Chatological Humor: Chatwoman Gets R&R, Technical Difficulties Ensue (Updated 6.26.08)

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 24, 2008; 12:00 PM

DAILY UPDATES: Wed | Thurs | Fri

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, Weingarten 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. I haven't the time to edit them out. -- Liz


Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon.

It wasn't that long ago, the Kennedy Center announced it was going to give The Mark Twain lifetime achievement award to George Carlin. Ryan Taylor, a Washington theater director, em-ailed me to note an interesting irony: "Carlin is notified he's going to get the most mainstream comedy award from the most mainstream theater organization in the country, and he'll DIE before he'll accept it."


I have a riddle for all of you. The following is true, and just happened last week. I know the facts of the case well, and there is a good explanation:

In a completely unjustified act, without provocation, a boxer deliberately head-butts someone, who suffers a severe concussion. Memory loss, slowing of speech, confusion of thinking, etc. It's not life threatening, but it is a significant head injury. The act is witnessed by many people, obviously. The boxer is not reprimanded or punished in any way, but no one objects to this, not even the victim. Why?


I have written many times, in many different columns, about my doofus-headed personal life. Something small happened the other day that nicely illustrates it. I was cooking myself a grilled cheese sandwich on a cast-iron skillet. With cast iron, the handle gets as hot as the pan. I knew that, of course. I am not a complete dummy, thank you. There was no potholder around, but I couldn't be bothered looking for one, and, after all, there was something else right there that I could use. So I reached for the aluminum foil...


Regarding my column on Sunday, the e-mails I got from copy editors around the country reminded me of the worst copy editing mistake I ever saw. It was at least 20 years ago, at (I think) The Miami Herald. A new copy editor had been hired, and he was quite good, very thorough and demanding, but hadn't yet mastered the computer system. Copy editors are supposed to put questions in the story in a "notes" form that will not print, but this person didn't quite get the hang of that. Somehow, his question got left in the story, which wound up being published something like this:

"I am confident, "Johnson said, "that the situation will resolve itself without harm to anyone." WHY SHOULD WE BELIEVE ANYTHING THIS JERK SAYS?


Today's Clip of the Day is this video by George Carlin, called "Things You Never See." IT IS NOT SAFE FOR WORK. I'm offering it as a sort of posthumous apology to Carlin. When I heard it yesterday, while trolling for Carlin fodder, I realized that this is a clear antecedent to The Googlenope, a concept I created. Or thought I'd created. The first half of this video is the good part, and apropos of this subject.


Please take today's poll. You are, of course, enormously right so far. But there should be no confusion about the engine of this humor. The man is de-vulgarizing words. What Lenny Bruce started 20 years before, and was basically killed for, Carlin completed in 1972. After that, no government agency dared decree what could be spoken and what could not.

---The Comic Pick of the Week is the final week of Single and Looking, which went out with class and style. For some reason, a shameful one, I fear, the Post didn't run Sunday.

First Runner Up: Monday's Rhymes with Orange. Honorables: Monday's Frank and Ernest, Wednesday's Pooch cafe, Wednesday's Brevity.


Central MA: I think one's reaction to the death of George Carlin hinges as much on demographic group as last week's poll did.

I was in high school in 1972, and was actually present when Carlin got arrested at Summerfest in Milwaukee (on a double bill with Arlo Guthrie, if I recall). My friends and I would split our sides, listening to his albums by the hour.

For the younger set, I would also point out that my family and I also laughed for five minutes when All in the Family came up with the first televised toilet flush (also around 1972, I believe). Yeah, you had to be there. There's no way to explain how funny this was unless you've grown up watching TV during a time they never even showed a bathroom.

Now? I could barely make it through the 10 minute YouTube link in the poll. Yeah, George, MF-word 87 times, I get it. I can only imagine the younger set shaking its collective head over how this was once seen as cutting edge. Sort of like me watching the aging Catskills comics on 1970s variety shows...

Gene Weingarten: But you really can't watch it without understand the tenor of the times; I still love it because of its daring, and also because of its timing, brio, and the beauty of his word selection. It seems impromptu, as any good standup does, but he has practiced that delivery 6,000 times. It is impeccable. It is so impeccable that when he makes a tiny word flub, he apologizes.


Executive Edit, OR: Len Downie: great editor, or greatest editor?

Seriously, I am amazed that he was able to reposition the paper, foster the growth of dotcom, win more Pulitzers than anyone, and follow the unfollowable Ben Bradlee. I don't think it's a reach to compare him to A.M. Rosenthal, Gene Roberts, or any other of the great editors of the post-WWII era. Am I wrong?

Gene Weingarten: You're right. And did it all by being almost comically low key. But firmly in charge.

No one quite new where they standed with Len, but they all liked him and respected him. A hugely effective management position.


Fairfax, Va.: Tell us the most embarrassing story you can think of about Len Downie.

Gene Weingarten: Sure!

Back in 1993, the Czar of the Style Invitational wanted to do a contest to come up with lawsuits that were frivolously politically correct. The Invitational always gave an example or two, so readers could understand the idea of the contest. The example he wanted to use was "Gay and Lesbian Task Force sues to force Green Bay Packers to change team's name." Knowing there was a potential sensitivity problem here, the Czar sent me in to get Downie's approval.

"Sure," he said.

I thanked him, turned to go, but I couldn't. I just ... couldn't.

"Len," I said, "do you get the intended joke here?"

"Come to think of it, no," he said. I explained.

"NO YOU CAN'T USE THAT!" he said.

