Eight Ways Turkey and Chicago are Alike

I grew up in a suburb close to Chicago, right under the takeoff patterns of O’Hare airport. As an adult my wife and I lived in the city in which my parents were born and raised. I’ve lived in two other places (Los Angeles and Michigan) and visited quite a few others. Never before have I had the shock of recognition that I experienced after living a few months in Istanbul.

There are many differences between my hometown of Chicago and the country of Turkey, be they historical, religious, linguistic, or geographic.

But politically, they are eerily similar in ways I find amusing, funny, and downright appalling. So here is my list of the top seven ways Turkey and Chicago are alike.

8) Leaders Who Like to Plant Trees.

Mayor Richard the Second was big on planting trees. His father, Mayor Richard the First, was also fond of responding to critics with the phrase, “What trees do you plant?” This has also become a somewhat common Chicago maxim, as if to say, “What are you doing to fix and improve things?”

Prime Minister Erdoğan, despite the Gezi protests, would have you all know that he loves to plant trees.


And he even said, “The Gezi people are those who have no thought. They never planted a tree.”

This hasn’t stopped Erdoğan from demolishing a large part of a forest to build a third bridge over the Bosphorus.

7) Building stuff, Especially Big Things, Is Very Important.

From a third bridge over the Bosphorus, to a new enormous third airport, to digging another Bosphorus, Erdoğan wants Big Projects as his legacy. So did many Chicago mayors, whether it was a showcase lakefront park that cost $450 million to build, or several city-wide expressways, or a major airport, or very tall high-rise buildings. Big projects bring pride and, most importantly to politicians, keep voters working. Working voters are happy voters.

6) A Complete Disregard for Historical Heritage.

Chicago has improved on this in the past few decades. But nothing is allowed to get in the way of building big stuff, whether it’s an entire neighborhood for a new university campus (UIC) or ancient ruins for a tunnel underneath the Bosphorus, or buildings designed by Louis Sullivan to make way for new ugly skyscrapers.

Erdoğan vowed he wouldn’t let pots and pans get in the way of “progress.”

5) Votes are More Important than Efficiency.

Many roads in Istanbul are made of stone or concrete pavers. It’s very labor-intensive to build these kinds of roads. It requires many people (men) to personally lift and place each brick and put it into place. That isn’t tolerated as much anymore in Chicago or the U.S.A., what with the bare coffers of municipal governments.

But how many votes does an asphalt paving machine bring in?

4) Voting Is a Sport.

Chicago has a history of allowing dead people to vote, which has given rise to the saying, “The dead always rise on Election Day.” There has also been funny business with excessive numbers of absentee ballots in some parts of the city. It’s accepted as fact that Kennedy beat Nixon in Illinois thanks to some funny business with the votes in Cook County.

In the most recent election in Turkey, ballots for opposition candidates were put in the trash.

3) Corruption is Normal.

In Turkey, it’s shoeboxes full of money, found in the library of the general manager of the country’s state-run lender Halkbank.

In Chicago it’s been everything from bribery to tax evasion, to fixing criminal cases.

Why aren’t Erdogan’s supporters appalled at the corruption? Because they either don’t believe the reports coming from the press, or they don’t see it as corruption. The latter has allowed corruption to continue to thrive in Chicago despite numerous Federal investigations, resulting in hundreds (thousands?) of convictions through many decades.

2) Leaders Who Don’t Take Any Crap from Anyone.

Every word of criticism must be answered, every complaint must be disproved, every insult must be returned in kind. He doesn’t take anything from anybody.
– Mike Royko, Boss, about mayor Richard J. Daley


Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has labeled a corruption probe involving former ministers of his government as nothing but a “treacherous plot” to sabotage Turkey’s international standing and has ordered Turkish ambassadors serving abroad to “tell the truth” to their foreign interlocutors.

1) Leaders Who Hold the Press in Complete and Utter Contempt.

If he feels that he has been criticized unfairly, and he considers most criticism unfair, he doesn’t hesitate to pick up a phone and complain to an editor….[B]ut in general, he views the paper as his enemy. The reporters, specifically. They want to know things that are none of their business, because they are little men. Editors, at least, have power, but he doesn’t understand why they let reporters exercise it.
– Mike Royko, Boss, about mayor Richard J. Daley

Erdoğan says things like this, “Revealing state privacy is not called freedom, it is sheer treason.”

