Chatological Humor: Pulitzer Pix; Defining 'Numbnuts' (UPDATED 6.6.08)

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 3, 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.

The news today is full of spec

That Hillary is quittin'.

That the lion-lady candidate

May go out as a kitten...

She'll say the things she has to say

But the truth may go unspoken:

Her heart is not still in the race

Because it has been broken.

The man who made her whole career

Lies in the ground, where ants root --

The world has lost Yves St. Laurent

Inventor of the pantsuit .


Yesterday I got an e-mail from my friend Christine Lavin, the singer-songwriter. Christine sent me the lyrics to a highly topical song she had just written about watching both the "Sex and the City" movie and the new Indiana Jones movie. I loved the song, and asked if she had a link to the song, so I could share it with all of you. "The song?" she said. "Yeah, I said. Like, you, performing it." Sure I do, she said, "just let me rush out to the studio and record it!"

She wasn't kidding. It's that new. She worked the whole afternoon on it. And so, as a gift for all of you, here is a the first ever recording, for Chatological Humor and nowhere else, of Christine Lavin's new song, " Ha Ha Ha Tsk Tsk (sigh)." (click on the "Gene Weingarten 's Chat" icon.) What I love, among other things, is her wonderfully anarchic rhyme schene.

Christine Lavin: vocal and guitar/The Laughing Sires: Brian Bauers, Jed Fort, Maury Nessen/ Recording produced and engineered by Brian Bauers Assisted by Jed Fort. Recorded June 2, 2008 at Midtown Sound, NYC.

Chris has just been named one of the 100 most influential independent musicians of the last 15 years by The Performing Songwriter Magazine, along with such others as David Byrne and Elvis Costello.


The Clip of the Week was from this weekend's National Spelling Bee finals. Dan was watching it live when he suddenly burst out laughing, called me upstairs, DVR'd it, and we played it again a couple of times. This kid has a great sense of humor. He would also go on to win.


And lastly, do you remember over the last few weeks we were talking about disastrous timing in pre-written magazine stories that got distributed at awfully embarrassing times? And someone recalled that two months after the JFK assassination, MAD magazine had the president dreaming of a Playboy bunny? Well, thanks to Jeff Bukowski and Jim Ellwanger, we have confirmed this, sort of: Mad 1| Mad 2

It turns out it wasn't a Playboy Bunny, but Christine Keeler, the British call girl whose tawdry affair with an MP brought down the Conservative government of Harold McMillan. What I find particularly fascinating about this page is the item on Hugh Hefner, which I confess I completely misinterpreted, in a far lewder way than I believe MAD intended. Then again, perhaps they intended the entendre.

(Hey that would be a great name for a ballroom dance: "Intend the Entendre.")

Okay, please take the poll. A lot of the discussion today is going to be about these remarkable photos. Before I made my picks, I consulted with a man who knows a lot more about Pulitzer prize-winning photographs than I do: Michael Williamson, who has won two. I'll discuss my analysis, and his, later on.

The Comic Pick of the Week is Saturday's Knight Life, a strip I have come to really like. First Runner Up, for treading on sacred cow territory, Friday's Brevity. Honorables: Sunday's Pearls, Sunday's Agnes, Today's Speed Bump.


I can't stand those people: God, I can't stand those supposed "debt collectors." After being plagued for years with calls for people I don't know, I did some research. It turns out an awful lot of them aren't even collecting legitimate debts, and they don't care. They grimly pursue any amount of money they can get, even when faced with proof that the supposed debt was paid years ago. If there is a legitimate debt, they often don't care whether they collect it from the right person. People pay just to make them go away, when the debt isn't theirs, because they desperately need to close on a house, or keep a clean credit report for a security clearance (and those people do _not_ care whether the bad debts on your record belong to you), or because they're frightened by the menacing calls.

And they just won't stop calling! I'd never heard of any of the several names they call for until I moved and got this phone number, but they all act as if I'm lying when I say I don't know "George" or "Phyllis" or "Roberto" or "Maria." The same companies call over and over and over again, and none are honest enough to put their names in their outgoing caller ID. They interrupt my thoughts and my work, using the phone that -I- pay for.

Please, there must be something we can do to stop this. I've had this number for years, ad the calls don't stop. My number is unlisted, and I don't give it out, so the "write a cease and desist letter" recommendation doesn't work for me, since giving out my number willy-nilly to people I don't trust destroys the whole value of having an unlisted number. Below the Beltway, ( Post Magazine, June 1)

Gene Weingarten: Just yesterday I got another call for Diana, and I told the guy that she was dead!

He offered his condolences, and seemed genuinely upset. So I asked him who he was. He was here social security caseworker! He knew her address. So I urged him to go pay her a visit. First non-collection call I've ever gotten for her.


Cand, ID: All of those photos evoke strong emotion and have a you-are-there immediacy. I think the superiority of Hams' photo lies in the latter, because it was taken from ground level: you know something bad is just about to happen, and you can feel that the running people know it too, while Latif appears to have been a little bit removed from the chaos (on a second-floor balcony, perhaps). I had a tough time choosing between Balilty and Porter because they are both very strong on the two dimensions of emotion and immediacy. Not a bad picture in the bunch, obviously.

Gene Weingarten: Absolutely true. Not a bad picture in the bunch.

I like your analysis of the immediacy of Hams' picture. You feel you are there, and in jeopardy.


Re: Mad Hef: I think your interpretation of the entendre in the Mad Hef pic is purely a figment of your (clearly dirty) imagination. While closely resembling the Shocker, I think the finger position is merely an attempt to isolate the ring finger to help convey the meaning of the drawing.

Gene Weingarten: That's not the entendre!

I interpreted it to mean that Hef has a fear of his sex life turning to masturbation!


Aptonym Submission, Arlington, Va.: Hi Gene:

I was in the book store over the weekend with my husband and came across this delightful book that made me think of Pat the Perfect and you simultaneously.

"i before e (except after c): old-school ways to remember stuff" by Judy Parkinson. Published by Michael O'Mara books Limited (c) 2007

I found this quite amusing but my husband was non-plussed. Then again, he isn't a faithful chat reader so I assume his humor isn't as evolved as mine.

