All the lovely people in the news

After the good Lord Sumption hit the news for telling a woman with stage 4 cancer that her life is less valuable than other people’s, reporters started digging into his past writings and some clever devil found that when he was a Supreme Court justice he was involved in a case weighing whether doctors should be able to help patients end their lives.

The sanctity of life, he wrote, is a “fundamental moral value.” 

Unless it involves the country going into lockdown, which he’s against. If it ends lockdown, we get to ask which life is less sanctified. 

In fairness, he’s trying to dig his way out of that hole by insisting that it was all a misunderstanding: He didn’t say the woman’s life wasn’t at all valuable, only that it was less valuable. 

And besides, he didn’t mean her specifically. Just, you know, people like her.

I’m glad we’ve cleared that up.

Irrelevant photo: Moose. Because we need something cheerful here.


Switching countries

These next stories come from the wrong country–I’m supposed to be writing about Britain here–but I can’t pass them one up: 

A Texas real estate agent and radio host flew to Washington DC  in a private plane (a cute guy invited her, she said; who could turn that down?) and she social-media’d the whole experience, from getting on the plane to invading the Capitol.

“We’re gonna go and storm the Capitol,” she said in a Facebook video. “We are going to fucking go in here. Life or death. It doesn’t matter. Here we go.”

As she climbed the steps, she said to the camera, “Y’all know who to hire. Jenna Ryan for your realtor.”

Having since been arrested, she’s outraged:

“I’m facing a prison sentence,” she told a news program. “I think I do not deserve that. I would ask the president of the US to give me a pardon.” (For clarity, that was still Trump when she said that.) She’d been “displaying her patriotism,” she said. “I listen to my president who told me to go to the Capitol.”

If you ever need to define entitlement, think of Jenna Ryan. If you need a realtor–well, you’ll make your own decisions, of course, but I’d think of someone else.

Now that the dust has settled, a lot of it has settled on her and in the cold light of morning, when you’re running around with a feather duster trying to clean up you image for the courts, she’s said, “What I believed to be a peaceful political march turned into a violent protest.” 

She added that she doesn’t condone violence and that we should all come together, Republican and Democrat and independent and resolve our issues in peace. 

Then we’ll sing “Kumbaya,” have a group hug, and accept a presidential pardon.

One of the things she posted, peacefully, from the attack was a picture of a broken window. It said,  “Window at The capital. And if the news doesn’t stop lying about us we’re going to come after their studios next.”

Oh, lo-ord, kumbaya.


With the Trumps leaving the building, the news is leaking out that Ivanka and her husband wouldn’t allow the Secret Service officers assigned to protect them to use the toilet in their house. 

I’m sure you understand. They only had six.

Sorry, six and a half.

Or to put that in American, they wouldn’t let them use the bathroom. In American, it’s not polite to mention that porcelain thing you sit on. It reminds us of what you do on it. In British, toilet’s a fairly normal word, although you get into all sorts of weirdly British class issues about who will use the word and who’ll avoid it. But never mind the complications: Some people will use it and no one will call a toilet a bathroom.

A hundred years ago, when I was new to Britain, I asked someone who worked in a fast foodery where the bathroom was. She did a visible double take, thinking I wanted to wash up.

Which in British is what you do with dishes, not (as it is in American) what you do with your own grubby body. So she thought I was looking for a tub of water to jump into.

But back to our point: First the Secret Service set up a porta-potty outside, but the neighbors objected. Then they used the houses of the Obamas and of the Pences, plus the occasional local restaurant. Since 2017, they’ve been paying rent on a studio apartment just so they can use the toilet/bathroom/loo/can/etc. That cost $3,000 a month. 

A White House spokesperson denied the story, saying it was the Secret Service’s decision. The Washington Post, which broke the story, stands by it. It’s being called WaterClosetgate.

Can you catch Covid outdoors? 

If you work at it, yes, you can catch Covid out of door, but fresh air dilutes the virus, moves it off in directions that aren’t toward you, and it dries up the little liquid space suits it travels in. And sunlight kills it. 

Zap. Take that, virus.

So far, somewhere between one case and very few cases of outdoor transmission have been documented. But not documented isn’t the same as impossible, so let’s look at the risks.

At the riskier end of outdoor contact are extended face-to-face conversations where people get too close to each other. We still need to keep our distance, especially during the colder weather, because the virus likes the cold. 

Also risky are what in Britain are called market stalls–outdoor markets that are often under three-sided tents–don’t have the advantage of being fully ventilated. They’re safer than the indoors, but the air doesn’t circulate freely through them. Ditto bus shelters. 

And crowds. 

In those situations, the experts recommend masks, even outdoors.

Irrelevant photo: A wallflower. Yes, it’s a plant, not just someone who clings to the wall at a dance.

But Professor Cath Noakes said she doesn’t “want people to be terrified of passing each other in the street.” To transmit the virus that way, someone would have to cough right at you and you’d have to inhale at just the wrong moment. On the other hand, running with someone so that you’re following in their slipstream for an extended period of time might be a problem.

