Chatological Humor: Insuring Your Weekly Quota of Yuks. And Yucks. (UPDATED 5.29.09)

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 26, 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

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

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

New to Chatological Humor? Read the FAQ.

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


Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon.

The poll today has provoked many interesting bleats and whines that we will deal with below; a few people called my attention to this story from England about a large-breasted woman who launched a successful Web campaign to get a chain of stores to stop charging a surcharge for big-booby brassieres.

A reasonable question becomes: Why SHOULDN'T like-styled garments be more expensive if they require more material? Isn't this a form of "discrimination" that is completely and logically justifiable -- more so, arguably, than charging individual members of a demographic group (young men) more for insurance because their group, statistically, has more accidents? Why is it wrong to charge more for an XL shirt than for an identically styled S shirt, if the XL has twice the amount of fabric? Where was this line drawn, by whom, and why?

I'm going to break precedent and give you my answers to the poll right now. All of these things bother me, to one extent or another, except the airline rates. That's a relatively simple calculus that recognizes that businesses have more money to throw away than individuals do - and more tax dodges with which to recoup said money.

Can anyone explain to me why it is okay for insurance companies to institutionally discriminate against young men -- as opposed to young women -- but it is not okay for them to discriminate against an ethnic group that (for the sake of argument -- this fact is made up entirely) also poses a statistically greater risk? Yes, the ethnic discrimination is illegal, which is exactly my point: We find it icky, as a society, and don't do it. Why do we turn our backs on the blatant discrimination against young men, treating them not as individuals but as a suspect demographic? What about all the young men who are fine drivers and can't afford a car because their insurance premiums are nutso high?

Really. Tell me how this is different from charging Jews more for their insurance, if stats showed Jews got into more accidents.

On the issue of newspapers zoning ads -- I am pretty sure most papers do it, and I've never been comfortable with it. One thing a lot of you are wrong about: The issue of "coupons" is a red herring. The fact is, rich people are getting a richer paper, filled with more information. Ads are information -- they are a valuable part of the content of a paper, telling of sales, products the customers might want, etc. I think the zoning of ads is a form of intellectual redlining that can't really be justified.


Okay, I am proud to report that my friend and co-author Gina Barreca has today been named to the United States Supreme Court.


Ziv Kitlaro, in Israel, sent me one of the most compelling videos I've ever seen. Taken by a security camera, it captures the moment that a young mother discovers that her one-year-old daughter had been accidentally left in the car for three hours by the father earlier in the day. The mom was going to the car, as she did every day, to drive it to the daycare center where the girl was supposed to have been left.

The little girl survived; still, this is not easy to watch. The indistinct nature of the video seems to enhance the drama -- it's like a shadow play. The mom doesn't realize what has happened until she turns around to back out of the spot; in fact, this is often the horrible way parents find out what they've done.


On the death-to-horoscopes beat, Horace LaBadie noted these dueling predictions, for Gemini, in consecutive days last week. Geminis must be really susceptible to seismic mood swings:

May 22: Your inner strength is stronger than ever right now, so see if you can get your people to open up and reveal their needs. You can be far more helpful if you have some guidance from them!

May 23: Try not to let yourself give in to your dark fears -- though you do indeed have some limitations, you know perfectly well that your friends and family are there to help you move beyond them!


And last, from Amy Hahn comes this fabulous illusion that may explain the difficulty of hitting a curve ball.


Okay, let's go.


Montgomery Village, M.: Gene No pithy comments or attempts at humor, just a big THANK YOU for Sunday's column to you and to Tom The Butcher for running this on graduation weekend and not waiting until Father's Day. It gives everyone an opportunity to reflect on some very important and meaningful relationships with dads -- and moms -- more than just the one day of the year. And early enough that we might actually DO something about it.

My own father has been gone now for almost 18 years, but I felt the same as you when my sons received their undergraduate and professional degrees. I know how much that meant to him since he never had the opportunity to attend college. I carried a special coin of his to each graduation.

Gene Weingarten: This was the second time in my life that I planned a column years in advance. It was always going to be on the day of graduation, because it needed that last "today."

It was also the second time in my life that I almost missed the deadline to write it a story I had planned years in advance. Writing three weeks in advance requires more organization than I generally have. Below the Beltway, (May 24)


Home Office, Va.: A basic tenet of capitalism, which probably even grade-schoolers have heard of, is the law of supply and demand. There is nothing wrong with charging a higher price for something when demand for it increases-- movies cost more at night, dinner costs more than lunch, summer is 'high season' on the beach, etc.

The only time this is unseemly is when it's taking advantage of someone's misfortune. For example, a natural disaster destroys the water supply and stores start charging $10 a gallon for drinking water. Otherwise, charging more when people will pay more is often how businesses make money to stay afloat when demand decreases.

Insurance companies work on statistical modeling. Everyone who has any kind of insurance is treated as part of a statistical class. As long as everyone is subject to the same model, there is nothing wrong with it. Some people will come out ahead (say, young female drivers who get into an accident) and some people will 'unfairly' pay more (young male driver who gets in no accidents).

Gene Weingarten: This is a very succinct summary of a reasonable argument. I am grudgingly with you until the end.

Can't a case be made that a demographic model is inherently unfair, and that eventually will be found so by a fair-minded society?

Can't it be argued that past behavior is the only fair criterion for assessing insurance rates? That doing it predictively, based on past behavior of a group, is just plain crappy?


Ellicott City, MD: At a parking garage near Oriole Park at Camden Yards the parking during games is $10, expect if the Yankees or Red Sox are in town, then the price doubles to $20. The practices that you describe in your poll go on all the time. We learned in high school economics that it was the law of supply and demand. I think it is the law of greed.

