Chatological Humor: Monthly with Moron (November)

Nov 26, 2013

Gene Weingarten chatted Tuesday, November 26 at noon for 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.

His most recent book, "The Fiddler In The Subway," is a collection of his full-length stories. He is working on a new book, called "One Day," about the events of December 28, 1986, a date chosen at random by drawing numbers from a hat.

New to Chatological Humor? Read the FAQ.

Results of the pre-chat polls:

Poll 1: Football
- Take this poll if you're a woman
- Take this poll if you're a man

Poll 2: The n-word
- Take this poll if you're black
- Take this poll if you're not black

Good afternoon.

I wear several hats, and they sometimes entail conflicting responsibilities.  For example, as a grumpy old man columnist, I am a sworn opponent of political correctness.  But as a rampaging pinko liberal, I am inclined to cultural sensitivity.  These two hats put me in a difficult position recently, when I read a Post interview of Gloria Steinem, who was asked this question, without any setup, translation or elaboration:

"What do you have to say to women of color and non-cisgender women who feel like the feminist movement lacks intersectionality?

My initial reaction was befuddlement, followed by bemusement, followed by a laugh.  When I expressed these  sentiments on Twitter, I was descended on by earnest young persons concerned for my continued well-being, and my very survival as a player in this sensitive  modern marketplace of ideas.  

“You’re going to explode the Internet !”  cautioned @ItsAmyWhipple.   “A lot of people are angry about cis-privilege.” 


This sort of word usage, said @RSwirling, is absolutely essential to avoid “othering,” which is apparently a gerund, and is a very bad thing to do to others, who actually are not “others,” but are exactly the same, except different.  It’s all about not giving offense in culturally sensitive situations.

I refuse to defend or even acknowledge “intersectionality,” a word invented by academics in in 1989 that, according to Wiki, involves “modalities” and "the study of the interactions of multiple systems of oppression or discrimination."  I hereby place "intersectionality" in the same vessel as "functionality" and "hermeneutics," and ceremonially bury both in vomit. 

But I absorbed a complex online  lesson in “cisgender,” and it is much more interesting.  Cisgender people are people whose sexual identity corresponds to the biological equipment they were born with; essentially, then, most people are cisgender, i.e., people whose internal and external sexual landscapes conveniently align.  “Non-cisgender” people are all the others, but they are definitely not “Others,” subject to “othering,” which would indirectly imply they are in some way abnormal, instead of just differently put together.  Ergo, in order to not suggest dysfunction (and thereby assert the dreaded “cis-privilege”), sociologists created a term to describe the norm (but not the “normal,” just the statistically most common) so that a parallel, non-judgmental, non-“othering” term could exist for those in the smaller, but still normal, set.  So, even though we could simply call non-cisgender people “transgender” people,  and be more or less correct, that still sort of puts them apart as deviant.  

The liberal me actually gets this.  There is no reason to belittle others who have done no wrong, and who exist in a subset large enough to infer “normalcy. “ Language has nuance, and things that initially seem silly and PC often become righteously mainstreamed in time. There was a time when the proper medical nomenclature for some newborns were “Mongoloid idiots.”  And I do recall back in the 70s my English-teacher aunt Ethel declared that the radical new omni-female descriptor “Ms.” was completely ludicrous, and predicted it would never catch on because it conflicts with the accepted universal abbreviation for “manuscript.”  My aunt, who as a working woman and practicing cynic was probably a role model for 1950s-era proto-feminists, also thought that “Mrs.” and “miss” were important distinctions to help in courting, never entertaining the idea that males should males have a similar titular delineation.    My point is, times change.  

So I accept cisgender and non-cisgender.   But I will probably not be using them any time soon, because of that grumpy old man part of me.


Pot humor is at least 50 years old, and I feel as though I have heard most of it.  Cheech and Chong were good, Firesign Theater was better, Bill Hicks was clever but dark, Chris Rock is a little too safe, the inadvertently funny (Reefer Madness) was always the best, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything as good as Louis CK in this 2011 riff about the strength of modern dope.  His internal-stone monologue with himself is pitch-perfect.    Probably NSFW without headphones.  


Please take the polls; we’ll be discussing them soon.  As to the n-word, I have a serious question to ask of black people, because I don't know the answer and it might be telling:  If you ever called me that, would it be a compliment? 


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

Informed consent is everything here. If the NFL doesn't hide findings, and instead presents them matter-of-factly to potential players, let the individual decide if they want to trade their tomorrows for their todays. However, whatever the NFL can do to reduce potential head injuries without changing the fundamentals of the game would be beneficial. They also need to set up better health care for their players after retirement. You all did a great eye-opening article on it about a year ago. FWIW, female and I would totally continue watching football so long as the players knew what they were getting into.

You know, FWIW, that's a pretty cold answer.   Would you watch homeless people beating each other up for a chance at $1,000 cash?   Totally informed consent. Or would you feel like a horrible person?

I should mention:  Rape comes up frequently below.  It's not out of the blue: It's because many people are responding to some rape polls we had during the updates.  

I don't feel like I can use those percentages in a vacuum. Can the brain damage be linked directly to football? What else causes brain damage at a similar rate? How many folks suffer similar damage without a discernible cause?

You are quibbling and you know it.  

Gene, I am so sick of hearing about John F. Kennedy. Every year at this time- and I know this year will be more because of the anniversary- there's always all this talking about shattered dreams and lost hopes and our sense of innocence gone because JFK was assassinated. I'm just so tired of it. I get that people of a certain age liked him, but when will get to the point where its a solemn occasion, marked and acknowledged, and we move on? Is it because he was on tv, or because boomers are still around? You know what I wish? I wish that, for obvious reasons, he hadn't been assassinated. But I also wish he hadn't been assassinated because inevitably there would have been things that came out in a second term (I'm assuming that Oswald tries and misses) that would have caused people to become disenchanted with him, even his erstwhile supporters, as happens with any second term president. Then history could judge him based on his actual failures and successes and not mostly take a pass because he's an avatar for a generation's memories.

