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The Social Justice Warriors in the U.S. Will Exploit Anything—Even The Loss of Human Life—For Their Own Gain In the Culture Wars: In Memory of Anthony Bourdain

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I have often written about the ongoing culture war in both the United States and Turkey, and today I continue in this vein.

Sadly, the great travel journalist and chef Anthony Bourdain passed away on 8 June 2018 from an apparent suicide in France. As an intrepid traveler who did not shy away from visiting the most obscure of places, I always respected Mr. Bourdain for what he stood for in terms of travel and its importance in terms of truly bringing cultures together. Yet, the devaluation of human life in the modern age continues as even this tragic death is already being exploited by social justice warriors (SJW) in the main(lame)stream media.

Instead of focusing on how Mr. Bourdain’s death is a tragic reflection on our own twisted society, the culture industry chose to exploit this tragedy for its own gain. Suicide rates in the U.S. have risen 30 percent since 1999—the years in which the “New World Order” has truly taken hold—despite the fact that we, ostensibly, live in a “prosperous” and “peaceful time”. Of those suicides, it was found that in a shocking 42% of cases the main factor was “relationship problems”. If we are “modern” and indeed “progressing”—as the progressives would have it—then why are we more alone than ever, so alone that suicide rates are skyrocketing? French Sociologist Emile Durkheim would have certainly asked this question, and I will attempt to answer it.

 

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Tragic Statistics. Images Courtesy Of: https://www.nbcnews.com/health/health-news/suicide-rates-are-30-percent-1999-cdc-says-n880926

 

Perhaps it is because people have forgotten the balance that is crucial for human life to not only thrive, but even merely to survive. In his book Sport Matters, Sociologist Eric Dunning points this out:

Centrally involved in the maturation and growing autonomy of a person is a process of individualization during the course of which he/she gradually learns to think of himself/herself as an ‘I’, to acquire an identity and sense of self [. . .] one of the preconditions for the occurrence of individualization in what is considered in modern societies to be a ‘healthy’ way is the formation of bonds with others that are neither too distant nor too close and in which a balance is struck between autonomy and dependence. It is a question of forming a socially appropriate ‘we—I balance’ (Elias, 1991a) in which a person comes to be considered by others as neither too self-absorbed nor too dependent on the groups to which he/she belongs (Dunning 1999: 4).

It seems that many in modern society have lost this balance. People are all too ready to hide behind their “intersectional” identity and play the game of identity politics, rather than recognize that—as individuals—they are also part of a larger collective. This has confused some people to the point that they even—legitimately—believe that eating food out of bowls is a “hot new trend”. I suppose many people have just never visited archeology museums—and saw the ancient bowls on display—and thus believe that this can be something new, but I digress.

The point is to show that the void created by a rootless and cultureless “global” society has left people alienated and clinging to any identity that will take them: white, black, man, woman, transgender, gay straight, bowl food eater, or even craft beer lover. One way to alleviate this could, of course, be an embrace of elective identities which are not exclusive. National identity is one; one can choose to be a citizen of their country or not but one cannot choose to have a certain skin color, for instance. The former is elective, the latter is not. Yet when Mr. Trump chose to hold a “celebration of America” day after the NFL Champion Philadelphia Eagles chose to reject the U.S. President’s invitation to the White House, the main(lame) stream media was appalled. Why being an American—and being proud of it—is an issue I will never know, but it is an important question to ask as the world collapses into a million pieces of small—and often insignificant—intersectional identities.

We must recognize that it is the culture industry which encourages this fracturing of society; in fact it is encouraged at every single turn. Unfortunately, Mr. Bourdain’s death is a perfect example of this despicable and tasteless exploitation. Malaika Jabali, writing for Glamour Magazine, provides the latest example of poor quality journalism in her 8 June 2018 piece “Why Anthony Bourdain’s Life Is a Lesson for White Men of Privilege on How to Be an Ally”. In the article, Jabali throws out SJW keywords like a dealer throws cards down in Vegas: Without thinking about the negative consequences while knowing full well that no one will object.

 

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Hey Glamour, Here Is an Idea: Stick to Fashion And Stay Away From Pop Culture and Politics. Image Courtesy Of: http://www.glamour.com

 

Jabali tells us that Bourdain was an “ally”, that he “was one who fundamentally believed in, and fought for, people at the margins even when hashtags weren’t trending”. To support her claims, she presents a few of Mr. Bourdain’s comments (posthumously). She writes:

 

On Latino immigration in America, Bourdain once stated: “The bald fact is that the entire restaurant industry in America would close down overnight, would never recover, if current immigration laws were enforced quickly and thoroughly across the board. Everyone in the industry knows this. It is undeniable. Illegal labor is the backbone of the service and hospitality industry—Mexican, Salvadoran and Ecuadoran in particular…. Let’s at least try to be honest when discussing this issue.”

This was in 2007, before Trump’s walls or the fervent pitch of nationalist rhetoric reached its ascendance.

 

Jabali also offers Mr. Bourdain’s views on the Opioid crisis:

Now that the white captain of the football team and his cheerleader girlfriend in small-town America are hooked on dope, maybe we’ll now stop demonizing heroin as a criminal problem and start dealing with it as the medical and public-health problem that it is, and should be.

 

What is very interesting here is that neither of the quotes attributed to Mr. Bourdain actually espouse the SJW mentality. Regarding illegal immigration, Mr. Bourdain was merely pointing out what all sensible non SJWs might say: that illegal immigration should be ended because it is glorified slave labor (a topic I have touched on). Regarding the opioid crisis, Mr. Bourdain is just pointing out something fairly obvious: small town America is being destroyed by drugs which feed on an unemployed population which has been gutted by globalism (another topic I have written about before).

The reason I point this out is not to interpret the words of Mr. Bourdain after he has departed; to do that would be to stoop to the level of Glamour and Ms. Jabali. Rather, I point this out because Ms. Jabali’s article is an ideological con-job; an example of the main(lame)stream media’s attempts to shape public opinion by using celebrities (even after they are dead) to further their own agenda. In the modern world—where respect and morals matter little—this should not be too surprising. But we owe it to ourselves to see through the chicanery and punish the charlatans in the media for being unable to appreciate people—like Mr. Bourdain—for who they are. Mr. Bourdain was an intrepid traveler who taught the world—far better than I can on this small blog—that it is only by travel that we can truly understand all the different cultures and people of the world. Glamour and Ms. Jabali should be ashamed of themselves; may Mr. Bourdain rest in peace.

 

In Memoriam Anthony Bourdain 1956-2018

 

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A Travel Legend. Image Courtesy Of: https://www.ndtv.com/world-news/anthony-bourdain-suicide-cnn-host-and-celebrity-chef-anthony-bourdain-kills-himself-1864565

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Road Tripping 2018: The Road Offers Both Individual and Social Catharsis in the U.S.A.

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At the end of (yet another) American road trip I am left in an all too similar emotional state; it is remarkable that—as the years go by—I feel the same at 31 as I did when I was 20 following a cross-country road trip. Sure there is the physical fatigue; the body aching from sitting from hours on end, the eyes tired from watching out for every little pothole and every piece of debris, the stomach reeling from one too many fast food meals. Yet there is also a very real mental pleasure that comes from endurance driving; I would argue that it is a pleasure that far outweighs the negatives of physical fatigue.

“Motoring”, to to speak, as a mental pleasure is a subject I have written about in the past (Please see here and here. Rarely in the modern world do we have a chance to be completely alone with our thoughts, devoid of the influences of our “smart phones” or computers. How long these days will remain ours, with self-driving cars on the horizon, is of course up for debate but it is a subject worth thinking about. That the road trip is a pensive experience is undeniable. That it is also very “American” is also undeniable. Indeed, Jack Kerouac showed just how the two are intertwined; the road trip is not only an exercise in individual thought, it is also an exercise in collective thought as well. For me, in the early days of the new year, I saw just how cathartic it can be.

On I-95 in northern New Jersey I watched the New York skyline drift by to my left, the city which, at the dawn of the last century, would become a model for urban areas the world over is now slowly decaying with each American Dollar being spent abroad on foreign policy intrigues which offer little tangible benefit to the American citizen. Meanwhile, ahead, the smokestacks of American industry send plumes of smoke into the frigid northeast sky. How much longer these industries—the bed rock of American wealth—will remain “American” is an open question as the country continually outsources industrial jobs while (attempting) to transition to a service economy, complete with under-employed servers at restaurants and white collar workers with Master’s Degrees whose main responsibility could be as banal as forwarding e-mails for eight hours a day.

