Chatological Humor: Monthly with Moron

Mar 26, 2013

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

Take today's polls: Your degree of sophistication

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

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

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

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Good afternoon.

This will be a short introduction, based mostly on today’s Supreme Court arguments. The first thing I'd like you to do is watch this extraordinarily good spoof video on why gay marriage is a threat to America.

The smart money seems to be in betting that The Supremes are going to find an easy way out by narrowly construing the questions before them, and issuing a namby-pamby California-only semi-decision.   I don't think so.   I think we're about to see something fascinating.   I think John Roberts is a very smart man, and I think he is about to take a historic lurch to the left, the way Earl Warren did. Earl Warren was also a Republican appointee (Eisenhower) and was also expected to be a reliably conservative caretaker of a reliably conservative court.   Didn't turn out so well for the conservatives.

I think John Roberts doesn't want to see himself as a modern-day Roger Taney, the last stubborn-old-man holdout against inevitable, rightful change. Gay marriage is coming and absolutely everyone knows it, even those who are opposed.   The only question is when, and I think Roberts would rather be on a leading edge than a trailing edge, dragging an anchor and his fingernails in the dirt, destined to look just as foolish (and almost as malign) as Taney did with Dred Scott.

I think this will be a 7-2 vote to endorse gay marriage as a Constitutional right, with the only holdouts Thomas and Scalia.

I claim Firsties.

I think I first wrote about the craven, almost ludicrous emptiness of the argument against gay marriage here, and I won't bore you all with a continued recitation of this case. Besides, I know I'm preaching to the chorus. But the fact remains I have yet to find anyone making any argument against gay marriage that doesn't in the end boil down to simple bigotry: Gays aren't as good. They "pollute" "real" marriage. It's all about that, and if you feel that, fine. Say it.  Then please step aside and let reasonable people through. We have work to do.

Yesterday, I asked TimJGraham, my favorite lunkhead conservative (I actually like him; he's an earnest thickhead, and I respect that) to tell me, in a tweet, why gay marriage is bad.  I promised him I'd use his answer, and respond to it in no more words. His tweet:

"God made man for woman, and vice versa. Their sexual complimentarity is self-evident, and so is their capacity to make life."

My answer:

"1. There's no God. 2. Why aren't 2 gays who want sex w/ each other not "sexually complementary"? 3. So infertile couples shouldn't be allowed to marry?"


It's just all so silly and intellectually dishonest. I think John Roberts is going to pierce it.


In other raging lefty news, I had a slap-to-the-forehead realization at dinner last night. I was thinking about public people I don't like, and I realized that there is one person in the U.S. who is so evil he transcends all others. Can you think of who that is? Give it a second.

This is a spoiler space.

So is this.

Okay, so I decided to honor this person in a poem. As soon as I got home, I wrote a something and sent it to a friend. It was the first stanza of my Ode to Pure Evil.

I shall write some verse for my tomorrow's chat
About the Antichrist, a fetid presence in the air --
I speak of Lucifer, Old Scratch, the Stygian bat,
That dastard, truth's assassin: Wayne LaPierre.
Twenty children dead, and also adults six
Slain by yet another madman a-hole with a gun
Too easily obtain'd; Wayn'd solve it with a fix--
More arms for a-holes!  That's the ticket, son.
In Wayne's World, no problem lacks a cure:
Violence begets violence, so he'll say
Arm yourself some more, to feel secure
Against the guy who we armed yesterday,
Others in the public eye are filth and slime
(O'Reilly milks our hate and offers bitter brew on tap)

But Wayne's misdeeds will more withstand the test of time --
Standing as he does before us, unashamed and full of crap.
A toast then, to our friend Wayne LaPierre
For whom gun deaths have been a lucky totem
Methinks St. Peter will espy him, standing there
And smile, and aim a 30-30 at his scrotum.
Okay, done spewing. Take the poll, then let's chat. It begins noon sharp.

I poop normally, trim the hedges, parallel park with deftness, own a hound, am heterosexual, and support equal rights for all (including "gay marriage", whatever that is). I'd like to be the first post because today is my birthday.

I am doing this on the assumption that you truly mean "trim" and not "clear-cut."  

At least since Sandy Hook, LaPierre has been peddling the Christian fallen-world theology in pseudo-secular terms, with the assumption that violence is an inevitable part of life. A huge percentage of his audience equates their gun ownership with their religion, so I suspect his tactic is a dog whistle to such people. Would you agree.

I think his "tactic" is whatever he can think of at the moment.  If it took telling everyone that he knows for a fact their next door neighbor is a sociopath, he'd do that. 

Okay, this is enormously entertaining; worthy in its own right.  But if I were your journalism teacher, I would give you alls an assignment:  There was one particular choice made by the writer that elevates this to art.   What was it?  First person  who gets it right earns a sloppy virtual kiss. 

Remember that what often defines art, in writing, is saying something profound without directly saying it. 

How important is it that we know who Boris Badenov is?

Very important.   I put that in the poll last week because I had JUST realized, to my astonishment, the extreme cleverness of "Boris Badenov" vis a vis "Boris Godunov."

Is he evil or just representing his client? I hate the NRA but just like the guy who shot up in the movie theatre gets a defense, seems to me the NRA gets to hire a spokesperson. To me the truly evil are the board and others who volunteer and are therefore absolutely true believers.

You know, a lawyer is not ethically permitted to knowingly lie for his client. 

I agree that CJ Roberts has his eye on his legacy and that he is likely to vote in favor of gay marriage. Kennedy, too. But also: As Chief Justice, he gets to either write the majority opinion or assign who writes it IF he votes with the majority. If he doesn't vote with the majority, the opinion gets written or assigned by the most senior member of the majority. Roberts will want to control this opinion, and I'm thinking he will want his name on it.

