Chatological Humor* (Updated 2.10.06)

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Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 7, 2006; 12:00 PM

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

DAILY UPDATES: 2.8.06 | 2.9.06 | 2.10.06

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 .

This Week's Poll: Please enter either Door A or Door B, but not both. The questions are identical, but are presented in a different order, to eliminate sequential bias. Door A | Door B

(Note: A few of the cartoons in the poll may appear small and unreadable. If so, let your mouse hover over the image. A button should appear in the bottom right corner of the image. Click this button and the image will enlarge).

New to Chatological Humor? Read the FAQ .


Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon.

Ever since this chat began three years ago, I have refrained from publishing contemporary photos of my children. One must surrender a degree of privacy and a measure of dignity if one has a public voice, particularly a voice as oddly intimate as this chat. But that is MY burden, and mine alone, and should not have to be shared by others just because of an accident of birth.

I am in receipt, today, however, of three recent, candid photographs of my daughter, Molly, in a class as a first-year student at Cornell Veterinary School. The family consulted on these, and we all realized that this was an extraordinary circumstance, perhaps one that will not come again. Molly decided in the end that her obligation to the public outweighed petty and selfish concerns of privacy; besides, there is no shame in postgraduate intellectual pursuits. If these inspiring photographs might help propel a talented youngster toward a career in the demanding but deeply rewarding and highly prestigious field of veterinary medicine, the decision will have been worth it.




Okay, then.

I live in downtown D.C., near Eastern Market, which means that every weekend there is a huge flea market just a few steps from my house. Sometimes, people try to sell their own items, and at the end of the day, abandon any unsold objects for anyone to take. And so it was that on Sunday I picked up, for free, a pair of elegant, comfy bedroom slippers that I am wearing right now. It astounds me that no one purchased these items. Here is a photograph of them on me.

In other important personal news, I recently wrote an e-mail to someone, suggesting that they click on a link, but instead I wrote "clink." This is a good word, no? Clink - v.t., to click on a link. I find no mention of it in Google. Leave us coin it here, why don't we, and this chat will be credited in the OED by about 2009.

Take today's poll. Apparently, there have been some glitches with Door B, and some of the humantoons not playing out all the way. Sorry. Please try Door A, if that happens to you. I'll be discussing the results midway through: Door A | Door B .

This was a fairly weak comics week, with some interesting aberrations.

Today's Prickly City , for a surprisingly adept handling of a correction. And what about Saturday's B.C. , where the multi-millionaire Hart, who lives in a 50-acre compound in Binghamton, N.Y., seems to be equating Social Security with welfare. Isn't it time this mean little strip disappeared? And did you notice the bizarrely disturbing Family Circus on on Groundhog day when little Jeffy notes that the pork he is eating is technically "ground hog"?

Comic Pick of the Week is Friday's... CATHY ! A good joke! A good joke in Cathy!

First runner up is Monday's Zits , for a nice visual joke.

Honorables: Friday's Fuzzy , today's Speed Bump .

Okay, let's go.


Annandale, Va.: Good "BTB" this weekend. Reinforces my belief that people are more willing to believe the "bad" things we do over the "good".

If you'd fictioned-up a Silver Star, or a life-saving kidney transplant, or a food-and-medicine run to Africa, then there would be dozens/hundreds of folks searching out the truth. Yet (if like the "Pieces" author and your article), you admit to sleazy, immoral and/or illegal acts, then you'd probably only have "The Smoking Gun" to worry about -- and only then if you'd sold enough books to merit a look-see.

I think that deep down, heroes make us feel inadequate ... like we're not living up to our potential. Likewise, scumbags make us feel better about ourselves, since we haven't lowered ourselves to THAT level yet.

Pity the sinner and vilify the hero! Born to Raise Heck , ( Post Magazine, Feb. 5 )

Gene Weingarten: Interesting point. I think you're right.


Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Gene - You are the arbiter of all that is funny. What are your thoughts on the recent controversy over Tom Toles' cartoon depicting a soldier who had lost both arms and legs in Iraq? Does it cross the line, as the Joint Chiefs of Staff are claiming?

Thanks. This chat is one of the highlights of my week. I can't decide if that is wonderful, since I really enjoy the chat, or pathetic, since it means that one of the things I most enjoy is staring at a computer screen. Tom Toles , ( Jan. 29 )

Gene Weingarten: I'm going to try to be calm here.

The administration's attack on this cartoon is cynical, hypocritical, demagogic, and disgusting. The Post has defended it, but I wish they had defended it even more strongly.

There is nothing wrong with this cartoon. It does not trivialize or make a joke of the injured vets' plights. It is deeply critical of a callous administration that deserves deep criticism. The government's response to this cartoon, in fact, proves that the cartoon's central thesis is true. This is an administration that ruthlessly and dishonestly manipulates language and distorts facts in the service of its own agendas -- and does so by cynically flogging political bromides and pushing emotional hot buttons. That's demagoguery.

I can see why the Rumsfelds in our government would like to cow other cartoonists into not expressing opinions like this. So they coordinate a great hue and cry about how this cartoon is somehow disrespectful of injured vets.

A big, transparent, cynical lie.

Is there any defender of this administration out there who would like to defend the government's reaction to this cartoon?


Missoula, Mont.: Gene, Have you ever seen a cartoon that made you want to burn down an embassy?

Gene Weingarten: And this is in a sense Part II of the last post -- controversial cartoons on parade.

Here's an interesting bit of synergy: Liz, can we link to Toles's cartoon today, on this subject? (Toles, by the way, is having another Pulitzer-worthy year.)

This is a dreadful thing that is happening, on several levels. Obviously, it is not really about the Danes publishing cartoons depicting Muhammed. It's about Muslim outrage at what they perceive, rightly or wrongly, to be hostile and disrespectful Western attitudes and actions toward Islamic countries.

The problem is, their very reaction is astoundingly destructive to the relationship between Islam and the West, because it is feeding the very worst stereotypes that Westerners have of the Muslim world -- that they are all free-speech-hating religious fanatic, violent lunatics. It's similar to the rioting (and deaths) that occurred as a result of erronious reports that a Koran had been flushed down the toilet at Guantanamo. Huh? Westerners thought. No Christian is going to torch buildings beause someone desecrated the New Testament. It's a BOOK. The flushers are jerks, end of story, buy a new bible, okay? Even though Muslims had a right to outrage, the extent of their reaction fueled the fires of prejudice. In that little exchange, in the court of world opinion, they lost. This one too.

All that is obvious. The real question is, was the publishing of these cartoons simple provocation? And was it wrong? Our government has answered yes, and yes. Not surprisingly, this is a politically expedient response. The truth is more complex.

This all happened because a children's book author couldn't get anyone to illustrate his (apparently respectful) book about Muhammed, because of fear that they would be, um, killed, like Theo Van Gogh was. Islam prohibits ANY sort of depiction of their prophet, and Islamist radicals seem quite willing to execute fatwahs of their own.

A Danish newspaper, fascinated by this, then commissioned 12 cartoons, to see what would happen. I have seen only a couple of them, but most were neutral. At least one deals with public perception of all of Islam as militant, showing Muhammed with a bomb for a turban.

