*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. He is also reputed to be close to persons thought to be familiar with individuals claiming to be authoritative spokesmen for the mysterious and reclusive Czar of The Style Invitational.
(Richard Thompson - The Washington Post)
He is online, at any rate, each Tuesday, to take your questions and abuse.
He'll chat about anything.
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.
Gene Weingarten: Happy Veteran's Day.
Today presents a terrific opportunity to assess the protocols and limitations of this exciting, but still infant, technology of interactive chats. Nowhere else on the globe have midday chats been as successful as here in Washington, leading to the suspicion that they are enjoyed in large part by bureaucrats at "work." Is it true? Well, since today is a federal holiday, a dramatic falloff in chat volume would speak, well, volumes. We usually get 300 or more questions, so let's see what happens today.
Come to think of it, perhaps you can help in this scientific endeavor by appending a simple coding to your questions:
H - posting from home as usual.
Hvf - posting from home because it is Veteran's Day and I am a federal employee.
W?posting from work, as usual, because I am not a federal employee.
Hvf"s" - Federal worker posting from home because I am "sick."
Wvwa- Federal employee posting from work because I am so-called "essential," as though the whole frickin' government would collapse if its battery of "essential" assistant deputy undersecretaries of commerce didn't show up.
Wpe - Washington Post employee, supporting colleague's work while staying abreast of important new technologies so as to better perform my duties.
HoWasusniLst - At home or at work, accidentally stumbled on site. Not impressed, Leaving soon, ta.
Ncidr - Naked coed in dorm room.
Okay, lessee. Today's New York Times delivers the sad news of the death the former president of Zimbabwe, Mr. Canaan Banana. Mr. Banana was once convicted of sodomy.
Page One of the Times also contains the following headline: "Iraqi Tribes G.I.'s Ask For Help Say They Can't."
Speaking of inscrutability, can anyone explain the joke in Sunday's Boondocks? I can't.
It was, despite that, a terrific week for comics. I call your attention to Wednesday's "The Other Coast," which is a breath of refreshingly funky air in the dogs-are-cute comics oeuvre, and Saturday's "Pearls Before Swine," for the so-rarely-effective use of a pun. Pick of the Week goes to Sunday's PBS, which was not only funny, but scary.
And last, an embarrassed thank you to reader Gayle Day, who pointed out that I missed a rather amazing event in the comics last week. It's true. I read right over its significance. The event occurred in the ordinarily egregious "Baldo," which at least for the moment has my grudging respect for an amazing bit of self-mocking self-awareness.
washingtonpost.com: Comic Pick of the Week:
Pearls Before Swine, (Nov. 9)
Baldo, (Nov. 4)
The Other Coast, (Nov. 5)
Pearls Before Swine, (Nov. 8)
Boondocks, (Nov. 9)
Prior to today, has a major newspaper ever printed an article where the entire text was a palindrome?
Gene Weingarten: This is in reference to my story today. Liz, can you link to it? This one-word story was the product of DOZENS of minds. Style assignment editor Lynn Medford came up with the idea. My original "story" simply read: "See headline." But Pat the Perfect pointed out, quite correctly, that some other newspaper might come up with the following the very next day:
WASHINGTON POST CLAIMS
TO HAVE WRITTEN WORLD'S
SHORTEST BYLINED STORY
By Joe Blow
The Boston Globe
This was a very good point. So I re-submitted the story as it appeared today. Conferences were had. Preferences were stated. Votes were taken. Someone pointed out that some newspaper might still run a story in which the headline questioned whether the Post had indeed written the world's shortest story, and the story could just say, "No." But we agreed this would violate the rules since the headline would in that case be an inextricable part of the story. In other words, THAT would be, um, contrived.
So this version won.
This is big-time journalism, ladies and gents.
As you probably know, Darby Conley, the creator of the comic strip "Get Fuzzy" had an online chat on washingtonpost.com last Friday. I asked him to respond to the fact that the basic setup in his strip is exactly the same as in the strip "Garfield" (i.e., a single guy living with a clueless dog and a cat with an attitude.) I submitted it hours ahead of time so he must have seen it, but -- no response.
Mind you, I think "Get Fuzzy" is much funnier than "Garfield," but not nearly as funny as the fact that he wouldn't respond to my incisive comment!
Darby got hundreds of questions. Impossible to answer them all in an hour: Darby Conley, (Live Online, Nov. 7)
Gene Weingarten: Well that's like saying that George W. Bush is exactly the same kind of president as Abraham Lincoln because they are both men with brown leather wallets. Fuzzy, which sort of grows on you like a good kind of mold, has depth and texture and a little nice nastiness at its heart. Garfield is a man with a brown leather wallet who can't pronounce nuclear.
