Chatological Humor: Monthly with Moron

Jun 25, 2013

Take Gene's two polls before the start of the chat. Note that there are two questions for each poll.

- Cartoon poll
- Politics poll

Join Gene Weingarten Tuesday, June 25 during his monthly chat with readers.

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.


I had an entirely different introduction planned, but inasmuch as this is a NEWSpaper, and I am the world’s most respected authority on the comedic arts, and you are my worldly and opinionated minions, we must instead deal with urgent NEWS from the field of our mutual interest. Journalism can be a harsh mistress.


Some of you may be aware that the defense team for George Zimmerman began their case yesterday with a bit of a gamble. Lead attorney Don West opened with a “joke.” I am here today to tell you that while it may not have been the most painful attempt at humor in American history – it may have been, but I lack the breadth of knowledge to say that with certainty – it was surely the most painful attempt ever at a major criminal trial involving the death of a minor.


We are going to analyze it here at some length, to better understand the nature of humor, and this particular humor disaster. Felicitously, because Florida allows cameras in the court, we have a video of the entire disaster, start to finish. Some websites gave a truncated version, to save time, which was a dreadful error in judgment. To fully understand this, you must marinate in its totality. Here it is: 


For those of you unable to access youtube at work, here’s my transcript: “Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying. So let me at considerable risk, let me say, I’d like to tell you a little joke. I know how that may sound a bit weird in this context, under these circumstances. But I think you’re the perfect audience for it, as long as you, uh, if you don’t like it or don’t think it’s funny, or (think it’s) inappropriate, that you don’t hold it against Mr. Zimmerman. You can hold it againse me if you want. But not Mr. Zimmerman. I have your assurance you won’t, here’s how it goes. “Knock knock. Who’s there? George Zimmerman. “George Zimmerman who? All right, good. You’re on the jury. (dead silence) Nothing? …. That’s funny!”


Let us now count the ways that this lawyer, in NASA terminology, totally screwed the pooch.


1. Telling a joke is an inherently tense situation, as any standup comic will tell you. It is in a sense hostile: You are putting people in a position of either laughing at your joke, or being judgmentally silent, or laughing to avoid appearing judgmental, creating some degree of resentment. You are forcing people to confront and analyze their own senses of humor; SHOULD I have found that funny? Is there something wrong with ME? In short, it is always fraught and complicated moment. Now add to that the tension of sitting in judgment of someone at his murder trial. Bluntly speaking, this is not a good time for humor.


2. Now add this: Not only was he telling them a joke, he was doing it with an elaborate, nervous setup, with caveats, that made it clear even HE felt he was taking a risk. Now the tension is trebled, and not in a good way. Sometimes humor cuts tension, and that might have been the case had he been bootlegging a truly spectacular joke. Alas, he was not. Now add this:


3. He was making them unwilling conspirators to his risky, fumbling venture! He extracted from them a silent promise that they would not hold his client guilty for his own lapse of taste! Even thought they were not actually being polled on this! Maybe, probably, almost certainly they didn’t WANT to be given this responsibility, but the lawyer simply asserted that they had given that guarantee. Now the tension is unbearable. They resent him. Nothing good can possibly come of it. The odds that they will laugh are zero.


4. Then he tells the joke. First off, the joke was ancient, old, clichéd, trite, hackneyed, lame, and did I mention old? It is told every time a jury is being selected in a big criminal trial. It probably was told at the Leopold & Loeb trial. Try this: Google “you’re on the jury” and “O.J. Simpson.” Tens of thousands of hits.


5. This is the biggie: The joke actually INSULTS THE JURY. It’s a joke about how they don’t know anything. How they are disconnected to the world. “Hey! Jury! You are idiots! Thank you, you’ve been a great audience. I’m here all week.”


6. He ends by further insulting them, pointing out how funny the joke was, and how, presumably, unfunny they are.


Grade = F minus.


It remains to be seen whether this joke so alienated the jury that it will hurt Zimmerman's case. For now at least it is not the worst results of telling a joke. That still belongs to the unfortunate lady in Nazi Germany who was overheard telling this joke, and summarily executed: 'Hitler and Göring are standing on top of Berlin’s radio tower. Hitler says he wants to do something to cheer up the people of Berlin. “Why don’t you just jump?” suggests Göring.




On this same point, here’s an example of how you have to use judgment, and how context matters. In my story about babies who die in hot cars, I was trying to explain how sometimes, through coincidence, all systems fail because several risk factors overlap, which is what so often happens so often in these tragic cases. This is what I wrote:


"There's a dismayingly cartoonish expression for what happened to Lyn Balfour on March 30, 2007. British psychologist James Reason coined the term the "Swiss Cheese Model" in 1990 to explain through analogy why catastrophic failures can occur in organizations despite multiple layers of defense. Reason likens the layers to slices of Swiss cheese, piled upon each other, five or six deep. The holes represent small, potentially insignificant weaknesses. Things will totally collapse only rarely, he says, but when they do, it is by coincidence -- when all the holes happen to align so that there is a breach through the entire system. That’s what happened to Lyn Balfour…."


What if I had written it like this?


"There’s a dismayingly cartoonish expression for what happened to Lyn Balfour on March 30, 2007. I like to call it the "Poop Bag Model" to explain why catastrophic failures can occur in organizations despite multiple layers of defense. People who are taking a dog for a walk often bring along not one, but two or even three newspaper plastic bags. That’s because these bags sometimes have small holes in them. So, to be safe, people will use multiple bags on one hand before picking up the steaming turd. That should protect them, but sometimes – very rarely – the holes will happen to align so there is a breach through the entire system. And then you WILL get stinky poop on your hands. That’s what happened to Lynn Balfour… .”




That has been a pretty good lead-in into this spectacular report about a new restaurant in Taiwan. Really, anything I say to prepare you for this would be insufficient. Enjoy:


Modern toilet.


