A report from the Department of Deceptive Appearances

Norway

A Norwegian anti-immigrant group went into fits of online hysteria about a photo of women in burkas only to find out that they were looking at a photo of six empty bus seats. Which, to be fair—and I do want to be fair to people with despicable politics and narrow minds—did look a lot like six women in burkas.

“This looks really scary,” one comment said. “Should be banned. You can’t tell who’s underneath. Could be terrorists.”

I’ve felt that way about bus seats myself. And let’s not get started on the seats in New York subways.

Other comments were about whether bombs or other weapons could be hidden under the seat covers.

Wales

A group of Catholic seminarians were kept out of a Cardiff pub because the staff thought they were a bunch of guys on a stag night.

To understand this—and I don’t, really, but I’ll do my best—you have to understand that the British have a thing about playing dress-up, which they call fancy dress, making it sound marginally more grown up. So guys on stag nights are likely to dress up in costumes and make a complete drunken nuisance of themselves. So the bar has a policy of not letting in “parties wearing fancy dress.”

At some point, the assistant manager decided they were for real and not only let them in but bought them a round. Everyone involved seems to have decided it was funny–unlike (I’m guessing) the Norwegian anti-immigrant group members, who are still too traumatized to ride the bus.

Quotes from politicians who should have shut up

Two quotes from politicians to carry you through the week:

From the Ministry of Mixed Metaphors comes Tim Farron, who was trying to explain why he stepped down as leader of the Liberal Democrats: “I had bet the farm on our position of Brexit but I was content that if I went down with the ship I went down fighting.”

Once the ship goes down, the fields will to be too muddy to plow for a long time, Tim.

And from the Committee for Resurrecting Dead Authors comes Andrea Leadsom, who was briefly in the running to lead the Conservative Party. In what sounds like a desperate attempt to one-up a Labour MP who was praising women’s achievements, she said, “I would just add one other great lady to that lovely list…and that’s Jane Austen, who will feature on the new £10 note, who I think is one of our greatest living authors.”

Austen dies 200 years ago. Waterstones bookstore jumped onto twitter and asked if anyone knew who her agent was so they could book her for an event.

Breaking news: Trainy McTrainface meets the public

Official Sweden has a better sense of humor than official Britain. They asked the public to name four trains running between Stockholm and Gothenburg, and when Trainy McTrainface won, they didn’t launch a coup. One train is now Trainy McTrainface.

If you want the back story, you’ll find it here. And a bit more of it over there as well.

We now return to our regularly scheduled midweek silence, but this was too important to wait.

High tech news from around the world

As a rule, I write about Britain, but nothing’s more British than thinking the weather’s better someplace else, so let’s take a quick and random tour of the world, by way of the stranger bits of news I’ve found lately.

Irrelevant photo: elderflower–with a nettle snuggling up to it on the right.

Germany: An exhibition to mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther tacking his 95 theses on a church door, and in the process kicking off the Reformation, includes a robot named BlessU-2, which can bless you in one of five languages (or eight according to a different source) and beams light from its hands. It can also recite a bible verse–maybe the same one over and over and maybe one per customer; I’m not sure.

The five languages are German, English, French, Spanish, and Polish. If you’d like to be blessed in any other language (or in any other religion, while we’re at it), you’re shit outta luck (unless there really are eight), but you can choose either a male or a female voice, which might ease your pain.

Just for the record, Luther’s theses were in Latin. Latin doesn’t seem to be one of the languages you can choose. There’s not a lot of call for it these days.

The Protestant Church in Hesse and Nassau “is behind the initiative,” whatever that means, and hopes the robot will provoke debate, especially about whether a machine can bless you.

That kind of left me speechless, so I turned to a video of the robot (it’s in the first link), hoping for a little drama. Sadly, all that happens is that its hands light up. I was hoping lighting bolts would shoot out of its hands. Now that might make me feel I’d been blessed.

Britain: The church of England isn’t installing robots, but it is planning to add a digital dimension to its collection plates. It’s trying out contactless payment systems in 40 churches—if, that is, it can get around the problem of how to pick up a signal through the massive stone walls of those ancient churches.

May the robot bless it in any of five (or eight) languages and help it find a strong signal.

China: A Buddhist temple in China now has a robot monk that can chant mantras and explain basic Buddhist beliefs. I have no idea what it said in the video clip I just linked to, but the listeners thought it was pretty funny.

Canada just introduced its first—in fact, anyone’s first—glow-in-the-dark coin. It’s worth $2. Canadian dollars, in case that isn’t boringly obvious. If you turn off the lights, the coin’s northern lights glow green and blue.

I want one.