Gene Weingarten: I think the law of supply and demand IS the law of greed.

Gene Weingarten: It's why capitalism works, and it's why all these questions today are intriguing, and mildly disturbing.


Actuari, AL: Gene, young men cost insurance companies more than young women, or any other group. Why should they not pay more?

Gene Weingarten: Repeat: What if Jews cost more? You okay with Jews paying more, if stats bore out that they get into a lot more accidents?

Why cut the stats by age and gender? Don't you think you could split it in other ways that are statistically significant?


Fairfax, Va.: Help me here. A friend of mine recently criticized you because your "customer service" columns endanger people's jobs. I think this is hooey but don't know for sure. I can't imagine you or the crack legal team of the WaPo tolerating these columns if this were the case.

Gene Weingarten: This is a good question. There is a good answer.

I do use the people's real first names, so they (or some of them) would be identifiable to their employers.

Here is the thing: These people, almost always, are behaving personally reasonably. They have to: The customer is always right. I've been writing these columns for years, and I can count on one hand the number of times someone behaved even slightly unprofessionally, got angry, etc. And when that happened, I didn't use it.


Alexandria, Va.: Gina Barreca is much, much more attractive than Sotomayor, who looks to be unfamiliar with the concepts of good haircuts, shampoos, conditioners, brushes and combs. Gina knows how to work those curls; Sotomayor needs to get herself to a stylist, stat, before any more pictures are taken.

I'm sure she has had other important things on her mind and all, but man, she looks a mess in most pictures I've seen so far.

Gene Weingarten: I am laughing. The photo of her with Obama wasn't so great, either. It's like she had no warning, just out of bed. Liz, can you link?


WTF: Why is that security camera tracking the woman's movements? Either fake or simply awful.

Gene Weingarten: Hm. Interesting question. It's not fake; this is a real case -- it's all over the news in Israel. Are there security cameras that do this?


Gene Weingarten: Obama and Sotomayor


Three dollar bill: Your thoughts please on this from an article by your post colleague Richard Cohen on Elizabeth and John Edwards. He says: "I never knew what to make of him. A three-dollar bill, I always suspected." To me, that would mean "queer as a three-dollar bill." Is there another meaning I don't know? Has Richard Cohen never heard that one? Seems like a bad choice of words to me. (Although I agree with many of his thoughts on Mrs. Edwards distateful book tour.

Gene Weingarten: I thought exactly the same thing! I don't know!


Anonymous: "The only time this is unseemly is when it's taking advantage of someone's misfortune. For example, a natural disaster destroys the water supply and stores start charging $10 a gallon for drinking water."

I disagree.

If there is such a demand for water that people will pay $100 a gallon, suppliers will rush water to the area to take advantage. Thereby filling the need.

Of course a smart company would give it away for all the free pub.

Gene Weingarten: The state of Florida has passed special laws prohibiting this sort of opportunism, after a natural disaster.


Man bites d, OG: Higgledy Piggledy Members of Parliament Kleptomaniacally Head for a fall

No one is shocked that a Pol can be purchased; the Only surprise is the Price is so small.

Gene Weingarten: Very fine.


Bra pricing: One reason women get pissy about being charged more for larger clothing is that we are fighting the societal notion that we have complete control over our sizes. "Lose weight and you won't have to pay as much."

Some women are naturally larger than others. It's not a diet issue - it's genetics. I wear a triple-D bra, without implants or being obese. It's just what Mother Nature gave me. Charging me more feels like I'm being punished for being over-blessed. I can choose to save money by seeing a movie earlier in the day or not staying in hotels on certain nights. I can't choose what size bras I wear.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, I don't actually get this.

To me, this is not an issue of self-image, or society's expectations of what we should look like. I think if I were six foot seven and 250 pounds, built like a power forward, I would EXPECT to may more for a shirt. I wouldn't understand why a five-six guy was paying the same.

This is not some sort of predictive discrimination. This is about the cost of production vs. price.


Actuarial science--more: Gene, they DO break things down by more than just gender. Where you live, for example. High crime area vs. low crime. City v. suburb. Etc. This is why actuaries get paid the (very) big bucks--to come up with fancy math ways of breaking down the numbers.

Gene Weingarten: Right, true.

But why is age and gender discrimination okay? Where you live seems more defensible. A high-crime area WILL have, er, more crime.


Sotamayor: You're right. She's clearly not up to snuff fashion-wise. I mean, just imagine how she'll look standing next to ever-so-chic Ruth Bader Ginsberg!

Gene Weingarten: I think Ruth is hot.


Washington, D.C.: Hi, Gene - I'm submitting this very, very early. I'm wondering what you think of this advertisement and resulting discussion. It's an Australian fat acceptance advertisement that was banned from television after being deemed too offensive.

I think the ad fails not because the jokes used are too offensive, but because they are too violent. By comparing the first three jokes with the joke about "fat chicks," they actually undercut the message they are trying to make by emphasizing the relative triviality of the latter. Although I think the intent was to equate hurt with hurt and discrimination with discrimination, which is fine, they end up making people think they are comparing the discrimination faced by the overweight with things like the Holocaust.

Ok, so how wrong am I?

Gene Weingarten: You are completely right, but you don't go far enough. This ad deserved to be dumped. It tried, nobly, for edginess in the service of the public good, but it failed in a spectacular train wreck. It violates a central rule of edgy expression: You'd better be damn sure it works as intended, or it is indefensible.

Alert to those who watch the ad, or read my summary below: It can be seen as really offensive.

The ad features four disagreeable people telling culturally poisonous jokes with a conspiratorial leer.

First joke: How do black women fight crime? Abortion.

Second joke: How do you keep a gay person from drowning? Take your foot off his head.

