Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 19, 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.
He is online, at any rate, each Tuesday, to take your questions and abuse.
He'll chat about anything.
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 .
Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon.
We begin today with a rant. It is a rant I have ranted before, but I have new ammunition, and a bully pulpit. So just sit there and take it.
On Sunday night, I became the second-to-last person in America to see "Million Dollar Baby" for the first time. I know you have all seen it, but for the benefit of the last person, I will not be much of a spoiler here. However, if you ain't seen it and plan to, you might want to skip over the next few paragraphs. Pick up with the capitalized line beginning OK, YOU CAN START READING AGAIN.
"Million Dollar Baby" is a good movie, and it was riveting, and like almost all reviewers and the Academy, I liked it a lot. But I can never call it a great movie because it violated what, for me, is a cardinal rule of screenwriting: It required unacceptable suspension of disbelief; moreover, it did so for the worst reason imaginable.
In my otherwise forgettable year at Harvard, I took a playwriting class with a charming elderly professor named William Alfred, who had one lesson he tried to stress: Don't get into the "emotions racket." Don't melodramatize, don't manipulate events or make your characters behave in an unbelievable way, just to jerk a tear. It's dishonest, and however successful it may make you, you will never be more than a hack.
So, in Million Dollar Baby, Clint Eastwood - a flinty, complicated, Yeats-reading old fight pro with serious issues of emotional unavailability because of a failed relationship with his own daughter - reluctantly takes on a trashy but gutty young woman fighter, and builds her into a champ. Midway through her career, he gives her a new robe to wear into the ring, and it has on it a Gaelic expression about which she is clueless. He doesn't tell her what it means. She fights and wins, and by the end of the fight, the audience is chanting the expression. It becomes the name, the cachet, she subsequently fights under.
Weeks and weeks and months go by, and she finally gets the Shot At the Title, and Startling Things Happen. Later, in the emotional crescendo to the movie, he tells her what it means: "My beloved," and this evokes a tear. A big scene. A very big scene, around which the entire movie pivots.
Now, I ask you: Is it remotely believable that she would not have found out, before then, what it means? Never seen it in a newspaper account of the fighter who fights under that sobriquet? Never, like, ASKED anyone with familiarity with Gaelic? Never was told by anyone?
I find this a problem so enormous that it destroys the movie for me. The movie is like a beautiful wedding cake with a turd on the top.
Am I wrong here? I have discussed this sort of problem of mine(not this specific one) with both Desson Thomson and Stephen Hunter, and both basically have informed me politely that I am sick and dysfunctional. Am I?
OKAY YOU CAN START READING AGAIN.
So, my hypochondria book never sold particularly well, an injury I have suffered in heroic silence all these many years. Well, haha, revenge is mine. My book has finally been validated in a dramatic fashion. I am once again on top of the world.
A version of this book has been issued in Latvian.
I am looking at it now. It is titled "Hipohondrika celvedis dzive. Un nave" by Dzins Veingartens. Can any Latvian speakers translate the title?
I do note that the introduction was written by my good friend, Deivs Berijs, and that I give credit in the acknowledgements not only to Deivs but to Pat the Perfect, aka Pat Myers, whose name reads "Patai Maiersai."
My agent, Al Hart, sent a few copies to me with a note that included this line: "You will observe the typo on page 151, an amusing displacement of the impersonal subjunctive."
Anyway I am sure the book makes fascinating reading and I urge you all to travel to Riga so you can pick one up.
My friend Caitlin Gibson recently ran across a listing for a job at the Library of Congress that included the following as a requirement: "Ability to Communicated in Writing. ..."
A great comics week, led by the CPOW, which is Sunday's Opus, which works on several levels. Tom Cruise will not be happy. The first runner-up is a great sight gag from Rhymes with Orange on Sunday. I am also particularly partial to today's That's Life, but the others are most worthy, too.
Today's poll: Your answers are illuminating. It's a good poll, no? I will reveal my choices midway through.
Okay, let's go.
washingtonpost.com: Comic Pick of the Week: Opus ( July 17 )
First Runner Up: Rhymes With Orange ( July 17 )
Washington, D.C.: Today's poll is among the most depressing, identity-depriving exercises I have ever been involved with. It is more depressing than the last few chapters of the new Harry Potter book. It is quite sad. Thanks a whole bunch.
Gene Weingarten: It is! I am so proud.
Laurel, Md.: Just took the poll. Wow! For the first time ever I am not only surprised, but shocked at the way the poll is going. I said the thing I would most easily surrender is the ability to recognize faces, but I seem to be in the minority by a great distance. I do understand the ramifications of this choice, but I would certainly rather someone tell me who they were and still have the ability to then appreciate their presence, or marvel at art or music, and even laugh at my infirmity with them. Am I competely wrong about this choice?
Gene Weingarten: You probably are, for reasons I will explain later. But these choices are not easy, IMHO. Though you guys seem to think the first one is.
Middlebury, Vt.: I liked your article on the National Gallery of Art. Coincidentally, I was just there on Friday. My friend and I didn't delve very far because we had a train to catch, but we did wander into the galleries just off the pillar room (mostly with 17th and 18th century French paintings) and one thing in particular struck me: the wussiness of the men.
I mean, I had seen paintings before and I knew that fops were a stock character in the plays back then, but geez! Even more than the lacy collars, velvet coats, and silk stockings that were just as elaborate as the dresses, I was bothered by their fluttery positions -- there was one where a group of people were gathered around a cradle and the father seemed to be swooning into the mother's arms. SWOONING. over a BABY. A seemingly live and healthy one at that.
I think I would've eloped with the stable boy.
washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway: Renaissance Man , ( Post Magazine, July 17 )
Gene Weingarten: The degree of mincing foppishness in 17th and 18th century French paintings is overwhelming. Yes, I suspect stable boys did very well for themselves.
These paintings look like they should have a perfumed scratch-and-sniff element.
Ann Arbor, Mich.: Just wanted to mention that your quiz for tomorrow made me tear up while filling it out. My mom has recently, over the past several months, undergone some kind of bizarre change in her mental state/personality. Nothing really drastic, just lots and lots of stretching (like, constantly) and she kind of seems emotionally vacant. You talk to her, and it's like she's only paying attention enough to prove that she has been paying attention, but the normal give and take just isn't there. She'll start talking about something else in the middle of a conversation, like she doesn't care what you're talking about. And she doesn't laugh. My mom is famous for her fits of laughter - she laughs silently, and with her whole body. And will keep cracking herself up to the point where we're all laughing with her; she's clutching her rids and gasping for breath. That hasn't happened in about six months. We're still exploring whether it might have been a mild stroke, or perhaps some kind of neurological or mental disorder. Making me realize how much you under value really important things during the normal course of life.
Gene Weingarten: That is very sad and moving, and you do want to check it out. I am going waaay out of my league here, but to this ignorant novice, it sounds like a very early form of vascular dementia, and sometimes that can be halted and even reversed.
Kensington, Md.: I have some excellent cartoons from various artists for Gene to savor/review. Can you give me an email address to which I can send them? I don't get how I might attach them to the screen I'm lookin at now.
Thanks. Steve Fahey (an S.I. regular, and non-abuser of e-mail addresses)
Gene Weingarten: Hey, Doc. Weingarten(at)washpost.com.
How far off was I on that previous answer?
Madison: I was pushing for Madison as a daughter's name until your column. The Madison is a type of bicycle race named after Madison Square Garden, from the early 20th century when bike racing was a big sport here. I thought Madison was a great way to sneak cycling into a name, but after I read your column I couldn't face it.
So we named her Axel.
Gene Weingarten: Axel is a cool name for a girl. I hope you are serious, but doubt you are.
Please, moms and dads of all those Madisons out there: Feel free to defend yourselves.
(I accept that "Maddie" is a cute name. But that explanation won't wash. It would be like naming your daughter "Diarrhea" because you like the nickname "Di."
Er, not to sound to extreme here, or anything.
Lizzie, can you link once again to the Madison column?
washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway , ( Sept. 21, 2003 )
Annandale, Va.: So for a guy who was "dragged around" the art gallery, you seem to have taken a pretty keen interest in what you were observing! I suspect that deep down in your wastrel heart, you might actually be an... art afficianado. You have successfully identified artistic themes and elements into their analog political issues, scientific studies (nutrition and anatomy, at the least), cultural evolution, and even philosophy. This could be a whole new career for you when you get old and lose your sense of humor!
Gene Weingarten: Well, um, the "dragged around" was a bit of comedic license. I like art. Wife does, too.
Washington, D.C.: I liked the illustration that accompanied this Sunday's column. Do you look that good in real life?
Gene Weingarten: No.
Germantown, Md.: How can people chose sex over alcohol? What's up with that?
washingtonpost.com: Are you drunk right now?
Gene Weingarten: Hahahahaha.
I will reveal this one little by little, like last week. Alcohol was not my first choice; enforced ALWAYS FOREVER sobriety would be a very difficult concession for me. I wavered about sex: Listen, I am a 54 year old man. That loss would be significant to me, but, you know, in fifteen years I might look back at that choice and want to KILL myself. So I considered it.
I also considered the food one, which was horrible, but in some ways would be at least interesting: No more weight problem. But, but ... man. What I'd be missing.
TV computers are simply too important to staying intellectually alive.
I then opted for "music." Not an easy choice.