I do, however, get your point. Garfield is what Fuzzy would be if drawn and created by the dog.
washingtonpost.com: Gene's Guinness Book mini-story
Were you as disappointed with the Demo candidate's chats as I? Excepting Carol Mosley-Braun, none of them showed any sense of humor or character. What question would you most liked to see each of the candidates answer to try to separate the humorless from the merely humor impaired?
I just finished a column about those chats. I have to say, it's hard to blame these guys. The public has made it clear over the years that they want bland, and humor is always open to misinterpretation by the humorless. The last truly funny-witty person to run for president was Adlai Stevenson, and he didn't do so good.
Remember: When accused of being an egghead, his response was: "Eggheads of the world unite. You have nothing to lose but your yolks." This was a funny man. The voters took care of that, right quick.
Did you know that a right-winger called Stanley Kurtz is promoting a bill to counter bias in post-colonial theory?
Some academicians were first taken aback thinking this is was a spoof but were actually fooled by the perfect aptonym.
Gene Weingarten: That's pretty good.
15th and L (W):
Not to be over-critical, but I think the correct title for today is Veterans' Day. At least this is the way it is spelled in my telephone directory supplied by the USPTO.
Gene Weingarten: Yeah, yeah. Take care of that ulcer, fella.
I never thought I'd say this about "Cathy," which has been pretty lame in recent years, but I was touched by Friday's strip.
washingtonpost.com: Sickening Cathy, (Nov. 7)
Gene Weingarten: I admit this has something.
The Boondocks... wherever:
I know Chris Rock did a routine where he said that black parents cure their kids by telling them to take Robitussin, for anything.
"You skinned your knee? Put some 'Tussin on it!"
Or something like that...I don't know...I'm white.
Gene Weingarten: Several people have said something like this. But the thing is, it IS possible to abuse Robitussin, I believe. A cheap, ghastly high. So I dunno. A weak joke.
re: Sunday's Boondocks:
It's because we (black folks) use Robitussin to cure everything. Like the father in My Big Fat Greek Wedding using Windex. In my case, being a julatto, I put a teaspoon of Robitussin in my chicken soup.
Gene Weingarten: Okay, I guess.
Was curious whether you had any insight into this year's Herald Hunt. I've never been able to participate in a Hunt, but I've always enjoyed reading the puzzles and the solutions. Solving the puzzles generally seems to take equal parts of intelligence, cultural literacy, nonlinear thinking, and hallucionogenics.
However, the 2003 Hunt seemed, well... a little lame. Most years I read the solutions and say to my self "never in a million years would I have figured that out." This year my reaction was closer to, "So?" This year's puzzles seemed solvable by sane, rational people -- imagine my disappointment.
Was the dumbing-down of the Hunt intentional? Are Dave and Tom just bored? Is there a nefarious corporate plot involved?
(The 2003 puzzles and solutions are at www.heraldhunt.com... not sure where the 2002 stuff went, but if it's still available, it makes for an interesting comparison.)
Gene Weingarten: The Hunt seemed good to me -- about the right amount of wack. Hey, there was a cross-dressers' beauty pageant!
I think Liz linked to the wrong Other Coast.
(That's "Home, which is also Work, because I'm self-employed, and thus by definition I'm semi-naked (as all good self-employed people are during the day) but not a coed, and I'm here because it's something to do while waiting for the steak that I'm cooking to finish searing so that I can eat lunch.")
Sigh. Here's the correct Other Coast
Gene Weingarten: Ah, okay. This one should be about dogs, right?
According to my AP stylebook, it is Veterans Day. No apostrophe.
Gene Weingarten: Okay, good then.
Hvf thinking of ncidr, (but of course not your daughter.)
I hope you don't get paid by the word.
Gene Weingarten: No, but our editors do count bylines! I score.
Ok this is a big waste of time, but anyone who can chat in the middle of the day has a lot of time to waste.
Google 3 unrelated words such as:
Postage Accent Numerology
Ferrule Plethora Handlebar
Outlet Handlebar Diskette
The goal: To receive one and only one match.
Ancilliary rewards -- Finding thousands of matches of obscure arcanum (arcane obscurum?) for words that are seemingly unrelated.
Tip: Choose words that are far apart in the alphabet and of different parts of speech. It seems there are very large numbers of Esperanto enthusiasts with OCD making lists of words all over the Internet.
Gene Weingarten: This is sort of an old, but interesting game. I have a new variation, and it's great. I google filthy expressions that you would think are so improbable, so overwritten, so dippy, that no one could have ever possibly put these two or three words together. It is almost impossible to find no hits. If there is something disgusting, it has been said.
