Chatological Humor: About That Editor's Note; Ethical Questions and Heads-Up: Double-Knee Replacement (UPDATED 2.27.09)

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Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 24, 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

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Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon.

A large percentage of the questions awaiting me are about an "Editor's Note" that appeared on page A2 of The Washington Post on Sunday. This was how it read:

"The headline, illustration, and text of 'Below the Beltway,' a column in The Washington Post Magazine today, may cause offense to readers. The magazine was printed before a widely publicized incident last week in which a chimpanzee attacked and badly mauled a woman in Stamford, Conn. In addition, the image and text inadvertently may conjure racial stereotypes that The Post does not countenance. We regret the lapse."

The reference was to my column in that day's Magazine, about a recent scientific study involving monkeys and the human sexual response. Here is the column.

The Post's preemptive editor's note has taken a bit of a thrashing on Web, from the left and right, from citizen bloggers, from wackjob, tooth-gnashing "commenters," as well as from certified actual journalists with (401)k plans. I don't need or want to add to the clamor, and, in any respect, I am hardly an unbiased observer. But the thing is about me, so I will say this:

I think the editor's note was a mistake, but a well-intentioned one. I particularly understand the first part, wishing to assure readers that the timing of the subject matter was coincidental, and that we were not somehow making a tasteless reference to the chimpanzee attack in Connecticut. The remainder of the statement I feel was issued with a dismaying overabundance of caution that -- to quote the editor's note itself -- may "inadvertently conjure racial stereotypes The Post does not countenance."

I fear that the conjuring of racial stereotype was entirely the work of the apologizer, here. I don't think that any reasonable reading of this column, or the headline, or the illustration, would find any racial implications at all, nor did I intend any. I think the best evidence of this is empirical.

If I write a column that says cats are stupid, by noon on Saturday I will have received 30 e-mails telling me what a jerk I am. Readers are not bashful about voicing their objections, and the objections generally come straight to me, right away, on the day most people first open the Magazine.

On Saturday, there were no e-mails complaining about this column or the art. Then, on Sunday morning, readers found that editor's note, which essentially INVITED people to interpret the column as bigotry. That led to an outpouring of ... no letters.

Before publication, the column had been read and approved by many editors, two of whom are black. On the week before it was published, during the height of the news about the chimpanzee attack, the column (though not the illustration) was sent to editors at the 20-odd newspapers around the country that buy it through syndication. None of those editors complained or saw the need to apologize to their readers.

So, in short, I believe The Post erred here, but I think the impulse behind the decision was fine: Too often, newspapers reflexively stand stony silent behind something they have done, even when it becomes manifest that what they have done was blameworthy. In this case, however, there was simply nothing to apologize for, so, in the eyes of some, the apology might seem craven.

In short, yes, I believe it was a misfire. I have misfired many times myself. Stuff happens. I'm not angry.

If you are within the reach of these pixels and feel I'm wrong about this -- if you found that the column or the illustration had racial implications -- please speak up. I'd like to hear from you, particularly if you are black.

There is a postscript to this. Yesterday, my wife was browsing online for a baby-shower present for a friend of hers. She found exactly what she wanted, a cute little one-sie outfit. At the last minute, though, she noticed that it had the designer's logo on it, which happened to be a cartoon monkey. My wife's friend is black. Feeling completely ridiculous, but in the height of this nutty public frenzy, my wife decided not to risk giving offense.

What is WRONG with us?

---

By the way, cats are not stupid. Hold your fire.

--

I wish to report that I have purchased a MacBook laptop, which I am using today in this chat. I want to assure readers, however, that I am not going to become a typical Mac Guy, with tight pants and hair product, and an incessant need to proselytize. It's only a machine, albeit one that does not require you to deal with &$%! Anti-virus software companies, EVER. E-ver.

--

Stephanie Smilay caught The Post in finest accidental inaptonym I've seen. If eerie. On page one yesterday there was the following caption: "Best Supporting Actor: Health Ledger."

--

Joseph Stirt submits this, which may or may not be serious. I think it is.

--Today's CLOD is a flashback to a new remix of my favorite clod of all time, horse drunks.

--

Please take today's poll (MEN | WOMEN), which is showing the single greatest disparity we've ever had between answers given by men and women. It's in the answer to question one, about the porn video. We'll discuss this in a bit.

--

The Comic Pick of the Week is Sunday's Candorville. First Runner-Up is Monday's Pearls Before Swine. Honorables: Friday's Zits, Monday's Little Dog Lost. Wednesday's Non Sequitur.

One more thing: There will be no chat next week. That is because at this very hour one week from today, I will be on an operating table where doctors are essentially going to amputate both my knees and glue them back together. Double knee replacement. I expect to be back chatting the following week, but Liz will let you know. Interestingly, I am scheduled to do a chat about my cover story the following Monday; I suspect I'll do it fairly high on narcotics, which might be an advantage in THIS chat, but not in a chat on the cover story, which is the most depressing topic about which I have ever written.

So, stay tuned.

Okay, let's go.

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The Poll-Wow!: As I write this, I am blown away that both men & women think its OK to forge a taxi receipt but not OK to add extra mileage to make up for the taxi ride! Either you people have never been in a position with an expense account or you're so stupid that you think its worth risking your job over 40 freaking dollars. Especially with the information that the company is a stickler on this stuff.

I got the best advice on my very first job out of college from an old pro. He said I would have a good future with this company as long as I didn't "F&%- with the money." In particular, the expense account. And sure enough, in my 10 years with that company, I saw dozens of people fired from $50-$60K/yr. jobs with expense account and company car, on the spot, no questions asked for turning in forged receipts or phonying up mileage. And they made it a point of getting the stories out on the company grapevine to use as examples of not messing with the money.

But now I can see why dozens were fired, despite the examples year after year. Geez.

Gene Weingarten: I agree with the way most people answered. Claiming you drove somewhere you didn't drive doesn't pass my sniff test. The cab receipt is a different matter, for a very specific reason.

Ninety percent of the time, in my experience, cab drivers don't even fill out the receipt. They hand you a blank receipt for you to fill out. So you're on the honor system anyway.

I think it is a mighty fine line to make a big distinction over whether you filled it out in the car, or filled out an identical blank receipt a week later, when filing your expenses. The key is: Do you remember the fare? If you do, I believe there is no foul here. If you don't, I would eat the cost, or use an amount that you KNOW is less that what the fare really was.

