Harry

One of our dogs died today.

Harry, a six year old Maltese who was happy so long as he had a human to lie down next to. Or on. If you lay down, he liked to climb on top of your chest and...plonk down. A small dog, but solid, with heavy muscle.

Or if you were sitting up, he'd settle for wedging himself against you...and turning upside down, legs and nose in the air, mouth open. He could manage to do this if you were sitting in an armchair.

Two weeks ago, he developed constipation. We gave him cod liver oil but it didn't help. Whenever he tried to take a dump, he howled in pain and nothing came out. His rear end was swollen, but all the pain was on the inside.

One week ago, the vet said he had a colonic hernia - viscera protruding through muscle, blocking the passage.

Four days ago, he had an operation to correct it. He was happier, not in pain, but refused to eat anything. We managed to get him to swallow his medicines by squirting them into his mouth - and he actually seemed to enjoy it.

He drank plenty of water, but then always brought it up again. Yesterday he was lethargic and weak, barely able to walk, but starting to be able to crouch and defacate in the garden - without obvious discomfort.

Then this evening...he just didn't wake up from a nap.

Another vet is storing the body until we can have him cremated.

These are the facts. And that's the easy part.

Maybe the truma of the surgery was too much, maybe there was just too much wrong to fix. There's no easy way to tell, and that's...okay.

I'm 45. My father is 82. I don't think I've ever seen him cry before. What am I supposed to make of this?

Checking for a pulse, feeling for slight breathing, noting how the flesh was turning cold. A slightly uncomfortable sensation, but nothing difficult to cope with. Seeing how rigour mortis had stiffened his legs when we moved him - that was deeply unsettling.

The other dogs - sometimes they barked or growled when Harry was wolfing down food from their plates, or splayed on their favourite cushion - no one could splay like Harry. But when confronted with his body, it was as if they couldn't see it. It wasn't him to them.

So I'm left with a scattering of mundane memories, that suddenly have an extra colouring. That time we sent him to have his coat trimmed, and he came back almost with a buzzcut, which seemed to puzzle him. The time our youngest dog Rosie was in season, and Harry followed her around, wagging frantically.

And the ritual every night when Harry recognised the signs that we were preparing to sleep, and he got over excited, running around and barking, trying to decide whose bed he would sleep on.

Yes, I'll miss that. Goodnight Harry.

Inventory

Monday 6th February. Morning.

If all goes well, I leave today.

So apparently I'm supposed to reflect, and draw out life lessons from my recent experiences.

I came here with a cold in the head, and I'm leaving with a different one.

I came knowing exactly one word of Turkish, and I leave having learned I was mispronouncing it.

I came expecting to work for a charitable business, and I leave expecting to work for a business disguised as a charity.

I came with luggage full of casual clothes, and GBP200 in lira. Anything I don't spend or especially want to wear can go to my hosts - they can probably find a better use for the running shoes that always chafed.

I've managed to aquire three jackets, five pairs of trousers, seven shirts and a tie - which can all stay right here in storage.

The fashion is like the TV. 40 years out of date, and the reason you can enjoy it ironically is that it's incapable of grasping irony.

The food is simple fare, expertly prepared. And I have a curious yearning for fish and chips.

The people...I've barely met any actual turks in Turkey. Everyone's been kurdish, syrian, russian etc. But turks seem parochial rather than xenophobic. If you like heavily built men with a casual attitude to sex but a horror of admitting it, this could be the holiday destination for you.

I'll be back.

Inside, looking out. Away, looking back.

Rapping Up

Saturday 4th February. Night.

Plans for amateur child psychology scuppered by visit from a Turkish businessman and offspring. He speaks Arabic and French in addition to native Turkish, and wanted some English vocabulary.

So I got to eat Kabsa with a man who finds the words "Food" and "Belly" hilarious. Foooood. Be...ellleeeee.

There's so many things I want to get on with when I get back home. But that's not quite the same as being glad to leave.

I suppose the point of a holiday is to rest, recuperate, recharge, renew, revivify, and maybe other approximate synonyms beginning with R.

As well as review, recapitulate, reconsider, ratiocinate and reconnoitre with relish. No, really.
Red Cabbage.

Something else beginning with R.



I Do Linguistics

Saturday 4th February. Morning.

I took the opportunity during a hour of internet access to download some Arabic tutorials - including "Arabic for Dummies". And I've never read such a load of smug, inaccurate bollocks outside of, well, muslim apologetics.

It claims to use an internationally recognised system of transcription - one that mixes up several sounds, misdescribes others, and doesn't even try to indicate syllable stress or vowel length. Oh, and I've never seen it used outside this book, which gives the word for "Student" as not "taalib" but "tilmiidh" which it then says is pronounced "teel-mee-zah".

Arabic is bonkers enough without frauds presenting themselves as experts. Grammatical gender and adjectival agreement are minor inconveniences, but when the numbers 13-19, and 11 but not 12 must have gender disagreement, then we're dealing with a language designed by drunken committee.

Oh yes, the word for "drunk" is /sekre:n/. I learned that last night, for the price of a whisky and coke. And a headache later.

My absolute favourite culinary discovery in Turkey. And it's not Turkish. From, Syria, Makdous. Eggplant, stuffed with pulverised walnuts, red pepper and garlic. It may look like a larval form of Cthulu, but until I can get somewhere with the Unfeasibly Sexy Mustafa, this is the best thing I put in my mouth.

Kooky

Friday 3rd February.

Wassam has excellent fine motor control, shows problem solving intelligence, seems to understand a small range of gestures, and enjoys being picked up and cuddled.

He also never makes eye contact, and appears to have no spoken language at all. What kind of environment or neurological disorder could lead to both complete aphasia and prosopagnosia?

Yesterday he bit me - simply as though curious what I tasted like. He gets distressed - and placated - easily enough, but seems incapable of aggression.

What could lead to a three year old child (1) being able to work out that an adult pointing to a particular part of a toy-puzzle is a hint that this peg and not that is the one the orange but not the green or purple hoop should next go over, but (2) not grasping that spoken words refer to things.

And how could spending the first two years of life watching kids music television lead to this?

And how do you fix it?

I've been asked to spend the weekend with Wassam, to try to gather some clues.
"Khookh". Imagine apricot jam, with fatally large amounts of added sugar.


Olive/Branch

Thursday 2nd February.

That first charity we interviewed with. The one for who we were insufficiently islamic. Turns out they've decided they do want something from us after all.

They want to spread overseas, including the UK. Which means they want someone to take care of all the confusing, non-quran inspired paperwork in the UK...so they can send three of their people over to run it.

In return for which, they'll give a lump sum equivalent to one half of the running costs of this here refugee camp, for one year.

So basically, my job is to do some google searches, memorise and summarise UK charity law, act as their agent...and find some cheap premises to rent.

After which, their people will need some english lessons. But they haven't thought that far ahead.

Oh, and I'm to advise them on how to get accredited with "OUTSCHA" - a UN run authority that's the Better Business Bureau of charities. Except according to google, there's no such organisation. Another small detail to work out.

Edit: It turns out to be OCHA. And it seems to be easier for some companies to employ another company to employ an english-speaking researcher to read the english-language version of the relavent UN documents and summarise them in english to be translated into arabic...than to do a bit of reading in their own native language.

Spot...

...the difference.


Kinda

Wednesday February 1st. Afternoon.

Two small acts of kindness. Compare and contrast.

IHH are a Benevolent foundation. That's with a capital B, meaning they have an enormous heap of money, which they donate to various charities.

To apply for a donation, go to their high-tech, military-style complex. To get in, you must surrender your citizenship card, passport, or equivalent documentation. This gets you past the guarded turnstile, and into a large prefabricated building, where you plead your worthiness.

In this case, after half an hour of mission-statement regurgitation (in which I spoke five words), we were told it would take a long time to process and consider our application. That's code for "Piss off, you're not prestigious enough for us."

After retrieving our documents from IHH border control, we drove disconsolately away.

Now, before all this, we stopped at a coffeeshop, where I was gently but persistently pestered by a girl of about seven. Homeless, and begging for cash. I gave her the contents of my pocket - five lira in coins. That was act number one.

So, my tent is cold. In fact, bloody cold because the air conditioning broke. In fact, abolutely fucking freezing. But last night I was warm because the families occupying the next tent along donated their heater.

Leaving them absolutely fucking freezing.

So today I bought them a new heater - 90 lira.

Five lira to make a beggar go away, versus 90 so I don't feel like quite such an imperial colonialist bastard. For the next three days.

Samboukas. Which are not the same as Samosas, apparently. Simple home pleasures are better if you can save some for a midnight snack.