In India, a government ministry recommends that pregnant women avoid meat, eggs, and “impure thoughts.” Also “anger, attachment, hatred, and [in case it’s not the same thing as impure thoughts] lust.”

We can only wish them luck. Impure thoughts can travel through walls—yea, even through those of massive stone temples (or churches, not to mention the flimsiest bedroom ones)—and are extremely hard to avoid.

Or so I’m told.

Back in Britain, politicians are using WhatsApp to plot against (or possibly even for) each other and to make deals. Being electronic and all, the messages are highly leakable. So far, most of the leaks seem to be deliberate, but one MP, Angela Rayner, apparently forwarded a message to the wrong group, after which she apologized for “being a cow.”

I’d heard politicians were out of touch but honestly: Cows don’t use smart phones, Angela. The little buttons are too small for their hooves.

As long as we’re back in Britain, let’s stay a minute and drop in on a squabble of authors, even if only one side is squabbling. Joanna Trollope ripped into J.K. Rowling for using Twitter. She said it was a threat to the literary industry.

“Creating this mass following and tweeting several times a day is like wanting to be…Kim Kardashian,” she told the daily Mail. “Some writers like JK Rowling have this insatiable need and desire to be out there all the time, and that’s entirely driven by their ego.”

And talking to the Mail? That’s driven by a desire to engage in the most high-minded literary discussion, because that’s what people buy the Mail for.

Rowling (wisely) hasn’t bothered to respond, but all the way down here in Cornwall I heard her rolling her eyes.

And finally, everywhere: Or everywhere Gmail’s fingers reach, anyway. Google’s launching Smart Reply (it’s actually a relaunch, but never mind that)–an automated reply system that reads through your email and suggests answers you might want to send. According to Wired, “Google is assuming users want to offload the burdensome task of communicating with one another.”

I’m sure we do. I’ll have my robot contact your robot and they can meet for coffee. You and I don’t need to be involved at all.

Emergency calls in Britain

What constitutes a crisis in Britain? Not much, if you ask some people, so periodically the ambulance/police/fire/coast guard emergency number publicizes a handful of the weirder calls they get in a—doomed, I’m sure—effort to make people get serious about this. They’re being tweeted at #ThinkBeforeYouDial!

So here we go: a quick visit to what the emergency number—999—deals with.

Someone wanted to borrow a charger for their phone’s battery.

Someone complained that the groomer had shaved their dog instead of trimming it.

Someone asked when the betting shops close.

Irrelevant photo: wild gladiolus–also called whistling jacks in the Scilly Isles.

Someone complained that McDonald’s didn’t give him a Monopoly sticker with his drink.

Someone asked, “Will I get arrested if I move my housemate’s banana?”

Yes, almost surely.

Someone said, “My TV is broken and Eastenders in about to start.”

Someone wanted the number for British Gas.

Someone’s hamster was sick.

One thoughtful soul wanted the non-emergency police number, presumably so they wouldn’t have to bother 999.

Someone wanted a takeaway place prosecuted because his food was 45 minutes late.

One tweet was from what seems to be a German police force and I don’t know any German, so when I was offered a translation of course I took it. It says, according to the translation program, “Yesterday #NoNotruf, today #DaFürDich. Tomorrow then there is also a.”

That strikes me as a genuine emergency. Of course, I worked as in publishing before I retired, not in emergency services. My definition of an emergency may not be much use in the real world.

*

This may or may not be related, but the World Health Organization reports that Britons drink almost twice the global average. People in Britain who are over fifteen drank 12.3 liters of pure alcohol—or its equivalent, since I doubt anyone’s chugging pure alcohol. I think that’s per year but for all I know it’s per hour. The worldwide average is 6.4 liters. I’d give you a link, but everything I find online is from earlier years and the article was in the Western Morning News, which has pretty much disappeared from the web lately.

Of course any worldwide average includes Muslim-majority countries, where I wouldn’t expect to find a huge number of drinkers. That would lower the global average. On the other hand, I’m hopeless with numbers. Maybe even after you allow for a significant number of nondrinkers in the sample, being over the average means you’re drunk on your ass.

I can testify that people around here drink pretty heavily. And after they drink, a lot of them sing. Some of them fight. A few of them dial 999.

The joys of spam

You know what’s wrong with the world today? Spam doesn’t get the respect it deserves.

I first checked my spam comments folder because I’d read that legitimate comments sometimes get dumped there, and I found a few and dug them out. But I went back because the true spam comments were wonderful.

Take this one:

“I think about the some hobbits, its a close tie concerning Sam in addition to Pippin upon who changes one of the most.”

Sure. I think about that all the time. I don’t know what I mean by it either.

