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Chatological Humor* (Updated 2.4.05)

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 1, 2005; 12:00 PM

*Formerly known as "Funny? You Should Ask."

Gene Weingarten's controversial humor column, Below the Beltway, appears every Sunday in the Washington Post Magazine. He aspires to someday become a National Treasure, but is currently more of a National Gag Novelty Item, like rubber dog poo.

Gene Weingarten (Richard Thompson - The Washington Post)



He is online, at any rate, each Tuesday, to take your questions and abuse.

He'll chat about anything.

This week's poll, guest-written by Hank Stuever:
Poll A:Gay Men Only
Poll B:Everyone Else

Weingarten is the author of "The Hypochondriac's Guide to Life. And Death" and co-author of "I'm with Stupid," with feminist scholar Gina Barreca. "Below the Beltway" is now syndicated nationally by The Washington Post Writers Group.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Gene Weingarten: Good Afternoon.

I would like to report the news, which is that the Earth began rotating east to west today, time reversed direction, George Bush admitted error, men began to ovulate, dogs began happily eating string beans, and people on airplanes all over the globe stopped reclining their seats as though no one was sitting behind them. In short, today's Garfield is our Comic Pick of the Week.

The fact is, Garfield has been getting slowly better all week. I have no facts to support this, but I am guessing that Jim Davis has suddenly taken an actual interest in the content of the strip, following the LA Times's courageous decision to drop it, followed by a swath of negative publicity about its content, to which, I am proud to say, I contributed.

Today's Poll - written by my colleague Hank Stuever - is, so far, generating more responses than any poll since my son's some many months ago (uh oh.) This is an unusual poll, seeking to compare the opinions of gay men with the assumptions of straight America. Alert, gay men: Respond to this thing in greater numbers than you have so far. Because if the final percentages continue at 30-1, that will forever stand as the Official gay-straight ratio in America, solemnly quoted from this time forth by homophobes nationwide to justify ignoring you.

Midway through the chat, Hank will disclose his choices, and explain them. He has already written this and I will paste it in at the appropriate time.

You may recall some weeks ago I disclosed the Amazing Coincidence that occurred when I, my son, and my daughter's boyfriend threw four consecutive identical tie rock-paper-scissors combinations, resulting in a chat-long debate on what the odds against that were (correct answer: huge). Well, just yesterday I was in the newsroom when I got to talking with art critic Paul Richard and magazine columnist Peter Carlson. And Carlson mentioned he owned an old Mazda. And I said that I, too, owned an old Mazda. And I said mine was a 1991 Mazda 323. And Carlson said his was a 1992 Mazda 323. And then Richard pulled his registration out of his pocket. A 1989 Mazda 323. Then we discovered that our wives were all named Hortense.

Okay, that last thing is not true, but I have concluded that the odds of the three of us sitting within nine square feet of each other, owning the same obscure, long-discontinued car, is one in 48,905.

Last week a reader asked if the character of Honey in "Doonesbury" might be based on Marcie from "Peanuts." I said I thought it unlikely, but promised to check with Trudeau. I did. Here's his answer:

Honey was based on a translator I met when I was traveling with the press corps during President Ford's trip to China. It was clear to us that she and her colleagues were improvising in order to put the best face on everything, so that was my departure point. There was a kind of deadpan, opaque quality I was going for, which is why I hid her eyes behind glasses. I was trying to come up with an earnest foil for the impulsive, volatile Duke, who had just been appointed ambassador to China.

That being said, there is a definite similarity in tone and appearance to Marcie, and readers have remarked on it over the years. As an avid Peanuts reader, I'm sure her influence was buried in my brain somewhere, but had I been intentionally channeling the character, I like to think I would have done a much better job of disguising it!


I hope you all read Chatwoman's excellent article in today's Health section about her battle with Restless Legs Syndrome. As of eleven this morning, it was the ninth most emailed Post story of the day, which certainly suggests this ailment is more common, and more troubling, than I ever assumed. It almost makes me feel guilty for having made fun of her and called her things like Wormylegs Squirmypants. I learned a LOT from this story. Now I can call her Wormylegs Maggotcalves Squirmypants.

Okay, then. Lessee. I already told you what the incredible CPOW is. Liz will also link to yesterday's Garfield, which was a precursor to the CPOW and further evidence of neo-neuronal activity in the Garfield cartoon factory. I would also call your attention to two cartoons from Monday (Fuzzy and Zits) on kind of amazingly similar raunchy themes. I applaud them. Also, today's Pickles, because it made me laugh.

Okay, that intro was roughly the length of one of my columns. It's time for you. Let's go.

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washingtonpost.com: Comic Pick of the Week:
Garfield, (Feb. 1)

Runners Up:
Garfield, (Jan. 31)
Zits, (Jan. 31)
Get Fuzzy, (Jan. 31)
Pickles, (Feb. 1)


Night Crawlers, (Post, Feb. 1)

Cast your vote in today's poll:
Gay Men Only | Everyone Else

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Yeets/Yates, Va.: Gene, did you see "Million Dollar Baby" yet? If not, I'll reveal the plot twist at the end of this message post, but that's not the main reason for this message. Did you know that the Clint Eastwood character read the same poem about Innisfree that you used in your column on Sunday? Is Yeats someone we should know?

Since your column is written a few weeks in advance and that movie didn't really go into wide release until this past weekend, I just wondered if you had seen it and if it influenced you to use the poem? If not, let me tell you that the turning point of the plot occurs when the fheitroilk fejiispbm etaoin shrdlu chondroitin flavin.

Gene Weingarten: Right, I wrote the column about three weeks ago. The worst coincidence is that this same quotation was read last week at the dignified, heartbreaking, beautiful memorial service for Marjorie Williams, in the National Cathedral.

Everyone who was there probably thinks I sat in the audience thinking, "Wow! I can use this to freak out some customer service reps and cop some cheap laughs!"

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washingtonpost.com: Dial M for Mischief, (Post Magazine, Jan. 30)

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Gene Weingarten: The following posting is in response to a previous discussion about Peeing in Public Places. Online, I begged a young woman of my acquaintance to confess online to a spectacular act of public peeing she once told me about. She responds, below.

