Chatological Humor (UPDATED 8.10.07)

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Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 7, 2007; 12:00 PM

DAILY UPDATES: 8.08.07| 8.09.07| 8.10.07

Gene Weingarten's humor column, Below the Beltway, appears every Sunday in The Washington Post magazine. It is syndicated nationally by the Washington Post Writers Group.

At one time or another, Below the Beltway has managed to offend persons of both sexes as well as individuals belonging to every religious, ethnic, regional, political and socioeconomic group. If you know of a group we have missed, please write in and the situation will be promptly rectified. "Rectified" is a funny word.

On Tuesdays at noon, Gene is online to take your questions and abuse. He will chat about anything. Although this chat is updated regularly throughout the week, it is not and never will be a "blog," even though many persons keep making that mistake. One reason for the confusion is the Underpants Paradox: Blogs, like underpants, contain "threads," whereas this chat contains no "threads" but, like underpants, does sometimes get funky and inexcusable.

A transcript follows.

Important, secret note to readers: The management of The Washington Post apparently does not know this chat exists, or it would have been shut down long ago. Please do not tell them. Thank you.

Weingarten is also the author of "The Hypochondriac's Guide to Life. And Death" and co-author of "I'm with Stupid," with feminist scholar Gina Barreca.

New to Chatological Humor? Read the FAQ.

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Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon.

Today, for the second week in a row, we begin with yet another unnerving glimpse into the peculiar personal relationships between members of the large family of individuals who deliver Chatological humor to you.

Today's chat is being produced by Mr. Paul Williams, who is filling in for Ms. Elizabeth Kelly, who is on vacation with extended family, in Duck, N.C.

As it happens, when I first attempted to enter the Washington Post computer system from home this morning, to begin answering early chat questions, there was a technological glitch. I could not get into the appropriate question queue.

Thus, I e-mailed Liz, who happened to be online. (Liz is always online. She is digitally accessible at all hours, an immature entendre I am not going to further exploit. At this time.) Anyway, Liz performed some operation at her computer in Duck, N.C., and it somehow enabled me to get online, into the appropriate queue.

I began working. Suddenly, on my screen, in an area reserved for private communication between host and producer, Liz sent me this message: "Are you in?"

It was a straightforward question. The average, normal, professional response to this question, between professional colleagues, would have been something like. "Yes, thank you for your help." Or, "I am! Thanks!" But this is me and Liz, two people who enjoy a robust friendship, and who seldom communicate in platitudes or ordinary office-speak. And so, in response to Liz's question, "Are you in?" I wrote back:

"Like a [personal body part] in cottage cheese."

Ominously, Liz did not respond right away. Finally, she wrote back to thank me for this information, on behalf of both herself and her four nieces and nephews, ages 15, 11, 9, and 7, who were gathered 'round her computer to see what Aunt Lizzie does at work, with the famous columnist Mr. Weingarten.

So.

I want to link to something very very odd, without further comment. It is a church-distributed, specially produced Archie comic.

Meanwhile, something else odd, and possibly disturbing, occurred in the comics pages this week. Now, Lynn Johnston is all sensitive and everything. We can agree on that. But do we not here have a five-panel strip that relies, for its gag, on a "retard joke"? Can anyone offer a more benign explanation?

I would have used that as a poll this week, but we seem to still be without polls. So I do welcome open commentary.

Another weak comics week. The CPOW is Sunday's Brewster Rockit, because it is intriguing. The First Runner up is Sunday's Lio, simply for the rats. Honorables: Saturday's Big Nate, Thursday's Baby Blues.

Okay, let's go.

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Delray Beach, Fla.: I have a question for you that has been on my mind for years. As a medical student on rounds, we went through a floor of people for whom death was imminent -- comatose, last stages of cancer, severe trauma patients -- an ICU. The attending brought us into a room to discuss the case of a woman in late stage cancer who was in the throes of delirium. She kept saying over and over, "Sylvia, Sylvia, I'm so sorry." I said to the nurse, "Who is Sylvia?" She said, "Sylvia is her daughter. They must be estranged because this lady's had no visitors." Without hesitation--or thought, really--I bent down to her ear, put my hand on her shoulder, and said, "It's okay, Mom. I forgive you." Everyone in the room was just dumbfounded. She immediately became quiet and went back to sleep. She died the next day. What do you think? Did I do the right thing? I think I did, but I'm still not sure. And this happened about 15 years ago.

Gene Weingarten: Wow. I hope this is true.

I'm really curious what Randy Cohen, the NYT ethicist would say about this.

Here's my thinking: The only person who might be bothered by this would be Sylvia, if she doesn't forgive her mother, and wouldn't want her mother to have any solace on her deathbed. Or, conceivably, Sylvia, had she been there, would have done exactly as you had done. You can't know.

What you did was the equivalent of easing someone's pain. You did right. I don't care what Randy would have said.

Any dissenting opinions?

Gene Weingarten: Okay, let me add this. The journalist in me says that what you did was an assault on the truth. So, the question becomes: Is it wrong to lie to a dying person?

It's a more interesting question, perhaps. I'd say that the fact that she is dying is irrelevant; the question becomes, is this an excusable lie? I say yes.

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Pondering, Neb.: Hi Gene-

I've been trying to decide whether or not to friend you on Facebook. On the one hand, I'm young and cute and female, so would add pretty well to your collection of young and cute females who've friended you.

On the other hand, I'm not sure you would like me very much. I'm a nice Republican girl from a Red State, I work for Republicans, I'm generally fairly conservative. I am a hardcore devotee of your chats and usually find you hilarious, but only because I have a highly developed ability to roll my eyes at the things you say that I feel are eye-roll worthy.

So should we be friends?

Gene Weingarten: Most of the gorgeous young persons who have friended me so far, I notice, identify themselves as "liberal," "very liberal," or "pastafarian," all of which seems to amount to the same thing.

I think you should friend me, but first answer a question on my "wall." Answer how one can be young and idealistic (I presume you are idealistic) and be a conservative Republican.

I easily can understand how one can be old and jaded and be a conservative Republican. I can understand how one can be young and callow and be a conservative Republican. I understand how one can be any age and be a conservative Republican if one is simply a political enthusiast and that happens to be the tribe into which one was born.

I understand how one can be middle-aged and disillusioned and be a conservative Republican. I understand how one can be any age and rich, and be a conservative Republican out of naked self interest. I understand how one can be associated with a religion that almost compels you to be a conservative Republican in order to stay true to values your religion enforces. Though this is sad.

I understand all this.

I understand being young and an active neocon, and thus being a conservative Republican, but this supplants idealism with smug cynicism.

So, I need you to explain how you can be young and idealistic and a red state Republican conservative. Do that, on my wall or in a Facebook message, and I will immediately, and gratefully, friend you.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Gene, when I was in high school, the door to our English class was often locked after lunch. Whoever got there first had to enter through the classroom next door and open the door for everyone who followed.

One day, I was the first kid there. By the time I got to the classroom door, our exchange student from Norway, Halvard Naaken was there, pulling on the locked door.

And I said, "I hear ya, Naaken, but you can't come in."

Now, I'm not saying this the greatest pun in the history of the world, but it's better than any pun I've ever come up with. And no one who I tell the story to laughs or even groans. I think I deserve my groan.

What am I missing here?

Gene Weingarten: It's a fine pun. I sanctify it, son.

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Aging, MN: Gene,

You are being uncharacteristically harsh and un-empathetic with men writing in concerning their midlife crises.

I think these men feel comfortable reaching out to you because you are a great admirer of women and are comfortable admitting your attraction to them, while remaining deeply committed and satisfied with your wife and the life you have together. I feel the same way about my devoted, wonderful, supportive, smart, pretty wife. But I understand what these men are expressing: the gains of aging are not unconnected with certain, bittersweet losses. I find it hard to believe that you don't understand.

You seem almost threatened by these questions, like you suspect that these men are hoping you will absolve them for their desire and give them permission to cheat; is it not possible that they are just looking to you with envy for your ability to embrace what you have, while acknowledging the existence of desirable experiences, relationships and intimacies that they (and I, and you) must forego?

Your response to the second writer, who is aging and single and lonely, seemed -- let me be blunt -- especially heartless. I was single from the time I was 27 to 31 (but I had a paunch and a bald spot, and felt about 60), and it was such a miserable time that I have nothing but sympathy for anyone who, despite great intentions, is unable to make a connection with a significant other. Haven't you cited T.S. Eliot's "Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock"? Is it possible that you didn't understand it?

How about some words of encouragement to those of us who are resolved to be good men, who want to be good men, but who sometimes feel sadness and loss for the things we give up, or never had, to BE good men?

Gene Weingarten: The reason I came down hard on that man is that his attitude was thunderously callous and stupid: That when a woman ages, she becomes, perforce, less physically desirable. I simply do not believe that.

I am not an absolutist about this at all. I understand the allure of youth and health. I am far less judgmental than many people on this subject, I think. People fall in love, and out of love, and I don't consider marriage to be ownership. Where I am pretty unyielding is in the matter of children: I believe that parents have an enormous responsibility to remain together when children are growing up, and that if they ignore that responsibility cavalierly, they are acting irresponsibly.

None of this really impinged on my answer to that guy. That guy was in deep, deep existential funk over the fact that he would never again sleep with someone who excited him, physically. I think he really needs to adjust his thinking.

