Tuesdays with Moron: Chatological Humor Update

Jul 17, 2012

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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.

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Greetings, update readers.  

In the last chat, I tried and failed to put my finger on what, exactly, it was that seems to turn people off about Mitt Romney, an articulate, handsome, impressive person.   It was evident during the GOP primary season, when voters lurched in desperation from lamebrain loon to loony lamebrain, serial shotgun marriages with doofs and dorks and dummies, rather than resign themselves to the inevitability of this guy.    I said I thought he was "creepy," which would explain why Romney had so much trouble attracting female supporters.   Seems to me, Number One on the list of things that turns off women is a whiff of "This guy's a creep."

A few people -- all women -- wrote in to explain their visceral reactions to Romney.   The best was from Sharon W. Bower, whose view pretty much summarized them all.  Here it is:

This is just my read, but when I see Romney, what comes across to me is thinly veiled hostility.

This is someone who is used to getting his way.  He does not respond well when he doesn’t.  He’s the boss who says that he values your input, but if you contradict him or his goals he will not hesitate to fire you or (better yet) see to it that you get fired.  There is a coldness, a calculation about him.   He is a man of action, a man who will do what needs to be done.  If what needs to be done involves hiding a few bodies, he will find the most effective way to do so.

The façade of good humor, bonhomie and “man of the people” is a paper mask.  The eyes looking out of it have all of the warmth and kindness of a cobra.

You’re absolutely right the women are creeped out by him.  This isn’t the serial rapist or dangerous drunken frat boy.  He’s the guy who would dismiss your thoughts and opinions and remove your autonomy under the guise of loving you.  He’s the guy who would tell you, “Trust me.  I know what I’m doing.  Don’t worry your pretty little head about this,” and mean it.

Maybe this is personal bias speaking, but I think Romney is unlikeable because he is unkind. Has there ever been a video of him which showed him displaying legitimate empathy for another human being? Not sympathy or pity or anything like that, but EMPATHY. Whenever Romney is talking to disabled vets or homeless families, he always has that pained look on his face that says, "How much longer do I have to hold this face until I can move on?" He's got the big pearly grin back on his face seconds after he finishes talking to any of the suffering people - there's absolutely no sign that he's been touched or haunted by anything he's heard. Obama may not be a Clinton, who was uniquely gifted at this, but we've all seen images of him lost in quiet, concerned reflection when faced with tragedy.

Very interesting.  

My view was the same, but from the other side.  He never seems as engaged and animated as when he is discussing markets, the power of industry, companies as people, money and speech, etc.  That's when the glow is in his eyes.  

I'm pro choice and antiabortion. I just wish people would never choose abortion.

If you are pro-choice, you are not anti-abortion. 

I daresay virtually everyone who is pro-choice prefers that there be fewer abortions.   We just happen to believe strongly that it is obnoxious and sanctimonious to tell women what they may do with their bodies, particularly where the leaders of that movement tend to be men, and tend to be driven by both puritanicalism and / or religious fervor.

Andy Rooney, many years ago, looked into the camera and asked "Why is it that I am pro-life but all my friends are pro-choice?"  

Well, there was a reason, Andy.  Think about it.  

Okay, you're dead.  But you know what I mean.   

I'm dating a man who is wonderful in nearly all areas except one: He's a seat recliner. I just emailed him the commenter's post about not reclining during a cross-country flight, and he replied: "Don't blame me - blame the airlines. They're the ones who make the profit that way. Not my job to make myself uncomfortable relative to how those seats are supposed to be for the religious worshippers of uprightitude." My response, which may have been a bit cruel: "Then you might as well be a Republican who doesn't think it's his job to make himself financially uncomfortable by supporting those behind him, either." Does this relationship stand a chance?

Probably not.   Give him this and see how he reacts.   If it's anything but slap-to-the-forehead acknowledgement that he has been a selfish ass... dump him. 

Jokes like this have often been told in my family as well -- invariably in a direct, Midwestern deadpan -- and I have found myself continuing this tradition. Since moving to the DC area 15 years ago, my personal favorite has been to tell visitors from out of town that the line on the Washington Monument where the color of the stone changes was made by the high water mark of the Great Flood of 1913 (or whatever year pops into my head). Just about everyone believes it.