Is this provocation? Yes. Is this entirely irresponsible, without justification? I don't think so. I think the case can be made that this was an exploration of a legitimate and important issue -- a form of intellectual terrorism, in which fear of retribution from radical Muslims may be affecting the nature of public discourse on the most important issue of our time.

Okay, thought experiment: What if the Washington Post printed a giant headline of the N-word, and only the N-word, or a giant swastika, to see if African Americans and/or Jews would get offended, and how they would express their offense? Would that be legitimate?

Of course not. But there is no overriding social issue here. There is no background of intellectual extortion. THAT would be naked, pointless provocation.

So, to me, the publication of these cartoons was clearly a form of provocation, but also clearly a discussion of an important social issue. Was it illuminating in any way? You bet. I can't condemn it. You? Toles , ( Feb. 7 )


Washington, D.C.: Ugh, the poll is far too long, too hard to take, and requires too much technology. Can't you just ask people a few short questions about how they wipe their poo?

Gene Weingarten: Next week.


Washington D.C.: Re: The Poll

First of all, I'll be amazed if anyone actually makes it to the chat--it took me almost 30 minutes to look at everything in the poll!

But as to which works better -- the humantoons or the cartoons -- I think that if the strip is a really good strip (i.e. it would make me laugh if I read it in the paper), then it works better on paper. But if it's a weak strip, then the humantoon format can actually redeem it somewhat. Case in point is the one about burning the money -- the music and the extra lines of dialogue made it funnier in the humantoon than on paper (where I thought it was pretty weak). But the one about the plumber worked a lot better on paper than it did in live action.

I think that some of my opinions were affected by the fact that the acting/reading of the lines wasn't very good--maybe actors with better comic timing could have improved the humantoons?

I guess that ultimately, these are two different "art" forms that happen to intersect, but are tough to compare. Purpose and payoff are different.

Gene Weingarten: A lot of people have made similar points.


Arlington, Va.: Very interesting poll, Gene! I went with B (sub-poll: who chose A, who chose B, and why?) and with the exception of Mistakes of Mankind, thought the strips were all funnier.

However, I think this might have been influenced by the fact that the whole time I'm watching the humantoons, I kept trying to think of the real name for this sort of thing. It's been done before, from the heyday of variety and comedy sketch shows, where they cut to a very sort scene that ends with a gag (usually something of a groaner, as I recall).

This type of really short skit has a name already, I just can't think of it (blackout?). The only difference with Boffo's work is that until now no one has tried to do them as a stand alone skit - they've previouly been inerludes between longer form humor.

Plus, "humantoon" is really clumsy so it probably biased my choice somewhat. Well, that, and the fact that live actors can't replicate the exceptional pacing my brain can give a cartoon.

Gene Weingarten: Sure, there have been short one liner skits. That was basically the entire oeuvre of Laugh In. The difference here is that this is a one to one translation from an already existing comic strip: an attempt to segue seamlessly from one form to the other.


Northeast: I have a few medical conditions which require me to take some "serious" medications. Sometimes these medications distract from my ability to work at 100 percent. For example, I sometimes take strong (and mind altering) pain medication. My boss is very supportive and a nice person, and I feel I should tell her what medications I am taking so that on days I may not be functioning properly, she will know there is a legitimate medical condition. However, I have done pretty well concealing those days thus far (I am a good worker), and I am a little worried about providing too much information. Any advice? Many thanks,

Gene Weingarten: If you are not functioning properly, you should not be at work. Sorry, but true.


Re: Piano Man last week: Hi Gene. I enjoy your chats and the insight they provide each week.

All week I've been thinking about last week's poll (re: Billy Joel's Piano Man). And then I went back and re-read some things you said that really strike me as condescending:

"I am going to explain the correct answers -- there are definitely correct answers"

"At the moment I am writing this, only 59 of 1200 people had gotten this, and two of them were Von Drehle and me.

"Anyone who got both the best line and the worst line knows something about words."

The nature of artistic expression (art, music, film even) is highly subjective. There should be no right or wrong answer in my opinion.

Gene Weingarten: You are wrong.


Washington, D.C.: Saw the Great Zucchini's mom's letter on Saturday. I take it she's not a fan of your article. Have you talked to her since it was printed?

Gene Weingarten: Letters to the Editor , ( Post, Feb. 4 )

Gene Weingarten: That was NOT the Great Zucchini's mom. The Great Zucchini's mom liked the article a lot.

That was the Great Zucchini's father's second wife. I urged the Post not to run the first part of this letter, because, to put it bluntly, this woman is in no position to know anything about whether there was physical and emotional abuse of Eric during his childhood. She was not there. The only two people who were in a position to know -- they were the very specific sources for this information, and they didn't write letters. They had no complaints.

I understand Ms. Finch's motives in writing this letter. I don't disresepct them. But ... c'mon.


Arlington, Va.: The Post says that the new House Majority Leader's name is pronounced "BAY-ner."

Come on, give us our well-deserved smirk and chuckle!

Okay, I grant that "boeh" is probably best pronounced "bay," but still... reminds me of Young Frankenstein ("that's FRONK-en-shteen"). And Ms. cra-BA-ple from the Simpsons. Any other great "name saves" via pronunciation?

Gene Weingarten: How can you forget Az-WEE-pay, from SNL?

The Yankees have a pitcher named Chien Ming Wang. Pronounced Wong.

They also have a pitcher named Jaret Wright. Wright and Wong.


Miami, Fla.: When's Dave Barry returning to the back page of the Magazine?

Gene Weingarten: He isn't. Sorry. You are stuck with the crap that is there.


Charlottesville, Va.: Re: Door holding. On a related note, I liked Chazz Palminteri's advice in the movie "A Bronx Tale." He advises a young man to open the car door for his date, then watch what she does while he crosses behind the car on the way to his side. If the date reaches over and unlocks the door for him, she's a keeper. If she just sits there, she's selfish and not worth his time. I've yet to disagree with the results of this test.

Gene Weingarten: I like this.


Oakton, Va.: I don't think the poll is about cartoons at all. I think this a secret government experiment to find out how many Weingarten reading subversives chose B over A.

Gene Weingarten: Well, I was going to disclose this later, but, yes, I consider this the most striking fact. You are out of the box thinkers. NO WAY I AM WALKIN' THROUGH A. That's just what these fluckers WANT me to do....


Silver Spring, Md.: I'd like to let you know how much joy you've brought to the Latvian-American community by bringing attention to our beloved country. The column in which you last mentioned not only the country's name and but its growing industry and its Hanseatic League heyday has won your column a spot on the bulletin board in the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in Rockville. It is a rare honor. Below the Beltway: Confessions of a Ringer , ( Post Magazine, Jan. 22 )

Gene Weingarten: Well, there IS a Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church in Rockville, so this post might be legit! I hope it is, which means the Letts have reacted with far greater humor and proportion than the Christadelphians. Christadelphians started a letter-writing campaign, saying that I viciously and callously libeled their religion. One of these letters got printed in Free For All.


Upper Maryland: New contest: TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- A prominent Iranian newspaper says it is going to hold a competition for cartoons on the Holocaust to test whether the West will apply the principle of freedom of expression to the Nazi genocide against Jews as it did to the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed.

I have my doubts that it is the same thing.

