Disclaimer right up front: #NotAllChristiansBlahBlahBlah and #ButButButShariaLawBlahBlahBlah and #DontWantToHearIt
In I, Claudius, the emperor Caligula survives a near-death illness. Afterwards, some toady senator is sucking up to him and avers passionately that he had prayed to the gods to take his life instead of Caligula’s — and Caligula levelly says, “Well, why are you still here then? I’m alive, and it seems wrong to me that both of us should be.” The senator is forced to commit suicide.
Caligula takes a statement at face value and pursues it to its excruciatingly logical conclusion. Albert Camus wrote an entire play about Caligula around this very concept.
Here’s the deal: I’m sure you’re horrified (as you should be) and condemnatory (as you should be) of what this young man did. I’m sure you’re grateful he didn’t get to go through with it.
But are you horrified and condemnatory of why he did it?
Of course he’s mentally ill. But is the basis for his actions unfamiliar to you? Were you surprised to find that he thinks that gay people and non-Christian people are “other”? What does your religious environment teach you about those people?
I mean, if he had planned to bomb his school because he thought people who liked broccoli deserved to die, you would have shaken your head and thought, perhaps, “That’s just weird.” But gay people and non-Christians — let’s face it, his position on those people is not something you’ve never heard before, is it? I know you condemn his actions, but do you agree with his premises? Is it OK for him to think like that, just not follow through? Is that what your church professes?
Before you reach into your pocket for your “Hate the sin, love the sinner” shibboleth, don’t. You’re still drawing a circle around “those people,” and I’m pretty sure — having survived a Baptist upbringing — that you’ve been given explicit instructions about that.
Voter turnout in the world’s greatest democracy is, for some reason, an issue.
I have a solution.
No, we can’t pass a law making voting mandatory because no one does that.
Instead, let’s work with what we have: overwhelming campaign ads/begs/emails/commercials. Rather than trying to get money out of our elections, let’s leverage the disgust and frustration most of us feel every time a new email pings our box.
Here’s how: We establish — by law — a national database. When you vote, you’re given a unique code. Using the code, you log into the database and confirm your info: any and all email accounts, phone numbers, cable tv service, anything we can think of where we don’t want to hear from politicians. You click the box, and presto! the politicians are instructed to block their campaigns from contacting you.
Think about it. If you vote early, then you get to opt out for the rest of the campaign.
Turn, turn, kick, turn — yes, IT WILL WORK!
edited to add: I’m thinking the politicians will actually be in favor of this; once we’re off the table they can focus their limited resources on the people who haven’t voted yet. It’s a perfect feedback loop: we get left alone, while the politicians will ratchet up their pressure on the nonvoters to go vote. The more people who vote, the more pressure on the remaining nonvoters. TTKT—YIWW!
edited to add also too: The law should also state that voting begins as soon as the campaign does.
— — — — —
 The United States, in case you were wondering.
The Republican party has been hard at work for years protecting the sanctity of your right to vote. At least that’s what they claim with straight faces in front of the camera.
Here’s how you know they’re lying.
Republicans want you to believe that your vote is under attack from fraudulent voters, hundreds, thousands, nay millions! of them. They want you to believe that not only do people vote who have no right to do so, but that the Democrats are deliberately letting those people into the country to tip the electoral scales in their favor.
This is a lie, of course. There is not any evidence of voting fraud in any state in the U.S. that has affected any election. Here’s a round-up of voter fraud studies from the Brennan Center for Justice, none of which I expect you to go read. Here’s the pertinent quote:
The report reviewed elections that had been meticulously studied for voter fraud, and found incident rates between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent. [Ed: That’s between 3 to 25 votes out of 10,000.] Given this tiny incident rate for voter impersonation fraud, it is more likely, the report noted, that an American “will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”
See the number of PROVEN INSTANCES OF VOTER FRAUD, KENNETH? 1,165!!!!!1!! One thousand, one hundred and sixty-five FRAUDULENT VOTES! PROVEN!!!! Are you not concerned?
No, because you are a sane human being and recognize immediately that the number 1,165 is unaccompanied by any context. Is this in one election? Or is it across the country over a period of years out of hundreds of millions of votes? You can’t tell from their page, nor can you tell if you click on your state: all you get is a list of offenders without which elections they occurred in, nor what years. If you actually download the “report,” you get nothing more than a list of those 1,165 instances, separated out by state. There is no compilation or analysis of data, only dire warnings that this list is a “sampling” of the “many ways” voter fraud occurs.
In other words, complete and utter fuppery.
