Hope, despair, passwords, and racism: It’s the news from Britain

You know all those passwords that The People Who Know These Things tell you never to write down but that you write down anyway because those same people also tell you to use a different one for every damn thing and who can remember all that mess? Well, an Irish drug dealer lost £46 million in bitcoins in spite of writing down the code for his stash. But because it’s a dangerous world out there–something any upstanding drug dealer should be aware of–he hid the code in the cap of his fishing rod case. 

I mean, of course you shouldn’t write it down, but what could be safer than that?

Nothing until he got busted with some two thousand euros worth of pot in his car, got sentenced to five years in jail, and somehow in the middle of all this didn’t think to ask anyone to save his fishing rod case because it had great sentimental value. So his landlord cleared his house out and had everything hauled to the dump. Which sent it to either Germany or China, where it was incinerated. 

Not all that £46 million came from drugs. He bought the bitcoins when they were worth £5. Then they went up to £7,500. Each.

He had other accounts, and the Irish state confiscated them, but without the code they haven’t been able to claim this one. And there’s a lesson in there, although I’m not sure what it is or who’s supposed to learn it.

And yes, I do know that Ireland’s not Britain. We share a stretch of water, though, as the Irish know all too well. And anyway, I cheat.


Entirely relevant photo, although it won’t be clear why yet. This is Moose, a snub-nosed dog who snores when he’s awake. Keep reading. It’ll all make sense eventually.

After that, we need a feel-good story: In February, a book-lover responded to the suicide of TV presenter Caroline Flack by contacting the Big Green Bookshop–an independent with an online presence–and offering to buy two copies of Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive, a memoir about coping with depression, for people who needed them.

The store’s owner already ran a buy-a-stranger-a-book club and tweeted the offer, saying he’d “try to cover any others that are requested.” He got thousands of requests, along with donations ranging from £1 to over £100. In mid-February, the donations had mounted up to £6,000 and he’d sent out 600 books. 

“This book has made such a difference,” he said. “Lots of people have said it saved their lives. And this is not just about people getting the book, it’s about how they’re getting it.”

Okay, I can’t help myself: If you want to donate to the buy-a-stranger-a-book club, here’s the link.

A branch of Blackwell’s Bookshop is doing something similar.


And a feel-sexy story: A hormone in chocolate could (note the get-out-of-jail-free quality of that word) boost men’s sex drive. How? By making women smell or look more attractive to them. 

Smell or look? Either/or, not both/and? Sorry, I don’t make the rules. 

Would it make men look or smell more attractive to either men who are attracted to men or to women who are attracted to men? 

Sorry, that wasn’t part of the study.

Would it make women look or smell more attractive to women who are etc.? 

Not part of the study. The trial involved straight men. I’m going to take a wild and irresponsible guess and say that’s where the money is when you’re developing drugs for a low sex drive. Or else the folks running it lack imagination.

The hormone’s called kisspeptin. Results are not guaranteed, but if it doesn’t work at least you got to eat some chocolate.


I’m not sure how this one will make you feel. I’m not even sure how it makes me feel. Depression is at war with amusement. Who’d’ve thought you could feel both at once? 

After Dominic Cummings–our prime minister’s brain–called for “misfits and weirdos” to apply for jobs in his office, someone who calls himself a super forecaster was hired. Andrew Sabisky became a contractor working on “specific projects,” although last time I checked no one would say what those projects were. So at least we know they didn’t just send him into an office and say, “Work on everything, why don’t you?”

So far so ho-hum. Then someone dug out what our little forecaster had to say about life, the universe, and everything. It turns out that before he started working on specific projects he published work arguing that people who look like him are smarter, thanks to their genes, than people who don’t, and that people from backgrounds like his are more conscientious and agreeable (those aren’t my adjectives) than people who–gasp, wheeze–depend on long-term government support. He favors enforced birth control, starting at puberty. I’m not clear who that’s supposed to be enforced on, but I expect he’d make exceptions for people like him since they produce children who turn out to be so very much like him. 

I’m loading the dice here, but only slightly. By way of unloading them: Nowhere did he mention his own looks (he looks like a bar of soap, and if I were a better person I wouldn’t hold that against him) or his background. And when he wrote about intelligence, he wasn’t talking about every variation of people who don’t look like him, only people of African origin. He based his argument on a study that’s been discredited for systematically excluding high-IQ people of African origin from its study group. Amazingly enough, its sample group had low IQs.

And that’s without going to get into what IQ actually measures and how much more complicated the genetics of intelligence are than, say, the short and tall pea plants that Mendel measured.

