The Washington Post

Chatological Humor: Monthly with Moron (August)

Sep 02, 2014

Gene Weingarten held his monthly chat with readers.

About this chat:
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Hi! Seeing as how it is "Labor" Day, we are going to do a poll about abortion.

Okay, that was at least technically an "abortion joke," which is, at least technically, tasteless. Apologies. But I do not apologize for the poll itself, which is perfectly tasteful, like a placenta.

Our first poll today is based on a recent foofaraw.

It occurred when the famed evolutionary biologist (and atheist) Richard Dawkins tweeted that if you know your fetus has Down syndrome, it is immoral not to abort. (That is a fair summary of what he said, though Dawkins was responding to a question, and there were several back and forths. If you want to see the full context, it is contained here.)

Dawkins's argument, later expanded on, was that one should not consign someone to such a limited life; that early abortion does not cause pain or even end a life, since the fetus does not know it exists and is not sentient. He feels the "right" course of action, with a Down syndrome diagnosis, is to end the pregnancy and try again, and to feel no moral twinge about it. Here is his elaboration.

As you can imagine, Dawkins got bombarded with outrage. So let's wade into this.

(For the purpose of this poll, and moral unambiguity, assume that the results of an amniocentesis are never in error; that there are never false positives or false negatives.)

PART 1: Do you agree with Dawkins? Is it "immoral" to permit a fetus with Down syndrome to come to term?

PART 2: You and spouse are having your first child. You are both 28 years old. At 16 weeks, amniocentesis indicates Down syndrome. Would you abort? (Assume your spouse and you have the same opinion.)


Now on to a second topic ...


Okay, we were first with this issue -- by YEARS -- and now it has exploded nationally. Let's put it to rest here.

PART 1: How do you behave vis a vis reclining seats in planes?

PART 2: Should airlines create and police the following rule: "You can recline your seat if there is no one behind you. If there is someone behind you, you may only recline your seat with their permission. Angle of recline may be similarly negotiated."

Good afternoon.

This is not the planned introduction for today.   I scrapped that to deal humbly with matters of life and death.   Which reminds me, please take the abortion poll and the seat-recline poll.  Good.          

As you all know by now, I am not a “spiritual person.”  I don’t believe in God.  I don’t believe in the supernatural.  I believe that pure science will eventually explain who we are and how we got here.   In the meantime, I believe that whenever there are competing theories about anything, the one that relies less on presumptions of magic will most likely be correct.   I have even created a persuasive argument that God does not exist, based on the error of magical thinking.  (It’s the chat intro here, with accompanying chart.)  

In short, in the eternal intellectual battle between Harry Houdini and Arthur Conan Doyle, I am on Houdini’s side.  Irrevocably.

In case you are unfamiliar with this rivalry involving the novelist and the escape artist:  Back in the early 1900s, Doyle was an ardent spiritualist and his friend, Houdini, was an ardent debunker of spiritualists.   Their friendship ended over Houdini’s calling foul on a woman named Mina Crandon, a socialite from Boston who often performed séances in the nude and sometimes made “ectoplasm” – a ghostly goo similar to the slime in Ghostbusters – ooze out of her nostrils, ears, and vagina.   Doyle was smitten with her “powers.”     Houdini was not.   Houdini knew she was full of a different sort of substance.   (And she was, of course; by the time of her death, all of her psychic feats had been completely debunked.  One of her spooky ectoplasmic “hands,” for example, was found to have been carved out of calves’ liver.)

Nor was Houdini impressed by the Cottingley Fairies, sprites who befriended and danced for two little girl cousins in England, but for some reason could be seen and photographed only by the girls.      Doyle thought this was evidence of a mysterious magical world of delightful creatures befriending innocent yoots.   Houdini thought it was evidence of two mischievous little girls who needed a paddling. 

(As old ladies in the 1980s, the girls admitted their fraud.  They said they meant no harm, but things got out of hand, and once Doyle added his reputation to the furor, and they couldn’t back down.  The willingness of the public to believe this preposterous nonsense had been so great that no one ever realized the fairies were simply slightly altered cutouts from a then-popular children’s book.)

So.   My point is, I reject all magical thinking.   This includes witchcraft.  It includes putting hexes and curses and kaiboshes on people.  In short, I don’t believe there is a Weingarten Curse, even though I continue to kill and/or maim  people by writing about them, as I have noted in several columns of late, including this one. 

In the middle of last week, I got an email from Amy Lago, the comics editor of the Washington Post Writers Group.   Amy was looking at an upcoming episode of Barney & Clyde, which mentions the name of a famous actress who is currently healthy but getting on in years.  Amy wondered if I might consider changing it to the name of an actress who is currently dead. 

She had a factual, journalistic reason for asking – a reason involving recognition factor of the two actresses – but she also gave me the real reason.   She didn’t want me killing this fine person.   She thought it would be safer to use someone who was already dead, given my recent record of bringing the gravest misfortune upon people almost immediately after my mention of them in my column.  

I need to emphasize that Amy Lago is an extremely intelligent, creative person who is not, ordinarily, in the thrall of superstition.   She is also a nice person who just did not want to tempt fate.   I argued that she was being uncharacteristically silly, and that despite what I had written about the Weingarten Curse / Jinx, these were all obviously matters of pure coincidence, and I believe that.   I held out for using the original, living actress, and she acquiesced.  Because, really.  Her argument, in the end, was paranormal, and c'mon.