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Very Anonymo, US: One summer my family went to Italy to see the pretty art, and despite some of our bad childhood experiences with nuns and the like, we visited the Vatican to see the pretty room. One of our party was differently abled (that is to say, wheeled), and while the Sistine Chapel has an accessible tour, nobody knows what it is. So, we discovered, we could walk/roll right past the guards into random parts of the building and they assumed we were on the special mystery handicapped tour.

Well. We were not finished with the tour when some of us began to feel bathroom urgency. We asked the guards (not the silly outfits kind), "Dove un gabinetto?" and they pointed to the end of the tour. Where we discovered un gabinetto was down a flight of stairs. We asked the guards there where the gabinetto was, and they looked right at the chair and pointed down the stairs. "Un gabinetto handicappato?" Down the stairs. Okay then. We had the wrong phrase and/or terrible accents. Toilets must be on the real handicapped tour. So we tried to find the real tour, and guards did not stop us.

Things became urgent, and we veered far from the tourist area. So we passed important-looking people who wouldn't make eye contact and ended up in some deserted hallways with paintings of Popes and stuff, which eventually led into a courtyard with a van parked in it and windows -- the Vatican windows, where some of the holiest people on earth look out onto their holy courtyard. And we were desperate.

I should say now that I don't think Jesus, or Michelangelo for that matter, would have minded what happened next. Some reasonable people might have, however. Also, we were wearing long, loose dresses. We consecrated the Pope's courtyard. This is the only, only secret that my mom has ever succeeded in keeping from my father.

The Pope himself wasn't home that day, but probably some of his buddies were, and probably they have security cameras. If we ever go back they might have wanted posters with pictures not of our faces...

P.S. I am a 20-something female who hearts Gene, and I think you can tell it is a spiritual scatological connection, and not just about the picture.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you, darlin'.

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"Is Yeats someone we should know?": Oh. My. God.

What have we become? A nation of George W. Bushes?

Gene Weingarten: I don't think that was meant seriously.

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Ethicaldilem, MA: There's a piece of unintentional humor that appeared last week that's so great, it needs to be aired in a forum like this. The problem, though, is that it appeared in a Live Online chat, so revealing it to a producer will most likely cause it to be changed. Is this like Schrodinger's Joke, where the act of observing it will cause it to disappear, or can I tell the world, knowing that lofty journalistic ethics will protect it from retroactive editing?

Gene Weingarten: I would say once you have called attention to it, The Post would probably not remove it, since the removal would then become an ADDITIONAL story, etc. But don't quote me on this, because it is sort of seditious.

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Career Move: I was reading the new Post strip, "Prickly City," and I had a great idea. To escape my Bleak Cubicle Life I will become a right-wing comic strip writer. I've always liked comics, but I've never had the talent. Apparently, that's not a problem anymore!

If you are a right-wing fruitcake, you can get by without (a) any drawing ability, or (b) a sense of humor! It doesn't matter! Some self-loathing quasi-liberal newspaper will pick up my strip just to show that they are even-handed and they care about red state people!

I'm a genius. Don't tell anyone about my idea.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, it has really reeked so far. Except: Today's is quite good! So, let's give it a chance. Liz, can you link to today's?

washingtonpost.com: Prickly City, (Feb. 1)

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Georgetown, Washington, D.C.: Two fantastic aptonyms were found in a story about Ellen DeGeneres and her new girlfriend, Portia di Rossi: "Meanwhile, de Rossi has gotten rid of her longtime publicist, David Lust, and signed with DeGeneres' reps at I/D PR. Although some observers assume Ellen was behind the move, DeGeneres' rep, Kelly Bush, insists her client has nothing to do with the "Arrested Development" beauty's career."

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahaha.

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Don't think it's fun, NY: Hi Gene,

What have I ever done to deserve this?

Sincerely,

Michael Moore

(but not THAT Michael Moore)

Gene Weingarten: Now, here is an example of a really bad, stupid Prickly.

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Valley Forge, Pa.: Hi Gene. My name's Dave Blazek and when I get the mixture of noxious fumes in my home just right I do a little cartoon Called "Loose Parts." Some people have pointed me to your little corner of the universe telling me that occasionally "Loose Parts" comes up in conversation. So what happens when I check it out? I get another Far Side-rip off label stuck to me. I read your response and am gratified to see how you set your readers straight. I was hoping you or your readers can help me understand the reader mindset that is so offended by this. I just don't get it. I don't set out to copy Larson. This is just the way my brain is wired. This is just the style of cartoon music I like. When Tony Bennett sings a style of music do people object because Sinatra did it, too? If you liked that style of music, wouldn't you want to hear more of it? Hey, it's not like I'm doing covers of Larson's tunes ... y'know ... Blazek's "Cow Tools."

Anyhoo... I figured with your background of long humor conversations, you could help me understand why this bothers people so. Can't they just sit back and enjoy it? Thanks for letting me check in. I have to go swipe some copier paper or there will be no cartoons in the paper next week.

Dave

Gene Weingarten: Good to hear from you, Dave.

Yes, I think everything is a homage of something else. I am. To paraphrase Isaac Newton, You TRY to stand on the shoulders of giants, and, with luck, can see farther. Your challenge is very hard, because that is one danged giant on whose shoulders you are standing.

There is a point at which homage becomes thievery, (Dennis Leary, of Bill Hicks, for example) but there is no trace of that in Loose Parts. I really like "Loose Parts." I have recommended to The Post that we pick it up.

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Wormy Legs: Liz -- GREAT article today! Your fiance must be a real saint. Does he have a gay brother I could date?

washingtonpost.com: He might. We're not sure yet.

Gene Weingarten: Okaaaay....

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Dating a Hypochondriac in D.C.: How do I deal with dating a hypochondriac?

My boyfriend is a self-proclaimed hypochondriac. On a daily basis he complains of illnesses, and aches and pains. He finds outlandish causes for his symptoms. I usually ask probing questions to see if it's valid or not. But when I am sick - he suddenly develops my illness too. This is very frustrating. First, because I don't understand how he always thinks that he is sick. Second, it diminishes my suffering because all of the sudden he has the same symptoms as I do.

How do significant others and spouses deal? Is there some kind of support group? Any words of wisdom?

