Type-A bureaucrat who professionally pushes papers in the Middle East. History nerd, linguistic geek, and devoted news junkie.
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Mesashuna: Georgian-Style Wine from Turkey’s Artvin Province

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A small group of sommeliers, oenophiles, and at least one intrepid food and beverage writer are gathered outside Grape Wine Boutique in Istanbul’s Teşvikiye neighborhood. More than once does a passing car feel the need to honk as the crowd, tasting glasses in hand, spills into the narrow street from the even more narrow sidewalk. As the first cork is pulled, a nervous energy spreads among the group.

We’ve gathered to taste the first official vintage of Mesashuna Wines, the only licensed winery in Turkey’s northeastern Artvin province, a rugged region not far from the border with Georgia. At the center of the circle stands attorney-cum-vigneron Safiye Arifağaoğlu. In her hands is a wax-crowned bottle, its label illustrated with four goat horns. As Arifağaoğlu fills our glasses with a cloudy, gold-hued Rkatsiteli, she explains the significance of the image.

“There are four siblings in my family – Melek, Safiye, Şule, and Nazim,” she says. “Our parents founded the winery as an inheritance for us.”

“Mesashuna” is a portmanteau of the Arifağaoğlu siblings’ names.

The horns are khantsi, the traditional drinking vessel of Georgia. These khantsi pay homage to a wine culture that transcends political borders.

“Our winery is on the Georgian border. Lots of Georgian people live here,” says Arifağaoğlu.

Georgia boasts what some archeologists have identified as the world’s oldest wine culture. For more than 6,000 years, humans have been making wine with buried clay amphoras and local grape varieties. Even the Soviet Union’s attempts to modernize wine production in state factories and ban private wine production failed to eradicate Georgia’s proudest tradition.

In recent years, Georgia has become the darling of the natural wine movement, which celebrates the country’s organic viticulture and dazzling array of local grape varieties. Perhaps most famously, the Georgian tradition of longer macerations with white-skinned grapes, which creates a more tannic, amber-colored wine, led to a proliferation of natural winemakers from Italy to Australia using the technique.

But for the Arifağaoğlu family, Georgian-style wine, made by Georgian friends and neighbors or sourced on frequent trips to Georgia, was simply a part of life. Seventeen years ago they planted two Georgian grape varieties, Saperavi and Rkatsiteli, on their family farm and began making wine for their own consumption.

A visit from Sabiha Apaydın, founder of the Turkish wine symposium Kök Köken Toprak, inspired the family to share their wines with a wider audience. They applied for and received a license to commercially produce wine, making them the only licensed winery in the entire province.

These first commercially licensed bottles offer a glimpse of Artvin’s largely unexplored terroir.

“Artvin is an agricultural paradise. The biodiversity is unbelievable,” says Arifağaoğlu.

Like much of Turkey’s Black Sea region, Artvin has a temperate climate with year-round precipitation. Arifağaoğlu credits the terroir for the different expressions of Saperavi and Rkatsiteli – the two grapes often called “the jewels in Georgia’s crown.”

“Instead of high alcohol, we have high-energy wines,” she says. “Around 12.5% alcohol for Saperavi and 11-11.5% for Rkatsiteli.”

That energy is especially palpable with the 2021 vintage Rkatsiteli. Notes of orange blossom and grapefruit zest on the nose give way to flavors of bruised apple, quince and walnut. The wine is juicy and refreshing with none of the tannin one expects from a longer maceration. A hint of smoke in the finish reveals the telltale sign of a qvevri (or kvevri) wine.

“I decided to concentrate on this mysterious process of qvevri wine,” says Arifağaoğlu. “Qvevri is a clay vessel. It’s used to ferment and store the wine.”

A few weeks after the tasting we catch up with Arifağaoğlu over Zoom. An abnormally warm summer is forcing Mesashuna to harvest the new vintage a month earlier than planned. Arifağaoğlu and her team have been hard at work labeling the previous year’s vintage and preparing her family’s 17 qvevris for the new harvest.

“We trying to stick to the traditional methods, from the tools that we use to the wine-making methods,” says Arifağaoğlu. “One of the most important things for us is keeping everything as natural as possible with no intervention, from the vineyard to bottling no chemicals are used.”

