The Georgia Runoffs

Here is my latest monthly travel column as it ran recently at 3 Quarks Daily:

In this column I write about international travel, especially travel to less understood parts of the world. This month, with such travel still a wee bit constrained, how about a little political tourism from here in Georgia, where unlikely circumstance handed our state the fate of the Senate, and we are shaky stewards. 

Beware national pundits bearing wisdom. When they bring instant analysis and self-assurance about, say, Flint’s water supply, or that crazy Sturgis biker thing, be careful. Because all punditry has right now is conventional wisdom. Here on the actual battlefield the candidates compete against one another, the Republican party competes against itself, dark money scurries in the shadows, QAnon jeers from the sidelines and the truth is, nobody has any idea what’s going to happen.

Georgia Democrats’ justified pride in turning the state for Joe Biden comes with a fistful of contradictions. Consider that the Democrats’ two national MVPs this year are black southerners from neighboring states who punched way above their weight, US House Majority Whip Representative Jim Clyburn, Democrat from South Carolina, 80, and former Georgia House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams, 46.

When the primary season began national Democrats looked destined for tag-team fratricide, Sanders and Warren and The Squad on the left, Biden and Klobuchar and Buttigieg glued to the middle. No one had any particular expectations for Joe Biden. He finished 4th in Iowa, 5th in New Hampshire and 2nd, barely, in Nevada. No one was taking charge of the Democrats and the alternative was four more years.

Clyburn took charge. He steadied the party with a ringing endorsement of Biden before his South Carolina home crowd and in a well-meant, astonishing nearly unanimous coalition against Donald Trump, Democratic centrism prevailed. While here in Georgia, Stacey Abrams rejected all that, explicitly.

Before Abrams’ day, Georgia Democrats took the gradual approach to changing red to purple and maybe one day to blue. Before Abrams centrist Democrats, like former Georgia Senator Sam Nunn, showed the (eventual, theoretical) path to – one day – turning blue.

Nunn’s daughter Michelle ran for her father’s seat in 2014. Republican David Perdue, a plug-in, generic businessman who spent a career at companies selling food, household products, jeans, then shoes, then as the CEO of a textile company and a discount chain, defeated Senator Nunn’s daughter. He is standing for reelection.

Abrams, as Minority Leader of the Georgia House, was narrowly defeated in a 2018 race for Governor marked by accusations of voter suppression. She ran against the then Secretary of State, our current Governor Brian Kemp, who effectively presided over his own election.

Stung when denied the Governorship she was convinced she’d won, Abrams torched the centrist playbook and set about registering Georgia voters with unabashed appeals to the left. With help from her New Georgia Project (under investigation by the current Secretary of State), and other groups like Georgia Stand Up, Joe Biden beat Donald Trump by 12,670 votes. Georgia turned blue for the first time since ‘92.

Perhaps Clyburn’s centrism is the only way to victory for Democrats in South Carolina. Probably. But next door in Georgia, where Atlanta’s surging growth suddenly accounts for 57% of the state’s population, Abrams found a new way to move the party forward.

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Snapshot: The American South, 2018

My wife and I live in the state of Georgia, USA. I know that people read CS&W from all over, and I think it might be revealing to folks who don’t live in the USA to see this currently-running ad, from a candidate for Governor of our state.

You really ought to watch it a couple of times and study the set design.

This is politics in the USA, 2018.

In response to criticism, the Washington Post says Kemp Tweeted ““I’m conservative, folks. Get over it!”

Fan Photos of Istanbul in Huge Week for Turkey

This is a fateful week for the beleaguered Turks. Next weekend Turkey will vote in a referendum on whether to extend significant new powers to President Erdogan. With war on its borders, terror in its biggest cities, a tourism industry in collapse, a tenuous agreement with the rest of Europe over refugees, spats with individual EU governments ginned up for electoral advantage, an astounding 40,000 jailed after the attempted coup last year, well, Turkey has no shortage of challenges.

In spite of it all, Istanbul remains one of the world’s five greatest cities (In no particular order, mine are Istanbul, Hong Kong, Paris, Sydney, San Fransisco. Yours?) So I’d like to reprise a few fan photos of Istanbul in the good old days. Click them to make them bigger. And there are hundreds more photos from Turkey here, in the Turkey Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.

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Outside the Grand Bazaar. Through that gate and down in the bazaar, march in and get yourself thoroughly lost. Wander for half a day. I once asked around for the Afghan section and came away with three fine pakols, tailored to my head size, from a milliner from Kandahar.

 

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Again, the Galata Tower in the center back. Ferries like these ply the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus over to Asia, carrying commuters to work at dawn.

 

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The fabled Haydarpasha Train Station in Kadaköy, on the Asian side of the Bosphorus. On arrival from London via the Orient Express, from here well heeled tourists could travel on to Ankara, then Kars, then Baghdad and Teheran.

 

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Day labor at the break of dawn. Happening every day in the Grand Bazaar.

 

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The Blue Mosque.

 

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This is seven photos stitched into a 180 degree panorama. Each photo consists in turn of seven exposures combined into an HDR image. We are looking west into the Golden Horn at dawn, the Bosphorus Strait at our backs. See each end of the Galata Bridge on the far left and right.