Million Dollar Baby: I think you are right that she would have found out, but that is not the point for me. I think the "game" was her wanting him to tell her. Almost like, a "tell me you love me" -- "why would I say that" kind of game. The emotion was him telling her, not her finding out since she probably already knew. I thought it was a lovely scene.
Gene Weingarten: That is not how it was presented. If you need to think that, okay.
Left-leaning Manifesto: Gene,
Since you posted a right-leaning manifesto last week, regarding your poll from the week before, I figure you might want to allow equal time for an opposing view. I believe your poll about the right choosing more answers than the left is very simple to explain: most people are more moderate than the current Republican party reflects, and are therefore just as frustrated that their party has been hijacked by a religious right-wing minority.
Think of what the traditional Republican party stands for: small central (federal) government, that is fiscially responsible, resulting in lower taxes and more efficient government; more control to states on most issues, particularly education; little to no interference in people's personal lives; little to no regulation for business and personal responsibility. How does the current administration stack up to this? Well, instead of a smaller central government, we've had one that has ballooned into a fiscal nightmare, but we do have lower taxes. The 2000 election and the Schaivo incident alone are enough to show what the current group of politicians thinks about more control for states. In these 2 cases, they did everything they could to stomp all over the State's authority in favor of Federal authority. They also have no problem interfering in the most personal aspects of people's rights, again, Schaivo and the Texas sodomy law that was overturned by the Supreme Court. The administration can certainly take credit for being pro-business, every bill that has passed has been a golden gift to one industry or another at the expense of the average citizen (Medicare drug bill-pharmeceutical industry; Healthy Forests-logging industry; Clear Skies-power industry; proposed Social Security-Wallstreet and stockbrokers; proposed Energy Bill-oil industry). And personal responsibility, for the average citizen, means "you're on your own, Jack."
Last week, Floriduh said that the main difference between conservatives and liberals is that liberals view people as "groups" ("the more easily pidgeon holed, the better, I suppose," he says) while conservatives look at people as "individuals." Au contraire!; It is the exact opposite, which is why the Democratic party has such a hard time articulating their position!; So, let's get to the specifics:
The reason why No Child Left Behind is such a dog of a bill is it does exactly that: it tries to pidgeon hole ALL children into ALL knowing the exact same thing at the exact same time. I was educated in a public school in a middle class town that offered a wide varitey of programs under the assumption that ALL KIDS ARE NOT THE SAME. And that ALL kids are not necessarily college material. There were classes in welding, carpentry, auto mechanics, home economics, music, communication/film making, computer programming (in the 70's!;), drama, music, languages (including Russian, long before the end of the Cold War), and business classes (typing, filing, use of office machines available at that time). Not to mention a full array of college prep courses in Algebra, Triginometry, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Literature, Writing, Economics and History. Kids were actually counseled on their strengths and weaknesses and individual plans were put together for their curriculum and future job prospects. Doesn't this make a lot more sense than passing a standardized test to determine "what you know"?
Floriduh says the the Left is willing to discern variations of Islam, but not Christianity. Again, this is exactly the problem: the Left IS trying to discern differences in Christianity but keeps getting over shouted by the minority with their narrow definition of a Christian. And any time a Democrat tries to moderate the religious discussion (most recently Hilary & Kerry during the election), they get screamed at as trying to move their politics to the center, even though it has nothing to do with politics. I was raised a Catholic and nothing has changed in my religious beliefs in the last 30 years. 10 or 15 years ago, I was a mainstream moderate. Yet, today, from a religious right perspective, I am an out of touch liberal whacko who wants to undermine families, children, blah, blah, blah. I am not the one that changed, the POLITICAL bar changed. So, who is pidgeon holing here?
The Right has used the same pidgeon holing and simplified communication techniques with regard to terrorism and the war in Iraq. The war on terror is far more complicated and nuanced, yet it is far catchier to say "you're either with us or with the terrorists." But when the Left tries to point this out, again, they are over-shouted with sound bites and criticisms of being unpatriotic or offering terrorists therapy. The war on terror cannot be fought only by the military or bombing the crap out of some country. Rather than invade Iraq, our resources would have been better spent on human intelligence, electronic intelligence, co-operation with other countries (countries like France & England have marvelous intelligence forces, since they have had their own war of terrorism for decades) and smaller, more mobile military special forces with specific targets instead of huge armies. And most importantly, we should be doing something about the upcoming young people in countries like Saudi Arabia. The Republicans have such a well-oiled propaganda machine when it comes to the USA, why not overseas? Instead of starting a war in Iraq, we should have used our influence right after 9/11, when almost the ENTIRE WORLD was on our side, to pressure governemnts like the Saudi's into educating their children, fighting the anti-US propaganda that their government allows to be spread. And what about Al Jezerah? We should have representation on their network. Let Scotty McClellan go in front of the Arab press. Let Condi and some of our cabinet people be interviewed on a regular basis to get our point of view in front of the Arabs. I do believe that the terrorists that are already out there must be killed or tried for crimes, they will never "convert" back to any sense of normalcy. But our plans should also include meansures to stop more children from being poisoned and stopping future generations of terrorists.
I do not believe that the actions of our soldiers and/or CIA and/or contractors (mercenaries, is what they really are) at Abu Ghraib and Gitmo are the work of a few lone rogue grunts. For anyone who has ever worked for the government, military or large corporation, you know in your hearts that the orders came down from somewhere. Now, they might not have been specific orders, like, "I command you to go torture those prisoners" but the orders were implied. When I worked for a large corporation, we used to get edicts like that all the time: Do whatever it takes to complete this task. I don't care how you do it and don't want to know how you do it, just do it. Now, if I would have come back and said I slept with all my customers to make my sales objective they would have said, "We NEVER told you to sleep with anyone!; We merely suggested that you get the job done by any means within the rules and bounds of company policy." The old Plausibile Deniability game. I think it will be many years before America realizes it should be ashamed of this behavior and that it has hurt, not helped, our cause abroad.
I believe that everyone should pay taxes. There are certain things in society that are better left to a government. I don't want to be responsible for fixing my own street. I'd rather have degreed, professional teachers teaching my kids (if I had any) than trying to find some professional by myself. I think that government HAS to be a watchdog, because, unfortunately, most people are less than scrupulous, particulary when lots of money and/or lots of power are involved. I don't believe that businesses should be hamstrung by regulation, (although every business thinks ANY regulation hamstrings them) but with no regulation or minimal regulation, they will take advantage of the working people while pocketing billions for corporate executives. Enron, Tyco, WorldCom ought to show you that SOMEONE needs to be watching. If not the government, then who? If there were no environmental laws, chemical, mining, power etc. companies would just dump their crap in the local stream or the air. If you think that's ridiculous, look back at why these laws were put in place: this was precisely what these companies were doing!; Does the Cuyahoga River in Ohio catching on fire ring any bells? Yes, our tax $$ should be used to protect society as a whole. And since all people are NOT created equal, I have absolutely no problems with safety net programs, like welfare, unemployment compenation, food stamps, Medicaid, health insurance for children, social security, etc. Of course these programs are abused by some!; Every program is abused by some, that doesn't mean you get rid of it. Millions of dollars a year are bilked from insurance companies, due to fraud. So, is the answer to get rid of auto insurance or health insurance or homeowners insurance? No one would dare say anything as preposterous as that unless its about a "government program." I used some of those programs myself when I was down and out and rather than make me dependent, they got me back on my feet. I am college educated and have always held down good jobs but had a horrible blip for about 3 years in 25 years of working. I am pointing this out because the people that squawk about social programs have people pidgeon holed as poor/lazy/uneducated/minority, not taking into account the individual but a sterotyped group.
One final point about taxes, again, from my personal perspective. The tax cut I received from this administration amounts to just under $28 per month. A whopping $336 per year. But in the ensuing state and budgetary problems, my city taxes went from $285/yr. to $458/yr., up $173. My property taxes went from $1705/yr. to $1988, up $283 for a grand total of $456. So, I am in the hole by $120/yr. Thanks, George.
And last but not least, it is the Right that persists in pidgeon holing those emotional fringe issues like abortion, gay marriage and culture of life. As a woman, I believe I have a right to choose an abortion. Especially now. I am 45 yrs. old and have been married for 20 years. My husband and I chose NOT to have children and have done everything in our power to not conceive, including a vasectomy that he had 10 years ago. If I became pregnant due to a botched vasectomy, I think abortion should at least be an option for me. Would I have one? Well, ya see, that's my decision to make, not the government's. I think the Right calls this "personal responsibility" and I would take personal responsibility for my situation, whatever that entails. And if the Right believes in a "culture of life," then they need to go all the way with that philosophy instead of picking items off a menu that fall into their agenda. If the government is now going to force me to have this child that I have tried to prevent, am I going to get help raising it? Is the government going to supply me with money or free services to help out? Well, no, of course not. Like I said, personal responsibility = you're on your own. And what about the dealth penalty? I am no bleeding heart when it comes to criminals but I have read about some of the atrocious methods used in just Oklahoma and Illinois on DP cases, where truly innocent people have been put on Death Row. This seems to indicate that at bare minimum, a strong, unbiased review program should be in place for DP cases. I mean, wouldn't we rather err on the side of life? And if the government is going to insist of overruling families on feeding tubes and artificial means of life support, then the government should be paying for these services, not the family and not private insurance. And as far as gay marriage goes, what a stupid loaded issue that shouldn't be an issue at all. The Right's group-think visualizes a bunch of flaming fags dressed in pink prancing down 5th Avenue. Not individually, as Floriduh suggests. If he looked at it individually, he would see people like someone in my family, who has been with his partner for 25 years, longer than my hetero marriage. Except he and his partner don't have the same rights I do. That, my friends, is discrimination, plain & simple. I don't see how you could see otherwise.
