Chatological Humor: Monthly with Moron (December)

Jan 07, 2014

Gene Weingarten chatted Tuesday, January 7 at noon for his monthly chat with readers. This was rescheduled from December 31 because of the holiday.

Results of the pre-chat polls:

- Poll 1: How would you have ruled?
- Poll 2: Unethical experiments

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.

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Good afternoon.

A long intro today. 

We begin with a few jaw-dropping realizations for nerds like me. 

Reacting to Sunday's column about misuse of English on the internet, Peter Mork wrote in with an observation that should not have startled me, but it did.  He said that I went too easy on the redundancy "ATM Machine."   Peter pointed out that not only is "machine" redundant, but so is "ATM."    It should just be an AT.    If a teller is automated, it is already a machine.

Frank Amanat wrote in to add an item to my Law of Incorrect Corrections -- mistakes made in attempt to rectify other mistakes -- by nominating the sort of incorrect pronoun, as in the construction "between he and I."     I almost stopped reading because this did not seem to fit the category.   But Frank explained, and nailed it:

"It falls under the law of Incorrect Corrections because it originated as an overcorrective response to admonitions some uneducated people were receiving from their teachers and parents when they used the objective where the subjective belonged:  e.g., people would say 'him and me met for lunch' and were told repeatedly that this was wrong, and that the correct usage is 'he and I met for lunch.' But the people receiving these admonitions often lacked the grammatical sophistication to realize that 'him and me' was only incorrect usage when used as a (compound) subjective pronoun and thought they were being told that it was ALWAYS wrong.  So they overcompensated by changing 'him and me' to 'he and I' in all situations, including when such a switch is clearly wrong, as in the objective case following a preposition such as 'between.' They think they are speaking correctly, but nothing could be further from the truth."

This has excited me so much I am going to link you to this wonderful "Between you and I" song by the Rock Bottom Remainders.

Next, this note from Scott Price, who works with the U.S. Navy Naval Sea Systems Command (Navy Naval?), which is officially acronymed as NAVSEA.    The Microsoft autocorrect for that is "NAUSEA," which Scott says turns up from time to time in official reports.  

Next, Monika Smith writes in with this:

In Salzburg, autocorrect once corrected "Ur-instinkt" into "urine stinks."

And finally on the communications front, I deliver unto you one of the greatest commercials for a bra that I have ever seen.   It's saucy and sexy, but safe for work. 

You get a free column here, never before published, because I have such enormous regard for my chat audience Tom The Butcher said it was "very interesting but not remotely funny" and killed it:

Two recent news stories, taken together, have gotten me pretty nervous, as a liberal.   One was a poll showing that for the first time, the percentage of Republicans who do not believe in evolution outnumbers the percentage of those who do.  The second was that the smart money is on Republicans winning complete control of Congress this year. 

Because we in the mainstream media do not want to be painted as liberal elitists, we mostly reported the evolution poll without a hint of judgment or condescension, as though denying Darwin is just one legitimate way of looking at the world, a matter of opinion on which reasonable people can disagree -- no different, from, say, debating whether Ho Hos are better than RingDings.

Alas, the mainstream media is wussing out.   Evolution is fact, amply proven over time to the satisfaction of scientists of all political persuasions.  A person rejecting evolution because it does not comport with his faith is demonstrating all the logic and intellectual rigor of the two-year-old "hiding" in hide n’ seek by standing in the middle of the room with her eyes closed.   

The problem, as I see it, is that a Republican-majority Congress may be tempted to impose its blindly dogmatic religious views on all of us by, say, taking Democrat Andy Jackson off the $20 bill and replacing him with Jesus.

I know what you are thinking.  You are thinking that such a thing is unlikely because we remain a secular society by design, that no matter how conservative our Congress gets, the Constitution will hold them in check.  And I would have thought so, too, until I became aware of a third fact that I thought must be wrong until I checked it out.   It turns out that when firmly in charge (and no one is watching too hard) conservative legislators are not always rigorous defenders of all parts of the Constitution, such as those suggesting a separation of church and state.   

Eight states prohibit you from holding public office if you do not believe in God.  Mississippi, North Carolina and South Carolina spell this out clearly.  Arkansas does, too, and adds that such a miserable wretch is so inherently untrustworthy he or she also cannot be called as a witness in court. Pennsylvania and Tennessee tack on one more caveat: You must also believe in Heaven and Hell, or, as their state constitutions dryly put it: “a future state of rewards and punishment.”  The idea apparently is that if you don’t believe in the possibility of eternal damnation, what’s the risk of lying to God? 

But the final two of the eight are my favorites.  Unlike the other states, these two are apparently aware that the U.S. Constitution specifically holds that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”  Now, to me, this seems a pretty big hurdle to clear, but not to these two Orwellian states which simply declare: “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.”

These laws have seldom been enforced, so they haven’t yet been overturned.  Still, they stand as the eight states’ official view on God and public policy.   