I think you know where this is going.

Not two full days afterward our discussion, on August 28, comedian Joan Rivers stopped breathing during routine surgery, and is currently on life support. It doesn't look good.

The last time I had written about the Weingarten curse was July 31.   I playfully ended this column by suggesting that I might use my powers for self-enrichment by extorting money from living, aging celebs in return for NOT writing about them.   I chose to make an example of Ms. Rivers because 1) she is a comedian with a particularly dark sense of humor and I assumed she would not have taken offense, and 2) by all accounts, she was in excellent health, and working prodigiously, even at 81.

In tweeting links to my column when it came out, I said this.  All in good fun!


Where am I going with this?  I don’t know exactly.   It is all just coincidence, obviously, and yet even I am concerned about the upcoming Barney & Clyde, concerned enough THAT I AM NOT NAMING THE ACTRESS IN QUESTION HERE.  

But not concerned enough to pull her name, because that would be a tacit renunciation of a guiding principle of mine. 


Okay, so, this is for Joan.   It is a video of a recent appearance by Joan on the Letterman show.   Very recent.  David puts her in an impossible position.  And she steals the show, with typical edge, getting back at David brilliantly.  She is 81, and still good, and still daring.   Warning: Though this aired on late night, the soundtrack might be unsafe for work, if you have a particularly prissy workplace.

Take the polls.   Chat begins at noon sharp.

Any thoughts on your new publisher that you would care to share?

Yes, the news this morning is that The Post has a new publisher, chosen by Jeff Bezos.  He is Fred Ryan, one of the founders of Politico.   I know nothing about Mr. Ryan, but feel pretty sure he is one of the noblest humans ever born to woman of man.  

Gene, I don't recline and hate it when people recline. But I voted that I don't think airlines should institute a rule against it. Why? It's just something else for the flight crew to worry about and police and possibly have to mediate. Just make it "you can't recline unless the seat behind you is empty."

I actually LIKE this proposed solution of mine.   It makes the rule very clear, and it encourages discussion and civility, which is not a bad thing.  The fact is, the airlines are already in the position of having to be an arbiter here.

It is all their fault for skimping on space.  They are, in effect, selling space twice.  You are given a pathetic amount of space in return for your ticket, and then a stranger can chose on his own to recline into it?  Really?

Given the horrifying situation the airlines have created, it is rude to recline without permission.  I am as sure of this as I am of the rightness of gay marriage, or pro-choice. 

Remember this?

Gene, I voted "no" on your proposed airline rule because I take issue with the wording. I'd rather have a rule that says, "You can recline your seat if there is no one behind you. If there is someone behind you, YOU MAY NOT RECLINE YOUR SEAT." Having to negotiate reclining with my fellow passengers would really increase my stress about flying. What if the person in front of me asks to recline, and I say no? Then I have to deal with dirty looks, heavy sighs, etc. Or I say yes to be nice and avoid conflict, and end up with my knees under my chin. I don't want to have to be the bad guy here. Better just to make a blanket rule that makes the airline the jerk, not me.

I can understand this view.   And yet ... some people don't mind being reclined on, no?  

There is a simple way to deal with airline recliners invading my personal space, that I have used to my advantage periodically. When beverages are served, I ask for water. I dip my fingers into the water, and then I "sneeze", flicking my fingers that are now damp, so that droplets hit the recliner, generally on their head or face. I apologize profusely, mumble something about not being sure if it's allergies or fighting off the early stages of a cold, and apologize again. I may repeat if necessary. Yes, completely passive aggressive, but it works quite well.

Okay, well, I am laughing but surely this is not the atmosphere we want to foster, is it?

The Rib learned a trick that works especially well on tall bald reclining men: Put your air vent on high and direct it on the top of their head. 

Are you willing to trade pulling for your Yankees to root for the Nats for the rest of this season? Gonna be a lot of fun on S. Capitol Street.

Yes, I am.

I use the family locker room in our gym. There are 6 shower rooms available, but only two have showers with removable shower heads on an 'arm' (so good for cleaning the undercarriage, if you know what I mean). These also happen to be the rooms with stools, so they are in demand. I try to go to the gym during slow times, but often someone will knock on the door. I don't understand it! The door is closed tightly. It is locked and the light is on. It makes me tense, as though someone is waiting expectantly for me to finish up and hurry out. Is this a realistic expectation? I was there first and I don't necessarily want to hurry! I usually answer something like "I'm in here" and I, no doubt, sound irritated. I feel as though my privacy is being invaded and it does not make me want to be cooperative.

Well, I was with you until "I don't necessarily want to hurry."    It brings me to a similar situation, one which is a little similar to the seat-recline situation, and one which I have similarly strong views.


You are in a restaurant, at a table, with your family.   There is a line of people waiting for seats.  You are done with your meal, the check has been presented, but are leisurely relaxing and talking post-prandially, the way you like to do.   This is your right, and under most circumstances I would not criticize your exercise of it.  But with people waiting for tables, I contend it is rude to do it.   See, just like the plane, it is your RIGHT but exercising that right is selfish, sometimes.

Now, you are in a club with limited numbers of showers.  They are in demand.  I would argue that while it is your right to take a long, steamy shower, it is only a rude person who doesn't alter his behavior to accommodate others.

