Chatological Humor: Abortion & Big Butts (UPDATED 2.13.09)

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 10, 2009; 12:00 PM

Daily Updates: WED | THURS | FRI

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

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

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

This Week's Poll: MEN | WOMEN

Not chat day? Visit the Gene Pool.

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

Weingarten is also the author of "The Hypochondriac's Guide to Life. And Death" and co-author of "I'm with Stupid," with feminist scholar Gina Barreca and "Old Dogs: Are the Best Dogs" with photographer Michael Williamson.

New to Chatological Humor? Read the FAQ.

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


Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon.

On Saturday, the Rib and I went to one of our favorite restaurants in the Washington D.C. area, a Japanese place in Rockville. We had been there many times before, and always sat at the sushi bar, where chefs known to us prepared unusual, inventive dishes, often off the menu, often daring, sometimes mildly unnerving. It was there that we were once served raw lobster, the tail meat so new and fresh that the head watched us consume it, before dying in a simmering lobster-head stew.

I know that is disturbing, and we were disturbed, but it was all part of the anarchic joy of this restaurant. We ate raw scallop -- a dish not all that often served in sushi places -- so fresh the muscle tensed when lemon was squirted on it. It was there we enjoyed a dish made especially for us, and which may have no official name -- strips of raw squid in a bowl, mixed with quail egg yolk and flying fish roe. Also not that common: Shrimp served raw, together with their deep-fried googly-eyed heads, to be eaten like fries.

When my vegan daughter joined us, they always made a dish especially for her, which involved sculpting an entire cucumber into an endless spiral, one-eighth of an inch thick, substituting for seaweed skin to wrap other veggies into a maki roll.

In answer to The Rib's question the head chef once patiently explained why women could never be competent sushi chefs: First, they were too weak to carry the really large fish. Second, their makeup could somehow migrate down to their hands and impurify the fish; and third -- and most important, since the first two problems might be overcome by a large woman who eschewed makeup -- women's body temperature is slightly higher than men's. That meant that their fingers might ever so slightly cook the raw fish.

This disquisition was delivered so solemnly and so earnestly that even the Rib was only mildly appalled. The fact was, this place took its art seriously, and the result was an experience every time you went there.

The last time we were there -- maybe three months ago -- we became worried. The food was still great, but the place was nearly empty. We feared our favorite restaurant, like the finest fatty tuna on a sushi board, was about to go belly up.

It turns out we didn't have to worry! When the Rib and I were there on Saturday, the place was almost full!

Unfortunately, all the chairs had been taken away from the sushi bar, and the bar itself was filled with pre-prepared stuff, tuna rolls and whatnot that had been sitting out there for some time. One roll was called the "Vegas roll." Another, so help me, was a "lasagna roll."

On tables nearby, kept warm by overhead heat lamps, were tables of tempura, onion rings, and sesame chicken that looked like what you might get at some place called Hong Fat's, in a Silver Spring strip mall. The soup of the day was "Chicken Noodle."

It was all buffet. Only one of the three chefs looked Asian, and they acted less like sushi chefs than kitchen help. None was speaking to customers. Only once during the hour we were there did we notice the chefs preparing an actual, cut-to-order sushi meal. It looked pretty good. Then he brought it back into the kitchen, presumably for staff.

As we left, I asked the manager why they had changed. "More business," she said. In a harsher economy, they must appeal to popular taste, and this, apparently, is what sets American tushies down on their chairs.

I grieve for all of us.


Okay, we now are going to link to a picture, but I want to defend myself first. This is NOT to get a cheap guffaw. At all. This is an important exploration of context, perception and gender sensitivity.

The Photo

The first two men I showed this to reacted thus: Man One: Guffaw. Man Two: Guffaw. The first two women who saw this both immediately said: "Wow, how did she get the pants to fit so well?" And the third woman, Pat the Perfect, summed it up perfectly: "This just proves that jeans can be obtained in any size, except yours."

In my opinion, this is a medically important photograph, demonstrating a condition known as "bitrochanteric lipodystrophy," first described, to my knowledge in an obscure source I used for my hypochondria book, "The Moseby Medical Dictionary." For almost 10 years, there was no mention online of this condition, except from an excerpt from my book, and I began to feel a little naked out there. Suddenly, only a few weeks ago, I believe, it arrived online! I am redeemed!

It is important to note that this condition is similar to, but not the same, as the far better known "steatopygia," as demonstrated here.


In a related development, we have this excellent link, supplied by my daughter.


In response to the A-Roid revelations,and the desperately desired notion that this puts the scandal behind us, my friend Tom Scocca has written this interesting wry observation.


Here is the Clip of the Day.


And finally, please take Today's Poll. We'll be discussing your answers through the chat, and I'll be disclosing mine. I will reveal here that as far as I am concerned, having six children is equivalent to having 22 cats.


The CPOW is Sunday's Brewster Rockit. First Runner-Ups: Monday's and Tuesday's Pooch Cafe. Honorables: Monday's Frazz, for its elegance, and Sunday's Doonesbury, Monday's Speed Bump.

Can anyone explain Sunday's Speed Bump? Is he suggesting dogs are sexually attracted to squirrels?

Okay, let's go.


Bottom, Foggy: Gene, Thanks for your hard-hitting reporting in Sunday's column. I am a State Department employee who had to deal with the "Email Storm" (as it has become known locally). One of the funniest things about it was because it happened over Christmas holidays, there would be "waves" of responses as people would return from vacation -- people not smart enough to read the hundred other e-mails. We got responses from everyone from lowly foreign workers in embassy warehouses to ambassadors. Today, a few days after your article's publication, all State Department employees got an email reminding us of proper email etiquette, things like DON'T WRITE IN ALL CAPS and, of course, don't hit "reply to all" unless you really mean it. That's the kind of results I expect from a Pulitizer-Prize winning journalist such as yourself.

Gene Weingarten: It will be indeed a great injustice if I do not get a second Pulitzer for this column.

My favorite part of it was my inept Secret Source, Deep Thread.

Er, was that you? I won't out you.


Capitol Hill: Hey Gene! I'm wondering if a guy would have a different opinion on this. I dated a fellow for over three years and we broke up just over a year ago. I recently got invited to his wedding, this summer. We haved remained friendly, and there are no residual romantic feelings on my end. He told me his soon-to-be wife thinks it's weird that he's inviting me, which makes me think I shouldn't go. Obviously it's his choice whether or not he wants me there, and I should take him at face value, but I've heard of other people having huge fights over inviting exes to weddings and I don't want there to be some sort of rivalry when I meet the wife. It IS supposed to be Her day, right?

My galpals can't imagine an ex-girlfriend at their wedding, and say it would be weird. For my part, I'm very curious about the wife and think it would be a nice chance to say goodbye to his friends. And show support. What say you?

Gene Weingarten: I think if he told you his new wife thinks it is weird that he is inviting you, then he wants you to decline.

I also think weddings are awful because they create situations like this. My stock answer to any wedding question is, basically: Don't do it. Don't go. Don't buy that special thing. No, don't pay extra for a tissue sheet in the invitation. No, don't pay more than $200 for a "gown." No, don't buy a "gown." No, don't spend more than you can afford. No, don't worry if your in-laws' sister's husband's mother might be offended if you invite your boss's cousin's sister's father. No. No. Don't.


