ComPost Live: Your weekly digest with Alexandra Petri

Feb 18, 2011

The Compost, written by Dana Milbank and Alexandra Petri, offers a lighter take on the news and political in(s)anity of the day. If you believe life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it, this is the chat for you. Join us every Friday at 11:30 to laugh, cry, and dish about the moments that amused you, shocked you, or caused you to yell things that frightened the other people on the subway.

Welcome! Another Friday, another Fri-dollar. (The sound you hear is all eight people currently in the chat groaning and departing.) Hang on, I'll come in again!

Ahem! This has been quite the week ! Watson kicked humanity off the perch on Jeopardy! (although, you could argue that it all comes down to buzzer speed and that he had an unfair advantage), Borders is closing 30% of its doors, and teachers are posting unflattering online remarks about their students -- can they do that? And don't get me started on Monopoly Live.

Also, can someone explain the Amish Ponzi scheme to me?

And there's a quiz about your Google habits that is, I hope, working now!

I do most of my book shopping on Amazon, so I won't cry any crocodile tears, but what I will miss about bookstores is the humor section. I like something light to read on the Metro, and there's nothing like having a table of yuks to sift through. I wish Patricia Marx would write another book! And Christopher Buckley has been MIA since Pup died.

I do love the table of yuks! I spend an almost unhealthy amount of time at Barnes & Noble procrastinating on my screenplay, and one of the electrical outlets is conveniently located in the humor section, enabling me to sit there browsing to my heart's content until members of an organization called the Church of God approach me and try to convince me to join them for Bible study. (This happened last weekend.) So I'm always grateful for the diversion.

I have to say, I'm a bit confused by the recent trend of blog books. If you're going to buy the Cake Wrecks book, why not just, er, go to Cake Wrecks for free? I guess it's the coffee table variable?

Watson may be our new computer overlord, but we will never forget that he thought Toronto was in the US. Years from now when we form the resistance to break from our computer masters, "Toronto!" will be our battle cry.

The variable explanations I've heard from the chagrined IBMers is that there's a small city named Toronto that is in the US or that because categories named US Cities often have answers that aren't, er, US cities, the topic was underweighted... I mean, SHAME! REMEMBER THE TORONTO!

How do you think you would have fared against Watson? Would you have done it with the same humor as Ken Jennings?

As someone who blanked on final jeopardy against actual humans (or, as we're calling them these days, "meat-sacks") and responded by writing "Who is that dude?" and making a face that would probably have launched a thousand ships, in a frantic effort to escape from the face, I can vouch for both total inability to beat Watson and infinite willingness to laugh about it. Although he'd better stay away from my puns.

Ha. And Watson thought there was a major airport in this small city? I'm not buying that explanation, IBM.

Well, you know what they say, it's not the size of the airport in the city, it's --

No, you're right, it's the size of the airport. Seems fishy.

who wins? - kroop

Gaga is the obvious answer to this question, so I'm going to say Bieber, because he evidently has a will of steel beneath his hair of mop and Gaga has seemed sort of enervated lately.

Quiz results -- really, only one of you talks to yourself? I'm skeptical.

Would the ultimate ironic statement be a blog about coffee table books that you could display on your iPad that you would leave on your coffee table? Or even better, display it on a digital table?

I think you're right, but replace blog with "tumblr."

I see one evening spent saying "why doesn't this stupid thing work right?" Followed by frustrated sighs, and then pulling out the old paper money version.

Also, when it does work it's basically the equivalent of having that one person there who insists that Gameplay Must Proceed On Schedule and coughs indignantly whenever you skip Jesse's turn because he's not paying attention.

So he didn't want to appear to be a smarty pants. I think he lost a couple questions on purpose.

That would be so adorably human of him.

CONTROVERSY TIME: Is this urge to appear lovably incompetent a human  characteristic, a female characteristic, a human characteristic and a female characteristic but more prevalent among women, both, or neither?

Ugh, I just don't understand all the hype over Watson. I would win Jeopardy too if I was (1) allowed to buzz in before everyone else (human thumbs are no match for Watson so he buzzes in first every time), and (2) was allowed to use google for my answers (essentially the same thing since Watson is a, um, computer). Sheesh.

