Chatological Humor (UPDATED 6.15.10)

Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 25, 2010; 12:00 PM

Weekly Updates: 6.1.10 | 6.9.10 | 6.15.10

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

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

On one Tuesday each month, Gene is online to take your questions and abuse. This month, that day is Tuesday, May 25 at Noon ET .He will chat about anything. Although this chat is sometimes updated between live shows, it is not and never will be a "blog," even though many persons keep making that mistake. One reason for the confusion is the Underpants Paradox: Blogs, like underpants, contain "threads," whereas this chat contains no "threads" but, like underpants, does sometimes get funky and inexcusable.

This week's polls: High-brow | Middlebrow | Lowbrow: MEN/WOMEN

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

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

New to Chatological Humor? Read the FAQ.

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

____________________ Good afternoon.

What today's introduction lacks in length, it will more than make up for in stupid links to random photographs. This one is of my son Dan and his dog, Lucy, whose tail officially cannot be captured on film.

I just got back from the Pulitzer Prize ceremonies in New York, a hugely prestigious and dignified event involving hugely prestigious and dignified people. On my way to the ceremony, I stopped off to buy Dan a souvenir of New York. Here it is, delivered with a punchline-assassinating warning I have been compelled to append, that it might not be safe for work.

The previous leads pretty directly to today's ... Instapoll!

Okay, good. What we have below are a series of photographs of plaques and awards I have won over the years. (Each contains a familiar-looking object to show relative size and scope!) The first one is the first-prize from the Missouri Lifestyles Journalism Awards, for the Joshua Bell story in 2008. It's an embossed glass, three feet tall, capacious enough to accept a urine sample from a Stegosaurus. This next one is from the Sigma Delta Chi journalism society, for the same story. This weighs about eight pounds, not just because it is huge, but because within the frame is an enormous bronze medallion certifying my general astoundingness.

On the left of this photo is the degree I won from Brentwick University by virtue of mailing this august institution $750, which I did 10 years ago for this story. The thing on the right, the thing it is dwarfing, is the Pulitzer from yesterday.

That is the cool thing about the Pulizer. As Dave Barry once noted, it resembles, more than anything else, a junior high school diploma. Or, for that matter, a small piece of paper I have somewhere that Dan earned at pre-school in 1987, which has a happy face sticker and says: "Danny stayed dry all day!!"

If you haven't already, please take today's polls ( High-brow | Middlebrow | Lowbrow: MEN/WOMEN). There are decidedly correct answers to the Highbrow and Middlebrow ones, which I shall be revealing fairly shortly.

Please welcome the redoubtable Rachel Manteuffel, who is sitting beside Liz today, in training to become Temporary, Auxiliary Chatwoman during Liz's maternity leave. Which might begin, like, as far as I can tell by looking, virtually any moment now.

Okay, let's go.


Mutts at Westminster?: Monica Hesse, I thought, gave us a cleverly written, informative, and enjoyable article on the AKC's decision to let "All-American" dogs -- i.e., mutts -- into some parts of their competitions. Ignoring the question of whether a, say, Ibizan-Chow mix can be "All-American," what's your prediction on how the mutts will compare with the Aryans... uh, purebreds in dog shows?

Gene Weingarten: I am unqualified to judge. This is because I am the sort of person who makes fun of haute couture like this and like this.

So, naturally, when I see this or this I get all filled with snark and ridicule.

The problem is, this is precisely the reason I WATCH the Westminster show. So I, personally, will regret the appearance of non-freak dogs.

I am not opposed to purebreds. Some are wonderful, particularly those breeds that have not yet been overbred. I am thinking specifically of the Plott hound.


Context required: Gene,

May we please have a picture of Rachel so we can gauge with whom we are dealing?

Mahalo. Here she is!

Gene Weingarten: Indeed!


Auxilliary Chatwoman: I'm going to call Rachel "Zippy" as an homage to Dave Barry.

Gene Weingarten: Rachel Manteuffel and Caitlin Gibson are close friends. Tom the Butcher calls them "The Manson family."


Silver Spring, Md.: I love it when you start early. That's what she said.

Gene Weingarten: Indeed. Better than ending early.


Sydney, Australia: That "astounding literary fact" isn't new: I am almost completely positive you've talked about it before in a chat, probably the same chat in which you had us rank Shelley's "Ozymandias" alongside other poems. If I had more time to kill, I'd try to find the transcript.

(Also, I don't know how "astounding" it is that they wrote poems on the same subject given that they intentionally did so as a friendly bet. It isn't as though it happened randomly, a la your Joshua Bell piece and its 70-year-old predecessor.)

Gene Weingarten: This post scared me. I am always terrified to discover a brain fart so profound it can only signal the onset of senescence. But a Googlecheck says you are wrong.

It was astounding not because it is coincidental but because one of the greatest poems in the English language was, essentially, the result of a cheesy bet, and -- more to the point -- a somewhat cynical bet. They were in a sense parodying poetry; let's take a pretty obvious observation, one so obvious neither of us particularly cares to take sole authorship of, and see how we can wrench it into a poem the masses will applaud.

Here is where some of you are wrong: Both of these men did splendidly. There is nothing "wrong" with Smith's version: It's a hell of a poem with some gorgeous lines -- in fact, it could be argued that his word choice was even better than Shelley's.

Arguably, this part of Smith's poem:

"I am great OZYMANDIAS," saith the stone,

"The King of Kings; this mighty City shows

"The wonders of my hand." The City's gone,

Nought but the Leg remaining to disclose

The site of this forgotten Babylon.

is better than Shelley's, which contains a strange line, his only misstep in an otherwise (puns intended) monumental, colossal poem: "...the hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed." I exchanged emails yesterday with Von Drehle, and we agreed, reluctantly, that this is a line without an antecedent -- whose hand? whose heart? Wha?

This line of Smith's is magnificent:

Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws

The only shadow that the Desert knows.

There may not be two works in Shelley's poem that work together as well as Smith's "annihilated place."

Those of you who voted Smith's a better poem were daring. You were wrong, but not embarrassingly wrong. You were wrong because when it came to making the most important decision, Shelley got it right, and Smith got it wrong, and therein lies the sole reason one poem is a classic and one is forgotten.

Smith was too obvious; he stated aloud what should have been implied. His final lines were, essentially, "and now, the moral of the story is..." violating the basic, cardinal rule of literature: The most important words are the ones you do not write. They are the ones you cause to happen in the brain of the reader.

(This last observation is the topic of my introduction to "The Fiddler in the Subway," soon to be available in bookstores nationwide, at surprisingly affordable prices.)


San Francis,CO: I'm trying to decide if I'm simply a Dave Barry fan or a flat-out stalker. At a book signing here yesterday, to which I arrived an hour early, a man walked in. I said to myself:

"That guy looks like Dave Barry, but it's not. Must be his brother, named Phil or Sam, who lives here in the bay area. He plays the harmonica and used to be a minister."

Later, I overheard a group of folks behind me chatting and wondering how old Dave was. I said, aloud, "Oh, he's 63. Born in 1947. July 3rd."

During Q&A, I asked him about you, because I think it's so cute you guys are friends in real life.

Is there hope for me?

Gene Weingarten: The first thing Manteuffel said to Dave when she met him was "I have memorized everything you ever written." The second thing she said was, "May I have one of your hairs?"


I-Pod Music: In your last update, someone wrote in about the songs on their I-Pod. In terms of number of songs, my top 5 artists, in order are: Grateful Dead, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, say what you want about the Grateful Dead. But do you know what makes them the greatest band ever? The fact that they constantly improvised. Back in the day, I went to 5 concerts in 5 different cities on (almost) consecutive nights. Every single show was different from the night before, one was totally acoustic instruments. The Dead would let it all hang out, trying new stuff on the fly. Who does this today? Nobody. Everything is staged and choreographed. And my all time favorite thing about the Dead is they let people record their concerts, to the point of setting aside an area for them to do it in. They didn't really care about being compensated for it. They were artists who thoroughly enjoyed their craft and didn't much care whether they made money or not. Get a job, hippie.

Gene Weingarten: The Dead is a band I could never get into. They occupy a vast area of music that I call Wallpaper. No strong hooks, no memorable riffs, just background sound. No different, from, say Seals and Crofts. All Summer Breeze.

Also, the Dave Matthews Band.



Washington, D.C.: Why do you think the Willkie photo should have won a Pulitzer? There's nothing special about that picture - it's just a guy in a parade. It's a nice composition, but anyone could take a picture of a parade with that composition. Parades are kind of idiotproof. You know when your subject is appearing.

Gene Weingarten: Hahahahahahaha.


Gad, you are an imbecile.

That is the best of the three photos. But I am not going to tell you why. I am going to let someone who really knows what he is talking about, tell you why. I asked Michael Williamson, two-time Pulitzer winning photographer, to take the poll and then explain his choices. To summarize, Michael liked em all a lot, and for the same reason I did: Composition. Each of these photos is utterly cinematic -- could be a frame from a luxuriously shot movie.

In judging for Greatness, Michael deducted small points from the River Rescue because 1) it belongs to a genre -- rescue pictures - that we've seen before, and 2) the visible face doesn't deliver a particularly telling emotion.