It rambles on about hobbits a bit longer before it says, with no transition, “This would be a great spot to send out free coupons and discounts, or if you’re just looking to promote your kids disco hall business, you can set up a basic advertisement without any charge.”

My kids? Oh my gawd, do I have kids? Where are they? What school are they in? And when did they go into this disco business? Are they old enough to go into business?

I’ve been a really irresponsible parent, haven’t I?

To make up for it, should I tell them disco’s pretty much over and they should try some other business instead?

Screamingly irrelevant photo: wall pennywort, which has no interest in disco–or business

After disco balls, or halls, or whatever that’s supposed to be, suddenly the comment starts talking about acidic blood blocks, then Hokaido and a Japanese right-hander (no, don’t’ ask me; I’m an innocent bystander here, even if I am an irresponsible parent) Then we’re back to hobbits, briefly, before we’re sitting on a beach making money for doing nothing and starting a business and rectifying complaints and, I think, wearing bright pink lipstick. It ends by saying, “tone down your eye makeup” (always good advice, except when it isn’t; are my kids listening?). The last words are, “visit my site.”

Now here’s what’s fascinating: Somebody—some human mind with set of fingers attached—put this together. What I want to know is how you make this stuff up.

A second comment went from keeping weeds away from the foundation to HR resources (the R in HR stands for resources, so that’s human resources resources) to antivirus software to oil heaters—which may use oil to heat air or heat the oil itself for some other purpose, like throwing off castle walls onto the heads of tourists to remind them what it was like way back when—to turning off your phone. It ended by trying to sell cheap jerseys. Presumably to me, but maybe through me to you. I couldn’t tell.

Is there a template for this stuff? Mention five hot Google search topics, then try to sell something unrelated?

Does it ever work?

A third comment said, “That is why there are different approaches too evalouate and assess the neerd for this therapy in men. love bracelet from cartier.”

A fourth read, “Thanks, Dixie Chick! Michael is indeed innocent. Not only that but he has been coerced by the court and IRS to commit perjury, crimes and frauds ON THEIR BEHALF! But at every turn he has said ‘NO!’ Watch for my next article. Mike is a true hero. hermes kelly 32 handbags imitation for women.”

Who the hell is Michael? Is the rest of the world watching some soap opera that I don’t know about? Does he neerd therapy? Would a bracelet or an imitation handbag help, and if so how? And is it really handbag or just an imitation of a handbag?

In a grocery store in Minneapolis once, I bought something labeled “imitation noodles.” It was kind of dismaying, but I cooked them and we ate them and couldn’t tell them from real noodles. I never did figure out what the difference was.

In case it’s relevant, it was an Asian grocery store and I put the strangeness of it down to translation problems. I’m not sure I’d have forked out money for imitation food that hadn’t been translated.

But back to the comment: Assuming I actually wanted to watch for the writer’s next article, how would I find it since the link is to a site that sells handbags? Or imitation handbags, which is to say bags that are passing themselves off as handbags but may in fact be footbags. Or feedbags. The internet’s a dangerous place and someone’s always trying to pass stuff off as other, more expensive stuff.

Furthermore, why am I being addressed as a Dixie Chick? I don’t sing as well as they do and I’m from New York. Or Minnesota, depending on how you want to count these things, but either way I’m a northerner.

And you start with that chick stuff with me at your peril.

Another comment (at this point we’ll stop counting; I’m not good with heights) asked if I made this website myself, so I’m going to confess: I didn’t. I found it at the back of the refrigerator. I’m not sure who brought it into the house or how long it had been there, but I hate to see stuff go to waste so I used it.

A lot of the comments start with some form of praise. Hell, we’ll almost all read on if someone tells us how clever we are. One of them said, “I thought this post was once great.”

Geez. How are the mighty fallen.

Okay, I had to google that quote because I realized I hadn’t a clue what it’s about or where it’s from. Turns out it’s from the bible and not exactly relevant. It has to do with falling in battle, although I suppose that’s one way of becoming no-longer-great. Kind of an extreme one, and not the one I’d choose, assuming I get a choice, but highly effective.

A final comment (I’ll stop after this; I promise) says, “I see your website needs some unique content. Writing manually is time consuming, but there is solution for this hard task.”

I know. I found that at the back of my refrigerator too. I just open the jar, scrape off the mold, and blog without having to write a word of my own. Or think a single troublesome thought.

Want to bet this is how the spam comments get written?

O brave new world…

(I didn’t need to google that. It is relevant.)

How to buy peace of mind in Britain

Ever feel like you need peace of mind? Well, now you can buy some. The high-end British department store Selfridges (please note: no apostrophe) held a workshop teaching people to relax and reconnect.

