Chatological Humor: Mealy Tomatoes; Movers; Hiroshima and More

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Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 9, 2009; 12:00 PM

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: MEN | WOMEN

Not chat day? Visit the Gene Pool.

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

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

New to Chatological Humor? Read the FAQ.

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

Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon.

In my opinion, tomatoes are an optional, elective ingredient on a hamburger or in a salad. Both dishes are perfectly valid when served without tomatoes. Could someone please tell me why restaurants seem compelled to put tomatoes on both products when out-of-season, meaning the tomatoes are pale pink and green, with wan yellow highlights, and the consistency of human ear cartilage? Am I right, or am I right?

QUICK! TAKE THIS INSTAPOLL!

Thank you. I am now going to relate a complex story about something that recently happened to me. There will be an important Instapoll at the end of it:

---

Looking back at it now, our biggest mistake was mentioning the turtles.

We told the moving company that there were going to be turtles, and that they might die if they are not reunited with their huge habitat-tanks the same day they're driven in our car, so it had to be a one-day, door-to-door move. Gotcha, the mover guy said amiably, and gave us a reasonable price, so we gave him our credit card number, at which point we were toast, though we didn't know it yet.

The turtles, Pickles and Olive, belong to my daughter, who was moving from her veterinary school in Ithaca, N.Y., to her first job in Connecticut. The problem with having mentioned the turtles to the movers is that we established, literally, life-and-death urgency.

Rule One: In dealing with movers, do not establish life-and-death urgency.

On the day before the truck was to arrive, the moving company telephoned to say that everything was all set, that the pickup would be made as scheduled, and the delivery would occur three to seven days later. We calmly re-explained about the deal already agreed to, and the potential morbidity of Pickles and Olive, which is when the moving man calmly explained that he would be willing guarantee one-day delivery for an additional $600.

The words that passed between my wife and me cannot be repeated here, but to the moving man, we were civil and restrained, because we could not risk antagonizing or in any way insulting this rat-faced extortionist inasmuch as 5,000 graduates were moving out of the same college town the same week and I realized at that moment that our chances of finding another mover were as slim as some really skinny guy whose nickname is "Slim."

Rule Two: When seething, it is impossible to think of amusing analogies.

So we forked over the 600 clams, and then moving day arrived. The movers were due at 8 a.m. At 9 a.m. they called to say they'd be there at 11 a.m. At noon they called to say they'd be there at 2 p.m. At 2 they said they'd be there at 5. At 5, they said they might make it by 9, but the next day was a better bet, at which point we had to rent a hotel room because everything was packed.

The move happened the following day, without incident. Once the movers were safely gone and could no longer, say, accidentally poison the turtles, I decided to launch a fierce campaign to get a gigantic refund on the moving costs. The first thing I did was to go online to check out the reputation of the moving company.

Rule Three: If you are going to check the reputation of your moving company, it is wise to do this before the move, ideally before actually hiring them.

The moving company's website contains many ebullient reviews from profoundly satisfied customers whose names, when you Google them, show up only once, in their review of this moving company. I cannot quote directly from them, because then you could find the company and I could lose my job for using this column vindictively to settle a score with a criminal enterprise operated entirely by pus-sucking vermin, which would be unfair. But the reviews, by people whose surnames reveal them to represent most available ethnicities, all read roughly like this: "Thank God I chose [this company]! I have not had a more joyful and rewarding experience since the birth of my children!"

A check of the reviews of this company on consumer websites reveals that other people have had problems with them, although only in the sense of being horribly late with the move, and having had their prices jacked up at the last minute by the same initially amiable guy we dealt with. To be fair, I have to admit that no one specifically mentioned turtles.

--

Okay, there ya go. This happened to be the top four-fifths of column I submitted on Friday afternoon to my editor, Tom The Butcher, for his approval. Tom called me back and informed me that I shouldn't bother to finish it. I asked him why, and he said because it was a pi**ant little column that was 1) not funny, 2) contained no funny ideas, 3) contained no funny anecdotes, and contained 3) not even a single funny word. He ordered me to write another column, right on deadline.

QUICK! TAKE TODAY'S SECOND INSTA-POLL!.

---

Okay, just so we know.

This just in from Andrew Hoenig:

Higgledy Piggledy

Old David Carradine

Trussed himself up and then

Suddenly died.

Some say he offed himself

Auto-erotically

Seems like he just wasn't

Fit to be Thai'ed

---

Here is the Clip Of The Day. It reminds me of a pet peeve of mine: Too many great videos are ruined by headlines or url names that give away an important piece of information. Try to ignore the headline on this clip:

---

Please take today's poll ( MEN | WOMEN). We'll be discussing it through the chat. I'd love to hear opinions on some of the male-female disparities here, especially over Israel.

Okay, let's go.

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Fairfax, Va.: I'd love to know what world the people who think -- even if they're proven to work -- we should NOT engage in "brutal interrogation techniques" (as you so eloquently put it) live in. We will kill our own citizens as a deterrent to crime, but rough up someone planning to murder hundreds or thousands of innocents? Noooooo. The Geneva Convention is a set of rules only for people who PLAY BY THE RULES. When these terrorists don't play by the rules of war as set down by society as a whole, then they no longer have the protection of those rules themselves. And if we can save those hundreds or thousands of lives by using brutal techniques, then have at it. I would like to hear an actual -intelligent- reason not to use them given your hypothetical of them proving to be useful techniques. Too often today we hear "they don't work anyway" as the copout final words of opponents. I see no legitimate disagreement if they do in fact work.

Gene Weingarten: I will be glad to assist you.

First off, every single country that employs brutal tactics against its perceived enemies justifies that brutality by saying, well, THESE people are not human. They are DIFFERENT somehow. They are EVIL. One must justify this to act in an inhuman way to them. It is a game we humans play.

