Chatological Humor: Knock Knock: Coincidence Who? (Updated 7.3.08)
aka Tuesdays With Moron

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 1, 2008 12:00 PM

Daily Updates: WED | THURS

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: MEN | WOMEN

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.

I've been writing for a living for 37 years and I've never encountered anything that more startled and delighted me than the events described in Sunday's column. Your solicitous comments were appreciated, but, no, I am not at all upset; if you can't laugh at yourself when you get that kind of seismic spanking, you shouldn't be writing humor. That guy Ecclesiastes was pretty smart: "The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun."

The hardest part about writing the column was in figuring out what to leave out. The more I researched, the more interesting things became. Milton Fairman, the author of the Chicago Evening Post article, went on to become a founding father and a revered figure in the new industry of public relations, the very industry I so often pillory with abandon.

The man who took the photograph of the disguised fiddler was Jun Fujita, a swaggering, dapper, highly respected Japanese-American photographer of the time.

Fujita became famous for taking, among other things, the first photograph of the St. Valentine's Day Masscre. Even more startling was this remarkable photograph Fujita took of a fireman carrying a drowned child from the scene of a ferry disaster in a Chicago harbor.

The real author of the stunt was the Evening Post's city editor, Michael W. Straus, who left the newspaper industry shortly afterward to join the Roosevelt Administration as a high-level aid in the Department of the Interior. Under Truman, he was put in charge of building dams, a job he prosecuted with enormous fervor, forever changing the waterways of the Midwest. He remains a hugely controversial figure among proponents of energy production and of environmental conservation. When Michael W. Straus set out to do something, he did it.

Jacques Gordon is long dead, but I did reach his son, Nicholas Gordon, who runs the organization his father started in 1930: Music Mountain, in Falls Village, Conn. Music Mountain is the oldest continuing summer chamber music festival in the country. Nicholas remembers his father laughing about the stunt around the dinner table with his good friend Fritz Kreisler, the famous violinist. Neither man was particularly surprised at how it turned out:

"They thought what it demonstrated is that people only see what they expect to see. And if you stand outside orchestra hall, dressed like a bum, playing a priceless instrument, and playing it the exact same way you would play it inside on the stage, people will expect to see a blind bum scratching at a violin, not an artist. And I guess that's still true, isn't it?"


Today's mind-blowing optical illusion was sent by several chatters. Ignore the instructions, which are a little confusing. Do as I say: Put your cursor outside the picture. Put your hand on your mouse. Stare for a good 30 seconds at the dot near the center of the picture. Then, while still staring at the dot, move your mouse over the picture. So long as you keep staring at the dot, you will be seeing a photo in full, vibrant color. But if you flick your eyes away even for a millisecond, the whole thing goes to black and white.


This, from Greg Watson, really needs no explanation.


And here is the clip of the day. It's a short one!

--------- Please take today's poll (MEN | WOMEN). We are seeing an interesting and predictable split between men and women on the first clip. On the second, no. And this surprises me.

The CPOW, for being really exquisitely bad, is Saturday's Frank and Earnest. First Runner Up, today's Cul de Sac. Honorables: Today's Pearls, Sunday's Candorville, Sunday's Lio.


Arlington, Va.: As a fellow Obama supporter, I wanted to get your opinion on the story in The Post yesterday by Eli Saslow about the undecided voter in Ohio who couldn't decide what to believe about Barack. I consider myself to be a pretty open-minded person, but I cannot for the life of me see where these people are coming from. Reading this, and stories like it, frustrates me to no end, it really gnaws at my core. And it scares me, because I think the people in this story are closer to the common American voter than I am. And if McCain ends up winning because people can't think for themselves and discern truth from obvious rumor, then I really fear for my country. How do you even respond to people like this? And as for the reporters, do they have a moral imperative to correct the lies that they hear when they are reporting this stuff? In Flag City USA, False Obama Rumors Are Flying, (Post, June 30)

Gene Weingarten: I addressed this in yesterday's Gene Pool. Liz, can you link? I asked for MORE rumors, not less, on the theory that if the campaigns start drowning in rumors, no one will know what to believe and they might actually have to start listening to the candidates. There were many funny responses. One of my favorites is that "Barack Obama lived with a white woman for 18 years." (True, his mom.) Another is that he has fathered two black babies. The Gene Pool: Start Your False Rumor Here!


The Plains, Va.: I am a teacher, working this summer at a girl's soccer camp. During a break on Sunday I read your latest article to the girls I supervise. I asked my 16 13-year-olds if, based on your article, you should keep your Pulitzer, return it, or if it just didn't matter. Fourteen voted you should return it, two voted that it didn't matter. The girls felt that an ethical person would return the award once the truth that this had already been done came to your attention. They felt that the glory of having won the award would be smaller than the glory of returning it based on your personal ethics. They also thought you should have done more research prior to your action, to see if this had already been done. One said, "We were taught in fourth grade not to rely on the internet alone for our research." I promised the girls I would email their thoughts to you, and let them know if you cared to respond.

Gene Weingarten: I am glad you asked, ladies. I love answering ethical questions from kids because it gives me the opportunity to explain the complex conundrums that often confront adults in real-life situations involving integrity, character, honor, and sound moral thinking.

The answer is that I am keeping the Pulitzer because I need it to validate my importance; studies have shown that Pulitzer prizewinners have more prestige, earn more money, have more sex and get longer obituaries than people who haven't won it. I'd be an idiot to give up this puppy just for "ethical" reasons.

Kidding, kidding.