But let’s back up and pretend that the Republicans are genuinely concerned about voter fraud. Given that the amygdala-based lifeforms that make up the Republican Party need fear and anger to feed their brains, this is not an unreasonable assumption. However, this is not the case. They’re lying.
Here’s how you know:
Example 1: Here in Georgia, leaving aside Sec. of State Kemp’s documented attempts to purge voters from the roles, we have the example of Randolph County, majority black population. A consultant hired by the county advised them to close seven out of nine polling places in the county, based on the facts that some of them were underused and others were not ADA compliant.
Example 2: In North Dakota, the (Republican-controlled) legislature passed a “voter-identification law” that “requires that… IDs have street addresses printed on them and specifically bans using a P.O. Box.” And wouldn’t you know it, many Native Americans living on reservations do not have street addresses; they live so far out in the boonies that they have P.O. boxes instead. And in what is an amazing coincidence, Native Americans tend to vote Democratic.
Here’s a photo from our cross-country trip in 2013, taken in Monument Valley, which is not a national park but Navajo tribal land:
See those little white dots in the lower left? Those are trailers. Do they look as if they have street addresses?
So here’s the deal. Sometimes it occurs that after legislation is passed, the Law of Unintended Consequences kicks in and problems that the lawmakers didn’t foresee crawl to the surface. You would hope that we elected smarter people to handle this, but here we are.
If the Republicans’ true concern was legitimate voting, if they had passed that law in good faith, they would react with dismay at the unintended consequences and would quickly and publicly fix the problem. “Oh no, let’s hurry up and get those voting places up to ADA code,” or “Goodness, how could we have missed that? Let’s amend the law to exclude the street address requirement from Native American reservations!”
But they don’t. Indeed, they fight tooth and nail to preserve those unintended consequences.
Because — and follow this closely — these are not unintended consequences. The Republicans pass these laws specifically to exclude certain voters from voting.
 The individual mandate was the Heritage Foundation’s response to Hillary Clinton’s healthcare proposal back in the 90s. They weren’t about to let all those poor people get free healthcare, so they put in the individual mandate so that everyone would have “skin in the game” (and still allow the insurance companies to feed off our healthcare). After Mittens Romney instituted the plan in Massachusetts and it worked, Barack Obama adapted it for the Affordable Care Act. Suddenly the idea was anathema to the weasels at Heritage because freedumz. Odd, that.
I voted yesterday. Normally I don’t do early voting, but this year’s election has driven saner men than I to desperation.
In all the contested races I voted for the Democrat because oh my god have you seen those other guys? But what to do when an incumbent Republican is running unopposed?
Here’s what I did: I clicked on WRITE-IN and wrote in NONE OF THE ABOVE. Easy.
Does it count? No. But imagine if everyone who didn’t want the unopposed candidate wrote in NONE OF THE ABOVE — how wondrous would it be if an unopposed candidate got fewer votes than NONE OF THE ABOVE?
It might even make the Democratic Party decide they could run on progressive issues and take seats from these fuppers.
— — — — —
 Full disclosure: there were several unopposed Republican incumbents for whom I voted because I know they are not crazy right-wingers. But I still wish I had had a progressive candidate to vote for.
 And no, it’s not going to be me, so don’t ask.
Dinesh D’Souza is of course the right-wing commentator (also convicted felon) who gets his ass handed to him regularly on Twitter by People Who Actually Know Things, but this tweet of his just kind of jumped out at me. (Ocasio-Cortez is the far left congressional candidate in New York, and she’s awfully good at smacking down idiots.)
Ocasio-Cortez’s second comment kind of sums up my reaction to D’Souza, but there’s more to it, I think. His entire attitude — and not just in this tweet — is Ayn Randian to the max: there are weak and there are strong, and the strong are good, vital, and important. The weak are there only to serve the strong.
Look at his language: ‘colony,’ ‘provide resources,’ ‘rule.’ Holy crap, people, it’s unvarnished colonialism, and he means it as a good thing. Remember the TV series V? D’Souza would have sided with the aliens.
That is not a strained metaphor. He is stating pointblank that if our “colony” has nothing more to provide us — and that is clearly his rhetorical presumption — we should abandon them to their fate now that we’ve stripped them of what we needed. They are of no benefit to us; therefore let them die and decrease the surplus population.
This is a worldview that I cannot understand. This is a worldview that I cannot “reach out to” or “have a meaningful discussion with.”
This is a worldview that I want to see exterminated.
— — — — —
 They are not our colony and never were. They were Spain’s colony; they are our territory, and that quasi-legal status is a whole other issue.
Finally, we have my Pro Tips that I learned about traveling in Italy, especially on a guided bus tour.
