Chatological Humor update

Mar 13, 2018

You asked for it and you got it. Gene will now be holding weekly mini-chats, where he takes your questions about what's happening in the country -- and anything else you want to discuss.

Good afternoon. 

I suspect I am not the first person to try to connect the dots here.  But:  

Rex Tillerson yesterday -- startlingly -- says that the Russians clearly poisoned an ex-spy in England.  

Today Donald Trump fires him. 

Who owns Donald Trump?   And why does he tweet at 5 a.m., when it is roughly noon in Moscow?  

Interesting, no? 

Okay, we chat at noon sharp. 

But first, a one-question poll, based on this controversial column by my colleague Ruth Marcus, which has kind of forced my hand here.   This is the subject too hot to discuss.  This is the subject about which I have a strong opinion, one that I have refused to share, and still won't, for good reasons.  But I mostly agree with Ruth. 

The question here?  

If you learned, early in the pregnancy, that you or your spouse was carrying a Down Syndrome fetus, would you likely abort?  (For men, obviously, this question is more speculative: Would you urge your partner to abort?)



Not sure. 

Polls here: 

For women

For men

One more poll for today: Do you think it is a good idea for governments to prohibit abortion just because the fetus has Down Syndrome?

I "terminated for medical reason" last September, which is the nice way of saying I had an abortion due to down syndrome. At 11 weeks we found out something was likely wrong, at 12 weeks the T21 diagnosis was confirmed and I terminated at 13 weeks. During the week that I knew something was likely, but not certainly wrong, I did not know what I would do. I got the official diagnosis while on a work trip an hour before I had to go into a black-tie event with clients. I googled and read about DS for half an hour and made my decision. I could give that child some happy years, but I couldn't give him a happy life, and I'd probably die when he needed me the most. If I thought I had good odds of being able to take care of the child for his or her whole life, it would have been a harder decision, but my family doesn't live long. I respect people who choose otherwise, but for me, terminating was the most loving thing I could do. I really wanted another child, and it might be hard to understand, but I really wanted that child, but I still terminated. My due date would have been Thursday. I'm crying, but I have no regrets.

Thank you so much for sharing this.  

I had a pen once whose plunger end was perfect. At least until it came off in my ear and I had to head to the health office at work for a nurse to remove it.

I am very much in favor of the bent paper clip solution. 

My mom, who was born in the 1930s, once fell out of a high first story window when she was a toddler. It was probably close to an eight foot drop. After she fell, she walked up the stairs to the front door, rang the bell, and the grown-ups (who didn't know she was gone) let her in. Different times.

Right.  No biggie.   Why, in my day falling out a window was a rite of passage. 

That's 5:44 am Pacific time, which is 8:44 am Eastern time, and 3:44 pm in Moscow.


Gene, a couple of weeks ago there was some plunger talk, about how the tool was a necessity. I have unclogged a toilet with dish soap and hot water, and it was a much more pleasant experience than using a plunger. I found this technique on the internet after my husband clogged the toilet in our new (old) house and couldn't fix it, and we didn't have a plunger because we'd just moved in.

How does that work?

This hits me in an interesting place, because my spouse and I are very early in a pregnancy -- before the tests are available -- and are of an age where Down Syndrome is more likely. We already have a preschooler. I have a college friend with a sister with Down Syndrome, and on Facebook I've seen the time and effort my friend has had to put into caring for her sister as her parents aged and passed away--my friend is now her sister's primary guardian. Part of me really feels that whatever we might personally think, providing that kind of care is not something to which should commit on our preschooler's behalf.

A valid point.  


Here's another one:  One of the best stories I ever edited was "The Poet and The Birthday Girl," by Madeleine Blais.  Can anyone find it?  

It was about a poet in Florida and her Down Syndrome daughter.   The mom's name was Hannah Kahn.  And the point she made was that her whole family was enriched by her daughter.  "We would have had such ordinary, take-for-granted lives."  So. 

Higgledy-piggledy Head State guy Tillerson Knows Trump's a moron and Putin's a threat. He's now been booted out Undiplomatically. Fellow Americans, Are we great yet?

Higgledy piggledy / Mr. Rex Tillerson / Knows Trump's a moron and / Putin's a threat. / Now he's been booted most / Undiplomatically / Fellow Americans, / Are we great yet?

Did you just out your own super secret opinion which would cause harm to people you love were it known even though it is truly logical and good?

Nope.   I outed the general subject matter, not the specifics. 

Gene, you ever worry that one day you will wake up and read a Bezos tweet announcing he is replacing you with Alexandra Petri?