But, no, kids, I'm not returning the award. It never even occurred to me. Your question is fair, so let me explain my reasoning:

Beyond the rather startling superficial similarities between my story and the 1930 story by the Chicago Evening Post, the two endeavors were very, very different. From the start, my story was designed as a complex sociological study; it was planned months in advance and it took two months to write after the event had occurred. I had planted reporters secretly at the scene to follow passersby and get their names and numbers, so I could phone them afterwards and talk to them about what they had missed, and why. To understand the meaning of what had happened, I consulted philosophers, mathematicians, art experts, and read obscure works, including the musings of a an obscure 19th-century one-legged Welsh hobo poet. The story included valuable insights from Joshua Bell himself about the nature of performance and acceptance. This was a story designed, from the start, to be big and meaningful, and to deliver some important insights into our priorities as a people.

The 1930 story never had such grand ambitions. It was a funny stunt, hatched in a day, performed in a day, and written for the next day's paper. It was written nicely, but never dug much deeper than "holy cow, look what happened." That story interviewed almost no one. Any philosophical truths it reached had to be intuited by the readers ... the story noted, for example, that ladies seemed more intent on shopping than listening to music, but didn't go much further than that. And finally, the writer concedes that the experiment was deeply flawed because much of the music went unheard -- swallowed by the winds of downtown Chicago.

It is true that "orgininality" is a component of the Pulitzer, but I feel my approach to this story -- if not the bare fact of the stunt -- WAS original. The other principal component of the Feature writing Pulitzer is "quality of writing," and I'm proud of how this story was written.

As far as having done the research to see if this had ever been done: There was simply nothing out there that was searchable. You cannot find references to this on the Web, unless you first know to look for "Jacques Gordon," and that delivers one mystifying reference. It is telling to me that even after my story came out, and even after it won the Pulitzer, no one ever contacted me to say they remembered something similar. I think the reson is the year it happened: 1930. Anyone who might have remembered that would likely be in his dotage today. But most important, the story never claimed this was the first time anything like this had been done. I just didn't know, so I made no such claim, explicit or implicit.

So, no, kids. Thanks for asking, and no offense taken, but this Pulitzer isn't going anywhere. Though I admit there is a certain intriguing merit in your contention that returning it would be a more bodacious and grand and glorious gesture -- possibly the tipping point in my career -- than keeping it.

Gene Weingarten: So, basically, as you can see, I am acting AGAINST my best interests in keeping it. I am just such a selfless person.


Atlanta, Ga.: Gene,

I'm getting ready for bed, and once again my boyfriend starts to stare. And once again, he starts to make... comments. I glare at him and say, "You know? I'm just putting on my pajamas."

He gets this look on his face of utter wonder. He says, "No... you're stripping!"

Gene Weingarten: Are you trying to pretend, HERE, to US, in THIS forum, that this bothers you?


Vienna, Va.: Gene, I trust your opinions on names so please help me with this. I changed my name when I got married and soon found myself regretting it. So I've been thinking about changing it back but I have since had a son and named him my married last name. Now I don't want to be the oddball in the family with a different last name so I'm considering hyphenating. It seems that may be the best of both worlds. What are your and the chatters' opinions on hyphenated last names? Also, what are your kids' last names and if they are Weingartens why do you get all the glory?

Gene Weingarten: The Rib's last name is better than Weingarten; just as ethnic, but shorter and leaner and spunkier, like she is.

If we were having children now, we might well give them both her name, or split the names between them. At the time, it was the early 80s and this never occurred to us.

I think hyphenated names are often clumsy. I don't think we would have gone there.

There are lots of way to go about this, some good, some not so good, some very interesting. Some create a brand-new name. My colleague Hanna Rosin is married to David Plotz, the editor of Slate. Their kids are Rosinplotz.

Finally, regarding your being the "oddball" in the family: The Rib is the oddball in this family, I guess, having retained her name. As I am answering this question, I am also IMing with Molly, so I put it to her. I asked if it had caused a terrible confusion in her life. Here is her answer:

yes. i have often wondered why you continue to let this total stranger live in our house. i have always just assumed you let some homeless lady in off the streets out of kindness, and then never had the guts to ask her to leave.

Gene Weingarten: Oooh, Dan just weighed in, too. His IM:

Yes, I have been confused about this since birth. I was confused about her even before I understood that these weird finger grabby things belonged to me and were attached to my torso.


Arlington, Va.: WOW. Today's optical illusion is amazing! Mind-blowing is a good description. So, how does it work?

Gene Weingarten: It's about the persistence of negative color imaging. On the retina. Same reason why if you look at a light and close your eyes, you see a different color on the inside of your eyelid.

I'm not sure why it disappears so quickly. I think the brain feels it is looking at something differen.


Gilda is rolling over in her grave.: Not only because you left her off your Mount Rushmore of comedians, but also because - at least according to the survey results today - all the whispers about women having no sense of humor are actually based in reality. What is wrong with my gender, Gene? Is it chronic? Curable? Or are we doomed to be the butt of jokes for the rest of time regarding our inability to quit taking things so damned seriously? (If not till the end of time, then at least until the new particle accelerator in France creates a black hole that swallows the planet. Which, speaking of appropriately ironic ways to go ...)

Gene Weingarten: Liz, can you link to my appropriate column? Search for Tamara, Manteuffel Barreca and me. The Male of the Specious, (Post Magazine, Dec. 31, 2006)


Alexandria, Va.: Gene (and Liz) -

Has anyone noticed that the Wawa Hoagiefest ad banner that sometimes runs above the chat features a fellow that looks A LOT like Gene might have in the 60s/70s (only no needles)? Is that a coincidence? Hoagiefest. V. "Sgt. Pepper."

