Chatological Humor (UPDATED 11.17.09)
Tuesday, October 27, 2009; 12:00 PM
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.
One Tuesday each month, Weingarten is online to take your questions and abuse. He will chat about anything. Although this chat is sometimes updated on non-chat days, 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.
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
washingtonpost.com: Good afternoon.
We begin today with an Instapoll, based on this story that has garnered international attention -- the story about the Fairfax man handcuffed and arrested for being naked in his own home. While public opinion seems to be one of kneejerk outrage against the cops and the allegedly prissy complainant (a cop's wife), all facts are not yet known, and Chatological Humor takes no position on the case, except for the position that that this calls, pretty clearly, for an Instapoll: Men | Women.
We are now going to go directly to one of the poll questions -- the one so many of you are inexplicably failing miserably and in so soulless a fashion. So if you have no taken the polls yet, do so now -- particularly the middle one, about the new video of Anne Frank.
Okay? Go away and do that and then come back. Good.
First of all, a short reminder about Anne Frank, who died in Bergen-Belsen in March 1945 at the age of 15. Anne was a very gifted writer, not for an adolescent, but for anyone. Her powers of observation were extraordinary and her ability to understand people and their motives was beyond precocious. Fate put her in a terrible place at a terrible time, but it allowed her to be an extraordinarily eloquent eyewitness to some of the greatest savagery the world has seen, and her innocence gave her testament overwhelming power.
A few months ago, I was noodling with creating a ridiculous new metric to gauge the worth of a human per year of his or life, a way of accounting for prodigies like Keats, who died young but still produced lasting beauty. The idea was to assign a number from 1 (Hitler) to 100 (Jesus, maybe) to measure the overall lasting good a person has done, most intensely, for the most people, in his or her life. The measure would be partially subjective; a fine parent who was otherwise fairly obscure would score much higher than someone who never did nothing for no one. So, you take that figure then divide by the person's age at death. It's an interesting if imperfect measure, deliberately skewed heavily to reward those who accomplish much little time, and to punish those who live long to no lasting consequence. Jesus scored 3.1 on this scale, a massively high number. Most of us will be under 1. But Jesus is not as high as Ms. Anne Frank, who's going to hit at least 5. I can't think of anyone with a higher metric, can you?
But you KNEW all that. So you understand the stakes. Then why did so many of you vote as you did? How can you not have seen the simple unambiguous power of this tiny video clip?
Its power comes precisely from how mundane it is, and how real. Those three seconds of Anne speak volumes. First, isn't it interesting how modern those houses in Amsterdam look? This could be a street scene today; Anne could be any girl today, subject to being rounded up and killed by a totalitarian state that didn't like who she was. In fact, this film is silent -- you don't know that it's in Dutch that she's joyfully calling out to someone behind her, probably her sister Margot, to come look at the happy couple in the street. Anne could be anyone. She could be your daughter.
Metaphorically, how powerful is it that she's looking out a window? Anne Frank, one of literature's greatest observers, is observing. At the end of this clip, having taken in the wedding, she looks away, down the street, into the distance. What's next out there for me to see? She'll look, but she won't see it coming. So many people couldn't imagine it.
My friend Tom Scocca points out that until this clip, in one sense, the Anne we knew only through her deeds and black and white photographs was no more real to us than Abraham Lincoln; now, suddenly, she is a little girl, indistinguishable from other little girls in our lives, except this one was rounded up, stripped naked, clothed in rags, covered in maggots, left to starve and die of typhus.
I'm happy to hear opposing opinions and explain why you are not just wrong, but woefully lacking in humanity. Send 'em in!
This is the greatest story published anywhere in the last month. Every sentence is a gem. You must read it to the very end; there's a wonderful geographic aptonym in there.
My great disappointment is that this wonderful story would NEVER appear in The Washington Post except through the instant artifice of my linking to it here. If the Post did run it, we'd rewrite it with such delicacy that it would be completely incomprehensible. Our story would include such lines as: "Citing physical evidence, she said that the alleged amorous activity would have been impossible."
What we have here is the second in my continuing series of Twitter feeds in which we may adjudge a person guilty of a crime simply on the basis of his mug shot.
There are two Clips of the Day.
This is the short one, and it reminds us all that some videos should NOT have an explanatory line above them.
And here is the long one. I discovered it the other day while searching for a perfect piano piece to include in the screenplay for B Major, a movie I am writing with David Simon. We settled on Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody #2, which was perfect for our purposes. In searching for it, though, I found this. It is a long forgotten clip of Victor Borge playing piano with, well, someone who appears to be me. It is one of the most skillful bits of physical comedy I've ever seen. Here:
Okay, let's go.
Harrisburg, Pa.: The video itself is not powerful, but seeing it is quite powerful, because we know how this ends. This is the innocence before the devastation, and that makes it powerful.
Gene Weingarten: This is splitting a hair that does not even exist on the head. If it is powerful to watch, it is powerful.
Interesting but not powerful: I see a girl looking out a window and turning her head to say something to someone inside. All else is conjecture. The Amsterdam street scene looks like any other film of a European city of that time, so it's hardly remarkable. Also, you're speculating on what Anne Frank is saying. Maybe her parents are calling her for dinner or to clean up her room and she's yelling "I'm busy!"
Gene Weingarten: Maybe. Equally powerful.
Anonymous: Wow, so it seems from Tom the Butcher's guest stint on Achenblog that you finally got rid of him for good. Congratulations! But, um, as a long-time enjoyer of most things you write...can I hire him to edit you again?
Gene Weingarten: Tragically, Tom is still editing me; The Post has him on contract to do that. It's as though they're afraid that without his annoying, whiny adult presence I will start using acronyms to Sneak Heresies Into Text.
Tom The Butcher's doing other things, too, but the most interesting is that he's offering freelance editing service at 3 cents a word via his new Web site,
. My secret fear is that he'll will get so rich so fast that he'll be able to buy Lear Jets and throw them away after a single use, like disposable razors.
Washington, DC: Ah Gene, I understand the historical importance of Anne Frank but a video of her looking out the window is not as powerful as a video of Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech or a picture of that piece of standing rubble at Ground Zero. What happened to her is awful and we are blessed to have her words to forever remember the atrocity that was the Holocaust. Yet in order for this image to have a profound affect, it needs to be in the context of what she is known for. It needs to be a video of her writing the diary or saying something that alludes to her written word. Even a video of her as she is being taken away from her hiding place. She may have been observing a wedding, but it is not an extraordinary activity. The only image/video I can recall that moves me because of its ordinariness at any other time is the video of John Kennedy Jr. at 3 years old saluting to his father's casket. I'm sorry Gene, but you are wrong.
Gene Weingarten: Uh.
There was nothing ordinary about John-John saluting his father's casket.
Riverdale: My take on naked inside:
If you're naked at the window or front door, looking outside, or (worse) attempting to get someone's attention, you should be charged for indecent exposure.
If you're naked in your house, minding your own business, going about doing things one would otherwise do in a house (clothed or not), the person outside should be charged for peeking in windows.
Gene Weingarten: But it's okay to glance in windows, no? I glance in windows; I live in an interesting neighborhood, where the architecture, stairwells, painting, art on the wall, are sometimes gorgeous.
I wouldn't expect to see a naked guy standing there.
A naked woman would be okay.
I think this is a gray area, a little bit.
Sick, OH: Gene,
Last month's discussion of Roman Polanski and other sexual predators troubled me greatly. And not for the usual reasons I think. My problem is that I find such stories a turn on and wonder what is wrong with me. Either I am an outlier in my sexual fantasies, or there is a stunning level of hypocracy where society pretends outrage against such things while secretly desiring them.
Now granted, there is a huge gulf between rape/abuse fantasies and acting on them - but I still find myself in the uncomfortable situation of having a great of sympathy for those sickos out there. What does someone with a "broken" mind do, other than surpress their baser tendencies and contiually lust after something they cannot have?
Gene Weingarten: Live inside their mind. That's what they have to do.
I think a lot of broken people do; I consider them heroes. the others I consider criminals.
Tokyo, Japan: Dude, get off your high horse!
The question we were asked was: "Is this video in any way powerful?" It is very reasonable to interpret this question as regarding the video itself, separating it from her other accomplishments or historical context. Viewed that way, it could hardly be more mundane. So, maybe you should have worded the question differently.
Gene Weingarten: And what part of "in any way" did you find confusing?
Still on the horse, sorry.
Frank, An, NE: I can't help but feel like you're projecting a little with your Anne Frank video analysis. You see a little bit of your own daughter in that and have project all of the emotions of hope and innocence you have of your daughter at that age on to the video. (You would have found the same attributes in any video of any thing Anne ever did)
Tom's analysis is a little better, but at the end of the day, it's just a glimpse of a famous person that we had never seen before.
