Chatological Humor: Gropers, D.C. jury duty, more... (UPDATED 2.16.10)

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 26, 2010; 12:00 PM

Weekly Updates: 2.02.10 | 2.09.10 | 2.16.10

Gene Weingarten's humor column, Below the Beltway, appears every Sunday in The Washington Post magazine. It is syndicated nationally by the Washington Post Writers Group.

At one time or another, Below the Beltway has managed to offend persons of both sexes as well as individuals belonging to every religious, ethnic, regional, political and socioeconomic group. If you know of a group we have missed, please write in and the situation will be promptly rectified. "Rectified" is a funny word.

On one Tuesday each month, Gene is online to take your questions and abuse. This month, that day is Tuesday, Jan. 26 at Noon ET .He will chat about anything. Although this chat is sometimes updated between live shows, 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:

Poll 1:I lean conservative | I lean liberal

Poll 2: Men | Women

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

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

New to Chatological Humor? Read the FAQ.

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


Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon.

As a juror for two days only, I never got to deliberate, and put everything important I had to say about it into the story linked to in today's poll. (I lean conservative | I lean liberal). But this is Chatological Humor, so unimportant observations are important, too:

1. When you are one of fourteen people who must spend hours together in a small room with a bathroom behind a thin, un-soundproofed wall, men instinctively make strategic use of the porcelain sides of the toilet. Women (an assumption based on evidence) make strategic use of toilet paper. Like the jury system itself, this is all very ... civil.

2. When you have fourteen people sitting in a room who have been ordered not to discuss the only subject they all have in common, a subject of intense interest to all of them about which they are nearly exploding with questions, theories, and opinions, the result is almost comical. Small, benign conversations are initiated, but quickly peter out because of their absurdity; ordinarily outgoing people disappear defensively into their laptops, books, newspapers.

3. Very occasionally, a small one-on-one conversations will prove fruitful: One of the other juries had a professional connection to the sales and marketing of those new airport body-screening devices that peek under your clothing. She told me that most of the privacy concerns do NOT come from women. It turns out that women's bodies, being what they are topologically, don't get particularly revealed by these machines, beyond what is already pretty apparent. The main privacy concerns come from two groups: a) Men, whose penis size is revealed, sometimes to comic effect, and 2) extremely corpulent people, whose bulges are revealed, sometimes to the same effect.


Okay, regarding the poll: A large percentage of you seem to feel I had no obligation to mention my past heroin use in the story on Sunday. Thanks for the pass, but I think you're being too kind. I probably should have mentioned it.

I didn't even think about it until a couple of people broughtit up in online comments. It hadn't occurred to me because I have discussed this subject ad nauseam in various writings, and in this forum, and because I made it clear in the story that I would have voted to convict had there not been gaping holes in the police testimony. Heroin almost killed me; I don't think selling it is a good thing. But Outlook readers were not as familiar with my background, and, more to the point, my state of mind was not irrelevant to this story. I think that's information the reader probably should have had - I should have put it out there, and let them decide if it was germane.


My favorite online comment to the story was this one from a user named "popopo."

Gene -I surely hope that the day does not come when your daughter and wife are raped. If it does, I'm sure you will not be calling the police because they are liars and thugs and would make up evidence to convict the perp.

Do us all a favor and lock yourself in the back seat of a car on a hot summer day.



(according to my wife, "popo" is a term prosecutors use to describe a certain kind of arrest that is otherwise unjustified. It is an acronym for "Pissed off the police officer.")


Dept. of What Is This World Coming To:

On Jeopardy! one day last week, all three contestants were typically smart and knowledgeable but all three had the same grotesque hole in their knowledge: They were idiots about literature. Alex looked stricken. Not one of them had an answer for any of these three questions:

1. He wrote The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.

2. A Lorraine Hansbury play about a black family trying to buy a house.

3. A play about a family meeting to celebrate the 65th birthday of Big Daddy Pollitt, the family patriarch.


Dept. of What Is This World Coming To, Part II: Alzheimer's for Dummies

(Yes, this is real, and, as near as I can tell, irony-free.)


Dept. of What Is this World Coming To, Part III:

Last week The Washington Post had this brilliant headline in Style, about Conan O'Brien's resistance to having his time slot pushed back:

"Better Never Than Late."

It was by copy editor Doug Norwood. A copy editor can work his whole life without getting an inspiration like that.

Tragically, in The Post online it was changed to something like: "Conan Resists Time Slot Change," because of the need for deadly dull directness required by Search Engine Optimization protocols.


Kevin Dopart writes in to report an interesting situational inaptonym: In a single D.C. high school class taught by a person of his acquaintance, there are two girls named "Unique."

Heather Kennedy found this Hall of Fame aptonym: Arrested on charges of sexual molestation in Fairfax, one George Desmond Copping.

And a thank you to Amy Menge, for finding yet another person who should be convicted on the basis of mug shot alone.


The Clip of The Day is this prank, as simple and perfect as it gets.


Okay, let's go.


Washington, D.C.: Hi Gene, Well your column was timely. I have been wondering about this because it happened on a crowded bus but it wasn't as overt as some of the situations in the article you linked to. I'm small so I can squish into a small seat and not have to touch anyone or be touching anyone on my ride home. In this case, a man was sitting next to me and was your normal sized man. I couldn't figure out if he was intentionally taking as much room as possible because I was squished and he kept elbowing my side every time he turned a page in his book. I was really uncomfortable but as I was sitting against the window I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to think it was intentional touching but I saw him again today and I noticed how much room he left between himself and another man he was sitting next to.....

Or how about the guy who sat next to me on the bus a couple of years ago deliberately pushing up against me everytime the bus got bumpy, thinking I was asleep? Yea, sometimes it isn't so overt. And I felt like I should have confronted him and I didn't. I felt so dirty, still do now that I'm thinking about it. Ugh. Why do some men think this is okay?

Gene Weingarten: ON a related note, I have found this commercial both very funny and very creepy.


Not about juries or groping: Oh bastion of journalistic ethics, I turn to you for an opinion: Last night on ABC news, Diane Sawyer had a one-on-one sit down with Pres. Obama at the White House. When Obama entered, he walked up and greeted Ms. Sawyer with a kiss on the cheek. I would love to hear your thoughts. Should the Prez have kissed a journalist? Should ABC have aired it?

Gene Weingarten: No, yes.


Testilying: In general, I don't believe in jury nullification. It's the job of appeals courts, not a jury, to question the validity of a law. It's the jury's job to determine if the defendant broke the law. However, I'm not sure this is a case of jury nullification. Even though you feel he was most likely guilty, the fact that the police officers lied has to call into question the validity of their entire investigation. To my mind, their lie produces reasonable doubt. I think it's the equivalent of a judge tossing out real evidence that was obtained through an illegal search. It's what they like to call "fruit of a poisoned tree." I think the lies meant you had to discount their entire testimony, which left reasonable doubt that he was guilty, even though you kinda felt he was.

Gene Weingarten: Many, many people made this observation, and I suspect (but do not know) that for most of the other jurors -- the ones whose opinions actually mattered -- this was the operative point.

But it wasn't true for me; for me, it WOULD have been jury nullification for one simple reason: I believe I understood what happened with the police testimony here, and I didn't believe that it called into question the veracity of their whole case. To me, the whole case centered around the fact that the defendant had the marked bills on him, and the defense didn't contest this. The defense explanation for this was very weak. Had the defendant actually been asked to change a ten for another guy -- a guy the defendant said he knew -- I think we'd have heard a lot more about who that guy was, what he was doing there, etc.

The fact is, no one but I can judge whether this would have been jury nullification or not, because that question goes to my state of mind. My state of mind was that the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. I would have voted to acquit despite that feeling.


Jeopardy: Excuse my ignorance, but could you please answer the Jeopardy questions. Thanks.

Gene Weingarten: Uh. Sure.

T.S. Eliot, A Raisin In the Sun, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Gene Weingarten: And speaking of literary incompetence, I misspelled Hansberry.


