Chatological Humor: Update <a href="" target="_blank">8.31</a> | <a href="" target="_blank">9.07</a> | <a href="" target="_blank">9.14</a> | <a href="" target="_blank">9.21</a>

Aug 24, 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.

UPDATED 8.31.10

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, Aug. 24 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.

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.



The Introduction!


Good afternoon. 


We begin today with the latest episode in The Horror That is My Life, with a true story of what happened to me recently on the street near my home. 


I was walking Murphy when a man greeted me in a friendly fashion.  Clearly, he was a neighbor; he had dry cleaning in his arms.   He said, "Hey, Gene, we've moved out of Kim's house to a place on Kentucky Avenue." 


I was in a bit of a pickle.    Clearly this man knew me, and knew me pretty well, but because of a problem I have recognizing faces, I simply could not place him.  He did look familiar.    My mind, such as it is, began taking a good, solid inventory of itself, and reached certain conclusions.   After all, he had given me a solid hint.   Then, a slap-to-the-forehead reveleation!    There had recently been a fire on my block, in the house of my neighbor, Kim.   The house had been badly damaged, and everyone had had to move out.  I remembered there were people renting  the basement apartment!   This must be the guy!   


Yay!  I was saved the embarrassment of not knowing who he was!  And so I said,  "Oh, that' s great!   Did you know that Kim finally found a place across the street?"  And I pointed cheerfully to the house she had just rented. 


This man's face fell.   An odd look painted his face.   It was almost... anguish.   


Goodness.   Had he and Kim had some sort of painful falling-out? 


Unbowed, I persevered. 


"It's good she found a place in the neighborhood, isn't it?  We'd missed her for a while!   But she's back!" 


The man muttered something equivocal, and walked on.   Rather unfriendly, I thought.     


It wasn't until a couple of minutes later, when he was out of sight, that I realized.   There had been two Kims in the neighborhood.   I'd been thinking of the wrong one.  HIS Kim was his ex-wife, my friend, the one who had died in a car crash about a year ago.   After her death, he had moved back into Kim's house to be with their two children.   He'd been trying to tell me that they had finally moved away, to escape from memories, to another house in the neighborhood. 


I will tell you that the phone conversation he and I had that night was one of the funniest ten minutes in either of our lives.   "What did you THINK I was talking about?"  I asked him.   "I had no idea," he said, "but I just hoped the day was going to get better for both of us." 




I have a new book out, "The Fiddler in the Subway," which is an anthology of stories I've written over the last 15 years.     Some weeks ago, I realized that this has to be one of the "cleanest" books ever published.   Every piece in it has been read by at least two Post copyeditors, and Post copyeditors are the best in the business.   Then, they were re-read by a copyeditor at Simon & Schuster, then they were re-read, at least five times, by me.   I decided it was impossible that this book had even a single typo, misspelling or unintentional grammatical  error.  (Most first editions have at least a few.)   So, on Twitter and Facebook, I began offering prizes for anyone who found one.   The prize offers have been escalating, from merely an autographed copy to ... a framed, autographed pair of underpants belonging to a Pulitzer prizewinner.  (I never specified whose.)


No one has won.   The book is, in fact, perfect.    


Or so I thought.   One day last week, I was re-reading a story in the book, and I discovered an egregious error.   It is an error in word usage -- I used one word when I had clearly intended to use another.   The word I used is wrong, wrong, wrong.    This mistake -- and it is clearly a mistake, though very hard to see -- was missed by a series of professional word engineers.   It had appeared that way in The Post, and it appears that way in the book. 


Today, I issue The Greatest Copy Editing Challenge in the History of The World. 


The first person to find the mistake and email it to me at will received the following:   1) A copy of the book, autographed for, and dedicated to,  "the greatest copy editor in the world."   2) the framed underpants of a Pulitzer winner, and 3) A wristwatch purchased in Turkmenistan in 1995, featuring the likeness of his Excellency Turkmenbashi The Great, the nutball exalted ruler who, among other things, outlawed makeup because Turkmen women were beautiful enough, and ordered his subjects to gnaw on bones to strengthen their teeth.    He's dead now.  Watches no longer bear his likeness.  This is priceless. 


Caveats:  Though I'd love to hear about any other errors you find (you'll find none, I believe) the previous offers are rescinded and replaced with this one.   This is not a typo or an error in grammar or a misspelling, or a factual error.  It is incorrect word usage, and it is obviously wrong, not something that can be reasonably debated.  It is not something that can be attributed to vernacular.   It is plain wrong.  You will find it in the main part of the book -- one of the stories or essays that had been previously printed in The Post.   It is not from the Introduction. 


Okay... go. 




Finally, last night Molly told me something disturbing.    I'm going to share it with you now, mostly as a public service.    The question is, what do the following items have in common:  Chewing gum, corn cobs, raw bread dough, Gorilla Glue, grapes, onions, macadamia nuts, and Aleve?


Take five seconds. 




Each of these things is deadly to dogs and cats.    Chewing gum contains xylitol, which is a liver toxin to them, and triggers a potentially fatal blood-sugar reaction.  Dogs die from corn cobs all the time -- via intestinal destruction.   Grapes and raisins cause acute kidney failure.  Macadamia nuts: An inability to stand or use their hind limbs, followed by depression, vomiting, ataxia, tremors, hyperthermia, and sometimes death.  Gorilla glue fuses their insides together for a painful, writhing death.  Onions: severe anemia from destruction of red blood cells.   Grapes: acute kidney failure.    I forget what the bread dough did, but it was BAD.  


It's cheerful to have a doc around the house. 



A big thank you to my friend Tom Scocca for finding this great story about a pioneer of integration!   This is an entirely new class of aptonym.  -- And lastly, a special salute to those who contend that this is a low brow chat, we have this week's Clip of the Day.

Okay, let's go.  


So, building on your O-Reilly disgusted have you become with this whole WTC mosque controversy? To me, it's the clearest example of how it has become WAY too easy to incite the passions of people in the country. I say incite, but in reality it's really more of a frightening combination of exploit/manipulate/pervert. Everyone is scared of offending someone so logic loses out. Facts are twisted and common sense is ignored. Obama made a wonderful speech at the Ramadan dinner last Friday...then BACKTRACKED! What the hell is happening to us?

The mosque issue is deeply depressing to me, for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is Obama's shameful, cowardly  boing-back.  It's the first time I've been deeply disappointed in him.  

I'm not disappointed in the conservative mouthpieces here, because I expected no better:  Rock-ribbed conservative hot-button wedge issues tend to be demagogic, bull-doody "symbolic" causes designed to inflame the dopes and the bigots, to take their attention away from the fact that so much of the rest of the conservative agenda is against their best interests.   So we get grave crusades against  straw-man threats, like flag-burning, and gay marriage, and gun control.  And the Ground Zero mosque.  Which is not a mosque.  And is not Ground Zero. 

This thing is very ugly.   I am extremely heartened to see the results of the poll so far; as of this morning, our conservative readers were rejecting the conservative position here in significant numbers.  

You know, as I've said before, I am so liberal I should be tried for treason, and executed.    I know I am extreme.  But every once in a while an issue like this comes up that reminds me: The other guys -- the ones at the other extreme -- really, really, profoundly, suck.  


The best thing I've seen on the mosque was a couple of days ago, by Nick Kristof in The Times.   His point was that on this issue, Sarah Palin et al have neatly aligned themselves with Osama bin Laden.   That there's nothing he wants less than an effort at reconciliation and understand over 9/11 between Muslims and others.

So, was the punchline to the August 6 B&C an intentional tribute to the first ever Doonesbury cartoon?

Why, yes, it was!  Good of you to notice

So, for the sake of relations between the sexes, you are proposing that we return to the alphanumeric telephone numbers, which leveled the playing field for mathephobic women?

This column did not receive the outrage I expected.   And Rachel told me that she had just done this on the phone... to David Ignatius.    I think women just ... do ... it. 

Gene, there's a Jean Winegardner who wrote on the use of perjoratives (mostly "retard", since her son is autistic) as "humor". Come on, tell the truth: is this the Bizzarro Gene?

And she writes for the Times!  Awesome. 

Okay, I have to look into this.  It is very suspicious. 

