Chatological Humor: Monthly with Moron -- New Year, Same Old Gene (UPDATED 1.19.10)

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 5, 2010; 12:00 PM

Weekly Updates: 1.12 | 1.19

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.

One Tuesday each month, Weingarten is online to take your questions and abuse: This month, that day is Jan. 5 at Noon ET. 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.

This week's polls:

Wildly eclectic poll:


Coherent, single subject poll:


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.

A few days ago, former Washington Post ombudsman Deborah Howell was killed when struck by a car while walking in New Zealand, where she was vacationing. Deborah was 68. She was a good friend of mine -- in particular, she was a good friend of The Style Invitational, which was not always the position of Post Ombudspersons, for many of whom the sometimes rude contest was a thorn in their fastidious little buttocks. Not Debborah. Deborah got it, and interceded on its behalf at a crucial moment in its history; if you enjoy it, you have her to thank.

Early in her tenure of Ombudsman, Deborah ran afoul of the totalitarian lefty commentariat after she made a minor, innocent error in a column and for months afterwards was viciously and vulgarly denounced as an apologist for the crypto-fascist mainstream media. (These folks were out again in the last few days, dancing on her grave. It was nauseating.)

Deborah took it all this with characteristic toughness -- she was tough as nails, but not ordinary nails, this kind of nail. She was one of the first women to lead a major American newspaper, and many powerful women in the field today owe her a lot.

Clearly, now is the time to remember Deborah with dignity and reverence. Unfortunately, what we have here is Chatological Humor. We don't DO dignity and reverence.

Deborah Howell was the most foulmouthed female I have ever had the privilege to know. This was in some ways Deborah's trademark, generously shared with all of her professional colleagues. When you got a good cussing out from Deborah, you wound up physically vibrating, like Wile E. Coyote after running headlong into the canyon wall. I theorize that Deborah learned this art early in the game as a defensive maneuver, when, to succeed as a woman in journalism, you needed to act like a man.

Anyway, the manner of Deborah's death, and the nature of her communication skills, suggested a poem. This is for you, Deborah.

Higgledy piggledy

Deborah C. Howell, whose

Cussing discomfited

Puritan nerds


Made it to heaven (though

Saint Peter tsk-tsked her

parting two words)


Speaking of the idiot commentariat, I was excited to hear again yesterday from the man whose letter I quoted in last Sunday's column.

Here is his new letter, which I print here, again, in its entirety, and which contains no hint of irony or self-knowledge. He writes what he feels:

DOUCHEBAG, SCUMBAG, [uncharitable term for someone with an alternative lifestyle], [expletiving] JEW [ethnic slur] [expletive] BASTARD:







Those who followed my efforts to sell my crap car in the last chat saw that the sale price was $1,900, all of which went to charity. I am actually delivering the vehicle tomorrow. You will all be delighted to know that the winning bidder is a bawdy, saucy wench -- an unapologetic peddler of smut named Kate Rothwell, who writes steamy bodice-ripping novels under the sultry pen name Summer Devon. Kate and Summer are a delight. We'll be revisiting her oeuvre later.

In addition to the car, Kate's bucks get her several other items of value, including this anthropomorphised turd knitted as promised by Rachel Manteuffel. Rachel also does a dead-on perfect imitation of Mr. Hankey's "hidey-ho."

(Meanwhile, Horace LaBadie points out that my auctioned piece of crap was a lot better than some other people's pieces of crap.)


I returned from CVS yesterday grinning from ear to ear because it is now possible to purchase these. This began a spirited exchange with the guy behind me, who was about my age and who remembered them from his childhood with the same special affection. We almost wept. It's not the pennysworth of flavored sugar water that's so great, it's the flavorless but indestructible wax, which you can chew for hours, a masticatory fantasy lost to us for lo all these years. I am chewing them now.


In my parallel life on Twitter, I have become renowned for pointing out People Who Should Be Convicted on Their Mug Shot Alone. This is not a mug shot, but the principle is the same, and it stands out as the perfect paradigm for the genre.


Oh, and in relation to this Sunday's column about my antequated techno-vocabulary. I just have to report that my son calls his wristwatch crystal the "screen."


In recent news, we learned that Tiger Woods is a ridiculous horndog, and that this has cost him something like one billion dollars in endorsement revenue. I have found myself oddly uninterested in this story, except in one important sense: How it underscores the inanity of celebrity endorsements. Why do companies think it is worth hundreds of millions of dollars for someone to get paid to claim he likes their product? Because the captains of industry are not known for their stupidity, I'm guessing the answer is probably that it IS worth hundreds of millions of dollars to them. But why? Why are we such idiots about this? We buy products because Tiger Woods wears their logo? I'd to hear like some opinions about this.

In other news, Bev Nicholas points out that many years ago, after the Shoe Bomber caused us to have to cough up our shoes at airports, I said, at least we can be thankful he wasn't the Underpants Bomber. Sigh.


The Clip of the Day is unusually sweet for me, and I apologize, but I found myself completely moved by this.


Please take the polls: Wildly eclectic poll: MEN | WOMEN,Coherent, single subject poll: MEN | WOMEN. It's shocking how wrong you guys are being about almost everything.

Okay, let's go.


Washington, DC: Gene, have you noticed that more people are pronouncing the "t" in the word often? What's with that? I'm talking about people who are reasonably well educated and should know better. There is a health reporter on NPR who drives me crazy every time she says Off-ten. Is it an affectation? Why is this happening?

Gene Weingarten: This is one of my favorite bugaboos. If we don't pronounce the t in "listen," why do we pronounce it in "often."

When I did my profile of Garry Trudeau, I included the fact that he pronounces the "t" in "often." Tom the Butcher cut it out. He correctly concluded that I was grasping at straws to find something negative to say about someone I enormously admired.

Besides, T the B probably saw nothing wrong with it. He says "vetinarian." He also says "vunerable," but he denies that he does. I am going to record him the next time he says it.


Ithaca, N.Y.: re:Tiger Woods endorsement

I will fully admit that as a member of my high school golf team at the time Tiger Woods first hit it big, I went out and spent $80 on a Tiger Woods red Nike golf shirt and a Nike hat. Celebrity endorsements (specifically athlete endorsements) do affect people's buying habits.

Gene Weingarten: But ... why?


Cubeville, Va.: Did PATRIOTIC AMERICAN VETERAN provide you with his name? I'm not asking for you to publish it here - I'm just wondering whether he was brave enough to let you know his name. My suspicion is that he was willing to hide behind the anonymity of the interwebs.

Gene Weingarten: I have his email address, but it does not give his name. Not gonna find out. I don't care.


Arlington, VA: I hate to be Mr. Conspiracy Theory, but do you think that the ALL CAPS letters from your column and the first part of the chat today may have been written by someone who generally agrees with what you said and was trying to make the other side look dumb?

Gene Weingarten: No. It's an interesting theory, but the first letter in particular was not sent with the thought that I'd print it. It was too full of unprintable words.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Gene --

When I read this I almost wept with joy (Why do companies think it is worth hundreds of millions of dollars for someone to get paid to claim he likes their product?).

I've become so disgusted with the whole celebrity sense of entitlement, paying them to attend events, paying them to be seen with a particular product and worse -- paying them to endorse products that I am literally on a mission by refusing to purchase/rent/use any product endorsed by any paid celebrity spokes person. Ever!

I will no longer subsidize the income of these ridiculous celebrities and I refuse to pay an over inflated price for a product simply because a company chose to line the pockets of those who need it the least.

Can I count on you to be on board?

Gene Weingarten: No. I don't react with anger, as you do. I react with stupefaction. I just don't GET it.