Gene Weingarten: Right. It is like my example about the N word or the swastika.


Cultural Toilet Habits: Gene... I'm a panty throwing Indian fan and to address both your left-leaning tree-hugging tendencies and your proclivity towards toilet humor, I thought I should point out that in Asia (in almost all countries except Japan), tp is considered disgusting and unsanitary and people use water (taking great care to thoroughly wash their hands afterwards). Now Asia gets a bad rap for disregard of the environment but has someone stopped to consider what would happen if over two billion people started chopping down trees only to wipe their arses with? The Montreal Protocol shld include something about this... what say you?

Gene Weingarten: My candid reaction? In 10,000 years of civilization, mankind has never perfected the art of butt-wiping. Not Phoenicians, not Etruscan, not the brilliant ancient Greeks or the practical ancient Asians, nor has modern-day man.


Allegany, N.Y.: Tom Toles is the best editorial cartoonist in the country. Something we knew here before you people stole him away from the Buffalo News.

Gene Weingarten: He and Oliphant are my pantheon.


Philadelphia, Pa.: If I open the car door for my date, and then she locks the doors, goes over to the driver's side, and drives away with my car: is that a bad sign?

Gene Weingarten: It might be.


Rockville, Md.: Regarding the cow -- where exactly is your daughter's arm???

Gene Weingarten: Buried up to the shoulder. Into the anus. The pics were reproduced a little smaller than I'd expected. Liz probably exercised restraint. Thats a very dirty glove in the last one.


Baltimor, ON: Re: Molly photos: Well, so much for lunch, I need to lose a bit of weight anyways, so.......

Gene Weingarten: Precisely.


Fairfax, Va.: Gene let's be straight here. Social Security IS welfare. If you feel that the elderly deserve a government dole for no other reason than their age, then so be it. But let's not fool ourselves by calling it some sort of retirement plan.

Gene Weingarten: Ahhhhhhhhhhhh.

Anyone care to dispute this?


Carto, ON: The thing is, the critics completely missed the point of the Toles piece. It wasn't about soldiers -- the patient's name is clearly listed on the chart as "U.S. ARMY." So it's about the breaking of the Army through overuse and underfunding, impugning the leadership but not in any way the soldiers.

Or am I missing something?

Gene Weingarten: You are missing nothing. Neither were the hypocrites who attacked it.


Prophetoons: Why did the State Department wuss out and call the drawings "offensive to the beliefs of Muslims"? Why can't we show solidarity with the free press in Denmark instead?

Gene Weingarten: Because that would further inflame tensions. The fact that it is the truth and the correct thing to say is irrelevant, diplomatically.

Frankly, this was probably the right decision, if icky and expedient. Diplomacy is often about lying smoothly.


Great Headlines: I found this headline HILARIOUS, despite the circumstances:

U.N. staff flee cartoon rioting

Can't you just picture it?

Gene Weingarten: That's GREAT!


Sunnyvale, Calif.: Gene-

I want to point out a fatal flaw during one of the most touted Super Bowl commercials that I believe people are overlooking. You're the only person I "know" who could potentially appreciate my point.

The commercial with the monkeys was terrible and I'll explain why: The joke was basically ruined by the monkey adjusting the chart. At that point the punchline became the fact that the monkeys don't care if profits are down, they are going to pretend they're up in order to have an excuse to party. To me that's pretty lame. If the chart had been left as is, the joke would have been that the monkeys are smart enough to wear clothes and read a chart, but too stupid to read it correctly. This is a classic absurdist joke about the limited intelligence of animals. Kind of like the old Toonces the Driving Cat sketch on Saturday Night Live where the cat can drive but he's terrible at it. That's funny stuff. I saw the commercial as a wasted opportunity.

Gene Weingarten: I completely agree, and had the same thought when I saw it. There was another ad that did the same thing. The one where a guy is such a backyard - football fanatic that he slams a woman into the ground and taunts her as she is lying there, inert. Startlingly funny. Then they ruined it by having her reappear at the end, taking HIM down. This ad was about men being jerks. The second part -- politically correct -- ruined it.


Molly Pix: Here is someone who willing inserts her arm up to the shoulder into a cow's anus (and ends up with the predictable result), and yet won't sit on a toilet seat for fear of catching germs? There's something a little screwy about this.

Gene Weingarten: Hahahaha.

Molly loves animals. That should explain it.


doorop, EN: Re door open: Many years ago I had a female friend who declined to unlock my car door. She said she had been told that if she unlocked my door, it constituted a sign to me that she would, um, surrender her virtue.

I have NEVER heard this from ANYONE else. And I've been asking... many people, for many years. Have any of your chatters heard this?

Gene Weingarten: Yes. It is true. Also, if a woman eats a banana in public, it means she is a prostitute.


Pacific Northwest: I am from a pretty redundant place aren't I? If I was to just say the Northwest would you get really confused and think I meant the Northwest half of Mississippi by the Mississippi River? Is this the Mississippi River Northwest?

Gene Weingarten: Wouldn't Idaho be the Northwest, but not the Pacific Northwest? North Dakota, too?


Vienna: Today's poll, in conjunction with today's pictures of Molly are an indication that you are unable to dazzle us with brilliance, so you intend to baffle us with BS.

Gene Weingarten: Noted.


Medicated Worker: Yeah, like you'd know anything about functioning at 100 percent.

This person would rather work than collect disability, and you'd rather he or she stayed home? How major-institutional of you.

Seriously, though: he or she should advise the boss so that there's some record of the situation (in case things deteriorate).

Gene Weingarten: Does anyone else agree with this view?


Paran, ID: "You are out of the box thinkers. NO WAY I AM WALKIN' THROUGH A. That's just what these fluckers WANT me to do...."

That's what I assumed you would think. So I chose A.

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahahaha.


Social Security is welfare?: So when Fairfax turns 65, should we remove his/her name from the "welfare" roles?

I really hate that so many people don't think that we should take care of our elders. I don't care how much it costs me and you shouldn't either.

Gene Weingarten: Those elders have been paying into the system for years.


Washington, D.C.: GW

Help me out playa. I have a second date on Saturday -- I think she is into me. But, I am not expecting to "seal the deal". What should I do for next Tuesday -- Valentines day? Flowers? Dinner? Phone call?

Gene Weingarten: Just for the record, I am deeply offended, as are all sensitive men, at your description of a burgeoning romance in terms of a commercial transaction or sexual exploit. To deal with such a serious thing as a simple matter of strategy is to demean not only women but the entirety of the human experience, and I am appropriately aghast.

Having put that into needed perspective, I would say that you've got a serious problem of awkward timing here, stud. Come on too strong and you resemble a stalker. Ignore it entirely and you risk serious sensitivity demerits, with their attendant range of punishments, none of which you can afford at this critical juncture in your, ah, romantic pursuits. If you have the moves in your arsenal, what I'd recommend is a charmingly self-conscious presentation of a non-present, a very minor token, like a single chocolate heart, in which you acknowledge either directly or implicitly, depending on your communication skills, the inappropriateness of the gift but your inability to FAIL to acknowledge this day, given your unusually warm attraction to her so early in a relationship.

That't the ticket. And then, if a natural romantic arc occurs in the course of two people mutually respecting each other, then she may well continue to be into you ... and possibly vice versa.