My point is, we should all be watching a Republican majority in Congress very carefully, lest they try to slip some of this stuff past us.  If they do, though, we should respect their right to exercise their religious freedom, and not vote them out of office, except for voting them out of office.   

Okay, we're done here.  Please take the polls, because we'll be addressing them early.  The poll answers so far are intriguingly varied; no clear consensus. 

The chat begins sharp at noon.

Gene, you left out some important info on the Prentice Rasheed situation. What happened to the burglar? Was he killed or just injured?

Oh, he was electrocuted.   Dead as a doornail.

So which are the two states requiring belief in a Supreme Being? Don't leave us hanging.

Ah, I see I didn't say!   That would have been edited in had this run in the paper.   Texas and .... Maryland.   And not just belief -- the others believe that.   But the wording is hypocritical.  

I give a lot of leeway to someone who has just been threatened at gunpoint and pistol-whipped, but the details matter. The prosecution could theoretically convince me that the defendant had a clear and obvious path to safety that didn't involve ramming his truck into his assailant. But it would be on them. My first instinct is that this guy did what he did in fear for his life. As for the second case, setting deadly booby traps is murder. If anyone answers differently, they are just mistaken.

Hm.  I agree with you on the first case.  This was a scared guy, defending himself against someone who had assaulted him and had a loaded gun.    On the second case, I don't see murder.  But I do see a crime of recklessness.  The best way to nail that is to imagine a different scenario.  That somehow the person being electrocuted was not a burglar, but a homeless person seeing shelter for the night ... or a kid doing a little mischief.     It was just luck for Mr. Rasheed that he got a career criminal.

By the way, I have spoken with Mr. Rasheed recently, in connection with the book I am doing about December 28, 1986.  Very likeable, colorful guy.   Great sense of humor.   Says he'd do it again, under the same circumstances.  

The phenomenon described by Frank Amanat is known as "hypercorrection." I can't believe you call yourself a grammar nerd.

Is is what I choose to call it.     However, I do see that that is an equally valid term for it.

A typical example is people who almost always use "whom" because it sounds more learned to them.    Another example was something I noticed about George W. Bush.    He tended to prounounce the article "a" as a hard sound A, as it hate, even when it sounded stilted and odd.  It probably sounded classier to him.

Actually, Obama sometimes does that, too.

Hi Gene, I'm horrified by the number of people who think that we should go ahead and use the Nazi hypothermia data. I assume their logic is that these data are valuable enough that we can ignore how they were gathered, and that nothing like the Nazi "experiments" will ever happen again. But scientific and medical researchers are under almost indescribable pressure for their work to produce positive results, and for those results to be commercially valuable. And while we now have a whole framework of guidelines and regulations meant to protect research subjects - much of it inspired by the Nazis -- there are still researchers that ignore the wellbeing of their subjects. As exhibit A, I present the head of the UC Davis neurosurgery department and his colleague, who resigned in 2013 after they experimented with injecting live bowel bacteria into gravely ill patients' brain tumors: It sets an INCREDIBLY dangerous precedent to say that any scientific data is so valuable that we can ignore how it was gathered. Regulations are only effective as long as they are enforced; a far stronger deterrent, to my mind, is to unequivocally reject any scientific work, both past and future, that was done without regard to the physical and psychological well-being of the participants. Otherwise we're going to have researchers who believe that the ends justify the means, and research subjects who suffer as a result.

I think this is very well stated, and like your reasoning.  But I tend to agree with The Ethicist, here.    (He said pretty much what the majority of the respondents are saying.)

Obviously there is a matter of degree of the offense, and it is not insubstantial.   There is also, as you point out, the self-policing nature of the field.   Not sure that using 70-year-old data from experiments universally reviled as inhuman sets any particular precedent for modern rules of medical behavior; publicity of the UC Davis case does a lot more to set rules. 

I have to say, the UC Davis case fills me with doubt as to whether the punishment was warranted.   To discuss it in the same breath as Nazi experimentation seems disingenuous.   The three patients had short-term fatal prognoses with glioblastoma, a terrible cancer.  There was informed consent by the patients, whose predicted outcomes were already dismal.  The experimental treatment seemed to work on two of them, and killed the third.    In reading this story, I am inferring (this might be wrong) that the crime here was not following proper institutional procedures.   

Does someone have to be prosecuted under these laws for them to be challenged and overturned, or can the ACLU or anyone with half a brain just challenge their existence on the grounds that they are clearly unconstitutional? Also, Pennsylvania, if you don't believe in a "future state of rewards and punishment," what is to prevent you from claiming that you do? I mean, what have you (not you Pennsylvania) got to lose?

You need a test case.  There must be a plaintiff.   There is one out there; I forget the state.  But I'm not sure if it's being pushed up the ladder as far as it can go.

Gene, What about the horrible rash of millennials who misuse the word myself ALL THE TIME. I think it falls within the category of people trying to make themselves seem smarter, but they do the opposite by usually replacing the word me with the word myself, as in "The movie was a little too long for myself" or "John gave the book to myself".