Reconnect with what? Themselves, of course. Because they lost themselves somehow. Or their phones lost their signal and when that happens what’s left of the self? And so they turned to a department store to fix the problem. Because stores have stuff. And if you don’t count your self as stuff, maybe you should. Think how much simpler your life would be. So having lost their selves, these people also lost their signals and couldn’t look for the self-stuff they needed on the internet. That forced them back to an older, simpler time.

A vaguely related photo: If this doesn’t bring you peace of mind–or at least remind you what it is–well, I’ve done my best.

Listen, don’t expect me to sort out your every confusion. I’m just some idiot you found on the internet. What do I know? These are highly stressed people. I’m feeling a little stressed here myself, trying to make sense of the latest trends in the culture. I’m guessing these folks have outsourced large chunks of their lives and that creates a kind of disconnect with the world and its physical reality. They’ve probably outsourced their cleaning to cleaning people. Their food comes either pre-cooked or intravenously, so someone else is doing the preparation although they never get to see them and don’t know their names. They barely remember that there’s a someone out there who does this. They think food drops off the trees in this form.

Some of them are so far down that road that they’ve outsourced the effect of gravity on their bodies. They step on a scale and don’t register at all because they have people to do that for them.

People working on zero-hours contracts for multi-national corporations.

What’s a zero-hours contract? That’s a contract that binds the employee to employer while the employer owes zilch to the employee—not even a set number of hours’ work each week. Not even the title of employee, because presto lawyer-o, they’re told they’re self-employed.

The employee (or non-employee) is available when the company needs someone. When it doesn’t, they disappear from the planet and don’t need to eat or pay rent or raise kids, so it’s okay that they’re not getting paid. And it’s all for the greater good, because look how many jobs this creates.

Not jobs you can live on, necessarily, but still jobs. It’s good when people have jobs. We all know that.

(In case you’ve noticed, yes, I do mix the plural with the singular. It’s the simplest way to get around the he/she problem that crops up in English sentences when you’re talking about a person who could, for all you know, belong to either sex. Or, in these interesting times, to neither or both. I’m not mocking, just struggling to get my head around it.)

Anyway, I may be misrepresenting the people who took the class. I wasn’t there and I didn’t meet them. Maybe they were just your average media-obsessed types who are stretched thin trying to maintain what they consider the essentials of a middle-class life, which always lie just a little out of reach, no matter how high their incomes are.

Or, may the god of potato peelings help us all, maybe it’s not about a middle-class life but a middle-class lifestyle. Have I mentioned recently how much I hate the word lifestyle?

There’s a funny thing about the middle-class life. Everyone who isn’t either a gazillionaire or broke defines it as the life they’re living—or trying to live. So if their almost-in-reach middle-class life(style) is someone else’s definition of rich, we shouldn’t be surprised, right?

But I’m off the topic again. Sorry. When I start having too much fun, that’s when I have to worry. What I was trying to say is that of course paying a high-end department store to reconnect you with yourself is part of a middle class life(style). So what we need to focus on is how these stressed-out folks reconnected with themselves.

They peeled potatoes.

Potato peeling as meditation. Hence the god of potato peelings, who doesn’t get a lot of respect these days and is very pleased to be honored once again, however briefly.

The Guardian, which seems to have sent a reporter to the event (several papers covered the story; for all I know, nobody but reporters signed up; or maybe they all used the same story, which they bought from an agency that outsourced it to a freelancer who disappears off the planet when they’re not needed). Let’s start over. The Guardian writes that the event was held in a “conceptual farmhouse” in the store and that participants rang a cow bell to get in. Then they took their shoes off. Anyone who wanted to could stretch out on a straw bed for a nap. The paper didn’t say how many straw beds were available, but it did say that, in keeping with the rustic theme, participants could buy £20 incense sticks (that’s £20 for one, I think—to get to the plural I just used, I assume you’d have to fork out an additional £20) or a £1,000 wooden bowl.

That’s not an exact quote. The snarkiness is mine; the information is theirs.

“It’s about a simple enjoyment and awareness of daily life,” Selfridges’ Creative Director Linda Hewson said.

Yes, that is your grandmother you’re hearing—or depending on your age, it could be your great- or great-great-grandmother. She’s laughing so hard she can’t get a sensible word out.

How to make clotted cream: a link

Last Friday’s post about lost battleships led–probably inevitably–to a discussion about clotted cream. Maybe you had to be there, but it made a certain kind of sense. The point is that those of you who don’t live in Britain and therefore don’t have easy access to a supply of clotted cream. need to know that Jean at Delightful Repast has a recipe on her blog. It looks simple enough. If you try it, let me know how it is.