I do think it cheapens the celeb. I'm with Bill Hicks on that one: Take money to endorse a product, and you're off the creative rolls forever.


Indianapolis: Are you ever depressed when you get a letter like the one you quoted in the column?

I read that and I'm sad that our society seems to be producing more and more of these over-the-top, angry people.

We have it so good. Why are we so mad?

Gene Weingarten: I was more depressed when Geo W. Bush was re-elected. I can't recall anything polticial that filled me with more despair.


re: celebrity endorsements: I'll tell you why I'd get Lasik at TLC, as touted by Tiger. When I'm dealing with eyes, I feel like they're pretty important. And for a guy like Tiger, they're even more important; his ability to earn all his money relies on his sight. So when he decides to have this surgery done, I have to believe that he invested time and money in researching the best products and doctors (although I believe he hired people to do said research). Anyway, if he found TLC was the best product for him, then it's the best product for me too. He's got too much riding on it for it not to be. Even with his recent troubles, I'd still do it there.

But buy soda just because he says so? Nope. Ain't gonna happen.

Gene Weingarten: Ah, thank you. That is a point I wanted to make. Sure, and I might buy the same golf clubs he uses in a tournament. That means something. But 99 percent of these enorsements are for things like edibles and clothing.


Washington, D.C.: Gene!

As a fellow Twitterer, I'm wondering what you thought of this story of the woman who tweeted the death of her son: @military_mom

Her 2 year old son fell in the pool and minutes afterward she tweets, "Please pray like never before, my 2 yr old fell in the pool"

My heart truly goes out to this woman. She just lost her son. Horrible.

On the other hand, tweeting about it makes me feel icky in the extreme.

What do you think?

Gene Weingarten: I think people in mortal agony deserve some slack.


Richmond, Va.: When I was looking at the first Arnold strip, my eyes accidentally leaped to the last panel where I saw the balloon "I consumed white death!" It made me smile, and I went back to read the whole thing. Er...mayonnaise is the white death? Er...okay. The only way I could think there's a joke in there is if it is a running gag - he hates mayo and the lunch ladies tricked him into eating it with the tuna salad. Anyway, it was kind of deflating that such a cool punchline had such a bad setup. I may use that line, though.

As for Prince Phillip - I picked that he was a little insensitive, but I have to say it was a hilarious joke.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, his hatred of mayo was a running gag -- as was his war with the cafeteria ladies. But I contend this was all implicit in the strip you read.

As to Prince Philip -- I disagree with most of you. I think there was nothing wrong with what he said. I think he was treating the guy as an equal, which is exactly and only what people with disabilities want from us. I think it was a funny joke, and I think that if the guy was offended, he shouldn't have been.

The best example of this are the cartoons of John Callahan. Callahan is an old friend of mine. He's a quadriplegic, who draws with a clawed hand rested against his face, which he moves to help the drawing. Callahan frequently does jokes about the disabled; inevitably, he gets outraged mail. It is almost never from the disabled -- it's from other people objecting on their behalf.

Liz, can you link to a Callahan?

geen: Yep.


Why is this touching?: After watching the Pink Glove Dance I am now in tears. I'm not even sure why.

Gene Weingarten: Me, too. It's because it is joyful, and it is about combating death.


Alexandria, Va.: My hot 20-something friend recently received a message on a dating site seemingly from an older man offering to pay her a lot of money ($10,000) to talk dirty to him over the phone for less than an hour. He suggested it be a one-time transaction, and if it went well they could choose to do it again.

She definitely could use the money (student loans) and thinks that she's willing to do it, but she's trying to figure out if there's a way she could be scammed here. He's said he'd pay beforehand and wait for the money to clear, but even if she got stiffed on this, she'd feel stupid, but she would not have been scammed out of money herself. (She's not going to "send back the extra.")

Should she do this? She's trying to think of it as a job, but she feels weird about it. He says he's open to paying more. How much would someone have to pay YOU to do this? He wants her talk about him doing stuff with other men. Also, how can she go about figuring out if he's legit? Even if she doesn't lose money, I hate the idea of her feeling used afterward.

More details if you need them - I helped her do an Internet search and his IP address and phone number are in the area he claims to be from. The phone number does have one complaint on a website claiming the caller, with the same name as this man, is sexually harassing her. I suggested my friend use a pre-paid phone the one time she plans to do this. We also went through a lot of searching to see if other people had gotten similar offers and then posted the scam and/or prank results on-line, but we didn't find anything. Beyond that, I'm out of advice on logistics.

Gene Weingarten: Ooh, this is interesting.

There are various ways of looking at this; I'm going to ignore the moral question, because I mostly believe that consensual anything is morally okay. I recognize others might disagree.

The problem here is that it's just too good (financially rewarding) to be true. I don't know HOW this man is going to take advantage of your friend, but he is going to. He can get professionals to talk dirty to him for much less money; there's something up his sleeve, and it is not good. Whatever identity protection your friend may thing she can arrange will probably not be enough. The sexual harassment complaint is a giant, flapping red flag: He is trouble.


Clinton, Md.: My Netflix subscription influenced my answer for one of the movie questions. I'll rent a movie with lousy dialogue just to watch the special effects, but I wouldn't go to a theater to see it. Regarding the actor who's a creep, I've avoided a number of movies because I couldn't stand one or more of the actors in it. Why would I pay to watch someone I don't like for 2 hours?

Also, what was the deal with Arnold?

Gene Weingarten: Your first answer is odd. So there's a movie with great special effects, right? You won't see it at the movies, where the special effects totally rock and overwhelm the viewer. Instead you'll waste your own time at home, where the movie is much less effective at doing what it does best?

Your second question: I'm with the minority who doesn't care at all about the personal life if the artist I'm watching; I make that break completely, and always have. I think it's the same gene that makes me completely impervious to celebrity news. I'm the same with sports figures -- I care about steroids, because they affected the play, but I always root for an athlete, not a person. I've said this before but: I was a big fan of Graig Nettles, the Yankees' slick-fielding third baseman, even after I knew he had some issues with, um, antisemitism.


Hyattsville, Md.: I had to go with mushroom, onions, basil, artichoke, and meatball on my pizza. Mainly I chose that because it sounds like a delicious pizza, more so than pepperoni which is also reasonably tasty. But the most compelling reason is that it doesn't contain green peppers, which are probably the worst pizza topping of all time. And don't let anyone talk you into getting a pizza with half green peppers and half of some other topping - one green pepper will pollute the entire pizza, rendering it entirely inedible.

p.s. I hate that date lab guy. What a self-satisfied douche nozzle.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, we'll get to Mr. Date Lab later.

You were half right in your pizza choices, in that enjoying green pepper on a pizza is the sign of a person without a palate. Cooked green pepper is rude and overbearing, like a sloppy drunk at a party, or a guy with a leaf blower at 6:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning. Green pepper overwhelms everything with its unsubtle, skanky taste. There is essentially no "pizza" left. I once discussed this with an upscale pizza chef, who told me he loves and respects humanity except for people who put green peppers on pizza.

(I also knew a man who was a waiter in a very fancy restaurant in New York. He felt the same way about anyone who ordered a steak "well done." He actually refused to submit the order. And he also told me with physical revulsion about the time a customer asked for a filet mignon "butterflied.")

Back to pizza: There is another topping that overwhelms pizza as much as green peppers do: anchovies. The difference is that when you order pizza with anchovies, you are overwhelming your pizza deliberately. You are making it succumb to the fishy; I've never seen anyone order pizza and anchovy and add any other topping, because the anchovy person has a palate.

