Chatological Humor: The Last Word in Topiary (Updated 3.27.09)

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 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

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.

There has been a great deal written about President Obama's "gaffe" with Jay Leno last week, in which Obama was widely interpreted to have compared his inept performance in bowling (his high was 129) with the performance of contestants in the Special Olympics.

Now, Obie swiftly apologized for this -- even before the show aired! -- and we seem to be pretty well done with it. Which is why it grieves me greatly to make the point I must make here, as an objective journalist and a recognized expert in tasteless humor.

No one has quite understood the joke Obama was making. He was not making fun of Special Olympians' performances!

No, it was even worse than that.

I believe you are hearing the truth here for the very first time.

Here is a clip of the unfortunate moment.

If you analyze it carefully, Obama is not comparing his 129 game to the performance of a developmentally disabled kid. Obama is reacting to Jay Leno, who is wildly applauding the president's 129, while making it clear through eye rolling and body language that he is being condescending. It's that condescension that the president is picking up on, and applying to the Special Olympics: He is laughing about how we make a big, ol' slaphappy hypocritical fuss over these kids' sometimes klutzy performances: That we are rewarding less than stellar athleticism with undeserving, uncritical applause.

Harharhar ouch.

You've now watched it again. You know I'm right.


We have two fine Clips of the day. The first was suggested by Irene Liu, and is very much on topic for Chatological Humor.

The second CPOW I believe I have scene before in an old Candid Camera routine. This is done better. Make sure you watch to the end, when they finally change the person's size, race, gender and age.

Please take today's poll. We'll be discussing it throughout the chat.


Gene: This was the worst comics week in my memory, with two big exceptions. Joint CPOWs go to Saturday's Pooch Cafe for odd depth in unexpected places, and Saturday's Doonesbury, for a great and rare example of where meta humor really works.

Boo to Thursday's Frank and Ernest for retelling a very old joke. How old is the joke? I heard it 30 years ago from Henny Youngman, who probably stole it from someone else.


Albany, N.Y.: I am an economics professor who teaches and uses cost benefit analysis. The purpose of this analysis is to make sure that money is used in the most efficient manner possible. When considering a cost, we must consider what else the funds could be used for.

There are over 16 million cars sold in the U.S. every year. At $100 a car, the cost per life saved would be over $114 million. Here is what you could purchase with the price of each life saved:

38,095 colonoscopies for the early detection of colon cancer. 93,294 automated external defibrillators that could save people in cardiac arrest.

761,904 mammograms to detect breast cancer.

21,563,342 treatments for malaria, a disease that kills 1-1.5 million people a year.

Or since we are worried about the well being of children:

91,428 more days in neonatal ICU care for sick newborns.

For the people who really think that the extra $100 per car is worth the 14 lives saved, you should know there more effective ways to spend the money.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.


I don't mean to be cruel, because I think everyone's heart is in the right place here, but I am trying and failing to grasp the thinking of the large number of folks who would add $1000 to the cost of each car to save these 14 lives.


Alameda, Calif.: If we're going to be angry about people not doing their job well, but getting handsomely rewarded, shouldn't a whole host of columnists and newspaper reporters be in that line?

Gene Weingarten: NO!


Silver Spring, Md.: Re: Doonesbury CPOW - that's one thing that has always impressed me about that strip - he always seems to have a character already in place for any news event or trend or whatever that comes up. He can pick up a character and put he or she in the event without any problem or stretch. He has Joannie working on the hill, BD was set for any "hostilities", Bernie was perfectly positioned to be a high-tech mogul, Boopsie ended up in the movie industry. I loved it when Mike's youngish techie-wife turned out to be the Vietnamese orphan who had been adopted into the US years before.

Gene Weingarten: Obviously, this is not coincidence. Garry has more active characters than any strip ever, probably by a factor of five.

The strip my son and I are working on -- look for it soon, I hope -- is going to start with about 16. Absurdly high for a new strip, nowhere near Dbury.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Interesting poll (the latter part). I think Obama's doing an amazing job, and it's going over the heads of the chattering classes for the most part. He's had some major legislative accomplishments, turned back eight years of mis-directed ideology, set forth new national priorities, re-set our foreign policy in most critical areas, begun to increase confidence broadly in the direction of the country -- in just over 50 days.

If I'd ding him on anything, I'd like to see no-fly zones over Darfur -- some significant, easy enough move to set the tone against genocide. This could be done now.

Folks, administrations just don't start this well. And certainly not in times like these. Remember, even Roosevelt inherited a fairly static, albeit dead economy, four years after the crash, and a peace time nation. Here conditions on the ground are constantly in flux.