I consider myself an expense account stickler. I believe the Post has literally made many hundreds of dollars on my out of town trips because I lose or forget to ask for so many receipts. I have almost never charged them for use of my personal car, for example, even though I use it all the time for business. I'm not being noble, I'm being lazy and absentminded.

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Annandale, Va.: The Baby Mop item must be made by this dude.

Gene Weingarten: Excellent.

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Depressing?: So your magazine article next week is the most depressing ever? More than the one about teen suicides in Savoonga, Alaska?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, I would say so.

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Washington, D.C.: Thanks for clarifying the Post clarification. Some readers might also be interested in this explanation from Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli: "[S]ome people in our newsroom thought the illustration and some language in the article was potentially problematic. We debated internally whether the illustration or the piece could be interpreted by anyone, even in a stretch, as racially insensitive. We concluded, regretfully, that such an interpretation might be made, and we wanted to let readers know that The Post neither intended nor tolerates the use of racial stereotypes." (from Washington City Paper)

Gene Weingarten: Right. Thanks for the link.

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Conspiratoria, IL: Weingarten, you magnificent bastard, you engineered that whole promotion for your Sunday column, didn't you? You convinced your paper to issue a preemptive mea culpa, supposedly to stave off criticism, just to draw attention to the piece. Tremendous.

I bet you even discreetly stoked the racial tensions behind the scenes up at the New York Post to force an editorial apology, paving the way for your own paper to issue its attention-drawing message on the same day your column ran. Incredible.

I'll wager that you secretly planted the idea for the offending comic, if not drew the whole thing up and faxed it from an "unknown caller", incited the kerfuffle, forced the editorial, and coaxed a calming plea from the Washington Post overlords, no? Amazing.

You traveled to Connecticut, tracked down a home with a monkey, covertly slipped the chimp some uppers, penned and planted the cartoon, caused the strife, necessitating the NY Post apology and instigating the WaPo words, all to push your own work, you devious genius.

You blackmailed the Speaker of the House to produce a bewilderingly inept stimulus bill, seduced both Maine Republicans to curry favor for the Senate vote, drove up to Stamford to secretly spike the chimpanzee with hallucinogenics, crafted and dead-dropped a marginally race-baiting comic, furtively fanned the flames of hatred with anonymous messages on left-wing websites, pleaded with the New York editor to douse the protest firestorm, and demanded your own editors play it safe with a few curiosity-inducing words, solely in service of creating the perfect storm of viral marketing for your own column.

Well done, sir. Well done. (Except for the near-fatal mauling.) I shudder to think what you'll dream up for an encore.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.

I have just been informed (this is true) that my column on Sunday got 400 percent more online eyeballs than my column usually does.

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Eastern Market (aka Amsterdam): Gene,

Just rented Body Of Lies last week. I remember you mentioned watching some of the filming. How long did it take to set up and film that 10-20 seconds worth of action?

Gene Weingarten: Liz, can we link to the column I wrote about this?

washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway, (Post Magazine, Sept. 30, 2007)

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Arlington, Va.: Cat's are the stupidest things evar you moran!

washingtonpost.com: Sure they are.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, noted.

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Cameracand, ID: Women were much more likely to say that they should tell their friend that they saw her on a Web site. At first, I thought this might reflect women's firmer belief in the right of someone to know. But maybe it has more to do with the fact that men think it will have a worse effect on their friendship than women do. Or maybe men are worried about the effect on the Web site.

Gene Weingarten: I am thinking most women are thinking: "If it was me, I'd want to know."

But your other point makes some sense, too. Maybe it's a combination of both?

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Amateur porn: I want to know if the answers to the first question would have been different if the friend was a man.

My first impression from the voting is that there's something disturbingly paternalistic that so many men think the woman needs to be protected from the truth by being kept ignorant. But maybe it's something else? Are the men just less likely to think that having a sex session posted on the internet is a big deal that needs to be mentioned? Would they be more embarrassed to admit that they were doing whatever they were doing that led them to find the video? Other?

Gene Weingarten: Another possibility.

Okay, let's hear from the poll-takers.

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Please Expla, IN: Just who was the politically hypercorrect editor at the Post responsible for the ridiculous abject apology for Shansby's illustration of Sunday's column? I mean, that apology was so wrong on so many levels that I hardly know where to begin. Who besides a mouth-breathing racist cretin would assume that a dark-furred cartoon ape (whose identity was described in detail in the column) carrying off a woman was meant as a caricature of an African-American? And, again given the detailed context of the column, how could any sentient being relate this cartoon to the recent mauling of a Connecticut woman by a chimpanzee?

Gene Weingarten: Okay, I have chosen this post to represent the many dozens of others making the same point. I'm not going to publish any more. Please, if you sent one, accept this one as a proxy of yours.

I'll add one more fact: After seeing that note in the paper on Sunday, I re-read my column, overcome with Jewish guilt, trying to place myself in the position of a hysteric, and still found no offense. At one point, Gina says that every woman has a bonobo in her romantic past, and then references "Vinnie, from ninth grade." I guess she was referencing all those black guys we know named Vinnie.

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Ethics Bite, ME: Love the quiz, because it gives me the opportunity to ask a similar ethics question that has been weighing on me for years.

I befriended a friend's wife. Wife confessed she was cheating on my friend. I got upset and told her she was wrong.

She told my friend that I was a terrible person and in love with him. Forbade him to contact me. My friendship with both of them ended. Her affair also ended. They seem to have a nice, normal marriage now.

I miss them both, but am still not welcome (I've tried). Did I do the right thing? I do think the wife ended the affair partly because I called her on it. That makes me feel good, but I am still upset that it cost me a really wonderful friend.

Gene Weingarten: I can't see that you did anything wrong. What the woman did was really distasteful. I'm curious: How do you know what she did?

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Parking Ethics: Gene,

Since you have strong thoughts on parking (e.g., bumper bumping), what do you think people should do when they come to a seemingly broken meter? Put a sign over the meter saying it's broken? Put a sign on their windshield saying that?

Gene Weingarten: I don't think this is an ethics issue. I think it's an issue of practicality. In my experience, you will be ticketed if you park at a broken meter, whether or not you leave a note.

I think that's disgusting. Because the city cannot maintain a meter, it means one less parking space can be used? If no ticket were given out, it would create an economic impetus for the city to fix it right quick. As it is, there is a disincentive: They get even more money from the ticket.

