Chatological Humor: Monthly with Moron (Updated Feb. 15)

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Gene Weingarten
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 25, 2011; 12:00 PM

UPDATED: Feb. 15

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 was Tuesday, Jan. 25 at Noon ET. He chatted 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.

Please take this week's polls:

Physiology Poll: Men | Women

Journalism Poll: I lean liberal | I lean conservative

Character Poll: Men | Women

A transcript follows.

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.

Ed's Note: 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.

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Gene Weingarten: Good afternoon.

Were you as shocked as I was last month by the disgraceful behavior of that aircraft carrier commander who demonstrated inappropriate and immature judgment, using adolescent humor unbecoming of someone in a position of authority? Being the boss comes with an obligation to conduct oneself in a dignified and...

Okay, I can't go on. I'm not THAT much of a hypocrite.

I'm sure the guy's dismissal was justified, but I can't be the one to call him on it. The fact is, I haven't always been the reckless and irresponsible newspaper columnist I am today. Once, I was a reckless and irresponsible manager.

As editor of Tropic, the Sunday magazine of The Miami Herald in the 1980s, I, too, had an obligation to conduct myself in a professional and dignified matter. Here are some of the highlights of my editing career:

1. Creative tension and pressures in the workplace were generally resolved, under my direction and careful supervision, with full-contact games of Nerf basketball, or round-robin, double-elimination ping-pong tournaments conducted on the conference desk. During one such game an entire can of soda was accidentally upended onto the keyboard of a computer, which immediately emitted a horrible hissing sound, and then the smell of burning insulation. The computer was fried. My official instructions, as boss, to my staff, on how to handle this unfortunate situation was: Shh. Nothing Whatsoever Happened.

2. A reporter -- Joel Achenbach -- had written a story about the federal budget deficit; it made the case that this hugely important issue was being ignored because it was too complex and boring. We were all trying and failing to come up with a compelling way to sell this story on the cover. Finally, Joel threw up his hands and joked that the only way we could possibly get people to pay attention to such a boring subject would be to.... And he mentioned a ridiculous, preposterous, insane idea. Everyone was laughing, except The Boss. The Boss was very quiet. "Uh oh," someone whispered. This was the cover of the magazine about the federal budget deficit. We were denounced afterward by many readers, at least one national feminist organization, and the publisher of our own newspaper. But a LOT of people read that story.

3. Tropic once did an entire issue poking fun at ourselves, in which we published reader parodies of our own magazine. At the last minute, I decided that no parody issue would be complete unless it also contained parodies of our regular advertisements. (Some of you might be thinking, "good idea!" but any of you with even rudimentary backgrounds in publishing or advertising or marketing or public relations is thinking "NO! NO! NO!") So Dave Barry and I wrote and designed fake ads that were parodies of many of our regular ads; one, for example, which looked exactly like the usual ad of a discount department store, offered a pair of cardboard-composite men's shoes for $1.89. The paper's editors actually STOPPED THE PRESSES for this one, and ordered us to re-do the magazine without the ads.

4. As the boss, it was my job to keep matters brisk and collegial, so I invented an office game called "Cubicle Roulette." Here is how it worked: There are two contestants. Each goes to the other's computer and types a particularly colorful, potentially career-ending e-mail message to the other guy's boss, all set up and ready for delivery. (Ex: "You suck, fatso.") Then each party returns to his own desk. They take turns flipping quarters across the room toward the other guy's "Enter" key, until someone hits, and the game, and one career, is over. It's a great game, but, for some reason, I never got anyone to play it with me.

5. We had a contest for readers to come up with a new wacky fad. The winner would get $500. The winner I chose was a guy who proposed a fad of "eating money." He ate the $500. We took pictures. Recession-weary readers were of course duly horrified.

6. My greatest achievement. In 1989, when Orlando became the second Florida city with a team in the NBA, I decided we would welcome the competition by sending Dave Barry to Orlando to do a complete hit job on the city. We did this. Then we all sat around trying to figure out how to present this story on the cover. We decided that we would do it through satire, as though we were trying to be kind: So we'd have a cover suggesting in which we WELCOMED the Magic into the fraternity of basketball cities. But we needed some visual element to show we weren't really serious about this. I came up with one. It was a bit controversial. By this time, I had learned the need to get controversial things approved in advance. Everyone told me there was no way, but I decided to apply myself to it with the intensity of, say, those biologists who mapped out the human genome. So I went in to see Janet Chusmir, the executive editor of The Miami Herald, whom I really liked, and who really liked me. And I lobbied her for a full hour, eventually persuading her that not only COULD we do this, but that we were OBLIGED to do this for the sanctity of humor and the dignity of satire. That we owed it to, like, the memory of Jonathan Swift. This was the cover.

Much of the public was outraged, particularly moms, who wrote in to ask what they were now supposed to tell their 11 year old boys, who worship Dave Barry, but who have been told never, ever, ever, ever to make that gesture.

Flash forward a year and a half. I am leaving the Herald. I get called in for my exit interview with Janet Chusmir. We hug. We say nice things to each other. And then Janet tells me that in her illustrious 40-year career in journalism, her only real mistake was letting me talk her into that cover. I left her office feeling bad, but not all that bad, because, you know. That was one HECK of a cover. And besides, she had plenty of time to get over it.

And then, just a couple of weeks later, Janet suddenly...died.

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Gene Weingarten: Okay, here's my column from a couple of weeks ago on the endangered toilet-paper cardboard roll, called a "derder." The derder has been a cherished visitor to my home since my children were babies and The Rib entertained them with derder music. It was generally the same circus-like tune, a four-bar snippet we all have come to know and to love.

In researching this column, I attempted to find the provenance of this tune, without any success. Midomi.com did not return anything. An hour on the web listening to MP3s of "circus music" didn't deliver anything. I hummed it to friends: Nothing. Finally, I called Tim Page, the Pulitzer Prize winning polymath who now lives in California, and who knows everything anyone has ever known about music. I hummed it for him. NOTHING.

The Rib remembers this from her youth connected to a ditty beginning: "I love those billboards / I always will / 'Cause billboards give me such a thrill...."

Here is an audio clip of The Rib performing...something...on a derder.

Anyone?

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Gene Weingarten: Okay, then. Hope you all saw this story in today's Post. I had actually held that document in my hand a few years ago, when I was reporting a column about the Library of Congress. And I remember thinking that the 5 looked funny. But that, you know, people write funny, even Lincoln.

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Gene Weingarten: Some of you may recall that last chat, two months ago, we introduced Paul Williams who was going to be the chatmeister forever and ever and ever and ever and ever.

Well.

We are please to introduce our new producer forever and ever and ever, Ms. Abha Bhattarai.

Abha, say hello.

washingtonpost.com: Hi everyone!

Gene Weingarten: Abha must of course have a nickname. It occurred to me that "Abha" is an anagram for Ahab, but linking woman and whale is not ever a good idea. Fortunately, Abha's last name makes her nickname a slam dunk.

Sparky, say hello.

washingtonpost.com: Hello again!

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Gene Weingarten: Here is the greatest anti-aptonym of all time. 19-Year-Old charged with DUI twice in four hours

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Gene Weingarten: Almost done. Here's today's VIDEO CLIP OF THE DAY, which appears to be a final paper by a student in an American Sign Language class. (Alert: If you are at work, you may need earphones. The F-word is said aloud.)

And here's today's AUDIO CLIP OF THE DAY, which is priceless. It is LBJ ordering pants.

Okay, let's go.

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Gene Weingarten: Hi! Is anyone still here? Are there six of you left? Did you like those fancy question marks?

Sorry for the delay; some serious tech difficulties. We're moving now. And I'll stay late, I promise!

