Chatological Humor: Monthly with Moron

Aug 30, 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 month's Chatological Humor: August 30

Take today's polls: MLK | Humor

About this chat:
At one time or another, Below the Beltway has managed to offend persons of both sexes as well as individuals belonging to every religious, ethnic, regional, political and socioeconomic group. If you know of a group we have missed, please write in and the situation will be promptly rectified. "Rectified" is a funny word.

On one Tuesday each month, Gene is online to take your questions and abuse. Although this chat is sometimes updated between live shows, it is not and never will be a "blog," even though many persons keep making that mistake. One reason for the confusion is the Underpants Paradox: Blogs, like underpants, contain "threads," whereas this chat contains no "threads" but, like underpants, does sometimes get funky and inexcusable.

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

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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. 

Have you taken today’s poll yet about the MLK Memorial?   If not, do it now, because I have an important bit of news to break in a few paragraphs.   But in the meantime , a less important story about The Meaning of Life.

It was one week ago today that the northeast earthquake hit.     My experience was probably different from yours in that I was pretty sure I was going to die.

I was in Union Station, being interviewed by a Danish magazine writer, Jonas Langvad Nilsson.   Jonas and I were at Pizzeria Uno – not the main restaurant on the upper floor, but in an annex above that, on a balcony level closest to the train station’s vaulted roof.  It’s the highest (and least stable) place people can be in Union Station.    We were atop the colonnade, behind the centurions pictured at the left here.   

Jonas is compiling a book of magazine profiles, to be translated into Danish.  He plans to include the story I wrote on The Great Zucchini.   So we were talking over pizza about the art of profile writing, and about one of the best profiles I ever worked on, written by the great Madeleine Blais.    Editing that story in 1982 may have taught me more about writing than any other experience I had.

Titled “The Poet and  The Birthday Girl,” it was about a minor poet named Hannah Kahn and her adult daughter, Vivian, who was mentally retarded.    If that doesn’t sound like much of a story to you, it’s because you don’t yet know two things:  The mastery of Madeleine Blais, and the central dramatic fact of the story:  Hannah Kahn had just learned she was dying.

Great stories don’t tell you what they are really about; they let you see it for yourself.   What the smart reader would see in this story – although Maddie never came out and said it – is that even though Hannah Kahn might  never have written a great poem, her masterwork was her daughter.   The great fear that parents of the mentally retarded often have is of what will happen after their own deaths; who will take care of their child?   Hannah Kahn’s love and patience and schooling had made her daughter an unusually centered person,  given her an inner peace and a remarkable self-confidence.   She would need care, but emotionally she would be fine.

That’s the point of a great profile, I’d said – it had to be about something larger than itself, to reach some universal truth about the human condition, and most universal truths begin and end with death.   The specter of death follows us everywhere and informs everything: We do good work, we have children, we find religion, all to try to deceive ourselves into feeling immortal.

And that’s when the earthquake hit.

(I wouldn’t remember any of this – it’s amazing how trauma wipes out short-term memory – but Jonas was recording our conversation, so we played it back later. )

In the final seconds I was saying:    “[Vivian] would not go to pieces. She would make it because her mother had made her strong beyond her disability. She gave her a character.

“So, there was that and then there was Maddie's giant point which she never wrote. It was implied: This is a woman who could never be a good poet but her masterwork was her daughter. That was the poetry, that was the great poem that she created. Anyway, this complicated story, this amazing story, ah, and as she was writing it ...”  BANG BANG BANG.
The tape ends there because Jonas turned it off, to run.

The earthquake hit Union Station unlike the way it hit most places.    First came a tremble, then the three sharp explosions.   Then the mammoth building shuddered side to side by what seemed like two feet, with a faint groan.    The giant centurions wobbled, seemed to me in danger of falling.   At a moment like that, there might be  some comfort in sheer size – I imagine people in small structures felt more vulnerable in some ways; my friend Pat was in a room in her house that is built on stilts, and felt it might collapse  – but size also underscores and magnifies the immense power of what is happening.    What on Earth could sway and buckle Union Station?

Jonas and I felt we knew what it was, and it was not “earthquake.”   It also wasn’t a  horrific train crash, because those explosions seemed the wrong kind of percussion, and too close to where we were sitting.   Union Station is in D.C.’s largest passenger hub --  what had to be a prime terrorist target in  the nation’s capital --  so we figured a bomb of immense power had gone off somewhere.    (We would learn later that the explosions were the sound of large chunks of the stone roof that had broken off, fallen 80 feet, and pulverized against the floor.)

What is the first thing you do when you think you are going to die right away?  Feeling the place was going to collapse, I lunged for the protection of a stone archway.   That silly delusion lasted two seconds – if the whole placed collapsed, the arch would just collapse on me, too.     What followed was an odd, grim, fatalistic calculus that Jonas and I each went through in our own minds:  Okay, will I die from a fall or by being crushed from above?   Which would be “better”? Is there a way to fall that might protect you a little?

People were heading for the stairs.    Sure, getting out made sense – but what if, like the Mumbai train station, men with machine guns were waiting downstairs to pick us off?      Didn’t seem to be any safe answer.   We headed for the stairs.   

 And as soon as we got out of the building, Jonas and I did the same thing, instinctively:  After looking back at the building to see if there was smoke, we scanned the horizon, looking out over D.C., looking for the same, in other locations.   How big WAS this thing.     Seeing 360 degrees of clean air was the first reassuring thing that had happened.

Then when someone with a working smart phone said “earthquake.”  And that’s when something else kicked in.

Before we’d talked about “The Poet and The Birthday Girl,” Jonas and I have been discussing the story he was going to anthologize, the one about The Great Zucchini.    That one also had a Meaning-Of-Life element.   Though it was ostensibly about one man – a children’s entertainer – it turned out to be about the nature of humor – how we use it as a primary defense against fear.    Life is scary; death awaits us all; and we tame our terror by laughing at the absurdity of it all.

So there we were, Jonas and I, standing out there,  about three minutes away from knowing we were going to die, and I suddenly blurted:   “Whoa.   We never paid for our pizza.”

