A plague on all our houses

I was going to comment that recent events had made the light-hearted tone of my last post on this topic look rather inappropriate, but then it occurred to me that, as our Chinese readers might point out, the only aspect of the Coronavirus crisis that had really changed since I last wrote about it was that people in Europe had started dying too, so asking for my previous comments to be excused, on the grounds that I didn’t know how bad it was going to get (for us), would only compound my appalling insensitivity.

If there was any sort of cosmic justice I would now be struck down by a particularly unpleasant case of pneumonia or something, but the one part of my last post that was accurate was the observation that I, shielded as I am by several layers of privilege, am unlikely to experience any serious adversity as a result of the pandemic. I have had to cancel my spring vacation, and I’ll probably have a few days of mild discomfort when the virus catches up with me, but beyond that I’m unlikely to suffer much. There’s an outside chance that I’ll be drafted in to help treat victims of the outbreak, which would be penance of a sort, though if the health service collapsed to the extent that they needed me on the front line then we’d be only a couple of steps above a Mad Max style apocalypse, so hopefully things won’t get to that stage.

I like to think that I’m not too parochial in my outlook, but events like these remind me that I have more progress to make in that regard than it’s comfortable to admit. However this situation works out, if it encourages people to start thinking a little more globally, then perhaps we’ll be in a better state to deal with the next pandemic that comes around.

Super Tuesday 2020

As predicted, the Democratic primary race is resolving into a fight between Bernie Sanders and A. Moderate, though the identity of the centrist champion is still unclear. The withdrawal of Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar should, theoretically at least, benefit Joe Biden, after a good showing in South Carolina seemed to substantiate his claim that he can win support across a broad demographic. Michael Bloomberg is on the ballot for the first time tomorrow though, counting on the billion dollars or so that he has dropped on political advertising being enough to buy him victory. Progressives will be hoping that the result will be a split in the moderate vote, allowing Bernie to cruise to a commanding lead in the delegate count, now that Elizabeth Warren’s momentum looks to be fading.

So, an exciting day in prospect tomorrow. I don’t have a vote, obviously, but I do know a few US citizens, who are all behind Bernie, so I’ll make sure they turn out for the Democrats Abroad primary. I’m sticking to my position that a left-focused campaign is the best way to defeat Trump; we’ll soon find out if the good people of American Samoa, Vermont, and points in between agree with me.

Viral concerns

Despite the occasionally gloomy tone of this blog, I am by nature a basically optimistic person, aided, no doubt, by the fact that, as a older, white, male, I can be reasonably confident that society is arranged to minimise the chances of anything really bad happening to me.

I am thus unsure that I am treating the looming Coronavirus pandemic with the requisite degree of seriousness. I live in an advanced, industrialised country, with a freely-available, high-quality health service; everyone I know who works in public heath is pretty sharp, and well able to handle this sort of situation. The city where I dwell, while not completely off the beaten track, isn’t particularly cosmopolitan, and is geographically situated in such a way that it would be fairly easy to control people coming in and out. Personally, I’m in good shape physically, and not in the age range that seems to be most at risk of serious complications. All things considered, I probably shouldn’t be panicking, despite all the alarming stories on the news, with scenes of hazmat-suited personnel quarantining entire neighbourhoods, and the ever-lengthening list of countries where cases are cropping up.

And indeed I am not too worried; my biggest concern at the moment is whether my spring holiday travel plans will be disrupted. I guess that this complacency may come back to bite me, but one can’t live life fretting about things that one can’t control. If people start dropping dead in the street then I might consider wearing a face mask and using hand sanitiser, but until then I’ll keep calm and carry on.

Trump Rex

I went to see Parasite this week, and, fair play to the Academy, it is a better film than Little Women. I still think Saoirse Ronan should have won Best Actress though.

In other class-struggle-related news, it looks like Donald Trump is determined to live up to accusations that he is a fascist, by openly comparing himself to a king, and loudly proclaiming his belief that he has the right to use the supposedly independent Justice Department to persecute his political enemies. This latter boast has prompted much hand-wringing among liberals, who seem to have forgotten that selective prosecution on ideological grounds has a long history in the US – just ask the Black Panthers.

Now that Trump has upped the stakes by going after people who would consider themselves part of the establishment, it’s likely that there will be some sort of institutional response that he will be able to characterise as a deep-state backlash, of the kind existing in the fevered imaginations of Q-Anon enthusiasts, thus furthering his narrative that he is on the side of the ordinary man in the battle with unaccountable elites, and boosting his chances of re-election.

Tempting though it is in these circumstances to cheer on whatever elements of the government machine Trump is taking aim at, that would be a bad mistake – the FBI are not our friends. Getting involved in the internal squabbles of the ruling class can only be a distraction; we need to remember that all of them are our enemies, and concentrate on building a movement that can sweep aside the whole rotten system, liberating us from the leech of capitalism once and for all.

New Hampshire 2020

The last time we had a post title referencing the Granite State was back in 2012, when we surveyed the Republican primary field, and mocked the inadequacy of the candidates they were putting up to challenge an impregnable incumbent. How times change.

Anyway, the results from New Hampshire this time around confirm that the Democratic primary race is shaping up as a contest between leftists and centrists, though who will emerge as the champion of each faction is still uncertain. Bernie Sanders is making the running on the progressive wing, but Elizabeth Warren can’t be written off, despite her poor performance so far. Joe Biden is at risk of being eclipsed by Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, but may bounce back in more diverse states. Throw in the wildcard of Michael Bloomberg’s candidacy, and it’s clear there are more twists to come before this is settled.