I could rattle on more but this is way more than I intended to write in the first place. There is one thing I do have a group mentality on: I think lefties have a far better sense of humor than righties, at least in my circles. Righties can't seem to take a joke, especially if it is at their own (party's) expense. While lefties can laugh about what the meaning of is is.
Gene Weingarten: Thank you. I give you an A-. You lost points because of multiple "pidgeons."
You say many good and right things; the one that resonates most clearly with me, and that I've been meaning to say for years, is the central, stupid fallacy of the "No Child Left Behind" thing. You have articulated it perfectly.
People have equal rights, but they are not equal.
Confused, ME: Gene, I have an issue which I believe you are most suited to address. I have chosen to seek your advice because (1) I enjoy and appreciate your thoughts on family matters, and (2) because of your extensive knowledge of timepieces.
My father passed away a few years ago and left to me his Rolex Presidential watch. It's in wonderful condition (it's about 30 years old), is solid gold, and seemingly weighs about six pounds. I had it refurbished by Rolex and sized to fit my wrist. This watch meant a great deal to my father -- he grew up in a depression-era household and worked extremely hard for everything he ever had. I, in turn, grew up in a very comfortable environment because of his business acumen and work ethic. We enjoyed our upper-middle class family life, and I always have recognized how much pride my father took in being able to provide for us as he did. This watch represented all of that to him. I consider myself quite lucky now to be its owner.
But here's where you come in. My problem is that the watch sits in a safe deposit box at the bank. It's not that I'm afraid to wear it, but it's just not my taste for a watch. I'm in my early 30's, an attorney, and like nice things. However, I just don't feel like that watch suits me -- I don't think it fits my personality or station in life. I wear an attractive stainless Baume & Mercier watch -- both as an everyday watch and as a "dressy" watch. It's very comfortable -- literally and figuratively. But I can't get past the thought of my dad's watch sitting in at the bank. I have thought in the past about exchanging it for a different Rolex, but I didn't feel right about that, either. Should I just wait 20 years and see if I "grow into it?" Is there something else I should do with it?
I await your thoughts and appreciate your considering this issue -- this has been bothering me for a while now.
Gene Weingarten: I have the same problem!
First off, I would not wear a Rolex Presidential, either. Way too ostentatious and big and heavy. I consider it a pimp watch, or close. (There are worse.) Mostly, perversely, it looks cheap to me. (Most men's watches with metal bands look cheap to me, but that's another story.)
Anyway, I am right now looking at a 14K gold Elgin pocket watch from the 1930s that I inherited from my grandfather, Isaac Shorr -- who died in 1963 -- via my mother, who died in 1991. It is a rather elegant watch, with a double door in the back, a fine gold chain, a small seconds hand, and a face that could stop a clock. Or watch. It was made in a way that must have seemed elegant at the time, but which just looks prissy now. Porcelain face, overly fancy gold filigree hands, silly ornate numbers and -- most horribly -- a bright circle of yellow flowers in the middle, between the center and the numbers.
This watch is worth at least $800, and maybe more. I just have it in a drawer, and barely have looked at it over the years. A few months ago I considered selling it, and took it out to look at it. When I snapped open the second door, I saw that my grandfather had pasted a picture of his daughter Ethel -- my aunt, also deceased -- at the age of about 18. I put the watch away again.
I do believe that objects with emotional attachments have some meaning. I also believe that they don't necessarily have enormous meaning. And so, if I ever really needed the money, I would sell this watch (and keep the photo.)
But absent such circumstances, my thinking is that, once you sell your watch, you are holding what (really) is a small amount of money. It'll be gone in no time. And then all you will have is a vague sense of regret.
Yeah, you could sell the watch and buy another with it, and convince yourself this is in honor of your dad, but -- you'll know this is not really true. It won't feel right. Your dad left it to you because it was important to him.
Unless the economy tanks or I suffer some other terrible financial reversal, I'm keeping mine. Maybe my son or daughter will have a son or daughter with terrible enough taste to love it as my grandpa certainly did.
That's my advice to you.
Potomac, Md.: Dear Dr. Medical Person:
I have a question for Liz if she's around today. When I first heard her desribe Restless Legs Syndrome I knew exactly what she was talking about as I had experienced the symptoms before. It was something I might get for no apparant reason maybe 4 or 5 times a year. Two weeks ago I started getting it every evening. Especially when I'm sitting in a chair but also when I'm laying in bed. It's getting to the point where I am considering seeing a doctor about it. Liz, do you take medicine for this? Does it work? Are there any bad side effects? Is there anything I can do aside from taking medicine? Could RLS be a sympton of something worse? Thanks.
washingtonpost.com: All is explained here: Night Crawlers , ( Post, Feb. 1 )
Gene Weingarten: Noted.
Turned, ON: Thanks, Gene, for putting up for elimination in your poll all of the wonderful things one could enjoy. Way to get me all riled up for nothing.
You know, these hypothetical polls are silly, because they are strictly hypothetical. Can't we just talk about the reality we all have to deal with?
Your poll reminds me of a question my little sister (whose favorite game was "Would you rather?") used to ask: Would you rather eat dog poop or cat poop? What a stupid question. It's strictly hypothetical, so I slapped her to jolt her back to reality.
But it would definitely be cat poop.
Gene Weingarten: Definitely.
Washington, D.C.: Have you heard about ABC's documentary on internet dating called "Hooking Up?" These women are trying to meet Mr. Right. The producer's name is Terence Wrong. Yes, he's Mr. Wrong.
Gene Weingarten: Very nice!
Washington, D.C.: Gene, I want your thoughts on this. Back in college I had taken a creative writing class. One day, a classmate passed out for discussion a copy of a poem of his, entitled "Terrorist of Love," in which he compared his efforts at wooing a young lady to the hijackers' efforts at bringing down the Twin Towers. Upon conclusion, half the class was caught in total shock and outrage, while the other half was laughing so hard they were nearly on the ground. I found myself closer to the latter group, appreciating both the poem and the moxie it took to make it. Your thoughts?
Gene Weingarten: Well, it is completely without taste. Since i believe in the Inentional Fallacy, I would say it is immaterial whether he INTENDED it to be funny. Sounds funny to me, if it was really over the top. If it was not, then no.
Rosslyn, Va.: I've never drank a drop of alcohol in my life (at 33) so I chose to give up that. Is that fair being I've never induldged in it?
Gene Weingarten: Well, sure. Your choice was a no-brainer.
Bowie, Md.: Gene, I just found out I'll be taking a business trip to New York City early next week, so I can't ask the Flight Crew this, so can you help:
Where can I get a "$10 Rolex" from a street vendor as a gag gift?
Gene Weingarten: Anywhere.
WTH?: What does Tom Cruise have to do with Opus's love struck interest in the gay women?
Gene Weingarten: There is a rolling buzz out there that Cruise is gay, and this is all a sham. That Scientology is involved in helping him deal with this.
I have no idea whether this is true. Am not saying it is true. But it is the buzz.
Latvian Translation: State Department here. My Latvian speaking colleague translated the title of your book back into English. He says it reads "A hypochondriac's guide to life. And death." Pretty close I'd say.
Gene Weingarten: Yes. Excellent! Thank you.
New York, NY : Oh, Gene, I don't know where else to turn...well, besides my doctor. (Who's no fun and not as good.)
I'm 29, female and healthy (and hot). Over the past two months, I've had to pee all the time. (Every hour or so, sometimes more.) It's often very yellow, so I think, maybe I'm dehydrated. But then why would I have to go so often?
Diabetes? Doesn't seem right. Is death by peeing possible?
Gene Weingarten: You need to see a urologist. It's probably nothing, but the very yellow can be an awkward sign. It really IS probably nothing, but bladder cancer can do this. See a urologist.
Tucson, Ariz.: Oh mighty ex-hypochondriac,
We got sick from toxic mold in our house and developed horrible allergies to everything from chemicals to food as a result. I'm pleased to report that we moved to the desert and are feeling a lot better. So, as the final word on taste and humor, which side effect is worse?
1. As part of our rotation diet, having eliminated a lot of common foods, we have to eat roast duck every four days.
2. I can't go in Home Depot anymore. I have to call ahead and have them bring whatever I need to the door.
3. There is no milk, only chocolate.
Gene Weingarten: Interesting.
I believe that if I had to pick a single food to live on for the rest of my life, it would be sushi (a lot of variation, and fabulous taste and textures) but my second choice would probably be duck.
(Duck, by the way, was also Julia Child's choice. I asked her once.)
Beautiful Silver Spring, Md.: What's up with "Prickly City" not having any actual jokes on Fridays lately? Previously we had the strip's declaration of "optomism," while last Friday's crowing about "A Prickly City 'Told-Ya-So' Moment" isn't funny, it's just an excuse for him to rerun a strip that wasn't funny in the first place. Does Scott Stantis think that conservatives lack the necessities to produce seven days a week of actual humor and should therefore be given one day a week off? ("Mr. Stantis, Alexander Pope on line 1.") Or is he so arrogant that he thinks rerunning a strip that anticipated a widely anticipated Supreme Court decision will plant in the public's mind the idea of his awe-inspiring gift of foresight? Or is he just incompetent?
