A Pyrrhic Victory

Representation of a Pyrrhic Victory

It’s now Friday May 6, 2022. Kia ora.

I’m receiving a Morning Briefing from the New York Times, which I’ve recently signed up for. Unfortunately, I can’t keep it or save it; I get an alert in the morning; once I move away from that image, I haven’t figured out a way to go back to it. But it’s very informative; I find it most useful.

The briefing tells me that in Ukraine, Mariupol is still holding out, with 200 civilians in the Azovstal steel plane there, and some Ukrainian troops. The rest of the civilians have been evacuated. A former employee told the Russians how to get into the plant, which has rambling networks of underground tunnels and bunkers. Desperate hand-to-hand fighting is going on there, I gather.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian forces have reclaimed a village near Kharkiv, and thus pushed Russian forces back and prevented their access. This is seen as a strategic move. India is reported to be buying oil from Russia at low prices. In Iraq, there is a terrible dust storm.

In China, there’s a lot of Covid 19 testing going on – presumably, it’s PCR testing. China is clinging to its covid-zero policy, despite unrest in Shanghai; it’s citizens aren’t allowed out of their homes to protest.

In the US, a sub-variant of the BA.2 variant of the omicron variant of Covid 19 is known as BA2.12.1, apparently. It seems that while several people were infected with Covid 19 after a grid-iron dinner, several more became infected after the White House Correspondent’s dinner. I do hope President Biden doesn’t get this – although if Nancy Pelosi and HM Queen Elizabeth can get it and recover, I guess there’s hope for Joe Biden.

There’s ongoing anger at the Supreme Court (draft) decision to rescind Roe v Wade, allowing legal abortion in the US; it’s now feared that they’ll go after not only abortion medication, but also contraceptives themselves.  Back to the future, girls and women;  how many supposed rights did we win, only to see them being dismantled – politically correct speech, while frustrating, was far better than “free speech”; violence is not, ever, ok; scientists can make mistakes but their proofs are far safer than hunches or hearsay; and many of us preferred some segregation – having separate restrooms, or hospital wards. I remember the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, where they had blue or pink above each rest room. You could choose to be female or male, but not both, at the same time. I thought that was very clever.

Today’s Covid 19 report was better than the last two days, but there are still far too many deaths. There were 7,347 new cases, and 24 deaths.

It’s reported that of today’s deaths, two people were in their 40s; one in their 50s, one in their 60s; seven in their 70s; eight in their 80s and five were aged over 90. The latest deaths spanned the country with one person was from Northland, eight from Auckland; four from Waikato; one from Bay of Plenty; one from Lakes DHB area; one from Taranaki; one from MidCentral; two from the Greater Wellington region; two from Canterbury and three from the Southern region. Thirteen were female and 11 were male. The total is now 845 deaths.

There are 363 people in hospital with the virus, including 18 in intensive care. Today’s breakdown of people in hospital with Covid across New Zealand included Northland: 11; Waitemata: 40; Counties Manukau: 37; Auckland: 60; Waikato: 31; Bay of Plenty: 20; Lakes: 3; Tairāwhiti: 0; Hawke’s Bay: 15; Taranaki: 6; Whanganui: 4; MidCentral: 14; Wairarapa: 1; Hutt Valley: 3; Capital and Coast: 10; Nelson Marlborough: 11; Canterbury: 66; South Canterbury: 4; West Coast: 1 and Southern: 26. The average age of Covid patients in hospital is 57. This has been consistent so far.

It’s reported that new community cases of Covid-19 were detected in: Northland (234), Auckland (2346), Waikato (443), Bay of Plenty (189), Lakes (106), Hawke’s Bay (212), MidCentral (272), Whanganui (83), Taranaki (226), Tairāwhiti (66), Wairarapa (100), Capital and Coast (482), Hutt Valley (185), Nelson Marlborough (254), Canterbury (1261), South Canterbury (99), Southern (721), West Coast (64), and four in unknown locations.

It’s now Saturday May 7th.

The news is confirmed that Ukrainian forces have sunk another Russian ship; that they have probably made some attacks in Russia itself, such as Belgorov; there are further efforts to evacuate remining citizens in Mariupol; and that fierce fighting continues in Mariupol, but the Ukrainians have not surrendered, so far.

Today’s Covid 19 report is slightly better than in previous days, although it’s hard to find, now. There are officially 6,745 new community cases, and there have been 12 deaths. There are 339 people in hospital, including 15 in Intensive Care. We’re not told where the new infections are.

It’s now Sunday May 8th.

Unusually, I am woken by the alarm on my phone. I get JD to make a video of me opening my daughter’s present.  There is a beautiful mug, with a beautiful card and some fudge and a sachet of a gingerbread and chocolate flavoured drink – you just add water and stir.  I load the video into Storypark, but when I look later it’s not there, so I load it again.  There was a phone call from her too, but she doesn’t say much – I think she enjoys hearing the sound of my voice.  I went to church, and the minister has diagnosed positive for Covid 19, so again he’s refining his televangelist skills. He does it very well, although he did sound a bit hoarse. We were given flowers and pins to pin them to our clothes.  Actually his wife had Covid 19 just a few weeks ago (perhaps back in March?) There were barely twenty people physically at church. We heard about Tabitha/Dorcas, a female disciple, and then more from the book of Revelation. There was a special morning tea afterwards, to honour the fact that everyone has a mother, but I didn’t go, partly because I wanted to catch a bus home, and partly because I am due to see one of my granddaughters this evening, and therefore I want to limit my exposure. I did go to the supermarket to get some wrapping paper and a bereavement card, and found it very busy. Then I went to catch my bus, only to find it had been cancelled. Plan B was to catch the train, and I walked to the station, only to find I’d just missed the one I’d hoped to catch. So it was a long, slow, journey home, with lots of waiting – but not too cold.

Before the 1 pm Covid 19 report comes out, I learn that Prime Minister Ardern is to isolate at home for 7 days, because her partner, Clarke Gayford, has Covid 19. Today’s report is not too bad, with 5,647 new community cases, but only 3 deaths. There are 350 in hospital, (17 of them in Intensive Care) but the BA.5 variant (I didn’t know there was such a thing) has been detected at the border (again, in a person who had travelled from South Africa).  The BA.4 variant was detected on May 1, also in a person from South Africa.

It’s reported that the arrival of the BA.5 sub-variant in New Zealand is not unexpected and underlines the importance of the rapid antigen testing of all arrivals at day 0/1 and day 5/6 followed by a PCR test of any arrivals who test positive which then allows whole genome sequencing to be done. So now we know.

It’s reported that today’s New Zealand cases are in Northland (129), Auckland (1895), Waikato (353), Bay of Plenty (143), Lakes (77), Hawke’s Bay (176), Mid Central (184), Whanganui (69), Taranaki (131), Tairāwhiti (30), Wairarapa (67), Capital and Coast (424), Hutt Valley (206), Nelson Marlborough (189), Canterbury (914), South Canterbury (83), Southern (523), West Coast (51), Unknown (3). The numbers reported today show that the seven-day rolling average of daily cases has increased slightly since last Sunday. Today the average is 7510; last Sunday it was 7414.

Today it’s reported that all remaining women and children have been evacuated from Mariupol, from the steel plant. The ship that was sunk was the Admiral Makarov. A drone is reported to have struck a landing craft at Snake island.    

In the evening we visited a granddaughter on her birthday, and set up and played the game we had given her. We had a lovely time. How nice that her birthday fell on Mother’s Day this time!  Almost nine tears ago, my eldest granddaughter was born on the (then) Mother’s Day.

It’s now Monday May 9th.

The main things in the news are the war in Ukraine, (and Putin’s Victory Day celebration on May 9), and the US Supreme Court’s decision that they intend  to reverse Roe v Wade, which had made abortion legal in the US for almost 50 years (since 1973).  As discussions go on, with shock and horror, there is no mention whatsoever of a man’s role in most conceptions, certainly in the majority of pregnancies requiring termination. Surely a man is involved, and should be just as committed to raising the potential child as a women is. But they are so extreme in the US. Some states have trigger laws that will go into effect immediately when Roe v Wade is overturned, permitting almost no exceptions – rape, incest, maternal health, anyone? – to this cruelty. Protesters see it as likely that the abortion pill will be banned, as will contraception.  The feelings of women have no place in this discussion, much less the wrong performed by the male who created this situation. As in the past, white women who can afford the procedure will probably be all right, although technically they’ll be  committing a crime; poorer and/or  black women, the most likely victims of rape, are to bear the child (and the consequences) regardless.  I’m not personally in favour of abortion, but I think it should be safe and legal whenever it happens: a decision between a woman, her God, her doctor, and her family. What monsters these older men are, who think it’s their decision to restrict others’ “freedoms”. I agree with those who think the authority of and respect for the Supreme Court is already much diminished, and will be further so by this decision. Of course it’s not really a surprise, but, like the invasion of Ukraine, it’s shocking when it happens.

In Ukraine, bombing has occurred at a school in Eastern Ukraine, killing 60 civilians, including children. Dr Jill Biden has visited Ukraine.

I am rereading Stalingrad, the huge novel by Russian Jew Vasily Grossman about the Hitler’s attack on Russia, culminating in the deadly battle of Stalingrad. It’s s kind of companion volume to Tolstoy’s War and Peace.  But while this tells of what seems like the Germans’ inexorable advance eastward, I’ve been listening to lots pf podcasts, many about the history of Ukraine, and the progress of the current conflict, but also talking about the disastrous Operation Barbarossa, and how the Germans kept on winning for a time but were massively unprepared for the conditions they would find, and the Russian resistance: this was to prove very strong, and the Russians had the powerful T42 tank and an air force, and despite Stalin’s purges, they were prepared to die, and fought very strongly. To a German, to be sent to the Eastern front was disastrous.  Putin’s current Special Military Operation into Ukraine is being seen as similarly ill-fated, ill-prepared, and not thought-through-properly, although like Hitler’s troops’ movements in the 1940’s, very destructive and brutal indeed. Putin, on the other hand, is also being compared to Stalin, in many of his actions, particularly the way Stalin had treated Ukraine in the 1930’s.  One recent cartoon quipped what if Stalin and Hitler had a baby?

Today’s Covid 19 report wasn’t too bad, although I was prepared for a worse one, given that several people I know have Covid 19 – closer to me than I’m comfortable with. Today there are 6,407 new cases, and two more deaths. That’s considerably less than we’ve been used to for the last few days. There are 368 people in hospital, and 18 in Intensive Care.  Today’s detailed information is not readily available. Three people (incoming passengers from South Africa) have now been diagnosed with the BA.5 omicron subvariant of Covid 19.

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

Freedom

The Handmaid’s Tale, anyone?

Today is Wednesday May 4th, 2022. Kia ora.

This morning I got up early and went to hymn singing. It was beautiful – we sang the famous Easter hymn (Christ the Lord is risen today), Blessed Assurance, and Thine be the Glory.  Afterwards I got brave and had morning tea at a café – a long black coffee, and a date scone. Afterwards I caught a bus into town, and bought a birthday present for another granddaughter. Then I caught buses home.

In the US, the 28 page Supreme Court draft opinion by Samuel Alito, on reversing the “egregious” decision to allow legal abortion, dominates newspapers and podcasts.  It’s pointed out that abortion was never in the US Constitution; that it has been a right since 1973; and furthermore, what “right” does this unelected body, the Supreme Court, have to withdraw an existing right? There are big fears that this will lead to complete bans on abortion, even in cases of rape or incest, or danger to the mother’s life; that it will lead to further difficulties in obtaining contraception or abortion tablets; that it will outlaw gay marriage.  People know that abortion will take place, in any case;  surely it should be safe and legal?  I expect that we will have to answer to God for our decisions in this life. Marina Hyde in the UK’s Guardian writes very well under the following title: Through the Trumpian Looking Glass, forcing women to die from illegal abortions is “pro-life”.   