Mesashuna’s low-intervention approach to making wine is by no means hands-off.

“The grapes are fermented with their natural yeast, so hygiene is very important,” she says. In the case of the larger 750-liter qvevri, that actually involves climbing inside the amphora to thoroughly clean the porous clay interior before the harvest begins.

“After hand-harvesting the grapes, we gently squeeze the selected grapes and take the free-run juice, skins and best stems and everything goes into the qvevri,” says Arifağaoğlu.

Once alcoholic fermentation begins, the wines must be “punched down” at least four times a day – a process where long paddles are used to push the grape skins and stems that float to the surface back in the fermenting must.

After fermentation, the wine is transferred to a new qvevri to rest. Arifağaoğlu repeats this process monthly, a technique called “racking” in the wine world, in order to naturally clarify the wine as sediment sinks to the bottom of the qvevri over time. Mesashuna’s wines do not undergo any commercial fining or filtration.

This year, Arifağaoğlu is using a handful of smaller qvevri for some experimental fermentations.

Saperavi and Rkatsiteli are grapes primarily associated with Kakheti, a wine region in Eastern Georgia. But Artvin borders Western Georgian, and Arifağaoğlu wants to explore how western Georgian grapes will fare in Artvin’s climate. This year Arifağaoğlu plans on experimenting with Kartlis Tita, a lesser-known grape sourced on one of the Arifağaoğlu family’s many trips around Georgia.

“Experience is the best teacher,” says Arifağaoğlu. “The more experience I have, the more curious I become.”

Mesashuna’s production is extremely limited, even by boutique winery standards. Between the two cuvées, their annual production is around 2,000 bottles. But those who aren’t able to make the journey to Artvin can find Mesashuna’s wines at a select number of Istanbul restaurants and wine shops.


The post Mesashuna: Georgian-Style Wine from Turkey’s Artvin Province appeared first on Culinary Backstreets.

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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,247

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This is the grave of Mississippi John Hurt.

Born in 1893 in Teoc, Mississippi, John Hurt grew up as part of the impoverished sharecropping Black working class of the South. He learned to play guitar as a kid and started playing at dances by the time he was a teenager. We might not think of Hurt’s music as dance music but it absolutely was for the time, a syncopated beat designed to get people to move, even if it seems like old-timey music to modern listeners.

By the late 1920s, Hurt was a sharecropper and it seemed like nothing would probably ever change for him. But as the recording industry dawned, opportunities arose for Black musicians. In 1928, a white fiddler named Willie Narmour won a contest and the prize was a recording session at Okeh Records. Okeh had developed the so-called “race records” market in the 1920s after Mamie Smith recorded for them and they found themselves with a huge hit in an untapped market. Anyway, Narmour was up there and he suggested that Okeh record this guy he knew and played with sometimes named John Hurt. So Okeh brought him first to Memphis and then to New York to record his tunes. Interesting how for all the racial divides of this time and place that there were areas in which not only did people become friends but actively promoted the careers of the other race.

Well, it seemed as if life would change for Hurt. But it didn’t. His first records didn’t sell. The Great Depression was terrible for the music industry. Okeh closed. It was just back to normal for Hurt. He farmed on those shares and he played his music for local audiences.

In 1952, Harry Smith put out his legendary Anthology of American Folk Music. With so much music available today it is impossible to understand what a gem this was for listeners. Smith had gone through all the archives he could find and picked out the coolest lost material he knew of for this record. It was enormously influential on the generation of white folk musicians that were just starting to learn to play at this time and would come to prominence in the early 60s. Smith included two of Hurt’s recordings–“Spike Driver Blues” and “Frankie.” Nothing changed for Hurt at the time. But a decade later, the new folk musicians wanted to find their heroes. And based on these two songs along, Hurt was a hero to them. But how does one find a sharecropper who has no idea that he has a following?

In 1963, another of Hurt’s songs was uncovered and released–“Avalon Blues.” Now, Avalon is an actual place so people now had a clue. The musicologist Dick Spottswood asked a guy he knew named Tom Hoskins, who was already traveling to Mississippi, to see what he could see. He found Avalon on a map, went there, and started asking questions. What local people thought about a weird white hippie from the north asking questions about their local guitarist, I do not know but I can only imagine.