I think Alexander Pope could have done an awesome comic strip.
Gene Weingarten: How about the one last week that was simply hero worship of Sandy O'Connor?
I really dislike this strip, and not because of its politics. Because of its lack of humor and almost insulting lack of effort in art.
I have come to refer to it as "Prick City."
washingtonpost.com: Prickly City , ( July 18 )
Gene Weingarten: Oh, I should have said this earlier. A doctor's appointment is going to make me leave about ten minutes early today. I will make up with it with long updates. Sorry.
Upstate New York: If you want to call your daughter Maddie, please name her Madeline!!!
Gene Weingarten: Well, precisely.
Land of Cleve, OH: As an Ohioan and Buckeye fan I am obligated to love "Hang on Sloopy" (state rock song, unofficial fight song of OSU).
washingtonpost.com: Despite the fact that you're a Sloopy supporter, this reasoning is as flawed as the original poster who would choose Brian Wilson sneezing over pretty much anything else. It's based on blind allegiance.
Gene Weingarten: Correct, Chatwoman, and I salute you. The only reason to prefer "Sloop John B" is that it is a far better song. On another level of magnitude.
Alexandria, Va.: "The poor cook, he caught the fits/ and threw away all my grits,/ and then he took and he ate up all of my corn./ Let me go home./ Why don't they let me go home?/ This is the worst trip I've ever been on."
Argument settled. "Sloop John B" is better than "Hang On, Sloopy."
washingtonpost.com: Oh ya, "threw away all my grits" is pure genius. Not.
Gene Weingarten: Poor, embittered Lizzie. Resorting to sarcasm. She can't face facts.
Pat the Perfect, ME: Re Gene's comment "I wavered about sex: Listen, I am a 54 year old man. That loss would be significant to me, but, you know ...":
He might want to be more concerned with the fact that he does not know how old he is. Gene is 53.
Gene Weingarten: Hahahahaha. Hm, maybe I AM drunk. Hang on Patai, there is a question in here for you. Lemme find it.
Chicago Manual of Style, Ill.: In your penultimate response in your first inaugural Monday chat update, you chided someone for writing "the Washington Post" instead of "The Washington Post." Aren't you sort of, well, wrong?
See, e.g., The Chicago Manual of Style sec. 7.131, at 224 (13th ed. 1982) ("When newspapers and periodicals are mentioned in the text, an initial The, omitted in note citations, is set in roman type and, unless it begins a sentence, is lowercased.").
Gene Weingarten: The Chicago Manual of Style is full of crap.
A newspaper or magazine is entitled to name itself. The name of The Washington Post is "The Washington Post," not "Washington Post." This is simply not up for debate, unless I am wrong. Pthep, am I wrong/
Washington, D.C.: I am the lead executive of an important enterprise in downtown D.C. Recently, a company secret leaked out. I was determined to show my employees that I will not tolerate this, so I declared I would fire anyone who leaked the secret. It turns out one of my closest friends was the leaker. So, I have now restated my threat, but slipped in the condition that he would have to be convicted of having leaked this. Do you think anyone noticed the difference in between my prior and recent statements? I really need your advice on this one, and who better can I trust than you?
Gene Weingarten: No, no one noticed because you are so beloved a boss. No one would notice if you came to work naked except for a cowboy hat. Try it.
What's your read?: Gene,
I'm looking for a solution to a problem, and this chat is full of smart, creative folks who may have experienced something similar, and I'm not sure who else to ask at this time, so hope you'll indulge me:
I'm a mentor to an 11-year-old boy who's called me quite a bit the last few weeks because he's "so bored." I suggested more than once he read a book, and his negative reaction was immediate. This is foreign to me, Gene. I read all the time when I was a kid. How can I get him interested in reading (and up to his appropriate grade level for reading) without sounding like I'm preaching or making him eat his vegetables?
Gene Weingarten: Your last line is a clue.
Bring him some books like "Everyone poops." Even better, a Far Side collection or a book of Cal and Hobbes.
It's not WHAT you read so much as whether you read. It starts a habit.
My mom was an English teacher. She loved comic books, and Mad Mag. Because they got my brother and me reading.
Washington, D.C.: Did you notice that in Friday's "Close to Home" (the bedtime reeling machine) the woman is turning the crank the wrong way?
On an unrelated and generally ungermane note, I also had a general D.C.-related question that I asked on Kelly's chat, but he apparently thought I wasn't cool enough to have my question answered:
I was visiting a friend of mine out of town when someone asked about the D.C. flag on his wall. He proceeded to tell a story I'd never heard before about the origin of the Washington family crest on which the flag is based: Originally, the crest was simply a a white shield with three red stars, before George Washington's ancestor, in a great battle, slew an enemy lord and, after sticking two fingers into his enemy's wound, wiped his bloody fingers across his shield, creating the familiar stripes seen on the flag today. I thought this was a great story, but couldn't find anything on the Internet to confirm or refute it, except a similar story about the red stripes on the flag of Catalonia. Have you ever heard this story, or did my friend simply attach this legend to the wrong flag?
washingtonpost.com: Close to Home , ( July 15 )
Gene Weingarten: You think I'm going to take Kelly's Kastoffs???
The woman does appear to be turning the crank the wrong way! It is subtle, discernible from her total body language.
The thing is, that may be the worst-drawn comic on the page, so I don't look at it too carefully. It's like staring at the sun. It hurts the eyeballs.
No: If you want to call your daughter Maddie, NAME her Maddie. People are horrified that we named our daughter Lucy, not Lucile. When we tell her that it's okay, her nickname is Lucile, they get even more upset.
Gene Weingarten: True, true. I am Gene, not Eugene. My brother is Don, not Donald.
New York, N.Y.: Peeing girl here -- thanks! Here's an etiquette question. I should ask my doctor for a reference, because I don't know a good urologist off the top of my head. But is that like admitting I have no faith in my doctor? Will I waste my time if I have to see him first? Is he going to think I'm a hypochondriac? Can I tell him I got advice from a humor columnist?
Seriously, I need a script of how to do this, sound serious and keep my dignity.
Gene Weingarten: Call your doctor, first. He will probably want to see you first, to eliminate real simple stuff.
Excuse, ME: ...but isn't the argument over "Sloop John B" vs. "Hang On, Sloopy" about the same as cat poop vs. dog poop?
Gene Weingarten: No.
Washington, D.C.: This is not an aptonym-- rather, I have no way of knowing whether or not it's apt-- but Dick Spottswood has got to be one of the best names ever. I mean, names that sound like sentences are usually pretty good anyway, but this one can be heard as two different sentences, AND it sounds dirty. I love this name.
Gene Weingarten: "Virginia Spottswood" would be a better name, somehow.
Gene Weingarten: I want to formally apologize here to Chatwoman. I thought I was being really nice to everyone by warning up front about the Million Dollar Baby spoiler, and allowing people to avoid it.
Well, it turns out Lizzie has not seen it, and she cannot avoid looking at what I wrote OR the other spoiler questions coming in. I have roont it for her.
I am going to pay dearly for this. I just know it.
Olney, Md.: Gene, you are going out on a limb a bit guessing vascular dementia, but I believe you're justified. Whatever the cause, there are some causes of dementia that are treatable and even reversible, and even an appropriate specialist, like a neurologist, geriatric psychiatrist, or neuropsychiatrist, can't tell the difference without performing a lot of tests. I hope the original poster is still reading and gets her to a specialist as soon as humanly possible. Hours might not make a difference at this point, but days possibly could.
Gene Weingarten: Thank you for this: Poster, please note and comply. This is a doc, and he knows what he is talking about.
Baltimore, Md.: Whoah! How come so many people are willing to give up the ability to understand irony? Life is one great cosmic irony; give that up, and you give up the ability to understand all great humor -- and then what are you going to use to get you through all the crap that no doubt awaits? I'd much rather lose the ability to recognize faces -- like the earlier poster, at least I could laugh my way through that.
Gene Weingarten: Well, it will not surprise you that that was my last or next to last choice. Humor is the most valuable coping mechanism we have, after denial.
I was scammed...: I was leaving the Archives Metro yesterday and a man was there looking for a $20 for two 5s and a 10. I asked him why and he said he was a cab driver. I said usually they were looking for smaller change not larger. I figured it was his business and gave him a 20 while quickly examining the presidents faces on the bills he tendered because a friend of mine was passed a one with 20s taped in place of the ones on the bill. I was a couple of steps away and he said "sir, you only gave me a one." I apologized telling him I was not trying to cheat him and took back the one and gave him a $20. He asked where I was from and I said "D.C.," he said "I thought so, I'm from New York" and patted me on the shoulder. Naturally halfway up the escalator, I realized what happened, I tried going back into the station, but he wa gone. I actually laugh about this because he was so smooth an played it prefectly preying on my usual inclination to help people and that I was a white guy. But, I wondered if he also played on that he was black and I white and that by implying I was trying to cheat him, I was more likely to tender a new $20 because I didn't was a racial incident. Still, I think it was pretty funny, I'm 41 and I don't think I've ever been scammed that way before.
Gene Weingarten: I haven't heard of this scam, but the second you started, I knew where you were going. Sure, to a good con artist, everything is a potentially valuable tool, including race. I think that is why the Afriscams sometimes get a victim. They are dealing with stereotypes.
