SOME Covid conspiracy wallopers visited the constituency office of Infrastructure Minister Nicola Mallon to deliver a “letter of liability” to the SDLP North Belfast representative, accusing her of placing children in danger through her support of vaccination.

If Nicola doesn’t withdraw all Covid-related restrictions and cease the vaccine roll-out, she will face “litigation”.
We get a good idea of the legal weight and efficacy of the letter from the fact that the campaigners who gave it to her think she has the power single-handedly to achieve any of the things they’ve ordered her to do. Be a bit like Squinter delivering a letter to his local councillor ordering him to get his annual rates bill cancelled.
There is a significant minority of people who have refused the vaccine because they are worried about the side-effects. That is not to speak up the dangers of side-effects, which are minimal, it is simply to point out the fact that hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of people have such concerns. Sadly and inevitably, the vaccine sceptic issue has been hijacked by wingnuts, loudmouths and conspiracy theorists – people who know as much about science and medicine as they do about serving legal papers.
Some of the people you see carrying the anti-vaccine banners outside City Hall on a Saturday afternoon may well be concerned about the possibility of ischaemic strokes or anaphylaxis; but they are much more likely to think that we shouldn’t get the jab because it contains a Bill Gates microchip that turns you into paedophile who drinks the blood of kidnapped children.
Brooklyn Nets point guard Kyrie Irving has landed himself in trouble after refusing the vaccine, mostly because he’s now much more likely to get very sick if he contracts the virus, but also because he’s now not allowed to play in New York because of state Covid regulations. And when he said he was going to keep playing away games, his teammates told him to catch himself on and he was either in the team or out. He’s now out.
And why did Kyrie give the vaccine a thumbs-down? Well, he thinks Satanic secret societies are behind the vaccine roll-out as part of a plan to hook up the minds of Black people to an all-controlling computer. And it’s at this point that Squinter needs to point out that Kyrie also believes the Earth is flat, although when pressurised about it he said he was no longer entirely certain and is giving the matter a lot of thought.
Squinter’s been reading a bit about the psychology of conspiracy theorists and he was stopped in his tracks by something the noted psychologist Anthony Lantian wrote. In his paper ‘I Know Things They Don’t Know’ Lantian noted that one of the most common traits associated with conspiracy theorists is that of  “low agreeability”. John M. Grohol of Psych Central has helpfully defined “low agreeability” thus: “Someone with low agreeability is an individual who is usually not very dependable, kind and cooperative.”.
The reason that Squinter was so struck by this description is that he has been up close and personal with Covid wallopers on a regular basis, from what may have been the first Covid-is-a-hoax protest in Belfast, in Ormeau Park in May, 2020, to just a few days ago when he spoke to protesters outside City Hall. And low agreeability always has a high presence.
Snarling’s always a the conversation mode of choice – the speakers invariably start off at fuming and make their way by increments to fit-to-be-tied, on to furious and then to vein-poppingly rabid. Squinter has never once had a normal conversation with a Covid conspiracist – the very few who don’t turn the knob immediately to infuriated tend to adopt a half-smiling faux-reasonableness which is so alien to them you’d probably prefer they were livid.
There are other traits commonly shared by conspiracy theorists. Academic studies show them to have lower levels of education; to spend immensely more time on social media than the average; to indulge in narcissistic behaviours; to struggle with paranoia; to be much more likely to belong to political or religious groups.
As for motivation?  Well, again, it’s all about belonging. Belonging not just to a group of people, but a group of people possessed of extremely important but widely ignored information which it is their duty to share. On Facebook, at City Hall, in the Ormeau Park, or now in, ah, letters of litigation. 