 And Jonas said:  “Damn.  We should have had something more expensive.”

And that cracked us up.   Beyond all proportion.

Okay, now for the important stuff.   The MLK  poll.

I think the choice of sculptor was fine.    This is a monument for the ages – you find the artist  you think is best.    National alliances change; political theories change.   Art is forever.    I agree with a chat participant who wrote in:   “I think the fact that the committee chose an artist without regard for race, color, creed, politics or nationality is a great testament to their integrity and a step toward the fulfillment of Dr. King's dream.”

(Whether that artist created the best possible image is a different question, and one most of us are unqualified to answer.   I haven’t seen it in person, and that’s the only way to know.)

I think the problem of attributing the first quote is serious, but not hugely serious.    It is a quote that Dr. King was fond of using (with attribution),, and he changed it a bit for his use, and it well expressed his own feelings.    I don’t think it stands as a terrible assault on Truth.   I would correct the error though, for one very simple reason:  Have we really so lowered out standards in the careless, close-is-good-enough  Internet Age that we’re not bothered by an inaccuracy we have actually ETCHED IN STONE?

So, yeah.  I’d change it. 

But, man, that second quote, as it appears,  is foul and fatal.  Manteuffel nailed it:  That one stinks, and at whatever cost, I think it has to be corrected.     

But who cares what I think, or what you think, for that matter?     I’m more interested in what Maya Angelou thinks.   The poet was a friend of King’s, and knows a bit about the proper use of words.    She is also front and center on the memorial, and was there at the groundbreaking.    I faxed her a copy of the op-ed article and we spoke about it afterwards twice by phone.    She is horrified:

"The quote makes Dr. Martin Luther King look like an arrogant twit.”


Angelou continued:   “The ‘if’ clause that is left out is salient.  Leaving it out changes the meaning completely.    Martin Luther King was anything but arrogant.     He had a humility that comes from inside, out.” 

Angelou said she feels that some change has to be made: removing the lines, or contextualizing them, or at the least making it clear it is not a direct quote.

Can we all live with an MLK memorial in which the principal quote makes the man out to be a braggart? 

I wonder if anyone is listening.


[Update: Maya Angelou says King memorial inscription makes him look ‘arrogant’, By Gene Weingarten and Michael E. Ruane, Aug. 30]


Okay, enough intro.  On to your questions. 

You know you did a poll about this same joke contest in some previous year, right? I can't remember what won that year, just that it was astonishingly unfunny. (This is the same person who reminded you that you'd already heard about that 3-feet-apart parking law.) Out of this crop, #2 is a modestly improved version of a really old blonde joke. #7 is the worst, because what the mom says is such a weird, contrived phrasing that I finished the joke before I realized I was supposed to think she was talking about sex (right?). I like #4, #6 and #8.

As my standup-com friend Dave George confirms, there is only one right answer here, on the best.    It is the only truly good joke:   Number six, about chess.   If you chose any other, you are wrong. 

This is a perfect example of how bad the judges always are for humor contests.      I actually put these in the order they were chosen, with one exception.    The joke atop, about Henley, was judged the worst.      But the next one, Snow White, was judged best, and so forth.  Ridiculous. 

The second best was 3, on parking lots.    And the third best was 8, about The Cure.   (or you could flip those two choices.)

Several of these were so heinous they don't even qualify as humor.     Seven about broccoli, and 4, about one day at a time, are simply banal observations about life.   

I can improve that one-liner in two ways within five seconds of seeing it: "I was in a band called The Prevention, because we hoped people would say we were sixteen times better than The Cure." "I was in a band called The Disease, because we hoped people would say The Cure was worse than us."

You are correct about both of these.   It was an imperfect version of a good idea.    My choice for second or third funniest, though.   


Gene - wish I could give you link to an article but I can't. However, I just learned that the Assistant Registrar of Companies in Zambia is a man by the name of: N.J. Moola. How's that for apt?

This, then, shall be today's aptonym feed.   We have three.   I found this one myself, from a story in the Post in 2008:

"He is considered a suspect in the series of sexual assaults," said Officer Don Gotthardt, a Fairfax police spokesman. "


From the directory of Andrew Hoenig's daughter's middle school we have a cafeteria worker named "Mrs. Wan Chow."


Hugh Price points out that A subway frotteur bandit in N.Y. has been captured.  His name is "Darnell Hardware."


And finally, I thank Bryan O'Sullivan for pointing out that the CEO of the charity group Food For the Poor is named "Robin Mahfood." 

Just a suggestion that you move the links to the polls to the top before your discussion... and is there a link to a Union Station photo? Didn't see it.

Ah, we seem to have lost the link.  I just sent it to Haley, who will link to it. 

So, you went back and paid, right?

Actually.... yes.   Two hours later.   They were thunderstruck.    Apparently only two people did, out of many dozens. 


Gene, my question for you is kind of like airplane seats--to say something or not. Let me say first, that I am a short person, just under 5 feet tall. Last month I went to see Dolly Parton at Wolf Trap. I was sitting in the loge, above the orchestra. The steating there is stadium style. I thought I'd have no problem seeing the concert. Most theaters have seats that are staggered so you're meant to be able to see between the heads of the two people in front of you, right? Well, the tall gentleman in front of me was leaning on his left arm, in a loungey position with his legs crossed, and his left shoulder was a good 5 or 6 inches over into his female companion's seat area. His head was pretty much directly in front of mine, instead of to the right of my view. I could see Dolly for most of the concert completely with my left eye. If I closed my left eye and looked only with my right, I saw the man's left ear, but not Dolly. With both of my eyes open, I could see her, but with like... his ear shadow, too. When she moved stage left, I had to move and look to the other side of the man's head. I'm sure that if he'd been sitting in his chair with the weight distributed evenly between his buttocks I wouldn't have had to keep bobbing my head around to see. Should I have politely said something, or just suck it up (which is what I did)?? Should I bring a booster seat? I sat on a phonebook in drivers ed.

This is a very cute post and I am too flustered to answer. 

Welcome to the world of delicious Chicago style pizza. Once you switch, you never go back to the dark side.