Aborti, ON: Tough call. I can't judge the woman because she wants so many kids, I worry about her judgement to go public. Anyway, in the poll, you forgot three important caveats- 1)After 6.5 months if the mother's life is in danger 2) Rape 3) Incest I am a woman who is vehemently pro-choice. I may not morally agree with any one woman's choice, but I would never want to take away that option from her. I can not walk in another woman's shoes when it comes to this issue. It is too not only emtionally draining, but physically as well.

Gene Weingarten: We have discussed this issue before. If you believe that abortion is murder, I can't see the morality of making an exception in cases of rape or incest. It's still an innocent, and a baby, and you are murdering it.

This was Sarah Palin's absolutist stance, and I have to say it seemed morally consistent to me.

We have also discussed this: I believe that people's views on abortion are based almost entirely on whether, as a gut feeling, they think that a three-month-old fetus is a person. I don't -- it makes my stance really simple. If you do consider that fetus to be a person, I think your view will be equally simple.


Washington, D.C.: Oh no! I grew up in Rockville (couldn't leave it fast enough, but that's another story altogether). Are you talking about Niwano Hana? I LOVE that place. Or, loved. Even the very basic dishes that you could get at any sushi restaurant anywhere were fantastic there. Well, REM's song, Don't Go Back to Rockville" plays again in my head...

Gene Weingarten: Nope, not that place.


Steatopygia: Thanks, asshole. You linked to a picture of a naked chick with no warning. Now not only will I be labelled as a pornhound at work, people will think I'm into wierd ugly chicks like that. Oh come on, that's an anthropological picture.

Gene Weingarten: We had already determined that is safe for work.


Washington, D.C.: We can chat about this most divisive of issues, but not feminine grooming habits? Wow. Please tell us that you are flogging this beehive like a child at a pinata party because it's related to your cover story.

Gene Weingarten: It is not related to my cover story, except in the sense that both are matters of life and death.


Upstate New York: Gene, I had a hard time answering your poll today. Not because I have staunch views on abortion, but because I'm a parent by adoption. So my answers to how many children is too many and how many children do you have are at odds. I think that having two children by birth is probably enough. Why do you need to put more people than that onto our already overcrowded planet? However, I have four children. It's just that I only gave birth to one of them, and two other women gave birth to the other three. I get comments all the time about having so many kids and having such a big family, but at least I know that I didn't bring extra people into the world just to have my big family.

Gene Weingarten: I think this is a valid and interesting distinction.


Moore, ON: I saw the pictures of the icefishermen stuck on the ice flow. Why were they wearing camos? Pic: The Michigan ice fishermen.

Gene Weingarten: Maybe they are Marine biologists.

Get it, Marine?


Father's Inp, UT: On the quiz, the question about whether a father's input should weigh on a woman's right to get an abortion is virtually impossible to answer without more information: Are they married? Was the pregnancy accidental or purposeful? Is either party abusive, or incapable of providing a good home? Etc.

Gene Weingarten: I would argue all of that is irrelevant. All of it. It is a woman's body. You cannot compel her to use it to have a baby she does not want.


DC: This question in your poll particularly intrigued me: "If a woman wants to have an early-term abortion of a healthy fetus, and the father firmly opposes it and pledges to raise the baby himself, what should happen?"

Father's rights is an interesting side issue in the abortion debate. In a totally fair world, the father should have equal say in the fate of the fetus, since the child is his as well. But the woman has unequal burden in bearing the child, so we cannot be totally fair. The decision must default to the woman, because it is her body that the fetus is living off of for the nine months until it's birth. Pregnancy can have permanent and serious effects on a woman's body, including death or insanity (though those last two are rare). The father's involvement is as much or as little as he wants it to be, and it is always at a safe distance. Until such time as men can carry children, "father's rights" should remain an interesting sidebar discussion.

Gene Weingarten: Exactly.


Washington, D.C.: I couldn't find an answer to your first question. I don't think having families -- even large ones -- should be determined by your income. Just doesn't seem right to me. People should be able to have the kids they want to have. Does that mean I may pay extra taxes to help support their kids? Sure. But I'm ok with that.

Gene Weingarten: Hm. I don't think I am.


Falls Church, Va.: When will your feature story be published? Any hints as to its subject?

Gene Weingarten: Mid March. No hints.


Washington, D.C.: Gene, I am in need of feedback, and believe your weekly chat is the best place to get it. I feel like I did the right thing, but if many disagree, it'll be easier to take it in this anonymous forum.

Yesterday on my commute home, a woman got on the Metro with two young kids -- one in a stroller, the other a four or five-year-old girl. She was accompanied by another woman and one or two other kids. She told her older child to sit down, then told her, "I'm not going to take this s---. Sit your a-- down." I was a few rows away, facing the other direction. My head and several others around me turned quickly. The girl began to cry. The mother continued with several, "SHUT UP!"s and similar. It was heartbreaking. The woman did not seem to be very angry or stressed, more like it was just the usual way she communicates with her kids.

After a brief internal debate, I got up, went over to her, and calmly said: "Excuse me. I have three young kids. I know how hard it can be. It really hurts to hear you talk like that to them."

Without hesitation, she replied, "These kids came out of my p---y and I'm going to talk to them however I want." She then put her hand up, as in, "talk to the hand." A couple passengers who were within earshot shook their heads, and I sat back down and tried not to burst into tears.

They all got off a couple stops later. Then, another woman came and sat next to me and asked me what the exchange was, and said I did the right thing by speaking up.

I got home and began to tell my husband about it. His response? "You shouldn't have said anything. She's not going to change and it's none of your business."

I'm not naive enough to think she was going to say, "Oh, you're right. Thanks for showing me the light, and now I'll change my ways." I wasn't so concerned about her response; I just knew I'd regret it if I didn't say anything. I felt sure others around me were feeling the same way. And I thought, just maybe, there would be a chance that the girl would see that someone was willing to stand up for her.

Can I please get your thoughts on this? And the chatters'?

Gene Weingarten: We had a similar question before, and I gave a similar answer, and others disagreed. I understand what you did, but I would not have done it. I would have interceded in a far more egregious situation: Physical abuse or REAL verbal abuse. What you saw was awful, but to me did not warrant dressing down a mother in front of the kids.

I'm always afraid that, if the parent is nuts enough, interceding can cause more grief for the child later: "Look what your misbehavior made happen: Slap." Etc.

Many years ago in Miami, a friend of the Rib's was a young elementary school teacher. She stopped writing negative things about a certain child in notes to the parents, because the first time she did it, the kid came to school the next day with a big red welt on the back of her hand. She had been punished by having a boiling hot coffee spoon pressed against her flesh.


New York, N.Y.: I find it interesting that in your unscientific poll of your readers, the vast majority of whom are undoubtedly liberal, a plurality believes that abortion should be restricted after four months. In other words, even many liberals believe that our current abortion standards are too permissive.

Hell, virtually all European countries restrict abortion after the first trimester -- this may be the only social policy on which the "enlightened" Europeans are more restrictive than us.

I am certainly pro-choice, but even I feel that the "6 month" standard imposed by the Supreme Court is arbitrary and unreasonable. I often wonder why anti-abortion activists, rather than pushing for pro-life judges and trying to get Roe v. Wade overturned entirely, don't instead focus their efforts on presenting a scientific basis for restricting abortion after the first four months. Such an approach is far more likely to be successful. It also would result in some significant benefits -- the compromise would result abortions effectiveness as a wedge issue, and elections would perhaps focus more on the real, pressing issues that we as a nation are facing.

Gene Weingarten: I basically agree with this. You have to remember that when Roe v Wade was written, neonatal medicing was nothing like what it is today. A six-month fetus was considered not viable.

