Spring Break Fun at the Borderlands Lodge: Skiing, the Kurds, and the Disappearance of Vladimir Putin

March 15, 2015, 5:39 pm

Hi everybody--hope you're all doing well! Up here at the Borderlands Lodge, life has been pretty busy lately. The semester has been going well--this term I'm teaching an online course on Russian imperial history, and a seminar on women and gender in Islam. 

For the last week, however, we've been on Spring Break! Needless to say, it's been an exciting time. 

Assistant professors gone wild!


Bozone Ski Report

One thing that I did a fair bit of this past week was go skiing. For the most part, this hasn't been a good ski year in Bozeman. Indeed, it's been quite warm--even hot--lately. While the east coast of the US has had record lows and heavy snowfall all year long, Montana has been quite warm. The weather in town last week was in the 50s every day, and reached the 60s this weekend, and it's been weeks since we went much below freezing during the daytime. 

Naturally, all of this warm weather hasn't exactly been great for our local ski hill, Bridger Bowl.  

Not a lot of cold smoke this year

Despite the less-than-ideal conditions on the slopes, however, some intrepid souls have been doing their best to enjoy even these rather unpowdery conditions. 
 Skiing has been a bit rough lately


Nevertheless, I went out on the hill a few times. Despite the warm weather and general lack of good snow, it was a lot of fun. I went with people who ski better than I do, which encouraged me to take some risks and do some runs that I generally avoid when I was on my own.  

Heading up the PK run at Bridger

I had a few spectacular falls and have somewhat sprained by left thumb, but am otherwise in one piece. Especially in the morning, when the snow is still cold, it's still good fun. And spring skiing is always something that I enjoy, as long as the snow doesn't get too mashed potato-like. 


On Saturday, March 14, I met with a group of Montana K-12 teachers who were interested in taking part in the Discover Turkey workshop, which was held at the Bozeman Public Library. It was fun--I've done this three years in a row now. The event is run by the Montana World Affairs Council, which runs a program paid for by the Turkish government that sends American teachers to Turkey for two weeks in the summer. The teachers pay their own way to NY, DC, Chicago, or LA, and pay $800 in registration fees, but then get a two-week paid trip through Turkey. Later on, after they've returned to the US, they're supposed to use some of the things they've learned in the classroom. It seems like a good program, and I'm always happy to help facilitate connections between Turkey and Montana, so I enjoy participating in the workshop. 

Basically I just go and speak for an hour or so, giving a brief overview of Turkish history, and then I talk a bit about Turkish culture and society today. It's nothing big, but I think the teachers like it. They always ask a lot of good questions, and doing things like talking to Montana high school teachers applying to participate in a program like this (only 5 are accepted from Montana in a year, so there's competition for spots) reminds me that I'm doing something valuable out here. There are definitely some really cool sides to being a specialist on Eurasia in a part of the country that doesn't generally get much exposure to the parts of the world that I work on. 

Turkey, the Kurds, ISIS
One question that came up in a couple of different ways lately related to Kurds and southeastern Turkey. This is something that I've talked about before on my blog--especially here and here

My view hasn't changed much: the US is relying on the Kurds of northern Iraq to fight ISIS. After subcontracting the ground war to the Iraqi Kurds, it seems unlikely to me that any US government--whether Democratic or Republican--would be in a position to not support the creation of an independent Kurdish state over the course of the next several years. At this point, it seems like it's only a matter of time. 

Putin's Disappearance

The big news in the Borderlands this past week has been, of course, the disappearance of Russian president Vladimir Putin. There have been lots of rumors about this, ranging from those alleging Putin's incapacitation to the secret birth of a Putin child in Switzerland

All these rumors have been denied by Kremlin spokesmen, who repeat that everything is business as usual and that folks should just stop asking so many questions. 

In this regard, I think the theory that makes the most sense to me is what a facebook friend of mine posted on his profile:
My theory:
--He is not dead.
--He has not been ousted in a coup.
--He does not have a bad case of flu.

No, like all of us, he just needs some "me" time. So, he has checked into an out-of-town spa for a much-needed rest and detox; he's told everyone at the office that he will only be checking e-mail once a day and will only respond to the most urgent messages; and meanwhile, no one else is allowed to take any vacation days.

That makes as much sense as anything else I've read. 

Jes' chillin': it's good to be the king

Putin's absence from public view over the past 10 days raises, of course, questions about what would happen in a Russian without Putin. 

I've talked about this a bit before. As bad as many people might think that Putin is, it's hard to think of many better alternatives emerging from the Yeltsin-era Russia of the 1990s. Indeed, when you think of Vladimir Zhirinovsky and other nationalist/fascist types who were making political waves in the decade after the USSR's fall, Putin doesn't look so bad. While the notion of Putin's departure from the political scene must excite some people, my recommendation in this regard would still be to be careful what you wish for. 

Back to School

School starts up again tomorrow, and then we head into the final stretch: six more weeks until the end of the semester. I'm looking forward to summer. 

I've got some exciting plans ahead, and have been doing a lot of writing lately. Now that the book is behind me I feel so free--like I can write about anything I want. Hopefully we'll be seeing some output from all of this soon enough. 

Until that time...
More photos, analysis, and links can be found at the Borderlands Lounge

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