Chatological Humor: Monthly with Moron

Feb 26, 2013

Join Gene Weingarten Tuesday, Feb. 26 during his monthly chat with readers.

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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.

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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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Good afternoon.

First off, you need to take today's polls before you read the introduction.  So go do it.  We’ll wait right here.


What you are about to read is probably unprecedented in the entire exalted history of the written word.  Shakespeare definitely never attempted it.   

What we’re doing today is crowdsourcing a book.  Specifically, a book I have just contracted to write for Blue Rider Press, a subsidiary of Penguin.  (This was the life-changing, bone-rattling decision that I’ve been alluding to recently, which so many of you interpreted as impending retirement. Nah. Nothing else changes, just the addition of a terrifying new responsibility, with corresponding loss of sleep.)  

This book was born on 2:03 p.m. on December 13th of last year, when after thinking about it for less than 15 seconds, I sent my editor, Tom The Butcher, the following one-sentence email, with the subject line “book idea.”  I wrote:

“I wonder what happened on May 17, 1957?”

Tom and I are forever exchanging book ideas, of drastically varying merit and/or seriousness.   Sometimes, we don’t even bother to respond.   But Tom responded right away.  He got it and liked it: A book about some ordinary day chosen at random, researched exhaustively, and presented with novelistic voice and texture, involving matters great and small, public and private.

Why?  On the theory that life is endlessly compelling, but we fail to recognize its richness because of the limits of our daily vantage point: Our ordinary understanding of the world is limited not only by our imperfect senses and flawed powers of analysis, but also by the capricious nature of the news narrative we’re presented with, day to day and year to year.  Fame is transient and shallow, and even the more reflective storytelling of historians tends to shine arbitrary spotlights, with subtle connections unseen, and uncountable stories to be found outside the glare. 

So, that’s what I’m going to try to do: A look at life from a novel vantage point,an angle we never see.  I’m keeping in mind a book I’ve always loved: E.A. Abbott’s 1884 science-fiction masterpiece Flatland.  The narrator is a man living in a geometrically two-dimensional world who is suddenly elevated above it into a previously unknown third dimension, able to look down and see his world with far greater comprehension, for better or for worse.  That’s the same idea, here, moving from our third dimension to a fourth, examining one day in the life of the people of the United States, but from high above and deep within at the same time – wide-angled, panoramic, microscopic, with the added, illuminating dimension of time.  

At least that’s how I described it in my book proposal.  I do see from the poll results that most of you are skeptical. Excellent. So am I.  Pure terror fuels the best books.

As it happens, more than one publishing house was willing to suspend its doubts, meaning there was some competition for this idea, meaning I got just enough money to force me to proceed, dammit.

That’s where you come in.

The actual random day in question was chosen at a wine-fueled oyster lunch Tom and I had on New Years Day.  We ordered seconds; I got soaked for $120.   The year was picked out of a hat by our waitress.  The day and month were pulled from the same hat by two little kids at a nearby table.  We wound up with December 28, 1986.   It is the day, for better or worse, that I am married to. 

I am already deep into research and reporting, which means that I am already aware of most events from that day that left a significant news trail, somewhere. Your job is to find other things – things from your life, perhaps, or from the lives of people you know, or people you’ve heard about – specifically linked in some significant way to December 28, 1986.  I’ll probably create a Facebook page to facilitate this, but in the meantime mail any tips/thoughts to me at   I'll read em all and respond, at least eventually. 

What sorts of things am I interested in?  Anything that’s inherently interesting, that helps us understand what life is all about.  Small events or decisions, for example, that would later have grave consequences, even if they all play out entirely within one life. Be creative.  Don’t be bashful.  I’ll consider anything, at least for a moment. 

(This goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway: There will be no fudging as to the date; anything in the book will need to be verified, even at the expense of losing something compelling but of dubious provenance or time frame.  The strength of this book will lie in its honesty; the fact that the day was chosen randomly is not incidental to the book – it is the entire soul of the book.)

What do you get out of it?   Not much.   If you’re not the one being written about, but if your tip had consequences for the book, you will receive a free, handsome mention in the acknowledgements.  

Oh, as for the other ideas in today’s poll.    Yes, each of those books was real.   The only true smash hit was the doctor who says he saw Heaven, which is a current smash-hit bestseller.   I do not wish to denigrate this book because I have not read it, but I need to dryly point out that it has something in common with an astonishing percentage of non-fiction bestsellers: It offers an anodyne.  It is making a point people are hungry to believe.

The next most successful of those books was “Old Souls”   (without the questionmark) by our very own Tom the Butcher.   It sold more than respectably, but you can see why it failed to cross into bestseller territory when you read the Amazon comments.   A lot of people were disappointed it didn’t go ALL THE WAY and declare reincarnation real, dagnabbit.  It was too darned … responsible.

“Captured By Aliens” was an extraordinarily good book by Joel Achenbach.   It tanked like a Bradley Armored Vehicle dropped into a swimming pool, even though it was endlessly entertaining, deeply informative and written by Joel, meaning, a total hoot.  Why did it die?  Because no one wanted to read that You Can’t Get There From Here.   It was a downer, man.

I saw the book by a former priest years ago, on the remainder tray in a bookstore.  Leafed through it.  It looked really good.  It was selling for 99 cents or something. 

How about my book ?  Will it tell people what they want to hear?   I dunno yet.    That’s the nature of journalism.

Okay, let’s go.   We start at noon sharp.

I am a woman and I completely agree with your analysis of rape. It may have many different facets but a sexual urge is surely one of them.

