Chatological Humor: Monthly with Moron

Apr 30, 2013

Join Gene Weingarten Tuesday, April 30 during his monthly chat with readers.

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Ethics poll: Men | Women

Gene Weingarten's humor column, Below the Beltway, appears every Sunday in The Washington Post magazine. It is syndicated nationally by the Washington Post Writers Group.

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

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

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

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

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

Good afternoon. 

The theme of today’s introduction is “Too Soon! Too Soon!”  It will be an investigation into the phenomenon of bad timing, which I will deftly pursue through example, by wading into sensitive subjects way too soon.

(In a way this is a continuation of the issues raised in my Outlook piece a few weeks ago, where I demonstrated -- through fearless execution of same -- the dangers of slamming a guy too soon after his death.) 

The first item of business today is the coming-out of an active male gay professional athlete, basketball center Jason Collins, who is being lauded nationwide for his courage.  I do think it took courage, and I respect him for it, and I do think it is going to force people to take a position on this subject, and the vast majority of them will be supportive, and those who aren’t will seem small and stupid, like this guy.      It’s a very good thing, and ridiculously long overdue.     

But in our haste to mythologize this moment, we are all – the media in particular – lying a little.  Because this is a way better story told as it is being told than as it really is, once you think about it a little bit.

If you’ve read any of the coverage you will find (in the New York Times and Washington Post and everywhere else I have seen) the casual recitation and repetition of Collins’s height as seven feet.  In fact, he is not a seven footer.  As it turns out, he is not even close.  He’s about six-eight, as is clearly established in this old Bloomberg story in the New York Times

The seven foot myth was created by a hypester PR guy when Collins was in college, and it’s been dutifully reported ever since.

Why is this important?  Because it is symptomatic of what we do too often: Grab for myths and suspend our skepticism if the squishy facts we have bolster the story.   This story is marginally better if he is one of the game’s giants. 

So let’s look at the rest of this myth and see if anything else squishes.  The most important engine of this story is that Collins is an “active” male player, daring to come out at a time it could injure his career.  Several other athletes have come out after their careers have ended, so the disclosure presented no threat to their income or acceptance by teammates.

But is he really “active”?  He’s 34, which is ancient for a basketball player, particularly a role player of modest abilities.  He is coming off a poor year when he was used infrequently.  When you get right down to it, he doesn’t actually have a job right now; he's not "active," yet.  He’s a free agent, hoping that some team might take a shot at a final one-year contract.   By comparing him with the career arcs of other aging, no-so-great players, Nate Silver gives him about a 60 percent chance of being rehired under ordinary circumstances.  My gut says it's less, but I defer to Nate.

I don’t question Jason's sincerity. I don’t question his courage.  But this story would have been a lot more stirring if he had come out, say, five years ago.  Moreover, I don’t think it is blasphemy to suggest that part of the calculus for this decision might well be that this might HELP him get a job for one more year.  By taking him on, a team can show it is not bigoted; a shrewd team management will know some fans will come to see him play.

So.  C’mon, people.

Hot-button issue two: The Marathon Bombing.

There is nothing even faintly amusing about this dreadful, tragic, sickening event, is there?  

Of course not, at least not until a little more time passes, a more decent interval that now, when wags will start to point out that these guys were the Keystone Kommandos. The Dufus Desperadoes. 


The litany of their boneheadedness has been spooling out in various stories, but when compiled together, it is simply jaw-dropping just how inept the brothers Tsarnaev were.  




This all happened at the finish line of The Boston Marathon, one of the more robustly photographed and videotaped sporting events all year.  Police cameras are ubiquitous.  The precise location of the bombs were immediately apparent from their blast radii.  It did not take a forensic genius to foresee that it would be very easy to focus on continuous video of those two spots and watch for people who arrived with a container and left without it, at some point shortly before the blasts.  In fact, that is exactly what the police did, first thing.  Despite this evident fact, the brothers Tsarnaev did not take any pains to disguise themselves.  


They could have.  This was the Boston Marathon.  It’s got some funk.  There are costumes.  There was a giant, goofy blue m&m mascot figurine right at the site of the first blast.


There were some people in silly outfits, as there often are at large, joyous public events.  People were literally wrapped in flags.  The brothers Tsarnaev could have arrived in full clown gear, or Gothed up, or face-painted and flag-tattoed and nobody would have given them a second glance; if anything, they would have seemed particularly harmless, and afterwards, their photos would be of no use to anyone.  


But no, they arrived figuratively naked.   Dzhokhar (correctly pronounced “Joker,” by the way) obligingly swiveled the bill of his cap out of his eyes.  They arrived as a pair, for more easy ID and connection. 




For two days afterward, they stayed put.  They had at least a little time to get out of town, but they didn’t.   Why?  Several reasons, the first apparently being that they idiotically didn’t think they’d be caught; also, they didn’t have any money;  also, their car was in the shop!  THEIR CAR WAS IN THE SHOP!   That was the sophistication of their escape plan: There wasn’t one. It was as though they decided to bomb The Boston Marathon on a whim, as you might go out for a late-night bowl of chowder. 


Now their faces are on TV, clear as crystal.  Ruh-roh!   That’s when the douchebag desperadoes realize they have only one handgun between them; that’s why they killed a campus police officer: It was to steal his gun. Only once they had killed him, they couldn’t figure out how to get the gun out of the holster.   It probably had a quick-release trigger they couldn’t find. Ruh-roh. They gave up.  Can you imagine their discussion afterwards? 


Next, they carjack and kidnap a guy, because, you know, they need money on account of not happening to have any. Who could have anticipated that an escape might cost money?  


Immediately, they brag to their hostage who they are, meaning that if he escapes (coming right up!)  police will know exactly whom to go after, in what direction they fled, and (coming right up!) will also have a GPS trail.   


Next, they go to an ATM, where they withdraw $800 of the hostage’s money, the maximum he is allowed.  What do they do next? They try several more ATMs, apparently unaware of the fact that these machines are interconnected, are quite aware of the first withdrawal, and won’t let the guy take anymore.  This idiot ATM odyssey results in their being photographed a few more times, in pursuit of their crime.   


Then, they accidentally let the hostage escape.  Why?  Because while Joker  was getting goodies at a quick mart, Tamerlan wanted to use the satnav device to plot a route.  But his hands weren’t free because he was holding a gun!   What to do?  What to do?  "Well, I'll just tuck the gun in the door pocket.   Which is when the hostage ran.  The last thing he heard was Tamerlan yelling “F---!” 


F--- indeed!  


The hostage left his cellphone in the car, which the brothers idiotically didn't throw out to create a false trail, meaning they were trackable on GPS, which is how they were caught.