Gene Weingarten: Just another celeb, eh?
Gene Weingarten: In the chat update on Tuesday, I referenced a poem about the death of a dog that I tentatively misattributed to Robert Benchley. It was Updike, and here it is. Please note that even though this has not formal rhyme, it does rhyme, its lines break with intelligence, and I will happily call it a poem.
She must have been kicked unseen or brushed by a car.
Too young to know much, she was beginning to learn
To use the newspapers spread on the kitchen floor
And to win, wetting there, the words, "Good dog!
We thought her shy malaise was a shot reaction.
The autopsy disclosed a rupture in her liver.
As we teased her with play, blood was filling her skin
And her heart was learning to lie down forever.
Monday morning, as the children were noisily fed
And sent to school, she crawled beneath the youngest's bed.
We found her twisted and limp but still alive.
In the car to the vet's, on my lap, she tried
To bite my hand and died. I stroked her warm fur
And my wife called in a voice imperious with tears.
Though surrounded by love that would have upheld her,
Nevertheless she sank and, stiffening, disappeared.
Back home, we found that in the night her frame,
Drawing near to dissolution, had endured the shame
Of diarrhoea and had dragged across the floor
To a newspaper carelessly left there. Good dog.
Purple Highlights: Gene, I'm in love with your all knowing brain. This is why I am asking you to settle an issue between a friend and me.
I'm 24 and female. Some things about me: I like to read, watch indie films and I like to write. I consider myself pretty with platinum blonde hair (dyed). I don't wear much makeup other than chapstick and mascaera unless I go out on a special occassion. I am a roller derby girl.
The deed: I want to put purple highlights on the bottom layers of my hair.
The dilemma: I work in a professional environment (cubicle hell) where the dress code is business casual (I've seen flip flops in the office!) and interaction is limited to a few co-workers. There is nothing in the dress code that mentions hair color. However, I know many places look down on unnatural hair color.
I say because it's not written anywhere in the employee handbook or code, that I can do it. My friend says it's an unwritten rule that you can't do that stuff. I think it depends on the workplace.
Example: I just recently went to a doctor's appointment a nurse had pink highlights. I saw nothing wrong with this. In fact, I felt more comfortable with her and actually divulged an embarrassing medical symptom. But you would think that is not allowed in such an environment.
What do you think Gene? I will listen to whatever you say regarding purple highlights. Your word is gold to me.
Gene Weingarten: I am not a good person to ask. I don't notice how people are dressed and if I do notice, I tend not to judge them, even when I should, except for certain piercings, about which I am quite unreasonable. I will not hire someone with a bull ring in his nose, even if this were Stephen Hawking, and the position called for a knowledge of astrophysics.
Are there women out there who would like to help this lady?
Gene Weingarten: Ooh, the instapolls are interesting! I expected, for some reason, that more women than men would have deliberately/accidentally flashed the street. Wrong!
Also I disagree with most of you on possibly being lewd by standing in your house. If you're standing naked in an open window, as people walk by, you're inviting stares, and, to me, that ain't right.
Great White North: You are wrong, Gene. The Anne Frank movie is neither significant nor powerful. You are investing it with those qualities because you know what she would later produce (a great diary for sure) and her fate. It is your (sorry) sentimentality and ability to recognize extraordinary writing that lend it power. Taken in context, though, this is merely a home movie of a little girl, like every other little girl. It is neither here nor there, to history.
Gene Weingarten: We have an unbridgeable gulf here, on this. An unfordable stream. We inhabit different planets.
Riverdale again: Yes, but if you're glancing in the window, and see a naked guy drinking coffee, do you get your knickers in a twist and call the police, or do you say "whups! That wasn't something I was expecting to see," and stop looking (or keep looking, if that's your cup of tea. Or coffee.)
Gene Weingarten: I just keep walking. I would never call the cops unless there was clearly lascivious intent, and it involved children watching.
Los Angeles, Calif.: Are you worried about the Phillies? Every team worried me. Well, maybe not the Twins. But if they got past the Angels it must be a sign. All I ask for is a competitive series. Actually no, I want a sweep with four blowouts.
washingtonpost.com: OMG! I'm SOOOO worries about the Phillies!!!
Gene Weingarten: God is on the Yankees side this year. We know that from the way He entered the brain of an otherwise fine umpire during the postseason, numbed about 40,000 brain cells, and created the single most comically bad call I have ever seen. Oh, and God also removed Robinson Cano's brain for a crucial three seconds there, too, to make the play happen.
Liz, can we link to it here?
washingtonpost.com: Boring baseball video
Laurel: I know you're rooting for Exit 18 in the New Jersey Series. Do you think Exit 3 has a chance?
Gene Weingarten: Yep. I am not completely confident. I will tell you that the team that loses will be the team whose middle relief falters. The Series will be won or lost on middle relief.
We are boring Liz.
Fallowfield: Would the video be powerful to you if you did not know anyone in the film? I think not.
Gene Weingarten: Of COURSE not. Would you ride a horse if it were not a horse but a cockroach?
False Dilem, MA: Kindness or respect?
I say false dilemma. There aren't truly kind actions that are disrespectful nor truly respectful actions that are unkind.
Give an example of either; I'm pretty sure I'll refute it.
Gene Weingarten: I agree. It was not my favorite question. For example, if we are talking "respect for alternative lifestyles," liberals would score way higher.
I had to write these questions exactly as they appeared. Explanation to follow.
Effed UP: Only 8% of us think this is a great poem? What the f--- is wrong with you people? And of course leaving out the word f--- takes away from the poem. I think the change from weekly chats to monthly has hurt the national intelligence.
Gene Weingarten: You are correct in both cases.
Yes, this is a terrific poem, and no, it is not doggerel, and yes, it is intended quite seriously. It is the best example I know of poetry masquerading as doggerel, and serious masquerading as silly. Larkin knew exactly what he was doing here. The words are very carefully chosen, the tone very carefully set, the singsong cadence is a deliberate use of misdirection.
This is one dark, dark poem and he means every word.
Meanwhile, the third poll is actually based on science: a study by social scientists determined that there is a statistically significant difference in the way self-described conservatives and self-described liberals answered these questions. Our liberal answerers were right on target; our conservatives behaved more like liberals are supposed to, only less emphatically. I think the conservatives who like this chat are not "ordinary" conservatives.
All of this was recently put into a charming song by Christine Lavin:
Naked Dude: A couple of things.
1) It sounds like there is more to this story than meets the eye. My speculation is that he was...um, touching himself. Perhaps scratching, perhaps for other reasons indeterminate.
2) This situation would be COMPLETELY reversed if the naked person inside were a woman and the person viewing from the outside were a man. Just sayin'.
3) I am a young woman, just moved into a new apartment, and don't want to cover up my fantastic view with curtains. Sometimes I'm naked in my bedroom, moving from the shower to the closet, to the laundry room. It's my house and I can do what I want!
Gene Weingarten: I want to point out, regarding point number one, that so far there is no suggestion anything like that happened. So far, I don't think we can surmise that; I don't.
On your last point: So if someone happened to be outside and looked up and saw you moving naked from shower to closet, and you realized it, would you feel violated in any way? Because I'm thinking he has the same right to the street that you have to your home.
caught naked: i have actually been caught naked more than once (im female), and definitely find the circumstances of this case ridiculous. Once i was standing at my fridge only wearing underwear and my kitchen door had a glass window, but it faced a stairway used only to access my apartment, and a maintenanceman got an eyefull. Once my boyfriend and i were lounging in a groundlevel bedroom that faced an alley, and the curtains weren't all the way drawn and a roommate saw us both. I'm sure there have been other times and I just havent known about them.
What makes this case seem wrong--she was cutting through his front yard because it was near a well traveled path, she is a cops wife, she and her son saw him naked in his kitchen, but not looking at them or touching himself--and yet this offended her so much that she called the police. Her kid probably wasnt harmed at all by seeing a glimpse of a naked man, and certainly 5 police officers was overkill for talking to a guy who MAYBE had indecently exposed himself.
Gene Weingarten: Can't disagree with that last paragraph.
Name Game: My sister just named her triplet sons Kellen, Kelvin and Kevin. She also has 18 month old twin daughters, Kelsie and Chelsie. And did I mention the dog, Keller?
Other than the dog, I plan to call all of them, "Hey, You." Do you have any other suggestions?
Gene Weingarten: I am trying to think of something funny to say but I can't. This is an exercise of ego at the expense of your children. It does remind me of the Steve Martin routine about naming the two kids Beeblebeeblebeeble (sound made by running finger up and down pursed lips and humming) and Hyuk hyuk hyuk, the sound of a bucktoothed hillbilly laughing. Calling them in for dinner sounded excellent.
