Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"He may be a conciliator, but he is no moderate."

Neat article I stumbled on, courtesy of Istanbul Calling, about how Hamas is doing business. While the dude who writes it is a bit Doo Rah Gaza! for my tastes (I'm not sure how one describes Gaza City as "...a bustling and cosmopolitan downtown.") it's an interesting look into how a not-quite-country does business. They smuggle, they work with NGOs. They hide stuff in John Kerry's briefcase and hold up pictures of Erdogan. If they won't be treated as a real country, then there's no reason to go about your standard diplomacy. May as well get creative with it.

Gaza is probably a bad example, what with the loaded philosophical and essentialist questions of the place. But I just stumbled into some "Turkic Friendship Festival" thingy yesterday, and Bashkortostan was pimping the hell out of themselves. I considered myself a stan-expert, and I had no clue where that was...it turns out its a Republic within the Russian Federation...a minor thing they left entirely out of their materials at the festival. But they can keep on telling people that they're a real country until it actually comes true. Putting the Nation Branding before the Nation, as it were. Get Christopher Hitchens to write 800 words on your oppression or something.

On the same line, I love how the tunnels and insurance payments are brushed off as no big deal. Corruption is business. It's more than just "one hand washes the other," the entire system is built off of paying some dude because taxes aren't taken seriously. How can you fight corruption when corruption is the system? Yeah, sure, put some dudes behind bars. See how that solves anything. It seems to me that it makes no sense to punish the individuals at a state-system scale. It makes more sense to adjust the definition of corruption to fit local standards.

I'm hardly a libertarian, I don't think. But I like the creativity it affords. No sea trade? Build tunnels. No diplomats? Go guerrilla. No borders? Get expansive. And no matter what you do, get hooked up with the IHH.

We're living in a time where "International Standards" are just fences that self-appellated Legitimate Folks hide behind. They complain about the rules without even understanding what the rules are. As mentioned previously, I firmly hope that creativity and guile can win the day. Lets hope for Bashkordostan that they can.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Book Review: Rebel Land by Christopher de Bellaigue

These book reviews are really not worth reading any more. Even when the books are. Rebel Land actually reminded me a decent bit of Power Faith and Fantasy, which you probably wont hear from many other sources. As much as de Bellaigue says that this is a book about "the History of a Turkish Town" it really isn't. I couldn't help but be nagged by the fact that he cared an awful lot more about the PKK then he did about much of anything else.

And while I did enjoy reading the book, even when (especially when) it challenged my own preconceived notions and biases. I'd love to take de Bellaigue out for tea at some point in my life. He has rabble-rouser tendencies, but I figure that's pretty much what you want in a journalist anyways. And his biases show through, sure, but as I said, its journalism. So why not? The PKK is certainly fascinating and Deniz Gezmis is worth writing a book about. So write a book about him. And while knowing that the Armenians just kinda...stopped being around one day is important, and while knowing your Alevi divisions is important, I just felt that it was just window dressing for the book de Bellaigue wanted to write.

All of that said, viewing an issue as it relates to a particular town was pretty cool. Like a Source for only a hundred years. And with grownup writing.

I should reiterate, however, that I don't agree with this books politics. If I've going to be hanging out in Istanbul, I should reiterate that I'm not nearly well-versed enough to take an actual, political, intellectual, stand in the Armenian or Kurdish or Alevi issues, and I'm not about to publish what I feel about an issue. That'd be stupid. So yeah, depending on how you feel about an issue, and how strong those feelings are, you may like this book. If you like righteous indignation, you'd love this book. If you just like people telling you why you're wrong because of what you're reading, you'd have to get this book.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

There's Always an Excuse When You Need One

Three weeks into Istanbul and I've found a job and a place to live. The place to live is nice, but there are a few too many unidentifiable bugs in the kitchen. Such comes with the bohemian lifestyle. And I'd complain a bit louder if I paid rent.

Note that I'm being charged rent. Just not paying yet. Let us, um, see how long I can pull that one off.

Other than that, it's just days full of translating and nights full of being a tout. Lots of, "Hey, my American friend. I have knowledge of great restaurants, and you can trust me because I am another American. Isn't this true, friend?"

So not exactly the world-changing, life-altering Experience. Yet. But I've never actually worked before, so that is sort of a novel concept so far. I'll have to try being entrepreneurial. Not what I expected to be doing, but it will be fun to try. But it'll be neat to see if this is something that I'm good at.

