Chatological Humor: The Best Feeling in the World (UPDATED 9.19.08)

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 16, 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, 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.

Apparently, Sarah Palin purchased a tanning bed for her governor's mansion. I hope to be the first Outspoken Liberal to say: I don't care. I don't think it reflects badly on her. (Haha! Pun!) I make no negative inferences about it. This is the very first factoid about Gov. Palin that I think is unworthy of adding to her long list of febrile atrocities. I officially hereby discard the tanning bed as a story and urge others to, as well.


A few days ago, something odd happened to my laptop. You know the little icon on the lower right part of the monitor that looks like two screens overlapping? It shows whether you are connected to wireless. Well, a few days ago, it developed a red X over it, which remained there whether or not I was in fact connected to the Web. It impeded nothing. My computer was otherwise acting fine. But there was this little red X, see?

Quick, take this instapoll!

Thank you for voting. You may judge for yourself if you were right or wrong.

I called customer service and spoke to a man in San Jose, Costa Rica. We were on the phone for one hour and 16 minutes. He had me do many things, involving re-booting my computer several times. He showed me how to go into scary "administrator" mode and type odd things like "ping" onto the black screen. The red X remained. Finally, he said this problem was too complex for him to solve, and gave me a different number to call. This was to be connected to an Enhanced degree of service, from people more knowledgeable than he.

This call went to Taiwan, where I spoke to someone who claimed to be named David but obviously wasn't, and then I was rerouted to a suburb of Manila in the Philippines. The new guy, who also claimed to be David and wasn't, stayed on the phone with me for one hour and 52 minutes. At one point, while on hold, my cell almost died, which would have been disaster, so I had to rush to plug it into a wall socket, and because I have an old house without lots of wall sockets, this meant I had to unplug my computer and hunch over it on the floor for a half hour as my phone was charging.

This new technician also had me go into administrator mode, and at one point he actually physically took control of my computer, from the Philippines, and I watched oddly fascinated as the cursor danced around, and he opened control pages and entered text and clicked on things thus such. That led to this exchange:

Me: Whoa, this is weird.


Me: It's like you're physically inside my computer.


Me: I would like this a lot better if you were a woman.


Me: Hey, are we getting anywhere, or should I just go f--- myself?


As I said, this session lasted just under two hours. The red X was still there. Finally, in exasperation, I said, "Isn't there some way to restore my computer to an earlier point in time, before this problem began?"

"Some people do that," he said, with some distaste, as if he were saying "some people are sexually attracted to armpits."

Yeah. That solved the problem. I did it on my own.


Regarding my column on Sunday about reader "Comments" to online stories, I would like to post here, in its entirety and without further comment, a "comment" that appeared beneath a Post Review of "Burn After Reading."

iamerican wrote:
Having yet to see this latest offering, one must suspect, given the genius track-record of the Coens, with, for some, deep and painful levels of revealed truth, and the proven patriotic sensibility of Clooney, the negative comments here are from the sinecures and traitors with Government I.D.'s, perks, pensions, and the astounding willingness to cash their paychecks, who have no problem "failing" to recognize that which everyone outside the Beltway knows: the CIA was found by a Federal District Court Jury to have assassinated John Kennedy ('Hunt v Liberty Lobby') six weeks after he ordered our military home from Vietnam, led by Nixon and Bush1; and, Bush2 is a closet-queen draft-dodger cheated into the White House by the Roman Catholics on the Supreme Court who has yet to be brought to justice for committing 9/11 (Viz. "The New Pearl Harbor," Griffin, PhD).

Can't wait to see the Coen's "take" on the city of my birth and, former, hometown.

Art leads Life
May G-d bless America once more
Death for Treason
Annuit Coeptis


I want to thank Henry Chen for this interesting audio hallucination.

There is much speculation on the Web that this is a trick, but it isn't. I have tried to understand how it works, and failed. Someone will explain it to us, I am confident.


I really have no choice about the Clip of the Day. My duties as chronicler of pinnacles of humor require me to link to this, even though most of you have probably already seen it. I cannot recall ever watching a better impersonation of a politician figure than what Tina Fey has pulled off here. She's as good as Caliendo doing Madden.


Please take today's poll. (MEN | WOMEN) Well' be talking about it through the chat.

A good comics week, not a great comics week. These are all honorable mentions: Monday's Frazz, Monday's Nonseq, Wednesday's Speed Bump, Wednesday's Doonesbury, Thursday's Fuzzy, Sunday's Argyle Sweater.

Actually, i take that back. The CPOW goes to Richard Thompson, for this oddly linked and satisfying combination of Cul De Sac and Richard's Poor Almanack, on Saturday.


Springfield, Va.: LET'S TALK ABOUT THIS. It would be great to shed some light, and not more misplaced heat here. My primary concern is that this intelligent woman is being so offended that she wants to punish all the wrong people.

"I know it's not coming from the Obama campaign, but still! A woman can't be smart and attractive at the same time? She can't bear children and not be a full-time mom?

I'm a politically-active, Ivy League-educated, flamingly-liberal woman who is tempted to vote McCain/Palin just as a statement against the toxic attitude toward women in power in America.

Grr Boo Hiss! I'm hoping the media wakes up before they forve me to make a horrible decision out of anger to actually vote for the dark side. "

Gene Weingarten: The item quoted here is from last week's updates.

I'm happy to start the discussion.

There are two issues here. The first, the one you raise, is whether it makes any sense for a liberal woman to vote against her best interests, to vote for an arch-conservative ticket that among other things would love to overturn Roe v. Wade, and to do this as some sort of protest against what she sees as the generalized media-driven sexist treatment of a woman candidate. I kind of understand the impulse, but it seems illogical, intemperate, and wrong -- as the poster herself seems to know. Especially because she ackowledges this is not driven by the Obama campaign. It's just a spasm of misplaced anger.

The larger issue, though, is whether she is right about a pervasive sexism regarding Palin. And to analyze that, I think we have to start by going back to the Clinton campaign. There was definitely some sexism displayed toward Clinton during the campaign, just as there was some racism displayed toward Obama. But I don't think that either rose to the level of an overwhelming factor, and I believe that was the general consensus among nonpartisan people who watched the campaign more closely than I did. I think, in general, Clinton was treated fairly by the media.

So what about Palin? (And I ask this leading with my chin, as the guy who wrote a poem last week calling her a MILF.)

If the candidate for vice president were Christine Todd Whitman, or another woman with a defensibly impressive background of leadership and experience, you would not see what you are seeing in the media. You just wouldn't. I think that the choice of someone as nakedly unqualified and dowright weird as Sarah Palin has opened her, and McCain, up to justified ridicule. Is the fact that she chose to have a child at 43, vastly (and some would say irresponsibly) increasing the likelihood of that child being a Down Syndrome child, an issue? Yeah. Could it be an issue if she were a man? No. I don't care. (No woman could have been accused of draft-dodging, as Clinton was. Doesn't matter.)

