The Brexit update, with gorilla suits

We’ll get to the gorilla suits toward the end. In the meantime, with all the usual apologies (it’s important to know what’s going on; I didn’t start it; it has a lot of redeeming absurdity), here’s the Brexit update.

Parliament ordered Boris Johnson to send the European Union a letter asking to delay Brexit, and now he’s being warned that if he adds a covering note saying, “P.S., We don’t really want an extension, so please ignore the enclosed letter,” he will be breaking the law. The warning comes from an assortment of senior judges and lawyers.

That hasn’t gone to court yet. The warnings are in response to leaks saying the prime minister’s looking for a way around the law Parliament passed.

The Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, issued a warning of his own. He told Johnson there’s no such thing as a clean break from the EU. Even if Britain huffs out without an agreement, all the unresolved issues will still need to be negotiated. On his list were citizens’ rights, the Irish border, and a financial settlement with Europe. And fishing rights. And tariffs. And product standards. And and and and.

In other leaks, documents planning the prorogation of parliament–

Let me stop to explain this in the most objective terms for anyone who’s new here: Prorogation means locking Parliament in a broom closet while the prime minister pursues Brexit unencumbered by the democratic process.

Or two broom closets, since you couldn’t ask the Lords to share a broom closet with the Commons. They need a higher class of broom closet, with better champagne.

Actually, they all get sent home.

Where were we? Parliament ordered Johnson and his friends and advisers to hand over the documents they exchanged while they were planning the prorogation. They (that’s Parliament, not Johnson & Co.) managed that just before getting locked ceremoniously in their broom closets. The reason this matters is that the government claimed it the prorogation wasn’t political, it was just business as usual. Initial leaks indicate that it was anything but–and that the documents will prove that.

Since Johnson had to ask the queen’s permission to prorogue Parliament, the current flap is over whether he lied to the queen in order to get her to wave her magic feather over it.

The government is swearing it won’t release the documents, and that could put it in contempt of Parliament.

Does it matter if it is? An MP who’s held in contempt can be booted out of Parliament–and any prime minister is also an MP. If the prime minster isn’t an MP, is he or she still prime minister? Probably not. That’s awkward, and from a prime minister’s point of view, not desirable.

An MP who’s held in comtempt can also be confined to the Westminster clock tower, but the last time that was done was in 1880. Non-MPs can be imprisoned (not in the clock tower as far as I can figure out–that’s for a better class of contemptuees) for the duration of the Parliament, which these days can be for as long as five years.

Johnson’s adviser Dominic Cummings has been held in contempt and not only isn’t in jail, he was given a security clearance. I won’t try to explain that.

In 2018, Theresa May’s government was held to be in contempt of Parliament for refusing to release some Brexit legal advice it had been given. That was the first time in British history a government was held in contempt of parliament. May backed down and was not banished to the clock tower.

That business about the clock tower is real. I say that because it’s hard to tell what’s real and what isn’t. As a rough guideline, if I tell you that all government advisers have to dress in gorilla suits, that’s a joke. If I tell you that a politician can be imprisoned in (or under) the clock tower, that’s real.

Really.

I hope that helps.

In other leaked documents, the government has ordered a top priority centralization of user information from the government’s public information websites. This is supposed to help with Brexit preparations.

How will it help? No one seems sure, but although the government swears that no personal details will be collected, privacy campaigners, opposition politicians, and policy experts are uneasy about what’s being done and why, not to about mention the secrecy surrounding it. Especially because Cumming–that’s Johnson’s adviser, you may or may not remember, and he does not wear a gorilla suit–is the driving force behind this and was (not at all incidentally) the driving force behind the Vote Leave campaign’s complicated and partially illegal use of personal data.

Also not incidentally, £100,000 million has been budgeted for a campaign to direct people to the government’s Brexit preparation website–more money than some experts say can actually be spent. I don’t like conspiracy theories, but when I connect the dots I can’t help constructing one. And believing it.

In an earlier update I mentioned that three lawsuits had been filed against the prorogation of parliament. In England, the court said it wasn’t a subject a court could rule on. In Scotland (on appeal), it’s been ruled illegal. Both rulings were unanimous. Northern Ireland hasn’t ruled yet and the case was launched on different grounds.

Why the different rulings? Because the UK has three separate legal systems, which can allow courts to rule differently even when they consider the same facts, and even if you rule out the possibility of conscious or unconscious political bias. All three systems have equal weight. Britain’s highest court, the Supreme Court, has scheduled a three-day hearing starting on September 17. I have no idea which of the three systems they’re supposed to base their ruling on, or if they’re supposed to follow all of them simultaneously.

I wasn’t going to get into the maneuvering surrounding John Bercow, the speaker of the Commons, but I just have to. Following tradition, when he became the speaker he gave up his party affiliation, but before he did, he was a Conservative. Recently, he’s allowed the anti-no-deal coalition–now (really) known as the Rebel Alliance–to act effectively against the government. Whether that involved bending the rules or following them depends on what side of the divide you’re on, but the current government just hates the man.

Traditionally, when MPs are up for re-election no party runs a candidate against the speaker, but the Conservatives–they’re the current government, and I mention that in case you’ve been locked in the clock tower for a few months and have lost track of anything but those damn bells every fifteen minutes–have announced that they will run a candidate against him, which leaves him vulnerable since he won’t have party machinery to back him.

In response, Bercow’s announced that he’ll step down as speaker, but he’ll time it so that the current parliament, with its anti-government majority, will get to elect the next speaker.

If all that isn’t enough, a series of unleaked but reluctantly released documents detail what the government estimates are “reasonable worst-case assumptions” in case of a no-deal Brexit, although another version of the document apparently calls it a “base scenario.” (No-deal Brexit preparations, by the way, are called Operation Yellowhammer, because, hey, that sounds all military and cool.) Predictions include higher food prices, shortages of medicines, and riots on the streets.

The poorest people will be hit hardest. Some businesses will go broke (or “cease trading” to put it more blandly), including providers of adult social care. The black market will grow. Disruptions could go on for as long as six months.