But green peppers are generally ordered with something else. Pile it on! Why the hell not? You have no sense of taste, anyway.

So you know all this. Why then would you choose a pizza with mushroom, basil, onion, artichoke and meatball? Can you not see that this is a lesser degree of sin, but a sin nonetheless? It's just silly: You're gonna lose any subtlety of taste: The onion will wipe out the artichoke, and the basil will perfume 'em all.

And lastly, I put Arnold in there because it was a near-great strip. Arnold never succeeded because Arnold was, at its wicked little heart, really mean-spirited. It scared newspaper editors who (incorrectly) believed that the comics pages were the province of children. Arnold was really daring, and different -- it featured a child who had no innocence whatsoever.

When Arnold failed the cartoonist gave it all up and became (I kid you not) a minister. That's what he's doing now.


Harrisburg, Pa.: Salt and butter are two different things. If you buy salted butter, what do you do if you realize your recipe has too much salt in it, remove some butter?

Gene Weingarten: Correct. Correct. Correct. Correct.

The choice in butter should ALWAYS be unsalted. Sure, you might sometimes want salt on your buttered bread or somesuch. Then salt it. But someone who thinks butter always needs salt is a Philistine. You can recognize these people in restaurants, and avoid them. Here is what to look for:

A waiter brings a serving. He is barely away from the table when the diner grabs the saltshaker and, like a priest with a censer, douses everything in sight -- without tasting anything, smelling anything, etc. This is your basic "salted butter person," an individual to be avoided in polite society.

Yes, it is okay if you buy both, though it seems oddly lazy, like using "garlic salt" instead of garlic and salt.


Re: Celebrity Endorsements: No expert here, but I think it plays on people's natural insecurities. For some reason, we think/assume that celebrities are somehow better than we are and when they endorse something, on a level we think these products will make us better people. Tiger is losing so much money because he was so good at presenting to the world a person who was perfect. So much so that people ignored obvious flaws like his manners on the course. He sold products because people felt that his determination, self control, and other qualities were things they lacked.

Gene Weingarten: Um, and if you bought the same shirts he wears you'd be more like him? There is a stunning logical disconnect here.


Slant rhy, ME: Hi Gene, Happy New Year!

I guess January 5 might be too late for "Decade" lists, but I'd like to nominate this late entrant for Worst Poem of the Decade:

Gene Weingarten: Good grief.

I shall answer in verse. Twice.

To Avis

by Gene Weingarten

Writing limericks requires an ear

For meter and rhyming, I fear.

But good news: As a blogger

You can thud, like a jogger,

(As yours truly keeps proving, right here.)


For Avis

By Gene Weingarten

Like her car rental namesake, Ms. Lester

Tries hard - and with talent, God blessed her.

But her Limericks won't do -

They are (heh) Number Two.

'Twas a real crappy muse that possessed her.


Atheist in the Deep South: Hi, Gene. I have a question, from one atheist to another: how do you deal with people who think homosexuality is a sin? I'm a gay rights activist and a queer, and I have seen the words "homosexuality is a sin" do immense damage to peoples' lives, alienating them from their families, their communities, and their own senses of self-worth. Internalized homophobia is a terrible, destructive thing. Yet these "homosexuality is a sin" people insist that there's nothing at all wrong with thinking that, especially because, as they say, "We're all sinners." When I point out that they think their sins are what they DO, but our sins are who we ARE, they just look at me blankly, most of the time. I'm asking because I have a couple of liberal Mormon friends who, in a conversation about the Mormon church's atrocities against the LGBTQ crowd (they actually agree with me about this), just told me they think homosexuality is a sin, and we got in a big fight. In venting to other friends who don't know the Mormons in question, several other people told me they feel the same way - love the sinner, hate the sin. This is making me feel sick to my stomach, and I don't know what to do. This is the deep south, I don't expect tons of enlightenment, but it's a university town that overwhelmingly went for Obama, so I guess I thought it was a safer environment than I'm learning it is. So: What would Gene do?

Gene Weingarten: Gene would dislike these people intensely.

You happen to be treading on an area where I am uncommonly sure of myself and obnoxiouisly opinionated. (With food, I'm sort of kidding. Here, I'm not.)

Yeah, I'm an atheist, but I don't disrespect religion; we're all seekers of truth and understanding, and science and religion go about it in parallel ways. I'm most comfortable thinking about religion as a form of philosophy.

So far, so good. My problems with religion are when it is so reactionary that it institutionalizes bigotry. At that point, reason and faith no longer coexist, they are at war. At that point I feel it is the duty of the moral person to jettison the bigoted faith for another. Or for none.

"Love the sinner, hate the sin" is astonishingly patronizing, and duplicitous. It's a cop-out. Love the slave as though he weren't your property. Separate but equal.

I had a very close friend, a devout Christian, who told me that she worried about me because, as a nonbeliever in Jesus, I would be going to hell. What do you SAY to someone like that? I said nothing, but I never felt the same about her. She's chosen an interpretation of her religion that consigns Mathatma Gandhi to hell. I'm supposed to RESPECT this?

Here's the thing you need to remember: All those people who tell you that homosexuality is a sin, but they love you? They don't. They think you are a lesser form of life.

Act accordingly.

Sorry. I got really angry about this yesterday.

Liz, can you link to the NYT story from yesterday about the anti-gay activists who had a hand in the Ugandan movement to EXECUTE gays? They're trying to back away from it, but they can't. They're poison. Americans' role seen in Uganda anti-gay push, (NYT, Jan. 4)


Wax bottle Candy : These have not been gone you could always buy them over the internet. A few years ago I bought 12 dozen in order to remove the liquid and refill them with tequila for a memorable yet silly party.

Gene Weingarten: I like that idea. Chewing would be more fun, too. And the re-sealing would be easy.


Anonymous: One comment about today's poll: I labeled Prince Philip's comment to be "really insensitive" not because of what he said, but because of the context.

If he had said this to me as a friend, I would have found it hilarious. But I presume he said this to someone he didn't know, and who was probably in some receiving line and nervous about meeting "royalty." In that contect, his comment was unbecoming someone in his position.

Gene Weingarten: I disagree! I think it is saying: Hey, we can joke about this! We're guys, just guys.


Baltimor, ON: In my experience (admittedly prejudiced, of course), companies that rely on celebrity endorsements--or, for that matter, cute dogs or Swedish bikini teams--have a product that simply is for all practical purposes indistinguishable from most of its competition. Cola. Beer. Pain reliever. Cigarettes in a past era. "Drink Our North American Industrially-Produced Lager! We Pay So-and-So to drink it!"

Gene Weingarten: Absolutely true, and very savvy observation, but it just doesn't explain WHY it works.


Bedford Falls: Graphic movie violence -- it depends; is it ridiculous stuff in which hero gets punched in teeth with a bucket of blood, which is then just a little cut ten minutes later, and nothing at all the next day? Or is it something real, like soldier in Platoon losing his arms? A serious portrayal of violence and its consequences, like Platoon, is fine with me.

I'd like someone to make a movie in which star gets punched in mouth in first scene, then deals with the pain, swelling, dental reconstruction etc. for the rest of the film . . .

Gene Weingarten: Hahahaha.


Re: Golf Clubs: I think it is funny that you would buy the same golf club as a pro. I am a woman golfer, and I noticed that once Tiger started using the Nike golf balls, every man on the course had Nike balls. The funny thing is, that it is the skill that makes the difference between a bad golfer and a good one. Expensive clubs or a certain type of ball will not make a difference to 99% of golfers. Tiger would beat all of the chatters with a starter set from Walmart.