 

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“On I-95 in northern New Jersey I watched the New York skyline drift by to my left . . . ” . Image Courtesy Of The Author.

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“Meanwhile, ahead, the smokestacks of American industry send plumes of smoke into the frigid northeast sky . . . “. Image Courtesy Of The Author.

 

Off I-95 in the American South I found that antique shops have become one of the main tourist attractions in rural areas which have been devastated by the attacks on American industry. As industry moves overseas, the production of raw materials has similarly collapsed. A little later, in South Carolina, I stop by the “tourist trap” that is South of the Border, a kitschy attraction built in 1950 on the North Carolina/South Carolina line to (perhaps) offer some respite to families from the monotony of endurance driving. Yet, according to State Media’s Washington Post, South of the border is “Un-Pc”, even “racist”; the author compares it to Donald Trump for its offensiveness, racism, consumerism, and garishness.

 

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“Off I-95 in the American South I found that antique shops have become one of the main tourist attractions in rural areas which have been devastated by the attacks on American industry . . .”. Image Courtesy Of The Author.

 

Of course, the offense took by the Washington Post staff writer is part and parcel for mainstream media in the United States these days; it is much easier to hate than actually take the time to wonder. It is one-dimensional thought at its finest in the offended states of America.

Perhaps it was the weather; the snow on the ground—in front of a beach shop advertising Myrtle Beach—made an already absurd place even more absurd (as if such a thing were possible). Yet it is possible, because this is America. This is a country in which car culture—and the road tripping that goes with it—is embedded in us as Americans. This is a country that expanded westward (with all of its unfortunate violence), this is a country that was founded on the ethos of “the open road”. How much longer will tourist traps like South of the Border exist? Children no longer need to alleviate their boredom on the road with kitschy tourist attractions, they have their ipads and iphones and TV sets in the headrests of their parents’ Suburbans and Escalades. Yet, while this may be convenient (for parents), it denies children the chance to experience one of the magical things about road trips: Understanding their own country. In the past, kids might have played games in the car—like spotting license plates from different states. In the past, kids might have–**GASP**–gotten out of the car at a road side attraction in order to actually interact with someone living in a different part of the country. All of these actions, in the past, served to reinforce one very real thing that the social engineers in academia and the media have tried to deny over the years: It is that America does, indeed, have a culture.

 

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South Of The Border is an Absurd Place Made Even More Absurd By the Snow on the Ground in South Carolina. Perhaps the Ice Cream Shop Was the Only Shop Whose Image Was Enhanced by the Presence of Snow Below the Mason-Dixon Line. Images Courtesy of the Author.

 

Whether or not this culture is “good” is not up for debate here; I would be the last person to argue that rampant consumerism and extreme capitalism are good things for the human soul. And, like French Sociologist Michel Foucault, I would hesitate to argue that anything is inherently “good”; what is good for one person may not be from another person’s perspective. Rather, I argue that there is—and must be—one thing that ties us together as Americans, whether we live in Seattle, Washington or Bangor, Maine; San Diego, California or Minneapolis, Minnesota; Amarillo, Texas or Ocala, Florida. That one thing is, of course, our culture—and a respect for it.

On this particular road trip, I was taken by the fact that our car culture is very real; I was able to drive 1,200 miles (almost 2,000 kilometers) without having to use my horn once (as someone who has driven in many different countries, and undertaken many road trips in the United States, this is no small accomplishment). There is, for most people at least, an unspoken respect that driving on an Interstate highway produces: We are all going somewhere, individually (as Americans are conditioned to do) and let us try to interfere as little as possible with others who are doing the same thing (another thing Americans are conditioned to do). Perhaps this is a throwback to an earlier America, a time when one of the country’s major news outlets—like the aforementioned Washington Post—was not owned by a corporate leader like Jeff Bezos (of course, this fact alone should make people think twice if they think The Washington Post is an independent news outlet working in the best interests of the public: it is not).

As I drove on, the miles of rural America flying past me like the pages of a flipbook, I certainly had ample time to think. I thought about how America, in its vastness, can make a person feel small, powerless. Perhaps for some this is true; perhaps that is why we see so many Americans seek solace in identity politics. Yet for me, it is quite the opposite. In a smaller country, a citizen can be content with their role as citizen-receiver; the country is small, the people are more or less homogenous, the citizen can live their lives in (relative) assurance that the state has the ability to look out for them. In the United States, on the other hand, the country is big and it is far from homogenous. Yet this offers the individual a chance to be big as well. It is up to you, the citizen, to act on the purported values of your country. Every individual has a responsibility to treat their fellow citizens with respect, fairness, equality, and dignity. In a big country, every individual must—everyday—act on the purported values of their country by supporting small businesses in their community, opening the doors for fellow patrons and—yes—obeying the rules of the road. The state will not do this, despite how many times it may recount the virtues of “freedom” and “democracy”. It is up to the individual citizen to ensure that “freedom” and “democracy” are more than just words.

This is what true nationalism is. It is not blind patriotism, it is not accepting everything the state says with unquestioning loyalty, and it is not the chauvinistic idea that your country is somehow “better” than the rest. Rather it is an active attempt to, everyday, make life easier for one’s fellow citizens, for those with whom you share a living space, regardless of which particular identity they may have at any given moment. As John F. Kennedy once famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”. It is these values which unite us as Americans; it is these values that are the ties that bind us and these values which are stronger than that which seeks to divide us. In other countries as well, there are certain values which unite citizens; although the era of globalism has tried to erode these it is up to individual citizens—regardless of their nationality—to embrace their country’s values and their country’s cultures so as to resist the impersonal forces of global capital which contend with the nation-state for the citizens’ loyalties.

 

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John F. Kennedy. Image Courtesy Of: http://chatafrik.com/special/memorable-speech/ask-not-what-your-country-can-do-for-you-by-john-f-kennedy#.WlRx0jOZPRg

 

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It is Up to All of Us, Regardless of Where we are From, to Explore Our Own Countries. It Is Also Our Responsibility to Assist Those Who Travel to Our Countries, Since International Travel Is Also Necessary For Gaining a Useful Perspective On the World. Image Courtesy Of: https://mxd.dk/mxd-viden/a-brief-overview-of-the-us-music-market/

Travel Assistance: Some Tips For U.S. Citizens Trying to Procure a Visa for Travel to Turkey

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slide-1.jpgNot So Easy Anymore, but Its Still Possible! Image Courtesy Of: https://www.evisa.gov.tr/en/

 

After having multiple Kafkaesque experiences at the Turkish consulate while trying to procure a Turkish visa for my father and brother during the bizarre visa spat between Turkey and the United States, I have decided to provide a few tips for U.S. citizens who want to travel to Turkey during these strange times. It is my hope that this information will be helpful not only to my fellow Americans, but also to the staff of Turkish consulates in the United States, since they have been working overtime to meet the demand of a new visa regime that hitherto has not existed between the two countries lucky (!) enough to call this marginal sociologist a citizen.

Before offering my tips, I will first offer my own analysis of this bizarre geopolitical spat. While waiting for my visas to be processed, one of the people waiting insinuated that this international issue could be blamed on the policies of U.S. President Donald Trump; given that this interpretation is frequently churned out by the mainstream media I was not entirely surprised to hear it. The only issue with this kind of surface level media analysis is that it has no bearing in reality. In fact, it is likely that the visa spat was created by the State Department without the direct knowledge of President Trump; the U.S. State Department—which Hillary Clinton used to head—is filled with holdovers from the previous presidency (regime?) of Barack Obama. As I have noted before, Hillary Clinton was also a known supporter of Fethullah Gulen, the shady Islamic cleric who the U.S. shelters and the Turkish government blames for the failed coup attempt of 15 July 2016.