Anyway, Hoskins found Hurt. He could still play. Yeah, he was old, but he was could play and sing still. It should be said that at this point in life, Hurt didn’t even have a guitar. Maybe he had to sell it. Hoskins had to go borrow one to see if Hurt could play. He could, even if he was a bit rusty. So Hurt decided to take advantage of this weird new world he found himself in. All of a sudden, this impoverished sharecropper and local singer could play the universities and coffeehouses of the North. These northern folk fans were obsessed with authenticity and for them, Hurt and his age and his background made him the ultimate in authentic. They called him Mississippi John Hurt to just add to the authenticity patina.

Hurt was all-in. He and his wife moved to Washington, D.C. for awhile, along with the two grandchildren they were raising. He recorded three albums worth of material for Vanguard. He played all the time. He even showed up on The Tonight Show. He could play almost anything. He was deeply influenced not only by the blues and spirituals of where he grew up but by country music (he was a huge Jimmie Rodgers fan) and jazz. He could throw some ragtime into a show too. This was no boring artist but a real master. One thing that made Hurt different than a lot of the other old blues guys who were still alive is his sweetness. He didn’t really engage in the traditions within music of braggadocio, of singing about what a badass he was, of romanticizing the life of the rounder. He was just a guy with a nice voice singing some good songs, many of which he wrote, others of which he interpreted.

Of course these white people who found him ripped him off, very much including Hoskins. Hoskins and a friend got him to a sign a contract that gave them 50 percent on his royalties and in the end, Hurt only got 25 percent of his royalties, not enough to really set him up though more than he made as a sharecropper. Ah, the history of Black music in America, another chance for whites to steal money from Black labor.

Finally, late in life, unlike so many of his great contemporaries, he got it to pay off. He played at Newport Folk. I should mention that 15 years ago or so, there were two great compilations of Newport Folk Festival performances released, 3 discs each. One was of the bluegrass performances and one was of the blues. I highly recommend both. You get a wide variety of performers, including Hurt, doing between 3 and 6 songs. First rate material. Hurt played at Carnegie Hall too.

But he was pretty old and his health was not particularly good at this point. After a last recording session in New York, he went back to Mississippi. But he had to go to the hospital in the town of Grenada and while there, he had a fatal heart attack. He was 73 years old.

In the aftermath of his death, just about everything one can find of Hurt has been released, including a number of live shows. To me, he’s right at the top of the history of American music. I’d probably rather listen to Hurt than any of the other blues musicians of that generation and that’s not taking away from listening to Skip James either, who also is a legend of the first rate. I just really like Hurt’s voice.

Also, while my interest in the politics of artists is not that high, I do want to note this story about how Hurt had an FDR poster in his house at a time when that was probably kinda dangerous.

Let’s listen to some of Hurt’s amazing work.

Mississippi John Hurt is buried in Saint James Cemetery, Avalon, Mississippi.

Now let me tell you, this is not easy to find. It turns out that Avalon, or what is left of it, is not easy to find. Basically, you are driving through the Delta which is incredibly boring. Then you take this road up a very rare hill. You are encased in thick forest and a few farms. And there is this tiny little overgrown cemetery. Good thing for GPS because that’s one I would not have found otherwise.

If you would like this series to visit more legends of the blues, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Skip James is in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania and John Lee Hooker is in Oakland, California. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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Living in fear: Iranian LGBTQ+ activists in Turkey

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Fariba Nawa is a journalist based in Istanbul and host of On Spec podcast. She’s also the author of “Opium Nation: Child Brides, Drug Lords and One Woman’s Journey through Afghanistan.”

ISTANBUL — Lately, Mikaeil Alizadeh has taken to dancing by night and protesting by day. She remains vigilant. Her eyes darting in every direction, anticipating the worst.

Several Iranian dissidents, just like her, have been kidnapped and killed in Turkey, where Alizadeh now lives. Her home country has become notorious for deploying agents in foreign countries to kill those opposing the mullah’s regime, and with a 534-kilometer border, Turkey is the closest and easiest place to target them. Here, Iran’s hardcore militia, the Revolutionary Guards, hire mafia members to mete out their violence.

