Chatological Humor: Satirical College Kid or Budding Racist?; Prosopagnosia

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 18, 2008; 12:00 PM

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.

This Week's Poll

Not chat day? Visit the Gene Pool.

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.

P.S. If composing your questions in Microsoft Word please turn off the Smart Quotes functionality or use WordPad. I haven't the time to edit them out. -- Liz


Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon.

My column on Sunday got an unusual amount of reaction, all identical, all from people who suffer the same affliction, some of whom were relieved to know it had a name. But what really floored me was that six different people said that they, too, hadn't been able to distinguish between Matt Damon and Leo DiCaprio, and were as confused as I was about what "The Departed" was all about.Kate Coleman wrote: I almost cried while watching "The Departed," when about an hour into the movie the two actors (whom I thought were the same person) talked to each other on phones.

Tony Carmack wrote: I remember listening to the radio with my wife a few years ago and there was notice that the one of the Dicks (Sargent? York?) who was Darrin Stevens on the television show, "Bewitched" had passed away.

"There were two Darrins?" I said to my wife.


Rich Szabo wrote: I live in a retirement/golf community. I know over fifty men - on the golf course. But run into the same guy in the Giant and he's a total stranger, especially sans hat. Of course people in a retirement community sorta look alike. I was recently approached by a visitor in the parking lot.

He: I'm meeting John Doe here, do you know him?

Me: Sorry, no.

He: He' about five, nine, gray hair.

Me: I know three people he's not.


And several people sent me this link to two tests of how well you recognize faces.

I did terribly, as you might expect, well below average on both. The Rib scored 93 percent on the first test. Liz got 97 percent, and, as you might expect, 100 percent on the test involving celebs.

Alert: These tests take 15 minutes apiece. Unless you are coming to this very early, or don't mind reading the chat after the fact, postpone doing this until we're done.


Betsy Wells points out a rather amazing aptonym. When that crane collapsed in New York last week, it completely flattened a building that contained a popular bar. The name of the bar: Fubar.


Hundreds of people wrote in to alert me to this story, but very few were sharp enough to point out the great aptonym. The lawman investigating this case is Mr. Whipple.


Reviews of The Gene Pool continue to be mixed, either highly positive or scathingly dismissive, and I am going to experiment with the form a little bit this week. Report back, please.


Please take today's poll. Do it soon because I am going to be analyzing it in just a few minutes, and my explanation is going to provoke more debate.


Dan found this song online. The Flobots. I love it.

A Weak comics week. The CPOW is Thursday's Brewster Rockit. Three Honorables: Monday's Fuzzy. Thursday's Agnes. Thursday's Speed Bump.


This week's column: Gene, I certainly heart you and all, but after reading your column this week, one thing popped in my head.

Your wife is a saint.

We all heart you because, well, you aren't next to us in movie theater, it's not our spouse won't comb their hair, and our husband doesn't work in the basement with rat poison. It is much easier to heart people with whom you only have an on-line relationship. Losing Face, ( Post Magazine, March 16)

Gene Weingarten: You don't know the half of it.

I forgot the most annoying thing I say -- all the time -- because of this disorder:

"Which one is our waiter?"


I'm an Asian-American: And I couldn't bring myself to react much to that piece, except, "eh." The writer did such a poor job at satire that he came across as a dimwitted bigot, and even if he really believes what he said about Asians, I just feel sorry for him.

I'm Chinese-American, but I don't go around thinking about my Asianness, or look at people through a race-lens, so the essay just doesn't even resonate. I did answer that the response was probably about right.

Gene Weingarten: I would say 80 percent of the people writing in felt this piece was not funny and not successful as satire.


I know how you feel about a mushy propos, AL....: But my boyfriend proposed to me this weekend through the comics page. He brought me breakfast in bed and the early edition of the Sunday Post; in the last panel of "Get Fuzzy" he wrote "Look up, please." I looked up to find him kneeling by the bed with the ring. I figured that you would at least appreciate his choice of comic...

Gene Weingarten: Aww.


Gene Pool, IC: The Pool makes me appreciate Liz even more. She has to read all the sediment that is in the pool to get to the nuggets that make your chats so good. Your updates were filtered. The pool is filled with crud with hidden small treasures. I have better things to do with my time than to read why rlbmrb from Hackey, WV has a fear of gnats. I don't necessarily agree. I just make it a point to forward all comments in praise of me.

Gene Weingarten: I liked many of the expressed fears. I was startled at how many people fear stinging insects.

And how many people share my impostor phenomenon.


The Deep End: Please forgive me for being irritated at having been invited to submit a "Six Million Dollar Question" for the Gene Pool, and then being told that none of us "hit the mark" and you'd be writing your own question, thank you very much.

It's one day of the Gene Pool. Would it have killed you to choose one of the questions? Just to show your respect to those who spent the time? Build a loyal audience for the Pool? Show that you're not an overzealous lifeguard who's also prone to criticizing the skinny kid's backstroke?

Yes, I know. Comedy is not pretty. It's not democratic. But good luck trying to get future contributions.

Gene Weingarten: Goodness.

Nope, I liked many of the suggestions, but was not going to post one and risk very few responses. Some were quite funny, but would not have sparked the discussion I was looking for.

One was: Would you vote for a black person if he were not black?


Rosslyn, Va.: What are your favorite books? Fiction or nonfiction.

Gene Weingarten: I don't read enough, so my opinions shouldn't count.

But if I am defining a great book, it's one that when I finished it I felt I had been exposed to someone with talents vastly greater than mine. The most recent time that happened was with Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Kafka, almost all of him.

Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities did that to me when I first read it, for the sheer storytelling. Richard Ben Cramer on Ted Williams.

Don De Lillo's White Noise, and the first half of Underground.

There's much more. I can't think of em.


Portland, Ore.: I went to CU for grad school, and while I might otherwise have thought the punishment a bit excessive, I think it was probably about right for that particular school. It is, in fact, a remarkably racist environment -- there are VERY few minorities of any kind, and they are noticeably segregated from the 98 percent white student body, and people literally stopped to stare at black students walking by. A lot of minority students transfer after their first year. This was a really, really dumb thing to write under any circumstances, but it was so much stupider in an environment in which the minority students already have plenty of reason to think that the rest of the student body kind of hates them.

