News Quiz

No. 487: “Some Shun Fashion”

“It was a fashion, and nothing is more unfashionable than a fashion that is out of fashion.” Who said this about what? 

Send your answer by 9 p.m. ET Sunday to

Wednesday’s Question (No. 486)—”Zanan-o-Gram”:

In the current issue of the Iranian magazine Zanan, Shahla Sherkat lists five things she likes about sigheh

1. Relations between the young become freer.
2. People can satisfy their sexual needs.
3. Sex becomes depoliticized.
4. The young use up energy they’d expend in street demonstrations.
5. Society’s obsession with virginity will disappear.

What is sigheh?

“Wishful thinking.”—David Finkle

“It sounds like their presidential debates are a lot more interesting than ours.”—Steven Davis

“I don’t know, but apparently Zanan is the Iranian word for Cosmo.”—Matt Sullivan

“Seniors’ access to prescription drugs. OK, prescription drugs. OK, drugs. Just drugs. Drugs.”—Ellis Weiner

“I don’t know, but I hear everyone in Tehran is taunting Ms. Sherkat, chanting, ‘Shahla’s got a boyfriend, Shahla’s got a boyfriend …’ “—Floyd Elliot

Click for more answers.

Randy’s Wrap-Up

Many responses alluded to this past Tuesday’s presidential debate. This has been much commented on, but I would like to adddddddddddddd … sorry … dozed off there for a minute. Face down on the “d” key. It was like some kind of flashback to the tedium I felt during the actual debates. Scary. Let me just go splash some cold water on my face.

Here’s the problem. They had two really boring guys debate. Oh, OK, technically one boring guy and one stupid guy. Shouldn’t they have booked two lively and interesting guys for a show like this? It’s not like they didn’t have plenty of advanced notice.

Another problem—Jim Lehrer: All the excitement and verve invoked by those three letters—PBS—packed into his compact little frame. He showed his characteristic instinct for the dull and obvious question. Where were the challenging probes about race, about the death penalty, about drug policy (not for seniors, for cocaine fanciers), about the erosion of habeas corpus, about the shift of wealth from poor to rich, about what a crappy batch of movies the studios have churned out this past six months, about genetically altered food and cats. I think someone’s done something to my cat. OK, maybe this last one isn’t of general interest, but the point still holds: Lehrer/dull, my cat/peculiar.

The format itself, less a debate than a pair of parallel press conferences, guaranteed boredom. The candidates were forbidden to speak directly to one another. Huh?! Where’s the challenge, the confrontation, the quick short jab to the solar plexus that leaves your rival gasping for breath and whimpering like a second-grader in a school-yard fight? Crybaby. Get up! You’re not bleeding much. Daddy, I can’t! Whew. Sorry. I’m OK. Let me go pour some cold water down my pants.

With their endless campaign appearances and TV ads, the candidates have ample opportunity to lay out their programs. The debates should be a chance to learn something new. Next week, I hope Lehrer will challenge the boys with some unexpected scenarios and ask how they’d respond. What happens when global warming gives us a summer with average temperatures of 150 degrees? Would monokinis be mandatory? Suppose some superintelligent bioengineered cats flood the country with counterfeit $20 bills in order to buy all the cat food they want, destroying our economy, and getting grotesquely obese and disgusting? What would you do about it, Mr. Leader? And if an alien spaceship lands on the White House lawn—maybe right on top of some cat that’s too fat to scamper out of the way? What then?

Questions like these would force Bush and Gore away from their canned responses and show us how they’d meet the unexpected circumstances that come with the job. Then they ought to strip to the waist and fight with Bowie knives. I’d watch, and so would my bloated, woozy cat. It’s not like there are any good movies out there for us to go to instead.

Impermanent Answer

Sigheh is temporary marriage ratified by Islamic law.

In a country that does much to prohibit contact between men and women, some Iranians are reviving a practice that dates to the time of Muhammad, who saw it as a response to the sexual needs of pilgrims, soldiers, and other travelers. Temporary marriage was a legal way to satisfy those needs.

A couple can marry for as briefly as a few minutes or as long as 99 years. Children of such a union are legitimate and enjoy some legal protections. Some couples are relieved to have marriage documents in case they are stopped on the street.

While sigheh has its supporters among a curious coalition of feminists, clerics, and officials, most Iranians reject it as little more then legalized prostitution and a deplorable acknowledgement that the woman is not a virgin, deemed important in this society.

End of Culture Extra

In the Oct. 5 New York Times, Janet Maslin reviews Stephen King’s book about how to write. Did I say that this was the New York Times, a paper meant to set some standards both in reviewer and reviewed? I did say it was the New York Times? The one in New York?

How To Get a PG Extra

Hollywood honchos, harried by Joe Lieberman, might consider the tactic used by the publishers of The Man Who Came to Dinner, the 1939 Moss Hart, George Kaufman comedy. At the end of the 1968 Dramatists Play Service edition, a section called “Suggested Text Changes,” offers this help:

With the consent of the authors, we suggest below a few minor changes in the text of the play. By making these changes, high schools and similar groups will find it considerably easier to produce it before audiences which may consider the original version a bit too “advanced” or “sophisticated.”

This is followed by more than 50 suggested cuts and substitutions, including these actual examples:

Page 11: Omit “sex starved,” substitute “slimy.”Page 12: Omit “navel,” substitute “belt.”Page 13: Omit “brassieres” and substitute “girdles.”Page 14: Omit “fawn’s behind,” substitute “horse’s neck.”Page 24: Omit “sex,” substitute “hand-washing.”Page 52: Omit “have his diapers changed.”Page 62: By a little rearrangement, Bert need not bring in the tray of drinks.Page 65: Omit “a loud,” substitute “an enthusiastic.”Page 65: “Omit “In Billy’s Tavern,” substitute “in the hotel lobby.”Page 74: Omit “How’s the mattress business, Lorraine?”

Common Denominator