COVID-19 DIARY – THAT RAGGED OLD FLAG

February 11

At the same time I counted down the days until my trip to Sydney to attend a friends wedding, the second impeachment trial of Ballbag got under way.

I don’t know what to tell you that hasn’t already been said.

Ballbag was unique to me in the way he would talk, the actions he would take, the incompetence and laziness he displayed. The hypocrisy. The arrogance. The complete disregard for human life.

As a swing vote who believes that we are all nuanced in our ideologies and no politician is worth are unquestionable loyalty. That consensus is how we build good works.

Ballbag infuriated me in a way that I cannot deny.

And yet his supporters keep the faith and despite his unprecedented shames he holds the base of the Republican party.

So its’ worth remembering some of the information that came to light in the impeachment about the attack on the Capitol.

How well organised the rioters were, how terrifying it must have been for the police and staffers that were there on the day.

Republicans too were literally were under siege that day, some of them feared for their life and days later they have said, “The country needs to move on.”

Well no one is moving on to a better place while shit like this is acceptable in America.

Fortunatley there are Republicans like Congressman Adam Kinzinger who stand in stark contrast to so many of their cowardly peers like Mitch McConnell or Ted Cruz.

On the Australian Broadcasting Corporation‘s show Planet America there was Trump’s former impeachment lawyer Alan Dershowitza made a compelling arguement legally for why the Impeachment should not succeed.

I will always feel that it shouldn’t have come to this.

That the Republican party should have demanded his resignation. That his Cabinet led by Vice President Mike Pence shoudl have forced it. That it wouldn’t have even required courage on their part because the American people would have demanded it from them.

As always I felt the great comedian Dave Chappelle had an uncanny knack for summing up the current situatuion.

In the wake of the Democrats winning the Senate with two election wins in Georgia state authorites changed the law.

On the 25th of March Republican Governor Brian Kemp signed into law a restriction on voting rights.

There was a new ID requriement for those voting by mail mail and tighter deadlines for mail ballots. It restricted mail ballot drop boxes and allowed the sate to takeover over election administration from county election board if it deemed it necessary. The Presidential election showed certain pockets of a state will go one way over another and tip the balance. 

This followed the defunding of the postal service the previous year in the lead up to the election during a pandemic across the country and stock standard tactics like having less amount of voting centres in certain areas.

Stop the steal indeed.

Fifty five years after President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Voting Rights Act the struggle continues.

I don’t pretend to have the answers but making it so that every American votes in every election might be a good place to start.

As for the impeachement, I didn’t hold my breath and when I heard the news I was sadly not surprised.

-Lloyd Marken

COVID-19 DIARY – THERE’S A THIRD WAVE COMING

Georgia Rep. Vernon Jones on crowd-surfing at a Macon Trump rally |  firstcoastnews.com

 October 18

From the 13th of September I had started going back to my gym late at night, often spending an hour on the bike but this had been unpredictable. Once my secondment ended on the 12th of October I began to more regularly and consistently get there during the week.

For the month of September I went eight times and for the month of October and November I went 9 times each. Occasionally I worked out on the treadmill and did weights but mostly I would do an hour on the bike. My weight fluctuates but I weighed 114 kgs the first time I went and I have been consistently getting around 110kgs since October. 

Hardly a lifestyle change but I have been enjoying exercising more regularly. I have been warned by my GP that changes need to be made in terms of my weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. Apparently I’m high risk of a heart attack in the next five years so it’s the least I could do.

I certainly pursued a better work life balance.

As I worked on my health, the world kind of went to shit. Second and third waves abounded and the US prepared to hold their Presidential election and we also had the state elections here in Queensland. 

On the 18th of October the World Health Organisation reported globally there had been 39,689,767 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 413,315.

There had been 1,109,960 deaths globally with a daily increase of 6,193.

WHO 11DEC2020

In Australia there had been 27,383 confirmed cases with a daily increase of twelve. There had been 904 deaths.

WHO Australia 11DEC2020

In Canada there had been 194,106 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 2,374. There had been 9,722 deaths with a daily increase of 23. On the 15th of of October Canada had suffered their largest daily increase of cases – 4,042.

WHO Canada 11DEC2020

In the United Kingdom there had been 705,432 confirmed new cases with a daily increase of 16,171. There had been 43,579 deaths with a daily increase of 150. On the 5th of October they suffered the largest daily increase of new cases in the country of 22,961. On the 22nd of October this record would be surpassed with 26,687 new cases reported that day.

WHO UK 11DEC2020

In India there had been 7,494,551 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 61,871. There had been 114,031 death with a daily increase of 1,033. On the 3rd of October the tragic figure of 100,000 Indians dying from COVID-19 had been reached. 100,842.

WHO India 11DEC2020

In the United States of America there had been 7,966,729 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 69,834. There had been 217,071 deaths with a daily increase of 998. 

WHO USA 11DEC2020

There were a few things that grabbed my attention over the rest of the month in the lead-up to the U.S. election.