And finally, I urge you to take today’s polls, but I acknowledge one of them is flawed; I failed to supply a perfectly reasonable third option. I didn’t realize it until yesterday, when a friend emailed me to say that he opposes Anthony Weiner, but not because he feels Weiner is “immoral” OR “reckless.” I should have had a third option: He’s lame. A jackhole. A douchebag. Ample reason to oppose a candidate. And probably the best description of what he is.


To my mind, this is mostly an issue of the Death of Shame. It boggles my mind that after being humiliated in so profound a fashion, politicians seem willing and able to get back up and face the public as though nothing had happed to expose them as the most ludicrous of humans. Elliot Spitzer is revealed to have VASTLY overpaid for the services of a prostitute, and did this thing in such a frenzy he didn’t take his shoes off, and whatnot, and blammo, he’s on TV with his own show! I would have slunk away for the rest of my life. Weiner is running for mayor with that Bill Maher clip a click away from his 7 million potential constituents – no problem!


Okay, let’s go. Chat begins at noon Eastern Time.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, a minor, poopy-related item from last week's chat update garnered an unusual amount of reaction posted to this week's chat.   This was the original item:

"Some time ago, the secretary of a certain large federal department organized a small task force to pro-actively deal with issues and complaints that workers in that dept. might have had. One of the complaints that came in from a fair number of women protested that the gaps in the doors of the bathroom stalls were “too wide,” and that “you could see into” the stalls. (The gaps, which were also in the stall doors in the men’s bathrooms, were/are about a quarter to a half inch wide, maybe even less.) Someone raised this complaint with the task force, which duly investigated and did whatever task forces do, and now metal strips are being installed on the doors of the women’s bathrooms to block this – I don’t know what to call it: Peeking? Seeing?

As a guy, I know this would never happen (any guy caring about it, much less filing a formal complaint with whomever) in about ten thousand years. And yet women seem to feel rather strongly enough about it, and the task force took it seriously.

So there you are: food for discussion in your next chat. Do women “peek” at other women through the cracks? Do women often feel “peeked upon”? Am I right that this is a women-only issue?"

I am already in receipt of more than two dozen responses to this challenge, and will apportion the better ones below.    Most amazingly, several people are actually in the office where this occurred, and recognized the situation.

Back in the day, Letterman did a bit where he'd try to start a national catchphrase. I'm thinking we should try that here, Gene. And I have a nomination: How about "corking the bat" as a euphemism for taking Viagra, Cialis, etc.?

I like it.

We were semi-successful several years ago with "Marrying Irving"

Maybe it's my delicate western sensibilities, but I lost my appetite just reading the story, let alone eating there!

It's just mind-boggling, isn't it?  It wouldn't affect my appetite, but with that degree of gimmick, I would require really good food, or I'd feel I was paying for gimmick alone.

Sometimes, when I know that I'm going to have a big ol' poop, I like to weigh myself before I go and then after, to get a sense of how much it weighed. Have you ever done that? If not, you should. It's fun!

Has it ever exceeded one pound?   I've often wondered which is heavier:  An ordinary poop or a really full-bladder pee. 

Whoa, Gene, whoa (or was that woah?). Weiner does not have the temerity to run for Mayor of New York. He is not running for Mayor of New York. His temerity is much bigger than that. He's letting the crap get stirred now so when he runs higher office (Governor, Senator) the scandal will be old news. His current campaign began ridiculously late and thin-on-the-ground. Trust me, my sib is working on a rival campaign, and no one, especially the big sausage himself, is taking his run at face value. It's a set up and a toe dip. Don't fall for it!

Losing is not a great way to inoculate yourself against future attacks, is it?  I mean, why will he lose?  He will lose because people think he is a joke because he texted pictures of his junk to people.   Do you think that will somehow make it "old news" for a later race?   Interesting theory, but I don't buy it.

I think one of the reasons women are more uncomfortable about this than men is because we are doing a variety of private activities in the bathroom--changing menstrual pads, using or removing tampons. Not to mention poop shame! And women sit facing the stall door regardless of what business we are doing, so we can see everyone walking by while trying to complete these activities. The worst ever is if you make EYE CONTACT with someone outside your stall through the gaps! Who is ever going to be able to poop after that happens???

I'd be far more embarrassed getting caught with a prostitute or getting my kix from sending pix of dix to chix.   (Hm.  Is that a googlenope?  If so, I am proud.)  

Gene, Don West's joke was really an insult, directed at the audience (the jurors) that the "joke" was told to. I am not a lawyer, nor am I married to one, so I am wondering if Mr. West did this to help with Zimmerman's appeal. It seems to me that the "joke" will make it much easier to argue that Zimmerman had ineffective and/or incompetent counsel.

This made me laugh.   A lawyer deliberately being incompetent to help on appeal? 


when we talk about appropriate context for jokes, it seems to me we are talking about more specifically about purpose. In your example, the swiss cheese expression is a more perfect analogy, encapsulating the frailty of humans and the systems we build. The joke serves a clear purpose and supports the rest of the narrative in your story. The lawyer's failing was that the joke did nothing to illuminate his end point... acknowledging the media circus around Martin's death and Zimmerman's trial doesn't really build towards the pointy end of a rhetorical spear.

It was a disaster, beginning to end.

Gene, I've been vacationing in the US the last few weeks. I would have to say that my main challenge over here has been using your clunky toilets and urinals. No matter how I approach the task, peeing always results in my legs receiving some "recoil". I'd love to come back to the US, but I need some help here! So how do you guys live with this, do you have a certain technique to avoid your legs getting splashed? Maybe all little boys learn to do this be trial and error, and that my europee-an muscle memory just serves me no good since I'm trained for other angles? Or do you sit down to pee? Or do you wear raingear when you pee, or run out in the woods? Or have you all just resigned to a life of wet legs?


Quiz: You are waiting in the northbound lane to make a left turn, and a northbound pedestrian enters the crosswalk you wish to traverse. You calculate that you can make your turn and clear the crosswalk before the pedestrian would reach that part of the street. Do you do it?

Yep, so long as it's not close.  I don't do it if I'd scare the pedestrian, even a little.

