Wednesday, January 30, 2008

AKP's mistakes

Apparently when Cuneyd Zapsu suggested their party to be named "Muslim Democratic Party," Tayyip Erdogan objected, saying religion should not be mentioned in the party's name, because political parties make mistakes. Good foresight.

Back in July, I said I would vote for the Justice and Development Party, had I been in Turkey. Mostly for the lack of a better alternative. Then I got to do research about the healthcare system and the new social security law, and I was impressed by the government's efforts to undertake politically difficult reforms. Now they are working on an employment package to cut social security premiums and severance payments, as well as eliminating bureaucratic obligations, in an effort to reduce the informal economy and create more jobs - the headscarf debate permitting. (The Justice Minister's proposal to change Article 301, too, seems to have been shelved until the dust settles.)

The government's mistakes overshadow the well-meaning reforms. Just a quick laundry list to brush up our memories: The Finance Ministry launched a questionable tax probe on Petrol Ofisi, a privatized oil distributor, after the newspapers and TV channels belonging to its new owner, Aydın Doğan, took a critical stance towards the government. Then, only about a month ago, the Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF) sold Sabah, a newspaper, and ATV, a TV channel, to Çalık group, which is headed by Erdoğan's son-in-law. The rumor goes that the government is looking to change the law that bans foreign ownership of media outlets, and the Çalık Group will be able to make a decent profit by selling off its stake.

And take a look at the government's Jan. 9 action plan: Most of the items on the list lack clear detail and a timetable, and the few concrete policies lack consensus even within the cabinet. Economy minister Mehmet Şimşek, as well as the State Planning Organisation, had announced that the social security premium cuts would not go into effect until 2009, because the budget does not have any room to compensate for them. Industry Minister Zafer Çağlayan demanded earlier implementation, and Erdoğan announced that premium cuts will come into effect in 2008. It seems unfeasible, and Erdoğan only hurts his credibility by making promises at the spur of a moment.

A similar story goes for agricultural subsidies: The government announced that direct income support, based on land ownership, would be replaced by product price support, but it turns out the preliminary work isn't complete: it is not clear how much each product will be subsidized in each region.

Erdoğan also pledged to move the Central Bank from Ankara to Istanbul. The Central Bank staff, most notably the governor, have voiced their opposition to such a move, and the government has failed to show that such a fait accompli has a clear economic rationale. Now it all seems like stubborn insistence.

All this, including a global economic downturn that will hit emerging markets like us the most, doesn't matter, of course. The most important item on the government's agenda is the headscarf ban in universities. The ideal solution would be if another party, not AKP, lifted the ban, and such a move would give secularists real strength. Because they are not smart enough to do that, AKP drew power from their victim status. I never thought they would take the final steps to lift the ban, but they finally seem to have found the resolve, also emboldened by their election victory.

Of course, devil lies in the extremes: the religious conservative intelligensia is not shy about their dissatisfaction - they think civil servants, and even high school students should be allowed to wear headscarves. That would be going too far.
like a rolling stone

Once upon a time you dressed so fine
You threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you?
People'd call, say, "Beware doll, you're bound to fall"
You thought they were all kiddin' you
You used to laugh about
Everybody that was hangin' out
Now you don't talk so loud
Now you don't seem so proud
About having to be scrounging for your next meal.

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

You've gone to the finest school all right, Miss Lonely
But you know you only used to get juiced in it
And nobody has ever taught you how to live on the street
And now you find out you're gonna have to get used to it
You said you'd never compromise
With the mystery tramp, but now you realize
He's not selling any alibis
As you stare into the vacuum of his eyes
And ask him do you want to make a deal?

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

You never turned around to see the frowns on the jugglers and the clowns
When they all come down and did tricks for you
You never understood that it ain't no good
You shouldn't let other people get your kicks for you
You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat
Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat
Ain't it hard when you discover that
He really wasn't where it's at
After he took from you everything he could steal.

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

Princess on the steeple and all the pretty people
They're drinkin', thinkin' that they got it made
Exchanging all kinds of precious gifts and things
But you'd better lift your diamond ring, you'd better pawn it babe
You used to be so amused
At Napoleon in rags and the language that he used
Go to him now, he calls you, you can't refuse
When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal.

