Tuesdays with Moron: Chatological Humor Update

Jul 12, 2011

Every Tuesday, Gene publishes weekly updates to his chats.

Gene's most recent chat: June 28

Gene's most recent update: July 05

On one Tuesday each month, Gene is online to take your questions and abuse. He will chat about anything. Although this chat is sometimes updated between live shows, it is not and never will be a "blog," even though many persons keep making that mistake. One reason for the confusion is the Underpants Paradox: Blogs, like underpants, contain "threads," whereas this chat contains no "threads" but, like underpants, does sometimes get funky and inexcusable.

Important, secret note to readers: The management of The Washington Post apparently does not know this chat exists, or it would have been shut down long ago. Please do not tell them. Thank you.

Weingarten is also the author of "The Hypochondriac's Guide to Life. And Death," co-author of "I'm with Stupid," with feminist scholar Gina Barreca and "Old Dogs: Are the Best Dogs," with photographer Michael S. Williamson.

New to Chatological Humor? Read the FAQ.

Ed's Note: If composing your questions in Microsoft Word please turn off the Smart Quotes functionality or use WordPad. I haven't the time to edit them.

Could you please speak out about the difference between the meanings of the word "optional" and the phrase "not an option"? Enough people seem to have stopped differentiating between these that Tide has launched an entire ad campaign (ex. one  and two, both of which I have seen during primetime network shows) with the tagline, "Style is an option. Clean is not." The country--nay, the world--needs a cutting-edge grammar reporter to let these people know that they are advertising their cleaning product by explicitly stating that cleanliness is not available when using said product.

You know, people who make a lot more money than you or I -- top-level ad-agency people, have pushed the button on these ads.  

This is hilarious.  It's pretty spectacular incompetence.

I am getting a large tattoo on my back. It's not my first, so I thought I was well-prepared for the pain. I was not. Wow, was that excruciating. Oddly, it hurt far worse on the left side of the body. It's a symmetrical design, so the needle hit the same parts of the body on both sides, but there was a distinct difference in feeling. On the right, it felt like a red-hot wire laid against my skin. Painful, but manageable. On the left, it felt like he was jabbing directly into my bone and possibly out the other side, like he was using a Bowie knife to hack out giant hunks of flesh instead of inserting a small needle 1/16 of an inch into the skin. When I mentioned it (between gritted teeth and strangled sobs) to the tattooist, he said that a lot of people think the left is worse, but he didn't know why. He said it is true for both men and women. I have to go in for more work to finish the design. Do you have a reason why it would hurt so differently? Maybe if I knew I could dismiss it. Or maybe I'll just scream more and grit teeth less.

I'll answer your question, then ask one of my own.  

I've just been reading tattoo websites, and tattoo artists DO in fact report that people feel back pain more acutely on the left side.   No one really knows why, including, apparently, neurologists.    I have a theory.    Most people are right handed, meaning they might have a slighly stronger musculature on the right side.   A guess. 

Now, my question.   Why tattoos?   Why place permanent art on your body?   Do you think your tastes will never change?    Would you replace your hair with a permanent wig, in a permanent hairdo that you could never alter?   

There are certain fads  and fashions that I think people will look back on with grave dismay.   But the kids who are walking around with the underpants showing -- they'll grow up and reconsider, and all they'll have left are unflattering snapshots. 

Yes, I know.   I am old and out of it.   But YOU are going to be 77 years old with a something totally ridiculous on your back.   Sort of like my mustache.   BUT I CAN SHAVE THE MUSTACHE IF I WANT.

Hiroshima survivor meeting the co-pilot of the Enola Gay on "This is your life".

This is completely riveting, and in its own way, appalling.   

I have been reading your chats for about a year now and apologize if you have covered this question before. You are an atheist. But do you believe in ghosts? Have you seen those crazy ghost story shows on The Travel Channel? They seem to record ghosty voices and such. If there is no afterlife, how do you explain this?

You believe in ghosts?

I think this is the first time I have heard someone argue for the possibility of God from the standpoint of the certainty of ghosts.   

I explain the ghosts in the TV show by pointing out it is a TV show.      I also would like to refer to my central thesis about the march of civilization.   The march of civilization, more than any other single thing, is the gradual, relentless, inexorable dismantling of all theories of magic.    Not once has there been a moment where a possible scientific theory has been supplanted by proof of something supernatural.   


