Has been addressed by Carpetblog, in prose and photos, in years past. Like here.
The Producer reports that all the DVD shops on Fountain Square -- except ABC -- are no longer selling fake DVDs. Even Hong Kong has stopped carrying them, having increased its stock of knock-off purses and low-end karaoke machines to make up for the loss.
This could mean one of two things: The GovAZ has, at last, recognized intellectual property rights and cracked down on institutionalized piracy, or, ABC just figured out a way to muscle its competitors out of the market. I wonder which it is?
Bottom line: Baku's one redeeming quality has been erased. Seriously, what's the point now? Why would anyone live there?
Don't despair, though. It's not the first time this has happened and probably won't be the last. One of the advantages of a lawless society is that crackdowns on activities that in normal countries are completely illegal but totally fun are usually temporary and designed to demonstrate, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, rule of law matters.
Today, Carpetblog brings a new and innovative method of measuring improvements in Kabul's security situation by using the only yardstick that matters: one's ability to freely purchase carpets.
We proudly present the Carpetblog Kabul Security Assessment, developed after spending six days last week in the Afghan capital, two hours of which were spent carpet shopping.
If you remember last year, carpetshopping was conducted in one Chicken Street shop during Ramadan, under the watchful eye of an armed guard who hadn't eaten all day. Yoinks! Talk about tense.
For this year's carpetbinge, we had the run of Chicken Street, but it may be the case that we were more confident and committed to the project, rather than a noticeable improvement in security.
Assessment: A wash.
Last year, seven small carpets were purchased. This year, three medium sized ones, plus a bunch of suzanis and other assorted textiles that will be put to creative use. So that's a wash, too.
So, based on the Carpetblog Kabul Security Assessment, the situation in the Afghan capital is unchanged from last year.
And, the Carpetblog Kabul Security Assessment reveals other important, yet unrelated, data: we like Caucasian carpets better than Agfhan carpets.
When we got back to Baku, we sold the three medium carpets (one of which Ruslan referred to as "the dog carpet,"a judgment with which we have to sheepishly agree) and bought a much more expensive one from Ruslan. That, if you're an accountant and keep track of these things, was definitely not a wash.
But this one might be our new favorite carpet ever. (Just like with kids and dogs, it is possible to pick favorites). It's a Bordjalou Kazak. Its colors are so spectacular, we had to have it, even though the price, even when measured in our new preferred unit of currency ("barrels"), was pretty "special" as Ruslan likes to say. It's going on the wall, away from skanky dogfaces.
ZOMG! The Carpetblog camera is broken! This is a crisis of unmitigated proportions, so no pictures of the new and spectacular Bordjalou Kazak are available at this time.
Yes, we know that the US and UK Embassies in Baku shut down yesterday due to "security alerts." No, we are not taking "additional security precautions," other than leaving Baku tonight, an action for which there is a lot more justification than just a "terror threat."
Yes, we also know that the crack Azeri Ministry of National Security rounded up the usual "wahabbi" suspects, including a first lieutenant from the Army, thus lending the whole operation a soupçon of credibility. To me, nothing communicates "competence" like a first lieutenant in Azerbaijan army.
Ramazan started this morning, and when I was told that the "Ramazan Davulcusu" would walk around the neighborhoods at daybreak beating drums to wake people up in time for Sahur, the morning feast before the day of fasting, I suspected that was probably a quaint tradition that lived on villages, but not in cosmopolitan Istanbul.
Since double-sided drums are being sold at the local Carrefour, I shouldn't have been surprised when, at 4 am this morning, about five young guys walked all around the neighborhood beating their drums and singing Ramazan carols. Um, 30 days of 4 am wake up calls with drums? Sorry I'll be missing that!
I have other fond Ramadan (Ramazan is the word in Turkish) memories:
In Azerbaijan, I was traveling in the regions with a young staffer who was fasting. We stopped to meet with the head of the regional government and the police chief and other assorted criminals in Goycay, the pomegranate capital of the known universe. It was a typical Azeri meal with multiple courses served underneath the pomegranate trees at a wedding palace, with ample vodka and complicated toasting. The two people at the table who were fasting sat quietly while plate after plate of lula kabob and fish shashlyk was passed around the table.
The local ex-comm began the toasts. He started by toasting the beautiful women at the table (pretty much me), the martyrs, those who couldn't be with us because they are dead -- all the usual suspects. He finished up by offering a toast to those at the table who were fasting for Ramadan. That pretty much sums up Azerbaijan for me, right there.