I tweeted the other day that anyone who thinks we're overdoing JFK things either has a small prostate or still menstruates.

I do understand what you are saying, and yes, Kennedy's death at 46 managed to stop the clock on a dangerous, potentially reckless presidency at the perfect time for his legacy.   There were mafia ties, ridiculous dalliances, the start of Vietnam, to which Kennedy was deeply committed.  Absent his death, it is likely the civil rights agenda would have stalled.  And so on and so forth.

But you know, he was killed.  And so he was frozen in time as a good man, who was giving the country hope, who demanded of us public service.  Who made government sexy.  He gets to claim that, in history.   And we haven't seen another like him since.

I'm a little surprised that it didn't come up that "cisgender" is a term that came out of the more well-known term "transgender". Chemistry geeks will know those two prefixes cis- and trans - quite well (they refer to the placement of functional groups within a molecule--cis meaning "on the same side" and trans meaning "across from" or "on the other side." ) History geeks, too, since there were two Roman provinces called "Cisalpine Gaul" and "Transalpine Gaul". They're really locative prefixes in their original usage, so their use is figurative when it comes to gender. And because I'm a history geek, a note on Ms: I'm curious whether the usual practice in historical circles of capitalizing both letters of the abbreviation for manuscript (i.e.,. MS rather than Ms) was a reaction to the development of its use as a title. I've only ever seen MS for "manuscript."

Yes, CIS and TRANS are opposites, and yes, MS for manuscript was always capitalized.  The notion that there would be a MS-Ms. confusion is, and always was, ridiculous.

Gene, this design might have made Georgia O'Keefe blush. One wonders how this design was approved since, presumably, someone would have snickered and giggled out loud, thus alerting the others, but then again one assumes it was approved by an all male board that may or may not have had much familiarity with the female form. 

A few people sent me this.   I don't see it as being laugh-out-loud on the money, as much as, say, these are.   (Particularly numbers 1, 11, and 13.)

This article revisits the equation of tragedy, humor, and time. Do you think this woman deserved to lose her job?  

I think people, in general, should be given some slack to be jackasses, and I think Halloween is a holiday in which stretching boundaries of taste is perhaps more expected than others. 

This was tasteless, and the best judgment of that is contained in a comment:  Would she have dressed as a dead kid from Sandy Hook?  If not, what's the difference?  Just a matter of degree?

I don't think I would have fired her unless this were part of a pattern of bad judgment.  We might have had a stern talking-to about maturity and sensitivity.   I might have asked her to apologize to coworkers for the bad publicity.

Ah Gene, I think it's doe-eyed optimism that has you thinking most men "would not want to have sex with a woman who he thinks will wake up and regret it." Cute even, but I think you're overstating the good intentions of your peers. Some very nice, typical guys I know have been happy to be so fortunate as to have sex that they would never have gotten under well-considered sober circumstances. I think most guys live much closer to trying to stay legal while not caring much about consent otherwise. Definitely need an anonymous poll.

Lemme put it this way:  I think most men would not want sex if they thought the woman would regret it the next day, because it was him.  (As opposed to regretting having had sex at all.)  One caveat:  If he is similarly drunk, this behavior- governor might be relaxed.

Hi Gene - only one friend knows I was raped (while unconscious - woke up to it - pretty unambiguous I think). So I checked "I was raped" on your poll. Felt pretty good telling you, anonymously, and whoever else if you post my comment. Who'da thought? Brains are weird huh? I was raped. Thanks for asking.

And I'd agree you were raped.    "Having sex" with an unconscious woman is "raping" a woman.   I'd take that position even within a marriage, unless prior understanding clearly allowed such behavior.

I am wondering about a generational gap here, as well as an education gap. I am in my 30s (and male) and went to a frat-free liberal arts college where the importance of consent was really hammered in to us. Later I had a girlfriend who was interested in being taking advantage of in her sleep (that is, her fantasy was of waking up in the middle), and I just couldn't bring myself to do it, even though she'd explicitly asked me to. I've heard older men and frat-boy types mock this attitude. They are wrong, I think, but they also have very different backgrounds than I do. Even at my college, there were differences--I had no sexual experience at the time of our consent-education workshops and I think they had a more profound impact on me as a result. I've understood my subsequent sexual experience entirely through the context of those workshops, which wasn't the case for people who had sex in high school.

You are a noble man, but I am pretty hard nosed on rape and I would have to say, ASKING you to do it, and EXPECTING you to do it, and, presumably being disappointed in you for not doing it ...?  You can't get much more explicit consent.

By the way, these are leftover questions from a sex poll during the updates, and I'd just like to note:  Those of you (a small but not negligible minority) who feel men should possibly be accused of rape if they have clearly consensual sex with a woman who would fail a DUI?  C'mon.    We are responsible for our own behaviors, under ordinary circumstances.   Two wines at dinner can get a positive DUI.  I feel a position like yours infantilizes women.

It will only be a matter of time before some high school will get sued by a former player with permanent neurological damage. The cost of maintaining a viable football program will then become unsustainable. Football will ultimately go the way of boxing--a niche sport at best.

I think it is more likely that rules will be instituted that will be seen as sissifying the sport, but will save it.  Flag football, anyone?   Two-hand touch? 

I'm desperately trying to remember where it was (I am sure it was in the Post somewhere) I read that football players used to live normal lives and die normal deaths (so to speak), until the size/mass of the players skyrocketed.

There's a corollary: There were a lot fewer boxing injuries when boxers were bare-knuckle.  You couldn't hit as hard, or you'd break your hand. 

It's 11:44 AM, and there are already 174 people currently online. I don't know if that's a testament to your greatness or our collective patheticity.

It may also be about the relentless, crushing ennui of everyday life.  It is why the highest paid humans tend to be in the entertainment field.  Think about that, and how odd it would seem to an alien species.   The most highly recompensed humans are the ones who keep us interested in trivial matters for many minutes at a time.