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"my column on Sunday got 400 percent more online eyeballs ": With approximately 90 percent fewer laughs. Not the best business-development ratio.

Kind of like Denny's giving away free food, which works right up to the point that you take a bite and realize you're at Denny's.

Gene Weingarten: Noted.

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Extra online column readers: But don't you think that some of that extra online traffic was from people e-mailing the link to others, as the column was funnier and probably spoke to many readers more than usual?

Gene Weingarten: Also noted.

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Crazy neighbor: We are currently renting an end unit condo. This morning, we received a letter from our neighbor, addressed only to my husband. I wish I could copy it word for word, but I will have to paraphrase since I don't have it in front of me: "Please stop banging your kitchen cabinets. It is unacceptable. It is causing my floors to shake and is causing my pets great distress [this is a direct quote]. I apologize for getting upset last night and banging my cabinets back at you; that was immature, but I was just so upset..."

This is not the first letter that we've ever received from her (our previous favorite was asking us not to hammer anything after we moved in and literally used 3 nails to put up some pictures) but it's definitely the best so far. We've never heard much of anything from her side (includign her retaliation out burst last night) and while I can't absolutely deny that she can hear some noise, we are by no means making an obscene amount of noise, I don't see how her floors can be vibrating if ours don't, and we are not banging around in the kitchen at odd hours of the night. Another person lives below us and has never had any complaints and we've never heard him. By the nature of the note, you'd think she would have talked to us about this before, but this is the first we've ever heard of it. Anyway, is it okay just to laugh at this and be very greatful that we have bought our own place and get to move out in a month? Or do we owe her a response? If so, it will need to be funny and I'd need your help.

Gene Weingarten: No response is needed, but I'd make one. I'd say that you will try to reduce the incidence of cupboard banging, but in return, ask her to stop flushing so much, that you really find the incessant flushing annoying.

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Northern Hemisphere: "One of the founders of PartyGaming, Anurag Dikshit, pled guilty to internet gambling charges, agreed to pay $300 million in fines, and could still face jail time after agreeing to a deferred sentencing arrangement."

Gene, Anyone you've heard of with a worse name than Mr. Dikshit?

Gene Weingarten: Wow.

Maybe not!

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Coa, Co: Maybe this will settle the great chocolate debate.

I set out two bags of mixed Valentine's Day candy here at work. (Hey, it was %75 off!) The bags had Hershey Milk Chocolate hearts, Reese's Peanut Butter hearts and Hershey Dark Chocolate hearts all of the same size. After an hour, there were only Dark Chocolate hearts left.

Draw your own conclusions...

washingtonpost.com: I conclude that you work in an elementary school.

Gene Weingarten: Hahahaha. Well done, Cwoman.

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NW Washington, D.C.: I didn't even THINK about racial implications when I saw the cartoon last Sunday. All I could think was that your little cartoon self looked so forlorn that I wanted to give you a hug. And being a hot female, you totally would have been cheered up.

Gene Weingarten: Of course I was forlorn. Gina rejected me.

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Savannah, Ga.: Women seem more concerned with the child's welfare than men -- why is that?

Let me ask you, Gene: if one of your children was not biologically yours, would you want to find out? What would you do if you did?

Gene Weingarten: I'd want to find out only because I generally believe in knowing things. It would not change anything, except perhaps lead to an interesting discussion with my wife of 30 years.

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THIS IS IMPORTANT: Please stop talking about everything else so that we may focus on the intelligence -- or lack thereof -- of cats. We must resolve this, dagnabbit.

Gene Weingarten: Read next post.

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Arlington, Va.: Cat's are the stupidest things evar you moran!: Obviously written by a dog.

Or the dumb. To quote Bucky Katt: "A Cat shall lead the Dumb and the Dumb will rejoice. But of course, they shall misspell their banners."

Gene Weingarten: Notd.

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Just, ME: Black woman here. Did not find the cartoon (or the article) racist. I do think the WashPost was a bit overly cautious here, but they don't wanna be skewered like the cartoonist for the NY Post. I guess I appreciate the editors trying to be sensitive...It all gets so complicated, though. Me? I'd rather we have the discussion rather than just sweep it under the rug like it's nothing, as is usually done.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, thank you.

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Questi, ON: I'm relatively new to you and your chats and so maybe you've already covered this topic. But as I was reading your column aloud to my husband on Sunday, he asked if Gina was made up, the similarity between your names (Gene + a = Gina) almost being too coincidental. I had never even thought it until then, but now I can't stop. So...is she real or not?

Gene Weingarten: I used to get this question all the time. It's been a while.

Yes, Gina is real, and she looks EXACTLY like that cartoon. She's a professor of feminism and literature at UConn. We wrote a book together.

You can Google her.

Some people apparently thought Gina looked black in the cartoon. She looks like herself. She's Sicilian.

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Anonymous Tipster: I am a woman, and I voted that the Web site viewer should tell his friend about the site anonymously. I'm not sure I'm right about this. It would relieve him of the discomfort after he tells her, but she would be hit with a double-punch: finding the content and then agonizing about who saw it and told her--and then even who else has seen it and hasn't told her. Two punches and a shove.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe he should tell her in person and suck it up. What do you think?

Gene Weingarten: No, I think anonymous was the only bad answer. Think about knowing that one of your friends has seen the video, but not knowing which one. Very cruel. Very head-messing.

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McLean, Va.: As a guy of the male gender if I were, theoretically, perusing an alleged porn site, and came across a video of one of my female friends, who is married, I'd find a way to let her know while at least maintaining plausible deniability on my having seen the video.

Why? Well, imagine if you were the guy and Liz was the gal (not that you peruse porn, or she would be stupid enough to have been videotaped). Sure, she knows you look at porn, what guy doesn't, but it can be a tad embarrassing (or can be for me) to discuss your preferences, porn-wise, directly, with a friend of the female gender.

Also, wouldn't Liz be a bit, well, skeeved to know that you had seen her naked? The plausible deniability could be as much for her benefit as for yours.

Gene Weingarten: How do you know I haven't seen her naked? You seem to be assuming a lot.

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Curmudge, ON: Gene,

You state in your opening paragraph that "rectified" is a funny word.

Actually it's not.

It just sounds like "rectum", which IS a funny word.

Gene Weingarten: Rectified is a funnier word than rectum, because it is all connotative.