Now that the right-wing have got what they’ve been campaigning for, for years, are they rejoicing?  I haven’t seen any celebrations, so far.  Perhaps the protesting is more fun than winning?  What effects will this leaked opinion have on the mid-term elections?  This opinion is dated February 28. That’s ages ago! We all suspected they were heading this way.

As it turns out, the only person publicly celebrating was Marjorie Taylor Greene. Mitch McConnell was disgusted that the draft opinion had been leaked, and thinks a witch hunt should get underway to find out who leaked the document,

One wonders just why the Right everywhere are so determined to give women a hard time: you’d almost think they didn’t have mothers themselves, but were conceived and raised in petri-dishes. Some one probably endured a great deal of nausea, vomiting, fatigue, general discomfort, needing to pee a lot, and labour pains to various degrees, and that was just before the birth. Then you’ve got swollen breasts, cracked nipples, the need to get one’s figure back, colic, teething, croup, childhood ailments, ongoing fatigue and safety issues, as the child grows up, into a teenager, and then an adult, who is likely to tell you that you’ve done all this wrong. Who’d be a woman?  Who indeed? Well, it’s a privilege to have children, in my view, and they can turn out amazingly well, despite the sacrifices. I was fortunate in that I was able to give birth to wonderful children who have grown into clever and admirable adults and are now having beautiful children of their own.  I’m thankful that while their lives could have been better, they could have been a lot worse.

There’s been a great deal of shocked reaction to this “draft” opinion, which was dated at the end of February and apparently was voted on; of course, with the majority of justices being safely conservative, the majority decision was that it should be overthrown (note it hasn’t been overthrown yet).  There are protests across the US; this has a very “Handmaid’s Tale” feel about it. There are certainly some wonderful fathers around, and their support is greatly valued, but by and large mothers bear the discomforts of pregnancy and childbirth, especially the physical ones, whether or not the outcome is successful in terms of a giving birth to a healthy, normal child. In fact, one usually feels like an incubus, the pregnancy so takes over one’s body.

This morning I listened the Bulwark podcast. Of course, they are obsessed with the Roe v Wade draft opinion (it’s not a decision as yet), but the latter part of the podcast I found very amusing. I didn’t see Benjamin Wittes as a demonstrator (although his Brookings Institute was on Nixon’s enemies list), but this was very funny. He and some others hired a lighting firm to project the Blue and Yellow Ukrainian flag onto the Russian Embassy building in Washington DC. The Russians tried to use spotlights to hide it; the light operator kept moving the projection. The Secret Service helped the demonstrators.  Ben says there’s something further planned for May 9th. It’ll be Witte (he says, punning on It’ll be Wild). Here’s a link:

https://www.knkx.org/2022-04-14/meet-the-activists-who-projected-a-giant-ukrainian-flag-on-russias-embassy-in-d-c.

I was going to rejoin my singing group on Thursday mornings for term 2 (we cancelled term 1) tomorrow, but having seen today’s Covid 19 report, I’m not so sure that I’ll go. Today’s report is not good, with 8,454 new community cases, and 24 deaths, including a child under 10. These deaths include 12 people who died in the last three days, and 12 people who died since March 5.  One assumes that you seriously don’t want to be so sick that you have to go to hospital, since it seems you’re likely to get Covid 19 there; or perhaps there are deaths from rest home residents. There are 481 people in hospital, including 14 in Intensive Care. I still feel very vulnerable with this amount of illness around.

Of the deaths, it’s reported that one was aged under 10; one was between 10 and 19 years old, two were in their 40s, one in their 50s, two in their 60s, nine in their 70s, five in their 80s and three were aged over 90. Nine of the deceased were from Auckland, four from Waikato, two from Bay of Plenty, one from Whanganui, one from MidCentral, two from the Greater Wellington region, three from Canterbury and two from Southern DHB. Seven were female and 17 were male.

It’s reported that there are new community cases reported in  Northland (222), Auckland (2568), Waikato (501), Bay of Plenty (256), Lakes (142), Hawke’s Bay (278), MidCentral (308), Whanganui (102), Taranaki (245), Tairāwhiti (79), Wairarapa (112), Capital and Coast (614), Hutt Valley (231), Nelson Marlborough (281), Canterbury (1418), South Canterbury (106), Southern (900), West Coast (85), and six in unknown locations. There were 54,210 active cases of Covid-19 across the country on Wednesday.  That’s still quite a lot! Most by far are detected by RAT tests.

Officials also reported an additional 124 cases of Covid-19 detected at the border. One wonders how they are tested, since I thought MIQ was over?

In the US, late show host Jimmy Kimmel has Covid 19; here in New Zealand, Minister of Health Andrew Little is now isolating after a family member tested positive.  It’s still very much around.

On the climate front, there’s a warning that in New Zealand sea level rise is likely to come sooner than expected, because much of New Zealand’s coastal areas are sinking as well. It’s warned that many coastal homes may become uninsurable.  In India and Pakistan, they’re battling heat  waves.  It seems to me that while the need for Russian oil and gas is not so great in summertime as in winter time, if it’s very hot people may well wish to use air conditioning units to cool their environments down.

It’s now Thursday May 5th.

My Thursday singing sessions resumed this morning.  There was a good turnout, although many of us are still afraid of Covid 19.  I felt this was a risk I was prepared to take, and having said I’d be there, I was reluctant to change my mind. It was lovely, of course;  lovely to be back and see everyone again. Highlights for me were singing Tutira mai ngā iwi, Mull of Kintyre, and Wild Mountain Thyme.

Today’s Covid 19 report was not good: 8,609 new community cases were reported, and 20 deaths, including that of a child under 10. There are 386 people in hospital, including 14 in Intensive Care.

One of the 20 deaths reported on Thursday was under the age of ten. One was aged in their 50s; five were in their 60s; two were in their 70s; seven were in their 80s and four were aged over 90. Three of the deceased were from Auckland; one was from Waikato; five were from Bay of Plenty; two were from Hawke’s Bay; one was from the Greater Wellington region; one was from Nelson-Marlborough, five were from Canterbury and two were from Southern. Twelve were female and eight were male.

New community cases were reported in: Northland (207), Auckland (2796), Waikato (543), Bay of Plenty (237), Lakes (135), Hawke’s Bay (229), MidCentral (347), Whanganui (104), Taranaki (239), Tairāwhiti (68), Wairarapa (88), Capital and Coast (575), Hutt Valley (242), Nelson Marlborough (323), Canterbury (1379), South Canterbury (114), Southern (900), West Coast (76), and seven in unknown locations. The ministry also reported a further 97 Covid-19 cases detected at the border.

It seems to me that case numbers are going up again, while hospitalisations are falling.  The number of deaths continues to be a concern. Last night I listened to two ABC news podcasts (coronacast) saying that at present we’re dealing with sub-variants of the omicron variant of Covid 19; there could well be other variants yet to come; this might be like the flu, where different strains are common each winter, and ever winter we need a new flu jab. Dr Norman Swan also pointed out that statistically the risk of dying is greater now than it was two years ago, in Australasia, but we have added defences like vaccines, drugs to treat coronavirus, and more effective masks.

There is a new book out called The Palace Papers by Tina Brown.  Stories from it are dribbling out, including a story that Meghan Markle hated every second of her and Prince Harry’s Australasian tour shortly after their dramatic wedding.  Well, she certainly smiled for the cameras, and I doubt that she regretted changing into a new dress three times a day, sometimes forgetting to remove the label.  The New Zealand taxpayers shelled out a princely sum for this tour; I expect the proprietors of the Maranui Café in Wellington’s Lyall Bay aren’t best pleased either; even if you’re with Team Harkle (and I am certainly not), you’d have to be a teensy bit upset, I think, that she didn’t even enjoy the tour. I know there was that incident where she left early, and it was said the heat was too much for her; nevertheless, it would have been good manners if she could have been nice about it all. We (almost) all feel cheated now. I was sceptical when they married, but was prepared to give them the benefit of the doubt, that it might turn out better than it has; if I were Archie Mountbatten-Windsor’s sister, I’d be mightily disappointed not to have met the famous great-grandmother she was supposedly named after.

On Monday evening there are two attractions, requiring some bravery. One is a showing (a film of the Metropolitan Opera in New York) of Mussorgsky’s opera, Boris Godunov, at the Penthouse Theatre, with a special dinner – Chicken Kiev, as well; the other is a concert at St Paul’s Cathedral with members of the NZSO and the Tudor Consort playing – for Ukraine.  Both of these are very tempting – I hope I get to go to one of them.

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

Blinded by the Light

A painting by Caravaggio on the conversion of Paul

Today is Friday April 29th 2022. Kia ora.

I slept well last night, and it’s been a good day.  The weather continues to be fine and warm, although it’s cold in the nights and mornings. I changed the sheets and towels, and then went with JD for an appointment in Thorndon. After this we had lunch at La Cloche, where I had a salmon and leek tart with salad, and we shared a beautiful cake with an almond flavour.

In the afternoon someone came from Access to do some cleaning. I’m enjoying reading my new Anne Tyler novel, French Braid.

Today’s Covid 19 report is so-so, with 8,242 new community cases, and 14 deaths. There are 480 people in hospital and 15 of them are in Intensive Care.

On Friday night we watched a strange film called Windfall on one of the streaming giants. The female lead was the woman who starred in Emily in Paris (a series I found extremely annoying).

On Saturday, another fine day, JD had an appointment in Karori. Afterwards, we enjoyed a very nice lunch at the Gipps St Deli.  I had quiche and salad. Normally I’m weary of quiche, but this was really nice. I also had a chocolate caramel slice, also delicious: I took most of it home to finish later. Then we went to the Warehouse in Porirua. There was a special on woollen slippers, which I need, so I tried some on, and JD tried some on too, since it was two pairs for $18 – an unbelievably low price. We move to the checkout, only to find we had too queue up for self checkout. The slipper special turned out not to apply – we’d got the wrong things. I didn’t want to go back – there were many people by that time, and I was very tired, so we let it go, but I was angry about the misleading signage.

The Covid 19 report wasn’t too bad, with 7,043 new community cases, and 7 deaths.  The Washington Post reports that formerly unvaccinated older adults were dying, but now the vaccinated elderly are dying too. I couldn’t read the rest of the article, so don’t know any more than that. I’m not sure how many people were in hospital, but as I recall there were 15 in Intensive Care, down from previous numbers.

On Sunday morning I went to church. There would have been barely 30 people there, but we had the organ, and it was marvellous. We sang Immortal, Invisible, This is the Day, Come Thou long expected Jesus, and There is a Redeemer. One of the texts was the famous story in Acts of Saul/Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus.  There is that wonderful bit where Ananias, sent to him, says Saul, brother; and this was a zealous young man who actively sought out Christians in order to destroy them, and had sat by while Stephen was stoned.

 Afterwards I caught a bus back to Johnsonville.  Later this week my Thursday morning singing starts up again, after cancelling term one.

Today it’s reported that there are 5,646 new community cases of Covid 19, and 6 further deaths. There’ve now been 750 deaths from Covid 19 (or with Covid 19). It’s also reported that someone from overseas has tested positive for an omicron sub-variant BA.4, not hitherto found in New Zealand. There are 466 people in hospital, including 16 in Intensive Care.

Case numbers in each DHB were as follows: Northland (139), Auckland (606), Waikato (341), Bay of Plenty (175), Lakes (116), Hawke’s Bay (149), MidCentral (202), Whanganui (64), Taranaki (149), Tairāwhiti (99), Wairarapa (58), Capital and Coast (360), Hutt Valley (152), Nelson Marlborough (222), Canterbury (931), South Canterbury (118), Southern (625), West Coast (74), Unknown (6). There were 62 cases at the border.  The numbers are certainly taking a while to wind right down; while New Zealand is well past this peak, it’s taking ages for the numbers to dwindle right away.