He deducted small points from the Thai photo because 1) no face is seen. It's a spectacularly gorgeous and chilling picture, brilliantly composed, but lacks a compelling human connection, and 2) It's not entirely clear, in context, what is happening.

I love hearing great photographers talk about photography. Here is Michael Williamson on why the picture you didn't like is great:

I'm really big on the Willkie photo because it has a couple of the things I always look for in a photo. It's sort of a macro/micro thing. It stands on its own as a wonderful campaign image that captures the energy and power of a politician driving down Main street USA. Nice moment, good composition and the chaos of a big deal happening in a small town.

But the photo also has iconic qualities that represent something larger and more important than just that man in that car with that crowd on that day.

It represents Democracy. It represents the idea (often forgotten) that the powerful and important still NEED "Joe Citizen" to get elected. As I said before, it really looks like a scene from Citizen Kane.

Like the

Dorothea Lange photo of "Migrant Mother"

-- the photo had only a little to do with the plight of that woman and her kids at that time. It's that she became a symbol for all of those hungry and unemployed depression victims wasting away by the side of the road. Lange didn't even get the woman's name because EVEN AT THE TIME she shot the photo she knew that particulars weren't important in this case. Florence Thompson became a symbol of the depression within days because she was no none AND everyone.


Fairfax, Va.: I assume you saw this story about a prank a student newspaper at the University of Utah. Which do you find most troubling: the nature of the prank; the lameness of the prank; the actions of the university; or the fact that the editor of a student newspaper doesn't know what the word "figurehead" means?

Gene Weingarten: She meant masthead. It's okay.

So is what she did. They are college students. Being punks. It's what college students DO. It is their MISSION. The reaction of the school is preposterous. Moreover, as a prank, it was really, really mild.

We hid stuff in my college paper all the time. I remember specifically taking out the names of two students who had written a letter to the editor complaining that we were immature. We kept the letter intact, but changed the names of the letter writers to: "S. Tinken" and "Pisa S. Hitte."


McLean, Va.: I loved your dead refrigerator weight loss strategy. It really is all about opportunity,isn't it? Several years ago I lost 10 pounds over the course of a month because the company I was working for stopped hosting conferences. No conferences meant no leftover muffins in the break room.

Gene Weingarten: This is a reference to this column. And yes, I think a lot of it is about opportunity.

I once noticed that I lose weight, a lot of weight, when I am under stress for long periods of time: Big story deadline approaching,

The Post Hunt

approaching, etc. I always assumed it was metabolic -- stress burns calories -- but once took time to analyze it, and it's that when I am nervous, instead of eating, I increase the rate at which I chew paper towels.


Fairfax, Va.: Okay, so we still don't know why Hurley didn't get skinny.

Gene Weingarten: I never saw the show but I can answer this. Because Hurley was a guy.

If he was female, you would have seen him get skinny.


Silver Spring, MD: How is it you have been fortunate enough to avoid being forced to switch over to the new (and awful looking) chat format?

Gene Weingarten: It is Coming. Possibly by next big chat.

It looks to me like an improvement. What's your beouf with it?


An Ancient Land: The passions survive, in the transitive sense of live longer than, the hand that mocked (in the sense of made, but with a double meaning of ridiculed) the lifeless things. It's a great line.

Gene Weingarten: Whose hand? The sculptor's Ozy's? What is "them"? Whose heart is feeding on what?


I am in trouble: I tried the link that was offered for a picture of Rachel, just to see what kind of humorous link would be offered, and the US government (I work at a NASA center) informed me that it's a site blocked because of its pornographic content. The website cops are now going to come looking for me. Thanks, guys, this really makes my day.

Gene Weingarten: You needed to quit that job anyway. It's killing you.


Freestyle poetry vs. Short stories: Gene,

I completely agree with you on the free verse poetry and was wondering if you feel similarly about the modern short story. There are great short stories, but the more recent ones seem filled with tacky plot devices that leave out a key component, usually, an ending. I recently finished a collection by one of my favorite current writers and was unimpressed. I think cutting off a story at the climax is tired and unimaginative. I was wondering if you feel similarly.


Gene Weingarten: My problem with the modern short story is that they often tend not to be about anything. They are self-indulgent traipses through feelings.

I am actually considering writing a book of short stories. With plots. And snap endings.


Great White North: Is it weird for you that your son looks so much like you, but is, well, good-looking?

Gene Weingarten: He doesn't look like me.


Twirling Arou, ND: What did the Deadhead say when he ran out of pot?

Man, these guys really suck.

Gene Weingarten: Indeed.


potential aptonym?: Child Porn: Words no parent wants to hear associated with their kid's school bus driver: "inappropriate contact" and "child pornography." The Examiner reports on the arrest of Prince George's County school bus driver Scott Smallwood, 27, who police say left a memory card behind at a convenience store that turned out to contain videos of Smallwood molesting a 7-year-boy from his bus route. The victim reportedly told police that Smallwood had him over for sleepovers, and Smallwood has admitted having inappropriate contact with the alleged victim.

Gene Weingarten: You seem not even to have noticed the amazing aptonym!


An Ancient Land: The hand of the sculptor. It's the hand that mocked the passions. The Heart, on the other hand, is Ozymandias'.

Gene Weingarten: But... what is the heart feeding on? And how are we to know how to parse that sentence for its split antecedents.

I stand my ground: Bad line.


Capitol Hill: So in January, my roommate got a dog. She loves dogs. She's one of those people who is indifferent to children but spends time cooing over pictures of dogs on the internet. Someone gave her your book, Old Dogs, after her golden retriever, Charlie, died, and she thought it was amazing. I, meanwhile, had never before had a pet.

And while our beagle is growing on me, and is very cute, I'm coming to a conclusion that I'm not an animal person. I like him well enough, but I don't miss him when he's gone. He is seriously over-attached to my roommate, who literally spoons with him in bed at night, and anytime I'm left alone with him he glues himself to the glass-plate front door and whines. It's annoying. He has anal gland issues, so I don't allow him on my bed anymore, but he's completely spoiled by my roommate and doesn't understand when I tell him "no." When my roommate informed me that she may move in a few months, it occurred to me as a positive that there will no longer be dog hair anywhere. Also, he ate my Nietzsche.

Here's my question: Am I lacking some sort of fundamental human quality, the ability to enjoy the companionship of an animal? Would you consider it a personality flaw? I love kids, and even used to run a daycare during college. I care about the dog in so much as he is a living creature with needs, who should not be hurt, but I'm pretty sure I would never choose to get a pet for myself. I am not finding pet ownership particularly rewarding. What do you think?

Gene Weingarten: I think "Anal Gland Issues" would be a great name for a rock band.


Columbia, Md.: Am I the only one who finds the Thai photo a bit of a mess? While I can eventually appreciate it, initially I find myself overwhelmed with a sense of tranquility or calmness or something along those lines generated by the reflection at the bottom of the picture. The drama actually happening takes a while to take hold. Which for a photograph, particularly a news photo, seems like a bad trait to me.

Gene Weingarten: Well, doesn't that collision give it power? There is beauty in the chaos and horror.


Washington, D.C.: To the NASA employee, do you not know about the "mouse over"? You hold the cursur over the link and link name will appear in the lower left corner of the browser screen. You normally can tell by the link if it'll be blocked.

I say normally since I just found out that my agency blocks TinyURL for some unknown reason.

Gene Weingarten: Noted.


Fairfax, Va.: Gene,

My 13-year-old daughter asked me a great question that not only couldn't I answer but I had a hard time thinking of whom to ask. Finally I realized that you were the perfect, if not only, person to ask. The question is if gays are not allowed in the military, why didn't men trying to get out of Vietnam simply say that they were gay. I realize that attitudes toward gays were different then than now but people were willing to go to prison or permanently leave the country in order to stay out of the war. I can also understand that it might be dangerous to be gay in really conservative parts of the country in the 19060s but I grew up in New York City and by the time I went to public high school in the mid 70's we had openly gay teachers - even one of the heads of a major department. Could it have been that bad, especially if thousands of people did it? It sure seems easier than the lengths many went to.

Your perspective would be greatly appreciated.

Gene Weingarten: Some did. But it was stigmatizing, and there were other routes people took that didn't involve admitting to carrying a purse. Have you ever seen Phil Ochs's Draft Dodger Rag?

I'm just a typical American boy from a typical American town

I believe in God and Senator Dodd and keeping old Castro down.

And when it came my time to serve I knew better dead than red

But when I got to my old draft board, buddy, this is what I said:

Sarge, I'm only eighteen, I got a ruptured spleen,

And I always carry a purse,

I got eyes like a bat, my feet are flat, and my asthma's

getting worse,

O think of my career, my sweetheart dear, and my poor old

invalid aunt,

Besides, I ain't no fool, I'm a goin' to school, and I'm

working in a defense plant.