Yep.  It appalls myself, too.

I'm not sure about the logic of contracting "and" in "hide and seek" to "n'" in "hide n' seek." If apostrophes mark where letters are dropped, should it be 'n' instead? Gene, you are the only person I know who's knowledgeable enough to analyze this and still trivial enough to bother. Help!

Yes, it would be hide 'n' seek, technically, but see how bad that looks?  It looks like air quotes around the n.   Sometimes, clarity takes precedence.

The tow truck driver was clearly facing a direct and immediate threat and the legal/moral question is if his actions were self defense. My inclination is to side with the tow truck driver but I allow that others can reasonably disagree. The store owner was a vigilante. There was no immediate nor specific threat, just the possibility that someone might try to rob him someday. Although the the most likely victim of his trap would be a thief, that person hadn't been convicted in court. There is also the very real possibility that the person electrocuted wasn't even a criminal. (Fire fighter perhaps?) Furthermore the punishment for robbing a store isn't death. (Not even in Texas.) I realize a gun can be just as lethal but it requires a human being to make an active decision in the moment which would in fact be comparable to the tow truck guy.

Perfect point I failed to imagine:  Firefighter.   That is why the store owner should not have gone scot-free.    I wonder if his no bill of indictment encouraged others to do the same thing?

I felt really strongly about both of my opinions on the rulings and am shocked that there is another answer that got so many more votes (as of right now). The tow truck driver had a chance to preserve his own life/limb and chose to reenter the fray in order to harm the other person with a deadly weapon. Second degree murder. The store owner premeditated the crap out of that death. Murder in the first. Right?

Not to me, in either case. 

I give benefit of the doubt to the tow-truck driver.  There was a man with a gun, who had already beaten him, nearby.  It seems to me he is still in jeopardy from this man, and taking steps to neutralize him (say pin him against a wall) does not seem extreme to me.  I think there was a clear and present threat.  

I'd either acquit or go for a small conviction.

Prentice Rasheed was not charged!  At all.  There I would have gone reckless endangerment.  It's certainly not premeditated murder!   I mean, it was intent to shock, cause injury if he was burglarized. 

Hi, You said this in your update: "The fact is, there are certain positions that are almost exclusively filled by black men, and also other positions almost exclusively filled by white men, and in some areas, this disparity has been getting MORE pronounced, not less. The last white cornerback IN ALL OF FOOTBALL was Jason Sehorn in 2003. Meeanwhile, offensive linemen are largely white and defensive linemen are largely black. Tailbacks are all black. Punters and placekickers are almost all white. WHAT IS THIS ALL ABOUT?" I remembered a study that I read about years ago, that may help: Eye Color: A Key to Human and Animal Behavior By Morgan Worthy Hope you find this interesting. Happy Holidays, A reader

This is fascinating, if dubious.  It would explain white offensive linemen and black defensive linemen !

Hi Gene, My husband is reluctant to have kids. He has always said he wanted them, but now that I am ready he has concerns. He is worried he'll be a bad parent because he had bad parents, and also that we don't have enough money. I am confident he'll be a good father because he is a very good human being and wonderful husband. And we are ok financially and have good savings, although it would be nice to have money income of course. (I should add he's fantastic with our friends' kids, and genuinely enjoys spending time with them). I am ready to have kids, and am over 35. Time's a-wasting and we don't know if we'll have fertility problems. Any ideas on how to handle this? My brother suggest I get pregnant "accidentally" but that seems a horrible idea. I have suggested therapy and he is willing, fwiw. Thanks.

Well, wow.   This is a big problem, as you know, because time matters.

Your husband initially wanted children and now doesn't?  He is scared of something, and I bet it's not that he wouldn't be a good father.   Get to the bottom of that, and you'll know how it can be solved.

Anyone smarter than I am out there, with more coherent thouights? 

Psychology has less extreme examples of the same quandary (Miller and Skinner come to mind) Use the data. Not using it because of it's origins means we have no/very little data, no ways to obtain comparable data, and the brutal "experiments" still happened. Not using the data doesn't help anyone.

Skinner!  My old nemesis.   He put his own child in a box, didn't he?

Here's my deal: I'm a bleeding-heart liberal in all respects, but for the second question in this poll I had to say I'd rule "nothing". Basically, I tend to think that when you break in somewhere you more or less forfeit any right to expect that the experience will be safe or that you'll be able to get out.

So he is completely innocent if a bad person gets killed, but guilty of a serious crime if a firefighter gets killed?

Come on now. Let's not blame millenials for the overuse of "myself". I hear it all the time, from all ages. I'm late Gen X and I heard it when I was a kid, and it was lampooned in mass media as early as1997 in Austin Powers. "Allow myself to introduce... myself."

I didn't realize that was demonizing millennials.   Yes, I heard that mistake plenty in my own yoot.

