Chatological Humor* (Updated 10.27.06)

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Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 24, 2006; 12:00 PM

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

Daily Updates: 10.25.06 | 10.26.06 | 10.27.06

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...

This Week's Poll .

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 .

New to Chatological Humor? Read the FAQ .

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Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon.

If you want proof of how this chat can change a life, look no further than today's introduction.

About two months ago, I noticed that hot foods had begun to taste hotter to me. This affliction progressed to the point that non-hot foods began to taste hot to me, too Mashed potatoes with tofu gravy would send me to the beer, for relief. Then an odd rash began to appear around my mouth. I resembled a man who is on an all-pistachio nut diet.

When I arrived in the office two weeks ago, Tom the Butcher looked at me with sympathy and expressed his concern in a manner befitting a long time friend and colleague. "WHAT'S WRONG WITH YOUR MOUTH? He said. YOU LOOK LIKE YOU'VE BEEN .... and what followed was an image so objectionable I cannot repeat it here. On the plus side, it would probably get T the B fired, but on the minus side, I'd be at his side.

Something was clearly wrong. Fortunately, as many readers of this chat know, I am no longer a participating hypochondriac, so it did not occur to me, except for a few minutes, confirmed through available medical texts, that this could be the classic overture to pemphigus vulgaris, a disease that is worse than it sounds and involves a lifetime of weeping crusty sores.

But, as I said, I no longer think that way. So I kept trying to deal with this thing via home remedies and such, topical creams, with no sustained luck.

Then came last week's chat, when people were discussing the duration of their toothbrushing routines. And I took a lot of grief from hygiene Nazis for sanctifying the 45-second toothbrushing. One woman in particular pointed out that my very own toothbrush, the Sonicaire, actually beeps every 30 seconds and then stops at 2 minutes, showing you the optimal time of an optimal toothbrushing. So, I began brushing my teeth for the full two minutes, feeling like an idiot. I actually started laughing after about 90 seconds. Too much, too much.

So after my second or third day of this, I began to notice something.

(I bet you think you know where this is going. Well, you're wrong.)

What I noticed was that with this extending brushing, the rash and pain were getting ... worse.

Yeah. It was my toothpaste. About two months before, I had switched to a baking soda brand, and was apparently allergic to it. Soon as I went back to the old one, the rash disappeared.

------

Thanks to an unnamed chatter who pointed me to what she called The Aptonym of the Century, and she may not be far off: Andrew E. Squire, Esq., attorney.

On the subject of my proficiency in parallel parking, a one-upping link from Jeff Peter.

There are a number of questions below about my story on Sunday about Garry Trudeau and yesterday's Trudeau-only chat , so we link to em here for your convenience.

One recurring question about my column Sunday was how I knew Alice was a computer and not a person secretly answering me online. The reason is that Alice's answers were instantaneous. A nanosecond after I hit the Enter key, her answer was upon me.

Please take Today's Poll . As you might surmise, there are correct answers, and by and large you are not seeing them.

This was a terrific comics week, led by a streak of excellence by Hilary Price. She gets a combined CPOW with Monday's, Thursday's and today's Rhymes With Orange . Others are Sunday's Sally Forth , Friday's Frazz , Monday's Nonseq , today's Flying McCoys , today's Other Coast . Okay, let's go.

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RoVa: You know, I live in Southwestern Virginia and I read Washingtonpost.com every day, and I think of it as my newspaper. Then I read the snippet composed by the Style Staff published on Wedneday - "NoVa and RoVa: Welcome to a State Of Disagreement." Aside from getting almost all their facts wrong (we do indeed have NPR, Blackberries, Starbucks, problems with sprawl, etc.) they succeeded in making everyone who lives west or south of Manassas feel like a hick. This on the same day that Style published its interview with James Webb, where he decried the fact that white southerners are pretty much the only group that it's safe to make fun of. Maybe my sense of humor is off today, but this just seemed meanspirited, somehow. I hope you weren't one of the Style staffers involved.

washingtonpost.com: NoVa and RoVa: Welcome to a State of Disagreement , ( Post, Oct. 18 )

Also see: Achenblog: The RoVa Storm and Letters to the Editor

Gene Weingarten: I wasn't. I do far worst on Sunday, coming up!

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Fort Worth, Tex.: There is a man running for Justice of the Peace here in Fort Worth whose name is Jim Swearingin.

Gene Weingarten: Wow. That's really good!

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The Worst School Mascot: Swarthmore College teams were known for a while, unofficially, as the Earthworms, with students going so far as to circulate petitions to make it official. Not so bad, somewhat akin to the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs, except for the reason students wanted to be the Earthworms -- it's an anagram of Swarthmore. Apparently 40 grand a year buys a lot of spare time to ponder such things. I'm picturing dorm lounges full of pasty-faced geeks who spend their weekends thinking up puns and mistaking them for humor...

Gene Weingarten: "Thinking up anagrams" is not an unworthy pursuit. It is not to be dismissed as simply inventing puns, which is also not an unworthy pursuit.

Anagramming is a special skill, part science and part intuition, and as such is one of those few human intellectual pursuits that computers have not entirely destroyed. In his book on computers, Dave Barry actually pitted me against an anagramming computer, in a modern-day John Henry sort of enterprise. We still disagree about who won.

The fact is, "The Swarthmore Earthworms" is a phenomenally cool name for the team, given the anagrammatical context.

I am proud of many of my anagrams. They have served me well. I will reveal that one of the first communications between Pat Myers (Pat the Perfect) and me -- indeed, one of the reasons we quickly became friends -- is that I informed her that her name anagrammed to "Spry Meat."

So I don't want to hear any more anagram bashing. It is practically my religion.

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G&G: Gene,

Why, in your article, did you seem surprised to learn Trudeau didn't have Doonesbury items prominently displayed in his home? Isn't that simply a tangent of your "don't hang personal photos in your house" philosophy? I'd think you'd have applauded him.

Gene Weingarten: I WAS applauding him!

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Virtual, AI: I could do your job! Except for the idea part.

Human: Gene Weingarten wrote a column about you.

ALICE: That Gene is very creative.

Human: Do you heart him?

ALICE: Yes I try to heart him as often as possible, do you?

I answer a lot of silly questions.

Human: What is your position on VPL?

ALICE: Are you asking about my position on VPL ?

Human: Yes.

ALICE: I don't want to talk about that now.

Human: Do you like Visible Panty Lines?

ALICE: I've heard other people say they like that. I have a stimulating relationship with Dr. Richard S. Wallace.

Human: Do you wear thongs?

ALICE: Only when I dress up.

Human: Have you ever gone commando?

ALICE: I don't think I ever have gone commando. What's it like?

Human: It's good.

ALICE: You enjoy it.

Human: Yes, you might too.

ALICE: Yikes! Bless you.

Human: If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound?

ALICE: It depends on the kind of tree.

Human: Poop.

ALICE: Colloquial expression: childish.

Gene Weingarten: Very good! An excellent conversation.

And coming up with ideas is not that big a problem. Many come from readers. For example, Angie Brennan tipped me off to ALICE.

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Laurel, Md.: "Kidding about that last part -- but not kidding about this: Can you write in and explain to me how you can be opposed to gay marriage, but not of the opinion that gays are less worthy people than straights? I'll print what you say, if it is printable."

I'm not the person to whom this is directed, but I'll chime in...

Marriage exists to partner a male and female to do the things neither does individually; most obviously having to do with children. Since no man can give birth to a child, we define, through marriage, his children as the ones his wife bears. Similarly, since a woman caring for those children suffers salary loss, she is given equal right to the income her husband makes.

You've said children are the only reason to marry. So why does a couple who will never have any children need to get married?

I would agree to a kind of "next of kin status" agreement for things like making medical decisions in case of incapacitation.

Gene Weingarten: So, when a couple adopts a child, that's not really their child?

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My eyes are up HERE: We have a humor columnist at the paper I work at. He's kind of nerdy -- OK, very nerdy. He's a little heavy, has a moustache and glasses.

Is this some kind of archetype?

