Tuesday, November 1, 2005; 12:00 PM
* Formerly known as "Funny? You Should Ask ."
Gene Weingarten's controversial humor column, Below the Beltway , appears every Sunday in The Washington Post Magazine. He aspires to someday become a National Treasure, but is currently more of a National Gag Novelty Item, like rubber dog poo.
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.
After about 7:30, in my neighborhood, Halloween gets just a little jaded. The average age of the trick or treaters begins to rise, and their enthusiasm to fall. A sense of wonder is replaced by a sense of entitlement. Fabulously dorky Mom-designed costumes are replaced with ten-cent masks, or nothing at all. Halloween becomes a listless, cynical trolling for free treats. I give them up, though, because what will we do with 200 Snickers Fun-Size! bars the next day? But I have my limits.
Around 8 o'clock last night the doorbell rang and a kid was at the door. He had to be 18. He wore no costume. He was a big guy, almost threateningly large. He had a cell phone clapped to his ear. Wordlessly, he turned around and presented his backpack, into which I was supposed to drop some candy. I could see that others had. I had the candy in my hand, but instead, reached for the nearest non-candy item I could find, which explains why -- big, rude kid, are you reading this? -- there was a cigar stub in your backpack.
I know today's poll may seem a little unusual -- even boring. I had my reasons. It is to augment today's Exciting Chat Offer.
Virtually all of you appear to be readers of The Washington Post. Have you ever wished that, in return for your 35 cents, you could give an additional two cents of criticism/complaints/suggestions directly to the people who run the paper? No? Well, I'm not taking to you. I'm talking to the other people, the ones with spunk and moxie. Tomorrow, I'm giving you guys that chance.
Some of you may recall a story in The Post about an internal program the newspaper has to improve the product through mortification of the flesh through flagellation. It's a sort of Communist Chinese self-criticism, without labor camps. Every day, two or three staff members are chosen to wake up early, read the whole Post, and deliver, by noon, a specific critique of that day's paper, good or bad. These things are posted online throughout the newsroom, and are read by almost everyone at The Post. Definitely by the top brass.
Tomorrow is my day. Here's my offer: If you have the will and the time, I will include the best of your comments in my critique. If you want your name used, I will append it. But it is going to take some serious effort on your part. Here is what you have to do:
Read tomorrow's paper, either online or in print.
2. Respond to it. Is there anything that bothers you, delights you, etc? Send your comments to me in an e-mail, to email@example.com. Put "critique" in the subject line. Give up your name and the city in which you live, and make sure to tell me if you want your name used, should I forward your plaint. The potential deal-breaker: Your email must arrive before 9:45 a.m. I cannot look at any latecomers. I'll be too busy.
It can't just be a general comment about The Post, unless it is exemplified by something specific in tomorrow's paper. If you DO have an ongoing gripe, though, my guess is you will see something appropriate to tee off on. We tend to do the same things, good and bad, every day.
(I will e-mail you if I use your comment in my critique. That way, you will feel the orgasmic surge of power, some weeks or months hence, when The Post stops doing something you hate, or starts doing something you suggested.)
Feetshay, Va.: Hi Gene,I am normal male, in my early 40s, with a fairly normal amount of body hair -- that is, neither bear nor boy band. But, let's just say, my feet do get a little hairy. Which I never really thought about until I became recently married.
The wife, though, can't stand it, and insists that I remove the foot hair.
So, I defer to you -- should I engage in this extra (and I would say unneeded) level of personal grooming, or continue my Hobbit ways?
Gene Weingarten: Jeez, man, are you a complete naif?
You need to remove the hair, but only after weeks of agonizing, making it clear that you treasure your foot hair, that you will feel awful if you remove it, that she is Delilah to your Samson, etc. Then, BECAUSE YOU LOVE HER SO MUCH you will get it removed, but not tell her when you do it, so she discovers it herself, and you have to act like it was no big deal while showing, through body language and wistful facial expressions, that in fact it jolted you to the core. This is Marriage 101, man.
OBVIOUSLY you have just recently married. You are one clueless guy.
Arlington, Va.: This isn't a question about comics, VPL, or any of the other usual subjects, but here goes: My son just started middle school. He's a 6th grader and is a bit overwhelmed but doing OK. Every time he makes a bit of progress, though, he gets shot down. He is asked to design a magazine cover (a fun assignment), does a great job, hands it in early, but the teacher takes off 10 percent of his grade because he forgot to write his name on it. He hands in another essay and this same teacher writes that it was very well written but marks him down 19% because he "forgot to underline his VCV and VCCV words" (vowel, consonant, vowel words and, well, you get the drift). So he needs to follow directions, I get that, but lose 20% of his grade for this B.S.? Don't even get me started on the jargon she inflicts on these kids. (He came home one day talking about how he needed to make "his internal monologue external." Another day he had to study for a test on the "three stages of reading." Huh? was my reaction, too.)
My question: Is this emphasis on the mundane over quality preparing him for life? Is this a valuable lesson? He's starting to think it doesn't matter how well he does if he can get marked down from 100% to 81% because he didn't underline a few words. How do I keep them from killing his spirit? Or is that what growing up is all about? Am I just the idiot overinvolved parent who should back off and let him realize the world is indeed populated by people with misplaced priorities?
Gene Weingarten: I am with you one hundred percent. What you are describing is precisely what bedeviled my son Dan during most of his schooling. I'm not sure what the solution is here, because I never found a perfect one, but I'll tell you what we did.