How does it feel
How does it feel
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?

Bob Dylan

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

London notes #2


Founder's Arms

I feel "ferah", like there's a huge breezy space in my heart, windows open, curtains flying in the wind. I don't know if it's the subtle, strong movement of the water, the lights or the dim, wide waterfront. I don't know if it's the medieval tunnels under the bridges. Or the memories, the habit of having walked there so many times, with different people, with the same people. There's still no place in London more soothing than there. There's no place, where the thought of going makes me happier.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Behind closed doors

You know those action movies, where the only weakness of the hero is his loved ones? And how secret service officers are usually picked among orphans?

One evening we found a ten pound bill on the staircase, and started ringing people's bells to see whose it is. Some people weren't home, but one family answered the door. The house was a real house and the family was a real family, in their casual home attire. The kids, some in their teens, the smiling mom trying to understand why we rang their bell. I felt like we put a huge spotlight into their nest, we intruded their privacy, caught them in their most defenseless moment. Just when they felt they didn't have to deal with strangers anymore, just when they felt they could relax.

You can be cool when you're by yourself. You can be all cool and collectively not care when you're sharing a flat with people your age. You can wear your poker faces and pretend you're strong.

Family, though, makes one so weak. You care for these people, you care for your home, you see their flaws and weaknesses, but still you can't imagine what would happen if something happened to any of them. You want to protect them from the world's gaze, sometimes you want to protect them from your own gaze.

I think that's why family can be such an intimate thing.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

London notes

17.1, 20.1


Mayfair is a small, wealthy Swiss town in the middle of London. The Bond Streets host the boutiques, jewellers, art galleries and auctioneers advertised in How to Spend It. Sophisticated women and men walk the sidewalks, chins up, hardly flinching at what's displayed on the windows, never stopping. Women usually wear their trenchcoats and coats unbuttoned, while men keep their hands in their coat pockets. The buildings, powered by wealth and history, hold the colourful flags of the shops tirelessly. Small shops with small, delicate paintings, men's shoes, pipes, and small rectangle perfume bottles line the passages, they glow with the rustic red of the wood and warm yellow lights. On Sundays jewellers put away the jewels, but the price tags remain.



Walking out of the dirty, busy Liverpool Street Station, one steps into the dark world of asphalt, steel, glass, sharp corners, vertical lines, white lights and water puddles reflecting and multiplying all this. If you walk left a little, you'll see a huge pub on the corner across the street, and that little street leads to the alleyways which in turn lead to where I used to live. That's why it's homey to me. First there's the friendly dry cleaners. Then there are little cafés and sandwich places that fill up during lunchtime, a dark winery decorated with barrells, there are homeless people walking up and down (one guy wanted to go to Bermuda and there was a little woman who really creeped me out), the occasional boutique that manages to hold an elegant, fragile contrast to everything else. There's the Jack the Ripper graffitti on the brick wall plastered with white paint. When you walk on those alleyways at night, there is always lots of trash, and a couple making out promiscuously.

I could see the roofs of these small buildings from my kitchen. One of them had a terrace with green plants even.

That was a huge paranthesis, sparked by my love of my old neighbourhood. But that is not where we went Friday night. We didn't take the street that leads to my old dorm, and then to Spitalfields, Commercial Street with the little, dark, concrete church, and Brick Lane. Instead we just kept walking on Bishopsgate past EBRD, ABN Amro, RBS, a skyscraper construction. We ended up in the Light on the brink of Shoreditch High. It's a two-storey, spacey place. Upstairs there are big windows and a terrace. From the windows you could see the street, the traffic, the red buses with their red stop lights. We had to step outside to escape from the loud trance music, and stood in the drizzle. From here we could see the Gurken and the street. It's a happy, playful building. It was alit white like all the others, but its round shape made it smiley like the moon.


