Let’s start with news from Britain, since that’s what we allegedly talk about here. Then we’ll wander off topic, as we usually manage to.
In June, scientists took water samples from Loch Ness to see if they could find a “biological explanation” for reports of the Loch Ness monster.
The plan was to test fragments of scales, skin, feathers, fur, feces, and urine–all that fun stufff that gets left in the water and carries DNA. (Sorry, I didn’t mean to ruin your swim, but really, what did you think happened in there?) They expected to find invasive species and unspecified surprises down there (I know, it’s in the nature of surprises to be stuff you can’t list, so I shouldn’t complain, but I will anyway). What they didn’t really expect to find was Nessie, but dropping her name isn’t a bad way to get attention. And even scientists like attention–or some of them do anyway.
I haven’t seen any reports on what the study found. Probably because Nessie doesn’t like attention. She eats researchers if they get too close to the truth.
You heard it here first.
To keep ourselves from being eaten, let’s take a couple of giant steps back from the water and talk about politics instead. I’ve been convinced ever since–wait: let me take my mittens off so I can count. Hmm. Turns out it’s since the Conservatives took power that I’ve been convinced the country’s being run by a random collection of amateurs. But that’s come into focus in a new way recently.
In early November, then-Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab told a technology conference that he “hadn’t quite understood” how heavily the U.K. relies on the crossing between the ports of Dover and Calais. The full quote is, “I hadn’t quite understood the full extent of this, but if you look at the UK and look at how we trade in goods, we are particularly reliant on the Dover-Calais crossing.” Which led to headlines about him having just discovered that Britain is a island. And to some of his allies feeling that they had to tell the press that of course he knows it’s an island.
On behalf of all voters in the country, I’d like to say that we were relieved to know that. Every last one of us.
Dom has now resigned and is once again a lowly member of parliament. Having negotiated the Brexit agreement, he resigned to protest it. If I’m missing a piece there, someone please let me know where it got to. I’m happy to blame the cat for shoving it under the couch.
But back to this passing whim Britain had to turn itself into an island: In case your geography’s as hazy as Dom’s is, Dover’s in Britain. Calais’s in France, Paris is the capital of Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia has been divided so that the blouse is now separate from the trousers (or pants if you’re American). It just didn’t work as a jumpsuit but it still looks very nice with a scarf.
Rhode Island is not an island.
I hope that helps.
Anyway, welcome to the world, Dominic. No man is an island, but any number of countries are.
Dom isn’t alone in bringing limited knowledge, limited talent, and an impressive amount of candor to his [now former] job. Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley said in September, “I freely admit that when I started this job, I didn’t understand some of the deep-seated and deep-rooted issues that there are in Northern Ireland. I didn’t understand things like when elections are fought, for example, in Northern Ireland, people who are nationalists don’t vote for unionist parties and vice versa.”
If you’re American, that’s sort of like someone in charge of civil rights legislation saying they hadn’t known the country has a history of slavery, or that it still matters. Only, of course, the U.S. isn’t doing civil rights legislation anymore. All that unnecessary regulation is being rolled up and stuffed in the back of the closet, right next to the jeans that haven’t fit since 1964. By people who haven’t noticed that our history of slavery still drips toxins into our civic bloodstream. Or who’ve noticed but think it’s fine.
Sorry. I tried to be funny about that. Honest I did.
On a brighter note, U.K. Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright, who’s responsible for media as well as culture, announced that he doesn’t read newspapers. That led the prime minister’s office to announce that she does read newspapers.
The nation breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Yes, we all think as one over here.
When Wright became culture secretary, to prove he was up to date with modern media, he quick set up a Twitter account. I took a quick scroll through it just now and found him pleased, delighted, feeling very positive, and feeling really positive. It was all I could do to tear myself away but I knew you’d want me to report back, so here I am, energized and enlightened by my trip.
Four days after he announced that he didn’t read newspapers, he was in the news again to explain not what he doesn’t do but what he does: He plays with Legos.