Gene Weingarten: Interesting.

Might you not also say that it was exactly the environment that required satire, to discuss an issue no one is discussing?


Richmond, Va.: Apparently smokers in New Zealand are subjected to this.

I've heard Canadians have similar warnings.

Gene Weingarten: Wow.

I want to know why they seem to have a pregnant man.


Bleeding Liber, AL: Thanks to the lady who gave the heads-up on Target brand tampons. I've told several other women, and we've all been pleased to find an alternative to the "new Tampax." So yes, Gene, they have "New Coked" themselves.

Gene Weingarten: I wonder if New Tampax is going to tank?


Baltimore, Md.: Regarding the poll, a similar situation occurred at my alma mater, UMBC, a few years ago. It was an attempted-satirical piece, written by a black author, about black people. It got the entire campus up in arms.

My conclusion? College students don't understand satire. And, most college students aren't very good at writing it, either.

Perhaps the piece in the University of Colorado newspaper could have been written better, but referring to all Asians as "the Asians", as if they were space aliens, showed clearly that it was meant to be taken as a joke.

Gene Weingarten: That wasn't your only clue, was it?


Anonymous: Do you have even more trouble identifying people of a different race or ethnicity? Gender?

Gene Weingarten: I don't think so. I think this is an across-the-board dysfunction.


Hang On: Gene,

Considering the ongoing feud between you and Liz, I thought you would find this interesting. Take that, John B. Weingarten.

Gene Weingarten: WEll, of course. This is the state of Ohio, which is so clueless about rock and roll that they host the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame, which has inducted such greats as Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Eagles.


Vienna, Va.: I've just gotten a chance to read yesterday's chat and wanted to submit the following as I find this to be a funny ethnic joke.

From Austin Power's "Goldmember":

"There's only two things I hate in this world. People who are intolerant of other people's cultures and the Dutch."

Gene Weingarten: Excellent.


Washington, D.C.: Yeah, I have no problems with faces at all, but it took me at least half an hour to realize that there were two different characters in "The Departed." Once I knew that, I could pretty much tell them apart.

Gene Weingarten: But do Damon and DiCaprio look that alike?


Anonymous: What percentage of the incoming blather makes it onto this chat and how many chatters are with you right now?

Gene Weingarten: Maybe one in 20 questions makes it onto the chat. And right now, it seems to be only you. Everyone else is taking the face test.


Hot or not: After reading Sunday's column, I understand a little bit better why, until you got explicit information, you never knew your wife wears make up. I still don't understand how you could live in the same domicile for 20 years without ever seeing her apply the stuff, but no matter.

My question is this: if it is true that you focus on the face when determining the Hotness factor, and you can't easily tell one face from another -- well, it's not an easily formulated question, I guess, but are we all interchangeable (to a certain point, anyway)? You DID say that the face is what you look at, right? Color me (no -- make me up) confused. Losing Face, ( Post Magazine, March 16)

Gene Weingarten: I have no problem at all deciding that a face is beautiful. And when I see it a month later, in a different context, I will also decide it is a beautiful face. I will not be aware that I have seen this face before.

As far as face recognition, I am like a guy who is perpetually a little stoned.

Hey, this reminds me of a great anecdote. It happened to a friend of mine when he was a teenager. He was extremely stoned on weed, and was swimming with friends in a public pool. It was a beautiful day, the pool was not crowded, and he was in a fine state of euphoria, going under the water, surfacing, etc. At one point he surfaced and encountered a man with a very strange large red mark on his face.

My friend stared for what was probably 20 seconds and then said, in his semi stuporous state, "Hey, man, what's that thing on your face?"

The man said, extremely coldly, "It's a birthmark." My friend realized his stupidity, stammered an apology, and swam away.

God, it was a beautiful day. And the water felt so good, and the clouds were forming fabulously intricate patterns in the sky. And my friend was going under the water, and surfacing. And at one point he surfaced, and there was a man with a very strange, large red mark on his face....


That's me.


Just some guy:

The face recognition problem made it hard for me on first dates. I'd go to pick her up and hoped I could recognize her. My biggest worry was if she realized my problem, she would think I had never looked at her face, which I usually did.

Gene Weingarten: Haha.


Not a swimmer: The gene pool is not an improvement. It is too much to wade though. I want to see the old updates and your response. I can see the comments of unknown people trying to be funny on any blog on the internet.

In this case, at this place, I want the view of a long time editor who I know is funny not that endless prattle of wanna be's.

Gene Weingarten: As I said, I'm going to be experimenting with form.


Pure, NY: So, do you think adultery should disqualify someone from being Governor of New York?

Gene Weingarten: No.


The O in Obama: Holy cow. I just watched Obama on the telly, and I am physically turned on. I am no Hillary hater, but she needs to bow out gracefully now. We need him. And I'm not just talking about tired Moms. We ALL need him.

Gene Weingarten: Wait. We need him because he is hott?

Gene Weingarten: I have polled several women of my acquaintance, and most agree he is not hott. He is attractive, because of his intelligence and demeanor and cool. But not sexy. Right, women?


Underworld: I have read the first part of that book about 3-4 times, but never can get through it (I end up stuck in the art colony). Have you finished it and only liked the first half or is that the only part you have read?

I did love White Noise though.

Gene Weingarten: I read the whole thing, but it took me months. The first half was brilliant, though. He needs a better editor.


Anonymous: I've noticed your editor tends to clean up my posts -- emasculating my damn into a darn and such -- what gives Gene don't words count any longer ? I don't recall ever darning a damn. Also, just cuz you railed against my editing, I have refrained from adding the appropriate punctuation to your submission.

Gene Weingarten: Warning: Don't mess with C'woman.


Gene Pool: Gene,

I was one of the early detractors who is coming around, although I wish people would be more discriminate.

If you want to make it interesting, how about having a CPOTW for interesting posts to the blog?

I don't know about everyone else, but I read your CPOTW to get my comic fix. I imagine I could read your BPOTW for my blog fix, too.

Gene Weingarten: Good idea!


Cracking, UP: I thought the piece was hysterical. Has everyone lost their sense of humor. Clearly, this was satire. Gotta go, my butterfly net is empty and needs filling!

