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.


Two Taxis, a Security Check, and Some Hearburn

I’m just about over the jet-lag. The few days before we left Istanbul were filled with more visits, more goodbyes, little sleep, and much packing.

Still, as tired and somber as we all were, we said goodbye to our doorman and his wife, standing together on the sidewalk in front of our building on Ergenekon for the last time. The owner of the next-door taxi stand even teased Meredith (who is a Galatasaray fan) by saying “Fenerbahce!”

We arrived at Ataturk Airport in time with our six suitcases and all our carry-ons (big and small). It took two taxis to bring us and our luggage to the airport. We accumulated a lot of stuff in the nearly 10 months we lived in Istanbul. Not to mention the souvenirs we were carrying for family and friends.

Our flight left over a half-hour later than scheduled. We arrived in Frankfurt, Germany with barely an hour to catch our connecting flight to Chicago. We had to pass through security again (having gone through twice in Istanbul) then walk through the maze-like halls to the gate. The four of us scanned our tickets and passports. My passport beeped and I was told “they” had been looking for me.

I was then greeted by a man from the U.S. Department of Homeland of Security who proceeded to ask me why I had been in Turkey and where I had traveled. It was very weird. My wife was more upset about it than I was. As we boarded the plane, Stephanie suggested I needed to do a FOIA to find out what the government had on me.

The flight to Chicago was long, especially since Meredith needed something every five to 15 minutes it seemed. “I want to watch something else!” she would shout, headphones on her ears. And I would be roused from my not-so-restful sleep to help her in choosing something else to watch on the LCD screen in front of her. She didn’t sleep until maybe the last two hours of the flight, while Henry didn’t sleep until the last hour.

While going through Passport Control at O’Hare, I was again flagged and taken for questioning by a security guard. The guard asked me where I was originally from and I explained that I was from the Chicago area, that I grew up in Northlake “the town south of this airport.” I was not put in a separate room, but in an open area far from the luggage carousel. There I waited several minutes before another man questioned me along the same lines as the man in Frankfurt.

The cynic in me thinks that could have simply done an internet search and up would have come my Twitter feed, Linkedin profile and this blog. The blog would have told them that A) I was in Istanbul with my wife who was there on a Fulbright Fellowship and B) no, I did not travel anywhere outside of Turkey. Or maybe they had done that and simply wanted to confirm that I am who I say I am. Who knows? No one was hostile toward me so I remained friendly and chatty when answering the questions they asked.

We spent the next few days in Chicago visiting with family and seeing a few friends. I gorged myself on various forms of pork, giving me heartburn for three or four nights.

On Tuesday, after a long round of luggage-Tetris, we got in our car and my wife drove us back to Michigan. My wife had to drive because while we were away my Michigan driver’s license expired. We did not fit all of our luggage into our Honda Civic. We’ve left behind some luggage at my sister’s and several pieces of clothing (sweaters and winter coats) at my parents’. We’ll return in a month to get it all.

In the few days we’ve been home we’ve been visited by many friends, which has been fantastic. The kids are excited and happy to be sleeping in their own rooms in their own house.

We’re slowly unpacked our suitcases. We’ve pulled some things out of the boxes in the basement. We have too much stuff and are now looking for any excuse to donate or throw much of it away.

We also acquired a three-year-old gray tabby cat from a friend who was fostering him. We’ve named him Suleiman.


With the cat, it looks like we’ll still be taking trips, but they won’t be lasting for several months.

Some Housecleaning


Picture of the Bean and the sky taken two years ago in Chicago in Millenium Park.

It was time to change to look of the blog. Overdue, really. The monochrome design had outlived its Sell-By date. This new theme is called Newsworthy.

There has also been some literal housecleaning around our home. My wife and I (with a big assist from my father) have painted several rooms in the house. This is in preparation for renting it out while we are in Istanbul.

This home improvement work has kept me busy. Plus, the kids are out of school for the summer. They need attention and stimulation and structure.

But now that the big home improvement stuff is done, I’ll have a little more time to finish a few posts about our trip to Cancun and some minor mishaps since returning.

So I promise to post a bit more often. Though as many of you know, I only post when I’ve got something to say. I dislike posting for the sake of posting. It feels like a chore. Blogging is something I do for fun. I have enough work offline to do. 😉

Have a great weekend!

When the Bribe Isn’t Big Enough to Matter

Only in Illinois can your conviction for corruption be overturned for not accepting big enough bribes. From the Chicago Sun-Times,

Dominick Owens, 46, twice took bribes of $600 to issue certifications of occupancy for four newly constructed homes he hadn’t inspected, a jury found following a trial in November. Originally suspected of taking more than $20,000 in bribes in 2005 and 2006, he was sentenced in March by Judge Blanche M. Manning to a year and a day in federal prison.

But the sentence was reversed Thursday in a ruling issued by the Seventh Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals. Justices ruled that Owens should not have been convicted because prosecutors didn’t prove the bribes he took were worth more than $5,000, as the law requires.

That’s a pretty nifty requirement. In other words, accepting two bribes of $600 each isn’t really much of a bother. It’s like jaywalking. Sure, it’s against the law, but it’s not worth going to prison over. What’s several hundred dollars between a developer and a building inspector?

Owens was convicted as part of a much larger federal investigation called, “Operation Crooked Code,” which has resulted in the convictions of 21 people. Of the 21, 15 were Chicago building and zoning inspectors.

Six of the 15 crooked inspectors apparently used connections to get their city jobs, according to a hiring “clout list” that was kept by Mayor Daley’s former patronage director, Robert Sorich, who, in an outgrowth of the Hired Truck investigation, was convicted in June 2006 of overseeing an illegal-hiring system that gave city jobs and promotions to politically connected people.