My wife and I simply made it clear to Dan that teachers are not always right. That we valued creativity far more highly than some of his teachers did, and that as far as we were concerned, one really good idea in a paper made it worthy of an A, even if there was some technical thing he failed to do. We said that following rules is not unimportant, but it is not as important as some teachers made it out to be. And that getting a B or even a C is not disaster, so long as what he did was creative and interesting. (We didn't stress "effort" and "doing your best" because that was not the kind of kid Dan was. We were playing to his strengths: He would procrastinate until an hour before the assignment had to be done, then come up with an insanely twisted and brilliant way to accomplish it. The teacher would see only a two-paragraph paper instead of the requisite FOUR paragraph paper, and give him a C.)
Once, in high-school English, Dan's class was assigned to write a "Declaration of Independence," making some strong statement about how one would alter one's life in open rebellion of something they disliked. Most kids wrote about how they would never again eat broccoli, and thus such. Dan submitted a single paragraph about how he refused to do the assignment, because it was moronic.
Another time, in art class, the assignment was to paint a landscape in watercolors. The whole class went outside with their easels, and started to paint. Dan didn't. He went up to a tree and painted it with watercolors.
So, my point, to the extent I have one, is that sometimes you need to set yourself up, as a parent, as a greater authority than the teacher. Among other things, it will help your kid develop a healthy skepticism about authority figures.
Mr. Ge, NE: Did you know that you look like Mr. Clumsy ? At least that is what my family thinks....
Gene Weingarten: I do!
Sunday's Doonebury Plagiarism: That "Outsourcing" strip was a first-person article in Esquire a couple of months ago. And the Esquire piece was funnier, more insightful, and better-written.
Of the two, who knew Kevin was the original, credible Trudeau?
washingtonpost.com: Doonesbury , ( Oct. 30 )
Gene Weingarten: Heh heh. I love when this happens.
That Doonesbury was a re-run. From over a year ago.
Gene Weingarten: Also, see next post.
Louisville, Ky.: My local paper carried a note yesterday that Gary Trudeau's syndicate pulled Doonesbury for this week "after it was overtaken by events." Do you know what the strips were about? Harriet Miers before her withdrawal, perhaps? I suspect they would be enjoyable just the same.
Gene Weingarten: Yeah, I bet it was Harriet Miers. I had a column on Harriet. You will read it next weekend. To make it seem non-idiotic, Tom the Butcher had to stop the presses, and I rewrote portions of it last week.
North Carolina: Interesting poll. I only recently realized just how good a paper The Post really is -- It was the first newspaper I ever read on a daily basis (starting when I moved here at age 22). I moved this summer (at age 30) away from the D.C. area, and miss The Post more than I would have thought possible. The online version is a poor subsitute for the real paper, but at least it's something.
washingtonpost.com: Hey, thanks jerkface!
Gene Weingarten: You will probably never see "Hey thanks jerkface" in the print version of the Post.
Critique: Well, I'm not willing to put all that work into an actual critique of the paper. However, I do want to say that, for several years, I've been very impressed by the coverage The Post gives to LGBT (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender) issues.
Is there a particular editor or someone responsible for that? It's really great.
Gene Weingarten: I think it is just a general, humanistic attitude. Seriously. There is no Gay Editor. I mean, there are plenty of gay editors, but... you see my point.
Land of milk and beer: I'm not normally a fan of the almost-high school aged kids that tend to show up at our house on Halloween. Last night proved an exception. A group of kids, easily middle school-aged, rang the bell. Among them were a couple of ducks, a couple of horribly sick looking individuals, and a couple of hapless looking kids dressed as commandos.
They informed me, when asked, that they were the president's response to a possible bird flu outbreak.
I was tempted to give them all the candy I had.
Gene Weingarten: Hahaha. Ducks?
Poopington, D.C.: Hi Gene,
My husband and I are going to try to have a kid in the not too distant future, so yesterday I was reading a bit of literature on fertility, etc. I came across one source that indicated you can influence the gender of your baby by having sex at certain times within the fertility window (something about Y chromosome sperm being slower to reach the egg - big surprise). Anyway, I didn't think much more about it until the wee hours of this morning when, deep in sleep, I had a strange dream. I was watching a baby girl with a long black beard, driving around in one of those miniature Kiwanis Club race cars they drive in parades, and I was desperately thinking "wait, when is it we're supposed to have sex so that it's a boy OR a girl, but not both?!?!" I woke up suddenly and the solution that came immediately to mind was "I'll ask Gene!" I find this oddly funny and disturbing. Apparently not only do I heart you, but you're totally in with my subconscious.
Gene Weingarten: I really like the whole concept of women asking me when they should copulate.
Bad gramm, AR: I voted that "bad writing" was the Post's main problem, and one of the most irksome examples I see is incomplete sentences. They seem to appear in stories when the writer is attempting to create a sense of drama, but they have the odd effect of making the writer seem both pretentious and ignorant. From yesterday's article on Lewis Libby: "If only he had known his next 15 minutes would turn out so badly, that he would spiral from the pinnacle of government power to criminal charges." Ugh. These incomplete sentences in the middle of serious articles make me think of the Post as a less-than-serious newspaper.
Gene Weingarten: Point taken.
Hahahahahah. POINT TAKEN.
InAgon, NY: Gene, explain to me again why I'm not supposed to tell people about my (soon to be ex) wife who just admitted to an affair?
Gene Weingarten: Because people make mistakes. Because you love her, still, and even if you don't, you once had something special. Because there is a question of privacy in every marriage, a solemn responsibiity to protect your spouse's privacy. Because what would it accomplish, except retribution? Because retribution is not noble. Because forgiveness is more noble. Because you will seem small. Because it would be the wrong thing to do.
New York, N.Y.: I had some great high school trick or treaters come by last night. At 8:30 ish a guy in a giant round pink costume knocked and asked for candy. At 8:45, about 15 other kids dressed as sperm dropped by looking for the guy in the egg costume. It was great.