Covent Garden

I remember the day I handed in my dissertation. I felt so light. I stopped by work briefly, then walked back towards Covent Garden. The first time I walked around the neighbourhood properly. There were boutiques, bookshops with boxes of cheap books outside, one bookshop solely dedicated to books about design, dance studios. It looked like an artsy theater district. Somewhere hidden were bohemian dancers, singers, actors, their aspirations. Then there were a couple of astrology/mysticism shops with colourful stones and beads and cards. I walked in and flipped through the books to read about the qualities of my sign - and the sign of the guy I liked at the time.

Last night, I walked from Charing Cross to Long Acre with a friend. I saw a Mexican restaurant, a native American place with high ceilings, some other restaurants/bars we haven't been to yet. People mingling. When places like these open in Istanbul, it becomes a huge deal. Here, there are just too many of them. Diverse, lively neighbourhoods, exciting and inspiring even in their dirt and ugliness. I felt ashamed of not being able to be happy in London, not being able to appreciate it fully, not being able to catch up with it, lose and forget myself in it.

Now that I'm thinking of leaving in a couple of months, I'm so awake to its beauty. I'm walking around like a tourist, always lifting my gaze to see the buildings and the whole street, my eyes scanning around to discover side streets, alleys, courtyards.

When I came home, I saw a quote by Charles Baudelaire on Ekşi Sözlük. "Ben nerede değilsem orada iyi olacakmışım gibi gelir." Whereever I'm not, it seems that I'll be good there. People said you couldn't escape from yourself wherever you went. Yea, we are always by ourselves, with ourselves. People can leave us, and each time somebody leaves us, we too want to leave ourselves, but we can't. We are stuck here. I can leave everything, everywhere and everyone, but not myself.

So better start getting along!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

a wave

weird, how you see one side of a wave as it approaches the coast, and then it turns onto itself and you see the other side - of the same wave.

and then it expands and thins out and recedes and disappears. with all its sides.
I could feel at the time
There was no way of knowing
Fallen leaves in the night
Who can say where they´re blowing

As free as the wind
And hopefully learning
Why the sea on the tide
Has no way of turning

More than this - there is nothing
More than this - tell me one thing
More than this - there is nothing

It was fun for a while
There was no way of knowing
Like dream in the night
Who can say where we´re going
No care in the world
Maybe i´m learning
Why the sea on the tide
Has no way of turning

More than this - there is nothing
More than this - tell me one thing
More than this - there is nothing

Roxy Music

Sunday, January 13, 2008

to stay or to go home

ON the same crossroads again... Don't read further if you're bored of it. I'm writing to help myself anyway.

All my friends think going home is the easy way out. Londoners (the good ones) must be the highest form of living, right, since they are surviving in this expensive, crowded city, constantly on their feet, interacting with others, coming up with ideas, making points, making the most of work and the most of their precious free time. The highest form of civilization is here, a hub of high benchmarks, reference points so much so that you have to be good to feel happy, accomplished. The most you can make out of your time and brain in this world.

So if I go home it means I'm chickening out just because I'm too scared of the competition, too lazy? I pretend I don't want to work in the City because I couldn't even if I wanted to? It means once again I failed to settle, grow roots, build and keep deep relationships?

Maybe so. There's another school of thought, though, saying how staying away from home may be cowardly, too, at least for citizens of the third world:

"He knew what his father thought: that immigration, so often presented as a heroic act, could just easily be the opposite; that it was cowardice that led many to America; fear marked the journey, not bravery; a cockroachy desire to scuttle to where you never saw poverty, not really, never had to suffer a tug to your conscience; where you never heard the demands of servants, beggars, bankrupt relatives, and where your generosity would never be openly claimed; where by merely looking after your own wife-child-dog-yard you could feel virtuous. Experience the relief of being an unknown transplant to the locals and hide the perspective granted by journey. Ohio was the first place he loved, for there he had at last been able to acquire a poise-" The Inheritance of Loss, page 299.

I really don't want to float for much longer, stand where I could do anything, without doing anything. I want to build something, I want to write. There.