With regard to the war in Ukraine, I’ll try to condense the facts that have made an impression on me in the last few days. The head of the UN, Antony Gutierrez, went to Kyiv, after visiting Putin in Moscow, and the Russians shelled Kyiv while he was there. I guess it’s a good thing that he went, but I’ve heard it said he didn’t condemn the war forcefully enough. There are also issues over whether the Ukrainians are grateful enough for the support they’re receiving, mainly from the US, where President Biden continues to ask Congress for large sums of money to support Ukraine, both militarily and from a humanitarian perspective. There is discussion about offensive as opposed to defensive weaponry. It seems the US has now accepted that Ukraine may “win” this conflict – although what winning means has not really been defined. It made a big difference for US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin to go to Kyiv; also, many countries, including the US, are setting up embassies there again. It seems the Ukrainians are still having victories in small skirmishes, but heavy fighting continues in Donbas and the Donbas regions in the East of Ukraine.  It also seems that the Russians have captured several more small towns and deported more Ukrainians into Russia. Several people have commented on Putin’s brutality, comparing it to that of Stalin. The threat of nuclear war is ever present.

It’s now Tuesday May 3rd.

Yesterday on Monday I got a lift into town with JD and went to see The Duke, starring Jim Broadbent and Helen Mirren. Actually I didn’t enjoy it as much as I expected: it seemed really slow-moving to start with, and the desperate poverty and living conditions and general cruelty seemed very sad.  It was diverting, however, and nice to get out. There were only 3 other people in the theatre, so I felt quite safe.

It’s reported that there are 9,109 new community cases of Covid-19 today and 20 related deaths.  There are 481 people in hospital, including 10 in ICU.

One person was from Northland, one from Auckland, two from Waikato, two from Bay of Plenty, four from Tairāwhiti, four from the Greater Wellington region, five from Canterbury and one from Southern. One person was in their 50s, three in their 60s, three in their 70s, eight in their 80s and five were aged over 90. Of the people who have died, 12 were women and eight were men.

The locations of today’s community cases are Northland (266), Auckland (2678), Waikato (547), Bay of Plenty (280), Lakes (167), Hawke’s Bay (283), MidCentral (365), Whanganui (121), Taranaki (249), Tairāwhiti (88), Wairarapa (89), Capital and Coast (437), Hutt Valley (433), Nelson Marlborough (332), Canterbury (1586), South Canterbury (161), Southern (947) and the West Coast (78). The locations of two cases are unknown.

The 481 cases in hospital are in Northland (30), Waitematā (75), Counties Manukau (70), Auckland (90), Waikato (33), Bay of Plenty (27), Lakes (two), Hawke’s Bay (11), Taranaki (four), Whanganui (one), MidCentral (eight), Wairarapa (one), Hutt Valley (five), Capital and Coast (13), Nelson Marlborough (nine), Canterbury (70), South Canterbury (three), West Coast (one) and the Southern region (28).

Meanwhile, 128 Covid-19 cases have been detected at the border. 128!

Yesterday there 6636 new cases in the community and seven people died with the virus – this brings the total number of publicly reported deaths with Covid-19 to 757. There were 480 people in hospital, including 12 in ICU or HDU.

In Ukraine, some people were able to evacuate safely from Mariupol, but the Russians started shelling again as soon as they were gone.  Reports are conflicted, as ever; the Ukrainians are having success with preventing Russian forces from achieving their war aims, whatever they are; but Russian troops are still inflicting lots of damage and doing lots of harm. It seems some Ukrainians have been forcibly repatriated to Russia.  Who are they, and where have they gone?  It could be very difficult to track this down sometime in the future. Nancy Pelosi has made a visit to Kyiv, and promised more aid until the job is done. Some in the US are saying it was a good thing for her to go there, but it should have been bipartisan.  The EU is trying to draw up a plan to get agreement to reduce its dependence on Russian oil and gas.

In China, a mass evacuation centre has opened in Beijing; evidently wanting to avoid the protests in Shanghai, the government has closed restaurants and schools and limited access to some facilities, but has thus far avoided a complete lockdown.  You have to show evidence of a negative test to use public transportation. Facilities in evacuation centres aren’t great – no one wants to go there.  It seems many people diagnosed positive are asymptomatic, which is perhaps unusual.  There hasn’t been much of it here. Apparently cases are surging again in South Africa (and in New York). South Africa has seen variants of the omicron variant of the coronavirus. The two people diagnosed here with the BA4 subvariant both flew here from South Africa. Should we be more afraid, than we already are?  We are reassured (for now) by Those Who Should Know about these things. Are we ever going to be free from the coronavirus? I doubt it, now. Initially I said This Too Shall Pass; I have my doubts, now. It has totally changed our lives.

In the US, a document leaked by Politico claims that the US Supreme Court has voted to strike down Roe vs Wade, thus ending legal abortion in the US, unless individual states elect to make it available in their own state. In Georgia, a long-awaited grand jury is being convened to look into Trump’s phone call to Brad Raffensberger.

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

Lest we Forget

It’s now Anzac Day, Monday April 25th. Kia ora.

Actually it’s now Thursday April 28th. I’ve not been writing lately.  Monday was a quiet day, with shops not opening until midday; accordingly, I walked to the local supermarket at midday to get croissants for lunch. Because Monday was a kind of holiday, I didn’t get my latest Listener delivered, but it did come the next day. I must admit I don’t have huge feelings for Anzac Day; thankfully, nobody close to me died in any war, although JD’s father was in the British Army (and was quite severely affected by his experiences, in my view). From my side of the family anyone who was called up would have been a conscientious objector, bearing in mind the fifth of the Ten Commandments, Thou shalt not kill.  Of course, we now monitor each day the dreadful “progress” of the unprovoked war in Ukraine, and again are thankful that none of our loved ones is directly involved. There are advantages to being here at the bottom of the world, although I would still love to go to Ukraine.

On Monday evening we watched a very affecting film version of Journey’s End, on Māori television.  I was especially moved by the men being so kind to each other. 

On Tuesday I went to town to Unity Books to get a present for my eldest granddaughter.  My loyalty card came due, so I got a copy of Anne Tyler’s latest novel.  I do like her books, and perhaps I can lend it to a friend after I’ve read it.  I was going to have lunch at Smith the Grocer in The Old Bank Arcade, but not only was there nowhere to sit, there was a long queue there.  Instead I went to Sierra Café, a spacious one, where there was a queue too, but there were empty tables.  It’s good to see these places busy again.  I went to Whitcoulls to buy a copy of the Economist and a padded envelope, then walked to Lambton Square and took the escalators up to the Terrace to find a lab to have a blood test.  I walked back down, and then called in to Farmers, to check out their specials on nightwear.  I didn’t buy any nightwear but upstairs they had good specials on woollen jerseys with roll-neck collars. Just then JD rang and offered to pick me up. I gratefully accepted, but he said, Oh, by the way, get me something to eat.  Well, that posed problems. I walked back to Lambton Square where there used to be a Muffin Break, where I’d bought him lunch before. It was no longer there.  I figured sushi wouldn’t cut it for him, and I was really tired by this time, and carrying the books I’d bought too.  I ended up going to a Mr Bun café in Waring Taylor Street. There was a flight of stairs, with no handrail, and then another, this time with a very sticky handrail. I bought him some pre-packaged chicken, avocado and lettuce sandwiches and a blueberry muffin. Then I sat down to wait in Midland Park, where, thankfully, it was mild and sunny, to get picked up.  It was busy-ish on town with perhaps 70-80% of people wearing masks.  Some places still have QR codes to scan, others do not, although I am habituated now to keeping a record of where I’ve been, adding a manual entry to my Covid ap if necessary. At no time did I feel unsafe. In the evening we watched another episode of The First Lady. Gillian Anderson is pretty good as Eleanor Roosevelt, and Michelle Pfeifer is wonderful as Betty Ford, but disposed as I am to admire Viola Davis, I do not like her presentation of Michelle Obama.  It’s still quite an interesting series, though, although it jumps around in time. Sometimes you wish they wouldn’t do that.

On Wednesday I was due to go to hymn singing at 9:15 am, and I wanted to post my parcel afterwards.  Singing was lovely, of course: we sang the Easter Hymn, and When I Behold the wondrous Cross, amongst other things.  I had a friend coming to visit in the afternoon, so I scampered around trying to tidy things up, and feeling quite inadequate.  JD had an appointment but on his way back managed to get a potato-topped pie from Nada in Tawa, so that took care of dinner – we had it with some salad.  In the evening we watched some of The Score on Māori television, starring Robert de Niro and Marlon Brando. He seemed slightly more together than he did in the Godfather, but it was his last movie before his death, and the story goes that he was extremely difficult in the movie.  We watched for a while and returned to videos about US politics.

This morning I went into town again – to check out the Farmers specials. After telling myself I had quite enough clothes already, I decided I wanted to check out this sale.  And it was worthwhile: I got some more corduroy trousers, and a woollen jersey, and got the savings on the two items.  I’m pleased with that. Afterwards I had coffee and a toasted cheese scone (the best!) at Smith the Grocer, and then caught a No 14 bus up Molesworth Street to near the New World supermarket. It was very quiet in the big store, so I shopped at leisure, having arranged that JD would pick me up there. Panic set in when he finally answered my call at 2:10 pm, saying he had a 3 pm appointment, and, by the way, would I get him something to eat?  I gritted my teeth, got him a croissant, and bought raspberries, lettuce, brussels sprouts, salads, tonic water, another potato topped pie, and bread, knowing I would have to pack all this myself – the checkout staff at New World Thorndon don’t do packing.  As it turned out I needn’t have rushed; I ended up waiting for him outside, again sitting outside in the mild, sunny weather.

So, what’s been happening?  On the Covid 19 front, Covid 19 is still very much with us, but not as serious now in Wellington or Hawkes Bay – more serious down south. I did another RAT test yesterday before my friend came to visit, being slightly nervous about our activities last Saturday (the movie, the Borough in Tawa), but thankfully it was negative.  I have messages from Manage My Health about the blood test results, but they are confusing – I’ll have to go and see my doctor for an interpretation.

Today’s numbers are as follows: 9.047 new community cases, and another 13 deaths. There are 484 people in hospital, and 15 of them are in Intensive Care.

Two of those who died were from the Auckland region, three from Bay of Plenty, two from Waikato, one from Taranaki, one from MidCentral, one from Hawke’s Bay, and three from Canterbury. Two were in their 50s, two in their 60s, one in their 70s, three in their 80s, and five were over 90. Five were women and eight were men.

There were new community cases in Northland (276), Auckland (2519), Waikato (550), Bay of Plenty (335), Lakes (129), Hawke’s Bay (281), MidCentral (344), Whanganui (108), Taranaki (215), Tairāwhiti (137), Wairarapa (95), Capital and Coast (589), Hutt Valley (236), Nelson Marlborough (358), Canterbury (1505), South Canterbury (185), Southern (1,065), West Coast (113), and seven in unknown locations. Officials also reported an additional 80 cases at the border.

There were 9830 new community cases reported on Wednesday – an increase of 3450 cases on the day prior.

It seems that Covid 19 is always a step ahead of us. We obediently get used to scanning, vaccine passes, and mask-wearing, when now most restrictions have bee lifted.  There’s a new drug to treat Covid 19; mask-wearing is still pretty common here, but sometimes you’ll search to find a QR code.  We put huge effort into getting vaccinated, and then it’s not a sure thing that you won’t get the virus – but you probably won’t be hospitalised or die of it. That said, there’s still an alarming number of deaths here. 