Gene Weingarten: Your view, while correct, is part of a very small minority. My analysis follows.

Gene Weingarten: Oop, wait. One more posting before mine.


Charlottesville, Va.: Hi Gene,

I'm an Asian female who is taking an English class on 18th-century satire at the University of Virginia. While doing my reading for that class, I've often wondered why authors felt compelled to write anonymously (Swift) or included disclaimers in their work (even "Dr. Strangelove" is preceded by one). Now it makes complete sense to me.

And my personal opinion of this article? I found it to be a well-written satire that should not have been so grossly misunderstood. Satire is meant to be an offensive attack for the express purpose of making a point (especially one that people are unwilling to hear); an effective satirist will include textual clues to show the reader what he's doing. I think this writer did precisely that -- the reference to how white people would never make fun of black people they way they do Asians (right at the beginning!), the butterfly nets, tickling Asians until they pee -- it's blatantly obvious that he's not seriously suggesting this Asian reformation program.

Having said that, I understand why people misunderstood this article. First, the target of the author's satire was not quite clear enough -- he satirizes pretty much everyone and everyone's stereotypes of everyone, which is far too broad a target to make a coherently understandable point. Secondly, people will jump at the chance to defend a minority being "abused" at the hands of a majority -- but only if it carries no real risk for themselves.

That's all.

Gene Weingarten: You are essentially one hundred percent correct. He made one other mistake that contributed to the problem. NOW comes my analysis.


Gene Weingarten: Okay, the poll.

Most of you are very wrong about this, waay too judgmental, far too willing to punish and humiliate a kid for daring to commit the sin of satire.

I consulted Dave Barry on this and we were in agreement, which means my position is scientifically established and cannot be refuted or even questioned.

This piece is not perfect. There are a couple of missteps that contributed to it being misconstrued. But this is a college. The author is 22, is still learning, but is going to be very good. He's an interesting character. More on him later.

Let's start with your poll results, and tackle them backwards:

Very few of you - only one in six - believe this piece was written primarily to ridicule Asians. The large majority of you understood that this was clearly also making fun of white culture, and, mostly making fun of the silliness of ethnic intolerance and stereotyping. You were right about that. Now, given that fact, how could you have ALSO concluded that the writer needed to be punished?

This might not have been perfect satire, but if you recognized it as satire, you realized it was not hate speech. And if it was not hate speech, it should not have been punished or apologized for. This is a college. You learn. You experiment. Free speech is an important a lesson for a college as is cultural sensitivity. More important, actually.

Plus, this piece was a lot better than most of you give it credit for.

Here is what happened. Max Karson recognized that there was a social problem on campus, a cultural divide that was not being addressed - misunderstanding and mistrust between Asian students and white students. It was a sensitive issue, and so people were walking on eggshells about it. Not talking about it. So, like any satirist, Karson decided to address this eggshell issue by putting on hobnail boots and walking all over it. That is the nature of satire: You write outrageous things, things that aren't true, so the absurdity of what you are saying exposes an underlying truth.

What Max tried to do here was no different from what Jonathan Swift did in his Modest Proposal.

Swift: The Irish are poor and live wretched lives. Therefore, they should sell their children to be eaten by the rich.

Karson: There is mistrust between Asians and whites because of cultural differences. Therefore, we need to hunt them down, catch them in butterfly nets, and forcibly reeducate them in our ways.

Swift was really saying that Britain needed to rethink the way they distributed wealth, which he indicated by raising exactly such a reasonable notion, and then deriding it as preposterous.

Karson did the same thing. Raised an absolutely correct straw man, and then ignored it: "When an Asian refuses to make eye contact with me or dismisses me with a one-word sentence, I just say to myself, "Max, Asians are not evil cyborgs, they're humans, just like you. And if you were a minority student in a sea of walnut-brained business majors and skiers, you'd be crabby, too."

There ya go, the issue, right out in the open. Then he goes on to his far more sensible solution, involving butterfly nets.

Swift prosecuted his bogus solution with infinite, deadpan detail - recipes for baked children, etc. - just as Karson prosecuted his proposal with infinite, deadpan detail. And both made it quite clear, as they went about their farce, what they were really up to.

What did Karson propose we do to the Asians? Make them listen to our crappy music. Drive our big, piggy cars. Make them create the right facial expressions to match an emotion, and when they succeed, make fun of them for being conformist. (In other words, they're screwed. Whatever they do, however they try to assimilate, they can't win in this arena.)

And if you want the coup de grace, how about that last line . See how well WE turned out? That line could not have been delivered with any more obvious sarcasm.

What was Karson's overall point? That here is a serious cultural issue we should not be avoiding talking about. We're all humans, let's discuss it. The vast overreaction to this piece proved he was right.

He made two errors. I don't think he well enough established at the top of this piece that there was a genuine problem on campus, a recognizable issue so the reader might have assumed this was all in his head and a product of his own bias. And he should not have had that long and pointless anecdote about the kid in the handball court. It was confusing, but more important, it was too real: It sounded like it really happened, and so immediately set up an assumption that the hostility Karson was expressing was genuine, based on an actual slight. That anecdote was a tactical error in an otherwise well-crafted piece.

Was it funny? Funny enough. There were some excellent lines, including: the Asians will be arranged in rows "if they haven't naturally done so already." "Tickled until they pee." "Anyone caught speaking any language other than English will be kissed on the lips."

So. Pretty successful satire.

About Max Karson: He is an iconoclast, a bomb-thrower, a saboteur, a joyful subversive. You will be hearing from him again, I predict.

Last year he wrote an article in a self-published newsletter about "the myth of the female orgasm" and argued that the clitoris is functionless ('like an appendix'), breasts have no nerves and can therefore be squeezed as hard as possible, and intercourse should proceed without lubrication, 'so they can really feel it.'""

Is he a sexist? No, he is a satirist. He was satirizing sexism. This same Max Karson publicly confronted a candidate for University President and demanded he explain why he had, years before, threatened to kill his wife. The guy exploded, and Karson was booed for being rude, but he pointed out that this might indicate a certain disrespect for women that the campus females really ought to know about.

