Chatological Humor (August 21)

Aug 21, 2018

Unusual poll on cultural literacy today.
I am 40 or older.
I am under 40.
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.  

Today's intro is going to be a monograph on the subject of today's poll, so if you have not as yet taken it, please do so now.  In the meantime, while you are doing so and other chatters are otherwise cooling their heels, I direct your attention to this mid-1960s poem by Piet Hein on the subject of democracy: 





His party was the Brotherhood of Brothers,
and there were more of them than of the others.
That is, they constituted that minority
which formed the greater part of the majority.
Within the party, he was of the faction
that was supported by the greater fraction.
And in each group, within each group, he sought
the group that could command the most support.
The final group had finally elected
a triumvirate whom they all respected.
Now, of these three, two had final word,
because the two could overrule the third.
One of these two was relatively weak,
so one alone stood at the final peak.
He was: THE GREATER NUMBER of the pair
which formed the most part of the three that were
elected by the most of those whose boast
it was to represent the most of the most
of most of most of the entire state --
or of the most of it at any rate.
He never gave himself a moment's slumber
but sought the welfare of the greater number.
And all people, everywhere they went,
knew to their cost exactly what it meant
to be dictated to by the majority.
But that meant nothing, -- they were the minority.


Okay that was about genius.  The rest is about the opposite of  genius.  


I am usually  impressed -- though I seldom say it onaconna you guys don't need any extra head-swelling -- by the knowledge and judgment you all show on most matters.   Your self-administered grades on the poll answers  here were disappointing, particularly among the yoots. (Though you win huge kudos for honor-system honesty.)  These questions seemed very easy to me  (of course, I wrote the questions) and I am pretty sure I would have gotten seven or eight right.   They seem like basic stuff, though  I confess that I changed one question at the last minute (What is squab? was originally what is osso buco?) when I realized to my extreme personal embarrassment that I had the wrong answer to buco.  (We will discuss if anyone asks for an elaboration.)

Anyway, the right answers, in order, are Harry Truman;  inventor of Jimmy's World, an infamously made-up Pulitzer-retracted story in the Washington Post; they both were assassins of presidents; Sonny Corleone; Israel; inadvertently killing someone during commission of a crime; pigeon; Sparta and Athens.

Okay, not Sonny Corleone.  Mozart.  And Cosi Fan Tutte means, roughly, "All women are the same" or "All women do it."

Anyway, you guys performed pretty poorly!  I'd like to hear some explanations.  And am very open to apology and/or forgiveness.  

Okay, we start at noon sharp. 

By the way, I think it is amazing that "manslaughter" breaks down into "man's laughter."

Why are you bothering to ask #9? Can your polling software not add it up? Or were we supposed to try to remember how many Definitelies we selected without looking back?

I didn't want to overtax the IT guys and gals. 

Something has been bothering me for years, and I suddenly thought maybe I could get an answer here: why do joggers run in the street where there's a sidewalk available? Can any joggers out there explain it? This probably doesn't happen in the DC area, but it does in the small town where I live. I will never intentionally hit one of these idiots. However, if -- God forbid -- I were to run one over by accident, then I absolutely would say, hey, while I've got you here, what's up with that?

I vastly prefer those people to the weenies who ride their bikes on the sidewalk.   Do we have any sidewalk bikers who would care to defend their lame-ass selves?

And I find it equally as amazing that "Therapist" breaks down into "The Rapist"

Agreed, but that is better known. 

I don't know about who fought the Pelopponesian War, but pretty sure I knew the participants in the Peloponnesian War.

Go to your room. 

I'm 46 and find the drop off in the share of people who know about Cosi Fan Tutte surprising: It was written in 1790, so it's not like you older folks went to the opening performance. But of course most youngsters won't know about Janet Cooke: It was huge news in 1981, but not of huge historical import. As a DC-area native, I learned the story in my teens, in the 80's, when my parents told me, and again in 1996 when Post media critic Howard Kurtz profiled Cooke (

I am assuming that a remarkably high percentage of those who recognized her in the poll are journalists.  We CAN'T forget her.  

Last week I watched clips of Aretha Franklin. One of the videos was Obama's first inauguration where she wore that glorious Church Lady hat and sang America the Beautiful. The camera panned over the crowd and I was struck by the look of pride and hope on people's faces. Now just 10 years later we have a bully in the WH that name calls and throws out playground threats. I weep for our country.

