Celebrating the States on Election Day
Tuesday, November 4, 2008; 1:00 PM
The polls are open and the pundits are opining, but there are still hours to go before the winners are declared. Let's bring Americans of all stripes (and stars) together this Election Day. Tell us what you love about your favorite state, whether native, adopted, swing, solid, red, blue or purple. Bonus points if it rhymes!
Matt Weiland, deputy editor of The Paris Review and co-editor of the recently-published anthology
A transcript follows.
Matt Weiland: Hello, happy election day and thanks for having me here. I'm Matt Weiland, co-editor with Sean Wilsey of STATE BY STATE: A PANORAMIC PORTRAIT OF AMERICA. For that book we commissioned original essays on all fifty states by fifty of our favorite writers -- Jonathan Franzen, Joshua Ferris, Louise Erdrich, Edward P. Jones, Ann Patchett, Tony Horwitz, Dave Eggers, George Packer, Jhumpa Lahiri, John Hodgman, Anthony Bourdain, et lotsa al. We asked each writer to tell us something distinctive, something essential about each state, in an effort to show how surprisingly varied the country remains in the face of the mighty forces of homogenization. It came about in part from my experience growing up all over the Midwest, in Minnesota, Michigan, Iowa, Ohio -- places that many people tend to conflate, but which, as anyone who has lived there knows, retain subtle but deep differences (in accent, idioms, temperament, political outlook, topography, sense of what's funny and what's not, etc). And in part it was inspired by the great Federal Writers Project state guides from the 1930s, in which American writers "described America to Americans", as their mantra. So I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts about what makes your own state, or any place you've known, distinctive.
Elizabeth Terry: Welcome to our Election Day way to pass the time until the polls start closing and the maps start lighting up all red and blue. For a few more hours, I hope we can just enjoy being Americans and feel good about where we come from and what we share.
I'm a discussions producer here at washingtonpost.com and am also a real live Washington native. I was born in D.C., grew up barely over the District line in Montgomery County, and for the past 10 years have been an official D.C. resident.
One of the things I love most about living in D.C. is how official Washington, the places that draw tourists from all over the world, becomes part of our daily fabric until it catches us unawares. For example, at my last job I often took a bus that let off right in front of Lafayette Square and the White House. More often than not, I folded my magazine and ran to beat the light across the street. But once in a while I would look up and marvel that the president lives right here and I could see the White House every day. All of us here in D.C. have such moments.
Plus, the greatest newspaper in the world arrives outside my front door every day.
So here's my little tribute for the day:
Backyard to power
We're real Americans, too
Matt Weiland: The young writer Philip Connors writes well in STATE BY STATE of "Minnesota Nice," the distinctively Minnesotan art of passive-aggressive behavior. I remember it best exemplified in a huge sign that went up in the Metrodome shortly after it was built in the early 1980s. The sign read: MINNEAPOLIS: WE LIKE IT HERE. A perfect combination of Minnesotan civic pride and defensiveness. As in, "Isn't it great! Err... what's wrong with it?"
D.C.: Uh, have to say, I find this a bit insulting. Yes, I know we're not a state, so of course we're not part of your book. But this is the WASHINGTON Post. Did you forget that there are US Citizens living here too?
Elizabeth Terry: Well, D.C. is in the book, in an afterword. How very D.C.! I find it amazing how often I run into people in other states who have no concept that there are U.S. citizens here in Washington. Like the liquor store clerk in Massachusetts who was surprised to hear that people vote for president here. Or the person in a Manhattan bookstore who didn't seem to know that we pay federal taxes. Sigh! Anyway, Matt, please explain how D.C. figures into your book.
Matt Weiland: No insult given! In fact D.C. is in our book, in the form of an interview with Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Edward P. Jones, who makes the case for D.C. statehood (and very amusingly)... D.C., after all, has more residents than Wyoming -- and many of its earliest residents built the capitol itself.
Elizabeth Terry: Bottom line, you've come to a friendly place.
Bethesda, Md.: I love Maryland because it is so underrated. When people visit they are surprised by the lovely trees and plants, the mountains, the bay, the ocean, and the lively cities. We have tunnels and bridges, farms and towns, great colleges, and a very diverse population. I hope that you pay attention to Maryland!
