Chatological Humor: It Even Smells Funny

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Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 25, 2008; 12:00 PM

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

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

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

This Week's Poll: TAKE ONLY THE VERSION THAT APPLIES TO YOU:

DOOR 1: A-L LAST NAMES ONLY | DOOR 2: M-Z LAST NAMES ONLY

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

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Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon.

It's going to be a short introduction today. If you don't like it, you can lump it.

Quick! Take today's instapoll: 37 and Younger | 38 and Older!

Okay, good. More on this later.

When I was a kid, I never knew that there was a point in "The Wizard of Oz" when everything suddenly turned colorful. I just knew that at one point all this dippy music started playing, and everyone started behaving like something wondrous had occurred, but all I saw was more of the same. This is because my parents didn't buy a color TV until years and years after they had become ubiquitous. They didn't "trust" the new fandangle, wanted to wait till all the kinks were out. I grew up similarly suspicious of new technology, which is why I was maybe three years late on my first cell phone. I still don't have an iPod.

All of which goes to explain why it was not until this past weekend when I used my first satellite navigation system in a car. It was a rental car in a city in the Midwest, and it came really cheaply with the car, so I rented it.

I soon discovered why it was so cheap.

The woman's voice was perfectly unaccented, sounded like a real sexy, breathy-sophisticated American gal, but it was as though she had spent her childhood in a monastery among monks who had taken vows of silence; there was plenty of reading material but no one to show her exactly how to say things, and dictionary pronunciation guides went only so far. Eventually, I figured out that this voice must have been cut and spliced from recorded syllables. What was off, mostly, was the spacing.

So "Exit 3 B" became "Exit threebie." "Exit 12 A-B " became "Exit 12 Abie." It was "Key Pleft" and "Key Pright." Also, "Cow Leg Boulevard" turned out to be "College Boulevard."

Also, she once went nuts. When I momentarily took a wrong turn only a block or two from my destination, it discombobulated her. She announced that she was recalculating, and then told me to proceed point-eight miles and turn right on Brookwood. Seconds later she said she was recalculating and I had to go 4 miles and turn right on Brookwood. Seconds later she announced she was recalculating and I had to go 12 miles and turn right on Brookwood. When she got to 27 miles, I shut her off. When I re-booted, she regained her sanity.

Please tell me this is not state of the art, right?

Ultimately, I found the system helpful, but worrisome in a whole new way. I was in an unfamiliar city, spent a whole day there, and never learned anything about the area. When you follow street-by-street directions, you essentially have no idea where you are or where anything is in relation to anything else. "North" and "south" are meaningless concepts. You're like a mouse in a maze, making an informed decision at each crossroad, but never seeing down on yourself for the big picture, no?

(It reminded me of "Flatland," the great book by Abbott than 99 percent of you have never read.)

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Amit Anand read my column on Sunday and found this excellent stunt out of Australia.

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Okay we have a bunch of CLODS today.

This one (clearly fraudulent, but entertaining) is from Heather Moline.

And, from PJ Geraghty, the best diamond commercial never made.

And lastly, here is one that simply defies description or explanation. I don't know if it's real. If you speak no Spanish, this is basically what it says: Toby the dog fell in love with and elderly duck named Sheila, and Sheila returned the love Then Sheila died. Here is the moment when Toby met Sheila after she had been taxidermized.

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Comic pick of the Week is Wednesday's Zippy, for reasons I cannot explain. Literally. First runner up is Wednesday's Cul De Sac. Honorables: Friday's Rhymes with Orange, Wednesday's Brewster Rockit,today's Speed Bump, Monday's Lio, and Sunday's Candorville for the simple stunning audacity of the drawing of Susan's cameltoe.

Please take today's poll (DOOR 1: A-L LAST NAMES ONLY | DOOR 2: M-Z LAST NAMES ONLY). Yes, it's devious. We will explain, shortly.

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LOL Pronunciation?: Has LOL morphed from an acronym into a word yet, and how do you pronounce the word LOL? Liz, you probably are more the expert on this and I would value your pronunciation over Mr. Weingarten's. He is welcome to throw his opinion in as well, even though it probably will be wrong. L.O.L.

washingtonpost.com: el-owe-el

Gene Weingarten: Loll.

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Birthday news: You are much too much of a gentleman to announce, in this public forum, the Birthday of Significance just celebrated by PtheP. You would never point out the stark inevitability of age and decrepitude she faces in this new decade. And you certainly wouldn't embarrass her with some sort of mortifying anecdote in honor of her approaching senility.

Would you?

Gene Weingarten: Pat the Perfect turned 50 yesterday and her son, Brady, turned 19. When he went to Spanish class, someone informed him in Spanish not that he was 19, but that he has "ten snow anuses." (The words are similar.)

Gene Weingarten: Higgledy Piggledy

Pat of the Perfect pen,

Friend to the Empress and

Wordsmith with pluck

Reaches this birthday and

Hyper-ironically

Cannot articulate

Much more than "&$*!"

