The Washington Post

Chatological Humor: Monthly with Moron

Nov 27, 2012

Join Gene Weingarten Tuesday, Nov. 27 during his monthly chat with readers.

Take today's polls:
- Petraeus polls (males - females)

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

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

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

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

New to Chatological Humor? Read the FAQ.

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

Good afternoon!

Today's intro is filled with personal news items.

Item one: After a month off, I am back to you from the rigors of a Magazine cover story that will run on Dec. 9, followed by 4,000 letters to the editor, all of them shouting.   The subject is a murder about which everyone has a strong opinion.   I will save you the trouble of reading all the letters:  I am a stooge and a louse and a sadly deluded fool.

Item two:  A major publisher has accepted a children’s book on which Eric Shansby and I have collaborated.  It is a parable about a boy and his dog, and though it only contains about 300 words, it has a twist  that will turn it into a breathtaking work of literature and garner 4,000 letters to the publisher, all of them shouting.   You are all free to guess what it is, but I will not acknowledge if you are right, nor will Mr. Shansby.  You will just have to wait a year, read it, have a literary orgasm, then write a shouting letter. 

Item three:  "Barney & Clyde" has been selected for inclusion in the next edition of a major college textbook on literature, where it will be dissected and deconstructed alongside other important works by other important writers such as W.B. Yeats.  I am not making this up.

That allows me to segue into a startling disclosure about “Barney & Clyde,” the two-year-old comic strip created by me, my son, Dan, and cartoonist David Clark. 

In a few weeks, the following conversation occurs between Duane, an executive at Pillsbury Pharmaceuticals and Ms. Foxx, his assistant:

Duane:  We’re developing a new drug to cure bratty kids and make them cuter.

Ms. Foxx:  Cuter?

Duane:  Yeah, brimming with 1950s childlike wonder and innocence, like a kid from Mayberry.

Ms. Foxx:  So, is this a stimulant?

Duane:  Nope. An Opie-oid.

Sure, it is painful, but pain is our milieu.   The reason I am mentioning it is that we didn’t write it.  It was written by a man named Horace LaBadie, who has emerged as a reliable ghostwriter for many of the episodes of “Barney & Clyde.” He does this for free because, he says drily, he feels an obligation to “improve the strip.”  He is among my closest friends, though we have never physically met.  We correspond nearly daily via email, however, and have done so for the past seven years.  He lives in Florida.    When I asked him for a photo of himself, he said this one was the most recent one he had. He is on the right.




Horace is an odd man.   A man of mystery.   

He has written a number of astonishingly wonky computer books  as well as a history of the eclectic religion of the Romans during the Republic and early principate.   He may or may not be related to this man.  

Horace is a polymath   A review of our email correspondences over the years reveals that his ambits of interest include  the lineage of Oscar Wilde, Napoleon’s confinement at St. Helena, the prose of Ralph Waldo Emerson, waterless urinals, the effects of cellphone usage on sperm motility, the anthropology of cargo cults, the anorexia of Sandra Dee, the Tao of Zippy the Pinhead, remote-controlled fart machines, and Pliny the Elder.

We do not use all of Horace’s ideas – not because they are weak, but because they often rely on unrealistic assumptions of reader knowledge of esoterica.   One recent rejected idea required the reader to know that “emmer” (Triticum dicoccum) is a primitive type of European wheat.

Anyway, this intro serves to introduce you to our peculiar pro bono ghost, who most recently contributed this.

Two old matters:  Winners of my bet on the Yankees should get their grudgingly signed dollars this week.   Also, my analysis of the blue-eyed islander riddle will constitute next week’s Update.

If you haven’t taken the Patraeus poll (males - females), take it now.  We’re discussing it soon.

Let’s go.  We start at noon.

I know you've talked about lane merging in previous chats, mostly about when to do it - as soon as you realize you need to vs. waiting until you absolutely have to. I at first was a firm believer that people who waited until the end were extremely rude and would get over much earlier. That was until I realized that, although they might be rude, the mergers have all the power in this relationship. All it takes for them is to get one little bit of their car in front of yours and boom, you're done. You can't keep them out because you would have to hit their car to do so. So I've become a late merger, even though I feel bad for doing so. I figure if I can't beat them (and you really can't), might as well join them. The one thing keeping me from feeling really bad is the knowledge that the whole so-called polite idea of "I'll let one person in and no more" actually backfires, because most of these cars are let in way before the merger must happen, and then they also practice the same philosophy, letting another car in. It continues to compound until you realize you've actually just let 20 cars cut you (and everyone else behind you) instead of one. Which brings me to my whole point of this post: My husband has come up with an answer, but I'm not sure how I feel about it. Basically, he waits until he gets close to where the merger must happen (but not all the way there) to find a place where he can merge without cutting someone off. However, he doesn't get all the way over - he straddles the lane, essentially preventing anyone from passing him and cutting him off. It works in that the person who let us in really did let in just one car. It also means you don't have some reckless driver who waits until literally the absolute moment to merge and cuts off the people who got over in a reasonable manner, even those did choose to wait to merge. But I also feel like it's a really low move. What do you think?