I've got a dislocated disc and a racked up back

I'm allergic to flowers and bugs

And when the bombshell hits, I get epileptic fits

And I'm addicted to a thousand drugs

I got the weakness woes, and I can't touch my toes

I can hardly reach my knees

And if the enemy came close to me

I'd probably start to sneeze

I hate Chou En Lai, and I hope he dies,

but one thing you gotta see

That someone's gotta go over there

and that someone isn't me

So I wish you well, Sarge, give 'em Hell

Yeah, Kill me a thousand or so

And if you ever get a war without blood and gore

Well I'll be the first to go


Gene Weingarten: Liz is lording it over me that she is crushing me in the Insta-poll.

I am kind of astonished, truth to tell. Are all your workplaces that fuddy? So, would you be nervous about reading "Howl" at work because it has some dirty words?


emotional cheating vs. catching up with old flame: Guy finds girl on facebook that he used to date in college (so over ten years ago). guy is married with three kids and in the midwest in a small town, girl is single and in DC. At the initial contact, there was a flurry of catching up emails, including some nice recollections and saying both always remembered the other fondly. Now there are occasional (like once every three months) "how are you?" emails which sometimes have a reference to a tawdrier side of the past or are somewhat complimentary/flirty. No deep exchanges of meaning of life, no professions of either being the one who got away, etc. Just occasionaly flirtiness with an ex. Is either person crossing the line here?

Gene Weingarten: No.


The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed: In high school, when we studied that poem, we decided that line was referring to the sculptor.

Gene Weingarten: I always assumed the hand was the sculptor, mocking the "them" of the features. But then the heart completely threw me.

Come on, admit it: Bad line.


Charleston, S.C.: In regards to the low-brow quiz for the first question I thought of the situation in which I was most ashamed of how I acted. In the grand scheme of things it wasn't that bad and answered as such. I think people would judge me more harshly than I judge myself but that's a typical thought for me. Yay, insecurity! Then I get to your comparison question and even though I did something similar I feel not an ounce of guilt over that decision and it didn't even blip on my radar when I considered the first question that it was a "bad thing." I mean, do we consider whistleblowers bad if they report for selfish reasons (publicity, noteriety, just to get at someone they dislike) even though the outcome is good for everyone else? So I went back and pondered what I may not personally feel guilt over but what a third party might frown down on as bad and found it surprisingly difficult. I imagine there's something I did that may have been worse in other people's eyes other than what I consider the baddest thing I ever did. For instance, I had an abortion several years ago. Some people will judge me exceedingly harshly because I'm now a "murderer" but I do not personally feel remorse and don't think that was a bad thing. So now I can't answer your poll at all because do I go by what I personally most feel most was a bad thing or by what society most considers a bad thing?

Gene Weingarten: You go by you personally.

I am not sure what to make of the fact that the male and female poll results, if plotted as bell curves, seem virtually identical.


Lowbrow female: I think you should have had other types of "bad things" in your list of choices, things that reflect attitudes and thoughts, not just actions. For example, even if you don't act on hatred by killing someone, isn't harboring hatred in your heart also a mark of corrupt character?

Gene Weingarten: Oooh, my favorite topic.

I would say thought crimes that are never acted upon are not only not crimes, but a sign of a particularly noble person. It's reasonably easy for most of us to be good most of the time, but it's much harder if at your core you have hateful impulses. I'd argue you are a better person, assuming you don't act on em.


Dennis Arizona: In response to the lowbrow survey- I was reminded of our family visit to the Grand Canyon when I was maybe 11 or 12. We stopped the car and I walked over toward the canyon. I looked down and saw that about 4 feet below where I was standing the ledge extended out for 20 or 30 feet. In an unthinking moment I jumped out of my mothers sight(she was back near the car) and waited for what I thought was a brief moment(not her recollection) before popping back into view. Now 50+ years later I feel badly about putting her through that. Not real bad but not real good either.

Gene Weingarten: Wow. That's pretty bad! Anyone else have a childhood sin they'd like to confess?

I find this whole subject of The Worst Thing I Ever Did to be pretty fascinating, especially in those cases where no one but you knows about it. I have one of those from my second year in journalism. I was 23. I did a thing so scummy that my only excuse is I didn't really understand how scummy it was. I knew about something another reporter was working on, and disclosed it to a source of mine, to curry favor; this allowed the source to anticipate the story, and by acting in a certain way, to kill it. The story would have embarrassed him.

I never told anyone, and the guy I betrayed is now dead. It's the only horrible thing I ever did in my job, and watching it play out the way it did turned me into a weirdly obsessive confidence freak. I never discuss with anyone what anyone else is working on, even where there is no expectation of keeping something in confidence.


Anal Gland Issues: An interesting anagram of aforementioned: "Alas, England is U.S."

Gene Weingarten: Good, thank you.


Washington, D.C.: Really? You've got to have every single award in a different link? Since they're yours, could you not just have put them together on a shelf or something and taken a photo? Or put all the photos on one webpage?

Work with us here, Gene.

Gene Weingarten: Clearly, you know NOTHING of the art of sequential visual narrative.


Arlington, VA: You sound happy and full of life today. I like how you obviously love what you do and the chatters you converse with in this way.

Gene Weingarten: I'm actually a little hung over.


Baltimore: Gene,

Just came to the Post for your chat and saw that Tina Fey is getting a Mark Twain award for humor. Let me say that I adore Tina. She is proabably the best mainstream comic writer of her (my) generation, and there's just nothing not to like. But isn't this a bit premature? Haven't other winners had decades-long careers?

Gene Weingarten: Hey. Obama got a Nobel.


CU degrees: I am an alum of Columbia, and had the same reaction to my diploma. I'm now even more amazed that the Pulitzer Prize looks, um, exactly the same as my diploma. I got a nicer looking certificate for my one-year anniversary at my current job.

Gene Weingarten: Really?

That makes it even worse! It's a just a diploma!


Pulitzer and Lange: Doesn't the Pulitzer also come with a medal or something? A plaque for the paper whose employee won it? Or is that just the public service Pulitzer?

Also, Lange probably did get the name of the Migrant Mother: NPR's story points out that she captioned each photo, but the government stripped much of the information from the pictures when it released them.

Gene Weingarten: Only public service is a medal.


New York, NY: Gene-

The chatter is so wrong about "recent short stories" and you are pretty close to right. Although, as a caveat, I'd say we're better off not painting all "recent short stories" with the same brush, if there is a general theme it is not plot devices it is lack of plot. Every story is about a disillusioned boy or girl who does very little and figures out nothing.

The great Jack Pendarvis recently posted on his blog the following quote from a syllabus by the late, great Barry Hannah:

"Why does lack of action, red-blooded emotion, plague graduate school fiction? This old flag has waved too long. What happened to pirates, storms, fiends, horror, temptresses with cleavage, lies, theft, greed, lust, random acts of meaningless (or meaningFUL) violence?"

Gene Weingarten: Yep, I am actually pitching a book based on exactly this deficit.


It went just like this:: Rachel: I've memorized everything you've ever written. Dave: Wow! Rachel: Sorry, is that creepy? Dave: Maybe a little creepy. (momentary pause) Rachel: Can I have one of your hairs?

xo, Spanks This is true. Hi Caitlin! (Rachel)We can also note he didn't laugh!

Gene Weingarten: Okay, I stand amended.


Anal Gland Issues: I think "eat my Nietzsche" is a better name for a band.

Gene Weingarten: Absolutely correct.


Arlo: "If two people come in the door, hum a coupla bars of Alice's Restaurant, and walk out, they'll think they're faggots and won't take either of them."

Gene Weingarten: Right!


Lowbrow woman: My "worst thing" was shoplifting a small amount of candy when I was a child. I wasn't sure what category that fit into -- lying? Financial thing? What say you?

Gene Weingarten: Financial. You are either a saint or a liar.


Scoc, CA: Just wanted to give a shout out to Weingarten buddy Tom Scocca's new blog over at Slate.

Gene Weingarten: Scocca is among the smartest people I've ever known. I've known him for many years, and count him among my closest friends, even though we have only met a couple of times, and, to my memory, have never even talked on the telephone. It's one of those modern email friendships, which are peculiar in many ways. Here's one way:

I had known Tom for years and years, talked at length with him on matters grave and trivial, all hours of day and night. I've talked to him when he was in China, all email. But only about two months ago, when I had occasion to mention him in person to someone else who knew him, did I learn that it's SCOKE-uh, not SKOCK-uh.


"Are all your workplaces that fuddy?": Our workplaces are normal. Yours isn't. That's why it baffles you that people won't click on something marked NSFW, will judge things to be NSFW that you wouldn't, and WON'T STOP TO LISTEN TO A KID PLAYING THE VIOLIN IN A SUBWAY STATION EVEN IF HE'S REALLY GOOD BECAUSE OUR BOSSES WON'T TAKE THAT AS A VALID EXCUSE FOR BEING LATE TO WORK seriously I'm just saying dude.

Gene Weingarten: Sigh.


Bangkok Dangerous: My daughter was in Bangkok teaching for a year and left yesterday (yea!) so the Thailand image was the most disturbing, but there were better photos from the protests and the river rescue photo is far better simply because of the raw emotion it conveys. Without even reading the caption you immediately wonder, "will she make it?" Turns out, no...