Just for the record: Yes, these guys are conscienceless monsters.   I had some small amount of sympathy for Dzhokhar, but it dissolved  with the appearance of the photo of him jauntily walking away from the bomb he planted six feet away from two children.

Finally, I hope you all read this excellent piece in the UM Diamondback, by Yasmeen Abutaleb, reprising the 10-year-old case of lying “journalist” Jayson Blair.   It’s really eye-opening.  What you realize is that all his fellow college journalists had figured out what he was, but not the faculty or the wise old editors at The New York Times. 

It occurred to me that Jayson Blair had a bit of Eddie Haskell in him, from the old Leave It to Beaver show  -- nasty, scheming, cruel to his friends, but ingratiatingly polite (oily-polite) to adults.  Here’s an Eddie Haskell scene.   The laugh track is cued to the fact that the viewer knows what a load of crap Eddie's  politeness is, and that he is actually scheming something evil.  (Also, please note that Wally is “out looking for the Beaver.”)     In a 2008 list of the Greatest Sitcom Characters of All Time, I listed Eddie Haskell at position 5. 

Okay, here's the list again: 


1. Ed Norton ("The Honeymooners"); 2. George Costanza/Larry David ("Seinfeld" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm"); 3. Archie Bunker ("All In The Family"); 4. The Entire Huxtable Family ("The Cosby Show"); 5. Eddie Haskell ("Leave It to Beaver"); 6. Maxwell Smart ("Get Smart"); 7. Alice Kramden ("The Honeymooners"); 8. Kingfish Stevens ("Amos n' Andy"); 9. Barney Fife ("The Andy Griffith Show") ; 10. Edith Bunker ("All In The Family"); 11. Jim Ignatowski, "Taxi"); 12. Maynard G. Krebs ("The Life and Loves of Dobie Gillis"); 13. Ralph Kramden ("The Honeymooners"); 14. Alex P. Keaton ("Family Ties"); 15. Liz Lemon, ("30 Rock"); 16. Cosmo Topper ("Topper"); 17. Sgt. Ernie Bilko ("The Phil Silvers Show"); 18. Cliff Claven/ Norm Peterson ("Cheers"); 19. Roseanne Connor, ("Roseanne"); 20. Bill Bittinger ("Buffalo Bill"); 21. Louis DiPalma ("Taxi"); 22. Frasier and Niles Crane ("Frasier"); 23. Lois Wilkerson ("Malcolm in the Middle"); 24. Sophia Spirelli Weinstock ("The Golden Girls"); 25. Jack Donaghy, ("30 Rock"); 26. Larry Sanders ("The Larry Sanders Show"); 27. Dr. Robert Hartley ("The Bob Newhart Show"); 28. Lucy Ricardo ("I Love Lucy"); 29. Ted Baxter ("The Mary Tyler Moore Show"); 30. Frank Burns ("M*A*S*H)

Okay, if you haven't taken the polls, please take them now.  I will tell you that all three ethical dilemmas actually happened to me, and I chose the "unethical" answer in two of them.  Can you guess which one I was noble about?

That's it.   We start promptly at noon Eastern time.

Your column on the NYT Boomers section was funny but gave your paper a pass. Have you ever read The Root? It's a patronizing corner for those who don't think the Post is black enough. It usually has one or two columnists who couldn't break into the other pages of the paper without a court order. It's unintentionally funny --- as things are when they are written with Great Seriousness (see Siskel letter). One young columnist wrote how Cool "Disco" Dan inspired him to enter the news business. Others are equally well thought out. The NYT recently ran a story about the only African-American female NASCAR driver. Turns out she has raced one lap in a NASCAR-sanctioned race. (Maybe she was stopping to ask directions?) The Times story noted that several publications had been snookered by her, including the Post. If you clicked on the link, you find the story was part of The Root. Start reading it Gene. You'll never go back...

This was my boomer column.   Okay, I just spent some time rooting around The Root, and I'm not yet sure what to think, except that ANY publication targeting a demographic is always going to be vulnerable to charges of condescension.  The Root seems a lot hipper to me than Booming, and they are not afraid to lead with their chin.   I found their current story "The Blackest White Folks We Know -- listing white people who by their actions are almost black (Adele, Louis C.K., Quentin Tarantino) to be pretty funny and interesting. Also dangerously prone to ridicule, of where there is plenty in the comments.  "Booming" is way too uncool to venture into such territory. 

Gene -- what do you think about the Dayton (Ohio) Air Show's cancellation of its planned re-enactment of the bombing of Hiroshima? Do you think that bodes ill for the 2014 Auschwitz Gas Grill Cook-Off?

In the spirit of this question, and of the generally subversive nature of today's chat, I would like to re-tell a joke that I found on youtube, under a compilation of the most offensive jokes ever told.   Scottish comic Frankie Boyle asks "Why do pedophiles always have beards and glasses? What is it about that look that children find so sexy?"

I say to those who are using the slippery slope argument that gay marriage would eventually equal plural marriage: What a load of horse feathers. Look marriage between two individuals provide a host of legal benefits such as tax breaks, property ownership, healthcare decisions, and immigration. I say that last one as someone who was able to sponsor my wife's immigration change from student to permanent resident, to citizen; all while living in Virginia. I was born in Virginia in mid-1960s and the law back then would not have allowed an inter-racial couple like ours to marry. Their bigotry was a load of horse feathers now, just as their bigotry today is. Anyway, the legal benefits make perfect sense for any two people. For plural marriage they would be impossible to decide who gets what kind of benefit. So for all you who equate gay marriage and plural marriage I say stop it, you don't know what you're talking about.

Fine.  Now they'll ask you about marrying your mule.

There is no end, with these people.  They have a bankrupt, bigotry-based position, and will go any length, prop up any straw man, to create an argument that doesn't admit the bigotry behind their stance.    Male sushi chefs have told me that women can't be sushi chefs because their body temperatures are higher and would partially cook the meat.

When you hear some insane argument like that, stop and ask yourself: Okay, what is the actual truth that this person is trying not to say, because it will make him look bad?

The Boston bomber was captured alive, might not ever be able to talk again, killed his own brother (the other bomber) by accident while trying to kill police officers, AND he was treated at a Jewish hospital. In the history of the world, has there ever been a better example of poetic justice?

Good point.  I forgot about accidentally running over his brother.   That should be part of the Keystone Kommando formulation.

Is it just me, or does there seem to be a disproportionate amount of attention being paid to Kobe Bryant's reaction to Collins's announcement?

Not sure what you are implying, but if it is that Kobe is gay:  Really?  Hasn't he established his straightness in a not-so-great way?

Two good ones: The sixth swimmer on the second team list from South County; and on the third line of the honorable mention list, the swimmer from Yorktown. LINK

That first one is amazing!  I wonder if it was deliberate.  Who spells Evan that way?