Purple hair: Go for it - I work in a similar environment and my boss has some thing like that, except black hair with nderlying red streaks. She's way to competent and awesome at her job for anyone to say boo.
I didn't see the Anne bit - can't while at my current location - but that Updike poem made me cry.
Gene Weingarten: That's a hell of a poem.
Purple hair: I'm female, a manager and a lawyer. And also a former follower of the punk rock scene in Lower Manhattan.
Purple hair is not a good idea if you want to advance in your job. You can be fired for it (people with purple hair are not a Protected Class, legally) but probably won't be. On the other hand, it may end up prompting an unwanted call from HR. There's a limit to what they can say to you about your appearance (Sunday's Curb Your Enthusiasm explores that theme hilariously and uncomfortably, as usual.) There may be better (removable, disguisable) ways of expressing your individuality.
Gene Weingarten: Thanks.
Hair color: Get purple clip-in extensions. This is not rocket surgery.
Gene Weingarten: Also, thanks.
Egotistic, AL: WOW, so everyone disagrees with you (and I, too, disgaree with you on both your oddly prudish yet skeevy attitude about peering in people's windows and the video), and WE are wrong. Impressive, Gene. It must get lonely being perfect.
Gene Weingarten: To quote Holly Hunter in Broadcast News, yes, it's awful.
Portland, Ore.: I don't understand the people who find the Anne Frank video as anything less than powerful. I clicked on the link, thinking nothing more than "Hmm, okay" and was in tears by the time the camera moved away. So much comes through in those few seconds; we can clearly see this bright, excited, happy little girl full of energy. That's not just a mental-picture of Anne Frank the Martyr, which is all I had before; that's a little girl, and we all know what's coming at her.
What an amazing, heartbreaking video. Thanks, Gene. You made me cry at work, but thank you anwyay.
Gene Weingarten: I have no idea why so many people are not understanding the power in this.
Washington football: Football season is upon us, everyone's blathering on about DC's winningness/losingness, and once again a critical question is being ignored:
How is "The Redskins" not offensive?
Consider: The Darkies, The Negroids, The Whiteys, The Towel Heads, The Chinks. Anyone of these and more would be rightfully dismissed as a mascot.
Actually, I think the Chinks WAS until recently a college mascot, then the NCAA barred it. See, it's possible to find a new mascot. And frankly, it's up to the majority race/group to make the change. This isn't something just Native Americans should fight, all of us have the responsibility to stand up for basic common sense.
How can the NFL and the most politically-correct city in the US let this go by year after year?
Gene Weingarten: You are preaching to the choir. Liz, can you link to a piece I wrote maybe ten years ago on this? I think it was an open letter to Dan Snyder, back before he became The Antichrist.
washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway, (Jan. 12, 1999)
Southern Maryland: Gene, as a fellow supporter of legal marriage for gays, perhaps you can help me with a mystery. Opponents claim that legalization of gay marriage would lead to fatherless families. (See the Post's controversial profile of NOM's Brian Brown for an example.) As a father myself, I'm almost too confused to be offended by the tactic. I cannot fathom what tortured reasoning they used. Do they believe that legalization will tempt straight fathers to leave their families for gay lovers? The scenario sounds too ridiculous to function as demagoguery. What am I missing?
Gene Weingarten: They're probably envisioning the dreaded two mommies scenario.
Again, no choir preaching required here. Liz, can you link to my disquisition on the subject? Headline "Aisle Be Damned."
washingtonpost.com: Below the Beltway, (March 21, 2004)
Good thinking, Gene: So you are saying that if a guy walks around his house naked, his private house, and some moron looks into his private house and sees him, then he potentially can be convicted and have to register on the sex offenders registry, thus barring him from being able to live within certain areas close to children, to notify the state when he moves, etc?
Who is being protected from what here?
Gene Weingarten: No, I'm not. At all. I think the general outlines of this case, as we know them so far, suggest this guy was very badly treated and did nothing wrong. I also need to note that we haven't heard the alleged case against him.
I would have to be very powerfully convinced that he aggressively tried to be noticed, in order to feel that any prosecution of him is warranted.
Naked Man: What I love is when the pearl-clutchers wail that the naked man should have drawn the curtains or blinds because god forbid someone walk by when he's naked in his own home. Will no one think of the children?
Then you read a little more and find out that it's a household made up of five young bachelors.
Question: since when did a home including one, let alone FIVE bachelors have any window treatments whatsoever? Just count yourselves lucky if they don't have sofas on the porch, frat house-style.
Gene Weingarten: I can easily imagine a home with five bachelors having REALLY ORNATE AND TASTEFUL window treatments.
Washington, DC: WAIT A MINUTE!!! Your chat is not a place for legal advice. If it were, a lawyer would chime in and report that, while purple hair is not a "protected class," it is certainly a matter of "personal appearance," and in the People's Republic of the District of Columbia, discrimination based on personal appearance is illegal. I kid you not.
Gene Weingarten: Wait a minute. How can discrimination on the basis of personal appearance be illegal? That's ridiculous. That means that a place of business cannot have a dress code???
Nu, DE: Gene,
I've lived in apartments and homes in several major cities, and have always walked around naked - bedroom to shower and back, and the like. I'm not about to start cooking bacon or vacuuming naked, but if I want to, isn't that my right? Sure, some random person on the sidewalk or neighbor across the way might catch a peek, but if they don't like it, they can look away. No?
Gene Weingarten: Depends on your intent, I'd say. If your intent were to flash six year olds walking to school, I'd say that's a problem.
Washington, D.C.: Oh, OK. "I think the conservatives who like this chat are not 'ordinary' conservatives." Could be, Gene, but I don't know, maybe it could also be that actual people are getting in the way of your stereotyping. Nah, never mind.
Gene Weingarten: It's not my stereotyping; I'm telling you, these questions were generated by social scientists, and applied to polls.
Right here, Va.: About the dignity of animals--that was spot on. I am a wildlife rehabilitator and I have to make life and death decisions for animals all the time. Many of them could survive with serious medical intervention, like amputations or invasive surgery. But, mental suffering is as terrible as physical pain. Yes, for wild animals, life with humans might be cushy, but I have seen some deeply miserable animals whose lives were 'saved.' And what I see is that they are suffering greatly from a loss of dignity and control over their surroundings. I think we forget our companion animals need the same consideration. An animal does not have to be sick to be sad.
Also, sleep deprivation and constant crap cleaning can make one think decidedly uncharitable thoughts toward an innocent creature, which only piles on the guilt when the end inevitably comes.
I rarely regret a euthanasia, but I have deeply regretted holding out too long hoping for a different outcome.
Gene Weingarten: This is another reference to a recent Tuesday update. Liz, can you reprint my original answer below?
washingtonpost.com: Here it is:
Gene Weingarten: Okay, I am going to weigh in here in a way that some people might find offensive. I expect it to lead to some followups in next week's chat.
I faced a similar situation many years ago with a beloved collie named Augie, who was 13, deaf, half blind, and half-brained. (Augie was dumb anyway, and in her senescence she became downright imbecilic.) My family was moving to Boston for a year (I had a fellowship) into an apartment that could not take dogs. Augie didn't have a full year left, and we made a decision that leaving her in the care of someone else was both cruel to those people and cruel to the dog. An old dog does is afraid of change. We euthanized her even though she was not technically "sick" or "dying."
Here was my thought process.
We owe our dogs a good life; it's a solemn responsibility we take on, and because they are dogs and not people, we have an additional responsibility: to act always, where possible, in their best interests, including choosing a humane way for them to die.
My father lived two years longer than he would have wanted to. I know that, but there was nothing I could do about it, the laws of murder being what they are. Had my father been a dog, I could have saved him a great deal of suffering.
So, in Augie's case we made what turned out to be a simpler decision than we'd thought. She wasn't in total misery, but a dramatic change in her life would have put her in that state -- and we weren't about to do it. We killed her with a clean conscience; she had lived a very fine dog life, thanks to us. And death holds no fear for a dog, obviously. One day she was a tired old creaky boned, deaf, half blind dog, and one day, she wasn't.
On the morning we euthanized Harry, he ate a hearty breakfast, and enjoyed it. Harry still had things that gave him pleasure. What he did not have was a pair of hind legs that could hold him up anymore, and, much like the case with Augie, we made a decision without guilt. Harry was too old to adapt to some sort of carriage device -- he was already enfeebled in other ways to a significant degree. And yes, in that case, too -- in ALL these cases -- there is a matter of convenience to the owner. You can't ignore that. You know it's there, you confront it, you decide how bad that makes you feel, and you move on in one direction or the other.