Holy cow! I do believe I work at that federal agency. And I have to report that the stall guards make it much more difficult to tell if a stall is occupied without actually trying the door. While I haven't been reduced to stooping and peering at shoes, I fear that may soon be my fate.

Two people have written in to say this!  They work for the agency in question!  

I feel shoe peering is not "peeking."   It is the minimal necessary amount of checking.

Was the Father's Day Barney & Clyde the first we learned that Lucretia is a Yeowoman (i.e., an Oberlin grad)? What's your connection to Oberlin?

None, except that Joel Achenbach's oldest daughter, Paris, went there.  

Many people asked about this Sunday Barney and Clyde.  They missed a hint.    Stephanie is Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the mayor of Baltimore.  And yes, she and Lucretia went to Oberlin.    This day was written in its entirety by our clever, more-than-occasional secret gagwriter Horace LaBadie.

I haven't typically been bothered by this, but from time to time there's poor toilet placement within the stall. In the handicapped stall at my job, the toilet is placed directly in front of a not-insignificant gap which is at a slight angle to the sink/mirror. This means that when you're in there and someone comes in if they check the door they can see straight up the pike. If they wash their hands while you're doing business, they can see right up the wazoo. If someone's in there and I have to wash my hands, I keep my head down and don't check my hair, whatever the temptation. If someone is at the sink and I'm in there I close it up until they leave. It's very awkward when you're sitting there, and accidentally catch the eye of the other person in the mirror. I didn't know there was anything that could be done about it, or I might have asked, although that means admitting there's a problem. Normally at work I'm pretty direct about problem-solving but there's something really awkward about initiating a conversation with your coworkers where you basically accuse them of peeping.

Noted.  More views coming.

I work at the department you are talking about. The solution (adding the strips to cover the gap) is worse because now the strikeplates for the latches don't line up and we can't actually close our stall doors. And seriously, before-hand some of these gaps were on the order of 3-4 inches. One way or another, there will be peeking at our peeing.

Two other people from the same department have weighed in with similar observations!

I already sent an email with my thoughts on the phone call/email data mining, but I'd like to talk about Snowden for a moment. When are we all going to admit that this guy is a total fruitcake? In his interview he was talking about how the CIA was going to drive up the road and assassinate him. First off, the leak is already out. Assassinating him wouldn't do any good at this point, and would be all too obvious if the guy providing the information suddenly disappeared. Then I heard him talking about how he could just pick up the phone and listen in on any call he wanted... *even the president!* Are alarm bells going off for anyone else here? I for one wouldn't believe anything he says unless it is verified by other sources. It's good that we're discussing these programs now, but none of his off the cuff remarks pass the sniff test.

The best assessment I saw was someone noting that he might have just completed the slickest relationship breakup in history.     And yes, there is something very odd about this guy; about his claims, about his ego, about his paranoia.  I still think it's too early to really know what to think of all this, but I am moving toward judging him fairly harshly.  

Actually, I'm judging everyone fairly harshly.   I think it's quite unbecoming for the administration to start blurting in generalities how many lives have been saved because of this program, and how many lives now be lost now that it is compromised. 

This is mostly all posturing and crap.  I'm ashamed of everybody.  

Here are some certainties, to me:  Going after the journalists in this is shameful.  James Rosen may or may not be a likeable person, Glenn Greenwald may or may not be a zealot on a mission, but both of them were acting as journalists when they did what they did.  You don't go after journalists for doing their job.

And finally, Snowden: I don't think our systems works if loners feel free to violate their national security pledges with impunity, based on their private codes of morality, and no fear of consequence.  If they feel they are patriots, fine -- then take the attendant risks.   I think Snowden needs to be held accountable.    

I am not yet persuaded that what he leaked had to be leaked.  I don't equate it with the Pentagon Papers.   I may be so persuaded in the future, but I'm not persuaded yet.

But I AM persuaded this is a great instapoll, which has just been instantly created by the fast and accurate Machine-Gun Kellett.  Here it is:

Reader poll: Do you want Snowden to escape or be caught? Take the poll.

I'm struggling here - when I was a high school and college student and ACLU intern, I thought the Patriot Act was horribly, horribly wrong; I didn't like Bush and I proudly support Obama. Based on that, one would expect me to be outraged, but I'm just not. I think it's for a few reasons : 1) I just trust Obama more (which is risky because he won't always be in power); 2) I feel that if it had the broad, true bi-partisan support it seems to have had, then I trust that it's probably a necessary evil and I don't get to know everything (as opposed to the democrats letting themselves get steamrolled during the Bush years, this feels like they made conscious decisions); 3) it sickens me to see people excoriate our intelligence agencies after something like Boston, but then express outrage at any effort to get information that might prevent a tragedy. You don't get to have it both ways. Constructive criticism ("what did we miss and how can we catch it next time") is helpful, but this kind of pendulum swing is one of the many things that make being a federal employee miserable. National security is just one of the most visible ways this plays out. Besides, Snowden doesn't get to unilaterally decide what's best for America.

I feel exactly as you do.  You said it better than I just did. 

Gene, did you see the article that says his wife is possibly more ambitious (read power-hungry) than he is? If this is true, they really are meant for each other.

Well, you know, in a way, her shame is or should be greater than his.   She is revealed as the woman who married this thoroughly pathetic, needy, disagreeable person.  So, yeah, it's still about the Death of Shame.

Like you, I live on Capitol Hill and enjoy the small-town-near-downtown. But I wonder what's going to happen now that you need 3-4 gazillion dollars to live here. We're pretty typical: Two-government earner household, young kids, managed the $600k purchase price a few years ago. Lots of our neighbors work for government or nonprofits. But now that it's hard to find a 3-bedroom house for under $750k (or a million in your neck of the woods), I'm afraid it will be like Georgetown, where you basically need to be a BigLaw lawyer to buy in, and that the vibe will change. Your thoughts?

We bought our house for about half a mil 12 years ago.  We probably could not afford it today unless we had the profits from a similarly inflated prior-home sale.

