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The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad by Fareed Zakaria
Polyarchy by Robert Dahl
The Nazi Seizure of Power by William Sheridan Allen
Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman
The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck
The Other White Meat
OK, Mike Tyson, convicted rapist, showing support for Kobe Bryant, alleged rapist, is just plain ridiculous to see, but this story is straight up Onion material (via Allahpundit, seriously):
"Until now, Jewish settlements have been guarded by men with guns and also by guard dogs.
"But a new idea - guard pigs - has been thought up by an organisation called The Hebrew Battalion.
"The man in charge, Kuti Ben-Yaakov, insists it is a serious proposal.
"Pigs' sense of smell is far more developed than that of dogs," he said.
"The pigs will also be able to identify weapons from huge distances, and walk in the direction of the terrorist, thereby pointing him out.
"Moreover, this animal is considered to be dangerous by Islam and, according to the Muslim faith, a terrorist who touches a pig is not eligible for the 70 virgins in heaven."
Last time I checked suicide bombing wasn't sanctioned by mainstream Islam either, so I'm not sure why The Hebrew Battalion thinks that the pig rule would stop Hamas. At least they're thinking outside the box. Right?
Well, you can't win them all. Early this morning Pete, Renee and I rolled back into Ankara after a 19 and a half hour bus trip back from Dogubayazit, a small, somewhat hostile town surrounded by Turkish military bases just 30 kilometers or so from the Iranian border. I don't know if its from the years of domestic military conflict or its proximity to an 'Axis of Evil' founding member, but this town just wasn't in the mood for a few outsiders. The natural beauty of the surrounding area was magnificent, but Dogubayazit itself is a town we labeled, 'a Canadian town,' as in "We're American on a need-to-know basis only - otherwise, go Blue Jays!"
Perhaps we should have known our trip was destined to be a struggle when - after about 13 hours on the bus - fumes of exhaust are clearly breaking their way into the bus through some sort of leak in the engine compartment. To add to our concern for our lives was the fact that we were sitting in the last row of the bus, the one that extends all the way across - the one that is directly over the engine. Great.
So what was done about this? You might guess that they would pull over and call for another bus since this one is clearly harmful to its passengers. But of course you'd be wrong, afterall this it Turkey.
Instead we continued on, the compartment more and more rapidly filling with harmful gases. By this time all the passengers had moved as far up as possible to the front of the bus - for us that meant about three rows. After a steep climb or two in which the gas was pouring out, the driver would finally pull over and open up the engine compartment and let the enclosed gas loose. Meanwhile all the men got off the bus and breathed a fresh breath of clean, barren mountain air.
For some reason it seemed to be customary for all the women to stay on the bus. When Renee tried to step out for a breath of uncontaminated air all 25 men on the bus threw her stares which tried to tell her her place. But air is air, and women need it too, so she stayed, much to the dismay of both the men outside and the women inside.
After a minute or two break to let the fumes not kill us, we were back on the road again. The stop-and-breathe patter continued until we reached Agri, the apparent hub of our bus company. There we were directed towards what most people would call a 12 passenger van. To the Turks its more like a 30 person van.
Luckily, we were the first ones in so we got the choice seats for the 90 kilometer finale, but it was tight to say the least. One old guy by the door managed to fall asleep in the midst of all this and serenaded the van with his snores. Meanwhile in the seat behind me an old Kurdish couple argued intensely and in the row behind them a good bakers dozen worth of kids were stacked here and there - a leg here, an arm there, a screaming head everywhere.
After an hour of that wonderful situation we finally arrived in Dogubayazit - which I have probably incorrectly translated as "Mr. middle trader." As we rolled into town I knew last weekend's saunter down to Urfa was going to remain on top. We stepped out of the van and immediately drew the stares of everyone within sight. If they had eyes they were staring, and if they didn't they probably were looking in the right direction too.
Now granted, as a 6'1" blue-eyed, blond-haired kid of Scandinavian decent I didn't exactly blend in with the 5'7" brown-eyed, black-haired Kurdish crowd - neither did Pete or Renee - but COME ON. We didn't blend in with the crowd in Urfa, but we didn't encounter anything like this.