Is it appropriate to mention that Palin is unusually young and attractive and gun-totin' and big-haired and plain ol' hicksy and whatnot, and that those speaking in her defense make some outrageously silly exaggerations of her experience? Sure -- because her age and attractiveness and demeanor and backwoodsiness clearly were part of why McCain cynically chose her. He put all these things in play.

So, to the original poster: I think you're probably smart, but you sure are acting dumb, not because you are a woman, but because you're being both petulant and wrong.


Seattle, Wash.: The audio hallucination is done by having multiple "parallel" scales playing at the same time, each an octave apart. As the notes of a given scale approach the middle range, they get louder; as they leave it, they get softer. Since the tones overall are rising, we get the effect of an endlessly rising scale; however, because of the adjustments in volume, we end up right where we started.

See this page for details and/or corroborating evidence.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.


The poll: Who are all these people who think a movie's genre is more informative than the name of the director? Madness! In fact, of all the choices you provided, director is the ONLY choice that provides any real predictive value at all, in terms of the likely look, feel, and quality of the film.

Gene Weingarten: It depends on whether you know the directors and what they've made. I am very spotty on this. There was no good choice for me, really.


Richmond, Va.: When I saw your poll question about choosing a doctor based on the name, and knew immediately that it would be about stereotypes based on nationality. And I did indeed choose a doctor honestly and there was indeed stereotyping involved.

The name Sebastian S. Bradisher sounds British, and I decided that Dr. Bradisher was likely to have a British accent. Since this medical condition would be stressful and depressing and since I am enchanted by British accents, the rationale is that this doctor would be most likely to make me smile - something I would desperately need at the time.

Gene Weingarten: Understood.

If there is a young college-aged woman name Martha Hendrickson out there, she might want to consider a career in internal medicine. She'd apparently do VERY well.

Yes, this was a nakedly manipulative poll, and I think we got mostly honest answers. In truth, of course, you would seldom JUST know the names of the doctors, and I am sure that in most cases any real information received would trump casual, spasmodic racial/ethnic chauvinism.

I did laugh out loud, though, that the Jew was so clearly the favorite of the men. I definitely was taught, growing up, to seek out the Jew in all areas of life except betting on sports, but I grew up in Jewish ghetto. I'm not sure what explains this result. Anyone?


Juneau, Alaska: So what do you see yourself doing on Nov. 5 if you wake up to a President McCain?

Gene Weingarten: I'm more nervous about waking up on Nov. 6 with President Palin.

Hey, not to be gruesome, but does anyone know what the rules are if the president elect dies before his inauguration?


Luddi,TE: The little icon with the two computers isn't for wireless - it's for a wired internet connection. Wireless is the computer with the two curved lines. So unless you are physically connected to the Internet with a cable you can ignore the paired computer icon. I think this guy is right, Gene.

Gene Weingarten: Nope. This is wireless.


Washington, D.C.: Gene, I think you overlooked the best cartoon this week. Eric Shansby's cartoon accompanying your column made me laugh out loud, and was hands down the best cartoon of the week. Was this an oversight or is there some kind of conflict of interest where you can't pick his for the CPOW? No Comment, (Post Magazine, Sept. 14)

Gene Weingarten: This was completely brilliant, but I limit my cartoon picks to comics-page cartoons.

Thaks for writing in, Eric.


Noted: Yes vote in insta-poll was based on the general policy NEVER GET INVOLVED WITH COMPUTER COSTOMER SERVICE UNLESS THE MACHINE WILL NOT FUNCTION. This is now taught in elementary school along with hand washing, avoiding strangers and other personal safety truisms. For you, thought, the answer would be "No" because you will get at least one column out of the experience.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.


Audio hallucination: Imagine an infinite piano keyboard, and that all the A notes are played together, then all Bs, Cs, etc... You will have the impression that each sound is higher than the previous one - even if the scale will repeat itself on the 8th note. You can search on the net for "endless octave" for another example of this fascinating illusion.

Gene Weingarten: It's really interesting, isn't it? The first time I heard it, I suspected chicanery; that hitting "replay" was somehow rigged to deliver a different set of pitches.


Wow!: Right now, more men than women think that "being held lovingly" is a better non-sex physical feeling. Aww, Gene chatters are sooo sensitive!

Gene Weingarten: The guys are lying.


Bowie, Md.: "Hey, not to be gruesome, but does anyone know what the rules are if the president elect dies before his inauguration? "

Between the general election and the convening of the electoral college, the electors can switch to whoever they want.

Once THEY'VE voted, on Jan 20 the VP nominee is sworn into that office, and then would immediately be sworn in as Pres.

Gene Weingarten: I will accept this unless instructed otherwise by someone more knowledgeable.


State of doubt: What would Gene do?

While at a doctor appointment, I foolishly allowed myself to be drawn into a political discussion with my doctor. He started the discussion by asking what I thought of McCain's VP candidate. It ended with him declaring homosexuality to be immoral and unnatural, and me declaring that an unborn fetus was a parasite. Can I even go back to this doctor again? Should I trust him, now that he knows we have vastly opposing beliefs? I don't want anymore political lectures, I just want a good sinus guy. He slammed my candidate, and basically told my I need to re-think my opinions. But he IS a really good sinus guy. What would you do?

Gene Weingarten: Okay, well, I have a doctor whom I like and have seen for years, even though he has a big sign in his office that says "Support Our President."

Your situation is a little different, though. My doc has a political opinion with which I disagree. Your doc is a bigot.

So I'm not sure. This may be a ligitimate ethical call on your part, and the best way to think about it would be to ask yourself what you would do if, instead of saying gays were immoral, he said the same thing about Jews or black people. Cause it's on the same plane, in my opinion.

I'd like to hear what others think about this.


Capitol Hill: Sunday's column was wonderfully demonstrated in Monday's Raw Fisher. The comments ranged from outright racist to nearly off the point entirely. Great fun to read, and more than a little disturbing to contemplate. Union Station Movie Theaters to Close, (Raw Fisher, Sept. 15)

Gene Weingarten: I'm not suprised the Union Station theaters are closing. The Rib and I were there on Saturday night to see Tropic Thunder, and we were nearly alone in the audience. Hit movie, still reasonably early in its run, at prime time. No way this place is making money.

Also, when I went to the men's room, something odd happened. When I walked in, a guy at the sink started coughing loudly. Then he walked out. I believe this was a signal. As I was at the urinal I realized there were two men in one stall, being very, very quiet. I don't think this was sex, I think it was a different type of transaction.

I zipped up real quick and left.

As for the comments to Marc's story, I suspect some of the really bad ones have been removed. The ones that are left are coherent, mostly articulate, highly judgmental, and troubling because they are confronting, with varying degrees of sensitivity, an uncomfortable truth.

