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ComPost Live with Alexandra Petri

Dec 03, 2013

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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Good day, all!

I think we might have a Choose Your Own Adventure chat next week, if there's interest! 

In the mean time, let's talk (post) turkey!

gets the cold shoulder.

Then again, the early cannibal has to make awkward conversation with the main course while waiting for the chef to sneak up behind him or her with a big mallet. 

Websites that tease you with a link such as "The 15 Wackiest Things a President Ever Said", and you click on the link, which turns out to be a 3 minute video consisting of an ad, an anchorperson, and a filmed slideshow with the quotes superimposed on pictures of the presidents. If I wanted to watch TV, I'd be, um, watching TV.

Shhhhh we need the revenues

I need your help settling a family argument that ripped apart our otherwise happy Thanksgiving dinner. My Republican uncle claims that the correct term for our health care system is Obamabidencare to which my solid Republican Uncle corrected him and told him it is Hillarycare. My Democratic Uncle says the correct term is Romneycare. My Grandfather, a historian, confused everyone by calling it Bobdolecare. Will you please settle this dispute? What is the correct term for our health care system?

All are incorrect. The correct term is Pelosicare, with the emphasis on the "O."

The *, since Vonnegut's "Breakfast of Champions".


Okay, chat's over, we can return to our homes.

Say it with runes!

Mine is that wingding that looks like a drunk tree.

The rest of you are on the list.

"The list"?

Programmers know * is called a splat and ! a bang and ^ a hat. | is a pipe, / is a whack and \ a backwhack. And @^) means the writer is a cyclops.

I'm going to start referring to "whacks" and "backwhacks" a lot more. Those are great! 

We are the knights of sexuality, birth control, gender issues, and civil rights. You may bless us now!

I meant the other ones. You're cool. You can stay!

it is her older cousin Joan that I worry about. Joan is 10 or 15 years older than Janis. She hasn't driven a car for a decade because she is so worried about the phone ringing or working the GPS or getting into an accident with someone who is texting. She won't read her own e-mail or even really turn on a computer because she is worried about "deleting something important." She only talks on a cell phone when her husband answers it and hands it to her and won't turn it off. She insists on being at home at 4:00 to watch Judge Judy or Dr. Phil or whoever it is who is on at 4:00. She won't use the DVR because it is "too complicated" even though she occassionally managed to use the VCR when she was much younger. The only technology that is new in the last 20 years that she has embraced is an ipad that she uses ONLY for facetime with the grandkids. God, I wish I weren't speaking from experience here. I really do.

See, my grandparents are remarkably technologically hip when it comes to computers, although based on the requests they make when I come to visit I worry that they only get the TV to work twice annually. 

Me too. I love the information presented on but I seldom have the patience to sit through the videos. I read a lot faster than I watch/listen.

I do wish there were some way of warning people that What You Are About To Click On Is A Video. It seems only polite. But then again, all the people who feel as you and I do wouldn't click on it. 

"The boffins behind the 'bot explain that it takes about 60 milliseconds for a human hand to form the shapes used to indicate a rock, paper or scissors. The bot's sensors can figure out what their adversary will offer after about 40 milliseconds and react accordingly." We lost at chess and now they are eating our lunch at this...Google gets its way, driving cars? The bots are scalping tickets in the UK. A concert is like $500 a seat if you can find a ticket. Makes a speeding ticket seem affordable. It goes !100, why does the sign say 65 MPH?

I think about this a lot. I think a perfect application of self-driving cars would be taxis -- you get in, you type your address into the GPS, and it takes you there in record speed, and then when you pay with a credit card because you don't have any cash on you you don't feel awful and guilty about it because hey, it's a robot! 

The yogh's on you.


I like the name "whack" and "backwhack" but it's exhausting enough explaining to co-workers that / is a slash and \ is a backslash. And saying "backslash, the one above your Enter key" doesn't help.

But it should be clear to any readers of the Sheryl Sandberg book that the backslash is not Leaning In. 

Now that your futures are in package delivery? Or how would Bertie feel, for that matter?