I think that's also true.   I think even if the winning side doesn't need his vote, it gets his vote. 

How, exactly, does preaching to the chorus differ from preaching to the choir?

No one's signging here 1

First of all, I aced both of your polls. Second, the fact that you described both polls as a measure of "sophistication" serves as further proof of your seemingly limitless arrogance. The polls are merely measures of how much our knowledge happens to align with yours, which in your wildly egocentric view happens to be the definition of sophistication. Allow me to craft a similar poll testing "general knowledge" that proves absolutely nothing: Do you know who/what "Diego Milito" is? What was the first Asian city to be named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, and for what cuisine is it primarily known? What was the name of Princess Leia's home planet? See my point? For each of these questions, many people are screaming the answer, totally convinced that it should be "general knowledge," and many other perfectly well-informed people have no idea what the answer is. Why? Because life is finite, and therefore you can't indulge every esoteric whim you'd like to, even if it means disappointing some curmudgeonly buffoon who writes for the Post. All you have proven, once again, is that you think your opinions and experiences are the only ones that count.

And your point....?

What is the central dogma of molecular biology and is it always true?

This does not strike me as a question with a definite answer.  Who is to define what is "central," or even "dogma."   This does remind me that there is a doggie daycare center near me named "Dogma," which seems very clever. 

Then you must be for plural marriage, right? This is not a slippery slope argument. To me there are two facets to marriage - a civil side and a religious side. One of the problems in the US is that the two facets have been intertwined through our history. As someone that is religious (lol spaghetti monster, right Gene?) I don't think a church marriage should be anything other than one man and one woman. But in regards to the civil side, I see no reason why the government can't sanction marriage between people that want to form a legal bond (but don't call it a "civil union", that's just a cop out, it's marriage). It's just that any argument to change the definition of marriage (and it is a change, not just correcting some oversight) would also apply to plural marriage. I think those that would not agree to this are being intellectually dishonest.

Okay, let's say you are right.  And let's say we, as a society, don't want plural marriage.  (I'm not sure why it's so bad, but I'm a pinko.)  So there is an easy solution: Ban plural marriage, explicitly. 

Next question, please? 


Hello, Why do you think Thomas will vote against marriage equality? On what grounds? Doesn't he benefit from past rulings of marriage equality? Maybe it is because I live in a city and have all types of people living in my neighborhood, but I never understood the arguments against who can marry who. I am not worried about people marrying their dogs, cats, or multiple other people.

Me, either. 

Thomas benefitted from Affirmative Action, and he is against that.  Why do you think he's going to start becoming self-aware now? 

Gene, I was reading Tom Sietsema's chat yesterday where a reader submitted the following (the last sentence is the most important): "Hi Tom! I know you get complaints about always touting Rasika, but I truly believe it is worth it! I had some good friends in from out of town last week, and we always dine out together nightly when they are in town. We went to Rasika for the first time (for them) and I have never seen them enjoy a meal so! The tawa, the sigri, and breads were a major hit. The recommended wines were just perfect. Plus, every single one of us thoroughly enjoyed our entrees - not to mention the fabulous mango chutney. I'm hungry just thinking about it! And, of course, the desserts put a perfect cap on the evening. Thank you again for convincing me it was the place to take them. The priceless look of their feces that night is a memory I will treasure for the rest of my life!"

I wondered where you were going with that. 

Almost forgot:  Thanks go to Darrell Dawson, for finding this excellent aptonym that I swear I used before but cannot find: 

Hong Kong billionaire "Li Ka-shing."

Now that you've set the world straight on the etiquette of reclining one's airplane seat, would you please share your opinion about closing elevator doors? Nearly every morning at my office building, one or more workers pile into a waiting elevator and the doors begin to close, BUT, before the car begins its ascent, some alert soul punches the "door open" button to admit a straggler whom (s)he spied approaching the departing car. To me this is an unfairness, if not a hanging offense -- favoring the latecomer at the expense of the good people who were already on board -- especially since this is a 10-story building served by 6 elevators, so another car is always about to arrive. What say you, Gene?

Good question.   We need a mathematician to create a formula involving distance and volume. 

It would be something like this: 

Take the reciprocal of the distance of the person approaching the elevator and multiply it by the number of people in the elevator who will be discommoded by waiting.   So, say the distance is 15 feet and there are three people in the elevator.   That's going to yield a number of 0.20   If the distance is 4 feet, it will yield 0.75.   This places a great deal of power on the distance from the car that the straggler is.  I think that's right.    I am thinking for any number above 0.40, you stop the car.    It requires quick math done in the head. 

As an avowed lover of both women and small breasts, naturally I thought of you when I saw this: Link


I am not old enough to have grown up with "Rocky and Bullwinkle," but this may provide an interesting window into the cultural literacy of the time. May I ask Gene (I believe you are old enough) and other experienced readers: Did you understand the reference to Boris Godunov in the main villain's name, or did your parents have to explain it? And were your parents able to explain it, or did it just sail right over everyone's head? PS It's interesting that the Badenov reference seems to rely on mispronouncing the original Boris's name, as though it were "Gudonov" rather than "Godunov". It seems like this is a common mistake (well, to the extent that anyone ever mentions the name Boris Godunov at all). This may be the only way in which he resembles Dikembe Mutombo, the 7-foot Congolese former Georgetown and NBA center whose name is always pronounced, and often misspelled, "Motumbo." In fact, the 76ers once spelled his name "Motumbo" ON HIS GAME JERSEY.

I like his Geico ad, particularly where he blocks the little kid's Cheerios and it explodes all over the floor and utombo is SO HAPPY. 