Gene Weingarten: Of course. And one famous golfer -- Gary Player? -- beat an amateur for money using only a coke bottle.

But I think it is fair to conclude that winning is everything to Tiger, and he will use whatever clubs he feels gives him an edge. If he stops winning, the endorsement opportunities stop.


Another Veteran: For what's it worth, I'm a patriotic American Veteran who read your chat every week from Camp Victory, Iraq last year. We're not all like the letter writer.

Gene Weingarten: Didn't need to say it, man. That guy is just that guy. To me, he represents no one but himself.


Lit Chik: Hi Gene, I'm afraid that Dorothy Parker would not approve of your advice to quote her for all dry witticisms regardless of source. The credit should go to Oscar Wilde, as she wrote: "If with the literate I am Impelled to try an epigram, I never seek to take the credit; We all assume that Oscar said it."

Gene Weingarten: Excellent.


Alexandria, VA: Gene, do you do much baking or cooking? I think not.

Recipes that call for "butter" mean salted butter. Otherwise, the recipe will specifically call for "unsalted butter." It's listed in the ingredients that way.

I buy salted butter but a box of Morton's table salt will last me years. I am not a gratuitous salter.

Gene Weingarten: I do not believe this is correct, and I say that only because my wife is a great cook and has never bought salted butter in her life.


Great Special Effects, Lousy Story: The billion-dollar grossing Avatar didn't prompt this question, did it?

Gene Weingarten: It did. I have a column coming out on this subject in a few weeks.


Albany, N.Y.: On endorsements: there's an intellectual answer and a visceral answer.

The intellectual answer is that we believe that the high professional expertise of the celebrity is at work in the selection of this product. The late Les Paul was an unparalleled musician, which is why his endorsement of the Gibson solid-body guitar drove musicians to buy it in droves. When we see him in a Coors commercial, we think, "Les Paul must have used the same judgment process in choosing a beer as he did in choosing a guitar. I trust him to choose guitars, and I trust him to choose beers. I'll buy Coors next time."

The visceral answer is that we think we can share in the personal magic of the celebrity. If Joe Namath gets lots of chicks, and Joe Namath uses Noxzema shave cream, then if I use Noxzema I will also get lots of chicks; the facts that Joe is fitter, wealthier, and arguably better looking than me don't matter. This is a trait shared by most human cultures and is not pertinent to our own. It's why some people wear tiger skins or eagle feathers, trying to borrow the strength or sight or skill of those animals. It's mojo and there's no avoiding it.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, here is the problem with that line of thinking: Les Paul isn't endorsing beer because he likes it. He is endorsing beer because they are giving him a huge amount of money to lie and say he likes it.


Re: Your favorite candy: Those are my mom's favorite candy too!! Why in the name of all that is chewy and sweet and yummy like caramel or taffy would you choose wax?! I really don't understand. I've tried those candies on my Mom's urging and... Bleh. I love my mom, and this is one of the few instances in which I can accuse her of poor judgment. Is it nostalgia? What is so enjoyable?

Gene Weingarten: It is nostalgia. I also would like to find those horrible multicolor "dots" that were attached to strips of paper, and the paper always came off in your mouth.


Rockville: "that enjoying green pepper on a pizza is the sign of a person without a palate."

Gene, just you wait. When I was a child I could not even approach a stuffed pepper. But our systems change and I like them now at 68.

Why knows what you will like when you are older?

It may surprise you.

I worked with a fellow who talked us into getting half the pizza with jalapenos. He got half the pizza.

Gene Weingarten: It is true: In my middle age, I moved from chocolate ice cream to vanilla; my taste for chocolate has basically gone. It used to be intense.


DC: Gene, you blocked me on twitter so I can't follow your tweets. Boo! I have a protected account so you can't see my tweets and even if I did, I hardly ever tweet anything anyway, I just follow a few people.

Why you do?

Gene Weingarten: I blocked you???

I only block spammers. Was there something about you that suggested you were a spammer? email me at weingarten(at) and I will unblock you.


Washington, D.C.: "I'd like someone to make a movie in which star gets punched in mouth in first scene, then deals with the pain, swelling, dental reconstruction etc. for the rest of the film . . ."

Umm...have you ever heard of this obscure little movie called "The Godfather"?

Michael shows the effects of the McClosky's beat down for years afterward.

Gene Weingarten: True.


Portland, Maine: Re: plot twists that are hard to swallow. I don't think a lot of people really thought about this question before answering it, not if they answered that it would be harder for them to enjoy. I almost answered that, but when I thought about it, most of my favorite movies, when I really got down to it, have pretty unbelievable plots. A recent one, for example, Inglorious Basterds. Downright untrue, and yeah, I guess it coulda happened, but we all know it didn't. I still loved it.

Gene Weingarten: Inglourious Basterds was not a plot with a hard-to-swallow plot twist, at all. It was a fantasy. That's not what this question was about. This question was about movies that pretend to be real but rely on absurd, conincidence-driven, contrived plots -- or on people acting in ways no one in similar circumstances would ever act.

These things drive me nuts. I simply cannot enjoy a movie like that.

A good example of this is "2012," which I hope none of you had the misfortune to see. For that movie to have justified its absurd plot, you have to believe that all the world's leaders have been told, in secret, that the world will end in three years, and that this secret is successfully kept, for three years, from 99.999 percent of the world's population, even though 2 million Chinese peasants have been busy building 15 gigantic ocean liners to weather the oncoming global floods.

It is 100 percent impossible to believe, but that means the movie couldn't happen, so the director perpetrates this anyway.

It's completely infuriating.

Meanwhile, to all the guys answering this poll question about not seeing weak movies with great special effects: You either haven't thought about it, or your pants are on fire. Because someone is paying many millions of dollars for tickets to these pieces of crap. And it's not the ladies.


Stop baking Alexandria!!!: Alexandria is wrong. You bake with unsalted butter, always. Head to the nearest grocery store and get some unsalted butter! Many cookbooks get into food science in the first few pages, and that is where they explain the salted vs. unsalted difference.

Gene Weingarten: That's what I assumed.


Why celeb ads work: I think ads with celebrities work because we form attachments to celebrities, especially those we like. In the same way that a teenage girl is convinced that the actor she has a crush on would date her in a moment, if he only MET her, we are convinced that celebs we admire would want to be our friend, if they only KNEW us.

We think we know these people, and their recommendation ends up being something like a friend's suggestion. You know, in our minds. We've created a whole one-sided relationship with them, and we trust them.

This is all to say that it's completely nuts. But I think it happens.

Gene Weingarten: I am simply immune, to a laughable extent.

Unless otherwise established, I assume all celebs are jerks.


Charlottesville, VA: I chose that I didn't particularly like graphic sex in a movie, not because I'm prudish about it but because I have never really seen it done WELL. Sex, even at its best, is a silly, ridiculous thing to do. If aliens from another world were watching they would be baffled. Sex in movies is rarely believable and frequently laughable. I find that it tends to disrupt the plot. There's a reason you never saw Cary Grant or Audrey Hepburn in flagrante: They had too much dignity.

Gene Weingarten: Ooh, now that's a good, fertile question, as it were. What are really good graphic sex scenes in non-porn movies?

I remember from 30 years ago, a movie called, I think, Coming Home. I am remembering Jane Fonda and Jon Voight, though I might be misremembering. Oral sex. Very, very well done.



Alexandria, Va.: Brit Hume. Discuss.

Gene Weingarten: I don't know Brit. But I think when you are on Fox, you feel you can say outrageous things, so long as they hew to the right-wing agenda, and not worry about censure. For those who missed this, Mr. Hume opined that Tiger Woods should probably abandon Buddhism for Christianity, since Buddhism doesn't offer the kind of sympathy and forgiveness Christianity does.


