Tuesdays with Moron: Chatological Humor Update

Aug 09, 2011

Every Tuesday, Gene publishes weekly updates to his chats.

Gene's most recent chat: July 26

Gene's last update: August 2

Gene takes questions for his updates from the questions he didn't get around to answering in his previous chat.

Gene's next chat will be on August 30.

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.

Good afternoon.

Are you now poor?  Me, too.    Now I'll have to be doing these chats into my 80s.

I woke up this morning with a vivid childhood memory.   A stranger in the street called me a little girl, and my mother archly corrected him.   This particular ambit of uncertainty places my age at roughly two and a half, which is about the earliest point at which the brain retains memory.   

I find this interesting simply because it's the moment that stuck; even at that age, gender identity is worrisome.

You should not lie to readers, but why should you not lie to a hostile source? Police lie to suspects all the time to get them to talk. And the stakes are much higher in those cases.

This is a journalism question, and an interesting one.   A quick and glib  answer is that you should not lie to hostile sources because you are not the police and this is not a criminal matter.   Police are dealing in an entirely different theater of  motivations, risks, and consequences.   They are dealing, oftentimes, with desperate, evil people.

We, presumably, are not.    We are dealing with people who have every right not to talk to us.   More important, we are dealing with people who agree to speak to us voluntarily, at their own risk, with an implicit trust that we will not betray them.   They have the right to expect honesty and straightforwardness.

Even within this general framework, though, there are nuances.   Complications.

This matter of implied honesty  was the basis for Janet Malcolm's 1980s New Yorker essay, "The Journalist and the Murderer,"  in which she famously contended that all journalists are, basically, con men.  

The thesis of her piece was contained in its first sentence:  "Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible."

Her point was that journalists use people -- that we subtly mislead them, flatter them, etc. -- to get what we want out of them.   The case around which she built her argument was "Fatal Vision," a book by Joe McGinniss about Dr. Jeffrey MacDonald, who was convicted of killing his family.    Malcolm contended that McGinniss had dealt dishonestly with MacDonald to keep his trust and cooperation; she cited the fact that McGinniss didn't tell MacDonald when he came to believe he was guilty -- that he kept stringing him along, letting him think that the book he was writing would exonerate him.

And that was true.   McGinniss did do that.   And after Malcolm's essay was published, he took a lot of heat.

But not from me.    I knew McGinniss -- had socialized with him once or twice.   And I had an opinion on this matter, which I wrote about.

I said that there is a direct or an implied covenant between writer and subject:  That each will be truthful with each other: Not necessarily entirely transparent -- no human relationship requires that -- but honest with the other as to anything important.    Once that covenant is broken, all deals are off.   I believe McGinniss no longer had any obligation to deal forthrightly with McDonald at the point he realized McDonald was lying to him about the very central fact of the book -- his own guilt.

This opinion entered the public debate; McGinniss suddenly publicly adopted it.    

Anyway, my sole point here is that ethics are complex and situational.  In my opinion.

I grew up with Alan Bone. His father's name was Richard, and yes, he went by Dick. It must be generational.

There is also a magazine writer name Richard Blow.  I am pretty darn sure he never uses a nickname.   There is also a Texas urologist (yes, he does vasectomies) named Richard Chopp, whom I once wrote about in a chat.  It is here, in the intro, and is well worth revisiting.   Dr. Chopp, in fact, uses the name Dick, for comic effect.    

I haven't checked the etymology but I am guessing the term "Dick" to refer to the male member is relatively new: second half of the twentieth century, coinciding with the dramatic dropoff of persons going by "Dick".  

All of this leads, rather divinely I think, to a link to one of the strangest column ever written, by the strange and inexcusable Bob Greene.   It's from many years ago, and I remembered it because it is either brilliantly disingenuous or completely idiotic.  Greene was capable of both states of mind. 

Here it is.  Decide for yourself whether Mr. Greene actually had no idea why so few people are named Dick nowadays.

If he had had Alzheimer's, would you feel ok with what you did? Because mental incapacitation sets in at the end of life, I find this similar. He was not mentally aware enough to know what he was doing. Seems immoral/unethical to me. I have no problem with the ego-playing though, if he were mentally all there.

