Chatological Humor: Monthly with Moron (UPDATED 3.16.10)

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Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 23, 2010; 12:00 PM

Weekly Updates: 3.2.10 | 3.9.10 | 3.16.10

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.

One Tuesday each month, Weingarten is online to take your questions and abuse: This month, that day is Feb. 23 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:

1.Highbrow

2.Middlebrow

3.Lowbrow

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

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

New to Chatological Humor? Read the FAQ.

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

____________________

Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon. In my obnoxiously long intro today I am going to deal with two of the questions from today's poll:1. Highbrow

2.

Middlebrow

3.

Lowbrow

.

So if you have not answered it yet, please do so now. For the entertainment of those who are waiting for you to finish, we have not one, and not two, but THREE Instapolls, which is a Post interactive record not soon to be broken.

Instapoll one, right here, involves this very brief clip I found yesterday while noodling around with the subject of Death. I am guessing your answers will be revealing.

MEN

/

WOMEN

Instapoll two is about linguisitics:

Instapoll 2

And the results of Instapoll three I predict will be illuminating in a way that will lead to good discussion.

Instapoll 3

--

Okay, a couple of weeks ago, after reading the poem, "Father to the Man," that is in the poll, I emailed the author excitedly. Below is an excerpt of my letter to him:

I am The Washington Post humor columnist. I also write occasionally intelligent literary criticism, as well as political commentary poisoned by liberal mania. As a poet, I claim competence only in the indefensible double dactyl.

I am writing to you because I am on an important mission, one that I hope to enlist you in.

My good friend Pat Myers yesterday emailed me a copy of your piece, "Father to the Man," both because she felt it was excellent and because she knew it would annoy me. She was right, and right again.

I love "Father to the Man." I love it on many levels, from the deceptive simplicity of the storyline to the inspired high-fiving image that took me embarrassingly long to visualize and understand. The last line is magnificent. This is a perfectly voiced, elegantly textured piece and I congratulate you on it.

Pat knew it would annoy me because she knows how I feel about most unmetered, unrhymed poetry. I have written often, and volubly, of my contempt for it. I mentioned this many years ago when interviewing Billy Collins: He laughed and said, that, yes, while the advent of blank verse was a wonderful thing because it threw away the metronome, it was also bad because it unleashed upon the world a bucketload of inept writers who thought they could poetize.

I believe Billy underestimates the damage: I contend blank verse and unrhymed poetry in general not only emboldens bad writers but also injures good writers: that it has compelled people like you -- talented artists of evocative short-form prose -- to adhere to a form that is both absurd and (ironically, particularly in your case) pretentious. You must elbow and shoehorn and trowel your words into quatrains, broken haphazardly, else your work will not be considered poetry.

Yes, yes. I know. I have insulted you. Sadly, you must bear this for the conversation to continue.

I have read "Father to the Man" a dozen times. And yes, if I work backwards from the text, using an ample degree of intellectual dishonesty, I can find poetic rationales for many of the line breaks. But for most, no.

In my opinion, this sort of thing infects almost all works of unrhymed poetry, and all where there is no underlying metric.

What is the harm in this small conceit? In my mind, the harm is profound, because it is, in fact, a conceit: Any piece presenting itself this way is screaming to the reader: I am a poem! Behold my bodacious sensitivity. In something purporting to be poetry, this sort of pretension is a cancer, right from the start. Then it metastasizes.

(I believe I am onto something here; moreover, I believe the man who wrote "Father to the Man" knows that I am onto something here, whether or not he is ready yet to admit it. He may need a few more paragraphs to get on board.)

The problem lies with a basic flaw in literature: To my knowledge, there is no acceptable term to define or a literary category to identify -- the very short, lyrical, poetically crafted piece of prose. I contend this is because, in the stilted mind of the literary critic, prose has been confused with prosaic.

There is no shame in prose. There is magic in great, short prose. What it needs is a public champion or two.

I present to you the following work, which I admire enormously:

--

(I sent him his poem, re-written as prose, as in the

poll

.)

I would not be surprised if your first reaction is: "That doesn't work at all." If so, it is not because the piece is diminished; it is in fact considerably better because it lacks pretension while retaining all its beauty and power. It seems worse because we are all untrained to read something like this and see it for what it is. We have been trained, we have been infantilized, by pretension. We need to be liberated from this yoke.

What we need is a template. We need to be told that this sort of thing is art, that we must read it the right way. We need to be able to teach people to recognize greatness in prose, to see that certain things humbly set before us as prose are not mere writing, that they are extraordinary and must be savored for their elegance. We must teach people not to pass words like this idly by: "as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death..."

What if two people a poet and a, uh, something-or-other banded together to create a new literary form, something that provided a frame to brilliant short poetic prose? What if "Father to the Man," as presented above, became the first official work ever in the form? What if these two visionaries gave a compelling (as yet unborn) name to this genre, and them edited and published the first collection of it?

I believe we are at a solemn moment of greatness here. I suggest we both take a deep breath before we continue.

Okay? Good.

Now perhaps none of this excites you. Perhaps you do not wish to become a certified literary pioneer -- a Willkie Collins or a Lady Murasaki Shikibu. Or perhaps, more fundamentally, you disagree with my central thesis. If that is the case, there is nothing more to say. I am honored to have been able to share my admiration for your work. Goodbye.

But I fancy that is not the case. I have read "Father to the Man." Twelve times.

I await your response.

---

Tom Hunley responded almost immediately. I have not asked his permission to reproduce it, and so won't. He was gracious and polite but rejected my thesis, corrected me on some terminology, and urged me to buy his most recent book, "Octopus."

His central thesis was that line breaks are a poetic tool, not an artifice; that they can create wit and surprise and control the pace of reading. I disagree, and, judging from the poll results so far, so do you.

Anyway, just a few minutes ago, I sent him this response:

Tom I just finished reading

Octopus

and found myself as

charmed and unnerved as I

expected to be;

my favorite pie-

ce was Interdisciplinary Studies,

which

I

found to be

(as with much of your work)

an extraordinary example of

the art and the beauty and the exhilarating,

excruciating

tenderness of masterfully crafted

prose.

--

So, that's that. I shall have to partner with another.

I am reading with great pleasure your analysis of the Sally Quinn column, and am both surprised and delighted that you are far less judgmental about it than many media critics have been, both professional ones and amateurs who have had a field day with the Comments. You are largely right in being kind, but very wrong in why.

This was a poor column, and in my opinion it should not have run. It's not poor because it is trivial or self-absorbed. Sally is a very public person, people ARE interested in the circles in which she travels, there ARE certain universalities in what she's writing about, and, after all, she is a columnist; we mine our lives shamelessly. (What could be more self-absorbed than the long, tedious poetic debate I just subjected you all to? And remember, I am a noted genius with essentially infallible judgment. )

No, Sally's sin was putting into a newspaper something that was, on its face, not strictly true. This was not really a column (which at least theoretically traffics in fact and truth) so much as it was a social note -- a mannered apologia, a series of gentle misrepresentations involving politesse, euphemism, and thus such. It would have been perfectly fine as letter to relatives. As a column in a newspaper, no.

Quinn begins with the questionable generality that all families are dysfunctional. Really? Well, this absurd generalization helps make what follows palatable to all involved, but it is, y'know, certainly arguable. We learn that everyone was completely thrilled with the news of a pre-marital pregnancy. Really? I can see SOME thrill, along, perhaps, with some other sentiments. We are told, several times, that Sally Quinn takes COMPLETE responsibility for the error of the simultaneous weddings, and yet this is completely belied by the facts she then relates. First, it was her husband's fault. And second, we learn that since there would be not a single guest who would attend both affairs, it becomes questionable whether there actually was a mistake of any sort at all. Quinn denies these are dueling weddings, using the expression "nothing could be further from the truth," an expression that has never been used honestly, even once, in the history of human communication. The whole thing reeks of disingenuousness.

What's happened here is that a usually smart person got rendered dumb by being on the defensive, by having her family attacked, by wanting to make things better; she wrote this not realizing what it would look like. She needed to be saved by an editor. An editor needed to tell Sally, "no," then stand his or her ground forthrightly.

I know a lot about this subject because I have an editor like that. I hate him. He tells me NO all the time. And he has saved me from more than one grotesque embarrassment. The one time I didn't use Tom the Butcher was when I got online on my own to respond to some blogger in Peoria who had (in my mind) misunderstood the satiric brilliance behind a column I'd written about his city. In a mere few minutes of back and forth, the unedited Me managed to be pompous, humorless, pedantic, bloated, and a total a-hole. Eventually, I realized the horror of what was happening and tried to leaven things with toilet humor. Our exchange is out there for anyone to read, forever.