What kind of a jackass do you think I am? 

What can I get from buying your book that I can't read online for free?


If you can find the Introduction and the Table of Contents online, you still would be missing my thrilling Intros to each story.     


Maybe I missed this part in one of your columns or a previous chat, but I don't understand your anger at reclining seats. If the person in front of you reclines, can't you also recline and restore yourself to having the same amount of room as if neither of you had reclined?

This is wrong on just so many levels.   

First, some seats don't recline, so you'd be dooming someone, somewhere, to a seat in the face.  

Second, when a seat reclines, it makes the tray table harder to use and it crushes the knees of taller people. 

Third -- just philosophically -- why should one pig's decision set  off a chain reaction of forced piggery on others not ordinarily so inclined?   (Haha.  "inclined." )

People who simply recline in a crowded coach class like to maintain the illusion that there are no other people in the world. the illusion that there are no other people in the world.    They KNOW they are doing something that discommodes others, they just don't care.    They are not appreciably different from litterers.   

So, can we we read The Poet and the Birthday Girl somewhere? Sounds like amazing writing

It's not online except in a truncated fashion.  I am going to try to print it all out in the next update.   

There was an entertainment news item about an intoxicated celebrity who allegedly punched a women. Supposedly, he was trying to get on a private bus, and when the female bus driver tried to stop him, he became angry and hit her several times. She hit or pushed back to defend herself and at some point he was arrested. My husband and I chatted about this incident and each of us came to the conclusion, independently, that we'd take a payoff from the celebrity not to press charges if that had happened to us. Does this make us bad people?

I might do the same thing, but the amount of money would have to hurt.   It would have to deliver a huge lesson.   

Have you noticed that toilet paper continues to get narrower? Where will it end?

I think we all know where it ends. 

Hi Gene, My politics align very closely to yours. I have cringed while Obama has had to bend into compromise but I've been proud that he is so clearly intelligent and has the country's best interest at heart. During this debt ceiling mess I felt that he was the beacon of sanity to the tea party utter lunacy and I totally agree with you that the Republicans were practicing extortion but it seemed like we might just get a compromise. Through it all, I felt that there was nothing that would prevent me from working tirelessly for Obama's re-election. And now with this new bill - ugh! No tax increase for the rich? Where was the compromise? He folded to the extortionists and obviously he had to for the good of the country but I just want to cry. I do not want to hand this country over to people who are so blindly dismantling it that I think they will be surprised when the buses and trains stop running or the health clinics close down or the firemen won't come. I will vote for Obama. I have to. But I am disappointed and I don't know where to channel this. I ask you -- because you have some years on me and maybe some perspective. What is a liberal to do in this moment?

Obama has not lost my vote -- every single alternative is horrifying -- but he has lost my respect.      He doesn't seem to stand for anything; on the debt limit he caved in like a rotting jack-o-lantern.    

He's disappointed me, and he's got my vote in the bag.  

Gene, I've never been much into conspiracy theories and maybe conspiracy is not even the right word to use here. But I have come to the conclusion that, in its quest for permanent power, the Republican party is willfully attempting to dumb down the nation. I've come to believe that they have a strategy in place, not for 2012 or 2016 but for 2020 and beyond to turn the masses into idiots. You start with elementary education, start teaching creationism instead of evolution in science class. Teach them that there is no such thing as man made climate change. Revise basic history to conform to ideology. Disparage and or ban arts and literature that do not conform to the ideology. Turn critical thinking into something that is bad and evil. The objective of Republicans is to make 2 classes of people: the very wealthy and everyone else. And if they can keep everyone else as stupid as possible, they will get the permanent majority that Karl Rove always dreamed of. Think this is preposterous? There was a story on NPR not long ago about how GM starts market testing their products on 5 and 6 year old kids. The theory is to make them brand aware at an early age and they will be more disposed to buy GM vehicles when they are older. How is this any different from brainwashing elementary school kids so they will be more disposed to voting Republican when they are older?

Paul Krugman made this point very well in yesterday's New York Times.   He calls the Republicans "The Anti-Science Party." 

It was stunning when Jon Huntsman got everyone in a tizzy the other day when he actually tweeted:  "I believe in evolution, and I'm with the scientists on global warming.  Call me crazy."

He was responding to the lunacy of his party. 


If we can get them to fix these quotes at the MLK memorial, maybe they can move on from there to the FDR memorial. It's been a few years since I've been there, but as far as I know they still have there, engraved in stone, the freestanding quote "I hate war." Though FDR did utter these words in this order, it was as part of a statement to the effect that (though I don't remember the precise wording) "I hate war, but if war it must be, let us be prepared." Lopping the end off may have satisfied some curator determined to show that FDR was a pacifist at heart (who knew?), but it turns the meaning of his statement almost on its head. What is it with these folks?

Wow.    That's a massively stupid cut.  

Your earthquake experienced validated mine. I was on the 13th floor of one of the Skyline buildings. This whole complex of 8 buildings is Department of Defense. Of course we all assumed we'd been bombed, and we evacuated the hell out of that building. Everyone who says how stupid we are in DC for evacuating buildings and not just staying put like they do in LA obviously is not from here. We're a target and we know it every day.


I defy anyone with a heart not to be touched by this story.


Dog mourns at casket of fallen Navy SEAL (

Yeah, I twote that.   The photo alone rips your heart out. 

Need your opinion on whether this action is worse than bicyclists on the sidewalk.... Was on a flight and the person next to me asked the occupant of the seat in front of him to not recline because he was going to use his laptop. (he didn't say please, I should note). I didn't think much of it until I noticed that he didn't even have a laptop. Then, as soon as the flight took off, he immediately RECLINED his seat! When I said something to him about it, he said that he has a commercial pilot's license, to which I responded that doesn't give him the license to be a jerk.

Wow.    That is a new wrinkle for bad behavior. 

So we don't have to get off our cyber butts and hunt for the quote, could you let us know King's quote and how it was bastardized?

Go to the MLK poll.   The link is in there.    Or Google "Rachel Manteuffel" and "drum major" 

What I said above

Hi, chatter. You can find the polls at the bottom of the page.  After the chat is over, the links will return back to the top. Thanks.