Somehow, people are affording it.  The house next door -- very similar to ours -- just sold to a young couple with a baby.  People are finding the money.

Mention should be made of the totally-contrasting, deadly serious opening line from the prosecutor, who started off with "[effing] punks" (catching the live camera coverage totally off guard). I thought it was brilliant: it flat-out slapped the jurors in the face and told them that this was going to be an ugly, unpleasant case -- and you're the ones who will have to decide it. Did your Wife the Prosecutor have any thoughts about that?

None that I am free to share.

The gaps in stalls are pretty much the only way you can tell if a commode is occupied. I know I hate trying a stall door and finding it locked, simply because some of them don't quite lock all the way. Nobody wants to accidentally walk in on someone or have their toilet time crashed. I've never had someone make eye contact with me, usually we ladies just peek through to see if there's a person sized blob where the back wall should be.

Noted.  Thank you.  What's wrong with shoe-peeping?

I always thought the point of journalism is to investigate and reveal abuses of power. So why, in your opinion, is the press coverage of the NSA story focused entirely on Edward Snowden, the man, instead of the extremely disturbing information he revealed regarding the NSA's surveillance of all Americans? What happened? Are journalists too afraid of retaliation from the US govt? It seriously feels like we are in a dictatorship where the press is completely complicit with the government's abuse of power.

No, and no.  I don't think the media coverage has been all about the leak and the man.   Plenty of media outlets -- more online than print -- are questioning the policies.

give me a break. if someone needs to see me doing my business, that's their problem. Poop shame? Really??? Are we 10 yrs old? I can't imagine living with such hangups.

I can, but only because I read about it here, religiously, roughy once a month.  I don't get it either, but I do believe it.

The day after Thanksgiving, I woke up, weighed myself, peed, weighed myself again. A short time later, I made the #2 deposit, weighing myself both before and after. You would think after the holy grail of eating days that the #2 was heavier. It was not. A full bladder was probably twice as 'heavy'.


I once showed Justice Sotomayor where the ladies' room was. That used to be the single most defining moment of my life. Now that I've made it onto Tuesdays with Moron, however, the Wise Latina must step aside. Here's my only regret, though. That picture I took with you basically just looks like a picture of me with my dad. Are you my dad?


I don't know you. Would you consider it a compliment or an insult to know that when I read the first paragraph of A Confederacy of Dunces, I thought it was probably a good description of you?

I consider that a compliment.  Here is the first paragraph:

A green hunting cap squeezed the top of the fleshy balloon of a head. The green earflaps, full of large ears and uncut hair and the fine bristles that grew in the ears themselves, stuck out on either side like turn signals indicating two directions at once. Full, pursed lips protruded beneath the bushy black moustache and, at their corners, sank into little folds filled with disapproval and potato chip crumbs. In the shadow under the green visor of the cap Ignatius J. Reilly’s supercilious blue and yellow eyes looked down upon the other people waiting under the clock at the D.H. Holmes department store, studying the crowd of people for signs of bad taste in dress. Several of the outfits, Ignatius noticed, were new enough and expensive enough to be properly considered offenses against taste and decency. Possession of anything new or expensive only reflected a person’s lack of theology and geometry; it could even cast doubts upon one’s soul.


It gets even closer to me when we learn that Ignatius is a hypochondriac who feels he must learn to make his mind  relax his pyloric sphincter so that food moves from his stomach to his intestines.

This a great book, made even greater by the tragedy of the suicide of  John Kennedy Toole before he even knew his book would be published.

I have a pretty great knack for recognizing faces, but alas, my memory for names is only so-so. I can always spot someone familiar, but I don't always know where I know them from. This is how I managed to get into a casual conversation with Bruce Hornsby in line at a post office once. Fortunately, I figured out who he was before I said, "I'm sorry, I know I know you from somewhere..."

I wouldn't even have known him from somewhere. 

The writer is the bad grammarian's manager. Isn't managing him part of the job? If Manager knows that this issue is jeopardizing not only Employee's future career opportunities but his current position in the company, Manager is not doing their job by refusing to address the issue. Manager should call a meeting right away and outline the problem with a few examples. Offer to help Employee find a good "Grammar for Dummies" book or other reasonable resource to address the problem, but let him know that if it continues it will become a performance issue. It would not be appropriate to sandbag the guy on his next performance appraisal without bringing the issue up in advance, but he represents the face of the company to the clients. It's not a trivial thing.

This underscores why I would be a bad manager.  I know you are right, but I hate to be what I think of as a management toady; this is a case in which a good, hard-working employee wrote memos with embarrassing illiteracies.

I know you are right.  But, boy.  Back at the Miami Herald, there were management classes that some reporters were sent to.  Largely, these were people of only modest journalism talent who seemed "mature," so naturally someone thought they'd be good managers.  Universally, among the actual working journalists, we called these classes "prick school."

Gene - I need you to tell me how to feel about a peculiar grammatical formulation that I've recently begun to notice. I hear co-workers saying things like "these papers need signed," "my car needs fixed," "the lawn needs mowed," etc. These are otherwise intelligent, successful people, but I find their syntax to be jarring. Is this a Midwestern thing? (I grew up in the South and work with several Midwesterners). And is this an abomination of the English language, or a thread that I should learn to appreciate as part of our wonderful tapestry of American English?

These people needs braining.

Please tell me you participated in the 11 AM chat with the astrologer.

I did not, but people seem to want to discuss this.  I haven't read it, either, but I would have asked what she thought of someone who got rich selling a medicine he knew was completely useless because it was just sugar water, knowing that gullible people would believe it worked.  And if, to push it, the seller had to pretend he really believed it worked.   And what would she think of the guy if his entire career was based on advancing that obvious lie, because he knew that there were always enough stupid people to keep him rich?  Would she think he is as worthy a person as someone who genuinely tried to know the truth about things, rather than to cynically manipulate a ridiculous lie?

The full bladder pee is generally heavier than the normal poop. It's been confirmed through thorough testing (sample size 2).