Given these intrigues it is likely that this visa crisis was fabricated by a portion of the State Department, following the arrest of a Turkish national employed at the U.S. consulate in Istanbul who was suspected of having a role in the failed putsch, in order to create a roadblock for President Trump in international relations. Of course, the fact that the United States came out so strongly in support of a foreign national employed at a U.S. consulate amounts to a tacit admission that the Obama government may have had a hand in the events of 15 July 2016 (perhaps fomenting coups in democracies is part of what President Obama meant when he told his successor “American leadership in this world really is indispensable. It’s up to us, through action and example, to sustain the international order that’s expanded steadily since the end of the Cold War, and upon which our own wealth and safety depend”.  Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was all to willing to run with the visa spat in order to use it for his own gains: Mr. Erdogan is trying to re-fashion himself as a nationalist—not globalist—leader following the rise of populism and nationalism in both the United States and Great Britain. In responding to the United States’ halting of visa applications for Turkish citizens in kind, Mr. Erdogan is bolstering his nationalist credentials. There are, however, a few issues with this.

The first is that Turkey did not exactly respond to the United States’ move in kind; this was not a reciprocal move. Although the consulate stressed to me that the 160$ fee (the old e-visa on arrival was 20$, by contrast) is part of the reciprocity since that is the fee the U.S. charges Turks for visas, the visas offered are not in anyway similar. While the U.S. generally grants 10-year multiple-entry visas, the visas I got were single-entry, valid for just 15 days in a six-month period. In other words, in order for a U.S. citizen to get multiple-entry visas valid for 10 years they would have to pay 4,000$ (200$ x 2 for 12 months, x 10 for 10 years)! Additionally, the United States charges exorbitant fees because the visa process involves background checks and interviews; the Turkish process does not. Still—despite it all—Americans have to realize that citizens of most of the world’s countries need visas to enter the United States (or the European Union, for that matter).

The second issue is that President Erdogan is no less globalist than he was before. In fact, it is almost as if this visa spat was manufactured (by both the State Department and the Turkish state) in order to provide the world with an example of what the end of the “globalist” utopia—really a dystopia—would look like if bilateral visas were implemented worldwide. It is almost like Turkey is being used as an experimental “pilot” case, because this visa spat has been just that bizarre.

Despite all the oddities and diplomatic wrangling, the important thing to recognize from all of this is that draconian visa rules need not be the future in international relations; the only ones who will suffer from this game are normal citizens looking to travel and the consular employees who will have to work overtime to deliver visas. Therefore, it is essential that we separate “the government” from “the nation”. “Nationalism” as a concept does not mean agreeing with everything your government does; blind patriotism is not “nationalism”. It is our job to understand that and hold our leaders’ collective feet to the proverbial fire when they do things that do not reflect well on shared national values (like, for instance, fomenting a violent civil war in Syria without accomplishing anything, something both Turkey and the United States have been guilty of despite their anti-imperialist nationalist pasts). Government exists to provide a safe environment for all of its citizens with the least amount of regulation as possible. The government should not exist to provide handouts to all of its citizens, for instance, but it does exist to help those who are unable to help themselves—the disabled for instance who are not able to gain employment otherwise. Of course, this visa spat is not an example of less government regulation but, the way I see it, it is part of the effort to thwart the rising tide of nationalism against the globalist project.

Since I believe in nationalism as a global force—respect your country and others within a global system of equals and not the tiered system of unequals (divided into “first” world and the rest) that globalization has created—I will offer my advice to fellow travelers whose only goal is to see the world by helping them navigate the complicated Turkish visa process. Since Turkey was not prepared for this upsurge in visa applications from the United States, it is my hope that I can help both my fellow Americans looking to visit Turkey and my fellow Turks working hard in consulates across the United States. Although the visa spat is likely to be resolved soon since the U.S. finally ended funding to Kurdish forces in Syria—which had been a cynical attempt to further ethnic strife in the Middle East without decisively ending the ISIS/ISIL/DAESH threat—I still hope that whatever advice I can offer will be of help.

In order to combat the fake “tolerance” of different cultures and faux “diversity” pushed by progressive adherents of globalization, it is critical that we all travel (as I’ve written before, I believe that travel should be incorporated into all higher education in the United States). Travelling to cultures different from our own—and meeting those who speak languages different from our own—is a truly humbling experience. When one finds themselves pointing and grunting for food at local restaurants, from Abidjan to Vladivostok and everywhere in between, one will realize that we’re not all that different: we all have to eat, after all! And, whether one is sitting at a tea house in Istanbul, an ahwa in Cairo, a café in Vienna, a taverna in Thessaloniki, or a pub in London, one might get the opportunity to actually speak to someone—another human—and get a new perspective on life. For all of its technology and ability to “bring people together” digitally, globalized networks like Facebook and Instagram do little to actually bring people together on a human level. But travel does.

We are all human, we all have similar wants and desires no matter the language we speak, the culture we were raised in, or the country whose name is written on our passports. Travel allows us to see this first hand, it allows us to see our world for what it is for ourselves. What emerges through travel is a world much different than that which the globalist agenda tries to sell us: the image of the world as sold through globalization is one of rich countries and poor countries, a divided world where—for some reason—residents of richer countries are supposed to feel sorry for those in poorer countries while also being expected to feel guilt for their roles in the imperialism of the past. By this twisted logic, those in the richer countries are expected to open their borders to those from poorer countries, in order to provide them with “opportunity”. Of course, this structure is nothing more than a modern day “white man’s burden”; it is a modern justification for a modern imperialism no less exploitative and no less racist than that of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Just like in the imperialist world of the past, this modern day world is divided by “rich” and “poor” countries as globalization perpetuates the prosperity of the former and poverty of the latter.

In order to break away from this process it is first essential to travel. By traveling we will both be able to take a critical view of our own societies (in order to improve)—while America is a great place to live I have also learned that there are many positive aspects of Turkish society that I wish existed in the United States—while also understanding that, as people, we are not all that different. I can recall great experiences from my own travel laughing together with people whose languages I did not know about the absurdities of daily life—an angry shopper at a grocery store or the poor driving of a careless driver in traffic. That we share these similarities does not, however, meant that we are at all homogeneous. We have different cultures and nationalities which must be preserved as the resistance to a worldwide technocratic form of government which looks to make our shared values and morality no longer human, but tied to the consumerist logic of smartphones and shopping malls; it is a world where Cairo’s ahwas and Lisbon’s pastry shops would be replaced by Starbuck’s and its corporate logic. I shiver at the thought.

With that out of the way, here are my tips for procuring a Turkish visa. As I said, it is my hope that my advice will be helpful not only to Americans but also to Turks and any other travelers who wish to see the world for what it is: Not a homogeneous globalized world run by corporate interests but a heterogeneous world of many nations, cultures, and traditions.

  • The website where U.S. nationals can apply for a Turkish visa is: https://www.konsolosluk.gov.tr/Visa. Please make sure to complete the online application and upload all necessary documents that are requested because, otherwise, the application will not let you move onto the next page. If you do not have a digital version of any of the necessary documents, just take a picture of the hard copy with your smartphone (I’m assuming that most people have one in today’s world) and upload that. For instance, if you do not have a digital version of your passport photos you can just take a picture of the hard copy and upload that.
  • In the “name” section of the application, it has boxes for the “first name” and “surname”. While Americans may not be used to acknowledging their middle names, often times passports will include them since—like a birth certificate—a passport is a citizenship document. This is why applicants must write their name EXACTLY as it appears on the passport. This means including what ever is written in the “name” section of the passport in the “first name” box of the application and what ever is written in the “surname” section of the passport in the “surname” box of the application. This is crucial since the name on the visa must match the name on the passport.
  • The Turkish visa application requires travel insurance. While this may be purchased from third party companies, most insurance policies provided by U.S. employers will cover care abroad through reimbursement (Just remember to save the receipts of any care overseas). Therefore, a photocopy of your insurance card should be enough for the purposes of the visa application. Bring whatever documents you have to the consulate; upload a picture of the documents (that you can snap with your smart phone) to the application in the proper space.
  • Provide a bank statement or a document to prove direct deposit information from your financial institution with your application. Again, bring whatever documents you have to the consulate; upload a picture of the documents (that you can snap with your smart phone) to the application in the proper space.
  • Bring photocopies of your passport, specifically the photo page which carries your personal information.
  • Children under 18, who are not travelling with both parents, will need permission (from the parent who is not traveling) to travel internationally. This can be obtained by writing a statement like “I, (name), (relation to child—mother, father, etc), give permission for (child’s name) to travel to Turkey on (dates of travel) with (name of travel companion)”. Remember to get this document notarized by a notary public and the country clerk of your place of residence. Please do not forget to bring this document with you when you go to your appointment at the consulate.
  • Most importantly bring cash, since credit cards and personal checks are not accepted. The fee, at the time of writing, was 160$ for a single entry visa and 200$ for a multiple-entry visa. If at all possible, bring exact change because the consulate did not seem to have change the day that I visited.