I wish your poll had had one more option on the sculptor question--I think the committee should have chosen the best artist for the job, no matter of country, but I don't think they did that. I really dislike the monument (though I haven't seen it in person yet), and think that there must have been someone else out there who could have created something...better. There's just something about the whole thing that seems heavy handed and crude. I'm young (ish), so MLK has always been a historical figure for me, but somehow I don't see him as a big hunk of rock. Also, his face looks a little off, though I feel a little bad about criticizing that since I definitely couldn't carve a face in stone. p.s. I hate the WWII memorial, too, so maybe I'm actually just old and crotchety.

I don't think it's fair to criticize a sculpture without seeing it.    I know several people who have seen this and do think it is Mao-like -- almost totalitarian.   But I won't buy that until I'm there. 

Sculpture is really intended to be witnessed live.   For example, here is my favorite sculpture from the National Gallery, by Pietro Magni.      Doesn't look like much, does it?   Well, up close it is sumptuous.   Breathtakingly beautiful, and sensual, and elegant and intellectual.  

So.  I reserve judgment on Martin. 

As to your journalistic question: Who am I hurting by doing something illegal in the pursuit of this story? Well, you are possibly hurting the paper itself along with your career. Doing illegal things to get the story is against the rules of the publication precisely for this reason. IT could be damaged. Not because it could be hurtful to someone specifically. That is why you follow the rules. They are your employer, you are there to do a job for them, they say don't do it this way so you don't. End of story. Just like the other journalist who would have been fine by saying 'no' because it isn't something she does, you would have been fine by saying 'no' as long as you explained "I'm sorry, the bosses consider this being "On Duty" which means I can do nothing that could damage their credibility. However, if we were just hanging out, I'd be so on the team." You are using your own personal justifications and prejudices to excuse bad behavior. As to alerting taxpayers of kickbacks - everyone knows this already, this is not news. And it certainly isn't life or death news justifying an outright lie to an interviewee. What would be news is absolutely clean politics. Find that. Let us know who THEY are and you won't even need any underhandedness to get it done. Amazing.

I started writing several responses, and kept erasing them.   Finally, I settled on this one, which has the treble virtues of truth, simplicity, and brevity:

I do not like you.

Hi. Where do you stand on the critical national issue of crisp vs. soggy green beans? You may wonder why I'm asking you of all people and not someone like Anthony Bourdain, and there are 2 reasons. First, because you have previously chatted on the issue of crisp vs. soggy bacon, so I know you put thoughts into these types of questions. Second, because we sat at the table that you and the Rib vacated at Ted's a couple of weeks ago, and the beans I had at Ted's are what got me thinking about this question. I would say it was an honor to have taken over your table, but . . . it wasn't. It was just a table. Sorry . . .

Crisp is almost always the right answer, except for bacon and mini-wheats.     All the rest, crisp.   

Your readers are convinced by Manteuffel (at least as of 7 PM on Monday). For me, though, her observation merely points to a larger issue, which is the way in which all quotation is misquotation, because meaning is determined by context. Even the most famous lines from the "I have a dream" speech suffer from this problem; most of the speech is about racism (and how easy it is to perpetuate, and how devastating it is to its victims), and to quote only the most optimistic bit is to misrepresent King's view of the world and his own role in it. I would have preferred if, instead of one-line quotations, the monument had contained a smaller number of longer pieces of prose (somewhat like JFK park in Cambridge, which has paragraph-long quotations). But I don't see the point of fixing that particular one--it's not so much more egregious than the others.

Oh, it most certainly is.    It is because it is not only incorrect, but it is demeaning to his image.   Those are the words of a puffed-up braggart.   King was not that. 


I the one who last time asked if your taboo subject was adoption. Yes, I understand that you don't want to touch a certain topic because innocent people would be hurt to hear you're against it. That would be adopted kids and the parents who adopt them. I'm not surprised I guessed wrong but I am surprised you were surprised by my question (What! Who on Earth thinks adoption is wrong? - or something like that.) So, the answer is, I do. I'm adopted and I know I'm not alone in this opinion. People have a quasi-religious, sanctimonious Hallmark card conception of adoption that it's a beautiful, wonderful thing. And then they breath a sigh of relief that they aren't. Your reaction says it all. We're still in the dark ages on this one. Thanks for answering, though, it was enlightening!

Wait.   You are adopted and you think adoption is wrong?  

What is the better alternative -- orphanages? 

I don't mean to be flip; am I not understanding your position?   Isn't adoption a way to pair infertile couples who want children with children who are unwanted?

I understand that adoptions can go horribly wrong -- there are bad people in the world, and people who should never be responsible for a child -- but that's true of natural parents, too.   

Help me out here -- I have a feeling I am not thinking this through enough, and you have a perfectly valid point I am not seeing. 

Gene, This letter to the editor, found in the San Francisco Chronicle on July 28, basically destroys my faith in the American comic reading public:

'Blondie' was wronged

I disagree with the writer of "Not entertained" (Letters, July 25), who would like "Blondie" assigned to the trash heap.

We are a household with teenagers and at least one gluttonous member (me). "Blondie" produces chuckles multiple times a week. Just the other day, my husband clipped "Blondie" and put it up in our bathroom. It might have been the very strip that caused the reader to write you; it could have been interpreted as being slightly sexist. We did not find it so.

My candidates for the trash heap: "Get Fuzzy," "Pearls Before Swine" and the very tedious "Garfield."

Susan da Silva, Kensington

Please provide an appropriate diatribe in response.

No diatribe.    I like Blondie.    It still has a pulse after all these years.   I'd kill a bunch of strips before I'd kill Blondie.  

Not PBS or Fuzzy, of course.    It's hard to fathom a reader who would kill those two strips AND Garfield. 