Third joke: What's the difference between Santa Claus and a Jew. Santa goes DOWN the chimney.

Fourth joke: Why did God create alcohol? So fat chicks can have sex, too.

Then there is a pause, and a voice says "discrimination comes in all shapes and sizes." And a logo appears: "FatPride."

This doesn't work for exactly the reason you state, but for another one, too: The video doesn't transport the reader where it wants to. In fact, until the very end, when the logo appears, you're not even sure why you are watching this.

For this ad to have worked, the viewer would have had to find himself repulsed by the first three ads, and then guiltily laughing at the last, until he realizes none is funny because they are all of a type. That realization simply never happens. As you say, the last joke is a tangible degree more benign than the previous ones, so the point is lost there. But it's also not funny, or original, or clever. And even if you did find it so, by the time you got there, you'd be primed to view it negatively.

Train wreck. Awful. Interesting attempt, but awful delivery.

Here's how it would have worked: Same three first jokes, and then a standup comic, a good one, telling a MORE offensive anti-fat-woman joke, one that is so outrageous it is arguably "funny." I can think of one, offhand.

THEN it would work. And be even skeevier.

Gene Weingarten: Still directing this ad in my head.

The last one, the standup guy, you'd need the start of a roar of laughter from the audience, then cut to the voiceover and logo.


Her Hon, OR: Possibly Judge Sotomayor is waiting for the price of women's grooming, shirt laundering, etc., to come down to what Alito pays?

Gene Weingarten: Could be.


Security camera: My take on the video is that it's real, and that for purposes of creating the video that was released, they zoomed in on the woman and her movements. The original view is doubtless much larger - five times the width, say - and they've zoomed in on her action to make it easier to see her.

Gene Weingarten: Forgive my technological stupidity -- you can do that?

The video is definitely real. This is no hoax.


Sotomayor need a stylist?: Seriously? You're going to take that route?

Gene Weingarten: Sure, what the hell?

This is a very formidable woman. Her story is fabulous. She's a liberal and a humanist who will be confirmed. Best possible candidate.

Probably could do with a makeover.


Poetry that will make you, Ill.: Good morning, Have you had a chance to read Mike Huckabee's poem about Nancy Pelosi? That has to be the worst poem ever written by a Presidential candidate. Embarrassingly bad.

God forbid he's elected, and decides to recite his own poetry at the inauguration!

Gene Weingarten: Years ago, when I interviewed then poet-laureate Billy Collins, he suggested that you should have to have a license to write poetry -- a "poetic license." He suggested the licenses be issued by the poet laureate.


Three dollar bill: Cohen used it as a synonym for phony.

Gene Weingarten: I'm sure you're right, but is this not dangerous territory?


Leesburg, Va.: Gene,

Was the guy who unleashed a string of curse words at Rahm Emmanuel an Aptonym? Republican Congressman Steve Latourette?

"With an impressively straight face, LaTourette walked up to Rahm and said something that began with "you mother" followed by a number of bleeped out expletives, according to eyewitnesses."

I heard that story the other week and you were the first thing I thought of.

Gene Weingarten: The "La" hurts it.


Fairfax, Virginia: You are looking at it bass-akwards. Insurance companies aren't punishing the young, they are rewarding the old, and this is how the old like it. If an insurance company were to suddenly start charging conservative middle-aged people more money so as to underwrite young hormone-crazed speedsters, the outrage would be deafening.

Gene Weingarten: Totally agreed, but they are NOT charging hormone-crazed speedsters. They are charging people who happen to fit into a group that has a lot of hormone-crazed speedsters.


Arlington, Va.: Apple Computer announced today that it has developed a computer chip that can store and play high fidelity music in women's breast implants.

The "iTit" will cost between $499.00 and $699.00 depending on speaker size.

This is considered to be a major breakthrough because women have always complained about men staring at their breasts and not listening to them. ...

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.


Actuary, onemore time: So Gene, following your logic: why is it fair that poor people who live in Southeast (or middle-class people like me who live in Silver Spring, for that matter), who cannot afford to live in Bethesda, have to pay more for their car insurance?

Gene Weingarten: It's not FAIR. It is arguably justifiable, the way people who live on the side of an active volcano might not be able to get lava insurance.

But your point is taken. This whole area is really disturbing.


Falls Church Nit Picker: Hey Gene. I finally did it - subscribed to the dead-tree Post, as it appeared that my desire to contribute to a "tip jar" for all my online use was never going to come to fruition.

So I did as I was instructed - subscribed, put it on vacation hold for the duration of my subscription (6 months?) and donated the credits to Newspapers in Education.

Alas, I've gotten the paper delivered to my door for the past week. After 3 days, I sent an email to the person listed under "My Account" but have heard nothing. I am super annoyed at this point. Any ideas?

Gene Weingarten: Sigh.

Email me at weingarten(at) with your details. I'll see if I can help.


Anonymous: Gene, is this the Lyn from your baby death in cars story?

Gene Weingarten: It is, indeed. "The Doctors" did a segment on it.

Alert: It's not easy to watch.


washington, dc: Two questions re your stances on bumpers and airplane seats.

1) was I justified in jostling the man in front of me on a long plane ride yesterday every time I tried to get something out of my bag because he had leaned his seat all the way back and there was no other way for me to access my belongings? I say yes, but he gave me a few dirty looks and heavy sighs, which I heard because his head was almost in my lap for the whole trip. (Oh, and of course he didn't ask or anythign before, and nearly broke my kneecap when he crashed back during takeoff and my legs were crossed)

2) I agree with you on the bumper tap, but I arrived home to my car yesterday evening and it appears that someone who is decidedly unskilled in parking scraped the entire street side edge of my bumper and car so that it now has long black scrapes from the end of my car to nearly the wheel well. Can we agree that this is poor form?

