Trying to stay human in a world gone mad...

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Amid all of the horrible events that have been taking place recently, it's hard to feel good about the general direction of the world. The events of last weekend, and the response to it, are so sad, sickening, and predictable.

I hope people can retain their cool. 

 Let's not cave in to fear.


Really, though, the events of the past few weeks--and especially since the San Bernardino shootings and people's responses to them--have been particularly revealing with respect to who among our politicians can remain calm in an emergency, and who would freak out and panic. The folks who are crapping their pants and demonizing immigrants--especially Muslim ones lately--are the absolute last people that I would trust to run the country during a moment of peril. If this is how they respond to a mass shooting--something that is horrible for so many reasons but which, after all, happens on a regular basis in this country--how are they going to react during a genuine case of national emergency?

Other People's Countries: Partition Talk re Syria & Iraq

Monday, November 30, 2015

In recent days, I've seen a fair bit of talk relating to the idea of partitioning Syria. John Bolton, who was the US Ambassador to the United Nations during the George W. Bush administration, made the argument for partition recently in a NY Times editorial. Observing that "Today’s reality is that Iraq and Syria as we have known them are gone,"  Bolton wrote the following:
The Islamic State has carved out a new entity from the post-Ottoman Empire settlement, mobilizing Sunni opposition to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and the Iran-dominated government of Iraq. Also emerging, after years of effort, is a de facto independent Kurdistan.
Notice how Bolton uses the term that an "independent Kurdistan" is "emerging?" Phrased this way, this process sounds very natural and organic--and not at all like the result of political decisions made in places like Washington, DC, London, and elsewhere--decisions that influence the lives of millions of people.

Anyway, here's more from Bolton:

Erdoğan vs. Putin: The Streetfighter and the Agent Face Off

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Man, I woke up feeling stuffed this morning. For the third straight year, I cooked my own turkey this Thanksgiving. It was good fun, with good company, but with lots of food left over, course. 

Erdoğan and Putin have been cooking up conflict, but we've got bird at the BL. 

Slowly, I've been making my way through at least some of the leftovers. For example, today and yesterday I started my day off with the Borderlands Breakfast of Champions: coffee, croissants, and stuffing.  

All in all, it's been an easy and relaxing holiday. 

More on Turkey-Russia conflict

Wednesday, November 25, 2015
I went out shopping last night for Thanksgiving. I'd already picked up the turkey, but there were a few more things that I needed. Despite the snowfall and the rather cold temperatures, it seemed like a good idea to go get the extra ingredients now, rather than later. One reason was to help walk off the pizza that we'd ordered and eaten. The other was a hedge against recent events. If Tayyip Erdoğan was going to drag my country into World War III, I figured, I at least wanted to make sure that I had an extra bottle of prosecco on hand

All we're trying 2 do is party like it's 1999


Turkey Shoots Down Russian Warplane

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

I woke up this morning at the Borderlands Lodge to be greeted by the news that the Turkish Air Force had shot down a Russian fighter jet near the Turkish-Syrian border. 

Bad times. Very bad times. 

According to reports, at least one of the Russian pilots is dead, while the other is still unaccounted for. Some Turkish sites, meanwhile, have been reporting that both of the Russian pilots were killed by Turkmen Syrians as they descended in their parachutes. 

Thoughts and Questions re France & ISIS

Friday, November 20, 2015

Re the events of the past week, I have some points and questions--both rhetorical & genuine.

1) Jeb Bush and others have commented on how ISIS is waging war on "western civilization and freedom." Meanwhile, one of the closest allies of the United States in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, has already beheaded dozens of its own citizens this year for crimes including adultery, 'sorcery,' and drug possession. A recent guest opinion piece in the New York Times describes Saudi Arabia as the "white Daesh."

It seems like the main reason why the US and other countries are against ISIS is not necessarily because of the group's brutality, but rather because they are revolutionary. If that is indeed the case, why should we assume that conflict with ISIS is going to be any more permanent than it has been with any other revolutionary movement (such as in post-1979 Iran) that eventually becomes part of the established order of things?   

