Chatological Humor: Comics Section Shrinkage, Erogenous Zones (UPDATED 4.3.09)

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 31, 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, Gene is online to take your questions and abuse. He will chat about anything. Although this chat is updated regularly throughout the week, it is not and never will be a "blog," even though many persons keep making that mistake. One reason for the confusion is the Underpants Paradox: Blogs, like underpants, contain "threads," whereas this chat contains no "threads" but, like underpants, does sometimes get funky and inexcusable.

This Week's Poll: MEN | WOMEN

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

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

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

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Gene Weingarten: Check this out.

What you are looking at is a moment from the golden age of American newspaper comics, an art form that, as of yesterday, officially has one this in the this.

Yesterday, The Washington Post officially cut the number of its comics pages from three to two. I don't blame them for that; dire financial realities are being confronted by intelligent, well-intentioned people. Difficult decisions must be made. Open wounds must be closed.

But what happened yesterday has the feel not of a bandage but of a coffin nail. That's because, as part of the re-design, each comic strip and panel got smaller, too. Shorter both in height and side-to-side. The difference in surface area is less than ten percent, as I inexpertly calculate it, but this comes at the end of years of comics shrinkage: To my eye, for the first time, the comics page has a feel of negligibility to it. Each strip looks like a line of postage stamps on an envelope mailed by a sixth-grader to Nowheresville, U.S.A.

In the words of cartoonists, these strips no longer "read." Oh, you can still make out the words, if your eyesight is pretty good. But in this latest squeeze, this latest asphyxiation, what disappears entirely is elegance of drawing, as done by Walt Kelly in the 1971 Pogo at the top of this page. You know what else disappears? Complex thought. It's been happening for years, and this will possibly kill it outright: If a comic strip artist has a subtle idea that requires a compound sentence to express, in these tiny panels his words become pinched together and lost; few cartoonists even try anymore, and fewer will try now. The ones that do are punished -- Zippy the Pinhead, always reliant on the power of the words and phrases of its existentialist text -- is gone from the comics pages as of yesterday.

I've quibbled in the past with my bosses over what strips they choose to keep, and which they kill. People have different opinions. Mostly, my big problem is not the bottom line, but the process to get there.

At some point in the last couple of decades, newspaper editors around the country have decided for some reason that with the comics pages, and only the comics pages, they will cease to be editors. Maybe they don't like comics, or don't read them, or don't really understand them. Maybe they feel they haven't the same expertise with comics that they have with news judgment. Maybe they think it's just not that important. For whatever reason, whenever a decision must be made about which comics to retain, buy, or drop, newspaper editors put it up to a referendum of their readers via polls and surveys. And what they wind up with, time and again, are some of the crappiest, cruddiest, dead-headed-est comics in the business because -- and I don't mean to sound judgmental here -- readers who respond to comics polls are morons. They pick names that sound familiar.

How do I know this? I just do. It's obvious from the results. There is no reasonable process of analysis that concludes that "Hagar the Horrible," which we still run, is a worthier strip than "Pooch Cafe," which died yesterday. None. You could assemble a thousand smart, funny people in a room (okay, they'd have to be under 70 years old) and have them read a month of both strips, and their vote would be damn near unanimous. One of these strips has ideas, and textured characters, and a funny edge. The other is Hagar the Horrible.

The polling process favors the long-in-the-tooth at the expense of the new, different, and challenging. It favors feel-good, browse-by pablum over strips like Zippy, which many people do not read but which has a fanatic, intelligent, cult following that has just been slapped in the face by one of the few remaining newspapers that does not insult their intelligence in other ways.

But this is beside the point. The point is, we editors should not be polling readers about comics any more than we should be polling readers to find out what stories we should be putting on page one. There are things editors should do on their own, because they are editors. Because they are people skilled in words and images and communication. The whole process smacks of back-burnerism; that comics just aren't that important, so why not let the readers make the choices?

I disagree. I think comics are very important, as a form of art, humor, social commentary and political expression. Which is why I think The Post should re-think its comics-page re-think.

I hate that we have to go from three pages to two, but the people who made this decision are smarter and more knowledgeable than I am. I accept it. So we need to do better with the two pages we have.

Step One: Kill more comics. We need to give the good ones more space to breathe. Dump Classic Peanuts, which cannot be defended in any rational world, and which LITERALLY has not had a new idea in 10 years. Kill Hagar, for reasons that are obvious. Kill Baldo, which is a terribly unfunny strip that exists only to cynically appeal to a demographic, and which thus is an insult to that demographic. Kill Prickly City, which exists for the same cynical reason and is equally unfunny but also drawn poorly. Kill Dennis; it's stuck in the '50s. Kill Beetle Bailey; it's Depression-era humor. Kill Lio, which, regrettably, ran out of ideas about a year ago. Then stand there with your bloody butcher knife, editors, and feel good about yourself. You have lost nothing of value.

(By the way, even though they are old, do NOT kill Blondie, which still has a pulse, or Garfield, which is in something of a rebirth and has important iconic value, or The Family Circus, which is so bad it's good.)

Step Two (brace yourselves): Why is the horoscope on the comics page? The idiots who read it don't consider it entertainment: They take it seriously, even though it is what it is, and you and I both know what it is, don't we? If we must cater to people who read this, let's not pull space from the comics pages, okay? The dolts will find it anywhere, including the classifieds.

Step three: Make the existing comics bigger again, and add a few new ones that are really good. They are out there, you just don't know it because you are so seldom in a mode to add. Look for edge -- it's an edgier world in general. Look for strength of character, not tired caricature. Look for a strip that leaps off the page because the art is really different: There's been great innovation in sequential cartoon art in the last fifteen years -- just not on the comics pages, that have been crammed with the old stuff.

Most important, please become editors again. You know, like the guys with cigars and fedoras, and a flask in their back pocket, back in Walt Kelly's time. And when readers inevitably whine and demand to know why the heck you've killed Hagar the Horrible, tell them the truth: Because it's your damned job, because you're right, and because they'll take what you give them and be happy with it.