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In a quandry a, m i : Please talk me through this Gene. Friend is in hospital, I'm asked to pick up a few things from his place. Going in a drawer that I was specifically told to look for something, I see a stack of Web pages printed out of naked boys, some just standing, some doing stuff. These were not teens whose bodies have developed, but young boys. I've been in a bit of a shock since and I don't know what to think or do. I have young nephews and I'd hate to think of someone looking at them sexually when they are so young. So, since similar topics have been discussed in this chat, what do I do? I'm not sure I want to be his friend anymore, and then I feel guilty because he's in the hospital with something that could be serious. All I have now is emotion, so a little logic from you would be great.

Gene Weingarten: I have advice. You may not want to hear it. It's going to take a while; I know a lot about this subject because of a story I started, and had to abandon, a couple of years ago.

First, if you are telling the complete truth, and you were specifically directed to that drawer by your friend, then rest assured he wanted you to find this cache of child pornography. A pedophile's stash is very important to him; he does not lose track of it. So if he sent you there, he is crying out for help, and you should give it to him. More on this later.

My assumption, though, is that you are lying. Not about the underlying fact of this posting -- I believe you found this stuff -- but about how you came to find it. You are possibly also lying about what relationship this person has to you. I do not fault you for this lie: You are hiding details for the sake of privacy and possibly because you want this dealt with in the purest form, and not to come down to some referendum on whether you should have been snooping.

Either way, the moral calculus remains the same.

First, your friend is a pedophile. It's an incurable illness; he gets aroused by prepubscent children. More to the point, the material he has and that you held in your hand, and that you know the location of, is seriously illegal. It was downloaded from illegal websites, and possession of it is a felony. People have gone to prison for YEARS because of what your friend has in his possession. The children in those photographs are victims of a crime, whether they just are standing there being photographed, or whether they are being induced into "doing stuff."

Here's my point: You are seriously underestimating the gravity of the situation. This is not about whether you should remain friends with this person. That's a triviality and an irrelevance, as is the notion of whether you like the idea of his "looking lasciviously" at your young nephews. It's not about those things at all. There is only one issue on the table: Has he hurt children? Is he in a position to hurt children?

Many pedophiles keep their urges to themselves in a sick fantasy life they closet forever. If your friend is one of those people, then you have no duty here to do anything. If what's in the head stays in the head, he is as innocent and guiltless as any of us.

But we already know he has taken a step out of that closet. He has feloniously obtained illegal material involving the victimization of a child. He has done that at great personal risk, so it is very important to him.

Has he gone any further than that?

Thought experiment: What if the images you saw were not downloaded from the Web but were photos he had obviously taken, maybe digital images still in his camera? And maybe you recognized a child or two. In that case, would you not have an overwhelming moral obligation to bring that camera to the police? I think you would.

But you're somewhere short of that. Where are you, exactly?

You are alone with a very difficult decision. No one can make it for you. There are important unknown factors. You haven't told me what kind of job he has, whether he is a scoutmaster or a teacher or minister, whether he has ordered his life to maximize contact with prepubescent children, or whether you know enough about him to know the answer to these things. Does he have young children of his own?

If you think it is likely or reasonably possible that he is molesting children, I don't think you have a moral option to do nothing.

One part-way option: Talk to him, tell him what you know, tell him how seriously you regard it, and demand that he get psychiatric help, and prove to you that he got it. And let him know you are watching. But this carries an implied threat, and you must be ready to pull the trigger; if you do bust him, his life is pretty much destroyed. Publicity is likely. So is jail time -- even if he has not injured a child directly.

The National Clearinghouse for this subject is in Alexandria, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. They are good people. They take tips, including anonymous ones. But once you go there, there is no backing off.

I don't envy you your decision. But I don't think, based on what you have told me, that doing nothing at all is an ethical option.

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Footloose: Are you as shocked as I am by Michiko Kakutani's horrendous meter in this unfortunate attempt to emulate Trillin?

Gene Weingarten: This is completely unreadable.

I once interviewed the poet laureate Billy Collins, who jokingly suggested that we redefine the term "poetic license" to literalize it: Make it illegal to attempt poetry unless you first attain a license, issued by the Poet Laureate.

Michiko's application would be denied.

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Lunching, Va.: "Ultimately, I found the system helpful, but worrisome in a whole new way. I was in an unfamiliar city, spent a whole day there, and never learned anything about the area. When you follow street-by-street directions, you essentially have no idea where you are or where anything is in relation to anything else."

Yes, but it's the same on subways. I'm still learning where things are in relation to each other in D.C. after, uh, six years, owing to my frequent travel below ground (in the District, anyway).

Gene Weingarten: But at least, with a subway, there is a map to consult. You have a sense of where in the city you are, generally.

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Baltimore, Md.: As a librarian, let me say I'm flattered. Now remember to return the books on time, folks.

Interesting survey, and it illustrates the effect that one question can have on another. Starting with fairly serious questions about the war and the economy, Bush gets a worse drubbing than if the questions are about lighter, less political subjects.