I thought Sunday's PBS was very true, funny, and sad. But as a parent of a kid with ADD, I'm stuck between a rock and a hard place. She has to go to school but if she's not medicated she flunks school, gets yelled at by the teachers, and who knows what else. Sadly, I can't afford a private school that might be more accomodating. So she takes her Concerta which keeps her in line and the world misses out on what amazing things she might have achieved had we left her alone. Bummer.
Gene Weingarten: Well, yes. It is one of the reasons that the cartoon was so poignant. I share your perspective.
Washington, D.C. (W):
Who would win in a fight: Broder or Levey?
Gene Weingarten: Levey, unless Broder removed his nipple rings. But I've never known him to do so.
New York, N.Y.:
So, has "julatto" appeared in print in some other publication besides the Washington Post yet?
Gene Weingarten: Well, it now has SEVERAL google hits, all referencing mine.
West Lafayette, Ind.:
Martin Amis, the British author, had this to say in a chat last week:
But I'd like to be remembered as someone who kept the comic novel going for another generation or so. I fear the comic novel is in retreat. A joke is by definition politically incorrect -- it assumes a butt, and a certain superiority in the teller. The culture won't put up with that for much longer.
Sorry, bub. Looks like another couple years and you're outta work.
I read that chat while I was work, too. Interesting thing about Live Online: the breadth encourages people to branch out. But, no, I've never visited Kim O'Donnel or Marty Gallagher.
Full Martin Amis transcript. And thanks. That made my day.
Gene Weingarten: I think the chats are an amazing phenomenon, and I would say that even if Liz -- who by the way, runs the whole World O' Chats -- weren't paying me.
A short observation: All surnames were originally aptonyms. When surnames came into use, people chose names that described themselves in some way, such as profession or appearance. It really isn't that amazing if someone named Shoemaker owns a shoe store -- after all, he got the name because his ancestor also sold shoes. I think a really good aptonym is one which only describes the person by coincidence but not heredity, such as Mr. Transparenti from last week.
Gene Weingarten: Very good. Good point. Also, Mr. Banana. But we are so far from the original names that Mr. Shoemaker still is ironic, no?
How about that letter in the Magazine blasting your column on baby names? Did he not realize that Madison was James and Dolly's LAST name? I bet he has a daughter named Bush. I hope to have a son so I can name him Weingarten. Although, maybe Weingarten will be acceptable for girls by then, too.
What an idiot.
Gene Weingarten: Ten to one that letter writer had named his daughter Madison. Twenty to one.
I LOVE letters like that. They don't bother me at all.
Thanks to picture-in-picture, Sunday night I was able to watch the heart-rendering story of a 14-year-old American soldier-girl who was kidnapped by a pair of Iraqi hobos -- but the Ravens made too many penalties and allowed the Rams to win.
My question is, should I be allowed to drink and operate the remote?
Gene Weingarten: You should not be allowe to operate a computer. Heart rending, not rendering. Hearts are rendered only by old eastern European cooks who make horse heart soup.
Incorrect use of ironic. Shame on you.
And Maritn Amis is a noron- there's always going to be peopel in power, and its always goin gto fun to make fun of them. Just becuase you can't make mock of people skin or sex doesn't mean fools will disappear.
Gene Weingarten: This is one of my favorite posts of all time. Thank you for writing!
Home. Bored. Serioiusly. Home and Bored.:
Your previous chatter's google game is too easy ... (I just typed in "ladled cubby shingle" and got one and only one match). Your game is much more fun. I suspect my dirty mind will be playing this game for hours now. And by the way, I'm a 31-year-old woman and I think this is a hoot. THANKS, GENE!;
Gene Weingarten: It IS great. There is almost no way to beat this game. If I didn't care about Liz and I retaining our jobs, I would tell you some of the actual combinations I have used, and you would say, "NO ONE COULD EVER WRITE THAT" and you would be wrong.
Which Democratic candicate would be the most fun to smoke pot with? I mean, of the three who admitted they did...
Gene Weingarten: The kind that would be most fun to smoke pot with would be those who DIDN'T admit to it, of course. But mostly, throwing the field open, I would go for Ashcroft. Wouldn't that be a hoot?
I'm not a pot smoker, by the way. Anymore. But if I did? Ashcroft.
Julatto and Style Invitational:
For last week's Style Invitational (change a word three ways and redefine), I used julatto. Since this itself is a made-up word, do you think the Czar will consider the three made-up words I coined from the first made-up word? Are you with me?
Gene Weingarten: I will put in a good word. As it were.