I Do Politics

Wednesday February 1st. Morning.

Apparently I'm only fun to be around when I'm drunk. Possibly unsurprising, as painting and sculpture only speak to me in the same condition.

I'm also the unofficially official (or vice versa) local expert on such vexed political matter as:

* Why did Britain brexit? (Possibly, they didn't want to support Greece and Italy, now the european economy was failing. Or they hoped to silence the movement to leave by holding a referendum, with an unexpected result. Or...something else.)

* Is a third world war coming? (More like dozens of small wars.)

* Will Donald Trump cause it? (Only if his handlers lose control completely, and he really is that stupid and insane.)

* Why did America support Saddam Hussein? (He was useful at the time, particularly against Iran.)

* Why does America support Assad? (They're split, but enough think he's useful for now.)

* Is it true Hitler respected Muslims? (He used them, but planned to destroy them later.)

* What do you think of Isreal? (Even if its role and funding disappeared tomorrow, it wouldn't disappear any time soon.)

(My marxist friends used to hold debates on "Does Isreal Have The Right To Exist", to which I think the answer is: "The right as conferred by which power?")

Maybe I should drink more.

A foaming flagon of cool, crisp, refreshing...thin yoghurt.

Jobby

Tuesday January 31st. Morning.

On the other hand, sometimes your semi-paranoid imaginings can be prophetic. For instance, one thought was that a charity would offer a "probationary period" of, say, one month, during which I would do my job free of charge, after which they'd look and see whether there was a chance of paid employment.

To which my considered response would be "Fuck off, did you think I was born yesterday?".

Well, guess what happened.

It looks like I'm here till Saturday, which apart from the suddenly broken air conditioning and consequent need for me to type this wearing three thick layers of clothing...is fine.

Imagine eggplant, stuffed with spicy, crunchy peanut butter. Now imagine flat bread, dipped in olive oil, and coated in a powder of pungent herbs. Or the same bread, dipped in sweet oil of dates. All washed down with a strong, dark tea.

That's my breakfast. Now imagine a meal where you fill up with a first course of a dozen varieties of salad - finely chopped onion and leutice with a dusting of paprika, black and green olives, leafy kale coated in lemon juice, goat's cheese, hummous...each on its own little plate, for you to mix and try as you wish.

Then the main course, lamb or sometimes beef, grilled with peppers. Or, a plate of spicy chicken wings. Rice is an expensive option, as is pasta. It's a small stroke of genius that your actual hunger is taken care of by extensive starters, so the literal meat of the meal is a leasurely self-indulgence - much as a dessert course is for us.

You can finish off with sweet tea or a dose of caffine in the form of almost viscous coffee.

This is a typical resteraunt meal. I think one reason we get obese in the west is that we don't actually like our food very much.

Cornflakes, baked beans, sausage and mashed potato - convenience food. But also...boring. So we eat more, hoping the pleasure hit will come on the next bite.

Here, living in a cold tent in a Syrian refugee camp, breakfast is something to look forward to. As opposed to something you unthinkingly do while watching the breakfast TV news.


Yellow Soup.

Red Soup.

Decisions, Decisions

Monday January 30th.

Today was supposed to be the day we decide what to do for the next year. The options are:

1) Finish negotiations with an already existing charity. Arrange accommodation, transport and teaching space for me, start immediately, and at some point visit England to fetch all the hardware, software and data needed to upgrade teaching from basic.

2) Strike out on our own. I go home to get my stuff, Jamal squeezes business types in Saudi for funding, and when we're both done, get back to Turkey. My preferred option.

3) Give up the whole thing as a bad idea.

But, seeing as this is not just the middle east where nothing runs on schedule, but Turkey, where all meetings are a delicate dance of finding out what the terms of a verbal contract even mean...we've still got no idea what we're doing.

I don't like uncertainty, and I've got a very bad habit in uncertain situations. I tend to pace up and down, imagining scenarios where everyone else is being the most incompetent assholes in the world. And me coming up with strategies to deal with them.

Unfortunately, if you could reason with an asshole, they wouldn't be an asshole, by definition. That's why, however charitable your view on human nature, the only way to deal with bullies is to bully them. You deal with obstructive bureaucrats by obstructing them. And you defeat trolls by humiliating them - though whether that's best done by ignoring them is another matter.

That's why shouting works when pleading doesn't. It's why you deflate pomposity with ridicule, not debate. It's why blackmail, an appeal to the least enlightened form of self-interest, works better than appeals to, well, enlightened self-interest.

But pacing and fuming only leads to more pacing and fuming.

Unless you're debating creationists, flat earthers, or Trump supporters in the real world, obviously. Swivel-eyed loons can't be de-programmed, only smashed.

Taking afternoon tea on the lawn.

Eeey, Meeny...

Saturday 28th January, Sunday 29th January

If you've ever wondered how muslims know which way to face when praying, wonder no more. How do they know which direction is Mecca? They guess.

Another of life's little mysteries solved, when the most obvious answer turns out to be the right one.

Apart from that, a decidedly uneventful weekend. Most of it spent trying to figure out the rules of which vowels go where in arabic words. And once again the obvious answer is true: there aren't any rules.

Which means, on the principle that the long vowel or diphthong is in the emphasised syllable, and if there isn't a long vowel, the emphsais is on the first syllable of di- or tri-syllables, and the ante-penultimate syllable if there's more than three...

...this means there aren't any rules for determining word stress from the written form either, and the above principle is therefore meaningless.

So, why don't arabic dictionaries and wordlists aimed at the beginners include vowel points? Children's books do it. The quran does it. Inspiring messages spelled out in sequins on cushions do it.

"Hot" is /ha:r/. "Cold" is /ba:rd/. Or /ba:rad/, or /ba:rid/, or /ba:rud/, or possibly even /ba:raid/ or /ba:raud/. But my list of 1000 most useful arabic words won't tell me which.

Could the most obvious explanation be right, that professional teachers of arabic are just as useless as professional teachers of english when it comes to knowing what students need? Probably.

Is this the reason Arabic disco sounds different to western glitchcore?

I May Be Some Time

Friday 27th January

It took a day of hangover to get over the evening of drinking. Then we got stuck in a snowdrift. And then the car could only manage to drive halfway home. And so we walked, in the freezing cold, through 25cm thick snow, up a mountain.

Left to my own devices, I'd have stayed in the car, slept there in the warm, and seen if things looked better in the morning. But instead we walked. And left to my own devices, I'd probably have died.

You see, I'm not very good with pain. And I'm especially not good with exhaustion, even when not combined with cold. And I do get exhausted quite easily. So I was tempted, really tempted many times, to just lie down in the snow and...what? Sleep through it? Give up? I don't know.

After a great deal of stress and shouting, we finally got to the house I'm calling home for the moment. It was probably only a half hour journey, but it felt timeless. Then I stepped in through the front door, and promptly slipped on the ice, nearly braining myself against the wall.

A bit more stress and a bit more shouting, and another half hour of lying on the floor of the living room, gasping to get breath back, slowly recovering in front of the heater.

Multiple cups of hot sweet tea, and a change out of cold wet clothes. And then, somewhat inevitably, a blackout. All electricity gone, and, it turned out, water too. No more heater, no more lights.

But at least plenty of wooly, fleecy blankets to sleep under.

In the morning, power restored, sun shining, and almost all the snow magically melted away.

Hot days, cold nights, hot summers, cold winters - that's the middle east climate. I'm writing this at 8pm on Saturday, with thermal underwear, a hoodie, socks folded on my feet for double thickness, and air conditioning on full hot blast. There's four thick blankets available, and I'm thinking of making the bed and crawling under them, just to be comfortable.
What I hallucinated from the cold. Or the alcohol. Either that, or art galleries with surrealist Happenings have nothing on tacky hotel lobbies. Which do you think is more likely?

Drink, Drank, Drunk.

Thurdsay 26th January. Afternoon.

Two more interviews with local companies, hawking our educational vapourware product. It was only on leaving the second company's office we realised: We have absolutely no clue what they do.

Just a bare white cube of an office, with the standard belaptopped understatedly plush desk in one corner, a suited man behind it with the regulation ultra-neatly trimmed five-day beard...and the equally regulation office boy in immaculate jeans and leather jacket to bring tea.

I'm thinking management consultants. One company (them) managing outsourcing of another company (us) to employ a third company (me) to teach managers of a fourth company to, er, manage.

And then...we downed half a bottle of red wine each. Followed by several hours of Jamal's slightly eratic driving, and me being violently ill. Must remember not to do that again. Ever.