Yeah, as I said, I think the absolutist position that rape has NOTHING to do with sex is mostly a political stance, similar to insisting that alcoholism is ONLY a disease and not a sign of weakness of will.    In the update I said that this made more sense, strategically, in the case of alcoholism:  It removes some of the stigma if you see it only as a disease.  But I said that I didn't see why removing sex from rape made us any more sympathetic to the rape victim; I said that as a juror, I wouldn't be any more likely to give a rapist a pass because he had an urge he couldn't control.   We all have urges, pal.

Since last week, I've been thinking more about this and DO see a reason removing sex from the equation helps the rape victim: It takes away from the rapist-apologist any bogus argument about how the woman was dressed, her past sex life, whether she "led the guy on," etc.  

So, yeah, actually I get it.    But it's still bogus.   We should look at both situations in all their complexity.  A fair-minded person would find plenty of compassion and sympathy and empathy for both the alcoholic and the rape victim.  

(Er, the previous sentence could be misinterpreted: I'm not suggesting some sort of moral equivalency between the alcoholic -- someone with a problem at least partly of  his own making -- and the rape victim, who is simply a victim of a predator.   Okay, good.) 

The Onion tweeted, then apologized for, the following, "Everyone else seems afraid to say it, but that Quvenzhane Wallis is kind of a [expletive], right", with the expletive being the big female C word. I think the principle of the joke is fine, - I read it as being at the teller's expense, not the subject's, though I'm sure some will not read it the same way. I think where the joke fails is that if you already have the comic shock of calling a 9 year old a jerk, then the inherently shocking C word is gratuitous overkill. I think if you replace it with "jerk" or even the B word the joke isn't great, but it works. Thoughts?

Yeah, I probably shouldn't comment on this, given its toxicity, and given my views.  But I'm gonna.  Because, you know, I'm 61.  What are they gonna do to me? 

First, I missed the Oscars and the original offending tweet, so my introduction to this was reading the apology by The Onion.  I assumed it was a joke, and was flabbergasted to discover it wasn't.    It's the only serious thing I've ever read under The Onion rubric.   It actually suggests something I'd never before considered: That The Onion has standards for taste.  Who knew?

The next thing I thought was already being tweeted, eloquently, by Peter Sagal -- let's not demonize The Onion here.   It might have been a mistake, but remember that they exist to entertain us in an arena where they are EXPECTED to tiptoe right up to the line of over-the-top, and if they occasionally cross over by a toefall, it doesn't invalidate all their good work, and they should get the benefit of the doubt.   I totally agree.  I dip a toe into some of the same waters I hope that if someday I cross that line, I would get the benefit of the doubt, too.   Hey, maybe it'll happen with this post! 

Here's the thing:  I'm not entirely sure the Onion owes anyone an apology.   Maybe.   It was risky, but it's not as though it was without humor, and let's stop tut-tutting here to be honest for a minute: There WAS a joke, and it was NOT at the expense of that cute little girl.    She's a cute little girl.  The joke was at the expense of all the forced snarkery that is Oscars nite, with everyone in the commentariat bending over backwards to be critical and snide about clothing, speeches, whatever.   The joke was that they were even going to be vicious and backbiting to an obviously innocent, undeserving person.    And to understand the joke, you had to understand that it wasn't even abbout Ms. Wallis.   It was using her innocence as a foil, to talk about others.   I don't think one person watching Ms. Wallis with her puppy dog purse would have read that comment from The Onion and thought "Whoa, I didn't know she was a c-word!"  It was not about her. 

But The Onion apologized, probably smartly, because the reaction was so immediate and so extreme.   People HATE that word, and people LOVE children, and I get it.  You could see it as unfair.   But I'm thinking that by apologizing, they made the issue bigger and more muddied, and probably because of their apology Ms. Wallis learned about this whole silly thing and had to have it explained to her. 

So I dunno.  I think if I were the Onion, I might have just let it pass.   Onto the next joke.  




I once had an idea for a similar book. Yet I had a specific day in mind for a specific reason. I want to do a history of the date that Ronald Reagan had an operation and Vice President Bush was acting President for the day. I wanted to write the definitive history of the Bush Presidency. I actually shopped the idea around but no one bought it. Now, since Bush later became President, a book about his one day Presidency seems less interesting. Still, I think someone should write about the FIRST Bush Presidency. If you are willing to change the date, then I encourage you to take this date. If you do not wish to change your date, I hope a publisher will soon contact me.


To change my date would be to entirely change the idea of the book.  Saying just change the date is like saying, Okay, Mr. Capote, you can still write In Cold Blood, just make a small change so it is not about a murder in the American heartland, but a history of soybean farming in Brazil. 

Gene, Since I'm now reading Dr. Seuss books to my children, I'm realizing just what a genius he was. Not just in language, but in how he would turn a phrase so that everyone could understand exactly what he meant. For example, "And all that was left, 'neath the foul smelling sky, was my big empty factory...the Lorax...and I." I could think of about a hundred ways to make that LESS impressive/specific/amazing, but I can't think of a single way to improve it.

I love The Lorax.  I love Seuss.   He was a genius, a word I try not to use loosely.   I remember being blown away by many little decisions, including his decision in The Butter Battle Book to end on a blank right-hand page.    The page before was nuke-standing-up-against nuke. 

Where does President Ronald Reagan rank among the presidents? Is he Top 10 material? I assume the Top 5 is basically set for the time being with some order of Washington, Lincoln, FDR, TR, and then either Truman, Eisenhower, or Jefferson as 5th (the last I always felt was overrated as president). Or is the top 10 too generous?

I fail to see why people consider Reagan a near-great president.   He did one very good thing: Stood up to Communism at a strategically important time.   He did terrible things to the economy, things that lasted a long time.  And in his final years he was so mentally detached that he was incompetent. 