In this article: good aptonym? The assistant prof at Harvard who studies breast milk (3rd graf down). I won't explain it but it may not be obvious to certain readers of the Chat.

I suspect very few would get it, but yes.  A good aptonym.   Her name is Hinde, and breast milk is a type of high-fat milk called "hindmilk."

Don't worry, this isn't one of those "if two men or women can marry, why can't I marry my cousin/a toddler/a bunch of women/a horse questions, as I think and hope you've got today's outcome nailed. My question is, if gay marriage becomes the law of the land, will it, like straight marriage, include a provision against incest? Since this provision exists to keep hillbillies from inbreeding, and reproduction isn't an option for gay couples (nor are there many gay hillbillies), why would gay incestuous marriage be illegal? On the other side of the coin, would not including that provision be unfair to straight cousin-lovers? I guess I could research what the law says in the states where gay marriage is already legal, but I don't really want that Googling to hit my company's server.

I don't understand this formulation.   If gay marriage is permitted, why would that undermine the current prohibition of incest?  

First: twice this past week the driver to the right and just ahead of me flipped on his turn signal, took aim at my right fender, and, when I hit the horn, gaped in wide-eyed amazement at me, as if some evil magus had plopped my rice burner next to him just to make him look bad. Look, if you can't figure out how to adjust & use your side mirrors to eliminate blind spots behind you to the left and right, go home, sell your car, and never leave the house without adult supervision, because YOU'RE TOO STUPID TO DRIVE. Second: Sunday afternoon, while I was puttering in my garden, a passerby stopped to chat about raising herbs, planting tomatoes, and other fun stuff and finished by asking whether I'd seen his dog. Seems the animal has figured out how to open the garden gate and had run away. Again. Look, if you're not smarter than a dog, don't have children, FOR THE ROADS ARE ALREADY JAMMED WITH MORONS WHO CAN'T USE THEIR SIDE MIRRORS. Thank you!

This reminds me of something:  Why aren't there more accidents caused when two drivers happen to change lanes at the same time, one from the left, one from the right, both into the center lane?  Shouldn't that happen all the time?  I need an answer to this. 

It's going down for sure - 6-3, not 7-2 (Alito isn't faking about his regressive social views), but not for the reasons you say. Roberts isn't making a lurch to the left - as this term's 5-3 destruction of affirmative action will also demonstrate - but he is, as you say, concerned about his historical legacy. He's *also* concerned about the partisan ramifications of gay marriage as an unsettled issue. Roberts is sometimes a good jurist, sometimes not, but first and always a movement Conservative. In 2004, the anti-equality ballot measures were a key driver of turnout to keep George W. Bush in the White House - I think it's a cinch that he loses Ohio without the ballot measure, and thus the election - and even in 2008 with a Democratic wave, California of course passed Prop 8. But by 2012 they'd become liabilities for conservatives and motivators for liberals - Roberts knows that a narrow ruling that kicks the issue back to the states will only lead to energized left-liberal coalitions taking down the laws state by state, with Democrats benefitting at the local, state, and national level, and Republicans suffering. So yes: it's going down, both because of Roberts' concern with his historical legacy, but also because of his concern for his party's near- and medium-term political prospects. Better to take it off the board and hasten the day when many gay folks feel comfortable voting their pocketbooks rather than on endless referenda on their basic rights - this will redound to the GOP's benefit, eventually.

Well, we're both saying this is about legacy for Roberts.  He doesn't want to be on the wrong side of history.  I doubt the equation goes beyond that, to party concerns.  He is post-party-san now. (!) 

If I were a betting guy, I'd bet on this.  The odds should be good. 

Seriously? I learned about Boris Godunov BECAUSE of Boris Badenov. You only just noticed?

Right.  I knew them independently, and just recently made the connection. 

There's such an infantile "the round peg must go in the round hole and the square peg must go in the square hole" stubbornness behind this, isn't there? I've always wanted to hear the anti-gay-marriage response to what intersexed individuals - or for that matter, anybody with non-standard-issue genitalia or chromosomal patterns - are supposed to do for finding spouses. How does that fit into their definition of God's plan? These people seem to be obsessed with the mechanics of the sex itself to an absolutely demented and - to use their word - perverted degree. They seriously believe that this whole battle is about the right to have a lot of unusual and kinky intercourse, and have absolutely no ability to picture a gay person feeling the butterflies of first puppy love, or marching together to the steady joint heartbeat of partnership over the years, or spending the twilight of life nursing an ailing and broken lover as a tribute to all the love that came before. They cheapen the very institution of marriage by making it into a matter of whom you get to formally bone.

Thank you.  Very well said.  It's juvenile.  Because gayness unhinges them, and because they don't really know any gay people, they focus on what they know -- the sex act itself, and obsess over it.   Are they aware that gay sex and straight sex are VERY similar?  

he was a hypochondiac?


C'mon, this is good. 

History has proven that two people can be equal partners. Every example of plural marriages has been about a dominant and his subservients. History has also proven that true partnerships can formed with or without children and by both mixed and single sex couples. The slippery slope into plural marriage people need to go out to lunch with the rest of the haters. BTW I am a conservative who considers the government banning gay marriage very activist. Don't get how anyone can claim to be for small government and still want the government to regulate what goes on in my home.

How do you feel about anti-abortion laws?

What is so special about public opinion on a human rights issue? It makes me remember the wisdom of Carlin: Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.

Good line! 

Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam

Wank you very much. 

The linked piece was not written by a journalist, but the deceased daughter.

I never said it was by a journalist, did I?  I just said it was excellent writing.   No one sees, in particular, why?

and say they don't have standing to overturn the older ruling overturning Prop. 8. They'll let this play out state by state, at least for a while.

Well, as I said, that is the smart money bet.   