On the 18th of October John Oliver did an episode Last Week Tonight centred around World Health Organisation. Their achievements, their limits, their flaws and the fact that Ballbag had given notice that the most powerful country was withdrawing from the organisation that eliminated smallpox and also during a global pandemic.

October 19

Monday. Pre-poll voting started in Queensland which I did in the afternoon having been ill earlier that day.

I was one of 100,000 early voters who voted that day. To put that in context about 820,000 voters turned out on election day itself.

1,210,000 Queenslanders did pre-poll voting, 10,000 more than the local council elections that were held in March and up from 740,000 who did in the 2017 Queensland State Election. 900,000 postal votes were issued by the Electoral Commission Queensland.

October 21

A favourite of mine David Letterman returned to Australian screens on Netflix with season 3 of My Next Guest Needs No Introduction. The show has proven a mixed bag, fans of Letterman’s acerbic wit don’t know what to make of him fawning over Kim Kardashian, the gentle kinder and yes older Dave make you miss that smart alec Hoosier but what remains is someone with a fervent curiosity who wants you to see the whole individual. I also enjoy watching Dave now in his 70s find ways to relate to people younger than him simply through curiosity and common ground. Maybe some interviews go on too long but I still think this is a good show, that David Letterman is a national treasure and has a way of getting to things in an interview that others may have missed.

There were four episodes, the weakest is Kim Kardashian, she’s enjoying being at the height of her powers, the audience is packed with her crowd and she’s maybe ready to have one over Letterman but she gets him to open up and talk about the time she was robbed and show that there is always a human being at the centre of a headline and lest we forget it. His goal and her vulnerability is admirable.

The interview with Robert Downey Jr is polished with some Hollywood flair. RDJ is on and ready to have a laugh but also talk about his past. It’s the closest to what we might have expected, The Late Show but longer and on location with an entertaining star.

The one with Lizzo is great in watching how the two connect to each other and talk careers and families. A highlight is Lizzo telling Dave not to be so hard on himself with his rapping.

But the greatest episode is easily the one with Dave Chappelle. an artistic and witty figure who is arguably the greatest stand-up comedian working today. Dave probes him here but it is Chappelle who makes the show so special in light of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter. I absolutely agree with everything he says about community, about how we are all victims of prejudice but some more often than others and how we have to all come together to fix our problems. The people of Yellow Springs, Ohio should be proud of themselves too. They take care of each other, such communities are special.

October 22

It’s fascinating to look back at an episode of Planet America on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. In which they pointed out that in many states postal votes were as 40% of turn-out and also indicated that Democrat voters were twice as likely to have voted via the post. Not a surprise given that Ballbag downplays the threat of COVID-19 and urges his supporters that the long established practice of postal voting, which would be the most ideal and safest way to carry out the election during a pandemic where thousands of Americans have died and hundreds of thousands have gotten sick, is more likely to lead to voter fraud.

I will admit I didn’t recall too much of this nor hear much about the mirage of votes. When the results started coming in on Election Day this previous commentary did not come to mind. I was just too shocked by the results even though it backed up my nerves that Ballbag was still in the race despite polling. Speaking of Trafalgar polling called it for Trump which is covered in this episode too.

Ballbag’s niece, a trained psychologist and author Dr Mary Trump was interviewed as well on the show. Her discussion of the lack of respect that Ballbag has for COVID-19, for media, for the lives of others and for the office and how as a result he should not be shown the respect that the office deserves certainly rang true for me.

The show also covered the accusations of Hunter Biden.

October 24

Planet America covered the next election debate between candidates. It also covered how teh third wave was occurring in America. The first wave predominantly occurred in coastal states, the second wave occurred more in the south and centre. The third wave was taking off across all of the country which was hardly a surprise when the country was led as Dr Fauci pointed out by someone who held a party with major leaders with no COVID precautions which led to the President getting himself sick as well as major players in the government. They can’t protect themselves why would they protect the average citizen.

Democrat Vernon Jones from the Georgia House of Representatives spoke eloquently about his support of Ballbag, advising of laws and funding business that have helped African-Americans. He compared prison reform carried out by Trump and contrasted it with the crime bill which President-elect Joe Biden supported. He spoke of President Obama post retirement going to Martha’s Vineyard rather than say Chicago. No real talk of President Obama’s early work in Chicago. I didn’t agree with everything he said but at least he articulated another perspective very well.

October 25

On the 25th of October the World Health Organisation reported there had been globally 42,643,811 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with a daily increase of 481,597.

There had been 1,150,317 deaths globally with a daily increase of 6,097.

In Australia there had been 27,499 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 15. There had been 905 death.

In Canada there had been 211,732 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 2,584. There had been 9,888 Canadian deaths with a daily increase of 26.

In the United Kingdom there had been 854,015 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 23,012. There had been 44,745 deaths with a daily increase of 174.

