Chatological Humor: What Makes a Hero? (Hint: It Ain't Bacon-Aise) (UPDATED 4.17.09)

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Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 14, 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.

New to Chatological Humor? Read the FAQ.

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: Good afternoon.

Today, I am surly, churlish, and disgruntled about several things.

First, I am disgruntled by the results of today's poll, which show that a majority of you, men and women alike, aren't interested in trying or using marijuana even if it were legal. Now, as an important Role Model For America's Youth as well as a Respected Spokesperson for My Generation, I must applaud your virtue and rectitude and maturity, which I shall officially do right now with that little genteel palm-above-palm, mudpie-sculpting, society-lady, pittypat clapping of the sort that might accompany acceptance of a gift of begonias to a garden club.

Why am I so pleased? Because it is just so inspiring that we as a people have moved beyond the childish impulse to seek even mildly altered states of reality, as though we bought into that bogus argument that experimenting with alternative ways to see things might help us navigate from new angles the sometimes bewildering complexities of our lives. Why, if God had intended us to experience this sort of stuff, He would have planted euphorics and hallucinogens willy-nilly across his great green planet of His, and, as a joke only He could really appreciate, stuck some of them onto cow poop in the shape of brown belly-buttons!

The point is, we are all more mature now, and it's good.

But I am a little depressed because a reader who wishes to remain anonymous reports seeing this license tag on the road: BOLOGMA, and I now fear most of you are just too mature to get it. And I can't explain.

I am also depressed because of the existence of this stuff, to which I was alerted by P.J. Romano. Its importers describe it as "simply the tastiest bacon food product ever made." There is no surer sign of Armageddon.

I am also depressed because of this, as anyone would be.

I am also depressed because Mark "The Bird" Fidrych is dead.

One of the great perks of my first big-time newspaper job was that it was in Detroit, meaning I could watch the 21-year-old rookie phenom pitcher for the Tigers. It wasn't just that Fidrych was a terrific pitcher, it was that he was exactly what baseball needed: a swaggering, eccentric, humble hick who refused to adhere to the boring, agreed-upon laconic stoicism of his craft. He talked to baseballs before he threw them, earnestly urging them to break sharply and avoid the bat. He got down on his hands and knees to manicure the mound between pitches. But above all, he had a hilarious sense of the silliness of this country's fascination with sports.

As I recall, during a press conference after he had injured his leg in spring training, writers were throwing question after question at him about his future, the impact of his injury on the team, whether they would make the playoffs, etc. Fidrych just fell silent for a minute. And the room fell silent, too. And then he said: "Does anyone know what Congress did today?"

This was not a stupid man. Injuries ended his brilliant career after one great season. He died crushed under a truck yesterday. I bet he still smoked weed.

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The Clip of the Day is going to be unleashed upon you with the first question, below. I expect an interesting discussion about it. Likewise, there will be a pretty heated and interesting discussion about the "hero" questions in today's poll. We'll get to those right away.

No comics today, but by next week, I expect something new that's visual.

Let's go:

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Not exactly Joshua Bell in the Metro station...: ... but this is amazing in its own way.

Be prepared for a 4-minute vacation from cynicism.

- A major Gene fan

Gene Weingarten: Well, it is sweet and adorable but I don't find it banishes cynicism more than any other big extravaganza dance scene in a movie. It's entirely scripted and well choreographed.

I watched it three times, though. Very nice.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, now I read about it and like it less. It is a distortion of art for the sake of marketing. It was created as a public commercial for a Belgium TV show that was looking for people to play in "The Sound of Music."

So much for banishing cynicism.

Gene Weingarten: Here is a sweet video on the making of it. It's in German, and it loses nothing in the lack of translation. Now I feel a little better about it.

Gene Weingarten: Sorry, Dutch. Not German.

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Squeez bac, ON: You know that the Squeez Bacon is fake, right? That site always does a few fake products for April Fools Day. I also recommend the USB Pet Rock.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you. I didn't. I appreciate knowing this.

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Top Dog: Hi Gene - so I'm a big fan of the Obama family and a great admirer of everything they've done so far in office (e.g. planting the White House garden, visiting schools and Miriam's Kitchen, etc.) And while I think their new dog is adorable, I can't help but think that they missed the mark a tiny bit on this decision. I mean, I know: how do you turn down a puppy from Senator Kennedy! But I thought they really would have been great with a wacky, funny shelter dog than this carefully bred, meticulously trained, symbol of upper class privilege. That dog is way classier than me! How can I relate to him? I'm curious about what you think of Bo. Should I just get over it?

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, this is yet another reason I am depressed.

I love all dogs, but a Porty is not what I would have chosen to be the first dog. I know the breed a little. There can be a certain, uh, high-strung preciousness to the breed. Suffice it to say that one of the standard haircuts for this breed is a form of topiary in which the bottom half of the animal is shaved to the skin, and the shaving is done roughly from the mid-point of the back, meaning the dog is deliberately shaved to look like a male lion. It is called the "lion cut."

Also Porties tend to get male pattern baldness. Seriously. It's one of the weirdest things to see.

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Tonsil Cancer: I'm not sure I see a cause-effect relationship here. They imply that oral sex has increased in the last 20-30 years and has therefore led to an increase in tonsil cancer, but it seems to me that 20 or 30 years ago, most people had their tonsils removed when they were children, so they never got to the age where their tonsils were exposed to the...ahem..."fruits" of oral sex. I doubt there has been a dramatic increase in oral sex, just an increase in adult tonsils, which would of course lead to an increase in tonsil cancer in general.

Gene Weingarten: You know, this makes some sense!

I was almost alone among my friends as a kid, in still having my tonsils.

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Notareal, MD: Hemmingway defined courage as grace under pressure. Captain Sullenberger may have been improving his own chances, but he stayed cool, calm and collected under very trying circumstances. Likewise, the firefighters and policemen may have been following orders, but they were running toward danger when everyone else was, quite properly, running away. I give the nod to the single parent for doing the right thing over a long period. I would also give the nod to Capt. Phillips because I gather that he volunteered to be taken hostage in lieu of his crew.

Gene Weingarten: Well, you're a pretty easy grader here.

Actually, Hemingway, I believe, said "guts" was grace under pressure. But I'll accept that as a synonym for courage, and I think we can apply that to Cap'n Sullenberger. Courageous, skillful, enviable, admirable. But what does that have to do with being a hero?

I think "grace under pressure" is an interesting expression but I disagree with Hemingway. I don't think that defines courage, at all. I think that defines something more elusive, like "class" or "savior faire." That's not my definition. Someone else said it, and that's how I first heard it.

Seems to me you can be scared, and hesitant, and all stammery and douchebaggy of manner, and still show courage in a personal act or personal decision. Courage to me is related to an end result, not one's demeanor in getting there.

And heroism? An entirely different matter, to me. To me, you are a hero if and only if you make a substantial personal sacrifice on behalf of others, or to achieve something noble. Raymond Kolbe, the Roman Catholic priest who volunteered to die at the hands of Nazis to save another man? Hero.