Prufrock? Prufrock was a man who let life and love pass him by because he was an emotional coward. This is not parallel.

This guy is suffered because he is, basically, a cad.

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Duck, N.C.: So, ummm, had any chocolate lately?

Gene Weingarten: This is Ms. Chatwoman, writing from vacation. On the day before she left, she came to my house to deliver the least funny book ever written, some cucumbers from her mommy's garden, AND some Antica Dolceria Bonajuto, which is an expensive dark chocolate made in Sicily, flavored with cinnamon.

Chatwoman contends that this is the best dark chocolate in the world, and that even a dark chocolate hater like me would have to agree. I promised I would try it and review it in this chat.

So, here goes.

This is amazing stuff. The cinnamon gives it a nice, pebbly-grainy texture, kind of like the best cookie dough, plus cinnamon and chocolate is a quite delightful underutilized combination of tastes. The dark chocolate itself, while dauntingly musty and bitter, like all dark chocolate, does not impel my gag reflex, like most dark chocolate.

In short, I can nibble at this material without revulsion, and could down the entire chocolate bar without digestive eruption if need be. If I were wandering a forest, starving, and the only safe nourishment to be had was eating the maggots off rotting tree stumps, I can confidently state that Antica Dolceria Bonajuto would be the equivalent of the very best of the maggots, the one I would greedily consume, the ones I would hoard and keep from others, to stay alive.

It is nowhere near as good as a bar of Nestle's milk chocolate.

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Turtle B,OY: You are so wrong about turtle boy. The kid is hysterical. Don't think about it as an adult, think about it as a kid. I would have loved doing that as a kid. And would have died if one my friends had done it. That is funny. It's even fun to do it as an adult. Next time someone asks a mundane question like "how you doing?" or "what's going on?", answer with "I like turtles." It is, indeed, good times.

Gene Weingarten: You are humor impaired. I have just finished a column on this very subject.

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Rochester, N.Y.: Hey, I'd like to ask a serious question about humor...

You, Dave Barry, and Joel Achenbach (sic) are just about the only three newspaper people whose writing genuinely amuses me. And you all used to work at the Miami Herald. Is this a Miami thing? Is there something in the water down there? Does the paper encourage a certain sort of writing that isn't found elsehwere?

Seriously, I'd like to know.

Gene Weingarten: There is a serious answer, but it is boring.

Dave taught Joel and me a lot about being funny.

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Distantly related to googlenopes: Slate.com recently ran an article about what Google suggest shows about society.

"A suggestion-enabled search is like an instant popularity contest. Just type in a couple of letters, and you've got access to oodles of data on what your fellow Web surfers are hunting for."

The author later mentions that Google suggest for the phrase "blacks are" has been disabled because it turned up offensive suggestions.

I now present to you some suggestions that Google should have scrubbed.

In case you couldn't tell because it got cut off, gays are going to hell.

I think Google suggest could be used to humorous effect in a future column, but right now I'm stuck on how the only stereotype that turned up for "whites are" was superior.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, this is interesting, and it doesn't surprise me. It is the anonymity of the Web that makes this all so disturbing. This is what people really think, not what they say.

I always assumed, growing up, that antisemitism was a thing of the past. I have never really felt it in my own life, not once.

Then, a few months ago, in connection with a funny screenplay I was writing, I needed to research the liberation of Treblinka (don't ask.) And in an instant I found myself in a parallel universe of Holocaust deniers. You can get lost in it -- hundreds of thousands of Web pages, with at least tens of thousands of active users out there. The things that are simply taken for granted are mind boggling. It was a real eye opener.

I feel the same way, to a milder extent, obviously, when I am traveling and the rental car's radio is set to the right-wing nut jobs. A whole different world.

Whenever I write anything critical of our president, I get a few e-mails from people who seriously compare George W. Bush to Abraham Lincoln. This is entirely right-wing-nut-job radio generated. It's one of their "themes."

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Beware!: I'd be careful discussing the Shannon Lake character (the one that looks like a female Bobby Hill). She's based on Lynn Johnston's developmentally disabled niece, and LJ and her minions get very unpleasant when they think she's being treated with anything other than fawning respect.

Gene Weingarten: So what is this joke all about?

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Stephan P., Santa Rosa, Calif.: I answered the question you e-mailed me about the crocs. Please post it, as well as my answer, so that I can be a part of your fine chat.

Gene Weingarten: This is Stephan Pastis, creator of Pearls Before Swine. Yes, Stephan, you answered a very shrewd question posed by a reader, but you answered it seconds ago, too late for me to adequately explain the question OR your sniveling answer. You and the readers will have to wait until tomorrow's update.

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FBOFW: Is that really a retard joke, though? I don't see a punch line. Is the mispelling supposed to be funny? I took it just as Johnston mispelling random words in the strip because that's how the girl would have written it.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, it is the misspelling. Why would that have been there if that were not pertinent to the punchline?

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hi Gene. Has the straight razor experiment ended? If not, have you taken young Weingarten into the fold?

Gene Weingarten: Nope. I still shave with a straight razor. And no, I could never persuade Dan do this. There is a very small group of people who would be tempted. It would appeal to the following:

1. People who are outraged how expensive shaving is. After an initial outlay of about $300, you basically do not have to spend any more money, ever again, to shave. Shaving soap is very cheap. And that's pretty much it. Everything else lasts a lifetime.

The problem is that once you accept 1), and it matters to you, you must deal with 2 and 3.

2. Shaving takes much longer. I have gotten it down to about six minutes. At the beginning, it takes about 15 minutes. You can complete a perfectly good Bic-razor shave in 90 seconds.

3. You take your life in your hands once a day. There is nothing on earth as sharp as a freshly honed straight razor.

Now, the thing is, I happen to LIKE 3. I also like being able to do something that virtually no one can do anymore.

None of this appeals to Dan. Or to you, probably.

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Gotcha!: Okay, Gene. I recall from a chat several months ago my horror and revulsion when you freely and proudly admitted that you cheat up on long lines of traffic and force your way in ahead of the "suckers" who have been properly waiting their turn. Now I read your repeated sanctimonious declarations that anyone who reclines an airline seat without permission is a monster because, "we are all in this together." So which is it, Gene, are you are heartless monster on the stick, or a pathetic loser over the wing?

Gene Weingarten: Good question. I've never quite come to terms with the rightness or wrongness of my exit strategy on highways. The fact is, a long line for an exit will often sneak up on you, and you are already past the line when you realize there is a line. This ALWAYS happens if the line is so long that you are not yet even in the right lane when it becames. Then you have to force your way in, anyway, at some point.

I admitted to letting that anyway extend a bit, sometimes, though I never proceed all the way to the exit, and then cram in. I compromise (ethically and distance-wise) in my own head.

I excuse myself, in part, by saying that it is the drivers' decision to be docile and get in that line at the first possible moment, whereas another reasonable exit strategy for everyone might be the sudden cram-bottleneck approach.

To me, this is not really parallel to the seat situation, where you are annoying a specific person in a specifically bad way. My getting on in the middle of that line is not an equally heinous offense.

But I do not claim clean hands here.

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France: In many rest stops along the French highways, the toilets (for both men and women) are what the French call "Turkish toilets," i.e., a toilet sized and shaped hole in the floor with a flush mechanism. Someone has recently had the clever idea of applying automatic flush technology to these marvels of medieval engineering. A few days ago, in a rest stop near Strasbourg, I (a woman, for the record) was surprised to discover that as soon as I got into position, as it were, water started to run gently around the toilet. Fine, I thought, as long as it doesn't splash. As soon as I stepped away, pants not yet pulled up, the water began to gush -- dozens of gallons, and it quickly became clear that it could not possibly drain as fast as it was flowing. So, I had a choice -- run out of the stall half naked (knowing that men could possibly see in to the ladies room where I was), or stand in the pee water. In that moment, I learned that any fear I have of germs pales in comparison to qualms about public nudity. I chose the pee water.

Gene Weingarten: Most people would.

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Washington, D.C.: So what is the least funny book ever written? I mean, at some point an unfunny book becomes very funny because of the uptightness of its author (Sean Hannity's "works" come to mind).

I'm just trying to think what book is so horrible and reprehensible that you can't even laugh at the author. I'd guess "Mein Kampf."

Gene Weingarten: I misspoke. This is the least funny attempted humor book. It is a compendium of Henny Youngman jokes and tricks.

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Washington, D.C.: This isn't really the same level of conundrum as the Sylvia situation, but when my grandfather was in the last stages of Alzheimer's he often spoke to me (his granddaughter) as if I was my mother. At first I tried to correct him, but after awhile I'd go along with it completely lying to keep up with stories that I didn't even know so I wasn't sure what the right answer was or wasn't. But if I was vague enough he'd go on happily. Some people I've told this to have been uneasy, but I have no regrets about it.

Gene Weingarten: It is similar, actually.

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Washington, D.C.: Two diatribes on last week's updates:

I feel compelled to defend the poster whose fiance is homophobic. In Friday's update, you and a correspondent take her to task for the sentence "I do not believe in discrimination against homosexuals but the fact is homosexuality is aberrant behavior." Neither of you seems to have noticed that this line is within an excerpt from a 2002 chat archive and pretty clearly does not represent her own opinion.

On the (hot-button) topic of airline seats: I have been seething for over half an hour -- actually pacing back and forth -- after reading the post from the guy who reclines his seat all the way back because he can, and his comfort is his only priority, and there's really nothing the poor schmuck behind him can do about it. I enjoyed your response, but I'm going to spell out what you so elegantly implied, because then maybe I will be able to stop pacing and go to sleep tonight.