Hopefully, everything works out and you have a safe trip to Turkey. As I have already elaborated, I believe that things will be relaxed in the near future but—just in case they do not relax—treat this post as a small “how-to” guide. I myself have benefited from certain blogs like “biz evde yokuz” (https://www.bizevdeyokuz.com , sweetsweden.com (http://www.sweetsweden.com/travel-tourism-holidays-in-stockholm-sweden/your-guide-to-public-transport-in-stockholm/#.WjqFrjN7HRg and dontstopliving.net (http://dontstopliving.net ; so here is my shout out to them.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.turkishlibrary.us/abd-de-etkin-bir-toplum-ve-guc-olmak-icin-tum-turk-amerikalilara-birlesmek-amacli-acik-bir-cagridir/

 

***DISCLAIMER: This Blog (Thisisfootballislife) and author (John Konuk Blasing) do not guarantee the accuracy of this information and do not bear responsibility for any mishaps occurring from adherence to any of the advice given. Travelers should always check the website of the Turkish consulate for the most up to date information (Information from the US Department of State can be found here: https://tr.usembassy.gov/message-u-s-citizens-turkish-visa-guidance-update-u-s-citizens-november-20-2017/ . Since this is not a travel blog, and rather a sociology blog, any information on this blog is designed to help—if at all possible—fellow world travelers in their adventures. ***

The Geopolitically Pivotal Border Town of Palomas, Mexico

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Driving south from Albuquerque on I-25 is a surprisingly relaxing experience; unlike in Texas or Florida one can drive with the window down without breaking into an uncontrollable sweat. The desert landscape has a calming effect as I keep to the 75 mile-per-hour speed limit, blaring the country music (as always). In my mind, I laugh about the ridiculousness of driving four and a half hours to Puerto Palomas, Mexico. After all, it is a town that will likely be completely as advertised; it is a gritty, dusty, border town, one that a shoddily done Chinese documentary warns is becoming a “ghost town”. Still, due to my love for pivotal geopolitical regions, I know that I have to see it for myself.

 

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Southbound I-25. Image Courtesy Of The Author.

 

Staring out into the stark desert landscape while keeping a rented Nissan between the lines I realize that this is a good chance for me to clear my head after taking care of my father for the last month following his heart surgery. I liken this drive to one I took six years ago from Austin Texas to Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, after feeling the need to get away from it all for different reasons. For generations, Mexico has provided an escape from reality for Americans and today I am no different than Jack Kerouac. This famous “escape from reality” has been embraced by country music stars who often sing about Mexico’s border towns in terms of “escape from reality” (Kenny Chesney’s Beer in Mexico and Charlie Robison’s New Year’s Day are two good examples of this phenomenon).

Even if heart surgery and aging parents are the reality, I reason that my journey might also be an escape from banality itself. Albuquerque, New Mexico is—like all the towns I’ve lived in in the United States (Providence, RI; Boulder, CO; Austin, TX; or Gainesville, FL)—full of the familiar sites of extreme consumption that all Americans know: the one street lined with a Target, a Wal-Mart, a McDonald’s, a Burger King, and maybe a Home Depot or a Wendy’s thrown in for good measure. In the end, however, it makes the outskirts of many American cities indistinguishable from one another. While this offers a sense of security for many—which I understand—it is also extremely boring (to me at least). Perhaps this is why I have always sought out the oddest of destinations in my life, from Tashkent to Tangier . . . and now Palomas.

Of course, escaping banality (or reality) comes with a price: the sense of “danger”, whatever it may mean. The United States Department of State “warns U.S. citizens about the risk of traveling to certain parts of Mexico due to the activities of criminal organizations in those areas,” specifically:

 

Chihuahua (includes Ciudad Juarez, the city of Chihuahua, Ojinaga, Palomas, Nuevo Casas Grandes and Copper Canyon): Criminal activity and violence remains an issue throughout the state of Chihuahua and its major cities. Travel between cities only on major highways and only during daylight hours.

 

On 7 July 2017, the U.S. consulate in Juarez, Mexico, said “There is a likelihood of additional violence among drug cartels in the areas of Palomas, Janos, and Nuevo Casas Grandes. Information indicates this uptick in violence is likely to continue through the near future.” Interestingly, the department of state has a similar warning for my other country, Turkey: “Carefully consider the need to travel to Turkey at this time, and avoid travel to southeast Turkey due to the persistent threat of terrorism”. Of course, to me this sounds comical. Yet, this kind of fear is a reality for many in the United States. I recall my dentist, as well of one of my father’s nurses in the hospital, inquire as to whether or not I was afraid to travel to Turkey to do research for my PhD because “it is so bad over there”. This kind of detachment from the world—from “reality”—is harmful to Americans (something I have written about in the past), and thinking about the similarities between Palomas and Turkey (in the eyes of the U.S. Department of State) makes me chuckle as I drive past the exit for Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. It is a fitting name; if the warnings of danger are the “truth”, what will the consequences be?

 

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Truth…Or Consequences? Image Courtesy Of the Author.

 

These are my thoughts as I exit off I-25 to Hatch, New Mexico, home of New Mexico’s famous green chiles, before continuing on to Deming and, ultimately, the border. After crossing under the I-10 underpass and passing through Deming I realize that I am the only car heading south on two-lane U.S. route 11 to Columbus, NM. The vast amount of emptiness is shocking and I wonder how people can live in the glorified no man’s land that follows the length of the U.S./Mexico border.

 

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Its a Half Mile to Mexico Amidst the Emptiness. Images Courtesy Of the Author.

 

As I near the border I head into a small parking lot that (apparently) used to serve a duty free shop; it looks all but abandoned now. Outside sits a golf cart adorned with an American flag, waiting to carry travelers across the border. The clientele waiting for the ride says a lot about the broken healthcare situation in the United States, since one of Palomas’ main draws is the availability of cheap prescription drugs and cheap dental care. Judging by the enduring lure of Palomas, Obamacare has not been as successful as its proponents may claim; that American citizens should seek dental care in another country—to combat the rising insurance costs in the United States—is unfortunate to say the least.

 

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Derelict Duty Free. Image Courtesy Of The Author.

 

I cross the border into Mexico with little fanfare, no one seems interested in me as I emerge onto what is…a dusty main street. Somehow, I am not surprised. Palomas is basically a single street headed south, the side streets branching out to the left and right give way to sandy desert after a couple blocks, constrained by the border fence (which is not quite a wall). Crossing the border the first thing travelers see is the Pink Store, an emporium of hand-made Mexican souvenirs that also doubles as a cross-border cultural exchange according to the Albuquerque Journal. Unfortunately, due to border violence from 2009-2011, most of the other stores in Palomas seem to have fallen on hard times.

 

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The Borderline (Top); The Pink Store (Middle); A Dusty Border Town (Bottom). Images Courtesy Of the Author.

 

I walk down the dusty main drag for a few blocks, past pharmacies and discount dental offices, before returning toward the border in order to exchange twenty dollars for Mexican Pesos. Local money in hand, I go to indulge in the kind of cultural exchange I came for: Mexican food. I head down the first side street headed west, parallel to the border fence, and find a small taco stand. I order off the chalkboard menu in my rudimentary Spanish—learned in West San Antonio—which fails miserably. Luckily a patron asks me, in English, what I would like and kindly translates for me. Apparently they have run out of barbacoa, so I choose a bean and cheese taco instead. As I wait I learn that the lady who translated my order lives in both Columbus and Palomas; though she is clearly Mexican the blonde blue eyed little girl with her looks like what many would call “American”. It is an example of the population mix that makes border areas so fascinating.

 

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Pharmacies and Decaying Buildings Define Palomas, as Well as Some Interesting Street Art. Such Is the Melting Pot of the Border Town. Images Courtesy Of the Author.

 

Sitting down to enjoy my taco with a view of the border fence, I can’t help but think about the illegal immigration debate in the United States. On 5 June 2017 CNN reported that two thirds of the 700 children at Columbus elementary school—on the U.S. side of the fence—live in Palomas. They are children of illegal immigrants who were born in the U.S. before their parents got deported. Because of New Mexico’s state constitution which provides a free education for all U.S. citizens, these children are bussed across the border every day for school. Given the current political climate, outlets like The Atlantic are worried that the election of Donald Trump will change everything on the border.