Of course not!  It wouldn't be Bezos.  It would be Marty Baron.  AND I EXPECT IT DAILY. 

I would absolutely support my wife in whatever decision she made. That's what married couples do.

AGREED.  But it does raise an important point.  You want to know where your spouse stands on this before you get married.  This is nothing that should be unconsidered. 

One of the reasons I chose not to have children is because I didn't want to have a Down's Syndrome child. Yeah, I know, I'm a horrible person, but I knew I wouldn't be able to handle it. And isn't this sort of the point of pro-choice in the first place, that I can choose the best option for me?

That is EXACTLY the point. 

Right now there are two responses to the women's poll: me saying no and someone else saying not sure. But here's the thing: Just because I wouldn't doesn't mean I think no one else should be allowed to. That's the *whole point of choice,* as you well know. So I don't want my "no" answer to be interpreted as if I'm not in favor of the option. I absolutely should be able to - I simply would choose not to.

Understood.  I agree.  

I wish she would not use that increasingly common "grieved the loss." You mourn a loss. You grieve for something.

It was a terrific column.   A great column.  There is one line I wish she had not written, and this secret will go with me to the grave. 

That's fine, as long as she fell into or onto some vegetation and not the asphalt or concrete that might have been under the window.

In my day we just bounced off concrete.  

So how old do you think a child should be before you are not allowed to leave it out back for the wolves because of "reasons"?


Let's be clear what this is - this is not "choice" of how a woman uses her body. This is about, "This kid ain't good enough." If you made a choice to get pregnant, then you made a choice to take what you were given. We are already able to test for lots of different things. What about abortion based on gender? Especially in societies that unfortunately value boys more than girls. OK with that? A strong brain, but a missing limb? If testing advances to the point where we can check for IQ independent of Downs, are you willing to set a bottom IQ below which you can abort? Hey, life is harder in the US for non-white people. Is it OK for a white mother to abort only because her child might be mixed race? And by the way, let me be clear - A society that says "you must carry a Down pregnancy to term," is absolutely obligated to assume any and all extra needs that parents might have to raise that child - counseling, resources, schooling, up to and including finding substitute parents who are more willing to raise a Down child.

I respectfully disagree with your third sentence, and its dependent clause.   But you knew I would.  

But if the "slow driver" is going 10 mph above the speed limit, then maybe you should look in the mirror for who is the problem.

This is in reference to last week's poll.  You are very correct and boring. 

Wow -- I completely agree with you, and I'm sure it's for the same reasons. Those three. No comparison. Krazy Kat was brilliant but didn't connect enough to compete. Same with Walt Kelly. Re Peanuts -- it was never brilliant but it was insightful in the early days. About how children interact with each other and the world. He lost that edge decades before the end, and it became trite and repetitive. Also, Classic Peanuts is a travesty. It's bad enough having dead or senile cartoonists being carried on by their sons/grandsons/adopted neighbors who couldn't think of something original, but having perpetual reruns of a dead cartoonist taking the place of a live new one is obscene and should be illegal.

Somthing must be done about it, dagnabbit. 

Those people piss me off becasue you should know which stamps you want to buy before you go in to the post office. You should look them up online ahead of time.

Who gives a crap what your stamps look like?   I totally do not get this.  It's like caring what the soles of your shoes look like. 

WHY do they not have the good sense to make the stamp options visible while you're in line?! I know they change, but it's not beyond modern technology. All drive-through restaurants should have the menu before you get to the window too.


Before, I just got whatever stamps were available but I'm not really feeling patriotic these days and don't want the flag ones. I did discover you can order cool ones online and bought a bunch of the thermal eclipse ones which are awesome.


Is there anything new that's going to make it in the Pantheon? (besides Barney & Clyde, of course)? Some are pleasant enough but I don't see greatness.

I think we are actually living through a Great Comics Drought.  We didn't realize how great we had it in the 1990s. 

You admitted this to someone at your place of employment?

There are times when one must forfeit one's dignity.  

Okay, so.  I am aware of something that happened to a person I know.   Many years ago.   

Suffice it to say this person NEARLY had to go to an emergency room with something buzzing inside this person.  

Okay, i guess that's it for my so-called career.  Because really, how does Marty Baron justify my employment now?