I am white and quite frankly don't get why there is such a fuss over a word BUT a whole bunch of black people I know say it is in fact that bad when spoken by white people and murky when spoken by black people. Since I like these folks and have seen how smart they are on issues I get, then it will never leave my lips nor will I tolerate from other white folks. Sort of like when I follow my doctors instructions even though I may not always understand the reasons behind them.

This is exactly how I feel, and this is objectiively correct.

So listen up:

It is clear, just from listening to many black people talk about this, they they WANT to be able to use it among themselves, and by God WILL use it among themselves, and that there are some subtleties of expression involved in this black-on-black deployment.  I don't know that I understand those subtleties, but that's not my business.  It's also not my area of expertise.  I suspect it's very complicated being black in America, and somehow the use of this word, the appropriation of this  otherwise hurtful word, is important.  I respect that.  Who the hell are we white people to tell black people what they can and cannot say, by mutual consent, to each other?  

I'm perfectly happy never using that word out of respect for black people who find it hurtful or disrespectful, coming out of my mouth.  I don't care one iota about any perceived "unfairness" in expression.   Slavery was unfair.   This is simply a sensible adjustment.  I am not hurt by withholding use of the word while others are empowered to use it.  I disagree profoundly with Mike Wise on this.

What I don't get is "the n-word."  I agree with Louis C.K. who has a wonderful routine about how he hates "the n-word" because all it is is white people REALLY saying n-----.    I'd much sooner skip the euphemism, not use the word at all.  

It wouldn't be a compliment if I called YOU that. But I am married to a white guy and we call each other "nigger" regularly and in fun. Also, we call each other redneck. I personally don't choose to allow that or any slur have any power over me, but that' s me. At the same time, I didn't grow up in the 1960s, and if I had, I might hate this word with a passion. My perspective on nigger is much like Chris Rock's famous routine on it: I have called people "nigger" condescendingly if I think they're lazy and stupid and are proud of these qualities. My preference in life is to generally be known as my name or by my work, and not by my skin color. By the way, this 'n-word' nonsense is ridiculous, and it's the reason we'll never have a sincere dialogue about race in this country.

Boy, do I agree with that last point.   To clarify, if you called me that word, what WOULD you mean by it?

Gene - could you and Alexandra Petri host a show together sometime? I think your senses of humor are very compatible. And I like the buddy-movie potential - the old curmudgeon trying to share the benefit of his experience with the young whippersnapper, while trying not to be upstaged by her.

We'd have to do it from separate, remote locales because I suspect Alexandra wouldn't be able to keep her hands off me.  

Dana Milbank's column yesterday ended with the sentence: Good thing JEFF FLAKE doesn't lend itself to anagrams. It struck me as an unlikely assertion so I checked it, using the Internet Anagram Server. Sure enough: "Jeff Flake" has no anagrams. "Gene Weingarten" has some good ones ("A Weening Regent," "Entering New Age," "Wager Engine Ten"), as does "Dana Milbank" ("Dim Anal Bank" and "A Bald Ink Man,") but it hadn't occured to me before now that there are some names and words that just don't lend themselves to anagrams.

"Renewing age ten" is my favorite, for me. 

Everything can be anagrammed, if a human, and not a machine, is at the helm: 

Jeffry Lane Flake  =    Ef! Ef!   Fly, anal jerk!      

Just FYI, folks -- the list of things that Gene linked that look like ladyparts is NSFW. I clicked thinking I was going to see only buildings and such, but there's a lot of hairy flesh, and had somebody poked their head in my cube at that moment, I'd be writing this from the unemployment line.

Uh, there was not a thing in there that involved human genitalia at all, except in LOOKING like it.  I contend you are wrong and no sane employer would punish you for looking at a man's armpit .  Am I wrong?

Hi Gene--help me out if you please. You're a roughly normal guy as far as I can tell, and your advice on a gift this time of year would be a gift itself. A mid-20s brother in grad school full time would probably prefer cash from his older sister rather than any sweater, kitchen gadget, or other dumb knick-nack I can come with.......right? Feels impersonal, but I hate to get something personal but unwanted. I will defer to your wisdom. Many thanks

Right, but you need to explain it adorably, when you give it.   It will seem uncaring if it is not clear you took some time thinking about it, and expressing it.

I just got around to reading the transcript from last week's chat. I missed the chat because I was chaperoning a group of 7th graders through the Holocaust Museum. This may explain why I feel so strongly about the lack of perspective exhibited by several "feminist" writers/posters on the subject of Emily Yoffe's advice, but with that caveat, I feel compelled to say, nay, shout: I CANNOT BELIEVE anyone in his or her right mind would equate the right to get drunk to the point of being unable to exercise judgment/take care of yourself with the right to be served at a segregated lunch counter. Seriously, "feminists"??? This is your civil rights battle? For the record, I am female and consider myself a feminist; I have two young daughters who will one day go to college and, I hope, college parties; and I do not in any way shape or form blame rape victims for the actions of rapists. But the point, in my mind, is that once a rape happens, the victim will suffer regardless of who was to blame and therefore being blameless is cold comfort. Taking steps to avoid making yourself more vulnerable is just common sense. You'd better believe I will be advising my daughters not to drink so much at parties that they pass out or lose the ability to exercise judgment. (If I had sons, I'd say the same thing.) I will also be advising them not to count their money while standing next to the ATM, not to walk around with their wallets or phones sticking out of their back pockets, and not to leave their doors unlocked when they go to bed, even though I think robbers are to blame for robbery. I don't see a lot of difference.

I agree with you, and this is an old subject at this point, but in defense of the women making the argument you resist, I think the reluctance is not in having PARENTS give this advice to their girls, it's that this advice becomes part of the public discussion on rape.   That it muddies the notion of responsibility.   I still agree with you, though.

Gene, what do you have to say about the healthcare sign-up debacle and it's impact on the president's approval ratings? I'm an Obama fan-girl but this is crazytown. And as someone in the IT industry, it is astonishing to me that someone made a call to let this go out so untested.

I loved the New Yorker Obamacare cover.  It really summarized it. 

