The latest thing in conspiracy theories: It’s the news from Britain

The latest thing in conspiracy theories: It’s the news from Britain

Britain has a special relationship with the US, although Hawley’s Small and Unscientific Survey indicates that only Britain is knows about it. But never mind that. It’s so important that Britain sometimes gives it capital letters: the Special Relationship.

In fairness, Britain hands out a lot of capital letters, so Americans, don’t let that go to your head.

But special relationship or no special relationship, Britain doesn’t like taking second place, even in the production of conspiracy theories, so we’ve come up with a nice one that’s all our own: The security guards who attended King Charles–that’s the monarch formerly known as Prince–at his mother’s funeral used fake hands so they could keep their real ones on the weapons hidden under their coats. 

Well, of course they did. I’ve seen photos circulating on TikTok, and they show the security guys keeping a tight grip on their hands, as if they were afraid they’d drop off. 

Yes, people do stay up nights to work this stuff out.

The paper I found this in seems to have found it credible enough that they trotted out a security expert to explain why that wouldn’t happen in the UK, although it might, of course, in the US.

Isn’t it interesting what people think of the US? We’re a nation where people could, imaginably, hide an extra pair of arms under their coats.

Irrelevant photo: A pedestrian crossing in Camden, London.

But that’s not what the expert addressed. In the US, he explained–and this comes in the form of an indirect quote from the Metro–“close protection officers are more ‘trigger happy’ . . . but the ‘risk is too high’ in the UK.”

In other words, you might be able to run around shooting people at royal funerals in the US (assuming, of course, that you can find a royal funeral), but you can’t do that in Britain. 

No one seems to have asked how long it would take security guys in any country to break their real arms loose if they did need to get trigger happy, but before I’m going to get on board for this one I need an answer. 

But let’s move on

Do you ever wonder why so many conspiracy theories are on the loose lately? It’s a desperate effort to make sense of a  world that’s falling apart. 

That’s not meant as a joke.

So what’s the British government doing to hold it all together? Well, we have a brand new government, cobbled together by the Conservative Party, which still has a hefty majority in Parliament. Already, though, the shine’s coming off it. It–this is the government we’re talking about in case you’ve lost track–announced a new mini-budget that, in the face of a population increasingly desperate about inflation, promised a tax cut for the richest eighteenth of a percent of the population. It would fund that by borrowing money that it would pay back when pigs fly in formation past the Houses of Parliament waving lion-and-unicorn banners and singing “The Marseillaise.”

Why “The Marseillaise”? Irony, that’s why. Their long and less than happy relationship with humans has led pigs to develop a sharp sense of irony.

The pound promptly tanked. That’s the vote that really matters, so the political world came to a rolling boil. MPs in the government’s own party publicly attacked the idea, attacked the prime minister, attacked the chancellor, and attacked Larry the Cat, who in fairness isn’t even in the cabinet. 

Cabinet ministers accused MPs of staging a coup. 

Larry the Cat accused the government of being stingy with the cat treats.

The prime minister said she wouldn’t back down. 

The prime minister repeated that she wouldn’t back down.

The prime minister backed down, but only on the most controversial tax cut, not on other problematic parts of the budget, which I’ll skip over. Come on, do I look like a newspaper? When the details overwhelm the humor, I have to move on.

The prime minister won’t rule out reinstating the tax cut. 

Larry the Cat upchucked a lightly used mouse head on the steps of Number 10.

In the meantime, the government that won’t commit to increasing benefits (Americans can translate that welfare and similar programs) in line with inflation. People–and not just the poorest ones–are seriously worried about how to heat their homes, food banks are deluged, and the National Health Service is coming apart at the seams. 

And we’re hearing a lot of talk about power cuts this winter. 

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But compassion isn’t completely missing. I recently stumbled over an expensively printed flier with advice on reducing fuel poverty. Some sponsors are in small enough print that I’m not sure if it’s only from the Cornwall Council or if it’s national as well, but hey, if I had anything to do with it I’d want my name in small print as well.

What does it advise us to do?

  • Keep warm
  • Have regular hot meals and drinks
  • Keep moving 
  • Look after yourself
  • Take care of your neighbors

Thanks, guys. I don’t know what we’d do without you.

To be fair, they also give us a handful of phone numbers to try, but I wouldn’t hold my breath about any of them solving people’s problems.

So what does the Department for Fiddling While Rome Burns say?

The government’s addressing the important stuff, though. Therese Coffey–the new health secretary who sports an accent in her first name but I can’t be bothered searching the depths of Word to find it–has taken a tough stand on the Oxford Comma. 

