Chatological Humor (August 7)

Aug 07, 2018

Poll 1 (if you lean liberal)
Poll 1 (if you lean conservative)
Poll 2

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.

This was going to be a very short introduction, mostly about hard-boiled eggs (see below) until I happened upon a situation involving The Nation magazine, and a  poem they recently published.  The debate that ensued dovetails perfectly with the subjects of today's polls, so here we go. 

The poem, titled "How-To," was by Anders Carlson-Wee.  After it was published, social media went nuts.  The reaction was almost universally condemnatory.  Both the poetry editors of the magazine, and the poet, apologized.  The main apology was longer than the poem.  Here is the poem, in its entirety:


If you got hiv, say aids. If you a girl, 
say you’re pregnant––nobody gonna lower
themselves to listen for the kick. People
passing fast. Splay your legs, cock a knee
funny. It’s the littlest shames they’re likely
to comprehend. Don’t say homeless, they know
you is. What they don’t know is what opens
a wallet, what stops em from counting
what they drop. If you’re young say younger.
Old say older. If you’re crippled don’t
flaunt it. Let em think they’re good enough
Christians to notice. Don’t say you pray,
say you sin. It’s about who they believe
they is. You hardly even there.



The  poet wrote this: “I am sorry for the pain I caused.”

The magazine wrote this:  "The Nation and its poetry editors, Stephanie Burt and Carmen Giménez Smith, made this statement about the poem below, which contains disparaging and ableist language that has given offense and caused harm to members of several communities:

As poetry editors, we hold ourselves responsible for the ways in which the work we select is received. We made a serious mistake by choosing to publish the poem “How-To.”  We are sorry for the pain we have caused to the many communities affected by this poem. We recognize that we must now earn your trust back.  Some of our readers have asked what we were thinking. When we read the poem we took it as a profane, over-the-top attack on the ways in which members of many groups are asked, or required, to perform the work of marginalization. We can no longer read the poem in that way.

We are currently revising our process for solicited and unsolicited submissions. But more importantly,  we are listening, and we are working. We are grateful for the insightful critiques we have heard, but we know that the onus of change is on us, and we take that responsibility seriously. In the end, this decision means that we need to step back and look at not only our editing process, but at ourselves as editors.


The central criticism of this poem, mostly,  is that the writer is white.  This appears to be mostly a matter of perceived cultural appropriation, and of  general racial insensitivity.  

I hope we can discuss this in detail, not limited to the sociopolitical issue under debate.  I'd also like to  discuss the merits and meaning of the poem itself.   I'm going to ask you all two Instapoll question first.  They are simplistic ones, but first impressions are important. If you have time, first read this piece published in the NYT by a former poetry editor of The Nation. 

Okay, here's the Instapoll. 


1. From what you know so far, should this poem have been published?



No, mostly because it isn't very good. 

No, mostly because it is culturally insensitive. 

No, for both reasons above.


2. Should this poem have been apologized for?





As most of you know, I've been gone from the chat for two weeks.  It'll become clear why in a future column that is both funny (I hope) and somewhat humiliating.  But it got me thinking about the persona I adopt for these chats -- an onoxious, opinionated know-it-all.  Which got me evaluating that position, and looking for self-criticism, some ineptitude I can confess to.  I found one.  I honestly believe that I am the least competent person on Earth at shelling and peeling a hard-boiled egg.  When I am done the egg is half its original size, and pock marked and cratered like a rock from Mars. 

All tips appreciated.  

Okay, we begin at noon sharp. 



Let me start by leading with my chin, going out on a limb, and all other appropriate cliches. 

I think The Nation poem is quite excellent, should have been published, should not have been apologized for.  I think that there is nothing wrong, in poetry, with inhabiting the mind of a person of a different race or ethnicity, at least under certain conditions, which I believe are met here.  I think poetry is and should be about challenging norms, breaking form, experimentation, and resisting the custodians of public propriety.  I don't think the requirements of poetry are the same as the requirements for, say, op ed pieces. 

This is a poem in which a former panhandler (presumable) is giving advice to current panhandlers.  It is cynical advice, for good reason.  He knows the game.   And the game is not about the panhandler.  The panhandler isn;t even there, to the marks in the street.  It's all about THEIR self-image, so if they are playing their hypocritical game, so should you. 