And you know what? They will.

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A brief CLOD from Darin Bartram. I do believe it is the greatest video ever of a dogmare.

And this late-entry CLOD from Kate Rears. It's from Japan. Kate claims the title is "How to Look up Women's Skirts," and I have no more information about it. Which is probably good.

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Please take today's poll. Yes, the abrupt veer in subject matter was deliberate, and yes, the only answers I cared about were the last two, and yes, I am happy with the results, and yes, we will discuss them.

Comic Pick of the Week is Fridays Sherman's Lagoon, which is simply brilliant. Sure glad it got in under the wire, otherwise it would have been harder to read. No Runners Up. Honorables: Today's Brewster Rockit, Friday's Doonesbury.

Please note how today's Prick City steals "Little Dog Lost's" buzzard character, and his shtick, and just in time: LDL has been killed from The Post.

Can anyone explain Saturday's Speed Bump? I have a feeling I am not seeing something obvious.

Okay, let's go.

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Montreal, Quebec: Gene, I know why you always get irate posts from exasperated women whenever you toss out your women-are-more-evolved-and-superior-to-men spiel. Deep down, you don't REALLY believe that women are better than men (come on, who really believes that one gender is superior to the other?); what's really going on is that you find it titillating to talk like that. It kinda turns you on. So you're doing it for your own selfish ends, and that's not respectful. Most of us can sense it.

Perhaps I can sense it especially acutely. I was into fairly hard-core BDSM before and during my marriage, but these activities have now been shelved indefinitely until the kids are out of the house. In my experience, then, there are two kinds of men who go on and on about how women are beautiful and exalted and superior: men who have a madonna/whore complex, and men who, hmm, like their women "superior". If you get my drift.

I don't think you have a madonna/whore complex. On the other hand, you've left ample clues throughout your chats (a preference for skirts with black leather boots, admiration - lust? - for women who "wear the pants" in the household, to name just a couple) that put in the second category. You people always get a thrill out of giving yourselves away.

So, you know, if you like that sort of thing, you can just openly admit you like that sort of thing, instead of spewing out disingenuous odes to women's "superiority".

Gene Weingarten: I'm speechless, but laughing.

If liking tough, opinionated, accomplished, take-no-crap women qualifies me, you've nailed me.

Oooh. You've nailed me.

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Speed Bump: I think it's just not funny. One dart is pleased with itself for being the dart that got the bull's-eye, when it really had nothing to do with the dart? Just not funny.

Gene Weingarten: I have to feel there is something else there. He is better than that.

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Washington, D.C.: Gene--do you watch much television? Have a favorite (current) show? Did your TV-watching habits change during your recovery? Are you hooked on Maury and now questioning your children's paternity?

Gene Weingarten: The hospital got very few channels, and Comedy Central was not one of them, so I watched very little TV. Late at night there were re-runs of Friends, which reminded me what a terrible, awful, poorly acted, dreadful, unfunny show it was.

I saw one episode in which Courtenay Cox was scheming to get whatsizface to spend his entire savings account on their wedding. And he agreed to do it because he loved her so much. We watched this show and made the actors and producers mega-millionaires.

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Sunday's column: I don't get it. You knew that you were undergoing surgery, so why not write the March 29th column ahead of time. Surely it doesn't take that long to call a few customer service reps and mock them. (I know, I know. Don't call you Shirley).

Gene Weingarten: I am busier than you think I am.

There will be two weeks in which I use old columns: Because we work on a three-week magazine delay, their deadlines correspond to the week I had surgery, and the week afterward, when I was in agony. I did do a chat that second week, about my magazine cover story on baby deaths: It was not easy. About an hour of lucidity was all I could muster.

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Charlottesville VA: Gene, the mainstream media is using Twitter these days - what do you think of Twitter?

What would a day of Weingarten "tweets" look like?

Can I see your tweets?

Gene Weingarten: Glad you asked. I wrote a column some months ago about what I thought of Twitter. This required me to get a Twitter account, which I never used.

I still get notices a few times a day from people who say they are "now following me" on Twitter. Therefore I have started posting. All my posts are insanely boring, such as "I just went to the bathroom."

Paul -- Mr. Paul Williams is our moderator today -- can you link to my Twitter column?

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Ear can, AL: I can't believe the majority of women don't think their ear canals are erogenous zones. For me, the sensitive hairs just inside the ear trigger a very pleasant shivery sensation that travels down the body. Maybe the phrase "ear canal" itself triggered a gut "eww" reaction? Or do others not get the same stimulation?

Gene Weingarten: I fear I used bad terminology. I am referring of course to the accessible portion -- the outer portion -- of the ear canal. These number surprised me, too.

I am intrigued, though, that according to the poll, ten percent of men are doing something to women that they don;t seem to like.

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New heights: I have a random question that only your readers can answer, I think. Every time my last boyfriend was on an airplane, just as the descent was beginning, he would start to get sort of....excited. He was always totally mortified, because he'd have to disembark holding his bag in front of his naughty bits. Is this normal?

Gene Weingarten: I never heard of there being a air-pressure component to this physical reaction. Any guys experience same?

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washingtopost.com: Brevity . . . is the soul of twit (Post, Sept. 7, 2008)

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germantown, md: Errogenous zones....ear canal. No. Ew. Ear LOBE? Oh yeah....

Gene Weingarten: Ooh, I like the term you coined: An "errogenous zone." I would define this as something one sex thinks is an erogenous zone in the other sex, but turns out to be wrong.

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Twitter: I liked your tweet, "I am picking boogers out of my dog's eyes."

Gene Weingarten: Yes! That was one. I forgot, they're all archived there, aren't they?

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Importance of Comics: I have always thought of The Post as being a better paper than the NY Times because The Post has comics. They are an essential part of a newspaper (to me anyway).

This is a horror.

There is a silver lining though. All the old people who like Classic Peanuts and Hagar and Family Circle will either be unable to read them or possibly even find them.