I think your parents are facing a similar, though not identical situation, and I hope this can help: From the time a dog is a puppy, it has very few rules that matter, that it obeys fervently, and the big one is: Don't poop in the house. Over the years that rule is hardwired. Your parents'dog doesn't like being incontinent; it's not dignified, to a dog. One of the most moving dog obits of all time (I am forgetting the author -- Benchley, maybe?) ended with the fact that the dog dragged itself to paper before it died, so it would not soil the house.)
Your parents need to weigh all this, make a decision, and not look back. I know what I'd do. I also know this: There is another factor at play, as powerful as the worry over how much euthanasia becomes an act of convenience for the owner. The other factor is how often owners fail to euthanize for what amounts to selfishness -- that they can't bear to deal with the grief of losing the animal.
That's a factor, too.
How is "The Redskins" not offensive? : And can anyone explain to me the mental processes of people who protest that "redskin" is a term of respect that honors Native Americans? Especially people who grew up watching western movies & TV shows where "redskin" was always, but always, an insult?
Gene Weingarten: To me, the argument begins and ends with that fact that a sizable proportion of Native Americans regard it to be a slur.
RE: Purple Highlights: As long as she understands that it is very possible that bosses/coworkers will judge her based on her hair, but never ever say anything to her then I think it's fine.
No one would say anything to me at my work, but I would be taken less seriously.
It's just hair, if she gets a bad reaction she can always claim it was for a special event and dye it back.
Gene Weingarten: I think this is coming through loud and clear and hope the lady is listening. Frankly, it does not sound like a good idea to me.
Washington, D.C.: There is apparently a minor to-do about President Obama not inviting women to play sports with him. Some people are saying that's sexist. Here is my theory:
He knows women aren't going to easy on him the way male subordinates might. I know, I know, there are going to be a lot of men who will snort derisively and say that you all are more competitive than us and would never let another man win, but quite frankly I've seen the way other men act around an alpha male. You might not consciously do it, but you men would defer to him and not play as hard as you might if it weren't the President you were playing against.
Women, on the other hand, especially women who have worked competitively enough and aggressively enough to get ahead in politics, wouldn't be so kind. We can't show a moment of weakness - not just at a basketball game, but anywhere. Especially not around men. A woman would throw an elbow and laugh at him when he looked surprised. He knows we'd play harder than any male he played against. And since he doesn't seem like the kind of guy who likes to lose, he's not going to risk playing against a group that will do anything to win.
Additionally, there's at least one woman on his staff who he's probably flat-out scared to play. If he played against Kathleen Sebelius, she would demolish him so completely that his relatives in Kenya would wake up crying and not even know why. I'm just saying. You know it's true, and so does he.
Gene Weingarten: Interesting. But I don't think right.
Here's what I think: When Obama is playing basketball with friends, he wants to be playing basketball with friends. He does not want to be engaging in politics.
Now, it is completely natural for guys to play against guys; they've been doing it all their lives. It seems fair; men don't play against women anywhere, much.
If Obama invited women to these scrimmages, it would be because he had to -- in fact, he'll have to now -- and suddenly, it will be politics. It will be for show, an illustration of inclusiveness. It will suck.
I hope it doeesn't last long. He'll invite some good female players, they'll beat him, it'll make a lot of headlines and video clips, everyone will laugh, he'll be a great sport.... and then he'll go back to playing with the guys.
Our To, WN: So have you had any more time to think about the "Our Town" in the Washington Post Magazine, especially with the "reportage graphique" explanation of 18 Oct.?
Am I wrong to be sticking to my initial assessment of "blech." It seems to be trying to hard to be artsy for the sake of being artsy, which is fine and has a place, but I don't think it's in the Washington Post Magazine.
Also, is it churlish of me to note that the National Zoo does not have any llamas at the Kids' Farm (25 Oct. Our Town)? Those guys are alpacas.
Gene Weingarten: Liz, can we link to the mentioned 'toon, which contains, um, me. Michael Cavna was playfully publicly answering my critique from the last chat.
I'm willing to wait n' see. My problem with this feature is not arts-fartsiness; I think it's a good idea to send a cartoonist to try to record a moment in time in an interesting place, coupled with whimsical commentary. I think this is ambitious, and I applaud ambition.
My problem, so far, is that I think we've proven that not all places offer fodder for riveting observational humor. This is hard; the threshold needs to be high. Let's give it a chance. This past Sunday I liked the speechless speech balloons.
Are they Really That Stup, ID: Gene, are your readers really this soulless and dense? Since I am one of your readers, does that mean I'm soulless and dense, too?
The video is powerful BECAUSE it is mundane. Because it could be anyone. Because it is normal life. Because she is a normal child. Because there is absolutely nothing in the video that you could point to and say "Oh, thank goodness, such an atrocity could not happen today, because THAT no longer happens/exists." Unless you think the fancy wedding-wear of the day is an explanation for evil. We are gifted to know EXACTLY what happened to one person in that video, and that knowledge makes the normalcy of the video something precious.
Context is everything. A stark photograph of a bullet is not particularly powerful. A stark photograph of the bullet that killed Lincoln or Kennedy, -is- powerful. A picture of Ground Zero is powerful only because we know what it is -- not an industrial work site from demolition of a building, but the site of an horrific atrocity.
Gene Weingarten: You put this better than I did. Thank you.
Redskins mascot: I always liked Kornheiser's suggestion that the Redskins keep their name but change the mascot to a potato.
Gene Weingarten: Eh. Better was the winning entry to the very first Style Invitational, in which we invited new names for the Redskins. The winning entry was "Call them the Baltimore Redskins ... let it be their problem."
Washington, D.C.: This guy has an art installation called "The Rape Tunnel."
The artist plans to place himself in a room where, for the duration of the gallery's opening, he will rape anyone who travels into that room.
Whitehurst prototyped the idea with a previous project called The Punch-You-In-The-Face Tunnel.
"Rape seemed like the next logical step."
Gene Weingarten: Please note this rape post was completely unrelated to the previous rape post.
Okay, first, read the link, then I'll meet y'all back here in a second.
No, I mean it. Read the link.
Okay? Read it?
It's a fake, sort of. There is no such tunnel, no such person, and no previous "Punch you in the fact tunnel." However:
I would call the creation of this fake thing ... art. Got me thinking, it did, until I thought about it a bit longer, decided it could not be real, and did some basic research.
The concept of participatory victimhood, the power of the term "rape," etc. Interesting. I like whoever did this more than the s--- misting woman.
Old Dogs (again): Oh Gene. I just sent you a message thanking you for the advice about euthanasia from the updates. But you just reposted it and I just reread it and now I'm tearing up at work.
Maybe you can offer more advice. After it's over, how do you stop missing your dog so much? I don't regret for a second that we chose euthanasia but damn, I miss my dog.
Gene Weingarten: The only cure is another dog. But wait a bit. Deal with the grief.
Yankee Braintrust, NY: Gene, Agreed, that baserunning debacle was one of the worst I've ever witnessed in 50 years of baseball watching. Cano and Posada had simultaneous brain-freeze. The amazing this is most of these guys have done nothing else besides play baseball since they were 8. They should know better. Yanks in 5.
Gene Weingarten: Cano, in particular: It was as though he was in a coma.
San Diego, Calif. Knowing you love of watches and hate of digital watches, how do you feel about this?
The story behind it is quite nice...
Gene Weingarten: It is, indeed, very cool and the story behind it is even better than the watch. From an emotional standpoint, the best part is ... the tick. Unnecessary except as a tribute to a bygone era.
Houston, Tex.: subject for a quick gender poll:
You're in a bathroom stall at work, and not for purposes of taking a leak. On the floor is a section of the newspaper that either looks interesting, or is one you usually read but haven't gotten to yet today.
Do you pick it up and read it?
(Prediction: Men, 98 percent yes; Women, 98 percent no. But I could be wrong.)
Gene Weingarten: Good question! We need an instapoll!
Let's stipulate that the paper has no obvious wetness or soilage on it.
I pick it up.
Let's take the poll:
Poem: The editing hurts absolutely. I read it as "they effed you up." It throws the timbre off. F sounds soft. K sounds hard.
washingtonpost.com: Too bad.
Gene Weingarten: It's interesting, isn't it? I found it disturbing also, but for a different reason: It just stops you. You're wondering if the POINT of the line might be the bowdlerization of the words. The reason is that, y'know, none of us -- not even a 12-year-old -- is shocked by this word anymore. It's part of the lexicon. It just seems silly to cringe over it.
This is not C'woman's fault, and I'm not really being fair in suggesting she's a censor: She's following a very clear rule set by the bosses and both she and I would be yelled at if we violated it.