Two questions: 1) Would Rasheed have been arrested if he'd simply shot the man trying to break into his store? 2) Do you think his (spoiler alert) acquittal was helped by the fact that the man breaking in was, to quote one paper, "a crack cocaine addict in his mid-20s, a man who bragged in court that he had raped more than 100 women?"

The answer to the first question is no, but that's obvious: In that case, he wouold have had his own life in jeopardy, and there was no particular recklessness.   The second question: Yes, it mattered.  

Anything to get Andrew Jackson off the $20 is good. We already have the unconstitutional phrase "In God We Trust", so putting Jesus on the bill would not really make things worse. And while Andrew Jackson was a monstrous war criminal who ordered genocide, Jesus did no such thing, even if his followers did centuries and millennia after his death. Almost anyone would be better than Jackson on the $20. Worst U.S. President.

I don't want to re-argue the Jackson question.  We have both had our say.   Historians tend to rank him as near great, and they know all about the genocide thing.   Context of the times matters.

Speakers are taught not to say "uh."


to make pronunciation complaints. "Another example was something I noticed about George W. Bush. He tended to prounounce the article "a" as a hard sound A, as it hate, even when it sounded stilted and odd. It probably sounded classier to him. Actually, Obama sometimes does that, too."

Bush is also a serial perpetrator of "shtr" as in "shtrength."

I think your first poll is missing an in-between option. I think second degree murder is too harsh, but it certainly doesn't warrant a misdemeanor charge. Sounds more like voluntary manslaughter. Thinking to myself, I came up with these ever-so-clever definitions. First degree murder: "I'm gonna kill Dave. Tuesday at 9pm, with this claw hammer." Second degree murder: "I'm going to hit Dave with this claw hammer and take his money. Whoops! He stopped moving." Voluntary manslaughter: "Dave just shot at me! Son of a... I'm going to fight back with this claw hammer!" Involuntary manslaughter: I'm juggling claw hammers extremely recklessly. Here comes Dave."

Yeah, I wanted to simplify it.    If you examine criminal laws you'll see that the penalties for voluntary manslaughter and second degree murder are not that far apart ... in some cases they overlap.

Clearly, unquestionably, the experiments were wrong in every conceivable way. But keeping the information available goes beyond saving lives. Burying the information gained does a disservice to those who died or suffered in those experiments. Further, it needs to be available not only for the information gained, but also as a lesson in scientific ethics. We cannot ignore history, even when it is particularly horrific. Especially when it is particularly horrific. The Nazis were not unique; any people could fall into similar levels of immorality under the right circumstances. However, it might express itself in a different way (perhaps not so.... regimented).

I agree with you on all counts except the first... I am not sure the people who suffered and died for these experiments would feel that withholding the results would be a disservice to them.  I would think they would think quite the opposite, based on the idea that this was not an "experiment," this was monstrous torture.

I am not a fan of "trigger alerts" or warnings about unsettling things to come, because I think that infantilizes the reader, but I am going to invoke one here.   For this poll, I did some quick research into Nazi "experiments" and found one that kind of hollowed me out for its depravity.  In a sense, we are not doing justice to the inhumanity of all this by implying these were all experiments done for medical research.    If this might bother you, don't read on.

In one "experiment" in occupied Poland in 1942, a 12-year-old boy was strapped to a chair so he couldn't move.  An apparatus was rigged to strike his head with a hammer every few seconds.   It was a version of Chinese water torture, only with pain.   The "experiment" determined that this treatment would make someone go insane.     What conceivable purpose was served by this, other than sadism and barbarism?

I've long had an idea similar to Q2 in the first poll and I want to get your take on it. It involves HOV lanes. My idea is that if you're illegally in an HOV lane (or where Route 66 is only HOV) and you're involved in an accident -- it's automatically YOUR FAULT. The reasoning behind it is that you're not supposed to be there to begin with, so if you weren't illegally in the HOV lane then you wouldn't have been there to be in an accident with. The only caveat I can think of is that there'd have to be some sort of allowance if you can prove the other car PURPOSEFULLY caused the accident (e.g., guy in crappy car sees a Jag with a solo driver and sideswipes him to get a new car from a rich guy). Thoughts? I mean, the guy in Q2 likely claimed "Hey, if he wasn't breaking in he wouldn't have gotten electrocuted." Logical, but not exactly legal, I think. But I still like my HOV idea -- I think it'd prevent scofflaws more than fines.

I'd like to hear how others feel about this.   I don't like it because the penalty seems greater than the offense.  But I'm not sure.   You can accidentally be in the HOV lane. 

I always feel like I need to explain my chat answers, but for the first one I answered that I would probably find the guy guilty of a lesser charge such as a misdemeanor because, when you're a juror for a murder-charge trial, you don't learn anything about the defendant's criminal record until AFTER you've already given the verdict, BEFORE you decide the sentence. - er, well, at least in Virginia, so who knows if this is true in D.C. Anyway, I wonder if others' responses would be colored by knowing the guy's prior convictions while reading the article. I was on a murder-charge jury trial a couple of years ago, and when we heard the guy's rap sheet before sentencing, a couple of jurors said later that they wished they'd known those things beforehand because it would have changed their vote during decision of the verdict.

