ComPost Live with Alexandra Petri

Aug 02, 2011

The Compost, 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 Tuesday at 11:00 a.m. ET 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.

Past ComPost Live Chats

Let's Roll!

How about that Gabby Giffords appearance on the floor of the House? Way to make us all look bad, Congresswoman Giffords! She's recovering from traumatic brain injuries and she still manages to make it back to the floor to vote like a mature adult. The only way it could possibly have been more inspirational would be if she'd come swooping in on an eagle.

Although, I have to say, the coverage has made it sound as though she did.

So, how 'bout those standardized tests? And is VP Biden allowed to compare tea partiers to terrorists?

"Last year, for her birthday, I got my wife a prepaid funeral and a cemetery plot. This year, I'm not getting her anything." "Why not?" "She didn't use the gift I got her last year."

This reminds me that we never found out what happened to that woman who was hit on by a cemetery lorry driver, may she rest in safety. Are you still in the chat, madam? Are you alive? Tap twice for yes, zero times for no!

Alex: Did you know the ashes of DH Lawrence are interred in a little purpose built chapel outside Taos, New Mexico? Well, they are! Lawrence's wife Frieda exhumed his body from its French resting place, had the remains cremated and transported them to New Mexico, where the two had briefly lived on a property owned by Mabel Dodge Luhan, the eccentric (and randy!) New York socialite who was personally responsible for turning Taos into a hotbed of artistic bohemianism, and is herself buried in the town cemetery, not far from the grave of the great mountain man and explorer, Kit Carson. When Frieda got to New Mexico, she got into a big dustup with Luhan and a third woman over the proper way to deal with the ashes. So when cement was being mixed for the little chapel, she dumped the ashes in and had them thoroughly mixed, exclaiming, "Let's see them get their hands on him now!" Anyway, the place is really worth a visit, but take a four wheel drive vehicle to get there. (Can't imagine how Lawrence got out there in the 1920s--I can't think a car of that era could have handled the trip). Oh, and watch out for the mice. They carry hanta virus. And maybe plague!

Well, now that you mention plague and hanta virus, I'm sold!

Those are serious, but speaking of plague, I was thinking how I miss all the non-diseases from history, like scrofula and The Vapors. "I need to take my sick leave to go be touched by the king" is an excuse that doesn't work quite so well these days.

Were you expecting Joe Biden's fanclub to descend upon your blog?

I was, but I wasn't expecting him to have so many aliases...

Do you get the impression that Americans treat everything like sports? We pick a team, almost arbitrarily, and once that decision is made, everything that team does is good and everything an opposing team does is bad.

And some of us are just along because this is a socially acceptable avenue for our impulse to sit on a couch, yell at a screen, and drink beer.

This makes me want to start a Fantasy Congress League, though. There'd be all kinds of fun stats, and in the end if your team prevailed you'd get, I don't know, whatever the winners of Fantasy Leagues generally get.

I have what Gene Weingarten diagnosed as Ed Zachary Disease. That is the disease where my face looks "ed zachary" like my butt. This, of course, has caused a lifetime of pain and loneliness. It has also helped me develop a sense of humor, because I have learned it is better to laugh along with the people laughing at you, It disarms them. Recently, it was suggested I get plastic surgery. Yet, now I am thinking: at this point in life, why don't I embrace it? I am thinking of writing a book about my life, concentrating more on the humorous aspects of having Ed Zachary Disease. I guess i am rambling without a real question except, as a successful writer, do you have advice on becoming a writer to produce this book?

Wow. Ed Zachary. Wow.

I would say, "Ask Weingarten?"

Although I was actually thinking today about photogenics because of the Huntsman remarks that Michele Bachmann "makes for good copy -- and good photography."

I think all people can be divided into People Who Actually Look Good But Don't Photograph Well, People Who Look Great In Pictures But Are Underwhelming In Person, and People Who Don't Show Up In Pictures At All, So, I Guess, Vampires. Alternatively, those are the people holding the camera.

I fall squarely into the Unphotogenic category; point the camera at me and I mysteriously develop a second nose, or something.

But when it comes to running for office, there's a whole new category -- people don't want "attractive," strictly speaking, so much as they want "Presidential," which is exactly how Huntsman, Romney, and Perry look, at least if you go by those made-for-cable films. Then again this sort of logic generally leads to Warren G. Harding being elected.

Didn't she come swooping in on the arm of her hawt astronaut husband?

Close second.

Then she'd fly off to meet Theoden and discover Shadowfax, and--wait, that can't be right. The Hobbits are Tea Partiers.