Is this other person rude for asking you to hurry?  Maybe.  But I think I might like him more than you.  Maybe.  Not sure.

For the record, it's not really about superstition. It’s all Scott Adams’ fault. During my stint as his editor at United Feature Syndicate, he did a Dilbert strip in which a nun fell out of an airplane right before Mother Teresa died. But because of comics deadlines, it appeared right AFTER she died. So readers assumed the gag some bizarre joke on poor ol’ MT, and Adams caught hell for it. I’m just trying to save you from yourself. (This is the strip: )

Noted.  Hi, Amy.    I should also not that right after the news about Ms. Rivers broke, Amy very kindly and sensitively emailed me to call me a "murderer."

Okay, regarding the previous cartoon, I think it would take a really sensitive person, overly sensitive, to link that to Mother Teresa, and take offense.

The solution to preventing someone on an airplane from reclining the seat in front of you: Wear a fat suit that prevents the seat in front of your from moving. Problem solved.

Good idea!  But the person next to you will have to kill you.

It is your right to take such a shower in your own home. It is not your right to tie up such a shower at a shared facility.


You replaced king with knish? How do you pronounce knish? I've never heard it other than as "kuh-nish".

This is in reference to this Barney & Clyde.

Well, first, I was not trying for a syllable by syllable match.  I wanted some dissonance.  But more to the point, clearly you are not a Jew from New York.    Knish is a one-syllable word, except you pronounce both the k and the n, with no elision between them.   there is no "uh" sound after the k.   


I'm completely in your camp when it comes to impatience with my fellow human beings, at least when I'm driving. The drivers who cruise in the left lane, or don't creep out into the intersection for a left turn, or who don't bother using their turn signals when making a left from a lane that is not a dedicated left turn lane (or turn it on right when they get to the intersection), drive me absolutely bonkers. So do the pedestrians who walk when the big red "Don't Walk" sign is up (downtown, this happens at streets with left turn arrow all the time, as well any intersection with the countdown - apparently pedestrians think that until the traffic light is red, they have the right to go, even when that leaves left turners in the lurch). I have modified my own behavior to avoid committing these offenses, but I'm clearly a salmon swimming upstream. My question is - are most people just not bothered by this stuff, and therefore they don't modify their behavior, or are they just totally self-absorbed and don't care about anyone but themselves in any particular situation? I swear I'm going to die of a heart attack someday while driving because of the bad behavior of everyone else!

I differentiate some of those behaviors.  Not signaling is just rude.   But the folks who won't pull out into the intersection, I think, are mostly deeply timid drivers.  They are afraid they will get "stuck" out there after the light changes. 

That is because someone is waiting expectantly for you to finish up and hurry out. Or rather, waiting for you to hurry up and finish. Duh.

I am so glad that people are agreeing with me on this. We agree on the restaurant thing, too, right?  Eat, pay, and get the hell out if there are people waiting for tables.

I have given lingerers the stinkeye.

I hope you don't have to be female to get the aptonym of this author's name.

It's good, but, honestly, I had to look it up.

Gene, I "rediscovered" you this past month after not having read anything of yours since probably around 2004 or 2005 (not because I stopped liking you; I'm just pretty absent-minded!). The last time I read your chats Liz Kelly was still the awesomely-pantsless Chatwoman, you were still sleeping with the Czar's wife, and you were occasionally complaining that you couldn't do a poll about...personal grooming preferences. I work for USPS, and while they are converting the building that I work in into a Customer Care Center I have more or less been getting paid to come to work and sit in the break room all day. A couple of weeks ago, I came across something you had written, remembered how much I love you (platonically of course... hmm... my spell checker doesn't like platonically). So, for the last 2 or 3 weeks I have been paid to read old chat archives and columns. After everything I read, this is all I have to say: It is not pretentious to pronounce the T in OFTEN! This is in response to one of your chats from 2009. You wrote (and I have to paraphrase, I can't remember which chat it was) that no one ever pronounces the T unless they are doing it just to be fancy. Well, my mouth dropped open when I read that. I texted my friend, who was sitting right across the table from me, asking her to pronounce the word. She looked at me like I was crazy and said "offen." I'm stunned. I've been pronouncing the T all my life and NEVER NOTICED that most people don't. It's not pretention - I'm just a reader! I also have a question on the technical side - there are "Funny? You should ask" archives for 2001-2003, but as far as I could find, there is gap between those and the 2009 chats. Doesn't anyone know where I can find the 2004-2008 chats? Your old columns are also really hard to find. All the old links don't work, but I could find them if the chat actually said the name of the column so that I could google it. As far as I could find there is no linkset for your really old articles, but they are there, somewhere, for google to find if you know the headline. Sorry for the long post, but considering all the questions that I actually have after reading so many years' worth of content it could have been a LOT worse. Congratulations on the Pulitzers, you schmuck.

Thank you.

I am completely flummoxed by the archives, so I can't help you there.  But let's talk about often.

Do you pronounce the t in listen?

Do you pronounce the t in hasten?

Do you pronounce the t in soften? 

Do you pronounce the t in glisten?

Do you pronounce the t in fasten?



I think this was the chat you were thinking of.

But here's an even better one about word snobbery for you to browse through. And another one, which features a bonus discussion of reclining airplane seats!