It disturbs (and disgusts) me how many people seem to share the view that any action is okay as long as the actor will suffer no specific, meaningful consequences. This jerk is quite correct: it is a "dog-eat-dog world" in general. Once you realize that society, like nature, often operates this way, you have two choices: either use Darwin as a justification for doing anything you want, as long as you won't suffer retribution for it, or decide that ideas like altruism and benevolence have worth. In other words, try not to behave like an animal. I really do feel not just anger, but also pity for people like this guy, who see no difference between a human society and a pack of dogs.

At least 25 percent of me does. The other 75 percent would like to meet him and punch him right in the face. By his own moral code, this would be a laudable action. He's a stranger, after all, and my mild satisfaction outweighs any pain he may suffer.

Hitler probably wasn't personally acquainted with any of the victims of the Holocaust, either.

Gene Weingarten: I was with you until you violated Godwin's Law, at the end. As soon as someone compares something to the Holocaust, they lose.

There's another law, though, which we will hereby refer to as the First Law of Chatological Inattention, and it relates to your first observation. When I answer chat questions, I am under extraordinary time pressure and subject to a certain kind of devious manipulation: I have no time to go back and check things, and my short-term memory is faulty. Therefore, if someone writes: "When the last poster said pederasts, he meant pedophiles," I am inclined to accept this as true, and proceed from the most recent information received.

This makes me susceptible to much misinformation. If you do it to me deliberately, your morals are as corrupt as those of Obersturmbannfuhrer Reynard Heidrich at the Wannsee Conference.

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Arlington, Va.: Does your distaste for bitterness extend to all bitter foods, or have you simply been socially conditioned to accept milk chocolate as the appropriate chocolate taste?

Look. I'm not a chocolate snob. Sometimes nothing will do except a Reese's peanut butter cup, NOW. But the combination of bitter and sweet in a well-made dark bar is better by far for lingering over.

Gene Weingarten: I love coffee, which is essentially ALL bitter. I add no milk or sugar.

I taste no sweet in dark chocolate. It is all musk and bitter to me.

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Arlington, Va.: I hope Delray, Fla., went on to become a doctor -- I know she did the right thing, and would hope she would have the courage to repeat this act should the need arise!

Gene Weingarten: Me, too. And it took some personal courage, in a room full of others. We need doctors like that.

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Werewolves, London: I just finished a great (funny, sad) bio of Warren Zevon. Humor-wise, he seems like your kind of guy. Are you a fan? Did you ever get to meet him?

Gene Weingarten: Only once, when he was playing with the Rock Bottom Remainders.

I really liked his stuff. If you listen to one of his lesser songs (though most famous) -- the werewolves of London, you understand he had a genius for meter. Little old lady got mutilated late last night. Needs to be said aloud.

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re: young conservative chick: She never said she was idealistic. I'm sure she's one of those categories you described: rich, self-interested, religious.

Gene Weingarten: I am still awaiting an answer. I bet she comes through.

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Washington, D.C.: To Silver Spring -- if it makes you feel better, I just snorfled a large bite of egg salad over your pun. I love puns, and that one was very, very, funny. I am now back to my egg salad sandwich!

Gene Weingarten: More validation.

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New Haven, Conn.: I think you can comfort someone without lying -- or giving what is not yours to give.

If you didn't believe in Heaven, for instance, would you tell a dying child that it was waiting for them?

Too often, we use lying because it is easier when often the greatest comfort comes from trusting and knowing what you are told is true.

Gene Weingarten: I think this is a reasonable response. I don't think I would tell a dying child about heaven.

This situation, somehow, seems different. And very, very interesting.

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shinny?: Isn't it shimmy?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, it is.

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Washington, Dull City: Every Monday, I sit down to craft a clever and infuriating submission for this chat, one which will merit your attention and thus validate my drab existence. I labor long and hard, hit the "submit" button, and invariably get an error message.

So is the question-blocking software set to block just entries from my computer, or is it a more general "block dumb/puerile/self-aggrandizing questions" filter? Also, how can I apply this to my boss's computer to block his bleeping questions to me?

Gene Weingarten: My guess? You are using some forbidden keystrokes, such as numerical lists with numbers and close parens. Read the error message carefully.

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profou, nd: The name of the CEO of Checkfree Corporation, which provides software to the banking industry for online banking and electronic payments, thus obviating the need for checks: Pete Kight.

Gene Weingarten: Nice. Now, like "catamite," there is another word that has almost disappeared. I don't think I've heard of this verb in 20 years. How many of you understand the joke here?

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Chippiedom:: Sweetheart, only your friends can write on your wall. Jr. Republican can send you a message, or you can accept her friendship assuming she's got a dang good answer. You're so old, it's cute.

Gene Weingarten: Dang. Well, I SAID message, too, right?

I have received messages from persons asking to friend me.

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Jefferson City, Mo.: D.C. Native, lifetime reader of the WaPo. I come here vertically.

If you'd asked me, oh, 5-7 years ago about paying for the Post online, there wouldn't have been any doubt in my mind, of course I'd pay.

Not anymore. Why? Not because of this online discussion session, or Liz's or the best sports reporting/commentary in the country. But because your political reporting is, well, craptacular. I know, you'll rise to defend your own just like every other WaPo person does when a fellow reporter is called out.

But for going on seven years now, I've seen some of the laziest regurgitation of right-wing talking points on the planet, not to mention the cheerleading for the Iraq war.

I always ask myself, where are the Woodward and Bernsteins? Actually, they're in the Sports Page.

Don't get me wrong, the WaPo does some incredible reporting (Dana Priest doesn't get paid near enough no matter what she makes) but given the abrogation of responsibility this paper has done during the Dubya Years, this lifelong reader (and subscriber when I lived back there) won't give you a DIME!

Start charging for online content and watch your vertical, horizontal, astrological, chattalogical and numerological hits to dry up and go away.

Yes, I'd give up you, Liz, Wilbon, Priest and the rest all because your political reporting and blinder-equipped political reporters....blow.

Gene Weingarten: You probably won't believe this, but conservatives think we are pinkos.

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NYTimesSele,CT: Any thoughts on the the demise of the NYTimes Select? Is advertising truly the only way for papers to makes money on the Internet? And why has the WSJ been able to successfully charge for content while something like NYT Select failed? Is it a matter of degree (WSJ being almost all paid whereas at NYT it was, well, only select content for $$)?

washingtonpost.com: TIMESSELECT CONTENT FREED N.Y. Post, Aug. 7

Gene Weingarten: I never liked the whole idea of that. It's intellectual redlining. I don't think a newspaper -- even an online newspaper -- should have two classes of readers.

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I am worried: I am doing what I can to spread the faith. My oldest, at age 12, is encouraged to read the newspaper. I fear for the Washington Post and all that it stands for -- real journalism, fearlessness (the Post allows these chats, for instance), and the ability to still produce articles like the obituary of the WWN.

Is there hope for the newspaper?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, in some form. Maybe not on paper.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hey! You know everything. The other night I ate some beets, in part because they looked pretty at the farmer's market and in part...okay, to see if it's true that beets turn your poop red. Well, not only did I have some serious red in the poop, my pee turned reddish, too. I wouldn't be surprised at this point if I blew my nose and got beet-red snot. I poked around vaguely on the Internet -- is it true that this is a sign of anemia? And does this mean Kaiser should pay for me to go out for steak today?

Gene Weingarten: I didn't want to finish the sentence that began "I poked around..." but it turned out okay.

Yes, I have mentioned to red pee aspect, too. But the red poop aspect is more insidious, because it isn't immediate. You kind of forget you had beets by the time it presents itself to you. This is exciting for a hypochondriac.

Anemia? No. This is totally normal. Indicative of nothing more than that you ate beets.

Public Service Announcement: Beet greens are even better than beets. Beet greens, boiled like spinach, are better than spinach. And cheap. I have turned many people on to beet greens in my life. I should be paid a lobbying fee by the beet growers of America.

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Re: Naming a kid Attic, US: I understand the irritation expressed from a chatter in 8/3's update about the trendiness of naming kids Atticus.

You're right that, tactically, it wouldn't have made sense for Atticus to have made the trial about the perspective of a black man. But that doesn't change the fact that Atticus is a symbol of the white patriarchy, even though he's a good man who cares about black people. It doesn't change the fact that the novel is completely about the perspectives of white people, even thought the issues of racism addressed in the novel are infinitely more pressing for black people.

It may be true that a lot of white people won't start acknowledging racism against blacks as problem that they can and ought to fight against until they see how racism against blacks affects white people. But that fact can be maddening to people who think white people should care about the oppression of blacks wholly because black people are fully realized, equal human beings who shouldn't be suffering systematic oppression, irrespective of the effects the oppressive system has on white people. Atticus is a symbol of racism becoming important to white people because a white person said it was important.

Or, in other words, the name can come across like someone aspiring to be a Nice White Lady.

Gene Weingarten: I love Nice White Lady. This is a really excellent MadTV clip. Right on point. However:

By your argument, Lincoln is overrated and no one should be named Abraham in his honor.