I think it is impossible to predict how you would act until the situation is actually upon you. I've known people who said they would abort and then couldn't when faced with a difficult diagnosis. I've known people who said they would never ever abort under any situation who have, in fact, had an abortion. We can all think we absolutely know what we would do...but it's not that easy. With my third I was told he had a brain deformity about 25 weeks. More details could be known with more testing. I was told he likely wouldn't live if I continued with the pregnancy. My husband voiced his opinion and I told him to please stop because ultimately if I did what he suggested I could later blame him...and I didn't want to do that. I had to decide for myself...and he agreed with that (he never tried to push me either way). I ultimately decided to keep the baby and do no further testing. As the doctor explained, it was what it was and testing would only further define the situation but not change it. So, I went into my C-section terrified and came out gloriously happy. They were wrong. He didn't have a brain deformity. He is now 13 and happy and healthy. I think it's easy to say what you would do before you are in the shoes...but the shoes don't always fit the way people think they will! I was shocked my shoes ended up fitting as they did.

Thank you. 

There is no doubt in my mind that the Russians have something on the members of the Republican party. When Trump refuses to condemn Russians OVER ANYTHING, when Orrin Hatch or Lindsey Graham make outrageous statements that seem to come from left field, it's clear that SOMEONE, whether it’s the Russians or the Trump Mafia, is twisting some arms. Am I just being paranoid here?

I think this is very likely.  It is terrifying. 

My grandmother never rode an escalator. Only an elevator. It was only after she passed that it was because when she was younger (in the 1930s), she and her sister were riding the escalator at Macys in New York and her sister told her a joke that was so funny that grandmom peed her pants. So from that day forward, no escalators. In 1970 --40 YEARS LATER--I was trying to catch a plane to go to Disneyland in California and because it was raining, the family was late to the airport. Grandmom held us up going to the gate because we couldn’t find an elevator, and we missed the plane. I still loved her though. My great aunt...still hold a grudge!

Okay, that is a great story. 

While I might continue a pregnancy knowing the child has Down's Syndrome, I recognize that I am coming from a place of privilege - I have money in the bank and a strong support system, and live in an area with lots of services for kids with special needs. Though I have no firsthand knowledge, I don't think I'm assuming too much to think that it's a much heavier responsibility to raise a child with Down's. I can't imagine why anyone could think it's a smart idea to force that on someone who didn't feel prepared to take it on, or just didn't want to (though I feel this way about every pregnancy, not just kids with special needs). And even know, I hear the terms 'retard' and 'retarded' thrown around fairly regularly; I shudder to think about how a kid with Down's would be treated by parents who see nothing wrong with those words.

Several people are making this point.  

Just to make this clear, I would no sooner support a law requiring an abortion for a fetal anomaly than I would support a law to outlaw abortion in such cases.   Choice.   This is about different people having different views and priorities.  This is about not judging others. 

I've always suspected that your secret belief was that you thought if a child was born with significant disabilities, that it would be more merciful to euthanize the child. I don't remember how I determined that, but I think you gave some hint a couple years back that it had to do with disabilities, so I connected the dots from there. I know you won't say for sure - and I don't blame you - but I've always been curious, and this week seems to appropriate time to ask. Blink once for yes, and twice for no.


No, I am not in favor of killing babies. 

I voted Yes but it felt disingenuous because I would abort any pregnancy. I have killed 2 houseplants in the last couple months and should not be allowed near any kind of baby.

Every once in a while I will look down and see the dog water bowl is dry.   It makes me consider seppuku. We don't have all that many responsibilities in life.  Not killing your dog is something that should be easy. 

I am a strong supporter of a woman's right to choose when to have--and not to have-- a child. But for supporters of banning abortion because a fetus has Down syndrome, how in the world would that be enforced? Here's a scenario: I find out that my fetus has Down syndrome. My husband and I plan to have the baby, then both of us get fired from our jobs or one of us is diagnosed with an extremely debilitating and/or expensive medical condition. Based on this additional circumstance, we decide we cannot support a child and we choose to abort. Who is going to figure out the reason for the abortion? If I go back to the doc who did the testing of the fetus, she will know it's Down syndrome, but can't prove that's the reason for the abortion. If I go to another facility for an abortion, as long as I'm within the window when abortion is legal, they typically wouldn't know anything about the health of the fetus. I understand limiting abortion based on a (somewhat) knowable fact--such as time from conception--but limiting based on the idea that the state can KNOW WHY a woman wants an abortion? Isn't that just government mind-reading?

I haven't read the legislation in question.  Does anyone know how it would supposedly work?  I am thinking it would be unenforceable.   If I knew a fetus had Down, and there was a law preventing an abortion for that reason, it would seem to me I could just invent another reason.   No?

