ComPost Live: Your weekly digest with Alexandra Petri

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Alexandra Petri
Friday, January 21, 2011; 11:30 AM

The Compost, written by Dana Milbank and Alexandra Petri, offers a lighter take on the news and political in(s)anity of the day. If you believe life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about it, this is the chat for you. Join us every Friday at 11 to laugh, cry, and dish about the moments that amused you, shocked you, or caused you to yell things that frightened the other people on the subway.

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Alexandra Petri: Good morning all!It's Friday, January 21, and you know what that means! It is Stonewall Jackson's birthday! It is also 20 more days until the Never Say Never 3D Justin Bieber movie controversy Friday!We can discuss the cell phone fountain lady! Or we can talk about the things that have puzzled mankind since the dawn of time: cats or dogs? Two spaces after a period -- or one? Amy Chua: great mother, or greatest mother? Should February be a Palin-Free month? And am I morally culpable for the presence of Snooki on the bestseller list?Let's roll!

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Milbank: Is Dana playing hooky today?

Alexandra Petri: Yes! Dana has left me alone today with the wild animal that is the Friday 11:30 AM ET chat! He's also vowed to stop writing about Sarah Palin. I wonder if we ought to be concerned about him. Next he'll buy a motorcycle and leave me for a more realistic-looking cartoon caricature!

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GOP Nomenclature: So Reince is the new GOP chairman, presiding over a presidential primary campaign that will probably feature Mitt, possibly include Newt and likely offer She who is the mother of Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper and Trig. Do the Republicans have a laboratory somewhere that dreams up first names? Also, how cool is it that among the anagrams for "Reince Priebus" are "Pubic Sneer Ice" and "Scribe Pee Ruin"?

Alexandra Petri: I love all the name options right now! I want to start selling Oven Mitts, where a likeness of Mitt Romney protects your hands from hot-button issues and platters. I can visualize them at Urban Outfitters.Other Priebus anagrams include Respire in Cube. But joking aside, a name that close to Prius is bound to lead to some classic screwball hijinks for the GOP in the next few years!

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Holiday: Not only is it Stonewall Jackson's birthday, it's also Squirrel Appreciation Day! No, really.

Alexandra Petri: This is fantastic! I appreciate squirrels. My first foray into humor writing was to found a high school humor magazine called the Perturbed Squirrel, so I've always had an affinity for them. They're like more socially presentable beavers.But this is probably just a sign that the appreciation day culture has gotten out of hand. Here are a few more for this month: http://www.members.shaw.ca/high5/02cal.html

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Should February be a Palin-Free month?: Yes. CNN had a funny headline recently, something like "People are tired of talking about Palin." Pretty soon they'll have a new headline "People have grown weary of talking about how tired they are of talking about Palin."

Alexandra Petri: This could go ad infinitum! "People have grown weary of people who have grown weary of talking about how tired they are of people who are tired of talking about Palin"

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DM'S no-Palin pledge: Hey, I'd like to comment on his story, but the comment function isn't working! Anyway, I say, the more Palin the better. Stories about her, and especially the comments that follow, are the funniest things going right now.

Alexandra Petri: Well, fortunately we've got another ten days before the ban kicks in. Consider this week a Palin Mardi Gras.

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2012, Hi Petri: Did you see that silly article theorizing that the star Betelgeuse is going to go supernova in 2012? Do you think it's just an excuse for newsfolk to say "Betelgeuse"?

Alexandra Petri: Betelgeuse Betelgeuse Betelgeuse.(I think at this point a Tim Burton movie is supposed to come and wreak havoc on my office.)

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Stonewall Jackson: Isn't it also Lee's birthday? Or is that just in Virginia?

Alexandra Petri: That was two days ago! But I hear that in certain spots below the Mason Dixon line, Robert E. Lee's birthday is celebrated all year round... He'd have been 204!

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Hmmm...squirrel appreciation day?: I guess it wouldn't be a good day to play my favorite Tom Lehrer song, "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park"...then again, any day is a good day to play that song.