I now have two sources, so, by the fundamental rules of journalism, I believe it.  

Gene, I can relate to this. For me this is an embarrassment thing. I know I have it. It's something I need to work on. It started as a result of a legitimate cause - I had several bouts of menorrhagia which were quite...bountiful in their volume. Having that happen at work was the pits. The second time was at a building where the gaps between the stall wall and the door were 1.5 inches wide (yes I measured) and from what the other woman told me, she could see everything. Believe me, the *last* thing a woman wants when she is in that situation is for anyone to potentially become an audience. :(

This chat is the bestest.

Submitting this a week early, I'm sure much will change with the whole NSA business by the time this makes the chat (if it does at all). I just can't reconcile the Obama who opposed the PATRIOT Act as a senator with the Obama who's continued and expanded NSA phone surveillance of citizens as a president. I want to believe that he has access to information that has changed his mind, that some piece of evidence (highly classified, no doubt, which is why the rest of us can't know about it) altered his worldview so severely that he jumped on board. I've kind of felt that this is why Guantanamo never closed - Obama learned something as president that he didn't know as a candidate, something that shut him up about his plans to close it. But maybe I'm giving the man too much credit. Maybe he is more Orwellian than I want to believe. But he's a smart, rational (?) guy, so maybe there's something out there so convincing that it changed his mind and his principles. But we'll probably never know either way.

This calls to mind, and, frankly, all but proves, my Fundamental Theory of Politics, soon to be a Major Monograph.    Most of our political leanings are based on to whom we are inclined to give the benefit of the doubt. 

The difference is in the comics. Jimmy Carr is cute, but not too cute, with a polite accent an accent, and is frankly charming, which is why he can say the things he does. Bill Hicks isn't cute, and his comedy is formated as rants that are better crafted, yet not unlike the combative unmedicated person on the metro platform you want to stay away from. There is something hostile about him and his delivery--he seems frankly not to care whether you like him. Jimmy seems to really want you to like him and he tells dirty jokes to shock you into it.

This is a reference to a recent chat update, where I linked to this Jimmy Carr bit (NSFW) that contains some very politically incorrect ideas, and opined that Carr gets away with it because he is adorable.  (Much the way Sarah Silverman does.)    I then noted that Manteuffel thought the Carr routine was hilarious, but predicted that she wouldn't have liked it at all had it been delivered by Bill Hicks, whom she mostly doesn't like.   The difference -- ONCE AGAIN, THEME! THEME! -- is Benefit of the Doubt.   She thinks Hicks is mean and disrespects women (yes, and probably) whereas she thinks neither about Carr.

It is true that Hicks is mean.   Sometimes very mean.   One of my favorite intros of his is when he comes out on stage, to applause, and says this, in a dead voice, while elaborately lighting a cigarette.   (I am paraphrase.)  "Thank you, thank you very much.  Glad to be back in wherever the hell this is.   Frankly, I'm tired.  Tired of doing comedy.  Tired looking out at your vacant faces staring back at me wanting me to fill your empty lives with humor you never could have possibly thought of yourselves."

Mean!  The audience laughed and laughed.  Maybe a little uneasily.

This is why all stall door locks should have the "Vacant/Occupied" signs on the outside of the lock, the way they do on airplanes. Perfectly simple.

I wonder why this isn't universal: Probably cause the other way saves money by not having to buy the sign, AND on having less metal for the door. 

Nonsense. This is a regionalism. IME, it's Penn./Md. It's just using a different form of the participle. Don't become a grammar martinet, please. I'm a prescriptivist myself, but this is not worth getting upset about.

It's a pretty dumb one, because it's patently wrong. 

Shoe peeping is very awkward for women. You have to hold your hair back so it doesn't flop down in your face, potentially obscuring your vision and (horror of horrors) touching the floor. Also if you have a badge on a lanyard, you have to hold that back too. Then you have to ben all the way down, since it's often only about a foot of space you have to look into, and you need to look back to see the feet. So overall it's a big PITA. Easier to pee through a crack to see if there's a person in there (while avoiding eye contact of course). Pushing the door is just rude, since we all know that the latches are often broken and no one likes an intruder.

Okay, noted.  Interesting.  

Also interesting:  the voting is still early, but we are trending 60-40 in favor of Snowden being caught. 

Yeah, I think I'm with the (slim) majority.  I'm very uneasy about this whole thing.

Gene, I'd like to get your thoughts on this. Firstly: I've read the coverage and deposition transcripts, and Deen's actions/words are completely unsupportable and noxious, regardless of her age, where she grew up, etc. Having said that, I get the sense that some of the reaction is a bit classist in nature, since she and her followers are seen as sort of low-brow.. I recall that when Michael Richards was actually filmed using the n-word, several prominent entertainment figures defended him ("that's not who he really is, it was a joke gone wrong", etc.). Jerry Seinfeld even went on Letterman to defend him. And of course, Richards was semi-rehabilitated several years later with an appearance on Curb Your Enthusiasm. I say all this not to defend Deen, but to point out what appears to be a class divide. Your thoughts?

I haven't seen the transcripts, so don't want to yammer on about it.   I will say that I don't think Seinfeld was "defending" Richards when he went on Letterman.  He was graciously ceding his time to his friend, to give him an opportunity to explain.

The painful part about that was that the audience kept laughing.  The were seeing Kramer, not Richards.

He's probably standing right over the urinal. We big 'Mericans can stand further away so the backsplash isn't a problem.

Ahhhhh.  Of course.

Until Tony Kornheiser complained about it in a column, it never occurred to me that Tony was an odd name to give a Jewish boy.

Oh, definitely.  Also his middle name is Irwin. 

Private to the nice Jewish girl: It is with regret that I must inform you I cannot publish your post.  However it did make me laugh.

