Chatological Humor: Monthly with Moron

May 29, 2012

Join Gene Weingarten Tuesday, May 29 during his monthly chat with readers.

Take today's polls:
Choose One

- I am male and consider myself physically attractive
- I am male and consider myself plain, or physically unattractive
- I am female and consider myself physically attractive
- I am female and consider myself plain, or physically unattractive

Gene's latest chat: May 2

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.

About this chat:
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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.

We begin today with an Instapoll regarding a statement MSNBC talking head Chris Hayes made over the weekend.   Here it is: I lean liberal | I lean conservative

I hope it engenders spirited discussion.

From time to time, would-be inventors send me their ideas for in-car baby alarms that would prevent the sort of excruciating tragedy I wrote about in The Post a few years ago.   Usually, these people seek my endorsement, which I never give because I am not an engineer or an expert on safety, or cost-benefit analyses and thus such.    In general, these inventions are well-intentioned, earnest, and utterly impractical.   Some require a degree of vigilance by the parent that is actually more detailed and complicated than simply remembering the child is there.   Some are prohibitively expensive.

Some require an unrealistic degree of cooperation from the auto industry.   Many involve the use of weight sensors that are notoriously faulty.    Some are wonderfully silly:  “When you get in the car, you simply tie a small bungee cord from the baby’s foot to your right ear, and ….” 

A few days ago, I got an email from Joseph Dorsey, a Cincinnati man who has home-engineered a device I find intriguing.  It is brilliantly simple – more mechanical than electric – and could probably be manufactured and sold for less than $20 per unit.     It’s something you install inside your car, on the post between the driver’s door and the “baby door,” which is the door behind the driver into which a child seat has been secured.   If you have an infant, this seat is almost never used for anything but the baby; modern car seats are a pain in the butt to install; once installed, these tend to stay put. 

The device “cocks” every time that baby’s door is opened and closed. Once cocked, it is programmed (gears and levers, not software) to sound a gentle alarm the second time the driver’s door is opened. So:

Mommy goes to car, opens back door, she puts the baby in, closes the door, and the device cocks.    She opens drivers door, gets in, closes the door.   The device registers one open-and-close of the driver’s door, which means it has set itself to trigger the alarm at the next opening of the driver’s door.   Mommy drives to work, inadvertently passing the daycare center because she is on the phone with her brother Ignatz, the louse, who just can't stay off the sauce.  She gets to work, opens her door, and the alarm sounds.    She remembers baby and bursts out in tears because she realizes what almost happened.  We leave this scene with mommy on the asphalt, weeping, rocking her puzzled baby against her breast.

Now the alarm will also sound if she arrives at the daycare center.  But so what?  This door is ONLY used for the baby.   So it tells ma every time she opens her door and the baby is there.   There is no harm in that; in fact, it keeps up a general reminder of what the alarm is for.

I’m telling you all this because Joseph Dorsey is competing with other Cincinnati-area inventors to win a grant to develop his product.   He’s up against all sorts of things, such as frozen cheese and chocolate on a stick.    It’s all part of a citywide campaign to encourage all sorts of innovation in Cincinnati.   The public votes.  You’ll find it all at 

Mr. Dorsey’s invention is on page three of the list.  WARNING: it includes an excellent video that begins with a 911 tape from one of these my-baby-is-dead calls, as disturbing a thing as you will ever listen to.   You don’t need to watch the video to understand the product.

If you agree with me this is a good idea, please register with the site and vote for “Baby Safe Your Hot Car” Alarm, which will, I am sure, get a better name at some point in the process.    But don’t let me prejudice you here.  It’s your vote.  You can use it to save a baby’s life, or have a frozen chocolate cheese treat on a stick.

Please take today’s poll, which is about Ugliness, and which was based on a discussion thread at the popular website

Choose One

- I am male and consider myself physically attractive
- I am male and consider myself plain, or physically unattractive
- I am female and consider myself physically attractive
- I am female and consider myself plain, or physically unattractive

When I wrote the poll I didn’t know which discussion group it was from (though I could have found out easily enough), so referred to it generically as “a discussion group.”   This resulted in several huffy letters from Metafilter devotees accusing me of plagiarism and officially expecting better from the Washington Post.

I’m happy to credit Metafilter, and I think attribution is always a good thing.  Still, I’m not actually sure what the rules are  for crediting a discussion thread among anonymous people.  

Anyway, the results of this poll are interesting, and I’ll be discussing them early, so please take it now if you haven’t already.

We start taking questions at noon.  Meanwhile, I hope you are all thinking about trying to outwit Tom, Dave and me at The Post Hunt this coming Sunday, June 3.  It’s going to be fun and uncommonly devious: There is one moment in particular that may be the sneakiest thing we’ve ever done.   Tom and I and Dave will be hosting a pre-Hunt chat on Friday.  

Okay, lets go.   At noon. 

The real question is, "What's attractive?" As a "plain" female, the best response I ever received after angsting on this topic was from a male friend who's popular with the opposite sex. He directed me to - of all things - a porn forum filled with men who were salivating over videos of women with my exact particular characteristics, especially the features considered unattractive by mainstream standards. His point being: Everybody is somebody's fetish.

Your choice of terminology suggests you may be selling yourself short. 

Question for discussion:  How popular does a "fetish" have to be before it becomes a "preference"?  

This reminds me of a discussion I watched many, many years ago between two journalists, one of whom covered what was at the time a very outre beat: Gay people. (She was not herself gay).   The other guy was kinda stodgy.    He was arguing that gays deserve equal treatment under the law, respect as humans, etc., but he quailed at calling them "normal."    "Look at the numbers," he said.  "Their sexual orientation is less than ten percent of the  norm -- by definition, they're "not normal."   Her response was:  "Yeah, you're right.  The numbers show it.  They're abnormal.  Deviants.  Like Jews."  


Is there a reasonably good aptonym in this story?