Since our van dropped us off at a place that wasn't on our map we were a bit disoriented as well. We walked up and back on what we thought was the main street of the city. Nearly every kid in the city was following us after just a few minutes - but not in that friendly hey-look-its-a-foreigner type way.
After an exhaustingly long bus ride we were also starving, but the town was showing us no love when it came to even a basic doner joint. Every halfway decent place was filled with nothing but men - all of them tracking us like hawks regardless of our defensive return stares. Most stares seemed to be directed at Renee, despite her appropriate coverings, and I could see that they just didn't know what to make of a 20 year old female out on the street in the middle of the day who wasn't laboring intensely at some sort of chore for the household.
Once on our opening hike up the street a middle aged man tossed a word at us that, by its tone alone, we safely assumed to be a word better reserved for the squat toilet. The trip was off to a roaring success.
We managed to find a hotel on that street - blandly named Orta Dogu Otel, or Middle East Hotel - and dumped our stuff before heading the seven kilometers up through the military base and up the mountain side to the 17th century Ishakpasha Palace (its the one in the picture in the post below).
The palace was an amazing mixture of architecture on a perfect spot for great views in every direction. If I was in the market for a palace, this one would be on the list. We got tons of pictures of every possible mountain top in sight and enjoyed watching the lighting change on the mountains as clouds rolled by. Mt. Ararat was obscured most of the time we were there - we even got up ungodly early just to check - but I suppose if it was clear that would have been too perfect.
After the palace we hiked it up the nearby mountainside and squeezed through rocks, almost got blown off a cliff edge and generally tried not to die on the remains of a fortress that my Lonely Planet book claims is dated from as far back as the 13th century BC. That seems dubious to me, but regardless it was an old place.
As the late afternoon prayer call echoed down over the city we figured it was time to head back to the city we were dreading returning to. We had decided we were going to walk it back down, but after no more than a kilometer two guys who actually looked cheerful offered us a ride down to town in their incredibly out of place new age hybrid pickup truck. Pete made the executive decision to accept the ride and all went well and we actually made a friend in the city that seemed like it could do nothing more than stare at us.
On our way back to our hotel we stopped off at a pastanasi (a pastry shop) and picked half a kilo of baklava, a layered pastry smothered in liquid sugar. With Renee with us on this trip our evening options were somewhat limited since apparently in Dogubayazit only men are allowed to leave the house and have fun. Seeing our options extremely limited, we played a few games of backgammon in the hotel lobby over tea before heading upstairs to enjoy our baklava.
The next day we woke up early to find the mountain still obscured by a thick layer of grey clouds. When we left the hotel we checked out a carpet store we had seen the day before. The salesman was horrible and we suspect he was just making up prices, but we did see some amazing Afghani carpets. They were wool on wool yet were incredibly soft.
It was right about then that it started raining. Wonderful. As if things couldn't get any worse. By this time we had moved to a different hotel, Hotel Tahran, a much cleaner place, with a TV that actually worked (!) and for only 6 million lira per person (a steal at about $4). As the rain fell we returned to the hotel lobby and Pete and I started up a game of chess.
There were 6 or 8 men sitting in the lobby with us chatting in mixtures of Turkish and Kurdish. One man in his mid-60's took a particular interest in us and asked us the basic "where are you from?" questions. Since the hotel staff there already knew we were American because of the residence permits we had to show them, we stuck with the truth.
We kept playing while this man began speaking to everyone in the room about something related to "Amerika," "AK Parti," "Irak." Presumably he was pontificating about the recent decision by the Turkish parliament to OK the deployment of troops to Iraq. Some of his comments he directed at us, others to his fellow lazy men. We had little idea about what he was saying, but the man who worked at the hotel translated some of it for us.
You know how when someone begins speaking to you in another language and you have no idea what they said, but you want to give some sort of acknowledgement of their comment, be it a laugh, an approving nod, an expression of comprehension, or something else? Well, throughout this man's chatter we were pretty sure the right expression was something like a jovial good time.
And we were wrong. When the desk clerk translated this guy's diatribe, our fake laughter quickly faded.
