  No chef's ingenuity and imagination have ever created a finer dish.  American women should themselves be boiled in water. 



1. Another vote for Rachel. She's great, and I don't think Gene is saying any less than he would otherwise -- I think we're just getting more total chatting. 2. I think it's too bad the new chat format asks for a "topic" instead of a place name. I liked seeing where commenters were from. 3. I agree that roasted corn is far superior to boiled corn. But that does not mean that boiled corn is not worth eating. Boiled corn is often easier/faster, and for those of us without A/C, it heats up the house a lot less than the oven. (And don't tell me that I need to make the time. I'll make the time to roast corn when my kids are as old as yours.)

Pat the perfect informs me that she roasts corn in the microwave, in the husk, two minutes per ear, and that it's great.

Now, I love and respect Pat, and she is a more than competent cook, but I am not sure about her food reviews.  I have personally witnessed her rendered deliriously happy by a mediocre Chinese restaurant meal.   In other words, I cannot vouch for her corn system, but plan to try it.  

By the way, it is okay to hate Pat:  She is a tiny woman who can eat like a horse and remain a tiny woman.  

I knew I should have consulted you first. In NYC last weekend - went to highest rated (by Zagat) pizza joint - Grimaldis - right at the base of the Brooklyn Bridge on the Brooklyn side. Good stuff, but still felt like it was not REAL NY pizza. Where should I have gone, Gene? Also - any coutnerparts that come close in DC?

Hahahahaha.  He would've said Grimaldi's.

I would not have.  I would have said you have to go to the Bronx.    Find the crappiest looking place.   

The closest I have found is Mama Lucia's in Bethesda.  Their plain pizza.    Not perfect, but close.  It's about grease. 

Gene, I have been faithfully reading your comic strip from day 1. Why is it that suddenly I feel like I need glasses to read it online? It looks dull, blurry. I'm reading it from the WashPost site. Strangely this past Sunday's strip was very clear but most others have almost a haze over them. Besides that, though, I'm loving the strip!

Hm.  I'm not seeing this!    

My biggest concern is Sunday:  It's really squashed, smaller than most other strips.   Squashing isn't bad for some simply drawn strips, but in ours, it really makes it hard to follow.   I hate it that the strip often looks better online than in print.   This one kind of disappeared in print. 

Gene, I'm sure you've been asked, but I haven't been able to spot it in the live chat or updates: Is Barney and Clyde the only strip that employs upper/lower case text in the speech bubbles? And, not complaining just curious, why did you decide to do that? I find it interesting for no particular reason.

I know of only one other.    Interestingly, Richard Thompson is a good friend of David Clark, who draws us.  

Good afternoon.

One day last week, for the first time since I wrote this story two years ago, I watched The O’Reilly Factor.   As I made clear in the original story, I think O'Reilly is an unfunny, mean-spirited, intellectually dishonest blowhard.   Still, I was surprised to find that two years later, in a single, randomly chosen segment, he showed himself also to be a reprehensible race-baiting demagogue.

Rachel Maddow spent a minute or so hammering him for this last week, but, inasmuch as she and O'Reilly are in a bit of a public feud, Rachel seemed to be pulling her punches a bit.  She didn’t expose this thing fully enough for the foul tub of slime it is.   Hence, this chat update, which will focus entirely on this segment.

But there will also be a supplementary video link to the update that you'll want to see because it is a historic media milestone. In it, I create a template for the future conduct of interactive online journalism.

Okay.  O'Reilly begins his "Talking Points" segment by pointing out that a new Gallup poll shows that Barack Obama's support among white Americans has fallen to only 38 percent, whereas it is 88 percent among black Americans.  O'Reilly calls this 50 percent discrepancy "stunning."   I am not so stunned, but what the heck.   We can agree the discrepancy is high, and this is an interesting item, worthy of further analysis.  Bill has his eye on the ball.

Score:  O’Reilly 1,  O’Reilly Detractors 0 

Then O'Reilly begins his further analysis.   The only way the numbers make sense, he says – the ONLY WAY -- is that white Americans have lost confidence in Obama because he is trying to redistribute federal money and services, spreading the wealth, taking these things from white people and giving them to black people -- something that white people, for some reason, don't cotton to.   Black people, O'Reilly notes, LOVE that idea, so they are still in Obama's corner!  

