Chatological Humor: Dogs, Palin, Mencken and a Little Advice for the Lovelorn (UPDATED 10.10.08)
aka Tuesdays With Moron

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 7, 2008 12:00 PM


Gene Weingarten's humor column, Below the Beltway, appears every Sunday in The Washington Post magazine. It is syndicated nationally by the Washington Post Writers Group.

At one time or another, Below the Beltway has managed to offend persons of both sexes as well as individuals belonging to every religious, ethnic, regional, political and socioeconomic group. If you know of a group we have missed, please write in and the situation will be promptly rectified. "Rectified" is a funny word.

On Tuesdays at noon, Weingarten is online to take your questions and abuse. He will chat about anything. Although this chat is updated regularly throughout the week, it is not and never will be a "blog," even though many persons keep making that mistake. One reason for the confusion is the Underpants Paradox: Blogs, like underpants, contain "threads," whereas this chat contains no "threads" but, like underpants, does sometimes get funky and inexcusable.

Submit your questions, comments and other detritus before or during the discussion.

Important, secret note to readers: The management of The Washington Post apparently does not know this chat exists, or it would have been shut down long ago. Please do not tell them. Thank you.

Weingarten is also the author of "The Hypochondriac's Guide to Life. And Death" and co-author of "I'm with Stupid," with feminist scholar Gina Barreca.

New to Chatological Humor? Read the FAQ.

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


Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon.

Here is our Holy Crap moment of the day:

On Sunday, the Post magazine printed an excerpt from Old Dogs, which chronicled the life and death of my dog Harry. In the accompanying editor's column, Tom the Butcher wrote about his fears of losing Sally, his nine-year-old lab-hound mix. The column included a picture of Sally.

On Sunday morning, Chatwoman opened up the magazine and her jaw dropped. She fired off an email to Tom:

"My dog, Page, is the same age as your Sally -- we adopted her in the fall of 1999 -- and bears an uncanny resemblance to Sally. Page was originally named "Stacey" by the Rappahannock Animal Welfare League, who had found her in a pound in rural Page County, Va. (hence her name). She's a lab-hound mix. Here's a pic of Page.


This was Tom's response:

"We got Sally also from the Rappahannock Animal Welfare League! She was born sometime in the summer of 1999. That's a pretty big coincidence. How many times have you seen that pink nose? Wow, my guess is they are sisters! They found her wandering around in some semi-rural Virginia county. Is Page around 40 lbs? Does she run with her nose to the ground?"


This was Liz's response:

"Yep, about 40 pounds and that nose is ALWAYS on the ground. Which is why it takes us an hour to get around the neighborhood."

Sisters. I'd bet on it.


The book excerpt got a lot of mail, many with attached photos of bygone old dogs. One of the best was from Lisa Laparan, who wrote about her little dog, Chuck, and included two pictures. This is Chuck at 4 months. And this is Chuck at 16 years.


The first dog profiled in the book was Honey, a female pit bull who lives in my neighborhood. In the final year of Harry's life, Honey was his only outside interest; the two dogs would trudge together side by side for blocks, hardly interacting but content in each other's company. Honey -- who, at nine, was much younger -- would slowing her pace so that Harry could keep up. Because Harry's romantic interests had always been for males, I compared this pairing to what happens when an old gay man returns to his wife to end their time together on a porch under and embroidered lap shawl.

They've come full circle now. Honey died yesterday, peacefully, the way all dogs should.

There are 63 dogs profiled in the book; all were between 10 and 17 years old when Michael Williamson photographed them, and some of the pictures were taken as long as two and a half years ago. Anticipating the inevitable question, in the intro of the book we wrote that if anyone wants to know how many of the dogs are still alive, our answer will be: "All of them." Honey, too.


Many, many Jewish people wrote in last week to defend their synagogues' practice of selling seats for the High Holy Day services, pointing out, correctly, that synagogues do not pass collection plates since observant Jews cannot deal with money on the Sabbath. It's a completely reasonable means of fundraising and to any extent that I implied otherwise, I apologize. By way of abject atonement, and in the spirit of the season, I hereby present this as today's CLOD. It was submitted by Andrew Hoenig.


Please take Today's Poll. Yes, there are correct answers, which I will obnoxiously reveal midway through the chat.


A poor comics week was rescued by a strong Sunday: CPOW is Sunday's Doonesbury, First Runner-Up: Thursday's Doonesbury. Honorables: Sunday's Zits, Sunday's Argyle Sweater.


Unsa, ID: You didn't say "Okay, let's go," so I'm not sure if the chat has started.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, let's go.


Washington, D.C.: I clicked on the poll, read it in its entirety, read it a second time, then closed it without voting.

I know that quirky is your schtick, but that just sucked. The very idea of putting those thoughts and those words to music is an insult to music. Never mind that there was nothing profound in all that. I've seen pithier, more thoughtful bumper stickers. On Republicans' cars. I didn't read a single one of those lines without an annoyed "hunh?" Rather than "brilliant", "true", and "funny", I might have included a category for "most likely to have been written by a college freshman newspaper columnist desperately wishing to be seen as politically active and insightful, but failing."

I'm sure that if you post my comment, you'll include some sort of slur on my intelligence (or maybe my looks or state of sexual satisfaction). I get that; she's your friend. Have at it.

Gene Weingarten: Hardly.

I acknowledge you are a person of average intelligence.


Falls Church, Va.: After three great years together, my boyfriend proposed last spring. Marrying him is something that I had thought about for a long time, and was sure I wanted. Now that we've been engaged for a little while, traits that had annoyed me are grating on my nerves like never before. It's all litlle things (like that he has the worst taste in television, repeats the same corny jokes over and over, and talks to our dog in a baby voice), but it's nothing that has changed about him at his core. And all the important things (honest, easy to talk to, fun to be with and good in bed) are still there. But when I think about having to hear the same punchline a thousand more times I want to throw something at his head. Is this something that can chalked up to nerves, or a sign that I'm about to marry the wrong person? We're in our mid-30s if it matters.

Gene Weingarten: I am going to put this up to the group. I am thinking it is a sign you are marrying the wrong person.