Gene Weingarten: On point two, of course. Bumper tapping doesn't mean bumper mutilation.

On point one, I have come to believe we need dialogue. There is too much seething in silence. I tried it not long ago, in as diplomatic fashion as possible: When the person in front of me reclined, I asked him not to, and brought him into the conversation as a fellow victim. I said it was the fault of the airlines, don't they suck, we SHOULD be able to recline without discommoding the person behind us, etc. It was a long speech, and at the end of it, he was a nice guy about it.

There are situations where that won't work. See next post.


What Would Gene Do?: Thought you'd appreciate this.

At the beginning of a nine-hour flight, the 10-year-old girl in front of me tipped her seat all the way back. After a respectable waiting period, I politely asked her to tip it forward. She did so, and I thanked her. Her parents then called the flight attendants (yes, plural) over to get me to move to a different seat. (This required a third person to move also.) As I complied, aghast but not wanting a dust-up, the father screamed, at the top of his lungs, "You should be ashamed of yourself! She's a CHILD! If you want room, you should've bought first-class!"

Now, I'm one of those who thinks of what to do loooong after the event has passed. How I wish I were a quick draw. What would Gene do in this situation? Should I assume karma will take care of it? -- especially since the mother bought nine... hundred... dollars of perfume from Sky Mall and had to split that across three credit cards to afford it?

Gene Weingarten: Nice reporting on that last fact!

Why would a child be in greater need of reclining than an adult?


Washington D.C.: Gene:

Would you object to an insurance company charging a 100-year-old man higher life insurance premiums than a 30-year-old woman? If not, how is that different than the more expensive car insurance for men under 25?

Gene Weingarten: Interesting point. It's true that this is also actuarial-based.

But this is a far easier prediction, no?


RE: Today's Poll: If the hotel issue bothers you so much, let me ask you this question, o wise one:

A humorist and his son have created a new comic strip. They are offering it for syndication. They expect a newspaper in a large metropolitan city to pay more money for a licensing fee than a small Midwestern paper with a fraction of the readers.

Same product, same production costs, nothing fancy or different about the strip being offered to either of the papers; is the fact that the humorist expects to be paid more for the comic strip in the newspaper with larger circulation:

a. fair and ethical; b. okay, but a little unseemly; c. totally hypocritical in light of the today's poll.

Gene Weingarten: Fair and ethical. They are paying different rates based upon the circulations of their papers.

So, in a sense, I am selling little paper the right to run 9,000 copies of my comic strip, and selling big paper the right to run 500,000 copies.


Silver Spring, Md.: I believe in NC, there is no difference in the rates charged between young men and young women drivers (probably because someone sued). All "inexperienced drivers" pay higher rates during their first three years of driving, regardless of their actual age.

Gene Weingarten: Wow. This makes sense to me. This I buy.


Crystal City: Did you know: The first testicular guard "cup" was used in Hockey in 1874 and the first helmet was used in 1974. It took 100 years for men to realize that the brain is also important.

Gene Weingarten: There were no helmets in hockey until 1974???


Discriminati,ON: Great poll today, particularly the final two questions.

This is an area of great internal conflict for me because, while I am an unabashed liberal, I also work in marketing and know how important it is for advertisers and businesses to target consumers to maximize return.

Although any of the examples cited are worthy of thought and debate, I'll limit myself to the last two. I was easily clicking that all of the choices were just-fine-thank-you-very-much examples of how businesses work until I hit the final question.

My first inclination was that this must be wrong. This then caused me to briefly reconsider my prior answer about insurance for men and women being different. Finally, I concluded that the reason gender-based differences are okay while ethnic differences would not be is because it much easier to determine one's sex than ethnicity.

I am on a slippery slope here, though, and I know it.

Gene Weingarten: That's a cop-out, and you know it.


Washington, D.C.: I hate the gender discrimination at dry cleaners because it is so clearly baseless. I am a tall woman (5'10") whose dress shirts are bigger than the shirts of some men (and thus the justification that my shirts do not fit on the machine and instead require hand steaming is just bunk). When I bring my dress shirts to the cleaners, I get charged more than double what my husband is charged. If he brings my shirts in for me--and mixes them in with his own shirts--it's the same man-charge for all of the shirts. I mean really.

Gene Weingarten: This is the perfect example of why this practice is unjustifiable. It's a what-the-traffic-will-bear economic philosophy.

By the way, I believe Libertarians have no problem with stores charging whatever they want, in any circumstances. Let the market react as it will.


Bumping: If you accidently bumped the seat while trying to reach something, fine. If you deliberately did it to prove a point, you are mean, arrogant and selfish.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, but do we give the reclining man a pass? He is mean, arrogant and selfish.

We don't need to revisit this topic, but he is.


Tralfamad, Ore.: What's the underlying message of your vignette about your dad having lunch everyday with a black guy but not knowing it? Would it have made a difference if your dad had known?

Gene Weingarten: My father was making fun of himself: that his blindness made him unaware of something that was a central fact about a man who was his friend. If there was an underlying message, it was the irony that in the years of small-talk between them, race appears to have been irrelevant as a topic of conversation. They were two old people trying to get by in a new world of an assisted-living facility.

I was not trying to make a race or class distinction. Did you see one? My father didn't. Below the Beltway, (May 24)


Heaven, OH!: Are you aware that the guy whining about the dead tree edition being delivered posted the same exact query to Howie Kurtz?

Gene Weingarten: I was not.


Alexandria, VA: Gene -

Strange and highly personal question - but that's your specialty. You've mentioned often your past serious drug use...How did your father, who sounds like a very level-headed gentleman of the old school, deal with what you were doing?