It is said that when you win a Pulitzer Prize, you are assured of what the first line of your obit will read. Well I am convinced (in fact, I now demand it) that my obit will begin: "Gene Weingarten, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who once was a total a-hole online with a blogger from Peoria..."

I think Sally got failed by her editors.

----

Okay, well, last week we showed a Chickweed Lane comic strip that had a joke about an erection. I thought it might have been the first ever, and it might have been, but I then found THIS from just a week later. Experts tell me the cartoonist might have plausible deniability, but I don't see where:

Overboard

--

This just in from Jody Beard: Just read your "Kids say the blandest things." I've worked as an assistant in an elementary school for 20 years and I have to agree--they may be getting smarter but they are not getting funnier. But there is hope--once in awhile a kid comes through. I work with Kindergarteners and this year when we had individual pictures done I was not happy with mine. It looked like a mug shot from a DUI. Picture retake day came and I was mulling whether to get another one done when one of our boys saw it on my table. He said "Mrs. Beard--is that a picture of you when you were older?"

--

Okay, you've had enough work to do. No Clip of the Day. Let's go.

_______________________

McLean, VA: I am developing a curious fascination with Curling, and am interested in your thoughts on the matter. I think it meets your criteria for being a sport, but I wonder if it is truly a sport worthy of the Olympics.

Gene Weingarten: I love it. I'll get yelled at for this, but I love it largely because I love the intensity of the women.

And yes, I consider it a sport. It's all about hand-eye-body coordination, and, most important, it is won by fact, not by judging whim.

_______________________

Vienna, VA: OK, I'll start the ball rolling because someone has to. Ice dancing and figure skating are NOT sports. They are Cirque du Soleil on ice. Any activity that relies solely on judges' opinions for the outcome are scored exhibitions. This goes for freestyle skiing, diving, gymnastics, trampoline (I'm not kidding--look it up) and (shudder) synchronized swimming, as well.

Yes, I know--those who participate in these events are extremely gifted athletes. But just because a physical activity requires athleticism doesn't mean it's a sport. Why not Olympic ballet? Why not Olympic log-rolling?

Gene Weingarten: This question came in right after the last. I could not have said this better.

_______________________

Fairfax, Va.: Was your latest column real? Those were the only people you spoke to and you really picked Katherine Weymouth from the white pages at random? I just can't believe it. Katherine Weymouth? At random?

washingtonpost.com: A poll-ish joke... and the last laugh is on Gene Weingarten

Gene Weingarten: I knew people wouldn't believe it, but it was so great a coincidence I had to risk that. Yep, Katharine. I laughed out loud.

_______________________

Gene Weingarten: Oh, I should mention: Ms. Liz is away today, interestingly at the funeral of Charlie Wilson.

Our Chatman today is Mr. Paul Williams.

_______________________

washingtonpost.com: Instapoll 3 is down for a moment; one of our polling providers is having problems. Sorry about that, and we'll let you know when it's back up.

_______________________

Washington, DC: Gene--my dad is having knee replacement surgery on March 8th. Can you give him your top tips for getting through the surgery and rehab?

Gene Weingarten: The best advice a doctor gave me was that after surgery on both knees, one of them is going to feel worse than the other, and that it is imperative that you banish this thought from your mond, lest it drive you mad. You must reprogram yourself to feel that one knee feels better than the other.

It worked.

It's been a year. One of my knees STILL feels better than the other.

_______________________

He did fine: Cosell (sp?) did fine. News like that should have been mentioned, and we didn't have tickers running across the bottom of the screen all the time then.

Prefacing the news with the reminder that it's just a football game was a nice touch.

Gene Weingarten: I miss Howard Cosell. He had a rather extraordinary ability to be melodramatic while knowing he was being melodramatic, finding humor in it, but still managing to convey emotion and significance in a way where you not only forgave the melodrama, but somehow accepted it.

_______________________

Gainesville, Va.: My favorite new word of the day: "bislagiatt", an acronym for "but it seemed like a good idea at the time". It was used by a geneticist in today's Wall Street Journal to describe developments in human anatomy that had certain advantages but pose other problems today, such as men's testes hanging outside the body and the mismatch between women's narrow pelvises and newborn's large heads. I can see a whole host of applications for this term in other realms as well.

washingtonpost.com: Obesity? Big Feet? Blame Darwin

Gene Weingarten: Very nice. It sounds pretentious and vaguely French poseur, like Basquiat.

_______________________

Liz: instapoll 3 isn't working--you can watch the video, but there are no links for the polls themselves. thanks!

washingtonpost.com: One of our polling providers just went down; we're working on it, sorry about that.

Gene Weingarten: Sorry. Hope it's back up soon. A good poll.

_______________________

Gene Weingarten: Since I referenced it, I should print Hunley's Interdisciplinary Studies. I think this is terrific:

A poet's words could be pulled apart

and the letters re-assembled

into copy for a beer commercial,

and this is called literary criticism.

A nation could be taken apart

like an engine and rebuilt

using imported parts

and that is called political science.

My house could be broken apart

and burned to warm the homeless -

which would then include me -

and this is called economics.

Your emotions could be torn apart,

and a shrink could make you paint

your severed ear the deepest blue ever seen,

and that is called oceanography, or psychology, or art history.

Then you could ask me

"What is the meaning of all this?"

and that's philosophy,

and I would reply

"God, I don't know,"

which, some days, is all the theology I can muster.

_______________________

Silver Spring, MD: I can't believe Katherioe Weymouth is listed in the white pages. Very brave of her, if true. Anyways, this is the second time you've called out someting written by Sally Quinn. The first was the worst article ever published in the Post. Any fall out from this?

Gene Weingarten: Not yet!

I have an advantage here; they've both been in the context of Sally normally being a real talent.

Fifteen years ago, I put together a Style Turns 25 special issue. I had to read every big Style story from the beginning, and choose about 30 to excerpt. An awful lot were Sally's. Her style helped define Style and she wrote more than her share of huge, memorable stories.

_______________________

Washington, DC: The Overboard cartoon is deniable since the..um..angle is wrong. No way what you're implying will keep him in place on the boat at that..um..angle.

Gene Weingarten: True enough. Then please analyze what's happening there.

_______________________

St. Louis, MO: Can we have a metabrow poll, asking which of the three polls were liked best?

Gene Weingarten: Yes.

washingtonpost.com: Instapoll

_______________________

The Night Lennon Died: I was in the dorm, watching the game, and I remember thinking "Oh, great, now we're gonna hear "Imagine" a thousand times in the next week."

Gene Weingarten: That's Cold! Congratulations.

_______________________

Seattle, WA: Do you bait the poll questions with answers that people will think you'll want to hear? I'm asking specifically with regard to the "Discussion of wedding hell -- an issue of universal interest" response. While it was clearly related to the column, there wasn't any condemnation of it. It was more like "well, of _course_ weddings are like that, so you can see the mess I was in", rather than acknowledging the absurdity of the situation and advising them to elope.

Also, I seem to be able to only keep track of one person with a similar name+occupation at a time. For example, when both Kristol and Kristof were NY Times op-eds, I could never remember which one was always wrong and which one wasn't without having to think for a few seconds. Which is a roundabout way of saying that I was surprised that Sally Jenkins was involved in some sort of marriage imbroglio, until I remembered that Sally Quinn must be some other woman entirely.

Gene Weingarten: A good way to remember who Bill Kristol is: Think about Billy Crystal, and how funny and clever and warm he is. Then think Opposite's Day!

By the way, how weird is it that there is a more than superficial physical resemblance between Bill Kristol and Billy Crystal?

Paul, can we find two sep-at-birth pix for here?

washingtonpost.com: Billy Crystal/Bill Kristol

_______________________

washingtonpost.com: InstaPoll 2 should be working now; if you managed to vote before, I would go ahead and revote.

_______________________

Nowhere, US: You've dealt with pornography questions before. I am almost positive I know your opinion on this, but I am curious. Suppose a man in his late 20s is found in possession of naked pictures of a girl who seems to be underage, but is clearly over 14-15, so she is 16-17. Let's also say that it is clear that the teen took these pictures herself, with no aid. I know there have been some isolated cases where charges have been brought against teens in the 16-17 range for TAKING PICTURES OF THEMSELVES and I think charges have also been brought against teens for possession of said pictures, but I am pretty sure that none of those charges have stuck. In the case of the adult, do you think there should be a penalty for possession? The purpose of child pornography laws are to prevent the exploitation of minors, right? And if the minor is taking pictures of him or herself, then is there any exploitation, right? Further, I believe that in most cases where age of sexual consent in a state is 17, said adult cannot be prosecuted for having sex with the teenager, but he can be prosecuted for possession of pictures. Is it me, or does this not make any sense? I will admit this is all unseemly, but it just strikes me as strange.