I was just discussing this on Tgiving with my friends Buzz and Libby.   My feeling is that there are two competing viable philosophies about how to deal with this situation.  One is that you form a long line, the other is that you do it a little more chaotically, maneuvering to get off as expeditiously as possible without being a pig or endangering others.   I suspect that this second way is the most efficient, in terms of getting most people off as quickly as possible.  It's the capitalist model of free enterprise.   The alternative is the Commie model of following rules.   

Now if I am right about the previous, why on Earth should we all have to follow the Commie model just because someone starts a line where he or she thinks it should be?  

It bothers me.  I compromise, as does Buzz's daughter Beah. (But not Buzz, who follows the Marxist-Leninist principle.)  I will see the line, and ease into it where I wish, not very far from the end, but not at the end either.   And I will ease in only in such a fashion that it is organic with the flow, without causing disruption.    I use my driving skills to their best advantage. 

On the last poll question, I put that my relationship/marriage would probably end if all my texts and emails became public, not because I'm having or ever had an affair, but because many of those emails were my bitching to friends about what a jerk my husband is being. If he knew what I've said about him, he'd probably divorce me. Although, given what a jerk he's been, I should probably divorce him.

Hm.  I might be more upset about my wife bitterly complaining about me to friends than if she had an affair.  The first is a complete betrayal of our privacy.  The second is a different, more complicated betrayal.  Yes, I know.  I'm alone on this. 

I spent a lot of 2006 sending really dirty emails from my work email to a colleague across the country. I stopped when a coworker who knew about this said "do you really want to be sitting next to [General Counsel] and [Scary Government Agency] with them asking 'what, exactly, did you mean by [explicit statement].'?" I did not.

Right.  Exactly.  But you probably aren't ASHAMED of them.  You just don't want to have to EXPLAIN them to a suit. 

This is pretty much the same reason you don't ever want to use an expletive in an angry conversation at work, even if it's warranted.   Because anytime you do that, the analysis of the debate suddenly turns on the fact that you said [expletive] and you lose.   

Gene, Several months ago, you predicted that President Obama would win re-election because he is cool and Romney is not. That seemed like a very subjective view of the candidates and their chances, but I want you to know that there is a more objective method to gauge coolness and predict the election winner. I work near the intersection of Pennsylvania Ave and 17th Street, and 3-4 souvenir hawkers regularly set up their tables there. I noticed during the 2008 primaries that these vendors were selling Obama t-shirts well before it was clear that he had clinched the nomination. I don't think they ever had Clinton shirts. The Obama shirts multplied in styles going into the general election, and a measly half-hearted McCain t-shirt showed up late. By then, I was pretty sure that these vendors were on to something. This year, I looked closely to see whether the t-shirts would be an accurate signal of the election outcome. Although they have been selling Obama as president shirts for the last four years, the vendors didn't really get into the election until very late. There were no t-shirts for the Republican primary candidates, and nothing Romney related appeared until probably October. By then, the vendors were hanging several different styles of Obama for president shirts, and one token Romney shirt just stayed folded on the table until election day and was quickly dispatched to Africa. The souvenir vendors' stuff (FBI baseball caps and "I love DC" bags) is an impulse buy and therefore better than anything else (like polls conducted on landline phones) at identifying what is cool. I'll bet Nate Silver didn't think of that. So, here you have undisputed empirical evidence to support your election prediction methodolgy. You're welcome.

I tend to think this is a good measure, mainly because these are sold not to liberal Washingtonians, but to tourists from all over.   It addresses, exactly, the notion of cool.  A Romney supporter didn't feel cool about it.   Didn't want to brag about supporting his guy.   Obama supporters felt cool.  Because he is so, so cool.   Romney would never have posed like this. 

Thoughts on Spielberg's "Lincoln"?

So far I've only seen the trailers, which reeked of severe scenery-chewing, but I gather from reviews that this is not a problem and that DDL is great.    I urge everyone to first read this, which I have read and is wonderful and will help you understand Lincoln.    You want to read David Von Drehle any time you can. 

You used to live near Grover Norquist, right? It's helpful to remember that people know him and don't despise him ... that's an accurate take on your relationship, correct? You don't think he's truly Pol Pot and Darth Vader's love child, right? I need to remember this when I watch him on TV or see him quoted in the paper and have the immediate reaction of thinking he is a deeply traitorous person and a creep.

Well, yeah.  He's funny, which goes a lot way to indemnifying a person, in my mind.   I could not find this online, so here is the full text of a column I did about Grover ten years ago. 

One of the more misguided myths about Washington is that there is a hostility between political conservatives and the liberal media. Nonsense. We are both more mature than that. We recognize and celebrate our differences. To prove this, I recently had a respectful, issue-oriented chat with my neighbor, tax-reform lobbyist Grover Norquist, who is recognized as one of the strongest voices of new American conservatism.

Gene: Are you or are you not a beast in human form?

Grover: I'm surprised you're giving me credit for the human part, since this is The Washington Post.