No, there is a great, world-class aptonym in this story. 

In the last update, a poster describe his dog as a Democrat, because the dog likes to hump anything and everything, make babies without paying child support, and expects others to pay for his food and medical care. I am not convinced. First, because I come from a blue-collar area where- no lie - my best friend had her first baby on prom night. So I have known more than a few deadbeat dads, and none of them have ever registered to vote for either party. Men who cannot be bothered with condoms are rarely politically active citizens. Second, there is this: Link Basically, it states that red states receive more government money than they contribute in taxes, and blue states pay more in taxes than they receive in benefits. It also cites a professor who says that 44 percent of Social Security recipients, 43 percent of those receiving unemployment benefits, and 40 percent of those on Medicare say that they “have not used a government program.â€Â So ya know, it is not so clear cut that Democrats are the party of moochers. Most importantly, I disagree on the horny thing. Although I am now a boring old spinster of 34, I had a wild and wanton youth. My dad was an FDR-loving, corduroy blazer-wearing, bearded sociology professor, so naturally my bad-boy phase consisted of flings with Young Republicans, very traditional Marines, and evangelical Christians who would pick me up in gas-guzzling SUVs. I eventually realized that it is more fulfilling to be in a relationship with a liberal man who will happily listen to NPR as I drive my fuel-sipper to the farmers market, and will not slut-shame me after we hook up. But it always seemed that the Democrats were more work to land. I had to do more than bat my eyes, I actually had to spout some BS during a discussion of current events or pretend I knew something about lame bands. On the other hand, the Republican men were ALWAYS up for naked fun, even if my personality got on their nerves. Perhaps it was their delight in finding a girl who would put out without requiring a relationship, but they seemed ridiculously easy to get into bed. So from my limited sample size of... umm... let us just say several dozen hotties on both ends of the political spectrum, I would argue that Republicans are less discriminating about casual sex. That is all. Do not tell my mom.

I love this post. 

Your secret is safe with us, Amber Karacij of Kennebunkport, MA.  

(One of these days I am going to do that and accidentally ID a real person and lose my house.)

Gene, I don't know if you should do a separate poll or might have created a different category about fat. I am, or have been, head-turningly beautiful, but since I have gotten fat, and aged, too, my category of attractiveness has changed. And attractivness is so personal an attribute anyway. From my side looking out, attractive men to me aren't necessarily *handsome* but they have to have something about them that appeals to me. I, ironically or not (Jack Sprat and his wife come to mind), much prefer very thin men. They can be quite ugly (my child's father was so ugly no one could understand what I was doing with him, but we made a truly stunning offspring) but there has to be a depth of understanding or kindness in the eyes or beautiful hands, or something You get my point about the indefinable nature of "attraction."

Thanks.  I think I will never directly venture into "fat" in a poll.   Too many people get wounded by it.   It's our national area of shame / discomfort / fear / pain.    

I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm from Tennessee and have lived here all my life. This law, of course, made it to "Wait wait - don't tell me" this week-end.

Hm.  A law making it legal for people to go to work and leave guns in their cars in the parking lot, even if the company's policies prohibit that.  

Sure, why not?  What could possibly go wrong? 

The great thing about some of these wacko gun laws is that no person can make an articulate argument for why they'd be a good idea, except for the idea that gun-totin' is our right, dagnabbit.  

I've said this before and I'll say it again:  We won't be free until every gun has the right to own a gun.  

"The device “cocks” every time that baby’s door is opened and closed. Once cocked, it is programmed (gears and levers, not software) to sound a gentle alarm the second time the driver’s door is opened." At the daycare center, the driver opens the door and the alarm goes off. No problem. The driver closes the driver's door and opens the back door and closes it - alarm is cocked. When the driver returns to the car after dropping off the baby, he/she opens the driver's door and drives to work. Upon opening the door, the alarm goes off. Also, what about when the older child opens the back door to go to school (on the way to the daycare center) without the driver getting out. The alarm doesn't get a driver door opening two times after closing back door.

As to the last answer, this only works on the baby-side door.  Not the other backdoor. 

The hero comment is right on. Simply dying in the service of your country doesn't make you a hero..using that word to apply to everyone waters down the whole concept of what a hero is. A hero is a big deal....someone that risks his/her life to save others. If you're walking down the street and get blown up by a IED, you're not a hero. He should certainly be praised for serving his country of course, but leave the hero status for those who truly deserve it.

I disagree.    

Do you have the nerve to go into a war zone to defend our country, knowing your chances of death or extreme injury are quite high?  I don't.   They'd have to have drafted my sorry arse.  

A local radio station (100.3) ran a radio promo that said something like "Memorial Day, it's like that other holiday, but without the danger of getting your fingers blown off" [sounds of firework launching and exploding] Given what Memorial Day honors, is this ad merely in poor taste, or is it blatantly offensive to those who have served and died for this country and our loved ones?

Poor taste, but ludicrously so. 

Biggest (and only) problem is the day & context in which it was used. The word is very over used, the say way the word "awesome" and "idol" are used to such a gross degree that they no longer mean what they used to mean. In all reality, just because you enlist in the miliary does not make you heoric. The job itself does not make one heroic, it is actions that a specific person takes above and behond in the face of grave harm that make one heroic. My FIL was served in the military - while he served during two wars, he was never in combat and never put in any area where he was at an increased risk (less risky areas then san a bad neighborhood in Philly or DC). He was smart guy who worked to set up satellite links and communication systems. . . a phone/IT guy. He was a decent enough guy, and in my husband's family is heroic for toerh reasons, but to label him by default with the term 'hero'? Note: I kind of liken this to the 'above average' problem. No one thinks their kids are the ones that are below average, but by definition, half of us have them.

See, I disagree.   I don't think the day matters all that much: I think if a statement is true, you ought to be able to say it anytime. 

