Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Another Terminal Dweller

Describing the strange journey of surveillance whistleblower Edward Snowden, now supposedly holed up in Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport, Washington Post social media reporter Caitlin Dewey describes those omnitopian corridors that connect hotel lobbies to airport terminals without seeming to touch the world outside.

This article describes "the legal limbo between the arrival gate and customs" encountered by some refugees, activists, and other stateless persons, noting the case of Mehran Karimi Nasseri who fled Iran with plans to settle in the UK but ended up living for 18 years in Charles de Gaulle Airport (a story transmogrified by Steven Spielberg into the 2004 movie The Terminal).

Feel-good summer stories aside, Dewey reminds readers that, "the magical-seeming lawlessness of the transit zone can cut both ways: For the political figures that find themselves there, it’s both a sanctuary and a prison."

Read the full piece: Here’s what happens to asylum-seekers who stay in airport limbo indefinitely

Monday, June 24, 2013

Return to Tumblingerstraße

During our 2013 European travels in Germany, Austria, and Turkey, Jenny and I spent some time in Munich. Naturally I had to see whether Tumblingerstraße has changed since my 2012 visit. Here are some pix.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Guest Post: Istanbul (June 2 to June 13, 2013)

Jenny Wood wrote this guest post, sharing her memories and perceptions of our summer trip to Istanbul.

It's about time I share some of my memories of our first trip to Turkey! I'd never visited an Islamic country before, and I never imagined how much I'd love Istanbul. Our hotel was in the Sultanahmet District, a popular tourist region with small cobblestone roads, old and colorful buildings, and plenty of shops, restaurants, and important landmarks. Just a few blocks from our hotel (the Vezir) we could walk to Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome, and the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya). All three are together in one large plaza that contains fountains and monuments.

Early on, we toured the Hagia Sophia, learning about its strange evolution. It started as a church, commissioned by Emperor Justinian I who envisioned something that could complete with Solomon's temple. A few centuries later it was converted into a mosque once the Ottomans took over. Fortunately instead of destroying the Christian symbols, the building's new owners covered them up, sometimes with plaster, sometimes with curtains. Now the Hagia Sophia is a museum that contains elements from both periods, bringing Christian and Muslim artifacts together in one place. There are mosaics of the Virgin Mary and Jesus next to the name of Allah written in Arabic. What a great combination of cultures! I love learning about things like this.

Once we got settled into Istanbul we took a side trip to Ephesus, the city from the New Testament, where Paul and John preached. It is all ruins now but is still pretty spectacular. We saw two amphitheaters and the facade of the library where the men would go to study. Supposedly there was a secret passage that connected the library to a nearby brothel. We also saw where their temple of Athena stood, along with a bathhouse and public restroom (again, for men only). It was all so interesting. Oh, and there were lots of cats there too. In fact, we saw cats pretty much everywhere we traveled in Turkey. Some are grungy and scared but others are sweet and happy to be pet. We couldn’t say no.

Back in Istanbul we wandered the narrow streets, always looking up. There are large mosques everywhere, adding a lot of beauty to the skyline. And there is so much history! The city was originally called Byzantium, and then Constantinople, and then Istanbul. You can still see ancient walls alongside new buildings. The architecture varies widely from place to place, but is all lovely and colorful. There are carpet, ceramic, and souvenir vendors everywhere, and lots restaurants with great food. I've had some delicious dishes since I've been here: kebabs, meatballs, hummus, and Sultan's Delight, a wonderful dish of mashed eggplant and cheese topped with grilled chicken and a yummy sauce.

Down by the river they sell a lot of fish. I tried some, but it wasn't very good; maybe I got the wrong kind or something. But, they have these boats where folks prepare the fish onboard, preparing sandwiches to sell ashore. Andy and I skipped those. Now I realize that I probably should have tried one. At least the grilled meat was tasty. One of our favorite meals was a meatball sandwich sold by a street vendor.

While we were there, we found ourselves caught up in protests sweeping the country. We first heard about the uproar about two days before we came, while we were attending the Salzburg seminar in Austria. We read that the Turkish prime minister wanted to bulldoze a park and build a shopping center in its place. Thousands of people responded by attempting a peaceful occupation. Police used tear gas to retake the park (followed by government apologies for excessive force) - and then police and protesters began preparations for what might happen next.

During our first night in Istanbul, we traveled to Taksim Square; that’s where we first felt the sting of tear gas. That evening, protesters were out in force, chanting, waving flags, and making a ruckus. The statue in the square was covered with banners, flags, and people climbing to take pictures or yell chants. A helicopter circled overhead, and every time it came close, people booed and shot birds at it. Some cars had been overturned; some had obviously been sat ablaze and later covered with graffiti. Amid all this chaos, we also saw vendors selling food and banners, and there were plenty of tourists taking pictures and watching the spectacle. Despite the exuberant atmosphere, we knew that another police incursion was possible at any moment.

When we returned a few nights later, the scene was quite different. The barricades were still up, as were the banners and flags, but it was more like a festival than a protest. There were groups of people singing and dancing, and more vendors had gathered to pitch their wares. More families had arrived, many with children. There even some hawkers selling and launching paper lanterns into the air. We stayed for a couple of hours, wandering around, and this time entered Gezi Park. The protestors had formed a big crowd under the trees, but we never felt endangered. Except for the stench of urine that permeated the place, I enjoyed our visit.