Still, it’s nothing to worry about and revised estimates are due out any day now, as soon as the government can be strong-arm them out of the appropriate civil servants.

The paper also predicts smuggling across the Northern Ireland border and says the plans to impose checks there (it’s been an open border, but that depends on both Ireland and Northern Ireland being in the EU) would quickly become unworkable. We can also expect clashes at sea over fishing rights and the disruption of cross-border financial services.

For food sales to the EU to keep going, vets will have to sign 1.9 million food standard certificates, although it’s not clear from what I’ve read how quickly they’ll have to do that or how long they’ll last once they’re signed. Do they sign them every year? Every day? Every waking moment? For every shipment?

Meanwhile, Senior civil servants can expect to be caught between MPs’ demands and the government’s. Their union has written to the prime minister demanding an assurance that staff won’t be asked to break either the law or the civil service code.

We’re deep into uncharted waters, and you can’t make this stuff up. All you can do is add the occasional gorilla suit.

News from Britain: brawls, bugs, and Brexit

A brawl broke out on a cruise ship when–well, that’s where it gets murky and we haven’t even finished the first sentence. Let’s start with what we do know. Or think we know:

The fight happened so early in the morning that it was still late at night, in the ship’s restaurant (or buffet, as most of the articles put it), after a day of “patriotic partying,” whatever the hell that is, and an evening black-tie event. By this time, everyone involved was probably well lubricated. What the papers establish is that a lot of alcohol had been transferred from the bottles into the passengers but they don’t say which individual passengers it was transferred into. 

The people involved in the fight used plates and furniture as weapons. Passengers who weren’t involved described the fight as being between family groups. Is this what U.S. anti-gay campaigners have in mind when they talk about “family values”? I was never clear on whose family they were thinking of.

Six people were injured and reports say blood was everywhere. 

How much blood? How big an area is everywhere? What values did the families have? Dunno, duuno, and dunno.

Irrelevant photo: North Cornwall cliffs.

It all started, according to a witness, when a passenger became upset that another passenger was wearing a clown suit. He’d specifically booked a cruise with no fancy dress events. 

A fancy dress party is British for a costume party, and they’re endemic in Britain. The whole thing about dressing up says something profound about the British culture, or its psyche, or its something, although I’m damned if I know what. I’d welcome explanations, however far fetched.

If the story sounds strange, it gets stranger: The cruise line, P&O, swears that there was no clown on board and no one was wearing fancy dress. 

The people who were suspected of being behind the incident were confined to a cabin for the last day of the cruise.

With no dessert.

Two people have been arrested, a man and a woman. They’ve also been released but when they were last in the news they were still under investigation.

In the meantime, no one seems to be investigating this whole business about the clown, which borders on criminal irresponsibility.

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Since we’re talking about transportation, a horse wandered onto an unstaffed train station at Tyne and Wear, which has something to do with Newcastle, but we don’t really need to know that. What mattered is that the horse wandered in and passenger helped it wander out, leading it to a nearby field that everyone agreed–possibly based on evidence and possibly based on convenience–was exactly the field it had come from.

The company that runs the trains issued a statement saying almost nothing, but it did mention that trains had been warned about the incident. I’d like to think the trains’ drivers were also warned. The real message was that there’s nothing dangerous about leaving a station without staff and everyone could sleep safe in their beds and not have nightmares about horses. 

What can we learn from this? That trains in Britain have drivers while trains in the U.S. have engineers. They do the same job.

Also that horses get bored. And lonely.

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Reports in August said that Britons had spent £4 billion stockpiling things in case Brexit brings shortages. One in five people had gathered up £380 worth of food, medicine, and–yes, of course–drinks, because if you’re going to face shortages you want to at least be able to get shitfaced. Some 800,000 people are sitting on a hoard worth £1,000 or more. Luxury car imports are up 16% compared to a year ago, so presumably the super-rich are stockpiling luxury cars in case the import taxes go up. Because hey, you’ve got to watch every penny when you’re buying luxury cars.

People are also stockpiling toilet paper, but I don’t know how much they’ve spent on it or how many days’ worth they consider safe. It does all tell us what people consider important.

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A study published in the British Medical Journal reports that washing the dishes can help you live longer. Not because it’ll keep your partner from killing you (it may, but they don’t seem to have factored that in) but because light exercise–taking out the trash, crawling under the bed to locate that lost shoe–keeps you alive longer. Less conveniently for your partner, so will walk around the block. And tickling a nerve near your ear with a low-level electrical charge might as well.

Okay, full disclosure: That last study indicates it might improve your mood and help you sleep and age better. It didn’t actually say you’d live longer.

Optimism also helps you live longer–11% to 15% longer according to a recent study (sorry–I lost the link). On the other hand, a really good chocolate cake might do the same thing. I haven’t found any data to say it won’t.

I also haven’t looked for any.

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Salford City Council has dropped a ban on public swearing in Salford Quays. It was imposed three years ago and never enforced, but if it had been and if you’d been at the wrong end of it, you could have been out as much as £1,000.

With a mouth like mine, it could have been an expensive place to visit. 

In 2017, Rochdale City Council banned skateboarding, swearing, and begging in the town center. Violators could be fined, again, up to £1,000–which makes perfect sense when you’re dealing with someone begging on the street. 

The swearing ban was dropped as unenforceable later in the year. The rest, as far as I can tell, is still in force. 

In 2015, Chester banned sleeping on the street, feeding birds, and unlicensed busking, which is British for making music in public and leaving your guitar case open for people to drop money into. When all hell broke loose (and protesters marched in their pajamas), the council backed off those parts of the ban but kept the ones on urinating in public, drinking in public, and using legal highs. (That’s not a typo. They were talking about the legal ones.)  

I’m not a big fan of public peeing, but it might be more effective to just make some toilets available. Although that costs money. Welcome to austerity Britain. If you need to pee, that’s your problem.  

All the bans were introduced as Public Spaces Protection Orders. 

