Chatological Humor: Monthly with Moron (August)

Aug 25, 2015

Gene Weingarten held his monthly chat with readers.

About this chat:
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Before we get started, here is a short dactylic tribute to Merl Reagle, the brilliant creator of the Washington Post crossword puzzles, who died suddenly late last week.

Higgledy piggledy

Merl Harry Reagle gave

Glorious pun-ishment,

Playing with words.

If puzzles were theater, this

Great cruciverbalist's

Works were Shakespearean,

-- So say we nerds.

How cool was Merl?  One year, as a favor to Tom and me, he wrote his Sunday puzzle (syndicated nationally) in such a way that he deftly hid three words essential to solving that day's Post Hunt.  The puzzle became the top secret destination for Hunters.

Merl's skill with words was legendary, as was his sense of humor.   He once crafted a Sunday Puzzle entirely around his rewritten version of "My Way," as Sean Penn would have sung it: I'M IN A / RUSH, NO PICTURES, PLEASE, OR / ELSE YOU'LL LEARN THE / BLACKENED EYE WAY / THE RECORD SHOWS / I'LL BUST YOUR / NOSE IF YOU GET IN... / MY WAY

Merl was 65. 


This introduction is going to go into tricky and potentially sensitive political territory, so in the interest of transparency, we are going to begin by establishing Legitimacy of Topic.

I spent 1987-88 at Harvard, as part of the Nieman fellowship for journalists. What follows is my account of a meeting we all had with Michael Dukakis, originally written for a Nieman publication:

During the 1987–1988 year, Nieman curator Howard Simons took all of us Fellows to meet a man who was running for president. Michael Dukakis, then governor of Massachusetts, invited us into his office and graciously answered our questions for the better part of an hour.

He was, in a word, magnificent: personable, articulate, never at a loss for an answer. This was still early in the campaign, but his grasp of the issues was encyclopedic. He consulted no notes, but quoted facts and figures effortlessly. When Nieman Fellow Frank del Olmo, a Mexican-American, asked a question about Latino affairs, the governor answered him in flawless Spanish.

After the interview, as we were walking away from the governor’s office, Howard asked all of us what we thought of the man. Being asked a question by Howard was always a little intimidating, because Howard always seemed like the oldest and wisest person in the room. He would have given this impression if the other people in the room were Nelson Mandela, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Confucius. Howard tended to analyze situations quickly and succinctly, nimbly cutting through crap to get to basic truths. So usually, when Howard asked a question, we would gather our thoughts carefully before answering. But in this case, most of us were quite instantly voluble.

Dukakis was terrific, we said. Impressive. Commanding. Presidential. We were falling all over each other to find adequate superlatives. Howard heard us all out, then shook his head and said: “Won’t win. No sense of humor.”

He was, as always, right. Dukakis’s campaign became a sad pratfall, largely because the candidate showed himself lacking juice and the sort of inner joy and playfulness that accompanies a formidable sense of humor. These things go hand in hand.

(Please note in the photograph of the 1987-88 Nieman class, up above, Howard Simons is at the far left.  I am partially visible in the middle right.  Most remarkably, the man with the beard whose head is beneath the right corner of the artwork on the wall, is named Juan Manuel Santos.  He was, at the time, a journalist in Colombia.   Today, he is president of Colombia.)


Now, it is possible to get elected President of the United States without a sense of humor.   But it is helpful to note who did that, and who did not do that.

Presidents known to have unusually good senses of humor: Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Harry Truman, Ronald Reagan.     Presidents known for having virtually no sense of humor: Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Benjamin Harrison, Andrew Johnson, Franklin Pierce.

(I was going to end this section with an admission that George Washington had no appreciable sense of humor, which seemed to have been the consensus of historians, but it isn't true, as this article convincingly establishes.  I am not sure we can add him to the "particularly funny" list, but he is no longer an exception to the rule.)


Having thus established the political relevance of a sense of humor, we now launch into the controversial part of our program, which is asking the question: Does Hillary Clinton Have One? 

Quickly, before any outrage has a chance to sink in, we now establish The Author's Bona Fides on This Touchy Subject.   Questioning whether a woman has a sense of humor can seem to be playing into an unfair stereotype, such as the one perpetuated by Christopher Hitchens in his awful 2006 essay in Vanity Fair, in which he presents women's humorlessness as an established fact.  However, I hereby direct you to my column a few weeks later, in which I ceded all my column inches to funny women of my acquaintance, so they could both eviscerate him and prove him wrong.  

Ergo, as I am unblemished on this subject of women and humor, I shall now proceed to try to answer the question as an impartial, honest broker.  It is a little more complicated than it seems.

My first move was to Google "Hillary Clinton" and "sense of humor," and the results were not particularly helpful to Clinton.  

The most prominent hit is a 2014 piece in The Hill by lawyer Lanny Davis, a longtime friend of the Clintons.  It was clearly written preemptively, for the campaign -- which is not a good sign, when you think about it -- and it tries mightily to persuade us that Clinton has a rich vein of humor.  It is not effective. 

The first piece of evidence that she is a funny person is that she laughs loudly and deeply.  About what, we are not told. 

These are the other two examples he gives:

-- When asked about Mitch McConnell having said the Democratic presidential ticket is shaping up to look like a re-run of The Golden Girls, Clinton's riposte was to note that The Golden Girls was a popular show for a long time. "Classic," Davis pronounces this.

-- When asked to comment on Karl Rove, who had recently attacked her, she gave a response Davis finds particularly amusing.  He repeats one particular part of it twice, with a (!) . It is : "I wish him well."   Davis also calls that "Classic Hillary."


