ComPost Live with Alexandra Petri

Aug 13, 2019

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Live chat with Alexandra Petri at 11 a.m. ET. Submit questions and comments for her to respond to now.

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Happy Tuesday, all! How are things?

It seems like everyone is having their "Fair" at this time of year. Politicians visit the Iowa State Fair, the Pennsylvania RenFair has started here in PA, even the Kennett Square Mushroom Festival is on September's horizon. What fairs do you like to attend and what is your favorite part - food, crafts, rides, animal displays?

I enjoy a good state or county fair! One with games and fried treats, some livestock, and ideally a large slide. I have, astoundingly, never been to the Maryland RenFair but I am determined to rectify that this year. 

Have you seen these? Why does my office phone cord just twist itself into knots instead of a sheep?

Yes, I have! They’re terrific! I wondered where all the telephone cords had gone but now I understand: they were contributing to Art.

When Gene's chat is canceled, as it is today, do you feel like a starting pitcher the day after a long, extra-inning game who knows she has to eat up a lot of innings because the bullpen is depleted?

*nods sagely* Yes, that was the very metaphor that suggested itself to me! 

Tin foil sales are up. Bigly.

Not yet, but the day is young! I do think it would be a really bold move of the boomers to inflict so much moon landing remembrance on us if it were, as some conspiracists never tire of insisting, a Kubrick hoax.

Except it was a simile. "you feel like a pitcher" = simile. "Today I am a starting pitcher" = metaphor.

Ah, but all similes are metaphors! Metaphor is the larger umbrella category of saying one thing resembles something else. Similes do so using “like” or “as.” 

Those sheep are wonderful! But I can explain why phone cords always get twisted. When I worked in an office, the phone was to my right so I could press the buttons with my right hand. But when the phone rang, I would pick the headset up with my right hand hand and transfer it to my left to hold it against my left ear. And when I was done, the headset went back to my right hand and onto the phone. As as result, I realized, each answered phone call imparted a single clockwise twist to the cord. Hence the tangle. I still await international recognition for this insight.

Science does owe you some sort of recognition! This is the best explanation I’ve heard. 

I think the creepiest thing is how you have to look closely before you realise the faces are telephones.

For a good second I forgot this question was about phone sheep and was just like “yeah, yeah... wait, what?”

The Big E, or New England's big regional fair, happens in the middle of September. This seems ideal for fairs - cool weather so nobody dies of heat stroke, warm enough to be outside, and New England in the fall is just lovely.

That does sound pleasant!

The New York State Fair is the best. It runs Aug. 21 thru Sept.2 (used to be 10 days that ended with Labor Day). My family went every year and I went by myself as an adult before I moved to Maryland. I went to the Maryland State Fair after I moved here and was very disappointed. Much smaller. I think the Montgomery County Fair is better. It's this week too.

Go in the afternoon. If the weather is good, the highways around Crownsville Rd. will be a parking lot.

Good tip, thanks!

can anyone tell me how flat-earthers explain a horizon? I mean, if the earth is flat, why can't you see all the way to the end?

I don’t know the answer but would love to! I once had a long chat with a flat earther who explained that the shape of the earth was actually like an egg cup— it curves up around the poles to form an ice wall— but that doesn’t solve this one. Unless you’re looking the wrong way. 

For those of us who have not seen the exhibit or photos thereof, look here: But if you are counting sheep in an attempt to sleep, do you worry about ringing?

You’d hate to be awakened in the middle of your RAM sleep.

The genesis of Deep Fried Butter, Ice Cream, Fried Coke, and so much more.

Poster perhaps meant "don't go in the afternoon?" We go first thing to get there when it first opens. No line for parking, not crowded. When it starts to get really crowded in the afternoon, we're ready to leave. And another hint- much less crowded opening weekend but it might be hot. Went that weekend once when niece was visiting and I have some great pictures of her and daughter. The weather was perfect and it wasn't crowded at all.

I am finally able to respond to the zucchini discussion of a few weeks ago. I heard this story from the late U. Utah Phillips, a “labor organizer, folksinger, storyteller, poet, and the ‘Golden Voice of the Great Southwest’" (as described in his Wikipedia page). Phillips mentioned to one of his neighbors that he would like to have a vegetable garden in his backyard, but because of his tour schedule, he wouldn’t be able to give it much attention. The neighbor suggested that he plant zucchini, as it didn’t require any care at all. So Phillips prepared and planted half a dozen hills, watered them a few times, and went on tour. When he returned quite a few weeks later, he found the entire back yard covered in zucchini vines and each vine had produced a dozen or more huge green squash. Each of the squash was about three feet long and eight or ten inches in diameter. He was overwhelmed with unedible produce and had no clue about what to do with it. After pondering the problem for a while, he finally settled on the perfect solution: He stacked the zucchini along the fence, dried it, split it, and burned it in his stove that winter. Best use for zucchini ever!