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Protesters in France spent some time recently going into town halls, politely taking down the president’s portrait, and leaving with it. They’re pointing up President Macron’s inaction on climate change, despite his stance as a world leader on the issue. They recently held a march where they carried the portraits they’d taken–upside down. 

I wish I could explain why I find that so funny. I suspect it has something to do with how perfectly beside the point taking down the portraits is. 

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A new study of seagulls reports that going eyeball to eyeball with them when they’re trying to steal your chips (a.k.a. french fries) will make them back down. Of course, no sooner did someone send out a press release on the study than every TV station in the country sent a reporter to the nearest beach to interview whatever humans were available. One that I watched asked them to recreate the experiment, and it was a disaster, especially when the humans were faced with more gulls than they had eyeballs, or when the gulls swooped in from behind, where (inconveniently) humans lack eyeballs.

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The City of London (which is not to be confused with the city, small C, of London, of which the City, large C, is one small and expensive part) is tightening regulations on new skyscrapers. Existing ones have created winds that a cyclists’ organization says are strong enough to knock over pedestrians and push bike riders sideways, possibly into the paths of cars.

One building, called the Walkie-Talkie because of its shape, concentrated the sun’s rays strongly enough to melt parts of a car parked nearby. A reporter managed to fry an egg using only its heat. It’s since been retro-fitted with anti-pyromaniacal glazing and hasn’t set anything on fire for a while. We’re all hoping it’s found a better outlet for its impulses.

The new regulations will make the architects think all that through ahead of time. 

Don’t you just hate government red tape? 

London has developed a wonderful tradition of giving its skyscrapers names their that developers and architects didn’t plan on, and probably hate. The Walkie-Talkie is one. Others are the Cheesegrater, the Shard, the Gherkin, the Can of Ham, and the Scalpel.

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A New Zealand bug imported to the Isles of Scilly some hundred years ago has evolved to reproduce asexually. The population’s now entirely female and it’s doing just fine, thanks. 

The little beast is a stick insect called the Clitarchus hookeri, and it was an unplanned import, hitching a ride with some plants that were brought in for a subtropical garden. And no, in spite of it sounding like an academic April Fool’s Day joke, the little beast is real

Scientists brought some of the bugs back to New Zealand, where they were happy enough to mate with local males but went ahead and reproduced in the old fashioned way, which is to say, without male input. 

You can draw whatever morals you like from that.

The Isles of Scilly are off the coast of Cornwall and yes, they’re pronounced silly and are sometimes called the Scilly Isles. I’ve heard it often enough that I’ve lost the urge to giggle.

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And finally, a small ray of hope for the human race: Writer Olivia Laing, whose first novel, Crudo, won the £10,000 James Tait Black prize, announced that she was going to share the prize with her fellow finalists. 

“I said in Crudo that competition has no place in art and I meant it,” she said. 

She’s what in Yiddish is called a mensch–a person of real integrity. I’m off to a bookstore to take a browse through the book and if it grabs me, to buy a copy. The other finalists were Murmur (Will Eaves), Sight (Jessie Greengrass), and Heads of Colored People (Nafissa Thompson-Spires). I’ll have a browse through them too. I have a hunch that you wouldn’t end up regretting it if you doing the same.

The Brexit Update, 4 September 2019

By the time you read this, it’ll be out of date–British politics are moving at the speed of a slow-motion train wreck–but here’s what I can tell you as of 7 a.m., British summer time (which isn’t a season but the time Britain goes by in the summer):

Yesterday, one lone MP resigned from the Conservative Party and joined the Liberal Democrats, and that was enough to lose the Conservatives their majority and make Boris Johnson the leader of a minority government.

That happened not long after Johnson announced that he would boot out (okay, effectively boot out, but let’s not get into that) any Conservative MP who voted against him. Last night, twenty-one of them did. At that point he became the leader of a government with a significantly smaller minority.

What they voted against him on was–damn this is hard to explain sensibly. Normally, the government has the power to set the agenda for the House of Commons, but the Commons can occasionally seize control of the agenda, and that’s what it did. This will allow the Commons to debate a no-deal Brexit today. 

When he lost the vote, Johnson said he’d call for an early election, but he needs the backing of two-thirds of the MPs for that to happen. Since a majority of MPs would be happy to drown him in the Thames, why wouldn’t they support a new election? Because Parliament shuts down for twenty-five days before the election, and Johnson would get to choose the date of the new election. If he chose his timing well, he could lock Parliament in a broom closet, withdraw from the European Union, and hum “Rule Britannia” while they pound on the door and yell, “Let me out!”

So although Labour’s been screaming for an early election, they’re against this one unless a no-deal Brexit is ruled out–which it won’t be. 

There are two ways around the need for a two-thirds majority:

First, the government calls for an election using the words “notwithstanding the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.” Then they’d only need a simple majority.

Can they do that, announce that they’re going to call an election ignoring the law governing elections? Apparently so. Do we know how to have fun over here or what?

But, of course, they don’t have a simple majority either. And proposing an election that way would allow MPs to set the election date, so it would lose Johnson his maneuvering room. And the bill could be amended, so Commons could tack on anti-no-deal wording.

It would also have to pass the House of Lords, so it’s a slower process. 

Second, the government could call a vote of no confidence in itself. 

Yes, seriously. 

If it passed, Johnson would be expected to resign and the Commons would try to agree on a new prime minister, who could ask the EU to delay Brexit. If the Commons couldn’t choose a prime minister in fourteen days (there’s a lot of political arm wrestling, not to mention posturing and an ego or two, involved), that would trigger a new election.

The BBC article that I pulled all that from (it’s the link several paragraphs back) calls that a high-risk strategy for the government. It doesn’t say that the crucial word in all this is expected, as in Johnson would be expected to resign, but it’s not entirely clear that he would, or whether he’d have to. The law’s fairly new and contains a lot of unknowns.

But back to the Commons seizing control of its agenda. If an anti-no-deal bill passes the Commons, which it probably will, the next hurdle is shoving it through the House of Lords, where it will, inevitably, be filibustered and amended. There’s an attempt in the works to set a time limit on debate. We’ll see how that goes.