I don't like that decision; it is important, and came down on the right side, but is muddy and bizarre and basically gave birth (ha) to an empowered anti-abortion movement.

Gene Weingarten: Medicine, not medicing.


Washington, D.C.: Scenario:

U.S. is about to embark on enormous program doubling the size of the government in an effort to stave off economic collapse. The plan will cost $850 billion plus $500 billion in interest payments in the future. The financial sector is on the verge of collapse needing an additional $1.5 trillion in support.

The people of the country -- from bankers and lawyers to millworkers -- are terrified that their jobs are disappearing, and don't understand how the plans will help them.

Some members of Congress, apparently unaware of the history of the Great Depression, are proposing a "Buy America" provision in the legislation that could spark a trade war, creating a few hundred jobs in steel manufacturing and causing tens of thousands in exporting to lose their jobs.

The country is fighting two wars, and dealing with pockets of geopolitical insecurity. The budget is unsustainable in the long term.

The President agrees to speak on primetime television for the first time in his administration. You work for the most important political newspaper in the country. So you ask the President what he thinks about Alex Rodriguez taking some drugs five years ago.

You're the expert on all things humorous. Is this a form of subtle comedy? Tragicomedy? (Unintentional tragicomedy?) Some sort of performance art I didn't understand?

Gene Weingarten: I heard this question. I know the questioner. I did not like this question, not so much because it was trivial, but because it led to a simple, moralistic, non-answer. It was a softball.


Cleveland Park: I had a problem with the first question - I picked nine or more because it seemed like the most open ended answer. The last answer - the one about as many kids as a person can afford - seems so biased.

I'm female, hot and very pro-choice. I believe people should be able to decide for themselves whether or not to have children, and how many children to have - regardless of their economic status. What if a person can't afford to have even one child? Should they not be permitted to procreate because of their economic situation? If someone wants to have dozens of children, I support that decision. It kind of seems like it all balances out - some people don't have any children, most people have a couple, and a few people have a bunch.

Gene Weingarten: I think it can be argued that if you cannot afford to raise a child, and if you don't have reasonable hopes of being able to afford to raise a child, it is probably not a moral decision to have a child.


Alexandria, Va.: Since it relates to the poll topic, how do you feel about only children? Any onlies out there care to add their thoughts? If you can't tell, I have one kid and I'm not sure about another. I do know that I don't think giving my daughter a sibling is a good enough reason to bring another person into the world.

Gene Weingarten: I think the parents of an only child probably have an additional responsibility to make sure their child has plenty of access to other kids in social situations, that's all. I know plenty families with happy singles.


Really what is moral anyway: I was stunned by my own answers in today's poll.

Not wanting a child (any child) = perfectly moral. My reasoning being that people who do not want children, probably will not like being parents, and that might affect the quality of their lives and the child's life going forward. I can not justify as moral a decsion that is likely to end up making everyone unhappy in the end. (kind of weird from my catholic background though were being unhappy and feeling guilty would be viewed as clear signs of your morality)

However, I could not say aborting a fetus because of the physical abnormalities is moral. There is line somewhere for me that says that not wanting kids at all is very different from not wanting a certain type of child.

Also, just because I think something is immoral does not mean I would judge people at all for aborting the kid. I can understand all the difficulties in raising a child with special needs like those mentioned. I just do not believe that this particular decision needs to be deemed moral to be justifiable.

I just found it wierd that I made this distinction. Does anyone else feel this way?

Gene Weingarten: Many people made the same distinction, and, oddly, aborting a child because he or she was blind bothered people more than aborting a child who was legless. I'd like to hear why.

But mostly, here is what I'd like to know: Can any of the one percent of you who declared that abortion is immoral even if it threatens the life of the mother ... explain that?

I don't get the reasoning behind that, and I'd like to understand.


Frea, KS: Wow - that boy in the Clip of the Day closely resembles this woman from the excellent Polish website where you found the steatopygia photo.

Gene Weingarten: My God.


Bethesda, MD: Sorry to be a killjoy, but Granny was Jed Clampett's mother-in-law, not his mother, so her last name wasn't Clampett (it was Moses). I'll go back to my geekiness now.

Gene Weingarten: Good grief, you're right.

Okay, then I will accede to someone's suggestion: The term for the ladies' nether part shall be

Elly Mae Clampett

. And we will agree she was lovely, and a deserving eponym.

Liz, can you also link to a good picture of Granny? Granny, played by Irene Ryan, was one of the great sitcom characters of all time. Granny.

And I'm wondering if some women's lady parts are Ellie Maes while others really are Grannies.

Gene Weingarten: Oooh.

_______________________ Seriously, Liz. We get to have an afternoon of "humor" dominated by abortion talk, and you can't let us discuss the extremely important grooming of the area from whence babies come?

Gene Weingarten: This topic was, I believe, inspired by the recent news story about the woman who had octuplets. The other is just idle chatter.

But I'll make a deal with Gene and you: The instant a story about female nether region grooming makes it to page A-1 of The Post, I will withdraw my objections.

Gene Weingarten: Chatwoman will succumb in time; she is, primarily, at her heart, a subversive. She is no corporate toady. She will come to realize that her position on this issue is unnervingly indefensible, and inimical to her own principles.

Okay, I just got an idea. I am proposing it now, for the first time, and in pubic. I mean, public.

Hey, Chatwoman: What if next week's poll is a referendum on whether we can air this issue the following week. Here comes the catch: It will take a two-thirds vote of readers to pass this referendum. Any less than 67 percent, and we do not do it.

Further, the referendum will examine just how far it is appropriate to go in exploration of this topic.

Additional challenge: Not only will a two thirds vote be required for passage, but women must muster at least 72 percent.

How about it, C'woman? That would be a great plan if this Web site were run on a Democratic model. It is not.

Gene Weingarten: I will pursue this to the death.


Things that make you go Ewwww!!: I am about 10-20 pounds overweight (although aided by being a woman over 5'9") and I have to force myself to be a healthy eater - left to my own devices it would be all cheeseburgers, pizza, fries, blue cheese, etc.

But the food on the site your daughter sent really grossed me out. Glad to know I have at least some limits in the junk I eat...

Gene Weingarten: I'm not sure how many of those items are real. Some, obviously, are.


Washington, D.C.: Gene, I am the first to sign into your chats, to rally support behind your bumper-tapping views, to fling panties at you, etc.

But you have a REAL problem with fat women, and you do nothing to make the world a better place by rationalizing it as some fascinating gender study.

Please, please, please err AWAY from the fat woman territory altogether. I assure you, it is not your strong suit.

Gene Weingarten: That is not fair. I am equally insensitive to fat men.

The gender study was an elaborate hoax. Sorry, but I consider that particular picture funny. So has everyone I know who has seen it, and they are mostly women.


Amor, AL: Did you hear that the Prime Minister of Italy said a 39 year old woman in a coma for 17 years should be kept alive because she is still fertile? Any opinions?

Gene Weingarten: Wow. This is true?


Life of the mom: Can I take a shot at this? In my own view, it comes from the fact that I see a fetus as a baby--as a person. It has rights. Obviously, the mother also has rights. But killing one person to save another person doesn't add up.

Gene Weingarten: So you compel the mother to have the baby, and therefore risk both their lives? There is no guarantee the baby survives.