So, a few weeks later, when the results of the contest came in, we had an entry that the Czar wanted to make a winner: "The National Organization for Women sues to make William Kunstler Change His Name."

It went MUCH more quickly that time, with Len.


Falls Church, Va.: Gene -

Please set me straight or throw this out to the group for discussion. My thesis is about lightning and swimming pools. I contend that you are safer in the water than you are out on the deck during a thunderstorm. Lightning strikes the tallest thing around and if you're standing on the deck, you're a lot taller than a swimmer who is only a foot above the water level.

What do you think about this? Have you EVER heard of a swimmer, in the water, getting struck by lightning?

Gene Weingarten: My uninformed guess is that it is better not to be in the water, for the same reason that it is not good to be in the bathtub with a hairdryer.


Carl, IN: I have always loved the fact that the entire "Filthy Words" routine was printed, in its entirety, by the Supreme Court.

Gene Weingarten: It's at the very end of this c-------ing decision. And the interesting part of this is that Carlin refined this bit a lot over time. The version in the poll today was delivered in 1978. The version quoted in the court decision was from 1975, I believe. Much less funny.

Gene Weingarten: Cruder, actually!


I'm La, ME: Okay, I'm sure the information is there somewhere, but I've had houseguests and haven't had a chance to read the paper in a week. What's up with the comics. Doonesbury is back, but it looks like Argyle Sweater is too, so what is gone? Okay, I did see the Sunday funnies, but couldn't figure it out, and didn't see a note to readers.

I figured you'd let us know!

Gene Weingarten: As you now know, Single and Looking is gone.


tweak:"No one quite new where they standed with Len"

He stood with the copy editors.

Gene Weingarten: Wow. I wrote that? Heh.


Can't make this up, NY: Headline in local paper:

"Route 59 reopened after sandwich meat, bakery trucks collide in Monsey"

Gene Weingarten: A mayonnaise truck just avoided the collision.


Arlington, VA: I loved your column on Sunday. The opening phrase set off alarms, and it wasn't long before I got the joke. I haven't had time to sit down to try to find all of the errors but look forward to taking on that challenge soon. My question for you is: How difficult was it for you to deliberatly write so poorly?

Gene Weingarten: Very, very difficult. But apparently I'm not having the same problem today.


Washington, DC: This message is for Liz. On your advice from last week, I bought the VS biofit bra. LOVE IT. Soooo good. Definitely putting things up where they should be. Thanks for the recommendation! The bra recommendations might be a little different this week.

Gene Weingarten: Indeed.


Rid, Del: Is the Boxer a dog?

Gene Weingarten: Yes. And the injured party was Molly. She was examining the dog, and wham!


Checkerboard Square, MO: Gene,

Sunday's WashPost had an article about the increase in business being experienced by hate groups because of the nomination of Barack Obama.

One of these geniuses with a Web site claimed Obama is the first "overtly nonwhite" candidate. Maybe Obama should have tried to hide that information.

Then there's a fairly decent inaptonym further down the story:

"Don Black spends 16 hours each day on his laptop computer reading hundreds of derogatory Obama comments posted on, a Web site with the motto 'white pride world wide.' Black, a former Ku Klux Klan leader, launched the site in 1995 to create a central meeting place for the white power movement."

As St. Russert would say, what a country!

Gene Weingarten: Do you know what that "overtly nonwhite" refers to? There is this idiot campaign to claim Warren G. Harding as the first (partially) black candidate, based on some dubious evidence about a great-great grandfather.

Here is a picture of Harding. Have you ever seen a whiter man?

That said, here is a picture of congressman G.K. Butterfield. He is black, a member of the congressional black caucus.


Arlington, Va.: Today as I was reading through the comics, I exclaimed out loud when I saw Cul de Sac. It's about time! I have no idea why it took the Post so long to pick it up, but I'm glad they finally did.

Gene Weingarten: It happened a year too late. This is not just one of the best new strips out there, it is one of the best strips out there. Richard Thompson is a genius.


Carlin: I think my 15-year-old would really enjoy that seven words bit, but my wife would kill me if I showed it to him. So this evening I'll mention that if you search YouTube for Carlin and seven words you can find the routine, but you shouldn't really oughta do that.

Gene Weingarten: Good idea.


Name Dilem, MA: Dearest Gene, I am expecting kiddo No. 2 in a few short weeks (gender unknown) and have a naming dilemma that I am hoping you or my fellow chatologists might assist with.

Like yourself, husband and I appreciate the nomenclature of family over "creativity," choosing to honor those lives well-lived. If we have a boy, husband has proposed his WWII vet grandfather's name, which is traditional, strong, and old-school, and I like it as well. But there is a problem.

Years ago, at my in-law's house, my mother-in-law was chatting with a neighbor and called me over to meet him/chat. Heading back into the house, her very Irish Catholic, Staten-islander father looked at me and said, "You talk to Jews?" Uh, yeah, so? "They think they own the world." This ugly bit of bigotry has stuck with me, and I would hate to see MIL crowing to all that Cletus (The Fetus) was named after her bigot father. I understand that he is a product of his upbringing, the times, blah blah blah, but still.

HOWEVER, mitigating this somewhat I have a great-uncle of the same name who survived WWI and the Great Depression and helped raise my own father, and whose wife's old-school name I proudly bear as my middle one. I will discuss all this with husband tonight, but do you see any solution here? Is it back to the drawing board? Virtual panties flung your way, after my great white whale self gets back to fighting weight!