In the US, Dr Fauci claims that probably half of all Americans have had the virus. Almost 1,000,000 people have died from Covid 19 thus far.  Some have had a second booster. Here, there’s no medical recommendation to have a second booster shot.  In the US, many well-known Democrats, including Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Adam Schiff, and Attorney General Merrick Garland have caught Covid 19; there was a Gridiron dinner where many people supposedly caught the virus. One has to wonder if this was some dastardly plan. President Biden has had his second booster jab, although his press secretary Jen Psaki and her deputy, Karine Jean-Pierre, have it too.

China is pursuing it’s Covid-zero policy, despite protests in Shanghai; now there are community cases in Beijing, and everyone here is to be tested for the coronavirus.  There are reports that officials can’t tell President Xi news that he doesn’t want to hear; that with omicron, lockdowns don’t work in limiting the spread of the disease. China’s economy is in a bad state, with the Shanghai lockdown further worsening it.

In the US, Kevin McCarthy is in a whole world of pain, as more and more recordings are released, and text messages to Mark Meadows, Trump’s former Chief of Staff, showing how scarily close Americans came to losing their so-called democracy during the riot on January 6, and the period before and afterwards.  Fox News’s Tucker Carlson has come out against McCarthy, for being a closet Democrat (PS I don’t think they’d have him!); meanwhile, at a rally, republicans cheered for him.  It’s kind of strange to see republicans in disarray. I wonder if the Democrats can capitalise on this.

The war in Ukraine drags on, US Secretary od State Anthony Blinken and Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin having visited Kyiv; Austin spoke very well, and they’ve achieved major success in unifying opposition to Putin’s invasion of Russia.  Russia has announced a boycott of oil supplies to Poland and Bulgaria;  he’s also threated “immediate retaliation” to any nation that supplies arms to Ukraine, in an even scarier threat. What does it mean? Who can say? Russian Foreign Secretary Lavrov is calling this a real threat, but the Russians have lied so many times, who can tell what Putin intends?  We’re all scared, but down here, perhaps not quite so scared. We have other things to be afraid of.  There have been disasters for the Russians, too – not just inside Ukraine, where sabotage of their equipment continues, but some events in Russia that no one’s yet claimed responsibility for, like a fire at a defence depot.  Putin is not seen awarding medals for bravery, or even visiting the wounded, or bereaved parents.  There are concerns that he’s making inroads to Moldova, too, and there’s the strange and complicated case of Transnistria. Thousands of people have been killed on both sides. President Zelensky continues to amaze the rest of the world with his strong, proud demeanour. He looks exhausted, but we don’t see him wearing some amazing uniform with lots of medals, he’s simply dressed, usually in fleece, sometimes in a bullet-proof vest. More and more the rest of us realise that the brave Ukrainians are fighting on all of our behalf.  We salute them, and unite behind them.

Here in Invercargill, four young men were killed in a dreadful car crash. Elon Musk us going to buy Twitter, a move which causes despair in most people. Some wit thinks people on the Right will buy Tesla electric cars, in response. Will Trump be allowed back on Twitter? He’s set up Truth Social, which is apparently not a success.  I think Musk should use his undoubted intelligence to do something far more useful. JD pointed out that there’s a waiting list for Tesla cars.  Oh, and Madison Cawthorn was nabbed for trying to take a loaded gun on a plane in North Carolina.

In Australia, there’s an election coming up soon, and predictably, there’s anger about a proposed deal between China and the Solomon Islands. There’s some very scary war-mongering statements from Australians, including from Peter Dutton, their Defence Minister. In my view, they should have done more to help the Solomons.  Although we’re four hours’ flying time away from Australia, I don’t doubt that we’ll be lumped in with them, regardless of how much we/I disagree with many of their statements and policies.

This morning the mail came really  early. It included a new issue of the LLRB dated 7 April. It has a very moving article written by a British reporter who went to Ukraine.

That’s it for now. Slava Ukraini! Nga mihi.

Low Sunday

The Mariupol Steel Plant

It’s now Saturday April 16th, 2022. Kia ora!

Today we get a Covid 19 report. There are 13,636 new community cases of Covid 19, and there’ve been 30 further deaths.  It’s reported that today’s community cases included 7763 on Good Friday and 5748 today, while the 30 deaths, included 20 on Friday and 10 today, the ministry said in a statement. There are 500 people in hospital including 15 in ICU.

Among the new cases today 638 are in Northland, 869 in Auckland, 1079 in Waikato, 532 in Bay of Plenty, 266 in Lakes , 460 in Hawke’s Bay, 556 in MidCentral, 244 in Whanganui, 429 in Taranaki, 120 in Tairāwhiti, 121 in Wairarapa , 822 in Capital and Coast, 522 in Hutt Valley, 451 in Nelson Marlborough, 2255 in Canterbury, 325 in South Canterbury, 1747 in Southern, 137 in West Coast and 14 cases yet to be classified.

Saturday is a very quiet day.

On Sunday morning, it is Easter Sunday.  I don’t go to the 7 am service, but I do go to church at 10 am. We sing Thine be the Glory, This is the Day, In Christ Alone my hope is found, and Te aroha.  The texts are from Acts 10, where Peter preaches the first sermon, and from John’s Gospel chapter 20.   It is quite wonderful. Afterwards I wait for JD to pick me up outside the library, where it is sunny. The only places open are the dairy and one café.

In the afternoon, our youngest son and his wife are to come and see us.

The 1 pm Covid 19 report is so-so: there are 5,933 new community cases, and there have been a further 10 deaths. There are 537 people in hospital, and 20 of them are in Intensive Care.

On Monday evening we went to Wellington Airport to farewell our loved ones. It wasn’t too busy there. We managed to park in the “right” (convenient) area.

It’s now Wednesday April 20th.

Today I got brave and went to a movie in Brooklyn with a friend. JD took us in, and we had coffee afterwards and talked about the movie, Nowhere Special.  James Norton was the lead actor, sporting an Irish accent; he acted very well, and the child was superb.  It was such a sad, but uplifting story.  We caught a bus to Wellington Railway Station, and then another bus to the Northern Suburbs.

On Tuesday there were 8,270 new cases, and 5 deaths reported, with 305 people in hospital – marked reductions.

The Covid 19 report is as follows: 11,217 new cases, and 13 further deaths. That’s up a bit from the previous two days. There are 547 people in hospital, and 14 in Intensive Care. It’s reported that the locations of those who died include Nelson-Marlborough (1); Auckland (1); Hutt Valley (2); Northland (1); Hawkes Bay (1); Whanganui (2); Canterbury (2); Waitemata (1); Mid-Central (1); and Taranaki (1).

It’s reported that the cases in hospital are split between Northland: 41; Waitemata: 92; Counties Manukau: 82; Auckland: 83; Waikato: 38; Bay of Plenty: 22; Lakes: 7; Hawke’s Bay: 17; Taranaki: 9; Whanganui: 4; MidCentral: 12; Wairarapa: 4; Hutt Valley: 18; Capital & Coast: 15; Nelson Marlborough: 9; Canterbury: 49; South Canterbury: 4; West Coast: 1 and Southern: 40. There are no people with Covid-19 in hospital in Tairāwhiti on Wednesday. There are still an alarming number of people in hospital.

In Ukraine, the brutality continues.  Another Russian general has died; the Ukrainians have taken out another expensive Russian missile; a friend of Putin has been found dead in his Moscow luxury apartment, along with his wife and younger daughter; their bodies were found by the elder daughter, all shot with his pistol. The Russians have been bombing Lyiv, and seven people were killed;  the Russians have concentrated forces in the Donbas region, and the battle has already begun. It’s reported to have been raining in Eastern Ukraine, thus creating muddy conditions for Russian tanks and troops. Besieged Mariupol has been asked to surrender, twice, and has refused.  In some cities, there is no food or water and conditions must be dreadful. The early “romance” of sheltering in underground railway tunnels has long lost its lustre, as we continue to see the brutality of Russian troops: their theft, and their cruelty. Europe is trying to avoid its dependence on Russian gas and oil, but this is in doubt if Marine le Pen wins the French presidential election.  In her show today Rachel Maddow outlined what a dreadful person her father was, and emphasised her friendship with Putin.

It’s now Friday April 22nd.

I have not been writing recently. I am rereading the novel Stalingrad, by Vasily Grossman (translated), a book which so impressed me when I first read it during our first lockdown two years ago. How naïve we were then! To think that life would “go back to normal” any time soon. The first lockdown was a circuit breaker, and a welcome relief to many of us, who were so relieved that the government was taking action to protect us, and there was a wage subsidy too. I don’t doubt that many people were severely affected, but few complained, back then; furthermore, we saw the results of our efforts, with numbers of Covid 19 patients steadily falling, and pretty soon we could get back to doing things here in New Zealand again, like going to church, movies and concerts, eating out, and travelling within the country. Children could go back to school, and by and large we were free from fear, as we watched the  dreadful scenes in overseas hospitals of ambulances queuing to unload their patients, refrigerated morgues for the dead bodies, and people on ventilators. But twas not thus here: we were protected; the dreadful scenes overseas made us thankful, or at least less complaining, about the fact that we couldn’t go anywhere outside the country.

I have also been listening to podcasts, many about warfare and history. They seem to go together, somehow. I’ve also been listening to the Collapse Surfside podcast, about the collapse of the Champlain Towers apartment building.  It’s most interesting to me to hear how the disaster unfolded, and the individual stories of how different people and their families were affected. You would think, well at least they’ll get the insurance, but that’s where it gets complicated. As in so many of these sad stories, building and maintenance was shoddy, and while you might have paid handsomely for your lovely home, it probably wasn’t worth much when disaster struck.

Now in 2022 here things are very different. Thankfully, vaccination rates are very high, but there are still an alarming daily number of deaths. We have just been through what was for us hopefully peak Covid 19, with the infectious omicron variant at large, affecting many of us, and many services. Thankfully, with being doubly vaccinated and boostered, it’s hoped that most of us won’t be ill enough to go to hospital or die with it, should we get it. But no one anywhere wants to get it!

Today a friend visited in the morning, bringing us some fruit cake (yum!); late this afternoon, someone from Access came to do some housework. Thankfully I feel better today, and it wasn’t such a struggle for me to have a previously unknown person come to “help”.

Today’s Covid 19 report tells me there are 9,390 new community cases, with 56 new cases identified at the border, and 522 people in hospital. There have been a further 13 deaths, including a person between 10 and 19 years old. Other than that, they were older folk – all over 70. Yesterday there were 10,294 new community cases, with 66 identified at the border. There were 524 cases in hospital, and there had been 18 deaths. The death total is now 646. It’s still a scary time, and you can get Covid 19 more than once (some people just don’t get it – which is still unaccounted for).

This virus is still very much with us, and people are still dying – here, in Australia, in the UK ad the US, just not nearly as many as previously. In Australia, the Labour Party leader, Antony Albanese, has tested positive, as has the premier of Western Australia.

In China, in Shanghai they are seeing their first deaths; it seems the lockdowns have been somewhat relaxed, after people rioted because they couldn’t get food.  Some have been quarantined – many are covid 19 positive but asymptomatic, and they complain of lights being on all night, and no hot showers. In Taiwan, the numbers of community cases of Covid 19 are increasing now, but they won’t do a lockdown, they’ll continue to take sensible precautions.

In Ukraine, the conflict grinds on. Satellite images show a mass grave in Mariupol mass grave; the steelworks there are still being bombarded; and some say Mariupol will be the resounding image of this war. Evidently the Russians rejected the suggestion of an Easter truce (they don’t need a risen Saviour, then); in Moscow the chief exec of Lukoil has resigned after speaking  out against the war in Ukraine. There was some more scare-mongering from Putin, but the US i.e. President Biden announced another $800m aid package.