Rhetoric and Responsibility: Gene: Reports are coming out in the news that the McCain/Palin supporters at their rallies are getting so fired up about the anti-Obama rhetoric that pushes boundaries even in the no-holds barred environment of politics that it is eliciting racist and violent remarks, so much so that one person even shouted out "Kill him!" in response to a Palin comment. So here is my question: To what extent should Palin and/or McCain or ANY of their surrogates be responsible for violence either toward Obama himself, minorities or other supporters that arise from their comments? On one hand, I generally believe that McCain/Palin are not responsible for the actions of any of their listeners/supporters, but on the other hand, they clearly INTEND to incite a fair amount of hatred against Obama as part of their tactics, so should they be held to account for the consequences?

Gene Weingarten: I think this is all going to backfire immediately. I think the electorate is scared and wants and adult. I don't think they want to hear the tooth gnashings.


Alexandria, Va.: So...Governer Palin did better than I expected, but what is with the winking? This is a Vice presidential debate - we are choosing the back-up for the president of the most powerful country in the world. This is not a time for winking and shout-outs to Joe Six-Pack. It was like watching a high school debate where a popular girl is running for class president. I'm sorry, but this is a serious time in this country. People are losing homes, jobs, life savings and their lives and she's WINKING at the camera. What is up with that?

Gene Weingarten: I think her entire candidacy comes off as a satire. It exactly the satire Mencken was referencing in that first quote.

This is the inevitable endpoint of a TV-era presidential marketing process that for 50 years has been emphasizing style over substance and "narrative" over experience.

Actually, the same process gave us Barack Obama, I suppose, only we lucked out with that one. In addition to narrative, he has depth, intelligence, reflection, judgment and temperament.

Palin, however, seems the perfect distillate of everything flashy and nothing important. I know the McCain implosion is being driven mostly by the economy, but I am thinking that there's some Sarah in there, too. I think, finally, Americans are understanding they've been handed a pig in a poke. With or without lipstick.


Gene Weingarten: The disturbing thing about the Palin Pit bull tour is the degree of angry nationalistic fervor. I will not make the fascism connection, I will leave that to others.

I think it would be scary, but I think it is going to implode. I don't think we're that stupid.


Cuzzins: I thought the relatives/cousins quote in the poll was brilliant. I also thought it was funny. According to the masses, I couldn't be more wrong.

Gene Weingarten: One of my favorites in there! I will soon be explain, patiently, which the best are.


McLean, Va.: I emailed you this a year ago this week. (I think it got caught in the Vista wormhole, because I know you would have responded if you saw it.)

My parents are putting my 18-year old dog to sleep today. I am 30. This means I got this dog when I was in the 7th grade. He was there for those awkward junior high years, a move to a different state, all of those crazy high school years, college, entering the workforce, getting married, and now having my first child. That is a very long time. Even though he has lived with my parents all these years, and I have only seen him on visits, he is my dog, the dog that I picked out at the shelter, the dog that fit in one hand when we brought him home, the only dog I've ever met that sucked his thumb and never barked. From now on, everything that happens will fall into the after-Tuffy era. I don't even know what to make of that.

Tuffy's ashes now sit on my dresser. My question for you in the year 1AT is this: My husband has never owned a pet. He says he can't do it, because he know he would have to go through losing it at some point and there is no reason to volunteer for that. How can I convince him that it is completely worth it, so that we (and our children), can one day own a dog?

Are you doing any book signings, so I can come give you a big hug?

Gene Weingarten: The book is out in stores and available on Amazon, but I'm not sure about signings yet, other than a presentation Michael Williamson and I are going to do on Oct. 30. My guess is a few will be scheduled closer to Christmas.

Your weapon with your husband is the children. Children need pets, to help them understand love. This argument has the dual advantage of helping your cause and being true.


Op, US: I can't believe Berke Breathed is retiring...again.

Seriously, I was a huge fan as a high school student, a moderate fan as a college student, and a passing fan as an adult. I mean, it's a character-driven strip that hasn't been daily for nearly 20 years, so it's not like we had much opportunity to get re-attached for the last three. I just can't get choked up the way I would for, say, Trudeau or like I did for Larson or Watterston. Or like I did for Breathed, twice already.

Gene Weingarten: Well, Berkeley has been teasing us for weeks now. It's no surprise.

I liked Opus, and it remains one of the best drawn strips on the comics pages, and I will miss it. But I think the decision to go Sunday-only may hae doomed it from the start. It's very hard to gain traction without a daily dose of your characters, particularly, as you say, with a character-driven strip.

I began to feel that Berkeley's heart was not entirely in this latest enterprise when more than once we found ourselves looking at recycled Bloom County gags.

Gene Weingarten: But: Week after week, Opus delivered some of the best sky-is-falling allegorical hang-wringing about the political hypocrisy afoot in our land. It's not a voice I would vote to lose and I'm sorry to see it go.


Manassas, Va.: How do you know Harry came from a puppy mill?

And how do you define "puppy mill"?

Gene Weingarten: Harry came with papers. The name of the place was something like the Happy Valley Dog Gestation Camp.


Pic, KY: Gene, After reading your essay in this Sunday's Magazine, I realized you were the perfect person to offer advice on a dilemma I'm currently facing. My new boyfriend (3 months) is a great guy - very attractive, funny, incredibly intelligent, and great to be around. He is, as they say, something special. There's just one problem...he's deathly allergic to cats and dogs, and has been his whole life. He's tried allergy shots, all sorts of medications, and nothing has worked. I have cats, and every time he's been to my place he's ended up feeling ill and short of breath. It's obviously frustrating to me, and it's frustrating to him as well; he likes animals, but simply can't be around them. I've always assumed that pets would be a part of my life, but he's a really great person who has, as they say, "long term potential." (Apologies for using such a terrible phrase.) So what would you advise this cat & dog-loving 26-year-old to do?

Gene Weingarten: You have a difficult decision, as you know. Make it soon.


Alexandria, Va.: Please explain to me why my three-year-old niece is afraid of an animatronic dinosaur, but is curious about a dead body in a casket.

Gene Weingarten: You can't be scared by a dead body until you have a sense of what death is. You don't need any existential help to be scared of a lizard with big teeth.