If I had been Peter Perl or any other mentor I would have said right up front, Everything you say here is in confidence, except where I am required by law to disclose it. I won't disclose it without telling you but I will disclose it. (I say a variation of this to the students I advise.) The biggest concession I would make, if I had been in Perl's place, is to say, Look, I will give you 12 or 24 hours to put your house in order and make this disclosure on your own, but I have to tell. If you like, I can go with you. Here is why Perl has to tell. If he doesn't, he has to take on the responsibility of which laws the Post will follow and which ones it will not. Publishers and editors-in-chief, abetted by the Post's excellent attorneys, are the only ones who can make those decisions. Editors and reporters may not. No one is above the law -- not journos, not presidents -- which is, I believe, a pretty good distillation of the Post's brand. (You should pardon the phrase.)

Well, now.  I don't disagree with anything you said.   In fact, I said it, too, if in a less self-righteous fashion.   Perl's corporate responsibility was to tell The Post.     We're all agreed.   I'm sure The Post is, too. 

Next we must deal with his human responsibility.   Presumably, he had no time to deliver that harrumphy little speech you devised, above; presumably, the confession was just launched upon him.  

I think he had a conflict between what he knew he was SUPPOSED to do, and what he felt he SHOULD do.    (Again, I have not talked to Peter about this; this is supposition.)  I think he made a principled decision, knowing it might cost him.    I think he manned up.   


On 5/31, you wrote "it's [Google's] own damned fault for naming their product something that is so obviously a verb. You wouldn't naturally say 'I'm going to Yahoo that, or Altavista this.'" Google is a noun. It is a huge number: 10 to the 100th.

That is googol. 

I wanted to point out that it is possible to approach the question of god with the scientific method, though you would probably have to take a specific religion's concept of god. Victor Stenger points this out in his book, "The New Atheism." We don't see gravity but we can measure its effects. You can do the same with religious notions of god and some elements have been measured. People who are prayed for don't heal any faster than those who are not. Not even the thought of prayer (ie believing you are being prayed for) causes you to heal faster. Faith healing has not proven to heal people faster and is in instead known to cause deaths for ailments that could have been treated by medical science. Stenger also makes the argument that if there was a being that enforced the kind of power and control taught by the big three monotheistic religions then there would be some kind of measurable proof.

Yeah, but all you are really "proving" is that the vast majority of prayers aren't answered in the affirmative.   As my Aunt Ethel used to point out, "no" is an answer, too.  

I once tried to write a short story in which I postulated that someone would prove there was no God -- how would the world react?   I decided that there can be no such proof -- there is absolutely nothing one could do to persuade believers. 

Proving their IS a God theoretically, should be easy.   God could tell us Himself, or we could discover for example (in a famous example)  that the first few dozen places of  "pi" is a simple alphanumeric  code for "Hi, I'm God, please love one another.  Thanks!   Take care."

But nothing like this has ever happened.   Probably because God is TESTING OUR FAITH.  

Have you ever discussed the Coolidge effect in this chat? It's seems pertinent.

The best thing about The Coolidge Effect, which seems obvious to me, is the story behind why it is called the Coolidge Effect.

Essentially, the Coolidge Effect is the disproportionate tendency of males of a species to become more sexually productive when a new, receptive mate is introduced.  Duh.

The cool part is why it is called the Coolidge Effect:  It's from an old (probably apocryphal) joke told about Calvin Coolidge:

The President and Mrs. Coolidge were being shown [separately] around an experimental government farm. When [Mrs. Coolidge] came to the chicken yard she noticed that a rooster was mating very frequently. She asked the attendant how often that happened and was told, “Dozens of times each day.” Mrs. Coolidge said, “Tell that to the President when he comes by.” Upon being told, President asked, “Same hen every time?” The reply was, “Oh, no, Mr. President, a different hen every time.” President: “Tell that to Mrs. Coolidge.”

You never see anything about this, perhaps for obvious reasons, but: I am a happily married (to a beautiful, sexy woman) 34 year old man who walked away from a HS teaching job that I loved and was good at, because I couldn't stand the constant stimulation of all the beautiful, lissome HS cuties, many of whom dressed and acted provocatively and some of whom actively tried to seduce me. It's sort of like being a priest -- you absolutely cannot go there. But when you find yourself thinking more about the students' physical attributes than about their classwork, it's past time to move on.

I'm impressed.   Also a little surprised.   But mostly impressed. 

I'm surprised because I'm not sure all that many men would actually be tempted by high school girls.   College, I see.   I think being a college professor would test one's morals fiercely.     But I look at high school girls as kind of fetal, even in terms of pure animal desirability.   Works in progress.    Too naive and inexperienced and vulnerable -- and unsure of who they are --  to trigger anything really resembling lust. 

If I'm right, then I put you in an even more exalted category:  The guy who is fighting demons most of us don't feel, and who triumphs over them.    You are MORE worthy.   


Okay, that's it for today, people.   There will be no update next week, and then a full chat on the 26th.

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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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