Davis's is the only actual advocacy piece I could find -- someone trying to make the case that Clinton is funny.

There are a few examples of the opposite, though, in ostensibly impartial venues.   A review in The Guardian of Clinton's autobiographical book, "Hard Choices," notes that Clinton claims she is funny, and acidly concludes:

"She insists on her sense of humour, which, as so often, is a clear sign that she doesn't really have one."

Similarly, a 2007 LA Times headline "What Hillary's Humor Reveals" is actually misleading: The piece beneath it interrogates her public statements and her public appearances and finds no evidence of funniness, only evidence that she knows she is supposed to be funny: 
"Clinton's search for a sense of humor has been tougher than locating a lost contact lens in the Dead Sea."


A long and largely admiring piece in Time magazine tries to analyze her personal side as revealed by 3,000 published emails.  This piece talks about her "dry" sense of humor right up top, but then gives no examples of it.   The personal portrait we get is fine -- we see her as warm and caring to friends and acquaintances -- but the writer cannot or does not muster a single example of wit or mirth. 

But none of this is probative. So we soldier on. 

I decided to do some original research, by which I mean emailing six people I know who have been around Clinton enough to have a valid opinion.  (No, not all are journalists.)  It was all not for attribution.  I learned some stuff. 

1. Clinton is not a quipster.  She does not have the gift of spontaneous wit, and it is a liability.  Good part: She knows this, so doesn't try to lamely fake it. 

2. She gets situational humor.  When something funny happens, she is among the first to laugh.  This is not negligible.

3. She can be a playful risk-taker when she is on familiar ground, in safe surroundings.  For example, she can hold her vodka, and knows it, and once went shot-for-shot with John McCain during a congressional trip to Estonia, and won the contest.  If you don't see how this is a demonstration of a sense of humor, you probably don't have much of a sense of humor. 

4.  She is too thin-skinned, and of too suspicious a nature.  She worries enemies will twist things around. That combination means she is uncomfortable being self-deprecatory, which is the safest, go-to, default humor mode for most politicians.  This is a liability.   There is one exception to this: She'll laugh about her clothing and her hair, because pantsuits and helmets really have nothing to do with who she is.   At some point recently someone blurted out a compliment about her hair, then apologized for being so trivial, and Clinton said, dryly, that she'll take any hair compliment she can get.

5.  What humor she has is not without edge.   One night many years ago, during an election campaign, it was generally observed by all that one of the male reporters was spending some inordinate time in pursuit of the affections of a woman reporter from Europe.  The following day, Hillary met with all the reporters and asked if they'd had a good night. Then she turned to the male reporter, and said "How about you, [male reporter], did YOU have a good night?"

Brought down the house. 

In conclusion: Clinton is nowhere near Lincoln, but she is also nowhere near Benjamin Harrison, whom Teddy once called “a human iceberg . . . a cold-blooded, narrow-minded, prejudiced, obstinate, timid old psalm-singing Indianapolis politician.”

Okay, take the polls if you haven't already.  

And hear this song!  It is wonderful.  It is from a Facebook user named Psycho Super Mom, and it is titled "I Didn't Come From Your Rib (You Came from My Vagina)".

Note complex placement of punctuation.

We start at noon sharp.

I confess I am baffled about the general sense that Anderson Cooper has the best sense of humor of the quartet in Question 4. He is probably the most likable, but that's not at all the same thing. I voted for Bill O'Reilly, whose sense of humor is meaner than mine but seems pretty strong.

You are correct.   People are voting for Anderson because he famously has an uncontrollable titter-laugh that has utterly overwhelmed him.   You have to watch this from about 1:30 on.  

The problem with Anderson, who is a lovely guy, is that the things that make him laugh just aren't that funny.   And his Redicu-list segments, which he writes, were often painful. 

I know I'm not the first person to make this observation, but why do Democrats have a much -better sense of humor than Republicans? Making us choose between Clinton and Obama was cruel!

For people of my generation, it's the Laugh-In v. Hee-Haw phenomenon.

For current folks, it's the fact that there is a Daily Show, and absolutely nothing on the right to rival it.  The closest was Colbert which savaged the right by parodying it.

I think the answer is that humor is about intelligence. 

I am serious about that.    Hey, Newsbusters, here's your headline:  Wapo "Humorist" Says Conservatives Aren't Funny Because they Are Stupid

Thought it might be appropriate this week to revisit one of your sociolinguistic predictions from a decade ago that failed to come to pass. You predicted at the time that we would come to remember the August 2005 disaster as the "New Orleans hurricane", and that the name "Katrina" would lose its resonance and association with those events over time. Instead, it seems to be seared into our nation's psyche, with a whole set of connotations (mostly tied to government incompetence) that arise when you hear the word "Katrina". Any thoughts on why that has been so, in contrast to your long-ago hunch?

Wow.  I had no memory of having said that, but I did!

I have no idea.   It makes no sense whatsoever.  We remember hurricane names!

Hey, this might be the most wrong I have ever been, in a chat?  Can anyone remember a time when I was even more wrong?

I guess there's a comedy thing in Edinburgh every year, and judges pick the best jokes from it to be voted on by the public. This year's winner has been announced. Just how bad are they?

This is a perfect example of why committee voting never works.   Almost all of the best ones are in the second group, the also-rans.   The only good one in the top ten is "a little lighter."  The winner is "myself."

OH PEOPLE PEOPLE PEOPLE. Liking someone more does not make them funnier. There is nothing funny about Al Gore and that's ok. The man couldn't tell a knock-knock joke well. I say this with love. OBVIOUSLY, the one you can hear snickering in your head (and that's Mrs. Palin, and Dubya, and O'Reilly) is the winner. Though honestly I think Bush 41 is probably funnier than both of his sons. There are some very WORTHY people on this list, but they are not funny.

