ComPost Live with Alexandra Petri

Jun 12, 2012

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.

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Sorry about the delay!

Thanks for joining! Second topic of conversation, after we castigate me for lateness: this.

Where do we stand on the KKK's effort to adopt a highway?

I am losing track. Am I supposed to meet you in the packing garage and read you Obama found raising emails, or am I supposed to tuck you in while holding a cat? I am easily confused.

You know, I'm confused too. But definitely let's keep the cat involved.

I just wanted you to know that the World Wide Knit in Public Days ( started last Saturday. Posting to forestall horrifying and grotesque starts to my Tuesdays.

That is a nice start to a Tuesday!

If you are late again, that gentleman from "50 Shades of Grey" may have to do something about that, oh, wait, sorry, I probably should not be reading that on the subway in front of all these schoolchildren.

As long as you're on a kindle!

Sorry, I had difficulty getting into the chat!

But only a tool blames the chat carpenter.

pair of lungs found on the sidewalk in L.A. Can't get away with blaming a dolphin this time.

My favorite part was the quote, which I saw highlighted on Twitter and am imperfectly reconstructing, that "this was the first time anyone remembered finding a pair of lungs on the sidewalk."

Your thoughts on the Wellesley High School teacher's speech to the graduating seniors (and their parents) that they weren't special? As a kid who grew up in that town in the 70's and watched it go even more overboard with money and helicopter parents, I have to say I thought it was great and a very apropos message to both students and parents. Life does not come on a silver platter...

That and the 10 Things I Wish My Daughter Knew As She Turns 10 both are going viral around where I'm from. 

On the Specialdom, I think, honestly, as a child of the 90's, I had less of a problem being helicoptered and constantly overpraised than the reverse. At least what I felt to be the reverse. My biggest problem as a child was that I read more parenting books than my parents did. I thought it would give me ammunition. I kept coming downstairs pointing at highlighted passages and bellowing that "I think we're trapped in a dependent love cycle." I don't know if your ten year-old has ever told you that you're trapped in a dependent love cycle, but I'm told that it's the sort of experience that gives you the immediate urge to destroy all the psychology books in the house. I only imperfectly remember the remainder of the contents of the book, enough to say that "the pendulum of overattachment and abandonment swings again!" when we disagreed about allowance or bedtime but it had less of a pronounced effect.

What I'm getting at is that I think the helicopter/overpraise era was winding down when I started out. I only got possibly one trophy for participation, and my folks did their best not to tell me I was good at things when I wasn't. I still remember the vivid grimace on my mother's face after she finished my first antebellum novel The Sisters of Mountingbrook, which was exactly every jot as bad as the title implies.

Then again, the speech makes me think that was just my folks, in which case, er, thanks, folks. You see, vindication! From a viral YouTube guy!

The Prime Minister of England loses his son, someone in Los Angeles loses their lungs. We are all becoming more forgetful now, aren't we?

To lose one lung can be regarded as a misfortune, but to lose both looks like carelessness...

There is something far worse than the KKK adopting a highway and that is government control of speech and ideas. If the government chooses to allow people and organizations to adopt a highway, it can not choose which ideas are acceptable or not acceptable. The government can and should punish any crime committed, but not punish an idea, no matter how heinous the idea.

As long as we're geting into the free speech controversy territory, how do folks feel about Caiden Cowger? *throws every possible card onto the chat table* He's the "14 year-old pundit" who delivered a pretty pitch-perfect impression of a man thrice his age claiming the president was turning people gay and saying a variety of other hateful things. Then Spreaker, his radio service, shut him down, and now everyone's trying to flag his youtube videos as fast as they pop up. I know the question is different because he's 14 and it's not, "is he entitled to this opinion" so much as "is he entitled to a platform for this opinion," but once you start viewing the Internet as a platform for speech rather than a forum for speech, to me, that opens up some worrisome questions, because there are different rules for giving people megaphones than for allowing them to shout deranged things in parks. Which is it? And should there be somewhere on the Internet where a 14 year-old and/or his parents should be allowed to post that sort of thing, awful as it is?

Apologies for the variable degree of coherence in the foregoing...

I love the quote by someone in that article, "We're not racist..." oh. right. all those lynchings were an accident. That said, if they want to keep america beautiful and clean up trash, sure, why not? They'd better change their robe color tho' cause it can get messy cleaning up trash.