Somewhere in Georgia: I guess this makes me elitist, but if I had used Gov. Palin's lazy brand of English is such a formal setting, I'd hear it from my mother for days. One thing she (and the rest of the adults in my family) always stressed was speaking clearly, ending my "ing" words with the actual "ing" sound, and avoiding slang. I absolutely detest her folksiness --- why did I work all those years to speak like an adult when she can go on national TV and sound like that?

Gene Weingarten: Sarah is appealing to the least of us.

I woke up this morning intending to write an ode to the people who are supporters of Sarah, who think her candidacy are a good idea. I'm still mulling the contours of it.

These are people who have the lowest possible expectations for our country.


Baltimore, Md.: Gene, Is it just me or did Krauthammer endorse Obama on Friday? With an enormous backhand, but still...

Gene Weingarten: I read it as such, yes. I think he would call it predictive, not advocative. I call it advocative.

We've already heard similarly from George Will.

I believe that the right thing to do in this election is becoming plain to many, many people.

Also, plain is an anagram of Palin.


Pal, IN: A submission for the CLOD. Language not safe for work.

Gene Weingarten: Not bad. Some excellent lines, like the Putin one.


Shameless flatte, RY: Gene,

My 16-year-old daughter read the story about Harry in the magazine on Sunday and was absolutely charmed! (Unless you've forgotten pretty quickly, it is no small matter to thoroughly impress a 16-year-old.) She even said that she thought that the author, whoever he was, was amazing. I described your accomplishments and attributes as best I could, and mentioned a few other of your more notable offerings, such as the articles about the Great Zucchini and Joshua Bell. However, I can't seem to find them in The Post archives. Can you help a poor mom out? She even summarized your article for her current events class...... They're all here. Right side of the page.

Gene Weingarten: Thankew.


Pal, IN: I think the best description of Palin's performance is that she still thinks she's competing in a pageant: It's about the toothy grin, the coquettish laugh, and playing to the audience.

Gene Weingarten: And pleasing her handlers. Doing what she was told to do, and dadgumming, getting it all out there before the buzzer.


Annapolis, Md.: Someone relatively charming came into my place of work last week and talked my ear off about life in general. But then he remarked that he loves to read but can't stand fiction because "anyone can write it." I was taken aback but didn't have a real response.

I have, on my desk, 5 books: The Bhagavad Gita, a couple computer textbooks, a book of local hikes, and a Wodehouse collection. The only work I'd classify as being inimitable is the Wodehouse collection.

So what's your take on this? I pretty much dismissed that visitor as an uninteresting cuckold after the remark.

Gene Weingarten: I read mostly nonfiction.

I've never really understood why until recently. I tend to read fiction competitively: Could I do that? It's nerve-racking.


Win, KY: Richard Cohen has a good piece on Palin today. I think his comments about the media "grading on a curve" couldn't be more true. Obviously the conservatives were going to say she hit a home run, but I was shocked at how many people said she generally did a an excellent job. Sure, she didn't faint, but if that's as good as she can she really VP worthy? (But then again, look at Cheney)

Another excellent point from Cohen..."Can you imagine the reaction of the press corps if Clinton had given the audience a 'hiya, sailor' wink?" This Debate's Biggest Loser, ( Post, Oct. 7)

Gene Weingarten: Yep.

She was terrible. Really terrible, not answering questions, being both shallow and transparent, masking her ignorance with folksiness.

We did grade on a curve. I did, too, even in my own mind, until I watched it again.

A really good way to look at it is through the SNL veep debate skit. Liz, can you link?


Columbia, Md.: To the poster who is concerned that her perfect-but-irritating fiance might not be the one for her, she'd do well to remember that while love is usually the triumph of imagination over intelligence, sometimes your intelligence has to kick in. Speaking purely logically, do you really think there is anyone on the face of the earth who has no habits that will irritate you and grate on your last nerve? Once you've realized that there will always be -something- not-perfect about another person, then you let the imagination part back in--just pretend those irritating habits don't exist (as your fiance probably does already with YOUR irritating habits).

Gene Weingarten: But you know what? It's pretty early in that relationship to be getting annoyed at quirks and mannerisms.

_______________________ Tina Fey as Sarah Palin, Take 2


Dupont Circle: I was talking with someone over the weekend who opined that whomever wins the election will end up being a one-term president, since the situation he will inherit is already so horribly effed-up. What do you think? I don't think (or maybe I hope) that won't be the case; it didn't happen after FDR was elected, and he came into a similar economic vortex of suck.

Gene Weingarten: It won't be the case if the public perceives that the guy is trying. We are, ultimately, fair minded.


Gene Weingarten: Okay, the poll.

You did quite well, except where you didn't.

The best way to corral this is to pull out the ones that most impress you, and THEN try to figure out why. Doing it that way, I get these five:

Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.

Every man sees in his relatives, and especially in his cousins, a series of grotesque caricatures of himself.

Legend is a lie that has attained the dignity of age.

Puritanism: the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.

Self-respect: the secure feeling that no one, as yet, is suspicious.

The three most brilliant will inevitably include the one that is most true, because brilliance relies on truth. That one would be democracy-innocence.

The other two brilliant ones are Self-respect and Puritanism, which also happen to be the two funniest.

Any other combination with these five would also be okay. You're welcome.


Free Advertis, IN: Do you (or Woodward, for that matter) get paid the same when you write about your own books? If so, it may be legit, but seems a bit incestuous, like first cousin marriages.

Gene Weingarten: We are not paid any extra when The Post prints a book excerpt. The Post does pay our publishers a small amount for use of the material, and it does go toward any eventual royalties the book may earn for us, but it's an indirect payment and (at least in my past experience) is never seen by the writer.

So, basically, no double dipping.

The publicity does significantly goose sales of the book, though, particuarly online sales. On Friday, "Old Dogs" was the 12,000th best selling book in the country; this morning it was the 380th.


Arlington, Va.: So, have TtB and Liz reintroduced the long-lost sister doggies yet? Dude. It's been less than 48 hours. We need time to plan this thing.

