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In August 2019 we returned to Turkey, after fourteen years, for a more encompassing holiday in the part that's variously called Western Asia or the Middle East.  There were iconic tourist places we had not seen so with a combination of flights and a rental car we hopped about the map in this very large country. 

We began, as one does, in Istanbul. 



Back in 2005 we'd spent a couple of weeks here and it was surprising how familiar the city still seemed - except that there are more competing tourists to contend with. 

The traffic in the in central Istanbul is even worse that it was fourteen years ago and our cab, that had made good progress on the expressway from the airport, was soon reduced to a crawl through the inner streets.  After coming to a virtual standstill for more than ten minutes our driver pulled over and helped us drag our bags over the last couple of blocks to our hotel. 

Back in 2005, we'd quickly realised that a cheap hotel, recommended in a travel guide book, was horrendous and would sour the whole experience, and we quickly moved up-market. So we approached the three star 'And Hotel' with some trepidation.  But our concern was unwarranted.  We had a good sized room with a nice view over the nearby Hagia Sophia; a large comfortable bed; good linen; and a good, hot, plentiful, shower. Added bonuses included an excellent breakfast, coffee on the balcony; and attentive staff. It wasn't the Intercontinental but was generally the equivalent of the more expensive place we'd been obliged to move to last time, with the bonus of a change of scenery and locale

The WiFi was fast but, as was the case everywhere we went in Turkey, a number of websites are blocked. Annoyingly these include Wikipedia. So it was often hard to confirm or deny 'facts' provided by guides about historical events, people, places (like the Basilica Cistern) and objects.  TV is also censored. From a visitor's perspective TV is not wildly entertaining anyway - mainly consisting of game shows and cheaply made 'soaps' - in Turkish.  As I noted nine years ago, notably absent, even by satellite from Europe, are programs about natural science. On the other hand Muslim Clerics, have several dedicated TV channels as do Fundamentalist/Creationist Christians. Flipping through the hundreds of channels, many of which report 'no signal', the principal change from 2010 is a big reduction in the number of channels inviting lonely men to ring in to satisfy topless and aroused... [add a girl's name here]. But there are still several, so I imagine the change is due to competition from the Internet, rather than a 'crackdown'.

Turkey is nominally secular, yet under President Erdogan religion is becoming more politically influential. While scarves and hajab are commonplace niqab and (full) burkas are less so.  In tourist areas almost anything goes and it's quite common to see two women walking together, one demurely covered and the other sleeveless and wearing a short skirt and heels.   


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Istanbul icons
- top left: Ayasofya, top right: The Blue Mosque both as seen from the And Hotel
- bottom left: The Blue Mosque with zoom,  bottom right - Ayasofya from the other side


Another advantage of the And Hotel is that it is a few steps away from the ancient (6th century) Basilica Cistern so we could easily pick a time when the crowd had died down. Once inside it doesn't matter what time it is - it's always midnight in there.

Istanbul has a number of ancient cisterns for water storage. The Basilica Cistern, is an amazing example of Roman engineering from around 550.


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With 336 columns supporting a vaulted ceiling The Basilica Cistern covers over 2.4 acres (almost a hectare). 
Several movies have been made here.

As we planned to be in Turkey for a couple more weeks, on the first morning we'd bought 15 day museum passes that allowed us to by-pass the long entry queues. These turned out to be both a time and mental health saving, allowing us to skip several seemingly endless entrance lines, and surprisingly, as we have usually lost money buying similar passes in other countries, they ended up saving us money too.

Yet a guy who sat down next to us, as we had coffee, insisted that tourist numbers were down. Obviously he was 'on the make' and opened the conversation with the familiar question: "Where are you from?... Mosman... Oh, I have a girlfriend who lives in Manly." [select a connection and suburb to match].  We soon divined that he was intent on luring us to his shop [the only income for his aged mother] but we were more interested in what he could tell us.

