Chatological Humor: The Ghost of Pulitzers Past (UPDATED 4.10.09)

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Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 7, 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

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Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon.

I have a wonderful announcement about how Chatological Humor is going to get even better! This is exactly like announcements you've been seeing in other newspapers practically every day now about how they are cutting costs, paper quality, paper size, staff and features in order to bring to you, the reader, an EVEN BETTER, MORE STREAMLINED PRODUCT!

Well, this is the last week Chatological Humor will offer its picks for the best comics of the previous week. Yes, the CPOW is dead. All for your benefit!

Okay, as it happens, there is nothing dastardly or craven behind this decision and no one I can yell at self-righteously. Last week, the Washington Post Writers Group syndicate picked up its option on "Barney and Clyde," the comic strip being developed by me, my son, Dan, and cartoonist David Clark. Editors at The Writers Group feel that I can no longer offer my half-assed, semi-knowledgeable opinions about other comic strips that might, in the future, compete for space with mine. I hate to admit it, but they have a point.

Additional point being, starting next week, Chatological Humor is in need of a new weekly feature. I will happily accept nominations here.

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You may remember that last week we examined a recent Schick Quattro ad for ladies' personal grooming. It would appear that this is a somewhat toned-down version of a Quattro ad that is currently appearing in England. This one is now all over the Web, and I believe, but cannot prove, it is real. This leads to today's: INSTAPOLL!

My vote will come below.

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I thank reader Justin Stone, who has created his own "Hagar the Horrible Reclamation Project," where he tries to rescue the awful, deadhead strip (last week I can say such things) by substituting his own captions. Here is my favorite.

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Some months ago, in this space, we had a bit of a generational culture war over whether Tom Lehrer's song about the Elements was a lot better (it was) than the Animaniacs' ode to the Nations of the World. We now how have a new and younger entry, via Jeff Ruby at Chicago Magazine. Here are... the state capitals!

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Aptonym of the day was pointed out by Valerie Young, from this story aired on Channel Four:

"Kyle Drinkwine, 24, of Madison, Wisc. allegedly became so incensed by a lackluster karaoke performance of a heavy metal song that he assaulted the singer and a second man, police charge."

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Please take Today's Poll. Yes, it is sad. Grow up. The world is a terrible place. Plus, newspapers are dying, and you won't see much more of this. Yes, there are right answers (one particularly right answer) and we'll be discussing it pretty soon.

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My vote on the instapoll: Yep, that ad is prodigiously racist, though pretty funny within that framework.

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The Very Last Comic Pick of the Week: Sunday's Non Sequitur. First Runner Up: Friday's Rhymes With Orange. Honorables: Friday's Dilbert, Monday's Speed Bump, Monday's Cul de Sac.

Sadly I will not be able to comment on the storyline just beginning in Doonesbury, which I think will become great.

(The real CPOW link. -- Liz)

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Dilem, MA: You're the closest thing The Post has to an Ethicist so here goes.

A few months ago I got letter from my doctor stating that she had been suspended from practicing medicine for several months by our state's medical Board. The letter said only that the matter was personal, not medical.

Last week I Googled her and quickly discovered the reason for the suspension: she had an affair with a patient, whose wife was also a patient. The wife found out and reported her.

I've always liked this doctor, and having an affair with a patient whose wife is also a patient is mostly personal thing, not a problem with her competency to practice medicine. But it shows terrible judgment, and I like my doctors to have good judgment.

So on what basis do I decide to go back to her or not? And if I go back, do I just try to pretend that I don't know why she was suspended? OR do I go in with a rehearsed speech about the matter not being any of my business?

I dislike all of my options; I just need to figure out which one I dislike the least. So on what basis do I make that judgement?

Kinda reminds me of how I feel about Bill Clinton. I mostly liked the job he did as President, but I just can't believe he would be such a dumb-posterior].

Gene Weingarten: Okay, this is very interesting. I'd like to hear others' opinions.

The only thing I am sure of is that you have no obligation to blather on with any sort of speech. Decide whether she should still be your doctor, and move forward either way in silence.

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Alexandria: So, when does Barney and Clyde's run begin? And what will it replace? (this is news, not commentary, I'm asking for)

Gene Weingarten: No clear answer to either question; no way of knowing even if The Washington Post will run it. There are no obligations in any direction.

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great typo: This just popped up.

GREAT!!!!

Gene Weingarten: Wow. Hardly a typo, though. A misuse of words. The unwritten backstory is how incredibly sensitive we must be, to this error.

Gene Weingarten: Not a simple correction. PULLED FROM THE STANDS!

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Falls Church, Va.: So, I've been preparing for the Post Hunt by going through old puzzles from the Tropic/Herald Hunt that are online, many of which include pictures/video/scans of handouts.

One stood out when I read the byline.

Is that really you? You looked like a cross between George Lucas and Bigfoot.

washingtonpost.com: OMG!!! Bad beard.

Gene Weingarten: It is! It was my Manson phase, mid 1980s. We deliberately cropped the photo close, for comic menace.

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Anonymous: "You're the closest thing The Post has to an Ethicist"

I thought the Ombudsman or woman would be closer to that than you.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, but the Omb is restricted to matters of journalism. I will happily pretend to knowledge and wisdom on all subjects.

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Bowie: Gene, what the youngest you ever left your child(ren) around your dog without an adult? On the "comments" board of that story about the four-year-old mauled by his mother's (or her boyfriend's?) pit bull, some people commented that even a beagle might maul a child that young.