Gaithersburd, Md.: Should I accept the fact that all, if not most men are moody? Is it normal for a man to come home almost every night and absolutely be agitated and once in a blue moon during the week not be agitated? Is the key to a successful marriage leaving someone alone as much as possible? I am a 30 year old girl engaged to the most grumpy old 30 year old boy in the metropolitan area, which I am crazy about. Every night he comes home I get really anxious because I don't know how his mood will be and depending on the mood I have to adjust accordingly. Mr. Weingarten please, please help a girl out with some pre-marital advice regarding men and their it fact or is it me?

Gene Weingarten: It is neither a fact nor is it you. It is him.

He either has a mood disorder or he is just not treating you with respect.



Salted Butter: In Grandpa's day, salt was used as a preservative. Salted butter lasted longer than unsalted. People developed a taste for it. I cook and bake a great deal and I have never used salted butter - it affects the taste and consistency of the food profoundly. Anything that can be made with salted butter will taste infinitely and subtlely better with unsalted.

Gene Weingarten: See, I KNOW this is true, but look at the poll results.

People need to be educated.


That is one clever Vet: Certainly I am not the only one here who thinks "DUMBOCRAP" is a teriffic word?

Gene Weingarten: I think it's really forced. It's also not his: Google it.


I assume all celebs are jerks: Does that include ScarJo?

Gene Weingarten: Sure.


Salt: Admiral Hyman Rickover (father of the nuclear Navy), when interviewing a prospective aide, would take him to lunch. If the prospect salted his food before tasting it, the Admiral would dismiss him on the spot.

(I have this from my father, who as Assistant General Manager of the old AEC, was technically Rickover's boss, as if anyone really could be.)

Gene Weingarten: Wow. That's... tough.


New York, NY Obnoxious celeb: I forgive Alec Baldwin his voice mail rant against his daughter b/c he is so perfect for 30 Rock and has never ever claimed to be a role model; it's crazy comedy, not high-minded. On the other hand, I will probably never see a Mel Gibson movie again, b/c of his offensive "religious" views and pretentious movies. You?

Gene Weingarten: I'll see whatever I hear is good. I don't think of the stars as people.


Baking: Why do so many people buy salted butter? You can't bake well with salted butter, because you can not control how much salt is being added to your batter. The salt content in salted butter varies from brand to brand.

I just do not understand why people are buying salted butter? Why? This is bothering me.

The only reason why you would salt butter is if you had to hand churn it yourself. Salt quickens the butter making process, ie less churning when salt is added.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, precisely my point.


Getting everything at once:

Apparently there's some minor debate about whether Obama looks tired or, ah, "uppity" in this picture where he's looking at Biden. I'm not sure what it says about me that my first thought was he was giving Biden a disturbingly sexy look.

Also, that Date Lab guy is a jerk, not only because he hijacked the date and turned it into A Stand Against Hunger. He's mostly a jerk because $125 can buy a lot more in unprepped food than it can in prepped food. I'm willing to bet he fed 5 or 6 people with the prepped food, when he could have fed 20-30 if he'd taken that money to, say, a grocery store. So the first jerk-point for coercing the woman into doing something she's not comfortable with, and the second jerk-point for not even doing charity right.

Son of also: I wonder how many people in that second poll who turned up their noses at wooden dialogue went to see Avatar. I sure did. The special effects were worth it (they were even worth the racism, which is nothing new or unique in Hollywood--for instance, nobody in the mainstream's talking about The Blind Side, which is a lot more racist than Avatar).

Gene Weingarten: I think the "controversy" over this photo demonstrates, mostly, there there is too much pundit space to fill. Andrew Sullivan probably analyzed this one best: the only reason anyone is spending any time at this at all is because of a subtle racial undertone that people are seeing: A black man condescending to a white man.

I see nothing at all but a not-very-good picture of a tired president.

As to the Date Lab guy, I'm in a very small minority here, as I am with most of the questions today. I kind of like the guy. Yes, I know, he was being manipulative, even coercive; he deprived the woman of the meal she expected; in the end, it was all about him. Here's how I think about it:

Date Lab isn't a "date." It's waay too contrived a setup to be a date. Date Lab is a stunt. And here is a guy who recognized that fact and went with it. He injected a bit of showmanship into it. "Let's see some good news in the paper for a change" is a nice line.

But mostly, I give him a pass on all the self-aggrandizement because he did NOT do the only thing guys in Date Lab do that makes me dislike them: He did not cut on the woman. He was very complimentary toward her.

Lastly, on another topic altogether: The video with all the chance events. I agree with you that the thing falling on the car was suspicious. It's my SECOND choice for the most likely set-up. The bank heist was waaay too perfect to be believed; it looks like a scene from a movie, especially when you notice that the camera angle changes as the getaway car speeds away. I'm guessing that one is phony.


Morristown, N.J.: For your aptonym files, from the Morris County (N.J.) Daily Record:

ROCKAWAY-- A 45-year-old woman picking up her son at the Sacred Heart School was charged with driving while intoxicated after she crashed into another car, police said.

Police were called to the parochial school on Nov. 20 on a report of an accident in front of the school.

Jeanne Champagne, 45, of Wharton, had picked up her 12-year-old son and struck a parked vehicle. Police learned she had been drinking and had a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit. She was charged with driving while intoxicated, DWI with a minor in a vehicle, reckless and careless driving, and criminally endangering the welfare of a child.

The child was released to a babysitter while Champagne was later released.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.


Rockville: "What are really good graphic sex scenes in non-porn movies?"

Riding the train in "Risky Business."

Hotter than any porn I ever saw.

Gene Weingarten: Didn't see it, but I'll accept it.


Lansing, Mich.: Hey, Gene! I was talking about "Arnold" with someone at Jef's book-release party last month (I wish I could remember who -- he specifically cited the "white death" strip you ran as one of his favorites.)

I had a (possibly unreasonably) strong devotion to "Arnold" when I was in college and find in reading it now that I'm still rather fond of it, although I have a little tougher time with the quality of the art these days.

I gave it a "pretty good".

Gene Weingarten: I asked a comics editor about this recently, and she, too, had some problems with the art; I don't see it, but you and Jef and she are pros, so I bow.

I love his nasty spirit.


Face problems in movies: I was thinking of you a couple of weeks ago when my husband and I were watching Inglorious Basterds. Given that most of the men in the movie were wearing uniforms and short hair, it was difficult to distinguish anyone except Brad Pitt. When we paused it halfway through to refresh our drinks, I complained to my husband about this and mentioned that you have that problem when you watch movies. He sort of shrugged and we went back to watching the movie.

About half an hour later he made some comment about the blonde German actress, and I told him he was referring to the blonde Jewish theater owner. He realized he was mixing them up and was now thoroughly confused. He got up in disgust and went to go surf the internet. I finished the movie, laughing at the absurdity of it all.

Gene Weingarten: This reminds me that the central evil Nazi in Inglourious Basterds looks EXACTLY like Hank Stuever.


Tigers endorsing and Gene endorsing: Tiger woods endorsed things like sports drinks and golf balls. You endorse crummy cars, VPL, knee high boots, stick shifts. People bid money they would never have bid on a similar car for charity because of you. It is the same thing. People identify with famous folks. So if they think it is great then it causes the individual to ponder the item for another breif moment. In that moment of consideration they might decide to purchase such an item. I'll admit I bought my fist pair of knee high black boots after a chat a few years ago where you and the other chatters went on about how great women look in them. It made me consider it and then I decided to try on a few pairs and I liked it and bought a pair I wear semi frequently.