Kids cost money: Are people seriously thinking that income shouldn't restrict childbearing? Come ON, people. We get all cranky and uppity when people buy too many video games and designer jeans that they can't afford on credit, but we give them a pass for bringing another human being into the world without the ability to provide for that person? Please explain this to me. I'm a social worker, and I see a lot of these kids whose parents can't afford their families. In a large majority, these kids aren't growing up in households where clothes are scarce but love is abundant. It's not some fairy-tale Waltons episode. It's stressful and awful and in many cases, the kids stay in a cycle of poverty that is incredibly difficult to break out of.

Gene Weingarten: Thanks.


Savannah, GA: I am opposed to abortion. I want fewer babies killed that way. I'm willing to put aside the discussion of the legality of abortions for another day as long as the other side is willing to discuss how to reduce abortions- access to birth control, support for financially disadvantaged mothers/families, etc.

When abortions were illegal, they still occurred, and a lot of mothers died too. As long as we reduce the number of abortions that occur, I couldn't care less if they are still legal.

Gene Weingarten: I don't think anyone is PRO-abortion. I think the most radical pro-choice person would like there to be no abortions, by choice.


No exceptions: Gene, the reason you are "not getting" the rape/incest exception is that it is based on an analysis of the woman's "fault" and her choices. They think that the woman's "right to choose" about pregnancy exists at the time she chooses has sex, and once she does that it's her fault she's pregnant and she should be allowed to have a "take-back" When she is raped (or pressured into sex by an older male relative upon whom she is dependent), she cannot have been said to choose to risk pregnancy.

These are the same people who believe you should be able to shoot to kill someone who trespasses on your property, just because they were trespassing. So long as you post a "no trespassing" sign instead of an open gate.

Gene Weingarten: This is not what I believe: I am saying that if YOU believe that all abortion is the murder of an innocent, period, end of story: How can you say it is okay to murder an innocent in some cases? Still an innocent and still, in this view, a baby.


Vegan sushi: How is seaweed not vegan?

Gene Weingarten: Good question. I forget. There was a reason he didn't use it, though. He called the dish he prepared a "Molly special."


Amor, AL (again): Direct quote from article: "Justifying his campaign to save Englaro's life, the prime minister added that, physically at least, she was "in the condition to have babies", a remark described by La Stampa newspaper as "shocking". Giorgio Napolitano, Italy's president, has refused to sign the decree, but if it is ratified by the Italian parliament doctors may be obliged to resume the feeding of Eluana early this week."

Link to article.


Gene Weingarten: Man.


Viability: On the question of when life begins, I'm told that the Jewish mother's stance is that a fetus isn't fully human until it graduates from med school.

Gene Weingarten: Yes.


Gene Weingarten: What begins with "A" and is the Jewish word for human being?



Granny? Elly May? What's the difference?: Here's a recent photo of Donna Douglas, the actress who played Ellie May Clampett.

Gentlemen, start your engines...

Gene Weingarten: I am in enough trouble with women here. I think she looks ... just fine.


Re: Amor, AL: Not only is it true, but they are keeping her alive over the wishes of her family and her stated desire not to live that way before she went into the coma

Gene Weingarten: Auggghhh.


Clifton, Va.: I think each week we are drawing nearer to a tipping point where more posts allude to that-which-shall-not-be-discussed than reference the "official" topic of the day.

When we reach that tipping point, the only rational thing for Chatwoman to do will be to permit the discussion because, in so doing, she will actually MINIMIZE the number of posts about that-which-shall-not-be-discussed by concentrating them all in a single chat. Mmmmm..... no.

Gene Weingarten: I think yours is a genius position.


Rib Story: Your coffee spoon story made me tear up. My mother was a teacher in rural Virginia in the 60s and she had similar stories. It really shook her, and she never completely enjoyed teaching again.

Gene Weingarten: Well, this particular teacher was never quite the same either: She was very trigger shy about sending notes home. She felt as a result the kids were getting a lesser education.


Fairfax: Re: Amor, AL, the Prime Minister of Italy also said that rape is inevitable in their country because Italian women are so beautiful. So infer from those two items what you will.

Gene Weingarten: This story just gets worse and worse.


Capitol Hill : Hi Gene. I know that you said that you adopted Murphy from a shelter and that with patience one can find just about any dog they are looking for in a shelter. I was hoping you could give me some more help or advice, I've grown up with dogs and lots of other pets and now that I am in my mid-20s and finally settling down a little bit I am ready to get a dog of my own. The dogs I have always had have been purchased from reputable breeders, but my financial situation makes adoption or rescuing a much better option for me. I would still like a puppy, am kind of picky about breeds and would love a purebred if it is at all possible. I would also like to stay away from places like that have huge "adoption fees" that cost almost as much if not more than some breeders (I won't name names here). Thanks for your help! I can't vouch for all shelters and rescue groups, but those "adoption fees" are usually put to good use paying for food and healthcare for the pets that have not yet been adopted and for the vet care given to your future pet while being sheltered.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, exactly. Murphy was a stray, and the shelter was "free," but we wound up paying about $400 for her. The SPCA charges the owner for the cost of the spay/neutering, which seems reasonable to me, and for the cost of the initial shots.

If you are looking for a purebred, at no cost, from a shelter, I don't know where to send you.


Washington, D.C.: Gene - what did you think of last Friday's Prickly City where they call Rush Limbaugh a jerk? It actually made me laugh.

Gene Weingarten: I would like this better if it were funny. I applaud the stance, but I think political cartoonists -- and political standup comics -- have an obligation to be funny.


Stero, ID: As a journalist, if someone leaks to you a public figure's private medical record, are there no qualms about filing a story concerning this protected information?

Gene Weingarten: I would say it depends entirely on the context and the importanceof the disclosure. If you mean A-Rod, I'd have no hesitation printing that. He had denied in the passed using steroids, and it is a huge ethical issue.

If I discovered that a sitting U.S. senator had a terminal form of cancer, and that was all to the story, I think I would do nothing without his approval.


Re: Italian coma lady: She died yesterday. The Pope asked God to forgive those responsible.

Gene Weingarten: So I see.


Riiiiiiight: So, most of the (presumably not-fat) women you consulted think the picture was funny, so that makes it okay?

Try asking some fat people, jackass. And try to grow a conscience.

Gene Weingarten: Well, I do like the concept of "growing" a conscience.


Baltimore: I'm a Catholic who is very liberal politically. I believe in my heart that abortion is immoral. For example, on the question of aborting some of the septuplets -- how do you decide which to keep? The boys? The blue-eyed ones? But I also believe my personal morals and beliefs shouldn't dictate the laws of our nation. So I voted that abortion is immoral, but should be legal.

Gene Weingarten: I get this.


Baltimore, Md.: Re Donna Douglas: Why do people react with an "Ewwwwww..." to a picture of woman who must surely now be in her mid 70s. Does everyone think she would still look the way she does on Beverly Hillbillies reruns on TVLand? Good heavens, this is a woman who dated Elvis -before- he was fat!

Gene Weingarten: I DO think she looks fine, in an over-made-up sort of way.


Sushi: Gene, I know that Waldorf, Md. isn't anywhere near where you'd likely go for good sushi, but I have to tell you about this place, Kodori. It was started by a couple of Sushi Chefs who left a large national chain because they didn't like their corporate mentality. The sushi has always been wonderful, and they have some unusual specialty rolls of their own. You might not quite get the culinary adventure that your place has provided, but the quality has always been top.

The most important thing I can say about this place is this. One time, my wife and I went, but they did not have tuna. That's right, a staple of every sushi place, out. The reason? The sushi chef didn't like the quality. He'd rather not offer something so basic than to risk giving any of his customers something he doesn't think is good enough.