Gene Weingarten: That is me. But I never had a soul patch.


Rockville, Maryland: By the by - if you ever find someone hanging, CUT THEM DOWN, right away. It takes a while and people have been saved.

Gene Weingarten: Noted.


Washington, D.C.: Was Nicholas Gordon aware of your article, or did you have to spend a lot of time explaining who the heck you are and why you were calling?

Gene Weingarten: Someone had sent it to him when it came out, and he loved when he heard it won the Pulitzer. So, he knew my name immediately.


Old Saybrook, Calif.: Not everyone ignores poorly dressed person. My mother saw a homeless person at the yacht club mumbling incoherently. He looked ill and she asked if she could call a doctor for him. The man kept talking but she couldn't understand a word he said. He asked if she could get him something to eat. He just staggered away, and she feared he was hurt or suffering from some medical condition. Later she saw the homeless man get onto the largest yacht there and said away with it. She ran to warn that a homeless man had just stolen a yacht. She was informed "no, that yacht is his. He's Keith Richards."

Gene Weingarten: I don't believe this.


Washington, D.C.: Hey remember that time we decided to kiss anywhere except the mouth?

Gene Weingarten: I know! That was great, Hillary.


Generation Gap: What does a key have to do with roller skates?

Gene Weingarten: Sigh.

A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, roller skates were cheap metal frames with wheels that you attached to the bottom of your shoes. To make them fit, you had a key that worked like a winch, tightening the skates to fit.

This is what the skates looked like.

And this is the key.

They look JUST like genitals, right? I'd just like to point out that even I had a pair of these torture devices. That was before I got my disco-skates.


Washington, D.C.: I have to confess, I think I voted favorably for the second video because the boys in it are so cute. I'm 29. They look to be about 20. I know this kind of makes me a dirty old lady, but they are really really good looking boys, the type that I would've made bad decisions with when I was in college. now I'm too old to make bad decisions with them, but, I'm just saying, it may have swayed my vote.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you for sharing. I think what you MEANT to say is that you were attracted to them because they are talented comics.

_______________________ Before I forget -- a request: A fix has been made to the discussion software that should have effectively solved all of the refresh problems we've been having over the past weeks. Let me know if you're still having any trouble or if you're particularly pleased that we're back in business. -- Liz


Arlington, Va.: You are a liberal, and you are old enough to remember the '70s.

For those of us who are not both of these things, would you care to share your opinion about whether Susan Atkins should be released from prison because she has terminal cancer?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, she should be.


Hook, ED: Gene, a question entirely unrelated to the theme of the day. When you refer to "the hook" of a song, to what is it that the term refers? No one in my office can agree on exactly what it is.

Gene Weingarten: It's usually the refrain, but to me it means the little swatch of lyrics or melody, or lyrics AND melody that stick with you and define the song.


Mike Barnicle: That name mean anything to you?

You had plausible deniability even through both Jacques Gordon and Joshua Bell having the same song selections.

But when I read Bell played the same Strad Gordon used I assume Bell would have (or should have) studied his predecessor and found him to be involved in the same stunt you proposed.

And I really liked your Bell article and thought it was Pulitzer worthy.

Gene Weingarten: I hear ya, but that little stunt is just not part of the official Jacques Gordon canon. He did a lot of great things; this was seen as a silly little thang. I can tell you that Josh definitely didn't know about it.


Santa Rosa, Calif.: Hey, I'm coming to Washington, D.C. the last week of September. If I agree to go out with you, will you buy the beer?


Gene Weingarten: Yes, but my deal with cartoonists is that you have to draw your characters on cocktail napkins and give them to me so that after I kill you I can sell them on ebay.


Poll: I didn't think either one was funny. I didn't have a problem with the first one because it joked about suicide, I just thought it was stupid, in fact I thought they were both stupid.

Gene Weingarten: You have a deficient sense of humor.


Malden, Mass.: Okay, I just have to say this. Even though I've flung my e-panties at you many times and will undoubtedly continue to do so, you still need a good smack now and then. The picture of the runner with the poop problem...that's not funny, it's just mean. If it was OJ Simpson or some other dirtbag, I wouldn't feel this way I'm sure, but he's not. You wouldn't find it funny if it happened to Molly or Dan. Call me overly sensitive, but that picture really bummed me out, that it's going to still circulate and embarrass this poor guy. That's all. Got it off my chest. Carry on... Also, (totally unrelated) my son who's 23, made a comment I found particularly astute. I asked him which actress he found really hot; he loves Salma Hayek. I asked what about Angelina? An emphatic NO. SHE LOOKS LIKE A SPIDER. And you know, she really kind of does.

Gene Weingarten: She does.

I agree with you about the runner. I ran it because of a momentary "holy s---" reaction in my brain, when a poster friend of mine actually took the time and initiative to prove George Carlin's sacrosanct declaration wrong: that you never see anyone running as fast as he can while s-----g. It occurred to me, quickly, philosophically, that this was the perfect moment of absurdity, the ultimate proof of the web's ability to find ANYTHING instantly so long as you have a person motivated to search. And the motivation in this case was hilarious. I posted it thinking only of the humor value. Didn't really even notice the ick factor or the privacy component. Wrong call.


Situational Aptonym: During the Spain-Russia soccer game last week, one of the Russian players committed a hard foul and was given a yellow card.

His name: Yuri Zherkov.

