The Brexit uproar has been hard on Britain. We have a prime minister whose idea of negotiation is to say, “I’m so glad we can talk. Let me explain why I’m right.” We have a parliament that doesn’t like her version of Brexit but can’t find a majority for any alternative. We have two main parties that not only don’t agree with each other but also don’t agree with themselves.
On a more positive note, the Green Party’s parliamentary delegation hasn’t split over the issue. It only has one member, but we take our positive notes where we can find them these days.
In April, water flooded into the House of Commons, filling–among other things–the light fixtures. Business continued as more or less usual for some ten minutes, then was suspended for the day. All the possible jokes about the flood’s metaphorical meaning have been made, so we’ll skip my versions and move on to another incident that interrupted the endless Brexit debate.
To call attention to the danger of ecological collapse, a dozen protestors from Extinction Rebellion took off most of their clothes and stood with their backsides pressed to the glass that divides the visitors gallery from the floor of the Commons. The Independent reports that two of them were wearing elephant masks and most were wearing knickers or underpants.
Not being British, I was thrown by that. I thought knickers were underpants, so I turned (as I do so often) to Lord Google, who explained that knickers are women’s underpants.
The guidelines for naked and semi-naked protests are complicated and I’m too damn old to understand them in depth. I did all of my protesting fully dressed, thanks. Except for that time when–
Nah. We’ll skip lightly over that. It was unplanned anyway.
Moving briskly along. I gather that if you’re not wearing anything else to speak of, people will notice whatever’s left, so it’s important to wear the right kind of underpants if that’s what’s left after you take everything else off. Once we’ve agreed about that, we can have a long and spiky conversation about what right means and what its social, cultural, and political implications are. It will go on as long as the Brexit debate and come to about as decisive a conclusion. Just to let you know in advance, I’ll defend anyone’s right to wear whatever kind they want and my own right to wear only the kind that are comfortable.
Some of the protestors glued their hands to the glass.
An anti-Brexit group beamed an EU flag with an SOS message to the EU from the white cliffs of Dover. The group is called Led by Donkeys.
A recent poll conducted by Hawley’s Small and Unscientific Survey, Inc., reports that people are on the one hand worried about shortages if we have a no-deal Brexit but on the other hand are stockpiling in a completely whimsical way. A friend bought eight cans of tomatoes. Or maybe it was seven. Another friend has cans of tomato soup and baked beans stored in the shed. I’ve checked our cat food and dog food levels.
Let it rain, let it pour. Britain is prepared.
I am in no way claiming that this is representative. Or that it’s not.
Earlier this spring, before the EU granted the UK a Brexit reprieve, the British government was looking down the very short barrel of a no-deal Brexit and thought it might be a good idea if 6,000 civil servants did something Brexit-related instead of whatever it was that they normally do. Since the reprieve, they’ve been moved back to their original jobs, but another 4,500 people were hired to prepare for no-deal. I have no idea what’s happened to them.
The Guardian reports that it all cost £1.5 billion, which doesn’t include the cost of preparations various local governments had to make.
In total, some 16,000 civil servants are working on Brexit.
The government has also stocked warehouses with baked beans and pet food, not to mention medicines and toilet paper, which is to say everything we’d need for life to continue normally if the country crashed out of the EU and imports froze solid.
The Brexit reprieve expires on Halloween. All the possible jokes have already been made about that as well.
Switzerland’s supreme court did something that caught the attention of Britain’s Remain campaigners: It overturned a referendum on the grounds that when it was held voters didn’t have enough information. The referendum was about whether married couples should pay the same taxes as unmarried couples who live together .
The court said the “incomplete detail and a lack of transparency . . . violated the freedom of the vote.”
But enough about Brexit. A far more scientific survey than the Hawley’s Small and Unscientific Survey, Inc., ever manages to crank out reports that the British are more likely to take drugs before having sex than either Americans, Canadians, Australians, or Europeans.
We’re not going to get too deeply into the American / Canadian thing right now, but briefly: Canada is in the Americas–on the northern continent, if we’re going into detail–but those clever Canadians thought of a name for their country that distinguished it from the countries it shares a set of continents with. The, um, Americans didn’t, so those of us who are from the US are stuck with a name that strews confusion everywhere it goes and pisses off our neighbors every time we try to identify ourselves.
Sorry for all that, everybody, but if there’s a genuinely workable alternative in English, the people who found it are keeping it secret.
Where were we? Ah. Sex. No wonder I forgot.
In the U.K., 13% of the people surveyed used cocaine in conjunction with sex and 20% used MDMA–a.k.a. ecstasy. The European numbers were 8% and 15%. The American, Canadian, and Australian numbers weren’t mentioned in the articles I found. The most commonly used drugs were alcohol, MDMA, and cannabis, with alcohol being by far the most common.
Among the British, the most likely people to use them were young and had high incomes. If that messes with your stereotypes, hey, I’m only the reporter. If you want to object, go glue your hands to the glass somewhere.