Gene Weingarten: You name a child the name you want to name a child. Doesn't have to carry all that baggage. No rule says that if you name a child George he or she is specifically being named after any specific George.

My daughter was named after someone with an IQ of about 35 who would kill and eat squirrels raw. Happens to have been a dog, but so what?


St. Leonard, MD: I can't believe you seriously would have submitted an article like that to your copy editor for publication, or that ANY professional journalist would write so poorly. If you need an editor that badly, you should have taken the buyout. Please tell me you dumbed it down to make your point.

57? You must be bad at math, too.

Gene Weingarten: Uh.


I . . . I don't know where to begin. Let's just say you got me on this one. Yanks Thump Sox (Post, June 22)


New York, NY: You've probably already seen this, but this is a terrific headline.

Gene Weingarten: I believe we've linked to this before, but cannot take the chance that we haven't.


Pee-stained remembrance-ville:"Gene Weingarten: There is something you need to know. Murphy and about 500 other dogs run free in Congressional Cemetery. It is a wonderful place. Dogs are invited. It is a place united in a certain spirit. It's a spirit you don't share."

I was surprised when nobody called you out on the gravestone thing the first time you mentioned it. Say a loved one of mine died and I showed up a few months later to place flowers on their grave -- for a birthday or anniversary or something -- and found you standing there letting your dog lift a leg on the gravestone. I'd punch you in your face.

My taking offense wouldn't be based on religion or some idea of the afterlife. A gravestone is for the living, a place of contemplation and appreciation.

Maybe people understand that Congressional has a certain code re: dogs and take it into account when deciding whether to have their loved ones buried there. I don't know. I'm talking generally.

Gene Weingarten: A cemetery is a giant area filled with things that look EXACTLY like fire hydrants. If the cemetery has made a deal with dog owners, and dogs run free in return for a fee, and some zitbrain decided to take offense if a dog peed on his loved one's grave, that zitbrain needs to be taken down, right there, by the wrath of righteous dog lovers.

I presume most cemeteries do not allow dogs. Them's the cemetery for you and yourn. But don't you and yourn go buryin' your grandpappy in MY cemetery and then start getting all huffy and grumpy on me when my dog, meaning no disrespect, does her thing.

I love cemeteries because of their great, concise telling of history and emotion, but not because they are hallowed, sacred ground.

I'll tell you one thing. If a child of mine died and was buried in Congressional Cemetery, and I was there visiting the grave, and a dog came up to sniff around, I'd hug that dog extra well.


Let the dogs pee...: To the poster who was so angry about animals being animals in a cemetery/park:

Isn't one of the wonderful things about life (and death) that time moves on? Life changes. New life comes along. Why do you want to doom a little piece of land to always being a testament just to death? I think that dogs running around all happy and doggy is a beautiful way to enjoy the land and still keep it as a memorial. Just as I wouldn't yell at children for running and screaming on the WWII monument. We're talking children and dogs. It's a wonderful innocent sign of the continuation of life. No, I wouldn't endorse college kids playing ultimate Frisbee at the Vietnam memorial, or a drunk frat party (with peeing) on a cemetery. But if I went to see a loved one's grave, I would cry at the loss and then look up and smile at the happy antics of the puppy running by. It gives a reprieve to see such innocent joy. And at least for me, it brings me back from the focus on the death of a loved one to the focus on what made them alive - and part of my life.

I hope the submitter has a glass cage built around her grave (with electrical shocks for any pigeon or squirrel that should happen to come near.) God forbid anything alive touch her shrine. Maybe people can drop flowers through a special slot in the glass.

Gene Weingarten: There ya go.

You know, at Congressional Cemetery, the grave of J. Edgar Hoover has a little gate around it so animals can't approach. I have seen people open the gate to let their dogs in.


The crumbling of society: Gene,

Some weeks ago (or maybe months), I posited to you that one signal of a deteriorating culture is a failure to judge. My idea is that excessive tolerance leads to each of us condoning behavior that we personally think we would never do, that we may think is absolutely wrong, but we all go to great lengths to avoid judging the people engaged in these behaviors. Well, here is another bit of evidence for my case.

Monday's article about homeowners who steal public land for private use. The range of justifications offered for this behavior is quite broad, but few of these people identified themselves or each other as thieves. I was especially tickled by the guy who installed his invisible dog fence well into the public park, and then said that his dogs perform a public service by keeping tick-bearing deer away. Of course, no acknowledgment that many people might prefer not to use public park land that is also occupied by two unknown, unleashed boxers; odds are that he is not very scrupulous about cleaning the dogs' waste.

What do you think?

Gene Weingarten: Ah. This cuts a bit close to home, as it were.

About a year ago I wrote this column about how I had done just such a thing: Appropriated three feet of public land for my own backyard, and the neighborhood dispute it prompted. At the time, many of you opined that I was a thievin' varmint.

I've never had an opportunity to say how this all played out. Once neighbors began taking sides, lawyers got involved. Plat maps were consulted; deeds were scrutinized, and it was discovered that each house actually OWNED the portion of the lots that had been given up to create a warren of alleyways behind the houses. It had been a voluntary thing, back in the 1920s.

So, the problem got solved and the vigilantes got screwed. All the property owners simply reclaimed their extra land, marched their fences back three feet, and the alleyway disappeared.

I kept my word: I had nothing to do with this resolution. Truth to tell, I miss the alley. But the comeuppance was kinda neat.


Georgie Carl, IN: No, I didn't want to watch Carlin allegedly make history by saying those seven naughty words. So cursing equals comic talent? Ugh. I think I've given that misanthrope enough of my viewing time.