I think there's an interesting calculus to all this. Was Jackie Robinson a "hero"? Part of me says yes: He endured vilification, threats on his life, etc., to help break a barrier for all people of color. An amazing guy. Was he a "hero"? Well, he was a baseball player. He played to the best of his ability, for fame and glory and pay. So, I'm not sure.

I think the firefighters of 9/11 were heroes. I feel that intuitively, I like thinking it, but I can't explain why, exactly. It was their job to rush into those buildings, and few people anticipated those buildings would collapse that quickly. I call 'em heroes, because I don't know what other word fits.

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New York, N.Y.: New "Hero" Rule of Thumb: A person is a hero if their actions would be considered heroic whether or not the actions succeeded, and regardless of whether they survived the attempt, so long as they voluntarily assumed some personal risk. Without these qualifications, someone may be admirable, but not a hero. By that logic:

Sullenberger: Not a hero. Had he failed, no one would have considered him one. In addition, he did not voluntarily assume any risk beyond that of your average pilot. Skillful, yes, but not a hero.

9/11 police/firemen: All heroes, regardless of whether they survived or not.

9/11 civilian victims: Not heroes, unless they actively aided the escape of others at some personal risk.

Poor single parent: A hero, if non-traditional. Sacrificing your owns wants and needs for your children is still sacrifice. You could make a strictly Darwinian argument that it is not heroism since the success of one's heirs amounts to one's own success, but it's a bit petty.

Capt. Phillips: A hero. Voluntarily offered himself as a hostage to save his crew. Even if he had died, his actions would still have saved his crew, and he should be properly considered a hero.

Gene Weingarten: This is EXACTLY my analysis.

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Seattle: According to Patrick Smith, author of Salon's "Ask the Pilot" column and an active commercial airline pilot, not only was Sullenberger NOT a hero, he didn't even achieve a really great exercise of airmanship. "... With a few common-sense exceptions, the nuts and bolts of landing on water are pretty much identical to the nuts and bolts of landing on land. Touch down parallel to any swells, as slowly as possible but not so slow as to let a wing drop and risk a cartwheel. The simplicity of the maneuver is one reason pilots don't train for it in simulators. Another reason is that a water landing is presumed to be the byproduct of something extremely serious -- a fire, multiple engine failures or some other catastrophic malfunction. That is the crux of the emergency, not the resultant landing, be it on solid or liquid surface.

"And with almost unlimited space, gliding into the Hudson was a much easier task than attempting to hit a fixed point -- that is, a runway -- where the management of speed and descent rate has to be exactly right...

"But hype is hype, and pilots are sensitive to the fact that many of their fellow colleagues have, in disasters past, performed no less bravely or heroically than Sully did -- more so, to be frank -- but by virtue of lousy luck they didn't survive to make the talk show circuit. Or, because they didn't come splashing down alongside the world's media capital, their stories were never made public. That, if anything, is our gripe...."

Gene Weingarten: This is interesting; again, I'd argue that the issue of heroism is completely beside the point here. I'd also say this piece seems a little churlish. I'd be honored to have a beer with Sully.

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Chevy Chase, MD: A cure for your depression.

washingtonpost.com: I wonder if that's really her body.

Gene Weingarten: This is actually a look I don't love. A young woman trying to look older via high hair.

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Pennsylvania: I see the early returns that people are not interested in trying marijuana, even if it is legal, reassuring. I am not interested in it either, but, without divulging who I am, I have been assigned the task of research making medical marijuana legal in Pennsylvania. Neither my boss nor I use marijuana and I believe people turned to us because they know we will approach the matter in a serious, professional way. The fear, and the stignma, is that medical marijuana will become abused by people who have sudden illnesses or pain. Indeed, that is probably close to what has happened in California. Yet, in the 12 other states that have also legalized it, it is usually limited for people with specific illnesses. Leaving alone the issue of legalizing marijuana, which is an entirely different matter and whatever your view on it is, it is not going to happen in the near future. Legalizing medical marijuana, though, may happen in the near future in more states. I wish to focus on that issue. I have spoken to people with wasting diseases, severe cancer patients, AIDS patients, etc. who have reassured me that marijuana best deals with the pain they are in with fewer side effects than other pain medications. Indeed, some legal pain medications, such as oxycontin, have such severe side effects these patients tell me they would rather be in pain than take the medication. All I can say is, after having spoken to these people: they are in pain, they do not want marijuana to get high (in fact, there are ways to take medical marijuana without receiving the intoxicating effects), and they are suffering. We have the means to relieve their suffering, and I hate to think that the only thing preventing their pain to ceases is some silly stigma that this medicine is going to be abused by dead head stoners. Many of these people are elderly and anything but your typical pot heads, and I believe they deserve our help.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.

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But officer, she's my doctor: So, he was in drive, and she was in reverse?

Note the police first "filmed the act for evidence" before arresting the driver.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, I am thinking they showed remarkabe restraint. This is MUCH safer than if she had been in the more conventional position; at least they had two sets of eyes on the road. And two sets of headlamps.

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Legal, schmeag AL: Never want to smoke weed, legal or not, as I've seen the effects on others when they smoked weed and I refuse to be that completely oblivious to the speed (or lack thereof) of my movements, the things that come out of my mouth as they come out of my mouth, and succumb to complete idiocy and dependency on others. I prefer to be aware of my faculties. Not because I'm some goody-two-shoes, but it really just doesn't look like that much fun when you're sober, surrounded by high idiots. Before you ask, yes, I drink on occasion, but never to the point of oblivion. It's a very rare occurence and I am always well within coherence, albeit mildly impaired. I'm the perennial DD; the "little sister" who takes everyone else's keys; the one who cleans up the bathroom after you go in there high and... we'll politely say "miss"... with numerous bodily functions. Am I a dweeb? Okay. But I'm the dweeb everyone depends upon, because they know I'll be the DD that doesn't say "Just one or two and then I'll stop"; I'm the dweeb that will get you home because I have the presence of mind to ask you for your address BEFORE you drink; I'm the dweeb that will tuck your sorry, high, drunken, foolish, damp behind into bed while you tell me how great I am and how much you love me... for the billionth time. I'm a dweeb. Sosumi.

Gene Weingarten: I wasn't particuarly liking you until "damp." You had me at "damp."

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New York, N.Y.: Are people confusing hero with role model? Sullenberger did a damn good job, but heroism is about more than doing a damn good job. You have to be going above and beyond, at personal risk to yourself (ideally, risk assumed voluntarily for the benefit of others). Sullenberger saving his passengers was a display of skill, and he should be commended for pulling it off, but he isn't a hero.

Gene Weingarten: Agreed.