Maybe it’s time for a rethink on numbers


SQUINTER was a bit late applying for his High Street shopping voucher. It’s not that he’s not keen to get his hands on a hundred binoinkers, it’s just that he was put off a bit by the grim stories of confusion and disappointment in the first days when the inevitable rush threatened to overwhelm the system.
Squinter’s not going to judge you if you were one of those who piled in straight away, but he will take an educated guess and say there’s an extremely good chance that you’re one of those people who stand up as soon as a plane lands. (Tell the truth now, you are, aren’t you? And remember you’re only lying to yourself if you deny it.)
So there was Squinter filling in the thankfully fairly straightforward application form online when he came across a request that left him stumped as he hadn’t the foggiest idea of what his National Insurance number is. Not a Scooby. Couldn’t even tell you if it began with numbers or letters or how long or short it is.
He managed to get it, but only after hoking out some paperwork from down the back of the microwave. Which got Squinter to wondering whether it’s common for people not to know their National Insurance number, or whether the majority of people share Squinter’s lifelong belief that when it comes to matters financial, ignorance is bliss. What do you think the breakdown is? Go on, take a guess…
Well, a plea on Twitter brought a very hefty 3,200 responses, indicating that Squinter’s mistaken in his long-held opinion that there aren’t many things in life more likely to send a person to sleep than the subject of National Insurance. And the result was – roll of drums, bling Nolan Show intro voice – an overwhelming majority of people learned their National Insurance number off by heart almost as soon as they received it. Which in many cases was a hell of a long time ago.
Which left Squinter feeling kind of guilty, ashamed even. He’s well known for his aversion to matters numerary and official and he’s been lucky that his better half is happy, or maybe not happy but at least willing, to do the necessary as and when the need arises. But when it became so abundantly clear that the population takes a much more responsible and mature attitude towards matters financial, Squinter began to think that maybe he’s missed a trick in life.
So, while it may be late in the day, Squinter has decided to learn his National Insurance number, for no other reason than it’s clearly the adult thing to do. And you never know, he may start remembering birthdays, names and appointments next.

Warm words coming from a very cold place


THERE are many things about British politics that play havoc with Squinter’s digestive system. Brexit and the Covid catastrophe are the main triggers of his nausea and queasiness, but the sight this week of MPs coming together in the House of Commons to call for a kinder and more caring politics had Squinter battling to keep down his lunchtime Tesco Meal Deal.
De mortuis nil nisi bonum, they say. Of the dead speak only good, so Squinter’s going to pass over the often brutal hard-right Tory politics of the murdered MP Sir David Amess and remark only on the fact that he seems to have been a very popular and well-liked bloke.
Brexit Little Big Man Mark Francois described him as his “oldest and best friend in politics” in a tearful tribute. Calling for less confrontation in British politics, he said: “All of us, wherever we come from, came here to help people.”
This is the same Mark Francois who, incensed by then Prime Minister Theresa May’s attempts to push through a Brexit deal he disapproved of, shook his head and drew a finger along his throat while she was talking.
North Wiltshire Tory MP James Gray described Mr Amess as “one of the kindest, most thoughtful people in Parliament”. Mr Gray hit the headlines in September when he cracked a hilarious joke about sending a bomb to the office of Labour MP Annaliese Dodds.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson described Mr Amess as “one of the kindest, nicest, most gentle people in politics”. Mr Johnson has shown how much he values kindness, decency and gentleness by describing gay men as “tank-topped bum boys”; he said that Liverpool is a city “hooked on grief” after Hillsborough; he said money spent on investigating allegations of child abuse was being “spaffed up a wall” (‘spaff’ is English slang for the ejaculation of semen).
Mail on Sunday columnist Dan Hodges tweeted beside a picture of Labour MP Angela Rayner, who recently referred to Tories as “scum”, the following call for kindness: “It’s not OK to hate Tories. And it’s time for the decent people on the left to say so.”  In a column written when Jeremy Corbyn was Labour leader, Mr Hodges wrote a column headlined ‘Labour MUST dump vampire Jezza’. The piece was accompanied by... this picture of Mr Corbyn in a coffin.