Chatological Humor (May 21)

May 21, 2019

Today's poll.

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 think we need to yank Abe Lincoln's name off public buildings, and get his face off our currency, because the man was a blatant racist.  In the fourth debate with Stephen Douglas, to much applause and some laughter, he smirked thathe would never marry a black woman, and did not think black people should vote or hold public office.  What are those things but blatant racism?

Furthermore, he never once advocated for the rights of gay people and was silent -- suspiciously silent -- on whether the deaf should be able to withhold cochlear implants for their children.  

So.  Off with his racist, ableist, homophobic head. 

Folks,  on the issue of erasing Tom Jefferson, we need to keep our heads, too.  The man wrote the Declaration of Independence.  He was one of our greatest presidents -- among other things, snookering Napoleon to double our land mass.  He championed religious freedom.  He sent Lewis and Clark westward. He was an intellectual giant unmatched in this country's history.  

Yes, he was a hypocrite, but he was a complicated hypocrite, as many of us are.   He spoke out against slavery -- calling it a "moral depravity" and a "hideous blot" against the country.  He backed legislation to abolish slavery.    But it was legal, and part of the system to which he was born, and he reached an uneasy private accommodation with his conscience. He also apparently loved a black woman, albeit in a deeply freighted way.   Complicated.  The man was complicated.

(So was Ben Franklin, by the way.  Later, he became an ardent abolitionist, but he once owned slaves, a lot of them.)

Jefferson's waffling on slavery was not enviable -- arguably deplorable -- but he was also not, say, a slaveholder and defender of slavery and a traitor to his country.   He is not deserving of erasure, and if he were, we'd be losing many other great names.   FDR, for expedient reasons, failed to act to confront or even acknowledge what he knew quite well was a massive Jewish genocide in Europe.  (See Jay Winik's extraordinary book "1944.")

And if none of that is enough, consider practicality and  strategy -- the political effects of the left pressing for Jefferson's extinction.  To a vast swath of America  -- including many reasonable people -- it would cement them as typical lefty loons.  This is not the time for that to happen.


On the issue of Jeopardy! -- I feel about it as most of you do.  Trying to change the rules to stymie people like Holzhauer seems slimy and small and venal.  He isn't cheating, he is beating the system.   I am reminded of how casinos repulsively will throw out players whom they conclude are "counting cards" -- a perfectly legitimate tool to increase your chances of winning, if you are good enough to do it.  Yech.

I initially tried to compare this in my mind to baseball initiating the "infield fly rule" to fix a problem, but decided that was completely different.  The basic rules of the game were flawed, and were being subverted by a deceptive strategy.  There is nothing deceptive about Holzhauer.

We will deal with GoT below.

In other important news, the felicitously named reader Michael Dick writes in to inquire about this rather odd episode in the comic strip "Agnes."  Michael asks what the kid's hand is doing in his pants, as he extends a tray with the other.  Is he just, um, stimulated by Agnes's little black dress?

I have no idea.  Anyone?

Again, we chat at noon, sharp.

Before I forget, there is another factor with Jefferson I should mention:  His public life was pretty much impeccable; he did and said the morally right things.  It is the conduct of his private life that is in question, and that's an important distinction.

What if we discovered, beyond the possibility of error, that Jefferson had once knifed a pimp to death in a dispute over a prostitute, and that it was clearly murder.  Horribly amoral thing.  Would we be having this same conversation about erasing him?  I don't think so.   

I would like to think that if I was born thousands of years ago in Egypt, or hundreds of years ago in Virginia, or 50 years ago in Indiana, I would have known that OWNING another person and profiting from their endless free labor was a horrible thing to do. Sometimes we shouldn't give people a pass for the times they lived in. This isn't like he just used the N word, before "colored" became "black" became "African American" and on and on through the years.


This is seldom mentioned, but Washington owned slaves.  A lot of them.   Do we need to rename Washington, D.C.?  Get him off the dollar bill? 

Where does this end?

Andrew Jackson is a valid argument.  He was a genocidal maniac AS PRESIDENT.  Official policy.

Is the Jefferson question related to the Fox News Townhall kerfuffle with Mayor Buttigieg? Because if it is - he was specifically talking about the Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners, a long-time Southern Democratic Party tradition. Which, yes, should be reexamined, as maybe Jefferson and Andrew Jackson are the greatest icons for a modern political party.