How old were Dan and Harry?

Gene Weingarten: I'm not sure there is a solid answer here. I think it depends on the age and temperament of the dogs. When Molly was a baby, our dog was an elderly, stupid collie who had zero potential for hurting anyone. She doted on the baby. I am sure we left them alone all the time.

I am a dog lover and truster, but they are dogs. If you are not absolutely sure, I think you need to be overly cautious.

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Practic, AL: Why would you compromise your healthcare over a personal matter that is not relevant to medicine? I find no reasonable relationship between that type of bad decision and a professional one.

Gene Weingarten: That's my answer here, too, I think. But I think reasonable people might feel differently. With morals and ethics there is a slippery.

What if you discovered your doctor was a racial bigot? Still a great doctor. Is this irrelevant?

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Indianapolis: The Concord Monitor is in New Hampshire, not Vermont.

Gene Weingarten: My bad.

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re: mow the lawn!: Yes, racist. Yes, funny. My favorite part: the tulips. Get it? Tulips?

That ad makes me want to go out and buy the Quattro.

Gene Weingarten: Gina tells a wonderful joke about which is better, roses on a piano, or tulips on an organ.

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New York, N.Y.: As a financial editor I can't tell you how many times I almost let "pubic offering" into the publication.

Gene Weingarten: Understood.

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Ethical Doctor: Assuming all parties were of sound mind, etc., isn't there something to be said for the wife feeling it necessary to damage the doctor's career and livelihood by reporting it? Tell me if my doctor cuts out the wrong organ, yeah, but who they're schtupping, not so much. Affairs happen. Deal with it as necessary, but the (for lack of a better term) "scorched earth" approach causes more problems than it solves.

Gene Weingarten: Well, it's awful, but hardly surprising. Ever see the wreckage in divorce courts?

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Olney, Md.: I'd stay with the doctor who had the affair, since the mistake was such a personal one, the kind with which I can empathize. (And no, I've never had an affair.) If it happened to a friend, I'd probably want to feel sorry for them, even if they brought it on themselves due to their poor judgment. If it was a DUI, I'd probably not stay with the doctor, as they risked a lot more than hurt feelings with their lack of judgment, something that I'd worry would also be evident in their professional judgment eventually.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, I think this makes some sense, though the DUI suggests the possibility of a problem that could enter the consulting room.

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Mt. Rainier, Md.: Gene: About the instapoll: I don't have speakers on my computer, so I watched the "mow the lawn" commercial without sound. There must be something mildly racist about the audio, because with the sound off, I can't see any racial overtones at all in the commercial.

Gene Weingarten: The black woman talks about a REALLY BIG UNRULY bush. The Asian woman is all giggly, with her cute little bonsai bush.

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Washington, D.C.: I don't think the deathbed photo is the most powerful -- partially because it is the most obvious.

From the start you know that she is going to die, and that her family will miss her. I think that photos 3 and 4 are more powerful. Three because you can see an isolation in her eyes when her mother is kissing her and she is surrounded by people at a party. And the loneliness of death, and of knowing death is coming (from the point of view of the dying woman) seems more poignant than the grieving of the family after death.

The photo of her daughter getting ready is, I think the most powerful, because it shows an inability to cope. It makes you wonder if her daughter will regret pulling away later. And it shows that the daughter will go on without her mother, and be OK, and that is I think the one thing that scares everyone, that they can leave and that life will continue without them -- as though they are not as important as they feel themselves to be (the feeling that they are not -- as opposed to actually not being as important)

Gene Weingarten: This is a tremendously good analysis. You and the next poster should be photo editors.

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Photos- She's Fixing Her Hair: I chose the fourth photo as the most powerful because it reveals an uncomfortable reality of terminal illness. In that photo I saw a teenage girl who is full of life and ambition, and who needs as much attention as any other girl her age. She's preparing herself for an ordinary competitive event, but in this context it is an act of defiance against her family who needs her to understand the gravity of her mother's illness in that moment.

Her mother is so frail and corpse-like in the background, the very face of death. The daughter is sullen-faced and strong-willed (even braiding hair when her mother has none). It's uncomfortable to see the selfishness, but it's a very sympathetic type of selfishness. This daughter needs something, too. She's losing her mother, and must be terribly sad, but she's known that her mom would die for a long time, and she wants to live her life. She's just a young girl. It's incredibly sad to me.

Gene Weingarten: Yes. Yes. Exactly. This poster nailed from all four directions, all three dimensions. Yes, the photo at the moment of death was heart rending, and beautifully composed, but there had to be a photo at the moment of death. And it had to look something like that.

This photograph, however, is immeasurably deep and unexpected. It's strangely sullen and completely human. It expresses the awful underlying unfair anger that often see in the home of the chronically ill. This is the deepest, the most powerful, the best composed, the best lit, the best in show. It is unforgettable. It is, above all, the one that best expresses the greatest triumph of these pictures: Access and intimacy.

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"I find no reasonable relationship between that type of bad decision and a professional one.": You really don't see why you should question the professional judgment of a doctor who is engaging in an activity that if discovered will result in (at a minimum) a suspension of her license? You are absolutely sure that that reckless behavior won't creep over to her professional behavior?

Gene Weingarten: I think the previous poster recognized that an affair can be something with an emotional component: That it might not be simple recklessness.

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Wow: is Liz out today? Is that why we're talking about 'landscaping'?

washingtonpost.com: We're not talking about landscaping. Okay?