Gene: I think all patriotic Americans can agree that renaming National Airport after Ronald Reagan was just a small step in the right direction, as it were. You yourself have actually advocated putting his face on the $ 10 bill. Shouldn't we also consider renaming the country "The United Ronald States of Reagan America and Nancy Too," to commemorate the greatest leader--nay, the greatest life form--in the history of the civilized world?

Grover: No, because Nancy is slightly pink. I do think that we might have a statue of Reagan with one foot in Maine and the other in Tallahassee. I believe this is the first time I have officially suggested this, and I like it. It would be like the Colossus of Rhodes, only bigger. Actually, an even better plan would be to name all U.S. airports after Reagan.

Gene: Couldn't that cause some confusion?

Grover: I don't see why. They are already all called "airport," and that doesn't create any confusion.

Gene: You recently made headlines by distributing to Republican officeholders a list of lobbyists you identified as working for prominent Democrats. Critics say this is basically a shameful political blacklist, aligning you with the ugliest era in American life and, indeed, with one of the vilest humans ever to sit in the U.S. Senate, a man whose very name evokes foul bigotry, leading to the inevitable conclusion that you, Grover Norquist, are no better. My question is, what is your favorite color?

Grover: Red.

Gene: Really? That seems out of character, somehow.

Grover: When I was 4, someone asked me, and I picked red, so I stuck with it. It would seem flighty if at 45 I suddenly went with blue.

Gene: This is a very conservative position.

Grover: Thank you.

Gene: What's up with your name? Is it even theoretically possible to have a more conservative name? How about Throckmorton Humphington the Elder?

Grover: Believe it or not, my parents told me the alternative was "Thor."

Gene: Wow. Thor may be the most conservative name ever. That makes "Grover" sound like "Che."

Grover: They were also considering Siegurd.

Gene: Could you imagine ever dating or marrying a liberal?

Grover: Dating, sure. My girlfriend in business school was drop-dead gorgeous, and a socialist. But I simply couldn't marry someone who didn't understand the importance of cutting the capital gains tax--unless tremendous quantities of money were involved and she was old with a bad heart.

Gene: I notice that every few weeks you host a party at your house attended by well-dressed young conservatives. On behalf of the neighbors, I would like to say we are sick and tired of having to clean up all the drug paraphernalia, condoms and underwear scattered in the bushes the next morning.

Grover: [Silence.]

Gene: Ha ha. Just kidding. The fact is these are the most well-behaved young adults I have ever seen. The only slightly untoward activity seems to be when they repair to your front lawn to talk on cell phones, as though they are calling their brokers based on some overheard intelligence. What is it about conservatives that makes them so darned polite? And what can we do to correct this?

Grover: It's an observable fact. Conservatives are nicer people. They are more pleasant. They are not walking around angry all the time.

Gene: Right. They are astonishingly boring.

Grover: That's ridiculous. How can you call someone boring who wants to privatize Social Security?

Gene: What is the nicest thing you can say about liberals?

Grover: I could say something nice about Ralph Nader.

Gene: No, not specific people. Liberals in general.

Grover: That they would be excellent organ donors.

Gene: Do you think there is anything at all that you and I might agree on?

Grover: That the French are annoying?

Gene: Sold.

Gene, as a fellow parent of adult children I'd like to get your view on an issue that I've been losing sleep over. I'm a single mother of a 25-year-old son. I've been planning to retire soon from my job. My son is applying to graduate school programs, hoping to start next fall. If I keep working I can pay most if not all of my son's grad school tuition. If I retire he'll have to take on a lot of debt. My head tells me he's an adult and I should let him figure it out, but my heart tells me I should keep working to help him pay for school. What would you do?

We faced the same situation with Molly.  We paid entirely for her undergraduate education, and then came veterinary school, at Cornell, one of the most expensive grad schools in the country.   We told Molly she was on her own, and that was fine with her.   But we're helping a little, because we can, and because we know it'll help her start out with less crippling debt.    She is currently a third-year veterinary resident, meaning she is working in indentured servitude, but only for another year.     

More elaborate answer: I think it is reasonable to expect a kid to pay for his or her own post-graduate education, particularly in cases like yours, where helping means you have to alter your own life plans.   

Be clear of conscience.   You are a good mom.  or dad.   

I know it's unseemly to gloat, but I really am mesmerized by this real-time tracking of Mitt Romney's loss of Facebook friends. In the time it took me to type the above sentence, the poor dear lost 45 friends! It doesn't always happen so quickly, but it's just remarkable how quickly it does happen. Here's the link.  Enjoy!

it is sensational. 

Please bear with me here, folks.   I'm not seeing your new questions, so am answering only ones that came in before the chat began.  Hope this gets cleared up soon. 

You: "I bet it keeps voting down in states that are not contested."