Men's part in the comics: No doubt you've been bombarded with this question, but is this the first clear reference to an erection in the comics? I've been reading them for 45 years, and I can't remember another such incident.

Also, does this make Chickweed more or less reprehensible in your view?

Gene Weingarten: I am certain that Arlo and Janis has had erection reference in it, though I am sure it was subtler.

This is pretty hot, though. And it does inhabit that realm of justifiable explicitness in an alleged children's venue: If you get it, you won't be offended or shocked. If you'd be offended or shocked, you won't get it.


What do you think of the TSA Prank: Seriously! I have no idea which part of this scenario the TSA guy thought would go over well (hmmm, scaring the passengers, causing a panic, wasting taxpayers money, confirming people's opinion that all TSA workers are idiots.) I realize that way to many people would have to pay fines, but I really do think there should be a law about being that stupid. TSA worker planted white powder as prank

Gene Weingarten: What a card!


Richmond, Va.: Are you thinking that the commenter "popopo" is in fact a police officer? Because that's kind of what I am thinking, and if so he sure is working hard to prove your point about some of D.C.'s "finest."

Gene Weingarten: Well, let's just say I wouldn't be absolutely stunned to discover this.


Re: Better Never Than Late: From my limited knowledge of Search Engine Optimization, there should be ways that the Post site could have kept the original brilliant headline, perhaps by using the SEO-friendly version after a colon or as the subhead. But I'll defer to any experts on the subject who may be lurking here. What's the point of having a great headline if it cannot be found online? Readers in any format might be more likely to remember that than they are the article itself.

Gene Weingarten: I think what happened is that we used the original bank headline, but deleted the top one. S E O confounds me in general.


Poll La, ND: I am pretty sure I will disagree with you and most of your readers on many of the questions and that is fine. There is however one statement you keep making that is a bit misleading: "a $10 undercover heroin buy."

This guy is running a heroin selling business, this transaction may have only been for $10 but this was clearly not an isolated incident. This is not the shoplifter with an otherwise clean record that stole a DVD.

BTW I would have voted to acquit since the lies told by the police would have given me reasonable doubt.

Gene Weingarten: A police officer wrote me an interesting email yesterday. Here's a quote from it:

The reason police conduct $10 buy busts is a matter of fairness. Do poor people have the same rights to have "quality of life" enforcement as rich people? Sure they do. How would you like to have a child trying to get home every day past open air drug dealers? The cops have to do something. When I was a police detective in St. Louis I had they same feelings you did about spending $2,000 to investigate a $10 robbery. But you have to do it.


It's an interesting observation, and one I hadn't thought about. I just wonder, though, if this fantastic expenditure of public time and money could be better allocated to help this poor neighborhood.


Bodymore, Murderland: Hi Gene,

Have you seen the TV series "The Wire?" Not only is it fantastic but the show (which takes place in Baltimore) talks about the pointlessness of the $10 drug arrests -- how it targets the low level street people who have little connection to those supplying the drugs and does nothing to stop the flow of drugs to the streets.

In the show, the problem is that those in charge (police chiefs, the mayor's office) like these arrests, because it increases the numbers and makes it looks like the city is doing more to be tough on crime. Of course it really does nothing.

Really fantastic illuminating series.

Gene Weingarten: Uh, yes. I believe I have heard of it.


Groping: Gene,

I was in the fanciest hotel I had ever been to (in Arizona), waiting for a client dinner. I was early and sat at the bar to watch a football game. A man, a news anchor in Buffalo, sat next to me and wouldn't leave me alone. I got up to leave and the man PUT HIS HAND DOWN MY SHIRT. In public.

I went to the conceirge but the couldn't find him. It was the worst thing I've ever gone through. I've been touched in clubs and buses, but never as blatant as this.

Gene Weingarten: Perhaps he thought your microphone had fallen into your cleavage and was just trying to help.


Marietta, Ga.: That Georgia mother's mug shot is better than my driver's license photo! If she did what they said, she should be locked up for life just for being a sociopath. You can't have feelings and do that to your child let alone the poor hamster.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, it's better than my drivers license photo too.


Springfield, Va.: Gene,

Have you had any feedback from the D.C. police department since the column was published? I would love to hear Chief Lanier's response.

Gene Weingarten: Nope.


Not Sad: Gene,

I really need the perspective of an outsider here, and you're just the person to give me that perspective, so I am desperately hoping you answer this.

My grandmother, my dad's mom, died on Saturday. I'm not sad about this at all. She was a horrible person. She did unspeakably insane things to my dad and his brothers when they were growing up, and she moved into my parents' house when I was two to help take care of me and my infant brother (I'm a girl, which matters to the story). She straight-up abused me: locked me in closets, shut me out of the house twice (once in a tornado, once when I was home from 2nd grade - she wouldn't let me in until I'd wet my pants, and then she tortured me over the pants-wetting), burned me, etc. I mean, horrifying stuff. My brother, on the other hand, she treated like gold. She talked sh-- about my mom to me. I figured out before I was ten that she hated women. When my baby sister was born, I was afraid that she'd be tortured like I was because of her gender, but that wasn't the case. My sister has mostly positive memories of her. She doesn't understand why I don't remember anything good the woman did. My brother gets it, but he has lots of good memories of her, too.

I should explain that my parents were mostly gone when I was a kid. I love my parents, but my mom was in med school and the subsequent residency, and my dad worked long hours to support us. They didn't know what was going on, though they knew she didn't like me, until she crossed the line when I was 11 and they had to know. I didn't tell them, because I was pretty well convinced I was deserving of her wrath. I'm over that now. My mom has said that letting her live with us was the biggest mistake she's ever made or ever will make. My dad, not so good with feelings, although he loves us, has never talked about it directly and probably never will. It was from him that I learned of her actions toward him when he was a kid.

So, she died on Saturday, and much to my shock, my mother started crying on the phone when she told me. I asked her why she was crying, because I'm an idiot, and she said it's because Dad is sad, which may be true. I get my dad's sadness, which I'm sure is very complicated. Even more surprising is that my sister has been bawling her eyes out even though she hadn't spoken to my grandmother in many years. My brother drove from New York to western Virginia when he heard. And I have to wonder, am I the only one whose vision of this monster is unclouded by death? She was a morbidly obese woman in her 80s. She died. Duh. And she was a CHILD ABUSER. So I'm not sad, and I'm not even really sad they're all sad, because I just don't get it at all. It's not that I'm hurt by their disloyalty, because I don't see it that way, but in my view, a bad thing happening to a bad person doesn't automatically translate into "good person."

So, the question: Do I drive five hours for the funeral? The rest of the family has to fly down, which they're doing, at considerable expense to themselves in a year that my family is not at its wealthiest. My partner would go with me for support, but I don't want to go. I'm afraid that that will make me The Bad Daughter. I haven't even spoken to my dad because I don't know what to say (I'm writing this on Sunday - we'll probably talk today). I can say "I'm sorry you're sad" and "please let me know what I can do for you" but that's really it. I can't reminisce on the good times. There weren't any.

So: to stay here, in my nice home with my nice partner and our nice pets, or drive five hours (and I have a disease that makes traveling a bit tricky but far from impossible) to attend a funeral for a person I cannot be more glad is no longer using up oxygen?

Thanks Gene. Sorry for the long-windedness. I have a lot to process, clearly.

Gene Weingarten: Well, there are two answers, and they are equally valid.

1) You go as a sign of respect for your father.

2) You don't go, because your grandmother doesn't deserve your presence.

My calculus would be simple: You will feel bad if you go. Y will feel bad if you don't go. Which feeling will be worse? Apply some weight, but not overwhelming weight, to whether your dad will be hurt if you don't go. Then decide.


