Tuesdays with Moron: Chatological Humor Update

Aug 23, 2011

Every Tuesday, Gene publishes weekly updates to his chats.

Gene's most recent chat: July 26

Gene's previous updates:
August 2
August 9
August 16

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 day, update readers.   Today the washingtonpost.com  is presenting brief, dueling accolades to Washington and Baltimore.   I live in Washington, and have been asked to make its case.   I do so below.

First, I will not speak ill of Baltimore; to argue for oneself, it is unnecessary and unseemly to disparage a competitor.  Besides, I like Baltimore.    I like its baseball stadium, which was meticulously crafted to approximate the feel of those actual old stadiums that remain cathedrals to the game; I like Baltimore’s famed Inner Harbor, which was built to meticulously resemble Bayfront Park in Miami, and Jacksonville Landing in Jacksonville, and a half dozen other venues designed and landscaped in accordance with the most modern, pleasant marketing concepts for urban pedestrian malls featuring upscale chain franchises.    So, Baltimore is swell with me.

Instead, I want to tell you about where I live in Washington.     Every morning I take my dog, Murphy, for a walk down brick and cobblestone tree-shaded streets.   A block away, we stop at my neighborhood auto repair shop, in operation on site since the days of the Model T.     There, Murphy finds Monica, who gives her a treat from a canister filled with goodies for the neighborhood dogs, of which there are many.      Whenever my car needs oil, or maintenance, I give Monica my keys, and her workers find my car, bring it in, do the work, and leave it in front of my house.

I live on Capitol Hill, near Eastern Market.    On my block live a United States senator, a dog trainer, a picture framer, and a female admiral of the Navy.   Some own, some rent, everybody knows everybody and nobody’s putting on airs.   I walk everywhere, including to my dry cleaner, my bank, my post office, my fish market, my produce market, my meat market, my drug store,  my rug store, my barber, my liquor store, my pet store, and half a hundred restaurants, including a British pub that will sell you, for eight bucks,  a slice of homemade crusty bread and the marrow from three fat beef bones -- which, when married together, are a meal as succulent as caviar.      On weekends in the local schoolyard, there’s a flea market at which I’ve purchased old clocks, new socks, and a leather-bound volume of risqué 18th-century limericks.   It all happens – all of Capitol Hill – under a canopy of trees.

My house, like most of the houses in my neighborhood, was built during the Grover Cleveland administration.   Until 1970, I’m told, there was a working outhouse in my backyard.      Like most neighborhoods in D.C., mine wasn’t planned; the row houses are all different, made to accommodate different tastes, different sized families and pocketbooks.   What they share is age and eccentricity.   Mine has skylights, a closet that is for some reason two feet off the floor, and – for the prurient – glass transoms over the bedroom doors.  

Oh, on weekends the neighborhood garage is closed, so Murphy doesn’t get her treat.  Instead, we walk over to the flea market.     Mitch The Crepe Guy sees us coming a block away, so by the time we arrive, he’s already cooking up his Murphy Special, with farmer cheese and cinnamon sugar.   Murphy gets it all.    Then, sometimes, we’ll walk on down to the U.S. Capitol, which Murphy assumes was built for her.   She likes to roll on her back in the soft, moist, well-tended grass -- goofy, squirmy, happy, at peace.    It’s her neighborhood, too.

Gene -- The following graf from the Post quotes a Virginia prosecutor about why he chose to charge a woman in the death of her young son who was accidentally left in a hot car. Have you ever heard of someone forgetting a child TWICE? He said his decision to present the case to a grand jury was based in part on allegations that Murphy had forgotten Ryan in January when the minivan was parked outside her veterinary office, Caring Hands Animal Hospital. In that case, he said, day-care employees called her to ask whether Ryan would be coming, and she took him from the vehicle after less than a half-hour.

Yes, I know all about this case.   It's a troubling fact, because you would think that the first instance would deliver a lesson forever learned.    It did, in fact, with me.   When I almost did this to Molly 29 years ago, it left me so terrified every time I was alone with a child in the car, I doubt it could have happened.