My husband and I got into a huge fight about this the other night, to the point that I was so upset I couldn't talk to him for several hours. First time we've ever gotten actually mad at each other for our political beliefs. He's of the mind this is the only way the government can keep us safe. I'm of the mind this is leading us down the path to a dictatorship. Now, I can see some reason into what the government is doing - evidently phone companies delete this information because they don't want to pay to store it. But If the government IS going to collect it, that should have been made public, not to mention the rules overseeing how and when the government can access it should be public. The rules themselves should be stringent, and all attorneys should have access to the process to make sure the government followed legal procedures in obtaining any info used against them. Now for my question: my husband says it's hypocritical of me to demand all people should have to be vaccinated but not be OK with this. I say I'm for practicing your rights until they infringe on other people's rights - and the government doing this is infringing on my rights, just as people who don't vaccinate and then start epidemics infringe on the rights of others (not to mention the cost of stemming epidemics). What say you?

Well, I've already said what I think, but I should add that I don't buy the vaccination analogy.  Everyone has to get vaccinated for everyone's safety.  It's more of a direct one-to-one relationship. 

Gene, there's something profound here about poop, etc shame and the whole lean-in/frenemy/backstabbing culture. I'm surprised that there isn't female solidarity in the toilets - I thought they loaned each other hand lotion, helped with clothing and hair, etc. With what we've learned today, why do they go to the bathroom in pairs? Please canvass your panty-flinging fans - this is important stuff!

I think there is solidarity (this is a very funny word to use in poop context) among the women, but it cannot transcend Poop Shame.  I am thinking nothing transcends Poop Shame.  I am thinking that after the nuclear holocaust gets the rats and cockroaches, somehow, Poop Shame will survive, in some mystical way, and it will, a million years later, evolve into a new life form.

Don't put this "needs braining" crud on Maryland! I spent 4 years in West Virginia for college and it was everywhere. It literally makes this Marylander's neck hair stand up. It's the only thing I correct one of my friends on, because it drives me so crazy. I just posted your braining line on Facebook.


I never liked Bill Hicks because I just don't think he's very FUNNY. I recognize and acknowledge that he has a gift with words and a keen eye for observation, but I've never once laughed at a Bill Hicks routine the way I laugh at Carlin or laugh at Cosby or even laugh at Carr. It's always seemed to me that the "stand-up comedian" label never really fit Hicks, and that he deserves some sort of job description all his own. "Stand-up philosopher," per Mel Brooks in "History of the World, Part I," maybe.

Well, he himself might have agreed with you.  But he has some four and five minute riffs that are pantswetting.

Exactly my feeling. Obama has pushed against power inequalities in the realms of worker protection, health care and rights for women and sexual minorities. Despite his drone warfare, overall he has avoided the macho approach to foreign policy that characterized both Bushes and Reagan. Preventing majorities from abusing minorities and preventing government from abusing the privacy of individuals involve the same principle, or at least they should. Obama's violations of individual privacy provoke more sadness than outrage in me. Dubya didn't know any better. Obama did.

So has this eroded your Benefit of the Doubt? vis a vis Obama?

I still read my horoscope. I don't seek it out, but if I find myself thumbing through the comics to do a puzzle or two, I read it. I can't help it. I make occasional references to my astrological sign. When I hear someone's birthday, I automatically think of his or her sign. I don't usually also assign the zodiological personality at this point, but I will make a mental note if a person does something aligned with their zodiac sign. I know that it's poppycock. When I am being kind to myself, I tell myself it's simply a mnemonic device. Are you judging me for this? I was raised by new age hippies who believed in healing energies and the power of prayer. Can I blame them?

Well, if you KNOW it is poppycock, and if you still seek it out, and draw conclusions from it, um, this is borderline stupid behavior, no?  It's not even superstitious behavior, since you know it is poppycock.

The question I have always asked: Okay, so let's say you think that for some scientific reasons, the positions of the planets at birth has some effect on the new child.    Why would it not have an equal effect, say, three days after birth?  Or two weeks? 

He's probably also peeing straight ahead. I like to pee down on the side guard, but right above and inside the corner. That spot gets washed when you flush, but any spatter tends to be directed towards the back of the urinal because of the angle at which the stream meets the side wall.

But why would Europeans not know to do this?  Are urinals different?

It's been my presumption for awhile now that presidents, when they become president, start seeing all sorts of scary existential crap. And while you're not the only guy to see all this stuff, you're now the guy that has to do something about it. That's probably a terrible feeling to shake off, even for the most A-type personalities out there. The West Wing played with that a few times early on and it was probably the most interesting thing that happened to Bartlet.

It has occurred to me that once you become president, you see as your main job to be protecting Americans.  That could skew your priorities, a bit.  I get that.

One of the most fascinating things I encountered in my travels to Japan was the amount of bathroom shame that exists. Stalls are completely covered (no gaps). In some bathrooms there is a fascinating sound device that makes a kind of "white noise," ostensibly so no one can hear you.

Yep, it is mostly for women and it is called the Sound Princess, and I speculated in my Hypo book how great it would be to sneak into a sound princess, and alter the tape so that at one point it lets rip with a huge fart.

Yesterday I came across a new one for me: the double joke. Why did Sarah fall off the swing? Because she had no arms. Knock, knock. Who's there? Not Sarah! First joke: not funny, but OK, clearly a self-contained joke -- and then the delayed payoff. Do you know of any others? I am intrigued...

Sure, this is the genre of the "interrupting cow" sequence, or the man-with-no varietals. 

Someone posting on the WaPo webpage claimed to have finished second in the Hunt but to have been disqualified for not solving everything in the endgame correctly. How strict is this requirement? My team solved all the main puzzles, but we didn't realize that the candy tasted like root beer. We just noticed that the candy was square, that 289 was the only square number in the fake ad, and then figured that 17 (square root of 289) was the only plausible answer among the possible answers. Would that be good enough or would we be disqualified for not coming up with "Square Root Beer"?

That would have been fine.  We don't much care how people solve the Main Puzzles.   It's the endgame where we get serious, particularly this year, where it was a little more possible than usual to have lucked into it. 

You have to love what the LA Times did with this one...

Oh, I do.