Okay, I rarely agree TOTALLY with anyone on matters of humor, but yes.   I think your analysis is pretty good, and I think people are in large measure voting for the people they like. 

As many of you may have surmised, there was a little trick in this poll, which is that I wanted to secretly gauge people's judgment about Hillary Clinton's sense of humor.  It isn't good.   I put her in two groupings, against lame competition in each, and she fared poorly.   

Beat out by the famously stiff and pedantic Al Gore?  Two-to-one?  Seriously?   Absolutely KILLED by John McCain, known for his tin-eared, clunky, deeply offensive humor.  ("Why is Clesea Clinton so ugly?  Because her father is Janet Reno.")

Yeah, I think Palin probably wins her division in this poll.  She's full of piss and vinegar.  And though O'Reilly is painfully unfunny on the air, there is a fairly sophisticated humorous backchannel to his show; O'Reilly knows he is a rabble rouser for the yeehaws, and revels in it, and will say things with a straight face that he knows is nothing but bait.   Check out this little item from 2007.  What he is doing here is pretty hilarious, though he's not letting on.   This is not a stupid man, and not an unfunny man.  

Oh, yeah, regarding my recent column on the use of the @ key and the tilde key, Steve Turner sent this:

I heard this story while living in Spain: A computer manufacturer wanted to produce a new keyboard for sale in Europe. One engineer, a Brit, proposed that the ñ be eliminated from a preliminary design. "It is unnecessary because any reader would recognize the letter n used in its place with no misunderstanding," he said. A Spanish engineer said, "Not so fast."The question, "¿Cuántos anos tienes?" is not quite the same as "¿Cuántos años tienes?" The latter means, "How old are you?" The former means something a little different: "How many anuses do you have?"
-- Also, Patrick Nolan suggested two more uses:
~ cows come home, and
~ath do us part.  



Gene, stick-shift driving. anti-death penalty late 30s woman here. I get how you often feel like we're "lesser" than our European compatriots given that we for the most part don't know how to drive cars with manual transmissions, etc. But this whole GOP debate on ending birthright citizenship has really struck home with me. We are way better than Europe because of this. Really and truly. This matters. Stick shifts are awesome, but they're kind of trivial. Didn't the last European nation (was it Ireland), finally do away with birthright citizenship in the last few years? Are we the only nation that has it? That makes us a shining beacon around the world. We are saying, "Yeah, we may have guns and automatic transmissions and obesity and the death penalty, but gosh darn it, if you are born here, you can be PART OF THIS NATION. A CITIZEN, not the perennial outsider." That is a pretty darn progressive idea and it makes me darn proud to be a 'murican!

Okay, I am really glad you asked this question, because I would like a discussion of this.  Why do you feel birthright citizenship makes us so great?  I am totally clueless about this.

The main reason I am opposed to changing it is that all the racists and bigots and right wingers seem to want to.  Ergo, I'm on the other side.   But I'm not sure I get why it is a big deal issue. 

There is an element of odd happenstance and coincidence to birthright citizenship -- a tourist from Brazil happens to pop a month and a half early, and BAM!, little Ignacio is an American citizen.  What is that all about?

I get that it is theoretically an antidote to aristocracy, where you must be adjudged worthy of citizenship by bloodline or something, but it still seems kind of random to me.   Someone born in Toronto who emigrated here at two cannot be president, but Ignacio, temporarily en route from Las Vegas to Nashville with his vacationing parents, can?

Someone clue me in here.  

As I said, I don't want to tinker with the system because I don't like the people who want to tinker with the system, but tell me why I also should be opposed on deep philosophical grounds. Why is it quintessentially progressive?

I agree with your column about the @ symbol. I think its broad use warrants its inclusion with the period, comma, exclamation point and question mark on the letter on-line letter keyboard instead of the number /symbol keyboard.

This wasn't remotely the point of this column.

I assumed Cooper has the best sense of humor because he is a gay man living in the US who has had to deal with rafts of sh*t, and he does not take himself too seriously, all of which argue for a healthy sense of humor. You cannot seriously measure a sense of humor by the stuff people say in public or on tv.

This is a good point.  

Please watch that video.   It makes me really like him, but I am just not sure it tells me he is personally funny.

I trust in almost all things Weingarten (your support of manual cars notwithstanding). Odds that Trump gets the nomination? Fails completely in the next 4 months? And...if Hillary gets the Dem nom, will she be able to hold up against his celebrity?

Trump will not be the nominee.  The odds are zero.  The reason is that way more than half the Repubs say they would never vote for him.   When the field contracts to two or three, he is toast.  What he's got going for him now is that he wins a plurality of an insanely broad field.   But his supporters now are the only supporters he will ever have.

I once saw a T-shirt that had such a wonderful quotation that I thought it had to be made up, but I researched (I did not google) and found that indeed, John Stuart Mill did write in a letter of apology to a Member of Parliament that "I never said that all Conservatives were stupid. What I meant to say was that stupid people tend to be Conservative."

I love that, and I know exactly what he means.

I once read something that said that John Stuart Mill probably had the highest IQ of anyone who ever lived.  I can't recall how the writer reached that conclusion.

Way back in 1975 it occurred to me that the US needed an "new" and "untarnished" candidate for president, so I started thinking about my putative campaign. I got as far as coining a few key phrases in the nature of Will Rogers. My favorite was, "Beware a politician without a sense of humor. A humorless man is often also witless." Needless to say, I did not enter the race, but my prediction about the nature of the next president was prescient: Jimmy Carter.