Gene Weingarten: We are talking about commercials!

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Doct, OR: My doc can have all the affairs she wants, but there is something oogy about a doctor having an affair with a patient who s/he presumably saw nekkid under professional circumstances first.

I don't want a doctor who sees me as a sexually available person, I want a doctor who sees me as a complex system of meat and electricity.

Gene Weingarten: Well, we don't know the specialty here. An ear, nose and throat lady probably doesn't see her patients nekked.

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Arlington, VA: I just thought I'd let you know: After reading last week's updates with the helpful chatter who submitted the Quatro razor ad, I immediately went to the store and purchased one. The solution to my grooming question woes! I figured my questions that go unanswered in this forum would be answered by whatever, um, length the razor left.

But no. It has 4 optional trimming lengths. And before I only thought there were 3 real options. Great.

Gene Weingarten: Glad to be of service.

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Hypocritic Oath: Doctors are supposed to "do no harm." Obviously something that slipped this woman's mind. And, if I am not mistaken, becoming romantically involved with a patient is a BIG no-no. Also, the motives are cloudy - can you say "conflict of interest?" While doubtful the doctor would ever have done something to the wife to take her out of the picture, just imagine if the wife's health HAD suddently deteriorated.

I wouldn't want a doctor displaying such lack of integrity and common sense any where near me.

Gene Weingarten: Many people have expressed versions of this answer.

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Fairfax, Va.: Here's the thing about these pictures, and pictures like them. It seems almost peevish and trivial to evaluate them in terms of lighting and composition.

Nor, though, is it fair to simply praise them because of the intrinsic dignity and pain of the subject matter. You know, the way people used to always feel obligated to praise pictures of homeless people.

To me, the real power of these pictures is that the subjects seem to be ignoring the photographer. The photographer has become invisible. To accomplish this the photographer has clearly gained trust and acceptance by a family in a moment of profound pain.

This, to my naive eye, is the real genius and wonder of these shots. It isn't that they are pretty or perfect. It is that they even exist.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, we now have had three perfect analyses. I need to add nothing.

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Dogs?: So if your long-loved dog attacks your 4-month old baby (biting face) would you find it a new home?

This happened to a relative of mine, and it was a tough decision.

Gene Weingarten: No, I would destroy the animal. You cannot introduce an animal like that into any other home. Children visit childless homes. Just ... no.

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Fairfax, Va.: Where can I read the feature story that went with the Pulitzer-winning photos? I was moved by the photos and wanted to read more about this family.

Gene Weingarten: Here you go.

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DC photo editor: Actually I'm a lawyer who dates your son. Thanks for the compliment--i liked today's poll.

Gene Weingarten: Hey, Maggie!

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Falls Church, Va.: If the doctor is a psychiatrist, then the affair strikes me as a deal-killer. Wouldn't go back.

Gene Weingarten: True. Hadn't thought of that. Definitely.

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Yay Vermont!: The state legislature just overrode the governor's veto of a law allowing gay marriage.

Gene Weingarten: A lot of negatives in that sentence! But it sounds good.

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Wheaton, Md.: Gene, I love you but I just can't be with you right now. I have two kids in college with our savings cut in half, and family members facing layoffs (several in the newspaper industry). I can't read about babies dying in cars and young mothers dying of cancer. Please let me know when it's safe to come back.

Gene Weingarten: Will do. Probably next week.

There are two kinds of people in the world. People who read stories like this and feel lucky, and people who read stories like this and feel threatened and sad. I am in the first group; I feel lucky about that, too.

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I'd stay with the doctor who had the affair, since the mistake was such a personal one, the kind with which I can empathize.: So is popping too many pills, a very tempting "personal" problem for doctors, but very dangerous.

Gene Weingarten: I am surprised how one-sided are the opinions on this subject, but they are: I would say the opinions are ten to one against keeping this doctor.

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Landscaping: Liz needs to lighten up about the topic of landscaping. She must have had a terrible incident relating to this subject that has scarred her for life. I propose that Liz undertakes some intense professional therapy.

washingtonpost.com: Yes, that's it. It involved boxwoods and a machete.

Gene Weingarten: LIZ SAID BOXWOODS!!

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Doof, US: Admit it, Gene. If George W. Bush inferred that Austrian was a separate language, you would wet your pants laughing at his moronity. But your guy does it, and nobody even notices. Maybe his teleprompter was a model that wouldn't play in Europe.

Gene Weingarten: Absolutely true. But don't you see why?

Bush was phenomenally ignorant and clumsy with his thinking and his language. Had he said it, it would have been another ludicrous Bushism. You laugh at that. What a moron, he did it again!

Obama got momentarily confused. He almost never does. It's a little odd, but not that funny. This is not a my-guy, your-guy thing and (whatever your politics) to see parity there is pretty funny in itself.

Here it is

.

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Stop harassing, ME: OK, Gene, so I need your help with an awkward workplace problem. I've recently lost a good amount of weight, and have been getting compliments about how I look from my co-workers, which is a little awkward but nice. Most people just mention something quick like "Have you lost weight? You look good," and I'll be like, "Yes, a bit, thanks," and we'll be done with it.

However, my (young-ish, male) direct superior brings it up every time I see him and I'm getting really uncomfortable! EVERY single time I see him, he'll say something like "God, you're just wasting away," or "Tell me your secret!" or "Wow, you're even skinnier; what are you doing?!" and it is driving me bonkers. I feel like he's appraising my body and looking me up and down every time I see him, and I really don't like when he says things in front of other people (what girl likes to have attention drawn to the fact that she used to be a whale?). I KNOW he's just trying to pay me a compliment and he doesn't mean it in any way that's inappropriate; I think he really does kind of want to know what I'm doing, as he's a bit of a fattie himself and he's always talking about how he works out a ton to no avail.