Can everyone just agree that hobbits are a bad metaphor for Tea Partiers? I really think the writer of the Journal editorial thought, "Ah, hobbits, that sounds derogatory!" without thinking more about it, which is an easy mistake to make with the protagonists of many sci-fi/fantasy series because the names all sound sort of derogatory. "Those Blue Dogs are total Jedi," the Journal will probably say next. "And man, this debt legislation is such a browncoat."

What if your teacher sucks at solving puzzles? Maybe she can only do crossword puzzles from the Monday paper and not the Sunday edition. What happens to the Sunday puzzles!?!

That's the trouble with puzzles. They get harder on Wednesdays and Saturdays and bigger and more complex on Sundays, and sometimes you make the mistake of trying to do one in pen to show it who's boss, and you have to cross everything out and inquire of the people sitting near you on the air planewhat "an alembic, maybe" is.

Back in the good old days (by which I mean the 17th century), saying you had the power to cure scrofula was a guarantee of big business. I read in a wonderful book called Religion and the Decline of Magic that the man who made the biggest stir saying he could cure the King's Evil was an Irishman named Valentine Greatrakes. I believe this is the most wonderful name that's ever been or will be.

That is marvelous! These days, everyone has weird names like Apple and Cupola and -- except in New Zealand -- Lucifer, but no one has good, meaty names like that, except possibly Benedict Cumberbatch.

The time/date stamp for your Q&A appear to be in Mandarin? Alexandra, have you outsourced the humor? MAT


This is exactly true: my mother got me a cemetary headstone for a Christmas present several years ago. A false rumor went around that I was dying, but I'm still here. Doesn't everyone give out headstones and funeral plots for presents?

I'm going to start! The only trouble will be that, given the nature of life, one of the recipients will eventually die, and suddenly the gag grave with the Leslie Nielsen-style "LET 'ER RIP" will seem out of place.

As for standardized tests: I agree that Matt Damon's comments are irritating, but isn't there something to the idea that teaching with too much emphasis on testing can make subjects less interesting? One needs to learn not only how to do math, but also why to do it; if the "why" turns out to be "so you can fill in the right bubbles on the test," then math seems irrelevant.

If that's the only "why," that would indeed be a pretty big problem, but there are always distinctions between "what for" and "why" in teaching. "Why are we reading the Great Gatsby?" "Because it's great literature and will transform the way you see boats and currents." "What are we reading the Great Gatsby for?" "The AP curriculum." Even before there was an AP curriculum, there was always the distinction between knowledge you could apply in practical ways and knowledge that was just fun and decorative for your mental living-room set. Some students respond to one and some respond to the other. But if a teacher is presenting this as Information You Must Memorize So You Can Fill In Bubbles, that just sounds like bad teaching.

Is it improper to comb thru a banana basket looking for one without bruises? I hate getting bananas with tons of dark spots all over them so I secretly put it back until I get a fresh one. Is this bad? And yes, I know this has nothing to do with politics.

This has everything to do with politics!

I assume that this is a complex metaphor for the burdens of citizenship. I would suggest that you comb through the bananas carefully, keeping Jefferson in mind.

In case that wasn't a metaphor (that would be a good title for a pretentious memoir -- dibs?) I will never fail to condone habits like this. You only have one life to live until I send you a decorative tombstone, it's too short to eat faulty bananas! Although sometimes the spotty ones turn out to have good innards.

Hey, my wife and I stayed there - it's now a cute B&B. We were in the Solarium room, which is perched up on top of the building and has walls that are almost entirely windows. (Gets freezing at night.) I walked out of the shower in the morning and eventually realized that anybody who cared to look up could see me naked. Later we were at breakfast and I was sitting next to this middle aged woman who simply turned to me and said "you're in the Solarium, right?"

Speaking of funny bananas.

How come, no matter how many paragraphs we separate our questions into, your chat makes One Big Honkin' Mess out of it?


Didn't the British consider the first "real" Tea Party-ers to be terrorists? I mean, wanton destruction of private property, tarring-and-feathering those who objected to their methods (I watched "John Adams"), and other current political tactics, so the New Tea Party-ers should be pleased with the comparison!

I'm sure they will be! But, as Cole Porter said, "it ain't etiquette."