Arlington, Va.: Gene,
I'm a 29.5-year-old woman and I want to meet and wed a funny man. I cannot marry you. For one, you're madly in love with your wife (which only makes all your female fans love you more), and second, you are closer in age to my parents, yet you don't strike me as sugar daddy material (no offense meant). So yes, I would like a Gene Dating Service -- I feel confident that a lot of your chatters are funny men -- let's hope some of them are single and straight. Please do what you can to link us all up -- perhaps a Gene happy hour? A Gene afternoon in the park? A Gene's Just Lunch? Some sort of Geneathon would be welcomed by a lot of your adoring single fans (yes, I've actually polled my friends on this chat). And in no way would I wish to exclude lovely Chatwoman -- I'm quite certain I'm speaking for all the chatters when I write that we'd be delighted to have her company! Do help, Gene!
Gene Weingarten: No offense taken. For one thing, to be a sugar daddy, one must have some sugar.
We're working on this, though the solution is probably going to be virtual. It should work, though.
Hillary C.: Gene!; I can't believe this is where we part ways when in so many areas we are so likeminded. (which is why I think you should start a Gene's Hearts dating Web site and hook up chat lurkers -- but I digress) Why don't you like the senator and former First Lady?
Gene Weingarten: I do not particularly like her because I mistrust her ambition and suspect she is without real principles. I suspect she stands for nothing more than her own advancement, which explains her tolerance of Bill. There are certain actions she has taken -- accepting a stock tip that was tantamount to insider trading and political payoff, her handling of the Travel Office thing -- that suggests she is someone I would not like.
However, I am told by people who know that her staff genuinely likes her, which is a pretty important thing for establishing character. So the jury is out.
I could vote for her under any number of circumstances, however. I generally agree with her politics.
I find it hard to forgive anyone who voted to continue the sad Terri Schiavo saga. It was a disgusting, indefensible act of political expediency. Of course, every single sitting senator DID vote for it. So. You know.
Bronx, N.Y.: Will you send a big thank you to Dave Barry's Florida Marlins for releasing Al Leiter just in time for him to shut down the Red Sox for 6.1 innings?
Man, this is going to be a fun summer with a close pennant race in both the Al and NL east.
Gene Weingarten: I am quite pumped over this. I would like to mention, to all the nyah-nyah chatters out there from previous weeks, that as of this morning, the Yanks are in first place. As I predicted they would be.
Peeing girl: I would start with your GYN, personally. They can send you forward to a urologist if needed, but they are more, um, focused on those parts than a GP is.
Gene Weingarten: Another thought.
Condolences...: Gene: I would be correct in expressing condolences for your country's recent tragedy, yes?
Me: If you are referring to the re-election of President Bush, yes, you would be correct. Dunno why I said bottomside parts, but I've visited London and I have a German friend who learned English in England...
Gene Weingarten: Ah. I just assumed. The Brits have adorably British ways of referring to private parts, and this reminded me of the charmingly silly "front bottom." In fact, I can say all sorts of things in this chat without reproach from Chatwoman, but that would cause major bollocks twisting in Britain. Try discussing with a Brit the concept of a "fanny pack." I don't think the Times of London will be quoting from this chat.
Fix the Gramm, AR: Gene, your answer to the "doofus" poster Monday was incomplete. You correctly noted that the poster mispelled "vigilant" and "independent," but you missed his/her most egregious error: While "doofus" is indeed a noun, its adjectival form is not "doofusy," but rather, "doofy."
Gene Weingarten: You are incorrect. "Doofy" refers to an inanimate object, and is an adjective, as in "He sure wears doofy hats." Doofusy can be an adjective or an adverb, and refers to a person. "He is acting all doofusy," Or, "he is a doofusy individual."
No, I did not find this in a dictionary. I just decided it. But I am a noted intellectual, this chat is now out there in the chatmosphere, and I believe you will find myusage distinctions percolating out there for a while and eventually incorporated into some Dic, because that is the way it works.
Hygie, NE: Has the San Jose Nercury News stopped running your column? I was so excited to see it and then they changed the paper's format (a really big mistake) and now I can't find it. Please have them put you back. There is something better about reading your column in the actual paper.
Gene Weingarten: The Merc has restructured the Sunday paper, cutting a whole bunch of things, but they haven't cancelled it. The features editor tells me that they are trying to find a new place for it. Apparently, they heard from some readers. Hint: Let them hear from you, too.
Hillary Swan, KY: You are sick and dysfunctional, as evidenced by your delusion that the selected RWO is anything more than lame and unimaginative. To borrow from the selected "That's Life," if your professor told you that it would be ruinous to inject drama into a comedy, would that ruin "Dr. Strangelove?"
Gene Weingarten: My professor never would have told me that.
Patai the Perfectai, Latvian Bureau :
"The Washington Post" vs. "the Washington Post." While the Chicago manual is intended for academic papers, not for journalism, in this particular case, Post style happens to match Chicago in the names of newspapers: Don't put them in italics and don't capitalize the (except -- you'll love this -- for "The Washington Post" and "The Post").
However, Associated Press style, which is used by most newspapers that don't have their own stylebooks, does say to capitalize the "The" if it's part of the name of the paper.
Personally, I can go either way on this. What is definitely wrong is, if you're italicizing the name of the newspaper, as many books do, not to include "the" capitalized and in italics. That's just plain getting the name of the paper wrong. Gene's book publisher had done this throughout until he insisted on fixing it.
Gene Weingarten: Ah. Hm. I think you are saying I am partially wrong. Which bothers me.
Washington, D.C.: To the woman who submitted last week about bottomsides and such: You largely seem like a good human being that I'd like to know. Except for the squatting on toilet seats. Shame on you and your family. How do you think those seats get puke-worthy in the first place? Use the little paper thingies or TP and get over youself so I don't puke myself when I sit down on a wet seat.
Dr. Charles Gerba, a microbiologist at the University of Arizona, did a study for CNN. "Office toilet seats had 49 germs per square inch, he found. But desktops had almost 21,000 germs per square inch. Phones were worse -- more than 25,000 germs per square inch."
Gene Weingarten: I can't tell you how many women have written in with the same observation: Hoverers are selfish.
I cannot weigh in on this, obviously.
Mariner's Fan: Someone told me that the total amount of action in a baseball game equals about 2 or 3 minutes. You know, a pitch takes a few seconds, a homer about... what, 60?
I think that's a puny estimate. Maybe 12 minutes. What's your guess?
Gene Weingarten: Mariners fan? Sorree.
No, a homer takes about three seconds to leave the park. So unless you count base-trotting, it's a very quick thing.
This is a bogus question, though. Because if you understand baseball, you understand that the "game" is not defined strictly by what happens in the few seconds between windup and the conclusion of the pitch. Fielders adjust their positions for different batters and situations. Batters take signs. Pitchers hold runners close, or fail to. Managers hit the phone to get someone warmed up, fast.
The tension between pitches is part of the game.
(This is a lot less so in, say, football, which really DOES occur play to play.)
The game, to me, is constantly fascinating.
This week's poll: I always had some (small) difficulties to recognize faces. They seem to be different depending on angle, expression or haircut. Also, in films, I will usually mix up two actresses because they are blondes.
Poll results this morning look like it's an ability folks are least willing to lose.
Yet, it's not a problem in real life : people are very easy to identify by their clothing style, jewellery or posture !; I guess everybody could change their nose, i wouldn't notice...
Gene Weingarten: I share your disability. I am forever asking my kids or wife if a certain actor is the same person we saw two scenes before. Blondes ARE particularly confusing.
However, we are talking here about a minor dysfunction. When a stroke causes this, one can have difficulty recongizing one's own spouse. (You learn, in cases like that, to recognize gait, or voice, or whatever.) But it is a serious problem. In some ways, it can be incapacitating.
Lucky, ME: Gene words from last week's chat:
So. Can I hear from some women on this subject?
My guess: The putting on of a bra is a somewhat ungainly and undignified act.
Care to hear from a guy? My wife puts on her bra in a way we both think is backwards, but both like for different reasons. She fastens it in back, then hooks her thumbs in the straps and puts them on the way you would suspenders or -- if you want to chance the possibility of a Freudian metaphor -- a shoulder holster (ahem).
It's not ungainly or undignified. She says it's easier, and I say it's pretty darn hot.
Gene Weingarten: As I said last time, I am prohibited by statute from discussing my personal experiences on this important subject, but I would indeed like to hear from others.
Chattanooga, Tenn.: So, I'm sitting on hold wih an airline's customer service number as I read your chat. Thirty minutes and still holding.
I thought you should know that your chat is the only thing keeping me from becoming so upset I throw my phone out the window.
Gene Weingarten: On hold is a horror. I feel your pain.
Revenge, AK: Food thievery at CalTech was not well tolerated either. An icecream thief threatened all the tasty frozen treats left for more than a day or so in the communal kitchen. The solution: A new half gallon of vanilla, half scooped out and set aside to melt, later to be remolded and frozen, plus an non Ben and Jerry ingredient, a deceased lab rat.
Though the perpertrator was not ratted out by consuming his ill-gotten treat as in your wife's exlax brownie method, the thievery did stop.
Gene Weingarten: VERY effective.