“My biggest fear is being raped, it’s a nightmare I have,” Alizadeh says.

LGBTQ+ members like Alizadeh, who identifies as gender fluid, are among the most vulnerable Iranians in Turkey. They are part of the most persecuted communities, both back home and among the 1,400 registered refugees from Iran in Turkey, who have applied for asylum to Western countries.

In Iran, gay sex is illegal, and it’s punished by flogging, imprisonment or even execution. As recently as September, United Nations experts demanded Iran release two women on death row for homosexuality and trafficking. One of them, Zahra Sedighi-Hamadani, had tried to help members of the LGBTQ+ community escape to Iraq, when Iranian authorities arrested and disappeared her at the border last year.

The current protests in Iran, however, signal a change. Fueled by the killing of Kurdish-Iranian Mahsa Amini, who was accused of breaking Iran’s dress code, these protests are now the first counterrevolution by women about women’s rights. And many of the protestors — the majority in their teens and early twenties — believe gender equality includes LGBTQ+ rights.

But many of the country’s LGBTQ+ activists are either in Iranian prisons or have fled — some are stuck in limbo, in places like Istanbul. After every uprising in Iran, dissidents escape to Turkey, a country they can enter visa free, but many lead desolate lives here with little support — harassment, unemployment and abuse follow them to Turkey, where the government has been increasingly spewing hateful speech and curbing their rights.

While Iranian LGBTQ+ activists were keeping a low profile in Turkey in the past, the protests in Iran have now prompted some of them to share their stories. 

Alizadeh is one of them.

Wearing a black pantsuit with her hair pulled back, she says in her husky voice that friends gave her the stage name Leo, as her eyes resemble those of a leopard’s. But her birth name is Fatimeh.

Alizadeh uses her social media platform to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and gender equality in Iran. | Photographs by Hilaneh Mahmoudi for POLITICO

Alizadeh makes a living from belly dancing in restaurants and clubs, and she gives dance lessons too. With nearly half a million followers on Instagram, she also uses her social media platform to advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and gender equality in Iran.

She says she didn’t protest against the Iranian regime until now. But “I’m sure the regime will fall this time. People know what they want, and we are fighting for it. We’re going to be successful,” she insists. At a recent protest in front of the Iranian consulate in Istanbul, Alizadeh wore an ethnic outfit and danced outside, protesting the law that forbids women from dancing in public in Iran.

However, the comments on her posts are rarely positive, and sometimes they’re hurtful. “I just don’t like you anymore,” one woman writes under a video. But Alizadeh isn’t discouraged by criticism or insults. She points to her supporters as her source of inspiration — including Iranian actress Golshifteh Farahani.

But it took a long time for her to get here.

When she was 15 years old, Alizadeh’s parents tried to force her into a marriage she didn’t want, so she ran away and married a boy who ended up abusing her. Having discovered her passion for dance early on, she opened a secret dance studio after she divorced her husband, and began teaching Zumba to both men and women in the conservative city of Mashhad. Police later raided her school, labeling it a brothel and shutting it down.

At the time, Alizadeh dressed like a man, wearing trousers and big sweatshirts, covering her hair with a cap. She’d realized she liked girls and, at 22, applied for a government program to have sex reassignment surgery.

Alizadeh makes a living from belly dancing in restaurants and clubs, and she gives dance lessons too. | Photographs by Hilaneh Mahmoudi for POLITICO

Iran is second only to Thailand in terms of the number of sex change surgeries performed there, as a law was passed in 1986 to give the country’s queer community a choice to change their gender, so they could engage in heterosexual life. “Iran doesn’t accept gay, a third gender, or nonbinary or gender fluid. You have to choose, boy or girl,” Alizadeh says. “One reason I’m protesting is so we can have other options.”

Alizadeh spent months seeing therapists and psychiatrists assigned by the government, until she was allowed to get a mastectomy and hysterectomy at age 23. Authorities then issued her a new passport, and Fatimeh became Mikaiel — but the abuse didn’t stop.

Still small framed with feminine features, as a man Alizadeh was beaten by her girlfriend’s family. And those in her transgender community weren’t necessarily happier after surgery either; some of them committed suicide, she says.