I think the thing I appreciate most is the chess player in Obama (which the media doesn't understand). He's not afraid to move a chess piece, keep his finger on the piece, watch the reaction, then either let it go or move to a different spot. It's such a contrast to anything we've seen in our lifetime, but it's based on a belief that BEING EFFECTIVE in the end will deliver rewards -- it's not what people say about it now, it's what people will say when things shake out.

Big picture. Brilliant.

Gene Weingarten: He's been making 100 decisions a day. Some will fail.

I think he's doing great.


Intention, AL: Gene: The second CPOW I believe I have SCENE before in an old Candid Camera routine.

Intentional or typo? Oops.

Gene Weingarten: It was a Freudian typo.


Read Man Walking: Oh, say, can you knee?

And is Murphy patient with a slower pace?

Gene Weingarten: Uh, gonna be a few more weeks before I can walk Murphy. I'm walking unaided, but like a man whose knees are made of Limoges.

And it still hurts a lot.

For three weeks from surgery day, it's sort of amazing, though.


We kneed to know: You didn't tell us, in your intro, how you're doing post-surgery. Are you back at home? Are you able to get up and down the stairs to your dungeon office? Are you driving the Rib crazy by being a whiny, petulant patient? Did Murphy nearly undo your stitches in her frenzied greeting when you came home? Give us the report.

Gene Weingarten: I basically just gave it. I'm sleeping in the living room to avoid climbing the big set of stairs. I'm walking without cane or walker. My comical knock-knee walk is gone. I have huge scars. The beard still exists. The greatest moment in seeing Murphy for the first time was the look in her eye for the first few seconds.

I swear it was: What? Wait a minute! I thought he was dead!


Bristol, R.I.:: Hi Gene, hope you're feeling better than last week.

Your interpretation of Obama on Leno was exactly what I thought the first time. It confused me that so many people thought he said something else, then put that in print!

So, which is worse? Calling a 129 "special olympics"-worthy bowling, or what he really meant?

I tend to agree with whoever said that one of Obama's strengths is talking like a lot of more average Americans: better than puking on the Japanese.

Gene Weingarten: Aw, this was a small gaffe. I do think what he said -- what I say he said, and I am right -- was a little more insensitive than what he was said to have said. Best evidence of this is that he didn't try to clarify.


New strip: When your new strip debuts, can it replace Peanuts?

If you were able to, say, accidentally slip the email address of the comics editor, perhaps it may result that he or she is bombarded with enough requests to get rid of Peanuts repeats that his or her loins will be girded sufficiently to withstand the few complaint letters that will be mailed (from people who I don't think would folow through on their threat to cancel their subscriptions).

Gene Weingarten: I am beginning to think that no one will ever have the courage to replace Peanuts.


Washington, D.C.: David von Drehle's current Time piece:

"A paper, by contrast, has presses and trucks and lifestyle reporters; comic strips, critics and recipes; the DIY column, beat writers, the sports pages, an investigative team, the statehouse bureau, a squad of chin strokers on the editorial board and that older fellow who writes a "light" column that hasn't been funny for years."

??!? To whom might he be referring? Bob Levey.

Gene Weingarten: Hm.


I'm not sure David would call me "that older" fellow. And if he meant me he would have said "that never was funny to begin with."


Re: Freudian typo: Can we still blame any stupid thing you say on the drugs, still, or are you off of them now?

(I mean the drugs you were taking for the knee surgery, not the drugs you took in 1968.)

Gene Weingarten: I'm still a little narcked, but as anyone can tell you after a few weeks of this stuff, you don't really feel it until you stop taking it, in which case your knees remind you.


Baltimore, Md.: You seem to have a good ear for catchy tunes and a decent filter for lyrics that just don't work. Are you familiar with Jason Mraz and his latest tune "I'm Yours?" It's catchy in the way that Hey There Delilah was and has one line that bugs me to death:

"Come and dance with me, we're just one big family It's your God-forsaken right to be loved love love love"

Is it possible that he doesn't understand what godforsaken means? Could he be making some convoluted political statement about religious intolerance?? I've heard that in recent live performances he has changed this line to "God intended." Thoughts on what is otherwise a really fun song?

Gene Weingarten: Okay, I don't know the song, but am not surprised at the stupidity. Does anyone know that this is meant literally? It can't be, right? The song doesn't sound that self-aware.


Fort Worth, Texas: Why should society permit a parent to abdicate responsibility to an auto manufacturer, which is what will happen when a back seat weight sensor fails to function properly? This will only result in an immediately lawsuit rather than acceptance of personal responsibility; yet another example of it being "someone else's" fault.

Gene Weingarten: I don't think it's an abdication of responsibility. It's a backup, last-ditch, eleventh-hour safety feature. Anyone who would RELY on it is an irresponsible idiot.


Special Olympics: People who think the joke about the Special Olympics is an important issue are retarded.

Gene Weingarten: Noted.