Last year, I was flying from Kabul to Dubai at iftar time (when the fast is broken, at sunset). The flight attendants handed out plates of stringy mutton and rice, accented with raisins and dates. Most passengers just stared it (so did I, but for different reasons). As the sun set over the empty dryness of the desert, the Ariana pilot announced that, since we were flying over Iran, fasters were obligated to wait to break the fast until Iftar cannons in Iran were fired. A few minutes later, the pilot told passengers they could eat.
So far, Ramazan in Ukraine has gone largely unremarked upon, except for this nugget. The meal on AeroSvit (an enemy combatant in one of the worst cases of FSU rage in which I have ever engaged) had a little tag with a pig with a line through it. "How atypically sensitive," I thought. Then I looked at the meal. Now, it could be the case that the Ukrainians (or, more likely, the Turks) have learned to simulate ham absolutely perfectly -- identical in taste, appearance and texture. But more likely, Aerosvit served a plate of ham to a bunch of Muslims during Ramazan.
Ramazan bayramınızı kutlar, nice mutlu bayramlar dilerim!
What? This is not the crib of a ghetto-tastic pimp? Are you, English Russia, trying to tell me this palace belongs to the former Health Minister of a country where a foreign NGO run its only child survival program outside of sub-Saharan Africa? Where the live birth rate is only slightly better than Haiti's? Where the per capita spending on health care is $138 per year? Where people displaced from a war 13 years ago still live in holes in the ground? Get the fuck out of here!
Lots more photo goodness at English Russia.
*Sorry pimps! Meant no offense.
I was planning to ignore this story that all the whack-job websites have their panties in a bunch about, but The Copydude gave it top billing, thus forcing me to both address it AND use the exact same graphic from David Levine's collection he did because it's 1500 different kinds of awesome.
Anyway, I wanted to ignore it because there are way too many elements of it that make no sense at all. But, as a public service, I am going to debunk the major ones.
Let's get started.
"Les Abrahams, who led BP's successful bid for a multi-million-pound deal with one of the former Soviet republics, today claims that Browne - who was forced to resign as chief executive last month after the collapse of legal proceedings against The Mail on Sunday - presided over an "anything goes" regime of sexual license, spying and financial sweeteners."
An "anything goes" regime of sexual license, spying and financial sweetners? Uh, yah. In Baku, we call that Tuesday night.
"Mr Abrahams tells how he spent 45 million pounds in expenses over just four months of negotiations with Azerbaijan's state oil company. Armed with a no-limit company credit card, he ordered supplies of champagne and caviar to be flown on company jets into the boomtown capital, Baku, to be consumed at the 'sex parties'.
Forty-five million pounds to bring in hookers and caviar? What, did he use the rest of that money to bring coal to Newcastle? Hos in Baku are pretty cheap now, so I imagine in the early '90's, even top shelf Russian devushkas were going for fire sale prices. Additionally, I could be wrong about this, but back in those days you could get buckets of caviar in the bazaars for pennies. BP accountants might want to audit where all that money went because Mr. Abrahams might have forgotten to mention a few line items.
Anyway, the very suggestion that an oil company looking to sew up a hugely valuable drilling contract in ass-backwardstan will ply the local yokels with hookers and blow defies logic and historical precedent, so I will not even bother with the rest.
I thought (still do, actually) Tom Friedman's From Beirut to Jerusalem is the best primer out there on modern Middle East politics. He totally deserved that Pulitzer for skulking around Sabra and Shatila. However, he deserves scorn and shame for shamelessly shilling for the invasion of Iraq, and for being a master at drawing oversimplified, grand solutions to complex problems based on conversations with taxi drivers.
All that aside, he's got a stupidly-titled article called the Power of Green in the NYT Magazine today. In it, he makes a couple of excellent points in his typically oversimplified, faux-bonhomie prose, namely that the west (well, America primarily) is funding both sides of the War on Terra, and creating a climatic mess that may or may not be fixable, at great expense, through our dependence on petroleum.
"...The First Law of Petropolitics: The price of oil and the pace of freedom always move in opposite directions in states that are highly dependent on oil exports for their income and have weak institutions or outright authoritarian governments. And this is another reason that green has become geostrategic. Soaring oil prices are poisoning the international system by strengthening antidemocratic regimes around the globe."
As someone who lived, and lost, the argument the U.S. has with itself over democracy (yay!) and "energy security" (bigger yay!) in Azerbaijan, anyone who dumbs down the message "stop using so much goddam oil and we won't have as many problems with autocratic regimes creating or funding environments in which violent ideologies thrive" gets a big thumbs up from me.