Could it be that the deceased was not a member of a religious group, probably did not believe in a supernatural deity, and encouraged the taking of joy in all aspects of life on earth? I infer this because there is no reference to any supreme being or church -- even in the funeral service, where religion usually gets a toehold -- and the long list of other joys provides the corollary.

True but there's something cleverer. 

I think the significant choice here is that although his career is mentioned, it's not the *first thing* we read about Harry Stamps. He sounds like he was quite a character.

Yay!  That's it.  It was the deliberate placement, near the very end , of his civil accomplishments, which were high.  It was comparing the value of a personality to the value of career achievement, which usually leads the obits.  I was happily surprised when I hit this.      

Gays are generally better educated, better dressed, drive nicer cars, take fabulous vacations, throw great parties, cook better, and are more sophisticated and erudite than us heterosexuals. I am pretty sure they'd be much better at marriage than us.

Also, at least for a while, they will treasure the state of marriage more, because it had been denied for so long. 

Was it that his job was mentioned at the very end?

Yep, yep, yep.  Just so clever.  And sweet.   He was a conventionally successful person AS WELL as being a hoot. 

Gene, I was watching the University of Maryland women's basketball playing against Michigan State last night. I checked Maryland's roster and saw that the shortest player is 5'5" and is named... Sequoia.

Wow.  Sequoia.  That's almost a parody name. 

I do not want to mention her last name as she is 13 years old and not a celebrity. Yet last month a girl Kathleen had her bat mitzvah. This little noticed event was actually a significant milestone as she became the first Jewish Kathleen in history. I thought people may want to know the strides Kathleens are making in the world.

This person is commenting about a Tweet of mine in which I wondered whether there has ever been a Jewish "Kathleen."  People on Twitter found several, including this woman and this one.   Can anyone else think of some ethnically startling first names?   Chaim Johnson III ?  

Here's my problem with your quiz: I'm a 28-year-old woman with horrible recall memory. I've studied a lot of the things you've mentioned, such as the paintings and some of the poems. I've read Waiting for Godot. I once memorized, during a long night I couldn't lay down because of pain, the chronological order of all the U.S. presidents. I also took two years of calculus. But I haven't needed to refer to any of them in detail for about 10 years, so although I used to be able to answer all of those questions right off the bat, I'm a complete blank now. I played the saxophone for seven years, but I couldn't tell you how to play a C on it now. So does that make me unsophisticated? I would argue no. Although I will also admit I had never heard Boris Godunov. Sorry - I hate opera. But if you want to talk classical music, let me know. Beethoven's my favorite (I know, he's everybody, but you have to admit he was GOOD), but I can also sing along to Tchaikovsky's entire Violin Concerto in D.

I absolve you of ignorance. 

Back when Carl Reiner won the Twain Prize, NPR interviewed him and asked what he thought of modern comics who worked blue. Reiner said it was OK for humor to tackle sensitive topics, but you had to be at least twice as funny as you were offensive. Words to live and joke by.

I think he got it backwards.   I think the problem is that a lot of comics use blue instead of humor.  It's the modern equivalent of the old trick of bugging out your eyes.  There were old vaudevillians who JUST bugged out their eyes.  There are modern comics who JUST say M....f.....    I think Reiner's point was: transcend the blue.  

Gene, this article about Bob Woodward's book on John Belushi seems to fit squarely in your area of expertise. Your thoughts?

I found it fascinating.  And pretty persuasive.  Woodward's books are factual; the question is, how TRUE are they?   This writer argues that in re-reporting WIRED, he discovers that Woodward got everything right in a sense: Things happened as Woodward said they happened, but in many cases he took away a wrong impression, particularly as it related to humor. He was sort of a square: he didn't seem to be able to distinguish Belushi being hilarious from Belushi being obnoxious, for example.  The examples cited here are pretty telling.   

The question is, how much does this failure, if at all, extend to other things on which Woodward has worked?  The author here suggests it might explain why Woodward saw a threat recently in an email that really doesn't seem to have been; does he have a fundamental problem understanding subtleties of expression -- what people MEAN?  Is he a machine?  

That's a larger leap, and I'm not secure with it.   I have no problem believing Woodward is s tin-eared to humor, especially if he is in pursuit of a book that he sees as being about drug abuse.   I can imagine he'd get tone deaf; he's a bulldog, worrying a meaty bone, and if a rabbit runs by he might miss it.  

I don't buy, yet, that Woodward misreads people chronically. I think he has a good sense of people in power.  My only reservation is that he really WAS wrong about that "threat."  Gene Sperling was not threatening him; Gene Sperling was telling him, friend to friend, that he'd look silly if he staked out the position he was planning to stake out.    I'm still shaking my head about that. 

This week's poll was much harder, since in many cases I had read the works or studied the concepts in question, but couldn't necessarily come up with the specific info you were looking for. On the poem question, I could quote every poem, some of them extensively, and could claim a general understanding of each one's importance to English literature, but could only come up with two authors. So I think questions like that are less about general cultural understanding ("sophistication") and more about trivia.

That's a fair complaint.  Others voiced it, too. 

People don't lane change into each other because if one car is in the blind spot of the other, the car in the blind spot will be somewhat trailing the lead car. Drivers changing lanes are generally at least looking ahead into the space they are about to occupy. So they see the lead car and slow down or honk, etc. If the cars are parallel to each other, the driver will see in their periphery something rushing towards the side of their car. Humans attention is drawn to impending collisions in peripheral vision. The drivers will quickly jerk back into their own lanes. All bets are off if the drivers are flailing their cars around like complete morons.

I can only assume this is right, because these accidents never happen. 