Then, after receiving threats on her phone for dancing, Alizadeh finally fled to Turkey. “I was being crushed from every angle,” she says, pausing for a drink of water. Once in Turkey, she then applied for asylum to a third country and became a refugee, but she didn’t imagine that eight years later, she would still be stuck in the country.

In the meantime, she met a man she fell in love with, and realized she could also be a woman. “He researched and told me that I was gender fluid. That’s when I finally felt comfortable with myself,” she says. That’s when she started to discuss her life on Instagram, and other Iranian LGBTQ+ individuals who had reassignment surgery started messaging her with their own stories.

Alizadeh is now informally married — as same-sex marriage is illegal in Turkey, and her passport identifies here as a man — to Bahador Shafeqhatian, a former lawyer. | Photographs by Hilaneh Mahmoudi for POLITICO

Alizadeh’s now informally married to her husband Bahador Shafeqhatian, a former lawyer, who dotes on her. However, she can’t formally marry him in Turkey because her passport identifies her as a man, and same sex marriage isn’t recognized here. She says that if she gets asylum to the West, she’d have to leave her husband behind for a while. But she hopes one day to return to her home of Iran, and enjoy the same freedoms as Westerners. She dreams of opening a dance academy there — if and when this regime falls.

Yet, while stuck in Turkey, many Iranian LGBTQ+ individuals continue to struggle with basic needs, like putting food on the table. As refugees, they don’t have work permits and end up taking low-paid jobs — which can include sex work.

They also face discrimination and violence in the smaller cities that Turkey settles them in while they wait for their asylum cases to be processed. But chances of getting asylum to the West are akin to winning the lottery.

Similarly stuck, AM is an Iranian lesbian who’s been living in a city an hour from Istanbul for five years now, and she’s hoping to finally get resettled in a place where she can legally work and feel safe.

Like Alizadeh, AM is also fearful. The 36-year-old doesn’t want her name to be revealed. And a couple of men recently beat and badly bruised her and a woman she was kissing. She doesn’t go to protests either because she fears for her family in Iran.

“I keep having nightmares that police have taken me, that several men are raping me at the same time. I had these nightmares before, but they have gotten much worse now,” she says as she cries quietly in a voice message.

Police in Tehran harassed and threatened the family of one of AM’s LGBTQ+ friends after he gave a TV interview in Turkey. The informants watch everything Iranians in Turkey do like hawks, she says. 

Just three weeks ago, Iranian dissident and refugee Mahshid Nazemi was detained by Turkish immigration, after she reported to Turkish police that she’d been followed by a man in a car and threatened with kidnapping for giving press interviews against the regime. Nazemi is now in a deportation camp, but the U.N. has warned Turkish authorities that sending her back to Iran would risk her life. Meanwhile, over a dozen Turks and Iranians are currently on trial in Istanbul on charges of espionage and attempts to kidnap Iranian dissidents for the Iranian regime. 

AM insists the protesters in Iran now have to win because it would finally end the regime’s reign of terror against its own people — both inside and outside the country. And if the regime stops the movement with brutality, I ask, then what?

Then, “our conscience is at peace that at least we tried,” she says.

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Rioting in Brussels after Belgium loses World Cup match to Morocco

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Police used tear gas and water cannons against football fans in central Brussels on Sunday as violence broke out in the aftermath of Belgium’s 2-0 defeat to Morocco in the FIFA World Cup.

Riot police were deployed to a Christmas market in the downtown area of the Belgian capital, and police ordered the shutdown of some public transport lines. Fires were set and rocks were thrown at vehicles. A group of young Morocco fans smashed up a car and rental scooters, according to footage from a BBC journalist on the scene.

A hundred police officers were dispatched against the football supporters who destroyed street furniture and threw projectiles at the police, according to reports. At least one vehicle was set on fire. 

“Dozens of people, including some wearing hoodies, sought confrontation with the police, which compromised public safety,” Brussels police said, according to Le Soir. At least 10 people were arrested, the newspaper reported.

Morocco’s victory was a major upset at the World Cup tournament and was celebrated exuberantly by fans with Moroccan immigrant roots. 