I think it is actually an added layer of meaning if you know the writer is white.  He is speaking to the downtrodden with the experiences of the uptrodden, but speaking to them collegially with no bulls----t.   (more) 


To me, the key is, is this patronizing?  I don't see it, though I am not the best judge of whether the language sounds authentic.  But he is speaking with wisdom born of experience, and bluntly, and in their best interests.  He is taking their side over the side of the haves. 

I see no foul.  Have at me.  

I wrote about this last week but your chat was canceled. I apologize if this is a duplicate; I just don't know how the question submission thing works over the weeks. I recently saw "The Last Laugh", which was about finding humor in the Holocaust. Can humor be found there, and if so what is too much and who can tell the joke? The film features interviews with comedians like Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner, for obvious reasons, but I thought the part with Robert Clary was most insightful as he performed for the SS in Buchenwald. The whole thing is centered on Renee Firestone, an Auschwitz survivor who says, essentially, that living well - and laughing - is the best revenge. I absolutely loved it, and you have got to see it if you haven't yet.

Yes, it is possible.  I have two answers. 

1. "Life Is Beautiful"


2. This video.  Four grandchildren bring their grandpa, a Holocaust survivor, to Auschwitz.   And they dance.   It's both funny and unbearably poignant. 



Trump recently tweeted bemoaning how Paul Manafort was being treated worse than "Alphonse Capone." Extending the comparison, why should anyone be shocked, shocked that, like Capone, Manafort's immediate underling(s) would also be criminal, not only in the service of his boss but also enriching himself at the boss' expense? Seems like the old "no honor among thieves" trope.

Was just saying this to someone.   If I were a juror, I would be unmoved by how much of a criminal this #2 guy is.  Of course he is.  He's exactly the kind of guy a bigger criminal would hire.  It would make me MORE convinced of Manafort's guilt. 

Friend zoning isn't just sullen men being mad about not getting sex. The implication of it is that women are, at their core, calculating and cold. That every act of friendship by a woman is a way for her to reap some benefit -- gifts, attention, whatever -- while all the while leading the man on, fully knowing he expects a relationship. The fact that it's become a pop culture joke doesn't change the fact that it's inherently misogynistic, and I'm surprised people are answering otherwise.

I think people are answering otherwise because they do not agree with your assessment that the implication is that the woman is trying to reap some benefit.  Yes, there are memes in which that is suggested: pictures of women using men as a footbridge, or a footstool to kiss a taller man, but I don't think that is what is commonly meant by the FZ.   I think it's a guy feeling sorry for himself because a woman (or, you know, a gay person of the same sex)  just isn't into him "like that."  I don't see a direct or implicit criticism of the other person.

Is the term “friend zone” mysogynitoc? Nah. Are men who go on and on about the friend zone mysogynistic? Abso-fricking-loutely.

You are describing the sort of man I discussed, sociologically,  with Gina in "I'm With Stupid," involving the Three Tampons joke.  [on behalf of all women worldwide, Gina gave her permission to publish this otherwise crude and unacceptable joke because it was being used in the context of scientific analysis; I ask all persons for the same permission here.  If you do not give it, please skip to the next question now!]

Joke: Three tampons are walking down the block.  Which one will talk to you?   Answer:  None, they are all stuck-up [c-words.]

Gina made the argument that this is a terribly misogynistic joke.  I made the argument that it was exactly the opposite; that the butt of the joke was a certain kind of man who has no agency, no appeal, and sullenly blames his strikeout rate on women being too "stuck up" to appreciate his charms:  A loser.  I believe I was right. 

That's the guy who goes on-and-on about the Friend Zone. 

There's a growing school of thought that racism can only be perpetrated by those in power. By this thought, what Jeong said isn't racist. She's an Asian woman - she's definitely not in power. I don't know if I agree with that 100 percent, but I definitely agree that there's a huge difference between someone in power saying/doing something racist vs. someone not in power. When I see these same white people up in arms about black men being killed by police, then I might start to see their side on this one. The attack on Jeong is just another example of white tears, aka how white people get so offended at anything even slightly offensive toward them - which they consider just being called a racist to be offensive - as a tool to ignore claims that they're being racist. It's disingenuous. - Signed, a 30-something white woman.

