The Washington Post

ComPost Live with Alexandra Petri

Jul 01, 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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Happy Tuesday, all! Let's get to it!

Alexandra, are you spending your vacation with us?

Well, to be honest, this is the workation (does that hideous portmanteau exist? I bet it does, because portmanteau-makers are ubiquitous and terrible) portion of the vacation where I have been beached in my apartment writing frenziedly on the book so when the vacation part of the vacation kicks in, I can go enjoy the sand and fireworks without feeling a pang. In theory.

I've never actually taken a laptop to the beach because mine is already on its last legs and given to emitting odd whirs and heating itself to alarming temperatures and I don't want to risk getting sand in it.

So how are Belgian Waffles different from American waffles??

In America, "waffle" is a verb!

Hey, speaking of Belgium, who else is pumped for the World War I-nniversary?

Here's some music to get us in the mood.

If so, what would you say to him?

"I hear 'Our American Cousin' is overrated, actually. Want to have a quiet evening at home instead?"

Does a bear poop in the woods. Why, does an EPA employee poop in the halls?

I am still not over this story and I don't understand how everyone else in the world has moved on, unruffled, with their lives, when there is an actual poop bandit on the loose in Denver.

I need some workplace advice. While at work, I accidentally fell and my teeth landed on top of an employee for another company. Everything thinks I deliberately bit him. How may I explain that it was all an accident?

Man, the Cleveland sales meeting! It always gets wild, doesn't it!

I would fall back on my acting skills. I hear they are a prerequisite in your line of work.

Am I the only one waiting for him to get another Pulitzer out of this? Lures readers in with the poop, veers off into sociopaths in the office, ends (inexplicably) with a violin solo?

Finally, the opportunity to combine excreta and classy long-form feature writing! Have there been previous poop-related Pulitzers?

Or, I guess I should say, poolitzers?

There is a restaurant in Montreal called Engaufrez-vous!, which translates as "Waffle Yourself!" (although gaufre is technically a noun.) Sadly I was not able to waffle myself when I visited, since evidently the waffle chef was waffling out of town that week.


The great actor and polymath Stephen Fry wrote a novel about someone who actually did manage to go back in time and kill Hitler and when he got back to his own time (todayish), he found to his horror that everyone had embraced Fascism enthusiastically so while millions hadn't been killed, the world wasn't actually better off.

That seems to be the going twist on time travel, just like "just kidding, it was not in fact the kiss of ROMANTIC love" seems to be the new twist on Disney fairy tales. It makes sense! We like to think that time travel would actually ruin things and that we are living all for the best in this best of all possible multiverses, but who's to say that we are not living in an alternate universe where Custer's disastrous presidency was cleverly prevented by sending him to Little Bighorn, and the overall consequences turned out to be way worse than for the people in Custerverse?

What are some other turning points that clearly broke one way or the other? I suppose there's a world where England intervened for the South in the Civil War, and things there can't be great, I'd imagine. Or one where Hamilton made it and Burr died. That one I'd visit. I bet the USA would look like Coruscant.

Those Cleveland sales meetings can get heated. My fellow attendees were really yelling at me for wearing my Redskins jacket last night. They said it was offensive, so I left. By the way, since I left, our event does anyone know if the Indians won or lost last night?

Well, in Custerverse...

and is the source of the word gopher. Because the French explorers thought that the critters' homes in the ground looked like a waffle.

That's strangely adorable!

nobody ever talks about the really, really serious medical conditions that can happen to middle-aged women that are best treated (yes, BEST) with an IUD. See, even I am doing it. OK, enough with the not saying it. Some (more than you think) women have an increase in menstrual bleeding when they start perimenopause. It can be as simple as a switch from a 28 day cycle to a 26 day cycle or it can be a lot, lot more serious. My mom ended up severely aenemic (hematocrit down to 6). If you don't do anything about it, you can end up with precancerous cells. When this happened to my mom, she had two choices - stay sick and risk cancer or a hysterectomy. She had the surgery which was very risky because of he anemia. Now, they give you an IUD which thins the endometrial material, solving both the excess bleeding and getting rid of any precancerous cells so that there is no need for a hysterectomy. There. You don't have to publish this. But boy does the real world need to know this is an issue. IUDs can prevent cancer or at least majob surgery undertaken to keep middle aged women from getting cancer.

No, I want to publish this!