Alexandra Petri: Truth. Or "New Math" -- which is relevant these days, after they came out with that study saying that we emerge from college without having, strictly speaking, learned anything.

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Spaces: one space after sentences. end story.

Alexandra Petri: "Actually you may have a point.

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Squirrel Lovers!: I know I don't need to point this out to the other squirrel lovers out there, but squirrels have their own Facebook page.

Alexandra Petri: So does Admiral Ackbar, whose ouster as a potential Ole Miss mascot still saddens me whenever I think about it. Oddly, he has more fans than squirrels do. And they both have an order of magnitude more than I do.

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...the more Palin the better. Stories about her...are the funniest things going right now...: Hmmm...I think you may be confusing Pain with Christine O'Donnell, although most days they're impossible to tell apart...WAIT! Do you think that they're twins separated at birth? COULD BE.

Alexandra Petri: I frequently confuse Pain with Christine O'Donnell.

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All the Single Ladies: Enjoyed your post about being single. I would like to add that you are single if winning an Emmy award prompts an article in your local paper that starts with this sentence "While her three siblings were hard at work planning their respective weddings, Nikelle Orellana was busy honing her creative skills." And ends with this sentence "At present she has no plans for a wedding."

Alexandra Petri: Wow. That's -- who wrote that? Her demanding old-fashioned grandmother?

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spacing: Where did this 1 space thing come from? I was always taught to use 2 spaces. Was everything I learned in school a lie?

Alexandra Petri: According to Slate. But my usual response to Slate pieces is to grip my head in my hands and keen, "IS EVERYTHING A LIE?" so it might just be their tone.

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Tiger Mother: Really, the hysteria has been amusing. I gotta say, my response was "dang I am a lazy parent. I am way too self-involved to parent that hard. I suck!"

Alexandra Petri: Fair point!What really startled me (besides the fact that it's possible to leave tooth marks in a piano) is the idea that a parent would NOT want a card you made incompetently using glitter and construction paper, since this has been what I've given my parents at birthdays and Christmas every year for the past eight or nine years. I always took the audible groans and exclamations that "THIS we raised from a baby?" as tokens of appreciation.

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When to be worried about Dana...: When he drives to work in a red convertible sports car and starts wearing clothes that are popular with college kids...although I'm not sure that he really wants to do the visible boxer shorts and jeans below the hips look at the WaPo.

Alexandra Petri: I don't know, we're pretty hip. After I leave this chat we're meeting up to crochet a replica of the 1890 World Fair and talk about how much more taxing air travel is than it used to be.

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Football: Okay, Alexandra, show us your range. Who wins: Bears vs. Packers and Jets vs. Steelers?

Alexandra Petri: Packers! Steelers! I support American industry. Bears are often imported. And the Jets were my least favorite gang in West Side Story.

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Single: When is the next time you are coming to Chicago?

Alexandra Petri: Probably not for a while, given that I answered "Packers" to that last question...

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Squirrels, Cats, and Dogs: My mom will love this! Maybe she will buy a third or fourth deck door screen for them to chew threw in honor of their special day. Of course my dad is the one who gives them peanuts and seeds all the time so that they end up hanging out with my parents cats on the deck. So cats or dogs? Well those cats chill with the squirrels while my 2 dogs take off at warp speed and whine uncontrollably at the sight of one - usually one that is across 4 lanes of traffic. So I'm going with cats on squirrel day.

Alexandra Petri: I'm assuming this is a metaphor for something.

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Fairfax: Sign me up for the Mitt Romney oven mitts! I'll take 2 for our household and another 6 as gifts for my friends.

Alexandra Petri: Clearly, Mitt is a friend of the economy! Can we think of any other candidates who'd make good home products? My goal for 2012 is to stock the entire basement of Urban Outfitters entirely in conceptual GOP primary candidate merchandise.

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snooks: Dear Alexandra,ARE you morally culpable for the presence of Snooki on the bestseller list?