Gene Weingarten: You definitely have to do it. And I predict they will not get along.

Murphy met her sister two WEEKS after being separated as puppies. They had shared a crate.

No recognition. Neither wanted anything to do with the other.


Re: Cuckold: Why does having a dumb opinion of fiction writers necessarily mean one's wife is unfaithful? Is there another definition of "cuckold"?

Gene Weingarten: IT was an odd word to use, I agree. Does the poster wish to elaborate?


Ethic, AL: On "competitive reading":

I've been commissioned to write a review of a well-known author's work for a national publication. As it's my first time doing this, I have to ask: I don't know the author personally, but I do know several of his competitors for shelf space and the public dollar in the same genre. What should I disclose in the review?

Gene Weingarten: You need disclose nothing.

I benefit not at all if a competitor's work is panned.


Reston, Va.: I was invited to participate in a paid (!) focus group recently. The big question, and the one I failed, was whether I was absolutely decided on who I'm voting for in four weeks.

My mother, of all people, said I should have lied and participated anyway. While it might have been fun to see what was asked and hear others' answers, I don't think it would have been right (although I strongly considered it). What say you?

Gene Weingarten: It would have been dishonest, as dishonest as being seated on a jury if your mind was already made up. Focus group organizers take their jobs seriously.


Germantown, MD: From Joyce's "Ulysses":

His own image to a man with that queer thing genius is the standard of all experience, material and moral. ... The images of other males of his blood will repel him. He will see in them grotesque attempts of nature to foretell or to repeat himself.

Gene Weingarten: Interesting. I wonder which came first, Mencken or Joyce? They were writing in similar times.


America: To all the talking heads who think Palin won or held her own or exceeded expectations but can't understand the polls that show she lost by a large margin, here is a short but sweet analysis: Voters found her charming and refreshing, and no way do we want that lunatic anywhere near the White House.

Gene Weingarten: She's not a lunatic.

She's a lightweight.


Palin's Wink, IN: The last time a woman winked at me, she took me into her bed that night. I swear, when Palin winks they should just run a crawl that says "1-900-DO ME NOW".

Was Palin intentionally sexualizing the debate, or perhaps her appeal?

Gene Weingarten: She reminded me of Tina Fey, cocking her imaginary moose rifle.


Reston, Va.: Gene, any possibility that The Argyle Sweater is actually written by Gary Larson? I know immitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but come on.

Gene Weingarten: There have been several blatant ripoffs of The Far Side; Argyle is one of the better ones. I doubt if the artist would deny it.


Washington, D.C.: Is there any reason why you can't buy 32 inch jeans and fold the bottom up an inch? It's not like you are a fashion plate and would be concerned that Tim Gunn would take you to task the next time he visited DC. Yeah, Gene. Can't you just wear a barrel and quit whining?

Gene Weingarten: I would have to rename myself Elmer.


Monkey County: Mwa ha ha ha ha! Welcome to the jeans hell women go through every time we shop.

You are looking for inseams that don't exist. We are looking for the same, except ours aren't so nicely labeled with wasit/inseam. No, we have to try on dozens of pairs to find out that they don't exist. We have Mystery Size X which is actually the same size as Mystery Size Y in another brand, and neither fit just right. In some jeans, I need to wear "relaxed fit" (fat) jeans. In others, I wear "natural fit" (what is that?) or "regular fit" and in one brand I even fit into "slim". Boot cut, tapered leg, flare leg, long, petite, regular length, low waist, ultra low waist, "comfort" waist... All different for different brands, and none of them tell me what I need to know. I'd buy men's jeans in retaliation except they are designed for people without hips. And the weird part of this whole story is that I'm an average sized woman. Taller than average, but not unusually so, not very fat, not very slim, not very bottom heavy, not very top heavy. Still can't find clothes that fit just right. I can't imagine what the women who don't fall into the average range do!

Last time I found a pair of jeans that fit I bought the three they had in the store and ordered another four of the website, all identical. I suggest you stockpile yours if you ever find them again.

Gene Weingarten: I've gotten about 20 posts from women expressing exactly this sentiment. This said it best.


I Like Lav, IN: After I took the poll, I contacted Christine Lavin through her Web site. My daughter is doing a project on Mencken this semester, and I was hoping I could find a link for a recording of the song, which the kid clearly needed to hear. Christine exchanged some email with me and sent me the lyrics and a link to an early draft recording of the song. I never expected anything like that -- I just hoped for her web guru to maybe point out something obvious that I had missed on the site. I think Christine is just great. Everybody reading this chat should run right over to Amazon or her web site and buy multiple copies of all her recordings, and her children's book, too. Go! Now!

Mencken's pretty good, too. His responsiveness to fans has had a definite up-tick since his demise in the 50's.

Gene Weingarten: Christine Lavin is as down-to-earth an artist as you're ever going to find. A relentlessly nice person.


Great new word: One of my favorite things from the SNL skit was Fey/Palin using the word "mavericky." Fabulous.

Gene Weingarten: And her final sop to the people playing the drinking game.


Palin Lovers: I live in Tyler, Texas. People here love Sarah Palin. They've explained it to me, but I still don't understand why. If you're interested in understanding her supporters, check out our local paper, the Tyler Morning Telegraph (, and scroll through the comments sections.

Be careful, though. The same people who love Palin also think the financial crisis was brought about by banks being forced to make loans to minorities.

Gene Weingarten: WEll, that sort of explains it, doesn't it.


Hummingbird to Mars: As the paragon of journalistic integrity who killed his cover story because of improper sourcing, what do you think of Jason Wilson writing about the "underground" dining club that he attended (including revealing their location) right after being told by them that press weren't allowed to write about their experience at the club or disclose their location?

How does he get away with something like that while your story is doomed to sit in a vault for all eternity?

Gene Weingarten: I don't know anything about the background of this story, but I'd bet dollars to donuts that this was a nudge-nudge wink-wink deal, and the proprietors are not at all upset that their "secret" "got out."

The whole silly conceit of these "speakeasies" is that they are secret and naughty. They are neither. This story is more than they could have asked for.