It was occasioned by that, yes, though Buttigieg's comments were not as definitive as the right wing media said.  But it IS an open issue, and as the poll results suggests, not a small number of libs think it is valid.  It is not.

Day after day I’m confronted with breathtaking hypocrisy on the part of GOP leaders such as Mitch McConnell whining about do-overs or Trump claiming that no president has ever been treated as badly as him and I can’t come up with a response much stronger that “You cannot be serious.” I’m hoping that since you are such a brilliant wordsmith that you might be able to come up with a phrase that better expresses the outrageousness of the situation and depth of my fury. Is that too much to ask? Is flattery an effective motivator?

It's a one-word political slogan for 2020, first proposed, to my knowledge, by Lisa Shroder.  It should be used by whoever the Dem standard-bearer is:


I wanted to check "all of the above" on the GOT social media question. (I don't watch GOT and never have) Yeah they seem like dweebs, but I respect people who parade their dweebiness rather than trying to act cool. And ultimately I don't care because GOT posts are less annoying than people bragging or trying to sell me stuff. Social media is pretty perfect for discussing these kind of big but fleeting communal cultural moments (also: super bowl, dresses that could be blue or gold) so I just accept it.

I am half invested in the grumpy minority on this, and not proud of it.  It's not an intellectual reaction, really -- there is nothing wrong with people getting excited by a TV show and using their excitement to talk to others so inclined -- it's visceral.   I've been reading this stuff and rolling my eyes.

Also, I am singularly unqualified to comment.  I've never seen a single episode of GoT.  So let me just comment.

Typical tweet:

"Omigod I hope Woof the Grandmaster Epigod doesn't get killed by Zombie Phil.  I'm not sure I could handle that.  I am watching between steepled fingers in case I have to shut it out."

I understand that this show was wildly popular, and that there were some good reasons for it, among them that it took great pains to deliver the unexpected and to puncture TV cliches, such as killing off central characters, even early in the show.  (I respect such anarchy and sedition.)  I am told it was far more medium-lite entertainment than Art, but there is nothing wrong with medium-light entertainment.

What I don't get is the unabashed, slavish, almost childish emotional commitment to a preposterous fantasy world created, somewhat cynically, to create unabashed, slavish almost childish emotional commitment in the viewers.  People seem to have been manipulated by something that does not seem to offer Greater Truths.  Again, nothing wrong  with that.  But the babbling on Twitter?  Made me cringe a bit.  Sorry.  Yes, I know I am old and curmudgeonly and Wrong.   Have at me.

I have heard two opposing viewpoints on Democratic Candidates lately. One amounts to "the more the better," and the other to "Pick the strongest candidate and leave it at that." I believe the latter; and I am concerned that the current trend towards diversity will result in a candidate who has no chance of defeating Trump. Do you concur?

I'm optimistic.  I think the strongest candidate will prevail.  The Dems need to agree not to savage each other. 

Please be specific about the numbers of slaves they each owned. You wrote that Franklin owned “a lot of them.” How many is “a lot”? I once read somewhere that he owned 2 (with whom he worked side-by-side in his printing business) and that members of his household owned a handful of others. His views (and Lincoln’s views) on slavery evolved. Jefferson, according to an exhibit I once attended at the Smithsonian, owned over 600. OVER SIX HUNDRED. Some of them were his offspring. OVER SIX HUNDRED! Please do your dang research before writing about this inflammatory subject, even on a chat. You are so much better than this writing you just posted. Thank you.

Can someone research how many slaves Ben owned?  If it was two, I misspoke.  I remembered more.

WASHINGTON owned a lot.

The only way he could be considered beating the system is if he has some sort of buzzer training that allows him to be better at 'ringing in' than other contestants. If he didn't know the answers his betting strategy would be moot. He knows the answers, so it is not a thing that he is a gambler, it is a thing that he is a very well rounded and smart gambler.

Buzzer training would not be cheating!

I don't get the difference between a standing joke and a running gag.

They are actually quite different.  


A running gag is a type of reference that keeps recurring through a work of art, literature, etc., often with slight variations but the same structure.   A good example is Dave Barry's repeated declaration that "xxxxx" would be a good name for a rock band.

A standing joke is something specific that is seen as funny and often referred to among friends and acquaintances.  

The internet gives this example: "The fact that Debbie is always late has become a standing joke among her friends."

Can you/the Post confirm that the appeals judge hearing Trump's appeal of turning over the financial documents is .... Merrick Garland. Heard it but it sounds too good to be true. Would that be poetic Justice for Republicans and Trump, wiocaHa.