Update on the reclining seats issue: Yet another flight was diverted thanks to passengers fighting over reclining seats. Apparently this makes the third in nine days. Here's the story.

Gene Each year one of my staff people buys me The Argyle Sweater day by day calendar. As the days pass, I share each page with her , often a week or two at a time. Last Friday's entry , August 29th , has a funeral director speaking with Joan Rivers about an end of life plan for her which involves recycling her into bottles, tires and shoes--an obvious reference to the amount of plastic that might be gleaned from her post mortem. I can't link to the daily page, but it was included there , on August 29th , having been printed many months before. Spooky , no ? MVMD


The Web says Muzzle Velocity Measuring Device.

If you can, look at the Letterman video in the intro.  She is nonplussed initially, then you can see the "aha!" moment.  Weill she go for it?  She will.   A really talented humor person, Ms. Rivers.

Gene -- would you please share your thoughts on the impending arrival of the new guy?

I feel confident he will be the savior not only of this American newspaper, but of all American newspapers, and possibly even all our mortal souls.  

How do we gauge the value/worth of someone else's life? I was born with a severe hearing loss, but have managed to be a productive, contributing member of society. Not quite the same as Down's Syndrome, but it makes me sensitive to any judgements about whether a life lived with physical imperfections of a major kind is less of a life?

Well, I would argue it is not comparable to a severe mental dysfunction.   Your disability leaves you with nearly limitless potential.  (Okay, you can't be a musician.)   But it's apples and chewing gum.

Also, I do know there is a large continuum of impairment with Down, and high end is very high functioning.  But so far there is no way (I believe) of predicting the degree of retardation, so I contend that's immaterial to the decision whether or not to abort.

Judgment-free abortion means judgment-free pregnancy as well. I am extremely liberal and would never tell anyone not to have an abortion, but in the same vein, I would never judge someone for deciding to keep a baby of any kind (and would want them to have the support they need to raise said baby without having to work 80 hours a week at minimum wage but hey). Otherwise, where is the equality? I hear more abstinence-shaming than anything else these days among my generation (millennial), and while hooray for less slut-shaming, it drives me crazy. When did the liberal pendulum swing so far the other way? Equal rights and equal respect do not mean you get to shame those who choose differently.

Interesting.  So you cannot imagine a pregnancy where you would judge someone negatively for choosing to go through with it?  

Gene, I realize that poll questions have to be succinct. However, in this scenario I think more questions may be needed to capture the nuances of the situation. While amniocentesis may identify a fetus with Down Syndrome, to the best of my knowledge, neither it nor any other pre-natal test can measure how mentally impaired the person may be. A number of people with Down Syndrome can function in society IF they live in a community that has e a good social support system. Notice the capital IF. Without a good social support system in the community, the welfare of a person with Down Syndrome falls entirely on the person's family. If the person has siblings, then the responsibility of caring for the person with Down Syndrome will ultimately fall to one or more of the siblings as the parents age and die. Even with a good community support system, someone needs to step forward as a guardian or conservator when the parents are no longer able to be guardians to the person with Down Syndrome. A moderately cohesive and functional family can deal with one handicapped child every second generation, because the responsibility ultimately passes to the next generation. A family in which the children already have to be caretakers for a sibling with Down Syndrome is unlikely to have the resources to deal with a child with Down Syndrome. muddle the waters of your scenario, I would say that whether I would abort a pregnancy with a positive test for Down Syndrome would depend on whether I lived in a community that had programs and resources in place to help families care for handicapped children, and supervised group homes for those children to live in when they grow up. It would also depend on whether I or my siblings were already caring for a brother or sister with Down Syndrome. In my case, I was legal guardian of a sister who was profoundly impaired with Down Syndrome. She and I were both extraordinarily lucky that she lived in Arlington County, which has a good support system for mentally impaired people. We were both extra lucky in that my father, a former Civil Service employee, had structured his retirement payments to go to a trust to provide for my sister's welfare. So, our scenario was among the best imaginable. It all comes down to the extent to which the family and the community have the willingness and resources to care for a person who will never be fully independent of self-sufficient. Truly, it takes the efforts of both the family and the community to raise a person with Down Syndrome. So, to those who say it is immoral to ever abort a fetus with Down Syndrome, I content that your position also means that it is immoral for the community to neglect to offer services to support a person with Down Syndrome and their family. It's not an either/or....unless you like being a hypocrite.

I think all of these points are good, and I don't take exception to any of it, except it declines to deal with Point One: Is it immoral to knowingly create someone so impaired -- unfair to the person himself?  That's question number one. 

I guess question two is one only implied by the poll: Given the amount of extraordinary care needed of everyone in a case like this, having this child probably lessens the chances of having another child without this handicap.  Is that fair to society?  

I think these are good questions without very clear answers.    For those who seem to be icked out by questions lopping over into eugenics ...  I hear ya.

1. As you probably know, you would likely have gotten different results if you'd asked "is it immoral to abort" rather than "is it immoral to bring to term." Care to share the reasons for posing it this way? 2. While yours is of course the superior moral position, I also have some sympathy for those who choose to recline seats because of the limited space on airplanes generally, thanks to lax FAA regulations that allowed airlines to pack more seats in the same amount of space. I would instead prefer regulations that mandate a seat pitch of at least 38" (6" more than the current standard, and at least 10" less than in business class); if I had that, I wouldn't care about reclining one way or the other.