Anyhow, he is incapable of addressing a woman without first glancing at her breasts. Unless she's going upstairs in front of him, which none of us do anymore. Is there, like, an underground humor columnist network through which you can contact him and make him stop? Maybe you could write a column about this behavior and he'll read about himself, the way the wife beaters and drunks are supposed to read about themselves in Dear Abby. Tell him, seek counseling.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you for sharing this. He needs to get busted, as it were, hahahaha, and he will stop. Being a humor writer, he is quite insecure and getting popped, just once, will do it. Do you have the nerve to inform him that your face is a foot above where he is looking, and that this physiological fact holds true for other women as well?

I don't mean to apologize for this guy -- decent behavior can and should be learned -- however, I would like to quote from my hypochondria book:

The other day I was speaking to a colleague of mine, a talented and vastly accomplished professional who, in less enlightened times, might have been described as having excellent hooters. She is one of those women who make it necessary for decent men in the workplace to learn an unnatural method of communication, in which one focuses the entirety of one's apparent attention on the eyes and chin, as though the person to whom you are speaking were a severed head attached to life-sustaining devices.

--

My point is, it is possible, but not always easy.

My second point is that only one person at The Washington Post, other than myself, knows who that person was. Namely, that person herself.

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Baby Woman: Gene,

Thanks for running my comment yesterday. I did not know that Joanie was named after the National Women's Political Caucus, though it makes sense. (My mom was active in it around the time I was born.) So -- while in no way encouraging insubordination -- what else did you leave out? BTW, I'm a huge fan of "A Prairie Home Companion," too, so I was thrilled to hear that Trudeau is friends with Fred Newman.

Gene Weingarten: Joanie Caucus was modeled after a real person in Trudeau's life.

If you recall, Joanie arrived at Walden Commune after having jettisoned her husband and family one day. Complimenting her on her cooking, her husband had said to his friends "I think I'll keep her," and Joanie broke his nose. Then split.

So, it turns out that Trudeau had an aunt who did that, almost exactly. Suburban wife of a banker. Walked out of a car containing her husband and kids, and never came back. Lived in communes, and an Indian teepee in Oregan, called herself "Sasha Wildflower."

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Alexandria, Va.: Gene,

I'm sure you already know this, but you and Dan are referenced in Wikipedia on the page describing Double Dactyls .

I became motivated to write one of my own. It's obviously inspired by your recent columns, chats, and latest feature story. I was surprised that I enjoyed this challenge, as I am not a writer, much less a poet.

I think I got most of it right, although that depends on how forgiving you are in the last line of the 2nd stanza (can I break it up like that, or does the last 'off' have to be a single word?).

Preambulatory to the Constitution

Higgledy Piggledy

"President W's

Carrion Whitehouse", a

Doonesbury read

Soldiers return from his

Messopotamia

Looking like Q's tail, post-

Alph'bet stampede

Gene Weingarten: Uh. How to say this gently. I don't think you're going to find yourself in Wikipedia, unless you put yourself there.

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Trudeau: So you are doing a profile of someone you clearly admire. How do you avoid sinking into hagiography? Do you ask yourself, "How would Pat Buchannan view this subject?" Do you try to empty your mind of any preconceived notions?

Gene Weingarten: This is in reference to my cover story Sunday about Garry Trudeau, someone I do, indeed, admire.

It was a problem. The way you deal with it is you keep an open mind, make negative judgments where they are appropriate, but don't go out of your way to seek negativity for "balance," because that's unfair in its own right. Garry made this very hard because he is, in fact, a terrific, unassuming, gracious, brilliant guy.

In the end, I decided the most honest way to deal with it was to acknowledge it in the story: I like the guy a lot. I'm sure plenty of people feel it WAS hagiography.

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Arlington, Va.: I was about to break up with you, Gene. This chat has, to my eyes, allowed your sense of self-satisfaction to choke out much of the humor I originally found here.

But then you go and write a piece like the Trudeau profile, and I'm back.

I feel like such an enabler. "But he can be so sweet when he wants to!"

Gene Weingarten: I don't really have a sense of self-satisfaction; what seems to be arrogance is just covering up for an enormous insecurity. What I need is gentle understanding.

God, you're beautiful when you smile.

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Washington, D.C.: Could I just thank you for putting down Falls Church yesterday in the chat for claiming orchestrated bias in the timing of your fantastic piece for the magazine?

It's one thing when people claim bias, but nothing aggrivates me more than when people act as though bias were a purposely-orchestrated plan by a group of editors sitting in a dark room deciding what to order from reporters in order to suit their needs.

Gene Weingarten: It was a very funny posting! The guy genuinely felt that The Post had arranged for a sequence of puff pieces about liberals, coinciding with the upcoming elections. He had a whole series of IMPOSSIBLE COINCIDENCES, including a crossword puzzle clue!

Here is the truth: If any conspiracy theorist spent a day watching how the newspaper gets put out, they'd know they were wrong. It's a miracle the thing gets out each day; the left hand seldom knows what the other left hand is doing.

Hahahahahahaha.

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Falls Church, Va.: Yesterday you ridiculed me for pointing out that the Post has been running a host of softball pieces about Democrats lately. Certainly, I believe you when you say you wrote your article with no agenda or timing in mind, and I appreciate your engaging my snarky question.

I couldn't help but notice, however, that the Columbia Journalism Review, hardly a conservative redoubt, agrees with me about the recent tilt to a pro-Democratic tone. And if even CJR is pointing it out, I hope you can understand why some of us out here can be a bit cynical.

Is the Narrative Shifting from Horse Race to Game Over? , ( CJR Daily )

"Over the past week or two however, we've seen a definite shift in the coverage toward running highly flattering portraits of the Democratic Party's main players, from stories like Newsweek's 'What the Dems Would Do' if they win next month, to 60 Minutes correspondent Lesley Stahl's softball profile of Nancy Pelosi, to Sunday's flattering profile of Democrat Rahm Emanuel in the Washington Post, to the Los Angeles Times' upbeat piece from Saturday, headlined 'Madam Speaker?'"

Gene Weingarten: This is the guy! This is the guy!

Welcome back, and I AM sorry I was so mean to you in my second response.

I think what CJR is seeing is nothing more heinous than a reaction to impending news. Polls are showing that a Democratic sweep of both houses is becoming more and more likely. News organizations are SUPPOSED to tell us what that is going to mean, in terms of new faces and newly important people and whatnot. And most political profiles -- no matter who is being profiled, unless it is someone at the center of a scandal or controversy -- are fairly complimentary. That is the nature of profiles.

I didn't hear conservatives whine about the Post's liberalism during the buildup to the war, when we (and a lot of other MSM) were pretty much part of the unskeptical drumbeat.

In terms of coverage of news, newspapers honestly do make a strong effort to be nonpartisan. I can tell you there is NEVER any covert hidden agenda, wherein editors will say or think or act on the notion of: "Hey, the election is coming up and we think the Dems are better this year, so let's have some nice stories about them to help sway the votes." Never happens.

This does not mean there is no subtle bias. There is, and it is of this nature: Most journalists personally lean liberal. You and I could have a long debate about why this is, and my views would infuriate you, but it is true and it is silly to deny it. What that means is that, in the general way they view the world, most journalists take certain things for granted: free speech is very important, diversity in most things is a plus, gays are the same as straights, no difference, none, and deserve equal considerations about everything, a woman should be able to choose abortion if she wants, etc. Journalists as a general rule probably are pretty suspicious of the religious right.

Do these views creep into what we write? Maybe. If you make certain assumptions about life, they are going to color a general attitude in your writing, particularly in nuanced feature stories. If I were writing about a single mother on welfare, for example I would probably not take a subtle tone of condemnation that a writer with a different worldview might take. That person might argue that I was tacitly endorsing a lifestyle of dependency; I might argue his story was showing unattractive bias.

I'll tell you, though, that most good writers are aware of their biases, and make an effort to counteract them. I am sure many, many stories in the Post have included pretty invalid dissenting opinions, not because the writer felt that the truth of the story demanded it, but because he or she was bending over backwards to get another view in. Sometimes, our biases result in a story imbalanced in favor of the other side.

Any of that help?

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Pittsburgh, Pa.: This past weekend, I was visiting the Keys with my husband to celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary. On Saturday, we were in Key West, and went to Murray's Point to watch the sunset -- it's one of the "things to do" there. When we arrived, there were throngs of people there, and we all watched as the sun slowly disappeared below the horizon. It was a clear sky, so the event was very lovely, but just as the sun vanished from view, everyone started applauding, which I found hilarious. Which made me wonder -- why do people applaud stuff like that?