Perhaps it has been submitted previously but I wanted to bring it to your attention in case it hadn't.


A very dedicated (and hot) fan

Gene Weingarten: My mother was a schoolteacher. She never recited the i before e ditty without bringing it to its important conclusion:

"I before e, except after c, or when sounded like "A" as in "neighbor" or "weigh."


Highkick, IN: Who is the only pitcher to win a world series game in three different decades?

Gene Weingarten: I had to look up the answer, and was surprised.


Ouch, my ears: I know you wrote it quickly, but since you take such pride in your doggerel-writing talents, I feel it is my duty to inform you that your Hillary verse doesn't scan worth a crap.

Gene Weingarten: You are wrong. Read it aloud. It uses a couple of permissible first-line elisions.


Washington, D.C.: Thought I should draw your attention to this important fact from an AP story on global warming.

"While cities are hot spots for global warming, study finds people in them emit fewer gases."

Gene Weingarten: Hicks Fart More,

New Study Reveals


Silver Spring, Md.: Interesting poll this week. I went for the first picture from Burma, and I knew I'd be in the minority. The rocket attack photo is incredible, and great timing on the photog's part--it's full of movement, and really conveys the panic of the moment. But there is something about the Burma picture--it's the exact opposite, it feels like time has just stopped, and it sent shivers up my back looking at it. That guy just DIED, because he was armed with, not a gun, but a camera. That picture says a lot.

Gene Weingarten: And the stampede of terrified people is almost artistically or cinematically composed. My friend Tom Scocca compares it to Goya. My answer was the rocket attack, for reasons I will explain later.


Cous, IN: Any comment on Dick Cheney's West Virginia incest joke,beyond the fact than it was lame anyway?

Was the VP's joke more or less offensive than Style Invitational entries tweaking the Mountain State?

Gene Weingarten: It's very mild and lame. If you are going to tell an offensive West Virginia joke, it had better be goood enough to justify the offense on grounds of The Importance of Humor. For example, "Hey, I know the toothbrush must have been invented in West Virgina." "Why?" "Because otherwise it would be called a teethbrush."

That is a better joke, but only marginally funny enough. It ranks seven as funny, but only four as clever. Not good to go.

Back when the Invitational was young, it did a contest to come up with new state slogans, and the winner, I believe, was "Almost Haiti, West Virginia."

Funny 8, Clever, 9. But DOBULE geographic offensiveness. Xenophobia, cultural insensitivy, cavalier treatment of famine, etc.

We went with it. A decent respect for the humor of the situation compelled us.


Florida: The first pictures made me glad to live in America (that's right, America), where we don't have to fear government-sponsored violence in our homes.

Then I saw the picture of Elian Gonzales being kidnapped and returned to Communist slavery. Then I thought of how those weird-but-(apparently)-innocent FLDS-ers in Texas are lucky their complex didn't get burned down by the attorney general's orders.

Is it too late to try Janet Reno?

Gene Weingarten: I covered the Elian Gonzalez case. Liz, can you link to my story from 1998?

Please read it through. This was not a kidnap, this was a rescue. I supported this raid. Elian needed to go home to his father to have any chance to live as a normal little boy. In Miami he would have become an icon, treated like an inant god, worshiped by proxy in the bitter, impotent rages of a hate-poisoned, wildly radicalized community.

Please read this story. It's long, but good. Then tell me again that you think he was returned to "Communist Slavery" and that that was not the right thing to do.

FWIW, by most reports, he's a happy little teenager in Havana. The Passion of Elian, ( Post, April 4, 2000)


Celebrity Drea, MS: I'm pretty sure the joke in the Hefner "nightmare" was that it was his hand with a wedding ring--that is, that he dreamed he was married.

Gene Weingarten: Oh, yes. I am pretty sure that is all they intended. I am just saying that I layered on something else.


St. Leonard, Md.: Regarding the second question in your poll, it's almost a 50/50 split between the lone Jewish woman in Palestine and the Oklahoma City fireman. To me, the lone Jewish woman represents rebellion, courage, strength, and bravery despite all odds against her. There is the obvious futility in her effort, but that is not shown in the photo, just implied. But I didn't choose that one as the best. The Oklahoma City fireman's photo carrying the dying child touched me the most because it shows human compassion and a personal connection between the two subjects. That fireman will remember that child forever. Palestinians probably never gave that Jewish woman a second thought.

Gene Weingarten: I like your reasoning. I chose the Palestinian one mostly for artistic reasons. Of all these pictures, one was taken by an amateur: The Oklahoma photo. And you can tell that: It looks like a snapshot, not brilliantly composed or cropped, that great shot you accentally get from your 36-frame film, when all the rest are crap. The subject matter is extraordinary, if cliched. A few years before, a Pulitzer was awarded to a fireman trying to resuscitate a child he was holding: almost the same photo.

Gene Weingarten: Liz, can we find that photo? Go to and check the archives for 1989, a picture by Ron Olshwanger. Olshwanger's winning image.


CPOW: That Knight's Life is not a funny comic. You just like it because it supports what you (and all of us) have been saying. The Pearls on the other hand IS funny.

Gene Weingarten: I am allowed personal bias.


Pitcher: Palmer?

Gene Weingarten: Yes.


Rockville, Md.: I am in the process of having a root canal done. The dentist said that when the Novacaine wears off it might be very painful. He offered to write me a prescription for a narcotic pain reliever but I declined. Should I have taken him up on the offer? Duh.

Gene Weingarten: You are writing this while having a root canal?

Yes, you should have taken the scrip and if you didn't need it, you should have sent it to me. I would have makes sure it was disposed of properly.


15 Feet: Any thoughts on this experiment?

I can't help but think that, given your demonstrated lack of knowledge about things like whether the Rib wears makeup, it would be entertaining to witness all of the discoveries that you made about her were you to be in her presence 24 hours a day.

Gene Weingarten: This is EXACTLY about the issue raised in the current Gene Pool: The disturbing banality of our everyday lives! Liz, can you link? The Gene Pool: How Banal is Your Life?