Gene Weingarten: 1. Buy my book. It is real cheap.

2. Tell him you have a yeast infection. Dare him.

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Start wearing a helmet: This is not so much a question as a refutation of a statement you made several months ago (I currently have no job and have been looking up old chats to pass the time). You said that one's sense of humor can not change, and that it basically remains constant until one dies. As someone with a recent Master's degree in brainiology, I am sorry to inform you that a sense of humor is, brain damage-wise, one of the more fragile capacities we have.

I am sure you are aware that, in the general public knowledge, the left brain is dedicated to language, analytical thoughts, and that sort of thing, while the right brain is the musical hippie dreamer-type side. Unfortunately, the right brain is also responsible for various word association memories, considered essential for most word humor. Even more unfortunately, these do not appear to be localized in some particular place, so all sorts of right hemisphere damage can potentially produce this effect. To quote from an article in a very prestigious neurological journal:

"The pattern of deficits in RHD patients differs dramatically from those evidenced by LHD patients whose communicative difficulties are seemingly more severe. In order to compare the performance of LHD and RHD patients on joke comprehension, Bihrle and colleagues used both verbal and nonverbal materials (Bihrle et al., 1986). In addition to jokes of the sort used by Brownell and colleagues ( Brownell et al., 1983), these investigators also used four-frame cartoons with the same narrative structure. Whether patients received verbal or nonverbal materials, they were asked to pick the punch-line (or punch frame) from an array of four choices: a straightforward ending, a neutral non-sequitur, a humorous non-sequitur, or the correct punch-line.

While both sorts of patients were impaired on this task, their errors were qualitatively different. In both verbal and non-verbal materials, RHD patients showed a consistent preference for non-sequitur endings over straightforward endings and correct punch-lines (Bihrle et al., 1986). In contrast, LHD patients (who participated only in the nonverbal task) more often chose the straightforward endings than either of the non-sequitur endings ( Bihrle et al., 1986)"

RHD = right hemisphere damage, LHD = Left hemisphere damage (only LHD folks have serious language problems)

So, I hope I have cured you of your newfound lack of hypochondria. Just think of it, one good whack on the head, and you wouldn't be funny anymore.

washingtonpost.com: Can you please encourage your friends to also look up old chats to pass the time?

Gene Weingarten: Okay, very interesting and I accept this. However, by your logic I am also wrong because getting killed also changes your sense of humor.

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Maryland: Interesting survey. The last question, though, I wish had an additional answer. I don't think that the term marriage is truly a legal one; it really has more religious background to it. So I don't support gay "marriages." I don't consider myself backwoods, but I think it is just odd to think of two brides. And what to do with the bridesmaids?

I do, though, think that legal unions, should be allowed. I think it is immoral that two people who love each other and have cared for each other for years, "even though" they are of the same sex, cannot be considered next of kin, could be denied hospital visitation, and can't share health insurance. Of course, it should be as hard to undo a legal union as it is to get a divorce, since it needs to be a serious decision to enter into.

So my only complaint is semantics. I think it is an odd hangup, but there you have it. And, before this survey, the thought that homosexuals had TONS of sex really never crossed my mind... Is that a good thing, or a bad thing?

washingtonpost.com: Cast your vote in today's poll:
Gay Men Only | Everyone Else

Gene Weingarten: Okay, so let me get this straight: You are advocating Separate But Equal, then? Nothing wrong with that, huh?

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Gene Weingarten: (Yes, I said "Let me get this straight.")

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HUAC: Let's examine the evidence, shall we?

- Your hobbies consist of futzy little mechanical things (clock repair).

- You drive (or drove) an old manual trasmission car, and consider "auto mechanic" as a sort of dream career.

- You possess a wealth of technical knowledge in certain obscure areas (e.g., rare diseases), but seem completely unaware of more common things (vast swaths of popular culture).

- You maintain that there are absolute, objective criteria for the evaluation of things most would consider a matter of taste (humor, food).

- Your "personal appearance maintenance," shall we say, is not exactly within common norms.

I submit to you, sir, that you are in fact an engineer! (Mechanical, most likely, though the poop fascination may indicate sanitary.)

And are you not in fact doing this chat, not from some desk at The Post, nor yet sitting at home in an old bathrobe, but from cubicle 3A127 over at General Dynamics?

Gene Weingarten: This is an interesting observation. It does seem to fit in many ways, but in others it is offbase. For example, I am incurious about, and baffled by, MODERN technology. And I believe I have at least a rudimentary sense of humor. And chicks dig me.

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Arlington, Va.: Gene, for the first time in a long time your column made me laugh out loud this week. Specifically, the part about the quiet pouch.

And yet it is so disturbing -- are we really so ashamed of being OTR that we need to hide it from the other women in the restroom who go through the same thing every month? From now on, when I'm in a public restroom I will make extra noise with my tampon wrapper.

Gene Weingarten: I have to say, I asked the women who sit near me at work if they had any idea what "Shh, quietest pouch" might refer to, and they hadn't a clue. Thought it stupid when I explained.

I also got an email from a woman on this subject that I will explain only if Wormylegs lets me. I will ask her now, in our super secret channel. As it were.

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Gene Weingarten: Okay, we are clear! A woman wrote to say that under certain circumstances involving failure to take remedial action quickly enough, there can be a sound. She described it as "sloshing."

I AM ONLY REPORTING WHAT I WAS TOLD.

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Loose Parts: I never read it before. After looking at today's strip I agree that the drawing style reminds me of Larson. But I often read authors who write like other writers I like, so I am not offended.

Secondly, today's strip is quite funny. It had a 5 second pause before I got it, making it all the more funny.

Gene Weingarten: I am tellin you, this guy is good. The Post moves slowly in these matters.

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Zoom-Zoom, Calif.: Gene --

But is 323 ownership so unlikely, really, given that you are all working journalists? This would seem to define an income range well out of the Lexus category (unless you're, say, Broder), and would thus decrease the number of possible cars to choose from, increasing the liekelihood of multiple Mazdadom. No?

Gene Weingarten: How many 1989-92 cars are even still on the road?

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Germantown, Md.: Do you find it odd to have this sort of relationship with your readers/chatters? We all think we know you (certainly you offer a lot of personal info between your articles, books and chats) and (presumably) like you, yet most haven't seen you in person. I would guess a large number of people feel they are good friends with you, on a certain level.

