Sitting at an airport, awaiting a flight, is a fundamentally unenjoyable experience. You know that you still have to sit through the boredom of the flight in an uncomfortable seat, in full knowledge that they’d make you stand if only they could do so while maintaining mirage of safety. You know the face mask you’re wearing will hug your face for way more hours than it is designed to be effective, and that this does not matter anyway, since it’s largely a performative gesture. And in the terminal there are a few things that can be considered food available for a wholly unreasonable price, and can only be consumed in seating that makes the airplane seats seem positively welcoming.
Yeah, I don’t like airports.
Actually, no. I love airports – insofar as I can use them to go places. And as a pilot, they are my gateway to great enjoyment. But as a passenger, they are a mild form of torture; a designed experience aimed to minimize comfort, maximize stress, and efficiently part people with their money.
The news of the previous days has been bad. Ukraine has been invaded on the back of the most ridiculous of causus belli. Putin wants people to take him seriously when he claims that Ukraine has no historical right to independence, and yet for some reason two regions of Ukraine do have such a right.
Correction: Ukraine was invaded 8 years ago. I keep insisting on this to people, and yet I myself fail to be consistent. This is not a new or separate invasion; it is a continuation of an invasion that has been ongoing. The only difference is that Russia has stopped pretending they aren’t invading, and the West has stopped pretending not to notice. I cannot call this progress, but it is something.
Predictably, Transnistria is now petitioning Russia for the Donbas-treatment. I wonder how many other breakaway republics will have received Putin’s blessing by the end of the month. What can be sustained?
The good news from yesterday was that Olaf Scholz actually has a spine. Nobody was going to be surprised at Germany’s relative silence over Russia’s aggressions, but in a remarkable turn of events the new German Chancellor cancelled the NordStream2 gas pipeline. This is good for a number of reasons. First, it was a geopolitically strong call. Second, it is environmentally a good move.
But this will leave Germany, and much of Europe, in a tricky situation – one that is exasperated by the fantastically dumb move to decommission all nuclear power plants in Germany in a fit of hysteria after Fukushima. We really don’t need less nuclear power, we need more nucelar power using more modern designs; in particular thorium process reactors. Either way, the strong statement I’d like to see is for the EU to state that they aim to end reliance on gas by, say, 2030, and cease imports of gas from Russia by 2025.
(By the way, it would be helpful if European environmentalists would stop making excuses for gas. It is not “clean”. It certainly isn’t “green”. Can we at least stop calling it “natural gas”, and either refer to it as “gas” generically or as methane or whichever other compound is dominant? Thanks.)
One thing that never ceases to amaze and delight me wherever I go in the Balkans, is the abundance of book stores. Even relatively small towns have well stocked book stores with thoughtful selections, and Belgrade has more book stores than it is practical to shake a stick at. I managed to get lost in more than one of these yesterday, emerging as I did from the catacombs with a considerable stack of additions to my tsundoku.
The book I did not find despite some searching was an approachable book in Naški, commensurate to my level of skill in the language. Despite getting by reasonably well, my vocabulary is still small and after having tried and failed to read Restauran na kraju svemira last autumn, I find I need something simpler. The closest I found was Srećko Horvat’s Posle apokalipse, which certainly doesn’t seem like a super easy read, but glancing through it I think I can infer a lot more than I could from Douglas Adams' writing.
Belgrade is good for things like that, but it can be so frustrating in other ways. The smoke in bars and restaurants lingers and clings to everything; many showers later you still feel the sickly residue on your skin. Complaining about this at a restaurant, where I figued I’d like to eat without inhaling second hand tobacco, the waiter shrugged when I asked if there was somewhere somehow isolated from the implications of the gas law. “Your opinion,” he said. I ended up sitting outside.
This is nowhere near as frustrating as sitting down at a restaurant and despite much waving and grabbing of attention the five waiters tending to the three clients feign obliviousness. Finally one comes over. “Izvolite?” Yes, I’d like to see a menu; obviously it did not occur to them that this might be a given. Another gruelling wait ensues. Then I order something to drink, only to have the waiter bring it over and pour a third from the bottle into the glass – providing me with little actual value, since I still have to complete the pouring, but robbing me of the choice to drink from the bottle itself.
I really do love the balkans, but sometimes the degree of willing conformity to stereotypes is just too much to bear.
(Here in Belgrade airport, I saw an Icelandic-style woollen jumper for sale under the heading “The best of Serbia”. The jumper’s tag suggested that it was made from 100% Icelandic wool. Cringe.)
I surprised myself by finishing the 10th book of the year during this trip. I have admittedly been intentionally seeking out some shorter form classics recently rather than the 1000-page tombs that occupied a lot of last year, but still. It is nice to see such progress. I was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the writing in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and may seek out more Truman Capote in the future. Reading that was obviously inspired a bit by CGP Gray.
Less impressive was Fréderić Bastiat’s The Law, which was a carnival of bad argumentation complete with a parade of straw men. It was difficult at times to determine whether Bastiat was being intellectually dishonest, or just plain stupid. It was so bad that one might write a short essay on the subject. I shall limit myself to one paragraph, for now.
Long form thoughts
One of the nice things about traveling is that it forces the insertion of gaps into the daily flow. Whereas natura abhora vacuum, these gaps are quickly filled with a torrent of thoughts. I like it.
I have since reinstating this blagoblag resisted the rare urge to check if it is being read by anybody. Hypothetically my web server is accumulating statistics. In practice, I don’t know. I think I’m happy to keep it that way, at least for now. The beauty of doing this, at least for now, is that it provides me with a place to put both short form and long form thoughts, without the requisite need for polish that comes from publishing in the papers, journals or other more formal venues.