Given the enormous queue forming just down the square, waiting to get into the Ayasofya, where we had recently avoided a large crowd of people not unlike ourselves, I was just a little dubious.  Adding to the crowds of people speaking numerous European tongues, and the ever present Japanese, there are now many more Asians: Chinese; Taiwanese; Korans; Singaporeans; and Indians.

Wendy took the opportunity to ask about the men who lead small bands of veiled women and children around the sights. Were these Turkish wives? Our new friend explained that since the 1908 Turks have been allowed but one wife.  These men, 'given to uxorious excess' are not Turks but tourists from Saudi Arabia or the UAE or perhaps other Arab states like Iran or Iraq. He bemoaned the fact that there were fewer tourists like us these days - apparently these others are not great customers.

We still had surprisingly clear memories of what we'd done last time in Istanbul yet a few locations were somewhat changed.

The beautiful 'Blue Mosque', that we almost had to ourselves fourteen years ago, is now under renovation, hiding its magnificent dome, so we were very pleased to have seen it last time.


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The Blue Mosque 2019 (above and middle) and 2005 (bottom)


On the other hand, the dome of the Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya), that was obscured by scaffolding last time, can now be seen again in all its glory, almost clear of scaffolding.

This time we were at last able to see the famous 33 meter diameter dome, that for much of the Current Era has been the second largest monolithic dome in the world (after the Pantheon in Rome - 43.3 m).


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Hagia Sophia (Ayasofya) 2019


A church on this spot was, in effect, the first Christian church in the world, if one dates modern Christianity to its recasting, by order of Constantine I, as the new Roman religion. Burnt down twice it grew in size until the present cathedral was constructed by Justinian I commencing in 532. But the first dome was a failure and collapsed (sounds like a Sydney high-rise). A new engineer was engaged (Isidore the Younger) and his dome has lasted 1,400 years.


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The famous 11th and 12th Century iconography


I spent quite a bit of time on the images here after our 2005 visit [Read more...] so I won't repeat myself.

Both buildings are now under siege by numerous tour groups - bustling after their guides in numerous different languages.  After crowding into the corridors and galleries, necks bent back, they're off to the Topkapi Palace.

The most popular area for visitors is the Harem - the domestic part of the palace from which all were banned except the emperor's wives; concubines; prepubescent children; and servants/slaves, the males of whom were castrated, lest they sow their seed in the Emperor's exclusive domain.  Again we'd 'been here and done that' but it was worth another visit and was effectively free as we already had a comprehensive museum pass.


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Until 1856, when Dolmabahçe Palace completed, Topkapi Palace was the home of the Ottoman Emperors
You can also read about the extraordinarily costly Dolmabahçe Palace by following to our last trip to Istanbul [Read more...]


Yet we'd not been to the Archaeological Museum and Museum of the Ancient Orient. they're within the walls of the Topkapi Palace down a moderately steep cobbled road that discourages tour groups, as guides try to avoid situations that might result in infarctions among their clients on the way back. Consequently it offers relief from the madding crowds.
The interesting collection goes back to the Palaeolithic with ceramics, bronze and iron marking the milestones of technological advance over the past ten millennia. There is also a particularly large collection of Roman sarcophagi (coffins) that in pre-Christian times facilitated one's passage to the next life. Like a Tesla carrying Major Tom (!).
I'm always reminded of Byron's epic poem 'Don Juan' in Turkey as the eponymous hero is hidden by several young women in the Ottoman Sultan's seraglio (harem) and elsewhere we learn the folly of post mortem arrangements in the hope of something more:

What are the hopes of man? Old Egypt's King
Cheops erected the first pyramid
And largest, thinking it was just the thing
To keep his memory whole, and mummy hid;
But somebody or other rummaging,
Burglariously broke his coffin's lid:
Let not a monument give you or me hopes,
Since not a pinch of dust remains of Cheops

from Don Juan 
Lord George Gordon Byron - (1788 -1842 - romantic dead poet)



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Archaeological Museum
Top right: Sidamara Sarcophagus from Ambararasi  Roman period, 2nd half of 3rd century AD
Sidamara was an ancient city in Asia Minor (now Konya in Turkey)
Bottom left: Assyrian King Shalmaneser III
Bottom right: A winged human-headed Apkallu holding a bucket and a pine cone from Nimrud, Iraq. 883-859 BCE.
Apkallu were pre-Deluge demi-gods, sometimes described as part man and part fish, associated with human wisdom.