Gene Weingarten: Many years ago, when working for The National Law Journal, I wrote a profile of a lawyer named Glenn Zell. Zell joyfully described himself as a "dirty book lawyer," to distinguish himself from people like Alan Dershowitz who described themselves as "First Amendment Lawyers," but took the same type of cases as Zell. Zell felt he was Dersh minus the pretension, and he was. Very classy guy.

Zell's point was that if you believe in a cause involving basic civil rights -- first amendment, right to counsel, etc. -- you invariably find yourself working on the edges of polite society, defending actions that you might not personally advocate but that test the limits of these laws. Your clients tend to be skeeves. Clarence Gideon was a two-bit criminal. Ernesto Miranda was a recidivist thug and a rapist. Defending each man led to giant advances in American civil liberties.

I mention this because your question is right in this area: The guy with this picture might not be someone I'd prefer to have driving my daughter's school bus. And inevitably, when I say things like I'm about to say, many readers conclude I am disreputable, as, for example (this from the last chat) a "borderline groper."

Anyway, as you point out the advent of "sexting" has led to some horrendous prosecutions -- e.g. a lifelong stigma of trafficking in child porn against a 16-year-old who had photos that a 14 year old girl had taken of herself and texted to him. As a society, we're in the overreact mode to all of this, and the danger is to the civil rights of all of us.

In the case you mention, I'd want to know where the sleazeball got the picture, but it's not child pornography, it didn't seem to result from coercive action, and I'd probably be glad if Glenn Zell took the case. Doesn't sound to me like it should be a criminal case, on its face.

Basically, teenagers need to be told: Don't ever take naked pictures of yourself unless you want them to be seen by that guy over there on the corner, in the bib overalls, picking his nose.

I am relying on a 30 year old memory here, but Zell told me about a great case in which he'd been involved in the late 1960s: Trying to clean up the red-light district of Atlanta, the town fathers and mothers had passed a series of wildly restrictive blue laws outlawing porn shops, massage parlors, houses of prostitution, etc. Zell or a colleague discovered this thick bill had a loophole: some lawyer drafting an endless list of activities proscribed by the law had forgotten to include something: hand jobs.

So, for a brief period of time, until this terrible, hand-wringey error could be corrected (it took some time, thanks to the able dilatory assistance of people like Zell) there were Handjob Emporiums operated openly and legally with, like, lines around the block.

At some level, it's a game.

--

I have problems, in general, with criminalizing any consensual adult behavior. I also have problems with things that amount to thought crimes.

I wonder what would happen if brain-imaging technology got good enough so that a cop on a corner could wave a wand and see if anyone in the vicinity was having sexual thoughts about a child. Would the public be in favor of this as a basis of prosecution, or continued surveillance?

In a column next week, I talk about this stuff regarding a relatively new law that makes it a felony to claim you have a war medal, if you don't. Bulldoodying: A crime.

Gene Weingarten: So, yeah, I guess I am a serial groper!

Gene Weingarten: Borderline!

_______________________

Arlington, Va.: I'm one of the minority that thought the poetic presentation of the Hunley piece made it better. When writing is broken up like it it's a signal to me to slow down and pay attention. I catch more of the little things.

In this case, that change made his highly descriptive details pop.

Gene Weingarten: I think some of the breakdown of the answers to this question may reflect a prior knowledge of how I feel about the situation.

And yes, that's his answer, too. My position is -- well, it's what I wrote in my manifesto. If such works were presented in a collection, with a genre name, people would know how to read it and would not have to be told, with a megaphone, and elbows flying.... HEY! THIS IS A POEM! NOTE HOW SENSITIVE IT IS.

_______________________

Georgetown: Hi, Gene,

So, I basically have to buy a car this weekend, because it's possible the one I have now won't make it to next Tuesday. Would you mind revisiting and/or adding to your great tutorial on how to handle this situation as you did in "I'm With Stupid"? I'm already starting from a position of power, because I'm fortunate to be able to pay in cash. But I'm horrible at haggling, so would love to get advice from a hardliner like yourself.

Gene Weingarten: I do not advise you to use the method I employed, because it takes the sort of nerve and obnoxiousness that I wouldn't have unless I were doing it for a book or a story, and thus was operating not as myself but as The Machine I become. The Machine has no shame; it does whatever is necessary to get the best story.

Basically, I walked in and said I was there to get the best price possible. I said that I didn't give a crap about what great service they offer, or free chamois clothes, that I was Jewish, and all I cared about was money. Money, money, money. I said that if I so much as suspected he was holding back on me for the absolute best price he could offer, I would walk out the door. I told him exactly what extras I wanted in the car, and said that he shouldn't bother trying to sell me any others, and that if the car DID come with others, he'd have to subtract them from the price.

(I was doing this in a no-holds-barred competition with Gina to get the best price on a Mercdes.)

Then, once the guy had given me what I actually think was his invoice price, or just a measly $100 above it, I looked him straight in the eye and said "Now why don't you go back to your manager and get me some of the holdback?"

I had done intense research on Mercedeses, and talked to car experts at the Post and dealers. I knew that on every model, Mercedes has a 3 percent reserve on the price of the car the use of which is discretionary with the dealership; it is seldom applied to the purchase price. The dealer sighed and came back offering $1,200 of the $2,400 reserve. I said "make it $1,700 and we have a deal." He did.

This was insanely aggressive, and it resulted in my winning the bet. It also resulted in my having to tell the dealer, in the next few seconds, that I had lied and had no intention of buying his $82,000 car. As I did this, and his face got purple, I extracted from my briefcase a $50 bottle of wine, which I gave him for his trouble. I also told him he had helped me beat a girl in a bet. We left fast friends.

I do not advise this. I advise the first part: I'm here with cash, I will walk out today with a car if I am convinced you are beating yourself up to give me the lowest price you can. Make him believe you. Whatever that price is, ask him to take $500 off it. Then shake hands.

Also (this is important) from the very start, say you only want to deal with one kind of figure: Out-the-door price. The actual dollar amount you will have to pay, including tax, tag, delivery fee, bribes, whatever. Once they start throwing different type prices at you, you are lost and they own you.

_______________________

seat reclining again: I trust you've seen this (Romney getting into a fight over a reclined airplace seat):

Romney attacked on flight from Vancouver

What strikes me about this is that it surely took place in first class, Romney being richer than several small countries. I thought the whole point of first class was that this wasn't an issue up there.

Gene Weingarten: This is the first thing about Romney I've really liked.

_______________________

Overboard: He's just floating - you know, "on air"

Gene Weingarten: I see.

_______________________

Silver Spring, MD: Just out of curiousity, have you ever googled the term "prose poetry". You might want to give that a try.

Hint: It's been done for over a hundred years.

Gene Weingarten: Actually, Hunley said that, too. But it's not the same thing. Not what I propose at all.

If you Google it, you'll see what I mean.

_______________________

McLean VA: Speaking of Charlie Wilson, have you seen The Economist's obit for him? No American magazine or newspaper would print an obit like that. Pity there are no American politicians like that today.

Charlie Wilson: Charles Nesbitt Wilson, congressman, party animal and saviour of Afghanistan, died on February 10th, aged 76

Gene Weingarten: Okay, I just read this quickly but it seems magnificent. Just stunningly real and true. Plus, it contains the word: manoeuvring

_______________________

Corner of Bedlam and Squalor: Quick questions Gene:

Do you towel off after showering in the exact same sequence every time? Do you use the same hand in the same method to clean yourself up after having, you know, made boom, number twosie, mr. poopers? Do you eat popcorn with your non-dominant hand? Is it unimaginable eating popcorn with your dominant hand?

You da man!!

Gene Weingarten: Yes, yes, no, no.

Isn't the toweling off sequence fairly routine? You start from the top and move downward so gravity does not re-wet areas previously dried?

_______________________

Overboard: "Then please analyze what's happening there."

He's so happy he's walking on air. Except they're at sea so he's floating on water. Stupid and trite, but not logistically impossible as your thesis was.

Gene Weingarten: Sorry, but his angle to the boat is just weird. My thesis is still standing. As it were.

_______________________

Virginia: I got two paragraphs into Sally Quinn's article wondering "who the heck are these people and why do I care?" Then I quit reading it. It's not celebrity gossip because they're not celebrities. If it was buried somewhere in the paper or if the Post had a Page Six equivalent (does it?) I wouldn't care, but somehow it was on the main page of the online Post.

I think that's why it received such a negative response; I felt mislead when I started reading it. I thought it was at least a story, but instead it was a weird personal explanation of a personal family problem. It was like reading a Facebook post of someone you don't know: trivial, confusing, and boring. It's not news or even a real opinion or style piece - it was someone using the newspaper for a wholly personal purpose.

