Stale news from here and there

Heroic Medical Experimentation: Sometime last year, six doctors in the U.K. and Australia used themselves as guinea pigs and each swallowed the head of a Lego figure to find out how long it would take to find its way out.

The answer is between 1.1 and 1.7 days. To measure this, they developed the FART score (Found and Retrieved Time) and the SHAT score (Stool Hardness and Transit). Without those two scores, the experiment would’ve been just as measurable but wouldn’t have gotten half the publicity.

Toys are the second most common things kids swallow. I’m not sure what the first most common is, but our neighbor’s kid swallowed a coin and the clever devils in A & E (that’s Accident and Emergency–the equivalent of an Emergency Room) used a metal detector to figure out if it had gone into his stomach (safe) or lungs (dangerous). It kept them from having to expose him to unnecessary x-rays.

He’s fine.

Irrelevant photo: A cyclamen, one of those magical British plants that bloom in the winter.

Two things you should know about the experiement: 1. The researchers don’t recommend trying it at home. 2. The experiment doesn’t prove that Lego heads are smarter than mice. Mice in experiments run through mazes where they have to choose one direction or another. The Lego heads followed the only path available to them.

Kids do not, as a rule, swallow mice.


Department of Eternal Youth: The man who asked a Dutch court to declare him twenty years younger than–how am I going to put this? It’s difficult, because what he asked for falls off the edge of the English language, not to mention the edge of logic. Let’s try it this way: He asked the court to change the year he was born because he didn’t feel his emotional state and physical condition matched the number of years he’d been bumping around the planet. Also because he wanted a better response on Tinder. Anyway, the court turned him down, saying he was free to feel and act twenty years younger if he liked, but his age would remain his age.

The photo that accompanies the article doesn’t make him look like a man who’s twenty years younger than his birth certificate claims. He looks like a man who’d doctor his mirror, mirror on the wall so it shows him what he wants to see.

He plans to appeal–either the court’s decision or the mirror’s.


Defining Human Rights: While we’re on the other side of the English Channel, a Belgian prince claimed the government violated his human rights by taking 15% off his annual £280,000 endowment. Actually, it was figured in euros–308,000 of them, but I don’t have a euro sign on my keyboard, so I shifted to pounds, knowing that you’d never notice.

The relationship of pounds to euros in constantly shifting, depending largely on who’s screwed up how badly on Brexit and how recently. Forget about me updating it, because it’ll be out of date an hour later. That was the relationship between the two at some point. It almost surely no longer is, but it’ll do.

What did the prince do to make them cut his allowance? He’s been running around meeting with the representatives of foreign states, sometimes in full naval uniform, without the government’s okay. He’d have gotten away with it if he hadn’t tweeted a picture of himself.

The cut of 15%, he said, would “deprive him and his family of all livelihoods.”

It’s tough out there, kids. And the dry cleaning expenses for those uniforms are shockingly high.


Great Moments in International Diplomacy; And now let’s zip across a bit more water to the United States. I don’t usually write about American politics, mostly because they make me lose my sense of humor. British politics can get depressing, but every so often the people involved will dress up in knee breeches or ermine robes or treat a centuries-old ceremonial mace as if it held actual power. That cheers me up every time. What can American politics do to match that?

Still, let’s have a quick visit: Back in June of 2018, the person Trump would later pick for ambassador to the U.N., Heather Nauert, displayed her grasp of history and diplomacy by saying, “When you talk about Germany, we have a very strong relationship with the government of Germany. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the D-Day landing. We obviously have a very long history with the government of Germany, and we have a strong relationship with the government.

I don’t know if satire really is dead, but I do know it has a hell of a mountain to climb before it can exaggerate the stupidity that passes for normal lately.

Please note: I’m writing this in December and scheduling it for January. I often write my posts well in advance of the time they go live. If by the time you read this, we’ve had two or three more nominees for the post, or two or three different confirmed ambassadors, don’t blame me. If you want your news in a sensibly timely fashion, you need to read a newspaper.

What hasn’t changed in that time is history. The D-Day landing was not a high point in German-American cooperation and good will. 