Gene Weingarten: I know! It's kind of gorgeous, isn't it?

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Speed Bump:: It's the play on two guys bragging about sexual conquests - guess who I "nailed" last night? So it's calling out guys who sit around and brag at bars. If you can think of hitting the bulls-eye as "nailing" someone, you can laugh at the point that the dart just got lucky, it didn't really GET LUCKY.

Gene Weingarten: But... nah. This just doesn't track with guy behavior. Why would one guy look smug, if another guy scored?

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Reston, VA: There is one argument for keeping Peanuts: its availability to a new generation of youngsters.

Gene Weingarten: Why not just make the comics pages full of formerly great strips? Put Pogo in there, and Little Nemo in Slumberland, and Tillie the Toiler?

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Alexandria, VA: I am reading "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay", and it chronicles the rise and fall of caped crusaders (Superman) when they were replaced by more adult fare (Pogo, Mad) in the 1950s. Perhaps we are seeing another tectonic shift?

"AAoK&C" led me to "Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend" by Winsor McCay, who I had previously ignored, as never liking "Little Nemo."

Gene Weingarten: I just want to say that in the new Newsweek, Michael Chabon says that his favorite book of all time is the collected stories of Poe.

This is a shout-out to a friend of mine who, insanely, thinks Poe is overrated.

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Rockville, Md.: I agree with your choice of comics to stay or go. My eyes still hurt from trying to read the comics yesterday. If it weren't for the facts that I have a bird cage to line, I love the Style Invitational and I don't have a laptop to take in the bathroom with me, I probably would have canceled the Post.

Gene Weingarten: The choice of strips to stay or go is not rocket science. It's pretty obvious, once you take The People out of the process. The People have no idea what they really want, or should want, vis a vis comics. They also have no idea what other great stuff is out there. That's OUR job as editors.

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Revolutionary W, AR?: On your question: I think the point is that darts don't throw themselves at the bull's-eye, so he is taking credit for being thrown. It is stupid, yes.

I am dumb, however, and just am missing something with the Sherman's that is CPOW. Please explain to someone having a brain lapse.

Gene Weingarten: It is a meta joke. It is about how the artist could not draw this, so he had to put it off-frame. It's really good.

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Arlington, VA: Did you run this poll because you knew Chatwoman would be absent today? Did you not consider slipping in the topiary questions? Or would that be too underhanded even for you?

Gene Weingarten: I am an honorable person; we have an agreement.

Yesterday I got an idea for an even better, even more provocative poll subject. C'woman and I are going to fight about it all week. Depending on what next week's poll is, you'll know who won.

It's REALLY good.

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Philly: When you're talking about shrinking comics, do you mean daily or Sunday? My local paper is still retaining its full 2 pages of dailies, the same size as always, but just shrunk its Sunday offerings into nearly-impossible-to-read sizes and moved them to the tabloid-shaped TV schedule section. I'm 28 with 20/15 vision, and I can barely see them.

Gene Weingarten: In general, both dailies and Sundays have been shrinking. It's been a relentless process for about ten or fifteen years. If you saw a comics page from 1985, you'd be shocked at what we are missing.

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washingtopost.com: A Life In Books: Michael Chabon

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The horoscope suc, KS: Thank you. Where do vote in THAT poll? I know there will be a riot if the stupid thing is removed, but stuff it in the classifieds.

I'm pissy about the rise of anti-intellectualism in general at the moment, because my baby is teething right now, and if ONE MORE PERSON suggests I try a homeopathic remedy, I'm going to bludgeon someone with a copy of "Why People Believe Weird Things."

Gene Weingarten: I love you. I have a thing about homeopathy, too.

I believe the horoscope is antithetical to what newspapers are. It's something that pretends to a truth, but is, on its face, nonsense.

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Poe is overrated.: His short stories are wonderful. His poetry -- hit-or-miss. A great English teacher I once had pointed out something that nailed why I couldn't get into a lot of his poetry: Poe used the wrong meter a lot. "Annabel Lee" is supposed to break your heart, but the dee-DAH-dee- dee-DAH-dee-dee meter it's written in makes it read like Dr. Seuss.

Gene Weingarten: Uh.

You could not be more wrong. His poetry is almost uniformly great. His prose can be debated.

His meter, I believe, is flawless. He and Coleridge may be the most brilliant in interior rhyme.

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Ear Canal: Love it, love it, love it. And since you're a dog lover, how 'bout this little bit of info: We noticed that when our male terrier wanted to get it on with our female terrier (in heat), he would first approach her from the side and very gently lick insider her ear for a good minute or two-- she would simply become transfixed and seemed to enjoy it - sort of like foreplay. My boyfriend says he's "whispering poetry in her ear."

Gene Weingarten: Exactly. Your boyfriend has a soul.

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Re: Twitter: Porn stars and NBA players are by far the most interesting and amusing people to follow on twitter.

The most boring... politicians.

Gene Weingarten: Of course: Politicians cannot ever say anything genuine.

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Latino Hum, OR: Replace "Baldo" (weak) with "La Cucaracha" (edgy and funny). Lalo Alcaraz is amazing, and you still get a comic that caters to a particular demographic.

But kill "Lio"?? NOOOOOOOO.

Gene Weingarten: Have you not noticed that Lio is the same joke every day?

La Cuc would be an improvement over Baldo, yes. But mostly, I am against editing by demographic.

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The Pokey: Best mugshot ever?

Gene Weingarten: Probably not, but very nice.

Anyone have any nominee for Best Mugshot Ever?

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Salmonel, LA: Anyone know of a good recipe that includes pistachios, tomatoes, jalepenos, eggs, and meat?

washingtonpost.com: Jon Stewart enjoys a peanut butter, spinach, tomato and Chinese toy sandwich. (NSFW-ish)

Gene Weingarten: This is terrific. It gets better as it goes on.

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Western Virginia: Two questions: I need a word or phrase, and perhaps one exists, for drunk Facebooking. I read several posts from friends this week that had to be written while inebriated. Hilarious.