Gene Weingarten: That's FABULOUS.
North Carolina again: Oh, I didn't mean to insult! There are clearly great things about the online edition (the chats, to which I am addicted, among them). It's just not the same as reading an actual, paper version of the newspaper every morning. I can't sit on the porch with my coffee and rummage through a computer screen.
washingtonpost.com: Okay, you get a reprieve.
Gene Weingarten: I totally agree. I am a print addict.
Um, Gene: You're giving tobacco to minors?
Gene Weingarten: The stub was about an inch long, and charred.
Poll-emics: You didn't mention what I find to be one of the biggest problems with both The Post and other media (at least as regards national political coverage). To wit, the apparently irresistible urge to discuss all matters of national concern through the lens of competing talking points and what it means for the national parties and their personalities.
I would think that we could all agree that as to the most important issues of the day (war/peace, how to distribute the benefits/burdens of government spending), they are important enough for the coverage to focus on the substance of the issue rather than political posturing, polling, horse-race analysis, etc.
Any chance we could get The Post to change this any time soon?
Gene Weingarten: You will find an example of this in tomorrow's paper. Memo me.
A thought: If the Post has, as you state, "plenty of gay editors," you may have proved that person's point.
Gene Weingarten: Good point.
Del Ray, Alexandria, Va.: Hypocondriac question -- how do you know when to take something seriously? I have a pain in my leg that developed on Sunday while I was playing tennis. It doesn't FEEL like a pulled muscle (it's in my calf.) It started out feeling like I was getting a cramp that never really developed. Now it's Tuesday, and it still hurts a fair amount, but not to the point where it's terribly painful to walk. For some reason I keep thinking of blood clots. I am a 40 year old woman, in good shape (I exercise a lot, all sorts of different activities), maybe 5-10 pounds overweight. I am never sick or have health problems (I go to the doctor once every few years maybe), but do get physically stressed easily. How do you judge whether it's time to see a doctor when it could be something completely normal like a pulled muscle and it doesn't even hurt that badly? How much time would I have if it really was DVT? Am I being ridiculous?
Gene Weingarten: You are being ridiculous. For one thing, DVTs generally occur after periods of inaction, not action. Give it a few more days. If there is no relief, you might see a doc.
Also, if I remember correctly, DVTs are a different degree of pain. Substantial.
Parlez-vo,US: Halloween was the most fun when I was living in France. Everyone gets into it - everybody gets to dress up. Even the homeless guys were "in the spirit" - hiding in trash cans and jumping out at people, putting on masks and running around the downtown streets. Parents and kids hanging around the downtown area at 10 o'clock at night and just having a howling crazy time.
I miss it. It's not fair that we don't get to dress up like Superman one night a year anymore. Stupid adulthood.
Gene Weingarten: Excellent.
Palm Bay, Fla.: Thought I would submit early, took the quiz, only to find that over 30 people have already been here before me. At 1 a.m.
On Prednisone for over a month for an undiagnosed rash, tapered down and finally off it Sunday. I am one evil female right now. Not only have the steroids had their way with me, horrible weight gain, etc., but the fire ant bites that I've had since last year's hurricanes are back. Skin breakdown on both ankles. Since the itching has brought me out of a perfectly good sleep, I thought I'd submit really early. No, I don't have a question or comment. Just thought I'd write before I climbed in the big Benadryl bottle.
Gene Weingarten: I've always thought prednisone is the perfect diet drug. Sure, it fattens you up like a Thanksgiving turkey. But, man, when you stop taking it, those pounds ooze away.
Hey, I have noticed something. I lose weight under stress. I get thinner when obsessing over a cover story, worried about the health of a relative, etc. Is this common? Is it because I eat less, or is there some natural weight-loss remedy in stress hormones?
I know how to pronounce quagmire...: ... but what about Iraq? Are you in the Eye-rack, Eye-rock, E-rack or E-rock camp?
Gene Weingarten: Ee-rock.
Nobody, Mars: For all those who can't see the comics, I was one of you until today. Do you have Norton Internet Security or something comprable? Turn off your Privacy Control to see the comics.
washingtonpost.com: Thank you, RC. You will forever be a true friend to this fellowship.
Gene Weingarten: Ah.
Jewish cannabalism: I think that the defining characteristic of the kosher meats (other than fish) is that they are herbavores. No scavangers (dogs), no meat-eaters (cats), no omnivores (pigs). Therefore, a vegan human might fit that definition.
As to the question of koshering the meat: how it is cooked can also make a type of meat kosher in certain circumstances, such as cooking it on a spit over an open fire (if you're hunting and kill a deer to eat, this is considered acceptable). This would be ignoring the question of murder, but maybe this person is a vegan mass murderer, so they could be sentenced to death anyway.
Lastly, Jewish law can be overlooked in instances of life and death, ie: you can eat a pig if you would otherwise starve to death. In which case, if you were on a plane that crashed on a mountain and there was nothing to eat but some bodies that didn't make it, you're in the clear. Even better if the first body is a vegan terrorist who made the plane go down.-
-I am not a rabbi or Jewish scholar, all of the above has been extrapolated from the Jewish Books of Why
Gene Weingarten: But isn't human proscribed because we don't have cloven hooves, feathers, or gills and scales? Or can our feet be considered cloven hooves?
Marriage 101?: I read your reply and I'm just wondering - why do men bother with women such as the kind you seem to describe? Not enough fish in the sea for ya such that you have to put up an act just to live your daily life w/someone? I just don't get it.
Gene Weingarten: Oh, please.
Marriage is a game. It don't matter which side you are on. It is an entertaining game, and women are the masters at it. The best men can hope for is an occasional point or two. But at the fiftieth wedding anniversary, the score is usually 349-17.