Charlottesville, Va.: That eerie young-girls-resembling-kewpie-dolls site you linked to last week is now down (yeehaw, now I can sleep at night), but I could have sworn that somewhere on the page was a variation on the exhortation "ya'll come back now."
This brings me to a question for Pat the Perfect: am I correct in insisting that it is not at all OK to insert the apostrophe after the "a" in that contraction? Since it contracts "you all," the only correct contraction is "y'all", as much as I shudder to even recognize it as an acceptable contraction in the first place. No? (I am a transplanted Yankee, and insist that "you guys" is much more refined than that vulgar Southern claptrap.)
Gene Weingarten: I can save Pthep the bother: "Y'all" is correct. I hate it, but it is a little better than "Y'alls."
As to that young girls site, several chatters expressed the opinion that it is some sort of joke, or that these images are photoshopped, citing various technical proof that I do not understand. But I did some checking myself, and I do believe it is, eccch, real. I would welcome something definitive.
McLean, Va.: I don't know why I feel the need to ask for your approval, but since you are the arbiter of taste, I thought I would ask. I have always wanted to name my daughter Jayna, after my favorite character from the Wonder Twins. Would this be doing her more harm than good? My husband and I disagree about this one, so I'm letting you settle it.
Gene Weingarten: I think many trendy names sound stupid years later. I believe there is dignity and grace in old fashioned names. Personally, I would not consider Jayna. Sorry.
I don't know the Wonder Twins, though.
White Hou, SE: So if Bush names a Supreme Court nominee today, as expected, would this constitute the single largest act to "change of subject" ever?
Gene Weingarten: Nah, it's not as big as Clinton bombing an aspirin factory to detract attention from a sex scandal.
Albuquerque, N.M.: The Alexandria poster is just underscoring an old observation: From the sublime to the ridiculous is but a single step.
"The Sloop John B" has goofy lyrics. And yet, as performed by the Beach Boys, it's sublime. It could very easily have been ridiculous.
washingtonpost.com: It is a fine song. I dig it. "Hang on Sloopy," however, is better.
Gene Weingarten: Liz likes bubblegum.
Gene Weingarten: Liz probably also likes "Sugar Sugar," by the Archies.
Okay Mr. SmartyPants...: I have a baby name problem... I am pregnant with our second child. If it is a boy, it will be named after Dad, but if its a girl...we can't think of a name! Our first child is a girl, and we love her name. It is perfect for her, and a lovely classic, but not old-fashioned name. With the added bonus of being a family name.
Now, although I love the names Emma and Hannah, they are also THE most popular girl names -- and growing up with classrooms full of Jennys and Tracys I don't want to do that to my daughter. HELP!
I don't want to resort to Madison-ness, but still want something with some originality and class.
Gene Weingarten: Molly. Maggie. Liza. Eliza.
All guttersnipe names. I love those names.
The Day My Butt Went Psycho: This is the book the mentor should have his 11-year-old protege read. Definitely all about butts.
Gene Weingarten: Sounds great!
Name Rant: My parents gave me a gender neutral name, "Jamie". I am not James, Jim, or some other derivation. Of course, I have not been blessed with a baritone voice, so I have many gender confused conversations on the telephone.
There really is no point to this except, my mother informed a close friend of mine that if I was born a girl my name would have been Cheri. I think this was just plain cruel.
Gene Weingarten: I was going to be Gina.
Being named Gene is a problem for me on the phone, because I have a voice like a eunuch.
Gene Weingarten: To the person who just pointed out the other illogicality in the movie, yes, I saw that too, and it infuriated me, too. But I can't mention it because it is too central to the plot twist.
washingtonpost.com: ...and I love "Sweet Pea" and "Dizzy" by Tommy Roe. Make something of it, why don't you?
Gene Weingarten: You know what I like, unabashedly? "Speedo," by the Cadillacs. If you don't know it, google it. You can hear it on some sites.
Million Dollar Baby: I know this doesn't happen to you often, but Gene you are wrong. I found it completely plausible that the woman did not know what the Gaelic word meant.
She never spoke to anyone but Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman throughout the entire movie. She did not own a television, and I would believe she never read a newspaper. Other than the Irish fight fans who might have known a word or two of Gaelic, I don't think anyone but Clint knew the word's meaning.
Gene Weingarten: I just do not buy this. And it is not at all probably that she had no TV by the time she was earning big money for her fights.
What's This?: About the poll you said:
"But these choices are not easy, IMHO."
When did you become humble?
Gene Weingarten: H does not have to stand for humble. Heuristic, for example.
$1,000,000 Baby rant: Dear Gene -
I'm sure in many ways it is a good movie. I do not watch
boxing movies, because the very premise of the "sport"
makes me sick (yes, I am a female of a certain age).
I am concerned, however, that you may have misused the
word "crescendo" in your commentary. As a musician, the
common misuse of this word to mean "climax" really
bothers me. I think people use it out of ignorance and to
avoid the possible sexual connotations of "climax." In any
case, "crescendo" means an increase in volume, which can
be used for an increase in intensity, but it is never the
Thanks for listening!;
Gene Weingarten: Oooh, got me. And I knew that.
Alexandria, Va.: And of course you know that "Sloop John B" is clearly stolen from the old song, "Wreck of the John B" by Lee Hays.
Gene Weingarten: Actually, I did not.
Lanham, Md.: Serious question here. I was discussing gay marriage with a conservative friend (I am for it) and the question of whether homosexuality is a choice came up. I have always wondered why it matters. I think most psychologists now believe pedophilia is hard-wired and yet society, rightly, does not condone it. The important point is that there is no victim in homosexuality as there is in pedophilia. So, why does the hard-wired point keep coming up?
Gene Weingarten: Because, if hard-wired, if one is born gay, then gayness is as natural as being black or Jewish. It makes it much easier to frame the question.
Venice, Italy: What is wrong with having a voice like a eunich? I am a eunich and I have a great voice. In fact, I became a eunich to keep my great voice.
Gene Weingarten: If you were a eunuch you'd know how to spell it.
Best girl's name ever: both visually and aurally:
Plus it's both classic and unique.
Gene Weingarten: Now there is a name that sounds a LOT better than it looks.
Okay, thank you all. An excellent, provocative chat. I will see you all next week, same time, and will update prodigiously.
What about the poll?: You aren't going to wait for the updates to tell us how wrong we are, are you?
Gene Weingarten: Well, I already have, mostly. But yes.
Gene Weingarten: Okay, the last remaining answer from the poll: As I explained, I had extreme difficulty answering the first question, because, to me, the consensus gimme was not the best choice: Giving up the ability to occasionally lightly pickle myself would be a significant concession, and one I'd sooner not make.
However, the last one -- on which you were all over the map -- was a no-brainer to me. To me, the inability to feel elation or enthusiasm would be, in effect, a death sentence. I would probably slog through the wet, limp, dishrag of life until I wrung it out, and put a gun to my head. My choice, if I had to make one, would be ANY of the others.
Gene Weingarten: Several people wrote in learned exegeses on the provenance of "Sloop John B." This one, by Wild Bill Swanson, was the best:
At the risk of being called a "total nerdo" by Chatwoman, whom I esteem beyond almost all women except Pat the Perfect and my wife -- and which would hurt my feelings deeply, Ms. Kelly, since I would never in a million year offer a post about Flash, for instance -- I'd like to point out that the Beach Boys did NOT write the Sloop John B., and thus can not be held accountable for the "genius (not)" lyrics, "threw away all my grits," etc.
Also, the chatster from Alexandria who said Lee Hays wrote it was also quite wrong. It is sometimes attributed (incorrectly) to both Hays (of the folksinging group The Weavers fame) and also the famous poet Carl (his own self) Sandburg. In fact, there apparently was a REAL sloop called the John B., and it became the subject of a Bahamian folk song, circa 1914. Sandburg included the lyrics in his 1927 "American Songbook," a collection of folk tunes and poems, etc., and so his name got attached; he may have tinkered with the lyrics some in putting it! in his songbook. Hays may have written the music (as opposed to the lyrics), or he may even have tinkered with the lyrics as well. Be that as it may, it is almost entirely a Bahamian folk song, so it is as difficult to "criticize" the lyrics as being dumb as it would be to criticize the lyrics to Ol' Man River, say, or Camptown Races, doo dah, doo dah, oh de doo dah day.
In for a penny, in for a pound: I guess I should point out that the Kingston Trio, among other folk groups, also sang it before the Beach Boys got hold of it. See, for instance, Mudcat Cafe. Google both Sloop John B. and Carl Sandburg at the same time if you're just dying to learn even more dazzling trivia.
And though I like both Sloop John B. as well as Hang On, Sloopy (and Sweat Pea and Dizzy, too, actually), yes, Sloop John B. is the better song.
washingtonpost.com: I won't make any comments here about how having to go so far as to invoke Carl Sandberg's name really invalidates the argument for Sloop John B. Thanks though, for giving me additional ammunition. The masterwork is a cover. Haha.
I am curious, though. Are any of you Sloop John B defenders capable of criticizing any Beach boys songs?
Silver Spring, Md.: Gene, come on you at least know of the wonder twins. They were spoofed on the family guy just two nights ago... Jayna turns into a hawk to fight crime, Peter turns into a tampon.
Gene Weingarten: Ah, so THOSE are the Wonder Twins. I didn't get it. I will say that may have been the best episode of the Family Guy ever, particularly where Peter was trying to entertain the dying kids.
THAT took guts and moxie.
