The Ministry of Impulsive Decisions reports the news from Britain

You’ve probably heard this by now, but good news is hard to come by so let’s not waste it: A cheap, easily available steroid, dexamethasone, can cut the risk of death in seriously ill Covid-19 patients. The bad news? It doesn’t help in milder cases. Still, this is a bit of genuine good news. Gift horse; mouth.


Faced with the Black Lives Matter movement sweeping through Britain, our rumpled and (lately) not entirely present prime minister Boris Johnson announced a commission to study inequality.

That’ll slow down those pesky protesters, right? By the time it reports back, everyone will have forgotten how to even spell inequality.

So what was his first move? He appointed Munira Mirza to set it up. And she’s on record as having said that institutional racism is “a perception more than a reality,” not to mention as having complained that earlier inquiries (there’ve been six in four years) fostered a culture of grievance.

If all goes according to plan, the commission’s report will be referred to the Department of Cynicism and Bitter Irony. They do a lot of filing there.


Irrelevant photo: Hydrangea–our neighbors’. Photo by Ida Swearingen.

Astronomers report that our galaxy may be home to as many as thirty advanced civilizations.

Sorry, but the link won’t lead you to any information about them. All it does is confirm that I don’t make this shit up.

How can we tell that they’re advanced?

Well, they’ve been smart enough to stay away from us.

Okay, that isn’t necessarily by choice. They’d be, on an average, 17,000 light years away. Too far for them to drop by casually for a cup of tea. Too far, most likely, to even know about tea. Quite possibly too far for us to pick up any signs of their existence. And vice versa, although if they get close enough to pick up a hint of what’s going on here, they’ll decide no cup of tea is worth it. 


And since we’re talking about the whole galaxy, let’s forget Britain for another minute and talk about Seattle’s Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, or CHAZ.

The autonomous zone was set up after clashes in which the police used pepper spray, teargas, and flash bangs while Black Lives Matter protesters threw rocks, bottles, and fireworks.

Then someone drove a car into a crowd of protesters and shot one of them. I’m not sure what impact this had on events, but I’d bet a bowl of popcorn that it didn’t lower the tension level.

Eventually, the police withdrew from the neighborhood, boarding up the police station and leaving protesters to set up the CHAZ, which covers a few blocks. CNN describes it as more like a festival than a protest. It’s stocked with all the essentials: granola bars, water, toilet paper, and toothpaste.

The mayor, Jenny Durkan said, ”It’s not an armed takeover. It’s not a military junta. We will make sure that we will restore this but we have block parties and the like in this part of Seattle all the time. . . . There is no threat right now to the public.”

Reporting on the situation, Fox News mistook a joke on Reddit for a split in the organization running the CHAZ.

Okay, I have no idea if any organization really is running things or if it’s all evolving on the fly–or if an organization thinks it’s running it and things are also (or instead) evolving on the fly. I also don’t know if I’m supposed to call it just CHAZ or the CHAZ , but never mind the many things I don’t know. (Why do you listen to me anyway?) What matters is that Fox News thought a group was in charge and reported on the split, reading the Reddit post on the air: “I thought we had an autonomous collective, an anarcho-syndicalist commune at the least, we should take it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week.”

What the post’s doing there isn’t commenting on a split but playing off Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where King Arthur introduces himself to a peasant, saying he’s the king, and the peasant announces that they already have their own government.

“We take it in turns to act as a sort of executive officer for the week, but all the decisions of that officer have to be ratified at a special bi-weekly meeting by a simple majority in the case of purely internal affairs, but by a two-thirds majority in the case of purely external affairs.”

I’d have missed the Python reference myself. Unlike a few people I’ve known and worked with, I don’t have the dialogue memorized. But I like to think that a line Fox News left out would have made me think that something other than a mail-order organizational squabble might be going on: that the king couldn’t “simply expect to wield supreme executive power just because someone threw a sword at him,”

I’ve been in more than one strange political conflict, but none of them have involved swords. Everyone has their limits, and I’m pretty firm about that one, although I did, for a long time, have a friend’s (American) Civil War-era sword hanging on my wall. It was blunt and wouldn’t have been any use in political disputes, but no, I would not have been tempted.