Clueless Groping: My groper was my father-in-law. It was like he thought that he should be able to get in on the action since his son was. Almost like a weird tiered-chattel system or something. He used to stroke my hair or offer to remove my shoes for me. One time when I was barefoot he knelt down and started to massage them. Creepy! When we would visit, he would rub his hand up and down my back acting like he was just innocently greeting me, but really checking to see if I was wearing a bra or not. If I wasn't, then I would get a long, lingering full-bodied hug that I could barely get out of. He even patted my ass (twice!) on my wedding day. The last straw came when I was standing and he came up behind me and wrapped his arms around me. I finally let him have it. He was totally stunned. He truly had no idea that anything he was doing would be seen as wrong or inappropriate. I couldn't believe it. Things are much better now, 16 years down the road. But I will never forget the look on his face when I yelled at him about his groping. Some men really do believe there is nothing wrong with this, I guess.

Gene Weingarten: I think that older men of an older era sometimes feel they can get away with it, because they can. Many years ago, women at a newspaper where I worked told me about a famous man there who was known to grope and touch. "Oh, that's just [famous man] being [famous man]," was what they said. I knew Famous Man. He was a mischievous devil. He knew what he was getting away with, and why.


Washington, D.C.: I was trying to think of a similarly clever headline that appeared years ago in the Post -- and a Google search turned it up. It's from March of 1992:

Better Laettner Than Ever, Duke Wins; Buzzer-Beater in Overtime Tops Kentucky, 104-103

Gene Weingarten: It's not that good; it doesn't really work in both directions, which is the sign of the perfect headline.


Arlington, Va.: The commercial isn't funny. At all.

Gene Weingarten: Is too! But it's also creepy.


New York, N.Y.: In regards to your poll about groping... I was discussing just this subject with a female friend of mine the other day. She had a story that was such a great response I feel I should pass it along. We live in New York, the trains here get very crowded very frequently. Many men seem to take this as a signal that their hands are free to roam. A few weeks ago, a man felt the need to use his hand to grope my friend's butt. Instead of quietly sliding away from him or exiting the train, she grabbed his hand, without turning around, raised it in the air and proclaimed loudly "I don't know who's hand this is, but he is groping my ass!" The embarrassed man ran off the train at the next stop, and the train broke into applause. For what it's worth, it was a professional looking man in his late 20s, early 30s. I only wish I had the balls to do this next time I am in this situation.

Gene Weingarten: You mean "the ovaries." I want to coin this expression. I want to the world to help me out. It should be used by men, too. As in, "I'd like to do that, but I don't know if I've got the ovaries, man."


Free Speech: What do you think of the recent Supreme Court ruling on corporate campaign spending? You've said that you have a very high threshold for legitimate government restrictions on speech, but I'm guessing that the specter of unlimited spending on political campaigns worries you.

Gene Weingarten: I cannot think of any recent political issue of recent vintage over which I am more conflicted.

I believe political contributions are, in fact, free speech, and I believe free speech may be our most important civil right; ultimately, it may trump all others since it illuminates all others.

But the endpoint of this ruling seems dreadfully bad to me: plutocracy. Also, imagine how much MORE disgusting the political fundraising process will be.

I will reluctantly be in favor of government efforts to rein this in, somehow, even if those efforts seem painfully un-American, like affirmative action. I've supported affirmative action, knowing it was an ungainly and arguably crappy exercise in unfairness for the noble purpose of counteracting a greater unfairness.

That's sort of how I feel here.

I have a general rule of thumb: I am against anything that makes the insurance or lobbying industry happy, and vice versa.


tut, OR?: This is from an ad on Craig's list. This person wants to teach my kid reading.

"References a pond request."

Gene Weingarten: There has to be a better pool of candidates out there.


La Selva Beach, Calif.: Your Sunday column about the lying police is worth discussion. In this case the perjury was exposed, but that was at least partly due to chance. A more carefully prepared set of lies might well have gone undetected, and you can be sure that the next time these guys decide to falsify testimony, they will prepare more carefully. Incidents like this and others mean that I am always skeptical of police testimony. The willingness to lie that some officers exhibit has tainted every officer, and there's no way of removing the stain.

Gene Weingarten: I would have been willing to convict in this case, I think, if the police testimony hadn't been so perfectly synchronized, and improbable.

"I can't recall exactly what the lookout broadcast said, but I do remember it a black man in a blue hat and black jacket carrying a green bottle. When we saw this guy, he fit the description, we took him down and when we found the marked bill on him, we knew we had the right guy."

I probably convict on that.


Chicago: The Chickweed Lane link listed in the chat is broken. Here's the correct one.

Gene Weingarten: Noted.


Rockville, Md.: Gene:

Got to disagree with you on special effects. They could never have made "Lord of the Rings" without them since that is the only way to show what Tolkien imagined on the screen. I mean, how many Ents can Central Casting deliver?

If we are to see stories with imagination we got to have special effects. Or is it all to be "My Dinner with Andre?"

Is a film to show a character analysis or a story arc and is that the only reason one should see a film?

I think not.

On the other hand, I tire quickly of films that are just one fight after another. I do like conversation, too. But it needs to make sense.

Lighten up. There ought to be room for more than one kind of film.

Gene Weingarten: This is a reference to this column from last week.

I hold firm.

Special effects are ruining modern movies, not because special effects themselves are so bad but because moviemakers are using them in lieu of plot. They think that's all we care about, and, lo and behold, we are proving them right.


Groped on the Go: I am a woman who has been touched so many times I've lost count. I've also been riding public transit for years. These guys know what they are doing. They look for certain types of women. Women they think will not fight back. When I was younger, I just let it happen and inched away. One day on my way home on Metro-North out of NYC, I had it. I had a crappy day at work and just wanted to be left alone. Mr. Groper would not let that happen. He sat down next to me and proceeded to put his hand on my thigh. At first I just stared at him, which I guess he thought was an invitation, so he moved his had up a little further. I looked at him again and said really loudly "Remove your hand from my leg NOW!!!" He looked startled go up and got off the train at 125th Street. The conductor took all of my info and told me this was probably the same guy they had been after for a couple of months. I was the first woman to scream at him. He was eventually arrested six months later. This is what women have to deal with. It's degrading and scary. And I don't know if men can fully understand it.

Gene Weingarten: Evidently not. At the moment I am writing this, nine percent of the male respondents chose this answer to whether it is wrong to grope:

"3. I think playful touching is exactly that, playful touching. If a woman complains, Ill stop, but otherwise, cmon."

I put that answer in there sort of as a joke. I didn't seriously think anyone would choose it.


Philadelphia, Pa.: Gene

I can't say I agree with you in feeling as if you should have disclosed past behavior relating to the crime.

Use of a substance in the past doesn't mean your opinion of said substance in 2010 equals that of your opinion in 1970 something.

Should a juror who was caught shop lifting as a 12-year-old disclose that crime during a burglary trial?

As a person who grew up in a law enforcement family (from birth), I applaud your desire to do the right thing under the circumstances.

As a child I was brought up to believe LE truly took an oath to serve and protect.

As an adult I've come to realize that in many instances the oath actually means 'To Serve and Protect oneself'.

The behind the scenes behavior of many LE officers is despicable -- including those in my own family.

Gene Weingarten: I don't think I should have disclosed it to the court; I think I probably should have disclosed it in the story. I would have, if I had thought about it.


Alexandria, Va.: I think you were wrong in (hypothetically) voting to acquit because the officers lied under oath. The officers were not the ones on trial. You found their testimony unpersuasive, so disregard their testimony. You obviously were persuaded of the guy's guilt through other evidence, e.g., the $10 bill.

Maybe in an ideal world, the officer would get charged with perjury as a separate matter. However, that would be an even bigger waste of government resources than trying the drug dealer in the first place.

Sure, the officers broke their oath to tell the whole truth on the stand. You took an oath to render a judgment as to whether you thought the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Does the officers' breaking their oaths give you the right to break your oath?

Gene Weingarten: Nope, I took an oath to be a juror. I swore that I could and would attempt to decide the case fairly.

The judge instructed us to use certain guidelines in rendering our decision; but it is the very nature of the jury system -- built into it, I believe -- that a jury can decide however it wants, using the full and complicated fact that it is composed of 12 humans.


Why Italian women wear kitten heels: My husband's boss used to use group photos as an excuse to grope me. Without fail, he'd stand next to me, put his arm around me and insert his fingers between my arm and ribs. Then he'd move his hand forward until his fingers rested against the side of my breast.