My problem here is that he is sounding like a total liberal dillweed.  It does not pain me at all, through my liberal sensibilities, to declare someone who puts himself in extreme harms way, for our country,  and then dies, to declare him a hero.   I mean, please.  I admire his courage.   Or hers. 

Should he pull out the victory in November, where would Mitt rank on the list of odd or funny presidential names? Right now, I've got a top 5 of Millard, Ulysses, Rutherford, Grover, and Barack. I'm not sure he could beat out his current opponent in the oddness category (I know the novelty wears off with repetition, but don't you stilll sometimes get that sudden jolt of "Holy crap, the President of the United States is named Barack Hussein Obama! How'd that happen?). However, I think that he could give Millard and Rutherford a run for their money in the funny-sounding competition. I mean, seriously: Mitt? PS--Yes, I know that Mitt is Romney's middle name, but I'm going with what the presidents were actually called here. Though, in that case, you might want to add the diminuitive "Jimmy" to the humorous list.

"Grover" was also a middle name.   He was born "Steven Grover," and through most of his life and career carried the nickname "Big Steve." 

Cleveland was a very interesting uninteresting man.  A dork.  A fud.   A humbug.   A good president -- an honest man who came along at the precise moment we needed an honest man.  I've done a few historical stories of which I am proud.  This is one of them.   It came out in the middle of the Lewinsky scandal; I argued that what we really, really needed was a boring man. 

This is the lede: 

He is out there somewhere: America's savior, the next great president of the United States. He will not look presidential. He might be fat, or have bad teeth. He will mumble a little, or stammer, or speak in sound bites that run on a beat too long. He might be a woman; if so, he will seem dowdy. People who underestimate him will think him stupid; no one will overestimate him. He will have gumption. He will lack guile. He will not particularly want to be president. He will be strong-willed but humble. At night, alone with his terror, he will doubt that he is equal to the job.

And for that reason, he will be perfect.


(We still haven't found this person though I am thinking, with some concern, that it might be Chris Christie.) 


Gene, I think your poll comes from an angle that misses a key point. I'm a married woman who considers myself (and my husband) attractive - but the poll didn't seem to allow for differences of opinion. The ideal poll answer would have allowed me to say that it's important to be with someone whom I find attractive, but I don't assume that either of us is objectively, universally good-looking. When I was younger and went out on the town, some guys would make a beeline for me and others would totally ignore me. I had the hots for my husband the moment I met him, but I know women who would have ruled him out for being too short. Just about everyone wants a partner to whom they are attracted, but that's a little different from saying, "I only date 7s and up," which implies some sort of universal scale.

I thought about this.   But the only way to do this poll without it becoming a wild subjective maze dependent on different definitions of beauty, inner beauty, etc., was to force simplicity on it.  Force choices.

I don't think I'm hideous looking, but I'm flabby and have laughable hair and extremely unfashionable facial hair, and sometimes I look at the mirror and laugh out loud.  So that's not good.   Some women do think I am adorable in my doofiness.  I think I probably could get dates with classy ladies.  So, to me, there is some ambiguity.   But forced to choose between physically "attractive" and "unattractive," the choice was clear.   I didn't LIKE it, but the choice was clear. 

By the way, my choice of mate had the fairly high threshold.   I consider this hypocrisy, but Tom the Butchers disagrees.  

This is a transcript of our email exchange from yesterday

Me:  i feel hypocritical because i am setting standards i myself cannot meet.  i would not wind up with a woman as ugly as i am.

Tom:  but there is no moral equivalency here.  your tastes and hers are completely separate factors.   you don't have to be attracted to yourself. you just need to find some lady who somehow manages to be attracted to you.   you're not setting HER standards.  that's not up to you. 

Me:  Surely you see a degree of hypocrisy here?


tom: not really! You would be hypocritical if you pretended to be attracted to someone you really weren't just to make a point.   but you have your standards, she has hers, and if you find a woman with lower standards, a lower threshold, good for you.   you're lucky.   which, as it happens, you are. 

Gene - I have a friend who I am friends with mostly because of you. Every year we do the Post Hunt together...and that's about it as far as in-person activities. But we have a great time. Is there anything in particular that we should do on Sunday to commemorate our 4th year of over-eagerness together?

I think I hear what you are really saying.  You want to have an affair with this person -- kind of a "Same Time Next Year" thing -- and want my approval. 

You've got it.   

Okay, folks, the main poll.  

Bear with me here.  I am going to try some psychoanalysis. 

There are relatively few constants in Chatological Humor, but one of them is that roughly 59 percent of the readers (at least as indicated by poll results) are women.    That's just how it is, and how it has been from virtually the beginning. 

Now look at today's results.   At least as of mid-morning, when I last checked, Men's responses outnumbered women by a significant amount.  

Moreover, there was another telling stat:   A huge majority of men identified themselves as plain or unattractive, whereas a majority of women described themselves as attractive!   What's going on here?   Do these results dovetail in any way?

I think so.   I think many women who consider themselves unattractive have found this poll too painful to take.   This makes me feel terrible. 

Men are perfectly happy to see themselves as leprous.  Haha, I'm an iguana!  And I like hot babes!    Whereas the women are just in pain about this.   What a terrible thing we do to our women.   

I had a sly purpose to the way I phrased these answers, which delivered what I expected: Almost half of men, and about a third of women -- though wanting depth and personality and yadda yadda -- still set pretty high physical thresholds for whom they'd marry.    People who are plain are definitely at a serious disadvantage out there. 

I have a grudging admiration for the gumption of the 3 percent of plain men who demand wildly hot women, and am saddenedd but not surprised at all that the corresponding number, for women, is ... zero. 

I agree with you on hero status, yet there is something about how we rate heroes that has bothered me and, unless it is too soon, worth a discussion. We salute the heroes of September 11, the police and fire fighters who lost their lives. Yet, far fewer visit the plaques commemorationg the stock and bond holders and other working people who lost their lives in the World Trade Center that day. The employers have some plaques on display commemorating their employees who died, yet, I find few people ever call these people "heroes". Would you?