Cville, Va.: UG! Can we PLEASE end this hovering-over-the-toilet-seat debate once and for all? It is VERY simple: Ladies, if you insist on hovering, lift the seat first. You can use a little bit of tp to lift the seat (which will protect your precious germ-free hands), then hover, and you won't make a mess for the next person, nor will you have to subject your precious behind to the nasty seat or the uncomfortable paper toilet seat covers.
Gene Weingarten: I cannot tell you how many posts address this subject. This advice was offered by several persons.
When I tried it out on my daughter, a confessed hoverer, she looked at me as though I were a flatworm.
"I do not touch toilet seats," she said.
She does, however, wipe up any splashed pee she might have caused. I believe
I was authorized to reveal this, but she is currently asleep. If I erred, I will hear about it.
Nashville, Tenn.: "Yummy Yummy Yummy I've got love in my tummy" Now that's a classic.
Gene Weingarten: Possibly the worst rock song ever, if you can call it a rock song.
Hey, I like "Piano Man," but in listening to it the other day I realized it may contain the worst lyric ever: "They're sharing a drink they call loneliness..."
I just Googled it and found a nerdo fan club blog, which contains the following observation, from a thread:
Perhaps the most poinient line in the song is "Yes, they're sharing a drink they call loneliness But it's better than drinkin' alone" Awesome lyrics! - Jim, Dayton, RI
So, yeah, I think I am on to something.
Anonymous: Re: Prickly City strip on Sandy Day O'Connor; I interpreted that as the conservatives rejoicing that O'Connor is leaving the court -- she was the key vote on a lot of pet issues.
Gene Weingarten: That's far too smart an interpretation. It didn't occur to me because it is too smart for this strip.
And I was right. As became clear the following day, the previous was a simple, humorless encomium, like Snoopy doing a Happy Dance. (Liz, can we link to the Prick City from the 19th?)
washingtonpost.com: Hang on... Prickly City (July 19)
Iro, NY: Many people seem able to live quite successfully without the ability to recognize irony. Alanis Morissette, for example. Also George Bush.
Gene Weingarten: See the next quote, which I love.
Washington, D.C.: I may be exposing a bit too much about myself with this submission, but I am astounded at how many people gave up alcohol and irony. I would point those people to the words of Kingsley Amis: "The advantages of being sane are not many, but know what's funny is one of them."
Gene Weingarten: This one.
Gene Weingarten: I finally cornered Desson Thomson on the egregious contrivances in "Million Dollar Baby," enumerating them, one by one. These were contrivances neither he nor any other reviewer made much mention of. This was his response:
"All of this is correct. But also consider: there are no scarecrows who actually need a brain or Tinmen who need a heart. It's hokum. The point of Million DMan is pulp fiction sweatroom hokum, man. Loosen up. It's a fable."
"I see this as evidence that no one listens to you at home and when you finally have a rare moment of blinding conviction, you have to rattle the world's cage. I feel your pain."
Submitted via e-mail: Gene, I think you and your readership will like this link.
It it like Google's maps feature, but the moon (obviously). Try zooming in all the way! Google seems like a fun AND serious place to work.
Iro, NY: Is it Ironic that many people would give up Irony, or am I missing a crucial step?
Gene Weingarten: It is not at all ironic. It is simply wrong.
Gene Weingarten: SPOILER ALERT: DO NOT READ THIS ITEM IF YOU DO NOT WANT "MILLION DOLLAR BABY" SPOILT.
Several people wrote in to point out that I did not deal with an even more egregious disbelief-suspension problem. This is true. Actually, there were two, and I avoided them because they were too close to the central plot twist. But here they are:
The person she fought at the end was simply ridiculously evil. This was a movie that survived on its realism, and introducing such a character was unnecessary and wrong. She was a caricature. It strained credulity stupidly.
But even more important: Um, if you have a C-2 fracture and want to die, and articulate this wish to die, as she did, you are allowed to die. Totally ridiculous plot contrivance to have them forcefully keep her alive.
YOU MAY RESUME READING NOW.
Washington, D.C.: I know that painting of the guy swooning over the baby. His wussiness may be debatable, but I think the guy himself is exceedingly hot. He is much better-looking than many of the guys depicted elsewhere in the NG.
In fact, I think he is so hot that I pointed out his hotness to my husband the last time we were there. Quoth my beloved, "Uh, yeah, whatever." Then he went to the next room to look at the painting of the French girl wearing the see-through dress.
Gene Weingarten: The single hottest work of art at The National Gallery is "The Reading Girl," a life-size 19th century sculpture by Pietro Magni. It is breathtakingly beautiful and sensual and intelligent. That's my review.
Arlington, Va.: Hey, Doctuh Gene... so, I've got this weird throat thing happening. It sometimes spasms after I swallow. Most notably is everytime I take a pill (with water) -- if I need two Advil, I have to take one, wait for the throat to stop spasming up and down, and then swallow the other. Any ideas?
(Worst of it, the spasming sensation is vaguely like the female... well... let's just say I'm not having nearly as much fun as my throat's undulations would suggest.)
Gene Weingarten: This was also pretty hot, actually.
And since you have a serious problem, I am not going to go where everyone thinks I am going to go, which would be to refer to the central plot contrivance of "Deep Throat." I am not going there.
There are all sorts of studies done on swallowing, because difficulties swallowing sometimes are the presenting symptoms of many serious diseases. Yours does not sound like that, but my point is, there are EXPERTS in this sort of thing. Talk to an otorhinolaryngologist. Get checked out.
You don't need to share with him your analogy. It might distract him.
Bubble Woman: Gene, ever since you posted this site in one of last week's updates I have found myself doing nothing at work but playing around with it.
Here's the thing though: I don't find it "funny" at all. I find it completely mesmerizing, like watching a twig float down a stream, bumping into rocks and swirling around eddies. I also have fun flinging the woman through the air and spinning her around, but never once, in the probably 20 plus hours I've been playing with this site, have I laughed.
Gene Weingarten: I cannot fail to laugh. It has to do with the incredible indignity of the concept. I mean... she appears to be a corpse. You know?
It is like the unacceptable but still funny premise of the dead baby jokes. Some of which, sadly, are very funny. Like the one about bowling balls.
(Yeah, yeah, I know. You have to be able to extricate the joke from the reality, and see it as a joke about untellable jokes. I can. If you can't, you can't.)
Adlin, KS: Gene -- I think you're getting cheated. How come the ad links at the bottom of your chat page aren't as inappropriately funny as those that appeared at the bottom of yesterday's chat by John Fountain, on "How the Church is Failing BLACK Men":
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Gene Weingarten: This is wonderful. Something must be done about this system. Or maybe not. Because it provides excellent entertainment.
Former Bronxite, N.Y.: There's a nice story in the New York Times today about Robert Klein and his Bronx childhood, complete with map. I lived a few blocks from there for 15 years. Where did you live in The Bronx?
Gene Weingarten: Robert Klein lived in an apartment building across the street from Woodlawn Cemetery, which was a palatial estate compared to where I was. That was the North Bronx.
I was closer to the South Bronx. I grew up around the intersection of University and Tremont Aves. About 15-20 blocks from Yankee Stadium. Four stops on the Number 4 subway.
Baltimore, Md.: Aptonym ...
A federal judge in Baltimore sentenced a Delaware man yesterday to five years and 10 months in prison and ordered him to spend the rest of his life under supervised probation for shipping pictures over the Internet of minors engaged in sexually explicit acts.
Donald Bible, 36, of Harrington, Del., had pleaded guilty to the child pornography charge.
Gene Weingarten: Nice.
Bret Lockard: Someone mentioned something about the total amount of action in a baseball game amounting to just a minute or two. I agree with you that every moment is important, even when it may seem to some that nothing is happening. However, I loved the following, which was part of a newspaper ad that appeared in the Kansas City Star the day after George Brett got his 3,000th hit (unfortunately, I don't remember the company that put this ad in the paper, so they can't get their due here):
"A big-league pitch travels about 132 feet per second and will reach the plane in roughly .42 seconds.
"The ball can be hit by a batter in only about 2 feet of the pitch's path, or for about .0015th of a second.
"Congratulations to George Brett for being in the right place at the right time for 4.5 seconds of his career.
"And George, if you've got a second, we'd love to see you add another 600+ base hits to your incredible total."
As for Chatwoman's curiosity of whether any Sloop John B defenders are capable of criticizing any Beach Boys song, yes, I am one. First off, let me state that I am 23, and therefore didn't grow up in the Beach Boys era. I like almost every type of music, though, and semi-regularly listen to oldies. I think Sloop John B is clearly better than Hang On Sloopy. (And I was the person who sent in the lyrics including the poor cook throwing away all of the grits as a reason for Sloop John B being better.)
Here's my take. I don't think either one is a great song. They're both kind of catchy, but nothing really special. And that's about all you can say about Hang On Sloopy. (Unless you want to explain what Sloopy is, and how it's a nickname for someone, which I can't.)
However, with Sloop John B, you have this same catchy, but not great song at first glance, but when you look closer at the lyrics, you can't help but laugh. I see this song as a sort of joke about how mindless popular music is at times. I mean, sure, there's a bit of a story there, just like there's a bit of a story (or expression of feeling?) in Hang On Sloopy, but the random lyrics about grits and corn make you laugh at how pointless the lyrics really are. I could even almost picture the Beach Boys sitting around saying talking...
