ComPost Live with Alexandra Petri

Sep 18, 2012

Join us next Tuesday 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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How's the 47 percent doing?


That's OK, post an interesting photo on Twitter and then ask us not to ask you about it. We won't ask. We'll just continue our lives knowing that you only want to tease us with your interesting photographs and then not tell us anything about them. We know where we stand..

Ha, that was from Antietam! There was a tent set up by, I think, the Park Service, where you could pose in period garb and get your picture taken in front of the Burnside Bridge.

So, er, that's what that was.

I am impressed that one of the greatest writers of all times considered cats as "love spongers". The things I learn by following what you tell us to read.

Papa was a cat man, apparently.

At least you are reading "Atlas Shrugged" and "50 Shades" at the same time. I made the mistake of reading Karl Marx and "50 Shades" at the same time. I dreamed I was running through a factory shouting "workers of the world, you have nothing to lose but your chains" and the workers shouted back "but we love our chains."

Ha! +10!

What's the story about the horde of six-toed cats that hang around his Florida home?

I didn't know they had six toes! What is the story?

Cat's are so entitled. 100% of cats are "love spongers" or more accurately 'love moochers." Also, they never clean their boxes and feel they deserve food and housing. Disgusting.

No, I disagree. At least 53 percent of cats bring you mice from time to time to indicate their independence and self-sufficiency. Yes, some of them are toy mice, but it's the thought, right?

So Romney picked Snooki over Honey Boo Boo. I think this was a mistake. Obama's lead in New Jersey is too strong, and conceding the Honey Boo Boo vote to Obama hurts him in crucial states like Florida.

That's an interesting theory.

Then again, admitting to liking Honey Boo Boo anywhere might be a devastating blow of a sort as well.

Don't you love it when your cat brings you a live mouse and tortures it. There you are, trying to concentrate on reading "50 Shades", and there is your cat doing exactly what you are reading....

Well, my favorite Shades-reading story was actually from Antietam, where, as a regimental band played a medley of minstrel songs, I noticed a woman rapt in an ebook of some sort. Curious, I crept closer.

You guessed it: 50 Shades Freed.

Who reads 50 Shades Freed to antebellum horn music?

This woman, I guess.

I loved your article on Fashion Week. I saw something totally amazing on New York One during Fashion Week (yes, the station lampooned in "How I Met Your Mother" that shows that even best friends of those on "New York One" don't even watch their friends on "New York One.") New York One sent an older guy to report on Fashion One. He interviewed one of the top designers and asked a question that I have never heard anyone ask before, yet is one of those first obvious questions to most guys: He asked why there is so much bother over showing dresses that will never be sold in any shops. The designer couldn't come up with an answer, so she answered what she knew, which was how many dresses she has. So, why so much bother over dresses that the public will never even have a chance to buy?

That is a good question!

I think because... fashion... trickle-down effect?

Perhaps, if there weren't these people making fusses over dresses that would never sell, there would be nothing to give us the vague sense that Burnt Umber and Pinstripes were in this fall. And without the vague sense that Burnt Umber and Pinstripes were in this fall, where would we be?

Must investigate further, as Rorschach says.

Correction: 53% of cats bring you mice heads from time to time.

When you keep lots of cats together for a few generations, inbreeding occurs and you get cats with six toes. Next question, please.

Speaking of cat inbreeding--

Man, I wish I had something to say here, because that would be a wonderful segue.


I've been reading a lot of fairy tales lately, because I got shotgun -married to a copy of Grimm's Complete Tales at a Barnes and Noble, and I'd forgotten how riveting they were.

My favorite one recently, of which I'm still trying to figure out what the moral is, revolves around a sausage, a bird, and a mouse, who keep house together. The sausage does the cooking (I know, weird, right? But apparently it rolls around in the meal to give it added flavor), the bird gets the firewood, and the mouse sets the table (clearly, the mouse is the weak link in this partnership). One day, the bird runs into an old friend from college and somehow lets slip that he is living in a strange group house with a sausage and a mouse, and the bird's friend says he thinks the bird is doing more than its share of the work, and adds furthermore that the sausage and mouse are clearly just some more of those 47 percent freeloaders we've heard so much about. So the bird returns home and suggests they switch tasks.