Sabisky also believes in the existence of race, although scientists have given up on the concept of human races. It just doesn’t work. 

So once all that became public, all hell broke loose and Sabisky resigned. I’m not the only person who’s noticed that our little super forecaster hadn’t seen any of this coming.

Last I checked, it wasn’t clear who’d hired Sabisky, how far anyone had looked into his background before hiring him, whether he had a security clearance, or whether either our prime minister or his brain agrees with his views.


The Sabisky fiasco, however, did set journalists digging into Dominic Cummings’ writings and they found a blog post (watch what you write on your blogs, people) that argues in favor of selecting embryos for intelligence. 

Does he plan to give the embryos itty bitty prenatal intelligence tests? Well, no. He figures that first someone will figure out what genes control intelligence (so far, what they know is that at a minimum it’s complicated and that it’s probably more complicated than that) and second that embryos can be screened for those genes and third that the best ones can be selected. The rest, presumably, will get tossed into the garbage can of history and the human race will get smarter and smarter. Unless this works out the way breeding dogs for specific qualities has, in which case the human race will get stranger and stranger and have shorter and shorter noses and snore a lot. 

We have two shih tzus (see above for one of them). That’s where I did my research.

David Curtis, editor-in-chief of Annals of Human Genetics, said Cummings “fundamentally misunderstands key concepts in genetics. . . . He seems to have got his ideas from a physicist rather than . . . genetics researchers.” 

“Got”? That’s British for “gotten.”

Richard Ashcroft, a professor of bioethics, called it “cargo cult science.”

If you don’t recognize the phrase cargo cult, it’s not a compliment.


For reasons I can’t explain, the only story that could possibly follow that is one about tattoos: The actor Orlando Bloom got his son’s name–Flynn–tattooed on his arm in morse code. Then he put it on Instagram, because if it’s not on Instagram it didn’t happen.

If your arm isn’t on Instagram, you don’t have an arm.

Someone pointed out that the tattoo spelled Frynn. 

The tattooist corrected the spelling and added Bloom’s former dog’s name as a bonus. 

Former dog? That’s what the article said. Presumably, it (or he, or she) got a promotion and is now a cat. Whatever it currently is, the creature’s name was and still is Sidi. 

And with that out of the way, what else can we do but review the tattoos of other people who’ve publicly screwed them up? Ariana Grande tried to get lyrics from one of her songs tattooed on her arm in Japanese. It ended up saying “small charcoal grill.” The BBC interviewed a tattooist who admitted to having tattooed “serenitiy” on someone’s face. If you’re not a skilled proofreader, there’s an extra i tucked away in there, probably riding the cheekbone. The person the face belongs to is unnamed, but since it’s on his face I’d still call that public. 


A daredevil died trying to prove the earth is flat. “Mad” Mike Hughes aimed a home-made rocket straight up, hoping to get 5,000 feet above the earth. Exactly what he planned to do once he was up there I don’t know–presumably it wasn’t go into orbit–but something went wrong and the whole thing came back down. 

I’d love to know how he figured the sun rises and sets and all the rest of that stuff in the sky moves around. Maybe we have to go back to the earth being at the center of the universe. 

Anyway, I think we can all agree that he proved gravity works.


The excavation of a cave in Kurdistan shows that Neanderthals buried their dead–possibly with flowers, although that last part is still controversial. The burial is some 70,000 years old and the flower pollen was found in the soil by the body, along with mineralized plant remains. 


And finally, some good news from a place with precious little of it: The Moria refugee camp on the Greek island of Lesbos was built for 3,000 people and now holds 20,000. The toilets are overflowing, bags of rubbish lie uncollected, and people are trapped there by the Greek government’s refusal to move refugees to the mainland and by other E.U. countries’ refusal to accept any serious number of refugees. The water supply is uncertain and cold. People live in tents and spend hours waiting for food. Nights are cold.

And yet: A refugee named Zekria started a library and a school there. 

Zekria used to teach law in Kabul, and when the schools that charities run had no room for his kids, he started his own school. Before long, he had more students than he could handle and built up a team. They turn no one away, even if it means that some classes are huge. 

They have three classrooms, thirty teachers, and a thousand students. Classes include English, Greek, German, French, guitar, and art. 

The library is next door. Most of the books have been donated by aid workers.

Moria is better known for fires, violence, rape, murder, and desperate overcrowding. The world’s turned its back on the people trapped there, and Zekria’s asylum application has been turned down more than once. Presumably because he’s not the sort of person you’d want in your country.

And yet.

