Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 27, 2010; 12:00 PM
At one time or another, Below the Beltway has managed to offend persons of both sexes as well as individuals belonging to every religious, ethnic, regional, political and socioeconomic group. If you know of a group we have missed, please write in and the situation will be promptly rectified. "Rectified" is a funny word.
One Tuesday each month, Weingarten is online to take your questions and abuse: This month, that day is April 27 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 (please vote in all three):
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: Did you hear about "Boobquake D.C.," the local event that was part of a Web-inspired international movement? Thousands of buxom women in revealing outfits were to descend on Dupont Circle at noon yesterday in a show of solidarity, and in defiance against a Muslim cleric who recently declared that women dressing immodestly were responsible for many ills of the world, including earthquakes.
Well, I went there, as a working journalist determined to cover an important news event.
Now, I know what you are thinking. But you are wrong. I had an elaborate pretext rationale subterfuge pretense excuse cloaking device valid journalistic concept, in which I was going there to finally get over my nervousness in the presence of large breasts. This disability has been with me most of my life; I ascribe it to the fact that my first romantic kiss occurred at the age of 15 with a 14-year-old girl who was extremely petite. The volcanic, seismic effect it had on me imprinted in my mind that the perfect state of the human female was small and dainty in all ways. (My 14-year old mynx is now a successful fertility doctor in New York.)
What followed was a lifetime of attraction to that archetype; the unfortunate side effect involved a daunting aversion to the opposite archetype. It is wholly unfair and illogical but, by this point, is hard-wired. Thus, came my attendance at Boobquest yesterday, as a pretense subterfuge pretext excuse rationale cloaking device method to deal with these unfortunate demons and at last, ahem, rise above them.
(Or, as I told The Rib in an e-mail, as I was leaving the house, "I'm off to check out some tits." Her response: "You are SUCH a workaholic.")
I got to Dupont Circle at a quarter to noon. Already there were a bunch of journalists and photojournalists, but no buxom women. Gradually, though, there arrived a veritable PARADE of... journalists and photojournalists. In the end about six boobly-bobbly women showed up, each of whom gave 3,409 interviews about how they don't wish to be objectified.
I am telling you all this to set up a single line that merely underscores why persons such as yourself can only dream of being a famous humorist, whereas I have lived this dream in blinding Technicolor.
When I got home, my editor, Tom the Butcher, asked me how it went. I answered:
"It was a bust."
My daughter is an intern at a large veterinary clinic in Connecticut; her speciality is critical care, meaning that she deals often with life and death situations, and she does it during grueling 12-14 hour shifts. At times, when she and I talk or e-mail, she is exhausted to an alarming state. The following is a verbatim section of an IM exchange she and I had two days ago. (Yes, she agreed to let me use it.)
Molly: Of course it is. Don't be a silly noddle.
Molly: Okay, time to go growner shopping.
Molly: I'm retrado.
Me: Wow. Alz.
Molly: I'm fried. I'm done.
Molly: my brian is mush.
Molly: either I'm exhausted or I just had a stroke.
Me: It's okay.
Molly: growcery now.
Alexandra Curley submits this astonishing aptonym. My assumption was that this was a made-up name, but I see it belongs to many people, so this is probably genuine, and, without a doubt, in the Aptonym Hall of Fame.
Please take today's polls (Poll 1: Art | Poll 2: Ethics | Poll 3: Journalism), which I shall be discussing, in various segments below, by and by. So far, you are doing rawther well in the Art Poll! Those of you who found it hard should know that the first person I asked to take it was my good friend Philip Brooker, a genuine, talented, successful artist living in Paris.
Philip identified all eight real painters, seven of them by name. He knew what point in their careers they had painted these things, and whether they were lesser or minor works.
Here are two of my more interesting recent Pulitzer prizeworthy Twitter remarks:
"To see the sweetest possible look of gratitude on a face, all you have to do is pull that blade of grass from a dog's butt."
"60 Minutes just cut to the Viagra Sports Report, which informed us that the leader of the PGA tourney is "Jason Bohn."
And finally, one of the most amazing CLODS you will ever see here, via Ms. Gina Barreca. This is a 1940s video of a onetime famous act called The Ross Sisters. It is safe for work, but it may not be safe for accompanying lunch at your desk, if you are easily queasy.
Okay, let's go.
What do I do?: I just found out that my best friend, who I have known for over 30 years, puts her seat back on airplanes. We had a big argument over the weekend. Her reasoning is that as long as it is allowed, she is going to continue to do this. Of course, she is wrong. How do I handle learning this about my friend?
Gene Weingarten: Explain to her, sweetly, that power-farting in a crowded elevator is also "allowed."
Clodfused: Sorry, acronym dictionaries are not helping me here. What is a CLOD?
Gene Weingarten: Clip of the Day. Video clip of the day.
Rockin' O, UT: Saw you at the Rock Bottom Remainders show on Wednesday (with Caitlyn and Rachel, if I'm not mistaken. I believe this was, to paraphrase Kennedy, the the most extraordinary collection of Pulitzer Prizes that has ever been gathered together at the 9:30 Club, with the possible exception of when Eugene O'Neill performed alone.
Gene Weingarten: Exactly.
Gene Weingarten: NEVER call Caitlin Caitlyn.
Makeasta, ND: Gene,
Why do you even provide the weasel-out answers? (Do I need to qualify that I'm not talking about the Art?)
Suck it up; have an opinion. If it feels wrong, it's wrong. you know I'm right.
Gene Weingarten: I agree. I am going to eliminate many weasels in future polls. Kill the weasels!
It seems the anonymously commenting judge should be in the same position as a reporter's source who has been promised anonymity. If the judge had made the identical comments and disclosed the identical confidential info to a Plain Dealer reporter under a promise of anonymity, there is no way the paper unmasks her. The paper's promise of anonymity to commenters is the same thing -- the paper made the promise to encourage frank and open comment -- and commenters are entitled to rely on that promise. The fact that the judge's comments were outrageous, or potentially violated the law, is a red herring. Sources are granted anonymity BECAUSE their statements would get them into hot water with their bosses, the law, the powers that be, etc. if their identities were revealed. (See Felt, Mark).
Gene Weingarten: I think I disagree with you.
The promise to a source is personal, specific, and unqualified. We will NEVER reveal your identity, even at the risk of jail. The anonymity promise made by a newspaper re Comments is, by its nature, qualified. The information, for example, could be subpoenaed. We couldn't suppress it to hide a crime. It's a pretty sleazy forum, and I think the anonymity granted is a casual promise: In ordinary circumstances, we won't disclose who you are. Don't abuse that.
In the case of the Plain Dealer, my answer would have been somewhere between the second answer and the third. I would not have disciplined the editor, but I would have made a clean breast to readers, and better clarify for the future what the policy is.
That is, in fact, exactly what the Plain Dealer did.
It's not an easy call. In thinking about this, ethically, for the poll, I did what I usually do in such cases: I took the facts and exaggerated them to an absurd degree, in the hope that it would make the ethics of the situation clearer. It actually had the opposite effect. It became more complex.
What if The Washington Post had obtained documents, for example, proving that a United States Senator had murdered his wife? But the documents were stolen! In fact, they were unambiguously stolen, obtained by a rogue Post reporter by burglarizing a psychiatrist's office!
What would we do?
I tried to put myself in the position of the Post's executive editor, who would make his decision jointly with the Post publisher, after consulting with Post lawyers. I feel pretty sure that after reflection, they'd do this:
1. Take the story away from the felon reporter. Give it to another reporter. Publish the story. The public must know it, and it is the newspaper's prime reponsibility to tell the public what it must know. It outweighs all other responsibilities.
2. Include, with the story, the facts about how the story was obtained through illegal means. Make it clear that the paper does not condone this, but is taking the extraordinary step of publishing the story anyway, in the public interest.
3. Fire the felonious reporter, and turn evidence of his misdeed over to authorities.
4. Do not submit the story for a Pulitzer.
Twits: Gene, no mention of the Nancy Pelosi tweet that got you in trouble with Jezebel.com? Were you upset they didn't get your joke, or did you feel it was a fair criticism? (Full disclosure--big fan of yours, and big fan of Jezebel, so it was a tough day for me).