Gene Weingarten: Hhahahahahahaha.


Arlington, Va.: The poll results are suggesting that more women than men think "completely uncalled for" is funny. I don't believe it. I think some women are saying it's funny to validate their claim that the first video isn't funny. Whereas many guys don't find it as funny immediately after seeing something much more intense.


Women and men are behaving exactly as I expected for question one, which is an interesting test of the boundaries of edginess in humor. I, like most men, really liked that first clip. Didn't skeeve me, because I am all about the exploration of that fine line between fear and humor. I think this clip is exploring that rather brilliantly, but I can also understand how someone might reasonably conclude it just went too far. This is not a test of your sense of humor so much as it is a test of the boundaries of your sense of humor, a different thing altogether.

But the girls are totally surprising me in the second question, which is REALLY guy jerko humor, additionally involving the wanton infliction of physical pain. I like your theory that women didn't want to say TWO things were not funny, and would like to hear from some women about this. I know our view here is patronizing. Is it right?

Meanwhile, I initially thought the end ruined clip one, but later decided I couldn't think of a better way to end it; the clip is a pretty sophisticated, almost existenial discussion of that nexis between pain and fear and humor; as such, that end makes sense: Where's the joke if you actually DO kill yourself?

I love this, basically. Accolades deserved.


Portland OR: The Chicago violinist collected $5.61 in 1930 dollars. Quite a haul, I'd say, considering it was Depression era and outdoors to boot. How much did Bell rake in?

Gene Weingarten: Well, it's interesting. The Chicago paper played the five bucks as chump change, mentioning that Jacques Gordon made as much as $1,000 per concert. But you're right, it wasn't bad money.

Officially, cost of living today is 15 times higher than it was in 1930, according to our research, so Gordon made about $80 in today's money. Bell got $32.17, I believe.

Gene Weingarten: Oh, wait. The next post answers this far more effectively.


Bibliotek, VA: Sunday night, as I sat listening to Joshua Bell's performance recorded on the Post webpage from your article from last year, I decided to figure what the value of the money that violin virtuoso Jacques Gordon made in 1930 would represent in 2007 dollars. I wanted to know who made more money! (I can't have been the only one, can I?) Bell collected $32.17 and Gordon earned $5.61. Here is what I found out using a website created by Lawrence H. Officer, Professor of Economics at University of Illinois at Chicago and Samuel H. Williamson, Professor of Economics, Emeritus, from Miami University. (

$5.61 from 1930 is worth:

$69.65 using the Consumer Price Index

$58.20 using the GDP deflator

$154.67 using the value of consumer bundle -

$216.33 using the unskilled wage -

$347.42 using the nominal GDP per capita

$851.42 using the relative share of GDP

I found some other webpages and the average, using the CPI, between the 3 was $68.88. So that answers the question. Gordon made more money, and he did it during the depression! By the way, reversing the comparison, if Bell had made $5.61 last year, that would have been $0.48 in 1930. forty-eights cents. sheesh.

Gene Weingarten: So now you know.


Gene Weingarten: Sorry, for the delay, Chatwoman and I have been arguing about something.


More on Carl, IN: Gene,

George Carlin's death, and the analysis of his treatise on the seven words you can't say on TV, got me to thinking about what else absurd is censored.

After much thought, I've settled on the middle finger.

Do we not know what a middle finger looks like? Is it obscured by the other fingers?

Do seedy bookstores stock magazines depicting middle fingers in various stages of dress?

Does the sight of a middle finger cause women to blush, shriek in horror or divert their eyes? If so, how do nail salons stay in business?

What would George Carlin say about the blurring of middle fingers?

Gene Weingarten: The middle finger made its debut in the late 1970s with this photograph. Papers ran it because it was profferred by the vice president of the United States. You probably haven't seen another example of The Finger unless you lived in South Florida in the late 1980s.

Miami had just gotten its basketball franchise -- The Heat -- and the following year it was announced that Orlando was going to get one, too (the Magic.) At Tropic, Tom the Butcher and I decided it would be a swell idea to start a rivalry between the two cities by sending Dave Barry up to Orlando, to do a cover story on our new NBA sister city. The story was going to be masquerading as a friendly little wet-kiss of a story, but in fact would be devastatingly cruel.

When it came time to come up with a cover idea, we all sat around, and eventually someone suggested this: An elegant looking cover with really fancy wedding-invitation type fonts that would say, "Mr. David Barry of Miami, Fla., cordially welcomes the city of Orlando into the fraternity of NBA teams." And Dave would be on the cover, dressed in a Miami Heat Uniform, and he would be spinning a basketball on one finger.

Yes, THAT finger.

We all thought this was hilarious, but impossible. All except me. I stood up and announced that I would stride right in to the office of Janet Chusmir, the exectuvie editor of The Miami Herald, and persuade her to let us do it. There was much hooting and derision, but I did go, and I did succeed. Janet liked and trusted me, and I framed the decision in complex philosophical terms,references the structure of humor, and whatnot.

We went with that cover.

Not long afterwards, I left The Herald for The Post, and in my exit interview with Janet she told me that in her long and storied career in journalism, that was the only decision she really regretted.

Several months later, Janet . . . died.

The Finger is a very, very dangerous part of speech.


Sidney, Montana: How does one rise to prominence in a field that is rapidly downsizing and losing its "relevance"?

Gene Weingarten: You figure out something that directly translates into more money for the company.