Our days weren’t entirely dedicated to watching the unfolding protest, though. We also checked out Istanbul’s grand bazaar and the spice bazaar. I really liked the spice bazaar and could have stayed there a lot longer (though that's dangerous; I wanted to buy everything). Unfortunately the grand bazaar was not as exciting as I had hoped. It was way too much like a mall, stuffed with brand clothing, leather, gold, and other things. There were some nice souvenir shops but they were harder to find.

Then, after seeing so many amazing pictures of the region, we decided to take a two-day excursion to Cappadocia. I’m so glad we did! We saw such beautiful countryside, with buttes jutting from ground, much like something you'd see in Southern Utah. Locals call the buttes “fairy chimneys,” and some had long ago decided to carve homes and churches inside of them. I loved the chance to climb inside. That was our first day in the region. The second day was even better. We suffered a super-early wakeup that morning, but it was worth it: Balloon Ride!

I've never been in a balloon before, and it was really amazing. Such a smooth ride and gorgeous view. I had the still camera and Andy had the video camera, so we created some great images together. There were a lot of balloons up there, too. You could tell that it's big business in this region. I can see why. It was my favorite part of the trip.

After the balloon ride we got an hour or so nap back at the hotel. Loved it! Then our tour guide took us on a hike through one of the valleys. I enjoy hiking, and this area was so beautiful. We saw more buttes and stopped at a couple of trailside “cafes,” conveniently placed at spots where tourists tend to get thirsty or peckish. The best part was the time we spent with the other people on the tour. There was a Pakistani couple that we got to know; he is a doctor and she used to work in education before deciding to stay home with a son who needs special care. And then there was Brian, a New Yorker who shares our love for The Simpsons and 30 Rock.

At the end of the hike, we stopped at a small town called Çavuşin. The most prominent feature of this small town was a large cliff-like butte with lots of rooms carved out of it. The guide said it was a church. Andy, Brian, Jahinder (the Pakistani gentleman) and I all climbed up this structure because, well, that's what we do! What fun to explore and climb, taking photos from different angles. After our climbing adventure, our group waited for Jahinder who always seemed to dawdle. Andy bought some fresh squeezed orange juice and we chatted. Then we spotted our new friend, sporting a red fez. Jahinder had found his perfect souvenir at the bottom of the church structure. We all chuckled, but he seemed genuinely thrilled with his new purchase.

After a great lunch, our group set about exploring an underground city. That was really interesting, too, learning how people once carved spaces to hide and store food from enemies. We were able to walk through four levels of rooms and tunnels. Apparently there are several of these cave cities in the region, and our guide took us to the largest one. We climbed down through tunnels into cool-temperature caves and learned a little more about how the people lived back then. I especially appreciated the group of little vendor stalls that led up to the entrance! We always enjoy a little shopping. Best of all, the venders weren’t attacking us with relentless sales pitches (one of our few irritations with Istanbul). The only downside: Each day of this trip included another one of those workshop “tours” where they try to get you to buy stuff. Thankfully we were able to talk our guide out of a third one.

After our trip to Cappadocia, we still had a few days to enjoy Istanbul. I loved getting to know our neighborhood and walking past the Sultanahmet Mosque and the Hagia Sophia. What a beautiful area! One evening we took a dinner cruise down the Bosphorus. For a dinner cruise it was pretty fun. The food was good but certainly not great. We ate while the ship was moored, but we hung out on deck once we got underway. The cool breeze and night-view were a major improvement over our seating below.

As with our dinner, the ship’s entertainment was a mixed bag. We loved the belly dancer, of course. We enjoyed the Turkish folk dancers too, though some were a little strange. The creepiest part involved these two guys who pulled their shirts over their heads, revealing big wobbly bellies painted to resemble faces. They performed a weirdly comical dance of a couple falling in love. It almost seemed like a satire of the folk dances that preceded them. After the entertainment, the performers invited the audience to join them on stage. Most folks preferred to sit and drink, but Andy and I danced. The best part was just seeing the buildings lit up along the river. Sure, dinner cruises can seem awkward, with a bunch of strangers crammed together on a boat, but it was worth all the strangeness to see Istanbul this way.

As our trip was winding down, Taksim Square was heating up once more. We were eating breakfast on the day before our departure when Andy noticed on television that police were clearing the Square with gas and water cannons again. That dreaded feeling of inevitability came over me. I could hardly be surprised when Andy announced that he had to get up there. Ugh. He said I could stay behind, but there was no way I was going to send him up there alone, with me waiting and wondering if he was safe. No way.

Once we made our way to the Square it was clear that things had changed. Most of the protestors had fled the square, squeezing into Gezi Park. The only people in Taksim were cops in black armor and other journalists, some official and some most definitely unofficial (like Andy). At first I didn't think we would be allowed inside the Square, but there were several people just walking around watching or snapping photos. Naturally Andy dove right in, which meant that I had to follow. The cops didn't seem to care; they were too busy worrying about a small group of protesters throwing rocks in our direction from behind barricades and overturned cars. The cops launched tear gas grenades, but the protesters wore gas masks too. They just picked up the grenades and threw them back.