Gene Weingarten: I think it was fair criticism.
Shortly after winning the Pulitzer, I issued a few tweets establishing I am still the ordinary jerk I always am. One of them noted, out of the blue, that I would "do" Nancy Pelosi. It was meant as a joke about me, but a lot of people -- directed by Pulitzer interest -- apparently arrived at that tweet without quite knowing who I was.
It just seemed outrageous, absent context, and Jezebel let me have it. I probably deserved it.
Chicago: You WILL tell us which of those artworks are well-known, right?
Gene Weingarten: Yep, coming up.
Baltimore, Md.: Maybe this has been covered in the chat before, but I have a question:
Why are there no houses with urinals?
My boyfriend and I were debating this the other day. He said that if women lived in the house, it would be "selfish" to install a urinal, since only the men of the house could use it. I argue that it's beneficial for both sexes: men have a more comfortable way to do their business, and women have a cleaner toilet (and bathroom rug, and floor...). It blew his mind that I argue FOR urinals in private homes. Am I weird?
Gene Weingarten: I have peed in a house with a urinal. The urinal was fire-engine red. It was the home of Jack Gordon, a state senator in Miami, and his wife, Myra McPherson, formerly of The Washington Post. The house also had an indoor swimming pool. It was in this house that Dave Barry threw me a going-away party from The Herald in 1990.
Living in the house at the time -- taking care of it while Myra and Jack were away -- was my friend, Ellie Brecher, who had a pet chicken.
All of the previous is true.
Chickens for check-ups promoting the homosexual recruiting goals?: A GOP candidate for U.S. Senator in Nevada said, "I'm telling you that this works," she explained. "You know, before we all started having health care, in the olden days, our grandparents, they would bring a chicken to the doctor.... Doctors are very sympathetic people. I'm not backing down from that system." My wife is a doctor, and I like chicken, but Bolivian President Evo Morales recently warned that men eating chicken, which had female hormones injected, risked becoming gay. Is the Nevada candidate promoting homosexuality?
Gene Weingarten: I think so. She needs to answer for this.
Monterey, CA: Mr. Weingarten, My sister, alas, made the rather unfortunate decision to appear in your magazine's DateLab feature. The actual event - date - occurred before I could explain that newspaper writers can rarely be trusted, that their interests have more to do with page hits and accentuating conflict, and that depth and nuance are unlikely to find a place in a 400 word human-interest article about mating rituals, and that all things considered, allowing a reporter to record her post-date thoughts would lead to nothing good. As pleased as I am to tell my sister I told you so, I am still gobsmacked by the resultant vitriol, when subsequent to publication, the Washington Post's online community - and typically, I only read the WP's online comments when I want to get really depressed about the state of America - your magazine's readers unleashed a torrent of vitriol. I won't go into details here, but suffice it say my sis and her fam no longer feel safe - not merely because of what appeared on the Post's website, but because these degenerates are now tracking her down at home, on facebook, etc. She has a nine year old daughter. The reason I'm writing, however, is because your newspaper saw fit to photoshop a skull and crossbones tattoo on my sister's arm (photo since removed when my sis contacted the reporter)- presumably to highlight class conflict to give the feature a little extra frisson . Wondering what you think? JMT
Gene Weingarten: This is awful to hear about.
I read this particular Date Lab; at least in this shortened version, your sister sounds a little cold. So what? The comments are heartless and judgmental and awful. And the other things you speak of are, basically, unspeakable. Sorry.
Gene Weingarten: The magazine, however, did not photoshop anything onto your sister! There was some sort of digital glitch in the photo that didn't look anything like a skull and crossbones. It was removed when your sister objected.
Just for the record, I don't think the mag did anything wrong here; the problem of vicious commenters is one we are deeply concerned about, though. It pits free speech against issues of fairness and decency, and we're re-evaluating the whole issue.
New York, N.Y.: I was going to go with the first option on the sportswriter question (It's only sports), but it occurs to me that they are basically providing free advertising to a sports team and abrogating their role as neutral arbiters. The writer will be compromised; sure, he might eventually write negative things, but it's never going to mirror objective opinion as well as a neutral commentator. At the risk of a slippery slope argument, it may be only sports this time around, but it opens the door to local government meetings being covered by their own secretary, medical and pharmaceutical news being sourced from the AMA, etc. Sports is big business just like anything else, no matter how trivial it may seem to some. As soon as the newspaper relinquishes control over a column to someone paid by an interested party it loses any claim to credibility. You don't even specify if the editors can veto a column or otherwise exercise reasonable editorial control. Boosterism disguised as news serves neither the newspaper nor its readers.
Gene Weingarten: Yeah, this is right, and this question will be viewed very differently by ordinary mortal citizens, as opposed to journalists. I'll wager very few journalists defended what the Asbury Park Press is doing. Here's basically what it comes down to:
It's IMPOSSIBLE for a writer to be completely objective about the company that is paying his salary, unless he is flat out unconcerned about losing his job. He is, de facto, compromised. He might bend over backward to be objective, but he is not going to go the extra yard -- he is not going to have the jugular instinct -- to turn over an ugly rock, to make a very negative judgment, to risk really pissing off the people who pay your salary. Journalism involves a hundred-odd decisions a day, some as simple as whether to say a batter is in a slump, or is lying down on the job. You can go either way; to make the right call, the honest call, you need to be free of fear.
And so, we're left with this: A newspaper needs to decide whether it is a newspaper, or something else -- some hybrid/amalgam product in which an honest search for truth isn't always the primary mission. Sadly, the Asbury Park paper seems to have made the wrong choice. It's scary for all of us.
Either cover the team honestly, or don't cover the team. This halfway measure is halfway down a slippery slope: You can also argue, for example, that it's okay to have other countries tourism boards pay your travel reporters' airfare to review their countries on the theory that you couldn't afford the trip otherwise.
So don't go. It's not possible to sell just a little bit of your soul; that's an all-or-nothing deal.
Names: I know you are the authority on names. I wonder what your thought is on parents giving their children a name they never intend to call them, and instead only calling them by the nickname of that name. My name is a nice, normal name (Katherine), but I have never been called that name. I am one of the many nicknames from that name. The problem is that now that I am an adult, all of my formal correspondence goes by Katherine, but I do not. And then when people get my work e-mail, where my address has "Katherine" in it, they can't remember what my name is, so call me one of the other nicknames, which leads to awkward, "that's not my name" conversations. In short, I could go by Katherine, but it's been over 30 years and I don't really want to do that. So I petitioned my IT department to get my email changed. They did it.
But really, it all comes down to my parents. Their answer, in its entirety, is that they always wanted to call me the nickname, but thought Katherine would look better on a resume. Parents, don't do this.
Gene Weingarten: I have NEVER understood this.
The Rib has an aunt named Katharine. She has never been Katharine. She has always been.... Bunny.
Bunny is a very high power, influential corporate lawyer. The Hon. Bunny, Esq.
Is this crazy?: I know you have an unconventional view on marriage, so I'm curious about your input on my situation.
I've been with boyfriend of seven years, and we've cohabited cheerfully and comfortably for four years. We recently learned [he] needs major surgery on Friday. He's unemployed and uninsured, so I'll have to pay his medical bill out-of-pocket. He also needs continuing medical care for the next couple of years, which I'll also need to pay for.
Well, yesterday, I was trying to figure out how the heck I'm going to pay for this, when I had a "duh" moment: if we got married, he could get medical insurance through me. It would cut the cost of his surgery and subsequent treatment by at least 80 percent.
In order to get his surgery covered, we need to apply for a marriage license today, and do a courthouse civil ceremony on Thursday. It's very sudden, and we're not very excited about it; I think we were both hoping for happier circumstances for an engagement. But, we really can't argue with the numbers, and we figured for years that we'd get married eventually... So, I'm taking off early today and Thursday to go do this thing. I haven't told my family or friends -- I kind of just want to tell them after the fact and avoid any drama.
What do you think? It's as good a reason as any to get married, right?
(Not that your answer will dissuade me. I'm just curious to see your response.)
Gene Weingarten: See, now, I think wedding stink. I think in most cases, marriage is silly. I have never wept at a wedding.