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poop: I have found that when I travel for a few days to someone's house, my bowels cooperate and I usually don't have to go until I get home. I think it helps that I have a redundant colon and usually don't go everyday anyway.

Gene Weingarten: With one exception, each of the items in the physiological poll is one that I experience. (I don't sneeze in the sudden sunlight, but I've read about this being common.)

I'm not surprised that the colon-with-a-mind-of-its-own is the one most shared by others. It's an amazing phenomenon that I first learned about 23 years ago, when I was writing a play. It was the year I'd spent at Harvard, during which I was a writing a play about a woman paraplegic. To understand the subject, I'd consulted a young woman who was in a wheelchair and who was graciously willing to discuss the two deeply intimate questions: sex and bathroom functions.

She'd told me that even though she felt nothing below the navel, she wasn't bowel incontinent: That she'd been able, basically, to work out an accommodation with her body where she scheduled regular times to empty her bowels, and .... the body complied. This has to have been the same mechanism at work. Someone must have written a treatise on this somewhere, but I've never found it. Thank you all for confirming it.

There was one other item I was going to include in the poll, but (1) it's ridiculous and (2) I wasn't sure it was universal enough to mention. Does anyone else recognize this: By putting a finger in my mouth and running it the outside of my gum line on the lower jaw, between cheek and teeth, and pressing lightly down, I create a tickle sensation in my right ear that can only be relived by inserting a finger into it and scratching.

I once mentioned this to my dentist, who called it a "common nerve trigger" that he'd seen many times before, but I've never found another person for whom it was familiar. (I am a VERY entertaining conversationalist at parties.)

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Orland'oh: Oh, that cover seems pretty reasonable--especially that by 1989, the Miami Heat had such a long, storied history about which they should brag.

Gene Weingarten: Reasonable???? REASONABLE???

Clearly you have no idea what magazine journalism is.

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DC: About the group project.....

When I was in school (graduated early 90s), it was becoming vogue to do "cooperative learning", especially forming the groups so that they included a top-performing student, a bottom-performing student, and some in between. I was a top-performing student, which pretty much meant I just did the damn thing and had everyone put their names on it. Any attempt to do an actual group project either resulted in substandard work (there's a reason I got As and they didn't) or me pulling my hair out in frustration to organize it. It was just easier and less stressful to do it all myself and the group was inevitably okay with that. Everyone got equal credit for my work. I really hated that. BTW, if you ever wonder why characteristics of Generation X include "independence", you might find some clues here.

Thankfully, I have NEVER run into this situation at work. I avoid group projects like the plague, but when they have come up either the group project has defined roles and I contribute no more and no less than my role demands or my group all equally contributes. Maybe I'm just lucky, but I don't see the group project question as being entirely realistic outside the social experimentation that is the classroom.

I suppose if push came to shove, I'd subtly find a way to make my contribution known. I suspect it would be met with the same stony faces as my teachers had, thus reaffirming the other main trait of Generation X: cynicism.

Gene Weingarten: We seem to think quite highly of ourselves, don't we?

For the purposes of this answer, though, we will accept you at your word that you are the be-all and end-all and whatnot. And I like your Gen-X analysis. Do others feel this?

For what it is worth, here is how I did in the Character Poll:

I am not a snoop. The friends drawers would remain unplumbed by me. And I am not petty, less because I am a good person but because I am incredibly absentminded: I forget grievances. I never remember whom I am supposed to be angry at.

What I fail on is the question you address in your question: I was never good at not seeking credit. I would have done everything I could to make sure people knew who did the work. This smallness of spirit was a particular problem in my line of work: An editor's input is SUPPOSED to be occult, and secret, freely and generously given to the writer, who is made to look good. I always had a hard time with this, and always fought the urge -- sometimes unsuccessfully -- to let others know what I had done.

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I don't see the hypocrisy: None of the stuff you describe from your Tropic period comes close to the combination of juvenile and hateful ended the Navy captain's career. There's a difference between antics which are merely sophomoric and those which are motivated by actual fear and loathing of certain groups of other people.

So please, manage away and don't give the unfortunately named captain another thought, other than to note his anti-aptonym qualities.

Gene Weingarten: I initially was inclined to forgive the Capn. I tend to forgive things done for humor. But then I saw the videos, and realized what it must have been like to be a woman or a gay man under his command.

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Ringlingbr, OS: Circus Tune is really: "Entry of the Gladiators: Thunder and Blazes." There's this thing called Google, and if you type in "Circus Tune", you get 10 zillion hits on "Entry of the Gladiators"! What a World!

Gene Weingarten: Wait. Are you saying the Rib's tune is Entry of the Gladiators? No, you are not. Are you?

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I have the tickle thing!: There are a number of actions that can inspire that feeling in my ear, and this is one of them.

You can die happy now. You're welcome!

Gene Weingarten: Yay!!

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finger/gum thingy: No, but if I scratch my right temple I can make myself sneeze. Similar nerve trigger, I guess.

Gene Weingarten: Yayy!

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byool, IN: "Sparky"?

Surely there's a Statute of Imitations with regard to using Charles M. Schulz's well-known nickname.

Gene Weingarten: I really like Statute of Imitations.

Yes, he's been dead ten years. That's it. Sparky's clear.

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Derder, Song: Knock, knock! Team answers: WHO'S THERE?!!!! Sheila!! Team answers: SHEILA WHO?? Singing a la Derder Song: SHE LOVES TO PARTY. . . Team joins in singing: SHE ALWAYS WILL, BECAUSE A PARTY GIVES HER A THRILL! WHEN SHE WAS YOUNGER, AND IN HER PRIME, SHE USED TO PARTY ALL THE TIME! BUT NOW SHE'S OLDER, AND TURNING GREY, SHE ONLY PARTIES ONCE A DAY-YAY-YAY!

Then, next guy starts with: Knock Knock! Team answers: WHO'S THERE?? Amanda!!! Team answers: AMANDA WHO???? Singing: Amandat girl can PARTY. . . Team joins in singing: SHE ALWAYS WILL, BECAUSE A PARTY GIVES HER A THRILL. .

And so it continues - I heard it as a rugby drinking song.

And psssst...it really wasn't a "party" that was loved.

Gene Weingarten: Okay!!! But what IS the song?

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Now look what you've done!: Greetings, Gene ...

Sometime last year, you accepted an invitation from Shakespeare Theatre's Literary Associate, Akiva Fox, to review a play the company would soon perform, G.B. Shaw's "Mrs. Warren's Profession."

In an open letter to Mr. Fox included at the top of your May 23, 2010 review of the play, you wrote, "I don't really understand why you chose me for this one, but my essay is below. Please let me know if I can be of any further assistance, particularly in your new job search."

Well, it took a while, but guess what? Akiva Fox is leaving the Shakespeare Theatre!

Whether his departure a result of your less-than-glowing review ("I don't mean to suggest that 'Mrs. Warren's Profession' is a bad, boring play; it is, in fact, a good, boring play...") and a lengthy workplace appeals process, I don't know.

It's worth noting, tho, that Mr. Fox is leaving not only the Shakespeare Theatre but this whole area, and moving to North Carolina!

So -- Are you going to help him, as promised?

Prithee, what do you have to say for yourself?

PS -- Supposedly, Mr. Fox plans to start a new theater in N. Carolina.

PPS - I don't know Mr. Fox, except through his work, which has included directing.

Gene Weingarten: I didn't know this!

Man, that took a while.

I'm not sure if I mentioned this, but they in fact did not run that review in their newsletter!

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Poll video has no captions; I'm screwed: Hi Gene,

Why does the Post hate deaf people? Your video in your journalism poll has no captions, so not only am I clueless as to what it says, I'm completely left out of your discussion about this topic. The Post never captions its videos, and this, the town of the only 4-year college for the deaf in the U.S. I've even commented on Marcus Brauchli's online column. Can you help us get the Post's videos captioned?

