Gender, sex, Welsh, and wildfires: It’s the news roundup from the UK and the US

The London Zoo has a baby two-toed sloth to introduce to the world. Truffle was born in August. Nothing I’ve read says whether Truffle’s a male or a female, and I don’t think Truffle cares yet. Two-toed sloths move so slowly that algae grows on their fur, so I’m guessing the parents are in no hurry to announce Truffle’s sex. 

In the meantime, no pronouns were injured in the making of this news item.


Irrelevant photo: We don’t have any two-toed sloths in the house right now, so I asked Fast Eddie to fill in. You can see where he got his name.

And with that, we slip briefly and so seamlessly you’ll barely notice to the U.S., where some human parents make a production out of announcing their forthcoming child’s sex. They not only want their kid to set the world on fire, even before it’s born the revelation of its sex has to happen with a bang. 

Or so I’ve been reading. Gender-reveal parties, for whatever reason, are having a moment–and that moment pays no attention to the difference between gender and sex. But let’s not go into that. I only tossed it into the conversation because I couldn’t resist complicating it.

I could see the point of staging a show if the possibilities were truly exciting, but at the stage where people first find out what they’ve got in there, the choices are limited. It’s either a girl or it’s a boy. They won’t know for years if it’s actually a girl who’s actually a boy or actually a boy who’s actually a girl or actually someone who’s actually a bit of both. 

Like it or not, for that they have to wait.

In the meantime, what they’ve got is a partially formed human being who’s developing along one of two predictable lines. No wonder parents sometimes feel the need to drum up a little drama. Nine months is a long time. They’re bored. Friends are thinking about other things.

And here, finally, I’m getting to my point: A couple in California looked for that bit of drama by setting off fireworks (or “a smoke generating pyrotechnic device,” as I’ve seen it described) and ended up starting a brush fire that burned more than 7,000 acres of dry, dry land and forced the evacuation of several communities. As I write this on Monday, the fire’s still burning and has involved 500 firefighters, who don’t see any humor in it. I can only write about it because I’ve got an ocean and a continent sited conveniently between me and them. 

The state’s had 900 wildfires since mid-August, and they’ve burned 1.5 million acres, killing eight people and destroying some 3,300 buildings. And if that isn’t enough, there’s a heatwave. Temperatures on Monday were expected to be in the hundreds. That’s Fahrenheit; in Celsius, it translates to very damn hot.

Against that backdrop, the drama of boy or girl? Nyeh. It’ll be one of the two. If you wait long enough, you’ll find out which. And algae will probably not grow on your fur.


But enough about the U.S. 

In Britain, the Met Office, which tracks the weather and sometimes gets itself confused with the Met, who are the London police–

Could we start that over? Thanks.

The Met Office announced the list of upcoming storm names for 2020-2021 and got itself caught in the high winds of the Welsh language. In an effort to be inclusive, it chose a Welsh name for storm H. If we get that deep into the alphabet, it’ll be Heulwen. And the Met swears it looked up the meaning before adding it to the list, but that hasn’t lowered the raised eyebrows of Welsh speakers. Heulwen means blessed by the sun. Or sun-blessed. Or just plain sunshine. It depends on who you ask.

A comment on social media said, “‘Heulwen’ means sunshine, so I’m looking forward to that one. And attempts by British newsreaders to say it.”

You will not find a pronunciation guide here. I know just enough about Welsh not to be that silly.


In another great moment in English educational policy (there’ve been a lot lately), the catch-up tutoring that was promised for last summer won’t reach students until this winter. Or in some schools, next spring. (“And in others, never,” she said in her sunniest voice.)

The £350 million national tutoring program depends on schools being able to cough up 25% of the cost of an academic mentor, who may be a newly qualified teacher or a graduate who’s not a teacher at all and never planned to be but who got two weeks of training to be a mentor. Because jobs are hard to come by right now and you can’t blame a person for grabbing what’s available and become and mentor.

Y’know, I’ve come to hate the word mentor. If you spot it in a program description, it signals an onslaught of meaningless verbiage. Run.

But we’re off the subject, aren’t we? 

After the school spends money to bring this golden-tinged individual through its doors, it will pull “disadvantaged” students out of class to meet with this person who’s less qualified than the teacher whose classroom they got pulled out of. And I know individual attention’s good, but there’s something awkward about that arrangement.

As far as I can figure out, the mentors come to the school compliments of–yes, you guessed it!–a privatized program. Because what’s a program without a private contractor?

When the schools were closed, students whose parents are poor in money, time, and education (choose as many as you like) have fallen behind students whose parents are well stocked in all or some of the above, so catching kids up is an important issue. Trust this government to blow it.

A spokesperson for the teachers’ union asked, basically, why they couldn’t just give the money to the schools. But where’s the fun in that?


That depressed me. Let’s drop in on France. A French academic has put herself into the running to be the next Catholic archbishop of Lyon

Can people nominate themselves to be archbishops? I don’t think so, but since the Church doesn’t allow women priests, never mind archbishops, it doesn’t matter. She’s not expecting to get accepted. She’s making a point. 

Anna Soupa is 73, a theologian, and a biblical scholar, and seven other French women had followed her lead, applying for ministries that are closed to them. A petition supporting her has 17,000 signatures. 

“To exclude half of humanity is not only contrary to the message of Jesus Christ, but is also harmful to the church,” she said.


[Here’s our virtual quarantine. Don’t cough or we’ll never get out of here.]


Amazon’s now making a wristband, Halo, that not only monitors your fitness but also your emotions. Are you happy? Halo can let you know in case you don’t recognize that state. Sad? You probably won’t have noticed, so Halo will tell you.  

It can also tell you if you’re hopeful, elated, or hesitant, all based on your tone of voice. 

That’ll be $3.99 a month, please, on top of the $99 you spent for the Halo itself. Or £3 a month, since we’re pretending that most of this is British news.

Halo also invites you to send bare nekked selfies (or possibly underwear-wearing selfies–I’m not sure), in return for which is won’t sweet-talk you but tell you your percent of body fat.

I knew someone who went out with a guy like that once. He did wonders for her self-esteem.

Amazon swears the voice recordings and selfies are all deleted once they’ve been analyzed. But then they all say that.


British banks have a new way to prevent fraud, which is to make bank transfers so difficult that people will go back to paying in that stuff I’m old enough to remember as cash. It’s called Confirmation of Payee, or CoP to its friends. The idea is that you don’t just enter a string of numbers into the bank website and trust that it’s going to the person you think you’re paying, you (along with the bank’s computers) also check the name on the account.

And with that “along with the bank’s computers” bit, the trouble enters. Computers aren’t known for their flexibility. Left out someone’s middle name? Sorry, not a match. Used the middle name but the account only uses the initial? You’re out. Entered a space between initials? You lose again.

The bank for a business called BowWowMiaow Doggy Day Care will only accept payments to BowWowMiaow Doggy Day Care Ltd T/A BowWowMiaow Dog.

Which is what they get for thinking dogs say miaow. 

People with joint accounts have found that only one name gets recognized–usually (are you surprised?) the man’s if there’s a male/female split. 

Ampersands and hyphenated names send the system into meltdown. 

When the name isn’t a match, the person making the transfer is told they can go ahead at their own risk, but if the money goes a-wandering, they can’t blame the bank. Or expect to ever see their money again.

And we’re all much safer and happier because of it. 


Speaking of improved service, thanks to everyone who offered advice on how to go back to WordPress’s classic editor and escape the clutches of the evil Gutenberg block editor. I’m no long sure what I did or who told me how to do it, but I’ve located a door to the past and all is happiness and light once again. I really do appreciate the help and the sympathy.