(I'll understand if this doesn't get published since I name a business, but I had to bring it up)

Gene Weingarten: Naming a business is fine. We'll try it.


Silver Spring, MD: "If you are looking for a purebred, at no cost, from a shelter, I don't know where to send you." is an excellent compiler of shelter and rescue group animals, searchable by almost endless combinations of characteristics.

But not "no fees."

Gene Weingarten: Noted.


Subway Confrontati, ON: Here's a different kind of scenario of public misbehavior where I did speak up. I wonder what you think of this. I got on a commuter train in Boston, and I saw a father, who was wearing a Boston Fire Department T-shirt, installing his two children on the train. The boy looked to be about 11 or 12, the girl 8 or 9. After dad got off the train, the boy got up to pull off his sweatshirt, revealing the T-shirt underneath. It was a take-off on the old Trix cereal rabbit, and it read "Silly Faggot, Dix are for Chix." I was stunned and appalled. I sat there for the 45 minute train ride stewing about what, if anything, I should do. I think it's important to stand up against public displays of bigotry, but what was I going to say to a 12 year old kid? Not to mention that I couldn't help thinking how badly a confrontation between a gay man and a young boy could wind up. I was still stewing when the train got to its final stop, and I walked out behind the kids, still not sure what to do. Then fate smiled on me. Their mother was there waiting to pick them up, and they went straight for her. I followed and asked, politely, "Are you their mother?" When she said yes, I said, "I can't believe you let him wear that T-shirt in public. It's vicious and insulting." She averted her eyes and started to lead the kids away and I added, "It's really, really ugly. And it makes him, and you, look stupid." I don't know what effect, if any, I had. Perhaps the little girl asked, "Mommy, why was that man mad." Perhaps the boy was shocked to find out that he'd actually hurt someone's feeling. At the very least, I like to think that the next time he put it on, his mother said "Take that off so the gays won't yell at mommy."

Gene Weingarten: You know, it's pretty amazing that T-shirt is made in an 11-year-old's size.


Dogs from Shelters: If you can't afford the adoption fee (which is really a donation that helps them continue to adopt/rescue animals), then you really can't afford a dog.

Gene Weingarten: This seems like a theme for today.


Sus, HI: Have you mentioned your sushi story to colleague Tom Sietsema? Sounds like something he might be interested in hearing about.

Gene Weingarten: I shall.


What is hum, OR: Gene,

I'd love to hear more about your thoughts on humor. You've often cited Dave Barry (it helps us cope with a mad world), but there are a couple other ideas about which I want to hear your view.

What about humor = suffering, but not mine? Reminiscent of the line about tragedy is when I stub my toe; comedy is when you fall down an open manhole.

What about humor = twist of language or logic? My old logic professor at American U. claimed that most jokes work by playing with our expectations about how words work or about how logic unfolds.


Gene Weingarten: There are two views of humor; they don't conflict, they fold into each other. The first is about the mechanics of humor: It results from colliding frames of reference. "My dog has no nose." "Really? How does he smell?" "Awful."

That's funny, sort of, because we are expecting one line of logic, and another intrudes. It creates a sort of mental judo, and that amuses us.

The second is philosophical. It answers the "why." That's the Dave Barry line: "A sense of humor is a measurement of the degree to which we live in a world almost entirely devoid of reason. Laughter is how we release our anxiety about this."

Similarly, but later and with lesser elegance, I once observed that when people are filled with grief, they need to cry, and when they are filled with fear, they need to laugh.

Now, you might ask: How does Method Two explain joke One? Not that well, which is one reason it is only an okay joke. But it does apply: We love dogs, we surround ourselves with dogs, we snuggle with dogs, but they smell bad. It's like a poop joke, only tamer.


"...I think political cartoonists -- and political standup comics -- have an obligation to be funny." : Unless their name is Trudeau, the Garfield of political "humor."

Gene Weingarten: I was thinking specifically of Garry Trudeau and Doonesbury. He is the perfect example of the political satirist who sees his mission as humor first.


Pro-choice all the way, but: Gene,

Abortions happen for so many reasons, but some are worse than others. I have been married 6 years, have a 4 year-old. We have been not preventing conception (not actively trying like following cycles either). We had discussed this and seemed open to it. Then I got pregnant and my husband wanted me to have an abortion because he wasn't ready. I have never been so furious with anyone in my entire life.

I ended up miscarrying, which I am oddly grateful for. I didn't want to raise a child whose father was resentful of his or her existance, and I didn't think I would ever be in a situation contemplating termination at this stage of my life.

I am now contemplating divorce. I feel had.

Gene Weingarten: Does anyone have anything funny to say unrelated to abortion? (I am assuming it is impossible to have anything funny to say related to abortion.)


Delp, HI: Gene,

There's an important issue which I think you haven't addressed, and you are the only one who can answer it. If at work you go out to pick up a sandwich for lunch, and you come back into the building and realize you need to go to the bathroom before lunch, is it OK to bring your lunch into the bathroom? (Is it only OK if you can fit your lunch into your coat pocket and don't need to set it down anywhere?) My wife would never do it, and I can't tell if that is for reasons of nature or nurture.

Gene Weingarten: You mean it might be polluted by air cooties?

I'd love to hear from others on this. I don't think any guy is going to have a problem with transporting his lunch into a bathroom.


Only child: I was almost always happy to be an only child. There was a phase of about a year in which I wanted a little sister, but then my friend's mom had a second child and I changed my mind. (Incidentally, I also do not want children.)

I wasn't a loner--I had plenty of opportunities for socialization and a great set of friends--but I've always really enjoyed being able to have time to myself. I don't know if that's nature or nurture, but whatever the reason, it meant I almost never missed having a sibling.

Gene Weingarten: I think it is interesting, if predictable, that the biggest difference between men and women in the poll was on selectively aborting some of the 7 fetuses.

For what it is worth, I think you almost HAVE to selectively abort in that circumstance. I think God Himself would grant you a special dispensation.


Forbidden Subje,CT: Hey, could we have the, um, "topiary discussion" if Liz is on vacation or otherwise misses a chat? I will never go on vacation ever again.

Gene Weingarten: By keeping this issue alive we can drive Liz nus.


Metro w/kids: Gene

I understand your reasons for choosing not to intercede under those conditions however I do think it's important to recognize one simple little fact.

The children may have just been given a tiny bit of hope in that they witnessed an adult willing to stand up for them.

While they may not realize the benefits of that interaction at this point in their lives it very well may help them realize they're not alone.

Sometimes all it takes is the knowledge that 'you're not alone'.

Gene Weingarten: Yep, but I still worry about repercussions to the child that we won't see. Look at the trouble you got me into, because you misbehaved.


Why you're fat...: Should be called "why you're dead." And yes, those are all real items. I've seen quite a few of them.

Gene Weingarten: Even the pizza with the knockwurst?


Air cooties are tewtally real: I will leave my lunch on one of the many unoccupied desks in the newsroom and hit the john on the way to my own desk. This habit has been noticed by my coworkers. I once returned to said desk to find my lunch missing, hidden by one of the male reporters. They just don't get it.

Gene Weingarten: It's in a BAG. The stink cooties can't get in!!


Springfield, Va.: "I'd love to hear from others on this. I don't think any guy is going to have a problem with transporting his lunch into a bathroom."

So long as he doesn't eat it while sitting on the growler...

Gene Weingarten: Correct. That is a different issue. Such a man is a gorilla.


Falls Church: You said: "I think it can be argued that if you cannot afford to raise a child . . ."