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Great Falls, Va.: Thought you (and Molly) might like this.

washingtonpost.com: Pet spider kills its owner (The Sun Online, Aug. 6)

Gene Weingarten: Hm. I am slightly suspicious of this story. It looks real, but I know something of black widows. Their venom is potent -- more potent than most snakes -- but they are tiny and inject very little into you: it is seldom enough to kill. Their bites make you sick in extremely scary ways, but to my memory, when they kill, the victim is usually a baby or small child.

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Well this bites: Good afternoon, Gene. I'm interested in sharing some parts of an e-mail I received this morning from a dear, lifelong friend who is now a Captain in the U.S. Army and has been in Iraq since last September. I've been so proud of him for maintaining his superior sense of humor, remarkably high spirit and enviable affability. This morning's message, though, had a pretty gloomy feel to it:

"There are a lot of retarded people here. We were patrolling in one of the more rural areas and we went by this farm house to talk to the people. They had a retarded person in a cage on the front lawn. They taped his pant cuffs tight around his ankles and his pants were full up to his knees of his own s--t. It was really disturbing. Another time, we were talking to some people inside their house and they asked us to sit down and drink some chai with them. Then they brought out their retarded son and presented him to us like he was an entertaining floor show. They laughed. That was pretty strange."

"It's pretty fun here sometimes. The best part is seeing the culture over here and how much we have (screwed) these people over, which sucks. It used to be pretty nice here, with the exception of the harsh dictatorship. Now there are no utilities and there's violence everywhere. The Iskandiriyah Little League Soccer Tournament got the (crap) mortared out of it the other day. It was really sad."

I hope he's all right. I miss him. Just wanted to vent.

Gene Weingarten: I'm publishing this without knowing whether it is true. I regret doing that, but I didn't want to not publish it.

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Baltimore: I know the Holocaust isn't funny. But yesterday's Baltimore Sun newspaper reported that in Israel, Holocaust survivors were protesting the measly increase in their pensions. Some of them were carrying signs that said "Forgive us for surviving." I found that slogan incredibly funny -- it is a perfect example of the stereotype of the self-sacrificing, guilt-tripping Jewish mother. Do you think it's funny?

Gene Weingarten: Yes.

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Pete Kight: Check kiting aka making out fake checks and passing them off as real ones. For the record I'm 26. The joys of watching too much "Law & Order."

Gene Weingarten: Okay, then.

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L'Enfant Plaza: In what ways did washingtonpost.com journalists and producers contribute to the success of the Joshua Bell piece?

Gene Weingarten: John W. Poole, a washingtonpost.com videographer, was the person who suggested secretly videotaping the entire performance. He set up the camera.

This proved instrumental (haha) not only to my reporting of the story -- I had the video to refer back to time and again -- but to maximizing the story's presence on the Web.

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Herndon, Va.: Mr. W: Could we please have a few thoughts, memories, whatever about the soon-to-be-late and very lamented "World Weekly News"? My favorite past headline is "Rabbit-Faced Baby Has 12-inch Ears, Bucktoothed Mom Ate Carrots While Pregnant" The headline about the pickup truck with Elvis's picture on the side that cured cancer was a close runner-up.

washingtonpost.com: All the News That Seemed Unfit to Print (Post, Aug. 7)

Gene Weingarten: Carlson did a wonderful job on this story. My favorite WWN story was about four inches long. It was that a Russian space probe had located a mysterious object circling the earth that turned out to be a giant clot of all those helium balloons kids had let go of during the last 40 years.

I put everything I knew into my obit for Eddie Clontz a few years ago. We linked to this a couple weeks back. It contained the super secret story of how Dave Barry and I conspired to plant a story in the WWN. It was one of the highlights of my life.

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N.J., the garden state: Poll technology must be fixed. I cannot believe that most people would choose pee water over public nudity. My vote is nudity.

Gene Weingarten: NO man would choose nudity. It's just a little pee water, for cryin out loud.

I think very few women would choose nudity.

No one said anything about poo. That might change the equation.

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Chocolate and FOOBs.:1. I am also a dark chocolate hater, but Dove's dark chocolate is the best I've ever had. It's a step down from the creaminess of milk, to be sure, but it's actually a pleasant eating experience.

2. Yes, it came off as some kind of horrid "retard" joke. Which seems all the more ironic, given the aforementioned Internet harassment that comes from people making parodies of any Shannon comics. For Lynn to do it herself...what the heck was she thinking?!

Gene Weingarten: It's odd. I'd really like to hear her explanation.

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it's ov, ER: 'delightful underutilized combination of tastes'

Gene, I'm a young journalist. Until today, I admired you professionally, totally dug your writing. Plus, from your chats I know I'm Molly's age, and you seem a lot like my dad.

Then you used "utilize." I think people mostly use this word because they are jerks. When I see someone I respect write this word, they die, just a little, in my mind.

I'm sorry. That's how I feel.

Gene Weingarten: Sorry, honey, but you have some growing up to do.

Had I said "underused," there would be a confusion. Underused, connotatively, sounds like used too lightly. Not enough cinnamon. Underutilized makes this clearer. Not used at all, tactically.

Words are complicated.

It's okay. As your daddy, I forgive you.

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Liber, AL: If I told you I was a young, liberal, attractive female who would love to befriend you, and that you are god of all things funny, would you help me get a real-issue liberal op-ed into the Post? Pretty please?

I also agree with you on dark chocolate- it's not sweet at all.

Gene Weingarten: Oh, we have several. Dionne, Cohen, and whatsizname. He's real good. Name escapes me. Jewish name, other than Cohen. Like, Meyrowitz or something. Very good writer and thinker.

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Black widows: I have a friend's brother who just died from the bite of that spider. They were sick from something else though, so their immune system was compromised.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, that makes sense.

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Dog is mostly okay with dog : In "The Selfish Gene," Richard Dawkins explores animal behavior and whether or not selfish aggression is best for a species. Using game theory, he showed that the most evolutionary stable strategy is not one that employs a dog-eat-dog mentality, but rather one of cautious acceptance (this is a vague paraphrasing -- the book lays it out nicely). For the purposes of this chat, anyone who belives that it's a dog-eat-world should consider all the acts of kindness and decency that support his life, from the people who raised and educated him or to the people he encounters daily -- coworkers, mail carriers. Even if a percentage of those people are jerks or even abusive, the vast majority either support his existence or, at least, leave him alone.

Gene Weingarten: Nice.

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Wikipedia: I think it's about time you update your wikipedia entry in crediting yourself with coining "googlenope." I mean, that is quite an accomplishment, the way it's taken off!

Gene Weingarten: I am not allowed to alter my own Wiki entry.

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Washington, D.C.: So let's imagine that post.com magically resolves the problems with the polling software (or even attempts to resolve them)... how will we know there's a poll again that first week? Is there going to be a huge banner across the front of the Web site that Monday afternoon?

Gene Weingarten: We'll see. I am being deliberately opaque, because I know things you don't know.

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Crush Ti, ME: Really, will there be no discussion about the crushes between young ladies and older, wiser, handsome, mature men? I'm happily married at 29, but have a nice little crush on my 50-something mentor right now.

Gene Weingarten: Well, elaborate. The whole class is listening.

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Irvine, CA: I'm a 28 year old female. Those posts from the midlife-crisis dudes last week finding women past 30-something physically useless have been bringing me down ever since. Say this ain't the majority of men out there, please. I hate the thought that I have a shelf life (or worse, that I'm not good looking enough now and wasting my only "chance.")

Gene Weingarten: It's definitely untrue. That guy was a douchebag.

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Alexandria, Va.: I've been meaning to ask this for months but keep forgetting: why is "woman" used as an adjective these days? "She is the first woman CEO of such a company," "woman-owned business," "I did not mention that I have a woman doctor." This drives me absolutely nuts. We'd never see "he is the first man nurse on the unit," "did I mention that I have a man doctor?" "man-owned business." Please explain.

Gene Weingarten: I guess it's wrong. I use it. "Female" seems too... clinical. I can't explain this, so I am sure I am wrong. 'Tricia?

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Nopers: What do you think of the googlenope.com site?

Gene Weingarten: It's too early to rate it, but I got a few laughs. I am partial to this googlenope.com-generated googlenope: "Professional masturbator wanted."

I see that users have so far rated my published googlenopes very low indeed.

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London, U.K.: Gene,

Two dear friends of mine will be getting married at the end of this month. The bride is a woman of great spunk and wit, from a Sikh background and currently working in poetry marketing. A remarkable concept in itself.

Her soon-to-be-espoused -- our former neighbor -- is a bright, charming Oxford grad, who sells rare ancient books and maps for a living and is a collector of British Imperial swords and uniforms. Geek. They are, in short, a great couple.

She had always expected that upon marriage she would not change her name -- for reasons that she could occasionally expound upon at great length to do with patriarchy and oppression and the b------ liness of men. However, when he pointed out to her that her unusual Sikh forename and his typically British surname would form a Googlenope, making her the only person of that name in the known universe, she could not resist.

By the magic of the Internet, with your assistance, I would like to now transform her from Googlenope into Googlewhack:

Congratulations, Tim and Pinda Bryars.

Gene Weingarten: This is very sweet, and as the Father of the Googlenope, I am honored. However, as a practicing cynic, I should point out that the following names are also Googlenopes:

Carla Bryars

Becky Bryars

Valerie Bryars

Dorothy Bryars

Arlene Bryars

Chatwoman Bryars

and so forth. Sorry.

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liber,AL again: I mean that my organization has written a "liberal" op-ed and I wanted extra help in getting it in the paper.