Obama rumors, etc.: Gene --

According to That Other Big Eastern City Paper, in order to defuse one of the scurrilous talking points against Obama, his supporters are publicly adopting his middle name in order to make it seem unremarkable. This has led to such unlikely monikers as

Emily Hussein Nordling, Jaime Hussein Alvarez, and Sarah Beth Hussein Frumkin.

A. Do you think this will have any effect beyond the humorous?

B. What real person's name would be substantially better or funnier with the middle name Hussein?

-- not David Hussein Broder

Gene Weingarten: Shimon Hussein Peres.


Cute boys: Yes, they are very cute. Even cuter in the one they do about a Mother's Day picture.

Gene Weingarten: That will be the clod next week. It's great.


Manson mercy: Why should the Manson family woman be released? She should be cared for with compassion, but why do you think she should be released?

Having been the recipient of great forgiveness before,I believe in mercy, but I also believe that you shouldn't kill people for fun. And, if you do, you have to pay for it.

So why should she get out?

Gene Weingarten: Because she was a pathetic tool. Because she has served her entire adult life in jail. Because we are all humans here.


Re: Your upcoming date with Pastis : So Gene, how often do you get asked out in this chat?

Gene Weingarten: Seldom. I sometimes get asked out AFTER the chat.


Prickly City: Gene: Has it seemed to you that the comic "Prickly City" has been moving slightly away from its conservative roots recently? It's actually run a few strips making fun of John McCain (last Thursday, for example), and today's strip is a veiled swipe at Fox News.

At the same time, it hasn't gotten any funnier.

Gene Weingarten: Yes. The cartoonist is definitely losing faith in the jerks.


Male of the Specious: That link to Gene's old article presumably on male/female went to a NYT article celebrating rich people for making their fancy apartment wackier. Oopsy. Shoulda gone here.

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahaha.


McLean: PLEASE don't discount the inverse Sarah Silverman effect with completely uncalled for. I'm a 34-year-old woman who, like the previous commenter, got drawn into the second video because of the yum factor of the guys in it.

It's not so much that I found it objectively funny. But, watching it, I found the slapper's eye contact very appealing? charming? Something. At the end, I thought, well, all told if I'd been in there in person, I'd have laughed. (No doubt in a cynical attempt to flirt with the boys). So, I figured I found it funny. I get it. I'm a pervy sellout.

Gene Weingarten: The Sarah Silverman effect is powerful. Also the Tina Fey effect.


Poll: I'm a woman who voted not funny on the first, funny on the second. It had nothing to do with guilt over voting not funny twice. It's simple: for the duration of the first one, I just sat there and watched. Don't think I even cracked a smile (though I thought the guy on the couch was a good actor, and did have some funny facial expressions). After the punchline of the second joke, I laughed out loud. And then again a moment later when I thought of it again. It's funny!

Then again, one of my favorite jokes has always been Interrupting Starfish.

Gene Weingarten: I don't know starfish. Tell it.

You didn't think Joke Hitler was funny?


Susan Atkins - please explain: I'm as liberal as they come, but I don't feel she should be shown any mercy. Would you please explain why you think she should? I think this might be the first time I disagree with you! Oh wait, I love Indian food and you think it tastes like corpses.

Gene Weingarten: I question whether her "intent" was real. She was a drugged up, screwed up disciple of a madman.


Optical Illusion Fraud: This is not an illusion - just a mouseover. The picture

changes color regardless of the mouse position and

regardless of my staring at the dot. FWIW, I have a mac.

Gene Weingarten: WHAT? That's just not true! Is it?


So, dish: What was the argument about? Whether Liz Hussein Kelly is a funny name?

Gene Weingarten: It was about how Liz made a mistake but mulishly refused to admit it.


Susan Atkins : So, you're an unrepentant convicted domestic terrorist who has terminal cancer. Wouldn't you rather go out in a literal blaze of glory? The risk of injury to more innocent citizens is why she's gonna die behind bars.

Gene Weingarten: I don't believe she is unrepentant. I may be confusing her with Leslie Van Houten, but I think she is just a misterable person who can't believe what she did.


Interrupting Starfish: You can't tell it. You show it. It goes,

-Knock knock.

-Who's there?

-Interrupting starfish.


-joke teller covers the other person's face with her hand]

Gene Weingarten: Oh.


Oba, MA: I heard an unsubstantiated rumor that Barack Obama killed Davey Moore.

Gene Weingarten: Oooh. Why?

What the reason for?


Cary, N.C.: Hey Gene. As an Indian-American, I have been subjected to some very funny stereotyping by some white folks. I still laugh about the Jehovah witness lady and her daughter who thought I was a "primitive" tribe and tried to explain things to me. What is the funniest racial stereotyping you've heard/observed?

Gene Weingarten: My mother once had someone ask her, seriously, if she'd had her horns removed. This was around 1939.


Silver Spring, MD: This is a more typical skate key, the shaft part was to adjust the front toe clips (which your skate example doesn't have).

Yours just looks like a wrench. Which it is, since it's only designed to adjust the length.

Gene Weingarten: Correct.


Barry's take on Orlando, Fla.: I was a copy editor for the Orlando Sentinel in '89 and edited (mostly just laughed at, really) Barry's take on Orlando that we ran on our front page. It was part of the Heat-Magic rivalry. My head for his story: "A foul shot from Miami."

And he nailed Orlando, too. Biggest redneck cow town east of the Mississippi. (At the time.)

Gene Weingarten: Nice hed! I love it when people remember that story. Wasn't the cover GREAT?