You will read that Italians are snappy dressers, very fashion conscious, and this is true. Resist the urge to match them — they are merely strolling to lunch; you are on a forced march. Comfy shoes are a must; you will be on cobblestones most of the trip. Still, do better than most tourists I saw; there’s no point in being a slob.
Short shorts and bare shoulders are frowned upon — and in many cases forbidden — in the churches. Climate change has forced a moderation of that dress code as far as regular shorts go, but ladies should still expect to cover up. Most churches will sell paper shawls for one or two euros. Buy one and keep it for next time.
There is a structure to Italian meals, and menus are arranged around it:
Antipasti: literally “before the meal”; appetizers. Do not fill up on them.
Primi piatti: “first dishes”; pasta. Do not fill up on it, although we realized at some level that this is the point — fill up your tummy with inexpensive pasta so that you don’t have to spend that much on meat to feed your family
Secondi piatti: meats, all kinds
Desserts: yum, but if you want my advice, skip it and hit the gelato shop down the street
Do not be afraid to skip one or more courses. Order as you would back home. Also, if you’re on a tour and are being served all the courses, do not be afraid to leave pasta on your plate. It’s not rude, and there’s no point in gorging yourself.
Ask for cacio e pepe, pasta with cheese and black pepper. You won’t regret it.
Order the house wine.
We have first floor, second floor, etc., and basement — they start with 0 floor, then 1st floor, 2nd floor, etc., and basement is -1.
Write down your hotel room number in your Waste Book. That way you will avoid swiping your card over and over and wondering why the door isn’t opening when in fact you are on the wrong floor — 2nd floor was in Venice; Florence is 1st floor.
Learn the basics. Almost every person you run into speaks English very well, which will make you feel stupid, but you can at least learn to say “Good morning,” “Good evening,” and “Thank you.”
You will hear your tour guide say the word “allor” a lot; it’s a filler word, meaning variously “well then,” “so, OK,” “moving on,” that kind of thing.
Ask about timed tickets for museums you are interested in. You get to go to the happy line and to avoid the sad line.
Italians will not make change. They have an irrational aversion to it. If all you have to pay for a €6 item is a five and a fifty, they will take the five rather than break a €50 bill.
Also, the concept of taking your €50 bill and trading you smaller bills for it is utterly alien to them. They will not do it, not at the hotel, not at a shop, probably not even at a bank, although we didn’t get the chance to test that one.
They are also skittish about tipping. They will never ask for it and will even refuse it. One reason is that they are paid a living wage; another is that a small service charge is usually built into the bill at restaurants. You can round up the bill and that’s fine, but otherwise they are really uncomfortable with the practice. I gave a €5 bill as a tip to a taxi driver (I was so tired I wasn’t thinking straight) and he just held it and stared at me incredulously until I took it back, apologized, and left him a €2 coin instead, which he accepted with a shake of his head. A waiter in Vico Equense ran all the way from the restaurant to the place where we were meeting the hotel shuttle to return an item one of us had left behind and point blank refused a tip for doing so.
Keep a list of your purchases in your Waste Book. That way you can fill out the customs form upon reentering the U.S. without being afraid of being caught out trying to sneak in items you completely forgot you had purchased. (Both last year and this year, Customs at Hartsfield-Jackson were willing to take our word for it that we were not bringing more than $800 worth of stuff, but it’s better if you’re prepared to be honest if necessary.)
If you’re lucky enough to have good weather, you will need something to keep the sun out of your eyes. I bought an umbrella in Venice because it looked like rain, but I used it the rest of the trip as a parasol.
I purposely didn’t take a straw hat because I didn’t want to deal with it on the plane or to crush it in packing. However, hats are for sale everywhere — consider buying one.
Sunscreen is important: you will be out in the sun much of most days.
Google “how to use a bidet in Italy.” The rest is on you.
Here’s the thing: a Viking River Cruise is one thing, a forced march across Italy is quite another. When we were planning this trip a couple of months ago, there were only a couple of optional side trips, but one of them was a full-day excursion to the Isle of Capri on day 9.
Ah, Capri! That epitome of Mediterranean islandness! Blue Grotto! Boat ride! Chair lift!
However, a wise traveler knows himself. The Lovely First Wife is one who, when she travels, wants to DO ALL THE THINGS, KENNETH; me, not so much. I know my limits, and I knew that by day 9 of the trip I was going to need a personal day, particularly if where we were staying was a resort with spa. So way back in June or whenever it was, I (and Mary Frances) opted out of the optional excursion to Capri. Marc and LFW were going to forge ahead, and more power to them.