Alexandra Petri: I did purchase the book...(Ducks)If the Senate ever gets rid of the filibuster, I think the second-most effective threat would be to read A Shore Thing in its entirety on the Senate Floor.

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That cell phone fountain lady has given me an idea.: I'm always banging my arms on doorknobs and I'm starting to wonder if I can sue someone over it. Besides being a constant daydreamer, I am also a natural arm swinger. As I walk through a door with my head in the clouds and my arms swinging, my poor arms get mercilessly battered by doorknobs that always seem to be placed out of my field of vision. It's as though the people responsible for making doors and doorknobs WANT me to get injured. Someone needs to stand up for the rights of arm-swinging daydreamers like myself. I'm distracted and the door/doorknob industrial complex is finally going to be held accountable for that.

Alexandra Petri: The ideal upshot of this would be to replace every door with a door like this one.

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Stonewall Jackson, Hi Petri: Happy Stonewall Jackson's birthday, Petri.It always weirded me out that they buried his arm in a shrine. That just seems like a desperate bid for a tourist attraction to me.(guess who?)

Alexandra Petri: Speaking of Jackson shrines/tourist attractions, the Washington National Cathedral has a window depicting the Apotheosis of Stonewall Jackson. It was dedicated by the Daughters of the Confederacy. It looks exactly like you would think it might, based on the title -- Stonewall Jackson in white armor being received into the light. I find it hilarious that enough people thought this was a good concept that they paid good money so that it would exist. Definitely swing by and take a look if you get the chance!

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DWTS: After conservatives Tucker Carlson, Tom DeLay and Bristol Palin, which Democrats do you think would be the best choices to compete on "Dancing with the Stars"?

Alexandra Petri: Is it cruel to say Pelosi?

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I support American industry.: Jets are America's number one export.

Alexandra Petri: The Europeans would prefer a gang whose defining characteristics were snapping, the use of made-up slang words, and the tendency to do balletic jumps for no apparent reason.

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The ideal upshot of this would be to replace every door with a door like this one.: That would be great until the day I want to sue the automatic door people for murder when my pet squirrel gets caught in that crazy door.

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2012 Republicans, Hi Petri: Your conceptual GOP line is going to have to wait until we figure out what a Reince Priebus is and what the atmosphere is like on its home planet.

Alexandra Petri: That's what it is! I've been trying to think what his name reminded me of, and it's Ford Prefect from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy! (I hope this comment won't be misconstrued as starting a Planet Birther movement for Mr. Priebus, whom I have no reason to suspect is anything less than a full-carbon earthman!)

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Mob takedown: In honor of the FBI bust of half the citizens of my hometown of Brooklyn, I give you the Mafia Name Generator. Mine is The Coin Operator.

Alexandra Petri: Thanks, The!Don't you hate it when, the same day you learn you have a Mafia, the FBI takes it down again? It's like the end of Sweeney Todd! (I sense an unintentional Sondheim theme emerging this week.)

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Spaces: I was also taught 2 spaces, and I'm not changing! I was also taught about adverbs and semicolons and the difference between "less" and "fewer".

Alexandra Petri: I would like to see fewer Snookis and less of Sarah Palin.

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which Democrats do you think would be the best choices to compete on "Dancing with the Stars"? : Bill Clinton. Because he's the answer to everything.

Alexandra Petri: And he's number 42! Coincidence?

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I was also taught 2 spaces, and I'm not changing!: That's not a very green attitude. - Society for the Preservation of Spaces

Alexandra Petri: " I've been accused of being a waste of space before, but wasting space is infinitely more exciting!Space is like people who are polite to you on the sidewalk: there's lots of it everywhere but New York City, where you have to pay a premium for it.

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RE: I find it hilarious that enough people thought this was a good concept that they paid good money so that it would exist. : So if one has enough money they can purchase a stained glass window at the National Cathedral and have it depict whatever they want? I must say, I'm intrigued by the idea. Sincerely, Mark Zuckerberg.