Is this about push-polling and "Why Obama was Elected", or whatever it is?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, but but I'm not sure it worked. The numbers are still pretty close and nearly unanimous in their condemnation. See next post.

Gene Weingarten: This one:

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Silver Spring, Md.: Interesting experiment with the poll questions, Gene. I would've predicted the opposite result, namely, that you would get a higher "Bush is a disaster" percentage from people who had just been thinking about Bush's failures, as opposed to people who were answering off the cuff (so to speak) after several unrelated questions.

Gene Weingarten: The numbers have more evened out since you peeked.

For those of you who politely didn't dip into the the other side's poll questions -- this was an experiment in context. The split, by last name, was obviously totally random.

Everyone got the same last question, about how terrible Bush's presidency is. But the A-L people had first been asked a series of specific questions about the failures of the Bush presidency. The M-Z people were asked completely extraneous, nonpolitical questions, before the final one.

Three interesting results:

1. There has not been an appreciable difference in the numbers (huge) condemning this as a miserable, failed presidency. (Yes, perhaps predictably, A-L were a little more likely to call Bush the "worst," but overall the numbers are really similar.) I think we've all thought about it plenty, and have long been ready to make a distinction.

2. Splitting the alphabet at L-M does in fact result in a near equal division of numbers. Maybe Smiths offset Joneses.

3. Why does everyone hate real estate agents? Are we blaming them for the market crisis?

Gene Weingarten: Oh, and I'm kind of shocked the the math deficiency (in M-Z) would so freak out most people. I have known persons so freaked out by math that even the simplest computation terrifies them. I'd give them a pass over someone who didn't know the name of the vice president.

Gene Weingarten: One last thing: Not that many months ago, we did a similar poll, and many more people were willing to hold out the possiblity that Bush would be seen as a reasonably good president. I think the economic collapse has wiped away the last benefit of the doubt for virtually anyone.

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Color TV: Gene, I too had the Wizard of Oz confusion as a child due to the lack of color tv. This was around 1985. I still loved the movie, and you cannot imagine how excited I was the next day when my mother coincidentally asked my five-year-old self if I wanted to go to Crystal City. Crystal City! I mean, I'd just seen Emerald City so I figured Crystal City probably had a horse of a different color too! And munchkins! Words cannot describe my disappointment. I still hate Crystal City.

Gene Weingarten: I forgot the Horse of a Different Color! He was so ordinary in Black and White.

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New England - Navigation system: My husband bought a cheap navigation system last year. I drive over a bridge to get to work, and at the highest point on the bridge the lady tells me to turn right.

Gene Weingarten: Hahaha.

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Arlington, Va.: My husband and I have been having a debate about the best way to die. My preferred choice is to be attacked by a tiger/lion/other large wild cat. Partly this is because I love big cats, but mostly it's because it's, well, a cool way to go. And it's rustic.

He thinks I'm insane because the pain would be unbearable. But really, how long would I have to be in that much pain? A minute or two at the most? The cat would finish me off pretty quickly.

He is on the side of that old standby: dying in your sleep. I think that's lame. Passive. Boring. Unromantic as hell.

Who's right? It's me, isn't it?

Gene Weingarten: No.

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Flatland: I've read Flatland. What's so great about it?

I get that he's describing the idiocy of castes but it's awfully heavy-handed, isn't it? The line that stuck with me the longest is "Our Women are straight lines."

Gene Weingarten: It is not primarily a book about social discrimination. It is primarily a book about spatial relationships.

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New York, N.Y.: Like or lump it is an old fogey phrase? I just figured it was some regional or even family phrase, since I'd never heard it from anyone but my father. I always hated it too; it sounds ugly. I can't explain why, but I have a very negative visceral reaction to the phrase.

Gene Weingarten: The Rib just found it in Dickens' "Our Mutual Friend," which appears to be the first time it was ever in print.

This was a very common expression when we were kids: It means, I'm doing this, and you can accept it or not. Thought we had no idea why it meant that.

I looked it up. To "lump" something was American vernacular in the 1800s. It meant to sulk about it.

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Midwest: Can you tell us what city you were in?

Gene Weingarten: I could but I won't. I did a Gene Pool yesterday about a 400-pound waiter I saw in a pancake house there, and do not want to further out him.

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Re: Color TV: As a young child, when I first noticed that older TV series and movies weren't in color, I briefly wondered if the entire world was in black-and-white until the 1960s. I recently saw color photos from the Korean War in a magazine, which apparently corrected for fading before printing, and I had a moment of cognitive dissonance, like I was seeing something from an alternative reality. That probably wouldn't have happened if the color had faded with age.

washingtonpost.com: Up to about age 7, I thought that the world was black and white before I was born and only became colorized when I arrived.

Gene Weingarten: This was the theme of an old CAlvin and Hobbes.

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Arlington, Va.: The game of occupation stereotyping can be made much more fun by adding "naughty."

"Naughty Librarian" works.

"Naughty IT Professional," not so much

Gene Weingarten: And "Naughty Dentist" is pretty disturbing.