My kids stopped going to Union Station theaters many years ago. I had to pry the reason out of them, because they were embarrassed about it. The audiences were young, rowdy and "interactive" to a degree that was ludicrous and distracting. I had experienced something similar the few times I'd been there.


Seattle, Wash.: "Who are all these people who think a movie's genre is more informative than the name of the director?"

Clearly, you're not getting it.

If I want to see a comedy, I want to see a comedy. If I want to action, I want to see action.

Yeah, it might be mediocre, but if I'm in the mood to see something action-packed and exciting, the best Nora Ephron movie isn't going to get it done.

Gene Weingarten: Oh, but things that define themselves as comedy have a very very long continuum of quality. And you don't want to be anywhere near the bottom half.


Cleveland Park, Washington, DC: "Who are all these people who think a movie's genre is more informative than the name of the director? Madness! In fact, of all the choices you provided, director is the ONLY choice that provides any real predictive value at all, in terms of the likely look, feel, and quality of the film."

I chose lead actor. There are some actors I cannot stand and will not see. If Adam Sandler is starring in a Scorcese movie, I'm not going to it.

Gene Weingarten: I would see it. Scorsese would have a good reason. He might be making fun of Adam, without Adam knowing.


Pastis CHOKED!: Did you catch Pastis losing embarrassingly on "Wait Wait, Don't Tell me?" this weekend? He even changed his answer from the correct response.

Gene Weingarten: No! Hahaha.


Pentagon City, Va.: Aren't the Republicans as much to blame as anyone for the sexism against Palin? I saw a lot of "Hottest VP Ever" buttons worn by the conventioneers at St. Paul. They didn't do that for Quayle and I never heard one Republican come out against the Hillary Clinton nut cracker that was for sale in some stores. And SNL even made a joke about Hillary having balls, but no Republican has complained about that sexism. But the Republicans seem very willing to play the sexism card anytime someone questions Palin's background and experience.

Gene Weingarten: Simple answer: Yes. They brought this on themselves.


Washington, D.C.: My only "issue" with the SNL sketch was Tina Fey's accent - it was a little too Fargo/Minnesota compared to Gov. Palin. Her mannerisms and everything else were spot on - but the voice was just far enough off that it was noticable. Granted, she's had all of two weeks to work on it, at most, so it was still an amazing feat. And the writing was brilliant.

Gene Weingarten: Poehler had some great lines, and delivered them well, but the side-by-side showed the weakness of her Hillary.


Two computers with Red X icon: Let your cursor hover over the icon. You will get a dialog box that states "Local Area Connection. A network cable is unplugged."

Gene Weingarten: Ah, but when I just hovered it it said:

Currently connected to:

(name of my wireless connection)

Access: Local and internet.


Dr. Hendrickson, I presume: I am female, and I am noticing that a large majority (so far) of women have chosed Dr. H. I went through the following analysis to reach my answer:

1. It's an urgent problem and she's first on the list, so in the absence of any further information, why not stop there?

2. It's a GI tract problem and, in my experience, men and women experience GI problems a little differently. A female doc is just a little more likely to understand how whatever it is feels to me and/or be able to distinguish between genuine GI issues and possible other issues.

3. Based on past experience, there is a reasonable chance that while Dr. Wong may be an excellent doctor, she will have an accent that will make it pretty hard for me to understand her, and this will cut down on the effectiveness of my consulting her. I am basing this not only on her last name but her first name, which is old-fashioned and more likely to have been adopted by an adult immigrant than bestowed on a child born in an English-speaking country. I'm in severe GI discomfort and I don't want to deal with language difficulties if I can avoid it.

So, does this make me a racist or otherwise unworty of polite society?

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, I do think it is racially insensitive to assume Dr. Wong will have an accent that will impede communication. She's a doctor with a practice.


McCa, IN: Re: Dying before taking office.

A better question might be, "If McCain died this week, would Palin become the nominee, or would the party put in a different presidential nominee and keep her as VP?" The GOP's answer to that would prove whether they really believe she's qualified or know (wink-wink) that she's a gimmick.

Gene Weingarten: It would be Pawlenty-Palin. They are cynical, they are not stupid.


Charcoal Sniper Palin: According to the Sarah Palin Baby Name Generator you'd be Beretta Hockey Palin. I think this is an improvement.

Obama would be Tarp Lazer Palin, which would likely win him more votes in Pennsylvania. Me: Skein Chug Palin

Gene Weingarten: This thing is very funny.


Alexandria, Va.: "Jews and blacks are basically homosexuals in my opinion." -- Gene Weingarten

Gene Weingarten: I do not disavow that quote.


Gaithersburg, Md.: At any point during your issue with the red X did you reboot your computer? That's always the first thing you should do, but in your description it doesn't sound like you did, nor does it sound like the technicians recommended it. Weird.

Gene Weingarten: Nah, I did many times.


Washington, D.C.: "In truth, of course, you would seldom JUST know the names of the doctors"

When I moved here, my employer signed me up with Kaiser Permananente (HMO). I was given a book with lists of doctors and told to pick one as my primary care physician. It provided their location, their specialty, and their name. So once I decided I wanted an internist at their NW DC facility, I really did pick based on name.

What an awful way to pick a doctor, right?

I should add that my husband is a medical student, and he had no better ideas at the time.

Gene Weingarten: Hey, it's how most people vote for judges.


politically-active, Ivy League-educated, flamingly-liberal woman: B---h is crazy. Seriously, I'm a liberal woman too I don't think the media is being sexist when it comes to Sarah Palin. She's very new and no one knows anything about her. We deserve to know everything. I don't think Charlie Gibson was being condescending either, which I keep hearing. That is all.

Gene Weingarten: Well, Charlie Gibson's question about the Bush Doctrine was a completely transparent trap. That question would not have been asked of any other candidate. And the fact that he wouldn't explain what it was after her initial "huh" was also transparent.

I LIKED it, but, man. It was a quiz question.


John McCain: what's an icon? and what's a wireless? I'm sorry, my friend, but you are whining too much. When I was in that Hanoi hell-hole, we were glad to get even a mere scrap of paper to write our messages.

Gene Weingarten: Sorry, sir.


Worth Three Words: Here are some examples to support my choice of the three-word reviewer's quote from a print ad for each movie. They're all taken from this Sunday's Post. Judge for yourself whether they provide some indication of quality, as well as some useful clues to the genre. (I expected more clues to the name of the biggest star, but they didn't seem to be there in three words in these ads -- no "Carrey is hilarious!" or anything.) Remember, while all reviewers' quotes from print ads are positive, there are still different levels of positivity and believability.

"Gorgeously entertaining! Hilarious."

"----! Raunchy merriment!"

"Moving, bitingly funny."

"Miracles do happen."

"Fabulous, fun, fresh!"

"See it. Epic."

"All star cast."

"Sexy, funny romp."

"This year's Bourne."