Yet, to you, we are this anonymous blob of people that may have an interesting mob personality, but has absolutely no one-on-one contact. Oh, you and Liz probably group responses (oh, there's another panty flinger), but we truly only exist as one unit, not as a bunch of individuals.

Strange rambling, but I have often wondered about this sort of relationship of many-to-one. I would imagine it is because of this you have girls who "heart" you -- they are imagining it as one-to-one instead of many-to-one. Luckily, there are enough of us who chat and read simply because we enjoy being amused.

Gene Weingarten: It's an interesting relationship, and I really like it. The oddest thing that happens is when someone says something nasty to me online, and I respond, jokingly withs something really over-the-top nasty, like "That's why your wife is cheating on you."

Invariably, someone will then comment: "Why are you so nasty and cruel to someone who dares to criticize you?"

Um, because 1) I don't know who you are, and 2) No one else knows who you are, so how is what I say in any way hurtful to anyone? It's sort of like the Aristocrats joke -- it's only words.

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Springfield, Va.: Gene
Loved your column this week on the scientists. I'm also glad to see you got back together with Richard Thompson!

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.

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New York, N.Y.: I am a hypochondriac. I married a doctor. In order to live harmoniously together, we learn acceptable behavior around the other person and adapt to each other's behavior. She tries not to mention diseases I haven't yet heard of that she saw that day in the hospital. I try not to mention that I have the sniffles today. She showers first thing upon getting home. I won't quote from the Hypochondirac's guide anymore.

Sure I get sick the same time she does, but she can PROVE that I don't actually have whatever exotic incurable bug she picked up from the hospital. It works out nicely.

Here is what works for her: whenever I ask what the worst possible disease for a given symptom is, she always has the same stock answer -- Wegener's. She says it matter-of-factly, very quickly. I can either worry about it or forget it, but here's the key, I can't BOTHER HER anymore about it. It actually works. I stop complaining, but I don't stop worrying.

Gene Weingarten: I LIKE THAT!

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Munich, W. Va.: Liz: Freud (or was it Fraud) said that squirmy legs means you are thinking about sex, or about getting spanked, or perhaps about both at the same time. Any comment?

washingtonpost.com: Well.... no.

Gene Weingarten: Oooh.

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Slosh, IN: What?? Remedial action to prevent what, exactly? I'm so confused. Also a woman.

Gene Weingarten: CHANGING THE DAMN PAD. Jeez, here I was trying to be all discreet.

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Washington, D.C.: Did you see the Jim Davis chat last week? I thought it was funny... but not in the way he intended. The idiotic questions were fantastic, particularly the Australian kid who offerred to let Davis sleep at his house should he visit down under and an eight-year-old who asked what kind of cat Odie was. Can we assume that one of them was you?

washingtonpost.com: Jim Davis, (Live Online, Jan. 28)

Gene Weingarten: I sat the chat out entirely. He also said he had seen my videos. Not sure who he thought I was. MAYBE RON JEREMY.

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Re: your engineering degree: "And I believe I have at least a rudimentary sense of humor. And chicks dig me."

Bill Gates thinks the same thing, you know.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, I know.

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Re: Maryland: I'm a straight man who believes that gays and lesbians should be allowed to be legally married. But I would support the "separate but equal" idea, as you termed it, as an acceptable compromise. Why? Just to shut up the fearmongers and their idiot claims about gay marriage leading to man-and-donkey weddings.

Gene Weingarten: Right. Would you have supported separate but equal schools, just to shut up the bigots?

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Embarrass, ME: What did you think of Cheney's get-up at Auschwitz? His ski cap actually said "Jackson Hole 2001." Do you own a jacket that has "Gene Weingarten, Columnist at The Washington Post and Supreme Chatmeister" embroidered on it?

Gene Weingarten: I thought he deserved all the criticism he got from Robin Givhan, and I thought Robin deserved none of the criticism she got from readers (she got flamed big time, in emails, etc.) How can anyone defend this dorko move?

washingtonpost.com: Dick Cheney, Dressing Down, (Post, Jan. 28)

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Washington, D.C.: Happy Tuesday, Gene. I'll cut to the chase since I'm not a funny person and would probably suffer a nervous breakdown trying to come up w/ something you would find even remotely funny. Have you ever thought about doing a "Gene on Tap" much like the Theology on Tap events held at local bars?

I'm a 20-something female and I know that many of us would come out to hear you read the dictionary, let alone pontificate on anything...

Pleeeeeease??

Gene Weingarten: See, here is the problem. I am so old and fuddy I don't even know what Theology on Tap is. Splain.

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Upstate New York: Did you lose a bet to Dave Barry again? Those Garfields aren't even close to funny. Not even a chuckle. By the way, a couple of weeks ago you said Garfield was only funny to 12-year-old boys. Well, sure enough, my 12 year old son decided to spend some of his Barnes and Noble gift card on a Garfield collection book. He thinks it's hysterical! You couldn't have hit that nail more squarely on the head.

By the way, to add to your collection of aptonyms, we have a doctor up here named Dr. Malseptic. While I'm sure he's a great guy, I don't think I could go to him.

Gene Weingarten: Malseptic? Really? That doesn't sound like a name. Prove it.

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No Respe, CT: From the stupid people file, the New York Post reported on Monday, Jan. 31st that, "Even in death, Rodney Dangerfield gets no respect. The late comedy legend's longtime publicist, Kevin Sasaki, got a call from a booker at CNN last week asking him if 'Rodney would be available to share his comments on the passing and legacy of Johnny Carson.' Sasaki replied that unless CNN had a new way of linking up to the afterlife via satellite, that would be impossible."

Gene Weingarten: Excellent!

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Woodley Park, Washington, D.C.: Gene, as requested, some feedback on the "South Park" version of the Aristocrats joke from an Aristocrats, er ... virgin: I found most of the content of the joke mildly annoying or mildly offensive. The last thing the father did with the baby was very offensive -- it was the only part of the joke that made me really uncomfortable. I chuckled each time Cartman was interrupted by the others, but that's probably more of a response to the "South Park" element rather than the joke itself. The one point in the joke where I laughed out loud was at the mention of people in the World Trade Center.