Gene Weingarten: Oh, she made it. Her companion did not.


Washington, DC: I love Shelley's Ozymandias. My favorite part is the ambiguity when parsing the last sentence. What is it that is "boundless and bare?" First you think the "lone and level sands," but could it be the "colossal wreck" itself? Or even the "decay?" I like the poem a whole lot more when it is the abjectness of Ozymandias' pride, so painfully obvious and complete, that is described as "boundless and bare."

I'm on something of a poetry kick recently; any good suggestions?

Gene Weingarten: Whoa. I think you are right! Boundless: A fabulous word, there.


Sideways Metro seats: I believe I remember you once saying you most preferred the sideways seats on the Metro; I do too (I enjoy the leg room). Recently I noticed -- for the first time, for some reason -- how two sets of those seats are clearly marked for seniors/disabled persons, but the other two sets typically have above them the Metro map and emergency door release and/or call button, but don't specifically say they are for seniors/disabled persons. Yet I suspect many people assume that all four banks of sideways seats would be considered "priority seating." I then further thought that while those seats are certainly convenient and comfortable for older or disabled folks, in the case of an emergency, it might make more sense for a more able person to be sitting right by the emergency door/call. Do you agree?

Gene Weingarten: I neither agree nor disagree. I don't care. The elderly or disabled should always be offered seats -- I've always found those designated seats kind of odd. It almost suggests that you have no moral or ethical obligation, elsewhere, to give up a seat to someone who needs it more.


Arlington, Va.: Sheesh, another poetry poll. You should know by now that most of us don't care about poetry.

The photo poll is interesting. The prize-winner has real life or death drama. The Thai photo is the most beautifully composed image. I'm not sure I understand why you think the Wilkie photo is so good. There are actually a lot of great, dramatic photos that came out of the Thailand situation. A number of reporters/cameramen were killed and injured during those events. I wonder if that has always been the case or if there are more photographers than there used to be. Or if they are just more reckless in going to places that are very dangerous. Putting yourself in the middle of a shooting war seems like a pretty stupid thing to do to me. When the first big violence happened there on April 10 lots of foreign tourists went to it was a movie or something. I thought those people were idiots too. But I suppose even during the Revolutionary War and Civil War people used to organize outings to go watch the battles happen. Those wars at least had an actual battlefield and some "rules". Today's wars are much more chaotic.

Gene Weingarten: You remind me of something I learned many, many years ago. I was in the middle of a jungle in Colombia, doing a story on a woman named Jerrie Cobb, a wannabe Mercury 10 astronaut who got dumped by NASA because she was a woman. Jerrie had basically dropped off the face of the Earth and spent her time ferrying goods and medicine to the primitive Indian tribes in Brazil and Columbia.

With us was Murry Sill, a truly extraordinary photographer from the Miami Herald. Murry had been to war zones. He was a few feet away from French photographer Olivier Rebbot when Rebbot was shot and killed in San Salvador in 1981, and shot

the photo of Rebbot

seconds before his death.

Anyway, as Murry and I were walking through the jungle with Jerrie Cobb and Meg Laughlin, the other writer on the story, an amazing thing unfolded in front of us: We saw a plane land, and some drug dealers get out, and an exchange of cocaine, for money, with the Indians. We were standing maybe 30 feet away. Murry never reached for his camera. Afterward, he explained, succinctly and correctly: "No picture is worth getting killed over."


Del Ray, Va.: From last week's update, "There is a dog in my neighborhood, a female named Pony, who does a handstand to pee... Has anyone else ever seen such a thing?"

We have an old 40 lb. yellow mutt and she has always done handstands -- we figured it was to appear bigger to other dogs who passed the targeted tree, pole, sign, electrical wire, etc. When playing she takes down dogs twice her size by yanking a back leg out from under them. We never considered her to be excessively dominant, That is until we got our younger dog a year ago, a 65 lb. male mutt who just gives up and flattens into a puddle when she comes near. Kenny, a handyman who was replacing the siding on our garage, had to teach the poor guy to lift his leg when he pees.

Gene Weingarten: I don't believe I have ever wrote or Twote anything that received as much naked skepticism as this, even though I was not repeating lore -- I SAW it. Fortunately, there have been several responses like yours. One veterinarian wrote to say this is uncommon but not unknown alpha-female behavior, and, yes, it is the equivalent of when a cat arches its back and bristles its fur to appear larger than it is to a potential foe. Pony is attempting to create a higher pee-mark, warning other dogs in the neighhborhood about the presence of Superpony.

Pony's person, Audrey, is now going on walks with a camera. She is trying to document this for you, the Chatological Humor aficionado.

Gene Weingarten: See next post!


peeing dog: This video shows a small dog doing just what you describe:

Gene Weingarten: THIS IS GREAT!!!!!

It's a male dog, but the same principle.

Gene Weingarten: THIS IS GREAT!!!!!

It's a male dog, but the same principle.


Boston MA: A hockey site that I was looking at the other night had an online poll that applies to all team sports. The question was, what do you do when your team gets eliminated before the final round of the playoffs. To paraphrase the possible responses:

A. I'm done. Won't pay attention to it anymore.

B. I'll root for the team that beat my team. The farther they advance, the better my team looks.

C. I hope that the team that beat my team gets slaughtered.

I've always gone with B (though I make an exception when it comes to the Yankees). I was surprised to see that slightly more people chose C. I'd like to see the demographics on who chose what. I'd guess that the older than Liz folks would respond as I would.

Gene Weingarten: I am caught between A and B. I definitely want the team that beat the Yanks or the Giants to wind up winning it all; that tells me that my team might well have been second best.

But I really lose interest in the whole thing. I don't watch the games.


NASA guy: I had no problem with the shirt. Liz is winning the poll because the poll is messed up. When I clicked it, it informed me that there had been only two comments, and they both agreed that the site couldn't be looked at -- except that I clicked the entry for "Liz was wrong."

I know about the mouse-over thing. It just didn't occur to me that the link would go to a site that would be so seriously NSFW. I figured it would be something no worse than Gene's T-shirt photo, which I looked at before I got to his NSFW warning. And which I would have looked at, anyway.

Gene Weingarten: Wait.



Rentboy: It's unfortunate that your chats are now monthly, because good stuff comes up in the gaps. I'm thinking primarily of George Rekers, the right-wing anti-gay nut who hired a young male prostitute to go on tour with him to Europe and give him naked rub-downs. I'm thinking he's made "lifting my luggage" into the new "hiking the Appalachian trail." Any thoughts?

Gene Weingarten: I love that there were photos of Rekers carrying his own luggage.


Professor: I am a geologist who had the great pleasure of once in a professional talk citing -uck et al., 2006.

Gene Weingarten: Excellent!


Aptonyms, Gay Division: Here are two recent stories containing nice aptonyms. In the first, check out the name of the publicist. In the second, appreciating the reporter's byline requires some knowledge of British slang.

Gene Weingarten: I shall summarize, to save the reader from having to negotiate two boring stories.

A publicist is named Howard Bragman, which is a truly superior aptonym; and,

A reporter on a story about Don't Ask, Don't Tell named Bryan Bender, bender being a Brit term for gay male. Eh.


Michael Chab, ON: Michael Chabon went through a mid-career change in writing style, into stories where things actually happen. He says it's because he agreed to edit one of those "Best Short Stories of ____" anthologies, but he kept putting it off and ended up reading all the submissions in a single afternoon and wanted to kill himself by the end of it, because it was all stories about people who lived in Long Island having quiet epiphanies.

Gene Weingarten: Exactly! The quiet epiphany genre.

I blame Welty.


Truxton Circle, DC: There is a twitter storm brewing ( Apparently Columbia's Valedictorian plagiarized some of Patton Oswalt's routine in his graduation speech. My friend and I are debating what the school should do.

Do you think they should take back the diploma, or make some sort of notation on his record? It wasn't an academic violation, but it was at a school sanctioned event. Alternatively, they can look back at his academic work and bust him if they find evidence of plagiarism in it.

Gene Weingarten: I think the last thing.


Leesburg, VA: Please, PLEASE, don't let them switch you over to the new chat format. Be your usual contrarian self and refuse.

The supposed "automatic update" doesn't, at least on my PC. I can't count the number of times the chat simply didn't come up at all - just the header section appeared, and the "Submit" text section didn't work. The formatting with the boxes and indents isn't as easy to read. The ads stuck in the middle are really annoying. (And I'm using basic ol' Internet Explorer, so none of this can be blamed on an unusual browser.)

Stand firm, Gene! Please! Here's what Producer Paul's possible he/she has some javascript blocker that would keep the box from dropping down, but I've not had trouble with the chats in IE8 with various combinations of the built-in settings on and off, including everything turned on.

Gene Weingarten: Okay, noted.

I will say that from MY side, the new software makes this a lot easier.


The Dead: I don't get how somebody who loves The Band doesn't love The Dead. I get a little annoyed with their overlong jams, too, but as songwriters they were top notch. Try again, just listening to their studio albums from the early 70s. An excellent band, once you strip away the nonsense.

Gene Weingarten: I don't see any comparison between The Band and The Dead. Except, you know, seven letters each.