It goes just about as well as you'd expect, which is to say that the sausage tries to get firewood and immediately is eaten by a passing dog. The mouse tries to roll around in the food to flavor it, and this kills it. And the bird, trying to fetch water to rescue the mouse from the fire with, falls down a well and dies.

So what's the moral? Never change the chore chart? If you're living in a bizarre group-house arrangement with a mouse and a sausage, don't tell your friends? Or what?

can't we get them on this page? link to wapo blog please

Here's the general blog link!

But it isn't the outlandish Paris designers who make those proclamations, is it? I thought it was people like Vogue magazine, who may attend the unwearable-clothing designer shows, but also have some real-world sense of what actual women wear.

That sounds more sensible. I had the vague idea that it was at these shows that they got the ideas behind these proclamations, but that could well be wrong!

Having your cat bring you a mouse head is normal. Having the mouse heads stuffed by a taxidermist and displaying them in your living room is not normal.

I really hope this has happened to you and you are speaking from personal experience.

When you keep lots of cats together for a few generations, inbreeding occurs and you get cats with six toes. Next question, please. -- Not actually true. Being six-toed is actually a fairly common genetic abnormality for cats. Kind of like being tailless. More accurately, Hemingway adopted a polydactyl that spread it's abnormality along to the rest of the cats. By the way ^^^ this is why I'm still single.

Well, I at least appreciate your accuracy on the subject of cat polydactylism (is this a word? You seem as though you'd know)!

Isn't there another Grimm's Fairy Tale about a bird that eats a sausage? Wait, the moral of that one is that there is always a tern for the wurst.

I heard the one about the man who hated seabirds -- he left no tern unstoned.

Just some advice: If anyone ever asks you to go to there house to see their collection of stuffed mouse heads...Politely decline. I can not stress this enough.


It sounds like the moral of that story is "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

I think, though, that a subsidiary moral of a great many fairy tales is "live in whatever bizarre-sounding household setup you deem proper, but for heaven's sake don't tell your parents or friends about it." Cases in point: this one, all the Eros/Psyche tales where you tell Mom that you are pretty sure you are sleeping with a very handsome man but just possibly maybe have never actually laid eyes on him -- but hey, the food's great!-- and then suddenly you're spilling hot candle wax everywhere and being forced to perform all kinds of challenging tasks.


One good tern deserves another.

Putting aside the current brouhaha over the Kate photos, do you think the royal-pregnancy watchers are anything like the panda-pregnancy watchers? Life as a royal doesn't seem that much different from life in a zoo.

I was going to say that there are fewer people in hats shaped like you lurking outside your enclosure with binoculars, but actually I'm not sure that's true.

What's the difference between a rooster and a lawyer? The rooster clucks defiance and....

The lawyer is an upstanding member of society!

*yes I see what you did there.

Mount them on pencils, so as to serve as a warning to the other mice to stay away from your house.

This chat seems oddly opinionated on the subject of what to do when life gives you mouse heads.

I find the paparazzi culture to be just disgusting, the stalking of people to capture intimate, private, or embarrassing moments for public consumption just is not defensible in my mind. But here is my question, how should I apportion the blame for the current situation? In my mind I end up putting more of it on the CONSUMERS of the product because no way the photographers would go to the risk and expense they do unless there was a market for it. Am I just being elitist? What if everyone stopped buying magazines promising pics of "baby bumps" and other non-stories?

No, I concur. Then again I think you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who would say that paparazzi culture was great and non-harmful. 

There are a number of phenomena like this, where everyone can pretty much agree that it is terrible and devastating but we keep supporting it anyway because we like the things it gives us.

If you go to Hemingway's house in Key West it is crawling with six-toed cats. About 40 of them. They are descendants of his six-toed cat that some ship's captain gave him.

I am learning so much!

Per the bottom of this page: "About the topic - Join us Tuesday 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." I plan on yelling "MOUSE HEADS ON PENCILS" on the Metro on my way home. Will that fulfill my duty as a chat participant? Thanks!


But yes, absolutely.

It's called a Spoonerism, allegedly after a minister prone to such verbal gaffes.