On these tours, once you arrive at your starting point your tour manager will continue to give you the option to sign up (if the excursions are not full). Poor Ignazio did his best to convince us to go to Capri all the way up to the last possible minute, but we stubbornly declined.
So when I woke up on Monday morning, the LFW was gone, and I had a day to breathe in the sea air. I had breakfast, I had lunch, I caught up on the blogging (a little bit):
I had a massage. I napped. I had cocktails.
Anyway, the day passed in blissful sunshine and non-trudging; finally our spouses returned from what they claimed was a lovely excursion, although we did notice that they were hot, exhausted, and annoyed with the huge crowds and tacky tourist zones. (“Panama City of Italy,” they called it, so that would make it the “Redneck Riviera Riviera”?) We all won.
Tuesday, September 11
About a third of the tour group had signed up for the short version of the tour, so they went home on Tuesday morning. The rest of us loaded into the bus to drive down the Amalfi Coast to Amalfi.
Everyone will tell you that the Amalfi Coast is stunning, and they are correct. What they probably don’t mention is that it’s a two-lane road that hugs the sides of mountains/fjords, so it is 18 kilometers of switchbacks hundreds of feet in the air:
Whee! Can you say “vertiginous”?
Whenever one travels, one does wonder what it would be like to move to the area. Amalfi is lovely, but OMG the traffic on that two-lane road! Bumper to bumper, and a lot of it tour buses easing past each other while scooters zip between them. It took us over an hour to go 18 km. People parked along the sides, buses parked along the sides. I would have to move in with Sophia Loren and use her yacht to go get groceries.
See how they’ve left enough room for passing? (You think I am joking.) Notice also the car parked on the sidewalk. What are pedestrians to do? They could cross over and use that sidewalk on the other side IT IS TOO A SIDEWALK, or they could just step out into the street and go around the car.
Let’s talk about Italian traffic. It seems to be an international joke that Italians are crazy drivers, but that’s not at all what I saw. The Italians are phenomenal drivers in ways that Americans simply cannot wrap their heads around. Here, watch this video:
Everyone takes turns, everyone watches out for each other, nobody gets hurt. You just inch your nose out into the stream, and the next guy lets you in. You see a pedestrian getting ready to cross the street — at a crosswalk, even! — and so you stop to let them cross. We took a taxi in Rome late one night when the Italians are just starting their passeggiata, and at one point I thought the driver was on a pedestrian mall: the street was full of people, just strolling and chatting and shopping. But it was a major street, and the driver just eased his way down it. Pedestrians moved out of the way, he swerved left or right, and on we went. (Italian drivers are OK; it’s the pedestrians who are crazy.)
I could watch Italian traffic all day, especially intersections. Places where we would have traffic lights and turn lanes were miracles of smooth cooperation. It was like watching a video of what driverless cars would be like: each vehicle sensing when it was its turn to go. Somehow they make it work. I’d love to see data on traffic accidents per 1000 population for the U.S. and Italy (with accidents caused by non-Italians broken out). I suspect we’d see far fewer fender benders in Italy.
Anyway, the views along the way are spectacular:
Along the way — of this narrow, cliff-hugging two-lane road — there was this:
This is a miniaturization of the village we just passed through, and on the right-hand side, out of frame, is a little cliffside nativity. We’ve seen this before, right?
Historically, Amalfi was a maritime merchant stronghold, very wealthy and very secure. They built into the cliffs for protection, and like Venice, they never seemed to feel the need to abandon their preposterous location once they were safe. They are still building into the cliffs.
Lunch was good; we saved a table for Sophia Loren, but she didn’t show. Some nice shopping areas, along with the usual touristy stuff.
The Cathedral of St. Andrew:
ADA compliance? Che cos’è quello?
Originally built in the 9th century, it was redone and expanded and consolidated over the centuries into the current structure.
The original style was “Arab-Norman,” which I was unaware was a thing. Both the front arcade and the “Cloister of Paradise” feature these ornate arches:
The front doors are bronze, made in Constantinople, and are the earliest post-Roman examples of the craft.
The path through the cathedral starts with a chapel (the original church, modernized) which serves as a museum:
From there, you descend into the crypt of St. Andrew, and the bare Romanesque chapel does not prepare you:
Altar on the left there, and around back you can peer into the crypt where they have the relics of St. Andrew.
I liked this inlaid marble panel:
It was unlike any pattern I’d ever seen in these churches, and it’s only just now looking at it that I see the saltire/St. Andrew’s crosses in it. Ground/figure, go figure.
The cathedral itself:
Back to the bus, and thank Caesar we took a non-coastal route back to the hotel. Shower, prosecco on the terrace, and a shuttle into Vico Equense, where we ate our last meal in Italy at another restaurant named Tito’s.