In the 1920s, my mother's city-dwelling parents purchased rural vacation property in a remote wilderness area reachable in large part only by horrendous dirt roads. The trip (which nowadays is only four hours by highway) took two long days back then, and was hot, dry and dusty in the summer, so my grandfather hit upon the genius notion of contacting the owner of the neighborhood car-repair garage he patronized, in order to engage the services of whatever young man in their employ was free for a few weeks to do all the driving and car maintenance, in return for a stipend plus free room-and-board in the country. The trip was always arduous -- I can still recall a few remaining bad spots on the road from my early childhood (which usually prompted my getting car-sick!) -- entailing repeated tire patching and auto-body repairs, which is why the drive genuinely required a young person with stamina and excellent mechanic skills who could get the vehicle running again far from civilization without any help other than from my grandfather. Long story short, several years later one of these young men and my mother fell in love, married, and had me!

Wow! That's delightful! I wish I could think of any modern-day equivalents to that story -- suggestions?

David Frum wrote an op-ed for CNN yesterday, in which he accused the Tea Party of wanting to "smash the system in hopes of building something better from the ruins," and acting like "student radicals." Better or worse than saying they're acting like terrorists?

Well,with the caveat that I haven't read the piece, long-haired, raving "student radicals" have always been with us, and it sounds generally milder. I've heard people say that student radicals are acting like terrorists, but I've never heard the reverse, which generally indicates which way the stronger offense lies. Although in this case my objection was to the source of the quote, not saying that the quote itself was Absolutely Unsayable In Any Terms -- it's a free country, but there are things the VP doesn't say.

I would like to join your Fantasy Congress League.

I tried to Google this but all I found was a Facebook group with ten people in it saying "Paul Ryan is HOT."

Did you notice that the 62-year-old guy in the Post's "Looking Young" article appears to have dyed hair and an eye-lid lift, and perhaps also Botox injections and a hair-plug transplant? Reminds me of too many Congress-critters and TV news reporters who also seem to think they're fooling the public by getting such procedures. Give me CBS's adorable, but also apparently natural, Bob Schieffer any day!!!

Did he really?

Apologies to the author, but any piece that starts off, "I often wonder how my husband continues to look so young and vigorous, causing strangers to comment frequently on his youth and vigor -- GAZE, GAZE UPON THIS IMAGE OF A BEAUTEOUS MAN! HE IS AGELESS AS THE WINDS AND TIDES, BUT FAR MORE SPLENDID TO BEHOLD" gets my hackles up, whether or not it turns out to convey vital insights. Those might not have been the exact words however.

Did he actually have procedures? I thought he just wore a lot of sunscreen. Not using enough sunscreen myself, I have an almost unlimited faith in its powers.

already exists: And has a trailer (And a webpage, but it's blocked by Websense.)

If I click on this, will I be in violation of some sort of office policy? I'm still recovering from, even though that was years ago.

It's like the Post chat version of a first date where the other person is on their smartphone the whole time and occasionally looks up to say "I'm sorry, what did you say?"

Did you say something?

They're implying that's the way Tea Partiers see themselves. That socialism is the One Ring, that Obama is Sauron, that the people they call RINOs are like Saruman, that conservadems are like Boromir, and that other Republicans are like the Ents to their Merry and Pippin. They're still mourning the loss of Reagan the Grey Khazad-dum (where he famously told the communist Balrog, "Tear down this wall"), but are hoping that perhaps he'll return as Reagan the White. I am guessing that Michelle Bachmann is supposed to be Eowyn.

One of the more thorough unpackings I've seen, thanks!

In case that's not a metaphor, I would say, "go for the less spotty bananas."

I always wondered about that "brain fever" that people in 19th-century novels got when they studied too hard. And having a doctor prescribe you a month at the seashore...why won't my insurance pay for that? But the most bizarre issue I ever read about was in the very first Bobbsey Twins novel, which mentions that little girls who jump rope too hard will end up very sick and EVEN DIE. From jumping rope.

Yeah! I shouldn't have to co-pay for "taking the waters."

"Hysteria" is a good one, too. Unrelated to Fantasy Congress.