If I bring it up and say I've been uncomfortable he'll be really upset and it will just be horrifically awkward and terrible and our pretty good working relationship will be ruined. But I really wish he would stop. How can I bring it up in a way that minimizes the awk?

Gene Weingarten: Oh, I think you can. I think you need to get him alone and tell him more or less exactly what you're saying here, with a twist. The key is that you know he is neither trying to make you uncomfortable or saying anything sexually inappropriate: It's just that you want to be accepted as your new size, and every mention of the change makes that more difficult. This is non-threatening to him. It's a good-natured and charitable interpretation of the truth. You'll be fine.

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Comics abomination: Gene, I noticed on Sunday that while some of the regular strips seem to have shrunk or the panels squeezed together oddly (Pearls especially got the short end of the stick), the Slylock Fox panel has grown significantly.

I'm all for encouraging youngsters' abilities to solve petty crimes through observation, but does it really need to be larger than most of the other strips?

Gene Weingarten: This may be deliberate, and smart. Pearls Before Swine (Pastis will hate me for this) seems to be drawn shrewdly, to deter shrinkage. Its characters are simple, dialogue simple, spaces big. It can shrink without injury more than most can.

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Photos of Cancer: As someone who has watched her husband's father die of cancer, slowly and painfully, these photos resonate with me almost as vividly as my own memories of seeing my father-in-law struggling to live, and then waiting to die.

Gene Weingarten: I always look at the winning Pulitzer Prize photos, and they're almost always terrific. They are also often not infrequently about people dying: The year before, was too -- about a teenage boy dying of a rare disease.

Most are very, very fine. Preston Gannaway's, I though, were even better. And yes, she disappeared to get these photos.

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Alexandria VA: As a Mediterranean woman with much - well, at least one thing - in common with African women, I did not find that commercial racist at all. It acknowledged reality. Physical differences are what they are, and genetics, therefore race, contribute to them; it's nonsense to pretend they don't exist. I liked the ad more for the way it claimed their product would be appropriate for all situations.

Gene Weingarten: Well, good. I found it to be making laughable stereotypes that I am sure do not apply in all circumstances. I thought the Asian woman was presented particularly ridiculously.

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Obama blunders: I agree with you about Obama's blunders vs. Bush for the most part. But how about Biden? Yesterday while being interviewed during the Orioles telecast, he said the Martin Luther King was killed in 1966. He can kind of be an idiot at times, can't he?

Gene Weingarten: Yep. Biden's blunders are much funnier, for the same reason Bush's were.

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More on "She's fixing her hair": I think this poster was exceptional in commenting on this photo, but I think there are still more layers to find in the photo. I saw the juxtaposition of life going on with life ending, and also the foretaste of the future when life will go on even when the mother has passed on, and when the daughter will have to fix her hair without her mother, and when the daughter will fix her hair and no one will notice the defiance. This particular moment is heart-rending, but in the future it will be banal; the photograph is all the more heart-rending because it allows you to see the banality at the same time. Truly a picture worth a thousand words, or more.

Gene Weingarten: Ten thousand and sixteen. I counted.

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re: Austrian!: Ok, first, I'm sure Obama's reference to the Austrian language was a mistake.

But, I just want to point out that Austrian German is a distinct German variation (not a dialect) that is very different from the German they speak in Germany. Much more different than, say, the difference between American English and the English they speak in the U.K. Many Austrians (my boyfriend's family, included) shorthand the language as Austrian when it is important to let someone know what specific language someone else speaks. This comes up in Austria way more than you'd think.

Gene Weingarten: Really? I searched the web this morning in defense of Obama and couldn't really confirm this. According to what I saw, more than 90 percent of Austrians are of German heritage, and proudly say they speak German.

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Alexandria: Preston is a girl's name?????

Gene Weingarten: Well, in this case. She's definitely a girl. I met her.

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Re: Pearls Before Swine: I disagree with Pastis' strategy - I think he is inadvertently enabling shrinkage instead of deterring it. A comic editor might see his strip and assume that shrinking all comics won't hurt the content. What if the comics fought shrinkage by adding more art and content, so that readers would complain to the comics editors?

Gene Weingarten: Uh, that would be a lot of nose-cutting for face-spiting.

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Pulitzer and RMN: The Pulitzers will not be the same without Rocky Mountain News. Their photo staff was top-notch. It's like the Oscars without Deniro or the World Cup without Brazil,

Gene Weingarten: It's just all sad.

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Inference: The poster whining about Obama's Bushism misused "infer"! How did you let that go?

Gene Weingarten: Because the damn dictionaries now allow that use.

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Reason to Keep the Doc: It'll be way easier to get appointments now. If this is an HMO PCP you've hit the jackpot.

Gene Weingarten: Good point!

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MD: "Children visit childless homes."

Snort. Not mine, they don't. There are many reasons for this, but two predominate.

1) My home is not childproofed, and I have no desire to make it childproofed. For example, my husband is a police officer. We leave his gun, loaded, in the open to make it easier for him to get ready for work. Not a good scenario for a kid.

2) One of my cats reacts badly to kids. She doesn't like sudden movements or loud noises of any sort, and will bite if she is touched in a way she doesn't like (i.e. tail pulled).