What is the life expectancy of Pancho the parrot? I think that it'd be cool for your kids and grandkids to hear the warmth and wisdom of your voice after you pass away. But you should start training Pancho with memorable phrases like, "How often have I told you to clean up your room!", or, "You can remember the lyrics to your favorite songs, but why can't you ever remember to take the garbage out!".

Ah.  I meant to address this in the introduction.  Pancho, alas, is gone.   He dug a trough -- two of them -- in my forearm, to the degree that I realized I'd never be able to trust him enough to train.  He was actually gone before the column came out. 

I think Pancho was very smart.  He was in love with Vincent, and wanted to go back. 

Last week you wrote -- "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. " I am, in fact, a serial killer/rapist who has been known to ride my bike on the sidewalk while atomizing people with my special 'perfume' but at least I'm not a republican. Can I stay? How about if I promise to stop riding on the sidewalk?

I have thoughtlessly allowed too much time to go by since my last rant against people who ride bicycles on the sidewalk.   We will rectify this right now with a modified double dactyl. 

Higgledy piggledy

Bikes on the sidewalk are

Fine if you're teaching a

Youngster the ropes.

All other uses are 

Limited only to 

Nincompoops, jackasses, 

Douchebags and dopes. 


Gene, hoping to get your advice. My husband and I recently learned that he has some genetic issues that will make it very difficult, but not impossible, for us to have a baby, though we're pretty set on wanting and being ready to have one. However, we could bypass a lot of medical intervention and possible heartache if we choose to use donor sperm instead. Intellectually, we are on board with this idea, but emotionally it feels like a big step. What do you think - Is there any reason we shouldn't do it?

I was just discussing a closely related issue with my daughter last night, as we were walking the dogs.   We were discussing why some people seemed to think that adopted children were somehow a lesser blessing than having your own, or that you might love them a little less.   Neither of us understood how or why someone could feel that way.    Then Molly postulated an interesting theory: that you might find such people more among the population that didn't grow up with pets -- all of whom, of course, are "adopted."   And all of whom, of course, you learn to love profoundly. 

An interesting idea, tied in a little with your question.  I'm not sure why emotionally it should be such a big step.   

Thinking further, though, I wonder if your situation might actually create a difficult dynamic in a marriage -- more so than a straight-up adoption.    Are you worried that because the child would have your genetic makeup but not your husband's that this might create a source of strain between you?   

I'd urge you to go back to the pet paradigm.   You have a child, of any sort, it doesn't take very long at all to fall in love.    


And more importantly, who was the last star to rise up from the Yankees' farm system? That's why I like the Nats. It feels like looking forward, not backwards. Looking up, not down. And our stadium is in a nicer b*dw*rd neighborhood.

The last star to rise up from the Yankees farm system was Robinson Cano, about four years ago, and he will be in the hall of fame.  Then there's Phil Hughes, about two years ago, who will win 20 games this year.  

This is an unfair rap against the Yankees.  There are many FAIR raps against them, but this is unfair. 

Just bought a rowhouse on the Hill, near Eastern Market. As one of the area's most ardent supporters, what should a new Hill resident coming from Arlington know about the neighborhood? So far, rumors abound that you can be ticketed for parking in your own driveway (if you have one) due to DC public use laws... oh, what else should we be warned about? Suggestions please!

Don't know about ticketed for parking in your own driveway, but you can be cited for having an open liquor bottle in your front yard!  It happened to a neighbor. 

I've never lived in a better neighborhood. 

This video made me cry with joy for that man. If you undergo all the horrors and dehumanization of the Holocaust and then not only live but then thrive long enough to go dance on the ruins of Hitler's Final Solution machine to a Gloria Gaynor song surrounded by your grandchildren...then bravo, sir. You have won. And I think the bad dancing only contributed to it. Had it been a polished, well choreographed production, it would have been a little creepier.

Exactly right.  See next answer. 

First of all, thanks, Gene, for making me have to suck back tears during my 10am tea break. The video is beautiful because of who is in it. It's beautiful to think that someone who experienced that horror can return with his family and create something joyous. Yes, the music and the dancing are a bit silly and maybe a little trivial, but it's fun and fun isn't a crime, it's part of being human. I've been to Dachau as a child and the nightmares afterwards were intense. It's still incredibly real in my mind and having that feeling while watching the video at the same time as seeing a loving family support their grandfather and having so much fun doing it was overwhelming. I loved it. In a related note to the above and the rest of your polls, my mother's cousin married a European Jew who's parents had survived the Holocaust. He said that every time you laughed or kept silent at a racist comment or joke, you were allowing that racism to pervade further into people's consciousness. It's your human duty to speak out against racism. It's very much a "first they came..." line of thought.

I do not understand why people find this video to be objectionable.  It's actually been repeatedly pulled from Facebook -- the link is disabled.

 I have watched it several times, and shed a tear each time.   It's more than just sweet -- it's eloquent.  It's an eloquent refutation of Nazism,  a defiant  "so there."   It says: Look, we have grandchildren.   You failed, you bastards, you who died in a bunker. 

You know what it calls to mind?  There is a slogan in Israel, near the site of a terrorist bombing of a nightclub.  It says "Lo Nafseek Likod."   It means "We won't stop dancing."   You can't take our joy. 

I read Dave Kindred's book for which you provided significant insights. While I appreciated learning more about the workings of The Washington Post, it was sad to realize how fragile its existence is at this point. How did you feel about how Kindred handled the story?

I think he did great.  He loves newspapers, and it's obvious, but he was no sap about them, either.   

I'm female. I also once parked my car in a spot so tight that it was touching the cars next to me afterwards. (I was living on Capitol Hill and it was the only spot left on my street). I didn't take a picture of it afterwards. I also once witnessed my mother easily parallel park a Suburban with a U-Haul attached to it on Capitol Hill. She didn't gloat about it afterwards, she just parked and that was that. I'm trying to figure out if the "Great Male Achievement" is the parking or the bragging?

I think it's in the NATURE of the bragging.  Rachel wrote about this once, too, actually, but her bragging was demure.  Can you find that, Rachel?

From Rachel, who can't figure out how to answer Gene while she's bragging so hard.

Gene, I lean liberal, but I'm also an athiest. This makes me uncomfortable with either side, or any of the three answers you provided in your poll. I don't think it's right for the government to be involved at all in this issue. I also don't think it's right to build the mosque there, after all the Koran does instruct it's adherenets to kill non-believers. The 9/11 hijackers did precisely this, and I'm uncomfortable with liberal tolerance on this issue. But I'm also uncomfortable being associated with the raving right wing nuts who oppose this mosque simply because it is designed to glorify the wrong magical sky fairy. Where do people like me fit into this debate?

I love the "magical sky fairy."

I think the people like you fit into a group that needs to learn a little more about Islam, and how it is really practiced in most places on Earth.   

I think you may be the best person to address this squirmishness I have. I feel very uncomfortable with the concept of "trying" to get pregnant. When a friend or acquantaince talks about someone I know or even don't know "trying" to get pregnant it seems very weird to me. It's not just that I am now given information about someone's intimate life, it makes me feel like humans are cows where we intentionally breed them. I do have a child, and while she was unplanned, she was not unintentional. It seems to me that nature has a way of knowing when the stars are aligned so to speak for a good "product". "Trying", while maybe it is just my sense of the creepiness of the visual, seems counteractive to that process. Do I need to get over myself? Am I just a weenie, or does this have merit.

You need to get over yourself.  We ARE all animals, and if "trying to get pregnant" ooks you out, be glad you were never 37 and newly married and desperate for a child. 

From time to time, the media has been known to take an inflammatory quote out of context and blow it way out of proportion. When I first heard about the Dr. Laura thing, I thought it was a case of, "Why can black people say the N-word and white people can't?" Which is idiotic in its own right, but not unusual if you're arguing for racism. Certainly something we've all heard before, right? However, after listening to your youtube link of the actual conversation. Oh. My. God. It is SO MUCH worse than what I thought it was. SO. MUCH. WORSE. Gene, this has really rocked my world today.

It is, indeed, so much worse.   Dr. Laura reveals a great deal about herself in this rant -- to me, the worst moment was when she was telling this lady maybe you shouldn't have married out of your race. ... 