Agreed.  I see the power imbalance to be an important issue, and I think substiting "black" for "white" is almost never a useful or fair way to determine whether something is racist. BUT I also think that power imbalance is not always a valid defense.  The best example of this -- and it melds the main polls with the Instapolls today -- is the poem by Amiri Baraka shortly after 9/11.   Remember that?  It was a general complaint about racism in America, and it was fine.  But at one point it asked why no Jews came to work on that day in the Twin Towers. 

You can't spray that sort of flat-out ethnist libelous poison. .  You don't have that license, whatever color you are. 

Is summer just not as funny as the rest of the year? It seems like the updates have been canceled a lot lately. Is everyone on vacation instead of being on this chat asking you questions? You seem capable of generating humor in a vacuum. Has something changed?

Nah, I almost always have my scheduled chat.  But I am up against a book deadline, and had a health problem.  

I think the poem was fine. I read it as a social commentary on those who would walk by a homeless person and what it would take for them to stop for half a second and give some cash to a person in need. It criticizes the cynicism of the "Christian" who doesn't give to any old homeless person but only to those who are the sickest, most handicapped, most pregnant, etc. This kind of outrage in social media often boils down to "how dare he write about a black person when he is white" or "how dare he write about a queer person when he is straight" or "how dare he write about a disabled person when he is not disabled". How far do we take that? Appreciating art requires appreciating the nuance and gray and uncertainty of the world. And a straight white man can empathize with a homeless person without having experienced homelessness, and he can criticize a lack of empathy (maybe even his own), which is what I think this poet was trying to do. But too many people leapt on the words without taking the time to understand what he was saying, I think. I think the magazine should have defended itself rather than apologize. PS--I guess people jumped to the conclusion that the vernacular in the poem was a "black" way of speaking and were outraged that the poet is white? Or that using the voice of the homeless person was done to mock him? I don't know. The words seem pretty typical of any homeless person I walk by here in DC, black or white. PPS--And I guess perhaps people don't like the word "crippled"? Is that the "ablelist" language they're apologizing for? In the form of a poem, is that word so bad? I guess maybe I'm not up to date on the latest words we aren't allowed to use, but I thought that one was kind of on the less offensive end of the scale.

 I agree with all of this. 

Start with older eggs, steam them, run under cold water, roll on the counter to crack them all over, leave for a couple minutes in cold water, then peel under running water.

I swear I tried this.

Sorry, I lean liberal, but I'm hardnosed on this one. I believe strongly that she shouldn't have been hired if they knew about it. There is no excuse for that type of racist crap. Whether it's spouted by people in the administration or outside of it. Racism is flat wrong ,,, in either direction, under any circumstances. Being uttered by a minority doesn't make it anything else.

I think that is a valid argument.  I disagree, but it's hard to argue with someone who feels the way you do.   

How to boil an egg: put egg in pan, cover with cold water. Bring to boil, boil 5 minutes. Turn off heat, and cool egg off immediately by pouring off hot water and putting cold water in (repeat a few times). Doing this will help the shell not stick to the outer layers of the egg white. Crack and peel. Should come out whole.

This has ALWAYS been my method.  I am snakebit. 

The Post always seems to get Andrew Lloyd Webber and Arthur Conan Doyle's surnames -- Lloyd Webber and Conan Doyle -- correct, so why are you guys having so much trouble with Sacha Baron Cohen's surname? Just one article I've seen (it was by Christine Emba) accurately used "Baron Cohen" as his surname. Can you pass it on to the copy editors for me?

Hm.  Is this right?  He is like Conan Doyle?