Note that Holzhauer succeeded by KNOWING THE ANSWERS TO THE QUESTIONS! His non-traditional but permissible strategy would have sunk him quickly if he had been wrong a few times.

Right.  He is sharp as hell.

For a sports analogy, changing the rules would be like if MLB somehow outlawed or discouraged home runs after Babe Ruth starting hitting more than any other team. Or, for something that actually DID happen, the NCAA outlawing dunks to suppress the dominance of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (the "official" reasons were related to "safety," and that it's not a skilled shot, but that's all bunk).

Well, the closest thing that did happen was when the MLB lowered the pitching mound after pitching became wildly dominant in the late 1960s, particularly Bob Gibson.

I am agnostic on whether they should have done that. 

I always wondered why no one had ever deployed a strategy of betting big. I guess it took a gambler who knew a lot of trivial crap. I do wonder (and I thought this back when Ken Jennings was playing) whether reinstituting undefeated champions with a game limit, say 15 or 20. I can't watch after a while. Perhaps a question for your chatters ? And on a side note they should let the losers keep their winnings.

Yeah, it's a gambling strategy: Keep pushing half your pile in.  

You know, limiting the number of wins wouldn't fundamentally compromise the game.  But it still would feel a little icky, wouldn't it.  Bush league.

Which reminds me, people are proposing moving the pitcher's mound back a foot or so, to eliminate the trend of either-strikeout-or -home-run.   How do we feel about that?

There is absolutely no reason to change Jeopardy. They're getting the highest ratings ever, Trebek loves the guy (and any joy Alex can muster these days is worth a lot, considering his cancer diagnosis), and he's fun to watch. I heard him on the radio this weekend, and the way he described it from a gambler's point of view made a whole lot of sense. If you were in a casino and they offered you a chance to double your money on something you had a 70-80% chance of winning, you'd mortgage your house to make that kind of a bet. He figures he has a 70-80% chance of correctly answering any daily double or final jeopardy, so he bets big. It's just amazing nobody ever tried it before. He'll lose eventually. Everybody does (except Watson), but for now he's the best thing to happen to Jeopardy since Ken Jennings. (Even Ken thinks so - per his piece in your paper yesterday.)

I agree.

I spent a good chunk of March sharing my excitement on social media about college basketball, so it'd be pretty hypocritical of me to belittle people over a show I don't care about.

To me, sports is different!  A bit!  Perhaps like Jefferson, I am being a hypocrite, but to me, it's a different arena.  You are not being suckered by a writer creating a world designed to sucker you.  It's a contest.  Nothing is scripted.  Anything can happen.

His hand is in his pocket. He's nervous. You're reading WAY too much into it...

People put their hands in their pockets when they are nervous?

Hiya, Gene - I've been reading these chats for years (female, stick-shift driver) and remember that you went through some agonies in finishing your book. Well, you and I share a literary agent, and I swiped a copy of the galleys from her desk last week. Read the whole thing in two days and absolutely loved it. It will be a long time before I stop thinking about [redacted so to avoid spoilers for others]. Also, I Facebook-stalked a few of the people after you mentioned their pages, and WOW. So fascinating to poke around and see the lives of the man who [redacted] and especially the woman who [redacted] her [redacted]. Did you have any qualms about including the info that her FB page was visible? I'm guessing it won't stay that way for long after the book comes out. Anyway, from one author to another: bravo! You did it, and it's excellent.

Thank you!

Yeah, it's pretty much verite.   For the sake of the credibility of the book, I disguised no identities, etc.   I would not have printed her ADDRESS, but Facebook page?  Sure .

Last week you said you don't understand why people see prostitutes. I understand the point you were making about what is lacking emotionally in such encounters, but do you really not understand that some people care only about the physical pleasure involved? What I don't understand is how clients get past the practical considerations of avoiding exposure to a bunch of diseases (some of which apparently can be transmitted despite condom use), potentially opening themselves to blackmail, etc.

I admit I might be naive here, and that I also sound self-righteous.   But I could never get past the pathetic emptiness of the encounter.  It would make me feel terrible about myself.

Add to that the risks and dangers.

Add to that the idea of paying for something that people with ANY sort of personal agency would not have to pay for.

Add to the fact that in many cases you are availing yourself of the services of someone who is being abused.

The whole thing seems really dreadful to me.   You can pleasure yourself for less money and less danger and less humiliation.  And nowadays, there seem to be devices that help!