I have to admit, I really do enjoy arabic daytime soap operas. The plot beats are so clearly signposted, and the characters so broadly drawn, you can follow it without knowing a word of the language.

There's the overprotective mother, and her gaggle of saccharine young children. The mean older sister, and the lachrymose younger one. The nieve young buck, and the scheming businessman - complete with twirlable moustache.

All played with total sincerity, with not a hint of self-parody, yet instantly self-parodying. You can't have a concept of camp without one of kitsch, and kitsch is a product of class warfare. But on TV, everyone is a decent struggling worker, living in an aristocratic mansion, doing a vague middle-class, middle management job.

...because a cup is more stylish than a syringe.

The Bullshit Economy

Wednesday 25th January. Afternoon.

The unfeasibly sexy Mustafa is going away to study in Sparta. Which, in open defiance of what I learned in Classical Civilisation classes, is no longer in Greece. Shocking.

Ah well. I should see him again in about three months, and maybe feel like a giddy schoolgirl again. Or a slightly dodgy old perv. I always get those two confused.

Meanwhile, an impromptu interview/presentation with, well, a businessman. The Montgolfier brothers were baloonist-papermakers. Benedictus Spinoza was a heretic-lensgrinder. This fellow is a cisconetwork-manager-coffeeshop-owner. Meaning, he wears a suit to give orders to young employees in stylishly ripped jeans to solve technical problems he doesn't understand, and they don't bother explaining the reality to him.

But, like all people who like to pretend they understand computers, he thinks matters like photoshop layering and database management are incredibly arcane and difficult to learn.

Actually, they can be, but not if all you want is a company logo or a payroll record.

And so, the fifteen point list of "things Kapitano can teach apart from English", which constitutes our company's mission statement, has to be translated into English, for purely legal reasons, for no one to read.

This list started life as my notes on the back of an envelope, which got translated into Arabic pseudo-legalese. So now we feed the result into google translate, and I edit the resulting mess into English pseudo-legalese.

Here's our first three promises:

1) Provide training in modern video conferencing and webinar presentation techniques, in both English and Arabic languages.

2) Facilitate effective communication with western charitable organisations, to present the client business organisation effectively, thus enabling smooth project development.

3) Contribute actively to sourcing of a suitable environment, to assist the client organisation in legally performing its activities in the United Kingdom, to remove obstacles to success in business.

Aren't you glad no one's ever going to read it?

Part of our well-deserved reward for writing the above.

A Puzzle

Wednesday 25th January. Morning.

What looks a bit like autism in a 3 year old boy? What does it mean when he's skilled with iphone and laptop...but has no words at all, and doesn't know his name? Loves to be hugged, especially by father. We think we have an answer.

It's the first world problem of children raised by television. From as soon as he could sit, his mother left him sat in front of the TV - leaving him calm, happy, and seemingly engaged and learning.

Result: A 3 year old boy with the mind of an 18 month old baby. Not slow, in fact very quick, but delayed. The treatment seems obvious - lots of interaction with lots of familiar people. Basically, an extended loving family. Which is exactly what he's got.

But is it actually possible for him to catch up? With this delayed start, how far can he even run? I don't know, and the research seems uncertain.

What happens when you introduce the electric light bulb to a culture that lives in tents? You get storytelling, debate and gossip that can extend into the night, instead of finishing when the sun goes down.

What happens when you introduce iPhones and internet? You get families sitting around a tray of fingerfood in the evening, each eating their fill...and then wordlessly browsing facebook for their storytelling, debate and gossip.

What happens when you introduce 24-hour multi-channel TV? The elderly can stay mentally active and entertained, without being a burden. The debate and gossip is about world events, not just the latest family scandel. You just also get boys like Wasaam.

Though to be fair, if I were a mother tasked with non-stop shopping, cooking, cleaning and care for five children, I'd be tempted to outsource the childcare to the magic window in the corner too.

He decided I was a soft and comfortable mattress. And he really didn't want to wake up.

Shoed Out

Tuesday January 24th. Evening.

The first charity we spoke to promised to get back to us in four days. They didn't. We emailed and called. They didn't answer. Which is rather an insult in islamic culture. We decided we didn't want them, not least because their overtly islamic image seemed to be, shall we say, trying a little too hard. Then they email to say they didn't want us. Because...we're not Islamic enough for them.

Your shoes are shiny. They're shinier than you can imagine.

Church, and State Rooms

Tuesday January 24th. Afternoon.

Antioch! Which isn't actually called Antioch! And is dirt poor but has a small industry in christian tourism because it's got a very early christian church, built into a natural cave and viewable for 15 lira...!

I'm fairly sure the early, oppressed and illegal christian church couldn't afford solid stone alters with nicely carved symbolic alphas and omegas. Or improbably kitsch statues of Saint Paul. Or an escape route with a neat square doorway. So there may  be a little artistic licence, to go with the souvenir shop.

Which has mosaics and statues showing christian themes. And islamic themes. And hindu themes. And hybrids of the above. Because why not.

I'd like to try Door Number 1, please Monty.

But nearby...

The Savon Hotel. Very high class. How high class? Most hotels in Turkey have the word "Otel" in illuminated letters on the front. This one is too posh for illuminations, and transliterates the english correctly.

Inside, rooms that boast showers...and hairdryers, according to the prospectus, with the sales pitch given in seven languages. Two rooms have jaccuzis, and the foyer has spotless white ceilings designed like church spandrels, tables of finely carved dark wood with polished glass tops, and seat-covers that would make William Morris say, "It's a little too ornate."

It also has a particular smell. "Savon" is Turkish for "Soap" - the Arabic equilvalent is "Sabon", cognate to "Saponification". The place was a soap factory from 1850 - or as I was first told, a "Soup Factory" - and since its refurbishment as a hotel in 2001, this little fact has become central to the sales literature.

The smell...is the scent of scented soap, without the soap. The pretence being that naturally odourless soap naturally has this smell, and it survives over decades and extensive building work. "Sound and perfume swirl in the evening air" wrote Baudalaire, and here the sound is the most hideously inoffensive piano-and-saxaphone smooth jazz.

Except I recognised one of the tunes. "Comment te dir adieu". Whose lyrics are about anal sex.

The best teabag I've ever encountered. Never been teabagged like it before.

Which I listened to while drinking my 7-lira "Herbs Tea". I mean I listened to the muzak, not...anyway. The tea was praeternaturally excellent, but didn't quite compare to...

The Ottoman Hotel. A hotel so grand it doesn't even need to show its name on the front. 100 lira will get you entry to the ground floor swimming baths, which, we are proudly told several times, are kept at exactly 42 degrees celsius. For maximum effectiveness at...something.

These apparently are phosphate baths, like the ones I frolicked in recently. As to which phosphate, or even if it's the same one, we still don't know.

An actual dunk may cost you dear, but a bit of charm will get you a free guided tour. So we got to see what made cubic spaces of blue cholorinated water so special, apart from the rich elderly men in blue trunks floating in them.

Deep carpeting in the corridors, chrome handrails polished to a high sheen...and pseudo-medieval paintings with vaguely virtuous implied meanings on the walls. If you can't justify the price by improving the product, you can add window dressing.

Everything says quality, but quality what, exactly?


Bonk

Monday January 23rd. Afternoon.

It's Paul Smith - the name of the bar that's named after the apparantly high-fashion clothing line. The one I've never heard of.

And the owner is, equally apparently, a Kurdish Turk, who isn't German after all but spent some formative years in Germany. And who thinks it's a jolly good idea to install an english language school as an additional side-attraction in his bar, to counterbalance the shisha-smoking section. And who's confident my teenager-friendly, video based method of teaching would fit right in. Which I think is bonkers, but, well, what the bleep do I know?

But. Buuuuuut...he isn't sure about planning permission to build partitions. Or rather, isn't sure the relavent local buraucrats can be persuaded. Or rather, isn't sure what their bribe level is.

He's Plan B - the fallback position of Plan A, which is to work with local charities to use a language school to raise money to maintain shelters for syrian refugees. Which is, IMHO, slightly less bonkers.

But...there's a Plan C! Which is the use the existing multi-purpose business to set up an additional charity which will raise some of its funds by running a language school, staffed by the same guy who does all the IT stuff, after he spends a few weeks back in england putting together all the materials for both. Which is...averagely bonkers for Turkey.

Oh yes, I've asked a fair few Syrians to explain the war to me. Like, how many factions are there, and who could form a provisional government, and how can people be so gullible as to kill members of their own close family over hairline differences created by a few weeks of propaganda broadcasts. And the answer is, everyone gave up guesssing a long time ago. So the situation could be described as...yes.
Tea...with all the trimmings.