So do I.   It's too soon to say I thought that hat was ridiculous, right?  I know, I am horrible.   Big fan of Aretha, though. 

I was appalled yesterday reading about the orange idiot telling his WH audience that they should listen to the Hispanic ICE agent "speak perfect English." Why isn't this a bigger outrage...front page story material? Is it because the orange idiot does this kind of thing daily or because we've been immune to his racism?

Nothing is an outrage any more.   The bar is so low it's buried underground, like a transatlantic cable. 

and I am an idiot. Thank you for bringing that to light with the poll.

I am kind of dumbfounded by the poll. 

Shouldn't it be easy to sort of, even, figure out who was president before Eisenhower?  Lesse, Eisenhower had to be right after WWII, and FDR died in office during the war, so, um, that would leave.... 

That quiz question about that war was really stupid. Everyone knows it was fought by the Pelos and the Ponnes. That's why they CALL it that. Duh.

I had a grievance against a classmate named Kenneth in 6th grade.   I held it silently for a while, until he'd forgotten it, and then told him that the Pelo war was between Sparta and "The Krauts."   He put it as an answer on a test. 

is truth truth or isn't truth truth?

Right.  Well.  What we have here is an opportunity for pedantry.  You can use such questions to logically obfuscate.  But that's all it is -- bullczitty obfuscation.   It's like when people answer a question with "well, which came first, the chicken or the egg?"   Sounds profound, but in fact, the egg Thcame first, and you know that with three seconds of thought.

There are certain truths that are objectively true (water freezes at 32 degrees Fahrenheit) and certyain truths that are subjectively true (if straight people are permitted to marry, so should gay people.)  The first group, being objectively true, is inarguable, ergo, true.


By the way, I would like to define "360 Degrees Fahrenthold. "  It is an indisputable and damaging story about Donald Trump,  meticulously covered from all angles, disclosed in The Washington Post.



Is this meant to measure what people think they know, or their confidence in what they think they know?

It was meant to measure what people know.  But it raises a good question:  Is there anyone out there who answered "I definitely know the right answer" but were wrong?   Write in here, with details.  This should be exciting. 

I've heard the reason being is that the asphalt is much more forgiving on the legs than cement sidewalks.

If I publish this, some pedants are going to lecture us on the difference between asphalt, concrete, cement, and tarmac. 

Joggers run on the street because street pavement is softer than sidewalk concrete. The average pedestrian would probably not notice this, but when you are pounding your body into the ground over and over for miles, it makes a big difference.

I might wish shin splints on you.   

I dislike "stealth joggers," who run up upon you from behind, creepily quiet as a hybrid car. 

The definition depends on jurisdiction. It doesn't always have to be in the commission of another crime, i.e., killing someone without malice aforethought.

It differs slightly, yet.  Where I get confused is where homicide is charged if someone dies during commission of a felony, the way the getaway driver gets charged with murder if a teller dies of a heart attack during the bank heist.  

the only one I didn't know FOR CERTAIN was the assassins question, but that one I probably could have sussed out given a little more time - My child attended a McKinley Elementary School, so we became well-versed in Mr. McKinley's life (and death) story.

He was a pretty good president!  He and Garfield might have been considered top tier. 

I was stuck between Mozart and Puccini for Cosi Fan Tutte, but I had the others. Of course, I'm 59. And BTW, thanks for the tip a few weeks ago on Rao's spaghetti sauce. You made a convert. Now go pester their customer service people for a year's free supply.

Yay!  I find them clearly better than all the rest.  More expensive, but worth it. 

I wouldn't consider the definition of manslaughter, who was President, the location of a city "cultural" questions. Knowledge of history, geography and law but I don't consider them culture. Cosi fan Tutte and the squab one are the only ones I would for sure say are cultural- the people I didn't know might me.

I think you are too narrowly construing "culture."  Every office, for example, has its own culture. 

I was certain I knew that it was fought by Athens and Sparta. But Wikipedia informs me that it was fought by the Delian League (led by Athens) against the Peloponnesian League (led by Sparta). I'd judge "World War II was the United States vs. Germany" incorrect, so I'd have to judge "Athens v. Sparta" incorrect as well.

I would judge you incorrect on that. 

Duh, they were both characters in a Stephen Sondheim musical.

Your Yankees are 32 games over .500 and 9 games out of first. The gNats are 1 game under .500 and only 7.5 games behind. Just thought I'd point that out.

The 'kees might wind up as the wild card team with the best winning percentage ever.  A terrible distinction. 