The one thing I can't stand is when people argue that because of the constitutional right of free speech people who say bigoted things shouldn't face consequences. Free speech means that a person can say whatever they want without being locked up (in most cases) but it doesn't mean that I don't get to berate that person, not buy whatever that person is selling or try and get that person fired. Yes people died to give you the right to say whatever you want but those same people also fought so I can call you an idiot for what you just said.

I'm not sure that they are saying bigoted people shouldn't face consequences.  I think they are saying no one should be silenced by fiat, and I agree with that.   Yesterday, though, Charles Barkley was asked to comment about what that idiot ESPN guy said -- homosexuality is sinning, etc., -- and he wussed out.   He said everyone should say what he thinks, and a dialogue should ensue, and blah blah blah.

Nope.  Someone should be allowed to say something that awful, but when he does, it is incumbent upon people like Charles Barkley to say, no, you are an idiot.

There are issues about which there are not two debatable sides.   One of them is discrimination against gays.

If Larry David gets a spot for himself and a fictionalized version of himself, surely Louis C.K. can crack the top 30.

Well, this list is five years old, updated from a list that was ten years old. 

Honeymooners all OVER that thing. Is it because the characters were prototypes that were then reproduced in about half the sitcoms for ever and ever? Because really, even Exidor from Mork and Mindy was more interesting and funny than Ralph Kramden. We'll not speak of that Huxtable debacle again.

Yes, that is why the Honeymooners are all over that thing -- best sitcom ever, judged against its own time -- but you are seriously undervaluing Ralph Kramden.

Any revisions to your list? "Malcolm in the Middle" especially seems to have disappeared from the cultural radar, coming up only as an ironic counterpoint to Bryan Cranston's current role on "Breaking Bad." I'm trying to think of potential new additions to your list, but coming up short, mostly because sitcoms these days are becoming an increasingly marginal type of program.

I don't watch enough TV now to feel at all sure anymore.

An interesting note about this year's Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing. Here are the judges comments: "Awarded to John Branch of The New York Times for his evocative narrative about skiers killed in an avalanche and the science that explains such disasters, a project enhanced by its deft integration of multimedia elements." How do you feel about the consideration of multimedia elements? Personally, I think it was a great article without the multimedia, so I'm not saying it shouldn't have won, but does this set a bad precedent? And why weren't the people that created the multimedia awarded too?

Given the wording of the award, I think it would have been appropriate to credit the multimedia team, too.  What they did was a form of feature narrative.

Having said that, the story on its lonesome was excellent.  A deserving winner. 

I'm pretty sure this chat is the only place on earth I'd ask this question: Is it normal to cry when you poop? It isn't me crying from pain (spicy food, hemorrhoids, sharp bits of undigested chips). I'll just be going about my business (har) having a normal, everyday, pleasant poop, and half way through my nose turns red, my eyes fill, and tears start spilling out. Sometimes the tears are accompanied by a feeling of slight euphoria (poophoria?). It isn't unpleasant, other than the occasional ruined mascara, but it feels a bit freakish. I've asked my Mom about it, and she reports that I've done this since I was a baby. BTW - 27, female, and hot, but I'll refrain from flinging my panties, considering the topic at hand.

Wow!  Wow.  I never heard of this; there are strange triggers the body has that are often ideosyncratic to one person.  When I tickle the inside of my gum, where it hits the cheek, in a certain area, my ear canal itches and I have to relieve it by scratching.

Your thing sounds like a variation of a vaso-vegal response.  Guessing here, but I bet there is a nerve in your rectum that gets tickled by passing poop, and it in turn does some mischief to your crying response.    I am going to try to get this answered by the same doctor I consulted to help the famous Ms. Poopfinger.

Wow. I'm seriously out of step ethically. Unlike most, I wouldn't try to get the watch for two bucks (stealing, in my mind) or try to rip off the gov't, but I would have no trouble taking credit for the performance appraisal goof, which is victimless.

And I am precisely the opposite!

Perhaps because I am a journalist, where credit for work/plagiarism are unnervingly connected, I would never let that mistake stand. I would feel dirty and dishonest and small and sleazy.  When this actually happened to me many years ago, I corrected the record immediately. 

The other two?  Nope.  Happily chose the "unethical" path.

My tax returns have been disgustingly honest, in part because the Rib and I are honest people and believe stealing is stealing, even from the government -- maybe even especially from the government.  But also because because for most of her life, The Rib  had top-secret security clearance and we assumed we were routinely, covertly, audited.   Once 25 years ago, however, we both moved to Boston for nine months on a fellowship; it was prestigious -- you'd be a dope to refuse it, but it can cripple you financially.  When tax time came, all of us fellows chipped in to seek the counsel of an expert, who advised us to take the whole trip as a business expense, which, he said, was his interpretation of the law, and which he felt was a legitimate, if "aggressive" interpretation, but which he knew from experience is often  disallowed.    I'm pretty sure all my fellow fellows also took his advice, and so far as I know none of us was audited.  It saved us several thousands bucks, and we didn't really feel dirty about it.   It was a no-risk venture, we felt, and if a CPA said it made sense legally, we felt he had our back.  

The case that is clearest to me, ethically, was the antique store.  Antique stores are participating in a game with their shoppers; it's an understood game, with understood rules.  They will charge what they think they can get, even where they know they are overcharging, a stance they defend by pointing out dryly that something is "worth" what someone is willing to pay.

Fair enough.  I feel that if they make a mistake, and my expertise sees that mistake, that is all a part of the game.  I am thinking that antique store proprietors (are there any within the reach of these pixels?) would grudgingly agree.  I bought several watches, to minimize the chances they'd see their error.

Didn't feel bad about it at all.  Still don't.


Gene -- Someone asked during the last chat about the rules for holding an elevator door for someone who's on their way -- specifically, how close do people have to be before you hold the door for them? It reminded me of a letter I read years ago in one of the advice columns. The letter writer had to leave work for an emergency, sick child or something like that, and was trying to rush downstairs, but ended up in an elevator with a woman who, at every stop, wouldn't let the door close until she stuck her head out of the elevator and looked both ways to see if anyone was coming. The ride down was considerably longer than it would have otherwise been. And the woman who had to rush home was ready to strangle the door-holder. And I got to thinking that when someone does that, she's not benefitting anyone. The people on the elevator certainly aren't helped. What about the people who might be trying to catch the elevator? They're not helped either! What would help them the most is to have all of the elevators running as efficiently as possible. That would make it more likely that an elevator will be there when they need it. The person holding the elevator on the 7th floor to see if there might be someone coming out of an office down the hall might conceivably benefit someone on 7 who is coming out of an office down the hall -- but certainly not anyone who is coming out of an office down the hall on 6 or 5 or 4. And the person on 7 isn't helped if there's someone on 8 or 9 holding the elevator for someone. A Republican might say that this door-holder was creating her own little social program to fill a non-existent need, succeeding only in making herself feel good while gumming up the works for everyone. I'm not a Republican, but I can certainly see that argument. So, when IS it appropriate to hold the door? It seems to me that under my analysis, it's NEVER appropriate, even if the person is just a few steps away. Let the elevators run! They'll go up and down freely, taking only as long as it takes to pick people up and drop them off. And you know what? That person who is only steps away will find an elevator waiting for him more often than he currently does! I don't apply that principle in practice, of course. If someone is approaching, I only let the door close when I can get away with pretending that I don't hear him or her coming.

