June 16, 1904 is the day in which all the action in Joyce’s great modernist novel, Ulysses, takes place. Since the 1950s the day has been celebrated by Joyce enthusiasts all over the world, usually by meetings, readings, lunches, talks, performances — all events that involve people meeting in groups, and therefore difficult or impossible in many locations today.
Hopefully, next year will be different. And 2022 will mark the centenary of the publication of the novel, so that should be fun.
But that doesn’t mean one can’t read from it today. There’s a good annotated version of the text on Wikisource if you don’t possess a copy or if the novel is new to you.
Permanent secretaries ‘not aware of any economic planning for a pandemic’
From today’s Guardian:
Two of the government’s most powerful civil servants have said they were not aware of any attempt to make economic preparations for a possible global pandemic in the years leading up to the coronavirus outbreak.
Sir Tom Scholar and Alex Chisholm, the permanent secretaries in the Treasury and the Cabinet Office respectively, confirmed that although the government simulated an international flu outbreak in 2016, Whitehall did not devise a plan for dealing with the consequences for the economy.
Instead, Scholar told MPs, civil servants devised schemes to help businesses “as they went along”. The disclosure, made before the public accounts committee, prompted its chair, Labour’s Meg Hillier, to say she was “dumbstruck”.
Scholar and Chisholm appeared before the committee on Monday to answer questions about the government’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak. The Conservative MP James Wild asked them whether they were aware of an economic plan equivalent to Exercise Cygnus, the 2016 simulation that involved 950 emergency planning officials.
Scholar, who joined the Treasury in 1992, replied: “We developed our economic response in the weeks leading up to the budget. I don’t know to what extent the Treasury was involved in that exercise.”
Referring to the schemes devised to help businesses during the pandemic, Scholar added: “We didn’t have these schemes ready and designed and ready to go. We have been designing them as we have gone along.”
Why are we not surprised? In one way, the whole Coronavirus shambles is a story of the loss of state capacity.
America’s democratic unravelling
From an essay by Daron Acemomoglu of MIT in Foreign Affairs:
Institutional collapse often resembles bankruptcy, at least the way Mike Campbell experienced it in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises: “gradually and then suddenly.” As James Robinson and I argue in our recent book, The Narrow Corridor, democratic institutions restrain elected leaders by enabling a delicate balance of oversight by different branches of government (legislature and the judiciary) and political action by regular people, whether in the form of voting in elections or exerting pressure via protest. But democratic institutions rest on norms—compromise, cooperation, respect for the truth—and are bolstered by an active, self-confident citizenry and a free press. When democratic values come under attack and the press and civil society are neutralized, the institutional safeguards lose their power. Under such conditions, the transgressions of those in power go unpunished or become normalized. The gradual erosion of checks and balances thus gives way to sudden institutional collapse.
By refusing to disclose his tax returns, openly pursuing policies that serve his family’s financial interests, vilifying Hispanic and Muslim Americans, propagating conspiracy theories, and relentlessly lying to the press, the president has left practically no norm of democratic governance unviolated.
The United States is currently working through the later chapters of this same authoritarian playbook, which Trump adopted early in his presidency. By dismissing concerns about Russian interference in the U.S. election, refusing to disclose his tax returns, openly pursuing policies that serve his family’s financial interests, vilifying Hispanic and Muslim Americans, propagating conspiracy theories, and relentlessly lying to the press, the president has left practically no norm of democratic governance unviolated. These actions not only weakened the institutions that are supposed to restrain the president but also further polarized the U.S. electorate, creating a constituency that unconditionally supports Trump out of fear that the Democrats will take power. Having destroyed many Americans’ trust in their country’s democratic institutions, Trump has set about destroying the institutions themselves, one oversight mechanism at a time.
That’s why the November election is so important. If Trump is defeated, then there’s a chance that American institutions will recover. If he wins then I think the game’s over.
Quarantine diary — Day 87
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