Fairfax, Va.: Agreed on liking Knight Life. The first replacement, about the stay-at-home dad, clearly got old quickly. The second one, while promising, seems like it was trying too hard to be The Far Side. The third one, while it may fall into that category of nerdy young black man with Candorville and Watch Your Head, seems by far to be the best. Any idea what the general reaction to the three has been?

Gene Weingarten: The Post people are pretty smart. I've liked the last two, actually. I am hoping we keep both and get rid of some antedeluvian ones.


Washington, D.C.: I have to drive to Binghamton, N.Y., this weekend for a wedding shower. Meh. Got any good jokes I can share with my family?

Gene Weingarten: That is the third worst "city" I've ever been in! I had to go when visiting Johnny Hart.

Binghamton is its own joke. Do you know that its claim to fame is that it once made all the carousel horses in the country? Well, that's it.


Profu, MO: And of course, the Profumo Scandal is the source of the greatest political quote of all time, as I'm sure you know:

PROSECUTING COUNSEL: Miss Rice-Davies, as I am sure you are aware, Lord Astor denies not only that you had any sort of liason, but also that he has even met you socially.

MANDY RICE-DAVIES: Well, he would, wouldn't he?

Gene Weingarten: Indeed.


Hefner Drea, MS:"I interpreted it to mean that Hef has a fear of his sex life turning to masturbation!"

But the hand in that dream would have no wedding ring.

Gene Weingarten: Er, apparently you've never been married, son.


eyeBeforeE, XAC : Except: their weird protein science.

An almost totally unhelpful rule. Spell checkers, on the other hand, are awsome.

Gene Weingarten: Ooh, I like that! Never heard it.


Indianapolis: How much does composition and lighting enter into your decision? The firefighter picture is great, but his face is in shadows -- enough so that I couldn't get a good look at his face.

Gene Weingarten: Yep. That is the only one taken by an amateur photog, and you can tell.


Elian photo: True story: I was subbing for the ME at a daily when the Elian photo was taken. We ran it as the front page display photo that Sunday. On Sunday when I drove by one of our racks, I saw something yellow blocking the pic. Turns out, our ad folks picked that day to start running a fake Jiffy Lube Post-It-like note on every single front page. Talk about dumb. I still remember screaming at people on Monday.

Gene Weingarten: Gawd.

I'm surprised Jiffy Lube didn't take further avantage of the situation by claiming their product is good for sunburn.


The Great Race: It's almost over, and I'm glad, too. But why did you and so many people want/expect Hillary to quit the race before tonight? We don't expect the Redskins or the Nationals to walk off the field when it's obvious they have no hope of winning. And Hillary came a lot closer than they usually do. I thought Americans liked a fighter.

Gene Weingarten: When the Redskins are losing badly, they don't walk off the field because they are paid to complete the game. But I'll tell you what does happen, though it is seldom talked about. When it is obvious one team can't win a game, both sides subtly tend to play easier, so they don't risk injuries.

Hillary didn't seem to be worried abour risking injuries.


Washington, D.C.: Take a look at why Seattle University put the kibosh on a party.

Do you think they don't know what "douchebag" means? Or is the term more misogynistic than I think?

Gene Weingarten: I think that college administrators need to get a life. They are adults trapped in a barely post-adolescent world, and they lose sight of the big picture, which is that very young adults need the right to practice douchebaggery and ultimately can be trusted to muddle their way through various rites of passage.


Greenbelt, Md.: Post Hunt -- you handed no one a five dollar bill, so let's visit the other end of the spectrum.

I tried convince my wife to toss her panties at you while you were on stage, but she was too embarrassed. I didn't see any get flinged to the stage -- you get any whilst milling about in the crowd?

What was (would have been) your reaction?

Gene Weingarten: I didn't get any!

That would have been funny. I would have put them in my pocket. The alternative -- flinging them back for some beach-ball mosh pit treatment -- would have been rude.


Washington, D.C.: Gene,

Given what a dog-lover you are, how long did it take you to return to Diana's apartment and leave a huge bag of dog food at her door? Below the Beltway, ( Post Magazine, June 1)

Gene Weingarten: By specific editorial edict, I was not permitted to financially assist her in any way.


Cary, N.C.: Do you know the criteria they use for selecting those photos? I'd guess that things like composition are considered along with things like story and poignancy, but I wonder which one takes precedence.

I went for this year's winner over the runner up, but it was close. The Gaza one strikes me as having much better composition (I'll spare the technical talk), but the I went for the winner since it's more... immediate, as it's showing the victims. While visually appealing, the Gaza one is more detached.

And I was/really/conflicted over the Porter and Balilty shots, but ended up going for Balilty. Porter's is downright heartbreaking, but the Balilty works on so many levels: the composition's great, and there's a metric ton-load of metaphors and stories in it.

Gene Weingarten: It's that metric ton of metaphors that puts it over the top for me. I also think Porter's shot is.... a little snapshotty.


Didn't look it up, just guessing: Roger Clemens?

Gene Weingarten: We have already established: Palmer.


Washington, D.C.: OK, explain this one to me, Gene: You say you prefer women with small bosoms. And yet you are loquacious in your praise of Scarlett Johannsen's physique.

What am I missing?

Gene Weingarten: One does not judge a body by breasts alone. A woman can be forgiven a larger than desirable bosom if she is otherwise pleasantly arranged. I was, in fact, just having a conversation on this subject last night with Mr. David Barry.

Without going into details, he contends, as you do, that I am being disingenuous in my avowed indifference to large bosoms. He and you are wrong.


Spell checker:"Spell checkers, on the other hand, are awsome."

'Nuff said?

Gene Weingarten: Indeed.


Baltimore, Md.: You have GOT to be kidding about Knight Life, right? Anyone who names a comic strip after himself immediately has one strike against him. And, Sunday's cartoon included jokes so old and lame even my 5 year old thought they were stupid. THIS is what the Post thought could replace Doonesbury, even temporarily? My God, ...the horror.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, Sunday's was bad. I agree.


Bethesda: Gene,

I'm a calm person. I don't get annoyed at cell phone talkers, and I don't care if someone reclines their seat on an airplane.

