Chatological Humor: Monthly with Moron (November)

Dec 02, 2014

Gene Weingarten held his monthly chat with readers.

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.

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.

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I started writing this chat intro way back in August, after a dramatic online experience I had, but I decided to hold it and use it at the appropriate time. That would be now.

We are in the middle of a torrent of wretched public apologies for public transgressions large and small, handled in ways adept and atrocious.  The most recent was just yesterday, when Republican congressional aide Elizabeth Lauten was kinda bullied into resigning after she snidely criticized the Obama teens for having behaved a little eye-rollingly bored at the dumb ol’ turkey pardon ceremony, exactly as most teens would when forced to be props for their parents.   This followed the sad case of the socially inept, brilliant rocket scientist who wore a sexygirl shirt on TV and was impelled to stammer out a painful apology to all women of the world for his poor judgment.   There was the case of Daniel Handler, the man behind Lemony Snicket, who atoned generously after having made an unwise and nearly incoherent racial joke when presenting a prize to the black author of a children’s book.  And there have been many other cases of folks who should have apologized and didn’t, or did, but inadequately.  I think specifically of CNN guy Don Lemon, for his incredibly bizarre, tone-deaf question to one of Bill Cosby’s many victims. 

Today, I am going to address this general issue from the inside.  I predict that this chat update will be required reading in colleges and universities for the next several decades, examining one of the great issues in modern communication from the standpoint of damage containment.  I reserve all rights.  


The Anatomy of an Ill-Advised Tweet

I have always contended that my career hangs on a slender thread -- namely, that I am always one bad decision away from being fired. That is because it is my business to be provocative, which means I find myself constantly in the position of testing boundaries of taste.

That thread frayed, and came damn near snapping in early August.  I got into a Situation. In handling it, seat-of-the-pants, I learned some valuable lessons about what to do when you are suddenly accused of a public sin.   It worked out so well I probably should quit my job and hang out a shingle as an Ill-Advised Tweet Damage-Containment Consultant .

In front of my house in downtown Washington is a bike lane.  This means anyone crossing the street to get to my house must look out not just for cars but for bicyclists. That means you have to at least momentarily observe them, from the front, as they barrel toward you.  And this sometimes creates a small diplomatic problem.  The diplomatic problem involves women in short skirts.  

On Friday, August 8, as I was crossing the street, one such woman was a few feet away. It became necessary to glance at her.  At this point I became aware that I was seeing a bit more of her than I was comfortable with, and I did that rapid head spin to avoid seeming like a creep. I do this.  I suspect most men do this.   You look for a split second, because you must from a traffic-avoidance standpoint, you realize you are seeing too much, and then you look away, even if some lizard brain cells are instructing you to linger a bit.   

Unavoidable voyeurism is a topic that interests and amuses me, and I have written about it a few times, most notably in this column I did with Gina Barreca, involving short skirts on tall escalators.  To be clear:  I do believe women have the right to wear whatever they wish, whenever they wish, and still remain safe from harassment.  I do think, however, that women are being somewhat hypocritical if they wear aggressively revealing clothes and then castigate men for not averting their eyes.  It seems almost hostile, as I said in that column.  

(This, to me, is only a semi-serious issue, but it is definitely part of a slippery slope with a very serious issue at the bottom:  I would happily send a rapist to prison for 20 years even if the victim had, say, walked into the perp’s bedroom completely naked, so long as the sex was not consensual.  In a related development, yes, Cosby is pretty clearly a rapist.  I like Kathleen Parker, but her column the other day, in which she suggested that absent a conviction we must give him the benefit of the doubt, was deeply silly and wrong. )

Okay, so in front of my house, with the oncoming short-skirted bike rider, I did that “Yikes, look away” thing.   And then laughed at the absurdity of the situation, and went into my house to compose a tweet.  

Now, what did I want to say?   I wanted to imply what I really believe, even though it is not entirely politically correct.  This is what I wanted to say to women:  If it bothers you that some guy might see more thigh than you’re comfortable with, you probably shouldn’t wear a short skirt while riding a bike, because sometimes seeing a thigh-flash is unavoidable.  If it DOESN’T bother you, fine.  But if it DOES bother you, take measures to prevent it.   (None of this has anything to do, in my mind, with harassment.  Just as the rapist gets no break, neither does the serial clucker, kissy-noise maker, “hey baby, how about a smile” utterer, or whatever.   What I am writing about here is passive, unavoidable voyeurism.)

So I sat at my computer and typed something like this:   “Dear ladies in skirts on bikes: I AM TRYING NOT TO LOOK.  PLEASE MEET ME HALFWAY.”

Just before I hit “send,” I thought the better of this.   It occurred to me that there was some implicit victim-blaming there.   So I decided to adjust this tweet to make it less of a complaint.   I wanted to make it sweeter.   Even … appreciative.  

(Yes, I hear the Jaws theme music, too. I am a wiser man, now.)

So my tweet became:   “Dear ladies in skirts on bikes: Thank you.”

It is painful for me to reconstruct what happened next, but I will try.   Do you know the human aorta?  Sure you do.  Well, sometimes, rarely, the aorta will spontaneously “dissect,” which means it rips itself apart, almost as though it was opening a zipper.  Starts with a little breach, then ROAR.  The human himself occasionally, but rarely, survives this.  The condition requires immediate surgical repair or you expire.  

What I was looking at was an astonishing hemorrhage of complaint.   It began as a trickle, but as the Twitter system works, these got multiplied into a tessellated ziggurat of condemnation, virtually all from people I did not know.  Mostly women, but some men, too.   Followers of followers of followers of followers of mine.  They all said roughly the same thing, some version of:  EWWW, HOW CREEPY.   Several suggested I “Resign. Now.”  (More on the "Resign. Now.  Posse" later.)

I actually said, aloud, “WHUH-oh!”  I was alone in my house at the time, but I know I said it real loud because Murphy came running to ask if anything was wrong.  I would have reassured her in the customary way, by kneading her rump, but there was no time.  I had work to do.

To extend the medical metaphor, a strange calm came over me, of the sort that is said to happen to  heart surgeons as they begin their work.  You get tunnel vision for the task at hand.  Short of, say, a fire in the kitchen, nothing was going to get me off my couch for at least the next few minutes.  

The first thing I had to do was to judge whether I had actually done anything wrong, as opposed to having said something that offended some overly sensitive person with a large, lapdog following.  So I scanned the hemorrhage of tweets looking for familiar names, until I found one.  It happened to be Rachel Sklar, who is a lawyer and media blogger whom I follow on Twitter, and whom I respect as a reasonable person. She was offended by the tweet.  At this point, I decided it was time to stop reading and start writing.   I accepted that I had probably made an error in judgment – though I wasn’t sure what it was, exactly, yet.   I knew my tweet was, say, saucy and irreverent and at least mildly objectionable, but mildly objectionable is my beat.  I hadn’t seen it as outrageous or creepy.   At the moment, however, I decided that what I thought no longer mattered.  