I tell people that it is the sort of farmer's tan you see on certain penises.    It's the result of the Monument's circumcision.  

I'm 42 today, and female. Tell me I'm hot, Gene. You might be the last person who ever does.... <sniff>

A woman as hot as you does not need to fish for compliments.  LOOK at you. 

I consider myself a logical and rational person. But thanks to my grandfather, I am absolutely unable to write with a red pen (crayons are ok but markers are sketchy). I grew up in a family business and I remember him screaming at employees about red pens being bad luck and causing financial ruin. He actually told my mother once (after spying a school supply list on the fridge) that she should write a note my teacher asking for me to be exempt from using a red pen in class because it could cause disaster for the entire family. Yes, I know this is nuts. But here I am, in my 30's, and yesterday I actually fished a pen out of my purse to sign a credit card slip because the waiter handed me a red pen. My kids tease me all the time about it but I cannot help it. Should I try to conquer this demon or is it a weird sort of family legacy?

Embrace it.  It makes you more interesting, and honors your grandpappy.    

Gene, You have mentioned before that you believe that humor is inherently objective--basically, that some things are funny and some things just aren't. So, there are jokes that are 'funnier' than other jokes, right? Knock knock jokes are 'less funny' than a good joke that has a well-delivered setup, good rhythm, an unexpected twist, good use of irony or a play on words, or some combination of all those. Which means, there must be a joke that is objectively perfect--meaning it is funny to anyone at anytime. It bridges cultures, languages, ages and time (the concept that 'it works on so many levels!'). To think up such a joke requires a perfect being--one whose sense of humor is not affected by personal bias or prejudice or experience (after all, those might make the joke not objectively perfect to someone in the prejudged group) and who has a mastery of different cultures and languages. And, since human beings are inherently flawed and imperfect, means that the perfect joke-teller must be more than human (as well as any other 'imperfect' species that lives on our planet or anywhere else in the universe). Therefore, because humor exists, it is objective, there can be objectively perfect humor, all natural creatures are imperfect and cannot attain objectively perfect humor, there must be a supernatural being who is capable of achieving humor perfection. And that perfect being, for lack of a better term, is God. So, humor proves the existence of God. Unless, of course, humor isn't objective as you say it is . ..

Your thesis is flawed.   There is a perfect joke: The fart. 

Now, you can attribute that to God, if you wish.  I call it an artifact of natural selection. 

Please help me with a pet peeve. I can't stand when people use golf as a verb as in "he golfs" instead of "he plays golf". Are you with me on this and can you help me spread the word?

Not with you.  Seems a perfectly acceptable shortening.  In fact, it is so efficient, and so clear, I wonder why we even bother with the "plays."

is this lovely link, which features an interview with the author of "How to Sh*t Around the World."  Link

The best part is that the author is a woman.  

Hearkening back to the topic of a previous chat... As a guy, what do you think the best approach is for a guy you really like/love, but don't find physically attractive? Is it better to be all "I don't think you're unattractive" (a bit of a lie) or "I don't care about physical appearance" (i.e. "You're fat and weird-looking but that's okay")?

In my case, The Rib never mentioned looks, and I would from time to time comment about how weird it is that I landed her.  That took care of the problem.  Tacit acceptance of the situation all around. 

Andrew Jackson was *not* an excellent President. He was very important, and consequential, but he was also a vile racist and enthusiastic butcher of Native Americans, an anti-intellectual authoritarian, and generally someone who modeled what we've come to see as some of the less praiseworthy aspects of the American character. Though he was held in high regard by historians for a long time - American historians being for a long time disproportionately Southern and racist - his reputation (certainly among responsible historians) has taken a pretty significant hit recently, and rightly so. Save for his leadership in the Nullification Crisis, think back on his Presidency: what is remembered? What did he do? Nothing to be proud of.

Sigh.   Sigh.  

Okay, we'll end with this today.    I began by consulting my personal God of American history, David Von Drehle, who confirmed my feelings here.   "Andrew Jackson" Von Drehle said, "was undoubtedly a great president, the dominant political figure between George Washington and Abraham Lincoln." 