So, no, children do not go into my childless home and my friends with kids know this. We meet at their place, or at another location.

If we were dog people, and knew this dog only had a problem with children, I would consider taking it in rather than having it destroyed. I would be doubly careful from that point on to avoid having kids in my home and to keep said dog on a tight leash should I encounter kids when we're outside the home. This is not unreasonable, IMHO. The dog does not have to be destroyed.

Gene Weingarten: I think I have creds here, in terms of loving dogs. A dog that has mauled a child is a dog that needs to be put down.

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Alexandria, Va.: "Plus, newspapers are dying, and you won't see much more of this."

You mean the end of printed newspapers means photography won't work anymore? Look, I recognize that this is a time of great upheaval in the journalism industry, but the end of news printed on dead trees does not equal the end of photo essays, investigative journalism, in- depth analysis, comics, or anything else.

Yes, there will be growing pains as we shift to new distribution, etc. But we'll get through them. I think it's time to stop acting like it's the apocalypse.

Gene Weingarten: A fair point. The question is not whether there will be a place to publish photos. The question is: Who is going to hire these photographers? Who is going to pay them a good living so they can do their work?

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Somewhere near D.C.: I thought I'd repost without any location information, even though I was somewhat vague before. I have the same doctor as your first poster - the doctor is not a psychiatrist. As I said in my first post, I made an appointment with her just this week. This is my first appointment since she returned from temporary disbarment and I didn't think twice about going back to her once I saw online what she had been disbarred for. An affair has nothing to do with her ability to practice medicine and I think she may have a new-found appreciation for practicing medicine. I like her and I'm giving her a second chance.

Gene Weingarten: Noted. Thank you.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: As a physician, I can tell you that the doc who had an affair with a patient violated her oath as a physician. And she continued to treat both her lover AND his wife? Anyone whose judgment is this flawed should not be practicing medicine.

Gene Weingarten: Also noted.

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Baltimore: A minor point - so minor, it comes from your updates and has no direct bearing on anything else, but I needed to address it because I've been trying to explain it one-on-one for years. Maybe if you publish this, more people will get it.

You wrote: "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'?"

Here's my perspective, and I don't think I'm at all unusual: I say "we" referring to the sports teams I follow because I consider the teams a direct civic representation of me. I'm from Baltimore, so when the Orioles and Ravens do well (or poorly), I consider it to be not just the players or on the field or the managers and coaches, but the entire town, who does well.

Did I or any other fan contribute anything directly to the effort? Of course not, unless you want to perhaps argue that by buying tickets and merchandise and financially supporting the team, I helped pay for a big free agent or draft signing. Or perhaps my tax dollars helped build palatial stadia that allows the teams to draw in fans or something. But I certainly don't make that argument.

I simply say that because a team has "Baltimore" on its jersey, and I'm a Baltimore guy who supports my teams and my city, their trials and tribulations are in some way my own.

I know this is far from universal. I know Yankees fans in the midwest who have never so much as been to New York City who call the Yankees "we." I have no explanation for that.

Gene Weingarten: A fine and noble explanation. It's not the explanation I use.

Mine is more egomaniacal. I choose to devote a tremendous amount of my time and my emotion to supporting one team; it is a test of my judgment. Ergo, it is me against those with inferior judgment. When the Yankees win, I win.

Hey, their $200 million pitcher sure stank up the joint yesterday, didn't he?

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Pearls shrinkage: I think you might be missing the point. Whether or not Pastis is deliberately drawing his strip to survive the Great Comic Shrink of 2009 or not, SLYLOCK FOX IS GETTING BIGGER!

Surely another comic deserves enlargement before Slylock.

Gene Weingarten: If you are going to run Slylock, you need to give it space! A lot of stuff is going on in there.

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Son: "Gene Weingarten: Hey, Maggie!"

You better hope your son is only dating one lawyer and her name better be Maggie.

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahahaha.

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Washington, DC: Photographers need to be hired in order to produce and display powerful work? There are a few thousand amateurs and hobbyists on Flickr right now who'd disagree. I'm sad to see print papers going under for different reasons, but I'm not afraid for the world of photography at all.

Gene Weingarten: I am.

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Arlington Gay: Gene, I know you're a crossword person. Do you do the daily? I have an issue with the Post's Monday, April 6 Crossynergy Crossword. The clue for 25 down was "Giant silt removers", asking for a noun. The answer was "dredges". Dredge is a verb. A silt remover is a dredger so the correct answer should have been "dredgers". Do you concur? Is reduced editing also a part of the comics compression?

Gene Weingarten: The first definition of "dredge" is the machine itself. To paraphrase Pat the Perfect, why ask me before consulting a dictionary?

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Poll: I'm really surprised by the number of people who name "intimacy" as the strength of these photographs. These pictures seem very stark to me--they don't draw me in at all; they're more like frozen moments.

I agree that they're very strong--I think they capture really well the dissociation people can have when tragedy inexorably unfolds around them. I just don't think of that as having to do with intimacy.

Am I off-base? Or are people just thinking of "intimacy" because document the deeply personal?

Gene Weingarten: You are off base. Everyone else is right. The power of these photos is how close we get to these people. The photographer has become an invisible part of their world, to the point where we see them in ways they might not want us to see them -- vulnerable, exposed, in pain, alone.

This defines intimacy.

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Charles Schultz, Atheist?: I found this about Charles Schultz and thought it was very funny - I love what he says about Family Circus.

