Morning Belz, Feb. 16
Daytona field report.
Returned from Daytona early Monday after a fruitful visit Saturday and Sunday. Was struck by how many of the people there were from the North. Our best interviews were with people from North Dakota (“Roll Herd!”) and New England and Nevada. The friendliest guy we spoke with was from Long Island, and the guy pictured was from western Massachusetts.
Daytona itself is probably nicer in the summer, but I found it to be a low-caliber version of Las Vegas, a city I visited once and did not enjoy. The speedway is surrounded by strip malls. The city itself is mostly by the beach. We considered interviewing people there on the strip, at night, but the vibe was more “Boomer alcoholism” than “festive,” so we stuck to daylight.
The interviews picked up after we started asking people “what do you think is the best thing about America?” It turned out the crowds weren’t too interested when we led off with less inspirational questions, and the goal here is actually, you know, getting people on camera, so we tacked to a more positive angle and that worked. It does seem like people are tired, and just want to get on with life.
“Freedom” was the answer a lot of people gave to the question, but in the moment, on the spot, most of them couldn’t put much meat behind that answer. Freedom of movement is usually what came out, freedom to go to a NASCAR race. I realized then that I myself don’t have a great definition of freedom. Forced me to go looking for plain-spoken (as in, non-academic) meditations on the subject, and I ran across this charming essay by Rachel Ptacek, a then 7th-grader in Stayton, Ore.
Here’s a sample: “I also get to write how I want and about what I want to write about. The freedom of press. I can write fun or serious stories however I want to. Then I can share them and don't have to hide them like in some other countries. Another great freedom here is getting to go to school. In other countries, kids don't get to go to school, let alone girls. I learn a lot at school and it’s where I become myself the most. Without this freedom we would all be more alike, and not be able to be ourselves. Every morning I wake up, not having fears of whether or not I’ll live that day. I’m confident to act as my normal self. I have no fear of this because our future, present, and past men and women have fought to keep us safe.”
“Confident to act as my normal self.” I like that. By my math, she’s a college freshman now. Wonder what her answer would be today.
Anyway, the Daytona video is coming soon. My guess is Thursday, but never rule out a delay. I canceled the other trip that was in the works, to New Orleans for COVID Mardi Gras. Weather got in the way, and so did looming exhaustion and the reality that Mardi Gras is not happening in the French Quarter in anything resembling a normal form this year. So I’m relieved to be sitting here in north Georgia, staring at a couple hours of footage of happy people outside a racetrack in Florida, as light snow falls outside.
Trump remains strong front-runner for 2024 nomination — Politico
Shortstop leaps for throw from plate, tags base-stealer from air — ACC
“Up till now the royal family’s always been a meritocracy” — Guardian
Wuhan, a city of forgetting — AP
U.S. ranks 5th globally in vaccines per 100 citizens — Noah Smith
Brexit regrets in Northern Ireland, Johnson a “traitor” — Byline
Interesting take on Slate Star Codex v New York Times — Unherd*
*sorry if you don’t care about that whole thing. I have linked to a lot of articles about it. It’s just an endlessly interesting battle to me, touches on so many things I’m invested in, and I think both Siskind and his allies are too precious and that the Times has been vindictive in a way that shows how unhealthy it is as an institution.
“Being inoffensive, and being offended, are now the twin addictions of the culture.” — Martin Amis, 1996
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