The first time this happened, I was stunned into immobility. I consulted with an Italian friend who knew a little something about dealing with furtive gropers. The next time we lined up, his hand went straight for my breast. I stomped on his foot and then apologized profusely. We lined back up. Here came the hand. STOMP! Oh, I'm so terribly sorry. Line back up. He started to put his arm around me, then carefully folded his hands in front of him.

I immediately passed the tactic on to other women who had to deal with him. It took only a single stomp from another woman. In every photo for the last several years, both that man's hands are clearly visible - in front of him.

Gene Weingarten: This reminds me of a story I think I told before. It happened years ago to a woman I know very well.

New York subway train, rush hour, packed. She is standing, feels a man rubbing up against her, clearly aroused. She establishes eye contact, sners, and, while looking at him straight in the face, stomps down as hard as she can on his foot. He yelps, and fights his way through the crowd to escape.

Three minutes later, the rubbing starts again. She'd gotten the wrong guy.


The groping thing is real: Over the years, I've had a few experiences where a man has slyly rubbed his knee against my back (at a company picnic), my buttocks (while watching a movie in high school), held my wrist while they checked my watch for an overly long period of time (my eye dr. when I was 17), grabbed me and tried to kiss me while working in a backroom of a museum, and worst of all, sat beside me on a bus and pleasured himself. I'm no supermodel, just moderately attractive. I reported the guy who grabbed me, but the other times I said nothing. I do think it is something that goes on a lot, without discussion. Looking back, I was very innocent when some of the things happened and gave the guys the benefit of the doubt (not the bus guy, yuck!) I think it should be talked about so young women know it's not okay and men cut it out.

Gene Weingarten: I agree.


Downtown D.C.: Gene, as a former criminal defense attorney who's defended everything from misdemeanor assault to murder cases, I applaud your attitude you described in your Outlook article regarding "jury nullification" based on police misconduct (a theme I hope to use in my unwritten novel, based on a case I worked on years ago). So, naturally, I'm curious if you shared the results of your 172-foot eyesight experiment with your fellow jurors before you were excused as a juror -- yes/no?

Gene Weingarten: No. I did it the morning before we were going to start deliberations.

Jurors are not allowed to talk with each other about the case prior to deliberations. So even had I done it earlier, I would not have mentioned it.

I am curious whether the other jurors would have considered this a breach of our instructions. I didn't, any more than I would have considered it a breach of our instructions to happen to be outside and and see how much detail I could see of what a person was wearing at what I estimated to be 170 feet.

As a juror, you ARE allowed to think, and weigh your own experiences.


Washington, D.C.: Gene, how did you get through voir dire for the jury? I mean, nobody asked if you do or had done illegal drugs (including heroin)? That fact alone leads me to think that the AUSA prosecuting the case may not have been exactly the cream of the crop. By the by, I totally agree with you -- I wish jury nullification was used more often. The system encourages the police to lie, cheat, and otherwise violate the civil liberties of defendants.

Gene Weingarten: No one asked me. They did ask me what I did for a living; I was surprised I survived that.

Again, for the record: The fact that I did heroin 40 years ago did not affect my judgment. Had I been unable to render a guilty verdict in a heroin case, I would have volunteered that to the judge. (In fact, during general voir dire, the question is asked: Is there any reason you could not be impartial in this case?)


Atlanta, GA: Mr. Weingarten,

A couple of hours ago, I signed up to do a report on you in front of my English class at Georgia State University this Wednesday. Imagine my surprise when, two minutes into my research, I found that you do a live chat every Tuesday. Today we discussed your article "Pearls Before Breakfast" and had a several questions up for debate.

In reference to the old saying "Pearls Before Swine," several of my classmates felt that the only reason you changed "Swine" to "Breakfast" was to subliminally tell readers who were familiar with the saying that you looked down at the all of the people who walked by Joshua Bell and didn't notice him, let alone recognize his talent. That you deemed it above their level.

I felt that it suggested that you didn't look down on those people but considered that if the experiment had been done at a more convenient time, more of them would appreciate the beauty in Joshua Bell's performance.

Would you be willing to clarify for the sake of educational argument?

Also, in the article you mention Leonard Slatkin's predictions for the experiment. Having lived in the Washing D.C. area for several years, what were yours?

I look forward to your response to include in my report for Wednesday.

Thank you, Lauryn Christy

Gene Weingarten: You should never ask an artist to explain his art. Fortunately for you, I am not an artist, I am just a hack, so it's okay.

I wrote the headline; I meant it to be ambiguous but also provocative. I definitely wanted it to conjure up "Pearls before swine," of course, but not in the sense that the people rushing by Josh Bell were ignorant or uncouth. The story made it clear that I didn't feel that way. The fact is, however, that the concert was wasted on the huge majority of them, just as pearls would be wasted on pigs.

The "breakfast" part was intended to soften the first meaning, and create the ambiguity. It was early, people were in a hurry.

I do not know whether doing this at a later time in the day would have materially affected the results; my suspicion is, not much. You had to be there to see the degree to which people were almost aggressively not noticing Josh.

I had pretty much expected the results we got, but I am a cynic. I was almost alone in that; the general impression among the few editors who knew this was going to happen was that we'd have crowd-control problems.


Underage Girls: Hi, Gene,

I recently found out that my husband has been sleeping with a 16 year old girlfriend (we are 30).

I am floored. We are now getting divorced.

Should I seek sole custody? Ask for monitored visitation? Obviously, his judgement is suspect.

Can I trust him with our children? They are 2 and 3. I don't know who else to go to for help on this.

Thanks, Gene.

Gene Weingarten: I'm terribly sorry to hear this, and I don't know what to advise you. Is there anyone who has any wisdom to impart?


Hypothetic, AL: Here's a hypothetical....

Suppose the case was supposed to be a drug buy, but the "eyes" saw a mugging: a woman was shoved, hit her head, knocked out and her bag was grabbed.

Everything else played out the same way as before. Say she wrote her shopping list on a $10 and he was caught with that bill. The woman is not testifying; she is in the hospital with a cerebral edema.

Acquit because the police lied?

Gene Weingarten: Intriguing question. I'm assuming the same set of facts: The police testimony pretends to a vastly greater specificity of identification than he could possibly have had?

I don't know how I would have decided there.


Fairfax: Garfield was actually funny on Monday! Garfield, (Jan. 25)

Gene Weingarten: It is!


Washington DC: What's wrong with having two girls named Unique? They might share one aspect of themselves (the first name) with another person, but they ARE each unique, without a doubt.

(Yeah, yeah. I get it. It's fun to mock other cultures and their stupid names. But if you think about this one... you could've done better.)

Gene Weingarten: It passes the inaptonym test splendidly.


Super Bowl Advertising: This has nothing to do with your usual topics but wanted to throw something out there. I heard on my local sports radio that Tim Tebow (Florida's QB) and his mother are going to do an anti abortion ad paid for by Focus on the Family to run during the Super Bowl.

What do you think of this? I think it sucks. I know CBS probably needs the revenue, but can't we just watch a freaking football game without politics and Jesus (or the politics of Jesus)?

And my other question would be where are they going to put this ad? In between the beer ads and the beer ads that include farting? I just don't get it.

Gene Weingarten: I think it's his right, and you probably would not object to an ad for planned parenthood.


Metro: Hi Gene,

Metro has had a bad year in killing people. Do you know if it's more or less than in other major cities? I know London had such a high suicide by Tube rate that there was special therapy, etc for drivers who hit 3 + people.

Gene Weingarten: The Post had a really good piece a few weeks ago about operators who had (inadvertently) been the instrument of suicides. They are deeply injured, emotionally.

Liz, can you find this?


Fairbanks, Alaska: Let me offer the possibility that at some time before the call-in, the police "eyes" and the suspect really were close to one another (50 or 60 feet) and the officer really did spot the identifying details he testified about. By the time of the call-in, the suspect was further away, but the officer remembered the details and properly mentioned them in the call-in.