Gene Weingarten: I don't find any of these remotely helpful. To me, that was only answer in the poll that was of NO value. You have no idea whose review it is, and choosing three words can be done with marvelous cynicism and deception. "Do not see this movie!" and become, accurately "see this movie!"

There was one other interesting poll result. The last question was clearly a self-referential joke, right? So, really, to me, there was only one right answer, which was the funny, self-referential answer, which was the last one.

Gene Weingarten: So pat y'self on the back if you chose that.


Theophyla, CT: I assume you weren't asking about THIS week's poll, you Cretan.

Gene Weingarten: It's "cretin."


Numerology: B-A-R-A-C-K (6) H-U-S-S-E-I (6) N O-B-A-M-A (6)

There you go. 666.

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahaha.


Baltimore, Md.: Gene, I hate to rehash the "anti-wedding" article from last week's magazine, but it's been bothering me all week. I don't feel a need to defend my own wedding, or bridesmaids, or flowers. I feel the need to defend a wedding as a holy sacrament.

For atheists, who consider marriage just legal paperwork, the only sensible option seems to be what you did - a courthouse marriage followed by the kind of celebration you'd have for other secular occasions like buying a house or getting a promotion - whatever kind of party that would be for you.

But for a couple of faith, a wedding is a sacred commitment sworn before God and community. This couple didn't give up the self-centeredness or the spectacle of a wedding. I can't help but feel like they were mocking the idea of marriage as a statement of faith: having a sham minister and deliberately omitting vows as part of a public protest.

To me a wedding is like Christmas - we all know the ribbons and bows and sappy songs aren't what the whole thing is really about. Some of us like those extras, some of us don't, some of celebrate only the secular aspects. But you don't see people in the street mocking Jesus's birth - at least not by people willing to have their names in print. Am I the only person who feels this way?

Gene Weingarten: I am sure you are not, but I think you are misunderstanding the story, or misstating your case. You are definning "wedding" as a holy sacrament, which I think is wrong. "Marriage" is the sacrament, no? The "wedding" is the ancillary way that you choose to celebrate the sacrament of the marriage.

This story said nothing whatsoever about a couple's decision to marry; if anything, I suppose, it was endorsing marriage, by creating one.

The target of this story, as I read it, was the Matrimonial Industrial Complex, a loose conspiracy (okay, actually, a very tight-butted conspiracy) of wedding planners, banquet-hall managers, fashionistas, opportunistic floral designers, editors of thick-as-a-brick bridal magazines, etc. whose survival and continued prosperity depends on their continuing ability to whip American womanhood up into a frenzy of greed, pettiness, competitiveness, immaturity, frazzled nerves and thus such, pushing wedding frippery and foolishness and shameless ostentation to insupportable levels.

It was that vast conspiracy at which the story was aimed. I'm not sure why you took it as an affront to faith. No, the couple in question didn't seem to care about religion, so their ceremony was joyfully pagan. But I don't think the story would have changed at all if they'd been married by a Catholic priest who was willing to perform a quiet, dignified, scripturally justified marriage on the street (or if they'd all ducked into a church.) They still could have had their scavenger hunt and dinner at Bertucci's. The actually ceremony wasn't what this story was about; the authors can correct me if I am wrong, but if everything had remained the same but Chris and Jaqi had wanted the services of a real clergyman, that would not have mattered one whit to the anti-wedding planners.

If you are arguing that the holiness of a marriage must be additionally sanctified by a big ol' expensive wedding, with hand-calligraphied invitations and bridesmaids dresses made from the same taffeta as the draperies, well, I do not know, but strongly suspect, that Jesus would disagree. The Anti-Wedding, (Post Magazine, Sept. 7)


Fairfax, Va.: I chose Dr. Wong because Asian ladies are generally good looking into their 60s and it would help alleviate my discomfort to be around a good looking lady.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you for sharing.


Baltimore, Md.: Gene, I am in a unique position, and I think you are the only person I can ask for advice. My boyfriend and I had one of our female friends over to our place last night, and both of them drank (I didn't feel like drinking at the time). BF got TRASHED. He was dancing and singing and bumping into things. That part was funny.

What was not funny was when he started putting his hands on friend's knees and thighs and shoulders and face. I don't think he meant to come on to her, but as an observer, that's what it looked like to me. She was not nearly as drunk and seemed to feel VERY awkward, so she left. BF immediately passed out on the bed.

So, what now? I was angry for most of last night, but now I'm not sure how I feel about it. Should I act mad and attempt to punish him further for his transgression, or do you think the massive hangover and crushing embarrassment he'll suffer once he comes to will be punishment enough?

If neither of them remember last night (which is likely), would it be best to pretend that nothing happened?

(BF and friend have never shown interest in each other before. They are not each other's type at all. It was bizarre.)

Gene Weingarten: Well, I'm not Hax, but I'd say you should gently talk to him about it. Don't kill him for it, but he needs to know he did something inappropriate, if for no other reason than to alert a little speck of brain cell, somewhere in there, that might still be functioning the next time he gets in that state.

Special hint: The more understanding you are about it, the guiltier and more miserable he will feel about it.

The additional question is whether he needs to apologize to your friend. This may depend on the likelihood of her remembering it.


Chicago, Ill.: You're Jewish so I thought you might have some advice for me. I'm wondering whether to go to services for the high holidays this year. Pro: my mom moved here recently after my dad died (your age, unexpected) and it would be nice to go with her. Con: the amount of public crying I'll be doing thinking about exactly what Yom Kippur is - the time when God decided my dad wasn't going to make it another year. My (simplified) view of religion is that it's evil and creates half of all the problems in the world. But, and I think you might identify with this, I don't want it to end with me, you know?

So, in summary, I don't believe, I don't want to contribute to the demise of the Jewish people, I don't want to bawl in public, and I want to make my mom happy. Any advice?

Gene Weingarten: You're Jewish, you know the answer already: You must do whatever guilt most compels youo do.


The guys are lying. : Or we're gay.

Gene Weingarten: Right!


Washington, D.C.: So, was that supposed to be an apology for calling Palin what you called her? 'Cause you really should.

Gene Weingarten: No, it was not. It was exactly what I said it was.


Washington D.C.: I can top the previous story about the bigot doctor. While I was unable to comment, protest, or otherwise weigh in, my dentist expressed his reservations about a "darkie" as president, and then said to his Carribean hygienist, "Oh, I'm sorry... should I use the term "mulatto"?"

Gene Weingarten: Wow.


Crotchety young man: Gene is right that the little icon denotes wireless. It looks similar to the wired connection icon, but means wireless. The wireless card I installed on my computer put its own connection program on the computer that has a different icon than the windows internet connection one (and I have some how collected two or three more icons that tell me the same bloody thing). I just felt like ranting and telling Gene that he is right .

Gene Weingarten: I realize this is a boring thread but it is entertaining me.