But, yes, underneath it all was this giant stupid straw man.  You have to be willfully ignorant to not understand why black people are empowered to use this word and white people are not.   It is not rocket science.   it is not a puzzlement.   

I think the mosque should not go where they plan. I think Dr. Laura was stupid to use the N-word. But I think the Holocaust Musical was awesome. What's the difference? The first two are the "winners" telling the "victims" how to feel, whereas the first is the victim proclaiming how he feels. Subtle but important difference. The first two are taunting of the people who have suffered a loss; the third is a wonderful example of the attitude of the people who have celebrated a loss. I'm a bit disappointed that you included the three together and -- in doing so -- seem to imply that they're more alike than they are. There's really a huge difference in the third.

You get no argument here; why do you think I was creating a moral equivalency?

What do you think of this?  Is it common for reporters to call people and pretend to be someone else, just to get in an interview? Or is this just the latest trend in journalism? Also, when quoting Steele, the blogger writes, "Michael Steele: Well, I don't know. Howard Dean went through a lot. People thought he said some {bad word} and done [sic] some embarassing things." Why wouldn't a reporter clean up that quote, get rid of the [sic]? Is it because Steele is black?

I added the cute brackets.  The right-angle ones are the blogger's. 

Every news organization has its own rules; you won't find many reputable ones that allow this sort of deception.  I have to say that Michael Steele was mighty patient with this guy, even after he fessed up to who he was.   I wouldn't have been that nice. 

To the original point:  The fact that the blogger was willing to set Steele up like this has an interesting effect on his whole piece:  I am inclined to believe it less.   On whose word to we accept that the conversation went exactly this way?   Not on David Broder's -- on the honor of a guy who would do this. 

(To me, what he did was only middleground sleazy.   He didn't HIDE what he did from the reader, or from Steele, in the end.  But still.)

You should do a poll. Something along the lines of: Gene is: A) Not at all self-absorbed and obnoxious. B) A little self-absorbed and obnoxious. C) Pretty self-absorbed and obnoxious, but I don't mind. D) Pretty self-absorbed and obnoxious, and it's starting to annoy me. E) Really self-absorbed and obnoxious, but I don't mind. E) Really self-absorbed and obnoxious, and it's starting to annoy me. F) Really self-absorbed and obnoxious, and it is so obnoxious that I've quit reading his columns. G) Really self-absorbed and obnoxious, and it is so obnoxious that I've quit reading his columns or chats. H) So self-absorbed and obnoxious that I hate him now. Really hate that guy. Or something. "G" would catch the liars.

But wouldn't this be an incredibly self-absorbed and obnoxious poll? 

I find this strangely relaxing: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly Theme


Apparently, the teabaggers who will be attending Glenn Beck's teabagger rally have been warned to stay off the green and yellow lines...because, you know...that where all the unwanted people live. "If you are on the subway stay on the Red line between Union Station and Shady Grove, Maryland. If you are on the Blue or Orange line do not go past Eastern Market (Capitol Hill) toward the Potomac Avenue stop and beyond; stay in NW DC and points in Virginia. Do not use the Green line or the Yellow line. These rules are even more important at night. There is of course nothing wrong with many other areas; but you don't know where you are, so you should not explore them." I guess they don't want to go to the National Archives to see the Constitution...not that they really care much about it.

Holy crap!    This is amazing.  I have not verified it... is it true?   For those out of towners, yes, they are basically proscribing areas where black people live.  

Maybe this isn't racist or alarmist: Maybe they were just concerned that in the dark, you might be more likely to physically bump into people with darker skin... 

At the end of last month's chat, a poster commented that expressed frustration with, and a desire to ding the doors of, cars parked too close to the line such that her driver's side door was inaccessible. Your reply was "You are evil. Inflicting damage on another's car, deliberately, out of pique, isn't right."

How do you reconcile that response with this very similar question back in October 2006?

"Help, ME: In the parking garage at my office building, many of the "good" spots -- those nearest the elevators -- are clearly marked for "compact" cars. They're not teeny -- I drive a standard four-door, and it fits in fine. However, many people park their SO not compact cars in those spots--we're talking full-sized pickup trucks, SUVs, etc. And, while most of them manage to technically be in the lines, it makes it nearly impossible to park next to them without dinging their door or climbing out the window or something. What can I do to these people? They make me SO MAD because they obviously have no concern for anyone but themselves. I need something to either exact revenge or calm myself before I have a heart attack. By the way, the garage does NOT fill up--it's not like these are the only spots left.

Gene Weingarten: Uh, you have stated your solution right in your question. See if you can find it. "

Don't tell me you weren't encouraging this guy to dent other's vehicles out of pique.

Interesting!  Yes, I was inconsistent.    There was a slight difference in the two questions -- a difference about the degree of intent -- but not enough to warrant my inconsistency.     The thing I was reacting to last week was the poster's intent to deliberately open her door into the offender's door -- from the inside -- with the intent to cause damage.  The previous poster, as I recall, was asking about just not caring about inflicting damage while getting INTO the car.     It's a significant difference.   Still -- I think I was too harsh on the evil person, above.    If someone parks so that you have no choice but to squeeze into your car, you are not obliged to be extra careful in how you squeeze, I guess.    I think there is a line: I would not try to leave a dent; I also wouldnt' beat myself up if I did. 

At first I read this and thought "Gene's really smart to offer this challenge to this group of people who would probably buy his book to try to win. Then I thought "Well, who the hell else would buy his book except the people who read this chat?" Then I thought "Wait, the prize is another copy of the book? What's second prize--2 copies?"

I waited for this.  I am guessing most people who would do this already have the book.   I am guessing the first correct entry will arrive in 4 days.  This is hard.  I am also guessing it will be a professional copyeditor. 

Gene/Rachel -- something is wrong with the Dr. Laura poll results. When I submitted my answers, it showed me the results to 2 questions, at least one of which was not a question asked in the poll. Glitch?

Anyone else having this problem?

While they have been with the team for some time, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera both came up the Yankees farm system. They are only the pilars of the Yankee championships.

There are championships to come.   They will be similarly underpinned. 

I heard you yesterday on Kojo Nnamdi's show (aside to those who missed it: it was pleasant but you didn't miss anything you don't already know). He repeated the full subtitle of your book several times, like a good talk show host, but each time it brought me up short. "America's foremost feature writer"? Really? I would have thought that you would have nominated, say, von Drehle for that position. Or did people think, hey, you're the incumbent Pulitzer winner, you must be the foremost feature writer, QED.

Well, those words got put on the cover at the last minute, after the second Pulitzer.   It became MATHEMATICALLY defensible!   No one else has won two for feature writing.  

Congrats on the new book. I have a question. The book is a collection of your previously-published works, and you mentioned they'd been edited.... Cynics among us would say, "What gives, I could put that together myself! Search the WaPo archives, print, staple, voila!" So I'm not a cynic (on this point), I'm ignorant. What goes into editing a collection of essays, columns, whatever, so they can be published in a "collection"? Do you fix errors, provide updates, shorten, lengthen, what?

They're mostly verbatim as they appeared.   You could probably compile the book on your own, by looking at the index on Amazon, and then finding the stories.  The only other think you'd be missing is the intro, but.... That's readable, in its entirety, on Amazon!

Lotta work, but do-able.   Of course, the book is only ten bucks.   

Gene, I saw a BMW 328i a few weeks ago with a license plate from a nearby state that read "BMW328i." Personalized license plates have always been a mystery to me in the first place, but why in the world would someone get one when he doesn't have anything interesting to share? Just showing off that he has money to burn? Wants everyone to know he lacks creativity?

It's also oddly redundant, but without any attendant irony, like that great moment from Woody Allen's "Crimes and Misdemeanors."  An old sage suddenly takes his own life by jumping out the window.  When it is learned that he left a suicide note, everyone hopes it will answer some great mystery of life.  What he wrote was, "I'm going out the window."

Not sure about that. I mean, how MUCH onion would a dog have to eat? When I was fostering and training a guide dog pup, I used to toss him pieces of raw onion when I was cooking, hoping to deter his relentless begging with the message "there's nothing tasty up here". (I did not know about the toxicity of onions.) He ate them happily, and asked for more. He never displayed any lethargy or peakedness or any other sign of anemia. He went on to live a long, worthy (obese-- he never got over the begging, and his blind man was happy to oblige) life.