Andy and I spent about an hour wandering around and trying not to get hurt. He focused on photography and I concentrated on what was happening around him. He got in a close shave when he went over to the large group of protesters. Andy wanted some photos, but once he got too close they started throwing rocks at him. An older man nearby told him that the protestors thought he was part of the Turkish media. Since many of the protesters were mad at the media, the man warned that Andy had better leave. Thereafter positioned himself between the cops and the protesters and got some great shots.

At one point, a gas canister misfired and emptied out right next to us. We all backed up while the park crowd cheered. Then things got stranger still. Another group of protesters, holding hands in a line, walked up through the group of cops. The cops were perplexed. The protesters encircled the police, but they were peaceful. That’s when I saw the water cannon, which for some unknown reason I didn't notice before at all. I knew something was going to happen and worried that Andy was going to get the camera soaked. [Yes, I was worried about the camera, not Andy. He could get a little wet, I figured, but that camera is expensive!] Anyway, it was only a few minutes before that cannon went off against the protesters. That’s when Andy took pictures of five protesters holding hands and kneeling on the ground before they got doused.

I watched from a distance, feeling safely detached from the view, until I felt the sharp sting of gas in my eyes, nose, and throat. My instincts kicked in and I bolted. I didn't breathe; I just ran with my hand over my eyes like a salute. I ran for about ten seconds and took a small breath to see if I’d gotten far enough away. The sting was still there so I kept pumping my legs. Finally I got to a spot where I couldn't feel the pain anymore. I had felt one small rock hit my leg and had a light bruise, but otherwise I was OK. I couldn't see Andy, but I knew he was right in the middle of the gas. I waited with an increasing sense of dread before I saw him running toward me with his shirt over his face. He’d gotten his photos and was ready to depart. "Unless you want to stay,” he added. I smiled sweetly. "No, I'm good. Idiot.

Back at the hotel Andy began to edit photos and video. I opted to take pictures of nicer subjects than protestors and uprisings. Later we decided to head out to Miniaturk (though Andy kept wistfully looking up at the black smoke emanating from the square on the hill). Our goal was a park that contains dozens of miniature buildings and monuments from around Turkey. We got some directions from the hotel, but we were both really sketchy on them: take the metro to the bus station; then catch bus number something-or-other. That will take you there. OK, but how do I pay for the bus? And how do I know which stop it is?

We figured out the bus station (after about 15 or 20 minutes) and we learned where to purchase tickets. Once we found our ride, we tried to ask the driver if we’d selected the right route. He said yes but then couldn't or wouldn't answer any of our other questions. We rode for a while, not knowing at all where we were going or when to get off the bus. There was a young man who spoke some English, and he offered to help. Andy was wary but they guy assured us that we were on the right track. Turns out, Miniaturk has its own stop!

The sun was out and it was quite warm, but we had a fine afternoon. We saw miniatures of many of the things we'd seen that week: The Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia, Cappadocia, which had tiny balloons floating over it, Ephesus, and even Taksim Square. We walked around and took pictures for a couple of hours and got some ice cream. The heat was beating upon us, so I was really happy to find one of those tacky umbrella hats. It actually helped keep the sun off of me. We saw some things at Miniaturk that we wished we knew about earlier in the trip. Next time, we know to see any miniature parks first!

When we'd had our fill of miniatures, we headed back by bus to our neighborhood and planned on one last great meal at the restaurant that had become our favorite. I had Sultan's Delight again. Yum! Then as we ambled back through the Sultanahmet area, we passed a little outdoor cafe that we'd passed several times before. It was a place called the Dervish Cafe. We’d arrived at a perfect time because they actually had a whirling dervish performing! At first he was just standing next to a drummer and dulcimer player who made charming music together. We figured he would start doing his thing soon, so we decided to stop.

Soon the musicians changed to another song, and he started whirling. It was so beautiful. By this time I’d learned that a whirling dervish is actually a Sufi within the Mevlevi order. Apparently they espouse a love for God and a connection with other people. When they whirl, they hold their hands in a special position, with one hand pointing upward toward God and one pointing downward toward the earth. The whirling represents everything encircling the heart in peace and harmony. I watched as he whirled. The man’s eyes were closed, and he turned slowly and gracefully. To keep from falling, he kept one foot planted, allowing the other to rotate. He whirled for a few minutes and then stopped, rested a while, and then commenced to dance some more. We watched him whirl about three different times within a half hour. It was so relaxing and so beautiful. The whirling dervish reminded me of a hula dancer for some reason; he was so graceful. I could have watched him all night.

I was sad to leave Istanbul. I would miss our Sultanahmet neighborhood, the cats we would pet, the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia that would greet us every day, and the whole atmosphere and culture of the city. At least we had one last moment to celebrate as we rode to the airport in the wee hours of the morning. That’s when we heard one final call to prayer, a fitting send-off for our long flight back home.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Daytime Dispatches - 2013

Today's live-blog (8 a.m. to 5 p.m., PDT) was dedicated to enduring a Friday's worth of daytime television: droning infomercials, shouting confessionals, courtroom procedurals, and tacky gameshows. Warning: This is a high-typo zone. Feel free to post comments! Oh, and don't forget to check out Year OneYear TwoYear ThreeYear Four, and Year Five.