I know someone who once interviewed Jimmy Carter at great length and came away convinced that the man -- who he liked -- was literally humor impaired.  Had no idea of what humor was. 

Gene, I'm struggling with the difference between irony and sarcasm (and facetiousness, I guess - or whatever the noun form is). You seem like you'd be a master - help?

Sarcasm is saying something when you mean to convey the exact opposite.   "That's the funniest thing I've ever heard," while rolling your eyes.

Irony is also about contradiction, but it much more complicated, and includes a lot more things.   It doesn't even have to entail words, and though it is at the center of most humor, it doesn't even have to be funny: it is ironic if a firehouse burns down.

This explains irony pretty perfectly.

This is great!  Identical point that Simons made.

If Hillary Clinton is the democratic nominee, she will get my vote. However, there has always been something about her that has bothered me that I have never been able to quite put my finger on. I thought it was her tendency to pander, but I have not seen a politician yet who doesn't do that. No, its the sense of humor. She has none. Thank you for finally figuring this out for me.

Honestly, it's not none.  There is something there; it's just not sharp and spontaneous and easy.  She is simply too guarded.

I remember a while ago you said that you jinxed people when writing about them. What have you done to Jimmy Carter? Also, can you explain why I remembered this and took the time to look it up. I can't. From the July chat: Q. Gene, what do you think of the Hulk Hogan fiasco? Does one racist screed during a moment of anger outweigh years of good deeds? Not one person has spoken up to say "Yeah, he's said that word around me, too." Instead, coworkers -- including black coworkers -- have said "Whoa, that's NOT the guy I know." And in a related question, since things come in threes who is your guess for the third 1980s icon (after Cosby and Hogan) to have his or her luster removed? A: Gene Weingarten Jimmy Carter.



... but a great name nonetheless! Scroll down to the paragraph beginning with "The second man". (Did I get that quotation mark in the right place?)

Your link didn't work, but I have a feeling I found the name in this related story, and you are so correct.   Search for paragraph beginning "It is alleged..."  

From NYT story 8.4.15: "...Wiebke Lips, a spokeswoman for Adobe." A nice aptonym becomes a great one once you know Wiebke is German for war.

Excellent, though I'd prefer he were Pentagon spokesperson.

I can't, and I'm kind of flabbergasted that a precisian like yourself was that wrong. Because there can obviously be any number of "New Orleans Hurricanes," as there can be (and are) innumerable "California earthquakes." That's why we remember the names.

I am stunned by my stupidity on that.

I am stunned at the paucity of your readers who don't think the Bushes are funny. I fervently believe that, in private, they have great senses of humor. (And I say this as someone who believes W. had the most catastrophic presidency since ... no one.) They are a bunch of frat boys who never really grew up in some ways. W is the guy you want to stand around at the keg with and trade base jokes. Tell your collective masses they are wrong, Gene!

I think there is a difference between liking to laugh and having a good sense of humor.   I did do a story about campaign humor in 2000, and Bush was the only candidate who couldn't be spontaneously funny.  I admit, I only gave him one chance. 

Sure Ms. Clinton has a sense of humor. Evidence? 1) she stayed married to Bill & 2) she believes she can win a presidential election.

Oh, she can win a presidential election.

In talking to my teenaged kids about issues of gender and race, I realized that this will be the thing that makes us look old and bigoted. When I expressed frustration at people trying to use "they" as a gender-neutral singular pronoun, my kids kind of rolled their (plural! Mixed gender!) eyes (the kids are of more than one gender. Eyes are not gendered at all [see how complicated this gets?]) They did at least allow that we should have a neutral-gender singular pronoun like, say, German does. When I said, "This vague sense of annoyance makes me feel old. Like when people say you cannot ask where someone is from, in a 'Where are your people originally from?' way." My daughter again rolled her eyes and said, "Mom, you can't SAY that." I felt indignant. "It's just normal human curiosity! Like wondering what sort of tree you're looking at." Then I realized--I'm just like the older gent insisting "sweetheart" is not meant to be belittling! It's a term of endearment, what's wrong with that? So I agreed to follow the rules. But I still feel crotchety on the inside. Kids today.

I still ask where people are from.  And I get away with it, because I ask in a certain context, which happens to be the truth.  I love accents, and learning to differentiate them.  So I tell people that.  "Do you mind if I ask you where you are from?  I listen carefully to accents, and like to learn from them."   I have never seen anyone take offense, and it often leads to an interesting exchange, sometimes about the ongoing political situation in the country in question, sometimes about language.  I recommend this.

For those of us who aren't always able to read the chat real time, is there any way you could post the questions and answers to the poll into the chat (could be done after the chat is over)? I am just now getting to read the chat from 7/28 and the polls are no longer available. I was able to get the gist of the tipping one, but the kerfuffle one was beyond me so I ended up skipping that entire conversation.

May we hear from Jess the Producer?

By the way, Jess the Producer is one of the best producers this chat has ever had.   Every single producer has had a nickname bestowed by me, beginning with Chatwoman, right through Abha Bhatterai, who, of course, became Sparky.

I have never found a suitable nickname for Jessica Stahl, and then I realized why.  Some things fit just right.  It is sitting right there, in front of your eyes, until, wham, you see it and know it is Good.     She is Jess the Producer.

And proud of it. 

You should be able to see polls even after a chat has ended. The polls close at some point, but the results remain available. Here's the Gawker kerfuffle poll from that 7/28 chat.

I know that some readers on old versions of Internet Explorer have trouble loading the polls, so that might be the problem. If you're experiencing some other issue, feel free to reach out to me directly - - and I'll see if I can help.