Gene Weingarten: If so, he never testified to anything like that; in fact, at one point he testified that he could not identify the make of running shoe the defenant wore because he was too far away.

_______________________ For train operators, a lingering mix of horror, helplessness, (Post, Oct. 2, 2009)


washington dc: Sigh. I was groped while GIVING BLOOD. I couldn't do anything but push my arm closer to my side. I was so upset, but I simply couldn't bring myself to report it. I so regret not reporting it.

Gene Weingarten: Wow.


Springfield, VA: Gene, I have a dilemma that I thought you might have insight on. Spouse and I are considering moving the Florida, we have 1 young child.

We don't have a job offer yet (wouldn't move without one) but from our research we have reason to believe that both of our fields would be more highly valued in FL. We would also have a wider range of job options, so would have a better chance of finding a fulfilling fit.

Basically, every single factor seems to say that we should move, except for the fact that we're from here - both of us have lived in this area since high school, our entire families are here - we've got some serious roots.

How would you weigh these two factors? How do you assign a value to factors that are so different?

Gene Weingarten: Life is about experience. You move. You will always have a home to come back to, if you want to.


Eyes Have It: Interesting Op-Ed.

But consider this: I've hunted and fished my entire life. My brother and cousin are professional outdoor guides.

At 170 feet, the length of a half a football field, they (and I) can spot probably hundreds of things you can't: hidden squirrels and rabbits, species of duck, antler tines on a deer, the body language of a coyote. This extends further underwater where my cousin can see things his clients only dream of. Species and size of fish, tiny baits, how a predator fish is moving. It's remarkable.

It's also remarkable how poor Marine snipers are at judging distances with the naked eye, but nobody contends that harms them from shooting accurately.

I guess my point is, there are people who do this stuff everyday for a living, and I'm willing to be all my assets my cousin can see things at 170 that you would swear didn't exist.

We all have physical limitations and strengths. You are an amazing parallel parker: maybe the cops have incredible eyesight honed over years of careful observation. Was that ever considered?

Gene Weingarten: Not be me. Nope.


Gene Weingarten: To the person who posted that thing about Alex Trebek: No, I cannot publish that.


New York, N.Y.: In RE: Washington DC on Unique being okay because they're unique:

Everyone is unique to some degree. That doesn't mean they should all be named Unique. Or Human. Or Mammal. Or Matter. It's not cultural (name me a culture that was using this name at any point prior to the last 20 years), it's just dumb.

Gene Weingarten: I like "Mammal." That would be a great name.


1 Angry Gene: As a result of your failure to convict in a case from which you were dismissed as a juror, how long do you figure it will be before your wife, son, daughter and putative grandchildren will be buying drugs from the dealer who was set free? That seems to be the main conclusion that many readers draw from your story. Also, did you buy a switchblade, just in case you needed it to make a point during deliberations?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, I wanted to whangggg it into the conference table.


You're part of the problem: Gene, do you really not see that you're part of this, by minimizing the issue and dismissing the victims and what they go through?

"Perhaps he thought your microphone had fallen into your cleavage and was just trying to help." She was attacked in public -- and apparently no one present helped or even spoke up -- but it was just a little sexual assault, so that's okay. She's just a woman, after all. "He was a mischievous devil." No, he was a predator. Being famous, or your coworker, doesn't make that okay.

I don't see how man who likes and respects women, and actually sees them as people rather than lesser beings, could react as you are.

Gene Weingarten: So you thought my microphone line was serious? That I was minimizing this?


Dead grandmas, cheating husbands...: It seems that over the years you've really turned into a source of advice for increasingly serious problems. I think you handle them well, especially when it's clear you're not comfortable dispensing advice, but I wonder how you feel that people come to you with these problems?

Are you secretly really pleased by the power, or does it scare you a bit?

Gene Weingarten: It scares me because in most cases I don't know what I am talking about. I can be totally trusted only about antique clocks and writing.


I had pretty much expected the results we got, but I am a cynic. : You didn't get the results you got because people are insensitive to beauty; you got them because the whole experiment was flawed. Yes, I totally understand the restrictions you were under -- Bell only had a January opening and it had to be indoors but Metro wouldn't let you etc. -- but those restrictions meant that the results were seriously skewed. It would only have been valid if Bell had been playing inside Metro, especially near the tracks. Otherwise, you've got everyone scurrying in from nasty weather to get to work.

Gene Weingarten: This is an argument I have never heard before: Inside Metro, near the tracks? Why?

We did this indoors. No one was hurrying out of the cold. Some people were moving INTO the cold, but that's just a reason to linger a moment, no?


Savannah, Ga.: The groping question is so interesting! I had a realization while answering the last question -- as an attractive female, I have more license to touch a male colleague or friend than they do to touch me. Is that right or even ok? Shouldn't the rules be the same for everyone? Most men are so responsive to the attention of pretty girls, that I didn't much consider it crossing a boundary.

Gene Weingarten: It isn't. There's another calculus at work, and it's an important one: The power boundary.

Women are more vulnerable; that's just the way it is. Something playful that a woman might do to a man might well seem hostile turned the other way around.


Washington, D.C.: I had the same experience you did on a D.C. jury in a criminal trial--the defendant was pretty clearly guilty, but all three of cops who testified lied. The defendant was acquitted.

We hear all the time about how voting is a civic responsibility, but serving on a jury is an older and more essential one. A juror really can stand up against the state applying (sometimes, and perhaps not often) its prosecutorial powers unfairly. I wish people didn't think it was such a joke.

Gene Weingarten: I don't think people think it's a joke. In my experience, people take it very seriously, as they should.


Alexandria, Va.: I'm sure you won't like to hear this, Gene, but I've often considered you about one step removed from being a groper yourself. You love to talk about the famous VPL and other issues of how women are dressed. Of course there is a difference between a man who puts his hands on a woman versus a guy who is looking closely enough at a woman's clothes to see her underwear outlines - but it's a thin line (ha!) of difference.

Gene Weingarten: Ma'am, you don't need to look closely at women, to unduly scrutinize them, to observe VPL.

If you consider me a borderline groper, I am guessing you consider 80 percent of all men borderline gropers.


The Groping Poll: Gene - I love you, but I think you've misread the Sexist column a bit. I don't think she's saying there are only women and gropers, she's saying that there are a lot of gropers out there, people who wouldn't consider themselves gropers, because they think they're entitled to other peoples' bodies. She uses an example of a woman groping a man, too, and she also uses some examples that could go either way. I also think it doesn't matter if someone has "only" been groped against his or her will once or twice. That's still a violation of that person's space and bodily autonomy, no matter how often it's happened. I don't think she's overstating the problem, either. This kind of thing happens all the time, and sometimes people are so conditioned to it that they don't see it as problematic - whether they're the victims or the perpetrators. Also, people can be both victims and perpetrators. A person who has groped someone might also be groped by someone else. There aren't women and gropers, there are people who grope, people who don't, people who have been groped, people who haven't, and people who - fitting into any of the above categories - either see groping for what it is (and see it as problematic) or who don't see it for what it is/don't see it as problematic. She's not setting up a binary, in my view.

Gene Weingarten: Nonsense.

To take this position is, in my mind, to trivialize the problem through political correctness. Yes, there are male victims of domestic violence, too, but when we discuss the problem as a national scourge, they're not the ones we are talking about, nor should they be.

As this chat is proving, there are many gropers and many gropees, and they are overwhelmingly women, and it isn't funny.

Gene Weingarten: Also, only 16 percent of women say they have never been groped. I find that deeply disturbing. Who ARE these men?


Gee, your hair smells terri...sorry: All the touching you describe seems like normal human interaction, and looking is just looking. But the hair smelling thing strikes me as creepy.

Gene Weingarten: I was surprised by this result -- people saw this as the biggest invasion -- since the hair-smelling is the only thing that could be done completely covertly. You might THINK someone is doing it, but you couldn't be sure.

I think it's the "smelling" part. I think that's creeping people out.