I still don/t get it.

Alex Trebek is fighting a cancer that doesn't have a great survival rate. His Jeopardy! days may be numbered. I wonder how he feels about his possibly final phase in a long hosting career being notable for Holzauer's historic run.

He seems happy with it. 

I think the correct way to judge historical figures is to compare their behavior against the norms for the time, offset for whatever good they've done. In this light, Lincoln was a model of humanity; Jefferson was a wash (even at the time, he lied about whose children Sally Hemings birthed); and Woodrow Wilson was despicable.

Interesting take.  I like it.

Wilson was definitely despicable in that he was an ardent racist who RE-segregated the federal workforce.  He was also a pretty accomplished president, but he is falling in public estimate for good reason.

No, Gene is not. It struck me, and everyone I talked to about it, the same way. It was weird, and not funny.

I am waiting for an explanation from the cartoonist.  I asked.    It's interesting, isn't it?

Do you think the phrase "turn back the clock to a time" has a negative connotation? I do, but if you don't, you can ignore the rest of this question I was disappointed to see it in a Post profile of a conservative activist. I think the Post, along with many other outlets, is doing amazing and immensely important work in supporting an open and democratic society. I know major articles are edited to death, and I was shocked to see that phrasing, as I expect editors to scrub any language that could even hint of bias

How was this used?  Can't judge it out of context.

Danny Drinkwater should have stuck to his name. Instead: The Chelsea footballer Danny Drinkwater has been banned from driving for 20 months and ordered to do 70 hours’ community service after admitting to drink-driving. Guardian link

I love the Brit term "drink-driving."

Something that I simply cannot figure out.... Some of these parents bribed college sports coaches to get their kids admitted to prestigious schools by claiming the kids were athletes. What happens when the kid gets into the school but can't play the sport? Doesn't someone notice? It would seem that even for less-popular sports, there would be Athletic Directors or other players or people in the stands watching who would say "You know, she really doesn't know how to kick a ball."

I am sure the kids never play.  They get lost in the cracks.  

I answered Yes, but not for the reason one might suppose. I think that history should cover key figures in all their complexities and contradictions, as you summarized so well for Thomas Jefferson in your introduction. Also, a conversation might provide the perspective needed for many people to characterize some demands as being on lunatic fringe of political correctness.

But the discussion itself is kind of harmful, no?  There are things that should NOT be discussed as though they are truly serious issues.   Are gay people normal?  That's not open for discussion. 

I favor discussion.   A discussion over Jackson is warranted.  The discussion over Lee was warranted.  Woodrow Wilson, sure.   Jefferson?  I think not.

It's nice for us to sit here and think that we'd "know" that owning other people was wrong, even back in the day. But back in the day, the slaves weren't considered people. They were property. I don't know how to say this without sounding callous, but slaves were treated the same as livestock or tools or anything else that cost money and needed to be kept in operating condition. So yeah, food and medical care just enough to keep them working. But very few in society would consider them to be humans worthy of the same respect and treatment as other (white) people. There's a plantation museum about an hour outside New Orleans that interprets slavery. It's terrible and wonderful and traumatizing and humanizing and every American should be required to visit. It's Whitney Plantation, in Edgard, LA.

I agree with you in part.  But remember that half the country outlawed slavery (though they were complicit from a distance.)  Clearly it was an issue.

Another poster called Jefferson a "rapist."  It's an interesting point, certainly arguable.  He had sex with Sally Hemings, whom he owned, so by definition that cannot have been truly consensual.  But rape is a crime, and by the laws of the state at the time, perforce he committed to crime.  I'm sure neither he nor his countrymen considered that rape.

It's interesting.

Regarding a previous answer about whether it hurts to have this discussion: As I said, politically, it could be devastating to the good guys.  We look like nuts to the bad guys and undecided.

The Atlantic League has an agreement with MLB to test some of their proposed changes. During the second half of this season, they're going to move the pitcher's mound back 2 feet. I think it's ridiculous, but since we have an Atlantic League team here in town (Sugar Land TX - which is the most ridiculous location for an "Atlantic" League team, but I digress....) I'll definitely go check it out and let you know how it goes.

It's going to REALLY wreak havoc on the pitchers.  Theirs is a subtle craft.  For 100 plus years, they've been throwing curve balls designed to break at exactly 56 feet, four inches, or whatever...