Feel-Good News: Two U.S. debt-collection industry executives had a life-changing moment, triggered by I don’t know what, when they realized the crushing effect that medical debt has on people. In response, they became former debt-collection industry executives. More than that, they formed a nonprofit, R.I.P. Medical Debt, that buys up medical debt for roughly half a penny on the dollar and then forgives it.

The group has wiped out $434 million worth of medical debt, freeing some 250,000 people (plus their families) from its burden. The organization targets people who are in financial trouble, facing foreclosure, or earning less than twice the national poverty level.

It’s an all-around feel-good story until you realize that the total past-due medical debt in the U.S. is more than $750 billion.


Franz Kafka Department of Fighting Terrorism: An American-born theater historian, David Mayer, who lives in Britain, got on a U.S. terrorist watch list because a Chechen Isis member, Akhmed Chatayev, once used the name David Mayer, along with many others. You’d think it would be a simple problem to sort out since David Mayer the historian 1, isn’t Chechen, 2, was born decades before Chatayev, and 3, unlike Chatayev is both alive and the owner of a matching set of arms, one on the left and one on the right. Chatayev, before he died, was known as Akhmed the One-Armed.

No such luck, though. None of that’s been enough to prove that he’s a different person.

Being on the list means Mayer the historian can’t receive packages or mail from the U.S. Why would it endanger anyone if he did? No idea, but he can’t. He found out he had a problem when he tried to buy an old theater poster off Ebay. The U.S. wouldn’t let it out of the country.

He has been able to fly, but he carries his discharge papers from the Korean War to show with his passport. They’ve helped, although I can’t begin to explain why they’re more convincing than having two arms. Papers can be forged. Arms, at the moment, can’t be.

Mayer’s been trying to get himself off the list for two years but hasn’t even been able to find out what list he’s trying to get off of. 

In 2016, a Muslim ten-year-old in the north of England wrote on a school paper that he lived in a terrorist house. Teachers are required to report any suspected extremism, so they did and the cops turned up at his house the next day. His parents did their best to explain that he meant “terraced house,” which is British for a row of houses that are attached to each other by their side walls.

The police and county government issued a statement saying it was “untrue to suggest that this situation was brought about by a simple spelling mistake” and also that “No concerns were identified and no further action was required by any agency.” Those sound to me like they contradict each other, but what do I know about terraced houses?

The boy’s cousin said the kid was afraid to write anymore.

In 2018, a British woman filling out a visa waiver form for a trip to the U.S. accidentally checked yes in response to a question about whether she’d ever engaged in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage, or genocide.

And yes, that’s a perfectly a sensible question to put on a form, since anyone who’d done those things would, of course, say yes.

That moment’s inattention cost her more than £800. She had to rearrange her trip plus go through a couple of high-stress interviews with the U.S. embassy. She did at least get to go, and she can, as far as I can tell, still receive mail from the U.S.

She may or may not live in a terraced house.

It gets better: A three-month-old baby was identified as a terrorist by his grandfather, who was filling out the same form for him. The baby was summoned for an interview. The grandfather reports that the officials didn’t seem to have a sense of humor so it’s probably just as well that they didn’t dress him in an orange jumpsuit. The whole thing cost them an extra £3,000.

In 2016, a flight was delayed when the seatmate of a professor working some mathematical equations reported that he might be engaged in suspicious activity. The seatmate got off the plane. The captain interviewed the professor and decided it was safe to fly.


Public Involvement: Back in Britain, the minister of a church in Aylsham decided to make services interactive by letting parishioners use an app to register their opinions on hymns and create a word cloud of things they’re praying for.

I don’t suppose it’ll make the papers when someone writes that they’re praying for the end of the sermon.

One of my favorite attempts to make people feel they’ve been consulted about things they don’t control sits at the end of a British airport security checkpoint. Let’s take a minute to visit it:

You’ve just dripped free from narrow end of the security check’s funnel, frazzled and shoeless, and you’re still trying to assemble your phone and computer and belt and change and, oh my gawd, where did you put your passport?, and there sits this panel with buttons, asking how your experience with airport security was today. The buttons are big, each one’s a different, attractive color, and you get to push one to say your experience was ecstatic, fine, tolerable, or terrifying.