Interesting point.   There's a reason that priors cannot be part of the trial (except in unusual circumstances, as I recall.  If the prior crimes fit EXACTLY it might be ruled admissible, such as strangulation with a shoelace, but the bar is high.)  The reason is pretty much the same reason polygraphs are not permitted:  TOO prejudicial;  juries are swayed disproportionatly by that, and it's not fair.

The female dancer in that Wally Cox yodeling "Tavern In The Town" clip is the Julie Newmar. You go Wally!

It is !!!   Everyone must watch this again.

I can think of no better person than Gene Weingarten to pose this question to. Is it OK to be kind of delighted by this "toilet bomb" idea, where an airplane dropped an actual literal toilet, even though it was used during a war I could never ever bring myself to support?

Sure.  It was taking the bomb bay space that otherwise would have had an actual exploding device.

Should an assault victim try disclosing that they have a deadly STD whether true or not? "I have HIV" could be a huge turn off. Or the attacker might become more violent. I don't know.

I've seen this discussed in rape forums.  If I remember correctly, the advice was to make a judgment based on the rapist: What are the odds, based on his behavior, that he is additionally violent?  (In addition to the violence of rape.)  What is the likelihood that he is so filled with rage he'd just kill you for that.   Thoughts?

I contend that you are not a " bleeding-heart liberal in all respects" if you are ok with the death of a human because they committed a crime.

Well, I'm a bleeding heart liberal and would be okay with the death penalty for truly heinous crimes, if uniformly applied  -- except for the chance of error.   And that chance is huge.  So I'm ag'in'  it.   (See how bad properly applied apostrophes can look?)

"Voluntary manslaughter: "Dave just shot at me! Son of a... I'm going to fight back with this claw hammer!" " Self defense should never be a crime. I am adamantly opposed to this being a crime.

True enough.

These days punters and kickers grew up playing soccer, largely a suburban phenomenon in the States.Hence more whites at this position

Hey, here's something I've always wondered:  Why are there no people who can both punt and placekick, at the pro level?    You would think there'd be SOME.

Just came across this: "I’ve always found that, with humor, some will find fault where others find favor." The writer is Robert Mankoff, current cartoon editor of the New Yorker. This explains so much.

Wow. Absolutely.  

The previous is a terrible attitude to have if you are editing humor!   You have to believe there is one arbiter who knows everything, and that is you.

Gene -- In the booby trap case, did the shopowner post any warning signs? It seems to me that changes the case (as well as possibly alleviating the firefighter/homeless person scenarios.) If someone didn't know there was a risk and entered the store, that's very different from a thief taking an informed risk, especially from the liability side.

Pretty sure he didn't.

I was at a party once where a high level person who was stationed in an African country described how he was very tired of his car being stolen, so he put a bottle of whiskey laced with poison in the car. After it was stolen again it was recovered with three dead policement inside. People there agreed that this was OK to do since no one forced them to drink the whiskey. I was a little appalled by the callousness of it all, but it is true that no one forced them to drink the whiskey, just as no one forced the person to break into the store.

Pretty stark example.   To me, that is a dreadfully callous act that needed to be punished.

Actually it seemed pretty clear what was going on once the eye lashes came off. By the time the remaining make-up was gone, there was no question to me at least. Didn't even need to take off the bra. Jes sayin'. And I am a hetero woman, if it matters.

Sure, but why is that a flaw?   It was a slow build.

Gene, I need your help in getting over a "problem" that most people would likely be pleased to have. My husband and I have a two-year-old girl. My husband's grandmother -- the baby's great-grandmother -- is 95, in a home up in Boston, and outright loaded. To the point where she's offered -- and I've taken her up on it thus far -- to pay for me to stay home with our daughter, because she believes that's a huge benefit for the child for the first few years and she wants her granddaughter to have this benefit. (And I work in a field where I should be able to easily slide back into working as well.) The great-grandmother has been extremely generous in other areas as well -- Christmas gifts, savings accounts, college funds, etc. But I'm finding it REALLY tough to accept her largess easily. I think a large part of it is that it's not MY family, so I feel awkward benefiting from the riches of another family. Can you help me come to better acceptance of this?

It seems like a completely reasonable arrangement that you should not feel bad about. 

Same reason there are fewer doctors in general practice. Americans are always told to specialize.

Ah, but it would be financially advantageous to such a person.  He'd be far more valuable to a team.  FAR more.  Would open up an extra roster position.

I am not sure that I can find fault with the reasoning that the tow truck driver was attempting to neutralize a clear and present danger. it does however make me sad, because i think it helps explains the rise of gun violence in these types of disputes. because we are protected by the ability to defend ourselves, we naturally want to get ahold of the weapon that will give us the best advantage in a potential confrontation. don't bring a knife to a gunfight and all that. geez. why am i so sad about this?