Mao felt that political dissenters were the scum of the Earth, worse than animals, because they were standing in the way of the birthing of a great human awakening of the soul. The Germans demonized the Jew into something less than human. In 1937 or 1938, Hirohito declared that Chinese prisoners of war were enemy combatants and not subject to international, so heinous a threat did these Chinese devils pose to the Empire of Japan. This led to the Rape of Nanking.

There is always an excuse, and its usually based on fear.

Now, The heart of your argument is "proven to work."

Well, yep. If THAT is your measure, then we probably should be cutting off the hands of thieves and stoning to death adulterers. Theft and adultery are much rarer in the countries that do this. But we are more civilized, no?


Why didn't we brutalize captured Nazis in WWII? The Nazis weren't playing by any recognized rules, by God. They were hanging civilians by the thousands, gassing civilians by the millions.

We didn't because we were a better country then than we've been for the last, oh, eight years. We had principles.

Here's a really good question: If brutal interrogations worked so well, and were so morally defensible, and were nothing to be embarrassed by, why did we stop doing them after Abu Ghraib? Why not proudly continue this noble and necessary tactic? Were we ... embarrassed? Why?

Here's another question: If these interrogations are so essential to keeping America safe, why haven't we been attacked since Abu Ghraib?

I find the "ticking-bomb scenario" to be a giant fear-mongering straw man, an absurd scenario that never would happen. It does focus your fears in an enlightening way, doesn't it? Well, that's why, if we're dealing in straw men, it's enlightening to take it one absurd step further.

Okay, I'd like to ask a question to those many people who said they'd condone brutality with a ticking bomb, but wouldn't condone it against the little boy. Why?
You'll condone slapping, scare-drowning, slamming, freezing of a suspected terrorist to save TENS OF THOUSANDS of Americans, including thousands of little baby children, but you draw the line at slapping and scare-drowning a KID to save those same tens of thousands of lives?

Doesn't seem very wise or defensible to me; your overall argument is clearly not one of simple moral values, it's strategic. It relies on a risk-reward model, cold body-count metrics. That body count doesn't change here: Isn't there a point at which if you're in for a dime, you're in for a dollar?

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Move yourself: Sseriously, Gene, she's moving from college... Upstate New York to Connecticut. How much stuff could a vet-school grad really have? Hire a frigging Budget rental truck and drive it to frigging Connecticut. It isn't that difficult and certainly isn't rocket-science (or vet school!). My wife and I recently moved ourselves with no help whatsoever from neighbors or friends (the rat fink bastards) and we have a full compliment of crap as is expected from a family of four. And it was pouring down rain when we did it too! And uphill!

Gene Weingarten: We were shorthanded and I still can't carry stuff. But good point.

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703: I've already made my decision, but I wonder what you have to say.

I'm a lesbian. I'm getting married in the fall. My father is openly and loudly anti-gay marriage. Although generally a staunch conservative, he is supportive of both me and my soon-to-be-wife in all other areas. Most everyone who knows us would say he loves us very much.

Should I invite him to the wedding?

If it matters, I'm sure he would come, lips pursed in distate, and I'm sure my mother would be very upset if I didn't invite him. Obviously, it is a very small celebration and we're paying for it ourselves.

Gene Weingarten: I am failing to see any reason why you WOULDN'T invite him to the wedding.

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Silver Spring, Md.: I know you know this but I'll say it anyway. A lot of restaurant food is made to a recipe and is not customized each day based on how good the tomatoes are. Tomatoes are cheap and are red, so it's a good way to balance the colors on a dish. If you didn't have them, people would complain. I remember being in a very modern supermarket in Cape Town, South Africa, where there were only about six kinds of salad dressing and about 20 varieties of tomatoes.

Gene Weingarten: I don't think people would complain about the absence of pink pulp.

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moving story: I enjoyed the story, but I will have to agree with Tom. That said, it did have a great first line.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, I think we have established that Tom was right. Tom is not an idiot, I hate to say.

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UP, MD: Q: Brad stared through the soot-smeared window on the 22nd floor of the office tower. Overcome with depression he slid the window open and jumped through it. It was a sheer drop outside the building to the ground. Miraculously after he landed he was completely unhurt. Since there was nothing to cushion his fall or slow his descent, how could he have survived the fall?

A: Brad is a window cleaner - he jumped inside.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.

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The Bomb: Gene, I'm no history buff, and I couldn't pick Truman out of a line-up if he took off his glasses. But I'm confused by the poll results. How are a quarter of people (as of late Monday) saying they would still drop both bombs? These were the only nuclear bombs ever used to kill people. They destroyed hundreds of thousands of civilian lives. And by dropping those bombs, the U.S. has tarnished its name by making itself the only group to have ever used this weapon (as of late Monday). This was at a point in the war when Japan was practically beaten. Why am I one of only four people (as of late Monday) that would have invaded to defeat the Japanese?

Gene Weingarten: Because you are one of only four historically ignorant people. Sorry.

Japan was defeated, but hardly ready to give up. We would have had to invade a heavily fortressed island fanatically defended to the death. We had a plan for it, called Operation Downfall. It would have killed more Japanese, by far, than were killed by both bombs. It would have killed more than 100,000 Americans. It would have reduced much of Japan to rubble.

The bombs saved lots of lives. We HAD to use at least one of them, on people. A demonstration on an uninhabited island might well have persuaded the Emperor we were AFRAID to use it on people.

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Washington, D.C.: Is it just my low expectations, or is today's Garfield good, perhaps even mildly profound?

washingtonpost.com: Garfield, (June 9)

Gene Weingarten: It's superior!

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The Poll: Gene, you want to hear opinions on the male-female disparities. I want to hear from the people who said they felt most passionately about the statement that the US is the greatest country in the world. I just cannot get my brain around this sentiment, especially when we're comparing it to the wrongness of discrimination against gays, women, and racial minorities.

Gene Weingarten: Good point. Let's hear from these people.