Gene Weingarten: He didn't know until decades later. In fact, he didn't know until he was about 80 years old, and I had to tell him I had Hepatitis C, and why. I had to tell him because it was about to come out in 'The Hypochondriac's Guide to Life. And Death.'


Response to the screaming fathers...: or any similar situation is just say "Wow!" without any facial expressions whatsoever.

(I learn this from Hax's chats.)

Gene Weingarten: I like that.


Arlington, VA: Hi Gene,

I had to put my dog down late last night. It was the right thing to do--big mass, probably malignant, bleeding in abdomen. But I am sad, sad, sad today. Trying to think of the best way to help the kids (they are pretty little) and us gather up and move on. This dog was such a character, I think she deserves an Irish-style wake to recount her truly outrageous adventures/misdeeds. I bet the kids could help us set that up (and contribute stories). How did you handle pet deaths with your kids?

Gene Weingarten: The kids were teens; not the same problem. I like the idea of a wake. It provides closure, and humor, both of which are important.


Adult Family Circus?: I need your educated reading of Family Circus for Memorial Day. Is it possible that Keane made a reference to pole dancing? Or am I giving him too much credit? Is this some kind of historic moment in the history of Family Circus?

And congrats on Molly's graduation from vet school!

Gene Weingarten: It is very, very odd. Note that the pretty lady has about a seven-inch waist. Note how haggard and beleaguered Thel looks. Note how there is no humor, only darkness.

Is there a "pole" or "pole dance" reference? Maybe. The whole thing is vaguely disturbing. Family Circus, (May 25)


Discrimination: Gene,

When I was in my early 20s, I wrote to my congressmen to complain that age, sex, work and marital discrimination determined how much I pay for car insurance. I kept a copy of that letter so that, in case I ever became a congressman years later, I would remember how I felt about what I consider to be blatant discriminatory practices.

I think the insurance industry gets away with this particular brand of discrimination because there's no lobby group for 24-year-old males. By the time we're rich and savvy enough to lobby against this form of discrimination, we're no longer discriminated against. It sucks when we're 24, tolerable when we're 42.

Gene Weingarten: That's a good point.


Er, no: "Three dollar bill: Cohen used it as a synonym for phony."

BS. One of the standard right-wing knocks against John Edwards for years has been that he's in the closet. Cohen knew exactly what he was saying.

Of course, my side says the same thing about Mitch McConnell, Charlie Crist, and Lindsey Graham, every one of whom is way queenier than John Edwards, so there you go.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, the hilariously odious Coulter actually publicly suggested Edwards was gay a couple of years ago.

But I assure you Cohen was not going there. He would not consciously print an anti-gay slur. He is no bigot.


Are you aware that the guy whining about the dead tree edition being delivered posted the same exact query to Howie Kurtz? : this GIRL did post to both chats, as I had to hope at least one would help me. So sorry to bother YOU.

Gene Weingarten: (deadpan) Wow.


Even worse than the poem: This morning, Huckabee released a statement forcefully opposing the naming of Maria Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

If we find out who Maria Sotomayor is, we'll ask what she thinks. The judge who was actually nominated, SONIA Sotomayor, has had no comment.

Does Mike Huckabee think all Puerto Rican women are named Maria?

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahahahaha!


Yay Molly: Congratulations to Molly. What's next for her?

Gene Weingarten: Thank you. She's got a one-year internship in very large animal hospital in Connecticut.


The "La" hurts it:: Actually, the "la" is right on target:

Gene Weingarten: Ah. Deal, then. Good aptonym.


Walking away: Gene, I'm preparing to do something I never thought I'd even consider. I'm planning to walk away from my mortgage. The only thing standing between me and retirement is my mortgage. I own a small condo in Alexandria that I purchased just before the bubble burst. I can't sell it and I don't want to live here any more. I'm going to walk away. All my life I've been responsible, paid my bills, been a good girl. My son is grown and I hate my job. I'm going to use my savings to buy a small house in another state and then I'm going to walk away. I know there will be consequences, rightly so, but I'm still going to do it.

Gene Weingarten: Okay.

So, can someone who is more fiscally intelligent than I am tell this woman what the consequences will be? I don't actually know if there are any.


Adult Family Circus: I think pole dancing was implied. Plus the woman's hand is on his shoulder and he's smiling. I mean, in front of the kids!

Gene Weingarten: It's ... odd, isn't it?


Is This Ethic, AL: What are your thoughts on the Daily Telegraph's purchase of the expense reports of Members of Parliament? While the expense reports are scheduled to be released in a few months, they will have MPs' addresses redacted, and broad categories of expenses (i.e. repairs) rather than itemized lists. Only by examining the un-redacted reports did the Telegraph discover the worst of the abuses -- expensing things like manure and moat repair to the taxpayer, telling the Parliamentary authorities one thing and the tax man another when it comes to house sales, "flipping" the second home designation to have the taxpayer finance home repairs, etc.

So in short the Telegraph paid for a story -- and after several other papers passed -- but in so doing allowed the release of data that would otherwise have remained obscured, and has prompted the resignation of the Speaker of the House of Commons and several other MPs. Does the public interest justify the shady tactics employed by the Telegraph?

Gene Weingarten: There's a reason reputable news media don't pay for information: If you've paid for, say, an interview, it raises the appearance (if not the likelihood) that the person is saying what he is saying not because he believes it but because it gets him money. Truth -- always the biggest issue -- becomes more suspect.

What about buying documents, though? In some ways, the same danger exists. In the 1980s Der Stern magazine paid millions for supposed Hitler diaries that proved to be forgeries, created precisely to make money. The ensuing scandal nearly destroyed the magazine.