I love Spoonerisms! As a kid, I liked to tell people that they were what the Reverend Spooner would have called shining wits.

"Mount them on pencils, so as to serve as a warning to the other mice to stay away from your house." I'm pretty sure this is how the troll population was decimated back in the day.


Anyone in the British royal family should know that you never, EVER set foot outdoors in any state of (un)dress or disorder that you don't want photographed and published, no matter how far you think you could possibly be from a camera lens. Kate got what she deserved.

I believe Queen Elizabeth showers fully clothed.

That as a person also named Alexandra, I appreciated the discussion re: our names last time.

Huzzah! We're like brothers from another mother! Or, er, people of the same name from different parents!

"The Lord is s shoving leopard", declared the Reverend Spooner. Prior to this, I had thought Spoonerism was when an eating instrument jumped over the moon.

"When the boys come back from France, we'll have the hags flung out!"

I think you can say that a member of the Royal family might be well served to not appear outside in a state of undress, but I don't see any way Kate got "what she deserved." Blaming the victim here is rather unseemly. If you go outside with money in your pocket and get robbed, you didn't "deserve it." Good grief.

Kate certainly didn't deserve this; apologies if it sounded as though I was endorsing that line of thinking. She's in a position that is absolutely unimaginable for most humans, and she's been doing a stellar job, a far better job than most of us would, and whoever did this is a jerk. And if it really is true that she should expect never to be able to appear anywhere undressed outdoors from now on, what a sad state of affairs that is.

That sausage-bird-mouse household may be odd, but at least everyone pitched in. I laud especially the work of the sausage, day after day, giving of itself to roll its flavor into the bland meal. No freeloaders here. I suggest there need to be three more completely useless house members added to stand in for the idle 47 percenters. Maybe a slug, a cat with 100 toes on each foot, and a robot version of Mitt Romney.

This is quite the summation of the chat so far.

And, hey, the 100-toed cat and slug probably would contribute, and I'm sure RoboMitt would add to the household's efficiency...

and then you can play the clip of the cat meow'ing the Game of Thrones theme that went around a few weeks ago for extra emphasis

Oh, that was a great clip! And I don't even watch Game of Thrones, although I know who dies!

I think it's become uber trendy these days to argue for argument's sake. You have to an utter moron to really believe that Kate Middleton is getting what she deserves. That or it's another puritanical American who thinks breasts are evil.

Well, just for argument's sake, let's say that all the people making these arguments actually believe what they're saying, and --

I'm sorry, this seems to be collapsing in on itself.

A man goes to a psychiatrist and says "my girlfriend wanted me to come here because I like sausages." The shrink says "there's nothing wrong with that. I like sausages too." The man brightens up and says "well come to my house. I have THOUSANDS." So, if someone invites you to their house to see their collection of sausages.... politely decline as well.


Lots of useful PSAs this week!

If you can't sunbathe topless in front of your husband then the next thing you know mice will be living with sausages.

And birds! You keep forgetting the birds!

To get in the obligatory Monty Python reference.


I would have made a great member of British royalty. Whenever I am naked, no one wants to take my photograph.

You're like Phyllis Diller, who once wore a peekaboo dress. Her husband peeked and booed.

Announced the hymn as "From Iceland's Greasy Mountains" and asked a parishioner who was occupewing the wrong pie whether she would like him to sew her to another sheet.

Also, "Kinkering Kongs Their Titles Take," I think.

Romney is taking your advice and is refusing to say another word. Oh, and he's dyeing his hair red.


But if it's Kate, or her in-laws, who are suing about the photos, aren't they the ones who think breasts are evil?

I thought the chatter was saying that the people who thought she had gotten what she deserved for so much as dreaming of going outdoors without her Vile Woman Appendages Covered were the ones who thought breasts were evil, not the people trying to stop the magazine exposure.

Getting robbed when you go out with money IN your pocket is not a valid analogy to Kate being outdoors topless. A better analogy might be going out with large bills flowing out of your pockets and expecting no one to pick them up off the street and keep them, instead of giving them back. Kate is no "victim" here; she knew she was topless when she went outside, and that paps use incredibly long zoom lenses.

