Dorothy was full of shit, and her little dog too.

June/2005: PeeJ Trip - So, as most of the people know who read my blog, I recently had to go to Kansas to testify against a douchebag who threatened myself and a contributor in email. It was supposed to be a preliminary hearing, but El Genius had banked on our not arriving. I guess there is a handy aspect to the idiots that dislike us since they convince these morons we expose that we're a bunch of untrained vigilante idiots who won't work with police. The guy could have taken a pretty sweet plea agreement had he not made the State of Kansas fly us in. Once he knew we were there, he then wanted to plea, but it was an agreement far less sweet than the original offer. Sexual offender counseling and one of the two felonious threat charges. But hey, I already wrote about that part of the trip on PeeJ. Y'know, the important part. Now for all the stuff that isn't important!

First, no offense to anyone that reads this, but Kansas sucks. I wasn't looking forward to going to Kansas, and I'm not a big fan of the state. Sure, the people are friendly as hell (and they were, that's not just bullshit so you won't be offended while I bash your state) but that only goes so far. When your airport has a sign that says "Tornado Shelter", the entire area is no good for me. Kansas is just boring. It's flat. There's not much to look at. Few of the cities are very large... I mean, it's Kansas. There's a reason everyone went from areas like Kansas along the Lewis and Clark trail to Oregon. It's because they were in Kansas. The accomodations went smoothly all the way through, excepting our first driver who was a tad creepy, what with his tales of harassing his ex-wife and how he was charged with a crime, probably because, in his words "I called the detective a bitch."

We flew into Kansas City, Missouri via Denver, Colorado. The Denver, Colorado airport rules. It has an Auntie Annes. The Kansas City airport does not rule. At all. Besides the aforementioned Tornado Shelter, the KC-MO airport has exactly FIVE restaurant areas. They have a starbucks, a Cinnabon (oy vey), some restaurant called the fountains of something, a sports bar and an Arthur Bryant BBQ. The sports bar and BBQ place are actually the same restaurant, they just like to pretend they're seperate even though they freakin' share the same menu. We hit up the Sports Bar/BBQ place on the way back, and yep, that was some damn fine BBQ. Doesn't save the shitty airport though.

This is the floor of the Kansas City Airport

The problem with the KC Airport is that it's set-up in a bizarre fashion, that is certainly not cost-conscious. Most airports have two or three security areas that you pass through, and then get to the massive terminal area. Not so in KC! In their wisdom, they decided to make their terminal areas grouped in bunches of four, with thirty-something terminals. That means they have a security check-point per every four terminals. So that means they have to hire about ten times the security of most airports, since they have so many checkpoints. This additionally means that the KC-MO airport screws you on concessions and restrooms. There is nary a single bit of restroom, water or concession access in the terminal areas. Since they are so small, they don't have room. So all the concessions, water fountains and restrooms are outside the security checkpoints. Meaning that to be comfortable, you basically have to wait until the last second to go through security, so as to avoid having to go through security twice in case you feel a sudden urge to y'know, do something crazy like urinate. That's what I had to do. It was oh-so-much fun going through security twice.

The reason you see a laptop on the floor of the KC airport is because outside of the terminal areas, there are a TON of plug-ins. Yes, a virtual ton. However, 95% of them are under phone booths on the floor in areas without seating. Or they're by the bathroom. Since all the plug-ins in the few seating areas were taken, we were stuck on the hard floor of the KC airport, underneath a pay phone, to post a conviction to the mainpage from there. The entire airport is a model of simply sublime planning, I can't imagine a worse airport.

From the airport, we met up with the car service supplied and the creepy guy already mentioned. I have to say, the prosecutors office took great care of us. Had us booked in a pretty nice marriot, and had I known before going, I would have taken advantage of the pool and exercise room. Oh well. The car service was also prompt and overall, the entire accomodations were spot-on. Obviously there isn't much to do in Olathe (Correct pronunciation, O-La-Thee, not "oh-laithe" as I chose to pronounce it) Kansas at midnight, so it was a great night of History Channel, which thankfully, had good programs on and not their usual non-history shit selection. A great show on Secret Soviet Space Shuttle Disasters kept me up until about 3 AM. Crazy information. For example, there were two main rocket researches competing for innovation and state contracts. The lesser of the two is an arrogant Russian who decides to use a concocture called "Devils' Venom" to power his space-rocket. Basically it's pure-oxygen and very unstable fuel. So, to prove everyone wrong about how dangerous it was, he goes and sits out there in a chair. It's safe! So the other scientists and workers have a choice. Sit behind the blast shields and look like cowards, or go out there and join Mr. Arrogant Safety Man. Most of them choose to join the boss, since hey, it's Russia and rational thought isn't really encouraged. Of course, the entire rocket blows up when it tries to take off and immediately crisps 150 of Russia's best scientists and space workers. Not to mention the arrogant stout little idiot whose idea the concoction was to begin with. The fire was so immense that the chemicals were spouting out and burning through the skin of those arriving to fight the out of control inferno.