From Style Section: » Slatkin Gets His Rich Desert

¿ A Final 'Fanfare' For the NSO's Leonard Slatkin

Shouldn't this be dessert? Or am I missing some wry commentary? Is Wapo suffering with less folks working on the paper?

Gene Weingarten: Several posters sent this "error" in.

Not an error. A "desert" is something you deserve. Like just deserts.

It's clearly a play on dessert and desert, but it's used correctly.


Facial Recognition: You've written about your facial recognition problems before. If it were in a completely unexpected context, would you have problems recognizing The Rib?

Gene Weingarten: No. I'm not that dysfunctional. But it does remind me of something bad that almost happened a few years ago. I was on a very crowded subway car with Rib, and we got separated. When the crowd thinned a little, I worked my way back to her. She was facing the other way. I leaned in to kiss her on the neck.

I was maybe an inch away from her skin when I stopped.

Not Rib. Same height, same build, same hair, wearing very similar clothing. Had I done it, after the quite justified slap and scream, I would have had to drag Rib over as proof. Rib probably would have denied she knew me, just for the yucks.


Arlington, Va.: There are lots of way to go about this, some good, some not so good, some very interesting. Some create a brand-new name. My colleague Hanna Rosin is married to David Plotz, the editor of Slate. Their kids are Rosinplotz.

That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Just name your kids what you want to name them and stop looking to Gene for a thumbs up that what you are doing is okay.

Gene Weingarten: Please. My judgment is impeccable. Everyone knows it.


Arlington, Va.: How come there are only false Obama rumors? Where are all the false McCain rumors? Let me please start some:

John McCain was born to a Panama and a Panapa. He attended the Naval Academy where he planned future wars with Charlie Wilson. McCain served honorably in the Navy and is the last surviving veteran of the Spanish American War. After the war, John McCain went into politics serving as the Territory Governor for the State of Arizona and Northern Mexico and later, after Arizona was granted statehood, as a member of the Mexican Senate. As Senator, McCain is most remembered for the McCain Feingold Law that allowed only the sale of fine Mexican gold to foreigners. McCain was known as a political maverick who would speak out against the Administration before giving in to what they wanted from him.

McCain, with his brothers Michael, Tito, Jermaine, and Jackie, formed the Keating Five. The Keating Five were arrested for disrupting the 1968 Democratic National Convention for singing such protest songs as "Give War a Chance for 100 Years" and "Power to the Enron People". They were acquitted when the Judge realized they were Caucasian. McCain went on to write the best selling book "Faith of My Fathers", which proved embarrassing as his mother had wanted her bigamy kept quiet. In November of this year, McCain will be defeated by President by Barack Obama because Chuck Hegel has already programmed the voting machines to tabulated Obama the winner.

Gene Weingarten: There are many McCain rumors in yesterday's Gene Pool. One was that he is really 183.

I started one that he once called Cindy, in a fit of anger, a "brazen shameless trollop." And that his aides were so horrified because it sounded so out of it and corn poney, that they changed it to the c-word.


Molly: Your daughter is attractive, sarcastic, and the offspring of a Pulitzer Prize winner. Can I ask your permission to court her?

Gene Weingarten: Anyone can ASK.


Washington, DC: Were you at Politics and Prose for the Edgar Sawtelle reading last Thursday night? If so, then let me say that lavender is not your color.

Gene Weingarten: No.


Runner: I disagree with everyone. As a runner, I can say that crapping yourself mid-stride is a badge of honor, especially if you go on to win (e.g. Uta Pippig). I can tell you from experience, that he knew it was coming for a while, and made the decision to keep running come what may rather than stop and find a toilet. That's hard core. And he know's it's hard core.

Gene Weingarten: I will never understand runners.


Metro: You're a big fan of D.C. It sounds like you're used to taking the Metro. I just moved here, and I like the place, too. And I'm very glad for the Metro, as I don't have a car.

However, as someone who knows everything, maybe you can tell me why the Metro seats are designed the way they are. Can't you fit in more people comfortably, both standing and sitting, when you just have a long bench running along each wall? With the two-by-two rows of seats, people who snag a seat by the window before it gets crowded are then effectively trapped. Whose bright idea was this? Is there supposed to be any advantage to it?

Gene Weingarten: There is an advantage. I grew up in NY, which has both kinds of cars. The cars with long rows of seats are famous for their flexibility to accommodate very large crowds (there is way more standing room, and less sitting room, and the sitting room is somewhat flexible. If the car is jammed people qill squeeze into the seats, maybe 40 to a car side as opposed to 36.

I think the feeling in setting up Washington's Metro was that we'd seldom get that crowed. They went for the comfort of more seating and less standing room. I think, by and large, they were right.

I share your feeling of trappage. That is why I try alwys to sit on the seats that face in toward the center of the car.


Washington, D.C.: Have you heard who's sponsoring the new "Marriage Protection" amendment? No, you can't make this stuff up.

Gene Weingarten: Wow.


Washington, D.C.: Gene:

If they find an article from the 40s about a children's magician with a gambling problem who witnessed a murder as a child, you're going to have some splainin to do. Just sayin' . . .

Gene Weingarten: I know!


All of Us: Would you PLEASE stop putting videos in the polls? You know we all have youtube blocked at work!

Gene Weingarten: Listen, I always have the polls ready by midday Monday. Can't you take it at home that night?

I LIKE videos in the polls.


Funny Stereotypes: I once had someone say to me, completely seriously, "But you CAN'T be from Texas, you don't have big hair!"

No, she was not blond. I responded that I used to, but it kept getting caught in the ceiling fan, I'm still not sure if she knew I was joking.