I said I definitely knew who Janet Cooke was. But I was thinking of Janet Reno. As soon as you said who Janet Cooke was, I knew the story/issue, but I probably would not have remembered her name, unprompted. (Age 53, not living in DC in 1981)

I may do a few more polls similar to this one.  They're kind of eye opening. 


And thanks for fessing up. 

Hey is there anyone else out there who said they definitely know an answer, but didn't?

I'm actually concerned I didn't know her. Got my B.S. in journalism and worked for 10 years as a reporter. How did my professors never bring her up?! In my mid 30s.

A little shocking!  Did your profs bring up ANY journo felons?  The lesson here is that criminals are criminals, and you must never take anyone's honesty as a given.  

I've been biking as my main means of transport in DC for decades. I generally bike in the street - or in bike lanes when possible - but bike on the sidewalk plenty as well. It depends on the street, the speed of traffic, the amount of traffic, how much light there is and whether I remembered to charge my light, how much foot traffic there is on the sidewalk, whether I'm biking alone or with my learning-to-bike kids, whether I want to turn at the next intersection and want to avoid a light, whether I'm about to leave or stop, and other factors. I do try to be extremely polite and wait my turn if I am behind anyone who's walking. When in the street, I also try to be scrupulous about not getting in the way of cars, waiting my turn at stop signs, etc. I hope you weren't the guy who yelled at me to get off the sidewalk while I was biking the half-block from my front yard to the bike lane on the street.

I wasn't.  I never yell.  But I think foul thoughts. 

I absolutely knew who composed Cosi Fan Tutte. Mozart, of course. Except today I pronounced it "Verdi".


It's astonishing that so few people know who Janet Cooke is. In this era of Fake News and "Truth Is Not Truth," her story seems especially relevant. Where is she now, anyway? I remember at the time that many thought that she would land at another paper after appropriate public contrition, but apparently that never happened.

Oh, that was never possible.  Even if someone wanted to give her a "second chance," the legal liability would have been insuperable.  Can you imagine what would happen in a subsequent libel suit against her?  "Reckless disregard for the truth" would be implicit.  (Lawyer: "You mean you hired her even KNOWING ...")

I could not immediately place the name. (Jack Kent Cooke's colorful wife?) When I Googled, I immediately knew the whole story. I remembered Jimmy's name before I saw it and many of the details of the kerfuffle. One thing that stuck in my memory about the investigation into the authenticity was a statement from the DC police that they would have known about such a case.

And it turns out they were being honest!  

I too have a neighborhood cat -- a handsome striped creature who comes to visit because he loves to cuddle. He tells me he'd like me to pick him up by rubbing up against me and entwining himself among my legs. Unfortunately, he chose to use this technique when I was trimming an overgrown crape myrtle, and I accidentally stepped grievously onto his foot. How long before I can quit feeling badly about it?

You can stop now if he still accepts your food and petitions for rubs.  If HE has forgiven you, you can,too. 

Sarah Vowell wrote an entertaining book about them. Of course, all her books are entertaining.

Yeah, really liked the book, but even more than liking it, I envied it.  It was basically a several-months, easy-peasy highly lucrative project.  I say this as an a-hole currently three years  late on a book deadline. 

Manafort prediction?

Hung jury.  Retrial. 

Freudian slip? (It should be a BA, no?)


Did you see the article on Kevin Spacey's new movie grossing about $600 over the weekend ? That's about 50 people who went. The article says that it was shown in 11 theaters over the weekend(maybe 10 showings per theater ?), which means the average audience was less then one person per showing. Apparently, there was no advertisements but still, there had to be some walk -up traffic.

Well, we all hate Spacey now, right?

People ride their bikes on the sidewalk because drivers are scary and the local infrastructure is not good for biking. (See poorly designed bike lanes, getting doored, etc.) People run in the roadway (especially longer distance runners) because asphalt is allegedly easier on the body than concrete sidewalks, but I think that getting hit by a car is hardest of all on the body, so I stay on the sidewalk.

You annoy the HELL out of me and 3,479,098 other pedestrians.   I am amused, though, if your bike bell is that little tinkly thing we hear on tricycles. 


I also like to look at your faces as you pass us.  You all look embarrassed.   ("Sorry, six-year-old passing by!")


Without Shakespeare, how many would know of Rosencranz and Guildenstern?

And without Tom Stoppard how many would know about Shakespeare???