Turns out that's not true. I looked at the 10 most competitive and least competitive states in 2012 according to Chris Cilizza, and the voter turnout stats at

2012 turnout data aren't in yet. But here are the ranks of the top 10 competitive states, in 2008 turnout (FL 19, OH 15, NC 21, VA 13, CO 4, PA 25, IA 6, NH 3, NV 41, WI 2) and 2004 turnout (FL 18, OH 9, NC 37, VA 29, CO 10, PA 25, IA 6, NH 5, NV 42, WI 2). A similar pattern is revealed in the least competitive states, in 2008 (UT 45, HI 50, WY 27, VT 11, OK 46, ID 23, RI 31, WV 49, NY 38, MD 12) and 2004 (UT 31, HI 50, WY 13, VT 12, OK 35, ID 22, RI 34, WV 45, NY 36, MD 24). Yes, turnout is higher in the most competitive states than in the least competitive states, but there's no real "competitiveness effect" on turnout. (BTW: #1 state for many years? Minnesota, safely Democratic.)

For anyone confused by this, in an update I said that the only good argument to jettison the Electoral College system is that it might lower voter turnout in non-competitive states, where an individual vote carries little weight.    These figures do suggest that that might not be true.  So, good.  Electoral College all the way, then. 

I don't particularly care about Petraeus's affair, and wouldn't normally think he'd be "obliged" to resign (though it might be prudent to do so). However, I think adultery is a punishable crime in the Army, is it not?

It is.  But he's not in the Army anymore.   He was in the Army when he cheated, I guess.  But so what? 

When I was younger, my mother read me Edith Hamilton's Mythology at bedtime. I came to be an atheist by thinking that once people believed in swans and golden rains as much as my grandmother did in Jesus's loaves and fishes, so sensibly the whole god business was just a thing people made up to explain things to each other. Still, it was comforting to pray, to talk to an imaginary friend, and sometimes I just wanted to ask for help from some supernatural source. My little five-year-old brain logiced out that people prayed to (G)od every day, so he must be busy--clearly the gods to ask were the ones with lots of time on their hands. The habit persists to this day, which is why I occasionally find myself asking Hephaestus to help get my car's engine to turn over.

I merely note that the excellent word you coined should really be spelt "logicked."   In the same sense that "traffic" becomes "trafficked."

Since Mr. Robinson cancelled his chat, perhaps you could answer a query for me. In fact, you may even be the exact right person to ask. In today's story about Gen, Allen and Jill Kelly, it says the FBI uncovered 20,000 - 30,000 emails between the two. How could anyone ever send 30,000 emails ? Even at the ridicuouls rate of 10 emails a day, it would take almost 10 years to accumulate.

This is an old, leftover question, but still a good one.   I have to think the answer is the same as the answer to the question about how Wilt could possibly have boinked 20,000 women in his life.   The answer is he couldn't.   

Tom Vanderbilt offers a compelling case to back up the late merger stance and its benefits in his book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us). Highly recommended to my fellow transit nerds.

I knew it!  I knew it!    

I hate the Commies.   

So as a fellow Jew, do you remember when you were able to tell your kids that Santa doesn't exist? I can't tell my 6-year old because she'll tell her friends who believe. But god I hate having to pretend, in my own house, that Santa exists. Not this year, but maybe next year??

Boy, six seems late to me.   Am I misremembering?    

Santa was always real at our house.   Celebrated in pagan fashion.   

What the lane-straddler is doing is called "impeding traffic." It is illegal. I see truckers do it quite a bit in work-zone backups. In some cases, it causes the traffic backups to be much worse than they otherwise would be. Don't do it.

Who said anything about lane-straddling? 

Nope, I totally agree with you. I feel the same way.

Really?  Do we have any others?  I truly hate the idea of a spouse bad-mouthing his/her spouse to others.   It would completely infuriate me.  

How does one book gene for a speaking gig?

I don't do it much, but email me at

I think one of the reasons that Patraeus's affair seems icky to many of us -- not necessarily need-to-resign icky, but still icky -- is that Paula Broadwell is his biographer. His fawning, breathless, chest-heaving-with-admiration biographer, but still. I'd like to think that someone who puts herself in the position of reporting on someone's stellar leadership abilities might have some scruples about objectivity and all of that. Likewise, I'd like to think that Patraeus would think it wasn't a good idea for his paramour to publicly laud his fabulousness in books, magazines articles, and TV interviews. There's an unethical undercurrent to this myth-making. And reading Broadwell's descriptions of Patraeus is bit like reading some sort of weird porn for high achievers. I love this line from the Newsweek article Broadwell wrote the week before the affair came to light: "Sometimes the best ideas come from bottom-up information sharing."

Yeah, but this is more on Paula, and the poor suckers who bought that book.   I haven't read it, but everyone describes it as fawning.   

Can't see the chat, but in the hopes that this will get through, I've been curious ... Gene, when do you think you went from tweeting ironically to tweeting in earnest? Have the four+ years (!) since your column on the Twits changed your views at all?

Almost immediately.  When I wrote this first column about Twitter, I was deriding it, partially as a conceit for the column, and partially because, you know, I was writing a humor column.   I've come to really like it. 

I've said this before, I like the ethos of Twitter: How you are always performing, like a stand-up routine, to a roomful of people bootlegging rotten tomatoes.    You have to be quick and good or you lose followers.   Facebook is too nice for me. 