8:00 a.m. (KSBW) I'm starting today's Daytime Dispatches like a pro athlete suffering a grievous injury: my clicker's "OK" button is stuck. Don't worry, though. The remote still works, but sometimes I must depress the button for one or two seconds just to change the channel. Gotta fight through the pain. Gotta hack it - especially since my marathon of schlock TV begins with The Today Show!

8:05 a.m. Savannah: "So can we get to weather?" Great, I was curious about how hot it might get today. And... Oh god, it's a live wedding proposal. But I wanted to see the weather! Al: "You said yes, right?" Blushing bride: "What?"

8:08 a.m. "Your smile, like other precious things that start off white, it yellows over time... If you're not whitening, you're yellowing." Let's reflect on this for a moment.

8:11 a.m. Yay! Instagram allows folks to post 15-second videos. Samantha teases us with 15 seconds of getting her hair done. Tanron Hall produces a video-selfie - yep, shooting into a mirror - to admit, "I am a sample horder." Al's masterpiece: 15 seconds explaining why his video failed to load. And now it's time for pix of ugly dogs!

8:20 a.m. So apparently there's a thing called the Bling Ring, folks who've been stealing from "our special breed of American royalty: Celebrities."

8:26 a.m. See Man of Steel! Eat the Super Bacon Cheeseburger at Carl's Jr.! Wonder why you'll never look like Superman!

8:30 a.m. Erin Clark offers "Coverage you can count on." Watch these brief reminders that the local action news team is hard at work, on your side! Look into those eyes, those sad vacant eyes of poor Erin who must smile into the camera second after second after second... Is this the day when her soul finally dies?

8:34 a.m. Al: "In case the zombies don't attack, let's look at your weekend weather." Did you know that Brad Pitt's starring in a new zombie movie? A movie that's opening tonight? Can you believe the coincidence?

8:35 a.m. Matt: "Brad Pitt's new movie World War Z about the race to stop a zombie pandemic is now out in theaters." Savannah: "And it got us thinking, 'What's with the undead's rise in popularity?'"

8:40 a.m. Old-news-guy: "Escaping underground to avoid the apocalypse speaks to modern-day fears of pandemics, disasters, and the social collapse depicted on the news every day." Do you ever wonder if the endlessly recursive nature of America's entertainment culture will suck us into a black hole? Do you think that it's already happened? Could we tell the difference?

8:46 a.m. Stella McCartney and Chelsea Clinton are comparing notes on how hard it is to be a celebrity: "I love getting interviewed by somebody who knows what it's like." Watching this reminds me of my grade school days, back when some teachers would record their lectures in first period and play them over and over again throughout the day. I wondered then, why don't students do the same thing: Just set our tape recorders on our desks and record the recorded-lectures? Teachers and students could simply leave the machines in the classrooms and take the day off.

8:52 a.m. An adorable moppet named Hunter Hayes explains, "The stage is where I'm comfortable. This is where I become myself the most... This is my home, and these [screaming tweens waiting for his next song] are my best friends."

8:55 a.m. As Hunter warbles, "You'll always be wanted" to the girls and their mobile phones, I realize that sometimes it's better to use pre-taped vocals. This kid's vibrato sounds like someone is swinging a drugged cat by its tail.

9:00 a.m. (KION) It's Live with Kelly and Michael!

9:05 a.m. Kelly: "Who here works from home? [silence as no one in the audience replies] Three? Four? Well you're not alone. A lot of people kind of work from home."

9:10 a.m. Kelly is now making small talk with a phone-in contestant in some travel trivia contest: "When I was a kid? In school? I used to convince the substitute teacher that I was a British foreign exchange student? [A smattering of polite laughter] "And nobody ever sold me out!" [Less polite laughter - awkward silence] "Isn't that crazy?" [Everyone's wondering how long she'll keep this going] "Can you imagine?"

9:15 a.m. And now Robert Downey Jr. is pitching Iron Man 3, and he's talking about changing his kid's diapers. "You know how your farts don't bother you when you smell them?" [Points to 14-year-old audience member who now looks mortified] "You know what I mean!" [Robert hugs terrified, embarrassed girl] Kelly: "You just made her day and ruined her life..." [Cackles] "...Instagram worlds are colliding right now." Robert: "But when it's your baby you don't mind." Kelly: "But sometimes your farts bother you, right?"

9:25 a.m. First emergency of the day: Want to make some nachos - and can't find the cheese grater. I can't find the cheese grater!

9:30 a.m. Blandly handsome True Blood actor is explaining why he dropped out of college. He's wondering why he's talking about his failures in higher education - realizing that he's just not that bright. Feeling sad.

9:31 a.m. Kelly: "You know what you should do? You should go on a talk show."

9:32 a.m. Cottonelle commercial: "I want a toilet paper that's, you know, pillow-y." Yeah, time for some nachos. I'll be back in a bit.

9:46 a.m. Now Kelly and Michael are competing with audience members to "guess the nose." They're looking at cropped pictures of stars' noses and, you know, trying to guess who they are. The background music would be perfect for a movie about defusing bombs. I'm watching this so you don't have to. You're welcome.