In this case, presumably, the Telegraph knew its source and knew the materials were genuine -- everyone knew this scandal was brewing and that there were very compromising documents out there.

Still, I don't like it. I don't like it mostly because I think they probably broke the law to get it; these materials were sealed under a court order -- paying someone to break a law is not reputable journalism.

Comparison: The New York Times and the Washington Post probably, possibly maybe arguably broke a law by printing the Pentagon Papers, classified documents leaked to them by a disgruntled employee of a think tank. But no money changed hands. Had Daniel Ellsberg demanded bucks, I don't think the Pentagon Papers would have been published. It would have crossed that final line.


Occam's raz, OR: Re Family Circus: No, Bil Keane is incapable of including a double entendre in the strip. The father is giving a discount to a pretty lady just because she's pretty, and Bil Keane needed to draw something vertical that would fit in the space. It could have been a fishing pole, if the concept of a lady going fishing weren't hilarious on its face.

Thel's waist is maybe nine inches; I wouldn't worry about it.

Gene Weingarten: He is giving her a ... pole.

So, this good looking woman goes into a bar and asks for a Double Entendre. So the bartender gives it to her.


Fairto, ME: As a former young male driver who is now an old male driver with three daughters approaching driving age, I have to say this is going to work out fairly well for me.

Amazing how good discrimination can make one feel when he is on the long end of the stick.

Gene Weingarten: I had a son and a daughter. My son is about to turn 25. I probably won't care about this terrible discrimination much longer.


McLean, Va.: I know you've seen this: the Natinals strike again!

Gene Weingarten: Hahahaha.


Re: Usage: "Gene Weingarten: He didn't know until decades later. In fact, he didn't know until he was about 80 years old".

And how did he react when you explained it to him?

Gene Weingarten: With equanimity.


Thank you. She's got a one-year internship in very large animal hospital in Connecticut. : Forgive my dumbness, but does this mean a hospital for very large animals or a big hospital? I know there is a diff between large animal vets and small, and am not sure if there's a "very large" category...

Gene Weingarten: Sorry, I was imprecise. A very large hospital that deals with small animals. She is a small animal vet.


Arlington, Va.: The consequences of walking away from a mortgage are that her credit will be in the toilet for the next seven years or so.

Which means, I guess, that the small house she wants somewhere else had better be paid for with cash.

Gene Weingarten:

Okay. Thanks.


Mortgage Guy: The problem with walking away from your mortgage, aside from the years of damage to your credit rating, is that you're still liable for the loan amount. If you owe $100,000 and walk away, say the place sells for $70,000 in foreclosure. You still owe $30,000. Plus fees. And don't think they won't come after you for it. The far better choice is to talk to the company and try to work out a decrease in interest rate, payment or, as is sometimes even done, amount of the loan.

Gene Weingarten: This makes sense. A nightmare.


God and Santa: My apparently existential 5-y.o. daughter made this comment at dinner last night. We were talking about the number Pi (long story) as a very long number that doesn't end.

"The only things that don't end are God. And Santa. And the Earth."

Speaking of daughters, can we get any updates on Molly? Maybe a guest chat now that she's graduated and has some time on her hands? Which reminds me, I was at UPenn's graduation last week and all the vet-school students had inflatable cow-exam gloves.

Gene Weingarten: Same thing at Cornell. Molly and her classmates waved them throughout the ceremony. Those things are BIG.


Arlington, Va.: GW: "Had Daniel Ellsberg demanded bucks, I don't think the Pentagon Papers would have been published. It would have crossed that final line."

So national security is less of a concern than the newspaper's standing within its profession?

Gene Weingarten: The Pentagon Papers did not compromise national security.

Newspapers from time to time decide not to publish things for that very reason, sometimes to their regret. Turner Catledge at The Times knew in advance about the Baby of Pigs invasion, and was persuaded by Kennedy not to publish it. Both men later felt the world would have been better off had it been leaked. The invasion would have been called off.


Ethics in med, IA: In Great Britain, journalists paying for sources is considered ethical. It's not considered ethical here.

Of course, it's also considered unethical over here to conceal expense reports of public officials. Chacon a son gout, to coin a phrase.

Gene Weingarten: I should mention: I don't believe the Telegraph has acknowledged it paid. This is simply a general assumption. It's not saying it DIDN'T pay.


DC: Re shirt question on poll. Most laundries do not hand iron men's shirt's. They put them on a "shirt form" thingy, and machine-press them. If women's shirts are too small for the form and must be hand-ironed, that explains the difference. Didn't know this until I used a laundry where you could watch them do this.

Gene Weingarten: I have researched this. It is sometimes but not always true. But:

Um, they can't invest in a girl-size shirt form thingy?


Coulter and Edwards: Coulter's exact phrasing was that Edwards was "of the bathhouse." That's hardly as subtle as Cohen's column and so much more offensive.

Gene Weingarten: No, she went further. She called him a slur word. I saw the video.


Walking away?: The person who is thinking about walking away from her mortgage might want to look into renting her house. I live in Arlington, and here people pay more to rent than what they might expect to pay on a mortgage payment. She (?) might be able to get her costs covered with a renter, not trash her credit, and get that little house she wants.

Gene Weingarten: This is good advice.


Dog ear notch: Hey Gene,

Earlier this year we adopted a two year-old Plott hound who came from down around Roanoke, VA. She has exactly the same notch in her right ear that Murphy appears to have (in the pic that ran acouple weeks ago).

Do you know, or has your daughter told you, anything about that notch? Our vet seemed sure it was man-made, but beyond that couldn't tell us much.

Gene Weingarten: I don't think Murph has a notch.


ooo Baby: Baby of Pigs is going to cheer me up for the rest of the day.