Eisenhower is not top five!

What are you, some sort of Republican?

Jefferson is up there.    Truman, maybe.   Controversial case can be made for Jackson or Wilson.   

OBVIOUSLY, I was first on this issue.   But this guy's written it well.    And I think the continuing drumbeat about this in the media has helped.  I flew to Miami this weekend (Sophie Barry's bat mitzvah) and on neither flight did I see a single reclined seat.    I think reclining on airplanes is now being more widely recognized as a rudeness, like taking your shoes off if you have smelly feet.  Actually, that's a good analogy!  

I voted for your idea before I read the intro! I voted for it for many of the same reasons you stated, but also because after the Newtown shooting, a 2007 Guardian article by Gary Younge started to re-circulate. In it, he chose a day at random (November 25, 2006) and chronicled eight children who lost their lives in the US that day due to gun violence. Although the premise was about violence in America, what really struck me was that a date that was fairly insignificant in my life (I guess I was probably at my parent's house since it was the Saturday after Thanksgiving) was the most significant day in so many other lives. I think it is a brilliant idea to explore a single date in a novel-like format. I wish you the best!

Thank you.   The more I research, the less I am sure.   But that was bound to happen.   One of the reasons I decided to do this book is that it is a scary ambitious enterprise.  I wanted to kick myself in the seat of the pants. 

Gene, you are my go-to guy for bathroom related questions. This is your power, as well as your curse. I have determined, with extensive observation, that I prefer the toilets at work for my major bathroom business. I believe that this is due to several factors. First, the handicap stall is way roomier than my bathroom at home. Second, the toilet never clogs, as opposed to my wimpy one at home. Also, I can leave the bathroom and have no shame, as opposed to at home, where I may be labeled as an environmental menace. Finally, I can do my business on the clock, and even bill for my time if I think about a client's project. The problem is weekends. I find that I have trained myself to wait until I get to work. Monday mornings are a relief. Let's not talk about three day weekends. Please tell me to what extent I am an odd-ball, and if I really need to work out this issue. I am a 50+ man.

Lessee.  You constipate yourself on weekends because yyou prefer to poop at work.  Let's think about this.   Okay, carry the six .... hm, yes, you are a genuine nutball! 

Welcome to the perfect forum for you.   Please remember, Chatological Humor was home to Ms. Poopfinger, one of the great all-time stars of this chat. 

Is there ANYONE else out there who suffers from this guy's problem? 

I do note that on the Web, the bathroom matter du jour is "scrunch v. fold."   To me, this is a bogus issue, since the prevailing method of TP deployment, to my knowledge, is a combination of scrunch and fold.   Less neat than a fold, less anarchic than a scrunch.   It is Funching.   


Justice Sotomayor was in the NE Harris Teeter last night as I was leaveing the store. She was fairly surrounded by young people asking to take phone pictures with her. I thought I would be polite and not add to the scrum (though I would have dearly loved to ask her for an autograph for the fund raising auction at my niece's NYC public school - the PTA raises all the money to provide teacher's aids to the K, 1st and 2nd grade classes) so I smiled and left. I assume this was the right thing to do. Your oppinion? Also, would the answer be different if I had a copy of her recently released book with me and had asked her to sign that?

You were probably right because she was mobbed.  I've mentioned this before, but my wife deeply regrets not having brought her old copy of a Julia Child book on French cooking with her the day Julia spoke at our class at Harvard.   Wife was embarrassed the book was such a grease-stained mess.  Eventually she realized that presenting a grease-stained mess would have been an enormous compliment to Julia Child. 

I think that any woman who has ever been abused, raped or had an abortion or have their baby die would find it had to laugh at a joke about it. I used to think jokes about Alzheimers were funny until I watched my mother slowly and painfully die of it. On the other hand I've never been obese so jokes about it don't bother me. If it is personally painful to you it's not funny when someone makes a joke about it.

I firmly believe it depends on the joke, how it is crafted, and how it is delivered.  

Gene: Can a building be an aptonym? As I'm sure I don't have to tell you, the deadliest industrial disaster in U.S. history was the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire in NYC in 1911, resulting in the deaths of 146 factory workers. The building that housed the Triangle factory: The Asch Building.

Indeed.  The greatest living expert on the Triangle fire is the redoubtable David Von Drehle, and he would cut in here to remind us, for the 10,000th time, that the company was called "The Triangle Waist Co."   

Shirtwaists were universally shortened to "Waist," as strange as that sounds.    If you look at the photos of the building, you see it correctly on the side.   Though the story gets it wrong. 

Have you alls gone out and purchased Von Drehle's new book about Lincoln?   You should.   He nails the case that 1862 was the most important year in American history.  

Wow, it's been over a year since I've been here. It feels so weird. Hi

We've been talking about you behind your back. 

I have known people who were raped and I do not find rape at all funny. Yet I can think of an instance where rape can be discussed in a humorous fashion. I recall a comedy sketch which was more about the bureaucracy than rape itself. It went along the lines of a notice: "If you are raped after 5 pm when the office is closed, but use form 24(b) to report the rape. If you were raped during office hours but were unable to reach the office before closing, please use form 12(a) and submit the form in triplicate." Is something like that at all funny?

No.  What I am about to post, though, the next post, is funny. 

Surely, this video is a rape joke that even a feminist could laugh at (and is meant to!). (probably NSFW because rape as a central theme)

Good grief. 

This is horrifying.  And wonderful.   As daring an incursion into taboo areas as you can possibly imagine.  And it's ... fine. 

They made some amazing choices, for maximum dramatic effect.    

Just FYI, I think this is safe for work in most workplaces.   