Fatsis. Not Pastis.: "Pastis CHOKED!: Did you catch Pastis losing embarrassingly on "Wait Wait, Don't Tell me?" this weekend? He even changed his answer from the correct response."

Um...dude. Did you even listen to the show? Did you wonder why they didn't mention Pearls Before Swine? Did you wonder why they focused on his being a writer who spent a summer as a placekicker with the Broncos? None of this struck you as odd? IT'S NOT THE SAME GUY. The guy on Wait Wait was Stefan Fatsis.

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahahaha.

It did seem odd that Pastis would be on the show.


Philadelphia, Pa.: So I'm home last week to see my parents (in DC), and my dad and I get into a heated argument about Sarah Palin's fitness to be a VP. The argument subsides (after numerous dirty looks from my mother), but my dad brings it up again over dinner by saying, "Well, at least you know the woman stands by what she believes in. She's pro-life and had the baby." My response was that the truly difficult decision would be to be openly pro-choice and not have a baby with Down's (or any other known abnormality - not that I'm advocating that's what one should do). Does that make sense to you, or was I just trying to win an argument with a cheap shot? If it matters, I'm a late 20s female who hasn't yet figured out who to vote for....

Gene Weingarten: I want to repeat something I said in the Gene Pool.

Because she is staunchly pro-life, it was indeed an act of conscience to have the Downs child; in fact, she had no other moral choice. The question is more: Was it an irresponsible act to get pregnant at 43, knowing how much more likely it was that she would have a Downs child?

But, here is the bigger question: Palin is against abortion, even in cases of rape and incest. While I gigantically disagree with this stance, I do not understand how someone can believe that abortion is the murder of a child, and yet make an exception for rape and incest.

Is murder of a child sometimes okay?

I don't mean to be snide about this, it actually puzzles me. As I see it, if you are staunchly "pro life," you HAVE to make no exceptions. Palin's stance is the only moral one.



Los Angeles, Calif.: Why is your friend Joel Achenbach reporting on Hurricane Ike in Texas? He's doing a great job, but it seems a bit out of his usual job description. After Ike, a Test of Endurance, (Post, Sept. 16)

Gene Weingarten: Secret fact, unknown to many: Joel is a great reporter. Parachute him into a situation, he produces magnificent things on deadline.


Mount Airy, Md.: Can I explain why picking "biggest name star" isn't as shallow as it seems? Because (especially the way Hollywood works these days) it's a more specific clue to the nature of the movie than "genre".

For example: I might like to see a "comedy" -- but I'd like to know whether the star of the comedy is Robin Williams, Ashton Kutcher, or Martin Lawrence, for example.

Gene Weingarten: I'd still rather know the director, but for me, that's taking a chance, because I seldom remember which director did what.


Rexburg, Idaho: You left off some of the best non-sexual physical feelings off the poll. My favorite is taking a shower after a long day, or after feeling really dirty. Gene wouldn't understand.

Gene Weingarten: Correct.

You know what is totally surprising me about the answers to the first question? How so few people are choosing the scratching of an itch. That's my answer.

It is the only answer that relieves an immediate urgency. The bathroom functions are ones that can (usually) be held a little longer, scheduled slightly, relieved more or less at will over a period of time.

That itch has to be addressed NOW. And the relief can be exquisite.


Arlington, Va.: Gene. The Style section has a story today by Joel Garreau and Shankar Vedantam about the stock market and how humans instinctively see patterns in random acts -- how they "ascribe intentionality" to inanimate objects and everyday happenings. They assure readers how human and understandable this is.

Let me ask you something. You know how you're driving along and see a car that is the exact same color, model and year of yours? "Oh hey, just like mine," you think, for 1 second, then forget about it.

One day early last March, I noticed on my morning commute that a car exactly like mine was driving behind me. It cruised there for a few miles, then took an exit. I thought, "Huh."

The same thing happened the next TWO mornings. A different driver with a car the exact color, model and year of mine. Followed me for a few miles, then veered off.

I didn't see any similar cars the next morning and thought, "Whew, just a freaky coincidence." But then it happened on the way home.

As it turned out, a car almost identical to mine would follow me once a day, either morning or evening, on my daily commute. They always had different drivers (once an Asian woman, once a young guy, etc.), none of whom I recognized. They would follow closely behind my car for 3 or 4 miles, then suddenly exit.

This happened almost every weekday in March and April -- well over 30 times. During the first week of May, it stopped, abruptly. It hasn't happened since.

I have no explanation for this, good or bad, except that a group of people obviously decided for some unknown reason to mess with my head. (Fortunately, my head has been so messed with during the past 6 years, it didn't work.)

Sometimes a pattern IS a pattern. What should I do if this starts to happen again? I tried writing down each license plate number, but discovered that I can't write and drive at the same time. Ditto with taking photos. And what would I do with the info, anyway? Dealing with Scary Mr. Market, (Post, Sept. 16)

Gene Weingarten: What you are describing is the basis of all religion and all superstition and all conspiracy theorizing.

Here is an amazing but true fact:

Coincidence happens. In fact, it is statistically CERTAIN to happen.


Raleigh, N.C.: Last night, I had an itch I couldn't reach on my back. It tingled, it felt crawly, it was driving my BATTY. So, I asked my husband to scratch it for me. So, he started in the middle and I gave him directions to find the right spot. He scratched, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I didn't notice how much I had enjoyed it until after he stopped scratching, and I noticed he had this odd look on his face. I asked what was up, and he said "Wow... normally when I get this reaction from you, you have on a lot less clothing, and I'm breathing much harder!"

The first question of the poll was really easy to answer for me!

Gene Weingarten: I know! I am amazed that so few people chose it.


Stadium Na,ME: Gene-

What's your opinion of the controversy of the Giants and Jets negotiating with Allianz for stadium naming rights? Does a companies past from close to 70 years ago disqualify them, even when they've tried to apologize and make up for that past?

I just wanted to get your opinion. Although I'm not Jewish, I can't understand where there is a problem.

Gene Weingarten: Background: Allianz was the insurer of Nazis.

I don't think, 70 years later, Allianz can be faulted, and should not be punished, but "naming rights" is all about image and PR, and this could not be allowed to happen. The last thing a team wants is controversy over the name of its stadium.

By the way, like all decent people, I hate the concept of naming rights.


Gene - HELP, ME: My parents, who have voted Democratic in every election since Kennedy (except for my Dad voting for George Wallace in '68 - yes, racism was a factor) are ready to vote for McCain because they are so frosted about the treatment Hilary received. What can I say to them to convince them that this is the most bone-headed idea they have ever had?

Gene Weingarten: The treatment Hillary received from WHOM?

Unless they feel OBAMA treated Hillary in a sexist fashion, or encouraged such treatment, their vote for McCain is stupid.

I don't think there is any evidence that Obama did this.