And some dogs never get sick from chocolate.   It depends on your dog's chemistry.   I wouldn't try it.     Molly mentioned the corn cob thing to me one day, and I expressed surprised.  The next day at work, she said, a dog came in near death from corncob.   They had to operate, stat. 

"Death from Corncob" would be a great name for a rock band. 

Higgledy piggledy

Bikes on the sidewalk are

Fine if you're open to

Using your head.

Drivers are reckless

And not very careful;

They take a phone call

And I wind up dead.

Sissy.    If you are gonna ride on the sidewalk, get a tricycle. 

Contains neither a single-word line, nor the name of an individual. Otherwise clever.

I SAID it was a modified dactyl.      I KNOW dactyls. 

And in the state of Florida, it's illegal for unmarried women to go skydiving on Sundays. I'm just saying, there are dumb rules everywhere.

The Old Testaments says you shall be banished forever for having sex with a menstruating woman. 

Although I clearly understand why I (a white boy) am not allowed to use "the Dr. Laura word," I still think it's a topic worth discussing in fashionable salons such as college classrooms and this pixel-based communications location.

The answer, very simply, is that you cannot use it ironically, to tame its meaning.  Black people can. 

I loved the video, I thought it was powerful and beautiful. The ONLY thing I MIGHT change would be the shot of the grand kids in what looked to be a cattle car. That felt a little icky to me for some reason.

Interesting.  A little touristy!   And yet, clearly it is part of the exhibition:  Get in the cattle car, see how it felt.  Imagine 170 more people in this car. 

My dog when I was a kid ate anything. My favorite was a live toad, but she also ate a whole bag of Hershey's Kisses, foil and all. No ill effects and she lived to eat many other things. My cat now used to eat onions, because he loves tomato sauce in all forms - spaghetti sauce, etc. He just doesn't like salsa, because of the spicy. So I guess I'm lucky!

My lab, Clementine, once ate a bag of Hirshey's kisses, too!  She then threw it all up on Molly's face, in bed. 

She ate anything.  She ate aquarium gravel.   

The thing that hit me about the entire conversation was how she absolutely refused to even try to answer the caller's question, instead deciding to dwell on the "N" word for too long. Any time the caller tried to explain herself/her situation, Dr. L would cut her off with some other racially incensitive remark. That's what got me.

Also, she really wanted to talk about Obama: "See, you people finally got your black president, and you're STILL not satisfied."  

We have a son via a sperm donor and my husband loves him just as much (if not more) than his biological children. They are very close. I recommend a lot of open, frank discussions and check out some online resources/books. There are a lot of them out there. It's very important, though, for you both to be completely okay with this or else it will likely cause problems later. Gene, if this person contacts you offline, I can send you some resources for her.

You hearin' that, person? 

You: The Old Testaments says you shall be banished forever for having sex with a menstruating woman. Typical of most religions. They lay down a strict set of laws, instead of just letting you go with the flow.


I don't know if it made it to the book; however, Lyn Balfour did not "win" the bronze star. One does not "win" a medal. A medal can be earned. It can be awarded. It can be received. It's never "won". It's not like she took third place.

No, the answer is not as dorky or debatable as that.   

A few months ago, you had the discussion about how "grow a pair" was an inappropriate phrase for toughening up since testicles are fragile and vulnerable, and how growing a vagina - the muscular organ that propels children - is better. I just wanted you to know I took that to heart and told it to my husband. We both laughed at the time, but the other day, I heard him tell someone "Don't be a scrotum" in place of the p-word. Have I made progress?

You have. 

WHAT? Really? I had the exact opposite reaction. When I first heard Dr. Laura about the controversy I assumed it was another right wing type going off the deep end. But in hearing the actual dialogue it seemed perfectly in context and within reasonable discussion of race issues in this country. She probably repeated it gratuitously, in a provocative, inflammatory manner, but that's just rhetoric and you can't say it would have been OK to say once or twice but not a dozen times.

Not in my opinion.   She revealed ugly in virtually every line.   Of course the funniest thing was that she claimed the furor was infringing her First Amendment rights. 

It's not your First Amendment right to not be criticized. 

Gene- A few weeks ago you posted a column written in the Atlantic (maybe) about a former lover who was getting married. I am unable to watch the video chats, so could you give us your opinion on this column? I don't mind the new formats, but I hate, hate, hate the video chats. Your voice sounds tinny and effeminate, and the video makes you look fat.

It is the magic of video editing that makes Gene look fat.  AND sound tinny and effeminate.  That took Paul days. 

"Emily C. Malarkey, the Baltimore attorney representing Silver Spring resident Yesenia Rivera..."

She seems to have won the case!

Gene, I'm dying to know your thoughts on the poll in the update! Up until maybe last week or so I wouldn't have seen anything wrong with what he did. I would have found it incredibly romantic! Due to my own circumstances though, I suddenly see it as a bit childish. There is something to be said for grace and quiet, unrequited love. Also, you were reading a script in that video, weren't you?

Oh, you are referring to that self-absorbed, insensitive, creepy, manipulative, hurtful, stalker-ish, arrogant, narcissistic, tin-eared love letter from Andrew Cohen to his ex-girlfriend ("the love of my life") on her wedding day.    I didn't like it much. 

Why?  Well, for one thing, despite its stated intent, it was all about HIM.  All the wonderful things about her are seen through the prism of HIM.  For another, it was bound to deeply hurt her on her wedding day -- what bride wants this sort of emotional mess to deal with on that particular day?  For another, he is disingenuous; you don't have to read very far between the lines to see that he blames her for his breakup.   And finally -- what is served by this?  Isn't there a clear intimation that he is letting her know that if this little marriage thing doesn't quite work out.... 


And yes, I was reading a script in that video.  Though I wrote the script.  


It's the juxtaposition of the insipid Gloria Gaynor disco tune, with the moving, joyous reaction. I get that the guy has survived, even thrived, despise having been subjected to the ultimate horror that man can impose on man. But the song is just downright cheesy, and, in my mind, not on any level, fun or joyous or something to be celebrated. I'm sorry, but my opposition is as simple, and aesthiticlly shallow, as that.

That's what I originally thought.  Then I decided it was perfect.  The song had to be unambiguous.  Had to be directly about survival.  And it had to be danceable.  

The news lately, quite understandably, has been filled with the disproportionate number of politicians killed in plane crashes versus the general public. Having worked in politics my entire professional life, and seeing the entitlement this brings firsthand, I understand why, and I have an illustrative story. In 2000, in the height of the Gore/Bush campaign, I was sitting on the tarmac on a plane bound from Detroit to D.C. The weather was terrible -- a thunderstorm was raging, and lightning flashing. We had been delayed for some time, and it was not looking likely that we were going to take off anytime soon. Much to my surprise, the captain (maybe a flight attendant?) came on the PA, and said that thanks to a high profile passenger who was needed back in D.C., we were approved for takeoff. I was thankful, but appalled at the same time. We really shouldn't have taken off. The high-profile passenger? Hadassah Lieberman. Seeing firsthand in my job the coddling and yes-man attitude towards politicians, I get why so many people try to make things happen for them. This adds up to tragedy far too often.


When I was a kid, I was afraid of air travel.   Something my father told me made me feel much better; I hold it to this day.   "No major league sports team has ever gone down in a plane crash.  Think how many of those flights happen every day."   

Since Christiane Amanpour starting reporting from Afganistan while pronouncing it Afganistahn, other news people have begun imitating that and also saying Pakistahn. This has increased since she began hosting THis Week. Is it Pakistan rhyming with plan or Pakistahn?

It's Pakistahn, but this is really begging the real question.   We have asked it here before, without resolution.   Why do we Anglicize the names of other countries?  Why do other countries do the same?  Why isn't the name of a country pronounced the same everywhere, namely, the way the country itself pronounces it?  Why don't we all talk about Deutschland, not Germany (as we say it) or Allemagne, as the French say.         If the head of Spain is named Guillermo Lopez, we are not going to turn him into William Lopez, are we?   So why is his country Spain and not Espana?  Huh? 

The best headline the Post ever published was about a massage parlor in VA with licensing problems -- "Gay Masseuse Divides Manassas." So good they pulled it from the later editions.