But lately I've found myself becoming enraged at people throwing cigarette butts out of their car windows. Whenever I see it happen I get the urge to run their car off the road and grind the butt out in their eye. Of course I don't, because I'm not a tough guy and I assume these people are all experienced violent felons.

What's an appropriate response to these jerks, who I believe are in the bottom 1% of all humanity?

Gene Weingarten: This sin increased in magnitude exponentially in the 1950s with the advent of the filter. Before then, chucking some vegetable material onto the grassy shoulder of the road was inconsequential.


Victoria, BC, Canada: I seem to be in the minority by voting for Wells' photo of the girl being rescued by the flood. It's a sublime, haunting image; like a great painting.

Gene Weingarten: Among photographers, this was considered one of the weaker Pulitzer winners. I disagree. This one seems almost otherworldly to me, also as though it had been painted. It loses points because it was a small moment, globally, and because it didn't happen in an instant. The photography worked to get the perfect shot -- and got it -- but she had time.


Annapolis, Md.: my friends and I are trying to come up with a good Team name for the three-Day Breast Cancer walk in D.C. -- any suggestions? Jug Band.

Gene Weingarten: The "Thank You, Mams."


Dogtown, Ark.: You've been fervent, at times, in your belief that American voters will "rise to the occasion" this fall and select Barrack Obama over John McCain because he's the better candidate. Yet there are still clear trends in some, mostly Southern, states where white, working-class voters seem to be casting primary votes for Hillary Clinton because of Obama's skin color. Since it's pretty much a given he'll be the Democratic nominee, I wonder what kind of pitch you would make to those voters, Gene, if it suddenly fell to you to bring them into Obama's camp.

Gene Weingarten: I would keep emphasizing that there is a real Democrat and a real conservative in this race. And that people's choice is clear: If they liked the Bush administration, they should vote for McCain. If the didn't, they should vote for Obama.


Rockville, Md.:" By specific editorial edict, I was not permitted to financially assist her in any way."

For what good reason? Are they mad?

Gene Weingarten: I understand it. It sounds like paying for a story.


Rockville, Md.: Clinton Camp Says Concession Reports False

Officials report Hillary Rodham Clinton will end her delegate race, but her campaign denies the report. The Fix

Gene Weingarten: Ah.


Oklahoma City photo: I knew what the photo was before I opened it, because I remember that firefighter and little girl from magazine covers, back when I was a junior in college. Even with that knowledge, I started crying when I saw it again. I am now mother to a two-year-old girl, and the photo moved me as if the whole event just happened.

I still voted for the Jewish settler photo. The composition was amazing -- different groupings of different people, and the smoke across the sky.

Gene Weingarten: The correct vote, IMHO.


Burbank, Calif.: Arnold Palmer won World Series games in three different decades? I'll have to look that one up in my Funk and Waganalls.

Gene Weingarten: He did. The last one, in 1983, I believe, was in relief.


OK, I read the Elian Article:"In Miami he would have become an icon, treated like an inant god, worshiped by proxy in the bitter, impotent rages of a hate-poisoned, wildly radicalized community."

Unlike today, where he's on display as a "success story" by minions of the late Fidel Castro.

I wonder what your reaction would have been if Elian were the product of a closed Mormon or Muslim society instead of a Communist dictatorship. Actually, I don't wonder--anywhere is better than America to your ilk.

Gene Weingarten: Good God.

His father was alive. His father was very close to him, loved him and wanted him back. His father was offered asylum here but wanted to return to Cuba.

There was only one choice here. I've never been more certain of anything.

He was being seriously abused in Miami. Asked to bear a burden no child should bear.


Tampa, Fla.: "I think that college administrators need to get a life. They are adults trapped in a barely post-adolescent world, and they lose sight of the big picture..."

Very true. What I find funny is that all of them were probably college students themselves at one time. What? They forgot that they probably partied? I graduated from college 27 years ago and would consider myself to be a responsible adult, but I still recall being in college and attending a party where, well, um, - ah, those were the days!

Gene Weingarten: When I was at NYU, my newspaper started a campaign to end the position of "Director of Student Affairs," since it was preposterous to have an adult administrator "direct" student affairs.


Cigarette flicking: I've always thought that people who flick their butts out the car window at night are doing so for the entertainment of the person driving behind them, who can enjoy the brief but festive shower of small orange sparks bouncing along the road for a moment.

Gene Weingarten: They're "night diamonds."


Kensington, Md.: I've never liked the fact that Diaz won a Pultizer for the Gonzalez shot. He had practically moved in with the family and made himself a part of the story, in my mind a big journalistic no-no.

Gene Weingarten: I don't think it's a no-no, but some in my business disagree. Diaz ingratiated himself with the family for months, to the point where he was the only photographer readily given access to the house. He had become their official photographer, more or less.

That's part of the process of immersion journalism. It can be a valid tool of both reporters and photographers; the trick is to tell the truth, not to become their press agent. There is nothing but truth in this picture.

The child is terrified. The fisherman, Donato Dalrymple -- the man who rescued Elian from the water -- is drop-jaw stunned. The cop is, well, doing his job, creating an overwhelming show of force. (You can actually see that his finger is not on the trigger.) Seconds after this picture was taken, the man with the machine gun handed Elian to a female agent who spoke Spanish; Elian had watched his mama drown; the raiders wanted him in the arms of a woman. She ran with him through a cordon of cops to the rescue vehicle, telling him, over and over again, "Shh, shh, you will see your Papi soon." The reunion happened a few minutes later, and almost immediately, Elian was smiling again.


Wild for Christine in Sarasota: I can't believe you're friends with Christine Lavin - we adore her! Especially the song about losing her glasses (along with her mind, etc.)

Gene Weingarten: Christine is a wonderful songwriter and -- not surprisingly -- an excellent essayist. I met her when editing a couple of her pieces for The Post.


Richmond, Va.: You did a very nice job of grouping the photos.

I had to vote for the rocket because it not obvious that the person shot in Myanmar is a videographer, though I would have sympathy for anyone shot. The rocket amongst the unarmed is powerful and shameful.