Tabloid Med, IA: Influence peddling by public figures is a serious news issue. How do you feel about the recent Sarah Ferguson "News of the World" story? On the one hand, it is a story that comes out of deceit by a tabloid. On the other hand, she did something both wrong and newsworthy. Every reputable newspaper has picked up the story. Did the News of the World do the right thing? Would a non-tabloid have been able to get this story? Or does it only exist because tabloids have lower journalistic standards?

Gene Weingarten: Well, it only exists because tabloids have lower standards. But it's a good story.


Rockville, Md.: Am I the only one who thinks that the new, paper-ticket issuing, one-per-block, meters create less parking than before?

Where there are coin-operated parking meters, you know where each space begins and ends. But, left to their own devices, people will tend to leave more room between cars. And greater room between cars means at least one less parking spot per block. (For a parallel in parking (ha!), see how much space people leave between cars on a snowy parking lot where you can't see the lines. The gaps are huge.

Gene Weingarten: Why would people leave more space between cars? Wouldn't people be more inclined to squeeze into spaces that the meters proclaim aren't there?


metafive: I chose the Thailand picture because, unlike the other two, the scene is also a metaphor for the context. The fire has burned low, revealing charred remains. A true believer is throwing fuel on the fire to perpetuate a dream whose passions have been all but extinguished. The composition is dramatic, as is the case with all three photos, but the story told in this photo is more expansive and poetic than the other two.

Gene Weingarten: I can buy this.


Bla, ME: Rand Paul is being crucified for his thoughts on the Gulf Oil Spill and the W. Virginia mining accidents and how we can't blame BP and the minging and that "sometimes accidents just happen"

You talked last week about people's overwhelming need to blame (in the Phoebe Prince). Do you feel the same way about companies?

Gene Weingarten: Sometimes, but not here. BP was greedy and careless. Sixty Minutes nailed them beautifully.


Photos: Hi Gene -

I liked the rescue most of the three. I didn't think of the democracy angle for Wendell. But I did consciously appreciate that there are real heroes among us that willingly put their lives at risk to help others (the stoic, non-emotional look reinforces the true heroism; no tricked up, writhing soccer player expression). Stuck a chord with me whereas the (kind of dated) parade photo didn't.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, I liked the look of the construction worker. Businesslike. Okay, let's get this here thing done...


The Dead is a band I could never get into. They occupy a vast area of music that I call Wallpaper. No strong hooks, no memorable riffs, just background sound.: I call it noodle music. Just sorta noodly and wandering around no substance. People look noodly when they dance to it.

Gene Weingarten: Good.


Informati, ON: Gene, I'm worried. As a confessed hypochondriac, maybe you know what's wrong with me. My brain is just not storing any new information anymore. I can't remember important details from meetings at work. And there are lots of important details in my life that I just can't remember, like my new phone number and what my new salary is. I have no trouble remembering my old phone number or salary. In conversations I sometimes have to ask people to remind me what we are talking about. When I start to explain something to people, I often forget halfway thought what my point was.

This has been going on for at least two years. It didn't use to be this way. Is something seriously wrong with me? How do I snap out of it?

Gene Weingarten: You see a neurologist. Just to be sure.


Extend DADT: Gene, I was thinking about Don't Ask, Don't Tell yesterday and wondering what would happen if the policy were extended to the entire military population, heterosexuals and homosexuals alike.

What if no one were allowed to discuss his or her sexuality? What if the entire topic was completely banned in the armed forces?

What do you think of this idea?

Gene Weingarten: Yeah! And everyone would have to eat only macaroons!


"emotional cheating vs. catching up with old flame: ": You know what Hax & Yoffe would say about this. There's a simple question: would you want your spouse to see these e-mails? If the answer is no, you're having an emotional affair.

Gene Weingarten: The question then becomes: Is an emotional affair a sin?


I haven't done my worst thing yet, maybe: This is sort of relevant to your poll. I'm divorced, and recently laid off from journalism. I have two teens. I'm thinking of picking up and moving across the country to a city I've fallen in love with. The kids will be far from their dad. They have no idea that their dad is actually a pretty terrible person in some ways. I don't feel bad for him, but it will be traumatic, at least at first, for them. I think it will be good for them, ultimately, but my real reason is selfish. After 16 years in a crappy town in a crappy marriage, I feel like I'm overdue for being happy, and I'm not getting any younger. Am I awful? Am I spinning it too hard in my favor?

Gene Weingarten: Well, you're reminding me of something else I found odd in the poll: How relatively few people believe they are going easier on themselves than other people would.

Seems to me that for most of us, when we do something bad, we give ourselves some slack. We make it more complicated than it is, so we can live with ourselves.


The Band v. The Dead: I LOVE The Band and am indifferent to The Dead. Except of course for Joyce's The Dead.

Gene Weingarten: Speaking of short stories, Von Drehle considers that the greatest short story of all time.

I am more partial to "For Esme, With Love and Squalor."


Springfield, VA: Oh BTW, while Liz is out, maybe we can finally do that "gardening" chat... only if temporary chatwoman doesn't understand your metaphors. she knows a lot of metaphors.

Gene Weingarten: Liz will never admit she is wrong about this subject. I call it the topiary poll that never was.


My problem with the modern short story is that they often tend not to be about anything. They are self-indulgent traipses through feelings.: Thank you. I knew there was a reason I respected you. I would say the same of modern poetry. Why do people insist on calling what they write "poetry" when it's a short essay? Your quiz reminds me why my taste in poetry is so pre-mid-20th-century.

Gene Weingarten: As you know, you are choir-preaching.


DC: From the review of the new Limbaugh bio/profile:

"Largely decorated by Limbaugh himself, -his Palm Beach house] reflects the things and places he has seen and admired. A massive chandelier in the dining room, for example, is a replica of the one that hung in the lobby of New York's Plaza Hotel. The vast salon is meant to suggest Versailles. The main guest suite, which I didn't visit, is an exact replica of the Presidential Suite at the Hotel George V in Paris. There is a full suit of armor on display, as well as a life-size oil painting of El Rushbo. Fragrant candles burned throughout the house, a daily home-from-the-wars ritual."

Is that what your house is like, Mr. two-time-Pulizer-winner?

Gene Weingarten: Gawd.

This does remind me of my distaste for having photos of oneself or one's family on display in one's house. I know none of you agree with this.

At the end of this chat, I am going to take a photo of the only picture of my family that hangs in my house. I'll send it to Liz who will append it to the end of the chat within five minutes of closing.

The photo was taken in 1988.


Tina Fan: Someone's really got a bug up his butt about Tina Fey getting the Mark Twain award -- the same question was posted here and at Tom Shales' chat. I'm a big fan of Tina's brilliant work, especially considering how hard it is for women in that field, and applaud my fellow Hoo. I'm sure this is blasphemy, but I'll watch anything by Tina over the self-satisfied, self-important drek that Cosby's been pumping out for the past 30 years.

Gene Weingarten: The worse thing in Cosby's oeuvre are his books. They are shockingly bad.


Washington Dc: I'm reading Pillars of the Earth right now, and it has inspired me to advocate for the return of the trencher (piece of bread used as a plate, then consumed with all its absorbed-juicy goodness).

Can you use your public position to help me in this campaign? Where should we start? Is it too early to bring in the bread bakers union for a major advocacy blitz?


Gene Weingarten: Deal. I would also like to advocate a move to Soft boiled eggs with soldiers, a uniquely British breakfast. Soft boil egg. Dip strips of buttered and salted toast into the yoke. When all toast is gone, discard egg.


Fairfax, Virginia: Sometimes I think that we secretly value our past transgressions because they make us more authentic. Sort of the inverse of how we sometimes treat people who have never done anything truly "wrong" with skepticism.

I mean, sure, you doubtless regret using dangerous drugs. But aren't you just a little bit suspicious of someone who has never ever done any?

Gene Weingarten: Not exactly. There's an era involved. I would judge with great suspicion anyone of roughly my age who never tried grass. I'd want to know why. Because that person sounds appallingly incurious to me.


McLean VA: You don't have an "I love ME!" wall? But everyone who stalks the corridors of power in this town has one.

Gene Weingarten: Exactly. I contemn those walls.


Arlington, VA: You said that you often look at great photos and wonder if they will win a Pulitzer. Sadly, these days I tend to look at great photos and think, "I wonder if this was enhanced by software?"

I do appreciate the drama and composition in the Wendell photo, but I notice that he stands out starkly against a light-gray background. Do you think someone masked the background clutter to make the photo better? If so, would that change your judgment of the photo?

Gene Weingarten: I think there was some "dodging" done in the darkroom, maybe. Wouldn't bother me, or most photographers. Not the same as photoshop-style invention.


New chat format: I have to say, I was originally very against the new chat format, but now I'm actually very much in favor of it -- it's more attractive and the auto update feature (which has always worked for me) is just awesome, works much faster than the old F5.

My only concern is I've heard rumors around many WaPo chats that in the new format, submitters' identifying information (ranging from our Post "username" to our actual names) is submitted to the chat host along with our questions. True or false, and to what degree?