One of the sneaking questions I had on reading the article was whether they planned to do the cleanup in their trademark ensembles or not. Just the idea that you're driving along the highway and suddenly you see a small herd of Klansmen and you know, terror, panic, start calling the relevant authorities, but it turns out they're just picking up cans by the roadside.

As a friend wisely observed, though, once you're the KKK there are certain lines of community volunteering that you really can't get into, just for the headlines. Clean-up being one of them.

Excuse me, it was his daughter. If you're going to go all gossip on us, at least get the kid right. HuffPost had a hilarious selection of reader comments on the Cameron kid's little adventure.

Ooh, link, please!

Why do we care that the KKK is adopting a part of the highway? Drive through Virginia and South Carolina and they already have adopted parts of highways. If they wanna pick up trash, let them! I dont get what the fuss is about. Its not like they are planning to restrict access to the road to only whites or something??? and this is coming from a Black female who has lived in the south all her life. #firstworldproblems

When I saw the headline it reminded me of the KKK chapter who showed up to protest against the Westboro Baptist Church. It's that slight frisson of discomfort as you think, "Well, I want someone to (clean up the highway) (protest the WBC) but... urgh, it's the KKK." Still at this rate, next the headline will be that the KKK wants to start a cat-sitting service or plant herbaceous borders.

I'm having a difficult time thinking of anything charitable or civic-minded that would be appropriate for the KKK to do. Planting trees on Arbor Day? No. Erecting crosses along the highway to commemorate vehicular accident deaths? No. Get out the vote activities? No.


So what happened to the discussion on the KKK highway? Anything they want to do, I'm against. It just promotes their agenda.

No, but see, this is the interesting part to me. It's just because they'd get their name on the stretch of highway, yes? And then anyone who drove past and thought "wow, what an immaculate stretch of highway" might think "Gee, that KKK really knows what it's doing, I should pick up some of their membership literature"? Not that I've ever had that response to a clean section of highway, I'm just trying to follow this through. But does this really do more than say "This particular chapter of the KKK is good at picking up stray cans?"

I've always said the mere fact of a man being a poisoner is nothing against his poetry. (Well, I haven't, Oscar Wilde has, but I keep quoting it.) The KKK is by definition a horrible, execrable organization, but what if they are, in spite of that, good at keeping the side of highways clean? Do we lose more by letting them clean up and tack up their name than by leaving the highway as is?

His radio service can shut him down. YouTube can delete his videos. The Constitution does not guarantee a forum at a private business. Those businesses are free to block his speech. What the Constitution does prevent is the government from shutting down his own website showing his videos.

Okay, that's a distinction that makes sense.

Still, in Web 2.0, when most of us do our internet posting not by creating a site ourselves but by going through a middleman like YouTube or Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr, it's an interesting reminder that the rules of speech differ because of that. You can, and people frequently do, get shut off. I think folks sometimes forget that. I certainly did. In some countries it's Big Brother, and we all agree that's wrong. It's unsubtle. It's visible. It's state suppression. We have been pretty well set up to distrust all those things. In cases like this one, it's Little Sister, like Bradbury said, which only some of us think is a bad idea. Maybe he had a point that this was where the real danger lies.

Then again, this is already a small molehill that is being transformed into a progressively more gigantic molehill. Not sure how much we can conclude.

It seems to me that LIBERAL groups do things like adopt highways all the time. In New York, there's a planned parenthood park, a New York Times building, etc. etc. But when a CONSERVATIVE group wants to do it, suddenly it's bad. Don't get me wrong, I don't agree with the KKK on most issues. But the double standard bothers me.

I would hardly call the KKK a CONSERVATIVE group, because I think that's unfair to conservative groups. The KKK's in a category of their own.

Let's try another example -- NAMBLA. What if NAMBLA wanted to adopt a highway? I mean, I guess we would be against it because it would be creepy for NAMBLA to adopt anything, but you know what I mean.

Would you feel comfortable having NAMBLA adopt a highway? The KKK is just as insidious.