Thank you.  

I have not confirmed that this is true, though. 


Gene, as an expert in what straight men find attractive, please weigh in on the Latisse commercials that show Claire Danes before and after her prescription eyelash treatment.  So: they make her lashes really, really long. Like almost too long. Where's the line of freakyness here? I assume at some point long eyelashes stop making you think "hot!" and start making you think "hormonal imbalance!" The problem might also be that the hairs get much longer but not a lot thicker, making it look like Ms. Danes sewed a bunch of thread to her eyelids. How weird is it that we grow hairs around our eyeballs? In case you were thinking of not answering this question, Claire has your ideal bosom.

You are one hundred percent correct, on the eyelashes.  "Before" is waaay better.      The "after" lashes are sparse and thin and unruly.   They resemble pubic hair.   This is one of the least effective ads I have ever seen.   Ms. Danes' bosom, however, is perfectly nice.  

Sorry, this is a little lengthy. So, a friend and I were discussing the movie The American President and Michael Douglas's speech at the end of it. Here is the text of a lot of that speech: For the last couple of months, Senator Rumson has suggested that being president of this country was, to a certain extent, about character, and although I have not been willing to engage in his attacks on me, I've been here three years and three days, and I can tell you without hesitation: Being President of this country is entirely about character. For the record: yes, I am a card-carrying member of the ACLU. But the more important question is why aren't you, Bob? Now, this is an organization whose sole purpose is to defend the Bill of Rights, so it naturally begs the question: Why would a senator, his party's most powerful spokesman and a candidate for President, choose to reject upholding the Constitution? If you can answer that question, folks, then you're smarter than I am, because I didn't understand it until a few hours ago. America isn't easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, 'cause it's gonna put up a fight. It's gonna say "You want free speech? Let's see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who's standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours. You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country can't just be a flag; the symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms. Then, you can stand up and sing about the "land of the free". I've known Bob Rumson for years, and I've been operating under the assumption that the reason Bob devotes so much time and energy to shouting at the rain was that he simply didn't get it. Well, I was wrong. Bob's problem isn't that he doesn't get it. Bob's problem is that he can't sell it! We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, Bob Rumson is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who's to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections. You gather a group of middle-aged, middle-class, middle-income voters who remember with longing an easier time, and you talk to them about family and American values and character." The most amazing this to me is that the fictional republican ploy from 1995 is the same as the real one now, 15 years later, with all of this Mosque crap. I don't have any deep insight other than that it's sad and the whole thing makes me angry. And that if I were running a party, I wouldn't run it to act like a fictional villain from 15 years ago.

It's a wonderful speech, except for the misuse of "begs the question," which kills it for me.   It is dead to me.  

You will notice that in a previous answer, I used "begs the question" correctly. 


A reporter for the Houston Press asked the subject of a profile piece to prove his (the subject's) mental illness by supplying medications or medical evaluations. The reporter's justification is the subject, a musician, makes his mental illness a big part of his songs, but there is anecdotal evidence he's faking it. From the article: "it really did start with a simple request to see proof of his mental illness. And while a request like that might not be polite dinner-party repartee, it is pretty much standard operating procedure for a reporter...Would I do the same to, say, a cancer patient? In a word, yes. If somebody is claiming to be ill, and it is not obvious that he is sick,  if he is not missing a limb or suffering from open sores, you just never know." The reporter and singer have a long history and mutual axes to grind. Asking to see medication and claiming it's all in the name of honest journalism seems a bit thin. Honestly, the reporter's behavior infuriated me, but I'm not an expert on journalistic ethics and maybe his question was legit. So I turn to you. I know you get a hundred million questions, but I would really, really appreciate your thoughts on this one. Thanks.

There are bad words in that link. 

Hm.   This is complicated, but I don't think the reporter did anything wrong, except possibly writing critically about someone with whom there are old axes to grind.  That's potentially problematic, as this contretemps shows.  


But on the central issue: Of course, it was legit to ask the singer to prove his mental illness.   His mental illness is inextricable from his career; if it's a lie, then his career is a lie.  And that's news. 

After you posed the "is Callahan offensive?" question I went to his site. I think the answer has to be "yeah, but not about disability." Compare this to this.  Both comics rely on the same stereotype "Asians eat dogs" stereotype, and if I'd only seen the first I wouldn't think it was offensive at all. It takes the stereotype and turns it into a great wordplay joke. But I've seen the second. And the second is nothing but an "Asians eat dogs" joke and it colors how I read the first. It doesn't make him a racist, necessarily, but it is definitely tone deaf.

You're absolutely right.    This is exactly why Callahan needed an editor.  He had no internal governor.   

C'mon. A "crackpot" wearing an actual cracked pot? Who's lame idea was that?

Barney and Clyde August 23

It was David Clark's.  I liked it. 

Better explain it? I think it's pretty dang self-explanatory. I was thinking the only better thing would be dancing on Hitler's literal grave, but no, this was perfect. Talk about living well is the best revenge. How is this offensive or trivializing. HE is a survivor. HE can celebrate his life and his survival as he see fits. How does this trivialize any suffering that anyone else went through? The fact that he is stamping a big "FAIL!" on Hitler's forehead doesn't negate or undermine or say anything about someone else's suffering. What's wrong with some triumph?

More Hitler FAIL:  Simon Wiesenthal, nazi hunter and holocaust survivor, deliberately had his 90th birthday celebration with a kosher dinner at one of Hitler's favorite hotels.  I love that.  Hitler never got a 90th birthday.  Or grandchildren. help me get in touch with something like the Holocaust Musical. So moving -- who can deny that man his thumb in the eye of evil? Thank you! I know I'm not the only one who is ambivalent about you -- you're kind of like a reasonably intellectual Andy Kauffman -- maddening, provocative, funny.

I can't quit you, either. 

I keep seeing politicians, and even reporters, refer to the "Ground Zero Mosque" and have heard some say a mosque (or cultural center) should not be built "on hallowed ground." Do you think these people are aware that the facility would not actually be at Ground Zero, and that there is, in fact,, already a mosque a few blocks away? How far would it have to be to be acceptable, or would anything in the same city be unacceptable? Some politicians did, of course, demonize Catholicism years ago ("No to Rome!").

This is the greatest answer to it.  These things are also on Hallowed Ground, by the same definition. 

I was at the Alaska Thunder air show in Anchorage a couple weeks ago, and thought you urgently needed to see this picture.

Thank you.  

Gene, what you didn't mention is your skill at juggling raw eggs without a disrobing woman in your field of vision...

I should have had a brassiere tossed from the right, at the end.   

How do you remember when, where, which words gets doubling of a letter? Are there any rules? The older i get, the more dependent I am on a spell-check.

There are no rules, there are only cute mnemonic devices. 

Inoculate has only one n because a needle is skinny. 

Accommodate has double c's and double m's because the word is highly accommodating to letters. 

And thus such.    The only thing no one can explain is "Kojo Nnamdi."  

As I read the comics to my wife this morning on our drive to work, we got a rare chuckle out of Blondie. My wife said it's one of the few times that the characters there seemed to be living in the here and now.

Boy, I don't know.   It seems forced to me, like someone throwing French terminology into ordinary conversation.  

This is the column to make silly claims, so I will make mine. I have on occasion had the opportunity to attempt to get Stephen Strasburg's autograph. He has come over to sign autographs and has signed autographs for the person on either side of me, but has skipped signing for me. I, of course, have taken this as a personal insult. So, since I have a gypsy background, I announced, as a joke, that I have put a gypsy curse on him. Well, even since I did that, he hasn't won a game. I know there are some fans around me who blame me for the curse. I don't believe in curses, yet I am ready to take credit for this curse. So, Strasburg, until I get that autograph, consider yourself cursed. Or, at least, some highly superstitious fans believe so.

Strasburg might have a problem with Gypsies. 

You are lucky this chat is anonymous, or you'd be hunted down and killed, in this town.  

Also, I am lucky Manteuffel is German, so she can say that. 

When I took the "Holocaust: The Musical" poll, I noticed that at the bottom of the results page it said "711 stemmer." It's pretty clear to me that means "711 votes," probably in some Scandinavian language, but what's up with that?