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Dupont Circle, D.C.: Children aren't really my thing and I think very very highly of people who take on the amount of sacrifice and selflessness needed just to raise even a baby at C+ level. That being said, just because a parent is doing right by their child even in the face of hardship makes them heroic?. I always thought a hero is someone who uses courage and strength of character to go above and beyond expectations. Do we really not expect a parent to do the best for their children just because they are single & poor? Is that where our standards have fallen? Isn't doing the best for children what being a parent is all about, no matter what the cost? And why do middle class people always like to think poverty is some black hole to escape from and that those who "rise above" are to be commended?

Gene Weingarten: I think it is much, much harder to be a good parent if you lack material resources, if you live in a place where temptation is on every streetcorner, if to provide for your child you must serious sacrifice things for yourself.

Oddly, while I can't plant "hero" on Sull, I am comfortable using it here.

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Anar, KY: The real loss yesterday was Marilyn Chambers, who brought more joyful release to more people for more years than good old Bird ever did.

Gene Weingarten: True enough.

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Also Porties tend to get male pattern baldness.: This could be an advantage, as the older Obama girl has allergies and asthma -- which is why the kids haven't had a pet up until now. It's all very well advocating a pet from a shelter, but the girl's health issues dictated the choice.

Gene Weingarten: He had other choices. I might have gone with a standard poodle.

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Balancing depression with hum, OR: Yo, it's Rears. Sad situation with one funny undertone for you to analyze. My sister (still a Rears, not married) has been having digestive troubles for months and finally went to the hospital for a few days and underwent a colonoscopy. The verdict: ulcerative colitis. She was released, got some swelling in her foot and ankle a few days later, was checked back in for another couple of nights and diagnosed with a blood clot, maybe related to the hospital stay, maybe related to OCP hormones, maybe related to whatever meds they gave her for the constant pooping and whatnot.

So, obviously this is funny on some level because she is a Rears and she is having poop issues. However, I am incredibly depressed and worried about the elder Rears, who is doing a lot of soul-searching as a result of multiple overnight hospitalizations and told Mom she wants to break up with her bf, with whom she now realizes she is incompatible, and move back from Philly to Boston, when Mom and I would love to have her down here with us at least for a few months while she gets herself and her health under control. What do I do? "Butt out" is an acceptable answer and probably the one I am expecting. This doesn't change the fact that I'm incredibly sad. Cheer me up.

Gene Weingarten: As it happens, Rears, I have some solace for you and your sister. People who do not know you, and do not understand our relationship, might might find what follows to be cruel or insensitive. But you will understand immediately.

I happen to know something of ulcerative colitis, having discussed the subject at great length twelve years ago with Dr. Michael Levitt, the world's foremost researcher on farts. This was for my book on hypochondria. Dr. Levitt was at that very time studying the gas output of colitis patients using a capture-and-collect system he invented-- airtight Mylar pantaloons sewn by his wife, Shirley, whom I called "The Betsy Ross of intestinal gas research."

Anyway, what Dr. Levitt had found was that the farts of ulcerative colitis patients had an unusually high percentage of hydrogen sulfide gas, which not only smells terrible but which is a deadly toxin. How deadly?

Here's where things get interesting. The single daily output of your sister's behind produces enough hydrogen sulfide gas, if properly harvested and utilized, to kill 25 mice or two fully mature rats.

That, madam, is the sheer destructive power currently unleashable by your sister. It is up to her whether she uses it for good or evil.

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Rescue, ME: Hey, Gene - please mention next weekend's Rescue Me Gala!

I volunteer with WARL and I hear you're going to be the (two-legged) star of the show. WARL is a fantastic organization and I think it's awesome that you're doing this.

Gene Weingarten: I am not going to be the star. I am going to be the speaker. The star will be the dogs who will be there, including Murphy, whom I hope to have in attendance.

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Hero, IC: I think that people can be heroes BECAUSE they do their jobs. A firefighter or police officer puts him/herself in harm's way ON PURPOSE. Their goal is to save lives. That's heroic. So is teaching. So is being a doctor and nurse. Plenty of people who have these jobs aren't heroic, but my definition of "hero" is broad enough that it can include a single parent working very hard to provide a great life for his/her kids.

Gene Weingarten: So every cop, firefighter, and teacher is a hero?

Everyone in the armed forces?

EVERYONE?

Can I be your hero, too?

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New York, N.Y.: I allowed my friend to have the last spring roll at dinner last night. Am I a hero?

Gene Weingarten: Apparently.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: Gene, I need you to tell me I'm doing the right thing. Please. I don't have any friends who have pets and I don't have anyone to talk to about this.

My cat is 16 and very crochety. I am the only person she really likes. She sits in her bed all day until I come home- she recognizes my footsteps! She has a lot of health problems, is blind, high blood pressure, arthritis, probably some dementia. She doesn't use her litter box at all anymore and we've just gotten used to cleaning up after her. I've had her since I was 12.

I got a new job which requires me to move out of the country and I won't be back for at least a year (and then just to visit). The last time I left home for a while, she developed high blood pressure and went blind because of an idiot vet. I've traveled a lot for work and school and she pines for me, although she tolerates my mother, who also loves her.

We've decided to euthanize her on Wednesday because I'm leaving Wednesday night. My mother would take care of her, but we just think she would be unhappy without me. She's not terminal, she's probably in some pain but it's hard to tell with the senile behavior. I think objectively that it's the right thing to do for her. But I've been crying for hours every day all this week since we made the decision. She's not actually dying, and I can't bear to kill her. I'm completely distraught about this. I've never felt this way about anything in my whole life.

What do you think I should do? You're the only person I can think of that I would really trust.

Thank you.

Gene Weingarten: What do you mean she's "not dying"? Of course she's dying, the same way we all are, only she is doing it in pain and confusion and likely in fear. And all these things will get worse in your absence This is the definition of what euthanasia is for.

You need to have the cat put down, and you need to feel a sense of joy that you were able to do that kindness for her. Because that's what it is, a last kindness.

I think the impulse NOT to kill a suffering pet is essentially selfless; a person is trying to put off his or her grief, because they don't want to face it.

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Chevy Chase (again): You're right, not the best choice. How about this?

Gene Weingarten: Better. Thank you.

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Heroic?: Gene,

The whole single parent thing...yeah, I'm not buying heroism. Sure, there are some sad circumstances where that parent is a widow/er, etc, but your decisions to get married, have children, etc, are YOUR DECISIONS. Just because you take responsibility for your own actions doesn't make you a hero -- and woe to our society if we think it does. Should we celebrate the heroism of someone who pleads guilty to DUI? Good for you, Mr Hero: you took responsibility for something you did.

Gene Weingarten: I understand this position; I don't agree with it. I say that because I am not convinced I would have been as good a parent as I have been had I had to face what some single parents in privation have faced.

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Top Ge, AR: Gene Weingarten: I might have gone with a standard poodle.

Of course you would have. But most Chatters seem to prefer an automatic.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.

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I'm the dweeb that will get you home: What a show-off. With a martyr complex.