Another bit of research compared bullshit rates among teenagers. Who tops the charts? Boys, those from “privileged backgrounds,” and North Americans (translation: from the U.S. and Canada, although Mexico’s also North American).
And if that reinforces every stereotype you ever held, that’s not my fault either. We’re in blame-other-people mode here at Notes this week.
The article I’ve linked to has an April Fool’s Day date, so I thought I’d better dig deeper: The story appeared somewhere else the day before. It’s safe.
I wouldn’t bullshit you.
The study was limited to English-speaking countries, so we can’t do any far-reaching comparisons.
How’d they catch the little scamsters? They asked how familiar they were with sixteen mathematical concepts “ranging from polygons and vectors to quadratic functions and congruent figures. Hidden among the bona fide terms are three fakes: proper numbers, subjective scaling and declarative functions.”
Those names constitute a truly impressive bit of bullshitting.
The study’s co-author, Nikki Shure, said that “bullshitters express much higher levels of self-confidence in their skills than non-bullshitters, even when they are of equal academic ability. They are also much less likely to say that they give up easily when faced with a difficult problem and claim to have particularly high levels of perseverance when faced with challenging tasks. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they are also more likely to believe they are popular at school.”
And I’m sure they go out into the world of work and make more money than their classmates. Some of them run for president. Others lead the campaign for a no-deal Brexit.
And now we come to the important stuff: A Japanese study claims that cats know their names but can’t necessarily be bothered to respond to them. This has nothing to do with Britain, but the British do love their cats.
Okay, it’s irrelevant, but I like cats, so let’s talk about it anyway.
Scientists from the University of Tokyo used a habituation-dishabituation paradigm to explore this. I’m sure that rolls off the tongue just as easily in Japanese as it does in English. What it means is that they played five recorded words to the cat and the last one was its name. The first four lulled the cat into–well, boredom: The cat became used to the recording and became less likely to respond to it, but in spite of that it responded more to its name than to the words that came before it, whether the recorded voice was the owner’s or someone else’s. Ears might twitch. Eyes might open a fraction of a percentage of a millimeter.
Would the cat go looking to see if someone was calling it? It would not.
End of experiment. Now it’s time to correct some of their assumptions:
First, there’s no need to ask whether cats know their names. Of course they do. The creatures who don’t know their names are their humans, who call them things like Fluffy and Cutsie-Woo and King Captain Spaceman.
Then the humans–those same people who never thought to ask the cat its real name–wonder why their cats don’t answer.
Because it’s embarrassing, that’s why.
Not that the cats would necessarily answer to their true names. Why bother? Humans can be such pests. What a cat would do is come to the surface enough to ask itself, What’s in this for me? This is a recording, not my person. It won’t offer food. It won’t pet me. Then it would go back to sleep.
Second, what’s all this about owners? Cats have people. They offer food and catnip and adoration. They open doors. They serve as animated hot-water bottles. They pick up dead mice. Owners? What delusions of grandeur humans have.
I hope we’ve straightened that out.
Cambridge University just spent £1 million on a bust of Queen Victoria. Or as the BBC put it, Cambridge saved it for the nation, because it was about to leave for parts unknown, impoverishing the country’s cultural heritage.
I’ve written to the Prime Minister suggesting that we stockpile these in case of a no-deal Brexit. She just loves to hear from me.
You may have already read that Amazon staff listen in on a percentage of the interchanges humans have with Alexa, that automated spy in your home.
Or not in your home. I don’t listen in, so I don’t know if you’ve opened your door to her or not.
It turns out, though, that other digital magic is accomplished with the help of tiny humans embedded in the technology.
Or maybe I misunderstood that. Maybe they’re ordinary humans listening from a distance.
In 2017, Expensify admitted to using humans to copy some of the receipts its “smart scan technology” was supposed to have smartly scanned. Facebook’s personal assistant, M (I never heard of it either; it escaped from some James Bond movie and went back as soon as it found out what the real world was like), turned out to use a mix or human and programmed responses. And Amazon’s smart doorbells also involved humans.
What’s a smart doorbell? I have no idea. According to a site that evaluates them (and passes you on to sites that sell them, no doubt picking up a small fee somewhere along the way), they have “live video streaming, Wi-Fi-enabled apps, two-way communication, and home automation compatibility.”
So either that means you can stand outside your own house and watch movies on your doorbell or that you can see who just rang it. Or possibly both. Simultaneously. Which is simple because you’re already out there, watching the movie. All you have to do is turn your head.
When I was a kid, we called that a drive-in theater.
My point, though, is that Amazon’s Ring brand smart doorbells allowed its research and development team “virtually unfettered access . . . to every video created by every Ring camera around the world.”
Team members were found face-down at their desks, dead of boredom.
Another branch of the human evolutionary family has been found, this one on Luzon Island in the Philippines. They’ve been called Homo luzonensis, they lived 50,000 to 67,000 years ago, and they were about four feet tall (that’s 1.2 meters), with curved fingers and toes that would have allowed them to climb trees. If they’d survived, they might have made less of a mess of things than we have, but that’s highly unscientific speculation.