17 January 2021
The UK’s border controls have at long last been tightened and passengers arriving on international flights will have to go into quarantine as well as proving that they tested negative for Covid shortly before the flight. I wonder if this includes the flight and cabin crews who breathe the same air that’s circulated round the entire aircraft during the flight? And if not, why not?
After last week’s attack on the Capitol and the subsequent impeachment of Donald Trump for inciting it, federal prosecutors have claimed that the protestors’ aim was “to capture and assassinate elected officials”, which makes them more than just vandals. Republican senators who supported the Democrats in the impeachment vote are now reported to be buying body armour and hiring armed security because they fear some of the Trumpites might try to kill them.
I have two (British) friends in America, one in Connecticut and one in North Carolina, and both of them and their families are very nervous about what might happen next, either before, at or after Joe Biden’s inauguration. The police at a Capitol checkpoint have already arrested one man in a pick-up truck who was carrying faked inaugural credentials, a handgun and a lot of ammunition.
Trump is expected to leave on Wednesday morning for Mar a Lago in Florida on Air Force One (one last freebie flight) and will live there, despite local residents having pointed out that this will be in breach of an agreement he signed when his complex was being developed.
Meanwhile, Trump is apparently spending his last few days in the White House increasingly isolated as staff leave and others go out of their way to avoid the Oval Office. Would it be awful to admit that, even though he’s a horrible man and he’s done some terrible things, and so many people have died, I almost begin to feel a little sorry for him?
Some of the deaths he’s been responsible for were, of course, deliberate and, for the first time, the federal government has executed more people than all the states combined (only five states executed anybody: Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas – and only Texas killed more than one person).
Technically, it’s the Attorney General William Barr who signed the federal death warrants but in no case did Trump exercise his presidential power of clemency so he has executed more people than the last 10 presidents combined, and more than any president since Franklin D Roosevelt who was president for 12 years, and they’ve all been in the last 6 months.
It was also Barr who authorised the use of a new lethal injection drug bought from a secret pharmacy that is reported to have failed a quality test, though I have some difficulty imagining how one tests the quality of a drug intended to kill humans. The executioners were hired privately and paid in cash.
Many of the latest executions were carried out in the middle of the night. One prisoner was left strapped to the gurney while his lawyers tried to reverse the decision. A second was executed while an appeal was still outstanding.
Two recent cases involve people who were found guilty of having committed horrific murders but had severe mental health problems.
One of them, Alfred Bourgeois, was judged to have an IQ of 70-75 and his lawyers argued he was intellectually disabled and could not be held responsible for his actions. Nevertheless, he was strapped to a gurney in the middle of a green-tiled room and a public radio reporter who was one of the witnesses reported that, as the pentobarbital entered his system, his stomach heaved and he appeared to be gasping for breath, a symptom consistent with the sensation of drowning that the drug is believed to cause. Bourgeois took 28 minutes to die.
The second, Lisa Montgomery, had been abused physically and sexually as a child and brain scans and extensive testing showed brain damage and mental illness diagnosed as depression, borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. She also had delusions that God was talking to her through connect-the-dots puzzles.
On Tuesday evening night, the Supreme Court considered an appeal to delay her execution. In the previous court, the judge had said “The record before the court contains ample evidence that Ms Montgomery’s current mental state is so divorced from reality that she cannot rationally understand the government’s rationale for her execution”.
At around midnight, the Supreme Court over-ruled the lower court and approved her execution. She was pronounced dead at 1.31 am on Wednesday morning, one and a half hours later.
Even if you believe in capital punishment, how do you feel about the way America executes prisoners compared with how you die if you commit suicide in Switzerland with the help of Dignitas, or how you euthanise an animal? A veterinary euthanasia solution will probably contain two main ingredients which cause humane, painless and rapid death, with consciousness being lost before the heart stops.
However, Biden seems to be making a good start on various fronts, including the appointment of some good people to his cabinet and the announcement of a huge financial boost to the economy; the biggest obstacle he has to overcome seems to be Mitch McConnell but helping to dismantle the legacy of America’s worst-ever president will take a long time.
We’ve been gifted another Moggery this week, almost as good as his praise of foodbanks. The government is being widely criticised for the inadequacy of Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal on fishing that has threatened the livelihoods of many British fishermen but Jacob Rees-Mogg offered them the consolation that “They’re British fish and they are better and happier fish for it”, even if the crustacea die before they can reach markets in France. Next week, he will probably tell people that if they are hungry, they should just send Nanny to the shops to buy more food.
Last week, the CIA released thousands of papers on UFOs, all their files on the subject they say. According to some who’ve seen them they read rather like a sci-fi novel but others think the records have been deliberately obfuscated. And it’s not just UFOlogists who are interested, the US Congress recently told the director of national intelligence to prepare a report on UFOs within six months.
They could, of course, just ask Shirley Maclaine.
Wikipedia celebrated its 20th birthday on Friday. It was created by Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger and continues to be run on an entirely non-profit basis (well done, you two). It started as an English (well, American) language encyclopaedia but now has more than 55 million articles across 300 different languages and, in January, The Economist reported it was the “13th-most-visited place on the web”, with 1.7 billion unique visitors a month.
Wales has said its success is due to its insistence on being an encyclopaedia and not a free-speech forum and the vast majority of its voluntary writers and editors respect that so, with the algorithms that aim to avoid abuse and inaccuracies, it attempts to be as accurate as possible.
I once made a tiny addition to an entry (can’t remember what) which was still there when I checked a month or so later but some ‘celebrities’ have been quoted as saying they didn’t recognise themselves from their entry.
However, provided one checks information in it before relying on what it says, it’s an invaluable source of information.
Most restauranteurs big up their dishes but Feigang Fei, a former IT engineer who moved to Canada 14 years ago, now runs the Aunt Dai Chinese restaurant in Montreal and takes the opposite approach. The menu’s comment on their “Mouth-watering Chicken” is “We are not 100% satisfied with the flavor now and it will get better really soon. PS: I am surprised that some customers still order this plate.”
I recently praised Dolly Parton’s philanthropy and have always been interested in the contrast between the cheerful blowsy blonde image she projects to the public and the person inside who appears to be very acute, intelligent, generous and self-effacing – the kind of person who comes over as a genuinely nice person who would be good company in private.
Despite being a committed Christian, she’s always accepted her status as an LGBTQ+ icon and once entered one of their Dolly Parton lookalike contests. She lost.