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Cedar Grove, Md.: I struggled with the 1st question, ultimately choosing the right to bear arms over whether or not gays are as normal as straight people. I cringe, but I went with the right to owning a gun, as the 2nd Amendment is cut and dry. If one reads what James Madison said about it at the time, it's patently obvious he intended to protect the right of every man, woman and child to own a gun. He spoke of ensuring a militia 500 thousand strong, which was the population of the colonies at the time (granted...white). Factor in "When in the course of human events...", and our Founding Fathers belief that revolution is sometimes right, moral and just, and the question is beyond rational debate.

That said, I believe the 2nd Amendment is a quaint and outdated concept, and should be stricken.

Gene Weingarten: Wow.

Well, I'm not sure I care what James Madison believed at the time; I'm not sure, on this issue, it is that germane. Do we really need ... citizen militias today?

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Moving story: I wanted to keep reading the story, and to me, that's a sign of a good story. So...did the turtles make it through OK?

Gene Weingarten: Turtles are fine.

_______________________

Hmph: I have to object to "hypotheticals" about ticking-time-bomb, massive-death, torture-will-definitely-work scenarios.

Though the situations are impossible, they're not really hypothetical in that people want to use them to make torture legal.

It's like posing the question, "If destroying the Mona Lisa was the only way to prevent a terrorist from eating 2,000 innocent American babies, would that be justified?", and then pushing for legislation or executive orders on the propriety of destroying priceless works of art.

And besides the ridiculousness of the scenario, I'm just offended by the idea that folks want a law to cover their ass, just in case they might want to torture!

If there really -were- some crazy ticking time-bomb scenario, where someone is convinced the only way to avert tragedy is to torture someone, they can go ahead and break the law to torture. If they're that certain it's that important, they can have the courage of their convictions and face the consequences. If they can prove the circumstances were so extraordinary, they're not actually going to get in much, if any, trouble. And if they were wrong, they should rightfully be punished for disregarding the rule of law, human rights, and tenets of a free, civilized society.

Gene Weingarten: I agree with this entirely, and it's better said than I could have said it.

_______________________

Tom , we hardly knew ye: I'm really sorry to see TtheB riding off into the sunset. I feel like we're losing one of the family. For all the grief that you've given him over the years, he presented himself as personable, professional, and most importantly, hilarious in his own right. It must have been frustrating for a very funny guy to have to restrain himself in print, except in the context of various Hunts and the rare chat. A couple of years ago, he conducted a chat regarding the Magazine and answered 5 of my questions, better than I do with you in a month.

So, now that you won't have Tom the Butcher to kick around anymore, where will direct all of your writerly indignation (apropos of today's introduction)?

Gene Weingarten: We'll see.

_______________________

Pro Choice or ?: I don't believe torture should ever be used to interrogate anyone. It is not something that I would choose to do myself and I think it is the worst possible choice when dealing with someone that may have information that is needed.

But

I fully support our governments right to choose to use torture. After all it's in the best position to decide what's right in any given situation. It has all the facts of the matter can best make this deeply personal decision. It's not like someone actually gets killed.

So what am I? Pro Choice or Pro Torture?

Gene Weingarten: You're pro torture, simply because your first statement is a cowardly lie. You do not believe torture is wrong if you are willing to condone your country's doing it if THEY think it's right.

I am not going to make the Tom Paxton burgomeister argument here, but will quote the song. It's from 1965.

Ooh, wait, I just re-read the lyrics. I WILL make the argument and quote the whole song:

We didn't know said the Burgomeister,
About the camps on the edge of town.
It was Hitler and his crew,
That tore the German nation down.
We saw the cattle cars it's true,
And maybe they carried a Jew or two.
They woke us up as they rattled through,
But what did you expect me to do?

[Cho:]
We didn't know at all,
We didn't see a thing.
You can't hold us to blame,
What could we do?
It was a terrible shame,
But we can't bear the blame.
Oh no, not us, we didn't know.

We didn't know said the congregation,
Singing a hymn in a church of white.
The Press was full if lies about us,
Preacher told us we were right.
The outside agitators came.
They burned some churches and put the blame,
On decent southern people's names,
To set our colored people aflame.
And maybe some of our boys got hot,
And a couple of niggers and reds got shot,
They should have stayed where they belong,
And preacher would've told us if we'd done wrong.

[Cho:]

We didn't know said the puzzled voter,
Watching the President on TV.
I guess we've got to drop those bombs,
If we're gonna keep South Asia free.
The President's such a peaceful man,
I guess he's got some kind of plan.
They say we're torturing prisoners of war,
But I don't believe that stuff no more.
Torturing prisoners is a communist game,
And You can bet they're doing the same.
I wish this war was over and through,
But what do you expect me to do?

_______________________

Herndon, Va.: I can't for the life of me understand how you can condemn torture but endorse the dropping of atomic bombs on innocent civilians. Take a moral philosophy class, dude.

Gene Weingarten: We are not yet in the middle of a global war to save the planet.

_______________________

New York, N.Y.: Just out of curiosity, since I couldn't imagine how you would, what was your thinking about how to end your piece?

Gene Weingarten: I was going to deal with my efforts to get them to talk to me, which they would not.

_______________________

Moving: Your moving story reminds me of my all time favorite bumper sticker:

Friends will help you move. Real friends will help you move bodies.

Gene Weingarten: Good.

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You Have No Clue: Only people who have never been tortured think torture is acceptable.

I went through a brutal, violent assault when I was barely in my teens, and I will never, ever escape the physical scars and despair.

Anyone who claims to believe that something similar should be allowed to happen--to anyone else of any age or history no matter what the potential benefit --should imagine his daughter or mother or other loved one going through what I went through. It's easy to be cavalier if you don't have to live the consequences every day.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you. See next post.

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To Torture or Not: I can't justify any torture of prisoners because of something that happened in my extended family. My dad and eight uncles served in WWII. One of the uncles was captured and spent time in a Japanese POW camp. He kept trying to escape, so they shot his heels off to put a stop to it. He recovered, came home, and lived until the late 1950s. I was just a little squirt of 3 or 4 when he passed, but his situation really affected me.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.

