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Death Becomes Us

August 16, 2011

We all die. When I was a child, this frightened me. I would be unable to sleep at least once a week, staring at the ceiling and feeling myself getting inexorably older. Minute by minute. I would be so scared of dying I was unable to bring myself to act alive.

In case you haven’t noticed by the staggering inactivity around here, this blog is dead. It started as a fun idea tossed around a birthday party, and I came into it with enthusiasm and grand ambitions. But one can’t get too far on enthusiasm and ambition. When I left Istanbul – some could argue even before then – writing daily, or even weekly, about the city and the country became untenable.

No need for teary goodbyes or any sort of sense of loss. Death comes at us in its time and all we can do is be there to stand and face it. Istanbul Alti was a learning experience and a lot of fun to write. I learned a lot from it and have a better idea of the weaknesses of the format and how I can defeat them. This will not be the last internet foray, methinks. I came out of Bataan and I shall return.

Istanbul Alti will live on at

My writing, until I cook up something better, is at

The “about me” is still live and I still know what I’m talking about, so still feel free to contact me about whatever.

With all thanks to Rebecca, Justin, Hector, and the rest of the people who’ve helped out throughout, it’s time to move on. Görüşmek Üzere.


Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end

May 25, 2011

As readers may have noticed, it’s been a little quiet around IstanbulAlti lately. Apologies for the lack of sardonic coverage of Turkish politics and indignant reactions to coverage of Turkey in foreign media. While this site may continue on, I am no longer writing for IstanbulAlti.
I wrote more about Turkey and Turkish politics on this site than I have since university, and met some great, interesting, smart people through comments and emails responding to posts. So I value my time writing on IstanbulAlti. But it’s time for a change.
I’m now writing at a fresh new personal blog, Rhubarb and Rhetoric, where I’ll be covering all things Turkey in addition to some things Minnesota, some things language and many things that seem like they should be written about. I hope you’ll add Rhubarb and Rhetoric to your RSS reader; history says I’m an inconstant blogger but I’m excited to see how R&R develops.
Kendinize iyi bakın,

Erdogan as the Michael Jordan of Turkish Politics

April 4, 2011

The whole “Balkans” thing is temporarily suspended because, well, who cares about the Balkans. And I have work to do besides. The following post will not be cited as strongly as I usually like to cite things because I intend it more as a thought-provoker than as an assertion of truth. Bakacaz.

I’m not even a basketball sort of person, but basketball is American life. The urban facts of life in the United States have been largely laid clear – well, if not clear at least silhouetted – by Bethlehem Shoals’ crew at Free Darko. I don’t usually read it, because I’m not a fan, but something by Yago Colas grabbed my attention (basketball stuff elided):

It is to say that Michael’s transition from the high-flying solo dunker that we watched…to the …team player that won 6 titles in 8 years was not only effective on the court in making his team more successful and not only more effective, thereby, in cementing his place as the consensus Greatest of All Time. It was also effective as a – admittedly probably unintentional — poetic tactic whereby he made his game more amenable to narrative; narrative, which, after all is essential to the circulation of legend and its transmutation into the concrete forms of Official History.

Michael Jordan was not destined for greatness from the beginning, he created an identity as the greatest of all time. He could’ve been just another brilliant scorer, instead he cultivated a Legendary self.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not well-loved in most places. There’s a whole lot of good reasons for this: tone-deaf statements, lawyer-enforced paranoia, scheming, and a rather polychromatic foreign policy. But he matters, or to put it in Alt Internet parlance, Matters, in a way that Mesut Yilmaz or even Bulent Ecevit were not able to swing. He’s become the shining star, the face of Turkey, and someone nobody has been able to successfully deconstruct.

Read more…

Bulgaria: Everything Turkey is Not

March 24, 2011

To get back in to things, I’ll be doing a country-by-country recap of the Balkan tour I just did, and talking about their relevance to Turkey. It’ll hopefully be more interesting than it sounds.