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Cat owner: Cats are brilliant. They arrange to have a very comfortable life with many comfy sleeping places and some feel good catnip. They are picky about what they eat and force me to jump through hoops to figure out what they want by trying to interpret their haughty looks and the distain with which they walk away from their bowl (there is a small possibility that they are in cahoots with the dog - because he is thrilled to eat what the cat rejects). I wish my life were so comfortably arranged.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.

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Falls Church, Va.: Gene, the image of an ape abducting a white woman has always been targeted to racist fears of "miscegenation," all the way back to "King Kong." Even without the added background of the NY Post's chimp cartoon, I'm surprised that would have been OK with your column's cartoon this week.

Gene Weingarten: Thanks. This is the first such sentiment I've seen. Anyone agree with this?

My feeling -- my hope, anyway -- is that we have moved past this.

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Upfront About Backing Up: I had to go to the store twice today, and both times I encountered that vexing species of motorist: the type that insists on backing into a parking space. What's your take?

Gene Weingarten: They annoy me too. It takes much longer to back into a parking space than to back out of a parking space, especially for a bad driver, which they all seem to be.

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Turned on by a bonobo?: My first thought is that their female physical arousal detectors were not to be trusted, especially since this study was probably run by a bunch of geeky guys with their own goofy ideas of how to detect a woman's arousal. (Anything short of a drink thrown in the face is a go!)

Gene Weingarten: It was run by a woman.

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Notthechild's, PA: I voted for "don't tell because your friend told you in confidence," but what I would do is urge her to tell her ex-husband that he's not the father -- and if she refused, then I'd consider telling him myself. I'm pretty firmly opposed to getting involved in other people's business unless it's a life-or-death situation.

Gene Weingarten: I agree with this completely. To me, there is only one issue there: I would not break a promise of confidentiality except in the most dire of circumstances, and this does not cross the threshold.

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Alexandria, Va.: So, Gene... tell us what you think about this nine-year-old who got married recently... IN THE US.

Apparently she is dying, and her dying wish was to be married. So her parents indulged her wish and held a ceremony for her. The "groom" was also a young boy.

I do not think the marriage is legally binding, but that is not the point.

I am not sure how I feel about this. Part of me says that a child's last days are not the time to try to teach him/her some kind of lesson about society, blah blah blah. But part of me is just really disturbed that this country is producing kids whose life-long dream at 9 is marriage.

I kinda feel like maybe the parents should have hooked this girl up with that 8 year old from Egypt that fled her marriage and petitioned the court for a divorce.

I also feel like maybe the parents should have gotten to the bottom of exactly what that child wanted. Like maybe she just sees brides as princesses, and she would have been happy with a kind of princess ceremony or something more age appropriate.

Am I being too awful about this? I just cannot help but find this shocking!

Gene Weingarten: Well, the child is DYING. I see nothing wrong with this.

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Falls Church, Va.: Are you worried at all that they will reattach your feet onto the wrong legs? Maybe you should write "LEFT" and "RIGHT" on your feet in indelible marker just in case.

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahaha.

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Alexandria: "I guess she was referencing all those black guys we know named Vinnie."

Wow, talk about stereotypes. You racist pig.

When can we expect a nice groveling apology?

Gene Weingarten: I am terribly sorry if this gave offense to all those black guys named Vinnie.

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Bucks PA: About the father in the poll who was not actually the father. Father's rights advocates will tell you that the law is very clear; biological paternity is not required for a 'father' to be ruled legally responsible for child-support. So telling him would most likely have no effect on his legal obligation to support the child. Even if he subsequently proved beyond any legal doubt that he was not the biological father.

Gene Weingarten: Right. A couple people have noted this. I didn't know.

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Gina: I have met Gina. She is real. She is larger than life, and roughly the coolest woman, ever. I want to be just like her when I grow up.

Gene Weingarten: This better not be you, Gina.

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Broken Meter: Not ticketing cars parked at broken parking meters also provides a financial incentive for drivers to break functioning meters.

Gene Weingarten: True. But how many people would do that? I wouldn't even know how to break a meter.

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Park Place: I back into parking spaces and I am a very good driver. But I don't do it when there are other people around, exactly because of the extra time it takes. I'm a good tree falling in the asphalt forest.

Gene Weingarten: You are forgiven, in that case.

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Washington D.C.: Gene - re: having the same hair style since 1959. Weren't you a long-haired hippie back in the day?

Gene Weingarten: True enough. I had a four-year respite from The Haircut.

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Fairfax, Va.: The Candorville cartoon seems reminiscent of the famous quote from Martin Niemoeller, one of main opponents of Nazi racial ideology in the Lutheran church. His words: "First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist - so I said nothing. Then they came for the Social Democrats, but I was not a Social Democrat - so I did nothing. Then they came for the trade unionists, but I was not a trade unionist. And then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew - so I did little. Then when they came for me, there was no one left who could stand up for me."

I also saw another cartoon recently (can't find a copy to link to) that also mimicked this style. I find it a little unnerving to use this as a basis for a cartoon. As a Jew and humor expert, what do you think?

Gene Weingarten: I love that quote.

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New York, NY: Not really on point of the poll, but I was complaining to my husband of some perceived character flaw in a friend, and he said it was so interesting how female friends were not honest with one another, but male friends were. I had to agree with him; I couldn't imagine telling a female friend she was delusional, or arrogant, or what have you (in some constructive way, I suppose). Do you think males have an easier time with criticism, or maybe females do too and I'm just a spineless friend? (I would love to hear what people really thought of me, so perhaps I should ascribe the same wishes to others)

Gene Weingarten: This is one of Gina's favorite points: Guys bond through insulting each other. Women never do. Or seldom do. Never is a dangerous word.

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The great chocolate debate: There were two reasons that only the dark chocolate hearts were left. (1) They were HERSHEY. Hershey is crap. What those of us with taste enjoy is not "dark" chocolate, but "bittersweet" chocolate. Like Scharffenberger or Valhrona, 60-70% cocoa. Oh, man that's good stuff. (2) Your coworkers are they type of people who don't eat dark chocolate. We will say no more about that type of person, but we know what they're like, don't we, Gene?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, we do.