Oklahoma city wins hands down, and I didn't even click on the photo. I remember it too well to have to look at it again. Again, powerful and shameful.

Thank you for reminding us that life is not "Deal or no deal" and TMZ. I'm starting to really dislike the commerce of media to the masses - it has become debasing rather than democratizing information.

Gene Weingarten: I found the rocket picture incredibly powerful because of how surreal it is. That gleaming otherwordly thing suspended in midair, a millisecond away from delivering death. The people look like poor people. The rocket looks like a machine made by a high-tech enonomy.


Umissedajo, KE: Not ARNOLD Palmer, dillweed, -Jim- Palmer.

Gene Weingarten: I said Arnold? Ew.


Nature or Suture?: Okay, Gene, by including breast size, last week's poll set up the big question.

You've probably answered this before, but where do you stand on cosmetic surgery? I'm not hideous, but some of what God wrought annoys me, and I find myself vacillating between "I should accept myself and love me the way I am" and "Hey, we have the technology, why not change?"

I don't like the idea of vanity being that powerful an impulse, and even minor surgery would seem false, as if presenting the world a lie instead of the real me. But what if I like the idea of the fake me better?


Gene Weingarten: I like Nature or Suture.

I am not a good person to consult on this, for the aforementioned reasons. I can't imagine why a woman would find herself unattractive because she has small breasts.



Baltimore: I don't know whether you'd intended to raise a political issue through semantics in this week's poll, but do you really believe that Elian Gonzalez was "rescued"?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, I do. Read my story.

It was a very very difficult situation, but I do believe he was rescued. I think he is better off for the rescue. He was going to become a pawn in an ugly game.


Just Aw, FL: I must be a bit off. The photos that spoke to me were the one-on-one courage photos. Myanmar: photojournalist still getting The Shot, after getting shot. The Flood: compassion and hope.

The Israeli woman shows courage, but not hope. The tragic OK bombing victim pries the heart strings, and tears the mind, but has no internal conflict. It is one-sided or one-dimensional.

Gene Weingarten: Regarding the Israeli woman: Right, it doesn't show hope, but doesn't showing futility deliver and important truth here? Something "truer" than hope?


Washington, D.C.: Hooray! a Date Lab that worked. Those two seemed like they had a great time. And I remain convinced that after your chat, Date Lab is the best thing about The Washington Post. Date Lab, ( Post Magazine, June 1)

Gene Weingarten: You never know how readers are going to react to these things. We got an angry letter about this one from a woman who said it was just awful that they had a few drinks and then got into their cars and drove away.

On the aptonym front, the complainer's name was "Sausville."


Carous.EL: I thought Tonawanda NY (a suburb of Buffalo) was the home of most Carousel Horses and that Binghamton was famous of being the college town of Tony Kornheiser.

Gene Weingarten: No, one of my son's favorite t shirts I brought back from Binghamton. It's got a carousel on it.


Washington, D.C.: Regarding your poll: I'm not sure what criteria the Pulitzer Committee uses for choosing the winning photographs, because I thought they were all wonderful. The second grouping was easier for me than the first two - the picture from Oklahoma City was the hands down winner for me. Tears came to my eyes looking at it, all this time later, because it was such an evocative photo of the moment, even more so than the others. Or, maybe I'm just a sap and focused on the event I remember the most. I chose the Myanmar picture for the first question, mostly because it was amazing to me that the photographer was able to get the picture from such a restrictive place, especially considering the subject.

Gene Weingarten: It's interesting: You are all, serially, well describing the calculus of Pulitzer judges. Difficulty of getting the photo matters; iconic value matters; importance of story matters; breadth of the metaphor that the image represents matters.

Politics should not matter; I wonder if it did creep into the judging of the photo of the rocket falling on Palestinians. I have no evidence it did, and I hope it didn't.


Gene Weingarten: Okay, just to summarize what is already apparent: Both Williamson and I believe that the better of the two excellent photos this year was the rocket falling, for the simple reason that we are never going to see another photograph like that again. It is one in a billion.

He and I also agreed on the West Bank woman, for all the reasons we stated. I am more fond than Michael of the floodwater photo, which seemed cinematic to me. His second choice, like yours, was Oklahoma City, but he, too, recognized the snapshotty nature of it.


Annapolis, Md.: Gene, someone described a photo like this:

"To me, the lone Jewish woman represents rebellion, courage, strength, and bravery despite all odds against her. "

I see that, but I interpret it as all of those virtues being used negatively. To me, jewish settlements aren't brave groups of pioneers settling empty lands and bringing forth new patches of civilization. They are stubborn groups of people stealing land from Palestinians who have nowhere to run (and why should they have to run?), based on a sense of possesion that is 2000 years old. I see her fighting to inflict the same pain on Palestinians that those soldiers are inflicting on her. Moving, yes, inspiring, no. Just a reminder of the horrible things we can do while "being good."

Gene Weingarten: Right. Either way, that photo says it. I see it your way.


Washington, D.C.: Yes, the Knight Life comic is funny, but can you answer me this question. If the Post is going to add a new comic strip, why oh why, isn't the daily Cul de Sac, by the Post's own Richard Thompson, not up for consideration?

Gene Weingarten: It should be the first choice.


Nono, NO: You didn't say "Arnold Palmer", a commentor trying to make a funny did. It (rightfully) went right over your head, and you answered him as if he asked the right question.

He was the dillweed, not you.

Gene Weingarten: Well, I was the dillweed who didn't notice.


Cigarette Butts: Some years ago I was out for an evening with all the other female members of a friend's wedding party. It was the night before the ceremony, and the nervous bride was driving the car and chain smoking. All the car windows were open. At one point the bride-to-be flipped a butt out the window and it blew in the back window and went right down the maid of honor's cleavage.

Gene Weingarten: I hope this story is true.


Hef In Hand, VA: Not Jim Palmer, dillweed. Rosie Palmer.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you. Now we're referring back to Hugh Hefner.


Laurel, Md.: Since this is a humor chat, there are some things that can be hard to work in, but since it tangentially came up...