Living in a Material World

Monday January 23rd. Morning.

If you build a house halfway up a mountain, what are your preferred building materials? There are a lot of mountains in Turkey, so a lot of halfways, and quite a lot of houses. And they're all bloody freezing.

Why use blocks of stone when you could use blocks of breezeblock? Because stone is cheap and local, while breezeblocks are seemingly so-far not. Why use marble for the staircases when you could use textured concrete that (a) you don't frelling slip on and (b) can at least be fitted easier with carpet, so it's not cold as, well, marble? So far as I can tell: Tradition.

So why make all the doors out of cold, heavy, clanging sheet steel? The same reason you fit the windows with bars. Thieves Operate In This Area. And even if they don't, the fear of thieves does.

There's no shortage of wood for doors, windowframes etc. I've been watching a house get built, and the scaffolding is wood, not steel. But wood is too fragile, and quite possibly too quiet, to deter thieves with crowbars.
The other view from my tent. Showcasing other building materials.

Hanging Out at the Mall

Sunday, January 22nd. Afternoon.

What do bustling middle eastern metropolises (metropoliti? metropoles?) have in common with sleepy english villages? To travel between them, you need a private car, and the patience to drive for hours at a time.

So, after two hours on the road, I got to (a) see the incredibly expensive Sherrington hotel, and (b) walk around the nearby incredibly expensive shopping mall. Which is exactly like every other shopping mall in the world, in that it's rows of over-specialist shops set into a stark white background whith insipid muzak and weak perfume everywhere.

Oh, and (c) I met with two of Jamal's endless supply of cousins. One's an engineer, and the other...is a human rights lawyer, with an extensive collection of evidenced atrocities committed by the Assad regime. Which is probably why his family were kidnapped and imprisoned. Though probably not the reason why a missile struck a meter in front of his car, nearly killing him.

He wanted to know the best way to get accepted into the UK. I said economic refugees get the lowest preference, with political ones slightly higher. But if you don't want to be an illegal migrant doing all the horrible jobs while being invisible and defenceless, universities love high paying foreign students, especially in highly skilled areas that natives don't do so well in.

The same in America of course, but more so.

It may be true that an expert is an ordinary person, far from home. But I'm not sure I'm ordinary enough to be an expert.
If spectacle is a by-product of industry, you can imply industry by creating spectacle.

My Cup Runneth Over

Sunday January 22nd. Morning.

I've been woken up by banging on my door before. But not so my room can be used as an impromptu surgery. And certainly not for witchdoctoring.

I sleep, and mostly live, in a tent that combines functions of guest room, spare bedroom, and communal lounge. So today I was woken up at the crack of 10:30 by hammering on the canvass door. Over the next half hour, I watched The Valeyard, a trained lawyer, remember...perform the "full cupping" ritual.

He took a set of small tea glasses, placed a piece of burning paper in each to create a partial vacuum inside, and stuck them at various point on another man's bare back. Eventually, this led to bleeding into the cups. The idea being that "bad" or "dead" or "infected" blood would be drawn out, leaving only the good, uninfected blood behind.

The patient then sheepishly tucked a 20 lira note under the mattress - the only shame being the giving of payment.

Just what is the function of folk medicine? Certainly not to cure - if that were the purpose, it would long ago have developed into real medicine. To reassure? To provide a trigger for the placebo effect? To give the reassuring impression that something can be done, when it can't?

You'd have to ask an actual medical doctor. So I did, and got answers that flitted between "The placebo effect is powerful" and "Maybe it works in some way we don't know".
You've heard of big pharma? This is little pharma.

Nth World Problems

Saturday January 21st. Afternoon.

Some oddities of living like this:

Imagine you're a 15 year old girl or boy. You're living in a single tent with parents, grandparents, and siblings. How do you masturbate?

This is a culture simultaneously obsessed with and terrified of sex. One man's question on first meeting me was "How many women have you had sex with?". Another wanted to know "Do girls masturbate too?". A third advised me "Never talk about your private life."

We have our hypocrisies, they have theirs.

So, you're 15, physically fit and healthy because of all the exercise and organic food, full of surging hormones, and probably bored quite a lot of the time. Where do you wank?

Well, you're surrounded by rolling fields and countryside as far as the eye can see. So that's where you go. The most private place for the most private acts...is the most public place. Except without any public.

The other things people do with their normally covered body parts. You can (a) join the orderly queue for the single official toilet. Or (b) schedule your leakage and dumpage for when most other people are asleep, braving the late night cold. Or (c) ... take a walk into those rolling hills I mentioned.

I'm privileged, so I've got an option (d) - when your business takes you into town, use the facilities of cafes, houses of friends, and offices of clients. Which requires its own form of scheduling.
The view from my tent. Rolling countryside, or infertile fields given because no one else wants them. You can decide.

Quiet Day

Saturday January 21st.

I appear to be having a day off. The thing about holidays is, if you don't know in advance that you're having them, they're just days with unexpectedly nothing to do.

I count 18 open access wifi points available to this laptop - all of them too weak to connect to. On the one hand, the "developing" world can jump from no-tech to high-tech very rapidly, because it takes the "first" world decades to painfully get there, and when they've done it, we here in the "global south" can just pick up the finished product.

That's why this tent, up a mountain with the most basic sanitation, has a satellite dish outside, and plasma TV inside, next to the water cooler, fan, iron and hot plate - implying a constant, reliable and plentiful electricity supply.

But...the TV signal breaks up all the time, the tea is hot but all the meals are cold, and wifi is more trouble that it's worth. Which is why I'm writing this in the expectation that I'll be able to post it...at some point in the future.

My marxist friends call this "combined and uneven development", showcasing their habit of taking terms coined by Lenin or Trotsky a century ago, and translating them literally from the Russian. Hence "Dictatorship of the Proletariat" and "Permanant Revolution" - both terms meaning something different from what you'd expect in English.
Referred to, half jokingly, as a "Gadaffi Tent".

Full English


Friday January 20th. Evening.

Did I mention today's pleasant but pointless meeting? Well, did I mention today's other pleasant but pointless meeting.

Here's the pitch: You're the owner of an english-themed bar in turkey. The front door is that of a phone box. The name is a refernce to a london-based fashion house that actually I've never heard of. Something Smith. You play sort-of english pop music, and serve more-or-less english style food and drink, to customers sitting at englishy looking chairs and tables. Englishy circa 1985, during an internationally transplanted Mardi Gras.

So, how about partitioning off part of your english bar, to make a classroom to teach...guess what language?

Here's the response from the owner - who is German, by the way: What an interesting idea. Though it would take a lot of building work. And I'm not sure about sound proofing. Or building permits. And I'm retiring soon, so it's not entirely my call. And did I mention I'm not exactly the owner as such, just a stand in for someone who can't be here, and he'd have to decide.

Ah well, there was a pleasant resteraunt on the way, situated right next to the ocean, and I got to ride there in the back seat, touching legs with the unfeasibly sexy Mustafa, who helped me grow my arabic. And no, that's not a euphemism.

Mustafa, who listened carefully to my advice to wait a year until deciding whether to get married. And promptly proposed to his very nice-sounding girlfriend the next day.

And after making me promise not to tell anyone about our conversation, and himself promising not to tell anyone Kapitano isn't entirely heterosexual...he went and told.

Was I that unreliable when I was 25? Probably, yes.

My beach has sand and pebbles. Their beach has great big wavebreaking stone blocks...and mountains with snow.

The Charity Business

Friday January 20th. Afternoon.

Another interview, another charity, another complementary glass of tea with three sugar cubes served with the daintiest stirring spoon in the world. And another complete waste of time. Though this time they sort of had a point.

"Hand-in-Hand" are looking forward to the end of the syrian war, and to a projected 20 year rebuilding process, which will require trained electricians, plumbers and builders - but, they say, not IT experts or english speakers.

At least that's their story. The rather literal word on the street is, they're a bunch of thieves who help no one. Either way, the tea was good, the personnel pleasant, the office plush, and the whole thing a wild goose chase.

And so, a small break to watch Turkish TV cover the inauguration of Donald Trump as POTUS. Or rather, to watch a retrospective of Barack Obama's failure to do anything to stop the syrian war, and coverage of angry protesters calling Trump a fascist.

So far as I can see, Trump himself is a useful idiot, backed by christian reconstructionists, dominionists, climate change deniers, vaccine deniers, AIDS deniers, sex-phobes, gun fondlers and end-of-the-world fantasisers. Useless idiots, in other words.