But I am getting misty here. This is a GREAT reason to get married. Good for you.
Ross Sisters: OMG Gene! The movie from which the clip of the Ross Sisters singing "Solid Potato Salad" was just shown on Turner Classics this past weekend! I can't believe I've been subjected to that twice within four days! (Loved the art quiz!)
Gene Weingarten: You know, what occurred to me was that these women were literally risking their lives in that scene. The thing with the apple... what if she had fallen?
"My 14-year old mynx": Um, I think she was probably a 14-year-old minx.
Gene Weingarten: Well, she is a womyn.
Washington, D.C.: Saw this Virginia license plate in DC over the weekend: AH WTF
Gene Weingarten: Thank you.
This brings us pretty directly to the following recent bizarre story of another license plate with a message so arcane that it got by the gummint:
Rockville: "3. Fire the felonious reporter, and turn evidence of his misdeed over to authorities."
If you are that serious about it, I need to reconsider.
I think you just convinced me.
Gene Weingarten: Yeah, I think we'd have to. It would be a very hard thing to do. But you cannot hide a crime, certainly not of that magnitude.
Stockholm: Concerning your ethics question on finding the knife. Here in Sweden people do not follow "finders keepers", they leave things where they were dropped, generally moving them to a nearby ledge or something similar to make them more visible. Most often it is a glove or hat but I dropped a replacement, bicycle inner tube once, returned the next day and found it sitting on top of a bush right where it fell out of my jacket pocket (I knew where that was because a person honked at me when it dropped but I didn't realize at the time why they honked). So here in Sweden I would leave the knife. In the U.S. I would probably take it unless there was an obvious lost and found nearby.
Gene Weingarten: Yeah, I think this is a tough question. I strongly suspect that many people who claim they would take the time to find a police station, or a lost and found, for an item of minor value, are being disingenuous.
I'm not sure what I would do; I might take it, feeling guilty, and promising to myself that I will give it a fine, respectful, smoke-free home. But that would be Wrong.
How do I KNOW that would be wrong? Because I have read Kant's Treatise on the Categorical Imperative, which speculates on the nature of morality. In any circumstance, Kant argues, the moral thing to do is the thing that would most benefit society if EVERYONE acted that way. Clearly, the most beneficial thing is for this object to be returned to its owner. And the way to make that happen is to behave exactly as this poster suggests, maximizing the chances it will be found by the rightful person.
But this is the United States. It probably will be stolen by someone else.
Why have I read Kant's Categorical Imperative? For a story. It is why I have done everything even remotely difficult and sophisticated in my life. I have to be compelled to. It is hell being me.
Coming o, UT?: Gene,
I know this is way out of your line, but I thought I'd get a humourist's take.
Last Halloween, I came to my office in full "office girl" drag. Dress, heels, makeup, wig.... It went over pretty well (although no-one else in the office dressed up). One woman took me around so the other people in the office could meet the new "girl." People still mention it.
Well, I did that because I crossdress occasionally. When people kid me about it, I REALLY want to say "well, it was nice to show the office what my days off are like" or something like that. I'd really love to be "out"; it's lonely in the (clothes) closet, but I know the cat doesn't go back in the bag.
I'm not gay gay is (comparatively) easy in today's workplace. I'm talking about crossdressing. It's something I do, sometimes.
Should I keep my mouth shut, or share with my co-workers?
Gene Weingarten: I would keep my mouth shut, unless you want to become a punchline.
Post Hunt, USA: So, if this is just over a month out, we need a little info: firm date, general location, andy significant format changes.
Gene Weingarten: The Post Hunt is Sunday, June 6. The location is the same general area as last year. The format is the same general format. The Puzzles are bigger and better than ever.
washingtonpost.com: 2010 Post Hunt
Gene Weingarten: Okay, the Art Poll.
, sent just minutes after looking at the poll. Everything he identifies is correct. He is also right that the boxes could be any number of artists. In this case, it is Ellsworth Kelly.
Philip found himself intrigued and uncertain about the clown: He liked it and disliked it, but it had a certain power.
Small wonder: It is by John Wayne Gacy.
Philip didn't know that. But he did know that the walterfalls landscape many of you liked was an original Adolf Hitler.
It's hard for me to know, because I selected these, but I think I would have gotten two wrong. I would have overvalued the Women In Blue, which I actually think is splendid. It is by Bob Dylan.
I think I also would have picked the abstract trees, and not picked the Klee, which, like Philip, I think kind of stinks.
Gene Weingarten: Oh, wait. I also might have missed the Hopper. It looks to me like imitation Hopper. I might have not done so great.
Gene Weingarten: And the reason Scribbles is not here is that Philip suggested I add it, which I did. It is by Cy Twombley.
Not about the polls or your introduction: I occasionally work with someone who is the lite-version of a movie star. Not anyone very famous but the resemblance is sort of striking. I don't know why I am being so juvenile (I'm a thirty year old woman) but I basically feel like the real movie star is standing in front of me. Makes for uncomfortable situations and I think I just come off as aloof, which isn't very good for my career since he's way up the ladder. It's dam silly and I want to know how to snap out of it. Thank you.
Gene Weingarten: Happy to oblige.
McLean: I think that extending medical coverage to one's partner is a good reason to get married, but in this case, wouldn't the insurer decline coverage on account of a pre-existing condition? The Health Care Reform Act provision prohibited exclusion because of pre-existing conditions hasn't kicked in, yet, has it?
I hope I'm wrong.
Gene Weingarten: I am assuming previous person has checked into this....
Question: How responsible should newspapers be for researching the backgrounds and relationships to stories of their sources? I ask because someone told me they are a source on a story. What I note is they are ratting on others and they gaining by gettting the promotions when those ratted on leave, only the organization doesn't know they were the source. What are the ethical responsibilities of the press to determine is the results of their actions are appropriate, as their sources are using these stories to their own benefits within the organization even though they themselves were part of the illegal activities that the press is writing about (which is, of course, what makes them good sources)? What are my responsbilities now that I know this: should I discuss this with the press or do I keep quiet?
Gene Weingarten: Not sure about YOUR responsibilities. I think OUR responsibilities end at making sure the information is correct and used fairly in a matter of legitimate public interest.
I think we ASSUME most leakers have an ulterior motive, and that this motive is often either selfless or directly selfish. Not our job to worry about that part.
I suspect if you told a reporter that Source A had ratted out Person B because he wanted her job, the reporter would say, yeah, so what of it? The question is, did Person B screw up, and can we prove it?
Vitriol: I think the WP and other sites should require commenters to use their real names, ending anonymity. Then the only people saying really stupid, hateful things in public will be Republican state legislators.
Gene Weingarten: Noted.
The problem is, it will significantly stifle robust debate. I am still agnostic on this.
Better Prize: I think this is a much better prize than a silly Pulitzer.
washingtonpost.com: Will we ever be rid of this photo?
Gene Weingarten: This year, the Pulitzer people are giving this out as an add-on.
Moscow, USSR: Along the lines of the paid baseball writer, what about when the frequent practice of the Post of publishing full section advertisements for the government of Russia, prepared by the staff of Pravda.
This section is clearly labelled as a paid advertisement, but still, isn't there some level of editorial endorsement implied when the Post prints and publishes a full section for a foreign government?
Gene Weingarten: No. It says it's an ad!
I don't have a problem with that.
Dog Behavi, OR: Gene -
I need a ruling on dog behavior. Some information has been changed to protect the guilty.
I take our recently adopted rescue dog to a local park during the week and let her run off leash even though it's not a dog park (NaDP). She is very well behaved but, apparently, she was trained to hunt small game. She goes after squirrels with much more purpose than other dogs and occasionally catches one (average about one a month) - no witnesses yet.
On the one hand, it's not as if there's a dearth of squirrels in the world and if this happened in a dog park, no one would probably care. On the other hand, it's kind of a visceral, slightly disturbing experience and I am a little bit afraid of permanently scarring some 4 year old at one of the playgrounds (though more likely, it will be their parents who are bothered). Right now, I try to stay a little ahead of her and scare off the squirrels, but that's not foolproof.
As a working breed, going after squirrels seems to be her job - something she needs to do.