Agree totally.  

Can't you also say that a penalty of DEATH seems greater than the offense of ROBBERY?

yes, but this is not a penalty meted out by the state.     And if he had been in the shop with a gun, and shot the intruder, it would still be death penalty for burglary, but no one would question it.

I figure if anyone knows this, you will Gene. Why is it Pacific Ocean, Mississippi River, Red Sea, Chesapeake Bay, etc., ... but Lake Michigan, Lake Minnetonka, Lake Ponchatrain, etc.? What makes lakes different?

Hm.  The Great Salt Lake.     Can't think of any other.  Anyone have thoughts on this?

Because there must have been a time in history when genocide was okay. That's your argument?

George Washington kept human beings in chains!

Easy answer. Choose either your husband or the kids with a future husband, whichever is more important to you. But in no way should you have kids with someone who so clearly states that they don't want them.

Agreed.  And time IS running out.

When a person breaks into another person house or place of business, the owner has the right to use deadly force. That is the same as saying that a person who breaks in is forfeiting their life. the person does so knowing that is a possibility. In a past job, I was employed by the state and would go onto people's property in rural areas. I made sure to never step a foot on someone else's property without their prior permission.

Possibly I am nitpicking but how do you get someone's permission without walking up to his front door?

I, too, vote for "hypercorrection." A hypercorrect form is frequently used in an attempt to sound more educated but, as the other chatter correctly pointed out, has precisely the opposite effect. Hypercorrection exists in pronunciation, not just grammar: consider "terlet" (for "toilet") and "cherce" (for "choice"). Both of which attempt to avoid the "oi" sound, which has a lower-class sound -- e.g., "toity-toid and toid" -- and both succeed brilliantly in making the speaker sound lower-class.


I drove my son to school today because he is a Marylander and therefore, a tender lamb. On the way in, we listened to an NPR story about Germans who come to the United States to escape being arrested for home schooling their children. At first, you would think, hmm...seems a bit draconian. Leave it to the Germans to be draconian. Then, they started interviewing the families. The parents all talked about "family-oriented lifestyle" and other safe buzzwords. The kids, however, talked about how homeschooling gives them more time for prayer and their religious life. One girl said it was necessary because "We believe in Creationism and they don't teach that in school." At that point, I was ready to jail her and her entire family. Not really. But what the heck happened since 1978 when Sister Ursula taught me evolution in 7th grade? When the students protested about Genesis she replied, "Genesis is a STORY. It's not SCIENCE. It's a story about God because they taught people about God by using stories." Sister Ursula rocked, by the way. Flash forward to 1986 and I'm in a Bible study class given by a Vatican theologian. "There are two creation stories in Genesis. Ever wonder why? We don't know, but the second one goes into great detail. In the oral tradition, if a detail is mentioned, it's important. It was important to the ancients that the detailed story that fish were created before birds were created before beasts was told. Because, maybe....the ancients noticed that the more sophisticated creatures were created later. You know, evolution? It's not incompatable with the Bible. Not to the Vatican, anyway.

That last point is very interesting!

I believe it was Woodrow Wilson, president of Princeton, who said that academic battles are so vicious because the stakes are so low.

It was, but Wilson took a lot of words to say it.   It was shortened to its beautiful current form in 1972 by Columbia professor Wallace Sayre.  

At Princeton, as I recall, Wilson was driven to near nervous breakdown over a dispute he had with the trustees over the location of a new graduate college.   It led to a minor stroke.


Speaking of context mattering, Woodrow Wilson was also considered a near-great president, but he was a racist.  I DO hold that against him because he was a racist BEHIND his times... He resegregated the federal workforce.

When you have to be the best 32 in the whole world at your job, you can't afford to waste your time practicing something else. People who spend half their time learning the other job don't stay employed very long.

I know.  That seems like the right answer, and it probably is, but I keep weighing the other side.   Anyone would could do that would be very, very well recompensed.  And it's a similar talent.

Deep Creek Lake in Maryland, Veronica Lake

Veronica Lake.  Good answer.

NFL rosters have evolved to keep three roster spots for a punter, a placekicker, and a long snapper. While the rest of the team goes off and does their thing in practice, these three go off and practice as a team, with the punter servicing as the holder for the placekicker. If your punter is also your placekicker, then you have to recruit another player to be the holder, which means that the specialized holder does not practice with the rest of the team.

I have an answer for that, and it is a good one.

Back when I was a yoot, the punter was seldom the holder for the placekicker.  The holder for the placekicker was .... the backup quarterback.   This made far more sense, because on fake kicks, you had a pro ready to pass the ball.

Flathead Lake, Deep Creek Lake, Sea of Cortez, Sea of Galilee

Thank you.

How is this a name? Is her mother a Mennonite and her father from Yonkers?

This was the lady who tipped me off to "defiantly recommend."    You know, I used to laugh at odd cultural dissonance of first and last names, but I don't anymore.  The weirdness of modern names has made nothing surprising.  I once joked about black guy named "Chad," because that seemed such a white preppy name; now, Chad seems to be a popular black name.  All the rules are changed.  Amity Horowitz sounds normal.