9:49 a.m. I just saw a commercial for the National Association of Broadcasters. Turns out that radio and television are good things. "Reaching more people. Touching more lives." Think about this: A television commercial - for television - on television. My head hurts. It's too damned early in the day to have a headache.

9:51 a.m. Kelly is reading a letter from Tawana Green in Philadelphia: "Hi Michael and Kelly! My eight-month-old is looking at the TV and watching your show and became excited when she saw the two of you." Kelly pauses, frowns - and then throws the letter over her shoulder. "No picture," she explains. "Normally there's a picture of the excited child."

10:00 a.m. (ccABC) Turns out the dreaded fourth hour of The Today Show is being replaced by a new show by Katie Couric. So I must suffer with...

10:01 a.m. The View!

10:02 a.m. Whoopie: "First of all, do not attempt to adjust your television set. Everybody on The View panel is black. I don't know if daytime television will ever be the same!... Clearly Barbara, Joy, and Elizabeth are not here today..."

10:07 a.m. Guest host Ne-yo has just name-checked Instagram. Yep, three networks, three hours, three separate references. Oh, and apparently there's a person called Ne-yo.

10:10 a.m. Guest host Ne-yo is drowning in an ocean of host talk-spray. These ladies must be paid by the word.

10:16 a.m. Whoopie's daughter is showing off her mesh jeans for full-figured women and Ne-yo flashes an "OK" symbol. Smart plan, dude. Stick with non-verbals.

10:20 a.m. Sherri Shepherd: "Well you know, you know what happens though, it's so much, it's not like it's, when you do a route and you do it repetitively - re-pet-it-iv-ely - like you go from home to work every day, and that's the same route, um someone, a magician, told me you actually put yourself into a hypnotic state, and then what happens is that you drive, and remember you get out of the car and you go, wait a minute: how'd I get here?" Story of my life, Sherri. Story of my life.

10:30 a.m. Progressive insurance company's "Snapshot" plug-in-our-monitoring-device pitch has taken an interesting turn: Stop paying for other people's bad driving habits. "We look at your driving habits to see if you could be saving more." Progressive, you magnificent bastards! You make surveillance common sense! Best of all, it's free!

10:40 a.m. Symbicort commercial for folks who have trouble breathing: Old man who wishes he could take his kids fishing is feeling better now ("in just five minutes!") and explaining the side effects. "Symbicort may increase your risk of lung infections, osteoporosis, and some eye problems. Tell your doctor if you have a heart condition..." And the kids walking behind him are blithely ignoring it all, looking forward to a day at the 'ol fishing hole. You'd think one of the kids might say, "Um, granddad? Are you sure about this? Lung infections are kind of a big deal. And osteoporosis. Aren't you worried about that stuff?"

10:50 a.m. "OK, so this is me. I use artificial tears often." Commercial Woman admits her shame. "So I saw my eye doctor, and she said I have a disease. That's a big deal." Creepily Smooth-Talking Doctor explains that Commercial Woman should lay off the eye drops. Now Commercial Woman takes Restasis, "Twice a day. Every day." Much better. Wait, what?

11:00 a.m. (KCBAD) Time for Judge Alex!

11:01 a.m. Truwauda "Yvette" Flagg is suing former roommate Shakedra Parks for selling her TV and bedroom furniture and pocketing the money. Shakedra says that "Yvette" owes her for skipping out before paying rent. And she's brought her father for some reason.

11:05 a.m. The case is rocked by revelations about the open-door sleeping habits of these star-crossed roommates. "Yvette": "She wanna text me about, you know, doin' the nasty or whatever. And she's like really?" Judge Alex: "Oh, it was a noise complaint!"

11:12 a.m. Cool! You can call Judge Alex and vote for who should win the case, toll free. "You'll also receive some valuable offers!"

11:18 a.m. Judge Alex is just about to discover where Shakedra's dad is "storing" "Yvette's" bedroom furniture.

11:20 a.m. Amazing coincidence. Shakedra's dad has the same bedroom set! In his bedroom!

11:30 a.m. Judge Alex lays the smackdown on Shakedra's dad. Catharsis ensues. Say, what's on the Home Shopping Network?

11:33 a.m. So there's this fake butterfly thing-y you stick into your plants (the FlutterBy Solar Fluttering Butterfly 2-pack): "It's the detail that sets your house apart from your neighbor's house. And it looks like you spent all that time... You wouldn't think that's a fake butterfly. You just wouldn't!" The long silver pole and attached solar panel certainly doesn't give anything away. Host: "How cute is that? And as long as there's sun out, it's not going to stop, it's not going to slow out. I mean, even if it's not fluttering, it's cute. But the fluttering!" Co-host: "Oh yeah."

11:40 a.m. "You can't help but smile when you see a butterfly, especially in these colors!" Ohhh, turquoise! Next up, a really cute pressure washer: "We are the only place in the company that has these colors!"

11:44 a.m. "If you have ever thought, 'You know, I'd like to have a pressure washer,' this is it. This is the one you want. This is the day you own it."

11:45 a.m. Oh my god! The pressure washer sounds like a dentist drill! But still, it is really cute. Great color.

11:50 a.m. And it comes with a Turbo Nozzle! That's a 20 dollar value! And let's not forget, you don't need a bucket for water. Even more savings. And they're offering flex-payments. Flex!

