Web Hostess Live: The latest from the Web

Nov 21, 2013

A weekly chat about the best ways to kill time online. Our Web Hostess, Monica Hesse, sifts the Internet so you don't have to, searching for meaning, manners and the next great meme.

Afternoon, everyone, and thanks for stopping by. We'll get started at 2.

There are some good questions in the queue already, but for my part, I thought I'd throw out a question that is only Internet-related in the sense that the Internet is where a lot of people's information seems to have come from.

For the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's death, I wrote a long story reconstructing the assassination and the four days following it. I was semi-surprised by how many emails I got, and how many comments were left, that said something along these lines: "Good story. But why did you not mention that it was really the CIA/the Cubans/LBJ/the Secret Service/the Russians/the grassy knoll man who killed him."

In fact, according to a recent Washington Post / ABC news poll, 62 percent of Americans believe that there was a larger conspiracy beyond Lee Harvey Oswald. So I'd like to know:

1) Do you think Oswald acted alone?

2) If not, who do you think was responsible?

3) And what are you basing your beliefs on?

Please be as specific and honest as possible. If your answer is, "Based on the Oliver Stone movie," or "Based on something my college roommate told me once," or "I don't know, I just don't think one man would have done it," please say that.

I'm sure we'll all have this thing solved by the end of the chat.

And, on the opposite end of the silliness spectrum: I have an unexpectedly extra ticket for "Hunger Games: Catching Fire this Saturday at 5 in Arlington. Please email me at hessem@washpost.com if you are interested in it. Yes, you would be attending with a group of people you had never met -- but then again, are we ever truly alone among nerds?

First, your piece was quite good. I thought you painted a vivid and poignant picture of what happened that day and the following days. I think that we have a tendency to objectify (if that's the right word choice) JFK and Jackie in some of the remembrances of his assassination. We think of them in their roles as President and First Lady, and how it impacted our families and the country, not of them as murdered husband/father and young widow/mother. (I'm 35 - don't know why, but I was surprised that she was younger than me when JFK was killed.) You did a great job humanizing them, and putting that period of time in context. Color TVs were pretty expensive too!


A long time ago, I read a few of the conspiracy books, including Jim Garrison's (I think), and saw JFK. (1) I am 60% sure that Oswald acted alone. (2) Mafia? Cubans? (3) A vague recollection that it would be very difficult for Oswald to get those shots off successfully, let alone perfectly. And a sense that people saw shooter(s) on the grassy knoll.


And, because it was such a terrible and destabilizing event, that the government has a motive to wrap it up as cleanly as possible to avoid public fear and unrest. I also wonder whether people who believe that there was larger conspiracy also believe that there was a conspiracy around 9/11. (I do not.)

Thanks so much for your note. I didn't know much about the Kennedys before launching this piece, but by the end, found myself unexpectedly moved and impressed by the actions of Jackie during that time. She comes across as so much stronger than she is generally thought of now.

And your honesty on the conspiracy books is just what I was hoping people would send in. Many people cite the "grassy knoll witnesses" as reasons for believing in a conspiracy. In fact, only a small handful -- like one or two people -- thought they heard shots coming from the knoll. Everyone else heard them coming from the Book Depository. But over the course of years, that number has ballooned, until now people erroneously believe that many people heard grassy knoll shots, or even saw grassy knoll shooters. And when information like this floats around for long enough, we start to fold it into our narratives of the event.

A group female lawyers were all hanging out discussing the dreaded work-life balance. As our trade is words, we came to a question no one could answer, and being lawyers, we are now doing research. The word for a man who feels feminized or otherwise not manly is effeminated.. What is the analogous term for a woman who feels masculinized or otherwise not feminine because, for example, her kid ran to her husband when she got hurt or when her boss keeps asking if she wants to a strip club with the rest of the sales team. It's important to note that we are not saying that these things are per se bad, but just looking for a word for that feeling. Thanks!

This might be a useful link for you -- a bunch of people having exactly this debate on an English language site.

FWIW, isn't it weird that "effeminated" and "emasculated" mean essentially the same thing? Shouldn't they mean opposites?

