The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Happy Saturday!

Only 7 shopping days until Boxing Day! So, what's going on in the world?

And I will leave you with my alma mater's Canine Cognition Lab's kindergarten:

Yesterday got away from me

Just reviewing what I actually got up to yesterday, I'm surprised that I didn't post anything. I'm not surprised, however, that all of these articles piled up for me to read today:

While I'm reading all of that, I've got a stew going in my Instant Pot (on slow-cooker mode). Unfortunately, it seems I underestimated the bulkiness of stew ingredients. I think I'll have a lot of leftovers:

Some good Covid-19 news

The UK announced this morning that the National Health can start distributing a vaccine developed by Pfizer/BioNTech next week:

Britain's medicines regulator, the MHRA, says the jab, which offers up to 95% protection against Covid-19 illness, is safe to be rolled out.

Elderly people in care homes and care home staff have been placed top of the priority list, followed by over-80s and health and care staff.

But because hospitals already have the facilities to store the vaccine at -70C, as required, the very first vaccinations are likely to take place there - for care home staff, NHS staff and patients - so none of the vaccine is wasted.

The Pfizer/BioNTech jab is the fastest vaccine to go from concept to reality, taking only 10 months to follow the same steps that normally span 10 years.

The UK has already ordered 40 million doses of the jab - enough to vaccinate 20 million people.

The doses will be rolled out as quickly as they can be made by Pfizer in Belgium, Mr Hancock said, with the first load next week and then "several millions" throughout December.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the first people in Scotland will be immunised on Tuesday.

Here in the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have shortened the quarantine period recommended for people exposed to the virus but asymptomatic:

The first alternative is to end quarantine after 10 days if no symptoms are reported, Dr. Henry Walke, the CDC’s Covid-19 incident manager, said on a call with reporters. The second option is to end quarantine after seven days if an individual tests negative and also reports no symptoms.

The decision is based on new research and modeling data, Walke said.

Still, Walke noted that a 14-day quarantine is still the best way to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19.

The 14-day quarantine is based on the coronavirus's incubation period - the length of time it can take for a person to become infected after exposure to the virus.

We can see light at the end of this tunnel. Already, the Apollo Chorus have started discussing when we can resume in-person rehearsals and performances, in terms of city-wide infection rates, negative Covid tests, and vaccinations. We're going to get through this all right.

Political news out of London

The UK Labour Party has suspended former leader Jeremy Corbyn after an independent report found he presided over, and did nothing about, an increase in anti-Semitism in the Party:

The suspension was provoked by a statement from Corbyn that rejected the overall conclusions of the Equality and Human Rights Commission report, saying the problem was “dramatically overstated for political reasons” by opponents and the media.

That statement set the former Labour leader directly at odds with his successor. Moments after Corbyn’s statement was released, [current Labour leader Sir Keir] Starmer spoke at a press conference where he said those who “deny there is a problem are part of the problem … Those who pretend it is exaggerated or factional are part of the problem.”

The Equality and Human Rights Commission report found Labour responsible for unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination over antisemitism. It cites “serious failings in the Labour party leadership in addressing antisemitism and an inadequate process for handling antisemitism complaints”.

However, the former Labour leader said he had been obstructed by party officials in trying to tackle the issue. “One antisemite is one too many, but the scale of the problem was also dramatically overstated for political reasons by our opponents inside and outside the party, as well as by much of the media."

When a party leader takes his party into the worst election defeat in a generation, while doing nothing about systemic problems in the party that contributed to that loss, there is usually a reckoning. The only thing the failed leader can do at that point is show contrition, or be sacked. I hope the US Republican Party undergoes a similar realignment next year, for similar reasons.

Lunchtime incompetence, history, and whisky

Someday, historians may discover what former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker—I don't have to remind you, a Republican—got in exchange for the ridiculous deal his administration made with FoxConn. After the Taiwan-based company created only a tiny fraction of the jobs it promised in exchange for billions in tax credits, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation has finally told them, no, you don't get all that money for nothing.

In other news:

Finally, Whisky Advocate has some recommendations for an essential whisky bar in your home.

Quick edit of old favorite

This photo popped up in my Facebook "Memories" feed this morning, so I spent five minutes correcting it. (You can see the original crop and color correction in my post from 14 August 2009.)

Man, that was a great hike. I miss the UK, I miss traveling, and I kind of miss these cows. I hope to see the first two next spring; the cows, I expect, mooed their last years ago.

Where I was supposed to be today

In November, the Apollo Chorus of Chicago performed in the Chicago Opera Theater production of Everest, a 2015 opera by Joby Talbot. After the second performance, Talbot and a number of the soloists met some of us out for drinks nearby. Andrew Bidlack, who sang the role of Rob Hall, mentioned they were going to London to perform the work at the Barbican. I told him I'd be there.

That performance should have taken place tonight at 7:30 BST. Obviously, it's cancelled, and even if it weren't, Covid-19 precautions mean I can't even get into the UK right now without a 14-day quarantine after arrival.

The middle half of 2020 may turn out to be the most disappointing period in my lifetime. But I'm optimistic about the fourth quarter, and about 2021. We'll get through this.