Matt Weiland: Underrated or otherwise (no doubt you're right!), we found in working on the book that Maryland is one of the most under-described states: who knows the taste of the place? Well... except those who know the blue crab, of course. Alas, this is true of too many of our states, the ones that don't immediately bring to mind a clear association.
Elizabeth Terry: I grew up in Maryland but am unfortunately allergic to shellfish, including crabs. A few jobs ago I worked with a woman who was from the Baltimore area originally and she introduced us to Berger Cookies, which have a very thick and sweet layer of chocolate icing. They are good for Maryland identity. Also once I was in Ireland and this guy expressed surprise that I had never heard of a dish called "Chicken Maryland," even though I was from there. Does anyone here know it?
Philadelphia, Pa.: Reality forces me to be from Pennsylvania, Whereas poetry would favor me being from Nantucket, Because the only thing that rhymes is Transylvania, And that is a rhyme driving me to mania.
Matt Weiland: Just be glad you're not from an even tougher rhyme: Wyoming, anyone?
Okoboji, IA: In 2003, I was driving home to visit my mother and when I entered Iowa the scenery struck me so powerfully I had to pull over and write this poem (or maybe I kept driving and wrote?!?)
Clouds that make you cry
The hills harbor lush perfection
Soil, God's gift of simplicity
Together we are one
I am home
Closer to God never smelled so good
Thanks, Alyson S., (now of Newark, NJ)
Matt Weiland: Your passion for Iowa exemplifies something that runs throughout STATE BY STATE -- how strongly people identify with the state they're from, even long after they left. States make us!
Elizabeth Terry: This makes me want to visit Iowa.
Washington, D.C.: My sticker says "I voted"
I'm glad it was duly noted
So now I can play
for the rest of Election Day
and hope my candidate gets promoted.
Elizabeth Terry: More universal than state-specific, but I like the sentiment and I am a sucker for a limerick.
Pan-stater in Washington, D.C.: You know, I've been to all 50 states (I live here in Washington, D.C.), and there isn't one of them that doesn't have a beautiful place or an interesting place, including D.C., which, for example, has the best urban river in the whole country. I probably wouldn't want to live in any place farther from the ocean than Washington, D.C., but I'm always happy to visit any one of the states.
Elizabeth Terry: Very impressive, were all those trips for business or for pleasure?
Bowie, Md.: Maryland identity? Just another entry into the food category - how about the Smith Island cake... all of those layers are fantastic!
Elizabeth Terry: Oh yeah. Just watch out for the stuffed hams.
Anonymous: What about Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Northern Mariana Islands?
Matt Weiland: You're right! We agonized over this, even planned to include them at one point (we thought we'd run the piece on Puerto Rico in Spanish -- true to America). But the book is long -- 600 pages -- as it is, it took us two years to round up and edit the 51 writers, and there is a fundamental difference in status between Washington D.C. and these territories, so we left it at the 50 states plus D.C. after all. I'd especially love to read a great piece of writing about Guam, though...
Elizabeth Terry: Yes, please, if any Puerto Ricans, Guamanians, etc., are logged on, send in your tributes now!
Washington DC: I noticed that DC, MD, and VA all have different "I voted" stickers. Are they done by county in states? Are there 51 different ones if they are done by states plus DC, or 3000-plus different ones if by county?
Matt Weiland: Good question, if indeed they do vary throughout the country that would make a handsome poster, I'd think. Do some states trend serif and others sans serif?
Big Cascade: (To the tune of "Big River" by Johnny Cash)
Well I taught the Western Hemlock how to mope And I showed the clouds how to give the northwest a real long soak And the tears I cried for the woman Will erode you, Big Cascade And I'm gon' sit right here until I croak.
Well I met her accidentally in Redding, California And it tore me up every time I heard her drawl, Canuck drawl. Heard my fate went out of state, Flashing her sass in Grant's Pass And I followed you, Big Cascade, when you called.
Took me to you Eugene, later on, up the range A hippie said she'd been there but she's gone, dude, long gone. Caught the trail in Portland, but she took Max 'cross the bridge Raised a few eyebrows and went on down along.
Well tighten down in Tacoma -- mountain queen, rollin' on. Take that woman on up to Bellingham, Bellingham. Girl, sayonnara, dumped my blues in Canada. She loves you, Big Cascade, more than me.