Karson is always rude, sometimes unwisely. A few days after the Virginia Tech tragedy when he informed his Women's Studies class that he understood why someone might want to kill 32 people, and that he felt that way, too, sometimes, because of his anger over fluorescent light bulbs.

When shocked classmates inquired whether he seriously would kill the whole class, he responded, "not ALL of you." Do you know what happened? HE WAS ARRESTED.

Do you see? Max Karson is a satirist, a smart guy, an exhibitionist, and a total punk. His humor is going to get more mature, his judgment is going to get better, and he may well become famous.

And the university administrators who saw fit to deal with this essay about re-educating Asians by humiliating the writer and forcing the editors into self-criticism and reeducation ... are craven, sniveling weenies. They should be slow-roasted, seasoned with paprika, and eaten.


Obama: is HOTT. In every way.

I'm a 33-year-old female, if it matters.

Gene Weingarten: Really? He ain't just a little too scrawny?


Face Recognition: My mother who lives in another state was unexpectedly in DC around lunch time, and decided to come by my office to see if I wanted to go to lunch with her. She showed up at my office while I was meeting with some coworkers, and I didn't recognize her. She stood in the doorway and said hi to me told me she was in town and decided to surprise me for lunch. I was just staring at her because i knew I should know who that is, but I didn't. It wasn't until one of my coworkers introduced themselves to her and said, "you must be her mom, you look so much alike" that I knew who it was.

Gene Weingarten: WOW!!


Fort Belvoir, Va.: It took me a little while to figure out that the characters being played by Ralph Feinne and Liam Neeson in "Schindler's List" were, in fact, two different characters. But I think the point in that movie is that they DO look alike.

I haven't seen "The Departed", but it's possible that the director wanted these two characters to play mirror images of each other so the acting/makeup/etc was done to accentuate their similarities. Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson couldn't look less like one another.

Gene Weingarten: To me they are identical.


Anonymous: Obama is sexy in an encyclopedia salesman sort of way...

Gene Weingarten: Uh, ok.


OhhhBama: Not "HOTT" but hot in his charisma and ability to make everything he says sound inspiring. I saw McCain speak on one of the primary nights then Obama, then Hillary and said to my husband that I had never realized what a bad speaker McCain was, then said the same about Hillary. They both just left me cold compared to Obama.

Gene Weingarten: McCain seems like an old man; you expect him to say something dotty. Hillary, to me, sounds pretty insincere and scripted, though scary smart.

Obama seems like the real deal.


Richmond, Va.: I also notice I have problems with name recognition in books. I hate, hate, hate when authors give similar names to characters. I always get them mixed up at different parts.

Made up example: Wait, was Justin the one who murdered his wife Kristin and Jason was the one who went out on the first date with Karen, or is it the other way around?

Gene Weingarten: Me, too!


Tamp, Ax: Does that mean that Tampax is in the red?

Gene Weingarten: That's what I was looking for. Thank you.

Or it's going down the toilet.


Editorial: Gene, I have to admit that, while I have a pretty good sense of humor (or so I'm told), I often don't recognize satire when I see it, especially if it's subtle. I wasn't sure about the CU story until about two-thirds of the way through. Am I humor-impaired, or just too earnest?

Gene Weingarten: Neither. I think his top was too ambiguous.


Takoma Park, Md.: I just want to draw attention to the scene in "The Office" where Michael draws on his Asian date's arm to distinguish her from her Asian friend. It touches both on Asian stereotypes and on face recognition problems.

Gene Weingarten: Haha.


Ghan, DI: So, with the celebrity test, do I get points for thinking it was Ben Kingsley rather than Ghandi, considering Kingsley won an Oscar for playing Ghandi?

Gene Weingarten: I have an observation: About 35 percent of literate Americans misspell Gandhi, and they all do it the same way.


Rears chiming in: Gene, you already know I think the satirical piece was not successful, but I also think it could have been successful in a two-bit humor magazine like the one I wrote for in college. Just not in the regular campus newspaper... wrong audience. Or, and I know this is blasphemy since I went to another (I'd say better if Manteuffel were here to back me up) school in Va., but U.Va. has a weekly news and humor mag called the Declaration, in which pieces like this would be welcome. The Dec has certainly caused its fair share of controversy at times, though.

Gene Weingarten: Well, now we're getting into whether satire SHOULD sabotage you. The worst thing you can do to satire is the label it "satire."

Which The Post has done to me.


Missing link: Mildly OCD copyeditor here who just has to point out a couple of formatting issues in last week's chat. In every single link the underlined link had slipped a character to the left, leaving the last letter unlunk. Also - the bold had disappeared from the poster's name and Gene's name, making it difficult to understand who was saying what in a few posts that quoted other posts.

Please fix! This sort of thing really is quite distressing to some of us. Thank you. I fixed the bold problem, but don't have the time to re-link the unlunk letters. Since the links still work, even when unlunk from that last letter, I'm thinking we'll survive.

Gene Weingarten: Sadly, "unlunk" is not a googlenope. I thought Chatwoman had coined something here.


Poll: Hi Gene-

An amazing thing just happened- I was the second person to take the poll. Since I believe you are usually no. 1- I can be secure in the knowledge that I am (for once) right since I answered all the same as no. 1.

If for some reason it wasn't you, but was... perhaps a single guy?? We think alike, and should maybe meet up since neither of us appear to have something better to do on Sunday afternoon than compulsively check for the poll to be put up.

That's all. You're no. 2. Hahaha.

Gene Weingarten: I was not number one. Sorry. And judging from the majority of answers, you were wrong.


Gainesville, Va.: In last week's chat, a poster (commenting on your poll about stereotypes) raised this question (about blacks):

Are they better athletes, or is it that athletics are one area where they're allowed to excel, while talented white athletes have other opportunities to choose from?

You noted that you didn't have a problem with this or the other questions raised in the post. Well I do, because it's patently stupid, and also representative of the knots that people often get themselves into when trying to navigate the minefield of racial sensitivity. For this oft-repeated canard to be true, you would have to believe that there are many, many white doctors and investment bankers who could be playing professional sports, but decided not to because they had "other opportunities." I'm sorry, but the rewards that our culture offers to top athletes (fame, fortune, women, plus being inherently fun to play) are so great that it's hard to imagine anyone with the ability to succeed in sports passing on that opportunity, regardless of his race. (I can only think of one counter-example, and that was a potential NFL first-rounder who passed because he wouldn't play on Sundays, for religious reasons).