Oh, wait!  My humor gland just kicked in.   Amity Horowitz !  The Amityville Horror !   Haha.  Yay. 

Gene, I hate to be a glass bowl, but there is an issue in my office that is driving me crazy. Frequently when I go to the men's room for my extended-stay business, I find that several of the repositories have wet seats from previous visitors. My instinct is to leave a note taped to the doors to scream at the a-holes to lift the damn seat, but I also feel that these signs are ridiculous and counter-productive. (We currently have signs all over our building instructing us to "Do not Ajar this Door!!!".) Do you have any suggestions?

Leave the note.  It will shame some people and maybe change behavior. 

I've never understood the philosophy of leavers of wet seats.  Do they think this is not a serious crime against civility?  Apparently women are equally guilty, because of the hover phenomenon.

There's another answer that I would have chosen: The research should be thrown away because it's worthless. There seems to be an implication in the third answer that this work is valuable because it will never be replicated. But the whole point of the experimental paradigm is that results of scientific experiments must be repeatable and falsifiable. Since these experiments will never be repeated (short of Dick Cheney becoming head of the National Science Foundation), there's no way to test whether the scientific protocols that were followed are valid. They have no scientific value. Throw them away.

You're quibbling.  And I think you know it.  They may not be scientifically defensible, and certainly aren't replicatable, but there is obviously value in the information.  It could lead us to explore promising avenues to contain / treat hypothermia.

I've seen the "Is it ethical to use data from Nazi medical experiments?" question many times before, but this point is rarely considered: How VALID is the data? The subjects were all emaciated, weakened, terrified prisoners, most from the same few demographic backgrounds, and with no healthy control subjects. The tests were conducted without any view toward preservation of life beyond what was necessary to continue the experiment. And a lot of what the Nazi doctors, specifically Dr. Mengele, were doing was squarely in Frankenstein territory, especially some of the grotesque experiments with identical twins, pregnant women, and people with genetic deformities. I believe that the data should remain available to researchers because of its application to extreme real-world survival situations, but I also believe that we should treat medical findings obtained from a torture chamber with skepticism. How do you measure accurate rates of bodily survival among people who know for a fact that the sole remaining purpose of their life is to serve as guinea pigs for madmen?

This is a sounder argument than the previous, and I agree with it.

I've seen businesses that are patrolled by large dangerous dogs. Is that different from an electrical booby trap?

Yes.  For one thing, there are generally signs about dogs.  I suspect they are required.

what is she paying for? your salary? what would be your choice if the money was not there? would you still want to stay home? I think maybe you feel weird because grandma is making the decision, not you.

How is grandma making the decision?  She is making an offer.   Hm.  Well, she is making it hard for you to say no because we need the money.   Presumably if you didn't want to do it because you didn't want to harm your career, you would not have done it, right?  It's up to you.    It IS controlling of grandma, but not to the point where you couldn't resist.

Many of the lakes in the Adirondacks of upstate New York are XXX Lake. Fourth Lake. Blue Mountain Lake. Great Sacadanga Lake. Canada Lake Tupper Lake. Raquette Lake. OTOH, there's still Lake Placid and Lake George, so go figure. Oh, here in Virginia we have Smith Mountain Lake as well as Claytor Lake.

The finger lakes are all Lake-first, too.

Different skills. Same reason you have strikers and midfielders in soccer. Just because they are the only two jobs where one actually puts ones foot on the ball, does not make them the same job.

But how different are they, really?   In both you kick the crap out of a ball, and accuracy matters. 

Was the bra ad a different kind of booby trap?


There is a great painter in New York named Antoinette Wysocki Sanchez.

For many years the Miami Herald had a reporter named Luis Feldstein-Soto.

Don't rule out kids with husband just because he's afraid. I like how Carolyn Hax says it: Having kids when you're not certain about it is ok as long as you're good at rolling with the punches. I'm this way, which is why I feel better about eventually having kids even though I'd be perfectly happy having none (husband, however, does want them.) If you're husband is the same, and you can have a clear discussion in which he owns the decision, then I don't think it's such a huge deal. But if you think he's bad with things not going according to plan or is one to throw kids in your face (and truly, you can't pressure him), then I do think you should rethink having kids with him.

Good.  Also, as several people have noted but I neglected to say, "accidentally" getting pregnant is a terrible idea.

Data ARE, dammit!!!!

Wrong.  It is both.  Or either.  I recently had occasion to review this.

I always heard this as Lake Canandaigua. 

" is to unequivocally reject any scientific work, both past and future, that was done without regard to the physical and psychological well-being of the participants. Otherwise we're going to have researchers who believe that the ends justify the means, and research subjects who suffer as a result." Nice idea, but you just ruled out a lot of really good and useful data. Some of the most well-known and most interesting psychological experiments would never pass IRB committees today. Google "Zimbardo" or "Milgram."