Gene Weingarten: It's okay. She said "damp."

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Richmond, Va.: Gene,

How would you best deal in a discussion, with a person who was a pure solipsist? My friend and I were talking about a conversation he was having with one of his employees about the nature of time and she just stuck firmly to her guns about "anything you know from observation could very well be unreal, because it is a construction of your brain and senses, etc." What can you say to that? It's nonsense - gravity isn't questionable because our understanding of it comes from observation - but how do you refute that attitude? It's like certain fundamentalists that have cyclic reasoning that supports their point but leaves no room for questioning. Argh!

Gene Weingarten: Well, if you follow it to its logical conclusion, we needn't take responsibility for our actions, since nothing is necessarily real. To prove the point, kill her.

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Gene Weingarten: In my answer about euthanizing a dog, I believe I said "selfless" when I meant selfish. The impulse not to kill a suffering pet: Selfish.

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Euthanas,IA: Hey Philly--I was right where you are about 6 months ago. My cat was 19, going senile, and not having much quality of life. We put her down before moving houses--I knew she'd handle the change badly.

It was sad. But I held her at the vet's office until she lost consciousness. I didn't stay for the final OD med push, tho. I was too wimpy. But I held her as long as she had any awareness, and the vet handled it after that.

You are doing the kind thing for your cat.

Gene Weingarten: Thanks.

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to paraphrase Ayn Ra, ND: "If everyone is a hero, then no one is a hero."

Gene Weingarten: Indeed.

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Rockville, Md.: Gene, did you see the story about the 8-year-old girl being married to a Saudi man in his 50s to settle a family debt?

Remind me why they are our friends. And why we respect their beliefs and culture?

Gene Weingarten: As I have said many times, no, the world is not one big comfy living room, and no, everyone is not like everyone else.

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Hint?: Any hint on the bologma? Googling just that gets me nowhere.

Gene Weingarten: No. If you are too mature, you are too mature.

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Chatwoman: Is Liz heroic for withstanding your -- and your fans' -- repeated and unscrupulous calls to engage in improper discussions on this website?

washingtonpost.com: Nope, just doing my job. Like Sully.

Gene, however, is my hero.

Gene Weingarten: And, interestingly, Liz is my Savior.

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Aptonym: How's this for an aptonym? The guy raving about the need for the Iowa legislature to overturn the state Supreme Court decision on gay marriage is one Christopher Rants.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.

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Greater Green Bay, Wis.: Actually, I might try marijuana if it was in pill form - I can't inhale smoke without choking and vomiting. Which sorta takes away from the alleged pleasure.

washingtonpost.com: Do you like brownies?

Gene Weingarten: As I recall from many, many years ago, the key to brownies was that the herb had to be slightly fried before the baking.

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herndon, va: Mr. W: One of the best Sports Illustrated covers of all time - Mark Fidrych with Big Bird. Fidrych was a real "character" - the current ones in sports all seem to plan every "character" action they take.

Gene Weingarten: Yep, exactly. Also, Fidrych had tremendous style but no ego. He happily retired to work with his trucks.

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Brooklyn, NY: "A four-year-old boy actor is taken to a train"

Um, no. There is no such thing as a four-year-old actor. Is anyone claiming that his crying was his brilliant acting skill? Was he drawing on that time when he was two and he couldn't find his mother when playing peek a boo? Is that how he achieved that apparently raw emotion?

It's absurd to call this kid an actor. It's like calling the monkey they shot into space a volunteer astronaut.

Gene Weingarten: Not true. Though I like your analogy.

This kid, whose name is Alexander, has acted on stage and in ads. He understands the nature of acting. He knows what his job is.

But no, here the tears were not acted. They got him scared.

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Relationship Dilem, MA: Hi Gene,

I know you've talked about this topic before, so I hope you don't mind revisiting for me.

I've been dating my boyfriend for about nine months. Everything is going great, and he's the first person I've ever been able to envision myself having a future with. The problem is that he is a practicing Catholic, and I don't believe in God. So far, this hasn't been an issue - he does his thing, and I do mine. But as things continue to progress in our relationship, I'm looking towards the future, and I'm not optimistic.

I'm basically indifferent toward religion. I don't personally believe in it, but have always adopted a sort of 'to each his own' attitude, so for me it's not a huge deal that he believes in it. On the other hand, religion is a fairly big part of his life (i.e. he goes to church every Sunday, gave up something for Lent, etc), and it's something that I will never share with him. Do couples make this work? I feel like this is a make or break point - akin to a difference of opinion on wanting/not wanting kids. And speaking of kids, I'm not sure I'd be okay with them being raised Catholic - something he has told me that he definitely wants. Ugh.

We both care about each other a lot, but I feel like we'll never be able to fully progress with this roadblock. Maybe I have an unrealistic view of how relationships to be, but when I eventually get married, I want my husband to love me wholly and completely without reservations. Is this possible given our circumstances? I'm already pretty emotionally invested in him and our relationship, and I'm thinking of ending things now to spare myself an even worse breakup later on.

Thanks for any insight, A loyal reader

Gene Weingarten: Well, two of my closest friends are devout Christians. It makes for interesting coversations, I think we are all three better for these conversations, no one has persuaded or tried to persuade anyone else that they are wrong, and everyone respects everyone.

However I am not married to either of these people.

I think your big issue is children. Is there wiggle room in his determination to bring children up as Catholics? How would he feel about taking them to church, telling them his beliefs, but also having your non-belief discussed with the children as a valid alternative viewpoint? And would YOU feel about that? Some Jewish-Christian marriages work quite well this way; with love and understanding and mutual respect, I think it can be done without the children becoming hapless pawns in a debate.

I'm trying to think about how I would act in your situation. If the woman I deeply loved were insistent on bringing the children up Christian, I might be okay with it, so long as my views were heard and respected. If the woman refused to consider this, I would refuse to consider her. I'd consider her a bigot.

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LA La Land, Calif.: Re: the crying child in the PSA: I work in the film business, and if you tried to inflict that level of stress on an animal to make it perform, the Humane Association would be down on you like a ton of bricks. It's totally unethical. They could have used a child actor just a little bit older -- and if that rang a little false, there are still ways to cut around it and get the same effect. There's no excuse for causing even an instant of distress to a child who can't consent to it for the sake of a piece of media, even in a "good cause." That's a very, very slippery slope in this business.

Gene Weingarten: This was the question I had most problems with, personally. I love the ad, though. I think it's art. I would have answered it's okay, ultimately for one reason:

This is a child actor. He has been acting for some time. He was definitely deceived here, but I am thinking that the applause he got afterward, congratulations on having shwon his emotions so well, etc., would have mitigated the anxiety and actually made him proud of himself.

I admit I am not sure of this.

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Bolog, MA: Very clever, in a totally immature way.

Gene Weingarten: Yes.

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Getsit, usa: Bologna is pronounced bol O knee Bologma therefore is bol O me or blow me

BTW I answered that I had my own connection

Gene Weingarten: Okay, Liz permitted this.