Meanwhile, Kyrgyzstan is devolving into bloodshed, torture, and Event Horizon-esque horror. And the most I can do is...sit here. Lovely. I don't even have time to write about it, even when all sorts of people can be paid to write about it. Even when the possibilities for their writings can become even more impressive. Even when there are avenues with whom to write. Nope, for now my fate is in Istanbul, and I'm not sure what I can do from here. It'll be up to July to find out. So I'll leave it to the fine pens of Ms. Kendzior and Mr. Schwartz to fill you in and their respective comments sections to entertain you. In short: everything is really complicated. There is no such thing as an Evil People, and there's a lot of blank space to be filled between the Anthropology of Kendzior and the Evil Studies of Schwartz. I'm not really sure there's a good way to fill that gap, but hey.

Things happen in Central Asia. This particular one, of course, was bad, but it is awfully important to note that this is a rarity, not the norm. Mass violence has never been the norm. We haven't moved into Barter Town quite yet. And Osh is almost certainly not where it would start.

It's a common theme here, but remember: most speakers are qualified to do nothing of the sort. I absolutely include myself in that categorization. The Ferghana Valley is an agonizingly complex place, but that doesn't mean its a tinderbox ready to explode. Manhattan is an agonizingly complex place, but even the Bernie Goetz's have been largely phased out. So what I'm trying to say is...let's gentrify Central Asia!

I'm going to start looking at Central Asia through a Turkish lens through this blog, that's the hope. It goes with the whole Neo-Ottoman, Pan-Turkic viewpoint of the current regime (though obviously less of the latter. There's no Ozal to be found currently). I'll also, depending on how work works out, try to get a view of the ugliness of the NGO world. I had a good talk over a football match with another American about the make-work and the short-sightedness of the NGOs that us do-gooders love, and I'd love to look at more of that through my personal scope.

"So if you're gonna mock governments and non-governments," you may ask, "then what's your answer?"

Underemployed young creatives, mostly. Yeah, you got it, I think that other jokers like me can make a difference. I'm not completely serious when I say that, though. Mostly because, I mean, what am I doing? Am I going out there and being Change? No, of course not, I have too many excuses why not. I can blog while Osh burns.

Dostanbul: These protests are ruınıng my entrance

OK, I feel that those who care would like to know that Im safe and sound ın Istanbul. Nothıng eventful has happened yet, besıdes someone eatıng the dots on all of my "ı"s. Ill try to keep up a somewhat onlıne, somewhat publıc dıary for those statesıders who care. If you dont care about the analytıcal bent I take here, then just keep the "Dostanbul" tag bookmarked (Mom...ıf you dont know what Im talkıng about, ask a daughter).

Oh, and I hope you lıke my Spanısh-or-Urdu puns more than you lıked the Turkısh pun at the ol' Eest-ahn-boo-loom Day-Eel.

So not much has happened yet. The trıp over was easy enough. The flıght to Brussels was on an Indıan aırlıne, so I had Indıan food. I also watched Parıs 36 (taglıne: Lets all sıng "Foux de Fa Fa" and fall ın love wıth waıfısh gırls) and the new Sherlock Holmes (Anachronısm Orgy). But Jet Aır ıs fun. The ads ın theır ın-flıght magazınes are full of Indıans aırbrushed ınto Brıts, and you know I love cultural self-loathıng.

Istanbul aırport ıs stıll nıce. Brussels aırport has the sort of tıered racısm that youd expect from Northern Europe: the Schengen flıghts are ın the pretty, clean termınal. The flıghts to 2nd-level locatıons are ın a shoddy-but-full-of-wındows termınal. The flıghts to Afrıca are off ın T Termınal. I ımagıne a tarpaper shack wıth a wındow fan.

Newarks ınternatıonal termınal, on the other hand, ıs comıcally awful. It has Former Empıre style opulence wıth ex-Sovıet amenıtıes. At least budget aırlınes have a smırk when they show that youre flyıng for cheap. Newark expects you to be honored by ıt.

I took the Istanbul Metro ınto town, whıch ıs my favorıte (and the cheapest) way ın. Gave unwarranted tourıst advıce to a couple from Vancouver on the rıde and complaıned about the BP oıl spıll. The taxı from Kabataş to Hisarüstü got delayed by traffic apocolypse. Istanbul stıll has the road system from when ıt was 5 mıllıon bıg, but now ıts 20 mıllıon. My taxı drıver was quıck to tell me that the delay was because of protests at the Israelı Consulate. Ill let Yılgal Schleıfer explaın the goıngs-on there so that I dont get polıtıcal on the ınternet. But basıcally: people are protestıng at the consulate. The synogagues, the Jewısh quarter, the cemeterıes are all beıng left alone. Thıs ıs a good thıng.

Thats about ıt so far. I owe a revıew of the latest book Ive read, sure. But I also need a job and a home. Im goıng to get on those fırst. So take care untıl I collect enough stores where onell be worth postıng.