11:53 a.m. "Let me just tell you right now, because here's what's gonna happen. Your gonna get this home, we're gonna ship it to you - free shipping and handling - you're going to get this home. It'll be your new obsession. It's gonna be your new ob-session."

11:57 a.m. HSN Host reveals the dirt of my soul: "And you know we would never not clean the inside of our house. We would never not vacuum it. We would never not mop the floors. We would never invite people over to a dirty house. Why do we think it's OK when it's dirty on the outside of our house? It's dirty on your deck. The patio furniture is dirty. That grill looks dirty - and then you're gonna throw a ten dollar, twenty-dollar steak on it? I mean, why would you do that when this has the affordability you're looking for? This has the power that you need."

12:00 p.m. (KSBWD) Time for Action News.

12:03 p.m. Apparently a homeless person set fire to the Elks Lodge that had her car towed. Concerned Mom Holding Child: "Obviously it's very sad? Um, there is a homeless encampment? Down the hill right right here? And we've tried to deal with that? Um, it's kind of one of our frustrations? About Santa Cruz? Of, um, what I guess, what we maybe we allow, or are maybe too lenient on some things?" Lunch time. Back soon.

12:24 p.m. Ohhh, Pet of the Week! A bunny! Chloe explains bunny eating-habits to the host: "They like the tops of carrots. I know you like the bottoms." Host: "We'd make a great pair." Awkward laughter.

12:30 p.m. (KION) Time for The Bold and the Beautiful!

12:30 p.m. OK, Scruffy-Beard is making out with Forgettably-Pretty Girl. They're confused about something, but they're sure of their love. Alright, now it's another pair: Slick-Hair Purple-Shirt and Snark-Gal. Apparently Purple-Shirt's launching a web series, and Snark-Gal is sure that she's found the right talent. Wait, now it's a third pair, and they're sure of their love too: "If the world wants to know about Rick and Maya. Let 'em. Rick and Maya, together at last." Good to have that cleared up.

12:40 p.m. Scruffy-Beard is still thinking about Stephanie [I have no idea who she is]. Scruffy-Beard is so confused. Both of them are, but mostly about their lines. Ah... Forgettably-Pretty Girl is gaining confidence now: "I want you," she says to Scruffy-Beard. All of you." A-n-n-d-d-d, nope. Scruffy-Beard is still confused.

12:45 p.m. Apparently Stephanie is Scruffy-Beard's former wife. Revelation! But Scruffy-Beard is still confused. So, so confused. Forgettably-Pretty Girl is willing to wait for Scruffy-Beard to figure out his feelings. But for now, she says, maybe they should take some time apart. Scruffy-Beard remains confused.

12:50 p.m. Ohhhh. Forgettably-Pretty Girl is now walking outside near Big Bear Lake. She sees Showering-Naked-Hot-Guy-Whose-Junk-Is-Hidden-By-Leaves, and naturally she snaps a phone-pic. Showering-Naked-Hot-Guy-Whose-Junk-Is-Hidden-By-Leaves won't like that. At least he doesn't look confused.

12:55 p.m. Now Clothed Showering-Naked-Hot-Guy-Whose-Junk-Is-Hidden-By-Leaves is chasing Forgettably-Pretty Girl, who falls and promptly passes out. Clothed Showering-Naked-Hot-Guy-Whose-Junk-Is-Hidden-By-Leaves wants to kiss Forgettably-Pretty Girl.

12:57 p.m. And that's the episode. Next up?...

1:00 p.m. (The CW) An infomercial for Walkfit Platinum Orthotics!

1:02 p.m. So now we're in the Mall of America with Stuart Pankin (who you might remember as the guy who played the uncredited role of "Patrick" in a 2012 episode of "Desperate Housewives"), Mimi Umidon (who you might remember as co-hostess for the "Bullet Express" food processor infomercial), and Dr. Allen Selner - and a Big Announcement!

1:07 p.m. It's been seven minutes, and I'm still waiting for the Big Announcement! They keep showing that graphic of a skeleton regaining its alignment, thanks to Walkfit. Now Stuart Pankin (who you might remember as "Man in Maternity Ward" in 1974's "Free to Be... You and Me") is pushing people over because their feet aren't in alignment. OK. But what about that Big Announcement?

1:16 p.m. Sorry, no Big Announcement yet. I'm starting to doubt whether I can trust Dr. Allen Selner. I mean, sure, you can roll a 52,000 pound steamroller over a Walkfit. That's pretty cool. And Stuart Pankin (who you might remember as "Doctor" in a 2001 episode of "Malcolm in the Middle") plays better golf now, thanks to his Walkfit. But still, where's the damned Big Announcement?

1:26 p.m. Neither Stuart Pankin (who you might remember as "Uncredited Party Guest" in the 1976 movie "Next Stop, Greenwich Village") or Mimi Umidon (who you might remember as a co-hostess for the "H2O Turbo Vac" infomercial) are telling us anything about a Big Announcement!

1:28 p.m. And the show's over. No Big Announcement. I can't think of an infomercial that let me down as much as this one. Now I'm stuck here, alone with my unaligned feet, feeling bitter - not better. Can I ever trust anyone again?