The past and the future

Two pieces caught my eye this week, one telling us that things will get better, and the other...well...

First, a letter from New Yorker London correspondent Mollie Panter-Downes—sent 14 September 1940, the 14th day of the London Blitz:

In getting about, one first learns that a bomb has fallen near at hand by coming upon barriers across roads and encountering policemen who point to yellow tin signs which read simply “Diversion,” as though the blockage had been caused by workmen peacefully taking up drains ahead. The “diversion” in Regent Street, where a bomb fell just outside the Café Royal and did not explode for hours, cut off the surrounding streets and made the neighborhood as quiet as a hamlet. Crowds collected behind the ropes to gaze respectfully at the experts, who stood looking down into the crater and chatting as nonchalantly as plumbers discussing the best way of fixing a leaking tap. Police went around getting occupants out of the buildings in the vicinity and warning them to leave their windows open, but even with this precaution, when the bomb finally went off that evening there were not many panes of glass left.

The scene next morning was quite extraordinarily eerie. The great sweep of Regent Street, deserted by everyone except police and salvage workers, stared gauntly like a thoroughfare in a dead city. It would have been no surprise to see grass growing up out of the pavements, which were covered instead with a fine, frosty glitter of powdered glass. The noise of glass being hammered out of upper windows, swept into piles at street corners, and shovelled into municipal dust vans made a curious grinding tinkle which went on most of the day. The happiest people there were two little boys who had discovered a sweet shop where most of the window display had been blown into the gutter, and who were doing a fine looting job among the debris.

Londoners kept the British end up, and got through it, though it took the UK 18 years before post-war debt fell below 100% of GDP.

The second, from Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman, reminds us that the Republican Party doesn't believe in the legitimacy of a Democratic government. So we should expect GOP intransigence and sabotage throughout the Biden administration:

We’ve been here before, and not that long ago. After the 2008 election but before Barack Obama took office, Time magazine put him on its cover photoshopped as FDR, under the headline “The New New Deal.” But while he did pass a string of significant legislation utilizing government power early in his presidency — a large stimulus bill, Wall Street reform, saving the auto industry, ending bank profiteering on student loans, the Affordable Care Act — two years later Republicans took back the House and ground it all to a halt.

You can bet that Republicans will be holding strategy meetings and fielding polls and writing reports to determine not just how to stop Americans from becoming more open to expansive government action, but how to turn this crisis into anger at government itself....

America’s response to this pandemic was so awful not just because Trump is incompetent, but because conservative you’re-all-on-your-own philosophy was put into practice in ways that left us all vulnerable. In so many ways what we’re suffering through now, both in public health and economically, is a failure of conservatism.

Republicans know that the public might arrive at that conclusion — and they’re working to make sure it doesn’t happen. Democrats need to work just as hard to make sure it does.

This is what I wrote about this morning. Remember: The Democratic Party wants to govern, the Republican Party wants to rule.

The UK locks down

Just a few minutes ago, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced sweeping restrictions on assembly and movement similar to those currently in effect in Illinois and some other parts of the US:

To put it simply, if too many people become seriously unwell at one time, the NHS will be unable to handle it – meaning more people are likely to die, not just from coronavirus but from other illnesses as well.

So it’s vital to slow the spread of the disease.

Because that is the way we reduce the number of people needing hospital treatment at any one time, so we can protect the NHS’s ability to cope – and save more lives.

From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home.

Because the critical thing we must do is stop the disease spreading between households.

That is why people will only be allowed to leave their home for the following very limited purposes:

  • shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible
    one form of exercise a day – for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household;
  • any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person; and
  • travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home.

That’s all – these are the only reasons you should leave your home.

You should not be meeting friends. If your friends ask you to meet, you should say No.

You should not be meeting family members who do not live in your home.

You should not be going shopping except for essentials like food and medicine – and you should do this as little as you can. And use food delivery services where you can.

The key difference between Illinois and the UK: Johnson explicitly gave police the power to levy fines and disperse gatherings. Also, Johnson announced that people who can't work because of the restrictions will get government support, and 7,500 retired doctors and nurses have rejoined NHS to help.

Also today, author John Scalzi posted some advice to creatives on his blog.

Extraordinary measures in the UK

I'm trying to get my mind around a Conservative government announcing this a few minutes ago:

The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, has announced the government will pay the wages of British workers to keep them in jobs as the coronavirus outbreak escalates.

In an unprecedented step, Sunak said the state would pay grants covering up to 80% of the salary of workers kept on by companies, up to a total of £2,500 per month, just above the median income.

“We are starting a great national effort to protect jobs,” he said. “It’s on all of us.”

Sunak said there would be no limit on the funding available to pay people’s wages.

The government is also deferring the next quarter of VAT payments, which is the equivalent of injecting another £30bn into the economy and is designed to help companies stay afloat.

(Another thing that I just learned: Sterling has dropped 12% against the dollar in the past week, hitting £1 = $1.1641 a few minutes ago.)

Closer to home:

And finally, Mother Jones asks "How do you know if you're living through the death of an empire?"