Gene Weingarten: Hm. Is there a way to turn captioning on and off in a video? I'm thinking that the Post and other venues would be more inclined to do it if the captioning didn't have to be there as a distraction for everyone else.

Is that unfeeling? It may be. I don't feel good about this.

I do feel good about that Clip of the Day, though!

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Chicago, IL: It took me a long time to figure out what was going on with the Dave Barry cover. I kept looking for an acrostic or an anagram in the text

Gene Weingarten: Trust me, it wasn't subtle, full size. It was pretty awe inspiring!

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Washington DC: Gene-

I'm curious about the article which derailed the December chat. I assume by the time of this chat, it will have run. When was it assigned? When was it due in? How often do changes to a schedule that must stretch months into the future occur?

Many thanks.

Gene Weingarten: It was assigned seven weeks ago, It was completed three weeks ago, and it is running as the cover story in this Sunday's magazine. It explains why I was asking women in the street if they would sleep with me.

And no, no one came remotely close to guessing why.

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physiological question about grooming : I get a tingle down my left leg when I get my eyebrows waxed or plucked. Does that happen to anyone else?

Gene Weingarten: This is an interesting thread of responses!

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Erewhon: There's an aptonym in this story: James Naughtie blames Dr Spooner after renaming Jeremy Hunt

Gene Weingarten: There certainly is! I love his prim little cough!

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Germantown, MD: We just added a dog to our family and I was disappointed to learn that I can't sign on with Dr. Molly Weingarten for routine veterinary services as she is at a hospital, not a "family practice." What are her plans after she finishes her internship? I would be delighted to throw some business her way.

Gene Weingarten: Alas, Mol will always be working at a big hospital. She's an expert in "critical care," which basically means dealing only with emergency, life and death stuff. It suits her personality perfectly.

So you won't get to see her a lot, but the one time you do might be the most important vet visit you'll ever have to make. Her job is saving lives.

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Stroking your ego: Just wanted to let you know that my medium-sized newspaper just started running Barney & Clyde, at the expense of Garfield. Said newspaper is located in Indiana, the home of Garfield. I hope you are suitably pleased.

Gene Weingarten: WE REPLACED GARFIELD?????

No one told me this. I am giddy.

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Number Two: The Scrabblegram on Saturday 1-15 included seven letters that turned out to be "atheist." I came up with "eat this" -- well, not "this" exactly.

Gene Weingarten: WOW.

WOW. WOW. WOW.

In 59 years on this planet, I never once realized this great anagram. Thank you.

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Am I missing something?: I found the woman in the video completely sympathetic. She snapped at one child in a moment of frustration, but she very clearly loves her kids. And she brought up a lot of good points, including the one about welfare to work not always working. She's smart, insightful, and is obviously trying to get by in a system that's rather difficult.

Gene Weingarten: In the poll, I would have answered that you use this woman, but find another example, too.

Journalism is not as simple as it sometimes seems. You have to immerse yourself in a story until you understand the truth in it, then try to tell that truth in a fair way. I cannot believe that this woman represents the whole truth of people on this form of public assistance. If my reporting showed she was completely typical -- okay, then here's your story. Otherwise, I'm doing another profile, too.

Just my two cents.

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Capitol Hill: I am definitely a home pooper, and my son, who is not quite two and still in diapers, is already showing signs of being a home pooper, too. He doesn't poop in the car on the way home, but he will often poop shortly after we arrive home.

I thought the video was incredibly effective at reinforcing every possible negative stereotype about people on public assistance. Fox couldn't have done it better.

Gene Weingarten: I thought that, too about the video. I felt it was very strong, and skillfully done, but I thought pretty manipulative, especially in the shot focusing in on unflattering parts of her body.

But others here disagree. See the next post.

Gene Weingarten: Ooop, I mean see the PREVIOUS post.

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Hairless Hair: I went to the show opening night with a friend of a cast member. After the show we discussed the show with the cast member at length. At first we talked about the oddity of seeing a friend naked onstage, and then we actually talked about the lack of hair. Especially since Boardwalk Empire is pretty historically accurate where it is concerned. Apparently it was discussed and maybe even done in the Broadway production (the conversation was awhile ago) but I guess because of the short period between casting and the first show it would have been hard to be authentic on opening night. I guess they never decided to change after that, she (the cast member) didn't seem to think it was that big of a deal.

Gene Weingarten: Well, it is!

In deference to my friend Nancy Nall, a fan of Kate Winslet, I need to clarify an answer I gave in last week's updates.

I said that in "The Reader," a film set in the 1950s, Winslet chose to wear a merkin, rather than grow her pubes in. It is true that she wore a merkin, but untrue that she was unwilling to grow pubes; as she explained in this interview she was UNABLE to grow her pubes back in. Apparently, after years of waxing, the hair doesn't sproing back all that well.

So, apologies to Kate, who is, in fact, willing to suffer for her art.

Gene Weingarten: And now we know.

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So the Empress...: ...was outed by the post.

That was really lame, right?

Gene Weingarten: It was definitely not her idea.

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The I-4 Corridor: You're gonna post a link to Dave's Orlando story, right? Don't be a tease.

Gene Weingarten: I'm not sure it exists online.

Sparky, it was 1989, the Miami Herald, Dave Barry on the Orlando Magic. Give it a shot.

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Sneezing: I'm female and most of the time I need to look at a light to get my sneeze to come out. I usually position myself near a window or lamp to help make it happen (sunlight is the best). I've stretched my neck in the car so I could see sunlight to make the sneeze come out. Looking at light works about 95% of the time.

Gene Weingarten: Noted.

I read the top of this as "I am female most of the time..."

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why people sneeze in sun: this is from my eye doctor's website:

Ever noticed how some people sneeze every time they walk outside? I notice it in kids with sensitive eyes all the time. A sneeze is usually caused by irritation in the nose from dust, pollen, or some other irritant. This irritation is sensed by the trigeminal nerve in the brain. The trigeminal nerve is located very close to the optic nerve, the nerve that transmits what you're seeing to the brain for interpretation. So when the optic nerve is suddenly hit by the perception of very bright light, the stimulation can carry over to its neighboring nerve, the trigeminal nerve, causing you to sneeze. Gazunheit!

Gene Weingarten: Okay.

How many of you know the mnemonic: "On old Olympus' towering tops...."

Gene Weingarten: .. A Finn and German spied a hops?

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Atlanta, GA: I just came across this old Vanity Fair piece claiming that women aren't funny. What's more surprising, Christopher Hitchens' claim that women aren't funny, or how many astoundingly not funny jokes Hitchens used in making that point?

Gene Weingarten: I wrote a column responding to this idiocy. Actually, I didn't write it, I had all my funny female friends contribute lines.

Sparky? Search for me and Rachel and Gina and Tamara. Should come right up.

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Arlington, VA: Why were you holding a National Archives document when you were "reporting a column about the Library of Congress"? They are not the same place. Were you doing a story about both institutions?

Gene Weingarten: Ah, yes. Sorry. Archives.

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Fiddler lives on: Gene-- Thought you'd like to know that your "Pearls Before Breakfast" story was the main focus of the Christmas Eve homily the parish priest gave when I was home in Chicago. First he put Joshua Bell's photo on the big screen (yeah, it's one of those churches) and then launched into a whole speech that basically paraphrasing your story. I was silently laughing to myself, thinking about how you'd probably find the whole thing comical. Alas, he didn't credit you, but just the Washington Post in general. No mention of your Pulitzer either! Although the priest did get a standing ovation at the end. Thought you'd like to know!

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, it's been used by priests, rabbis and ministers. I get letters like this all the time. Id doesn't bother this atheist at all if people carry away a religious message, so long as that message isn't, y'know, bomb a mosque.

