Let’s follow up on what may be the least important story in recent British politics: Wallpapergate.
You remember Wallpapergate, right? That was when Boris Johnson & Wife redecorated the prime ministerial residence, which wasn’t up to their standards, with £840 a roll, hand-crafted wallpaper, complete with gold whatsits. The most diplomatic way to describe the stuff is to say it would appeal to a narrow audience.
Of course, I never claimed to be a diplomat. The stuff’s so ugly you have to admire the courage of anyone who lives with it.
What’s the update? I asked Lord Google if anyone had taken it down yet and he had nothing to offer me except the information that for a while there it kept falling down on its own, either because it was too heavy or because it was ashamed to be seen. Sadly, the Johnson’s had it rehung. Or re-whatever-it-is-you-do-to-wallpaper.
So presumably the Sunaks are living with it. Maybe they think taking it down would offend the Boris-backing wing of the Conservative Party. With a party that fractious, you can’t afford to offend anyone. Or maybe they don’t think they’ll be there long enough for it to matter. Or maybe they’re living there in Johnson’s shadow, the way a history teacher once told my class to imagine Europe’s post-Roman barbarian hordes huddling in the shadows of the Roman coliseums and thinking about the greatness that was no more.
We should also consider the possibility that they’re leaving it up because Rishi thinks it would be a great joke to stick Keir Starmer with the stuff after the next election.
For the sake of clarity, there’s a genuine scandal hidden under the wallpaper, but it’s nowhere near as much fun. It’s about who was going to pay for the redecorating. It was never supposed to be the Johnsons. A helpful donor was going to pick up the £200,000 tab, and I’m sure he was acting in the public interest and had nothing from it. Then the story went public and Johnson had to put his hand in his pocket.
And no, that wasn’t all for wallpaper. There was some furniture, a bit of this and that. You know how it is. These things add up and before you know it you have a couple of hundred thousand pounds.
It could happen to anyone.
Spot the expert
A well-known writer wanted to update her Wikipedia entry.
No problem, right?
Wrong. Wikipedia rejected her changes, because what did she know about the subject?
The original entry said Emily St. John Mandel, author of Station Eleven, was married. No big deal to most of us. We don’t know her, don’t want to date her, and feel zero need to know about her private life. To Emily St. John Mandel, however, it did matter and she was of the opinion that she’d gotten divorced. Basically, she wanted to clear out the attic, the crawl space, and the Wikipedia entry after a breakup. So all she needed to do was make a simple correction, right?
Not so fast, lady. To change a Wikipedia entry, you have to cite an authoritative source. First-hand knowledge doesn’t count.
So she went on social media and asked if any journalists would like to interview her about her marital status. The BBC and Slate figured she might actually be a reliable source raised, so they their hands–me, teacher, me!. When they published their interviews, they became something she could link to, proving that she really is divorced.
Her bio is now up to date. Let’s hope she doesn’t plan on marrying again. It’s not worth the hassle.
How not to start a war
Even before the spy balloon–or is it still an alleged spy balloon?–tensions have been high between the US and China over what bits of wet stuff lie in international waters and what bits are Chinese. Let’s not go into the whys and why-nots of that, let’s just cut to an incident that happened back in 2015, when a US reconnaissance plane was patrolling a contested stretch of the South China Sea and got a radio message saying, “This is the Chinese Navy. Please go away quickly in order to wrong judgment.”
“I am a United States military aircraft,” a US officer said, “conducting lawful military activities outside national airspace.”
And what happened next? The voice that had introduced itself as the Chinese Navy said, “Meow.” That was followed by a series of beeps from the 1970s video game Space Invaders.
So we have a US military officer who introduced him- or herself as a plane and a (presumed) Chinese military officer who thinks he or she is a cat.
World War III did not start that day.
How not to write a headline
A recent article circulated by the news service Medical Xpress ran under the headline “Possible new way to reduce pain inspired by chickens.”
Do chickens inspire pain? I asked myself.
Not in me, I answered myself. At least, not so far, and I’ve been around for a long time now.
On the other hand, I reminded myself, they have beaks and pointy nails. And I haven’t spent a lot of time around chickens. Maybe they inspire pain in people who know them better.
Since this was a quick conversation and I’d run out of italics, I didn’t ask myself what it meant to inspire pain as opposed to causing it. Instead, I discovered that the article was about a way to reduce pain that was inspired by something involving chickens.
From there on, the article was a disappointment.
Spot the chatbot
A chatbot passed a law school exam by answering multiple choice questions and writing essays on constitutional law and torts. Once you get past the headline, though, you learn that it was near the bottom of the class and didn’t do well with multiple-choice questions involving math or with open-ended questions.
People marking the exams said they could could spot it because its grammar was perfect and it was repetitious.
Spot the restaurant
TripaAdvisor carried a listing for a nonexistent Montreal restaurant, Le Nouveau Duluth. By the time it was taken down, it had picked up 85 five-star reviews, including one that said, “Can’t believe this place really exists.”
Um, yes, there’s a reason for that, but it didn’t stop the place being at the top of the city’s ratings.
A careful reader might’ve picked up a hint that something was wrong by noticing the combination of valet and drive-through service.
Spot the feelgood story
London will be giving the lowest-paid contract employees of Transport for London free travel on the network. That’s almost 6,000 workers, and none too soon: Fares are expected to go up by almost 6% in March and we’ve already got a cost-of-living crisis.
That story makes me feel so good that I won’t mention how underpaid they are and how that surely has something to do with why they need free transportation. They get the London living wage, which is higher than the minimum wage but not enough to live on.