ComPost Live with Alexandra Petri

Mar 04, 2014

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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Button pushed! Whoops!

How's everyone doing?

Estoy embarazada does not mean "I'm embarrassed;" it means "I'm pregnant."

And now, you're both!

So I suppose that next you will suggest that women should excel in science and engineering and stuff too??? Heh. Nice piece AP.

Please, women need to excel in science and engineering if their baking is going to be any good. We all know that is a woman's chiefest glory.

Oh, that's great! Lolita's opener makes a lovely diagram.

I think I medaled in Unintentional Ice Dancing. And the spellcheck is certain I actually "meddled" in Unintentional Ice Dancing.

As long as you executed enough twizzles, I believe I can put you on the podium.

Speaking of unintentional ice dancing, WHAT OR WHOM DO I HAVE TO SACRIFICE A GOAT UNTO TO MAKE THIS MEDDLESOME WINTER STOP? I'm serious. I don't even think the neighbors would mind the goat carcass and burning heaps of incense, once I explained what I was doing.

If the infallible Pope, as well as Vice President Cheney as printed in the Washington Post, have used the "f" word, does that mean the "f" word is now a permissible word to say?

As long as you're infallible!

for pointing out that one of the real problems with 50 Shades is that the sales imply that people don't know how to find similar stuff for free. Just to test your theory about not knowing how to google for it, I googled "twilight fan fiction." Not too complicated, right? The first page had at least three locations to find stories, a pinterest list of recommendations, and a list of related searches at the bottom of the page - including adding NC-17 to the end. So, how can a person capable of buying an e-book, not be able to execute a google search that easy? I'm guessing that the people who bought it, mostly got it by reputation of those specific books, not because they were looking for that "sort of thing." Which makes me weep for my hopes that someday people will realize that they shouldn't ever pay any attention to advertising, specifically political advertising. It seems we are hardwired to give in to wanting something that is plugged to us, not to go searching for what we want on our own. Plus, the whole point of fan fiction is to free ride off of interesting characters that have already been created and somewhat established in the minds of the audience, right? It is a short cut. Why bother with the characters from Twilight? They are dull as dishwater. What's-her-face is no Lady M/Juliet/Ophelia/Cordelia/Desdemona, is she?

Thanks for doing a test run! You're right, it does seem like it should be so simple.

Then again, maybe it'll get easier as more generations grow up with the Internet and are used to searching for what they want on their own and getting it, immediately. Maybe people used to plugging every idle question (and Rule 34-based query) into the magical answer machine that is the online world will be better able to find the thing they actually want before the advertising machine tells them they want it. Then again, I doubt we'll be clear of advertising any time soon. How else would we know which traps have the best cheese?

I think the characters from Twilight actually do fulfill a couple of criteria for fanfiction writing, one of which is that they are attractive people to picture in your mind, and the other of which is that on their own they are such blank slates that you could write all over them for hours and hours. With characters who are already well-defined, you have to worry about if your dialogue sounds like something they would say, whether you're changing them too quickly, etc. The Twilight people -- you're safe on that front as long as Bella bites her lip a couple of times.

Saturday, I judged a Technology Student Association event. It was a debate between two (middle school) kids on a specific topic. Two boys chose "the lack of women in technology." Pro said things like "women are as smart as men or maybe smarter" and "they're good at things like hairdressing." That was pro. Con said "'behind every successful man there's a woman' and that's how she should fulfill herself" and "women can't do the heavy lifting." I was dumbfounded.

"They're good at things like hairdressing"?

Oh man. Oh boy. Oh man.

Then again, asking middle school boys to say anything that doesn't dumbfound you and strike you with despair has historically had a low success record.

Still, yeergh.

You think kids would LOVE the snow and snowdays. We explained to the kids last night that today is the county's (Montgomery) 9th snow day. They allow for 4. This means, absent a state waiver, school is extended 5 days into the summer (yes, 1 full week). Any more, and they go to school until July. They now hate the snow.

And the trouble with this area's wimpy ttitude toward snow conditions is that we waste all our snow days on the tentative half-inches of nothing, like a hypochondriac squandering sick days on a hint of cough, and then when we actually get the weather equivalent of whooping nasty fever-flu, we have to use our vacation time.

I am so with you on that ritual goat sacrifice thing if it makes the weather nicer. We broke cold temp records at both BWI and Dulles last night. And it is so wrong that we go to DST this weekend. The move to Daylight Savings Time should be marked by sunshine and indications of spring!

We could try to form our own time zone where we mutiny and shout, "NO SPRINGING FORWARD UNTIL WE GET OUR SUNSHINE AND INDICATIONS OF SPRING."*

If anyone tries to foist it on us anyway, we can just lean menacingly towards him or her and say, "THEN PRODUCE A CROCUS, YA [Pope's Word]!"

*Slogan needs work.

"Unintentional Ice Dancing With the Stars". We may have something there, Let's work on that.

Get John Travolta to announce it, and I'm sold.

Weeks ago you called out Winter and told it to knock it off. Well, it's still vortexing, snowing, etc. Several times recently; Martians punked our rover with that jelly doughnut, Canadians stole our hockey medals, etc those actions were not met with strong action. So, are you going to let Winter get away with it?

Get away with it? I'm completely at my wits' end! I already tried writing it a strongly worded letter, but it didn't listen! That's my only skill!  I guess I could microwave something at it? But if it doesn't respond to words, our options are pretty limited.

This is why there are no male hairdressers.

Middle school logic at its finest.

I would note that middle school students indeed do not have fully formed impressions of the world and often are more apt to rely upon stereotypes. Yet, I also find it interesting that females tend to learn faster at earlier ages and they tend to be the better students in elementary years. What I do find interesting is middle school students often presume that males are more deserving of the more intellectual pursuits when their life observations have been that the females are smarter.

Hmm, that's an interesting thought! This is where my single-sex education puts me at a disadvantage, because I can't remember what the perception was in the classroom. I guess my only question there would be whether the class's perception of who's doing the best and learning the fastest matches the teachers' perception. However much they actually are revealed to know once called on, boys are historically pretty good at raising their hands in class, and even if the girls are actually reigning in the grade book, unless they are also the sort of classroom-dominating Hermione types who do not hide their lights under a bushel basket, I wonder if middle schoolers notice that they are out-performing the guys.

Someone who had guys in the classroom, help me out here!

Well, that was silly of you. Now you have complaining kids in your house who won't go out and play in the snow.

"Never mind, forget I said anything, go back to living for the satisfaction of the present moment!"

Have you seen's app for Travoltafying your name?

Yes! I'm "Amelia Prizeef."

The best team was composed of two girls. I did a post-chat with one boy/girl team; the girl said she wants to be an engineer and I said "too bad you didn't get that 'enough women in engineering' topic." She said they chose that once and she spoke for 3 and a half minutes and only left her partner ("con") thirty seconds, so they agreed to skip that topic in the future.


Okay, hope somewhat restored.

Anyone remember how John Kennedy stated "I am a jelly donut"? Anyone remember when they found Ted Kennedy's profile on Mars? Anyone remember when they found a jelly donut on Mars? Is anyone else beginning to see a pattern?

Wait, I've got it, I've got it:


no, wait,


no, wait




no, hang on


I have this

hang on

the perfect teachable moment: "Kids, do you know what 'reductio ad absurdum' means?"

"You can remember it because its initials are RAA, which is also the sound this sort of absurd argument causes you to make."

From your Fifty Shades column. This makes perfect sense. No one on the bus can tell what you're reading on your Kindle.

Yes, exactly! No cover-shaming.

Before, when you bought books with covers that people would judge not only the books, but also you, by, you had to wrap them specially in opaque fabrics. In fact, I once visited the website of a romance author who included suggestions for how to make such a cover.

Now, everyone on the subway could be reading anything! Anything!

Oh, come on ... Sounds like you're thinking like those middle school boys. We all know you have special powers ...

I've got it!


The John Travolta name generator tells me I am "Joey Travolta".

Sounds suspicious to me.

that I was beating the guys in the grade game all through Jr High. However, my mother was so busy telling my younger brother and me that he was "gifted" and I was "academically gifted" that I still thought that my intelligence had no use beyond school work and he was the really smart one. I did let one teacher have it once in high school. One of the guys joined the math team his senior year. We had a new (male) coach who didn't know enough about the people on the team at all. For our first meet of the year in the league in which only two seniors could compete, he picked my male teammate and the new guy. He let me captain the JV. On the bus, I walked up to him and said, "You don't understand how this works. You are going to regret not putting me on varsity." He didn't care. Paul got 9 out of a possible 18 points and had to be given an easier competition schedule than a senior should have had. I had a perfect meet (18 out 18 no matter which rounds he had put me in) and the JV had a perfect team round with me in charge. On the bus ride back, I walked up to the coach and said, "I told you so." He did acknowledge that I was right.

Oh, ouch, that "academically gifted"/"gifted" parse is really winceworthy. Glad you realized what was actually going on.

And I'm at least glad the coach admitted his mistake!

I now have a Venn diagram that intersects presidents, planets, and breakfast food.

I keep inputting those but I think I did something wrong because everyone's now orbiting Taft.

We are not crazy. We know the Ted Kennedy profile on Mars was easily explained by coincidental shadowing. Also, the jelly donut on Mars is also easily explained. Martians like jelly donuts.

They're only human, after all.

...There were plain or variously-patterned nondescript covers for your book, whether scandalous or otherwise, that you didn't need the rest of the world to observe.

I do hate the lack of cover with ereaders, though. (Or, depending on your perspective, the abundance of cover.) I love knowing what other people are reading. If we don't have covers, when someone on the subway comes up and starts raving to you about how much he loved "A Moveable Feast" it won't be a fun, touching moment of literary bonding and will instead mean  that person is crazy. That will be sad!

Came up blank, but I did learn that an Inuit children's story is that if you whistle at the northern lights, then ghosts will come down and cut your head off.

Wow, adding that to my To Don't list.

Johnnie Cloirk

That's great!

Seriously. If you love characters from a book so much, is it possible to enjoy fan fiction? I can't bring myself to read any of the Pride & Prejudice books that involve explicit scenes between Darcy and Elizabeth or involve their children because I know that will ruin P&P for me. Not sure those qualify exactly as fan fiction, but I think I'd feel that way about other fan fiction - if I like a book or characters, I like them as written by the original author, so why let someone else ruin it?

It also sounds as though you thought the books were lovely as they were, even sans a couple of scenes. I think fanfiction is most compelling when you leave a film or a book saying "OH ARE YOU KIDDING ME HOW DID CHARACTER X AND CHARACTER Z NEVER GET TOGETHER? DIDN'T THE AUTHOR NOTICE THEY WERE PERFECT FOR ONE ANOTHER? EVERYTHING'S A LIE!" It's for the itch left unsatisfied by the original. And sometimes people are uncannily good at it. Pride & Prejudice & Sex & Crustaceans or Mr. Darcy Takes A Wife And Then Takes On A Cephalopod don't really scratch that kind of itch, unless you insist that every book you read contain nudity and squid.

I am also a Prizeef, but not a Petri, so we're only Travolta cousins. Not sure whether that means you get invited to my funeral or what?

No, I only get invited if you're EGOTing, and vice versa!

When I'm reading on the subway, I want to be left alone with my book.

I'll leave you alone! I just want to know what the book is. I promise not to bother you like I bothered a man sitting near me on an airplane reading Pilgrim's Progress: Part Two on his kindle. Unless you're reading Pilgrim's Progress: Part Two, because it's so strange and allegorical and at the end all the children get married and who READS that on a plane?

Out of scientific curiosity, I tried to Travoltify Travolta's name and this is what I got -- "Jan Thozomas"

I wonder if there are any Travola-proof names.

Oh ! I am SOOOOO going to use that whenever I need to blaspheme around people who might otherwise be offended. So much better than "cheez-and-rice".

True! Let's tell the Pope!

P&P and Zombies. The scene quoted in the ads was absolutely brilliant ("have all your ninjas left you?" inquired Lady Catherine), and I assumed the whole novel would be like that. It turned out to be the one diamond in the mud.

I am sad to hear it, but not surprised. Some books sell on cover alone.

Years ago, we did an unscientific study based upon previous observations on Philadelphia buses. If you are the only person reading on a bus and there is a seat empty next to you, the person who likes to chat with others almost always picks the seat next to the person reading.

I did read a study once (I forget who conducted it) saying that if you wanted to look approachable to people on the subway, the best thing was to read a newspaper, and the worst thing was to stare at your phone. For whatever that's worth.

There should be no move to DST. Having it for eight months of the year is patently insane, but having it at all no longer makes any sense, if it ever did.

But think of the 19th-century farmers! How will they survive?

Doesn't fan fiction boil down to Kirk and Spock tenderly and sexually expressing their physical yearnings each for the other? In explicit long drawn-out detail after page after page of tedious build-up?

This seems like a good note to end on.

Well, a note. Let's go with "a note."

Have a great week! Enjoy saving yourself some daylight! Buy books with covers! Keep reading the Compost and feel free to join 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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