Second, I need assistance regarding this phenomena: I went into a bathroom stall that the previous occupant had stunk up, no opportunity to switch to another. As I came out, it was apparent that another woman was going in, and would think that I had the offensive bowels. Not true! What could I have said to let her know that the awful stench left was not mine? Is it believable?

Gene Weingarten: The answer to your first question is S---facebooking.

The answer to your second question is no, there is no way you would ever be believed, so don't even try.

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Bare feet: Would you go into a public restroom in your bare feet? I work in an office building and there is a yoga studio on the floor where I work. People from the classes come in the bathroom in bare feet all the time. I know that yoga makes you relaxed, yada, yada, yada, but I just don't understand this. I don't think I could be paid enough to go in a public restroom in my bare feet.

Gene Weingarten: It would not deter me. Feet can be washed.

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Horoscope: While I agree with your assessment of the people who take it seriously, and don't really care where in the paper it is, I think you're dead wrong when you say that no one reads it for entertainment. Online, it's a quick 30 seconds of procrastination, and it's so stupid it's fun.

It's a fortune cookie in the paper, without the calories. Lighten up.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, let's discuss this.

How is it entertainment? It isn't FUNNY. It isn't ironic. They tend to be written with dead seriousness. And it has nothing to do with who you are. Who would be entertained by this, unless, on some level, they were entertaining the idea it had some validity?

Fortune cookies are often funny -- either intentionally or unintentionally.

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Phraseshifters: Today in our local rag a county supervisor bemoaned that he had "a tough road to hoe." ARRRRGGGGHHHHH!

Gene Weingarten: Maybe he meant it. Roads are pretty tough to hoe. Especially macadam.

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Bowie: Gene, what's the best way you've ever celebrated tomorrow's date?

Gene Weingarten: My favorite was when it fell on a Sunday, and I wrote a bogus column, and LOTS of people were fooled, despite about 100 obvious clues.

Paul, can you link to this column? Search my name and "Flora Pilos." (Flora Pilos is clue number one. Anagram for April Fools")

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Horoscopes: This brings to mind the subversive things you did to the horoscopes in the Sunday Style section many years ago. There was a vocal, irony-impaired minority who were mightily offended that you would mess with the gospel of the stars and planets. Can you recall any of the "extra" signs you added in?

Gene Weingarten: I don't even remember doing this! But boy, it sounds like me. I'm sure I did. Anyone recall?

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Woodbridge, Va.: "If liking tough, opinionated, accomplished, take-no-crap women qualifies me, you've nailed me."

Do you know where I can find more men like you? Available ones, that is. Because most of the men that I meet are so weak and insecure they just bring out my inner b-tch, which doesn't make either of us happy. Something about weak men just makes me wanna smack 'em upside the head.

Gene Weingarten: I love that last line.

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Page one poll: You wrote "editors should not be polling readers about comics any more than we should be polling readers to find out what stories we should be putting on page one".

But of course editors poll readers about page one. The poll is called "number of sold copies".

Gene Weingarten: Nope. Not even close.

In the era of home delivery, there is virtually no correlation between the content on page one on any given day and the number of sales.

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Washington, D.C.: Can I just state for the record that absolutely no one is interesting on Twitter. No one.

Gene Weingarten: I do not understand its popularity.

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That was my bad: Is apologizing for playing a major role in Khmer Rouge atrocities a little bit funny?

It reminds me when the Canadian comedy troupe "The Kids in the Hall" discovered the cause of cancer: one of their own troupe members. "I'm sorry I caused all that cancer," he said.

washingtonpost.com: Kids In The Hall - The Cause of Cancer (Myspace.com)

Gene Weingarten: This still plays pretty well; if you analyze why it is funny, it is almost entirely shock humor -- daring to enter this arena. Sometimes, though rarely, shock humor is enough.

It does get an added meaning from your comparison. As originally presented, though, I'm not sure it's much of a comment on the sillness of the half-hearted apology.

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washingtopost.com: April Fool's Below the Beltway(Sunday, April 1, 2001 -- which is apparently before we started putting headlines on stories for the Web...)

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in defense of...: Peanuts. Okay, I'm 31, female, and I like Peanuts. I like the simple lines of the drawings, and I find it comforting. The other comics you harpoon are lame, but I have to stick up for Peanuts. I subscribe to the Post because I think it is the right thing to do even though I read it online (only) 95% of the time. And, while I would not cancel it just because of Peanuts, it is one of the few things I read in hard copy. So there.

Gene Weingarten: Are you aware the artist died ten years ago?

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Washington, D.C.: Pretty amazing op-ed from the Russian head of state in the Post today. As Hax would say, "Wow."

washingtonpost.com: Building Russia-U.S. Bonds, (Post, March 31)

Gene Weingarten: It is! I love his use of toxic assets as a metaphor.

Also, it is part of the insularity of the U.S., I guess, that I had no idea Alexis de Tocqueville ever had anything to say, good or bad, about Russia.

This involved an excellent speechwriter.

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New York: Gene, I'm as liberal as could be, and have to question your comment in last week's update:

"Couldn't get much more of a serious, credible candidate than Sen. Clinton, could you?"

That's where I never understood the enthusiasm for Mrs. Clinton. She seemed to have little background for the job, other than being first lady, and then a short stint as a senator (gotten via name recognition).

In other words: Yes, she seemed more prepared for office than Sarah Palin, but less than many other women in Washington. So, yes, you could get more of a serious, credible candidate than Sen. Clinton.

Water under the bridge at this point, but I thought you exhibited a blind spot.

Gene Weingarten: I was not a Hillary Clinton supporter. I think she ludicrously overstated her background in public affairs -- to the point where I made a snide joke about it in my speech accepting the Pulitzer Prize.

But... I thought she proved herself serious and knowledgeable and formidable as a candidate -- much the way Obama rose above his lack of experience to do so. She impressed me, in the end, even though, as the race went on and on, I found her stubborn perseverence infuriating.