I was in a discussion the other day about capital punishment. And even the anti's weren't terribly broken up that Timothy McVeigh was no longer taking up cell space.

Do you disagree?

Gene Weingarten: If you're against the death penalty, you are against the death penalty. This is not a selective choice.


Soldier Boy, UGH: Gene, I'm willing to bet you've answered this before, but I'm curious: What is your cell ring tone?

I am sitting at my desk listening to a (MIA) co-worker's phone repeatedly bleat some obnoxious rap tune, and I'm about to go beserk. I am superior because my phone's tone is an actual ring.

Gene Weingarten: This will not surprise you: It sounds like an old-fashioned telephone. A ring.


Boring Question for Liz: I use a Mac to read the chats, usually after they are over.

Whenever I click on a link, say to a picture of Scarlett Johansson, I have to click the 'back' button AND scroll down days when I would click back and my computer would be at the same place in the chat as I was when I clicked the link. Am I doing something wrong or did the chat/link format change?

Thank you, Ms. Liz! Ya, it changed. Apologies. But you can use your browser's word find to quickly hone in on where you left off.

Gene Weingarten: This is ALWAYS my situation. I'll answer a question and our Depression-Era software puts me back at the top of the queue.


Alexandria, Va.: Gene:

Am I the only one who found Sunday's "Zits" deeply disturbing in the way it was drawn? If you know what I mean, and I think you do.

Gene Weingarten: I do!


Defending Gene: Not to keep bringing up a previous topic but, I had the pleasure of meeting Gene yesterday in the Metro and all I can say is that he could offer $500 instead of $5 to people that think he's fat and still never have to pay out. Between being very surprised about how skinny he is and desperately searching for something witty to say I just basically stood there and stammered. Meeting a Pulitzer prize winner and getting married in the same week - it doesn't get better than that.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, I just wanna say, I have not been called skinny in 40 years. So thank you.


Pecking Order: Which is worse: a dillweed or a douchebag?

Gene Weingarten: Oh, a douchebag is worse. A dillweed is hapless. A douchebag is actively obnoxious in his social dysfunction.


Washington DC: I should submit this journalistic ethics question to Howie Kurtz, but he'd hem and haw, while you'll explain whether I'm a whiner or the journalist is going to hell:

I was recently the subject of an article in a newspaper (not the Post, but a small competitor). I originally contacted the writer by email, but asked him not to identify me in print without checking with me first. I then explained why I didn't want to be named. Later, in a phone interview, I agreed to go on the record, and in the article he quoted from the phone interview. Fine so far.

But, without asking me, he added one quote from my original email: the line explaining why I didn't want to be named.

Was this as egregious a journalistic sin as it seems to me, or did I implicitly agree to have the email cited when I did the interview?

Gene Weingarten: This is complicated. I can see how he felt that once you went on the record, everything you had said, even before, went on the record. But he should have discussed that with you, to be sure. A minor sin, maybe.

But I don't understand how/why he would quote you about wanted to be off the record when the article made it clear you were on the record? What was his motive for that?


Chicago, Ill.: Hey, I heard that if someone makes a gratuitous mention of Scarlett Johansson, then Liz has to link to a picture of her. Is this true? That's right, partner!

Gene Weingarten: Dang.


...minions of the late Fidel Castro: Fidel Castro ain't dead yet.

Gene Weingarten: Very true. See how carelessly I read?


Arlington, Va.: Regarding bosoms. Your earlier response seemed predicated on the fact that smaller breasted women age better. But what, to be crude, if the long term implications are missing. Same opinion?

Gene Weingarten: Can someone please explain to me the theory under which The United States should have held Elian Gonzalez here when his father asked for him back? Know that his father had joint custody with the mother who stole him and subjected him to a near fatal trip on a rickety boat.

The father had been very involved in Elian's life.

Under what theory do we keep him? Our judgment that America is better than Cuba?


re: Elian!: It's amazing that this subject can still raise such powerful emotions in people! Did you know that there is a mural in Little Havana commemorating Elian - with him riding on the back of a dolphin?

Anyway, yeah, we believe our way of life is much better than in Cuba (something I totally agree with), and Elian is unlikely to have the same opportunities in Cuba that he'd have here. He certainly will be less free. But he should be returned to his parent at the very least because our failure to do so would make it very difficult for us to argue that American children should be returned in similar situations (and there are occasionally similar situations, particularly when it involves non-custodial parents taking their children to the Middle East).

Gene Weingarten: You know what? In five years or so, Elian will be free to travel wherever he wants. A prediction.


Re: The Knight Life: The art on this strip is terrible. Doesn't that bug you?

Gene Weingarten: No. I like the art.


Great spelling bee moment: I was watching with my husband and kids (13, 11 and 7) when the numb-nut word was given. We all laughed hysterically and rewound it many times. My kids knew it was funny even thought they didn't know what a numb-nut was. This caused great debate between my husband and me - we couldn't agree on a definition. Can you clear this up for us???

Gene Weingarten: A numbnut is a dope; the sexual connotation is clear, though.


Wow: From bosoms to Castro. You weren't kidding when you said you didn't read carefully.

Gene Weingarten: Wow, apparently I answered a boob question with an Elian answer!

I don't remember what the boob question was. We work fast here.


Curmudgeon from Boodleville, Achenblog, IA: Good afternoon, Gene. I feel duty-bound to refer to you to this New York Times op-ed piece about hurricanes, tornadoes and other forms of extreme weather. The op-ed columnist's aptonymically tantalizing name is Charles M. Blow.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.


Great Falls, Va.: Hey Gene, here's a "non-digital" watch for you:

In April the Swiss watchmaker Romain Jerome (which last year created a watch made from remnants of the Titanic) introduced the "Day&Night" watch, which unfortunately does not provide a reading of the hour or the minute. Though it retails for about $300,000, it tells only whether it is "day" or "night" (using a complex measurement of the Earth's gravity). CEO Yvan Arpa said studies show that two-thirds of rich people "don't (use) their watch to tell what time it is" anyway. Anyone can buy a watch that tells time, he told a Reuters reporter, but only a "truly discerning customer" can buy one that doesn't. -Wall Street Journal, 4-25-08]

Gene Weingarten: I love this.