So what do these reactions mean? I'm not the sort of person who generally finds disaster jokes funny, yet the WTC bit cracked me up. Was that a tension release response -- being so uncomfortable with the bit that immediately preceded it that I was looking for something to laugh at? If so, is that generally how the Aristocrats joke works?

Gene Weingarten: The Aristocrats joke works because it is a joke about the inability to make a joke about certain things. Therefore, the more horrifying the details, the "better" the joke is. Ultimately, it is expressing the thing that all comedians, and not all that many other people, understand: It's only words, people.


The reason the South Park interruptions work so well is that Cartman's reaction suggests there will be something that ultimately justifies the horror. Which there is not.

I apologize to the many of you who are clueless here because you have not sought out and seen this clip, and once again urge you not to do it.

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Your City and State: My wife and I are heading up to New England for the weekend. First, we'll drive to Maine. I'm going to take her to Portland and Bangor. We'll go to New Hampshire from there. I'll take her to Nashua and Exeter.

Gene Weingarten: This is a rather stunning post.

I just don't know what to say, except to observe that when I was looking for an Armpit of America, Bangor, Maine, was a real consideration. Alas, it was too close to beauty to have qualified, but, man, that town bloze.

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Washington, D.C.: As a journalist, don't you think you owe it to your readers to disclose all of the contracts you have with the federal government to promote the Bush Administration's policies?

Gene Weingarten: I have addressed this in an upcoming column.

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Beulah, ND: I just finished reading "M for Mischief" ...

You are BAD!

Did you REALLY make those calls? Or am I only in a "wishful thinking" mode ...

Great laughs... and some of the things I wish I'd have the time to do, occasionally.

Keep it up, and tnx4 the day-brightener.

washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway: Dial M for Mischief, (Post Magazine, Jan. 30)

Gene Weingarten: I am guessing you are a newbie to the chat, from somewhere Out There. Welcome.

I do these 800 calls about thrice a year. They're real. And they are the funnest columns of all, for me.

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Washington, D.C.: I respectfully disagree with your opinion on weddings. Sure, they can become circuses. But there is a precedent throughout most cultures to celebrate with family and friends, and they can be well done.

Here's a phenomenon I don't understand -- birthday parties for one-year-olds. Why, oh why? I was recently invited to one, and I have to go. Why can't they just get the grandparents over and have the kid smash the cake like the rest of us did?

Gene Weingarten: Because 1) It is the first birthday, and it must be celebrated, and 2) They are an absolute scream. You kidding me? A bunch of kids with no hand-eye coordination and cake?

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Gene! I love the customer service articles. Do you think that after a while you're going to get a reputation among the reps and they're going to start screening their calls?

Anyway, just wondering if you and Gina will be doing an article on Lawrence Summers's latest case of foot-in-mouth disease. It seems perfect fodder for you guys.

Keep up the good work!

washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway: Dial M for Mischief, (Post Magazine, Jan. 30)

Gene Weingarten: Thanks. Yes, that will probably be our next column.

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Lasagna: Gene,

Jim Davis actually came off as kind of endearing and normal in his chat last week. Do you feel you've been too hard on him?

Gene Weingarten: I thought he was sweet. But, no. I think he has been a bad boy and needs to get back to worrying about whether his strip is funny.

HE MAY IN FACT BE DOING THAT.

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Lotusla, ND: So now both you and Liz are/were acknowledged opiate users. Are there any other interesting producer/host combos out there? Marty Gallagher's producer can bench 250? Desson's has a Manchester United logo tattoo? Pray tell!

washingtonpost.com: Meredith and Achenbach are both girly men!

Gene Weingarten: Noted.

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Fairfax, Va.: Gene,

I used to own a 1989 burgundy Maxda 323 LX 4-door with manual, tranny, manual windows, and manual sunrrof. (It was a great car) Does this mean I can be a humorist?

Gene Weingarten: No. You got rid of it.

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Blacksburg, Va.: Hey, you just got mentioned on Al Franken's Air America show. He was mentioning the link to the African-American Senator group, or whatever it was.

Gene Weingarten: You know, I am embarrassed to say I have never heard Franken. Any reviews?

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Laurel, Md.: Gene and WormyNoPants,

This forum has been called "Chatological Humor" for almost a year and a half (Sept 2003 according to the archives). How many of us even remember that it used to be called "Funny you should ask?"

washingtonpost.com: You, for one.

Gene Weingarten: Ah.

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Unintention, AL: I believe this was the funny type in an online chat from last week. It made me lol anyway.

Sick food: OK here's one for everybody. After spending the past 5 days on the couch with a cold, I realized I spent way too much time pondering things like "why are gatorade and saltine crackers the only things that taste good at a time like this?" and "why do I only want vanilla ice cream when the other 360 days of the year I want chocolate?". So Kim, what's the deal with Gatorade and being sick? And what does everyone else want when they're sick? Let's play...

Kim O'Donnel: Gatorade has electrolytes, which your body is in need of when knocked out by flus and colds. You're replenishing the system, and that's why it tastes good. Saltines have salt, which your body probably also needs, if you've been sweating out the toxins of your virus. Me, when I'm laid, want a very spicy Asian soup, with or without noodles. No veggies, maybe some meat, but really what I crave is a flavor-intensive broth. And maybe a good hot toddie...

Gene Weingarten: You have a very juvenile sense of humor. I am laughing here.

Let's see if it is changed in the archive. I am guessing not. We'll report back next week.

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Eleventh Century, Scandinavia: Hagar the Horrible has sacked countless great castles of Europe. Why does he and his family still live in that dinky hut?

Gene Weingarten: Excellent question.

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Love-it!sville, Va.: The trucks of the aptly-named Dranesville Septic Service carry a bumper sticker that says, "got poop?" I can hardly wait for their advertising campaign -- the one with all of the celebrity mustaches.

Gene Weingarten: Hahahaha.

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Gene Weingarten: Okay, here is Hank's analysis of the poll:

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Gene Weingarten: Yes, my poll is super flawed. You wanna make somethin' of it?
Here's what I think the more-correct answers should be. (The operative words here are: I THINK.)