Buzzard Point, Washington, D.C.: Gene,

As a right-leaning moderate who voted for Bush the second time around, as a member of the military who served in the mid-east, as someone who has friends who have served, who are serving, and who will serve again in Iraq and/or Afghanistan, the Administration's attack on the cartoon and the JCS letter are indefensible.

I can not believe who many people missed the point on this one.

(FYI -- For those who are wondering, I voted for Nader the first because I thought he should've been allowed in the debates and I was pretty sure Bush would carry Texas...)

Gene Weingarten: Just.... indefensible. And as disgusting as anything else they've done.


Upper US: "Also, if a woman eats a banana in public, it means she is a prostitute."

What does it mean if a woman inserts her forearm into the rear end of a cow in public?

Gene Weingarten: It means she is a genius.


Superior, Wis.:

This isn't really funny but it does deal with cartoons. In fact, a fellow writer has an op-piece on the cartoons on today's front page.

Anyway, why does the media always oversimplify things? The Muslim's furor over the cartoons is much more than that. Numerous polls have shown that most Muslims are convinced that the West is at war with Islam, despite claims otherwise. When bombs are being dropped in even Muslim countries that are our allies, such as in Pakistan recently, I can see why they would hard-pressed not to believe otherwise. So, those cartoons were just the boiling point of months of pent-up frustration. I don't excuse violence but I am trying to understand their point of view. I think we all could use a little cultural sensitivity.

Finally, what do you think Christians would do if suddenly all of the most circulated newspapers printed cartoons showing Jesus Christ in unflattering ways?

Thank you for allowing me my tirade.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, as I said.

I think the Christians would write outraged letters to the editor. I think Christian leaders might denounce the paper. I think there would be dialogues between the public and the paper. And because of the weight of public pressure, both intellectual and commercial, the editor who made the decision would probably be fired.


Holocaust Cartoon: Any reason why The Post wouldn't post the holocaust cartoon that the Iran newspaper publishes and one of the Danish cartoons? I think that this will go a long way towards proving your point about why it was OK to publish the Danish cartoons. It'll also show that the western press isn't made up of a bunch of hypocrites. I'm not getting my hopes up though.

Gene Weingarten: I'd say they should. I'm guessing they will. It really is necessary to explain the issue.


Critic, AL: Gene - The posts from Tim Page really got to me. It seems like sometime in the recent past, critics stopped reviewing the thing they review and instead focus on the intent of the work and its significance to society, etc. For a work to be worthy of praise by professional critics these days it seems it essentially has to be unpopular or controversial.

This seems to be true in literature, books, movies, art, and just about any other medium that critics offer opinions on. So a movie can't be a "great" movie these days unless it has some horrifically depressing ending (and therefore makes some comment about the frailty of the human condition) or in some other way is "gritty" or "raw". It also can't be great if it has any wide appeal - only "indie" films from small studios seem to garner any praise. Your friend Kornheiser hinted at this on his radio show: one of the most enjoyable movies he watched last year in his opinion was "Wedding Crashers" which had zero chance of any Oscar nominations because it was a comedy. When was the last time any movie that didn't leave the viewer emotionally crippled after watching it or made some grand statement about society won any critical award?

Music critics seem to apply a different but equally cynical standard - if an artist sells any significant number of records he is a "sellout" and "too commercial" - only music from bands that no one actually listens to (like Sigur Ros or Sleater Kinney as modern examples) put out anything of substance. Or if the music is at all catchy/listenable in any way it isn't innovative. While I don't think the Piano Man is a great song (I said it was ordinary) you can't really argue with the fact that a song that came out in the '70's seems to have stood the test of time and is recognizable by just about anyone over 30 when it is played. So to blast it based on the lack of realism in its lyrics seems a little harsh - I think the real problem Mr. Page has with it is that it is popular and wasn't written/recorded by one of his critically acceptable musicians.

I'm not saying that everything popular is good - the fact that Big Momma's House 2 tops the box office is proof of that. I just wish the critics would drop their cynicism and their "smarter than you" attitude and review the actual so we could get movies and music other than Leaving Las Vegas or the White Stripes these days.

Gene Weingarten: I just want to address one thing: Wedding Crashers was a total piece a crap. I just saw it. And I really like Owen Wilson.

The devolution of an Animal House genre into an icky love- redeems-all story was an example of the worst that Hollywood offers. Formulaic, cynical, and terrible.

Shame on Kornheiser.


Anonymous: Since they canceled Amy Joyce's chat today, can I submit my work question to you instead?

I'm young, intelligent and dedicated, but I'm a little (okay, a lot) intellectually lazy. I skated by making terrific grades in high school and college without ever having to apply myself or actually learn stuff. So I've now got a BA degree and am in a good paying job, but I feel like there's something more out there. I should be a lawyer! Or a doctor! Or working towards a PhD! Seeing the pics of Molly made me yearn for the opportunity to go to vet school.

I have no worldly responsibilities to anyone but myself. I don't really want to do this desk job the rest of my life, but I have no idea what I should be doing instead. How long's it going to take to figure this out?

Gene Weingarten: You shouldn't do what will give you the prestige you desire. You should do what you feel passionate about. That's what you need to explore.


Indianapolis, Ind.: You often talk about the women around you that you are "in love" with. Granted, your wife allegedly doesn't care, but why are you different than some horndog who openly stares at women's chests when he talks to them? Lusting after brain cells, lusting after mammaries... it's just body parts, after all.

Is "because I'm a guy" really an answer? It just seems disrespectful and a little cheesy.

Gene Weingarten: It's a joke, see? I am not really "in love" with them, except for Chatwoman.

Your contention that lusting after a brain, and lusting after a body, are identical is very, very sweet and sensitive, you liar.


Wearing Prada so it doesn't matter where I live... : Your wife has appallingly bad taste in shoes. Please let her know I'd be happy to take her shopping any time she likes for something that isn't a sling back with an open toe... are those really a metallic silver or is it just a trick of the light?

Gene Weingarten: They are metallic silver, they are very cute and sexy, as is my wife. In terms of shoes, I am absolutely certain she could could kick your butt literally and figuratively.


Boston, Mass.: Hi Gene,Another gender battle is apparently occurring in Ask Amy, begun in the past few weeks. What's your take?

Is it OK for a man who otherwise practices perfectly acceptable hygiene to skip on shaving for the weekend? I do this all the time, and thankfully have a wife who doesn't mind it a bit. I can't imagine any rationale any woman could come up with to make this weekend relaxation into a social crime. What's your take?

Gene Weingarten: I skip on shaving for days at a time but shave immediately when my wife expresses even a hint of displeasure. Which she does, inevitably.


Cartoon Links: Would you and Liz be fired if you printed links to the Danish cartoons? Why is that any different than printing links to Toles cartoons? Yes, and there's a big difference.

Gene Weingarten: I'm not sure why the post has not printed the Danish cartoons, actually. But the reason that we'd be fired is that the Post has decided not to, and it would be treason, basically, for us to override that decision.


Toles: Conservative, and I support the war.

The cartoon in question was not at the expense of wounded soldiers, and the Joint Chiefs' letter, while inappropriate, was a near-perfect illustration of why we're fighting who we're fighting where we're fighting them.