I think, though, as Jen Chaney correctly observed, we do want to protect Kate because she has been so incredibly poised and put-together and polite and classy in a position that is extremely difficult, and this is clearly not a photo she thought would be taken, snapped by a photographer she did not see. Sure, she's a royal, she should never expect to be paparazzi-free. But still. So all the people insisting that suddenly It's All Her Fault! She Should Have Known are attracting pushback. After all, on every occasion when she's known she would be photographed, she's been poised and ready, and "careless" and "allowing large bills to flow out of your pockets" are not words typically associated with her. So to say that she "deserved" this feels wrong.

Are there any embarrassing photos of you in existence?

Besides the first ones that come up any time you Google me, when I was trying to make amends to Donald Hall, in which I am making a face like something that crawls out of a sewer late at night?

I thought that was the bases of most adventure comic books.


Yes, I was indeed saying that members of the Royal family (or any other celebs) should never go outdoors topless or in any other state of deshabille they wouldn't want photographed and published. They DO have a good idea what topless/naked/otherwise embarrassing photos of themselves are worth in the free market, so they know better than to provide the opportunity.

This is probably sage advice.


We just accepted that some people should not be allowed to go outdoors in a non-photographable state. Are we all right being a society that demands that? Where if people do that -- especially people like Royals and Celebrity Kids, the Guiltless Celebrities Who Are There By No Fault Of Their Own, as opposed to the Desperate Fame Hungry Heidi Montag Types -- and get caught, it's their fault, not ours? I'm not sure I'm okay with that yet. Perhaps we could come up with some sort of Dream Act for people who arrived in celebrity-dom through no fault of their own at an early age and didn't have the chance to opt out. If you had the chance to opt out, I'd be more comfortable making that level of demand on privacy, although even then it's a bit galling.

You're correct. That's exactly what I was saying. Just because Kate doesn't want to flaunt her boobs to the world does not mean she's puritanical.

Oh good!

I think people are confusing the Middleton photos something akin to making a sex tape. People who make sex tapes know they're being filmed. it's more like what happened to Erin Andrews.

I think that's a closer analogy.

No, the proper analogy would not be "going out" with money sticking out of your pockets, it would be walking in a PRIVATE home with no one allowed to be around, with money sticking out of your pockets. Big difference. MOUSE HEADS ON PENCILS!

I think actually the correct analogy would be walking around a private home surrounded with mouse heads and sausages and 47 Shades of Gray, when --

Perhaps this chat is collapsing in on itself.

surely she's aware of the existence of helicopters and of telephoto lenses by now?

True, but even the best in the world don't get everything right all the time.

I'm sorry, this applies to Prince William, but not to Kate, who did actually volunteer for celebritydom. I loathe paparazzi, don't get me wrong, but Kate should have known this would happen.

But it's a more complex package, yes? Marrying into royalty is a slightly less blatant trade-off equation than just signing up for fame.

Certainly she knew that all kinds of scrutiny were coming her way, and that she couldn't marry William without This Whole Royalty Thing, but she's handled it astonishingly well so far. So well that when this did happen, it's certainly pushed me to question the demands we're making rather than instantly shake my finger at her for failing to meet them. If she can't, maybe it's not as simple as the Should Have Known/She Deserved It camp makes it sound.

The lengths the Paparazzi will go to get a photo and the technology they have is staggering. It's easy for Kate to think she had privacy because it was probably carefully chosen and was as discreet as possible. But they have technology that the CIA has for pete's sake. I bet you anything they were shocked that those photos were able to be taken. I'm sure that's very upsetting and troubling to them.

I think this goes a good way towards framing the question: how much can you expect her to prepare for?

Is "Never Go Outside Ever Unless Fully Clothed Because CIA Technology" the level, or is there a level of "Gee It Seems Reasonable That We'd Be Unobserved" that we should try to carve out? There's no way you can be prepared for every unforeseen event that may or may not occur...

I go out totally naked holding onto wads of cash all the time, and no one bothers me. Maybe it's all the mouse heads hanging from me....