This was the first time I have truly felt Obama was incompetent.  It bothers me hugely. 

Not sure if you saw this, but I thought this would be of interest, as it lies at the intersection of moral debate, modern medicine, and comic authorship. As the arbiter of all things right and wrong, what are your thoughts on this

I agree absolutely with everything he says but I really dislike his tone.  He is a disagreeable man, as we have seen before.   He could have said this exactly this strongly, but without the bile.  Not everyone on the other side of this issue is evil; they are wrong, and sanctimonious, but there is no call for this. 

Someday, I am going to write about my father's death; I can't, now, for reasons I'd explain if I could.  It's not dissimilar, but I didn't rant and rage, and it worked out fine.

There's a column in the current SI where the author quotes someone as saying if it ends in -a, it's a bro term but if it ends in -er, then it's intended to hurt. But that's all dependent on who's saying it.

It's also wrong, or oversimplified, as many black people will tell you.

Rather than addressing the email as "Dear cousin Yancey", he should have signed the email "Your cousin Yancey"

Ah yes.  This is from one of the updates.   I linked to this sweet little Calvin Trillin piece in the Times, and said that I would have urged a slightly different end on Trillin.   I invited people to guess what it was.   It's not the Yancey thing you suggest.  Anyone else?

My husband and I used to watch football a LOT - 8 solid hours on Sundays, and every Monday night game. Thursday nights were maybes. We don't any more, and we blamed the whole kids-and-schedule thing, but I think for both of us the injuries have made it really hard to watch. We haven't talked about it, except to say that our sons won't play, but knowing how badly the players are being injured - and not treated - makes it less fun. I guess we should've known, but we could pretend the helmets and pads and medical staff made it ok. But now it's like watching soccer players from certain countries, knowing they'll be tortured if they lose... As for the n-word: My husband is black, I'm not, so I trust him on this. He's had white people say the word around him - not to him or at him, just around him, and pretty evidently as a test to see if they could - and it's uncomfortable. Just don't. It's like dragging out a Nazi flag to talk about it. You don't need the flag itself to have the discussion. (See also: confederate flag. Might mean history and heritage to you, but the Nazi flag could also mean that to certain folks. But its symbolism has been tainted, so too bad for you. Let it go.)

There is a second, pretty ugly cultural aspect to the football thing.  It is a largely black sport, and a ticket to real money for some people who have little.  So white people are enjoying watching black people bash their brains in, at great risk, for our entertainment. 

The poll doesn't really have a response that works for me, which is that I currently watch a little football, but I am increasingly uncomfortable with it. The more I know about the brain damage it causes, the less I enjoy it. I expect I will soon reach a tipping point where I just can't watch it anymore. And aside from brain damage, the other physical abuse the players are expected to endure, and the hyper-macho carry-me-out-on-my-shield culture of the sport, is getting harder and harder to watch, too. RG3's final game last season was pretty much a horrifying and nausea-inducing experience for me. I had to walk away. Soon I expect I will walk away for good.

I'd like to say I feel as you do, and I'd like to feel as you do, but I love football and I'm afraid I react to it the way I react to eating meat: By not thinking about it so much. 

Would you watch volunteer gladiators try to kill each other, for enormous payouts?   Well you know what, I DID stop watching boxing, which is essentially that.   I found it savage.

But I didn't LIKE boxing as much as football.

This is bad.   We are all bad people.

Any thoughts on Richard Cohen's recent kerfuffle or the need for a good editor at WAPO. 

You correctly identify this as, in part, an editing error.

I know Richard, and like much of what he writes, a lot.   He has some old-guy problems of tone from time to time, and they surfaced here.  I do not believe that Richard has any antipathy at all for black-white marriages;  I believe he believed he was putting the "gag on" sentiment in the minds of the tea partiers, and calling it out as bigotry.

But that's not how it read; it read poisonously, and I don't think people who objected were being too harsh.  Among other things, what Richard WAS guilty of was (without evidence tarring the right) who are not, in the main, at least on this issue, racial bigots. 

There was a lot wrong with that paragraph.   And yes, an editor should have caught it.  

For what it is worth, when I first read that paragraph,  I read right over it, just as Richard's editor surely did.  Somehow I read it as Richard thought he was writing it -- a condemnation of bigotry -- and I suppose I was tapping into my own antipathy toward the tea partiers, and willingness to accept the worst.    It took a second read for me to see what the fuss was about.  

Given the President's actions the regarding the military surge; the use of drones; the massively flawed; waffling on guidelines for the ACA; lack of relationship with Members of the Congress; obfuscation on the NSA leaks; and reported insularity of the West Wing, do you truly believe he is a good president? If he were a white guy from Texas of the opposite party, would you still feel the same about him? I'm not trying to incite anything. I'm honestly wondering if history will consider Barack Obama a good president.

Was just talking to someone about this.    I think it will depend on whether the ACA is righted, and whether these international peace gambits are seen as naive or successful.

Probably not.

It's not really the same. Potential NFL players are mostly college students. Adults definitely. They have other options (generally). The payoff, if they go pro, is high. The homeless are desperate. Many of them are mentally ill. They payoff is low compared to the risk. I would feel they are being taken advantage of.

I think it's a reasonable analogy; many of the college athletes are in college BECAUSE of their athleticism, on scholarship.   This is their ticket out of poverty, or marginal poverty.  

Has anyone discussed or seriously considered weight limits in football? I always hear that a big part of the problem is how much bigger players are today. What if they instituted weight limits by position: 250 lb. for linemen, 220 for backs and linebackers, 200 for receivers and secondary defensemen, etc.? Assuming that solved the head injury problem, would people be interested in watching a smaller game?

Interesting.  I never heard that seriously proposed.  I wonder if it would be legal?  It's very size-disciminatory.  In boxing there are size restrictions in weight divisions, but no ultimate limit.