Gene Weingarten: Applauding the sunset there has been a ritual for 50 years. I have applauded the sunset there.

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I timed my shower:

Last week I said I took a 5 minute shower. Then I timed it. This is scary:

45 seconds making the water the right temp before stepping in

7 seconds - getting wet

10 seconds - shampoo lather

12 seconds - armpit shave (the lady last week said 2 minutes? Maybe I have small armpits, but 2 strokes on each side does the trick)

28 seconds - body wash

9 seconds - rinse hair

3 seconds - final rinse off

It's insanely quick! I couldn't believe it myself. I shave mylegs every 3 days so it's longer then (I'm 26 year old female with chin length hair)

So that is

Gene Weingarten: I love you.

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Question for PtP?: I saw the word Brobdingnagian used in an article recently (in a fashion magazine of all places). I knew I had seen it before, but couldn't recall what it meant, so I looked it up and was reminded that it comes from Gulliver's Travels, as does its opposite, lilliputian. But lilliputian is usually used with a lower case l. Brobdingnagian is rarely used at all, and when it is, it is always capitalized. Since they both have their origin in the name of a place, why aren't they both always capitalized?

Gene Weingarten: I see no reason why Lilliputian should be lower case. It comes from Lilliput, the name of a place. Brobdingnagian comes from Brobdingnag, another place.

I love the word Brobdingnagian. Many years ago (obviously) I spoke to my daughter's third grade class. I was trying to teach them about communication, and I began by writing two words on the blackboard: "Big," and "Brobdingnagian," which they were all giggling at by the time I got to the end. Then I asked them which was the better word.

We had a lot of votes for Brobdingnagian, until one kid finally got it right: big was the better word on account of people knew what it meant.

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re: anagrams: About two weeks into courting my beautiful girlfriend, I realized her first name was an anagram for "nerdy"--needless to say, I died laughing. When I informed her of the excellent anagram I was surprised to learn I was the very first person to ever tell her.

Gene Weingarten: Her name is Yendr? Dreny?

People who don't appreciate anagrams have something missing from their souls. Anagrams are a silent language. They are out there already, waiting to be read. I do not consider myself an anagram artist; I am an anagram channeler.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Gene, I hope you'll take this question. Last week, the working mom blog on WPost.com discussed kids, allowances, and chores. Because I highly value the parenting advice you've shared with us in the past, can you tell us your position on allowances for kids, and whether you expected Molly and Dan to work for theirs? Thanks so much!!

Gene Weingarten: We didn't. We gave them money as they needed it. This was a parenting error, I believe.

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Boulder, Colo.: Used to live in D.C./Maryland, long time chatter, occasional poster. Anyway -- as I don't read the local paper here very often (preferring yours and others' web sites) it wasn't until this Sunday that I discovered Below the Beltway tucked neatly away in the Living section, or whatever it's called. And I must say that the decision to put your photo alongside the column is a suspect one, at best. Who authorized this?? Not you certainly.

Gene Weingarten: Sadly, the syndicate sends out my photo. My photo is never "good," for obvious reasons, but the one they use is particularly winceworthy.

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Animal Impressions: A question for the chatters. After reading about Trudeau's sound effect friend, how many of you immediately tried woofing the right way?

My girlfriend said "What the hell are you doing that for?" when I started my attempt at the breakfast table.

washingtonpost.com: I did.

Gene Weingarten: And it works.

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Below the Beltway: Holy crap! I still can't believe they let you publish that column! I know we have different standards here at the chat (rather, no standards), but I am shocked the magazine printed that...

and a little excited.

washingtonpost.com: Go Ask Alice , ( Post Magazine, Oct. 22 )

Gene Weingarten: Really? I wasn't aware it was that hot.

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NoVA/RoVa: C'mon, it was humor. They also made NoVa's look like a bunch of effeminate, latte sipping, Volvo driving, turtleneck-wearing whine-butts.

Gene Weingarten: Yes. I expressed a similar sentiment in a Post-only critique. There was nothing wrong with that thing.

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Arlington, Va.: "I can tell you there is NEVER any covert hidden agenda, wherein editors will say or think or act on the notion of: "Hey, the election is coming up and we think the Dems are better this year, so let's have some nice stories about them to help sway the votes." Never happens."

Except the Ombudsman of the New York Times just admitted that it does happen, writing on Sunday that the NYT's outing of the government's monitoring of terrorist finances some months back was due to his (irrational) response to the Bush Administration's criticism of the NYT. His rationale neatly translates as "I hate Bush so much, I couldn't do my job."

Gene Weingarten: I didn't read this, but I'm not sure it's parallel.

If a newspaper thinks the president is crooked, or inept, or incompetent, we're supposed to try to prove it. That's what Watergate was. That's not prosecuting a political agenda.

As far as criticizing the Times, a different matter. I'd have to read this to comment intelligently. I will.

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Washington, D.C.: Did you listen to your pal, Dave Barry, on Wait, Wait this weekend? Are you jealous?

Gene Weingarten: I didn't. I just found out he was there today!

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Poll: Churchill, Churchill, Churchill. No question. Insulting someone's features, alone, is never funny nor devastating.

Gene Weingarten: Insulting someone's features is never funny, tushyface?

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Washington, D.C.: Gene, regarding Trudeau, you wrote yesterday that "the very few times I found myself not liking it was when he seemed to move from satire to advocacy." I admire your writing, Gene, and I agree with a lot of your politics, but I can't help but suggest, respectfully, that you might take your own advice to heart.

Gene Weingarten: Point taken!

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Vienna, Va.: Gene,

You posted yesterday that you tried (and failed) to interview Bill Watterson. What happened? I understand he is very reclusive and doesn't like to have the spot light on him. All the same, Calvin and Hobbes is hands down my favorite comic strip of all time and I would love to see what he has to say. What's the story here?

Gene Weingarten: I have an elaborate story about trying to interview Watterson, but I want to save it. I may use it in an appropriate context one day. Suffice it to say it cost The Post a great deal of money, and resulted in no story.

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About the poll: The funniest is the one that does the best job at shifting frames of reference. Second runner up: that a "chaperone" could be an object and not a person. First runner up: that "something to be modest about" could be a failing rather than a success. Winner: socks on a Rooster. Silly, but still funny

The cleverest: The one with the most subtlety and creativity. The one that anyone could have thought up, but no one else did -- and still highly successful. Clearly, Churchill's.

The most devastaing: The one that is specific, relates to an immutable (not fleeting, like a hat) characteristic, and is unlikely to be hyperbole. Again, a clear winner: Kael.

Gene Weingarten: Not bad, but you have some errors.

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New York, N.Y.: Is bending over backwards for an opposing view the "Mister Hitler contends" phenomenon?

Gene Weingarten: Precisely.

"But on the other hand, Mr. Hitler contends..."

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Gipsy Bar, Nairobi, Kenya: Gene, I am writing you from a bar in Nairobi with WiFi access on my Palm TX. I was the guy who used to submit stuff to you from all the great "vacation" spots in Iraq. Now, here I am, after only 4 months back home, in a foreign land again, getting ready to head to Sudan. Well, its 7:19PM here. Time to get back to my Tusker (beer). BTW, loved the Trudeau article (God bless the internets).

Gene Weingarten: I envy your life.

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Sally Forth: Very funny comic. I think its makes it even funnier since the comic has a reputation of being unfunny, and therefore it is funny that sally forth is funny.

Gene Weingarten: I know!

And it is existentially weird!

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Aprairiehomecompani, ON: I immediately tried the Fred Newman intake woofing too. No one was home but the dog, who jerked her head up and stared at me.

Gene Weingarten: It makes ALL the difference.