Nice syntax, Gene. If you have an opinion, just state it. Why preface it with "I think" and the passive voice abomination "it can be argued"?

Gene Weingarten: Because I am not sure I am arguing it.


Speaking of driving Liz nuts...: Can we have this discussion if we include male grooming habits down there as well?

Gene Weingarten: She won't allow it. She is being totally anal about it.


Military: Gene,

To whom can you turn if you think your military spouse has PTSD, particularly if you want it to be confidential and not potentially ruin your spouse's career?

Maybe a Carolyn Hax question, but you are the man who wrote the book on illnesses. This may be a place to start (

Gene Weingarten: That is exactly where to go.


New York, NY: Hi Gene -

Any thoughts about the Post giving Bill Kristol a monthly column? By all accounts, the major reason for the Times not renewing his contract had less to do with his ideology, but rather his tendency to often got his facts wrong and the paper's need to issue several corrections to his columns. I was very surprised that, despite his apparent troubles with sticking to the facts, the Post immediately hopped on the opportunity to have this voice of the right on board. Were you surprised at all by the hire or by how quickly the announcement was made?

Gene Weingarten: I was surprised by both!


Arlington, Va.: Wow. So people really feel not wanting a child is a reasonable reason for aborting a baby? I wonder how many of these people would be upset if I decided I didn't want a puppy anymore so I decided the best course of action was to shoot it? If you decide to have sex then you need to be prepared to deal with the consequences; broken condoms and forgotten pills be damned.

I was firmly pro-choice until my wife gave birth. She was a high risk pregnancy so we had frequent ultrasounds and watching our baby grow in her womb was an incredible experience and one that truly altered my opinion on abortion.

Gene Weingarten: I understand your position, but do you know how self-righteous it sounds to many people? (Including me?)


Follicles: Suppose you have chubby legs. Then you lose weight. Your legs become thinner and the leg skin shrinks somewhat around the thinner legs. What happens to the hair follicles in the skin? Do your legs retain the same number of total hair follicles, now packed more densely? Or do some of the follicles magically disappear? And if they disappear, where do the hairs go?

Gene Weingarten: I'd be happy to hear from a dermatologist, but I'd bet a substantial bit o money that the follicles simply become more densely distributed.


Help, ME: I am going to buy a new car very soon. The car I want is available with a manual transmission. Is there any acceptable excuse for me to get an automatic transmission. I was thinking that it would be hard to text and drive with a stick (my current car is automatic), but I used to eat and smoke and mess with my broke old cassette player while driving a stick without any problems.

Gene Weingarten: There is never any moral or ethical excuse for buying a car with an automatic transmission, unless you are physically handicapped. I don't know why I need to keep telling you people this.


Arlington, Va.: So Gene. When the cops pull you over for not clearing the snow off your car, will your defense be, "But it's funny"?

Gene Weingarten: My response will be what I believe: That is what wind is for.


Anonymous: Any views on the priest whom the Pope recently brought back into the fold? While he's known mainly for being a Holocaust-denier, he seems to buy into many conspiracy theories, including that the World Trade Center towers were brought down not by planes but by professional charges placed throughout the buildings (he has told anyone who doubts him to go to a Web site). Is he anti-semitic or just a conpiracy nut? So far, Angela Merkel seems to be the only world leader daring to criticize the Pope over his move.

Gene Weingarten: Richard Cohen had a good column on this today.

It doesn't matter what he is. He is a Holocaust denier, which is inconsistent with being a priest, or a leader of anything. This is a humongous and symbolically awfuel error by the Pope. I don't know what he was thinking.

Gene Weingarten: Awful, not awfuel. Awfuel is a picture of a puppy.


State Department : I used to work for a government contractor as a program manager with the State Department as my client. We dealt with technology issues.

I can say without a doubt that foreign service employees - from ambassadors down to admin assistants - are the most pompously arrogant-without-cause people I have ever met. They also have the brains of a cow-turd.

While the story amused me, it did not surprise me.

Gene Weingarten: Noted.


She won't allow it.: You wrote "anal"!!! That's why he gets paid the big bucks.

Gene Weingarten: This is such an exciting topic.


Downtown, Dee Cee: Gene, you agree (above) that Roe v. Wade's trimester system is arbitrary, though you seek to put the decision in historical context). Yet you state that you believe a 3-month fetus is not a person. So how do you differentiate between an 11-week fetus and a 13-week fetus? By shoe size?

Gene Weingarten: I don't differentiate between them, legally or morally. They're both not remotely viable.


Plastic For, KS: Why why why are plastic utensils so useless? I'm trying to eat a salad at work and it's pure comedy.

Gene Weingarten: Some are useful. It's the ones that are so thin they seem rubberized that are useless.


Wind 'n snow: So when the wind blows the shelf of ice on your roof into the car behind you, cracking their windshield and causing them to lose control, will your response be, "that's what insurance is for"?

Gene Weingarten: Point taken. And I have been the victim of this, and don't like it. I do scrape enough off so that only mist gets wafted.


Washington, D.C.: Random thought, I am an only child and I don't think it is right to have only one child. I know my parents thought they couldn't have children and I was a wonderful surprise to them, but I have many friends (who aren't only children) who say they only want one child. I think this is terribly selfish and other only children seem to always agree with me. I have yet to meet an only child who wants just one child. At the end of the day, it -usually- a person's choice on the number of children, but it really bugged to see the number of people who wanted only one child.

Gene Weingarten: Interesting question: Any only children out there who want an only child?


Bethesda, Md.: You've always stated that everyone should do what they want. Well, what if you (the breadwinner) are in a certain field and have a family, but really want to be in a similar field that pays less money -- meaning it will be significantly tougher (though not impossible) to support the breadwinner's family. Should the breadwinner still go for the "wanted" field?

Gene Weingarten: Yes. It will work out, if you love it.


Help, ME: This Web site made me think of you.

But, I need your help. I really want to understand the one at the bottom, "McCoy", but I just don't get it! I get that "cork socker" and "sock tucker" both sound like something risque but I don't get how that ties in with the phrase "the real McCoy". Can you explain??

Oh yeah, and you're an old Jew -- maybe you can become one of the joke tellers on this Web site?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, this is a fairly subtle joke.

The real McCoy means not some goofy sound-alike to the sex act, but the real thing.


Adams Morgan, Washington, D.C.: Question for you. I was going through some holiday cards the other day which were long overdue to be taken down. The problem is this. More and more of these cards are photos with our friends' children on them. Can I throw them out? For some reason I am feeling guilty about this. Five years from now I am not going to be looking at these pictures and having fond memories. Would my friends be aghast if they knew their child lasted only a month on the mantle?

Your thoughts? Liz's thoughts? I toss them with no twinge of guilt whatsoever.

Gene Weingarten: Toss them joyfully!


Winnipeg, MB: I heard a rumor recently that there was a Sally Forth strip from about 10 years ago where Ted was clearly coming up for air after giving Sally some... oral attention shall we say.

Can you use your god-like powers to investigate the existence of such a strip?

Gene Weingarten: No way. I'd know.


With spring approaching: Any hope for my lawnmowing poll?

Gene Weingarten: See next post.


Leave Liz Alo, NE: Gene,

Please. Liz has made a sensible rule regarding appropriate chat topics. Discussion of women's personal grooming only serves to satiate the prurient interests of men. If women are really interested in what is "normal," women can visit any salon and ask to talk to a waxer.

Please stop bullying Liz, and please stop letting others do so. It's wrong. And even if Liz handles this with good grace and humor, as she has, it's still wrong to harangue her for a decision that she has the right to make.