A very sad story about the batboy killed by an errant bat in Wichita. But since I am a terrible person, the name of the team distracted me from the pathos. For a team in Wichita, I suppose that the name of the "Liberal BJs" is intended as a crude insult to liberals. Is that what it is?


To bring you all up to date, a couple of weeks ago the batboy for the Liberal (KS) Bee Jays, a collegiate baseball league, was killed on the field when the on-deck batter accidentally hit him in the head with a practice swing.  It was a huge tragedy and it left wise-asses like me completely stuck and frustrated and unable to say  THE LIBERAL, KANSAS, BEE JAYS?

Well, tragedy plus time, etc.   So, just to wrap things up:

Yes, there is a  town named Liberal, and it is in Kansas.  The derivation of the name is given here, from Wiki:

Early settler S. S. Rogers built the first house in what would become Liberal in 1872. Rogers became famous in the region for giving water to weary travelers. Reportedly, Liberal gained its name from the common response to his acts of kindness, "That's very liberal of you."

So, I say to rock-ribbed Republican Kansas that is now trying to restrict the use of welfare money because poor people are irresponsible scum: Liberal once meant decent and compassionate HAHAHAHA.

As to the Bee Jays, we are informed that the team name honors Bancroft "Ban" Johnson, the first president of the American League.   I am confident that the persons naming the Bee Jays had NO IDEA that the initials might mean something else cough cough.

I've always suspected that Sen Warren was waiting on Hillary's star fading just a tad before jumping into the race. Should she quit biding (har?) her time, and make the plunge? What's the over/under on their success?

I think that Warren will be painted as too liberal, and thus will not be able to win a general election.  But what do I know?

You asked last time if people had any important issues they had changed their minds about. I don't know if this counts, but Putin has made me realize that not all anti-communist thinking was paranoia. I grew up in the '80s as a standard liberal. Yes, Stalin was terrible, purges, Gulag etc etc etc., but the reflexive U.S and especially GOP reactions, especially Reagan's military buildup and support for repressive third world allies, were over the top, crypto-Bircher caves to the military industrial complex, etc etc etc. I still believe most of it, still abhor, e.g., U.S.. support of Latin American death squads. but seeing Putin -- aggressive, risk taking, completely disdainful of the truth, callously expansionist -- has given me new respect for the people who warned of the Russians. The man has invaded at least two neighboring states, murdered domestic and exiled opposition figures, and is eying the Baltics. Sometimes, bullies need to be stood up to.

Yeah, I hear ya.

I was once going to do a chat intro making the argument that history has shown that progressives are ALWAYS right.  It's an interesting argument, and one that I could almost make, until Von Drehle raised Communism.   In general, the right was right about standing up to it, until it died.

Back in the 70’s I wore my watch with the face on the inside of my wrist. That’s the way we did it in the Army. This is partly to protect the watch from scratches, and partly it assure that the enemy won’t see a stray glint of light when you are out on patrol.

B-but he might see it from behind you, no?

Gene, Can someone appreciate/recognize a good sense of humor in others, but not necessarily have the ability to quip, joke, whatever, themselves?

Absolutely.  I am thinking about someone in particular, who I know very well.   I would call her sense of humor excellent b/c she never misses a joke, or seeing the humor in a funny situation.  And she loves to laugh.   But she seldom is the source of humor.   Still: Excellent sense of humor, by my standards.

One advantage to birthright citizenship is ease of administration. All you need to have on the birth certificate is identity and location of birth. If parents had to prove citizenship or legal residency before the birth certificate could be issued, it would add to the paperwork. And if it was not part of the birth certificate, then people would need an additional documentation of citizenship. In addition, birthright citizenship guarantees that any child born here will have at least one recognized citizenship. Otherwise, if the parents' home country does not recognize citizenship for those born abroad--think of the case of a political refugee--the lack of birthright citizenship could leave the child stateless.

This all makes sense, as a system that works.  But i am still not understanding the original poster's immense pride that we have this system.  I don't see how it is a sign that we are a great country.  Can anyone explain?

Birthright citizenship is not necessarily progressive, but opposition to it is primarily based upon a desire to keep the US as a majority-white country, which is the opposite of progressive. In addition, many opponents want to eliminate its effects without amending the Constitution by having Congress "interpret" the 14th Amendment to change it! If Congress can change established Constitutional law without going through the amendment process, then we have no real Constitutional rights. While progressives might like to change the Citizens United ruling that way, the long-term damage to our country would be immeasurable.

Yeah, I agree with that last point.

I don't think the 14th amendment was intended as an antidote to aristocracy. I think it was intended as an antidote to racism. Black Americans had been enslaved for generations and were newly free; the 14th says "and not only that, but they are the same kinds of citizens that white folks have always been." I mean obviously we needed more years and more Voting Rights Acts to really make it so, but that was the point. Anyway intentions aside, I do think it's a shining example of (I'm going to say it) American exceptionalism. Whatever it was designed to be, it is indeed an antidote to aristocracy. It says "we don't care (much)* who your parents were; we care who YOU are." I think if your hypothetical two-year-old immigrant from Toronto had American-citizen parents when he was born in Toronto and lived in the U.S. from ages two to 35, he could indeed be president; and if your hypothetical Ignacio were born in the U.S. but never came back until his mid-30s, he probably could not. There are nuances. Mind you, citizenship is worth more than just eligibility for the presidency.

Well, the 14th Amendment was a LOT of things.  It's the most gigantic of all the Amendments.

Is the Washington Post aware that their photos of the baby pandas look like the penis of an 85 year old man ?