For what it's worth (nothing, as it happens), if I were running the paper and the website, I would prohibit the use of profanity except in those cases where it is clearly contextually appropriate and justified; good poetry meets that criterion.
Allston, Mass.: Gene,
Given that Dan Snyder is perhaps the most evil human being who has not actually committed a crime or physically harmed anyone on the face of the earth, is it permissible for a life-long Redskins fan to root against the team, secure in the knowledge that every loss hurts him 100x as much as it hurts me?
Gene Weingarten: Yes. It is not only permissible but it is noble.
I have no credibility, because I am not a Redskins fan, but if I were I would try to start a movement to boycott the games and to publicly renounce allegiance to the team until Snyder sells the team. Wouldn't that be great -- a movement. Move it toward The Giants; we Giants fans would love to have you -- come on over! You can even wear your snouts at our games.
Ask anyone -- anyone -- who covers this team professionally, and privately they will tell you there is one principal culprit for why the Redskins suck. It is the owner.
ANGP: Gene - are you participating at all in the judging for the America's Next Great Pundit contest? If so, what has been your impression thus far of the quality of the entries?
Gene Weingarten: I am completely uninvolved, except for writing this on Sunday: Liz, please link to my Sunday column.
Ole: This chat provides you with a Bully Pulpit, and you disregard for your chatters' opinions on the Frank video shows neither kindness nor respect.
Gene Weingarten: Please remember that this is an odd forum: I am the only identifiable person, therefore I am the only person capable of being insulted or mistreated. Seriously.
Fairfax, VA: I find "Our Town" intellectually stimulating. It's like "Where's Waldo" for literate people.
Gene Weingarten: Noted!
Washington, D.C.: Please say a word in memory of Soupy Sales. What were our parents thinking of - Soupy Sales, Rocky and Bullwinkle, etc.? No wonder we baby boomers were so precocious. How did Soupy end up in your neck of the woods (Bronx, N.Y.)?
Gene Weingarten: Soupy was not a genius, but Soupy was delightfully subversive. He never did any of the truly outrageous things he's often credited with: "My wife can't cook but she can make my banana cream," was widely and wrongly attributed to him. But he had a wicket taste for mild double entendre, and his smile and laugh always suggested a hidden, leering joke. He took a great pie in the kisser. Kids loved him.
However, there are two great true moments associated with Soupy, and I will share them here.
The first one is not the best example of what happened. Tragically, I found the best example on the day Soupy died, and put it out on Twitter. Minutes later, youtube closed it down, on account of a little nipple exposure.
This happened on Soupy's birthday in 1958; his producer decided to play a trick on him. There was supposed to be the sound of a woman screaming (this bloodcurdling scream alone, vintage Soupy, was an example of how he pushed boundaries -- this was a show for seven year olds) -- and Soupy was supposed to answer it. Then some sort of classical music was supposed to play with some stupid clowny thing at the door.
Instead, there was different music and something quite different at the door. What you need to realize is that this was shot with two cameras: The live camera, which fed the TV screens, saw only Soupy going to the door, and reacting to something unseen. There was a hint of a balloon you could see through the open door.
The second camera, which the audience never saw, is what Soupy was seeing as he tried (without much success) to keep his composure.
is a much older Soupy describing the one thing he did to that he wound up getting thrown off the air for. It's great.
Silver Spring, Md.: Is the writing of Anne Frank so widely acclaimed because no one is going to criticize the writing of a young victim of a concentration camp? Anyone who does so might as well question the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust as well. I guess this is an emperor-has-no-clothes question.
Gene Weingarten: When was the last time you read The Diary of a Young Girl?
This lady could think and write.
Washington, D.C.: Gene, I don't know if you're aware of this big boo-boo, but it's pretty amazing that the WP's editorial page editors, arguing that Neda Agha-Soltan should have received the Nobel Prize, did not know that the Prize is not given posthumously and that the nominations are made in February before there were any Iranian martyrs for democracy.
Gene Weingarten: Not to mention that the Nobel Prizes are never given symbolically.
I have not talked to the folks in the editorial department, but I am guessing they'd like to have this little item back for further reconsideration.
Boston, MA: I just became editor-in-chief at a college publication. What advice do you have for young journalists covering universities?
Gene Weingarten: 1. Kick ass. Do not be co-opted by the people in the administration, who will try to offer access to themselves in return for your docility. Kick ass.
2. Don't be afraid to make mistakes.
Bring PthP back!: Please have a chat with Rick Maese regarding this story.
Specifically, about this sentence.
"Exasperating matters for the Redskins, Zorn wasn't sure Monday who he'd start at quarterback against the Eagles."
People who write for The Washington Post should know the difference between exasperating and exacerbating. Or they should have editors who do.
Gene Weingarten: I think, as an editor, I might have missed this, too, because at first blush, "exasperating" seems to fit, sort of. But you're right; the reason it's "sort of" is that it is an almost-fit.
arlington, va: For computer security, our org has a strict 'no personal use of the internet on company time or through company equipment' policy. We recently fired two staffers who had an affinity for Washington Post chats while on the clock. They particluarly liked your chat and Hax. Each had been instructed on the 'no use' rule at least twice during annual training. Each had been verbally warned. Their final appeals were yesterday, and the dismissals were upheld.
I am on leave today and at home, so I can send this info cheerfully. Perhaps some other chat addicts can benefit from knowledge of this situation.
Gene Weingarten: People lost their jobs for reading this chat?
I hope this is made up, like the Punch You In The Face Tunnel.
Santa Fe, N. Mex.: Check this out: http:/
Look, given your spiked story about the PUA crowd, what do you think about this? Yes? No? Scary? Cool?
Gene Weingarten: This is a very interesting little piece; I went back and forth on it, twice.
The woman writes well, and at times, she's quite funny. My initial reaction was to dislike her intensely because of her shrill, icy, paranoiac, accusatory tone. This is not a woman, I thought, whom I would wish to spend any time with at all. Then I decided that she was deliberately being obnoxious, using exaggeration satirically to hammer home an important point -- from the Comments it is clear that women find central nuggets of truth in almost everything she says. She is right about the things some men do to some women; she is wise in her deconstruction of what is going on; she is smart and fair in her analysis of semiotics and sempahores, and, above all, her central thesis -- that women have a right to safety and privace -- is spot on.
Ultimately, with the help of another woman whom I asked to look at this, I went back to disliking her. Two reasons: First, she's misusing numbers disingenuously, deliberately conflating "sexual assaults" -- a legal catchall that covers a lot of more ambiguous ground -- with rapes, for maximum schock value. And lastly, she stops being funny when she starts lecturing the male reader that he should not rape or grope. I decided I really do NOT like this woman, and I don't care that her central points are valid. Go away, woman, and spread you man-hating s--- mist elsewhere.
RE: Purple Highlights: Duh. Try a temp color first and gauge the reaction. If your hair is damaged a temp color might be a wee more permanent than you would like, but if you try just coloring the ends first (which is an awesome dipped effect) you could snip them off if you don't take to the look. Or you could use a color lifter, or re-dye blond, or whatever. Mayhaps a clip in colored extension or two? Cheesy, I know, but low risk.
I'm guessing a well done dye job (read: not an at home Manic Panic kit) will be fine in the day 'n' age, but try the temp first, JIK.
Gene Weingarten: Hm. Some middle ground.
Survey Says....: They're not very secure. I was looking for the "lowbrow" survey (no link) and found that by putting in different survey numbers I could get surveys in foreign languages, a test, something for doctors, and I have NO idea what company or product THIS.
is for, but I filled it out anyway.
Too much time on my hands.
washingtonpost.com: Okay, guys -- the word "lowbrow" itself isn't linked because there are two different options for takers of that poll. Here's how to vote:Locate the word "Lowbrow" on the page above. Then let your eyes drift to the right, past the colon to the LINKED phrases "I Lean Liberal" and "I Lean Conservative." Then, use your mouse or trackpad to move your cursor to the one that applies to you. Click and take the poll.
Gene Weingarten: I detect some sarcasm in Chatwoman's answer.
That poll you found is one of the most generic things on earth; it makes toothpicks look highly individualized.
Anne Frank: Seeing someone you've only known in one grim context from an earlier, happier time is kind of shocking. I think it's because in a way, knowing what became of Anne, we've already mourned her, but seeing a little girl on a normal day watching something as happy as a neighbor's wedding reminds us what was lost.
I had a similar feeling watching the documentary "Dear Jesse," which sought to explore the racist, homophobic nature of Senator Helms. When it aired on cable, the film-maker added an addendum. He had been going through the outtakes and found a piece where he had interviewed two students after a campus protest against Helms. There, about a year after his murder, was a young Matthew Shepard, filmed two years before he died, alive and with his boyfriend. That made me cry.