In an interview in 1999, Schultz said that although his philosophical views evolved over the years, "the term that best describes me now is 'secular humanist.'" He went on to say, "I despise those shallow religious comics. Dennis the Menace, for instance, is the most shallow. When they show him praying--I just can't stand that sort of thing, talking to God about some cutesy thing that he'd done during the day. I don't think Hank Ketcham -Dennis' creator] has any deep knowledge of things like that." Schultz cringed at the mention of Family Circus, the strip by Bill Keane that is strewn with cutesy references to Jesus (who wants to protect children on school buses, but can't because of laws about separation of church and state!) and those sickly-sweet images of invisible deceased grandparents looming protectively over the kids. "Oh, I can't stand that," Schultz laughed. "You could get diabetes reading them, couldn't you?"

Gene Weingarten: Schulz seldom spoke out like this, and this is exactly what you HOPED he say, when he did. And he did, in an interview with Devid Templeton.

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Silver Spring, MD: Hey Gene - I need you to smack me up side the head, I think. Over the weekend I inadvertently got a look at my girlfriend's tax return. I have always known that she makes more money than me, but until Saturday, I had no idea how much more (2x+). I consider myself a pretty evolved guy and know rationally that this shouldn't bother me, but my inner caveman is having a tough time dealing. Can you help?

Gene Weingarten: No.

Live with it. You should be glad, happy for her, and unthreatened.

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Even a beagle might maul a child that young: I've never seen a beagle maul anything but dinner.

Gene Weingarten: Any dog can be mistreated into being vicious.

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TP ratings: Did you see that Consumer Reports rated TP this month? They actually rated "DISINTEGRATION." The "ick factor" is high on this. Moreover, the picture shows that it was done "scientifically" in the lab, rather than in "real world (bathroom)" conditions.

Still, I never thought I'd be reading about TP disintegration anywhere lese but here!

Gene Weingarten: Isn't this like the five-second rule for foodstuffs on the floor? Doesn't it depend on WHEN the disintegration occurs? I'm thinking a four-second rule would be fine.

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Bethesda, Md.: If you Google "topiary chat," you're the fifth result from the top. I'll bet that, with a modicum of effort, you could boost your position even higher. It really amuses me to think of innocent gardeners stumbling onto your chat while seeking advice about hedges.

Gene Weingarten: Would it help if the phrase "topiary chat" is in the response, too?

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Columbia, Md.: Actually I think there's a lot of truth to the newspapers are dying and we won't see this in the future. Not only is the old communication channel dying out (nowadays, who has time to sit down and read the paper? Probably not even the unemployed), but how things are managed are changing. Developing a photo department is sure to been seen as a unnecessary luxury. There will be fewer and fewer chances for photographers to develop their craftsmanship.

The chatter who mentioned how the photos reflected the trust that the photographer received made a really good point. That sort of ability is not based on natural charisma, but also learning how to use it. Fewer newspapers, fewer photographers, increased work loads, less long term projects means less development and risk taking. A shame really. By focusing on the short term, we're losing things that really makes America rich.

Gene Weingarten: I seem to recall that Preston Gannaway spent two years with that family.

Who is going to underwrite that?

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No, I would destroy the animal.: No, no, no. I am part of a rottweiler rescue group and we have experts on aggressive dogs. If we get a call from someone whose dog bit the baby, and we had foster space, we'd take the dog and make sure it went only to an expert home. And experts would also know that this is a dog that can never, never, ever be around children, and we arrange our homes and our lives to keep an otherwise good dog from harming others.

Gene Weingarten: Okay.

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Arlington Gay: I did consult a dictionary.

Gene Weingarten: BUT YOU DIDN'T CLICK ON THE NOUN FORM!

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Poll-ish HUMOR, Gene!: Humor! It's supposed to be humor!

Excuse me while I go fetal and think about how I smoked for 12 years as a somewhat stupid teenager and young adult, and probably gave myself cancer and therefore won't see my son grow up.

Thanks!

Gene Weingarten: Stop being such wusses.

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Washington, D.C.: With regards to the horrible new comics page redesign, another thing that stood out to me is that the sudoku is now huge. The crossword got smaller, the comics got smaller, but sudoku seems to have expanded.

Is the sudoku lobby especially powerful or something?

Gene Weingarten: Several people have noted this. It's an odd mistake. Sudoku could work just as well at half the size. The crossword puzzle cannot.

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Wilmington, Del.: I have an old lazy lab that is totally harmless, but I would never leave alone with a young child. More because I don't trust the child not to poke an eye or pull a tail and make my dog do something on instinct that we would all regret.

Gene Weingarten: Understood. Also, in this conversation I fear we are losing the difference between MAULING a child and snapping at, or even biting, a child. A good dog can be provoked to snap. A dog that mauls is different.

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Alexandria, Va.: hey snarky childless woman with the cop husband... since your husband is a police officer, he should know that even though he is an officer of the law he is still not supposed to leave his LOADED SERVICE WEAPON "lying around in the open to make it easier for him to get ready for work." There are laws about the storage of loaded weapons, and they apply to law enforcement as well. Either your husband is a moron, or you are lying.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, this went right past me. I cannot believe it is acceptable practice to leave a loaded guy lying around.

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Germantown, MD: Gene Weingarten: Would it help if the phrase "topiary chat" is in the response, too?

Yes, as of 12:51 pm you're now number 1.

Gene Weingarten: Yay!