You know what would save football? If it were played without pads and helmets. Reason I say this is that football equipment causes unforeseen consequences. If you hit somebody with your bare head, a much lighter hit will do so much damage to your face that you won't use your head to hit with, like you would with a helmet to protect it. Similarly, you wouldn't "hit" without shoulderpads, because you'd wreck your shoulders. Rugby players get lots more broken noses and cauliflower ears and cuts and bruises and such, but not nearly so many debilitating injuries.

This is the boxing parallel !  

With last week's 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address, there were several mentions of the fact that the speech wasn't all that well received at the time, even among those who weren't anti-Lincoln partisans (such as the newspaper in Harrisburg that apologized for its review from that time). When I read that, I always think to myself, were people in that era simply nuts? The man succinctly summarizes the purpose of the Civil War and the whole American enterprise in just a few paragraphs, with words that continue to resonate to this day, and they weren't impressed. What was wrong with those people?

Why did Parisians of the late 19th century think Van Gogh sucked? 

Okay, it's not really parallel, but, you know, I bet it was the custom of the times to value bombast (the main speaker, Ed Everett spoke for two hours.)  It's entirely possible that people barely heard what Lincoln said -- they were just waiting for the preliminary throat-clearing to be over, to get down to the main speech, and BAM.  It was over.  It should be noted Everett knew the power of what he had heard.   He complimented Lincoln profusely at the time.

Hi Gene. Seems like a natural segue - what's your thought on the Washington Redskins name? I'm a 50 yr old, married female and I have never heard anyone in my life use this word as a racial slur. Maybe 80-100 yrs ago, sure, but in the last 50 yrs? No. Why does redskin still have power over Native Americans? To me, it's like someone calling me a dago, wop, or guinea (my dad's Italian). I'd laugh it off. But then, I was never offended by The Sopranos or The Godfather movies, unlike some Italian-Americans, who protested that The Sopranos cast us in a bad light. Please. People are smarter than that.

I came up with a solution just this morning !  I think that recognizing that most people call the team the "Skins," the franchise should just slightly change the name to something less offensive.... The Skinheads !     

We all need to have something to occupy our minds while we are waiting to die.

Exactly.   Read The Denial of Death.   A great book, reinterpreting Freud.  

I wonder how you would respond to this letter from a recent "Ask Amy" column. DEAR AMY: I am a responsible dog owner in every possible way. Even though I have a great job that pays well, I have extreme social anxiety and take meds for depression and anxiety. One of the joys in my life is walking my dogs. About six months ago, I was walking my dogs in the neighborhood and one of them went potty in someone's yard. I promptly picked it up. The woman who lives there came out and asked me not to let my dogs go on her lawn. I held up my bag and told her I picked it up. She said she didn't care and that I should walk out in the street or across the street so my dogs don't go on her lawn. I was stunned. Without thinking, I said, 'You're crazy.' She called me a pejorative. Now I have extreme anxiety taking my dogs for a walk. Is it normal for people to get angry when a dog goes in their yard, even if the owner picks it up? -- More Anxious Than Ever DEAR ANXIOUS: Like you, I love dogs, but I do not enjoy watching someone else's dog go 'potty' on my lawn, even if it is cleaned up. It just seems disrespectful, and I think it is completely within bounds for a homeowner to ask you to try to keep your dog off the lawn. Your response to a question ('You're crazy') was disrespectful. Work with your therapist on how to rebound from this setback. You should try to recover in small stages, including rehearsing how to respond appropriately to people. Most ideal would be for you to find another dog lover who could join you for occasional walks and companionable (human) support. [end] My own take on it -- Tough darts, lady. (And Amy is wrong.) Get over it, both of you. As long as the owner cleans up after the pooch, the person really doesn't have much to say about it. Of course she can and probably will say a lot, and I'd probably avoid her lawn if I could (I have a dog I walk daily) but a dog gotta do what a dog gotta do. I have no comment on the social anxiety issue, and calling the woman "crazy" was not a good move, but still. Interesting, the complaining woman seemed to suggest it was okay for the dogs to go on other people's lawns. Ahh, city life!

Hm.  My general advice to questions like this is that everyone should just Grow The Hell Up.

It is a bit odd to let your dog go potty on someone's lawn, as opposed to in tree boxes and whatnot.   But I don't like anyone involved in this matter.

Clearly this would be in the top ten antonyms of all time. Correct?

Yes.  We've used this before, but it's great.   A true first-and-last-name aptonym is very rare.  Dr. Harry Beaver doesn't come along all that often.

Also, aptonym, not antonym. 

I'm not sure I've mentioned this before, but the aptonym was taught to me many years ago by an old editor at The Post, Lou Diuguid, whose last name is a palindrome AND, depending on your view of his works, possibly also an aptonym.

Gene, I support the Post's trying out new comic strips periodically, but am astonished at the decision to do so at the expense of Get Fuzzy, one of the cleverest strips around, instead of one of several much lower-hanging, overripe fruit like Hagar or Mark Trail (or Peanuts, if one objects to its zombified reruns on principle -- I don't, but it's a reasonable argument). Whoever has "Gotten" Fuzzy has made such an indefensible decision that I'm not sure I see the point of complaining to the powers that be. Is it worthwhile to complain, or should we just give up hope? I also think whoever made the call should be named and shamed -- I suppose you won't be willing to reveal the name here, but the individual deserves it.

Well, I can ID the woman who womanfully took blame /credit.  Her name is Donna Peremes, and she wrote about the decision here.

The best argument she raised was that Get Fuzzy seemed to have recently lapsed into permanent re-run status.  I don't know what that's about, but it's not a good sign.  Yes, to my taste I'd rather have rerun Fuzzies than "new" Hagars or Beetles, but you know.

I hate comics polls because everyone involved with them knows that longevity is the greatest predictor of what will do well.   That is not a good benchmark for quality.   Of the super old strips, only Blondie -- to my judgment -- remains fitfully good and fresh.

Anyway, Donna wrote a nice little explanation, and had the guts to put her name out there.  Props to her.

This is very good, and very clear.   The case involving rape 2 is probably arguable, and involves intangibles we don't know.   But I'm ruling against the guy.