Wash DC: I was thinking about the Shanda for the Goyim poll you did last week. As a black man, I was wondering why Roland Burris didn't leave me feeling embarrassed, the way Marion Barry did. I think it's the David Berkowitz factor you were talking about. Barry was a crack smoking skirt chaser, therefore, stereotypically embarrassing. Roland is just a lying politician, a stereotype endemic to all politicians, not just blacks. I'm scrapping my original theory about living in a "post-racial society" thanks to Obama.

Gene Weingarten: I think you're exactly right. And I think Italian-Americans are exasperated when an Italian-American is arrested for extortion or loan-sharking, but not so much so if the crime is, say, insider trading.


Flagstaff, Ariz.: It seems to me that President Obama tends to screw up when he tries to be jokey -- the Special Olympics, the Nancy Reagan seance reference -- he is trying to be "everyman" and normal, but he just isn't. And he just isn't very funny when he does that. Do you think his staffers are talking to him about this? I will say that he can be very, very funny when he stays away from topical humor (witness his excellent guest shot on "Wait, wait Don't Tell Me" back during the campaign.)

Gene Weingarten: Oh, he was very funny in much of the rest of the Leno interview. Such as when he was asked if people threw basketballs games when they played him.

He said he didn't think so, but wondered if all the armed secret service men standing around might have some subtle effect.


New Jersey: Gene, your poll disappoints again. Can I be the 1,096th person to complain that the same week that New Jersey considers banning the Brazilian, the poll is once again stuck in the past. Chat lady wears the pants over there. Get up off your knees and grovel like a man... Brazilian Wax Ban Scrapped, (Chicago Tribune, March 21)

Gene Weingarten: It is time to put an end to this once and for all. These are the final words you are going to read on this matter.

By way of summary: Some many many months ago I proposed a poll on what men and women thought of the growing trend, as it were, for women to shave off all their pubic hair -- or sculpt it in patterns, or hedge-cut it into topiary, or to otherwise display it in ways that are not traditional. Provocatively odd phrases ("landing strips," etc.) were raised by readers.

The fact is, time and again, Chatwoman has firmly put her foot down on this issue: There will be no such poll and no such extended discussion in this chat. Her feeling is this: By asking women to discuss THEIR tonsorial strategies in the poll, albeit anonymously, we would be making the issue personal and intimate and intruding unacceptably on people's privacy; moreover we would be opening the 'comments' to lechery by the immature.

I protested, but only half-heartedly. I recognize, and cede to, Chatwoman's dominion in this area. She holds her job by virtue of having better judgment than I. She is more mature than I. And, most important, she is to my knowledge, hardly a prude.

So that is where the matter shall remain. In the end, I feel the whole discussion wouldn't have amounted to much, anyway.

For example, what if I had said that on the basis of personal research (an interview with a urologist of my acquaintance) I had determined to my satisfaction that these tonsorial preference exhibit a dramatic age differential, and that the cutoff (haha) age is roughly 31-34? That below this line, far more extensive garden care is exercised, and that gardens tend to be much sparser, often of the rock and gravel and cobblestone type, eschewing flora altogether.

What of it, even if I reported that? It still does not address the essential question, raised in the past mostly by women: What are MEN'S preferences here?

Again, we will not go there. Again, it is moot. What if I were to observe, for example, that like a man's first romantic kiss (in my case, with a brilliant, very petite girl) which often sets a lifelong standard for desired physical "type" (as it did with me) -- well, what if a 1960s-1970s era boy's first experience with full frontal nudity, often through a furtive peek at porn or skin mags, will similarly set him up with what he will later crave?

Thus, does it not make sense that there exists a de-facto, self-regulating generational divide here, as well? That men over a certain age, first exposed to the mysterious female nethers in places like Penthouse, where they found a pretty natural, unspoilt landscape, would be hired-wired to lust for that -- whereas men who came of age with the web, where ladies wield razor with odd artistic abandon, even defiance -- would see THAT as the ultimate pulse-racer?

So what? This is all speculation, and it advances our knowledge not at all, and Chatwoman has been right to proscribe it.

Even advancing one step further is pointless. What if I were to make the philosophical case that these two states of display are not, or should not be, of equal value to the thinking man? What if I were to contend that wholly apart from the mildly pedophelic and therefore submissive nature of the sparse or missing garden, there is another, more profound reason the sculpted or naked look should not appeal to a man who loves women, who values the spontaneity and abandon of sex, who has within him the soul of a poet rather than the soul of a carnival barker on a kiddie ride?

Would it really matter? Would it really matter if I said this: That a woman's beauty is in large measure defined by her grace; that unlike men, she presents herself with elegance and care; that unlike men, her hair smells lovely; that in her walk and in her general deportment, that in her deft use of makeup, her attention to style, her comparative kindness and empathy, she presents herself as a more civilized alternative to the male, and that there is great beauty in this?

