If you believe the British government, you end the inflation by making sure people’s pay doesn’t go up. Rising profits, though? They’re not a problem.
That helps explain why so much of Britain has been on strike lately. The headline-grabbing issue is that pay’s fallen behind inflation, and sometimes it’s been doing that for years, but look past the headlines and you’ll find working conditions and the government giving so little money to schools and the health service that they’re falling apart–sometimes figuratively and sometimes literally.
Between June and December of 2022 (sorry–that’s the most recent set of numbers I could find), 2,472 million working days were lost to strikes. It’s probably enough to know we’re dealing with a large number.
Why didn’t the Office for National Statistics roll over from millions to billions? Interesting tale and we’ll get to it in a minute. But first, since most of the strikers are in roles linked to government funding, the government’s been trying a tough-guy response, swearing they can’t afford more money and that even if they could–didn’t they already tell us it would be inflationary to raise pay? They have our best interests at heart.
And it’s a this point that the Bank of England’s chief economist, Huw Pill, waded into the conversation, advising us all that British households and businesses “need to accept” that they’re poorer. Stop trying to get pay increases, he says. All they do is push prices higher.
“We’re all worse off,” he says, “and we all have to take our share.”
Our share? How much, then, does Mr. Pill get paid? Um, for his first five months and 24 days, he made £88,000, which would put his yearly salary at £180,000. Compare that to Britain’s median pay in 2022 of £33,000. If (as April Munday points out in a comment–thanks, April) they work 40 hours a week and 52 weeks a year, but most people on minimum wage are on zero hours contracts, so they have no guarantee of a full week and no idea what they’ll bring home at the end of the week.
Median? That’s the version of average that means half the people country earned more and the other half earned less.
How much do you make if you’re working for minimum wage? We’ll be reckless and take the highest minimum wage, because it’s okay to pay younger people and apprentices less since, um, don’t worry about it, it just is. On that higher minimum wage, you’re making £21,673.60 per year. (Lord Google failed me and I had to do my own math there, so the numbers may be off a bit, but if we’re not within spitting distance of the right answer, we’re at least close enough to throw an eraser.)
With those numbers in our pockets, I’ll offer a bit of advice for public figures, who (as should be obvious by now) hang on my every word: if inflation means you had to cut back on smoked salmon, you’d be wise not to give advice to people who had to cut back on heating and food. Do it in public and it’s embarrassing. Do it at close quarters and you’re likely to get hurt.
So what’s that business about a billion?
The world–messy place that it is–has two ideas of what a billion means.
The word was introduced in the sixteenth century and it equaled a million to the second power, or a million millions–or as we’d say in the mathematical circles I’m at home in, a shitload of whatever you’re counting.
A trillion and a quadrillion were a million to the third and fourth powers, which equals a superbig shitload.
Then at some point French arithmeticians (hands up anyone who knew arithmeticians existed) changed the meaning of a billion to a thousand millions, because it’s a long walk from a million to a million millions and a person might like to stop someplace along the way and have a drink.
The US latched onto the new standard. Britain, however–following its habit of being sniffy about anything French–didn’t. What the rest of the world did I’m not sure. I’m dealing with numbers here. That means the ground’s unstable and I’m hesitant to go any deeper into the bog.
Then, starting in 1951, Britain began to follow the US usage, but because Britain loves complicated measuring systems,both definitions of a billion are still in use.
Meanwhile, in 1948 the French reverted to the earlier, higher meaning of a billion. What I learned to call a billion, they call a milliard. You have to add three extra zeroes before you get a billion. Add three more and you get a billiard, which is not a game with colored balls and cue sticks but a very large number.
You’re welcome, and if you’re thoroughly confused now, my job is done and I’ll move on.
Research in Glasgow (and elsewhere, but I’m looking for a British connection) has shown that pet parrots felt less isolated when they could make video calls to other parrots. They were more likely to preen, sing, and play.
How did they make calls? They were given tablets and a bell, or at least their humans were. They’d ring the bell, their person would turn on the tablet and pictures of other parrots would appear. They’d select a parrot to visit with and the human would make the call for them.
No, I didn’t make any of that up.
Some birds would sing together, try to groom each other, or sleep next to each other. Parrots are sociable creatures who live in flocks. They’re not meant to live on their own.
Some of them have been asking for a blue tick.
The Royal Horticultural Society is asking British gardeners to look for rare giant willow aphids and send photos if they find them. Scientists are hoping to learn more about their lifecycle and what plants (other than willows) they like.
How do you spot them? They’re 6 mm long–something like a quarter of an inch–and have shark-like fins. Or fin: one each.
Can most of us see a shark-like fin on a 6 mm insect? Mmm, maybe not. But colonies were recently found on quince trees, causing great excitement among a fairly rarified set of people.
Sorry. I shouldn’t make fun of other people’s interests. This could be important. It could save the world. Something needs to.
If you spot one, they’d love you to send a photo.
A bit more about invertebrates
Researchers have found that worms soaked in cannabinoids get the munchies, just like people who’ve soaked themselves in cannabis. The study has all sorts of important implications but it’s more fun if we don’t go into them and leave it sounding like they researched this on a whim.
The researchers are not reported to have enjoyed their experiments, but I like to think they did anyway.
How to steal 2 million dimes
If you ever thought you had a bad day at work, a group of guys broke into a truck in Philadelphia, thinking they’d get something useful like–oh, I don’t know, TVs, maybe, or alcohol, or toilet paper–and ended up with four and a half tons of dimes.
A dime? That’s a US coin worth ten cents–a tenth of a dollar. It’s from a Latin word for a tenth, decimus, and made its way to the US from the French disme, introduced in the 1500s, when France first thought of dividing money into tenths.
A belated thanks to the good folk who came up with that idea. Ten is one of the few numbers I can reliably multiply and divide by. One also works. And two isn’t bad.
But back to our story: The problem isn’t that dimes aren’t money. The problem is that you need a lot of them before you can buy anything these days. It’s not like it was in 1776, when I was a kid and having a dime meant you could buy the big candy bar instead of the small one.
Four and a half tons of dimes is worth $750,000. Or maybe it’s worth the $200,000 the thieves got away with, because they had to leave a lot of the loot behind. The article I’m working from is ambiguous on that ever-so-important point and I don’t have enough on hand to weigh. Sorry. There are limits to how much research I’ll do for this blog.
They ended up scattering dimes all over the parking lot and the cleanup took hours. Which says not many people were around to help out by pocketing a handful or three. The truck was broken into overnight and the theft was discovered at 6 a.m.
It’s standard practice for truck drivers to pick up a load and park someplace overnight so they can get some sleep before they start their run. Even truck drivers need to sleep. It’s also become standard practice to break into parked trucks and see what’s available.
How are the thieves going to spend 2 million dimes when half the city will be watching for people with wheelbarrows full of shiny coins? It’s a problem. Plug a lot of parking meters?
How to incubate a rock
A bald eagle called Murphy, who lives in a Missouri bird sanctuary, made it into the news because he got broody and was trying to incubate a rock. He built a nest. He sat on the nest. He waited.
The rock didn’t hatch, but when an eagle’s nest blew down in a storm and only one chick survived, the keepers introduced it to Murphy, who accepted it and before long was shredding up food and feeding it.
Accepted it? Murphy was smitten. And they all lived happily ever after and are grateful not to be in Florida, where Ron DeSantis would have had them separated for challenging traditional sex roles. Not eagle sex roles–both sexes feed the young, and i think both brood the eggs–but it might confuse the human young so it would need to be edited out of the official story.