Liz, can we link again to that column of mine? Search "trial lawyer"
Wheaton, Md: Hi Gene. Is a complaint about the comics section too frivolous to make for the purposes of your assignment tomorrow? I'm the person who griped some weeks ago about Peanuts, and you were gracious enough to agree with me.
Gene Weingarten: Nothing is too frivolous.
Braintree, Mass.: Your son's schooling:
I have to tell you I think the watercolor bit comes off as a wee bit obnoxious. I mean, that's how shcool works, you do assignments and get graded. What was the poor art teacher supposed to do?
Gene Weingarten: He complimented Dan for thinking outside the paintbox.
washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway: A Course in Wife Sciences
Cambridge, Mass.: I am a graduate engineering student, and lately I've been suffering from existential dilemmas about the true usefulness of my profession. I'm taking this seminar on science and politics in environmental policy making this semester, which only seems to depress me more. Last night the professor stated that if you're going to think about policy you have to abandon the model of rational science in decision making. Once people get involve its political. Searching for rational decisions will only make you frustrated.
Do you struggle with this as a writer? That you try to remove your stories from a political framework, only to find that its impossible?
Gene Weingarten: Every time I think everything is political, I remember that everything is racial. Then I remember that racial is political.
But, really, it's all about sex.
That's Life: I don't understand today's panel. I keep thinking they are looking at some customer they've locked in the freezer. But then I remind myself that I watch too much "CSI".
Gene Weingarten: It puzzled me, too. Can you link to this, Liz? I think they are watching some animal that is not dead enough to cook, but the door puzzles me.
Stress loss: I (an almost middle-aged woman) totally get skinny when I'm stressed. I think it's because I have trouble sleeping, and my metabolism is always set at "awake" instead of "sleeping." FWIW, people moan about how haaaaard it is to lose weight. I think it's hard to MAINTAIN weight.
Gene Weingarten: That may be it!
Washington, D.C.: Gene! Wow. I usually agree with most of what you have to say, but not with your comments to the soon-to-be-ex of the spouse who had the affair. I can kind of (kind of) see your point about not discussing marital problems most times -- in the sense that it's disloyal to tell friends that "Gene has really been driving me crazy with his constant mood swings lately." But once your spouse stomps on your marriage like this and you know that it's over, I think all bets are off. And I'm not married, nor have I been cheated on. In fact, I've cheated and I felt that, at that point, it was the cheatees prerogative to do and say whatever he wanted about me to basically anyone. I messed up -- that's where I lost my right to his loyalty.
Gene Weingarten: Understood. But how would you have felt about him had he said nothing?
This is a time to be Gandhi. Above it all.
washingtonpost.com: That's Life , ( Nov. 1 )
Essington, Pa.: Gene,
I'm a newbie. I read last week's chat and then promptly read the previous four weeks (thank you, washingtonpost.com). You, and Your People, are hilarious. Anyway, I doubt I'm alone in hoping that you'll post your Post critique in an update. I'd love to read it. By the way, if an un-costumed cellphone-holding 18-year-old came to my door last night, I would have reached past the cigar stub and into my cat's litterbox to give him what he really deserved: a piece of poop.
Gene Weingarten: I probably won't post my critique, simply because the Post might consider it their property. It'll be up to them.
Baltimore, Md.: Regarding trick or treaters - I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Last night, a number of kids showed up without costumes. I always ask what they were dressed at, mostly to see how creative they could be. One young child (about 10 years old), scrunched up his face, thought for a moment and then said "I'm a junkie!" I also encountered pimps and drag queens. None of these children were older than 12. So what do you think? Laugh or cry?
Gene Weingarten: Cry.
Just wonder,in': I'm asking here because I don't really know where else to get this info, so I'm hoping that you or chatwoman will answer this for me:
I just love the Post's live discussions. I can spend a lot of not-really-so-spare time just reading the week's chats. It's just amazing to read the regular columnists' chats along side Tab Hunter's and Captain Twenty's.
Are there any other papers or Web sites that feature so many chats like these? Or even do it at all?
washingtonpost.com: There are some others who do discussions... USA Today, National Geographic, the U.K.'s Guardian... but none serve up 60 hours a week of the finest guests to be found. Sixty hours -- that's more than enough to, umm, ease you through at 40-hour work week.
Gene Weingarten: I am posting this because I just don't want to deal with the Chatwoman-related consequences of not posting it.
Foggy Bottom, Washington, D.C.: Great news Gene,
I was with my girlfriend over the weekend and we met up with a bunch of her college friends. Over the course of a few hours of drinking, we started talking about what men like (Except for my girlfriend, all of them are more or less single). I talked about VPL and how many men love it. All of them were taken aback by this and claimed they didn't know. Some of them explain they were told by either their mother or another women that men just don't like VPL and men thinks it is slutty. I was able to convince them that VPL is a rather good thing and thongs are just evil.
We now have 10 mid-20-year-olds walking across D.C. showing VPL.
I can't wait when this chat and it's citizens get the Noble Peace prize for making the world a better place to live in
Gene Weingarten: I can now die happy. My work here is done.
Raising Your Kids: Hi, Gene,
Seeing as how you raise your kids how you want to, I thought you might get similar comments to me and have some insight:
We are Jewish, and we send our kids to a private Jewish school. To us, being Jewish is more than a religion; it is a way of life, an ethos, a diet, a history, and a family. We lost family in Germany and I don't want my kids to take their heritage for granted.
So far pretty different from you, I know, but here is the part that I'll bet you and I get all the time: other people tell me I'm doing things wrong. They tell me that it is better to wait until the kids grow up and let them "choose their own religion."
Their own religion is Jewish. If I don't give them that in their youth, then they'll grow up to be non-religious, more likely than not. And that is fine for other people, but I want my kids to have all the rest of it.