And that, to the man smitten by such a woman, in peeling her, in getting to know her intimately, nothing could be, or should be as arousing as the final knowledge that, in the end, in the center of this beautifully crafted elegant person -- that in the center, the careful, measured, sculpted, strategic elegance ends, replaced by the the ultimate mystery, the uncrafted effortless beauty of the wild and savage? Would not THAT discovery unleash the most unreasonably intense reaction of love and lust and appreciation?

No. We needn't go there, and we won't. The books are closed on this. Chatwoman, no further questions, please.


re: Don't Feel the Pain: I always found with opiates that I DID feel the pain, but I just didn't care. That was true for both on prescription and shall we say off-prescription uses.

Gene Weingarten: It's now been three weeks. Honestly, any euphoric component -- and I'm not sure there ever was one that could worm its way through the initial pain -- is long gone.


Is Rehab Funny?: I'm rehabbing. I want to know the answer to this question.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, rehab is very funny.

I think the funniest part -- okay, with a bleak undertone -- is that many of the rehab people are used to dealing with victims of things that affect the brain. So they will treat you as though you are extremely mentally challenged, such as by informing you of your name in LITERALLY every sentence.


Alexandria, Va.: Gene,

I know you love your Eastern Market neighborhood. I am moving from Virginia to D.C. this summer and EM is one of my top choices. How does this neighborhood compare to other D.C. neighborhoods (my top choices now are EM, Logan Circle and Columbia Heights.)

Thanks! You're assuming Gene has actually been to other neighborhoods.

Gene Weingarten: It depends on your priorities.

This is the best nrighborhood I've ever lived in. My priorities include: Walk easily to Metro; lots of trees, funky stores, cobblestones, walk to virtually every type of retail store, pretty low crime, some grit-city feel, dogs. My priorities do not include: Spacious houses or gardens, extreme ease of parking, NO crime. My biggest disappointment: Against expectations, this is still a largely white neighborhood.


Chicago: I have a co-worker who seems to spend 95 percent of a conversation looking at my ta- tas. I never say anything because it's embarrassing, but then I realized that's dumb, why should I feel bad about my girls? What's the best way to respond so that HE'S the one who feels embarrassed?

Gene Weingarten: How about a t-shirt that says, right over your mommies, the word "Face," with an arrow pointing up?


Belgrade, Serbia: I very innocently put the search phrase "girl scout cookies" into's search engine. You won't believe what comes up....

Gene Weingarten: See? More fallout from the disgusting generational divide over that-which-may-not-be-discussed.


Jersey: Why is it not ok to stereotype blacks, Italians, Jews, Mexicans, Indians (e.g., moves to get rid of all the "Braves," "Warriors," "Redskins" mascots) but it is ok to stereotype the Irish (e.g., "Fighting Irish" of Notre Dame).

Gene Weingarten: Probably cause no one has objected.


Fairfax, Va.: I have a special-needs daughter and agree with your assessment of what Obama said, but do not find it offensive, and this is why:

Society insists that all special-needs children follow a rigid narrative of universal sweetness and exceptional achievement despite their disabilities. Deviate from this narrative and you will suffer.

This is perpetuated by well-meaning people, but really does not do those of us who love such children much good. This is because it creates false expectations in people, expectations that many such children (including my own) have a hard time fulfilling.

Gene Weingarten: I like that point.


Backseat Sens, OR: I have one of these in my front passenger seat, it beeps and flashes a light if there's weight on the seat and no seatbelt buckled. Since I am frequently alone my bag or water bottle, or something gets tossed there. It's very annoying. I just keep the belt always buckled. Friends think it's funny they have to unbuckle to even sit down. I don't think a back seat senson would help all that much, but since most newer cars already have them in the front (pretty sure mine was standard), would it really cost that much more to add one in the back?

Gene Weingarten: I do not know the cost, but you are right. The technology already exists. This is Janette Fennell's main point. It CAN'T be that expensive.


Washington, D.C.: "we would be making the issue personal and intimate"

Oh please this is so specious. Every week you folks get incredibly personal and intimate. Clearly Chatwoman has a personal issue with this personal issue and is imposing her hangups on all of us. For shame. So, if she can't handle the topic, why don't we discuss it next time shes on vacay, OK? Gene incorrectly characterized my objections to the topiary discussion. I object solely on the grounds of what is deemed persmissible for publication on this Web site. That is all.

Gene Weingarten: And this is well within her job description.

I SAID you were not remotely prudish, Cwoman.


Arlington, VA: I've been a fan of this chat for a while now and I've noticed from many of your statements and responses that you seem intelligent/well read in a number of subjects. This made me curious. Do you think that, if we took geniuses from the past out of their respective fields and put them into an entirely different field (say, if Einstein instead became a writer or if Hemmingway was a chemist), they'd still be successful (not necessarily world renowned, but successful)?

