Beauty and Freedom

Michelangelo’s statue of David in the Gallerie Della’ Academia in Florence

It’s now Monday Match 20th, 2023. Kia ora!

This morning I went to a friend’s house for lunch. It was delicious: chicken sandwiches! It was lovely to see her. We talked about lots of things – acquaintances that know other acquaintances; the 2003 invasion of Iraq; the cricket, of course – the NZ Black Caps are playing against Sri Lanka at Wellington’s Basin Reserve, and it’s day 4 of a 5-day test match. We also talked about mattress toppers, trips overseas, exercise classes, and how to get work done. The weather is weird: it’s not that cold, but it’s windy and overcast, and almost drizzly. We also talked about whether, and how, the dreadful mosque shootings in Christchurch should be commemorated, after four years; and about the church I attend.

Last night we went to a third Lenten session at a local café, held by our minister. It’s good to see other church goers as we try to get to grips with what Te Tiriti o Waitangi means in terms of Christian worship today.

The weekly Covid 19 report is out today. It reads as follows:

There have been 11,171 new cases of Covid-19 reported in New Zealand over the past week and 24 further deaths. Of the new cases, 4630 are reinfections.

The ministry said 26 deaths were attributable to Covid-19. It said the change in total deaths with Covid-19 may not be equal to the number of new deaths reported today. “This is because deaths that occurred more than 28 days after a positive test that are subsequently determined to be unrelated to Covid are removed from the total.”

Of the 24 deaths being reporting today, one was from Northland, one was from Bay of Plenty, three were from Hawke’s Bay, one was from Taranaki, two were from MidCentral, five were from Wellington region, one was from Nelson Marlborough, five were from Canterbury, one was from West Coast and four were from Southern.

Three were in their 60s, five were in their 70s, nine were in their 80s and seven were aged over 90. Of these people, 13 were women and 11 were men. There are also 200 people with Covid-19 in hospital as of midnight Sunday, with eight cases in ICU.

The seven-day rolling average of cases is 1593. Figures reported last week showed there had been 11,544 new cases of Covid-19 reported, and 12 deaths attributed to Covid-19. So that’s not great. Covid 19 is still very much with us.

It’s now Tuesday March 21st.

Well, I wasn’t going to go back there again, but the American news networks are getting into this piece of not-so-ancient history – The Bulwark, the Lawfare podcast, and the New York Times: here’s a link to the Bulwark’s Charlie Sykes’ daily newsletter. Note the Americans are more obsessed with whether Trump will be indicted, and, if so, what may happen:

Former President George Bush is unabashed, which I guess proves what I always thought, that he’s a shallow, rather unintelligent person who lacks insight.

Here is another UK Guardian article:

And the UK’s Guardian has another insightful article:

This involvement by Great Britain also spurred the television series “The Thick of it”, written and directed by Armando Iannucci.  It was cynical indeed.

JD argues that Blair had to go with Bush and preserve the “special relationship”; I argue that he didn’t.  I remember someone saying, as the US was poised to invade Iraq, that “we’re watching the end of American hegemony”. Isn’t “hegemony” a wonderful word?  It derives from the Greek, from “hegemon”, meaning leader, in the version I looked up. Under Trump, it seemed indeed that the US wanted to give away its global leadership; under Biden, not so much, and Biden has rallied the UK and European leaders in their support for Ukraine against its Russian invasion. 

On another note, this morning’s newspaper has an article about the death of Traute Lafrenz at 103. She was the last of the White Rose movement – a movement in Germany against Hitler after the defeat at Stalingrad. Sophie Scholl and her brother were arrested, and executed by the Gestapo – years ago we saw a film about this. But Lafrenz, although arrested and interrogated twice by the Gestapo, managed to survive. After the war, she went to San Francisco and founded the Esperanza School for children with special needs, following the philosophy of anthroposophy founded by Rudolf Steiner.  Our daughter attended the Hōhepa School and stayed in the Hōhepa Hawkes Bay community, which is also based on anthroposophy. So that is quite wonderful.

It’s now Wednesday Match 22nd.

This morning I got up early to go to hymn singing. Today there was no traffic problem, and I was the first there! Although there were four apologies, there were plenty of us and it was a joy to sing together. 

Afterwards I caught the 10 am bus into town, and went to see the movie Aftersun at the Lighthouse Cinema in Wigan St. The movie had a good review, and I enjoyed aspects of it, especially Paul Mescal’s relationship with his 11 year old daughter, but to be honest I found much of it boring. For some reason, although it was Seniors Wednesday, I wasn’t offered a cup of coffee. As it was almost time for the movie to start, and I hate to go in once it’s darkened, I went without. I was really hungry and thirsty afterwards, but there was a queue for tickets, and apparently only one staff member, so I walked to Café Eis instead. It was nice there, although a but draughty. I had a sandwich, a long black coffee, and a delicious chocolate tart, most of which I brought home.  I then walked down to the bus stop in Manners Street and caught a bus home.

It’s now Friday March 24th.

Yesterday I went to my Thursday morning singing at Khandallah.  There was a big turnout – almost 30 people, and we had a lovely session. 