Gene Weingarten: I'd not seen this. You're right -- nothing of particular moment happens here, but it is really moving.
Annandale: Did you see the news coverage of "the world's oldest dog"? Otto (a dachshund mix) is supposedly 20 years old. I thought he did not look that old. Is this a scam?
Gene Weingarten: Uh, I don't think that's even close to the oldest dog. Heck, we had some 17 year olds in the dog book. I know there have been dogs in their mid-20s.
Anne Frank:: I completely agree with you and wonder why others have not found the video powerful - unless they have already had their 'that could be me' moment.
I have been to Dachau. I have also been to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. I found the house so much more powerful and moving than Dachau. Because in the room where Anne slept, there are pictures on the walls - of a cute guy, clothes she liked - and I did the exact same thing when I was a teenage girl. It really hit me. There was no difference between her and me, or my sister, or my friends. Because of that, I didn't find this video powerful. I already related myself to Anne Frank. I already had my powerful moment.
Gene Weingarten: I think it's amazing that room remained intact.
If I remember correctly -- if I'm wrong, someone please tell me -- I think there was some evidence in her writing, some of it recently released -- that she had some sexual feelings for women, too. She was a complicated, profound, beautiful little girl.
Rape Tunnel is fake?: How do you know the Rape Tunnel is fake? I read the whole link, save the comments, and didn't see evidence of that. (I mean, common sense and the fact that I never heard of the face-punching exhibit are evidence, but truth can be stranger than fiction...)
Gene Weingarten: It is fake. I decided it had to be fake before I determined it was fake. Simple Web research discloses its fakery.
"Punch you in the face tunnel" is just ridiculous.
Fairfax, Va.: Re: Obama and golf. Hasn't it been a feminist critique for a long time that lots of professional business does get done at places of leisure like the golf course, and if women are shut out from those gatherings, they're being discriminated against?
Gene Weingarten: Yes, but I think a quick intense game of basketball is not the same. Is it? I don't play, but I would think nothing much gets articulated but grunts. There is no 19th hole, at which business gets done.
Redsk, IN: Okay, the Washington Redskins have the worst name in all of sports -- stipulated. But at least their symbol fairly respectful. What about the Cleveland Indian? While the name isn't as bad, could there be a more disrespectful image? Was the thing drawn by a Klansman? But, while hating the Redskins name is a cause cleb (and not just in Washington), nobody but me seems all that outraged by the stupid Indian.
Gene Weingarten: The mascot for the Indians, as I recall, used to be a character named Chief Nokahoma. I think he has been consigned to the dustbin.
Smileys and whatnot: Gene, I genuinely feel that using emoticons in emails and online chats is grounds for dismissal when it comes to romantic relationships.
Am I being unreasonable?
Gene Weingarten: You are not.
I am the only identifiable person, therefore I am the only person capable of being insulted or mistreated. Seriously. : About two years ago, in response to a chatter's question about whether her new boyfriend was gay, I made a statement that is uncontroversial in the psychoanalytic community. It is not uncontroversial in the wider world, apparently, and the s-$@storm that followed my post (including a number of comments from people who had not read my original post carefully) was astonishing to me. I felt physically ill when I read some of the comments.
Gene Weingarten: But your humiliation, or embarrassment, was completely private, no?
Naked in your home: The best way I can defend the position that being naked in your own home, doing nothing lewd or sexual in any way, can be considered indecent exposure is to tell you about a gentleman I saw one day at work. I worked in a building with large, floor to ceiling windows that looked out onto a neiboring condo building. The bulding and condos were built over shops, restaurants, grocery stores, lots of pedestrian traffic, lots of families with young children going in and out of the library next door to my building. One Sunday afternoon, I looked out my window to see a gentleman in his condo across the street painting his living room---in nothing but his underwear (not boxers, very tight gray briefs). Since I was on the same floor level as his condo, I could see all the way in to his apartment---startling, very funny, but not too shocking to me. Then, he started taping the woodwork around his windows. Standing on a chair, pressed up against the window, with his arms over his head, putting up painters tape. His condo is on the second floor and faced out onto the library courtyard that was filled with families and small children. Anyone who happened to look up would have seen him very easily. Now, he obviously stripped down to his shorts to avoid splattering paint on his clothes, and he obviously was so involved in his task that he didn't realize the show he was putting on. He was still minimaly clothed, so technically not exposed, but if he'd been displaying the full monty, I think he'd definitely been guilty of indecent exposure.
Gene Weingarten: Sure. But he wasn't.
Anonymous: I think that the guy had no curtain and was still lounging around like that is questionable, but there is no way 5 police would have pounced on him, had the accuser not been the wife of a policeman.
Gene Weingarten: All I can say is, we need to wait.
Okay, folks, thank you all. I'm going to be updating each Tuesday, so I will see you here.
Meanwhile, my erstwhile colleague Tim Page is chatting about his remarkable book, Parallel Play, which is about growing up with undiagnosed Asperger's Syndrome. Drop in.
Chicago, IL: Chief Nokahoma was the Braves, and it's too bad he was so offensive, because it's a brilliant name.
Gene Weingarten: Ah, yes. And, agreed. Brilliant.
Gene Weingarten: Yes, there were fisticuffs last Friday in The Washington Post newsroom, as chronicled here and here. Inasmuch as this is an incident I did not personally witness, between colleagues I do not know very well, over a matter that remains partly conjecture, it would be inappropriate and irresponsible for me to comment on it. I will therefore try to limit my thoughts to a mere 4,000 words, roughly the length of feature stories that The Post and other newspapers used to publish with some frequency but seldom do anymore, to the general exasperation of persons such as me and Henry Allen and Manuel Roig-Franzia.
The first thing I want to say is, hooray. Hooray that there is still enough passion left somewhere in a newsroom in America for violence to break out between colorful characters in disagreement over the quality of a story. (Obligatory mature qualification: I of course decry any breakdown in comity and collegiality and civil discourse in the workplace, and urge all young people to maintain decorum and respect others, to be tolerant of opposing viewpoints, to seek compromise, and to not punch each other out in spit-flying scrums.)
Still, hooray. Newsrooms used to be places filled with interesting eccentrics driven by unreasonable passions -- a situation thought of as "creative tension" and often encouraged by management in eras when profits were high and arrogance was seen not as a flaw but a perquisite of being smart and right. Sadly, over the years newsrooms have come to resemble insurance offices peopled by the blanched and the pinched and the beetle-browed; lately, with layoffs thought to be on the horizon, everyone also behaves extra nicely to please the boss. In the face of potential ruin, journalists have been forced to reach accommodations with themselves: New strictures, new styles, new protocols, new limitations on what is possible are now meekly swallowed. In the frantic scramble for new "revenue streams," ethical boundaries are more likely to be pushed than is the proverbial envelope. Some of all this has leached out into the product. We all feel it. You do, too.
So, hooray. For both Henry and Manuel.
A word about the pugilists. I only met Manuel Roig-Franzia once, and I liked him a lot. He is not only one of the best feature writers at The Post, but he's also no one's patsy; no beetle-brow on this guy. He's a product of the old school of telling a fearless narrative, which involves not only a search for complex truths, but for a way to tell them with texture and flair and voice, risking that dreadful label of arrogance, or the worse one of "self-indulgence." (I hate that word; it tends to be used disparagingly by writers who can't find their way to the end of a sentence with more than one dependent clause.)
My relationship with Henry Allen is older and deeper and more complex. Henry doesn't like me very much, I think, probably for many completely justifiable reasons -- one of which I alluded to a couple of years ago in a column. I never named Henry as the subject of the end of this column, but will do so now. I mention this all just so you understand where the rest of this comes from. It's pure hero worship, untainted by friendship.
Henry Allen is very possibly the best newspaper feature writer who ever lived, certainly the best of his generation and mine. He is SO good, his stories roared with such daring and authority and rule-breaking literary brilliance that he couldn't win a Pulitzer until his editors had the brilliant, cynical, pragmatic idea of making him a photography critic for a year or two. With his genius contained in a more familiar, less challenging format, ordinary judges got it. Henry Allen, the greatest writer of his generation of the long-form narrative, won his Pulitzer for ... criticism.
What Henry was always best at was a muscly form of writing that not only tells you what is happening, but lets you understand what to think about it -- not superficially, but in the manner of explicating The Meaning of Life.
This is Henry Allen in 1991, covering the media covering the first Gulf War:
The Persian Gulf press briefings are making reporters look like fools, nitpickers and egomaniacs; like dilettantes who have spent exactly none of their lives on the end of a gun or even a shovel; dinner party commandos, slouching inquisitors, collegiate spitball artists; people who have never been in a fistfight, much less combat; a whining, self-righteous, upper-middle-class mob jostling for whatever tiny flakes of fame may settle on their shoulders like some sort of Pulitzer Prize dandruff.