The other constant criticism that I get is that they will not learn enough of "how the world works" and will not be able to cope.
They see Chrsitmas decorations every October through December, they dress up for Halloween, they play soccer after school with lots of gentiles. I don't think they will miss that part of their education.
But it is none of these people's business. What did you say when people told you that you were raising your kids "wrong"? Really, I look at these other people's kids and wonder where they get off opening their mouths, but I can't say that.
Gene Weingarten: I can't recall ever being told I was raising my kids wrong. That takes a lot of, well, chutzpah. I suspect that some of my relatives disapproved, but I never heard it from them.
I see no validity in any of the criticisms you report. I don't see how you are harming a child in any way raising him or her with a strong religious/cultural belief system. They're free to reject it when they get older, if they want. (I do believe there is a tipping point, where the degree of religious indoctrination becomes so life-controlling that kids are LIKELY to rebel against it.)
Digital Problem Revisited: I wrote last week about losing sensation in the tip of my big toe, and you said that it had to do with new shoes. The only new shoes I have worn recently were the rental shoes at my wedding, which was about a week before the problem started. The tip is still numb, shows no sign of discoloration or coldness, and the numbness has not progressed at all. Any second opinions?
Gene Weingarten: Yes, it was the rental shoes. The effects are not always immediate. Your discomfort will last about another week.
Washington, D.C.: Hello Gene!Were you on the Blue line last night around 5:45? I was going in the opposite direction and I saw a guy that looked like you seemingly getting hit on by some cute young collegiate type. Way to go! (unless it was your daughter and then my radar is totally off.)
Gene Weingarten: You wrote this just to taunt me, didn't you?
No. And this guy could not possibly have looked like me. Guys who look like me do not get hit on by cute collegiate types.
Baltimore, Md.: I can already deliver my specific critique of tomorrow's paper without having even seen it:
Why in tarnation does the Post charge 75 stinkin' cents for its dead-trees edition in Baltimore when it's 35 cents in Ellicott City, Elkridge, and Glen Burnie? They even installed all-new boxes to take the three quarters! Heck, I've bought it cheaper in Rehoboth and Ocean City! Does the Post really think that we Baltimoreans are that sick of the stuff of the Baltimore Sun that we'll pay an extra quarter to read something else? (I've seen The Post priced at 50 cents in outer areas like Frederick -- that would sound to me like a better compromise than the gouging you're giving "The City That Bleeds -- er, Reads".)
Incidentally, I usually grab the paper at an outlet of a chain that still has the paper in its system-wide computers as 35 cents. Or I wait until I happen to drive outside the city/county line to get it.
(And I notice that I've been trying to submit this comment for 20 minutes of "HTTP 500 Internal Server Error". Just TRY and convince me that The Post really wants to hear this criticism...)
Gene Weingarten: I CAN'T HEAR YOU....
Marriage vs. Civil Unio, NS: Gene, re: your comment on how marriage is a game, I feel sorry for you poor heterosexuals. I'm a lesbian and in a relationship that has lasted over two years now. My partner and I don't play those kinds of stupid games, or even pretend to for the sake of humor. (Of course, we have our own little weirdnesses, but they're nothing like the games you describe.) Maybe that's why I've always thought the whole "men are from GM, women are from Chrysler" thing is so idiotic and offensive.
Gene Weingarten: Yes. I very strongly suspect you are in denial. Two people in love, living together, are engaged in a game. It is a GOOD game, usually, but it is a game. Read that link to my column and tell me that nothing like that has happened to you.
Harrisburg, Pa.: I think the joke in "That's Life" is the cooks are watching a customer who is eating what they just joked and making sure he is OK. But who knows: it is a little obscure.
Gene Weingarten: Ohhhhhhhhh, I think you are right. I didn't get it.
Boston, Mass.: In the whole online/print thing you forget something important: those of us who would like to be able to get the print edition, but can't. I like the print editions (the whole porch/coffee thing), but I can't get The Post here in the Hub. I could get it in New York City (a bunch of newsstands carried it), but here I'm out of luck. So, when are you guys going national like the Times?
Gene Weingarten: Never. The Post WANTS to be a regional paper.
Baltimore, Md.: I have a serious question: what are considered the very worst Presidencies in American history and were people aware even at the time that their President was one of the worst ever?
I had always thought it wasn't until years later that people would look back and say, "You know James Buchanan really stunk," but I think we are reaching a historic point where we have one of the worst Presidencies ever, and we know it even as it happens.
Gene Weingarten: I have made that point. I think we may be at a historic juncture.
You know, Lincoln was not easily re-elected. Plenty of people thought he was doing a crappy job.
RLS -- See this?: Restless Leg Syndrome Tied to Mental Woes , ( Reuters )
washingtonpost.com: Ya, it's because you can't sleep and slowly start losing the ability to function -- both physically and mentally. Sorry Gene.
Gene Weingarten: Wait. DOES THAT EXPLAIN IT, LIZ?
Hotda, MN: Two things:
"Wisdom guided by experience"!? NO, NO, NO! It's "intelligence guided by experience." Wolfe was far too precise in his diction to ever intimate that Archie had wisdom. Intelligence yes, but not wisdom.
Also I knew all the other jeopardy questions.
Gene Weingarten: Right, right, right.
Washington, D.C.: Gene,
In today's Post, the Sports story about young basketball player Dwight Howard quotes an unnamed source who says:
"Last year, a lot of people who are in the basketball world said, 'Oh, my God!' This kid has got great talent. I can see so much upside with this kid. I see flashes, and if he can do this more consistently and learn the game ... I just think the league said, 'This could be a big year for him."
That comes from "a Western Conference scout ... on condition of anonymity."