Gene Weingarten: No, probably not. But they'd have one enormous advantage: The will to succeed; the neurosis to be ambitious. It takes you far. I think Hemingway would probably be a better than average chemist, though he'd only work with very simple compounds.


Silver Spring: Gene--I feel as smart as you today, because your explanation of President Obama's "gaffe" is the explanation that I gave to my friend last Friday. I told her that he was making fun of Jay Leno but then I started to doubt myself when I heard some of the various media reports. Thanks for the confirmation.

Gene Weingarten: Someone else may have made this observation, but I haven't seen it elsewhere.

It's obvious when you see the lengths to which Leno is going to disavow his applause.


Bowie: Gene, I recently saw a community theater play about a blue-collar, socialist-leaning Jewish family living in NYC in the 1950s. One of the sub-plots was that until his death, they admired Joseph Stalin and thought we has a hero to all working people, including Soviet Jews.

Since you grew up in similar surroundings, do you remember people talking admiringly about what a worker's paradise the Soviet Union supposedly was?

Gene Weingarten: Nope. My parents were FDR liberals. They were not commies. At all. Though both my maternal grandparents escaped from Czarist Russia, they were not fans of the new guys in town.


re: neighborhood priorities: One of your priorities is living in a neighborhood with cobblestones? Really? The other priorities I get. And I can understand the visual and psychological appeal of cobblestones (though, as a woman who just spent a few weeks in London, I have to say walking on cobblestones sucks if you are wearing anything other than thick-soled sneakers). I just think preferencing them is odd. You would turn down a neighborhood with everything else you wanted and easy parking, but no cobblestones, for a neighborhood with everything else you wanted, cobblestones, but terrible parking?

Gene Weingarten: Cobblestones are a shorthand for an old and quaint neighborhood. My neighborhood grew up around Eastern Market, which was built in 1875. My house was built in 1885.


Chantilly, Va.: I hope you're feeling better. The recovery must be extremely painful, but I think you were right to do both knees at the same time. I can't imagine going through something like that twice.

Gene Weingarten: My thinking evolved dramatically over the first week. During days one through five I really, really regretted having gotten both knees done. I was angry with myself for my hubris and with my doctor for having not sufficiently warned me that I lacked the will and courage to pull this off.

By day seven or so, I had come full circle. I was enormously glad I had done them both; that I didn't have the next four months to dread doing it again.


Fairfax, VA: For those who thought we should add those child safety devices no matter what cost, how about these questions: 1) What if, by adding $1000 to the cost of the car, 1,000,000 less cars were sold? Would that change your answer? 2) What if 10,000 jobs were lost as a result? Would that change your answer? 3) What if 1,000 homes were foreclosed because of those jobs lost? Would that change your answer? 4) What if 5 people committed suicide or killed their family members because of their lost job and inability to obtain another one? Would that change your ansewr?

In deciding whether to push to install these devices, it is more than just a cost analysis with respect to the lives of those 14 children and their families. By increasing the cost of cars, resulting in less cars purchased, you are potentially negatively affecting thousands of other families instead.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, it's the butterfly flapping its wings.


Girl Scout Cookies: Why would's search function return a speculum as the second choice for the query "Girl Scout Cookies"? And, by the way, who knew the site sold them. Now I really believe they sell everything

Gene Weingarten: It's because of the sexualizing of "girl scout," which is appalling and is related to the general subject matter of the verboten topic.


Washington, D.C. : That god-forsaken line bothers me too, but I kind of take it to mean he's not so sure about this love thing, but he's willing to try even though it may screw him in the end. It's infernally catchy. Is infernally a word?

Gene Weingarten: Infernally is a word. I believe that godforsaken was simply misused in that song, though.

Funny fact: "An infernal device" was an early term for a bomb.


Re: geniuses in different fields: The comment about Hemingway as a chemist reminds me of a certain politician who could easily been known as simply an excellent writer. I am reading Dreams From My Father, and I find it stunning to know that my president has such amazing facility with words.

Gene Weingarten: If I ever meet him, the first thing I am going to tell him is that he writes better than I do and I hate him for it.


To Drop or Not, TO: This morning on one of D.C.'s radio stations, there was a discussion regarding whether women let their pants/skirt touch the floor when using the bathroom. The DJ, a man, was floored (no pun intended) to hear that women don't push their clothes all the way to their ankles when on the toilet. It sparked a wave of calls, texts, and e-mails to the station, mostly telling the DJ that he was crazy. I very much wanted to be able to hand him a copy of "I'm With Stupid", with the pertinent section highlighted. I might still mail him one...

Gene Weingarten: The DJ wasn't crazy at all. The D.J. was a guy. As I recall, after hearing from me that men let their pants hit the floor, Gina said something about how she would never administer a certain private act to any man ever again.