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How do you do it?: You're not even chatting today (Monday) and your chat rates the "most highest viewed" distinction on the WaPo website. Tracee Hamilton was first for a few hours, but has slid down the list. Not even Dana Milbanks' "Palin-free month" chat is ranked as high as yours. Has your move to the once-a-month chat made you even more popular and desireable? Is it true that we want most what we can't have? Or is it just a really slow Monday?

Gene Weingarten: Without getting sappy, the continued strength of this chat in a monthly format just really makes me happy. I didn't expect the legs. I wish I could do it more often.

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Long Beach, CA: The "orangutang" pronunciation is part of a phenomenon that linguist Kie Zuraw calls aggressive reduplication. When a word contains two syllables that are kind of similar, people like to make them even more similar. Other mispronunciations that show this:

pompom for pompon Okeefenokee for Okefenokee hari-kari for hara-kiri Barbar for Babar Klu Klux Klan for Ku Klux Klan Snuffalufagus for Snuffleupagus smorgasborg for smorgasbord

Gene Weingarten: Thank you. This reminds me of one of my favorite odd medical terms, which I learned about when researching my hypochondria book.

With reduplicative paramnesia, you can suddenly imagine you have suddenly been transported to a parallel universe peopled by evil impostors. That woman who is talking to you LOOKS like your wife, and SOUNDS like your wife, and SMELLS like your wife, but....

This is not to be confused with Alice In Wonderland Syndrome, which I also mentioned in the book. In that, you see an object, and then hallucinate it repeatedly. A doctor I spoke with had a patient who saw a potted plant growing out of the center of her breakfast omelet.

The Hypochodriac's Guide to Life. And Death. Still available nationwide at revoltingly remaindered prices.

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Re: Full Body Scans:: You said, "But just how exciting is this, even on a shapelier individual."

I think you're underestimating the vast diversity out there in sexual kinks. For example, I think "upskirt" photos have been discussed in this chat before. I don't find the idea at all sexy and I bet you don't either, but there's a whole subcategory of men who get off on it. It's not so much the images themselves, which aren't particularly revealing; it's the fact that the images are non-consensual, that the women don't want them to be looking at them, that they get off on. I'm sure, sadly, that there are people out there who would similarly get off on the grainy, obscured full body scans just because the women in the scans wouldn't want them to.

Gene Weingarten: I think if we worried about the sorts of things some men might get turned on by, women would never be able to go out in public except in burqas. And even then: NO OPEN-TOED SANDALS, LADIES.

In discussing this issue, I keep coming back to the central epistemological question. It is almost a koan: If you are seen buck naked by strangers who do not know, and can never find out that it is you, has your privacy been violated? To me, the answer is no.

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Emergency vets/grossness: I love them, and hate that I have had to go to them.

My favorite emergency vet story was the least serious. My dog ate a whole bunch of dark chocolate M&Ms and had to go to the clinic to induce vomiting. When the tech at the front went back to check on him, she came back to report that my dog was fine, and she was never eating M&Ms again. Turns out she had gone back just in time to see him barf all the (still recognizable) candy...and then eat it yet again.

Happy lunch hour everybody!

Gene Weingarten: DAn and I just finished writing a day of Barney & Clyde on just this subject. The idea was: Given what dogs readily eat, how is it possible to find something that will actually induce vomiting?

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I Missed It!: The Empress was outed?? When??

Gene Weingarten: The Invitational on Sunday, in the new tabloid Style section, says "By Pat Myers."

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Arlington, VA: I believe "an historic" is a Britishism -- possibly Americans who say that are trying to appear more sophisticated or something. I tried saying both "an historic" and "a historic" out loud, and the former was slightly easier to say. That puzzles me, because I say "a historic," and I usually take the easy way out.

As for "potato," a branch of my wife's family says "buh-TAY-duh." How do ya like them (earth) apples?

Gene Weingarten: "An historic" is a very strangely mannered, and wrong, pronunciation. There's a very easy way of showing this.

Would you say ANY of the following?

An happy circumstance.

An History of the World?

Abbie Hoffman was an hippie.

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wash dc: You must have an opinion about Sarah Palin and the alleged blood libel. Are her speech writers that ignorant (my 16-year-old son knew the term and its history)? Was it an insult or a poor choice of words? Does it make a difference that the Congresswoman and one of her aides who died are Jewish?

Please discuss. Thanks.

Gene Weingarten: I think Sarah got a bit of a bad rap on the blood libel thing. She's a dumbass, and I doubt she understood the reference; if she did, I doubt she understood how applying it to something else would be seen by Jews.

What she SHOULD have been savaged for is the whole Poor-me tone of that speech. And, actually, she has been.

She's toast. The zeitgeist has shifted on her, and she did it to herself. At a moment calling for inclusion and compassion, she delivered anger and self-righteousness.

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Debt: Gene, if I remember correctly you tweeted not too long ago that you wouldn't be surprised if Obama didn't run for a 2nd term. Do you still think that way?

Gene Weingarten: I do not. His hat's in.

I also think I was right a few months ago when I said he will be reelected in a landslide.

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washingtonpost.com: Hey, Christopher, the girls aren't laughing WITH you*

Gene Weingarten: Yay. Thanks, Sparks.

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Fantastic Four: Just a note that I will be participating in this chat while savoring a sandwich, in honor of the dearly departed.

(Btw, as a woman, I believe almost all the women in the character poll are lying to themselves. They so TOTALLY would snoop. We like to believe we wouldn't; but we would find some random reason to justify opening that drawer/cabinet/box/sealed baggie...)

Gene Weingarten: I admit to thinking that women would cop to snooping more than men would. But I believe the poll. I think you and I should be ashamed of ourselves for our suspicions. And YOU should be ashamed of yourself for your snoopage.

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He likes it! Hey Mikey!: Dave Barry in his most recent WaPo chat said that you'll eat anything. There is an AP story today about a taco bar in Tuscon, AZ (where else?) that wished to offer African lion meat in its tacos but threats have persuaded the owner to reconsider. This raises several questions: Would you eat a lion taco? If so, why? Bragging rights? Also, has the entire state of AZ gone completely mad, or is the insanity limited to Tuscon? Do you think this tacqueria will ultimately attempt to solve the state's illegal immigrant "problem" via the soylent green route? And, if so, isn't this kind of entrepeneurial spirit the same one that both made this country great and which the President seeks to quash through health reform? Just askin'

Gene Weingarten: I wouldn't eat lion meat, but not because it would disgust me. Because it is an endangered species. If lions were as plentiful as chickens, and people at it, I'd try it. Yeah.

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Masterful sentences: It's nothing to do with the polls and it's definitely not funny, but I think I've just encountered one of the most powerfully moving sentences I've ever read in a newspaper in today's NY Times article about circumcising dying and dead infants.

"The hospital staff removed the baby from the ventilator, took out the intravenous lines, swaddled him and handed him to his parents. They were led to the hospital room, where they sat gently cradling their warm newborn son for just an hour as pink faded to gray."

"As pink faded to gray." just made me cry, and I don't usually cry when I read, especially not newspapers. And the author isn't even a professional writer; he's an MD. But as an aspiring writer, I'd kill to have come up with that.

Can we have a poll sometimes about power expressed in just a few words, a là Hemingway's shortest story?

Gene Weingarten: Great line.

Gene Weingarten: Possibly the shortest great line is from the Bible:

Jesus wept.

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Washington, D.C.: Gene, I particularly admire your ability to explain things succinctly and clearly. I am hoping you can use that skill to explain to me where the money goes during a financial crisis. I am a fairly intelligent person, but I just don't grasp the concept of people going to bed wealthy and waking up poor. It would make sense if Person A got poor while Person B suddenly got rich, but that doesn't seem to be the case. During a global financial crisis, the news seems to be that everyone is taking a hit. Why isn't it like sand in an hourglass--one end decreases while the other end increases? How can the sand just disappear?