Gene, I don't disagree with your statement about the sexual element to rape, but I feel in my gut that if we concede that rape is partially about sexual desire, then women who are raped will be made to feel like they should've done more to communicate that they weren't interested. If you accept that rape is about power, that effectively communicates that the victims aren't to blame, and our goal as a society in that situation is to do whatever we can to help the victims recover.

Yep, this is exactly the conclusion I reached during the last week!    But it's still a political stance; of COURSE it's also about sex.  

This is one of the rare times I find myself in disagreement with you. You recommend boycotting the new Superman comics because they are being written by someone who actively opposes gay marriage. Now, I will not be reading the Superman comics because I don't read them in the first place. I also support gay marriage. Yet I will not boycott the comics because of the politics of the person who wrote or drew them. I am one who separates entertainment and the life of the person who created the entertainment. I can enjoy a movie, play, book, piece of art, etc even knowing that the person who created or performed the work married his daughter or murdered someone or spouted racist remarks in public, etc. I may condemn someone's actions yet I can separate their works from their actions. That is just my opinion.

And it's a good and worthy and interesting opinion, worth discussing.    This is about a movement to boycott the new online Superman series because it is written by Orson Scott Card, an anti-gay bigot. 

I seem to recall the NY Times' Chuck Klosterman discussing this general issue in a recent Ethicist column, but can't find it. The issue, in a nutshell: Is it okay to patronize the work of an artist whose values you despise?  

I can't recall what Klosterman said, alas (I usually agree with him, even if he tends to choose low-hanging fruit) -- but I know how I feel about it, and it's complicated. 

A few weeks ago I quoted what I consider to be a beautiful mini-poem by Ezra Pound, titled "In a Station of the Metro."  Here it is:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

    It's gorgeous and deep, I think.   Also, Ezra Pound was a Nazi sympathizer.  He made pro-fascist, anti-American radio broadcasts during World War II.     

He also was the most important editor of T.S. Eliot's Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, a poem I love and admire almost beyond all reason.   Prufrock likely never would have been published, and certainly would have been a lesser work, without the input of Ezra Pound, the Nazi. 

So, it's all complicated, no?

Here's the thing: I have no problem reading and extolling Ezra Pound's work because he is ... long dead.  He doesn't materially benefit from anything I buy or say about him.   Plus, his sins are so remote in time it is as though they never were.   

It's a little different with someone who is a current celebrity, whose fame and pocketbook are directly affected by decisions made by all of us in the marketplace.   Would you have gone to see a performance by Michael Richards in the few months after his racial tirade?  If you had, could you really argue that you were NOTE voting with your money that what he did was forgivable?   

So, I think there is a consideration here.   The question is, just where should it be applied?    I may disapprove of Woody Allen marrying his stepdaughter.  But that's a decision made in his life; he is not out there at fund-raisers advocating daughter marriage.  He is not an outspoken proponent of incest.   Speaking for myself, I'd happily see a Woody Allen movie, even if I disapproved of his conduct in his personal life.   I don't have to like the artist to enjoy the art. 

To me, Orson Card is different.   This is not about the private conduct of his life.  He's doing actual damage.  He's giving bigots a role model, and an outspoken one.  He's TELLING people that gays are pervs.  He's on a soapbox.  I think that is loathsome, and I think that reading his stuff, buying his stuff, to help make him famous and rich so he can have an even bigger audience, is an endorsement of what he's doing with that soap box of his.  You're voting that it's okay. 

So, yup.   I know reasonable people might disagree.  

Meanwhile, here's an interesting takeaway on all this: When you google "Ezra" the first name that drops down is "Klein."  The second is "Pound."   That's having arrived, folks. 


When I read the apology I assumed the deleted word was the B-word. The C-word is so much more hateful than the B-word, and because it alludes to female sexuality, it's especially icky to use the word when referring to a prepubescent girl. I think it goes just far enough over the line that it warrants an apology. I agree that we have to expect The Onion to go over the line sometimes, and on balance it's not that heinous a crime (because it is NOT targeting Ms. Wallis). But an apology is a good idea anyway. And I think The Onion will actually get some benefit from this, because we can say, "Hey, even The Onion knows that there's a limit." I wish Seth MacFarlane understood this lesson.

I don't disagree with any of this.  I didn't see MacFarlane though, so can't take a position. 

By chance did you read Amy's column about how Amy agrees that unless a woman affirmatively says "yes," that the man rapes a woman if he has sex with her.

I didn't read this.    Does she literally mean the word "yes?"  That nothing else counts?   Sounds pretty ... transactional. 

Is this an OK joke about overweight people?: I saw two heavy set women and I went up to them and told them "I love your accent, are you two girls from Scotland?" One turned to me and corrected me "That Wales, you moron." I immediately apologized. "I apologize for being politically incorrect. So, are you two whales from Scotland?"

I like it!   Because it's a comeuppance.   But I bet other people don't like it.   Middleground, I think. 

Do you think that you will be make the book anything other than Reagan/conservative bashing? That seems like it will be your biggest chalenge to either overcome unless you want to right the book for liberals.

I suspect very little of the book will involve politics.   The politics of AIDS will probably figure in, but if I do this right it won't read like a polemic. 

This is kind of old, but I was so shocked by your ranking of the Super Bowl ads that I have to address it: Do you REALLY think that stupid Kia ad with the baby planet was better than the M&M ad? I'm not going to defend the M&M ad as a great and clever work of art. It made me chuckle, but I definitely agreed with you that the three top ads as you named them were far better than the rest. But I thought the Kia ad was one of the lamest of them all. Everyone knows a large group of people love babies in ad (who, I would bet, are the same people who gobble up those silly Nicholas Sparks melodramas and Dane Cook comedies), so any business wanting an easy and lazy ad that appeals to people uses them. Then they resort to using computer generated babies, which just look weird. There was absolutely nothing clever about that ad. Like we haven't seen the lame joke of how a parent responds to a kid asking about where do babies come from before. It was a lazy appeal to stupid people.