I guess I find it sad that "free speech" has devolved into only the freedom to use socially taboo words and little more. When "60 Minutes" censored itself on the tobacco issue a few years back due to corporate pressure, that was an example that our speech still isn't free. Don't think anyone really noticed, sadly. Networks and other media censor themselves all the time due to pressure from the corporations who hold the purse strings. Free speech isn't. Right, no one noticed. Or made a whole movie about it.

Gene Weingarten: Thanks, Paul.

Chatwoman changed sexes this week, by the way. Say hi to Paul Williams.

Hey, poster. Have you noticed that virtually everything Carlin said was true? No, I didn't think so.


Curio, US: Gene,

Why would Len say "no YOU can't use that" when he knows you were just being a messenger for the Czar?

Gene Weingarten: We were a team, the Czar and me.


Quoth the "National Lightning Safety Institute":

" Swimming pools are connected to a much larger surface area via underground water pipes, gas lines, electric and telephone wiring, etc. Lightning strikes to the ground anywhere on this metallic network may induce shocks elsewhere."

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.


At work: My officemate and I are having an argument as to whether or not Steve Madden is famous. As a woman who wears shoes, I contend that he is. As an engineering male who had never heard of him, my officemate says no. So far in my engineering office, no one knows Steve Madden.

Steve Madden has stores in 29 states and gets 10.2M hits on Google (John Madden only gets 1.9M). Officemate asserts that shoes are on every store Web site making the result invalid.

I need your help. Is he famous? I know Liz would be with me on this. I have maybe four pairs of his shoes.

Gene Weingarten: He is not famous, and comparing him to John Madden is invalid for exactly the reason your officemate says. Someone BUYING googlehits is not competing on an even surface, and anyone selling a product is essentially buying googlehits.

Now, strangely enough EYE know who Steve Madden is, because I own a Steve Madden leather jacket. Gina picked it out for me in New York.


Rockville, Md.: I bring you this, from the Associated Press. I was desperately hoping for an aptonym, but perhaps since in happened in the Alps...

Sports bra saves US hiker in German Alps

Published: June 23, 2008

Filed at 3:50 p.m. ET

BERLIN (AP) -- An American hiker stranded in the Bavarian Alps for nearly three days was rescued after using her sports bra as a signal, police in southern Germany said Monday.

Berchtesgaden police officer Lorenz Rasp said that he helped lift 24-year-old Jessica Bruinsma of Colorado state to safety by helicopter on Thursday after she attracted the attention of lumberjacks by attaching her sports bra to a cable used to move timber down the mountain.

"She's a very smart girl, and she acted very resourcefully," said Rasp. "She kept her shirt and jacket for warmth, but thought the sports bra could work as a signal."

Gene Weingarten: Sure, intimate apparel can be your friend, but it can also attack:

CULVER CITY, CA - A Los Angeles woman is suing lingerie-maker Victoria's Secret, claiming she was injured by one of the company's defective thongs.

Macrida Patterson, 52, says she was attempting to try on the thong when a decorative metallic piece flew off the garment and struck her in the eye.

Patterson says Victoria's Secret is at fault for the injury she received last month because the product was "defective."

Patterson's attorney, Jason Buccat, chalked the problem up to a "design error."


Fairfax: Why would that guy's wife kill him if he shared Carlin's

routine with his 15 year old? Do you share that opinion?

That 15 is too young?

Gene Weingarten: I do not think 15 years old is too young to hear words of any sort. They're WORDS.


Washington, D.C.: I was just reading the comments from the Gene Pool about Michelle Obama, and I got a little sad. You see, before she started getting a lot of flak, I started to realize just how little this society thinks of black women. I'm a young professional black woman, and the double standards people have depress me. For example, I have a friend who has had many interracial relationships and one day I asked him if he would ever date a black woman, and he said, "No, we would have nothing in common." When I asked if he and I had nothing in common, he said, "No, but you are different." I am not different, there are millions of black women like me. I am really starting to wonder what people think of me when I walk down the street. I have been called an "Angry Black Woman" before, but truthfully, I'm not an angry person. I don't yell, or scream, I am more likely to sit in a corner and cry. I feel like no matter what I do, I will be seen as less attractive, less intelligent, and more bitter than a woman of another race. I never wanted to be someone who saw things through racially-tinted glasses, but it's getting to the point where at least where black women are concerned, that is the only way to see it.

Gene Weingarten: Wait a few months. Things may change.


Apton, YM: Hi Gene-

Here is an aptonym for ya. Enjoy!

Gene Weingarten: Nice one!


Washington, D.C.: check out this aptonym.

Gene Weingarten: Wow!

I really count on you aptonym-finders. Good work.


Gene Weingarten: Okay, sorry for the slowness. I have been sitting here laughing uncontrollably. Vis a vis Mr. Carlin's googlnope riff, a friend of mine just emailed me with a picture of a guy taking a dump while running as fast as he can. It exists. She found it! Carlin was wrong. Paul will now give you the link.

_______________________ The CAPTION THIS Contest WINNER For June 6th! (


Silver Spring, Md: Cul-de-sac is a daily?!?!

I did not even know!

Gene Weingarten: Yes! We simply haven't been running it!