We've been a newspaper-free household ever since our hometown paper became primarily a PR publication for professional sports teams. We tried subscribing to the Washington Post, but y'all wouldn't deliver in our area. So we get our news online. With the advent of the WaPo paywall, we figured we'd just hand over $10 a month and be done with it. When I went to subscribe I found, to my surprise, that now we CAN get the Washington Post delivered to our home. My husband and I discussed our options starting with the question: what does the dead tree edition of the paper give us that the online version doesn't? The only thing we can come up with is the comics, which clearly are better read on paper rather than online. But here's the thing--are they worth it anymore? Besides your own strip, I really have no idea what's out there. I stopped reading the comics when The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes ended. What am I missing? Is there anything in the comics section that will make spending that extra money and having to recycle that much more paper worthwhile?

You can get comics online at The Post. It's actually one of the most popular sections of the website. Go here:

Is it just me? Since I paid to get over the paywall (not grudgingly, I add), it seems that the entire site has gone into some sort of technical epilepsy. The page jumps around forever before settling down, chats don't automatically something changing on the IT side? It's annoying to finally pay my fair share only to get WORSE service!

Sorry to hear this. This link should help kick things off. Or give a call to: 202-334-6100.

While reporting on the Zimmerman trial on the PBS News Hour last night, an NPR reporter \screwed up the defense attorney's "Knock Knock" joke. Instead of "George Zimmerman" the reporter said the attorney said "Trayvon Martin." No one corrected him. It was painful to watch.

Agh.  Sometimes the best thing to do is to bull ahead.

Still beats Christopher.

I went to school with a Kenneth Ginsburg.   My mother thought that was a hoot; now it seems closer to normal.  You know what would be funny?  Dominic Gisburg.

Since I firmly believe that marriage should be a private transaction, my measure for stuff like this is: would anyone care if the person weren't married? In Clinton's case (even if an unmarried president were politically imaginable), having an affair with an intern would still be pretty bad. What Weiner did would just seem goofy, stupid, and a little sleazy. If the only thing that makes it so terrible is that he was married, than it's Huma's problem, not mine. If I lived in New York I'd vote for de Blasio, but Weiner would probably be my second choice of the current candidates.

But what about the jackhole problem?  Watch the video.

Honestly. I am. I saw someone just chat-bombing all last week to complain, but I for one feel relieved. I just didn't want a dead-tree version, both for the waste and the guilt-inducing pile of things I "mean to read." Years ago (2007?) I'd suggested having a donate button on the site during a chat with then editor MB. I just want you to hear from someone (I suspect a few someones) that are happy to give you money for the work this paper does.

Thank you.  Delighted to hear other voices, too. 

Gene- You have given me a lot over the years... thought-provoking longform articles, humorous chats about poop to distract from the workday, a reason to read the comic pages for the first time since high school (when you used to review & do CPOW- honestly I don't love B&C), poetry & music analysis, and much more, even the Sunday magazine articles too I guess. But today you have given me the greatest gift- that video of Bill Mahr & Jane Lynch reading Weiner texts. I cannot urge all the chatters strongly enough- if you cannot see it during the day/at work- find a place you can see it. It is so worth it. I laughed, I cringed, at one point I hid behind my hands, and I never wanted it to end. How I missed this at the time it happened I do not know, but you truly deserve virtual panties thrown your way for sharing it now.

I can't remember if I mentioned this before, but I had an interesting conversation with Manteuffel about this.   Rachel is an actor, and viewing it from that point of view, she observed that only an actress of Lynch's age and power could have, or should have been asked to read the female part.  Had he asked a younger or less established woman to do it, it would have seemed creepy -- almost as though Maher were doing it for his own jollies.  And she would have seemed partially victimized.  This was just PERFECT. 

The guy is running against a pile of no-personality hacks. It's fascinating to see how the endorsements are splitting among the candidates. Bloomberg pulled off a 3rd term because there was no one else. He could pull off a 4th term at this point. Weiner has political savvy and a personality. I'd rather see him in office than the rest of them.


Had the pleasure of briefly following you on Twitter. But then you switched your avatar back. Sorry, I have an uncontrollable visceral reaction to depictions of feces in my Twitter feed, so I unfollowed you. It's not that I came to some sort of intellectual judgment about your avatar; I just prefer to avoid intentionally subjecting myself to repeated triggers of my gag reflex.

Omigod did you already read about the Taiwan restaurant?  Did you barf on your shoes?

I don't honestly know what to do with you oversensitives.  I tried changing my twitter icon but many people complained that they no longer could find my icon in their feed.  In the end I compromised, and it is a sign of your oversensitivity that you DIDN'T EVEN NOTICE.   My old avatar was this one.  My new one is this one.    Please note that I went from a shiny poop that you could almost smell to a soft, non-threatening plush toy.   To people like you, it's all poop.   My god, how do you even walk in the big city?  

Thank you for mentioning the medical condition of upper thigh chafing from pants. I used to think I suffered alone. I have even tried things to prevent it, such as wearing large bandages and head bands, yet there still is chaffing as the bandages or head bands still rub against the skin, ever so slightly yet painfully. Surely medical research can develop a way to prevent this.

One chatter suggested wearing pantyhose under the jeans.  I'd sooner chafe.

Something you suggested a few weeks ago has been bothering me. Do you really believe that marriage without kids is just "advanced dating"? Does that imply that people who can't or don't want to have kids shouldn't bother to get married? Or gay couples shouldn't marry because marriage is only about procreation? I really hope I misunderstood you on this because it's a very strange position to take.

Yes, that is my position.  But you misunderstand what is behind it.  I don't raise child-bearing to an exalted place.  I just disrespect all of marriage: I don't see why people bother getting the state involved in a purely personal matter.  I make the exception where there are children, meaning the legal rights of a third person,  an innocent, must be protected. Otherwise, it's all dating.  You're free to split up when you want.  You're free to love and live together forever and ever.  Why get the gummint involved?  To me, it makes it all so transactional.  (The Rib and I lived together for three years, and then got married when we decided to have a child.  We were married on August 28, 1980.  Molly was born June 7, 1981.  Do the math.)

