Ground Zero

“St Jerome in his study”, Albrecht Durer, 1521

It’s now Saturday August 13th, 2022. Kia ora!

It was very cold and frosty this morning, but this turned into a fine sunny day.

There’s a lot happening at present. Anne Heche has died (after being declared brain-dead); Salman Rushdie has been stabbed several times while on stage in New York, is on a ventilator, and may lose an eye; he is unable to speak. The FBI’s search warrant at Mar-a-Lago has been unsealed, revealing that documents relating to nuclear weapons, some classified, were taken in the search; Trump may have violated three Acts here; and, oh, yes, the US House of Representatives has passed the Inflation Reduction Act (known as the IRA) – with no Republican votes, in the Senate or the House.  This is a wonderful act, with many provisions – it’s a BFD, as Charlie Sykes at The Bulwark would say. It now goes to President Biden for his signature, to sign it into law.  It’s strange that the succession of this bill is minor news, compared to all the other stuff that’s going on. It’s a major achievement for the Democrats.

This morning I listened to two episodes of The Rest is History podcast about the Roman emperor Justinian and his wife Theodora. They were quite a couple! One point of note is that they talked about the frescoes in Ravenna, and I was watching an episode on Youtube which showed them last night.  So it was nice to note that while I haven’t been to Ravenna, I knew what they were talking about.  I’ve added Ravenna to the growing list of destinations for my fantasy trip overseas.

On a sad note, the author Raymond Briggs has died. When the Wind Blows was an illustrated book he wrote about a nuclear attack on Great Britain. While it looked like a children’s book, it certainly wasn’t a book for children.

Today’s Covid 19 report is as follows: there are 3,650 new community cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand today – a continued fall in infection numbers as the country emerges from the second wave of Omicron. There are 546 people in hospital with the virus, including 10 in intensive care.  There have been 27 deaths. So while it’s a good thing that there are fewer reported cases, and hospitalisations, it bothers me that there’s still quite a high death toll. A friend of mine went into hospital a few weeks ago for an operation, and tested that she was free of Covid 19, only to catch it in hospital.

The 27 new deaths of people with Covid-19 reported today include three people who were in their 50s, two in their 60s, seven in their 70s, 12 in their 80s and three aged over 90. Sixteen were women and 11 were men. One was from Northland, seven were from Auckland region, two were from Waikato, two were from Lakes, three were from Hawke’s Bay, two were from Taranaki, three were from MidCentral, two were from Whanganui, one was from Wellington region, three were from Canterbury, one was from Southern.

We went shopping to New World in Thorndon. Again, they had no raspberries, and no potato-topped pies, but I bought coffee beans, salads, bread, some brie, oat and raisin biscuits. 

On Saturday night we watched American Animals on Te Whakaata Māori. I had seen it before, but it was worth watching again. Four “friends” conspire to steal an extremely rare book from – I’m not joking here – the library of Transylvania University.  This crime was just so weird it was interesting to watch, in an odd sort of way.

It’s now Monday August 15th.

Yesterday I zoomed into a church service – they had a baptism, too, and although I heard the baby crying, I couldn’t see the ceremony.  Afterwards, we went into town for lunch, but I had forgotten it was Visa on a Plate, and the restaurant I wanted to go to was full, with a queue. We ended up going to a vegan restaurant; this wouldn’t have been my first choice, but my pancakes with lemon curd, plum and berry compȏte, and coconut shavings, were delicious, although the music was rather loud. It was cold and windy outside.

This morning it’s not so cold, but there is a spectacular red sky early in the morning. That’s a shepherd’s warning; evidently there was a red sky yesterday morning as well. But the All Blacks beat the South African Springboks by 35 – 23.  The Argentinian rugby team, the Pumas, beat Australia’s Wallabies decisively. 

I watched a Stuff documentary called Fire and Fury about the protest encampment in Parliament grounds earlier this year, which seemed to go on – for ever, although it was only for a few scary weeks.  The documentary follows up on the big story in yesterday’s Sunday Star Times, about sinister drivers beneath the protest, catching up nervous people in some truly frightening violent threats, based on ideas that the government is bad, that vaccines are dangerous, and that violence is justified – echoing the convoy protest in Ottawa, and other such protests. The story argues that this protest (and others like it) are really about destroying democracy; some advocate right-wing elements getting elected to any positions of power, as republicans are doing in America, and thus being “in charge”. I cannot for the life of me understand why people would want to destroy elements of a society that works well on the whole: the business of issuing passports, or driving licenses, even if you can’t go overseas; health and education systems; paved roads, footpaths, utilities such as running water. I could go on and on.  I must say I found this documentary, and the accompanying fear of the media, really frustrating.  The media are certainly annoying, but you can learn different views and make your own opinion about  divisive issues. These elements of civilisation are really to be valued: why would you discredit them?

Today’s Covid 19 report continues the good (or, rather better) news: there are 3,387 new community cases reported, we are down to 12 deaths, and there are 536 people in hospital. Apparently this is the lowest number of daily new cases since February. There are 15 people in Intensive Care. 