I barely remember that baby ad.    But I do remember all the m&m ads, and all of them are terrible and stupid and designed to appeal to idiots. 

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the motivations of rapists. I totally agree with you, and I've never understood it either why it seems anathema to talk about a desire for sex as a motive for rape. It seems like maybe it comes from people who have never craved sex so much that they have had thoughts of completely vile, antisocial, and criminal actions. (Does that describe the vast majority of women, because I sure can't see it describing the vast majority of men.) The key, as you identify, is our ability (and responsibility) as evolved humans to draw the line between thought and action. To, as you say, "mediate this overwhelming urge." Perhaps this would be a good subject for a poll question . . .

Ooh, interesting.   A poll question on degree of perversity in our fantasies?  Lemme see if I can sneak this one by next month! 

Just had a root canal. Suffer or take the Vicodin? I can't take NSAIDS right now.

I am in favor of taking Vicodin at all times, and for any reason. 

Yet it's real easy for someone with an audience to lose his job (or career) because of a bad one. The Greaseman was one of many.

Ah, The Greaseman.   A major league talent who had a couple of unfortunately very revealing moments! 

Now, see there was zero hostility connected with that Onion tweet.   It was a joke about snark.   It was not at the expense of a little girl.  It did not express the opinion that little girls, or that little girl, is a c-word.   I harbor no suspicions that the writer of that tweet was a bad person. 

The Greaseman?  I think he showed he had contempt for black people.  Not once, but twice.   I grieved for his loss as a daily entertainer.   But he deserved punishment. 

Being someone who suffers from insane night-time anxiety, I wanted to get your opinion on the Oscar Pistorious case. I find that people have jumped on him so hard for his "ridiculous" telling of events, without any sort of empathy for someone with tremendous anxiety. Personally, I am so afraid at night, that I occasionally have to be medicated. I get myself through it with night lights that bathe the whole room in blue and a lot of talking to myself. But if I had a gun, my fridge would be dead. I guess I'm asking you because I equate this with the folks who were crucified for leaving their children to die in the car. I belive Pistorious' story because I know it could happen to me.

My first thought, when I first heard about the case, was that his story was not entirely implausible.    I thought: I need to know if there was some history of stormy relations, or domestic violence in that relationship.   If there wasn't, I was -- and am now -- willing to consider giving him the benefit of the doubt, particularly given the state of panic of homeowners in South Africa. 

I have never been burdened with fear of intruders, even though I live in an intruder-intensive area.  It must be crippling. 

It hasn't yet been 100 years since women have gained the right to vote. Women have always been viewed as a type of property that a man owns or has control over. While we've made strides, we still do not earn as much as men and have the same opportunities in some industries. Heck, we still have men who want to subject women to crazy medical procedures before they can make decisions about their own bodies. It is because of this mentality that people say rape is about power. It doesn't have to be a violent dominance, it could be mental dominance. It's something to make the woman feel powerless. Date rape or marital rape isn't necessarily about violence it's about forcing the woman do something she does not want to do. Of course it's about sex, but it's using sex as a tool to belittle the woman.

Agree, agree, agree.  

Just logged in - is your core audience old enough to remember 1986? I was 20 at the time and was mostly interested in college homework and dating. Also that wkd's party. The rest of your audience is surely younger?

I didn't expect a hemorrhage of personal recollections.   But people have family.  People have parents.  People know of developments in the lives of others. 

I'm hopeful some interesting stuff will trickle in. 

I own Captured By Aliens. Always enjoyed reading Achenbach, put it on a l ist of suggestions when asked what I wanted for Christmas, got it in hardcover as a gift, put it in my to-read pile. My to-read pile, unfortunately, fills about six bookshelves, due to the fact that they keep publishing more books. When I walk into my bedroom, I look at the top shelf and see it up there. I'll get to it some day.

It's terrific.   Joel wrote it at age 19 or something.  It is a book that tells the truth on a subject about which most people want to be told lies. 

Here's the thing. I'm 27 years old and beautiful. I have the kind of milky skin, flowing chestnut hair, and eye popping figure that is usually reserved for the front of really bad romance novels. I also happen to be able to grow a better goatee than 3 of my 4 brothers. I've had my hormones checked, and all my health stuff seems fine, but apparently this is something that runs in my family (grandmother, mother, and several aunts have dealt with the same thing). I don't have the money to consistently get laser treatments, which means that even when I tweeze, shave, wax, or otherwise torture my poor face, I still am left with a noticeable 5 o'clock shadow (creamy white skin + dark brown/black hair). I do my best to cover this with makeup (which I hate). No one other than my female relatives know I deal with this. My problem is that over the years I've gotten questions from coworkers, my boss, friends, my pastor, and complete strangers about the "bruises" on my chin. How am I supposed to answer this?!! Every time it happens I feel covered in confusion, mumble something about rough housing with my nephews, or tripping, or something, and wish for the ground to swallow me up. Do you, or the chatters have any advice for me?

I am intrigued, and throwing this out there. 

I assume that laser hair removal doesn't work? 

The nail in the phone book will probably lead to someone with an unremarkable life, the dart at the map would likely hit a desert or corn field or somewhere else where the story, if there is one, is not sociological in nature. I believe This American Life has done something similar to the pick a single day, showing empirically that this could be interesting. Instead of "John Smith," I've thought maybe someone could weave together the lives of at least 3 Warren Browns: the Post auto columnist, the lawyer-turned-baker who opened Cakelove, and the Harvard-Smithsonian astrophysicist who (with colleagues) discovered hypervelocity stars.