Gene Weingarten: This is the first tangible support she's had. Are there others?


Automatics: Gene, I agreed with you until I learned that all hybrid and/or electric vehicles are automatic. I am sorry, but my aversion to auto has been overcome by a desire not to add more particles to the air.

Gene Weingarten: My car gets 40 mpg.


Washington DC: "Gene Weingarten: There is never any moral or ethical excuse for buying a car with an automatic transmission"

Nor is there any excuse for using email instead of a telegraph. Learn Morse Code, you lazy, unsophisticated dolts! Sheesh.

Gene Weingarten: Ah, but driving a stickshift is not in any remote way less efficient, or technologically retarded.


Hold, ON: About this priest Williamson: He's a dope and the Holocaust obviously happened. But I don't see how that makes him incompetent as a minister. I know lots of not-too-bright ministers who are good at helping people through difficult times and so forth. I also know ministers who have questionable ethics and morals, and others who commit sins that they deny to others. Why does stupidity and prejudice disqualify this guy?

Gene Weingarten: Because he suposedly a moral authority.


No excus, ES: About the lady on the train with the two little kids...she was abusing her kids, emotionally. The writer should have gotten off the train and reported her to the police at the station. As for the experience your wife had as a teacher...teachers are considered "mandated reporters" -- people who work with children who are required, by law, to report suspected abuse and neglect. I realize that your wife was traumatized by what occurred, but the first call she should have made should have been to the local child welfare agency. Odds are pretty good that a burning spoon to the skin was not the first or last abuse that child endured. Where I live, we count on teachers as our extended eyes and ears to help us prevent abuse and neglect.

Gene Weingarten: Can you imagine the cop responding to the first complaint, "So, ah, you're reporting dis lady on account of she hurt her kid's feelings..."


Emmanual Transmission: Can Liz drive a stick? Does she? I can. Dad taught me in the Pentagon parking lot when I was 16. My husband and I have two cars. One stick, one automatic.

Gene Weingarten: Of COURSE Liz can drive a stick.

Okay, we're done. Thanks. The updates start again this week. See you there, every day, and then next Tuesday.


Updated 2.11.09

Pat the Perfect, ME: Re pet adoptions: The fees at the Prince George's public shelter are quite low, almost zero if the dog is already neutered. We got our dog from there, and the staff was very caring:

Adoption Fees For dogs $15 For cats $10 License (for PG residents) $25 for unaltered dogs and cats License (for PG residents) $5 for altered dogs and cats Microchip fee $15 for dogs and cats

All animals adopted from the Animal Management Facility are spayed and neutered before they leave. Spay/Neuter (alter) fee: $60 for male dogs $70 for female dogs $25 for male cats $40 for female cats

Gene Weingarten: Indeed. I was unaware of this when I spoke of $400 minimums; Murphy was adopted from the NoVa ASPCA, which is evidently somewhat more expensive.

Murphy, as you know is a Plott Hound, and maybe the best dog I've ever owned. She's sweet, smart, headstrong but well trainable, determined, loyal, and affectionate. Why am I telling you this?

Because of THIS: Mazie's Girl 1, Mazie's Girl 2, Mazie's Girl 3, Mazie's Girl 4, Mazie's Boy 3, Mazie's Boy 4, Mazie's Boy 6. Make sure you click on each puppy individually. You will be at this a while, and melting at your desks.


Holocaust humor: Gene - you are the only person I can think of to put this question to. First, read this joke:

German: Jeez, you just can't get a good bagel in Germany these days.

Tourist: Well, whose fault is that?

This joke circulated (as one in a longer list of jokes) among some friends by e-mail, and the subject of it came up at a recent gathering - mostly WASPy types, no Jewish people were present that evening. I'd say most of us found the joke, objectively, actually quite funny. It derives its humour from the juxtaposition of the commonplace "whose fault is that?" and the enormity that is implied. The slight delay while you "get it" adds to the punch.

But naturally we all felt degrees of guilt about finding this funny, and got to talking about where you could draw the line between an instinctive reaction to the humor and the need to act considerately and morally to one's fellow man. At the most extreme, some thought that the moral obligation was to not even find the joke funny (That's NOT funny!). Next level was that you could find it funny in your head but should not actually laugh at it. The next level up was that it is OK to laugh at it, but you should not tell anyone the joke; final stage - you could tell the joke but only to some people. (I guess no one went all the way and thought you should be able to tell it to anyone with impunity.)

Personally, I'm not sure you can control your response to humor, and as a piece of humor, that joke is, to me, objectively funny. I don't believe that implies anything about my moral stance on the Holocaust. I also believe that there are even many Jews who would not find it objectionable. More than any people on earth, practically, the Jews have made humour a survival mechanism.

So I guess my questions to you are:

1. Is this joke objectively funny?

2. Does one's reaction to a joke imply a moral position? (if you laugh at a joke that plays on a racial stereotype, are you a racist?)

3. Does your ability to tell a joke like this depend on your own background (ie, only OK for Jews to tell it)

I'm not expressing this well but I think you get the point. Your thoughts would be appreciated.

Gene Weingarten: I would feel guilt in telling this joke, but not because it is offensive. I would feel guilt because it is a paltry joke -- so weak in design that it could be uttered seriously, not as a joke, just a wry comment, and people would just nod in recognition.

As to its taste: You can always argue that ANY joke connected IN ANY WAY to the Holocaust (or slavery, or rape, etc.) is tasteless, because it trivializes something terrible. I disagree with that. But the criteria for being acceptable become very, very high. The first, but not the last, important criterion is that the joke is funny.

Ironically, this joke fails that test! The only reason it remains tasteful is that it passes all the rest: The Holocaust part of this joke remains at a distant remove. It has no specifics -- it is a very general reference, and it is open to broader interpretation: It may also refer to the fact that Germany remains inhospitable to Jews, even now, in many ways.

So, your "joke" is fine. Except it sucks.

Gene Weingarten: A better issue is the horribleness of Internet jokes. Seeing jokes in written form leaches them of most of their humor. It may be the worst side effect of the Web: The death of jokes.


City, ST: Something that came up last week reminded me of something I have wondered for a long time. Why is it so rude to talk on a cell phone in public? Assume that the conversation is being held at a normal conversation volume. How is this fundamentally different than talking to someone sitting right in front of you, also in a normal conversational volume and tone? I suspect my fellow chatters will have the answers.

Gene Weingarten: I think I know why. The first, and lesser reason, is that people tend to talk louder on the phone than they do in personal conversation. The second reasons is that talking on the phone when in the presence of others seems psychologically dismissive of the people around you.

If you are engaged in a conversation with another person, you are engaged in something intimate; it seems appropriate to confine that to yourselves. If you are engaged in a conversation on the phone, that intimacy is gone. You seem to be speaking at the expense of bystanders. It's somehow way more exclusionary.

I think this second reason may fail a logic test, but it would pass an emotion test. I feel it, too. I find these people to be boorish.


Alexandria, Va.: I was surprised, though perhaps shouldn't have been, that "2" was the most common number of children in poll respondent's families, while growing up. Wonder if this is an age-related thing. As an early Baby Boomer (born 1950), I grew up with four children in the family and this was very common. Four, five, six children families were not at all unusual. My parents thought four was the perfect number for them.

Also very interesting to see that men, generally, want more children than women do. Kind of flies in the face of the conventional stereotype, doesn't it? As a woman, that did NOT surprise me. The people who do less of the child-raising labor want more of the goods; the people who do more of the labor (i.e., women) want a lot less of it.