Should I stop letting her off leash in the NaDP (note - I can only take her to dog parks on weekends). Or is it okay to continue? Thanks.
Gene Weingarten: Stop taking her off the leash.
She's killing squirrels!
Arlington, Va.: Regarding the elimination of weasel answers - Do not do it! These answers are not weasel answers, they are nuanced answers for those of us who realize that problems are not always black and white. We had a president recently who believed every issue was black and white, remember?
Gene Weingarten: I think some are weasels. I use em too often.
RE: retardo: I really don't want this to hijack the chat, but I feel obligated to point out that although "retard" and related words (e.g., "retardo") are used more and more commonly as a synonym for stupid, it is also still frequently used as a slur towards people with mental disabilities. Yes, the same that happened to "moron" and "idiot" is happening to "retard," and someday enough time will have passed that it will not be taken as an insult, but I do not think we are yet at that point. The Post has already had a chat on the subject, so no need to belabor the point.
OK, please return to the moronic humor.
Gene Weingarten: Do YOU read it in that context as a slur against people with mental disabilities?
I believe the term -- as used to denote people with mental disabilities -- is disappearing. It's sloughed into the "idiot" realm.
But for those who are offended, please don't be offended. Nothing bad was intended.
Advice-columnist-shopping: Office cross-dressing guy submitted that same question to Dear Prudence at Slate... she basically said the same thing. Methinks it's a fake.
Gene Weingarten: Ah. Trolls. Curse 'em.
Re: Asbury Park Press: Gene, I don't have a problem with Asbury Park Press' sports team coverage because home team reporting so easily morphs into boosterism regardless. Even at the Washington Post, I find I have to read the national NBA coverage about the Wizards-- same thing for the Redskins--because otherwise I'm getting too rosy a view of the team. You see the same thing in traffic/transit coverage, which become mouthpieces for AAA and Metro. I think the problem is beat reporting itself--reporters get too cozy a relationship with the sources they cover. They might report a lot of stories, but they inevitably begin to acquire the frame of who they're covering.
Gene Weingarten: A number of people are making this point; to me, it's a different point. Yes, some writers like to "sweeten their beat," meaning the people you need to talk to you will be more inclined to do so if you write nicely about them.
But the paycheck puts things into a whole new level.
College Park, Md.: Using the self-checkouts at the supermarket these days, people are often leaving money behind.
One Sunday morning, there was 20$ left in the change slot, I assume they hit 20$ cash back and didnt realize it or forgot. Since I hadn't waited in line, the person was already gone, no way to know who it was. I pocketed the 20$. I felt guilty having the extra money in my pocket all week.
About a month later, someone left about 12$ in change, same situation, I wasn't there when they finished their transaction, they were already gone. I found one of the employees who was assisting the self-checkout counters. She didn't know who left it either, so I don't know if she pocketed it or gave it back to the supermarket chain, but I know I felt much better than I did than the time I took the 20$.
Gene Weingarten: Here's what I want to know: Where are you from that you think it should be written 20$?
That's not Brit, right? Is it, like, Indonesian or something?
What do you think?: So a student at UVA was caught on camera (store surv video) calling a black student the n-word. Or, more accurately, four male students were harassing two female students, and one male called the two girls the n-word, but one of the girls was white, so the offender is not only a jerk but also not all that concerned with accuracy. The offender was apparently drunk.
Anyhoo, as far as I'm concerned, the only thing UVA can do that will satisfy me is kick the guy out. I do not care that he was drunk, I do not care that he is (now) sorry. I don't want this guy walking around in the world with a UVA degree, ever telling anyone he graduated from UVA, or being associated with UVA. I feel like anyone should feel this way about their school. I think it's time for zero tolerance for this kind of nonsense.
I realize UVA probably can't do it, they'd get sued because it's not an Honor violation so they have no method of kicking him out under existing rules, but the more I think about it the madder I get. I feel like the only reasonable punishment for this kind of jerkery is some level of ruining his life. The message should be clear: we don't want you at our school, and if you hold these kinds of attitudes, stay away. If he stays, I think UVA should tell everyone who he is, publicly identify him, even knowing that other students might harass him until he leaves. He shouldn't get the same anonymity that victims get.
What says Gene? I ask because you tend to have more pragmatic thinking on these kinds of things than most people.
Gene Weingarten: I think people in college do jerky things. I think the guy is probably a total jackass, and probably a racist, though I was not in his stupid inebriated head and do not know what he was thinking, or if he was thinking anything coherent at all. Here's what I do know: You are on a very high horse. It's a self-righteous horse; its name is something like Fauntleroy, and it probably does that high-step, snooty prancy thing. Of course, that's not the horse's fault. He has been trained by his rider.
I don't much care what you think UVA needs to do to satisfy you. I think there are two young women I'd like to hear from first.
From the news reports I've seen it sounds like the jerk is contrite; because there is video, and because we are moving forward, albeit slowly, in our sensibilities, he has been shamed and humiliated, and this is going to carry with him for some time.
I think everyone moves on with their lives.
Sorry, I was a bit harsh up there, but this is essentially a language crime, and you are being a language cop bully, and I don't like you.
If I were punished appropriately for everything jerky I did in college, I never would have graduated and would have gone on to a dissolute, trivial life. Oh, wait...
GMU: Any tips for a student that has a 12 page paper due on Monday? I cannot focus and get my thoughts together to even begin the writing process. I also have to work every night this week after classes. HELP!
Gene Weingarten: Two words: Soren Kierkegaard.
Oh, by the way. His middle name is Aabye. On Twitter, I asked what that was about, was he trying to become first in the Dictionary of Middle Names?
A Norwegian person wrote in to say Aa is the LAST letter of the alphabet.
Dear Mr Poetry Master: Hi Gene (he he...hygiene...at 45 y/o, I still laugh at that)
Just wondering if you consider Rock-n-Roll lyricists (Dylan, Lennon-McCartney, Carol King, etc.) poets?
Gene Weingarten: Depends on the lyricist.
I have come to believe that the closest to pure poetry is Leonard Cohen.
Howsabouts we all listen to this now?
Gene Weingarten: If you haven't the headphones or your own office, here are the lyrics:
If you want a lover
I'll do anything you ask me to
And if you want another kind of love
I'll wear a mask for you
If you want a partner
Take my hand
Or if you want to strike me down in anger
Here I stand
I'm your man
If you want a boxer
I will step into the ring for you
And if you want a doctor
I'll examine every inch of you
If you want a driver
Or if you want to take me for a ride
You know you can
I'm your man
Ah, the moon's too bright
The chain's too tight
The beast won't go to sleep
I've been running through these promises to you
That I made and I could not keep
Ah but a man never got a woman back
Not by begging on his knees
Or I'd crawl to you baby
And I'd fall at your feet
And I'd howl at your beauty
Like a dog in heat
And I'd claw at your heart
And I'd tear at your sheet
I'd say please, please
I'm your man
And if you've got to sleep
A moment on the road
I will steer for you
And if you want to work the street alone
I'll disappear for you
If you want a father for your child
Or only want to walk with me a while
Across the sand
I'm your man
If you want a lover
I'll do anything you ask me to
And if you want another kind of love
I'll wear a mask for you
Gene Weingarten: Video: Leonard Cohen sings "I'm Your Man"
North Carolina: Didn't get the Pollock or the Klee, but got the rest, including the Twombley. Here's my thinking on the Twombley: an amateur would squiggle and title it "Meditation." An artist would squiggle, call it "Squiggles," and assert "It's art because I say it's art."
The waterfall landscape is just about the most heinous thing I've ever seen.
Gene Weingarten: I/m not sure it's worse than the big breast, or the pointillist man in his skivvies.
Cross Dress: Yes I did. It's not a fake. I wanted a different take. You both pretty much agreed and I'll take that as good advice.
Gene Weingarten: I will believe you because you frequent Chatological Humor.
RE: The Knife: Your fear that someone else would take the knife is why the right thing to do would be to turn it in. Maybe post a note somewhere letting them know you found it, but to just keep it and say noting, pretty much guarantees the owner will never see it again. I can understand your cynicism but there are still honest people out here and we most of the time like to do the right thing.