Gene Weingarten: I like that Facebook comparison. Interesting.

_______________________

defending actions that you might not personally advocate: Sure you have a point, but in a civil society, adults have a responsibilty to NOT do unethical things just because a minor instigated it. The minor may not be legally responsible for her actions, and because of that the adult is all the more obligated to do the right thing. If a kid robbed a bank, could an adult use her age as an excuse when he joined her in stealing the money? The arguement that the girl is 17 just shifts reponsibility to the minor rather than the adult acception responsibility for his own actions.

Gene Weingarten: Agreed. We should all judge him harshly as a human being. My problem is with criminalizing thought.

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Back to Vienna: Vienna's point on judged sports was great, until log rolling. No judging there. Just stay on the log the longest. That is a great sport.

Gene Weingarten: True.

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Woodbridge, Va.: Thanks for the reminder of how horrible car buying is. I'm currently driving a 12 year old Saturn that I bought in large part because of their no-haggle price policy and now that they are out of business, I realize I will have to drive my car forever just to avoid getting screwed by a car salesman because I cannot haggle AT ALL. Or could I hire someone to haggle for me?

Gene Weingarten: Yes, hire a haggler. It makes total sense. And this also reminds me of Howard Cosell, in a way that sports fans over a certain age will understand.

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Sally: I agree with everything you said. I read the column when it ran, without knowing (or caring about) any of the background or underlying facts, and what came across to me was the following:

Sally's marriage to Ben has caused huge, and permanent, rifts in the famil(ies) Ben had before they met;

Sally has convinced herself that she personally is less responsible for these rifts than she probably is;

Sally will go to some pretty silly lengths of self-justification to maintain the belief that her role in all of this has been more passive than it really was. (She had a discussion with Greta's mother over Xmas but forgot by January what the date was? She checked with numerous close relatives of Greta's and NONE of them knew the date? Oh please.)

None of this means that it's all Sally's fault, or anything of the sort (I believe men such as Ben get far more of a pass on the messes they make with second and third litters than they deserve). None of this takes away from Sally's, or Ben's, other talents, or the wonderfulness of their marriage, or anything else. But geez, if there's ever a place where Miss Manners' advice to maintain a dignified silence was called for, this is it.

Yes, this is where the Post really hurts for laying off all those editors.

Gene Weingarten: Indeed.

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Hate line breaks: This is why I love lyrical essay, which is the prose writers' preferred term for prose poems.

Read Anne Carson or John D'Agata.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, but what about when they are just a paragraph or two long?

What do we call it then?

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Re: Sally: What is up with them naming their son Quinn Bradlee, anyway? That is like, the most self-involved thing ever.

Gene Weingarten: I like the name.

Do you actually contend it is more self-involved than (Father's first name) (Father's last name) Junior?

Hey, why don't we ever have (Mother's First Name) (Mother's Last Name) Junior?

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

Gene Weingarten: Definitely.

====

Thanks for the NSFW warning, dude! When I heedless followed that link, I was sitting between two women, each half my age, that I didn't know well, and with whom I have to role-play all week! Thank God that was a National Geo page!

Gene Weingarten: I have to admit, I'm not good on this NSFW label, but only because at The Washington Post, where all sorts of seamy research may be legitimately done, there isn't much that perforce would be NSFW. This was a headline in a National Geographic Site, about a scientific study of birds, that read

(WARNING POSSIBLY NOT SAFE FOR WORK IN A CONVENT OR GRADE SCHOOL OTHER HIGHLY UPTIGHT PLACE:)

"Flashier Great Tits Produce Stronger Sperm, Bird Study Shows"

--

Are there really many workplaces where one would be looked down upon for looking upon this headline and laughing?

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Springfield Virginia: What should I write when I can't think of anything funny to say. It's impossible to satirize either the current president or the current congress.

What is left? Shelter Island? Toyota?

Should we anticipate the president of Toyota will end it all as he testifies before congress?

Gene Weingarten: The single fact I find most interesting is that the president of Toyota is Mr. Toyoda.

It just seems wrong. It would be fine if his name was Mr. Toyota, or if his name was something like Hideaki Nakamura.

But the slightly-off thing is just odd. It would be as thought he president of Ford was named Henry Fardt.

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Madam, I'm Adam: Check out Demitri Martin's 224-word palindrome poem. Pretty impressive, eh? I don't think it's any worse than any of the other free-verse poetry out there.

Now, a palindromic double-dactyl? THAT would be REALLY impressive.

Gene Weingarten: Well, this is not a poem; it's an extended trick, but it's pretty impressive.

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Separated at Birth: I always thought Bill Kristol looked like Bob Woodward.

Gene Weingarten: They were triplets separated at birth. Paul?

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Leesburg, VA: Gene -

This is an old topic, but I still see comments on it and wanted to share my own. I typically lean conservative, but was appalled by the recent Supreme Court decision regarding campaign contributions.

Similar to the old saw of shouting fire in a crowded theater, there are always exceptions where the rights of one can not infringe upon the rights of others. In this case I believe that by removing limits to campaign contributions (which I think are very loosely defined as "speech") we are limiting the rights of many to have an equal say in the political process. Giving large corporations/PACs/lobbyists/etc an unlimited capacity to donate means that the ability for others to contribute and have a say is limited. The rights of the few are being upheld at the expense of the rights of the many.

On a lesser note, as I understand the ruling, some of the limits that are removed are for foreign entities. I don't believe that our freedom of speech should be upheld for the sake of non-citizens and non-US entities at the expense of the ability of US citizens and companies to have a say.

In short, I think that the decision takes us further away from a government "of the people."

I guess that the defense of the court's decision comes from the strictest of constructionist opinions in that the limits that were in place were not provided for by the Constitution, and therefore un-constitutional, and an amendment would be required in order to implement such a limit. This is too bad. Even being typically more constructionist in my views I think this is a remarkably narrow view to the detriment of the process.

What is more, I think it is shortsighted if it is a politically motivated move by a conservative court. By allowing unlimited donations from large corporations/wealthy donors, the Republicans would only make themselves seem more and more out of touch with their constituents and will find themselves increasingly out of the game in the years/elections to come.

Gene Weingarten: I answered something like this in a chat update; I share your concerns. This is an issue I'm conflicted on.

Let me ask this: Would you argue that The Washington Post has an equally unconstitutionally unfair edge in free speech because of the size of our operation? It is true that I probably have a much stronger voice than you do. Is that "fair"?

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it's not child pornography, it didn't seem to result from coercive action: Coercive action isn't only physical. Pop culture has immorally brainwashed 14 year old girls to think they HAVE to send nude photos to guys to be cool. THAT is psychologically coercive and it will only get worse unless we stop it with a zero tolerance response. Signed, a middle-aged feminist!

Gene Weingarten: Have you read the story about the 16 year old boy who is tarred for life because a 14 year old girl sexted him, unbidden?

You fine with that?

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Kristol's doppelganger: is clearly Bob Woodward.

Separated at birth: Bob Woodward

Gene Weingarten: Maybe it's because I know him, but this doesn't do it for me. Popeil, yeah.

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Jonesborough, TN: The leaf line in the high brow poll would have been a great line in a different context. In both structural presentations, the line is random, at best.

Gene Weingarten: Interesting. I see your point, though to me it communicates joy, and it connects with the jock-sports subtheme.

For those who said they didn't quite get it, it's just a fabulous visual image; if you've ever seen an updraft catch leaves, it throws them into a precise high-five with each other.

I was surprised at how few of you found the end excellent, and how few of you wondered if you understood it. I found it extraordinary, and rather than try to explain why, I gave it to Caitlin Gibson, who was a poetry major and is better than I at this. She nails it here:

It's a brilliant concluding line -- first, because it is unexpected: the image isn't what the reader is prepared for, it is a marked shift from the language of the preceding lines, so it is effectively a sudden slap in the face. It is both visual and visceral. It demands attention, it makes the reader pause to think about it. The emotion experienced by the reader mirrors what is happening in the poem itself. Realizing that he is about to become a dad, that his other life must recede, is a sudden change, a jarring shift.

But more important: the line is brilliant because the image itself is perfect. The part of the poet that felt the yearning to follow his friends to the bar is the part of him that is the simpler animal, bounding obliviously through the world, until something larger than itself comes along. It's important to note that the squirrel isn't flattened into a pancake at the end, but bleeding and limping. It will recover, but it's learned an important lesson about its place in the scheme of things, and it is forever changed as a result.

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Washington, D.C.: About the "Lowbrow" quiz. The last question was "which ad sold the product best". As of almost 9PM Monday the majority chose "Betty White", which is curious that you call it that because it a commercial for Snickers, but everyone remembers it as the funny Betty White ad.