Why do Western Conference scouts need anonymity to praise basketball players? Any insights on this? Perhaps their jobs are more dangerous than I thought.
Gene Weingarten: I agree. An abuse of anonymity.
j-school: The not-so-stellar reputation of j-schools around your newsroom is probably justified, but I wager the j-school grads will also be filling up that newsroom in a few years. These days, the number of people who want to be journos (still pretty high) overwhelms the number of jobs available (shrinking, considering all the budget cuts and downsizing in the industry) that the bar for new hires just keeps getting... well, higher.
While many of the craft's elder statesmen and stateswomen are justifiably proud that they came into the industry as outsiders (and plenty of 'em did it without college), it's almost impossible to get hired today without:
- A bachelor's degree, or preferably a master's, preferably in journalism
- Two, three or four internships at well-respected newspapers
- A personal relationship with somebody who's already at the company
(Full disclosure: I followed this path, though there was much dragging, kicking and screaming involved. I ended up at a smallish but decent daily metro newspaper in PA.)
The plus side of all this is that most young journos have to be extremely intelligent, driven, talented people to get through this process and get hired.
The downside is, as you rightly suggest, that we're depressingly homogenous.
Gene Weingarten: I would argue that insisting on a certain level of schooling, and internships, is not necessarily setting the bar higher.
To me, interesting and versatile life experience is more important. I would hire a hobo if he could really write.
There is a college senior I know who has been an actor all her life. Real talent, expressed in a cornucopia of challenging roles. Great reviews. She also writes brilliantly, but until about four months ago never did it for publication, even a college publication; she has virtually no clips, no journalism classes, no journalism professors who back her. She is now applying for an internship at a major newspaper, and most of her resume involves being an actor. Yet everything she HAS written is startlingly good. She will be competing against j-school stars. It'll be interesting to see what happens.
If the hiring were up to me, I would grab this person. This, to me, is the perfect sort of resume.
Nashville, Tenn.: Gene, please make me find humor in my current job situation. I loved my job until I got a new boss three months ago. She has no management experience and no practical experience in our field. She has decided that we need to do things a certain way, which makes no sense to anyone with practical experience in the field, and gets offended whenever someone disagrees with her. I presented the concerns of the staff to her in a one-on-one meeting rather than having her feel ganged-up on by all of us telling her we don't like what she's doing. Her response was to tell me I need to learn deference and humility. Today she told me she wants detailed lists of all of our projects and cases because she "wants to start taking a closer look at what you all are doing." I'm at the end of my rope and don't know what to do, and worst of all I've lost my sense of humor about the whole thing. Please help.
Gene Weingarten: This is a disaster in the making, as I'm sure you know. If I were you, I would start looking for other employment. Calmly, without a sense of urgency, but start.
Regional Papers: This was an interesting response. My husband and I have long argued over my preference for local papers when I travel. I like to know what's going on in a place where I am, and also how the national news is being reported there.
What's your take? Would you prefer to find the Las Vegas Review-Journal or the New York Times at your hotel room?
Gene Weingarten: I love local papers, the crappier the better. They are a constant source of amusement for me.
Laurel: GW:" You know, Lincoln was not easily re-elected. Plenty of people thought he was doing a crappy job."
Gene, the 1864 election was 212-21.
Gene Weingarten: Hm. Okay. Sorry. Ignore that one.
Anyonymous Source: The Redskins stink this year, but please don't quote me.
Gene Weingarten: Ah, yes. You know, I meant to start this chat with a statement about that game on Sunday, but I realized that this was a difficult issue. I have, in the past, gloated about the Yankees at the expense of the Orioles, but I did that knowing that the Orioles are not really in the hearts of the area sports fans. I know you guys love your Skins, and I am far too sensitive -- and desirous of maintaining readership -- to express any joy in the defeat of the Redskins at the hands of my childhood team, the Giants. So I will leave it to others to make immature and hurtful comparisons, such as suggesting that the blood left on the field was menses.
Speaking of Jews...: What would you suggest for our situation?
My husband is a Jewlatto, but raised Catholic. I was raised Fundie. Neither of us currently has any discernable religion. We are, for all intents and purposes, non-believers.
However, I think it's important that our boys have respect and appreciation for their Jewish heritage. My husband's paternal family was almost entirely wiped out in the camps, so I feel it is important to preserve their memory.
So, were can non-Jews go to instruct their kids on the whole religious/ethnic/cultural thing, without actually having to convert?
Gene Weingarten: Why not?
More potty talk: During a beach week this past summer with three other families, one of the fathers boldly asked whether I was a buncher or a folder. It seems that there is a distinct difference between the sexes as far as toilet paper use is concerned. All the wives on the trip bunch, and all the husbands fold. I have a theory as to why this is, and I think it would make a worthy poll question, were you so inclined.
washingtonpost.com: But really, it depends on the circumstances.
Gene Weingarten: Chatwoman has nailed this one. Men use toilet paper far less frequently than women, see? And I can imagine anatomical reasons for bunching, see? Do we have to spell this out for you?
Gand, HI: I disagree with you too about the guy who's wife cheated on him. It would be inappropriate to put up a billboard with his wife's face on it and a big CHEATER next to it, but confiding in a couple of close friends seems like a healthy and rational way to deal with the situation. Bottling up pain should not be equated with non-violent protest. Taking the high road in the divorce proceeding is one thing, but he should not have to suffer alone in silence in order to do so.
I am female and unmarried.
Gene Weingarten: Okay.
Gene Weingarten: (I'm a bottler, basically.)
Dulles, Va.: I took a look at the poll results for the other two age groups after filling out the poll for my age group. Looks like a large proportion read the Post online more than in paper format.