For gay men:
Question 1: I feel like they're all true, but the biggest answer will be answer no. 6, or F. In a couple of years, with more restrictive anti-gay laws being passed, I think there might well be a backlash from gay men about having to always be consulted (or hired) as personal style/humor/hipness experts, just because they're gay. They're good enough to be hired help, but forget equal rights.

It's like that dude at Elizabeth Arden spa in Chevy Chase -- the guy who supposedly does the best eyebrow tweezing in town. He was so, so happy (as reported in the Post) about his San Francisco marriage license a year ago, which has now been voided by the California state supreme court, along with 4,000 legitimate couples who are gay and lesbian. For a while, the Ladies of Power were right there with him, you go girl, um guy, or whatever-- you go!! Now their powerful husbands are campaigning and legislating against his marriage rights. Therefore, I would expect some very painful plucking between now and 2009.

Question 2: I think the best answer is the second one is A ... I've yet to have a straight male friend who didn't joke or otherwise somehow believe that ALL gay male life was one big crazy sex party. Now, I know he means it as a compliment -- except, again, when it comes to that day in the Arkansas state legislature when they set aside an hour of testimony for some preacher to go on and on about all this strange (and curiously undocumented) medical detail about the most lewd gay sex habits; things most of us have never heard of, or well, tried ONLY ONCE.

The other correct answer could be B -- real estate miracle-workers. This is a positive stereotype, but a stereotype nonetheless, to the point that I've actually heard straight couples extoll the property value of buying real-estate from gay men only. (Sometimes lesbians.) The basic set up is, gay men move to a bad neighborhood, redo the place, and then make the world safe for straight families to move in. What's the harm, you ask? Because usually the plan involves the gay men moving on to new frontiers, which gay men usually do, because the stroller quotient in the neighborhood gets too high. (Also, if you want gay men to leave a neighborhood, put up an Ann Taylor Loft, like Dupont Circle did. That turned out to be like a gay version of Raid.)

Question 3: The answer is B -- not so much for the smoking itself, but for acting too much like a woman with a cigarette. Dramatic, queeny gestures. Many, many gay men have a special fear (and self-loathing, some day) of dating nelly gay men. You see it in personal ads, when the love-lorny-horny put "no femmes" as a requirement, or write "I'm str8-acting, so u b 2." Gay men hold out incredible hopes that Mr. Right will seem not gay at all to the outside observer. They are LIVID when their str8 friends set them up with another gay man and he's a big sissy. Gay men all believe they should be set up with Hugh Jackman. (This whole fear of sissies thing goes right back to recess playgrounds. Trust me.)

Question 4: Oh, it's so obviously C. If the world could just get over the whole butt-sex freakout, the rest of this culture war would fizzle out. I don't even think we'd have red and blue maps anymore. I think it would bring the Jihad down to a simmer. (It would also reduce by half the oeuvre of Comedy Central, but something tells me those hi-larious fat-guy comedians would find something else that's funny and makes the audience feel sufficiently ooky.)





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Icebergville, Minn.: On the marriage thing: I don't think the government should sponsor anything called a marriage. Legal Civil Unions between couples of opposite or same sex -- yes. A marriage is a religious moniker and should be kept in your church.

If you want a marriage, that is great. Have a ceremony that is condoned by your religion. And if your church performs same-sex marriage - YEAH!!!!

Gene Weingarten: This makes sense to me. It will never happen.

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Re: New England trip....: Bangor & Exeter?

Please tell me you were ignoring the bad "dirty" pun and that your avoidance wasn't due to the fact that you didn't get the joke....

Gene Weingarten: I didn't get the joke. Sigh.

See, this is a biiiig problem with real-time humor.
Sorry.

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Alexandria, Va.: Just a comment in regard to the poll. I'm a straight woman. I found it amusing, but I really couldn't answer the questions, because over the course of my 50+ year life, I've known a lot of gay people, male and female, and they are all different from each other in so many ways. So it's hard for me to answer these questions about perceived stereotypes.

Gene Weingarten: Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Interesting.

Periodically, I will get some unselfconcsiously homophobic email. I answer it this way: I explain that I don't share their views because half my coworkers are gay, that the Post requires that fifty percent of all employees are gay. They find this very funny. Then I say that, in my experience, gay people are glass bowls, and sissies, and couragious, and dumb, and smart, and annoying and exactly the sort of guy I'd want my daughter to marry, if only. Then i say that they distribute themselves along this continuum in PRECISELY the same pattern as straight people. That they are EXACTLY like the rest of us.

The letter writers find that hilarious, too. I am such a great kidder.

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Poll Results: Approximately 25 "Everybody Else's" for every Gay Man. Since a few more than half your poll respondents are women (checking the last two week's votes), that's about 11-12 straight men for each gay, or little less than the 10 percent figure cited by Urban Legend repeaters everywhere.

Gene Weingarten: Well, good then!

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Odds?: Until last year, I managed a department of five other women. About 18 months into working with each other, we found out that we all had the same middle name. Six women; same middle name.

Gene Weingarten: WAS IT HORTENSE?

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Atlanta, Ga.: I was wondering why my dog started eating string beans (no kidding!)

As a side note, Gene, I wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your chat. It seems as though you really ENJOY this exchange of ideas and abuse and relects in the amount of time you put in to the chat. Unlike some others on The Post (who will remain nameless) that seem like they are going through the motions on the chat, like they really don't want to be there.

Thanks.

Gene Weingarten: Actually, they are sane. This is dysfunctional behavior, on my part. Seriously.

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Didn't Bangor?: Wow, I can't believe you didn't get that joke. My faith in you is shattered. I mean, I understand when you don't get pop culture stuff, or new lingo, etc. but this was a clear, well-written, subtle and very funny post. Tis a sad day.

Gene Weingarten: Look, at least I am fessing up.

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Herald, The Miami: I'm going to Bangor. But first: Roo roo!;

Gene Weingarten: Thanks for rubbing it in, Dave.

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Re: Playground taunts: Dear Gene/Liz,

Lets settle this the old fashioned way...
With rocks.

-Meredith

Gene Weingarten: Okay. You're on, sissyboy.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Maybe someone has already written in about this or maybe Liz won't allow it to go on the chat, but PADS?