Producer Paul is out this week!  Let's hope that is the last unexplainable weirdness of the chat. 

It must be German!! 

I have not seen the article yet, but the promo email I got for this week's New Yorker indicated that there is an Oliver Sacks piece on face blindness.

I bet he is going to be writing about a case so severe that the person cannot recognize his own face in the mirror. 

I feel that way, too, but we've lost that one. Just like "decimate." Sorry. Clarification: I don't use the expression wrongly, but I've had to stop rolling my eyes when others do, I was getting repetitive motion eyeball strain.

I am pretty sure if it is not in the dic yet it will be, as a synonym for "compels" the question.   We are a nation of dunces. 

"this is really begging the real question" WHO ARE YOU, AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH GENE WEINGARTEN?

No, that's using it correctly!   It means "avoiding."  

Okay, we are done.   Very fine chat, and I thank you all.    We will meet again in the updates.     

I think I fixed the poll, just in time.  You guys are great.

I think your fix is Porblematic

Hahaha.  Thanks!


The challenge, made in the chat last week, involves "The Fiddler In The Subway," a new anthology of my stories and essays published by Simon & Schuster. 

 This was, I declared, the most perfect First Edition ever published, because each story in it had been subject to multiple editings and proofreadings, both when it originally appeared and when later anthologized.  One night, however, in rereading a section of the book, I discovered  to my horror An Egregious Error that had eluded us all.   It was an error in word usage, very hard to catch, for a very subtle reason.   I defied readers to find it.   I gave no other clue.   Inasmuch as the book is 360 pages long, I figured it would take 2-3 days for a winner to emerge.   

I underestimated you.  We had a winner by 11 p.m. the night of the chat.     Eight hours later -- at 7 a.m. -- came the first runner up.      They are winner Horace LaBadie  of Dunellon, Fla., and Paul Flood, of Arlington, Va.     Horace wins the Turkmenbashi The Great watch, and the signed underpants of a Puitzer Prize winner, and a copy of "Fiddler" autographed to the greatest copyeditor in the world.   Paul gets a book.    

The error was found in a passage on page 89, which is from the story about The Armpit of America.   The section is reproduced below.   Think you can find the offending word?    The answer will be at the end of the update.


Afterward, everyone -- kids, parents, teachers -- repairs to the high school grounds for the homecoming bonfire.  There aren't many trees in these parts, so Battle Mountain High makes do with a giant mound of forklift pallets donated by local businesses.

When ignited with gasoline, these frames make a better than passable bonfire, the flames licking fifty feet into the night sky, against the cheesy backdrop of high-rise signs for the McDonald's and Super 8 Motel, the pyre disbursing heat devils that dance on the grass like little tornadoes.   Chipper, fresh-faced teenage girls in cheerleader costumes, girls no bigger than labrador retrievers, are high-stepping and kicking and chanting in voices that squeak, "We are the mighty, mighty Longhorns," and even little girls on the side are imitating their varsity big sisters, and the high school band is playing a spiritedly terrible "Born to be Wild," and parents are whooping and cheering and passing cameras back and forth to remember this forever.

The bonfire throws a lot of heat.   You really feel it.   It stings your eyes and reddens your face.

It's all about the football game, of course.   The Longhorns have a shot at the state championship, but first they must destroy Lovelock.  One cheerleader, Natalee Ormond, sixteen, in full costume, has an arm in a sling.  What's a broken arm?  This is Homecoming; you play hurt.  

Now, as it happens, I also got an e-mail from another reader, Jessica Stapp of Tucson, Arizona, who claimed to have found a different error in word usage.    Her challenge was considered, placed before a panel of word experts, and debated enthusiastically during long, expense-account   lunches at fashionable restaurants.   The panel was divided -- a  case can be made that Jessica is right; a case can be made she is wrong.  The panel decided to be magnanimous, as is their wont,  and awarded Jessica a book.  

You can also try to find this error as well.   It is from page 109, in the middle of the story about Savoonga, Alaska.     Again, here is the passage, verbatim:

--At fifty-five, Mike Kimber remains enthusiastically dedicated to his job.  You can find him working early in the morning, when the pupils arrive, and late at night, for after-school activities, and on his lunch hour, when he teaches basic reading skills to cute little kids.  He's a downstater from Royal Oak, Michigan, who came to Savoonga ten years ago and has no intention of leaving anytime soon.  He loves the children and he loves his work.  In particular, he loves the land, for its archaeology -- you can find woolly mammoth bones just a mile outside of town -- and for its physical beauty, and even for the physical challenges it presents. 

Mike swiveled to his computer and punched up pages of photos he took in the summer, when the mantle of snow is gone and the temperature sometimes reaches 60 above.  The most compelling are of the graveyard, out near the airport; it is a surreal scene, either spooky or spectacular, depending on your point of view.  Most coffins are only partially buried in the permafrost; that's as deep as a spade can go.  That means that many of the plywood caskets are exposed to the air.  In time, they collapse in on themselves.  You can see bones and skulls among the crosses.  Savoonga gives no quarter; it is merciless even to the dead.


Okay, again, you'll find the answers at the bottom of the update.  


Okay, now, there is a Subject Of Which One Must Not Speak.    I think we all know what it is.   It is a subject proscribed to this chat by none other than Her Eminent Fecundity herself, Liz Chatwoman.   And so I dasn't go there.   But there is nothing in the rules prohibiting me from noting what others have said, specifically the lady persons at Cosmopolitan this month, who are reporting a shocking trend in female topiary -- that, after years and years of complete baldness among practically all of the young, hip women in the world, apparently all of whom work for Cosmo,  it is now becoming young and hip and daring to permit some stuff there again.   Now, the stuff might be a tattoo, or rhinestones, or glitter, or a dyeing of your natural skin tones, or, if you really want to go  hog wild, you can allow some actual hair to show up and not scour it all right off as though it were some loathsome fungal incursion.   The trendy ladies at Cosmo endorse this, now.    

We at Chatological Humor have no opinion about this, of course.   We are not allowed to. 

February 6, 1958--a plane carrying most of the Manchester United squad crashed in Munich. The biggest stars of the team died. Eight players, eight travelling journalists, and six others. 52 years later, there's always a minute of silence at Manchester United games around that date.

True enough.   Several people pointed this out. 

Mark Twain was a corn boiler.

This is very disturbing. 

Okay, I get that some of the "objectors" are clueless, racist bigots who just want "all them Muslims t'go back where they came from", but honestly, can you note concede that it's a bit insensitive? It's been barely five years since the attack. How would you have reacted if some Japanese folks wanted to build a cultural center in Hawaii? 2 blocks from Pearl Harbor? in 1946? I get that there are 2 sides to this argument, and both have the right to their position, but I get that there's a rational argument for "too soon. and not there".

If I explain, do you promise to listen?   Okay, I'll explain anyway. 

Your analogy is terrible.  In fact, it's at the very heart of why your argument is bankrupt.

Japan attacked the United States in 1941.  The entire Japanese government attacked us.   Japanese society attacked us.  It was a statement of hatred for Americans by the Japanese.  The torpedoes that killed our men and sunk our ships were made by Japan.   It was an act of war by one country against another.    Japanese society and culture was at war with American society and culture.

On 9/11 we were attacked by 21 fanatics led by a fanatic living in a cave in Afghanistan.   They represented no constituency other than themselves.   They were no more representing all of Islam than Adolf Hitler was representing all Christians, the religion to which he and the Nazis belonged, at least nominally. 

This is not a mosque.  It is not "at" ground zero.  It is a civic center.  It will have a pool.  It will have a monument to the dead of 9/11, including 300 Muslims who perished there.  

You getting this yet?   It is reaching out in peace and understanding.  It is declaring that the 9/11 monsters did NOT represent all of Islam.    Kay?

As I explained in the chat, the best thing I've read about this was by Nick Kristof of the NY Times.    He pointed out that on this issue, Sarah Palin is aligned with Osama bin Laden.  The last thing bin Ladin would want to see is that "Ground Zero Mosque," representing a chance at reconciliation between Islam and the West. 

It does not mean "avoiding." Begging the question is the English translation of petitio principii, which means to ask for the principle that one is trying to establish. You are part of the problem, sir, not part of the solution.

