The detection of messages through the TV or newspaper has long been a symptom of psychiatric unease. On Monday, the New York Times made a jittery decision to pull the answer to that day’s Wordle, lest players, unnerved by the tenor of public life in the US right now, divined a communication from dark forces via the puzzle. A week after the leak of a draft opinion from the supreme court outlawing Roe vs Wade, the Wordle answer – set last year and surfacing this week through sheer coincidence – was “fetus”. Halfway through the morning, it was replaced with “shine”.
Four hundred miles away in Bangor, Maine, genuine messages were showing up on the sidewalk. Relative, say, to the murder of an abortion doctor or the hurling of abuse at women entering a branch of Planned Parenthood, chalk on the pavement was a fairly benign delivery system for political sentiment, applied in this case to the tarmac outside the house of Susan Collins, Republican senator for Maine, and in the preferred tone of the Democratic left: condescension coupled with vague passive aggression.
“Susie, please,” implored one neatly written message in blue chalk, beseeching the senator, who claims to be in favour of a woman’s right to choose, to rethink her own regrettable life choices. “Mainers Want WHPA,” read another, referring to the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2021 and as a slogan, lacking the punch of, say, “abortion is murder”. Nonetheless, Collins called the police, who declined to do anything on the basis the messages were not “overtly threatening”.
Back in Washington, what the anti-abortion side lacked in finesse they were making up for in blue-sky thinking. Standing before the Senate, Steve Daines (R) of Montana observed that, were Democratic legislation on abortion to pass (it didn’t), sea turtle eggs might enjoy more rights than foetuses, a point he illustrated with a large poster of turtle hatchlings alongside some human babies. If the senator had thoughts about the relative value of reptile to human life, the disinclination of women to lay eggs on the beach, or the cost of putting an unwanted turtle through college, he did not include them in his presentation.
Here he was, the future King Charles III, subbing in for his mother at the opening of parliament. What a lot of medals! He looked like Jason Isaacs playing Field Marshal Zhukov in the Armando Iannucci satire, Death of Stalin.
I have gone through phases of feeling sorry for Prince Charles, with his sad air and all that hanging around. In recent years, his peevishness has benefited enormously from comparison to Prince Andrew’s personality, alongside whom Charles appears practically noble.
On the other hand, the dress rehearsal on Tuesday was not a cheerful affair. Concern for the Queen dampened the spirits of many observers, but it wasn’t entirely that. Despite the pomp – or perhaps, given the times, because of it – the spectacle seemed simultaneously dreary and starkly deranged. In the 90s, when Prince Charles was widely disliked after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, it was popular to voice the opinion that the crown should skip over him and go straight to William. As a thought experiment even that, now, fails to solve the problem of what to do with these unlovely people, William not seeming too clever these days and looking more like a Mountbatten each year. For those with affection for the crown, all eyes must turn, in hope and desperation, towards the blameless outline of poor, young Prince George.
It’s childish to take joy in crypto going belly up, and I say that as someone who owns it. I got into bitcoin too late, was up $373 at Christmas and as of Wednesday, am down $244. (As you can tell from these figures, I am not Warren Buffett.) But with the markets tanking, and any sane pension-holder averting their eyes from their balance for at least six months, somehow crypto getting a kicking lifts the spirits.
I feel the same way about all those collapsing NFTs – pure schadenfreude, plus irritation at not understanding any of it. A sentence from Forbes this week: “The sell-off comes after the $18bn algorithmic stablecoin terraUSD (UST) lost its peg to the US dollar, wiping out the price of its support coin luna which has now lost almost 99% of its value.” If these words make you feel rage, panic and despair in equal measure, cheer up: Brian Armstrong, the founder of the crypto exchange platform Coinbase, was worth $13.7bn last November and is now practically down to his last $2bn. The company value itself is down 75% this year, while almost $1tn in value has been wiped off the main cryptocurrencies. That fear and inertia that kept you out of the gold rush turns out – didn’t you always suspect it? – to have been secret genius.
The funniest word in the English language is, according to my children, “butt-cracker”, but really any compound with “butt” in it will do. On Thursday, a school board in Mississippi voted to uphold a decision to fire a teacher for reading the book I Need A New Butt (sample line: “I need a new butt! Mine’s got a crack / I can see in the mirror a crack at the back”) to his second-grade class, deeming it “inappropriate” material for seven-year-olds. The title, by the New Zealand author Dawn McMillan, is part of a series that includes I Broke My Butt, and My Butt Is So Noisy, three titles that are right up there with the Jonathan Stutzman classic, Butts are Everywhere – and all of which I’ve just been reminded to reserve at the library.
On parenting sites across the US are desperate appeals for leftover baby formula, as snags in the supply chain empty the shelves. Running out of infant formula is, one assumes, a problem of precisely no interest to the foetus-rights advocates in Congress, since it attends to the demands of breathing, squalling infants, not notional entities with no overheads or needs. Besides which, human hatchlings famously don’t require much in the way of investment, nurture or specialised care; just leave them in the sand and they’ll find their way to shore.