Ha! This is a worthy addition to the chat zucchini canon (not to be confused with the chat zucchini cannon, probably a GREAT idea) and I am excited to have heard of the Golden Voice of the Great Southwest.

Put the most vocal on a plane, fly them around the earth. What explanation do they come up with then? They were drugged?

“You just flew in a big circle!” I don’t know what they’d say about the fuel depletion though.

I understand the importance of recycling, but doesn't "found art" just confuse the issue? Recycling puts items back into the system to be used again. "Found art" takes the items out of the cycle for as long as the owner finds it esthetically pleasing. Then, what ? What happens to the telephone sheep when they no longer amuse? They can't be recycled, so then what? Signed, A Curmudgeon

Hello, Curmudgeon! “What happens to the telephone sheep when they no longer amuse?” is a great sentence. 

I think they could be recycled, couldn’t they? Right now they have just been recycled into Art and are performing that handy function, but they could be recycled into Plastic Components, surely? 

No, I meant what I said. You have to get up at the crack of dawn to get there when it first opens, and that's no fun.

. . . it still wouldn't be "flat." Perhaps it's more accurate to call it the "Non-roughly-spherical Earth Society" than the "Flat Earth Society."

Doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, but knowing that the membership are sticklers for accuracy, it might be worth suggesting...

Is this akin to sheep telephone cords?

I want to say yes, but I’m not sure what my rationale is.

In Tolkien's universe the Earth was flat for quite a while until eventually Eru said "Enough of this invasion nonsense, this is turning into a bad neighborhood" and turned it into the ball it is today.

According to Dave Barry. Celebrate counter-clockwise.

Sinister chatters, we salute you! Sorry that so many items are still designed to bedevil you! 

My point is, you don't need a plane; a horizon is directly observable by nearly everyone (not living deep in a forest).

To flat earthers, the whole earth is a plane!

So, in the year 2030, someone will be on Antiques Roadshow and the host will say, "Would it surprise you to learn that your ewe is worth XXX?"

Ha! This also sounds like a punchline to a vintage joke about an out-group! 

Are there really still people who believe the earth is flat? Anyway, Terry Pratchett wrote a couple of dozen fantasy novels that take place on Discworld, a flat world where directions are hubward and rimward, not east or west. I highly recommend Terry Pratchett's books.

Hey, that's not fair. Maryland itself is much smaller than New York State. And at least we have a state fair; the Virginia one went bankrupt some years ago, sadly.

I'm not a morning person but since the RenFair doesn't open until 10 am and it takes us less than an hour to get there I don't have to get up before 8 am. Hardly crack of dawn- unless you're in Canada in the winter.

I think you may be uniquely fortunate in only being an hour away! But everyone’s crack of dawn is located somewhere different. 

The ancient Phoenicians knew the world wasn't flat. Any people who are willing to sail a ship with a mast out to the horizon and have a few people with decent distance vision know this. When a ship sails over the horizon, the hull disappears before the mast. When you are on a ship, the beach disappears before the cliffs or mountains or trees or whatever it is that towers over the beach. I wonder if the process of becoming a flat earth person could be interrupted if you used the really low tech "people have known this for 3000 years, it isn't from those scientists who claim to have landed on the moon nerds" explanation from the start. And you could combine it with a whale watching cruise, which would be fun.

Maybe the solution is to bring back masts. 

In 1966, Stewart Brand campaigned to have NASA release rumored satellite photos of the earth from space. He sold and distributed buttons for 25 cents each asking, "Why haven't we seen a photograph of the whole Earth yet?" The following year, NASA took a photo that was made public, and it was used on Brand's first Whole Earth Catalogue. (Of course Flat Earthers would argue that it looks like a dinner plate, after not-yet-invented PhotoShop.)

I would love one of those buttons! I love what a time capsule buttons demanding things are— buttons urging you to save whales clearly are from a time when there were whales, for instance. 

Look, I am a PhD scientist and I am seriously thinking of taking up something like Flat Eartherism; I feel like I need a fun, lovable quirk like that. Like I had an elderly neighbor who was a wonderful, intelligent, kindly man who also happened to self-publish a lot of books about a theory he has about the Kennedy assassination and it was, y'know, a sort of interesting hook. I need something like that. Something where people meet me and tell each other, "That guy? Yeah, he's great, real interesting, knows a lot of stuff, a lot of fun. Just.. look, just don't get him started on heliocentrism, OK, or you'll never hear the end of it." So let's give the Flat Earthers a break. Alternately I am willing to solicit other, comparable personal quirks as candidate oddities.

Geocentrism sounds like a good one to me, honestly! My caveat is that you don’t put it on the internet — this is how we wind up with movements. Just self-publish like your JFK guy, and maybe have one room in your abode full of posters and gadgets. It’s a fun, lovable quirk when you are the only person in town with it; when you start getting active in the Community around your misunderstanding, bad things start to happen. 

So did the ancient Greeks. So did Columbus. Children should not be taught that only Columbus thought the earth was round. He did think it was much smaller than it actually is, because he consulted the wrong Ancient Greek's writings about it. He got arguments not because he was right, but because everybody who knew anything about it had read the right Ancient Greek's estimates.

Yes! He was going off Ptolemy! 

Aside from "hubward" and "rimward," the other two directions on Discworld are "turnwise" and "widdershins" (I apologize for highjacking your forum to show off my Discworld knowledge, but OP made it seem like a challenge).

I had been wondering why it's called that, and this chat finally prompted me to look it up! Apparently it's the Eastern States Exposition, but I'm still not sure which of those Es is the big one.

I’m glad you checked!!

and Imagine Whirled Peas.

not an every year thing because there is lots to do in this area in the early fall. I prefer the NY Ren Fair a bit, but mostly because they have a fantastic hawking demonstration. Seeing a Peregrine stoop at way over 100 mph is pretty fantastic. But it is too far away to go to these days.

That does sound fascinating! 

The Minnesota State Fair is the best of the best.

I’ve heard good things!

As in, a million people gather to storm Area 51 because of your light-hearted post.

*whistles nervously*

For those who would like their sheep to be more active, check out this book by Leonie Swann, where the herd of Irish sheep become detectives seeking to find out who murdered their beloved shepherd.

If the sheep make calls, I’m in!

Will you be storming Area 51 / attending the Alien Festival?

Well, now that you suggest it...

That you've never been to the Maryland RenFest! It seems custom made for you. Yes, get there early - even early enough for the opening speeches. Consider renting a costume for the day so you can be a village wench. Make sure to catch some of the plays. Eat food on a stick!

I do crave food on a stick!

I think that flat earthism or denying heliocentrism is too likely to get you arguments because so many people know why it is wrong. You need something more obscure. Like about who built Stonehenge or something like that.

Shakespeare was Bacon!

Go towards the end of the season when it can be chilly. Period clothing feels better that way.

Yes! Always see who is actually making money! 

Consider this: there really is no such thing as gravity. In truth, the Earth SUCKS. It's like a vacuum cleaner, only more powerful.

You’ll get no argument from the current administration! 

This Tuesday is more like a Thursday for me with a mad rush to resolve everything before I go on vacation for a week and a half. Luckily, I'm going to Dublin where any residual stress will be wiped away by copious quantities of beer.

Oh, that sounds lovely! If it’s your bag, I highly recommend the literary pub crawl with two actors who do scenes from Irish literature as they lead you to various sites for pints. A great way to learn and promptly forget facts about Brendan Behan!

Alexandra, far be it from me to pick on a fellow chatter, but when I saw the following comment, I also saw red: "Look, I am a PhD scientist and I am seriously thinking of taking up something like Flat Eartherism; I feel like I need a fun, lovable quirk like that." Please, I beg you: Acquire a quirk that won't cost low-information folks any precious brain cells. Knitting sweaters for pets, taking up juggling or yodeling will scratch that itch without running the risk of misleading the gullible.

As a compromise, could you knit sweaters on which the earth appeared flat? This is why I was trying to urge OP to stay off the internet— where Nothing You Do As A Joke Remains A Joke For Long, And The World Grows Measurably Worse! This poster puts it very nicely. Thank you. 

The Bible says that marriage is between a man and a woman, so let's keep this perverted heliocentrism nonsense out of the schools.

Where are the appeals to the heliocentrist voter??? That’s what I want to know! 

. . . if only because it is right in the center of Albuquerque. We didn't have to drive an hour to get there because we were already there! The fairgrounds were less than five miles from my office (I say "were" because although the office and the fairgrounds remain in place, I sadly have moved on). I think I had my very first deep-fried pickle at the New Mexico State Fair. You never forget your first.

I think we can all reach a consensus that Our State Fair is the best. 

So, I just went to to search for this book (it sounds great!) and when I scroll down the page, there are also listings for "Deer, Antelope and Sheep carcass bags", which come in 60" and 72" sizes. I don't want to know....

I hope it’s for hunters? If it isn’t, I also would rather not know!

No need for masts. Just use a cruise ship - 10 storeys or more.

Flat Earth Cruise? I bet this already exists, doesn’t it?

"That's not a horizon. That's just what the Illuminati and the Trilateral Commission want you to THINK is a horizon, you poor sheep." (tying together two threads here.)

First, sheepelephones, next, sheeple! 

mmmm, bacon!

And on that note, I may skedaddle! Enjoy your afternoons, everyone! See you on the blog ( and Twitter (@petridishes)! 

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Alexandra Petri
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