The nail in the phone book was a good idea.  I know that because I did it.   As an editor in the 1990s I assigned five writers to do just that, and got five excellent stories. 

This American Life did their piece based on one that I edited: A brilliant, brilliant 1997 story in Style by Laura Blumenfeld. 

Comedian Rick Reynolds had a piece on This American Life many years ago which is another angle on the question of whether rape can be material for a joke. He was the last of a group of three comedians to perform at a maximum security prison. Before the show, the warden told them not to mention, among other things, a wing of the prison called 'K block,' racial divisions between the prisoners, or homosexual relations at the prison. The first two comics, doing their standard material, bombed in a way that nearly redefined what it means to bomb as a comic, being subject to a nearly constant jeering. So Reynolds gets on stage, and the first joke he tells: "I just got back from K block, and boy, is my ass sore." The prisoners, apparently, found this to be funny. Is it? The segment: Link Transcript of whole episode, including Reynolds's piece: Link

Okay, I am linking to this sight unseen, which is probably a mistake -- so, warning, this iis probably NSFW! 

But I get your point.   I have absolutely no doubt that the funniest stuff would be the ones that are recognizable, and the most interesting fact you delivered is a sad one: the jailers, who should know the guys they lock up well enough to know what they think is funny, don't.   

(From the producer)

Gene is currently experiencing some computer problems. He'll be back on shortly, so please stick around. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

- Haley


They're all just gimmicks, aren't they? Like reading the entire encyclopaedia , or living on noting but iron filings and cheap gin for a month, done not because any sane person would do so, but just to have something to write about that no other writer will write about, and probably better. Not to say they won't sell, but you're lowering yourself to sub-Gladwell levels of hackery, right?

it's a fair question. 

I think the answer is: Sure, they're gimmicks.   They will be worthwhile gimmicks if they expose some universal truths.  

Josh Bell was a gimmick. 

I could laugh at a joke involving any of those topics (well, in one of the cases, I could laugh at a joke about one of the topics divided by slashes). But the joke would have to be at the expense of the perpetrator, not the victim. That's why all those people who want to explain why an offensive joke is funny just look like bungholes: We get how humor works. We understand about transgression. But laughing at someone who's already part of a disadvantaged group isn't subversive, it's smug.

I agree. 

About a year ago you wrote that you never liked haiku, mostly because of a teacher who criticized your writing unfairly. I had the exact opposite experience -- a wonderful, encouraging middle school teacher who taught me to appreciate haiku. So I want you to give haiku a second chance, and I'll give you two reasons why. First, you like to challenge other poets. Haiku grew out of a kind of poetry slam called linked verse, a party where poets would gather, someone would start a poem with a few lines, and the next person had to add a few lines to raise the stakes, often by casting the first lines in an unexpected light. So the first poet might write something about, oh, the touch of her lips, the scent of her hair, and the second poet might write, "'Have some soup,' said my mother. Better you should eat than keep mooning over that cheap bimbo." And then the next poet would add more lines, often trying to twist or outdo, all according to strict rules about meter and content. Second, some of the finest haiku masters wrote about poop, pooping, and peeing. No kidding.

I find it hard to believe that haiku, which dates to Basho and before, grew out of any sort of poetry slam. 

I dislike haiku much for the same reason I dislike so much unrhymed "poetry."  The lack of discipline lets talentless people think they can be poets.   Here's an interesting thought: I am willing to accept the writer of unrhymed poetry as a potential poet if he or she can demonstrate he or she can also write quality rhymed poetry.   Howzabout that, huh?

Not all but most modern artists, who work in mixed media, and constructions, and abstracts, can also draw.   Rauschenberg was notable as an exception.  

Anyway, I always remember what Billy Collins told me: He celebrate the move to unrhymed poetry because "it put away the metronome," but he lamented it because it also persuaded everyone that he was a poet. 

I'm taking advantage of the anonymity to pose a question of your female chatters. I've lost some weight and am now officially hot, but excuse if I don't fling panties. Part of the weight loss is due to eating more fruits and veg, and switching to whole grain breads. Probably for the first time in my life I'm getting adequate fiber in my diet. The downside is that no matter how much I wipe (and I've taken to carrying "personal wipes" with me), thongs come away with skid marks. I thought maybe my body just needed time to adjust, but it's been a year. Is this normal? Am I doing something wrong? I never had this issue when I subsisted on processed carbs.


Thank God the Post management doesn't read this chat. 

Any advice for this lady?

At the lunch table at work yesterday I was involved in a surprisingly interesting and revealing conversation about a disturbing moral hypothetical. You seem to enjoy disturbing and interesting, so I'd be curious to hear your take. I suspect yours is similar to mine. I don't recall how the conversation started, but the question is this: with a gun to your head, you have to commit one of the following - 1) bestiality, 2) pedophilia (we settled on a 12 year old - no 17 year, 364 day-olds, 3) necrophilia, or 4) incest (immediate family, no long-lost relatives). No taking the bullet, no other way out. We each ultimately ended up ranking the options. At a table of 6, four said they'd take necrophilia first, then bestiality, then incest, then pedophilia. I was in this group. One person had the same first two but swapped the order of pedophilia and incest. The last person had an opposite list from the majority - pedophilia first, then incest, then bestiality, then necrophilia. Granted, we're all a little sick for conceiving and then continuing the conversation, but I am convinced the last person is a psychopath or close. The 5 who put necrophilia first all approached the problem from a perspective of "how can I do the least harm?" You can't really hurt the corpse, you'd rather hurt an animal than a human, and you'd rather hurt an adult than a child. The 1 other person approached it from a perspective of, essentially, "what can I come the closest to enjoying for myself". If you have to do it, you'd better pick a human first, and you wouldn't want it to be a relative, so go with the stranger. Human is still better than animal, so incest is next, and alive is better than cold and dead, so necrophilia is last. Not surprisingly, the 1 was shocked - SHOCKED - that we 5 all chose the way we did. Utterly shocked that we would consider the effect of our actions on those affected by said actions. This seems symptomatic of psychopathy, right? I'm sure there's a more elegant hypothetical to be had, but I think I've stumbled upon a surprisingly good litmus test for determining who among us are the most despicable.