I should say that of all the liberties enumerated in this list, that's the only one I might do. I might do it if it involved no head movement; no repositioning; no overt act. It would almost be a game. Can I, by concentrating, locate and analyze the appropriate air molecules?

Of course, then what comes to mind is a certain prison scene in The Silence of the Lambs (Hannibal Lecter: "I cannot.") and I see the creepiness.


Diane Sawyer: Why do you see a problem with Pres. Obama kissing a female journalist on the cheek to greet her? We know nothing about their relationship. They may be friendly from past meetings. I took a potential client to lunch last week. We have met at numerous different industry events, chatted at each - about work, non-work, everything. He kissed me thanks as we parted and I saw nothing wrong with it. Yes, it's a business relationship, but it's a friendly one. It all depends on the circumstances.

Gene Weingarten: Because it was done in front of a camera. Because Diane was at that moment a professional woman about to conduct a professional interview, and this was inappropriate of Obama; it diminished her slightly.

Not a felony. a class B misdemeanor.


Tampa, Fla.: RE Underage Girl:

"Should I seek sole custody? Ask for monitored visitation? Obviously, his judgment is suspect."

Well, his judgment may be suspect in terms of his choice, but not necessarily in terms of his ability to be with his children. Recognize that right now your judgment is also being influenced by the situation. My suggestion is to find the best divorce/family attorney you can and let them provide some guidance - you are too emotional right now (justifiably so) to make this decision by yourself.

Gene Weingarten: Of all the advice that has rolled in so far, this is the best, I think. I agree with it.

I've heard no reason he'd be a danger to the children, but what do I know?


Washington, D.C.: The Joshua Bell article came up in a work meeting last month, and I sent it to my co-workers, and also read it again myself. I was surprised that I still had a very strong emotional reaction to it - I even cried again. So kudos to you - your articles retain their emotional power no matter how often they are read. I am also on a chat board where someone referenced the babies left in cars article, and it was linked. I couldn't click on the link because I knew how sad it would make me.

When will the collected articles book come out? I would buy it, in hardcover. (And I only buy 8-10 new books a year - the rest are used or I borrow from the library. And of the 8-10, maybe 1 is a hardcover). So that is high praise!

Gene Weingarten: This summer. And you won't be able to buy it in hardcover. It's being issued as a paperback, which I'm glad of. Cheaper.


No reason he'd be a danger to the children: He chose to show his children that it's OK for a grown man to take advantage of a minor child and have sex with her even though it's illegal and immoral and will ruin her life (give her sex and daddy issues that will haunt her for the res of her life).

Gene Weingarten: Okay. Noted.


Brass Ovaries: Already an expression, albeit not in wide usage. I've been trying to change that,but without much luck. Go Gene!

Gene Weingarten: Oooh, that's a step better. Good.


New York, N.Y.: Could you please say something reassuring about knee replacement surgery? My mother had hers done yesterday and is in a lot of pain -- and this from a woman who had two natural childbirths without screaming, and declined morphine the day after a colon resection!

Gene Weingarten: Did she have both done? If she did, here is the best thing I heard, when I complained that one hurt much worse than the other:

Think of it as one feeling much better than the other.

Tell your ma: Three weeks. In three weeks she will start to feel human.


You're not that dense: I thought your microphone joke was a joke. That's the problem: you're joking about attacks which many men think are just fine, or even something to laugh about.

You're not joking to lighten a horrible situation after condemning the conduct; you're just joking from start to finish, after deliberately mischaracterizing the column which prompted the discussion.

Do you really not see anything wrong with making light of these assaults as your sole response? Really?

Gene Weingarten: I think if you are reading this chat and concluding that I am being an apologist for gropers, you are reading this chat wrong.


Foul: In your musings about the Pick-Up Artist, you stated that women liked to be touched. Please clarify.

Gene Weingarten: I didn't say I felt that. I stated that that is what the class taught, and it was. But this was about behavior in a pick-up bar, with consensual flirting back and forth. Entirely different.


Suburbanite: Just an observation here: The premise of the jury system is that every juror brings his own life experience, knowledge and, yes, prejudice to the trial, to be balanced with/against 11 other jurors. Your personal experience as a former heroin user might have informed your assessment of how drug dealers work, how cops work and the true impact of heroin usage (you seem to have turned out okay). That would be a reason for mentioning it in the story.

Gene Weingarten: The main reason I think I should have mentioned it is simply that I can't give a good reason NOT to mention it. And it would have been interesting.


Lying Cops & a Lit Question: In another lifetime, I worked in counter intelligence in Army, & in my own personal experience, the imperative to lie in order to nail a bad guy is irresistible. Moreover, loyalty to one's buddies & one's institution, especially when one works in a morally ambiguous world like MI or police work, will always trump adherence to the law.

On a slightly different note: who said it was better to betray one's country than one's friend in what nearly famous literary work?

Gene Weingarten: I don't know. Who?


Arlington, Va.: For the person considering a move to Florida, please make sure you spend a little time there first before you decide if you have not already done so. Most of Florida is a rotten hell hole. It is generally conservative and not especially "civilized." I know that makes me sound really snobbish, and I probably am. I spent four years there in college and still go to visit my parents for a week or so once a year. I cannot stand the place.

Gene Weingarten: Miami-Miami Beach is fine, so long as you don't give a crap about change of season, and you're willing to learn conversational Spanish.


Silver Spring, Md.: Information on Weingarten's book:

It's called "Fiddler in the Subway: And Other Great Pieces You May Have Missed" and will be released July 6, 2010. It'll be 288 pages and is available for preorder on Amazon for $10.87

Gene Weingarten: Hahaha.

Okay I didn't even know that was online.


Re: Underage Girls: When I was 17, I slept with a 30-year-old coworker (he was single). I came on to him as much as or more than he came on to me. It was definitely weird judgment on his part, since I was underage, but he was a decent man and I would have no trouble trusting him around children. I'm sorry about your marriage-- just writing in to say that his poor choice doesn't necessarily have to be a custodial dealbreaker.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.


Fort Myers, Fla.: Hi, Gene. I enjoy your tete-a-tetes with Gina. Is it possible that you could have your artist do a charicature of her alongside you with those columns. I picture her as insufferably plain with gray straggly hair and a large wart on her nose. Close?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, and morbidly obese.


Gene Weingarten: (Gina is a hottie.)


It was E.M. Forster who said that : an essay called "What I Believe":

"I hate the idea of causes," he wrote, "and if I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country."

Gene Weingarten: Thank you. I understand that. I know what he is saying; a personal betrayal is in some ways less acceptable.


Rockville, MD: I'm surprised nobody commented that the guy in the ad was sending pictures from the cell phone while the plane was in the air.

That would so not happen.

Gene Weingarten: You can't do that?

_______________________ An illustration of the lovely Gina Barreca


Arlington, VA: Gene sez: "I think if you are reading this chat and concluding that I am being an apologist for gropers, you are reading this chat wrong."

You just don't get it, do you? As I've told you to your face (well, by e-mail), your flippancy often makes you come across about as senstive as a toilet seat.

Gene Weingarten: I AM about a sensitive as a toilet seat. But I don't condone sexual aggression against women.


Complete asi, DE: I prefer paperbacks. Hardbacks are heavier and harder to carry around with you and don't open as nicely. Of course, that's mainly because I promptly break the spine of nearly every book I own so I can open it flat. Also, I don't feel as bad when the bottom of them gets soaked in bathwater.

The books I reread when I'm sick are held together with packing tape and rubber bands. My 1960s copies of the Lord of the Ring trilogy are in pieces. I love them all.

That said, I'm not a fan of the mass market paperback format. Too thick for the width - they're hard to hold open while laying on your side. Also, I don't any of this to library books or books people lent me.

Gene Weingarten: I just like that people will be able to buy it for very little money. I don't expect to make any money on this book; I just will be honored if people read it.

Okay, thank you all. I'll be updating every Tuesday. The next chat will be the last Tuesday in February.