Brad Rutter agreed that he had a vast advantage over our sometimes hinky neurons. The old adage is that Jeopardy ! always comes down to buzzer speed; the contestants often all know the questions, and it's just a matter of gauging the buzzing window (right after the question is read) .

But only about work. I figure it's billable, so I let it go.

I am new to this chat and thought only the venerable Gene Weingarten would try be funny in on-line chat. my early sense is that you can do it too! But, like all men, I need a visual. Are we talking Brooklyn Decker or Janeane Garafalo?

I assume Brooklyn Decker is some sort of bus, so let's go with that. Here's my official Twitter picture. I'm the iced coffee.

...is that when I lived in Wheeling, West Virginia and said it was just as quick to drive to Toronto as it was to drive to Pittsburgh, stand in the TSA line, clear security and fly there, people were very confused, what with Toronto OH being closer to Wheeling than Pittsburgh.

I'm learning so much about airports today! I'm actually hugely fond of airports. They're like malls, but full of people who wouldn't be caught dead at malls. And the food selections are insane! Once at, I think, the Denver Airport, I bought something described only as "loose hamburger." It looked like someone had already eaten the original hamburger and this was what had resulted. But that's a bad example.

If there were some way to hang out in airports casually without working for the TSA or incurring the suspicion of the TSA, I'd be there now, probably.

but TWO major airports in this tiny US city.

My mom grew up the original Great Depression, and her large, poor family would set up the card table on Saturday night and play.

Did they glower at the wealthy fatcat on the board? I feel like that's analogous to playing Housing Bubble Fun Times nowadays, a boardgame my impecunious friends and I are trying to market.

The Eddie Dew Memorial Airpark doesn't count as "major."

I picture the other person in this chat as a guy in Toronto wearing a baseball cap that says, "Eddie Dew Memorial Airpark Is The Most Major Airport Of Them All," now shaking his fist at the screen and saying, "THIS MEANS WAR!"

But a human wouldn't be able to use google as quickly as Watson.

That's true. And Watson is able to sense when he might not be right -- unlike many of us humans, at least the ones who seem to be given talk shows.

Apparently, a lot of thoughts have never occurred to me. And I do talk to myself - I just never wondered if it made me crazy. Until now. Thanks for that. And I vote that Brooklyn Decker is some kind of awesome sandwich, if that's up for a vote. One which you could totally eat on a bus.

A cursory google reveals that Brooklyn Decker is someone in a bikini, but I like your sandwich idea better! I think I look more like her than Janeane Garofalo, but that's because I think almost nobody looks like Janeane Garofalo.

pick one: 1. mean girls. 2. mean girls. 3. mean girls. thanks, kroop

Star Wars. Which is like Mean Girls, but wasn't actually based on my high school.

Who is going to win the NBA Slam Dunk contest this weekend?

My money's on Javale McGee, "the Family Man."

You should team up with that guy who does the "it's the biggest no brainer in the history of Earth" radio commercials. He sounds like a car salesman and tries to talk you into taking advantage of the current market to refinance with an adjustable rate mortgage.

I think probably a bigger no-brainer in the history of earth was, to paraphrase JFK, one night when Snooki dined alone.

I think the makers of the new Monopoly game have forgotten that most of us didn't grow up playing Monopoly, we grew up CHEATING at Monopoly. This new one makes sure everybody follows all the rules and doesn't even trust you with your own money. It's like Monopoly: SEC Edition.

Except the SEC won't suddenly shout "HORSE RACE!"

Quiz update: most everyone has wondered at some point what to do with his or her life, but no one has enthusiastically asked the question lately.

Great choice. Charles Barkley said the same thing on Leno, though i think it might be a regional bias on your part.

I don't know much about basketball, but I've had a family for years, and the bio says "If there's no better inspiration than making your family proud, JaVale McGee has the ultimate motivation to win the Sprite Slam Dunk Contest." And given that no one is allowed to come into the arena and threaten to make another Star Wars prequel unless you perform, I can't think of any better motivation...

If I use a small amount of pumpkin spice flicked across my shirt, as if I had just been interrupted from baking something, will this technique 'babe magnatize' me?

I have no idea how to "babe magnatize" something, so that sounds like as good a technique as any. Otherwise, I'd recommend a sign that says "I Listen And Have Few Communicable Diseases," which is how I met my last boyfriend. (Hey, it could have happened...)

