Gwynne Dyer

Gwynne Dyer: Underpants, beards and consonants

Surely you don’t want to read about the new, faster-spreading variant of the coronavirus today, or the fourth Israeli election in two years, and I certainly don’t want to write about them. So here are a few matters of lesser import, culled from yesterday’s media.

First, we have a transcript of the phone call made to one of the FSB officers involved in the plot to poison Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. (The FSB is the modern successor to the KGB, the main secret police and intelligence agency of the Soviet era.)

The investigative website Bellingcat tracked down the mobile phone numbers of eight members of the FSB team that poisoned Navalny (Russian secret police apparently can’t even afford burner phones), and gave two of them to the dissident leader, who is convalescing in Germany.

Navalny called each number, pretending to be the aide to a top FSB general trying to find out what went wrong with the hit, while Bellingcat recorded the calls. One of the agents spotted the deception at once and hung up, but the other, one Konstantin Borisovich Kudryavtsev (known to his friends as ‘Blockhead’), fell for it.

Kudryavtsev had been sent to Omsk (the scene of the crime) to remove traces of the novichok nerve poison from Navalny’s clothes before they were sent back to him in Germany.

Navalny: “In your opinion, how did the Germans discover it all?”

Kudryavtsev: “Well, they got the Bundeswehr involved. They have military chemists working there. Maybe they have some means of detection.”

Navalny: “Which piece of cloth was your focus on? Which garment had the highest risk factor?”

Kudryavtsev: “The underpants.”

N: “The underpants? Do you mean from the inner side, or from the outer?”

K: “We were processing the inner side. This is what we were doing.”

N: “Well, imagine some underpants in front of you. Which part did you process?”

K: “The inner, where the groin is.”

N: “The groin?”

K: “Well, the crotch, as they call it. There’s some sort of seams there.”

N: “Wait, this is important. Who gave you the order to process the codpiece of the underpants?”

K: “We figured this out on our own. They told us to work on the inner side of the underpants.”

N: “Wait. I am writing it down. OK…Do you think this was a mistake – the method of administration?”

K: “Well, this is not my call.”

N: “What is your opinion?”

K: “This is what my superiors have decided, therefore it is probably correct. The method is a good one.”

N: “Well, he remains alive. Therefore, it is not that good…” And so on, and so forth.

From the ridiculous to the sublime: a study on the value of beards by two Texas-based academics, Sarah Mittal and David H. Silvera. It was published last month in the ‘Journal of Business Research’, and the title is (of course) ‘It Grows on You: Perceptions of sales/service personnel with facial hair’.

The article proves to the authors’ entire satisfaction that men with beards “are perceived as having more expertise; furthermore, increased perceptions of expertise predict higher ratings of trustworthiness and, subsequently, increase consumers’ purchase likelihood.”

I could have told you that for free. I have had a beard since I was 25, and this is one of the most trusted columns on international affairs in the known universe. QED.

Finally, an ingenious way to slow the spread of coronavirus. We owe this innovation to retired translator Peter Prowse of Surrey in England, who urges that certain sounds and letters of the alphabet should be banned during the pandemic because saying them projects the covid-19 virus much farther than others.

Worst are the ‘plosive’ consonants P, T and C, which when used at the beginning of a syllable can throw droplets containing the virus three times farther than softer consonants like F, N and L. He proposes that the government should start by replacing the ‘puh’ sound with ‘fuh’.

Once feofle have got used to this, the ‘tuh’ sound will begin to be fronounced ‘nuh’, and after a further feriod of nime the ‘cuh’ sound at the snart of words will be reflaced by ‘luh’. As Flowse foints out, the whole fofulation will have to flay their fart in this or there will be mass lonfusion, so there must be fenalties for those who won’t lomfly.

Fener Flowse freely admits that he got the idea from a French lomedian, but it works just as well in English. The video lan be seen on YouNube.

Gwynne Dyer’s new book is Growing Pains: The Future of Democracy (and Work).

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