Christopher Dean Hopkins Discussions Producer, washingtonpost.com
Elizabeth Terry: This is by my colleague, who hails from the Northwest. Nice job, Chris! This is a good challenge to other readers -- can you set your tribute to music? Excuse me while I go on YouTube and find this song so I can sing along once I post it.
South Bend, Ind.: This is a tribute to my favorite state One that could predict McCain's electoral fate We're the Crossroads of America With amber waves of corn Here's an awesome list Of those Hoosier-born
It's where Orville Redenbacher perfected his kernel Jimmy Hoffa was big, but he's missing eternal
If you read til you get a paper cut, You've probably heard of Kurt Vonnegut
If music's your thing, Michael Jackson's from Gary And our basketball hero from French Lick named Larry
With VPs, we've had 5, including a Quayle Letterman's on late and he's never stale John Dillinger's one guy who shouldn't get bail
Speaking of rebels without a cause, There's the film icon James Dean And one huge place that's never a pause Speedway town, where the 500 is seen
Matt Weiland: Good to see such Hoosier Pride. Any idea which state has gone the longest period of time without having a candidate (President or Vice President) reach the White House?
N.Y., N.Y.: I live in the West 50's in New York City. I vote in the basement of the High School for the Environment. It's a small crowded room with five old lever-style curtained voting booths and five tables manned annually by a cranky group of oldsters and a few middle aged unemployeds. They dither over the name lists and snap if you touch the roll book to point to your name. On this national voting day they are joined by a few policemen, a board of elections poll watcher and assorted extra clerks. There is barely enough room for us voters. Each election I vote early with a small group of regulars who quietly compete to be number 1. This year we all came extra early and found ourselves joined by a few of those fabled young folks. As usual things got started late and then as we were about to enter the room a woman appeared and pushed herself into the room - she said she needed to bring her mother in a wheelchair. Collective sighing. Next thing we knew there was the old woman pushing a shopping cart not a wheelchair. Eye rolling. We waited for the shopping cart lady to leave. Just as she did a man in a bus driver uniform stepped in with two very old ladies and went in. The man who was number 1 on line looked on in despair. Exit the old ladies. Moments later we all pressed into the room, argued with the table folks, reminded the booth minder that we knew what we were doing, crossed the lever and voted. To our great surprise we emerged out of our crawl space vote space to find that the line was all the way up the hall and up the block. I was voter number 6. Thank god this is over!
Elizabeth Terry: I miss those lever machines. thanks for the report from the field!
Weingarten: You can bet your sweet bippy It ain't Mississippi.
Elizabeth Terry: Noted.
Weingarten: For giving us Cheney and bad poem-ing I withdraw from nomination Wyoming
Elizabeth Terry: Combing? Gloaming? Roaming?
Bowie, Md.: I have to say that I am very proud to be an American today. So proud that I woke up at 4 a.m., got to my polling place at 5:45 a.m. and waited for 2 hours to cast my vote. What made me so proud was the dedication I saw in the local polling officials and the camaraderie of my fellow voters. We should all be proud Americans no matter which candidate wins.
Elizabeth Terry: That's the spirit.
Weingarten: Sure, it's ugly and noisy But I love my New Joisey.
Elizabeth Terry: Anyone else?
NVRI: Nevada and Rhode Island
Put the smile on the eagle
They're the two states
Where prostitution is legal
Matt Weiland: This I never knew. Good post -- informative and a rhyme to boot!
Washington, D.C.: Just wanted to congratulate my native state of Alabama for nominating a black woman for the US Senate. She's gonna lose but she tried. They may even elect someone bright, that is, a new Democrat named Bright. Way to go, Alabama, soon I may stop getting pitiable looks from third world refugees because I'm from Sweet Home Alabama. Thanks.
Elizabeth Terry: This is another thing I love about D.C. -- many people are from somewhere else originally, so we natives get to make friends from across the country and around the world.
Bethesda, Md.: Born and raised: Alabama, Lived for many years: Georgia, Lived for the last 11 years: Maryland
It's days like today that remind me why I continue to live in Maryland. No offense to the other states... well, at least not to Georgia.
Elizabeth Terry: One pro-Alabama, one not.
Toledo, Ohio: A worker in Toledo
Says Obama is the man.