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Murph: Hey Gene! How are the knees? And more importantly, who is walking Murphy? Did you get a power scooter? Does it fit in between the headstones at Congressional? As a fellow manual driver, are you wishing you had a temporary automatic right now?

Gene Weingarten: I am a few weeks away from walking Murphy. They TOLD me I was also a few weeks away from driving a stickshift, but I proved them wrong.

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Phillly, Pa.: I'm a long, soft roll with various Italian meats and cheeses stuffed inside, topped with shredded lettuce, sliced red onions and perhaps a few hot pepper slices, and sprinkled with vinegar and olive oil. Am I a hero???

Gene Weingarten: Only in certain parts of the country.

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Huh?: Gene, could you please elaborate on your answer to Rockville?

Do you mean that we need to learn to live with less than ideal situations sometimes, or do you mean other people have different values that are not inherently wrong?

Gene Weingarten: I mean that there are values that are inherently wrong. Subjugating women is wrong. Enslaving children is wrong. These are not valid matters for cultural debate, any more than human slavery is.

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Pornst, AR: Gene--If Marilyn Chambers is going to get a shout-out here, the least you can do is give equal time to the memory of Jack Wrangler for your gay chatters, who died last week.

Gene Weingarten: Liz, can we get a picture? This was one very good looking man.

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All in the definition: Re: the Hemingway quote (and I like "guts" better, thank for you the clarification), I think it may be in how you define "grace." In that context, I don't think of it as a Cary Grant/savoir faire kind of thing, but as simply doing the right thing - i.e., as invoking definitions of grace as describing a sense of "fitness or propriety," or generosity and goodwill - not just charm, refinement, beauty of movement, etc.

In contrast, I think both "hero" and "tragedy" are overused and too broadly defined.

Gene Weingarten: Ooh, tragedy. An interesting word to define. Maybe next week.

Was 9/11 a "tragedy," or does the word imply something much more passive?

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washingtonpost.com: Jack Wrangler

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Comfy Living Room?: I agree with you Gene, the world isn't a big comfy living room. That being said, when are we going to accept the fact that there is a difference between "good culture" and "bad culture"? There's a huge debate among researchers on this -- does "tradition", even when it harms or limits someone (significantly), still worthy of keeping? And should we do our best to change cultures that keep women down, marry off 8 year olds, or stone people to death? I think we should, and we shouldn't be apologetic about it. Culture is good when it affirms life, it reminds you of where you came from, not when it means you can't go outside unless your husband tells you it's ok. So, what do you think?

Gene Weingarten: That's what I think.

I also think that something is not acceptable merely because the majority of a population wants it. Human rights are not always matters of democratic majority. Doesn't work that way. Not to belabor a point, but the Confederate States of America would have happily voted for slavery.

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You shot up, right?: Do you still like the thought of it, even just in an intellectual sense? I've been in recovery for quite some time, quit smoking too. I still like the memory of the feeling of the crystal meth as it burns going down the back of my throat or the similar feeling of the Jack Daniels (yes, i'm a redneck). I said I'm not interested in smoking dope because it wouldn't be worth it to even dip my toe back in at all, in case I think, "That went ok, let's try this". That, and if I ever did choose to relapse, it wouldn't be on something as lame as pot, go fast go hard baby.

Gene Weingarten: Shooting heroin nearly killed me. I'd be a liar if I said that I don't miss the feeling. I'd also be a horse's ass if I ever did it again.

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Civilian Heroes: You forgot the passengers on United 93. By taking over that flight, they effectively saved the lives of people wherever that plane was intending to crash.

It doesn't matter that they were trying to save their own lives too. It's about being able to stay calm and rational enough in the face of death to act to save others.

Sacrifice and risk can make a hero's act more moving, but anyone to focus and act to help others in the face of danger is a hero to me.

Gene Weingarten: Oooh, a truly disturbing point.

I am trying to be an absolutist about this, and it compels me to argue that the people of flight 93 were not heroes. I don't like where that places me, but I have to make the case.

I deeply admire them; they were courageous. But, first and foremost, I think they were trying to save their own lives; even the cockpit recorders confirm that someone said, if we don't do this, we'll all die.

Okay, I hate this conversation. Officially. But as a courageous but not heroic moderator of this discussion, I argue they are not "heroes." Have at me.

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Aw, FL: Gene,

The link on the homepage for this chat reads, "Is Weingarten Funny? You Should Ask."

"Funny? You Should Ask" was/is a clever title. But this...this is just sad. Who on earth is writing these headers?

washingtonpost.com: I'm guilty. We were quickly trying to change it from the equally distasteful "Laugh With (At?) Gene Weingarten."

I'm happy to take suggestions.

Gene Weingarten: How about just Tuesdays With Moron?

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Every Sperm is Sacred: About tragedy, I think Obama was wrong in not lamenting the death of the pirates. Every time somebody dies whether it's just or not, I can't help but think about all the possibilities that were just destroyed.

Gene Weingarten: Hm.

This goes back to the argument about whether the two shooters in Columbine should have had memorials, too.

I'm not sure what's right here, but I think Obama would have been ridiculed if he spoke regretfully about the death of the pirates.

The fact I like is that they were tense because they hadn't chewed khat in a few days. Apropos of this chat.

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Indianapolis: Re tragedy, let's start with the Mel Brooks quote: "Tragedy is when I cut my finger. Comedy is when you walk into an open sewer and die."

Gene Weingarten: Yes.

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Friday Night: Did you enjoy a beer at the Tune Inn? Because I swear I saw you leaning against the fence/railing outside, but you looked taller than I had envisioned.

Gene Weingarten: Nope.

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Urinetown, USA: Hi Gene! Recently, I've noticed that my urine (especially first thing in the a.m.) smells sweet. I definitely thought about diabetes, but I have zero other symptoms, in fact I feel totally fine! Could it be the new vitamins (plus extra C) that I am taking? I am stumped and wonder if I should be worried?

Gene Weingarten: Actually, it does sound like the vitamins.

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Washington, D.C.: When will you start cranking up the Badwagon for the Nationals this year?

Gene Weingarten: I just discussed this with Tom the Butcher! We are going to wait a few weeks.

Several years ago, when, under Marty Schottenheimer and his all-schottenheimer coaching staff, the Redskins began the season with four blowout losses, I started the Badwagon, a chorus cheering for a (then) unheard of 0-16 season.

We have a potential goal this year, too: The losingest season in baseball history, eclipsing the woebegone 40-120 1962 Mets.

I'm watching, okay?

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We were quickly trying to change it from the equally distasteful "Laugh With (At?) Gene Weingarten." : Don't worry, Gene, we're not laughing AT you. We're laughing NEAR you.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.

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Alexandria, Va.: "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."