Rule One in the Management of an Ill-Advised Tweet:  Absent solid evidence to the contrary, assume the raging masses are right.  Do NOT extend to yourself the benefit of the doubt.

So, what I did was immediately send out an apology, and not a Don Lemony mealy-mouthed one (“to anyone who was for some reason offended by ….”) 

What I wrote was:   

“Yikes. I am getting hammered! Possibly I deserve it! I meant no offense to ladies in skirts on bicycles. Apologies !”  

Then came a key question.   Do I delete the original tweet?

Rule 2: Be transparent.  

On the one hand, deleting the tweet would help limit the size and scope of the reaction.  On the other hand, deleting a tweet seems like a weaselly lie.  This is particularly of concern to journalists: You don’t try to change history, because that feels Nixonian.  You do not emulate Ron Ziegler, who pronounced past statements “inoperative.”   What I decided to do was to delete the tweet, but announce that I had deleted the tweet, and give enough of an indication of what it said that anyone determined to find it, could.  I did that.  Said something like:  “I have deleted my unwise tweet about bikes and skirts.  Again, apologies.  I did not mean offense. “

Then I set about responding, as rapidly as possible, to any threads of condemnation I could find.  

(Remember that at this stage in the process, maybe three minutes into the Great Event, I wasn’t sure why the reaction was so severe.   What was very gradually dawning on me was that it was tweezing an exposed nerve, one I hadn’t really considered: That women are frickin’ exhausted from dealing with constant harassment, and that this seemed to be giving a pass to harassers, or to view them benignly, or, at worst, to be saying: “Hey, wow, if I stand at just the right angle, why, glory hallelujah …” .  But that wasn’t clearly in my head yet, mostly because in my head I had additional context that was simply not clear in the tweet. The additional context was the inadvertence of the voyeurism.)  

But, again, I realized what I thought no longer mattered.    So I sent messages to those condemning me, but in a form also viewable by everyone.  In various incarnations, they all said: “Yep, a misjudgment on my part.  People are right to be aggrieved. Mea maxima culpa.”   Many people were re-tweeting this, which was good.  

What followed was the most important moment.  It is the one I urge all of you future transgressors to heed.

Rule 3: The Internet will generously afford a reprieve for the transgressor.  Do not accept it.  

The Internet is made for contrarians, and so every surge in thinking is bound to be followed by a contrarian countersurge.   And so, as my apologies began to overtake the story line, many people started thinking … wait a minute!  That wasn’t such a bad tweet!  It was appreciative! Why is he apologizing so profusely?  HE’S BEING A POLITICALLY CORRECT WIMP.  
Some of these contrarians, in fact, were women.  

This is an enormous temptation, to accept the balm.   It would feel good to bathe in that warm contrarian soup as you lick your wounds.  Don’t.   Instead, reach for the salt.

So I answered every one of those, saying, more or less: “Thanks, but nope, the complainants were right. It sounded creepy, though I didn’t mean it that way.”  

4. Believe it or not, the Internet has a heart, if you can find it.

This is the most interesting part.  It takes some explanation.  

I hate the mob mentality of the web, the tendency to pounce, shark-like, on fresh blood.  The Internet dines on sanctimony.  It thrives on sanctimony.  It resorts to bullying. Even when it’s right, it can be wrong.

The uproar over Lemony Snicket’s gaffe, and calls for his head, were over the top.  He erred -- he needed to apologize -- but he erred not because he is a racist, but because of an honest if misguided attempt at humor.  That got lost in the frenzy.   In the frenzy, no one seemed to be stopping to say or think: Wait a minute: Do we really think Daniel Handler is a racist?  Has he ever given us reason to think that before?  Might there be something more subtle happening here?  

I think there was.  When he referred to the fact that the winner was allergic to watermelon, I’m pretty sure his point was ironic: “A strong black woman is LITERALLY allergic to a poisonous racial stereotype!  How cool!”

He was wrong to say what he said because 1) He didn’t explain it as clearly as I just did, so it just seemed like some sort of appalling and puzzling watermelon joke; 2) He was wrong to bring race into a non-racial context, period. Jacqueline Woodson didn't win because she was black, she won because she was good.   That mistake was serious, I think, but Handler did not, on balance, deserve the ugly reaction he got.  There was no ill will, there was ill judgment.

(He did respond wonderfully, not only with a full mea culpa but a sizeable personal donation to a diversity-in-literature group.  This impelled Manteuffel to propose a neologism:  “Handler – v.t. – to apologize in a classy fashion.  Ex:  He handlered that situation. “ )

Like me, Handler was also targeted by the “Resign Period Now Posse.”   To them I say this:  Really?  There are offenses that call for a resignation, but they are pretty grievous things, since, you know, people kinda  need their jobs.   Ill-advised tweets very seldom rise to a “Resign. Now.” level, and you totally expose yourself as an a-hole of the first order if you wield that demand indiscriminately.)

I think Elizabeth Lauten probably had to resign, but I don't love the way it happened.  Her Facebook posting about the Obama girls was really ugly and mean-spirited.  But her apology seemed sincere.  I’d have been more comfortable with the results if she’d resigned after due consideration, on her own, rather than being hounded into it.

So, what about the Internet’s elusive beating heart?   Well, about a half an hour after my transgression, something amazing started to happen.  I did not lose followers, I gained followers.  Maybe 50 of them, and mostly women.   I asked a few of them why on Earth they are now following an exposed gender thug, and all said roughly the same thing:  I seemed to show remorse, and it seemed genuine. 

And finally, as to my dawning awareness of the nature of my original error:  It took me too long, but I finally figured it out, and I disclose it here.   While it is true that I shouldn’t have tried to cram something complicated into limited space, that wasn’t the real problem.   The real problem, which DOES fit in 140 characters, was an unfortunate underlying assumption to my tweet.  So, here, then, is the moral of the story:

@geneweingarten Ladies, yes, I DO realize that you do not exist for my viewing pleasure.


And finally, if you want a strange experience on Friday, I will be reading some of my bad doggerel, along with several other practitioners of light-verse, at Catholic University's Pryzbyla Center, Great Room C.    Also appearing will be Style Invitational regulars Melissa Balmain (the headliner), Brendan Beary and Mae Scanlan.  Doors open at 6, reading starts at 7.


Okay, that's it.   The chat begins noon sharp. Take the pre-chat poll.

So, don't leave us hanging. Are you going to resign?

Oh, I resigned.  It's just that like Melville's Bartleby The Scrivener, I keep coming in to work and no one asks any questions.

I feel so sorry for straight-news reporters.  When they encounter an astonishing name, they must report it straight, as though nothing unusual is going on here.