And I still think you're the god 'o' funny.

Gene Weingarten: You'll never get it in the paper, because it was written by an "organization." The only committee that ever wrote anything good was the Declaration of Independence committee, and that's because it apparently basically consisted of Thom. Jefferson.

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Black Widows: You're right. I was bitten by a black widow when I was 28, and all that happened was I had really bad flu symptoms 6 hours later. After getting drugs from my doctor the next day I was better in no time.

Gene Weingarten: It can be worse. You were lucky. But death is just really, really rare.

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A gift from Frederick, Md.: This quote, provided by a reporter at "O" magazine no less, is my gift to you this Tuesday.

Enjoy --

O: With so much on your plate, when do you find time to read?

J.K. Rowling: I never need to find time to read. When people say to me, 'Oh, yeah, I love reading. I would love to read, but I just don't have time,' I'm thinking, 'How can you not have time?' I read when I'm drying my hair. I read in the bath. I read when I'm sitting in the bathroom. Pretty much anywhere I can do the job one-handed, I read.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you. The "O" makes it special.

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breasts and airplane seats: When attempting to breast-feed an infant on the plane (which helps them adjust their ears and not scream) I find it nearly impossible to do without reclining the seat. Which is worse, reclining the seat, or having a screaming baby?

Gene Weingarten: I like this wrinkle. You recline, but first explain the situation to the person behind you. You will get his endorsement.

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Bowie, Md.: So the myspace question from the Republican intrigues me. Would you drop a casual friendship if you discovered that the person had conservative views? Not Pat Robertson crazy in their opinions or manner but things like: against affirmative action because it is reverse discrimination and they don't feel it is effective, against abortion more or less but not enough to picket clinics, in favor of lower taxes? What about the chatters?

Gene Weingarten: No, of course I wouldn't terminate a friendship over politics, unless it was, like, discovering someone is a member of the Aryan Brotherhood.

I wouldn't marry a serious, committed conservative. Wouldn't work out.

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VA: It's not a joke. It's a very sweet strip about how sweet developmental disabled people are.

I have my own issues with it, but I'm just saying, it's not supposed to be funny. That particular strip has a tendency to not be funny, eh?

Gene Weingarten: But why the misspelling?

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Barry Bonds: What is your opinion of the teams (Washington Nationals included) that keep pitching balls to Barry Bonds so they're not the ones to give him the pitch that breaks the record? Right, wrong, or a little wimpy?

Gene Weingarten: Very wimpy. One of my heroes is a young man (okay, not any more) named Tracy Stallard, who faced Roger Maris on the last day of the season in 1961. Maris had 60 home runs. Stallard was a Red Sox rookie. He got behind Maris 2-1. It was a 0-0 game at that point. The cowardly thing would be to give Maris nothing to hit. The bold thing was to try to get him out, and not put the winning run on base. Stallard had guts and heart. And now, he's in the history books, despite being a lousy pitcher.

He's the only Red Sox I like.

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Sheboygan, Wisc.: I'm a newbie...What IS the deal with beige bras? Is it a secret that all women except me know? Probably something I'd know if I read the Oprah magazine, right?

Gene Weingarten: You'd know it if you read this chat. Even EYE know it. If you don't want your bra to show through a white shirt, and you are a Caucasian, wear a beige bra. If you are dark skinned, wear a black bra. You are welcome.

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Washington, D.C.: Gene, I know you've said a number of times that a man's greatest fear is failing to please a woman. With that in mind, what is the kindest thing for a woman to say upon the occasional systems failure? "It's okay"/"I don't care"/"It happens to every guy"/"I know you've been stressed lately" -- these all seem pretty lame and condescending, even if they are meant sincerely. Is it best to just turn away and not say anything?

Gene Weingarten: No, a man's greatest fear is not that he won't please a woman, it's that she will laugh at him. That she will humiliate him.

The circumstances you describe are pretty darn conducive to that feeling. You need to act in as opposite a fashion as possible, given the contours of your relationship. In some relationships, that might actually constitute mutual laughter!

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"Professional Masturbator Wanted": You've been saving that for Liz's week off, haven't you?

Gene Weingarten: I think Lizzie would have okayed that.

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Washington, D.C.: We submit roughly 650 questions a chat. You answer about 75.

Based on your post about "link-monkey Liz" filtering the chaff from the posts you'd like to answer, almost 90 percent of people here have nothing to add.

So the chat is more like a 650-student college lecture, with a dozen students in the front row dominating class participation?

Should the chat be renamed "Poop, Baby Names and Comics 101"?

Gene Weingarten: I suspect that your math is flawed. It proceeds from the assumption that everyone who asks a question asks only one question. It may be more like a cavernouse, 4,000 seat lecture hall with nine dorks in the front going "oooh, ooh," and waving their hands frantically all through the class. They'd get beat up afterwards, if this were not in cyberspace.

Gene Weingarten: Cavernous. Sorry.

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To the woman with the bigoted BF: Make no mistake, he does treat us differently. We gay folk know when someone is "treating us the same" but thinks we are sick and immoral. Think about it. Don't you know when someone really dislikes you, but is being polite? It's not just not beating us up. To treat us the same means to laugh about our dating foibles with us. To cry at the breakups. To come to our weddings and dance with joy. To celebrate the birth and adoption of our children. To not vote for politicians that seek election based on exploiting hatred against us. If he (or you) thinks we are immoral and aberrant, you aren't doing that.

So, it's not just the potential child. Although that's huge. If you have two kids, that is a 20 percent chance one will be gay.

Really, you are selling yourself short. See, gay people don't want to be friends with you if it means hanging out with your BF. And probably, at least if it was my family, our families don't want to hang with your BF. So, if you are comfortable saying that for the sake of this man you will cut a huge swath of the population out of your potential group of friends, go ahead. But I think you are selling yourself short. And that's just sad.

Gene Weingarten: I like these observations.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm having a horrible day at work -- despite my Masters degree and extensive experience, my bosses think I am a secretary and continue to dictate letters to me. Please, Gene, make me laugh!

Gene Weingarten: Okay, take this down. You ready?

To my bosses: Stop treating me like a secretary. I have a master's degree, for Cripes sake.

Then sign it, make one copy for your files and send it to them. You're welcome.

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Step-parent Again: The response that you posted in response to my question about step-parenting was simply excellent. Thank you both. The thing is that I have done every single thing that that person recommended. Every single thing. The result is that one child adores me and the other doesn't. But I got my question answered, so thank you.

Gene Weingarten: Glad it helped. I thought the poster sounded wise, too.

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Central Virginia: Gene - Did you see the reverse aptonym in The Post? Someone wrote in to complain about cell phone chatters on public conveyances (Close to Home, 7/22), and Valerie Silensky defended them (Close to Home, 7/29). There were rebuttals in Sunday's paper under the header Cellphone Silliness, Continued.

Gene Weingarten: Excellent!

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Godw, IN: I'd never heard of "Reynard Heidrich." So I googled him. Wikipedia spells his name as "Reinhard Heydrich." I still hadn't heard of him.

So I am doubly amazed: first, that you knew who Heidrich or Heydrich was, especially given that he didn't live long after Wannsee; second, that you were able to make your point again in a sneaky way by deliberately planting an error for us to find.

By the way, I love Godwin's Law. Who was the genius who derived it? (There should also be a parallel law applying to Rosa Parks.)

Gene Weingarten: One fact that I seldom get to mention is that I know a great deal about the Nazis. I've just read a lot. For example, Hitler's adjutant was named Putzi Hanfstaengl. And his private secretary was Traudl Humps.

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Woman CEO: It's called an appositive noun - a noun placed next to another noun, used to identify or explain it. This is allowed in English and is not considered bad grammar or anything like that. Saying "the woman CEO" is roughly equivalent to saying "the CEO, a woman,...".

Gene Weingarten: But why don't we discuss a "man nurse"? Why is it "male"?

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check kiting: Gene,

The previous poster is wrong. I'm a banker, and we actually just had a refresher course on check kiting.

Kiting is when you have 2 accounts and you write checks from one account to cover the other, using "uncollected" funds to prevent you from bouncing. The checks used are real and legal tender.

PS - I love you.

Gene Weingarten: Ahhhhhh. Thank you. I love you, too.

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Pat the Perfect: Re "woman/women" as an adjective: Yeah, it's just a weakness in the language. "Female" sounds biological. If you don't like either of those options, it's best to write around it -- which can be awkward in itself.

Gene Weingarten: This SOUNDS like Pat, and it is something she would say, but I have a secret reason to believe it is not her. She.

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Weekly World News aptonym: I hope you read Peter Carlson's article today about the demise of the WWN. I was delighted to read that the guy responsible for the paper's demise has the charming name of David Pecker.

Gene Weingarten: You better believe it.

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Vienna, Va.: So you're not doing polls until they upgrade the software, eh? What difference does it make to management if you do or do not include polls in your chats? I'd bet the overwhelming majority of us will continue to read the chats.

Are you able to show how the polls increase traffic before the chat? Maybe if you can show them how your not doing polls hurts their bottom line, then they'll cave.

Gene Weingarten: As I said before, we are working on this. Things are Happening. Stay tuned. The polls might or might not return at any moment.

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Bethesda, Md.: Gene,

I'm the guy who sent in my explanation of why I will recline my airplane seat come hell or high water. Thank you for posting it.