Does anyone really even wear these things anymore? They are disgusting. Gene -- I highly doubt even five women who read this chat regularly wear pads instead of tampons.

Gene Weingarten: I have been told that pad technology has improved to the point where it is a reasonable choice. No? They sure sell a lot, judging from the aisles in the store.

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Dave Barry: Well, at least you have a JOB, Gene.

Gene Weingarten: It must be nice, is all I can say.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm guessing the six women all had the middle name Ann. Or Anne. My middle name is Ann. Everyone's middle name is Ann.

Gene Weingarten: My wife's middle name is Ann!! How many Ann's are out there? Weigh in.

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PADS: Um, can you say, backup?

Gene Weingarten: Noted. Listen, I am just being a valet here.

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Gene Weingarten: Holy crap! Chatwoman's middle name is Ann, too! Chatwoman Ann Kelly!

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No, don't go there!;: Please tell me we're not going to get into an argument about the benefits of pads vs. tampons. Geez, to each her own, get over it.

(Yes, I'm a woman, no don't like tampons)

Gene Weingarten: Is this a touchy subject????????????

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McLean, Va.: I'll bet the Flash could get to Bangor in no time.

Gene Weingarten: Noted.

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Am I sick?: Hi, Gene. I spent the tail end of 2004 fighting panic attacks for reasons not important to this question. The panic is under control, but it's been a month and my palms are STILL sweating half the time. What's wrong with me? Am I dying? Or am I just gross? And will this hurt my dating life? I'm a pretty girl, but sweaty palms might trump that.

Gene Weingarten: There isn't much that trumps a pretty girl. Relax.

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Washington, D.C.: Another peeing in public places story: Years ago I was a flight instructor in an Aero club in the Midwest. A bunch of us used to take flying trips (in general aviation airplanes) as often as we could. One time I had several drinks just before we took off. This became a problem about half way to our destination (D.C.), and became REALLY urgent when we still had an hour or so to go. When I realized that I wasn't going to make it, I started eyeballing the Diet Coke can in my hand. Luckily, one of the guys had a Swiss Army knife with a can opener -- he sawed off the top of the coke can, everyone moved to the front of the (six-seater) airplane...and I relieved myself. Had to hold the can the rest of the trip and dispose of it at IAD, but it was well worth it.

Gene Weingarten: A worthy one.

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Anns: My wife and my sister

Gene Weingarten: I've been getting a lot of these. I'm excited.

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Hank Stuever: I cannot freaking believe that I worked so hard on a poll about gay men and you people are talking about tampons and pads. That's it Weingarten. That's IT.

Gene Weingarten: I can't explain it, Hank! I'm posting all I am getting!

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Women and this poll...: I wonder if some of the stereotypes were more from the perspective of straight males. I am also a straight woman, and although I also have lots of gay friends across the spectrum of personality, I tried to answer based on what I thought stereotypes would be -- I had no idea about some of them, and from the answers, it seems that maybe these are more the stereotypes of straight men -- maybe women have different stereotypes (as in -- always having crushes on gay men, good at fashion and looks, etc.)

Just a thought.

Gene Weingarten: Ah.

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Baltimore, Md.: The question you all left out of the poll was what do gay men think about the roo-roo joke?

Gene Weingarten: A good question. Hank? You have three minutes.

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Sissyboy?!;: Me and you.
After school.
By the swingsets.

I'll be the guy in the dress hiding a shiv in my garter.

Gene Weingarten: Splendid.

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Columbia, Mo.: You seem to answer a lot more questions than Howard Kurtz. Does this suggest you're smarter than him, or that he thinks more about his responses?

Gene Weingarten: He thinks more, in general. I also answer a lot in advance.

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Hank Stuever: Re gay men and roo-roo. Sorry, I'm distracted by the guy with the shiv in his garter.

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahahaha.

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Gene Weingarten: Okay, we are out of time. People, please remember I will update this chat all week, so I'm still inviting questions of all kinds, particularly involving... pads vs. tampons.

Okay, okay. Gay stuff too. See you next week.

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UPDATED 2.2.05:

Gene Weingarten: Okay, I’ve had a chance to look at the final poll results. Ninety gay men: Not bad, and roughly 20 percent of the total men who responded.

My biggest surprise was that straights pretty well sussed out how gays would feel. My guess is that this is a function of the demographics of this particular chat, but it’s good to see. My second biggest surprise is how much of a huge turnoff to gays that Bette Davis thing is.

Mostly, I just loved the poll. Stuever is funny. And he made me laugh out loud with the thing about the jeans label and the belt.

On another area altogether, I have now read more than 60 posts from women commenting on the tampon-pad divide. I am feeling a little weak, as though I had lost all that blood. Let me summarize: Chix mostly find pads icky but tend to use them as backup, particularly pre-menopausal women For Reasons All You Girls Know and Boys Don’t Need to Know, Okay? But some women disagree passionately, even some young women. Can I stop reading this debate now? Good! Thank you.

washingtonpost.com: No, thank you. This is worse than the Flash.

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Gene Weingarten: Here is a picture of the king of Nepal, with his crown. I just felt you needed to see it.

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Richmond, Va.: When I saw "Speed Bump" swipe at Pastis on Friday, I figured this would be noted in your chat. Now I wonder if you didn't note it because the Comics Curmudgeon beat you to it? Regardless, I found this an interesting development.

washingtonpost.com: Speed Bump, (Jan. 28)

Gene Weingarten: I didn’t mention it because it wasn’t a swipe. It was a hello. Pastis and Coverly are friends.

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Probability: The physicist Richard Feynman used to say:
"I had the most remarkable experience this evening. While coming in here I saw license plate ANZ 912. Calculate for me, please, the odds that of all the license plates in the state of Washington I should happen to see ANZ 912."

Gene Weingarten: Yes, good point.

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Separate but Equal?: We have "separate but equal" restrooms for men and women, too. Try as you might to compare them, race and gender are very very different things.

Gene Weingarten: Interesting point. I like it. Here’s the problem: Men’s rooms and ladies rooms ARE equal. (er, except for the urinal thing, and the long lines at sporting events.) And no one is arguing that they should be commingled. So long as the same status of marriage is denied to gays, society is saying, explicitly, that gay marriage is not as good as straight marriage. No way around that. To argue otherwise is just as patronizing as arguing for separate but equal schools.