More so than the naked mole rat?

Gene--Were you at the Nats/Rockies game on Friday? My friend and I saw you standing out front of the CF gate and considering saying hello. Do you often get recognized by strangers? More importantly, what's up with Drew Storen and blowing two games over the weekend??

I was not there.

My daughter Molly was there, and I am told we look a little alike, but I doubt you made that error.

What the hell is going on here?

I tweeted this Indian restaurant thing the other day, with the comment "THEY ARE NOW JUST FLAT-OUT ADMITTING IT. I HAVE BEEN SAYING THIS FOR YEARS."


I lean liberal. I have a hard time discounting Trump's candidacy because: 1) misanthropy and 2) polls. I wanted to be relieved that your conservative readers felt less sure of his chances, but I also think they are deluding themselves. I think a likely scenario is that Trump loses the nomination but comes close enough that he decides to run a third party campaign that ruins the Republican nominee's chances (sorry, Jeb!).

You know, I am slowly coming to the conclusion that despite having more money than anyone, Jeb has no shot.   He looks peeved and peevish, like he doesn't really want the job.  His brother seemed to have juice; he doesn't.

If we didn't have it, we might end up like Germany. GENERATIONS of "foreign" workers remain ineligible for citizenship, even though they, their parents and their grandparents were all born there and never lived anywhere else. A similar situation has arise in the Dominican Republic, where they deported "Haitian" workers who've lived in the DR for generations.

But if we didn't have it, we'd institute something else.   I mean, most of us want immigrants of a certain type.  We're not going to become France. 

This is a long piece about Mill, but please read it after the chat. Incredible man. 

Will do.  Does it sorta make the IQ thing plausible?

From another poster: "Gene, Can someone appreciate/recognize a good sense of humor in others, but not necessarily have the ability to quip, joke, whatever, themselves?" I feel like Jimmy Carter falls in this category. I was only 6 when he was elected President, so I can't speak for those times, but more recently, I had the impression that he could appreciate humor. For example, when he was on the Daily Show, he laughed at Jon Stewart and also had some quips himself. And more recently, I felt he discussed his health issues with both grace and a little humor.


I think Hillary does have a sense of humor, and you've characterized it well. I also think that one of the reasons she's so cautious in ways that get her into trouble is she is reluctant to let ANY sense of humor show. As you noted, her sense of humor has a bit of a bite to it. But as a politician, she wants to be likeable, and as a woman she's got an additional problem to navigate - she also wants to come across as warm, but her humor is just the kind that many people don't like in women. I think NOT showing her humor hurts her more than it helps. The people who don't like her are never going to like her. I'd love to know what Gina thinks of Hillary's humor.

Well, see, that's the problem.  I'll ask Gina, but I bet she'll have no idea, because Hillary doesn't show us.  I know Gina likes Eliz Warren, and I think part of that is about sense of humor.

This is ironic 

Hahaha!   Took me a second.

I was going to submit a question on the Trump Phenomenon to get your take before you poll came out. I hope you will be doing some commentary/analysis. What bothers me is that Trump can manipulate the system and no one can do anything about it. Trump is fueled by the media coverage, the more outrageous he gets, the more he is covered. Yet, he is a candidate for President so you have to cover him, even though I personally don't believe he has any interest at all in being President. It just seems like he is taking advantage of the media for and that coverage is doing a huge disservice to the American people. As far as Trump's "popularity" goes, I think he is like the little devil that sits on the shoulder of Larry Kroger in Animal House, encouraging his worst behavior. I don't think there is a person out there that hasn't *thought* some of the things that actually come out of Donald's mouth. The majority of people have or will eventually realize that he is no better than your 4 year old kid that has not yet learned impulse control, blurts out everything that comes into his/her little brain, thinks he/she is the center of the universe and will do all sorts of bad/crazy things just to get attention.

That would have been a good question.  Let's do it now, right here, as an Insta-poll.   Two questions.   Does Trump really want to be president?  And does Trump think he has a shot at being president?     Yes or no to each, no wafflies.


H, Gene, Just wanted to say that reading your chat fo rmany years has made me horribly self concisous knowing that men are constantly judging whether I am desirable. Per your comments , I always tie cardigans aroudn my waist and avoid visable panty lines and tie cardigans around my waist. Just so, you know, I am not an object of their interests. Thanks for helping this person who has been sucking in her stomach for over fifty years know how to avoid attention.

I think this is a castigation.  Maybe not.  Is it?  I don't think I ever promoted the objectification of women.  We note it.  We comment on it.  We decry it, often.  No?

Yeah, I could go with death penalty, but there are so many other weightier issues that I learned about right here in Chatological Humor! I use unsalted butter now, I was totally against it before. I cook my corn in the husk. Yes, I was a barbarian, I used to boil it. I used to spend a lot of time trying to get rid of/diminish VPL, now I proudly flaunt my VPL. Still haven't changed my mind about chocolate, though. Dark is better.

I will move slightly, too.  I still abhor dark chocolate, but I have been persuaded by persons I respect that mine is a prejudice, possibly based on a childhood bad experience.  (I remember gagging on "bittersweet" chocolate once, which is not the same thing.) 

I love your VPL.