The prospect of a Drone being called upon to do any actual work is, as it always is in the actual Wodehouse series, quite terrifying. All your packages would probably wind up plummeting into the pool after the rings were tied up by mistake. 

I love that the Portuguese word for "circumflex" (the caret that appears over certain vowels in Portuguese and French, e.g.) is "chapeuzinho," which literally means a little hat. How evocative!

That's great! That's better than backwhack! 

When you showed "::" in your list I thought 'scope' of a variable in c++ ... am I in the wrong chat?? And, what happened to my favorite ... "he reached out and touched ..."

We interrupt your regularly scheduled programming...

Yeah, no, it threw me off as well. Any time too many colons get together it looks like they're up to something.

Milton Keynes will play host to a fleet of smartphone-controlled driverless pods powered by electric motors and gunning around the town at 12mph. A hundred of the wee pods, which will only have enough space for two passengers and some luggage, will start rolling around the blocky Midlands town in 2015, whizzing between the central train station, the shopping centre and office blocks a mile away. 2015 and the Amazon drones are coming. Pizza NOW!

This sounds exciting, although on the other hand it requires you to go to Milton Keynes.

Look, pal, ^ is a caret and not a hat. I'll defend it to the death armed only with my pica ruler (and maybe my green eyeshade if I can throw it, Oddjob-style).

Grammar duels are definitely the way of the future. 

(Well, after driverless cars.)

Try being a War Baby (i.e., conceived during WW II)! At school we were mercilessly taunted on the playground during recess by older kids with the sing-song "Kindergarten baby, born in the Navy" -- a slur implying we were fathered by unpatriotic men of questionable character who remained stateside while our mothers' husbands were real men who went off to fight in WW II (so Tom Brokaw could one day dub them "the greatest generation"). We're also a much smaller cohort than Boomers, so tend to have little identity of our: born too late for the Korean War, old enough for our men to have had 2-S draft deferments (especially if they went on to grad school) to get them out of the Vietnam War. No one pays us any attention. At best we're regarded as looking like Boomers who haven't aged well.

That is quite a fate! On behalf of all of us, apologies! At least the Gen-X'ers didn't have to deal with sing-song taunts about their parentage and got their own share of trend pieces back in the day (admittedly a dubious blessing). 

all the programmers I know call them slashes and backslashes, not whacks and backwhacks.


At the Drones, Club, the rings were always tied up on purpose.

True. But then again fate's happenstance oft wins more than toil, or something. 

I prefer "rock, paper, scissors, lizard, Spock," although it takes me longer to form "Spock" carefully.

What wins in this? And how do you make the lizard?

In his chat yesterday, Thomas Boswell said that NFL owner Daniel Snyder doesn't have a trusted GM to help cure his blind spots, and concluded, "Bertie needs Jeeves." I am now calling Snyder "Bertie" from now on, and I encourage you to get Boswell's advice on any future Wodehousean pastiches. Unless you were advising Bos all along...

I often vacillate as to whether I'd be a Bertie or a Jeeves. I'm not sure I enjoy mystery novels enough to be Bertie full time, but given that one of my greatest joys in life is cheerily coming up with ill-advised schemes while spouting quotations that may or may not be applicable to the given situation, it seems to be where my natural tendency lies. 

Don't forget Watson, either, who defeated Ken Jennings on "Jeopardy!"

How could I? It also took down Brad Rutter, which people often forget!

Slotbot? Maybe we can run stuff on coins like way back when? Drop a dime and the phone works. Two bits for a cold Coke! A quarter for a paper. You could make tokens for parking and make out parking.

Who doesn't long for an era of parking by token?

That's not grammar. It's punctuation, or rather semanitcs or lexical errors. Everything that someone thinks is wrong is not "grammar."

You're right, you're right. Really a lot that we allow to slide under the heading of grammar really falls under the heading of Unbearable Nitpickery. But grammar sounds nicer. I'm often guilty of this, alas.

I think 4-Fs or exempt farm workers had it worse, being handed white feathers by total strangers who assumed they were draft-dodging.

Oh, boo. 

Do people still hand out white feathers at all? 

Heck, even the Post has its own online Grammar Geek chat today. Link:

Nitpickery, now and forever! 

My dad was a war baby as well. His dad was a somewhat older farmer so he was not drafted. My dad too was too young for Korea and then old enough that he was no drafted in Vietnam. I never recalled him saying that he or his brothers were teased for being a war baby though. However, towards the end of his career, his state government agency assigned him a laptop computer. He never once turned it on. He has still never done more than looked at a computer screen.

I doubt he's much worse off for it. 

/ is a virgule. No-one knows what an @ is.

Is either the British term for the slash, or a medical condition. You have to be careful with punctuation.

I am on the fringe between generation x and generation y (I refuse to call them millenials). Being born in 1978, I am sometimes excluded from both generations, depending on the article or included in both. I prefer to reject both and just be a fringe person with no belonging.

I hate Generation Y because it implies the inevitable presence of a Generation Z in the wings, and Millennial sounds more like an Apocalyptic Be-All End-All Generation which is how most generations secretly think of themselves, I think. 

This seems highly exploitable. If you know the computer's tactic, it seems like it would be impossible to lose. Simply start the motion for one and then change to the other.

Ah, but I think it detects both, surely?

I'm a Gen-Xer who clearly remembers the July 16, 1990 Time magazine story "twentysomething," possibly the first trend story on this group (if only because "Gen X" was not used). I remember discussing it with a friend who rhapsodized about how perfectly it described him and all of his friends. I was horrified. So maybe the horrifying trend story appeals to a certain (peculiar) group.

I'm amazed your friend recognized himself in it. One of the things I remember my AP Human Geography teacher saying was that if you ever came across a list of regional stereotypes, the one that didn't make you laugh and that you suspected Might Be Going Too Far was the one that most accurately described you. 

The real key to this conundrum is whether you can be accompanied by your natural complement, and have both of you happy with the situation. In other words, I wouldn't want to be Bertie unless I had a Jeeves, or for that matter Jeeves if I didn't have a Bertie.

That is true. Bertie without Jeeves goes flailing off into an engagement with Florence Craye or Madeline Bassett. Jeeves without Bertie works himself into an early but immaculate grave, completely unappreciated.

To Correct and To Serve.

That would be fun to emblazon on a coat but inevitably you would realize a week later that it had a misplaced comma. 

That calls for a semicolon, not a comma. Pfft.


see this is the problem with ever writing about grammar or punctuation or nitpickery

it turns on you

i'm going to write only in stream-of-consciousness from now on and maybe i will italicize it but probably i will not

When I was growing up our local bus system sold tokens -- this was back when bus drivers had change dispensers, too! -- and we could either pay 25¢ for a local ride or buy 5 tokens for $1. Sic transit gloria mundi, or something like that...

i used to use bus tokens! that's one of those Things That Used To Be Different that filters pretty swiftly out of memory

punk punctuation would look like.

!Q*#)%^!#)*^)*#!_* %^+&*)#!^%)*

no that's a comics character cursing, never mind

Hmm. Should it be "for ever"?


Now Paul is a real estate novelist, Who never had time for a wife. And he's talking with Davy who's still in the navy, And probably will be for life. And the waitress is practicing politics, As the businessmen slowly get stoned. Yes, they're sharing a drink they call loneliness, But it's better than drinking alone.

great now this will be stuck in my head for the rest of the day

i just started whistling it in an effort to inflict it on others

does this still count as stream of consciousness?

the past isnt dead its not even past

and i said Yes Yes I Will Yes 

You know that thing S.J. Perelman wrote in the New Yorker back in 1944, "Insert Flap A and Throw Away", about his difficulties assembling some sort of cardboard closet thing and a toy truck? Do you think that was the first of the long line of humor columns about struggling with some-assembly-required kits, or do you know of an older one?

james thurber does a number about his difficulties in driving and i'm almost certain if i went through his collected works there'd be something on the subject

it would surprise me if max beerbohm did nothing on this, although he liked to pretend that time had stopped after the edwardian era because the people then were 'easier to draw'

benchley also seems like a good bet but i'll have to look for it. he does one about how fishing trips with your buddies are never as much fun as they're cracked up to be, and about how rare game hens are having trouble mating, so i bet he'd swipe almost any available fruit

I does. And don't call me Shirley

good good you are all still listening

that sounds pretty desirable to me. YOu can skip all those pontificating articles based on wholesale assumptions.

but they are so often presented to you that you would think it might rankle a little

Except that nearly all the arguments put forth on that one involve style and usage rather than grammar or syntax.

quick everyone go stampede over there and tell him so

Needs more excrescence.

well i think you're flagitious

"Human Geography?" Did you also take plant calculus and world chemistry and plane philosophy?

human geography is the best kind! regular geography, you waste all kinds of time learning Where Things Are. human geography, you dedicate all that time to Why and What's Going On Demographically. i often forget where things are, but i know for certain whether they're about to face unprecedented demands from an aging population

Did you see this article (with maps) re regional dialects of American speech?

That was a pun on public transit.

Sic transit gloria transit

Actually, it calls for a period between each part: "You're right. You're right." Or better yet, exclamations points, as were used in the movie title "The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!"

I think what it actually calls for is for me to go screaming out of the chat flinging interrobangs at everyone

Mark Twain proved that poor grammar and bad spelling can make for great writing. Mistakes sell because people buy what they are familar with.

then why does sex sell?

I believe one calls that "Anatomy"....


"When I split an infinitive, goddammit, I split it so that it will stay split."

Who was it who said 'i don't split infinitives. i smash them into tiny pieces so that they are completely unrecognizable and have to be identified later by dental records but their family still wonders sometimes if they might not still be out there'

If people won't buy it, you can sell pet health insurance with a name like yours. Cover your cat!

the trouble with covering your cat is how quickly the cat wriggles out from underneath it and hisses at you

it is a process similar to sweatering a dog

"American Graffiti," which depicts kids who graduated from high school in June 1962 (so they were born in 1944). It was inspired by George Lucas' adolescence in Modesto, California.

all roads lead to george lucas

My mom graduated from high school in December 1929, one-and-one-half months after the stock market crash. My grandfather lost the college-fund he'd saved up for her, so instead she wound up going to secretarial school (for which she was way over-qualified).

That really is tough timing! That generation deserves all the adjectives it can get!


Human geography really is one of the best subjects to learn about, although it can make me frustrated with people who have no knack for understanding that sort of thing, like when I was showing a map of 19th century Prince George's County to someone and he was blown away at the discovery that a bunch of major towns were along the same railroad line (like, can you imagine?)


Scissors cut paper; Paper covers rock; Rock crushes lizard; Lizard poisons Spock; Spock smashes scissors; Scissors decapitate lizard; Lizard eats paper; Paper disproves Spock; Spock vaporizes rock; Rock crushes scissors.

I'm sure it would feel more logical in gameplay, but I can't help suspecting I don't have enough hands for this.

We economists call them hats, so everyone else should too! duh!

What the economists say, goes!

-famous last words

I too am on the cusp - born in 1965, I am usually considered the first year of Gen X, but only barely. And in no real way am I Boomer. Like th e previous poster, we're sorta stuck in the middle.

There should be a meetup group for this!

I was born in 1962 and many definitions of the Baby Boom include all born up to 1964, but I have always been a Gen X'er in my tastes and manners, R.E.M. and Douglas Coupland instead of the Beatles and Norman Mailer for instance. Is there a national registry where I can get myself classified and GenX for all time?

This is, I think, one of those horoscope things where some calendars list Pisces as ending on the 19th and others on the 20th, and if you fall in the grey area and clearly identify one way, you should just insist it's objective. 


The Interrobang Theory could be an interesting show. 

Stealer's Wheel -- "Clowns to the left of me, / Jokers to the right, here I am, / Stuck in the middle with you."


And on that note, I may skedaddle! Get primed for next week! Have a great Tuesday, keep reading the Compost, and feel free to be you and me and join me on Twitter. 

Being born in 1964 but not feeling like a Baby Boomer I invented the term Tail Boomer for those of us who missed all the fun.

How about Late Boomers?

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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