Gene - I'd love to hear your take on Obama these days. Like you, I'm a liberal (though in my 30s) and happily voted for Obama. I consider myself a realist, was prepared for the compromises necessary to get things done and in general, while not estatic about things, have been pretty satisfied. However, lately, I'm pissed. When health care was being worked on/passed, I was disappointed that he gave up so many liberal items (Medicare for all being the biggest, though not only example), but I got over it. Then we get to the debt ceiling debate and this times he has no excuse to think that the Republicans would work/compromise in good faith and yet he still drops the liberal goals right from the get-go without getting them to trade anything for them. In addition, he's doing a [bad] job of making the case for the liberal goals. I also believe that he has always been more of a centerist than many Dems believed he would be, but don't belileve that that explains away his handling of these issues in particular. I'd love to hear what your thoughts are these day. These chats are a highlight of my month - thanks so much for doing them.

Yeah.  Sigh.  I answered this a few questions ago. 

You realize, don't you, that your ode to the urban life in Washington, DC from the August 23rd update, reads just like an ode to small town life? You like your neighborhood for the very same reasons small town folk like their towns! I hope this doesn't bother you too much.

Well, yes, but I like it because it exists in the center of a vibrant city.   I would not want that without escape.   I want a place where I can also go downtown, in the middle of a hurricane, at 11 p.m., to watch the world's first stage production of "The Aristocrats," featuring a great deal of nudity and simulated pooping, mental retardation and sex.   Which I did on the night of the hurricane. 

It was supposed to be a foursome:  Me, my wife, Manteuffel, and her roommate.    For some reason relating to the wussiness of people unwilling to risk death for an opportunity to see gross perversity, it wound up being only Manteuffel and me. 

What a show.      There were bottles of booze passed around the audience.   No one gave a crap about anything.   WE HAD BRAVED A HURRICANE. 

It has been far too long since there's been a serious discussion of underwear in this chat (for some reason the monthly format seems to make you more. . . topical). My question: I had one ex-girlfriend who wore only bras that opened in the front, and another who wore only ones that opened in the back. I found the front-opening ones more fun when I opened them and more sexy when she did. They also seem easier on the elbows for daily, rapid dressing, without the whole behind-the-back move. So why don't all women wear them? Are they just more expensive? I don't know if it makes a difference, but the back-opening-wearer wore a larger cup size.



When I first saw the line, I needed a password eight characters long so I picked Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. I thought, as someone who reads both Bruce Schneier, and your former colleague Brian Krebs, that "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" is an excellent password. It's both memorable and hard to guess.

I don't follow your reasoning.  

Wouldn't "Snow White and the Nine Dwarves" be a better password?

Or "Snow White and the Seven Dwarv7s?"

I know you've mentioned this topic over the past several chats, and wanted to weigh in with my views. I don't think you'd be enamored of female college students as you might think -- and I say that from experience. I taught a class as an adjunct professor two years ago, when I had just turned 30 (and, at the time, was very much a single guy). As most college classes are, mine was majority female, and yet the temptation to partake of them physically -- even if it was available, which it wasn't -- didn't interest me that much. The lack of interest didn't have to do with looks -- because some were the very flower of youthful femininity. The lack of interest stemmed more from the fact that 30 year olds and 20 year olds inhabit different worlds. They care about Justin Bieber, Facebook posts, and sorority life; I cared more about politics and making my mortgage payments. The kicker for me -- and I'm pretty sure it would be for you too -- was reading their papers. In many cases, the grammar -- or lack thereof -- drove me nuts. I'm guessing it would do the same to you (not to mention PtheP). This was an Honors class, mind you, so the students weren't dummies. But for me, good writing has been a turn-on (believe it or not), as it connotes intelligence in my mind. This writing was largely a turn off. All that said, there was one student who I MIGHT have been tempted to have a dalliance with. She was attractive, could write reasonably well, and seemed more mature for her age. But nothing happened, or came remotely close to happening -- I thought of a LOT of reasons why I didn't want to go there (losing the part-time teaching gig, and likely my full-time job, being the best of them). Bottom line: I think this idea is more far-fetched for someone like you than you might think. My guess is that after spending a week or two in class, you would end up not attracted to your female students, but spend half the time complaining about what an old fart you had become, and half the time acting like an old fart (i.e., questioning your students' naivete). At least that's how I felt -- and I was half your age at the time.

Agh.   I forgot.  I was going to do a poll on this subject.   Okay, next month. 


I found the whole debate interesting, but I have been certain that Jeffrey MacDonald murdered his family since I read his claim that the Manson-like group he says killed his family chanted, "Acid is groovy, kill the pigs." "Acid" and "groovy" belong to two separate universes. No one who ever uttered the word "groovy" (which is from the Beach Boys '60s) would have anything to do with acid, and no one who did acid (the Woodstock '60s -- as my husband likes to say, "The Sixties" was from 1965 to 1975) would have uttered the word "groovy." Except in a sneering or ironic way, not while actually on acid. MacDonald's tone-deafness to the counterculture is what I'd expect of a Green Beret from back then. He made up the whole thing to cover his crime. (I guess I should end this post with "discuss" -- but I mean you'll discuss it anyway if it gets posted, right?) Anyway, this is my firm opinion.

It is impossible to read "Fatal Vision" and not KNOW that he killed his wife and child.  Impossible. 

My wife is good friends with the prosecutor from that case. 

Jeffrey MacDonald did it.   Whatever happens to him,  including re-trial and exoneration:  Jeffrey MacDonald did it.   

I have experienced this a few times. It is terrifying. Your brain is awake, but you can't move your body. You can lie there and think, "I'm going to move my right arm," but NOTHING HAPPENS. The sense of powerlessness is overwhelming. Someone could come in and stab you with a knife, and you'd be aware of it, but you'd also be unable to do anything about it.

Got a few posts like this, from sufferers.   Wow. 

Joel Achenbach has experienced this, I think.   He once experienced it through the entire length of Stairway to Heaven, I believe, and thinks he didn't breathe. 

Do you think that the same people who embrace religion because they have a fear of the unknown are more likely to "hate" gays because they cannot understand them either? I live in the heart of the Midwest, deep in the Bible belt, and still cannot understand the intolerance of many people here. The link I keep finding (at least in this part of Missouri) is that the more you say you love God here, the more you judge other people for what they do, how they look, etc. It's very confusing to me. I do not believe in a god, but I abide by the "treat others as you would want to be treated." Why can't everyone do the same?