I am not backing off my stance, nor apologizing. I just wanted to explain that off an airplane I'm a nice a reasonable guy. I work full time for a charity, I don't cut people off on the highway, I stand to the right on the Metro elevator, I move out of the fast lane when I'm doing 70 and someone wants to do 80 and do everything else that makes for a decent society.

But planes are a different animal. We buy tickets and we KNOW, absolutely, that the ride will be uncomfortable. You, as the person behind me, cannot really do anything to alleviate my discomfort so I see no reason why I should compromise mine just to ensure that a perfect stranger is somewhat more comfortable. There is no trade off to be had, no benefit conferred to me. Now if the person behind me could influence the behavior of the person in front of me, then perhaps we could work out a deal where we all reclined just a quarter of the way. But that social contract does not exist, your desires notwithstanding.

Planes are dog eat dog, and there is no room for compassion on them. None.

Gene Weingarten: Is your name Niccolo?

I find your attitude intriguing, and completely at odds with how you describe the rest of your life.

Let's say your seat were broken, and it were possible to recline completely, so that you were literally on the lap of the person behind you? Would you do that? No? Why? It might be comfortable for you, a sudden upgrade to First Class.

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Women in their 40s: Do not despair, ladies. Gene has said here in this chat that women in their 40s are hot, with the self-confidence that 20 year old women never have. Which is why we all love him.

Do all men feel this way? No, but you don't want to be with a guy like that anyway.

An almost 40-year-old married woman whose husband still thinks she is hot

Gene Weingarten: More men feel this way than you know.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: Gene-

We are all of course familiar with your fondness for the double dactyl- a lighthearted but structurally rigid poem. Delightful to read, deadly for most of us to try and write. I wanted to know how you felt about the clerihew, an equally enjoyable breed of poem which is simple to create. The clerihew is a whimsical, biographical work. Four lines, rhyme scheme AABB. It must be deliberately non-metrical, and the first line must be the subject's name. The clerihew should be funny, but ought to reveal a biographical truth about the person.

Example:

Barack Obama

Had a Kenyan pops and a Kansan mama

But some folks still say

He just isn't black enough to be president of the USA

Gene Weingarten: I am not a big fan of the Clerihew. It's too easy and arbitrary. I did, however, partake in a Clerihew contest with the last poet laureate, Donald Hall. Paul, can we link to that?

Gene Weingarten: Oh also, "Clerihew" is the middle name of its creator, E.C. Bentley, who wrote "Trent's Last Case," which is one of the best murder mysteries ever written. Just FYI.

washingtonpost.com: Nice Doggerel:Gene hounds the poet laureate (Post, Aug. 6, 2006)

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New York, N.Y.: Traudl Humps is a great name! Too bad he's a Nazi, or I would say we have found the next trendy baby name.

Gene Weingarten: She. Even better. Traudl is a German diminutive for Gertrude.

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My Finest Pun: Was when I was playing on the floor with my infant, crawling son. We were playing peek-a-boo and he was just starting to learn to cover his face and play peek-a-boo back at me. I said: "Oh, you can hide, but you can't run!" Until now, he is the only one to have heard this line. He didn't get it. He did laugh, though.

Gene Weingarten: I like it.

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Fred from New Orleans: Hi Gene!

(A small joke as you will see!)

Last Saturday, my wife was grocery shopping and had a sudden, urgent need. She ran into a room, which she thought was marked "Women." She saw the urinal but in a desperate moment of rationalization ignored it and entered the stall. She was sitting there and realized that there was someone "next door." She tried to check out the shoes but the stall wall ran all the way to the floor! She then came to the next critical decision path to wash hands or not. Since she was more interested in hygiene than embarrassment, she elected to wash up and was able to leave the room without further embarrassment.

I asked some of my female friends if this had ever happened to them. Some replied that they used the men's room on purpose when in dire straights! One said she just walked into the men's room and entered a stall. She said that the men were accommodating but I believe that they were shocked beyond speech.

So the questions are: what is the etiquette of using a different sex facility? How desperate must the need be? (One woman says any pregnant one is always in desperate need.) And can a man use a woman's facility?

Gene Weingarten: My wife will always use the men's room if the women's is occupied, and they are each one-seat rooms with locks. Always. It is an act of feminism. She contemns women who stand in line, cow-like, rather than dare to enter the forbidden room.

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Rockville, Md.: Gene:

There has been some discussion about the imminent move of the Style Invitational from its traditional Sunday home to Saturday. Do you have any rationalization for the move? And, if they are going to move it, why keep it in Style, instead of moving it to another section?

As one prominent Loser inquired:

"An even better question is why they didn't move the Vite to the Magazine, which, it seems, is so short of material that it has resorted to printing a full page of 'find the differences between these photos' just to fill space?"

Gene Weingarten: There really were a whole bunch of options, none perfect, none as good as the one they chose.

Sunday Style is disappearing, merged into a new Style-Arts section that is mostly arts. The Invitational would have seemed out of place there, and probably buried deep in the section.

The magazine wouldn't work. Its three-week deadlines would make the whole thing too difficult.

You want the Style Invitational to move to a section other than Style? So, it becomes, like, the Business Invitational?

This was a good solution. Most Invitational nuts read it online on Saturday anyway.

By the way, as I said last week, for reasons I find unaccountable, but unignorable, that new photo feature in the mag is very popular.

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Washington, D.C.: I think we need another "Google-" phrase to describe the Google suggested search when it returns no hits. I can't think of any offhand, but I know that's happened to me before. I'll type in a phrase and get the "did you mean x,y,z?" page. After clicking on the link, oh sorry, that doesn't exist either. I thought maybe "googletease," but that has a slightly dirty sound to it.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, this happens to me all the time. I like Googletease.

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Lincoln, Part II: Re last week's debate, I favor the Second Inaugural too, not least because the famous lines "Fondly do we hope -- fervently do we pray -- that this mighty scourge of war shall speedily pass away" can be sung to the tune of "Bells on bobtail ring, making spirits bright, what fun it is to laugh and sing a sleighing song tonight!"

Gene Weingarten: I am laughing, but the meter of the second phrase is not quite right. We need to amend Lincoln to "fervently we pray."

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Riverdale H.S., GA: No surprise that Archie's illustrator (Al Hartley) was a converted evangelical Christian. I met Al through his son Fred - an evangelical pastor in North Atlanta. Fred performed our wedding for my (now Catholic) wife. Fred's grandfather co-sponsored the Taft-Hartley Act. Could this post be more random?

Gene Weingarten: It's a NICE post. I found that Archie thing completely creepy. Is that because I am an atheist? Did it creep out any believers?

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Rockville, Md. : Entirely?

"I get a few emails from people who seriously compare George W. Bush to Abraham Lincoln. This is entirely right-wing-nut-job radio generated. It's one of their 'themes.' "

I don't think it is entirely from radio. That may make it easier for you to discount the idea. But when I proposed it as a possibility I have not even listened to the radio in years and stay away from people like O Reilly.

Some of us think a determined will to win a war is not bad. Especially when our losses are not high and we have prospects for a reasonable outcome.

I suspect you have good reasons for your position, but it would be nice of you to think that those who do not agree also have reasons that are good.

Gene Weingarten: There is no good reason for this comparison. I'm sorry. I can imagine arguing that Bush is a far better president than the majority believes. To compare him to the greatest president in history is just asinine.

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Godwin's Law: Mike Godwin was the "genius who invented it", though the original version was not about "losing" the argument. The original version (paraphrased) said that the longer an Internet argument goes on, the probability of someone making a Nazi or Hitler comparison approaches 1. It was later that the corollary developed where the argument is over at that point, because it's probably no longer useful to continue, and that the person who brought up the comparison probably "lost" the argument. Wikipedia has more details, of course.

Gene Weingarten: All true.

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Lying to a dying person: Well, not to bring a downer to the chat, but this was an interesting post for me.

My mother was very strict. Not strict in the "bad" sense, just very no-nonsense strict. One did not lie to mom. Kids loved her and flocked to our house. But no one lied to her.

She died of cancer about 10 years ago. My sister and I, both in our 20s at the time, were with her at the end. She was in and out for the few days leading to her death, and didn't always know what was going on.

At one point just my sister and I were there when she semi-woke. I believe she had heard her (idiot) doctor talking about how close she was to the end and she looked at us, quite frightened, and said "Girls, I'm not going to die, am I?" We both froze. Neither of us could say anything. Even at that moment I physically could not lie to my mom. The opportunity to comfort her was gone in an instant.

This bothered me for the longest time. Why couldn't I just tell her it was all ok? Why couldn't I give her that little bit of comfort? Finally someone pointed out to me that my mom would have been proud of how unswervingly I held to honesty and (frankly) a little amused that at 27 I still couldn't lie to her face.

But I think the med student did the right thing, too.

Gene Weingarten: I think I would have answered with humor. But that's just a different family dynamic at work.

Of course you're gonna die, mom. So am I. Maybe you're just a little closer.

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Nosh,IT: Gene, the other night I had a dream in which I was in a college course and you were the professor. It was during finals, and there were a few students besides myself who arrived early. Anyway, I remember making some kind of remark about men and my sexual abilities, to which you smirked, and said something like "intelligence is found at the core of a woman's heart and between her legs." (I'd taken one Percocet for back pain the night before.)

Also, I think the other columnists you were trying to recall might be named David Horowitz.