I don't think a fair person, though, could look at that candidacy and conclude it was not "serious and credible."

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Homeland security - it's not just for people with terrorism problems: Gene, you probably know from reading your Janet Napolitano thread that she never intended to rename terrorism. She was trying to point out that the DHS mission includes disaster response (and she was doing an inadequate job of making her point). While I still enjoyed the humor challenge in the thread, I'm frustrated by the tendency of people of all political persuasions to hear what they want to hear. I don't exclude myself from that tendency, either.

Gene Weingarten: Well, now wait a minute. My source was Lou Dobbs, and while I would love to go back and (once again) prove him wrong, the fact is that Napolitano did get her foot wedged pretty deeply in her mouth, in an interview with Der Spiegel. They'd asked her about the curious fact that nowhere in her speech to congress did the U.S. Homeland Security chief mention the word "terrorism" -- the whole world noticed this -- and she responded thus:

SPIEGEL: Does Islamist terrorism suddenly no longer pose a threat to your country?

Napolitano: Of course it does. I presume there is always a threat from terrorism. In my speech, although I did not use the word "terrorism," I referred to "man-caused" disasters. That is perhaps only a nuance, but it demonstrates that we want to move away from the politics of fear toward a policy of being prepared for all risks that can occur.

Sorry, but whatever she may have meant, this is grist for satire.

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Online Comments: Your poll didn't quite offer an option that worked for me about how I viewed comments. It's not just nutty v. reasonable. It seems to me that it's more nutty v. mean/vicious with a small sprinkling of reasonable.

Have you ever read comments on articles about the death of a person in an accident? There are some respectful posts of sympathy for the person and their families/friends. But then there are an overwhelming number of posts blaming the victim going so far as to actually insult the deceased. It scares me that there are people out there that are so bitter and hate-filled.

Basically, as far as I'm concerned, those comment sections are one of the worst things about online news.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, there was a section on just this subject in my story about the baby deaths in cars. Why are people so vicious in their comments to what amounts to a terrible tragedy?

The answer is that they have an existential need to reassure themselves that death is not random and implacable. Thus, to distance themselves from such people. They CANNOT be like you. They must be monsters.

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Minneapolis, MN: My best April Fool's Day: I woke my 11-year-old niece up and told her she needed to get ready for school because spring break had been canceled. She cried and I still feel sort of bad about it, but it was sooooo funny.

Gene Weingarten: That's mean!

Who was the fine artist who told his daughter her fiancee had died, just so he could sketch the inconsolable look of grief?

Is this apocryphal? I remember learning this in school.

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Arlington, VA: I agree that the comics elimination decision was poorly done, but I have to disagree with your defense of Zippy the Pinhead. I'm a reasonably intelligent person and I have to say that I never got the point of Zippy; it never made any sense to me at all, even when I tried to look at it as deliberately making no sense. In fact, when I didn't think it was just pretentious, I thought it might be a big inside joke by its author. If you can explain to me why it was so brilliant, maybe I'll mourn its passing in the Post, but for now, congratulations on a long-overdue elimination.

Gene Weingarten: Zippy eludes many people, many of them very smart. It's a strip that works in part on an unconscious level. There is a website by the author that helps understand it. Can anyone supply a link?

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Tillie the Toiler: WOW - I love Tillie the Toiler. I'm a historian and I spent hours when I should have been doing Important Newspaper Research sniggering at that comic.

Gene Weingarten: I have a copy in front of me. Tillie was funnier in her time; the main "point" of it was how interesting it was that a woman was in the workforce.

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In the era of home delivery, there is virtually no correlation between the content on page one on any given day and the number of sales.: Unless it's November 4, 2008 or Jan 20, 2009

Gene Weingarten: Correct.

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re: April Fool's: "Only the pigeons know. As hoaxes go, it was quite a coo."

Nice.

Gene Weingarten: I couldn't believe ANYONE didn't get this. There were hundreds of letters informing me of various errors I had made in the column, such as Franklin Roosevelt not having been born Rosenfeld.

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Mug Shot: It Ain't Just Paint

Gene Weingarten: Nice.

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No gardening question; but rather flooring: We have new construction and are deciding what look to go with - the hardwood floors (which are all the rage now but are a little sparce); the burber carpet (neat but requires a lit of vacuuming to keep looking nice); the shag carpet (maybe a little unruly but easy to maintain).

Thoughts?

washingtopost.com: No! Don't do it. Liz will kill me.

Gene Weingarten: No person with taste, and an option for nice hardwood floors, would ever go for carpet.

Is that what I was not supposed to say?

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Fairfax, VA: Our dog is scared of inanimate objects like ladders, ironing boards, gates, etc. So last night for HOURS he barked outside in front of our house. We thought he was being a good guard dog and finally went outside to see what he was freaking out at. There was nothing, but he was sniffing around and jumping at our newly-trimmed hedges, finally urinating on them, which he had never done previously. I suppose it was how differently the light reflected off the hedge, but HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF THIS? What kind of dog barks at a HEDGE (and a small hedge at that)?

Gene Weingarten: Murphy will bark at someone who is shuffling cards, and then she will run away.

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Beat this: mugshot

Gene Weingarten: I believe we have used this before, but it is excellent.

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Adoption: Gene,

I need your perspective on this. I'm a healthy 28 year old woman in a relationship with a WONDERFUL man (my age) whom I just adore. We're in it for life and want to start a family eventually, once we're both done with grad school (another couple of years). My boyfriend is really great - intelligent, hilarious, handsome, the works. He has great genes. The problem is that I never, ever, ever want to be pregnant. I know I wouldn't handle it well, I could see it leading to resenting the kid, and I just have a really severe reaction to the thought of myself as pregnant. It makes me want to puke and/or cry. So, I'm all about adoption. My boyfriend has always pictured his life with biological kids, and I think he may have a hard time swallowing the adoption idea. I've hinted at it, but have wanted to make sure I knew how I felt before really laying it down. His father is VERY against adoption for couples who can have their own kids, and he thinks I should change my name (not happening) because "kids need parents and they need a name." My guy isn't unduly influenced by his dad, but I guess the point is, sometimes it seems like the path of least resistance is to just get knocked up and sign up for therapy to get through it. What do you think? How do I approach this with my boyfriend, and what do we say to his dad if we do decide to go that route? Or, alternately, am I being unreasonable?