 

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Tacos With a View Of the Border Fence. Image Courtesy of the Author.

 

To me, the entire debate about illegal immigration seems absurd to say the least. After all—as Palomas shows so clearly—nations have boundaries. I was not able to order my tacos in English because…Spanish is the language in Mexico; it is not the United States. And that is ok, because Mexico is its own sovereign nation. That nations should enforce their boundaries seems—to me at least—very normal. Some accuse people like me, who believe in borders, of being “cruel” or “lacking compassion”. To me such claims lack validity not only because the term “compassion” is relative, but also because in order to understand the situation on the border people must actually visit, interact with people, and be able to empathize. To opine on (southern) border politics from Boston or Seattle (both extremely liberal cities by U.S. standards) is useless, it is an exercise in building moral superiority at best. Two AP journalists who travelled the length of the U.S./Mexico border put it well:

 

What we’ve found, from the near-empty migrant shelters of Tamaulipas state in Mexico to the drug-running corridors of the Sonoran desert, is a region convulsed by uncertainty and angst, but rooted in a shared culture and history unlikely to be transformed by any politician, or any barrier man can construct.

 

Borderlands certainly do have a mind of their own and it is unlikely that a single politician can change that. One of my favorite trips to a border town was to Yuksekova in Hakkari province in southeast Turkey. As the biggest town in a province that borders both Iran and Iraq, Yuksekova represents the meeting point of Turkish, Persian, and Arab culture (not to mention the ethnic Kurdish majority in the province). It is the kind of real diversity that has survived the Ottoman and Safavid empires as well as the modern nation states of Turkey, Iran, and Iraq; it is not the kind of manufactured diversity that typifies urban areas in “Western” civilization. In a sense, Yuksekova—like so many borderlands—is a timeless place. Palomas is no different, but to understand it one must understand people. And that means empathy.

 

While the fact that students from Palomas (who are American citizens) are educated in schools across the border is celebrated by media outlets like CNN and The Atlantic, there are others who disagree, and for good reason. American taxpayers are paying money to educate students from Palomas while the families of the students from Palomas are . . . not paying anything (since they live in another country and are not required to pay taxes to the United States). Of course this is an absurd situation, and one that residents of towns on the U.S. side of the border have every right to be upset about. That this situation is absurd should not be a surprise to anyone, it just takes a little bit of empathy to see things from the perspective of taxpayers in towns like Columbus, NM and Deming, NM.

Similarly, the debate about illegal immigration often devolves into an inquest on the morality of those who dare oppose it. Personally, I believe that illegal immigration is unfair to everyone, not only to residents of the United States, but also to legal immigrants to the United States regardless of their country of origin since illegal immigrants essentially “cut in line”, so to speak. But these are not the only two groups who are treated unfairly by illegal immigration: the illegal immigrants themselves are also treated unfairly. A tragic news story from 24 July 2017 details how ten illegal immigrants savagely died in the back of a truck while being smuggled/trafficked into the United States. If laws regarding illegal immigration in the United States were more strict—and if sanctuary cities (like San Antonio) did not exist—it is possible that this needless tragedy could have been avoided. Had the likelihood of apprehension—and subsequent deportation—been apparent, it is possible that ten human lives would not have been needlessly lost in the back of a semi parked in a Wal-Mart parking lot. Sadly, the politicians are not asking the right questions and we are likely to see more needless deaths in the name of “diversity”; no-one can try to empathize with those in the truck in order to see why encouraging illegal immigration is far from the moral high ground.

After finishing my up my taco I pay and the lady says, with a voice of resignation, “its cheap here”. I can’t help but feel for her and this broken community. I ask her about sites to see in Palomas and she directs me to the museums on the American side, in Columbus, because Palomas’ museum has closed down, likely because of the violence. Disappointed, I ask for a restaurant recommendation and I am directed to an amazing place. Although some patrons laughed at my West San Antonio Spanish when I ordered, I can honestly say that the steak quesadilla was one of the best I’ve ever had—on either side of the border.

 

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If You Every Find Yourself In Palomas, Support Local Businesses and Find Yourself Eating Here. Image Courtesy Of the Author.

 

Walking away from my meal I am disappointed that border violence keeps travelers away from Palomas; without traveling people will never be able to empathize with the hard working individuals whose lives depend on a functioning border culture. Without traveling, these same people will be left dependent on the news of CNN and The Atlantic, who look to sell a story by capitalizing on the tears of a little girl without acknowledging how illegal immigration and drug violence hurt both the United States and Mexico: Mexico gets rid of its lower classes, sending them to the United States, while the United States benefits from an influx of cheap labor. Unfortunately, this kind of illegal immigration does nothing but harm to the honest working class people on both sides of the border; both Mexicans and Americans are hurt by the failure to enforce border security. As if to prove my point, the abandoned shell of an aborted casino appears in front of me, its construction abandoned due to instability. As I explore the rain starts to come down and the streets of this dusty border town begin to turn to mud. I decide to cross back to the United States, passing the Mile 0 sign.

 

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The Aborted Casino (Top); The Once Dusty Streets Turn Muddy (Middle); Mile 0 and Speed Limit 5(!) (Bottom). Images Courtesy Of The Author.

 

Inside the Customs and Border Patrol building I am the only traveler subject to interrogation.

“Where are you going?”

“Albuquerque, New Mexico.”

“Where did you come from?”

“Rhode Island.”

“That’s a long way…why did you come here?”

“Pure…curiosity.”

“Curiosity? What’s in that bag? Did you purchase any drugs, alcohol, or tobacco?”

“No sir…its just some souvenirs from the Pink Store.”

The customs official has heard it all before and he waves me through. As I amble to the parking lot I take one last look at the border fence. After this short interrogation at the border, it surprises me that the idea of a “wall” should be so strange to people. Then again, I realize that most who opine on the subject—and who do not believe in borders—have likely never set foot in a gritty border town.

 

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Welcome Back…and a Rainbow. Because…why not? Images Courtesy Of the Author.

The Case for Americans Studying Abroad (With Help From George Herbert Mead)

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Author’s Note: Parts of this post were written as an assignment for a graduate seminar in Classical Sociological Theory.

Sociologist George Herbert Mead’s concept of the “self” makes for interesting reading, even if it is presented in a manner that seems to be trying its best to be inaccessible to the layman. His theories are very useful when applied to the current state of Americans and their relationship to America’s role in the world. I read an article in The Atlantic recently about how a possible Donald Trump presidency could “change the world”. Even though I have my own personal doubts as to whether or not any particular U.S. President can, indeed, unilaterally change the country—let alone the world—I read on. The article makes the claim that the current world system, based on the post WWII order created by the United States through institutions like Bretton Woods and characterized by neo-liberal economics, is unequivocally good for the world. That makes me think—what does “good” mean? And is “good” for the United States necessarily “good” for the rest of the world? The interviewee in the article states “the record is pretty clear over the last five or six years that if the U.S. pulls out, things will get worse domestically in other countries, and they’ll become more fearful and more protectionist and more nationalist.” But who is to say that things are not bad now domestically in other countries? I can think of many examples where this is the case, and that is where Mead’s ideas are very useful.

Foreign Affairs ran a story last spring about how study abroad programs can make the United States “safer and stronger” by “opening the American mind”. As someone who enjoys traveling I have to agree, and George Herbert Mead’s ideas offer some perspective on why study abroad could help America in the long run. Mead states that

every human individual must, to behave ethically, integrate himself with the pattern of organized social behavior which, as reflected or prehended in the the structure of his self, makes him a self-conscious personality […] the sense which the individual self has of his dependence upon the organized society or social community to which he belongs is the basis and origin, in short, of his sense of duty (and in general of his ethical consciousness); and ethical and unethical behavior can be defined essentially in social terms (Mead, Mind Self and Society section 41; 3).

Mead’s ideas certainly are applicable to the individual, and I believe they can be extrapolated out to the larger “nation” and/or “state”. Is it possible that, since the United States is both geographically and culturally isolated from the rest of the world, many citizens do not have a “sense of duty” as regards the rest of the world? If the self is defined in terms of the other—and through interaction with it—as Mead argues, then it is possible that many Americans truly do not have this sense of ethics when it comes to international politics.