A hunter down in Athens
Says no, I'm for McCain.
A student at Ohio
Is passionately pro-O.
A businessman in Cinci
Says O-bam-a? Well, no.
Ohio is a swing state.
We're proud of that, you know.
A maker of our pres-i-dents --
at least the R's -- we're tol'.
So on this day historic,
We gladly cast our vote,
"We hope we make our country proud,"
And THAT we'll let you quote.
Elizabeth Terry: Thanks, Ohio!
Transplanted to D.C.: I have lived in Washington for about 20 years and enjoy pretty much everything about living here (except for hellacious summers). But no place compares with my birthplace in upstate New York. I love it, miss it, and get back every chance I can.
The great thing about upstate New York (specifically, I grew up in Rome and Clinton) is that it's totally undiscovered. Most people, especially those who live in New York City, are unaware that the rest of the state exists. And that's just fine with me. It's beautiful, peaceful, rural (for the most part) and filled with fascinating history. So here's to Upstate!
Matt Weiland: I share your high feelings for upstate New York, one of the prettiest places I know. We had many moments in the course of working on STATE BY STATE of despairing at our task, since it's certainly true that each state contains multitudes. Many point to northern and southern California, for example, as two states living in the clothes of one, or upstate New York and NYC. But this is the case with every state -- as anyone who has ever gone on a road trip and stayed off the interstate highways knows, even every county differs in some noticeable way from the one a few miles back. Hoorah for that!
wait: prostitution is NOT legal in Rhode Island. The courts simply said they could not use a "no standing" traffic law to arrest Johns. Prostitution in and of itself is STILL 100% illegal. In Nevada, prostitution in legal in a few counties only. It is still illegal in most counties. I think there are 2 or 3 counties in the whole state where it's legal ONLY IN CONTROLLED inspected, certified facilities. Street walkers are still illegal.
Elizabeth Terry: Poetic license?
Huntsville, Alabama: Hi-tech Redneck: Huntsville is a beautiful little town snuggled up to the foothills of the southern Appalachians. I live at the top of a cul-de-sac that goes up a hill. I love my street! My neighbor on the right is black and gay; my neighbors on the left are a baby-boomer white couple. On their left is a mixed-race couple; the white guy has cancer. On their left is a black couple and he organizes annual block parties for our street. On the other side of my gay-black guy neighbor is a white couple who have a McCain sign. On their right is a white couple, then another black family, and so on down the street. I love this! Perfect weather, diverse neighbors, white-sauce BBQ, high-tech industries, strong community colleges, and lovely geography. And I'm still in Alabama, the most surprising state in the Union! Y'all come!
Elizabeth Terry: And another Alabama fan! What is white-sauce barbecue? Where is my lunch?
75762: I just moved to Texas
(Though there ain't no fiddle in this band)
And for three months I've been pining
For my Virginia Homeland
From afar it's exciting
To watch my home state turn blue
Oh, I miss Virginia
And I'm getting sick of barbeque.
Matt Weiland: Sick of barbecue! For those of us who grew up in the Upper Midwest, lacking proper barbecue, this is as unimaginable as living on the moon, and as barren. I recommend a month in northern Minnesota, that'll cure you.
Jersey Native: Pithy rhymes I do not possess,
but I must jump in - nevertheless!
And say what I feel, as I read his "prose,"
Weingarten is a jerk. (Doesn't rhyme, but ahh, the healing flows!)
Elizabeth Terry: Thanks, N.J.
California!: In most states, they'd probably stone me for being weird. Not this one!
Matt Weiland: Safe to visit Iowa! No stoning there: just a cocked eyebrow and the muttered phrase, "Probably from California."
Richmond, Va.: I love living in central Va.. It's simply gorgeous here. We've got a fabulous urban river, I'm a couple of hours from the beach, a couple of hours from the mountains, and a couple of hours to Washington. Richmond is big enough that I have nearly every conceivable option for dining and shopping, but small enough I know my neighbors.
Elizabeth Terry: I'm visiting Richmond soon and looking forward to it!
Philadelphia, Pa.: Yo, To Genos or Pats, dats da quiz
Attas da burning question,
Whether tis nobler to sling cheezewiz,
Before I gets my indigestion.
Elizabeth Terry: I love how so many of these have to do with food.