They ask the same questions over and over. In their frustration, they ask questions that no one could answer; that anyone could answer; that no one should answer if they could answer. They complain about getting no answers, they complain about the answers they get. They are angry that the military won't let them go anywhere, the way they could in Vietnam. They talk about war as if it were a matter of feelings to be hashed out with a psychotherapist, or a matter of ethics to be discussed in a philosophy seminar. A lot of them seem to care more about Iraqi deaths than American deaths, and after the big spill in the gulf, they seemed to care more about animals than people -- a greasy cormorant staggered around on CNN until it seemed like a network logo, along the lines of the NBC peacock. They don't always seem to understand that war is real.
And here is Henry Allen in 1992 on the enduring mystery of Jimmy Hoffa:
He used it as if he were talking about a chemical compound or an elite military unit...
"Hoffa don't need nobody; Hoffa can do this job alone."
"Hoffa trusts nobody."
"Hoffa can take care of Hoffa."
Try using your own name that way. What an ego Jimmy Hoffa had: 5 feet 5 1/2 inches tall, never got to high school, and he referred to himself as if he were Charles de Gaulle. To the Teamsters' rank and file, he was.
If, Hoffa once said, "a man don't have an ego, he don't have any money and he don't have any ambition. Mine's big enough to do the job I wanna do."
There were stories: He got run though a Dispose-All; he was cremated the same day he was killed; he was chopped up and buried in four or five graves; he was baled inside a car trunk by a junkyard compactor ...
Disappearing is like being taken bodily into the heaven of American fame.
The Mafia is vanishing too. The whole idea of the dignity of labor is dead. The workingman is a nostalgic figure wearing a tweed cap in movies.
The guys with the big swaggers are no longer heroes at all. We're all little guys now.
All little guys now. The same could be said for the people in the newsroom. It's a realization that reaches well below the skin into the gut -- maybe not if you are an ordinary hack, but if you're a Henry Allen, or if you're a Manuel Roig-Franzia, what is happening now hurts.
I don't know the ultimate precipitating factor in what led to blows between these two guys on Friday -- for all I know, Manuel strangled Henry's cat. But I do know what I read, that the proximate cause was the quality of written word -- what we put in the paper. It doesn't surprise me. "What we put in the paper," used to be a sacred term in most newsrooms, back before things began to change and some mediocre stuff began to appear with regularity. Back then, the meaning of "the paper" was completely different, too.
The news about the news, for the most part, has stunk for some time: There's been cowardly and crappy decision-making in scary times; ethics, at times, have been mislaid; lousy things have found their way into print, and worthy things -- killed for unworthy reasons -- have not. I am not shocked that tempers boiled over, nor am I shocked that they boiled over between two people who know what has been happening, and care.
I hope Henry is invited and welcomed back to the newsroom; if anyone deserves a little slack, it's him. I hope he and Manuel bury the hatchet. I hope neither of them loses one ounce of passion and I hope each of them remains privately convinced he was right.
And finally, like every single person at The Post, I read the reports about this incident and had one overwhelming question: If the story that inflamed Henry was the second worst thing he had seen submitted to Style, what was the worst? At The Post, many speculated; bets were taken. Eventually, apparently, it was reported that Henry was talking about a 10-year-old piece on Paul Robeson that was so dreadful it never saw print.
But that information came too late -- too late to stop the hemorrhage of joyful speculation. What story could Henry have meant? Style is 40 years old, and has always prided itself on taking chances, so there is no shortage of adventurous crap to be harshly deconstructed in retrospect.
I have my own nominee! This is a story that was published in Style in 1999, over the objection of at least two editors, one of whom was me. Ironically, the author -- Sally Quinn -- is also responsible for many of the best stories ever to appear in Style -- stories that were textured, muscled, bold and unforgettable. But she also perpetrated this one. She should have been rescued from it -- we all need to be told "no" from time to time. Sally wasn't. So here, for your enjoyment, is my nominee for The Worst Style Story of All Time. In the spirit of the story itself, you can decide for yourself if I'm right.
In case you're wondering why I am using this forum to make fun of the work of a respected colleague at the risk of giving offense, and tweezing old wounds, and doing both without the benefit of ANY strategic advantage to me -- Well, that's a good question! The answer is the one Henry and Manuel jubilantly provided on Friday: Screw it all, why the hell not?
Sal, you're a big girl. If you want to fire back, my chin is right here.
Physic, AL: I would nominate this as at least as great a bit of physical comedy as the Borge bit (not to take take anything away from Victor).
Gene Weingarten: This is, of course, brilliant. The sad part is that this would not get made today; it requires an attention span.
Come to think of it, the Borge bit might not get made today either, for the same reason.
Nekk, ID: My living room windows are on the ground floor, about five feet away from a sidewalk. Can I stand naked in the window and say "oh, but I'm inside my home"? What about if I knock on the window as people walk by? Where do you draw the line?
Just buy curtains, people. Sheesh.
Gene Weingarten: It's an interesting issue, and I am not sure where the law comes down on it. But I know what makes common sense.
You cannot have a party so loud that neighbors can't sleep or think; there is such a think as disrupting the peace, even inside your own home; the argument would be that what you are doing inside your home is impinging on the rights of those outside your home.
Well, same thing here. People walking in the street look around, and have the right to do so. They don't have the right to walk on your lawn and peer in your window. If you are displaying something in your window that can be easily seen by someone who is not trespassing, and if that thing is deemed illegal were you doing it, say, on your front yard, I don't have a problem prosecuting you for it so long as it can be proven you were doing it deliberately to be seen, or in reckless disregard of same. That element is important; otherwise it's basically a mistake. The hell with it.
Some posters raised the question: What's wrong with the human body? Why should we be so prudish to declare its naked display a crime? Well, I go along with that, in general, but I also recognize most people don't. A parent has the right to walk the street without worrying about whether she's going to have to explain to her three year old, at a time not of her choosing, what a penis is.
This all reminds me of the old joke: A woman calls 911. Police arrive. She tells them that the man across the street is bathing in the nude for all to see. The police look and say, "wait, you can just see his head." And the woman says, "not if you stand on top of my refrigerator."
Won't someone think of the children?: You keep making the distinction between someone unintenionally flashing adults and children. Why exactly? (note if the person were doing something intentionally lewd or TRYING to get children to look them then we have a whole 'nother ball game)
What harm does it do a child to see a naked human male or female exactly?
Year ago, after I adopted a five-year-old, I had to make a choice as to whether to continue to attend an art festival where some of the participants were nudists. In the end I couldn't see any rational basis for the belief that mere exposure to nudity would do my child any harm, and the benefits of being exposed to art and culture outwieghed the risks, and so took him.
Seven years later, he seems to have turned out okay and I fail to see any harm it may have done him (though being fair I may re-valuate that when he starts to hit puberty)
Gene Weingarten: Well, I answered this in the previous question. And I think the answer here is simple: This is not something that was hurled at you, and your child, by surprise. You made a rational decision; you could have discussed it with your son in advance, to prepare him.
When my daughter and son were about 15 and 12, respectively, we were in New York and took them, on impulse, to see "Naked Boys Singing." It was fine.
If you liked Vict,OR: This is similar - it runs a little long, but it's worth sitting through it.
I'm still amazed they got Andre Previn to agree to do this....
Gene Weingarten: This takes too long to get going but the last half is priceless. I would like to observe that in some of his reactions, particularly after Previn plays, Morecambe borrows from Gleason ...
Washington, D.C.: Gene,
Please avoid Capitol Hill. You are unable to park without hitting other people's cars or stop yourself from looking into people's homes. On my block -- both things will get you into serious trouble.
Gene Weingarten: Okay, this requires an instapoll. Clearly.
Anonymous: "I can easily imagine a home with five bachelors having REALLY ORNATE AND TASTEFUL window treatments."
Stapling a bedsheet to the top of the window doesn't count.
Gene Weingarten: I've gotten a bunch of posts like this one. I am shocked that very few people seemed to understand what I was getting at with my answer.
Phoenix, Ariz.: If government got out of the "marriage" business all together and performed civil ceremonies for all couples, leaving "marriage" to the religious authorities, would that be OK by you?
Gene Weingarten: Absolutely. It seems like the sanest solution. Government would be in the business of granting all legal rights to people who declared themselves a union; they'd be free, de facto, to call themselves married, if they wished. "Marriage," as performed by places of worship, ostensibly under imprimatur of God, would be performed separately, as a purely religious service. They can lay out whatever strictures they wish. And people will feel free to adopt that religion or not.
