Today is Saturday July 3rd. Kia ora katoa.

I haven’t written for a few days now. In New Zealand we anxiously await the daily news summary at 1 pm to find out if there are any new Covid 19 cases in the community; again there haven’t been, for the last few days, and very few in MIQ. I think that the Ministry of Health have gone back to reporting on a Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule.  Numbers of Covid 19 cases are hard to find on news websites again. It all feels very strange, as numbers continue to rise in Australia and in many places overseas. The Delta variant of Covid 19 has now reached many countries (98 last reported). It poses a big threat to unvaccinated populations. It’s so frustrating that the US now has more vaccine than it needs, but many people won’t have it. Other countries (like NZ and Australia) are increasingly desperate for a vaccine.  In Australia, Covid 19 has now been diagnosed in care homes in NSW. Many of the staff there are still unvaccinated.

The biggest concern here is getting the vaccine.  Those of us who have not been vaccinated (which seems like most people) are restive. Group 3 people had a text the other day saying we’d soon be advised when to book an appointment; in the meantime, don’t contact our local medical centre. I guess we still feel nervous and apprehensive. Is supply a competition between us and Australia?

In Los Angeles, people are advised to wear face masks, even if they have been vaccinated. Australia is still having a really hard time with the coronavirus, with today’s report of 35 new cases diagnosed in New South Wales. This would be the Delta variant of Covid 19, as it wends its woeful way through countries: it had a heigh day in India and Nepal, then in ither Asian countries; is quite firmly established in the UK, is making a toehold in the US, and is in Australia. But not New Zealand. Yet.  

It’s now Sunday July 4th. In the US most regular podcasts are taking time off, presumably for the Independence Day July 4 holiday. There isn’t a lot to listen to, of my usually regular offerings.

In Australia, cases of Covid 19 (Delta variant) continue to rise – today’s statistics show there were 76 new cases diagnosed yesterday, including three people at an aged-care facility. Several cities are under some sort of lock down, and state borders are closed. Yet the PM, Scott Morrison, has halved the number of arrivals, and suggested incomers quarantine at home! New Zealand tried that, early on, after closing its borders, and – surprise – it didn’t work, so they introduced a system of quarantine (MIQ) in selected hotels in Auckland, Rotorua, Wellington and Christchurch. The system has been refined after several attempts to abscond, and more regular testing (on day 3 and day 12, I think) has been put in place, with people testing positive for Covid 19 being moved to the Jet Park facility until they are well and receive a negative Covid 19 test. You also have to have a voucher for a place in MIQ when you book your flight here. If you’re leaving certain countries, you have to have a negative Covid 19 test three days before you leave. The NZ army have been brought in to police this system. Most MIQ workers have been vaccinated. By and large, this system works very well, protecting regular New Zealanders, and allowing others to return or to visit without fear of Covid 19.

Scott Morrison also talks about a four-phase system to re-integrate Australia with the world economy. Yeah, right on, think many of us. Every country’s reaction to Covid seems to indicate its priorities! the irony is, the less infections you have, the more healthy your business will be, and customers will have much more confidence about spending money in shops and hospitality. In other words, it makes good sense to prioritise human life. Then indeed you will have a livelihood.

Meanwhile, we get on with our lives here. We are almost “back to normal”, with care applied. It has been very cold indeed. Last Tuesday was freezing, with huge waves on Wellington’s South Coast (there are times when one is so pleased not to live by the seaside); since then we have had a couple of frosts (which are usually followed by sunny days); this morning (Sunday) it was very cold indeed; not frosty, but soon the sun “came out” and warmed everything up.

I went to church this morning. It was a Café Service, the first one I’d been to, although they regularly have them in July, on the grounds that it’s easier to heat the hall than the church.  They had tables set up, and you could help yourself to a hot drink and some food. I didn’t have anything, having just had a cup of coffee at home, and breakfast not long before that. The service was quite late starting, and the sermon was very interactive. The theme was Rejection.  We had a piano to accompany the hymns, but there were some hiccups with sound and microphones.  I was sitting at a table at the back of the hall, and it was quite cold there. There were two heat pumps valiantly trying to warm the room, but from where I was sitting, they were pretty ineffective. I think the heating in the Church is better! It’s probably more expensive, too. And, of course, it’s not the same without the beautiful organ. Afterwards I went to the supermarket across the road. I didn’t see one mask there.