102 thoughts on “Hope, despair, passwords, and racism: It’s the news from Britain

  1. WOW, crazy about the lost Bitcoin password! Crazy about the chocolate too which reminded me of something else. Years ago when I was taking birth control pills some medical insurances wouldn’t pay for them although the same insurances would pay for erectile dysfunction meds. That just didn’t seem quite right to me.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Thanks for sharing these. I’ve missed reading your posts whilst I was off here. I love the humour, and the good news. Even if your dog picture was irrelevant enough to stay relevant. Is there any way we can help those on the island?
    Take care of yourself…
    Love, light, and glitter

    Liked by 2 people

        • Zekria? I googled the name and got an Irish footballer and a story about an A & E doctor who hit a patient and called him a motherfucker. I didn’t read far enough to find out what any of that had to do with Zekria–possibly nothing, which would make it a perfect fit for my sense of disorder. Anyway, whoever this doctor is isn’t the sort you want to turn loose on schoolkids.

          Liked by 1 person

            • !!!!!!!!!!!! You’re right. I’d forgotten his name. My memory is, basically, more decorative than functional and I couldn’t figure out what the hell he was talking about. Yes. That Zekria should be cloned and given a medal. But of course he’s a refugee, so instead he’ll be kicked from pillar to post, with his family.

              Liked by 3 people

  3. You now the easiest/best password is “incorrect”, don’t you, because, if you ever put in the wrong password, the computer tells you, “Your password is ‘incorrect'”. :D

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Pretty and I visited Greece in the autumn of 2007, and much to no one’s surprise, our first stop was Lesbos. Also, to no one’s surprise, it was my favorite stop in our tour. The little beach town where we were staying hosted an annual women’s festival, and we arrived (unplanned) on the last day of the celebration. I raced to an author’s conference of eight women, got there late, but just in time to hear Evelyn White discuss her biography of Alice Walker. Sitting on that small veranda overlooking the sea in late afternoon was a surreal experience for this old girl from Richards, Texas whose only concept of Greece was what her mother drained from fried chicken.
    Now, to know that the beaches in Lesbos have been forever changed by the Greek tragedy of the Moria refugee camp is yet another surreal experience. But I believe that small group of authors would be cheerleaders for Zekria and his efforts to educate the students of his camp. An amazing and uplifting story for these somber days. Thank you.
    P.S. Moose is my kind of dog. Should sleep really be required for snoring. I think not.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Well, of course not (to the Zekria thing) you want crazy-a** rocket people who think the world is flat. That reminds me of the meme stating that the world can’t be flat because cats would have knocked everything off by now. Hey, if you can go off course, I think I should be able to. The concept of people in government talking about intelligence is kind of scary, since that commodity seems to be in short supply in government. Of course, I may be biased because I live in the US, where “I must be intelligent, I have tons of money” rules the day.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. That sexy chocolate story has me worrying about a new #metoo claim – I couldn’t ‘elp meself yeronor, she gave me chocolate. And thinking about the lives of people in those camps when everyone is busy giving advice on how to keep sane whhilst staying in your own home for a few weeks – well, what can I say?

    Liked by 3 people

  7. So glad you clarified in the title of your piece; I was afraid you were sending updates from the Former Colonies, and we already have plenty thanks.

    Appalled to see that “Boris Johnson’s Brain” (this is where the term “asshat” originated) is analogous to our Dear Leader’s Nazi-in-office Steven Miller. Unfortunately, despite equal scrutiny applied to Miller, he has remained in place.
    The “cargo cult” is well-known to those of us who watch “Ancient Aliens” (when there are no “Dead Files” reruns on.)
    A doctor is on the news right now saying that the isolation policies will lead to vast numbers of suicides Since the only real change to my life such policies make is that I now have to go through the drive-through at Dunkin Donuts instead of going in to use the WiFi, I think the doctor has less to worry about than he imagines
    Stay safe.

    Liked by 1 person

    • i have a cat on my lap, so no caps this evening. sorry. priorities and all that. my partner just raised the question of what our hair’s going to look like by the time this ends. we can always take knives and hack at it. none of which addresses anything you wrote, but hey, a cat on your lap can have that effect. eddie’s not usually a snuggler, so i have to make the most of this.


    • Suicides, murders, depression and mental illness. Not to mention the possibility of worldwide depression, which like the last depression may lead to insurrections, collapse of governments and a world war.
      Always try to consider all the downside possibilities and risks.
      Have a nice day.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I have a tattoo on each wrist in Gaelic and even though I did thorough research, I’m alway worried that they don’t say what I think they say, and instead say Couch and Tennis Racquet or something equally silly.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Couch and Tennis Racket. I could get into being able to identify my wrists that way. You know: “I’m seating you my tennis racket side tonight as a sign of honor.” It would keep life from getting dull.