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Metro Etiquette: You get on a red line Metro train that's fairly crowded but you manage to snag an aisle seat with someone sitting in the window seat. Three or four stops in, the train empties slightly until you spot an open seat at the other end of the car. You are sitting next to a perfectly fine Metro passenger. Is it rude to abandon your seat and snag the empty two-seater? I do this, but I always feel guilty. I am also Catholic.

Gene Weingarten: I do it, too. Feel no guilt. Because it's obvious why you are doing it, and is not a snub. I assume it makes your seatmate a little more comfy, too.

_______________________

I don't think people hate or contemn atheists; I think people feel sorry for atheists. : Gene, I love you, and you are sadly culturally ignorant. You have lived in New York, Miami, and DC, and you think you know Americans. You have not spent nearly enough time in the South or the Heartland.

I grew up in the Bible Belt, went to college in the South, and did my graduate work at NYU. I can tell you that New Yorkers' smug, condescending contempt for the rest of the country is a mere shadow of what the Bible Belt feels for atheists. Yes, they feel sorry for you. Because they are going to spend all eternity in the glorious state of Being Right; and you are going to spend all eternity burning in agony, knowing you were Wrong.

They're really, really looking forward to that.

Gene Weingarten: Several people have made this point.

_______________________

Monkeys: Great, now I'm thinking back to the baby shower gifts I got for my friends, who are a mixed-race couple. Did I get them any monkeys?

Gene Weingarten: We're all becoming nuts. Rib says: Now, it's monkeys. Soon we'll be worrying about bananas.

_______________________

New York, NY: Women generally have more sensitive "mirror" neurons which are triggered when witnessing, among many activities, animal sex. They will, to some degree, feel the same sensations that the Bonobo chimps are experiencing. This also contributes to why women are more empathic, as they can actually feel what you are feeling.

Gene Weingarten: The original story in the Times suggested there might also be an anti-rape reaction going on, since the women subjectively reporting no feelings of arousal: That, essentially it was defensive, unconscious lubrication.

_______________________

Vinnie: I work with a black guy named Vincent, but he doesn't go by Vinnie - probably because he's NOT ITALIAN! Sheesh, people - do you know many Irish guys named Mordechai? A nice Jewish boy named Colm? C'mon - it's not a stereotype if it's TRUE!

Gene Weingarten: I don't think anyone is seriously arguing this issue, dude.

_______________________

Guys bonding: You're absolutely right, jerkface.

Gene Weingarten: Thanks, dork.

_______________________

Washington, DC: I was not the slightest bit offended by your column on Sunday. However, I was amused that on the back cover of my copy of the Post magazine, facing your article, was an ad for breast augmentation.

Gene Weingarten: I know! And Gina's final line was about "boob jobs."

_______________________

Anonymous: I had an ethical dilemma which reminded me of the first question. I will tell you how I handled it and see if people agree or not with what I did. Someone anymously sent around a video which purported to show a coworker in a fetish film, not porn, that had some nudity. The picture was grainy and it was hard to tell whether or not it was her at a younger age. I sent out a defense stating one could not tell who it is and that no one should presume it is her, but that people need to get a life and realize this was a youthful quasi-artistic film and not pornography and that even if it was her, it should not be a reflection on her work and that the person who sent it was obviously trying to detract attention from her work abilities. This seems to have shut people up, and I overheard some people deciding it wasn't her, and little was said afterwards, that I know of anyway, and work is back to where it was beforehand. Do people think I handled this well? Now, does this change if I add that the woman confessed to me confidentially that it was her in the film and I continued to raise the doubt as to whether it might be her?

Gene Weingarten: I like the end of this post.

Yes, I think you did the right thing throughout.

_______________________

A Hill on the Hill: Gene--I'm actually relieved to hear you're getting your knees done--when I saw you a few weeks ago, you looked like you were in very real pain. That said, do you have any fears ahead of your surgery that you might come out kneeless like Cotton, Hank Hill's dad on "King of the Hill"?

Gene Weingarten: I have a vague worry about dying, and a concrete worry about pain. But basically, I'm fine with it. And yeah, my life has been difficult for the last few years. I walk like a deformed elderly man.

_______________________

How is Fer-de-Lance like A Study in Scarlet?: And what is the link between Picture of Dorian Gray and The Sign of Four?

Gene Weingarten: I'll put that out there. I don't remember Dorian Gray well enough. Who can answer this?

_______________________

I miss them both, but am still not welcome : You miss a woman who told such lies about you, after telling you she was cheating on her husband? What's wrong with you?

Gene Weingarten: No, she is saying she misses her male friend.

_______________________

Broken Meters: I used to work in the Transportation Office at AU, and part of my job was fixing broken parking meters. People would purposely break them all the time so that they didn't have to pay, usually by jamming too many coins in at once or wrapping a piece of paper around a quarter so that it would jam in the mechanism. People who do this are self-entitled jerks who should be forced to work in crappy jobs where they have to deal with people like themselves. Oh, and we ticketed them anyway.

Gene Weingarten: But if you have a quarter, why bust the meter?

_______________________

Good Po, OL: The Gene Pool on what doesn't work was excellent - I couldn't stop giggling (at work, of course, which elicits many odd looks). Best Gene Pool ever.

Gene Weingarten: It was! I particularly liked The Universal Remote. They never work.

_______________________

The Rib: Your wife is a wise, funny person. At least as funny as you. Despite her self-imposed anonymity, there are a fair amount of posters who know her identity. Is there any chance, any at all, that you could get her online one day? We would LOVE to chat with her.

Gene Weingarten: We'll see. She rightly wants an identity other than my wife.

_______________________

Vincent Van Gogh: was not Italian

Gene Weingarten: But he didn't sign his paintings "Vinnie." Or answer to it.

_______________________

Pennsylvania: Gene, I know this isn't local-to-DC news, but your chat is far-reaching, so I'm hoping you'll post this.

The Humane Society in Washington County, PA, which is about 40 minutes south of Pittsburgh, where I live, has discovered 30 horses being starved to death on a farm where someone just...abandoned them. The Washington Area Humane Society needs food, fosters, transportation help, or just plain money to try to save the horses. I thought some of your readers might be interested, and as it hasn't been widely publicized yet, I thought it might help to get it out there on a forum like this. Washington, PA isn't really that far from the DC area, and I know there are still outlying areas with farms and room for horses.

Here's a link to their press release about it.

Please, Gene, I know this isn't funny, and in fact is horrific, but please post it. I work at an animal shelter (not the one I'm talking about here) and while I primarily deal with cats and dogs, I cannot stand the thought of what is happening to these horses by an awful, cruel person.

