Last night while packing I caught this interview with Rebecca Jennings, whose recent trip to Positano, Italy, taught her something important about travel in the Instagram era:
Positano is blessed with a mild Mediterranean climate and a proximity to luxury and wealth; it is home to one of the most famous and majestic hotels in the world and provided the backdrop for Diane Lane’s whirlwind romance in Under the Tuscan Sun. Twenty years later, the town has become synonymous with the grandest of influencer travelscapes, clogging Instagram with photos of beautiful people on boats, staring back in wonder at the skyline behind them.
It is also the most unpleasant place I have ever been.
The problem of travel at this particular moment is not too many people traveling in general, it is too many people wanting to experience the exact same thing because they all went to the same websites and read the same reviews. It’s created the idea that if you do not go to this specific bar or stay in this exact neighborhood, all the money and time you spent on being here has been wasted, and you have settled for something that is not as perfect as it could have been.
A vacation is not, or at least shouldn’t be, a to-do list, something to be optimized with meticulously timed reservations months in advance, though increasingly this is what travel is: Unless you’ve secured a reserved time slot, the must-see museums of Florence and “you have to eat here” pasta spots in Rome are inaccessible for those unwilling to spend hours in line or so cramped that being there is no longer enjoyable.
I agree with Jennings, but she hasn't exactly gone to uncharted journalistic territory here. This sort of column or essay comes up all the time: a young person discovers something that has always existed, attributes this to a new technology or something unique to her generation, and gets accolades from her cohort. I have once or twice followed the herd while traveling, but usually only because I got to the museum too late to see the interesting bits.
Why do you think I prefer to go to Europe in March and October?
McSweeney's channels Lovecraft—at Olive Garden:
A homogeneity characterized its flaxen cast. Bubbling sacks of slime upon a platter scorching. Beware! Doused in the pureed remains of a dozen orbic fruits, I feel my breath quicken and hands tremble as I pen its likeness as well as I might. My own mind conspires against me when presented with this frightful entrée. To dine? Or will my own visage mirror its sickly jaundice? I have touched with too much haste the vessel of Hades, a burn be my meal.
The Tour of Italy
A terse presentation of memories, three to be precise. A chicken, but unclucking. A plate of worms, wriggling in saucy terror. And then, horror unbounded, a cube of entombed layers coated in a crimson, comestible smear. Dreams fleeting and reborn, of monoliths—Pisa—floating mid-air and dripping gruel. A gurgling voice emerged from the deep, a chaos that did not speak a mortal tongue, a promise emitted: “Unlimahtated brrrrurdstihks!”
Meanwhile, over at the New Yorker, Dennard Dayle imagines a letter straight out of The Dark Forest:
Congratulations! If you’re reading this, you’ve successfully contacted alien life. It’s not a dream—unimpeded by fear, you’ve accomplished what countless generations couldn’t. Impressive, considering fear’s role in survival. One could even say that you’ve achieved what they wouldn’t.
Take a bow. A hundred years from now, there will be a holiday named for you, observed across a changed galaxy: a day commemorating the moxie, intellect, and sheer luck needed to contact another world while knowing nothing about it.
You must wonder what comes next. After all, your imagination made this possible. Will there be media training? Your own office in low orbit? A well-deserved vacation? The answer is simple:
I mean, they're not wrong...
So I'm going to have to postpone reading all of these:
And Cassie, who has not actually had much patience the last few minutes, will now get a walk.
John Scalzi is a professional writer, and I am not. That's why he can encapsulate the past year in one paragraph better than I could do in three:
Biden’s not perfect by any stretch, and clearly his current approval ratings are, uhhhhh, not great. That said, he is performing pretty much to my expectations, and as well as he can, considering the 50 Democratic senators he has for his majority are actually 48 Democratic senators, one clearly-a-Republican-but-pretending-to-be-a-Democrat-for-lulz, and one chaos agent, considering the opposing political party has lost its mind and would rather burn the country to the ground than do anything useful, and considering that, like every other Democratic president in recent memory, Biden’s first job out of the gate was dealing with all the disasters and time bombs the previous administration left behind. One works with what one has, and Biden’s doing all right with that. Even if he wasn’t, he’s still better than what we had. Thanks for letting me not think about you, President Biden. I surely appreciate it.
Yes. I am glad I don't have to think about the White House every day. That was exhausting. And I'm certain, on the flimsiest of contemporary evidence but troves of historical data, that the President's approval ratings will go up next year. A lot.