Oh wow, see, I didn't see your question, and I just posed the same one! Group?

the 23 funniest comments:

and osama bin laden did all sorts of humanitarian things, to get the people on their side. just sayin'

Yeah, but can you stop people from doing humanitarian things on the grounds that "if you do a good job, people might like you better"? I mean, if you were in the hunger games and needed medicine, and the KKK were willing to drop you down a tin, I think many of you would probably take the tin. And then you would feel a little more kindly disposed towards the people who had given it to you, but I don't think you'd go off and embrace their ideology. Ideally it would make you think, well, there's a person in there capable of good, maybe I can help improve his thinking in other areas. But that's ideally.

See, this is the trouble with people. There are always more shades of gray than you would like. And of Grey, for that matter. The Racist Old Great-Grandfather is almost a trope at this point. And just because you had to grimace all through Easter dinner every time certain subjects surfaced didn't mean that you thought Great-Grampy Delane was a bad man through and through. There are always more sides to people than you would like. Of course, the KKK is premised on the idea of not seeing people as multi-faceted individuals whom you have to like or dislike as you come to know them, so maybe this is more credit than we should give anyone willing to join.

Um, what? 80 or 100 years ago? Even 50 years ago? I suppose not one of the current members even were alive when the lynchings happened. Have you hear of any in the last 50 years ? (not that I am defending the KKK - if they're just a social organization, then perhaps they need to change their name. To the rotary club or something like that).

Yaaagh, I'm not sure we can let them off the hook quite that easily. This is an organization with a history, and if they don't know that history and their only thought on joining is "oh, Biff down the road's a swell guy and he says they have delightful salad brunches" (I don't think this is what anyone quite thinks) they should still be held accountable for it. Those who don't learn their history are doomed to join awful racist organizations who aren't allowed to appear in public after Labor Day.

The second half, though, I agree with. If you want to get together with Biff and have delightful salads and clean up the highway, then for heaven's sake join an organization without a century and a half of miserable baggage and heinous crimes to its name.

You do know that when you adopt a highway, that you don't actually clean it? You give the county money to clean it and in exchange they put you on a sign.

I thought the CNN article said that they gave you vests and you did the pickup yourself!

Does anyone actually read those signs, anyway? I have driven past plenty of them and never been inspired to look up that real estate company or whatever. Except in NYC where there are these big Bette Midler signs.


I have to retiterate, for the 10,000th time, that because Spreaker shut down his Internet radio program, they are not guilty of violating his 1st Amendment rights. The government is not permitted to censor speech, but any private entity has the right to refuse to carry his views. If the kid got up in his neighborhood McDonald's and started screaming about Obama turning people gay, I'm pretty sure he'd be shown the door. Same deal here.

Nicely reiterated.

This chat is extraordinarily bizarre to read when I haven't had a chance to catch up on your columns and have no context to work from.

Actually, this time, you had about as much context as anyone!

Here is a picture of a cat, to further confuse you.

ew. and no. I don't want them anywhere in my neighborhood cleaning up the road. I'd take the KKK any day. Now THOSE are words I never thought I'd hear myself type.

How about the WBC?

As long as we're getting into the deep woods here...

If the North American Marlon Brando Look-Alikes want to adopt a highway, that's OK with me.


I don't know, he's been deceased for some time now...

I used to go to Speaker's Corner to hear the nutters. Now there's on the Internet. Maybe the modern free speech solution to have a government sponsored website where you can rant all you want.?

I think "government sponsored website where you can rant all you want" seems almost guaranteed to be one of those miserable oxymorons.

Well, they might drop a tin down to YOU, but not necessarily to me (or some of your other readers, depending on our ancestries).

Right, and that's the whole trouble.

I guess highway cleanup is actually a better example of Enhancing The Common Weal so as to make all boats rise equally, and which doesn't allow them to demonstrate their ideology in any way.

you can opt to clean it yourself, or you can give the govt money to pay to have it cleaned. but mostly in the south you see folks cleaning their sections every now and then when the weather is nice. the payments are usually for winter months and bad weather when they do sections as a whole.


See, if this conversation is otherwise fruitless, we'll all have learned a little more about how Adopting Highways works, which is all to the good!

its highway trash, not a school classroom or something. if they want to pick up trash go ahead. its a free country. we cant start restricting peoples charitable do-gooding (is that a word?) just because we might not like what their group stands for. thats discrimination too. part of being part of a free country is accepting that you wont like everyone or what they have to say. but as a functioning society, if they want to be positive and contribute, be the better person, say thank you and be on your way. that goes for any adverse group. perspective people.