Gene Weingarten: Because it was never real to begin with. Money itself is not real: It is a worthless piece of paper only so long as the entity backing it remains solvent.

Money in stocks is yet another step removed from that.

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The Boss: Hi, Gene,

I decided to buy my boss a mouse pad with a picture of his kids for Christmas, but I didn't have a picture. So I found him on Facebook, used his friends list to find his wife, and sent her an e-mail asking for a picture.

She told me she didn't want to send one because he doesn't like his employees to feel obligated, blah-blah-blah. I told her it was just a little $5 token gift because he's a great boss and we love him.

She sent the pic, I presented the mousepad, the story came out.

Turns out it's kind of weird to tell a woman, "I love your husband. Send me a picture of your kids."

Gene Weingarten: Hahaha.

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weird physiology: using a q-tip to clean or dry inside my ear canal makes me cough

Gene Weingarten: Me, too.

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Welfare Mom: Your poll questions indicate that the woman comes across as negative and unsympathetic, perhaps due to the reporter's manipulation. I had the opposite reaction -- I thought that, if anything, the reporter manipulated the situation to make her sympathetic.

Gene Weingarten: Uh.

Okay!

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Audio clip: This isn't the original, but on WRC Radio in the 60's, Ed Walker and Willard Scott's show's theme song to this tune was: "We are the joy boys of radio, we chase electrons to and fro", repeat as necessary. Maybe Ed Walker knows older lyrics to the song.

Gene Weingarten: So lemme get this straight; A bunch of you recognize this song, but no one really knows what it is beyond idiot ditties, right?

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"So the Empress...: ...was outed by the post.": Is there anyone who would care who hadn't already figured it out?

Gene Weingarten: Nope. It's just the casual dismantling of a conceit. A de-tropification.

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Just The FAQ: I have an answer to one of your FAQ regarding the differing bathroom habits of mena and women. Women bunch tp as then there is more texture and you will be "cleaned" more effectively than if you roll tp and wipe with a smooth surface.

This is why men have marks on the insides of their shorts...and we don't. It is just common sense we learned very young. And since we need to wipe everything, probably just learned it whereas men never have.

Gene Weingarten: Uh.

You are tarnishing all men brown with a pretty broad brush, as it were.

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New York, NY: Here's what I've never gotten about journalism: there's this big push to stay "balanced" by presenting opposing viewpoints. That can be fine, but a pretty large percentage of the time (at least in the fields of which I have some inside knowledge) the reporter picks either an unqualified person or someone with an ax to grind just because they are convenient. You can get a Nobel prize winner on one side and a high school dropout on the other, but both views will be presented as being more or less equally valid. This doesn't give a balanced view, it gives an intentionally unbalanced one and is the equivalent of journalistic malpractice. But 99% of the time the journalism world will come down on the side of "balance." What gives?

Gene Weingarten: This is the CNN approach. It's bogus. Their vision of balance is to have two zealots, one from each side, yelling at each other.

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Ellicott City, MD: Regarding the character poll: I do the right thing, not because I am a good person, heaven knows I am not. Rather, because I am a very firm believer in karma. The person who hurt me will pay in some way, and I don't need to involve myself in it. My excellent performance will come to light without me flipping the switch. This has proven to be true in my world over and over again. I believe this so much that, if I say something particularly wenchy I will go out of my way to perform some sort of mitzvah as a way of realigning the universe.

Gene Weingarten: I like the term "wenchy."

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Dreamland, Orlando: I am not certain if I am aware I am dreaming WHILE I am dreaming, only that afterwards I was aware that I was dreaming. I have on rare occasions not been aware I was dreaming, as I even remember asking in a dream once "is this real?" and when I awoke I was realized I had thought the dream was real. Does this help? Are people with white jackets now coming for me?

Gene Weingarten: I am sometimes so conscious that I am dreaming that I say, I wonder if I can, like, get The Empress to walk in that door?

The odd thing is, usually I can't. I am at war with myself.

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New ma, MA: Gene, I am a new mom and returned to work recently. When people ask me "How is the baby?" I know they are being polite, and don't want a REAl answer. My dilemma is this, when I answer, do I go for quick general summary or one hilarious detail? Would you rather hear "She's 9 months and doing great!" or "She climbed up the steps naked this morning."

Gene Weingarten: I'd probably prefer "fine."

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Navy Captain: As a VN vet who hated lifers, I'm always pleased when one gets embarrassed & canned. Then again, as a guy who has learned the hard way that getting along in the world means playing by the rules of the game at hand, I think that gays, women, the squeamish, etc., who find themselves in intensely stressful hetero male-dominated environments will find it easier to conform rather than complain. I can tell you that I've seen, said, & done stuff that, for cruelty, forget bad taste, would appall "civilians" & which, as I look back, amaze me. As for your own stories--well, everything you bring up is good humored.

Gene Weingarten: Well, it's good humored, but in questionable taste. The basketball-finger cover probably created some serious grief for some parents.

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Pubic Hair: As a woman, I would love to see your poll on pubic hair grooming. I don't think it's offensive, and even think it could be considered feminist. Here's why: We've all been led to believe that it's normal to spend a LOT of time and money keeping everything tidy down there. And, unlike other aspects of the female ideal, we can't really see who is living up to it and who isn't; a quick scan of my office reveals that not everyone is 22, thin, and blonde, but for all I know they all have perfectly maintained Brazilians. So, shining some light down there about what real people do could actually be really empowering for women who don't have any desire to spend a chunk of their paycheck and Saturday morning having hair in their most sensitive area ripped out by its roots.

Gene Weingarten: I'm publishing your opinion because I intend to use it strategically.

This is not over. Ohhh, not by a longshot!

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Reston: Just for poops and giggles, I Googled the name Harry Merkin - and sure enough there is one. Saw his linked in profile. That's an unfortunate name if I ever heard of one.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you. This chat relies on people like you.

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I doubt she understood the reference;: I agree. I don't think Sarah Palin knew the reference but was told to use it. But I think she knows why she used it. This was her speaking between the lines to the media, which she knows consists of some Jewish people. After being consulted, she knew the folks in the media would get the reference.

I think this was very similar to Rick Sanchez's sentiments about Jews controlling the media, but done more subtly.

Gene Weingarten: Nah, I doubt it. She didn't want that particular zitstorm.

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Now that you're a big-shot cartoonist: ...you had better be contributing to the "Team Cul de Sac" book. In addition to being a worthy cause, it has potential to be a really cool book. Tell Bob Staake he needs to contribute, too.

Gene Weingarten: Yes, we are contributing. We were the first contributors, in fact.

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Getting Kudos: In the character poll, I said I would not bother telling my bosses that I did the bulk of the work, because they already know. Everyone knows who does the good work, who is a lying cheater, who is a slacker, and so on. If someone is succeeding despite being incompetent, his bosses are promoting him even though they know he's incompetent, and they have some other, probably bad, reason why.

Gene, back me up on this.

Gene Weingarten: Can't. I've seen just the opposite too many times.

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Arlington, VA: Gene, has the NYT Sunday Crossword gotten easier? I recently started trying them again, and more often than not can finish in an hour or two without any reference help. A decade or so ago, I could barely start the things. I find the Post Puzzler to be more challenging.

Gene Weingarten: Yes. It is a major disappointment for me.

It's not just that the Sunday crossword has gotten easier -- it's gotten lazier. The theme, almost always now, is just some sort of lame series of puns. Used to be much more inventive, much more often.