UPDATED 2.02.10

Gene Weingarten: Okay, after reading all the new e-mails and leftovers from the last chat, it would appear the theme of this week's update will be: Am I, or am I not, a sexist pig and an apologist for groping, rudely hair-sniffing men? The discussion follows.


Yeah: The microphone line was minimizing it. It's the kind of sentiment that makes women not come forward and report gropings and implies that it's not really that bad a thing for men to do.

But you were just trying to be funny, right?

Gene Weingarten: I was, but I failed.

I came to this conclusion only after the chat, reading some commentary I hadn't seen before.

This is in reference to a posting from a woman who'd had a TV talking head plunge his hand into her blouse. She'd described it as the worst thing of the sort that had ever happened to her. My response was "Perhaps he thought your microphone had fallen into your cleavage and was just trying to help."

I'd intended this as snide commentary about the sorts of absurd rationalizations men might make, but it came off way too flip. Apologies.


Arlington, Va.: Gene, I truly share the views you expressed quite well regarding Hollywood special effects in your Below the Beltway column on Sunday: I hate them, and I will not pay to see them. With that said, I often find you to be a huge jerk on various issues, and one of them was expressed in that very column. It has nothing to do with your viewpoint on the issue -- it has everything to do with your 'tude.

I liked your Sunday column so much that I read it to my wife. She is a cinema fan. But when I finished reading it to her, it became IMMEDIATELY apparent that she had only heard two and ONLY two words (three, with two hyphenated) in the entire column: "flat-chested women."

I am a long-time multiple poster in this chat, and I have often criticized you for your insistence on denigrating groups of people, e.g., the residents of Battle Mountain, gap-toothed incestuous West Virginia residents, knuckle-dragging conservatives (hey, Gene, how 'bout that Massachusetts election???!!??), etc. etc. etc. But never have I see the effect of your totally obnoxious 'tude brought home (ha-ha!) by my wife's reaction to your Sunday column. She accepts her physical limitations, but she does not appreciate having others make light of them in a way that reflects a casual, hurtful 'tude that is nothing less than bigoted (in the plain sense that you ridiculed an entire group of persons based on their physical appearance).

I have repeatedly called you out on this obnoxious 'tude of yours, both in this chat and in direct communication. Your natural loathsome insistence on such language, born of your often-misguided attempts at humor, is hurtful enough for various large groups of people, but I bring my wife's reaction to your attention as a clear example of the fact that, whatever communication skills you claim to have, your otherwise well-stated message is being lost on a large segment of your readers by your insistence on the cheap one-liner. In this instance, your offhand comment is akin to Al Gore's behavior during the 2000 presidential debates when post-debate polls showed that his confrontational body language was perceived by large groups of women as "threatening." Or, as my wife said after hearing your column, "Weingarten can eat [dirt]."

In the interests of comity, I will offer a rebuttal a la Mel Gibson that would sound much like you: "Ask your wife 'what are you complaining about, sugar [breasts]?'" His 'tude and yours aren't much different.

Gene Weingarten: I accuse you of despicable and destructive sexism. Seriously.

You describe your wife's "physical limitations" as something she "accepts"? Really? Have you made her feel that way? Shame on you, if you have.

Never did I say, or imply, that I find anything wrong with "flat chested." That is your inference, and not a healthy one. My wife is petite in all ways. She is not buxom. I find her extraordinarily hot.

If you will read that column, with the line in context, it should be clear that what I am talking about is something positive and liberating: In feminist filmmaking, unlike so much male filmmaking, the women are not meeting some sexist, idealized, Barbie-inspired physical type. It's refreshing realism.

Shame on you. I mean that. Please tell your wife that, apparently unlike her husband, I consider her unflawed and lovely.


Rockville, Md.: Gene. I've never been groped and am thankful for that. However, as a runner, I am often whistled at, "hey baby"-ed, you name it, but passersby in cars. I really really want to run them down and write down the plate and report them, but it feels like what they want is a response, any response. So should I just ignore them?

Gene Weingarten: What they want is a response, any response. And if you tried to report them, you'd be laughed at; they're committing no crime. It used to be possible to match a license plate to a name -- which raises all sorts of delicious possibilities for subtle humiliating punishments afterwards, such as call to a wife -- but you can't do that anymore. (And for good reason: Ironically, women were being stalked.)

You could do the famed pinky finger flash but I don't recommend anything that might get a jerk angry. It's not worth it.


Washington, D.C.: Gene: "Oh, that's just [famous man] being [famous man]," was what they said. I knew Famous Man. He was a mischievous devil. He knew what he was getting away with, and why.

Judging from your comments so far, you don't seem to find groping that offensive, do you? I suspect it's because you do not know what it's like to be on the receiving end, how humiliating it can be, especially when women have been raised to be polite creatures and are often at a power disadvantage with their would-be groper.

Gene Weingarten: Why are you concluding this?

The point I was making here was that for reasons I never quite fathomed, [famous man] was getting away with it because women were unwisely making excuses for him. He was old and from another era, and famous, and he was getting a pass he did not deserve.

I feel picked on. Stop picking on me. I'm on your side.


Giving Change: The kind of groping I hate is when a cashier is giving you change and finds a way to touch my hand while transferring the cash, no matter how I try to avoid it. One of the cashiers in my work cafeteria did this EVERY TIME (he is no longer there). The line for his register was always shorter than the other two cashiers.

Gene Weingarten: Copping a HAND feel? Men do this, too?

You know, there is a degree of pathetic desperation that beggars the imagination. This whole discussion has left me feeling vaguely nauseated

I began this discussion with a feeling that the issue was overblown. I'm convinced it is not. I find myself hoping, though, that we are talking about relatively few recidivists.


What a bunch of liars: I'm a guy, and I answered that I have furtively touched a woman "once or twice." Eighty percent of the other men who answered that the NEVER engaged in this are bald-faced liars. You seriously want us to believe that during high school you never hugged a girl and felt a little of the side boob? Or during college dance class (yes I took it) brushed a little against your partner's breast, just, so, you know...


Gene Weingarten: I answered never, and I was not lying. I think you are deluding yourself.

The notion of copping a side-boob feels sounds so creepy and awkward to me I can't fathom anyone angling for it; if it happened accidentally I think I'd blush and stammer.


Washington, D.C.: It's only January, but ...headline of the year?!

Gene Weingarten: Definitely.


UPDATED 2.09.10

Gene Weingarten: We begin today's update with an entry in the Aptonym Hall of Fame. This person was on TV yesterday, as an expert in snow clearing:

I wonder how he is in bed?? Pretty good, I bet!


Greenbelt, Md.: Is the adverb dying?

Gene Weingarten: I dearly love adverbs and am really and truly loath to drop them. I note wryly that in the sentence smugly quoted from Mark Twain, dissing the adverb, Twain adroitly and apparently unconsciously uses an adverb well.


Arlington, Va.: Dude, I think you more than "used" heroin; you used it often enough to impact your liver. How often do you have to use to be an addict?

Gene Weingarten: You have to use often enough that you cannot NOT use without suffering withdrawal; I was never there.

Heroin use itself does not do liver damage; the liver damage comes if you contract hepatitis, which I did. That can happen from a single use of an infected needle.

In short, heroin = bad. Do not do.


Silver Spring, Md.: Gene,

I just saw a blog headline on the WP Web site that is giving me an anxiety attack: "Obama Paves the Way for Palin Presidency". Her joining Fox News makes me believe this is a possibility. You were right about Obama in 08 - what do you predict now?

Gene Weingarten: I predict he will be re-elected in a landslide. Obama has star power, and he has shrewdly packed his first year with bitter pills. The economy will have rebounded when he runs again.

It is not his fault that he was elected in a spasm of national hope, where he was elected to be all things to all people. Or that it takes time to learn the art of presidenting.


Gene Weingarten: Then there is the glorious, bubbly rising tide of Sarah. As the Republican nominee, she will guarantee Obama's reelection. As a third-party nominee, she will guarantee Obama's reelection.


Seattle, Wash.: What do you think about Mrs McCain posing for the No H8 picture? She just got hotter!

Gene Weingarten: She did!

