ComPost Live: A lighter take on the news

Apr 10, 2012

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It's chatting time!

We made it,without incident! Well, I almost had to hug someone on the way into the office, but other than that...

What's troubling you?

How do you hug a squirrel?

The same way you mate with a porcupine: very carefully!

This is probably a bad time to relate an article I just read on the mating habits of porcupines -- the longer answer is "still very carefully, but there's a lengthy procedure and very specific time window involved."

I understand that you and Hank Steuver will be the Post's tributes in this year's Humor Hunger Games. Will Gene Weingarten be sending you survival kits of fart jokes and other gags?

I realize I am either several years or a few months late to this party, but can we discuss the Hunger Games? (And has anyone else seen Battle Royale?)

I really don't think I'd survive. Not because I would have principled objections to pulling a Valkyrie on my fellow humans, but just through sheer incompetence. All my recollections of middle school dodgeball support this. The sole occasion when I won was when I cowered in the corner for the entirety of the game and then emerged after everyone thought it was over, to be crowned the victor. 

But what would help you survive the humor Hunger Games? I'd bring my trusty Penguin Dictionary of Modern Humorous Quotations, but that only gets you through the 80s or so. 

Your chat is up against a chat on communicating with squirrels. On the Washington Post website. REALLY??

I know! Story of my life! I'm actually honored to be up against the squirrels; my first foray into humor writing was a humor magazine called the Perturbed Squirrel in high school, so we go way back and have deep affinities. 

This article, which explains "Why Britain has 17,000 pregnant men" implies it's all clerical errors. But buried deep in the article is this tantalising note: “We suspect that the numbers may, at least partly, reflect data errors.” So how many pregnant men are there in England?

I know! I read that, and I was thinking, well, 17,000 pregnant men is certainly news, but 16,999 clerical errors and 1 pregnant man is equally news.

Your chat or the one on squirrel vocalizations? Decisions, decisions...

He says stay in this chat...

Going head to head against the squirrel nearly destroyed Milbank last year. Are you sure you're up to that kind of competition?

Do you ever read those articles that try make you feel guilty about not having enough apps on your smart phone? The writers are always very concerned that people out there are not using the full potential of their phones. I guess we're supposed to be spending our time learning how to use new apps and rearrange our lives so we can incorporate more apps into our daily routine.

You know what they say, you always go to your deathbed wishing you used more apps. 

There probably are no apps in Heaven, if only because I bet they'd put a high priority on people making eye contact during dinner up there.

Has Frank Page drummed this up as publicity for his excellent strip, Bob The Squirrel? ( ). I, I mean he, does a great job and this definitely needs more eyes to enjoy the wonderful artwork and incredible storylines that can only be generated by a talking squirrel.

I don't think anyone can fully mine the deep, rich potential of squirrel life and communication.

Real bloody and real boring. I suppose there are plot elements that are similar, but arguing that the Hunger Games is a ripoff of BR is like saying Star Wars is a ripoff of the Hidden Fortress, which stretches credulity just a bit.

I don't think it's a ripoff at all!

Jim Davis used to get letters from people claiming that he'd stolen their ideas for a comic strip about a talking cat, using arcane powers and "well drink." This is just one of those ideas that is lying around outside the cornucopia for whoever makes it there first. 

Plus, the Hunger Games focuses much more on the dystopic commentary side of things. The games are just part of a fairly realized world. 

The one thing I did like about BR (leaving aside the excessive gore) was the element of "What would you do if you actually knew these people?" I found the higher-stakes-high-school element intriguing.

It's bad enough being summoned to kill depersonalized strangers below the age of 18. But having to turn on your middle school class? I thought that was an intriguing WWYD.

....the scientist over in the squirrel chat has no appreciable sense of humor. Which is kind of expected right? Like how much crap does he have to put up with when talking about his work?

I beg to differ! Nothing says, "I am a light-hearted bon vivant" like "I have dedicated my life to studying the communication habits of squirrels." Which is just like getting a degree in eavesdropping, when you reach a certain level. 

Does anyone have a degree in bird communication? There are a couple of birds outside my apartment window who keep very strange hours and seem to be engaged in some sort of protracted disagreement. That or they just don't enjoy my "Greatest Hits of Arthur Godfrey" record as much as I do. 

An ad campaign for next spring: "Turn water into wine? There's an app for that! Feed thousands on a basket of rancid fish and bread? There's an app for that! Raise self from the dead in three days? There's an app for that!"


"Drive demons out into a herd of swine and run them off a cliff? Not sure how often that's required, but here's definitely an app for that!"

Could a modern candy company credibly market a peanut-caramel candy named a "Squirrel Nut Zipper"?

We do have Nut Clusters. 

But they're in the granola section, generally not the bastion of people given to  inappropriately bursting into laughter. 

THe question about app guilt reminded me of a question I have had for some time. What is the difference between an "app" vs. a "program" or a piece of "software"?