Plus, Erdoğan has power over the press that Chicago mayors can only dream of getting.

Number of journalists in jail in Turkey: 40
Number of journalists in jail in China: 32

Those numbers are according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.


Of course, one of the biggest differences between the two is that, unlike in Chicago, there is absolutely no check on Erdogan’s power in Turkey. With Chicago, the Feds have been kept busy investigating corruption. In Turkey, Erdogan just reassigns those police officers, prosecutors, and judges who investigate corruption.


I’m Blocked from Twitter, Like Everyone Else in Turkey

Thanks to Turkey’s Prime Minister Erdoğan (aka “The Little Dictator That Could”), millions of people in Turkey can no longer access Twitter. This includes me.

“The international community can say this, can say that. I don’t care at all. Everyone will see how powerful the Republic of Turkey is,” he [Erdoğan] said in a characteristically unyielding tone.

San Francisco-based Twitter said Thursday afternoon local time that it was looking into the matter and had not issued a formal statement. But the company did publish a tweet addressed to Turkish users instructing them on how to continue tweeting via SMS text message.

I don’t know how long this blocking will continue. I don’t have a VPN or access to a good proxy server (that I trust) at this point. WordPress automatically publishes a link to my blog posts on Twitter. So for now that’s the only way I can publish to Twitter. But it also means I still have no way to continue to follow many of the people on Twitter whom I read on a regular basis.

There are many great and wonderful things about Turkey. The pettiness and corruption of its current leader is not one of them.

Update: …and just like that…I’m back on Twitter courtesy of a very easy-to-use VPN. Bwahahahaha…

Manic Monday

Good morning. It’s time for another manic Monday; some bad news and good news to start off your week.

What’s wrong with U.S. universities? According to Dissent, too much administration.

If we go further back in time, the rise in administrators becomes even more striking. In the last forty years the number of full-time faculty at colleges and universities has grown by 50 percent—in line with increases in student enrollment—but in this same period the number of administrators has risen by 85 percent and the number of staffers required to help the administrators has jumped by a whopping 240 percent. Small wonder, then, that so many policy decisions at colleges and universities are made without—or despite—faculty input.

On the upside, the world’s biggest Reality Competition/Sporting Event, aka the U.S. Presidential Election, will end tomorrow as voters go to the polls.

The bickering, shouting, ranting, conspiracy-mongering, robo-calls, and campaign ads will come to an end.

Though the complaining about who’s President won’t stop. That never stops. One side is always pissed.

Have a great week.

Get Your Own Library

Bloomfield Hills, MI is a very wealthy suburb of Detroit. But they are lacking something nearly every town in the USA has.

Since 2003, when Bloomfield Hills opted out of a 39-year relationship with the Bloomfield Township Public Library, its 4,000 residents (median household income: $172,000 a year) have been library-less by choice.

The same city that boasts of being home to executives and sports stars, exclusive country clubs and fabulous homes, has been going cheap on borrowing books.

City Commissioner Robert Toohey urges residents to avail themselves of the “free” libraries in nearby Birmingham and Bloomfield Township. If they need to check out books, residents can buy $200 library cards, with check-out privileges, from the Troy Public Library. Fewer than 100 do so, even though Bloomfield Hills reimburses the cost.

As one father found out though, just because you have a library card at a library, doesn’t mean you have access to all of its programs.

New city residents like Dr. Homa Hasnain are sometimes surprised to discover their beautiful new home in a prestigious community doesn’t include access to the nearby library.

“I was shocked,” said Hasnain, whose 9-year-old couldn’t participate in summer reading programs. “We thought a library is automatic. … It feels like a punishment to my daughter.”

Tut-tut. It’s clear that the doctor doesn’t understand the social mores of Bloomfield Hills. If you’re wealthy enough to live in Bloomfield Hills, surely you have the means to acquire your own library, complete with mahogany tables, Levenger pens and reading lights, dark leather furniture, and oak bookshelves lined with leather-bound books. Only a socialist, Obamacare-loving, Death Panel Member would place any kind of value on a public library.

Some do-gooders want to change this, and put a millage on the ballot that will renew the rich enclave’s previous contract with the Bloomfield Township library, granting them full library privileges. This being Michigan, there are people against that. Because in Michigan (as has become fashionable all over this great country of ours), the two things people hate more than anything else are taxes and book-learnin’.