Gene Weingarten: There's actually a really interesting thing going on here. If you page through all the pictures, everyone looks hotter. Camryn Manheim looks hot. Gloria Allred looks hot. That wenis Perez Hilton looks hot. Fran Drescher looks hot.

I don't know if it is a little frisson from the bondage thing, or very skillful lighting and makeup, or some Photoshop Photox injections. Or is there something inherently ugly about our mouths?


No reason he'd be a danger to the children: He's guilty of a (legal and moral) crime and the nature of the crime is directly related to children. If the crime had been shoplifting I wouldn't say it would affect his parenting, but his crime was towards a child. He can not honor sexual boundaries between children and adults, he's a sexual child abuser.

Gene Weingarten: Sorry, but no, I think you are going too far.

This is in reference to the sad case of the woman who was divorcing her husband after he had an affair with a 16-year-old girl. She wanted to know if she needed to worry about him having visitation with his own (I think) pre-teen children.

Sixteen is creepy and crappy and lousy and awful, but this is not pedophelia, and in most jurisdictions, it's not even illegal. Sixteen, as I recall, is the most common statewide age of consent. I don't LIKE the guy, I think she's right to dump him, I think it's a tragedy, I think he's a case of arrested development, but I don't think he is perforce a danger to children, especially his own.

Okay, have at me.


That Takes Ovaries: Gene Weingarten: You mean "the ovaries." I want to coin this expression. I want to the world to help me out. It should be used by men, too. As in, "I'd like to do that, but I don't know if I've got the ovaries, man."

C'mon Gene, feminists have been using this phrase for a while now. See the book with the same title.

Gene Weingarten: I didn't know that, but I am proposing an important variation: I think men should use it, about themselves. I'd like to coin this usage, publicly, but I don't know if I have the ovaries.


Strange Bedfello, WS: For Christmas 2008 my wife and I got pillow cases that say "Always Kiss Me Goodnight". The first time we used them, I asked, "what else would we do, high five each other good night?"

So, we have been giving each other a high-five good night for over a year now.

Does anyone else have a weirder night time tradition that does not involve sex?

Gene Weingarten: I will put this out there and ask people to write their answers in to the next chat.


UPDATED 2.16.10

Kar, MA: Do you believe in karma, or a universal balance? You are pretty profound but also think poop is funny. And my love life is poop. The guy I'm casually dating (whom I really like) is losing interest, and I realized I never apologized to two other guys I inadvertently treated like garbage. So I e-mailed them both a heartfelt "I'm sorry" today. Not that I expect Dating Guy to come around, but I figure my balance sheet is now clean for the next guy.

This doesn't just apply to dating of course, but life's general seesaw. And I think you can be an atheist who still believes in symmetry and balance. What do you think?

Gene Weingarten: Well, this is a good question.

I think I'm a pretty hardbitten atheist; I reject anything that involves notions of the spiritual. I have nothing but amused contempt for people who waste their time with things like crystals, feng shui, fortune telling or astrology.

In fact, I am in the process of writing yet another long plea to my bosses at The Post on a topic with which you are all familiar: the embarrassment of our running horoscopes. I have a brand-new argument! I say it is an unseemly incursion into theology.

I remember some years ago, when a furor arose over some of Johnny Hart's Christian proselytizing in "B.C.," a top editor was quoted saying that "The Washington Post does not advocate one religion over others." The quote was noble and high-minded, but it was not strictly accurate. Astrology fits any contemporary definition of a religion -- it is a supernatural set of beliefs that presupposes a higher power and imagines that we have a fate and a destiny. We advocate this religion every day on our pages.

Nah, it won't gain traction, but I had fun writing it.

Anyway, back to your original question: No, I do not believe in karma. I do believe that being good has its own reward, in a central sense of peace of mind, and often in, say, not being incarcerated or having had your severed head placed on a pole and paraded through the streets.


Washington, D.C.: Wait, you believe that the cops lied under oath in some of their testimony, but believe, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the rest of their testimony is true?

You are either the greatest mind reader in history or you are trying too hard to make yourself a nullifier.

Gene Weingarten: Sorry, I know this was three weeks ago, and the facts may have faded a bit, but the questions keep coming in, and many of them are good.

This is about the trial where I sat as an alternate juror, and about my belief that even thought the police had lied, the defendant was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The answer to your question is that something other than police testimony matters: It also matters how the defense responds to the police testimony.

In my view and that of other jurors, the defense completely dismantled the police testimony about what they had seen from the distance they had seen it. But the defense did almost nothing to counter the central police contention: That they found the defendant with the marked money just moments after the crime. This was an excellent defense lawyer: Had that been challengeable in any way, it would have been.

The defense also made a very feeble and unconvincing effort to establish an alibi for the accused man.

To me, the facts were clear. To the other jurors also, I believe. The one juror I talked to afterward, who may have been the person leaning MOST heavily to acquittal, felt the defendant might not have been the dealer but the money man for the deal. Definitely complicit in some way.


Oakton, Va.: I always thought that there was a very good chance that O.J. was both guilty and framed. How would you apply your logic to a murder case?

Gene Weingarten: On a murder case, I think the same calculus would apply; if it was a frame-up, I'd acquit even if I knew the person was guilty.

The Simpson case was not a frame-up, though. The Simpson case was a dreadful bit of prosecuting and sloppy police work. The lead detective was a racist. But the evidence was hugely there, and it was not manufactured. It was triangulated.

I feel confident I would have hung that jury. And I think a lot of you would have, too.


Sun City Center, Fla.: Why does everybody FOX, ABC, CBS, CNBC, MSNBC, abd especially YOU ignore those of us in the middle at your own peril? I as well as obviously many in Massachusetts do NOT lean in any direction. When we MOTR's (Middle-of the Road) take over, maybe we'll allow you to keep your column. (Of course, if we lean LEFT, we won't. )

Gene Weingarten: There is no such thing as middle of the road. By definition. The middle of the road is a line; in physics, a line has only one dimension: Length. It has no width. Ergo, your politics must fall on one side or the other; I am merely compelling you to choose.


Temporarily, DC: I too was stunned, amazed and disheartened by the Jeopardy literary incompetents. They've been scraping the bottom of the contestant barrel lately...

Gene Weingarten: But these people were otherwise knowledgeable, and relatively personable, for Jeopardy contestants. It seemed almost an accident: Three shockingly ill-read, literarily incurious people. A hole in their souls.

Who doesn't know Prufrock??


Never thought of that: I am a woman and it never crossed my mind to use toilet paper to quiet the sound of using the restroom. Thank you for the new trick, I will definitely use it in the future!

Gene Weingarten: Oddly enough, you are the third woman to say exactly this. I feel proud, but surely some women must already do this, no? (The reference here is to using toilet paper atop the water in the pot, to mask pee sounds in close quarters.)


You'd have to close your eyes to not "test" your vision at 170 feet: While the deliberate test you did was interesting and useful, it doesn't take such elaborate intent to "test" how much detail you can see at 170 feet. All you have to do is observe, as you go about your day, how much detail you can see. No reasonable person could avoid this, in my opinion -- and I frankly would not want the person who could fail to think about this on a jury.

Noticing what you can see at 170 feet isn't violating any jury conduct rules, or investigating on your own. What are you supposed to do, keep your eyes closed until the case is over?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, this was my position, though many of you disagree. I don't think anyone would have concluded I did anything wrong if, when I walked out in the street for a sandwich during jury deliberation, I estimated 170 feet and tried to figure out what I could see at that distance, including looking for someone in a t-shirt or with a necklace around her neck, or someone carrying something soda-bottlish.

I can't see how what I did was materially different.


Free speech (cont.): Gene,

Understand your response on this issue, but I disagree that money is speech, as their argument goes. Money isn't speech. It's volume. It's the difference between talking on a street corner, and talking on a street corner through a huge megaphone. Seems to me it creates an unfair advantage. Not that it will ever change.

Gene Weingarten: I wish I could agree with you, I really do. But by your argument, what's printed in The Washington Post isn't speech either, because we certainly have a megaphone, too.


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