No, of course not.   They were victims, tragic victims.  But they did not knowingly place themselves in jeopardy.   They are a perfect example of the misuse of hero.  

The hero discussion brings me back to when Bill Maher said that the guys who took over the planes on 9/11 were not cowards, because they were willing to give their lives for a cause in which they believed, even if we don't believe in the cause. Maher, of course, was famously not renewed on Politically Incorrect. I guess that he is not a coward.

Yeah, he was also correct.   They were villains.  Criminals.   But not cowards, obviously.   Not renewing him for that was the cowardly thing.

Gene, do you have any thoughts on Glenn Kessler? I just don't understand his Pinocchio system. Case in point, he gave Mitt Romney two Pinocchios for using a quote that apparently wasn't one (Albert Shanker saying something along the lines of when children pay union dues, I'll represent children). Workers rights and unions seem like pretty important issues, given the ongoing Wisconsin recall and the efforts by GOP state legislatures to take away collective bargaining rights of public unions. But Obama got four Pinocchios for saying that Rutherford Hayes was a technophobe because he didn't like the telephone. That wasn't true, but I'm pretty sure that Rutherford B. Hayes won't be a crucial question in this presidential campaign. Although I applaud the Post's efforts to separate fact from fiction on the campaign trail and to hold candidates to some standard of honesty, I don't think Kessler is the man for the job. I have no idea of his political leanings, but this isn't the first time that he has given a Republican a get out of jail free card while setting up a stricter standard for a Democrat. Thoughts?

Don't really have any because I didn't read any of these things.  I will say that journalists (not speaking of Kessler in particular here at all) try to bend over backwards to counter the perception that we are liberal stooges and apologists for Obama.    I know that.  I have seen it.   

I understand the impulse, but it can have bad results. 

Mostly, we are really kind of desperately trying to be fair.  The only people who know this are journalists.   It's hard to seem evenhanded when one side is so often right, and one side so often wrong.  

Meanwhile, my ma knew Albert Shanker well.   After FDR he was probably the closest to a deity in my home. 

I admit I am fascinated by the success of the FIFTY SHADES OF GREY book series. I love studying the NY Times Best Seller lists, especially now that they have it broken out so many ways, and watching the series dominate (see what I did there?) the e-book list was at least understandable. Once they went into print though, they have also beaten the paperback list into submission (yeah, I did that again). Does that mean people are actually walking around showing off the book covers? I did try to read the first one, on my iPad using the Kindle app, but gave up after 50 plus pages of exclamations about how hot the narrator found Mr. Grey. What do you think the success says about U.S. reading habits and the world of books in general? It really surprises me how long and sustained the success of the series has proven so far. What say you?

Just finishing up a column on it.  So, wait. 

I'm sure you've experienced this phenomenon: Someone you think is very good-looking says or does something that indicates an attitude that you find offensive, and their attractiveness in your eyes wanes. And the opposite: Someone you did not consider particularly attractive says or does something that indicates harmony with your attitudes, or genuine kindness or compassion, and lo & behold, they suddenly seem handsome to you. I thought Stephen Colbert was the cutest thing ever until he started his own show, and he is so brilliant at being a shout-'em-down right-wing-nut that I can look at him with complete loathing now. Even though I totally get the joke.

Hillary Clinton has gotten better looking to me over the years. 

I don't even know why I'm asking you this, but here goes anyway: My boyfriend is being deployed, and will be gone for 9 months, with a few months training beforehand (but we'll see each other at points during the training). We're both almost 30, been dating about a year. I want the next few months to be fun and memorable... any ideas on anything we should definitely do? I was thinking of maybe having one big party, with all his friends and family, where we basically celebrate all the holidays he'll miss, like Christmas, New Years, St. Patty's, Easter, his birthday, in one party.

Sheesh.  We are very different people, you and I. 

If I were you I would share him with no one.   Pure private time.   The last thing I would do would be to throw a party. 

"As to the last answer, this only works on the baby-side door. Not the other backdoor. " If the vehicle is a minivan, there is often enough room for a passenger to get out with on the baby seat side. Especially if the baby seat side is the curb side.

Well, that would probably be a distraction, and a problem. 

In our early 20s, a friend and I coined the term "latently attractive" or LA. Basically these were people who weren't particularly attractive, but had the potential to become attractive as you got to know them they because of their personality. "I met a guy at the bar last night."  "Oooh was he cute?"  "He was an LA." There were lots of embellishments to this basic theory (LA minuses, or LAMs, were guys who you’d probably never see as cute, but were datable; inverse LAs were guys who got less attractive as you got to know them). At that point in our life, it sort of revolutionized dating for us - suddenly this whole class of people who had been in the background were prospects. I married an LA; I'm probably one myself. The writer sounds like a LAM. She's 20, which means that most of the people around her haven't realized that LAs exist yet. She should accept the fact that she's going to be a late bloomer (neither my LA husband nor I had sex until our 20s) and focus on getting ready for that day when guys will suddenly wake up and realize that there are LAs out there. She should find her style; develop opinions and hobbies; be healthy; build friendships; have a pro teach her to do makeup in a way that deemphasizes her nose, emphasizes her eyes, and makes her think of her "small but fat" lips as a cute, pouty mouth; see a dermatologist about reducing her stretch marks and making the rest of her skin glow. Your early 20s are tough; the beautiful people are at the most beautiful they'll ever be and the whole party/bar scene rewards those who can pull off a skimpy top. It doesn't last forever - soon, the women will get wrinkles and the men will start balding, and everyone will widen their definition of "attractive."

This answer started out strong then got boring.  I nodded out and never finished.  HOWEVER it seems sweet and helpful so I am publishing it.  If you hid profanities near the end I am in trouble. 