I'm convinced the problem is more the eggs themsleves, and not the method of preparation, or the peeler. Most places I've lived, if I boil a dozen eggs, approximately eight come out perfectly, two have a few pockmarks, and two are utter disasters. But when I lived in Kansas, I had the opposite results: approximately two came out perfectly, two had a few pockmarks, and the rest were utter disasters. That said, some tips are: 1. Save the fresh eggs for frying. Older, supermarket eggs peel easier. 2. Pierce the shell in the fat end of the egg (Joe Yonan has a special device for this)(I use a thumbtack) before dropping it into boiling water. Lower the heat and simmer. 3. The longer you cook the egg, the more it shrinks and the easier it is to peel. The less you cook the egg, the better it tastes (some say, although they haven't tried my Huevos Haminados) and the less green the yolk gets, so you have to decide your priorities. 4. When finished cooking (let's compromise on 13 minutes) plunge the eggs into cold water, and crack them and let them sit in cold water for a few minutes (but not too long; maybe five minutes) before trying to peel.

Okay, this sounds Authoritative.  I am going to try it right now, and report back. 

I have the distinct impression that people who lean conservative and read Gene Weingarten are not like most people who lean conservative. Come to think of it, more generally people who read Gene Weingarten are probably substantially different from normal, non-Gene-Weingarten-reading people.

I agree.   I think our conservatives, whom I really respect, are about as conservative as Gerry Ford. 

I was listening to a Pearls Before Swine album earlier today and just wanted to say thanks for sharing his music.

They were great, weren't they?

Yes, and yes, at least by 1960s sitcom standards.  

The egg is on the stove. 

White people will be alright.

All right.   The polls are showing a little more acceptance than I would have expected.  I think the context mattered, and we don't have the context.  Would it have been apparent, in context, that she was responding to vileness directed at her?

I did a similar thing many years ago, and was spanked for it, correctly.   I had just won a Pulitzer, and sent out a series of tweets, low brow, to show that I was still the same jerk I had always been.   Deliberately clueless dumb stuff.   One of them said something like Nancy Pelosi was pretty hot for an older woman.   But on Twitter it hung out there all alone, and understandably was re-tweeted with outrage.  Mea culpa.  Remember that always: Twitter is not a contextually sensitive medium. 

And I didn't like that I had to do it. Mind your Ps and Qs there sir!

Really?  What was my alleged offense?

Hi Gene - I read the article by Stephanie McCrummen that you linked on twitter, "God, Trump and the meaning of morality." I always love her work and the article was exceptionally good, but it reminded me of a recurring thing that has bothered me about coverage of evangelical Trump country. When the interviewees are saying blatantly (& dangerously) incorrect things, there is only sometimes a documented attempt by the reporter to probe or correct these falsehoods. In other sorts of longform pieces, I've seen journalists be forthcoming about their exchanges with subjects on statements that are just not true. I am thinking specifically of a recent profile of Tiffany Haddish in which the author followed up on an incorrect claim that Tiffany Haddish made about turpentine and included that whole exchange in the piece (not Trump-related at all, but related to incorrect claims in general). Can you explain how decisions are made about when there need to be clear and/or documented attempts to probe patently false claims? I'm not clear on exactly what journalists SHOULD be doing about this (and I'm not one, so it's easy for me to speculate from my armchair on the correct course of action). What are the pros/cons of doing this on the job?

I can only tell you my views.  I think you need to correct falsehoods unless it is obviously a falsehood.   Example: If a  white supremacist says that studies have shown black people have half the intellectual capacity of white people, you are obliged to point out that no such study exists.   But if the white supremacist says that black people are mostly all devil worshipers, you don't need to point out that this is scientifically inaccurate and absurd .  It dies on its own, and is more effectively presented that way, so it marinates in its own evil.  

Baron Cohen was born in west London... His father, Gerald Baron Cohen (1932–2016), a clothing store owner, was born in London and raised in Wales... His paternal grandfather, Morris Cohen, had added "Baron" to his surname.

Well good grief.  Color me gobsmacked. 

The big issue I have with the FZ is that it's given rise to the "incel" movement -- a group of men blaming everyone but themselves for why they can't get any.

Interesting point.  Would incels define themselves as Friendzoned?

How utterly stupid is it that it's permissible to write the word out like that (where we all read it aloud in our minds anyway) but you can't write out the actual letters.

Hey, I didn't make the rules.  Personally, I would print EVERYTHING out.  Everything, no matter how foul. Even the n-word.   Let everyone be judged for how they use any word, contextually.  