I heard a joke once about this: A guy is walking along the street with a loaf of bread in his right hand and his left hand in his pocket when he meets his priest coming the other way. The priest says, "I see you've got the staff of life in your hand." "Yes, Father." And what do you have in your other hand?" asks the priest. "A loaf of bread, Father."

Nice.  Telegraphed, but nice.

I also thought that your views about sex workers were a tad innocent for someone of your age and life experience. The biggest problem with prostitution -- at least in the U.S. -- is that it is illegal. That means that a woman who makes this choice is entering the criminal underworld. She's is committing a crime, her customers are committing crimes, the people around her are committing crimes. In many countries prostitution is legal, licensed and regulated. In Amsterdam the women can join a labor union. In Australia licensed brothels advertise in the tourist magazines, next to the nightclubs and restaurants. In places where it's legal the woman are much less likely to be trafficked or abused, and when it happens they are free to go straight to the cops and get help. As to health considerations, picking up a stranger in a bar is probably riskier than seeing somebody whose license requires medical checks. Not everybody sees sex as exclusive to marriage or a committed relationship.

The "illegal" argument doesn't wash with me.  For 70 years pot was illegal.

The other arguments are important, particularly since these women are often badly abused and coerced into what they do: Even if they are coerced by circumstance, that's still coercion.

I am sure there are sex workers who want to be sex workers, probably many, but I bet the majority would prefer some other life.

Washington married the richest widow in Virginia who brought with her a considerable number of slaves. Legally, they were in trust for her children except for some that were her "dower". Washington freed his slaves in his will but these were not included.

He could have manumitted them anytime he wanted!

I'm a museum guide in a historic home. I mostly give tours to 1st graders on field trips. It's important to us to include the enslaved people who lived there as we talk about daily life in 1800, but it's tricky to talk about it in a matter-of-fact way. The man who lived in this house enslaved a shocking number of people. But he did some good stuff, too...And it's a lot of tap dancing to do in each little section of the tour especially when some of the kids seem to be hearing about slavery for the first time...So, people out there: talk about it. Find a way to introduce it as an absolute monstrosity committed by what were otherwise ordinary people. It's important that we remember that's a thing that happens again and again.


Not on topic but what if building is built (say at a school) after a large donation for the purpose of building the building. Of course, the building is named for the donor. Now fast forward a few years, the donor is imprisoned for a terrible crime. Now the school as the Madoff Center or the Cosby Annex,etc. What does the school do? Tear it down? Refund the money and rename? I assume they can't just rename as the donor made the name part of the contract on receiving the money.

Hm, I remember reading of one such case not that long ago.  The school basically went to the guy and coerced him into agreeing to a re-name.  Anyone remember this case? 

Means what?

There have been reports that after getting admitted to play a sport, students claimed an injury or something else that would prevent their participation. Playing wasn't really a condition of enrollment.

Ah, thank you.

Have you seen the VW ad where the guy says he doesn't need to lock the car because its a stick shift? They also have other ads playing up the fact. Maybe manuals aren't dead.

I have never had a car of mine stolen.   I have a column on this coming up.

They explained this in early coverage - Coaches frequently bring kids in to play a sport on scholarship, but then discover the kid's not as good as promised. The player might lose their scholarship, but they don't kick them out of school. So the bribed coaches would say "Oh, rich kid - helluva water polo player," Kid gets admitted, then coach says, "Too bad for Rich Kid, tore her uvula. Lost her scholarship." but Kid stays in the school.

I like the idea of a torn uvula.

They follow a parabolic path. That means they deviate at an increasing angle from a straight path, but there is no sudden change of direction (a "break").

Did you ever see Sandy Koufax break off a curve?  Have you never seen a curve ball "fall off a table." It's a "break."  Whatever the details of the physics, the balls have a discernible sudden change of direction.

You would 99.999999% certainly not have thought in your heart that slavery was wrong. Be honest with yourself. 50 years ago in Indiana yes, you should have known, but in other times and places it really isn't as clear-cut.

The Israelites had slaves, no?  And they were Jews, ergo liberals.

I'm sick unto death of hearing white American descendants of slave owners (not to mention descendants of actual Nazis in WW II Germany) complaining that they bear a burden, when in fact those families and their descendants in fact benefited from the arrangements.

What burden do they claim to bear?