Alexandra Petri: For joke purposes, I wish there were a MySpace Window next to the regular Space Window, but it would just be a tiny square of regular glass with Tila Tequila and a creepy older man peering through it at you.

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Football: I gave the team names to my daughter (age 2) and she predicted "The Pittsburghs" vs. the Packers. Now I realize why - they are learning about the letter P in her daycare this week. Oh, and she predicts that The Pittsburghs win!

Alexandra Petri: Does she have any predictions on Priebus or Palin?

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Cable News: Alexandra, when are we going to see you doing the talking head pundity thing?

Alexandra Petri: As soon as I clear up this small matter of a restraining order, I'll be good to go.

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one space after periods: If you went to school in the days before wide use of computers, you learned two spaces after periods because each character took up exactly the same amount of space, regardless of what font you were using. Now that we use computers, it's one space because the space allotted to characters is automatically changed. Also, news flash!, nowadays you should put only one space after colons, too.

Alexandra Petri: This is today's hottest topic! Punctuation is the new Palin!

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I was taught two spaces too...: And although I am unlikely to change, I can understand that the need for 2 spaces is pretty moot now. With old typewriters, two spaces were used to create a slight visual break between sentences to improve readability. Single spaces were used between words, phrases, etc. and two spaces between whole sentences. However, in this day of variable font widths, the double space usually gets eaten up anyways and you no longer have the real visual cue of the sentence break. Unless you are using a fixed width font, most of the time you won't see the double space. I still use it though...kind of hard to break the touch-typing patterns I learned many many moons ago.

Alexandra Petri: Thanks for this! All the colon conversation (that sounds unpleasant) reminds me a bit of a piece I wrote to celebrate National Punctuation Day!My only punctuation-related thought is that those ads that say you can get by with only four periods a year are lying, no matter how many exclamation points and semi-colons you use instead.

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which Democrats do you think would be the best choices to compete on "Dancing with the Stars"? : Al Gore. He's got that ability to laugh at himself, and it's always funnier because you don't expect it. Although I doubt he's very graceful!

Alexandra Petri: His song list would be great though: Too Darn Hot; It's Getting Hot in Here; Here Comes The Sun (sort of)... others?

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It's 2 spaces after a period and 2 after a colon.: It's 2 spaces after a period and 2 after a colon.

Alexandra Petri: does?You should probably sit near the one-space people at the State of the Union...

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Not Mark Zuckerberg: Bill Gates is the one that is going to buy the glass window at all the National Cathedral and at the various Smithsonian museums for reminding people of a real American institution...

Alexandra Petri: Of course! The Windows Window! Good call. The only problem is that they are easy to get into and sometimes turn blue for no apparent reason.

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Al Gore's DWTS song-list: "Heatwave"?Songs with lyrics that Tipper didn't approve of?

Alexandra Petri: Great Balls Of Fire, depending on how apocalyptic he's feeling...

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My only punctuation-related thought is that those ads that say you can get by with only four periods a year are lying: I could totally get by on just 4 periods a year.

Alexandra Petri: You only have three more -- unless you want to splurge on an ellipsis!

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Reince Priebus : Is the first name pronouced like rinse?

Alexandra Petri: It's RY-NTZ, like Heinz? Anyone have a mnemonic device?

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Sample colon: There are several punctuation marks being discussed in this chat: periods, exclamation points, colons and semicolons. Yes, there are 2 spaces after colons to give the same visual break between a clause and a list as at the end of a sentence, but as I mentioned earlier, in this day of variable width fonts, the point is kind of moot which is why most younger people learn one instead of the traditional two.

Alexandra Petri: I learned two spaces from my teachers, who all learned the rule in the era of typewriters. But I've never been positive. I guess that's the challenge of being part of the Type Transition -- I remember once, in fifth grade, writing an assignment by hand!Next week we'll have to ponder what this is doing to handwriting-- and to the people who insist that it reveals your personality. I hear large letters and wide loops indicate you're personable.

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I could totally get by on just 4 periods a year. : Judging by my wife's reactions sometimes, methinks that last poster was a woman...