Gene Weingarten: This needs to be discussed immediately and frankly. A good way to do it would be to show him this post.

If this is a deal-killer, which it shouldn't be, you both need to know now. There are two clear truths:

1. Whether or not to birth a baby is your decision alone. Don't make this decision in deference to someone else. You must live with it.

2. Grandpa's views have nothing to do with this.

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Help!: Gene, please help me from sticking a screwdriver in my own ear. My father in law has been staying with us for a week, and I love him dearly, but he has an opinion about how I should do EVERYTHING, from how I need to conduct my career to how I need to hang the new pot rack I got. Just... EVERYTHING. And he never lets me finish a sentence, because the rest of what I have to say can't matter once he has a thought. I've started to just continue speaking when he interrupts, but then no one gets to hear what anyone has to say about anything. Is there something I can do at least about the interrupting? I want to maintain a good relationship but I have stopped talking when we're eating dinner because I want to get through the meal with minimal lecturing. My husband apologizes after his dad's gone to bed but doesn't do anything in the moment, and I don't know that he should. Any hope here? Thanks! I love you!

Gene Weingarten: Your father in law is feeling old and increasingly irrelevant. In his mind he is doing you all a big favor -- and he is forestalling his own depression -- by sharing the wisdom he has learned over a longer and probably personally dissatisfying life.

You can challenge him and thus belittle him. Or you can simple accept it, lovingly, for what it is.

I admit, this is a compassionate view of a situation that might be more simply described as dealing with a bully. But the older I get the softer I get.

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Gene Weingarten: I am informed I missed a stealth topiary joke!!!

I am ashamed.

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Failurefromget GO: "website by the author that helps understand it." Zippy needs a website by the author too understand it? Now I really want it gone. If you need a "decoder ring" it ain't worth it....

washingtopost.com: Understanding Zippy

Gene Weingarten: Here we go.

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Horoscopes: Yes, but every paper should carry The Onion horoscopes. They are always brilliant.

Gene Weingarten: Agreed. Because they are a parody of the idiocy of the Horoscope.

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Horoscopes: James Randi did some great stuff with horoscopes. He'd do a reading for a group of people and get them to rate the results. After the ratings were in, and almost everyone said how closely the horoscope matched them, he'd reveal he gave them all the same one. On a radio show, he did a reading for a subject. After the subject said how well it matched them, he revealed that it was actually Hitler's horoscope.

Good times, good times.

Gene Weingarten: I once embarked on a story where I was going to compare people's horoscopes for major days in their lives. For example, Don Larsen's on the day he pitched a perfect game.

It ran into a problem: Horoscopes are so generalized and namby pamby, to be totally inclusive, that there were no great ironies.

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Subversive horoscopes: I remember the first one that caught my eye: Clamato. You are a mixture of clam juice and tomatoes. You are disgusting.

I read the Sunday horoscopes for months thereafter, but I don't remember seeing more than a few fakes. I should have guessed that was you.

Gene Weingarten: Sounds right! I think that this may have been submissions by Style Invitational contestants.

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Huhh?: "I am intrigued, though, that according to the poll, ten percent of men are doing something to women that they don't seem to like."

You're surprised? I'm not. Yet another reason why I'm divorced!

Gene Weingarten: Haha.

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Aptonym, DC: The director of the DC Health Department in the recent HIV/AIDS report: Dr. Vigilance.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.

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Poopsha, ME: I heard a poop shame story the other day that I had to share with you. My girlfriend works with a guy that keeps an extra pair of shoes in his desk. Whenever he needs to drop a deuce at the office, he'll put on his special poop shoes so that his coworkers won't recognize him when he's in the stall. Needless to say, this has attracted a lot more attention to his bathroom habits than if he just got over his poop shame.

Speaking of poop, I also have to ask why in your chat on 11/25/2008, you wrote, "I have a friend at the Post who, if there is absolutely NOTHING to read in there, will read the contents of his wallet." And then in your column on 3/8/2009, you wrote, "If I am in the bathroom and find myself without reading material, I will read the contents of my wallet." Hopefully you paid your coworker a licensing fee for his story?

Gene Weingarten: That is a great poop shame story. I am in awe of it.

Marc Fisher was my wallet-reader friend and he told it to me about a year ago, I believe. He taught me the skill, and opened my eyes. There is much in a wallet that people take for granted, some of it as simple as U.S. Currency -- bills have no fewer than 10 secretly random code numbers and letters scattered around them, as though they were lottery tickets -- to your drivers license. In D.C., licenses are super-inscribed, in silverish lettering that is invisible except when held up to the light an angle, with the long-discarded, meaningless, weenie logo "An American Experience."

All this knowledge comes via pooping.

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re: bossy father-in-law: Take it as a reminder how glad you are his son didn't turn out like that!

Gene Weingarten: Indeed.

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re: staring at ta-ta's: Don't know if the link works, but this is the winning design for the Smith College (woman's college for those who don't know) Biology Dept. T-shirt design contest:

A picture of a cell splitting with "Stop staring at my cleavage!" written beneath it.

Don't know if the cell biology/physiology professor will get one as he is a he.

Gene Weingarten: Very nice. Shouldn't the cells be a few inches lower?

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Last Week's Hate and Envy: "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." Gene, do you know where this kind of "hate" comes from? Do you really feel it, as an emotion, or is it just a figure of speech for you? I hate co-workers sometimes, when they are recognized for a nice achievement. It clenches my gut most often when I'm jealous on my daughter's behalf - like when her friends win an award and she doesn't. (It seems to be related to recognition, yes? I don't get very jealous when friend gets a new car. And recognition is one big reason why writers "hate" each other, right?) These bursts of hatred I get: I wonder what agood (moral) response would be. The feeling seems similar, sort of, to schedenfreud, but I don't feel that for people I know. I love some the of people, especially the kids, that I "hate."