      It would keep my conversation from being intelligible.

      That might not be a huge change.

      I think I’ll stop now.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I was kind of pleased with that one myself (she said modestly).

      I just caught up with your post about breaking your leg and I’m just now editing my comment to catch up with that. Glad you’re back among the house-bound.


  9. Ellen, I found this when I was doing research and writing my memoir:
    Romans enjoyed savagery, feeding people to lions and other animals, as punishment for breaking the laws. Poor people, poor slaves, did their work. Even death and torture was entertainment.
    “Owning or killing people was as natural to Romans as water running down hill… Who can comprehend a father tossing an infant into the village dung heap for being female, sick or a surplus mouth to feed. The Romans were not offended, especially if the father followed the law and invited five neighbors to examine the baby before he left it to die,” according to Lewis Lord, author of “Bread and Circuses in the Year One: Life Under Augustus was dirty, brutal and short” (page 76 – 79, The Ancient World, Mysteries of History, US News and World Report Special Edition, 2004.) Children were not considered human until they walked and talked in Roman times. It doesn’t seem that much has changed.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yeah, the endless progress that I seem to remember being told about in school doesn’t seem to have panned out, does it? I think it was on one of Mary Beard’s shows on ancient Rome that she talked about the way slave owners thought–or didn’t think–about their slaves. She showed a painting of a couple making love, with a slave standing by in case they wanted anything. He was no more a presence for them than an alarm clock would be for us, although Beard isn’t to blame for the alarm clock image.

      The human mind is an amazing, troubling, and yet still (at times, and I wish they weren’t so damn rare) gorgeous thing.

      Stay well in these troubling times.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. Ellen, as usual, I’ve gone from laughing out loud to somber-faced quiet reading your blog post. Aha…I have 2 Shih Tzus, too. One is black and white, the other brown & white. Thank god for those happy boys, distracting me, entertains me while in lockdown here in CA. Waving hello from my iPhone. 👋🏻 Keep your creative, entertaining blog posts coming. Need em! 😳🙄😲 Hey, finished my historical fiction book, Sunset Inn, wish you were here. Book launch summer or fall 2020. The business process next—find agent, book cover pro, etc. All this not for the faint-hearted as you know. 📚🎶 Christine

    Liked by 2 people

    • Congratulations!

      I’ve been trying to see this as an involuntary writer’s retreat, but life keeps interrupting. I just sent a query off to a small handful of British agents and am waiting to see if I get any nibbles. It really is a shit time to try to sell a book, with the economy collapsing around us. But hey, we can’t go back and send ’em out any earlier. How is it, though, that you’re thinking about both an agent and the cover? If you get an agent, the cover’s not your problem.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, Ellen. Good luck with your agent queries. So, my newbie thinking —few agents accept historical fiction (even though the story has a strong romance theme), so I’d better go with self publishing, and need a cover artist, and start with an ebook. Ordering print books right now through Amazon is chancy. Their priorities sending out essentials. Maybe there’s a shift coming to ebooks & audio. I need a business plan at this point. 📚 Christine

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ah. For self-publishing, yes, you’ll need a cover artist. When you mentioned agents, I assumed you were going to try the conventional route. I know next to nothing about self-publishing. In fact, the only thing I know about it is that I’m not cut out for it. But if it’s got a strong romance theme, could you explore the possibility of sending it out as a romance–with a historical setting? Mind you, it’s not a genre I know, so don’t take anything I say about it too seriously. It’s just a thought.


          • Ellen, the romance-with a historical setting might be the way to go. Thanks!!! Great thought. I worked with a professional editor ($$$) and he picked up on the romance as a big part of the story theme. It starts out historical, a granddaughter questions whether a famous German born grandfather is a Jew or not. Then, a romance blossoms with his granddaughter (Christian), a nurse, and a Jewish cardiac doctor. And she has an entanglement with her guitar teacher. I’d say there’s enough romance. I’ll give it a try when I query–Romance/Historical Fiction. As for self-publishing, it’s tiresome work according to my author blog followers. But, in the end, I may have to if no bites from agents. 📚 Christine

            Liked by 2 people

  11. Me Ellen, we love you for saying that being a cat is a promotion from being a dog. If those political people have brains that are separated from the rest of them, maybe they could trade them in for better ones. Purrs, Snoops and Kommando Kitty.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Times have changed. Its fragile. Its hard. Its uncertain.
    Wow! what a post?
    You put a smile on my face 🙂🙂 mixed with shock, amazement – yet these are the times we are living in.
    Love this style of writing.

    Liked by 1 person

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