But in analyzing these cases, I have to keep coming back to something I was told by Dr. David Diamond, the expert in the effects of stress on brain chemistry.

The conscious mind, he said, prioritizes memory; it is vastly more important to you where you have last placed your child than, say,  where you have last placed your cell phone.    It's true of everyone.   But the mind is also a machine, with parts that work mechanically and apart from our consciousness.   And on that level -- the cellular level --  there are no such priorities.      Machines stress and break.    If you are capable of losing your cell phone, Diamond said, you are capable of forgetting your child.

I also keep coming back to something that was very apparent to me while researching this story, and talking to these devastated parents.   The parents who have done this to their children are remarkably normal, nice, caring people.   They're your neighbor or your sister or your veterinarian.     You realize this when you are in a room with them.

Here is an old video I found of Karen Murphy, the veterinarian.     Watch it.    How can you feel anything but sympathy?

In your July 12 updates (in response to "Scientific method and God"), you suggested it would probably be easier to prove the existence of god, than the non-existence of one. There is a book called "The Einstein Enigma" that, fictionally, did just that. [MIILD SPOILER ALERT]It describes a project Einstein and his colleagues were working on just before he died, in which they use physics, chaos theory, etc. to try to prove the existence of god. In the case of the book, they define god not as an entity that intervenes in day-to-day human life, but just as the "intent" behind the universe, it's design and function. The translation (originally published in Portuguese) that I read was pretty good -- there were issues, but those were mostly able to be overlooked. The problem I have, though, is that I loved the idea so much that I'm afraid to look too hard into any of the "science" described in it, for fear that the whole premise fall apart. Am I now replacing faith in god with faith in a theory about god? How sad is this, really?

It's not sad, it's noble.   It's WHY we believe in God -- because we must.   The alternative is scary.    That's why it is never possible to argue rationally with a believer, particularly a fundamentalist-type believer:  In the end, the need to find a spiritual explanation is vastly more urgent than the impulse to employ logic.

Thus:  If there is a just God, why do bad things happen to good people?

Ans:  It's all part of a plan we can't understand.

Thus:  If the world is 11,000 years old, why are there dinosaur bones?

Ans:  God is testing our faith with, you know, a prank.

These discussions go nowhere, because the atheist knows that the logical answer to all this is the only one the believer cannot allow to be voiced.    It's magical thinking.  

You said, "Not once has there been a moment where a possible scientific theory has been supplanted by proof of something supernatural." Gene, I'm not religious, and in some sense I'm on your side here, but you know that this is completely false, right? There have been a great many rigorous intellectual traditions supplanted by supernatural ones, from Alexandrian Greek culture giving way to Christianity, to the entire collapse of classical civilization at the hands of the Goths, to the decline of Arab learning, to the crackdown on humanism by the Counterreformation. In each case the collapse of rigor was accompanied by all kinds of things that seemed, to people at the time, to be "proof," just as much as scientific proofs seem that way to you and me. I think there is a historical argument to be made for atheism, but I actually think you're making it kinda badly.

Whoa, whoa.   I said supplanted by PROOF of the supernatural.       Some supernatural explanation that holds up over time as an immutable truth.    There have been burps and gurgles and returns to superstition and savagery, sure.    But none of this ever stuck.    Even Christianity, which you cite:   Yes, it's superstition and magic, but none of it has ever withstood the scientific method.      We have never figured how how Jesus turned water into wine, because, you know.       We HAVE cured diseases, and figured out how molecules are formed, and how to solve problems with algebra.   (Or, as the brilliant Arab mathematicians called it, "Al Gebra," before so many of their societies got all religious fundamentalist.)

Hi Gene, did you happen to read this in the NYT two weeks ago? It was beautiful, made my heart ache, I cried. And yet it was oddly inspiring.

Your link is to page two.   Here is the whole thing.

Yes, I read this weeks ago and Tweeted it.   It's a beautiful piece by The Times' Dudley Clendinen, who is dying. 

We'll go out on this, as it were.    See you all next week, in our actual chat.

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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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