Rajae Maouane, a Belgian politician with Moroccan heritage who is co-president of French-speaking party Ecolo, condemned the violence. “No excuse for the violent behavior of these ‘supporters,'” she tweeted. “Real supporters celebrate with joy and respect.”

Rudi Vervoort, the Socialist minister-president of the Brussels Capital region’s government, wrote on Twitter: “Nothing justifies the vandalism of these hooligans who bring shame to real fans. The police is doing everything it can to maintain public order.”

The majority of celebrations in Brussels by the city’s sizeable Moroccan community were peaceful, others were careful to point out. The Moroccan diaspora in Belgium numbers around half a million people.

There were also disturbances in the Belgian cities of Antwerp and Liège, the Associated Press reported.

Philippe Close, the Socialist mayor of the city of Brussels, also condemned the violence, and advised football supporters not to come to the center of town. The Brussels police advised people not to travel to the Boulevard du Midi and adjacent streets.

“Violence is inappropriate in such circumstances,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said. “Football should be a party,” he added.

“Sad to see how a few individuals abuse a situation to run amok,” Belgian Interior Minister Annelies Verlinden said.

The Flemish far-right party Vlaams Belang seized on the altercations to further its nationalist, anti-immigration and anti-Islam agenda. The party’s Chairman Tom Van Grieken said Belgians with Moroccan heritage are “free to leave” the country.

Police in the Netherlands said violence erupted in Rotterdam, with riot officers attempting to break up a group of 500 football fans who pelted police with fireworks and glass, the AP reported. Unrest was also reported in Amsterdam and The Hague.

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Okay so this might be a sign that I'm from SEC territory, but the reaction to the surprise victory seems fairly reasonable to me. Had this been an Arkansas-Texas game, and Arkansas won, half of Fayetteville would be on fire, the uprights would have been pulled down, and the city's bars would run out of alcohol by 10 PM.
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20 hours ago
lol I thought this was gringo Belgians rioting because they *lost*
7 hours ago
Oh no, that wouldn't be labeled a riot in Belgian media, that would just be lads blowing off steam!
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Where to Stream 'Goncharov,' Martin Scorsese's Lost Masterpiece

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Goncharov is the best film you’ll never see. Billed as “The Greatest Mafia Movie Ever Made,” this Martin Scorsese-produced 1973 gangster epic stars Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, and Cybill Shepherd, and was directed by Matteo JWHJ 0715. Wait, who? Also: It isn’t real.


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4 days ago
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Maryland or Virginia, Which Will Win the Jump Ball For a New FBI Building?

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The J. Edgar Hoover building is a notorious failure as government architecture. Expensive, dysfunctional, not physically secure, and falling apart. Not to mention an aesthetic monstrosity completely out of step with the rest of DC's Federal Triangle. But just as bad as the building itself is the failure of Congress and multiple administrations to put the thing out of its misery and build a new FBI HQ. 

A replacement HQ is on the table once again, it seems, although I have to question how likely that really is in the lame duck portion of a Democratic administration with a new Republican majority in the House. Those Democratic seats in suburban Maryland and Virginia don't have control of committees anymore, and the FBI has blotted its copybook, as the Brits say, with the Republicans.

Nevertheless, here's the current state of play. GSA announced its site selection process several weeks ago, which has stirred some complaints from the Governor of Maryland. 
The U.S. General Services Administration and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) today announced the site selection process for the new suburban FBI headquarters campus in the National Capital Region (NCR).

As part of the Fiscal Year 2022 Consolidated Appropriations Act, Congress directed the GSA Administrator to select a site “as expeditiously as possible” from one of the three previously identified sites during project planning in 2016: Greenbelt, Md.; Landover, Md.; and Springfield, Va.

“GSA and the FBI are continuing to move forward to accomplish the key milestones outlined by Congress for the FBI headquarters campus,” said GSA Commissioner of the Public Buildings Service (PBS) Nina Albert. “We look forward to undertaking a fair and transparent process to select a site that will best serve the FBI for generations to come.”