The Scottish National Party is saying that a fall election would be a great opportunity for Scotland to demand a second vote on independence.

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That’s the headline stuff. In smaller print:

  • Scotland’s chief prosecutor has said he wants to intervene in two legal challenges to Johnson’s suspension of Parliament, saying that proroguing Parliament is it’s an abuse of power.
  • Speaking of abuses of power, Johnson’s special adviser, Dominic Cummings–the power, and possibly the brains, behind the throne–fired another special adviser, Sonia Khan, calling armed police to have her marched out of 10 Downing Street. He accused her of being the source of a leak–something she denies. The interesting thing here is that she didn’t work for him. She also didn’t work for Cummings’ boss, she worked for the chancellor, Sajid Javid. And Johnson wasn’t consulted about the firing. Read a few articles and you’ll find phrases like “mafia-style” and “reign of terror.” There are calls for an investigation into the firing.  
  • The government’s set aside £100 million for an information campaign to prepare people for Brexit, even though there are, apparently, questions about whether the government can manage to spend that much in two months. What do they want people to learn for all that money? That we should consult the government’s Brexit website, where they offer some fairly mild advice about travel, business, citizenship, and so forth. With apologies, I relied on a summary for that, not the website itself. The website wants to walk you through only what you need to know, and I bailed out at the point where it asked whether I’m a citizen. I am, but y’know, I just might want to know what happens to people who aren’t. But it’s all okay because the government has placed an order for mugs and T-shirts, so I feel better about it all.

The Brexit Update

In case you haven’t been tracking Britain’s political cannon fire, let’s take a quick dash through the shrapnel. The shooting’s metaphorical, so we should be safe enough, but do stay together. We’ll be moving quickly.

We’ll start at the moment when the members of the Conservative Party (all 42 of them) chose our prime minister. 

Why did they get to do that? Because their party came out of the most recent election with a whopping a majority of two in the 650-member House of Commons. That gave them the right to form a government. Forming a government means they choose the prime minister. And when the first prime minister they chose resigned in despair, they got to choose her replacement, even though the replacement, Boris Johnson, told everyone who’d listen (and several who wouldn’t) that he was going to move the country in a new direction, meaning not the direction the electorate might have thought they voted for.

But hey, that’s democracy for you. You cast your vote and you take your chances.

Does the Conservative Party really have 42 members? No. It’s something in the neighborhood of 180,000. Labour has upwards of 485,000. The Scottish National Party has 125,000. The Liberal Democrats have 115,000. Sorry, I’d give you a link on all this but it has to be downloaded and the link won’t work. If you’re worried about it, ask Lord Google.

How many registered voters does the U.K. have? Upwards of 46 million. 

Did the Conservative Party really have a majority of two? Yes, but it’s down to one now. Long story and we’ll skip it. Remember where I said we’d be moving quickly?

Why do I ask so many questions? Because it’s an easy way to structure a piece of writing. It’s cheesy, but it does let you know where I’m taking you next. And we’re in a hurry. I need to get this online before it all changes.

The point here is that a very small proportion of the electorate got to set the country’s direction. Instead of a negotiated exit from the European Union, we were now barreling toward an exit at any cost: Johnson promised that the country would leave the EU by October 31, “do or die”–in other words, with or without a deal. So it was no surprise when EU leaders announced that he showed no interest in renegotiating the Brexit agreement his predecessor had negotiated and then failed to find support for.

Johnson prefers a no-deal Brexit, they said.  

Does not,” the British government said. 

“Does so too,” the EU said, 

Et cetera, with lots of links to make up for the one I couldn’t give you a few paragraphs back.

But a majority of MPs oppose a no-deal Brexit. What’s Johnson’s next move, then? Well, even before he became prime minister, he was playing publicly with the idea of proroguing Parliament.

Of pro-whatting Parliament?

Shutting it down. Sending the MPs home at exactly the time when they might be able to stop him from crashing the country out of the EU.

Here’s how that would work: Crashing out of the EU is the default setting in this process. If the time limit for a withdrawal isn’t extended and if an agreement isn’t reached, the country crashes out, no matter what Parliament says. So to crash out in the face of parliamentary opposition, all you have to do is kidnap 650 MPs at the right time, which will keep them from interfering. 

But that’s illegal and offends most voters’ sensibilities, and the logistics are a nightmare, so you can do something simpler: You can send them all home, where their magic powers dissolve. And you don’t have to feed them or even tie them up, which you would if you kidnapped them. 

As I write this, the MPs are at home–they left Westminster meekly for the usual summer break–and the ones who oppose a no-deal Brexit are plotting the moves left to them when their powers return in September.

The obvious one is to pass a vote of no confidence in the government. At that point, the prime minister’s magic powers are supposed to dissolve and parliament has fourteen days to find a prime minister with the backing, however reluctant, of a majority of MPs. 

To date, though, no one can agree on who that should be. All the major parties are waving their hands in the air, yelling, “Me! Me! Pick me!”

If Parliament can’t find a majority to back any candidate, Parliament is dissolved and the prime minister’s supposed to call an election and resign. 

In the meantime, Johnson’s advisor–and quite possibly his brains–Dominic Cummings has reportedly said that Johnson might refuse to resign, even if Parliament does form a government. 

If that happens, he could presumably sit in the prime minister’s residence reciting nursery rhymes in Latin and entertaining the prime ministerial cat while the ship of state drifts toward the Brexit iceberg. 

“Look!” he can say. “My hands aren’t even on the wheel.”

The cat’s name is Larry. He–or someone very like him only human, with thumbs and without fur–tweets at @Number10cat. Larry is known to snub fawning politicians without regard to their policies, powers, or parties, in full and satisfying sight of the cameras. As the nation’s chief mouser, he’s outlasted a small handful of recent prime ministers and done considerably less damage to the country. He may or may not be interested in any amusement the prime minister can offer.

During this time, Johnson would, presumably, call an election, but while it was being organized the country would crash out of the E.U.

When Johnson was asked if he might refuse to resign, he refused to answer. 

Opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn and assorted important and formerly important people have warned, in a variety of ways, that refusing to resign would cause the worst constitutional crisis since Charles I was beheaded. Okay, since the Civil War, but that did lead to Charles being executed. As far as I can tell, no one’s advocating that, although they might be dropping a subtle hint about where this could all lead.

There’s been talk of getting the queen involved. She’s supposed to be above politics –or locked out of them, if you want to think of it that way–but she is the person who formally asks the leader of the parliamentary majority to form a government, so presumably she also has the right to ask the prime minister to resign if he no longer commands a majority. She apparently can “overrule ministerial advice” in a grave constitutional crisis. But focus on the words apparently and presumablyThis is all new territory, because elections are controlled by a law that’s too new to have had much road testing. That may be why the wheels are wobbling so wildly. 

A few voices have argued that refusing to resign would be plenty constitutional under the new law, thanks. 

Parliament also has another possible way of blocking a no-deal Brexit: It could pass a law–not a motion; motions don’t have the power of laws–outlawing a no-deal Brexit or forcing the government to ask Europe for an extension. But to do that, MPs will have to take control of the Commons’ calendar, which the government normally controls. It can be done, but not easily. An assortment of precedents will have to be parked out in the hall while it happens.

To force Parliament to break precedent, which is always hard in a country that takes its traditions seriously, the government will have to refrain from introducing any new legislation between the time the MPs come back to work on September 3 and Brexit day, October 31. That includes legislation preparing the country for a no-deal Brexit. Why? Because MPs can amend any bill that comes before them in any way they want.

A third way to block a no-deal Brexit involves the courts. One lawsuit has been filed and others are said to be in the works. The one that’s furthest along would prevent Johnson from shutting down Parliament. Others (or another–the wording’s ambiguous) would force Johnson to resign if a no-confidence vote passes.  

In the meantime, Britain first announced that it would leave the Interrail train scheme, which lets a ticket holder travel throughout both Britain and Europe, then a day later, when there was a lot of shouting about that, announced that it wasn’t leaving.

Do we know how to have fun over here or what?

Britain gets a new cabinet: an update

Britain has a new prime minister, who even though he’s never been prime minister of anyplace before has the look of a second-hand car about him–the kind whose odometer broke when someone tried to set it back. So far, he’s told us that everything’s going to be wonderful with him in office. We’ll leave the E.U. by Halloween, with or (possibly preferably) without a deal, and this will make the country prosperous and united.

We’ll all have 100,000 fewer miles on our individual and national odometers.

In anticipation, the pound dropped against both the dollar and the euro.

More concretely, he’s appointed a new cabinet. So let’s check in on what a few of them have done in their limited time in government.

Jacob Rees-Mogg is the new leader of the House of Commons and he’s banned metric measurements in his office. And if something comes into the office speaking metric and has to go back out in the same form? Presumably it will have to be translated into imperial units to be read and then translated back out of them before it rejoins the world. 

He’s also banned a series of words and phrases, including (but, oh, so not limited to) hopefully, very, due to, ongoing, equal, yourself, lot, got, pleased to learn, and unacceptable.

Equal? Yeah, it’s on the list. It will, hopefully, prevent staff members from saying, “Go fuck yourself,” when they’re told that asking for equal pay is unacceptable.

A couple of the entries (lot, got, and I am pleased to learn) have been reported but are unconfirmed. I mention that because this stuff is important and I want to be sure we get it right. I’m an immigrant here, so to a certain kind of person the way I use the language is always going to be suspect. Which makes me very much want to say, “Go fuck yourself.” Due to having an ongoing bad attitude.

Rees-Mogg’s staff has also been instructed to use a double space after a period–which in British is called a full stop, and I’m sure he’d insist on it being called that–and not to use a comma after an and

It is possible to use a comma after an and but it’s not easy. I’m not going to bother working up an example when I’ve got a lot of simpler ways to break the rules.

Staff members should also avoid using is too often. How often is too often? You’re on your own there. Do be careful, though, please. I care about you, and the world’s a dangerous place.

I is also on the list of banned words. Maybe, like the queen, he prefers one. One is–. Nope, can’t use is. One might be pleased to find a less awkward way to avoid its use.

Since he became an MP, R-M’s speeches have used words from the banned list 1,189 times. It may have gone up since that report, so let’s take that as a minimum, especially since uses of the word  I, mysteriously, weren’t included. And yes (ha! got the comma in after and), if you’re going to be such a public nit-picker, someone will sit down and count. Gleefully.

R-M also demands that any man who doesn’t have a title get the suffix Esq. added to his name. Women, presumably, are too unimportant to worry about. Or maybe the language doesn’t have an equivalent. I wouldn’t know.

Admittedly, the guidelines were established at his old office as a plain old MP and have been transferred wholesale to his new, elevated position as Micro-Manager-in-Chief, so presumably this hasn’t occupied all his time. That is, however, speculation.

He’s commonly known as the Honourable member for the 18th Century.

After that, anyone else is going to be a disappointment, but let’s go on.

Grant Shapps, the new transport secretary, has announced a two-page limit for briefings and says he will “pay attention to the font size and margins.”

Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, has brought his favorite pink cup to his new office. As far as I know, it’s not a sippy cup. 

Oops. Did I just start a rumor?

Priti Patel, the new home secretary, has a £1,000-an-hour contract with a company that supplies products and services to the same government she works for. She also earns £45,000 a year for working 20 hours a month for an accounting software firm. If she cares about the spacing after a period, limits her intake of government documents to picture books, or drinks from a sippy cup, it’s not on record but it might be preferable. 

Now let’s go back to that business about a double space after a period. If WikiWhatsia is correct (and I’m not going any deeper into this than a WikiWhatsia article, earthshaking though the topic may be), a double space after a period is called English spacing. A single space is called French spacing. There are other differences between the two, but let’s stop there. We’re not setting type, just reporting on it. 

So far, it sounds clear, but the phrases are often used in exactly the opposite way, and WikiWhatsia gives a good solid list of examples without managing to help me understand why or how that happened.