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Punctuation, Kozai Cycles: My understanding on the punctuation thing was that it was a non-issue before printing and typesetting was widely available, and then at some point the arbitrary decision was made to put two spaces after a period in order to visually offset the beginning of a sentence. Now, however, this rule has been revoked for some reason, and I'm not sure why. It can't be the development of non-monospaced fonts, since I'm pretty sure they had those back in the day. All I know is, my phone does one space automatically, and it frustrates me.

Alexandra Petri: Speaking of frustrating phone auto-corrections, as I wrap up, I highly recommend this site. Language advisory, but it's hilarious!

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Al Gore's DWTS song-list: Don't forget the judge's comments:He's really getting warmed up not!Wow, Al is HOT tonight!He's heating up the dance floor.He's on fire!

Alexandra Petri: My heart melted! As did my icecaps.Or on nights when his performance was sub-par, the cooling jokes...

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spaces: If you're not publishing your work, it doesn't matter how many spaces you put in your writing. If you want to publish and follow a common style guide for publishing, you'll use one period (per Chicago Manual of Style) or resign yourself to having the editor strip out all those extra spaces for you. Just, please, don't argue with the editor that they all need to go back in.

Alexandra Petri: I think you meant "one space," but this seems like a solid point.This reminds me of a comment Oscar Wilde once made, that he'd spent all day working on a poem. "In the morning, I put in a comma," he reportedly said, "and in the afternoon, I took it out again."

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Songs for Al Gore: Air (from the musical Hair) and Purple Rain come to mind...

Alexandra Petri: Or anything by the band O-Zone!

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Mnemonic: It rhymes with "why," as in, "why would you name your child 'Reince'."

Alexandra Petri: As someone who narrowly escaped being named Bergliot, I assume there must have been a strong and compelling reason...

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Alexandra Petri: All right, this has been even more fun than usual! Windows! Palin! Punctuation! But I must depart! So it's time for the lightning round, where every answer is a haiku, and then I'm off to fresh woods and pastures new (actually, my desk). Go! I'll only answer two!

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Let's ask that computer that won Jeapordy! : About proper period rules. He probably knows.

Alexandra Petri: We think Watson wise.He never mentions Palin!A coincidence?

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bergliot: how do you pronounce that?

Alexandra Petri: ("Berg" as in "the second half of something that was as disastrous as naming you this would be" and "liot" as in "Lee Ott.")Bergliot: like LordVoldemort, something one isBest not to be named.

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space: My favorite punctuation story is about another write (Faulkner? Twain?). His editor was always griping about his punctuation. When he sent in his next manuscript, he typed up an entire page of punctuation marks with the notation (paraphrasing here) to "sprinkle them in as needed."

Alexandra Petri: This is not reallya haiku, but that is great!Thought I should share it.

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No-Palin Month: Is going Palin-free like going green? Can you buy Palin offsets if you absolutely must talk about her? What would they be?

Alexandra Petri: Whatever they were, they'd have moose on them.

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Elderly typist: I learned the 2-space-after-a-period method so long ago that I can't break the habit. So when submitting work, I use Search-Replace (Control-F) with 2 spaces in the Search box and 1 space in the Replace box, then select "Replace All" and voila! Problem solved.

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Extra time for us today?: Are you always here for 1.5 hours (there goes one of my allotted periods)? Thanks for the extra time if not. As a 2-space dinosaur, I actually don't need any periods these days, but for old times' sake, like to throw them in. And I like visual cues when I'm reading, and 2 spaces help break up the text for me. Of course, now that I know that the computer does its own thing with the spaces, maybe I just use them for the placebo effect. Or affect. Shoot. I can do Fewer and Less but always need to think about e/affect. And Aflac and Affleck.

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I left the chat to go get lunch: and you are still chatting! Wow.

Alexandra Petri: I must seek lunch tooThis is a bonus haikuSee you all next week!And keep reading the Compost! And follow me on Twitter! (Clearly, I should focus on punctuation more!)


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