Alexandria, Va.: I witnessed an incident on the Metro on Wednesday that still has me distraught (I feel I should have done something but wasn't sure how to help). I was on a crowded Yellow line train in the height of rush hour. At one stop, a group of three young men got on and one (approximately 13-15 years old) sat on a seat right inside the door (ironically the ones reserved for the elderly and individuals with disabilities) and put a bag on the empty seat next to him. A few stops later, the seats were completely filled with several people standing, and a man (in his 30s if it matters) politely asked the young man to move his bag so he could sit down. The young man refused saying that was his seat and "his bag was sitting there." The standing man did not press the issue and the young man proceeded to joke loudly with his friends (sitting across the aisle) about it. This obviously made the man and others on the train very uncomfortable. The kid was really acting like a jerk. I wanted so badly to help, but as a young woman in her 20's, I didn't think saying anything would help and I didn't want to escalate the situation. For several stops I sat there and fumed and looked in vain for a metro officer to report the situation to. I'm still upset that I couldn't help and that the kid got away with acting like a total ass hat! Is there anything I could have done? Thanks!

Gene Weingarten: You could have done nothing. There was a sort of tyranny of power going on there: The three guys knew that they wouldn't be challenged because they had numbers and a presumption of stupidity and recklessness.

It reminds me of something that happened to me a few years ago on the Metro. The car was nearly empty, and I was sitting on a seat facing the center of the car, with a batch of papers next to me. A big, kind of scary looking guy walked up and, wordlessly, motioned to my papers. He wanted to sit down. I looked around the car. Plenty of empty double seats. I picked up my papers, he sat.

Then I walked across the aisle and sat alone in a two-person seat. Put the papers beside me. The guy got up and walked over and pointed to my papers.

I picked up my papers again, he sat down, and I just started laughing. It took maybe five seconds, but he laughed, too. Then, I went back across the aisle, and sat down. He didn't follow.

A lot had happened between us in that one minute.

The difference between this situation and the one you describe is that this guy was not a callow youth; there was a potential for reasoning and humor. The best that might have been done in that case -- I would have done it, I think, if I were the slighted man -- was for him to have looked around at other riders, met some eyes, laughed, and gotten some laughs in return. Mocking them, but not challenging them. Challenging is stupid.


Gene Weingarten: Sorry, folks. Technical difficulties. Back now.


DC: Gene, I know this is somewhat outside your regular purview, but I wonder if you could opine a bit on Angelina Jolie.

I'm torn. As an aid worker for the last several years, including a year in Baghdad and year in Khartoum, I applaud her ability and commitment to bring attention to desperate causes that otherwise would pass under the radar of most Americans.

But at the same time, I am troubled by her simultaneous seeming commitment to capitalizing on violence, especially gun violence, in her films.

I mean, most of the places she advocates for suffer from the underlying belief that violence can achieve the (usually political) result that they're seeking, generally with the AK47. And while her movies may not create sensitization abroad (that's already there), I think it can do that in our culture and make people less perturbed by the horrors that occur in foreign places.

Anyway, I'm troubled over this, and I'm not sure where to fall on the issue. I wonder if you'd like to share your opinion.

Gene Weingarten: I don't care much about violence in films. Not in my list of the 20 things that most worry me about our society. And if something doesn't make my list of 20, I don't spend any time fretting.


Carlin/Barry: Shortly before logging on I passed an electronic sign on the road here in Richmond which flashes the names of the establishments contained in the adjacent strip mall. As with Dave, I am not making this up. The sequence goes: Joy Nails; Hwang's.


Gene Weingarten: It's okay. It's not as great as the photo of a shopping mall that hung over my desk for years. It had Seaman's furniture, B.J.s diner, and Dick's Hardware. Those were the only stores in the photo.


From Al Lowe's daily joke: Hillary Clinton went in for a physical, only to learn she was pregnant. She was furious. "In the middle of my run for vice-president?!" she thought. She dialed Bill's cell phone and screamed, "You bastard! How could this have happened? With all I have going on, you get me pregnant?! How could you? This is all your fault!" There was dead silence on the phone. She screamed even louder, "Do you hear me? What have you got to say for yourself?" Finally Bill whispered, "Who is this?"


In a small way, I miss the chance of Hillary running longer.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.


captioning contest: I actually find that picture and the caption pretty awful. I really don't find humiliating people very funny, and, as a runner, I know how sometimes terrible stomach cramps can hit. This poor kid (he looks high school age). Can you imagine how disgusting and embarrassed he must have felt?

Gene Weingarten: I am not that sensitive. Sorry.


Greenbelt, Md.: What do you think about Michael Gerson's column on Al Franken?

Gene Weingarten: I said what I thought in last week's Gene Pool. It was an open letter to Gerson, who claimed that Al Franken had no right to run for senator because some of his comedy routines were really vulgar, using dirty words and stuff.

I said, "Michael, look within yourself. What could be more vulgar than a man walking around in broad daylight with a pole up his butt?"


Silver Spring, Md.: What do you make of the conclusion from this survey that one in five atheists say they believe in God? I interpret that to mean that one in five atheists are kind of dumb. As an atheist who knows how to use a dictionary, I'm not sure I want to be affiliated with those people.

Gene Weingarten: I would no sooner make fun of these people than I would make fun of meat-eating vegans, Jews for Jesus, or pregnant virgins. These people all deserve respect.


R.I.P. George Carlin: With the death of George Carlin, I was debating who would belong on the Mount Rushmore of stand-up comics.

I'm 41 years old so I am too young to remember Lenny Bruce. My comedy Mount Rushmore would include Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld and Roseanne.

To me, Pryor and Carlin are not debatable. Seinfeld belongs because he perfected observational comedy. While Roseanne was not the first successful female comic, her success spawned several other women.