Since our visit to Armenia where Mt Ararat dominates the horizon over the capital, Yerevan [Read more...], I've become more interested in the Biblical Flood myth. Mt Ararat is not in Armenia but over the nearby border in Turkey, so commenting here is appropriate. The Apkallu above is related to this myth via the Epic of Gilgamesh (c.1800 BCE) that incorporates the earliest of four recorded middle eastern flood myths, complete with an Arc and birds carrying twigs. Some archaeologists believe that these Deluge myths stem from a massive flood, suggested by overlying mud deposits, that devastated ancient Mesopotamia including ancient Kish (see the link above), now in Azerbaijan, around 2900 BCE when it was one of the few places of civilisation on Earth. At that time the climate was warming after widespread glaciation in the north. Perhaps the 'deluge' resulted from the collapse of an ice dam in the Caucuses Mountains or overtopping of the Caspian sea.

The myth of Noah is the most recent version of these recorded Deluge myths. It seems to have been incorporated into the Jewish Torah during the Second Temple period (c.500 BCE) as it's notable that the description of the ark has similarities to the design of Solomon's Temple. And the ancient myth no doubt became familiar to Jews living in Babylon during The Exile (c. 597-537 BCE). In other changes in the biblical version, around 20 gods have been reduced to one and the flood now lasts for either 150 days (Genesis 7:24) or 40 days (Genesis 7:17), up from one week in Gilgamesh. This is first of many such biblical contradictions, suggesting multiple authors and dates of composition.

After the snake that seduces Eve (also borrowed from Gilgamesh) the Deluge is the next occasion in which the concept of one all-powerful God becomes a challenge for the Torah authors. Surely they've snuck in another evil god?  Similarly attempting to deal with the causes of a natural disaster in the context of a single god all-powerful yet caring God poses challenges. No longer can one god want to destroy these annoying humans and another want to save them - now the One God decides that his creation has failed and needs to be eradicated but in a change of heart notices that Noah's family are worth saving and relents.  He's like Shiva - destroyer and saviour in one.

In addition to Flood myth and several other elements in Genesis, many verses in Ecclesiastes are taken, sometimes almost verbatim (Eccl 9:7-9), from Gilgamesh. Elsewhere, as I've mentioned elsewhere, the Bible paraphrases ancient Egyptian prayers and myths.

Thus the ancients were just as imaginative, creative and eclectic as Tolkien and AJ Rowling, possibly more so.

For Wendy no visit to Istanbul would be complete without at least one visit to the Grand Bazaar. They have a reputation for hard bargaining - she loves that. We walked the kilometre or so there and back and Wendy came away with a new light weight leather coat at a very competitive price.


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The Grand Bazaar - bargaining capital of the world


After a brief three days in Istanbul our next stop was Cappadocia.


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When we talked of going to Hawaii for a couple of weeks in February 2018 several of our friends enthusiastically recommended it. To many of them it's a nice place to go on holidays - a little further to go than Bali but with a nicer climate, better beaches and better shopping - with bargains to be had at the designer outlets.




To nearly one and a half million racially diverse Hawaiians it's home.



Downtown Hilo


To other Americans it's the newest State, the only one thousands of miles from the North American Continent, and the one that's more exotic than Florida.

Read more ...

Fiction, Recollections & News

The Wedding Party

January 29th 2011


See some of it on YouTube (some websites may block this)...