In today's Wapo, we learn of the existence of a scientist named "Satchidananda Panda."

During the storm did you consider offering the initial, scrapped tweet to ask for reactions to it? My gut is that it probably touches the same nerves, but it does contain the context -- lacking in what you actually posted -- of the inner struggle at the heart of what pushed you down that hill. Does the context -- a sinner that knows the sin and is striving to avoid it -- make it better? But is the suggestion that the problem is a two-way street (hee), trying to pass the problem onto someone else?

Didn't consider it, because at that point I just wasn't sure what was wrong, and that might have risked compounding the error.

So, when they run the 2014 New York Giants greatest moments reel, it was consist of one catch, and then end. Correct?


You've all seen this, right?

Well, he's apparently been doing that for some time.


I was wondering if you'd care to weigh in on the ethics/journalistic merit of the recent Rolling Stone article about an alleged brutal gang rape at a UVA fraternity, and Paul Farhi's piece in today's Post suggesting that the RS writer, Sabrina Rubin Erdely, did not do enough to get the alleged rapists' response. Any thoughts? There is some priority being given to the rape victim's fear of her attackers, which seems to complicate the matter a bit. This is Farhi's piece.

The story so revolted me when I first read it that I accepted it as true, without my normal critical thinking as an editor.  But several aspects of it now trouble me, and one of them is what Paul is writing about today. 

An editor named Richard Bradley, one of the people duped by Stephen Glass, wrote about his reservations last week. He makes some good points. 

I am not sure what to think, now.  

We need to hear from the accused. 

Apropos of your poll today, I was very disappointed in the piece by Paul Fahri in today's paper about the extensive Rolling Stone article on the Rape Culture at UVA. I don't know if you have read the RS piece but if not your should, it is detailed and depicts a culture that is not even fathomable to me. To pick out this one detail about how the reporter has not gotten comment from fraternity brother will give the "false rape" screamers more ammunition, sort of like the garbage that is GamerGate (which is about "ethics in game journalism" of course, not horrible misogyny). I agree that is a perfect world that side would be included, but if you read the entire piece it is about so much more than that and now the debate will be falsely tilted into another of our false equivalencies (climate change, evolution, etc.). Do you think it was responsible to write and print this piece, based on the journalism rule of getting both/all sides, or do you think it is somewhat reckless and unfairly focused on a small detail?

I think it was a fair story.   The central fact of that original story was the appalling, horrifying account of a specific gang rape.  If there are credible reasons to doubt some or all of that story, they must be dealt with.   

I "want" the story to be true, in the sense that I believe the vast majority of rape allegations to be true, and if this one proves problematic, it will give voice to rape deniers.


and a sexual affair does not cross that threshold UNLESS IT REVEALS HYPOCRISY. If you run on your happy marriage, it's fair game. If you condemn the private consensual activities of others, it's fair game. If it involves abuse or coercion, it's fair game. But if not any of those things, then no. Being a lousy spouse doesn't have much if anything to do with fitness for the job of politics. I suppose reasonable minds could differ on whether Bill Clinton failed either the first or the third of those tests. But what really sticks in my craw are the pious government-in-everyone else's-bedrooms Republicans who turn out to frequent prostitutes, sleep with their staffers, or hire rent boys to carry their luggage on vacation.

Several people are making this point, and I should have specified it as a poll answer !   I agree.  

I'm in the solid minority on the first question, and I think it's because of how the first option was phrased. I would have run the story because it showed reckless and stupid and arrogant behavior -- "immoral" would have nothing to do with it. People do immoral stuff, all of us. Marriages are complicated. Politicians are human. That's not a story. But reckless behavior, lying to cover it up, assuming everyone around you is stupider than you...boy, those are important things to know about a politician, especially someone who's running for President. I wonder whether I disagree with most people about this (maybe!) or whether the first option would have gotten more votes without "immoral" in the answer.

It said and/or !     If you felt it was reckless, that was your answer.

Man, Gene, you really missed an opportunity to make this poll age-based. I was six years-old when Hart's political career crumbled, and I think my generation's take on this might be way different than yours'. Mostly I think we find sex-scandals big ol' snoozers, entertainment-wise, and maliciously toxic, politics-wise. This environment has driven bright political hopefuls (especially women) far, far away from the spotlight's glare. I know many of them. I'm one myself. And as for cheating? Fuh. We're more accepting of each partnership writing its own script. After all, we grew up watching loving same-sex couples shoved off the marriage train while our hetero parents crashed into divorce. (And what is with people who claim they would die for their partner, but one doink with someone else is a bridge too far? Good luck with your judgement, hope you never step out of bounds with that heavy load.) Official, by-the-rules relationships are no longer the default anyway--many of them were so defective they've been recalled. Cheating is not a big political deal either. You know what is an actual deal? Dark effin money. Pandering to bigots. Denying that people who are not like you have a valid perception of their own experiences. Gary Hart may have been a massive a**hat with no respect for women, but this story didn't show that. It may have said something about his marriage, but nothing about his attitude toward women in general. And this story wasn't exactly stepping up for feminism either. I'm sure Donna Rice has some very definite opinions on who destroyed her life, and I'm betting Gary Hart is not at the top of the list. As much as I mourn the death of old media, I think new media might save us from scandalizing. The 24-hour-internet-peep-show means eventually there won't be anyone with a sext-free, drunken-pic-free, ill-considered-joke-free past available to run for office. The deeper problem is stopping all the misogynist doxers and rape-threateners from terrorizing women, whose attitudes are an echo chamber of the sensation-mongering media, red tops and black tops alike. Gee, I wonder when that behavior started? Finally, the Herald story was just badly, badly written. It read like a seven year-old explaining Citizen Kane: "this guy dies and then this other guy talks to this lady and then he talks to this other guy and then it's snowing and then the dead guy says he's gonna make a war only he's not dead in that part and then he reads a book and then they burn things the end." If the paper waited a day and Hart scooped it, so what? They still have a story. A complete story. A story with context and meaning. A story with an effin sled. Investigative journalism should always have an effin sled.

I love your Citizen Kane analogy. 

Okay, let's hear from some Millennials.  Are you guys completely unconcerned with marital infidelities, vis a vis a candidate's fitness?   Are you all the small plurality who says that an affair doesn't cross your threshold? 

When it comes to the "reportability" of a politician's sex life, I don't think there's a universal "yes" or "no" answer. I lean generally towards no, but when an affair also exposes hypocrisy, I want that covered. A politician who runs on an anti-gay platform but has sex with same-sex partners? Report on it. A racist politician who has sex with people of other races? Report on it. Senator X, who hasn't made a career spouting family values, is seen entering a hotel with his old college girlfriend? I don't care.

I completely agree with you.  It's a subtle thing, and I think we saw this come in play when the media essentially didn't cover allegations that George H.W. Bush was having an affair with a substantial, accomplished woman his own age.  I don't know if those rumors were true, but I do know that the media didn't look very hard into them. 