A guy is driving around the back woods of Kentucky and he sees a sign in front of a broken down house: 'Talking Dog For Sale ' He rings the bell and the owner appears and tells him the dog is in the backyard. The guy goes into the backyard and sees the dog sitting there. 'You talk?' he asks. 'Yep,' the dog replies. After the guy recovers from the shock of hearing a dog talk, he says 'So, what's your story?' The dog looks up and says, 'Well, I discovered that I could talk when I was pretty young and I wanted to help the country so I told the CIA and in no time at all they had me jetting around the world, sitting in rooms with world leaders. Nobody figured a dog would be eavesdropping.' 'I was one of their most valuable assets for eight years running... But the jetting around really tired me out, and I knew I wasn't getting any younger so I decided to settle down. I signed up for a job at the airport to do some undercover security, wandering near suspicious characters and listening in. I uncovered some incredible stuff and was awarded a batch of medals. Then I met a cute golden retriever, got married, had a bunch of puppies, and now I'm just retired.' The guy is amazed. He goes back in and asks the owner what he wants for the dog. 'Ten dollars,' the guy says. 'Ten dollars? This dog is amazing! Why on earth are you selling him so cheap?' 'Because he's a liar. He never done any of that !!'


Although I have to say, the one part that took me out of the joke was when the dog enthusiastically volunteered to work in airport security.

Which one -- "complex metaphor for the burdens of citizenship," "comb through the bananas carefully" or "keeping Jefferson in mind"?

"In Case That Wasn't A Metaphor."

But Comb Through The Bananas Carefully is a close second.

You are that person I hate at the grocery store! I feel sorry for the bruised bananas and feel I have to buy them because they are the only ones left. Consequently I must make banana bread all the time and am getting fat. Thanks a lot.

There is an easy cure for this: send me the banana bread!

Having a lighthouse on your website says only one thing, and that thing is "This Organization Has Fewer Members Than You Might Otherwise Think."

So you're not buying this t-shirt, then?

I still might...

The issue with standardized testing isn't that there's no need to quantify academic progress, but that a teacher's worth is now somehow defined within score results and year-to-year changes. If a teacher's going to get paid based on student success, I think each teacher should start the term with one million dollars, and for each incorrect question found on a standardized test during the term, they lose a hundo or a grand. I know this is supposed to be a question, so what if that thing I just wrote?

First off, I love your question structure!

And yes, that is the trouble with grading on improvement! This reminds me of a teacher my father once had who insisted on grading based on improvement, and I think my father made the critical error of acing the first test, meaning that he did very poorly in the class compared to other people smart enough to flunk initially and gradually claw their way up to a passing grade, resulting in A's.

Or maybe the answer is just to make it a game show.

Helen Mirren just won 'Body of the Year' at 66. I don't know if that means we've become more enlightened as a society or the baby boomers are clinging with elongated fingernails to their youth.

Although in fairness to the boomers, Helen Mirren puts the sex in sexagenarian.

Last week, you ended with a comment by a reader who noticed that you are "pretty funny." I did a google image search and I'd say you're pretty AND funny.

At the rate we're going with the conjunctions, next week I'll be pretty BUT funny! Thank you!

What are your screenplays about? Have you ever considered writing screenplays with another screenwriter?

Speaking of faulty bananas -- one's a romantic comedy that's basically Annie Hall from the girl's perspective that I've been told has structural similarities to How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days but I promise is not like that, one's a sort of Thank You For Smoking but about college admissions, and I'm working on two more: one's basically Cyrano de Bergerac with a new technology twist, and the other one's about a group of girlfriends who accidentally travel back in time and Complications Ensue.

And yes, because that would force me to act as though there were a deadline, and that would be helpful.

I asked this last week, so I guess it was too personal. So, is it true that you have a member of Congress in your immediate family, and is there anything you can tell us that might cause a few days of amusing reading, such as: what was his Halloween costume, and is it true it was not a tiger suit?

Nothing is too personal that can be Googled, as the Laws of the Internet dictate. So, yes, I do, and I honestly can't remember any Halloween costumes. One year I dressed up as John Adams and he dressed up as That Guy In A Suit Who Follows John Adams From House To House To Make Certain No One Hands Out Funny Candy, but I don't think that's a costume really.

Those strange, unexpected Masonic handshakes – have you ever attended a social function where someone shook your hand and used his index finger to scratch your palm during the handshake? I did. I had been told it meant something a long time ago, and there is a return gesture. But I forgot. So I offended him. For my career, I gotta get on his good side. Now here things take a wacky turn. I am feeling that he would forgive me if I bought him a house in Leesburg. So, it would take a house to recover from a blotched handshake. I feel so alone in this predicament. Are there any others who have gone through something like this?

As a kid at summer camp, I was told that the scratch on the palm meant that the person was attempting to murder you, but I'm glad this is not the case.

Well, it's about that time of the week again!

You have all been delightful! Have a great Tuesday, keep reading the Compost, and feel free but unobligated to follow me on Twitter! As I think Columbus once said on landing in India, 1050 people can't be wrong!

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,,, 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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