Gene Weingarten: We do not share a hate. Sorry. My kind is a joke.

Sorry, don't mean to be holier-than-thou, but you have some issues there.

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Darw, IN: Sometimes when I read about a tragic accident in the newspaper (climbing up a metal electric pole on an aluminum ladder) my first impression is Darwin Award candidate. Does this make me a bad person?

Gene Weingarten: No. There are stupid deaths, undeniably.

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Horoscopes: I don't believe in the supernatural, don't have much patience for homeopathy, and I have no problem with horoscopes. Now, I'm not going to argue for their value vis-a-vis a good comic, but I kinda like them.

To my mind, it's like flipping a coin when I'm indecisive. If I have a strong reaction to a decision being made for me, then I've learned something about my preferences that I hadn't realized before.

Having some completely arbitrary thing being said about my state of life and mind gives me a random benchmark by which to evaluate my day.

Randomness is fun and interesting--I think the fortune cookie comparison is a good one--and the seriousness with which the author takes it (and I wonder how many of those are believers versus having the mentality of a stage magician) doesn't affect its impact on me.

Gene Weingarten: I'm still not getting this. If you know that horoscopes are written cynically, and that astrology is nonsense, why even bother with these silly, meaningless sentences?

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Notiro, NY: "Gene Weingarten: I am informed I missed a stealth topiary joke!!!

I thought you got it by using the most un-Gene-like innaprpriate answer!

Gene Weingarten: No. Tragically, I missed it.

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Smithees: "Gene Weingarten: Very nice. Shouldn't the cells be a few inches lower?" The women at Smith are not your age, sir.

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahaha.

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New York: Why is it that almost any Chinese restaurant I go to has loads of spelling errors on their menus and signs. But I've never seen a fortune cookie with an editing error. Why is that?

Gene Weingarten: Because the fortune cookies are purchased from a supplier named Dave in Brooklyn.

Okay, we're done. Thank you all. I will be updating through the week.

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UPDATED 4.1.09

Gene Weingarten: This just in from Ithaca, N.Y.

Molly has two pet turtles. They are handsome Red Sliders, about five years old, that she adopted from another vet student who could not keep them. Their names are Olive and Pickles. For several months, Molly has kept them in a large aquarium. They are happy fist-sized turtles. Molly loves them. They are both females.

Or.

So.

She.

Thought.

Yesterday, Pickles started making some unusual maneuvers that Molly recognized to be potential egg-laying behavior. Her ensuing veterinary examination disclosed the existence of "a s---load" of fertilized eggs.

Characteristically, Molly took immediate and decisive action. Acting without hesitation, she renamed Olive. Olive is now Oliver.

Anyone want a dozen or so tiny turtles???

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Gene Weingarten: Regarding the idiocy of Twitter, Amanda Litman sent this in. It's so on target.

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Gene Weingarten: And regarding mugshots, my friend Caitlin Gibson has offered us this one.

Cait points out this is not a funny mugshot, but a hot mugshot, the hottest ever taken of any human. Making it even hotter is that Sinatra had been arrested for hitting on a 17-year-old girl, and the official charge was: Seduction.

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Hagar the (literally) Horrib, AL: It amazes me that newspapers are cutting back on comics pages when they are one of the few things that give them an edge on the Internet. Comics are available online, sure, but only print can offer a full page of comics, in large format, for the reader to peruse.

If newspapers want to stick around for another decade, they should be offering LARGER comics pages, with MORE space per strip, not the other way around.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you. This was a point I meant to make. Unlike virtually every other part of the paper, the comics are one that does not translate well to the Web. As others point out, you have to look at one at a time, return to the menu, etc. It's a pain.

We're squandering this advantage.

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Sarasota, Fla.: I'm on board with the ear lobe and the back of the neck, but the one guy who stuck his tongue in my ear spent a very lonely night.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, just to summarize: I have about 50 posts from women about tongue-in-ear. Roughly 30 agree with this poster, and with the same degree of vehemence. The other 20 use words like "eargasm."

Just so y'all know.

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UPDATED 4.2.09

Best April Fool's Ever: The BBC Spaghetti Crop of 1957.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, this was fun, but I think no public April 1 gag ever topped George Plimpton's great Sports Illustrated's hoax about Sidd Finch.

It was a fabulous take-down of the super-credulous sports fan.

Gene Weingarten: Whereas yesterday's Google "brain-search" spoof was weak.

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Anotherspeedbumpexplanati, ON: "Why would one guy look smug, if another guy scored?" No, no, no. Don't be thrown off by the smug-looking dart walking in the background. The smug guy at the bar is the dart that hit the target. He is saying, I produced that bullseye, and the guy who threw me is irrelevant to my success. (Just like the way that Jim Leyritz hit his home run in the 1996 World Series because you, Gene, hoped for it; you get the credit and not Leyritz or Mark Wohlers.)

It's a combination of "scoring" and scoring, with taking-undeserved-credit-for-another's-accomplishment layered on top. Ambitious in concept, failed in execution.

Gene Weingarten: This, I think, is the best explanation. It's about sports fans.

Gina made this point in our book: "Why do guys identify with their teams so strongly that they'll say 'We won last night"?

"If you go to the opera and enjoy it, do you say, "I really sang great last night?"

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Arlington, Va.: Re: Baldo, I don't have a problem with "editing by demographic," in that a comics page with a few dozen strips should be able to appeal to a wide range of tastes. But is there any evidence for the proposition that Latinos actually find Baldo funny? I suspect not -- my guess is that The Post is just pandering clumsily to an audience it doesn't really understand.

Gene Weingarten: What could be more patronizing to a demographic group than when a newspaper panders to them with a mediocre feature? What the editors are effectively saying is: "Oh, they'll never know the difference! They'll think it's good because it seems to be about them!"