From Wiki, taken from Ben Bradlee's book: "The story engendered much empathy among readers, including Marion Barry, then mayor of Washington, D.C. He and other city officials organized an all-out police search for the boy, which was unsuccessful and led to claims that the story was fraudulent. Barry, responding to public pressure, lied and claimed that Jimmy was known to the city and receiving treatment; Jimmy was announced dead shortly thereafter." Wow, I didn't know about that part of the story! How come Barry wasn't punished in some way for his lying?

Probably b/c there was no way of proving he wasn't referring to another kid. 

Your question about squab was nonsense. Squab is a type of meat out of which you can make any number of dishes. You basically asked the equivalent of: What is the main ingredient in the dish known as pork? Answer: pig

Squab is pigeon.   How many people knew that??

I hate him because he tied his "confession" of guilt to his "admitting publicly" that he's gay.

Yeah, good point.  The rapey part didnt seem to be his main point.  

As soon as your foot stops hurting. Oh, I see, you meant "feeling bad about it." To feel badly is to have trouble with your sensory organs.

I no longer correct this, but to be really pendantic: It's not referencing his foot hurting.  It's referencing his inexpertly groping (feeling badly) his foot. 

Did West Side Story make Romeo and Juliet popular?

No one would remember R&J otherwise.  

There are 18 charges against him. He will be convicted of something.

Not if there are some Trumpians, or at least one, on the jury. 

I am personally deeply upset that there hasn't been a groundswell of applause for my "360 degree Fahrenthold" joke.  

Your questions were hard, and overly political and male-oriented. I'm 41 and pretty literate, and I only knew 2 for sure (the cultural ones, squab and Mozart). Fascinating article in Slate recently about the time Agnes Scott College beat Princeton at College Bowl in the 1960s. It included Youtube footage of the episode, and the questions in that were hard too...

Oh, I should mention osso buco.  

You think it is oxtail.  So did I.  It turns out that is only one kind of osso buco, and that it is more likely to be from veal.  (Which I don't eat.)

So Sondheim gets credit for R&J, for Guiteau and Czolgosz, AND Sweeney Todd & Mrs. Lovett!

Of course. 

I believe there's been research to show that it's actually MORE dangerous to ride your bike on the sidewalk than on the streets. That's also why it's typically illegal to ride on sidewalks in cities, including in DC. When there are more bikes on the streets, driver awareness increases (and also hopefully cities implement more infrastructure to support safe biking). So, yeah, get off the sidewalk!!! Don't even get me started on the motorized scooters.

I once researched the DC-bike thing.   You may be oversimplifying.  I think it is illegal only in certain areas. 

I am a small woman. (I drive stick shift btw!) Once a year or so, I am ravenously hungry. Like, I could outeat Shaq. I feel like today is one of those days. Do I have permission to eat a second lunch? Thank you in advance.

And a third.  

I thought the first two questions were such layups that I had this thing. I eventually only got 4 (I know squab). I situationally ride my bike on the sidewalk. Such as when riding up the hill on 16th St. The sidewalk is lightly used. I will usually ride it heading south on 15th by the Washington Monument where I believe the official bike path in on the sidewalk. No one hold a grudge like a cat.

I have no problems with any of that. 

Who thinks it's oxtail?

It is OFTEN oxtail.  Though usually referred to as "oxtail osso buco." Look it up. 

Oxtail? Who ever thought that? It's veal shank...delicious, cruel, veal shank.

Technically it can be made with any tender meat with a hole in the center of the bone.  Look it up.  

Speaking of which, I think you should all read the novel "Under The Skin" by Michel Faber. 



Gene, the drumstick is NOT part of the chicken wing. The drumstick is the leg. And _pace_ the poster from last week, it is NOT called the "drummie". Jeez!

You need to re-read what I wrote. 

We here at Weingarten International now what a drumstick is.  But we also know that chicken wings, as commercially served, come in two parts: a flat part with tender meat between two parallel bones, and another part that RESEMBLES a small drumstick.  Geez. 

So you’ve come full circle Fahrenthold?


The idiots who do this (and I say that as a frequent cyclist myself) are under the impression that it's safer--cars scare them, so they stay away. But instead they are putting themselves in more danger (crossing driveways and intersections is WAY more dangerous when you are moving at 10+ mph on a sidewalk), putting the pedestrians at more risk, and infuriating everyone in the process--particularly other cyclists who have to explain their stupid behavior. If you are over age 13 or 14, get off the sidewalk and into the street.

Bless you. 

And with this, we adjourn.  See you all 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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