Saturday, October 23, 2004


Gul: The non-choice negotiator

Mehmet Ali Birand has a rather amusing piece on who should be the negotiator when "the condition of our condition" talks start on December 17. It is amusing if only for its lack of depth. One would be inclined to think that when doing an analysis on possible negotiators, one should first establish a set of possible candidates. In fact, the only alternative to Birand's main choice is Kemal Dervis, at least according to Birand. Everyone knew though that Dervis (a political innocent and ex-IMF economist) was scratched off a while ago. Gul, our current foreign minister, seems like the only possibility; anyone else were things to go bad could be easily made a scapegoat. The man's greatest assest is his ability to casually put down occasional nationalistic or status quo arguments that bubble forth from some corners (as he had done when the Annan Plan for Cyprus was put on the table) without denting his credibility. Although he does have his occasional gaffs, his English is not embarrassingly bad (Does anyone remember that god-awful CNN international interview with Mesut Yilmaz? The guy didn't bring a translator and resorted to repeating one answer for dozens of unrelated questions). Birand, as usual, shies away from presenting something that is little known about the negotiations or Gul. (He even begins is article "As usual in our impatience...", see "Penal Code" post below for Birand's patience theme.)


Friday, October 22, 2004


Hitchens: Wolfowitz is the anti-Kissinger

Apparently (or hopefully), there are two camps under the neo-conservatives, one that believes fixing Iraq will ease Israel's expansionist policies, and the other that believes fixing Iraq will prevent Israel's expansionist policies. In a debate with Tariq Ali, Christopher Hitchens says Wolfowitz is in the latter group:

Hitchens: Now there are some of the neo-conservatives, I think, thought by taking out the main rejectionist dictatorship in the region, they would make Eretz Israel, or Greater Israel, more secure, or more feasible, alternatively, whether you think Greater Israel has been achieved or not. There were others of the same kidney, if you wish, where Wolfowitz and others took exactly the opposite feeling. If you took out the rejectionist dictatorship, you were in a stronger position to bring the leverage on Israel about the settlements and about expansionism, especially at a time when the Likud party itself is beginning to abandon the ultimate dream of Eretz Israel. I think it's very seldom noticed about this election, especially on the left, and this surprises me and I dare say I might even get Tariq's half acquiescence on this point. If you care about the rights of the Palestinians, which I do and I know he does, and you do, there's absolutely no reason whatever to hope for a Democratic victory in November. It's quite obvious to me that the only chance they have is a Bush second term. The possibility that some pressure can be brought in Israel from this quarter, the only quarter that counts, increases if Bush is re-elected.

Ali: Well, I must say what Christopher said on this is undeniable. The Democrats have over the last 20 years been completely uncritical of every single Israeli government, which has continued to press the Palestinians and crush and kill on a daily basis. What I dispute is whether a Bush second victory would be of any benefit in this particular direction, because the whole thing has now been subsumed under the war against terror, so-called. And Sharon became a valued ally of the Bush administration because he was regarded as absolutely central in the war against terror. And every single struggle is now characterized as a struggle against terrorism. I mean, Putin has destroyed half of Chechnya in the name of the so-called war against terror...I mean, what makes Wolfowitz different from Henry Kissinger in terms of projecting America power?

Hitchens: Wolfowitz and Kissinger disliked each other and disagreed very strongly with each other for a long time. I think the origin of the disagreement and the origin of Wolfowitz's political career is that he argued it was important to dump the Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines. Base or no base, let it go and take the chances that this would have a ripple effect in the rest of Asia, which was just what Kissinger didn't want. As a result, there were outbreaks of democratic insurgency, starting with the Aquino election, in South Korea, in Taiwan, eventuating in Tiananmen Square, in fact, in 1989, which of course, Kissinger also opposed and took the side of the Chinese Stalinists. On the Middle East, the victory of the neo-conservatives is very paradoxical, because contra Bush, Eagleburger -� Bush Sr., that is -� Eagleburger, Scowcroft -- I've just mentioned, by the way, the two leading members of Kissinger Associates -- and others, Colin Powell. The argument of the neo-conservatives, or at least of the Wolfowitz wing, was, "We can't go on like this, running the Middle East as a kind of political slum of client states. We have to take the chance that destabilization would be worth it in the long run." That's what, that's still why the extreme right in the country, people like Buchanan and others, oppose it. Precisely for that reason. They and the pro-Saudi conservatives.