Gene Weingarten: Not to belabor a point, but there is a big old difference: No one was paying me to say that I find boots and skirts hot. I just do. You can BELIEVE it. I have no ulterior motive.


Who's ScarJo?: Perhaps we could recognize this person from a photo? Nice try.

Gene Weingarten: Hahahaha.


Help me, Obi-Gene-Kenobi!: I'm so glad you have a chat this week. I've had a visible, marble-sized lump on my neck, right below my ear, on and off for over two years. It pops up almost overnight, sticks around for a few months, then disappears again. It can be quite painful at times, and often feels warm or tingly. I've been to my regular doctor and two ENTs. I had an ultrasound, which showed a swollen lymph node, and a biopsy, which showed nothing. One doctor thought it might be a tooth problem, so I had a very unpleasant root canal, which did nothing. No one's had any good idea as to the cause. I've pretty much managed to make myself believe it's not cancer (cancer wouldn't swell up and down like that, right?). But I'd really like to know what's going on. Sometimes, the pain is so bad it wakes me up at night, and having a touch of hypochondria, it's hard not to imagine the worst.

If you have an answer for me, I'll throw you my cute new argyle panties.

Gene Weingarten: Well, I did a little research. I think I know what you know: It's a lymph node that keeps enlarging then discharging. Why, I don't know. Do we have any ENT's out there willing to take a hack?


Hot sex: Kathleen Turner and William Hurt in Body Heat. Jack Nicholson and Sally Struthers in Five Easy Pieces.

Not exactly graphic, but way hot.

Gene Weingarten: Sally Strothers was hot?


Religious F(r)iends: I am also Christian. I believe that arrogance and judging others are sins. And I do not love the people committing those sins. And I would have to say there are lots and lots of us out here supporting LGBT issues/rights and angry that all the loud vocal "religious-right" Christians try to talk for all of us.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.


florida chick: I like garlic salt. I also like season salt. gotta problem with that?

Gene Weingarten: No, but I will say something to you. Twenty-one years ago I was at a seminar given by Ms. Julia Child. Someone asked her if there were any spices she didn't like. She named two: cilantro and garlic salt.


Alexandria, VA: While I usually prefer independent films, I occasionally enjoy a mindless "mall movie," so I disagree with your assessment of 2012.

I should point out that, to his credit, The Post's film critic agreed with me that, given its aspirations as a dumb-as-dirt special effects extravaganza and nothing else, 2012 succeeded admirably and he gave the film four stars, as would I!

Gene Weingarten: Yes, and his four stars were the reason I wasted my money on it. He heard from me afterwards.


As you wish: Candy Buttons.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.


Pepperm, Ill.: Here's a pet peeve -- the waiter inevitably rushes back within seconds of having delivered my meal with a giant peppermill, and offers to blanket my dish with fresh-ground pepper. How would I know whether I want any pepper until I've had a chance to taste the food?

Gene Weingarten: Hm. You haven't taken a taste in the two minutes it took him to get back to the table? You let your food get cold?


Piscataway, N.J.: Re: ADM Rickover & salt. It's apocryphal, told by every person who ever had a connection to the nuclear Navy (including my best friend's father). Unfortunately, the dad of another of my friends from college was the author of a biography on Rickover who, after extensive research, could never find anyone who ever had first hand knowledge of the urban legend.

Gene Weingarten: I believe there is another individual out there with greater knowledge of Rickover than you. Please weigh in on this. you know who you are.


Dunn Loring, Va.: Gene, When and how long is it appropriate to hold a writer in contempt for something reprehensible that they've written? In particular, I'm thinking of two columns in The Post today by Tom Shales and Anne Applebaum, both of whom are supporters of admitted child rapist Roman Polanski. I find it hard to take either seriously when (i) Applebaum is preaching about people's security when she advocates that a rapist go unpunished and walk freely among us, and (ii) Shales is criticizing Brit Hume for raising his faith in a discussion of Tiger Woods, but Shales goes uncriticized for stating "in Hollywood I am not sure a 13-year-old is really a 13-year-old".

Gene Weingarten: I think you are stretching for a point in both cases. Anne: I don't think the issue with Polanski has anything to do with whether the public will be safe from him; it's about whether he should be punished for a disgusting and heinous thing he did. I don't even understand your second attempt at a connection.

You can boycott both people for their views, but I think the causal links you are trying to make are disingenuous.


Annapolis, MD: GENE: "Love the sinner, hate the sin" is astonishingly patronizing, and duplicitous. It's a cop-out.

Um, it's not a cop-out. Someone is misusing that phrase here, and I'm not sure who.

The point of the phrase is that we are called to love all people even though they sin (because ALL of us sin). If your brother commits adultery, do you shun him? Of course not. Does that mean adultery is a good thing? Of course not. Love the sinner, hate the sin.

Now, is the phrase misapplied in this case? Possibly, and it's linked to the distinction about "what you DO, not who we ARE." What is sinful, in traditional Jewish and Christian thought, is homosexual sex -- an action -- rather than a homosexual orientation -- a state of being. (A celibate homosexual commits no sin thereby.) If I commit the sin of lying, I do not become a chronic liar. The action is different from the state of being. But gay folks, not unreasonably, don't distinguish between acting and being when it comes to being gay.

In this case, the putative Christians are guilty of the same error. They think that their good intentions -- their state of being -- precludes the possibility that their bigoted actions can be harmful to others (which is also a sin, the fifth or sixth commandment depending on your tradition).

I guess what I'm saying is that we should hate sinful acts such as bigotry and love people, including bigots, gays, and atheist humor writers.

Gene Weingarten: Noted.

But you don't find it patronizing and outrageous to inform a gay person that, to avoid sin, he must not have sex?


Washington, DC: To the woman with the moody fiance: Be very, very careful. I was married to a man like that for nearly a decade. Almost lost myself entirely in trying to keep him happy -- an impossible task. Am now divorced and happier than I have been in years.

Please, please be very sure before you marry this man. I'm worried about you.

Gene Weingarten: That's sort of what I was trying to say.


How can anybody dislike George?: I'm a friend of George, the man in the Dec. 27th DateLab, and he's actually a good guy. I was on a DateLab date in 2007, and he asked me for my advice. He was worried about looking bad on the date. I told him to relax, try to enjoy the evening, and don't expect there to be fireworks like the scene changes between "Love, American Style." He just -dramatically- overthought the whole thing. He was trying to do something nice, a kind gesture to those less-fortunate, a gesture that a left-leaning reader base should appreciate. He definitely shouldn't have done that on a first date, in a major U.S. newspaper, without warning Rachel of his intentions.

Jerks are guys who expect sex on the first date as a form of payment. Guys who spread out over two Metro seats and make the girl stand, that's a jerk. Men who wear enough Axe body spray in Georgetown to kill a lemur at the Zoo, that's jerk. "Jerk" is a harsh term for George in this case. "Misguided," perhaps, or "Momentary Cluelessness" fits (I called him something else unfit for a fine publication like this, but it rhymes with Truckin' Huts), but hardly "jerk."

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.

I like him.


Chicago: Gene, you take movie reviews at face value? Then you're a fool who deserves to be parted from his money!

I view movie reviews with as much skepticism as I do celebrity endorsements, and I seldom see a film that's not worthwhile.

Gene Weingarten: I like and trust The Post reviewers usually.


Royal Etiquette: It is a breach of royal etiquette to make jokes in the presence of the Queen. Even the Prince Consort is subject to the protocols of etiquette. If the Queen were not so well-bred, she probably would have rolled her eyes.