Dogtown, Ark.: So, did you have any trouble getting the term "son of a bitch" into the paper, or is context the great justifier? Or is SOB now accepted as a fairly mild epiphet, not inappropriate for a newspaper?

Gene Weingarten: The line in question was from the story about Harry. Here it is in context:

The product of a Kansas puppy mill, son of a bitch named Taffy Sioux, Harry had been sold to us as a yellow Labrador retriever. I suppose it was technically true, but only in the sense that Tic Tacs are technically "food." Harry's lineage was suspect. He wasn't the square, shiny, elegant type of Labrador you can envision in the wilds of Canada on a hunting trip for ducks. He was the shape of a baked potato, with the color and luster of an inter-office envelope. You could envision him in the wilds of suburban Toledo, on a hunting trip for nuggets of dried food in a carpet.


I think we can all agree that this context, and only this context, permitted its publication in The Washington Post. And yes, it was something of a subversive coup.


Re: Was Palin intentionally sexualizing the debate: To me the winking wasn't sexy, it was aging trailer park waitress desperate. Think of Flo from the ole TV show, an aging honey with a teased beehive, smacking gum and bedding truckers.

Gene Weingarten: Yes!


Springfield, Va.: Fantastic excerpt from the book. Very moving. I was almost crying at the end, and I'm not one to usually get that touched by writing.

I am beginning to suspect that you're a better serious writer than you are a humor writer. The quality of your long pieces is always better than the humor of your columns. The one where you rode a bus in Jerusalem is still my favorite.

Bathroom question: I went to the movies over the weekend (Burn After Reading was disappointing). In the men's room, I saw an odd thing. One man decided that to use the urinal, he had to pull down his pants and underwear to his knees. So he's standing there, his posterior out for all to see.

The shorts appeared to be like athletic shorts, without a convenient opening, but they could have most likely been pulled down just enough, not to the knees. Is this a common practice?

Gene Weingarten: I've seen this a couple of times and it always makes me think of George Constanza.

We need to discuss Burn After Reading. I thought it was brilliant. So did Tom the Butcher. We have no idea why the critical consensus was negative and we together took the elitist position that no one understood it but us.


Bethesda, Md.: I'm not sure if I want to do what this article suggests in the last line.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.


Not Laughing: Ok, I'm no longer laughing at Palin. Her vitriolic words at rallies are really starting to worry me. We have a nutso faction in this country, and if she can incite someone to yell "kill him" and another to spew racist epithets at a news cameraman (see Milbank's column today), it's a troubling issue. I can't believe the Republican party at large is happy with this. I certainly plan to let my thoughts be known, to my republican representative and any and all news media I can. It's ugly and scary.

Gene Weingarten: This is, at this point, a desperate, losing campaign. I predict the polls with continue to diverge, and not close up.


Washington, D.C.: Did you read Milbank's article today? Oh my gosh, I usually laugh all the way through his pieces and the insane things he quotes people saying, but todays just scares the crap outta me. I think Palin might have contracted Rabies recently. Unleashed, Palin Makes a Pit Bull Look Tame, ( Post, Oct. 7)

Gene Weingarten: To paraphrase David Plouffe, the Obama campaign manager, from a few weeks ago when McCain was riding high: There's the usual hand-wringing and bed-wetting. We're not worried.

We can relax. This spasm is temporary.


Winchester, Va.: Gene,

I need reassurance. Over the course of this interminable election I felt we were making progress on the race relations front. Even people who wouldn't personally vote for Obama seemed resigned to, or even ok with, the possibility of an African-American president. Tell me the last four weeks of the campaign isn't going to undo all that.

Gene Weingarten: That's what I'm telling you. Relax.


Vienna, Va.: I think your prediction that Sally and Page will not bond is wrong, but only because Sally never met a dog she didn't love. I also secretly think she'll smell a sibling in there somehow. Hopefully, Liz and I will make this happen and we can report back. Page can be a little skittish when it comes to other doggies but I'm hopeful. She loves her dog-in-law bandit, another 9-year-old.

Gene Weingarten: I'm sure the two of you can work it out.


Anonymous: You predict the polls will continue to diverge. Didn't you also predict McCain would dump Palin as his running mate?

Gene Weingarten: Yes. I am always wrong.

Except: I said, three months ago, that this election was going to be a landslide. It may be my first good call.


Washington, D.C.: I also noticed Palin quit scrunching her nose during the debate. I think the wink was a replacement tic.

Gene Weingarten: That was her Bewitched nose-twitch.


Washington, D.C.: Gee, Gene, great advice to that woman with the fiancee with "the worst taste in television, [who] repeats the same corny jokes over and over, and talks to our dog in a baby voice."

Here's another idea she could try -- talk to him about it. The first two might take some work, but trust me, most men, if called out for talking in a baby voice, will fix that, pronto.

Gene Weingarten: B-but he is the kind of a man who WOULD talk to a dog in a baby voice.

Seriously, I don't think they are doomed because they are incompatible. I think they might be doomed because she is asking the question.


Indianapolis, IN: regarding the SNL VP debate, the crazy thing was how much more they had to exaggerate Biden to make him funny, compared to Tina's Palin. Though I did like Biden's lines about loving McCain (something like 'if I was stuck on a desert island with one other person, I'd want McCain - but seriously, that guy's a nutjob')

Gene Weingarten: The faux Biden's best moment was when he was talking about Scranton. "I'm the only thing that EVER came outta there."


Truth can be stranger than fiction: Although this would have been hysterical if Mr. Fox had encountered a hound:

A man who decided to take home a fox he hit on the road wrecked his SUV after the animal he thought was dead revived.

Tommy Fox ran over the fox last Wednesday near Dover, Tenn., as he returned home from work, the Leaf Chronicle reports.

Thinking the animal was dead, he decided to take the animal home to cut off its tail as a souvenir, Dale Grandstaff of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency told the paper.

"The tails are real bushy and pretty and thick this time of year," Grandstaff said.

Instead, the driver flipped his GMC Jimmy trying to keep the fox - that had awoken in the backseat - from biting him, Grandstaff told the paper.

Gene Weingarten: This story has everything! It even has Dale Grandstaff!


Re: Reston: I was struck dumb by the poster who said he had not yet decided on who he is going to vote for.