Except the usefulness of idiots lies in the constancy of control. And with all those controllers, each trying to monopolise the same 30-second attention span...here's someone who can declare war over a twitter spat, and then forget they've done it.

Children who've seen their house on fire...can still be shy in front of the camera.

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

Thursday January 19th. Morning and Afternoon.

More clothes shopping, for another interview with another charity.

Jamal has two wives, four daughters, and one son. The son is three years old and has...something that isn't quite autism. What would you call a happy, energetic child who loves exploring and solving puzzles, but doesn't seem to understand that people aren't machines?

He doesn't know anyone's name, including his own. He shows no fear of - or interest in - strangers. He won't meet anyone's gaze, takes random but unchangable dislikes to familiar people, including his mother, but he operates electronic devices with ease.

Most days, he spends a few hours at the local center for autistic children, encouraged to play with educational toys by women with endless patience and boundless love - in the hope that some social skills will emerge as a by-product.

There's almost no funding, and what there is goes into equipping the classroom. The broken-down syrian expatriots who run the place suggested we approach the "Saad" charity for possible employment.

So, a round of shopping for "impressive" clothes in the second hand street market, where the stock display is a table piled with unsorted shirts, then one for shoes, etc.

These places are also run by syrian refuges - one's who've climbed the latter from destitution to riches by one rung. It may be that there are small businesses in Turkey run by actual turks - instead of syrians, kuwaitis, iraqis, saudis, and even greeks. But I'm not sure I've seen any yet.

And so on to meet the head of the Saad charity to help syrians learn IT and people skills. And english. According to both his business cards, he's called Dr Asaad Asaad. I was at school with a Leo Lyons, and I suppose if we brits can have Magnus Magnussesn and Jerome K Jerome, Turkey can have something similar.

I like him, on a purely personal level. I'd be happy to work for him. Small detail though: He has exactly zero interest in spending any of the money his charity raises in doing anything. Except possibly adding even more shiny black leather upholstry to his office. I think all the workers are volunteers.

So yes, it's that kind of fundraising.

The least movement blurred picture I could get of Wassam. He doesn't seem to mind.

Milk and Cream

Wednesday, January 18th, Afternoon and Evening.

I have a minor skin complaint. Just a matter of diabetic immune weakness, combined with the difficulty in taking a hot soapy shower when you're (a) in a refugee camp and (b) up a mountain in the freezing cold.

Today's solution to this came in three parts. (1) Get a tube of hydrocortisone cream. (2) Mention it to your host who will actually get his family to build you a freaking shower stall. So, future guests will have one more mod con, in addition to air conditioning, water coolers, smartphones with translation apps, and satellite TV.

Yes, these folk may be dirt poor and fleeing from an incomprehensible war, but this is still the 21st century.

Edit: In the event, no stall got built. Add to the list of things which don't happen because instructions get lost and people get distracted. No worries.

Oh yes, and (3): Take a trip to a health spa. A turkish bath with gender-segregated sulphate swimming pools. Iron sulphate? Copper sulphate? Iririum sulphate? No idea - and the attendants didn't know either. But it's definitely a sulphate of some kind, and it definitely cures all known skin conditions, because it's from 1000 meters underground. Or possibly 1000 feet. Because biology works by magic.

And you know it's genuine because there's only two places in the world which have this sulphate. Another supposed selling point.

But in any case, it was a very pleasant hour, spent wading in milky warm water with half a dozen men, including the inevitable obese giant who liked to dive bomb. There's always one, by law.

Then an hour of watching men smoke shisha and argue about politics. Followed by half an unbelievably good resteraunt meal - the other half is wrapped up in a plastic bag next to me for later, something known by the english word "Bucket".

Oh yes, and then another hour of watching men smoke shisha and argue about politics. This seems to happen quite a lot in the arab world. Imagine a youtube comment thread, but worth reading.

I know what this corridor leading to the toilet needs! Sartorially implausible miniturised stone milkmaids! It'll set off the tastefully understated fake marble walls and fake al-hambra floor.

Om Nom Nom

Wednesday, January 18th. Morning.

I've no idea what the word is for "Brunch", but I woke up after midday and had some. In the company of...well, assorted relatives of each other.

Arabic family trees are extensive and complex, with distinctions we don't bother with in English. Yesterday I was asked if english has a special word for "the sister of my wife", and it took a minute to work out the answer is "no". Unless there is and I missed it. I'm not absolutely sure what a second cousin is, or how a third cousin can be removed four times.

So, I munched brunch, learning some words for what I was munching. Green olives are /zaituun/, but black ones are (I think) /atuun/. There a thick, black, sweet and syrupy dip called.../dips/ (or /dubz/, depending on who's pronouncing it). A glass container is a /kaasa/, and my /kaasa tSai/ (petite little tea glass) was replaced with a /kaasa biira/ (sensible sized beer glass). /okuul/ is "eat", /aakel/ is "food", and seemingly the generic word for footwear is, very usefully, /but/.

"Chicken" (and/or possibly) "Turkey" is /dadZaadZ/, conjouring images of a rooster in a courtroom, banging his gavel as "Da Judge".

A shirt is a /kamiiz/, which is nice and simple and Spanish corellated. Except it also works for a light pullover/sweater/jumper...but not for a fleece, of which there are at least two finely distingished varieties.

After that, I converted to Islam. And they videoed me doing it. Twice.

Which is to say, we played a game where I tried to repeat sung arabic phrases - including the oath you recite when you convert. I'm fairly sure my soul hasn't been saved from /dZahaanam/ (hell) though, on the technicality that it's hard to mean words you don't understand. Even though that's how most religious ceremonies work.

Luxury is having more than enough good things. Do not confuse this with having more expensive things than you'll ever use.

Plugged In

Tuesday, January 17th, Evening.

When travelling, you always forget to bring the little things. Towel, headache pills, phone charger, nail clippers, and in this case, one of those devices which convert the mains electricity socket from two-pin to three-pin, without which you can't plug in your laptop.

To solve this problem, you need an unfeasibly sexy young man - perferably called Mustafa - to guide you to an electrical hardware store. Thanks to which, I can power my laptop to tell you how I played agony uncle, providing sympathetic ear and wise suggestions about something that was worrying him.

Except I won't, because he asked me not to. Yes, I can pretend to be mature, sometimes.

"Doctor, I feel like a dog on a motorway...."

The Big Four-Five

Tuesday, January 17th, Morning

How do you celebrate your forty fifth birthday? I went to an interview which was both highly important and deeply pointless, got the most amazing indigestion from too much /kaabsa/, played agony uncle...and had bits start to break off one of my molars. So, in all, a full day.

Now, I am, at least on paper, self employed. My friend and host Jamal has set up a Turkish company which teaches english, runs courses in IT and "people skills"...

So, his general purpose company employs my company. There's a Turkish charity, run by a Jordanian businessman, taking care of Syrian refugees. And this charity needs to be ratified by, er, someone. Seemingly "The U.N.". And to be ratified, it needs to offer a range of services. So it subcontracts the promise of future services to my host's company, which subcontracts the English-teaching and knowing-about-IT parts to my company, who is me.

And my role in the negotiations to enable the promise of future education to Syrian refugees and thus enable ratification and open up legal channels of funding...is to dress in extremely uncomfortable and overheated formal clothes, and sit in someone else's over-plush office, as evidence that english-teaching can indeed occur. Because they've got a real live english english teacher.

Yes, it's nice to have a purpose in life.

Paperwork is being put in motion, options are being considered, alternatives are being weighed, passive voices are being used...and in a few days results will be made clear. Or at least less unclear.

The sanitation facilities at the camp. And yes, those are roosters. So...cocks on display in the toilet.

Water, Water, Everywhere

Monday, January 16th.

A trip to a waterfall, for myself, my host and friend Jamal, and the unfeasibly sexy Mustafa.

This particular waterfall was (a) a tourist attraction (b) in the dark because the we got there late, and (c) about half a meter high. Not quite what I was expecting, but there was a resteraunt attached. A part of it ankle deep in water. Deliberately and on purpose.

It seems that, in the height of summer, some people like to drink their coffee sitting at tables placed in the path of an artificial stream, with bare feet cooled in naturally cold, running water.

There was also...a duck pond. That peculiar english tradition of taking bread to the pond to feed to ducks? Turks have it too.

Taking Turkish Tea at Ten, we proceeded to have The Conversation About Religion, which in abbreviated form goes like this:

Theist: Why don't you believe in god?
Atheist: Because there's no reason to.
Theist: But who made the universe?
Atheist: You've given a name to a cause you can't define. Is that an explanation?
Theist: I guess not.