Merrick Garland is the chief judge of the D.C. Circuit. It's inaccurate to say he's "hearing Trump's appeal of turning over the financial documents." For one thing, appeals are heard by panels of three judges, not by one single judge. For a second thing, if an appeal has been filed already (and I'm not sure that one has), we in the general public don't yet know which judges have been assigned to it. And one larger point: To be gleeful that Garland is the chief judge, in anticipation that he's going to rule against Trump, is to engage in the same sort of nonsense that Trump does when he dismisses the rulings of judges appointed by Obama or Clinton -- it damages the judiciary.

True, but he influences that court.  It's not like he will have zero to do with the decision.

It was the Jeffrey Dahmer School of Diet and Nutrition.

Thank you.

... but what is this chat if not a discussion? Or by "no discussion" did you mean "I get to share my opinion on the matter and then everyone else has to shut up"? Come on, now. Also, Sally Hemings was not "a black woman" when Jefferson started sleeping with her. Try "a black teenage girl" in your intro and see how it reads.

I mean an open political discussion, by politicians.  In public forums.

I haven't been following this too closely but it seems to me that Holzhauer's skill set -- gambler's instinct, nerves of steel, and voluminous knowledge of trivia -- is unlikely to be widely available, so any pool of imitators would be small. But if not, so what? Jeopardy has been on forever for a game show. It can run out of money and the world will go on.

Also true!

Last week a chatter mentioned an Atlantic piece about a woman being responsible for Shakespeare's works. So, I went to find it and seems like a solid argument! Did you read it yet?

No, I will.   Thanks.  I will be shocked if I find it persuasive, but let's see!

I am pro-life, but not anti-choice. My beliefs are just that--beliefs--and I have no right to impose them on others. Abortion should be legal, with very few exceptions. However, I have a couple of questions, and since I've never found another forum that allows for open-minded, respectful discussion of abortion, I immediately thought of Gene (ha). First--and this is mainly for the anti-abortion crowd--why should there be exceptions for rape or incest? If you're truly anti-abortion, why do the circumstances of conception matter? Isn't a life a life? Second--and I hope I can get a calm answer here because it riles people--why is this about women's control over their own bodies? Isn't there a second body there that has a stake in it? Granted, it's a parasite fully dependent on the woman's body, but still. (Can you tell I'm not a parent?) I'm a middle-aged woman, and a pretty liberal one at that, and again, I think that there should be very few restrictions on abortion. But I can't shake these questions, and I really do want to understand.

I have asked your first question many times and never gotten a good answer from the pro-life crowd.

Your second question requires us to define as "life" something that is is not yet alive, by any meaningful standard, and further, to elevate that non-alive thing to an importance greater than that of the fully alive person within whom the non-alive something resides, and whose wishes MUST be considered first.

I admit I think this is an easier call than many people do.  Only a fool would try to claim that the morality here is manifest.  I don't disrespect those like you who feel a three month fetus is a life -- to me it is the equivalent of a seed.  But that's me. 

This is a collision of two moralities.  I'm for the woman.

Woooooooow. I am surprised to be in the minority on the Jefferson question, and maybe it'll change when more people take the poll, but.... Dude was a rapist. He owned people. Yes, he also wrote some powerful important documents, but we can DEFINITELY separate the work from the man, much the way many people choose to separate art from problematic artists. Praise the documents, not the man. Renaming buildings won't somehow make the ideas and the words invalid. It just signals that we're not cool with rape and slavery. I don't understand why we can't get behind that.

Because it's more complicated than that.  Not that black and white, no pun intended.

If interested, here are all the rule changes the Atlantic League this season (and MLB is considering): Home plate umpire assisted in calling balls and strikes by a TrackMan radar tracking system No mound visits permitted by players or coaches other than for pitching changes or medical issues Pitchers must face a minimum of three batters, or reach the end of an inning before they exit the game, unless the pitcher becomes injured Increase size of 1st, 2nd and 3rd base from 15 inches square to 18 inches square Require two infielders to be on each side of second base when a pitch is released (if not, the ball is dead and the umpire shall call a ball) Time between innings and pitching changes reduced from 2:05 to 1:45 Distance from pitching rubber to home plate extended 24 inches, in the second half of the season only; with no change to mound height or slope MLB will analyze the effects of these changes before deciding on potential additional modifications during the 2019 ALPB All-Star Break and in future seasons.

I don't love this stuff, particularly outlawing "the shift."  Or making the bases bigger.  Or forcing pitchers to face three batters.  These things will REALLY change the game.