But only if you think you are. Seriously, people who are comfortable with who they are will come out on top even if they suffered through being unattractive in their youth. It's harder when you're younger. When you get older looks just doesn't matter as much. On another note, my mom always said she wished I hadn't been pretty because then I wouldn't be obsessed with trying to be pretty. She thinks when girls aren't pretty they develop interests outside of their looks and cultivate their personalities. Maybe she's on to something.

This compels me to restate my earnestly held belief that men who are less  endowed than some tend to be better lovers.  They try harder, as it were. I very much wish this to be true, so, ladies, feel no need to disabuse me of this idea.  

I have a stick shift. My boyfriend says I don't need to use the parking break if I leave the car in gear when I park it, but that's how my dad taught me to park when I was 15, and that's how I've been parking for the last 16 years. What should I be doing?

Dad, as always, was right. 

Good time for this debate to come up. A few days ago, Paul Fussell died. He wrote a much-honored book called The Great War and Modern Memory which, in my very simplistic explanation, dealt with how the horrors of WWI forever changed both British and American literature, making irony the dominant mode of expression. (Think Catch-22). Anyway, Fussell pointed out that governments used euphemisms to mask what was really going on on the Western front. Instead of saying "the dead," for example, they spoke of "the fallen." By the use of such language (along, of course, with heavy government censorship) they stopped people at home from realizing that their brothers, sons, husbands had had their innards blown out with machine guns, or, if they lived, had spent weeks sometimes surrounding by rotting corpses. Fusell's ultimate take (and he was a decorated infantryman in WWII) is that there are no heroes, just dead men.

Oh, there are heroes.    Even I am not that jaundiced. 

What about diplomats? Are diplomats killed in the line of duty automatically heroes? Or perhaps only diplomats in scary countries where the risk is higher?

Nah.  Dips do not have every expectation of being killed.  The death of a dip is a rarity. 

So if everyone is a hero, how do you differentiate between the folks that are actual "ran through a hail of bullets to pull an injured soldier to safety", kinds of hero and the "got hit with a stray bullet in the latrine" kind of hero? And please don't tell me your one of those people that think that everyone that died in 9/11 is a hero. Talk about insulting the firefighters and police that raced in to the buildings...

I answered the last part of that question already. 

Hey, there are degrees of heroism.  You are being silly.   Some men win the Medal of Honor.   Some lesser medals. Some purple hearts.   All degrees of hero, to me.   Why must we quibble. 

I don't really care about the use of "hero," but I am constantly irritated at the barrage of things I now "deserve" in commercials. When did simply being alive mean you deserve a house or viagra or money? Didn't people once have to do something "deserving" in order to deserve something?

Because you are such a swell person, with enough discretionary income! 

Somewhat related to your poll - I am thin & cute, so put myself in the "attractive" category. However I had to pause before doing so, because I had an absolutely horrible experience this weekend. I went bathing-suit shopping at Target, and when I tried the suit on in the dressing room, took one look at myself in the bikini top & literally burst into tears. In my case "thin" = "flat chested" and I'd managed to select a top that made me look like a bony starvation victim. My boyfriend was with me & gave me lots of loving reassurance, but seeing myself that way really gave quite a blow to my self-esteem. Argh.

Well, I think you are beautiful. 

Toward the end of the last chat, there was a brief discussion about the mortification that would ensue if one's Google searches were made public. It reminded me of this debacle: Link (These are screencaps of people's search logs, so it's all text but probably at least half of it is obscene, sometimes mindblowingly so. There are two more installments if you click "The Weekend Web" at the top and browse to August 2006.)

I just lost a half hour paging through this.  It is bleakly, darkly, hilarious.    Practically poetry.   Note: There's some disturbing racial and sexual stuff in there. 

On this very subject, just a couple of weeks ago I was informed of a Dan Savage item about an allegedly straight  man who had an overpowering urge to be kicked in the testicles by a good looking straight man.   This was a fetish so strange that I began to research it. 

Okay, so the Post gets THAT search string from me.  I can imagine the result:

Marcus Brauchli, Post Exec Editor:  Gene, we've just been looking at your recent string of Google searches beginning with the word "kick..."

Me:  It's okay, I'm clearing my desk now. 

Marcus: We think it prudent that ... 

Me:  No problem.  Completely understood!   I am walking out the door.  

Ok, for guys these two options are acceptable, but for women... Are you nuts?!? It depends on the week, day, month, hour, hell, sometimes even the minute how attractive or unattractive I see myself. Add to that current relationship status, closeness of the final even of said monthly cycle, the number of carbs I have consumed in the last 24 hours, how good my hair looks and what jeans I'm wearing and my judgement on my attractiveness can vary so greatly that 14 firetrucks, two elephants and my entire class of 22 4th graders could fit in the gap!

Okay, this made me laugh, and others have said something like this, but I accuse you of disingenuousness.   You know that amid all this subjective confusion, there is an objective mean.  And it is one or the other, on balance. 

Just so you know, aside from appearing to keep himself in good shape, TtheB also has a really sexy voice. Please make sure he narrates the online solutions to the Post Hunt clues again this year.

B-but he says "vetinarian."   He says "inneresting"!!! 

You should be glad you work for the Washington Post. Your public admission that you found a commercial depicting an underage woman as stimulating could be taken as a possible admission of pedaphilia. Since you signed your name to that admission, there are employers who would have immediately dismissed you from employment and, while I doubt anyone would prosecute over that, the statement could be turned over to prosecutors.

Haha.  No. 

First off, it would not be pedophilia, it would be "ephebophilia," which is attraction to post-pubescent yoots.   Still not good, but not quite as revolting.   The first is a clear deviancy.  The second is a big old wad of inappropriateness, if you act on it. 

There is nothing untoward in acknowledging that a 17 year old girl might be sexually alluring.  In fact, there would be serious disingenuousness in denying it.     