Further Google update: no one is scared of the X-files theme song. I thought it was mildly weird that it came up as a suggestion. There must be a vocal minority somewhere...

The Amish ponzi is very simple. You pay me two shoefly pies. I then get someone else to give me a bale of hay and four shoefly pies. I give three shoefly pies to the first person and then get a third person to give me two bales of hay and five shoefly pies. Seriously, the Amish Ponzi was the same as any other ponzi, operating in the stock market, only the investors who cash rich Amish who don't have much need to invest in much of anything else with their cash. Sadly, they were easy targets with their excess cash since they do not purchase much equipment and they grow most of their own produce amongst their own community and they make money on the excess they sell to outsiders.

Thank you for this!

What's a shoefly pie? I've never had one! It sounds like an illogical name for something you might ever want to eat at any point. And I'm worried it might try to sell me inexpensive footwear online...

Aaaaw, poor Snooki.

After Snooki started listing NY Times Bestselling Author on her Twitter bio, I no longer feel bad about mocking her. 

That's my other name. I don't know why the bikini thing has to be mentioned. Signed, Brooklyn Decker

Brooklyn, thank you for stopping by! Want to grab a sandwich?

No, but the NYSE might.

Touche!

It messes up my searches! I'm always accidentally searching on the wrong stuff now because google thinks it knows what I want.

"Er, yes, that is why I keep searching for Sexy Punxsutawney Phil Photo Calendars and How To Get A Better Class of Gout. Because of Google."

Years ago, there was a study of male & female banktellers (Hey! Remember them? The pre-historic version of ATM?) whose data was that, when women tellers wanted to impress a good-looking man, they counted out his money more quickly and "crisply" than usual. Men tellers took longer, counting more slowly and "importantly" and, infact, counting a second time. Not sure what that says about loveable incompetence. I've reached the Cranky Old Lady phase of life, where I don't find incompetence loveable. I don't recall that I ever did.

But there was (perhaps still is) a whole phase of female protagonists in movies who couldn't be too dominant lest they frighten the passersby, and so cultivated this tendency to fall down stairs and into buses and out of relationships and so forth.

There's also the question of whether appearing impressive and appearing cute/approachable-- which might be a better worth than loveable -- are parallel...

I don't think incompetence per se is loveable, but I think there's a certain unstated preference for people who aren't intimidatingly smart -- at least that seems to be an idea that many of today's politicians are cultivating.

Wait, I have AND I answered the quiz. I ask this question on a daily basis and google it often.

Another update: about 50-50 split for people who have never considered old people frightening and people who have allowed the thought to cross their minds a time or two.

and it's made with molasses, which attracts flies. Thus, the need to shoo them away from the pie.

Aha! That actually sounds tasty.

Google update: 3/4 of you have never even dreamed of being terrified of using the phone.

Wake me up when its funny time.

Well, the chat's almost at an end now, so TIME TO GET UP!

Here's a link to a Garfield comic, which if you weren't feeling this, you will probably enjoy!

Google updates: only three of you have had to ask why the atmosphere was important. Everyone else either already knows or isn't wondering.

And J street? Slightly more than half of you have wondered about it at some point.

Or annoyingly smart. I work with some very smart folks and some of them are intimidatingly smart and like to show it off by winning all arguments and making others feel small and stupid, and some are intimidatingly smart and just act like real people.

That's a good thought to end on! Next week, I'm going to be replaced by IBM's Petri 3000, which does everything I do but does it much better and with less of a craving for breakfast sandwiches.

But for now, I'm headed back to the grindstone! Please keep reading the Compost! And follow us on Twitter!

Have a great week!

In This Chat
Alexandra Petri
Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost, a lighter take on the news and issues of the day, and she contributes to the Post editorial page. Her work has appeared in venues such as The Huffington Post, The Week, Newsweek.com, Businessweek.com, Collegehumor, and The Harvard Crimson. She has appeared on Jeopardy!, Showbiz Tonight and Canadian radio, and she has performed at Boston's Comedy Studio and Comedy Connection. She would love to be on your TV show, radio show, Daily Show, HBO special, or to be an honored guest (or regular guest) at your Bar Mitzvah. She is the author of two books (unpublished, but contact her!), two screenplays, three plays, one musical, and one memoir (Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast.)
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