No one suggested that mobs of angry soldiers should burn down the Post building. Civilized people, and we're among them, conduct their disputes in a civilzed manner.

On the other hand, fanatical members of the The Religion of Peace issue calls for brutal treatment of those who offend their sensibilities.

Anyone remember the NEA funding of "Piss C" (nope, I can't type it) a few years ago? Don't remember angry mobs of Christians burning down that museum and calling for the artist's hands to be cut off.

Gene Weingarten: Well, the piss thing was handled in the quintessential American way. Decreased funding for the Arts. As I recall.

Your main point is very good.


Blacksburg, Va.: My parents are not exactly computer savvy. I was working on their computer recently and discovered that they had named their computer "click."

As far as I could tell this is because I had earlier tried to walk them through a problem and had told them to "write click" on "My computer." Of course I'd meant, "right click" but how could I expect them to know the difference?

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahahaha.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Seriously: when Molly was born, did you hold her in your arms and think to yourself, someday she'll make me proud by having me show her photo to the public with her hand inside a cow?

Gene Weingarten: Something like that, yes. It was either second base for the Yankees, or cow anus insertion.


VD: To the man with bad V-day timing. The walmart near me has a milk chocolate bass in a box that says "You're a Keeper." On the back there an educational bass fishing trivia quiz. I think she would appreciate this gesture.

This lovely gift would set you back only $2.99.

Gene Weingarten: Very nice.


Notyourbo, OK: Gene:

A Mr. Barry has spewed forth a new book in which you are regularly referenced. Indeed, you are even the "star" of one chapter.

Yes, he's a friend, etc., etc. But come on, do you get a cut of the action for being featured so promiscuously? And if not, can I be your agent? We'll nail his oosik to the wall.

Gene Weingarten: If the debts that Dave and I owe to each other were somehow quantified, to get even, I would have to save the life of BOTH of his children, twice.


Gene Weingarten: The poll:

I will be very succinct, because all of you seem so peeved by it.

Clearly, the cartoons are better, for All Of the Above. I don't believe superior production values would matter. Joe Martin is one of America's best cartoonists; his pictures are funny. His setups are funny. His punchlines are funny. This is a noble experiment that doesn't work.


Can't wait for Hax's chat: As a guy, maybe you have some insight into this one. I dated a guy for a few weeks, several months ago. Things got emotionally intense rather quickly, at which point I realized I'd made a terrible mistake and stopped seeing the guy (to his great disappointment). Now, several months later, I am extremely woozy over the guy's friend. Can I ask him out, or should I stay away?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, but first have to kill the first guy.


Big, Tex.: My scale says I'm grossly overweight. But doesn't the fact that I'm a female devotee to the chat make me hottt?

Gene Weingarten: Yes.

Your scale needs to be re-calibrated.


In Class in Madison, Wis.: Sadly I am going to be missing the chat to present my masters thesis today. If I totally fall flat on my face (hopefully not going to happen...), the first thing I'll do is look to this chat transcript to cheer me up. If you were looking for a pick me up after making a fool of yourself, what would it be? I'm thinking about beer as we are in Wisconsin, but something funny is probably better and healthier.... Help me Gene and wish me luck!

Gene Weingarten: Isn't the term "defending" one's thesis?

I always considered that a scream. It is as though effete old academia needs to think of itself as macho. "There's gonna be an offense, and a defense, and some hard hitting in there, men. ..."


Web, MD: Okay, Dr. Gene, here's one for you. I'm a healthy 34-year-old girl, with no health insurance, who doesn't go to the doctor unless pieces of me are falling off. Over the weekend, I started experiencing right shoulder pain, radiating into my arm. I can raise my arm to the side, but can't raise it in front of me past parallel. I can't imagine what I did to it, no injuries that I can recall. However, I am a legal secretary, and a bartender, so could I have done something to it between typing and lugging around cases of beer? The pain is only getting worse, and now it hurts to lift anything with it. Help.

Gene Weingarten: Um, you need to see a doctor, duh.

It sounds like you have pinched a nerve or something. A nerve thing happened. Something needs to be done about it. That's as far as my medical expertise takes me, here.


Washington, D.C.: Could I just say how elated I am to have someone agree with me on "Wedding Crashers?" I've had people get into arguments with me about this, but the transformation into a romantic comedy was awkward and just uncomfortable. I remember first seeing at and just thinking "Can we get back to Vince Vaughn being funny?"

You have two genres that are almost completely contradictory in nature. Don't try to combine them. It just doesn't work.

Gene Weingarten: It was typical American filmmaking cowardice. It's just insulting to the viewers.


A Greeting: I noticed that Losernet goes dark when your chats are on. I just wanted to say "HI LOSERS" since they're probably all here.

Gene Weingarten: Done.


Good for her?: Your daughter is so cute, and she looks so happy shoulder-deep in a very unfortunate place. I might even characterize it as a certain type of grin. You must be very proud . . . and happy for her?

Gene Weingarten: Mol is doing what she was born to do. This makes a person very happy.


Manual, Calif.: I drive a 1990 Honda Accord with manual transmission (211,000 miles and it still runs like a champ!). I get fairly good gas mileage (30 mpg), but I want to see if I can squeeze more out of a tank of gas.

On my way to work, I go over a big hill, so there's about 2 miles that I go downhill in each direction. This is about 25% of the total distance that I commute.

Ignoring the obvious safety aspects, I think that I can shift into neutral and coast down the hill while maintaining my speed.

Assuming I don't crash and kill myself, am I really saving any gas in doing this? I believe that I can get about 10% more mileage in doing this.


Gene Weingarten: I do that all the time. What is the danger? Are you for some reason failing to apply the brake when needed?


Brokeback Herald?: So, you are "featured so promiscuously" in Dave Barry's new book. Is there something you're not telling us?

Let me guess, it was just a phase....

Gene Weingarten: I questioned whether this was an error, but I don't think it was. Interesting use of the word.


Cube City: Hmm. I'm posting this on Wednesday, in anticipation of next Tuesday's chat. Are you sure this isn't a blog?

Just wondering if you've ever awarded a retroactive CPOW. It seems to me that the 1.25.06 Dilbert was really deserving of last week's nomination. I know you sometimes overlook Dilbert because of its placement, so you may have missed it.

That last panel can only be referring to one "crazy idea." Dilbert , ( Jan. 25 )

Gene Weingarten: Okay, agreed.

Gene Weingarten: The best clue is the woman's endowment.


Academia, Ohio: You present a Master's thesis and defend for a Ph.D.

Gene Weingarten: Ah, thank you. So the PHD is the heavyweight category.


To Shoulder Pain Girl: I had a very similar situation. Could be a form of Shoulder Impingement. I was diagnosed by an ortoped after an MRI. Cortisone injection and some PT helped me out. Waiting 2 months before I saw someone did not.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, shoulder girl. Take note.


I'm waiting...: So, ever since I emailed that story to you this weekend...the one about an actor you don't particularly like... containing a word that I did not think would be permitted in your chat... I have been wondering how you were going to share it. Really, the story requires the word. Twice. Euphemism will not do.

Gene Weingarten: The intro was too busy, so I didn't put it in. Next week. It has been approved by Chatwoman.