I sincerely doubt this is the right audience, but maybe some of you know something about the Baseball Hall of Fame in the United States. Basically, an arbitrary committee votes every year on who the best players in baseball history are, and a player must receive 75% of votes. There’s lots of arguments every year about who “belongs” there, as if baseball awards are a birthright. But a lot of those arguments focus around “Well, Goose Gossage is in, so Bert Blyleven should be.”

The European Union works in much the same way. And for the past few years, Turkey’s greatest argument for being in the E.U. was something along the “Well, Bulgaria’s in.” lines.

The overnight train into Sofia is pleasant enough. You get a couple of beds and some crisp 3AM air at the border stop. You can wait before your train leaves at the best dessert shop in Sirkeci, Hafiz Mustafa. And then you get into Sofia at about Noon and wonder where all the people are.

Read more…

Back to Doing Really Good Things

March 23, 2011

Welcome. I took a month off to get kicked out of Turkey (visas!) and travel through the old Viyalets of Rum.

The Balkans were good, I’ll be talking about their connection to Turkey and some “on the ground journalism” of some sort in the coming weeks. I’ll also be covering the fun of Turkey and Libya (that Mr. Schleifer covered) and the death of Necmettin Erbakan. And whatever else comes up between now and when I get caught up to speed.

There’ll be some big changes coming about here, potentiallyfingerscrossedomg. But for now, I hope I’ll be able to go back to being a good source on Turkish news from here in not Turkey. So I should be writing more, but until then…

Elif Shafak: Good at This Writing Thing

February 24, 2011

Agreeing with Elif Shafak is not particularly bold or particularly difficult. She’s an impressive woman, a great writer, and generally seems nice and that. And to be honest, I have not yet read any of her books. Her new Op-Ed in the New York Times is short, sweet, and generally fantastic.

Whenever I have a book signing in Istanbul, I cannot help but notice the diversity of the people. Professional women wearing modern clothes stand in line next to women in head scarves and young men with long hair or piercings. The crowds include leftists, liberals, feminists, Kurds, conservative Muslims, non-Muslims, religious minorities like Alevis, Sufi mystics and so on. But it is not only the variety of people that is striking; it is the extent to which they intermingle. While Turkey’s political system is polarized and male-dominated, the society is, thankfully, far more hybrid. It is this complexity that outsiders fail to recognize, perhaps because they are too busy watching the leading political actors to see the people.

Read it in its entirety, of course.

There’s really very little to add. Politics can be kind of obnoxious and very toxic at times, of course. But there are substantial civil society underpinnings here in Turkey that can’t be ignored.

Again, life is complex here in Turkey. This is not a bad thing, not a good thing, whatever. But it’s good to remember when analysts are concerned about the coming tide of something or another.

Also, it’s good to read books, so do that. And tell me which Shafak novel to read, I’m all ears.

Stop Freaking Out About Islam. Stop it.

February 22, 2011

It makes you look bad. It makes us all look bad. Cut that out.

I say this not directly referring to Turkey-watching today, but the general consternation that gets thrown out towards Islam. The new hotness is the case of Said Musa, an Afghan man who converted to Christianity and is now having a difficult time in prison on his way towards a death sentence. It is a tragedy, all blasphemy laws are. It is, however, no reason to say this:

Ever since 2003, when the thrust of the War On Terror stopped being the defeat of America’s enemies and decisively shifted to nation-building, we have insisted — against history, law, language, and logic — that Islamic culture is perfectly compatible with and hospitable to Western-style democracy. It is not, it never has been, and it never will be.

It reminds me of these guys I knew in my university days. Every conversation you’d have, every party they invited themselves to, they would turn the talk to being about them.

  • “Hey, I’m taking this cool class on religious historiography and…”
  • “Yeah, I mean, I did Birthright, that was really rad.”

This is literally the same thing as…

  • “Hey, human rights are a serious issue in Afghanistan…”
  • “Yeah, I mean, do you see how they treat their Christians?”

This is also very prevalent in Turkey, of course. And it obscures truer narratives of what’s going on.

Read more…