Okay, we all remember my quickie test for sociopathy, right?  The woman at the funeral of her mother?  Well, this seems equally clear to me. 

Of COURSE you choose these in the order of whom you hurt.  There is no other calculus that makes any sense, to someone with a basic sense of decency.   

Personally, I might reverse your first two choices if the animal were not likely to be distressed.   In other words, not a cat.   An elephant, perhaps, or a nice lady moose.    

My supposition here (based on gun-to-the-head scenario)  is that each of these acts is not consensual on the other part.   If it WERE, I suppose a case could be made for completely, thoroughly adult incest.    In a case like that, presumably, there would be no injury. 

Woah, girl, laser hair removal totally works, especially with dark hair and pale skin. Done it, love it. It may not remove all the hair in one six course treatment, but do one course, wait a year or two and try again. After a few rounds you'll be down to basically nothing. There's been an explosion of laser hair removal places lately and prices are really down. Groupon, Living Social, etc., frequently have vouchers for LHR at legitimate med spas. This competition also means that these places often offer great deals even without the vouchers. Do some research and I bet you'll be surprised at how affordable it is. A tip: Virginia seems to offer the best deals/most providers in the DMV area.

Okay, noted! 

Laser hair removal helps as long as I get it consistently, but it isn't something that I can afford more than a few months out of the year.

And this. 

Of course laser hair removal works. It works especially well on pale people with dark, thick hair follicles. However, to get any sort of effective permanent results, you need 4-6 treatments weeks apart, you can't pluck/wax in the meantime so as to have as much current growth during the lasering as possible, and you're talking thousands of dollars. It's not the most convenient thing to go through. (I am a women considering laser treatment for my slavic mustache, but I wax and I can't stomach the thought of mustache growth for several months while I get it done, even if it's permanent.)

Okay, we're done with this now. 

...on December 28, 1986: A raw tomato, eaten like a Macintosh, was the finest meal a man could want. How could I have not noticed its pebbly sour- sweet perfection before? A stranger's cigarette butt, hurled from a car window at night, became a thing of beauty, exploding on the road in a tiny, magnificent fire shower. A man can taste water, if he tries. A man can taste a woman without touching her, if he tries. It lasted several weeks, this sense of wonderment. Then it began to weaken. I tried desperately to hold on to it, but there was no use. Some things cannot be willed; they must be earned. It slipped away, with January. And -- God help me -- never returned.

Okay, now wait a minute.   I recognize this, but how do you know I wrote it on that day?   Was it published on that day? 

I am the same way! (Mid 30s male) for likely the same reason. I have no shame about leaving a foul ordor at work, where the bathroom is shared by several companies so the blame can be diluted. At home, its just me. My mondays are the same as this guy, unloading a weekend's worth of excess. Though on three day weekends or vacations I can usually find a way to use the home bathroom if I have to. Honestly, I think its about not offfending people with my stench, because I don't like doing it anyone's homes.

I'm stunned.  There are two of you.  At LEAST. 

Call me Politically Correct, but I wonder if "The Onion" would've dared do the same thing with a 9-year-old WHITE actress. When I saw that adorable Quvenzhane all dressed up in her Sunday (literally) best at the Oscars, I thought of the younger Obama daughter who was the same age during her father's first term of President, and all the racist hate spewed against Obama and his family out there on blogs, etc.

I think I know the answer to that:  No, this was not remotely about race.   

When I was growing up immediately post WW II, my mother told me that Ezra Pound was an evil, evil man who had been a traitor during the war, and that for his words and actions he should've been executed, but that some of his influential friends persuaded the powers that be to decree he was just mentally ill, in order to save his life, so he wound up in St. E's. Is this true? (BTW, Wagner's music was also prohibited in our house, because Hitler had loved it and Wagner was such a virulent anti-Semite himself.)

He definitely wound up in St. E's.    And he wrote some scary stuff there.     I think the general assumption was that it was a way to hide and avoid prosecution 

Likely you ran across this already, but then-Representative Dick Cheney was on "Meet the Press" on 12/28/86. He said in reference to Iran (and with wonderful irony) that "something went haywire at the White House" and that Reagan "has to be held accountable."

Now, see -- I had not yet found that!   

The research is daunting. 

"Meanwhile, here's an interesting takeaway on all this: When you google "Ezra" the first name that drops down is "Klein." The second is "Pound." That's having arrived, folks." Only on YOUR computer. Google adjusts its search results based on what it "knows" about you from previous searches. On MY computer, it's Ezra Miller, then Ezra Pound, then Ezra Klein, then Fitz, Koenig....

Ah. Interesting.   When I asked the rib who she thinks about when she hears "Ezra," she said ... Cornell. 