If/when the Post starts charging for access to the online site, there will be a lot fewer people taking part in these chats. Just sayin'. A better choice would be to charge people to leave comments: even at a dime per comment, the Post would still get a bucket of money, and the comment sections would clean themselves up pretty quickly.

I agree with you.   Rachel Manteuffel, who is intimately familiar with Comments, once proposed exactly such a system.  Didn't get far. 

Strikes me as a prime example of having a person to put in an ad and nn idea at all about how to use him. Don't you think they could do better than that. I like the wood chuckers.

You mean, not make it all about literally blocking shots -- people throwing something?   But I'm not sure what that alternative would be. 

I thought his relentless cheerleading for Bush's Iraq fiasco was his low point. I stand corrected.

Well, he started as a cheerleader but "State of Denial" didn't say that at all. 

The book I bet Woodward would like back is the one about the cleverness and poltical future of Dan Quayle. 

Regarding the debate over whether any rape joke is appropriate, what are your thoughts on the "but first a little roo roo" joke? While the joke does not have to involve rape, the vast majority of the many versions of the joke involve rape. Would a version of this joke that includes rape be appropriate?

Well, an interesting question.   It's one of my favorite jokes.  But should it be? 

Answer:  Yes.  For two reasons.  The first is that it is absurd; it's very hard to move from missionaries-in-the-jungle outdated cliche to anythign resembling real life.  But also because it is about MEN.  If it had been about women, it would fail instantly since it would seem too close to a serious, universal problem.    

Julien, Molly's boyfriend, made that last point.   "Change the gender," he said, "and feel the chill."  He's right. 

Here's why the Quvenzhane Wallis tweet was offensive: because she's nine, and this is 2013. She's going to see it, or a "friend" at school will tell her about it, and even if she's somehow protected from hearing about it now she will Google herself in a few years and see herself referred to by that word. Even as an adult woman, I feel my stomach twist in knots when it's used seriously to describe someone. And sure, it was being used satirically here, but a 9-year-old or even a 12-year-old is probably not going to comprehend the fine point the Onion writer was attempting to make. A 20-year old actress knows that by being in the business she's opening herself up to the TMZ and internet comments and paparazzi of it all, but a kid, even in Hollywood, is still a human being and a child worthy of some small degree of sensitivity.

As I think I wrote last time, I don't think that the Onion should have apologized, mostly because it elevated the pulbicity a hundredfold (The ONION?  APOLOGIZE?) but also because, when you get right down to it, it was a funny joke not aimed at the little girl.  It was about the pointless snark of the Oscars.   

If Tom the Butcher doesn't know who Boris Gudunov is, how could he possibly have enjoyed Rocky and Bullwinkle? These facts don't exist in isolation. (He probably didn't get the Rocky and Bullwinkle joke about the shipping magnate, Pericles Parnassus. Or understand why Bullwinkle's little red stone boat, sought after by a sheik who wanted to return it to Arabia, was the Rudy Yacht of Omar Khayyam.)

Actually, it was The Ruby Yacht.

I love sophisticated in-jokes thrown into unsophisticated things.  Rocky and Bullwinkle were brilliant at that.   In the Odd Couple, a couple of ditzes were named Gwendolyn and Cecily, which were the names that Oscar Wilde gave his two ditzes in The Importance of Being Earnest.    I always wanted to create a Mafia character name named "Sonny Lamontina."   You all gets it? 

Searching for other hidden gems.  You got 'em?

I had a similar experience a few months ago at work -- a minor kerfuffle over leftovers resulted in an apology posted on the office fridge in the style of "This is just to say" by William Carlos Williams. I (having nothing to do with the disagreement) made a comment about it to a colleague and discovered he didn't get the reference. I was shocked and may have implied his education was lacking; he in turn accused me of being an elitist. A quick poll of colleagues and on Facebook showed that people either 1) couldn't imagine not knowing such an obvious literary reference or 2) had no idea what I was talking about and concluded that I was an irredeemable snob.

This is about the polls last week and this week, which were trying to establish a baseline for general sophistication.

The Empress of the Style Invitational, who knew just about all the answers last week and this, warned me that it can be a fraudulent test; she suspects constructor error due to familiarity -- that I would choose things I happen to know.   So I didn't.     I got an 80 percent on it.   A cannot tell you what a derivative is, and still don't understand it after my math-major son tried to explain it.   I haven't the foggiest about what a semiconductor does, really, even though I wrote this lede many years ago. 

This poll reminded me of an ongoing discussion I've been having with my partner ever since Will Shortz took over the NYT crossword puzzle desk. He (my SO) has often gnashed his teeth over the loss of Eugene Maleska. Too much pop culture references to things he (my SO) doesn't recognize, clues that don't follow rigid crossword conventions, themes that are too easy, etc. I've pointed out clever clues for everyday words, which I like in a puzzle, but to no avail. Teeth gnashing continued. Then I bought him a compendium of 200 Maleska-era Sunday puzzles. With the perspective of distance, he now agrees with me that puzzles that are full of straightforward clues for really obscure words and/or foreign words a non-speaker of the language in question wouldn't know aren't really much fun! Also, Maleska's puzzles were full of pop references as well -- they just dated to the 1920's-50's instead -- and also presumed a much more intimate knowledge of the Bible than I have even though I've read the Old Testament in the original language. Which do you prefer?

Will Shortz has been the best thing to happen to The NYT puzzles, by and large.  He has upgraded, substantially, the Acrostic.  Ken-Ken is a terrific puzzle, and the main puzzles have been upgraded as well.  My biggest disappointment is the appalling perseverence of the Sunday puzzles featuring themed-pun answers.   I actually have corresponded with Shortz about that; he agrees there are too many and is working with constructors to have fewer of them. 

I have a sophisticated observation about a flaw in double crostics, but will make it only if at least three persons ask.  I don't know if anyone here does double crostics. 