 

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Here is the Ortakoy Mosque in a trendy part of town some way up the Bosphorus on the European shore, the bridge behind leading to Asia, on the far side.

 

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And Taksim Square, foreground. Gezi Park, a green space and the focus of the protests a couple of years ago, is just below and behind this vantage point. From here you can see past the Golden Horn and out into the Sea of Marmara. From this vantage point the Bosphorus, to the east, is just off to the left.

 

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Here is the fabled Golden Horn, with the Galata Tower across the way. The Bosphorus is out of the frame on the right, the Sea of Marmara behind the photo and the Black Sea at the end of the Bosphorus at two o’clock from here.

And while we’re in the region, here’s a link to one of the chapters in my first book, Common Sense and Whiskey, about a trip through Turkey’s eastern neighbors, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia.

Weather That’s Bigger Than You

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As noted two years ago, on 3 July, 2014: For a few years the hurricane season never turned up. A tropical depression far out west of Cape Verde, a storm drenching Guatemala or Cancun in the Gulf basin, but nothing here in America.

This year, as Americans repaired to their Independence Day barbecue grills, a crazy early storm formed off Florida’s east coast. Only North Carolina and its outer banks are evacuated so besides overwrought news TV, most of the country remains sanguine.

Here in our mountains the effects are profound and lovely.

Once in a while there is a hurricane nearby but not close enough to storm on us. Its signal effect is to draw all the moisture out of the air and toward the storm, leaving us, a thousand miles west of the storm, with tree-ruffling breezes and shiny, concentrated, brilliant skies.

Our beautiful mountains.

Trees sway and sweep up with the breeze so patches of the hillside turn pale with the lighter green of the leaves’ undersides. The smile of a moon darts between clouds along with planes too far up in the sky to hear. We watch as they cross in front of us so they can land pointing east in Atlanta, two and a half hours away by road.

If we want to stay outside past dark tonight, Thursday, July 3rd, we’ll need long pants and footwear against the chill. This is why we love our mountains. On July 3rd, way down south in Georgia.

Post Soviet Politics Never Stops

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A rift has opened up across post Soviet Europe in the wake of the Riga Summit, (that’s Riga across the Daugava River, above) with all the former Soviet states lining up according to their perceived interests. Armenia and Belarus resist the final declaration in Riga, each beholden to Moscow for various protections, while Georgia, the Baltics and Ukraine clamor to camp under the EU umbrella.

The best way to decide what you think is to listen to respected scholars, but they line up equally on both sides. Andrew Michta and Judy Dempsey call the EU feckless while Stratfor and Brian Whitmore put President Putin on the back foot.

Who’s right? And with the injection of the US instigated FIFA controversy and the opportunity it affords the US to scold Russia and vice versa, what’s next? 

Friday Photo #11, Georgia, USA

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And not just Georgia, USA, but actually the driveway of our very own farm, in October 2010. Click it to enlarge. There’s a little collection of photos from where we live, called Rural Life, on EarthPhotos.com.

Here are the other Friday Photos. Happy weekend, everybody.

Recommended Reading: Where the West Ends

WherethewestendscoverFun new book from Michael J. Totten. Fun, that is, if your idea of thrills is a drive from Turkey into Iraq for lunch.


Where the West Ends expands on Mr. Totten's Dispatches blog for World Affairs Journal. There are sections roughly grouped as the Middle East, the Balkans, the Caucasus and the Black Sea.

Many authors seem to believe they won't be taken seriously unless their work is laden with ponderous history. When well written, like in some of my suggestions below, that's  worthwhile. When it's not, it's the reason tons of books are returned to the shelf half-finished.

In Where the West Ends, Mr. Totten mostly allows a cursory sketch of the past to suffice. I suspect that satisfies armchair travelers. Then he gets on with the travel writing I like best, what it feels like to get up from that chair and actually go to a place, and what it's like, personally, to be there.

Should Mr. Totten's book pique your interest, here are some suggestions for deeper reading:


Black Garden: Armenia and Azerbaijan Through Peace and War by Thomas de Waal


Azerbaijan Diary by Thomas Goltz


Georgia Diary by Thomas Goltz


Towers of Stone: The Battle of Wills in Chechnya by Wojciech Jagielski


Bread and Ashes: A Walk Through the Mountains of Georgia by Tony Anderson


Rebel Land: Unravelling the Riddle of History in a Turkish Town by Christopher de Bellaigue


In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs: A Memoir of Iran by Christopher de Bellaigue


Patriot of Persia: Muhammad Mossadegh and a Tragic Anglo-American Coup by Christopher de Bellaigue


Black Sea by Neil Ascherson


The Black Sea: A History by Charles King


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Along the Georgia Military Highway, Republic of Georgia

And here, in five installments, are excerpts from Common Sense and Whiskey, the book,  about our trip through the southern Caucasus:

1: Getting to Armenia
2: Yerevan to Tbilisi
3: Tbilisi and the Georgian Military Highway
4: The High Caucasus & the Russian Border
5: Baku

Order the entire book for $9.99 at Amazon.com, at BN.com, or the Kindle version (just $4.99).