An Act of God

When she was theorizing about artificial intelligence, Ellen Ullman once wrote:

“I decided that there are huge swaths of existence that would be impenetrable—indescribable, unprogrammable—to a creature that did not eat or shit.”

Well, it turns out that Protestants may not have had their Reformation if it weren't for one man's constipation. The toliet was where Martin Luther came up with the idea and he wouldn't have been stuck there for so long if things had been working smoothly. Archaeologists, apparently, have found his spot. Whoever reported this story definately got their kicks:

The scholar suffered from constipation and spent many hours in contemplation on the toilet seat...."We still don't know what was used for wiping in those days," says Dr Treu. The paper of the time, he says, would have been too expensive and critically, "too stiff" for the purpose....Future visitors to Wittenberg's Martin Luther museum will be able to view the new find, though structural concerns mean they will not be free to test its qualities as a toilet.



Carney on Kael

This is old stuff but still:

RC:....the Times's restaurant reviewer should forget about La Grenouille and Aureole and start covering the local Pizza Hut and McDonald's outlets. The art critic should make sure he writes up the black velvet Elvis paintings. The book review editor better not miss a Tom Clancy or Stephen King novel. All kidding aside, shouldn't the film reviewer take his job at least as seriously as the restaurant reviewer? At the very least, shouldn't there be one reviewer at each major publication assigned to covering the real works of art in film–no matter how small their budgets or limited their releases? There's no one at any major publication I know of doing that now.

VISIONS: Doesn't Pauline Kael's promotion of the early work of Coppola, Lynch, the Coen brothers, Toback, and DePalma disprove that?

RC: (Laughing) You're asking the wrong person about Pauline Kael....Kael wasn't interested in art; she was a connoisseur of kitsch. As far as I'm concerned, she was the single most unfortunate influence on the last thirty years of American film reviewing–stylistically, intellectually, and aesthetically. OK, so she went out front and championed certain filmmakers' work before anyone else did. But doesn't it matter that she was wrong about each and every one of them? Have any of them produced a major work?

Kael was the Michael Milken of film reviewing–she had a genuine flair for rhetorically inflating the value of a worthless stock and creating a stampede on the part of others to buy into it based on the inflated value. Look at how it worked in practice: Kael canonized The Godfather, Dressed to Kill, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Fingers, Blood Simple, and Blue Velvet as masterworks. Since most critics, like most stock market investors, are more or less sheep, they followed her lead. Once they jumped on the bandwagon, the fiction acquired a life of its own, and she seemed astonishingly prescient. Reputations were made, canonical oeuvres were established based on one or two works, careers were avidly tracked, with the critics wagering on each of the successive works. The only problem is that it was all a shell game. A few years went by and the initial offering inevitably went back to zero, since there was no intrinsic value to start with. Subsequent works (not surprisingly) failed to live up to the "promise" of the director's previous work. The six movies I named were eventually perceived to be merely quite ordinary or worse than ordinary. (Most people seem to have realized this about the DePalma, Spielberg, Toback, Coen, and Lynch movies, though there are those who have invested so heavily in Coppola that they still can't admit that they are holding worthless promissory notes.)

VISIONS: But it's always said that she was a great writer.

RC: Doesn't great writing have something to do with being smart, being perceptive, being critically "right" about a work or a career? Is it great writing if you're consistently stupid and wrong? Are we in such an alexandrine age that great writing has become nothing more than jazzy metaphors, panting exclamations, the snap, crackle, and pop of adverbial self-stimulation? But what's even worse is that the awfulness lives on in all of the Kael-clones she spawned over the past twenty years. You come up against her lamentable legacy every week in the Village Voice, New York, and the Boston Globe–both in the schlock sensibility and in the costume-jewelry glitz of the writing itself.


Thursday, October 21, 2004


Rick Trembles, Maverick Film Reviewer

There are few people in the world who are greater defenders of cinematic trash than Rick Trembles. A resident of Montreal, this guy churns out comic film reviews like no other, and I'm sure those south of the border will be hard-pressed to find an equivalent. Many of his archived reviews are now being published--anything from Birth of A Nation (1915) to Billy Wilder's Ace in the Hole (1951) to Charlie's Angels. You can check out his review of Team America as well... or maybe his archives.