_______________________

Unbelievable: Gene,

What on earth is wrong with people? Sixty-seven percent of men and 77 percent of women would do nothing to the 9-year-old, despite the fact that it would "very likely" save tens of thousands of lives? Really? And you agree with this?

I look at it this way: In your scenario, 9/11 times (give or take) 10 could be avoiding by making one person suffer. Sure, sure, the person is a kid, and that's unfortunate, but sometimes unfortunate - even horrid - things must be done for the greater good. If the blood of 10s of thousands of people is really less important that the (presumably temporary) pain of one child, I have no idea what kind of future we have in mind for this country.

Jon Stewart saying "we're better than that" is not a reasonable substitute for reality. You're talking about exchanging, basically, a small town for the pain of one boy. Staggering.

Gene Weingarten: Now, see, I understand this argument waay better than I understand condoning torture for the mass-murder scenario, but not the kid's torture. I disagree, but I get it. It's logically consistent.

_______________________

Great Poll Question: Gene, I never thought I would feel as vehemently about anything as I do about a woman's right to abortion. But faced with a choice between the right to abortion and the sameness of straight and gay people, I had to come down on the side of sameness. I'm not sure what that says about me, but it's an interesting thing to learn about myself at the ripe old age of 31.

Gene Weingarten: I answered that question based on Need. I think racial discrimination is awful, but so does everyone, at least on paper. It's the gay question and the abortion question that really raise my passion, because they are a matter of public debate, which, in my mind, they should not be. Gays are making strides; it's inevitable they will win. I'm not so sure about abortion rights; ergo, that was my choice.

_______________________

Tinian: I enjoyed today's poll very much, except I found the overwhelming majority who voted for demonstration of the atomic bomb to be sweetly naive and unaware of history. First, had the bomb not worked, the failure of the demonstration would have heartened the Japanese -- and the last thing they needed was morale boosting; they were already arming children to defend the homeland. Second, they didn't surrender after Little Boy was dropped on Hiroshima -- they certainly weren't going to throw in the towel over a little atoll somewhere, so then we would have been left with just one bomb to drop on the home island.

I realize I sound like a far-right militaristic wingnut; I'm not at all. I don't advocate dropping the next generation, "Little Grandboy" if you will, on Pyongyang or anything. I just think that, given the information he had and the situation in Japan, Truman made the best decision possible; one that saved American AND Japanese lives in the long run.

Gene Weingarten: Agreed, mostly. The only answer to that question that is inarguably wrong is the last one: To have invaded Japan would have been a disastrous error; many more people would have died, more than half of them Americans.

And yes, it was entirely possible the first bomb wouldn't have worked. I do wonder, however, what would have happened had we waited after Little Boy, literally for the smoke to clear. Would that have been so bad? Wait a couple of weeks, not a couple of days, and communicated the fact that we had more and were ready to use them?

There never was any real philosophical debate in the Truman Administration about whether to drop bomb two. We had it, so we used it. Target one, Kokura, was cloud covered, so we just moseyed over to target two and dropped it. I don't think it was our finest hour.

The rationale, to the extent their was one, was essentially Shock and Awe. I'm not sure that would have been blunted much by a few more days and an ultimatum. Probably, the Emperor would have declined anyway, but we'd look a bit less cold blooded to history.


Gene Weingarten: I think I'm wrong about "more than half" Americans. But a lot of Americans would have died.

_______________________

Arlington, Va.: It appears that some companies, such as Budweiser, are now making commercials like this one (nsfw), that they never intend to air on television.

Would the relative success of this ad help explain the lack of advertising dollars available for hard-hitting in-depth television news reporting? Or is this question just a good excuse for you to be able to post the link?

Gene Weingarten: It's nice.

Yeah, I'm wondering how serious a threat viral advertising is to ALL existing advertising models. This essentially costs Budweiser nothing, and if they can get hapless douchenozzles like me to distribute it free to tens of thousands of people on their newspaper-financed websites...?

_______________________

Out of season toMAtoes: Hi Gene, I'm really excited to join the chat live today. Usually I'm busy at work and print the transcript to read on the train home. Good times. Anyway, your tomato comment made me think of Breadline, I think. I remember a few years ago when I was there for lunch there was a large sign saying tomatoes weren't good that season and they weren't available for sandwiches. Seems like a dream place for you.

Gene Weingarten: Yes!

_______________________

Bombing Japan: When looking at the decision to bomb Japan, one set of numbers that is rarely mentioned in the U.S. is the rate at which Chinese soldiers were dying in fights with Japanese forces on the Asian mainland.

A slower end to the war would have meant tens or hundreds of thousands more deaths in that portion of the conflict.

Gene Weingarten: I don't think serious historians question that the atomic bombs, perversely, saved lives.

_______________________

Poll: I'm a good liberal who's not straight, has white guilt, and wants to make sure I and other women would never have to carry a fetus to term and give birth if we didn't want to.

I ended up choosing the "abortion" option as most important on the poll, simply because of the way you worded the questions. Arguably, gay people are outside of a "norm" since most people aren't gay. I wouldn't word it that way and would look askance at someone who did, but the argument can be made that gay people aren't -just- as normal.

And while systemic, institutional racism, as it plays out in the US and in many other places, is a -huge- injustice, racial discrimination can be pretty mild--sometimes just coming down to an individual's personal preferences about who they hang out with and date. If institutional racism were somehow eliminated and mild racial discrimination persisted, I wouldn't necessarily see that as a big deal.

If you had worded the choices as something like "Gay people should have the same legal rights as straight people," "Women have a right to choose an abortion," and "Institutional racism still exists and is harmful and unjust," I'd have had a harder time choosing.

Gene Weingarten: Sorry, but according to your first argument, Jewish people are not "normal," either. In fact, there are more gays than Jews.