David knows a bit on this general subject.   In December you will probably want to  get this book, which I have read much of in galleys, and which is masterful.

The problem we have here is that it is possible to be a very bad person and a very good president.    And, as I have said, it is folly to analyze a presidency against modern standards of integrity, sensitivity, decency and whatnot; history, in retrospect, tends to be about ends, not means.   Abraham Lincoln was very opposed to the Mexican War, prosecuted by Polk.   Linc felt it was a bad war of opportunism and bullying.  He was probably right, morally and ethically.  But it got us Texas, and it is generally considered the signal  achievement in the best one-term presidency in American history.  

Lincoln was our greatest president.   He saved the nation.  He was a great humanitarian.   He also said some things about black people that would chill you to the bone, hearing them today 

You ask:  Think back on Jackson's presidency: what is remembered?

Only this: Jackson created the modern American presidency, the office no one is born to, that you have to earn, and that anyone can aspire to, even a talented backwoodsman with gumption and ambition and, for better or worse, ruthlessness.    He created the swaggering American executive presidency that is  first among supposedly co-equal branches.   He amplified the power of the presidency enormously, for the good of the country.

In the nullification crisis, Jackson ably presided over the first real test of the strength of the federal government over state governments, and, as Lincoln would thirty years later, got it right.   It was a  very big deal -- secession was possible -- and it defined the federal nature of the country.   This was not a slam dunk at the time. Many important people, notably John Calhoun, thought Jackson was wrong. 

Mostly, he was huge.  A huge presence, a gigantic historical figure, swaggering, un-ignorable.    Here's a great quote from his first biographer, James Parton:

"Andrew Jackson was a patriot and a traitor. He was the greatest of generals, and wholly ignorant of the art of war. He was the most candid of men, and capable of the profoundest dissimulation. He was a democratic autocrat, an urbane savage, an atrocious saint."

So, c'mon.   Jackson's historical greatness is not a reasonable area of discussion.   Yes, he did terrible things to the American Indians and dealt with them treacherously, though it is wise to remember that others in power wanted more of a Final Solution.  Jackson felt he was striking a more humane middle ground. 

Yeah, I know.  But this was 1835.  People owned other people.  

And finally, as I promised, Von Drehle's recommendation of presidential histories:

Michael Beschloss has done some great work: Presidential Courage, The Conquerors, Taking Charge, etc. It is instructive that other presidents find Beschloss worth reading—both Clinton and George W. Bush have singled him out. The new book by my friends Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, The Presidents Club, takes readers inside the relationships that current presidents have had with their predecessors, going back to Harry Truman and Herbert Hoover. Robert Merry has a new book out in which he ranks the presidents based on a variety of measures—I heard him interviewed and he had some interesting things to say. As a general survey of the reasons why certain presidents were important and/or successful, it is accessible and engaging. It's called Where They Stand.

Another way to get at the relative importance of the presidents is to read a few sweeping general histories of the United States. In this regard, the Oxford History of the United States is unsurpassed (to the extent that it actually exists—the ill-starred project is still incomplete more than 50 years after it began). The most famous of these is James M. McPherson's Battle Cry of Freedom, which gives the background and full story of the Civil War. The volume just before it, What Hath God Wrought is excellent on the Jacksonian era.

A really good presidential memoir would certainly be useful, but the world is still waiting for that. The volumes tend to gas on and to lack candor. (The Grant memoir is wonderful, but doesn't touch on the presidency; it covers the war only). Reagan kept a diary, which is interesting in places, and gives a feel for what it is like to be president. H.R. Haldeman's diary is a fascinating and frightening look inside the White House. Certainly you can learn a lot about presidential decision making by reading Bob Woodward.

As for biographies of the presidents—where to begin? Robert Caro at last has a volume covering part of the LBJ presidency. David McCullough on Truman. Richard Reeves. Lou Cannon on Reagan. Jon Meacham won the Pulitzer not long ago for his Jackson biography. I hear he is coming out later this year with a Jefferson book.

And finally, a second note from David:

A friend calls my attention to another Beschloss production: The Presidents, a book published by American Heritage magazine and edited by Michael, which has been praised as the best one-voolume overview of the presidents from Washington to Bush.

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