1:30 p.m. (KCBA) Screw it all. I'm watching The Family Feud!

1:33 p.m. "Name a lie a girl tells her parents about her boyfriend to make him sound better." Victoria: "He's drug free!" Beverly: "He has no kids!" Lucinda: "He's never been to jail." DING!

1:40 p.m. "It balances you. It fills you with energy. And it gives you what you're looking for to live a more natural life - in a convenient two bar pack. This is Nature Valley: Nature at its most delicious." Nature Valley is apparently an Irony Free Zone.

1:41 p.m. "Name a job where no conscience is required." Lucinda: "Police officer." Lucinda's had a tough life.

1:47 p.m. "Name something sexy a man can wear to bed." Haley: "Lotion?" Susan: "Lady's lingerie." Jennifer: "A uniform." The Pitts family is weirding me out. Winning answer: "A smile." Nice, but still: The Pitts family is weirding me out.

1:50 p.m. The Pitts family goes down. Steve Harvey offers them some consolation: "Y'all look good on TV."

1:58 p.m. Getting my second wind. Time for...

2:00 p.m. (KTVU) ... Maury!

2:01 p.m. (KTVU) "They should be in high school, but they're here today for DNA tests." Teen Paternity Wars!

2:02 p.m. "This is Jasmine... [Audience: "Yay..."] and this is Jasmine's mother Tanya. Welcome Tanya to the show [Audience: "...Yay!"]. Jasmine's 17. [Audience: "Aww..."] but all of her dreams of college and a future are put on hold [Audience: "...Aww..."] because she - has a baby [Audience: "...Aww..."] - a little two month-old daughter named Chandler [Audience: "...Aww"]. Now if being a teen mom isn't hard enough, Jasmine's also dealing with the fact that her that her 19 year old ex-boyfriend named Jeff [Audience: "Booo..."] and his mother Donna [Audience: "...booo..."] are flat out denying her story [Audience: "...booo!"].

2:05 p.m. Jeff: "Jasmine and her mom were acting really weird towards me and my family when she gave birth, and I bet that's because I'm not her baby's father." Makes sense to me. Also, "you can't tell she looks like me because she looks too young."

2:10 p.m. And the results are in. And we'll learn them... later!

2:17 p.m. Shrieking Girl: "You think I'm gonna have sex with you?" Goateed Googly-Eyed Guy: "How would you know? You were drunk!"

2:27 p.m. Maury: "So you and Kendall were together, right? When you got pregnant you went to him, right? What'd he say?" Regla: [Censor beep] "... And I told him, you wasn't sayin' that when you was clappin' these buns!"

2:31 p.m. Kendall: "Y'all don't know me. Y'all don't know me. Y'all don't know me. Y'all don't know me. Y'all don't know me. Y'all don't know me. Y'all don't know me. Y'all don't know me..."

2:33 p.m. Maury: "Kendall, you are the father!" Kendall leaps out of his chair and then drops to his knees, crying up to the heavens like an "Avengers" character. Truthfully, I would too.

2:41 p.m. Maury: "When it comes to four-month-old Sophia - " Time for another commercial...

2:42 p.m. "You're not fully clean until you're Zestfully clean." After watching Maury, I'm not sure mere soap would do the trick.

2:48 p.m. Maury: "When it comes to four-month-old Sophia, Joey, you are the father!"

2:53 p.m. Maury: When it comes to two-month-old Chandler, Jeff, you are the father!"

3:00 p.m. (KCBAD) Let's see how Ricki Lake's doing these days...

3:01 p.m. "Addicted to Plastic Surgery": Ewwwwww.

3:02 p.m. So "Vanity Wonder" has spent thousands of dollars on hundreds of butt injections. Oh, did I mention that her name is Vanity? Ricki: "So let's talk about your butt, if you don't mind." Um, what else are we going to talk about?

3:14 p.m. Let's meet Steve who's had 54 procedures to turn himself into some sort of cross between the ShamWow Guy and a Vulcan cat: "So I sought out Michael Jackson's surgeon." Yeah, not a good start.

3:23 p.m. I've gotta say, neither Vanity nor Steve have blamed anyone for their situations. No snark here: At least they take responsibility for their decisions.

3:29 p.m. And here's Melanie, who decided to get a cheap off-brand tummy-tuck in South America: $10,000, including a Brazilian Butt Lift!

3:31 p.m. Melanie remembers being dropped off at her hotel: "I had a nurse assist me, and she just laid me down in the bed. And as she rolled me over, I just saw a puddle of blood."

3:34 p.m. Ricki: "When we come back, Melanie's plastic surgery nightmare continues." Yay!

3:40 p.m. Every hour or so there's this guy who pops up on the screen, promising me easy money. He looks friendly. Trustworthy too. "Call me," he gestures. I kind of want to.

3:50 p.m. The creepiest part of this Ricki Lake episode? The responsible "you-shouldn't-have-gotten-all-those-surgeries" plastic surgeon is... showing off his plastic surgeries! Next up: Maul That Muffin Top!

3:58 p.m. Ricki: "All I can say is, I want your card!"

3:59 p.m. Last hour! What should it be?

4:00 p.m. (KION) An hour of Judge Judy!

4:04 p.m. Surisa is suing her daughter Krisheena for some damn thing. But what?