Number 2 has been answered elsewhere.  Number one is very simple: That is the controversial position adopted by Dawkins.  I am not presenting it as my view.   As is clear from the responses, had we asked if it is immoral to abort a Down fetus, very few people would have answered affirmatively.  

Something like 92 percent of all women say they would abort or probably abort a Down fetus.   I certainly understand that response. 

I'm so confused by this reclining seat debate. The seats recline. If you weren't meant to recline them, they wouldn't recline. Now, I grant you maybe people don't need to use that functionality on, say, an hour-long hop between DC and NY. But I don't see how you can complain about someone using the functionality provided to them. I seem to be in the minority on this opinion, but to me it's the only logical one.

What if the seat also had a sharp spike that impaled the person behind you if you reclined?   Just because the airline puts something there doesn't mean it is nice to use it, under certain circumstances.   

In most cases -- most people agree on this -- the added comfort given to a reclining person is far less profound than the added discomfort given to the reclined-upon.

Your use of "logic" is odd.

I wondered if you had any thoughts about Justin Ross Harris, the man charged with having deliberately murdered his toddler by leaving him a hot car? I find myself struggling with the notion that any normal-seeming person could kill his own child in such a monstrous way, but the prosecution's evidence does seem to suggest that there is more reason for suspicion here than in the cases you wrote about (leaving him behind so soon after leaving the restaurant; coming back to the car during the day). Was the state right to charge the father and send this case to trial? Or do you think case falls into line with the cases in your article, such that prosecution is unjust?

I don't know any more about this case than has been publicly revealed, but it seems very different from the cases I wrote about -- all the known circumstances, including the fact that it was less than two minutes between the time he put the child in the car and the time he allegedly forgot him.   I'm bothered by it. 

If the prosecutors are right and this was deliberate, it is the living nightmare case for people like me, who know that in most instances the parents are guilty of nothing more terrible than a memory hiccup.  Because this will be the case that the intolerant will point to in looking for vengeance against the terribly damaged people who already have enough guilt to last a lifetime.

Zipper, or alternate merges are popping up a lot as a welcome alternative to the standard "Merge left" when lane ends. I love them, as they should do away with the loathsome "speed to the front and zip in" behavior that I am told is actually correct, but totally pisses me off anyway. However, very few drivers seem to do the zipper correctly. Are people stupid or evil? Also, Who doesn't pronounce the T in hasten?

Well, these guys don't pronounce the T in hasten...



There is a wonderful movie, "FairyTale: A True Story", about the Cottingsley Fairies, the nature of belief, and how the children were exploited by adults who needed to believe. Peter O'Toole as Conan Doyle, Harvey Keitel as Houdini. Gorgeous performances, emotional truth. Sadly, disastrous marketing campaign as children's movie that would make you believe fairies were real. Check it out.

Yeah, I never saw this movie.

You know, there is an amazing story just in the fact that Doyle -- so devoted to logic in the thing for which he became famous -- so pathetically lost it all in his final years and dotage.    I believe it was because he lost a son in WWI and could not come to terms with the finality of it.   So he needed the spiritual.

I particularly love the bit about the offending passenger screaming about how sensitive and emotional she was. We recently had our attempts to sleep on a night flight ruined by two guys who started arguing over which of them was the most sensitive. The stewardess finally came over and ordered them to stop talking to each other, which fortunately (and surprisingly) worked. The whinier and less loud of the two then proceeded to spend the entire flight getting into his overhead luggage and slamming it shut every ten minutes, literally.


I do believe that.  They are making us crazy.

The seats recline because sometimes the seat behind you is empty.

That should, indeed, be the only reason.   You know (gulp, gonna say it) I think there is someone fundamentally wrong with someone who is going to recline, dammit, whoever he hurts. 

A few years ago, I broke my back and with the help of surgery, am now being held together with steel rods and braces. Sitting directly upright is manageable for about 10 minutes (during take-off & landing) but absolutely impossible for much longer. When possible I try to buy and upgraded seat, but when that is not possible, I am stuck in coach without the ability to actually sit in that kind of seat long term. So I recline just a bit to change the angle of the seat back. I have found that telling people that I am pretty much disabled goes a long way if they complain about the recline. They may be inconvenienced for a single fight, but I suffer with a severe disability for the rest of my life. Sometimes a little perspective on ones own blessings can change how another person reacts especially when they consider that they don't have a lot to complain about.

Well, you know, this is why people should talk to each other.   I despise recliners, but if you explained this to me, I would invite you to recline as deeply as you needed.  Most people would, no?

I posed this to Thomas Boswell, too, since he's chatting at the same time. I would find it extremely interesting for the two of you to go to a game together -- or a couple of games over the weekend -- and both write a column from your perspectives. I think comparing the two would be intriguing, and I think the two of you would enjoy catching a game together as well. Thoughts?

I think Boswell is the best baseball writer working today.  He and I are friends -- we often email back and forth.  But I am not sure I understand your proposal.  That we report a game from different perspectives?   Our perspectives are pretty similar.

I also do not believe in the Weingarten Curse. Yet, there are several politicians I wish you would mention in your columns….

I must confess I am curious about what Putin is up to ....