Starting in the mid-nineteenth century, the trend in typesetting has been toward a single space after a period. It’s quicker and it’s cheaper, since in a book that small change can save a fair bit of paper. And many people think it looks better.

The U.S. seems to have made the shift to single spacing before the U.K., although even there high-end publishing stuck with the double space for a while. With the introduction of computers, designers and typographers have increasingly leaned toward the single space. In my experience, it dominates the publishing world.

So is R-M dedicated to the double space because he thinks it’s high end? Or because he thinks it’s English as opposed to French (and the English, if you’ll forgive a generalization, have a thing about the French)? Or because it was done that way in the eighteenth century and that’s his century? I can only ask, not answer. If he knew that in the early 1960s, when all girls with fingers were taught to type, no excuses accepted, I was taught that it was necessary, right, and moral to double space after a period. I was (partly deliberately, partly by nature) a monumentally bad typist, but for years I double-spaced after periods.

If that doesn’t take the shine off the double space, I don’t know what will.

Everything You Need to Know about Brexit

Quick, before the Conservative Party announces our new Blusterer in Chief, here’s everything you need to know about Brexit and how we got tot his point:

Brexit starts in 2015, when David Cameron, as Britain’s prime minister and the leader of the Conservative Party, makes an election promise to hold a referendum on whether Britain should stay in the European Union. This is smart politics. Isn’t Davey a clever boy? After the election, he’ll be back in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats and they’ll veto the referendum and that means he won’t have to throw himself, his party, and his country, out the fifth-story window labeled Brexit. But he’ll have shut up the Leave voices in his own party, the Leave voices in the U.K. Independence Party, and the Labour voices rumbling at him from the far side of the House of Commons and saying things he doesn’t pay attention to but that get on his nerves anyway.

Irrelevant photo to give you some relief from an otherwise grim picture: a field with corn marigolds.

Then the election’s held and his party wins a majority. Who knew so many people liked him?

Wave bye-bye to the nice coalition, Davey, because it’s going away.

Davey edges close enough to that fifth-story window and looks down. It’s a long way to the ground.

What’s a clever politician to do? He schedules the referendum and tells the country that it’s safer, stronger, and much better looking in Europe, so it should vote Remain. He promises to limit immigration by widening the Channel and to make the sky a tasteful and long-lasting shade of blue using paint from Farrow and Ball, which is what people with any kind of taste at all buy.

Remain loses. Britain will be leaving the E.U.

Why does Britain vote Leave? Because leaving will make Britain great again. Because it will let Parliament take back control. Because Rupert Murdoch said it was a good idea. Because Facebook is fun.

Davey resigns the leadership of his party and with it the prime ministership, and he retreats to a shed in his backyard, which being British he calls his garden.

What he calls a shed is nicer than some people’s apartments. Which he’d call flats.

He starts writing a book. He waits for someone to ask what it’s about but no one does. They’re focused on the window he left open. Several prominent Conservatives are writhing on the floor in front of it, trying to stab each other. The winner will get to lead the party and find a way from window to ground. One that doesn’t break bones. Or that does. The referendum didn’t say that no bones could be broken.

Theresa May emerges as leader of the party, largely because no one thought she was worth stabbing.

What, the press asks her while the other contenders lie bleeding at her feet, is Brexit going to mean.

“Brexit,” she says, “means Brexit.”

Yes, but what does it mean?

It means Brexit.

Oh.

Negotiations between Britain and the E.U. begin. The E.U. negotiators spread papers and studies and printouts on the table. The British negotiators set Etch-a-Sketch pads in front of them.

Time passes. Terri May calls an election, which will prove that, um, remind me, what will it prove? That the country backs her. That’s it.

That’s probably it. Also because it will increase her majority in Parliament.

She loses her majority and is held in place (the place in question being 10 Downing Street) only by duct tape and a small Protestant party from Northern Ireland.

A lot of time passes. According to the rules of the game, only so much time can pass before Britain has to go out that window, whether the two sides have managed to build a ladder or not.

An agreement is announced.

Everyone hates the agreement. Even the people who support the agreement hate the agreement. Britain’s negotiator resigns because he hates the agreement he negotiated.

Britain’s Parliament also hates the agreement, so Theresa May goes back to Europe to change the part of the agreement that talks about the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. It’s the only part of the agreement she can let herself think about.

The E.U. says it’s tired of talking to Britain.

Britain is also tired of talking to Britain. The Conservative Party can’t agree on what it thinks Brexit should be. It can’t agree on whether Brexit should happen. A group of backbenchers ask, “Wouldn’t it be simpler if we just closed the window?”

No one listens to them.

The Labour Party also can’t agree on what Brexit should be or whether it should happen, although it does agree that Brexit shouldn’t be what Theresa May negotiated. If that sounds like it’s more united than the Conservatives, it’s not. It can’t agree on whether it’s a socialist party, whether its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, should be its leader, or whether it’s doing enough–or anything–to combat anti-Semitism in its ranks.

It also can’t agree on the definition of anti-Semitism.

It does agree that the Conservative Party is anti-Muslim, but no one wants to talk about that so it wanders around mumbling to itself that it’s not anti-Semitic, really it’s not, but no one’s listening.

The Liberal Democrats agree that Brexit’s bad. Unfortunately, after their coalition with Davey, only three of them are left in the Commons.

Or maybe that’s twelve. Or eight. Does it matter?

The Scottish National Party is united: Brexit is bad. The Green Party’s also united, but it only has one MP, which isn’t enough for a decent split.

MPs leave the Labour Party.

MPs leave the Conservative Party.

They form a group that isn’t a party and fend off arguments about what they’d stand for if they did become a party by discussing the weather. Then they do become a party, adopting the name of an online petition group that they’re not associated with. They pass a resolution about the weather.

The online petition group objects.

Theresa May promises Parliament a meaningful vote on Brexit.

She promises Parliament a later meaningful vote on Brexit. But before that can happen, she has to go to Europe to negotiate an even better deal than the existing deal even though the E.U. has said there’s nothing left to negotiate. Many people–which is to say, me and possibly one other person–suspect she goes in and out of offices asking if they have any coffee made. She’s too English to ask if they’ll make some just for her.