The Unfeasibly Sexy Mustafa. I finally get him alone. In the dark. And, er, next to a duck pond.

Trial

Sunday January 15th. Evening.

Meeting the family. Never a quick process in the middle east. There's the Syrian uncle who's a Doctor of Law - yes, an actual Valeyard - his father, and two eldest sons - who really are called Muhammed and Ali.

Another uncle, who seems to only wear track suits, and at least two of his young daughters - who greet visitors with handshakes and air kisses. An uncertain number of boys aged between 5 (always laughing and climbing on things) and 13 (being surly and stopping them doing it, because they think that's what being grown up is about).

And...the entire point of writing this section, the unfeasibly sexy Mustafa. 25, training to be a doctor, worried that his incredibly good english isn't good enough, cynical about humanity and romantic that is can be bettered, and...well, unfeasibly sexy.

And non-halal pigs might fly.

Dressed to Kill

Sunday January 15th. Morning.

The concepts of "same" and "different" seem quite simple and self-evident - until you try to translate them into Arabic.

I wonder if the same is true of "dapper" and "scruffy"? I hate dressing up - as far as I'm concerned, the function of clothes is to regulate your body temperature. But in Turkey, choice of clothes is a statement of deep personal identity. The three generally available identities are:

(1) Westernised, struggling financially, and hard working. Artificially faded jeans, with an extra layer of dust and real fading, with some kind of fleece logoed in english letters.

(2) Devout muslim and fond of money. Beige saudi-style thorp, red and white shumak, fist length beard with sideburns but no moustache.

(3) Urban professional dressed to kill. Any form of office work clothes deemed fashionable anywhere in the world, anytime in the last 40 years, in any combination. Including turquoise shoes, hot pink dress jeans, and violet silk-lined jackets. These are the ones with a moustache, but no beard or sideburns.

I have to pretend to be (3). But I shave to do it.

Another thing I hate is being dragged around shopping centers by someone who knows exactly what they want and won't stop harassing serving staff until they get it.

A third thing I hate is getting strangled or exposed by clothes which don't fit me because my body shape doesn't exist in the standard high-street ranges.

So, I now have a respectable set of work clothes. And here's where being anti-fashion-conscious is useful, because that shirt with the big blue checker pattern, that tie with the multi-grey stripes, those black micro-courderoy trousers, and those three-tone shoes...would elsewhere mark me out as either Greek middle-class, or a time traveler from 1973 London.

This airport is brought to you by Skoda, making cars that never achieve takeoff velocity since 1895.

Talking Turkey

Saturday January 14th.

Portsmouth to London is two hours by coach. Or three if you count hunting down your luggage which was accidentally taken by the wrong passenger at the stop before yours.

London to Istanbul is four hours by plane. With me sandwiched between a tall teenage athlete with dirty-blond hair on one side, and a cuddly Japanese guy on the other - dozing off and unknowingly laying his head on my shoulder. Oh the hell of it.

Istanbul airport is, I quickly decided, a victim of nerdthink. That is, it's a place designed according to the needs of designers, as opposed to users. To find the check-in for internal flights, you follow the signs for "Departures" but not "International Departures", until you find signs for "Internal Departures". You then check in not at "Check-in" but "Other Nationalities" if you're not Turkish.

Now, each departure gate is actually two gates, labled A and B, though sometimes they're just be two sides of one desk. Gate 2A on floor 3 is labled 302A...but floor 3 is below floor 2.

The directions in english to the airport mosque are to the "Masjid" - a transliteration of the arabic word.

The flight time information panels don't tell you the flight times. They tell you the time they expect to tell you the flights are about to leave.

Which is announced by an automated female voice on the tannoy, saying "Passengers for the flight ... P ... C ... One ... Zero ... Two ... Eight ... are kindly invited to go to gate ... Three ... Zero ... Two ... B".

There are several tannoys in overlapping areas, sometimes speaking over each other. And some areas employ a woman to act as a mini-tannoy, standing and shouting scripted instructions to passengers. However, I've no idea what these instructions might be, as they don't come with translation.

This kind of thing may be systemic to turkey. My plane ticket managed to calculate from a 45 minute gap between connecting flights and a four hour time difference to a 3.25 hour stopover.

Is that really the symbol for a mosque? Because it looks like something else to me. Not that I'm complaining. They're both places you kneel and worship.

Shikidim, Shikidim

I'm off for a working holiday in Turkey. Provisionally a week or so, but flexible durationwise. Internet access probably expensive, so I'll note and/or photograph anything vaguely interesting, and post it when I get back.

The parents are convinced everything "east" is wall-to-wall suicide bombers and fanatical mullahs. I'm more concerned about drunken british tourists and obnoxious american ones.

So, a frantic haze of small preparations and bureaucratic nonsense, then some hours of waiting with nothing to do, then a series of unpleasant slow journeys to the coach station, the airport, the departure lounge, and the destination country main airport, where you sit for some more hours with nothing to do. Then another unpleasant flight to the destination city airport ... and the hotel. Where you sleep it all off for 12 hours. The trouble with going places is ... you have to travel to get there.

Be seeing you.

Passé

I'm changing my passwords. On the grounds that, while leetspeek (or l33tsp34k) transcriptions of lines from comic books published 20 years ago are hard to guess, it's not so easy to think up new ones.

So, how to think up new passwords? How to think up phrases that are easy to memorise by mnemonics, but hard to crack using either brute force, or a dictionary, or psychology? Why not write a little program to randomly generate syntactically possible phrases, plus some numerals, and select whatever output appeals to your twisted soul?

Phrases something like these....

Verb Adjective Noun:
ProveDevelopmentalLanguage98
TolerateManagingBulk25
EnhanceMeanAccent53
SwimShallowEquivalent05
ImagineNorthernPitcher37
OptGreekBear07
PlantDisappointedEquity59
StareDiplomaticReform72
ReinforceDistantNoon56
ResembleSeriousOfficer18
HighlightContinuedChart43
RubMutualServant40
JustifyAloneMarker20
RubLongRush62
SeizeVoluntaryLikelihood56
CiteNakedDetermination81
GuardMoralCheese36
CatchGrossGrin72
ConfirmProtectiveChief68
HeadCorporateSelf-Esteem60
ImposeIllegalBottle88
StressEconomicDiamond68
SolveLightPeople23
PokeGeneralPepper05
LendTroubledSignal23
SwingLeftHuman75
RequestEarlyBreeze89
RelieveWideBible47
DoubtCompetitiveVisit90
BackDevelopingSalary13
MixCreativeHay28
EstablishOverwhelmingStroke52
MotivateDumbImmigrant29
ObtainNonprofitCorridor15
DipKeySignal38
CreditAggressiveLeague00
AnalyzePracticalConservative07
RangePersonalPiece86
WhisperLegitimateClothes31
SuggestChristianElectricity83
SpreadSovietRequirement99
AppealBitterStatue71
LendEconomicThought53
DriveOngoingCompromise15
FaceSeniorSeat21
CallGermanIcon52
ActLightRepublican75
MightKeyPillow45
IgnoreHigh-TechSupply54
GrantPhilosophicalPoll39
RateUniversalDifference40
TestifyRearCap65
SignFasterBarn25
AverageContinuousFreedom51
HookRemarkableNovel05
EvolveProudStadium56
ConfessBrutalSoup36
TapMaleEntrepreneur24
RelieveVeryTear42
FloatStrictDisorder65
ScareUrbanStar69
MissJuniorChild34
AvoidElaborateCloset83
StudyMinimalRevolution58
CiteKoreanLion81
EarnExtraWrist13
SealCompleteMr07
HurryHungryDawn63
IncorporatePrettyFace00
ProvideGermanExplosion61
SeekCriminalOperation93
InterruptAddedSpray27
PublishTalentedScent83
AllowIllegalSelf28
WaitStrikingInstinct92
AssumeChristianBrand53
ExhibitThickCart45
OccupyExtensiveUse32
FeelProudHit00
BegUniqueMoment12
ReactBritishGuy72
FillOrganizationalEntrance80
ComplainSteepFool60
IssueDetailedFruit53
CrashFascinatingTerrain93
StandNeatEngineering21
ImpressTallCurriculum96
ExhibitJewishWork78
PayRadicalConviction74
ForceHandsomeDrop53
SustainReligiousBureau98
ReturnSustainableTransit97
ApplySuitableFrontier01
LowerSignificantHip33
ModifySexyCompromise94
ManipulateOlympicConsultant14
OptRunningSin92
ExperienceBlackHeat54
HandleRemarkableKnowledge43
InvestigateRetiredNight76