Why a U.S. Politician Would Never Claim Beckett as Their Favorite Writer

I have so agree with Andrew Sullivan on this,”Somehow I cannot imagine a presidential candidate in the US unloading this five days before voting.”

This is Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats in the U.K. on his favorite author, Samuel Beckett,

Since then I must have read Waiting for Godot – of course – a hundred times. Every time I go back to Beckett he seems more subversive, not less; his works make me feel more uncomfortable than they did before. The unsettling idea, most explicit in Godot, that life is habit – that it is all just a series of motions devoid of meaning – never gets any easier.

It’s that willingness to question the things the rest of us take for granted that I admire most about Beckett; the courage to ask questions that are dangerous because, if the traditions and meanings we hold so dear turn out to be false, what do we do then?

Somehow I cannot imagine a US politician ever unloading anything like this in print or in speech. You can imagine the uproar on this side of the pond: “‘Life Is Meaningless, Declares Party Leader!” or “Party Leader Says We Might As Well Kill Ourselves!”

Remember the manufactured outrage over Obama supposedly not putting his hand over his heart during the playing of the national anthem or recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance? Because in the U.S. MSM any gesture that is short of rabid patriotism is considered tantamount to treason when it comes to judging the suitability of a candidate for higher office.

It just goes to show how empty these gestures of patriotism have become thanks to force of habit; a series of required motions, rendered almost meaningless. (“Why do you hate America?!”) I think it’s this unarticulated feeling that really upsets the small-minded among us. The fear that all their ardor is for an imperfect country. They feel that to admit to our country’s imperfections is to call into question its fundamental existence. Which is not true. But that doesn’t stop the small-minded from making strange contortions of logic by arguing that torture is a U.S. value consistent with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, or that we can deliver democracy to another country through Shock and Awe.

Related to this, for once, I’d like to see a major political campaign logo not use red, white, & blue, or even evoke the flag…Fat chance of that ever happening. That would be deemed unpatriotic and subversive. The willingness to question things we take for granted is neither valued nor rewarded.

I don’t mean to make Clegg out to be some true subversive, or say that UK voters are any more adept at seeing through campaign bullshit. He’s a politician and all that goes with it. (He’s the result of a private school education and a member of the Oxbridge Ruling Class.) It’s just fascinating to see a major politician write a short article about how their favorite author is someone as discomforting and humorous as Beckett. By contrast President George W. Bush said his favorite philosopher was Jesus Christ. And how did that work out for us?

Animal Farm

Christopher Hitchens re-reads George Orwell’s Animal Farm over at the Guardian. Orwell had a hell of a time getting the book published.

It is sobering to consider how close this novel came to remaining unpublished. Having survived Hitler’s bombing, the rather battered manuscript was sent to the office of TS Eliot, then an important editor at Faber & Faber. Eliot, a friendly acquaintance of Orwell’s, was a political and cultural conservative, not to say reactionary. But, perhaps influenced by Britain’s alliance with Moscow, he rejected the book on the grounds that it seemed too “Trotskyite”. He also told Orwell that his choice of pigs as rulers was an unfortunate one, and that readers might draw the conclusion that what was needed was “more public-spirited pigs”. This was not perhaps as fatuous as the turn-down that Orwell received from the Dial Press in New York, which solemnly informed him that stories about animals found no market in the US. And this in the land of Disney . . .

It was finally published by small press Secker & Warburg in 1945 who paid Orwell all of £45. I haven’t read the book in awhile. I have an edition of the book that is illustrated by Ralph Steadman. The drawings are wickedly grotesque and funny, as you might expect from the man who illustrated some of the crazy adventures of Hunter S. Thompson.

The book is still banned in many countries around the world, including Iran. According to Hitchens a newspaper in Zimbabwe serialized the novel and was rewarded with the offices being bombed.

Fill a Giant Hole in Chicago for Cash and Prizes

The Chicago Architectural Club is running a competition for ideas on what to do with the gaping hole in the Streeterville neighborhood thanks to the un-built Calatrava-designed Chicago Spire.

The hole is 76 feet wide and 110 feet deep. Here’s what the hole looks like, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune.

My suggestion: turn it into a politicians-only prison, with a big sheet of glass over the top, so people can walk by and gaze down at all the Chicago and Illinois politicians who have been convicted of corruption, tax evasion, etc…Though they might have to dig the hole a bit deeper.

[Hat Tip: Gapers Block]