Possibly you think I'm being unfair to O'Reilly in that old liberal trick of manipulating context -- selectively editing this so he looks bad.    So let's just go to the tape, for context.   This is O'Reilly, verbatim, a transcript taken from his own Web site, right after he reports the Gallup poll results:

According to the polls, most white Americans don't like the huge expansion of the federal government. They also oppose the big spending increases that the president has imposed. It's simple. White Americans fear government control. They don't want the Feds telling them what to do. And they don't want a bankrupt nation….

But black America has a totally different view. For decades, African- Americans have supported a bigger federal government, so it can impose social justice. A vast majority of blacks want money spent to level the playing field, to redistribute income from the white establishment to their precincts, and to provide better education and health care at government expense. So the African-American voter generally loves what President Obama is doing….

This is how O'Reilly wraps it up:

The USA is the strongest country on Earth because of self-reliance and the industry of honest, hard-working people who don't want to be told how to live. Independence and self-reliance is what has made this country great, powerful and generous.


Where do we begin here?   Let's start with the Gallup poll, which did not -- as O'Reilly seems to imply -- suggest any reason at all for why white voters are souring on Obama.   Gallup just gave the raw numbers.  

Score: O'Reilly 1,    O'Reilly Detractors 1.

But maybe O'Reilly is talking about other polls of white voters that he knows about.    We'll give him the benefit of the doubt, because, as liberals, we are being scrupulously fair.    

So we're left with the question of why 88 percent of all black people are still supporting Obama.  To O'Reilly, the answer is crystal clear.  It's about … policy.  Unlike the "honest, hard-working people who don't want to be told how to live," and whose self-reliance has "made this country great, powerful and generous," black people like handouts!  They love to be on the public teat.   WHAT OTHER EXPLANATION CAN THERE POSSIBLY BE?

Lessee here… .  

Let's begin with some very basic numbers.    Only 38 percent of white people support Mr. Obama, and … hang on, checking here  …  whoa!   Only 31 percent of white people in America are Democrats.   Whereas,   88 percent of all black people support Obama and  ….  79 percent of all black people are Democrats!     That sure seems to make these figures a little less "stunning."  I'm no statistician, but it seems to me that they're practically predictable.   Plus, when you look at it this way, it also seems reasonable to conclude that these Democrats, white and black, probably support Obama for a complex of Democratty reasons  -- you know, pro-choice, civil liberties, separation of church and state, gun control, no torture, etc. You can even oppose Obama's social programs and still, as a Democrat, on the whole, support the guy.

Score:  O'Reilly 1,  O'Reilly detractors 71,903. 

But let's go on.   As a thought experiment, I wonder if it is possible that there might be a big non-policy reason that black people are sticking with Obama, a reason that might also explain these numbers.   What is there about Obama that they might like, personally?   

Wait a minute!  I've got it!   The man is black!   His wife is black!  His children are black!  Might it be possible that black people find this pretty  inspiring, and are more likely to give him the benefit of the doubt than white people would, in the aggregate?    You know, that would be so like those doggone black people, to blindly support their own kind and everything.  They're so darn … clannish.   

Oh, wait.   It turns out that John F. Kennedy got 78 percent of the Roman Catholic vote in 1960, including hundreds of thousands of registered Republicans.   I'm just guessing here, but I bet their support wasn't entirely about, say, his views on social services or his policy toward the islands of Quemoy and Matsu.   I'm also guessing a candidate named Moishe Mandelbaum is going to rock the Jewish vote.   Just a guess.   

 (There are exceptions to this, for sure.   I doubt Clarence Thomas could get the black vote in Washington D.C. even if he were running against a gay Norwegian pimp, and I doubt Joe Lieberman still gets a majority of the Jews, who tend to dislike sanctimonious, opportunistic political  turncoats.  But my point is, to most ethnic or religious groups, a member of their own gets a benefit of the doubt unless and until he proves himself unworthy of it.) 

So, let's recapitulate.   Mr.  O'Reilly takes a completely predictable breakdown of the black-white vote and attributes it, without any supporting documents and in contravention of all supporting evidence, to the fact that black people want white people's money.

Score:   O'Reilly 1,   O'Reilly Detractors  Eleven squadrillion four hundred bajillion eighteen tweetillion and six.