Noun Preposition Adjective Noun:
AgeBeyondAdministrativeNet93
DessertExceptMobileSalad42
ScaleSinceBottomFame84
CancerThroughSmoothReading16
CountryPriorTerroristHero77
ShadeAlongsideNationalClock42
NotebookPerWealthyCattle46
EnergyChargeWhiteIdentity77
OfferBeneathAdequateSympathy14
AttractionVsEasyAffair21
ImpulseOfInstitutionalSkirt06
CeilingThanSafeSight24
CliffAfterFrozenSex76
SelectionAboveCostlyBath03
RatioBesidesBoringIndependence86
LunchAdditionExpectedBucket06
ExecutionBesidePreviousDecade18
MandateFromVisualPage59
BreakAcrossAcceptableGrave68
FabricChargeUnlikeRepresentative96
IconTopOkAdvertising96
WisdomBecauseSpecialShip26
MsDependingAgriculturalComfort42
ProgramPerUncomfortableChampionship26
CapabilitySuchAloneInvention12
SkiWithoutIndustrialBan21
SaltPriorNuclearInnovation93
IronConcerningResponsibleIslam44
TownOpposedCruelShade38
OutputUnderContemporaryGirl01
YearAboveTechnicalBirthday30
EditorBySuspiciousPattern50
RegulatorOpposedNonprofitMinistry43
ArtNextCivilianPosition93
ThumbOffWarmTactic30
ReportOtherFrequentShopping35
ExpenseButMaximumChallenge71
SiteAheadElaborateHumanity60
CitizenIntoOrganicRepair63
TopicTowardFiercePerformer48
LemonUnderImprovedFemale52
OutletOutsideSevereHorse91
BallBelowSharpGoal45
CombatAtBlackShadow33
CatholicAcrossVastNeck45
SoutheastTowardExtremeCommunity43
StandingTillPrivateFront80
TeacherBecauseFlatMissile06
EgoBeneathSuddenSlice32
YieldWorthVerbalTerm21
JudgeDependingSurroundingSoul10
PorkAlongQuietPlanning94
AccomplishmentBesidesAestheticBath91
TwinUntilResponsibleList10
PillowAsGrandString33
UtilityApartOfficialHonor31
ConstraintOutsideFavoriteSuite21
PrideBehindBrilliantOffense79
RangeTopRightPile23
PersonTopNervousRival96
HouseholdBetweenDevastatingDefinition28
LoyaltyVersusTraditionalMrs30
ArrivalConcerningProQuarterback84
ExportTowardRemainingNature17
ExposureFavorMutualAim19
CollegeOverBoldCoup53
ForumUnderIndianPartner69
BowUnlikeProfessionalCounter51
WireAtFierceFoot83
DataBetweenBoringPiece73
IronPerGeneralTag90
PartnershipLikeSmoothIndication40
CitizenshipVsDutchVegetable02
SeaInsteadWoodenAct36
RhythmNearFantasticBrother07
RegulatorSpiteIntimateBaby15
TouchOtherRareSalary40
EssayAlongSecretDuck10
FranchiseTowardsDevastatingPlot23
SpecialtyBetweenCanadianDancing04
PrincipalOutAggressivePorch34
SatisfactionAlongNonprofitShower93
WishChargeEnvironmentalDeveloper16
RealmViaLaterYield56
RidgeBelowRelativeChild73
MotiveInDifficultBalloon73
JumpAfterMassCritic95
PortSinceChemicalShelter29
CrashDueEncouragingExpansion54
DiscBehalfJudicialLaunch56
DiamondWithinConcernedCheese73
HelpOfWeakObligation23
ToyDespiteInnerMail61
PursuitFavorIdenticalProductivity55
PrisonSpiteWealthyBaseball11
ActivityTermsFirmPolice26
CrimeAlongsideAsianDrinking12
LemonSubjectRationalProject72
EntryRegardRubberSink20
ScaleAlongsideDominantWalking20

Verb Noun Adverb:
ComplyColleagueTogether39
SpitLibertyThereby98
ShopStartInitially15
BakeCreativitySeverely85
RecognizeCreativityReportedly03
ProtestCompanyMerely32
LocateTestingLargely29
DivideExpertForth95
InvolvePanicHence54
WanderPhysicsStill41
QuoteSelf-EsteemPerhaps00
FosterDiscPublic43
SmellBarrelHappily73
ConfessEmployeeUnder50
SeizeCivilianDeeply41
IssueSensorNaturally80
SatisfyKitThrough87
ManagePaintEither20
HeadInfrastructureAnymore21
HarmPersonalityNormally14
RegulateStrengthAutomatically31
SoakPollAnywhere91
PersistTowerPrecisely10
CondemnInsuranceOverall95
ProcessBearOnline01
ConvinceScriptAbove71
RefuseMeasurementLargely93
ThankTunnelBoth11
DressStudyAway64
MissAdolescentHappily66
GrinSoccerMostly36
ExaminePieceInstantly59
LocatePineSeriously34
LeavePurposeKind28
DeclareMotiveOutside95
BlendMagicDramatically06
AttachSatelliteUnder13
SaveGraduationInside49
DipPaintAllegedly29
PlanGraduationOkay50
RiskBossNearly68
MeetCraftCorrectly97
AvoidWayWhy37
SmellStreetNewly33
ScareDepartureAlone99
ShareRoutineHowever07
SurviveMechanicOnce70
EncounterAllegationForth91
RentGoatLikely04
AttendLaborWherever95
WrapResolutionSudden41
ShoutTrashDeeply31
CrowdTaxAny04
ResolveMarkerCourse93
PeerFloorTherefore36
ExpandInquirySignificantly63
WarnMeasurementRather36
WinFortuneIe00
RefuseGravityHard56
ConstituteCoverageBehind41
ContendElectionSomewhere33
LiftParticipantWorldwide99
LocatePriceClosely11
FallAdClosely24
GovernDoorMoreover93
FinishOneOnly50
FeedAccountabilityDifferently57
ClimbGuiltAcross51
ExpandArrowLikewise20
IntendRhetoricSurprisingly47
GrabReformThrough43
ScoreRespectEnough70
CauseWillingnessStill72
DressIndexTypically45
GrowFlightHighly80
IssueTomatoNeither54
LieLuckBeyond40
IncorporateBoothSafely48
TwistGymNearly49
CallZonePresumably27
WorryGhostPolitically12
AttractRootTwice99
SliceSupportLittle58
DetermineCigaretteObviously44
WarnBlastRecently16
TwistBiteWay34
SighBowlEither87
ForgiveSwitchHighly23
AdvocateAcceptanceStrongly36
BroadcastDropUnder27
RaceMonitorConsistently87
PileCategoryLater19
BornSectionAcross78
ExtendPredatorThere73
DamageTankSimply19
FishIntelligenceMoreover63
OperatePatronAhead65
RidePopulationThrough33
FitBusinessmanOccasionally60
CanGuidanceHalfway39

I, Slamming

If you want to check you understand something, explain it to an imaginary child. Or, the next best thing, explain it to someone who's determined to not understand because their fragile ego can't cope with doing so. Or as they're colloquially known, an "ordinary person".

Thanks to the dark miracle of social media, we have an endless supply of such people to check our understanding on. Here's one exchange between some idiots ordinary people and "Stefan Travis" - a facebook alias I adopted, and then got stuck with.


Stefan Travis: [Sam] Harris makes a very fundamental mistake [in his analysis of ISIS]: He takes jihadists at their word. He wouldn't assume nazi-supporting catholics of the 1930s could describe their own historical-psychological situation accurately. He wouldn't uncritically accept the sophisms of Burma's suicide-bombing Buddhists. But he accepts the self-delusions of muslim fanatics as accurate. This is a bizarre blindspot.

Toza: the jihadis are doing as they say and not shying from it.

Stefan Travis: The quran forbids rape, but that doesn't seem to stop ISIS members doing it. And not just doing it, but systematically, tactically using it as an intimidation method.

The quran forbids suicide, but suicide bombers find a way around the injunction...by redefining it as sacrifice, even though when the quran speaks of sacrifice, it's never of oneself, and never of humans.

The quran forbids lending money at interest. But ISIS has a financial wing that does just that.

Toza: There is no moderate Islam only Islam.

Stefan Travis: Was Maoism a result of confucionism? Obviously not. Did Mao use confucionism to justify what he did? Obviously yes.

Was Mussolini a fascist because he was catholic? No. Did he use religion as an excuse when it suited him? Yes.

Does Buddhism support pacifism? In Tibet, yes, in Burma, no. So are the scriptures different in different countries? No, the situation is.

Toza: between what jihadists and moderates think. There is an overwhelmingly far more support for sharia than there is for non sharia.

