Sunday, July 10, 2011

They fall on people and then those people are dead, you dumb motherfucker!

Title courtesy of Peter over at Sorry, everyone. While I'm not as gung-ho as he is, I certainly appreciate the sentiment.

People die. Everything turns brown and rots and goes back to Earth unless it's made of some sort of fucked up chemical. One of the greatest advancements I've made in my own life is being okay with this. I used to be stuck awake at nights imagining my eminent demise. Now I'm stuck staring at the havoc I've wrought, intentionally or unintentionally, and how it affects others. Much better.

Though not an expat anymore - even if Denver should really count - I have a bit of that lifestyle tattooed on my brain. I'll be back out of Los Estados before the next president is sworn in, to be sure. One of the attitudes of expat lifestyle that jabbed at me was the ability to willfully disconnect oneself. To start talking about bacon and music that speaks to us as a lost generation, man, instead of staring at the fire surrounding. Let alone getting out some water.

The latest news coming out of Turkey has been all Fenerbahce (let them burn, signed xoxo yabancarslan) and the recent election (AKP is at this point as newsworthy as the sun rising). Which is just another reason why I've fallen in deep, deep, love with Mashallah. Their most recent piece, eaning on the work of Yaşar Adanalı and Fatıh Pınar is pretty spellbinding.

Istanbul will burn. The overheating GDP is one thing, analyzed expertly by, erm, expert Aengus Collins. But the rapid beige-izing of Istanbul: Conventions! Condos! Creperies! destroys the lives of the individuals with promises of future growth. Future growth that will be empty if it exists at all.

Istanbul is only a few years away from toppling into its own peculiar form of Gulag Archipelago, much like the one Southern California has become. It won't be because of Islam, it won't be because of the West or the East or oil money or some cock-eyed notion of Browns not understanding capitalism. It will topple in a way much similar to Ireland's recent Stuka of a fall: real-estate driven growth.

Michael Lewis' bit on Ireland was published a bit ago, and is certainly worth a full read. Here's a sample pullaway:

[M]ore than a fifth of the Irish workforce was employed building houses. The Irish construction industry had swollen to become nearly a quarter of the country’s G.D.P.—compared with less than 10 percent in a normal economy—and Ireland was building half as many new houses a year as the United Kingdom, which had almost 15 times as many people to house. He learned that since 1994 the average price for a Dublin home had risen more than 500 percent. In parts of the city, rents had fallen to less than 1 percent of the purchase price—that is, you could rent a million-dollar home for less than $833 a month. The investment returns on Irish land were ridiculously low: it made no sense for capital to flow into Ireland to develop more of it. Irish home prices implied an economic growth rate that would leave Ireland, in 25 years, three times as rich as the United States. (“A price/earning ratio above Google’s,” as Kelly put it.) Where would this growth come from? Since 2000, Irish exports had stalled, and the economy had been consumed with building houses and offices and hotels. “Competitiveness didn’t matter,” says Kelly. “From now on we were going to get rich building houses for each other.

Sound familiar? But at least Ireland is small; smaller than Istanbul. Mashallah looks at how the rejiggering of the urban fabric doesn't just leave room for shifting, it leaves great big gaping holes that are expected to be filled because of Growth! and Enthusiasm!. This will not work as well as optimism would have it.

I'm generally bullish on Turkey and think things are going to work out. Most things I've read to the alternate have been based more on "Well, I dated a Turkish guy and he was an asshole," than statistics. This Mashallah piece is the first genuinely new, interesting, and affecting news I've read in a long time about Turkey. The attached videos are also spot-on. The maps are readable and influential and they actually talk about real estate developers in Istanbul like they're humans with strengths and foibles, not some Titans of Industry made of granite and Wall Street Journal columns.

The more I read of Mashallah, the more I start to think that most for-profit journalism in the region is choosing Option J  instead of positive, forward-pushing, work. And there a few good blogs, but most of them are trash (or, in the case of Istanbul Alti; compost).

So this is what I'm getting at. The growth of Turkey being paraded around, the "Westernization" the "you can get Starbucks here!" and the general bemusement of it not being the same place it was in the 1980s is the sausage, and one shudders to think of how it's made. Much like how we run our cars, our ferries, our Levent on the crushed corpses of dinosaurs and supercompressed trees, the above-ground life of Istanbul is anchored by the crushed dreams of family men and their starved infants. The bar one frequents with the dreadlocked Germans used to be someone's home. It's always nice to look in the mirror and reify that.

Barring that, go to Mashallah to be able to identify a few of the ruins in the rubble.

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