Obviously, cultural differences can affect which particular sports athletes wind up focusing on. However, even there there can be biological differences. I remember a study several years back on muscle types, which found that West Africans tend to have very high percentages of fast-twitch muscle fibers (good for power and speed), while East Africans tend to have very high percentages of slow-twitch muscles (good for endurance). Watch the Olympics this summer, and you will see the 100-meter final dominated by African-Americans and others of west African descent, while the distance events will be dominated by Kenyans. Oh, and who scored the highest on fast-twitch fibers? Nolan Ryan, a physical freak regardless of his race.

The real issue with stereotypes is what people do with them. I've seen this one used to hilarious effect in opposite ways--the African tribesmen in Airplane! who immediately start dunking on being introduced to basketball, and the episode of "The Office" where Michael puts together a company basketball team based solely on stereotypes (it turns out the "black guy" can't play a lick). The concern that people seem to have with this one is that, by lauding blacks tendencies toward athletic giftedness, you are some how denigrating their intelligence or work ethic. Again, I'm not sure how this follows logically--obviously, the most successful athletes have some combination of all of the above, and saying people have one thing doesn't mean they lack another. People need to just chill.

Gene Weingarten: I answer questions too quickly sometimes. You're right, that formulation about athletes is ridiculous.


Bleeding Liber, AL: No, Obama isn't hott. He's not even warm. I get a very cold vibe from him.

The people who find him hott are the same kind of people who found (and still find) W hott.


Gene Weingarten: Cold? Boy, he seems to genuine to be cold. I think he believes what he says. That's warm.


Re: Ghahnhdhi: We know there's any extra "H" in there somewhere, so we put it where we're used to seeing it: the ghost of Ghandi.

Gene Weingarten: It seems to make sense, in a ghoulish way.


Anonymous: I thought and wrote this before reading your analysis, and I will repeat this comment. If what Max Karsen wrote were on Mad TV, most of us would be laughing at it. I think Max Karsen should send his resume to some comedy shows like SNL or Mad TV. I believe he would do very well there.

Gene Weingarten: I agree.


Union Station, Washington, D.C.: I disagree slightly with your assessment of the satire piece. There's a difference between writing a good piece of satire and doing something just to be a jackass and get attention. The piece, and his comment on the Virginia Tech shootings, tend way more towards the latter then the former. I think an apology was deserved, for writing a bad piece of satire.

He has potential though.

Gene Weingarten: If I had to apologize every time I wrote badly, I'd be doing a lot of apologizing.


Crofton, Md.: All of this hoopla surrounding the NY governor's escapades reminds me of a question I've been meaning to ask: My boyfriend and I are within spitting distance of 50. We've been together for a while but, like you say, don't feel the need for a piece of paper to authenticate our relationship.

We have a great sex life. We are best friends, we own a business together, and are completely committed to each other. But I've already told him - when/if he finds any 20-year-olds willing to sleep with him, by all means go for it. Have fun. Just a few simple rules -- be safe, no lies, and no comparisons. And if he spends money, make sure we can afford it.

So, my question is this: is this attitude completely off-the-charts abnormal? What is the problem with getting a little "on the side"? I just want to know if I'm that strange or if this attitude is more common than I think.

Gene Weingarten: I do suspect you are very, very unusual.



Mystery Method: Did you see this book review in Tuesday's Style section? It's about a book by a woman advertising executive who's teaching other women how to "seduce" (without sex) and "manipulate" men in the workplace to get ahead in the man's world. She calls it "invisible persuasion." And thus the question is answered: Yes, it is just as creepy no matter which sex is doing the manipulating.

Gene Weingarten: Wow, that sounds like a crappy book. There is one good piece of advice:

"Always yell up or across, never down. It's unfair to yell at people who have no defense against you."

This is so true. The late Howard Simons summarized it more succinctly once, in telling me his management style: "Kick up, kiss down."


New York, N.Y.: It is funny that you brought up Fubar because that bar was the first time I learned what that expression stood for.

I felt like a shallow person after hearing about the crane accident because Fubar is where I used to drink every night with my friends at my first job. It was advertising and we did many things that were embarrassing and totally inappropriate around colleagues. I was very sad to hear it got crushed and then I felt like a moron for caring about that since people died.

Gene Weingarten: For those who don't know, fubar is "effed up beyond all repair."


Washington, D.C.: When do we get details on the Hunt?

Gene Weingarten: Soon!


Admitted Obamatard: Gene, read Wonkette. Males and females think Obama is hottttt (this 40-something female included). One male commenter on Wonkette today noted that he would turn gay for this man. There is nothing sexier than a passionate, honest, inteligent, funny, man who does not take himself too seriously AND adores his wife and says so. Read his memoir, Dreams From My Father, and the hottness is multiplied. The man's brain is sexy, too.

Gene Weingarten: Okay.


Washington, D.C.: Korean guy here. First off, Max Karson is the guy pictured and described here (warning, there's some colorful language) and is the novicemind behind this Web site.

Therefore, I'm not sure if I can find the article offensive because the guy behind it is such a tool. That said, the second poll question didn't have a correct response; it was a hateful piece that tried to _hide behind_ satire. That argument -- "I'm not a racist, you just don't have a sense of humor" -- has replaced "I have ______ friends" as the Overused Denial of Prejudice du jour. See: Michael Richards, Rosie O'Donnell, et al. The best part of that defense is it actually strengthens the user's racist credentials -- if I tell you I was joking, then not only am I NOT backing down from my comments, I also get to say you're not smart enough to understand the joke. Example: O'Donnell's publicist went so far as to say, "I certainly hope one day [Asians] will BE ABLE TO GRASP her humor."

And it's pretty brilliant, if you think about it, because the people who share those beliefs would, perforce, be too stupid to see through such a transparently pathetic defense.

Oh dear, there I go, insulting bigots again. I'm so prejudiced. You gotta understand, it was all a joke. I love bigots! I have bigot friends!