An app is what we call it now, in our Mobile Web Is The New Web era. 

A program is what we called it Then, when we had laptops. 

Software is what we called it Way Back When, when we had desktops and installation disks. 

I think there may not be a difference, but people who go around referring to "software programs" generally turn out to have Compaq desktops when you follow them home to investigate their claims.

Hey AP - I thought your piece on religion/faith was quite insightful and reasoned. And while I adore the more customary satire/sarcasm/snarkiness, it was a refreshing column. Nice,balanced work!

Thank you!

I'd been kicking it around for a while, and I was terrified I'd come off as preachy, which is the last thing you want in a column trying to talk a bit about religion. After going to the Reason Rally I'd been meaning to write something; nothing like spending half an hour in the rain next to a an evangelizing sign, talking to someone who identifies himself only as "a commenter in online forums" to really unsettle your assumptions.

Also, anyone who is willing (as a number of attendees were) to drive miles from Canada and stand in the rain and chant in a place where there is no beer has gone from simply being a rationalist who dislikes organized religion to being something distinctly else. That's more commitment than a lot of church pilgrimages. So I wanted to think about it a bit and see why my friends and I weren't doing anything parallel.

Squirrels are not so appealing. A few years ago, they gained access to my parents' attic, made their way downstairs behind the walls, and then chewed their way through the wall directly underneath the kitchen table. Imagine the surprise (and consternation) when the intrepid squirrels burst into the kitchen and ran through the house, climbing all the furniture and ripping down the draperies. It was a traumatic experience for all involved. No one cared what the squirrels might be attempting to chitter or chirp.

Oh no!

That sounds dreadful!

My family once had a case of attic raccoons, if your misery wants company. The exterminators who removed them claimed that they had been taken "to a relaxing farm." I think this turned out to be the same company who took the tidal basin beavers "to a relaxing farm." I have been unable to locate this farm, but it sounds like a rollicking place where there are no apps and lots of harps. 

Meeting my son's new girlfriend soon. We're told that "she might be the one". My wife is a selective hugger. I come from a big hugging family. My mom never got over the preceived snub that my wife did not hug her on the first introduction. Things went downhill from there. So, I asked her are you going to hug the girlfriend? What if she doesn't hug back? So much pressure. Personally, I think I can get away with a handshake, but woman to woman might need to be a hug. Am I overthinking all this?

Maybe they should start corresponding now to determine what course of action to pursue!

Dear Possible One, your wife could write, I am a selective hugger, but I bear you no personal ill will, and I have enclosed a menu of hug options to suit your preferences. Please select one and return it to me before our meeting, and I will endeavor to adapt my behavior accordingly!

(Reason #789 or something that I am not in the advice-giving business, since I uniformly manage to come up with the only solution more awkward than the problem.)

speaking of communicating with squirrels..has anybody figured out how to talk to that thing on Colton Dixon's head? Yes, I'm bringing American Idol into this chat.

Oh man, I have been out of the loop this season. I did Google him, and I think you'd probably just need to seat him next to Donald Trump at a holiday dinner and get the Trumploaf to translate for you. I can't imagine the coifs (is that a word?) would have much in common though.

I've been watching The Voice instead. I'm rooting for Team Blake, if only because I think Team Ceelo probably has it in the bag.

Eve was the first software, she gave Adam the app.

I feel like I'm supposed to make some sort of reference to apl. de. ap here, so, uh, "First she gave him the, but he wasn't certain what the actually did so it didn't amount to anything." 

Oh dear, now I've added and made everything less fun for everyone. 

Which, to be fair, is also what the Black Eyed Peas do. 

If this is the chat where I accidentally start a flame war with passionate fans of, remember that you were there and saw it...

You know, all eight of them...

I always thought that Google could pretty much corner the spirituality/morality realm by creating a Soul Search. "Is it cheating if I lust in my Facebook status?"

I love this idea!

It's a much better idea than my Verified Hitchhiker App, for people on FourSquare or something who a) aren't serial killers and b) need rides. I think it could work! I just don't want to be the founder because the one time it IS a serial killer, you're suddenly on the hook and The Olive Garden stops seating you.

And Soul Search would be a much better idea than the current modern approach to moral dilemmas -- namely, asking Yahoo! Answers. 

Seriously, check it out. Great stuff.;_ylt=AsHcllSLw9r5StJ9QwIitoMjzKIX;_ylv=3?qid=20120410043444AA4FFzv

The squirrels that inhabited the courtyard of my college campus seemed really tame. One day while out there snacking, I decided to see if I could feed a squirrel. Sure enough, one came over towards my outstretched hand and snatched the treat I was offering - and managed to cut me with its claws in the process. I don't know why it hadn't occurred to me that a tree-climbing animal would have long, sharp curved claws, but it didn't. The scratch was minor, but my inner hypochondriac got the better of me and later that day I found myself sheepishly calling the student health services nurse to ask her if I were in any danger from the squirrel scratch. She said "no" unless the squirrel had been behaving really abnormally. Now what was that supposed to mean, considering that "squirrelly" is synonymous with bizarre behavior? I decided that the behavoir was within the acceptable bounds of squirrellyness (squirrelliness?) and went on with my life.