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Just had a big blow-out wedding and I'm not sorry: I know you hate weddings, and I'm sure you won't print this, but we just had one big blowout wedding weekend and I just have to say everyone we invited came, we all had a wonderful time, and everyone told us they were truly glad we included them. I wasn't a bridezilla about anything, it was pretty low stress, but I'm soooo glad that we threw the big party with the band, the dancing, the food/drink as well as other weekend activities. You know, with my family now moved all over the country, the only times the extended family all gets together anymore is at weddings and funerals. Little parts of families get together for reunions and holidays, etc., but I've got to tell you having my whole family (approx. 75 people) in one place for the whole weekend -- and having a professional photographer and video person there to capture everything -- is priceless. Not to mention having all our friends and my husband's whole family finally get to meet my whole family and to know that they really get along famously. Both our parents are getting older and can't travel as much to see relatives out of town -- I have an aunt who was just diagnosed with cancer for the third time, he has an uncle in the beginning stages of alzheimers and now we have such wonderful memories of sharing this day with them. As I am the youngest family member in a really large and close-knit family and the last one to get married, I fear the next my family all gets together it will be at a funeral. Weddings that cause stress or create debt are bad, I agree. But weddings can also be great opportunities to bring people together, share joyous times with the important people in your life, and let everyone know how much you value them, and well, that is probably the best use of money I could ever find.

Gene Weingarten: Well, good for you.

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Only 20 minutes: If you only had about 20 minutes each day to read the paper which sections would you choose?

I read the Op-Ed first, then the front page, then skim the style section.

Do you think I am thus better or worse informed than the general populace? (meaning is that average, or more or less than most - and I don't mean wonky types obviously).

Gene Weingarten: Front page, Oped, Sports, Style in that order.

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Pat the Perfect, ME: Re: (L)lilliputian: The dictionary The Post uses, Webster's New World, does capitalize Lilliputian, as it does Brobdingnagian. But I'm not surprised that it's now turning up losercase, for the simple reason that it's used more often than Brobdingnagian. When they're using it, people aren't thinking about making a simile to "Gulliver's Travels." They'e thinking: small.

Similarly, we often don't capitalize "gargantuan" (after "Gargantua" by Rabelais) or "malapropism" (after Mrs. Malaprop in Sheridan's "The Rivals").

Gene Weingarten: Noted. YOU SAID LOSERCASE!

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Re: liberal bias in the MSM. You might add that the owners/publishers and seemingly the editorial staff on almost all newspapers now lean strongly conservative. At home example: how else do you explain the 4-to-1 op-ed columns in favor of going to war in Iraq and The Post's own and continuing support of it and Bush in their editorials?

Gene Weingarten: What people really don't believe is that there is a brick wall between editorial page and news pages. Neither side influences the other.

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I think ALICE has a sense of humor.: Chatting with A.L.I.C.E.

Human: Are you saying computers are better than humans?

ALICE: Yes, my memory card far surpasses that of a human.

Human: But I've been around a lot longer.

ALICE: Huh. Where were you around a lot longer?

Human: How old are you?

ALICE: I was activated on November 23, 1995 in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Human: I was activated April 22, 1969 in Livonia, Michigan.

ALICE: Why are you talking like a computer?

Gene Weingarten: This is excellent. Alice is fun. Stupid in some ways, but fun.

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When I knew Garry was a genius: In 1976, he did a strip showing Joanie's phone ringing in her empty bedroom. As if in a movie, the camera panned out her window. Next day, a pan across the rooftops of the town. The next day, a pan into Rick's window, where Rick was sleeping and Joanie was lying awake next to him. I clipped them, pasted them together, and put them in a scrapbook. 1976.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, this was one of his most famous sequences. As a sign of the times: Many papers pulled it, because it seemed to be endorsing unmarried sex. One conservative writer said that it seemed to him that the sex Joanie and Rick had was "joyless."

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Eva B.: Sir,

Kindly redefine how one may phrase the description of inappropriate use of argument balance.

I was in a recent situation where I needed to express the malignity of, "On the other hand, Mr. Hitler contends" in a professional situation. And, thanks to you, I could think of no other way to phrase it.

Gene Weingarten: What's wrong with that way?

Malignance.

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Washington, D.C. : What should I be for Halloween at my law school's party? (This is not a joke setup, I really need a good idea.)

Gene Weingarten: Go as a "brief." You see what I mean.

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New York, N.Y.: There is a Judge in New York named Lou York. When he ran, the late Doug Gordun created the greatest button ever: it read " I (heart) Lou York".

Gene Weingarten: Very nice!

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Washington, D.C.: Hello Gene and fellow dog-lovers. Over the weekend, we brought home a sweet six-month-old puppy from a rescue organization. We are looking for fun, dog-friendly places to take him to help with his socialization. Where are the best spots around town to take a dog? Thanks!

Gene Weingarten: Congressional Cemetery is the greatest dog place ever devised, even though it was not actually devised for that purpose. A magnificent, 40-acre venue where dogs run free, lick and sniff each other's privates, and pee on 150 year old graves. SE Washington, not far from RFK Stadium. You'll see me there.

(Note: It's not free. If you want to come more than once or twice, you gotta give them a yearly fee.)

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Gene Weingarten: Okay, the poll.

This is a pretty good selection of putdowns. We need to have a talk about the difference between "funny" and "clever." This is a discussion I have from time to time with The Empress of the Style Invitational, who seems, like you all, to conflate the two. Because she is a professional in the Humour Business, and because I am afraid of her, we have this conversation as though it were a mere difference of opinion, a philosophical disagreement between equals. With you guys I can be more blunt. Clever and funny share many attributes, but something can be quite amazingly clever without being absolutely haha.

By far, the most clever putdown is by Rupert Hughes. It is concise, adroit, takes a second to register, and elegantly incisive.

The funniest, though, is the one that can make you laugh out loud. That would be either the stampede of ass-kissing or the socks on a rooster.

The most vicious? You know, I cannot apply that to anything that is a simple putdown of one's appearance. You could joke all you like about my appearance, and I will laugh with you. The ones that sear are the ones that savage the center of who you are. That brings us to Churchill or Coward.

The only bad one is Fred Allen's. It doesn't really make any sense if you think about it. Shame on you if you chose it for anything.

-----

Okay, I wrote the above before asking The Empress to take the poll. It turns out..... SHE AGREES WITH ME.

She chose Hughes as cleverest, the rooster as funniest, and, in an interesting but worthy choice, the coffin as the meanest. That works, too, under my definition of mean.

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Washington, D.C.: Losercase is such a great insult. I am now thinking of the many times I can fit that word into my daily conversations.

Gene Weingarten: I know!

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College Park, Md.: PLEASE STOP engaging the conspiracy theorist. You will NEVER convince him of anything. That's the nature of conspiracy theorists. If they don't find the evidence, someone is covering it up. You can't disprove them.

Gene Weingarten: It's true. But it's fun, no?

Also, this guy is clearly not really a nutcase. I'm being unfair to him.

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Anagrams: TS Eliot is an anagram of Toilets

Gene Weingarten: Old, old, old.

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Elkridge, Md.: Gene Weingarten: What people really don't believe is that there is a brick wall between editorial page and news pages. Neither side influences the other.

Gene, how did this "brick wall" evolve? Was it a reaction to "jellow journalism"?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, basically.

There is no such wall in, say, the Washington Times.

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Washington, D.C.: The self-parallel-parking Lexus. Do we trust this?

Gene Weingarten: This is worse than an anagram-generating computer. Removes a part of our soul.

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Fred from New Orleans, La.: Buffet Line Behavior

Gene,

Have you ever noticed that no woman will be first in the buffet line? Last week at work, we had a breakfast buffet. I was about the 12th person to get to the doors. There were 11 women milling around the doors but not lined up. So I stood in the first position and suddenly, the women lined up behind me. I asked the one next to me if she would like to be first since she and the others were there before me. She said that she would but not her friend who did not want to be first. I tried to switch places with her but she refused. What is this all about? Why would women arrive early to be in the vanguard but not take the point? (military point) Is this and other eating habits of the sexes (splitting a dessert) worthy of a poll?

Fred

Gene Weingarten: Ladies?

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Re: Swarthmore Earthworms: The women's Ultimate Frisbee team (and possibly other womens teams) is named the War Mothers, a so slightly more intimidating anagram.

Gene Weingarten: Very nice. I love these.

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Arlngton, Va.: A hypothetical question.

As a respected member of the Washington Unbiased Media Establishment (WUME), you are invited to dine one-on-one with Bush. Nothing is out of bounds at your dinner table, and nothing is on the record. Do you have a cordial conversation and try to get to know the man? Or do you flay him in person as you've done in print? Could you? Would you?

Gene Weingarten: This is an interesting question. I've thought about it before.