I saw a guy with a full proof means for getting properly pealed Hard Boiled Eggs....He went to the Whole Foods Salad Bar, and filled up a contain with a dozen hard boiled eggs. And they were pealed. Of course it cost him about $11/lb, vs about $1.80/lb for uncooked eggs...but still....

It's a brilliant solution.   I have also seen peeled eggs at Harris Teeter.  Similarly expensive, and probably antedeluvian. 

Well, hell's bells--why didn't you SAY so. I went back and read it with that little bit of knowledge and it made complete sense this time and I agree with your take on it now.



I didn't quite get the splayed legs cocked funny.  Anyone explain that?

My husband and I just started watching the Netflix show Ugly Delicious last night, which is led by chef David Chang and looks at the role food plays in culture, how people connect to it. They dig into issues of authenticity and can only people of a culture make something authentic or should make it at all. It's really interesting and seems connected to the issue of the poem. I do think appropriation is a thing, a bigger thing than many people will admit to. But at the same time, I think it's beautiful how people can change and adapt and add their own voice to an idea. So basically, I think as long as you're being respectful of the culture you borrow from (not just in your borrowing but in all ways) and do what you can to support/promote creators from that culture, I'm OK with the borrowing and remixing. I don't know if used the language in a way that feels realistic, but the poem on its face doesn't seem disrespectful - I agree with your reading of it. Now, if it turns out he's a bit of a racist (whether overtly or not), I would change my opinion.

I'll bet he isn't.  That poem was filled with wisdom and sympathy. 

I'M shocked that Trump apparently knows Capone's actual first name. It seems uncharacteristically erudite.

Gangsters know other gangsters.

For the best example of this, I direct you to Patton Oswalt's series of tweets from a couple years ago in which he purposefully split his thoughts into two tweets at the worst possible place. Google "patton oswalt split tweets" if you haven't seen them. Hilarious.

I haven't.  Putting this out there for others. 

Which merry prankster do you think is behind the "QAnon" movement (Dave Barry, perhaps)? I mean, it's gotta be a hoax, right?

This has actually occurred to me.  But I also would have expected that of InfoWars, and that seems to be deadly, idiotically serious. 

I remember a while back some Fox TV mouthpiece criticized an author who did research on Jesus because he was not Christian. (He had a PhD and had done multiple years of research on world religions and gods). His comment back, was that for a whole generation, everyone took pregnancy advice from Dr Spock and he had never been pregnant.


Is it racist that I came up with an entire mini-play in high school based on the mondegreen of "Secret Asian Man"?

I suspect that, being in high school, you did it with all the ham-handedness of, uh, some guy holding a hunk of ham in his hand. 

Regardless of context, slamming an entire race for the sins of a few is the classic definition of racist. It is like saying all white folks hate all black folks, even though there are examples throughout history, even during slavery, of white folks helping (enslaved) black folks.

Yes but you are eliminating the element of satire.  Half of her tweets were clearly intended as humor, right on their face.  I gaurantee you that her "plan all along" was not the extinction of the white race. 

As I've grown older, I've come to the conclusion that there really IS no such thing as male/female close friendships, in which neither of them is working towards eventual sex. There used to be many guys I had thought of as "just friends" only to find that IN EVERY SINGLE CASE either the person had a crush on me, or if I were honest with myself I had one on him. Observations of friends, both male and female, led to the same conclusions (YMMV, but it's my own conclusion from my own experiences and observances.) But I fail to see how that's misogynistic. If anything, it's misandristic (if that's a word) to assume 1) as you say, that men believe that there's no reason to be nice to women or be friends with them if they're not working toward eventual sex, and 2) that being the case, that men are so stupid that they willingly stay in the friend zone, even when they KNOW they'll never get sex out of it. I think, for both sexes, the mentality is similar: I really like this person and enjoy their company, and it’s very little effort on my part to [select as applicable: handhold, go shopping, see the occasional chick flick, have a beer, see the occasional ball game, go to action movies] with them on the off-chance they’ll eventually see the light; and if they never do, no big deal.

Well said.  As an old guy I had to look up YMMV.  I had to consult a yoot. 

Your Mileage May Vary.  