Washington, D.C.: AAAAAHHHHH! According to the notice on today's Style section, they're schwacking both "Pooche Cafe" and "Brevity" from the comics section. What's wrong with these people? They'll keep stale stuff like "Blondie," "Peanuts," "Mark Trail," "Family Circus," and "Dennis the Menace" but kill two of the comics that are actually, you know, funny? Isn't there anything we can do to stop this? AAAAAHHHHHH!!!

Gene Weingarten: They are also keeping Hagar the Horrible.


Re: Chicago: In my case, the problem is that even when I'm not looking at them, I'm still looking at them. Meaning that I'm thinking about looking. I'm ashamed of this and I don't know what to do about it.

Gene Weingarten: Well, I'd address it, dude. Because as any woman can tell you, so long as you have this problem, you are at the mercy of any woman with whom you are doing business.


Washington, D.C.: I'm turning 36 later this week, and I've decided that this is the age people first become technically old. My last birthday meant I could be president. My next milestone is AARP. And soon I can have sex with someone half my age and not be a pedophile. Sigh.

Gene Weingarten: That last one's not a plus?


If I ever meet him, the first thing I am going to tell him is that he writes better than I do and I hate him for it. : And plus: We've all seen that picture of his six pack at the beach!

Gene Weingarten: Grr. To paraphrase Big Nate: How I hate him.


Philadelphia, Pa.: "It seems to me that President Obama tends to screw up when he tries to be jokey -- the Special Olympics, the Nancy Reagan seance reference..."

Or, he has a politically incorrect sense of humor that he hides. He is a trash talking basketball player at heart, after all.

My mutual attraction to my wife was sown with dark humor, where no subject was really off-limits. So I appreciate it. It's easy to forget what a bunch of old Victorian ladies populate our landscape today.

Michele's comments over the weekend about their family life (including her mom) were warmly irreverent, which is just the right tone for someone in her position.

Gene Weingarten: I LIKE that Obama goes over the line. But what I like more is that it doesn't seem to bother him that much. He apologizes, moves on with a smile.


Sweden: Whenever I'm having a bad day, I look at these fabulous pics and everything gets better. Thought I'd share the joy.

Gene Weingarten: These are terrific. They tend to look either like accordion artists or trapeze artists.


Re: Fighting Irish: We actually talked about this in my history colloquium in college. Notre Dame was full (originally) of Irish Catholics who decided to call _themselves_ the "Fighting Irish." That is totally different from a group of (originally) segregated white ball-players deciding to name themselves after a race they perceived as fierce and savage.

The history of the situation totally racial charges the meaning of the name. In one case it is a group reveling in its own history, in the other one group is passing judgment on the other.

Gene Weingarten: I think this is a fair point.


Your Secret: Gina discussing private acts with men, your observation of Chatwoman's non-prudery -- what is it about you that allows women not your spouse to be so open toward you? (Liz, any clues?)

Also, is Chatwoman in your comic strip?

Gene Weingarten: I think everyone either Dan or I has ever known is somewhere in that strip.


Alex., VA: Do readers actually write in and support Peanuts?

Gene Weingarten: I don't know, but I doubt it. I think that newspaper comics deciders are loath to get rid of any strip so old that old loyal readers would miss it.

Very, very bad decisionmaking.


Big Nate: The "How I hate him" line was actually the punchline of the very first "Peanuts" strip. It was edgy for its day.

Gene Weingarten: Very true! The person hated was Good Ol Charley Brown!


D.C. metro: Gene, what do you think of this? This morning, I got on the Metro along with others, including an older woman. There were no available seats, so we all remained standing. A couple of stops later, someone sitting in a seat near us got up, and a couple of people began to move towards the now-vacated seat. However, the woman next to the vacant seat proceeded to move to the middle, thereby taking up both seats, and gestured toward someone to go sit. At first, I thought it was someone who was with her, but it turned out she was "saving" the seat for the older woman who got on with me. She said to those who had been trying to get the seat, "Sorry, she's old, she should sit." And they gladly gave it up for the older woman. After that, for the rest of the ride (which was not short), the woman never looked up again. Just sat there and read her paper, like she had done her "good deed of the day" and so was done! Never mind that others who probably could've used a seat later got on the train. My take is that if she was really concerned about the older woman, she should've given up her own seat. It was irritating to see how smug she was when she really didn't "give up" anything herself.

Gene Weingarten: I think she did a good deed.

I think life is too short to waste the time framing your complex whine.


Washington, DC: Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me. Love it or hate it?

Gene Weingarten: Like it a lot. I really envy people who can think funny on their feet, which I am not so great at. They are funny most of the time.