Gene Weingarten: It is a breach of etiquette to make jokes in front of the Queen???

That's awful.


Salting ...: before tasting:

I salt corn on the cob before tasting it. Am I seriously misguided?

Gene Weingarten: No. I do that, too. You know what corn tastes like, and it never comes out of the husk salty.


Re: Endorsements: I think you're missing something on celebrity endorsements.

We all have to buy SOME brand of beer (or soap or candy or whatever). If the fact that Les Paul or a Swedish Bikini team or a bunch of guys saying "wassup" reminds me of a brand that I already have a taste for, that's a good thing for the company. I don't buy it BECAUSE of the endorsement, but it reinforces my decision.

It's not so much about the endorsement itself, it's just about getting your name out there as much as possible and engaging your audience.

Gene Weingarten: Then why do they pay Tiger $300 million? Why not save the bucks and throw twice as many ads out there?


Hot: Rough scene with Jeanne Tripplehorn and Michael Douglas in Basic Instinct. Their scene was far better than those with Sharon Stone (although....)

Gene Weingarten: Yes.


Flying: Gene, I have discovered something about flying that I hate MORE than people reclining their seats all the way back. Please tell me what you think.

The first time this happened, I was on a 6 hour flight from Hawaii to California. I'd just raced a half marathon and was especially sore. There was a teenage girl in middle seat, I was in the window. I warned her at takeoff that I was very sore and also that I'd probably have to go to the bathroom twice on the 6 hour flight. I offered her the window seat, she said no, and that was that. Both times that I asked to exit the row to get to the bathroom, she REFUSED TO MOVE. Literally, she slid her knees slightly to the side and stared at me. Upon returning to my seat the second time, I allowed my butt to hit her in the face, as she made no effort to provide me room to slide in.

This happened again last night on a flight from Chicago to Boston. It was a connection, so I'd already been traveling for about 5 hours. Again, I had window seat. When I let my seatmates know I had to use the bathroom, the teenage aisle seat member rolled her eyes and barely moved her knees over. Middle seatmate could not exit or move, therefore I had to nearly crawl over the both of them. Middle seatmate and I were quite surprised at how rude this teenager was, ESPECIALLY SINCE SHE WAS ALREADY IN THE AISLE SEAT!

Gene. I am a 26-year-old (HOT) and VEREY petite girl. Even being 5'2", I had trouble climbing over these people who did not extend the courtesy of standing to let me pass. I have offered up my window seat, and when I'm in aisle I always get up to let the person out comfortably. Is this too much to ask? Was this person especially rude, or am I just filled with anger for no reason?

Gene Weingarten: I think planes these days make everyone angry and cranky. It has occurred to me that had I been on that flight that was on the tarmac for ten hours or something, I might have killed someone.


Houston, TX: Movies with a ridiculous plot totally ruin them for me. There was a Ben Affleck movie where he invented something and then they erased his memory so he wouldn't remember how he had invented it. BUT the company patented this invention, well, in order to get the patent, you have disclose how to make the thing - it's the quid pro quo for protection. So, the basis of the movie was utterly ridiculous after this whole thing was revelaed 10 mins. in.

Gene Weingarten: You know what? This sort of thing really makes you appreciate movies that could cut corners, but don't. The ones that are complicated but fair. "The Sixth Sense" comes to mind, and, more to the point, that one with Jim Carrey about the memory-erase procedure.


Thoat lump!!!: My husband had one of those, and it was just a salivary gland stone. The doctor told him it would go away on its own but that sucking on lemon candy would hasten its demise. It went away.

The same thing happened to a coworker, so I told her about the candy, and hers went away too.

Here's some info from the Web:

"Salivary gland stones are most common in adults; 25% of those with stones have more than one. A stone can form from salts contained in the saliva. Blockage makes saliva back up inside the duct, causing the salivary gland to swell."

Gene Weingarten: But this wouldn't come and go, would it?


MD: Somebody actually bought argyle panties? This disturbs me more than the disappearing lump.

Gene Weingarten: They seem a funny combination of hot and dork. I like the idea.


Endorsements: I read this years ago about William F. Buckley: when he was a young writer, he was so fond of his typewriter that he wrote a letter to the manufacturer, extolling the virtues of the typewriter, which he said the manufacturer was free to use in its advertising. He never heard back. Then, years later, when he was much more famous, the same company offered him an endorsement deal. He declined.

Gene Weingarten: Even if that is apocryphal, it's great.


Gene Weingarten: To private: You have two young children. You have an obligation to make this marriage work, involving more effort than you seem to have made. Sorry if that is not what you want to hear.


Gene Weingarten: Oh, speaking of obit poems like mine about Deborah: The Style Invitational is running a whole contest about these; Liz, can you link?


Gene Weingarten: And with that, I am out of here. I'll be updating on Tuesdays, as before. Big, solid, meaty, sultry updates. Every Tuesday. We're next back with a full chat the last Tuesday of the month.

_______________________ Style invitational, (Jan. 2)


you are an a**: Why do you think the everyone who does not think or act like you is wrong. What do you care if I want salt in my butter, green pepper on my pizza or salt on my food. Why should I be shunned. Every chat I like you less and less.

Gene Weingarten: See, now, I don't like that attitude of yours at all. people like you make me sick.


UPDATED 1.12.10

Gene Weingarten: Courtesy of Horace LaBadie, we begin with today's episode of People Who Should Be Convicted on Their Mug Shot Alone. This, however, is a First Ballot Hall of Fame Inductee.


Gene Weingarten: Thanks to Beth Smith for spotting this.


Gene, help me!!: I am willing to be wrong on this one; honestly, I just want the solace of an answer. I am one of those naturally verbose persons that typically have absurdly correct usage throughout a three page email. I smirk to myself, as kindly as one can, over the usage I see others employ (and even myself on occasion, as may be the case in this query). My concern? 'Alot' versus 'a lot'. I was taught repeatedly that 'alot' was correct usage for 'many' as 'lot' has a specific meaning - parcel of land or an item in auction, say. Therefore 'a lot' would not in fact be many. However, I see 'alot' frequently disparaged alongside 'your' for 'you're' and other atrocities. Is this really wrong? It seems unlikely that I am one of the very few using this correctly, yet my usage benefits from an underlying logic. Is it perhaps a case where the incorrect usage becomes so prevalent that it eclipses the correct usage, and all my tutors were of a former era? I will defer to your pronouncement.

--Never confuses 'effect' for 'affect'

Gene Weingarten: Okay, here's a helpful mnemonic device to remember the "a lot" "alot" rule here. Ready?

There is no rule. It's like asking for a rule for when you should say spaghetti and when you say piz-ghetti. You say alot and pizghetti when you are an idiot.

Also, can you people please remember that the cheese is Mascarpone, not marscapone? Thanks.


Second poll: I am surprised -- usually my views don't fall into line with everyone else's (probably due to the fact I am a rogue conservative). But for the types of movie questions, I am in line with everyone else.

I am probably not going to see Avatar, but I will see Sherlock Holmes.

Gene Weingarten: I will not see Sherlock Holmes.

All I can imagine is some 10-year-old kid going to that movie, then, three years later, sitting down to Conan Doyle. And thinking WTF?

Sorry, but no.


You are correct!: The bank getaway video is debunked on Snopes:

Gene Weingarten: I KNEW someone would find this. Yes, it was obvious to me that was a fraud. Can someone find anything about the giant sign falling on the just-parked car? That's possible, but strains credulity; I'm also suspicious about how the person falls to the ground. Liz, can we re-link? Yep.