Gay marriage is my favorite question on which to confront an opponent.    Because I have the indisputed moral high ground and they are nose deep in the filth and muck.  

I don't think, though, that there is a general correlation between religion and bigotry.  

That's how I see my presidential choices. Sad, really.

Oh, I don't think Obama is incompetent.   I just think he is weak on will, and unaware of his potential power.   And willing to compromise to a degree that suggests a lack of spine.  

He is 180 percent better than anyone else out there right now.    But yes, it is a defensive vote. 

Front opening bras dip lower in the front. For larger chested women, and even women with boobs shaped a certain way, this can result in uncofortable, unsightly spillage. Also, the elbow strain can be avoided by putting the pra on backwards and inside out, clasping it in front, sliding it around, and flipping it up. Super easy.

Thank you. 

Perhaps the designers think that no one will read the longer quotes, so they edit them (and not particularly well)? Older memorials - Lincoln, Jefferson, feature long quotes. Newer memorials - MLK, FDR, feature short quotes. They're dumbing down everything, even our memorials. Soundbyte monuments.


I got so angry at the way angry tea party loons would use the quote "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants" from Thomas Jefferson to justify bringing concealed weapons to gatherings. Just because you have issues with the size of your own anatomy doesn't mean you get to pack heat or pull a quote out of context to justify it.

This reminds me that toward the end of his life, when he was having prostate problems,  Jefferson catheterized himself to try to relieve the pain. 

That is courage. 

Every time I get exasperated with President Obama and fantasize about not voting for him in 2012, I just think of the Supreme Court and the nominees that whoever his opponent is would make if elected. Then, like you, I resolve to vote for Obama again.

Oh, absolutely.    I meant it:  I will be voting ENTHUSIASTICALLY.     There is more quality difference between Obama and Perry, for example, than between FDR and Wendell Willkie. 

In Florida, we were finishing our meal at a Red Lobster when a minor fire broke out in the kitchen. We were hustled out. I left what I thought the total would be and a tip. At our next stop, I realised the tip was only about 5% so we went back to fix it.

Let us all stop to primly applaud you. 

So I was in a car when the earthquake hit ... and didn't feel a thing. I've heard from others in cars that they also didn't feel it. Why is that??

Dunno.  Missey Tisot, a friend of mine who walks dogs for a living, was out in the street walking some dogs when suddenly people burst from their houses, yelling "WHAT WAS THAT?"    She felt.... zero. 

Gene, I was never really in great danger during the quake. I work on the second story of a two story building and I realized it was an earthquake after about three seconds of confusion. What surprises me is what came into my head next. 9/11. The moment I realized the building was shaking, in some way that I can't quite explain or articulate, the idea (not the images, but the notion) of those people who could have fled the World Trade Center popped in my mind. I realize that although I lost no one close to me, knew no one who perished, I still hold this anger --anger! --- when I think of those people, especially in the second tower, who might be alive if they had said "Heck with staying calm. I'm getting out until this is over!" Perhaps it is simply a symptom of all the retrospectives we are about to face, but somehow it was in my mind. So when the split second of fear had ebbed, my next thought was: "I will not be the guy who died from nonchalance" and I ran like hell until I was outside my office.



Janet Malcolm notwithstanding, that was a great book.  

I have two very important questions for you. Were you situated near or at the spot where, when you look up at the centurions, you can see that they were carved to be anatomically correct and historically accurate under their tunics? And if so, did you take this journalist to see them before the earthquake hit?

That is an urban legend, no? 

I guess at 47, I'm officially old. Here's how I know: Every time I read DateLab and the participants say things like, "We had so much in common and I really liked him/her and felt like talking for the next six hours, but there just wasn't that spark," I want to throttle them. Do people not realize how few true connections there are in this life, and that we must nurture them, not blow them off? Geez.

I agree! 

Gene, you are against adoption? I think I missed this talk.



I had said there was an issue about which I had strong feelings that I could never publicly voice.      This person was guessing that I was against adoption. 

I am not against adoption.  I still have no idea how anyone could be. 

"Everyone who says how stupid we are in DC for evacuating buildings and not just staying put like they do in LA obviously is not from here. We're a target and we know it every day. " But I would say blinding evacuating a building is also stupid. In a fire, you don't open a door and exit without checking to see if there is fire on the other side. As such, assuming we were bombed and then evacuating could (and theroretically did) put people in more danger. As you said in your intro, the Mumbai attacks had people waiting for those evacuating. I say in all cases, you check to see what's going on before evacutaing (or not)

I just want to say that Union Station was emptied within about three minutes.    Everyone bolted.   

How are we to know what was first and second? You presume that we know? I do not see it in your introduction. Or did I miss it? I do miss a lot.

It is in the MLK poll.    

When I first flew with my then-boyfriend, I was horrified to find out he had no problems putting his airline seat back, even if there was someone sitting behind him. I am happy to report, that after much lecturing from me, he has now come to see how horrible this and told me about how on a flight back from Vegas he was mad because the person in front of him leaned the seat back; he said he refused to put his back. One person at a time!

You have done good.     Gold star. 

In an earlier chat you talked about how there could never be absolute proof that God does not exist while there was one obvious way that God could prove his existence. I actually believe that there is a second method which would prove that God exists - at least it would prove it to me. Say that we find another race of intelligent alien life. If they had another religion that exactly copied one of ours that would be proof for me that, that religion is true. I want to be clear that I do not mean a general be nice to people, Golden Rule, I mean an exact link. For example, there are 613 commandments in Judaism, if an alien race had a religion that was exactly like Judaism and had the same 613 commandments that would be proof enough for me. I know that some people would not accept it - work of the Devil or something like that- but I think that it would prove that God had told the same things to different species. At least it would prove it to me.

Whoa.   A very interesting idea.     

If the parallel was shocking, that would move me a bit, yeah! 

This was a tangent to the story about how you got the sick corrupt guy to tell you what the symbols in his bribery ledger meant, but my curiosity was piqued. Can you explain what the coding system was and how it worked? He said it was an old retailer's system: was it something like this

No, they were not letters, they were seemingly meaningless symbols, as I recall. 