Other Russian space disasters are covered, including a three-stage rocket with the first stage having yep, THIRTY FREAKIN' ENGINES. Of course, the thing malfunctions, lurches to the right, and drops back down on the launchpad with the explosive force of a nuclear bomb wiping out the installation. The most remarkable thing about the program is how successful the Soviets were in keeping it hushed. Sure, of course the KGB and Russian Politiburo had power, but to cover up disasters on that scale is truly impressive. History Channel wasn't done serving up the goodness, as they managed to have a show on the mob that, unlike most shows on the mob, covered little-known and interesting history tidbits, such as the repression by the Fascist Mussolini Regime on the Mafiaoso of Sicily, including brutal attacks on godfathers and other mob illuminaries. I had simply assumed that the Sicilian gangs stayed out of the affairs of World War 2, but I could not have been more wrong. They actively aided the landings on Sicily, met American troops and fought alongside American forces against the Fascists. They were stoutly opposed to both Hitler and Mussolini, both of whom loathed the idea of mob families.

Even Lucky Luciano, who fled America to Sicily to avoid a murder rap, pitched in. Contacts between the Navi and Mafiaoso worked to both parties satisfaction. The mobs cracked down on dockyard strikers and saboteurs, and Luciano's 30 year murder rap disappeared into thin air. After the completion of the war, the Sicilians actually had a strong movement to join as an American protecterate, with elections and street-fighting breaking out between the pro-America mob and pro-Russian communists. Italy wisely appointed many Mafiaoso's to government positions and the movement to have an American Sicily died out. It's rare to actually find interesting programming on the History Channel, since they rarely cover actual history (Get History International, it's ten times better), but I lucked out in Olathe.

I became even luckier when I noticed how many restaurants were right next to the hotel. Restaurants we don't have in Oregon like Schlotsky's Deli, Steak and Shake, and the infamous Cracker Barrel. The Cracker Barrel has come highly recommended to me, through the many writings about it on Lance Storm's blog and various people who have pimped it to me in IM. I probably would have gone with the Steak and Shake had it been open, since the entire idea of a fast food steak and milkshake place is too good to pass up, but they were not open so Cracker Barrel it was. Very good food. It was nice to finally hit one up and see what they're all about. A very southern-funky restaurant, it wasn't bad. If I ever find another one though, I'm definitely going to make a point to hit up the Steak and Shake. Just such a great concept.

The Johnson County Courthouse in Olathe, Kansas
(Sorry lady in blue, didn't mean to catch you scratching your ass)

Perhaps the most ridiculous part of the trip is how much nicer the Johnson County Courthouse is than Portland's courthouse. They have a beautiful courthouse, with some nice grounds surrounding it... just gorgeous. You can't really tell from that picture, but it was really, really nice comparatively. We visited the DA on the case, met the detective who had been communicating with Tso during all of this and just relaxed, awaiting to be called to testify. However, the DA came into the witness room and informed us that we weren't needed to testify and that he decided to take the plea. All we had to do was show up and it was over. The defendent glared at us as we went into the courtroom, and I kind of internally laughed. I didn't know how big or small this guy was before going into the courtroom. He's a small little asshole. Amusing, what with his big "I'm going to kick your faggot ass" talk. I never before realized how much of an explanation the judge has to go through for every plea agreement. They run through various statements to ensure the defendant knows what he is agreeing to, and that he's certifying all the prosecution claims as true. One of those claims was the background to this, which was the sexual solicitation of a minor he attempted. Hence, the sexual offender counseling stipulation put into the plea agreement by the DA.

After that was over, we left and went to the airport where the posting of the conviction commenced. Like I said, the prosecutors in Johnson County took good care of us, flying us both ways on, unbeknownst to them, my favorite carrier, United. Good choice Kansas! United is the best! I got to listen to the new Beck, Garbage and Queens of the Stone Age albums in their entirity in the midst of the various flights. Plus, they serve whole cans of soda.

United is the best, and the book is pretty good too

Other airlines I've been on will just give you the small cup with ice. Not United, whole can baby. Hell, in a little over 24 hours, they supplied 2/3rds of a six-pack of 7-UP. You rock, United. The only negative of the flights is that I came within 15 pages of finishing The Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire. Now that I'm home, when am I going to have time to finish those pages? I picked up three books from Barnes and Noble for the trip, the aforementioned Decline and Fall, the memoirs and life of Simon Wiesenthal, and a book examining and exploring the archives of the Vatican from the late 1500's to the present day. I saved the books of the great Nazi-hunter and the Vatican expose for future flights, as it was the Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire which truly interested me. Of the three, it was the first book I picked up and the one of three that I was 100% decided upon. Sure, it may not seem like an interesting subject, but consider...