I think the status of "church married" or "not church married" would become a quaint distinction, irrelevant over time. I think couples like The Rib and I would just do the civil thing, and never think about it again.
Things to be ironed out: 1) Would federal law require states to grant civil unions on demand? Or would this be an arduous state-by-state process?
2) How will organized religion feel about this change? Bad, I bet. Will they fight it, and how?
Gene Weingarten: And we end with a second poll, nothing Insta about it. Just in time for the beginning of the massively extended holiday buying season, here is Hank Stuever's eccentric Christmas Present Poll that accompanies his new book, "Tinsel -- A Search for America's Christmas Present."
Hank's going to be reading, speaking, and answering questions about the book at Politics and Prose in D.C. this Sunday, Nov. 15, at 5 p.m.
New York, NY: Gene-
Tracee Hamilton wrote a wonderful, brave column recently in the Post about having a stalker in college. She went on to discuss it with Kornheiser on his radio show and during the discussion Hamilton asserted that random men have exposed themselves to her many times. Jeanne McManus seconded this assertion on the same radio show. I certainly take them at their word but as a man I am shocked. Many times? I could see once or twice but many times?
I've asked my female friends about this and they haven't had the same experience but they tend to be a bit younger than Hamilton and McManus. I wonder what you and the chatters think. Are men exposing themselves more often than I think?
Gene Weingarten: I think this is worth a special Chatological Humor Update all-female Instapoll.
Here it is, only for the girls.
Titizen, AZ: Good deeds for the young and uninformed:
Gene Weingarten: I'm laughing.
There's a great quote, usually attributed to anonymous:
A gentleman is a man who can play the accordion, but doesn't.
Gene Weingarten: I need to explain my last comment. When I first saw this post, I clicked on the wrong link; instead of seeing the boy scout boob jobs, I saw this:
They're BOTH funny.
Humpty Dont, AU: Aptonym alert: "Earlier in the week, the jury had said that it had reached a verdict on a fraud charge accusing Ring of helping to orchestrate a $96,000 "no-show" job at his lobbying firm for the wife of then-Rep. John T. Doolittle (R-Calif)"
Gene Weingarten: Indeed.
Miss Pelling: Do you think we live in a hypocracy? I do.
Gene Weingarten: It's a terrific term, and a quick Googlesearch confirms that it exists on the Web almost exlusively as an idiot spelling of hypocrisy. We need to bad together to spread its more clever meaning.
Yes, we live in a hypocracy. Probably the best example is that every good politician knows that he cannot get elected -- flat out would have no chance -- if he told the truth all the time. To succeed in our country, you HAVE to lie; you must, to some extent, be a demagogue. That is a hypocracy.
ll you Obamans out there -- yes, he does it too. Just take a look at what his public statements have been about gay marriage, which you KNOW he supports unequivocally -- or would, if he were allowed to speak the truth. But we don't let him. We LIKE our hypocracy.
speechless: I'm all for saving the environment. And who doesn't love a teddy bear. But this just leaves me speechless:
Gene Weingarten: Okay, I have no problem with the concept; it's weirdly funny. I have a problem with the design. What we have here is the results of a terrible teddy chainsaw accident: The po lal thang is blind, with horrible zipper scars all over his body.
Boston: In your last chat, talking about the Zits cartoon, someone made the comment: "There is a long history of great triumphs and struggles of African-Americans being co-opted by white folks (look at some of the language of the gay rights advocates, for example)."
That really irritated me, but I didn't get a chance to respond before the end of the chat. Nobody's co-opting anything. Nobody, except those who want to set up a straw man to knock down, ever said that the gay experience is the same as the black experience. Slavery was the original sin of this country, and almost destroyed it. What we have said is that some of the arguments being used to deny gay people equal rights are the same arguments that were used against civil rights for black people, and we hope that, by pointing out arguments that now sound absurd and offensive when applied to African Americans, we can highlight their equal absurdity when applied to gay people. Furthermore, while it may not be the same, the struggle is morally analogous. It was immoral to treat blacks as second-class citizens, and it is immoral to treat gays as second class citizens. People who opposed integration and inter-racial marriage cited the Bible, and the welfare of children, and the undermining of social norms. Those arguments were nothing more that a disguise for bigotry then, and they're nothing more than a disguise for bigotry today.
Also, it's a bit racist for the writer to dismiss the existence of black gay people, or to assume they don't make an equation between the two types of discrimination. But Wanda Sykes, who is both black and gay, said it in a much funnier way than I can.
Gene Weingarten: This isn't bad. I'm gonna go out on a limb here: I don't think Wanda Sykes is funny. I think she is the unfunniest female comedian since Margaret Cho, who is the unfunniest female comedian ever. (The unfunniest male comedian is Sinbad.)
Did you all catch the 20-second promos that ran for her new comedy show, snippets that were supposed to show off her brilliant observational humor? Was there a laugh in any of them, other than the supplied laughtrack?
This was the script for one of them: Wanda looks at a newspaper. "It says here that the divorce rate is down." Pause. Look at audience. Prepare for an insightful barb. "That don't mean nothin' -- the economy's so bad, people cain't AFFORD to break up."
This is a joke? The best they could find around which to wrap a million-dollar ad campaign?
woeis, me: I was sitting down without anything to read, contemplating the September poll question about scratchy toilet paper, and I had a revelation. I buy my a-wipes from a company that sells those controversial 3 ply tissues (I use the 2 ply), mainly because their products are made in my state and keep a lot of people employed. I had to wonder though, what were they thinking in these green crazy times to put out such an environmentally unfriendly product? Since we have to keep our rolls at eye level rather than in the dispenser, due to a resident nocturnal, sharp clawed animal (even an over-the-top configuration of the roll will not deter that cat), I couldn't help but notice that the sheets of the current roll seemed less wide than what they had been on previous rolls. I have a suspicion that the dur-dur is wider as well, meaning fewer sheets per roll. Now I know where they're getting the tissue for the extra ply on those septic system clogging 3 ply rolls they sell - off the back(side)s of their customers!
Gene Weingarten: Ah, now we get to another peeve of mine. This is an outrage that has been visited on idiot Americans for as long as I remember:
You order a Coke. The guy behind the counter takes a glass and fills it with ... ice. Then he pours the ALREADY COLD Coke onto the ice.
You are paying for a glass of coke, you are getting a glass of water. There is no reason for the ice other than to maximize their profits at your expense.
Why do we stand for this?
London, UK: Hi Gene, a couple of follow-ups.
In your last monthly chat I was aghast to learn that not only was I somewhat behind the Number Two curve -- I figured most people went every day, and that I was a tad unusual in going only once every three days or so -- but that I was REALLY behind the curve. Not only did some people go MORE than once a day (while not ill), but LOTS more people than me do. I was in the bottom fifth percentile of pooping! I hadn't a clue why, either -- I don't eat meat, avoid greasy food, eat home cooked meals heavy on vegetables, etc. But since that chat a strange thing has happened. I think my body has been humiliated by the rest of the kids in the playground. It never realised what a weirdo it was, and now that what's "normal" has been pointed out, I find I'm taking a dump just about every day! Thanks Gene!
Second point was about Roman Polanski's victim and whether or not she was a virgin. This is slightly germane, as you said, but not for reasons of establishing consent. I don't care if you've had sex with one person or a hundred people, if you say "no" to this particular person it's still rape. No, the victim's virginity comes into play in sentencing, when determining the extent of the damage the victim suffered. If the victim had been a 13-year-old virgin, the rapist should receive an even harsher sentence than if she were 13 and had already had sex of her own free will.
Keep up the chats and the weekly updates!
Gene Weingarten: Second point first: I disagree. I think the damage done from rape is profound regardless of the woman's sexual experience or lack thereof. I don't think this is an issue of damages. I want to be clear about the answer I gave:
I think that if you can establish the girl was a virgin, that would matter only if the jury was in real doubt about whether the act was consensual; as a juror, I would be less likely to believe the act was consensual if the woman/girl says it was not AND she was a virgin. But, as I said, in most rape cases where consensuality is disputed, my first impulse is to believe the woman; rape victims go through hell throughout prosecutions -- I find it hard to believe that many would do this frivolously.
On pooping: I have a theory that humans are much more in control of their bowels than we think. Here's my evidence: Have you ever noticed how a minor urgency becomes a major urgency, as if by magic, as you approach your house, or open the door, or near the bathroom? You can have been driving for 45 minutes, aware you would need a bathroom, but the real need coincides with the actual availability of facilities? Some major brain-bowel nexus is at work there.
Gene Weingarten: That's it for the month, folks. We'll be back with a new chat on Tuesday, Dec. 1.
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