Just how poisonous is this?  I'd say: Very.   How cynical is it?  I'd say the answer to that depends on how smart you think O'Reilly is.    I think he's very smart.   I also think he has utter contempt for the intelligence of his viewers.

Thanks for the poll on the world's foremost quadriplegic cartoonist, Gene! I've been a Callahan fan for many years. One of my favorite cartoons of his shows the torso of a man wearing dark glasses, holding out a cup full of pencils, and wearing a sign that says "Please help, I am blind and only partially drawn." He also has some wonderful collections, one of the best of which is the autobiographical "I Think I Was an Alcoholic." The key to Callahan's work, for me, is that it is BOTH funny and offensive. He doesn't believe in taboo topics, as far as I can tell. Can you think of anyone else who can pull off a one-panel cartoon with the punchline of "Look at the ass on that bitch!"? Callhan does. I had no idea he'd died this weekend until I started Googling his stuff after taking the poll. It's the world's loss, whether the world knows it or not.

Callahan created dramatic problems for editors.   He once had a cartoon of a blind black man begging for change.  His sign says "Blind and black with no musical ability."

Tom and I laughed at this and were about to put it in Tropic when we got into a discussion about why it was funny.  We decided that, ultimately, it was racially insensitive, suggesting that if you are black and blind, you only have a shot at supporting yourself through music.  

We probably were being overly sensitive.  I think I'd run it now.  

I'm not a sci fi person and Inception sounded daunting, but a friend persuaded me to go. I was able to follow it OK and thought it was clever and well done, tho' the climactic battle sequence could have been edited down by 10-15 minutes as people were getting pretty tired by that point.

I just saw it a second time, to make sure my first judgment was right.   I did so after reading a Twitter post by the great Roger Ebert.  Ebert liked it a  lot.   

He was wrong.   It was a movie that pretended to depth, but ultimately offered cliche:  Chase scenes, shootouts, and adolescent musings on What Is Reality?    To make it work, the filmmaker had to create preposterous leaps of logic.  

There are dozens of Inception spoofs on the web.  This is my favorite.  




I once worked as copy editor/headline writer for a weekly trade newspaper. One headline involved an industry executive being promoted. The headline: Jones Gets Head Job. The other was on a letter to the editor. The writer disputed an article that said XYZ corp. was a subsidiary of a Netherlands conglomerate. The headline: No Dutch Masters

Neither of these is a great headline.   But it does remind me I need to set a record straight.    In a previous update I took credit for a headline I didn't write.   It was on a story about a man who cleaned porta-potties for a living.  The headline was "Waste Is A Terrible Thing to Mind."   I had edited the section, but hadn't written that headline:  It was a Pat The Perfect special.   

In the same series of stories about Bad Jobs was one about a man who got paid to watch convicts urinate into cups.  The story was written by "Eric Wee."  Not a coincidence.  I assigned the stories. 

Hey Gene, Can you help me understand why I hate that AT&T ad that goes in reverse--you know the one that begins with the aged parents watching their son become president? I can't put my finger on it but it really bothers me and everyone I live with. Thanks.

No, I cannot explain.   I think it is a very effective ad, though the president has a bit cliche white-guy look.  Our presidents, however, have mostly been cliche white guys.  So, no.  I like the ad.    But I'll put it out there: Who hates this ad, and why? 

You have become so full of yourself that I am getting to the point where I almost don't like you. Please try to knock down the self praise a little.

Gene Weingarten does not respond to questions like this.   They are beneath him.  

Gene, Did you realize Chatological Humor is an anagram for both Comical Torah Ghoul and Coach Gorilla Mouth?

No, but I am very grateful for this.    Speaking of Pat the Perfect, she once discovered that The Washington Post was an anagram for Wet Hogs In Hot Pants.    

This was back in the day when anagrams still meant something about creativity, before the anagram finder tools made it all rote. 

So yuo spent much of last month's chat railing against those who lump specific categories of people into groups (gays, racial minorities, etc.) and then noted how disturbed you would be if your daughter married a conservative Republican . . . and echo of the old "I don't have anything against black people but I sure wouldn;' want my daughter to marry one." Face it Gene, you are as bigoted as a klansman.