Gene Weingarten: Very well put. I do hear you, but I disagree with you.

We need to go back to the initial question: Who was this piece really making fun of?

I don't think it was Asians. And I don't think Max Karson is prejudiced against Asians. Just as I don't think he is advocating rape. Or really threatening to blow anyone away.


Pillow Talk: There is a great article in the Washington Post on pillows. It goes into why you need to change them every 18 months.

It even says you can freeze your pillow to kill dust mites.

How often do you freeze your pillow? Or do you just change it every two years? Written by Robin Wright, no less: Pillows: The Inside Story, ( Post, March 18)

Gene Weingarten: This is scary.


Bowie, Md.: Gene,

I am extremely interested to see this week's poll results because I was involved in a similar situation at Columbia University a few years ago. I was on the staff of a humor paper, the Fed, when we came under some serious fire for printing a comic strip that the African-American student group found insulting. The strip was meant to be satirical but was either badly written or misinterpreted, depending on whose opinion you rely on, and the incident ended up receiving national news coverage. Have people just become too sensitive for humor that deals with race in any way to be successful? I liked working on the paper because we could publish things that were offbeat or oddly funny; I think they should be appropriately sensitive, but wouldn't want college papers to become too PC because some of their writers haven't quite refined their satirical techniques enough.

Gene Weingarten: You know what?

I think the whole point of college is to experiment with creativity. I think it is awful that kids in college are afraid to be funny, and are punished if they try.


Cul de S, AC: Hi Gene -

Sorry if you've already discussed this, but who do we write at the Post to (politely) ask the paper to add the daily version of Richard Thompson's Cul de Sac to the comics page?

I only found out today that there IS a daily version (bwuh?).

I know the comics page is precious real estate, but it seems like the Post of all papers ought to carry the strip. Plus, it's great. Thanks.

Gene Weingarten: I know. I cannot understand why we are not carrying it.

You write to Deborah Heard, Assistant Managing Editor/Style.


Tokyo, Japan: I flew to Japan on Saturday on Japan Airlines. During every meal and drink service (of which there are many on a long international flight), several remarkable things happened:

1. Before serving a row, the flight attendant asked the people in the row ahead to move their seats to the upright position.

2. Everyone complied.

3. Nobody complained.

It was a sight to behold. I immediately thought of you.

Gene Weingarten: This is GREAT.


New York, N.Y.: The aptonymly-named lawyer representing New York City against the cab drivers who didn't want GPS installed in their cabs: Paula Van Meter.

Gene Weingarten: Nice.


Baltimore, Md.: Ya know, the more I think about that piece in the poll, the more I like it. He kinda suckered me at the start; I was thinking, oh, no, not one of these witless diatribes. Then I got to the butterfly nets and snorted my tea out my nose. The rest was hilarious.

At first I thought it was bad satire, probably misunderstood. Then I thought it was pretty decent (my poll answer). But doesn't the University's response make it pretty damn great? Talk about making the author's point for him...

Gene Weingarten: You got it. Absolutely.


No, no, no in Virgin, IA!: I have to VEHEMENTLY object to what Bleeding Liber, AL said. Even hearing W's voice makes me want to blow projectile chunks. His image is worse. I think Obama is HOTT. I am a conservative who voted for Bush the first time and will vote for OBama this time.

Gene Weingarten: Hey, am I the first to point out that Barack Obama has unfortunate initials?


Footwashing Station: This Thursday is Maundy Thursday. I just wanted to mention to any faithful churchgoers who will be getting their feet washed at church: Holy Thursday morning before you leave your house is a wonderful time to clip your toenails. If there is anything really foul in there, please prise it out in your own bathroom. The footwashing experience is a blessing for you, but having your toes full of stinky pellets of who knows what doesn't make the washing any more powerful. It is kind of like going to the dental hygienist - even though the hygienist is cleaning your teeth, doesn't mean you're not supposed to even brush them. (Of course God loves you regardless, it is just hapless humans like me who find it disgusting.)

Gene Weingarten: Thank you. One reason I like this post is that you correctly used one of my favorite words: prise.


Land of Cleve, OH: The only reason "Hang on Sloopy" is the state rock song is because of Ohio State. This is why every Ohio high school marching band has it in their repertoire. And Ohioans don't pick Rock Hall nominees, New Yorkers do, so there! Right -- the Rock Hall is controlled by the record industry. Which is why the McCoys aren't in the Rock Hall yet.

Gene wishes my fingers would seize up right now.

Gene Weingarten: They are more worthy than The Eagles.


Rears again: Re: Tampax being in the red or going down the toilet... does this mean they're going to have to pull the plug?

Gene Weingarten: Maybe.

Or just pull some strings and get the product yanked.


Err, no. Not Fun, NY: A few days after the Virginia Tech tragedy when he informed his Women's Studies class that he understood why someone might want to kill 32 people, and that he felt that way, too, sometimes, because of his anger over fluorescent light bulbs.

Sorry, I just can't see the humor in this. The concept of being angry enough over fluorescent light bulbs to kill -- that's funny. But I don't see the humor inherent in linking it to a very real and public tragedy.

Gene Weingarten: I SAID he lacks judgment. But with humor. Not ALL of you is funny.


More StupID: I have the definitive answer on which is the most intelligent sex. About 10 years ago, I came across a study from a snakebite tracking project at a college in Arizona. When women get bitten by a poisonous snake, 80 percent of the time it's on the leg or foot. When men get bitten, 90 percent of the time it's on the hand, arm or FACE (Lookee, Earl, I c'n kiss 'im!). QED. I'm a guy by the way.

Also, there's a body of water in Maryland called Assawoman Bay.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you for both items.


Washington, D.C.: Gene--Last week in your CPOW intro you wrote:

I am beginning to think this is a mistake by The Post. Darrin Bell has a point he wants to make: This one is based on stories in the Dallas paper that security was not as tight as it should have been for an Obama visit, given the unusual threats he faces.

My question to you is this: Shouldn't this be presumed threats? I've not read anywhere that he has received more threats than normal, but there has been a lot of speculation that he would receive more threats than other candidates because of his race. While I know the Secret Service is not going to publicly state how many threats he has received (lest the low number inspire cretins to get off their couches) but it seems that if this really were a true concern, we'd be seeing more coverage about it than we have.