This was, sigh, 36 years ago. 

I live here. Yes, I am sorry too but I love the Adirondacks. The only thing I can say regarding the hospital interview is Dan O'Connell. Anything one can do to expose the graft up here is acceptable.

Dan O'Connell was the long-time crooked boss of Democratic politics in Albany.   By the time I got there he was a dying old man.     One of the joys of my life was interviewing him shortly before he died, and telling him my favorite Dan O'Connell joke, which he hadn't heard and laughed at heartily.    This was around 1974. 

LBJ and Lady Bird and Dan O'Connell were alone in a boat in the Gulf of Mexico when a squall came up and sank the boat.   There was only one life preserver.     Lady Bird took it because she was the only woman.    But then LBJ grabbed it from her, saying that as president, his life was more important. 

Dan O'Connell argued Lyndon had a vice president to replace him but that if Dan died, the most important democratic machine in the country would die with him. 

So, all being Democrats, they decided to put it to a vote.   O'Connell won, 27-2.  

Saw this Maryland license plate on a big truck the other day: "G F Y S" (spaces in the original). Does that immediately bring to mind something you wouldn't say to your mother? I don't know whether I have a nasty mind or the people at the personalized license plate offices need to spend more time with teenagers. Remember the VA plate "Bologma"? None of the state license plate offices have an easy way for people to let them know they've let one slip through. I wish they'd all come up with one.

That's excellent.    The Y and the S should really have no space between them.    Maybe someone will order that version up now. 

This comic says it all about password strength: "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" would be a great password, though not as great as "correct horse battery staple", especially because "Dwarves" is spelled "Dwarfs" in the title of the movie. The improvements of "Nine Dwarves" and "Seven Dwarv7s" would be somewhat marginal. Of course, you should never use the exact password that someone has used as a sample of a strong password, including "correct horse battery staple" -- you should use an analogous password that hasn't actually appeared anywhere. Googlenopes, in general, would make great passwords.

Thank you.   I thought that great passwords had to have numbers and symbols in them.    My gmail password is eight random digits.  Random to anyone but me. 

For those of us a bit more well-endowed, bras that clasp in the front are completely impractical. They do not offer enough support or coverage.

Again, thank you.   

Some people can take any situation and turn themselves into a victim. Reminds me of the Addams Family film where the woman went bad from the wrong Barbie doll. OOPS!

Well, even given that a person might have been adopted by abusive parents, I'm STILL not getting moving from there to being against adoption in principle. 

Why it's a good password, in comic form.

Ah.  Thank you.  

"There is more quality difference between Obama and Perry, for example, than between FDR and Wendell Willkie" Great idea! How do you rate these differences, referring not to ideology but quality: Nixon-Humphrey Johnson-Goldwater Bush 43-Kerry Bush 41-Dukakis Clinton-Bush 41 Sometimes it can be close at the high end of the scale, and sometimes close at the low end.

Yeah, this is interesting, isn't it?    I think Nixon-Humphrey was a huge difference.  (I actually LIKED that old dirty  pol Hubert.)      And I think Gore-W was huge.  

Gene, I know you are the expert on old dogs, but I have a question about old cats, specifically, when it is time to say goodbye. My 19-year-old cat has kidney failure and requires thrice-weekly subcutaneous fluids that I give at home. He is interested in food, but barely eats anything, and has lost so much weight that I can't believe he is still mobile. He spends 99 percent of his time curled up on his bed, although he will still come over to be petted and seems to enjoy attention. Still hitting the litter box. When do I know it is time to let him go? I would like to have a vet come over and do it at home, but I can barely conceive of life without him.

Molly is sitting right here.   Just read your question to her.   Her answer: 

"This is always a hard decision, and you are asking exactly the right question.  You don't have to wait until an animal is suffering; the best call is just before the suffering starts.  You sound like you are there -- quality of life is diminished to that extent.  "

Do vegans breast-feed their babies?

Molly has a vegan friend, also a veterinarian, who has an infant boy.    She breast-feeds the baby, even though she plans to raise the baby vegan to whatever extent it is healthy. 

Why is this okay?  Because breast milk does not violate the generally understood rules of political veganism, which is based on the resolve to not abuse animals. 


The Mall memorial that takes the longest to read is, of course, Vietnam. By amazing coincidence it's also far and away the best.

It is the best.  Jefferson's is pretty great, too. 

So next month we'll have a poll about "normal", law-abiding males and attraction to young females? You promise? I get more interesting passive knowledge of behavior and society from these chats than I did from all my years in college.

Yes.  There will be parallel questions for women, too.    I have to think em up.   Send nominees to me at

Gene, this discussion reminds me of Bill Maher's show a few weeks ago where he cried out for a fanatical left wing candidate to balance the Tea Party and right wing crazies. I see you as being the perfect candidate. You are atheist, undyingly liberal on most issues, and you support VPLs. All you have to do is get a few key catch phrases ("By eviscerating educational standards, the Republicans are ensuring our grandchildren will be the Chinese nation's working class") and you are set to roll! Are you ready to stand up for your country?

You may have just given me an idea for a column, at least. 

Your second one carries the day. But your third reason begs the question.

Thank you for using the phrase correctly. 

I work on the 10th floor of a building downtown, and really, none of us had any idea what we were supposed to do. We evacuated because the building management told us to, but we could already tell that the building and everything around us was still standing.


"Did you evacuate?"

"Yes, then I left the building." 

My parents expect me to marry some perfect cookie-cutter guy, who looks good on paper. They have disapproved of my boyfriend from the beginning because he's not some perfect knight in shining armor. My bf and I are engaged and I need to tell my parents. I know I am making the right decision for me, yet I am sad and mad at my parents. Our relationship is strained, I barely see them now, and I know they will flip and probably refuse to come to the wedding. I really see no way out of this mess other than just going with what is best for me.....right?


I DO find that talking sometimes really helps, though.  A conversation in which you tell them you know they disapprove, and you care about their opinions, but here's wny you think they're wrong.   