Gene Weingarten: I agree. I don't think that sold the product the best, though it was by FAR the funniest ad. A very good ad that became a great ad with Abe Vigoda at the end. I laughed out loud when I saw it. The Doritos ad was very clever, cute, and drew a smile. The rest I thought weak, entertainment-wise.

Ironically, the ad that sold the product the best was, in my mind, clearly the most annoying and least clever one: Denny's. I'm not sure why the company felt it was funny to joke about chicken enslavement. I don't mean that in a PETA-chicken-holocaust way, exactly. It just seemed ... mean. And linking eggs to the discomfort of chickens seemed counterproductive. However: The message was very clear. Denny's! Cheap eggs! This weekend!

I'm sick of the damn talking babies. Sorry. They're dead to me.

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Fairfax, VA: Gene, I am writing to let you know that I was extremely offended by your post in the 2/2/10 update in which you expressed offense at the alleged destructive sexism in the post of a gentleman who became utterly offended by your column after having read the column to his flat-chested wife, who was also completely offended.

Although I am neither a flat-chested woman nor a gropee, I find that your expressing offense at an offended husband who became offended by your offensive column after reading your column to his offended wife trivializes those of us who are who are truly harboring legitimate offenses and would like to be able to candidly express those offenses in this chat and receive appropriate sympathy and apologies without fear of being accused of having our offenses be considered offensive.

In case you have any intention of responding that you are offended by this post, I preemptively find any such response to be entirely offensive and beneath contempt.

Regards.

Gene Weingarten: I'm sorry. It was my fault.

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Weird spousal bedtime games: So, maybe not weird... I usually hide things in the bed to annoy my wife. Remote, flashlight, toaster, cellphone. The best is when they're under the pillow and she doesn't find them. Many mornings she says: it was so weird, I woke up with -item] in my hand in the middle of the night. She has no idea how it got there. I still laugh at this.

Gene Weingarten: This was the oddest of several responses I got to requests for weird (printable) bedtime rituals.

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Bedti, ME: My husband and I "argue" about who loves whom more just before sleep....as in, "I love you more." "No, I do." etc. until one of us says, "OK, you win."

Too sappy for most folks, but it works for us. As always, I am blissfully married, yet throwing virtual panties....

Gene Weingarten: This is appalling sappy and I can't believe I am printing it.

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Burke, VA: Gene, can I offer a slight variation on your car-haggling technique? I once got a great price by focusing on bottom-line price and offering cash. I had also researched their Internet pricing (much lower than sticker), holdbacks, etc. and figured out exactly what I would pay. I told the salesman the price, and he started to play the "ask the manager" game. I told him if he came back with anything other than an acceptance of my offer, I would walk. He asked me to put the offer in writing, and I did. 15 minutes later (13 of which were probably spent drinking coffee in the back room) he came back and accepted my offer. A half hour later (after telling them to stuff their undercoating and warranty package) I had my vehicle. The key is to be totally willing to walk.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, very good point. And when you say you are going to walk, you do. It's similar to asking for a raise at the threat of leaving.

If you don't get it, you must pull the trigger.

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Washington, DC: While for the most part I'm with you about not criminalizing private conduct, I have trouble extending that to child pornography. The production and circulation of it is harmful to children (even children, if any, willingly participating in the production), and anything that encourages production or circulation, including private use, tends to lead to more production and circulation. So on the whole, I have no problem with the idea of prosecuting people even for private use. Now you may come up with the odd case where it's arguably unfair to the adult user who has come up with some system that arguably doesn't hurt anyone, but I'm just not sympathetic enough -- I'd rather punish those people than allow more potential harm to children.

Gene Weingarten: What is "child pornography"?

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the poem: I disagree with you. the poet writes for his contemporary audience, like Shakespeare wrote for his audience. People like me read prose fast, I want to get to the end, I want to find out what the point it. I look at first and last sentences of pararaphs, and move to the next, I miss details, and I may never know what I missed.

when the poet breaks it up into verses, it slows me down. there are no topic sentences. With only a few words to the line, I'm forced to consider each one. If I don't get the meaning of the quatrain, I keep reading it until I get it. I experience the text in an entirely different manner.

This is what the poet wants me to do, the control being exerted by the artist, as much as it can be. It makes the text more like music, where you don't skip around, you have to experience it in real time, consecutively, the way the composer/performer wants you to experience it.

So I see nothing wrong with what this poet did, and before I read your explanation, I answered all the questions that I thought the work was excellent, and that I thought it was diminished by being in paragraphs rather than verses.

Gene Weingarten: Noted.

But what if you bought a book of poems that were not broken up like that? Your expectation would be to read it as poetry. You would slow down and savor.

Do you read Dickens fast, like that? If you do, you are missing a great deal of beauty.

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Arlington, VA: I'm currently reading THE ROOM AND THE CHAIR by Lorraine Adams. As has been reported in the Post, many of the characters in the novel are thinly disguised versions of real life Post writers (and by thinly I mean Twiggy level thinly).

Is this a book you would read? If you have read it, are the portrayals accurate? How do you feel about this kind of fiction in general?

I'm waiting for the Gene double to appear, no sign yet.

Gene Weingarten: Haven't read it yet. But I know Lorraine, so I may show up. You'll know it's me if it is the guy who is FABULOUSLY endowed.

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Too many Juniors: I once did title-searching for a law firm, where you need to check out divorce cases in the chain of title to make sure that the person now selling the property actually owns it. At once point, I had to look at the decrees in a divorce between Bob Smith and Mary Smith, and saw that their two children were Bob Smith, Jr. and Mary Smith, Jr.

Gene Weingarten: See, that makes sense. Why is it not common?

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Rears here: Where was I when John Lennon was shot? I was five months old and living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Don't worry thought, I'm still older than your daughter, so you can feel okay about finding me hot.

Speaking of the death of Lennon, Irish band The Cranberries have a really terrible song called "I Just Shot John Lennon." I know this because am willing to admit in this forum that I used to cover Cranberries songs in college and still own their first three albums.

Gene Weingarten: Meanwhile, John Wesley Harding has a GREAT song called, I think, "Mother, I Just Shot a Famous Man." Can anyone see if it's online anywhere?

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Virginia: I bought my first new car (I wanted a 5 speed Honda Fit and there weren't many on the used market) in February last. I was terrified of the thought of haggling and read everything there was to read on the internet. I had been looking at cars at car shows and doing car research for a while before so I knew what I wanted there.

Then I went and test drove cars at a few different dealerships in a city far away from where I live. That was unintentional, but since I knew I would never actually buy from those dealerships I didn't feel pressured while I was there or afterwards.

Once I settled on the Fit I researched all the Honda dealerships in the area. I emailed them all asking for their out the door price for exactly what I wanted (I got financing through my credit union which makes things WAY easier). I traded their numbers against each other until I got the lowest number from one of them. If any dealer annoyed me or kept pressuring me to "come on in" for real numbers I stopped emailing them. I answered emails on my own time and felt neither rushed nor made to wait. When I was ready I printed out the last email, walked into the dealership and walked out an hour later with the keys.

It took a fair amount of computer legwork and research to do, but I didn't feel pressured. When I walked in to buy the car I was already a sale at a known price to them so the only thing I had to deal with were those paint upsales (no thank you). I highly recommend this method.

Also, get your financing through your bank. No one could even touch the rate I got. Taking that out of the equation makes the numbers much more straightforward.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you.

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Rockville, MD: So, here's something: I've recently discovered that I have a very sensitive sense of smell, far more discerning than anyone else I know. I've also discovered that a Bachelor's degree and a few years of general office experience won't get you hired in this economy, no matter how much they loved you at your last job. So I'm wondering if there's a way to exploit my newly-confirmed singularity. I can't be a chef (too many food allergies), and I'll look into becoming a perfumer, but I thought all the creative peanuts out there might have some other suggestions for me. Is this a talent worth tapping?

Gene Weingarten: You could become a bomb-sniffing dog!

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Last names: Is there any sincere non-sexist reason for a man to want his wife to change her name to his when they get married?

Gene Weingarten: No. There are phony baloney reasons, the most common of which is: "Shouldn't the kids have the same last name as both of us?"

If a woman wants to change her name, fine. If a man applies pressure of any sort -- even subtle -- I don't like him very much.

My wife doesn't use my name. Our children have never had any problem remembering which one is mom, or distinguishing mom from other random women in the street.

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Bratislava, SK: Gene, I really want your book, but I can only get it on my Kindle(overseas, $$ shipping). It looks like your publisher hasn't released it for Kindle publication. I know it's only one guaranteed sell, but pretty pretty please could you ask them about it? Also, what do you think about ebook readers? I can only imagine that you would have strong feelings about them. While we are talking about it, I would totally pay for the Post on my Kindle except that all the good parts are not included! (comics, crosswords, a lot of feature section stuff, etc.) THAT is one of the biggest disappointments for me about Kindle subscriptions.