That really is the $64,000 (inflation-adjusted) question! What constitutes Weird Beyond The Bounds of Squirrelliness? I can't think of anything. Maybe if the squirrel tried to check itself into a clinic for exhaustion.

"I read that, and I was thinking, well, 17,000 pregnant men is certainly news, but 16,999 clerical errors and 1 pregnant man is equally news." Not really that much news--didn't the US have a pregnant man a few years back? He was transgender but hadn't had surgery to change his bits (I'm sorry if that's the un-PC way of saying it, I can't brain this morning), and his wife couldn't have kids so they opted to have him go through artificial insemination or something.

Right! I'd forgotten him. 

But still, that's a well-documented case where all the individual pieces of the story make sense. What I meant was if there's some man who had no reasonable expectation of being in that kind of position who is just, say, wandering around Guilford in a family way, I'd like to know about it, records-keeping problems or no!

Mitt Romney's flickr feed is almost entirely heavily-filtered/processed Instagram photos for the first couple pages. This strikes me as very odd. Do you think he has a hipster ironically "working" for his campaign, or do you think they just really like old-timey looking photos?

Oh, that's a good question!

Mitt the Hipster! "I'm into Nascar, but only ironically." 

It would explain the son names...

i had a boyfriend whose dad liked to "test the goods," as my boyfriend put it. The moment he said that was the moment he became an EX boyfriend.

That's definitely Beyond the Normal Levels of Squirrelliness. 

There is the compromise sideways hug that is welcoming, but not as intimate as the full frontal hug.

I actually devoted a paragraph to the compromise sideways hug in the original draft! I'm a big compromise sideways hugger, which has the added bonus of avoiding people who want to kiss you ardently on both cheeks. Please. What are we, French? 

Many years ago, I ha a squirrel in my attic. She (turns out to be a she) took up residence in the little vent at the far end of the attic. I decided to climb up and put chicken wire over the opening. I had the wire and staple gun and wire cutter but I didn't want to go into the attic with the squirrel. So I also grabbed a few rocks that I could throw the 20 feet or so to scare the squirrel out while I was working. I popped into the attic and, yes, she was there. So I took a rock and hurled it and it hit her right on the head. It knocked her out. I went outside and I could see a long bushy tail hanging down from the vent. I wasn't sure if I killed her (I hoped not!) so I got a surf rod ~ one of those 12 foot fishing poles ~ and prodded her. Nope, not dead. My next step was a hav-a-hart trap which worked quite well, thank you, and didn't involve as much trauma (to me at least) as my first method.

That is amazing. I want to frame this story. 

Well done, Squirrel Bopper! (Can this be your unofficial chat name, henceforth?)

All I want is an app that takes recipes and can double them, half them, etc. Just so I don't have to do math. Because I'm lazy. Hopefully, someone can take this idea and run with it. You can totally have all the glory too. I don't need any cred, just an app that reinforces my inherent laziness.

How about an app that gets a hitchhiker to come make the recipe for you? It's all the convenience of your idea, plus all the danger and stupidity of my idea! No?

Yeah, good idea! So good, in fact, that I can't believe it doesn't exist already. 

I can't believe we've been talking about Squirrels all this time and no one has brought up Squirrel Cop. Do yourselves a favor and go to This American Life's website and listen to the podcast. You will not be able to breathe because you will be laughing too hard.

Thereby hangs a TAL, as they say. 

I'll check it out!

One of the best things I saw on TV was a Japanese game show called Banzai, which consisted of ridiculous acts. It was really a play-along drinking game. In squirrel fishing, two guys got fishing poles with acorns attached and the one that could "hook" a squirrel (there was no exposed hook - the squirrels would simply grab and hold onto the acorn) and raise it highest won.

That is amazing!

I love that we are having a squirrel chat as an alternative to the squirrel chat. Forget pandas. Squirrels all the way! They can at least reproduce without instructional video. 

You are too young to remember, but the Soviet leaders always were hugging one another. And stabbing one another in the back. It's a Commie thing.

"True friends stab you in the front," as Oscar Wilde once said. 

The tyranny of huggers. Do you think its an introvert/extrovert thing? Hugging will never be my first impulse. Why would I invade a perfect strangers personal space?

Well, I consider myself an extrovert, and I'm still agin it! 

Speaking of hugs, I must bid you farewell (with a respectful but affectionate handshake)! Enjoy the weather and the squirrels! Feel free but unobligated to follow me on Twitter! And keep reading the Compost!

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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