I don't get the Stanley Kurtz/post-colonial posting?
Am I missing something obvious -- or is this another lost bet, and I win a t-shirt for being the first person for having the humility to say I didn't get it? (W)
Gene Weingarten: Kurtz. Heart of Darkness. Colonialism.
Silver Spring, HVF:
Gene, what is your HVF wife doing today while you are W?
Gene Weingarten: Being a Mom. Hey, originally I typed Momb. A momb would be a piece of military hardware that nagged you to death.
Or a very, very compassionate Ombudsman.
Is it heart-rending or heart-wrenching?
Gene Weingarten: I think heart rending is fine. pthep?
You actually enjoy "Get Fuzzy?" Even with a mean streak, it essentially boils down to, "hey, cats are mean and dogs are dumb!" This may be a universal truth, but haven't the comics pages done enough with it over the years? Is the entire universe of newspaper subscribers filled with nothing but the elderly and goopy pet owners? Can I ask any more questions in this paragaph?
And for the record, I am at work, but honoring Armistice Day by sitting here idly.
Gene Weingarten: Originally, I agreed with you. But Get Fuzzy does, in fact, grow on you. The dog has pathos. The cat has a sense of his own powerlessness, and it bedevils him, and he overcompensates. Rob almost disappears. It is interesting. I have become a fan. There is real texture.
Inside the Beltway, Hvf:
Will you "break it down" for us at the end of the hour? How many posts, who's at home, at work, etc.?
Gene Weingarten: Well, it'll be evident when we are done. I will ask Liz for a tally of total questions.
Out In The Stic, KS:
Ashcroft scares the hell out of me, and I don't mean that to be funny. There is just something about a guy that loses a gubernatorial election to a dead person and then is brought up to one of the most powerful political positions in the United States. Plus, the fact that he seems to think that the only purpose of the U.S. Constitution is to wipe his Madison with doesn't help matters any.
Why would you want to smoke pot with such a man?
Gene Weingarten: Because he has never smoked pot, and is wound tighter than a baseball. It would be great to see what happens.
Is Prince Charles Bisexual?:
Please weigh in on the latest royal scandal. The world needs your perspective on this.
Gene Weingarten: It's pretty fabulous on its face. Buckingham Palace is quite firm on the matter -- the prince is innocent. Of whatever it is.
You know, I have to say, it SOUNDS like crap. Remember them Camilla tapes? Chaz is an amazing dork, but I don't think his sexual orientation is ambiguous.
Gene: A minor gripe, and I figured this was the best/only outlet for it. There is a certain writer at The Post who occasionally does these online chats, and he/she appears to only post questions that begin, "You are such a wonderful writer," or "Your article was fascinating and so well-written." This sort of situation just cries out for some form of comeuppance, but I am in no real position to do anything about it. Soooo, what I want to know is whether you or the washingtonpost.com folks know about whom I am referring, and whether you make fun of him/her behind his/her back as you should. Please, please, please?!
Gene Weingarten: 1) I don't know who you are talking about, honestly;
2) As a chat person, I can say it is sometimes hard to avoid these. We can't edit the questions, and if at the end of some long encomium someone asks a good question, we have to either ignore the question, or use the whole thing. Last week I had to do that with someone who said very nice things about me before coming to the point. The post compared me favorably with Dave Barry -- which is just WRONG -- and all that. But I had to let it go.
So, I feel for the guy you are referring to.
Hell-LO, everyone knows the first time you smoke pot, nothing happens!;
Gene Weingarten: Um, all I can say is, that was not my personal experience.
The surpsing thing is...:
...that people are unemployed in our country and The Post pays you to do pretty much do nothing. Just like you're doing for this hour. Filling our computer screens and lunch hours with nothing but drivel. And while we're on the topic of your riveting chats, who appointed you guru of comic strips? Or, to put it another way, if you know so much about them and could do things so much better, why don't you write a strip and show everyone how it should be done?
Gene Weingarten: I seized the guruship because no one else did. It was a bloodless coup. Though the Funnypaper column in the Baltimore City Paper and elsewhere does an excellent job, too.
Home again, home again:
You are such a wonderful writer. Your article was fascinating and so well-written. Yay for you.
Now what's the deal with North Korea? I mean, COME ON!;
Gene Weingarten: Pyongyang is the funniest sounding capital. Wait. Maybe there is a funnier one. Anybody? And don't give me Bangkok. That's so 1990s.
"What?: Hell-LO, everyone knows the first time you smoke pot, nothing happens!"
Ummm.. and we all know you can't get pregnant the first time, too.
Gene Weingarten: Precisely.