How does that do anything except make life miserable for flight attendants? If the chairs have a recline function, humans should be able to deal with that situation rationally. If the airlines don't want to have the issues, the recline function should be frustrated. I can't think of anythign worse than a rule for airlines to "police" that you can only recline if the person behind you says it's ok.

Well, rationality requires that if there is no one behind you, you should be able to recline.  And that's where the problems begin.   Now, a sensor could deal with that -- permitting recline only into an empty seat -- but the same corporations that are causing this problem by jamming you in aren't likely to make a decision that will cost them money.

This guy does seem to be a case for the Stupid Crooks file, given that it was so easy to find out that he had been researching hot car deaths.

The whole thing is deeply disturbing.   Because of the facts, it suggests a sociopath married to a sociopath.

For who can measure happiness? Certainly not happier for the fetus. A better argument is that a fetus is not a person and you may abort it as you please, up to societal restrictions, etc ...

Well, of course he says that, too.

I have said this before, am saying again: I believe our feelings on abortion are almost entirely determined by a gut feeling that we have, a visceral reaction, as to whether a three-and-a-half-month fetus is a "person."    I feel very strongly that it isn't, and that informs the the rest of my views very directly.   

What I find interesting is that Darwin had just the opposite reaction; his daughter's death ultimately led him to atheism. The movie is quite good, although I was staggered by one aspect of it. I'd read for years about the little girls and their fakery, but had never seen pictures of their fairies. The pictures were so incredibly obviously cut out of illustrated cards that I couldn't believe anyone was fooled for a nanosecond by them.

My memory is that they were cut out and then traced over and copied from.  So they weren't exact.  But boy, they looked like magazine illustrations!

Cut by St. Louis, not picked up by any team, not signed to the St. Louis practice squad. Fair or homophobia ?

I don't know enough about him, as a player.  I do remember reading, right off the bat, that he was too small to play his position in the NFL, and not quick enough to play a smaller man's position.   

Having said that, I cannot believe homophobia didn't play a part.   Especially if he is a marginal player -- a risk -- well, why take that chance on a guy who, uh, other guys might not like?   I don't like it.

How would you apportion the blame? Some to the celebrities who thought that taking risque photos of themselves, which inevitably end up on a server somewhere, were safe from prying eyes? Hackers who broke into these accounts and absconded with said photos? Sleazy websites that published the photos to up their click totals? (And how come there seemed to be no male celebrities whose intimate personal views were shared?)

I don't "blame" the celebs for being stupid.  The others are sleaze.

I am getting kind of fed up with baseball players (don't know if other sports figures do it as I usually only watch baseball) point to the sky after doing something good. I was at a minor league baseball game this summer and a play got a walk and when he got to first base he pointed to the sky. I wanted to scream! If there is a god he certainly does not care that you got a walk and he didn't help you do it. What are your thoughts on this practice. And yes, I know that my boy David Ortiz does it all the time.

I hate it.  If you're gonna do it, then point to the ground when you screw up.  Or point to the sky and shake your fist because God didn't come through for you.

It's like the people who survive a natural disaster, thanking God for looking out for them.  If I were ever the reporter on the ground, I would say, "So, I guess God wanted to kill all those other people, eh?"

I think this is probably true. See also: Mary Todd Lincoln being taken with the Fox sisters as "mediums".

It is understandable and sad and human.  It's also why Alexandra was in the thrall of Rasputin.  She had a sick little boy.  She thought he could help.

I'm in the no-reclining-ever camp. The excuse that the person behind you can simply recline themselves is fine...until you get to one of the seats that doesn't recline (e.g. the poor folks who are already stuck in the row by the toilets). Either every seat reclines or none of them does. Further, in opposition to the person with the bad back who must recline, I have a bum knee (3 operations in 7 months and a piece of my knee cap removed). I pay extra when necessary to ensure that I get an aisle seat on the side I need so I can stretch out. But when the person in front of my reclines, this exacerbates my condition. If Ms Back Issue is seated in front of me, which one of us "wins"? The obvious answer: neither of us. Thanks, Airlines.

Also, it is far less comfortable to be reclined on and recline yourself than for both to be upright.  Plus, you can't use your computer well, reclined.

What about long-haul flights? I never recline for daytime domestic flights but red-eye flights from the west coast and international flights are a different story. I may be a bit biased - I'm just getting back from a 14-hour economy class trip to Asia and am still a little sore. Every millimeter of recline helps in that situation and you are the odd man out if you don't recline. People are told by flight attendants to put seats up for mealtime. That seems like an acceptable solution. People who do it for an 11am DCA to MIA flight are lame.

I think the rules should be relaxed when people are (or most people are) asleep.

Holy Crow, I pronounce the T as well.


Franklin Pierce's wife, too. She didn't want to move to DC in the first place, and spent most of her time writing letters to her dead son and mailing them up the chimney.


I assume you saw the Washington Post's aptonym that was just "too good" to ignore? (Now former) principal Robin Anthony Toogood II who fabricated an excellent resume?

Yes, this is a world-class aptonym.