I think we are getting to the point where the internet has been around for long enough that people who grew up on it are rising to high profile positions, and there are going to be more and more instances of stuff like this. I’m 35, and if you dug through my online footprint I’m absolutely positive you’d find plenty of instances where I mixed up being offensive with being edgy, which I’d struggle to explain if the whole world was suddenly paying attention to me. (I’m just grateful my teen years predate YouTube). As a minority woman in journalism AND tech, Ms. Jeong’s offensiveness meter must be so desensitized - I’m shocked this is the worst they found.

I forget who wrote this, maybe Dave Barry, but someone said there will come a day when you will be able to find naked pictures, from the past, of the chief justice of the Supreme Court. 

The poem is blackface. I honestly don't know why white poeple think that being called white is not ok (first example of Leung tweet supposedly racist) and pretending to be black by using what was that old term for street style language? Ebonics? stupid grammar is ok. Wrong on both counts. Wrong, wrong wrong. Can't begin to know why i have to tell you guys that.

Well, lemme ask you this. 

Is David Simon a racist?  He wrote the teleplays for a LOT of The Wires.

David Simon is not a racist.  He wrote black dialogue.   

I'm a perpetually single 50 year old straight woman. The term "friend zone" has NEVER sounded misogynist to me because *I'm* in the friend zone with all of my straight male friends. They never think of me as a potential partner -- rather, they want to be introduced to my friends or to discuss their dates. I totally get the frustration about certain men who are so emotionally limited that they think women owe them something for their presumably "nice" behavior, but ... no. "Friend zone" is not misogynist. It's for all of us who are not seen as desirable.

Thank you. 

I think people reveal themselves by how we act when we are provoked. I think that in the moment, Ms Jeong posted things that in retrospect she genuinely regrets. I also think that the attitude of supremacy over white people she displayed in those tweets is something she fundamentally believes. If I were the NY Times, I would like to think I could find a tech writer who hadn't made that clear to the world.

Understood.  The only response I have is that Jeong must be great at what she does.  Her reputation is exceptional.  And at the top tier of newspaper hiring, you have to choose the best. 

Gene: I gotta tell you. I’m done worrying about this Trump guy. I’ll vote in November for the Dems and hope they reign in the guy, and what else can I do? I'm a fed and I live in a blue state and my rep is a Dem, so all I can do is make sure he gets reelected. I’ll make sure like-minded voters vote on election day. BUT I’m done worrying about it. If Congress is not going to do anything about the guy, why should I waste emotional energy worrying about it. I’m done.

You need a much greater sense of panic. 

Hey I am going to be gone for 90 seconds, to peel an egg. 

Back.  I forgot i have to let it stand in cool water for a while. 

When America was a melting pot of ethnicities, cultural appropriation was how people added to the diversity of what it meant to be American. Without cultural appropriation we wouldn't have pizza, "italian" food, hotdogs, Tex-Mex, or rock and roll.

Interesting viewpoint. 

I'm in the friend zone with four people. I like them just fine and enjoy spending time with them, but I'll admit that I'm annoyed and bummed that I'll probably never have sex with any of them. Signed, a heterosexual woman who is also, apparently, a misogynist

I have always believed that there cannot be a friendship relationship between two people of opposite sexes (or same sex with gay people) where there is not SOME sexual tension.  Can be minimal, but I think there is always some. 

Okay, now comes the egg.  Back shortly. 

Egg report: Almost perfect.  Excited. 

Can we all discuss what "peel an egg" might be a euphemism for, if he wasn't indeed actually peeling an egg?

I'll just put this out there.

I was that girl who had guy friends. Really good guy friends. And sometimes there was a crush, but sometimes there wasn't. One of my best friends is a guy I met when I was 21 and he was 18-- we had the same days off while working in a national park. We hiked together for years. When he met his future wife, I was one of the first to know. When he proposed, he consulted me on location. When he married, there was a brief interval where she wrote me letters on behalf of them both, and I answered in the same manner, and she and I learned how much we liked each other (he said he felt left out)-- and after that year she started sending him to visit me on occasion when she saw he was getting too office-bound or suffocated by small children. When I had a child, they were the ones designated as guardians "just in case." They recently bought a new house and I was among the first to know they have plenty of room for visitors. He is still my friend and confidant. It can be done.