Thanks

Gene Weingarten: Okay.

_______________________

Santa Cruz, California: Fer-de-Lance is like A Study in Scarlet in that they are both the introductory work in a long series of detective stories.

Bill

Gene Weingarten: Correct. You were beaten by Horace LaBadie, who figured this out and emailed me almost immediately.

_______________________

Capitol Hill: Last week I saw you returning home carrying a six-pack of Stella Artois. With the milk v. dark chocolate debate exhausted, it seems to me time to start a new debate: dark beer v. lighter. Because, frankly, I think Stella is only slightly above mediocre. Dark beers, as a rule, have a much fuller, more complex and more satisfying taste. I'm aware that the gamut of dark beers is wide, as it is with lighter beers, but compare your Stella with Chimay (another Belgian beer), or even Hook & Ladder's Backdraft Brown (from Silver Spring), and then tell me you made the right choice.

Gene Weingarten: I like em both. Guinness on tap is great. I'f I'm going to be drinking more than one, I don't want a malt infusion and foam, though. Feels like a meal. I'll do pilsner.

_______________________

Ethi, KS: OK Gene, here are two money and ethics questions that actually happened to me. I'd like to know how you and other posters would have handled them. I'll post what I did, and why, later in the chat.

1. Went to a concert in a club with my mother. The tables are arranged so that two people sit with other people they don't know, in this case another couple. Mother and I ordered food and drinks. At the end of the night, bills were handed out but we never got ours. Turns out that the waiter thought we were all together, put everything on one tab and gave it to the other couple. Apparently, they didn't look closely at the bill, paid in cash and left. We had a $20 tab covered by, to all appearances, a well-to-do couple. What to do?

2. Spent a week in Chicago on vacation with my daughter, stayed at a pricey hotel that, although gotten through Priceline, was still a bit above my original budget. Parking in Chicago is very expensive and I paid $35/night for the convenience of having my car a block from the hotel, in a garage that had an arrangement with the hotel. All in all, I probably went about $300-$400 over what I had originally intended to spend for the week (but had a phenomenal time). When the bill was settled at check-out, the parking charge should have been $210 but showed up as $105. What to do?

As I said, I'll post how I handled these situations in a 2nd post.

Gene Weingarten: I'll put this out there. I'm not sure there is anything to do in the first case, if the concert people don't know who the other couple was -- and if they paid in cash, they probably didn't know.

In the second case, I think an ethicist would tell you that you had to alert the hotel to the error. I'm not sure many people would. I'm not sure I would.

_______________________

Racist presents: Your story of your wife not buying the baby clothes reminds me of a few years back when my sister was getting married. My husband and I were in nyc and were looking at the MoMA store for presents as a congratulations. We saw these salt and pepper shakers that were shaped like humans. One was white, for salt, the other black, for pepper. And they fit together like they were hugging. We almost bought them until we realized that, since we didn't know the future brother-in-law all that well, we didn't know how offended by potential racial connotations he'd be (it seems like people can read racism into almost anything). Would he perceive it as cute or as racist - considering my sister is white and he is black.....what would you have done? We erred on the safe side and bought them something else.

Gene Weingarten: It would depend on their sense of humor. If, knowing them, you hesitated, you were probably right.

_______________________

We SHOULD worry about bananas: Someone gave my daughter, now 4, a t-shirt that shows a monkey hanging from a tree holding a banana with the caption:

I'm Going Banana's!

She loves this shirt. The misplaced apostrophe is so painful for me to look at that I've considered "losing" the shirt just so that I won't have to look at it any more. I have nightmares about misplaced apostrophes entering her system through her chest and traveling to her brain, forever condemning her to being one of those people who put signs outside their houses reading "The Smith's".

But she loves the shirt, so I haven't.

What would you do?

Gene Weingarten: I'm laughing.

It's about the kid. She keeps it.

_______________________

WOW: As a woman, I am really shocked by the number of people who answered that "Since you said you are stealing it, it's not really stealing." Not so much for the application to this situation, but what this says about their ideas of stealing.

Gene Weingarten: In this case, I think it is the correct answer. It's not stealing, it's quoting another publication. By the way, had I used his answer as well, it would have been fine. So long as you attribute, it's perfectly normal practice.

If I quote liberally from the U.S. Constitution, I am not "stealing" it.

_______________________

Hi-fi, 8-track, boombox: So, is Gina a spicya meatballa?

Gene Weingarten: Absolutely.

_______________________

Towson, Md.: Have you done the new Kenken puzzles on The New York Times' web site? Thoughts?

I like them better than Soduku.

Gene Weingarten: Well, I loved the first two I did, then got bored.

I don't like Sudoku much, either, though.

_______________________

Anonymous: "Is it rude to abandon your seat and snag the empty two-seater?"

Chances are, especially if that person is me, they will be thrilled not to have to sit next to a stranger. They may be annoyed you don't move

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, exactly.

_______________________

New York, N.Y.: I'm afraid I'm going to need a source as to how you know Vincent Van Gogh never answered to "Vinnie."

Gene Weingarten: He was friends with my great-grandfather. They often played dominoes together.

_______________________

Loco, MoCo: Looks like the Magazine has done a lot of apologizing lately. Do you agree with apology regarding the author who has a child-molester as a friend?

Gene Weingarten: Yes. That needed a serious correction. I thought Tom the Butcher, who is otherwise odious, handled it elegantly.

_______________________

Pils: Anyone who dismisses a whole broad category of things as inferior to some other one, whether it be light beer compared to brown, milk chocolate compared to dark, white wine compared to red, is usually a rank newbie who thinks wrongly that he is a sophisticate.

I love pilsner.

Gene Weingarten: Who did that? I didn't.

_______________________

Questi, ON 2: I know you're a crossworder, Gene, but how do you go about solving them? Do you do all the acrosses and then the downs? Or do you work in clusters?

Gene Weingarten: If it's a really easy puzzle, I don't even look at the across clues. If it's hard, I work in clusters.

Uh, you're not a puzzler doer, right? EVERYONE works in clusters.

_______________________

Not the Father: My brother in-law found out something similar about his twins. He is not the father, but loves the girls as if they were and nothing can change that. If he got divorced, he'd probably do whatever it takes to support them as I'm sure many "fathers" would.