Reading that anecdote made me all anxious and jumpy.   The woman is awful. 

I will hold an elevator if a person is reasonably close AND SEES ME, and knows I have seen him/her.   If there is plausible deniability, I probably don't hold. 

Gene, I found myself defending you, and I'm not in the habit of defending you, against all of the commenters posting to your hommage of Roger Ebert. I wonder, what goes on in your mind when you read comments from people who didn't even bother to read the article in its entirety and who know nothing about your previous work? I would have had a hard time dealing with their comments, if I were you. I had a hard enough time just defending you.

Think about the thickness of skin one must have if one writes for a living in a forum that allows "Comments."  Very little bothers me.    I am only bothered where I feel the commenter has a good point.  It happens from time to time.

I know a of a family with two sons named Evin and Kevan, each pronounced in the standard way. apart from the fact that these people gave their children names that rhyme, they have also guaranteed that they will go through life with their names always mispelled. Never underestimate the desire of parents to be clever when naming their kids, thereby saddling them with names that will cause them lifelong problems.

Right.  I wonder how many minutes, or even hours, of those kids' lives, will be spent telling people how to spell their names...

I notice the home screen of wapo right now says "Obama vows to try and close Guantanamo." Is "try and" as opposed to "try to" really acceptable stylistically?


I am curious if you buy into the line that Kermit's murder of born babies was caused by the anti-abortion people.

I don't.   And I'm not sure they are saying that.  As I understand their argument: Look at this.  If abortion were illegal, this would be happening more.    I buy that, absolutely.

How many things work less effectively and less consistently than the chat technology the Post uses? My browser freezes, creates errors, goes back to the post home page, refuses to reload more with these chats than anything I can think of on the internet. Very impressive.

Don't get me started.   Seriously.

Hi Gene, I love the new Wash Post iPad app, especially the comics feature. But half the time, Barney & Clyde (along with a couple of other comics) just doesn't show up! What gives? Can you tell someone to fix it please? Thanks!

I will.  Thanks.  Anyone else notice this?

There are writers who write genuinely poetic prose. E.B. White comes to mind immediately, and there are many others. They write stunning works of art. Why do "poets" feel the need to break up sentences into unrhymed pieces and call it "poetry" instead of writing poetic prose?

You are preaching to the choir.   Okay, FWIW, this "poem," to me, is a note on the refrigerator, and not even a particularly deep or witty one.   I cheerfully declare it not a poem.  Someone tell me why I am wrong.

I see no elliptical message.  I see nothing happening in the mind of the reader to elevate it above the banality of the message.   Help me out here: Tell me why this is a "poem."

The watch isn't really about ethics, it's about capitalism. In any negotiation between two parties, there is always a risk that one party will have superior knowledge of the value of an asset. The parties agree to a price that is acceptable to both of them, without regard to the "true value" of the asset, but rather the negotiated value of the asset. The inequality in the knowledge about the asset typically is in favor of the seller, but not always. In the case of the watch, the inequality in knowledge is in favor of the buyer. Nor is this a case of an unsophisticated seller being misled about the true value of an asset by a buyer with superior knowledge upon which the seller is relying. The seller is the one who priced the asset. Any inequality in price, therefore, accrues to the benefit of the buyer.

Better stated than I did.

The thing that is a mystery to me is that these guys were here for so long (Joker came at nine) and yet didn't know anything about police/detective work. Law and Order is endlessly repeated; Skyfall showed how a villian can escape through a city. For being here a decade, they had no clue at all. (Backward ball cap, indeed.) Their ineptitude told me right away they were not part of any formal terrorist cell.

Agreed, though I heard a bomb expert last night say that there is no way these two jokers built that bomb off the internet.  He was certain.  He felt the bomb had to have been assembled by an expert.  So I'm not sure.

Gene -- In my workplace, we are allowed to count work-travel time as work time. Last week, I was supposed to return from an out-of-state business trip on Tuesday. Instead, I fueled myself with a Big Gulp and did the drive on Monday, after my workday had ended, returning home at 2 am. Then I stayed home on Tuesday to recuperate. My officemate says I unfairly gamed the system -- that since I was not technically traveling on Tuesday, I should not have stayed home. I argued that it didn't matter when I did the drive -- I was still owed the six hours of my life I spent doing it. Office mate respects you immensely. Please tell her she is wrong.

She is wrong.

Didn't you also save your company a one-day hotel bill?  

Gene, Your preface today (and your oft-expressed opinion about where humor can be found) gives me cover, if not permission, to ask the following: The "iconic" image of the Boston Marathon tragedy, the one of the elderly runner on the ground, surrounded by police officers; would that not have a chance of winning next year's Washington Post contest if it were rendered in Peeps?

I don't know!  But I bet we'll find out. 

I was just discussing with  Tom the Butcher the fact that I don't understand why that photo is so great.  I'm probably wrong about this -- I don't claim impeccable judgement on photos.   Anyone want to weigh in on why that is considered such an iconic picture?  The single great image?

Do all males feel a sharp pain in the penis if they get poked in the navel?

You just make me poke myself in the navel.

No.  I felt a sharp pain in the navel.

However, I can attest that a doctor's finger in the butt does sometimes cause an odd tingling in the peanut.

for the link to the Jayson Blair story. The Eddie Haskell comparison is perfect. It also illustrates Scott Adams's theory of pointy-haired bosses.

It's really disturbing how clueless the adults were.  

This happened to me all the time as a kid, but far less often now as an adult. Please talk to your doc friend, Gene - us weepy poopers need answers!

I will!  This is really interesting!

There is well-defined line (in my mind) one what is and is not allowable in this situation . If at a thrift shop/garage sale/antique store and they mark the price $2 but you know it's worth $50, you can pay $2 and go home the richer. If, however, the items are unpriced, you cannot go to the cashier and say "how about $2 for this?" You are picking a price well below true value and are stealing. If the item is unmarked, the question has to be "how much for this?" If the cashier replies "I don't know. How much do you want to pay?" you must respond with "I'm sorry, you need to set the price" (or something similar).