A Poll in Response, Washington, D.C.: In response to your latest poll questions for us, here is a series of three short poll questions for you:

1. The sight of a dog in the position to make No. 2 is: (a) funny (b) pathetic (c) both

2. Which is funnier? (a) a dog in the position to make No. 2 (b) a dog doing the "butt-scoot"

3. Which is funnier? (a) a dog doing the "butt-scoot" (b) a cat doing the "butt-scoot"

4. Which celebrity/politician/well-known person would you most like to see doing the "butt-scoot"?

Your answers will undoubtedly be correct.

Gene Weingarten: These are fine questions.

Nothing is funnier than the but scoot, but that is only because we have been inured to the poopsquat. It happens to often, so, like the completely hilariously OBVIOUSLY criminal appearance of the face of Richard Nixon, after a while, over time, we just sort of got used to it.

I would want to see Antonin Scalia do the buttscoot.


Judaism: My neighbor is Jewish, and both she and my (non-Jewish) husband tell me that they know a Jewish person when they see one. (They've been tested with both famous and non-famous people.) I don't seem to have the ability to do it. Do you think this gift exists? I don't think it's useful in any way, but I find it fascinating.

As an aside, this neighbor also declared my dog as being from a Jewish family. Because of this, she has been teaching us (both non-practicing Catholics) about Judaism. It's been a great experience!

Gene Weingarten: During the war, my parents sat at the dinner table of another army couple at Fort Belvoir. The man told my parents that he hated Jews and could "smell them a mile away."


Age and Pregnancy: Gene, You keep saying about how much greater risk Palin took by having a child over the age of 40. The risk of a down syndrome child from a woman under the age of 40 is 1 percent and the risk only rises to 3 percent for a woman over the age of 40.

Gene Weingarten: Um, that is a very large risk increase. Ask any actuary.


Minneapolis, Minn.: I really wish sneezing had been an option for the first question on the poll!

Gene Weingarten: Yeah. In my experience, people either love or hate to sneeze. I really like it.

I have a theory. I just came up with it. Let's see how it flies.

Thesis: People who like to sneeze are people who like to get drunk or high. I think people who do not like to sneeze are people who do not like these altered states.

Basis: Sneezing involves complete loss of control. You either like losing control, or you do not. You are one sort of person, or the other.


Fortaleza, Brazil: As an American voter currently far from the States, I have to admit that I cannot see Russia from my window, but I have yet to hear Palin or any of her spokespersons say just why the proximity of Alaska to Russia has any relevance whatsoever to Palin's knowledge of national security and/or world affairs. Did she ever deal with Russian government officials? I know it was Cindy McCain who first brought up the close-to-Russia item, but during last week's interview with ABC, Palin again mentioned the fact the one could see Russia from some place in Alaska (apparently without elaborating). Now I hear she hasn't even really been to Iraq. And it looks like she and John McCain, alumnus of the Keating Five scandal (just the guy to clean up Wall Street), may win. Please explain.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, we need to clear this up.

The Alaskan town of Savoonga on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea is actually closer to the Russian mainland than the Alaskan mainland. When I was there, a Yupic Eskimo named Larry pointed toward a distant speck of land and told me it was Siberia.

To my knowledge, Palin has never claimed to have herself seen Russia, only that there are places in Alaska from which one can see Russia.

Ergo, I believe I am more qualified than she is for the vice presidency. As was Larry.


Ethical dilem, MA: Gene, I already know my own answer, but wanted to get your take.

I am an attorney. Suppose that, hypothetically, during a recent meeting with a client, she indicated that a political candidate would be attending an outdoor campaign event near her home--within sight of it, actually. She expressed that she does not support this candidate, and that it would be very easy for her to assassinate said candidate from her living room with a hunting rifle, and expressed a certain level of desire (if not an explicit intention) to do exactly that.

Is that something that I should report to this candidate's security personnel? The easy answer is yes, but the ethical rules of the legal profession prohibit me, absent explicit consent from my client, from disclosing communications between us, or confidential information that I learn in the course of representing her, to anyone else. Consent, as you might imagine, would probably not be forthcoming in this case.

Gene Weingarten: Interesting!

Did you see 60 Minutes Sunday? A lawyer had a client confess to a murder that another man was tried for, and convicted. He could not ethically do anything about it, and didn't, until his client died. Then he went to the court, and was punished for violating privilege, even after death.

You can do nothing. I think you know that. And I think that 90 percent of the readers won't really get this.

The real question is, does this change if it is not a vague maybe threat, but a "I am going to do this" statement.


Naming Rights: With the current economic turmoil and the high cost of college - I think parents to be should seriously consider negotiating with companies on the naming rights for their children. I like the idea of British Petroleum Smith.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.


Kink Canada: Re: the sinus doc...Dump him. Sure, he might be a great sinus guy but he can't be that great...has not seen the considerable research regarding the biological basis for homosexuality?

What's next? The world is flat. As a scientist you can't only accept the data that fits within your "moral understanding".

Gene Weingarten: I do think there is a moral obligation to dump the guy. I'd like to hear from someone who disagrees, because I am not sure of this.


Kansas City: Following on your hatred of Twitter from last week: Here's an example of how "tweeting" can be a touch inappropriate, even for news organizations trying to live on the cutting edge of technology. A reporter for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver tweeted the funeral of a three-year-old boy. A quote: "RMN_Berny: family member says marten is with grandmother who died last year. ' marten we loved you,' he says. People sobbing."

Gene Weingarten: Yeah. This was a very bad idea.


Raleigh, N.C.: I really like the feeling of relief of a big sneeze. Uhhh...I also like the Grateful Dead and saw them in concert several times. I also like Phish, and attend Bonnaroo every year. Once, when having surgery, after being the general anesthetic, I was asked to count backwards. Upon waking, I was asked if I had ever engaged in "recreational pharmaceuticals" because I counted further than all but 5 patients that anesthesiologist could remember. Draw whatever conclusions you wish...

I'm also the one who noticeably loves a good back scratch who wrote in earlier.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, I consider my theory scientifically proven and the debate is now closed.


Jewish Doct, OR: My Protestant Grandma (and my mom, a public health nurse) always told me to choose a Jewish doctor, especially when pregnant. Because they felt the Catholic doctors would save the baby before saving me, if it came down to that choice.

Gene Weingarten: Oooooooh.


New York, N.Y.: I don't think we ever got the link to your 2000 story about asking the candidates about the funniest thing about running for President. Oopsy. Tomorrow.

Gene Weingarten: Okay.


Virginia Square, Arlington, Va.: I could not answer the first poll question. None of the choices comes close to what I experienced when my badly dislocated shoulder was reduced. The moment after the doctor returned my arm to its socket was pure bliss....a total release from the excruciating pain I was experiencing during the procedure -- nothing has ever come close to it. If I was a smoker, I would have wanted a cigarette.

Gene Weingarten: Interesting.

Yeah, I chose not to include a few powerful but non-universal sensations. Like, "that first rush of mainlined smack...."