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahaha. You're welcome.


Fo, MA: In your Sunday column you mention that your dad thought that "only a few things are important in life" which I presume means getting a quality education since congratulating your daughter on her vet degree is the point of the article. Since you never got your degree and are a little disdainful of journalism school, how does your life experience square with your dad's lessons?

And congrats to Molly for her well-deserved diploma.

Gene Weingarten: You over-complicate my father's message.

My father thought family trumped everything. Love your children. Help them. Be proud of them.

When I dropped out of college three credits shy of a degree, to hang with a Puerto Rican streetgang in New York, it was my father who kept my mother sane. He knew I had a Plan and everything would be okay. I did, and it was.


Washington, D.C.: Gene: "She is a small animal vet."

So, is she a vet who works on small animals, or a vet of small personal stature? HAHAHAHAHA.

Gene Weingarten: Both.

Okay, we're done. I will be updating through the week, including, tomorrow, a link to the dorkiest big-time rock act of the 1960s.


UPDATED 5.27.09

Gene Weingarten: Regarding the arguably unfortunate phrase in Richard Cohen's column, in which he referred to John Edwards as a "three-dollar bill":

It turns out that there are about 900 googlehits for "as phony as a three-dollar bill" and about 700 for "as queer as a three-dollar bill."

The conflation of "three-dollar bill" and "queer" -- to mean "phony" -- is pretty ancient. Horace LaBadie found this from The New York Times of March 25, 1888. It explains the word's adoption as a anti-gay slur.

Richard is not a slinger of slurs. I just spoke with him: He had no idea about the sexual connotation of the phrase. He meant "phony."


Gene Weingarten: From time to time, critics accuse me of both curmudgeonry and generational chauvinism. I think these are unfair charges. I am not grumpy, I am righteously critical by failings of modernity. It is not my fault if the attention spans of the modern young adult have been truncated to the point that they have no patience with compound sentences, for example. It is not my fault if popular music stopped being good around 1974. I am simply an observer of events and a teller of truths.

One clear truth is that young Americans are entertained by crap. I was reminded of this other day when a reader directed me to a video of one of the superstar groups of the early 60s, and their appearance on a variety show. Freddie and the Dreamers were big -- several of their hits outsold the Beatles -- and this was their biggest hit of all. The song is "I'm Telling You Now." The choreography is "The Freddie."

What ever happened to great entertainment like this?


Richmond, Va.: Doesn't the out-of-wedlock baby stop the Republican rumors that Edwards is gay? (or do the $400 haircuts outweigh that)

Gene Weingarten: It dealt a sharp blow to the rumors!

This was the Coulter video I remembered; yes, it was more than innuendo. Boy, she is poison, isn't she?


Westminster, Md.: Gene, I am curious about how cartoonists are paid. If a cartoonist is syndicated in 1,000 newspapers, as some are, and is paid a mere $5 by each paper, the cartoonist (and his distributor, agent, etc.) make $5,000 PER DAY for drawing a cartoon. But it seems equally unreasonable that a paper like The Post pays a mere $5 for something that may draw more eyes than the headline story on the Metro page. So what's up?

Gene Weingarten: As the old Yiddish expression goes, re wishing something stated were true: "From your mouth to God's ear."

Alas, no. The formula for comic strips is that the author and the syndicate split about $1,000 a YEAR for each newspaper that runs the strip. So, if a strip is in 1,000 newspapers (this is almost unheard of) the cartoonist would get $500,000 a year.

A typical, moderately successful strip might be in 100 papers. Do the math. It isn't pretty.


Auto Insurance: Your question about 25-year-old males and insurance reminded me of a Barats and Bereta skit, in which one of our heroes becomes somewhat unhinged over the insurance company's "Penis Tax." (Barats and Bereta, in case you don't remember, are they of the "Knock-Knock, Completely-Uncalled-For-Face-Slap" video you loved so much.)

Gene Weingarten: I had forgotten this. It is right on point, and excellent.


Falls Church, Va.: I think the problem with a "Past Behavior" model with young drivers is that there IS no past behavior on which to base the new insurance rates. So insurance companies wait until the magic age of 25 (the 10th year of driving experience?) to drop the rates. If a person has been a good driver in that time, the difference should be negligable.

But you're still right that it's not fair - mostly because the rate of accidents with young female drivers has increased so much, and I don't think there's been any big deal made about insurance changes to deal with that fact.

Gene Weingarten: Past Behavior, to me, includes lack of experience. Someone new to driving should pay more. I am fine with that. And someone with a history of accidents or speeding tickets (if tickets statistically correlate with more accidents) should pay more.

I don't buy age or gender discrimination. Seems to me someone who is 30 when they first get a license should pay more than a 22 year old who has been driving, without incident, for six years.


UPDATED 5.28.09

Reston, Va.: Can you submit a link to the story about the child in the car in English? I found it very upsetting and want to see for myself that I haven't watched a video of a mother carrying her dead child.

Gene Weingarten: Toddler in Critical Condition After Hours in Hot Car


New Orleans, La.: Re: Why is the camera following her?

Yes, some security cameras do offer the ability for someone monitoring the live feed to move/rotate/pan/focus the cameras. And Israel being Israel, it's not surprising.

Gene Weingarten: Makes sense; it would require a live monitor?


Niggledy, niggledy: re: Man bites d, OG:

Higgledy Piggledy Members of Parliament Kleptomaniacally Head for a fall

No one is shocked that a Pol can be purchased; the Only surprise is the Price is so small.

The fifth line does not scan.

Gene Weingarten: Wrong. This is a perfect double dactyl. The lines are stacked this way:

Higgledy Piggledy

Members of Parliament


Head for a fall

No one is shocked that a

Pol can be purchased; the

Only surprise is the

Price is so small.