Gene, you are so dead wrong about the effect of use of the Internet -- in fact, citizens are now armed with much more information about government, business and society than ever before. The only difference is that the WaPo, NYT and other major media are no longer the gatekeepers of information and have no monopoly on the questioning of authority. You should buy a copy of "An Army of Davids" and get ready for the new world.

Gene Weingarten: The army of Davids do not have people paid well to cultivate sources over years, people like Dana Priest, who will expose malfeasances via years of training as investigative journalists. With an army of Davids as protectors of the realm, I guarantee you Richard Nixon would have served two terms. Possibly succeeded by President Spiro Agnew.

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Gene Weingarten: I don't mean to overstate this, cause it sounds defensive, but: People who think we will be protected by bloggers really have no idea what they are talking about. David Simon made this point eloquently yesterday on WAMU.

He noted that when he recently broke a story about police malfeasance in Baltimore, he wasn't having to push past all the bloggers working the story.

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Philly, PA (again): Thanks so much for answering me about my cat. I was concerned that I was being selfish by having her euthanized on my schedule.

All of my non-animal-having friends have been saying for years to put her down because she's blind, which is ridiculous, and I foolishly googled pet euthanasia and found so many sites that are outraged when owners don't wait until the very last minute. She's been so alert and cuddly this week because I've been spending every spare minute with her on my lap that it feels like she's getting better, but obviously she isn't.Tomorrow is going to be so hard, but thank you for being firm and decisive with me. I really appreciate it.

Gene Weingarten: I euthanized a 13 year old collie when my family moved from Miami to Harvard for a year. She was blind and deaf and not happy, but technically healthy. We simply decided that she would have been terribly, terribly upset by the move, disoriented, and scared.

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Arlington, VA: I hate it when people call members of the Armed Forces "heroes." If we members of the Armed Forces are heroes for doing our jobs, then why does the government court martial us when we don't?

Gene Weingarten: Agreed. But I would say that by agreeing to do what you do, you put yourself in a better position to be a hero than most of us do.

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The fact I like is that they were tense because they hadn't chewed khat in a few days.: I'm in the middle of writing to the Post about that nonsense. To be without khat is like running out of coffee, not like having PCP wear off. Also, did you get the disconnect in todays article, which said that "khat is mildly narcotic and acts as a stimulant"? If it's narcotic, then by definition it isn't a stimulant. All drugs are not narcotics. Marijuana isn't a narcotic.

Gene Weingarten: True enough.

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Re: relationship dilemma: My mom is Catholic. My dad was a Darwinian atheist. I can quote from the Bible or The Origin of Species with equal ease. Two viewpoints, properly respected, won't harm a child.

Gene Weingarten: There ya go. But your dad doesn't sound like at all overbearing about his religion.

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Falls Church, Va.: "people like Dana Priest, who will expose malfeasances via years of training as investigative journalists."

Depending upon which party is in power.

Gene Weingarten: Bull. Just plain.

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Just for the record: People who smoke aren't all 40-year-old high school drop-outs who live in their parents basement and ask you if you want fries with that. Sure, that's the stereotype, but I promise you, there are responsible, otherwise law-abiding adults who you know and like who smoke.

I smoke marijuana. I am in the process of getting my second post-graduate degree. I am in the top 10 percent of my very reputable program. I like to smoke as a stress relief, like some people like that beer or cocktail at the end of the day. Judge if you want, but I am fully in control of my faculties, get my work done and generally have my life together. You would not know I smoked unless I told you. So can we drop the potheads-are-all-terrible-drains-on-society nonsense, please?

Gene Weingarten: I wasn't aware there was that undercurrent here, but consider it officially banished.

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Anger Manageme, NT: Gene --

A little while back, the organization I work for put me on a list of its lobbyists, without justification. That act has now cost me a good job in the new administration.

I am steaming mad, mostly at my employer, but partly at the administration for being so doctrinaire on this issue. Is this a fair apportionment of blame?

Gene Weingarten: This is not fightable? Did you ever do anything that a lobbyist does?

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Alexandria, Va.: Isn't it true that most newspapers would be perfectly reasonably profitable businesses if not for the demands of share-holders and Wall Street and the fact that they're part of the holdings of huge conglomerates? I'm cranky today and it makes me mad that we're going to lose them for no good reason. Grr.

washingtonpost.com: Simon made that same point yesterday on WETA.

Gene Weingarten: It's a slippery slope, because the minute that newspapers start accepting some sort of special exempt economic status from the government, they are compromised.

(The first amendment is not an economic advantage.)

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Anonymous: "To be without khat is like running out of coffee"

Yep, that's right. And you don't think people on coffee withdrawal with guns can't be dangerous? But it's less like drinking coffee as it is like chewing the beans. There's no doubt the lack of khat was a factor.

Gene Weingarten: I don't know about "no doubt," but I'll bet those were sleepy, jumpy dudes.

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Army of ignorant Davids: Gene, you are so right. These pajama-clad bloggers that we have come to worship don't do much but comment on events. Keeping the government honest requires real, full-time journalists who know how to dig deep and can spend the necessary time to do it.

Gene Weingarten: Bloggers have done very good things, but it is usually by intelligently analyzing or questioning what the media has put before them.

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Teabagging: Do you agree that the most enjoyable part of the odd little protests planned for tomorrow is that their chosen term of their act of civil disobedience is also a slang term for a sex act?

Gene Weingarten: Yes

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Great Animal Rescue Story: We have a weatherman in Cleveland who has been on TV practically since the beginning of television. He's a great weatherman, never hypes the weather, is as accurate and understated as a weatherman can be.

For years and years, one night a week he has featured animals that can be adopted from local shelters - this was long before anyone else was doing it. He also leads fundraisers for the shelters.

A few years ago when he turned 75 he did not want his colleagues to mention it or celebrate. When they filmed him after the 6:00 pm newscast going to the limosine they had ordered to take him to the party they had planned, his unease and discomfort were evident.

I still get teary when I remember the video of him arriving at his party at the local animal shelter being greeted by scores and scores of the owners and animals he brought together over the years. It really was a perfect celebration.

I should probably include his name: Dick Goddard, who still devotes one night a week to helping the animals find homes.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.

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Washington, D.C.: Another problem with bloggers carrying the mantle of journalists is that very few have the reputational authority that a respected publication has to carry a ground breaking story. Nor, in their rush to "break" a story do many blogger bother to confirm blatantly false rumors. We've seen mainstream news Web sites fall prey to reporting on the death of celebrities and other news based on false confirmations by bloggers or other "citizen-journalists." The news needs a filter and that filter must have a reputation to protect so that we may base our acceptance of that version of the news or not. Compare the value of "news" from The Washington Post to the National Enquirer.

washingtonpost.com: Remember the Washington Post employs bloggers, too. Let's not confuse a piece of software with the content. It's the institution that matters, not the delivery system.

Gene Weingarten: There's something else that's kind of hard to quantify.

When I call some person or institution on behalf of The Washington Post, I get a response. It might be a weasel response, or a lie, or a non-response, but people are afraid to stonewall a big-time organization.