The what?

I’m not exactly British, so I’m not the best person to ask, but back in that big country on the other side of the Atlantic, I learned to call it a series comma. By either name, it’s the comma you either do or don’t use before the final item in a list. You know, when you write to the health secretary and say either, “I find your advice odd, patronizing, and trivial,” or “I find your advice odd, patronizing [no comma, you’ll notice] and trivial.” 

C’mon, this stuff is important.

I won’t try to explain why that’s called the Oxford comma in Britain, mostly since  I don’t understand it either, but Coffey’s agin it. (She wouldn’t approve of agin either, which is why it made its way in here.) She’d no more than located her new office and hung up her coat than she told civil servants to “be positive” in their communications with her, to avoid double negatives, and to not use the Oxford comma. 

After that hit the headlines, her departmental flak-catchers jumped in and acknowledged that the memo was real but said Coffey hadn’t written it. 

“There may have been a bit of over-eagerness” in the content, he, she, they [Oxford comma ahead], or it said.

Wouldn’t it be nice if they were half as eager to shorten the lists of people waiting for medical treatment, fill the National Health Service’s job vacancies, or fix hospital roofs? But those things take money. Oxford commas? They come cheap.

Yeah, but why’d the Conservative’s get a reputation as the Nasty Party?

Gee, I don’t know. I wasn’t here when it happened, but it’s not helped by people like Daniel Grainger, chair of the Young Conservative Network, who arrived in Birmingham for the party convention and tweeted that it was “a dump.” 

He’s stepped down pending an investigation, although that may be over a different tweet–one that, sadly, hasn’t hit the headlines.

How’d the party conference go?

Well, a recent study reports that dogs can sniff out whether people are stressed. I haven’t read that the conference center was surrounded by stress-trained canines, but then I haven’t read that it wasn’t. And for all I know, those hands really were fake. Can you prove they weren’t?

Can we go back to economics, please?

Sure. The Ig Nobel Economics Prize went to Alessandro Pluchino and his colleagues for a mathematical explanation of why success so often goes not to the most talented people but to the luckiest. 

Irrelevantly but irresistibly, the prize for medicine went to Marcin Jasiński and colleagues for showing that patients treated with cryotherapy–a form of chemotherapy that dries out the mouth, gums, and tongue–have fewer harmful side effects when ice cream replaces the ice chips they usually suck on.

They used Ben and Jerry’s, although I expect the improvement would carry over to other brands. 

Sexism and tractor porn in British politics

You’ve gotta love British politics. Not for what it does or how it works but for its sheer insanity.

At the end of April, Neil Parish, a Conservative MP, was looking at porn sites in the House of Commons–so that’s during working hours and in public–when a couple of his fellow MPs couldn’t help noticing. 

A couple of female fellow MPs, wording that calls attention to the underlying fuckedupedness of the English language, since the word fellow tells us we’re talking about the male of the species, although we’re not. The language doesn’t offer us a parallel word for females or for humans of both or unspecified genders. But never mind that. It’s the language we have, so let’s work with it. We can argue about fixing it when we have the time. In, say, a few hundred years if the species (not to mention the language) is still functioning.

My spellcheck program (since we’ve taken a break to talk about wording) doesn’t stub its toe on fuckedupedness. It just smiles and continues across the kitchen to pick up the mouse parts the cat left in the night. So let’s assume it’s a word English relies on heavily.

At long last, I bring you a relevant photo: This lovely flower is called honesty. What could be more appropriate?

But back to our friend Neil: The aforesaid fellow MPs went public about him watching porn at work and all hell broke loose. And since the incident followed on the heels of another public incident of sexism in the House of Commons, it all turned into a particularly shit-filled shitstorm. (Spell check also accepts shitstorm. Don’t you love the way language evolves?) 

The earlier incident? One of our trashier national newspapers quoted an unnamed MP as saying that Angela Raynor, a leader of the Opposition (that’s the Labour Party), made a point of crossing and uncrossing her legs to distract the prime minister (who’s from the Conservative Party and male) when he was speaking. 

The nerve of her. Any decent woman would have wrapped said legs in burlap. (That’s hessian in British.) Honestly, none of this would be necessary if women would stop showing their ankles in public. How are men supposed to concentrate on running the country with women’s body parts on display everywhere they look?

Where were we before I indulged in that fit of decency? All hell had already broken loose about sexism in Parliament, and in rode Neil Parish and his (I assume) smart phone, although for all I know it could’ve been a laptop, with a bigger screen showing bigger pictures of improbably enlarged body parts.