I did once sit in a meeting and consider whether a crochet hook would be any use as a murder weapon, but that’s a different story.


Back to Britain: There’s lots of flap here about when, how, and where the kids are going back to school.

In the first plan, two age groups were going back, then the rest of at least the primary school kids would follow before the school year ended. The British school year runs later into the summer than the American one does, but even so it wasn’t clear that they’d be in school long enough to do more than exchange germs.

This was all handled by the Ministry of Impulsive Decisions, which didn’t do any serious consulting with the schools or the teachers’ unions, so a lot of the schools said they couldn’t open safely even for the first group, and some parents, in the interest of safety, kept their kids home from the schools that did open.

But some kids from two age groups went back, and the rest of the plan was sent to the Ministry of Lost Ideals.

Cue calls–including some from within the Conservative Party, which is all that matters since it has a huge majority and doesn’t really have to listen to anyone else–for emergency measures: a summer tutoring program, possibly, or what are being called Nightingale schools, mirroring the Nightingale hospitals, which were basically field hospitals set up at the beginning of the pandemic and barely used, partly because they turned out not to be needed and partly because no one had figured out how to magic up the staff a hospital relies on.

Who knew that hospitals aren’t just buildings–that if you don’t have staff you don’t have a hospital?

Yes, planning is this government’s strength.

So long ago that I’ve lost track of the date, the Department of Good Intentions promised both internet access and computers to any kids in year 10 who didn’t have them.

Why year 10? Why not year 10? It’s random enough to sound like it has some research behind it.

Many headteachers report not having seen so much as a computer cable.

And none of that solves the problem of what the kids in other age groups are supposed to do.

A recent study reports that a third of students have done no lessons at all while the schools are closed and that less than half have sent work to their teachers. Students in what they call the most disadvantaged schools are the least likely to be doing any schoolwork.

The Department of Relentless Optimism is surprised by this.

Let’s move on before I get started on the mind that classifies schools as disadvantaged, as if somehow their problems came from a combination of bad luck and birth trauma.


After having said that the free school meals for the most vulnerable kids would stop at the end of the school year, the Department of We Never Said That and if We Did We Didn’t Mean It That Way has announced that free school meals will continue.

How come? A footballer, Marcus Rashford, campaigned for them.


Dozens of hospitals are still reporting a shortage of scrubs. This much, you’d think, the Department of We’ve Been Here Before could get right by now. They’re not high-tech equipment. Volunteers have been supplying some. Any place with a sewing machine could turn them out.

Some doctors report that they’re taking their home to wash, which is what they’ve been advised to do even though it risks spreading infection.

The NHS says there’s no shortage of scrubs and asks everyone to go have a cup of tea and think about all those intelligent civilizations somewhere in the galaxy, who see us on Instagram and wish they had such a nice cup of tea.


Speaking of Instagram, it’s time for everyone who’s feeling bad because they’re not in a relationship to stop fretting. In Britain, married people and people in civil partnerships reported the highest rise in anxiety levels during lockdown.

That’s not the same as saying they have the highest level of anxiety, only the highest increase. But still.


In the Caribbean and South and Central America, the pandemic is kicking off an epidemic of hunger, the U.N. warns.

And in France, a demonstration by healthcare workers demanding more funding for the health system ended with some people in black setting fire to a car (actually, a vehicle–it could be a tank for all the word gives away) and throwing things at the police, at which point the police fired tear gas at the demonstrators, although as far as I can tell from a short mention they didn’t start the violence.


Britain’s health secretary was on Sky News talking about how quarantine would protect us from countries where the coronavirus rate of infection is higher than ours.

Which ones, the interviewer asked.

Brazil, he said.

Could he name any others? the interviewer asked.

Um, well [insert vague blither here, along with the word science].

Yes, she asked, but what others?



It’s all about the science, folks. That’s why we’ve imposed a quarantine at a time when we’re the folks other countries want to quarantine.