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Albuquerque, NM: So how are the knees? Are they broken in yet?

Gene Weingarten: When I walk around, I look relatively normal, which is not a situation I am used to. It's still painful, though. I should be pretty good in a couple of months. Thanks for asking.

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Doctor dilemma again: She's a General Practitioner, if that helps. And you're right - no need to bring the subject up if/when I go see her. But what if she brings it up? Those little rooms aren't big enough for the two of us and such a huge elephant!

I've been leaning towards going back to her. I've been to a lot of doctors, and I don't like most/many of them, but I like her. She looks me in the eye, she listens, she doesn't give the impression that she just want to check a box and move on to the next room.

And speaking of the wife: you should see the vitriol she spewed on every doctor-rating Web site. Wow. She's angry.

OK i've made up my mind - I'm calling for an appointment.

Gene Weingarten: Thanks! What an interesting place to end on.

Thank you all. This was a terrific chat. I'll be updating as usual through the week.

Still taking nominations for an added new feature, to replace the comics.

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UPDATED 4.8.09

Dumb Questi,ON: Last week you said we'd know whether you won or Chatwoman won an argument, based on the poll this week. Maybe I'm really dense, but I can't figure out whether this one would have been objectionable to her. So who won?

Gene Weingarten: She won. The poll I wanted was going to be about who enjoys what, and to what degree, in various sex acts. She was right to say no, which she did within a second or two, deducting the nano-second delays in eletronic transmission, and neural response time from brain to fingertip.

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N.J.: If I can't leave a loaded guy lying around, what am I supposed to do with my husband when he comes back from poker night with the boys?

Gene Weingarten: This was the best of several excited responses to my typo. Loaded GUN, okay?

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Please be kidding: Was your colleague Michael Kinsley's column yesterday a joke?

Your poll today seems to be a powerful antidote to that. Hey, why pay to have someone follow a story for months when you can just get some fun shots from twitter for free!?

The whole thing had to be in jest, right?

"But there is no reason to suppose that when the dust has settled, people will have lost their appetite for serious news when the only fundamental change is that producing and delivering that news has become cheaper."

Producing the news is now cheaper? You don't suddenly need reporters and editors and budgets that let people like you take months to research a few thousand words? Delivering, ok, maybe, but in terms of making stuff glitzy and interactive for web, I wonder how much you come ahead versus just paper production. And even if everything really is just way cheaper now, without reliable income what does it matter?

Gah! Please tell me this was actually some sort of joke to get us to reflect on the necessary investment in news investigation, reporting, editing, and publishing--in any medium.

Gene Weingarten: I think Kinsley was dead serious, and I know journalists who feel the same way. It's the emotionless, free-market approach.

Here's a problem with that way of thinking: Once this is all gone, I am not sure how long it will take for the market to correct itself, as it were. No, Michael, it is not good if in the future the role of the newspaper is just a list of Web sites you should look at that day. That's a nightmare scenario, not a shrug-of-the-shoulders option for a new tomorrow.

We are heading for a period of indeterminate length where there will be insufficient eyes on our government, on business, and on the powers that be in, in general. Where official pronouncements will be accepted and printed as news. Where the heart-and-soul changing stories of human interest are going to remain unnoticed. I think it's bad, and I think it's going to take a while before we realize what we're missing.

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Re. the doctor: I disagree with the posters who are voting against going back to the doctor. It must be nice to be as perfect as they are.

Listen, the reality is that it can be hard to find a good doctor that you trust. The doctor made a personal mistake, and has been punished for it. How long does she need to wear the scarlett A?

Gene Weingarten: I cannot tell you how rare this response was. At LEAST 10 to one to sew on that A.

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Brooklyn: Have you seen this no smoking ad where they show a little boy being left alone in a train station (or some crowded place). And the camera just watches as he realizes he's all alone and gets sad until he starts bawling. It then says "Imagine how he'd feel if you left him forever."

Now this kid can't be more than three or four. He probably can't say more than a few words if anything at all. There's no way he's a child actor. It's obvious they wanted raw emotions so they simply filmed the kid being left behind, but the child didn't know what was going on. It seems extremely exploitative and cruel to put a kid through that - even for only half a minute.

I don't think this is at all ethical - but I wonder if it's even legal. What's your take?

There's a post on the ABC news blog about the ad here.

Gene Weingarten: This is interesting. Here is the video.

If you read the blog, you learn the child was allegedly alone for only five seconds; supposedly, it seems longer because of multiple camera angles. The producers of the ad also contend that his abandonment was unintentional, which I have a hard time believing.

If it was really five seconds, I think this is of debatable ethics, as in, I think I could make a case on either side. It was for a good cause, the discomfort was minimal, and it created an artistic moment.

I think I couldn't take both sides of this argument if the kid was really in a panic for longer than that.

What do you think?

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Rockville, Md.: Gene, yesterday I dropped my watch in the toilet after I had already peed. I pulled it out with my toilet tongs (we have a toddler) but can't bring myself to use it. What would Gene do?

Gene Weingarten: Okay, I have read that you have a toddler, and that you have "toilet tongs," but cannot for the life of me connect the two, or identify the product.

If your watch survived the toilet, it is not the kind of watch I respect, probably. But that also probably means it could survive a rinsing. So what's the problem?

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UPDATED 4.9.09

Pandas: There was a wonderful typo in the online version of this weekend's cover story about pandas: "Meanwhile, in a nondescript concrete building at the other end of the zoo, lab technician Dave Kersey was rubbing the sleep out of his eyes and waiting for a vile of panda urine."