Madison, Wis.: Was yesterday's Sally Forth a shout-out to you? Sally Forth, ( June 2)

Gene Weingarten: Could be!


Numbnut: I thought perhaps "numbnut" was a condition you got waiting for your turn in the spelling bee.

Gene Weingarten: I just love how funny that kid was. He was amazingly poised.


Crystal City, Va.: Did you see the aptonym of the new " World's fastest man?"

Gene Weingarten: Wow!!


Kea, NE: Did you see that Thelma Keane, the mom from the "Family Circus" died this week? I kept waiting to see a ghostly outline of her appear in the news coverage of her demise.

Gene Weingarten: Wouldn't it be great if the strip killed her off? And then we'd see Thel in heaven with Grandpa?


Apton,Ym: I went out to lunch with some friends after church this weekend and by the door were some business cards laid out for a local chiropractor. His name is Dr. McCracken. Phil McCracken?

Gene Weingarten: I KNEW a Phil McCracken.


Pat the Perfect, ME: Your nut is your head, numbnut.

Gene Weingarten: What???? Really???

No way. I contest this. Because they're aint much humor in that moment if it's just like numbskull. Are you looking at a dic, darlin?


BreastSi, ZE: You ask why women think men don't find women with small breasts attractive. I had a boyfriend who told me one afternoon that if I had larger breasts we'd probably be married now. My first reaction was shock, feeling flattered that he considered marrying me and anger my breast size mattered so much. My second reaction (which I didn't share with him) was, no kidding "thank goodness for small favors" as I never would have married him. He was nice enough but way too politically conservative for me.

Gene Weingarten: Excuse me, but he is a total numbnut.


Arlington, Va.: Gene, this is somewhat random but I figure you or the others will know. My house used to be home to a deadbeat. For many years, we have gotten mail from collection agencies and courts. Neighbors have confirmed that he owed tons of child support to various women and had other civil debts as well. I would always write on the letters "Return to sender/no such occupant" but it never made a difference. Late last year, the guy died. The letters keep coming. Now I write "return to sender/addressee deceased".

The debt collecting letters won't stop. It's annoying and wasteful. Should I open them and call the creditors? (Is it a federal offense to open someone else's mail if the recipient is dead?)

Gene Weingarten: I would open and call the creditors.


Father of two: Eff the effing morons who still think that Elian Gonzalez would be better off estranged from his father. How would they feel if their children were taken away and given to richer adoptive parents?

I, a registered Republican, was very proud of Janet Reno for her action.

Gene Weingarten: I went in to that story with a completely open mind. Once I saw the insane circus that had been made of this kid's life, I had no doubts anymore.


Since PtheP is here...: Ask her to ask the Empress if your stinky poem scans.

Gene Weingarten: She has already opined that it scanned! I asked her to read it this morning. And no one is better than PtheP at scanning poems.


Dick's Shunary: Is Pat the Perfect trying to argue that numbnut is a synonym for numbskull? If so, then why use numbnut when numbskull is so much move evocative? If you think there's no difference between a numbnut and a numbskull, I suggest you ask Lance Armstrong.

Gene Weingarten: Indeed. I am awaiting a response from here, because I call her wrong on this.


Helena, Mont.: Two reasons I thought we should return Elian to his family:

1. Father had at least joint custody and Elian had intact nuclear family with other siblings, etc.

2. Family in Miami one generation removed in relation - we give GREAT UNCLES custody over parents? And the daughter of the great uncle did not seem to me to be very well balanced mentally - why was Elian sleeping with her?

I agree with you - if Elian had stayed in Miami, he would have a warped childhood. In Cuba he had a chance for a normal life.

Kind of wonder about his father, who was offered all kinds of inducements to stay, yet had the intestinal fortitude to leave. You might disagree with him politically, but he left a lot on the table when he went back.

Gene Weingarten: I think, as shocking as this may seem, he might have been acting in best interests of his son. Once he saw what was going on here. He could have been a wealthy man here. He was offered substantial material inducements.


Jim Palmer: I asked Fidel. It seems he prefers large breasted women yet it doesn't matter to me.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.


Creditors and Ma, IL:1. Opening mail not to you is illegal, so please do not.

2. There IS a way to make them stop. It is called the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and if these people are, as one poster said, not even collecting real debts, they are violating Federal law and subject to HUGE fines and your atty. fees.

Gene Weingarten: I just contend it can't be illegal, or at least provably illegal. I open mail that comes to my house. I don't always read the address on the envelope. Yknow?


Arlington, Va.: Speaking of Hef's masturbatory fears, which clarified the fact that the word "masturbation" can appear in this chat, this went around in certain circles last week:

A guy goes to the doctor. The doctor says, "You've got to stop masturbating." The guy asks why. The doctor says, "Because I'm trying to examine you."

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahaahaha.

Wow. That is very good. Elegantly concise.


Gene Weingarten: Actually, we'll end on that. Thank you all. I will be updating. And I might do another photo poll next week. I liked this one.


UPDATED 6.4.08

Gene Weingarten: Three people wrote in yesterday to note something sobering that they had recalled about the firefighter depicted holding a dying child after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing: All three said they'd remembered that the firefighter had committed suicide a few years after the bombing.

It's interesting how memories work -- in this case, poorly. It's not true. Oklahoma City firefighter Chris Fields is alive and well. But people were apparently conflating this image with an equally dramatic and equally tragic story.

The year before the Oklahoma City bombing, South African photographer Kevin Carter took this horrifying image of a vulture waiting near a starving little girl in Sudan. It also won the Pulitzer Prize. But it brought Carter no joy. Just months after his win, beset by financial troubles, and haunted by the misery he had borne witness to, Carter took his own life.