Read more ...

Opinions and Philosophy

Climate Emergency




/uh'merrjuhnsee, ee-/.
noun, plural emergencies.
1. an unforeseen occurrence; a sudden and urgent occasion for action.



Recent calls for action on climate change have taken to declaring that we are facing a 'Climate Emergency'.

This concerns me on a couple of levels.

The first seems obvious. There's nothing unforseen or sudden about our present predicament. 

My second concern is that 'emergency' implies something short lived.  It gives the impression that by 'fire fighting against carbon dioxide' or revolutionary action against governments, or commuters, activists can resolve the climate crisis and go back to 'normal' - whatever that is. Would it not be better to press for considered, incremental changes that might avoid the catastrophic collapse of civilisation and our collective 'human project' or at least give it a few more years sometime in the future?

Back in 1990, concluding my paper: Issues Arising from the Greenhouse Hypothesis I wrote:

We need to focus on the possible.

An appropriate response is to ensure that resource and transport efficiency is optimised and energy waste is reduced. Another is to explore less polluting energy sources. This needs to be explored more critically. Each so-called green power option should be carefully analysed for whole of life energy and greenhouse gas production, against the benchmark of present technology, before going beyond the demonstration or experimental stage.

Much more important are the cultural and technological changes needed to minimise World overpopulation. We desperately need to remove the socio-economic drivers to larger families, young motherhood and excessive personal consumption (from resource inefficiencies to long journeys to work).

Climate change may be inevitable. We should be working to climate “harden” the production of food, ensure that public infrastructure (roads, bridges, dams, hospitals, utilities and so) on are designed to accommodate change and that the places people live are not excessively vulnerable to drought, flood or storm. [I didn't mention fire]

Only by solving these problems will we have any hope of finding solutions to the other pressures human expansion is imposing on the planet. It is time to start looking for creative answers for NSW and Australia  now.



Since my retirement Wendy and I have done quite a bit of travel, often these days to less 'touristy' places, although that's just a matter of degree. After all we're tourists and we were there.  On occasion we've revisited old haunts after a decade or so absence. 

Everywhere we go there is one thing in common with our home in Australia:  there are a lot more people than there were a decade or so back. Everywhere we go there is evidence of resource depletion, particularly water resources, and environmental degradation. Everywhere we go new dwellings have spread like a cancer across once green fields.and forests. Concrete forests now stand where humble dwellings or open fields once were.

It's no good blaming our parents, the underlying causes of the many environmental challenges we face go back the start of the 19th century and the Industrial Revolution when no longer were the great masses of humanity the children of farm labourers, serfs, slaves or servants serving a small cultured elite.

With industry came systematic applied science, engineering, and improved medical understanding. Now workers needed new skills and had to be educated. With education came many benefits, including independent volition, and improved living conditions.  Death rates declined; fertility improved.  By the end of the 19th century world population had more than doubled its pre-industrial record, reaching 1.6 billion.  But then it really took off.

By the mid 20th century many informed commentators were getting alarmed and calling for population restraint.

In 1968 the world human population had topped 3.5 billion, over a billion since the end of World War 2.

That year Professor Paul Ehrlich, of Stanford University in the US, published The Population Bomb correctly warning that: 'hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.'   Critics claimed that he was alarmist, yet very soon 260 of every thousand babies born in Zambia were dying due to malnutrition before their first birthday. In Pakistan the number was 140 per thousand (source: The Limits to Growth). 

In the same year concerned scientists in Europe formed The Club of Rome.  Three years later the Club published 'The Limits to Growth', the results of a state-of-the-art, yet primitive, multi-factorial computer model that projected the impacts on food consumption/production; pollution and the cost of reduction; energy resources; and non-renewable industrial minerals, of unrestrained exponential population growth. The model forecast multiple disastrous consequences early in the 21st century. The authors feared no less than anarchy, driven by food and resource riots, and the total collapse of civilisation.  The final sentence reads: 'The crux of the matter is not only whether the human species will survive, but even more whether the human species can survive without falling into a state of worthless existence.'