I once took an online test on ethics and honesty and when it generated the results it basically accused me of cheating because I answered all the questions "right". I feel the same way now that I did then. I answered that I would turn the knife in (I have actually done this with found things) and you assume I'm being disingenuous. Sigh.
Gene Weingarten: I know. And I feel bad about assuming you are being disingenuous.
Peek-a-boo predicts sense of humor in later life?: My son wasn't interested in peek-a-boo at 4 months (he didn't even notice we were doing it), but now at 6 months he thinks it's hilarious. Does this mean he's going to be one of those people who are always the last to get the joke?
Gene Weingarten: Very possibly.
I subscribe, almost religiously, to Dave Barry's definition of a sense of humor: "A sense of humor is a measurement of the extent to which we realize that we are trapped in a world almost totally devoid of reason. Laughter is how we release the anxiety we feel about this."
This is a Darwinian adaptation, and it is hard-wired, to one extent or another, into our brains. As I disclosed in
-- which remains my favorite story of mine all time -- peek-a-boo occurs as the first manifestation of this fear-management device we call humor. When mommy covers her face with her hands, the child knows an instant of existential uncertainty; where has mom gone? Oh, God, she is gone forever! Then, the face returns. All is well, again, for the moment! But all is precarious! (Laugh.)
Your child is slow, humor wise. That's the bad news. The good news is that he came around. He is not without humor; he WANTS to laugh. Remediation might be required, but there is hope. I wish you all the luck in the world.
Anonymous: This weekend I was out shopping with a friend. She picked up this shirt that was pretty nice, but it had a small stain (it looked washable). So she decided to buy that one instead of the five others available in her size, so she could haggle the price down at the register! How Jewish, am I right?
But for those who are offended, please don't be offended. Nothing bad was intended.
Gene Weingarten: Nicely done, but this is not parallel.
My contention is that the word has evolved. It is never used to describe the mentally retarded, literally. The last sad gasp of that slur was in that movie. The one whose name I can't think of now. Guy is trying to impress a girl. Adam Sandler?
New York, NY: I read this morning that Ayn Rand once referred to Kant as "the most evil man in history." Kinda makes me love Kant.
Gene Weingarten: Exactly.
Arlington, VA: I believe your Great Zucchini article is better than the two that won Pulitzers. Thoughts? What's your best article ever?
Also, have you heard from the GZ recently?
Gene Weingarten: GZ and I occasionally email.
Yes, I think that is my best story.
Journalism poll: For the sports writer, the readers would be better served getting no info, or just a box score than they would getting a biased picture from an interested party. Most readers aren't going to notice the difference, and it undermines the newspaper's credibility. Plus (and I hate the slippery slop argument, but I can't ignore it) how far is it from having the school board member writing about what happened at a meeting the paper couldn't send a reporter to? A newspaper needs to be autonomous. Period.
For the judge, I think this is not at all the same as assuring a source (a specific person you make a compact with) that you won't out them absent certain mutually understand circumstances. This is a Web site, and anyone who lives in the modern world -has- to know that what they write on the Internet is not private. This story was much too important to ignore, and any editor worth his salt would have hunted the commenter down after it was clear that she had inside info. The paper's duty to the public trumps the duty to give confidentiality forever to online commenters. I've always taken that confidentiality to be that the other posters won't know who I am, not that the newspaper won't publish what I write. It's their Web site. And the judge was really stupid and deserved to get outed.
Gene Weingarten: I don't want to hammer home these points, but this poster is right on both counts, IMHO, and said it better than I.
Art poll: I am shocked that so few people recognized the Hopper and the Twombly. Are there any artists more distinctive?
On the other hand, I got a bunch wrong too. Whatever conclusions you draw from your experiment (which obviously bears some relation to your Joshua Bell thing), don't forget that some of these would be a lot more obvious if we could see brushstrokes.
Gene Weingarten: Understood.
I was surprised the Hopper was a Hopper. It looked like crappy imitation Hopper to me.
Philip Brooker went a step further: He calls Hopper "a one-trick pony illustrator."
"Illustrator" is not a kind word.
Gene Weingarten: Philip also calls Klee, whose work is among the eight, "a Miro wannabe."
Philip has opinions.
Rhy, ME: I'll see your Leonard Cohen and raise you William S. "Smokey" Robinson. Robinson is a master at vivid imagery, strong allusiveness, and complex internal rhyme, all of which are missing from the work of the estimable Mr. Cohen.
Gene Weingarten: Uh.
You might look at that Cohen again.
McLean, Va.: Scary how my answers to the polls are in general agreement with the majority. Except for the plagiarism question. I would rewrite parts of the essay in a heartbeat without guilt.
Once I even plagiarized myself! In high school (Langley in McLean) I had to write a paper for 12th grade English. A couple of years later I got the same assignment in College English II. Since I'd gotten a B, I retyped the paper and turned it in.
I got an A.
Gene Weingarten: Plagiarizing oneself is lazy, but acceptable. I have done it in columns, sometimes knowingly but often by accident. In the last ten years I have on three different occasions described something as being "of Frankensteinian proportions." One was a tomato. One was Tony Robbins.
Squirrel-killing dog: I think this has already been tackled in previous chats, but would like to remind the writer that he should stop unleashing the dog in the NaDP not just because it's killing squirrels, nor just because Gene says so, but because it's the LAW.
Seriously! If you don't like the law, petition your representatives to change it. This is America. We all can effect change. In the meantime, however, please comply -- if only because people like me have no way of knowing that your sweetie snookums would never attack us, we just know that a sharp-toothed animal just killed a squirrel and is headed our way...
Gene Weingarten: As a dog owner, I disagree. I believe in peaceful noncompliance, sometimes.
Art gallery: Did you include the watercolor for Hitler's Birthday? I now have the music to Springtime for Hitler stuck in my brain. I'm hoping the Leonard Cohen tune will knock it out.
Gene Weingarten: Oh, he will. Listen to that song.
Art for Boobies: The art quiz was easy for anyone a little familiar with modern and contemporary art, which can be a depressingly small group.
But I have to say this, just for kicks. The "kneeling nude" painting is just wonderfully terrible, and there are many of its kind--a well-rendered image of a beautiful woman in a sexually obvious posture. Her body is pointed invitingly at the viewer while she looks away, allowing the viewer to gaze uninterrupted. It's just so tasteless and obvious and definitely NOT ART. Manet got in trouble for "Olympia" because she gazed directly at the viewer, which made it "pornography." The idea of the object possessing itself was too much for the Salon.
Gene Weingarten: Yep.
Washington DC: I'm Your Man is my very favorite Leonard Cohen song... well, maybe Tower of Song. Or Hallelujah.
Anyway, there's one line that bugs me a little, no matter how perfect the rhyme. It's "howl at your beauty like a dog in heat". I don't know dogs well, but I thought male dogs did the howling, and female dogs went into heat.
Am I wrong? Or is the inaccuracy forgivable, seeing how wonderful it sounds in that lugubrious voice of his?
Gene Weingarten: I have to think about this.
New York, NY: Gene, I have a VERY basic journalism question that I feel silly asking but it is something that I have always wondered. Why do people talk to reporters? I understand that sometimes there is something in it for the source, a way to further his or her agenda. I'm sure sometimes the source is making a moral decision to leak information that he or she thinks should be out there, despite the company line. But so often reporters get sources to give them information that either does nothing to help the source, or actively HURTS the source's agenda. Yet people continue to talk to reporters, every day, forever. Why do they do it? Are the journalists that good? Or is it something about human nature?
Gene Weingarten: It is something about human nature.
It also explains Facebook.
Saint Paul MN: I've noticed in the Saint Paul Pioneer Press they refer to "aptronyms." It bothers me. What say you? Also, when did people start referring to the District as the "city?"
Gene Weingarten: Both terms are out there. Both have long histories. I have made my choice. It was one of concision.
Talib, AN: I have to ask about the network's censoring the recent "South Park" episode that caricatured the prophet Mohammed by deleting all the "offensive" remarks in the face of a pretty obvious threat from some extremists: have the terrorists won?
Gene Weingarten: Well, yes.