"Have you ever tried to get a date to drink a lot to increase your chances of scoring?" Yes, definitely, absolutely, 100%. This sounds bad, I know, and as of now this answer puts me well in the minority of respondents. But circumstances matter: the date is my wife, and in her case a second glass of wine constitutes "a lot," and we know each other well enough that when I suggest a whole bottle at dinner rather than single glasses, she knows EXACTLY what I'm getting at. We both feel like I'm not in the wrong for that one.

Of course you're not, but.... I would argue in the spirit of this question, your wife is not your "date."

Hulk does a better job than I do explaining why I didn't like the Slate article.

Well, I read it.  It took a solid hour.   She is very smart, this Hulk, and there is not much I disagree with, and I learned much.  I sort of knew it all, but not with the ferocity it is delivered.  There are two things wrong with this, in my opinion. 

1.  The entire construct at the beginning, that she won't even LINK to the original offending article because it is so POISONOUS it must be SHUNNED lest someone inadvertently internalize any of it ... is bogus and immagure and does a disservice to discourse, AND sets the writier up as a bit of a polemicist. 

2.  I see no reason the Slate article, and this article, cannot coexist -- two looks at the same phenomenon.    Hulk sees any mention of drinking within a conversation about rape to be a dire threat to the needed task of changing the way raped women feel about themselves, and the way others in society feel about raped women.    Hulk feels this is a fragile dialogue that can be completely subverted without essentially honing to a party line.   I disagree.

I get the argument that Michael Wilbon and others make. The problem is that using the n-word perpetuates its use. If we want to relegate it to the dustbin of history, we need to stop using it.

I think Wilbon would answer that he doesn't want to relegate it to the dustbin.  He wants it to remain a blacks-only word, as a vestige of the bad thing that once was, owned by its victims and denied to the descendants of its perps. 

I am not.


Question:  Do you understand and applaud the "non-cisgender / cisgender identification framework? 

After last night's game how about the Brownskids?

Nice, and just call em the Skids. 

I stopped watching football many years ago, when I was watching a playoff game where a player was badly injured. The commentators mentioned that he would have died if the doctors and medical support had not been right there. That is when I realized that the gladiatorial (a word?) aspect of the game was rather repugnant and I did not want to watch something for entertainment where people could die. (now, I know people can die in other sports and activities, but this hit home) I haven't missed it.

I once was following a game online when a player was down, and didn't seem to be responsive.  One of the Commenters was rooting for a spinal injury.  It so sickened me, I turned it off.   But you know, why should it take something like that?

Now that the NFL has agreed to a settlement, the next sport up is hockey. I think the NHL has done better than the NFL in addressing this issue, but in a sport were fighting is still allowed (though penalized), the NHL should be expecting to pay out a lot of money. I am a Caps STH and I can't wait for fighting to be banned outright or to be so penalized that it will really cost a team if it allows it. A five-minute penalty (the current standard, though the occasional game misconduct is also called) is not enough.

Okay, off point but:  I think football needs to change a bunch of rules, and one of them is by calling "in the grasp" earlier in a play.  The visual of a runner being ganged up on by two or three players trying to strip the ball before the knee hits the ground is just pathetic.  This isn't about safety, it's about making the game less vicious looking. 

Gene your intro is so perfectly older white male - as you acknowledge freely - but it shows exactly why the Mike Wise column was tone deaf. Why do you decide what words make sense? White people, many of whom are your age and male, appoint themselves the judge of everything that happens in the larger culture. But most never realize that this itself is a privilege. You dont often find people of color acting as cultural gatekeepers for everything under the sun - but it seems to be a reflex for white people/dominant culture

Um.  Okay, but I was not giving out rules, I was just commenting.  I am the arbiter of nothing.  And obviously, on the n-word front, I WANT to have no opinion, because it is not valid. 

I've been wanting to ask this for awhile now and this N-word business prompted me. In journalism, I always thought that the exact quote from someone would be the best form to use for a story. If a politician said "I don't like niggers and I think they should all go F themselves" why would anyone want to change that or bleep it out on TV? This is what the guy said, his EXACT words. Wouldn't it be much more impactful to the story if the public heard/read what the guy really said? Watering them down with word substitution and bleeps takes that away. Which is why the other poster is soooo right, we will never have an honest discussion about race because N word dilutes the impact.

Your question is based on a mis-assumption.  If this were a politician of note, who had said that, we would almost certainly quote that verbatim.  It's news.  Very important news.  

Hewing. You hew to a line. I'm surprised at you, Gene.

I KNEW that looked wrong.   Thank you.

No, it has nothing to do with positions. This came up in Monday's "Ask Prudence" chat, in response to a guy who had been baited and switched by his wife. He said they had dated for 3 years, both were non-religious, had a secular wedding, etc. After the wedding, she fessed up to being a strict Christian, wanted him to attend weekly services, have 5 or more children, etc. Someone else wrote in to say this sounded like an example of "missionary dating," in which Fundamentalist Christians are encouraged to marry non-Christians (for these purposes, I assume anyone who isn't Fundamentalist would be considered "non-Christian"). Have you ever heard of this? It sounds bizarre to me. If the wife was actually lying about what she wanted out of a marriage, isn't that a sin? And, what about church attendance during the 3 years they dated (failure to attend would be a sin, I would think)? What about premarital sex (also a sin)? Is there really a religion out there that would condone this behavior for any reason, let alone in order to bring ONE convert into the fold?

Whoa.  I would have ended that marriage immediately. 

You know, I think this is no worse, morally,  than a major world religion, dominant in many areas threatened by overpopulation,  that prohibits birth control so as to expand its base.  

1) astronomy professor Jessica Sunshine ( ); 2) a test program to use drones to catch rhino poachers is being run by Dr. Tom Snitch ( )

Nice.  Mr. Snitch could fit in so many occupations, and then become a whistleblower.

I have prosopagnosia. And my doctor used that disability to sign off so I could get a handicap car tag. At least I think it was my doctor. I'm never sure.