Gene Weingarten: Liz? I'd like to know this, too.


Bis, ON: "Dip toast into the yoke?" Are we having ox for breakfast?

Gene Weingarten: Hahaha. Sorry. But it does remind me of the great Stevenson line. He'd been asked to respond to the "charge" that he was an egghead. He said: "Eggheads of the world, unite. We have nothing to lose but our yolks."


Speaking of Short Stories: I have an odd affection for "Bartelby, The Scrivener".

Gene Weingarten: A superior short story. My neighbor Bonnie named her dog Bartleby because, with most matters, he would prefer not to.


New York, NY: I think people who favor the river rescue photo are gut-thinkers, not brain-thinkers. The photo is a not very good example of a reliable Pulitzer genre.

Gene Weingarten: Oh, I think it's very good. I think the composition is great. You can hardly fault the photographer for getting a fabulous picture of a "trite" event.


Moral Code: "I neither agree nor disagree. I don't care. The elderly or disabled should always be offered seats -- I've always found those designated seats kind of odd. It almost suggests that you have no moral or ethical obligation, elsewhere, to give up a seat to someone who needs it more." This is from the guy that once related that he didn't offer his seat to an older woman (when he was younger) and limped away when she asked to make her feel bad? Sorry, we need those signs. As Larry David once said, the reason the proof that communism would fail is in the need for automatic flush toilets--we aren't looking out for eachother...

Gene Weingarten: You misquote me.

I was reading. I didn't SEE that she was standing there. And she berated me, obnoxiously.

But, yes, I did limp away. It was GREAT.


Gene Weingarten: Okay, I am gonna go now, and ship that photo to Liz. Should be u within five minutes.

Thank you all, and see you in the Tuesday updates.

_______________________ And I'll see you all in September. Be good to Rachel. That goes for you, too, Gene.

Gene's one displayed family pic


UPDATED 6.1.10

Gene Weingarten: First, a reminder. The Post Hunt is Sunday, June 6. Noon. Downtown Washington. Be there.


Gene Weingarten: It is my pleasure today to make a trenchant observation about baseball.

In the last month, we have seen two perfect games pitched. The first was by a nobody, Dallas Braden. The second was by a future Hall of Famer, Roy Halladay. This is no oddity: When you look at the history of the perfect game, they break down into three groups. The largest is Absolute Fricken Nobodies. Hall of Famers and Very Good Pitchers divide the rest evenly.

Abrolute Fricken' Nobodies: Lee Richmond, Charlie Robertson, Don Larsen, Len Barker, Mike Witt, Tom Browning, Mark Buehrle, Dallas Braden.

Hall of Famers: Cy Young, Addie Joss, Sandy Koufax, Catfish Hunter, Randy Johnson, Roy Halladay, Jim Bunning.

Very good pitchers: John Montgomery Ward, Jim Bunning, Dennis Martinez, Kenny Rogers, David Wells, David Cone.

What explains this?

Basically, this does: The greatest single component of a perfect game is luck. Other things matter -- a better pitcher will have a better shot at it than a nobody, but in the end, it's mostly about balls bouncing the right way at the right time.

(In a related fact bearing on Nobodies, it should be noted that only one catcher in Major League history has caught two perfect games. A nobody: Ron Hassey.)


Gene Weingarten: We have two long and highly detailed elaborations of already complex matters from last week's chat. First, Michael Williamson responds to the chatter who alleged Dorothea Lange DID know the name of her famous Migrant Mother, but that the name was deleted by a photo editor. As usual, Michael is right:

In 1960, Lange gave this account of the experience:

I saw and approached the hungry and desperate mother, as if drawn by a magnet. I do not remember how I explained my presence or my camera to her, but I do remember she asked me no questions. I made five exposures, working closer and closer from the same direction. I did not ask her name or her history. She told me her age, that she was thirty-two. She said that they had been living on frozen vegetables from the surrounding fields, and birds that the children killed. She had just sold the tires from her car to buy food. There she sat in that lean- to tent with her children huddled around her, and seemed to know that my pictures might help her, and so she helped me. There was a sort of equality about it. (From: Popular Photography, Feb. 1960).


Second, from Steven Tepp, this interesting defense of the Thai Photo as art, and the best of the three in the poll:

In order to fully grasp it, one must know a little bit about the political situation in Thailand. A few years ago the democratically elected Prime Minister was overthrown in a bloodless coup, led by the military and tacitly sanctioned by Thailand's universally beloved and revered king. The former PM is an unusual fellow in that he is the a multi-millionaire (maybe billionaire) owner of the dominant telecom company in the country, but his policies were very friendly to the rural poor who swept him into power. While the military did the deed, the coup was essentially a middle-class rebellion. After some unrest, a new election was held and the current PM was elected (although some contest the fairness of that election). The protesters are the supporters of the former PM, the rural poor, who now seek to disrupt the operation of the present elected officials.

So, this is not your typical military strongman versus democracy-hungry masses situation. Each side can lay claim to democratic legitimacy. The supporters of the present government started it all by overthrowing a legitimate PM, but the opposition to the present government is the side the resorted to violence first. In short, there is no clear good side and bad side.

The photograph captures this dynamic brilliantly. I see the tire/innertube as a halo and the fire, of course, representing evil/Hell. At first glance, the lone person in the picture is jumping/throwing the tire and no doubt that's what they did. But as the image is captured, the person could just as easily be reaching/flying toward the halo or falling into fiery hell. And then the mirror image of the whole scene says that what you think is the halo, may well be the fire. It also happens to be a beautiful and striking image.


Am I lacking some sort of fundamental human quality, the ability to enjoy the companionship of an animal? Would you consider it a personality flaw?: Only animal-adorers think this. We normal people know that animals are not people.

I have no objection to pet owners. They, however, think there is something wrong with me because I do not have a pet.

Gene Weingarten: We animal adorers also know that animals are not people. Where we differ is that we consider this, in many ways, a positive attribute.


Arlo: As an 8th grader, we were studying the Vietnam war, and I was assigned to go home and ask my parents for an anti-Vietnam war song that I could bring to class. My father sent me back with Alice's Restaurant.

The teacher could not figure out how it was an anti-war song. I, being in 8th grade and pretty clueless about the Vietnam war, had no idea. My father was outraged and proceeded to explain it to me, though I was never able to replicate his explanation to my teacher.

Gene Weingarten: Well, about half the song was about the draft. Like how about this part:

They got a building down New York City, it's called Whitehall Street,

where you walk in, you get injected, inspected, detected, infected,

neglected and selected. I went down to get my physical examination one

day, and I walked in, I sat down, got good and drunk the night before, so

I looked and felt my best when I went in that morning. `Cause I wanted to

look like the all-American kid from New York City, man I wanted, I wanted

to feel like the all-, I wanted to be the all American kid from New York,

and I walked in, sat down, I was hung down, brung down, hung up, and all

kinds o' mean nasty ugly things. And I waked in and sat down and they gave

me a piece of paper, said, "Kid, see the psychiatrist, room 604."

And I went up there, I said, "Shrink, I want to kill. I mean, I wanna, I

wanna kill. Kill. I wanna, I wanna see, I wanna see blood and gore and

guts and veins in my teeth. Eat dead burnt bodies. I mean kill, Kill,

KILL, KILL." And I started jumpin up and down yelling, "KILL, KILL," and

he started jumpin up and down with me and we was both jumping up and down

yelling, "KILL, KILL." And the sargent came over, pinned a medal on me,

sent me down the hall, said, "You're our boy."


And after the sergeant asks him if he has been "rehabilitated" after an arrest for littering, he says:

I went over to the sargent, said, "Sargeant, you got a lot a damn gall to

ask me if I've rehabilitated myself, I mean, I mean, I mean that just, I'm

sittin' here on the bench, I mean I'm sittin here on the Group W bench

'cause you want to know if I'm moral enough join the army, burn women,

kids, houses and villages after bein' a litterbug." He looked at me and

said, "Kid, we don't like your kind, and we're gonna send you fingerprints

off to Washington."

And friends, somewhere in Washington enshrined in some little folder, is a

study in black and white of my fingerprints. And the only reason I'm

singing you this song now is cause you may know somebody in a similar

situation, or you may be in a similar situation, and if your in a

situation like that there's only one thing you can do and that's walk into

the shrink wherever you are ,just walk in say "Shrink, You can get

anything you want, at Alice's restaurant.". And walk out. You know, if

one person, just one person does it they may think he's really sick and

they won't take him. And if two people, two people do it, in harmony,

they may think they're both faggots and they won't take either of them.

And three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in

singin a bar of Alice's Restaurant and walking out. They may think it's an

organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day,I said

fifty people a day walking in singin a bar of Alice's Restaurant and

walking out. And friends they may thinks it's a movement.

And that's what it is , the Alice's Restaurant Anti-Massacre Movement, and

all you got to do to join is sing it the next time it come's around on the



So, like, I see some anti-war.


San Diego, Calif.: Gene, I'm exactly your age. I have never done any drugs, not even pot. No, I'm not a nun. And I have a boundless curiousity.

