“‘What is the EU?’: Hours after voting for Brexit, the British are frantically Googling the European Union”

This hilarious headline has been all over the news since the Brexit vote and will no doubt get pulled out at every dinner party conversation about Britain or Europe from now until the end of time. About 4 people have shown it to me now, each of them shaking their heads and saying “lol look how dumb they are“, or something like that.

Please don’t be one of the people who repeats it, because it is a bullshit story based on nothing.

The story came from Google Trends. You can play with it here if you want. https://www.google.ca/trends/. If you have taken even one semester of statistics you should be aware of how easy it is to use simple graphs like these to spin any story you want, by carefully revealing some numbers and concealing others. The charts are updated in real time; if you look at it right now, you’ll see a much bigger spike than the one that was originally reported, caused by all the people who read the article.

Some other possible reasons for the spike:

  • Kids (too young to vote) asking their teachers about it, to which the logical response is “let’s look it up.”
  • The peak of that trend was actually the day before the vote; ie, people getting informed about it before making a choice. It’s super easy to distort that fact by changing the search filter. Searches the following day were still triple the normal numbers, but lower than the day before, and “triple the normal numbers” means something like 1000 people. To me that’s a non-story. 1000 people in a nation of 64 million may be a spike on a graph, but only if the chart had pretty low numbers in the first place.
  • All it means is someone decided to Google “what is the eu” – it does NOT mean that the searcher didn’t know what the EU was in the first place. To Google the two letters “eu” on their own is nonsensical. It’s a common word in French that has nothing to do with European Unions. It’s a misspelling of “et”, the blockbuster film about a lost alien. It’s a misspelling of “ei”, or emplyment insurance, which you get when you’re out of a job. If I wanted more information about the EU I would also google “what is the eu” and not “eu”. I would do so around the time of a major referendum about it. It’s normal behaviour. It doesn’t mean that you don’t know what the EU is – it means you’re intelligent enough to realize you probably need to know more.

All this doesn’t really fit into the narrative of a horde of thoughtless sheep voting for “leave” because ignorance made them think all Britain’s problems came from an amorphous overseas blob called the “EU”. I’ve heard a lot about anti-intellectualism – the complaint that normals and muggles think they don’t need no experts or college learnin’ to know what’s best for them.

I’m starting to sympathize with the normals and muggles though, because the so-called intellectuals have a habit of acting like condescending jackasses. Please don’t be one of them; when you do that, you are making the world worse by increasing the divide between “us” and “them” and that’s how we got into this fix in the first place.

I’m saying “we” and including myself in the group that is affected by Brexit. “us” and “them”, “Canadian” or “British” or “European”, “remain” or “leave”, “conservative” or “liberal”, all these words are tools that are used to distract us into fighting amongst ourselves while we’re being robbed.

Stop condescending. Stop patronizing. Stop it.

Alarm Clock

I stopped using my alarm clock recently.

When I was a kid, my dad was my alarm clock. He’d wake me up every morning for school. Sometimes he woke me up really early, like 4 am. My mom was a bus driver and we only had one family car, so dad drove her. They couldn’t leave my 6 year old brother and I alone, so we went too. She had to go to a farm a half-hour drive south of town every morning at 5 am to get the bus, warm it up, (call for a tow and a substitute if it wouldn’t start; sometimes it didn’t), and begin her route. She’d work her way from Black Creek to the south of Campbell River, to the ferry dock, to Sayward, north of town, and back to the Christian School to drop kids off.

My brother and I wandered around the farm while we waited for the bus to warm up. There were calves, tractors and corn to look at. Dad would either pace or do the crossword. Once they were sure the bus was going to work, dad and Tim and I went to a truck stop called the Purple Cow and had breakfast. It was not every morning, but pretty often, when I was four years old. Early mornings were cold and blue-grey, and I could see my breath no matter what time of year it was. I was not awake at 4 am and the whole thing passed in a chilly cloud of cow manure, diesel exhaust, bacon and cigarette smoke. I think that was so long ago that people still smoked indoors.   

My dad kept waking me up for school until I was 12. He is chronically punctual for everything, sometimes to the point of absurdity, and he enforced this on me as well. If the bus was coming at 8:00, I had better be standing on the road at 7:45. If it took me an hour to get ready in the morning (it did, and still does – I move slow), then I had to be awake at 6:30. So every morning at 6:30, he’d come in and gently tap my shoulder. I’d growl, pull the blankets tight over my head, and roll away.

He’d shake my shoulder harder, finally wrestling the covers off altogether and dragging me out of bed. This went on for years. On Saturday I’d sleep in till noon or later, in protest. To his credit, he never bothered me then. On Sunday I was forced to get up for church, and every Sunday I’d swear, without fail, that when I was a grownup I’d wake up whenever I damn well wanted, probably at noon.

Eventually we got tired of this routine. I think my reaction must have gotten violent enough that it was making my dad hate mornings as much as I did. He bought me an alarm clock. For some reason, this solved the problem. The alarm clock is impersonal – I can’t be mad at it. I set it for 6:45 instead of 6:30, and got up with no problems for the rest of my school career.

However, I’m mostly deaf. I don’t wear hearing aids at night. I never could hear the beep that the alarm clock made, so I set it to wake me up with the radio. After a couple years I started sleeping through the morning lite hits, so I changed it to play static from a dead channel, and cranked the volume up. Over the next 14 years, the alarm clock got louder and louder and I slept through it more and more often. For a good long time I never hit the snooze button, but the first time I tried it the spell was broken. I started hitting snooze 3 or 4 times. The last hour before I got up was jangly, broken, stressful sleep.  So this year, I gave up on the stupid thing altogether and stopped setting it.

Now I wake up at exactly 6:30 every single morning. Weekends included. Thanks dad.