Gene, I have a style question for the modern age. Why does the Post both quote a tweet verbatim, and then embed the tweet right after in the article? I guess this has become an issue for me now that we have such a prolofic Tweeter-in-Chief. This practice basically requires the reader to read the same words twice. Does the Post feel like it needs to "prove" the tweeter said something by embedding the actual tweet? Why, then, doesn't the Post embed a transcript of a statement whenever someone is quoted? This practice makes no sense to me, and is pretty irritating.

I don't understand it either.   

I care what my stamps look like. So do friends and family -so there. I am one of the people you fume about, just last Saturday had a conversation with the postal worker about what they had, what was coming out -with about 8 people in line behind me. I could order them online, but like voting in person, and actually having coffee with a friend, some things are worth doing. Its a trace of old-fashioned civility.

Okay.  I don't get it even a little bit, but okay?  Am I weird?   A stamp is a thing you have to put on a letter to get it delivered.   It is not "art."  It is an image chosen by a committee, for all sorts of bland politically correct reasons.  School me here.  What am I missing?

Little Nemo was also great, but had a blackface character and the humor was incidental to the story instead of the point. I think the attraction of webcomics as a career choice is largely responsible for the newspaper comics section's relative lack of newer talent.

Yeah, you might be right.   

Let me answer your question with a question: Who wrote the Ear No One Reads?

The Czar of the Style Invitational.

Exactly.   The meta of all metas. 

First in line of drivers trying to turn left at a green light. Said driver refuse to enter halfway into the intersection to maximize chance of people behind him/her to accomplish the left turn when the light turns yellow.

I have railed about these wussies consistently for years. 

argh.  sorry.  massive computer crash. 

I have standing in this issue, probably more so than anyone else in this discussion. I had a sibling with Down Syndrome and was her legal guardian after my parents died. My sister and her siblings were very lucky. My father was a retired federal employee with a defined benefit pension. This enabled me to pay for my sister's expenses without going deeply into debt. Bring a fetus with Down Syndrome to term is a multi-generational burden. if the person with Down Syndrome has siblings, one or more of those siblings will eventually become legally and financially responsible for him/her. If the parents of the person with Down Syndrome are wealthy, like George Will, I think that bringing a fetus with Down Syndrome to term is a reasonable decision. However, if there are no siblings to care for the person with Down Syndrome, sooner or later a legal conservator will have to be appointed. If this isn't done while one of the parents is alive, the parents are leaving the welfare of the person to the state. Then there is the larger matter of what measures society takes to support a person with an intellectual/perceptual/emotional handicap, and that person's family. This extends beyond Down Syndrome to autism and any handicaps brought on by trauma or disease. Until and unless society pledges the resources necessary to help affected families care for people with such handicaps, the state has no moral right to restrict the options a mother has during pregnancy. The bottom line is that society needs to dedicate resources to help care for people with these handicaps. And until society does, any state-imposed restriction on aborting a fetus with Down Syndrome is total bull$***.

Thank you. 

Where do you stand on the Pittsburgh Left wherein the first left turner at the light ganks the right of way from the opposing side?

I am firmly in support of it, but it must be exercised with wisdom and compassion.  You must DART left the moment the light changes.  You cannot and must not delay oncoming traffic. 

I have a dear friend who has an older brother with Downs (he's in his 40's, we are in our late 30's). It's been made clear to both my friend and her younger brother that they will be responsible for older brother when the parents pass away. Consequently, neither my friend nor her younger brother have opted to have children of their own. That burden alone makes me think I would have an abortion. I'm a woman, trying to get pregnant, and have discussed this extensively with my husband. He agrees.

Thank you. 

Back in the 1960's, my mom, a devout Christian, thought that abortion was nearly always wrong. This was back when it was illegal, and she agreed it should be. Then, having been widowed for several years, she remarried at age 50. Shortly thereafter, she had a hint she might be pregnant. Doctor confirmed that yes, indeed, she was. She was, at that time, the mother of four teenaged children and my step-dad had five. They did not want any more children! She instantly asked the doctor about an abortion, and he said she was too far along for it to be safe. Uh-oh.... Well, turned out the "pregancy" was a fibroid tumor after all, no treatment necessary. But the experience caused her to complete!y switch her beliefs, with her new understanding that yes, morally upright married women might have a very good reason for not wanting to continue with a pregnancy. She would not have come to that conclusion, I'm sure, absent that scare.

This is off point, but I know of a lady who had a lot of babies and didn't know why, until someone mentioned to her that the rhythm method required counting from the START of the period, not the end of it.  

The AP is reporting that Trump has just fired Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein for looking at him funny. Oh wait, no, it's because Goldstein contradicted the official White House account about Tillerson's firing. Same difference.