I don't know if you are serious, or a troll, but just in case:  Being biased against black people or gay people -- which I am not --  is not comparable to being biased against conservative Republicans, which I am.    The first group does not represent conscious choice, nor does it describe what is at the center of a person.   It does not go toward a person's worthiness. 

One's political position is elective, and indicative of what kind of person you are.    

So, yes.  I have many biases for which I do not apologize:  I am biased against rapists, serial killers, people who squirt semen from atomizers onto strangers, people who ride their bicycles on the sidewalks, and conservative republicans.   

Please talk about Inception! Especially the ending, which I felt was a complete copout. They took a meaningful moment in DiCaprio's character's life, when he was finally able to let go of his wife, and made the audience question as to whether that actually happened. Completely ruined the movie for me.

I completely disagree.   I think it was one of the few good decisions the filmmaker made.   He refused a cliched, wrap-everything-up-comfortably end.

I felt the same about "Up In The Air."  It would have been a bad movie with the obvious easy, happy end.    They made the right choice. 

Hi -- I need advice from a pet lover and thought of you. My husband and I are expats living in Nairobi. There's a constitutional referendum here next week, and there have been some violent demonstrations leading up to the vote. In light of the post-election violence experienced here a few years ago, my husband's company is flying all expats to Johannesburg for the week to be safe, which is great but for one thing: one of my cats is critically ill. I can't feature leaving her in a caretaker's hands if she's near death. And if we have to put her down this week, I'm concerned about how the remaining cat will take not only losing her sister but also then being (in her eyes) abandoned by her people shortly thereafter. So I've made up my mind to stay here; my husband thinks this is idiotic at best and possibly suicidal at worst. So what would you do? Go to the relative safety of Johannesburg or brave the potential for mass violence erupting and stay home to be with the cat(s)? Thanks in advance.

Okay, THIS will be a controversial answer.   I think if it is impossible to transport the critically ill cat, I would euthanize him.   

Sorry.   I love animals fiercely, but this is an extraordinary situation.  

The only Callahan comic of those you described that I found funny was the "I had a dream" one. How is that so much more outrageously tasteless as compared to his "jokes" about killing puppies, beheading people with ceiling fans, or yelling out "yer all yella!" at Chinese people? Seems of a type, to me.

Because those are not jokes about killing puppies, beheading people with ceiling fans, or yelling "yer all yella" at Chinese people.    This is actually an interesting discussion. 

1.  A man is selling puppies on the street; the Grim Reaper has arrived with her three Grim Reaper children.  They are jumping around excitedly, saying "Mommy, mommy!   Can we kill the puppies?"   This is a joke about how puppies are so universally beloved that it is sacrilege to say anything negative about them.  It is also about the silliness of the Grim Reaper idea.   

2.  Headless people are stumbling out of a restaurant, with blood spurting from their necks.  The restaurant is named "The Low Ceiling-Fan Cafe."   This is a joke about the pretension of theme restaurants. 

3.  A cowboy stands on the Great Wall of China, yelling out, "Yer all yella."   This is a joke about silly cowboy language that is so outdated it probably never existed.  It is also about the pretensions of little, petty angry people.   And about PC oversensitivity.  It's daring people to be silly and take offense at this innocuous thing.   As you did. 

The only one that's NOT really funny is MLK.   That one has nothing going for it EXCEPT its outrageousness.  It's got no other point.  

Gene will update every Tuesday. His next chat is Aug. 24.

Send in questions now.

Gene -- I don't know who else to ask. I figured you would have a reasonable answer. At what point does my disagreement with someone's views allow me to be disrespectful to the person? For example, say I think Pope Benedict is a self-righteous blowhard who seems to think he can retell history to his liking. If I were given the opportunity to have a meeting with him, out of respect for his position, do I have to bite my tongue, or can I tell him exactly what I think? Clearly this is an extreme scenario (cause who gets to meet the Pope) but in day-to-day life it applies, too. The CEO of my company is an odd man with no sense of humor who doesn't give a rats a$$ about the people who work here. I see him regularly, is it ok to tell him what I think? Maybe the question is better phrased do I owe it to the other employees to say what I think even if it means I will lose my job? So, my question to you is where is the line between respect and agreement on issues?

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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 2008 and 2010 Pulitzer Prizes for Feature Writing.
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