The French Film Festival lingers on, with some of the films are now on general release, so, given that the current Covid 19 scare is over, I hope to see some that I had previously missed out on. There was a wonderful review in yesterday’s newspaper of Antoinette in the Cévennes, with the heading “Eat, Bray, Shove”, referring to Antoinette’s donkey – “How a donkey helped a Frenchwoman stop being an ass”.

In the US, other things make the news. There’s been a terrible heat wave in the North West. There have been fires, and fears of fires.  Although it’s been very cold here, I think the cold is preferable, because it’s usually easier to warm up than it is to cool down (providing the power stays on, of course).  Bill Cosby has been released from prison, and although he’s not been declared innocent, he cannot be tried again on charges of sexual misconduct.  A Trump executive, Alan Weisselberg, and the Trump business organisation, have been indicted on charges of tax evasion.  It was interesting to see Weisselberg do what they call the “perp walk”, hand cuffed, and later labelled a potential flight risk, and having to surrender his passport. “This family is known for using private jets”. He pled Not Guilty to a charge of evading almost $(US)1,000,000 in taxes. The podcast and news pundits’ responses were varied: this is small beer; he will/won’t flip; this is just the beginning.  My reaction was that Trump can’t pardon him for this. It will be interesting to see what happens.  Don Jr’s comparison of this “witch hunt” with Putin’s poisoning of Navalny seems just totally inappropriate. Eric Trump admitted to receiving fringe benefits in CNN (“Everybody does it!”). That’s just fine, of course, as long as you declare them and pay tax on them.

Other political stalemates continue.  But there’s been an outpouring of grief for the residents lost and unaccounted for in the Miami Surfside Condo collapse.  The remainder of the building is to be demolished; meanwhile, other apartment dwellers are very worried about their own buildings’ strength, as well they might be. In another part of Florida, an apartment building has been evacuated, this time for fear of Hurricane Elsa. Does anyone remember Hurricane Katrina, and the terrible flooding and deaths there? Was this somehow less of a tragedy?  It’s kind of obvious that the Miami condo was in a wealthier area, and that somehow these lives mattered more? Of course, every life lost is a tragedy, and it must be desperately sad to lose a loved one and not have the body to mourn and confirm the sad reality.

It’s also been reported that Donald Rumsfeld, best remembered in some circles for his “unknown unknowns”, has died. This reminds me that the former president’s populism, the 45th, wasn’t new to the US and some of its strange ideas. Remember the huge protests about the war in Iraq and the supposed Weapons of Mass Destruction?  I have listened to a podcast series on the Road to Iraq, part of the Slow Burn series published by Slate. Back then (it doesn’t seem so long ago), people were lied to by senior politicians, Dubya Bush staged a Mission Accomplished photo op, and further doubt was cast on the intelligence agencies. It then became very easy to discredit them, to think it’s normal for politicians to lie to the general public, and to cast doubt on authority in general; in short, to pave the way for authoritarianism. Right-wing politics seem to be in fashion right now, drawing comparisons with the rise of fascism in the 1930’s. Right now democracy seems to be an endangered species. I think we should hold politicians to account, but have some respect for those who would speak the truth, as they know it.

Yesterday a new Listener and a new issue of the LRB arrived, but we didn’t see them sticking out of the letter box until today.  They should keep me quiet for a while!

It’s now Monday, July 5th here.  There are Matariki celebrations everywhere, and Matariki will be celebrated as a public holiday in future.  The trouble is, it’s very cold! I am loathe to go out in the cold. But it’s great to see the celebrations. Matariki represents the Maori New Year, and also the Pleiades star cluster. We are learning more about it every year. Somehow Hōhepa managed to fold their Blazing Star Winter Celebration into Matariki some time ago. Ngā mihi.

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