The point is that lady-health problems affect the whole lady. It's not some mysterious oven that switches on and off and that's it, and if you aren't having what an eminent right-wing commentator called "sex without consequences" then you don't need to worry about it and won't ever have any health problems. Reproductive organs are part of a person, and, like other organs, their health affects the health of the whole person! It's amazing how this seems to be news to some people in 2014. It's almost but not quite like saying you can't get the full package of liver treatment because some people use their livers to drink bourbon and you're a teetotaler.

(22 year old spoiler alert) That was the twist behind the Lee Harvey Oswald episode of "Quantum Leap": in the original history, Jackie didn't survive.


Were there any other consequences, as long as we're spoiling?

What do you think of the new political tactic where you try to convince the voters that your opponent is dead, even when he is still alive?. I am not certain if that strategy has been totally been thought out. Yet it does make for interesting press inquiries: "Are you still alive/" "Can you prove you are alive?"

"Can you pass the Turing Test?"

"Okay, how about the Bechdel Test?"

If you were an alien, why would you bother replacing a congressman instead of someone important?

Well, according to some UFO theorists, they've already taken all the important people.

so if going back & killing hitler didn't help, maybe you should actually kill his parents, and then place him for adoption with a Jewish family (and not tell him he is adopted)

Hmm, but watch him pull a switch on us and insist that it's the blonde Aryan types who are responsible for all the world's ills. I assume not, but you never know with Hitler!

Well I did travel back in time and I did kill Hitler, Brad Pitt and I traveled back into time and killed him with a bomb in a theater. We returned and there is absolutely no difference in the world, except for reason the Kardashians are now famous.


Yeah, after the whole "A Sound of Thunder" explanation of time travel, I expected the Inglourious Basterds to flash forward to a future where everyone has flying skateboards but is strangely angry. And then -- nope, nothing.

Another actor, Richard Dreyfuss, collaborated on a novel with someone else, can't remember whom, called "The Two Georges" where the U.S. did not revolt against Great Britain, and the theft of a painting of George III and George Washington being BFFs is a key plot point.


I can see that, I think! If people hadn't kept snubbing George Washington for being a provincial officer, things might have gone quite differently.

That's my newly minted portmanteau for taking a vacation to get a task done and then not finishing it.

Oh no, it's the perfect portmanteau! I'm going to try to fight it as best I can!

Which means there's a universe out there where Europe suffered a brutal colonization at the hands of the native Americans, and it was decided that the Belgians were eating gopher holes. Personally, I like my gopher holes covered in whipped cream and berries. I like my gophers that way, too, I guess.

I've never had gopher. I imagine it would be all right on a waffle -- like chicken, but gamier!

written by Deyfuss and Harry Turtledove

Harry Turtledove! He did The Guns of the South, where the Civil War goes wildly differently!

Did you see the Sunday Kid's Post. Children were instructed to look up to great soccer players, like the featured Louis Suarez. Was that bad timing?

This wouldn't have happened in Jackie-verse.

Wasn't that nearly unwatchable? I hope that you have read the Bradbury story. "R is for Rocket" was the book for our short story unit in 8th grade English. We were only assigned about half of the stories. I think I finished the whole thing in less than 2 days.

No, of course not, the story! The story! I thought it went without saying! And then I realized that "The Butterfly Effect" was a different movie and it didn't.

Bradbury will do that. He really gets his hooks in you! Recently finished "The October Country." He was a horror master, and he didn't need sci fi to scare you, although towns full of alien doubles and a little girl who misses the sun altogether are the stuff of absolute nightmare too.

G. Washington agreed to the pleas of some Americans that he become king?

I wonder how long we'd have been stuck with a royal family! In this universe, did he have kids of his own? Because that could cause wrinkles. Imagine if John Adams' children and grandchildren had all been stuck with the crown. "The Education of Henry Adams" would never have happened!

Nazis time traveled to a century ahead of us. They are developing a technique where they will soon travel back into time and kill Churchill. Spoiler alert: Next week's discussion will be in German.

Achtung! Achtung! Schadenfreude! Aufklarung!

Well, I'm out.

That does explain what they were doing on the moon in that one movie.

I once had this brilliant idea: Alternative literature! What would have happened if Hamlet was too rational to believe in ghosts? And so ona nd so forth. Alas, I am not much of a writer to pursue the idea. Where as you are a writer. And a Shakespearean scholar of some repute. So how about taking my idea and running with it?

Oh, hurray, someone believes in my repute!

I like this plan! I think a lot of alternative literature can already be found in fanfiction, if you dare to tread there! Not the specific Hamlet you suggest, and a lot of "But what if all the characters were copulating?" but many other turning points get fleshed out.

Actually, and I'm sure you've heard this, I had one instructor point out that the thing about Hamlet is it's critical if he's Catholic or Protestant, and given that he's just been at Wittenberg this is up in the air. If he's Catholic, his father could be a legitimate visitor from purgatory. If he's Protestant, this is definitely 100% a demon sent to mislead him. (I think that was how it shook out.)

If I am a Christian Scientist and I start a company, may I decline to provide health care to my employees because I believe seeing doctors is against my religion?

You know, I was curious about that. The ruling seemed from what I read to hinge on what the employer believed about the medical treatment they were being asked to cover, rather than what the treatment actually scientifically did, and that seems to open a pre-t-t-y wide gate to people whose religion states that the only way to deal with illness is by prayer and the laying on of hands and the blessing of Zachary Comstock.

Wouldn't a problem with time travel would be that so many people would keep going back and changing things that soon nothing ln life would have any meaning, Which, is sort of where my life is now, but I digress,

*sad trombone plays in your corner of the multiverse*

No, I don't know, I think it can be depressing or hopeful. If it's always in flux, there's no point it's in flux from. Somebody with Science in him or her correct me on the theory, but if people were always going back and everything was always changing, it wouldn't feel any different than it does right now. If you were part of the stream, you would still feel that it was the same stream you'd always been part of and nothing in it would be different for you. It would only seem different from without. Maybe every day the world totally repopulates itself in new colors with new memories and some things are constant and others are variables, and all you can do is live your day. Maybe everything that can happen has happened. Or maybe it is happening.

Or maybe --dang it, who gave me Maureen Dowd's waffle?

There were no other consequences; that was the reveal at the end. As Oswald, Sam kept trying to prevent the assassination but couldn't. At the last moment he leaped out of Oswald and into the body of the Secret Service agent who jumped on the back of the car. He was despondent that he couldn't save the President, but then Al told him that saving President Kennedy was never the point; his mission was to save Jackie.

Oooooohhhhhhhhh I see. Sneaky, that.

The late great Dorothy L. Sayers pointed out that if Hamlet and Othello had switched plays, there wouldn't have been much of a play in either case, since Othello wouldn't have hesitated to kill King Claudius and Hamlet would have seen trhough Iago right away.

Yes! Their tragedy is being stuck in the wrong play! That's the literary multiverse for you!

that you know if Hamlet is Catholic or Protestant? He says that he thinks it might be a real ghost or something from hell sent to damn him, doesn't he? If Hamlet tells you he has the question, then you don't need to know whether he is a Catholic or a theologically confused Protestant, do you?

It would be interesting knowing where he's asking the question from, though.

If you ever get the chance, go see the play "Wittenberg" which combines Hamlet's stay there with Martin Luther's nailing his 95 theses to the cathedral door there. It's brilliant. Very Tom Stoppardish. BTW, I am even now looking for tickets for your play about Emma.

Oh, huzzah!

And Wittenberg is definitely on my list, but crawling closer to the top based on your summary!

. . . for "Alll Summer in a Day." Also read "Dark Carnival" if you can dig up a copy. The stories are much better than the October Country rewrite.

Wait, did he rewrite the individual stories or just water down the collection? Because I read most of the stories listed in the Table of Contents of Dark Carnival, and now I worry that Bradbury wrote better creepier versions of them that didn't make the reprint. Not even in the multiverse!

My fifth grade teacher used to read to us two different versions of T. H. White's The Once And Future King, one where Morgan le Fay was a large slug wallowing in fat and the other one where her castle was delectable and tasty-looking, and it really did alter the whole scene.

Imagine a scenario where Bertie and Jeeves get hit by lightning! And some how their souls, minds and intellect end up in each other's bodies. Go!

Oh no, that's a tragedy! I suppose they'd be all right as long as they had each other. But the class difference worries me! An incompetent insouciant valet who is overly given to doing favors for his no-good chums and a brainy cove with the grey matter in surplus who can extricate himself from any scrape --well, I mean to say, what?

A Jeeves wouldn't want Bertie as a valet, I don't think. And Bertie would be lost without him.

Then again, assuming the lightning struck during the canon when they were already acquainted, this would make many things easier -- "Bertie" would simply but politely turn down the unceasing tide of beazels flung his way by aunts, and "Jeeves" would -- I guess he'd stay away from the ties.

I just time traveled. Spolier alert: Lady Sybil lives.

Man, I'd forgotten all about Lady Sybil. (I remember Dre, however, and do not act like otherwise!)

I saw a protest sign that read "If men could get pregnant, birth control would be bacon flavored." Forget the politics. How do we get bacon flavored birth control?

That will have to be next week's first order of business. Win-win-win-win for everyone involved.

Spoiler, but things DO NOT end up ok if JFK was saved.

Thanks, Stephen King!

at the end of the summer (end of August I think) as part of an Alec Guiness festival. I think the chatters should do a meet up.

Ooh, let me check the dates on that! How far-flung are you, friends? Would this appeal?

There is a movie coming out this weekend that tells what the world would be like if George Washington had been killed in battle. Since it is by known philanderer and Dartmouth grad Dinesh D'Souza I would be suspect of its validity.

Hey, some of my best friends are known philanderers and Dartmouth grads, although generally not at the same time!

(Wait, sudden deja vu. Did he come up last week? Or is the multiverse playing tricks on us?)

Who at the Washington Post is most likely to be an alien robot?

Off-hand I would say IG-88, our ombudsman.

He rewrote (many of) the stories. "Jack-in-the-Box" in particular was completely . . . well, I hate to say destroyed, but no other word is coming to mind.

Well, I really thought it was a waste of potential in its present form, so I'm moving "Dark Carnival" to the top of the list next to Wittenberg and bacon contraceptives for the world.

"Wikihistory", which takes place on the International Association of Time Travelers Members' Forum.

Oh, I love this one! Always relevant!

Aren't you worried about leaving your blog in the hands of known Weingarten acolyte? She might not be willing to give it back. I mean, isn't that how you took it from Dan Milbank?

Not worried at all, although I have to say, leaving the blog with someone else, even someone cool whom I trust, makes me realize how parents feel when they leave the kid with a babysitter. You're sure nothing terrible will happen, but it takes you a day to calm the itching in the back of your mind that makes you want to rush back and say "No, no, I'll take little Davey off your hands! I don't need to see the beach!"

Remind me not to name my child Little Davey.

Hey, I'd be glad to be the Dana in this scenario if this leads to my getting widely syndicated, appearing frequently on TV, and getting to pump down the volume a little!

Unions and contraceptions both lost in recent Supreme Court decisions. I presume this means we may expect an enlarged future generation of non-union employees.

Meanwhile, in the multiverse, this ruling did not happen. And elsewhere in the multiverse, a wild-eyed Chief Justice Ginsburg, drunk with power, has outlawed all religion on the grounds that it used to be rude to women.

Better late than never.

Where in the multiverse have you traveled from, stranger?

Um, I am the last person in the world to defend D'Souza, since all of his works are fiction, but this IS fiction we're talking about here, to which the term "validity" does not apply.

You must have gotten here late! In our universe, there is no such thing as fiction!

Facebook informed us that the Grand Duke of Austria was assassinated 100 years ago. And they waited unlit now to tell us?

I love BREAKING: ANNIVERSARY stories like that.

BREAKING: The Titanic Sank 100 Years Ago!

A Belgium waffle hesitates before shooting for a goal. An American waffle trips while running for the ball.

Also that! And their nutella is supposedly different

I have time traveled, and I am so ashamed of myself, Please, let me apologize. I had no idea Justin Bieber would happen.


You... DID... this.

He was the Archduke, not the Grand Duke. Grand Dukes were Russian back then. Oh, and Luxembourger too.

Whoops, sorry, skimmed the first one. You're right, of course: Archduke Franz Ferdinand! And don't forget about his morganatic wife Sophia! Or Dre! Or Lady Sybil!

Between the start of WWI, the end of the war of 1812, and the 150th of the Civil War, I never know where I am. Maybe I'm time-trveling.

Soon there won't be any room for news with all the anniversaries! Especially now that the Boomers have their hands on things.

A galaxy, rather... (I would volunteer to go back in time and slay this Jar Jar Binks character on the drawing board though. He seems to trouble you much.)

Stab an eraser through his heart and I'll be eternally grateful, even if multiverse me won't know what bullet we dodged.

Although, this makes me think: what if something worse than Jar Jar lurks out there and would appear in his place? Perhaps it's better to bear the Jar Jars we have than fly to others that we know not of, to combine a couple of chat themes.

And those delightful Serbs, always the contrarians, have just unveiled a statue of the anarchist who shot the Archduke.

Gavrilo Princip and The Black Hand!

Hey, that's almost a better band name than Franz Ferdinand.

Little Davey is doing just fine. You don't mind if I let him try a sip of beer, and wine, and maybe a shot or two of bourbon?

Oogh, on that note, I should rush away and put out some fires!

Have a great Fourth, all! And see you on the flip side, when I'll be back at my Post post! Keep reading the Compost and feel free to join me on Twitter!

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