Sometimes I look at my husband and find him hideous. I think the same of myself at times. Other times, I find us both wildly attractive and some seriously good times follow. My attraction to him is in direct proportion to my feelings about his competence. This must be common among the marrieds; we have been married almost 10 years. Do you have varying levels of attraction for your wife, or is she always a hottie in your eyes?

She is always a hottie, though she gets hotter when playing with the dogs, for some reason. 

well now I feel like a crappy person. can I change my hero vote to agree with you? i'm afraid you convinced me that I was being a waffling, liberal dillweed (I picked "it's valid, but not today").

Yeah, we'll just change the scoresheet. 

He was acting out a parody of a  liberal.  I mean, c'mon.   I do believe he apologized today, actually. 

He was showing terrible judgment, and if you look at the video, he seemed to sense it midway through!  His eyes began to look panicked, and he actually misspoke and said "comfortable" instead of "uncomfortable" TWICE. 

This once happened to me: I was publicly speaking, answering questions, and started off on a tangent about a certain social issue.   I heard myself saying something that I believed, but which would have been hurtful to a bunch of people, and which 90 percent of people would disagree with me on.   I stopped awkwardly, and said, "You know, I am rethinking this answer as I am giving it.  Never mind."  It was awkward, but better than the alternative, which was the train wreck we're talking about. 

Yeah, this was The Issue of Mine That Dare Not Speak Its Name. 

Gene, are you ever driving down a highway and reach down to shift to 5th and you're already there? My friends don't understand how I can drive a stick in our area's traffic, but to me it's just instinct after 25 years. On the rare occasions I drive an automatic, I have trouble keeping my left foot off the brake.

I slam on the brakes by mistake once and exactly once every time I am driving a rental. 

I would make one modification: The gentle alarm goes off EVERY time the door is opened. It makes for a simpler and better device. Why? With the original design, Mommy (or Daddy) opens the door and gets in the card. Alarm is cocked. Then says to herself/himself, "Oops, I forgot something." Gets out of the car, reenters, and the alarm beeps. Gets out of the car at the destination and the alarm does not beep.

I think if it beeped all the time it would defeat the purpose of it.   It would become background noise you wouldn't even think about. 

See. I thought his voice was totally hot until he said vetinarian. Now I can't stand to hear his voice.

Damn straight! 

You say that people who willingly go into war are heroes, because you'd never do it - you'd have to be drafed. Which makes me wonder - do you think people who are drafted are heroes?

I think they have to earn it!   With valor.   They're not there because they want to be. 

We're probably splitting hairs, but what the hell? 

The poll reminds me of my big issue with online dating, which is that lacking many of the cues available when interacting in-person, I feel like I get thrust into a place of pure superficiality. I swear I'm not that superficial in real life, but online, my general ambivalence about dating, combined with the utter surfeit of choice, resulted in a lot of cavalier aesthetic rejection. Which made me feel bad about myself, on a number of levels. One of which is the obvious, "it's not fair to dismiss people based on looks" level that is manifestly right but also too simple--how else do you dismiss people when you have so little to go on? Additionally, it can be hard to separate out looks from style, and the way someone smiles or stands can be subtly unattractive. The other level, which I find philosophically problematic, is that I would then think, what right do *I* have to dismiss on looks? Am I so attractive myself? I've tried to do an honest accounting of my looks and it's not bad, but not particularly great either (I was once told that I'm pretty enough, which sounds unimpressive but was said consideringly, by someone with high standards. I don't think it's inaccurate, and figure it's not a bad place to be). There's this way in which looks feel like they translate into station, and that by being picky online, I was being pretentious. I'm about ten pounds overweight, for instance, and when being messaged by overweight men (particularly ones whose profiles revealed no real similarities in taste) I would sometimes experience a bout of neurotic despondency that I was bound to this class of overweight people, that I had no real right to strive beyond. The problem, of course, is that physical attraction is too often essentialized as physical attractiveness; the former being a fundamental element of a sustainable romantic relationship, and the latter, though real enough, is as often a result of the former as otherwise. So, anyways, I don't online date anymore.

I like your point about how online dating encourages dwelling on  superficiality/looks. 

I want to put an idea out there, wondering what people think about it.   Let's say you are a very attractive woman.   What would you think about using a photo of someone else less attractive?   Not awful, but substantially less attractive?  Would that weed out a sort of man you wanted weeded out?  Or would you worry it might outweed the right guy for you?

Your cartoon photo profile "About The Host" shows white and black hair. Your picture however on front page show you without any gray in your hair. You're a 60 year old man with suddenly no gray hair? Do you use the same barber that Ronald Reagan used to use?

I have gray but it is scattered.  So I don't have Romney-like graying temples.    The cartoon is really the only way Eric can show some gray.  

Unlike Tom Shroder -- the taut-bodied guy with the sexy voice --  I am not a cueball. 

NYT apologist David Carr does not include WashPost on his reading list in recent TalkingPointsMemo interview. Why?

He's just jealous. 

Today's poll struck a real chord with me. As a bookish, desperately lonely teenager, I tried to figure out the relationships I saw around me based on the attractiveness of the people involved. There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it ; my friendly, athletic classmate with terrible acne had a smoking hot boyfriend, while the weedy musician's girlfriend was practically a Slavic supermodel. Other boys and girls seemed to be paired up with partners who were approximately their equal in terms of looks. Since I saw myself as objectively good looking, I concluded that I had to be some sort of undateable troll. It was only later that I figured out that while I might have been okay in the looks department, my attitude -- that I was smarter than everyone else, just to start -- was deeply unattractive. Building real relationships between equals, both friendly and romantic, turned out to take a lot of work (and therapy). This is terrible advice, akin to telling a woman struggling with infertility to relax, but has the reader in question considered how she presents herself? I'll bet that a sense of "I'm too ugly to be in a relationship" is just as palpable as "I consider myself superior to you because of my SAT score."