Gene Weingarten: Haha.


Perplexed:: Liz, it's a funny thing, but I was searching for the link to Gene's 24-hour stint on meta news coverage, and didn't find it in the archives. Am I doing something wrong -- can you hook me up? I want to send it to a friend who badly needs to get hooked on Gene. Cruel and Usual Punishment, (Post Magazine, March 23)

Gene Weingarten: Okay.


Atkins:: Wasn't she the one referred to as "Sadie" in the book, "Helter Skelter?" If so, her behavior was referred to as "animalistic."

Do any of the Manson women still have any family on the outside? They've all been in prison for 40 years now.

Gene Weingarten: A few people are telling me Atkins has remained unrepentant. If this is true, then my position changes.

I know Van Houton has become a reasonable person, haunted by her crime.


OC: Were you aware of this when you wrote your copy editor column?

Gene Weingarten: No. But I had heard of Mindworks before. I actually contacted them and asked them to write a humor column for me; they declined, saying it was a more specialized job than they were equipped to handle. Drat. 'Cause that would have made an excellent column.


Bristow, Va.: In the earlier post about the soccer girls' views about your article and Pulitzer, it was apparent that the girls missed the part about the researcher serendipitously finding the story on a microfiche of a 78-year old newspaper. I doubt they picked up on that (or even know what a microfiche is). It's kind of hard to explain to kids that not EVERYTHING can be found on the Web.

Gene Weingarten: I think their reaction was adorable. Kids tend to see things in absolutes.


Rabbi Mike: I was most pleased to see you quoting scripture today. Maybe there is hope for you after all.

Gene Weingarten: There is much wisdom in scripture. I do not deny that. Except for the God parts.


Chinese Laundrom, AT: Funniest racial stereotyping.

When I (Chinese American) was going to school at Hopkins in Baltimore in the 1980's, one day while doing my clothes at the laundromat in Charles Village, I was asked if my parents owned the laundromat.

Gene Weingarten: Hahahaha.

Actually, this reminds me of another racial stereotype that I heard uttered as if true, in the mid sixties. I think I can't say it. Hang on, gonna ask Chatwoman.


Washington, DC 20005: Gene,

Your judgment is impeccable? Then kindly explain this, the first question and answer, from the chat's FAQ:

Q. Who is Gene Weingarten and why should we give a crap about anything he has to say?

A. Gene is the syndicated humor columnist for The Washington Post. At times he can be erudite and perceptive, but in general has the sensibilities of a nine-year-old boy who has just learned, to his delight and complete distraction, that women wear underpants. There is no reason you should give a crap about anything he has to say.

Gene Weingarten: False modesty.


Avant Gar, DE: It didn't occur to you in the early 80's to give your kids your wife's last name? My son carries my last name and my daughter carries my wife's last name. They are 25 and 22 years old, respectively. You do the math.

Gene Weingarten: It just didn't. It embarrasses me a little.


Gene Weingarten: Okay, I got a big NO from Chatwoman regarding the Asian stereotype. So, no. I trust Liz.


Video Polls: "Gene Weingarten: Listen, I always have the polls ready by midday Monday. Can't you take it at home that night?"

Yes, I can. But, weren't you the one who intimated that all of the people who answer the polls as soon as you post them were weird, and a little lame? I'm pretty sure there was some chatting about that upon your return from the hiatus.

And this chat is a work distraction, not something I want to do my homework for the night before.

Gene Weingarten: Well, okay, but sorry. The videos will continue. I don't think it's too much to ask.


Vienna, Va.: I think the answer to the Atkins question is to ask the relatives of those she killed. Theirs are the only opinions that matter.

Gene Weingarten: I disagree. I think that criminal justice must be administered without emotion. I think you can listen to them, but must make an independent judgment.


Among the worse jokes ever....: Rodney Dangerfield and a member of FLDS walk into a bar. Dangerfield says "take my wife, please." The FLDS member says "no thanks, I'm driving."

Gene Weingarten: Why was Dangerfield stealing Henny Youngman's joke?


Outraged: Unlike people such as Ebeneezer Kelly I actually subscribe to The Post daily. Imagine how I felt when I saw the photo on the cover of last Sunday's magazine. Look closely on what's printed on Russell Means' jacket. Is this what happens when you cut back on editors? I mean, what about the children? Nice watch though! HAHAHAHA! Good thing my mom, a 35+ year subscriber -- gives me her mag. -- Ebenezer.

Gene Weingarten: Can we link to this picture?


Anonymous: It's been a while, do you think this country is ready for a president with a five-syllable name?

Gene Weingarten: We've never had one, have we?

Oh, you mean both names together?


WTF?: What in the world are you talking about with that optical illusion? If you put the mouse in the image, the thing is sharply black and white, if you don't, its washed out pale colors. Is there something wrong with my computer? How is that cool? I don't get it (and I usually get all the illusions you post)

Gene Weingarten: It is not black and white if you have stared at the dot for a long time before putting the mouse on it.


For no reason in particular...: Can we link to a picture of Liz's cat ? Sure!

Gene Weingarten: Yay!


Does your watch: have the day and/or date, or do you consider this outre, oh horological wizard?

Gene Weingarten: I will accept day and date.

_______________________ The pic is here, but not big enough to see what makes it so interesting. The pic is here, but not big enough to see what makes it so interesting.

Gene Weingarten: Ah. Okay, sadly, we will end on this. Go get your mags.

I will be updating. Thanks for a great chat.