Gene Weingarten: I suspect it will be available in Kindle; it's available nowhere yet.

My wife has a Kindle and loves it. She has had it for about six months now, but is on her fifth one (four of them free) -- three have broken electronically in some bad way and the fourth developed a spider crack that spread and ate the whole thing.

Is this common out there or does she have some Kindle-killing juju?

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Hurray for our area!: We're lucky to live in an area with a subway system that's safe, economical (less than forty dollars round-trip to D.C. from the burbs for a family of four, depending of oourse, on the time of day and the distance), a first-rate baseball team, the understated elegance of the Kennedy Center, night life that might very well extend past midnight (can't say this with absolute certainty, since the Metro stops running at 12:00), an orchestra that while to my knowledge its never actually produced a recording, as have the orchestras in Cleveland, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and New York, its head and shoulders above the orchestras in Hagerstown, Des Moines and Fargo, and swift, convenient commutes to our workplaces from just about anywhere in the area. And as if all that weren't enough, we're also fortunate enough to have a first-class snow removal system!

Gene Weingarten: In my downtown neighborhood, after we each dug out our own cars, all the neighbors came to a tacit understanding that these spots would remain in our individual possessions for the duration, and that anyone espying a non-neighborhood person attempting to fill any of our spots would receive a stern but non-actionably vague warning. Should said foreigner proceed to leave his car in a space dug out by someone else, things Tended to Happen to His or Her Car.

These things were not permanent. No vandals or felons inhabit my neighborhood. However, said people tended to find their car in a snow embankment when they returned, even though it hadn't snowed.

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Washington, DC: Gene -

I find it odd that people have voted in such great numbers that the Betty White ad was the best at selling its product. Everyone that I watched the game with laughed at the commercial for sure. At the end of the game, we listed it as one of our favorites, but none of us could recall what the ad was actually selling.

Gene Weingarten: Exactly.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: I have one of those bizarre questions that requires an explanation. I had tickets to a taping of the Jimmy Kimmel Show. One of the employees had told me the next time I went he would be able to show me the Green Room where I could meet the guests. The guest was supposed to be Jamie Foxx, but he canceled, and was replaced by Maggie Gyllenhaal. I was glad, because, frankly, I would have rather met her. I also mentioned how she is the goddaughter of my favorite columnist, Gene Weingarten. To make the long story short, the employee came back and stated I was denied entrance to the Green Room. He also stated that Maggie Gyllenhaal's "people" say they have never heard of Gene Weingarten.

Were you pulling our legs and I feel for it when she stated you were the godfather to the Gyllenhaals? Is so, you got me. If not, is there something between you and her people that would cause anyone to mention your name to be shielded from Maggie? Or, are you her godfather, and perhaps the message denying knowledge of you didn't really reach her or was messed up somehow?

Gene Weingarten: I am trying to figure out how much of this post is true. I never, to my recollection, claimed to be the godfather of anyone or anything, except the humor of bodily functions.

My only connection to the acting Gyllenhaals is that I know their uncle, Anders, who is the editor of The Miami Herald, and also that I got a little hot and bothered watching Maggie's performance in The Secretary, particularly a solitary scene in a bathroom.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: The Sally Quinn column frustrated me to no end, mainly because she tries to pass the blame for not knowing the date of her step-granddaughter's wedding to her husband, "I gave ours to my husband to put the date on his calendar, and he did not. A warning to wives everywhere!"

At this point, the reader assumes they were planning on attending the wedding, or at least Mr. Bradlee was. If this was the case - why not put it on her calendar too (something she's obviously capable of doing)? Why (subtley) shift the blame to her husband when there were "everyone had the date free"?

This whole column smacks to me of excuses and blame-shifting, something Sally Quinn should be embarrassed to have written, and the Post should feel embarrassed for printing.

Gene Weingarten: You explain this well. As I said, I lean more to the second part of the blame.

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Pootville: Dear Gene,

You are the only person I can talk to about this. According to my wife, I have the most digustingly-smelly farts that have ever existed. She farts too, of course, but she says my farts smell like death. My brother agrees.

So how can I get my farts to smell better and fart less? I cut out dairy because it hurts my stomach but it hasn't helped. I eat normally, although should probably eat more veggies. But wouldn't that just make the problem worse?

Gene Weingarten: I do believe Beano claims to address this issue.

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Joan, Jr!: Doonesbury made that point about (Mother's First Name) (Mother's Last Name) Junior decades ago -- Joanie Caucus' daughter is called "JJ" because she is Joan Caucus, Jr. There was a hilarious scene when she shows up on Rick and Joanie's doorstep and introduces herself to Rick and as she's talking all of his thought bubbles read "Joan, Jr.?!"

Gene Weingarten: My favorite moment from Joanie Caucus's wonderful life was when she was working as a preschool teacher, and wondering if she was having a feminist effect, when one of the girls calls a newborn female a "baby woman."

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Fairfax, VA: Was no one else offended by the Dorito's ad? A black single mother, her date ogling her behind, the kid with attitude, slapping the date? It all seemed a little too - I don't know - wrong. Would it have worked half as well if they were all white? Just seemed pretty borderline racist to me (a 32-year-old white woman).

Gene Weingarten: My guess is you are being very white liberal. Any black people take offense at this?

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Last names: Ok Gene, so you have no problem with your wife keeping her name. Good for you. But whose name did the kids get? Why are we still so culturally attached to pinning the father's last name on the kids?

Gene Weingarten: Agreed. I think if we'd done it again, the kids would have had different surnames. One of each. I would have been in favor of Dan getting wife's name, just to go against form.

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DC: Gene, did you see this question in Lily Garcia's workplace chat earlier today?

Burke, Va.: I'm so confused!

Our ex-boss' wife (HIS third wife) still writes for the company newsletter. Last week, she wrote a column about how her son's wedding is on the same day as her husband's granddaughter's wedding, on opposite coasts, and nobody can figure out why we're supposed to care. I guess everybody likes the old man so much that everybody's afraid to tell his wife that her column is absurd and makes the company newsletter look stupid.

Any suggestions?

Lily Garcia: It sounds like the column, although inappropriate, is basically harmless. You could try suggesting topics that you would like to see covered in the newsletter, but you should stop short of proposing that the ex-boss' wife be excluded.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, this is very funny.

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Car Haggling is to Dating: The best dating advice I ever got was to treat the initial phase of getting to know someone like you're buying a car, you need to be prepared to walk away at the first sign of a slippery salesman.

Gene Weingarten: Good.

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Horoscopes: Gene, please let us know if there is anything we can do to support your noble crusade to end this abomination in the Post. I used to find it tolerable, a bit of silliness that some people enjoy. But now they're reduced the comics to virtual unreadability in order to keep room for this made-up crap, it's become personal.

Gene Weingarten: It's personal for me, too. But we won't win. The downside of dropping horoscopes is too great.

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Elizabethtown, PA: I was named after my mom, and I HATE it. (BTW- I'm hot and 30, throwing panties) Truly. Partly because it's a typically male thing to do, so you get a lot of jokes along those lines as a kid. Now, because my mom has some serious mental health issues and our relationship is difficult, it just stinks to be called the same thing.

Gene Weingarten: So are you, officially, a Junior?

Understand that your plight has been shared with 200 generations of Junior men.

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Old SPice Ads: Gene-Just curious if you've seen the new Old Spice ads with the guy on the horse at the end. I crack up everytime and can't help but thinking why wasn't this a Super Bowl ad?! For a brand I associate with my grandfather I'd like to fling virtual panties at whatever ad exec came up with them.

Gene Weingarten: It's the best ad I've seen in maybe a year. Paul, can we end with this one? I give you three minutes to find it. Go.

Old Spice.

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"What is 'child pornography'?": It's not stupid teenagers sexting each other, that's for sure, as a famous Supreme Court justice almost said. And why wasn't the 14-year-old girl prosecuted for sending the photo that got the 16-year-old she sent it to into trouble? I'm beginning to wonder whether the answer isn't to grab any such phone and beat the user up with it. It woulc be a darn sight more effective than prosecution. Yes, I am officially an old fogy now and it is this case that has done it to me.

Gene Weingarten: The lesson has to be to the kids. Delivered with utter seriousness. You text your body, you lose your phone. But more important: A very clear understanding of why this is a potential nightmare for her.

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Washington, DC: "Last names: Is there any sincere non-sexist reason for a man to want his wife to change her name to his when they get married? "

You must hate me then.

There's a simple reason why (besides the fact that it makes life much easier when dealing with schools, doctors, etc).