As we strolled, there was a shop, Agenzia Cioffi — the sign said they were an “automotive consulting firm,” whatever that is. The display on the front of the building had car tags from all over:
Lest Hall County start getting the big head, there was another, older one from Franklin County.
Finally we caught the shuttle back to the hotel, repacked, went to sleep, woke up at 2:00 am, Kenneth, placed our bags in the hall, and boarded the bus at 3:00.
I will spare you the experience of getting back to Atlanta, only to say that watching the Business Class people get checked in first at the Naples airport, only to walk out the door to find a shuttle bus that would take all of us out to the tarmac, was a lot of fun. Also, Charles de Gaulle in Paris: you’re lovely, but you’re no Hartsfield-Jackson.
Sunday, September 9: We hit the bus and head down to Pompeii.
We only had about an hour and a half in the ruins, and our tour guide was not very good, so this is a pitiful overview of the place. We all knew the basic story, and Maria (I think was her name) never checked our level of knowledge before telling us what we already knew. Bad teaching, and equally bad docenting, if that’s a word.
Here’s the entrance:
Someone in the group said they saw Sam Waterston leaving as we were coming in. Might have been fun to say hi to him and remind him that for a season or two of I’ll Fly Away, we were practically neighbors.
It was quite hot that day — it was warm most of the trip — so watching our step and avoiding the other tourists became very wearing.
Here are the remains of a private home:
You can tell it was a private home because it had a pool and marble columns, Maria said. She offered no other details, such as how the family occupied the space. Oh well.
Here’s a bronze that I thought was a bit avant garde for 79 AD:
Especially when you look closely:
I asked about it — Maria apparently planned to ignore it — and was told that it was not in fact Roman but part of an exhibition from 2014 of works by Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj, who died shortly before the exhibit opened; the powers that be decided to keep two of his sculptures in his honor. This is one; the other we saw on our trek up to the entrance — I’ll come back to it.
More ruined homes, with mosaic floors:
Roman colony though it was, Pompeii’s streets were more like open sewers, so stepping stones every 30 feet or so were necessary for pedestrian traffic:
Maria did fill us in on something I had not known: like Rome, Pompeii was a “lasagna,” and archaeologists are unearthing the Greek colony that came before the Romans took over. Here’s the Greek amphitheatre:
It’s been restored and is used for concerts and performances. (The white marble seats are original; the rest are new construction.) Maria took care to explain that this facility was for “cultural” performances, not gladiator movies.
Ah, the baths!
This was the gym portion, with a swimming pool to the left. Ladies were on the far side, men to the right. We went to the men’s facilities.
Lockers, no lie:
Three rooms, cold, tepid, and hot water, which was heated by hot air from ovens outside, pumped into the space beneath the elevated floor:
On the way out, Maria made sure we saw this on the street. The more delicate among you should avert your eyes. The rest of you, well, I would say get your mind out of the gutter, but…
She didn’t really explain why this was here. It might have indicated a brothel, or it might just be a sign of protection: Priapus was highly honored in Pompeii. (You can buy winged phallus amulets and even winged phallus bottle openers out in the tourist zone.)
On our way out, more ruins, a temple I think:
I think it would take at least a day to see the major points of interest in Pompeii, not to mention Herculaneum, the city on the other side of Vesuvius that was destroyed by lava. (Pompeii was covered in ash.) So those of you who came here looking for pornographic Roman frescoes — sorry. Google is your friend.
So on the way out we got a rear view of another Mitoraj:
Maria told us it was called Achilles; she was mistaken — it is Daedalus. When we arrived, this was the view we got:
I remember thinking when we came in that it didn’t look like a Greek or Roman bronze, for several reasons, but mostly this one.
We trudged back to the bus and headed towards Sorrento. Mostly we traveled through rather slummy looking areas of metropolitan Naples, so Ignazio alerted us to get our cameras ready for the view when we came out of a tunnel:
Yes, that’s Mt. Vesuvius across the bay. No, that’s not smoke — it’s a nearly omnipresent cloud.
After we checked in — and showered — we headed into Sorrento for yet another shopping opportunity, although this time it was at a really good marquetry establishment, family owned since 1852 and now in its sixth generation. Our purchase should be delivered today.
Dinner was at a small cafe. At least that’s what it looked like until you entered it and found yourself climbing into a Hello, Dolly fantasy world:
Terrace after terrace of tables and plants, ending in our private dining area:
Ignazio was kind enough to take a photo of us:
Great meal, and total exhaustion. Back to the hotel and bed.
ONLY ONE MORE BLOG POST TO GO, and then the Pro Tips. Woot!