Gene Weingarten: You're right. I misspoke. It may be true, but I don't know it to be true.


Washington, D.C.: Because of my prosopagnosia, I need to get a full briefing from my wife before going with her to any event attended by her friends or colleagues. I need to know: 1. Who's going to be there? 2. What do they look like? 3. Where have I seen each of these people before? I then need to keep going over all of that information in my mind -- sometimes even asking my wife for a celebrity lookalike for the person we're talking about, so that I'll know what to expect -- so that at the event, I don't let on that I wouldn't otherwise recognize these people.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, worst for me is work-related parties where I must introduce people to my wife. Very difficult. She has learned to put her hand out first and introduce herself, saving me the humiliation of not remembering the name.


Arlington, Va: Gene are you a sports fan? If so, who is in your final four?

Gene Weingarten: I am a rabid football and baseball fan. Don't care about basketball, don't follow it.


Arlington, Va: I took the facial recognition test - the celebrity one - and what I realized is that I have a really hard time recalling the names of things. I instantly knew who they all were (except Tony Blair - I think I need his wavy locks in the picture to recognize him) but as it wore on I had increasing problems recalling their names. This happens to me all the time at home when I'm yelling desperately for my husband to bring me the "thing" in the "room" and can't understand why he's confused. It can also be very awkward at work because I often sound stupid when I'm not expecting to talk about something because it takes me a few minutes to find the right words.

Gene Weingarten: Right. I think the first test was more valid. The second required remembering names.

I should point out that on that celeb test, I didn't recognize Oprah or Bradd Pitt. Yes, I am that bad.


The Poll: Gene, I agree with your analysis completely. I was not surprised by the punishment, and thought it was severe enough, given the culture of Boulder.

Having lived in Boulder for a few years, I understand the culture of the community quite well. It is known as the "Republic of Boulder" for a reason. The city head librarian refused, in 2002, to fly the American flag in front of the City Library, because she was afraid she might "offend someone." Boulder recently fined a woman $1000 for dyeing her pooch in Kool-aid and beet juice. You cannot refer in any way to your pet as being an object that you "own" because it is illegal to "own a pet." You may, however, be a guardian of an animal.

All these things point to a city that is paralyzed by political correctness. There is no way they could have let the author of the article go unpunished. Boulder citizens would have rioted in a very "in" and politically appropriate way.

And I hope the author of the piece continues to write because Boulder presents more than enough material for satire. He is living in a perfect area to hone his craft. In fact, his experience should inspire yet another attempt at satire!

Gene Weingarten: The Boulder Daily Camera carries my column. I will condone no trashing of Boulder.


New York, N.Y.: Is the phrase "BLEEDING heart liberal" or is it actually "BLEATING heart liberal?"

Do you know where the phrase comes from? I've always thought it was BLEATING.

Gene Weingarten: Bleeding. Bleating heart doesn't really make any sense.


Ferraro's Obama comment: She questioned how much of the Obama phenomenon is because of his race. I've not read much on this but one thing I found amusing: no one has directly raised the question of whether a man with her resume would have been nominated for VP.

Gene Weingarten: Exactly!


Beginning of Karson's piece: You nailed it. I marked various answers saying I thought it was offensive, but it was the beginning of it that really annoyed me. Had he just started out with the silly Asian war stuff, I wouldn't nearly have been as bothered.

The piece struck me as having at least some racial hatred going on in it because of that opening.

Gene Weingarten: Right. But it was just a tactical error of a young writer. By the end, you got it, or should have.


A Movie You Shouldn't See: I do not suffer from this affliction.

However, I watched a movie called "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" which features two groups of Scottish bad guys who try to kill each other and who ALL look alike and all speak in that incomprehensible Scottish accent. It was great fun but I cannot describe the movie any further than I did above.

Gene Weingarten: Thanks for the heads-up.


Virginia: I love the CU article. Agree that the butterfly nets were the first big giggle, but the way he brings it home at the very end "we're not doing anything to you that we haven't done to ourselves" is a killer close. That's funny stuff.

Gene Weingarten: I need to ask, because this was such a disparate reaction:

Did I convince any of you that your initial reaction was wrong?


Washington, D.C.: Satire needs to be labeled as such, partly because of the databases where you can find articles out of context forever. I think Senator Bob Graham's presidential campaign was damaged by an unlabeled satirical piece making fun of his habit of keeping detailed diaries. The Today Show's researchers apparently found it in a database and Katie Couric questioned Graham about it, clearly taking it seriously.

Gene Weingarten: I vaguely remember this. I was in Florida when he was the gov, and he used to make fun of himself for doing it. It really was a compulsion. He would make notes of what he had for lunch.

Hey, Lizzie. Do you think you can find a piece that Dave did for Tropic Magazine, around 1984, on Graham? It was a cover story.


Memories...: Since you are such an expert on so many things...this face recognition thing has got me wondering. Do you or anyone else have more memory gaps when specifically called upon to remember something? For instance, you hear a song by an artist with whom you are familiar, but the moment someone asks you "who sings this?" you blank out. This happens ALL the time for me.

Gene Weingarten: Yes.

Interestingly if I am working on a story -- where I need to be really alert to nuance, how people sound, etc. -- I am pretty good with faces. Because I am really concentrating on it.


Why Obama's Hot...: It's his whole package (no, not THAT package). Knowledgeable, well-spoken, inspiring, confident.

Text from W's latest statement on the economy:

"One thing is for certain we're in challenging times. But another thing is for certain that we've taken strong and decisive action. The Federal Reserve has moved quickly to bring order to the financial markets. Secretary Paulson has been is supportive of that action, as am I. And I want to thank you, Mr. Secretary, for working over the weekend. You've shown the country and the world that the United States is on top of the situation."

Compared to our current President, I think even Elliot Gould would look hot. He actually thanked someone for working over the weekend! Ugh...he really won't be missed.

Gene Weingarten: Wasn't that a great line?


Bleeding Liber, AL: I think my point about Obama's hottness is this: do I really want to vote for a president based on his hottness? I mean, it obviously worked so well for us for the past 8 years.