Gaithersburg, Md.: I'm sitting here waiting for a call from the breast surgeon. I had a biopsy done on Thursday. She said it looked like cancer on the mammogram but it might not be. She also expected the results fairly quickly but said to call the office if I hadn't heard by Tuesday. So now I'm wondering -- when should I call and is it better to know sooner or later? And if it is cancer and I need a mastectomy what size implant should I get? I know you like small breasts but mine have always looked like the "before" picture in plastic surgery articles about mammoplasty. For numerous reasons I have not gotten implants but always thought if I ever got breast cancer and needed a mastectomy I'd get implants on both sides. I don't want big -- I'm thinking 36B which is what I was when breast feeding. I have 39 inch hips so that wouldn't over-balance me. So entertain me and keep my mind off my troubles.

Gene Weingarten: So, a guy goes to the doctor, gets a battery of tests.

The doctor sits down with him and says, "So listen. You have gonorrhea, syphilis, scabies, herpes, lice, crabs, genital warts, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and AIDS.

The guy says, Omigod. What can be done?

The doctor says, "Okay, well, I'm going to be checking you right into the hospital, and putting you on a strict diet of pancakes and flounder."

"And that'll cure me?"

"No. But that's about all we can slide under the door."


Good luck, sweetie. I will be thinking about you.


Aptonym: Hi,

Just wanted to share that my baby boy was circumcised by pediatric urologist, Dr. Wiener.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.


The "Best" Photo: I think the best photo was the one of Elian Gonzalez. I don't understand why few people are picking this one.

That photo altered the course of history. Thousands of Cuban-Americans in Florida saw that photo and made sure they showed up and voted Republican in 2000. Eighty-two percent! About 100,000 votes more than normal, for an election decided by less than 1,000. Without that anti-Democrat (anti-Reno, anti-Clinton, anti-Gore) enthusiasm, the election in Florida isn't even close enough to worry about butterfly ballots and hanging chads and Supreme Court rulings.

I don't think any of the other photos had any impact beyond the moment. That is what makes Diaz's photo the best. What impact have these other photos had?

Gene Weingarten: You know what? I think you are right.


Debt Collectors and Such: When my husband and I were living in an apartment complex, we came home one night to find our TV gone. I immediately panicked, thinking burglars were still in the apartment because I realized the door had been deadbolted from the inside when we came home. We ran outside and waited in our car for the police to come. The police showed up and did a thorough search of the apartment and found no one. We later learned that someone in the management office of the apartment complex had let repo men into our apartment during the day to repossess the TV of the former tenant (apparently, without taking enough time to confirm who lived in the apartment and whose stuff was being repossessed). When they couldn't find the TV that matched the description of the one they were supposed to reposses, they just took ours. We got it back a few very frustrating days later.

On an unrelated note, a friend of mine received a company-wide e-mail today with the following subject line: "BJ's and Massage Appointments." The person who wrote the email clearly didn't realize the implication of writing one email about a vendor from a company named BJ's being on-site and, apparently unrelatedly, massages being offered to employees.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you for sharing both things!


UPDATED 6.5.08

Wells' photo is like a great painting: Girodet's "The Flood"

Gene Weingarten: Ooh, this is an interesting comparison. Not at all alike, and yet... Wells's pic | The Flood


From CNN Today: Did you see this pic?

Gene Weingarten: I have been unable to find a larger version of this, which perhaps is a good thing. We will see this nominated for the 2009 Pulitzer.


Baltimore, Md.: Now why didn't this one win the Pulitzer?

Gene Weingarten: I believe it was a finalist. I believe the judges found it was a little over-exposed.


I before E: Was about to write down your mom's recitation to pass on to my seven-year-old, then stopped when I looked up at the...ceiling?

Gene Weingarten: B-b-ut "ceiling" is one of those rare constructions that is NOT an exception to the rule! The ei is after c.


Arlington, Va.: I used to work for a large, important government agency that had a lot to do with the Ellian matter. As is the practice at many offices, we got a daily set of press clippings of between 20 and 100 pages of stories related to our agency. On the day Ellian was returned to his father, there were no staples big enough to hold the clippings, so we also had an "Ellian supplement".

I will also add that Janet Reno received so many flowers that day from strangers that every office in my agency had a bouquet.

Gene Weingarten: This was one of those rare acts of government that had no political expediency behind it. There was no political gain to be had by doing this; it was just the right thing to do.


UPDATED 6.6.08

Crofton, Md.: I think you should have included a version of this photo in your poll.

Gene Weingarten: An amazing moment, but this was not a Pulitzer winner. I have always had a certain curiosity about this picture, beyond the obvious one of the identity of the man, and his fate.

I've always wondered about the driver of the tank. What prevented him from simply driving over the man? And was HE punished for his humanity? I can well imagine that he was executed for contributing to one of the most politically devastating photographs of all time.


Washington, D.C.: "Shh, shh, you will see your Papi soon." The reunion happened a few minutes later, and almost immediately, Elian was smiling again. "

I thought his Father was in Cuba?

Gene Weingarten: His father was in Washington, lobbying for his son's return.


Arlington, Va.: The woman whose beau told her he would have married her if her breasts were bigger should have told him "what a coincidence, I was just thinking that we would be married by now if your penis were bigger!"

Gene Weingarten: Touche.


Binghamton, N.Y.: But Binghamton is where Vaseline man hid out in a hotel room. Remember? He covered every surface in his hotel room with Vaseline and didn't have a good reason for doing so.

Gene Weingarten: Indeed. I forgot. I did a column on him. Liz, can we link to this? Search me and "Robert F. Chamberlain." Have Gunk Will Travel (Post, Jan. 2, 2005)


About those kneecaps: When I saw Eric Shansby's cartoon for your most recent BtheB column, I had two thoughts:

1. Perhaps since Eric is a whippersnapper, he might not be aware that antique phones, meaning the kind that are attached to walls, have a curly cord.

2. The caller is inquiring about your kneecaps. I get the joke, but it made me think -- how ARE Gene's kneecaps, anyway? Give us an update. Go ahead, get in touch with your inner crotchety old man and rant on and on about your physical ailments. Since we love you, we'll nod and smile and think about something else until you're done.

Gene Weingarten: What an appropriate last question for the week.

My knees are, as Tom the Butcher wrote but characteristically misspelled, like Slinkys. I am going to have double knee replacement surgery some time later this year. Yes, I am aware it is easier to do one at a time. Gonna go for broke.

See you on Tuesday.


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