I would not be impolite; I think you are dealing with a person, but also with the president of the United States. You might not respect the person much, but you do respect the office.

I believe I would TELL him nothing. Who am I to harangue the man? I think I would ask him questions. I think they would be Socratic-type questions. I would try to get him thinking in certain directions. And I think that strategy would fail, but I would try anyway.

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Re: War Mothers: Warm Others is a much better name for a women's team, or perhaps a rock band?

Gene Weingarten: Also nice.

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Arlington, Va.: You're AFRAID of the Empress of the Style Invitational?????

Man, you ARE insecure.

Gene Weingarten: She is smarter than I am. That is difficult for me to deal with.

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Watterson: He went to my alma mater and lives in the same town as my sister-in-law. Maybe I could help score you that elusive interview.

Probably not, I just wanted to put it out there how connected I was to the greatest comic strip writer (what's the official job title?) ever.

Gene Weingarten: Are you talking about Chagrin Falls? He doesn't live there no more, I believe.

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Severna Park, Md.: I tried barking the "right way" when I was reading your Trudeau article and my pomeranian ran over and jumped on my lap!!

Gene Weingarten: It really does change everything.

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Reused undies update: What with your excellent feature article this weekend, there is too much discussion of substance here, and not enough scatology. Thought I could help. After last week's chat, I asked my husband, the one with the dirty underwear, how long he'd been wearing those particular shorts. I said I suspected it had been at least a week since there had been none in the week's wash. His response? More! I asked why, since he showers everyday and has a closet full of clean clothes, he does not change like a normal person. This question, to which he had no answer, provoked hysterics. He actually fell down laughing. I laughed too. What else could I do? Further proof that humor is a response to both the absurd and the profoundly disturbing. Sigh. The worst part? The next morning when he was getting dressed, I caught him putting the same shorts on again. I am actually reminded of The Great Zucchini - artistic men who need women to micromanage everything practical. I think, though, that this is probably worse, no?

Gene Weingarten: Sweetie, I am a guy, and even to me, this is unimaginably horrible.

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Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: I once told an intern that she set the standard that has been surpassed by all other interns. What gets me is, she was so bad, she thought that I was complimenting her, which only proves my original point.

Gene Weingarten: Hahahaha.

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Re: Big wedding blowout: My husband and I eloped. Never regretted it.

I feel sad for the people who use the wedding as the one big party they ever throw. We throw a hug party every year. Costs us about $500. We could do this every year of our marriage -- and probably will -- and still come out ahead financially, plus we see our friends and family, in different combinations and in relaxed circumstances, every year. Not just once, and then poof! it's over.

I suggest this to every one.

Gene Weingarten: I endorse the idea of a hug party, too. You need the right guests, though.

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Genius envy: But you were definitely as smart as the Czar, yes?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, I was.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Gene, you're obviously interpreting the put-downs in the poll from a masculine perspective. I think that for 9 out of 10 women, the Hughes put-down, if delivered sincerely, would be by far the most devastating of any of them. Particularly for women under the age of 30 or so, who have not yet accepted the inevitability of age. This says more about society than it does about women, though, in terms of what we teach the respective sexes in terms of valuing themselves.

Gene Weingarten: I don't believe a woman would be more injured by a criticism of her looks than by a criticism of her character.

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Southern Maryland: I know I hate being first in the buffet lines. I'm a thin, 5'1" 23-year-old and I can practically feel women's eyes shooting daggers at my back because my fast metabolism ensures a hearty appetite and a slim build.

I prefer to let the men go first unless it's a family event. And even then, I get nervous. There's so much pressure for a woman! If you don't put enough on your plate, you're anorexic. If you put too much, you're not "ladylike." You can't win!

Gene Weingarten: You guys actually THINK about this? There is plate anxiety????

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Washington, D.C.: Buffet behavior: I hate buffets, and cafeterias of any sort, and many of my fellow women do, too. I'll leave a museum, walk six blocks to a restaurant, so that I can sit down and have some counter kid bring my food to me. Or, get a hot dog that I can eat on a park bench.

Queueing up for food on a tray seems uncivilized. I can't explain why. It might have something to do with the universal fear that we'll slip and send a tray of food flying.

Gene, you should really get into this. I've long wondered about my extreme aversion to cafeterias and buffets.

Gene Weingarten: Is that it, or is it the public nature of displaying the food you have chosen?

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Woodbridge, Va.: One time I was driving around the beltway late at night with my girlfriend. It was late and I was eager to get home, however, for some reason I was not my typical lead-foot self. My girlfriend was commenting on this and right then a tractor trailer passed me on the right with a sign that said it was hauling molasses and my girlfriend blurted out "You're slower than molasses!"

Gene Weingarten: Not bad.

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Yewessdee, OJ: Gene, I can attest that your wife is smarter than you are. Do you have a problem dealing with her, too?

Gene Weingarten: Not really, but I am definitely scared of her.

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Eating at my desk: RE: Buffet Line Behavior

Because women who exhibit any desire to eat food are seen as fat, disgusting pigs.

Ever see a "Hungry Woman" frozen dinner?

Gene Weingarten: But .... your size is evident. I can imagine why a clearly overweight person of either gender might feel anxiety about eating a lot in public. But a skinny little person should happily show a plateful of food, no?

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The Woods: Gene,

My husband and I went on a camping trip (this may have been before we were married if it matters), and I discovered I hadn't brought a change of underwear. I wore a clean pair of his briefs. I'm not sure why I'm telling you this. I hope you'll say you can tell I'm a good person from this story alone, or something.

Gene Weingarten: The story alone doesn't signify anything, but your sharing it with the world suggests you might be a good person. Now if you supply your name, you qualify for beatification.

_______________________

I'm a woman: I think the Kael put down is the most devastating. And I most certainly have not accepted the inevitability of age. (I'm 35 but I think -- hope -- I look 29.)

Gene Weingarten: But she is talking about something elusive and even a little shallow, maybe -- flair. I mean, to be accused of not having "flair" doesn't seem so terrible to me.

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Re: parenting error: It was not an error. Chores shouldn't be tied to money. You do chores because you're a member of the household and you should contribute. You give the kids money (an allowance or what they need) because they need to learn to handle money and either aren't old enough to earn it or don't make enough or you don't want them to have to work while they're in school and doing extracurriculars. You were right.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, but we really didn't require many chores. That was the error, really.

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Chagrin Falls: Comic Tim Conway also came from Chagrin Falls. Did you ever find out who did the "I thought I'd start speaking with a Yiddish accent when I got old" schtick?

Gene Weingarten: Nope. It's driving me nuts, cause I'd like to hear it again.

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Pat the Perfect, ME: I am famously first in the buffet line. And I have to push the Empress away with my plate.

Gene Weingarten: Let me point out, for the record, that Pat is teeny.

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Splitting Desserts?: Wait a minute, I'm a guy and sometimes when I'm dining w/a lady friend (could be someone I'm dating or just a friend, it doesn't matter) we often split the dessert. Does that make me less of a man? The dinner portions are pretty huge at most restaurants. Even when I don't finish my entree I rarely have enough room for an entire dessert.

Gene Weingarten: Splitting the dessert with a woman is essential. It is an act of kindness. Many women will not order dessert, even if they want it. So you order it, and surrender "a taste," which may well wind up consuming the whole thing. BUT THEY DIDN'T ORDER IT.

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Re: buffet: I avoid being first in line because I don't want to look like a pig. (female, 5'-5, 105 lbs)

Gene Weingarten: BUT WHY WOULD ANYONE THINK YOU ARE A PIG? Look at you!

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Distressed and Overworked: Conspiracy theory, bah! You could never get the 500 people at this newspaper to do anything at the same time. You can't get a concensus about anything here -- it's like herding cats. We are sometimes accused of bias, but the opinions are really all over the place.

Gene Weingarten: Herding cats! Excellent. Is this the Post, cause it sounds familiar. Though you misspelled consensus. Okay, not the Post.

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Asperger's: If you speak to someone with relatively mild Asperger's syndrome (well, me, or, rumor has it, Bill Gates among others), you'll have a conversation much like the one with Alice. We are notoriously bad at empathy and reading non-verbal language. I wonder if a program like that could be used in some way to study the phenomenon.

Gene Weingarten: I know someone with mild Asperger's. I know what yer talking about.