Richmond, Va.: Excellent response on Palin/Abortion. I've struggled my whole adult life to reconcile my general aversion to and objection to abortion....and yet, I CAN see circumstances in which it is a merciful (yet dreadful) choice. I am, therefore, I suppose, a pro-life pro-choicer. It's hard for me to accept it as a simple option--it's way, way more than that...but I can't bring myself to close that option off from someone in need. Makes it hard for sound bites.

Gene Weingarten: I think one's position on abortion is simply and clearly driven by whether, at some (haha) visceral level, you find a very early fetus to be a life. I don't. Just don't feel it. But if you really, really do, I don't see how you excuse an exception for rape or incest.

I hope this not sound snide or baiting. I don't mean it argumentatively. I'm just not getting my mind around the logic of it.


Washington, D.C.: Gene, I read The Post at home in the mornings before coming to work. But this morning someone e-mailed me a scathing column by Richard Cohen that I am positive I did not see on the Op-Ed page of the paper. Am I nuts? Or did The Post really not run the column?

Gene Weingarten: It is on the Web, but dated tomorrow. I think there was a slip up. I think it runs tomorrow.


Anonymous: I don't know about that sneeze theory. I hate losing control, and am a rare/moderate drinker as a result (at college-a whole three months ago-I was notorious among my friends for this). But sneezing often provides me with freat relief. I feel clearer afterwards, often.

Gene Weingarten: Ah, we may be getting somewhere. You feel clearer afterwards... but what about the sensation of the sneeze itself? Is that pleasurable? I'm guessing not.


But... but: "Gene Weingarten: Yeah. In my experience, people either love or hate to sneeze. I really like it."

You tought ME how not to sneeze. The whole tounge to the soft palette thing.

Gene Weingarten: That is not my trick.

Mine is finger under the nose, pushed up hard. But I only do that when it is socially unacceptable to sneeze.


TVFL: Your question about doctors reminds me of a joke told by Sarah Silverman: "I was raped by a doctor. That's so bittersweet for a Jewish girl."

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahaha.

Wow. An actually funny rape joke.

Guy could not tell that joke.


Washington, D.C.: I cannot believe that so many of your readers did not get the irony in question number 4.

Gene Weingarten: Or ignored it.


Anti-Choice stance: Hi Gene --

You are of course correct that the only tenable stand for an anti-choice, "life begins at conception" advocate to take is to oppose all abortions, including the cases of rape & incest as well as instances where fetuses are severely deformed.

I take it one step further: I think it is untenable to be anti-choice and also to support war and the death penalty. Certainly, no one could say that scores of innocent children are killed in any war. Similarly, the (not insignificant) chance that an innocent person could be put to death should be enough to demand that the death penalty be abolished.

When individuals take these three positions, then, certainly, there is no quarreling with their moral stance. I may not share that view, but I cannot quarrel with it.

Gene Weingarten: I disagree. I limit my criticism to abortion only. And for the updates, I'd like to hear from someone who draws the line at rape and incest. Please explain. Send to weingarten(at)

Thank you all. Good chat. See you in the updates.


DBFL: Please, please, let me be the one to say it's been a great chat, but it's time to go. Gene will be updating all week.

Gene Weingarten: Drat!


UPDATED 9.17.08 As promised, Gene's 2000 story (sadly, without the accompanying art):

How Is the Presidential Campaign Like This Picture? (Post, Jan. 23, 2000)


Gene Weingarten: I asked for people to explain how they could feel abortion was the murder of a baby, but make an exception in the case of rape or incest. Not many people tried. But this man, I think, did reasonably well, and did so quite articulately; it would be persuasive if you are ready to accept a pretty dramatic logical leap right there in the middle of it --

I am a moderate who is usually equally disdained by both the right and the left. I have that stance that you don't understand about being against abortion with exceptions for rape and incest. To me the world is not black and white and I question the common sense of those people who feel the need to cast it in black and white.

In a perfect world, abortion would not be allowed. In a perfect world, there would be birth control that worked 100 percent, no crime, no rape, no incest. Sexual education would be taught to all children before they were of reproductive ages (whether by parents or school) and birth control would be made available to those who wanted/needed it so that unwanted preganancies would not occur. Such a fantasy does not exist. So we have to temper our values with a practical solution.

I believe that abortion is wrong except in the extreme cases where there are other mitigating circumstances. If it would not endanger the life or health of the mother, I think that no woman should electively be allowed to abort a life. However, if the health or life of the mother is in danger, that is clearly an exception. In the case of rape and/or incest, the mother has already gone through trauma and the psychological damage; carrying the product of her assault could cause her could damage her for life. This is another extenuating circumstance that mitigates the need to preserve the life of the child.

What I can't understand are those people who have such immutable values that they cannot add common sense to their thoughts. To me the exceptions of rape, incest, health and life of the mother are similar to the exceptions of self-defense to the accusal of murder or manslaughter. They are extreme extenuating circumstances that require us to THINK before judging rather than blindly following some idea that works best in a theoretical sense and not in a practical sense. If your wife was wounded and you were driving her to the hospital would you follow all traffic laws religiously because it's the right thing and the law, or would you get her to the hospital as fast as you could?


Gene Weingarten: Hey, you know how I said yesterday that the Palin tanning-bed story was beneath contempt and not a story? Well, I have decided I was wrong. This is because of an important communique I just received from my friend Tom Scocca, who resides in Beijing but is a very loyal American. Tom has come up with a political slogan that will, and I quote, "save America." Here it is:

Obama. He's ALREADY tan.


Maryland: You have to see the Twin Cities Pioneer Press article "Republican by Day, Romeo by Night, Robbed by Morning."

Make sure you watch the linked video so you can see what this guy is really like. We're talking d*****bag warehouse.

Gene Weingarten: This is so great. I particularly love the interviewer's reactions.

Before I saw the interview, I was wondering what explained the presence of all the bling in the room of a single guy. Now I understand: It must have been his. Hairy chest bling.


Fairfax, Va.: This story is a little gross and probably makes me seem weird, but I think it speaks to how we interpret pleasure.

Several years ago I developed a sebaceous cyst on my scalp. That's like a zit with attitude. Because it was hidden, I ignored it. Then, very quickly, it became infected. Before I had a chance to see a doctor the thing had grown into a large tender swollen protuberance. I started to look like a freakish unicorn. In the early hours of the morning I woke up in intense pain. The thing was throbbing. In desperation I went into the bathroom and applied a very hot compress. Immediately, the cyst burst. I will omit the visuals.

Suffice it to say that a sense of relief and satiation rolled over me the likes of which I had never before experienced. I felt my eyes roll back in rapture.

Now, the doctor tells me such an infected cyst could have easily led to blood poisoning. Home treatment is not recommended.

And yet a small part of me hopes it happens again.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.

Okay, now I have a question for some linquists out there. Perhaps P the P is listening.