Gene, it's an optical illusion caused by poor depth perception. From above, the ball is traveling in a smooth curve. From the perspective of the batter, the combination of the curve and the reduced distance makes it appear to move more suddenly. There's no way in physics for a rapidly rotating ball (a curve ball) to make a sudden move. Knuckleballs are different, in that they rely on a very slowly rotating ball and the raised seams. Which is why knuckleballers who cheat try to cut into the ball to create additional raised edges.

But aren't all pitches traveling in a parabola, inasmuch as all are affected by gravity?  I admit my knowledge here is poor.   Are you suggesting that pitchers will not have to alter their grip, arm speed and delivery if the mound is two feet further away?

No, that's not how it works. If he's not on the panel, he will not influence the decision.

The other judges answer to him.  They are depended on his for assignments and whatnot.

Hi Gene, Since I moved to DC I have owned four cars, all stick-shift. The second one was stolen. I know the odds are low, but they're not zero.


While this story is fully disgusting, I have to say that I was struck by the fact that the names of the three main subjects are Alec Arapahoe, William Mexican, and Boston Stanton.

Uh.  Which story?  I love the names. 

dweebs, feebs and dips-----s I should know. I am one of them.


This discussion reminds me of the NFL changing their overtime rules after the Green Bay Packers lost in overtime when the other team got the ball first and scored a field goal on that possession. The other team was seen as inferior. In order to prevent this in the future, now if this happens, the other team gets a possession of the ball. My thought is if Green Bay was such a superior team, then why did the game go to overtime? This was an unnecessary rule change.

I disagree.  I think this was an example of a PERFECT rule change, just like the infield fly rule.  Before it, in a tie game that was going to overtime, the results of the coin flip for possession often became the deciding factor in the game.  Vastly too important.  The results seemed arbitrary.  Not good for the game.

The only rule fix that could address Holzhauer's strategy is forcing contestants to choose the lowest available dollar amounts in categories first and he would still win then, just with less money. I think the backlash to the backlash is much larger than the backlash anyways and both are probably much larger than Jeopardy's nightly audience.

That would so kill the element of strategy it would ruin the game, I think.

I am pro-choice and understand the questions completely. I struggled similarly and came to the same conclusion as Gene - it is a conflict. For me, even if you accept that a foetus is a life, it is a life that is imposing itself on you, physically, against your will. In a non-legal sense, it is an assault.

A little harsh, but I get your point.

Babe Ruth made baseball more entertaining than it had been. What will really be fun is when there's a show with 3 people using Holzauer's strategies.

It all might come down to who gets the first pick!!

Gene, I emailed you earlier this am but just now figured out this here chat. Your thoughts on the FINAL END to the MacDonald saga. (I say final because this latest bunch of lawyers did not even both to request permission to appeal to the Supreme Court once the Fourth Circuit affirmed Judge Fox's denial of relief.) It has taken 49 years to get to this point. Think about that. Those little girls would be in their fifties. As a lawyer who has worked on both sides of the criminal bar for nearly 40 years, I have tried to explain to frustrated clients and their families that yes, the wheels of justice grind slow but fortunately, exceedingly fine. But this case developed a set of legs that never wore out and I just don't get it. I really don't. Besides the loads and loads of evidence which supports the jury's verdict of guilt, only one fact does it for me: while the crazed bunch of hippies were savaging a pregnant woman and two little girls sleeping in their beds, Jeffrey MacDonald suffered the following trauma allegedly meted out by these crazed killers: four puncture wounds on the left side of his chest (self-inflicted), a laceration in his upper left abdomen (probably put there by Collette in defending herself), a laceration in his upper left abdomen, a shallow cut on his left arm, a superficial cut between two fingers of a hand and a contusion on his left forehead (probably put there, again, by Collette as she furiously fought her husband while trying to defend herself and her two daughters. That is enough send him to prison for life - and in federal prison - I do mean life. Final thoughts?

Yes, MacDonald is now, thankfully, in prison with no shot of ever getting out.

I'm not sure I quite get your point though.  Of course he was guilty, as should have been obviously to every sentient being.  But it is his right to appeal until he can't do it anymore.  And to get the best possible counsel, etc. No?

It used to be that a 5-time "Jeopardy!" winner would be "retired" from the game. But then "Jeopardy!" producers reconsidered, and obviously thought it would be more exciting to allow champions to keep on winning for as long as they were able. The Law of Unintended Consequences is at work here.

I like the no-limit.