"I'm With Stupid" has a rather testy back and forth between me and Gina on this subject.   Gina is married, she and Michael never had kids together.   I wrote that they were going steady, and that Michael is clearly a great date.  Gina answered tersely, and I noted to the readers that if this were not a book but a comic novel, her dialogue balloon would have icicles dangling.

Gene - my team had an awesome time at the Post Hunt, but had to laugh at the typo on the Eye-Patch Instruction Sheet that made "sweet lady" impossible. (Or was the typo in the clue in the magazine?) In any case, I hope you have tormented your favorite editor with this.

Please email me about this at gene.weingarten(at)    You and several other people made this claim, but either you're wrong or I misunderstand your problem.  I need to explain why, but it would be too boring and technical to do it here.

So I've got a toddler that's learning to use the potty, so I've got flushable wet wipes stationed in all the bathrooms. One day, just for the heck of it, I decided to use one myself. Flushable wipes, where have you been all my life? They're wonderful....I can't imagine ever going back to scratchy toilet paper. So my question is, why isn't everybody doing this? Isn't amazing tushy comfort worth a few extra cents? I can't imagine that you of all people wouldn't have already considered this, so what's the story?

Many persons over 50 have long ago discovered this thing.  I guess the main answer is economic.  You have to wait till you really need it before you spring for it.   And sometimes, when you do, you feel like a (ahem) a-hole for not having done it sooner. 

This is one of the few times I actually liked the caption that won ("It gets easier the second time.") It is the kind of smug thing that you hear all the time as a new parent, but in the context of the Sisyphus myth, its a really terrible thing to say and not really true. It takes a cliched statement and puts it in a context that shows how ridiculous it is.

That was my least favorite answer.   My favorite was the one about Pampers, because it was about something not that obvious, and it was mine.  I have no idea why "Lean in" was so popular.

Snowden is a creepy guy, and yeah, he obviously took the job at NSA knowing he would use it to violate the law, and that's clearly worse than coming to the conclusion one had no choice. However, Ellsberg is also pretty neurotic and weird, and has occasionally spewed crackpot notions when he can get someone to print them. In a way, people like that are the proof that heroism isn't the most useful idea; sometimes screwy people do things for screwy reasons that ultimately turn out to be for the good. John Brown, the nutcase abolitionist, is an example.

Yep, all true. 

I have not yet been persuaded to my satisfaction, that what Snowden is complaining about is a terrible abridgement of our privacy, or out of line with what we should be doing.  Not sure.  I do know that it is a portal to a slippery slope, and that worries me.

Funny (no pun intended) you should bring up the Swiss cheese analogy from "Fatal Distraction" -- because, in discussing a forgotten baby in car death with one of my Facebook friends, who was basically calling the guy worthless, not only did I recommend she read your article, I made a reference to "all the holes in the Swiss cheese line up and, voila -- fatal distraction." Let me thank you yet again for that brilliant piece of journalism. The fellow who accidentally left his child in the car doesn't need the rest of us piling on; he'll be in a hell of his own unfortunate making for the rest of his life.


One of the more interesting discussions I had prior to publication was with the Empress, who thought I should end the examples of the people who did this with "a pediatrician."  I held out for "rocket scientist."  It was about head v. heart.

I've been a faithful reader for years and I am a woman, but I really don't understand the concept of poop shame or the women who are afraid of toilet seat contact (hoverers or people who flush with their feet). What I want to ask is: Where did you grow up? Where did you go to school? How old are you? and Where do you work? I grew up in a house with 3 bedrooms, two bathrooms and five people. The fact that someone knew when you were in the bathroom and what you were doing was just sort of par for the course. I went to school at public schools with VERY public bathrooms, and to college with dorms that did NOT have private facilities. I work in an office with over 500 people in the building and one bathroom per floor, each with five toilet stalls. If I had to wait for an empty bathroom in order to go, I would NEVER go at work, and I work long enough hours that that is not physically possible. I mean, seriously. Go to your library to the children's section and check out a copy of "Everyone Poops" and get over yourself. And stop using your feet to flush-- flush the toilet and wash your hands and act like you live in a society.

I am with you, but I feel the others' pain.   Is all I can say.  I have left my hostility at the (bathroom) door.

The only read I get from Weiner is a guy who would rather face the entire country talking about his moral and ethical failures, however minor or major, than give up a chance at power. He must have power, attention, and spotlight AT ALL COSTS. Not a guy I want in charge.

I am afraid that pretty much describes everyone in charge. 

I think the battle for "enormity" has been lost. Let us turn our efforts to "prelude." How do _you_ pronounce it?

I will never give up the fight on enormity.  The enormity of the usage error underscores the enormousness of the battle.

Uh, PRAY-lude.   There is another pronunciation??

THE DOOR IS OPEN. A well-designed toilet stall door doesn't naturally rest right up against the frame. It sways back into the stall a bit.

Yeah, but this is not always true.   I once worked at a place where it was not only not always true, but where the doors of an unoccupied stall sometimes locked shut! 

I was younger then.  I twice climbed the side to get in.

Those four little words on the chat update made my heart leap up into my mouth. Even though, Gene, you drive me nuts with your absolutist ideas about hockey, childless married couples and of course the Yankees, I couldn't bear the thought of these chats ending. It was hard enough when you had to make them monthly to begin with as I had always looked forward to reading them every Tuesday. But then I thought maybe the producer was just referring to the Most Recent chat and I clicked the link and lo and behold.. cue huge sigh of relief. It was sad enough to lose Lisa Moraes chat! By the way, has the Post management figured out whether these chats will also be behind the paywall? If so, could that really mean the end?

Chats count as one piece of content against the paywall. I'll be sure to label the chats a little more accordingly next time.


Noted.  And this is back to Gene:  We'll head out on this note.   Thank y'alls.   We reconvene in a week, in the updates.

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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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