Please forgive my title, but I highly doubt this is something you can answer offhand. My question is - why do the poll questions not work in Chrome? I can't submit answers and I can't see the results. I click but nothing happens. It seems to work fine when I use IE while at work.

Haley?  You got thoughts here?


We've received complaints about polls on this page mostly from Chrome users, but also from people using Firefox and IE. I've talked to the developer, and the poll tool itself seems to be functioning correctly. The issue is most likely that we put too many polls on one page, causing some people issues when trying to take them. Poll overload, if you will. Next time we have so many poll questions we'll build it using our quiz tool. Sorry if you're one of the people having trouble!

You are a normally honorable person so I don't get this attachment with that baseball team. As more evidence of their arrogance and disregard for the entire rest of the baseball world and its fans, in more were needed, can you justify their offer to Chipper Jones to come out of retirement and play for them? Did they think he's so venal that he would disregard his career-long commitment to the Braves for a big payoff? Or do they think any player would be so honored to play in those hallowed uniforms that loyalty to anyone but them doesn't matter? I know, you were a kid, had great memories, all that. But really, you are all grown up; can't you use your grown-up sense of morality and fairness to see this team for what it is?

I love the Yankees with the same unquestioning blindness that a fundamentalist loves his God, even though he believes his God to be the thundering, jealous, blood-guzzling maniac of the Old Testament. 

The Yankees this year, for the first time since the late 1960s, have screwed their fans.  They are behaving like the Tea Party Nuts, letting everything go to hell in order to save a few bucks.  

I read Fatal Vision, at your general urging, and it was great. I mean, terrible and horrifying, and all that, but also a fantastic book. So - what next? I need more to read, but with job/kids/extracurriculars/friends/family/etc, I don't have a lot of time to spare, so I don't want to waste it on reading something "meh." I want something that sucks you in, so captivating that you don't want to put it down to go to bed, and then you're sad when it's over. What would you recommend? (Odds are, I haven't read it.) My apologies for the two spaces after every period. I can't help it. It's the way I was raised.

The most interesting thing about this post is that there aren't two spaces after every period.  I wonder if The Post system automatically corrects for it?   Does this response contain two spaces after every sentence?  Because that is how I am writing it. 

This is the book you want. 

I think the poster's question was whether the incest restriction SHOULD apply to gay marriage, since the underlying reason for the taboo is to prevent inbreeding. Presumably, the restriction applies in all states where marriage equality is lawful now, and will continue to apply unless there is a change. I have a related question: Does it violate incest laws for, say, a lesbian couple to use a sperm donation that would violate the incest laws if the donor were a party to the marriage? For example, if the brother or cousin of one of the partners makes the donation, and his sister/cousin is the partner who conceives with it, is that incest under the laws of most states?

Ah, I see.  thank you for explaining.   I assume that the incest law would apply simply because we think incest is icky.    And your last question is interesting : Anyone know the answer?


oblique reference to philandering "his many women"?

Are we still evaluating jokes about rape? Here's another one: Link

Safe for work! But is it funny?

Do you really have to ask that?  Yes, it's hilarious.  Just think about what it is really saying.   It is, of course an anti-rape joke. 

This was my column last week about telling jokes about taboo subjects.   A few emailers accuse me of copping out -- that is, telling jokes that were not REALLY about the subjects at hand.  This is absolutely true, but that was intended as a second layers of  joke. Many of you understood that. 

I can, and have, told jokes on all of those subjects -- jokes really about the subject -- but I can't do it in my column because of the risk of misunderstanding, or it etting lifted out of context.    

You know, that "lifting out of context" thing is particularly aggravated by the Interwebs.   It is very easy to pull a line from a satirical piece, give it your own spin, and make it sound awful.   That wonderful conservative media-watchdog site "Newsbusters" does it all the time. 

This was their headline about my column on Sunday:  "Washpost Humorist Jokes GOP Less Hostile to Slavery than to Tax Hikes." 

Actually, that was relatively fair.  Here is a previous one:

Wapost Humorist Hates Our "Stupid Ramparts" and Our National Anthem, Plans to Rewrite It. 

And my favorite:

Crass WashPost Humorist: Protest the Supreme Court By Defecating In Front of Cops.

Love the book idea; there are a couple of studies of discrete years that are good, like 1941 and 1919. I'm reminded of two things, though - PrairyEarth, by William Least Heat Moon, who picked an obscure-as-hell place (Chase County, Kansas), and mined it in as much depth as possible, and the back half of chapter 7 of Babbitt - I think it's the best writing Sinclair Lewis ever did, as it evokes a given moment in time in Zenith. Also - you might want to get a look at the Reagan diaries for that day - not as published, but as held at the Reagan library. (You also might want to run the TV listings for that day verbatim - only 7-8 networks then...) I have little to add - I was home from college during my junior year. Are you limited to the US only? Neat topic.

I'm re-reading Ulysses, for obvious reasons. 

A reminder:  This is about the book I am starting on, about a day chosen at random, by picking numbers out of a hat: It was December 28, 1986.   Note to redditers: I'll be online there in the next 24 hours, trolling for help as user "Oneday122886."

I guess they've go to do something but as a digital subscriber to the NYT I'm not about to pay for access to another paper's website. I just can't afford it. Unfortunately, this is a growing trend and it will mean less access to diverse ideas and information for everyone. Maybe someday the top notch papers in country will form a consortium to bundle access to their content for one reasonable fee.

Yes, you can afford it.  Of course you can.  Given what you will be delivered, it is a fine deal.  But people have become accustomed to free online stuff, and it's jeopardizing everything; it's going to wind up seriously affecting the quality of the news you get, because the places with the resources to really cover things aren't making enough money to persist. Eventually, everything on the web will be written by people commenting on the work of only one remaining reporter.  