“Putting Lego together and pulling it apart again is a very therapeutic process,” he said. He mentioned having built a Death Star from 4,500 Lego bits.
It explains a lot about how policy gets assembled.
Enough politics. If we do any more of it, we’ll all get depressed.
In the Netherlands, a 69-year-old went to court to change his birth date so he’ll be twenty years younger. He compared being the wrong age to being transgender. He was born in the right body but the wrong year, although he didn’t put it quite like that.
What he did say was this: “When I’m 69, I am limited. If I’m 49, then I can buy a new house, drive a different car. I can take up more work. When I’m on Tinder and it says I’m 69, I don’t get an answer. When I’m 49, with the face I have, I will be in a luxurious position.”
He will also be less prone to arthritis. Now that I’m 23 again, my joints are like a 23-year-old’s. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
But enough about me. This is about him, because he sounds like the kind of guy who’d want it to stay that way.
“It is really a question of free will,” he said.
His website says he’s in a long-term relationship with–oh, I don’t know, it was some moderate description like the most wonderful woman in the world. He’s so much in love that he spends his time on Tinder.
Humans. They make me crazy.
For no good reason, that makes my atheistic mind turn toward religion–not as in converting to one or several but as in thinking about the fact that they exist. The Church of England has created a program that allows Alexa–that clever little eavesdropper in your home (or not; I have no idea how you live or what you drag into your living room)–. Can we start that over? I made a mess of it. It programs Alexa to tell you who god is. Pour it in her electronic ear and she’ll also be able to answer questions like “what is the Bible?” and “what is a Christian?” She can say prayers for you, find nearby churches, and answer questions about weddings and funerals.
I can also answer questions about weddings and funerals: At a funeral, you bury someone. Or cremate them. Ideally, they’re dead before this happens. At weddings, two people agree to spend some absurd amount of money feeding their friends and family and getting them drunk. At the end of it, the community agrees to recognize them as a couple. Without the food and alcohol, tradition holds that they would still be single.
In some traditions, neither event is complete unless there’s a fight.
But the Church of England isn’t the only religious group to have enlisted Alexa. She’s been converted to any number of religions, even though they all claim that theirs is the only real god or set of gods. In a way I can only think of as godlike, Alexa embraces them all.
Google, meantime, has introduced Smart Compose, which will complete your sentences as you type an email. You thought predictive text was getting you in trouble? This will bring you a whole new level of mayhem to your life, introducing bland insincerity, cliched phrases and emotions, and things you didn’t mean to say at all. You write, “I haven’t” and it supplies “seen you in a while.” Since the cat’s about to jump on your keyboard, you don’t notice that you haven’t actually typed “had a chance to tell you how sorry I am to hear about your father’s death.”
Then the cat lands on the keyboard and hits a few random keys, triggering an onslaught of pre-programed joy at your upcoming reunion.
“Let’s get together soon,” Smart Compose writes. “Glad to hear life’s treating you so well.”
I love technology.
The army’s been taking a non–technological approach to predictive text. It’s been accused of dictating what soldiers say when they talk to the press.
Child Soldiers International spotted a series of identical quotes from graduates of the Army Foundation College. They date back to 2015. And the graduates didn’t even have to type that initial word.
I can’t find a link between this and the last paragraph, but Scotland’s ahead of England in finally putting a woman’s face on the £20 note. Who’s the trailblazer? Kate Cranston. What did she do? Um, she gave Charles Rennie Mackintosh enough money to start his famous Mackintosh tearooms. At least the papers (I do read the papers) tell me they’re famous, which I’m grateful for because I’d never heard of them. But I’m a foreigner here, on top of which Scotland’s at the far end of the island and that’s a long way to go when all you want is a cup of tea and you’ve got a perfectly good kettle on the counter.
Cranston was “a leading figure in the development of the tearooms.”
Now there’s the stereotype-smashing spirit that would make any feminist proud.
Speaking of pride, the midterm elections in the U.S. saw a dead pimp elected to the Nevada state assembly on the Republican ticket.
Can Britain, for all its amateurishness, match that?