Thinking about Paris: Let's not compound tragedy with stupidity

Sunday, November 15, 2015

While the past week has been a bloody one in a number of places, most of the world's attention has been fixed on Paris.  All I can say is that I hope that people in France react to last Friday's attacks in a much smarter way than Americans did after 9/11

It's a point worth keeping in mind. I realize that it's popular in some circles to blame the Iraq debacle solely upon the administration of George W. Bush and the numerous falsehoods that the president, vice-president and other high-ranking officials made when leading the US into war in the months and years following the 9/11 attacks. But it was also the case that Americans were ready to believe the lies they were told. The idea of starting a war in someone else's country based upon what was, at best, quite ambiguous evidence, wasn't a very large point of concern for most Americans in the wake of the attacks. I think that what a lot of people thought was that, even if the evidence linking Iraq to 9/11 turned out to be wrong, an American invasion and US-sponsored regime change in Baghdad would still be salubrious to Iraq and the Middle East more generally. 

Well, we all know how well that worked out. 

Feeling Autumnal at the Borderlands Lodge

Friday, October 30, 2015

Some people have written in, asking what's going on in the Borderlands. A lot, to tell you the truth, or at least it seems that way. I've been officially given tenure and promoted to the rank of Associate Professor, for one thing. This is a multi-step process at Montana State which began with my department submitting my research file for external review in May of 2014. 

Getting tenure isn't something that takes place overnight. After sending out my file to external reviewers, the next big step--in September of 2014--was to submit my tenure file, followed by my department's vote the next month. From my department my case went up the food chain to a college committee, then a university one, then the provost, and then the university president. 

There was even a big dinner held at one of the university ballrooms in the spring of 2015. We were each handed a "certificate of recognition" that nevertheless could not explicitly tell us that we were getting tenure or being promoted. But even after getting my letter from MSU's president in April of this year informing me that I'd made it through all of the votes (without a single vote against) at the university level, and even after the nice dinner, the decision wasn't official until the board of regents of MSU could confirm it at their meeting in the middle of September. This vote, which was apparently retroactive to the beginning of this 2015-2016 school year, is mainly a formality--the regents vote on all of the cases for tenure and promotion as a bloc, as far as I understand it. That's the vote that makes everything official here, and then only in November of this year do I actually see my raise (back-dated, I've been told, to August of this year), a year and a half after first sending out my file to the external reviewers.  

So, I guess you could say that it's been something of a drawn-out process.  

More Thoughts on Russia and Syria

Friday, October 2, 2015 

There was an interesting piece in the New York Times the other day about Russia's involvement in Syria. Loyal readers of the Borderlands know what I think about this. Nevertheless, I couldn't help chiming in a bit more in response to this article. 

Something that Vladimir Putin said, which is quoted in this piece, struck my interest.  
In his Monday address at the United Nations, Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, alluded to reports that thousands of volunteers had left Russia to join the Islamic State. “We cannot allow these criminals who have already felt the smell of blood to return home and continue their evil doings,” Mr. Putin said.
Does that remind you of anything? 

Russia, Syria, and the Not-So-Great Game

Friday, September 11, 2015

This past week there's been a lot of hand-wringing in the US media regarding the Kremlin's recent efforts to get more involved on the ground in Syria. Here's a typical take on the situation from the Washington Post's editorial board:
Far from abandoning its support for the Assad regime, Moscow appears to be doubling down. According to numerous reports, Russia is establishing a base at an airfield near an Assad stronghold on the Mediterranean coast and has filed military overflight requests with neighboring countries. Analysts believe Russia may be preparing to deploy 1,000 or more military personnel to Syria and to carry out air operations in support of Assad forces. Syrian rebels already have reported seeing Russian aircraft over territory they control. 
The intelligence is serious enough to have prompted Secretary of State John F. Kerry to call Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday and to release a statement saying that he had warned that Russian actions “could further escalate the conflict . . . and risk confrontation” with the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State. 
In reality, Mr. Putin’s strategy in Syria has been consistent. All along he has aimed to block any U.S.-backed move to remove Bashar al-Assad from power and aimed to force the West to embrace the regime as a partner in fighting the Islamic State. On Friday, Mr. Putin said his plan for a political transition in Syria, including parliamentary elections and a coalition government with “healthy” opposition factions, had Mr. Assad’s full support, which tells you all you need to know about it.
I find this concern about Russian involvement in Syria to be quite interesting. The assumption here seems to be that it is in American interests to overthrow Syrian president Bashar Assad, and that this objective will somehow be obstructed by Russian meddling. 