Erin was spied on when she was indoors, and by someone personally obsessed with her. Kate was outdoors, and photographed by someone planning to sell the pics for publication. All the difference in the world. Plus, Kate is most definitely NOT one of those "people who arrived in celebrity-dom through no fault of their own," because she freely chose to marry into the Royal Family.

This is a good job of making the counter-case.

To sum up, the points of disagreement are:

-how much expectation of privacy should Kate reasonably have had?

-to what extent did she, joining the royal family, consent to all of this?

-is it reasonable to expect this level of constant discretion from her?

I might concede the first two. I'm not sure I'm willing to concede the third, for the simple reason that she has been the picture of class and decorum so far and if she can't do it, maybe we need to adjust the fishbowl expectations to fit actual human beings.

How, by being born? He never chose the life. He never had the option to avoid this life. She did. She had the option not to be a royal. He was born a royal.

Another voice for the opposition to Part 2.

I am missing your point about your photo with Donald Hall, unless it is that you look exactly like Barack Obama, which overall is not a bad look, but I guess it could freak out some guys on a blind date....

I meant this one! Yeergh, was hoping not to link to that...

That's what I said. You completely misread my post. I was agreeing with Alex that Royals and Celebrity Kids don't choose the life, but that Kate did, by choosing to marry into Royalty. I also don't quite understand what Alex is looking for. Surely saying that Kate should have been more careful is not piling on and sneering She Got What She deserved. There's a spectrum here, not just the extreme ends.

Yes, I think you're in the reasonable middle Should Be More Careful zone, which is several shades shy of She Deserved It but several shades farther than No One Deserves This, which is where I'm drifting.

It never occurred to me that any private citizen had a camera lens capable of picking out the detail on a nipple from 7 football fields away. I thought that kind of lechery was limited to military purposes.

This is probably a good time to mention that I recently saw J. Edgar.

Being outside doesn't mean you're out in public. Behind the hotel room door or behind the property gate - is still private property. It's the EXACT SAME THING!

And another counter-argument.

(For those following the discussion by number, you two are disagreeing on (1) - reasonableness of expectation of privacy!)

I'm not saying Kate deserves this simply because she chose the life. I was just pointing out that William didn't volunteer and that she technically did. Doesn't mean she should be punished for the choice.

I think we may actually be in agreement. Apologies for taking so long to notice! (As a sidenote, thank you all for going along with the axes of Kate!)

Yeesh people. Of course she had a reasonable expectation of privacy, at an enclosed, private estate in the middle of nowhere. The paps are greedy, self-absorbed privcay violaters.

And here's a strong view on 1.

From what I've seen and heard (and no, I didn't go looking for the pictures, but they are everywhere), she didn't "walk around topless." She was sunbathing by a pool on a VERY private estate and took her top off to avoid tan lines, as many, many women do. As far as she knew, there was no one around except her husband. This scum-dweller was on a distant road overlooking the estate with a CIA-grade zoom lens. I think even celebrities-- maybe especially celebrities-- are entitled to a reasonable expectation of privacy and the ability to retreat from public scrutiny for the occasional break. This was not a situation where a reasonable person would have expected to be photographed. Personally, my guess is that if it were entirely up to her she'd be willing to shrug the whole thing off and go on with her life. William and the Palace are reacting rather more forcefully because you have to think that being hounded by paparazzi is a PARTICULARLY TOUCHY SUBJECT for him. If they can make it costly for the press to print these photos, maybe they'll think twice about it. I, for one, an simply glad to see him stick up for his wife, rather than leave her hanging out to dry.

After this case on 1 and 3, I think I'm going to have to wrap up, although we could well argue this all day!

Thank you all for a very vivid discussion.

I'm curious if those who think it's an invasion of her privacy opted not to look at the photos out of respect, of if they looked anyway. It would be pretty hypocritical, but at the same time its' human nature to want to look.

That's a discussion for another day.

I haven't looked, but I can understand the impulse.

She should just show up everywhere topless. Then no one will make a fuss about all of this anymore.

That's certainly one solution.

If a photographer with a telephoto lens is on public property -- in Kate's case, the photog was on a public road -- then it doesn't matter if Kate's on private or public property if she's outdoors.

Here's another on 1.

I really wouldn't use the term "paps" in a case like this. I really wouldn't.

And on that note...

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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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