On Saturday we went to a movie in Pauatahanui, Everything Everywhere all at Once.  It had a very good review, but it was very long and not really my cup of tea, with lots of sci-fi adventure and kung fu. I think JD enjoyed it more than me. The theatre was by no means full, but we weren’t asked where we’d like to sit, and discovered that there were couples seated either side of us, with no gap in between. I was reluctant to move, not knowing how many seats had been sold. So that was a little strange. The movie lasted so long that most cafés had closed or were about to close, so we went to the Borough in Tawa to have something to eat. They advised they could offer us pizzas and bar snacks only; that was fine, but the flies were alarming!  We were handed dirty menus, and ordered a pizza and some fries. I ordered a mocktail, but it wasn’t very enjoyable, and fortunately not very large, as it came in a sticky champagne flute with no straw, and was quite difficult to drink. I decided I will have a RAT test before a friend visits during the week.  We went home for coffee.

Saturday’s Covid 19 report was alarming, with 19 deaths, including 2 children under 9. There were 7,930 new community cases, and 494 people in hospital, including 15 in Intensive Care.  One assumes that young people who die with Covid 19 are immune-compromised in some way, or already living with major health issues. It’s mostly older people who die – from 50/60 upwards.

It’s now Sunday April 24th.

This morning I went to church, and was happy to hear the organ played again. It is Low Sunday, apparently – the first Sunday after Easter.  There weren’t many there – perhaps almost 40, but the Wadestown congregation joined us too. Of course, I have no idea how many were on zoom.  Today’s theme was about spreading the good news of the risen Jesus.  It’s again a beautiful sunny day with little wind. Afterwards, I went shopping at New World, but there were no raspberries today. I consoled myself with buying some more feijoas.

This morning I listened to Preet Bharara talking to Bill Browder, on his podcast, Stay Tuned with Preet; and The Rest is Politics podcast, with Alastair Campbell and Rory Stewart. I’m not disposed to like Alastair Campbell very much, but I am interested in what they have to say, seeing as they’re both intelligent and well travelled! I am realising how limited we are here in terms of travel abroad. In the earlier one it was very interesting to hear Bill Browder again. The oligarchs, far from being Putin’s best friends and this likely to influence him, operate at Putin’s pleasure and discretion, and daren’t annoy him. In fact, there’ve been a number of unexplained deaths recently of seriously rich and influential people close to Putin.  One doesn’t believe the Russian police stories about their deaths, especially after they were spectacularly uncooperative with British police after the painful death of Alexander Litvinenko from polonium poisoning.  That death caused a scare in London for potential radiation poisoning, as did the poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury (they later recovered). 

Today’s Covid 19 report is as follows: there  are 5,662 new community cases, and there have been 9 deaths.  The XE variant of omicron has been discovered (in an overseas arrival, I think), and is not thought to pose much of a problem. I must say most of us wouldn’t have a clue whether we had it or not, since most of us are using RAT tests at home. Presumably some of the PCR tests are further analysed for BA1 or BA2 or XE (which I gather is a combination of BA1 and BA2).  There is still a lot of Covid 19 about here; it’s very infectious, whatever variant it is. In the UK, one in a hundred people have died from Covid 19! People are still dying in the US, and in Australia. Here, there are presently 490 people in hospital, and 20 in Intensive Care. It’s reported that Of the nine people who have died one was in their 50s, one in their 60s, one in their 70s, one in their 80s and five people were over 90.

The locations of today’s cases are in Northland (203), Auckland (1455), Waikato (365), Bay of Plenty (223), Lakes (85), Hawke’s Bay (187), MidCentral (196), Whanganui (68), Taranaki (152), Tairāwhiti (50), Wairarapa (53), Capital and Coast (355), Hutt Valley (191), Nelson Marlborough (224), Canterbury (978), South Canterbury (128), Southern (666), West Coast (81), Unknown (2). The total number of publicly reported deaths with Covid-19 is now 674.  These numbers would have freaked us out a few months ago; in fact, I still find them alarming, although they’re slowly dropping.

In Ukraine, the sad saga continues. Putin claims to have taken Mariupol; Zelensky says troops are holding out there. The Ukrainians are damaging much Russian equipment; the Russian soldiers’ morale is still very poor. It seems Russian troops have captured several small towns; there are more reports of mass graves; yet Zelensky is still willing to negotiate.  Meanwhile, brutality continues. A baby has been killed in Odessa.  On it goes.  Slava Ukraini! Ngā mihi.

Maundy Thursday

Cenacolo Vinciano

It’s now Wednesday April 13th 2022. Kia ora!

This morning I learn that the mayor of Mariupol claims there are 20,000 dead in his city; somewhere else I read it’s 21,000. There are fears that Russian troops have used chemical weapons in Eastern Ukraine. The Ukrainians have damaged a rail bridge; and Putin insists his aims are in Ukraine are noble; that there is really no alternative. Well, Russian troops retreated from Kyiv, didn’t they?  Remember the miles long convoy of tanks that was headed for Kyiv?

There’s also been a horrible mass shooting in the New York subway. I’ve been on that subway, several times. The culprit evidently flooded a carriage with gas, before letting loose with ammunition.  Over 20 people have been injured, and 10 have been shot (but not dead).  How is it that really bad shootings happen under democratic presidents? And that many think that violence at the end of a gun is the answer to any disagreement?

I also listened to a podcast explaining that a significant branch of conservatism was against President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, which helped America through and out of the Great Depression of the 1930’s.  For a nation that is supposedly a godly one, there are some very unchristian attitudes there towards anyone less advantaged than yourself.

This morning I get up early to go to hymn singing.  One normal attendee has a sore throat, so there are very few of us. I sing quite well to start with, then get a frog in my throat that I can’t get rid of. Afterwards, the organist and I clarify when the services will be held over Easter. There is a service on Good Friday in the evening, not at 10 am, so I may be able to go. I have a family gathering on Friday morning. Then I go shopping at the supermarket, and there is hardly anyone there. But they do have cheese scones, after a long absence. It’s always tricky finding what I want at a store that’s not so familiar to me. JD doesn’t always get my texts, so I need to ring him if I don’t get a text reply.

The Hon. Chris Hipkins gives the Covid 19 update today. The entire country is to move to the Orange setting at midnight tonight, meaning there are no limits on numbers at gatherings. There is confusion about masks – they’re still recommended, I gather, but not compulsory.

Today’s the statistics are reported as follows: ​9495 community cases; 551 hospitalisations; 27 in ICU; 15 deaths. The OCR has risen by 50 basis points to 1.5%.   There seems to be no further information.

It’s now Thursday April 14th.

This morning I went to a committee meeting for our Thursday singing group at a café in Khandallah. It’s not too busy there, and it’s wonderful to see everyone again. It’s another lovely fine day in Wellington.

I listened to two alarming podcasts this morning. One had Ruth Ben-Ghiat being interviewed by Charlie Sykes, talking about “Gambling for Resurrection”; well, Putin will certainly be remembered as a tyrant, given that he’s more and more resembling his predecessor, Stalin, in his disrespect for human life, his cruelty to Ukraine (which has no right to exist, by the way), and his paranoia. It’s reported that not only is his spy chief now in prison (he was formerly under house arrest), but Putin has had 150 FSB agents arrested. Another dissident, Vladimir Kara-Murza, has been arrested in Moscow (after being interviewed by Ali Velshi on the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC). Meanwhile in Ukraine a pro-Putin person Viktor Medvedchuk has been arrested, and may be used as a bargaining chip (the Kremlin says No to that). Evidently more bodies are being discovered in Bucha, and 9 Ukrainian women are pregnant as a result of being raped by Russian soldiers. It’s reported that 765 civilian bodies have been found in Kyiv. It’s also reported that the Russians are claiming that more than 1,000 Ukrainian marines have surrendered in Mariupol. This claim has not been verified and is being treated with a degree of suspicion.

But I also listened to Samantha Power being interviewed by Rachel Maddow; she’s been to Ukraine three times recently, and she’s helping them to document the war crimes being committed there. She looks weary, and much older than how I remembered her. President Biden has accused Putin of genocide.  Although for some reason the US does not belong to the ICC (are they scared of being prosecuted themselves?), it’s hoped and expected that Putin will face justice for these terrible acts, just as after the conflict in the Balkans ended, some of the crimes of ethnic cleansing were prosecuted.  It’s hoped that this acts as a deterrent. 

Apparently Putin addressed Russia yesterday, claiming what he called noble aims in Ukraine, but some recorded that he didn’t seem particularly well at the time, unlike previous appearances. Finland and Sweden are on track to join NATO, (after previous reluctance), and it’s recalled how bravely the Finns defended themselves and their country against Russia, their much larger invader towards the end of 1939. A Russian ship is evidently on fire: the UK’s Guardian reports that the ship that was engaged at Snake Island at the beginning of the war is now on fire and seriously damaged after a strike in the Black Sea.

Today’s 1 pm Covid 19 report features 9,563 new community cases, and 16 deaths. There are 528 people in hospital, and 28 of them are in Intensive Care. Again, while numbers of new cases, and numbers hospitalised continue to fall, there are still significant numbers needing Intensive Care, and alarming numbers dying. It’s noted that the latter includes people who died and were found to have Covid 19; presumably in most cases they had pre-existing conditions that compromised their health.  It’s reported that of the deaths two people were in their 60s, six in their 70s, four in their 80s and four were over 90. It’s mainly older people dying with Covid 19.

Of the new community cases, it’s reported that 258 were in the Auckland region. The rest are spread across Northland: 37; Waikato: 43; Bay of Plenty: 17; Lakes: 9; Tairāwhiti: 2; Hawke’s Bay: 11; Taranaki: 7; Whanganui: 4; MidCentral: 22; Wairarapa: 1; Hutt Valley: 25; Capital and Coast: 7; Nelson Marlborough: 6; Canterbury: 42; South Canterbury: 4; West Coast: 1; Southern: 32. That’s definitely far less than the numbers we’ve been seeing for Hawkes Bay and Wellington.  Numbers in Auckland are still quite high, but then Auckland’s a big place.

This evening I went to the Maundy Thursday service at church. I have to admit I had never been to one before, although I had been to a Good Friday Midnight Mass at St Mary’s in Wellington when we were first married. It commemorates Jesus’ betrayal, the commandment to love one another, and the Last Supper.  It was very moving. We washed each others’ hands with (hand sanitiser), sang hymns, celebrated communion, and then went into the main church where there were readings from Matthew’s Gospel, and the candles were extinguished, leaving us to contemplate in darkness the solitude and suffering of our Lord before his crucifixion.

It’s now Good Friday, April 15th.

It’s confirmed that a flagship of the Russian fleet, the Moskva, which was anchored in the Black Sea has now sunk. It was on fire yesterday – evidently armed. It’s thought there were between 500 and 700 sailors on board. The Ukrainians claim to have attacked this ship; the Kremlin has admitted it was sunk. Ironically the ship was built at the (now) Ukrainian port of Mykoliav, in Eastern Ukraine; even more ironically, this ship asked Ukrainians to surrender at the beginning of the war at Snake Island, too be met by the response: “F— you”.  Well, now the ship is well and truly f___ed. 

Back here, the biggest concern is how the new Transmission Gully road will cope with Easter long weekend and school holiday traffic.  I guess there’ll still be a bottleneck somewhere – just further north, maybe, between Otaki and Levin.

There’s no Covid 19 report today.  This morning we had a very nice family gathering, where we spilled outside, drank coffee, and ate very nice vegan gluten-free buns. In the afternoon we had a lovely chat with our daughter. What a beautiful smile she has. Easter is usually a lonely time for me, when most of our family go away to their in-laws, and we avoid going away, i.e. avoid the traffic, the crowds and the high prices.

In the UK, Johnson and Sunak have been fined over what is now known as the Partygate scandal. To distract from this, the UK has a plan to send migrants coming across the Channel trying to come to Great Britain to Rwanda instead. Which is the worse scandal? As with Trump, take your pick. It’s easy to forget the excruciating number of scandals, with new ones piled on. This seems a very cruel solution (maybe they got the idea frim Australia’s treatment of “boat people”.