O, C-Mon.: I think Gene's explanation of why the topiary topic is verboten is more plausible than Chatwoman's. I've seen a lot of stuff on this chat that wouldn't be deemed fit for publication here on on other family-oriented sites; some may even have been grossed out last week at your knees. Why does it stop here? I'm not advocating such a chat (though I'll admit I'll read it), but like it or not it's a sociological phenomenon. And, uh, Gene, you've gotta admit that even back then there was at least a little trimming going on. Either that or I've spent too much time around hirsute women.

Gene Weingarten: This accidentally got past chatwoman but I am not answering it.


Gene Weingarten: Many apologies, but I must end the chat a couple minutes early. Been sitting too long and have to get up and stretch.

I will be updating through the week. Thank you all.


UPDATED 3.25.09

Bikini Area Razor Commercial: I thought of this chat the other day when I saw a commerical for the Schick Quattro Trim Style razor - in it, as the women pass bushes, they all of a sudden become trim and neat. Has anyone else seen it and been as appalled as I was? You would never see a product for men marketed like that!

Gene Weingarten: Well, we may have arrived her at the fundamental bone of contention, s it were I think this is a great ad. Nothing to be appalled at. Liz? Wow. Hats off to whoever came up with that campaign. (We still won't be getting into a deep discussion re: topiary here.)


For the coworker with the misplaced gaze: If he's going to stare, you might as well use it for a good cause. Get yourself one of these and see if he gets the message -- either that he needs to lift his eyes up or make a donation.

Gene Weingarten: Very nice.


DWTS: Interesting example from the previous chatter's comment about putting geniuses in other fields. Look at the series of football players who have been on "Dancing with the Stars": Jerry Rice, Emmitt Smith, Jason Taylor, Warren Sapp -- and look at where they ended up finishing: second, first, second, second.

LT has a difficult legacy to follow. Now if they would only get Deion Sanders or Bo Jackson...

Gene Weingarten: Well, now this is just trading one athletic prowess for another. I'd be more impressed if these guys kick butt on Jeopardy!


Upper Peninsula, MI: HA!

"I think Hemingway would probably be a better than average chemist, though he'd only work with very simple compounds."

I can't be the only one who got this joke.

Gene, you're well on the way to recovery.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you. Near as I can tell, only three people got the joke and one is a close friend of mine.


Too F, AR: New case before the Supreme Court, on the legality of a strip search for drugs on a 13 year old girl. What I find disturbing: She was "suspected ... of having brought prescription-strength ibuprofen pills to school. One of the pills is as strong as two Advils." They were conducting a strip search for drugs that could be duplicated by simply doubling the strength of an over the counter drug? Seriously?

Gene Weingarten: I am not a fan of tort abuse or jury verdicts that "send a message," but I want this girl, now 18, to walk away with a pile of cash. And I want someone in the school fired.


UPDATED 3.26.09

Washington, D.C.: Since you do this frequently in your chats, what is the best way to tell someone they have crappy taste in music? Seriously, I need to explain to someone that angsty alt-rock is not "really deep and profound," but rather bad teenage poetry set to poorly written (and played) music. Is there a nice way to do this?

Gene Weingarten: No. But sometimes you just have to say something, even at the risk of sounding old. I remember when I first heard Green Day and their ilk and spawn, I asked my kids why that young man was shouting sullenly about being constipated.

Yes, they thought I was old and out of it. But I was right.

Gene Weingarten: "Pout music," I called it.


Arlington, Va.: Gene, with regard to your nascent strip -- given today's dire climate for newspapers, isn't creating a new comic on spec like opening up a Buggy Whip factory in the 20s?

Gene Weingarten: It absolutely is.


Frederick, Md.: You may have seen this, this person clearly disagrees with you.

Gene Weingarten: Heh. Yes, it is true that it took me the longest time, despite earnest efforts to persuade me, that Marciuliano was in fact not drawing the strip, but just writing it.

Unless, of course, this is an elaborate, continuing, four-year effort to continue to mislead me. I wouldn't put it past that guy.


Un-Shanda for the Goyim: Gene,

Last week you pointed out that a certain detail of the Lewinsky affair actually worked counter to a Jewish stereotype.

Is there an opposite list, then, to Madeoff and the Rosenbergs? Who else are the Un-Shandas for the Goyim?

Gene Weingarten: The best one I can think of is an Asian woman who successfully eludes 12-police cars in a three-state high-speed chase involving heart-stopping auto-acrobatics.


Washington, D.C.: Gene, I assume you read Michael Cavna's Comic Riffs. After he complained a few weeks ago about comics polls, I was surprised to see commenters asking why The Post didn't do a poll before deciding the latest round of comics cuts (which are lousy no matter what strips they pick).

So then when Comic Riffs ran a poll on the blog, people recruited their fellow Judge Parker fans to come vote. (Apparently there are Judge Parker fans out there.)