This is explained very well here by my old friend Ed Wasserman. 

The problem is that a bunch of your jokes aren't actually about the taboo subject. In most cases the joke still functions if you switch taboos. Taboo Topic: Weight gain and the Holocaust Q: What is the difference between 9/11 and that little lip of flab you sometimes see near a lady's armpit when she's wearing a sleeveless dress? A: If you really, really had to, you could probably get away with telling a joke about 9/11. This is a joke about women's vanity. Taboo Topic: Slavery Q: What's the difference between abortion/gay rights/immigration reform and higher taxes? A: If a rock-ribbed conservative congressman said something positive about abortion/gay rights/immigration reform, he could probably still be reelected. This is a joke about republican bigotry. For the standup guy's bit about 9/11 you could substitute any number of incidents involving the middle east. Indian and Little Bighorn are the crucial details. Taboo Topic: A vulgar term referencing female genitalia and 9-year-old girls Q: How is a joke actually about 9/11/slavery/holocaust like a two-hand dunk in a 15-foot-high basketball hoop in Warsaw? A: Nope. Not even with a 10-foot Pole. This is a joke about taboo joke topics The jokes about Domestic Violence, Islam, and Gays all require that particular taboo since the humor is directly connected to that topic.

I don't quarrel with any of this. Your point? 

I have difficulty with pulling a name out of my head, but seeing something written down brings it jumping into the forefront of my consciousness. So no, I can't recall the names of the characters in Waiting for Godot, but if there was a multiple choice, I would very likely get it correctly.

Oh, by the way, it was Vladimir and Estragon.   After she took the poll, Manteuffel (who knows all things theater) asked me what their NICKNAMES were.   Yes, their nicknames were all over the text, and no, I had no recollection.   So much for obnoxious pedantry on my part. 

As a point of pride, he purported to remember every meal he had eaten in his 80 years of life.

We've already answered: The great thing is the late mention of his official career. 

There's actually a pretty long answer to "if same-sex marriage, why not multiple marriage?" The basic idea is--we can have same-sex marriage by simply eliminating the requirement that the two parties involved be exactly one man and exactly one woman. Having some multiple-partner relationship would require re-thinking a LOT of the law and practice surrounding marriage. First off--right now, marriage is a relationship (a) between two people in which (b) each person may be in only one such relationship at a time. So if you want "multiple marriage", do you want to remove one or both of these restrictions, and if one, which one? If we removed restriction (a)--so a "three-person marriage" would actually be a legal relationship among three persons, how would we handle (1) establishment/dissolution of this relationship, (2) expansion/contraction of the size of the partnership, and (3) cases where we now require unanimity of (two) spouses but where there was instead a difference of opinion with a 2-1 majority? If we removed restriction (b)--then we end up with questions of transitivity. If A is married to B who is married to C, what is the legal relationship between A and C? Historically polygamous societies solved this by only relaxing this restriction for men, which with only opposite-sex marriage available prevented it from being an issue.

All good points. 

Gene, There is no place to talk about this in society but on your chat. I live in Alexandria where the police officer was shot, right outside my kids school, his kid is a few years older than mine, for a few years we were on the same pick-up schedule at aftercare. Here is what my unspeakable opinion is.....why are we donating money to him and his family? First, as a workplace injury, aren't all his hospital bills paid for by his employer, the police department? One would also assume that he has life insurance, and that his expenses are covered for now. I really don't understand the great desire of Americans to instantly start throwing money around at every tragedy. I can see if you are a neighbor bro pinging over dinner, helping with pick-up, etc....but why the money? When a construction worker who is uninsured hurts himself and can not work to support his family, no ne is donating money to that guy....but here you have a fully employed and insured individual and we are to make donations to them. Lots of people will probably write in to say how awful I am and that these people are risking their lives for us, but my reply is that they must be compensated for that and their benefits must be set up in a way to compensate them in this type of situation.

Okay, well, laughing just a bit here.   If there were a finite pot of public charity money available for all who need, and if these decisions were made on a communal basis, like by a benevolent Communist despot, then I would agree with you.  But the fact is, we live in a chaotic society where good is often done though momentary emotional whim.  I think people feel extraordinarily grateful to police officers.  I don't begrudge this; I am sure his family is getting his salary and good healthcare but that this has otherwise extremely disrupted their lives.  I'm sure the money will help. 

I think "Thongsy" is a pretty telling name for a prostitute:  Link


Oh, great arbiter of humor, please comment on the death penalty for Punxsutawny Phil joke. I mean, eeww: Link

I think something along these lines could have been funny, but the death-penalty thing was over the taste line. It would have been funnier with a more imaginative penalty at least. Maybe, "The People recommend a penalty of confinement to a hole in the ground for the rest of his natural life, with the additional requirement to wear a humiliating ear tag."

I liked it.  The only thing I didn't like is that he eventually specified, painfully, that it was tongue in cheek. 

Gene In your opinion, what is the best place to live in the USA other than Washington DC? If you had to move, where would you go and what would be your top three criteria for a new place to call home? And where would you live, overseas, given a choice?

I'm not well enough traveled to give a valid opinion on either question, but ignorance never stops me from sounding authoritative. 

The two coolest foreign cities I've lived in are London and Madrid; I could happily live in either.     

In the U.S., I like Chicago a lot, and New York remains wonderful and is increasingly livable.    A city I liked and expected to hate is ... Cleveland. 


I admit I haven't watched the court closely for a while, but surely Alito is at least as reliably in the traditional-marriage camp as Thomas & Scalia. I think 6-3 is the best you can hope for.