Or a little more while... here. I still don't know. I'm human after all, I'm weak and self absorbed!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

"By now, with the conversation disintegrating, his sense of humor began to return to him, and Gyan began to giggle, his eyes to soften, and she could see his expression shift. They were falling back into familiarity, into common ground, into the dirty gray. Just ordinary humans in ordinary opaque boiled-egg light, without grace, without revelation, composite of contradictions, easy principles, arguing about what they half believed in or even what they didn't believe in at all, desiring comfort as much as raw austerity, authenticity as much as playacting, desiring coziness of family as much as to abandon it forever. Cheese and chocolate they wanted, but also to kick all these bloody foreign things out. A wild daring love to bicycle them into the sky, but also a rice and dal love blessed by the unexciting feel of everyday, its surprises safely enmeshed in something solidly familiar like marrying the daughter or son of your father's best friend and grumbling about the cost of potatoes, the cost of onions. Every single contradiction history or opportunity might make available to them, every contradiction they were heir to, they desired. But only as much, of course, as they desired purity and a lack of contradiction.

"The sister was trying to hear but Gyan had her by the braids and was pulling her home. Sai had betrayed him, led him to betray others, his own people, his family. She had enticed him, sneaked up on him, spied on him, ruined him, caused him to behave badly. He couldn't wait for the day his mother would show him the photograph of the girl he was to marry, a charming girl, he hoped, with cheeks like two Simla apples, who hadn't allowed her mind to traverse the gutters and gray areas, and he would adore her for the miracle she was.

"Sai was not miraculous; she was an uninspiring person, a reflection of all the contradictions around her, a mirror that showed him himself far too clearly for comfort."

page 259, 262, The Inheritance of Loss


I was having tea with a friend of mine, and here's more or less how the conversation progressed:
"I still wonder why you called me intriguing," she said, referring to a birthday card I'd given her. "You don't say things for no reason, right?"

As I was about to reply, she went on: "Do you always think before you speak?"

"Not always, sometimes I realize what I say is not what I mean and it's disappointing," I thought and said. (I should have said, "no, I usually end up not speaking when I think.")

"Do you think people can always be rational?" she asked.

I went into a spiel about how we can never have enough information, we can never interpret it right - so no.

After a while I asked her:

"Do you think people who act emotional are stupid?"

Before all this we had talked about how a way of live becomes the norm in the society. How one's job becomes the most important thing in one's life, how everything else is supposed to be transient until we reach a certain age, how one has to be really ambitious if one wants to get somewhere. How we hang on to people only as long as they give us pleasure, and the moment they don't, we feel no obligation. I was referring to that.

"No," she said, getting me slightly wrong, going into the IQ vs. EQ debate, "those who are stupid are the ones who try to control everything, rationalize everything. You never know the reasons why someone acts a certain way - maybe they didn't get the toy they wanted when they were little...."

I didn't listen to the rest. She always accuses me of trying to rationalize everything. I was offended.

I do try to understand things, understand people, myself. I want clarity. Sometimes I eliminate my options just because I want some clarity. I decide I want a certain thing and block other possibilities. Maybe I want order, consistency, rules to live by. A definition of what is good and what is bad. What is right and what is wrong. What makes sense and what doesn't. What is meant to be and what isn't. What is conceivable and what is not.

People who want contradicting things all at once, people who believe in one thing now and another thing later puzzle me. You can't hold on to them. What is this then, a jungle? Don't we have any rules at all? Don't we learn anything from the past? Shouldn't we try to get out of this mess?

My friend has a point. Maybe I should lift the barriers in my mind, allow my mind to be free, allow myself to be inconsistent, disloyal to any one option. Jump into the mess rather than looking down at it from the sidelines, thinking it's beneath me. Alright.


"What kind of man are you?" she asked. "Is this any way to behave?"

"I'm confused," he said finally, reluctantly. "I'm only human and sometimes I'm weak. I'm sorry."

"At whose expense are you weak and human! You'll never get anywhere in life, my friend," shouted Sai, "if this is what you think makes an excuse...."

"I don't have to listen to this," he said jumping up and storming off abruptly just as she was in powerful flow.

And Sai had cried, for it was the unjust truth. page 249.