It’s really a simple argument. Either you believe gays are normal and equal or you do not. If you do not, you are going to erect whatever barrier you see fit to prevent whatever equality they are asking for. This is really a no-brainer.

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Norfolk, Va.: Gene -- Let's play "I'd do her/I wouldn't do her," with The Post's infobabes including Amy Joyce, Liz, Anne Schroeder from Reliable Source, etc. You go first.

Totally serious here.

Gene Weingarten: The question of who you would do is irrelevant, in the instant case. All these women are too good for you. I’m serious here, too.

washingtonpost.com: I'd totally do-- oh, nevermind. Gene wouldn't like me to say.

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UPDATED 02.03.05

Potown, Mich.: I am surprised there was little mention of the Pistons basketball game that was delayed when a dog pooped on the floor. Sure, when there is a fight, it gets lots of coverage. Yet, when something funny like that happens, we all look away.

washingtonpost.com: Dog Does Its Duty; Francis, Magic Do, Too, (Chicago Sun-Times, Jan. 19)

Gene Weingarten: Now we have "rectified" the situation.

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Washington, D.C.: Gene -- In one of the weirder instances of two comics having the same theme, see Sunday's "Out Of The Gene Pool," and one of last week's "Zits" (sorry, can't seem to access it online but it was no more than four days removed from "Gene Pool"), both of which involved people taking pictures of their teeth with their cell phones to check for food.

washingtonpost.com: Out of the Gene Pool, (Jan. 30)
Zits, (Jan. 29)

Gene Weingarten: Yes, I meant to mention this. Amazing. Whenever this happens, I suspect gag joke sellers, but I doubt either of these guys uses gag joke sellers.

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Gramm, AR: Why can I say this:
I will not do that.

Or this:
I won’t do that.

Or this:
Won’t you help me?

But not this:
Will not you help me?

Please, Gene, won’t you help me answer this?

Gene Weingarten: Here’s another one: Why is won’t spelled like that? It’s a complete mangling of the contraction for “will not.” It really should be “w’not.”

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Arrr: From Chapter X of Moby Dick, Ishmael and Queequeg:

"I drew my bench near him, and made some friendly signs and hints, doing my best to talk with him meanwhile. At first he little noticed these advances; but presently, upon my referring to his last night's hospitalities, he made out to ask me whether we were again to be bedfellows. I told him yes; whereat I thought he looked pleased, perhaps a little complimented."

Will Margaret Spellings be yanking Moby Dick out of the schools?

Gene Weingarten: Huge tomes exist analyzing Melville’s closeted homosexuality. “Billy Budd” has many elaborate passages extolling the boyish beauty of Billy.

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Washington, D.C.: Did you see the Health Section of the online Post today? Tell your lovely assistant that she is not a hypochondriac -- it's a true disease.

Gene Weingarten: This was my favorite post of the day. Sorry I missed it the first time.

Lovely Assistant: Whatever.

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Arlington, Va.: Gene, I used to love "For Better or For Worse," as I am a female about the same age as the character of Elizabeth, and identified with her while growing up. However, recently it seems much more drab and preachy! Has it always been like this and I just didn't appreciate how bad it was when I was younger? Or has Lynn Johnston actually been writing crappier strips?

Gene Weingarten: She has become a self-appointed moralizer for teens. It is tedious. She also has been a little bizarre, revealing some distressing disconnect with the age group she is writing about. In that recent on-the-bus scenario, she admitted she made up those lame-o expressions (“Hangin’ high,” “roadside,” etc.) to suggest that Becky had been popped.

washingtonpost.com/Chatwoman/Link Monkey/Lovely Assistant: For Better or For Worse, (Jan. 26)

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UPDATED 02.04.05

Pastis - Bad Grammar?: Gene, in today's "Pearls before Swine," Pastis misuses the word "discretely", meaning instead to use "discreetly." What I find interesting is that discrete is not exactly a common word, more used in the sciences than everyday. Thoughts?

Gene Weingarten: I have alerted him to this transgression, and am demanding an explanation. More to come.

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Alexandria, Va.: For years, "Non Sequitur" has been my favorite comic strip for its slashing irony as well as draftmanship. I wonder if you share my view that it has slipped quite a bit since the introduction of Lucy the talking miniature horse a year or so ago. In times that cry out for Obviousman it seems Wiley is mailing it in half the time with cute talking animal gag strips a la "Peanuts," "Red and Rover," "Get Fuzzy," etc. I e-mailed Wiley about that and he replied that he gets more gushing reader feedback to Lucy than anything else. Your view?

Gene Weingarten: Nonseq is a great strip. Lucy is a big mistake. I also like Gene Pool, but Zoogy is a big mistake. Was Opus a big mistake? Could be. Same impulse, in all cases: Go for cute.

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Detroit, Mich.: Hi Gene,
I have a question about political humor. Jon Stewart was named by Entertainment Weekly as entertainer of the year. A few weeks later in the letters section, a reader disputed this and called his show "borderline treasonous."

Another Web site I sometimes to go is a Bush parody site, www.whitehouse.org. Its format is like the official White House Web site, and is clearly anti-Bush. In the reader mail section, there are a number of letters that call the site treasonous. I'm sure this is a criticism Gary Trudeau of "Doonesbury" has also faced.

OK so my question -- ignoring, for a second, the politics of Jon Stewart, "Doonesbury," and the parody website, can humor really be treasonous? Isn't treason betraying your government to an enemy, not criticizng it? Do you think that some humorists, (liberal and conservative) ever cross that line?

Gene Weingarten: Humor is never treasonous. Good humor is often seditious.

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Crawlingon, ME: Kudos, Liz for the article on RLS in today's Health section. Pretty good writing for a Link Monkey.

I believe a few years ago Meredith Vierra admitted on The View that there were times she was so tired that her husband had sex with her while she slept. She assumed everyone did the same. She received some pretty incredulous stares from her co-hosts.

washingtonpost.com: Wow.

Gene Weingarten: Wow.

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washingtonpost.com: Head over to Dave Barry's blog to check out an inscrutable picture of Gene.

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