I do believe that the Gary Hart thing was fair game, and not just because he denied he was a womanizer and challenged the press to follow him.    That helped give a PRETEXT for the stakeout and whatnot, but it doesn't really go to whether the thing was newsworthy.

To me, the issue was that this was a meaningless romp conducted at a time when he could least afford scandal.  That suggested a reckless affair of the groin, not of the heart, the key being reckless.  We have a right to know if the guy we are electing is personally reckless.

So I think the story itself was a story, which, to me, justifies the stakeout, as seedy a thing as that seems to be.  (FWIW, I knew both writers, and liked them, and neither is a sleazy guy.  They were doing what they had to do, and I suspect not enjoying it very much.)

Next, comes the biggie: Should it have run as written?  I don't think it should have been.   The story reads as though it were written and edited in 15 minutes, and it isn't really clear what we know for sure.  Most astonishingly, we don't know who the woman is!  I don't think you run this story unless you have at least established that.   The chronology is incomplete.   The personalities are two dimensional.   Isn't it odd that we have seen the woman, but there is no physical description of her.

Because it was so thin, it reads breathless, and thus it reads, to me, tawdry.   It's a "gotcha" without a clear indication of what exactly was got, and what it means.  I would have held it a day.  

I suspect it would have been possible to prevent Hart from releasing the story on his own, mostly by keeping him guessing as to whether we were gonna run it at all.

Your tweet was a misguided attempt at humor, not at the same level of umbrage as the Handler joke. Lauten's FB rant about the Obama daughters was born of political spite. To me, that makes it a whole lot sleazier.


Do you think the popularity of taking offense from unimportant things is just a made up first world problem? Someone saw my thigh, which I had exposed, and commented on it, I've been assaulted! Certainly I don't think people have wrapped their minds around what Twitter is, a 100x megaphone, but honestly is everyone looking for something to be offended by? But still if you see something you aren't supposed to see, just elbow one of your guy friends and make a little joke about it. Don't get on the PA system for the building and tell everyone you saw Jody's underwear.


Gene, the other day as I was starting to cross a street, a man who seemed to be very focused on me as he was crossing the street toward me, stopped me and asked if he could ask me a question. He first asked me something inane, then closed in on me and said, “Can I suck your ti----s?” In a totally impulsive act, I slapped him. I realize that no man would do that expecting a positive response (“Yeah, sure, can you just give me a hand with the hooks?”), but I’m still wondering – what was the point of that? Does the act of making a woman feel uncomfortable, dirty, and insulted actually provide some men with sexual gratification? Did he do that hoping for a negative reaction? And did I feed into that by slapping him? Please enlighten me.

Yeah, I suspect the guy wanted exactly what happened.  It's a part of human behavior I cannot understand, even as a perversion of something normal. 

This is a topic I've been pretty interested in recently as I've been concerned that in a lot of cases, the mob mentality asks for too much from celebrities with a case of foot in mouth. It seems a lot of people think there's nothing the person can do to atone for what they did, and I think that's a pretty problematic viewpoint. If I mess up, and I'm being told I'm such a horrible piece of scum that there's nothing I can do to seek forgiveness, what's the point in me even trying? I think there has to be room for that atonement to happen, such as for Daniel Handler. I know people who still say he's a horrible person just trying to throw money at a problem. Really? I thought his apology was whole-hearted and total - there was no backpedaling or "Oh, I didn't mean it that way, you just took it wrong." No, he owned up to it and took full responsibility. Now, I do think there are some people who mess up so bad and so much that full condemnation is the only way to go, like James Watson (loooong history of racism and misogny, and he still carries on with it) and Bill Cosby (the allegations are newer, but wow, are they bad. At this point, I think the only thing he can do is to just leave public life.) But for others, I think we at least need to give them the chance to reform. I know a lot of people still hate Michael Vick, and what he did was pretty bad. But at the same time, he actually did prison time (few celebrities do for their crimes) and, from all I've read, has changed his life a lot, as well as becoming an advocate for animals. Isn't that what we should really be pushing for? So yes, even in situations where someone does something pretty awful, I think there still has to be room for forgiveness from the public, and I"m pretty concerned that the Internet mob just wants to go for blood.

Agree totally.

I finally broke down and shelled out thirty clams for a digital subscription to the Post. The primary reason I agreed to pay was this chat. You'd better make it worth my while. Yours, Belmo Philadelphia, PA

Clearly, I must demand a raise.

Have you seen that bike rider again and informed her of the part she unknowingly played in this high drama? If your story is going to be told in colleges for eons, doesn't she deserve to be aware of that?

If I knew who she was, I'd have invited her to this chat.  I don't quite know how to say this, but I never actually saw her face.

I've been troubled by this for a long time. Is the person who is supposed to resign supposed to also be unemployable by anyone else henceforth? Or is the punishment just supposed to be that they have to switch jobs? Either way it's a moronic reaction for things that aren't grievous or directly related to job performance. It's disturbing that it has now become the go-to response for a sizable number of people, triggered by any significant misstep, past or present.

It really bothers me.

"I think Elizabeth Lauten probably had to resign, but I don't love the way it happened. Her Facebook posting about the Obama girls was really ugly and mean-spirited. But her apology seemed sincere. I’d have been more comfortable with the results if she’d resigned after due consideration, on her own, rather than being hounded into it." Gene, I think you're great, but your ambivalence about Lauten's departure truly baffles me. First and foremost, she was a professional communications director (at least in name), who presumably knows the risks of being in the public eye. Second, she took it upon herself to post an ugly, extended critique of the First Family ON FACEBOOK. That's her constitutional right, but as you have pointed out many times, the First Amendment doesn't keep people from making fools of themselves. And third, this is not a first-time offense--she has a history of pulling these stunts, and one congressman already fired her for incompetence. Please save your sympathy for someone who deserves it. Lauten doesn't.

I said I thought she had to resign.  She had to resign. What she posted was awful.

I just hate the mob mentality.


In the same story, two aptonyms! Paragraphs 4 & 7 


Do you tip at places such as Five Guys and Starbucks? On the one hand, you're not getting table service, on the other, you're expected to tip the bartender even if all he does is pour your draft beer into a mug. What do you do?

I tend to tip everywhere, but less where there is no table service.  

the President swears an oath on a Bible to uphold the Constitution. Many if not most marriage vows are made by the same people to God as well. A man who will violate one will also feel free to violate the other.