On the deaths being reported today, two were from the Auckland region, three were from Waikato, two were from MidCentral, one was from Whanganui, three were from Canterbury, one was from Southern. Three were in their 60s, one was in their 70s, six were in their 80s and two were aged over 90. Of these people, four were women and eight were men. There are now a total of 1750 deaths confirmed as attributable to Covid-19, either as the underlying cause of death or as a contributing factor. In the past seven days there have been an average of 14 deaths confirmed each day as being attributable to Covid-19, the ministry said. There were also 171 new Covid-19 cases at the border.

It seems that we will have to live with Covid 19, but it also seems that that latest intense wave is easing.  As someone who’s had Covid 19 (and I’m glad I had both the vaccine jabs and a booster), I wish the anti-vax people would take this more seriously. I doubt if I will ever get back to “the way I was before”, which wasn’t great, by the way. It seems so ironic that I want to get back to that now.  It feels like Ground Zero right now – recovery takes a long time.  Anyway, protesting is not for me – sleeping in a tent, using portaloos, lacking showering facilities. I want some degree of comfort and cleanliness.

We had hard-boiled egg sandwiches for lunch. After lunch I have been reading (and rereading) an LRB dated 6 January, which somehow got put away, only partly read. How interesting it is! It has a very interesting article about the COP summit in Glasgow (how long ago that seems now!); about the Bidens – specifically President Joe’s two brothers. To say it’s a strange family somehow beggars belief.  The story barely mentions Hunter Biden, by the way.

There’s also a long review of Ben Macintyre’s book Agent Sonya. What a strange life this woman had, and a number of romantic partners. One of them came close to assassinating Adolf Hitler, in a plot that I heard about on one of my podcasts. The plot failed, but Sonya’s story is truly amazing. 

Then there was an extremely interesting story before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine in February this year. It talks about Putin’s aims, as set out in a long essay written by him and published in July 2021 called “On the Historical Unity of the Russians and Ukrainians”. It also talks a lot about Belarus, and Putin’s support for Lukashenko, the dictator there, also about Ukrainian history, and quotes historian Serhii Plokhy’s 2015 book “The Gates of Europe” about the history of Ukraine (a book I have dipped into; it’s a huge tome, and I didn’t read all of it). It also talks about Nord Stream 2, the election of President Zelensky, and NATO. What an interesting article. I remember for the months preceding the February attack the fear that Putin would attack Ukraine; now the war’s been going for 6 months, and doesn’t show much sign of stopping.  There’s still lots of reading to be done in this issue. Again I am torn between relief at not feeling obliged to read each issue, when it comes in the post, and missing the really good articles that I find most interesting.

In Ukraine, Zelensky has vowed to take out Russian soldiers guarding the nuclear power plant at Zaporizhia, and Ukrainian forces have greatly damaged a bridge at the city of Kherson (presently under Russian control).

There’s also a brief article in the LRB about an exhibition of paintings by Albrecht Dϋrer in the National Gallery in London. This article focusses on a painting of St Jerome that was given to a Portuguese friend of his in Antwerp. I remember seeing a painting (Salvator Mundi) by Dϋrer at the Met in New York, as well as some of his rather scary etchings (including Melancholia) which were on display at the Art Gallery above the erstwhile Dominion Museum.  This rather wonderful museum was replaced by the even more wonderful (and much larger) Te Papa Tongarewa.  There was an outcry when the Art Gallery seemed not to be replaced; eventually Te Papa opened Toi Art, a dedicated art section, and it is quite wonderful too. I’ve been there many times.

In the US, it has transpired that the FBI took 11 boxes of classified documents away from Mar-a-Lago. Far from their activity being a raid, the FBI agents wore plain clothes, liaised with Trump’s secret service officers, and went whan he was not there – actually, he was in New York, busy taking “The Fifth” when required to testify to New York Attorney General Letitia James. Of course, he has the right not to incriminate himself, although he decried this during his 2016 campaign for president; one wit joked about how hard it must have been for him not to say anything (as, no doubt, requested by his lawyers).  One of his lawyers assured the FBI (or perhaps the National Archives) in June that there were no classified documents at Mar-a-Lago. Republican governors Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas and Larry Hogan of Maryland have come out to the effect that some republican reaction to the FBI’s legal search was overblown. Of course, the action to search a past president’s home was unprecedented; but then, Trump was unprecedented, too. Many people including former FBI officers like Frank Figluzzi have said how scared they were by Trump’s extreme casualness around document classification and national security; especially so, after excoriating Hillary Clinton’s supposed carelessness concerning her email server (which an aide of hers, Huma Abedin, had access to).  These republican guys take hypocrisy to a whole new level. By the way, it seems Trump may be charged under the Espionage Act. 

That’s it for now. I look forward to reading the rest of my 6 January LRB issue – I’m about half way through it. Slava Ukraini!  Ngā mihi.

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