"The CIA, Mossad and the British intelligence were the ones who put those planes into those buildings in America," said the man. "It was an excuse to come into the Middle East."
Hehe...hee...no. Among those present it was clear that this was not the prevailing opinion, in fact he was somewhat laughed off, but it was not a view I was expecting from a Kurdish man from Turkey. Of all of the groups in the Middle East region, the Kurds of Turkey tend to see us as their best friends, as my trip last weekend clearly showed. I'm guessing this guy was an oddball but that doesn't make his opinion any less heard. This is the kind of thought we're up against across much of the Middle East - and its certainly worse elsewhere.
As the rain let up we set out for the palace once again in hopes of some great pictures of possible rainbows over the photogenic valley. Things looked promising for a while and we got a few good ones, but the clouds looked ominous. Also looking ominous were the handful of Turkish soldiers standing on various hilltops just south of the palace - incidentally the very area we were intending to get to the top to for some key pictures.
We started making our way up one of the hills when we ran into a herd of goats. By this time raindrops were indeed falling on my head but we thought it might just be passing so we stayed for a few more minutes. It quickly became clear that this rain was going to be heavy so we made our way through the driving rain towards the palace for cover. Oh, and apparently the Turkish troops' mission wasn't all that important because they scattered and drove off as soon as the skies opened up.
We huddled by the palace gate for a bit until a dolmus packed with more people than I could count pulled up and an old woman inside gestured for us to jump in. I wasn't sure we physically could fit, but somehow, miraculously we made it in. Of course by the time we got back to the city the rain had stopped again. Doh.
The rain had caused the power to go out almost everywhere so that added to the creepiness factor. We found a small Kababci that was serving up Adana (ground lamb loosely formed into strips and grilled on an open fire) and nothing else. As we ate we were pretty sure we were all going to be sick within the hour from this dinner, but we ate anyway.
We got back to our $4 hotel and flipped channels between option one and option one. Luckily a movie was on, Mission Impossible, and Pete entertained us by giving us the shorter version of every dialogue in the Turkish-dubbed movie. Periodically the power would go out for a few minutes for no particular reason. What a Turkish day.
Yesterday morning (was it really yesterday?) we packed up our stuff and headed to the bus station. We had had enough of Dogubayazit. Again we were seated towards the back of the bus, but this time instead of toxic gases trying to kill us we had swarms of small Kurdish children running loose in the aisle of the bus.
Apparently two Kurdish women had bought bus seats for themselves but hadn't gotten seats for their basketball team worth of children. This worked out, to varying degrees, for the first few stops along the way west, but eventually every seat that had been paid for was filled and suddenly there were kids everywhere - and when I say everywhere I mean standing, in my face, inches from me, staring at me and Renee, chewing the largest pile of gum ever assembled and digging deep for a good booger to deposit somewhere way too close to my pants for comfort.
At one point the kid we called Irish (since he had red hair and freckles - what Kurdish kid has that?) who was about 7 years old went and got a small container of water from the bus attendant. When he returned he first tried to drink it without opening it, and then, seemingly without trying any other logical methods, just squeezed the container. This caused the five rows ahead of him to be covered in water, much to their surprise. Various other antics transpired in those very long four hours, but to write them all would probably break Blogger.
When we had left at 9:30am that morning we had had nothing more to eat than a few rolls and tea. Our mistake. Seeing as Ramadan just began on sunday night and devout muslims honor the holiday by fasting during daylight hours, we were incredibly out of luck when it came to food. Ironically almost no one on the bus seemed to be actually keeping the fast, but the bus driver and attendant kept the bus away from all places that had food until the moment the sun hid behind the horizon at about 5pm. I guess we should have planned ahead, but I also expect the bus company to enforce a fast on its passengers. But silly me, this is Turkey, expectations rarely match reality.
Once again we arrived in Ankara before the city had woken up and we spent the early morning hours at the metro station attached to the otogar. After 19 and a half hours of children screaming, no food and a destination that wasn't worth going to in the first place, we were back in Ankara. Mark it down as the first and only time I'll be happy to be in the Turkish capital.