I'm walking down the street with child #1. I meet a new neighbor. I say "Hi, I'm John Doe and this is my child Offspring." Next day, my wife is walking down the street with child #2 and meets the same new neighbor. She says "Hi, I'm Jane Smith and this is my child Clone." We both have great conversations with the neighbor but the neighbor doesn't have a clue one that they just met the entire family.

Gene Weingarten: This an enormous, transparent rationalization.

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washingtonpost.com: Old Spice - The Man Your Man Could Smell Like

Gene Weingarten: Paul is THE MAN.

Okay, thank you all. Sorry about the enormous intro -- some of you spent the chat catching up.

I'll be updating on Tuesdays and next chat the intro will be an entire book. You think I'm kidding but I'm not. A national first for interactive media, I believe.

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UPDATED 3.02.10

Gene Weingarten: Why newspapers should never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever use reader surveys to decide which comics to run:

http://tinyurl.com/yhy92yu

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Gene Weingarten: Call from my wife, who is in California --

Wife: Walter and I went out to a topless restaurant.

Me: What?

Wife: It was really good!

Me: WHAT?

Wife: What?

Me:

Wife:

Me: Ohhhhh, TAPAS.....

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Gene Weingarten: Meanwhile, a summary of my recent Twitter postings, which I refuse to call "tweets":

-- Urgent: The police photographer who shot the WTC collapse from the air is named "Greg Semendinger."

-- Why does it take dogs a millisecond to decide which bolus of slime to eat on the street, but 15 minutes to find the perfect place to poop?

-- Should Be Convicted On Mug Shot Alone, Hall of Fame Edition, Pole Position -- http://tinyurl.com/yfq28ju

-- Watching Erskine Bowles' vital new role saving America, I find myself with an overwhelming question: How can anyone name a baby "Erskine"?

-- People Who Should Be Convicted on Mug Shot Alone, Vol. XIV, Deluxe Edition: http://tinyurl.com/ylesjce

-- Nothing funny at all about the name of the environmental minister of Northern Ireland, nosir: http://tinyurl.com/yhkfsyr

-- Whale anagram: Tillikum = I killt 'um. (credit Amy Lago)

-- Urgent: The deputy Delaware attorney general assigned to the state's Sexual Predator Task Force is named "Alexis Slutsky."

-- Remedy to feeling stifled by 140-character limit: Tweet from phone. From phone, 140 characters seems like Kant's Critique of Pure Reason.

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Gene Weingarten: Andrew Hoenig has come up with this Girl Junior.

This leads me to ask, what designation can we come up with that is somehow more feminine and apropos than "Junior" for what a female named after her mom is?

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Gene Weingarten: This might be the least cool music video ever.

(We're hoping this is real and not a parody. The Web seems unsure.)

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Bristow, Va.: I actually remember Cosell relaying the news of Lennon's death during MNF very clearly, so much that I found myself able to anticipate the clip almost word for word (especially the Dead. On. Arrival. part). I'd forgotten that it came just before a kick at the end of the game, however. I don't know if Howard nailed the delivery, or if it was just the magnitude of the event, but it was certainly memorable

Gene Weingarten: There were two results of the Instapoll that surprised me. The first was that men were not much more likely than women to want to know whether John Smith made the kick or not. That was exactly the question I was left with. The second surprise comes below.

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Athens, Ga.: Re 3rd instapoll. I thought the images in the ad were arresting. I paid close attention; some of them were before my time (b 1976), others I remember watching live. But I found it ultimately sad. After watching it, I wanted to go live life, but realizing that it's for always-on portable TV, I just...I don't know. I guess I think those sorts of images won't have the same impact for the generation that grows up with a TV you keep in your pocket. People will be too busy paying constant attention to someone else's life rather than making the most of their own.

Gene Weingarten: I expected an appreciable age difference in the answers, not because of the content of the imagery here, but the nature of the imagery here. I have a 58-year-old brain, and I found the cutting too quick. I didn't have enough time to absorb what was going on before the flash to the next image.

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Why the kids get the dad's surname: I dunno, I have pretty good feminist credentials, didn't take my husband's last name etc., and I didn't have any second thoughts about the kids getting his last name. (My last name is their middle name). I think there are two arguments in favor:

1. Current cultural habits mean that if the kids have her last name, most people will assume they are hers from a previous marriage. This is even more likely if the kids have different last names from each other. I suppose this would change if enough people started doing it differently, but the trailblazers will have to counter a lot of misunderstandings.

2. The mother visibly gives birth to the baby. Giving it the father's last name is a way of connecting the baby to him in a visible way. On a gut emotional level, that just makes sense to me -- use the dad's last name as way of balancing biology. But I accept that this is emotional and not rational.

Gene Weingarten: I like both of these reasons, actually. They're interesting. The second is not actually illogical: It almost seems as though the patrilinear naming is Darwinian: A way to keep daddy around.

There was an amazing study not too many years ago that showed newborns tend to resemble their fathers more than their mothers: It was also seen as Darwinian, for the same reason.

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Should I be Worri, ED?: Back to the "sexter"... My then 16-year-old son borrowed my cell phone for a couple of days when his broke. When I got it back, I cleared out the inbox, and noticed a picture message a girl who wasn't his girlfriend, but wanted to be. There, on MY cellphone, was a pic of a 14-year-old in her bra and panties, posing in the bathroom. I had a VERY stern discussion with him (along with some other consequenses. I do NOT play that!), and immediately got in touch with her parents. I sent her mother the picture so she could discipline her child, and deleted the pic.

I think I did the right thing.

Gene Weingarten: I went back and forth on whether you did the right thing; my initial impulse is not to intrude in other families' affairs.

Then I decided you did the right thing. I would have done exactly what you did with my son, but I'm not sure, 10 years ago, whether I would have called the girl's parents. Had I not, it would have been the wrong judgment. She needed the riot act read to her, for her own good.

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UPDATED 3.9.10

Gene Weingarten: If you watched the Oscars, you probably saw the bizarre Kanyean moment when an odd redheaded woman in diaphanous purple barged on stage, rudely interrupted the speaker, and proceeded to attempt to say something coherent. That was Elinor Burkett, whom I worked with at The Miami Herald, and whose work I occasionally edited. She hasn't changed a bit.

Ms. Burkett was very talented, very opinionated, and very passionate on issues that she cared about. She was SO passionate and SO abrasively certain of the cosmic rightness of her lefty causes that she could be perceived as obnoxious. Actually, neither word quite does her justice. To paraphrase Woody Allen, it required a new word, something like "obknockshitz."

I liked Elli. But one day I was discussing her obknockshitzness with another editor, trying to put my finger on just what the quality was. And he said, "Come the revolution, Elli would be quite happy to sit on the tribunal that decides who lives and who gets executed."

Exactly right.

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Gene Weingarten: And now an instapoll.

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Gene Weingarten: Okay, now this is amazing. First read this story.

And then, if you have the stomach, watch the "Dating Game" segment in question. It's amazing for a number of reasons:

1. You remember how awful and creepy "The Dating Game" was.

2. You are watching a psychopath in action.

3. You realize how stupid people are. Of these three bachelors, number 2 (Mr. Mills) was clearly the smartest, funniest, and most charming. How does this woman not pick him? Mitigating her dumbness, I guess, is the fact that she appears to have sussed the psycho out fairly quickly afterwards. She never went out with him.

4. Mouthwise, a lot of gum showing is not attractive.

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Gene Weingarten: And on the same subject, here's a woman who chose right.

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Gene Weingarten: This has been all over the Web, so we're not breaking new ground, but just in case you haven't seen the greatest photo caption mistake ever.

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Are there really many workplaces where one would be looked down upon for looking upon this headline and laughing? : Are you kidding? In this economy, employers are looking for any excuse to fire people and are tracking EVERYTHING. you have no idea what it is like outside that white tower. I know a guy who was fired for going to an X-rated Web site during work.

Gene Weingarten: As a matter of fact, many years ago, a Post editor was fired for habitually cruising porn sites at work. I don't have a problem with such a firing. There are two keys to it:

1. "habitually," and,

2. effect on others.

Imagine a gigantic warehouse of desks and cubbies, surrounded by offices, all with glass walls. That's The Post. It's a glass house. People who live in glass houses shouldn't grow bones.

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Midlothian, Va.: With regard to your comment about criminalizing thought, I'm interested in what you think about hate crimes. I'm opposed to enhanced penalties for "hate" crimes under the theory that they punish thought. If it's a crime to beat the life out of someone -- as well it should be -- why does it matter whether the victim is beaten for his age, sex, religion, etc? I understand that a burning cross on the yard of a black family may have a different meaning than the same burning cross on the yard of a white family, but I'm still very afraid of the line we cross when mere thought becomes a basis for a crime.