Okay, I’ve made up the categories, but you get the idea.

When I walked past it, a girl and boy were punching the buttons, one after another after another after another. They were having a wonderful time, and their parents were so relieved to see them occupied with something that didn’t break, complain, or cost money that they let the kids slam their happy fists on the buttons for many minutes.

I don’t believe for half a second that anyone looks at the results of that survey, or even that the buttons are hooked up to anything, but it was a reminder of what it’s worth when a massive bureaucratic system asks our opinion.

Public consultation’s a thing in Britain. It has to be done, usually after all the decisions have been made, and if one more authority consults me about things they aren’t about to change, I’m going to start throwing things.


Swearing and Kids: People working in British nursery schools are reporting an increase in how often kids swear. I probably shouldn’t think that’s funny–I believe swearing should be reserved for those who understand the meaning and implications of the words they’re saying–but all the same, I do think it’s funny.

Someone I know used to work in a daycare center, and just when the inspectors from some important department or other walked through, Kid 1 was about to hit Kid 2 over the head with a toy truck. The person who told me the story magicked the truck out of Kid 1’s hands and said, “We don’t hit people here. Use your words.”

In response to which, Kid 1 said, “Fuck you, Kid 2.”

The inspectors were impressed all to hell and back.

But that was in the U.S. It has no bearing on swearing in Britain. It’s just a story I always wanted to drop in somewhere.


Swearing and Santa: Where are all these kids learning to swear? Well, a Santa Claus in Cambridgeshire, which is conveniently located in the U.K., came raging out of his grotto this past Christmas, tearing off his beard and yelling at fifty or so kids to “get the fuck out.”

A fire alarm had gone off and the kids were already on their way out, but apparently not fast enough. One parent speculated that thumping music from a kids’ rave (a kids’ rave? don’t ask me) downstairs had already driven Santa to the breaking point when the fire alarm started screaming.

Another parent said they told their kids that this wasn’t the real Santa and that he was going on the naughty list.

And this, my friends, is why you should never tell your kids that Santa’s real. You can’t predict when Santa’s going to tear off his beard and teach your kids to swear, after which all they’ll want for Christmas is another handful of those powerful, forbidden words. And they’ll never believe anything you tell them again.

I expect the shit to fly over my having said that, but I’m actually quite serious about it. 


What Santa Didn’t Bring You: It’s a little late for Christmas, but Harrods was (and probably still is) selling a hand-painted refrigerator for £36,000. 

I found several articles about it, with photos, so this seems to be far more real than Santa Claus, but I can’t find it on Harrods’ website, possibly because Lord Google knows I’m not a serious customer and tucked it away so it wouldn’t get shopworn. You don’t want unworthy eyes wearing the paint off it.

I did find a £500 hand-painted toaster and a £700 hand-painted blender. You can also buy a £600 kitchen mixer that isn’t hand painted. Just in case you’re struggling with the vexing question of how to get rid of your money fast enough and you don’t like hand-painted stuff.

You’re welcome. I’m here to help. But I still don’t think you should tell kids that Santa’s real.

84 thoughts on “Stale news from here and there

  1. Somebody will probably tell you that the € symbol is available by typing 0128 while holding down the Alt key. Perhaps keyboard manufacturer never put the € symbol on UK keyboards in some prescient move.
    Anyway, any moment now, someone will come up with that gem. But you’re unlikely to need it again.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. A collection of odd stories around the world. The Lego swallowing experiment sounds like it comes with its own risks. Imagine if that experiment went on and participants had to swallow bigger pieces.

    Kids swearing. People okay with that. Only in America.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It would probably work on a real computer keyboard, but these days I do most of my work on a toy typewriter and why I tried it, it just laughed. It’s odd, now that I think about it, that it does in fact have a dollar sign right next to the pound sign but no euro sign.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Wouldn’t it be easier just to type the word like you did. Who wants to remember these things. I always thinks the fewercthings to remember the better.