Zanzib, AR: How does it feel to be a household name? Seriously. You were mentioned as an example of a Pulitzer winner in a "lightning round" question on "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me". According to NPR anyway, you've now achieved some national level of name recognition.
Gene Weingarten: It is a slightly tainted honor. Peter Sagal is a good friend of mine.
You want big and famous? Here is big and famous:
On Jeopardy! a few weeks ago, this was the answer:
"He is a South Florida writer whose comic novels often deal with political corruption and criminal intrigue in Miami."
The buzzer-ringer said:
"Who is Dave Barry?"
That's big. To be a WRONG answer on Jeopardy!
When I told Dave about this he wrote back:
"It's about time I got credit for Carl."
Journalism poll: I'm surprised how many people think the newspaper did right by running the story about the judge. There are just so many holes here.
For one thing, if the judge thought she was writing anonymously, then she wasn't writing in her capacity as a judge. For another thing, as improbable as you say it is, the comments COULD have been written by her daughter or anyone else with access to the email address.
Gene Weingarten: She wasn't writing in her CAPACITY as a judge, but she was expressing something in public she had no right expressing; for one thing, she was using inside information to form her opinions, and then sharing those opinions with the public. Moreover, she was sneakily trying to influence public opinion on an issue she was involved with. (Allegedly.) (Yes, we can choose to give her the benefit of the doubt and believe her daughter was on her computer at the very moments the judge was officially in her chambers, near self-same computer.)
I liken this to, say, an important politician making a racist or crude joke at a private dinner party. Maybe he didn't EXPECT to be quoted, but it's fair game to hold him responsible for it.
Katherine: I am also a Katherine and go by one of the more popular nicknames (no, not Bunny, but now wish I had the option years ago!).
I like having a long formal name and a short day name. It's like having a city home and a country home. Or formal wear or casual wear. It's also a great way to screen phone calls and weird colleagues.
Gene Weingarten: Okay, noted.
Dinner?: So what are your thoughts on the dinner appointment poll questions?
Gene Weingarten: I'd lie with impunity. Like a rug.
I would also probably say I was going to cancel anyway. I'd like to say it was because of honesty, but it's more about gamesmanship! You're saying, hey, I'm the kind of person who will tell you that.
Baltimore MD: Vitriol vs. robust debate: I wrote quite a few letters to newspapers in the pre-Internet days. Papers used to require my full name, address and work and home numbers before they would publish my letter. I was always called to guarantee that I was the person who wrote it. Why is the Internet any different? I am not saying the Post should call every commenter, but why shouldn't you be required to use your fulll name? I was taught that only people who are ashamed of what they wrote, or are bullies or cowards, refused to sign their names. (I use my name when posting, by the way.)
Gene Weingarten: It's a valid argument.
Another argument, basically, is that it's a Brave New World. This argument basically goes: Everyone KNOWS the comments will include the vile and outrageous. Don't give it equal weight.
New York, N.Y.: Not to get all serious on you, but what do you think of the new Immigration bill in Arizona?
Gene Weingarten: I think everyone pulled over and asked for ID on suspicion of being an illegal alien should decline to provide such documentation, citing the Constitutional provision against unreasonable search and seizure.
This law is going down.
re:Charlie Brown: When Lucy pulled the football away, why did Charlie Brown wind up on his back? It makes no sense!
This is a physics question and it's been a long time but I think I can tell you- momentum. Charlie has kicking so hard that when there was no resistance from the ball his leg continued forward with enough force that it carried his legs forward and unbalanced him. If it had been me, I would have landed on my butt, but this is Charlie Brown.
Gene Weingarten: This is in reference to a Twitter question I asked.
I contend that the resistance of the ball is so minuscule that its absence would not seriously alter the kicker's balance at all. Do we have a physicist or a kineticist who can weigh in authoritatively, here?
You are the authority: I just found out that I'm likely to get a female miniature schnauzer this week -- YAY!
Now, what do I name her? Any thing to keep in mind with this breed?
Gene Weingarten: Name her Needlenosebuttsniffer.
(Thanks to Jennifer)
Silver Spring, Md.: What's wrong with the landscape? Would anyone hate if it had a different maker?
Caveat: I found almost all the art in the poll, famous and not, to be junk. But hey, if the title of the piece means more than the piece itself, we're in completely different worlds...
Gene Weingarten: The landscape is banal. Shows zero technique. No imagination. Almost as though the painter had no connection to humanity or human feelings.
West Chester, Pa.: Regarding the baseball question: how would the situation described be so different from one where the newspaper owns the baseball team (as the Tribune Co. does with the Cubs)?
Gene Weingarten: I'm not sure. I don't honestly know how the Tribune handles that.
Klee As Miro Wannabee: Klee was older than Miro and became well known before Miro so perhaps it is Miro improved on Klee. Anyway there is more of an artistic relationship between Miro and Calder than between Klee and Miro.
Gene Weingarten: If you say so.
Chantilly: Gene, you've talked often about your love of The Monkees. Have you watched any of their shows lately? Wow, they're... bad. I mean, love the music, and I watched them religiously when they were repeated in the 80s craze, but... wow.
Gene Weingarten: Oh, I never watched the SHOW. Maybe actually never.
But the music was great, thanks to a LOT of wonderful studio musicians.
Significantly, the best Monkees song was the one recorded right after the show ended. D.W. Washburn.
, by Mickey and band.
washingtonpost.com: Man, those '80s getups are distracting.
Chicago, Ill.: The Cleveland Plain-Dealer situation is very complicated. Clearly, the newspaper did violate a reasonable expectation of anonymity. On the other hand, the judge, whose comments about defendants and their lawyers were simply astonishing, was violating the rights of the people accused in her courtroom in a much more serious way.
In an interview on On the Media, the editor of the Plain-Dealer attempted to distinguish between the decision to find out who was making the comments and the decision to publish the information once she knew it. It seems to me that that one is a no-brainer. Once they knew her identity, they had to publish it; the even-handed administration of justice is just that important. It's a cliche, but the public had a right to know. They really did.
Gene Weingarten: This is exactly right.
Washington, D.C.: You are one of my Facebook friends. I notice that you have been "chillin" on Facebook much more than usual over the last few weeks. What's up with that?
Gene Weingarten: See my column this coming Sunday.
Austin, Tex.: Last week you weren't sure if you could talk about your screenplay. The New York Times has it listed as being titled "B-Major" and starring Adam Sandler.
Gene Weingarten: It is "B Major."
Adam Sandler? This, I never hoid.
The City: Adam Sandler movie - 50 First Dates?
washingtonpost.com: I don't think there was a retarded brother in that -- it was about Drew Barrymore being an amnesiac.
Gene Weingarten: Was it Something About Mary?
The Plain Dealer's Problem...: ... is that the editor in question only began snooping to satisfy a personal vendetta. If the anonymous commenter had stayed away from insulting the family member of a newspaper employee, nothing would have happened. Intent matters here.
Also, the only acceptable outcome, if the paper wanted to print the story, would be to fire the editor in question. No other "santion" is acceptable for such a greivous abuse of the journalistic process -- as well as company privacy rules.
Gene Weingarten: I disagree. You don't fire the editor if the internal rules were not clear, as I am sure they were not. The editor probably felt he was doing nothing wrong, and with justification.
Not giving my name: Well, if newspaper websites will not be the forum for informed insiders to give comments anonymously without fear of becoming the story, then someone needs to invent such a forum.
Even the best remaining non-bought-out journalists are often very superficial in what they write. Most local reporting on complex stories is flat-out wrong. The people who know what's going on are usually happy to explain it to anyone, as long as they won't lose their jobs. This is an untapped market, and a much more valuable one than the Post currently provides to datelab commenters.
Gene Weingarten: Yes, we discussed this in a previous chat. Some responsible and important commenters could not comment on the record.
Re: leashless dog objection: I'm not saying I agree with the person who is letting his dog freely murder squirrels, but I am continually frustrated with people who insist on following laws simply because they are laws, without any objectivity at all. I'm not for anarchy but come on, there are laws and there are laws.
Gene Weingarten: My point exactly.
I will never wait at a light if there is no traffic in any direction, and no other cars at all around. I feel like an idiot.