Wow.  I need your doctor !    Did he or she even bother to explain how your inability to distinguish faces might require a shorter walk to the supermarket door?

Hi, Gene. I have a wonderful dog. Got him from the Washington Humane Society 13 years ago -- so he's approximately 15 years old and 70 pounds. A handsome, hairy beast. Over the last year, he's started to have more accidents in the house. It's okay. I clean it up and we move on. But now, it's getting worse. I think he can't control his poop anymore. It's nice and solid and easy enough to pick up, but since his back legs are getting weaker, he sometimes doesn't get up in time, which leaves smears of poop all over the floor and over him. Today, it happened three times. What do you recommend? He's eager to hang out, has a good appetite, loves his humans. I have shower curtain liners down everywhere, and most of the time, he hits them. But I'm starting to be haunted by the smell of poop. Any suggestions? Have you gone through this with any of your other dogs? My vet once talked about quality of life, for both dogs and humans. Except for fecal matter over everything, the quality of our life is good. I dunno what I'm asking here. Or maybe I do. How long do you deal with this? Or do you just deal with it? Anyway...I love this dog.

There's not an easy answer, but 13 is old for a 70 pound dog.   And I do believe that for many dogs, a sense of dignity is important.  It is part of their quality of life, too.

Some dogs do well with diapers. 

But remember something: Dogs don't fear death.  When they are euthanized, they are there one minute, then they are not.  Often these decisions are delayed for the sake of the humans, not for the sake of the dog.

Those familiar with the history of football will recall that the game, as played at the turn of the last century, was little removed from barbarism, and deaths were not uncommon. There was talk of banning the sport outright, until President Roosevelt got the heads of the Ivy League colleges together and came up with some rule changes (such as outlawing the Flying Wedge) that improved things significantly. The same is likely to occur sometime soon, should football once again be faced with an existential crisis. I'd guess, however, that the source of such a threat today would come from insurance companies, rather than the government.

Yes, insurance companies.  You are right.   And yes, Flying Wedges used to kill several people a year.

You know what a flying wedge was?  Blockers would form a V in front of the runner, and actually make this impenetrable by holding each other's belts at the hip (or linking arms.)   

I don't get the people who would keep watching football if they knew that 10 per cent of players would lose their brains, but would stop if the figure rose to 50 per cent. If it were scientifically proven that 10 per cent of players would be irreparably mentally damaged by the game, I'd have to find something else to entertain myself. I get the feeling that these people are fighting the hypothetical--they just wouldn't believe the scientific "proof" until the numbers were too high for anyone to deny them.

Yes, this was a point I was hoping someone would make.  That poll -created by Tom The Butcher -- was basically a trap.  A bogus slippery slope? Ten percent certain brain injury is acceptable, but 50 is not?  Fifty is okay but 75 is not?   What moral logic applies here?

You rooting for or against ARod's appeal?

Yes, for a LOT of reasons, some of them moral, some of then Yankee-fan-driven, which is, by definition, amoral.

My mother was raped twice. The first time was during a date in college, circa 1969. A very typical making-out turns aggressive story. She said no, out loud and repeatedly, but it was still decades, DECADES, before she acknowledged to herself that she was raped. Shortly after the rape she started dating my father, and although their marriage turned sour fairly quickly, she stuck with him partly out of fear she could never overcome her mistrust of men--it took her aeons to feel comfortable around my dad, and she feared other men wouldn't "indulge" her skittishness. Her shame was so deep it defined not only her behavior but her sense of self, especially since smart, strong women were supposed to "get over" these things--assuming they'd been stupid enough to let them happen in the first place. That she was damaged goods, not because of the rape but because of her reaction to it, became an article of faith for her. The second time she was raped, in the early 90s, she considered herself "lucky." She was pulled behind an empty suburban house, in full daylight, by a strange man with a knife, while wearing a business suit. She turned out to be the second of multiple victims. Because there was not a single "questionable" aspect of her behavior she felt entitled to report it immediately. It was only after being supported as a "true" victim that she was able to take control of both experiences. Although the second rapist was never caught, she feels a much greater sense of justice in that case. The world has acknowledged this anonymous man did a very bad thing he had no right to do and that she was harmed by it. There is still hope he will be forced to reckon with that. Meanwhile, rapist number one shows up at college reunions bragging about his A1 life and all the hair he still has. But that's rape in America.

Thanks.  Compelling.

Back in the 1980s, we eradicated "retarded" to describe something foolish or stupid, because it was offensive to mentally challenged individuals. Now that we no longer use "retarded" to describe people with intellectual disabilities, I've recently heard it come back into use again -- by liberaly, PC friends -- as a synonym for foolish or stupid. (Much like we now use "idiot" to describe someone behaving stupidly, whereas it used to mean intellectually disabled/mentally challenged/retarded). My point is...I don't know my point. My point is that language changes and permutes over time. Whatever you think of the n-word now, chances are really good it won't mean the same thing or have the same connotations in 75 years.

Hm...  Not sure the new use of retarded works, since "people with mental retardation" is considered acceptable.

I accept it's good to have a term for people who are outside of the statistical majority (see how PC I'm being?) that does not make them appear to be "other." I just don't see how non-cisgender is any better than transgender. By calling them non-cisgender, you're still comparing them to the cisgender, which in my mind is about the same as emphasizing their "otherness." Atleast transgender is a bit more understandable. So I'm not against the idea, just the specific word. Why cant' we give them their own word that at the very least doesn't sound like a bunch of academics came up with it?

I think the idea is that "transgender" would work fine, if used in contrast to "non-transgender," but "non-transgender" as a label for almost everyone seems intuitively odd.   

Is this rape?  Summary: People suspected of smuggling drugs internally were forcibly examined in a hospital under a warrant and found to have nothing. This kind of thing appears to be somewhat common and apparently nobody is legally liable for any wrongdoing.

The whole war on drugs is corrupt and inept and this is a particularly awful part of it.