From someone who knew the folks killed in Benghazi: you sir, are an a-hole.

This is in reference to a re-purposed, re-captioned Beetle Bailey that I put in the last update.   I think it's fair criticism.   It can be argued that I violated the "plus time" dictate of what humor is.     

In the past 5 years I met, married and divorced my husband (he was unfaithful). So there is a the birth and death of a relationship in my emails and text messages. I would be embarrassed mostly because all that would be laid bare, not because of any ugliness (racism, bigotry etc.) that would be revealed.


I don't hold back on personal emails at all (unwisely) and in my case, disclosure would be less embarrassing to me than disturbing to others, if that makes sense.  i.e., I wouldn't be ashamed of anything I wrote, but others might like me less.  

When he was in the army, and cheating, and in charge of a war that was ending the lives of many many service members, he was emailing his floozy while women at home were on several-month-long communication blocks from their husbands for operational security reasons. Imagine if you found out a few months into a communication block that your husband had been killed, adn then a few years later found out the man in charge of hte whole operation was sending dirty emails during that time. He was cheating when you couldn't even know if your husband was alive.

Interesting.  I'm not sure I would link these things, but interesting.   Do others see it this way? 

I think that you left out a category. I would be embarrassed, but not for anything Petraeus like but because it would show just how many shoes I buy online. Stupid embarrased not shame embarassed.

Well, my wife buys lots of shoes online and then returns 90 percent of them.   Yes, she really does -- I see em coming in and going out.    I gather yours stay put? 

Gene - You think deeply about your craft, so what do you think of adding the fact that Mr. Barry drives a Jaguar in November 20, WaPo story about his turkey giveaway? "Barry arrived at Union Temple Church shortly after the first turkeys were handed out at 10 a.m. When he stepped out of his Jaguar, the crowd of people waiting in line began chanting, "We love you," "We voted for you," and "Barry, Barry." Not relevant to the story, but I think, evidence of what the reporter wanted to convey. Do you think this detail needed to be included?

Absolutely.  It was something anyone at the scene might have noted, and considered, and possibly drawn a conclusion from.    Best way to think of it: What if he had rolled up in a Rolls Royce?  Would it have been worth mentioning?  If yes, then this is a call about degree: Does Jaguar suggest a degree of opulence discordant with the scene?  If the answer is yes, it's right to include.  If not, no.    I'd say yes.  

How rare is the first name/last name aptonym? See example in paragraph five about the the parks and rec director: Link

Nice.   Of course the greatest first-last combo is the retired Virginia gynecologist, Dr. Harry Beaver.    

I would never bad-mouth my spouse to others or be friends with people who bad-mouthed their spouses to me. I figure if they're betraying a spouse, they'd have no problem bad-mouthing me, either.

This may be a man-woman split.   Women seem to be more comfortable having girlfriends in whom they confide, or seeing the importance in having such confidants.  We shall poll this next time, methinks. 

Is this some offbeat use of the term bootlegging? I only know it in the sense of illicit liquor or stealing software, not in the sense of throwing tomatoes at an entertainer.

I'm using it in a football sense: Hiding the tomato, ready to throw it.  

The initial post suggested a lane-straddling strategy, to wit: "My husband has come up with an answer, but I'm not sure how I feel about it. Basically, he waits until he gets close to where the merger must happen (but not all the way there) to find a place where he can merge without cutting someone off. However, he doesn't get all the way over - he straddles the lane, essentially preventing anyone from passing him and cutting him off." Don't do this. It generates conflict, if not outright road rage, in some cases. Especially when truckers do it.

Ah, sorry, I missed that.   That is very bad.   That is piggery. 

but one of the only pieces of marriage advice I've heard that resonates really strongly with me is not to talk badly of your spouse to others. You're a team, and you don't talk crap about your teammates, especially just to make idle conversation.

Exactly.  I also don't want to find myself up against another team.   Me against wife and her adviser.   That's not what marriage should be about.  

Unless new intelligence has come to light, I believe those are tens of thousands of PAGES of emails between Gen. Allen and Jill Kelly, which is a silly way to count emails, but there you have it. If you've ever seen emails turned over for Freedom Of Information Act requests and the like, you'll see that they repeat a lot, when someone hits "reply" and the original text is repeated. So the actual numbers of messages might be much smaller. Still, that's a lot of words clogging up cyberspace.

Bogus!  That's like counting individual page hits as separate eyeballs. 

I'm a woman and don't really see why Petraeus needed to resign. I kind of get the blackmail argument - but not really. I just keep thinking back to Bill Clinton. If the president didn't need to quit after he was caught cheating, why does Petraeus (or really anyone else) need to? Actually, the Clinton case was worse because the woman was technically his employee! I really feel like there's got to be something else going on. Blackmail only would be a concern if this hadn't gotten out to the public. Once that happened, no more threat of blackmail. I don't get it.

You know, it MAY be as simple as that he was deeply embarrassed to have this public, and knew that as long as he remained in the public eye, so would It.   I dunno. 

Or maybe his wife demanded it as a condition of staying with him. 