I know you love old dogs (love the book!), and I do too. My husband and I both grew up with dogs, and between us have had 14 of them. We have two young children (20 months and almost 4 years). Our kids are nuts for dogs. I work from home part-time and there is pretty much no time ever other than going out to dinner or something that the dog would be at home alone and/or I wouldn't be able to deal with taking the dog for a good run (we live about 2 miles from the beach). My son is in school and my daughter has a part-time nanny. We haven't had a dog for a while, and I was thinking that an older large dog would be great. We aren't planning any other kids. But my husband is concerned that an older dog would be freaked out by our rambunctious children. I have a hard time answering this question as I grew up with Jack Russells, who are freaked out AND rambunctious, cradle to grave. And he is also worried that an older dog would die soon and that will freak out our kids. What do you think? We are definitely not interested in puppies at this point in our lives, given that we are only now starting to get a decent night's sleep, 4 years in. Also interested in other readers' opinions.

Go to the pound.   You won't need to find your dog; your dog will find you.

Important addition: Bring the children only if you think they can withstand the pain of dogs in cages, leaving dogs behind, etc. 

Why is the creep factor only on men? A man who exposes too much of himself is considered creepy and a man who looks too long at a woman who exposes too much of herself is considered creepy. However, women who look too long and women who expose themselves are not considered creepy. Why the unequal treatment of genders on this issue?

I've never noticed women looking too long at me, for some reason.

I didn't think Lauten's apology was sincere. I mean, she didn't actually apologize TO Sasha or Malia. She began her critical fb post with, "Dear Sasha and Malia," and I think she should have addressed her apology similarly.

She said something like: "I am glad I wasn't judged that harshly when I was a teenager. "  That seemed reasonable to me, and on point.  

My wife, who is anything but a prude, often comments on women wearing very revealing clothes, usually characterizing them as "Hoes". What, if anything, does my wife's gender do to change the impression that her comment makes on a listener, in contrast to a male making the same comment?

I don't think it changes anything.

I love your intro, it lays out an argument I have been making for years. Yes we should correct speech that hurts/injures/bothers, but we should consider the context when deciding how to treat the person. A person can make an honest mistake and say something that is "wrong" but not be a horrible person. Most HR training basically says that it does not matter what you meant, all that matters is how it is received. Scary. I still get angry about the DC Government employee who CORRECTLY used the word "niggardly" and ended up losing his job. Sigh.

That was a terrible incident.  The guy was so shocked and traumatized he wound up apologizing.

You have said that humor is definable and that you are an arbiter of whether something is funny or not. I'd like to give you the words of one John Cleese, someone whom I think you may agree is a funny man and the writer of many humorous things. This is from his recently released autobiography: "This just goes to show how much tastes in comedy vary. When members of the cast talked about the show [Cambridge Circus], for example, we all felt that about twenty percent was comparatively weak, but there was constant disagreement about which twenty percent that took me many years before I understood just how subjective each person's sense of humor is. Because laughter is infectious people tend to laugh together, but when they view the same production separately their opinions vary more widely than one would ever think possible." Discuss and try to prove to us that you know more about humor than John Cleese.

Well, I am not FUNNIER than John Cleese.  But clearly, I know more about humor.  The best evidence is that ridiculous quote.

I will admit that the boundaries can be tricky, but it doesn't mean there is not an objective truth.   For example, on Thanksgiving, my friend Buzz Burger came to dinner.  Buzz was a very early friend of Dave Barry -- Dave introduced me to him many, many years ago.

Buzz told a joke that Dave things is spectacularly funny, but Buzz does not.   Buzz, who is a very funny person, told it well. It completely slayed me.  Buzz just shook his head.

Now, what are we to make of this?  Are we to contend, as John Cleese does, that it just means people have different tastes?  Or are we to understand the truth: That as good a sense of humor as Buzz has, he is slightly deficient in one area, namely absurdity.

The Joke:

A man is introduced to a famous beekeeper. 

He says, "How many bees do you have?"

"About 250,000."

"Wow. Where is your apiary?"

"Don't have an apiary."

"Where are your bees, then?"

"In my house.  Actually, in one closet.  Actually, they all in a shoebox in the closet?"

"You keep all your bees in a shoebox?"

"Yeah.  F--- 'em."



Wow--what an amazing artist. Thanks for introducing him to me. Any chance you could link to that Thanksgiving story he wrote?

By way of review:  Many years ago, Richard was the illustrator for my column (he handed off to Shansby once he started drawing Cul De Sac).   One week, I proposed that, just for fun, we switch places: I illustrate a column written by him.  

So we did that.   My illustration, as I recall, was a reasonably clever idea, illustrated with all the skill that you would expect of someone who, if forced to draw a hand, would probably revert to the four-year-old's solution of a circle with five spokes coming out of it.  

But the column.  Man.  Easily as good or better than anything I have written.  Suffice it to say I never proposed that idea again.   Here it is:

Something I've wondered for a while ... if both parties in a late-night encounter are drunk, how do you determine who raped whom? I mean, I get the nonconsent issue ... but neither party, legally, is able to consent at that point. And I'm not talking about "She was passed out so I took off her panties and had my drunken way with her" sex. I'm talking "We're both drunk but functional."

If you are both drunk and functional, seems to me rape cannot apply in either direction.  Anyone disagree?

How can it be acceptable for a woman to physically assault a man when he asks her a question. If a woman asks a man to kiss her and he physically assaults her, is that ok?

That was not "asking her a question."  I'd defend her for that slap, in a court of law.  He was menacing her.

But what do atheists swear on? Are they totally untrustworthy because they don't have a book? I never had to swear on anything when I got hired by the government or my current company, so can we just end this outdated practice?

I'm for that.  It''s probably unconstitutional.

I don't think she should have resigned because her tweets were so horrible, though they were bad. She should have resigned, because she did a horrible job as a communications director. You have to know with that job, that anything you say on social media, even if it's a private Facebook page, has as strong possibility of going public. That seems like gross negligence on her part. Also, do you think its possible that she was drunk when she tweeted. It occurred over the Thanksgiving break. It seems like more than a few people have gotten themselves in trouble by TUI (tweeting under the influence).

I have twote under the influence.   I just re-read it first, five times.   I've never twote drunk.  Don't do it.

It seems many of the commenters think that if a conservative politician has an affair, it should be reported. But if a liberal politician has an affair, the media should look the other way.

Well, you know, it might actually amount to that.  The issue is not the politics per se, but public stances, and conservatives tend to be family-values guys.  If I make my career by being a family values guy, I open myself up to charges of hypocrisy if I behave in a non-family values way.

Are you listening to Serial, and are you going to comment on it, either on the case, or the ethics of this style of journalism? I asked last week but submitting again.

Can't comment.  Not listening.

I guess as a person trained in animal sciences and with concern for livestock, killing hundreds of thousands of beneficial animals does not seem funny to me.

And I would say that you were right, if you could conceivably fit a quarter of a million bees into a shoebox.  This joke is fine for the same reason the roo-roo joke, ostensibly about rape, is fine.