I disagree that “cisgender” means “your genitals line up with your gender” (and I’m also going to dispute that “sexuality” and “gender” mean the same thing in this context. Trans people can be gay or straight.) “Cisgender” means “not transgender” and it’s offensive because I don’t like being defined by something I’m not. I’d explain it this way: By your logic, I am a straight cisgender Jew. To describe me as straight tells you something about me (I’m attracted to people of the opposite sex); it’s not just a way of saying “NotGay”, although I understand that’s why the term was coined. It also means I’m not asexual, and if I’m married or partnered, it tells you the gender of my partner. To describe me as a Jew tells you something affirmative about me, that I’m Jewish, and not just that I’m NotChristian, although it also tells you that. But cisgender has no meaning other than “NotTransgender”. And unlike the term “straight”, it doesn’t tell trans people anything about me that is useful for them to know, because the vast majority of people are not transgender. It will never evolve into a useful adjective about the people it’s describing. The reality is that whether a person’s genitals and gender identity line up is only useful information about that person if they don’t line up, and using language to pretend otherwise is silly at best. I understand that “cisgender” was coined by a group of people who are highly marginalized, discriminated against, and otherwise beleaguered by a society that has long defined them as NotUs or NotRight. I get that its purpose is to make the case that people who are transgender have a gender identity that is just as valid as everyone else’s. I support the underlying purpose. But I don’t think defining the rest of us as NotThem or asking me to describe myself as NotThem does anything to achieve this purpose. Worse, I find being asked for acceptance by people who define me as NotThem off-putting, and I have to work past that to get to the feelings of acceptance that the term is presumably intended to promote, even when I’m already completely on board on the acceptance part. Being called “cisgender” isn’t going to make me look down on trans people for being trans, but it doesn’t make me feel included in their world, either. I think it is on some level counterproductive and even offensive, and for that reason different from “Ms.” or “straight”. Maybe more like “Gentile”, which in modern parlance really doesn’t mean anything other than NotJew. Gentiles don’t call themselves Gentiles, nor would I expect them to define themselves in relation to us even though we Jews are a minority with a history of persecution and marginalization. I don’t think it would be a kindness to me if the NotJews around me started calling themselves Gentiles in order to put me at ease about being a Jew. I don’t think it is healthy to encourage the idea that although it’s silly, the use of cisgender is “being kind” to trans people. I would say it’s the opposite – patronizing at best, drawing Sneech-like distinctions at worst. I hope you noticed that I put the punctuation outside the quotation marks where appropriate. You have not addressed punctuation inside/outside parentheses, how do you feel about that?


I was sort of just mildly humoring you until you got to the Gentile analogy, and boy is it spot on.   It is a term only Jews use, and it is subtly exclusionary, even mocking, though it pretends to be no such thing.   So.  Whoa.

I am not in favor of stereotype, but even for a Jew, you are one smart cookie.

You are making me reconsider cisgender.

Ooh, please note that the Post's chat software does not yet recognize cisgender as a word.  It is red-dot underlined on my screen.

(Also, punctuation goes inside the parentheses when it is a single parenthetical sentence, of course.)

But it goes outside at all other times (without exception).  

"He looks peeved and peevish, like he doesn't really want the job." I agree -- this guy is not interested. And it worries me, as a far leftie, that he won't be the nominee because honestly, if Hillary screws this up, he's the only Republican I think I could stomach.

You know, I once felt that way about Bush, and then I read this extraordinary POLITICO piece by Michael Kruse about the Terry Schiavo case, and I decided he is repellent.  I could not vote for him.

I have a solution for one of today's great social problems. Now that we no longer have smoking and nonsmoking sections on airplanes, the airlines should establish reclining and non-reclining sections. The benefits for non-recliners are obvious, and recliners could be as rude as they want since everyone in their section is participating. This would be great for the airlines. It would eliminate a sorce of conflict on board. It would also increase their revenue as they could jam more seats into the back of the plane as recliners don't need as much legroom, and they could justify charging more since reclining seats probably cost more to buy and maintain. Eventually the airlines will make the reclining experience so hideous that people wlll stop buying those seats and the reclining sections will shrink to just a few seats for those who need them for medical reasons . I think you should run this idea by some airline customer service reps.

Thank you.

Gene, what is your take on the Black Lives/All Lives Matter "debate?" I am a white woman but I support the efforts of activists to call attention to the racial disparity in risk of violence by police. Do you think people who say "All lives matter" really believe that #BlackLivesMatter is trying to say ONLY black lives matter? Or are they just ignoring the historical and modern evidence that black lives really don't matter in this country, and All Lives Matter is a smokescreen?

People who interrupt the discussion to note that All Lives Matter are being racist. They mostly don't know they are, but they are.  It's exactly like men who interrupt discussions of our rapey society by saying "not ALL men." 

Yes, we know all lives matter.  Yes, we know many men are not pigs.  Shut up, though, we're having a discussion here, and all you are doing is trying to change the topic.

Hi, I'm the woman who wrote in regarding my grandmother's terms for different chest sizes. It was quite lengthy and didn't really have a point other than to state that my grandmother referred to "flat-chested" as "nice", which made me feel awkward when I was no longer flat-chested, myself. Was my chest size suddenly not "nice" and therefore something of which I should be ashamed? There are times where men have conversations with my breasts, as though there's a microphone in there and they have to speak directly to my breasts in order for me to hear them, so I did go from feeling very comfortable about being "flat-chested" to be extremely self-conscious about being more generously proportioned.

Ooh, remember the question about chocolate and having evolved over the years?

I have evolved on this matter, too.

I am bosom eclectic now.

You forgot this one, Gene: Everything goes fine with the meal. Then, when it's time to go, the waiter disappears. You want your check and you cannot find them or get their attention. If you have some place to be this can be very frustrating. While the waitperson might think they're giving you time to relax and chat at the table, the default assumption should be that the customer might have some place to go. They need to catch a plane, see a movie, or get home to the sitter. Wait staff should deliver and process the check promptly and then give diners some flexibility. That way we have the option of deciding.