I've heard it argued that Milgram's results in the Nazi experiment were garbage.  I saw the full movie.  Not garbage.

I argue that it is conservative to be against the death penalty. So long as life without parole is an option, the impact to society between death and life is the same; the death penalty as a deterrent is dubious; and it's cheaper to carry out a life sentence than the death penalty. Once all other reasons are debunked, the only reason left is vengeance, which, according to the Bible, is the purview of the Creator. But perhaps most of all, the reason why conservatives should be against the death penalty is because if one has a healthy distrust of the government, he should certainly distrust it to take the lives of its citizens.

Well said.

The Federal government was closed for 16 days in October. Depending on how you calculate (12 business days closed out of 250...or 16 calendar days closed out of 365) that equates to about 4 - 4 1/2 % less government service last year. Can I deduct 4% from my Federal taxes for 2013?



It's not an aptonym per se, but the harmony of the situation and the location where it occurred are pretty remarkable.

I declare it a situational geographic aptonym.  

Hey, did you guys all know that if you slice into an eyeball it doesn't, like, rupture and deflate?  I discovered this when researching the hypochondria book.  It's more like what happens when you slice into Jell-O.

This seems a little off to me.    Not quite solid.  Why would this result from a ban on reclining seats?

I was most disturbed to learn two things in quick succession today: 1) there are "smart toilets" 2) they can be hacked Best quote from the article: "A hacked toilet could theoretically scream and spray you with the bidet while opening and closing its ‘mouth,’ “causing discomfort or distress to user,” according to a Trustwave security advisory." This article came out in August... my question is, Gene, why did you not let your readership know *immediately* about this disturbing development?

This is the best argument ever for being a Luddite.  

Even before I was a parent, I was haunted by your piece on parents forgetting their babies in cars. I'm not a great multitasker even at the best of times, and could easily see how a mistake like that could happen to anyone. And the car industry's unwillingness to consider safety sensors is criminal. Now that I have a five-month-old daughter, I've realized (by accident) that there's an easy-to-find and easy-to-afford solution that might help a lot: a back seat mirror. They are ostensibly produced so you can keep an eye on your kid in their rear-facing seat, but that's just the thing - as long as there is daylight outside, you literally see the baby's face every time you look in the rearview mirror (it's actually kind of distracting at first). I believe it would make it much more difficult to forget that she's there, even if she's sleeping. I realize a big part of the problem are parents who don't think it will happen to them and thus don't see a need for additional precautions. But for others, like me, who worry about this kind of thing, this is a solution that costs twelve bucks and can be yours on your next trip to Target.

Very interesting.  The simplest solution I've heard.

I would charge murder if the store owner rigged the booby trap with enough of a charge to knowingly kill, but reckless endangerment if he thought he would hurt/disable a burglar and killed him by accident. Do we know what effect he thought his trap would have? Regarding the tow truck driver, i understand the article to say that the robber was distracted, he was running away, and the police were called by the hiding customer. Sorry, that is murder (in my mind, not a lawyer). Imminent harm was avoided.

The store owner claimed he only wanted to shock a burglar.    And how do you know the imminent threat was over?  There was a man with a GUN a few feet away.  And he had already shown he was willing to hurt you.  Murder?  Really?

When I got out of high school I joined the Army. At best I was a competent, but indifferent, soldier. Although the Vietnam War, or what the Vietnamese refer to as the American War, was going on, I was never in Vietnam or any place combat was happening if you disregard the civil insurrections in DC during the Nixon administration. I did my hitch, got out, and went to a cheap college which had been my purpose in enlisting. Forty years on people sometimes find out that I'm a veteran and for some reason feel compelled to shake my hand and thank me for my service. I want to tell them to stick It up their ass and to ask them where they were forty years ago when we were being demonized as baby killers and psychopaths. So far I have not done so, but I need some kind of comeback other than telling them that they're welcome. They are not welcome and I'd like to let them know that.

Are you aware of this book, by the talented David Finkel? It is about men who came back from Iraq changed forever.   The title is ironic.   "Thank you for your service" is a cowardly and deeply cynical thing to say to men and women who lost more than they ever bargained for.  It's hollow in any context, including yours.

That is a very cynical view of why some religions don't condone birth control and I am sorry but not true. It's about believing passionately that life begins at conception. Birth control does not prevent conception, it prevents implantation and so using BC essentially takes that life away. Whether you believe that or not that is what is at the heart of the birth control debate.

Much birth control does prevent conception.  Condoms, for example.   And spermicides.   Why would the church still draw a line at condoms and spermicides? 

...then what use is there for the word Datum?

Datum is almost obsolete, as a word.   This is one of those cases where I thoroughly support change due to use.

"Data" is plural. "Datum" is singular, even though you sound like a geek.

You've just made the case for data being either.  Why sound  like a geek. 

Okay, we're done here.  I have to leave three minutes early because my life is like that, okay?   That you all, and see you 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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