You got that? The Hired Trucking scandal (more details on that can be found here and here) led to its own investigations, which in turn led to Operation Crooked Code. Operation Crooked Code showed empirically what most people in Chicago already knew: that city inspectors are open to bribes.

For Federal investigators, Chicago is a place where there’s plenty of corruption to investigate, which means there’s plenty of job security for them.

For writers, corruption is just one of the many inexhaustible sources of inspiration in Chicago. It’s a city that appalls, repulses, fascinates, seduces, and charms. It never bores. I never tire of it.

Now, About Those Statues in Grant Park and Lincoln Park…

It is a curious fact that Chicago’s two most prominent lakefront parks host a contradiction: there is a statue of President and General Ulysses S. Grant in Lincoln Park and a statue of President Abraham Lincoln in Grant Park.

There are some good, but not so obvious reasons for this, and one slight mystery.

Lincoln Park was created first, shortly after the assassination of President Lincoln. According to the Encyclopedia Chicago, part of what is now Lincoln Park was originally a cemetery. It would be decades before the park would come to resemble what we see today.

In the following decades workers excavated artificial ponds, mixed tons of clay and manure into the sand, and, after some failed experiments, largely stabilized the shoreline. By the end of the century many enduring features of the park were in place, including abundant greenery, fountains and statuary, winding walkways, bicycle paths, and the beginnings of the Lincoln Park Zoo (1868), Lake Shore Drive (1875), and the Lincoln Park Conservatory (1892).

A statue was made by artist Augustus Saint-Gaudens that is known as “Standing Lincoln.” Then, in 1891, a memorial statue for General Grant was placed in the city’s most prominent park at the time: Lincoln Park.

So there wasn’t even a park named for Grant in which to place a statue. Grant Park, which borders the Loop and is often called the city’s “front yard,” wasn’t formally created until 1896. Even then, there were train tracks running between the park and the lake shore. It wasn’t until much later that the tracks were put below grade.

The statue of Lincoln known as “Sitting Lincoln” (also by Saint-Gaudens) “sits” in Grant Park. It was placed there in 1926.

Buckingham fountain is the main attraction of Grant Park. Then there are the Indian warrior statues at Congress Parkway, the Bowman and Spearman. There is a statue of another Civil War general by the name of John Logan.

Here’s the main oddity: there is no statue of former President and General Ulysses S. Grant in his namesake park in Chicago.

I have no idea why that is. Nor does anyone else seem to know why.

Whatever the reasons for the placement of the statues of two of Illinois’ most famous historical figures, I had a little fun with this oddity at the expense of Chicago aldermen in my novel CHICAGO TIME. No alderman, to my knowledge, has ever yet suggested that the statues of Grant and Lincoln be switched for the sake of consistency. But I still wouldn’t put it past them.

Though a new statue of Grant in Grant Park would probably stop the questions about the contradiction that pop up from time to time.

Living on Chicago Time

Clock at Marshall Field and Company, Chicago (taken at the corner of Randolph and State Street). Photographer: David K. Staub under Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.5 License

The working title for the novel that would become CHICAGO TIME was WINDY CITY. Then I found out Scott Simon had taken it for his novel. (His is a very entertaining novel about the political machinations taking place among Chicago aldermen upon the death of the mayor.)

This forced me to come up with a new title. I took the new title from a rant by one of the main characters, Elise, about a commonly used phrase in Chicago. You see, when you live in Chicago you live on “Chicago Time.”

It’s a curiosity about Chicago that almost no one who lives there, when referring to the time zone, ever says “Central Time” or “Central Standard Time” or even “Midwest Time.” I have no idea how this came about.

I spent most of the first 30 years of my life living in and around Chicago, and I often used the phrase “Chicago Time.” As in, “The Sox are on a road trip on the West coast, so the game against Oakland doesn’t start until 9 o’clock Chicago time.”

It wasn’t just me or everyone else I knew or heard speak. You also see this in more formal situations like this local CBS news report.

After driving past the prison a few times, then stopping at a hamburger restaurant for a Coke, Blagojevich arrived by car at FCI Englewood, a low-security federal prison in Littleton, Colo., and walked into the complex at 12:50 p.m. Chicago time, approximately 10 minutes before his required surrender time.

Or a report by columnist Lynn Sweet about the mayoral debates last year.

7:01 Chicago time
Miguel del Valle, Gery Chico bland openers.
Rahm Emanuel–the front-runner–nothing special
Carol Moseley Braun–in a new hairstyle and new highlights (I would note a new look for a man)…crisply summed up her biography…and makes the best pitch in the opener.

[Emphasis added]

This mindset does not necessarily occur in other places.

When I lived in Los Angeles, people didn’t say “LA Time.” Instead, they would say, “West Coast Time” or some variation of that, or even “Pacific time.”

In Michigan, no one says “Michigan Time.” You couldn’t even if you wanted to: half the UP is in the Eastern Time Zone and the other half is in the Central Time Zone.

In China there is only one time zone for the entire country.

When it’s not just the average Chicagoan who uses the term, but members of the media, it becomes something beyond local slang and approaches being legitimate. The phrase “Chicago Time” creates the sense that Chicago really does indeed have its own time zone. I have to agree with my character Elise, that it does reinforce the city’s warped sense of itself. Unlike her though, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

CHICAGO TIME Is Available the World Over

From my Inbox….Amazon has announced that books published through their Kindle Direct Program are now available in India through Amazon.com.

This means that in addition to the US and Canada, my novel CHICAGO TIME is available in the following Amazon stores:






I go to China and when I return I find that my novel is getting easier to buy the world over. How cool is that?