RE: Bartender Pain: My father-in-law experienced some of the same symptoms as the chatter with shoulder pain. Gene is probably right that it is a pinched nerve or something. However, said father-in-law needed four discs replaced. Opened him up like a Pez dispenser, but left almost no scar. Get to the doc, now!

Gene Weingarten: Hm. You listening, shoulder girl?


Helpful Molly photo: Oh, that reminds me, I need to make an appointment to get my prostate checked.

Gene Weingarten: I'm going tomorrow!


Social Security IS welfare: I'll dispute it. Our taxes pay for that "welfare" and we (or at least I, at 32) will get back less than we pay in. And my definition of "less" is actually zero.

Gene Weingarten: I have not gotten a large number of critics of Hart here.

My point: It was a very meanspirited comic. Why did this point have to be made? Apparently, Hart is bothered that we have Social Security, and sees it as a handout. Otherwise, observing that it is a form of welfare is pointless.


Re: Social Security: As a 40-year-old person who NEVER expects to receive dime one from the Social Security ponzi scheme, I agree with you -- it isn't a welfare program. But it should be. It should be means-tested and provided only to those who need it, which would allow the system to remain solvent AND allow FICA taxes to be reduced.

Gene Weingarten: Actually, I agree.


RE: Critic, AL: Alright, at the risk of sounding like a music snob, I have to say something.

The reason critics review and praise bands like Sigur Ros and Sleater-Kinney is because no one really needs to review the new Justin Timberlake album (is he even still popular? I have no idea. By the way, I'm 23). Reviewing S-K is a way of saying, "hey, this is a good album, you should consider listening to it." (And, also by the way, Sleater-Kinney is one of the best bands I've ever seen live.)

But, you can't really compare critics' praise for those bands and Wedding Crashers being "snubbed" at the Oscars. If they were the same, "Ray" and "Titanic" never would have won best picture, and "Me and You and Everyone We Know" would have 20 nominations.


Gene Weingarten: Saying that Wedding Crashers was snubbed at the Oscars is like saying that Hitler was snubbed by the Nobel Prize committee.


RE: Gas Savings: While you may save money on gas, be sure to have the clutch pedal pressed to the floor while coasting. This is according to Pat Goss (regular chat host). Can't remember the exact reason, but it has something to do with a part rubbing against other metal (eventually costing you money in repairs).

Gene Weingarten: This makes no sense to me, if you are not in gear.


McLean, Va.: My sister is a vet, and I have fond memories of the dinnertime discussions we used to have while she was in vet school at the U. of Minnesota (everyone would laugh and keep eating, except Mom). The way she told it, the "arm up the cow" is almost like a rite of passage for all vet students.

By the way, she wanted to be a vet ever since she was in grade school, has just celebrated her tenth year in practice, and couldn't be happier. I think this bodes well for Molly.

Gene Weingarten: It is a right of passage.

Hm. Passage. I think that's funny, but I'm not sure.


RE: Valentine Dilemma: A dozen roses to her place of business would be my choice. It's very unoriginal but shows class and da wimminz love flowers.

Gene Weingarten: I say it's too much from a guy you have been dating for two weeks. In fact, very too much, because you have to explain it to others. Ladies?


Coast, IN: Uh, Gene, regarding the Downhill Coaster, shouldn't you have asked if he had power brakes before you concurred in switching off the engine?

Gene Weingarten: Wait. He switched off the engine???? Did I miss that? Then the steering wheel will lock, no?

Is that what it says? DO NOT SWITCH OFF THE ENGINE.


B.C. sucks: I thought the B.C. was extremely meanspirited, just like you. So what if it is welfare? It goes to elderly and disabled people - people who can't work anymore. What kind of horrible society would we be if we told people who are too old or too sick to work to just "buck up" and get back to work? For someone who claims to be a Christian, Hart is really not acting like one. Blessed are the poor, anyone?

Gene Weingarten: Well, as the previous poster points out, it goes to everyone, including Bill Gates, when he reaches retirement age.


Manual, Calif.: I was always told that you should never shift into neutral because you never know what will happen and, if you need to make an sudden move, you will have power to do it. So, I've always followed that.

Also, how can I convince my wife to learn to drive my car? She absolutely refuses to learn to drive a manual car. My best point (in an emergency, she will be able to drive any car that is available) does not seem to move her.

Gene Weingarten: Explain to her that driving a stick shift reduces butt size. It's been scientifically proven. Gin up some stats.


Suggestion La, ND: Gene:

How about posting the poll prior to the chat so that people can participate in both? Just a suggestion. Keep up the good work. Ahem...

Gene Weingarten: Sigh. The poll is almost always available as early as Monday afternoon. It was this week, too. We had 350 responses by 8 o clock this morning.


Valentine Flowers: No no no. Don't send flowers after two weeks of dating. Take it from the voice of experience. Way too early.

Remember, there's a fine line between eye contact and the piercing glare of a psychopath.

Gene Weingarten: Exactly.


Working while functional: Gene, you are dead wrong. As someone who practices disability nondiscrimination law -- as well as someone who, because of various disabilities that I won't list here, regularly works while not totally functional -- I can tell you that if you were a supervisor, your attitude would get your company into deep, deep doo-doo, under the Americans with Disabilities Act and other Federal (as well as some state or local) disability nondiscrimination laws that apply to the workplace.

Depending upon -her- supervisor's attitude, the chatter might or might not be doing the wise thing in telling her supervisor that she's not totally functional. She's got to balance the legal against the practical. If her supervisor is more understanding than you and could provide the chatter with some accommodation (such as letting her leave early today if she works late on another day), or at least won't take adverse action against the chatter, it's probably a good idea for her to tell the supervisor. OTOH, if the supervisor is going to make life more miserable for the chatter for not operating at full power, it might not be worth it for the chatter to mention the situation to the supervisor -- unless the chatter suspects that some kind of legal action against her workplace may be necessary in the future, in which case it's a good idea to create that paper record.

Gene Weingarten: I'm putting this out there, but I don't get it. We are talking about mentally impaired, right?

If I went to work mentally impaired (more than normal, anyway) and screwed up a story that resulted in a libel suit, you don't think The Post would have the right to be hugely peeved?


Anonymous: He's going to shift into neutral, not turn off the engine.....

Gene Weingarten: Good. I just see no danger in that. Do it all the time.


Washington, D.C.: Re: Clutch issue. You're NOT supposed to press down on the clutch while coasting. This will wear down your transmission. It's called "riding the clutch".

Gene Weingarten: Well, not if it is pressed to the floor. But I would just shift into neutral.


New York, N.Y.: Is there any room in your current events cartoon analysis for religious tolerance? ANY depcition of the prophet Mohammed (and his family, etc.) is understood as fikh according to Islamic law. It is idolatry and therefore an unforgiveable sin. A grievous wrong. Does that change or alter the analysis at all?

I am not a Muslim, but I learned this in college. As I understand it, it is not just the radicals that believe this.

Gene Weingarten: I do understand that. But we are not all Muslims. Christians who didn't like The Life of Brian just didn't go see it.


Flowers: I'm Not a woman - but no flowers. If you want to give flowers give no more than a single flower, and it really shouldn't be red.