I think it is more likely that Alito (Scalito) knows a gay person or two.  

Anything by Cornell Woolrich, the little known inventor of the Noir literary form. Start with "Rendezvous in Black." Also, the new Harlan Coben novel "Six Years" is excellent. Hugh Jackman has signed to the movie.

I love "Rendezvous in Black" and this is the first time I've ever heard anyone else mention it. 

Gene -- I am a bi guy, clear-cut, and cannot stand dogs (was rather afraid of them for a long time.) Which of these is worst in your pantheon? (FWIW, my redeeming merit is ability with a manual transmission.)

Dogs.  It might actually be the other thing, but I refuse to think about it.  

Didi and Gogo. As an old off-off-Broadway theater guy, I always loved to do Beckett. When you do a Beckett play, you're usually assured there will be more people in the audience than on stage.


I like to do them, but they pile up by my bedside table for a long time. What's your beef?

Themed crostics.  Where most of the questions are about the same field, and related to the quote.   My problem with it is that if you know a lot about the theme, it's too easy.  And if you don't care about the theme, or are ignorant about it, they are next to impossible, AND boring.    Constructors feel very clever for having created a themed puzzle, but it is at the expense of the puzzler. 

First of all I must say that I am a hot, standard-transmission driving female. I have a redundant colon (extra long) so therefore, at most times, meet the definition of being full of sh*t. It can take a while for everything to move in there, but when it does, look out. I can plug up a toilet in no time. It is what I do best. I flush an average of 3-4 times per poop and at times have to get up and plunge mid-poop, then get back to business. I work in a two person office and one evening while in the office by myself I did what I am best at but just couldn't get the plunger to work so I decided to just let it sit and soften a little. I left the plunger sitting in the toilet. About an hour later when I left work I had forgotten all about it. At midnight it hit me. My co-worker was going to show up for work the next day to find the plunger in the toilet. I thought about texting to tell her not to go in the bathroom, but thought it was too late. When I got to work the next day I asked her if she had been in the bathroom. She said she had. Embarrassment.

I love this chat. 

I know lots of stuff generally and guess very well. But "for sure"? Zero points for me.

ZERO?  That's impossible.  You were unsure of everything?  Who painted Guernica?  What animal calamari comes from???

This weekend I was in New York and went to the Comedy Cellar with some friends. One of the best acts was a comedian named Lynne Koplitz. At the end of a joke about living in the East Village for 18 years, she said her strategy for dealing with rapists was to kiss them on the mouth. Proving that rape is about sex AND power, and a joke about rape can be funny when it turns the tables.

Okay, here she is and she is very good.  It's safe for work.      But I don't really get this rape joke of which you speak.  Explain. 

Given the CNN debacle where they lamenting the ruined lives of the Stuebenville convicted high school rapists, is this 2-year-old Onion video either less funny or more funny?

Same video.   It's more funny. 

I had forgotten that CNN thing.  It's completely shocking.  It's like everyone lost his or her collective mind at the same time, including Candy Crowley, who is ordinarily terrific.  Watch the video embedded here and gasp. 

After this "elitist questions" poll, I'm sure you're going to receive a lot of comments from older people about the decline of educational standards and the abject ignorance of kids these days. I knew all the answers to your questions with certainty, except that I couldn't tell you more about Boris Godunov than that he was a Russian czar and the title of an opera by Mussorgsky. I'm 35. Should I be saying, "See, all you old geezers, plenty of young people are smart!" Or should I be saying, "You young whippersnappers don't have any idea how they used to make us learn stuff back in the 1990's. And get off my lawn!" I think perhaps I'm at the age where I get to do both...

The Post live online folks are  short-handed, or I would have asked for an age split in the polls.   I do not at all believe the youngsters would have done appreciably worse than the oldsters.  We have forgotten much.

Oh, I also didn't know The Night Watch.   I knew it once, but forgot it.  I guessed Renoir.  

People must be lying about the French question in the poll. Sure, everyone gets the gist, but do _that_ many people know the literal translation of that phrase? I'll believe most people understand it implies a sense of intangible intrigue, but do people really understand that they are saying "I don't know what" and that they are admitting they don't really know what they are saying?

I don't think you need to know that to say you understand the expression perfectly.   

It's so French; it really needs to be uttered with a massive Gallic shrug. 

Speaking of Gallic, this is probably the most fun I've had with a story. 

I think you should have an additional answer to each of the poll questions that reads, "Well, I know of of them NOW" . I was honest on the poll but you bet I googled those that I didn't know - and now I am far more sophisticated!

Nah, you'll screw up the next one. 

Can you make a case for why the average person should care about art history? I remember Art History being offered as an AP course in high school, and it was the only one I didn't take. I mean, why does Art HIstory get to be an AP course over any other area of study? What's so special about it? I'm not saying it doesn't deserve to be a niche area of historical study, but I don't see why it's relevant or useful for the average person to know the difference between Monet and Manet.

It's not "art history."  That makes it sound pedantic and academic and a chore. 

It's having an appreciation for a Finer Thing In Life. 

Life isn't about studying enough to pass a test. 

I was thinking that date meant something, This I realized something. Maybe that date was not random as there was a purpose to all this. That was the day God spoke to me and explained how life is created from matter and the role of dark matter and how this all explains the meaning of life. I am glad I can share that with you for your book. Oh, wait, my dairy tells me God explained this all to me on December 27, 1986. Never mind.

You'd be surprised how much of that sort of near-miss I am actually finding.  This book is an egokiller. 

When I write my masterpiece of fiction, a major female character will be a trailer dweller named Blanca Basura.

Excellent.  I'm going to wrap us up here only because my computer keeps crashing.    Thank you alls.  Good questions. 

See you in the updates.    There may be more polls.  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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