Having said that, KenKen is a great puzzle. Never thought I'd like it, because I dislike Sudoku, but it's terrific. A masterpiece of symbolic logic.

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The Empress: The Invitational will never be the same. The Empress ruled with an iron fist and had absolute power. Even if you could comoplain, no one knew quite how to reach her. She was mysterious.

Pat is just a very, very talented employee of the Post.

Somehow the editors didn't get this.

Gene Weingarten: Interesting. Oddly enough, I get this.

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No, Really: The song really is titled "Entry of the Gladiators." I remember that from "Name That Tune."

Gene Weingarten: I need to research this. I think this is wrong.

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Sneezing and peeing: I had to answer no to the questions about needing to pee after taking a cold drink and sneezing in the sun. However. I find that I almost always need to -immediately- pee, regardless of how recently I peed, when I run my hands under water (like in doing dishes, or washing food or my hands). I can't count the number of times I've done the pee dance while finishing up the dishes. Also. My dad and I both have this strange habit of sneezing after eating a really satisfying meal. The correlation seems to relate directly to how much we enjoyed the food. We are the only two people I know who do this. Also, I am female, 29 and hot. Ya know, for the record.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, several mentions of this. It's probably related to the summer camp prank of immersing a sleeping person's hand in water and making him wet the bed.

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Eyes, nose, and Hair. : I am grateful for the explanation about the optic nerve and sneezing - I experience this all the time when my eyes get irritated (which is all the time).

Also, I didn't see the Hair revival, but I was pretty bothered by the posters in the Metro, etc. The actors showed a giddiness that I thought rang false. Yes, it was free love and all that, but they looked like they were at a party - that is decidedly NOT the tone of the original. Did that giddiness come through in the play when you saw it?

Gene Weingarten: No.

But I'm still hung up on the shave crotches, as it were. How do you DO that in period piece?

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LBJ Clip: You are aware that this was a topic of Monica Hesse's online chat last week, right?

Gene Weingarten: I was not. Sorry, Hesse. Came from a friend's recommendation. I'm surprised this sort of thing doesn't happen more often.

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Topiary: Welcome, Sparky.

Gene Weingarten: Hahahaha. Indeed.

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detropification, MD: I just put that into Google and got exactly one hit. Wasn't that a SI contest? Of course now there are two. What the heck did you mean by that word? I know what I think it should mean as a biologist who took limnology but did you mean they removed nutrients?

Gene Weingarten: I meant removal of a trope.

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TP FAQ: Okay, not all men, but I'm betting a substantial percentage more than women. And that seems to be something boys love, as they talk about those "marks" so much it seems many are rather proud.

Gene Weingarten: This is a blood libel.

Okay, not blood....

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grooming, poll, new boyfriend: As an early-30s woman who has been taught to wax, wax, wax as the way to keep things sexy and appropriate, I can't tell you how shocking, and then, liberating, it was for my new boyfriend to tell me that the way god made me was beautiful and I need to just let it grow. And now I can spend the $55 a month on other things. Amazing.

Gene Weingarten: THIS IS SUCH AN IMPORTANT POLL TOPIC.

It is sociologically imperative.

Here's another thing to examine: Would most people groom themselves in whatever way their lover prefers? I am guessing yes.

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Arlington, VA: "She's toast. The zeitgeist has shifted on her, and she did it to herself. At a moment calling for inclusion and compassion, she delivered anger and self-righteousness."

Gene, I was living in Oklahoma on the day of the Murrah Building bombing. I thought the same thing about Jim Inhofe when he went on CNN, that same day, and said it was hard to determine how many were hurt, "because we don't know how many Federal employees were playing hooky." My fellow Okies continue to elect him.

Gene Weingarten: Wow!

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Alexandria VA: I don't understand what was wrong with Sarah Palin's use of the term "blood libel." The original meaning, as I understand it, was an unjust libel of the Jews, saying (unjustly and untruthfully) that they had the blood of innocents on their hands. Sarah Palin was saying that those who accused the Tea Party for Laughner's slaughter of the young child, particularly, were guilty of the same (unjust, untrue) libel, claiming that the Tea Party was responsible for her death.

I'm not a fan of SP, but I don't see where she was wrong in using that term.

Gene Weingarten: It's like using the word holocaust to describe exterminating ants.

It is simply not morally equivalent, by a factor of ten. And wildly self-involved She was talking about people blaming her for Tucson.

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To snoop or not to snoop: When I was a teenager I did a lot of babysitting, as did my friends. I know for a fact that we all did major snooping when the kids were in bed. Porn stashes were the most interesting discoveries, although it made it hard to look the employer in the face when you were getting a ride home later that night! Whenever I hire a babysitter now I wonder how much snooping they do. I suppose one way to snoop these days is to check internet histories.

Gene Weingarten: I am a bad person in many ways, but that urge I just don't have. I'd feel really slimy.

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no, way: Having just listened to two excellent versions - one all by bassoons - of Entry of the Gladiators: Thunder and Blazes - it is most definitely -not- the derder tune.

At first I thought it was some other section, but Entry of the Gladiators is what would typically -open- a circus, not what she was humming.

And no, I don't know what it is, but thanks so much for the earworm I'll have for the rest of the day.

Gene Weingarten: Thank you. I knew it.

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TP: Hm, I'm not sure I totally agree with the woman who wrote about why women are better with the TP. I bunch but it is more a matter of convenience. It takes time to fold the papers just so. However, my husband is thoroughly grossed out by the Western standard of wiping with dry TP. He wets it and then wipes, followed by using dry paper to finish up. We've even had arguments over this. In case you are curious, he is Indian and swears this is the common cultural practice among Indians. Have you heard of this phenomenon?

Gene Weingarten: I have. I approve.

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The person who hurt me will pay in some way, and I don't need to involve myself in it. My excellent performance will come to light without me flipping the switch. This has proven to be true in my world over and over again. I: If that were true babies would not get AIDS.

Gene Weingarten: No, because this person is not arguing the opposite: That bad things are always a punishment.

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Foxyism: Is FOX News obsessed with Nazis? Do they have a quota on how many Nazi references are made on a daily basis? Is it irony that they drum up accusations of Goebbelsesque behavior by people on the left with Goebbelsesque propaganda?

Or is it just sickening?

Gene Weingarten: Oh, this reminds me, and we'll exit on this:

After 15 years, I am leaving CNN. Gonna be watching a different network. They finally lost me with their disgusting, nonstop, 24/7 shameless buttlick promotion of Piers Morgan.

Thanks all, and sorry for those early problems. I'll be updating as usual.

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UPDATE: Feb. 1

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Gene Weingarten: Today's update is pretty much all about the anarchic splendors of the Web. We begin with the definitive answer to the provenance of "The Derder Song," as performed by the Rib. In her youth, she had learned this to an idiot ditty that went: "I love billboards / I always will / Those billboards give me such a thrill..."

If you will recall, I had been unable to find a single person who knew where these two bars came from, and asked chatters for help. Several offered enthusiastic (but incorrect) answers. Even the great music expert Tim Page was stymied.

Within two hours of the close of the chat, several people -- combing the Web -- found it. Stunningly enough, the song is about...Billboards. It's the Billboard March, by John Klohr, from 1901, a song written for Billboard Magazine. The refrain arrives here, around the 56-second mark:

The Billboard March on a Wurlitzer Theatre Organ

In the 1950s in D.C., The Joy Boys radio duo of Willard Scott and Ed Walker used it as their dorky theme:

We are the joy boys of radio;

We chase electrons to and fro-o-o.

We are the joy boys of radio;

We chase electrons to and fro.