I wonder how many bloggers can get people with secrets to talk to them?

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Here and Now: Dear Gene, I am 48 and smoke weed basically daily.

I had gone without for a week but got some on Easter. (My connection is my 19-year-old child's West Indian Rastafarian father.) I had a toke and I went to Mass (at a nearby but not "my" church) at 5 p.m. mildly buzzed.

I had an intensely beautiful and spiritual experience. I feel that most would find my bevavior scandalous but I love weed and I love the ritual of the Church, and I was nothing but reverent and humble in my participation.

I don't understand why people love to drink to get a buzz and will pop Prozac daily but don't like the hum of a mild weed buzz. I think it's a physiological reaction. Mine is positive with weed, most people's is not.

There are not many but there are some like me.

Gene Weingarten: Noted.

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Lobbyist: As a Federal contracts expert, I can tell you that a ton of people are considered Lobbyists that wouldn't think they are...especially after a new rule that was issued last year.

Anyone who regularly does business with a military flag officer or a Government contracting officer is now technically listed as a Lobbyist.

Get your old company to detail the type of work you did -- it should be clear to the new administration that you were not a Lobbyist in the truest sense of the word.

Gene Weingarten: Also noted. You listening?

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Gene Weingarten: Thank you all. This chat got a LOT of questions, and I got to as many as I could. Please look for some of yours to be answered in the updates.

See you next week.

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UPDATED 4.15.09

Blind BunNY: I remember your funny, subversive (as usual) piece about the White House Easter Egg Roll many years back. A shame that Style didn't assign a writer to that event this year.

Gene Weingarten: Me, too! There were certain seasonal stories that were perennial to Style, assigned every year to some hotshot as challenge and punishment. The Easter Egg Roll was one; the pardoning of the turkey is another; the Gridiron Club dinner is a third. I had to do two of the three.

For most of us, the stakes were always high, and the pressure daunting, since your stories would always be compared (internally) to those that came before: The task, always, was to make something out of nothing, and therefore was always a measure of your chops as a writer.

The one I never did was the turkey pardon. I had an idea for it, but am not sure I would have been allowed to do it. This was during Clinton's last two years, and I wanted to do it as a gory scene: Clinton starting a normal speech that quickly bacame embittered, talking about the culture of savagery and personal vilification in Washington, finally pulling out an axe and beheading the turkey as children gasped and screamed....

Then I was gonna write, just kidding, but wouldn't that have been great? In fact, the turkey pardon went off exactly as lamely as always, etc.

Never got to do it.

Liz, can we link to my Egg Roll piece, from about 1998? I think it happened the year after Henry Allen's famously controversial one, where he noticed that Hillary kind of resembles the Easter Bunny.

washingtonpost.com: Egg Roll Tot Com (Post, April 14, 1998)

washingtonpost.com: And Henry Allen's piece -- Don't Worry, Be Hoppy (Post, April 4, 1994)

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Springfield, Va.: Gene,

I understand why you'd want to make sure that your children would hear and understand your views on religion, but I don't think that somebody who insists on raising her children according to a certain set of religious ideas is a bigot. I (and my wife) have raised our children within our set of beliefs because we think they are right and feel very strongly that they are right. That doesn't make us bigots.

And, yes, I feel strongly enough about those beliefs that I suspect I would have found it impossible to marry and have children with a woman who did not share those beliefs.

Gene Weingarten: I didn't say or imply that someone who insists on raising a child with certain religious beliefs is a bigot. Or, wait. Maybe I did. The situation we were discussing was hypothetical: A Catholic marrying an atheist, insisting not only that that the children be raised Catholic, but also that no dissenting views be permitted in the house.

Maybe "bigot" was the wrong word, actually. But it is a form of closed-mindedness I find extremely unappealing. It also seems almost ... faithless. If you are so sure of your faith, why banish dissent or discussion.

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Cubicle in D.C.: I disagree about the poor parent being a hero. They chose to have the kids therefore, choosing to be self-sacrificing. I'm happy that they would try to be the best parent they can by sacrificing their own needs but this is the way it should be all-around in parenting and is not heroism.

Gene Weingarten: I got a lot of posts like this one. I think there is an undercurrent of resentment against single poor parents.

I would like to make a couple of observations: I don't think a lot of people plan on being single parents -- sometimes, often, it happens because of the irresponsibility or fecklessness of others. And I don't think people plan on being poor.

Once you are in this circumstances, you have choices as to how to behave; whether to give in to self-pity or not, whether educate yourself, whether to work very long hours to create better opportunities for your children; and whether to bring them up with strong values that will help them live their lives in productive ways.

I think the right thing to do is not the easiest thing to do -- I think it represents not only a triumph of will but a triumph of selflessness and love. I think the best measure of this is to hear testimonials of some famous people, about the chances they were given by an extraordinary single parent.

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Child actor: Gene, this fear happens to every child at some point in their lives. I can clearly remember when it happened to me as a four-year-old in a department store. My mother was 10 feet away, but I couldn't see her.

Filming this is no different than putting a camera in front of a baby and then waiting for him to cry in hunger. Eventually, it's going to happen. You caused the crying by not feeding him. But it's part of being a baby.

Feeling abandoned for a split second - and dealing with it - is part of childhood. They just instigated it and filmed it. No real harm here.

Gene Weingarten: In the whole magnificent history of Chatological Humor polls, there may never have been a question so evenly divided, among people who are sure they are right.

I'm not sure about this one. You just drop the word "instigated," but it's the key to this whole thing. To whatever degree we acknowledge, they deliberately hurt a child.

The Rib takes acting classes: Her teacher, a professional director of film and stage, was appalled by this.

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Harry Kalas: Grieving Phillies fan here, Gene.

Thought you'd appreciate this, from one of the Philly papers. This is one of Harry Kalas' stories about his broadcast partner, Rich Ashburn:

"One of Whitey's responsibilities when he was broadcasting for the Phillies was doing the pregame show, taping an interview with an opposing manager or player or coach. He'd take his tape recorder down to the clubhouse and get an interview and he'd come back up. He'd say, 'Boys, that might be the best interview I ever had.' He'd hand the tape machine to the technician and the tech would say, 'Whitey, there's nothing on here.' I mean, if this happened once, it happened 50 times.

"And Richie would then have to scramble out of the booth, go find the first warm body and try to do an interview for the pregame show.

"So one night, we're sitting in a hotel bar in New York and a blond hooker came walking up to us. She said, 'Boys, I'll do anything you want for a hundred dollars.'

"Whitey thought for a while and said, 'How about the pregame show?' "

Gene Weingarten: This sounds apocryphal, but I like it.

Geezer moment: I remember Richie Ashburn as a player.

Major league geezer moment: I remember, when I was a kid, my father telling me "I remember Casey Stengel as a player."