On the bigger question of whether consolidating the base by going left is a better plan than trying to appeal to swing voters in the centre, progressives can cite the example of Hillary Clinton, who failed badly with the latter strategy last time around. However moderates might point out that Clinton actually won the popular vote, and that racking up big majorities in Democratic strongholds doesn’t always help when it comes to the all-important Electoral College. Both sides might be looking at the result of the UK election, where, at first glance, it seems like turning left was a disastrous choice for Labour, but it’s not certain that the lessons of that race are directly applicable to the very different political terrain of the US.

Of course the biggest unknown in the whole process, like it was in 2016, is Donald Trump. He is in office, which is usually a massive advantage for any candidate, so if he just avoids any major scandal between now and November he should be home and dry. The final result may turn on whether he has the insight to recognise this, and the self-discipline to stay on-message, both of which are very questionable propositions.

So, the primaries, and the general election, look sure to be even more of an unpredictable roller-coaster than they were four years ago. That said, I do feel obliged to follow our tradition of making an early forecast of the eventual outcome, so here it is: President Sanders.

Oscar predictions revisited

So, how accurate was my forecast?

For the films and actors I thought should win, I scored 3/10, and for those I reckoned would win I got a slightly better 5/10. I evidently liked Little Women a lot more than the Academy did (though it did get the award for Costume Design), and they had a better opinion of Parasite than I, which I guess might be because I haven’t actually seen it yet. We did agree on the brilliance of Laura Dern at least.

I’m not sure if my interest in this is a sign that I’m getting back into tune with popular culture, or if I’m just paying more attention to the review section of the newspaper, in a probably doomed attempt to maintain the illusion that I’m still in touch. Either way, I’m going to try to keep up my weekly trips to the matinee show, at least until the weather gets a bit better.

Oscar predictions

Thanks to my recently-reinvigorated cinema-going habit, this is the first year for a while that I have actually seen, or at least read about, enough of the films with Oscar nominations to have an opinion on who is going to win.

So here are my tips for the main awards, in the format Category – Should win; Will win:

Best Picture – Little Women; 1917

Actor – Leonardo DiCaprio; Joaquin Phoenix

Actress – Saoirse Ronan; Renée Zellweger

Supporting Actor – Brad Pitt; Al Pacino

Supporting Actress – Laura Dern; Laura Dern

Cinematography – The Lighthouse; 1917

Directing – Once Upon a Time in Hollywood; 1917

International Feature Film – Parasite; Parasite

Adapted Screenplay – Little Women; Little Women

Original Screenplay – Knives Out; Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

I’ll check in tomorrow to see how many I got right…

Iowa, finally

After two days of confusion, the Iowa caucus results have just about trickled in. If the disorganisation of the local Democrats is any reflection of the preparedness of the national party then we may be in for a very rough time once the general election comes around, but it’s not all gloomy news; Bernie Sanders seems to have maintained the momentum he built up four years ago, while Joe Biden’s campaign looks to be running into trouble already. This is encouraging, because, in a highly polarised political contest, maximising the turnout of your base is a better strategy than trying to chip away at the weaker elements of your opponent’s support, and Sanders’ promises of social reform are likely to generate more excitement among core Democrat constituencies than Biden’s lukewarm centrism. Of course there is the risk that even a moderate (by European standards) leftist like Sanders will have an equally strong rallying effect on the Republican right, but, as things stand, it’s difficult to see what other course of action could lead to a Democrat victory in November.

Meanwhile, in the Senate, the Trump impeachment process ended in the entirely predictable anti-climax of aquittal. Trump has been crowing about his “victory”, but again, it remains to be seen whether, come polling day, the encouragement this gives to his followers will be outweighed by the motivation it provides to those who want to see the back of him.

02022020

Today, the 2nd of February 2020, or 02/02/2020, is a palindromic day. The previous one of these was 20/02/2002, but that didn’t work in the US, where they inexplicably put the month first when writing the date, nor in China, where, more logically, they use the yyyy/mm/dd format. The last global palindromic day was way back on 11/11/1111, though I guess no one in North America or the Far East would have been interested in the Julian calendar in those days. The next one is due in 2121, on the 12th of December.

I’m fond of things like this, that seem as if they must have some deep cosmic meaning, even though the scientific part of my mind knows that it’s all quite arbitrary. I’m self-aware enough to recognise that it’s an attempt to ward off existential despair by imposing narrative order on a chaotic universe, but even an absurd hero has to embrace irrationality sometimes, so I’ll allow myself this little foible.

Last exit to Blighty

So, today was my final day as a citizen of the European Union. On a practical level, this is a bit of a non-event for me; the UK’s departure will not have any huge consequences in the short term, since there is now a one-year transition period where everything stays much the same, and even in the longer term I’m not likely to personally suffer any significant detriment, because I’m an old, middle-class, white male, and we generally do OK, whatever the circumstances.

Still, I’m feeling rather bereft. The EU, for all its many faults, represents an optimistic vision of an internationalist future, born from the ashes of a terrible war. That we are now retreating behind a national frontier, trying to regain a mythical past, seems like an ominous development.

Then again, it probably won’t work out as badly as I fear. The social gains of the last seven decades are not just going to disappear, however much the right try to turn the clock back, and in years to come we might look back on this episode as a minor bump in the highway of human progress, the last stand of reaction against the tide of history.

Anyway, whatever it says on my passport, nothing can change how I define myself; I’m a proud member of the worldwide proletariat, and I will be until I die.