Did the WP nix your poll about attraction to teenagers?

Nope, my screwup.   Next week's update.   Big poll.  

My dad died of lymphoma when I was 17, my mom of ALS when I was 24. I quit my job and was her full-time caretaker till the end. I'm glad my dad's doctor was willing to give him heavy sedation when his brain was gone and the cancer cells and pain were all that were left. I'm glad my mom ran out of oxygen in her sleep, before her doctors could tell her it was time to decide about a breathing tube. I'm also so, so glad that this fellow has found a non-messy way to die. He is incredibly brave, and must love his daughter very much. I suspect that those who think Jack Kevorkian was evil have never had a family member with ALS.

For those who missed it in the updates, this is referring to this extraordinary piece by the NYT's Dudley Clendinen, who is dying. 

And to the poster, thank you so much for your second post.  It means a great deal to me, and I will pass it along to Dave as well.   

Several chats ago, you had a poll that referenced my specific problem, but nothing about it was referenced in that chat or ever after. My problem: when I taste something that is mildly sour, or sometimes not even sour at all, I experience an extreme sour reaction. It's painful. But it's just that first bite or sip. After that, no problem. I can continue consuming without issue. It's just the first taste. So, what's my problem? Should I seek the services of Marcus Bachmann?

Me, too.    And I have never found anyone else who even knows what I am talking about.    Yay. 

This dancing isn't quite as bad as the item you posted in the Aug. 16 update -- here the execution is fine, it's the choreography that is remarkable, with bonus points for being big group numbers. From "Heisser Sommer," the 1968 East German beach musical:

Ein heisser Sommer wie wunderbar

Heißer Sommer - Das darf nicht wahr sein

Unfortunately, there are even more ridiculous dance sequences from the film that do not seem to have made it onto YouTube. DK

I am posting this sight unseen, so I hope it is clean.    Mostly I wanted people to see your first link, the thing I had in the update. 

I live for these bras! They are fun, sexy-like-a-gun-holster, and distribute the weight of your, uh, shelf so much better! Why don't women wear them more often? Necklines. Front-close bras are almost always racer-back style (which is best!) but means visible bra-straps for most scoop neck and other common necklines. Sigh. I look fantastic in boatneck shirts (I am, of course, hot), and if I could only combine them with out those trampy visible straps I'd be in heaven.

I should mention that at the age of 18, I learned how to unhook a bra in two seconds, from the outside.  I still have this skill and annoy the Rib with it every once in a while.   Just for fun.   I am a RIOT to have around.   

Speaking of which, you all saw this, right? 

Here's the thing about Obama: I think he's doing the absolute best he can, given the amount of crazy he's up against. In both cases (health care and the debt ceiling) the Republicans were on the side of the "default" option (what happens if no agreement is reached), so he had to sacrifice more to outweigh inertia. It sucks, but I actually do believe the country is better off for his caving. Now, if he wins election and doesn't let ALL the Bush tax cuts expire, I'll be hugely pissed. I'm writing my reps about it early and often.

I wish I agreed.    

My family of four from Maryland decided to take a stacation this year. On Tuesday morning we toured the White House and then headed to our 1:30 p.m. tour of the Washington Monument. . As you can imagine when the building started swaying we were concerned but the really scary part was when the concrete started falling on us. Our 10-year old son was the first one out of the monument -- he literally hurled himself down the 500+ steps. We were going to buy a commerative white house christmas ornament but have decided instead to buy a Washington Monument ornament. We'll flick it when we go by. Glad everyone was safe

Somehow I suspect you have misused "literally."  

And why is that? Because you believe I'm correct? Because you believe I am not correct and feel I'm a dried up prude?

Because you sound like an intolerant rules-driven prune. 

"As such, assuming we were bombed and then evacuating could (and theroretically did) put people in more danger. As you said in your intro, the Mumbai attacks had people waiting for those evacuating. I say in all cases, you check to see what's going on before evacutaing (or not)" Sure, looking back, maybe we did the wrong thing in fleeing. Maybe the earthquake wasn't that big a deal. But when you're 13 stories up, your office is shaking, your desk drawers are opening and closing, your officemates are in a panic, you don't really have time to think through all the possibilities. You think one thing and you act. If you think 'oh, it's an earthquake,' you stay put. If you think 'omg, it's 9/11,' you run like hell. You can say all you want in hindsight, but it was really freakin scary.

I am hearing more scary stories in this poll that I have read elsewhere.    I thought I was almost alone in pure terror.   

One thing I meant to mention:  This was an odd bonding moment between me and Jonas.   We'll never forget each other.   We almost evacuated together.   Haha. 

I am in Union Station every day. The statues ARE anatomically correct behind the shields, and although it is possible to see that from certain angles on the main level, it is even easier to see from the seating areas on the second level. The artist was forced to put the shields on them. They were supposed to have it all hang out.

Really?  I have looked and never seen this.   ALL are anatomically correct? 

The poster with the FDR quote is quite misleading: FDR's quote: "I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen men coughing out their gassed lungs. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen 200 limping, exhausted men come out of line—the survivors of a regiment of 1,000 that went forward 48 hours before. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war. " I think the "I hate war" cut is quite appropriate. (Chautauqua, New York, 1936)

WOW.  Thank you.   Man, that is a quote.    And you're right.   That quote has not been butchered, really! 

So did I. I expected great things from him as President. Just think what he could have done to save the USA. All lost.

One reason I liked him is that he had a fine sense of humor.    Unlike the man who beat him. 

If you don't like your bacon crisp, how do you eat it? Floppy and oily like it's been sitting around all day under a broken heating lamp?

Yes.   Crisp bacon is overcooked meat, pure and simple.   Bacon should be floppy. 

Thank you all, terrific chat.   And next week's update will be hot.    We'll have the poll and the Poet and the Birthday Girl... 

In This Chat
Gene Weingarten
Gene Weingarten is the humor writer for The Washington Post. His column, Below the Beltway, has appeared weekly in the Post's Sunday magazine since July 2000 and has been distributed nationwide on The Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 2008 and 2010.

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