Your story on the assassination was fantastic for those of us who weren't alive at the time. It boiled things down without all of the conspiracy drama, which it seems all the tv specials focus on. As for me, I think Oswald acted alone. I base this on all of the scientific articles I've read, my general disbelief of conspiracies, and my probably foolish trust in the government. I think we need ages on this too. I'd be interested to see if people who lived though it are more or less likely to believe conspiracies than those of us in later generations. I'm 32

Ages would be an interesting add. Today, we have become very accustomed to the single-gunman. Most of the mass shootings in recent years have been the acts of young, disaffected white men. If the assassination happened today, in light of that context, I wonder if we would be more likely to accept it as the work of a single gunman.

We could discuss this posted Tuesday:

I love reading about the evolution of grammar -- and this is "because Internet," but I really do wonder if it's mostly because Lindy West. She's been using this for comedic effect for years, and was the first person I saw do it. In fact, I wish the author had interviewed her and asked her where she got it from. It's fascinating to watch language migrate in real time, and what an opportunity to be able to catch it at the source.

This seems internetty (and People magazine-y). I read a lot of news online and the entertainment headlines are often "(Insert Name Here) flaunts post-baby body". Here is a google search for reference.  This is followed by a picture of that person either on the red carpet or on a beach with their other kids, neither of which seem real flaunty. Is anyone who recently had a baby and dares to leave the house FLAUNTING?

Flaunts is a strange word in this context. On the one hand, it's often used  when describing hot mamas. It's like a code for, "We totally want to slobber all over this woman but we can't say that because now she's a mom." But sometimes it's a code in the other direction. Like, "This woman is not back in the shape that we usually require our celebrities to be in, so we'll use a word like 'flaunt' as a backhanded compliment, implying that she doesn't care that she still has a flabby belly -- she's leaving the house anyway!"

I of course believe the truth - a Cigarette Smoking Man killed JFK at the behest of a shadowy group of the government that is somehow connected to the aliens among us. I learned this from the truest of sources -- The X-Files. (Or Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, as the Warren Commission and other studies have shown. One of the two.)

But where was Mulder's sister in all of this?

I always feel compelled to ask social media/relationship questions here, so I think we should come up with a few basic "rules" for social media if you're in a relationship (not to go all Buzzfeedy -- but I respect ya'll's input).

This would be a very difficult task, since the rules of social media in a relationship are, like everything in a relationship, dependent on what makes the individuals in it happy. The only hard and fast one that I can come up with is, "Don't do things on social media that would make your significant other uncomfortable." Example: If you're a very public, open person but your partner is not, please consider that before posting a thousand, "I love you, Snuggy-Boo" Facebook photos on their birthday. And if the discrepency in what you each are comfortable with is very large, well, that might be a sign of larger issues in the relationship.

Hey -- I just realized that next Thursday is Thanksgiving, so we won't be chatting. Be sure to load up with any possible question you could possibly have in between now and December. (What are y'all doing for the holiday?)

I've been put on bed rest until the end of this pregnancy. It's not nearly as much fun as I thought. Any new websites/timewasters I should know about? I've watched about as much Netflix I can stand.

Check out our transcript from last week! A chatter wrote in needing assistance for making it through six weeks of knee-surgery recovery time. By the time we were done offering bed-rest suggestions, I don't see how she'll ever be able to find the time to go back to work. And congrats on the pregnancy!

While I understand that Kennedy was the President, since he died 10 years before I was born, I find it hard to really take that much interest in the story. It was 50 years ago and only those over the age of 60 would really be in a position to remember. What is the big deal?

I get it, and the President died 20 years before I was born. He was shot, in public, before hundreds of people. The shooter was quickly caught, but before he could answer any questions on what he'd done or why, he, too, was shot in public, on live television while thousands of Americans watched. Kennedy's death launched the modern conspiracy theory, and the backstory of every single person involved is interesting and noteworthy.