Gene Weingarten: I don't want to seem like some drug advocate, because I'm not, but if you lived through the '60s as a young adult and never tried pot, your curiosity is not "boundless." It has certain very clear boundaries. I do not disrespect those boundaries, but.


Elena Kagan: In the photo accompany Robin Givhan's article this past weekend on Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan, Senator Amy Klobuchar was sitting in a skirted suit with her legs crossed, so as to reveal a goodly portion of thigh. Kagan was sitting with her legs uncrossed and knees slightly apart (sigh). Givhan proceeded to blast Kagan's posture -- never mind that she's short, so her feet might not even have hit the floor if she'd crossed her knees -- and insinuated that it could be evidence of Kagan's rumored possible lesbianism.

Crossed knees, or uncrossed legs?

Gene Weingarten: I just want to say that this is a very weird phrase:

Givhan proceeded to blast Kagan's posture -- never mind that she's short, so her feet might not even have hit the floor if she'd crossed her knees ...

When you cross your knees, one leg always hits the floor and one never does, to my way of thinking, no matter what your height, so long as you are 1) at least five foot tall and 2) not sitting on a high chair or a bar stool.

Actually, this reminds me of an amazing anatomical misfire in a story in The Post last week: Someone wrote that Stephen Strasburg's arms were so long "they dangled almost to his waist."


The shirt: I saw somebody wearing that shirt at the airport a few years ago. I was glad my child was too young to read.

I think a company should be allowed to make the shirt. I think people should have the right to buy the shirt. I think people should have the right to wear the shirt. I think businesses should have the right to bar people wearing the shirt from entering their business.

Gene Weingarten: It's a WORD.

It's not a hateful word.

It's not even a sexist word.

It's a word. It is benign. If a child is old enough to read that word, she is old enough to have it explained to her that it is a rude word, being worn by a rude person. So what?


Gene Weingarten: And finally, on the Barney & Clyde Facebook page, the long-awaited interview of the mysterious David Clark by official historian Horace LaBadie.


UPDATED 6.9.10

College Park, Md.: Good morning Gene,

What do you think of the effectiveness of this British PSA?

I didn't realize it was a PSA when I first started watching it, so when the video transitions I was a little confused. Now I'm struck at just how poignant it is. Anyways, Josie Long, the young comedienne is just cuter than cute.

Gene Weingarten: This is very effective. The "no joke" transitions very well. The term for the final act must be well known in Britain, eh?


St. Paul, Minn.: I always liked this Staples ad campaign.

Gene Weingarten: Now, EYE think this is an awful ad. Yes, it's about something trivial, but I think it's mean-spirited. And kind of creepy. There's a real dissonance here. This is a rotten father.

I don't mean to overthink this one, or take it too seriously, but I dislike this dad, and I think it really makes the ad disturbing. I remember being glad when school starts, but not THIS glad. I liked having my kids around.


Metro: Gene, we were coming home from the ballpark the other night and there were two incredibly drunk, kinda largish guys, another largish guy, but not as drunk, I don't think and an incredibly drunk foul-mouthed woman. She dropped the f-bomb no fewer than 100 times. I was with my 12-year-old daughter and the train was full of men -- young, old. I am the only person that said anything. What would you have done?

Gene Weingarten: I would have let it gone on until it was over, and then, out of earshot of the drunks, use it as a terrific object lesson in how the use of foul language makes people seem beyond stupid. I would have said, that woman might well not be stupid, but look how disgusting and inarticulate that rant MADE her look. It's something to think about when you consider using profanity to sound cool: Sometimes, the effect is the opposite of what you intend.

See that's the thing about profanity: I never told my kids they were "bad" words. I told them they were words you have to use sparingly, and only appropriately, or you sound ridiculous.


Childhood Sin: Played tennis inside the house using an orange for the ball. Bad, stupid, and messy.

Gene Weingarten: I used to take sock-pair balls and use them as basketballs. The rims were the tops of lampshades. Our lampshades, oddly enough, kept "wearing out." My parents never quite figured this out.


Your Pulitzer Prize. . .: looks exactly like my Masters degree diploma from Columbia University. I also received a certificate for having specialized in a particular area that is identical to the Masters degree and the Pulitzer. Columbia must order the stuff by the gross and just run it through the printer with whatever honor or recognition they wish to bestow. Maybe it's more egalitarian, but it's sort of like every kid on the soccer team getting the same plastic trophy.

Gene Weingarten: The odd thing is, this is timeless. Tom the Butcher's grandpa was McKinlay Kantor, a famous novelist. He wrote "Andersonville," which won the Pulitzer for fiction in 1955.

Tom has this framed on his wall. It looks exactly like mine. Nebbishy.


Columbia, Md.: You've done the topiary topic, albeit in an update. Look up Brazilian Garden.

Gene Weingarten: True enough. But it is missing the ultimate point, which was that I wanted to do a POLL on this subject, asking women about their practices, and men about their preferences. This is the arena that Chatwoman has prohibited me from entering, a precedent I am sure Rachel will not break.

Just for the record, this is the famous Chatological Humor update post from two years ago:


New Jersey: Gene, your poll disappoints again. Can I be the 1,096th person to complain that the same week that New Jersey considers banning the Brazilian, the poll is once again stuck in the past. Chat lady wears the pants over there. Get up off your knees and grovel like a man... Brazilian Wax Ban Scrapped, (Chicago Tribune, March 21)

Gene Weingarten: It is time to put an end to this once and for all. These are the final words you are going to read on this matter.

By way of summary: Some many many months ago I proposed a poll on what men and women thought of the growing trend, as it were, for women to shave off all their pubic hair -- or sculpt it in patterns, or hedge-cut it into topiary, or to otherwise display it in ways that are not traditional. Provocatively odd phrases ("landing strips," etc.) were raised by readers.

The fact is, time and again, Chatwoman has firmly put her foot down on this issue: There will be no such poll and no such extended discussion in this chat. Her feeling is this: By asking women to discuss THEIR tonsorial strategies in the poll, albeit anonymously, we would be making the issue personal and intimate and intruding unacceptably on people's privacy; moreover we would be opening the 'comments' to lechery by the immature.

I protested, but only half-heartedly. I recognize, and cede to, Chatwoman's dominion in this area. She holds her job by virtue of having better judgment than I. She is more mature than I. And, most important, she is to my knowledge, hardly a prude.

So that is where the matter shall remain. In the end, I feel the whole discussion wouldn't have amounted to much, anyway.

For example, what if I had said that on the basis of personal research (an interview with a urologist of my acquaintance) I had determined to my satisfaction that these tonsorial preference exhibit a dramatic age differential, and that the cutoff (haha) age is roughly 31-34? That below this line, far more extensive garden care is exercised, and that gardens tend to be much sparser, often of the rock and gravel and cobblestone type, eschewing flora altogether.

What of it, even if I reported that? It still does not address the essential question, raised in the past mostly by women: What are MEN'S preferences here?

Again, we will not go there. Again, it is moot. What if I were to observe, for example, that like a man's first romantic kiss (in my case, with a brilliant, very petite girl) which often sets a lifelong standard for desired physical "type" (as it did with me) -- well, what if a 1960s-1970s era boy's first experience with full frontal nudity, often through a furtive peek at porn or skin mags, will similarly set him up with what he will later crave?

Thus, does it not make sense that there exists a de-facto, self-regulating generational divide here, as well? That men over a certain age, first exposed to the mysterious female nethers in places like Penthouse, where they found a pretty natural, unspoilt landscape, would be hired-wired to lust for that -- whereas men who came of age with the web, where ladies wield razor with odd artistic abandon, even defiance -- would see THAT as the ultimate pulse-racer?

So what? This is all speculation, and it advances our knowledge not at all, and Chatwoman has been right to proscribe it.

Even advancing one step further is pointless. What if I were to make the philosophical case that these two states of display are not, or should not be, of equal value to the thinking man? What if I were to contend that wholly apart from the mildly pedophelic and therefore submissive nature of the sparse or missing garden, there is another, more profound reason the sculpted or naked look should not appeal to a man who loves women, who values the spontaneity and abandon of sex, who has within him the soul of a poet rather than the soul of a carnival barker on a kiddie ride?

Would it really matter? Would it really matter if I said this: That a woman's beauty is in large measure defined by her grace; that unlike men, she presents herself with elegance and care; that unlike men, her hair smells lovely; that in her walk and in her general deportment, that in her deft use of makeup, her attention to style, her comparative kindness and empathy, she presents herself as a more civilized alternative to the male, and that there is great beauty in this?

And that, to the man smitten by such a woman, in peeling her, in getting to know her intimately, nothing could be, or should be as arousing as the final knowledge that, in the end, in the center of this beautifully crafted elegant person -- that in the center, the careful, measured, sculpted, strategic elegance ends, replaced by the the ultimate mystery, the uncrafted effortless beauty of the wild and savage? Would not THAT discovery unleash the most unreasonably intense reaction of love and lust and appreciation?

No. We needn't go there, and we won't. The books are closed on this. Chatwoman, no further questions, please.

--- Sigh. When does my maternity leave start?