Who else belongs? Lenny Bruce? Don Rickles? Moms Mabeley?

Gene, who would you pick?

Gene Weingarten: Carlin would tell you Lenny Bruce belongs; Carlin would not have existed without Lenny Bruce. Roseanne belongs nowhere near the pantheon; she made nothing possible for anyone. There were brilliant female comics long before her. Seinfeld doesn't belong.

You know how there were a big three in presidents, then a long dropoff to number four? Same with comics. Pryor, Bruce, Carlin.


Steve Martin, Bill Hicks, Jonathan Winters, Woody Allen, Rodney Dangerfield, Andy Kaufman.

Then it doesn't really matter.

Gene Weingarten: Paul says I am missing Jack Benny. Mebbe.


Washington, DC: The Post's publisher looks remarkably young. Is she hot?

Gene Weingarten: Yes.


Olney, MD: What makes George Carlin's 7 Dirty Words really clever is not that use of the words, but his wordplay on them, like "titmouse", "titwillow" (made famous by Gilbert and Sullivan), "tit for tat" is fine, but the plural makes it banned. And how it's the only cute sounding of the 7 words. I thought all that was brilliant back then, and it still is. A similar "clean" wordplay of his was about "fine and dandy". Many people are both, many people are just "fine", but no one is just "dandy". What if you only want to be the latter but not the former? etc. etc.

My wife and I once met him in a Santa Monica department store. He talked for quite awhile with us and joked that we would now be able to tell the whole world that he wore multi-colored bikini underwear. And now I have. He was a great guy.

Gene Weingarten: I loved the end of the 7 words thing, when he asks why it is okay to prick your finger, but not to finger your. . .


Washington, DC: Have you happened to have slept with the wives of any of those people whom you have seen open Hoover's gate to let dogs in?

Gene Weingarten: Possibly.


Carl, IN: Perspective on George Carlin from a GenX-er (you remember us, don't you?)--

Carlin's albums were extremely popular when I was in high school. We all knew the "7 words", but the most popular was "A Place for My Stuff". It's no coincidence that all the bits I posted to the Gene Pool were from that album. It's absurdist, based on wordplay, tone of voice, and things that happen in everyday life, and does not rely just on random vulgarities (as did many of the other comics of the '80s). When Carlin used one of those seven words, he did so carefully and intentionally.

The fact that he was in both "Bill and Ted" movies with that deadpan goofiness of his I think underscores his importance to many of us X-ers. He was counterculture, but not for counterculture's sake (unlike Cheech and Chong, for example).

Interesting about the Mark Twain award--I think Twain would have "gotten" Carlin.

Gene Weingarten: Absolutely!


Washington, DC: About the woman suing Victoria's Secret - do you find it as weird as I do that she was trying on the thong? Why was she trying it on? Doesn't she know what size she wears? And besides, it is a little string of fabric - how much of a size differential is there? Also, I am now really creeped out by the thought that people try underwear on before they purchase it. Eww... (and I am a girl, by the way)

Gene Weingarten: I never thought of that. You don't try on undies, do you?


Position open: From the WaPo story about Downie's retirement, there's this about the successor: "Those considered to be the strongest contenders for the job are Post Managing Editor Philip Bennett; former Wall Street Journal managing editor Marcus Brauchli, who was ousted in April after Rupert Murdoch took over the paper; and Jonathan Landman, a New York Times deputy managing editor who has run the paper's Metro staff and Week in Review section."

What gives? Is Weingarten getting the shaft again?

Gene Weingarten: I think Katharine Weymouth (K-Wey) has a very long list of potential executive editors. I have been informed I am number 422 on that list. Number 421 is Janet Cooke.


Mutual of Obama: To the previous poster, as a southern male who finds the idea of voting for Obama ridiculous, I really could not care less that you are black or a woman. I don't like Michelle because I think she has an absurdly over-inflated sense of entitlement. If you evidenced the same trait, I doubt we'd get along.

Apparently, according to you, Gene, and Barack, if I don't like him or Michelle it must be because I'm racist. The lady who posted previously may really believe that the millions of people who won't vote for Barack are doing so because they're racists, but Gene, you're smart enough to know the truth. You and Barack and the rest of his supporters just intend to use his race to club us with every chance you get; if you call us racists enough, no matter how substantive our disagreements with Barack, you figure we'll stay home. It's personal, since you think we're owed it for the last 8 years, but it's really just preparing the battlespace.

Gene Weingarten: I don't believe I've ever said, or implied, that I thought a person who votes against Obama is racist.


The Genius of George Carlin: George Carlin was a comic genius! He spoke the truth of our generation that hardly anyone else had the nerve to do. I will miss his insight. You know, I am your age, and I think we did live in the Greatest Generation ever. I think some of the younger generation did not GET Carlin and that is sad. We are the perfect age.

Gene Weingarten: Uh, our parents said the same thing about Sinatra. Also, the Gen Xers got to grow up with Far Side AND Calvin & Hobbes AND Bloom County.

Every generation is the greatest and the luckiest.

But you are right.


twisting statistics: The survey said 1 in 5 atheists believes in God OR A HIGHER POWER. So the believed in something other than God. OK, that's what atheists are. The pro-god forces have really twisted that info to mean something way different than the truth. Wiccans believe in a higher power, not the Christian God, but they'd fall into that "God or a higher power" category and get counted as Christians by the spin doctors.

Gene Weingarten: Sorry, but if you believe in A Higher Power you are not an atheist. A higher power is something supernatural.