Kensington, MD: The question I have always wanted to submit to an oracle or to a forum of wise people is whether America's greatness and longetivity is a result primarily of 1) the richness of its multihued people; 2) the wisdom and courage of its Founding Fathers; 3) its natural resources; or 4) geographical isolation? (Skeptically, I place the greatest emphasis on #4)
Gene Weingarten: Me, I go for 1-3, in approximately equal measure.
Peaceful noncompliance: The problem with that is that everyone thinks they're peacefully non-complying.... Right up until the point that their big husky attacks my little dog and almost snaps his neck. The reality of the situation is that people are not self-aware enough to responsibly noncomply. So, everyone suffers. That's life.
Gene Weingarten: Well, that goes to the crux of the issue. You non-comply at your own considerable risk. I know Murphy will never hurt another living being. I know that so strongly that I will risk getting in serious trouble.
New Baltimore: My given name is Roberta, named after my Grandmother. My entire life I have been Robbie. My work e-mail is Roberta. I have had people swear they haven't recieved e-mails from me, though they did get something similar from a "Roberta" person. On paper, I have been mistaken for a boy more times than I can count, and very few people hear me correctly when I introduce myself. ("Robbie. Robin? RobBIE. Bobbie?")
But- I like my name. I'm one of the only Robertas in this country not collecting Social Security, and I like the connection to my family history. I'm glad my parents did it, and I'll probably do something similar to my poor, unsuspecting future children.
Gene Weingarten: Good. I really like "Robbie" for a lady person.
Washington, D.C.: One more thing for the crossdressing person. I know a lot of crossdressers due to my hobbies (don't ask), and inevitably they dress as women or as a French Maid for Halloween at work. When a man can whip out a perfectly fitting "costume" for Halloween and has the proper makeup and wig, it's more than likely not just a one-time thing for him, so you've probably already outed yourself to your coworkers.
Gene Weingarten: Noted.
Hey, Liz!: Is there a "Lost" chat this week?
washingtonpost.com: Yep, no new show, but we'll still be chatting tomorrow.
Gene Weingarten: Also noted.
Gene Weingarten: Okay, we are done for the day. For the record, I have just been emailed the original DateLab photo and can attest that the glitch on the photo in no way resembled a skull and bones tattoo. It looks like a smear.
Thank you all; I'll be updating on Tuesdays as usual.
Gene Weingarten: My column on Sunday provoked a predictably large reaction, mostly from defenders of Facebook, who love it and think I am an elitist.
I do not consider myself an elitist -- elitists tend to belong to that large subclass of people who are of lesser quality than I. But these e-mails did cause me to further consider the issue of social media, and the paradoxes they embody. I, for example, am an enthusiastic participant in Twitter, yet I find Facebook tedious. Why?
After much reflection, I believe I have an answer. I believe this answer is the first important dissection of the comparative ethos of Twitter vis a vis Facebook. I believe it will be studied centuries from now by scholars of the Early Internet Era for evidence of the beginnings of the Great Schism that culminated in the apocalyptic SocialNetWars of 2190-2206.
Facebook is sweeter than Twitter. It is homier. It is cornier. The atmosphere is friendlier. It is a bunch of friends sharing details of their lives; on Facebook, no one thinks it remotely inappropriate to announce that he or she had a nice relaxing weekend with family -- indeed, this would be greeted with approval! Others would compare their weekends, favorably or not. Facebook encapsulates the Yiddish word "hamish," which is defined thus: "Having qualities associated with a homelike atmosphere; simple, warm, relaxed, cozy, unpretentious, etc. " People blather on and on, knowing they will not be called to task for it, that, indeed, they will be celebrated for their openness and conviviality.
All of this happens because, on Facebook, by general agreement, the stakes are lower. There ARE no stakes, really. It's a big ol' group share.
On Twitter, the pace is hectic. People using Twitter are in feverish competition with each other to amuse and impress. This tone is set in the very soul of Twitter -- the 140-character limit for each post. Thus, right away, people are challenged to show their stuff -- show how much you can say in this limit, show how concise and witty you can be. The clock is running. Go!
Yes, in Twitter, there is a clock. In Facebook, no. The parallel to football and baseball is apt. Twitterers are football fans. Facebookers are fans of baseball -- or, better yet, cricket, where a match can last six days.
Twitter is about competition. It is about one-upsmanship. It is about an endless race to accumulate devotees, or followers. Note the term, "followers," not "friends." On Facebook, the people who read what you write are your "friends," and they are the same people whom you read. Not on Twitter. On Twitter, there are two distinct groups: Your followers, and people you follow. Some Twitter people (me, for example) have thousands of followers, but follow only a few dozen. The more clever you are, the greater this disparity. S***MyDadSays has 1.3 million followers, but follows only one -- Levar Burton, for some reason.
As I long ago pointed out in a tweet, Twitter assigns a Human Worth Value to every participant; this is never actually stated, but it's there for all to see: All you have to do is to subtract the number of people you follow from the number of people who follow you. The higher the number, the greater your Human Worth. If the number is negative, you are pathetic.
Yes, there are exceptions. BarbaraJWalters has a net worth of 681,638, and her tweets are idiotic and self serving, but that's the POINT: Life is unfair; often, the unworthy prosper. Suck it up. And compete to improve your lot.
No one on Twitter would EVER say "I had a nice relaxing weekend with my family." He'd know he'll risk losing 15 followers immediately for being so boring. On Twitter, you are not sitting around a friendly hearth, chatting with family. On Twitter, you are on stage, performing. And some people in the audience are bootlegging tomatoes.
Now, why do I prefer this atmosphere to Facebook's? Because I am wildly competitive, and, fundamentally, a misanthrope. A cynic. An iconoclast. I am a bomb-thrower.
Why does Pat the Perfect prefer Facebook? Because she is warm and inclusive and friendly. She is an adorable, tail-wagging, peace-loving, bomb-sniffing doggie.
And that's that the difference. Facebook and Twitter divide humanity into its fundamental dualities. Mutt and Jeff. Yin and yang. The alpha and the omega.
That's just how it is.
Or, as Chatwoman says, "Twitter is all about YOU. Facebook is all about OTHERS. You like yourself more than you like others."
Gene Weingarten: Reading about the appalling censorship of "South Park," I was reminded of a similar issue from several years ago, involving my column. I wrote about the original Mohammed cartoon controversy. When it came time to consider the cartoon that would accompany the column, I suggested that Eric Shansby draw this:
A cartoon of Mohammed walking toward a mountain. But Mohammed would be labeled "Not Mohammed" and the mountain would be labeled "Not a mountain." The illustration was going to be signed "Not by Eric Shansby."
The Post said no. Needless provocation.
Wow: Gene, I read this chat for reasons unknown to myself. I typically find you obnoxious, and I find your humor (mostly) unfunny. However, I take back every mean thing I ever thought about you because of this:
"You are on a very high horse. It's a self-righteous horse; its name is something like Fauntleroy, and it probably does that high-step, snooty prancy thing. Of course, that's not the horse's fault. He has been trained by his rider."
Wow. You are spot on and I hope I get the chance to say this exact thing to someone in the future. I will not credit you, however.
Gene Weingarten: This was originally in reference to a poster who was all high-horsey about some jerk in college who did some jerky thing. The poster wanted the guy destroyed forever; I noted that college was the place for people to get over their jerkiness, and that we should give them a little slack.
Several readers have asked me the jerkiest thing I did in college. I spent some time thinking about this. Here they are, in no particular order:
1. Allowed myself to drive in possession of enough heroin to be put in jail for the rest of my life.
Okay, actually, I had a longer list, but the distance from 1 to 2 was so great, 2 seemed to pale in comparison. We'll just leave it there: Exponential jerk.
Exaggerate the situation: OK, so say that I add a comment to a story about struggling businesses saying that I routinely take pens and Post-it notes home with me from work and I know this is technically stealing but, come on, what difference does it make?
Should The Post hunt down my e-mail address and turn me in to the police since I've admitted to committing a crime?
Gene Weingarten: No, and that was pretty much my point. The Plain Dealer was facing a problem: The judge (allegedly) did something shockingly bad, stupid, immature, and un-judgelike. The public had to be told. The paper was in a pickle; they chose the most ethical path, and fessed up to their pickle.