I think part of it is simply a lack of sense of self.   There were girls in my high school who I was literally afraid to speak to.   They weren't snooty.  They were just extremely good looking.  I was terrified of them -- of rejection by them, I guess, but even just in context of being someone they'd be willing to hang with or talk to.  

I think we cause a lot of problems for ourselves.

I meant to mention.  Yesterday's Barney & Clyde took us three years to write.   We've been noodling with a deja vu idea since the birth of the strip, and never got one that we felt was original.   Finally, did.    And we guess, now, that someone else has to have done the same joke, somewhere. 

I find it ironic that, in your example, Mommy forgets to drop the baby off at day-care because she's simultaneously driving and talking to her brother. Maybe the first rule of driving with a baby in the car is to stay off the phone so you can focus on the primary task at hand, driving your baby to a destination and not leaving the baby in the car. A distracted driver does not mix well with a baby in the car.

About half the cases I researched involved talking on the phone:  Lyn Balfour was and Miles Harrison, also.  

I once started a new job and realized that one of my new coworkers was about the ugliest man I had ever seen. He pretty much looked like an underfed rat. A few months later, I knew he was a brilliant and hard worker who was always willing to take time to explain something to the newbie and who would declare that he had had a great weekend (while the rest of us complained about the weather) because he had taken his young son for a long walk in the rain and let him jump in all the puddles. And by the time I realized this, I also realized that I did not consider him unattractive at all.


He probably didn't have a son.


So Tom Butchers the language, even when he speaks?

Yes.  I have written about his atrocities many times.   He eats bacon and aigs.    He looks at himself in the meer.  

Does he say "libarian?" Libary?

No, but he says vunerable.   He denies this, but he does.   

First, just wanted to say I was torn on how to classify myself. I've never thought of myself as hot but I do think I'm better than plain. So I went with hot because my husband thinks I am. And he's Brazilian, so he knows hot. With that said, I would say it really is about confidence and personality. I've known a few guys who at first I didn't think were very attractive. But then I got to know them and found I really liked them as people. Don't know if this made them appear hotter to me or if it meant I just didn't care about their looks. But I was definitely into them. And it works the other way too. I've met guys I thought were HOT but found out they were jerks. All of the sudden, they looked greasy and scuzzy to me. So yes, looks matter to an extent but they really hinge on your confidence and personality. Maybe some guys are superficial but I bet there are a lot who care about other things. Seriously - that's not an after school pep talk. The hard part is just not caring about how you look. Like I said - I never thought of myself as attractive. Throw in the fact I'm an introvert and you've got one girl who didn't date until college. But I practised at,being more outgoing and not caring TOO much about my looks. (Oh I still cared, just not so much I let it showed.) I just finally got comfortable with myself. And I landed me a hot Brazilian husband!

Well said.  By forcing the choice I forced in the poll, I didn't mean to ignore all this touchy-feely pep talk stuff.  I accept the truth of touchy-feely stuff.   

Please tell me you saw this, about the man who took LSD and then chewed another man's face off: Link  So what's your plan for the zombie apocalypse?

Yeah, the initial headline I saw was "Cops Kill Naked Man Who Was Eating Other Man's Face," and I immediately thought:  must be Miami.   

The thing is, people have different criteria for attractiveness. I'm amazed at the brides and grooms on "Say yes to the dress" that say their groom/bride is really good-looking and I think "yuck"

Ah, brides! 

If I had to judge only from photos from Big Weddings, I'd conclude most brides are ugly, scary beings.    I hate the look that so many of them are stampeded into for that Special Day -- unnaturally made up, unaturally coiffed, hair gelled and jolted up as if by electrocution, eyes in a perpetual startle, lips moist and fat and unapproachable, the whole thing designed with a certain competitive ferocity.  I am the most beautiful woman here, dammit!   I've PAID for that distinction.   Behold my splendor, which was decided upon by someone who doesn't know me but whose job it is to create this look for this special day.    Here is the look, by the way.  

Anyway, I'm prejudiced.   Obviously.    

I think the only sure thing this would do is make the man think you were a total nutjob upon first meeting.

Well, he might think that SECOND.  The first thing he would think starts withe vava and ends with voom. 

Sorry, I don't have a baby, so I don't know how their baby seats work. But, I would imagine that the parents need to buckle their loved one into the baby seat. Couldn't the car tell if the seat was buckled and sound the reminder alarm when the Driver's Door is opened? The car knows when I haven't buckled my seat belt or left on my headlights, I would think that knowing a baby was on board wouldn't be that much harder.

Ah, now you are into cost-benefit curves, and the auto industry.    Yes, this could easily happen, at a cost of something like (they claim) $200 a car.   It's not a NICE calculus, but it's a REAL calculus:  Is it worth it, to save maybe ten babies a year? 

I like the idea. Only problem? Baby goes on passenger's side. This way Mom/Dad can give a binky/grab the dropped snack cup/what have you. I never had the baby behind my seat. Also, when baby very young, car seat is often in middle position--safest from side collisions. So--great idea, but needs to be perfected for the actual use by the human. I think a beep every time is OK--our car does it when we leave the keys in the ignition.

Hm.  THAT's a bigger problem.  The way this is designed, as I understand it, it would not work behind the passenger seat.  This might be its undoing.   Is this true, moms n' dads?  Is the kid behind the passenger? 

Did you see this great article by your co-author Gina Barreca in the Chronicle of Higher Education?  Link

This is one of the best things Gina's ever written.  And it is deeply true about her. 

When my phone rings and I hear "Hi! It's Gina!"  I have to pull the phone away from my ear a bit.  Her whispers are louder than your sneezes.  She's great. 