A professor of cardio-vascular science, Mauro Giacca, says, “What you find in the lungs of people who have [died of Covid-19 after 30 to 40 days in intensive care] . . . is something completely different from normal pneumonia, influenza or the Sars virus. You see . . . a complete disruption of the lung architecture.”

Their lungs, he says, can be completely unrecognizable.

And a professor of medicine, John Bell, says that a second wave of the virus, which he considers likely now that Britain’s lockdown is being released, should at least allow scientists to measure whether people who survived one bout of the virus become immune to it.

The Department of Silver Linings has taken note.


I can’t let you go until you’ve read this: In Vienna, a man has been fined 500 euros for farting loudly at the police–or, to be formal about this, for offending public decency. He got up from a park bench, looked at the cops, and “let go a massive intestinal wind apparently with full intent.”

He also behaved “provocatively and uncooperatively” beforehand, but that doesn’t seem to be why they arrested him.

93 thoughts on “The Ministry of Impulsive Decisions reports the news from Britain

  1. An epic and up-to-the-minute summary Ellen, and as usual, more than a few smirks and laughs at the utter absurdity of it on the way. I fully expect there’s always going to be enough material for another similar one by tomorrow.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve not been commenting much lately, even though I’ve been reading all your posts, but just wanted to say two things:

    1. Your theory as to why any intelligent life hasn’t got in touch sounds a lot like mine. After all, they’ll get close enough to pick up our radio signals and such long before they’re close enough to make proper contact, and if I was an alien I’d turn around and go home at that point.

    2. Year 10 is the first of the two GCSE years, so that’s probably why year 10. Not sure why they didn’t say year 11 as well, since if anything they’d need to not fall behind even more, since they’ll have been very close to actually doing their final exams. But since nobody’s actually gotten the promised technology it probably doesn’t matter.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I believe some kids have gotten the tech they were promised, although I can’t swear to that. It’s better established that some haven’t. It was the idea of leaving kids in their final years without any way to keep in touch that baffled me. I really should give up on trying to make sense of this government’s decisions.

      If there is intelligent life elsewhere, I hope they’re doing better than we are at the moment.


  3. I can only assume that if intelligent life from elsewhere were to contact this planet, they would contact Mr Lutra Longwhiskers of the UK otter Raft. He is a much better bet than any human.

    (ignore for a moment that I provide words for said otter and it appears as if I am saying I am better than any human… that is not entirely what I meant.)

    Also given the option I might throw a sword at a ruler… I threatened to stab a project manager in the eye with a pen… I was semi-joking

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Increasingly your reports of the UKanian condition are reading like episodes from ‘The Magic Faraway Tree’ including The Land of Topsy Turvy, The Land of Spells, The Land of Do-As-You-Please, The Land of Magic Medicines, and The Land of Tempers. BoJo is increasingly looking like The Saucepan Man, who is covered all over with saucepans and kettles. Sometimes, he cannot understand what his friends are saying because he is partially deaf, which is further aggravated by all the noise from the pans and kettles. And true to the woke times, the original characters Fanny and Dick have now become Franny and Rick. Nostrodamus, thy name is Enid Blyton.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lucky me, I grew up in complete innocence of Enid Blyton. After we moved here, a friend introduced us to one of her books, which has what has got to be one of the worst lines of dialogue ever written: “Woof, woof,” said Timmy.

      Or whatever the hell the dog’s name was.

      I should probably stop making up government departments, but I’m not sure I will.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. That does seem to cover everything. A couple of little corrections: Seattle’s occupied protest zone calls itself CHOP (Capitol Hill Occupied Protest). My nephew lives within its borders, and he says the only problems he’s seen are from police provoking demonstrators with pepper spray and by bicycling through in packs. And especially by hovering low in helicopters at night when they’re trying to sleep. Sam was particularly upset about that one, as he has to work during the day.