For me, there is absolutely no question that only one candidate shares my vision of the future of this country, though we may not align on every single issue.

However, I don't know if I am annoyed by Reston or envious. Would it be nice to be so ambivalent or carefree or ignorant or uninformed to still not know who you prefer after a year and a half of campaigning?

Gene Weingarten: I am going to keep saying this, because it really honks some people off. I think it is true:

Once McCain chose Palin, and it became manifest just who she was, I contend the moral and loyal American no longer could vote for that ticket.


Mini - Poll : How many guys in your audience generally sit when taking a leak? I'm male, late 50s, good health, and physically capable of standing long enough to drain the hose, but when I'm at home, and even at work where there are private one-holers (toilet only), I will take the occasion to drop my pants and set a spell. It's a nice break to the day, and it's like on Metro -- Why stand when a seat is available?

In a public place, I use the urinals if they're aren't otherwise occupied. They're quick and convenient, and honestly, I wouldn't mind getting a urinal installed at home. That would be useful.

In a public restroom, if only a toilet is available, I'll do a stand up there, especially in places with questionable sanitation. But I lift the seat (generally with my toe--and I have nothing but contempt for the lazy clods who leave the seat down) and direct the stream to the edge of the bowl to avoid the noise and splashing. Maybe some guys get a kick out of that sound and like to build up a nice head of bubbles in the bowl. I'm not one of them tho. And this doesn't even consider the whole question of back splatter.

And I always check the color. This might seem obsessive but I have a good reason. When I was ten years old one night, I looked down and the bowl looked like it was filled with Hawaiian punch. I was bleeding internally from a undetected congenital cyst. Within two weeks, I was in the hospital with one less kidney than I was born with. No problems since then, but I always check just to make sure.

If any or all of this makes me weird, big deal. Go tell somebody who gives a rat's tail.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you for sharing.


Fairfax, Va.: Sarah Palin's appeal is that she tells people that even if you have no intelligence or aptitude or background or desire, you too can suddenly be plucked from obscurity to run for Vice President. She plays to the unwashed. She says "See? I'm a buffoon, and yet here I am running for Vice President for a man who is unlikely to make it to the end of one term! You can do it, too!"

Gene Weingarten: But really, what percent of the population is stupid enough to find that remotely reassuring?


Hate speech?: Yelling that a presidential candidate should be killed sounds like a guaranteed quick trip to a federal pen. And aren't Secret Service people present, albeit to protect the other candidate?

Not a wise move. But that fits with your thesis about the Palinistas.

Gene Weingarten: As I read it, it was not clear exactly whose death the yeller was advocating.


Pal-o-ween: So, I'm a small brunette person with "Tina Fey" glasses and sideswept bangs... clearly Palin is an awesome costume choice for me this year (also halloween is my birthday, so I always feel compelled to have awesome costumes). My question here is on accessories - what would be the most effective, a belt full of polar bear pelts? walk around all night saying, "you betcha,maverick!"? Suggestions from you would be like gold.

Gene Weingarten: You want to be dragging a moose carcass.


Biden vs. Pal, IN:"how much more they had to exaggerate Biden to make him funny, compared to Tina's Palin"

I find it funny that Democrats think that their candidates are being exaggerated, while the people they don't like are being represented spot on.

Biased much?

Gene Weingarten: Well, you know: In this case, it is true. Objectively true. I mean, soe of Tina Fay's riffs have been direct, unadulterated quotes from what Palin actually said.


Bethesda, Md.: I think they might be doomed because she is asking the question.

I think you're right. I can only speak from my own experience, but I had no doubts about marrying my husband. This cold feet/nerves thing -- I don't get it.

Gene Weingarten: I think cold feet is probably common; it's the going public with it that, to me, bodes poorly.


Collateral Damage: The ugly tone of the McCain-Palin race just cost me a friendship. Here's the deal: Said former friend send me a link to a video that attempted to place all the blame for the economic meltdown on the Dems. I politely wrote back and said the video was disingenuous because there's plenty of blame to go around.

Well. That merely birthed a rash of e-mails from her, each more partisan and vitriolic than the last. Ultimately, I told her to stop writing to me. Now we're ex-friends, which is too bad, because we have friends in common I like very much.

In any case, I blame all this on the hysterical tone taken by the McCain-Palin campaign, and its Obama-is-the-Antichrist rhetoric. Jerks.

Gene Weingarten: There is some funny stuff on the Web in response to the charges about Obama and Bill Ayres, the former Weather Underground leader.

They "photos" of Obama, at age 8, conspiring with the then-criminal Ayres.


Woodbridge, Va.: Gene: Once McCain chose Palin, and it became manifest just who she was, I contend the moral and loyal American no longer could vote for that ticket.

I have loyal and moral friends who are still voting for him for one reason -- taxes. They believe McCain won't raise them and Obama will. That's it. Taxes.

Gene Weingarten: That is not a moral or ethical stance, obviously.

If you do not think Sarah Palin can be a competent president, you cannot ethically vote for that ticket.

Okay, thank you all. I will be updating through the week.


UPDATED 10.8.08

Iro, NY: Gene Weingarten: The three most brilliant will inevitably include the one that is most true, because brilliance relies on truth. That one would be democracy-innocence.

Fairfax, Va.: Sarah Palin's appeal is that she ... says "See? I'm a buffoon, and yet here I am running for Vice President for a man who is unlikely to make it to the end of one term! You can do it, too!" Gene Weingarten: But really, what percent of the population is stupid enough to find that remotely reassuring?

I think you answered your own question.

Seriously, I'm a big Obama guy, but I just don't understand the myopia of my liberal friends on Palin. In every election since 1980, the candidate who successfully created the image of himself as "just a regular guy, who understands you and your problems because he's like you" has won (I suspect this may have been true in 1976, too, but I'm too young to remember).

Clearly, that's the mantle McCain's going for. For him, it's hardly accurate, but been pretty successful for the nuclear physicists, movie stars, Rhodes scholars, Yale graduates, and so forth who have successfully claimed the title before, so why not? And he's done pretty well in creating that narrative for himself.