Oh contraire, my friend. Once I turned 40-something, I started getting called a cougar and a MILF (I don't even have kids!) and Mrs. Robinson if I so much as glanced at a younger, handsome man with admiration.


But I immediately thought you would appreciate this. You can read the whole thing, which is interesting, at least to me as a photographer, but it's the last sentence you need to see.

This is simply utterly spectacular.  And you are right -- the story itself is good enough to read all the way through (especially if you hate lawyers.)  It's also really well written by Robert Schenk, who happens to be a lawyer.

But the last line is SPECTACULAR.

Did you look at Charles Manson's girlfriend and think for a fleeting second that she's kind of cute? I'm embarrassed to say that I did.

Why would you be embarrassed to think that?  She is very attractive, and in a non-conventional way.  Complicated face.

Hey, the monstrous Jeffrey MacDonald has a very pretty wife, too. 

These women are always sad spectacles.  Read the Manson story: She denies he is manipulative, and then we find:

1. At his urging, she once shaved her head and cut an X into her forehead, to protest his being sent to solitary.

2. Right before the interview for the story, he called her to tell her what points to stress.


The end of the Bai excerpt touches on how Gary Hart and his wife feel like his dropping out of the race changed the next several decades' worth of history -- Hart even (perhaps overdramatically) takes some responsibility for the soldiers who have died in the War on Terror. How valid do you think this is? What would have changed if the Herald had never run this story? Would someone else have? Would he have won the presidency? Would we never have heard of Bill, Hillary, George W. Bush.....some state senator from Illinois?

I dunno, but it is an intriguing question.  It also suggests the perseverance of a pretty huge ego on Mr. Hart, no?

Did you know that, besides being the past tense for "tweet," the word "twote" also means to quote another person's tweet? So sayeth the Urban Dictionary.

The Urban Dictionary says a LOT of things.  Some mutually exclusive.

I don't think it can be that simple. Any s**t who rapes a drunk girl can then claim "I was drunk too" and cannot be a rapist?

Well, the question said both people were "drunk but functional."   Functionally, she gave consent.  I doubt this would ever be prosecuted as rape.

I think your original tweet -- the one you didn't send -- was more honest and less objectionable. You basically send "I'll stop looking if you stop showing." But the second tweet sounded as if you thought women were wearing short skirts specifically to entertain you. Clueless.

Agreed.  But isn't that what I wrote?

I really had to think about this one. It is difficult, post-Hart, post-Clinton, to think about how I wish presidential journalism had evolved. I have a good friend who is a public official and I thought hard about how I would react if he were having an affair. I decided that, as my friend, his private life is his business; but, as a public official, his affair would be public interest because it could lead to misfeasance or malfeasance. Fears of a Soviet-style honey trap are probably overblown, but what if he were to steer a contract to his lover, or overlook environmental violations by his lover? When you take on a public trust, there are some things you have to sacrifice, and an unfettered right to sexual dalliance is one of them. So, sadly, I don't think I'd have it any other way.

Well, I think I disagree with this.   I don't think it's fair to conclude it "could" lead to misfeasance.  To me, there are two issues:  How reckless was this affair? (In Hart's case, very) and does it represent some sort of deep hypocrisy vis a vis the candidate's public positions. 

Thank you for taking on the phenomenon of Five Myths, but you left out what has become my biggest pet peeve about the Post's column and that is that the "myth busters" no longer have to involve any facts! When the feature first started, it was written by reporters who made objective factual statements to describe the difference between popularly held but incorrect beliefs on the one hand, and documentable facts on the other. At some point, the feature because a bullhorn for partisans on one side or the other of a debate to state their opinions as "facts" which bust the other side's "myths." The day the feature fell off the cliff, and I stopped reading it, was the "Five Myths about Easter," written by a Catholic priest or scholar, which contended that "Jesus didn't literally rise from the dead" is a myth! Forgive me, but the idea that Jesus literally rose from the dead is the epitome of a myth, right up there with Athena bursting from the head of Zeus. People are entitled to believe it but a secular newspaper has no business printing a religious belief in the supernatural as a "fact" which busts the "myth" that the supernatural event didn't actually happen. Can you explain this?

This is in reference to my column on Sunday, when I had some fun with the strangely popular "Five Myths" stories run by the Post and other papers.   You'll notice the examples I gave were from other newspapers; it's not that I was trying to protect my employer, it's that by and large The Post does a good job on them. By and large.

The one you refer to, about Jesus, is this one. 

You're right.  It was preposterous, for all the reasons you say. I thought that when I first read it, too.  I wanted to give it a break -- a case can be made that the writer was not speaking literally, but merely explaining what was true according to the gospels, but the more you read of it the more you conclude he is accepting the gospels as literal truth.


There seems to be an epidemic of these "apologies" that take no responsibility for the act they claim to be apologizing for. You know the kind. "If _____ offended anyone, I'm sorry." This question has been prompted by Don Lemon's "If my question to her struck anyone as insensitive, I am sorry." Are lawyers behind this? Is there some liability avoidance thing going on here or do these people really believe that is what an apology is?

I believe this question is answered by today's introduction.  The phenomenon is based on a willful unwillingness or inability to see your transgression as a transgression. Sometimes you will be right, and sometimes you need to stand your ground (particularly if there are larger principles at stake) but more often you are either flat-out wrong (as in the Don Lemon case) or you are shaky enough ground that it should not be stood on. (My case.)    What I have seen from all this, including my experience, is that it is far wiser to err on the side of over-apology. 

I had completely forgotten this song !    It's wonderful.   Just a complete joy, for the wordplay.  

Ogden Nash dealt with this in "The Club Car": THE CLUB CAR Come, child, while rambling through the nation Let's practice our pronunciation. The liquid confluence here we see. Of r-i-b and a-l-d. When first potato chips he nibbled, That gentleman was merely ribald, But now that he is four-rye-highballed, We may properly pronounce him ribald.

Thank you. 

I got my Me & Dog, the not-quite-enough-to-erase-my-memory reward for winning the right to hear your offensive Halloween costume. When we exchanged emails after The Call, you were surprised to hear that I thought the costume would be worse. Let me assure you, I could not think of anything worse, it is plenty bad to go around. I am honored to have been subjected to the mental picture. PS Because of the arrival of the book, I finally had to tell my husband about the whole situation. He was interested in the whole story until learning that I was not going to share the content of the actual exchange, at which point he declared the whole thing stupid. We win.


I inscribed the book to "The only woman who knows my dark secret." 


Gene, I'm a 63-year-old grandmother of 9, and I can't stop reading Mark Trail ONLY because when he takes his shirt off, it gives me palpitations. Does this make me a creep?

It makes you adorable.