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Gene Weingarten: Just noting that 86 percent of persons over 37 know "like it or lump it" and just 48 percent of those 37 and under.

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Flatland: The man only anticipated Einstein, Hawking, and modern physics by 30 years. And explained it in a totally coherent way. Should be required reading for calculus courses.

Gene Weingarten: I order everyone to buy it today. It's very short: Can be read in about two hours.

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Melbourne, fla.: Don't know how this works, but for the early moments of the chat today, there has been a significant ad for a GPS machine on your web page, just to the right of the text. Payola or just coincidence?

Gene Weingarten: Wow.

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Arlington, Va.: I really thought you'd be with me on the tiger mauling death preference. Care to elaborate?

Gene Weingarten: I would rather than my final moments be tranquil, filled with instrospection. Not horror watching my legs being consumed.

No offense, but you're nuts. And if it came right down to the decision, you wouldn't go through with it.

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Cincinnati, Ohio: James Buchanan has what I think is probably a permanent place as America's worst president. Not even George W. Bush can challenge it.

Gene Weingarten: I think Franklin Pierce actually beats Buchanan.

He was actively malign, in that he was a Northerner who liked slavery, encouraged the Dred Scott decision. He was also a hopeless drunk. Buchanan was merely haplessly ineffective.

But it's a close call.

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Alexandria, Va.: Since you brought up "The Wizard of Oz", I have to share -- Billie Burke (Glinda) is my maternal grandfather's 1st cousin. Her mom and my great-grandmother were sisters. Yeah, we all probably have famous distant relatives, so no big deal, right. The wacky part of this involves my crazy mother. She didn't tell me we were related to Billie Burke until I was in college, because she "didn't want it going to (my) head". Like I'm going to go around elementary school or jr. high or high school bragging about this? Please, who would care?

I was most scared by the tornado in the beginning of the movie. I grew up in St. Louis where tornado drills were part of the norm in schools. I've worked for the National Weather Service for 13 yrs and have seen many tornado videos. That tornado in the movie still is the best fake movie tornado I've ever seen.

I heart you and Liz!

Gene Weingarten: Okay, I heart you too but I do have to say that with the possible exception of the Tin Man, Billie Burke was the worst actor in that film. Most of the cast was superb.

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Pedophile Friend: I think the answer is obvious, because the self-preservation of the finder trumps any moral obligation he has to his friend. It's the same as if you knew that a friend had committed, and was likely to continue to commit, any serious felony. Morality aside, in the eyes of the law this is a lot more like finding a dead body in your friend's closet than finding a joint in his drawer. I believe that the finder should tell the friend that he must turn himself in after he leaves the hospital or else the finder will do it. The finder needs to protect himself from potential legal liability.

Gene Weingarten: I am not sure that the finder has a legal obligation. The finder might and probably does have a moral obligation.

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Rockville, Md.: What is your position about computer-generated child porn? Written fictional accounts? Hand drawn images? Paintings?

Was the Supreme Court right to say these were not illegal?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, they were right. It is ALL about harm to children.

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Gene Weingarten: Chatwoman respectfull requests that you stop sending in links to REAL cameltoe.

Yes, I understand that what Darrin Bell drew was not EXACT cameltoe. It was IMPLIED cameltoe, and delightfully unnecessary.

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Lunching, VA: Flatland, available from Project Gutenberg here.

Yay public domain!

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.

This is such an enjoyable book.

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Vienna, Va.: I believe Franklin Pierce is a distant relative of George W. Bush, on his mother's side. Great great grandfather, perhaps?

Gene Weingarten: It's a direct descendency, yes.

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Arlingtonski SSR, VA: Three movies that I saw at an impressionable age are responsible for my becoming a journalist: "His Girl Friday," "Inherit the Wind," and "All the President's Men." For me, these movies represented the full spectrum of the profession's mystique.

On the one hand you have the roguish fast-talker, the crank, the cynic. Rumpled fedora with press pass, a flask in the desk, always ready with a wisecrack.

On the other hand, you have the righteous crusade to bring the truth to light, to speak up for the little guy, to rake the muck, defy the powerful, and expose the corrupt. On this view journalism becomes a kind of priesthood with a holy duty.

Cf. the Menckenesque character in "Inherit the Wind": "The job of a newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."

Neither picture is true. But people who whine and worry about bias and balance need to understand how the mythology plays into who goes into journalism, and how they approach it.

Both modes of being--the drunkard and the crusader--are very attractive to people on the cultural left. Hence they self-select (as I did) into careers in journalism. Hence the perceived bias.

Gene Weingarten: I, too, was a big fan of Inherit the Wind and was deeply disappointed to learn that the trial dialogue was mostly completely invented.

The play and movie kind of libeled William Jennings Bryan, though ultimately, they showed him to be a blowhard, but a decent-man blowhard.

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RE: Color TV: I heard something on NPR recently that people who grew up on black and white TV/movies tend to dream in black and white, while people who grew up with color TV/movies tend to dream in color.