Stolen pens is not an ethical pickle. It's a big so what, and no paper would even think of outing a reader for that.
Freelan, CE: Gene--My former employer recently terminated its defined benefit pension plan, and paid out to most its beneficiaries a lump sum somewhere between 20 to 30 percent of what they might have anticipated receiving post-retirement. I now work for this company on a freelance, contract basis, which includes blogging for them weekly. Last week, I added my name to a class-action lawsuit filed against the company for mismanagement and unfair termination of the pension plan. Do you think that doing so constitutes a conflict of interest? Moreover, my blog has to do with matters of faith, civil society and ethics, and I understandably feel conflicted about my employer's behavior on these matters. I don't want to bite the hand that feeds me, but I feel some lack of integrity trying to keep my hands clean of this. Thoughts?
Gene Weingarten: I'm not sure what you are asking. It's no conflict of interest at all; your name is public if you are party to class action suit -- right there for your bosses to see. If they want to terminate you because of that, it's their business.
Baltimore, Md.: OK Gene, here's a journalism/ethics question for you. My book club just read "Stiff" by Mary Roach, a great science writer, whom I admire a lot. The book is about how society treats dead bodies. In one chapter Roach is investigating a tip she got about a crematorium in a tiny town in China. Supposedly employees were cutting off dead bodies' buttocks and selling them to a restaurant to make human flesh dumplings. Because of the language difference and other difficulties, Roach had trouble scoring an interview. She manages to get an interview by saying she is working for a funeral industry magazine. Roach's interpreter knows the truth, but the woman at the crematorium she is interviewing does not. To me (a former newspaper reporter and still sometimes freelancer) this is highly unethical. I'm really torn about this. I know she wanted the "scoop" but she misled her source. I'd never lie about who I was to get a story. And by the way, the story turned out to be false. What do you think?
Gene Weingarten: That breaks every standard journalism rule; no respectable newspaper or TV station would condone it. I would never consider doing it.
However, to be blunt, newspapers and TV stations are the biggest sticklers in the business on matters of ethics. If you are writing a book, there really are no "rules," beyond what the book publisher will condone.
Book publishers will sometimes condone a lot more, particularly if, in the book, you are transparent about what you did, as this author was.
So, let's re-direct the question: Do I think it was unethical?
No. The thing she was investigating was of such import -- the (suspected) crime would have been so loathsome -- that if she needed that rather minor degree of misrepresentation to get it, I can accept it, personally. The subject knew she was going to write about it -- the only deception, apparently, was about whom she was going to write it for.
Sleazy, but under these circumstances, I'd condone it.
Snuck, IN: Gene: If you type "snuck" into the washingtonpost.com search bar, you'll see 21 instances of the Post using "snuck" in articles since the beginning of the year. Pucks are snuck past goaltenders, Obama snuck cigarettes and snuck into Afghanistan, Clooney snuck a flask into the Oscar's, a man snuck past security and was killed by a whale. Is it time to accept that this word is here to stay? Or is it time to write angry letters to the editor?
Gene Weingarten: I hate it, but I believe it is already in the dics.
Just wait. Pretty soon, we'll get "slud." As in, "the baserunner slud into third." Dizzy Dean once said that.
Gene Weingarten: Okay, I've gotten some e-mails arguing that a lot of stupid people are on Twitter -- people so doltishly bland that the "feverish competition" doesn't hold up. Ah, but it does. Twitter naturally organizes itself into circles of intelligence. If you try slumming into a circle way below yours, you find the same degree of competition and one-upsmanship, only on a doltishly bland, unoriginal level: "Man, airline food sucks :( ... "Ys but rap music iz wrse. :P "
Gene Weingarten: Some thoughts* on the feeding of a dog --
What kind of dog food is best for your dog? Many dog owners have strong views on this subject, which is one way you can tell they are insane. The best food for your dog is: brown dog food. Oh, sure, you'll see TV ads claiming that a certain brand is superior, as evidenced by the fact that hte dog in the commerical is enthusiastically chowing down on it. But what these ads fail to tell you is that the same dog would chow down, with equal enthusiasm, on any other brand of dog food, or any brand of cat food, or an actual cat, or a pair of soiled underpants, or the Declaration of Independence, or a clarinet.
Dogs did not get where they are today by being picky eaters. Back in prehistoric times, they were competing with the rest of their pack for food, and if they came across, say, the decaying carcass of a mastodon, they had to snatch whatever piece they could, because if they didn't, some other dog would. They'd swallow the piece quickly, and then, if it didn't agree with them, they'd simply throw it back up later, and some other dog would eat it. Or maybe the same dog would eat it again, because, as we have established, dogs are not the nuclear physicists of the animal kingdom. In this manner a pack of dogs could transport a single rancid mastodon rectum thousands of miles.
In modern times dogs will still operate on the principle that you should eat first and worry later about whether what you ate was edible. My current dog eats, among many other things, photo albums. The first time she did this, we told her she was Bad, which made her feel very sorry and press herself into the floor like a big hairy remorseful worm. But a few days later she ate another photo album. Again, she felt terribly guilty, but she obviously believed, in what passes for her mind, that she had no choice, because if SHE didn't eat the album, another dog might, and that was a chance she simply could not afford to take.
I have been reading my mail for years, so I know what you are thinking right now. You are thinking: That dog thing was pretty good! Finally, Gene is getting funny! It's taken him 10 years, but he may be entering Dave Barry territory!
Good God, I hate you.
The above was stolen verbatim from Dave's new book, "I'll Mature When I'm Dead." It's a collection of the first new essays he's written since he ended his regular column. I strongly urge you not to buy it; you're doing just FINE with my stuff.
* (I said "some thoughts." I didn't say they were MY thoughts.)
Gene Weingarten: With the death this week of Lena Horne -- who was 92 but looked 55, and therefore, tragically, finds herself in Hell today, having completed the deal she evidently made in her youth -- I found myself contemplating this Stygian transaction, and others who have made it. This brought me, naturally, to Dave Barry but also, of course, to Dick Clark. This rumination led me to Dick Clark's Wiki page, on which I learned an astounding fact. Here it is.
Richard Wagstaff "Dick" Clark.
You are welcome.
Gene Weingarten: What we have here is a great, great phenomenon. The performer is hilarious, a spectacular put-on, but the best part is the wonderful cluelessness of small-market morning TV personnel. It's basically a quiet desperation, combined with forced gaiety.
Gene Weingarten: I don't want to brag, but in my semi-retirement, I have starting doing more of "my share" around the house. For example, as The Rib just point out, approvingly, this morning I opened a box of corn flakes all by myself.
Literal, LY: A good comic for Gene.
Gene Weingarten: Yes, but it is imperfect. The last panel does not make sense, uh, literally. To really work, it has to read something like "Your brain is literally a steaming cauldron of wackadoodle insanity."
Ethics: Maybe I missed something, but the problem with this question is the original assignment is faulty. There are very few, if any, original theses. All of our ideas of the results of ideas others have put forth before us and we take our collective knowledge and advance that knowledge in some manner. Having an "original" thought and later discovering someone else had a similar thought a long time ago is not a coincidence: someone else probably did.
Gene Weingarten: This is in response to the poll question about plagiarism. It does allow me to reprise one of my favorite columns.
L'Enfant Terrible: From the update about the aptonymous man's suicide: "Champaign Police Sgt. Jim Rein said the man jumped out the 18th floor window of a common hallway in the apartment building and landed onto an adjoining four story building. The man jumped off that building as well, falling onto the sidewalk below."
I honestly don't know what to write about this. The end of Heart of Darkness springs to mind.
Gene Weingarten: And THIS reminds me of what I consider the best unknown movie of all time, "The Tenant," by Roman Polanski. The movie died unmourned because it came out around the time of the rape and his flight and people hated him.
It is a hilarious and disturbing noir film. This is the ultimate scene, where Polanski -- living in an apartment of a woman who jumped out the window to her death, and suffering from paranoid delusions himself, dresses in drag and re-creates the suicide. Only it doesn't work. So, hounded by nightmarish visions, he climbs back up and does it again.
Warning: This is disturbing footage, though it is safe for work.
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