Gene Weingarten: So would I, I am sure. The question is, did he have the right to know that?

_______________________

Arlington, Va.: I thought that the image was overtly racist - the fact that he was carrying a woman over his shoulder made it worse.

Gene Weingarten: You mean the cartoon with my column? Okay. I believe this is the opinion we have received that there was something intrinsically wrong with the 'toon.

_______________________

Knee capping: I kept warning you this was going to happen. You have to repay those guys.

Gene Weingarten: On behalf of The Washington Post, I apologize if this offends Italians.

_______________________

Re: Ethi,KS: 1) If you have no way to contact the other couple, leave what you should have spent on dinner as a tip for your waiter.

2) It is the business' responsibility to create the bill for the services they provided. If it is too high, you can point out the error at time of payment and settle. If it is too low, it is their fault for missing the error. It is possible there was some sort of deal with the garage of which you were unaware, as well.

Gene Weingarten: Leaving it for the waiter seems nice, but kind of ethically random, no?

_______________________

Juneau AK: Weren't Dorian Gray and Sign of Four commissioned for the Strand magazine at a party?

Also, Anurag isn't a great name either.

Finally, cats are dumb but they seem smart because they don't talk much. There are people like that.

Gene Weingarten: Is that right? About Strand?

_______________________

Brooklyn: Vinnie Johnson of the Detroit Pistons. Why are you ignoring this. He is black and he goes by the name Vinnie. He's much more famous than you too. So how about some acknowledgement here? Even if to say he may be the only black Vinnie in history.

Gene Weingarten: Okay!!!

I was hoping someone would find one. I'm trusting you; I don't know Big Ball.

_______________________

Columbia, MD: Pilsner ok. Stella? Not ok. European BudMillerCoors. Try some Victory Prima Pils next time. Support good beer!

Gene Weingarten: I prefer Stella on tap, actually, but I disagree. I think it's got body. Isn't Victory really, really hoppy? I don't lover overhopped beers.

_______________________

Can establish something?: Can we all agree, whether the father loves the child or not, that a mother who would knowingly keep that information from her husband is very cruel and contemptable?

Gene Weingarten: You know what? I don't agree with that. I can see why a woman might do that, for the good of everyone, especially if the marriage were not in danger of breaking up otherwise. I don't condemn that.

_______________________

Eyebrow Flakes: I seem to have dandruff in my eyebrows, but not on my scalp. What gives?

Gene Weingarten: I've had that! I had it in one eyebrow only.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Your intro reminded me of an incident that still makes me cringe two years later. I was sitting in the waiting room of the doctor's office, near an African-American man and his three-year-old son. The little boy was very cute and very energetic - he was climbing all over his dad, the empty chairs, etc. I smiled at the dad and said loudly "He's quite the little monkey isn't he?" Then I instantly and silently died inside as I realized that what I had said (and in front of a crowd of people, no less). I think the father knew I had meant no offense, but he didn't say anything one way or another, so I can't be sure. I spent the remaining ten minutes before my name was called with my ears burning, pretending to be engrossed in an old magazine while I wished for the floor to open. Sheesh. Embarrasses me to this day.

Gene Weingarten: Wasn't it Howard Cosell who got into trouble for calling a running back a monkey?

_______________________

Jeopardy: If you had to bet your life on correctly answering the Final Jeopardy round, what (realistic) category would you want it to be?

Gene Weingarten: U.S. Presidents. I'd bet the bank.

"Antique clocks" would be better, but that's not realistic.

_______________________

Caricatures, Va.: Hi Gene,

I noticed in Eric's cartoon that while you looked cartoony, Gina looked more realistic. Is that because it's hard to make a beautiful woman look goofy and cartoonish, or because Eric doesn't know Gina as well? Can you ask him?

Personally, I find it easier to draw caricatures of people I know, whose features I've studied at length.

Gene Weingarten: I'm not sure Eric has met Gina, so he was working off a photo. If you image google her, you'll probably find the picture.

_______________________

Chat logistics: The chat software the Post uses offeres us the opportunity to submit questions in advance of the chats. I try to do this often, since I can't always guarantee I'll be able to participate live from work.

Unfortunately, my advance questions never seem to be answered. Do you actually see the questions that people send in hours or days before the chats, or is it all some unfunny joke by the chat-hosters? (Or, even worse, are my questions really THAT dull and uninteresting? ALL of them??)

Gene Weingarten: I see the one Liz sends me, and then, during updates, I look at all the ones left, so in the end, I see 'em all.

Okay, we'll end on that. Thank you all for the good wishes. I will be updating this week, but this was our last chance to talk live for a couple of weeks.

If all thinks go well, I'll be back two weeks from today, probably in pain and excruciatingly unfunny. You'll probably notice no difference.

_______________________

UPDATED 2.25.09

Gene Weingarten: Best headline EVER.

_______________________

Magic marker everything!: Most hospitals do, in fact magic marker both sides of knee replacement surgery, and here's why.

It happens more often than you think.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, this is a complete nightmare! Thanks for sharing it with me right now!

_______________________

I don't get it: On page one yesterday there was the following caption: "Best Supporting Actor: Health Ledger."

Please to explain.

Gene Weingarten: Read it again.

_______________________

Insurance Quagmire: Dear Gene, I need a funny answer to this question or my eyeballs just may pop right out of my head: I just took my son for his "well baby" 2 1/2 year check up. This consisted of the nurse measuring his height (medium) and his weight (adorably chunky still). I received the explanation of benefits from our health insurance -- for lack of a better pseudonym, let's call them "Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield" -- and the charges were denied because, apparently, my plan does not include routine physicals despite the fact that I and my employer give them a combined $1,800 per month. They seem perfectly happy to pay when my children are ill. Why is this? It's more expensive to be healthy these days?

Gene Weingarten: I have a personal analogy.

The vet's office in my neighborhood wants you to make appointments days in advance. Which is fine unless your dog is suddenly sick. They make no allowances for that. So they're fine for scheduling shots and well doggies stuff, but if there's a problem, they send you to the emergency vet.

I cannot tell you how much I hate that.

Not to compare dogs with kids.

Or anything.