It seems to me that The Post should run a poll asking which strips to drop, rather than which strips are favorites. There would be less incentive to rig the thing, and maybe someone would realize that a lot of us don't care about Classic Peanuts.

What do you think?

Gene Weingarten: I think polls are crap. They are stuffable and worthless and every time you do one you wind up retaining bad stuff out of fear.

I think the comics decisionmakers at a newspaper should be comprised of people who really understand and care about comics, the way the editors of the national desk are people who know a lot more about national news than your average reader. We don't make our decisions about news coverage based on votes from the public.

I think people at newspapers need to grow a pair and denude the comics pages of crappy old comics and fill it with bright new comics by people who are both funny and trying. I think they should act on their own judgment. And not look back.

This is NOT a personal ad. I have been saying this same thing for 10 years, long before my comic strip was a twinkle in my son's eye.


UPDATED 3.27.09

Washington, D.C.: Here's the thing about the bonus money - this kind of thing happens all the time! If there's a group of suspected murderers, sometimes one will be 'paid off' (or given immunity, in this case) to reveal where the bodies are. This helps the cops solve the crime. In the case of AIG, the executives are given the bonuses to remain at AIG because they're the ones the understand the problem and, thus, how to help fix them. That's how I feel about it, anyway.

Gene Weingarten: Here is my take (as it were): This whole thing is a problem because the AIG guys are paid, in part, in "bonuses." It's built in to their salary structure. It's contractual. It just SOUNDS terrible to most of us mortals, like a reward for a job well done.

I think this whole thing was more of a PR disaster than a genuine disaster. And it soon got overwhelmed by hypocrisy, opportunism and demagoguery.


Enough with the pedestal/cage: Gene: "she presents herself as a more civilized alternative to the male, and that there is great beauty in this . . ."

Please please please stop with the backhanded praise of women, it reeks of sexism. Women are not more civilized then men, women are not more beatiful than men, not more graceful, etc. Women can be violent, aggressive, ugly in their thoughts and actions. Placing them upon some rose-colored pedestal surrounded by trimmed topiary and doe-eyed admirers is simply another way of othering them, of categorizing them as different. It is a mere slippery slope to then justify why they cannot be president, cannot be leaders in the military, math professors, etc.

Gene Weingarten: I hear ya, but I respectfully submit that you are taking my words out of context. The context here was not men and women as equal citizens of the world, but men and women as romantic partners and objects of lust.

In this context, yes, I believe women prove themselves a higher life form. They take greater care about their appearance. They use the expensive shampoos and body-enriching, aloe-infused conditioner. They are more "put together." They make the bed. They won't own undies with holes in them. I think few men and many women require an hour to get dreassed and ready for work.

These are things men respect but do not emulate. Things that help distinguish themselves from women, whom they admire, respect, and want.

Until everybody gets naked. That's when men don't want to feel the presence of a two-hour preparation period getting things pretty and just so and cutely offset by a tattoo of an owl. That's where men want Jane, Queen of the Jungle. BECAUSE it belies the rest, in just the right context.



Boulder, Colo.: Alameda, Calif.: If we're going to be angry about people not doing their job well, but getting handsomely rewarded, shouldn't a whole host of columnists and newspaper reporters be in that line?

Gene Weingarten: NO!

You are so wrong on this I'm not sure where to begin....

Newspapers, including The Post are full of columnists and reporters who do nothing but "..type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spell check and go home." (Steven Colbert). THAT is why newspapers are going under and will continue to do so until their writers of all types engage their critical thinking and start opposing the establishment rather than trying to be part of it...

Gene Weingarten: No kidding? You think The Post doesn't have enough people with strong opinions that often take the current administrations to task? You should tell that to George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Richard Cohen, Ruth Marcus, Anne Applebaum, David Broder, Harold Meyerson, Michael Gerson, Kathleen Parker, E.J. Dionne, Eugene Robinson . . .


Shanda for Goyls: Most women felt something similar with the Sarah Palin selection debacle. We knew almost right away that it would be a disaster and -- more importantly -- that no woman would get a similar chance very soon.

Gene Weingarten: Weren't the ladies aided by the existence of an anti-Sarah. Couldn't get much more of a serious, credible candidate than Sen. Clinton, could you? Seems to me there always existed this case study, to the side, of how women CAN be serious candidates.


McLean, Va.: What's Bob Levey up to these days anyway?

Oh, didja see Clay Shirky's bit on the End of Publishing?

Gene Weingarten: I think every journalist in America read this. It's fascinating. A good way to summarize it is that newspapers have gotten to where they are today, as fast as they have, because newspaper managers during the 1980s were unwilling to accept the truth, since they were managers, who dealt with solutions. The truth was that we were doomed, as a business model, and nothing could save us other than wildly creative, destroy-the-box thinking.

We're there now, 20 years too late.


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