The Ottoman Empire was the longest-lasting empire of the last thousand years. At it's height, it spanned from Persia (modern-day Iran) to North Africa... to the edges of the former lands of Greece... to all of the Balkans and part of Poland. Look at a map sometime, that's a lot of real estate. It's near-capture of Vienna during the 1500's would have made it the pre-eminent power of it's time. However, after the defeat of the Ottomans at their encampment outside of Vienna, the empire slowly started to fall into decline, which is basically where the book picks up. The Ottoman Empire stretched across a vast amount of peoples and culture. Turkmen, which is what they were best known for, Arabs of all flavors, Egyptians, the Barbary Pirates (An Ottoman ally for many years), the Bedouin Tribes, Armenians, Kurds, Palestinians, Jews, Greeks, Slavs of all sorts... the Empire was comparable to present-day America in that respect. What is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Ottoman Empire were the Ottoman Sultans.

The Sultan occupied a double-post. First, as the ruler of the Ottoman Empire itself and as the leader and standard-bearer of Islam. As a crude comparison, the Sultan was a combination of Islam's version of a Pope and the Ottoman version of a dynastic king. This dual-role caused more trouble than it was worth. As a dynastic king, the ruler of a grand and large Empire, the Sultan had a responsiblity to remain powerful militarily, which meant advancements, sometimes of a Western sort. However, as the standard-bearer of Islam, a massive embracing of Western progress put many Sultan to the sword of the religious fanatics that existed then, not much unlike the religious Islamist fanatics that exist now. The history of the Ottoman Empire is a great example of how Islam has done nothing but hold back the Arabs, the Turks and all other traditionally ethnic Islamic races. Each time a Sultan would ascend who would institute a plan of military modernization, the religious military corps, the Jannisaries, would rise up in defense of "traditional Islam" and cause issues in Constanople. Many times, this resulted in the change of heart, or even death, of the Sultan himself. The issue of the Jannisaries and the Islamistic religious fanatics in the Ottoman Empire ultimately was the reason the Ottoman Empire continued to shrink over hundreds of years.

Still, you have to be amazed by the glory and tolerance of much of the history of the Ottoman Empire. The Sultan elevated not only Priests of Orthodox Christianity (the religion of the Greeks, Slavs and Russians at the time), but gave them religious tolerance. So too, did the Sultan extend to the Jews. Numbering only 230,000 in the empire, the Rabbi's were still given great respect in Constanople. Tolerance was the rule of most Sultans, which actually increased the happiness of the Ottoman subjects. Only when Sultans gave into fanatical Islam did places like Sarajevo, Athens, Crete... turn to revolt and calls for autonomy and independence. Had a Sultan been able to, prior to the 1800's, destroy the Jannisary Corps and minimize the power of radical Islam in Constanople, I have little doubt that the Ottoman Empire would continue to exist to this day. Had the progressive Sultans not been undermined by their status as the standard-bearer of Islam, modernization would have occurred, stability would have flourished and far-off dominions of the Ottomans, like Egypt and the Greek lands, would have been happier and more productive Ottoman lands, rather than rebellious and self-serving. The administration of the lands could have been tightened up, and a legitimately westernized Ottoman army would have been able to exist. With the Ottoman control of Middle Eastern oil, they would have had a viable resource to continue dominance past the end of World War 1, where their fall into Turkmen nationalism doomed the Empire to break-up. The republic Ottoman Empire, no doubt, would have served the Arabs of today... and world stability, far greater than the mish-mash of Arab tinpot dictators, had only Islam not served as a great impediment to Ottoman success.

I could go on and on about the significance of how fanatical Islam negatively affected the Sultan and the Empire (Which, by the way, is not a point of the author, as the book is simply a narrative of history, rather than a work of opinion) and parallels to how fanatical Islam continues to do the same today, hundreds of years later. It's really a fascinating read, as there are many more significant historical facts to know about the Ottoman's other than the infamous "Sick Man of Europe" line uttered by Tsar Alexander.

A good book, a worthy reason to have to take a trip and some Cracker Barrel. All in all, a pretty effective 36 hours of travel, resulting in more of the glorious red that everyone loves to see. While I hope to never again have to make a trip to Kansas, I'm glad that the experience was worthwhile, site-beneficial... and most of all, short.

Because it is damn good to be back home, Tornado-shelterless Oregon. Phew.