Okay, if anyone was offended by that, The Washington Post apologizes.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Female here, who believes i may have been in the situation in ethical question no. 1 in college. There was activity, it was near a computer that the gentelman in question had fidgeted with before the funny business. Later, I met a guy from his fraternity through a mutual friend. He looked at me like I looked familiar. The friend leaned over and said something beginning with "she's the one...", and recognition dawned, as did much flirting by the new acquaintance. Do I wish my "friend" had the guts to tell me that there was something circulating about me, yes. I'm not sure what I would have done if I had definitively known, but the suspicion that my friend knew and didn't tell me was worse, I think. This is looking at it from a 10-year's passed window, but I think people want to know these things, even if they're uncomfortable.

Gene Weingarten: Wow. That's loathsome of the guy.

_______________________

Accokeek, Md.: "Maybe you should write "LEFT" and "RIGHT" on your feet in indelible marker just in case."

We know you. Have The Rib or Liz write it.

Gene Weingarten: Hahaha.

_______________________

Providence, R.I.: "I am terribly sorry if this gave offense to all those black guys named Vinnie."

Then you owe this guy TWO apologies.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, I am laughing.

But he is NOT Vinnie.

_______________________

UPDATED 2.26.09

Vinne James: He accepts your apology.

Gene Weingarten: Okay. This I buy.

_______________________

Baltimore, Md.: Re: "Guys bond through insulting each other. Women never do."

Jeff Foxworthy does a bit about this.

(Paraphrasing): A guy will meet one of his friends and greet him with "Wally! you hairy overgrown sack of sh-t!" But you will never hear a woman say to a friend "Janice, you fat cow, how are you?"

On the other hand, my sister and I do this all the time. I will answer the phone (with Caller ID) by saying "hi, punk." But I guess that is a different kind of friendship.

Gene Weingarten: "Hi, punk" is not remotely the same. For an insult to be an insult, it needs the sting of truth. Guys will do that. They'll make fun of weight, lack of hair, everything.

_______________________

Anit-rape lubrication: Okay, I icked myself out typing that heading.

Do you think there are some "truths" which, for now, are better off hidden? For the most part I believe in full disclosure, but that vein of thought (I did read the NYTimes article when it was published) struck me as something that should remain out of the mainstream and stay in academia until it could be fully vetted. My rationale is that there are many people who would read that, or more likely, be told about it, and see it as "she really was asking for it."

I'm torn on this idea of burying some truths until everyone is ready for them. You know, like the conspriracy theorists say the Government doesn't want us to know about UFOs because "we can't handle the truth."

Gene Weingarten: You know, I don't think rapists need a sexual rationale. It's an act of brutal aggression.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: Very simple solution on the video issue. Create an anonymous gmail account. E-mail the friend telling her that you saw the video and wanted her to know. Explain that if not knowing who sent the e-mail will bother her, she should reply and you will be happy to discuss in person, but if she does not wish to discuss you will never bring it up again.

Gene Weingarten: You know, this is a very good idea! I wanted to find a flaw with it, but can't.

_______________________

Backing, IN: If you think about it, someone backing in is just reversing the order of pulling in forwards and having to back out when they leave. Either way, you're going to have to wait for someone to do a three point move. Also, the chances of them backing into your car or running over you on the way out are substantially lower.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, I contend this is not true. My thinking on this topic is based entirely on what inconveniences people more. There are several variables here.

1. I contend backing into a space is a lot harder, and therefore more time consuming, than backing out of a space. You back straight out -- it's a very simple maneuver. Backing in is very tricky, particularly if it is between two cars, and if the driver is not very experienced.

2. When backing in, you are forcing traffic to stop when you do it. Backing out simply involves waiting until there is a break in the traffic. You are inconveniencing many fewer people.

I am so right about this.

_______________________

Tell Him, USA: Child's welfare? Maybe not.

One reason women don't want fathers to know the truth is a lot of them are hiding something. This is an unintended consequence of all of the DNA testing that is occurring.

Also, doen't the child have the right to know who the real father is?

Gene Weingarten: Wow. These numbers are hard to believe? Four percent of all daddies aren't the father of their kids?

_______________________

UPDATED 2.27.09

Silver Spring, Md: I'd love to give my husband a wedgie, because he gives me one all the time, but he argues that wedgies causes prostate problems. I don't believe it.

Gene Weingarten: Neither do I.

_______________________

Anonymous: Is it really an apology if I say I'm sorry "if anyone was offended."

Gene Weingarten: No. It is the classic weasel apology. This is the sign of a forced apology.

_______________________

The Kalahari: "Monkeys" wrote: "Great, now I'm thinking back to the baby shower gifts I got for my friends, who are a mixed-race couple. Did I get them any monkeys?"

Not to worry. It's zebras you've got to avoid there. (speaking as mother of two mixed race children once referred to as "zebras.")

Gene Weingarten: Right. Or Holstein cows.

_______________________

Madison, Wis.: Speaking of seating arrangements on public transportation: I was on a plane a few weeks ago and had an awkward seating arrangement come up. I was in the middle seat, because when I bought the tickets that's all that was left. A woman sat in the window seat next to me, but whoever was supposed to be in the aisle seat must have missed their flight. Should I have moved over to the aisle seat or stayed where I was? I ended up staying in the middle. I guess I was more afraid of making the woman think that she smelled or something than I was afraid of creeping her out by staying in the middle. (She didn't seem creeped out, by the way - she made small talk after the plane landed, for whatever that's worth. And I'm a guy, if that matters.)

Gene Weingarten: I am astonished that people are neurotic about this. I would have moved as soon as it was clear the other seat was vacant. I assure you the woman would have been grateful.

_______________________

Houston, Tex.: Two things: There was a debate over a Vanity Fair cover a while back that had LeBron James holding Gisele Bundchen.

Also, I do the Sunday Times puzzle, and for what it's worth do the across clues first and then the down, unless I get led astray. I didn't realize this made me odd.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, I remember this. I remember thinking at the time this was much ado over nothing, but this post is pretty intriguing. I no longer think it was much ado about nothing.

_______________________

Washington, D.C.: DOUBLE knee replacement! What a tough guy; I am impressed (it's like bonobo sex). I would offer to pray for you, but I know that wouldn't matter to you. So, I'll pray for the doctor instead. Kind of like when I fly -- I pray for the pilot, not myself, on the theory that if she makes it I probably will, too.

Gene Weingarten: It would not mean nothing to me, which is a double negative, but still heartfelt. Your prayers mean something to you, so they mean something to me. Thank you.

Okay, off to meet the knife. See you all in two weeks, I hope.

_______________________

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