I have to think about this, but it sounds right. 

I think Jason Collins has exponentially increased his chances for gainful employment in the NBA for another 2-3 years. As a journeyman in the league...6 teams in 12 years...with marginal numbers his real value is the "veteran leadership" as well as contributing 6 fouls on the opponents' big man. He can still give 6 fouls every game but he's upped his "veteran leadership" quotient a ton. Plus it would make the league look bad if nobody hired him following this announcement. I'm not cynical enough to think this had anything to do with his timing, but it has to help.

I am cynical enough to think that!   I don't disrespect him for it.   I disrespect those who refuse to discuss this notion, because it's muddying a good story.

As a gay guy who likes and plays sports I think it is nice that Collins has come out. I also agree with everything you said. I also think tall of the caveats and qualifiers that have to be used to tell this story are a little funny. As Sally Jenkins points out, lesbian athletes have been coming out forever. So all of this "first male player in one of the major American team sports" while newsworthy is a lot of hoops. For me the really courageous player is a guy like Anton Hysen who is a pro soccer player in Sweden who came out a couple of years ago as a 20 year old. That took some guts.


Don't forget their decision to cruise on down to NYC. What I see with these two (their father too) was an inability to assimilate into American culture, mores, values. They certainly had enough time too, and even got some assistance when things weren't going well. They were about as American as the Festrunk Brothers on SNL.

The Festrunk Brothers!  Damn, I wish I had thought of that!  Well, you know, if they had split for NY on Monday, they might have had time to inflict more pain.   They were idiots.

It's because a year ago, Kobe was fined by the NBA for a homophobic remark.

Ah, thank you.   

I have been saying the same thing about the calculus of Jason Collins timing of his announcement as a PR move to either increase his bargaining power or at least create a viable excuse if he doesn't end up landing a job somewhere in the NBA, only to be duly rebuffed as a homophobe by almost everyone wuth whom I've shared the theory. Thank you for providing solid evidence that a) I'm not crazy and/or bigoted; and b) an example of a bleeding heart pro-LGBT who holds to the same theory and to which I can point my "friends" the next time they harangue me.

Don't go overboard.  I don't think it was a blatantly cynical move.  I just think an element of it was pragmatic, and I think we alls should acknowledge that.

This is an easy set of questions, but it took me a moment to figure out why. I thought at first it had to do with relationships: the IRS and retailers operate at arms-length, and I don't have a relationship with them like I do with my employer. That's not it though. The difference is that the IRS and watch examples are not actually dishonest, but taking credit for the work of others is. When you submit your "aggressive" taxes, you are not lying about any fact in your return, only putting an optimistic spin on those facts. Same with the watch. When you show up at the register and offer your $2, you aren't stating that that is what you think the watch is worth, only that you are willing to pay that much for it. No dishonesty at all. With the work example, you are lying, and will be forced to live with that lie.

I think this is a very good analysis!

I assume you've seen this hard-hitting investigation of women who poop at work? Link

She's very late on this topic, obviously.  We were here YEARS ago. 

You know, I think they changed the art on this.  Yesterday, you saw the undies at their ankles.  I think calmer heads* prevailed.   (*Women editors)

On the first question, everyone's acting all saintly in their answers, but how many of you paid state taxes on your internet purchases this year? My state even asks me if I made any internet purchases on which I didn't pay taxes. On Amazon it's very easy to look at just how much stuff you bought in 2012. It would take you probably five minutes to figure this out, but my hunch is most people just "forget." On the watch question, Jesus actually had a parable like this. Matthew 13:44: "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field." Jesus is okay with you buying all the watches in order to get the one that the manager didn't notice. Also: as I'm watching the polls they confirm that women are either better people or more devious liars.

Women are better people.

The chatter was a bit overly-reductionist and inaccurate in his or her word choice. I believe that Kermit Gosnell could only have preyed on poor, marginalized groups of women for whom decent medical care (including abortions) are put further and further out of reach by religious zealots and stingy right-wingers. With better access to complete care, there would have been no demand for Kermit Gosnell services.

Ah.  Okay, maybe.   

I also don't understand the tossing around of the yesyes-debased term "hero." Victims are not heroes by virtue of their victimhood. Yes, there were heroes there that day, but everyone affected was not heroic. The guy who noticed blood on his backyard boat and called police? S eriously?

Right.  Nor was the poor police officer who was murdered in cold blood. I have no problem attaching the hero word to the people who ran toward the smoke.

I'm a woman obviously, but you made me want to know, so I just poked my own navel, and yes, I feel a sharp pain in my lady bits.


Damn, I love this chat.

Please starting poking your navels, people.

I had to laugh when I read some of the comments after the update you did the Tuesday after the Boston bombings. How dare a humor columnist have the nerve to be funny. (Or at least try to be. See that was me trying to be funny.) There are bad things that happen everyday people. Get used to it.

Well, timing is strange.  The bombings had happened the day before.  The killers were at large. I knew I dasn't do anything remotely funny RELATED to the bombings (nor did I want to), but what I figured was safe was to veer off into the surreal.  In fact, doing so would even be making a subtle statement about the need for humor in an insane world.    So I wrote a seemingly straightforward critique of "This Old Man," the innocuous children's song, as being deeply depraved and perverted.   Still got complaints.  Too soon!  Too soon!

Would you comment on the suddenly ubiquitous playing of Sweet Caroline. Ever since I heard that an adult Neil Diamond wrote the song to an eleven year old Caroline Kennedy, it has creeped me out. And now they are playing it everywhere! What's next, the playing of the NAMLA anthem (which I assume is by Michael Jackson) before sporting events?

It is a favorite at Red Sox games.  So it is being played for reasons of solidarity.

But, yeah.  Mostly, beer filled sportsfans like it because even in their joyous state, they can figure out where to sing "Oh Oh  Oh" out of tune.  

And yes, it was writ to a pre-teen girl.  Hands, touchin hands, reachin out touchin me touchin you....

Hi Gene, What do you feel about the statement: "all women are crazy." Please advise.

I didn't know why anyone would ask this question, so I did some Googling, and it turns out this is something of a minor meme.   Some men seem to genuinely think all women are crazy, whereas few women seem to genuinely think all men are crazy.    It seems to me that the reason for this is that men tend to generalize about women -- if they see one woman doing something psychotic, they attribute it to the gender.    While trying to find support for this idea, I came upon a truly fabulous post by relatively obscure standup comic Andrew Heaton. 

I'm ethically 100% in alignment with your explanations. This makes me unreasonably happy; I feel that this is validation that I am right.

And I feel YOU have validated ME.  Let's kiss.

