Unintended consequences: from Brexit to bitcoins

Ah, the unintended consequences of Brexit.

Forget the fish rotting on the docks and the emptying of supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland. One of the least expected consequences may be that Dutch customs officers are confiscating sandwiches from drivers as they enter from Britain. The new rules don’t allow anyone to import meat or dairy products from Britain. Or–in case you need a fuller list–fruit, vegetables, or fish. I’m not sure what that leaves. Is chewing gum made from organic substances?

Water, maybe. 

One driver asked if he could give up his sandwich fillings but keep the bread. 

No, the customs official said. “Welcome to the Brexit, sir. I’m sorry.”

Irrelevant photo: primroses.

Another unintended consequence is that truckers now need a permit to enter Kent if they’re planning to go on to Europe. 

Yes, Kent’s still part of Britain. But the system avoids pile-ups at the channel ports, or at least it’s meant to. Who know what unintended consequences it’ll have. The permit’s called a Kent access permit, or kermit. If truckers don’t have one, they’re liable for a £300 fine and they’ll be turned back.

The good news is that they can keep their sandwiches until they cross the channel. 

 

Bitcoins

With the price of bitcoins soaring, two people have been in the papers lately over lost coins.

One is a computer engineer in Wales who managed to throw away a hard drive “containing,” as the paper put it, bitcoins worth £200 million.

Yeah, it could happen to anyone. 

He’s offered the local government £50 million if they’ll dig it out. Assuming of course that they find it. And if it still works. He says there’s a good chance he could rescue the data. The local government–called the council in British–says it would cost millions of pounds to dig up the landfill, it would have a huge environmental impact, and anyway their licensing permit doesn’t allow them to do that. 

It also says it’s told him all this before.

He started mining bitcoins in 2009, when they were worth nothing much and when mining them was something you did on the computer, not physically in the local dump. He says he has an international hedge fund “willing to put up anywhere between £2.5m to £3.5m to do a professional search operation of the landfill.”

The council still doesn’t sound interested.

The other bitcoin owner is from San Francisco and hasn’t lost his computer but he has lost the password that would let him get at $250 million worth of bitcoins. He was given 7002 of them as payment for making–yes I do hear the irony–a video on how bitcoins worked, and I’m sure he included a snippet that said, “Don’t lose your password.” But no one listens to themselves, do they? You have to at least cross state lines to be an expert. He stored his bitcoins safely in an IronKey wallet, wrote the password on a piece of paper, had a nice cup of coffee, went on with his life, then discovered that he’d lost the paper.

When he got the coins, they were worth somewhere between $2 and $6 each. The price has gone wild during the pandemic, though, and at one point they were worth $40,000 each. They will have gone up since then. Or down. Or possibly sideways. Bitcoin’s a cryptocurrency. It can defy the laws of gravity and economics if it wants to.

He’s tried eight passwords. If he tries two more wrong ones, he might as well try searching a dump in Wales. 

Around the world, some $140 billion worth of bitcoins are either lost or locked away from their would-be owners, or so says Chainanalysis, which somehow knows these things.

 

“Baying mobs”

The government wants to introduce legislation to protect statues from being removed by “baying mobs” “on a whim.” 

Yeah, they really do talk that way. Or write that way, anyhow, since the quote’s from an article by the communities secretary, Robert Jenrick, who’s just brimming over with understanding of the communities he–

Okay, I don’t actually know what a communities secretary’s supposed to do in relation to all those communities the country’s made up of. 

The statue of Edward Colston, which was dumped in the Bristol harbor last year, wasn’t pulled off its plinth on a whim. People had spent years trying to get rid of it through respectable avenues, and they’d gotten nowhere. Pull it down, though, and somehow the picture changes.

Jenrick mentioned an attempt to erase part of the nation’s history “at the hand of the flash mob, or by the decree of a ‘cultural committee’ of town hall militants and woke worthies.” I’d be interested to know what he had to say when the statues of Saddam Hussein were being pulled down with the help of Britain’s ally, the U.S. I seem to remember the papers in general greeting that as liberation, not an attempt to erase history.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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.