However, doesn't the fact that you're taking this poll of online chat participants slant it somewhat? I know it's an unscientific poll, but that slants it quite a bit I think.
Gene Weingarten: Yes, the answer about online-on paper is clearly not representative of the audience at large. Also, something like 70 percent of the participants of this chat are not from the Post circulation area.
So this isnt scientific, in raw numbers or percentages. But I wanted to see the difference between age groups, and I think that IS significant. The yoots are ALL reading us online.
Chat vs. Colu, MN: I have a theory as to why some find the chat more entertaining than your column, and it's easy to test.
But first, I must comment on your favorite column (or the column formerly identified as your favorite). I refer to the massage parlor essay, of course, which was when I first started reading you regularly. I remember trying for days to determine if you had seriously embellished, or even completely made up the entire column. A few weeks later you had one of your "harass the customer service reps" columns and I was hooked.
Now, my chat vs. column theory: It all hinges on where people read your column. The chat, by it's nature, is an online event, and thus conforms to that medium. I read the Post almost exclusively online (don't worry, I have two unbelievably cheap mortgages and three Vonage accounts to help you pay the bills). On the rare occassion that I read the Sunday Post in print, I invariably find your column (and the Style Invitational, for that matter) funnier than when I read it online.
I don't know why this is; it could be that it's easier to read. It could be that I read the paper with my wife or family (thus I subconsciously want it to be funny so that I have something they don't). It could be coincidence. But it's worth investigating.
Gene Weingarten: We'll get on this immediately.
Halloween Costume: When I was in 8th grade, I dressed up in the cliche costume of a girl from the '50s (poodle skirt, bobbie socks, etc). One of my teachers (an old lady) lived in the neighborhood and we stopped at her house to trick-or-treat. She yelled at me because she thought I wasn't wearing a costume!
Gene Weingarten: Hahaha.
Unspeakable: I don't really have unspeakable opinions because I have taught my friends to think I'm always joking when I say cruel things. But there are opinions that I have to wait until new people dig my groove before I impart them like philosophical cinder blocks upon the heads of new disciples.
So here's a few that never get serious responses even though I'm serious about them:
1. I hate white people; we're mostly stupid jerks.
2. A global disaster that killed the vast majority of humans would be a really good thing.
3. It's all pink on the inside.
4. Violence is a good thing that should have a place in society outside of boxing rings.
5. The best things in life spring from the biggest conflicts.
Gene Weingarten: These are provocative. I will take no position on them. But explain number four, please.
Richmond, Va.: I trust you're going to address last Wednesday's "B.C." Man, was that strange. I'd wonder whether this sets a new low, even for him, but I'm not sure that "low" is the direction this one is pushing the envelope in.
I'd certainly be willing to entertain the notion that he thinks that W's administration (which follows the Daddy Bush and Clinton administrations, and their "good intentions" quotes) is tantamount to Biblical Hell -- heck, I'd even agree with him - but that just seems contrary to his prior forays into politics.
Any clue as to what's going on with Hart?
washingtonpost.com: B.C. , ( Oct. 26 )
Gene Weingarten: Yeah, I think his point is clear, but it is oddly political, and oddly lefty, for him.
Post gripe: I will soon be leaving the D.C. area after living here for 10 years, and the number one thing I'll be glad to be rid of is the town's self-important smugness, a characteristic that is embodied to a T by The Post. I would go so far as to say that you, Gene, by annointing yourself as the ultimate arbiter of humor, are a perfect example of that. You need to move back to Florida so you can remember what real life is like.
Gene Weingarten: Okay.
Vienna, Va.: Oh man. I was the same kid as Dan and the other writer's son... I usually had great teachers, because I was in the advanced classes and they were used to those of us who thought differently, but every so often I'd run into one who sucked all the joy out of life. And I've discovered that they exist at all levels, including post-high school and at work. An example: my freshman year of college, I got an F on a paper (60 percent of the grade for the course) because I wrote that I thought East and West Germany would eventually have to merge once again, because communism as practiced in the Eastern European countries seemed economically unfeasible in the long run (this was 1979). The professor, and avowed Commie Hater, said I was ridiculous, not to mention wrong, stupid, etc. Then there was another professor, same school, who thought a different paper I did discussing a unified currency for Europe was so interesting he changed the syllibus to talk about it for a class -- not my paper, per se, but the idea.
At work, the same thing will happen. That's why you'll see the person who can't see the point of changing anything even if it works better another way, and the one who will let you do anything you want as long as the work gets done.
Dan was lucky, and the other writer's son is lucky. My suggestion to the other writer would be to let your child do the work, and then go over the list of rules with him to make sure they're all covered. Taking off 10 points for no name? Geez. Also, he'd probably enjoy an outside art class or something else creative -- something where he doesn't have to follow idiot rules and can do anything he wants -- just so he has a place where the joy DOESN'T get sucked out of everything creative.
Gene Weingarten: Actually, there is a parallel between this and the person with a lousy boss. You know?
Washington, D.C.: I picked "It needs better writing" as the biggest flaw of The Post. I picked this because frequently, the first paragraph does not give the basic information the article is supposed to the about. In elementary school, we leared that "Who, What, Where, Why, and When" always go at the beginning. The rest of the story can be devoted to details or analysis. There are just too many stories in the Post to give a full reading to each one.
Gene Weingarten: Noted. But I doubt you would want to read a story that delivers the who, the what, the when, the where AND the why in the first paragraph.
Also, we hear from a lot of readers that they don't want to hear the Why. You jes' tell us the what, an' we'll decide on our lonesomes why.
39 degrees N by 77 degrees W: Gene, I don't know about you, but when I read the following in this morning's washingtonpost.com coverage of the Plame case, I had only one question left: What was the relative humidity and barometric pressure in dowtown Arlington, VA at 6:43 a.m.?