After a bit of unconvincing waffle (he might have looked at porn, but it might have been by accident), he admitted that he’d watched porn in the Commons twice, but the first time it really did happen by accident. See, he’d been looking for pictures of tractors when up popped (so to speak) this porn site.  

It could happen to anyone. And to be fair, it’s no sillier than the excuse someone offered for one of Boris Johnson’s breaches of his own lockdown rules: He was ambushed by a birthday cake.

Which might or might not have been on a tractor.

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All of this opened the door to a public discussion of sexism in Parliament, and (refreshingly) it’s not just the opposition parties doing the talking. Women in the Conservative Party–again, that’s the party in power–have waded in, with one suggesting that male MPs should all keep their hands in their pockets, because there isn’t a woman in Parliament who hadn’t been subjected to “wandering hands.” 

What the suggestion lacks in effectiveness it makes up for in evocativeness.

I’ll spare you the specific examples. You’ve heard it all before, and if you’re of the female persuasion you’ve experienced it, but last I heard 56 MPs had been accused of sexual misconduct in one form or another.

To demonstrate how thoroughly the government doesn’t get it, the business minister announced that although there were some bad apples, “that doesn’t mean the entire culture is extremely misogynistic or full of male entitlement.”

If you’re ever following a recipe that calls for a half pound of entitlement and you don’t have one in the refrigerator, you’re welcome to dump that one into the frying pan: The person who doesn’t experience the problem tells the people who do that it’s not as extensive as their silly little minds let them think it is. Because he understands the situation better they possibly could.

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Not entirely unrelated to this is a 2020 survey reporting that MPs drink more heavily than the general population, with 29% of the ones who answered the survey falling into the risky drinking category. The survey doesn’t seem to have looked at whether they drink at work or after, but the building that houses Parliament is full of bars, and the booze is comparatively cheap. My money’s on a lot of it happening during working hours.

The business secretary (remember him?) said closing the bars would be an “excessively puritanical” response to the problem of sexism in Parliament.

At least he didn’t say “boys will be boys.” At least not in public.

 

The role of traffic cones in British politics

The combination of Tractorgate, Partygate (that’s Boris Johnson breaking his own lockdown rules), and epidemic government incompetence led me to learn a new political phrase: a cones hotline moment. It came into existence when John Major’s government had lost its way in the dark and decided it could generate light by launching a proposal so spectacularly lightless that it became Westminster shorthand for the moment when (warning: metaphor shift ahead) the rising water reaches the governmental nostrils and the only thing anyone can think to do is spend money on a phone line so people can complain about something they know won’t change. In Major’s case, the subject was roadworks. Which is disappointing. Based on the name, I was hoping it was about rogue traffic cones.

I owe thanks to Gaby Hinsliff, writing in the Guardian, for that information.

Has the Johnson government reached its cones hotline moment? Possibly. As the cost of living soars and increasing numbers of people struggle to pay the rent, stay warm, and feed themselves (choose two, or in some cases one and a half), what does the government offer by way of help? Well, if you own a ride-on mower or a golf cart (called a golf buggy in British), it will save you some £50 a year by scrapping a European Union requirement that you insure it as if it was a car. 

Then it called on us to admire the glories Brexit has brought us.

Embarrassingly, the EU’s already scrapped the requirement. And it did so before Britain got around to it. But if the initiative appeals to you, I have a traffic cone hotline that I’d be happy to sell you. If you hurry, you can get it for 30% off.

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As people struggle to keep up with inflation and the government reorganizes the traffic cones on the Titanic, another Conservative MP delivered his informed opinion about food banks: The only reason people are using food banks is that they don’t know how to cook cheap, nutritious meals from scratch. And they can’t budget, the silly creatures.

The best answer came from Jack Monroe, a food poverty campaigner and a single mother who actually made a career out of recipes using cheap food:

“You can’t cook meals from scratch with nothing. You can’t buy cheap food with nothing. The issue is not ‘skills,’ it’s 12 years of Conservative cuts to social support. The square root of fuck all is ALWAYS going to be fuck all.”

 

In the US, Sarah Palin faces off with someone she’d have thought was an ally

From there, it’s only a small step to American politics:

Remember Sarah Palin? John McCain picked her as his running mate in a presidential election and a lot of silly people–I was one of them–thought US politics could sink no lower. 

Yeah, some jokes aren’t funny but I keep trying.