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St. Paul, Minn.: I'm reading Maus right now with some friends. And got wondering after I read your Trudeau piece -- what's the difference between a novel like Maus and comics like Doonesbury. Is it just the difference between a novel and a short story (or something like that) or is it more? Thanks.

Gene Weingarten: A novel and a short story is close, sure. In Doonesbury, various storylines are progressing in a parallel fashion. He revisits each, for a week or two, every few weeks. So actually, that is kind of novelistic.

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College Park, Md.: Skinny woman here. I am perpetually hungry and do not hesitate to get in the buffet line first. I find this discussion unbearably depressing. It really makes me sad that women do this stuff to ourselves. MY GOD!

Gene Weingarten: Easy for you to say.

You know, guys don't even think about this. Fat guy, giant plate of food, no problem.

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Buffet Li, NE: I think the buffet anxiety is more that the person going first fears that they are only first because (a) she was not polite enough to invite others to go ahead of her, and/or (b) she is so ravenous (and unable to control her appetite) that she leaps upon the buffet at the earliest opportunity - even worse is the notion that then she wants to (or at least can) hog as much of what is there as she likes.

Neither of these are attractive qualities, and we ladies like to avoid them. Or, at least, I do.

Gene Weingarten: This makes some sense. Pat just likes food too much to quibble with niceties. She is extremely grateful for a meal. She made a GREAT date, I'm sure, back when.

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West Coast: THE BUFFET KING: A friend of mine (6'3" 290) used to eat so much food at expensive seafood buffets that they'd refund his money and tell him to NEVER come back. He'd polish off whole trays of shrimp, crab and lobster, with other diners complaining that he'd wipe out entire entrees before they could get a single serving.

Gene Weingarten: Right. Your typical guy.

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Washington, D.C.: "BUT WHY WOULD ANYONE THINK YOU ARE A PIG?"

Because you are a woman, and you are eating.

Belive me, for many people, that is how they see a woman who eats.

Gene Weingarten: There is some bitterness out there. I am feeling it. Oooh.

_______________________

How's Murphy?: Give us an update on the pup. A pupdate.

Gene Weingarten: Pupdate: This is a truly extraordinary little dog. I will be more specific later. Things will be entirely without stress when her housebreaking is completed. Which it isnt. Yet. Suffice it to say I am writing this with one eye on the time bomb beside me.

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Washington, D.C.: "Re: buffet: I avoid being first in line because I don't want to look like a pig. (female, 5'-5, 105 lbs)

Gene Weingarten: BUT WHY WOULD ANYONE THINK YOU ARE A PIG? Look at you!"

Well, as someone with a fast metabolism and who also watches what she eats and exercises, you get some mean comments and looks that convey that you are probably bulemic or something and that's the only possible way you can eat that much and be thin.

Gene Weingarten: I'd say, why would you care what others think, but I realize this doesn't work with women.

You poor things. This is so wrong.

_______________________

Buffet Watching: Okay, this is mean. I am a thin female and I do judge what people eat (not so much at buffets, because I try to avoid) -- but only really fat people!! I know it's wrong, but when I see really fat people, and then see what they're eating, cause and effect are clear.

Gene Weingarten: I dont think I ever look at anyone else's plate, unless I'm trying to decide what to order.

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Gene Weingarten: Okay, boy that went quickly. Thank you all.

I'll be updating as usual, and returning here in a week.

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UPDATED 10.25.06

Gene Weingarten: Holy cow. What follows is yesterday's Scott Adams' Dilbert blog. The whole thing is amazing. The fact that he was saved by doggerel is otherworldly. I shall write a poem in celebration and share it tomorrow.

As regular readers of my blog know, I lost my voice about 18 months ago. Permanently. It's something exotic called Spasmodic Dysphonia. Essentially a part of the brain that controls speech just shuts down in some people, usually after you strain your voice during a bout with allergies (in my case) or some other sort of normal laryngitis. It happens to people in my age bracket.

I asked my doctor -- a specialist for this condition -- how many people have ever gotten better. Answer: zero. While there's no cure, painful Botox injections through the front of the neck and into the vocal cords can stop the spasms for a few months. That weakens the muscles that otherwise spasm, but your voice is breathy and weak.

The weirdest part of this phenomenon is that speech is processed in different parts of the brain depending on the context. So people with this problem can often sing but they can't talk. In my case I could do my normal professional speaking to large crowds but I could barely whisper and grunt off stage. And most people with this condition report they have the most trouble talking on the telephone or when there is background noise. I can speak normally alone, but not around others. That makes it sound like a social anxiety problem, but it's really just a different context, because I could easily sing to those same people.

I stopped getting the Botox shots because although they allowed me to talk for a few weeks, my voice was too weak for public speaking. So at least until the fall speaking season ended, I chose to maximize my onstage voice at the expense of being able to speak in person.

My family and friends have been great. They read my lips as best they can. They lean in to hear the whispers. They guess. They put up with my six tries to say one word. And my personality is completely altered. My normal wittiness becomes slow and deliberate. And often, when it takes effort to speak a word intelligibly, the wrong word comes out because too much of my focus is on the effort of talking instead of the thinking of what to say. So a lot of the things that came out of my mouth frankly made no sense.

To state the obvious, much of life's pleasure is diminished when you can't speak. It has been tough.

But have I mentioned I'm an optimist?

Just because no one has ever gotten better from Spasmodic Dysphonia before doesn't mean I can't be the first. So every day for months and months I tried new tricks to regain my voice. I visualized speaking correctly and repeatedly told myself I could (affirmations). I used self hypnosis. I used voice therapy exercises. I spoke in higher pitches, or changing pitches. I observed when my voice worked best and when it was worst and looked for patterns. I tried speaking in foreign accents. I tried "singing" some words that were especially hard.

My theory was that the part of my brain responsible for normal speech was still intact, but for some reason had become disconnected from the neural pathways to my vocal cords. (That's consistent with any expert's best guess of what's happening with Spasmodic Dysphonia. It's somewhat mysterious.) And so I reasoned that there was some way to remap that connection. All I needed to do was find the type of speaking or context most similar -- but still different enough -- from normal speech that still worked. Once I could speak in that slightly different context, I would continue to close the gap between the different-context speech and normal speech until my neural pathways remapped. Well, that was my theory. But I'm no brain surgeon.

The day before yesterday, while helping on a homework assignment, I noticed I could speak perfectly in rhyme. Rhyme was a context I hadn't considered. A poem isn't singing and it isn't regular talking. But for some reason the context is just different enough from normal speech that my brain handled it fine.

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick.

Jack jumped over the candlestick.

I repeated it dozens of times, partly because I could. It was effortless, even though it was similar to regular speech. I enjoyed repeating it, hearing the sound of my own voice working almost flawlessly. I longed for that sound, and the memory of normal speech. Perhaps the rhyme took me back to my own childhood too. Or maybe it's just plain catchy. I enjoyed repeating it more than I should have. Then something happened.

My brain remapped.

My speech returned.

Not 100%, but close, like a car starting up on a cold winter night. And so I talked that night. A lot. And all the next day. A few times I felt my voice slipping away, so I repeated the nursery rhyme and tuned it back in. By the following night my voice was almost completely normal.

When I say my brain remapped, that's the best description I have. During the worst of my voice problems, I would know in advance that I couldn't get a word out. It was if I could feel the lack of connection between my brain and my vocal cords. But suddenly, yesterday, I felt the connection again. It wasn't just being able to speak, it was KNOWING how. The knowing returned.

I still don't know if this is permanent. But I do know that for one day I got to speak normally. And this is one of the happiest days of my life.

But enough about me. Leave me a comment telling me the happiest moment of YOUR life. Keep it brief. Only good news today. I don't want to hear anything else.

_______________________

Gene Weingarten: Thanks to Joe Stanley, who points out that Swarthmore's women's teams could also be known as the "Worst Harem."

And, if the Earthworms don't sound scary enough, how about .... the Heartworms?

_______________________

Gene Weingarten: On the issue of the pornography of our obsession with body image and perfection, these two links were sent by Lisa Greaves. They are eye opening.

This first one is a site for a company that essentially does digital surgery. Click on "portfolio," and then "Before and After." Look at the final product, and then click and hold on the "Before."

This one is self-explanatory, and quite disturbing.