Lovely.  But are you telling me there was never sexual tension?

an African-American authority on linguistics, has an excellent defense of the poem in the Atlantic (

Haven't read it yet, but I am putting that out there.  And am glad. 

It's about claiming tha tyou invented it.

Not as often culturally defined.  I have seen arguments were, like, a college cafeteria was being criticized for serving egg rolls. It's getting nuts. 

was writing lines in a script _to be spoken by black actors_. Those black actors could, on that set, say "This isn't right for my voice", including "This isn't right for a black man's voice" and be heard. There was black participation in that script. There was none in the poem.

Actually, how do you know?   

I’m a lesbian. If my dismal on-line dating experiences are any indication, the term is used frequently by us. Not a “man-woman” thing. When you conclude a date that doesn’t involve hiding in the bathroom or getting the bar staff to help you exit out of the back, there’s usually this conversation: Woman 1: “Hey, it was nice meeting you. I’d like to see you again.” Woman 2: “Sure, if you’re ok with us being in the friend zone.” Woman 1, version 1: That would be great. Let’s catch a movie. Woman 1, version 2: Bummer. I thought this went really well.” I remember a WaPo Date Lab report on a gay guy couple and it ended with one of them suggesting “friend zone.” Not sure how misogyny enters into it.

Understood.  I am in the non-mysogynistic zone on this issue, too.  I just think it's a funny term, and a convenient way to say "I'm screwed, but not the way I want to be."  I don't see it as a judgment about the other person at all. .

Narcissist. Check. Antisocial personality disorder. Check. But is he a psychopath or "merely" a sociopath? I don't think he has a conscience so psychopath it is.

You actually just caused me to look up the difference, for the first time.  

In an article in The New Yorker, Masha Green opens this way:   The question is not whether the President is crazy but whether he is crazy like a fox or crazy like crazy. 

Then, she doesn't answer it. 

From my seven minutes of internet research, I would say he is neither psychopath or sociopath.  He is 73.  He has never been in prison.  He has never been accused of committing a serious crime.  He is not personally, physically reckless. 

That is my diagnosis.  A narcissist and an a-hole. 

In the Disney Cartoon, Beauty and the Beast, Cogsworth the clock is walking around extolling the virtues of the baroque art in the castle, and concludes by saying "as I always say, if it is not baroque, then don't fix it." It has always seemed to me that it would be more correct -- and funnier -- to say "...if it is not baroque, then FIX it." Here is the link, if links are allowed (quote is at about 21 seconds)  Although I am chagrined by the fact that I have held on to this for over a quarter century, having recently discovered that you are the final arbiter of all questions of humor, I could not pass up this opportunity. I will accept whatever call you make on this question of earth shattering import.

Well, there is a problem here: A conflict between humor and meaning.  The original expression "If it is not broke, then don't fix it" is of course the cliche.   If you say, "If it is not baroque, then fix it," you are carrying the joke another beat away from the original, adding some puzzlement.   Still, you are correct.  What he seems to be saying is that this wing of the castle should be all baroque, so, logically, your formulation is correct.  I would endorse your version, even at the cost of slightly less comprehensibility.  I would argue this is not really a matter of humor; it is about logical consistency. 

The term “friend zone” always makes me think of this, which did the rounds while I was in college. I’m embarrassed to say that I (a woman) found it TOTALLY INSIGHTFUL at the time. Now it’s just a reminder of how much casual sexism was accepted in the early aughts and how far web design has come in the last 15 years.

i couldn't keep reading this after page three or so.  It's written by a misogynistic moron who thinks he is an enlighted genius. Also he writes "this phenomena is ...."

The point for a lot of people of color is why do you have to speak for us? Haven't you enough of your own (controlling the world, history, etc etc) to at least give me the right to speak in my voice?

But this is a poem.  It is supposed to challenge assumptions, even at the risk of offense.  

I am of the entitlement class, so I realize this  is not a one-to-one comparison, but I think if I read a poem written by a black woman in Yiddish intonation, I wouldn't be offended so long as the narrator was not being presented as an idiot, and I was convinced the writer knew something about Yiddish, and people who speak it. 