The quiz and the NY Times article on the courts and cellphone searches made me think that despite that my smartphone and inbox inevitably contain things that might get me, ahem, in trouble, I'd be more concerned about the embarrassment my search history might reveal. Specifically, my stupidity. I have to google to find what states border Mississippi, the name of a bar I go to frequently, and what month I quit my last job. Or things like how long to pan fry a steak, which I do maybe once a month. Plus "Paul Ryan shirtless."

One advantage of being a journalist, especially MY kind of journalist, is that almost any search can be defended as research.   I, for example, have been researching a story on discrimination against short brunette women in their underwear.  

Gene, Of all the horrible writing practices online, the one that irks me most is the confusion between "then" and "than." I am generally forgiving of minor grammatical or word choice errors, but this one bothers me to no end. I don't see a reasonable explanation why this is so. In some accents, the two words are nearly identical so I can even understand the confusion. Still, I wish death upon the heads of all who confuse them. The only explanation I can think of is this: Prior to about five years ago, I never saw Then and Than confused in writing, even online. Now, it's like a plague. I genuinely believe that the propagation of this error must be convincing some educated folk that their (correct) word choice must be wrong, and they are amending their ways. We must put a stop to this, perhaps by some authorial quarantine, before this pestilence destroys society. For if it does, than we'd be sorry!

I'm not sure why you are focusing on then and than when there are so many equally egregious errors.   

I feel a little uncomfortable in this area, because I have noticed a minor worrisome trend in my own writing, as I have aged.  I write, and have always written, quite cleanly.  Even in chats, much of which is done rapidly and so forth.  But of late, I've been absentmindedly substituting homonyms.    I'll write "the hole thing" or "I through the ball."   I know another writer of my age who has noticed the same thing in herself.  I wonder if there is any factor in geriatrics and brain chemistry to explain this.    I at least hope it lessons in intensity.  

I'm going to guess that the poster didn't know all of the people killed in Benghazi, but wanted to amke a point. I was in the Foreign Service for 20 years and don't remember many people giving a rat's ass about the security of our workers in hundreds of overseas posts until it became a political issue. 17 Americans died in Beirut during Reagan's watch but you don't see that mentioned as a legacy of his. One FS friend was kiled overseas and it barely made the local news. Foreign Service Officer security will soon be a non-issue once again.

Oh, Benghazi was furiously politicized. 

Do not get sucked into paying for your child's grad school. We have someone still working here because her daughter started grad school in math with a fellowship than changed to accounting (and lost the fellowship)- got her degree in accounting and decided she wanted a PhD in economics after all. Mom is still working because they are still helping support a 28 year old woman. We are in same position as Gene- paid for daughter's undergrad and she is now in med school. We are helping out by paying for her dorm room. She is applying for National Health Service which will pay her tuition and then she owes them as many years as they pay. Grad students can get fellowships, assistanships. My sibs and I all supported ourselves in grad school with them.

Yeah, this all seems logical and decent to me.   I think it's similar to, okay, you pay for the wedding of your 22 year old daughter.... but at 34, she's on her own.  

Gene, I am hoping you can help me out with this. I am a male in his early thirties, overweight but not obese (and far less than I used to be). Recently I have become more and more consious of my health. Minor aches and pains transform into heart disease or even cancer. I have had my heart looked at twice in the past two years and it was strong both times. I had pain in my side and numbness as well and after ruling out a stroke, my doctor told me it was probably stress (admittedly I am in a stressful job/place to live right now). I know that I am probably fine. I am a young man who is simply dealing with aging for the first time. Having said that, I worry and keep myself up at night wondering if this time, it is serious, that perhaps I have missed something. The doctor can look at me and tell me I'm fine, but I keep thinking it may be something else then! Both my parents died young so that may be a factor, but I really don't want to live the rest of my life scared, nor do I want to ignore anything serious. How do I tell the difference and how do I deal with this peroccupation?

You read this book.   You are one of the few people -- with the dilemma you pose -- that it might actually help.  You will see what a sissy ol' dork you are being, and will change. 

Gene, a friend of mine in Ireland was watching this documentary about toilets earlier today. She told me all about it and it sounded fascinating. Fortunately, the entire thing is on YouTube. What does it say about me that I couldn't wait to get home from work today to watch a documentary about toilets...? Anyway, if you get a chance, check it out.

I shall. 

So, the Herald Hunt is this weekend. Did you have any input this year?

I always have some input, but it's as a vetter.   I get shown the puzzles, give advice as to whether they are fair / hard enough / too hard. 

Gene, I don't have a spouse, but when I do I fully intend to complain about him when necessary to my friends. Because I am one of those people who processes things by talking about them to my friends. Now, "complaining" doesn't equal "bad-mouthing." If I were to say, "Gene is such a @$(*#* I can't believe I married him," that would be bad. But "Gene still can't manage his own checkbook and after 25 years it's driving me a little batty" is surely understandable, no?

It's borderline!    I'd be really uncomfortable with any more than that. 

I think a marriage is like the Cosa Nostra.  You don't go outside the family. 