Hi Gene, What follows may sound completely made-up, but I assure you that it is not. And, given your history, I am desperately hoping that you may be able to suggest some options on what I can do. Over the years, my wife has become increasingy withdrawn and what I would consider paranoid with touches of hypochondria. We have not had any contact with her parents or siblings in years. I do not know their phone numbers or addresses if I had to contact them. She has recently become extremely germ-phobic. For example, last night, she asked me to get her a cup of water, but I neglected to wash my hands (20 seconds with soap!) before reaching for the cup, which led her to lecture me on the importance of cleanliness. This happens all the time now. So, last night as calmly and nicely as I could, suggested that she might be going a little overboard with this and that I was worried that she may be developing some sort of phobia. This set off all of her alarms and resulted in me retreating to my workplace at 4am because she would not stop yelling at me about how I am a terrible person for being inconsiderate of her feelings on wanting things clean. On top of that, she will also barricade herself in our home by propping chairs under doorknobs and such so that I am essentially locked out of the house until she calms down. It has been as many as two or three days before I got back inside. I am at the end of my rope here. I cannot continue to live like this because days like today are taking a serious toll on my work, but at the same time, I do not believe she can function as an independent adult at this point, so I feel it is my duty as a spouse to provide whatever caregiving I can for her.

I assume you are not being a troll, because that would be cruel and we have no cruel people here. 

Your wife has a mental disorder.  She needs help; if you love her you have to risk her fury with some sort of intervention.  

This is from Blazing Saddles (which pretty much finds a way to play into stereotypes and make offensive jokes about every group out there): Hedley Lamarr: Qualifications? Applicant: Rape, murder, arson, and rape. Hedley Lamarr: You said rape twice. Applicant: I like rape. ----- I realize it isn't directly a joke about rape, but do you think this falls within the 'acceptable' area?


I am right this moment attempting to write a column about how any subject can be a legitimate subject for humor, if handled correctly.  Not sure I can pull it off. 

Gene, I have been a Washington Post subscriber for 30 years and a Post Points member from the beginning. As I have watched stocks and real estate prices ride the roller coaster, I have noticed that my Post Points account only grows, and mine is now into the thousands. I have come to view it as a safe, tax-free strategy for retirement savings. Because I can't see what else they are good for. Thoughts?

In a pinch, they serve as passable contact lenses or diaphragms.   In the latter case, you have to get past the whole face thing, though.  

I would like your thoughts on the case in New York of a NYPD officer that is on trial for talking about killing his wife and other women - and then planning to eat their remains.  It reminds me of discussions before in this chat about fantasizing over sex with a minor, versus actually going through with the act. It's a fascinating question. If he was indeed planning to go through with these acts, then it is better that he was stopped beforehand. But how can you prove it was intent versus harmless talk on the internet? (I also wondered how one finds chat rooms that discuss these types of things, but there's no way I want to google it. I am envious of your 'I googled it as research for a story' defense.)

This is completely fascinating.   Irresistible.   Part of the fascination is his picture: He looks so ... nice. 

I really want to see how the prosecution is going to make this a case about intent, as opposed to gruesome fantasy.  

Here's the thing: As a juror, if all I had were these sick, drooled-out fantasies, without a single physical step taken to make any of this happen, I would never convict.  I'd willingly be the lone holdout.   I very strongly believe that if what happens in the brain stays in the brain, there is no foul.   Having said that, I understand the wife's terror, and her busting him, and I think she's lucky she discovered what a ghoulish guy she was married to. 

I'm just brought back to that central question of mine: Might it not be true that someone who has but resists brutish, awful impulses ultimately a better person than someone who doesn't have them at all? 

To go back to rape:  I have no compulsion to rape.  I don't fantasize about rape.   It is no effort for me, at all, not to rape.    I'd really respect someone who has that compulsion, where it is overpowering, and who never acts on it.  

Go down to the 9th paragraph about the QB in 1950: Link


Clearly, the aptonym Hall of Fame.   First tier.  Charter member! 

Posting early for your take on this.  Wondering if you think it's an effective piece of writing as well as the subject matter. Is the mom exploiting the child?

This is a terrific piece.  I loved it.  I don't think there is exploitation; I think we learn something very, very disturbing about the ugly recesses of the Internet, and I think that's valuable.  


I had precisely the same problem. If you get the treatments as recommended they last essentially forever. Are you sure you aren't confusing it with electolysis? THAT had to be repeated endlessly. Laser hair removal is permanent if done in a series just once.

Okay, I'll permit this one more. 

I've had that problem too, and don't find the benefits of thongs to be worth that issue, so suggest you find some well-fitting underpants. You say you've lost weight, so splurge on some underpants that fit well and make you feel sexy, and then you will be serving all the same purposes you were trying with the thong, minus the icky part.

Many women have expressed similar sentiments, ma'am.   I'm not sure I understand why thongs would be messier BUT I DON'T WANT TO KNOW. 

Gene - I see you engage with Rob Delaney fairly frequently on Twitter. Just out of curiosity, what's the relationship there? Have you met him? Mutual friends?

He's just very funny.   A terrifically smart guy. 

Rob's got something else -- something that's hard to do.  His tweets are almost all sexual, and often gross, but women love him because it is obvious that he respects women.  

Gene, please tell me you saw this gem from the Times. Is this the best story ever written about wood?

Definitely. This one seems too good to be true

This was written top to bottom with a sense of humor.  Heh.  Bottom. 

Orson Scott Card has driven me nuts with his moralizing on gay people. Back in the 1980's he did a speech at SF conventions titled "Secular Humanist Revival Meeting" where he reconciled his belief in science, reason, and logic, with his belief in religion. But it's like he's been dropped on his head and turned into a right-wing crank in his later years. It's sad.

Okay, we'll end it on this.    

Thank you all and I await tips.   I mean gratuities --money.  But I'll also accept ideas about 12/28/86.  

See you in the updates.   

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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