This morning my lady from Access came to do some housework; accordingly, I changed the sheets and towels and did some tidying up before she came. I slept better last night, thankfully, waking at 5 am but going back to sleep after that. The previous nights I did not sleep well. One night I thought that listening to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony might put me to sleep- alas, not. I marvelled at the wonderful recording I was listening to, of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Riccardo Muti. Even on my phone it sounds wonderful.  To get to sleep, however, I had to listen to a podcast. Sometimes on Apple they keep on going without a break; if they finish, I often wake up. Of course navigating all this when you’re sleepy doesn’t always result in wise decisions.

I’m now reading a book I bought about Ravenna, by Judith Herrin.  After seeing pictures of the wonderful frescoes there on a Youtube video, and hearing podcasts about the Emperor Justinian on The Rest is History, my interest is awakened and I would so like to go there. It also chimes in with my knowledge of Roman History, and the four emperors, the Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity, and a bit of religious history gleaned from Tom Holland’s Dominion.

It’s now Saturday March 25th.

Today we won’t go shopping, we’ll have a lazy day instead.  There are several interesting things happening: here in Aotearoa, the far-right anti-Gay activist known as “Posie Parker” has been allowed into the country, but she couldn’t speak in Auckland (juice was thrown at her), and she’s cancelled a planned appearance in Wellington tomorrow.  In the US, Trump has announced that he’ll be indicted, but so far he has not. He has, however, hogged the limelight. He’s also made horrendous threats against Alvin Bragg, the New York attorney, who is expected to indict him.  Ron de Santis has walked back remarks he made about the war in Ukraine, calling it a “territorial dispute”.  Evidently it’s 20 years since the Michael Moore film Bowling for Columbine was released; I watched it, for the first time, on my computer.

In the UK, former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, has been in Parliament trying to justify his lying to the general public about the parties that happened at 10 Downing Street, while the rest of the country was in lock down, while their loved ones were dying alone and numbers at funerals were severely limited.

There is argument about the efficacy of lockdowns, with history being rewritten in some cases.  Remember how scary it was during the pandemic, i.e. for much of the last three years: initially, there were a huge number of deaths, and we didn’t know what caused someone to get Covid 19, there was no vaccine, and there were many deaths and many people seriously ill, with dreadful aftereffects.  Remember in New Zealand, after the first lockdown, we went about our daily lives pretty normally?  Auckland had the Americas Cup yacht racing, and we had wonderful concerts in Wellington. Now people are still getting Covid 19, and some are dying from it, or in intensive care, but it’s no longer as scary as it was, thankfully.

In the Ukraine, it’s hard to know what’s happening. The nuclear power plant is in grave danger (still? Again?); fierce fighting continues in Bakhmut.  Is Ukraine going to win? If so, how? How will this fighting stop? One hopes it will stop soon, with an honourable outcome for the brave Ukrainians, but the end does not seem to be in sight. Meanwhile, thousands of Ukrainian children have been abducted to Russia, and the ICC has labelled Putin a war criminal.

It’s now Sunday. I went to church, and we had the organ playing, always a joy.  However, although there were several children there, there weren’t many adults. The sermon was about faith, and the ways God might call us to spread the Good News, and say to others how much it means to us. Afterwards, JD picked me up.

I’ve listened to more podcasts – American – about the 2003 invasion of Iraq, twenty years on.  The Brits got into this much sooner. But I’m astonished at Americans, who have a different attitude – even if they now think it was a shame. Many of these people (Lawfare, the Bulwark) were impressionable young people who for the most part were behind the President George Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their mates in their gung-ho, non-reflective urge to invade the Middle East. This was “sold” in advertising terms, and the “selling” was obvious to more sceptical, cynical viewers, right down to “mission accomplished”, so obviously staged. It should be said that even now neither Bush nor Blair have any spoken regrets about the mess they caused.  It’s easy to see how Trump and Republicans and Boris Johnson and the Tories in England now rate all their moves on how they’ll be received by their adoring voters, not on what will be best for the country, or its citizens, or the planet we live in. Bush traded on the saying that you’re either with US, or with the terrorists (vague people, posing an even vaguer threat). There was no safe neutrality. 

Even General David Petraeus spoke mainly of the bravery of American troops, with some regret that objectives (what objectives?) after the toppling of Saddam were not achieved. There seemed to be no plan as to What Would Happen Next. Into that void, came civil war, Sunni-Shia divisions, Iranian success, and, of course, Isis.  Americans (gullible?) believed the need for war; then Trump was able to take advantage of that trust and gullibility. Whom should the American people trust? Why, Trump, of course!  Despite the fact that he’s a proven liar. Not their own government, at any level.

In Mother Jones there’s an interesting article by David Corn, who was one of the very few reporters who thought from the start that invading Iraq might not be such a good idea:

Back in New Zealand, the activist known as “Posie Parker” left last night, apparently having seen enough opposition to her message to deter her.

In the US, Ron de Santis, governor of Florida and probable presidential contender, has signed laws and espoused some very scary views, while promoting his book The Courage to be Free.  Many would wish to be free, after the principal of a school in Tallahassee was forced to resign after showing pupils a picture of Michelangelo’s famous statue of David.  David is unclothed, and someone might take offence. To many of us, that statue is one of the most beautiful things in the world, even more so as Michelangelo carved it from a spoilt piece of marble.  To me, there is no shame in David’s nakedness. I don’t find it offensive.

That’s it for now. Slava Ukraini! Ngā mihi nui.

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