Look at most of the last 65 years of US Chief Executives--there have been rumors (or facts) of affairs for several of them: Ike (WWII liaison), JFK, LBJ, Clinton, GHW Bush. Nixon, Carter (who did admit to lust in his heart), Bush, and Obama seem to have evaded this trap (albeit for very different reasons). So Hart wouldn't necessarily have been out of place, but for his taunting the press to "follow him" and then behaving with monumentally stupid indiscretion.

It was about the indiscretion, to me.

For fans of Richard Thompson, he is scheduled to attend "Book Celebration: The Art of Richard Thompson" (which is a new anthology of his work) this Saturday, Dec. 6, from 2:30 to 4 p.m. at the Arlington Central LIbrary, 1015 Quincy Street. The event is free.


Gene, If you were the editor today and a source came to you with information about the private life of a public figure, information that had nothing to do with any public opinions of that public figure, and reporting on that information would compromise the reputation of that public figure, would you authorize the story?

Well, it depends on what you mean by this:

"information that had nothing to do with any public opinions of that public figure"

Let's say the source had information that the public figure is addicted to pain meds.   What that qualify, even if he is not publicly involved in any way with drug enforcement, etc?  I would argue that, yes, it may well affect his judgment, ability to do his job, etc. 

I don't think I'd pursue the story if it were a sexual affair, with no crossover into public policy.  The Lewinsky affair, in retrospect, bothers me, though there were troubling themes there, among them that she worked for him, and lost a job because of the affair. 

Did the Miami Herald ever identify the anonymous source? Did the Herald ever analyze the source's motivation for informing about Gary Hart's affair with Donna Rice? If you go to the Wikipedia article on Gary Hart, a footnote identifies the source as Dana Weems, and says she outed herself in 2014.

She is also named in the Matt Bai book.  I can't recall if the Herald ever named her.   If not naming her was a condition of the original tip, I suspect The Herald never named her.

This one is for real - three sisters named Tequila, Daiquiri, and Chablis. I worked with one of them at a summer camp. I made the horrible mistake of asking whether a college nickname like Tequila was appropriate around kids. Cue the icy silence until she looked at me and said, "That's my actual name." Later on I found out about her sisters' names.

I doubted this, but, yep, they're findable on the Web.  One wonders why two are alcohol and one a wine.  It sounds like a joke I once heard about three boyfriends named LeRoy.

Gene, in your chat update, I indicated that I think historians will rank Obama's Presidency as only slightly better than average -- 6/10. I actually think he has done much better than that, by establishing the basic principle that the Federal government has a role in ensuring that all Americans have access to health care, extricating us from two wars, only one of which was remotely justifiable, managing the country's recovery from what really was a depression except that we have retired that word from common usage, re-establshing the basic principle that both Congress and the executive have roles to play in governance (meaning that he has given Congress space in which to be incompetent), ending codified anti-gay bigotry in the military. It's just that I think he has shepherded most things to success by subtle manipulation rather than bold statements that would have ignited greater opposition by the Republicans. What has been accomplished is actually remarkable and extensive, especially given the overt hostility of the opposition party. I think most people now, and most historians in the future, will misinterpret these things as having just happened on their own.

I think Obama's ultimate ranking is going to be dramatically affected by the SCOTUS ruling on Obamacare.  If they essentially scuttle it, I think he will be seen as a slightly better than average president.  If they leave it be, he might be at the bottom end of the near-greats, for the reasons you say and one more, a biggie: the environment.

This story sums it up well.

My guess is that, absent some international disaster, he will be largely given a pass on his feckless foreign policy (or no foreign policy) largely because the world has been roiled by forces beyond even a better leader's abilities to control.  But who knows?

One of the options in your poll refers to distaste at the difference in ages of the parties. Should that ever matter? You can still decry adultery, deceit, etc., but if both parties in a relationship are consenting adults (Rice was almost 30), should age by itself matter?

Probably not.  I don't think it's the age of the younger person, so much as the substance.  Donna Rice, in 1987, came off as a ditz.  She was a topless calendar model, as I recall.  Essential, one didn't suspect that this was an affair of the heart for Hart. 

Oh, this reminds me of a joke from that era?  What is the difference between Democratic women and Republican women?   Republican women give their heart to Bush, and ...  

To me the whole non-apology thing started with the "mistakes were made" statement by Reagan (or was it one of his henchmen?) That always seemed to me to be the ultimate weasel statement. Did the mistakes make themselves? The person saying it obviously didn't make them, right?

Right.  But that was Nixon, no?   Was it Reagan, too?

Gene, I graduated from UVa 30 years ago. Nothing has changed except that we now have "rape culture" (ugh) whereas then it was just a joke. Literally. There was a song, one verse of which said, "Now all you girls from Mary Wash and RMWC, don't ever let a Virginia man an inch above your knee. He'll fill you full of liquor and he'll fill you full of beer, and soon you'll be the mother of a bastard Cavalier." We all laughed, and I sort of did too -- uneasily, because I wasn't aware or sophisticated enough to understand what made me uneasy about it, and everyone else took it lightly. I was assaulted (groped heavily; I ran away), and my roommate was raped. I never heard of anything as bad as the Rolling Stone account, but the rest of it is sadly completely familiar. Not just at UVa but at W&L and VMI, too, when they had the opportunity.

I have no doubt.  But read that Bradley essay.   It is very smart.

Look for your post in the update next week.

You can't lie on the internet

Yeah, this is spectacular.

I may be waaaaay off base here, but I've always thought the reason Colin Powell never ran for president is that he had an affair at some point and didn't want the press digging it up (or reporting it, if they already knew about it). Why else would someone that people on both sides of the aisle were BEGGING to run refuse to do so?

I believe Colin Powell didn't run because he was utterly humiliated by his testimony to the UN, on weapons of mass destruction.  

is your Halloween costume secret in any way related to your secret opinion you will not share?


I truly believe his legacy, and the nation, would be in drastically better shape if his "loyal opposition" had any semblance of public service in their bones. While I find my self wishing he had some percentage of Clinton's political IQ (and/or relish for schmoozing and public life) I can't see much better results on the domestic front. Unfortunately, I agree with you on the foreign policy side.


I've been wondering lately why bakeries even make bagels topped with a dense shell of poppy seeds or crunchy browned garlic bits. Anecdotal evidence -- those two types are always the last ones in the box at my office -- indicates that no one actually PREFERS them, but some people will eat them if there's nothing else. You've sometimes been willing to delve back into investigative journalism on consumer issues. I know it's a bit Andy Rooneyish, but is there any potential here? I'm hoping to spark a column that goes viral and persuades bakeries to stop making the wretched things, so that maybe there will be a plain bagel or two left by the time I get to the box. And plain cream cheese.


As you all know, I have food certainties, and one of them is that the only correct bagel is a plain bagel.  Bagels themselves have a subtle, rich taste.  They should not be tarted up.