How is it just that our government performs anal searches and "peristaltic" detentions that only succeed in half the cases.  Hundreds of innocent people are subjected to this all the time? 

"Didn't you have to be at least passively collaborative here? Absent the use of apparatuses, doesn't a male sort of have to be a willing participant to achieve penetration?" I am a woman. My boyfriend and I were separating, but we spent New Year's Eve together. He wanted sex and I didn't want to make a fuss about it, because my (adult) son was sleeping in the next room. I told my boyfriend I didn't want to. I told him repeatedly, but not loudly. He managed penetration and my stupid body responded. My body responded, Gene, but my mind did not, and I felt raped. In my opinion, the same thing happened with your "passive collaborator".

A good answer. 

And I have recently found some data on a subject that's a litte awkward, but right to the point.  Some rape victims internalize a terrible guilt because they were brought to orgasm.   It's not because they wanted it or liked it.  Part of the physical rape response is self-protection, so you don't get  additionally injured  ... and it can go as far as orgasm.   It makes me feel awful for these women if they are crippled by guilt over this. 

What is "facticity?" it appeared several times in a book review in the NY Times Book Review section written by a distinguished author. Couldn't accuracy or truth be used to provide greater clarity.

Now you are just pedantologicating.

Yes, that's exactly why. C'mon Gene.

Do you think that is not a factor, and has not been one historically?   

I live in the suburbs where there are few sidewalks and no tree boxes. Walking around the block I'm walking on the street and my dog walks along the edge of the lawns in front of the houses. (Not talking about having the dog walk up in the middle of somebody's front lawn.) I walk her along county property and nearby woods when I can but even getting there we walk along in front of houses and lawns and stuff happens. And I have never seen her do anything on plain pavement for some reason. So she does it on the grass by the edge of the street and I pick it up. End o story. But for the record, you didn't answer the question -- if a dog goes on someones lawn, but the owner picks it up, what is the problem? (And I seem to recall you having a rather relaxed attitude towards some signage a homeowner put up in your neighborhood on this subject. But I could be misremembering.)

There's no real damage, except you and I both know that sometimes it's impossible to get it ALL.   I don't sympathize with the complainer here at all: What a grump. To me, it's like telling someone to stop leaning on your car.   Really?  

Well, my reaction to this is shock and anger that "retarded" is coming back. It's a stab in the heart for me, having grown up with a brother who was called a retard (he turned out to be Asperger's but that diagnosis wasn't known then). For the record, I'm 59, Whenever I hear anyone say something is retarded, I ask them not to use that term. I just can't stand it.

If you know someone who is between 26 and 35, ask them about a gesture they used to use in middle school, involving one arm loosely flapped in front of the chest.  It causes great shame, in memory, and nearly everyone of my kids' generation did it.

It has to be noted (though I don't think the editor mentioned it) that one of the problems with Get Fuzzy is that it is a very verbal, indeed wordy, comic, and because of the damnable reduction of space that each strip gets, it was getting harder and harder to read script, no matter how clever. At least for an old geezer like me (about your age, Gene.)

In connection with the book I am working on, about Dec. 28, 1986,  I am reading old newspapers, and the difference in size of the comics is shocking.  And they'd already begun to shrink in 1986.

The New York Times had a fascinating article on this, citing scientific studies, a year or two ago. I wish I could find it. Every judge in the country needs to read it.

Every woman needs to read it.  

I still don't feel that Obama was incompetent on this. I think he was stuck between a rock and a hard place because, unlike private industry, he has to factor in the politics. If he delayed the launch of Obamacare, he would have left the door open for repeal, further delays and modifications, and other things Repbulicans would do to eliminate it. He would also have screwed a whole lot of people who have been waiting for this day, uninsurable people who were finally going to be able to get health insurance. In addition, you know as well as I that once something is actually implemented and people start using it, it becomes very, very difficult to take away. Today, despite all the problems, it is now exponentially harder to repeal this bill than it was back in August.

I think the innatention to detail about the rollout was inexcusable.  They had years to get this right.  Obama was probably guilty of over-delegation of responsibility, and under-querying of staff.

We have a neighbor who is absolutely vicious, in the most brilliantly backwards ways. I adore running into her because I can't wait to hear what comes out of her mouth. She is awesomely hilarious. My all time favorite: "Oh! I didn't recognize you at first - you're looking so slim." I think she's a vicious genius because she can muster up one of these practically every time I run into her. She thinks it's all going over my head because I'm so delighted to see her. My husband thinks I should call her on it and that I'm letting her walk all over me. What do you think?

So long as you are laughing, you are doing it right.

Dear Cousin Yucky.....

That column was a little odd, because although it was entertaining, it was so small and trivial and specific to one little case it almost had no reason for being.   A good reader would have that in the back of his mind.  I would have asked Trillin if he had yet discussed this with Cynthia Ozick, and if, as I suspect, he had not, I would have suggested that he change the end to think aloud about how he didn't really want to face her and admit that she was right, and then, dang, he thought of a perfect way to let her know....

And end the column there.  It would have created a great aha! moment for the reader, and a satisfying explanation for why he / she was reading it at all.

Kanye West was quoted this week, taking about the Seth Rogan/James Franco spoof video of his song as saying "I wanted to take white trash T-shirts and make it into a video... I wanted it to look as phony as possible... I want to show you that this is the type of imagery that’s being presented to all of us and the only difference is a black dude in the middle of it.” I get that the n-word has far more evil associated with it than the phrase "white trash." But isn't it really a racist phrase itself? If you believe (and maybe Kanye doesn't) that non-blacks shouldn't use the n-word, should we perhaps demand that non-white refrain from using that phrase as well? What I really don't understand if why an offensive word is ok for one person and not another.

I;ve said this before:  I never used "white trash" because I consider it deeply offense, but not to white people.  To black people.  It seems to imply three kinds of people:  Black people, white nice people, and white trash.   See how that sounds, in the absence of a term for "black trash," which you never hear?

Hm.  This sounds a little like the cis- debate!  So we'll exit on this one. 

See you alls 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 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing.

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