    And the Monty Python quote is my favorite part of this so far. (Maybe if the protestor said, “He turned me into a newt,” Fox News reporter would have caught on more quickly? Nah, that would have just led to them photoshopping armed newts into their reports…)

    Liked by 2 people

    • I lose sleep not to helicopters but to thoughts of armed newts. I’m relieved to know that it’s not just me.

      Thanks for the correction on the CHAZ/CHOP. I’m sure there’s some deep thinking behind the name change/correction/fuckup/whatever. I’m happy to call it whatever it wants to be called if only I can manage to keep up.


  6. I do admire your ability to name departments. Too bad the names can’t be officially changed or at least added to the official signs below the braille translations. As to the blunt decorative civil war swords – you might think the useless. That is until you hear them described by our belligerent distractor in chief. They are a great mighty weapon… I could go on however it is time to tweet something else. Squirrel ! A great furry weapon…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Gee, and there was me thinking you had to sharpen the thing before it was any use as a great mighty weapon. Goes to show what I know.

      I’d love to sneak in and relabel a department or two. The signs wouldn’t last long, but someone or other might get a good laugh before they disappeared.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I work in a school. The computers haven’t turned up, so the year tens won’t be able to use them to prepare for the exams they almost certainly won’t be sitting next year. Although to be fair, the year tens themselves have mostly turned up to school this week and have been delightful, which no-one ever said about year tens before.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I guess there’s nothing like shutting the schools down to make kids realize what life’s like without them. The missing computers, though, are starting to remind me of the 40 acres and a mule that were supposed to be given to former slaves at the end of the American Civil War. They’re still waiting.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Um so very much to digest (?) or just to let out in one massive intestinal wind – wow. That’s a new one on me. I will report it to the Bureau of Lost Manners which will file it appropriately.
    I do love all of your Bureaus, Ministries and your descriptions of the politicians who run them.
    Yes, a resounding thank you to the Brits who have come up with a partially effective treatment protocol for Covid-19 by using a relatively inexpensive steroid. Any ray of hope is a ray of hope in my twisted mind at this point.
    Forming a commission is always the best plan. I just heard a similar plan presented by American politicians who have asked for a task force, another word for commission but with more emphasis on action, to study policing policies across the nation with an 18-month deadline for its results.
    Presumably we will all be dead by then from either Covid-19 or hunger.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I realize that laughter isn’t the best medicine if you have Covid or something else that could kill you but those of us with (relatively) healthy bodies are suffering under the ministrations of The Department of Absurdity Disguised As Public Policy and for those thusly oppressed, a good belly laugh releases a lot of tension. Thank you Dr. Hawley.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s the only prescription I have–unless chocolate chip banana bread cures anything. I’m glad it helps. And if it’s okay with you, I’ll keep the Department of Absurdity in mind. It sounds useful.


  10. One major difference between Faux News and the Python Gang is that Monty Python INTENDS to be seen as ridiculous.

    And the guy in Vienna who got arrested ? Heck, over here he’d be onstage at a MAGA rally !

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Just a short comment on increases in anxiety: one way to have the highest increase in anxiety would be to start out with the lowest level of anxiety. One way to have the smallest increase would be to start out with the highest—you can only go so high. Start out with zero and you can have the highest increase and yet still end up lower than anyone else.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very true, and I think that’s at least part of the picture. But the increase may also speak to what happens in many couples when they look at each other and realize that spending time together isn’t the joy it used to be. The article speculated that it had to do with juggling child care and working from home, but then it went on to talk about the elderly, who do neither. So overall, the best I could pull out of it was the increase in anxiety levels and I thought I’d bail out before I presented a picture that was as murky as the one I was looking at.

      Having said all that, the picture I presented may have been misleading–I can’t quite tell from what I had to work with.


    • Thanks for the instructions. It’s too late, though: I gave up crocheting years ago. A job I had, oh, a hundred or so years ago fucked my wrists up, and crocheting it one of the things I need to not do. But I’m sure I have one around here somewhere–along with a short list of candidates–if I can just find it.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. So much absurdity going on in the world right now, what a great wrap-up of the world’s events. I’m sure that your source of material isn’t going to run dry very soon. :-)

    Liked by 1 person

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