Jamie Lynn Spea, RS: I found this number in the International Herald Tribune.

In reading it, I was lamenting the decline in our societal norms ... until I got to the father's occupation.

Gene Weingarten: If they marry, this is a guy who will keep bringing his work home with him.


wiredog: The opening bit from Life is Worth Losing (NSFW) is amazing. Carlin did love to play with the language.

Gene Weingarten: I vaguely remember this, but haven't looked, so I have to warn, it's probably NSFW.


Mars: Headline on on Saturday: "Mars Lander Unearths Ice." Shouldn't it be "Mars Lander Unmarses Ice?"

Gene Weingarten: Good point!

I have said this before, I think: "Earth," meaning "dirt," is an understatedly poetic word. Just as "come," meaning "have an orgasm," is.


New Hampshire:

This is best appreciated while just listening to the audio.

Gene Weingarten: I disagree. This is perfect the way it is.


Carrboro, NC: Another good aptonym

Gene Weingarten: This is a great one, but old. I think we ran it five years ago.


Gene Weingarten: Apologies to all of you. There is a dreadful perfect storm. Both my computer, and Paul's, are acting porely. I will make it up to you somehow.


How to respond: I am a mid-30s woman and I was at a meeting yesterday with a small group professionals. After the meeting, an older man pulled me aside and said that he has trouble listening to me because I am "so beautiful." I told him that I hoped that what I said made it worth listening to me, but that I thanked him for the compliment in the spirit it was given. Really, I see this as one of any number of times I (and other women, in particular) are marginalized in professional settings. But I see responding aggressively as counterproductive and, more importantly, whistling against the wind. This douchenozzle, and others like him, are not swayed by a clever or defensive retort.

As a man who appreciates that brains and beauty can co-exist in the Rib and others, what should I have done, or do in the future?

I told my husband, and he suggested I should have replied that I had trouble listening to him because he was so fat.

Gene Weingarten: I like your husband's answer. Seriously. That's just outrageous.


Georgecarl, IN: One of my favorite Carlin pieces was from his old suit and tie days, delivered in a very droll, low-key manner: "Cassius Clay won't allow himself to be drafted, he says he doesn't want to go to Vietnam; his religious beliefs say it's wrong for him to kill people. The government says if you don't go, we'll take away your livelihood; what do you do anyway? He says, I beat people up. The government says sorry, if you aren't going to kill them, we won't let you beat them up." I was probably only 10 or so, but his pseudo-bureaucratic delivery, and the way that this could be seen to make perfect sense to "The Man," made me begin to appreciate the subversive power of humor.

Gene Weingarten: Excellent.


Computers: I don't think it's you. The web site is screwed up. Having trouble loading here. It's the site

Gene Weingarten: Aaaargh.


George Carl, IN:

Check out the first cartoon in this gallery, published in Monday's Chicago Tribune by total and complete random coincidence.

Gene Weingarten: Very cool. Borgman lucks out, in a sense.


former retail, employee: the rules for trying on undies are the same as trying on bathing suits, you're supposed to keep your underpants you already own on and try on the new things over.

Grosser is that the other poster appears to not wash undies before wearing after she buys them. Regardless of other people trying them on, a whole host of people have hung them, rung them up, dropped them on teh floor, etc.



Alexandria VA: So is Molly OK? That sounds like one terrific head-butt.

Gene Weingarten: She'll be fine. She;ll be closed down for a week.


Gene Weingarten: Hey, many apologies. I am gonna close this chat down. I'm terribly sorry for the delays: It's even more frustrating on this end.

We talk tomorrow and through the rest of the week. In penance, I will deliver for you this Sunday the most amazig HOLY S--- column you will ever read.

Bye. Tomw.

UPDATED 06.25.08


Gene Weingarten: We start with another Carlin routine. It's safe for work, and a masterpiece of presentation:

George Carlin: Baseball vs. Football (


Gene Weingarten: This just in from the folks at Smoking Gun. As a friend of mine asked: "At what point did the police a) think the guy might, hey, have a cellphone up his butt and b) it is a big enough chance we should check...."

"Can You Hear Me Now?" (


Headli, NE: Nothing much to say here, just a headline that seems up your alley.

Gene Weingarten: This is a spectacular example of a screwe-up headline. I was several lines into the story before I figured out what was up. *

Lesbians like straight men, researchers find (


Entitleme, NT: " a southern male who finds the idea of voting for Obama ridiculous, I really could not care less that you are black or a woman. I don't like Michelle because I think she has an absurdly over-inflated sense of entitlement." And so you're voting for John "I finished in the bottom 1 percent of my Naval Academy class but my daddy and grandaddy were admirals" McCain? John "I'm gonna leave my long-suffering wife who waited for me to come home from the war so I can marry a hot young heiress" McCain? John McCain has more of a sense of entitlement than any leading national political figure not named "Bush".

Gene Weingarten: Michelle Robinson Obama was the daughter of a city water plant employee and a secretary at a department store. I don't really see a lot of entitlement there.


Black women and the USA: Gene, What is supposed to happen in a few months? Are you suggesting to that lady that things will get better, or worse? That we think we have it bad now, but wait and see how nasty this will get? I'm asking this because I can't believe you think it will get better. Just last week I was dumped by my hair salon because the one employee they had who relaxed hair left. I'd had cuts from other stylists, but since my hair hasn't been permed in a while, they decided it would be too unruly for the remaining stylists. They told me I should try to get an appointment at the old employee's new salon. I've been a customer for 5 years. Go in, get my cut and style, tip 20 percent. I'm not a salon chatter, so I don't know how I could have offended them other than by having black hair.