_______________________

Washington, DC: I said the U.S. is the greatest country in the world and I'll defend it. No other country affords greater opportunity for any individual to succeed regardless of their background, starting point or beliefs. We are the welathiest country by far. We are blessed with tremendous natural resources including millions of acres of protected forests and parklands. Our governmental system is the model for democracies around the globe. Our universities are widely regarded as the best. Our businesses are the most innovative. There are imperfections and shortcomings in all of these areas, which I'm sure others would be happy to point out and I do not deny, but there's a reason America has an immigration problem, not an emmigration problem.

Gene Weingarten: And this is the single issue you feel most passionate about, compared to the others? Do you feel deeply embattled on this issue?

I'm a fan, too, dude. But I also recognize, for example, that this ... No other country affords greater opportunity for any individual to succeed regardless of their background, starting point or beliefs.... wasn't exactly true as recently as, maybe 20 years ago, and the field is STILL not level?

_______________________

Do we really need ... citizen militias today? : Perhaps we don't. In which case, the answer is to -repeal- the Second Amendment (like we did the 18th Amendment) -- not to pretend it's not there.

And, guess, what? There are enough people who believe their minority rights are protected by the 2nd Amendment, that we don't yet have the votes to repeal it. End of story.

Gene Weingarten: True enough. But read the second amendment. It's a syntactical mess. It's essentially illiterate.

I'm just saying, that's not going to be my choice from that list in the poll.

_______________________

Waterboarding: Gene, did you see where Sean Hannity felt so sure that waterboarding (originally called water torture) was not torture (though if it wasn't, why change the name?), that he agreed to go through it himself? Only he never did, but radio host Mancow did agreed to be waterboarded, he is also a waterboarding is not torture proponent. He lasted 6 seconds and unequivocally declared waterboarding to be torture. Which of course pissed off all of the right-wing loonies.

Gene Weingarten: I did not see this. Nice.

_______________________

Silver Spring, Md.: Did you see Conan's Twitter Tracker?

Even better than that cartoon you linked to last week in my opinion. Are you a Conan fan? I know that back in college a few years ago he was the clear favorite of the talk show hosts among my friends, but I also know that some people, like my parents, don't like him at all.

Gene Weingarten: Very well done.

DAMN, Twitter is dumb.

_______________________

Herndon, Va.: It is the year 2049. Medical technology has now improved so that when a woman is pregnant, two procedures are possible: an abortion, or a fetal removal and transplant into an artificial womb. These are on a par in terms of the invasiveness and the danger to the mother. The artificial womb technology is not more costly; the fetus, once transferred, will be cared for either by the state or by private charity.

(1) In this scenario, of the women who would otherwise have chosen abortion, what percentage would choose the fetal transfer?

(2) In this scenario, would you, Gene, accept the criminalization of abortion?

Gene Weingarten: I am going to answer this question two ways. The first way presumes that tests shows the baby is healthy and that this is an abortion having to do with the mother's circumstances to raise her baby, or other clearly elective reason.

1. Eighty-nine to 93 percent of the women would choose fetal transfer.

2. I would never be in favor of criminalizing what a woman does to her own body.


If the baby is going to have very substantial physical and/or mental handicaps, and that is the reason for the procedure:

1. Twenty-two percent of the women will elect the fetal transfer, and be very very conflicted about it. Most will do it for the wrong reason, a fear of being stigmatized about "killing" a "baby."

2. Answer same as above.

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Gay Wedding: Well, her father is "openly and loudly anti-gay marriage." Why would she want to invite someone to a joyous celebration who will disapprove, possibly vocally, of the entire proceeding? Gays face enough hatred and bigotry--why bring it into your own wedding? Family or not, no one has the right to ruin her wedding. Would you invite a vocal anti-Semite to a bar mitzvah?

Gene Weingarten: He loves here and will behave himself.

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Doggo, NE: Gene:

While I agree that nothing compares to a steamed hot dog, I have found one method of microwaved preparation that is at least marginally acceptable.

1) Place dog in bun 2) Wrap dog and bun with a paper towel 3) Microwave on 50% power for about one minute.

This method warms the bun at the same time and partially steams the dog from the moisture coming off of the bun.

I'm not saying this will make you a fan of microwaved preparation, but you might find it to be an acceptable alternative when you really want a hot dog at home and don't have the time for traditional preparation.

Gene Weingarten: Steamed dogs are about the fifth best way, after grilling, sauteeing, frying, rotisserie. THEN steam. Then boil.

It's people like you who give food a bad name. You probably boil your sweetcorn, too. Don't you?

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Escalat, OR: Gene, I know you are the type of driver who does not "wait in line" for exits, so I am most curious as to how you would handle the following esaclator situation, especially since I suspect it is happening all over the WMATA area.

My Metro station currently has one escalator out of service, leaving one escalator stopped, to accommodate traffic from the platform to the turnstiles. (As Mitch Hedberg would say of esaclators, they're not broken, they're just stairs.)

Which is a faster way for a mass of people to get up the stairs?

Option 1: "Uppers" form two lines and take up the width of the stairs. This goes quickly until someone from above needs to come down. Then lines of uppers mush into one, essentially stopping traffic going up, until the "downer" clears the stairs.

Option 2: Uppers form a single line of uninterrupted traffic that goes slower, but is not at all slowed by downers since the uppers stay out of the way on their side of the stairs.

What say you?

Gene Weingarten: Well, your question, as stated, applies mostly to a rush hour, virtually all traffic is in one direction -- from the train to the street. In that case, you want option one, which is a little rough on the downer -- he or she must be insistent and a little aggressive -- but is way more efficient.

The alternative is the equivalent of waiting like a doof at a red light when there are no cars visible as far as the eye can see in any direction. It's just dumb.

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Pat the Perfect, ME: Here's the clip of Mancow's rude awakening and instant conversion on the issue of waterboarding, after 6 seconds.

Gene Weingarten: Bit of a stunt there. And he's not getting it in a hostile situation, when he doesn't know the intent of his questioners.