When they do have some on hand, she sips it slowly while reading a magazine, since no one will talk to her. She drinks it black, because no one asks if she’d like milk.

If she drinks enough coffee, time will run out. Hickory, dickory, dock, Terri May ran out the clock. Parliament will look out the window and vote for her ladder because it’s five floors down and no one else has made so much as a rope out of torn sheets.

She lets the House of Commons vote on the deal she’s negotiated and it loses. She moves all the commas three words to the right and lets it vote again. Why? Because three is an important number in fairy tales. Three wishes. Three chances. Three brothers.

Hell, it’s as good as anything else going on.

It still loses.

To see if it can’t find a rational way out of the crisis, the House of Commons asks itself a series of questions: Should we leave the EU without a deal? Should we hold a second referendum? Should we drag Britain 50 miles to the west and whenever we pass the E.U. in the Channel pretend we don’t see it?

No proposal wins a majority. TV newscasters are mandated to use the phrase no one knows how this will play out at least once in every program. They use the phrase constitutional crisis almost as often.

Why is it a constitutional crisis? Because Britain has an unwritten constitution. This means that no one really knows what’s in it. It may prevent Theresa May from making herself the country’s second Lord Protector (Oliver Cromwell was the first) but it will be years before anyone’s read through enough papers to know for sure.

Isn’t this fun? We’re watching history being made.

Terri May promises to resign and dance the rhumba the length of Downing Street if the Commons will only pass her deal. She promises to delete every comma in the agreement. By hand. In glittery green ink.

Water floods into the House of Commons during a Brexit debate. A group climate-change protesters take off most of their clothes show the MPs their backsides.

All the possible jokes about both incidents have already been made.

Theresa May goes back to Brussels and drinks the Kool-Aid.

No, sorry, that was Jonestown and an American reference, not a British one. She drinks more coffee and is granted another extension. It expires on Halloween of 2019. All the possible jokes about that have been made that too.

A person can drink so much coffee and eventually Theresa May resigns, leaving the Conservative Party to search for a new leader. Every Conservative MP announces his or her candidacy. Every third one confesses to having used drugs. The ones who haven’t used them express regret at having misread the spirit of their age.

In the interest of democracy, several of the candidates promise to suspend Parliament so they can fulfill the will of the people.

After a series of elimination votes, the two candidates are Boris Johnson and Not Boris Johnson, but they seem to have agreed that Boris will win and Not Boris will have a nice job in his cabinet.

What happens next? Nothing good, I suspect, but that’s history for you: It’s one damn thing after another.

Brexit, cats, and smart doorbells

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.

Irrelevant photo: Bluebells at Lanhydrock in mid-April.

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. 

Ouch.

*

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.

As Britain leaves the European Union, part 2

The bizarre news just keeps on coming.

On Wednesday, I learned that although one of the big complaints about the EU was the fishing quota, the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations has announced (now that the vote’s been taken) that fishing quotas aren’t likely to be any larger after a Brexit. “The reality is that most of our stocks are shared with other countries to some degree or another,” the organisation said.

I wonder if it would have made a difference if they’d said that before the vote. Quite possibly not. It’s not like a huge number of people make their living fishing anymore, but the fishing quota was a highly emotional issue that seemed to stand in for a lot of more amorphous resentments.

Also on Wednesday, Nigel Farage, the rubber-faced head of the U.K. Independence Party, which has been pushing for a way out of the EU for years, made a triumphant speech to the EU Parliament, telling them, among other things, that none of them had ever held a real job. Behind him sat Lithuania’s European Commissioner—a heart surgeon—holding his head in his hands.

And on Thursday? The Labour Party continued its self-inflicted meltdown, with MPs doing their best to publicly humiliate their elected leader. Meanwhile Boris Johnson, the leading Brexit campaigner and frontrunner for leadership of the Conservative Party, announced that he wasn’t in the race. Why? No idea. Speculation around here is that either (a) he’s trying to preserve his reputation by letting someone else figure out what to do next or (b) someone knows something juicy about him.

I’m not sure it’s relevant, but he and Michael Gove have been so close through this campaign that the shoulder seams on their suits were stitched together, and Gove’s wife accidentally sent an email that she meant for Gove to a member of the public instead.

Who forwarded it to the press. Who did what the press does and published it.

I’d like to break in here and remind everyone—and I speak as a fiction writer—that you really can’t make this stuff up. If you do, no one will read it. It’s too damned improbable.

What did she tell him? Among other things, not to sign on as a supporter of Boris’s campaign until he got a specific job offer.

Senior civil servants are worried that a new body to coordinate the Brexit strategy won’t have the expertise or the resources it needs. You’d think someone would’ve been exploring the possibilities long before the referndum, but apparently not. Instead they seem to have said, “Hey, if it happens we’ll just, you know, wing it.” Only they probably didn’t sound quite so American.

As Gary Younge points out in a long article on how this all happens, the country effectively lacks both a government and an opposition.

And finally, in a completely different country, the president of Belarus has urged citizens to “get undressed and work till you sweat.” Or maybe he told them to develop themselves and work till they sweat. According to the Guardian, in Russian develop yourselves sounds a lot like get undressed. My Russian, unfortunately, doesn’t include either get undressed or develop yourself, although I can say “hello,” “how are your grandparents?” (which might actually be great-grandparents; it’s all a little hazy), and “this is a beautiful day today” or something equally awkward involving day and beauty. None of which is even remotely helpful. It sounds massively improbable that the two phrases would sound so much alike, but take a look at what’s happening in Britain and you’ll see why I’m prepared to believe pretty much anything.

Anyway, citizens have started posting pictures of themselves naked at work with strategically placed work-related equipment. As one Instagram user said, “The president said this was necessary.”

Patriotism, my friends, takes many forms. As does protest. And satire? That’s only limited by the human imagination.

As Britain leaves the European Union

What’s going on with Brexit, you ask? It’s been strange over here, and it’s getting stranger.