It’s a strange day, with most shops closed, but there is a service at the church I attend in the evening (which is also on zoom). It’s hard to hear the recordings – zoom has its limitations, but the church is steadily darkened as the service of songs, readings and prayers continues. I get the feeling there aren’t many there, although the minister doesn’t give us on zoom (perhaps 4 of us), a view of the interior of the church. I listen to Bach’s St Matthew’s Passion again.

That’s it for now. The Russians are very displeased at the loss of the Moskva. Slava Ukraini! Ngā mihi.

Palm Sunday

On His way – to the Cross

It’s now Sunday April 10th, 2022. Kia ora!

This morning I continued being brave and went to church. It’s Palm Sunday, and there are services all week up until and including Easter Sunday, although I think gremlins have been at work and some of the dates are wrong and confusing. There aren’t many physically there; there’s no communal exchanging of the peace. Nevertheless, I’m pleased that I went.  The sermon talks about the war in Ukraine, amongst other things, and about religion being used to justify terrible deeds like Jesus’ crucifixion, and Christians killing Christians in Ukraine. The minister noted that the Russian Orthodox church, unlike most others, has not condemned this conflict. The time of Easter reminds us that death is not the end, however we die.  Palm Sunday points up the immense contrast between Jesus’ triumphal procession, and what then happens to him. There is beautiful organ playing today, and we sing All glory, laud and honour, At the Name of Jesus, and When I Survey the Wondrous Cross.

This morning I learnt that Boris Johnson had made a surprise visit to Kyiv and to President Zelensky, in a show of solidarity, promising more armaments. Ursula Von der Leyen of the EU has been there too, promising to fast-track Ukraine’s membership of the European Union. The Kremlin have acknowledged the number of casualties Russian forces have sustained; apparently Putin has appointed a new general to lead the next part of the invasion.

Meanwhile, in Pakistan, Prime Minister Imran Khan has been deposed – the confidence vote went ahead, against him. What does this mean? I gather  the military are again in charge of the nuclear-armed nation.  In France, Macron’s re-election is by no means a certainty, with opposers such as the left-wing Mélenchon and the far-right Zemmour (who is Jewish, but takes some strange positions), as well as his old rival, Marine le Pen.

Today’s Covid 19 report is mixed, with only 6,718 new cases. There are 604 people in hospital but 22 in Intensive Care. Sadly, there have been 12 further deaths.  It’s reported that eight of those who died were from the Auckland region, two from MidCentral, one from the Lakes DHB area, and one from Hawke’s Bay. One was aged in their 40s, one in their 50s, three in their 60s, two in their 70s, two in their 80s, and three over 90. Six were women and six were men. People are still dying from this virus – it certainly ain’t over yet, much as we would like it to be.

This afternoon I play Bach’s St Matthew Passion. I’m reminded of the time  when I took my eldest son to a live performance in Wellington’s Town Hall with its wonderful acoustics.  The Orpheus Choir were performing. It was memorable, and a solemn occasion.

It’s now Monday April 11th.

Last night we met our son and his wife at a Thai restaurant in Porirua. This was a sudden invitation!  There were all food options there, both eat-in and takeaway, but the large restaurant we went to was very busy, with three birthday groups.  The food was beautiful, but I was a bit disconcerted by a man without a mask who entered with us, and the busyness!  Still, it was lovely to go out, and most unusual for us. The menu was quite complicated, different from other Thai restaurants I’ve been to.

This morning I listen to several podcasts, and among them I hear Fiona Hill speaking to Ezra Klein. She speaks about the image of Putin riding a horse, shirtless; and then she talks about the Four Horses of the Apocalypse:  War (conflict in Ukraine), Sickness (the coronavirus pandemic), Famine (Ukraine was a prime grain-growing area), and Death, (present and yet to come).  It’s a scary image.  There is a general air of fear of the coming battle in Donbas, where Russian troops are massing, there’s (another) huge tank convoy, Putin has appointed a new General Dvornikov, who commanded the brutal Russian operation in Syria, and Ukrainian citizens have been advised to evacuate. It feels as though we’re (they’re) gearing up for a major battle between good and evil; and meanwhile, in the French election, a run off between Macron and Le Pen is envisaged. The consequences of a Le Pen win are greatly feared: she is known to have been a friend of Putin, although she hasn’t supported his current military exercise; and perhaps France will leave NATO.  Will Macron be re-elected? His valiant efforts to prevent the invasion of Ukraine by speaking directly to Putin failed. On Ukraine’s side, Slovakia is providing an Air-defence system to Ukraine, and the UK and the US are promising more arms. I guess it’s frustrating for anyone who wants to do things in secret when every move on any side is photographed and analysed on multiple news and social media sites. It’s very powerful to have such images shown almost contemporaneously with the events being filmed and recorded.  It’s been pointed out, too, that whatever Dvornikov’s strengths, the troops he will command are demoralised and have demonstrated very poor form thus far, showing degrees of ignorance and brutality that remind one of the terrible stories of the Soviet army entering Berlin in 1945. It feels apocalyptic, and let’s hope the brave Ukrainians keep up their spirit and determination not to be dominated by Russia.

Back here, it’s reported that Hawkes Bay hospital in Hastings is really struggling with the coronavirus. Hawkes Bay has been very hard hit, and it still continues for them.  The 1 pm report follows a trend now, of fewer reported cases, but still an alarming number of deaths: back in the first wave, there were only 60-odd deaths in all, and they were all elderly folk. It was a big event when somebody died from Covid 19. Today there are 11 new deaths reported; a total of 7,582 new cases; there are 640 people in hospital, and 23 in Intensive Care.

Of those whose deaths were reported on Monday, three were from Auckland, three were from Waikato, one was from Hawke’s Bay, one was from Taranaki, one was from Wellington, and two were from Canterbury. It’s reported that vulnerable people have been left without care, given that so many support staff are sick themselves, or isolating.

There were new community cases reported in Northland (312), Auckland (1378), Waikato (667), Bay of Plenty (309), Lakes (150), Hawke’s Bay (284), MidCentral (350), Whanganui (138), Taranaki (248), Tairāwhiti (69), Wairarapa (89), Capital and Coast (549), Hutt Valley (332), Nelson Marlborough (270), Canterbury (1286), South Canterbury (153), Southern (937), West Coast (68), and three in unknown locations. In New York, mayor Eric Adams has tested positive for coronavirus.

This afternoon it’s reported that Prime Minister Ardern is to send 50 Defence Force staff and a C130 Hercules to Europe, to assist with distributing supplies. They will not enter Ukraine.

It’s now Tuesday April 12th.

Today we had lunch with two of our sons at a café in Porirua. It was very busy out there, and we had trouble parking, but the café had plenty of room and we sat at a corner table with a bench. My daughter’s day 7 RAT test was negative, thankfully.  Evidently someone at the craft studio she goes to had tested positive for Covid 19.

Afterwards, I check the 1 pm Covid 19 report. Today there are reportedly 11,063 new community cases of Covid 19, and there have been 16 deaths.  A third person (a teenager) has died as a result of the vaccine. There are 622 people  in hospital, and 23 of them are in Intensive Care. There’ve now been 516 deaths from Covid 19. It’s worth remembering that while we may have passed peak Covid 19, in terms of numbers of new cases, many people and still very sick and some dying from it.  While some get it lightly, most speak of the shock of being very sick and utterly exhausted with it.

It’s reported that six of the deceased were from Auckland, one from Waikato, two from Whanganui, one from MidCentral, three were from Wellington, two from Canterbury and one was from the Southern district health board area. One was aged in their 30s, two were aged in their 50s, three in their 70s, six in their 80s, and four were over 90. Five were female and 11 were male.

There were new community cases in Northland (559), Auckland (1984), Waikato (965), Bay of Plenty (536), Lakes (214), Hawke’s Bay (474), MidCentral (534), Whanganui (225), Taranaki (370), Tairāwhiti (111), Wairarapa (137, Capital & Coast (683), Hutt Valley (355), Nelson Marlborough (404), Canterbury (1813), South Canterbury (250), Southern (1331), West Coast (108), and 10 in unknown locations.  So while the numbers are down, thankfully, from what they were, they’re still alarmingly high, and causing staffing difficulties in many care areas.

It was reported that there were an additional 47 cases at the border. ESR is genome sequencing cases detected at the border, and no cases of the new XE variant had been found so far.

The committee of my singing group are to have a meeting on Thursday morning to consider singing again (we cancelled singing in term one).  My son, over from the UK, suggests taking a RAT test before each event, as they do in the UK (and have been doing for some time). I’m not sure people would buy that, but I think it’s worth suggesting.  I feel that people will come if they feel it’s safe to do so, but for many of them it’s a social get-together as much as a singing session, and they’re unwilling to be very socially distant during morning tea.  The problem, as I see it, is we all have family and friends, and some of us are more immune-compromised than others.

In Shanghai, it was reported that there were 25,000 new cases, but the lockdown was being relaxed. There were reports of desperate folk in their apartments shouting that they had no food.

In Ukraine, the Chancellor of Austria has visited Putin in Moscow, and had a serious talk. He’s opposed to the war. The Ukrainians are still seeking more weapons.

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

The Butcher of Bucha

Russian missile said “For the children”

It’s now Friday April 8th, 2022. Kia ora.

This morning was a toss up between going to Art Group or having someone from Access come and do some cleaning. I wasn’t feeling great, so opted for the cleaning, rather than going out. Because she had also come last Friday, I didn’t have to do so much preparation beforehand.

The situation in Ukraine is just devastating. It seems that while the Ukrainians are having great success in blowing up and damaging Russian equipment, especially tanks, and blowing up Russian helicopters – the British NLAWs are particularly effective here – the extreme brutality of Russian troops, in not just bombing cities like Mariupol, but cold-blooded killing, rape and torture more than matches the bombing of civilian sites like hospitals.  Putin has declared that Ukraine has no right to exist – and so must be destroyed. The irony of his using Nazi methods to root out Nazi elements in Ukraine – which now includes everyone, not just armed forces, is rationalised, by him, in some weird way.  The Nazis used similar methods to justify the Holocaust, by claiming Jews had no right to exist; they were dehumanised; thus, too Ukrainians have no right to exist.  It’s definite that war crimes have been committed; Zelensky’s claims of genocide takes this a step further. How many dead bodies count as a genocide?  While the Russian troops have yet to take a major Ukrainian city, it seems that in several towns near Kyiv they’ve committed major atrocities before withdrawing. It’s thought they’re preparing for an assault on the East of Ukraine. Any discussion of peace negotiations seems to be off, as the world wonders what Putin will do next. The UN has rejected Russia from its membership of its Human rights Council.

I’ve listened to a lot of Tim Snyder lately. He has a lot of useful things to say about this war, including the ability to speak two languages.  Many, like Zelensky, are fluent in both Ukrainian and Russian. Meanwhile, the US are supplying more equipment; Zelensky, still speaking well, is clearly frustrated with the West’s slow response. And it’s complicated: while sanctions have been effective to a degree, the Russian economy seems to have bounced back from its earlier demise, and there are still customers for its gas.  In Hungary, Viktor Orbán, an ally of Putin, has been re-elected. 

There are big fears about food shortages now; not only will there be a shortage of grain from Ukraine, given that there’s nobody much to harvest the existing crop, the next one needs to be planted, too. The world’s main suppliers of fertiliser are Russia and Ukraine; the effects of sanctions on Russia go far further than damaging the Russian economy. The effect on world hunger is likely to be extreme, in ways we haven’t thought about yet. There are many reasons for this war to be over quickly, and for Putin to give himself and his supporters some reason to declare victory and move on (and let the rest of the world get on with their lives).