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Primary Col, OR: Gene, Today there's a Democratic Party Primary in the race for Governor of Virginia. Normally, I'm very politically aware but I guess I've kind of kicked back a bit after the Presidential election. I guess I'm not that up on the three candidates in this primary, Terry McAuliffe, Brian Moran and Creigh Deeds. The Post has endorsed Mr. Deeds. (I feel a movie title coming on!) Is it better to accept someone else's presumably informed recommendation (the Post's in this case) and vote for the endorsee or to not vote at all?

Gene Weingarten: I think it is not a dereliction of one's civic duty if, absent good information, you follow the endorsement of a trusted adviser, in this case The Post.

It's not as good as knowing, but I think it is ethically defensible.

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Pale Tomatoes: Crummy out-of-season tomatoes were part of my food-related culture shock when I moved from South Florida to New England to go to school. At home tomatoes grow year-round, I had no idea that they had a season. Same with strawberries and cucumbers, both of which my dad had going 12 months a year in the garden behind the house. But my real horror was with the crayon-bright citrus being sold in the grocery store. I had never bought an orange from a store in my life and the fruit that grew in my backyard was a mottled greenish/yellow at the point when it was the ripest. I ended up convincing my dad to ship me 20lbs of tangerines, just so I could show the Yankees what a real piece of citrus looked like (I also may have played up my fears of scurvy a little too much to get him to eat the expense).

Gene Weingarten: The truth is, I believe we as a society (Still the greatest country in the world!!!) have forgotten what a good tomato tastes like.

Some of you think you know, but you don't.

The genetics of the great tomato are gone. Fast-food killed it. Even home growns.

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Sweetcorn?: Do you mean corn on the cob? How else can you prepare it, besides boiling, when you're not grilling?

Gene Weingarten: You grill or bake it in the husk. Rex Stout has a great section of one of his Nero Wolfe novels on what idiots the American housewives are, for boiling corn, removing all its flavor.

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Washington, D.C., The Greatest Country etc. etc.: This is not an unpatriotic comment. This is a request that people look at the statistics.

The U.S. is approximately #20 in the OECD's list of countries, in order of educational attainment of the general public.

The U.S. is roughly #15 in terms of general public access to quality health care.

The U.S. is not -- and hasn't for the last 20 years been -- in the top 20 countries (UNESSCO list) for children's health care.

The U.S. gross domestic product per capita, adjusted for purchasing power, hasn't been in the top 10 since the second Reagan administration.

The U.S. hasn't been on the Amnesty International "most free" top five list since the same period.

We're wonderful. We're fabulous. But the average American has less political freedom, less in the way of governmental services, a lower life expectancy, etc., etc. than the actual top of the global list. We may be doing better than most large countries, but we ain't the top, not any more, not for a while.

Gene Weingarten: I'll just put this out there and let people growl.

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Foundingfather,rs: I hate when people reference what the founding fathers wanted. I always ask myself "who cares?"

They were just human; and they could be wrong. In fact, they were wrong on a lot of levels. They kept slaves and subjugated women.

And even if they were correct about the right to bear arms, it was a moment in time. What was right in 1775 may not be right in 2009.

Gene Weingarten: Exactly. They did get some of the big things right, for all time. The need for free speech is not something that waxes and wanes.

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Arlington, Va.: I studied your Truman question in college, where we learned the following:

- When Truman dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki there was only enough nuclear material for two weapons. So little, in fact, that one of the two bomb designs had never been tested before being dropped. It would have taken the US many more months to create a third weapon.

- The "next best option" on the Pentagon's drawing board after dropping the weapons was not an invasion, but a naval blockade of Japan, which did not have enough food and fuel to support itself. This was expected to kill far more Japanese civilians than the two bombs were expected to kill, as well as harden Japanese resolve. An invasion, though being actively planned, was considered the third best option by military leaders.

- The USSR had, by treaty obligation, only weeks previously declared war on Japan. The longer things went on with the USSR in the war in Asia, the more territory (both in Manchuria and the Japanese islands) would have fallen under the iron curtain.

Gene Weingarten: I had forgotten that last point. It's critical.

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Bowie, Md.: In last week's updates, the following was said: "Do middle-aged men in Kansas really have nothing better to do than conduct campaigns of terror against women exercising their legal rights? That's what really appalls me about the Tiller killing: The victim was male, but this was essentially an act of male-on-female terrorism."

I couldn't disagree more. I don't see this as terrorism and I don't see how this is "essentially... male-on-female terrorism." I am appalled that someone would frame the murder of man exercising his rights to make a living as an act of overt aggression on the female sex. And how does the poster know that the murder was done as a "man" and not as a "religious advocate" or something along those lines. Had a woman committed the murder, would it have been female on female terrorism? For the record, pro-choice male here, but I feel the poster's outrage is misplaced and is offensive to me.

Gene Weingarten: I believe it was definitely terrorism directed at women. It was intended to terrify abortion providers into not providing abortions. That is mostly at the expense of women who need / want abortions.

I don't know the killer's interior motives, and I'm not sure whether the antiabortion movement is fundamentally run by men. So I don't know about the first part of that.

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Baltimore, Md.: Years ago, the eminent professor of literature Paul Fussell wrote an essay that stirred up a huge amount of fuss. It was called "Thank God for the Atom Bomb." Fussell was a young Army lieutenant in the European theater and was badly wounded in combat. He recovered and, when the war in Europe ended, he received orders to sail as part of the invasion force headed for Japan. He said that he remembered thinking (I paraphrase) "I managed to barely survive a couple of years fighting the Germans and now I am going to die wading ashore to fight the Japanese." He was on deck when word came that the atom bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima and Fussell said all he could think was, "I'm going to live."

As you can imagine, he got a flack for being oh so self centered and callous. But I wonder how many of his critics had been throwing grenades at Nazi tanks while he was.

Gene Weingarten: An invasion of Japan in 1945 would have been the bloodiest and costliest invasion of all time. It would have surpassed D-Day.

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Write a New Column: Obviously, you need to write about tomatoes again.