The illuminating passage:
At the White House, Cheney arrived at 6:25 a.m., more than an hour earlier than usual. His chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, left home about 6:15 a.m., his normal commuting time. Rove, whose usual departure time from home is about 6 a.m., left about 7:45 a.m.
Gene Weingarten: Hahahaha.
This is the Bob Woodward school of reporting.
Why women like this chat: I present, for your comment, a short treatise on why women like this chat. (FYI, I am a woman who frequents this chat)
Walking through this door of a chat (if you are a woman) makes you hot. All women, even the ones who deny it, want to be hot.
Gene is more himself (a doofus) in this chat, and men are most adorable when they are a doofus (I have observed this in this chat before, and you told me I was cute when I am angry and you are right about that!)
But most importantly, Gene is very vocal and effusive about how much he loves women, thinks they are adorable, cute, etc. He is like the tourist who proclaims his love of your hometown so emphatically that you happily show him around, take him on tours of the best spots and share local secrets. Gene is that tourist to womandom, and we happily show him around and share our secrets.
Finally, there is NO way his interest in us could be motivated by a real-life desire to get in our pants. This is the reason that the gay male friend is such a treasure, and is let so far into the fold. Gene is the virtual gay male friend of the women of this chat.
Gene Weingarten: Sadly, this reminds me of the greatest putdown I ever received from a woman. A writer at the Post, a real hottie, once told me she liked being around me because I was not threatening; I was like "a gay uncle."
Maleville: VPL - sexy
Smooth butts - sexy
Thongs - sexy
Bra straps - sexy
Bra outline visible through shirt - sexy
Woman in burlap sack - sexy
Gene Weingarten: Thank you for sharing.
Oakland, Calif.: I have a problem with the insitence of many persons such as yourself decrying the improper use or conjugation of words. Mona Charen, in that article you linked to in the updates last week, called out reporters for using "snuck," which she claims isn't a word. It has, however, unofficially been used as the past tense of sneak for quite a while. She, and I'm sure you agree with her here, rejects it out of hand because it came from nonstandard origins -- that is to say it was made up by the masses. But, uh, aren't ALL words made up? There was no holy lexicon handed down in the garden, I'm sure most of us would agree. So why deny the validity of words and usages that have evolved from our older language? Out of tradition?
Gene Weingarten: This, in fact, is the mantra of America's dictionary editors. I don't disagree. I just wish the dics would hold on a little longer before giving in. As I once wrote, eventually, they are going to accept "Pizghetti."
Planet Earth: Hi Gene: Have you ever thought about doing a discussion board marathon? You could do it for charity. People could pledge $ to keep you online (or keep you off line) and you could donate it to your favorite charity. What do you think? You could call it Gene-stock. Or Gene therapy. Or Be Gene-rous...
Gene Weingarten: Do not share this idea with Liz.
Washington Post aptonym: Hm. Your legal affairs analyst and commentator - the Supreme Court go-to guy - is named Fred Barbash. That's a pretty good one right there. Any others floating around the newsroom?
Gene Weingarten: Ooooooooooooooh.
You know, some aptonyms are SO obvious and SO familiar you just don't see em. For example: The Yankees' general manager, Brian "Cashman."
Let me think about The Post. Anyone have any nominations?
DC expat, ME: I saw on Amazon that "I'm With Stupid" is coming out in paperback in January. Congratulations! That means it was popular enough to justify reprinting it! Do you feel vindicated after the hypochondriac book wasn't as successful as you had hoped?
Gene Weingarten: Thanks, but I think it is reasonable to say that most hardbacks come out as paperback. Doesn't signify particular success.
The Hypo book also came out as a paperback.
Aptonow?: The sad story of a woman named Juanita Goodpasture and her untimely death. She has a drink at a bar so potent it kills her. Bar owner goes to jail. Died with a BAC of over .042: Ex-Bar Owner Sentenced in Patron's Death , ( Guardian UK )
Gallows humor for sure but is it funny?
Gene Weingarten: Actually, this isn't all that funny. But in light of our DUI discussions, it's pertinent. What of the bar owner's culpability here?
Serving a drink designed to make the drinker incoherent is highly irresponsible, probably a step worse than knowlingly giving more drinks to an obviously drunk person. But the mitigating factors are enormous -- largely the complicity of the victim, and the victim's relatives. This is pretty tough on the bar owner, no?
Wat, CH: Gene, I need a pocket watch. Well, don't NEED, but I don't like wearing anything on my wrist. I had a pocket watch in college, but it has been since lost or broken. Can you point me in the right direction? I'm not from D.C. but will be there for the weekend.
Gene Weingarten: Ecker's Clock and Watch shop, in Bethesda. It is mostly a repair shop, but if he has pocket watches for sale -- he probably does -- they will be top notch, and expertly repaired. Beware: We are talking $200 and up.
Distressed and Overworked: Dear Catfish,Today's poll was oddly depressing. I work for a media company and find that it's getting to be a rather joyless place. Everyone is so worried about the bottom line that we seem to be focused on things like turning off lights in the bathroom and cutting all extras out of the product. There are so many initiatives going on that I can't keep them all straight. Whatever happened to public service -- or even having a fun and interesting product? Maybe media companies should go back to private ownership.
Or we could start offering the "Insult of the Day" to whoever seems most worthy and watch the name calling begin.
Gene Weingarten: Oddly enough, I have a column coming up on this very subject.
Gene Weingarten: Thank you all. A huge response today. For complex reasons involving an ongoing cover story, I will not be updating this week.
I will, however, be anticipating some critiquest tomorrow. Remember: 9:45 deadline. It's onerous, but it means there won't be that many, which increases your shot at being chosen.
Next week, same place.
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