        Now where did I put the legos?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Well, now that you mention it, yes, it would be easier. I’d backed myself into a corner using the £ sign and it didn’t occur to me to go back and write that out. Yeah, I know, but editing’s about consistency. I can’t shake it off completely.


  3. Parents should never tell kids that Santa’s real – they’ll realise they’ve been lied to for years! On the subject of kids swallowing things, my son once stuck a ball bearing up his nose and then screamed because it wouldn’t come out! By the time we’d taken him to A&E he’d swallowed it and so we had to wait for nature to take its course…

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m told I managed to stuff a berry up my nose, then screamed madly when a bee stung me. I’m not sure how the two events were related–maybe I stole the bee’s berry. Maybe it tried to steal mine. I also don’t know how my parents got the berry out. It must’ve been fun. I was going to say that I wasn’t traumatized, but maybe it explains more than I think. All told, I’d have done better to swallow it.

      Glad your son took care of the problem himself.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Ellen, too many good things to comment on here, so I’ll just go with the Legos. And the berry. I did not swallow odd things as a child, but I put them in my nose. Things like dried beans and a piece of string. Kids, eh?

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh my gosh. My throat is starting to hurt me now…..
    Thank you!!!! Where do you get all this from??? Keep writing. It’s awesome. And it’s good that we can get to laugh and smile instead of freaking out.
    Happy weekend!

    Liked by 1 person

    • We all need a place to hide, for short stretches of time, from grim reality. Where do I get this stuff? Mostly the newspapers, which I read for the news but comb through for absurdities I can use. The Guardian in particular has a sense of humor that I really appreciate.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I don’t think I ever told my kids Santa was real. Tried to avoid doing that. It is tricky but can be done. and as soon as they got old enough, tge oldest was six, and asked if Santa was me and her mom I said yes.

    You are right about US politics. I am about to explode. We are the only country in the world whose laws slow for a government shutdown. Germany copies our system after WWII but noticed our laws would allow for a possible shutdown and changed their structure up prevent it from happening. Why havn’t we done that. I emailed my congressman yo suggest that would be a good idea and he has come-sponsored a bill to change our law. Hope it passed. End of rant. I feel better.

    Enjoyed the volume or whatever it was. Don’t remember details like that. Have s good week. And keep hour nose clean and free of small non digestible objects.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My nose is pretty respectable looking these days. I’ve learned a few things since I was a toddler.

      I never stopped to think what it is, structually, that allows for shutdowns. Smart move on the part of the Germans.


          • The basic rule in the US is that the government can’t spend any money unless authorized by congress and they do it in annual budgets for each government agency that expire in a year. When the year is up they cannot spend anything until a new budget authorizing the next yesr’s authorization by congress comes for tgs next year. The president had to also sign the budget bill.

            For a dozen or so of our agencies last year’s budget has expired. No new budget had been passed by congress and signed by the preside by fir those agencies so they cannot spend money to pay their employees.

            In most countries they can keep spending under hhs old budget until a new one is passed. In some countries if they can’t agree on a new budget by a certain time it is like a vote of no confidence for hugs prime minister and they have to have new elections for parliament and the prime minister. I think gge UK us like that. They tjknk it is s big deal not to have a budget. In the US apparently we don’t.

            If congress and the president can’t agree on a budget we just send all the government workers home. Except for a few excepted employees who are needed to protect property and lives. They are allowed to volunteer to work without pay. Those are the air traffic controllers for one example. They tend to call in sick a lot when not being paid. So a lot of our airports were shutting down due to not enough controllers.

            Next Sunday the Super Noel is in Atlanta. Eighty thousand people will be flying in for that. Their safety would have depended on air traffic controllers who had not been paid in six weeks and were calling in sick. Do the president agreed to sign s bill for a budget for three weeks.

            You can shut down the government but not the Super Bowl. That is important.