Gene Weingarten: Hm. Okay. Noted.

No, it's Harold Meyerson.

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Fans of 40+ Women: We are legion. It's sad if women out there don't realize this.

Gene Weingarten: I know.

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Southern Maryland: You seem to think that all Republicans are Bush/Cheney ideologues. That's not the truth at all. I am a conservative, but only because of the 3 main points of conservatism: smaller Federal government/more state's rights; strong defense to protect us and our allies; and lower taxes. I do not discriminate against gays, I do not dispute a woman's right to choice, and I don't agree with this war, or for that matter, most things this administration has done. But quit lumping all of us in to a huge group of uncaring, religiously motivated, Bush-adoring, gay-bashing warmongers. We are not all like that, you know.

Gene Weingarten: Sorry, but I do not define you as a conservative. You appear to be socially liberal.

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Atticus Continued: This whole "Atticus Finch was a part of the patriarchy" thing boggles me. Racial integration would have happened much more slowly if not for men like that, who turned their back on the patriarchy in the name of justice. Is that not the opposite of oppression?

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, I don't sympathize at all with that view. Again: Lincoln.

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Washington D.C.: Standing in line at the grocery store, my brother and I (aged 7 and 9 at the time, or thereabouts) saw a WWN cover that said "Space Aliens Invade from Mars!" with a photograph. My brother said, "that's no alien, that's a chambered nautilus." My mother swelled with pride. Then I said, "And that's not Mars, it's the moon." I think there were actual tears, she was so proud.

Gene Weingarten: Indeed.

Okay, we're done. I will be updating as usual, and let's all be exciting to watch as Stephan Pastis concedes a reader is right and admits to incompetence, in tomorrow's update.

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UPDATED 8.08.07

Gene Weingarten: My friend Horace LaBadie wrote in a few days ago to point out that the Aug 6 Pearls Before Swine contains an egregious logical error. How did the croc get into the Zeeba neighba's house? And once he was IN the house, why did he have to pose as furniture? He was a croc, deadly and fast, and he was IN THE HOUSE! That has always been his goal. He could snarf up that zeeba in an instant. This is not a major inconsistency, in a strip that is entirely predicated upon the reptiles plotting to eat the mammals by GETTING INTO THEIR HOUSES. So I forwarded this question to Stephan Pastis.

Here is his response, which arrived too late for yesterday's chat:

"Hmm. Actually, they've been in his house before. They were in the zebra's water cooler in February. But it is a little inconsistent. I suppose if I were a better cartoonist, these kind of things wouldn't happen. On the bright side, I'm one of only 3 or 4 comics that aren't drawn by the son of the son of someone."

Gene Weingarten: Oh, snaapp.

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Gene Weingarten: I think Tom Toles is the best political cartoonist alive. I also think today's was probably a misfire. An error in judgment. The man is allowed one a career.

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New York, N.Y.: My friend told me this one 16 years ago and I can't forget it. At the time it happened, she was attending high school in Western Massachusetts, about 30 minutes from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, which is commonly referred to as UMass. School clubs frequently went up to UMass for events, competitions, etc. The principal came over the loudspeaker one morning and said "All UMass debators should report to the cafeteria immediately."

Gene Weingarten: Boy, this is so good. I just hope it is true. This made me laugh aloud.

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Crush on Older Man: I am the 29-year-old with a little crush on my mentor. To elaborate, the 50-ish man has this wealth of life experiences a youngin' like me has not yet enjoyed. He is respected by our colleagues, which a young woman wouldn't experience for decades. He is handsome but in a solid way, not in a gangly-young-man way. Not awkward, rather, confident. Those things speak to the allure of the older man. If you ask any young lady if she'd take Sean Connery over Zach Braff, or Harrison Ford over Orlando Bloom, I don't think there would be any surprises there. The older man/older woman debate -- sounds like a poll to me! I'd never actually DO anything to follow up on a little crush. I am happily married to someone my age who is my perfect partner, and I choose to be in love with my hubby and love my marriage (which I do). I don't see the problem with the temporary crush, do you?

Gene Weingarten: Nope. When what happens in the mind, stays in the mind, there is no reason for guilt, ever. Even a teensy bit.

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Stalling for time: Of COURSE she should have used the men's room! As a gay man, I find straight-people's anxiety about men's vs. women's restrooms amusing. In fact, I predict that by the end of this century, America will have abandoned the practice of gender-separated restrooms and locker-rooms. What does it accomplish? To keep the men away from the tampon machine? It's certainly not to allocate urinals vs. stalls efficiently, because as everyone knows, there's never a line for the men's room. Perhaps it protects genital modesty from a potentially interested person? Hello! Not effective in my case, obviously (in either direction -- gasp!). Perhaps to limit the embarrassment of poop sounds? Why is that worse with one gender, whether you are in the workplace, at a sporting event or being a tourist? Most modern restrooms are designed with enough visual privacy so that genitals aren't visible, anyway. Locker rooms are harder to design that way. But as Barney Frank once said, we gay people get used to this pretty easily: "We don't dry-clean ourselves." Trust me, you straits can handle it, too! At gay bars and clubs, the designations are completely ignored as pointless. Indeed, gender separated restrooms discriminate subtly against women and, I submit, gays. I understand these taboos are breaking down in Belgium/Luxembourg/Holland. Like gay Americans, they have gotten over some pointless taboos and mystifications of gender. It makes it easier to see other people as the human beings they are.

Gene Weingarten: You are correct about absolutely everything, logically, except for the practicality of the matter, involving human nature, where you are tone deaf. You are like Karl Marx. Men and women do not want to appear undignified and vulnerable in each other's presence. Joint bathrooms will never become the norm.

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Archie Comic: Not only was this comic creepy, it was racist. Notice that the school has had problems since they started to "bus" students across the prairie. Then, teacher says the students are acting like monkeys! Where I grew up we bused in students to help integrate the schools. The students were African American. That really jumped out at me as being evil and nit just stupid/creepy.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, it is. That's why I linked to it.It's pretty amazing to see the familiar Archie characters used in this way, no?

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UPDATED 8.09.07

Hmmm...: Gene, For someone who claims to be an open-minded liberal, you are often very, very rigid in your beliefs, including believing everyone else thinks like you (e.g. thinking no one uses the hole in their briefs). Could you elaborate a bit on this contradiction? Thanks

Gene Weingarten: This is just absurd. I don't think everyone thinks like me. I think everyone SMART thinks like me. Get your facts straight, please.

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FBOFW interpretation: I do not believe Lynn Johnston is making a "retard" joke. In the first four panels all of the text (without misspellings) is contained in thought bubbles. The text in the last panel (with misspellings) is not in a thought bubble, but is supposed to be from the actual e-mail. I am guessing that Lynn Johnston is trying to show that just because a disabled person's words may appear to convey unintelligence, that doesn't necessarily mean that intelligent thoughts weren't behind the whole process.

It is not the most apparent of messages when you first read the strip though.

Gene Weingarten: A couple of people have made this interpretation. It is, in my opinion, very generous to Ms. Johnston, but I have to say it is probably what she MEANT.

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Witse, ND: Gene, I shared your Googlenope article with my wife over dinner and the usual sorts of questions came up. Hasn't he done this before? Somebody gets paid to write this? Things like that. A question I had was the nature of the googleyup. Is it a googleyup if the only place it appears is in a list of googlenopes?

Gene Weingarten: A googleyup is something that by all rights SHOULD be a googlenope, but isn't. As in "died in a freak silly putty egg accident."

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More on the God -vs- no God debate: Believing in God is a choice and most likely governed by an individuals fear or comfort level in gambling odds. No one knows for certain if there is a God.

From Philosophy 101:

1. Believe in God/Is a God

2. Believe in God/There is no God

3. Don't believe in God/Is a God

4. Don't believe in God/Is no God

There are only 2 losing options. Whether you believe in God or not, your odds are 50/50 in having a positive outcome. I will say that it would be a chilling outcome to not believe in God but find out there is a God -- to think you haven't asked for forgiveness and accepted him as your savior before you take your final breath. Equally problematic would be believing in God and finding out there isn't a God -- especially if you have a dark soul and painfully suppress many urges throughout your lifetime to fulfill your soul only to find out there isn't a "reward" in the end.

Now, I have to get back to work before I find out that even though I don't believe they are monitoring my computer activity that they are, in fact, monitoring my computer activity.

Gene Weingarten: Nope. Only 3 is a bad result. If there is no God and you thought there was a God, you'll never find out. You'll just cease to exist, ignorant of your folly. Not a bad result at all. It is precisely why people believe in God. Your argument, of course, is that it is a "bad result" because you would not have lived your life selfishly, according to all your base impulses. But you can't go back and create an alternative reality, with any degree of certainty. I would argue that your belief in God saved you from errors that would have probably ultimately hurt you.

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Devil's Advocate: Okay, so morals are a result of evolutionary selection. How does homosexuality possibly benefit a species evolutionarily? In purely scientific terms, is it not aberrant?

Gene Weingarten: I'm sure someone more knowledgeable than I has expounded on this. It's hard to imagine what Darwinian purpose homosexuality serves, since the existence of gay people seems to do nothing tangible for the propagation of the species, or its survival. See, but you're just not thinking it through. Anything that civilizes us helps. Art, beautiful interior design, fashion sense, etc. Okay, that's weak. I dunno. Anyone?