While the photos of Russian actions in Bucha are terrible (over 300 killed), it seems there are worse reminders in a town called Trostianets.  While terrible things happen in war, there’s a kind of code of half-way decent behaviour: of not targeting civilians; of allowing safe escape routes; of not using rape or torture; of course there will be killings and death, but it’s assumed that those who enlist to be in the armed forces recognise this as a risk. There’s talk of cyber attacks on Ukraine being prevented by western endeavours. While Russian troops have retreated from Kyiv, they are regrouping in the east, and people are warned to evacuate.

We’ve been watching the series Servant of the People starring Zelensky on Netflix. It’s a very good series, although I find the subtitles a bit annoying. It’s nice not to see displays of ostentatious wealth, and to see realistic people.

It’s now Saturday April 9th.

This morning I heard of the dreadful rocket attack on a railway station in Ukraine – at Kramatorsk.  There were about 4,000 people there, desperate to get away. At least fifty people were killed, including 5 children, and a hundred injured. The bomb carried a chilling message: For the Children. The Kremlin initially claimed a successful strike, and then denied knowledge of it, and claimed the Ukrainians had bombed their own citizens to make the Russians look bad.   How dreadful this conflict is, and how tragic. It seems Putin is using starvation as a weapon of war, just as Stalin did causing the Holodomor (the man-made famine in Ukraine in the 1930’s). It seems Putin will do anything to sap the morale of people who in his view have no right to exist.

I decide to be brave and go to the movies this afternoon. I want to see the art film Napoleon: in the Name of Art, narrated and presented by Jeremy Irons. JD takes me to Brooklyn, and to our amazement we’re in a queue on the Wellington motorway, to go through the tunnel, and I get there just in time. But no worries – it’s shown in a large theatre, and I think there are 4 other people there.

I enjoy the film, although I can see why JD finds Jeremy Irons annoying.  It shows a lot of the beautiful cathedral in Milan, some of the Louvre, and not nearly enough of the Pinacoteca di Brera (which I’ve been to, by the way). It does show Mantegna’s The Dead Christ, which I remember seeing.  It shows film of Napoleon in Egypt, when the Rosetta stone was discovered; he was an avid reader, had good taste in art, and was probably ADHD.  He reminded me of Emperor Augustus, although this analogy is not drawn in the film. Generals he admired were Hannibal and Julius Caesar. There’s no doubt that while he did some good things, he caused many deaths, and there was a great deal of looting. One very large painting by Veronese, the Wedding at Cana, was cut into eight pieces so it could be transported to the Louvre. What sacrilege!  I listened to a podcast about Napoleon in Egypt; I must listen to it again (The Rest is History).  I did enjoy seeing the beautiful paintings and sculptures by Canova, who was one of Napoleon’s favourites (mine too), although Canova didn’t like his benefactor’s looting.  The score to a Te Deum had been found,  that was performed when Napoleon was crowned King of Italy in this magnificent Cathedral in Milan. He crowned himself, by the way – no modesty here! But he did wear a beautiful green velvet robe, and the crown was beautiful too. There was a wonderful soprano singing the Te Deum – what an instrument her voice is!

Afterwards I had a cup of coffee and a lamington.  It was not crazily busy there, just nicely busy. They apologised for being short staffed.  Afterwards I caught a bus to the Wellington Railway Station.  The next bus to the northern suburbs was cancelled, so I contacted JD and he picked me up. There’s a Super rugby match on at the Stadium, and lots of people are going. The Railway Station is quite busy. We went to New World in Thorndon.  Feeling slightly insecure about food, I bought lots of it, including salads for dinner, and Ukrainian biscuits (they’re the ones we used to call “fly cemeteries”; they taste good and come conveniently packed in packets of four within a larger package).

Today’s numbers are not too bad. There are 8,531 new community cases, and there’ve been 11 further deaths. 635 people are in hospital, and of these 15 are in the Hutt Valley and 16 in Wellington. It’s reported that four of the deceased were from the wider Auckland region, one from Waikato, one from the Lakes DHB area, one from Hawke’s Bay, one from Whanganui, two from the Wellington region and one from Canterbury.

On Friday (yesterday) there were 9,906 new cases reported and 10 deaths. The numbers are dropping, but there are still far too many deaths, and obviously some really sick people out there. Having heard from many people who’ve had it, most don’t dismiss it as a mild disease. There also seems to be a nasty kicker, in that many feel better after a day or two, but then feel far worse as the disease returns.  In the US Nancy Pelosi has it.  Many people who have evaded it up till now are now getting it. It’s too soon to let one’s guard down, I fear. In Australia there are still an alarming number of deaths. There’s frustration at airports, too, as people try to check in for Easter flights. Social distancing is ostensibly to blame – or people not being used to travelling? I suspect short-staffing, for whatever reason. People are probably still sick.

In the UK heaps of flights have been cancelled, due to sickness. There’s been some IT glitch causing huge queues at Dover for anyone wishing to cross the English Channel.

In Shanghai, in China 21,000 new cases were announced on Friday. Testing, and strict lockdown measures continued. There are stories of people being locked in their homes. There are also stories about old people dying in hospital because their carers have been diagnosed positive, and taken away.

On Sunday morning I listened to the podcast again entitled Napoleon in Egypt. So why did he go to Egypt? He wanted to invade Great Britain, and someone told him that was a really bad idea. Then he decided to take the ideals of the Revolution to Egypt. It’s most enlightening, making one’s way through art and history.  The podcast filled in many parts missing from the film’s record: the English (under Admiral Nelson) defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Alexandria, and as part of the reparations, demanded that they take the Rosetta Stone, discovered by Napoleon, to the British Museum. Ironically, it was deciphered by Champollion, a French man.  There was a lot of discussion in the podcast about colonisation as opposed to discovering culture, and the way Napoleon really opened up Egyptology and its marvels to a wider world. He was seriously into Arabic, too, taking an Arabic printing press to Egypt. Egypt was hot, and plague-ridden, and there’s talk that the Emperor’s touch could heal the sick, while the emperor himself did not get ill.

Last night we watched the movie The Duchess on Māori television, with Keira Knightley as the ravishingly beautiful duchess, and Joseph Fiennes as her very rich but seriously cruel and nasty husband, the Duke of Devonshire. He does not love her, despite her beauty and intelligence and interest in politics. Her mother is played by Charlotte Rampling, who keeps assuring her that she has very little in the way of choice: if she wishes to keep contact with her children, she must put up with whatever degradations he commands, whether it be caring for his illegitimate child, or putting up with his on-going affair with her best friend in her own house. She does bear him a son (and heir), as a result of his raping her; a reminder here, if one were needed, that women (i.e. daughters) could not inherit.

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

Barbarisme

Someone murdered in Bucha, Ukraine

It’s now Monday April 4th, 2022. Kia ora.

This morning I walked up to the local supermarket. It’s fine and warm.  There is still no hand sanitiser in the container at the entry.  The stone fruit is all but gone – there are a few plums, but kiwifruit are back, both green and gold, and mandarins. There are feijoas, at a much more reasonable price, but after watching a woman handle and squeeze each one, I decide not to buy any. I buy strepsils for JD, and I go to buy croissants for lunch, but there are none baked today, so instead I buy Kaiser rolls.  Of course, I buy too much, and it’s quite heavy to carry home. At the supermarket two old dears stand far closer to me than I am comfortable with, while I am waiting for a free checkout, and then while I am at the checkout. They don’t have a trolley, either. I tell the chemist about my recent Covid 19 alert and test recording experience, but she is no help. I make bookings for us to have the flu vaccine, at the Johnsonville Shopping Centre, on Wednesday afternoon.

When I get home, it’s almost time for the 1 pm Covid 19 report.  Today there are 9 deaths, and 10,205 new cases, with 734 people in hospital and 25 in Intensive Care. Of the nine new deaths reported, one person was from Auckland, three were from Waikato, two were from Lakes, two were from the Wellington region, and one was from the Southern region. One person was in their 50s, one was in their 60s, one was in their 70s, two were in their 80s, and four were over 90. There are still 16 people in hospital in Wellington. We’re not told whereabouts the new cases are.

From 11.59pm on Monday there will be no requirement to use My Vaccine Pass, and the vaccine mandates will mostly be eased except for some public and healthcare sector jobs.

From Tuesday some government vaccine mandates for workers will also be removed. Those still covered include health and disability sector workers, including aged-care workers, along with prison staff and border and MIQ workers.

I had an email from Hōhepa, hoping for a Covid 19 update, but the “Good News” subject of the message indicates that they’ve won several awards for their wonderful cheeses.  That’s good news, although I’d be interested to hear how they’re coping with the coronavirus.  New Zealand is to remain in the Red traffic light setting until it’s reviewed again on April 14.

Overseas, the news isn’t good. The UK has coronavirus – now 1/13 people. And there is a new variant XE which is a combination of the BA1 and BA2 variants of the omicron variant of the coronavirus.  Apparently the XE variant is 10% more transmissible.  I think the government here is considering whether adults may need another booster; that would make two jabs to be vaccinated, plus two booster jabs. 

In Shanghai, a city of 25 million people and China’s largest city, there are two lockdowns (now a single lockdown) as authorities battle Covid 19. On Sunday  13,146 new cases were reported. The streets are eerily quiet, in what looks like a scary and complicated motorway system.  That’s the most new cases that have been reported since the initial outbreak in Wuhan, just over three years ago.

In Ukraine, the dreadful war drags on. Since we can see news within hours of its being reported, it seems like it’s been going on for ages, although it’s only a few weeks.  There are fears that Putin’s regrouping his troops; meanwhile, it’s apparent that the parts for fixing tanks and much Russian weaponry are made in Ukraine.  There are dreadful scenes in Bucha, a town near Kyiv, of dead bodies, apparently shot with their hands tied behind their backs. There are fears of mass graves there. It seems that the Russian troops are displaying some Nazi tendencies of their own. And there have been sexual assaults and rape as well. A Ukrainian journalist released 8 days after being taken by Russians talks about his ordeal, and his torture. And for the Russian troops things aren’t much better: evidently they’re shot if they desert, and there’s no medivac system to try to treat their injuries and keep them alive. There’s also a report of Russian soldiers being offered poisoned piroshki by Ukrainian villagers; I can’t find the story now, but at least one Russian died (two, actually), and almost three dozen were taken to Intensive Care in a nearby hospital.

I listened to a podcast this morning that discussed classical history – the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, where Octavian (later Augustus) defeated Antony and Cleopatra and became Emperor of Rome. I’ve also listened to some theorising about Putin, claiming that he’s not going after money now but wants to leave his mark on history by conquering Ukraine, and who knows what else? His war is against the US and NATO.  And it seem the sanctions are really hurting. While indeed they hurt the local people, at least they’re not being bombed in their beds, or attacked, threatened, or shot at.  Putin doesn’t really have a circle of advisers; he’s a dictator, and I guess his “mates” try to stay in favour.

In Hungary, the strong man Viktor Orbán (and Putin supporter) has been re-elected; in Pakistan, Imran Khan has somehow avoided a no-confidence vote. How fortunate we are to live here, where things are pretty quiet, on the whole, and our main worry is how our sports heroes perform, now that they can (mostly) play sport again. And what about the All Blacks? We haven’t heard of them in some time.  Meanwhile, in spite of woman’s liberation in some senses, many of them are desperate to play rugby, or learn ballet, or both.  Women, you don’t have to hurt yourselves doing these crazy things!

It’s now Tuesday April 5th.

The world is outraged by photo of atrocities committed by Russian troops in Ukraine, specifically in the town of Bucha. There are photographs of Ukrainian citizens that have had their hands tied behind their backs, and then been shot. The scenes are horrifying, of atrocities committed when Russian troops occupied the towns. Now they have left.  There’s a feeling that this takes things to a new level of horror.  The Kremlin claims no one was ill-treated; that’s a lie, again; that the killings were staged. How do you believe anything Putin says?