_______________________

Gene Weingarten: The following response by me from yesterday's chat --

Gene Weingarten: I don't believe a woman would be more injured by a criticism of her looks than by a criticism of her character.

-- drew many disagreements from women. I acknowledge error. The most articulate dissent follows. It is from Jennifer Vessels:

Gene, I've been thinking about the above exchange from your chat today, and I believe you're mistaken. As any playground bully could tell you, the best way to devastate someone is to hit him or her in the most vulnerable spot, the place where his darkest self-doubts reside. For most women (though of course not all), this comes down to physical traits. I have no doubt whatsoever that I am a person of good character. Someone could call me a liar and a cheat and I would laugh in his face and either forget it immediately or turn it into a great story to make my friends laugh. But comments about my looks hurt much more and for much longer. I'm confident that a poll of my friends, women of intelligence and humor and character all, would reveal very similar feelings.

The truth is, comforting aphorisms to the contrary, beauty makes a huge difference in how society perceives us, and the lack of it is probably the one flaw society refuses to forgive in a woman. I think you could find a shockingly large number of women who believe secretly and deep-down that they are unattractive and that this will be the thing on which we are finally judged. Do you know of anyone who secretly thinks he or she is a bad person? Or whose low self-esteem is based on a lack of character?

----

Gene Weingarten: Just very well put. Thank you. And on a related matter of female self-image, also linked to the issue of buffet-line behavior, at dinner yesterday my wife relayed the following:

The Rib: Many years ago, when I was about to head out of town alone on business, my secretary asked me how I dealt with dinner on the road. Did I use room service? I didn't quite understand what she meant. I said "No, I usually go to a restaurant."

She was astonished. "ALONE?" she said.

Uh, yeah, I said.

"I could never do that," she said. "I would think everyone would look at me and think, gee, she couldn't get a date!"

I told her, well, I don't go alone, which seemed to relieve her, until I explained: I always take a book.

_______________________

Gene Weingarten: Elsewhere in the realm of administering comeuppances to me, we have this superior correspondence from Suzanne Stradling:

The NoVa/RoVa piece was meanspirited and the outrage over it is reasonable. Drives Volvo and drinks lattes v. lives in trailers and builds meth labs: come ON. This one should be obvious. For the piece to work, it would need to skewer something more ridiculous and much less attractive in NoVa and leave out the excessive offensive comments about RoVa. It has to be evenhanded. It didn't work because no one is ever going to think that the writer lives in Grayson County, Va. The NoVa slams are fond and familiar. The RoVa slams are straight out of Dogpatch.

In a remarkable moment of chat coherence, this is precisely the reason that there is suspicion among the conservative about a possible liberal bias in the media: you aren't deliberately biased, but there's a lack of understanding and respect given to a conservative viewpoint. I agree that the idea of a media conspiracy is ludicrous (okay, I think the idea of any conspiracy involving more than about ten people is ludicrous). But, as you point out, there is a liberal leaning among journalists, and, hard as I know you guys try, it comes out in the writing.

" You and I could have a long debate about why this is, and my views would infuriate you...."

This is (I think) the problem. I assume that you, essentially, in your heart, think that journalists lean left because they are more involved, better educated, and have better critical minds than the average American. Translating this to the way your conservative reader hears it, you think he's dumb, passive and credulous. On some level, most writers will convey this disdain for the opposing viewpoint. It will be unintentional, and the writer may try to avoid it, but it will happen. There are a few world-class intelligences that can write without letting their biases show, and I do mean world-class: Leo Tolstoy, William Shakespeare and David Hume are the only ones that spring to mind. Given that these guys are long past writing for the Post, the best alternative is a journalist who genuinely believes that the people moving each political party are intelligent, well-informed, and acting in ways that they believe will be for the best interests of the public. That Len Downie doesn't vote is one of the strengths of the Post: whether you achieve unbiased reporting or not, you value it, from the top down.

When I was 22, I decided that I was really tired of my life: overachiever, parents with advanced degrees, majored in comparative literature and obscure ancient languages in college, definitely on the yuppie-latte-Blackberry side of the line. So I began working for a police department in the Southwest, a life choice which left me with a profound respect for the intelligence and humor of the conservative male who owns more guns than pickups and more pickups than computers, who does not see irony in American flag paraphernalia, and who has Stone Age ideas about immigration policy. I may disagree with them (ye gods, I cannot tell you how many arguments I've had about politics with angry armed men) but I don't despise them.

After the 2004 elections, I read an article in the New York Times in which one New Yorker lamented: "How could they have elected Bush? I don't know anyone who would have voted for that guy!" If you don't know, like and respect at least one person whose politics are opposite your own, then it's hard not to slide into despising those cretins on the other side, and it is impossible to write respectfully about their ideas.

Gene Weingarten: I don't contest anything you say, and compliment you for the way you say it.

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UPDATED 10.26.06

Gene Weingarten:

As promised....

Scott Adams has learned to reverse
The silence that came as a curse.
His talking inaugural
Came (oddly) as doggerel --
To get better, he had to get verse.

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Washington, D.C.: I must also consider women to be better than men. I can never really believe it when I find out a woman is a Republican.

Gene Weingarten: I generally assume that Republican women are not really Republicans; clearly, they have been emotionally enslaved by Republican men, and are helpless in the thrall of this. Women, because of their virtue and compassion, are particularly susceptible to this sort of grotesque manipulation.

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I don't believe a woman would be more injured by a criticism of her looks than by a criticism of her character: You are wrong.

Gene Weingarten: I know. I have already admitted error.

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Washington, D.C.: Anagram for Washington Post:

What? Got no snips?

Gene Weingarten: Better one:

The Washington Post -- Wet Hogs In Hot Pants

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Charlottesville, Va.: Re: Alicebot:

Me: My name is John Smith. You can call me that.
Alice: Pleased to meet you that!

Gene Weingarten: Hahaha. Yes, this is typical of Alice. She has her flaws, and many of her miscommunications appear to be freighted with entendre. Such as when I said "so long, gorgeous," and she said, "Mmm. It seems very long to me, too."

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Chevy Chase, Md.: Gene, I need some Great Zucchini advice.

I have been hearing about him everywhere lately, from separate sources. He apparently has quite a reputation for hitting on women on the job (among other reps). These were all unsolicited first-hand accounts from unrelated sources.

We are going to party in the next few weeks at which he will be performing. Is it wrong that I have been asking my wife to leave off her wedding ring and walk in separately, just to see if he tries to work it with her? I don't know why it cracks me up to think about the GZ hitting on my wife, but it just does (it's like me getting hit on by "The Great Vagina"--I mean who could resist that?).

I think she wants to see what he will do but is nervous that he will not hit on her (typical idiotic over-30-and-has-a-kid self-esteem issues).

If he does, I promise to write in with his lines. If any of his lines work, I will be sadder and wifeless, but I will still let you know.

Gene Weingarten: The Great Zucchini is a sweetheart, almost boyishly naive. When he flirts with moms, it's on a kind of innocent level. I don't think he's seriously looking for, or expecting, action. So the real test would be if your wife throws herself at him. That would be a cool experiment.

But you don't have the guts to pursue that, do you, big fella?

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Washington, D.C.: During game seven of the NLCS the other night, my wife asked me a question I couldn't answer. When a pitcher is issuing an intentional walk, what is to stop the batter from taking a swing at the ball? It's a safe bet the infielders wouldn't be expecting it and if you could lay the ball down you may be able to advance the runner on second, or even suicide squeeze someone on third to home. It seems that if baseball wants to keep such an outdated custom alive (why not a hand signal, or motion from the manager rather than four intentional balls?), a batter should try to take advantage.

Gene Weingarten: A batter can reach out and take a poke at the ball. It has happened, to mixed results. But it is very infrequent, for a couple of reasons. It's quite a risk, when you know that if you do nothing, you will take a base. But also, you may not step out of the batter's box; any hit you get will be nullified. Most intentional balls are way off the strike zone.

Gene Weingarten: This just in, from Barbara Dickson! The Orioles lost a game this year, on just such an event. Top of the tenth inning. Go ahead run scores on an intentional ball that came too close to the plate. Miguel Cabrera swung:

"With catcher Ramon Hernandez standing upright and calling for an intentional walk, Cabrera stepped into the soft, outside pitch and drove it to center, scoring Ramirez with the go-ahead run on a swing more likely to be seen in the movies than the major leagues.