In India there had been 7,864,811 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 50,129. There had been 118,534 deaths with a daily increase of 578. My brother in law, a man I call my brother from another mother is Indian. His family still lives there. His Uncle passed away. We caught up and went up to Maleny for Capriccio’s pizza. He spoke of a sweet good natured man who had worked hard and always been kind and warm to his family particularly children. A good man, gone too soon. One loss amongst many. One story repeated over 118,000 times and counting.

In the United States of America there had been 8,403,121 confirmed cases with a daily increase of 82,630. There had been 222,507 deaths with a daily increase of 943.

Things were getting worse as the northern hemisphere headed towards winter. All we could do was pray and try to help however we could.

-Lloyd Marken

A STAR DIRECTOR AND A STAR LEADING LADY ARE BORN ANEW

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A Star Is Born is a heartbreaking love story, a torch song for the dream of being a true artist and an intense reflection on the impact those who truly matter have on our lives. On one level this is a sweeping romance between two sexy leads living the dream of being rock stars and on another an indulgent weepy effortlessly evoking strong emotions. General audiences can go along, ship the relationship and cry with the main characters amidst their struggles. Director Bradley Cooper has structured the film to work on this level and work well but it is far more layered than that and I think part of its success has been due to audiences picking up on the nuances too and loving these aspects as well.

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Our two star-crossed lovers are Ally (Lady Gag) a waitress and aspiring singer/songwriter and Jackson Maine (Bradley Cooper) an established star currently on the wane due to personal suffering more than anything else.  Ally has never had anybody believe in her talent the way Jackson does and Jackson has maybe never had anybody love him so unconditionally as Ally does. There’s a lot of choices made by everybody involved in this production that has come together under Cooper’s drive. Ally and Jackson are artists, they show an interest in each other after they first hear each other sing, they fall in love with each other less as a meeting of the souls and more out of their shared love of their craft. The first night they spend together they barely touch each other, when Jackson tells her how he views his fame and she tells him part of a song she’s working on this is a much deeper connection and shared intimacy for them than sex ever could be. The sex comes, a well choreographed scene that seems to evoke both how sex can be with someone hung over and yet also be passionate and consuming. Yet Cooper knows how important that first night staying up and talking can be more important for the characters and more important for the narrative. After that first night we’re in all the way with Ally and Jack and the rhythm of the film, like it can be in a relationship, never quite gets back what it was like that first night.

Instead the narrative plays out with one star ascending and the other on the wane. The rest of the film isn’t quite as effective as those opening scenes, characters come and go a little bit for narrative purposes, an agent comes in to personify the division between Ally and Jack and later on in and remains a heartless villain but not without some reason. Yet the relationship never stops feeling real and drawing you in. Cooper and Lady Gaga have a nice relaxed chemistry that reads as authentic, their dialogue never feels manufactured and so many of their conversation scenes take place in domestic settings away from the spotlight. Gaga in particular is on point throughout, there’s been a lot of talk of how new she is to this game but she actually trained as an actor, has had roles in other films and television before this. As her first feature film lead role it fits that her performance is natural and not over affected, I do sincerely believe this is part of her talent but also part of the confidence and focus that Cooper has given her on set. His performance is very much across the same lines feeling real and raw but it is not his acting that stands out here.

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This has to be one of the best looking and best sounding films of the year, expertly cut in the editing and meticulously crafted every other way. Small token shots have lights and smoke timed perfectly for maximum effect and yet in the moment reactions are captured. No matter how many takes it took, how many elements were in play or how close the cameras were to the performers’ faces everybody involved makes it appear everything is happening in the moment for the first time and maybe it is. Also it presents the physicality of the bubble of fame that comes around a person as they ascend. Walls of people gather round, fans, staff, groupies and with it a hum of noise. Leaving a concert early on Jackson is surrounded by noise and activity until he crawls into the back of his limo and is met with utter silence and loneliness. One lone driver upfront to make small talk to, who understands part of his job is to be quiet if that is what his employer wants. A high amount of camera work is up close and personal and on the move perfectly evoking the perspective of characters through small intimate scenes to moments at big public venues. The film articulates well the intoxicating elements of fame but also its emptiness and its precariousness. This is a phenomenally well crafted film with a maturity and confidence that is unique for a first time director and could have only come about through a real passion and drive. With this Bradley Cooper does not promise to become a great director – he is one.

The music such an important part of the story reflects the themes of the tale. The central duet ‘Shallow’ has lyrics that reflect an us against them mentality but also an individual about to take flight and reject her fears. The other songs are beautiful, Cooper in particular has a nice country ballad in ‘Maybe It’s Time.’ For a musical the soundscape is on par with any special effects laden film released this year.

Earlier versions of this film were set in a different time when getting help was maybe less discussed. Jackson seeks help in this film, I won’t spoil what happens but it offers a much deeper emotional connection to the ending as a result and maybe raises some conversations. A cutaway perfectly timed that closes the film will have most in tears. This is an old school Hollywood film in the greatest sense, it has big stars, big themes and delivers big emotions. It is one of the year’s best.

-Lloyd Marken