See many more photos of the South Caucasus in the Armenia,
Georgia
and Azerbaijan
Galleries at EarthPhotos.com.

 

Common Sense and Whiskey, the Book – The Southern Caucasus, Chapter Fifteen

Here is Chapter Fifteen of Common Sense and Whiskey, the book, a very short trip through Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Track down previous chapters here. Click the photos to make them bigger. More photos and additional commentary are available at A Common Sense and Whiskey Companion. And here's the Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia Galleries at EarthPhotos.com. Order the entire book for $9.99 at Amazon.com, at BN.com, or the Kindle version (just $4.99).

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The Wien Flughafen stood disturbingly deserted at night, all the shops stocked like Christmas, but you couldn’t play with the toys. They glittered and blinked coquettishly behind glass doors pulled shut.

Our old buddy Austrian Airlines left Vienna on a beeline toward Budapest, then Timisoara, Bucharest, Constanta, over the Black Sea to Trabzon and on into Yerevan, all of it in blackness below. The flight tracking screen showed our destination tucked right in between Grozny and Baghdad: “Local time in Jerewan 4:31 a.m.”

Austrian’s corporate color scheme was brilliant red, the national color, and the cabin crew was dressed red hat to sensible (but red) shoes. Fetching, I thought.

Taxiing out (“We are number one for takeoff”), a wail arose behind us. A woman screamed “Go back, go back and check!” Crimson crew rushed to her and kneeled and huddled round our distraught Armenian. One of them came back forward and PA’d their apologies, “Dis is not Azerbaijan, ve know dis.”

The safety announcements were recorded, and they were for the wrong destination. This woman wasn’t by God going to Baku. Azerbaijan’s border with Armenia had been shut tight for fifteen years.

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Next Week: Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia

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14th century Trinity Church (Tsminda Sameba) near Mt. Kazbeg, Georgia.

Several days back we put up a list of links to reading about the Caucasus. Next week we'll publish our small contribution, the final chapter of Common Sense and Whiskey, the book, ($9.99 at Amazon.com, at BN.com, or $4.99 for the Kindle version.) here on the blog. It's the story of our quick rumble through the southern Caucasus, from Yerevan, Armenia to Tbilisi, Georgia and up the Georgia Military Highway to the Russian border and Mt. Kazbeg, then over to Baku and the scary post-industrial Caspian Sea island of Pirallahi, in Azerbaijan. See previous CS&W chapters here.

 

More Good Reads, Relevant Links

EightPiecesOfEmpireLawrence Sheets covered the demise of the former Soviet Union for NPR. He writes his memoir in a brisk, non-academic style that's just right for the interested lay person. It's a quick read; Took me only a weekend and Monday. He includes what must be all his greatest hits, his quick trip to Afghanistan, a trip to Sakhalin Island in the Russian far east, visiting the Chernobyl exclusion zone, but I'm particularly drawn to his Caucasus reporting.

He makes my modest story on the southern Caucasus, recounted in CS&W, appear callow, and I appreciate him for it. It's exciting to get background on some of the places we visited a few years after he did, in Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia (even a tiny place we visited, Dzoroget in Armenia, athough he visited under entirely different circumstances). His coverage of Abkhazia's succession from Georgia is admittedly maybe not general interest, but I loved it.

He reported that little war along with his friend and fellow reporter Thomas Goltz, who has written his own books, and if you read their accounts alongside each other, you get a real, exciting sense of what went on at that fraying edge of the Soviet empire.

The books:

Eight Pieces of Empire by Lawrence Scott Sheets
Georgia Diary by Thomas Goltz

Similarly, you can read Sheets on Armenia alongside Christopher de Bellaigue's Rebel Land, (earlier post) which is set just across Armenia's western border in Turkey, for a richer understanding of the Armenian genocide question, and Sheets on Armenia alongside Thomas de Waal's richly reported Black Garden (that's what "Karabakh" means), which is set just across Armenia's eastern border in Azerbaijan for a better understanding of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Go ahead and polish off your expertise about the southern Caucasus with:

Bread and Ashes by Tony Anderson. Travels in Georgia.

Also in the region, see
Towers of Stone by Wojciech Jagielski, reporter for the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza,
The Man who Tried to Save the World by Scott Anderson, about aid worker Fred Cuny in the north Caucasus, 
Chienne de Guerre by Anna Nivat, incredibly brave war reporting from Chechnya,
Beslan: The Tragedy of School Number 1 by Timothy Phillips on the nightmare in North Ossetia,
– Thomas Goltz's other books Azerbaijan Diary and Chechnya Diary,
– Thomas de Waal's other book The Caucasus: An Introduction,
– and Christopher de Bellaigue's In the Rose Garden of  the Martyrs , a memoir of Iran. de Bellaigue writes beautifully, and after all, Iran borders Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan and the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh.

Finally, to stay up to date, there's the International Crisis Group's North and South Caucasus reporting. (Lawrence Sheets is ICG Project Director for the South Caucasus these days) and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty's Caucasus section