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"Premium Mediocre."

I've been hearing this phrase a lot in the past couple of days. Some dude (okay, it was Venkatesh Rao) posted his rant about premium mediocrity, the way every experience included "just one more thing" that would somehow make it "premium," while the experience itself occurred on a manufactured platform, with manufactured items, while the staff followed manufactured scripts and wore manufactured uniforms.

Rao ends his take on premium mediocre with a startling claim: premium mediocre, he says, is about "a deep and essential kindness." That we who live the premium mediocre life are playing a game where "sometimes you have to buy your own bullshit" as you willy-nilly try new things, listen to new ideas, and embrace new people. It's something you do "in the spirit of learning about your part in the emerging theatre."

I have to call bullshit on this. Recognizing the reality of premium mediocre is something entirely different. Premium mediocre is the outcome of a civilization that delivers everything. I mean, seriously: Every single one of us eats better than Napoleon! Every single one of us has more horsepower idling in our driveways than fucking King George III! Every single one of us has a glass rectangle in our pockets that delivers us the world, keeps us in touch with beloveds in every country and every continent. Every single one of us has access to more music than the fucking Beatles could ever hear.

The premium mediocre experience is a recognition that we have all this. We have luxury beyond our great-grandparents' wildest dreams. Sure, it's not uniformly distributed. It isn't fully-automated queer space communism. But it is crazy luxurious for a lot of us.

There is exactly one feature missing from premium mediocre. Can you guess what it is?

The ones who have to endure premium mediocre can't sneer at others in the same condition. They can't exclude others.

The essential activity of the rich today is the building of walls – walls of concrete, of electronic surveillance, of missile barrages, minefields, frontier controls, and opaque media screens. That's what is missing. Recognizing your state as one of premium mediocrity is recognizing that you're not good enough to get into the rarified air of flight lounges, concierge services at Burning man, and Mar-A-Largo. Some of it is handwringing that you're not Walter White or Scarface, you're not callous enough, and to call it "mediocre" is to recognize that you will always be mired in the tiny little shreds of humanity that bind you together.

Rao's call to kindness is to say that the Clueless and Losers outnumber the Psychopaths, and we may as well enjoy our kindness, because we're never gonna get anywhere else. We're never gonna be able to enjoy the envy of others. Premium mediocre, for all its luxury, is the best you're gonna get.
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Omaha, Raen and I went camping as we do almost every year. This year, we managed to score a very nice weekday spot at Horseshoe Cove, a little recreation site along Baker Lake with a swimming hole.

We drove out Monday and returned Friday. THere weren't that many adventures in the middle: nobody caught anything deathly and nobody was set on fire.

Our neighbors on both sides were women. The campsite to the south had two women in their late 30s to mid 40s, one of whom had a lovely English accent. At one point, Raen and I were listening to her explain to her companion what she knew of what had happened in Charlottesville, but she kept referring to it as "Charlottestown." She was also much more, um, polite about Donald Trump than I would have imagined. It was delightful to listen to, though. I tried to imagine explaining what I knew of Brexit, and I'd like to think I'd be about as accurate, but I doubt I could be quite so reserved about Sith Empress May and her straw-haired foreign jester secretary.

Like the twosome to the north, they had bottles of wine on the table and big non-fiction books to read. I don't think those to the south were particularly intimate, but the ones to the north definitely were.

On our last day, we had two incidents: the first was when we opened up the back of the car to pack things away, we left it open and decided to go down to the swimming hole. When we got back, chipmunks had broken into one of the food bags and stolen all the breakfast bars. We found wrappers and one gnawed bar on the ground, but we never did find the other two.

After leaving the campground behind, we tried to drive up to Anderson Lake Trail, which we'd done in 2007. After a week of encountering very few people on the trails or mountain roads, we were passed by no fewer than six vehicles coming down the mountain. This was on a very narrow, rutted and graveled road! Three vehicles were pickups in a convoy, one had dogs in the back.

A little later, about two-thirds of the way up the mountain, we encountered a lost dog wearing a collar bearing the name "Shelby" and a phone number. She was tired, and whining, and desperately thirsty. We tried to contact the number on the collar, and then the local park service, and after waiting about half an hour made sandwiches. Omaha briefly put hers down and Shelby snarfed it up in one bit. That dog was hungry, too. But she was very sweet, and well-behaved, and very goofy. Your standard black Labrador.

After some hemming and hawing, we put Shelby in the back seat with Raen and headed back down. Just before we got to the first trailhead at Baker Lake, two pickups come roaring up. The dude in the first pickup said, "Hey, have you seen a dog?"

"Named Shelby?"

"Yeah!" We stopped and let Shelby out, and she ran to the second pickup while four big guys bearing NAVY sweaters came out. The driver gave me a huge hug, and the other driver started crying and saying, "Thank you, thank you. I didn't want to have to explain to my seven year old that I'd lost her dog!"

We bailed on the hike. That was enough adventure for one day. Sad but true: As we left the Baker Lake & Dam region, we spotted Shelby's owner, pulled over on the side of the road, getting a citation.

For a week we'd eaten stuff that could be cooked on a propane stove. We'd eaten much less than usual, and we'd eaten very well. There were few snacks on the trail, and desserts weren't the calorie-laden bombs they are here in civilization. So of course the first thing we did when we got back was stop at a steak house where I had the prime rib and the wedge salad with bleu cheese, and by the time we got home my stomach was saying, "Why do you do these things to me‽"

But we had a great time, and it was very relaxing.

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