Dumpster.  Fire. 

So, you wouldn't care if someone gave you Calvin and Hobbes stamps to use or keep?

Nope!  Because there are a billion out there. 

I believe that they print the text of the tweet so that it complies with standards of readability for disabled people, as well as for basic tech reasons (on some sites, my computer or device won't show images so I can't read the text). On the other hand, I think they show image of the tweet so that people like me can see the atrocious punctuation and grammar of people like Trump, which is more in-your-face than when it's just flowed in a paragraph.

Wait, what?  So, like.   

Okay, wait, what?   Disabled people can't read the story but they can read the tweet?

I don't notice what stamps look like either, unless it's a sweet or funny or pretty one, then I smile. What's wrong with putting like 20 seconds of thought into something that might make a bunch of someones smile?

I totally accept not being in the mainstream here. 

It's not just Down Syndrome, but any number of issues which a single parent or couple may not be equipped to face. I'm a practicing Catholic, a healthcare provider, and I believe no one should be forced to bear a child. I also speak from experience, as a chronically ill child (think monthly hospitalizations, crippling bills, unbearable family pressures) who has chosen to have no children. I would never force a child to endure what I, my parents, my siblings have endured. Can Down Syndrome children have great lives? Yes. So can other challenged children. But in the right family. My family would have been infinitely better off without me. (And no, I'm not depressed, just realistic.)


Thank you.   That cannot have been easy to write.  

Anna Karenina is Anna Karenina because "Karenina" what Mrs. Karenin is in Russian. And almost all Russian women's first names end in A.

What is the "ova," then?  As in Anna Pavlova.   

My favorite matrilineal  is Icelandic.   Everyone is --dottir. 

My question involves the operation of my shower; since it is toilet adjacent, I thought you might have insight into this issue. First the background: the water is controlled by a dial that faces downward, pointing at 6 o'clock, when it's turned off. To turn on the shower and increase the temperature you turn the dial counter clockwise. Now to the issue: for some years I could get a nice hot shower by turning the dial to about 3 o'clock or maybe 2 o'clock. Now, however, I have to turn the dial way around to about 11 o'clock to generate the same warm stream. What gives? The shower/bathroom was totally remodeled 3 years ago, so I don't think age is a factor. Nothing has changed with our hot water heater. I'm stumped.

Any plumbers out there?  I am thinking your hot water heater is dying, but as a Jewish guy, I know bupkis about this. 

I am strongly pro-choice; the only reason a women needs to provide for having an abortion is "I do not want to be pregnant". Period. Any further information can be provided voluntarily for the sake of counseling, if wanted. I agree with your perspective on this issue: you either think abortion is murder or you are pro-choice. These laws are only another way of blocking a woman's access to a legal procedure. I am sympathetic to the parents: it must be very painful to hear that someone who choose to not have a child rather than have a child with a disability. However, I will never understand the end game of those who want to take away this choice? Why would you want to force someone to have a child they do not want? I feel like the anti-choice people justify their actions by indulging in some kind of TV-movie fantasy that the mother will see her baby for the first time this instant love will solve everything. But the alternative - and very possible reality - an unwanted child who will be treated as such, is horrifying.

I could not agree more. 

I read about Jared Kushner and Qatar in the Times and about ICE detaining a mother and a 7 year old asylum seeker in separate facilities AND how the Secretary of State has an anti-Russia budget of $125 Mil and has spent $0 in the Post (and about Putin making SOS recommendations in the New Yorker), and how Trump golf courses are putting the Presidential Seal on the Tee Boxes at Golf Courses--JUST THIS WEEK MIND YOU--and I wonder. Where is the outrage? How is it that the Republican Party--a previously legitimate political organization--I allowing this to happen? They know that if they bump out Mr Traitor Emolument out they still have a Republican President, right? Right now, the Republican party is sowing the seeds of its own extinction. I used to "hold my nose" and vote when I didn't agree with the candidate but felt they were the best choice for the times/country. But from now on I could NEVER in good conscience vote for Republican...And I am a registered Republican. Trump could become like Zachary Taylor. Taylor was the last Whig President.

I was just saying to Tom the Butcher that I think the Republican Party, which has forfeited its spine, might be dying.  It will be replaced by The Conservative Party, I suspect.  Tories.   

The Onion just posted a headline about the White House cafeteria now just holding one continuous going-away party for departing staffers.

It's stunning. 

Okay, apologies.   Computer problems persist.   We will reconvene here next week.   You are all cool sexy people.  

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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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