Yes, I know.  Not parallel. 


Twitter is just not the same without David Simon.

Agreed.   It makes me really dislike Twitter.  Am I right that they are one of the few social media platforms that still has InfoWars maniac?

I was just at a large group event for lots of members of a college student group that had traveled around the country for the past 3 months. They were taking pictures of all their friends and one of them yelled, "okay, now a picture with just the asians!" Everyone seemed to think it was funny. But what if she said it in a tweet or in a video, would she be regretting it 10 years from now in a job interview with the NYT?

Were the Asians offended?

Well, I keep asking for a definition, but you never provide one. Yes, actually, I am a Gerry Ford conservative.

I knew it! 

I read John McWhorter's take on the poem published in the Atlantic yesterday but had not read the poem until you shared it here today. I don't know about the poetry of it, but it tells a story very powerfully. McWhorter's take on the poem from a linguistic standpoint, and its use of "Black English" is that it is NOT the equivalent of blackface and it is in fact a true-sounding character's voice. I agree with you as well. Print it and don't apologize.

Good.  That kind of excites me.  Not like the acceptable egg peeling, but it excites me just the same. 

I don't find your poll questions very interesting. Who cares! My curiosity is more about why she didn't just say, "Of course I don't regret those tweets - they got me attention, which got me this great new gig at the NYT's." No one here is telling the truth. I'm curious why not? The people who hired her knew about them? Why didn't they just say, "Yeah, we wanted to hire someone edgy who knows how to get clicks and attention." Now they get all sensitive and apologize? WHY?

No one is REALLY apologizing, and no, I don't think the Times was thrilled she wrote those things.  I think they wish she hadn't, but, weighing everything, they decided that was she did was not an impediment to being hired.

Look, she's on the editorial board.  These hand something to critics to bring up anytime she might write anything about race of which they disapprove.   It is not a GOOD thing.  

Gene--I think the rebuke "chop me no toasters" is probably the equivalent of "that doesn't cut any ice with me, mister!" I was raised in a household where that phrase was sometimes used. It was a long time before I understood that people actually did cut ice in the past. However, the tone and the look with which the phrase was spoken eloquently translated it and erase the cultural disconnect.

Chop me no teakettles can't possible relate to any actual action, past or present. 

Do you think it possible (or even likely) that Trump's damage-control team persuaded (or forced) her to post a tweet in defense of LeBron James as part of a spin attempt to limit damage to Trump from his nasty tweet at James and Don Lemon? Or am I finding Trump's people too Macchiavellian?

I am certain.  For one thing, I doubt she would have been ALLOWED to do it without trump's approval. 

Like many things, the devil is in the detail, and it often has to do with relative attractiveness. If you are a homely person, and you strike up a friendship with a beautiful person, you can end up in the FZ because the other person is too hot to consider you a potential partner. What can be brutally sad is when the more attractive person is not wiling to acknowledge this. Instead, they say stupid things like "I value your friendship too much to risk it." A statement that both must understand, on some level, is complete BS because it implies that the person would only date people whose friendship they do not value. This is fundamentally insulting and dishonest. On the other hand, if the pretty person were to say something like, "I like you, but I just don't feel 'that way' about you." I understand that this probably means I am shallow, and I feel ashamed about it, but I really don't see it changing. But I really do hope we can still be friends." Then the situation would be easier to accept.

I think it would be cruel.  And I also think you;d have to be a horibbly insensitive narcissist to even think of saying it. 

What percentage of people who complain they're in the friend zone actually have personality issues that are the root cause of why they're in the friend zone?

I think that would mostly apply to people who are CONSTANTLY complaining they are in the FZ.

I've heard people question whether a yoga instructor must be Indian.

There ya go. 

This is a great example of why minority representation on the editorial board matters. A poem written by a white guy in the voice of a black guy and selected for publication by a black editor hasn’t a lot more legitimacy than one selected by a white editor.

Ancillary question:  What if that poem had come over the transom, and the editors loved the poem, but didn't know whether the writer was white or black?  Did they have an obligation to check?  REALLY?  What does that say about art?

Okay, with that question posed, I am outta here.  See you next week. 

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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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