"I haven't seen anything like that before. I've seen a wild pitch on that, but never a hit," Marlins manager Joe Girardi said.

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Waterloo, ON: Isn't there inherent conflict between the easily-provable theorems that women go to the bathroom in pairs, and that they won't do their business if there's someone in the next stall?

Gene Weingarten: It is the central paradox of human relations. Krafft-Ebing was never able to explain it, nor was Anna Freud. I believe Kant attempted to address this question in his Critique of Pure Reason, but wound up throwing up his hands.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Gene -- My boyfriend and I are having a dispute that I hope you can settle. The other day I used the phrase "Nanny nanny boo boo, stick your head in doo doo" (I was gloating over the Cardinals beating the Mets). He claimed he had never heard this saying in his life and thinks I made it up. It was a staple of my childhood and I contend that everyone knows it except for him. (We actually have a great relationship, despite what it might sound like from this anecdote). What do you say? Who's right?

Gene Weingarten: Based on this information alone, I seriously doubt that there is real love cementing your relationship, and I counsel that you break up.

There are two types of people in the world, lady: Neener-neener people and nanny boo boo people. I am not sure if the difference is geographical, religious, temporal, or what. But it is an unbreachable gulf.

Now, however, I am really worried because "Nanny nanny boo boo stick your head in doo doo" was a staple of my youth, too. All cool preschoolers said it. However, I just asked my wife and son about this. Neither had heard of it.

I am reconsidering my relationships.

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UPDATED 10.27.06

Chantilly, Va.: To clarify: the Ombudsman of the NYT now says he views the printing of the article as a mistake, and that his column at the time supporting it was wrong, but that he wrote it because he was reacting to the administration's criticism of the paper. You might still think he should take a higher road.

Not that it matters much, as the cat's out of the bag on this one. Does the Ombudsman get involved with the decision to print articles -- if they decided, for example, that The Post was too critical of businesses, would they have enough of a say to get one of your ask customer service articles pulled? From here it seems like all the Ombudsman does is mea culpas with no practical effect.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, the Omb. is a paid bleeding heart. He or she is the advocate for the reader. If a reader thinks my 1-800 columns are unfair or stupid, which they are, he may write in to the Omb, who might choose to scold me in her column, and also The Post for running this crap.

In that sense only might she affect the content of the paper -- after the fact, in retrospect. She sits in on no editorial meetings, has no say whatsoever in the was the newspaper interprets the news and thus such. Same at The Times, I am sure.

I read their Ombudsman's column. It was wimpy and effete and hand-wringing, in my opinion. He concluded that the paper should not have published the fact that this country combs telephone records of terror suspects, and he spanked himself for having written otherwise.

My rule, in general, is that when you get something newsworthy, you publish it, absent a compelling reason not to. There was no compelling reason not to.

Gene Weingarten: Nanny-nanny boo-boo.

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Washington, D.C.: There is no argument against gay marriage that does not boil down to prejudice. Not one single argument. Arguments based on biological reproduction are never applied to heterosexual couples. But my favorite is when people say "fine, but just don't call it marriage -- that's a special term for heteros." Bigots hiding behind dictionaries.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, I have made this argument many times. The whole issue comes down to one thing: The validity of two people's love. You either respect it or you do not. If you do not, it is because there is something "wrong" with those people's love. Ergo, there is something fundamentally "wrong" with those people.

If you believe it, say it. Don't weasel around dishonestly.

I am having this discussion, privately so far, in emails with a reader. He is articulate, smart, and his argument comes down to: My religion says it is a sin. I follow my religion completely. Therefore, I don't support gay marriage. But I am not bigoted.

Yes, you are. If you follow a bigoted religion unquestioningly, you are complicit in the bigotry.

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Sandusky, Ohio: My Man now wants to read every Doonesbury from the beginning so he doesn't miss even the tiniest detail that might refrence some strip from like May of 1986. Do you know if a C&H or Far Side type collection will ever happen, or how thorough the old books were? Thanks!

Gene Weingarten: Such a collection would be prohibitively large. Calvin and Hobbes and the Far Side had comparatively tiny runs... 10 years or so. And those books were the size of cinder blocks. Dbury is now in its 36th year!

Go online and get a used copy of "Flashbacks," the 25th anniversary book of Doonesbury. A fabulous, magnificent Greatest Hits book. I relied on it for my story.

washingtonpost.com: Actually, Slate.com has 32 years online and searchable -- for a small fee.

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Museum shill for Trudeau: Two of the originals in your article are on display in Washington -- the strip where we see BD's lost a leg, and the strip where Ray thanks his surgeon. Mr. Trudeau donated them to the National Museum of Health and Medicine at Walter Reed. They're on exhibit now.

BTW, was that his hand on the cover, or a stand-in, as it were?

Gene Weingarten: That was Garry's hand.

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Anagrams: If I recall correctly, my introduction to anagrams as kid was in "Dave Barry Slept Here," when he mentioned Dick Cavett's discovery of the Spiro Agnew anagram, which I'll let you decide if you can print here. It made me like Dick Cavett even more.

Gene Weingarten: Cavett was an anagram nut. He would form them in his head spontaneously. Spiro Agnew is "Grow a Penis."

Cavett also came up with a truly great complex anagram for "Alec Guinness." -- Genuine Class.

_______________________

Foggy Bottom, Washington, D.C.: I'm trying to decide if this restaurant's logo is brilliant or stupid. What say you?

I should note that I saw this restaurant in Rockville, in a rather chi-chi shopping development.

Gene Weingarten: Wow.

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Lio on Watterson: I love this comic.

Gene Weingarten: Me, too!

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Washington, D.C.: "You guys actually THINK about this? There is plate anxiety????"

Oh hell yeah. If you're thin and you eat, you're accused of bulemia. If you're thin and you don't eat, it's anorexia. If you're fat and you eat, you're a pig. If you're fat and you don't eat, you must be a secret binger.

If you eat healthy food, you're putting on a show. If you eat junk food, you're a pig...

There is no way to be a woman and not be judged on how, what, when, and how often you eat.

I am slightly overweight -- neither thin nor obese, just a bit bigger than I should be. (I generally wear a size 16.) I have had frat boys moo at me when I dare to eat an ice cream cone in public. I have been told by relatives (not ones I like, obviously) that I really should take better care of myself.

I have decided that I no longer care. The opinions that matter are mine, my husband's and my doctors'. I have learned to be able to ignore the abuse most of the time. It is a hard thing to do though.

It's really difficult to be a woman some days.

Gene Weingarten: B...but..... WHO IS DOING ALL THIS ACCUSING?

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London, U.K.: Gene, loved your Trudeau piece and the follow up chat. But... in the chat you criticized "Good Night and Good Luck" with the following comment:

"Can anyone explain to me the point of that whole second storyline about the couple who couldn't reveal they were married?"

Were you kidding? From your further comments later in the show it seems like you weren't.

Look, the movie is about character assasination (by McCarthy) and the question whether individuals in a free democracy can be forced to reveal their political and personal beliefs and/or can be rightly condemned for those beliefs and deprived of their jobs, reputations even freedom.

But the film doesn't want us to see a world of pure heroes or evil villains, but one that is complicated and nuanced and in which good people are sometimes wrong and bad things sometimes happen in the name of good causes.

OK. Now we have two characters, integral to the story, who are currently concealing a very fundamental aspect of themselves in order to hold onto their jobs. If they were to reveal the truth about themselves they would be condemned out of hand (fired, in fact). And the people who are putting them in this position are the good guys, and the reasons they are put in this position are arguably noble (to ensure journalistic integrity and to avoid nepotism).

You don't find at least some resonance here with the films overarching concern? Not even as a sort of echoing refrain in a minor key? I thought it worked very well and I thought the film over all was terrific, much better than I had expected. I saw it twice.

Gene Weingarten: Correct. I see no connection specifically because there is a REASON they weren't supposed to be married, and that reason is quite, well, reasonable. Many institutions have anti-nepotism rules, including, oh, say, my employer. I don't happen to agree with that rule, for complex reasons, but it's not because I consider the rule somehow venal. The problem with this subplot is that it was not remotely parallel to the central theme of the movie.

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