After 7,927 blog entries over more than 23 years, I must express surprise that the XPOTUS managed a full 29 days:
Former President Donald Trump’s blog — a webpage where he shared statements after larger social media companies banned him from their platforms — has been permanently shut down, his spokesman said Wednesday.
The page, “From the Desk of Donald J. Trump,” has been scrubbed from Trump’s website after going live less than a month earlier.
After he launched the thing, people stayed away in droves. Can't think why.
Oh, actually, I can: the kinds of people who uncritically believe that he would write anything worth reading are exactly the kinds of people too intellectually lazy and technologically hapless to expend the mental effort required to find his blog. And those of us who have technical and other kinds of savvy didn't want to read it.
The one thing I'll give the XPOTUS credit for: he has become the ne plus ultra of serial failure. Seriously, I can't help feeling impressed at the new ways he finds to fail in order to distract from his previous failures.
I get to turn off and put away my work laptop in a little bit in preparation for heading back to the office on Monday morning. I can scarcely wait.
Meanwhile, I've got a few things to read:
OK, one more work task this month, then...I've got some other stuff to do.
Author John Scalzi posted two missives on his blog over the weekend that sum up a lot of what I'm thinking lately. He concludes the second one:
Trump is a virus and he infected our body politic, a body that the GOP spent four decades lowering its immune system so that it could receive just the sort moral and political sickness that Trump personifies. And it worked! We got very sick, and we’re very sick still.
But it turns out our antibodies were stronger than suspected. We rallied despite the best efforts of the virus. And now we have the opportunity to get better. It’s not a done deal; the GOP is still out there trying to get us sick again, and our viral load is still regrettably high. But now, at least, there is a chance to rout it and get our body politic healthy again. That works for me, today.
Yes. And he has some particularly choice words for the 70 million people who voted to re-elect the president.
Science-fiction author John Scalzi (Red Shirts, Old Man's War) lives in Darke County, Ohio, population 52,000, 97% of them white. He does not exactly fit in with his neighbors politically, as he describes:
Four years ago in Bradford, the town where I live, there were Trump street signs, like the one in the picture above. Here in 2020, there are multiple signs per yard, and banners, and flags, not just with Trump’s name on them, but of him standing on a moving tank whilst screaming eagles fly alongside him, and no, those flags are not being flown ironically, they really mean it. There are occasional Biden signs, mostly of modest size, but anecdotally they are outnumbered by Trump signs by at least twenty to one. The 2020 Darke County Trump tank is deep and perhaps a bit frantic. If Trump is hoping for “shy voters” to suddenly spring up to take him to victory, he’s not going to get them here. Darke County Trump supporters may be many things, but shy does not appear one of them.
A whole bunch of the voters are being fed shit from social media and questionable news sources and either they don’t know it or they don’t care. It’s not an exaggeration to say that the epistemic capture in the US of (not only, but in particular) poor and working class whites by conservatives, billionaires and propagandists is one of the great social engineering success stories of the last half century. This includes an informational ecosystem that’s easy to get into and hard to get out of because it simultaneously stimulates fear and anger responses, degrades one’s own ability to reason, and breeds mistrust in outside sources and political points of view. In other words: cult conditioning.
Now, it would unfair nonsense to suggest the people of a county that hasn’t gone for a Democrat since LBJ would not be reliably voting for whomever the GOP candidate was every four years. But it’s not unfair nonsense to say that convincing a historically large percentage of these folks to vote for someone who four years ago was clearly not competent to be president, and in 2020 has a nearly four-year record of venal graft and malice, is the fruit of a decades-long effort to get into their heads and make them resistant to actual facts that are right in front of them. It’s not coincidence that QAnon is metastasizing through conservative and GOP circles at breathtaking speed; having a millions-strong corps of voters willing to lap up even that level of rank bullshit is in fact the goal.
Meanwhile, Jamelle Bouie picks apart the nonsense of "constitutional originalism," which to me seems no better than any other fundamentalist religion.
While I'm waiting for Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Kamala Harris to face off at 8pm Central, I have other things to occupy my thoughts:
Also, it's sunny and 20°C this morning, going up to 23°C this afternoon, so I'm taking half a day off work. We have perhaps 3 more days of nice weather this year, and it's the first day of a sprint (so no deadlines quite yet).
Today's lunchtime round-up only had one article about current politics:
Finally, I came across an interview actor Michael Shannon gave Playboy in 2018 that's worth the read.