Be careful what you wish for
But given the situation that Syria is in right now, is it really in American interests to overthrow Assad? 

The US, Turkey, ISIS and the Kurds: What's Going On?

Friday, July 31, 2015

The big story this week has been the deal that the US and Turkey worked out regarding US use of the Incirlik NATO base in the southern Turkish city of Adana. Officials on both sides insist there's no secret deal, but from the outside it looks like Turkey has given the US a free hand in bombing ISIS targets while the US has given Turkey a free hand in bombing Kurdish ones. 

On the face of it all, the story goes like this: a bomb set off by ISIS in the city of Suruç convinced the Turkish government to play a more active role in the anti-ISIS coalition. So, as a result, the Turkish government has decided to allow the United States to bomb ISIS positions from the Incirlik air base located outside Adana, in southern Turkey. Oh, and while we're bombing ISIS, Turkey will be carrying out attacks against Kurdish-held positions in Iraq and, perhaps, northern Syria as well.

But there is, of course, more to the story than this. 

The Home Stretch: Bodrum-Budapest-Cluj-Istanbul-Salt Lake City-Bozeman

Friday, July 24, 2015

Back in the days when I was working as an English teacher in Istanbul, I used to spend 6-8 weeks traveling every summer. One year I made my way through Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Israel before flying back to Istanbul from Tel Aviv. On another occasion I flew one-way up to Moscow, then made my way back to Istanbul overland through eastern Europe and the Balkans. The trips got longer and more grandiose with each passing year up to 1999, when I flew from Istanbul to New Delhi, then traveled overland--albeit skipping over Burma--to Beijing before flying to Budapest and traveling back down to Istanbul. 

Macedonia was one of the places I enjoyed visiting in the 90s


Friday, July 3, 2015 

Back when I was spending time in Russia more frequently in the first decade of this century, I used to fly out of Moscow in the evening to Amsterdam, where I’d have a one-night stop-over prior to continuing on to the United States the next afternoon. It was great. I’d order a double gin as soon as the drinks were served and breathe a sigh of relief that I’d made it through Russian passport control without something horrible happening to me. Just the way travel was meant to be! 

Passport control once resembled this Onion story

Week 4 in Russia: Yekaterinburg, Tula, Leo Tolstoy's Estate

Friday, June 26, 2015

My train from Kazan pulled into Yekaterinburg right on time at 12.37 pm last Saturday afternoon. Nevertheless, it was two hours later than I'd expected. I hadn't anticipated that the departure and arrival times written on my ticket would be according to Moscow time, rather than local. This wasn't an issue in Kazan, which is in the same time zone as Moscow, but created confusion for me regarding my arrival in Yekaterinburg, which is two hours ahead of Moscow. So, the arrival time written on my ticket was 10.37 am. They were right, of course. It was 10.37, in Moscow. 

The trip from Kazan had been pretty easy. We'd set off at around 8 pm (Moscow-time!) the previous evening and I was traveling in a sleeping compartment of four berths (called a kupeinii compartment), as opposed to going platskartny, which is an entire car of open-berth dormitory-style beds that can make you feel like you're riding in a mobile refugee camp.

Having fun on the train

Week 3 in Russia: Kazan, Ulyanovsk, Samara

Friday, June 19, 2015

Well, Borderheads, we meet again. This week has been spent in central Russia, a.k.a. the middle Volga region. More specifically, I've been hanging out in Kazan, Ulyanovsk, and Samara.