Here's an article about it.

Gene Weingarten: Interesting!

But I am pretty sure I dream in color.

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Sock Boot Sock Boot: I was watching my 14-year-old daughter put on her figure skates the other day. She was wearing dance pants that day, so she didn't have on the usual skating dress and tights. She had to wear socks. I noticed she put them on sock boot sock boot. Which actually seemed kind of normal in this situation. I brought it to her attention that your wife does that with her regular shoes, whereupon she let out one of those teenage sighs. (I think I detected a slight eye roll too.)

Gene Weingarten: The sigh and the eyeroll are hard-wired to occur simultaneously in all 14year old girls.

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I would rather than my final moments be tranquil, filled with instrospection. Not horror watching my legs being consumed. : Poster should Just watch the Grizzlyman movie and he'd change his mind about preferring mauling. The most chilling scence is when SPOILER ALERT--Werner Hertzog listens to their deaths (screams!) on audiotape and the look on his face is enough. He tells the (commonlaw) widow "you don't EVER what to listen to this."

Gene Weingarten: Yeah.

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Minneapolis, Minn.: I've always said I want to die while fighting a bear. Glad someone else is in my boat.

Gene Weingarten: Uh. See previous.

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Arlington, Va.: Why did you like "Citizen Ruth" again? I thought it sucked hard, and blame you for my minutes lost to dreck.

Gene Weingarten: Because it was screamingly funny and trenchant and beautifully exposed the hypocrisy of both sides -- all zealots, left and right.

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Washington, D.C.: Happy almost Thanksgiving, Gene! An ethical question for you:

Due to a close friendship with a coworker, I know that s/he is not only planning to resign imminently, but is building a case for a lawsuit against the company when s/he leaves. I happen to agree with about 60 percent of what s/he is bringing to this upcoming lawsuit.

What do I do here? Are my loyalties to the company, which gives me my paycheck, but is a crazy/often negative work environment? Or to my coworker, who is also my friend, and will be for years to come?

I'm at a loss.

Gene Weingarten: You shouldn't be at a loss. The ethics are clear.

You have no cause to betray your coworker to your boss. If s/he is right about her lawsuit, then she is entitled to relief. If she is wrong, she will learn an expensive lesson.

Stay out of it.

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Not a sermon: Do you celebrate Thanksgiving? As an atheist, to whom, or to what, are you giving thanks? Just a thought...

On a related note, the word "giblets" is a hoot. Even better, Webster defines giblets as "the edible viscera of a fowl." You don't get much funnier than that.

Gene Weingarten: We are secular humanists. We mostly give thanks to The Rib, who cooks. And to the notion of lasting friendships.

At our house this year will be the Barrys, the Achenbachs, and the Buzz and Libby Burgers. We've been doing this together for maybe a quarter century. Only Molly will not be, as she is in N.J. on a vet externship.

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Rockville, Md.: Having seen PtheP in person, and having seen her high school year book photo, she has changed very little in the intervening years. We should all mature so gracefully.

Gene Weingarten: I once saw a picture of Pat at about 8. Essentially indistinguishable from Pat today.

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Sock, Sock, Pants, Shoe, Shoe: So I put my socks on before I put on my pants. To me it seems smoother that way, so that I don't have to then also push up the bottoms of my pant legs to pull the socks up. Your survey did not allow for this option. Does no one else do this?

Gene Weingarten: I do that.

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Bird in the ha, ND: The Pueblo crew bird-flipping photos raise a question about journalistic ethics and responsibility. The North Koreans may have been culturally unaware, but they did notice the middle-finger salute of the Pueblo crew members who were posed for the propaganda shots. The crew members explained that this gesture was a "Hawaiian good luck sign," and the bemused North Koreans accepted this story. But subsequently, Time Magazine published one of the photos with the following caption: "The North Koreans are having a hard time proving to the world that the captive crewmen of the USS Pueblo are a contrite and cooperative lot. Last week Pyongyang's flacks tried again -- and lost to the US Navy. In this class-reunion picture, three of the crewmen have managed to use the medium for a message, furtively getting off the U.S. hand signal of obscene derisiveness and contempt." When the North Koreans learned from the Time caption that they had been duped, the Pueblo crew went through a period of beatings and mistreatment they subsequently referred to as "Hell Week."

So, here's the question: Was the Time caption simply explanatory journalism, or was it a stupid exercise in damn-the-consequences showing off? I mean, if the Time editors had stopped to think for a nanosecond, they would have realized that the Koreans did not know the significance of the gesture, or they would not have released the photo.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, I think it was a mistake by Time. Their caption should have called attention to the bird-flipping in a far more ambiguous way.

I've wondered what the media would do if a hostage tape were released one day, and it was clear to all Americans, through some subtle cultural reference the captive was making, that he was giving a clue to his whereabouts. I think, if this happened ten years ago, the media would engage in a conspiracy of silence; I fear the anarchy of the Web might make that impossible today. And if the captors were Web savvy, as they probably would be, it would all be over.

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M-Z: I have never met a librarian I liked. My theory is that they start with the best of intentions but soon grow to hate all humanity because even under the best of circumstances they have to spend their workdays answering idiotic questions, putting things back after we mess them up, and keeping miscreants from stealing or destroying the books. (Actually, I can't imagine a worse place for a book lover to work.)

I'd love to hear librarians' take on this. You loathe us all and wish we would leave you alone with the books, right?

Gene Weingarten: Some of the coolest people at The Post are the librarians. But they don't have to deal with The Public.

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Something Stin, KY: There are funny words, funny sounds, and funny sights. Are there any funny smells?

washingtonpost.com: Asparagus pee.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, I agree. It carries its own irony.

I find the smell of a new beachball funny.

The smell of a fart, but only one's own.

Baby butt powder, but only when on the butt.

The smell of really powerful cheese when being consumed by someone else.

New car smell, because it is so complex, and totally unique to new cars, which makes no sense at all. What IS it, exactly.

Oh, and that very natural substance that smells EXACTLY like Clorox.

Here's the key: It's all about incongruence, I think. Even the beachball, which smells like a petroleum product but is a bouncy fun thing with bright colors.

Any other nominees?

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Citizen Ruth: You are wrong again, elephant breath. The movie had nothing but stereotypes (as opposed to humorous nuances), did not have a single laugh-out-loud scene, had a plot that made no sense, and made me really thirsty. Ick.

Gene Weingarten: No, YOU are wrong, Clorox-breath.

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Drea, MS: I once had a dream (in color I think) in French. I don't speak or understand French.

Also, I want to be shot by a jealous husband when I am in my 90s. Assuming, of course, I have already outlived my wife.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, I like that dream.

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Gene Weingarten: I mean that way of dying.

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Celebrity babi, ES: Which is a better name, Bronx Wentz or Aerin Fenty?

Gene Weingarten: You missed the best part!

Ashlee's kid is Bronx Mowgli Wentz, which turns into "B. M. Wentz."

Gene Weingarten: Roll call:

"Wentz, B.M."

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Flatland and a/theism: It surprises me that any avid Flatland reader can be as steadfast in his faith that there is no God as you have professed yourself to be. Flatland is often used as to argue by analogy to atheists that God's existence is not impossible per se, but may rather simply seem impossible because of an incomplete point of view. (It could equally well be used to argue by analogy to theists that God's nonexistence is not impossible, but I haven't seen it used this way.) Wouldn't you be on firmer ground to say that although you understand that God's existence cannot be disproven by strictly scientific and analytical means, your own belief is that no God exists and you stand by that belief?

Gene Weingarten: It depends what you call "proof."

Listen,anything can be used as an argument for the existence of God. If you search the Web for God and "Pearls before Breakfast" you will find that dozens of priests, rabbis and ministers have used it in their sermons to show how God exists all around us, and we fail to notice.

I have no problem with that interpretation, but, obviously, it was not my intent.

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Reporting friends: If the body in the closet is already dead, I think that is far less compelling than the question of kid porn. Under "lawyer ethics" one is obligated to break confidence if you know the client will in the future harm others, but you can not reveal an incriminating secret about a past crime. It seems to me the same rule might apply with real people. Here you have reason to know your friend is likely to cause harm to other, even if just by creating a market for this awful stuff. I'm not sure that even a promise to seek help is enough to avoid an obligation to turn him in.

Gene Weingarten: Please understand this is a real situation, with a real friend. "Turn him in" means get him arrested and probably put in prison for 4-7 years, and publicly outed forever.

Some people might find that very, very difficult to do to a friend, absent evidence this person is personally, physically, molesting children.

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Cameltoe: You know, Susan is based on Darrin Bell's real-life (and super-fine) wife. One wonders how she felt about the last panel of Sunday's strip!

Gene Weingarten: I know!

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Colorado: Here's a question along the lines of last week's poll: when loading the dishwasher, does the working end of the silverware go down or up? My inlaws are visiting for Thanksgiving and do it the wrong way.

Gene Weingarten: Down for safety in handling, up for better washing. No? I just tumble 'em in there.

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San Diego, Calif.: While watching my dog poop last night I thought of this: My dog, who is small, will continue to sniff the area immediately in front of him when he is pooping. I consider this to be the equivalent of a person reading on the toilet. You are the master of all things poop and dog and seem like the person to ask. Does this seem right?

Gene Weingarten: Your anlysis is exactly Spot on. Haha. Spot on.

It is. I have a friend at the Post who, if there is absolutely NOTHING to read in there, will read the contents of his wallet.

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Alexandria, Va.: What would your estimate be of the percentage of PETA members who are also pro-life?

Gene Weingarten: I think they're all pro-life.

I suspect the majority of them are pro-choice, though. They tend to be socially very liberal.

Why do you think this is a hypocrisy?

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Brandywine, Md.: Gene, your friend Dave Barry is up to his holiday hijinx again. It seems he's promoting holiday gift ideas for the damned.

Gene Weingarten: I love the patio zombie.

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Gene sighting: I saw you at Tunnicliff's last week and didn't want to interrupt to say hello ... but kind of wanted to interrupt to say hello. If I had, I might have told you about my misused word pet peeve: unique. I checked my dictionary, and the common meaning of "highly unusual" has been added. Harumph.

Gene Weingarten: Aaaagh.

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Inquiring minds: If one of your children were to tell you he or she was gay and wanted to get married...but to a gay of the opposite sex so, even though they were friends but not in love, but they wished to do so in order to attempt to comform to and fool society, would you agree to and participate in that marriage?

Gene Weingarten: Well, I'd probably counsel against it. And I don't see why anyone would do that, today. But of course I would participate. You support your children's decisions.

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Historians' Perspective: Here's the thing: historians are overwhelmingly academics (not a lot of presidential historians in the non-collegiate world). Academics hate conservatives in general, and Bush in particular.

Twenty years from now the kids who worship Obama will be writing the history texts (books having become passe).

I'm not defending Bush (why bother, to this group?), but I'll bet you that by 2012 you and yours will be more disappointed by Obama than I have been by W. And that's going some, since I thought he would govern as a conservative.

Gene Weingarten: I can imagine nothing that Obama would do that could make me more disappointed in him than, uh, you should be disappointed in Bush.

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Maybe I Need To Chill O, UT: I picked "Yes, a huge blunder" only because you didn't offer "It was a criminal act instigated under false pretenses and compounded with further criminal acts and blunders by an administration that was a mixture of equal parts religious certitude, corruption, malevolence and incompetence."

Most of the other selections would have benefited from the inclusion of lots of swear words.

(In the interests of talking me down out of the bell tower, perhaps next week your poll could consist of pictures of cute kittens and puppies, and you could just ask us which ones we liked best.)

Gene Weingarten: I cannot remember who wrote this -- wasn't me -- but the best quick analysis I have seen of this administration was this: It is what happenes when you have a naive simpleton with the blind moral certitude of a fundamentalist who falls under the thrall of ideological neocon zealots.

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Baltimore, Md.: For Dylan covers, try Madeleine Peyroux's cover of "I'm Going to Miss You When You Go." Better than the original.

Gene Weingarten: No it isn't. But I did find this cover on YouTube. The French accent on this song is pretty amusing. And I like his harp! Also, he's copying Dylan, which I respect.

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Baltimore, Md.: Gene, since between you and Liz, you two know everything, I was wondering what this is:

-lcub-hellip-rcub-

I see it in the WaPo Magazine all the time, and I always wondered what it meant...

washingtonpost.com: I'm going to guess that is computer coding that means an ellipsis should appear there.

Gene Weingarten: That is exactly what it means.

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Shark down South: Gene!

I'm a pretty much live-and-let-live kinda guy but why the hell aren't there laws against this??

Gene Weingarten: Look at the expression of the dog at the very bottom right. The "artist." That dog is going to kill somebody for this.

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San Diego, Calif.: I have a question about a lyric I heard recently in a hip hop song, so naturally I decided to ask an old Jewish guy about it. In T.I.'s "Live Your Life," he brags "I'm the opposite of moderate." This bothers the hell out of me. How can moderate have an opposite? Isn't it by definition the mid-point between two extremes?

Gene Weingarten: No, I would say the opposite of "moderate" is "immoderate," which means doing things to excess.

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What?: "I thought he would govern as a conservative."

Uh . . . seriously? How much MORE conservative were you hoping for?

Gene Weingarten: I know what the person means. Fiscally, he was anything but conservative.

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Melancholy, ME: I love this chat. I had just been reading Marjorie Williams for the first time when I saw the comment about her last week. I saw a piece of hers in Slate, and went right out and got a copy of The Woman at the Washington Zoo. I have been feeling such a combination of the shock (and delight) of discovery, and mourning that she is gone. That voice! I am so sad and yet so happy to know her. It made me wonder, have you ever read anything by William F. Buckley's big sister Aloise Buckley Heath? Her politics were even more conservative than her brother's, if you can imagine, so she is very different from M. Williams in that respect, but her humor and astringent love for her family are a joy to read, and she also had that gift of suddenly appearing in your mind like someone you absolutely know. She also died young (with 10 kids). Anyway--thank you, Marjorie Williams, and how I wish you were here to talk about all things Obama.

Gene Weingarten: The two voices I would have given anything to hear during the last few years were Marjorie's and Bill Hicks's. Tragically, he died before he got to kill W onstage.

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More perspectives: Gene Weingarten: I can imagine nothing that Obama would do that could make me more disappointed in him than, uh, you should be disappointed in Bush.

More's the pity, Gene. You're basically admitting that the guy can't do wrong by you and no criticism of him is valid. Excellent stance for a journalist to take.

Gene Weingarten: I am saying nothing of the kind. In fact, I am saying the opposite of what you think I am saying: My expectations are reasonably modest. I cannot imagine him betraying them more than Bush has betrayed his supporters' expectations.

Dude: Bush has been a TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE president.

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Silver Sprung: Last week, the local Caribou had a quiz question (10 cents off if you answer correctly) that went like this:

"Which journalist made a writer from Rolling Stone mow his lawn, before he would allow the writer to interview him?"

I figure there was no way it could be you, but you were really the most logical guess. The shop was busy and I forgot to guess by the time I ordered/paid. Was it you? Or are you more writer than journalist?

Gene Weingarten: I don't know the answer, and Googling offered no help. Anyone have an answer? I like the big of it.

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Funny Smells: A freshly opened can of tennis balls. It smells bad but oh so good.

Gene Weingarten: But it's not really ... funny.

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Rockville, Md.: My answer to the third question in the M-Z poll is based on an actually conversation at work last summer.

She: How far along are you on that project? Me: Probably about a third of the way through it. She: Is a third plus a third plus a third the whole thing? Me: Uh, yeah.

No wonder she made me do all the statistics when she was my boss (on another project).

Gene Weingarten: We have several posts like this one.

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Don't be alarmed, b, UT: I don't suppose, in addition to the well-deserved pranking, you made any progress figuring out who is behind these calls (which I get in Ohio, by the way, so they seem to be national)? There's chatter on the web but nothing definitive that I can find. There's also some talk that it's a phishing scheme (in which case a criminal investigation might be possible).

Gene Weingarten: Another post claims that when he entered a number ostensibly to take himself off their calling list, he found a $4 phone charge on his bill the next month. The phone company (he says) removed the charge and said there had been other complaints.

washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway, (Post Magazine, Nov. 23)

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E Street: Gene, I went to a movie this weekend ("Slumdog Millionaire" = great!). It was a sold-out theater, and seats were hard to come by. Next to me, two people came in, chose their seats, draped a coat over them (1 coat, 2 seats), and then they went for snacks. Meanwhile, the theater was filling up, and people kept walking over to these seats expecting them to be empty because, from far away, that's what it looked like.

My question to you is: Is this fair? I had no problem with it, because the coat-dropping people had obviously planned their entry better than those who chose popcorn first. But the guy on the other side of the "empty" seats seemed offended that someone would try to claim seats that way. Instead of turning away people who were looking for seats, he was encouraging them to push the coat to the side and take the seats.

On which side to do you fall on this? Was the unguarded seat fair game, or was the guy next to me just a jerk who would have rather sat next to some of the pretty girls who were searching for seats than the middle-aged dude who eventually came back to claim them?

Gene Weingarten: I think the coat people had rights to claim the seats, but were without class in the way they did it. I don't think anyone had the right to move the coats and sit -- and it would have created a confrontation, obviously -- but I wouldn't have done it.

Rib and I find seats, then leave one at a time. There is always one of us, next to the coated seat.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I forgot if I got this John Cleese clip from this chat or while searching some thing else online. I had to make certain you saw it.

I could definitely care less.

Gene Weingarten: This is GREAT.

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Realt, OR: I think the reason people do not like realtors is not due to the housing decline. I think it has to do with the fact that they are almost like a secret society, having access to information only one in their circle can obtain. Yet we have been conditioned to accept that we must use them. And for the privilege of using them, one must pay 6 percent. I think this is similar to dentists, by the way. We pay them to inflict pain on us.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, that's an interesting point: The amount they make on one purchase seems enormous. It isn't when you consider how seldom many make a sale, but it is viscerally annoying, isn't it? Especially when they seem to have done very little work.

I think hating on them is largely unfair.

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Gonz, OH: "Which journalist made a writer from Rolling Stone mow his lawn, before he would allow the writer to interview him?"

Haven't checked Google, but surely Hunter S. Thompson.

Gene Weingarten: I tried Hunter; couldn't find a reference.

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Poll, IN': I found the "Which knowledge gap is most appalling" question very tricksy until I figured that if someone didn't know who the VP was, they were unlikely to know where Europe was or who we fought there (and elsewhere) in WWII. That's someone who's just not aware.

(As for planet v. star and the math question... I'm math and science abstinent myself on certain topics)

Maybe the poll should also have asked which of these topics we ourselves know/find interesting? I figure the ones we feel strongest about are the ones we want others to know...

Gene Weingarten: I couldn't have made up the star-planet question. Many years ago, a writer at The Post who I was editing didn't know this distinction. This writer is no long with The Post.

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ooh, ooh: funny smell: right when you open a bag of potato chips. Kind of smells like chips, kind of like a fart.

Gene Weingarten: Yes! I agree.

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St, UN: Enough about sox and shoes! What I want to know is why do some men put their pants on, zip and button, and fasten the belt. Then they put their t-shirt on. THEN they UNbuckle the belt, UNzip their pants, tuck in the shirt and then refasten everything.

Gene Weingarten: I do that, too!!!

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Gene Weingarten: Okay, thank y'all. There will be no updates this Tgiving week.

Listen, watch the Post for my chat dates in the next month. I am working on a cover story that might take me out of town. So far as I expect, next week we're on.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

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