I have a fondness for fine scotch. Occasionally I'll order one at an establishment, but it won't be in the computer. The barkeep and I will then haggle out a price. Quite fun. The last time was for a glass of Talisker 18 year old. We settled on $18, or a dollar per year. The bottle retails for about $75.

I recently, just for the hell of it, ordered a shot of Crown Royal Blue.  (or black?)   Top of the line in my drink of choice, rye.   It was $14, something I'd never pay for a shot of whiskey, and that I thought could never be worth it.

Boy.  It was worth it.  

I had a rectal cyst once and for a while, my farts would hurt.

Thank you.  I hope you are a woman, but I think not.

Here's why it's iconic (and good, but not great, I would argue): Immediately, you see all of the parts of a split second event. The runner is on the ground, the cops are tense, about to spring in to action, but they have no idea where to go or what to do (all are looking in different directions). They look like they're protecting the fallen man, who is old and in need of help. The people in the background are running, the air is still hazy with smoke. It tells you everything you need to know about what happened, while evoking the feeling of being there.

Okay, I think you touched on something I had missed: The looking in three directions.  Sold.  Thank you.

The poetic use of "ice box" rather than the prosaic "refrigerator" shows the isolation of the author's desires with respect to those of the person to whom the poem is addressed, thereby giving a glimpse into the desperate condition of human existence, each person wanting but failing to connect in any meaningful ay to others, even those to whom they are most proximately placed by both choice and chance in a universe that is completely indifferent to all human wishes and needs: while at the same time the author must follow the biological imperative that is at the core of the human condition, namely a hunger for things that are mutually exclusive and tragically evanescent when when attained. -- Arthur Dent.


Plus, he probably wrote this when "ice box" was the correct term.   I grew up in a home with an ice box.

The most anal person you know?

Do you mean poop-obsessed?  Probably not.

Do you mean fastidious?  Definitely not.

"When you submit your "aggressive" taxes, you are not lying about any fact in your return, only putting an optimistic spin on those facts." This line made me think of my late, great tax law professor, Martin Ginsburg, who always said that large companies consider their tax return nothing more than an opening bid in negotiations. Why should normal people not think the same way?

Agreed, to a point.  If the CPA had said that he considered it marginally fraudulent, I'd never have done it.  His line was basically that his interpretation was right, but the IRS didn't seem to agree.

I understood the point of your "Too soon!" story about Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. Still, it felt really, really tin-eared. I wonder if other readers felt the same way?

Maybe a quarter of the commenters did.   

You really missed this one, Gene.

Ah!  Right.  I did!

Duh. Athletes shower after games. Most guys are freaked out at the thought of a man checking them out in the shower, but the thought of a bunch of women wet and soapy together, regardless of their sexual orientation? Noooo problem. But do professional athletes really still shower together? They make millions of dollars every year but the organizations they work for can't afford private showers and changing stalls?

Exactly!  Though I guess the showers at Penn State were open.     I wouldn't be comfortable showering with any other man, straight or gay.   Wouldn't make any difference to me.  Uncomfortable. 

Last week, Barney and Clyde published a Style Invitational gag: Yes, credit was given to the joke's author. But what's up with re-running the joke? Are you starved for material, or something?

All cartoonists are always starved for material, but no: I have a special relationship to the Invitational.  We consider it homage.   It's the third time we've done it, always with credit.

I know you don't comment on comic strips now that you have your own but I'm hoping you can answer a question for me. I have been reading Blondie for at least 50 years now and when Dagwood and Blondie are sitting together in the living room or family room he is facing the TV and she is sitting with her back to him. I've noticed when Dagwood is watching TV with his son they are sitting side by side on a love seat so what's with Blondie sitting with her back to her husband? This has bothered me for a long time...

Blondie never faces the reader so the reader can't look up her skirt. 

I am so disappointed to report that for the first time I have seen "enormity" used correctly with regard to a sports event on the Post website.

It was probably a mistake.   I was just discussing with Peter Sagal the astonishingly ubiquitous misuse of "beg the question."   We have witnesses, in our lifetimes, the near complete extinction of an elegant term to describe a specific form of circular reasoning.    And now, as always happens, the dictionaries have caved in to the misuse.   Right now, it's the second definition, but soon will overtake the first, and then replace it.

As with "imply" and "infer," the misuse is particularly egregious because the new meaning is essentially the OPPOSITE of what the word really means.   In current usage, begs the question means "demands the asking of the question," whereas the proper original use means "avoids the question entirely."

I can't believe I only today discovered your wonderful piece from last December on Jeffrey MacDonald and his latest appeal. I was dazzled by it (your article, not MacDonald's appeal). Great stuff, with a strangely moving profile of Brian Murtagh. A year or so ago, a Post writer friend of mine said that you might be writing a book about the Brittany Norwood case. Is this true? I sure hope so. Great true crime writing is really tough to do. You've demonstrated you can do it really, really well.

Thank you.  I briefly considered writing it, but decided against it, in part because a Post writer, Dan Morse, was already working on one.

Instead, I am working on a book about December 28, 1986.  Being yoked to that day is destroying my mind.

Over the past few years, vampires are the latest craze. Do you think I may find a career as a humor writer written from the perspective of a vampire, or do you believe a zombie perspective may be the next great fad?

Omigod, I think you've hit on it ... a vampire zombie! 

Quick, random question: what, in your opinion, were Obama's three best speeches?

Hm.  Without research:

Philadelphia, on race.   Tucson, after the shooting.   The 2004 keynote speech.   Honorable Mention: Newtown.

I would have to know a couple of things, almost like a flow diagram, before chosing what to do. First, is this a deduction that any rational person would know, based on common sense alone, is disallowable? If not, is there a chance that the accountant is wrong about the interpretation of the rule? If there's no chance he's wrong, will taking the deduction increase the likelihood of an audit? Finally, will this be the garden variety audit, or a knock-on-the-door, show-me-your-receipts audit? If taking the deduction is questionable, but justifiable, and if an audit consists of nothing more than a notice from the IRS revising your tax liability, absolutely take the deduction.

Good reasoning.

Funny or offensive? Link

Boy, this is interesting.  And we definitely have a theme going here.  This is the pilot for a 1990 British sitcom "Heil, Honey, I'm Home!" that was canceled as unbearably tasteless after one show.   It's a deliberately dumb and formulaic sitcom about Hitler and Eva, living in an apartment house next to The Goldsteins.  They all have American accents, oddly enough.  I think that's because it was a parody of bad sitcoms, most of which are American.  Part of the joke is how lame it was.  It's camp.   It's brilliant in concept.  I think it was canceled for the wrong reason: It's not tasteless -- it's too bizarre to be tasteless; it's closer to Hogan's Heroes than to something truly disturbing.   It should have been cancelled because it is tedious.  You can only go so far with one joke, which is: Isn't this lame?