"Take money to endorse a product, and you're off the creative rolls forever. ": Does this imply that you're no longer a Dylan fan since he's shilled for soda pop and women's undergarments?

Gene Weingarten: Of course not! Dylan, as we all know, does everything ironically.

Meanwhile, thank you to Richard Thompson for this, which is the Bill Hicks's routine I referred to, about Jay Leno selling out. Warning: NOT REMOTELY SAFE FOR WORK unless you have earphones.

What's important to remember in listening to this completely vicious bit is: Leno was an early supporter of Hicks; Hicks was his protege! This was amazingly bitter and arguably unconscionable. But very funny.

I wrote about this in a piece on Hicks years ago: Bill Hicks, still riffing on rude truths (Post, Sept. 30, 2001)


Gene Weingarten: On the issue of Prince Philip's joke about the blind guy, Stephen Waddingham reminds us --

You could give Prince Philip a pass if there was any evidence he was a compassionate soul with a sense of humour, instead of the snobbish, bigoted git he has proven himself to be over decades of public life. He has a list of priors longer than your arm.

This is the bloke who warned British students in China they would ""become slitty eyed'' if they stayed there too long. And asked Aboriginal elders in Australia "do you still throw spears at each other?''. And asked a Scottish driving instructor how he managed to keep the locals off the booze long enough to pass a test.

He described Russians as ""the bastards who murdered half my family''. When a Kenyan woman presented him with a gift in 1984, he asked: "You are a woman, aren't you?'' Commenting on a shoddy piece of work during a factory tour, he said it ""looks as though it's been put together by an Indian''.

There's a reason why the Brits try to keep him in the background and let Mrs Queen do the heavy lifting when it comes to international affairs.


UPDATED 1.19.10

Gene Weingarten: Gonna do some shilling here.

Remember this story about babies accidentally left to die in cars? Okay, maybe you are one of those people who only remember the beginning, or only the words you could read through slitted fingers. It was hard to read. But it was important, and the only reason it happened was because of the extraordinary cooperation I got from Janette Fennell, who runs KidsandCars, the nonprofit lobbying group that promotes child vehicular safety.

They are competing for a million-dollar grant based on a contest for Facebook votes; I'm hoping you can help them out with a vote: Log onto Facebook, then find this url: and follow 30 seconds of directions.


Re: "Patriotic American Veteran": Gene, when your ethnic heritage is maligned like that, how do you resist the temptation to respond violently? Or at least, how you not think of his hateful screed as fightin' words? If he's still writing to you, then your otherwise excellent column failed to change his mind or perhaps shame him into silence. I guess I want some kind of karmic justice for people who preach that type of hate.

Gene Weingarten: I discussed this a few years ago, I think, at length. I have never understood why a taunt about, say, one's mother should provoke anything but mild amusement -- unless the taunter actually KNEW one's mother, and was speaking an arguable truth.

Some stranger comes up to me in the street and says my mother's a whore, what do I care? Sure, he is trying to provoke me, but it has absolutely no power to injure. He just looks like an idiot, and I know, that based on this taunt alone, in any objective trading of information about the quality of our lives and our characters, I win.

If he tells me the wife who is walking beside me is ugly, okay, there is something to discuss, perhaps.

In the case at point: Some sort of general denunciation of Jews? This pretty much has the power of a taunt against one's mom. If he thinks all Jews are worthy of contempt, that's nothing to me; I know the silliness of that. I'm actually more likely to be upset hearing a racial slur against a different group, because in that case the speaker is possibly presuming me to be a like-thinking ally.


Comics and kids: I used to think comics needed to be edgy and subversive and, I don't know, a little raw to work. Much like what you seem to prefer.

I loved Arnold, even remember it from back in the day.

And...then I had kids. And my four-year-old wants to read the comics with us. She loves Get Fuzzy. And she loves with a passion that cannot be denied: Classic Peanuts. Yes, I know. She likes Lio but finds it a little confusing and sometimes scary.

But the thing is, it's kind of tough to find comics that appeal to the four-year-old. Not that all comics should, but if comics are too adult, too offputting, when will kids develop their love for comic pages? That's what I can't figure out.

Maybe she's just too young, and when she's 8 or so she'll pick and chose what she likes. But it's a vast wasteland out there for the four-year-old who really wants to read the paper. Appropriate for a four-year-old doesn't mean vapid, mind. Just something she can get. She misses half of Get Fuzzy, but she gets more of it than I'd imagine.

Gene Weingarten: I think you have put your finger on this perfect: She gets half of Get Fuzzy, and likes what she gets.

You understand that what she is NOT getting is sometimes pretty foul, right? Like Shakespeare before him, Darby Conley has made fish-ladyparts jokes!

The point is, a cleverly constructed comic strip can appeal to adults and kids at the same time. I think the one Dan and I are doing is going to accomplish exactly that.

Also: As you suggest, kids are savvier than you think. They LOVE subversive humor.


Off the Ten, TN: Found under the definition for often in The American Heritage Dictionary: "Usage Note: During the 15th century English experienced a widespread loss of certain consonant sounds within consonant clusters, as the (d) in handsome and handkerchief, the (p) in consumption and raspberry, and the (t) in chestnut and often. In this way the consonant clusters were simplified and made easier to articulate. With the rise of public education and literacy and, consequently, people's awareness of spelling in the 19th century, sounds that had become silent sometimes were restored, as is the case with the t in often, which is now frequently pronounced. In other similar words, such as soften and listen, the t generally remains silent. "

The American HeritageĀ® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Copyright Ā© 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

It seems the dropping of the "T" in often was due to illiteracy and has been regained now that more people know how to spell....

Gene Weingarten: Ooooh, this is interesting!

I would still argue that pronouncing it is an affectation, like saying "prithee."


Hmmm...: Either I'm too naive or you're too cynical (or both), but "He is endorsing beer because they are giving him a huge amount of money to lie and say he likes it." Rings untrue to me. I have little doubt that there is some portion of celebrity who will take money to endorse a product regardless of whether they like it (or even have tried it), but I assume that the vast majority of them have some level of integrity that precludes them from taking the cash for its own sake.

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahahahahahaha.







You know what was one of the most shameful endorsement series of all times? Dennis Franz for Nextel, the whole point of which is that he doesn't do commercials. What a load of crap.


Terrible news for Gene!: Health risks of reading on toilet (Esquire, Dec. 3, 2009)

Gene Weingarten: You're right. This is disturbing. Plus, there is something extremely unsatisfying about his solution to the problem; I think it is psychologically necessary for someone who is hiding out in the bathroom to have plausible deniability; i.e, that he be able to convince himself that the time spent there is warranted.


Washington, D.C.: Do you follow the New Yorker cartoon caption contest? For months, I've been trying to come up with a caption that resembles something that might actually accompany a New Yorker cartoon. Instead, the finalists have often been something incredibly lame, something a child might come up with. The latest cartoon involved a chaotic scene in a restaurant kitchen, with chefs chasing each other with knives, while an apparently naked woman plays a cello on a table. In one of the three finalists, a waiter says to another waiter, "There's always room for cello."

There's always room for cello? That's really a New Yorker-style caption?

Here's the link.

Gene Weingarten: The problem is letting the public vote. People always vote wrong. The self-loading answer here is clearly the best -- actually, it's very good -- but I bet it doesn't win.


Agnes: a modern-day Arnold?

Gene Weingarten: A very interesting comparison. Agnes aspires to be Arnold, but has strategically stopped short of being mean-spirited. It was a wise decision, commercially, but an artistic cop-out.

I found this new online cache of Arnolds. It really was a gem:.


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