Hello, Gene! Your conversation in the last chat regarding Original Sin perked my interest. As one of your people (Jew...ish?) I have always found the concept of Original Sin to be a strange one. That we are born sinners due to eating of a fruit by our original ancestors? Ludicrous. Consider this, however. The forbidden fruit was that of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Before eating the fruit, Adam and Eve had no concert of good and evil, therefore no ethical judgement, no actual morality. Judging them guilty for committing a sin when they had no concept of sin makes as much sense as convicting a baby for arson if he knocks down a candle.

Ah, but see, Adam and Eve did know but one thing: God commanded them not to do this one act.   So their "sin" was not about good and evil, it was about blind obedience.  We are all paying for the fact that Adam and Eve thought for themselves, exercising free will.  

I have always found the Adam and Eve story particularly interesting in this respect: They had never been told they were immortal; we don't know if they WERE immortal.   It's just that after they ate from the tree, they LEARNED they were mortal.  Think about that.   What it's all about may well be a matter of denial.  They were shielded from the need for denial.   Afterwards, to get along, they had to start lying to themselves about the certainty of death. 

The Denial of Death, by Ernest Becker, is one of the best and most troubling books I've ever read.   

According to Wiki, Grant used it first. Then Nixon, several times, then Ronnie "On January 27, 1987, U.S. President Ronald Reagan used the phrase in the State of the Union Address while discussing contacts with Iran in what came to be known as the arms-for-hostages scandal within the Iran-Contra affair. He said, in part: "And certainly it was not wrong to try to secure freedom for our citizens held in barbaric captivity. But we did not achieve what we wished, and serious mistakes were made in trying to do so."

Thank you.  

One of the responses noted that it seems only conservative family-values guys have affairs get reported and demonized while liberals get off scott-free. I think a liberal politician such a Elizabeth Warren who runs on an anti-wall street basis would likely get reported and demonized in a similar manner if it was found out she had big bankers in her pocket and they were influencing her decisions. Of course, what I think may be riotously optimistic...

yes, exactly.

It bothers me because the Clinton machine was willing to destroy this woman as a psycho. In the end, the only thing that saved her from completely going down in flames was the existence of a blue dress.

I think that's true.  The blue dress was the killer.

I continue to contend that Lewinsky should have lied.  She was too young and naive to understand that, but she should have lied.  Said she made it all up.   She would have er, gone down in history as a hero for love.  


As a Catholic University alumnus, I cannot believe that you spelled "Pryzbyla Center" correctly. Please help yourself to an indulgence out of petty cash.

Thank you.

So I'm guessing you're not a fan of the raisin bagel either?

I am not.  Raisins in bread bother me in general.  

Can we talk about this? A majority of people believe that discrimination against whites is as bad as discrimination against non-whites. Who are the people who believe this? Why? How can I make them stop? 

Yeah, 76 percent of tea partiers think discrimination against whites is as big a problem in America as discrimination against minorities.

You know, it's tempting to think that if we all just got to know each other better, we'd be less polarized.   And I do believe that , and the best reason to believe that is that, by and large, residents of big, diverse, cities (whether white or black) tend to understand there is discrimination against minorities.

Who are the tea partiers?  Whites who live in white areas.  They are monochromatic.  That ain't good.


I just read the Herald story and have an overwhelming desire to take a long, cleansing shower.


Pretty icky, no?  That has gotten lost in the history.

...can reveal quite a lot on the escalator if they're loose (wider than a narrow A-line). I didn't realize this until recently. Now, in a knee-length loose skirt, I pull it in with my hand, Victorian-style, to avoid flashing those behind me.

I want to emphasize that I really do think women should be able to wear absolutely anything and be free of harassment; and if guys looking at your drawers doesn't bother you, ride an escalator freely in a flared miniskirt.

We did hear from the accused - it's the university, not the rapists. At least to me, the story is about how the school responded and its history of response, including not ever kicking anyone out for rape. But they have an honor code!

I get that.   But you cannot mean that the specific central rape in the story is immaterial.

As a former student of UVA, the biggest issue with the article is the ridiculous sweeping stereotypes. I was in a sorority. I partied on rugby. But plenty of people do not do that. I know some women had bad experiences and that is horrible but that isn't ALL of UVA. Overall it is a great place with wonderful people doing wonderful things. It is not just some southern rape happy university. The writing in the Rolling Stone article is just so horrible and so generalized. We ALL need to work to fix these problems together.


A couple of names of Phi Psi guys surfaced right after the story came out and now their online presence appears to have been wiped clean (LinkedIn profiles, etc., including some websites that were unrelated to Phi Psi). Does this imply that they are just protecting themselves from being associated with the case or that they did it and want to remove any possibly identifying information?

Could be either, no? 

Also included the fact tthat his wife acknowledged that she was subject to severe depression and he did not want to inflict that kind of public life on her. That was mentioned even before the UN testimony. Personally I am glad to see an end to this "the best-known general after a war gets to be president" business.

True, but Powell always seemed like a hugely competent guy to me.

I blew coffee out of my nose with that one!

My arrogance aside, I can see how a perfectly funny person might not see that as funny.  It's hard for me to explain the engine of that joke. 

Just a comment: I don't understand how your colleague Robin Givhan can write a story criticizing how the 4 and 5 year old sons of Chief Justice Roberts were dressed at some public event, I think his swearing in, and get away with that while Lauten's comments about the clothing of the teenaged Obama girls sends the Resign. Now. lynch mob after her.

I'd have to go back and read that, but it seems very different to me.   Lauten's statements smelled faintly of racism and slut-shaming, and directly accused the girls of not loving America.

How do you feel about the lead in Farhi's article about the author of the RS expose? It starts off by saying that she wanted to write about sexual assault at a top university, but didn't know what university. Doesn't that imply that she has a story in mind and just has to go out in search of it? That troubles me most -- if you already have a story in mind, you're probably more likely to fit the facts to that story.

Disagree.  That is how many feature stories happen.  You have a thesis and then try to see if it is true.

"I continue to contend that Lewinsky should have lied." What? Under oath? Why? How would that have benefited her? And if any independent evidence ever surfaced she'd be liable for federal perjury charges. She didn't come out until she was forced to, but then she told the truth. How could a journalist advise anything else?

I'm not saying that as a journalist.  I am saying it as a closet romantic.

Sorry, but I will take John Cleese' stake on humor over yours. I think this is one main area where your audience disagrees with you the most. I believe most of us feel that humor is subjective, not objective. Perhaps a poll on this at some point?

Next time!

Okay, we're closing down now.   Man, this was an intense chat.  Thank you all.    Remember the poetry reading, linked to atop.  It should be fun -- all funny light verse.   

In This Chat
Gene Weingarten
Gene Weingarten is the humor writer for The Washington Post. His column, Below the Beltway, has appeared weekly in the Post's Sunday magazine since July 2000 and has been distributed nationwide on The Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service. He was awarded the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing.

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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