The Covid 19 report today is not as good as yesterday. The official number of new cases is 14,120, and there have been 23 deaths. There are 692 people in hospital, with 30 of them in Intensive Care.  You get the feeling that Covid 19/omicron is hanging in there, and although we may have peaked, there’s still an alarming number of new cases each day.

It’s now Wednesday April 6th.

This morning I went to hymn singing. It was lovely, as always. We sang My song is Love Unknown, There is Green Hill Far Away, and O Sacred Head Sore Wounded, to Bach’s beautiful Passion Chorale from his St Matthew Passion.  Afterwards I bought some scones for morning tea and went to the supermarket, where I met someone from my Thursday morning singing. Like me, she misses it and hopes we can sing together again soon.  I still quite nervous – having received a second Bluetooth alert on my phone. One of my hymn singing friends says that her daughter and her boyfriend live in a small flat, but one of them caught Covid 19 and the other didn’t.  Another hymn singing friend says he doesn’t have the Covid ap on his phone, and so doesn’t get alerts. Yesterday JD spoke to a friend in Hawkes Bay who has it and is isolating at home; his wife is just going back to work.  My friend at church says he only knows of three people who’ve had it and who are known parishioners.

We met my son and his wife at Kaizen Café in Porirua.  It’s quite mild today, so we were quite happy to sit at a table in the hallway – where it would often be draughty.  I had an omelette and my special – rhubarb shortcake.

I miss the 1 pm report, no doubt enjoying my cheese omelette. I learnt two major things: Dr Bloomfield is leaving his position as Director-General of  Health in July, and, in an interview, Trump admitted that he lost the presidential election in November 2020.  Not that it was his fault, of course; it was rigged. That would seem to be like a public admission of guilt. It’s a shame Dr Bloomfield is leaving before his term is up, but who can blame him? The stress must have been very difficult, over the past two and a bit years. Although he made mistakes, he earned the confidence and trust of most if not all New Zealanders, and he and Prime Minister Ardern made a great tag team, cheerfully fronting up to the podium most days to tell us the latest news, and to cheer us up, especially though the first scary lockdown.

The 1 pm report tells that there are 12,575 new cases reported, and there’ve been a further 15 deaths. There are 654 people in hospital, and 23 of them are in Intensive Care.  It’s reported that there were new cases of Covid-19 in: Northland (619), Auckland (2147), Waikato (1101), Bay of Plenty (604), Lakes (299), Hawke’s Bay (602), MidCentral (678), Whanganui (321), Taranaki (437), Tairāwhiti (128), Wairarapa (149), Capital and Coast (775), Hutt Valley (464), Nelson Marlborough (436), Canterbury (2108), South Canterbury (249), Southern (1368), West Coast (81), and nine in unknown locations.

On Thursday JD and I had our flu vaccinations at the Johnsonville Shopping Centre.  There weren’t many there, to my surprise, although there was plenty of room. The numbers at 1 pm were as follows: there were 11,364 new community cases, and 51 new cases at the border. There were 639 cases in hospital, and there were 13 deaths.  I was upset to get a call from Hōhepa to learn that my daughter had been exposed to someone who had subsequently tested positive for Covid 19.  Accordingly, she will have RAT tests on day 3 and day 7.   This is quite upsetting; Covid 19 is still very much with us. (To follow up: her RAT day 3 test was negative on Friday morning. DV).

On that note, I’ll end for now. Slava Ukraini! Ngā mihi.

Peace and War

A fine memorial

Today is Saturday April 2nd, 2022. Kia ora!

I checked my phone, and Daylight Saving in New Zealand ends at 3 am tomorrow morning.  I did not know this; usually it ends with Easter (or so I thought).  I also check when Easter is, and Good Friday is April 15th. I needn’t have stressed about posting my daughter’s present after all.

Today’s Covid 19 report, is still better, in terms of new cases and hospitalisations inching downwards, but there are still an alarming number of deaths each day. There are officially 11,560 new cases today, but there have been 23 deaths. There are 678 people in hospital, and 30 in Intensive Care.

Among the cases, most – 1931 – are from Auckland region, followed by Canterbury, which is reporting 1866 positive cases on Saturday. Other regions reporting positive cases include Northland (521), Waikato (1004), Bay of Plenty (650), Lakes (285), Hawke’s Bay (588), MidCentral (663), Whanganui (293), Taranaki (428), Tairāwhiti (141), Wairarapa (97), Capital & Coast (820), Hutt Valley (479), Nelson Marlborough (480), South Canterbury (248), Southern (995) and West Coast (71).

Of the deaths, it’s reported that one person was 30, two were in their 50s, one in their 60s, one in their 70s, 13 in their 80s and five were over the age of 90. One was from Northland, seven from Auckland, two from Lakes DHB, two from MidCentral, seven from Wellington, one from the Nelson and Marlborough region, one from Canterbury and two from Southern. Twelve were male and 11 were female. This brings the total deaths in the outbreak to 378.

We watched a movie on the new free-to-view channel, Eden (formerly Choice).  It has some gems – this movie, Silver Linings Playbook, with Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence and Robert de Niro; they are also running an Australian series on Thursday nights called The Newsreader.  As I’ve already seen most of the movies on Māori Television, it’s quite nice to have another channel to watch, although the long ad breaks are really annoying and they’ve done something to the very intense primary colours used in the ads.

It’s now Sunday April 3rd.

At 3 am this morning our time went back one hour. I haven’t changed my watch yet, but my computer and my phone tell me the correct time. This morning I zoomed into an online service with some St Anne’s parishioners – the last in this Lenten series.  Next Sunday, I will either go to church in person, or zoom into its service.  It has been a treat to zoom into St Anne’s services.

The Covid 19 report today is much better, again, apart from the still alarming number of deaths – 18 new deaths. But the new case numbers are down to 4 digits at 8,810; there are 690 hospitalisations, and 26 are in Intensive Care.

Of the deaths reported, two were from Northland, seven were from the Auckland region, three were from Waikato, one was from Whanganui, one was from Hawke’s Bay, one was from the Wellington region, two were from Canterbury, and one was from Southern. One person was in their 30s, three were in their 60s, eight were in their 70s, three were in their 80s, and three were over 90.

On Sunday the new community cases were in Northland (385), Auckland (1,555), Waikato (729), Bay of Plenty (414), Lakes (226), Hawke’s Bay (420), MidCentral (502), Whanganui (222), Taranaki (342), Tairāwhiti (102), Wairarapa (91), Capital and Coast (635), Hutt Valley (389), Nelson Marlborough (364), Canterbury (1,463), South Canterbury (172), Southern (735)and West Coast (57) – while seven were in unknown locations. That’s quite a drop for Wellington and Hawkes Bay.

There’s a stark warning, though: in New Zealand, experts said the second wave of Omicron infections could hit in the next two to three months, and cases could begin to rise again as early as May.

In the UK, almost 5 million people have Covid 19 – the BA2 variant of the omicron variant.  Will we ever escape this thing? 

In the US, Ginni Thomas’s (wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas) access to the White House when the former guy was president is alarming, as are her text messages. Someone in a podcast said he thought she was insane.  She may be, but the extent of her influence, and her access, and the identity of her spouse, is alarming. More of her texts are being revealed and analysed.  It seems that Trump’s involvement in the insurrection is becoming more and more certain as a White House phone log has a significant gap (7 hours 37 minutes), and it’s thought he used burner phones. More and more folk are spilling the beans about that event and the events leading up to it.  It’s all very concerning – and amusing; meanwhile another GOP Senator has echoed Trump’s request to Putin to dish dirt on Joe Biden.  Republicans: I see many off-ramps here. Won’t you take them?

The Ukraine situation is still terrible. The Ukrainians still seem too be amazingly brave, and loyal to their ever inspiring president, Zelensky.  It’s said the area around Kyiv has been liberated by Ukrainian troops, but the retreating Russian troops have left a huge trail of destruction behind them – dead bodies, mines, potholed roads, mines under dead bodies, and general destruction of any buildings.  As it was said in one podcast I listened to, if they surrendered Mariupol, then where would surrender stop?  Meanwhile, although safe passage out of Mariupol has been promised, it does not eventuate.  Shooting and bombings continue.  Putin has called for more conscripts, and it’s feared Russian forces are regrouping for a new attack. 

The Ukrainians seem to be amazingly well organised.  They’re still being supplied by the US, and they seem to be using the stuff they’re getting very wisely.  Every country has some crazy people, but if Ukraine has them, I’m not seeing them to date, despite the huge wave of violence and destruction unleashed by Putin. It was reported on Friday night that Ukrainian forces had struck an oil base in a Russian city; I would have cautioned against such retaliation, but then the irony struck me, of hurting the Russians where it really hurts, seeing that oil is their greatest export, reduced as it is through sanctions.  Not every country has imposed sanctions on Russia.

In most of my lifetime, we have enjoyed peace, or, in other words, no major conflicts. I am truly grateful for this. I was born during the Korean War, but the Great Depression of the 1930’s and the Second World War had had a huge effect on my parents.  For a long time I feared being bombed, until I was old enough to rationalise this fear and realise it was extremely unlikely to happen. Then there was the nuclear crisis and the Cuban Missile Crisis, the war in Vietnam, and much later, the dreadful wars in the Balkans. Then there was the Iraq War, the Syrian Civil War, and the latest war in Afghanistan. There were many other conflicts, of course.  Compulsory conscription ended here not long before we were married; JD was warned that if he joined the Territorials, he would undoubtedly be sent to Vietnam.  I am most grateful that I didn’t have to see any of my sons go to wars or conflicts, although I’m sure they’d have conducted themselves admirably. My father-in-law was in the British army, and the Normandy landings, and I’m sure he was greatly affected by his experiences.  So, by and large, conflict has been at a distance. A friend of one of my sons did two tours of duty in Afghanistan, and a nephew from Australia was there; thankfully none of mine were. That’s a particular grief and concern that I haven’t had to deal with.

For me, it’s not that I take this for granted:  goodness knows, we’ve got nuclear conflict, climate change’s devastation, and the coronavirus to be very concerned about, but the conflict in Ukraine does feel like one of those pivotal moments, which changes everything.  We’ve had rather too many lately, Brexit, Trump’s Presidency, and Megxit to name a few; but this latest needless conflict brings new challenges and shortages to an already challenged planet:  while the poor people of Ukraine watch their livelihoods totally upended, their homes destroyed, and many deaths, the rest of us give thanks and worry about the higher cost of fuel and food, and shortages (nothing, really, compared to the shortages in Russia).  It’s a great sadness, that this Easter, when we celebrate our Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection, we’ll also be thinking of, and praying for, those brave souls in Ukraine, and hoping they can piece their lives together again soon, in some kind of safety and security. 

How does Putin stop this conflict? At some point, he should declare victory and move on. 

It does seem strange to me that in this time when so many people want to relive past hurts, and apologies are seen to not go far enough, many are apparently so unforgiving.  Easter is a time of grace and forgiveness; prime Minister Ardern exhorted us all to be kind; how, then, is there so much unkindness in the world? I’m thinking immediately of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and a certain young man (not so young as to not know better), not going to his grandfather’s memorial service.  I’m also thinking about all the criticism of Prince Andrew’s escorting his mother, Her Majesty the Queen, into Westminster Abbey for this service. Sadly, that became a focus of the service. I still haven’t seen a recording of the actual service, although there’ve been plenty of the British Royal Family arriving and departing. There are many other examples, alas, of such cruelty.

For many of us, Easter is a time that reminds us of the grace, love and forgiveness we have received.  I took a RAT test for Covid 19 this afternoon, and it was negative.  I’m thankful for that too. Peace be with you. Slava Ukraini! Ngā mihi.