“The sad fact is that your greatest risk is from the people you know.”

It’s not impossible to pick the virus up from a contaminated surface, but it’s a lot less likely than breathing it in. 


Lockdown: the effect and the politics

On Saturday, Covid cases in parts of England were starting to level off. Or by a different set of calculations, the number of infections  is declining in the country as a whole, although it’s still going up in a few regions (including mine, thanks). Either way, the lockdown seems to be having an impact. But I’m going to have to leave you linkless on that, because every link I can find is behind a paywall. I got it from an actual piece of newspaper that I spilled tea on yesterday.

Quite a lot of tea. 

You can’t do that to your computer and expect it to survive.


A former Supreme Court judge, Jonathan Sumption–known to his friends and family and all the kids who were in kindergarten with him as Lord Sumption–has made a name for himself as an anti-lockdown advocate. Let the old and vulnerable isolate themselves, he argues, while the rest of the world carries on as usual. 

And so it came to be, children, that he was on a TV show telling a woman with stage four bowel cancer that he hadn’t said her life wasn’t valuable, he’d only said it was less valuable than other lives.

Not just telling her, interrupting her to tell her. Because what some people have to say is more important than what other people have to say.

Don’t feel bad for her. She held her own.

“Who are you to put a value on life?” she said. “In my view, and I think in many others, life is sacred and I don’t think we should make those judgment calls. All life is worth saving regardless of what life it is people are living.”

Lord S. has since said that his comments were taken out of context.


A group of Conservative Members of Parliament, though, is getting twitchy about lockdown. Some 70 of them have formed the Covid Recovery Group, which worries about “draconian restrictions” and wants to know when “our full freedoms will be restored.” They can be assumed to be after Boris Johnson’s job–but that’s an assumption. And they can’t all have it.


Covid testing and the schools

Somewhere back there, Boris Johnson presented us with a plan to reopen the schools safely by testing the kids every week. Or every day. Or every minute of every day. It was going to be miraculous and world beating and headline grabbing. What’s more, it was going to work, which would make a nice change. 

Or maybe it wasn’t going to work, because the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (known to its friends as MHRA) wouldn’t authorize the tests. It’ll give people a false sense of safety if they test negative, it said. 

This is a £78 million plan and part of the government’s £100 billion Operation Moonshot, which involves not putting a shot glass on the moon but mass Covid testing of various and miraculous sorts. 

The testing started in secondary schools and was scheduled to expand into primary schools (vulnerable kids and the kids of key workers are still in school), and move from there to universities and workplaces. 

The government’s already spent £1.5 billion on lateral flow tests made by Innova, which are fast and, unfortunately, not accurate. They miss a lot of people who are carrying the disease, and miss even more when nonprofessionals use them. 

In response to the MHRA not approving the plan, the government said, “So what? We don’t need regulatory approval because this is assisted testing.” (You understand that I made up that quote, right? But it’s true to the spirit of what they said.) 

Assisted testing is when someone sticks the swab down their own throat and up their own nose. Under supervision–that’s the assisted part, I believe. So it’ll be a seven-year-old supervised by a teacher with no medical background. Using a test that works its imperfect best when done by a professional.

I don’t have a problem with that. Do you?

The plan is that the close contacts of confirmed cases will be tested every day for seven days. If they’re negative, they can stay in school.

The MHRA, on the other hand, said it “continues to advise that close contacts of positive cases identified using the self test device continue to self-isolate in line with current guidelines.”


Tipping right over the edge

A super-Orthodox rabbi in Israel has warned people not to get vaccinated because the vaccine can turn people gay

He should be so lucky.

The logic is as follows: “Any vaccine made using an embryonic substrate, and we have evidence of this, causes opposite tendencies. Vaccines are taken from an embryonic substrate, and they did that here, too, so … it can cause opposite tendencies.” 

Are you following this? 

I’m not doing so well with it either. I did ask Lord Google about embryonic substrates and he was resolutely unhelpful, so I’ll nod vaguely, say, “Uh huh,” and sidle quietly out of the room while the good rebbe’s attention is distracted. Being ultra-Orthodox, he (and I admit I’m guessing here, and probably being influenced by stereotypes as well) probably doesn’t have a lot of time to talk with women anyway. 

In response, an Israeli GLBT etc. organization (that stands for gay, lesbian, bacon, and tomato, with whatever else you can fit between two slices of bread without disaster ensuing)–

I’ve lost the thread there, haven’t I? An Israeli GLBT etc, organization has announced that it’s gearing up for a massive influx of new members. 

Israel has managed to vaccinate a large swath of its population–2 million people in a population of 9 million have had at least the first shot. So far, no noticeable change in their sexuality has registered on the Richter Scale. 

What Israel isn’t doing is vaccinating the Palestinians who live in territories under its control. 

A public service announcement

For the record: I am not related to Senator Josh Hawley–much to his relief.