Stefan Travis: You don't actually know what "sharia" is.

You think it's "the extreme right wing of islamic law interpretation" - basically "theocracy". It just means "system of rules", and there are as many interpretations of it as there are of laws anywhere.

Toza: in the pew research data, sharia was the dominant ideology expressed overwhelmingly by the majority of Muslims.

Stefan Travis: You're trying to redefine words to fit your agenda.

Perhaps it would be useful to have a word for what you describe, but calling it "sharia" makes as much sense as calling all tools "weapons".

Crazy Joe Devola: the brutal actions done by ISIS are well justified in theology.

Stefan Travis: All actions done by all religious groups are well justified in theology. That's what theology is for.

Crazy Joe Devola: Rape, according to Mohammed and ISIS, doesn't apply within marriage or a master-slave relationship.

Stefan Travis: The same is true of christianity and judaism - according the their scriptures. According to american fundamentalism, a man can't rape his wife, because it doesn't count as rape, because she's his property.

So why do most christians reject that interpretation? Obviously the difference isn't scriptural.

Crazy Joe Devola: suicide bombing is a western term for what is considered a martyr in Islam.

Stefan Travis: No. Sayyid Qutb found a loophole in the quranic suicide prohibition, using the notion of martyrdom. You're confusing a deliberate, strained misinterpretation with the natural reading of the text.

Crazy Joe Devola: Most western apologists don't really know that much about Islamic scripture and exegesis, or they believe it's just another religion like Christianity.

Stefan Travis: Islam is a christian heresy. Just as christianity is a jewish heresy.

Crazy Joe Devola: You won't watch the videos posted because Islam is a religion of peace and you won't even consider you are wrong.

Stefan Travis: There is no such thing as a religion of peace, war, or mashed potato. Religion is politics in disguise, which is why it changes when politics does.

Toza: If christians were beheading homosexuals ... I'd call them out too. But the simple truth is, they aren't.

Stefan Travis: So ask yourself why they aren't, when their scripture tells them to. Then ask yourself why they eat pork, when scripture tells them not to.

Then ask yourself why quranic scriptures which were ignored until the 1950s, were suddenly obeyed enthusiasically.

Crazy Joe Devola: Muslims must consider the Quran not merely inspired, but the perfect rendition of the final word from God to mankind.

Stefan Travis: Christians believe the same of their scriptures. Every religion with scriptures believes them to be infallible and final. Every religion with a notion of hell appoints it for non-members.

Crazy Joe Devola: why does Islam get a pass from you?

Stefan Travis: Every set of scriptural injunctions, if taken literally and obeyed, would lead to mass slaughter and supremacy.

So, why are you giving Buddhism a free pass? Why are you giving Bahai a free pass? Why are you giving Shintoism a free pass?

Answer: Because the arab world is currently dangerous, and like everywhere else it uses its superstitions as an excuse.

Toza: [Islam is] the most dangerous obstacle in the world currently.

Stefan Travis: Islam is the Fox News of the east. It's a tool used by the powerful to keep the masses distracted and confused, outraged and fearful of a nubulous, shifting miasma of protean imaginary threats.

So, how many Americans are motivated by Fox News to blow up abortion clinics? A very few, and it's always isolated nutcases.

How many are motivated to bloviate and fantasise about blowing up abortion clinics, but never do it? Millions.

Now, how many are actually organised into armies to "take back america" and "kill all the gaymarried lib'rals"?

None.

You are confusing a tool of ideological sheepherding with the political movement which creates it. You're confusing the smoke for the fire.

Crazy Joe Devola: Christians readily accept the Bible to be written by human beings

Stefan Travis: They still want their scripture inerrant, so they claim god "inspired" the writers.

Crazy Joe Devola: The Quran is supposed to be a copy of a book that is in heaven and that was already written at the time of creation.

Stefan Travis: No. The tradition is that Gabriel whispered in Mohammed's ear, and Mohammed paraphrased what he heard, and others wrote some of it down, only to lose about two thirds of the writings.

The quran does indeed refer to itself as both a book and a recitation - before it was collated as either. Just another plot hole.

Crazy Joe Devola: Islam more than any other faith lends itself to literalism.

Stefan Travis: So a literal reading leads to a literal reading. But a non-literal one doesn't.

Crazy Joe Devola: Christians ... do not believe the same thing about their scriptures.

Stefan Travis: You mean, christians in secular cultures water down their conception of christianity. And those in religious cultures don't.

Crazy Joe Devola: Criticizing Buddhism on par with Islam would be like going to the doctor with a stake through your chest and complaining about a stubbed toe. 

Stefan Travis: Look up the buddhist verson of hell. Did you even know there was one? It's much worse than the christian or muslim one.

Toza: A dystopian fantasy of conspiracy theory and I'm right.

Stefan Travis: Do you think it's a conspiracy theory to say the powerful tell lies to keep their power?

Crazy Joe Devola: no Muslim believes the Quran to have been touched by man. The umm al-kitab (mother of books) is written in heaven and has been perfectly compiled to today's Quran, after first being revealed to Mo through an arch angel. That notion alone is why Islam is much more doctrinaire and ultimately more dangerous than other religions.

Stefan Travis: So christians are saying "Our book is infallible", and muslims are saying "Our book is even more infallible".

Crazy Joe Devola: different religions contain different values.

Stefan Travis: Religions serve to validate the values of whoever believes in them at the time.

Do christians have the same values now as 1000 years ago? Why not? Now ask the same questions about muslims.

Crazy Joe Devola: Why does Islam fight so hard against secularism, why does Christianity allow the luxury of being watered down.

Stefan Travis: Christianity lost the battle. Islam hasn't yet. Did you think christians willingly let their doctrines be watered down?

Crazy Joe Devola: Tibetan Buddhism [is peaceful].

Stefan Travis: [It] teaches absolute obedience and death to those who don't obey.

Crazy Joe Devola: Rohinga Muslims [in Burma] are not being attacked by Buddhist because of their god belief alone.

Very good. They're being attacked for political reasons, clothed in religious sophism. You have just confirmed my main point. Congratulations.

Crazy Joe Devola: This gem is taken right out of the Reza Aslan playbook and doesn't stand a minutes' scrutiny.

Stefan Travis: His line is: "Terrorists aren't the real muslims". Which means he thinks there is such a thing as "real" islam. Which is the opposite of what I said.

Crazy Joe Devola: some religions are worse than others.

Stefan Travis: No. All religions are incoherent, and all can be used to justify the best and the worst of human behavior.

That islam is currently used to justify the worst doesn't make it worse, any more than a hammer currently used to commit a murder is any more dangerous than one left on the shelf.

Crazy Joe Devola: this religion/politic dichotomy doesn't exist in Islam.

Stefan Travis: So islam is wrong. Exactly as wrong as every other religion, on this point.

Crazy Joe Devola: There are fewer Polynesian animists than Jews or Muslims that circumcise their children.

Stefan Travis: Most christians don't circumcise their children, even though their bible mandates it. A lot of cultural jews don't do it either, even though it's supposed to be the defining feature of judaism - even non-religious judaism.

Crazy Joe Devola: You need to explain then why there are discrepant numbers of sex slaves being taken in the name of Islam vs. Jainism.

Stefan Travis: Economics.

Crazy Joe Devola: The Islamic holy texts explicitly sanction sex slavery, Jain texts do not.

Stefan Travis: Christian scriptures also sanction sex slavery. Christians used to have sex slaves, but now they do not. Did the scriptures change? No. The practices changed.

If the Jains should ever fall into a situation where they have sex slaves, they'll find an excuse for it - probably by reinterpreting their holy writings.

Because that's what holy writings are for.

Crazy Joe Devola: there is both a correlation and causation between religion and the prevalence of circumcision.

Stefan Travis: South America is largely christian, but doesn't routinely circumcise. The United States is largely christian, and does routinely circumcise.

Canada is more atheist than north amerca, but circumcises more.

Southern central europe is largely christian and circumcises. Russia is largely christian and does not.

russell d: Are you saying that Islamic radicals are lying about why they do what they do?

Stefan Travis: Not lying. Deluded.

russell d: And are you saying that you know better why they do what they do then they do?

Stefan Travis: Yes. Outsiders understand a culture better than insiders.


After this, the discussion degenerated into whether it's possible to believe a doctrine is true without understanding it - spoilers sweetie: It is.

So, boys and girls. What have we learned today? Only what we already knew: That the best way to test your ideas is to present them calmly and clearly. And if the result is offended sputtering, insults, or nervous attempts to evade the point, you're probably right.