Interestingly, this separation of the U.S. from the rest of the world—and the relative isolation of its population—is reflected by the “asocial or personal aspect” of Mead’s self. This “differentiates it from, or sets it in distinctive and unique opposition to, the other members of the social group to which it belongs; and this side of the self is characterized by the individual’s feeling of superiority toward the other members of that group” (Ibid.). If we were to substitute the words “social group” for “international community” and “the individual” for “the United States” we would have a very good example of the concept that views the United States as “a city on a hill”; we are detached from the poverty and violence that plague the rest of the world which often makes many of us in the United States feel this “sense of superiority”. I have met many people who are, unfortunately, afraid to travel abroad because they have heard “its so bad over there”. Usually, I counter by explaining that living in a country where citizens are allowed easy access to firearms would be considered to be fairly dangerous in any other context; the point is it’s all about perspective.

George Herbert Mead’s ideas are very useful in the current geopolitical age, where American hegemony is in question. The self can only define itself in relation to the other; “it is the social process itself that is responsible for the appearance of the self; it is not there as a self apart from this type of experience” (Calhoun et al., 351). Like the individual’s “self”, the “national” self is formed in the same way. Without interactions with those from other national backgrounds, a national consciousness cannot be developed independently. Most nationalist identities are defined vis-à-vis other, competing, national identities. In the United States, this has not been the case traditionally. Rather, for the most part, American “culture” is imposed from the top down through cultural processes like music, movies, and sports. This does not, however, allow for an independent realization of what is “American”, or what it means in relation to other nations internationally. In order to foster a better understanding of what it means to be “American”, in relation to the rest of the world, I believe that social interaction is imperative. If America wants to continue to be a hegemonic power, it cannot neglect educating its citizens about the rest of the world; by doing so a more introspective—and ultimately stronger—American identity could emerge.

After all, the condescending “city on a hill” image is not really reflective of American values (at least not in the way that I interpret them). A recent New Yorker piece states that “The United States’ claim to moral primacy in the world, the idea of American exceptionalism, rests upon the argument that this is a nation set apart”. Of course, this is a highly conceited perspective that I—even as a patriotic American—find to be extremely misguided. The fact that the New Yorker ties it into race is even more disgusting:

The old presumptions hold that some element of national humiliation and decline predisposes nations toward fascism, or at least the appeals of fascistic movements. But in the U.S. this movement sprang up on the contrails of the first black Presidency—a moment that was, perhaps naïvely at the time, thought to be one of national affirmation and triumph. The unsavory implication here, of course, is that, for the cornerstone elements of Trumpism, that triumph was a national humiliation, that the image of an African-American receiving the deference and regard that the Presidency entails invalidated these Americans’ understanding of what the U.S. is, or at least what it is supposed to be […] In the broader context, Trumpism represents the demise of American exceptionalism, or at least the refutation of the most cogent arguments for it ever having existed in the first place.

This is just one troubling article that has come out following Donald Trump’s election victory, since Mr. Obama’s years in power have seen unprecedented chaos in the Middle East driven by American policies and arguably represent abject failure. To even imply that criticism of these policies is somehow racist represents poor journalism—the journalist’s job is to hold politicians responsible for their policies and a President’s skin color does not exonerate them from failure in office. As I have stated earlier, Mr. Trump’s presidency might just be a recognition that “American exceptionalism” has not only failed the United States, but it has also failed the world. After all, uninterrupted war—which Mr. Obama has presided over eight years of—is not the healthiest of situations for any country. Even if Mr. Trump wants to alter U.S. policies, he will still have to deal with the American deep state and its “deep secrets”. This in and of itself should temper any unilateral behavior on his part. In fact, the fact that state media’s Washington Post is already giving airtime to Islamists suggests that the stage is being set to discredit Mr. Trump before he even takes office.

These troubling articles have coincided with some troubling conversations I have had with close friends. While I respect these friends more than I can explain here—and I know they will be better scholars than I will ever be—their marked lack of knowledge regarding America’s role in the world is upsetting and tells me that we, as a county, would do well to encourage more international study at the college level. One friend told me that Mr. Trump’s election meant that his non-white friends were being threatened. When I told him that this was unfortunate and that such abject racists were disgusting fringe elements, I was accused of being an apologist for white supremacists. Unfortunately, I ended up raising my voice (and I apologize for that already) when coup—killed many people in Turkey during an attempted coup; actions speak louder than words for me. For some Trump detractors, it seems that the killing of “brown people” abroad can be completely swept under the rug, and that—to someone with an international outlook like myself—is just unacceptable. But that is the kind of thought process that American exceptionalism breeds! A second friend pointed out that my Turkish friends would not be able to come to the United States due to Mr. Trump’s proposed “ban on Muslims”. When I told this individual that my friends would have no problem getting a visa because they are educated and have been to the United States before, my friend was incredulous. “They need visas for the United States? They can’t just walk in with their passports?” was the reply. It was a typically “American” response, and fitting seeing as how the American passport allows the holder to just “walk in” to most countries in the world—174 to be exact , and this is one major reason that those born in the United States should really be thankful for the privilege they have. Sadly, this individual didn’t know that the United States’ visa waiver program  is—to use parlance that is in vogue following Mr. Trump’s election—very pro-“white”. The only non-European countries that enjoy visa free travel to the United States are Australia (white), Brunei, Chile, Japan, New Zealand (white) South Korea, and Taiwan. As if to make the list look longer, the U.S. State Department includes miniscule states like Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, and Monaco—like a bad joke. The Visa Waiver Program added this provision in 2015:

Under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, travelers in the following categories are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP):

-Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country).

-Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria.

Brunei is the only Muslim country on the list; it is not a Middle Eastern country. When I told my friend that many Americans did not know the value of their own passport and that most foreigners have to obtain visas, it was insinuated that I was an elitist of some sort. It was never my aim, rather I tried to point out that life in other countries is very different than in the U.S., and that extends to travel as well. This friend then cleared up the misunderstanding: they had understood that Mr. Trump would be instating visas for Muslims traveling to the United States. Again, this is an example of many Americans who only vote (or protest) based on media hyperbole rather than any real knowledge of the issues. It is a sad state of affairs, when voters in the world’s foremost “democracy” show such ignorance in the face of the issues but I suppose it is just the way it is for now. I can only hope that more universities bring Study Abroad programs into their curriculums, since the world is opening itself up. Even if Mr. Trump’s presidency means a drawdown in American power (or application of said power) abroad, it doesn’t mean that we can afford to have a population left ignorant of the privileges they have.

 

Author’s Note: Readers; if you have a chance, please travel. It is the single greatest investment you can make in yourself over the course of your lifetime!

I’m Experiencing the Dystopia of an American Airport While American Olympic Athletes Distort Reality in Rio: What it Says About Wider U.S. Society’s Interactions With the World

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A few weeks ago I was returning from Turkey to the United States via Germany. I didn’t mind the eight-hour layover since it meant that I could drop into one of my favorite cities in the world, Munich, and have a relaxing summer stroll around the city. When I got to the border of the European Union I handed my passport and boarding pass to the police officer on duty. He took a look at the boarding pass and reminded me that I had a connecting flight in eight hours. I assured him that I was well aware of that, and that I was only going to take the train into the city for a few hours. He looked at the pages of my passport and just shrugged (probably thinking “this guy won’t miss his flight”); then he stamped me in and handed back the passport and boarding pass with a smile. And that was that. No elaborate questioning, just two people interacting.

I got a day ticket for 13.75 Euros and took the S1, getting off at Moosach. Since I am interested in seeing the famed Munich Olympiastadion, built for the 1972 Summer games, I head in the direction of the Olympic Park. The wide tree lined streets which feel like a mix between central and eastern Europe are peaceful and I take in my surroundings, my last tastes of Europe before returning to the United States. It is one of those times where the traveler thinks “what would my life have been like if I grew up here?”

The Olympic park is off the main street and when I finally enter it feels like a secret garden. The rolling hills and small pond make for an idyllic setting, one of those that could only be on the “old continent”. I hike up the tallest of the park’s hills and, at the top, am rewarded with a stunning view of urban Munich on the one side and natural Munich on the other. The day is calm and peaceful, August in Germany, and I feel as if my senses have been heightened by virtue of these few moments in this small pastoral greenery in the middle of Bavaria. I decide to grab an 11am beer at a beer garden—one of those things that would be impossible to do across the Atlantic—and think about my route to the center; after all no trip will be complete without a few jerseys.