            Liked by 4 people

  6. I remain amazed at the variety of stories you are able to collect in one post. I can barely focus on one or two – three at the top of the spectrum.
    Here’s a completely unrelated story to your post. Last night my wife hosted her monthly book club meeting (a club which I am not invited to join) at our house. One member brought a paperback her mother had given her and asked my wife to give it to me.
    It was a small well worn paperback by Pat Boone called ‘Twixt Twelve and Twenty published by Dell in 1958. Sadly, I remember both Pat and this book.
    One of the sections I had forgotten was his advice on kissing. Pat advised teenagers to stay away from kissing because kissing could lead to all sorts of dangerous possibilities.
    Instead, he advised bowling, basketball or watching TV.
    Now, if only I’d thought of that advice at several key moments of my life in several relationships doomed before we started kissing.
    Too little, too late, Pat.
    Ellen, feel free to share with any of your friends you think could benefit from this advice.

    Liked by 5 people

    • It’s a little late for my friends as well, but I do appreciate the offer. And they’d be laughing to hard to listen anyway. But Pat Fucking Boone? Holy shit. I remember him too. A friend was crazy about him, so I thought I should be as well, although I can’t remember feeling anything about either him (no surprise there) or his singing. Talk about bland.

      Sorry–hope I haven’t retroactively offended you.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Thanks for the bit of feel good news. On the other hand, I feel bad for the prince, but I’m not in a position to help, unless I can refund his missing 15% at a fraction of a penny on the dollar/Euro/Pound. ” Use your words…” good advice, unless they know more words than you realize.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Your disclaimer for the UN Ambassador nomination story is probably unnecessary. Ever since Mr. Trump’s inaugural in January of 2017, each day here brings new escapades of mostly fresh hell, but sometimes merely utter absurdity. No one can keep honestly track of all of them anymore. So the re-telling of that particular story merely simply brings back one of his “finer” moments that I had forgotten.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Re: the medical study – if the swallowers were adults, wouldn’t that invalidate the results since kids are much smaller inside? Especially kids more likely to swallow Legos.
    Years ago one of my friend’s daughters came home crying because her little friend (a Unitarian Universalist) had told her there was no Santa Claus, no Easter Bunny, no tooth fairy, and no Jesus.
    My friend was furious. Make of that what you will…

    Liked by 3 people

    • My family of Jewish atheists celebrated a Santa-less Christmas, but my mother swore me to secrecy. Not about celebrating Christmas but about Santa Claus not being real. She’d had a traumatic introduction to the realities of Christmas and wanted to spare my friends. She also told me not to argue with people about god.

      So maybe the doctors should’ve swallowed a Barbie head? After decapitating a doll, of course.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I volunteer at a non-profit that sends items to our troops overseas that they can’t easily get through other means. We work off a list of a wish list that they send us. Last month we received a list from a unit in Kuwait, they wanted some hockey equipment (can you play hockey in the desert?) and some snacks. This month we received everything back from the Kuwait government.

    Apparently hockey sticks are considered weapons. Yeah, don’t worry about armed service people carrying automatic rifles, but those hockey sticks!

    Helmets and knee pads were returned because they are considered military equipment. Don’t want army troops to have military equipment.

    The food was returned because it included items that they didn’t recognize, like barbecued potato chips.


    Liked by 4 people

  11. Your first story about swallowing Lego heads made me think of all the stupid “challenges” kids and people are doing here in North America, and I wondered if people in the UK are dumbasses, too. I would love to see you post about that. Some of note lately: Birdbox challenge, ice and salt challenge, tide pod challenge…

    Liked by 3 people

    • First, welcome back. In case you think no one notices, I’ve missed you.

      Second, not as far as I know, but that doesn’t mean anything. I don’t hang out with the younger, harder-drinking crowd that is, I suspect, necessary for that sort of stupidity to look like a good idea. In other words, I can definitively tell you nothing useful on the subject.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. So much here and you even made me laugh about American/British politics which usually sends me off into rants of despair these days, thank you. On the issue of kids swallowing thing, when I was a trainee teacher a million years ago, I had a kid accidentally swallow a small squeaker that was part of a “Comic Relief” Red Nose in my class. Off he went to A&E (or ER in American) but was told he’d have to wait for nature to take its course. So your article has told me how long he probably had to wait!! Insert your own joke here about squeaks at the “other” end!