Have you watched "House of Cards", the political drama with Kevin Spacey (was put out on Netflix in its entire season). And if so, is "The Washington Herald" an obvious stand-in for the Post? Is the editor-in-chief on the show - Tom "the Hammer" Hammerschmidt - - an allusion to Tom the Butcher? And if so, would Tom the B ever use the C-word against a reporter? (probably not, my guess). Also, was the Post even approached for using their name? There are many cable news people on there, with their actual network names (CNN, etc), which makes the "Herald" stand out all the more...

Haven't seen it, but I can assure you it is not a Butcher reference.   Tom the Butcher would never use the C word in the workplace, even ironically.  He's a butcher, but not an idiot.  Among friends, in private, there are no restraints.  Tom and I have often reflected that virtually all of our IM strings, if accidentally sent to management, would result in both of us being terminated immediately. Likewise, my conversations with Pat the Perfect and The Manson Family, which is a term Tom invented for the irresistible duo of Rachel MANteuffel and Caitlin GibSON. .

How about a penny per comment. One of the articles on the Supreme Court deliberations has almost 4000 comments the last time I looked, so it's probably more now. It would both fund journalistic work and make people think for a fraction of a second before they comment. I value the reviews on Angie's List much more than on any free website, because Angie's List has a membership fee. There are still people with an axe to grind or who are too easily offended, but the reviews as a whole are far more deliberate and better thought out than on, say, Yelp.

Manteuffel herself -- who, as author of the irrepressible  PostScript "comments" blog, knows a bit about the field -- once proposed this to management.  A very small paywall for comments.  Didn't go anywhere. Not sure why.   "A penny for your thoughts" would be a nice way to introduce it.

"Comments" in general are highly controversial within the paper.   As I once noted, they are often a highly discordant element to a papers online presence -- "as though you went to a nice restaurant, and ordered an expensive steak, and it came with a side of maggots."  

I love the maggots.  I think Comments need to be carefully policed to eliminate blatant hate talk, but other than that, the more robust the discussion the better.  

Maggots, matey.  Bring me more maggots.  Put them down by my side!

Which reminds me, indirectly, of the day I was in Chicago at Somebody Else's Troubles and watched the obscure, brilliant, alcoholic folk singer Fred Holstein perform Jacques Brel's "Port of Amsterdam"  This is a way better version than David Bowie's.

This article was posted on CNN under the headline "Jim Carrey Mocks Dead Actor." While technically true, (Jim Carrey plays Charlton Heston in a parody anti-gun video) the headline seems unfair. I feel like I might be wrong about that, or that it might not even matter. What do you think?

I linked to this video some weeks ago. It's just great, Carrey at his best, and as political satire it's wonderful.    It's an odd headline -- off topic and arguably politically slanted .   It would be like summarizing the Gettysburg Address by saying "Lincoln: The World Won't Remember This Speech."    It's true as far as it goes, but dramatically misses the point.

This is wonderful political commentary about anti-gun-control folk.  

I think there's something wrong with me. I understand that calamari is fried squid... but how do I KNOW? I didn't watch them pull the squid from the ocean, slice it into ringlets, batter them, fry them, and put them on my plate. I could go on like this for anything that most folks take for granted. I don't know anything FOR SURE except what is told to me by the supposedly better-educated whom I choose to trust.

Do you know that the ring-like, rubbery nature of calamari gave rise to an internet rumor that it was actually slice pig anus?  This is true!

My calamari screed:  Too many restaurants just serve the rings, which are cross-sectional cuts from the body.   The creepy-crawly tentacles are MUCH better tasting, but restaurants know some people would be icked out.

Whenever I see no tentacles, I am also always suspicious it's frozen fare.

I am a woman of above-average intelligence, a professional degree, and a very good education at very good schools. I feel my biggest educational hole, which I feel acutely at times, is my lack of art history/art appreciation knowledge. I love art for how it makes me feel, but would love to know more about techniques, etc. I also think it's a good vehicle to understand real history of what was going on when things were being painted, etc. It's useful, and it makes your life better in the ways that only understanding the "whys" of things can. And you can bet your butt I would use my art history knowledge more often than I use my AP Calculus knowledge.

To me, studying art is a little bit like studying religion: You are getting two subjects at once -- the ostensible subject, and the history of human thought.  

From the AP obituary of Chinua Achebe in Friday's Post: "His father worked in a local missionary and was among the first in their village to convert to Christianity." Either the writer meant "mission" or there is a really interesting story being left untold.


This Slate piece was so skillfully written that it might reasonably be assumed that the author was an agent provocateur charged with assuring that white males will continue to vote the GOP, Rush Limbaugh line. Quote a "seminal" academic paper to highlight the humorless, inflexible, PC character of academics. Check. Ignore context and the clearly expressed intent. Check. Attack someone on your side for some small failure to follow the party line. Check. Create an image of a world where daily life is a hostile minefield where a bit of humorous pushing the limits may be brutally punished at any time. Check. Albeit the social role is not always the reality, women are expected to be the perceptive ones, who know when boys are merely being boys, who can distinguish the occasional faux pas from habitual boorishness, who can put things in context. Absent these abilities, a woman should be careful about firing the heavy artillery and doing collateral damage. Almost any humorous comment can be judged to be offensive after it has been processed through a self-righteous, humorless mind. Most of us don't want to live in a humorless world. I've worked for and with sexual harassers. They are compulsive and habitual. And I've worked with guys that were insensitive and boorish. Our President is neither. Absent a pattern, there was no need for the uproar.

Ah, yes.  But you are reading the wrong piece.  This one is intolerably pompous and unfunny.   The piece you want to read is this one, by Tom Scocca.   Scocca is right.  It was a mistake by Obama; he was right to apologize.  

And by the way, the logic of your argument is rent by a simple fact: the comment WASN'T funny, on any rational, logical level.  It was just a leer.  Furthermore, it was a disingenuous leer, because Obama first babbled out all his de rigeuer compliments to her competence, so as to allow his leer.  Not so great, Barack.

Perhaps, despite everything, there is still time to savor an all-star TRIPLE aptonym: the transportation engineer Mark Van Port Fleet. LINK

With a stretch of Mark to MARC, you could make it a four point aptonym.   It's like four-point buck.  A trophy.

The family and I recently went back to visit the town we lived in for a long time before moving away almost seven years ago. Had dinner with our old neighbors. Their eldest daughter, now 16, who was a gangly 9-year-old last time I saw her, is now drop-dead gorgeous. I mean, she is clearly the best-looking female I have ever seen in person (not counting movies, TV, magazines, etc.). My wife complimented our friends about how "very pretty" their daughter is. I, of course, said nothing. Which brings up my question. In current society, is it even possible for a middle-age man to openly acknowledge that a teen-age girl is very attractive, even simply as a statement of fact and not desire? Or does just saying that automatically make the guy creepy?