Gene Weingarten: I agree. This was the least surprising result of the poll, to me.

Probably unfair and untrue, but I always assume that a huge family reflects the desire of the man more than the desire of the woman.


Am I Classist?: According to the American Heritage Dictionary, Classism is defined as bias based on social or economic class.

I'm starting to think that I am a classist. My wife and I are currently debating between three houses to buy. All three houses are in nice, middle class neighborhoods. They're all well built houses. The main differences between the houses are the schools my son would attend. Here are the details about each house:

House #1 is located in a school district where 21 percent of the students are eligible for free lunches. This school has the lowest test scores of the three schools we're looking at. This is a newer house with all the bells and whistles. It is the largest of the three houses.

House #2 is located a couple miles away from house #1. It is an older house, so it does not have as many bells and whistles. 11 percent of the kids in the school district are eligible for free lunch. In other words, my child would be going to school with fewer poor kids. This school was in the middle of the pack when it comes to test scores.

House #3 is located 15 miles away in the sticks. It's a beautiful house. 7 percent of the kids my son would go to school with would be eligible for free lunch. The schools near this house have the best test scores in the county.

I'm leaning towards houses #2 and #3, even though one house is older and smaller and the second house is farther away from where my wife and I work. I think my son will get in less trouble if his friends come from middle class families.

Race is not a factor in this decision. This is a class issue, not a race issue. All three schools have close to the same ethnic makeup.

So does wanting my kid to hang out with other middle class kids make me classist? I think it does, and that kind of bothers me. Should it bother me? Should a person feel guilty because he wants his kid to grow up with other middle class kids?

Gene Weingarten: Well, we begin with MY prejudice: I am leaning toward the oldest house available. I think that as a general rule, the more modern the house, the crappier it is built. (Unless the "oldest" is from the 1970s, in which case, the distinction is insignificant."

Second, I think the most important criterion in buying a house , when you have young children, are schools. Period. Unless the differences between the three schools are so small as to be insignificant, and unless diversity is an issue in one school (I gather it is not) I go with the house that has the school that gives the best education to your kids.

Don't be a weenie. Stop worrying about what whiners will say about you. Stand up straight.


UPDATED 2.12.09

Gene Weingarten: How amazing is this? Gad, I miss these people.


Your Colu, MN: Gene,

Your article on the State Dept's e-mail problem made me wonder: what's the worst e-mail mistake YOU have ever made?

Gene Weingarten: I cannot recall anything really horrible, though I HATE it when I see, just after I have punched SEND but before the e-mail leaves my screen, a typo.

Here's my real worry: That I have made a terrible e-mail mistake and don't know it.

See, that's the thing -- if you commit a small e-mail embarrassment, the recipient is likely to tell you. But if you do something HORRIBLY AWFUL, you are never likely to know, except in some very subtle way, like getting fired seven months later. Or losing a friend without ever quite knowing why.


SW, DC: You know what drives me nuts? A professional talker on the public airwaves saying something is PATently absurd (or false or whatever)... rather than PATEently absurd. NPR does this all the time.

Gene Weingarten: I see.

They are pronouncing it correctly. You are using a secondary, mostly British pronunciation.

I love when this happens. The more self-righteous the complaint, the better.


Gene Weingarten: Okay, just for the record, I totally approve of this particular act of breastfeeding in public.


Columbia, Md.: Since it's getting to be spring time, I've got a gardening question for you. Do you prefer more of a modern minimalist garden such as this ? Or more of a authentic "wild" garden such as this? Or a cross of the two such as this?

And is the subtext subtle enough?

Gene Weingarten: I like the one that is pretty overgrown. The one with symmetrical patterns seems too mannered and pretentious to me. It just doesn't get me excited. I am thinking that the gardener is waay too inhibited, and is the sort of person who must have every hair in place. The one that is just smooth surfaces I just find creepy. I want to get out of there. Not set one foot inside. Or even one inch.


Just curious: Why does Liz get to decide what you chat about?

Is she the boss of you?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, she is. The only way I can get past her is through indirection.


UPDATED 2.13.09

Sushi: That "more business" explanation makes no sense. Why move stools away from the sushi bar? Why would it drive away business to have the option of ordering things that aren't even on the menu?

And seriously - there's nothing wrong with Americanized rolls. One of the most fascinating things about Japanese cuisine is the way it constantly evolves, adapts, and embraces new flavors and styles. I like going for the traditional stuff more than the next guy, but a necessary part of the sushi concept is experimentation. To insist that Americanized sushi is not "authentic" is an ironically Americanized prejudice.

Gene Weingarten: Americanized rolls are not real sushi, especially when they don't contain a shred of raw fish. I have met people who say they like sushi, but only California rolls. That is like saying you love Italian food, but only deep-dish Chicago pizza.

You need to talk to a real sushi chef, and ask him about California rolls, or any of the other Americanized stuff. Then stand back.


Austin, Tex.: Gene, regarding the disturbing food link your daughter sent you, check out this.

Gene Weingarten: This is very nice. You have to look at the Dateline video, midway down.

The nurse advocate -- a woman I know, and with whom I corresponded after she started a letter-writing campaign against me after I wrote hat if I ever became brain dead I wanted to put out of my misery via asphyxiation by a buxom nurse in one of those cute caps -- is a sharp woman, but doesn't sound so good here.


Re: the lady on the Metro: My mother abused my sister and me when we were children. I remember her being politely confronted a number of times. We. Loved. Those. People. (my sister and I).

Even if we were punished afterwards, hey, it wasn't like it didn't happen anyway for other things that weren't our fault. It gave us validation that we weren't crazy and maybe mom was.

Gene Weingarten: Thanks for telling us this. It changes my thinking on the issue.


Laurel: Gene, is it possible to simply laugh at Holocaust deniers, or is it too serious a matter to be funny?

Gene Weingarten: I laugh at them, unless they are in a position to wreak real havoc, like Ahmadinejad.

The danger from these people is that -- if anti-semitism is as pervasive as it may be -- at some point in the not so distant future, the existence of The Holocaust will be something that is debated, as though it were a legitimate issue of historical interpretation.

Imagine: In 2090, at Princeton, there is a class taught by a renowned historian: "The Holocaust: Did it Happen?" He concludes it did! But it wouldn't matter. The deniers would have won.

If this sounds far-fetched, and it does to me, it does not to many people more knowledgeable than I.


Commercial to Hate: Gene,

I know that there are certain commercials that you hate (e.g., the Lexus commerical over Christmas with the kids/adults talking about the best present they ever got). Anyway, have you seen the Best Buy commercial where the Best Buy worker tells the (happy) story of a woman who came in to buy a big screen TV for her new husband because the husband had sold his season tickets TO PAY FOR THE WEDDING. I hate, hate, hate this commercial. Who the heck wants to marry someone who makes them give something up that they love so much, and then "make it up" to them by buying them a big screen TV.

Thanks for letting me rant.

p.s. a good looking Plott Hound at Westminster last night, sadly, she did not win her group.

Gene Weingarten: This is the one who won. Murphy is 17 times as gorgeous.

Though I am pretty sure Murph would not stand for all that prissy manipulation of her body parts. I once tried to give her a "belly blow" and nearly paid with blood.


Something funny?: You asked for something funny relating to abortion. Well, this (video may be NSFW) might not exactly fit the bill, but it's close...

Gene Weingarten: It is!

And Citizen Ruth was funny, too.


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