And most interestingly -- as suggested last week by one chatter, and later confirmed on the Web -- the most commonly known version of this song was as a bawdy drinking song. Which means that the sweet der der song The Rib used to entertain our little toddlers with was ACTUALLY a song that went like this:

"I love a gang bang / I always will / Because a gang bang gives me such a thrill. / When I was younger and in my prime. / I used to gang bang all the tiii-iiime ..."

So now we know.

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Gene Weingarten: What follows is a story about noodling on The Web. It begins with my learning over the weekend that the comic Charlie Callas had died. I remember watching Charlie on TV when I was a kid, and thinking he was hilarious, but that's all I really remembered about him. So I went to YouTube and found his most famous routine. Here it is.

Now, the first thing you will notice if you are 50 or over is that his sound effect of dialing a phone is absolutely brilliant. If you are under 50, you will likely have no idea what the hell he is doing; or if you do, it will not seem even remotely familiar.

Then Charlie starts imitating the two characters, Ralph and Sam, and the audience just cracks up. He's killing. And it is funny. Except what you realize is that the butt of the humor here is making fun of people with disabilities, which Charlie summarizes for us: "They are both nuts, is what it is." Sam has a terrible speech impediment. Now watch Ralph.

I could be wrong about this, but I don't think I am. The spastic Ralph he is doing is a victim of cerebral palsy.

Humor was meaner, then!

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Gene Weingarten: So there I was, on YouTube, and I clicked on a second Charlie Callas routine, where he was imitating Brando in The Godfather. It wasn't very good at all, but it got me thinking about how good a movie The Godfather was, which made me remember the line, "Lou Cabrozzi sleeps with the fishes," which made me remember Lou Cabrozzi's opening moments in the movie, where he is stupidly, nervously rehearsing: "Don Corleone, I am honored and grateful that you invited me to your home on the day of your daughter's wedding...'" This made me Google "Lou Cabrozzi," which made me realize I had been misunderstanding this name my whole life, and that it was "Luca Brasi." Which I then looked up, and found the Wiki entry for the fine actor who played Luca Brasi, a man named Lenny "The Bull" Montana.

And that's where I learned, for the first time, this:

Montana was a two-bit professional wrestler who became involved with the Colombo crime family in the late 1960s. Tall and very heavily built, his talents were said to be as an enforcer and an arsonist. He would tie tampons on the tail of a mouse, dip it in kerosene, light it, and let the mouse run through a building, or he would put a candle in front of a cuckoo clock and when the cuckoo would pop out, the candle would fall over and start a fire. Eventually, Montana ended up doing time in Riker's Island. Upon being released, as a friend of the family, Montana would act as a bodyguard for many of the senior members of the Colombo Family.

The filming of The Godfather faced strong opposition from the Italian-American Civil Rights League, headed by Joe Colombo, and also heavy opposition from Frank Sinatra. This threatened its whole production. Producer Al Ruddy eventually made a deal with the league and Joe Colombo to cut the word Mafia from the script, and the league were behind the production of the film. This meant many mobsters would be present on the set of The Godfather. It was in 1971 that Montana was acting as a bodyguard for a senior Colombo Family member[ that Lenny, Francis Ford Coppola and Al Ruddy met. After being introduced to the 6-foot-6, 320-pound Montana, they quickly cast him for the role of Luca Brasi. He was picked for the part after the original actor playing the character died of a stroke. This would be his first film appearance.

Montana was so nervous about appearing opposite Brando that he kept practicing his lines over and over again. Francis Ford Coppola rewrote the scene to feature this. Montana also suffered an attack of nerves during the scene where his character thanked the Don; Coppola also wrote this into the script as Brasi being overwhelmed by the Don's invitation to his daughter's wedding.

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Gene Weingarten: (I'm sure this is unfair speculation, but imagine: He got the part after another actor conveniently "died of a stroke.")

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Gene Weingarten: And last, did you all read this excellent piece on the op ed page yesterday by Kevin Huffman? 'A Rosa Parks moment for education'

It's about a black mother in Akron, Ohio, who got a nine-day prison sentence for having given a false address so her kids could get into a better public school instead of the crappy Akron public schools. Huffman makes a convincing case that this is a moral outrage.

But more to the point: Forty-five years ago, my mother did the same thing.

I went to The Bronx High School of Science illegally. I was living in Yonkers, which was not a part of New York City. To go to Bronx Science -- the city's most exclusive school -- you had to live in New York. So my mother filled out forms saying that I lived with my aunt in the Bronx.

I understand why my ma did it. I understand why the other ma did it. That's all.

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Can't get enough of Gene? Read his Jan. 31 chat about test driving the Chevy Volt.

Live Q&A: The shocking truth about the Chevy Volt

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UPDATE: Feb. 8

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Gene Weingarten: Once again we present my eagerly awaited Day-After-The-Day-After review of the Super Bowl commercials, where I, as always, will inform you why everyone else was wrong.

Did you notice this was a particularly weak year, in that so few ads even strived to be special? It was as though most advertisers forgot this was The Supe.

By popular vote, the best commercial was Little Darth Vader and the VW, but this is wrong. Yes, it was sweet, and yes, women in particular just ADORED it for that reason, but ultimately it lost points because the joke was telegraphed. The minute Darth looked at the car, we knew what was going to happen.

Ultimately, however, Manteuffel persuaded me that despite this significant shortcoming it was the second best ad. She noticed something subtly remarkable about it that gives it a big boost: Little Darth is almost certainly a girl. We see dolls, and a pink room, and no suggestion of a sibling. A very nice touch.

(Not to be too much of a curmudgeon, but I should point out that this VW ad, while surely awwww-inspiring, is a kind of crappy tool for selling the product. Is the most wonderful thing about this new VW really that it has a remote-start feature?)

The best commercial, hands down, was the Doritos house-sitting gig, largely because of its spectacular use of death in a funny way. It GRINNED at the Reaper. It gave the Reaper a noogie! You have to watch it twice to really get it, and you WANT to watch it twice.

Honorable Mention: The High Noon barroom scene for Budweiser. Very clever. Well acted. Interesting message: Bud turns you gay.

The most overrated commercial was Eminem for Chrysler. Yes, it was dramatic, almost lump-in-throat, celebration of gritty America and recovery. It was filmed beautifully. But all of you who loved it got so snookered by the message and the medium that you forgot the underlying Truth. What was that ad, at its craven little heart? Big, bad Eminem selling out, flogging a fat-ass American luxury car. (As if to underscore the point, he also sold out for Brisk Ice Tea, in an ad that used the revoltingly disingenuous trope -- nauseatingly pioneered years ago by Dennis Franz -- of how he doesn't do commercials.)

There were two ads that were in terrible taste, as some have pointed out. The Doritos-pug bit was based upon the assumption that is somehow hilarious to trick a dog into running headlong into a glass door. Yes, it's the guy and not the dog who gets flattened, but the whole premise relies on your accepting this asinine trick as a funny fratboy-prank.

That commercial, however, is as tasteful as a Limoges teacup compared with the Timonthy Hutton ad for Groupon. The most amazing fact is that a few people who make more in a month than you make in a year decided sure, this one's fine -- let's push the button on it!

The question becomes: Does the fact that the commercial shows it is aware of its own crassness excuse the crassness? Is it so hip that it gets a pass?

Well, try this:

(Scene of a man getting whipped.)

(Scene of a mother being forcibly separated from her children.)

(Scene of an auction of a person in chains.)

Narrator: Hi, this is Timothy Hutton. Slavery was a bad thing. It sure hurt a lot of people. (big grin) But, hey, it gave us some fiiiine music. You can have all your favorite blues classics on one CD for a mere $5.99 while this offer lasts...

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Gene Weingarten: Okay, we learn today here that the Groupon ad was one of three directed by Christopher Guest, and, yes, was a knowingly crass in-joke. No excuse.

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Gene Weingarten: Oh, and I am officially sick of the eTrade baby. Time for infanticide.