Gene Weingarten: I'm going to end it here, on a giant quesitonmark

No red?

Tune in tomorrow for an explanation, from someone.


UPDATED 2.8.06

Gene Weingarten: Okay, two leftover matters.

First, sixteen squadrillion individuals of both sexes wrote to inform me that I am illiterate in the art of flowers. (True enough. I don't "get" flowers.) That every idiot knows that red flowers mean "I love you and want to have sex with you" whereas white flowers mean "You are my mom, or possibly just a good friend or a grandma" and pink flowers sort of mean that "maybe I will want to have sex with you soon, but it is too early to be so direct, or maybe you are my elderly aunt."

Doesn't this seem just a little scripted and childish and unspontaneous? Anyway, I admit do being illiterate. I never give flowers, though I once did a story about guys who deliver flowers, and I asked what the most unusual message he ever delivered was, and he said it was "NOW can I [perform a certain extremely personal act upon you?]"

Just FYI.

On another hangover matter, I forgot to mention that there was a bit of unseemly editing done on the Dilbert cartoon I retroactively awarded a CPOW to. The Web version had the suggestive caption that we linked to earlier and Liz will re-link to here. Tragically, The Washington Post was among several newspapers that chose to print it with a tamer caption, namely: "Less talking, more burping." The only problem with this caption is that it was lame, lame, lame, and, technically speaking, made no sense at all.

Shame on us. Dilbert (Jan. 25)


Gene Weingarten: I asked Molly why she was using her right arm in one of the cow-butt-insertion pictures, and her left arm in the other. It turns out there is an interesting answer. There are two schools of thought about this procedure:

Some vets advise using only your non-dominant arm for bovine rectal exams, because sudden unanticipated reactions by the animal have resulted in broken arms. Other vets recommend alternating arms, because sphincter pressure over time can produce nerve or muscle injury, and this better distributes the pressure.

Molly chose the second course of action.


Anemo, ME: Gene -- I think that Stephen Pastis needs to be taken to task for continuity problems in the latest PBS series on Pig's sea anemone enemy. On Monday, Pig refers to the anemone as "he" but a few months ago, the anemone was introduced as "Annie Mae, my sea anemone enemy" -- clearly a female. The integrity of all that is good in the comics is collapsing under Pastis's callous neglect of such important details.

Gene Weingarten: If you will recall, this was the very trope in which the loathsome Pastis ripped off my anemone line. I believe God has punished him by further compounding the embarrassment. I have e-mailed him. We await his sniveling explanation.

(dramatic pause)

Gene Weingarten: I reached Pastis. Here is his lame explanation:

I screw up all the time with continuity, but this one I was aware of.... For the pun strip a few months ago, I needed her to be female, so I could use the name Annie Mae.... but for the series this week, I needed pig's enemy to be male, primarily because on Thursday, the anemone gets killed... and while you can hurt males in comics, hurting females is almost never regarded as funny... Thus, the gender switch. And for what it's worth, I heard from someone that anemones actually have no specific sex... they reproduce by something called "lateral fission."


Another medical question: Hi Gene, I have a medical question for you. First on Thursday and then on Sunday I had episodes of blurry vision. Not all over blurry -- specific area blurry, and it was the same area for both eyes, meaning if I was looking at something and closed each eye in turn the same area stayed blurry. And this is a very bad blurry, as in can't see anything at all in that area, and the blurriness looks like the surface of water that is being splashed, kind of rippling quickly. The episodes have only lasted 15-20 minutes each. One time the both area seemed to be the lower right of my eyes, and the second time it was above-mid-level and seemed to be focused more on the left. Any ideas?

Gene Weingarten: Hm. Well the shimmery thing you mention sounds like a detaching retina, which is serious, or a retinal wrinkle, which is not. The only problem is, you would not see it in both eyes.

I think you need to see a retinal expert. I don't understand the two-eye thing; it's probably nothing, but there are serious medical conditions -- MS, for example -- that can present with occasional blurry vision. Have it looked at.

Gene Weingarten: Three separate people have written in to say that this is a classic symptom of migraine headaches. Apparently migraines can occur without pain, but other weird effects. See a doctor.


Where is the picture of your wife's shoes: What shoes is that nasty person refering to?

Gene Weingarten: In the trunk of my car, from last week's chat. That WAS nasty, wasn't it? The photo -- which is now forever linked in Gene's updated FAQ.


Fairfax, Va.: Gene,

You strongly criticize the government, the administration, and then Rumsfeld for the letter signed by the Joint Chiefs. I am just curious whether it is fair to attribute the Joint Chiefs letter to the adminstration. Do you expect that Rumsfeld would have signed off on it? If John Kerry had been president, would the Joint Chiefs had sent the letter?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, I attribute it to the administration. A letter signed by all the Joint Chiefs is not a document that arrived without the explicit authorization of The White House. "Joint Chiefs" would be a great name for some stoner band.


UPDATED 2.9.06

Anonymous: Interesting, your suggestion we seek our bliss. though not in those words. How can we do this while still having to make a living? Does your thinking extend to the idea that if we want it hard enough we will find a way to make it happen, even if, say , our children starve in the meantime?

Gene Weingarten: Many years ago, when I was editor of Tropic, I had a contest to write my final column of the year. The winning column, by a man named T.M. Shine, was so brilliant that I called him up to find out who he was. He was the manager of a Walgreen's drug store.

Tom Shroder and I began to hire him to write freelance pieces -- each one a total gem. Eventually, we asked him to write a cover story called "Why I Work At the Drugstore," to explain why a talent as deep as his was lost in a job like that. It was a magnificent story, concluding, in essence, that he worked at the drug store, although he hated it, because he needed to support his family.

Within a few months, T. M. Shine had quit to become a writer. Yep, a wife, two kids, real fear.

He has since written several books. He works for an alternative newspaper. He makes a better living than he ever did. You'll see his pieces from time to time in The Washington Post magazine.

If you are passionate about what you do, you will do it well. If you do it well, you will make it pay. Working at something you dont like is a tragedy. It eats into your soul.


S Street, Washington, D.C.: OK, so WHY why Molly's arm that deep into Bessie's butt? I assume it wasn't just some odd student-vet initiation ritual....

Gene Weingarten: It is a way to palpate many internal organs, including several of a cow's 8,309 stomachs.


Chantilly, Va.: Only one reason to shave on weekends: if by not shaving you also don't get to participate in other activities. Then, you shave.

Gene Weingarten: I was implying that, actually. Thank you.


Chicken Soup: Am I the only one who thinks chicken noodle soup smells exactly like BO?

Gene Weingarten: Not any chicken soup, but most of the canned varieties. Absolutely. I have made the identical observation.

My wife's chicken soup smells like nepenthe, the mythological elixir that makes one forget all pain or grief.


re: Boehner: Headline: Boehner Meets Bush in Rose Garden

Gene Weingarten: Haahahahahahahahahah.


Why is This Fun, NY?: Gene --

Alas, I must miss the chat today, but I nevertheless need your advice as Arbiter of Humor. Can you tell me why the following incident was funny?