But, if you want to read some heart-rending/wrenching letters, read today's op-ed section of the New York Times. I know it's bad form to shill for another paper, but they ran the last letters/e-mails home written by several soldiers killed in Iraq. Truly touching. Also, ideally this will make us re-examine what exactly we're doing there in the first place. And, this year, anyway, it seems Veterans Day is actually receiving the recognition it deserves.
Gene Weingarten: Nice place name. The Times is actually copying something the Post did earlier, I think. It is powerful.
Stoked Du, De:
Knowing the athlete (and fashion czar) that you are, I am sure you have already tried the new extreme sport of "extreme ironing." Alas I couldn't imagine a more natural for the sport. And I know you would want to get out in front of your Miami Herald friend in the pursuit of excellence in this international sport.
So could you give us neophytes (read "no press" guys) some equipment and technique tips so we can make sure the ole US of A is not left behind in this sport now that we cannot even qualify for the Olympics in baseball.
Gene Weingarten: This is weird enough to visit the link.
Silver Spring, Md.:
Four women go out to eat. One bites into a wrapped condom and, she says, suffers severe psychological trauma. All four sue the restaurant. I can understand going to the rest room together, but must all four sue together? What if it had been a diaphragm? Please ask Gina. Four Women Sue Restaurant, (AP, Nov. 10)
Gene Weingarten: This is a good point, and a good link. My favorite line is that the women had been to the restaurant before, and nothing similar had occurred!
I hope yesterday's "B.C." is the comic of the week. After all, he is publicly acknowledging in a funny way, what we all know and don't respect. He does stink, and his comic strip ought to be flushed, er, um, dropped below the outhouse.
washingtonpost.com: B.C., (Nov. 10)
Gene Weingarten: Yes, I'm glad someone mentioned this. This was, indeed, one of the odder strips to appear in a loooong time. It managed to be disgusting without being funny!
Seems like Rumsfeld is following Bush's lead and trying to go around the "filters." In other words, I just saw his grim visage on my local news, doing a live interview via satellite hookup. This bit made my jaw drop (no transcript, just my best recollection):
The interviewer asked if Rumsfeld was doing the interview in order to put a more positive spin on Iraq than he's been getting from the Pentagon reporters.
Rumsfeld said, well, everyone who's actually gone there has been surprised that conditions are so much better than they're being portrayed.
Interviewer responds that, well, Paul Wolfowitz just went there and got a rocket launched at his hotel, which killed another American. How good is that then?
Rumsfeld said he thought too much was being made of that. Baghdad is a major city, and as we all know, there are violent events happening in major cities all over the world all the time.
No, the interview did not have the gonads to ask "when's the last time there was a rocket fired at a hotel in NYC... Paris... London... Tokyo... Chicago... Johannesburg... Beijing... Sydney..."
Gene Weingarten: I hope you are reporting this correctly and fairly. It does sound like Rummy, and it is, of course, wonderful.
Gene Weingarten: Ok, sold.
I know The Post doesn't print it, but yesterday's "Arlo and Janis" comic was pretty good:
Gene Weingarten: It is. This is excellent.
Fairfax Station, Va. (Hvf):
You are such a wonderful writer.
Your articles are fascinating and so well-written.
Minsk is funny.
Gene Weingarten: Pinsk is funnier. Now why is that?
New York, N.Y.:
You know, I still don't get why that Garfield cartoon was the cartoon pick of the week two weeks ago.
Gene Weingarten: Sigh. Lots of these, still. Okay, one more time. It wasn't my pick. It was a joke. Because the Yankees lost the world series, Dave Barry wrote the top of my chat. He was trying to make me look as dumb as possible, by picking an unfunny strip. He didn't think it was funny, either. Because it wasn't. Funny. Okay?
I read a wonderful piece in my local paper today (The St. Pete Times) entitled "Determining the Write Sex" written by you. I would love to find this online and forward it to so many of my English teacher peers. Can you tell me how to find it online. I loved it!
washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway, (Nov. 9)
Gene Weingarten: This is for the chatter. Thanks.
Re: Yesterday's BC:
Any chance that the comic was some play on the crescent that represents Islam?
The strip isn't funny, but with that idea it fits into his Christian world view...
Gene Weingarten: Ooooooooooooooooooooooh. You know, if it was anyone but Hart, I would say that you were insane. But, ah .....
re: New York, N.Y.:
Looks like Dave Barry is still laughing! Wonder if he ever thought it would get this bad?
Gene Weingarten: I'm sure he is.
Gene Weingarten: Ok, out of time here. Liz, please append the total number of posts, and let's see what effect Vets Day had. The goal is 300 or more. Three hundred means we;ve taken no hit.
See you next week.