Several people are arguing this, but they are only partially correct.   To beg the question is to avoid the question, in a certain way.   The way involves a logical fallacy:  You assume that the question is true before answering it.   Example: Why are so many religious people conservative?  Because if you are religious, you tend to value conservative principles.   That's begging the question.   Also, avoiding it.  

Gene, What is Molly Weingarten, DVM doing back at the family domicile? Last I heard, she was in a referral practice in Connecticut. Did she transfer to a practice around the DC area?


She did.   She is doing a three-year internship at a big clinic in Gaithersburg, Md. 


In the first passage, I say that the bonfire "disbursed" little heat devils.   I meant "dispersed."   Disbursed refers only to money.  Any copy editor will tell you that errors involving homonyms and homophones are particularly hard to spot.  

In the second passage, in context, I'm not really discussing "archaeology," which involves human fossils.  I'm really discussing paleontology.    This is more defensible, though, since mammoths and humans coexisted, and you could use remains of the first to study the second.   

 Rest assured Gene and the chatters said everything in the update, even if it looks like I did.  Thanks.


Greetings.  Welcome to the chat update.

In the year 2045, most Departments of Barney & Clyde Studies at most major universities will cite Sunday's strip as the seminal moment of Year One. 


I agreed with the majority on your poll. But while I'm outraged by what she said, I am not surprised at all. This woman is a charalatan. She has a doctorate, and uses the title "doctor" on her show, and purports to be someone who's professional background qualifies her to help people in distress. I used to listen to her way back when. She turned me off when she had a sad teenage caller, who after hearing Dr. Laura's beratement for doing the wrong thing and being a horrible person, got even sadder, inconsolable almost, and Dr. Laura got off the call as soon as she could. I felt sh didn't care a whit about helping this sad girl, she just wanted to make her same points on every caller. Later I learned her doctorate had nothing to do with any helping profession, meaning she's a fake, She never let this woman explain the situation, why she felt the way she did, she used the topic as an excuse for a rant-debate, then got hoist on her own petard. Sort of like those TV pundit shows you wrote an article about a few years back. I'm so glad she was exposed for who she really is, like the clotheless emperor in the old fairy tale.

The hypocrisies in Dr. Laura's life go waay beyond her questionable use of a doctorate (it's in physiology, not psychology).    The entirety of her life is quite a study, for someone whose livelihood involves telling others how to live morally, ethically and with peace of mind.   

Debatable? Really? If Lyn Balfour won her bronze star, who did she beat out? Saying a soldier won the bronze star is like saying a graduate won a law degree.

Okay, this is an issue we need to visit more thoroughly anon.   Every time any journalist writes that someone "won" a military award, there are curiously hissy letters to the editor claiming that these awards are awarded, or earned, but not "won."    Clearly, this is a distinction important to many people.  

I have just been mining the dictionary, and this poster appears to be right.   "Win" can be a synonym for "obtain" only in the field of mining, whereas otherwise, it means to attain something by triumphing over someone or something else.  (I am oversimplifying.)   So, it's not technically right to say Lyn Balfour "won" the bronze star, unless I was implying there are finite bronze stars to be awarded, and therefore she was chosen over someone else.   Which may be true but was not my intent. 

But all of this begs the real question:  Why does this matter to much to so many people?  The complainers here tend not to be grammarians -- they tend to be military types.   Can someone explain to me who or what is being dissed when one writes that someone "won" a military award? 

Only if you are a child or have training wheels.

After getting the posting below, I think I have to exempt the deaf, too.   But not because of their skill at writing double dactyls.    

Higgledy piggledy

Bikes on the sidewalk are

Something I'd do So I

won't disappear

That's because everyone

Thinks that they're number one

They honk their horns

But I'm deaf and don't hear.

Is it weird that when my husband sent me a link to this commercial, all I could say was "Gene is going to LOVE this."?

That's fine, but this one's better. 

So did Sunday's Get Fuzzy have a surreptitious dirty phrase used in a innocent context? (Next to last frame) Do cartoonists do a touchdown dance when they're able to get away with something like that?

The reference is here.    You may need to search for August 22.   

And yes, Darby Conley is forever hiding dirty things.   He has had genital odor jokes.    I salute him. 

Why do the English call it Paris and not Paree? Because for many centuries the English didn't know how the Parisians pronounced it because they never met a Parisian. Et cetera. Today we have a reasonable chance of knowing how to pronounce Mumbai and Puerto Rico as the Mumbayans and puertorriquenos do. It's a "problem" of improved communications and travel technology. To me the real problem is when newsreaders pronounce names with a "local" accent in the middle of their perfectly fine American-accented sentences. ("President Obama traveled to neek-ah-RAH-wah today to discuss corn subsidies.") It just sounds like showing off.

You have summarized this well.   There's no good answer.   I cringe when I hear Neek-a-RAH-wah, and I also cringe when I hear Pah-TREE-see-uh  Wad-a-LUPE-ay, WTOP News.  And yet the intellectual within me, struggling to get out, wants to applaud.   They're saying it RIGHT.  

I lost at trivia last night, but I beg to disagree, the question was: Where do all women have curly hair? The correct answer: Africa. But there are tones of white people in I stand by my answer.

Wow.  That is a shockingly stupid answer. 

The danes pronounce it "Kobenhavn". If you pronounce it "Copenhahgen" they'll think you're German, and dislike you. So go ahead and pronounce it Copenhaygen.

Yes, and the Germans pronounce "Vienna"  as veen.     Who are we to add two extra syllables?  

I find this whole thing fascinating.   


... For this month's chat, please check out my column on Sunday and propose other misconceptions we never knew about before.      


UPDATE: Sept. 14

Gene Weingarten: As the regular reader knows, I am a rabid fan of the New York Giants.   Also, I am not religious and do not cotton to anything superstitious.   All of these factors -- Giants, superstition, cotton -- came into egregious collision this week for the Giants' opener against the Panthers.   As it happened, I learned of the availability of Giants panties here and purchased a pair for my wife and daughter.   They wore them on Sunday afternoon, during a game won surprisingly easily by The Giants.   

Now, I'm not saying God was involved, and I'm not saying He wasn't.   I am saying that I can't take the chance.  The stakes are too high.     Therefore, I have decided to buy three more of these underpants for the three readers who write the funniest emails explaining why they most deserve the pants.    Send them to   Only if you win will I need your size, and that information will not be published.    I will print the results in the next chat update. 


Gene Weingarten:   Well, finally primary day is upon us in D.C. , with many important issues affecting public policy for years to come, so we here at Chatological Humor must ask an important question: Has anyone ever received a political robo-call and felt anything but antipathy for the caller?   Is it possible that 100 percent of these things are dirty tricks by their opponents?

Moreover, has anyone ever listened to those calls for more than five seconds?

If I ever (heaven forbid) had to hire a marketing person, it would be whoever has actually convinced political campaigns to spend money on robo-calls. 

On a related, if regrettable, topic, Horace LaBadie was unkind enough to remind me of this posting from a chat update a few months ago, when the baseball season was still young:


Gene Weingarten: Okay, time for me to make a fool of myself, even more than usual. I've been alive 58 years. Been here for 1961 and 1998. I've never seen a Yankees team as good as this one. Prediction: 119 wins, the most ever. Three 20-game winners. Mariano Rivera sets the season record for saves. Brett Gardner steals 70 bases. Robinson Cano hits .340.

We'll revisit this a few months hence. 


I am now revisiting it.  No, I admit this was not the team I thought it was.  Still a good team.  Cano is having an MVP season, and Rivera is pitching mostly brilliantly, but, no, I was a swooning bobbysoxer about this.   Their starting pitching is not deep; Jeter is in a funk; I'm not even sure they'll win the World Series.   

Happy now, Horace?  



Based on my own anecdotal evidence (none of which I can remember right now), both men and women commit the phone sin you addressed in your column. I haven't noticed that one gender does it more than the other. Sorry. What I *did* notice, however, was that (also with both sexes) you get the following exchange with exasperating frequency: Me: Let me give you my phone number. Them: OK, what is it? Me: 555... Them: Wait, I have to get a pencil. Them: OK, got it. Me: 555... Them: Wait, I have to get paper. ... What, may I ask, is wrong with saying, "Hold on a minute while I get pencil and paper" when someone says "Let me give you my number"? I mean, really.