With Palin, it's even easier, because there's actually quite a bit of truth to it. The strong religious commitment, small town origin, blue collar husband, unwed pregnant teenage daughter, and checkered educational history that you decry are exactly the source of her appeal to the trailer trash in rural Ohio and Colorado who are going to decide this election.

Sure, those things make you, me, and most of the rest of the chatters hate her. But we were never going to vote for McCain, anyway. We wouldn't have voted for McCain/Ghandi. So, yeah, he choose a running mate who wouldn't appeal to people who weren't going to vote for him. You'll have to forgive me for failing to understand how that's a major blunder.

The real question is, does she appeal to the people the McCain campaign needs her to appeal to? Your acknowledgement of the brilliance of the Menkin quote (not to mention the last 30 years of electorical history) says she does.

Gene Weingarten: It's too bad you don't remember 1976, because that one is the one that may best parallel this year.

The country had just been through Watergate. The voters were sick to death of the Republicans. Gerald Ford was trying to distance himself from Nixon, but could not -- not just because of his ill-advised pardon, but because his party was inextricably linked to it all. People wanted something really different -- in fact, they wanted a smart guy to fix things.

Yeah, Jimmy Carter was a likeable peanut farmer, but he was also knowledgeable about nuclear physics, and was generally seen as the brains in that race. Gerald Ford was seen as the amiable dunce.


Par, ODY: I submit the following Love/lust song parody for, well general amusement. NSFW!

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.


Richmond, Va.: The boyfriend and I were having a meandering discussion about moral issues in relation to politics, such as gay marriage and abortion. I used to be conservative, but have been marching towards the left in recent years. He is a moderate and tends to be more interested in where candidates stand on the issues than with what party they are affiliated.

He mentioned hearing a discussion on talk radio about Sarah Palin's decision to have her baby with Down Syndrome and it was stated that most liberals support aborting fetuses that will have disabilities when they are born. I asked him what channel or show it was and he couldn't remember. I asked if maybe he was only half listening as he drove, noting that the only criticism I've heard recently about Palin and her baby was that people have been praising her for choosing to have this baby, considering that she is pro-life and would deny the right to choose for other women. He said he was pretty sure that wasn't what was being said.

So I went online and tried doing a search. I found one blog, something like America for Capitalism, where the person flat out said it was economically irresponsible to bring children like that in the world. I found other blogs with people furious over what the first blog said. I found a blog that quoted Phyllis Schlafly as saying that if Sarah Palin were a Democrat, she would have aborted the baby. I found another blog that said the Left hate children and listed the extreme views that would support that statement. Since I was wading into wackadoo land, I decided to stop there.

Not that I want you to make blanket statements about liberals and conservatives, but would you say this is a common belief?

Gene Weingarten: I assume it's a common belief, because I assume it is true.

Why wouldn't the part of the population that is supportive of a woman's right to choose abortion be more likely to also feel that aborting a mentally retarded fetus is jsutifiable? Surely a larger percentage of these people would believe it justifiable than would people who believe that abortion is tantamount to murder and should be a crime.

It's a leap to presume that the MAJORITY of people who are pro-choice would support aborting a fetus with Down syndrome, but it wouldn't surprise me. It seems to be among the least "frivolous" of reasons to choose abortion, and if your position (as mine is) is that abortion can be morally justified, wouldn't you sort of BEGIN there?


B.D. Grins!: Hi Gene,

It's been over a week, but I'm still smiling about seeing B.D. smile in Doonesbury.

I loved Trudeau's whole sequence about Sam's Sarah Palin doll, but the most touching thing was seeing B.D. get so tickled as Boopsie tried to explain to Sam that Palin shouldn't be her hero (or her vice president). We've seen B.D. recover from his amputation and deal with his PTSD and even reach out to other characters -- but I'm pretty sure this is the first time he's smiled. It made me unreasonably happy.

And wide-eyed Boopsie has come a long way since B.D.'s injury, too. She's been a rock for B.D. And it's nice to see her get steamed about Palin.

I can't believe how emotionally invested I've become in these characters lately. Trudeau has always been brilliant, but this is ridiculous.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, this was the best day of a good week.


Old Dog Story: I won't go on too much about how cool my dog is (thats been covered in general?) but there is one story I always like telling. Growing up my mom always had these "super intelligent" (for dogs) Arabian hunting dogs. When I got my promised puppy I got a sled-dog mutt who, bless his heart, was as dumb as a door nail.

Now one of those kind of mean, but not really, things we'd do basically once with each dog at some point was the peanut-butter-on-the-nose-trick. We'd only do it once because while funny and harmless we felt a little bad proving we were smarter than the dogs. After watching them try and lick the stuff off the top of their nose for 30 seconds we'd clean their nose off, give them a treat, never do it again, and all was forgiven. Well when we got my dog (the stupid one) we tried this stunt. He licked at the air once, realized that wouldn't work, made straight for the nearest couch (it happened to be a nice one) wiped the peanut butter off on the furniture and proceeded to lick the furniture clean.

Yea, we stopped doing that one...

Gene Weingarten: This had me laughing aloud.


Brainerd, Minn.: Funny clip of Sarah Palin being interviewed by Marge Gunderson.

I've lived in Northern Minnesota for a good part of my life -- Palin has a Northern Minnesota accent, youbetcha!

According to an article in Slate, a bunch o' Norskies from Minn-e-SO-ta were relocated to Palmer Alaska (near Wasilla) in the 1930's. This may explain the accent.

This somehow reminds me of my favorite Dilbert cartoon, which I can't find.

First frame: Pointy-haired boss tells Dilbert he's working with a new hire who graduated from Yale.

Second frame: Dilbert asks "Sven" (who's wearing an eye patch) about Yale.

Third frame: Sven says "I yust got out last week"

(Had to be there, I reckon!)

Gene Weingarten: I love that Gunderson interview, and the Dilbert.


UPDATED 10.9.08

Sisters?: Gene, when you are talking about dumb beasts like dogs or cats, the correct term is "littermates."

Gene Weingarten: Hey, do you also refer to a dog or a cat as "it," instead of he or she?

I'm sticking with sisters and brothers.