Martha Stewart keeps tweeting increasingly hideous photos of her meals. Her followers are screaming at her to stop, and she's just getting defensive about it, to the point where I can't tell if she's participating in some James Franco-esque art piece along the lines of "What is food?", or has actually lost her mind. Judge for yourselves: Exhibit AExhibit B: Exhibit C:

I feel genuinely bad for Martha Stewart through all of this. Here is a woman who has built a career and an empire on the concept of making everyday living appetizing and pleasing to the eye. And now she is being felled by an artform that even 15-year-olds have mastered: the food portrait. What is going on here? Does she not understand Instagram filters? Is she working from a very old Blackberry? Someone needs to help Martha Steward immediately.

What are some of the best ways to kill time online?

By coming here, you have taken the first step.

Do we need to include why we think we should be the chosen recipient?

I'll probably give you a few bonus points for creative essay questions.

I'd say "empowered."


My sister and I deconstructed this via email this morning, and came up with several rules for when we find it acceptable to use "because [noun]. Take the example from the article: "We assume he is going to win, because R-Oklahoma." This is acceptable under the following conditions: A) Informal writing (never spoken, never academic); B) when the author can cite the facts behind [noun], such as the breakdown of political party affiliations in Oklahoma and the history of Republicans holding that Senate seat; C) when the author can be reasonably confident that the audience can cite those same facts; D) when the author doesn't mind coming off as simultaneously lazy and clever. I tend to be a language purist but I do love "because [noun]" under these conditions.

I think I would like to be included on emails between you and your sister, please.

May I add: 4) When the "because [noun]" construct is being used in an obviously sarcastic or tongue-in-cheek way, a la "Because science!"

I was 5 when it happened, and they sent us home from school without calling our parents (different times!). I got to tell my mom that somebody shot the president. As for conspiracy theories, I've been to Dallas, visited the Book Depository and seen the grassy knoll, and the way that area is laid out, I can see how people could think that shots came from the knoll, when it was merely the echo of the shots from the Depository. The trees are much taller now than they were then, so when you look out the window, it's hard to imagine how Oswald could have made the shots, but then you imagine smaller trees and you can see how he did it.


Like how many people saw Sharknado.

It's true. It's really hard now to even imagine a time when we didn't realize that sharks could be swept into swirling pockets of wind and debris and attack us from the air.

So were Garfield and McKinley, and nobody puts up web sites claiming that it was the Freemasons or the Rosicrucians who were behind Guiteau and Csolgosz. (Of course Garfield would have lived if the doctors had just left him alone.)

Because Garfield and McKinley's assassins were both caught, confessed, and went through trials. Oswald died two days after the assassination and professed his innocence the whole time. Also, if there's a Zapruder film of Garfield or McKinley's death, I haven't seen it.

No, please. If your answer is one of the first two, just don't post it. Please. We normal people are really tired of you now that the Internet has brought you to our notice constantly. And by the way, Obama was born in Hawaii.

But that's why I really want to hear, in this anonymous forum, people's honest explanations of their beliefs. Again, the majority of Americans believe there was a conspiracy. Some of them believe it for good reasons. Some of them believe it because they're citing a study that was actually bunked decades ago -- or because they're going off of faulty diagrams or misleading statistics.


This is a shame-free space. Shame-free, I say.

Starting with Occam's Razor, plus a clear debunking of the "he couldn't have cycled the rifle action fast enough" conspiracy point, plus an actual visit to Dealey Plaza that indicated that the shot from the Book depository window wasn't really that far away, and the fact that the trajectory from the grassy knoll over the WPA monument structure towards downward sloping road made that shot even more difficult than the Book Depository shot, leads me to beleive that the conspiracy theorists are grasping at straws.

Or searching for truth and meaning -- an impulse that I totally get.

The government might want to keep Big Powerful Shadowy Secrets but when it tries to do so it behaves with all the subtlety of an exploding cigar. Therefore, LHO acted alone.

I like this explanation. It's not that the government wouldn't have tried to shoot someone. It's just that they would have been too dumb to keep it a secret.

I like this previous chatter's explanation:

"As for me, I think Oswald acted alone. I base this on all of the scientific articles I've read, my general disbelief of conspiracies, and my probably foolish trust in the government."

I would add (1) the psychology of conspiracy theories (i.e., the common desire to find logic and agency in the coincidences and nonsenses of life), (2) what I've read about Oswald's personality and problems, and (3) (2) the unlikeliness that the government (or any organization) could really pull off an elaborate conspiracy and maintain secrecy forever afterward. Not that I don't enjoy things like the Stone movie anyway. I also like the point that someone made about our increased familiarity with the lone gunman. JFK was even several years before the guy in the U. Texas tower. (FWIW, I'm 42).

Thank you.

You just referred to me as "she." I'm not offended by it, but I'm a he and am now intensely curious as to why you thought I was a she. Was it the Pandas? It was the Pandas wasn't it? Or were you just being gender neutral and flipped a coin?

Oh man!

Three reasons:

1) I have two friends who recently had knee surgery, both women, and in my mind, now all hypothetical people who have knee surgery are women.

2) I was conflating the pregnant chatter into the conversation, and just thought, "Oh, all people who need bedrest, a la pregnant chatter, must be ladies."

3) Yeah, I was also just flipping a coin. We as a culture are pretty used to defaulting to "he," so sometimes I try to default to "she."

I'm about the same age as the chatter who asked why it matters. It can be hard for those of us who postdate the '60s and early '70s (even those born in the early '70s don't remember Watergate) to grasp the various upheavals that came before. But here are a couple of thoughts on why the Kennedy assassination was such a big deal. First, he was the first president to really feel familiar to everyone, thanks to TV. (There was TV earlier, but not to the same degree.) Second, he and his family were young and glamorous, after decades of staid older politicians (and a retired military star). And third, notwithstanding a few failed attempts here and there, this was the first presidential assassination since McKinley -- and it happened in front of everyone. It just didn't seem possible. To those of us who grew up after JFK, MLK, and RFK, and saw the attempt on Reagan, it might seem a lot more (sadly) usual, but it rocked the world at the time.

Yes, thank you. To use a trite analogy, I think of the people who now say that something like Catcher in the Rye is not a good movie. But they're failing to realize that it was a groundbreaking book in it's time, and they've just become accustomed to books of that type now.

And you believe what they confessed, you credulous fool?!? It was the Trilateral Commission, I tell you!


Please remember, 50 years ago the country had not yet seen the assassinations of Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and others. People were not used to turning on the news and seeing that someone with a gun had killed one or more people (again). And this was the President of the United States. It was an incredible shock -- to everyone. I was only a child, but I still remember it so vividly. How can anyone wonder that it was a big deal -- then, and now?

Supporting the point of the previous chatter.

Of all the presidential assassinations, McKinley's is the most fascinating to me. Did you know that Alexander Graham Bell invented the metal detector to help locate the bullet in McKinley's body? That effort was thwarted because they didn't take into account the metal springs on his bed. Or that his assassin was likely suffering from the late stages of syphilis, and that his execution is often discussed in law circles regarding humane execution - can you execute the mentally ill? Very fascinating, all of it.

And to think, we missed our chance to do up the McKinley assassination big for its hundredth anniversary a few years ago.

Now you know how we shes feel.

A large reason why I attended a women's college was because I liked that when they sent me admission materials, they all used female pronouns.

Thank you for taking my question. I rarely miss this chat! I would like to improve my writing. I am attorney and have a solid foundation (I think) and can write well enough but I am still self-conscious and write painfully slow. I recently purchased Plain English for Lawyer and Woe is I which I plan to tackle over the holidays when work slows down. Do you have any suggestions? recommendations?

What kind of writing do you want to improve? Father Cupcake writes composition textbooks (here's one!) but I think even he would agree that for most types of writing, the best way to learn isn't by plowing through a textbook, but by just reading a whole lot of the kind of writing you wish you could do. Novels. Nonfiction. Magazine articles. Read read read. Especially if you want to be more conversation and less stilted -- read books that sound how people actually sound when they're not trying to impress other people.

OK, so there are various reasons that the JFK assassination resonates 50 years after. But why do people still think he was a great President? Aside from the Cuban Missile Crisis (which is countered by the Bay of Pigs Invasion), he did squat and doesn't deserve to be on the 50 cent piece.

Well, a lot of the stuff that happened after he died -- Hello, Civil Rights legislation -- were causes he was working on in life.

For the person who just wrote in about being fascinated by the McKinley assassination. All of what you just described happened to President Garfield, not McKinley. And for those who'd like to read more abut President Garfield's assassination I highly recommend the book Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard.

Garfield died in, what, 1881? So this is the 132nd anniversary of his death? Never a better time to really learn something about him.

Kennedy was shot five years before I was born, but I remember when Reagan was shot. It was pretty...anti-climactic for us kids. Kinda like how people react nowadays to yet another mass shooting. Oh really? The Navy Yard this time? Wow, that's pretty close. Kennedy's assassination was when the nation first lost its collective innocence. We're pretty jaded now.

True, we are. But if a world leader was killed today, I think we would still find that incredibly emotional and shocking.

That seems pretty dumb for a man as smart as Alexander Graham Bell.

I'm sure there are nuances we're missing.

I love the McKinley metal detector story, but I'm also fascinated by the detail about how Garfield's assassin, Charles J. Guiteau, specifically chose a gun with an ivory grip rather than a wooden grip because he wanted it to look nice in the ensuing museum exhibit years later. The gun was subsequently given to The Smithsonian... which LOST IT.

SMITHSONIAN. What were you thinking?

But the Civil Rights bills would not have passed without LBJ convincing his fellow Southerners that it was the right thing to do. I think JFK gets way too much credit for accomplishments.


I recently read a really great Esquire (?) article about the events on Air Force One after the assassination. Totally fascinating and it made me feel strangled devoted/attached to LBJ. In discussing the article with my mom, we decided that likely if he HAD been able to see out his term, history would not shine so kindly on him for a lot of those reasons the previous poster mentioned. Plus, he just wasn't that good at being President.

The Esquire piece was incredible. Here it is, for those who would like to read.

I've known two guys named Jan, both of different age groups, and raised in different areas of the country. Both of them told me that on the first day of class in junior high, they had ended up scheduled in the girls' gym class.

In junior high, this would have been completely embarrassing. In high school, you might feel you'd hit the jackpot.

Take an online course. Watch TED talks. Play online games (Scrabble is my favorite). Skype with far-flung friends. Learn how to knit (you'll need booties and blankets!). Start a blog.

Many of these suggestions were offered last week, but all bear repeating.

And on this topic: Male Knee Surgery Warrior, have you had the surgery yet? Please keep us abreast of the Spanish lessons and panda novel.

Sometimes, when thinking about our current crazy world, I realize that over the span of just a few years, three of the US' more progressive major national leaders were assassinated. It must have been such a shock, especially to people that worked in their same circles.

Absolutely. One of the more moving stories I hear while reporting my story was that of Providencia Paredes, who worked for JFK, then RFK, and then Ted Kennedy. She saw a lot of tragedy in her career.

For the attorney looking to improve their writing: Best gift I ever got was from one of my college sports editors -- a copy of Zinsser's "On Writing Well."

A classic for a reason.

What were you buying? (Timed out fandango link instead of Esquire article)

Whoops! Here's the correct link.

I want to improve my legal writing such as briefs, memos, emails to clients. I know so much of writing is subjective once something conveys thoughts and is grammatically correct but even in law school I had a hard time seeing the difference between a B, B+, A- papers at times. I've had my work edited at school and work so I can see the improvements but other times I felt more stylistic choices. I guess I am wondering is there a way to become a stronger (and for the love of billable hours) and faster writer. I like the idea of reading more samples and following those things...so simple but not something I have proactively done. Thanks.

Writing really is one of those things that you can learn so much about by watching how other people do it.

Now I feel embarrassed that my memory of the Garfield metal detector story was clouded by the McKinley misidentification earlier in this chat. But I DO remember the answer to the metal springs question. I quote from this (http://www.historybuff.com/library/refgarfield.html) article: "So what is the answer to why Bell's and Newcomb's invention worked on everyone except the president? It wasn't the president that was the problem. The problem was the bed he was in. Coil spring mattresses had just been invented. In fact, a national campaign hadn't even been started yet at the time of the assassination. The White House was one of the few that had the coil spring mattresses at the time. Very few people had even heard of them. Thus, Bell's and Newcomb's invention was detecting metal -- unfortunately they didn't realize that it was the coil springs. If they had moved him off the bed to the floor or table, their apparatus would have detected where the bullet was and likely, knowing this, the White House surgeons could have saved James Garfield's life!"

Ahh, fascinating. So we can't blame Alexander Graham Bell for getting this wrong -- it was the fault of modern technology.

Is this the same CIA that tried to kill Castro a few months before with AN EXPLODING TIPARILLO? If it was a conspiracy, it would have been a very bad one, and someone would have talked by now.


This lawyer needs to find someone/s who are willing to proofread things s/he writes. Perhaps they could even take an upper level college writing class. I agree that reading a lot is the best way to be a good writer, but immediate feedback is invaluable, especially for someone who wants to improve but doesn't really know what to do exactly.


I like the writing class idea -- the proofreader idea, not so much. Mostly because: writing well is not usually something that can be taught by a proofreader. That's the most common misunderstanding of what it takes to be a writer. In fact, a very small percentage of good writing has to do with things like comma placement, verb agreement, etc. Most of the work of writing well happens before one ever types a single word. It's a matter of thinking through something and improving communication in all areas of life.

The surgery is tomorrow. I only asked last week because There was a chance it could have been Tuesday. The Panda Novel is moving forward, I'm developing an outline. The Spanish lessons have not started but I'm watching a lot of soccer in Univision so I think I'm picking up the basics.

Oh, good job. Much progress.

Upworthy.com: Truly insoriring or, to paraphrase Snopes, uber-glurgy? The reason I ask is that I'm not sure myself, and I tend to have a lworld view that veers away from the "sunshine and butterflies"-y, so I'm trying to account for why I sometimes find the Facebook shares of links to this site annoying....

I like Upworthy.com, for the most part. But in small doses.

I wonder if what you find annoying isn't so much the videos themselves, but the self-congratulatory tone that sometimes accompanies them. i.e. "Watch this if you want to have your perspective completely changed, and your mind blown, and if you don't like it, it's because you have no soul."

Unlikely. The bullet was sitting there minding its own business. It was the doctors who were constantly cutting Garfield open to try to find it, not observing modern antiseptic practice, who probably killed him. Garfield managed to survive three whole months of this poking and prodding.

Poor Garfield.

Sorry, I shouldn't have used "proofreader" when talking to a reporter. :) I just meant someone who was willing to read over what they write and offer suggestions, not a literal newsroom-type comma-chopping proofreader! But I think that could be hard to find, especially on a long-term basis, which is why I suggested taking a class.

Yeah, you point out the other reason I wasn't so keen on the proofreader/editor conceit. Learning to write well is hard, and it's a time commitment. Too much of a responsibility to lay at one person's feet, unless they're being compensated for it.

All that poking and prodding are probably why he hates Mondays.


I hate that site both because the links are always to videos, and I usually hate watching videos, and because of the tone that Monica mentioned. It irks me to no end that people have to watch a lame video to have their life changed, faith in humanity restored, or some other glurgy concept, and then act like everybody else needs to watch said video to improve their mindset. Did I use glurgy right? Because I've never heard of it before. lol

And yet...some of the videos are very appealing.

I can't go Saturday to see the movie, or I would have emailed you, but will you pleeeease invite us again to another event in the future? It would be like getting to hang out with a celebrity!

Actual celebrities everywhere are totally offended by this comparison.

Okay, that's it for today. I won't see you next week -- Happy Thanksgiving! -- but will the week after.


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Monica Hesse
Monica Hesse is a staff writer for the Post Style section. She frequently writes about culture, the Web and the intersection of the two.

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