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Gene Weingarten: Behold one of the greatest newspaper corrections of all time.

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Gene Weingarten: And here, we have a splendid aptonym. It hath great class.

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I agree with the Wench: I was thinking about that exact response when I answered the poll. I wished it was there as the threat of bad karma prevents me from taking action.

Is it possible to be an athiest and believe in karma? How can it be rationalized? If I believe in karma, does that mean I am an agnostic instead?

I prefer to think of it as the universe is correcting itself. Kind of like on Fringe.

Gene Weingarten: I was just discussing exactly this with a friend of mine who says she is an atheist, but believes that some psychics really can see into the future.

My answer: You are not an atheist, really. There's no real way around this, I think. If you believe in karma, if you believe in soothsayers, you believe in the supernatural. That's religion.

I'm pretty sure I'm right about this, but would welcome dissent. I'm not as sure about this as I am about gay marriage, for example, or the rightness of pro-choice.

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weird reactions: I'm afraid of heights. When I look at tall buildings or even see a height on tv, my nether regions get all tingly. Not in a sexy way, just tingly. It's not someone I ask others about.

Gene Weingarten: That's a common fear reaction! The uncomfortable nether tingles.

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The Bowels Knows: Somehow my bowels know when I'm near my friendly toilet. I'll be out for hours running errands, working out, etc. and not feel the need to go to the bathroom.

But as soon as my key slides into the front door - BAM! - the pipes start rattling and suddenly time is of the essence.

This has to have something to do with our psyche and what's socially acceptable. If we were like dogs and just pooped where we pleased, when we pleased, I bet this phenomenon wouldn't exist.

Gene Weingarten: There MUST be a scientific term for this phenomenon. I have been unable to find it. But judging from our poll two weeks ago, it is nearly universal.

Any proctologists out there willing to enlighten us?

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Lynchburg, VA: I have learned something stuning about my wife. Now I'm trying to figure out if it's just her, or all women (or maybe I'm the odd one?).

All wiping is done from the front for her... #1 I get, #2 seems so strange. Don't all dudes wipe reaching around?

There is no one else I can ask for such an important question on the human condition!

Gene Weingarten: We can't deal with this. It's too dangerous.

I'd like to know BUT IT'S TOO DANGEROUS.

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UPDATE: Feb. 15

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Gene Weingarten: I know many of you have heard about the great naming controversy in Fort Wayne, Indiana, but you perhaps have not seen this bit of news coverage. These have to be the most boringly professional newscasters on Earth. Not a hint of a trace of a smidge of a smile. I'm impressed, and disappointed.

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Gene Weingarten: How nutty and fruitcakey and positively vile have some antiabortion crusaders become? Check this out.

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Journalism in America: I always felt like Chuck Klosterman's take (in the book "Sex Drugs and Cocoa Puffs") on journalism was pretty apt -- that stories are "biased" less because the reporter has an agenda and more because of random circumstances, like being at the vending machine when a source calls, or one source calling back before another. Here's the chapter.

Gene Weingarten: Yeah, the link you have here is hard to follow because it's one of those only-every-other-page copyright infringement avoidance dumps. But the point comes through, and it's this: The media is not biased because reporters are liberal, or intent on presenting one side, or whatever. It's biased because reporters don't have a lot of time to figure out the truth, and they tend to be biased toward whatever information they get.

Chuck is right. That's the way it usually works. There are other biases, and some are political, but they are not "agendas." It's more complicated than that. Reporters, for the most part, are trying to tell an objective truth ... but even more powerfully, they are trying to tell a good, interesting story. So there is always a danger of bias in in favor of something compelling; when we err, it is often in pursuit of the "better" story. We'll maybe give undue attention to controversy, discord, and whatnot.

Where does political bias come in? In subtle judgments, not in "agendas." Remember that video from the last chat, about the welfare mother? Reporters and editors and producers are not machines -- we are people who have certain experiences in life, who make certain assumptions, have certain expectations. I see that video, and I say to myself, "Okay, good job. Very interesting character. We use it. Now get the other side, too -- the REST of the truth. Because I strongly suspect that woman is not typical. If there turns out to be no other truth, fair enough. But I make the effort to find out.

Is that my liberal bias showing through? You can look at it that way. Maybe a conservative sees that clip and thinks, "It's a wrap!" I, however, am right.

So, there is some of that.

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what will make your dog puke: From the poison control hotline my neighbor called when she inadvertently gave her dog HER meds (and she almost took her dogs meds - long day and she was overly tired).

Some sort of dairy product (ice cream, yogurt, etc) mixed with a tablespoon or so of peroxide. Let the dog run in the yard a bit to shake things up, and wala! You can try to give them the peroxide directly, but they WILL remember and you'll never be able to do that again. I've had to do this more times than I care to remember. ALWAYS works and saves an expensive trip to the emergency vet.

Gene Weingarten: Molly warns that peroxide is not ideal, because it is so irritating to the stomach. It's the emergency home solution. She gives an IV emetic that works instantly without irritation. But, like, you have to be a vet.

In the last chat, I mentioned an upcoming Barney & Clyde on this subject. It ran two weeks ago. Here 'tis.

But I'm hung up on your "wala!" I'm trying to decide if you are using it ironically, much as I say "toot sweet," but I am thinking...no. In which case, you are absolutely adorable.

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Gene Weingarten: By the way, as you will see soon, the pretty young vet is going to become a regular character. She is, um, "Dr. Mollenhoff."

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Dupont Circle, D.C.: I get the throat mouth/tingle in ear whatever thingy! I can't say I've tried to do it on purpose but when it happens naturally it drives me crazy.

Gene Weingarten: Reminder: A finger-tickle (or any foreign object) at the base of the gum line, lower jaw, between cheek and gum, causes a tickle in the inner ear that can only be relieved by a finger scratching in the ear canal.

My dentist says about one in ten people get this, though many many have not noticed it. So I may not being doing people a favor here. It might be like showing people their eye "floaters," which we wind up doing in an upcoming Barney & Clyde. By the way.

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The great space dilemma: Have you seen the recent story on Slate advocating the use on only one space after the end of a sentence? Someone circulated it in my office and it has been a big debate (two spacers seem to be winning though).

Gene Weingarten: Yes. My mother was a typing teacher. (Wow, remember when there were typing teachers?) I always used two spaces after a period. I cannot NOT use two spaces. I am going to try now. I couldn't. Wait. Now I am going to REALLY try. Okay. It's totally unnatural, like trying to stifle a sneeze.

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You say derder, I say floobie: The cardboard tube is also very useful when stuffed with dryer sheets and used to absorb the scent of particular kinds of non-tobacco smoke by exhaling the smoke into it. What will droopy-eyed teens do without cardboard tubes to aid and abet their habits?

Gene Weingarten: I did not think there was a pot term I'd never heard of. This sounds odd, but interesting.

I bet YOU don't know about a "zip candle."

You can read about it here.

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Twinbrook, MD: "It is my distinct pleasure to present to you Mr. Tom Lehrer, with the definitive pronunciation of iodine."

Great. Pronunciation advice from a man who rhymes "Harvard" with "discovered."

"But he's affecting a Boston ac--"

Whatever. It's only eye-oh-deen because Lehrer needs it to be eye-oh-deen; he'd change the lyric in a heartbeat if the wind blew differently.

Gene Weingarten: Just for the record, no. It is iodene because that is the proper way it is pronounced, scientifically, and Lehrer is a scientist. You cannot make something right just by saying it loudly enough.

Fluorine, astatine, chlorine, bromine. All the same family of elements in the periodic table.

Okay, that's it for today. There will be no update next week, but see you all for the next chat on March one.

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NEXT CHAT: MARCH 1. Submit a Question or Comment

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