UPDATED 7.2.08

Gene Weingarten: A couple of Chicago-area readers contacted me to question how the 1930 streetcorner violin concert could have been outside a subway stop when the city's subway system was not inaugurated until six or seven years later. It was indeed a conundrum, since the newspaper story clearly said that the reporter had hidden behind a subway stairwell. I believe the problem is solved: In 1930, in Chicago, the "subway" referred to a series of tunnels dug beneath large avenues, for pedestrian traffic to cross.


Gene Weingarten: From Dave Barry, please note the name of the farmer.

And a nice little byline aptonym here, discovered by Mark Eckenwiler.

And this from Edison Hammond. You have to read to the last line.


Rollerblader: I'm old enough to remember hearing Melanie's "Brand New Key" on the radio. I always understood generally what it was about, but I never got the imagery. I understood the "key", but a pair of "roller skates"? I knew enough reproductive biology to know that women only have ONE of those. (And, contrary to what my mother told me when I was 12, I didn't believe that it had teeth.) So what do the "roller skates" represent? Those feminine attributes that often get "embiggened" with implants?

Gene Weingarten: The roller skates were her ovaries.


Hitler? Who said anything about Hitler?: I thought he said "Joke killer." "Joke Hitler" is a little funny, because of the juxtaposition, but it doesn't match the situation. "Joke Hitler" isn't simply someone who doesn't find this joke to be funny. "Joke Hitler" would have to be someone who creates a totalitarian state, operating under allegedly iron-clad rules about jokes and humor, but the rules are subject to interpretation by the whims only of that person, and who uses propaganda and fear to control his followers.

(No, I don't have anyone in mind. Why?)

Gene Weingarten: No soup for you.


kids, internet: Eh, those girls seemed to be saying you should have searched harder and that a search on the Internet was not sufficient. I liked that--they have been taught to look harder. Reminded me of an inverse problem--my boss (a lawyer) once brought up wikipedia in a meeting as a support for something he was saying. We had to break it to him, gently, how things get on wikipedia. He was SHOCKED. Good times for the kids in teh office.

Gene Weingarten: Right. Except for two things:

1. This event was unfindable, absolutely dead to history. There was simply no way to have found it; I worked on this story with both Josh Bell and Tim Page, both classical music experts and historians.

2. I didn't CARE if it had ever been done before, so a weeks long effort would have been pointless. The story made no claim that it had never been done.


Wordsmith: Birthday Greetings from Joe Cocker.

Gene Weingarten: Indeed. Several people sent this recently.


UPDATED 7.3.08

Re: Susan Atkins and justice: Gene, you said "I think that criminal justice must be administered without emotion. I think you can listen to them, but must make an independent judgment."

Have you ever been to a sentencing, Gene? Having worked in two courthouses, I've watched many. Particularly for a big heinous crime, there can be a parade of pained or grieving family members testifying to the damage caused by the convicted. I guarantee you their tears are factored in when considering, say, 10 years vs. 25. The families most definitely have an impact on a criminal's sentence, as well they should. You're wrong.

Gene Weingarten: This is the first of three related posts. I do not disagree with you; I think the victim statements are important, but I think they are just one of a number of factors that must be taken into account. See next post.


Atkins: "I think the answer to the Atkins question is to ask the relatives of those she killed. Theirs are the only opinions that matter."

Ugh. I hate this stupid opinion. You know what it means, right? That if someone who doesn't have faily is murdered, say a homeless person, they should be punished less, because not as many people officially care. It means that some peoples' lives are more important because of who did or didn't love them.

The victim's families CANNOT be the deciding factor (I'm against them being a factor at all).

Gene Weingarten: I disagree with that last point only. I think that victims deserve the right to feel that their opinions will be heard and considered. See next post.


Washington, D.C.: "Vienna, Va.: I think the answer to the Atkins question is to ask the relatives of those she killed. Theirs are the only opinions that matter.

Gene Weingarten: I disagree. I think that criminal justice must be administered without emotion. I think you can listen to them, but must make an independent judgment."

If criminal justice should be administered without emotion, then she gets no time off due to illness. If she would not be realeased if not terminally ill, then it is only emotion that says she should get out because she is. She gets humane, quality care, but not freedom.

Gene Weingarten: Now, this is interesting, and it boils down to the issue of whether mercy is an emotion, or a calculation, or something nobler and purer than either. My wise friend Horace reminded me of this, Portia's speech in trying to persuade Shylock not to exact the pound of flesh, the full measure of "justice" that was legally due him:

The quality of mercy is not strain'd,

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

'Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes

The throned monarch better than his crown;

His sceptre shows the force of temporal power,

The attribute to awe and majesty,

Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings;

But mercy is above this sceptred sway;

It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,

It is an attribute to God himself;


Therefore, Jew,

Though justice be thy plea, consider this,

That, in the course of justice, none of us

Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy;

And that same prayer doth teach us all to render

The deeds of mercy.


The Runs: The runner is fair game! He put those pictures up on the Internet himself.

I like his writeup too, although 21k isn't really a marathon. That part bugs me.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, I feel a little better. Umm, I'm thinking the guy didn't write this himself.


The Finger: I seem to recall a picture of a shirtless young man at the 1968 Democratic convention, but maybe it wasn't reprinted in the daily press. Inside Life magazine, maybe?

Gene Weingarten: It was inside Life. I remember it well. Pure intelligent fury. As opposed to this.


Upstate, N.Y.: This article needs no comment. And it has photos!

Gene Weingarten: Thank you. Please note the name of the photographer. You see it when you enlarge either of the pictures.


Next Week's Chat.


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