“From the beginning, it has been our priority to identify a new headquarters solution that best meets the needs of the FBI and our workforce, and is a good deal for the taxpayers," said FBI Assistant Director for the Finance and Facilities Division Nicholas Dimos. “We appreciate the efforts of GSA to work in tandem with the FBI to craft a clear process to select the location for the FBI's suburban campus within the National Capital Region.”
First of all, notice that no consideration will be given to the option of keeping the FBI headquarters in downtown Washington DC. Why not keep it there, the simple-minded taxpayer might well ask, since that seems the obvious location for a federal government agency.

Well, how many divisions has the Pope? how many votes and committee seats does DC have in Congress? There's your answer. 

In other words, a big load of delicious government money plus unforetold follow-on land developer boodles are on the table and two starving dogs are salivating at the thought of it. The elected officials of Maryland and Northern Virginia are eyeball to eyeball, growling and whining, and it’s anybody’s guess which one will prevail. 

Notice as well that the GSA has taken a real step toward open process and transparency by making its selection criteria public. It added this disclaimer when it made the criteria public, just to point out it's going the extra mile to be fair and evenhanded. 
“Disclaimer: GSA site selection plans are deliberative in nature and are not routinely released prior to selecting a site. GSA is choosing to release the site selection plan in this instance for the sole purpose of facilitating transparency in the Federal Bureau of Investigation Headquarters site selection.”
What's not to like about all that? Well, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan and Prince George’s County officials started crying the blues over the inclusion of "proximity to existing FBI facilities" as one of the sub-criteria, since those facilities are in Virginia (as are the Federal courthouses most involved with FBI cases). 

Cry away, but proximity is a perfectly legitimate criterion for site selection, even a key one, and Virginia unquestionably has the edge on Maryland there. You’re not going to win that argument, Gov. Hogan.

Please use the GSA link above to view the site selection criteria, particularly Table #1: Overview of Criteria and Weighting Criteria. The weighting of decision factors is all-important. That's the secret sauce in this tasty dish. Whoever decides on the weighting has all but got the final decision in the bag.

Two factors - FBI Mission Requirements and Transportation Access - are weighted 60 percent between them, and according to my understanding of the geography of the suburban DC area, Virginia has the clear advantage over both the Maryland sites. 
The District's government is the third party to this matter, but it's only in the running for the consolation prize of a vacated Hoover Building site, if that. The WaPo has reported that if and when the FBI finally vacates its Pennsylvania Avenue site, "the District would have the opportunity to gain control of the land from the federal government and transform it into housing, retail, and more.”

Housing?? How big do they think the Hoover Bldg site is? There will never be any housing there, if only because that use wouldn’t throw off anywhere near the tax revenue of a hotel or office building. 

And all that is assuming the Fed will someday relinquish the property to DC, which I wouldn’t bet on them doing.

The U.S. taxpayers emphatically do not have a seat at this table, but of they did, they could make some very good arguments for constructing a new HQ right on the site of the old one. 

First of all, there's the biggest factor in any real estate deal - location, location, and location - and the current location next to the Justice Department in the Federal Triangle is ideal for FBI mission requirements. Then, there are the sunk costs that have already gone into its perimeter, utilities, and (presumably) secure communications infrastructure; why pay those costs again for a new site? A new building would require less space due to digitalization and the dispersal of some functions that have taken place since the Hoover building was designed in the 1970s - the fingerprint center was moved to WVA, for instance - and that smaller footprint would allow the new building to have enough setback distance for adequate blast resistance. 

If the GSA has questions about how to design an office building to resist bomb blast, it can see my good friends at OBO for details. They've done that about 170 times in the last twenty years and have it down pat by now.

Most of all, the purchase price for that old site would be zero. I notice site cost is weighted a paltry 10 percent in GSA's selection criteria, so evidently that isn't a big concern for them, but as a taxpayer, I’d like to see it weighted around 50 percent.

There is one other party to this deal that has no seat at the table - the FBI agents who will have to work in the new place. The Washington Post has reported “FBI leadership and its agents' association previously said they want to stay in D.C. close to the Department of Justice,” which I can understand. 

Of course the FBI HQ should stay near the downtown core, that’s a simple matter of mission requirements. But then, that wouldn’t satisfy the raging hunger of our elected officials in Maryland and Virginia for federal bacon.

Hey, FBI Agents Association, when you get yourselves elected to Congress the GSA will take your wishes into consideration. 

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