This is nicely put! Still, I think, just a few paragraphs ago, we heard people saying that you can restrict charitable do-gooding if it also promotes their cause.

On a hypothetical scale from Donating a Nickel To Beautify Times Square and Getting A Giant Billboard With Your Group Name On It And A Picture of Mother Teresa (or Christopher Hitchens, as you designate) Waving And Saying 'I Endorse This' to cleaning up a highway without getting any credit whatsoever for doing so, I think everyone agrees that one end is unacceptable and the other end is fine. It's the middle that gets tricky. It's not that they don't have the right to clean up the highway. It's the signage that's the tricky bit.

"The government is not permitted to censor speech, but any private entity has the right to refuse to carry his views." So if Facebook, Twitter and other private entities refuse to carry his views, for fear of government attack, that's not censorship? Free speech should be allowed in the common area.

It wasn't for fear of government attack, though. That's where the tricky Big Brother/Little Sister divide comes in.

Ray Bradbury said: ""The real threat is not from Big Brother, but from little sister (and) all those groups, men and women, who want to impose their views from below," he told the Times of London in 1993. "If you allow every minority to grab one book off the shelf, you'll have nothing in the library."

But that's food for a whole 'nother discussion.

Going the way of the dodo?

According to Google Maps, the way of the Dodo leads 10,000 miles to Gunung Dodo in Indonesia somewhere. Which bodes badly for Google maps.

What's that? Or do I even want to know?

Westboro Baptist Church!

Maybe I'm too cynical, but this seems like some epic trolling by this particular KKK group. I mean I really doubt "we just want to help" was their motivation here. Starting a bleepstorm? Yes.

I mean, as indicated by my earlier suggestion about their getting together and enjoying salads, I have no idea what a typical KKK meeting sounds like. One of my general life precepts is that people are more often incompetent than malicious, so my vote would be that in some strange way they didn't realize it would create this media storm and just thought it "might be sort of a nice thing" and then this happened. But maybe I'm not cynical enough. Definitely, in fact, am I not cynical enough.

There is a stretch of I-270 near Urbana, MD, where the cleanup is sponsored first by a cigar shop and then by a liquor store. I always think it's funny, and wait to see what other vices will pop up. That said, for the person who pointed out that lynchings were decades past, I had to read some of their subscription literature about 20 years ago (on behalf of a very much not-sympathetic group that kept an eye on extremist organizations), and it was still pretty ugly. (At the time, their diatribes extended to Jews and feminists as well, though I would expect that the first African-American president has probably refocused their ire a bit.)

Ha to the first half!

Now I'd like to see a nice man named something unprintable like Bill Mothaf***** or controversial like Dave I'mreallyracist or Carl Womenareterribleatmathandscience try to adopt a highway (or, heck, the guy who changed his name to Tyrannosaurus Rex Joseph Gold) just to see what happens!

To the second half, yeah, I don't think you can disclaim responsibility for the history of an organization like this just because you joined in the 21st century. I haven't read any of their lit, but I don't doubt it was ugly.

Around these here parts, mostly done by the fellas in striped pajamas, none of whom look like Paul Newman, by the way.

Right. And no plaques there.

Who'll be next to adopt-a-highway? Al-Qaeda, the North Korean Communist Party, NAMBLA? Freedom of speech is not absolute (cue "Yelling 'fire' in a crowded theater" meme).

Another voice!

I'm torn on this one -- it's a vile organization, and the program is sort of like state-sponsored (or at least state-involved) advertising. But it's also dicey to get into picking and choosing participants based on ideology. Regardless, if I came across their sponsored section of highway, I might find myself rethinking my lifelong refusal to litter.


Google failed me on this, any chance you can find a link? I have a daughter turning 12 in a month and I'm sure there are lots of things I probably should tell her before then. It would be great to have a cheat sheet to help me figure those things out. It's been a while since I personally was 12.

Here it is!

Care to tell us which of the productions you had a part in? I was looking for Oscar Wilde references in the titles but the one that is called Cecily and Gwendolyn's Fantasical Capital Balloon Ride seems to have been written by the performers.

I know! I wrote this one! There are references to Oscar Wilde, because obviously. The venue is air conditioned, unlike last year.

That's Congress.


Well, on that note, I'm out! Thank you for an invigorating chat! Please keep reading the Compost and feel free but unobligated to follow me on Twitter!

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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