This is about the vague old man in the hospital, whom I questioned about the contents of a little black book containing evidence of what seemed to be bribes to public officials.

Your point is valid.   I have to answer with an analogy.   Let's say the man held a secret about where a nuclear bomb was hidden in an American city.    Would you be debating whether it was okay to question him in a not-quite lucid state?  I doubt it.

Well, there's a continuum of importance, obviously, but at the moment, this was a big, important story.    I made the field judgment that I could talk to him, decide his state of lucidity, and make the honorable decision once I knew his state of mind.    In fact, although he was a bit confused, he was VERY solid on the meaning of the book, and the scribbles therein.   It was clear to me he knew what he was talking about.

I'm pretty sure I handled this correctly.   But if you disagree, you disagree.    I'm  not claiming it's a slam-dunk, ethically.

Do you think humanity will survive the next 5,000 years? What chance do you give us?

I don't think so.   I think I'm with Stephen Hawking on this one:  Man is probably going to exterminate himself in the relatively short term  via genetic experimentation.   A killer virus, probably developed as an instrument of warfare.

I am 5'2" and despise it when people in front of me recline. I'm told I have no right to be upset, since the seat doesn't come close to hitting my knees. However, the back of the seat comes so close to my face (I'm lower down the in the seat than you!) that I become claustrophobic and agitated. Tall people can see over the recline. For me, your chair is now inches from my face and it Makes. Me. Have. A. Panic. Attack. But since it's not about my knees, no one cares. Sit up, jerks.

I would fly as exclusively as I could in an airline that did not allow reclining seats if someone is behind you.    Just a general announcement:  Please don't do it.   That would be enough.

Does it have to do with children raised by single parents/divorced parents?

This is about a political/ social opinion I have that must be kept secret because it would hurt too many people.

Nope.    I think single parents can do a fine job. 

The post is reporting that Rep. Wu is resignign after what he says was consensual sexual relations with a teenage girl/recent high school graduate... I think you may be in the minority on this, but I'm a chick, so I don't know what I'm talking about really. You couldn't pay me to spend time with a high school aged boy.

This subject actually came up in the last chat, and will be the subject of a poll in the next chat!    Do people find high school aged people sexually enticing? 

Take a look at this blog post some time.  It's a really cool explanation of hags and incubi (?) and ghosts.

Interesting.   I have never experienced sleep paralysis.   Have you alls?

What I have experienced is super-realistic dreams, including tactile sensations.    I have unquestionably felt I was touching something.

You're pro-life, aren'tcha.


Apart, perhaps, from the rightness of gay marriage, there is no social issue about which I am more certain than the rightness of pro-choice.

You seem to be opinionated about most everything. Do you have any about pit bulls? Just curious.

Breeds do show behavioral tendencies, and pits were, sadly, bred to fight.   So I'm suspicious of pits, but think each dog should be judged as an individual.    Molly's dog, Mattingly, is a pit and is a danger to no one.

Has Garry Trudeau written to complain that he was the first to steal Marcie and make her into a permanent recurring character as Honey in Doonesbury?

Yeah, but, see, Garry made a rookie mistake.   He never ADMITTED it.

Any concern about being under the influence of pot when reporting - from the 'how can you remember the quotes' side of things. Assuming that you weren't recording the conversation.

Any reporter knows the answer to this: You develop dysentery.   You visit the bathroom a LOT.

Lastly, the incomparable Tom Scocca, a good friend of mine and one of the world's most entertaining cynics, is going to be at Politics & Prose tomorrow (Wednesday) at 7 pm to talk about his excellent new book, Beijing Welcomes You.  I urge you to go for psychological reasons: Tom is a fearless, caustic social critic but is also, like me, personally shy.   It is always interesting to see how such a personality adapts to the grueling, unnatural task of flogging your own book.   (I do it by overcompensating, and being both obnoxious and awkward.) 

That's it for today's update.  If you have more questions for Gene, then please submit them to his next chat, which takes place August 30.  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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