Years ago I read your article about babies left in hot cars, and it made me realize how deadly cars could be. On a recent day, when the temperature was 80 degrees and the time was 1:40pm, I noticed a dog in a parked car. The dog looked hot but healthy (about the same as me and everyone else on the street). I didn't want to overreact and contact the police immediately, especially since the car was at that moment in the shade, but I also didn't feel able to walk past and simply hope that the driver would return soon. So, I sat and watched the dog, resolving to contact the authorities if the dog's condition deteriorated. 28 minutes later, the dog was still conscious but had stopped responding to passersby, so I believed it was time to act. Another pedestrian offered to help, and called Animal Control. While she was still on the phone, the driver returned and got into her car. I approached her and calmly told her that we had been worried about her dog. At first she wouldn't even acknowledge I was speaking to her, and then she said that it wasn't especially hot today. I told her (still very calmly) that even when temperatures are only in the 70s (lower than it was at the time), dogs can become overheated in parked cars. I suggested that she take the dog with her next time. She didn't like that at all, and also made no move to tend to the dog (whose condition still looked poor to me). Now I'm feeling like I've annoyed a driver for nothing and wasted Animal Control's time, but I also COULDN'T in good conscience ignore the dog. I would greatly appreciate your feedback so I can respond better to any future incidents of this nature. What would you do if you came across a dog in a parked car on a hot day? And what would you want me to do if I came across YOUR dog alone in a hot car?

If the dog were in distress and the car were locked, I would want you to smash the window in.   And I doubt any police authority would hold you responsible.   

I'd first CALL the cops though, unless the dog is comatose.   

But be ready to take the dog's leash.  You don't want the dog bolting into traffic.  

If we needed any further evidence that we should pay attention to the opinions, ideas, or "wisdom " of many celebrities, this latest episode of "leaked" or "hacked" nude photos should clinch the deal. Just as when these pictures resided on film/negatives, current images on a hard drive or in/on the Cloud suggests that someone was dumb enough to have these pictures taken in the first place. "Oh, THESE will never get out " Right !

I'm not really up on this incipient scandal.  Where did all these nude photos come from? How did they get onto The Cloud?  Who pried them away from The Cloud?  But most important, I think Keira Knightly, she of the flat breasts,  looked beautiful in that photo she released.

I haven't heard about your book on one date in a while. Are you still working on it? When will it come out?

I am in book hell.  I don't talk about it because it just gets me upset.  Am deeply deeply mired in the reporting.

The book likely won't be out till 2016 or 2017.

It's about the events of an ordinary day, chosen at random:  December 28, 1986.   It will be good, I think.

I was tempted to say that the no-recline-unless-you-ask-first policy would be a good one. But I ended up voting the other way. I think it's the kind of policy that is going to lead to more disputes among passengers, rather than fewer, because it would cause people to deal with the issue face to face. People who fear a confrontation might allow the person in front of them to recline, and then suffer through it as they do now. But as for those who refuse to allow the person in front of them to recline, what are they supposed to say? "No, I need my leg room." "No, the person in front of you isn't reclining." Either of those is likely to escalate into an argument. Even a simple "No" might do that. I chose 'I would recline only if I ask first,' but that's not true. The fact is, I don't recline. Ever. For those who say, "As long as the ability to recline is there, I'm going to recline," look around you on the plane. There are very few people who are reclining. Is it because they're more comfortable sitting up? Of course not. People realize that they've been thrown together in a cramped space by the airlines, which have chosen to let the passengers deal with the issue themselves. Most people are taking a "We're all in this together" approach, rather than an "Every man for himself" approach. I think most of the recliners aren't even noticing that they are in a small minority now, and don't realize that most people on the plane aren't reclining because it doesn't serve the collecttive comfort of the entire group of people who have to endure this experience together.

I agree.  I think there is slowly a growing consensus that given the crap situation the airlines have created, there is only one civil solution. 

According to Deadspin, all of the Kate Upton photos came from Justin Verlander's phone/accounts; and his penis is all over those photos. Men were impacted; they just don't sell (as clicks) as well.

Wait.  What?  Justin Verlander had naked pics of Kate Upton??   They are an item, or am I misunderstanding?

Of course it is impossible to judge people of their time by the standards of ours. Photography was still a relatively new thing back then. People didn't have so much experience with the medium. Maybe the fact that the faeries looked just like the pictures in a book gave them more credibility to the average person of that day since it is what they would expect they should look like.

Whoa.  No.   This was 1922 or something.  Photography was 70 years old, and quite sophisticated.

Ooh, which president was the first to be photographed?  If you don't already know, you'll never guess.


Okay, there are two answers.   The first former president to have his picture taken was....

John Quincy Adams in 1843.

But two years earlier, William Henry Harrison, as sitting president, was photographed.

Gene, help me to understand your position regarding left turns. If the person in front of you doesn't go out into the intersection because the traffic won't allow a left turn until the light goes red, isn't he the only person hurt by this? It's not as if you're going to run the red light (also) and it's not as if you won't make the next light anyway. I don't get your objection.

No.   You both can and should ease into the intersection, and can both squeeze through as the light turns red.

Saw a great essay years ago: it pointed out that each generation is better at recognizing photographics fakery/effects than the last, because we get used to how they're done. See: how hokey most 70s effects look now, or how quickly we spot bad Photoshop now. The Cottingley fairies were early in the history of cheap home photography. Harry Harryhausen is the exception. The man was a genius.

Harry Harryhausen is a great name.

Opening can of worms here...but its like the debate in deaf community with some people hoping their kids are born deaf. If you are born deaf or become deaf, there is an adjustment to life but it is otherwise full and "normal. " For people that are living with Downs, Trisomy or any other developmental/severe birth defect, they deserve to be loved and treated fairly. But that is not a norm, or a desired outcome of a pregnancy. I think to bring someone into the world knowing that their life will be severely limited is wrong.