Gene Weingarten: I already wrote a new column. I did it very quickly.

Liz is telling me that I am wrong about good tomatoes being gone, and she is yammering on about heirloom Brandywines.

Nope, they're better than most of the others out there, but They're nothing like what was available 40 years ago.

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The Economy Influences Your Chat: In the heyday of the stock and real estate markets, the chats were mostly about fluffy subjects: VPL, bathroom habits, pet tendencies, hotties v. notties, etc.

Since the economy started tanking, there's been a lot of moralistic themes (like today's) in the chats.

Can't wait for the recovery!

Gene Weingarten: That's wrong. This chat has done lots of boring moralizing, from day one. We're strong in that sector.

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Founding Fathers: I am a firm believer in the 2nd amendment. Anyone who wants a musket should be able to have one.

Gene Weingarten: Correct. And muzzle-loading cannons.

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A terrific gift parents can give kids is to speak good English around them from Day One. : I hope this makes it on to the chat, I posted early so I wouldn't forget. I am an African American woman, when I was young, my great Aunt would correct my grammar constantly and chastise me for using slang. She did not do this to the other nieces and nephews. Of course growing up, I was told I talked like a "white girl". After my Aunt died I learned that when she was younger (during the '20s and '30s) she passed for white. I realized that all of her correcting was her way of "helping me pass", since out of all the nieces and nephews, I looked the most like her. Though, at 42, I don't have to "pass", but I still talk like a white girl.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, I'll bite. Is that good or bad?

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Alexandria, Va.: A while ago, I remember there was a discussion of growing animals without heads as a means to be able to consume meat in an ethical manner. I think even a PETA person had written in and said that it would be fine with PETA. I haven't been able to read the chat in a few months so this question may have been asked already, but this weekend I was thinking about the headless animals and wondered whether it would still be considered ethical if someone was growing headless human beings for consumption?

Gene Weingarten: I don't think there'd be a market for it. The real question, I think, is how about headless humans for organ harvesting?

I'd be in favor of it.

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Vancouver, B.C.: Why does the Washington Post publish Senate voting records by astrological sign but not by shoe size? Wouldn't that be far more useful information?

Gene Weingarten: This is a very good question. Or by blood type.

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Corn: Slice it off the cob raw and saute it in butter, with maybe some bits of red pepper, jalapeno, etc.

Gene Weingarten: There is something extra delivered when corn is cooked in the husk. The husk has flavor it delivers.

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Boston: Gene! I'm so glad you're chatting today. This morning on my way into work I was behind a Chrysler Sebring at a red light that had this on the back. Wow. I was in shock. I can't believe this exists!

Gene Weingarten: I've begun to see a few of these things.

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Heirlooms: Gene, you can buy seeds from tomato plants that were around 40 years ago. You are just wrong on this.

Gene Weingarten: I am 100 percent convinced there has been a degrading of the gene pool, across the entire species, if tomatoes are a species. I GROW heirlooms. They are nowhere near the tomatoes of my youth. Liz, can you find a tomato story I did? Search for "Mrs. Conesa."

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Reston, Va.: "The alternative is the equivalent of waiting like a doof at a red light when there are no cars visible as far as the eye can see in any direction. It's just dumb."

I agree it's dumb. HOWEVER, this situation happened to me and a friend in high school. Really long red light. No cars in either direction. Except the cop waiting with her lights off. No ticket, but I wait at ALL red lights now.

Gene Weingarten: It may be necessary, but it is dumb AND infuriating.

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Men and abortion: I used to volunteer as a clinic escort. Most protesters--I'd say at least 70 percent, usually more--were men.

I'm well aware that there are many, many pro-choice men, and it's great for the pro-choice movement. But I read that comment about male-on-female terrorism and agreed with it. The shooter seeks to intimidate abortion providers, and that profoundly affects women.

Gene Weingarten: Yep.

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University Park, Md.: "The only white guy in my golf class." Both a googlenope and a description of my experience Monday. Ah, I love the 21st century.

Gene Weingarten: Very nice.

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Checko, UT: I think it was very nice of Ms. Manteuffel to change your character from a columnist to checkout clerk, but no more picture-taking, OK?

(Is she any relation to German WWII General Hasso Von Manteuffel? Does she ever read military stories in the paper and mutter "that's not the way Great-grandpa would have done it"?)

Gene Weingarten: She calls him "Cousin Hasso," but believes there is no familial relationship. She's probably right. Rachel is five foot ten. Hasso Von Manteuffel -- one of the great German generals in WWII, a mistruster of Hitler and not a Nazi -- was five foot three.

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Tomatoes: You are an idiot. I'm sorry for using strong language at you, but there are many heirloom tomatoes that are the same varieties that were available 40 years ago. If they don't taste the same to you, that is because you are old and your palate is not as sensitive as it used to be.

Gene Weingarten: I intend to research this intensely. I do not believe you or Liz.

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Moving companies: I think Tom was right. But I do feel your pain. My moving company story involved extortion on the receiving end. As in, we've got your stuff on the truck. Time to pay the jacked up price or you ain't gonna see your stuff again.

Gene Weingarten: I believe most of these places are in essence criminal enterprises.

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washingtonpost.com: I'll add a link to that story after today's chat.

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Charlotte, N.C.: Sure it's only two instances, but I have to admit I'm a bit shaken by poll responses that give so much weight to accusations rather than convictions. There's the one in today's poll, about the DUI arrest that ended without a conviction, and there was one in an earlier poll about a job applicant accused of... something, I foget... that also ended with the accusation being unfounded. Yet more respondents were bothered by that than many of the other options. Why is that? Is there a belief that if someone is accused of something there must be something going on? Or is it a case of cognitive dissonance, where we need to believe there is logic to the system or we'd obsess about innocent people being punished?