Background: I have a three-month-old who is breastfed, so when I go in to work, I bring my breast pump (you can guess where this is going). Last week, I went into D.C. to meet with a client (I'm a lawyer), dressed up in my nice suit for the first time since childbirth. After the meeting, I locked my office door to pump. About five minutes in, I realize I am sitting in a puddle of warm liquid -- one of the jars you pump the milk into had cracked, and the contents had spilled all over me, the chair, the floor, the computer, you name it. Of course, while I am figuring this out, milk continues to spurt everywhere until I can disconnect myself. I have no tissue, no other clothes, nothing -- eventually have to call our HR manager to come bring paper towels.

I should have been upset, but it just seemed like the funniest thing that had happened in a long, long time. I e-mailed my husband that I had had a moobar, and he responded with "ROFL" (I didn't know what that meant, but (properly) interpreted it as "laughing so hard I shot milk out of my nose"). But when I think back, I wonder why it was so funny?

(a) Because pumping breast milk is inherently weird?

(b) Because boobs are funny?

(c) Because of the mental image of a woman dressed in a suit, but half-naked and strapped to a weird contraption?

(d) Because it underlines the non-sexual function of boobs, yet in a way that seems titillating, thus underscoring our discomfort with this dichotomy?

(e) Because the suit and office and position imply a sense of control, and the malfunctioning pump in those circumstances reaffirms that we do not have the control we think we do?

(f) Because "moobar" is just a really cool word?

(g) Because anything bad happening to a lawyer is, by definition, funny?

(h) Because my husband and I are so sleep-deprived that we'll laugh at anything, especially if it involves the new baby somehow?

(i) All of the above?

Gene Weingarten: All of the above. This is brilliant analysis. I love good humor analysis.

It also reminds me of something. A couple of years ago, I got an e-mail from a writer who frequently asks my advice about her stories. She is a gifted writer, but sometimes -- particularly under deadline stress -- can be rather self-involved and neurotic.

So, I get this e-mail from her. I am working at home. She said:

"Can you read my story right away? I need to know if the top works. Are you in the building?"

I said, no I was not, that I had not been in the office for a month.

She e-mailed me the top of the story, and asked a bunch of questions about it. I answered them. Then she asked which direction the story should go in, and I told her. Then she wanted to know if a certain word should be changed, and I told her. Then she wondered if it needed a new section, and I told her it didn't. Then she thanked me for my help.

Then about a minute passed, and finally she said, "Why haven't you been in the office for a month?"

And I wrote back, immediately: "Because I have terminal rectal cancer."

I let about 15 seconds pass, and then wrote this:

Kidding. I had knee surgery. Now I want you to tell me, within 60 seconds, why my previous answer was funny. There are three reasons. If you cannot do that, or if you do it incorrectly, I will sign off this computer and refuse to give you any help on your stories ever again.

Talk about deadline pressure. Exactly one minute later, she wrote this:

1) Because tushies are funny. 2) Because the answer was shocking and surprising and outrageous, and shock and surprise and outrage are the basis of humor. 3) Because you were satirizing how selfish I was being in my questions to you, thinking only about myself and my immediate needs.

She passed. We are still good friends.


UPDATED 2.10.06

Genderbender: So I was at the mall this weekend with my boyfriend and his son, and we stopped at the bathroom before we left (a good idea with a seven-year-old). I was walking a little ahead of them, and didn't pay attention as I entered the bathroom (the door was propped open) and went into the first stall. When I came out, however, my boyfriend and his son were standing there... across from a line of urinals (which I had actually walked past on my way to the stall). Yep. Big sign reading MEN across the door, too.

However: When I was in the stall I noticed that there was a good deal of splatter on the seat (more than usual but not abnormal for a public bathroom), and squatted to avoid it (though I would have anyway; I do usually sit at work though, and unless it's really gross I clean the seat after). This would be normal if it were a women's bathroom BUT IT WASN'T. I was under the impression that men used the urinals unless they had other business to take care of, in which case they sat. So why on earth were there pee droplets all over the seat???

Gene Weingarten: Because men urinate from their navels. Your boyfriend never told you this?


Amputee cartoon - calming the waters: Yes, we get the point that Toles was trying to make. But he used an extremely graphic was of conveying it. He could have shown a bunch of soldiers with wooden rifles and broken-down trucks to get the point across as well. Did the administration overreact in criticizing it? Yes. Is that the worst thing that an American government has ever done? Not hardly!

Gene Weingarten: Sure, he could have used any number of other images, none of them as angry.


We are in a discretionary war where people are coming back horribly maimed. This was intended to be disturbing. It worked.


Name Pronunciation: Frederick Exley, in A Fan's Notes, has his narrator, Fred Exley, introduce himself to women in bars as a Frenchman named Dr. "Pah-nee" -- spelled "P-E-N-I-S." This predates all the previously given examples.

Gene Weingarten: Very nice.


Soda out my nose!: That's the ticket. And then, if a natural romantic arc occurs in the course of two people mutually respecting each other, then she may well continue to be into you ... and possibly vice versa.

Oh my god. I am now emailing this post and your answer to all of my friends. Your last line had me snorting soda out my nose because I laughed so hard.

I think I will start a new phrase with all of my friends. "Anyone had any vice versa, lately?"

Thanks so much for the laugh on a bad day!

Gene Weingarten: Happy to oblige. Not sure how many people caught it.


Re Toles: Gene, your comment on the Toles cartoon was the second-best I've heard or read so far. The best came from the former Army sargeant who wrote in on Saturday: "Whoever wrote the letter for the Joint Chiefs knew that the cartoon wasn't about wounded soldiers. It was about rear-echelon political hacks who dismiss the results of their foolish decisions, who never seem to learn from their mistakes and who don't seem to care that when they write a check, the infantry signs it in blood."

Gene Weingarten: Yeah.


Bethesda, Md.: This actually happened last Saturday night.

At home as we are about to leave the house to meet friends...

Wife: Babe, do I have VPL in these pants?
Me: Yeah. (She starts running up the stairs) But Babe, guys don't mind, I like those pants on you.
Wife: I am gonna wear jeans then.
Me: No, I think you should wear pants, I think everyone else will be, too.
Wife: Ugh, now I have to wear my weird pants.
Me: (scratch head)

While we are out at a dimly lit bar...

Wife: I can't believe you made me wear my weird pants, EVERYONE is wearing jeans, and I know they are staring at my weird pants.
Me: What the hell are you talking about? There is NOTHING weird about your pants.
Wife: I should have worn jeans!

Next morning...

Wife: My stomach hurts.
Me: Why?
Wife: From sucking in my stomach all night cause of my weird pants.

Now let me ask you, is this in any way, shape or form normal behavior? This is possibly the stupidest conversation I have had with my wife in the 6+ years we have been married. Is it time for me to check her into the looney bin or are other women out there like this too?

BTW, there was NOTHING "weird" with the pants (at least not noticeable by the 3-4 people I asked).

Gene Weingarten: Oboy, buddy. I was with you until the end.

You asked other people about your wife's pants?

You are simian. Primeval. You are protozoan.

Major, major misstep. One's wife's pants is a sacred subject, to be discussed only between the two of you. I almost didn't post this for fear your wife would read it. But if you are this clueless and tone deaf, you'd just do it again. It's probably better for your marriage that she finds out now, and cauterizes you.


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