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Latina in D.C.: Gene,

As a member of this demograhpic, I HATE Baldo and always have. I agree that it is base pandering to us. It's also insulting because it's so bad.

Reminds me of why I hate tokenism...

Gene Weingarten: Exactly. And tokenism is the right word.

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Falls Church, Va.: Now that I don't have duLac to piss off, can I bounce my musical ideas off of you? I have a strong belief that one's musical tastes get worse as they age. My parents now listen to horrible country. But, I find myself drawn to sappy dudes and horrible pop music. Am I old? I'm 27 and I used to rock.

Gene Weingarten: I don't think that musical tastes get worse. I think they fuse forever at a certain age, and the age is pretty young, and people lose the ability to appreciate more modern things.

There is one other factor though: I think that pop music, in general, has been getting worse, and dramatically worse, in one sense: Technology. Art is going out of it, replaced tech wizardry / sampling / celebrity dj-ism, etc. Bad. You could say this is an old fogey interpretation that is proving my first point. But it's not. It's true, because I said so.

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Horoscope Funniness: It's the absurdity of it that makes it funny. Also the fact that you know the person who wrote it believed in it, which makes it even crazier. Like Cosmo.

Gene Weingarten: Ah, but here is where we disagree.

I don't think the people who are writing the horoscopes believe in it. I think there are astrologists dumb enough to believe in it, but I think the people writing horoscopes for newspapers are full of it; otherwise, each horoscope wouldn't be so deliberately vague and all-inclusive. They read like snake-oil pitches because they are.

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UPDATED 4.3.09

Santa Rosa, Calif.: Gene, as I see it, the problem is this. Strips like Zippy and Pooch are alive. Their creators are smart and their perspective and rhythm is unique. As a cartoonist, you can almost hear the difference. Conversely, there is so much on the comics page that is literally and figuratively rehashed day in and day out. Why does that get rewarded, while these guys who do everything they can to bring you something unique get canned? I will tell you this -- none of my friends read the comics. And it is largely due to these legacy cartoonists who write down the first idea they had that day and run off to catch an early tee time.

-- Stephan

Gene Weingarten: I agree with this completely. The poster is Stephan Pastis, creator of "Pearls Before Swine," who knows a little something about this subject.

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Critique: Gene, what is your opinion of the quality of the lyrics to the following: Coin Operated Boy.

I spent a rather frustrating evening trying to explain to a boyfriend why this song would resonate with women, and it didn't go very well. I'm curious if it's just too obtuse for men in general to understand.

Gene Weingarten: Sorry, I am not getting the transcendent brilliance of this. It seems like a trite sentiment in an awkwardly written song that is rescued from mediocrity be an intriguing video and a fine voice.

washingtonpost.com: This song didn't do much for me, either, and I'm a girl.

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Dating: I tried an online dating service once. It got as far as a phone call. He seemed okay, but I sensed he might be a little whiny.

But the build-up I went through was funny. I ran his name through every public database I could find, and came up with the factoid that he had pressed charges against his wife for domestic abuse only once, during their nasty custody battle for their kid. He had two DUIs. And he also left his wife while she was in the process of undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

Armed with that knowledge, I was ready for the second call. It didn't go as I'd planned. He had a grade sheet with various parameters that he used to grade dates for potential partners, and he proceeded to tell me I was uncomfortable with gaps in the conversation that went on too long; that I didn't ask enough questions about him (that may have been true - I already knew everything I needed to know); and that when he offered what he considered clues for the conversational direction, I did not respond to his liking.

I didn't tell him my findings. In fact, I was glad I was off the hook for that conversation.

I hate dating.

Gene Weingarten: Arrgh. This reminds me of the famous saga of Dimitri the Jerk.

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Oliphant's cartoon: Anti-Semitic? Did The Post err in publishing it? (I think you'll say no because of the free speech issue.) If not, then how about the charge of hypocrisy because they wouldn't publish the Mohammed cartoons?

Gene Weingarten: Here's the cartoon, and an interesting discussion about it among (mostly) professional cartoonists, including Ted Rall and Wiley Miller.

I don't think it's remotely anti-Semitic. Oliphant is not using the Star of David as a religious symbol, he's using it as a political symbol: It's literally on the Israeli flag.

I think it's a very strong cartoon, expressing a very strong opinion that many people might disagree with. I find the Gaza-as-refugee-mom image to be a bit much. I think the whole thing is pretty unsubtle, but makes its point with great drama, and sure turned into a talker.

I think this is not Oliphant's best work, but I think charges that it's anti-Semitic are disingenuous and wrong.

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Seattle, Wash.: Re: Jason Mraz. I have a live version of that song where he's changed it from "god-forsaken right to be loved" to "god-intended right," so it was probably a boo-boo that got past him (or someone explained it).

But how did Springsteen get away with "one-legged dog" in "The Wrestler"? Nobody in his retinue could say, "uh, Bruce? No, I've never seen a one-legged dog making its way down the street. Although that would be a sight!"

Gene Weingarten: I've never understood how obviously screwed-up lyrics like 'godforsaken right" or "let your inhibitions run wild" or "world in which we live in" make it past so many layers of mixers, editors, producers and whatnot. A hit song is not just blurted into an album.

With "The Wrestler," though, it sort of was. According to Wiki:

The origins of the song are based in a lost and resumed friendship between Springsteen and Wrestler lead actor Mickey Rourke; Rourke told Springsteen about his upcoming film and asked if Springsteen could write a song for it. Springsteen subsequently did, played it for Rourke and director Darren Aronofsky before a concert. When they liked it, Springsteen gave them the song for no fee.

No fee! Take it, now get outta here.

I am thinking no one wanted to look a gift horse in the mouth. "Er, Mr. Springsteen, regarding this song you are GIVING us for FREE, we were wondering if you are a moron and actually meant THREE-legged dog.... "

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Submit to next week's chatgasm.

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