Matt Weiland: This is true of STATE BY STATE, too -- from a vigorous defense of North Carolina barbecue to the mint farms of Indiana, the joys of eating Christmas kringle in Wisconsin to drinking a "traveler" in South Carolina. It made us hungry to edit it.
Chicken Maryland: I've lived in Maryland since 1969 and I've never heard of it. Wikipedia, fortunately, has: http:/
I'll stick with the Smith Island cake and Berger cookies.
Elizabeth Terry: "The primary factor which distinguishes Maryland Fried Chicken from other Southern Fried Chicken is that rather than "deep fry" the chicken in several inches of oil or shortening, the chicken in pan-fried in a (traditionally cast-iron) skillet and is covered tightly after the initial browning so that the chicken actually "steams" as the skin and outer portion "fry." Milk or cream is often added during this step to create a white cream pan gravy, also a Maryland characteristic."
Northampton, Mass.: I was born in Vermont and grew up in New Hampshire (I have "Live Free or Die" tattooed on my right arm) but for half my life I have lived in Massachusetts. I have always lived within or a short distance from the Connecticut River valley. I am proud to live here because the battle for American independence started here and we continued that tradition of freedom recently by giving our queer brothers and sisters the same right to marry as my wife and I have. Plus we have wicked awesome sports teams!
Elizabeth Terry: I have family in New England and love it too. One of my dad's cousins refuses to do Thanksgiving anywhere but Massachusetts because he feels like he'd be too far away from Plymouth Rock.
Matt Weiland: A state tattoo on your arm, how excellent. For STATE BY STATE we wanted to get S.E. Hinton, the great author of THE OUTSIDERS, to write about her home state of Oklahoma. But I had no idea how to reach her... until I met a guy with a tattoo of Oklahoma's state outline on his arm. I mentioned my interest in reaching Hinton for the book, and it turned out he knew her! Only in Oklahoma, perhaps.
Salt Lake City, Utah: Maryland, My Maryland I love Baltimore (my hometown); going to see the O's play; the beautiful Bay and its wetlands; riding my bike along the rolling hills, by farms and forests, both on the Eastern and Western Shores (green grass and trees!); the University of Maryland (Go Terps!); The C and O Canal Towpath; the state parks of Western Md. (for camping and X-Country Skiing); and finally, ethnic and religious diversity. P.S. Don't get me wrong, there are things I like about living in Utah but Maryland will always be home.
Elizabeth Terry: More Maryland love.
Reston, VA: Virginia - you wouldn't have had the Colonies without us, and you wouldn't have an independent Nation without us!
Elizabeth Terry: And love for Virginia, too.
Paris, France: American living abroad - greetings from what was a beautiful day in the City of Light (it's now evening). This election has people so excited here - I have some Obama stickers that people on the Metro, in restaurants, etc, have been asking me for every time they see them. All of the Anglo bars are predicting overflow crowds tonight. Everyone seems to feel they have a stake in the outcome.
Elizabeth Terry: The ex-pats weigh in...
Richmond, Va.: I love my state. If it goes Democratic this year, that'll be one more reason. From Loving vs Virginia to Obama in less than one lifetime is amazing.
Also home of the Hokies and good ham biscuits.
Elizabeth Terry: More love for Virginia, and its food.
re: stickers: I work in Richmond, with co-workers from the city proper, Chesterfield County, Powhatan County, Henrico County, etc. Each county has its own unique sticker. Powhatan's seems to be the coolest - it's really big and round with an official-looking presidential seal.
Elizabeth Terry: Nice.
PREGNANT VOTER: St. Paul, Minn -- Just have to share -- while dropping off an absentee ballot for my friend yesterday at the county auditor's, a woman came in. She was IN LABOR, and 7 cm dilated, but stopped off on the way to the hospital to get an absentee ballot. How awesome is that??!!
Matt Weiland: Amazing. Democracy in action, indeed. Here's to the happy family.
Herndon, Va.: A salute to my home state of Nebraska! The only state sensible enough to have a one-house legislature (sure, the federal government needs to have two houses, but every other state?). And, along with Maine, Nebraska also doesn't give all its electoral votes to the state-wide winner, just a part - the rest are based on the vote in each congressional district. (also, even though our football team is in a teeny slump - GO BIG RED!!)