So if I can get casually dumped by a salon I've been patronizing for years, with no apology and no apparent malice (on their side), I can only imagine what kind of hatefulness will be unleased on Michelle Obama in the next few months.

Gene Weingarten: I meant, wait until after the election. If Michelle Obama is the First Lady, acceptance is going to follow. She will have a high profile, doing Americanly things, her kids are adorable, and this will be a remarkable time for race relations.


Lyric analysis: Gene --

Some of us non-literary types need help figuring out lyrics. I had no idea that the line about a "one eyed cat peeking into a sea food store" had a double meaning until one of your chatters brought it up. Your reponse that you thought it was obvious let me know how clueless I am. I wonder how much stuff I'm missing out there!?!?

But if you need to know about calculus, come see me!

Gene Weingarten: Well, you know, metaphoric lyrics can be as simple as "I got a brand new pair of roller skates, you have a brand new key..." or as complex as the line in Last Train Home's "Donut Girl," where the Krispy Kreme donut girl tells the singer, after a very intense makeout session featuring intimacies we are only to presume: "You've got a glazed look on your face."


Heh heh.


UPDATED 06.26.08


* Gene Weingarten: Oooh. I have been reliably informed that the headline about Lesbians Liking Straight Men was not an error, but a cleverly subversive headline by an online paper that likes cleverly subversive headlines and tends to place them on ordinary stories as a form of copyeditor sedition. In short, they understood exactly how the headline could, and would be misinterpreted.


City, State: Do you think we should have any more states, or is fifty such a perfect number that we should stay there. I know there are always red state/blue state concerns that would preclude adding just one state (shades of the Kansas-Nebraska Act!). There are reasons to add Puerto Rico and Guam as states, although the no-income tax thing is a pretty tempting reason to remain a territory. Then there are places like the UP of Michigan, which is different enough and distant enough from the rest of the state that one could make the case that it should be a separate entity. Ditto with Northern Virginia and the rest of the state (although that could result in the amusing situation of a North Virginia that is south of West Virginia). I actually don't think it makes sense to make the District a state because of its size, but I would formally and permanently renounce the quest for voting rights in Congress if, like other territories, we did not have to pay a federal income tax. That would definitely make our housing slump disappear pretty permanently.

Gene Weingarten: You are worried that D.C. is too small, but propose the Upper Peninsula of Michigan? Do you have any idea how small the U.P. is? I lived in Michigan. The U.P. contains 14 people, a few mountain goats, and 769 million mosquitoes. The 14 tend to feel closer to Wisconsin than to Michigan. If anything, the U.P. will wind up being annexed by Wisconsin. I think the next U.S. state will be Cuba. They have the most to gain. Fifteen years.


Re: Worst copy editing mistake: The worst one I ever saw was in a community newspaper that had printed a picture of a high school boys basketball team. I guess they had trouble identifying one member of the team, because the caption read: "John Smith, Mark Jones, some f---er, Tom Hill." Oops.

Gene Weingarten: Very nice.


Somewhere up North: This weekend, while looking for a CD in the console of my husband's car, I found a prescription for an erectile dysfunction drug. It was news to me that he was taking it. I don't know how to ask him about this -- I don't care that he's taking it, but you'd think this is something you'd tell your wife. A little part of me is afraid he'll think I was snooping, but it was an innocent discovery.

Gene Weingarten: Well, he's embarrassed. Or unsure. Or something. You can either talk about it, or not. Not everything has to be acknowledged. But if you DO talk about it, it should not be in the sense of "why didn't you tell me?" He's probably vulnerable enough. "Let's talk about it. This is no problem for me," would be a lot better.


Spellcheckin': One of my favorite spellchecker suggestions was when I typed in a word for a person who teases a distinctly male part of the anatomy. (I'm not a bitter fratboy; I'm a hot chick who was writing a story about a bitter fratboy.) Now, I did spell it correctly, but it wasn't in the spellchecker's dictionary. Instead it wanted me to use "coquettes." It almost works! Just a little problem with subject-verb agreement.

Gene Weingarten: Ooh, not bad. The spellchecker becomes a competent Thesaurus.


UPDATE 6.27.08

Coming Home, D.C.: Interesting about the English use of "come" to describe orgasm -- many (most?) other languagues tend to use the verb form of "go" instead! (Japanese, Portuguese, French "come" to mind)

Gene Weingarten: Here we "go," from the great Man Stroke Woman. Alert: Adult situation, plus the s-word is uttered. May not be Safe for Work.


Buy 'Em, Don't Try 'Em: Just another reason it's better being a guy - our "undies" come sealed in plastic, three to a bag.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, apparently this was the source of my confusion: Ladies buy them off the rack or from bins or somesuch where other ladies might have tried them on over their own undergarments. This is a distinct gender-based disadvantage.


Fun, NY?: Is there anything funny with the name of this restaurant?

Gene Weingarten: Yes. Yes, there is. They should team up with Sofa King on an ad.


Instapoll!: Is this Gene parking?

Gene Weingarten: Okay, so, let's begin calmly here. This man could have done much better. The car behind him had its parking brake on, so its wheels were locked, meaning he could have moved that chassis a full four inches on the suspension. Four more inches to the car in front of him, and he's got eight more inches of play, had he been CAREFUL. He might well have wedged in there beautifully. But as it is, I cannot condone this "parking" job.


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