I don't have a personal instance, but my husband was detained once because he supposedly looked like a suspect. The suspect was supposed to be an hispanic male around 5 foot 8 with gang symbols. Husband is 6 foot 1, Italian descent, dresses like a J Crew page, and had just finished his PhD. After being slammed up against his car and searched on the street he was let go, but what if he'd actually been dragged off to the precinct or even been charged? The police were being downright silly, but could that charge have followed him?

Gene Weingarten: I thought that question was the most argumentative, and I was also surprised at the number of people choosing the DUI. In my case it was not so much that he was acquitted (lots of guilty people get off) but that it was eight years before, at 17. I give passes for things people do at 17.

My answer to that question was "really rural," but I cannot defend it. It is bigotry; somehow, a lingering unease from "Deliverance." I cannot defend it and won't try.

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Washington, DC: Re today's poll and the absurd hypothetical question. I chose "living in a very rural area" as something that would worry me because what if there was an accident? How long would it take for emergency services to show up - or for the guy to get my kid to the hospital? I assume you were trying to gauge stereotypes w/ this question but really I'm more worried about safety than what the stereotype is of someone who lives in a very rural area.

Gene Weingarten: Couple of people made this point: My intention was that this person would be sitting at YOUR house, but I can see the confusion. I'd say it invalidates the answer.

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Geez, Ge, NE: Why do you care how other people eat their corn or hot dogs? Or how they park? Or deal with left turns on red? Who appointed you arbiter and policeman to the world? Are you truly that sensitive that seeing and hearing about these "offensive" things hurt you? You really must go through life in misery. I find I've been a whole lot happier since I realized I cannot control the world, and 90% of what people get upset about really doesn't matter.

Gene Weingarten: God appointed me arbiter and policeman, for a 17 year term, in 1996.

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Yoma, Ma: Nothing more needs to be said about Twitter.

Gene Weingarten: Yep, this is perfect. And the guy is perfect.

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Want good tomatoes?: Heirloom tomatoes at the farmers' markets. There's one orchard in Adams County, Pa. that regularly brings down over 100 varieties to Baltimore's markets, and I think they're also back at the Dupont Circle market again after an absence.

Gene Weingarten: I believe you, and thanks for the tip. I'm guessing these are very good for modern tomatoes, and that qualifier is important.

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Pat the Perfect, ME: Corn on the cob is great when cooked in the microwave, husk and all -- it takes just 2 to 3 minutes per ear. None of the corn's flavor and nutrition leaks out into water, and it stays hot much longer. And if there's a stem, you even have a handle. (The only drawback is that you can cook only three or four ears at a time -- if you're having a huge cookout, I guess it won't work.)

Gene Weingarten: I'll try it! Thanks, Pthep.

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They are nowhere near the tomatoes of my youth.: Gene, I have bad news for you. As people age, their sense of smell declines and they just can't taste the same way anymore. The tomatoes are probably the same, but you aren't.

It is the same phenomenon that allows old people to think that they no longer have body odor and can bathe less often.

Gene Weingarten: Lemme tell you one difference I perceive: The tomatoes of my youth had thin, snappy skins. Gone. Even the heirlooms. And that has nothing to do with old-man taste buds.

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For Sale?: I saw a house for sale sign on your street last night. I hope was your neighbor's, not yours and a sign of a buyout accepted. Please take this opportunity to deny, deny, deny.

Gene Weingarten: I'm not moving anywhere. That's the house next door.

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I GROW heirlooms. They are nowhere near the tomatoes of my youth: What IS so much worse now is the AIR QUALITY, which those 'maters breath in all day and night. The toxins in our air make for inferior tomatoes (and human lungs).

Gene Weingarten: There is Some Reason, and I am gonna nail it.

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Hungry, ME: Gene, I think maybe the substance of this is best left for The Post's food writers or maybe Hax (though feel free to weigh in on it), but I was wondering where you and Chatwoman come down on whether this could have been posted on the Post's site?

Gene Weingarten: This is very funny. The Comments are better than the original question and answer.

I do find it interesting, and possibly very suspicious, that the letter writer does not think to mention whether he fixes his girlfriend grilled-cheese sandwiches, and whether or not he tries to make them as appetizing and interesting as possible, with nice little garnishes and cornichons and whatnot. This does seem to be all about him, doesn't it?

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Anonymous: Prediction for when Gene takes a Post buyout:

His new editor arrives. She is a recent college graduate. Her name is Madison.

Gene Weingarten: Aaaaaaaarggggghhhhhhhh.

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Washington: "you can buy seeds from tomato plants that were around 40 years ago."

I believe this to be true (why lie about such a thing) but wouldn't there be a finite amount of seeds from the past? If heirloom's become more popular, wouldn't we run out of those old seeds - and heirlooms - at some point?

washingtonpost.com: Umm, each tomato fruit is 40 percent seeds.

Gene Weingarten: DNA degrades over time.

I am not sure the above is true, but I have said it in a published forum, so it is now established fact, and uncontestible.

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Rethinking the Bomb: I selected explode over an uninhabited atoll, but I'm wondering if keeping the bomb a secret might have avoided the current nuclear nightmare we find outselves in. Would 100,000 or even a million dead American have kept the genie in the bottle? Fascinating question.

Gene Weingarten: It would not have stayed a secret.

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Tomatoes: Gene, did you ever consider that your tomato issue has to do with geography? Tomatoes in D.C. will taste different than tomatoes grown somewhere else. Soil content, climate, rainfall, etc. will all have an effect on how a tomato tastes. Additionally, growing up in NYC, you probably ate New Jersey tomatoes, which are widely considered (shockingly) the best-tasting American-grown tomatoes. Just sayin'.

Gene Weingarten: The best tomatoes I have ever eaten were grown in the late 1950s in Hopewell Junction NY by my neighbor, Mrs. Conesa. After meals, she used to open her kitchen window and throw empty all the plates onto the tomatoes. They grew in rotting foood.

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Gene Weingarten: Okay, thank y;all. There will be no updates this week; it is possible next week will be a chat holiday -- please check with the website for confirmation one way or the other.

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