Well, that is basically Dawkins's position.

I think last Wendesday's "classic" Doonsbury (August 20) is a true classic because it shows that timing is truly important in humor, even in a comic strip. A lesser talent would have had the surprised look in Rick's face in the same square as Joanie's comment that she makes a good breakfast too, but delaying it until the next square is timing/comic genius. You agree? It's one of my all time favorite Trudeau strips.

Yes, I agree.  And I remember it from 30 years ago

Based on some limited yet, I believe, useful anecdotal evidence, I am working on a theory that some recliners are bullies. I often get on a train, often boarding at the train's station of origin, I sit in the quiet car where I write on my computer, There are usually not too many people in the car. At a subsequent stop, a recliner will enter the car and see a car full of people sleeping and people using the train front of them to hold a computer. The recline rwill pass up sitting in front of a vacant seat or even a seat where someone is sleeping and will choose a seat where reclining will be of a disadvantage to someone using the tray on the reclined seat. I have noted there are usually only one or two people on a train who recline in this car, and a recliner seems to always choose a seat where someone is using their computer behind them. To be fair, Amtrak has some room than most airplanes and their reclining seats are not a major discomfort to the person behind the recliner. Yet I do believe there are some recliners who seem to enjoy the power they know that they are causing another some discomfort. If I may observe this more than 30 times and it becomes statistically significant, I will let you know if this theory continues to hold.

Please, let us know.


So I'm not exactly a small guy. I was looking at flights to Denver and all the least-expensive flights had left were middle seats. So I could sit middle, or I could sit aisle and pay $100 more on another flight. I chose to pay $100 more so I wouldn't be the recipient of "please not my middle, please not my middle ... oh crap" mutters from a pair of people. Does that qualify me for Airplane Sainthood in some way?

It does.  I am awed.  

Regarding the previous post, I feel so bad for rotund people who must travel in coach that I generally suspend my normal peevishness against others who inconvenience me.  Imagine how they must feel, knowing people are praying they are not the center seat.

Please, let us never forget:  Hate the airlines, not your seatmates.  We are in this together, and the enemy is clear.

are indeed an item. And it is my understanding that the photos got on the cloud because the celebs' smart phones were set up to save copies of photos there automatically.


Hey, here's an idea.  If you love someone, don't take pictures of her naked.  Period.  Jaysus, guys.

I guess you only pay attention to the scores rather than who scored.

I am celebrity tone deaf.  Have no interest.  I am the guy who cannot translate a first-name-only tabloid page if my life depended on it.

If I understand correctly, the assumed long-term need for care/support makes it immoral to bring the impaired child into the world, because of the cost to the larger community. Do you feel the same about any genetic disease that could be tested for in utero? Huntington's ? ALS? Anything that is high-cost, high-care? Diabetes (staggering public-health costs)? I'm actually trying to follow this through, not push back. Trying to see how you see various predictable impairments, and how you see the abort/not-abort decision applying.

I have tried to moderate this discussion without putting my opinion out there, really.   Mostly we are discussing Dawkins, and cost to society was just one of many, many points he raised.  I think his fundamental feeling, underpinning all the rest, was that it is not fair to the child. 

Yes. Too bad his name was really Ray Harryhausen.


Who are all you people blaming the celebrities? Why do you think this is appropriate? They were on their phones, sure maybe saved to a cloud server, but these people had every expectation of privacy. They weren't betrayed by someone they sent them to, or anything like that. If you think the celebrities are at fault here, you are bad people. Like the shower guy earlier, I do not like you.

Agreed.  But, uh, there is a degree of stupidity here.  If I am going to take a nude photo of my girlfriend, presumably for my private viewing pleasure, and I am going to keep it on my phone, I am risking her privacy if my phone, for example, is stolen.  I would not do it, much as I might want to.  For her, I would not do it.   Add a vastly greater risk if she is famous...

At least they should stop saying "we now invite you to sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight." Those are 3 things almost no one actually does these days.

Good point !

It was 1917 when the first fairy pix were taken. I still think that the fact that the fairies were so clearly taken from pictures in a book or magazine should have been a tipoff.

Of course it should have been.

So as part of my season plan I have tickets to this Saturday's Nats game versus Philthydelphia. It is Faith Night and they are going to have a faith based musician after the game with testimonials from some Nats players. I am trying to figure out what I should wear to the game to most infuriate the evangelical hoard who I am sure will be there. Maybe a Richard Dawkins t-shirt? What would you suggest?

I would suggest you let the people enjoy their public display of faith.

I am so glad your new publisher is Fred Ryan and not Paul Ryan!


They are an item, and he had a bunch of private photos of her/them. I was just saying that men were compromised, they just aren't going to drive as many clicks to sleazy websites so you don't hear people out there saying "did you hear about the 'leak' of the Justin Verlander photos?" He didn't do anything to aid the theft, he was hacked somehow. I think that is probably why people are so quick to blame the celebs (I wrote another post pointing out the insensitivity of that opinion). These photos are being billed as "leaks," when in fact they are "thefts."

Seriously, people are blaming the celebs?  That's just people being people.  Not in a good way.

Okay, we're done!  Thanks.  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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