Gene, I think your awesome colleague Hank Stuever summed it up best: "It’s also why I’m glad some unnamed, unwitting hero left a coffee cup in the camera shot in the episode that aired May 5. That one coffee cup humanized the whole endeavor. It reminded us that a TV show, no matter how absorbing, is a folly, a fake, a job that someone is hired to do, so that an HBO subscription can be sold to you." I was a YUGE fan of GoT, but people, it's JUST A TV SHOW! EVERYBODY SIMMER DOWN!


"Defending Your Life." I mean -- Albert Brooks and Meryl Streep? Golden. I'm with you on Thomas Jefferson, but I think they should adapt Jeopardy!. Not because Holzhauer has done anything wrong -- he hasn't -- but because once someone learns how to "game" the game, others copy that technique. And then that's all the game becomes. Just imagine Jeopardy! as a string of Holzhauers. Not entertaining.

Correct on Defending Your Life.  But it was a comedy.  Didn't take itself seriously: THAT what kills most afterlife movies.

"What I don't get is the unabashed, slavish, almost childish emotional commitment to a preposterous fantasy world created, somewhat cynically, to create unabashed, slavish almost childish emotional commitment in the viewers." I think this traces back to some flaw in our brains regarding visual stories -movies/TV. You don't get this kind of emotional outbursts regarding serialized books. Some small part of our brains are inclined to think these stories when presented this way are real not imaginary (just a little bit real). Hence the over involvement with shows like GOT, Lost, even American Idol and Survivor.

Understood, but isn't it just a little... unseemly?

I know, I know.  I feel old and grumpy.

I get the impression Alex Trebek is thrilled that his show is a national sensation again and thrilled that the focus is not all on his illness.


By the way, I never liked him much.  I am liking him way more now.  He is handling this with honest and dignity and most surprising, vulnerability.   I am impressed.

When I was a young lad at American University, they named the new sports center after Adnan Khashoggi, Saudi billionaire, arms dealer, and Iran-Contra player. The students and faculty protested, albeit weakly in my recollection. Eventually, they saw the light and removed his name - when he defaulted on his promised donation to the school.

Ha.  Great kicker.

Viewed from the side, yes all pitches are parabolas due to the force of gravity. Viewed from above, curveballs are parabolas. Both of them can cause optical illusions as the ball travels at 90mph from 60 feet away to 0 feet away. The "sudden drop" of a sinker is the same as the "sudden break" of a curve ball.

But it IS sudden, isn't it? 

I'm completely pro-choice and think the loony Bible thumpers won't be satisfied until condoms and vasectomies are outlawed BUT I think, in retrospect, Roe hasn't been worth it. We've suffered generations of drooling inbreds in government, brought out of the woodwork by this one issue. And in 2016, most white women voters voted for the Orange Menace. I'm an old white dude; if it doesn't matter to them why should it matter to me?

I hate that white woman stat.

This all sounds like a way for people to feel virtuous without actually doing anything hard. Instead of fixating so much on the sins of our ancestors, maybe we need to take a good hard look on our own behavior. War, incarceration, raising animals for food, getting drunk, pornography. These sorts of thing might cause or ancestors to wonder how we could be such monsters.

Also, reparations.  I think that's a serious issue to be seriously discussed.   After 2020.

What is your take on candidates who appear on Fox News? I know that you've (rightfully) railed against the stupidity of the electorate who voted for and continues to support Trump but how do candidates expect to win votes and *keep* them if you don't convince the other side? Its not enough to just eke out the Presidency in 2020, the House &/or Senate need to be won and kept as well. Otherwise the tribalization will just get worse and worse and we'll be back here, or in a worse place, in 2-4 years time. Your thoughts?

I think they definitely need to appear on Fox News, unless Fox news starts ambushing them unfairly, which I don't think has been happening.  I think Buttigieg won FOX fans with his answer on abortion.

Do fictional characters ever move you? Is it always a sucker's game between you and the author?

Yes, but it's relatively rare.   I read almost exclusively nonfiction.

Loved DeLillo and Shakespeare and Vidal and Wouk and Twain.  Engaged with characters.

But GoT is entirely different: fan fiction fantasy.  Not my thing.   Wasn''t big on Lord of the Rings.

Thank you for the mayonnaise joke, reader.  You're right, I can't publish it.

George Mason University should have kept the name "Antonin Scalia School of Law". The abbreviation "assol" was perfect.

I had forgotten that.  Very nice.

Okay, we're done.  Next week!  And thanks.

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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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