Yes, I feel this too, but I am an unusually impatient person.

Yes, this infuriates me but I am an unreasonably impatient person.

I took a Poli-Sci class taught by Wolf Blitzer at UMD back in 82 – 83. He seemed kinda…stiff. (The scheduled professor quit two weeks before the semester began.) The class was Problems of the Middle East, and Blitzer was the DC correspondent for the Jerusalem Post at the time. He copped to having no teaching experience, it was a one time thing because the department was in a bind, so his lectures consisted entirely of stories of his experiences. It was fascinating, though he did seem a bit full of himself…he believes (believed?) he was responsible for the Camp David Accords. A question he asked of Sadat set it all in motion, he claimed. At the end of the semester he was a bit flummoxed when the issue of grades came up, so he gave us a pop quiz where the question was what grade we expected to receive for the class, and why. I believe that’s evidence of a sense of humor. I got an A. Because.

It is surely evidence of some playfulness. 

You all have seen this wonderful Onion thing about the child raised by Wolf Blitzer, right?

So why is a linseed oil/turpentine mix the best wood finish ever? Do you put it on bare wood or over a stain or what? What's the final result? I've used a number of wood-finishing products and they all seem to work pretty effectively (follow the directions), and I don't have to worry about burning my house down. Some woodworking sites say linseed oil doesn't do anything as well as the alternative products. Are you being paid off by the vast, shadowy linseed oil/turpentine cartels or what?

This is in reference to my PSA last week in the update about Molly & Julien's latest brush with death.

I have been refinishing furniture for 40 years.  If you have old oak that isn't going to need a water-repelling surface, nothing gives a richer finish than rubbing on 2/3 linseed oil and 1/3 turpentine. 

You omitted our current President from your guide. What's the verdict: sense of humor or not?

Terrific sense of humor.   It's genuine, it's fast, and it's nuanced.   His impromtu performance at the voting booth here is professional-quality improv.  

How has no one mentioned the Texts From Hillary memes. that she famously responded to?

You can't rate someone's sense of humor based on a choreographed reaction to something.   Or, like, a speech.  

So, if the 2016 election is decided by sense of humor only - which of the current republican slate can beat Hillary ?

Kasich?  Uh... Fiorina?    I don't know if Rubio has a sense of humor.

The Edinburgh joke about the wife being a "keeper" is actually quite good, but requires a well-honed British vocabulary in which the realization of the "soccer", er, "football goalkeeper" meaning comes quickly to one's mind.

True.  I actually thought it meant animal keepers, who also wear big gloves....

But Ginsberg? Ginsberg?!?! You couldn't come up with someone else to put in that group? Being proudly responsible for more dead babies than smallpox doesn't exactly make her "wise" -- it just makes her an idol for folks such as yourself who would rather kill a human being than put on a rubber. Try harder.

Okay, now THAT's funny.

I use stereotypes as a sense-of-humor indicator. I'll tell a (generally acknowledged) funny ethnic joke or two or three and see if I get a laugh. If I do, I'll tell a joke that targets that person's group and if I get a "that's not funny," he doesn't have a sense of humor. He has a sense of superiority.


Boy, leading with ethnic humor is super risky.  I would never do it. 

The difficulty level of today's Sudoku in the Express is "Mediums". I have been trying hard to think of something funny to say, but am coming up empty, so I am bringing this conundrum to the master.

I find Sudoku tedious.  I even find "mediums" tedious.

If you like Sudoku, you will love Ken-Ken.  A vastly more satisfying puzzle.

I generally prefer wordpuz to numberpuz, but Ken-Ken is different.   It's less about numbers than pure logic.

What is that I see in the Friday, Aug. 14 Arlo & Janis? Is that ... Is that... could it be? Side boob! 

Just a hint, yes. 

It is almost as daring as canus, which you will ONLY find in "Me & Dog."

Please note that I am not comparing the butthole of a dog to a lady's sideboob, except in the degree of daring it takes to draw it for the masses.

FYI, Mormons use "Gentile" to describe other Christians. They also prefer to be called "Saints", but "Mormons", which was a derogatory term when coined, sort of stuck.

I also don't get the Prophet Moroni thing.   Why that name?  Because that is a baaaad name. 

Can a person objectively determine if they have a sense of humor?

That is like trying to taste your tongue.

Several people have mentioned this.  It is weird.

Any thoughts on the conspiracy theory that Trump is only running to help Hilary Clinton win the presidency? Kind of a fun, kooky idea. He's been known to be friends with the Clintons, and his campaign is exactly the type designed to discredit any Republican nominee. (Look what it's doing to Jeb...)

I would love this to be true.  But somehow I don't see Donald seeing himself as a sacrificial lamb. 

That's the other thing I was thinking about: What inducement could another candidate possibly offer Donald to get out of the race?   I mean, will someone actually appoint Donald Trump to a cabinet level position?    Secretary of Commerce? 

Yeah, his message that people should just "chill out" over his use of the phrase anchor babies tipped me off that he just doesn't really care one way or the other if he wins. If he does, great -- but if not, he'll keep on living. You know, in some way that's the kind of guy we WANT running for president.

Not really.   I want a person who is passionately convinced that he or she MUST run for president because the country needs him.  Or her.   I don't want a guy who is trying this out to see what happens.

I think we need an updated version of Godwin's Law. Because dragging abortion into a discussion in this inflammatory a manner is becoming at leasst as common as comparing people you disagree with to Hitler.

I never know for sure if I am being trolled, but that didn't feel like it. 

Okay, we're done for the day.  Thank you all.  I liked this chat -- it went in many unexpected directions.  See you all in the updates.

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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