Peter Rhodes on snakes alive, defining a second wave and knowing what the Kremlin is up to

By Peter Rhodes | Peter Rhodes | Published:

Read the latest column from Peter Rhodes.

The cobra effect

Our changing language. According to an online money-making scheme “People are earning huge.” But clearly not huge enough to get an edukashun.

Puzzle amid the pandemic. As thousands of furloughed workers prepare to return to toil, will one infuriating workplace phenomenon have survived the hiatus and if so, how? The office has been empty for weeks, the staff have all been at home. So who has nicked your chair?

Amid all the debate about a second wave of coronavirus, one fact bears repeating. It is that nobody has so far come up with a universally accepted definition of what a second wave is. Take this offering, for example, from a World Health Organisation spokeswoman: “It’s going to be one big wave. It’s going to go up and down a bit. The best thing is to flatten it and turn it into just something lapping at your feet.” So is that the first lap or a second lap?

Boris Johnson wants to encourage more cycling and jogging to get the nation slimmer and fitter. Is it unfair to point out that Johnson is a famous cyclist and a daily jogger but is also overweight? The harsh fact is that when it comes to fighting the flab, exercise is only a small part of the equation. What really matters is eating less. The problem for Whitehall's spin doctors is that the media demands images. And while running and cycling make great photo-opportunities, nobody has yet come up with a gripping and persuasive 15-second video clip on the virtues of declining a chocolate muffin.

According to a survey, almost half the British public believes the Russian government interfered in the EU referendum and also in last year’s general election. This is truly remarkable. Let us be frank. We are not a nation of intellectuals. The average Brit cannot name the Foreign Secretary, spell “accommodation” or point to Portugal on a map. And yet he apparently knows enough about the deepest, darkest secrets of the Kremlin to hold an opinion on them. The Russians have a word for such things: smekhotvornyy. Or as we Brits say, ludicrous.

I wrote a few days ago about the law of unintended consequences. The classic example involves a project in colonial India to cull cobra snakes by offering a cash bounty for every dead cobra. Human nature being what it is, some folk began breeding cobras for the bounty. And when the authorities realised what was happening and scrapped the bounty, the breeders released their snakes. Result: more cobras than ever. To this day, when a solution makes a problem worse, it is known as the cobra effect. And the only snag is that, like so many old yarns, it may never have happened. Wikipedia describes the cobra story as “an anecdote.”

And if you hear of a similar project intended to reduce the population of large snakes in the Amazon, it will probably be an anacondadote.

Peter Rhodes

By Peter Rhodes

Award-winning columnist and blogger. Keeping an eye on the tribulations and trivia of a fast-changing world

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