Okay, here's a nonsequitur.   Gina's husband is Michael Meyer, an English professor.   He has written a college textbook that has become my favorite take-to-bed book ever.   It's titled, dreadfully, The Bedford Introduction to Literature.   It weighs about six pounds and has hundreds of literary exerpts and short stories, chosen masterfully for the one and only criterion that ever should be used by academics, and so seldom is:  They are interesting.  

You want to remember why you love words?  Get this book.  

Has this become the lamest popularity contest in showbiz ? I had high hopes when it first was announced but it quickly turned into an award of popularity and pc correctness.

It's been coopted by the need to be "safe," which is antithetical to humor.  So, yeah, bad.   Here are the winners since its inception.  My annotated list, below.  

Dr. Carson Chow, obesity researcher: Link

Thank you. 

Did you read that column about his son Jon? Look, I get it: he loves his son and his son's story is a heart-warming one, but it was horrifying how he uses the column to castigate parents who choose to end the pregnancy of a FETUS (not "unborn baby" as he calls it) with Down's Syndrome. Not everyone has the resources of George Will. Not all with Down's Syndrome have access to politicians, baseball owners, baseball players, media spotlights. Is there a section at the National's ballpark specially reserved all season long for all those with Down's Syndrome? Life is complicated, George. Life is messy and sometimes people have to make very difficult decisions. Leave those people alone

Yes, this column made me very uncomfortable.   George seemed a bit tone-deaf to the fact that, ah, most Down kids don't get to be the Yankees' pal.  And many parents lack his resources to give their special needs child a good life. 

And I hate "unborn baby."   It is manipulative.   

Hey, there has to be a good joke out there using POTUS and FETUS, right? 

Yes, absolutely.   Convicted on mug shot alone. 

Dear Gene -- I believe that I find funny things funny, and that my comic instincts are within the mainstream of humordom. But for years I have looked at Lio every day, and cannot find anything remotely humorous about it. Odd and weird, yes, but not enough to be funny. Since you are wise in the way of both maladies and humor, am I sick, and is there a way to cure me? Are there "Learning to Love Lio" chat rooms? Or is this antipathy allowed, in the sense of my still being normal. Thank you, A devoted fan.

There are a number of established, successful strips (read: more successful than mine)  that seem to find no need to deliver what most of us consider a "joke."  They subsist on interesting situations and strength of characters and personalities.   Some great strips work in this area with complete success:  "Get Fuzzy"  and "Cul de Sac" will often not have what you would define as a "punch line," but deliver a little piece of situation and personality that completely satisfies the reader.   Other strips try to inhabit this area but, in my view, often fail:  "Mutts" is the best example. 

Then there's Lio.   I don't know what to say about Lio.   It has a rabid following.   It tells a joke.   The joke is always the same: Lio is a creepy kid who likes monsters and macabre things.   People like this strip.   I don't know what to say.   Today's strip isn't about him liking monsters, oddly enough.  I still don't know what to say.   

I am the reader who pointed out the aptonym Jenna Talackova. It was the 'genital lack ova" that jumped out at me. On an unrelated subject, I identified with you when you said you had an IQ of 160 in the 7th grade, but that that it has been receding ever since. Mine tested at 140 in 4th grade, and 170+ in high school. I'd be surprised if it is 120 now. But I never will know, because I want to live with the illusion it is higher. I will most certainly not seek to test it, as you iintend to test yours. And never would I publish it (unless it is quite a bit higher than I suspect), but you intend to do that, also. I have been struck before by the fact that you apparently feel no need to maintain illusions about yourself. You seem to be totally without guile. This is not the way most of us operate. Explain yourself, sir.

I am not sure "guile" is the word you are looking for.  The word you are looking for is "shame."

If you are a columnist, the search for column fodder imposes itself on every wretched waking moment of your life.   For an easy subject that writes itself, you would happily trade  whatever shred of dignity you might have left. 

Hey, I just wrote a column in which I compared my body morphology to Huckleberry Hound's.    No problem whatsoever. 

Gene, I am a reasonably attractive and fit 38 year old woman. I just emailed my husband to tell him that, during the night last night, I was awakened by the sound of my own farting. 1. I don't remember ever being awakened by my own farting before. Is this common for other people? 2. Is my husband likely to find me more or less attractive after receiving my email? He has plenty of farts. Mine tend to be quieter than his.

Rowr.   A woman with an ability to laugh at herself.  He will be overcome with lust. 

So, basically, women are less shallow than men.

Absolutely, by almost 2-1.   Big surprise there, eh? 

Do you think this describes Gerald Ford, who helped the nation heal following Watergate? Or did Ford's handsomeness and athleticness automatically disqualify him?

Ford and Cleveland served similar purposes as president.  They gave dignity back to a terribly sullied office.  Cleveland was a stronger personality, though.  A bullheaded man.   My favorite thing he did was hold his patronage interviews in a public room, with hundreds of people there.  And political hacks would come up to him asking for jobs based on how much they contributed, or what ward they heeled, and he would thunder out "SO BESIDES YOUR POLITICAL CONNECTIONS WHAT SKILLS TO YOU OFFER TO MAKE YOURSELF WORTHY OF THIS JOB?"

Well, the others are mispronunciations, but THIS is a regional (probably Southern) accent. Did TtheB grow up in Florida?

He did, in fact.  Gainesville, I believe.    

In retrospect, we made a major strategic error and I wish we had thought of it earlier: it never occurred to us to have Americans Elect pick you as its Presidential nominee. What? No one could get, what was it, 3,000 supporters to be on their primary ballot? We could have done that. Now for the interesting part: Gene, while it was a long shot, given the opposition and the negative campaigns against both major candidates, you could have won. Now, for my question: If elected President, what would you have done?

This would have assured the first-ever appearance of the President of the United States at The Post Hunt.    Which is this Sunday, by the way.  Noon.  

Okay we are done for today.   Thank you all, and hope to see you all for the Hunt Chat on Friday, then at the thing itself on Sunday.        

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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