Gene Weingarten: Many people found this!

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A little bit racist: I think that the racism is mediated slightly by the fact that the stereotypes are part of the winking at the subject. If you hadn't already caught on to the subtext, the stereotypes helped you get there. You are right that it is further mediated by the way it is played for laughs. That doesn't mean it isn't racist, only that it's not offensively so.

I guess that means I am suggesting that there is such a thing as "inoffensive racism." Which I didn't think there was. Thanks, Gene!

Gene Weingarten: I think most racial jokes are inoffensively racist, when told among friends who understand that the stereotype, and not the race, is what's being made fun of.

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Washington, D.C.: As my go to, advice giving, nonbeleving jewish internet friend, what do you think of this?

Is this guy really praising Madoff and bashing Sully? Madoff only turned himself in because he couldn't make his scheme work anymore. Sullenberger has the audacity not to thank God for saving him and he is the bad guy. (Why did god send those birds in front of the plane anyway?)

Is this one of those guilt things I don't understand or is this Rabbi crazy?

Gene Weingarten: Okay, this is a very, very weird column. It's daring, it's well written, and has a coherent, if thin, logical thread.

To summarize: Bernard Madoff is the most vilified man in the United States right now, and Sullenberger the most deified, and neither public reaction is entirely justified. Why? Because Madoff probably never intended to defraud, and because Sullenberger was saving his own life, too. It's not as though he made a self-sacrificing choice.

It's daring and interesting. And he has me along fairly well, until the end, when a fair reader is compelled to ask: Uh, wait a minute: Why are we comparing these two men, exactly? Is there some sort of moral equivalency, here? That's where it falls apart.

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New York: Please explain exactly how your expressing an opinion about a comic strip can be part of a conflict. Do you decide which comics are run by The Post? Do you set compensation rates? You're just appreciating comics OTHER than your own. Right?

Gene Weingarten: No, this makes sense. I have no quarrel with this judgment.

Every time an editor at a newspaper needs to decide whether to buy a new strip, he or she is also making a decision on which existing strip the newspaper would have to drop to accommodate the new one.

If I am out there as a critic, I am not just complimenting good strips, but I am critiquing others. Even though I don't intend it this way, it could be seen as trying to knock the competition.

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Out here in the ether: Wow does your timing suck. I found out I have cancer this morning, and the doc says it doesn't look good. I feel fine now, but my husband is devastated. I've been told maybe a few months. I've decided to visit far flung friends and not tell them why I decided to "drop in". Is this wrong?

Gene Weingarten: Ma'am, I don't think there are rules for this sort of thing. I would ask yourself this question: How will these people feel about what I did after I am gone?

If you think they will feel betrayed, robbed of a chance at closure, then I think you should be more upfront. If you think they will see it as your not making them uncomfortable, then go ahead. But ask yourself the question honestly.

You might ask yourself also why you don't want to tell them. That is the hardest question of all.

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Gene Weingarten: I love humans.

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UPDATED 4.10.09

Indy, IN: Gene, It is going on nearly a month since we changed over to daylight savings time. I have not yet adjusted. It's all wrong for my circadian rhythm. I realize it's only an hour, but morning after morning I'm blasted out of my deepest REM sleep by my alarm. Almost every day I can remember exactly what I was dreaming before the rude awakening. I literally have to drag myself to the shower. I make it to work on time but by evening I'm spent. I go to sleep before ten most nights. What in the world can I do to get my body/brain to adjust to this inconvenience?

Gene Weingarten: During my years at Harvard, we heard a lecture from the man who invented the term circadian rhythms. I think his name was Halberg. He was part scientist, part poet ("Circadian" is an elegant word that sounds like something in a forest, maybe from the chirping of cicadas, but all it means is circa= near, dies = day.)

He was late in his career, at the time investigating the impingement of circadian rhythms on jet lag; basically, as I recall, he concluded there was nothing you could do about it. I thought this showed amazing humility for a scientist, but later decided it might have been the opposite: Nothing was more powerful than the force HE had discovered.

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Sli, DE: You'll like this. (NSFW!)

Gene Weingarten: Liz and I just looked at this simultaneously. We agreed it is horrible. We were also laughing. The following conversation ensued:

Liz: You don't actually want to USE this, right?

Me: Well, I guess not.

Liz:

Me: I mean, unless ...

Liz: Aw, what the hell. It's only an update.

Me: Good!

Gene Weingarten: As an added, amazing fact, Chatological Humor has been informed by Kate Rears, a semi-professional musician, that the score to this item is not kazoo, but armpit fart.

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Gene Weingarten: This is magnificent. It must be read to the end.

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Gene Weingarten: And now, something beautifully wacky.

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Gene Weingarten: I want to end with something disgusting. It begins with this fearmongering hate ad by a group called the National Organization for Marriage, which I saw on Wednesday and was repulsed by.

Wednesday a Web site found the audition tape for this ad. A half dozen very poor actors competing for each of these roles. Each one is equally believable, inasmuch as they all speak somewhat woodenly, the way real people would if stuck in front of a camera to describe their real-life plight. It was a very shrewd audition: They weren't seeking competent actors, they were seeking people just incompetent enough to seem real.

The audition video is no longer available, pulled off the Web by the National Organization for Marriage over copyright issues. But the stench lingers, and the overriding question is:

Couldn't they find anyone real who gives a crap about this non-issues?

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Submit to next week's chat.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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