Sarah’s running for the House of Representatives, hoping to complete the term of someone who died in office, possibly of embarrassment. One of the people running against her is Santa Claus. He lives in North Pole, Alaska, possesses a luxuriant white beard, and changed his name from Tom O’Connor in 2005.

Yes, now that you ask, the new name has caused him problems with airport security once or twice. 

He used to work in law enforcement and although he’s politically unaffiliated his politics have more in common with Bernie Sanders’ than with Palin’s.

This is where I should insert something approximating a punchline but I haven’t come up with one. Sorry.

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In other US news, three former US officials–all unnamed, although presumably they had names soon after birth–told Rolling Stone that Donald Trump asked his aides, repeatedly, if China wasn’t maybe, please, using a “hurricane gun” to create hurricanes and send them to the US. And could the US retaliate militarily.

Maybe, he suggested, they could destroy the storms with nuclear weapons.

One of his press secretaris, Stephanie Grisham, said, “Stuff like that was not unusual for him. He would blurt out crazy things all the time, and tell aides to look into it or do something about it. His staff would say they’d look into, knowing that more often than not, he’d forget about it quickly – much like a toddler.”

 

Vigilantes face down the vigilantes

Remember Canada’s convoy of honking trucks protesting Covid restrictions? Well, a similar convoy gathered, complete  with bullhorns, outside a California lawmaker’s home to protest her work on a bill that would end coroner investigations of still births and require state businesses to mandate Covid vaccines for their employees.

That’s one bill? Apparently. Or maybe they’re two separate bills these guys objected to. Don’t ask me.

This convoy was run out of town by the legislator’s neighbors, who threw eggs and jumped onto the trucks to go nose to nose with the drivers. 

That’s the annoying thing about threatening, vigilante-type behavior: It’s only fun when you’re winning. 

 

And from the world of conspiracy theories

Have you heard of the claim that birds aren’t real? It occupies an uncomfortable space between conspiracy theory and satire. It started right after Trump was elected, when a guy named Peter McIndoe was watching the women’s march in Memphis and noticed some counterprotesters, who he described as “older, bigger white men, . . . aggravators .  . . encroaching on something that was not their event.”

He made a placard saying, “Birds aren’t real,” and joined them. The idea was to make an absurdist statement. When people asked what it meant, he ad libbed, saying he was part of a movement that had been around for fifty years and had tried and failed to save American birds, which were destroyed by the deep state and replaced with feathered surveillance drones.

Someone filmed him and put it on Facebook, where it went viral. Then it became a movement. People have chanted it at high school football games and shown up here and there with banners and signs. Admittedly, it didn’t spread all on its own. Once he saw what was happening, he gave it a fair bit of encouragement and some organizational structure. 

So how many people get the joke? 

Some. 

McIndoe gives interviews in character as a conspiracy believer, and some of his interviewers–the shock jocks of the world–treat him not quite as if he’s bringing the truth down from Mount Whatever but not as an obvious nutburger. They don’t say, “You do know that’s bonkers, right?” They’re noncommittal. They say things like, “Huh. That’s bad.”

“Real conspiracy theorists will approach me like I’m their brother,” McIndoe said, “like I’m part of their team. They will start spouting hateful rhetoric and racist ideas, because they feel as if I’m safe.” 

It sounds like that’s evolving, though. Now “they think Birds Aren’t Real is a CIA psy-op. They think that we are the CIA, we’re put out there as a weapon against conspiracy theorists.”

For the people who do get the joke, though, “It is a collective role-playing experiment. There is true community found through this, it breaks down political barriers. We have taken pictures of a car park at a Birds Aren’t Real rally. There are people who will show up with a US flag on their car, Republican, patriotic, and a car right next to them with Bernie Sanders stickers. I was a Bernie guy myself. You see these people marching together, unified.”

I wouldn’t count on it to heal the fractured country, but it might offer us a short vacation from focusing on the conflict.

 

And unrelated to any of that

I just discovered that Yahoo, in its wisdom, has been dumping several categories of WordPress notifications into my spam folder, which I haven’t checked since our older dog was a kitten. I thought it had gotten quiet out there, but I’ve been stretched thin enough that I didn’t give it much thought. On top of that, WordPress itself has indulged in a badly judged fit of self-improvement and most of its notifications no longer let me drop in on the blogs of the people who send them, which I enjoyed doing before WP tripped over its own feet and made that somewhere between difficult and impossible. So if you’ve noticed my absence (I wouldn’t have, so I’m not expecting you to be moping over it), we have two entities to blame–and neither of them are me.