It's been fun, and at times exhausting--especially during those long bus rides down poorly maintained roads. In fact, I was feeling so beaten up at times that I was a little bit reminded of this video by Bi-2: 

Sure they're getting a bit long in the tooth, but Bi-2 can still rock

Nevertheless, it's been a good time. Here are some of the things I saw this past week: 

My take on the Turkish elections

Friday, June 12, 2015 

Note: this is an excerpt taken from another post 

Turkish Elections

The day of my departure for Kazan coincided with the holding of parliamentary elections in Turkey.

The big story was that, while the ruling AKP party still got the most votes at 41%, they lost their majority in parliament. This is important mainly because President Tayyip Erdoğan had been hoping to gain a "super-majority" that would allow the AKP to call a referendum putting new powers into the hands of the president. 

From the Turkish Daily Tattler

Week 2 in Russia: Nizhnii, Kazan, and my take on the Turkish election results

Friday, June 12, 2015

As usual, this has been a busy week in the Eurasian borderlands. The big story, of course, has been the Turkish elections from last Sunday (jump down to see my take on them), with the (premature, in my view) celebrations of President Erdoğan's political detractors capturing much of the media attention surrounding Turkey over the past week. 

Read the subtitles to learn how to say 'heave-ho' in Russian

Personally, this week has been a really pleasant and interesting one as I've continued my travels through the Volga region of central Russia. I'm currently nursing a pulled muscle in my thigh as a result of some serious stair-climbing that I was involved with back in Nizhnii, as well as some very sore feet. That's okay, though--it's playoff time, and everyone is hurting. 

In any case, below are some photographs and comments about my trip, as well as my observations regarding events taking place now in Turkey. 

On the Road in Russia: Week 1

Friday, June 5, 2015

On Saturday of last week I got up early, had a quick cup of tea and a poğaça, then grabbed a taxi to take me up the hill to the metro station en route to the airport. I was on my way to Russia.

Zemfira knows a thing or two about catching planes

My taxi driver was a guy called Şapka ("Cap"), so named, he claimed, due to his legendary comb-over. Şapka was visibly jealous when I told him my destination. "A young man like yourself should have a wonderful time there," he said wistfully, assuming that my visit had something to do with prostitutes. "Here you have to pay 300 Lira for the night." He opened the glove compartment to reveal an impressive stockpile of Viagra. 

Friday News & Propaganda: May 29 on the Road Edition

May 29, 2015

Greetings from Istanbul, Borderheads, I hope you're doing well. This has been a busy week for me, one involving travel and making plans for future escapades. But don't worry! I still haven't lost my connection to the mothership.  

Just let me put on my sunglasses so I can see what I'm doing

But more on my travels below. For now, I think it's worth indulging in a little taste of N & P...

Erecting Change in Turkey

May 22, 2015

A story making the rounds in Turkey in recent weeks relates to the unveiling, in the Black Sea city of Amasya, of an odd selfie-taking statue of an Ottoman prince. The statue's creation, and near-immediate vandalism, has prompted the Turkish Daily Tattler to publish photos of similarly strange artwork in cities throughout Turkey. 

Selfie fun in Amasya

Friday News & Propaganda: May 22 Edition

Friday, May 22, 2015

Life has been proceeding apace up here in the northern Rockies, where upcoming travel plans have sent the Borderlands Lodge staff into a flurry of preparations. Mainly, I'm just trying to find ways of keeping my backpack from turning into a bookmobile.

Uncle Gabor and I are preparing for our upcoming night flight

News & Propaganda: Mid-May Fun at the Borderlands Lodge

Friday, May 15

Hello again, Borderheads, I hope this week's N & P finds you well. Life is moving ahead swimmingly at the Borderlands Lodge. A week ago, I submitted my final grades for the spring semester, and now I'm preparing for the summer. I'm going to be teaching a class online on modern Turkey and am planning on doing some travel in the Eurasian Borderlands.

The weather has been really windy and nasty here lately, but that's okay. Nothing lasts forever, even blustery days in May. 