Depends on the context.  I just yesterday told a close friend that I thought her daughter, 20, was "hot."  But it was in a context in which we both knew it was not an expression of my desire; and, indeed,  it wasn't. 

My feeling is, in general, unless the context is clearly appropriate, and between two close friends ... no.

Example of inappropriate: Not long ago I spoke before high school students.  One of them, probably 18, was drop-dead gorgeous.  I not only didn't say anything, to her or anyone else, but I did my level best not even to look.   Dangerous waters. 

I think implicit in your question about the 16-year-old, and in my cases here, is we are not actually looking with lust.  I surely wasn't.  But beauty can be appreciated without panting and fantasizing.   A 16-year-old, or an 18-year old, or a 20-year-old, can be breathtaking.  I think old coots like you and I have the obligation and the capacity to distinguish beauty from desirability.

Gene - I first noticed this around 9-11, but maybe it's been around longer and I never noticed. Why is it a terror attack instead of a terrorist attack? "Terror" never attacks anyone but terrorists do. Most recently it's been all about the "Boston terror attacks". Why is this and how long has it been happening. Can you make it stop?

You could probably defend "terror attack" as a shortening of "an attack designed to create terror," but it's lame.   What cannot be defended is a formulation such as "a war on terror."  It is not.  It is a war on terrorism.

You know where to go in this area, right? I don't, and I need to.

Ecker's Clock and Watch shop, Bethesda, Edward Compton, prop.

He's not fast, and he's not cheap, but he gets things fixed and they stay fixed.

Okay, Sanford is SUCH an easy target, I'm hoping you can't resist. Could you do a higgledy-piggledy on the guy? Pleeeeeease?

Sure.  For an update.

So for the majority (!) of people who would or might claim the tax deduction that they know to be incorrect, I have a followup question: Your friend works at a jewelry store. He tells you that if you put a $10,000 necklace in your pocket, and the store notices, they will definitely not allow you to take it out the door without paying for it. But if they do find it and you tell them that you simply forgot that the necklace was in your pocket, they will believe you and you will not be prosecuted or penalized. Do you attempt to steal the necklace?

No.  That is theft. 

I don't see a parallel to the taxes. 

Gene -- my #2 is often lacks "cohesion". Has been for years. Somewhat unpleasant, but it's been a fact of life. Then a couple of weeks ago the situation "stabilized." I have no idea what happened. I've been wracking my brain for what I might have eaten or stopped eating that made such a solid contribution to my quality of life. Any guesses?

Too many possible answers.  This is in danger of becoming a poop chat.  Please continue.

with a Jeffrey MacDonald question, I'm hoping you'll answer a question that has been on my mind for some time. It was a brilliant article - before reading it I had never heard of Jeffrey MacDonald and by the end I was obsessed. I am a lawyer by trade, and greatly appreciated what I considered to be an objective presentation of the facts. Until towards the end. I wondered why you asked the detective why he thought MacDonald wanted to go back in the house all by himself, and included his answer, which was 100% speculation. It seemed to me a black mark on what I thought was an otherwise incredibly well written story.

It wasn't the detective I asked.  It was Joe McGinniss, the author of Fatal Vision.

I asked because he knew MacDonald well, and I thought his answer was interesting.  And rang of truth.  Mostly I used it, though, to illustrate how everyone involved in this case simply cannot get it out of their minds.

Me, too, now.

Your summary at the beginning of this chat is the actual story with actual facts. But it's not what you read/hear in the news. They never present the bones of a story, just the fluff around it. Why is that? It's why I, in my 40s, have to get my news from Jon Stewart, Slate, a Deadspin story here and there, and some blogs. I don't consider what you wrote to be too controversial for regular folks to read. Does the Post? Why don't newspapers have your focus?

Thank you, but I honestly don't know what you mean.  I think the coverage of Boston in particular has been extraordinary, detailed, and so forth.

What do you make of this week's stories about Sandra Day O'Connor having second thoughts about her Bush v. Gore decision? What good will hand wringing do anyone at this late date?

I thought it was incomplete.  It didn't really explore WHY she thought it was a mistake to take the case.

It did make me angry, though.  I believe Gore would have won had the case remained in Florida.  

If there were no transactions of this sort, where the buyer discovers a "find," there would be no Antiques Roadshow, and other programs of that ilk.


Gene, In the past I had been annoyed when you dismissed marriage without kids as advanced dating. I believed that something about the vows and ceremony elevated the relationship beyond other long-term relationships. Now that my spouse and I are in the process of splitting, I have come around and agree with you. It sucks but we're lucky that there are no kids and mortgage complications aside, we're going through nothing more than a bad breakup. That doesn't make it easier in the short term. Nor does it help that one of your other poll questions from years ago dealt with our most important relationships and how one honest sentence could unravel the whole deal. It was sobering at the time and a little uncanny how closely it matched my current situation. So, thanks, I guess, for unwittingly preparing me for moving on.

Sorry about that.  Good luck to both of you.

I have grown weary/ of your distaste/ for unrhymed poems/ It shows you are/ an old fart/ and you cling to your opinion/ like a dog/ with an old chew toy/ Please/ give it a rest/ already

I don't have a distaste for poems that don't rhyme.  I have a distaste for -- in most cases -- calling these things poems.  There is nothing wrong with great, evocative prose.

I swooned a little at the thought of you and Peter Sagal having a conversation. Do you regularly discuss writing, grammar, and style? Perhaps over a glass of whiskey?

We've only actually met once, but we IM and email frequently.    More about humor than grammar!

I poke my navel when I get nose bleeds, and yes I get them quite frequently. Stops the bleeding. I also happen to love my vaso-vegal response: eating excessively sugary things like frosting makes the top of my mouth tingle as well as the inside of my nasal passages. I love that feeling. And then I sneeze.

I like to sneeze!

As both a comics connoisseur and, now, a professional, what's your take on this strip? It usually strikes me as a bad mash-up of the Addams Family and Calvin & Hobbes. And the art is lame.

Well, as I've said in the past, I liked the concept of the strip, but having no words and being limited to a child's infatuation with monsters -- there's not a lot of room in there!

You forgot Dr. Johnny Fever played by Howard Hessman on WKRP in Cincinatti. And possibly Jennifer played by Loni Anderson. But I forgive you.

Johnny Fever wasn't even the best character on the show!  The owner was.

Okay, we're down, folks.  This was an excellent chat.  Thank you.  See you in the updates, where I hope to have an answer to the rectum weep peeps.

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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