Gene Weingarten: Just heard from a reader who suggests this --

"The general idea behind evolution applies to more than the species level. So, if there are folks that can contribute to the survival of the family/tribe in ways other than producing offspring, it's seen as supportive of community selection. So, the grandparent hanging around and helping raise the grandkids, or some other individual supporting the family or tribal units without raising their own offspring is considered to contribute to the survival of the group."

I think this makes some sense, but like my example, is weak. I think it would do more to explain why people live longer than their procreative years than to explain why gays serve a Darwinian function. There are a lot more grandparents than gay people.

I think the real point to be made is that, whatever the reason may be, there is obviously a reason. Gays comprise a very large percentage of humanity even though, amazingly, they do not procreate. They exist in all cultures. If you are a believer in natural selection, it makes little sense that they would still be around and in large numbers if they served no species-survival function. Right?

Gene Weingarten: And now, this --

"Being left-handed doesn't serve any evolutionary purpose either; in fact, it can be detrimental, because machinery and equipment are designed for right-handed people, causing lefties to suffer more serious or fatal accidents. But it does not follow that being left-handed is immoral; neither does it follow that being homosexual is immoral, even if it runs counter to the evolutionary instinct to live long enough to reproduce."

Gene Weingarten: First, the left-handed argument is not parallel, simply because, your mild examples notwithstanding, there is nothing inherently or intuitively anti-Darwinian about being lefthanded. There is in being gay.

But we are not talking morality here. No one is making a moral judgment here, except maybe the original poster, who equates non-Darwinian with "aberrent." We're simply discussing whether any current understanding of natural selection would explain homosexuality. I don't see it yet.

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Burp, IN: I have a medical question for you. It's something that's bothered me for a long time and I wondered if you'd ever heard of anyone else with this problem. I don't burp like normal people burp. I'd say I don't burp at all but that's not true. I burp sometimes. My burps are always very small and always unexpected. I can't burp when I need to though. When I started college and college drinking it became a big problem. I'm a beer drinker, but I can't relieve the gas in my stomach in the usual way. Ever since I started drinking beer it's gone something like this: I have a couple of beers and the gas begins to build in my stomach. The more I drink the worse I feel until a point when I feel as though I'm going to vomit. I try to act cool and get to a private bathroom area where I belch violently into the toilet. I need the toilet because maybe 1 out of 10 times there's more than just gas. The belching sounds to anyone who can hear it like vomiting anyway. It's usually 3 or 4 violent and loud burps and then it's all clear. I can resume drinking. I have scared a lot of people when they drink with me for the first time if they hear this. I have been kicked out of bars because a staff member heard me in the bathroom. This is usually when I'm still quite sober. It's really embarassing to rush to the bathroom after three beers and emerging from the stall to a bathroom full of people with tears in your eyes isn't that cool either. Now that I've been drinking for a while I have learned to stifle it in some toilet paper and I don't even need to lean over the toilet most times anymore. In an emergency sometimes I can even do it outside of the bathroom if there's a very large crowd. I've tried and tried to learn to burp on command and nothing I have tried has helped. I've never ever met anyone who has even heard of anything like this before.

Gene Weingarten:This is one of the odder medical questions I've ever received. I am going to forward it to a gastroenterologist friend of mine, and report back with an answer.

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UPDATE 8.10.10

You figure it o, UT: I believe that no one on the planet is 100 percent sure of the proper way to use a sanitary toilet seat cover. We are all completely alone in trying to figure out whether the perforated middle section should be folded to the outside, left to hang on the inside, or torn out altogether and tossed into the bowl as a splash attenuator. I say this because not only are there never instructions on how to use these things, but also because this is the one item that we are never taught to use. Nobody uses them at home when they are potty trained. A person's first encounter with them is usually in solitary confusion within a public stall.

So, guru of all things [ch]atological, is there some protocol for these things? Or did all knowledge die with the inventor?

Gene Weingarten: I believe I can help. You are supposed to disconnect the hanging, tonguelike flap, and drape it down so it falls into the water from the rear of the toilet. Then when you flush, it is sucked down with the pee, etc.

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Conesto, Ga.: a rather tragic aptonym, from the washpost report on Minnesota's bridge collapse: Kristi Rollwagen, Minnesota director of emergency preparedness

Gene Weingarten: Indeed.

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Morals are More than a By-Product of Evolution: GW: "It makes total sense from a simple Darwinian perspective. If we all get along, if we team up to practice controlled agriculture, if we stop killing each other to steal each other's women, the species survives and prospers. Surely this is clear, no?

Then we need the occasional war when it becomes necessary to thin the herd."

I don't like where this line of thought eventually leads you. Logic dictates that if the only reason people have morals is for the survival of the species as a whole, then living a moral life has no intrinsic value or meaning to you as an individual. Morals are nothing more than some lemming-like instinct for the survival of the species. And, as a good-old fashioned self-interested rational economic being, I'd be playing a sucker's game by behaving rationally, because there is no direct benefit to me in the short term, as opposed to immense possible short term benefits if i were to act as if I had no morals whatsoever.

I'm sorry, but when I contemplate doing something I know is wrong, like stealing a book or, at an extreme, killing someone, the feeling of revulsion and guilt I can imagine is not simply some lame extension of a species-propogating trait. I am not a religious person, but when I think about taking another huuman life, I feel like I would be hurting myself in some irreparable way, a part of me would die at the same time the other person died. Are you telling me this powerful feeling is nothing but some cultural artifice, a selectively bred disposition not to kill reinforced by human cultural norms? It sure feels more profound than that.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, and I am sure that when you look at a person you find physically attractive, and come to love this person deeply, to the point where you would die for him and her, that you believe this is because it is good to love, and not because it is in our Darwinian interests to feel strongly for others.

C'mon. We are machines. Fortunately, many of the things we are programmed to do are terrific and noble.

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most of youtube stinks...: ...but tell me this guy doesn't have you laughing after about three lines. I think he's serious too.

The best part is you can make up your own song, just add nonsense in between the title lyrics.

washingtonpost.com: Chocolate Rain (youtube.com)

Gene Weingarten: This is just wonderful. I believe I shall link to it next week as well. You have to love this man.

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Near death experiences: A recent Newsweek article about bringing people back from clinical death ended with this:

"That's also what motivates Parnia, who has begun a study of near-death experiences in four hospitals in Britain, aiming for 30 by the year-end. The study will test the frequently reported sensation of looking down on one's body from above, by putting random objects on high shelves above the beds of patients who are likely to die. If they later claim to have been floating near the ceiling, he plans to ask them what they saw."

Clever, no? Also, is that comma between above and by superfluous?

Gene Weingarten: Interesting. And, no, that comma is absolutely necessary. Otherwise there is confusion as to whether one looks down by putting random objects on shelves.

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Tommy Lasor, DA: Gene,

Not safe for work or the chat, but enjoy this great moment in sports journalism.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, this is very funny, but you really want to listen to it alone, or not at all. There are many loud uses of the F-word.

It is an audiotape of Tommy Lasorda reacting to a sports reporter's question, one he thought was stupid. What's interesting is that LaSorda is not a cruel man, but he just couldn't help himself.

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Colesville, Md.: Oh! I'm all worked up. First of all, I feel so betrayed that you cut in traffic. I have had to commute from Falls Church to Silver Spring five days a week for the last two years. Sometimes on Fridays, my commute home is two hours. It enrages me that someone thinks their time is more valuable than mine. You people who cut in line or switch lanes to ride the onramp to get ahead of waiting cars make me so angry. I want to be home too. You probably haven't been on the road as long as I have and you don't mind screwing people over and making their wait longer so that you can get where you are going.

Okay, rant over.

As to telling the dying child about heaven, why not? I am an athiest and do not believe, but I see no reason not to be compassionate. I came to my conclusions about religion after study and exploration. I think people who have beliefs other than mine are wrong, but so what? My ethics don't demand that I impart my truth on those around me. I rather see a dying child leave the world peacefully than with fear clouding her little eyes. Besides, it's not like I'm going to go to Hell for lying.

Gene Weingarten: I would not tell a child that there is heaven, if I did not believe there was a heaven, because I would have a hard time living with myself after that.

I would tell a child the most comforting thing I could, without resorting to something I felt was a lie. I would perhaps say that no one knows for sure what happens after death, and that it could be, for all we know, a really exciting adventure she is going to get to have before I do. I would talk about how much her life has meant to other people, and how she would always be alive to all of us, etc.

I think. Tough question.

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"more random": Am I wrong, or is the word random only used by people under 30?

Gene Weingarten: It is only used INCORRECTLY by people under 30. Same with awesome. "Random" isn't a fabulous word to use about something off-the-wall that someone says. And if everything is awesome, nothing is awesome.

At this point, awesome should be used only ironically.

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New York, N.Y.: Why didn't I think to ask you earlier?! My poop has been green for two weeks. In the past, it would happen for two days or so, and I'd assume I had a stomach bug. (This would happen to my roommate, too, and we'd each wander around muttering "green poop" to try to gain sympathy from the other.) Anyway, now it's been two weeks... am I dying? Or just not eating enough vegetables?

Gene Weingarten: Three weeks is a long time for this to persist, actually! There are lots of causes for green stools, most of them benign, but fresh bile is green, and fresh bile shouldn't be in your stool. Also, occult blood in the stool sometimes looks green. So, see a GI person. If you're feeling well, you're probably fine.

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Submit questions for next week's chat.

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