Gene Weingarten: I am not big on the notion of a "hate crime," for the reason you say. By increasing the penalty for a crime if it was motivated by hatred of a group, it is criminalizing thought. A common argument for it is that it is no different from considering intent and mindset in, say, deciding whether a killing constitutes murder or manslaughter. But to me, that argument doesn't amount to much. We can understand, intuitively, why killing someone when you just meant to punch him in the mouth should be a lesser crime than killing someone by putting a bullet through his eye.

With hate crimes, it is saying intentionally killing someone because he is a Jew is somehow a wickeder crime than killing someone because you want to steal his car. These are both heinous murders, and it seems unduly anti-American to declare one extra-icky because we don't like people who think that way.

The cross-burning example is different. If you burn a cross in a public park, say, for whatever twisted reason, it's probably just vandalism. Burning a cross in the yard of a black family transcends vandalism: It is a threat of future action, a threat to life and limb.

Anyway, that is how my thinking went until I thought about it a little more:

Probably the most interesting example to parse is another set of laws that adds extra penalties for intent: The RICO statutes, which make punishment for a crime much greater if it is part of some organized criminal enterprise. So, if you break someone's knees because you don't like him, you won't do as much time as if you break someone's knees because he didn't pay his gambling losses to your boss, Angelo Roccoknocko. I am thinking that distinction that makes a little sense; there is a businesslike bloodlessness to the second crime that makes it more deplorable.

And then I thought about more about bloodlessness: I have no problem assessing a greater penalty on a man who hires a hitman to kill his wife for her insurance money than on, say, a guy who kills a bank teller during a botched armed robbery. Both are awful, but the first one is a notch more heinous because it is a notch more bloodless, premeditated, cowardly, etc.

So, I'm thinking that if I can go there, I can make that same step for hate crimes.

It's very very complicated.

Gene Weingarten: One of the polls in the next chat, on the 23rd, is going to be about thought crimes. It may be linked to this, which is, when you think about it, also about a thought crime.

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Suncoast, Fla.: Hi, Gene! This may be more of a question for Carolyn Hax, but seeing as how it involves a bodily function, I thought you might have some valuable insight. Okay, I've been dating this guy for a while now and he's really terrific. We totally click in so many ways. So after many dates, Saturday night was the Big Night -- we decided to sleep together.

It was great! However, the problem comes later.

We had curry and beer for dinner that night (you can probably see where this is going). I actually farted so loudly that I woke myself up in the middle of the night. He didn't say anything but I'm sure he heard it. I was totally mortified. And to make matters worse, after I drifted back to sleep, I did it again! I could have died.

The next morning, everything seemed fine. I didn't mention the farting because, well, it was just too humiliating. But now I haven't heard from him. I can't believe I'm going to lose out on a promising relationship because of a gas attack. Do you think I should say anything? Or just slink quietly away and hope I never see him again? How turned off would you have been by something like this?

Gene Weingarten: I love this question, and I'm hoping it's real.

You slept together for the first time, and now you haven't heard from him for some time, and your first thought is, maybe it was the ... farts?

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Kindle: I've seen the comment "maybe they shouldn't have named it after an act of destruction" by someone whose Kindles have also broken.

Gene Weingarten: Actually, what has occurred to me is that "Kindle" is a bad name for anything having to do with books.

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Gene Weingarten: Continuing our theme that readers know nothing about comics, and that therefore comics polls are worthless, take a look at these letters to the editor in the Lakeland (Fla.) Ledger from 1988. Particularly note the people who regret that the paper has picked up an "uninteresting" new strip, "Calvin and Hobbes."

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Gene Weingarten: Okay the answer to the Instapoll: Yes, this is the murder-themed update. This man is John Gardner, an alleged serial killer and rapist, charged in the death of one young woman in California, suspected in others. There is something oddly un-serial-killer-like in that photo, isn't there?

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Gene Weingarten: Emergency update to the update!

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UPDATED 3.16.10

Gene Weingarten: We begin today with this piece of art and an instapoll to gauge your art smartness.

(The correct answers follow below.)

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Gene Weingarten: What we have here is not the greatest hoax in the world, or the most important, but it is in a sense it is the most astonishing: That a news organization as large as ABC would get taken in by something so obviously phony.

Why is it OBVIOUSLY phony? Put yourself in the position of the person inventing the story: To make it work, you'd have to create a woman without a vagina. Otherwise, it's not a story since her virginity could not be established. So... bingo.

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Gene Weingarten: Please note that I wrote the previous in a spasm of self-righteous certitude, and only then did some research. It turns out there is such a report, in a genuine medical journal by someone who has published before and since. It may, actually, be true (link launches PDF).

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Gene Weingarten: And now the answer to the art question. Do not read here if you don't want the Instapoll spoiled.

Very well: It LOOKS like late 19th-century post-impressionism, in the Van Gogh Style. Or possibly a 1960s imitation thereof. Instead, it is not painting at all, except in the sense that makeup is painting. This is a life photograph of a model, and a backdrop, painted to look like post-impressionist oils. The makeup artist - body painter is unknown. The photographer, who happened on the scene at a shopping mall, is Peter Kun Frary.

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Mt. Rainier, Md.: Gene, what do you think about the statement made earlier by the chatter: "there are always exceptions where the rights of one can not infringe upon the rights of others."

Are there any situations where the rights of one do not infringe on the rights of others? Doesn't my right to speech always infringe on your right not to hear my speech? Doesn't my right to freedom of movement always interfere with other's right to property? Isn't the whole idea of rights a useless concept? Wouldn't we be better off talking about what we value as a society and work towards creating a society that reflects those values?

Gene Weingarten: I'd like to agree with you, but no. You are inventing "rights" that do not exist. You do not have a right to not hear my speech. You do not have a right to free motion. We don't have a "right" to property -- if so, we'd all be given a house by our government, the way we all are given the right to say what we want. We don't even have the "right" to vote and more than we have a "right" to drive -- these are privileges that can be taken away from us. The rights we do have are sacred.

More properly stated, the rights of others often infringe on our convenience or preferences.

There is this issue of the incarcerated. I'm sure it's been fought. Do the incarcerated lose the rights granted in the Bill of Rights, or, in prison, does the definition of "reasonable" search and seizure change?

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What is "child pornography"? : Does that really matter? We do protect rights at the risk of letting guilty people go free, but do you really want to risk ruining a child's life forever just so some sicko can have his jollies? I really don't care if he has the right to his sick jollies or not, the risk to society, much less ONE CHILD, is too much. Take one for the team dude. We all sacrafice for the sake of a safe and civil society and this is one time I demand it: NO child porn even if two guys think it's their civil right. I am willing to deny their civil right in order to protect one child. and I'm a liberal!

Gene Weingarten: Rights, again.

Well, the Supreme Court has agreed with you, placing child porn in one of the few areas that is not protected free speech. And I agree with that decision, with an icky feeling. But when I asked "what is child pornography?" it was in the context of a photograph of a 16-17 year old girl taken with her permission but in the possession of someone unknown to her.

Icky, icky, icky, but this is not a child, this is not child abuse, and this is not, in my view, the sort of thing over which we should start throwing out Constitutionally granted civil rights.

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Washington, D.C.: OMG!! you are one of those people who think that just because you shovelled a place on a public street it becomes "your" space??? I am totally shocked.

Where were the people coming from outside the neighborhood supposed to park if not in the spaces on the street?

Gene Weingarten: Rights, again!

I think this falls under the rubric of the child porn exception. An extraordinary circumstance that warrants a completely different interpretation of ordinary rules.

After the giant snow, everyone on my block came out to free his or her car. Each car took about two hours of shoveling. Ours is a tourist neighborhood. For a week, tourists can avoid our neighborhood, or find themselves without a place to park.

Gene Weingarten: Anyone who wishes to visit can dig out his own spot. We will supply a shovel.

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Sally's Column: Is there a point where a columnist bypasses the editor? While she had every right to tell her version of the truth, the column shouldn't have ran. Perhaps a blurb to Rox and Amy could have sufficed. There were too many inconsistencies and a subtle thread of blame (her husband, Greta's mother aka ABC's Martha Raddatz.) It kind of reminded me of the type of exercise we did in psych class where you write/type you feelings then trash it after 48 hours.

Gene Weingarten: Rights, again.

This is about Sally Quinn's stinky column, and no, there is no point at which a columnist bypasses an editor. This is a rule that is in place to protect everyone but the editor, who is the unsung hero. It permits the editor to protect the writer from himself, and to protect the newspaper from a bad mistake.

Everyone needs an editor; good writer-editor relationships seldom if ever result in a disagreement so profound that an editor must use his "no" veto. But the relationship works because both parties know the "no" is always on the table. Compromises are reached.

Thanks, all. See you live next Tuesday.

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Submit to the March 23 chat.

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