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Beautiful Park, and the Beautiful Munich Olympiastadion. Images Courtesy of the Author.

Among the tourist hordes in central Munich I find a couple shirts from last season on deep discount—a Puma Borussia Dortmund shirt and Kappa Wolfsburg shirt. For lunch I head to one of the Turkish kebab places in the red light district by the Hauptbanhof; to my surprise the man behind the counter speaks Turkish to everyone in line except me (I am spoken to in German—guess I’m not Turkish looking enough). I eat my doner and watch a group of Turkish construction workers come in for their lunch, like the Mexican construction workers at the Mexican restaurants I would frequent in Texas. I can’t help but think how strange it is that societies get stratified like this, cheap labor from abroad creates a social hierarchy based on ethnicity—the economic system comes to define the ethnic group and create a new social reality where none existed before. Knowing its nothing I will change, I go back to my doner—the must-try snack of Germany that has overtaken the traditional German snack of bratwurst as the nation’s most popular fast food. Of course, the popularity of the street food itself shows how the imagined ethnic hierarchy can take on a mind of its own.

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The Shirts Spread Out on the Counter at a Munich Airport Bar. Because…I wanted to. Images Courtesy of the Author.

Back at the airport I myself get stratified into another kind of imagined hierarchy, this one based not on ethnic background but on nationality. I take the long trek to gates H43 through H48 at the Munich Franz Josef Strauss Airport. It feels like a Japanese death march, the long grey nondescript corridor leading to the special zone of the terminal where flights to the United States depart from. At the ID check kiosk I ask the man if there is anything beyond me—I do it every year, just hoping—praying—that it will change. But it never does. “Just a vending machine. And toilets. There is no restaurant or bar”. Since the disappointment on my face is noticeable, the gentleman levels with me: “I’ll give you the stamp—you have a while until boarding, it won’t board on time. Go back to one of the bars and when you come back just show your stamp and walk to the gate”. I thank him for being a human being and head to the convenience store for a Lowenbrau to pass the time. Its 3.25 Euros, and the lady accepts the 3.20 Euros I give her.

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Its a Lonely Walk to the End of the Line. Image Courtesy of the Author.

When I enter the boarding area at Gate H45 it feels like I have entered another world. Indeed, there is nothing to eat save for what one can scrounge from the vending machine with their left over Euros. My fellow Americans count their (Euro) pennies to perhaps purchase a small bag of potato chips as sustenance before boarding. There are not enough seats to accommodate all the passengers bound for a transatlantic flight so everyone stands around like refugees awaiting their departure to a new future. In the bathroom, the paper towel dispenser is broken and it is clear that the single rest room cannot possible satisfy the demand of four gates worth of passengers. I marvel at the chaos all around me that marks my trip to the United States, sequestered in a small corner of one of the world’s most modern airports. When I ask why we are sequestered as such, a Lufthansa employee tells me that it is for “security”. I can only nod, finding myself wishing I was back in the Olympic park taking in the fresh air of Munich instead.

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The Toilets Have Seen Better Days While We Stand Like Refugees. Images Courtesy of the Author.

After an eight-hour flight full of romantic comedies I find myself waiting in line for one hour at the Boston Logan International Airport. U.S. citizens are left in a hallway, being let inside to the main “processing area” in fifteen person groups. I marvel at the tight security—certainly the tightest I have seen on my journeys over the past summer. “These guys are crazy” mutters the gentleman in front of me, an Italian-American, and we begin talking. I find it amusing that entering countries in Europe rarely necessitates as much song and dance as entering the United States—my own country of residence and birthdoes. The man uses the word “dystopia” to describe the proceedings and I have to admit that its an apt description.

As the “cowboys” of U.S. Customs & Border Patrol “herd” me into the “processing area” where I wait to use one of the automated self processing passport scanners, I wonder how efficient this system is. While the process to enter the United States at airports is one of the most draconian I have ever experienced on my travels, the Mexican border is still porous and many Americans are up in arms when talk is made about increasing security on a border that has become so world famous that even people from as far as Africa are flocking to it. The man in front of me is as frustrated as I am when he mumbles “I don’t think they even catch anyone”. I have to agree—the police state mentality only exists in the world of airports, a realm that is dis-engaged from life on the ground outside. It’s a sort of nether region between the Orwelllian world and the real world. But it is also this emphasis on “security” that allows the United States to portray itself as an oasis of stability in a world rapidly becoming characterized by seemingly random outbursts of violence; it is a city on a hill while chaos swirls below. And that is where I now move into discussing this in the context of the sports world.


On 14 August 2016 four members of the U.S. Olympic men’s swimming team accused Brazilian police of robbing them at gunpoint in Rio de Janeiro when they were returning from a party. American Olympians Ryan Lochte, Gunnar Bentz, Jack Conger, and Jimmy Feigen claimed that their taxi was stopped by people posing as police officers and that money and personal belongings were demanded from them. The state media organ of the United States, the New York Times, was quick to frame the story as one reflective of security concerns in the Brazilian city when they wrote that the robbery heightened “anxiety over violent crime in the host city of the Summer Games” in the article’s opening paragraph. It is not surprising that the New York Times was quick to denounce Brazil and play up its instability, but they may be regretting their decision now.

Four days later, on 18 August 2016, it emerged that the swimmers had actually fabricated the whole story. In fact, if it was just a mere fabrication it might not have been so bad; instead it was an outright lie trying to cover up the fact that the swimmers themselves had been the ones in the wrong. They allegedly urinated on the wall of a Shell gas station, then vandalized the bathroom in a drunken rage and refused to pay for the damages. Mr. Lochte himself then claimed that he mistook the gas station’s security guard for local police—something I might have believed had I been born yesterday.

Police in Rio didn’t believe it either and charged Mr. Lochte with filing a false robbery report, and the swimmer was forced to admit that he “over-exaggerated” parts of the story which, I imagine, is the politically correct way of saying “I lied through my teeth”. On 19 August 2016 Mr. Lochte wrote on his Instagram (the post-modern form of apologizing, in which the most crucial part—looking the one you offended in the eye while asking forgiveness—is impossible): “It’s traumatic to be out late with your friends in a foreign country — with a language barrier — and have a stranger point a gun at you and demand money to let you leave.” For some reason, his defense hinges on his being in “a foreign country with a language barrier”; in Mr. Lochte’s mind this simple fact exonerates him for vandalizing someone else’s property. In all honesty it is an embarrassing defense, but one that cannot be separated from the situation perpetuated, in part, by the United States itself.

Take this small excerpt from ABC News’ 30 August 2016 story as an example:

“I think it’s everyone blowing this way out of proportion. I think that’s what happened,” Lochte, 32, said today on “Good Morning America” when asked whether he embarrassed the United States with his actions in Rio de Janeiro.

“Like I said, I did lie about that one part,” Lochte said of his claim that a gun was held to his head at a Rio gas station. “I take full responsibility. I’m human. I made a mistake. A very big mistake.”

Here Mr. Lochte is still downplaying his actions when he says it was “blown out of proportion”, and when he does admit lying it is only about “that one part”, the gravity of the situation—that there is a larger lie that is insulting to another country—is missed. Even when admitting responsibility, it is only on an individual level. “I take full responsibility”. ”I’m human”. “I made a mistake”. Of course, this focus on the individual can be traced back to the American ideals of individualism and “freedom”. But don’t think that Brazilians aren’t, rightly I may add, a bit perturbed. In a 18 August 2016 New York Times story Brian Winter, vice president for policy at Americas Society and Council of the Americas, tells the truth in no uncertain terms: “[The episode] has tapped into one of Brazilians’ biggest pet peeves — gringos who treat their country like a third-rate spring break destination where you can lie to the cops and get away with it”. Although Eliseu Padilha, the chief of staff for Brazil’s interim president, Michel Temer, said that “This episode will not in any way interfere in the relations between the U.S. and Brazil . . . This could have happened with individuals of any other nationality,” I do not believe it. I’m not convinced that it could happen with individuals of any other nationality.