First the prime minister set up a referendum on whether Britain should leave the European Union. Why? Because he wanted to shut up the anti-EU wing of his party, the Conservatives. Clever move, Dave.

Then the whole thing went wrong, the Conservative Party dissolved into an internal arm wrestling match, and the country voted to leave the EU. Clever Dave announced that he’ll resign as soon as someone in his party wins the arm-wrestling match, which is now about who gets to replace him.

Bye, Dave.

Moody and irrelevant photo: a man watching the fog roll in.

Moody and irrelevant photo: a man watching the fog roll in.

Then the MPs who belong to the Labour Party, who you’d think would be out celebrating the Conservative-on-Conservative war, called for a vote of no confidence in their own leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who they’ve hated from the time he was elected because he’s from the left wing of their party and they’re not. They blame him for not making a stronger case for staying in the EU.

Corbyn, who was elected by a large majority of the party membership, refused to resign. The Labour Party dissolved into an internal arm wrestling match. Actually, it started when Corbyn was first elected, but it’s gotten worse now.

In the meantime, the Scottish National Party announced that it will demand a second referendum on Scottish independence. Most of Scotland voted to stay in the EU and now they want to leave the UK so they can.

Then they read the small print on something or other and announced that the Scottish Parliament has the power to stop the UK’s exit.

Who knew that? Apparently no one.

A petition calling for a second referendum got so many signatures that the government web site that was hosting it broke down. In almost no time, it had several million signatures. Then a bunch of them turned out to be bogus. Still, that leaves a hell of a lot that aren’t.

It turns out that the petition was started by someone who supported the Leave campaign but didn’t expect it to win. It was hijacked, he said, by Remain supporters.

Well, yes, dear. both sides of that sword were sharpened.

Dave—who, you remember, is resigning—says he won’t make the formal moves that will trigger the British exit. He’ll leave it to his successor. But the EU is calling on the UK to get on with it and end the uncertainty. They’re not in a good mood about all this, and they’d like the UK out of the room, please. The sight of us is bringing back ugly memories. But no one can trigger the Leave process except the country that wants to leave and that country–us–is stalling.

One of the promises of the Leave campaign was that if Britain left, it would save so much money that it could spend £350 million a week on the NHS, which is seriously underfunded at the moment. A few days after the vote, however, all references to that disappeared from the campaign’s website. The top Leave campaigners have all developed amnesia and don’t seem to remember saying that.

Meanwhile, the pound’s fallen to either a 30-year low or a 31-year low, depending on when you turned on your radio. The stock markets have gotten hives.

Polish immigrants reported being handed leaflets telling them to leave now. Assorted other incidents of harassment against Muslims, Poles, and in one incident foreigners in general have been reported, although in that particular incident there may not have actually been any foreigners present. A man in the supermarket started yelling about foreigners and questioning people about where they were from.

Keep in mind that when I say harassment of Muslims and Poles and foreigners, what I really mean is people who might be Muslims or Poles or foreigners, because it’s not always easy to tell. The same thing happens when people start pushing gays around: A few extra people who aren’t gay always get swept in because someone thinks they might be.

It’s hard to tell who to hate these days, you know? This may actually be good, because it reminds people who aren’t in any of those categories what it’s like to be the target of that kind of venom. Some very ugly forces have been unleashed in this campaign.

A lot of the Leave campaign was about “taking our country back.” Who from? It was a kind of fill-in-the-blank slogan. From whoever you think took it from you. For some people, that was an urban elite, because this was a heavily anti-elitist campaign—run by an urban elite who hope to take power from a different urban elite. For other people, it was foreigners, or Muslims, or Poles, or Eastern Europeans in general, or Asians or Africans, or people whose ancestors were Asian or African. It took some of the ugliest threads of the culture and brought them out into the open. Suddenly they felt respectable. Want to yell at foreigners in the supermarket? Want to yell at a young Muslim woman on the bus? The country just told you you could.

It didn’t, but never mind. A certain number of people feel like it did.

The part of the Leave camp that I’m sympathetic to is made up of people whose lives have been bulldozed by globalization. Steady jobs disappeared, industries have moved abroad, and people are left broke and lost and angry. They want to take their country back too. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’ll get it. Not this way.

According to a Guardian article, the Bank of America and Pimco, which I never heard of before, are “warning their clients that the gulf between rich and poor could add to the anti-establishment backlash,” and they consider the Brexit vote part of that.

The queen, by the way, is due for an automatic £2.8 million raise in pay unless the formula that calculates what taxpayers owe her is changed. That’s not related to leaving the EU, but I thought I’d toss it in anyway.

Here in Cornwall, where money’s tight and the EU has invested a lot and where the vote leaned heavily toward Leave, the Cornwall Council turned to the national government asking if they’d match that investment. Part of the Leave campaign’s promise was that once the UK didn’t have to pour money into the EU, it could be spent here.

To which I can only say, don’t count on it. The NHS won’t be getting any £350 million a week. If Cornwall gets any equivalent of the EU investment, I’ll be surprised, she said in a massive display of understatement.

One of the main Leave campaigners, Boris Johnson, wrote in the Telegraph that, basically, nothing good will change and only the bad things—the British involvement with the EU’s bureaucracy—will drop away.

And no one will get colds or flu again, ever.

I’m paraphrasing heavily, but I think I’ve caught the spirit of the column.

Commentators are starting to comment that the Leave campaigners don’t have a plan. We might have been wise to ask them about that a bit earlier, although I doubt it would have changed the vote.

I haven’t written about the referendum until now because it was hard to find anything funny about it. Now, though? It’s still not funny, but the situation’s weird enough to give me something to work with.

I apologize for not giving you links. There are too many. I’m overwhelmed. And in no time they’ll be outdated. In fact, I’m publishing this before my usual Friday deadline because it’ll be out of date otherwise.

Fasten your seatbelts, kids. I don’t know if it’s going to be bumpy, but it’s going to get very, very strange. E.A. posted a photo on Facebook of a man holding a sign that says, “Perhaps it wasn’t a good idea to hold a referendum with the same people who came up with ‘Boaty McBoatface.’ “