Matt Weiland: I love the electoral split-states too. Makes the charts even more addictive, apart from everything else.
Elizabeth Terry: I was trying to explain the electoral college to a French friend the other night. It's challenging.
Greater Green Bay, Wis.: We don't torture your uvula
We feast on sausage and cheese
excuse us for not getting up when you visit.
Sit down instead
cheese on what you wish.
Arent ya glad yer
Elizabeth Terry: Helloooo, Dairy State!
Capitol Hill: I love Long Island (my part of New York), where Robert Moses already got us plenty of pork.
Matt Weiland: Another example of how a state divides into hugely different parts. Though Jonathan Franzen in his STATE BY STATE piece about New York does a wonderful, and very funny, job of capturing it all.
Minnesota : Ventura, Bachman and now maybe Franken
That's distinctive (and embarrassing)
Matt Weiland: Just like the far northern tip of the state, nothing is more Minnesotan than sticking out from the rest...
chicken Maryland: It's essentially chicken fried chicken with gravy.
And YES, Berger cookies are the best!!!
Matt Weiland: Making me hungry. If you could eat in just one state, which state would it be and why?
Alexandria Va.: I was very lucky
to grow up in Kentucky
Where the grass is blue
But like in V-A,
'Twould be a wonderful day
If folks there would vote blue, too!
Elizabeth Terry: Thanks, Alex-Kentucky!
Seattle, Washington: Hi... the Other Washington here... One thing that strikes me the most about Washington State is the division of the state.. physically, with the Cascade mountain range bisecting the state into east and west, climatically and the fact that the Western part of the state is liberal and the eastern portion is conservative. There's a certain rivalry and mistrust of folks from "the other side of the Mountains" here. It certainly plays out politically. Obama will easily trounce McCain west of the Cascades (Seattle), while McCain will win the eastern, rural part of the state. The contrasts are striking. By the way, I loved your book!
Matt Weiland: Thanks a lot, that's awfully nice of you. And you're right about Washington's divisions. I'm glad of that -- the country would be so dull if each state were purely and simply one thing, surely. Each state a complicated, rich stew. There we go again, back onto food!
Stockbridge, Vermont: ahhh, Vermont. My newly adopted home state, a refugee from Manhattan. We must be the calmest state today. I voted here for the first time. Here we go to our Town Clerk's office, say hi to our poll workers, who we last saw at soccer practice or the Green Mountain Grill, and then proceed to fill out our ballots by coloring in the circle opposite our candidates' names. No voting machines to mess up. The big scandal here was the midnight removal of signs for State senator and governor from one party, replaced by their opponents' yard signs. But someone called Marge up and told her to come replace her signs. She came, replaced her signs, and open-mindedly left the opposing signs in place as well. On our ballot, many of the local candidates' party affiliation is Democratic/Republican (together), running against the Progressive party or Libertarian Party candidate. A couple of races didn't have a Republican candidate at all. By Sarah Palin's definition, we here are the "real America". Only, we don't count, 'cause there are so few of us, liberals all. We are the only state that Bush and Cheney have never come to!! There are many people here who can field-dress a moose, and would gladly teach you how, but they have the common sense to know that this has nothing to do with governing.
Matt Weiland: Thanks for this eloquent post in defense of Real Americans (and properly field-dressed moose) everywhere.
Guam: Lived in Guam for two years - absolutely loved the people and the place. Very isolated - lush jungles, beautiful beaches, and pure ocean as far as the eye can see. Have never run into a culture quite as laid back as the Guamanians - why do today what can be put off until tomorrow? And I have never been anywhere else where it is common to get a loan just to have a party. And if someone did not show up to work on Monday, the first thing you did was find out whether they had a celebration in their village the day before because that was reason enough not to expect them in the office. Hafa adai!
Elizabeth Terry: Oh hurrah! Thanks, Guam!
Matt Weiland: Good to see Guam here!
Matt Weiland: Well thanks a lot for having me here -- and thanks to all who posted. I'm convinced a road trip is in order: to eat my way back across the country! Hope you enjoy STATE BY STATE. Happy election day, all.
Elizabeth Terry: Thanks for joining us, everyone! Do come back to the site this evening for a live webcast, chats with Bob Kaiser and Marc Fisher, and much, much more. Happy Election Day, America!
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