And this is where I return to the immigration line at Boston’s Logan International Airport. I have been fortunate enough to have been able to visit many interesting international (and domestic) destinations around the globe, something that I owe my parents a huge thank you for encouraging no matter the destination. Therefore, I have been able to see that all is not what it may seem. Of course the United States is a safe, stable, country. Of course in the United States things run fairly smoothly and with (comparably) minor disruptions when compared to some other places in the world. But—and this is important—that does not mean the United States is without its flaws, and it does not mean that other countries do not have their positive sides as well. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you can commit a crime in a foreign country—like vandalism—and expect not to be held accountable for it. Like the golden rule in life, doing unto others as you would want done unto you, there is the golden rule of travel: Do not do in foreign country what you would not do in your own country and expect to not face the consequences.

Too often in the United States we hear about “how bad it is over there”. “There” can be anywhere. It can be Mexico when we hear about the drug cartels. It can be the UK when we hear about the Brexit. It can be Africa when we hear about Ebola. It can be Greece when we hear about the financial crisis. It was Turkey when my neighbor, having heard the news about the 2013 Gezi Park protests, told me “I heard its really bad there”. Unfortunately, the judging that is implicit in such comments comes without any real knowledge of the situation. Just like the reporting done by the state media organ The New York Times, which rushed to emphasize security concerns in Brazil following the first reports of the swimmers’ “robbery” so as to frame the swimmers as innocent victims, U.S. newspapers are often all-too-quick to frame events taking place in foreign countries. (Note the use of the term “state media”—you might hear it mentioned in many publications in the United States, but never in reference to domestic media. This is an example of that framing). And, given that just 35% percent (a generous figure) of Americans have passports, many Americans are unable to visit places to see the truth for themselves. Although the number of passports in circulation is increasing, I tend to believe this is more due to the increased global interconnectedness of the world that necessitates a passport—if only for one trip—that then stays in circulation albeit unused. I even have friends who have passports but have never used them.

It is this combination—the desire to portray the United States as somehow above the fray of the world and the population’s relative ignorance of international affairs—that creates a dystopian reality at airports. It is also one that, unfortunately, sometimes results in people acting out and confirming the image of the “ugly American” abroad that is already present in people’s minds. Perhaps the most absurd thing about the whole incident is that Mr. Lochte really didn’t face any repercussions for his actions. Instead, he was handed a role on the reality TV show Dancing With the Stars. Only in America can you embarrass yourself, your team-mates, and your country and…be given a role on TV in the end. Life—and the American Dream—go on.

Extreme Capitalism Comes Home

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They say that you can’t go home again. They say it as if the concept that is “home” disappears the moment you cross that county line (or state line or city line). Before the last few days, I never believed this could be true. Home is in your heart right? It is a place where emotions are entwined with memories and experiences connected to space…right? In short, things that cannot be fabricated or replaced; these are things that cannot be replicated. The concept of “Home” is made up of moments—taken out of time—that (partially) define who we, as human beings, are. Right? Well…unfortunately, today I learned that this isn’t always the case. In fact, “Home” can be stripped away, whisked out from under you like the tablecloth on a cartoon’s table. Unfortunately—unlike as is the case in the cartoon—the items on the table (of your life) do not just fall into place just as they were before. In fact…everything is replaced in a disjointed way. Sure the items are still there, they just aren’t there in the same way.

Like I did a few years ago, when I took a walking tour of Istanbul, I decided to take a walking tour of the seaside village in which I spent the summers of my childhood. Since I experienced many pivotal moments in my life in this village, the place has a special meaning for me. Sadly—through the eyes of a grown man—the place has, inevitably, changed. Not, I may add, for the better.

On my Sunday walk I realize that my first route is blocked. A new construction site has, somehow, been built over the road. As if building houses (valued at one million US Dollars each) over the land that—as a child—I had picked figs in necessitates building over a road (which was, I may add, resurfaced just three years ago). But apparently it does; it is always more profitable to destroy and rebuild, after all. As someone who has never understood business—the concept of selling things at a profit (or taking advantage of people) is foreign to me—I cannot understand the changes that surround my childhood home. So I walk on, through the middle of a construction site. The workers stare at me with strained eyes, their neon yellow construction vests almost blinding in the sunshine of an early summer day, in stark contrast to their dark sun-tanned faces. Their eyes tell a story: “I was sent here to build houses that I will never, ever, have the chance to live in.” I fill in the rest of the story: They came here from towns and villages in Eastern Turkey that are now under attack, part of the struggle between the Turkish state and Kurdish minority that has been ongoing since the founding of the republic (for more on this, readers can access this—somewhat hyperbolic—piece from the New York Times). But there is money to be made, and I am in no place to tell people that they should not feed their families, even if it feeds an extreme brand of capitalism that just cannot support itself for much longer.

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I continue my walk thinking about how the US dollar is now three times the value of the Turkish Lira; just a few years ago it was fluctuating between a (comparatively) healthy 1.5-1.7. How will people afford the housing? Credit? Mortgages? We…. all know how that turned out in the United States…and the Turkish economy can’t handle that type of shock, reeling as it is from the recent bombings and resulting loss in tourism revenue.

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Image Courtesy Of: http://www.xe.com/currencycharts/?from=USD&to=TRY&view=5Y

Once in the main village I pass by what used to be a small market; one where small rotisserie chickens were sold and where we—as wayward teenagers—would buy beers for long summer nights spent on the beach talking about the future. The space now belongs to a company selling construction materials. Soon, I realize why the man’s market couldn’t compete in the larger, capital “M”, Market. Five national chains have moved into the neighborhood, all within—at most—a fifteen-minute walk of the closed market. It is basic economics—the national chain can sell at a lower price than the local corner store. It is sad. But it is also true, when the world is all about the bottom line.

I walk the familiar old streets out to the marina, where the white yachts of the rich are docked, floating idly in the blue expanse. One of the proprietors of a fish restaurant solicits a friend’s attention but I ignore him. I don’t have much of an appetite after what I’ve seen. And what I see next doesn’t make me feel any better.

On the return I come to the crest of a hill overlooking the new construction and I remember, at the end of the summer two years ago, watching bulldozers uproot the forest I had walked through as a child. Now, only two trees remain and it feels like a bad joke. The asphalt is covered in mud from an earlier shower and I see that even the crystal clear sea of my childhood is gone. The mud from the construction site is running off into the water; it is not a place I would like to swim and I wonder if the soon-to-be owners of these houses would agree. Pay one million dollars and not have roads or a beach? Not a good return on an investment but…who am I to say that? I’m just a guy that writes.

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Currently:

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Two Years Ago, with Half the Forest Already Uprooted:

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I finish my walk and head home, ready to do some more reading, but not before facing the visual assault of a brand new four story housing development being built behind my home. An ancient stone wall—built rock by rock by the hands of the farmer whose horses I used to feed carnations to as a child—has been demolished to make way for a concrete wall the color I would call “New England Winter Sky”. Who gave them the right to build a high rise in the middle of a small village? Well…the government did, of course. Without the consent of the state, nothing is possible in the modern world. And if all the state wants is to line its pockets then…anything goes. Its appalling and disgusting and it makes me want to know why greed exists in the world, yet I know the farmer—so many long years ago, had the same thoughts I have now when his land was encircled by development. May he rest in peace. I decide that, instead of reading, I’ll head down to the beach with a cold beer and watch the sunset. After all, the new development—despite its four stories—wont be able to bask in the sunset light like I can.

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The next day a friend and I come upon a small kitten in the village. It seems to have lost its mother and—certainly—does not know what to do now that it is all alone in the world. We play with it and feed it, watching it explore nature. The joy of rolling in the grass, the pain of a rose bush’s thorns; we quickly learn the pleasures and pains of life. I can’t help but wonder what it will do when all of the nature is swallowed up by human greed. Later, that same friend sends me a news story as I’m sitting at home: six people have been wounded and two killed in an assault at a night club in town after a disagreement between construction workers working on yet another new commercial development and employees of the club. I sigh and look out the window, thinking of the kitten. I wonder how it is doing. I think I might buy some cat food tomorrow morning. After all, we all need a little help in the world as we stomach the loss of our innocence.

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Author’s Note: The name of the place in question has been purposefully left out since this type of development can—and does—happen anywhere in the world, and indeed in any context. Industrial Football, for instance, is the manifestation of this phenomenon in sports as stadiums slowly disappear. Thank you for reading.

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