Why is the word "protuberance" and not "protruberance," as I used it until learning better in my 20s -- is the root "tuber'? Isn't it all about protruding?


Doctor, Md.: I wonder how many people chose Martha Hendrickson because she's the first one on the list. What would happen if you reordered the names?

Gene Weingarten: I believe I know the audience here. I don't think this is a "choose the first person on the list" group.


Gene Weingarten: You might want to visit the Gene Pool today. It's about Nude Blogging.


UPDATED 9.18.08

Ashburn, Va.: I received a forwarded e-mail yesterday about a company in China taking used condoms and turning them into hairbands which were sold here. This story had been checked out and verified by, and they were warning people not to used these because of the possibility of disease (not to mention the grossness of this entire idea). But my question is, are they actually used, or are they factory rejects that are being recycled? Do we honestly believe that there is a little basket next to the beds of men in China for collecting used condoms? Is this a national campaign that we don't know about? How far are we going to take this fear of all things Chinese-made? And the Band Plait On, (

Gene Weingarten: I'm with you. These have to be factory rejects. Still pretty icky. Yet I love that this is from the "Guangdong Province."

This reminds me of one of the oddest stories Tom and I ever ran in Tropic magazine. A freelance writer named Pete Collins got hold of an old federal report from the 1950s that disclosed details of a long-secret environmental protection project. It was a methodical listing of every single used condom found on Miami Beach over a five year period, indexed every day. The condition of each condom was reported: Whether it was intact, or just the rubber ring remained, etc.

Pete wrote the story in a grandly mock-heroic way, in the voice of a Raymond Chandler like detective, reporting it until he found the original source of the study, an old government engineer who was still alive.

It turned out that back in the old days, before sophisticated water-analysis systems, the most scientific way to track how much sewage was getting into public waters was to track what happened to condoms that had been flushed. Because they were only slightly biodegradable, checking on their condition gave some reasonably reliable indication of how long they'd been around, etc.


Have you seen this?: Great commercial I just saw for the first time last night on the Colbert Report.

Gene Weingarten: Very nice.


Inquiring Minds Want to Know: Gene, if you ran for president, how many votes do you think you would get (besides those from your family).

Gene Weingarten: I wouldn't count on everyone from my family.


Flack Gobbler for VP: No idea what this means, but if you type in the name "Sarah Palin" into the Sarah Palin baby name generation, Sarah Palin would be named Flack Gobbler Palin.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.


Butt Scoot, CA: Do dogs and cats ACTUALLY do the butt scoot without being specifically trained to do so?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, it means they have an itchy butt, usually because of worms. If your dog or cat is doing this a lot, you have to see the vet.



Gene Weingarten: They were going to just get up and leave, but the man's wife immediately reprimanded him. So they found an excuse to leave a little bit later.


UPDATED 9.19.08

Legal Ethics: Gene,

When I was in law school, my ethics professor was the D.C. Bar Counsel. He told us that, just like everything else in the law, there are exceptions to the attorney-client privilege rules. One big one is when your client may kill or seriously injure another. But it says you MAY, not SHALL, so you can keep the secret if you really want to.

The text of the rule: (c) A lawyer may reveal client confidences and secrets, to the extent reasonably necessary:

(1) to prevent a criminal act that the lawyer reasonably believes is likely to result in death or substantial bodily harm absent disclosure of the client's secrets or confidences by the lawyer;

Gene Weingarten: Right. Several lawyers sent me this. I'd have to re-question the lawyer who initially wrote in, but I'm thinking that this was not the situation to which he was referring.

His client seemed to be expressing a wish, not disclosing a plan. I think he'd have a hard time explaining the descent of Secret Service agents who would not only question her but her neighbors.

This reminds me of a true story we printed in Tropic in the 1980s. It was by a novelist who had checked a copy of King Lear out of the library. As he was reading it, he was taking notes for something he was writing, and accidentally left the notes in the book. They were just a random jumble of thoughts, but two words happened to be juxtaposed: "Kill" and "Regan." Regan was the name of one of Lear's daughters.

Someone turned the book into the Secret Service, which had the library check who had taken the book out last. The author was visited by two agents, as were his neighbors.


Hockeytown, USA: The post from the lawyer with the assassination-contemplating client reminded me of a story about a cousin of mine. Several years ago, he was roughed up during a traffic stop by state police (the long version involves overweight trucks and flying traffic cones). As he was placed in the back of the squad car, he said "I could have shot the President and been treated better than that." Well, apparently there are laws about using language such as that, regardless of context -- he wound up getting interviewed by the FBI and Secret Service. His name was placed on a list that prohibited him from attempting to call or mail the President for several years, and on another list that bans him from direct contact with the President for life.

Funny thing was, the incident caused him to reevaluate the path his life was on, and he is now an upstanding family man and model citizen. But he won't ever be going on any White House tours.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, correction: THIS really reminds me of the story of the author and Regan.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Second post, but I think Gene will appreciate Microsoft's "resolution" of the problem (similar case, not necessarily exact fit).

Gene Weingarten: This is a great "workaround." It's like a car mechanic telling you that the way to deal with a strange sound in the engine is to turn the radio up.


Arlington, Va.: "My parents, who have voted Democratic in every election since Kennedy (except for my Dad voting for George Wallace in '68 - yes, racism was a factor) are ready to vote for McCain because they are so frosted about the treatment Hilary received. What can I say to them to convince them that this is the most bone-headed idea they have ever had?"

Ok, this person needs a reality check. The reason his/her parents are going to vote for McCain is NOT because of how Hilary was treated. They're going to vote for McCain because they don't want to vote for a black man. The Hilary thing is just an excuse -- a palatable cover for their racism.

Think I'm exaggerating? I can't tell you how many members of my diehard, pro-union, lifelong Democratic family are giving some sort of feeble excuse like that for why they won't for Obama. "Obama is too inexperienced." "Look at how they treated Hilary; we have to take a stand."

It's the racism, stupid (not you, of course, the metaphorical you).

Gene Weingarten: You're absolutely right. I read right over the Wallace thing.


Drawing the line: Birth is a necessary but insufficient qualification for life. Ethics ain't black and white, and no child would benefit knowing his or her existence would/did unquestionably cause insurmountable harm, physical OR emotional, to the person partially responsible for said existence.

I vociferously condemn abortion as birth control, whether it's to safeguard a family's bottom line ("we can't afford another child") or most any other reason. But to force a woman to re-live her rape for nine months and more after the fact is punishing the victim. Society has invested decades of resources in the mother, and none at all in the child. So it's the mother's welfare which must be weighted in this argument.

Gene Weingarten: I agree with your bottom line, for sure, but let's take a look at this assertion for a second:

" child would benefit knowing his or her existence would/did unquestionably cause insurmountable harm, physical OR emotional, to the person partially responsible for said existence."

I think, on balance, most children would express happiness that they had been born. I think you're assuming a lot here.


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