Fairfax, Va.: Thought crimes: I am a straight woman who has never been molested. I masturbate to thoughts of sexual force with generally older men and young women or girls. Never seen child porn and no desire to do so. I feel horrible that this turns me on and I feel like my thoughts will have some weird karmic result that these types of things will happen in real life. Do women like this stuff or am I a terrible person to think this?

Gene Weingarten: See the next post.


Good people with bad thoughts: I disagree that people who harbor hatred but don't act on it are "better" than people who don't have hatred in their hearts. Wouldn't you agree that it would be better for the hating people to get back to a place of no hatred? This is a standard tenet of Christianity, by the way. I'm not sure where other religions stand on this.

Gene Weingarten: I think a central moral struggle of the human condition is the war within ourselves between the urge to do things that are selfish and hurtful, and the urge to restrain ourselves because of the knowledge that these things are wrong.

I define this war as existing entirely apart from religion and the fear of eternal punishment -- a whole separate debate exists there, in fact: Is the person who is good for the sake of being good a better person than the person who is good for fear of being punished?

But, to me, this is not about religion, or some set of precepts allegedly set down by a diety in stone, or preached by a deity from a hillside. It is about the plainly obvious disparity between good and bad.

I just read a book by Dave Cullen about Columbine, and you come away from it finding it hard to "hate" Eric Harris, the principal villain of the tale. He was a classic psychopath -- his brain was wired a certain way. He simply felt no empathy for other people, no regret for their suffering; on a very basic elemental level, he simply did not understand that blowing away teenagers was wrong. He was, essentially, not human. The brain waves of psychopaths do not represent the brain waves of humans.

I think we are what our brains are. I think not all of us find it easy to "be good." And yes, I think that those of us with gigantic, strong, elemental impulses to hurt people, who resist these impulses at great psychic stress, are heroes.

I have no desire to rape children. It's simply not a temptation. I am not a "good man" because I have never done this. The man who lives and dies after controlling his sick impulses and never touching a child -- because his better side has leashed his worse side -- is better than I am.

To the previous poster: I respect you, too.


Gene Weingarten: People who thrilled to the amazing major league debut of pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg yesterday should know that this was not the most amazing first appearance ever by a rookie pitcher. Three of them pitched no-hitters in their first starts, and two of those three of them had stupid names: Bumpus Jones and Bobo Holloman. Neither ever amounted to anything.

Still, Strasburg's game in ways is the most amazing, for sheer dominance. He struck out 14. Only one pitcher ever debuted with more -- Hall of Famer Bob Feller had 15 -- but Feller needed nine innings to do it. Strasburg, amazingly, took only 7.


Gene Weingarten: This just in! Iowa Gov. Culver appoints Romaine Foege director of state Department of Aging!


UPDATED 6.15.10

Madison, Wis.: Paul Farhi wrote a column about Obama's routine at the White House Correspondents' Dinner. In his live discussion, he repeatedly noted that he was not commenting about whether the routine was funny or not, just whether it was appropriate.

As the objective arbitator of humor, do you think that the appropriateness of jokes can be determined without an opinion on whether they are funny? As far as I am concerned, a borderline offensive joke is appropriate only if it is funny enough to offset any offensiveness while a completely inoffensive joke is inappropriate if it is not funny.

-throwing virtual panties-

Gene Weingarten: Yes, you are exactly correct on this.

When I was helping The Czar edit the Style Invitational, we used a rule in judging whether an entry was too tasteless to publish. The very first criterion was: How funny is it? If the answer was anything other than "very," the discussion ended and the item was not used.

There was a corollary: The funnier it was, the more tasteless it had to be for it to be killed, and the final criterion, theoretically -- the tie-breaker -- was humor. Theoretically, it would be possible for a shockingly offensive, absolutely unpublishable joke to be published. But we never got there.

Of course, standards of propriety change with the times. Recognizing that the Web has substantially loosened the sphincters of journalism, I shall now publish intact for the first time an entry that we killed some 15 years ago, for reasons of taste.

The contest was to come up with a limerick using the name "Kevorkian." Here it is:

A comely young lass from Nantucket

Wanted help in kicking the bucket.

"No problem, my child,"

Doc Kevorkian smiled,

"Wrap your lips round my tailpipe and suck it."


Twitter v Facebook--the paradox: Liked your comparison between Twitter and Facebook, the first all fast and competitive, the second liesurely and inclusive.

It reminds me of the old George Carlin routine (documented on the very first SNL broadcast) of the differences between football and baseball. Football being timed, violent, competitive, performed in stadium; baseball being untimed, can go forever, leisurely, performed in a "park".

The paradox is, you're a baseball person, not a football person!

Gene Weingarten: Nah, I'm both. It's hoops I can't get into. Seems to me that you can skip 90 percent of all basketball games and just watch the last three minutes, which will consist of constant strategic fouling and free-throws.

Also, call me an anus if you wish, but I think there is something fundamentally wrong with a sport that depends so heavily on how well people can sink free throws -- something anyone, including 470-pound people, can train themselves to do.

As far as Facebook and Twitter, I reprint my exegesis below, because I believe I am on to something important:

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.

Here goes:

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."

Ow. Right.


Alexandria, Va.: Last Friday, I'm leaving the Potomac Mills Ikea and I see this huge poster hanging from a building across the street. It's for some upcoming women's empowerment conference. The slogan on the poster? "Don't Stop my Flow!"

Does no one actually think any more?

Gene Weingarten: Wow.

I may have have noted this before, but the dumbest example of this sort of thing is "Emily's List," the fundraising organization for female candidates and feminist issues. "Emily" is an acronym for Early Money Is Like Yeast."

This was a bad idea for so, so many reasons, not the least of which is that it's just a stupid observation. But also:

1. Is a kitchen metaphor really the best way to go, for a feminist organization; and,

2. Um ... yeast? Are they looking for a donation from Monistat?


Atlanta, Ga.: You enjoy Twitter. Do you know about this site?

Gene Weingarten: I hadn't. A few of these seem phony, written for this site. But the real ones are excellent. These are the two best:

I'm on the list of the Top 100 semantic web influencers and I know 50 of them personally


My Brand Management prof just told me when she read my brand launch strategy she thought I didn't even need to do the masters program! :-)


Falls Church, Va.: Taken from a washington post chat session with a tea bagger .... Will the post start hosting flat earthers next?

Maryland: I am sorry but your answer of "I think the political class is afraid of the Tea Party movement. After all, we get people out as volunteers and get them to the polls. For them, it cannot be the same as usual in D.C. A lot of them are going to be unemployed after the first of the year and that does scare them" is really offensive. This us vs. them mentality is really repulsive to me. I am a hard-working middle class American and I don't agree with anything you are saying, and I have a right not agree with you. But you spliting the citizenry into classes of "elites/political class/Washington insiders/liberals" vs "real Americans" is just plain wrong! and that's the problem with your movement.

Liberals are just as American as you are and you and your movement has no right to question people's patriotism or Americanness just because they disagree with you.

Judson Phillips: Yes we do. You folks in the left do far worse. Patriotism is not something that cannot be measured. It can be. And you folks on the left, as a general rule are not patriotic. You do not love this country. You are embarrassed by us.

I hate to tell you this, but those of us in fly over country are the real americans.

Gene Weingarten: I loved this chat!

You don't think it is of value to give someone like this the rope to hang himself? I do.


Washington, D.C.: A headline for you.

Do you ever feel hamstrung by America's puritanical streak and wish for the journalistic freedoms of England?

Gene Weingarten: I always feel so hamstrung. But I have to point out that this is not, actually, a great headline. For a pun headline to be great, it has to work perfectly in both directions. "Sex and the City" has nothing to do with this story, by any stretch. The headline is a B minus.

It reminds me of an argument that Pat the Perfect and I had in 1993, which is definitely not over. It involved a headline for a story about construction workers who ogle women. The headline was "The Stare Masters." Pat loved it, and, in fact, it became somewhat famous, since the story was adjudged by many to be insensitive to the ogled women, and was discussed robustly for months. If you google "The Stare Masters," there are lots of hits.

I argued it was a weak headline because it had nothing to do, on any level, with aerobic excercise machines. Just a klutzy, one-way pun.


Silver Spring, Md.: I imagine you have already seen this.

Your comment here seems obligatory, no?

Gene Weingarten: This would be a great gag gift to get newlyweds. I'm going to do it.


Should I or shouldn't I say it: This is not a Twitter vs Facebook comment, but your chat reminded me of this. I have several "friends" who will post stuff about themselves or someone being sick and asking for prayers. I usually say something like "hope you feel better" if I say anything at all. But what I want to say is "stop effing praying and get to a doctor" but I don't because I don't want to get anyone angry at me. Am I being a wimp? Just want everyone to like me or what? The worse was this week when someone asked for prayers because they thought they might be having a stroke. This person has a lot of medical problems. I was ready to start typing in capital letters. So my question is do I go ahead one of these days and post something about how having everyone send silent messages to a invisible something in the sky is not going to do a damn thing. Please give me a good line to post. Thanks.

Gene Weingarten: Well, you almost have it.

"I am praying for you to stop praying and get to a doctor."


Submit to the NEW! and IMPROVED! June 29 chat.


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