News & Propaganda: Skoolz Out Edition

Friday, May 8, 2015

As usual, things have been quite busy lately up here at the Borderlands Lodge. Classes at Montana State ended on May 1, and now the summer is finally upon us.

So I guess I can say that life is pretty good. 

But enough with the chit-chat. Here's the N & P:

Friday N & P: May 1 Edition

May 1, 2015

Hello again, Borderheads, I hope your week has been a good one. Life has been good up at the Borderlands Lodge. My schedule has been pretty full lately, involving a lot of planning and organization for my upcoming travels to the Eurasian Borderlands. 

Gabor Szabo always puts me in the right mood

Friday News & Propaganda

Friday, April 24

Greetings, Borderlanders! Life has been pretty busy of late up here at the Borderlands Lodge. Spring has come, again, to the Greater Bozeman Metropolitan Area, and the snows of last week have receded. 

The weather in Bozeman has been just amazing lately

Snowy Springtime N & P

Friday, April 17, 2015

It's been snowy up here lately in the northern Rockies. After a very mild winter which saw far colder temperatures and much more snow out east than out here, springtime has been snowy so far in Bozeman. It's getting better though. Today is a bluebird day, the first of several, apparently, to arrive over the next week or so. It's an encouraging development, to say the least, for denizens of the Borderlands Lodge.

Sign of spring: the return of the prairie dogs

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!


Turks Across Empires on the Ottoman History Podcast

February 17, 2015

Things have been pretty good lately at the Borderlands Lodge. Funny, how getting your first book behind you can relax the mind somewhat. 

That's right, I'm on the 'cast

Responding post-Charlie

January 16, 2015

A friend asked me the other day what I thought about the recent Charlie Hebdo events. What could I say? Obviously, they're terrible. 

In the wake of the murders of Charlie Hebdo's staff, there's been a fair bit of back-and-forth over the idea of re-running the cartoons. In considering this, I think it's worth making a distinction between those who would run the cartoons as part of the job of covering a news story, and those who want to see them run mainly out of an urge to make a point

On the one hand, I can see why press organs discussing the story would want to run some pictures in order to better illustrate the news. In such cases, people should not censor themselves, and should indeed be celebrated for their courage in standing by their principles in choosing to run cartoons that they think are essential to the story they're telling. On the other hand, those who choose to re-print the cartoons primarily to teach an imaginary audience a lesson ("This is how freedom works!") are not helping matters, no matter how well within their rights they (rightly) are. Inviting people to knock another chip off of your shoulder simply to prove your toughness ("bring it on!") is not an effective response to extremism, not when you're making life more unpleasant to potential allies. 

Republican Girls

January 10, 2015

I was working last week at the Atatürk Library in Taksim, checking out old copies of the newspaper Cumhuriyet. I didn't have anything particular in mind regarding what I was looking for. Indeed, my whole trip to Turkey has been this way--checking out library and archival holdings and seeing if I could find something interesting. 

Turkish beauties of 1930
Cumhuriyet was a semi-official newspaper in the 1920s and 30s, and very supportive of the Kemalist regime. Today it's an opposition paper, one that I read a lot in the 90s. I preferred to read Cumhuriyet because I thought its use of language was superior to that of most of the other Istanbul dailies that were available at the time, and also because it was about the only paper back then that didn't run pictures of scantily clad women that would distract me from my efforts to improve my Turkish. 

Notes from Istanbul

January 8, 2015

I've been in Istanbul for the past few weeks, working in various libraries in town and mainly searching for inspiration. With my book coming out last month and a grant from Montana State University to spend, it seemed like coming here would be a good idea.

While I don't feel particularly under the gun to get a new book project immediately underway or anything, I do have a couple of ideas that I thought might be worth exploring. Mainly, however, I wanted a change of scenery. While winter break is normally a pretty pleasant time in Bozeman--the powder has been pretty good, from what I understand--I really felt a need to get away and spend a bit of time thinking about what I'd like to do next. In any case, with a nearly five-week winter break--one of the advantages of teaching in a ski-town, I suppose--there's actually plenty of time for everything.