Beach Boy 1: Wow, I can't believe how popular our band has become.
Beach Boy 2: I know. It's like anything we record instantly becomes a hit.
Beach Boy 1: (Joking) Yeah, we could record the worst album ever and it would still be a gold record.
Beach Boy 2: Hey, we should try that.
Beach Boy 1: Dude, we're not going to record a bad record on purpose.
Beach Boy 2: Well, how about a bad song.
Beach Boy 3: That might be kind of fun.
Beach Boy 4: Yeah, we should do a song about someone getting drunk.
Beach Boy 3: No, we should do a song about someone eating corn.
Beach Boy 2: How about we combine those together?
Beach Boy 3: Someone drunk and eating corn? I dig it.
Beach Boy 2: And let's add in a line about grits. But "grits" has to be the end of the line, so that it has to rhyme with something.
Beach Boy 1: Okay, okay, I'll write it.
Anyway, the point is that I prefer Sloop John B, but it's not because I'm a die-hard Beach Boys fan. I do have their first and second greatest hits albums, but I got them both free when I was in a CD club. There aren't any songs I particularly like on the second album. On the first album, I don't like Be True To Your School, and most of the others are good but nothing special. The only songs I would argue as great songs are California Girls, Wouldn't It Be Nice, Good Vibrations, and Kokomo. The rest are good songs that I grow to like a little bit more each time I hear them, but not head-and-shoulders better than other oldies songs. It just happens that in this case, Sloop John B is better than Hang On Sloopy.
washingtonpost.com: Everybody, ya, tries to put my Sloopy down...
Well, Bret Lockard, 23, this is a very well thought out argument on the merits of "Sloop John B." But don't you think it's just possible that you're over-analyzing -- or at least ascribing more significance to the meaning of and motivations behind -- the song? If you have to analyze it this much (and invent a fantastical conversation) to get what makes it a great song, is it really that great after all?
I won't mention the critical flaw in your dissertation which invalidates the whole.
Well, why not... you identify "Kokomo" as one of the great songs by the Beach Boys. Yech.
For what it's worth, my favorites are "Help Me Rhonda," "Wouldn't it Be Nice" and "Little Deuce Coupe." I also applaud them for their incredibly effective and ground-breaking use of the theremin.
Don't forget -- simple can be good. "Hang on Sloopy" is simple. It has a good beat, and you can dance to it. And, really, what more could you ask from a pop song?
Virginia: Gene, my sister was recently quoted in an article about using periods instead of dashes in phone numbers. She explained, simply, that some people like it because it's European. (Globalization Spreads to Punctuation)
She has, for some reason, gotten some rather nasty hate mail because of this -- hate mail with lots of cursing, some rather nasty remarks, and some of them are rather threatening. I imagine it's rednecks with nothing else to do who somehow thought she was saying that Europe is better than the U.S. in All Ways, but really I have no idea what their problem is.
She reads your chats -- can you give her some advice as to how to deal with the hate mail?
Gene Weingarten: This is astonishing. Well, no it isn't, actually, but it is depressing. My inclination is always to respond in a withering and funny fashion, but I do not advise that your sister do this. I am protected somewhat by my employer, my relative notoriety, etc. Your sister is not. She should not respond at all. Engaging people that stupid and hostile could be a serious mistake, especially for a woman.
She should just laugh it off; it should be easy to laugh off something that is so obviously idiotic.
Washington, D.C.: I am an avid reader. However, my favorite comics tend to be those that are less wordy. Can you explain this? For example, when Zippy has more dialogue space than drawn space, I just can't read it. Same with Non-Sequitur. Your opinion?
Gene Weingarten: Brevity. Soul of wit.
Bel Air, Md.: As much as I love my dear sister-in-law, she too suffers from the disease that her child must have an unusual name unlike that of her classmates.
Her daughters are:
Ambra Shaelynn (my brother tries to say that he wanted to name her after Shea stadium but got the spelling wrong, but I have my doubts)
Aubree Breanna (actually, this one is suprisingly common, which she didn't know or she wouldn't have picked it)
Fortunately, my nephew got away with the fairly normal Sean.
Of course, I don't know that I should throw stones, since if I ever had a daughter (which I don't plan to!!), she would be Aurora.
Gene Weingarten: This IS a disease, and you have a touch of it.
Iowa: I'm not sure I'd welcome a scratch and sniff option on those medieval paintings. All those folks in multiple layers of velvet and brocade, combined with minimal personal hygiene and no AC. No amount of rose-scented potpurri is going to help.
Gene Weingarten: True, true.
Re the bra question: Single, straight woman here to enlighten that poster who wanted to know why, in the aftermath of amorous encounters, we women turn our backs to him when we put on our bras.
The answer is because we are trying to show you where those silly hooks are, sugar. If we have already been in some state of undress in your presence, then chances are we like you and are assuming or hoping there will be a next time.
And as with all next times, we want our Next Time to be even better than Last Time. Not that Last Time wasn't perfect or anything.
Think of your average bra as an absurdly overpriced, delicate, highly sensitive piece of machinery, like, say, the space shuttle. If you're sitting at the console just randomly pulling levers and pressing buttons until you find the one that opens the hatch, then you're bound to cause a critical malfunction somewhere, which can only lead to further launch delays, if you get our drift.
Plus, it's really no fun for either of us when you're fumbling around back there like a teenager in the bucket seat of your father's Gremlin. It kills the mood. And it's even worse when you give up and seek alternate routes, wordlessly, as if we won't notice when you try to shove our bra over our head. That only serves to severely limit our range of motion, which is not optimal for the activity we are embarking upon. It is also extremely uncomfortable and occasionally painful. Imagine someone trying to pull your jock strap over your head.
So when we turn our backs whilst holstering up, it means, "Here, please see where the hooks are, and note location for future reference." It probably also means, "Stop staring at our breasts while we're getting dressed. Too caveman."
Gene Weingarten: I don't believe this for a minute, but I like it.
I learned the bra maneuver as a teenager. I can still unsnap one in two seconds or less, through a blouse, with my left hand.
I have done it as a joke with persons extremely close; it does not always elicit a laugh.
I hate front-hooking bras.
washingtonpost.com: Free the Springfield two!
Washington, D.C.: Gene -- I wanted to follow-up on an exchange from this chat a week or two ago.
First, let me start off by saying I'm a BIG Bill Clinton fan and wish he were still the president. But I think the person who posted this was accurately reflecting what Clinton said:
..."I mean, contrast this with Clinton's excuse that he responded truthfully in saying that Monica Lewinsky was not, at the moment he was being questioned, engaging in any sex act with him. That took creativity, panache. He found a loophole in an otherwise airtight question and went for it."
Gene Weingarten: I don't think Clinton actually said that, but he should have.
Gene, look at one of Clinton's first public comments after the Lewinsky story broke. He told Jim Lehrer of PBS, "There is no improper relationship." In order for Lehrer to have gotten a precise answer out of him, Lehrer would have had to assume that the president of the United States was really using 'is' to mean "right now, as we sit here."
Then, speaking to the grand jury, Clinton said he wasn't lying when he told his top aides, "There's nothing going on between us," telling the grand jury: "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is. If the -- if he -- if 'is' means is and never has been, that is not -- that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement...
Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true." So, the person who posted to this chat a couple of weeks ago was absolutely correct -- by Clinton's definition, he only would have been lying if, at that very moment, Lewinsky was performing a sex act on him.
Gene Weingarten: It's nice to reprise this. What days those were.
Reading excerpts of the just-released Starr report, over the phone, to Dave Barry was one of my favorite moments in Washington. We were both gasping for air.
But I read Clinton's response as simply making a distinction between an ongoing affair, and a previous affair. I don't think he meant Monica needed to be on her knees at that particular moment.
Bad Album Covers: I am compelled to draw this chat's attention to the following slideshow on boston.com: Bad Album Covers
Gene Weingarten: These are simply spectacular.
However, one of them (you'll know it when you see it) doesn't belong. It is deliberately bad. It is simply funny on its merits.
Research Triangle Park, N.C.: Hi-diddley-ho, Gene-arino! I'm submitting early, so I have no idea if you've mentioned last Thursday's (7/14) "Get Fuzzy" as the CPOW, runner up, or honorable mention. If not, I think it deserves at least some attention. Hey, it's sweet, it's funny, and it's got a great poop joke. What more can you ask?
Gene Weingarten: Yeah, I forgot this one! I clipped it when I saw it, then lost the clip. A successful poo joke. And sweet. And doglike.
Washington, D.C.: OK -- tell me if this is funny, disgusting, or both.
A friend (A) has a six-month-old baby. She was visiting another friend (B) who has a baby as well. Both are breast-feeding.
Here's where it gets a little...um...odd. B is holding A's baby. They're talking, chatting, nothing consequential. A's baby starts signalling that she's hungry. So B, without missing a beat, begins to nurse her friend's baby.
In an informal survey of all my friends with kids, we unanimously agree that the eww factor here is pretty high. But I also can't stop laughing about it.
What do you think?
BTW, this chat is a bright spot in my work week. I (heart) it, and I (heart) you too.
Gene Weingarten: Honestly, I don't share the ewww factor. If the birth mom was okay with it, seems to me it is incredibly sweet. It makes me love women even more. How do others feel about this?
washingtonpost.com: I'm with Gene here. No grosser than drinking milk that originated from a cow's bosom.
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