Stop drinking the BO Koolaid and look at Hillary Clinton without the blinders based on Obamania. And McCain? Is OLD... I mean OLD. He's starting to look feeble.

Gene Weingarten: Sorry, but I have been looking very very directly at Hillary Clinton. I'd vote for her if she is the Dem candidate, but I am not excited by a Clinton presidency.


You asked::"Did I convince any of you that your initial reaction was wrong?"

No - especially once you told us about his other stunts. This is a guy who, if satire wasn't a recognized literary form, would find some other highbrow excuse for being what he is: an ass.

Gene Weingarten: Okay....


I would say 80 percent of the people writing in felt this piece was not funny and not successful as satire. : Wow. Does this mean I have a warped sense of humor or something (34, single, white, female)? I found it funny. Maybe because I went to graduate school with a lot of Asians and THEY do stick to their own group?

Gene Weingarten: Stereotypes can be made fun of only because they are based in some truth, or a perception of truth.


Medford, Mass.: Gene...

Based on your appreciation of the use of the word "prise," I thought I'd ask you a question I've been unsure of. When do you use appraise and when do you use apprise?

Gene Weingarten: You apprise someone of some information. When you appraise something you are considering its value.


One of the Asians checking in: Hy Gene,

I'm of Asian descent, although these days, Asian seems to mean East Asian as opposed to Russians, Turks, South Asians (my particular background) and others. I think the student should not have been punished. He or she should have been made to write a follow up piece explaining to the less satirically minded what the intent was. Indeed, it could, have been a great opportunity for CU to have done some real educating on this issue. From what the author wrote and what the earlier CU alum poster wrote, it seems as though CU is desperately in need of it. He or she did leave out one important point in the racquetball story though, the confusion on the Asian student's face had nothing to do with hatred. It was in fact confusion. You all look alike to us.

Gene Weingarten: Understood!

I think he meant to suggest that the Asian student had a language problem, but he didn't see it because of his racial bias. But it was hamfisted. He lost control there.


Ferraro: Geraldine is a racist twit, but she DID say that if her name had been "Gerald Ferraro" she would not have been on the ticket.

Gene Weingarten: Oh. Okay.


Faci, AL: I got a 97 on the celebrity (damn you Tony Blair!) and a 93 on the other. This seems pretty damn good to me. So how come there's not some well-paying job out there for someone with my skills?

P.S. Liz is absolutely the greatest thing about this chat. I'm starting to feel manipulated here.

Gene Weingarten: Well, if they know you are going to pass along those posts...


Broomes Island, MD More of the same: Dad spent the last several years of his life holdiong court at a bar near his house. He couldn't drink anymore, but it was his community. I'm from out of town and stopped in the bar unexpectedly. He sat at the bar with a group of hangers-on, holding court. I walked up to him, put my hand on his shoulder and said "hi!". He looked at me, returned my greeting and continued with his story. He talked for 10 minutes, looking at me for the whole time before he recognized me. When he finally did, he started crying! I told him his jokes weren't that bad!

Gene Weingarten: Crying. Wow.

That's really quite moving.


BO Koolaid: There is a hot seller...

Gene Weingarten: Hahahaha.


Alex., Va: Gene Weingarten: Hey, am I the first to point out that Barack Obama has unfortunate initials?

Yeah, Gene, you're probably -right- behind that kid in his 5th grad class.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, okay.


Washington, D.C.: Yes, Gene, you convinced me that my original reaction was wrong. I'm not always quick to recognize satire, and upon my second reading, I realize that this was actually good stuff.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, just for the record -- this is the only such admission so far.


fubar is:"effed up beyond all repair."

I thought the "R" stood for "recognition."

Gene Weingarten: So do many people. I suspect the words are fungible.


Santa Barbara, Calif.: Gene, you and Dave Barry are comic gods, but you couldn't be more wrong about that piece. Karson can write, no doubt about that, but this was a total failure as satire. Poor setup, wrong tone and lame ending doom it as sophomoric crap. I'm glad he got smacked because maybe he'll learn from it. One thing you're right about, though: We'll be hearing from him in the future.

Gene Weingarten: You invalidate your argument with "lame ending."

That ending was not at all lame. That ending was pitch perfect.


Tampax Wearer: Hey Gene. For all the ladies who didn't see the post about Tampax and Target brand, please explain. Throwing you my virtual panties in thanks!

Gene Weingarten: As I recall, the New Tampax is bad, and a woman wrote in to say that the Target brand is vastly better, like the Old Tampax.


Hot: why are we all persisting in spelling hottness with two t's?? i know gene misspelled hott at the beginning of the chat, but can we let this go? No, we cannott.

Gene Weingarten: Good.


Reston, Va.: I'm concerned that the Spitzer saga overshadowed the more alarming new of that day: Haliburton selling sewer water to our troops in Iraq. Has there even been follow up stories? Is the VP in Iraq to help increase sales or apologize?

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, the Spitzer saga was to Cheney what the moon landing was to Teddy Kennedy.


Washington, D.C.: Korean guy again. I re-read the article, and you're still wrong. How many times have you, yourself, tried to explain the critical difference between censorship and editing? It simply takes too long for the satire to become evident, and when it does, it ain't that good. It's just a rehash of stereotypes, like Dave Barry's old line about how the first ethnic joke (I'm paraphrasing) was "Did you hear the one about the Gauls? They are very dumb! Ha ha!"

If Karson had eliminated the story about the handball court, it would've been far more apparent that it was satire, yes. But the fact that it stayed in completely disrupts the satire, and for a certain segment of the population, that disruption is more than enough. I grew up in a nearly all-white town, and let me assure you, I was a LOT more worried about the 10 percent who WOULDN'T have understood the satire than I was about the 90 percent who might have. Because it was the 10 percent who actually acted on their ignorance.

Gene Weingarten: Okay.


Embarrassed to Admit, IT: Yeah, you changed my mind but only because I stopped reading halfway through the piece. After reading the discussion I reread the piece in its entirety and saw the satire.

I am bad, bad chat citizen.

Gene Weingarten: Ah. Yes, reading that halfway through would have left a very wrong impression.


Gene Weingarten: Okay, thank you all. Check out the Gene Pool for the rest of the week: See if you find it more to your liking.


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