Laurel, Md.: Gene, I seem to recall you were looking for opinions from the dark side (Republicans and McCain supporters). So here goes. I basically disagree with your views, but that is what makes the world interesting. My view is the best situatiion is for the country is to have Congress and the president being opposing parties. For example: during the Clinton years. This means that in generally they bicker between themselves and nothing get done. I feel less government is best. When htere is a major crisis and something really needs to be addressed like the bail out plan. Then a middle of the road compromise solution is enacted. So given all that I might would be more receptive to voting for Obama if one or both of the houses of Congress was Republican and I am willing to let McCain slide given that Congress is Democratic.

Gene Weingarten: I understand this. But it all comes down to the issue raised in the next post.


Moral or ethical: But what if you do not think Obama can be a decent president either? I hate both tickets but Palin is VP not P on the ticket so I'm inclining towards Mccain.

Gene Weingarten: I think that if you genuinely believe that Barack Obama would be a disastrously bad president -- unfit for office and likely, through his ignorance or incompetence to bring ruin to the country -- then you are making the right decision.

But I question any analysis that compares Obama and Palin as though we are talking about equivalencies, in any respect. Whatever you might think of his readiness to serve, or even the wisdom of his policies, I think it cannot be reasonably argued that he is a scandalously uninformed, woefully naive incompetent. I think it cannot be reasonably argued that Palin is anything but.


Mencken: One of my favorite Mencken pieces is his account of a tent revival he witnessed while covering the trial of "the infidel Scopes." It's mean. It's unfair. We could use more of it these days.

Gene Weingarten: It's mean, and beautiful. I am not sure it is unfair, les'n he was making stuff up, which I do not believe Mencken did.

You know, a piece of journalism, albeit highly interpretive and advocative journalism, looks a lot better in retrospect when history has proven it true.


Baltimore, Md.: Missing from the poll is the Mencken quote that makes me the most ill at ease as Mrs. Palin continues her tour of the hinterlands:

"No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."

But I also take comfort in thinking that Mr. Mencken would say of Palin's speeches what he said of Warren G. Harding's:

"It is like a dog barking idiotically through an endless night."

Gene Weingarten: This is one of my favorite Mencken quotes. It is even better in full length and context:

Warren Harding is the master of a language in which the relations between word and meaning have long since escaped him. Harding's style reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the wall... of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it."


"I tend to read fiction competitively": Dude, this makes no sense. Most of what you write is non-fiction. Unless you really have been making it up all along.

Gene Weingarten: Well, exactly. I am not insecure about my ability to write non-fiction. When I begin reading a history book, or a feature story in a newspaper, even if these are by people whom I admire, my assumption is that I could do as well or better.

Not so with fiction; I don't know my abilities there, and am afraid of my limitations. I approach fiction with a sense of anxiety; will this so blow me away that it can't even serve as example or inspiration, and simply mocks me?

I know, this is paranoid and disagreeable. But the question was asked and I am trying to answer honestly.


UPDATED 10.10.08

Nonfiction: I have the same preference, but for a different reason. When I read fiction, I have to picture the setting in my head, and I become frustrated when the setting isn't clear enough or if the story seems too allegorical. I have those issues even more strongly with poetry -- I can never figure out the intended message. Twenty-five years after high school, I'm still not sure exactly what Eliot was trying to say in "Prufrock."

Gene Weingarten: I'll help you out with Prufrock. It may be my favorite poem. Here is what it means:

Life is emotional paralysis, and then it ends without resolution. Aaaauuugh.


Seattle: So, today's "Pearls" -- Meta-homage, meta-ripoff, or just plain old ripoff?

(FWIW, I laughed, Patsis.)

Gene Weingarten: This is really good. Meta-homage.


Richmond, Va.: Has your opinion on getting dogs from breeders (or really just non-shelters/rescues) changed much since Harry? I was just thinking about the PETA videos from the chats a few months ago, particularly the one where the family goes to get a dog from a breeder and they whip out the corpse of the shelter dog they didn't adopt. Mostly I was reminded of this by your mention of the "Dog Gestation Camp" (ha!) and the fact that my boyfriend and I recently got a German Shepherd puppy from a small farm kennel. I felt really weird not going to a shelter or rescue, but the BF has wanted a shepherd for years (our other dog is an SPCA mutt). The only thing I could think to say to people when asked why we didn't go to the shelter was that "all dogs need homes, and we know we'll give our puppy a good one." Does this wash?

Gene Weingarten: It's fine. I think in adopting a pet, we have one obligation: to give the animal the best life we can give it.

That said, my experience with Murphy has made me a big proponent of getting shelter dogs, for all the obvious reasons and one other: If you have a little patience, and a great deal of emotional endurance, you can find whatever kind of dog you want at a shelter.

I have a weakness for pretty dogs; this has led me toward purebreds. It's amazing how many purebreds are cast away into shelters, and how many are not adopted.

Murphy is not only a genuine Plott hound, she is a perfect, magnificent example of one. And one of the sweetest, smartest, fastest, wiliest, funniest dogs I've known. A pound puppy.


Could we have a link: to the Jerusalem bus story, please? Thanks Liz.

Gene Weingarten: Hm. Liz, please search for my name and Nachman of Breslov. Should do it. Here we are: Fear Itself.

Does Google not work for some folks?


San Francisco, Calif.: I thought this was great.

Gene Weingarten: This is excellent. I love "OMG you're such a good debater."


Washington, D.C.: Two good aptonyms this week:

ARKANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) _ The mayor of a Kansas town appeared in blackface as part of a drag-queen beauty contest but apologized after a meeting with NAACP officials.

Arkansas City Mayor Mel Kuhn won the weekend fundraiser, in which he appeared in dark makeup...


WASHINGTON (AP) _ An official says the administration has decided to pick a key Treasury Department official to be the interim head of its $700 billion rescue effort for financial institutions.

The official said Monday that Neel Kashkari, Treasury's assistant secretary for international affairs, will soon be announced as the interim head of Treasury's new Office of Financial Stability.

Gene Weingarten: Both very nice. Good place to end the week.


Next Week's Chat!!!


Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2008 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive