Web Hostess Live: The latest from the Web

Jan 30, 2014

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 toward the end of Polar Vortex: Part Deux, but smack in the middle of The Snowy Owl Has Been Hit By A Bus tragedy.


A few days ago, I read this article, about a business duo who was arrested because their "business" involved obtaining the email passwords for clients who believed their spouses were cheating, or who otherwise felt they needed these passwords.


So there's the issue of snooping -- but there's also the general issue of who you want to have access to your email, and for what purpose..


Say that you're dead (just for a minute, then we'll all come back to life.) Would you want your spouse to have access to your email -- a reminder of you that might bring comfort? Would you care if your correspondence became public (After all, you're temporarily dead)? Are you more disturbed by disappearing into obscurity or having your private letters spread around?



Additionally, and importantly:


This Deport Justin Bieber petition on WhiteHouse.gov has now garnered enough signatures that it requires official response from the White House.


What's your take on the Jason Huntmann op-ed saga?

I'm not privy to any more of it than readers were: The Post published a freelance column called "DC, You're Depressing," purportedly written by a recent California transplant named Jason Huntmann. Later, questions were raised about the writer's identity, and when the Post couldn't track down the real person who wrote the piece, they deleted it from the site.


Honestly, my biggest take was that it was a fairly banal column, and it made no sense that someone would have gone through so much trouble to create a fake identity just to write it. I can therefore only conclude that it must have been written by someone who would get in a LOT of trouble if they talked in public about how much they hated living in DC. I can therefore only conclude that the author was Barack Obama.

I did not see the "50 Shades" musical that you reviewed, nor have I read the books. I am conflicted, as I am glad people are now more open and conversing more. Yet it seems extremely sexist that the books seem to say they want a man to take charge and that the woman must do what he wants. Is this a step backwards for feminism or a step forward that women are more open? I like your observation that the author's husband must have liked the books. Still, I wonder more what message these books send to men and if this will only encourage more aggressive behaviors.

Seriously, do you guys punk me with these questions? This has got to be the only Washington Post chat where someone brings up spanking or this book series every single time.

I’d like to bring up the subject of radio vs. TV. I listed to the State of the Union on NPR the other night, and, in general, when I can hear something on the radio vs. watching on TV, I will choose the radio. The TV feel so harsh, sometimes, but the radio feels cozy -- don't know if this is partly nostalgia for the “good old days”, or just that not having a glaring picture and loud ads is comforting. Also, I find that radio takes more concentration, so I will often sit and listen, while when I watch TV I tend to feel fidgety. I’d love to hear from you and the other chatters, do you choose the radio or tv and why?

Chatters? Your take?

I can only listen to the radio in the car. Otherwise, I feel the way that you do with the TV: fidgety and at loose ends. I'm not a very good aural learner, though -- I have a hard time retaining things that I've only heard. My favored way of taking in the SOTU would actually be to read a transcript after it was over.

Would you want to read their email? Naah. I wouldn't want to disturb my wonderful opinion of myself.

This is the immediate correct answer, right? But what if...you had the password. And what if...one day, five years down the line, you just couldn't help yourself?

I bet a lot of us would get there, to that point. We'd read, and then regret reading, and then it would be too late for eternity.

Yeah, Boswell nevers gets questions like that.

I don't even think Weingarten gets questions like that.

After reading an article about the top 25 worst #1 pop songs (and watching ALL the videos), I commented to a 22-yr old coworker that "rickrolling would be a lot more fun if it went to Rick James instead of Rick Astley". She understood no part of that sentence. I had to explain rickrolling, who Rick Astley is, and finally who Rick James is (this involved me singing 'Superfreak'). I spent the rest of the day worrying that I was crazy and had made up rickrolling. I am 33. Am I just....old?

I understand no part of that sentence only because it would NOT be a lot more fun if it were Rick James instead of Rick Astley. Rick James is a total boss. The absurd joy of rickrolling is that it enlists such a totally weird and irritating and mediocre song that we all would have forgotten about a decade ago, had it not been given new life in this wondrous meme.

Speaking of: #1 on this list, which is really only amusing if you click through the other 20.

Why is the Post getting rid of the separate Sunday Style and reintroducing the Sunday Style & Arts section?

Those decisions are above my paygrade -- but in the time I've been here, we've combined and un-combined those sections a few times, depending on current appetites and reading patterns and blah blah and blah blah. I just sit in my cube and write things.

Weingarten would answer those questions. Prudie, too.

But, Prudie is an ADVICE COLUMN. The purpose of her entire existence is to give advice to people on personal matters. And Weingarten's chat is subtitled SCATOLOGICAL HUMOR.

And had the opportunity to snoop on my spouse, but didn't do it. I figure she had a good reason for leaving. Bitterness kills curiosity.

So long as it doesn't simultaneously stoke revenge?

My wife knows my passwords for all of my email accounts except for my work email. I know her passwords for all of her email accounts except for her work. If she has secret email accounts, then any emails in them can die when she dies. I have no interest in seeing them.

This seems like a very elevated and grown-up marriage that you are in.

Hubby of 23 years and I have each other's email/FB passwords, not because we don't trust each other or there's spying going on, but because it seems practical. I don't go spelunking through his email (barely have time for my own!) and the converse is true, or so he tells me.

You could test him every once in awhile, but sending messages to, I don't know, your own unborn twin, or perhaps well respected Satanist, about how its your turn to bring donuts to the meeting this weekend.

Journalism question: should the piece have been taken down? Why not leave it up with a note at the beginning that the author's identity could not be verified?

That's an interesting question. It does call one to think of previous journalism "scandals," although as scandals go, this one would really be more of a scandlette.

When the Post discovered in the 1980s that Janet Cooke had fabricated her Pulitzer-winning piece on a child crack addict, the paper published a massive explainer, accounting for how it had happened. But it didn't "take the articles down," because there was no Internet to remove them from. I'm not sure what the Times did in the case of Jayson Blair, or The New Republic did for Stephen Glass, both of which took place in the early days of the Internet.

What do you think?

Does it count as a spanking question?

Hmm. Only if they're also wearing fur handcuffs?

Every week in Date Lab, people moan about the "What do you do?" being a standard D.C. question. But how is that just a D.C. thing? Don't people in other cities want to know what their date does? I'm certainly not saying that it's the only thing people should use to judge a person, but it certainly is an interesting part, right? Am I crazy?

Not crazy at all -- it's an easy line of conversation to fall into, especially when you've only just met someone. Right next to: Where are you from?

The question only becomes a problem if you're using the answer to judge someone's validity as a conversational partner -- which, obviously, nobody on this chat would do. So the key is to move on to other introductory topics that everyone can participate in:

"Hey, I have some vacation time coming up, so I'm polling polling people -- where's your favorite place to travel?"

"I'm in Breaking Bad withdrawl right now. Are you watching or reading anything interesting?"

"Which superpower: flying or mind-reading?"




Also, I do think it somewhat is a DC question, mostly because many people here don't have the same rootedness to community that other people have. A friend who now lives in the South tells me that the question is, "What church do you go to?" and where I'm from it might be "Cubs or White Sox," or "How long did it take you to shovel out YOUR car?"

I just read this article in "Slate" praising the Duolingo translation app: Link: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2014/01/duolingo_the_free_language_learning_app_that_s_addictive_and_fun.html However I'm skeptical, because there've been so many articles over the years praising online translating programs (Babelfish, Google Translate, etc.), that turned out to do disappointing (to put it mildly) jobs of translating all but the simplest phrases and sentences. Have you or any of the chatters used Duolingo, and if so, is it significantly better than, say, Google Translate?

Haven't used it. Chatters? Also -- Babelfish! Such fond memories.

I will admit it: I don't get number 1. Please give a hint.

He's being Rickrolled IN PERSON.

My passwords are all written down and hidden away, National Treasure-style. My parents know what book to look for and my closest friend can tell them where, generally, they're supposed to look. I've seen what happens when someone passes away suddenly and the loose ends take forever (both time-wise and emotionally) to tie up, but you can't leave that stuff lying around just anywhere, y'know? (Yes, I may be overthinking this.)

This is really fantastic. I think you are making it too easy on your loved ones. Ideally, your passwords should only be located by crossing a few state lines, following a treasure map, and digging underneath Paul Revere's old house.

I guess I am just amazed that your spouse can't access your email. For paying bills and our personal email we have a joint account, and we both have access to each other's work phones for work stuff. Been married 20 years, so as Gen-Xers maybe it's an age/demographic thing?

I think it is a demographic thing. I could never in a million years imagine trading email passwords with a spouse.

On that topic, I took over my current position after a coworker suddenly and abruptly passed away. I hadn't been working in her department, and the company policy is that email cannot be released. It was finally decided that I could only have emails on particular topics--if I told them what I was looking for, IT would run a search, then someone else outside our division would read the email, and only then would it be released to me. Unfortunately, she left her work in complete disorder--her computer had just been replaced and many of her documents couldn't be found. She also kept a lot of paper--unfiled. I spent 2 weeks sorting through piles crammed under her desk--boxes labeled "DON'T TOUCH" full of things from when she'd moved into her office a few years previously. So it all came down to the fact that I didn't know what I was looking for--I was looking for anything to help me figure out how to do my job--I didn't know who her contacts and clients beyond the most obvious big ones were. It was really frustrating. But on the other hand, I also felt reassured that if something similar happened to me, all the spiteful emails I'd sent to my sister griping about work and stuff wouldn't be public.

Oh, definitely. It's a good policy, even while frustrating to be on the recieving end of it.

As an ice breaker? I would find that so weird and off putting.

Well, in that case, it would be an excellent ice breaker, as you and the questioner would immediately discover you did not have compatible senses of humor and you both could immediately find excuses to go talk to someone else.

I think different cities have a different go to ?. While another DC friend and I were attending a wedding in Colorado not a single person asked us what we do but everyone asked each other what elevation (ie 7,000) feet they lived at which of course varies greatly in Colorado. It just kind of made us laugh especially since we didn't have a clue what elevation we lived at in DC

This is exactly accurate. Father Cupcake lives in Colorado now. A lot of time is spent out there discussing which hiking trail one took over the weekend.

isn't a translation app, it's a language learning app.

Noted. (And that makes a big difference).

We have each other's passwords, but I never go trolling because I simply don't have time; assume the reverse is true for him.


This reminds me of an online article I read a couple of years ago. I don't really remember the article, but the comments were mostly, "WHEN will people learn to NEVER EVER share their email passwords with their spouse?!?" This really stuck with me because, while I don't advocate that passwords must be shared, I wondered why on earth would anyone marry someone they didn't trust with their email password? There are many, many ways a spouse can ruin your life; an email password is not a requirement.

Hmm. For me it wouldn't be a matter of having anything to hide from a spouse, or of fearing that a spouse would abuse my password and snoop. For me it would be an intrinsic and basic view of marriage, which is that it is less about two people becoming one person than about two people becoming two people who really like each other a whole lot. I still want things that are my own, private domains, that are just mine. Some people have man caves, some people have email accounts.

I always answer with "Photography, sailing, and playing poker" even though where I work is kind of unusual and interesting. I am not my job.

I sort of like this answer, and I sort of think it would irritate me.

However, I do appreciate where it comes from, and it points to an elegant answer. Instead of asking: What do you do, we could all ask, "What are you into?" which allows people to choose which corner of their life to describe.

Wow, this whole discussion makes me sad. If you can't trust your spouse, both with your email address (in case of emergency, or tragedy), and trust them to not access it unless needed, what kind of relationship do you have? And I'm a borderline Millenial.


I got the app after reading the same article. I haven't used Google Translator, so I can't compare, but it's not a translator. It's a game. I'm using to brush up on all my lost high school French and am greatly enjoying it so far. Although I think it might be too difficult for me if I hadn't studied the language already.

I, too, have French gathering dustmites in a corner of my brain and might take your advice on this.

Still didn't get it... had to look this (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rickrolling) up

I am glad you looked it up. We do not judge, in this chat, when you don't know something, but we get really excited when you take the time to educate yourself rather than just asking me to find a link for you :).

I live in Howard county MD and have had that as one of the ice breaker conversation starters several times. It is not just a South thing.


Hidden passwords OP here; realized I didn't answer your actual question. D'oh. I don't mind if friends or family read my correspondence but I trust them to not push the circle further than that (e.g., re-posting stuff on Facebook or forwarding to others). I saw that once--with the best of intentions, I assume--and it made me feel supremely uncomfortable.

Agreed. But people have such different threshholds of comfort for that sort of thing. What one person finds reassuring, someone else finds creepy.

WaPo should have left up the article rather than trying to shove it downt he memory hole. The coverup is worse than their decision to publish an article by an unknown person.

That's fairly strong language. Again, I have no insider knowledge, but I would guess that taking it down wasn't just a cover-your-[tush] move, but a preventative measure to keep people from copying and pasting and forwarding an article that turned out to have questionable origins.

Erm, Maryland IS South of the Mason-Dixon Line.

I almost responded that myself, but realized I couldn't without taking a few minutes away to refresh my own geographical knowledge.

I absolutely get still wanting your own space. What I didn't understand was the mentality that you wouldn't give it to them because they might do bad things with it. If that was true, wouldn't they be just as likely to do evil without having access to your email account? My spouse doesn't have my password, or I his, but I would trust him with it (although we might be able to guess the passwords. And we both constantly leave our accounts logged in).

Yes, absolutely. There is a difference between "room of one's own," and "I don't trust my spouse." More than once, I've had to call a loved one to say something like, "I can't remember my flight number. Can you use [this password] to get into [this email] and check out [this folder?]" As far as I know, nobody has ever kept it handy to peruse through my inbox.

He gets them, he just doesn't post them.

He and I actually had a conversation about this once, and I seem to remember that the things I get, but do not post, are in general more graphic than the things he gets, but does not post.

You should learn to knit.

Who here can knit and wants to teach the original poster and me?

I was thinking about this in a memento type of context just this morning. My older brother and father, both of whom passed away a few years ago, kept many postcards, bday cards, etc that my sister and I had sent them over the years. After their deaths my sis-in-law and mom, respectively, went through their papers and gifted any items that sis and I had sent them to us. What an absolutely wonderful trip down memory lane. I am SO glad I'd written them those cards and letter, and that they'd kept them. Emails just do not have the same gravitas, but at least the receiver can keep them if they like to....but how many people do? And, as you can see, I have no answer to your question! Just a woeful plea for people to send more snail mail!

An old acquaintance recently posted on Facebook a photo of many gallon-sized Ziplock bags. It turns out that over the years, he's kept birthday cards, invitations, letters, etc, each in a separate bag. It was wonderful to see people ask whether he had anything of theirs, and wonderful to see him respond, "On May 3, 2008, you had a housewarming party, and ..."

During the SOTU, a family member posted a minor FB rant that suggested a certain politician was particularly responsible for the polarization in the American electorate. I didn't argue, but just dropped a link (from the Monkey Cage blog, incidentally) about the long-term causes of polarization. And he read it, and accepted the findings. Win!

FanTAStic win!

"What high school did you go to?" This is asked even in professional settings.


Kinsey's Law of Anthropology seems applicable here: Some do, Some don't. It seems to be just like bank accounts. Those who have only joint ones are shocked that anyone would want separate ones, and vice versa.

...And all you can do is hope that you have naturally drifted to someone who is also shocked about the things that shock you.

I DO knit! I was actually knitting while I listed to the state of the union, in front of the fire, while drinking pero. It was very cozy.

Okay, SOTU party next year is at your house.

Exactly. It's not a coverup, it's maintaining journalistic integrity. Although I wonder whether all of Jayson Blair's articles are still available at nytimes.com

I went back a few years ago and read several of Stephen Glass's doctored pieces, which are available through LexisNexis even if they're not online. It was shocking how generally boring many of them were. Which is probably how he went so long without getting caught. He didn't have people delivering outlandish, perfect, hysterical quotes. He had people behaving in the not-so-quotable way that most people actually behave.

D'oh. That part never occurred to me. Now I'm depressed.

Oh man! How did we end up depressing so many people today?

If one is dating, presumably one is single and pays one's own rent etc. It's a perfectly normal getting-acquainted question. At a party or other social event involving adults, it can seem like, "Are you independently wealthy or do you have to work to support your family?"

Really? I would assume the inverse -- that "what do you do?" seems more grabby in a dating situation than in a casual party, where you're desperately just trying to smalltalk through hours with people you don't know.

I just read a week or so ago that Stephen Glass' application to the California Bar was denied, I gather on ethical grounds.

It was. What a fascinating case. It's somewhat surprising that he decided to go through law school at all, knowing that this could likely become an issue.

Well MD may be technically south of the line, but it has never been a Southern state. Fought with the Union and all.

...Except that a lot of residents actually fought with the Confederacy.

I think we can safely say it's a border state. Some insist it's Southern, some say Northern.

He went to the other side of the country and probably figured nobody there had heard of him. People that amoral don't usually change.

Well, I don't think that's fair. He didn't go across the country to law school, he went to Georgetown. And he tried to be admitted to the New York bar first, before moving to California for another job. He might have been a liar, but he's not an idiot -- he's not going to think, "Hey, I bet that the California Bar has never heard of my nationwide scandal that was made into a movie and has received widespread publicity for years."

When I was critically ill in the hospital several years ago, I begged my spouse please to take my email password so he could send out a group email to everyone in my address book apprising them of the fact (and reason) that I had been unable for a few weeks and would continue to be unable for a few more weeks to answer their emails, and that spouse would update them as to my progress. Spouse absolutely refused, saying he could not accept my password. I asked if he'd be willing to send out an email from his own email account with the information, which he was willing to do -- but I couldn't remember many of the email names, let alone addresses, in my email address book, because I was so ill. I was really ticked at spouse's squeamishness over this.

I'm so glad this story ends with you being healthy and presumably still married.

My wife and I (in our 30's) keep all of the Christmas, birthday, anniversary cards we receive. The bags that sheets are sold in are just the right size. we have several of these bags so far and hope to fill many more.

Times like this, I really regret living in a small city apartment with no storage space.

It did not "fight with the Union." It was a slave state where Lincoln had to sneak through at dead of night to get home to DC. There were draft riots in Baltimore. The most you can say for it is that it did not secede. If "fighting with the Union" is your criterion, then West Virgina is not a Southern state, which is manifestly false.

Posting. (And thus concludes the history lesson portion of today's entertainment).

End with something else from the poster who listened the radio fireside while knitting. That was cozy and adorable and it warmed my heart.

Okay. I shall do that. Let me find something. (Quick, everyone, be heartwarming and adorable.)

I can't knit, but I can crochet. Just as good for keeping occupied in front of the TV - and easier to fix the mistakes that end up happening. Happy to give lessons - or there are all kinds of groups around the area that are happy to share their expertise with knittting/crocheting.

Here is someone offering to teach us all crocheting -- is that heartwarming enough?

I love baseball on the radio. Watching games on tv means sitting for a looooonnngg time (especially since I am a red sox fan and they have notoriously long games). On the other hand listening on the radio means I can do dishes or other chores and still stay on top of the season.

Here is someone who industriously listens to baseball while also accomplishing chores. Heartwarming?

I see the error of my ways now. Thanks! Also, pretty much if you live in/near/around D.C., your elevation is 0. Just so you know. (I grew up in Utah and have a degree in geography, so I totally get this elevation thing.)

[Break from the Heartwarming contest, just because this seemed like a useful elevation for all of us.]

After my wife met my blue collar, rust belt-dwelling family members for the first time, she commented that no asked her what she does. However, 80% of them asked her- "what's your drink?" Staying fortified is VERY important in that part of the country.


The man caves you always see are like sports bars with blaring TVs and kegs. I want a man cave that is like an English pub. Lots of quiet wood and a nice library.

I think that's just called a library.

Are you going to a Super Bowl event? For me it's always been the Adequate Bowl...

I don't follow football, but I do like parties where cheese dip is served, so...obviously.

Some days she forgets which is hers, some days I do. There's nothing like putting a soggy toothbrush in your mouth. But we don't share e-mail passwords, that's just wrong.

And this here is the true meaning of marriage. Heartwarming! Adorable! Gross!

All three of these things combine into our cue to sign off for today.

See you next week! GSTQ (who really needs it this time -- did y'all see she's going broke). Until next time.

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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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