Honestly?  I don't like your method of processing.   I admit that I am a purist on this.  A Mafioso. 

Oh man, that whole post was deeply moving. I'd never quite thought of it exactly that way but the poster is entirely right -- to so callously flaunt your special privileges at a time when front-line soldiers and their loved ones would dearly have wanted to share in the same privilege of communication is what this is all about. It's like the tidbit about the Titanic that some of the early lifeboats left the ship half-full while frantic steerage passengers remained locked below decks.

Point taken.  I wonder if Patraeus, on some lave, was simply Deeply Ashamed? 

I haven't seen the expected outrage by her Fox co-hosts, but Fox News' Andrea Tantaros, who co-hosts "The Five," likened food stamps to a dieting technique during her appearance on Fox Business.When host Stuart Varney asked her if she could live off $133 to spend on food monthly, Tantaros replied, "I should try it because do you know how fabulous I'd look?" She continued, "I'd be so skinny. I mean, the camera adds ten pounds, it really does. I'd be looking great."

A very first-world answer. 

what Petraeus got up to with his...stuff. But I do have to wonder about people who like Petraeus, like Edwards, like Clinton, like Gingrich (wow, I could go on forever) are in positions of power and prominence and have affairs like it's going out of style. I mean a certain segment of people LIVE to expose this stuff. Well, behold the power of the wang, I guess. (Am I allowed to say "wang"?)


Why are all these polltakers saying Petraeus needed to resign due to the risk of blackmail? That makes no sense. All one needs to do to neutralize that threat is go public with the affair. Which happened, obviously. Unless they think he already had been blackmailed and compromised -- and that would be an entirely different, bigger scandal.

I agree.  To me that would be the least applicable answer.   If he WAS being blackmailed, sure.   But I don't see why you'd have to resign preemptively.   You're not being blackmailed.  No harm done. 

To me, there are two particularly interesting results of the poll:  Several respondents  (seems to be about 10 or 12 eople total, if my math is right) say they'd be prosecuted!  I wonder if we're talking tax evasion, or what? 

Second:  Women seem to feel more puzzled by this resignation than men do.  That's the opposite of what I expected.  

Me too! I enjoy buying things but I don't really need most of them. So I buy a lot and return almost all (on a credit card). Always wondered if I'm tagged as a scammer or something. Do you think we look shady to retail companies?

Wife uses Zappos.   I think they expect exactly that kind of shopping.  I think it's built in to their structure. 

Didn't Wilt recant the claim he bedded so many women? I believe he was just throwing a number out there in jest, and it became part of his urban legend. Although, someone stated the number is in his autobiography but, then again, his ghost writer might have misunderstood his jesting.

My memory is that Wilt was asked something like:  Wait a minute!  That's a rate of four women a DAY every day of the year, and he said "Yep."   With a smile. 

"lessons in intensity." HAR HAR HAR. I actually did LOL

Good.  Thank you.   It is EXACTLY what I do by accident, though. 

I presume you will grace us with an unadvertised presence at tomorrow's University Club Book Fair along with actual books to sell? It is tomorrow night, and I promise I will be your books. Honest.

I was unaware of same.   I am pretty sure I will not be there. 

Good God, lock up the chilluns. Has the publisher actually READ any of your stuff? Do they know you specialize in Despair, Poop and Liberal Ideas circa 1934?

They do!    

We had a good idea. 

Gene - What's going on over there? One editor is out after a short stint and another one is in. Also Froomkin is tweeting that the entire place has gone to hell other than you, EJ and Toles. What's going on and what's his beef?

I don't think it's true.   I will put myself on the case, though.  Also, me, EJ and Toles are a very strange threesome to single out.  

I recently bought a brand new car, for which my top priority was that it be a manual transmission. Is there anything that can be said to people to get them to understand why this is so important to me? Other than "because you're a lazy, simple person who doesn't get how much automatic cars remove you from the experience of driving," of course. Also, why am I suddenly being looked down upon for not buying an automatic? When did we become the automotive outcasts?

Your answer is about right.  But who is looking down at you for buying a manual???   I have never heard any comments other than envy, for knowing how to drive one.   (Or contempt for proselytizing, actually.)   But why looked down on for buying one?  

Sometimes when moving from one Washington Post story to another you get a screen size ad. I have started to click on these ads thinking that The Post gets additional revenue if people click on an ad - I know that Google does. I love The Post and want to help it make more money on its on-line operations - I am already a subscriber. My questions are: am I helping in this way and is it immoral to do so since the advertiser is paying for something - my interest that they are not really getting. Please advise. Thanks

This is really the purview of the NYT's Ethicist, but I'll take a stab at this.   It is ethical.  The advertiser is paying for clicks, period.  He is not paying for a guarantee that each click is a potential customer.  

I have a modest proposal to solve the national debt. I propose we sell Alaska to China for $10 trillion or so (slightly negotiable here). This accomlishes two things: it sends Palin to China and it reduces the national tax burden for everyone. As a possible side sale, we could probably sell Texas to the Mexican cartels for another $10 trillion or so, which we could then divide up amongst the population - we would each get a tidy sum and we'd be rid of those darn Texans as well. Thoughts? Of couse, the problem here is the stuff we have under and above the ground in both of those states is worth more than $10 trillion apiece. Most Americans have no clue how wealthy we are as a nation. By far the riches nation in the world.