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Stupidity comes spewing out of this U.S. administration daily. Just the other day Trump pronounced how great the border wall is working in San Antonio. Only problem is San Antonio is nowhere near the Mexican border.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. My husband always has to submit fingerprints for a criminal record check (he does a lot of volunteer work) because someone who once committed a crime has the same name. And “Fuck you, Kid 2” is now my new motto:-)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Given the narrow range of names available in many language groups, someone somewhere is bound to have the same name. I had a name double when I lived in Minneapolis. We met eventually, when we’d stumbled over each other often enough for her to decide we had to. One time, she tried to board a plane to Minneapolis from New York and was told she was already on board. This was well before the era of planes getting blown up or we’d both be in jail. She managed to convince them that she wasn’t on board, she was standing right in front of them. No one ever asked either of us for fingerprints but a confused dentist did once notice that my x-rays and my mouth didn’t match.

      The absurdities go on for many paragraphs, but I’ll stop there.

      Kid 2–in case this isn’t clear–really did (and probably still does) have a name. But Kid 2 has a certain ring, don’t you think? And he won’t be confused with anyone else that way.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I have a legal name that’s one of the ten most common combinations for women in the English-speaking world (both family name and given name invoked popular medieval patron saints). When picking screen names I tried to choose names a little less likely to be in use by other people. When I registered the one that’s generated enough income to need an EIN with the IRS, nobody else was online as “Priscilla King.” Since then Google has reported that over 100 Google accounts use that name, some of the others use cat pictures (different cats), and several claim it’s their real legal name. They suggested we might like to form a “circle” on Google +. (We did not.) And there’s a reason why I’m @5PriscillaKing on Twitter.

        I’d hate to be held responsible for everything all of the other Priscilla Kings ever did…I’ve never met any of the others, but some of them have died.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I have to say, meeting the other Ellen Hawley was an amazing, lovely, and totally absurd experience, although if there’d been 99 others I don’t think I’d have been interested.

          I just assumed Priscilla King was your real name.

          Liked by 1 person

  15. After one Christmas when Santa Claus a.k.a. Mother’s Hollywood-wannabee clients piled up prezzies higher than my little head, my parents deprived me of Santa Claus on the urging of a minister. I wasn’t traumatized but I was miffed. Children I know have always enjoyed the story of how Santa Claus is real–a lot of real people who enjoy dressing up and sending holiday gifts to children, and once you’re old enough to ask, you can “be Santa Claus” too.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Sadly, the point of real people being “Santa Claus” seems to be lost these days–at one time, if kids knew that the handed-down socks came from Aunt Jane and the shiny new sled came from Uncle Joe, they were supposed to feel some obligation to give something of equal value back, whereas if things came from “Santa Claus” they could enjoy the charade too. Now a lot of people seem just to mop up everything they can get with no sense that, even when they’re grown up and have money, it might be nice to visit Uncle Joe in the nursing home every few months…sigh.

        Can parents debunk Santa Claus *and* let children accept prezzies with no sense of obligation, and still instill a sense that exchanging gifts (rather than just taking and taking) is the norm? I obviously figured this out but don’t remember who, if anyone, guided me to it, or how or when.

        Liked by 1 person

  16. What a fun afternoon! Cool 54 degrees here in Florida, a groggy wife I just brought back from her colonoscopy, and all the stories and news about LEGOs 😂 and politics. And you can bet your sweet bippy I am going to look for the . . . £ € ¥ !!! WOW! On my MOTO Android. Thanks for the laughs!😊

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Between cleaning up the attic and driving to and from the recycling plant in drizzling rain, reading your post was by far the most fun I have had today! :D
    I have some difficulty in deciding which part I liked the best, the world is an absurd place (at best!), and often the only thing which really makes it bearable it a good laugh… ;)

    Liked by 1 person

    • As the absurdity gets more and more threatening, I have moments of wondering whether we should be laughing, but–. Well, just plain ol’ but. We’ve got plenty of people around us to rage and to analyze. If laughter can keep us going, let’s have a laugh now and then.

      Liked by 1 person

Talk to me

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.