Chair Tipped Back: Why would you ask someone in front of you to tip their chair forward? The amount of room your chair can tip on a flight is the same for everyone, and it's your right to tip it. When she tipped her chair why didnt you just tip yours to have the same amount of space again? Obviously the parents overacted, but I would have turned around and told you the kid could tip her chair if she liked. Once on a train ride from Baltimore to NYC my friend and I (17 and on our first train ride) were talking excitedly about the possiblity of going to NYU for college when some jerky guy came over and told us to be quiet. Let's just say my friend's dad put that grumpy man in his place. (no we werent on the quiet train)

Gene Weingarten: Here is why you don't just "tip your chair to have the same amount of space again":

Because you are not a thoughtless jackanape. Because you recognize, as do most fliers, that airlines have jammed their seats together so tightly that everyone is uncomfortable all the time, and that your discomfort level is elevated a lot more when someone reclines a seat into your face. You do not recline yours in response because you do not want to create a chain reaction of rudeness.

You do not tip yours back because you understand that when a seat is tipped back the other person cannot use a computer, eat, read, without your head in his lap.

You do not tip yours back because you realize that in a world of discomfort created by airline greed, it is up to the victims to retain a degree of civility, to recapture a measure of dignity for everyone.

But you don't recognize this, no sir, because it is your "right." Well, it is also your "right" to flagrantly flatulate on an elevator. No law against it.

It's people like you. That's all I have to say. It's. People. Like. You.


Not New York, N.Y.: Gene,

I was at my local "New York" style deli this weekend in Adams Morgan. A patron in front of me ordered a corned beef sandwich with cheddar cheese. Several of us behind him snickered and rolled our eyes. I immediately thought of Mitch Hedberg and his skit on New York delis -- he jokes about ordering a pastrami and cottage cheese sandwich on banana bread. (I miss Mitch) How would a corned beef with cheddar order go over in New York?

Gene Weingarten: Great, sadly prophetic line from Mitch Hedberg:

"I used to do drugs. I still do, but I used to, too."


I'll bi,TE: So what was the OTHER time you planned a column way in advance?

Gene Weingarten: The one about Roger Maris. I wrote it in about an hour, on deadline, on account of I had forgotten the key date.


UPDATED 5.29.09

Washington, D.C.: I'm Asian, and male, and was once under 25. I'm also an economist. Although you pose it this way, I don't think all of the questions are comparable. The insurance and newspaper ad examples aren't really a matter of supply and demand; you have a problem with them because they require certain assumptions that, while perhaps statistically true in the aggregate, aren't necessarily true for a given individual. The hotel example is different; the hotels are filled even with the inflated prices. A person who is priced out because of inflated prices might not even have gotten a room at regular prices simply because there wouldn't be any available. And the bra example is another thing entirely; a bigger bra requires more material, and that's that.

Personally, I'm most bothered by the insurance examples because (a) they affect me directly, and (b) because they're based on possibly false assumptions about me individually. I'm less bothered by the newspaper example because I frankly don't think ads qualify as information, and also because the company has made its own decision to limit its customer base. I don't feel like I can fairly assess the haircut/laundry example, but I think if the situation were reversed, I'd be unhappy about it. The hotel example bothers me least of all; rooms would be even harder to find at lower prices.

Here's a question for you--how bothered are you that the best seats in the new Yankee Stadium are, almost by definition, going to the people who care LEAST about baseball or the Yankees?

Gene Weingarten: The Yankees have overpriced their best seats; it was a grotesquely bad calculation for a lot of reasons, among them that these are the seats that are most frequently shown on game broadcasts. The stadium looks empty when it is almost full.

And yes, these are the world-series corporate-fatcat type seats, inhabited largely by non-fans.

But the biggest problem with this is symbolic. This is the team with so much money they can afford to overprice tickets and outwait the recession, until enough plutocrats line up again.

Big mistake.


Alexandria, Va.: Curve balls look like they curve, because they do. A decent HS/College pitcher can throw a curve that will mostly drop straight down (a 12 to 6 curve) or will throw one with a little more angle (a 2 to 7 curve).

Come on over to Alexandria. At 43, I can still throw the bender.

Gene Weingarten: There is nothing in this optical illusion to suggest that a curve doesn't curve. It does. But the curve is largely continuous -- Bernoulli's Principle works on that sucker from the moment it is thrown to the moment it is caught.

This illusion makes a different point: That what is illusory is the "break" of the curveball, and that occurs at the point that the eyes transfer from watching its track on peripheral vision, to direct vision.


Fairfax, Va.: I don't think it is inherently fair that I, as a female, would have to be charged more to make up for young male drivers who (as apparently can be proven) tend to have more accidents. Why should I have to pay more to make up for another group who has a higher rate of accidents than my group?

Gene Weingarten: Why should there be "groups" based on stereotype, when each person is an individual?

What if I chose to re-draw the "groups" on equally valid stats. I just confirmed, for example, that college-educated people have a lot fewer car accidents than people without college educations.

How about that distinction? Do you like that one? I bet you'd still be in the right "group"? You comfortable with this distinction?

Why is it any fairer than discriminating against a young man, just because he is a young man?


Boston, Mass.: I did not understand Sunday's Arlo & Janis. Thoughts? Am I obtuse?

Gene Weingarten: This is actually quite brilliant.

Arlo is recognizing that he has become Janis's "beard," as in, a public prop to be able to indulge her private vice -- chocolate. He is giving her cover, and now he recedes to leave her alone with her real lover.


We mourn the demise of the world's copy-editors. . .: . . . but this is still pretty funny.

Gene Weingarten: Very nice.


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