I find this proposal outrageous!  

Should instead be Utah, Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama.  Of course, we might only get about $16 million for those. 


Gene, Since when is it ok for news sources to use scary-sounding metaphors in their stories? I know it has become very popular to give crazy names to weather events, but it's seeping more and more into other coverage. Why is it ok for everyone to use "Fiscal Cliff"?

For the same reason everyone adopted "Obamacare."  Simplicity.   I think this is such a huge non-story.  We're not going over no cliff.    People don't remember this, but during the second debate Obama laughed and said that.  "There will be no sequestration, period."

Gene, I'm still your age, give or take. Something happened the other day that changed my life, at least for a few moments. I was standing before the commode, performing a routine but important bodily function. Suddenly, a very small spider lowered itself from the ceiling, directly over the bowl, heading right down into it, and right in front of me. So I asked myself: What would Weingarten do?

I wouldn't have been tempted, actually.   I don't like to kill animals.    I eat too many of them to do it wantonly otherwise. 

Don't tell him this soon. He will go to school and tell all the kids. This happened to my niece at around age 5. She was so upset.

The odd thing about Santa is that most kids don't remember finding out  to be a trauma.   I'm not really sure why -- perhaps because it tends to be a gradual process; one year, or two, everyone pretends, including the kid. 

Gene, I too find that couples should not take disagreements outside of the couple. In contrast my wife sees no issue with this. This layers on stress because not only is there stress about the actual disagreement, there will be further stress due to contents of the disagreement being spread or not spread.

I do think there will be a gender split on this issue.  I seem to remember fighting with Gina, tooth and nail, on this one.  

Don't you remember how, during the Iran-Contra hearings, Ollie North and John Poindexter got hoist by their own petards when it was discovered that deleting their "profs notes" (forerunner of email) didn't actually obliterate the messages forever, the way they'd hoped?

My problem is that I know this, but still don't edit myself at all, via personal emails. 

I am very very careful on emails where I am representing the Post, such as answering a reader.   I write everything assuming it will be published.   I still might be intemperate, or risk a joke that might be taken the wrong way, but I do so only where I will feel I could defend it later. 

I'm Jewish. When I was 6 I decided that Christians were dumb because they thought the same person could be in front of every grocery store and in every department store. It made no sense to me.

Did it make sense that the same God could be listening to millions of people at the same time? 

You, pondering a posited adultery situation committed by a commander while the troops are in blackout-security mode: "Do others see it this way? " As someone who once prosecuted a court-martial against an adulterous officer who let his love life interfere with his responsibilities toward his troops: you betcha. More aggravating is that fact that you, and a lot of your posters, seem blissfully unaware of the facts of the Petraeus matter notwithstanding the many detailed reports in, like, the Washington Post: the affair is said to have begun only AFTER Petraeus left active duty and went to the CIA, not while he was in command. But the basic point is exactly right: it's the betrayal of a commander's trust and responsibilities that's more of a problem than the actual adultery.

Would this still apply if he were CEO of a company?  I don't think so, right?  The argument is made that this is about chain of military command, yes? 

"Then" and "than" don't really bother me much (I usually assume a typo rather than an actual error), but I'm driven batty by the misuse of "I." From where did we all get the idea that "me" is a bad word? "Between you and I" or "Please call Gene or I with questions" is EVERYWHERE!! Every time I hear it in a TV show, I think spend 30 seconds wondering whether the writer made the mistake, the writer did it on purpose because he/she thought the character would get it wrong, or the writer had it right but the actor changed it. And last week, I happened to stumble across a rerun of "Cheers," and Diane Chambers made the mistake. How is that possible?? Aaahhh, I feel better after this vent. Thanks, Gene.

Yeah, you know what it is?  "I" sounds fancy and correct, "me" sounds like gutterspeak: Me and Tom are going to the movies.  It's the same reason people overuse "whom," which sounds fancier than who.   Half the time you see it, whom is wrong. 

Does spelling Beah with an H fall into your category of strangely spelled names that should be derided? Unless it's pronounced bee-uh, in which case, never mind, but what a weird name.

Beah's name is Alexandra.  She called herself "Beah" as a baby, and it stuck.    And yes, it is pronounced Bee-uh.  Not that strange.  It's a name. 

As odd as this sounds and as contemptible as this makes me...I have cheated on my spouse multiple times, but I would never badmouth my spouse to someone else, even a close friend.

I wonder how many people this sounds logical to.   

When Froomkin said "Gene" he meant Eugene Robinson. Mystery solved!

Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh.   Yes.   Thank you. 

Okay, we're down!  Thanks so much.  Stimulating.  I will see ya'lls next week in the update.  

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.

Click here for links to Gene's past chats and updates.
Lynn Medford
Medford is the editor of Sunday Style and The Washington Post Magazine.
Recent Chats
  • Next: