Chatological Humor: The Anti-Post Office Edition

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 9, 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

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," co-author of "I'm with Stupid," with feminist scholar Gina Barreca and "Old Dogs: Are the Best Dogs," with photographer Michael S. Williamson.

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.

How are the following things alike?

1. A computer with a nearly full hard drive.

2. Dust in a sunbeam

3. Shampoo, when there's only about a teaspoon left in the bottle.

4. An escalator in a retirement community

5. A loogie on a chain-link fence.

6. A documentary, with subtitles, about the plight of the Eritrean yucca farmer.

7. A three-legged, epileptic stoat.

Answer: All of these things move faster than your average United States Postal clerk.

Apologies to all greased-lightning, hop-to-it, my-time-is-your-time postal clerks out there. I know you must exist and it's JUST A PITY I HAVEN'T MET YOU YET, not once in my impatient, cantankerous life that has played out over nine U.S. cities and the District of Columbia. What I noticed once again yesterday, while waiting in a long line to mail a package during the start of the dreaded Holiday Season, was the familiar American big-city post-office ethos, and its constituent parts:

1. The mosey. This is the easily recognizable walk of the U.S. Postal clerk, employed at all times by persons of both sexes and all ages, sizes and ethnicities, whenever it is necessary to physically motate from one place to another. The kinetics of this all-purpose gait combine elements of a waddle, a sidle and a shamble -- slightly bow-legged and grudging, seemingly determined but oddly retarded in speed, as though one were moving against monsoon winds, or at the bottom of a swimming pool.

2. The strategic disappearance. This often occurs without warning or explanation. The clerk suddenly leaves his or her stool and moseys into the mysterious "The Back Room." No one has ever returned from The Back Room in less than 9 minutes. This means that, for the duration, a Back Room disappearance can reliably slow service by a factor of either 50 or 33 percent, depending on whether there were three or two clerks initially. On occasions, the delay will be potentiated when disappearances into The Back Room are choreographed like a pas de deux, or, rarely, a synchronized movement imitating Marius Pepitas' bold Grand Pas de trois des Odalisques, in which, daringly, all three clerks glide away as one, and members of the audience in line are thus wordlessly invited to go eff themselves in whatever way they wish. Postal tubes are available, at a price.

3. Feeding times. Postal clerks tend to take sustenance only when dreadfully inconvenient. Yesterday, at one point, Clerk Number One grimly surveyed the line -- it was apparently at its longest of the afternoon, 23 persons long, nearly snaking out the door -- shook his head sadly, and declared he "had" to break for lunch. Which he did. It was in "The Back."

I apologize if this seems like a mean-spirited rant. Once you talk to them you discover many postal clerks are nice, pleasant people; they're just trapped in a system that doesn't seem to reward speed or efficiency, and they are subject to beetle-browed complaints all day. They are also subject to something else this time of year, something not their fault, something I learned about while in line, talking to other customers about why they were in line. It explained a lot about why the line was so long. It made me feel better about the clerks and worse about some of these line standers. It made me want to strategically deploy those mailing tubes. And it leads to today's first... Instapoll: MEN | WOMEN!

(Just for the record: I talked a postal clerk yesterday who told me that many customers cared passionately about which stamps they use, year round, and respect specific designs. She told me this with a smile and a tolerant shake of the head, the way one would discuss the latest escapade of a dotty old aunt.)

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A couple of years ago I sent big-shot white-collar criminal defense attorney Reid Weingarten a nasty e-mail threatening him with legal action unless he ceased using my name. He fired an e-mail back, I returned it, and pretty soon we had a pretty funny column. It should be noted that we were halfway through this exchange before I told him that he might see this in print. Up until then it was just two guys, being guys.

A few days ago, I saw this, from "Roll Call," the official Capitol Hill newspaper:

Renzi Pleads Not Guilty to Expanded Charges as Pretrial Hearing Continues

During the first day of an extensive pre-trial hearing, Rep. Rick Renzi's (R-Ariz.) defense attorney Gene Weingarten and government prosecutors also sparred over whether the case is in violation of the Constitution's Speech or Debate clause, according to an Associated Press.

Citing this, I sent Reid Weingarten a two-word email. It said, simply: "I win."

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Yesterday, I e-mailed my daughter to tell her that I had discovered the single worst Christmas song of all time. She wrote back that that was impossible, because she herself had just discovered the single worst Christmas song of all time. Within seconds, Pat the Perfect emailed me to say that HER daughter, Valerie the Perfect, had discovered the worst Christmas song of all time. It turned out we had all nearly simultaneously discovered the same song. It's "Christmas Shoes" by NewSong. Here It is.

And, if you can't access this at work, here are the lyrics. You're so welcome.

It was almost Christmas time

There I stood in another line

Trying to buy that last gift or two

I'm really in the Christmas mood

Standing right in front of me

Was a little boy waiting anxiously

Pacing around like little boys do

And in his hands he held

A pair of shoes

And his clothes were worn and old

He was dirty from head to toe

And when it came his time to pay

I couldn't believe what I heard him say

Sir I wanna buy these shoes for my Momma please

It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size

Could you hurry Sir?

Daddy says there's not much time

You see, she's been sick for quite a while

And I know these shoes will make her smile

And I want her to look beautiful

If Momma meets Jesus, tonight.

They counted pennies for what seem like years

And cashier says son there's not enough here

He searches is pockets franticly

And he turned and he looked at me

And he said Momma made Christmas good at our house

Most years she just did without

Tell me Sir

What am I gonna do?

Some how I've got to buy her these Christmas shoes

So I layed the money down

I just had to help him out

And I'll never forget

The look on his face

When he said Momma's gonna look so great.

Sir I wanna buy these shoes, for my Momma please

It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size

Could you hurry Sir?

Daddy says there's not much time

You see, she's been sick for quite a while

And I know these shoes will make her smile

And I want her to look beautiful,

If Momma meets Jesus tonight.

I knew I caught a glimpse of heavens love as he thanked me and ran out.

I know that God had sent that little boy to remind me

What Christmas is all about

Sir I wanna buy these shoes for my Momma please

It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size

Could you hurry Sir?

Daddy says there's not much time

You see she's been sick for quite a while

And I know these shoes will make her smile

And I want her to look beautiful

If Momma meets Jesus tonight

I want her to look beautiful

If Momma meets Jesus tonight

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I am being called out on a statement I made in last week's chat. I said that the "delete" key should be larger than the "backspace" key because most people delete forward, not backward. Many outraged persons, including Chatwoman, wrote in to politely inform me that I am an oddity, if not an idiot. So another instapoll.

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Please take today's main poll. Midway through the chat I will explain why so many of you are dead wrong about a crucial element.

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A great Comics week. CPOW is Sunday's Doonesbury. First Runners Up are today's Speed Bump, Saturday's Pooch Cafe, Saturday's Non Sequitur, Monday's Mother Goose, Monday's Rhymes with Orange.

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And lastly, one more instapoll: MEN | WOMEN.

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Washington, D.C.: I will never look at the Arby's logo in the same way again: Arby's "birthday" commercial.

Gene Weingarten: Wow. That is great!

I love this ad for several reasons, not the least of which is that the woman is cute and pretty, but not stereotypically TV hot-bodied. It's funny, real, honest and likeable.

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Stamp Freak: I admit it - I buy real stamps, and I choose very carefully and purposely. I will not buy the "normal" pre-packaged, boring stamps that everyone else uses. I go to usps.com and pick out the neatest stamps I can find being sold at the time and buy a few sheets. When they run out - I do it again. Nice, commemorative stamps. The online service is very nice, they always have a selection of every stamp currently available (most PO never have much of a selection) - and mail them to your house for $1.

I am male, 44, well educated, have a good career, lean a little to the right (but voted for Obama), but, alas, I am a geek. Sigh.

And yes - as a kid I collected stamps. Still have that collection.

And can you guess what my profession is?

Gene Weingarten: You are a boulevardier.

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S. Rockville, Md.: With the retirement of Greg Maddux and Mike Mussina, we have the retirement of the two most celebrated "cerebral" pitchers of the Steroid Era. Mussina's reputation I get - Stanford graduate, his fondness for crossword puzzles as documented in Wordplay. Maddux seems to be "cerebral" because: a) he was not an overpowering pitcher and b) wore glasses off the field and looked like an accountant. Both are Hall of Fame worthy. Do you think they'll go in together or will Maddux's 80+ additional wins make him more likely to go in first. More importantly, does Mussina go in as a Yankee (blech!) or an Oriole of the pre-Nationals era?

Gene Weingarten: Maddux is first round. Mussina has to wait few years, and goes in as a Yankee.

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Sunday Doonesbury: On the CPOW from Sunday, what is the little thing below Bush's helmet's right ear? I don't remember seeing that before.

On a related note, what do you think Obama's Doonesbury icon is going to be?

Gene Weingarten: I don't know! I was going to ask Trudeau but forgot! Any guesses? Just a stray bolt?

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Arlington, VA: Gene, I can't believe you brough up "The Christmas Shoes!" The first time I heard that song (about four years ago now) at work, I was laughing so hard I couldn't even explain to my coworker why it was so funny.

What kind of world does this man live in? What city has Dickensian street urchins shuffling into the megamall to buy a pair of shoes? And what kind of egotistical maniac writes a song patting his own back for buying the shoes for him?

It's just funny on so many levels. I love it. And you.

Gene Weingarten: It is also hilarious because after presenting the most nakedly maudlin and obvious theme -- this is what Xmas is all about -- the song then SAYS this is what Xmas is all about.

Worst song ever!

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Origin, MN: Hoping you can shed some light here. During a recent conversation with some friends discussing word/phrase origins we realized that none of us knew where the term "Screwed the pooch" came from...being all wise AND and dog lover we figured who else would be better to answer then Gene?!

Gene Weingarten: IT's an old NASA term for screwing up. Gus Grissom famously screwed the pooch when he accidentally sank his first spacecraft.

That's as far as I know though. Which isn't much.

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New York, N.Y.: You can't really believe that we're living in a "post-racial America," right? Seems irresponsible to use that term, which dismisses all the very real struggles that still go on.

Gene Weingarten: Of course not, but that seems to be the agreed-upon cliche of the moment.

However, two things have happened recently that give me particular hope. The first is the obvious: The election of a black man by a country where black people remain a relatively small minority. This is not meaningless. It is a sea change that majority and minority could come together over an inspiring candidate who happened to be black.

There is something else, much smaller, that gives me hope, too. To understand it you have to go back 13 years, to the O.J. Simpson trial, which filled me with a profound despair over race relations in the United States. I hated that when an obviously guilty man walked, a large proportion of the black population celebrated. I didn't have contempt for them -- I just thought it showed evidence of an impermiable cultural wall; that the playing field would NEVER seem level enough so that things could be judged free of racial baggage.

I thought the images of black people cheering the verdict would not easily be wiped from the public consciousness. I was wrong.

Last week, O.J. just sort of slinked off too jail, and nobody gave a damn. And we're preparing to install a black man president.

So, maybe we are on the brink of the outskirts of the neighborhood of post racial.

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Missing Option in Survey: The first question does not provide an option for those of us who didn't find the cartoon offensive in the slightest.

Gene Weingarten: We don't care about you.

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Postraci, AL: I can't imagine the cartoonist intended the Dennis piece to be hurtful, but it is hard to believe that in 1970 someone could be so ignorant and/or oblivious as to be unaware that this was in bad taste. In comparison, consider the character of Franklin in Peanuts who was introduced about the same time, maybe even a bit earlier. Clearly black, but drawn and scripted without any stereotyping characteristics at all.

Gene Weingarten: Franklin debuted in 1968. The amazing thing is that his race was, to my memory, never mentioned. He was just another Peanuts kid.

It was an intelligent and gracious act by Schulz. He once got a letter from a southern newspaper editor asking him not to put Franklin in a schoolroom with white kids.

Franklin always sat in front of Peppermint Patty in the classroom. Schulz never changed that.

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Race Relatio, NS: It was 38 years ago, which puts me in high school, but I remember that cartoon. I don't think I remember any other Dennis the Menace cartoons, since it was the Garfield of its day, still running in a lot of newspapers though never funny, clever or insightful at all. I remember my jaw dropping. I could visualize it even before using the link to confirm my memory.

By 1970, we'd come a long way since Amos and Andy were played by white guys on the radio in the 30s. All in the Family premiered just one year later, with George Jefferson as a regular character, so the sensibilities of the times had most certainly passed Hank Ketchum by even in the cultural arena. And this was seven years after the I Have A Dream speech, and two years after Memphis. It was appalling then, and it's appalling now.

Gene Weingarten: It was appalling then, yep. Ketcham had to issue an apology, though it was grudging and half-hearted. See next post.

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Curacao, Netherlands Antilles: The absolute worst thing about that comic in the poll is that it JUST ISN'T FUNNY.

I mean the punchline is delivered in such a way as to totally trip over the joke. I mean that if it were delivered correctly, the joke can't even aspire to a "Family Circus" level of lame humor. I mean that even if I were like a KKK member or something, I wouldn't see the laughs in saying "This other kid runs faster than me!"

The only way that joke works is if you find the drawing laugh-worthy. Since I found the drawing horribly offensive, I hope you'll agree with me that this may well be the unfunniest strip I've ever seen on the comics page.

Gene Weingarten: Now, I disagree with this, and with most of you in the poll.

I believe that if Ketcham had drawn Jackson as a normal kid, this cartoon would have not only been acceptible, but pretty darn good. A worthy punchline, and one with a little bit of a social punch.

I'm not sure I've seen, or would have seen by then, a joke relying on confusion between "race" as ethnicity and "race" as running. Imagine a slight tweaking of this comic:

Let's say that Ketcham had drawn it -- as he has been known to do -- in two panels, not one. And in the first, Dennis says that he has a "race" problem with Jackson (again, who looks normal.) And in that first panel, Henry Mitchell looks concerned. And in the second panel, Dennis elaborates: Jackson runs faster than he does, and Henry looks relieved.

Pretty good comic! Raise the specter of something bad, defuse it, make the point that kids don't see race. That is actually what Ketcham was ham-fistedly TRYING to do, though he failed spectacularly.

But even without the two-panel treatment, the joke would have been the same, had Ketcham drawn this thing with a modicum of sensitivity.

What you would be left with was the question of whether it was insensitive to trade in the racial stereotype that black people run faster. I think I could have defended that, because that interpretation would be in the mind of the reader.

I know. Y'all disagree with me on this.

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Bush's Brain: I think that thing hovering under the helmet may just be a loose screw. But that seems too obvious, doesn't it?

Gene Weingarten: I think that's it.

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Alex., VA: Gene - when I fart in the shower, why does it smell considerably worse?

Gene Weingarten: Because the steam is dispersing the smell.

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Lavatory, GE: I wouldn't know where else to post this. I was in an airport in Germany and had to go to the loo. It had a contraption that cleaned the seat by jutting out as the seat rotated, and then retracting again. The problem - it malfunctioned and popped out WHILE I WAS SITTING ON THE LOO. It actually pushed me off the seat mid-stream, leading me to pee on the floor and on my pants. I had already checked my bags, so it's not like I could change.... I understand the marriage of technology and cleanliness, especially useful in airport bathrooms, which are notoriously filthy, but I think this had rather the opposite effect....

Gene Weingarten: Wow. Thanks for sharing!

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Stinky, me: Have you seen the latest in bathroom decor?

washingtonpost.com: Is that woman pooing on the toilet tank?

Gene Weingarten: She is not. But she is quite unreasonably happy.

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New York, N.Y.: History will now record that Eliot Spitzer was not the most embarrassing Governor of 2008.

When you're being investigated for corruption, it takes a special kind of drooling moron to plainly discuss -selling- a U.S. Senate seat.

Gene Weingarten: Naw, Spitzer was more embarrassing. This guy is more baldfaced.

These facts are amazing.

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Gene Weingarten: I am stunned that women are no better at men at seeing what is coming in the Baby Blues strip!!!

Chloe's clothing has changed between panel one and two. It is a joke about girls switching clothes at parties (which they do, I guess?)

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Those Christmas Shoes: ARRGH. The pastor at my church preached his Christmas sermon last year based on this treacly story and I was hard put to keep my less than reverent offspring from openly chortling. Much eyeball rolling took place. Direct from the Chicken Soup for the Soul school of writing.

Gene Weingarten: No offense, but any pastor who uses that story needs to stop giving sermons. I am sure there are other pastor-like things he can do.

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Dennis: Gene, people don't disagree with you on the comic. People aren't getting the pun.

Gene Weingarten: Is that it? Did people not get the "race" pun?

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Rockville, Md.: Screwed the pooch.

Basically, you were correct but it is a cleaned up version of the original.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.

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Stamp, ME: I won't go out of my way to buy holiday stamps; I go out of my way to buy NON-holiday stamps. I send cards to Christians, Jews, atheists, and agnostics, and match the card to each person's faith and sense of humor. Aunts get the staid snowflake cards; only those who appreciate them get the cards with the DC-themed "12 days of Christmas." (A sample lyric: "Seven interns learning, six senators snoozing, five campaign contributions...") But everyone gets the same old stamp. And yes, I am a woman.

Gene Weingarten: Sigh. Okay, you are officially a sweet person, but it is my contention that NOBODY LOOKS AT STAMPS.

Stamps are like garbage. They're CRAP. They're nothing.

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New York, N.Y.: Gene-

An all-you-can-eat Japanese restaurant in New York has begun charging diners a 3 percent surcharge if they take more food than they can eat. In other words, it's $26.95 for all-you-can-eat but if you leave any food on your plate the price goes up to $27.76.

I think this is a wonderful idea and if anything the surcharge should be more. Do you agree?

A link to the story.

Gene Weingarten: Great idea.

Nothing stays on my plate at a sushi restaurant, unless is is bad sushi.

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Suburbs or D.C.?: Hi Gene,

As someone who has lived both in D.C. and in the burbs I'm hoping you can help me. My husband and I are trying to figure out where to live -- in D.C. or in Northern Virginia (Maryland is out because of our jobs). We feel like we are city people at heart: we want to take advantage of all D.C. has to offer, like to walk/bike/Metro to most places, and love the feel of a neighborhood within a city. However, we have a young daughter and plan to have another. We can't afford private school. I know you and the Rib didn't move into DC until your kids were done with school.

Is it irresponsible for us to move into DC knowing the state of the schools? I'm thinking charter schools could be a good option. Maybe Michelle Rhee will actually turn things around by the time my kids are in school? How do we balance our desire for a certain quality of life with the responsibility to our kids' education?

washingtonpost.com: Arlington.

Gene Weingarten: Arlington sounds good.

I'm sure there are places in D.C. with good public schools, and I strongly suspect the public schools are going to get better all over. Two caveats:

The places where the public schools are currently good might feel more suburban than Arlington.

The places that really feel like city, you're taking a chance.

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I Almost Missed the Chat: A few minutes ago, my smoking-hot wife walked into my home office, wearing a tight sweater and with her hair all done up, and said "My [girl parts] are on fire."

As I jumped up from my chair, she then said "I have to go to the store for some [female products] and cranberry juice. Do you need anything?"

It's gonna be a long week...

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.

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Arby's commercial: As a woman, I'll tell you what I like about this commercial.

1. The man looks like every man in a comedic commercial--normal, a little chubby, kinda goofy. But the WOMAN looks normal too! She's very cute, but in a normal way. I'm so tired of seeing unattractive men in every sitcom and commercial married to insanely hot, very thin women.

2. I often rail against the way women are depicted in commercials. Have you seen the Glade (glah-day) commercials? What about all of the cleaning product commercials? Or the ubiquitous nagging women commercials? This woman is cheerfully and with bemusement giving her husband something silly for his birthday. She's likeable.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, this was my point, too.

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Hofw about this?: "Gary Kreep, who heads the United States Justice Foundation and is representing Alan Keyes in one of the lawsuits over the president-elect's eligibility, has said his group will file suit to challenge each and every one of Obama's actions as president."

From Alex Koppelman's article in Salon.

Gene Weingarten: Very nice.

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Chloe's Clothing: Her name is Zoe, not Chloe.

Gene Weingarten: Sorry, yes. Zoe.

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Arlington, Va.: I wonder a bit about the characterization of Obama as "a black man". Is he not equally a "white man"? Or do we always refer to anyone with one drop of African blood as black or African American despite the fact that he is biracial? Does it matter?

Gene Weingarten: He is a black man because he identifies himself as a black man. There need be no further parsing of this.

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Oba, MA: Even a liberal weenie like you must be ready to admit that this whole Obama thing is not working. It has been a month and the economy is still in the tank and the market is plunging. More importantly I am still spending my Saturday nights alone eating Cheetos and watching MMA. Where is all this chnage he promised????

It is time for him to admit he is a failure and move on.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, we can start referring to it as The Failed Obama Presidency.

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Doonesbury Oba, MA: I was wondering about the Obama icon too, until I noticed...LEGS! The second chair distinctly showed crossed legs, as though an actual body might be sitting there. Is Trudeau actually going to draw Obama?!

Gene Weingarten: We will have to see.

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New York, N.Y.: And the term for that, Chatwoman, is "going upstairs." When you "go upstairs" and pee in the toilet tank, when the next person flushes, pee comes out. It's good fun.

Pooing upstairs brings a unique set of problems and should only be attempted by drunk college students.

Gene Weingarten: Ooh.

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Stamp Act: "NOBODY LOOKS AT STAMPS," says the man who looks like he doesn't own a comb.

You know, it's just possible that there are millions of people who are more attuned to appearances than you. Just a thought.

Who sends out the holiday cards in your house, by the way? And what does she (I'm making an assumption here) do for stamps? Go ask.

Gene Weingarten: She doesn't give a crap about what the stamp looks like.

This mystifies me even more than bumper weenies mystify me.

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Baltimore, Md.: "Burned head to toe" is the only funny option (and not very funny at that) because it neutralizes the blackface offensiveness.

Assuming Dennis' friend is drawn realistically (which you didn't stipulate in this question), "stubby legs" is clearly the funniest. That Dennis recognizies the bizarre quality in which he's drawn is such a nice surprise. It's a modern punchline in a traditional strip, the juxtaposition of which is startling and funny. Reminds me of a Steven Wright joke.

Most say "Peace Corps" is the funniest. Ummm, why? So there's a black kid standing on the sidewalk in front of the house, therefore he must be dad's illegitimate love child? We've heard that punchline a thousand times and the set- up is usually better. It's like drawing a Ferrari in front of the house, and the caption reading "Hey dad. Nice car. Where'd you steal it?" Mildly funny, at best.

Gene Weingarten: David Mills wrote the first two; I wrote the second two. I am in the small minority that thinks the second one is the best: It makes best use of the complete outrageousness of the portrayal of the kid.

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New York, N.Y.: Hi Gene -

Maybe this is because I'm younger (26), but I am getting a little irritated by the media's self-absorbed and self-indulgent reporting on the death of the newspaper. Were people like this when the telephone replaced the telegraph? Newspapers are being replaced by a better product that is not only able to get more information to more people faster, but is also more interactive and does not waste nearly as many resources. Could this not be a very good (and inevitable) development?

Gene Weingarten: It could if the Web versions of newspapers could financially sustain themselves. There is no indication that they can.

Why is Washingtonpost.com such a good product? Because there is a Washington Post behind it, filled with talented people working for pay to put out a paper, which, until recently, was a model product for delivering profit.

You are not getting this, are you?

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Maybe I read it wrong but: I thought Baby Blues is about Zoe being such a tomboy that she messes up her clothes at every play date and has to be sent home in something else.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, I think so. You're right. I think that is the underlying joke.

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Doubledact, IL: Higgledy piggledy Rodney Blagojevich, Illinois governor Lately was shown

Selling a Senate seat's Counterproductive to Any attempts at his Saving his own.

Gene Weingarten: VEry, very good. Perfect meter.

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MacsRock: I chose "delete" instead of backspace for the instapoll. I thought I was an oddity like you. Then, I looked down at my keyboard, attached to a Mac, and realized the larger "delete" key I use most often is in the same place and is the same size as the backspace key on a PC keyboard. And, it is really a backspace.

Gene Weingarten: I admit being a weirdo on deleting. I can't explain it. I almost never delete backwards. I will move the cursor to the beginning of where I want to delete, then delete forward.

I wonder what this means.

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State of Confusion: Gene, saw this and thought you would appreciate it.

After determining the Big-12 championship game participants, the BCS computers were put to work on other major contests and today the BCS declared Germany to be the winner of World War II.

"Germany put together an incredible number of victories beginning with the annexation of Austria and the Sudetenland and continuing on into conference play with defeats of Poland, France, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands. Their only losses came against the US and Russia; however considering their entire body of work--including an incredibly tough Strength of Schedule--our computers deemed them worthy of the #1 ranking."

Questioned about the #4 ranking of the United States the BCS commissioner stated "The US only had two major victories--Japan and Germany. The computer models, unlike humans, aren't influenced by head-to-head contests--they consider each contest to be only a single, equally-weighted event."

German Chancellor Adolf Hitler said "Yes, we lost to the US; but we defeated #2 ranked France in only 6 weeks." Herr Hitler has been criticized for seeking dramatic victories to earn 'style points' to enhance Germany's rankings. Hitler protested "Our contest with Poland was in doubt until the final day and the conditions in Norway were incredibly challenging and demanded the application of additional forces."

The French ranking has also come under scrutiny. The BCS commented " France had a single loss against Germany and following a preseason #1 ranking they only fell to #2."

Japan was ranked #3 with victories including Manchuria, Borneo and the Philippines.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.

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Your wife's stamps: Are you sure she doesn't care about the stamps? After all - you thought she didn't wear makeup....

Can we believe any comment about her?

Gene Weingarten: I asked her.

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Columbia, Md.: Gene, as a man's man, can you please answer this question for me? New boyfriend tells me in bed that I can tell him what I like. He's a terrific, very generous guy... but he misses the mark often, if you know what I mean. Should I take him seriously and tell him what to do? Or will this hurt his feelings?

Gene Weingarten: Misses the mark? You actually need to me more specific. There are lots of ways to miss the mark.

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Alexandria, Va.: Gene, I hate the post office. Actually I dislike the entire USPS. I don't like mailing things, I don't like checking the mail, and I certainly don't ever, ever go into the post office. In fact, I've gone in once in the last two years - and that was to mail a package to Afghanistan, because you can't ship FedEx there.

Yet when I express this pathological dislike for the USPS, most people look at me like I am crazy! I mean is this not the most robust example of government inefficiency we have?!? Why do we put up with it, when you can do almost anything over e-mail or through FedEx now??

Stamps are for weenies. Except when they do collectible stamps with baseball players on them. Then I am all over it.

Gene Weingarten: I use USPS because they are a lot cheaper than the alternatives, often, with packages.

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Dupont Circle, D.C.: Yesterday was the first time I'd read the Gene Pool in a while and I was shocked at how quickly it devolved into vitriolic hate speech yesterday, although that may just be the impact of a few attention-seeking individuals. Is it just the matter of people with low IQs and access to the internet or do you think the divide between older and younger generations really is that sharp?

washingtonpost.com: The Gene Pool

Gene Weingarten: I was absolutely shocked by the results of this Gene Pool, though I called for the strike down on our own position. A further analysis of it reveals that much of the vitriol was stoked by a single multiple poster who seems to be a real jerk.

However, people wouldn't have taken the bait if this were not an inherently volatile topic. There seems to be a genuine tension between the boomer generation and those that followed. I'm surprised at its depth, and at some of the ways it has morphed into concrete charges.

I may be writing more about this.

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Xmas Drek: You "LAYED" the money down?? Please tell me that error is in the original, which does not excuse it, but at least it was not your error.

Gene Weingarten: I just cut and pasted from the website.

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Bethesda, Md.: Hi Gene, My wife and I met you the other night at the University Club book event. You had run out of books and you had started to give us your address when a woman said she was going to put together a list of people who wanted the book.

We were wondering afterwards -- Why did you stay there at the table after you had run out of books? It must have been frustrating to you to turn people away. We were glad to meet you but if you had just gone home many people would not have realized they had missed out on your book.

Thanks, Remy

Gene Weingarten: Michael and I stayed there because I had told people, in the chat, that I'd be there until 7:30, and at least wanted to be there to apologize. And take names, sent books, etc.

It was really frustrating.

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Life, 1970: I took the poll and had to answer that the cartoon was totally understandable for the time. If asked the question Saturday I would have said it was inexcusable. On Sunday, however, I spent the afternoon reading through some old Life magazines from 1970-1972 that we found in the basement. Wow. talk about getting some perspective.

One article followed this Italian family from Klamath Falls, Ore., through their reactions to the first season of "All in the Family." Nearly everyone interviewed in town thought the show was hilarious because Archie said things they all felt but coudn't say. Things like not eating dinner with "jungle bunnies" and other stuff that made my jaw drop. For the record I am 29. So many of the articles I just had no idea where they were coming from, culturally speaking. Everything from the evils of dirty hippies, the commie-pinkos, to women's roles, to all the MANY ads for cigarettes and liquor on every other page.

One article also made me sad -- about people living in NYC on East 78th street and how they'd all been repeatedly burglarized, beaten, and almost raped as their neighborhood rapidly went downhill. I realized that I was reading about the depopulation of NYC, the beginning of the heroin drug wars, and the invention of neighborhood watch groups. The whole day gave me a new-found respect for what we achieved with this election and how far we have come as a country, as a whole. I recommend a trip to the library for people to gain some perspective about how we have changed, culturally, in just a few decades. I'm a historian and I was still blown away.

Gene Weingarten: Old books, too. It's amazing what's in orignal Agatha Christies.

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Obamic, ON: I suspect Obama never will appear "on camera" in Doonesbury. If he must, perhaps he will be invisible except for a lei.

I will spend a moment considering holiday stamps because that's what the clerk offers first when I am at the counter buying stamps as part of other business; if I only need stamps, the vending machines at the P.O. work nicely. If they're Hannukah stamps, fine. If they're generic, non-denominational, or multi-denominational "holiday" stamps, fine. If they're Christmas stamps, I have a problem with having them represent our 75% practicing- Jewish household, even though I am the 25% oddball.

Gene Weingarten: I would happily send a stamp with a crucifix. I just don't think that people believe you CHOOSE your stamps, or worry about what's on em.

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David Mills: To Baltimore, MD: The "Peace Corps" joke is a surprise because it replaces Dennis's cute naivete (not knowing what "race trouble" is) with a cynical worldliness. The Kenya remark also fits the drawing nicely, in terms of Dennis's physical attitude.

Gene Weingarten: Noted.

Howdy, David. You disagree with me, too, about the strip itself being pretty good, other than the caricature, right?

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Stamps: Gene, you're wrong on this one. No GUY cares about stamps. But some women do.

When my sister was getting married, she hand-canceled all her invitations so the stamps and envelopes wouldn't get smudged. It's a Martha Stewart thing.

Sister: "I messed up the stamps on the first envelope I tried, so I sent it to you." Brother-in-law: "Did you notice?" Me: "It had stamps?"

Gene Weingarten: Well according to your instapoll, most women don't give a crap about stamps. But a disturbingly high minority do.

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USPS ineffiecient??? You've got to be kidding me: USPS can get a letter from Virginia to California in less than two days in most instances for less than 50 cents.

At this time of year, when they are under the most load, cards and packages get delivered quickly and inexpensively and with very few losses due to mishandling.

Our mail service is one of the best in the world and is one of the least expensive in terms of taxes or fees.

Gene Weingarten: I agree. All the inefficiency seems to be at point of contact with the customer.

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New York: What's the difference between the delete key and the backspace key? On my Mac, I only have one, called "delete," what moves the cursor from right to left (deleting backwards, I guess). It has served me perfectly well all these years. If I need to delete a lot, I highlight the relevant text, which is quite fast (even faster if I use the double/triple click to highlight a word/line/paragraph).

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, this poll question is meaningless, I fear. On PCs there is a separate "delete" key which erases to the right. That's the one I use.

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Delete This!: I know why you use the delete key instead of backspace! You can see where you're going that way. If you use delete, you won't accidentally erase the text you DO want to keep. If you hit backspace too many times, you've suddenly erased too much without noticing. But since we read left to right, the delete key prevents that because you'll see when you're finished more easily.

(But don't listen to me. All that brilliance, and I STILL use the backspace key.)

washingtonpost.com: But on computers one can always "undo" an overzealous deletion.

Gene Weingarten: You're RIGHT! You're RIGHT. That is why I do it! It is more precise.

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Agatha, Christie: "Ten Little Indians" had a different title when it first came out in England, one that can't be printed in this country. Reminds me of "Eenie, meenie, minee, mo, catch a (tiger) by the toe." We didn't think twice about the original wording of that when I was a kid. My daughter would have been horified- once she was old enought to know what it meant.

Gene Weingarten: I have the original copy of Ten Little N Words. And the cover shows pickaninny dolls. This was sold in England as late as 1975.

Agatha also had serious contempt for Jews. It's all in there.

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Wedding Stam, PS: You'll love this: wedding hysteria PLUS stamp inanity! My otherwise-logical Goddaughter called me in tears because she had just figured out that her handmade wedding inviations were going to require extra postage, thus the carefully selected stamps were going to have to be augmented by extra non-wedding-themed stamps. I told her that it was likely many guests would fall by the wayside at the sight of her dreadful envelopes. Yikes.

Gene Weingarten: She was CRYING???????

End all weddings now.

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Using utilize: Is the word utilize ever better than the word use? Every time I see or hear someone use utilize my moron alert blinkers start firing. Perhaps my blinkers are oversensitive. Please, instruct me and make me a more tolerant person.

Gene Weingarten: I utilize the word utilize all the time. Always in an ironic way, when I am trying to sound overblown. Which I do a lot.

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Fortaleza, Brazil: I still see charicatures like this one in newspapers here, though certainly not every day. And there are many cultural festivals in Brazil featuring costumed participants in blackface. No one seems shocked. There are worse examples elsewhere. Darkie Toothpaste in Asia was infamous (they renamed it to Darlie -- wink, wink).

Gene Weingarten: Wow. That is quite a product. I'm thinking the estate of Bojangles Robinson probably could have sued. That is not a generic illustration.

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Arlington, Va.: I'm trying to decide whether I'm a total wuss or just prudent in wanting to avoid a scene. I was at the grocery store yesterday in the 15 items or less line. The woman in front of me had at least 45-50 items and just blithely ignored the sign. I wanted to say something but really didn't want to get into an argument with some stranger in a grocery store. It is so rude, but it is really worth an unpleasant encounter? As it happens, I saw her loading her car in the parking lot (since I actually had less than 15 items, I made it through the line very quickly) and she was parked in a handicapped spot without any evidence of either a temporary or permanent HC tag, so she clearly approaches life (or at least grocery shopping) in a me-first-everyone-else-#@$--off kind of way, so it may not have mattered. Regardless, I regretted my wimpiness for the rest of the afternoon. Would you have said anything?

Gene Weingarten: With 45 items? I would have told her that she was in the wrong line, and I think I would have done it in an elaborately disingenuous fashion: "Ma'am, I'm only telling you this to help you avoid the inevitable embarrassment when you got to the cashier, and to prevent you from having to lose time waiting when you would just have to switch to another line ..."

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Delete vs Backspace: The Backspace is the more used key because you can't erase until you have made the mistake. At that point, the cursor is beyond the mistake zone. You just backspace over the mistake and re-type. Your method involves moving back behind it (either with the back arrow or using the mouse) then going back forward again.

Weird!

Gene Weingarten: But as the previous poster pointed out, you are in danger, with the backspace, of deleting too much.

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David Mills: I do kinda disagree, Gene... except that your two-panel alternative improves the joke a whole lot. It also improves it as social commentary, becoming about the father's discomfort.

Gene Weingarten: Right. True. I still think it would have worked, though. Just less well.

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Landof, OZ: Absolutely true: over the weekend, the transcript of last week's chat about dreams carried an enormous ad at the top asking "Dreaming About A Bigger Penis?"

It did not specify whether the dream was in black and white or in color.

Gene Weingarten: That's an interestingly worded ad, actually. Clearly, it is addressed to men, but it raises in men's anxiety closets the notion that women, also, might be wistfully dreaming of same.

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Book Signing: I'm glad you stayed! I was one of the people who walked to Borders to buy a copy of Old Dogs and brought it back for you to sign. Thanks again!

Gene Weingarten: You were an adorable couple.

This lady's hair looks EXACTLY like Tin Tin's.

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Etao, IN: the only key on the computer keyboard that gives me the never-ending pip (and no one I've complained about it to seems to understand why) is the caps lock key. Remember how in the old days of typewriters the caps lock key required a good firm shove to get it to lock? That saved me, over and over again, from tYPING A WHOLE LOTTA LINES LIKE THIS INADVERTENTLY while keeping my eye on the copy I was typing. Why the --@#?? can't computer keyboards incorporate that? Also, it drives me nuts watching these young squirts typing with their wrists resting on the computer or the desk. I think HAH--love to see them get anyplace on an old Royal Office Manual that way!!

Gene Weingarten: Yes. And it's true, caps lock, on a typewriter, required an extra lateral push, like going into reverse in a car. You had to do it deliberately.

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"Because the steam is dispersing the smell.": Close, but not quite right. The steam is causing the smell to rise...directly into your nose. It is as if you farted on your own face.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.

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Pikesville, Md.: How many "F"s do you count in the following text:

FINISHED FILES ARE THE RE SULT OF YEARS OF SCIENTI FIC STUDY COMBINED WITH THE EXPERIENCE OF YEARS.

I, at least, counted 3. There are 6. This totally fooled me.

Gene Weingarten: This is odd. I count all of them, easily, ever time. Liz got totally bamboozled.

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Grocery store lanes: Sometimes, you know, if the express lane is empty, the cashier will tell the next person in the regular lane to come on over. Then twenty seconds later someone with two items shows up and gets pissed off. This has happened to me. Please, people, try to relax.

Gene Weingarten: Hm.

I want to say this is a good use of collective time, but if I were the guy with the one bottle of milk, I think I'd be rightfully indignant.

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Baby Blues: Zoe hasn't messed up her clothes being a tomboy. Girls at that age simply have a predilection for changing into their friends' clothes when they come over to play (can't bring myself to say "for a playdate"), without requiring any soiling of clothing as an impetus.

Gene Weingarten: But yknow, if that were the joke, wouldn't the host girl's clothes have changed, too.

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Dream, ON: Men's fear about women secretely wanting a bigger penis than they have is completely and utterly justified.

That doesn't mean you should go out and spend hundreds of bucks on enhancements. It means you should feel guilty and spend the hundreds of bucks on buying her gifts to compensate.

Gene Weingarten: I see.

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Washington, D.C.: "I agree. All the inefficiency seems to be at point of contact with the customer."

I think this is a problem with the government generally. I work with some of the smartest lawyers I've ever met, all of whom gave up their chance at highly lucrative firm jobs in the service of their country. But unfortunately, all most Americans see of my agency are the dimwits at the window in a passport office.

The government needs to improve its hiring on the front lines. This is a PR issue.

Gene Weingarten: I think this is an issue in a lot of areas. In my experience, for example, the people who come out to your house for Comcast or Verizon are smart and competent. The people you get when you call to arrange for service are awful.

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Liz got totally bamboozled. : After Liz got totally bamboozled, did she "go upstairs"?

washingtonpost.com: Thanks Gene. Now tell everyone about how I can't do long division.

Gene Weingarten: Liz can't do long division.

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Washington, D.C.: Gene - I've just started dating a man who goes crazy (fidgety, eye rolling, etc.) when faced with service scenarios like your post office introduction. He also is directionally challenged, but refuses directions from me (directionally gifted) when in the car. Do we have a shot?

Gene Weingarten: Up to that last thing, you were describing me and wife. That last thing is bad.

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Washington: "I count all of them, easily, ever time."

I'm guessing that you are not reading the sentence while counting, but Liz is.

Gene Weingarten: My theory is that we pronounce "of" like UV and aren;t thinking "f."

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man with cranberry wife: what is a -girl parts] euphemism that is PLURAL?

Gene Weingarten: Okay, this is a very good question!

We'll end on that intriguing challenge.

And listen: There is a pretty good chance that I am NOT doing a chat next week, but will not know until later in the week. I believe I will be traveling or otherwise engaged. So please keep track via washingtonpost.com.

Thanks. See you soon, regardless.

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