4:05 p.m. Ahh... Surisa claims that Krisheena trashed her house, spraying their electronics with water and stealing a bed.

4:13 p.m. Dad now says that Krisheena set a booby trap designed to electrocute them.

4:15 p.m. Krisheena complains that mom was texting her too much. Harassment!

4:16 p.m. Judge Judy doesn't blink: "Judgment for the plaintive." Boom!

4:30 p.m. Let's stay with Judy... "The people are real. The cases are real. The rulings are final."

4:32 p.m. OK. Plaintiff says he gave his ex-friend a loan. Defendant says it wasn't a loan; it was a business deal.

4:33 p.m. A third guy named Kevin explains, "Jimmy was hired to haul away some dirt. Then he walked off the job." And?...

4:34 p.m. Judge Judy is getting increasingly perplexed with this case. Me too.

4:36 p.m. Kevin: "His involvement was that he introduced me to Jimmy." Who's this guy? Joe? James?

4:38 p.m. Judge Judy has caught Kevin in a fib. I think. To Kevin: "I don't buy anything you're saying to me. Now you can sit down."

4:40 p.m. The Judge sounds like she's gotten her head around this case. Me? Not so much. Gotta breathe.

4:45 p.m. Ah, Jeez. There's something about a land-deal now. Joe tries to explain his side and starts to cross his arms. "Shhhh," Judge Judy interjects. "Don't cross your arms." I hope there's a paramedic nearby. Joe's not looking too good.

4:45 p.m. Sweat is popping on Joe's forehead. He crosses his arms again. "Uncross," Judge Judy reminds him.

4:48 p.m. Oh crap. Are both of these guys named Joe? I'm counting the minutes.

4:51 p.m. Nope. It's Joe versus Jimmy who's talking about bonds, permits, and contracts. Judge Judy keeps repeating: Your contract wasn't with him. It was with Kevin.

4:53 p.m. Now the blood is returning to Joe's face. Judge Judy is eating Jimmy alive...

4:56 p.m. Jimmy: "I didn't even know Mr. Rappa. Joe put this whole thing together." Judge Judy: "No, listen to me, you just told me you spoke to him." Jimmy: "To who?" Judge Judy: "Mr. Rappa." Jimmy: "He said he spoke to me!" Judge Judy: "You told me you spoke to him." Jimmy: "Yes, we've spoken." Judge Judy: "Judgement for the plaintiff."

5:00 p.m. Exhaustion. End of a long day.

Thursday, June 20, 2013


Miniatürk overview
On the last day of our 2013 Europe trip, Jenny and I visited a collection of 1/25-scale Turkish miniatures called Miniatürk. Open for the past ten years, this tourist attraction features more than 120 models from Istanbul and other national regions, including 12 from the Ottoman Empire outside of Turkey.

Entrance ramp
Hagia Sophia
Getting there: Jenny and I opted to avoid getting gouged by Istanbul's notorious taxis, so we tried the local bus from Eminönü pier, which meant winding our way through narrow streets and enjoying an inexpensive tour of the city. For a while we wondered if we'd ever actually reach the place, but the destination was more than worth the hassle.

Jenny checks out Celsus library at Ephesus
Sultan Ahmed Mosque (aka "Blue Mosque")
Visitors stroll the park, using language-coded tickets to play explanatory audio recordings that explain each model. It's actually kind of cool, listening to the same presentation in English, Turkish, Arabic, and six other languages. Then there's the tiny-town treat of gaining an impossibly complete view of these architectural treasures.

Taksim Republic Monument
Selimiye Mosque detail
Highlights include exhibits that explain Turkey's perspective on World War I, a walkable version of the Bosphorus Bridge that connects Europe and Asia, and stores that feature hundreds of miniatures (or in this case, miniature-miniatures). Folks gathering around the Olympic Stadium can even select competing football fight songs to rile their friends.

Miniatures for sale
Battle of the Dardanelles 
Olympic Stadium
Jenny recommends that first-time Istanbul visitors start with Miniatürk; our choice to end our visit here only served to remind us of all the places we neglected to see during our Turkish travels. Of course we know we'll return. And having visited this place, we have some great ideas for the next itinerary!

Sultan Ahmed Mosque visitors

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

More videos from Turkey

Thought I'd share a couple more videos from our recent travels through Turkey. The first is a snippet from a performance by Uninvited Jazz Band. These dudes were playing on Istiklal Street, near Taksim Square. And as you can see from this June 6th video, they managed to convey some sense of the craziness going on just down the road.

The second is a world away from the protests of Taksim: a video from our Cappadocia hot air balloon ride. Scheduling snafus, gray skies, and a crowded gondola meant nothing once we were aloft over those strangely beautiful rock formations. Among many Turkish highlights, the chance to float with Jenny over Cappadocia was probably the best part of our trip.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Istanbul Street Art [2 of 2]

Following up on yesterday's post, here are more examples of Istanbul street art. Most of these are near Taksim Square. We found the exception ("Art Gallery - Don't Be Scared, You Will Like!") in Sultanahmet.

A pretty cool art gallery, actually...
Notice the toilet to the left of the face

"Chemical Tayyip" [reference to prime minister's sanctioning of tear gas attacks]
"Primitive Minister"