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UPDATED 4.16.09

Gene Weingarten: Here is a fabulous Richie Ashburn story, also probably apocryphal, relayed by my friend Horace Labadie --

Richie used to tell a story about his days with the Mets. Elio Chacon was the most dangerous infielder on the team. Richie was a wide-ranging outfielder, and Chacon liked to go out after shallow fly balls. So he and Richie were frequently trying to make the same catch, with Chacon refusing to back off when Richie yelled, "I got it." Ashburn discovered that Chacon didn't speak any English, and that was why he never yielded. So Richie asked another Spanish-speaking player how to say, "I got it," in Spanish. The next time they were both going after a fly, Richie yells, "Yo lo tengo!" Sure enough, Chacon peels away, and Richie slams straight into Marv Throneberry, who spoke no Spanish.

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New England: Newspaper reading at its best involves incongruous juxtapositions and the pleasurable discoveries of the new: a headline grabs your eye; a photograph pulls you into an article, or vice versa; a tidbit shared with a partner over breakfast leads to an impromptu discussion or fight, or a swapping of sections to compare discoveries... I never read what I think I will read. I never find what I already knew I would find. I don't read the newspaper so much as it reads me.

By contrast, when I read the news online, I seek out and find what I knew I wanted in advance: a specific article, a specific issue. It confirms knowledge, instead of expanding it; for me, at least, it offers up news as a consumable item instead of educating me.

I literally tear up thinking about the end of newspapers. I find its consequences to be as terrifying as do you. I already subscribe to three: what else can I do?

Gene Weingarten: Nothing. We're done for, I fear.

But you've put this very well. I guess that's doing something.

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Washington, D.C.: An article blaiming the decline of newpapers on crappy comics.

Gene Weingarten: I can tell you one thing for sure. This letter writer has absolutely no sense of humor.

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Crying Children: Manipulating kids to cry has a bit of a tradition in photography/film, notably in Jill Greenberg's work The End Times where she literally took candy from babies to make them cry.

And here's an article on the controversy.

washingtonpost.com: Note: Because of Greenberg's goofy Web site set up, I can't link directly to the portfolio. Click through to "Portfolio" then click on the pic of the crying baby for a link to the whole series.

Gene Weingarten: You need to dig into the minimized photo icons on the bottom to find the crying babies.

I am not impressed. It's not a matter of ethics. I just don't find these compelling portraits.

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Falls Church, Va.: With the beginning of baseball season in Washington yesterday, I was wondering if you're still going to Nats games? I remember when they first started up you prided yourself on being good luck for the team (in that they won most of the games you attended). Are you still a fan, or has your loyalty shifted back to the Yankees?

Gene Weingarten: Actually, I was a curse to the team! They lost every game I went to. I finally broke the curse by attending a game with Jeremy Weiss, who had the opposite mojo.

I really liked this column. Lizzie, can you find it?

Meanwhile, I have not yet even been to the new stadium. I have been unable to whip up a real enthusiasm for the Nats: I need a team that gives me a win every once in a while.

I give it two more years.

washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway, (Post Magazine, Sept. 18, 2005)

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Gene Weingarten: And the best parody so far of the pro-marriage hate-fear ad.

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UPDATED 4.17.09

Alexandria, Va.: Regarding the soundtrack from the clip in last week's update, it isn't "armpit farts" but you're close. It's Gerry Phillips.

You should really check out his whole YouTube channel. Unending fun.

I was particularly impressed by his version of Iron Maiden's "The Trooper," of which he writes, "this was extremely painful to do! i had a fire extinguisher next to me in case my hands set on fire!"

Gene Weingarten: This man is sensational. Also, it is impossible for someone with this particular talent to look any more like someone with this particular talent.

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Watch you respe, CT?: Gene, I know you are a fan of mechanical watches. That is why I'm a little confused about your statement about "the kind of watch you respect." As a fan myself, I own several mechanical watches (no, not automatic, real mechanical) that are certified to work even if you sank the toilet it fell in to the bottom of the ocean. Some of the worlds finest tourbillon pieces are made to the same standard. What are you talking about?

Gene Weingarten: Good point. I simply deduced something from the question, and I bet I am right: If someone drops a watch into his or her pee, and then has to ask me whether he or she should wear the watch again, I am concluding this watch is not a Rolex Oyster, but is more likely a Timex Ironman.

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Watch in Toilet: I read that during the Battle of the Bulge, it got so cold that it was a common practice for soldiers to urinate on their weapons in order to unfreeze the moving parts and get the guns to shoot. So I would say, if the Greatest Generation could pee on their equiptment to keep the world safe for democracy, surely we should not be afraid of a little diluted urine on a wristwatch.

Gene Weingarten: Indeed.

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Re: Child in quit smoking ad: Not only did they terrify and exploit a child, but cigarettes smoking isn't the only way a parent can die and leave their child alone.

It just horrifies me to think of a young parent who is dying of a non-smoking-related disease (e.g., the mother in the Pulitzer photos) watching this commercial. Do they need to be reminded that, at no fault of their own, their child will be left without them?

I'm not even a parent yet, but this commercial still has me frightened of dying in a accident and leaving my (future) child behind. I hate it. Bring back the ad of the guy with oral cancer.

Gene Weingarten: I admit this is a viewpoint that never occurred to me. It's interesting, and chilling.

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Ed Freeman: You're an 19-year-old kid. You're critically wounded, and dying in the jungle in the Drang Valley , 11-14-1965, LZ X-ray, Vietnam. Your infantry unit is outnumbered 8-1 and the enemy fire is so intense, from 100 or 200 yards away, that your own Infantry Commander has ordered the MediVac helicopters to stop coming in.

You're lying there, listening to the enemy machine guns, and you know you're not getting out. Your family is 1/2 way around the world, 12,000 miles away, and you'll never see them again. As the world starts to fade in and out, you know this is the day.

Then, over the machine gun noise, you faintly hear the sound of a helicopter, and you look up to see an unarmed Huey, but it doesn't seem real, because no Medi-Vac markings are on it.

Ed Freeman is coming for you. He's not Medi-Vac, so it's not his job, but he's flying his Huey down into the machine gun fire, after the MediVacs were ordered not to come.

He's coming anyway.

And he drops it in and sits there in the machine gun fire as they load 2 or 3 of you on board. Then he flies you up and out through the gunfire, to the doctors and nurses. And he kept coming back 13 more times. And took about 30 of you and your buddies out who would never have gotten out otherwise.

Medal of Honor Recipient Ed Freeman died last Wednesday at the age of 80, in Boise, ID.

May God rest his soul.

I bet you didn't hear about this hero's passing, but we sure were told a whole bunch about some Hip-Hop Coward beating the crap out of his "girlfriend".

Gene Weingarten: Now, here is an example of a beautifully written, well presented, and true piece of writing that desperately needed an editor to cut off that gratuitous, irrelevant, poisonous last line.

Editors are important, people. This is an example of what happens with the Army of Davids.

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Submit to next week's chat.

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