I've noticed that, too!    To me, it is all a variation of the person who is standing at a cashier, the cashier totes up the total, rings it up, and only after an amount is given, does the person begin to fish for his or her wallet.   Were they hoping that the tab would come to zero? 

I completely and utterly despise a co-worker of mine. He is unfortunately unavoidable to me, as we sit out in the open, about 15 yards away from each other. Not only is extremely unaware of his status (he works for the boss and therefore thinks he is the boss although he is in a very low position). He is just an awful self-entitled, socially unaware person. He really thinks he runs in the same business/social circles as his boss and is just unbearable. He also does not respond to subtle ignoring on my part. If I happen to glance in his direction or say something in a somewhat-nice tone, he leaps on it and starts trying to have discussions, joke around, etc. He tries to have it both ways - he thinks he's above us all but when it's convenient he tries to be one of the hoi polloi. I love my job otherwise, but this one pompous awful man is making me want to quit. Can I get over this or is it time to move on??

This reminds me of an excellent Mr. Boffo cartoon that I have on my wall.   A man is on his psychiatrist's couch.  He is saying "All my friends think I'm crazy."   And the shrink says: "Why don't you kill them?"

In short, you may have to kill the guy. 


Another Boffo on my wall:   A man is at a lectern.  A sign says "Earl Boffo's Sensitivity Training Seminar."   And the speaker is point toward the back of the room, saying "I believe the big fat slob in the back has a question."



Gene, I'm curious as to how you handle interactions with panhandlers. I live in Boston and work in a fairly touristy area where lots of people are begging for money every day. I am a female and sometimes I feel really uncomfortable giving folks money or I don't have cash/change or I'm in a hurry. Some people are quiet and obviously in need and other people swear at me or are jerks, but usually you don't know this until you either give them money or pass by without giving them money. I realize that many panhandlers may have a mental illness, but mainly this has to do with my safety. I've had men yell and threaten me before if I ignored them. Oddly enough, I feel safe giving people money when I'm in my car as I can drive away if I feel threatened. The other issue is, I see the same panhandlers every day, so it becomes harder to ignore them when I see them every morning. I guess I just wonder if you acknowledge panhandlers, give them money or some combination of the two. I feel like a jerk if I obviously look away but also can't/don't want to give them money.

They are counting on your feeling guilty.  If you don't want to give them money, you shouldn't give them money.   They are imposing on you. 

I wrestle with the same problem several times a day; I live near a big urban Metro stop.  There are always panhandlers around.   Sometimes, getting to or from the Metro involves going through a gantlet of panhandlers.    You really feel attacked. 

I resolved this with myself in an impractical but satisfying way.  Because I don't formally give as much as I feel I should to charity on a yearly basis, I will fork out a buck here and there, almost every day, to panhandlers.  I wind up giving $500 a year, done spontaneously, making snap judgments based on appearance, spiel, my mood, etc.    It's illogical, and not really defensible -- I could probably do more good in another way.  But it appeals to me.  I like the eye contact and the illusion of choice.   

I never say anything patronizing.  "Good luck," mostly. 

This also permits me the luxury of bias.   I seldom give money to someone young and fit looking; mine is a neighborhood where an enterprising person with a strong back and a broom can find odd jobs.


Take a look at this newspaper article (I saw it on CIDU): (1) When you read the headline, who appears to be the bad guy? (2) Once you read the actual article, who really is the bad guy? (3) What in the world was the headline writer thinking?

Wow.  This is stunningly inept. 

Would we have minor misgivings about a Pearl Harbor memorial for Japanese kamikaze pilots? A Robert E Lee Memorial next to a slave ship? A Catholic Church in a Protestant Belfast neighborhood? I defend this Right vigorously, but I acknowledge people's unease.

Or a Jefferson Davis highwayStonewall Jackson shrine supported by the National Park Service?  Just how tolerant are we going to be?   

Exactly!    We're not bothering to answer your question because it is dumb.   But examples of other dumbnesses abound.   That Jefferson Davis Highway was inaugurated in 1910, when we surely should have known better, is bizarre. 

So is this.   This insanely Confederate state song of Maryland was created in ... 1939. 

Okay, thank y'all.   See you in the updates next week, when I hope to announce the panties winners.      

URGENT NEWS ALERT:   The New York Jets are looking into charges that tthey harassed a female reporter, according to owner "Woody Johnson."  


UPDATE:  Sept. 21

My column on Sunday, about the death of the English language, garnered many hundreds of letters.  Each letter followed the same general pattern:  Thank you for saying this, but you forgot the most egregiously awful befouling of our language, namely.... 

There were hundreds of linguistic pet peeves thus flogged.   I slogged through all of them, with a notepad beside me, and kept score, assigning each a number based not only on on its frequency of mention, but also its flagrancy, as measured by the degrees of emotion it creates.    Here is the final, prioritized list, beginning with the most frequently mentioned, and intensely loathed, illiteracy.  There were some surprises! 

1.   "Went missing."   People HATE this.

2.  "For all intensive purposes."   This idiocy is apparently more common than I thought.  It was mentioned by six people.  

3.  predominately

4.  should have went

5.  didn't use to.  didn't used to. 

6.  restauranteur

7. "loose," as the opposite of "win."

8. A mute point. 

9. "amount" used to describe countable objects.  

10.  bicep. 

11.  get ahold of. 

12. snuck. 

13. if I would have known...

14. your welcome

15.  anyways...

16. reigned in, free reign



In the last chat update, I offered to buy these panties for the three people who made the best and funniest case for why they need them.  Thirty-five people applied.   Many requests were plaintive, earnest, some even maudlin.   One was entirely unprintable, but made me laugh.   Here are the three winners.   And yes, Jessica specifically authorized me to publish hers, and swears it's true.

Will the winners please send me their addresses, and panty size (neither will be shared with anyone.) 

And lastly, yes:  The Giants really need these to be worn on Game Day, obviously. 


Leslie Fine:

Higgledy Piggledly
Quarterback Eli's a
Big Easy native, and
I'm from there too.

Give me the panties and
I'll don allegiance to
Eli, not Drew.


Tony King: 

I am a rabid Patriots fan.  Even when they were the doormat of the league, I followed their progress through the seasons religiously.  It should come as no surprise to you, therefore, that the most recent Super Bowl between your Giants and my Patriots is one of the most painful sports memories I have - right up there with Aaron bleeping Boone’s home run in the 2003 ALCS. 

 It may be a surprise to you, though, that I would be interested in a pair of Giants panties.  But I think, as a fellow neurotic sports fan, you will appreciate where I am coming from.  My girlfriend follows your chats religiously.  She has very little interest in the Giants or the Patriots.  The mere sight of a Giants bumper sticker or jersey gives me a reaction akin to PTSD (I am a military veteran, so I don’t use this analogy lightly).  I think that the road to recovery would be a lot smoother if I saw my girlfriend in a pair of these panties.  It’s a risky procedure, for sure, but I think it’s worth it if it keeps me from swerving my car into a bridge abutment next time I see a Giants bumper sticker.


And finally, Ms. Jessica Bartlow: 

I am the sole employee, and the shop is open from 11am-8pm during the week, 10am-6pm on Saturdays and until recently, 11am-6pm on Sundays.  There is no one to cover the register or phone when I need to relieve myself.

Due to the long hours, I don't do laundry as often as I would like.  I get away with wearing a bra for a few days in between washing.  Underpants, on the other hand, are a wear-once-and-wash.  Unfortunately, I often run out of underpants.  There's no female equivalent of "free balling it" but that is usually what I do.

On the rare occasions I am able to do laundry, and do wear underpants, I sometimes forget to pull them down when I go to the bathroom.  I've bolted, sat, and peed through my underpants three times this year.  Have you ever tried to stop peeing mid-stream?  It's really hard.  

If I had more underwear, I wouldn't run out of it as quickly, and I would become more accostomed to wearing underpants again.  I would like the Giants underpants, please.  

Since I don't have time to shop for more underwear, I have resorted to asking complete strangers to send me some.

Next chat -- Sept. 28

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 2008 and 2010 Pulitzer Prizes for Feature Writing.
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