My copy of The Limits to Growth


Only a few paid any heed. Several of these were later described as the 'Asian Tigers'.


Singapore's Stop at Two policy
From 1972 Singaporeans were encouraged to have two child families
- incentives included payment for sterilisation and public housing for married couples without children
- disincentives included precluding couples with more than two children from applying for public benefits
The result was a decline in fertility from 4.7 in 1960 to 1.7 in 1980
Although the campaign stressed the need for girls, as in China, cultural factors resulted in a preponderance of boys
- an ongoing social and economic problem
Nevertheless, Singapore has gone from a struggling third-world country to become the fourth richest country in the world (
On the other hand, since independence in 1947 India's population has grown sixfold
- India will soon overtake China as the world's most populous country - visit and compare 


Critics of The Club of Rome, like Herman Kahn, of the Hudson Institute, cried: 'garbage in gospel out', a popular objection to computer modelling at the time, and lo, the Club's projections were soon proven to be overly pessimistic. In the 1970's science came to the aid of mankind. New crops were developed and there was a 'green revolution'; new processes and products improved efficiency and new mining technologies, like remote sensing from aircraft and satellites, together with new extractive methods, like deep-sea oilwells and 'fracking', redefined resource availability. In first world countries rivers and air was cleaned up and pollution ceased to be our number one concern.



The Hudson Institute's Herman Kahn's riposte - one of many
The Hudson Institute was later employed by the NSW Government to help plan the State's future
- no mention of global warning


Everyone breathed a sigh of relief - we didn't have to do anything.  The religious among us were right: God, or the Gods, had it all in hand - it was all part of 'The Plan'. It was business as usual.

Yet today, the Club of Rome's foremost prediction: that unless we did something, by 2020 world population would reach eight billion has proven alarmingly prescient. And Paul Ehrlich's predictions are also vindicated.

In 2013 a Global Hunger Summit in London(2) was told that: 'Malnutrition is the underlying cause of death for at least 3.1 million children [per year], accounting for 45% of all deaths among children under the age of five and stunting growth among a further 165 million [children].'

Although they factored in 'pollution' as a general concern, the research team behind The Limits to Growth said, or knew, nothing about the specific threat of carbon dioxide. Was this an oversight?

With our new skills scientists now have ice-cores, containing entrapped air bubbles, that go back half a million years.  These show a close correlation between global temperature and the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  The highest level ever was around 300 thousand years ago, when it was much warmer and carbon dioxide reached 300 parts per million.

Because of man's multifarious activities, including agriculture, the atmosphere broke that half million year record in the 1950's and we have been in uncharted territory ever since. While correlation does not necessarily denote causation, and it's still not as warm as it was back then, I find it rather alarming. Read my paper: Climate Change - a Myth?

It seems highly probable that climate change is at least in part due to the current mouse-plague that we call humanity: clearing forests; digging up the ground; building things; making stuff soon to go to garbage tips; consuming resources without concern for the future and, of course, burning things.

How long can this go on?  I hope there will be a deus ex machina, that some, as yet unknown, aspect of quantum science, genetic engineering and/or nuclear energy will save us.  Failing that, I hope that current civilisation will outlast my grandchildren and perhaps theirs?  One glimmer of hope is the declining fertility in first-world countries as more women have careers beyond motherhood and living standards improve. Yet as I pointed out in 1990 this would consume far more energy than the third world has to hand. Is it now a case of too little too late?

I won't be around to know.

As the The Club of Rome pointed out, and should be obvious to 'Blind Freddy', the indefinite exponential growth, that our economies are addicted to, is unsustainable. 'Soon or later,' as Alice remarked about drinking from a bottle marked 'poison': 'it's bound to disagree with you'.



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