Language Edition Variations

There are only a few newspaper that have English online editions, and the ones that do have amusing differences with their Turkish counterpart. For example, the socially conservative Zaman has Erdogan's France visit as the main story but its English edition heads with the guilty plea of a US soldier in the Abu Ghraib scandal. It also has a headline that states the Muslim contingent support for Kerry in the US elections, absent from the Turkish front page. The Turkish edition, on the other hand, has a headline that informs the reader that a Hollywood movie about Fatih Sultan Mehmet is being made. The subtle difference in covering homosexuality is also amusing. The Booker Prize winner, Hollinghurst, along with his "gay novel", is mentioned on the front page in the English edition, but left for the Culture section in the Turkish version.
Hurriyet's English online edition is less detailed than Zaman's. However, it contains a story that Zaman does not mention:

While in France, P.M. Tayyip Erdogan gave liberal messages. He said that gays had their own law and that there should be no fear from an idea that made no "Actual harm."

I guess when he says "an idea that makes no actual harm," he's referring to gay sex. I have no idea, though, what he means when he says that "gays have their own laws." What, in God's name, does that mean? Laws that protect them (I highly doubt it)? (I am reminded of the Christian provinces of the Ottoman Empire which, though they were taxed, were not required to follow Islamic law--but what Turkish laws nowadays do not apply to homosexuals?) This headline is also completely absent from Hurriyet's Turkish online edition, which leads me to believe that Hurriyet does not want to cause a minor domestic controversy, but at the same time hopes to show off our "cosmopolitan" prime minister to foreigners. How thoughtful of them, if only the story made sense....


Wednesday, October 20, 2004


"I am circling around God, around the ancient tower, and I have been circling for a thousand years, and I still don't know if I am a falcon, or a storm, or a great song." --Rilke

Some amazing photos from the Narphotos collective....these are by Coskun Asar. If a transvestite has got your back in a fight in Turkey then you're good to go. They are by far the toughest of the tough, out of necessity of course. For in a hostile environment, they have to put up with getting attacked just for walking the street. If they go up against some gang in any part of the world they will kick ass. No contest.


Tuesday, October 19, 2004


One (or Two) Sentence Belated Reviews of Mostly Retarded Movies

The Terminal: Ever wonder what it would be like if Forrest Gump was Russian instead of retarded?

Collateral: Jamie Foxx tells the Last Samurai not to give him "this I-Ching shit" in a taxi cab, thus ending the age-old practice of using taxis to dump bullshit dialogue in a script. Tom Cruise reinstates the practice by continuing to talk about the insignificance of man in the cosmos.

I Robot: Will Smith is a racist black cop in the future chasing down robots who happen to be running down a street with a purse in their hands. This provides sharp commentary on life in the States today where cops chase black people down a street for the same reason, and most of the time it turns out that there is an inhaler in the purse and the poor black guy is trying reach some bitch who is about to die, just like in the movie.

Life is A Miracle: A guy masturbates as bombs fall on his head. No, it's not Underground. Way to go Kusturica!!

Old Boy: When the audience has lost all hope, and while on the ground and having the crap kicked out of him by twenty people, our hero ingeniously begins to hit the attackers' feet with a hammer, like a deranged Charlie Chaplin.



Turkish Penal Code (Apparently, size does matter)

Cumhuriyet gave a free copy of the new penal code with their newspaper last week, knowing the little I do know about penal codes I was surprised how thin the thing actually was. Cumhuriyet must have sensed the laziness of the general public to go out and find the damn thing...good for them. They have, after all, saved me a trip to the library. Although I did not see laws against Armenian genocide acceptance or advocating removal of Turkish troops from Cyprus, there is an article that presumably allows people to be charged for it (2+ years jail sentence):

Insulting the Turkish national identity, the Republic or the Grand National Assembly of Turkey: up to 3 years (if committed by a Turkish citizen abroad: to be increased one-third); Insulting the Turkish Government, the judicial organs, military or security institutions: up to 2 years (if committed by a Turkish citizen abroad: to be increased one-third).

The vagueness in wording is rampant throughout the text. What differentiates a criticism from an insult? The fact that one would leave such a distinction in the hands of a few judges is absurd. Convinctions may be hard to come by, but even having to waste months or years in court is punishment in and of itself.

The European Green Party, usually referred to as the most vocal supporter of Turkey's EU bid, held a parlimentary meeting in Istanbul today. And for ardent supporters, they made a lot of people squirm. Daniel Cohen-Bendit bluntly stated that people being sent to jail for speech, even when their words directly attacked the State, was unacceptable. His bluntness even took the translator by surprise, who started off watering down some of his words but then began translating them more accurately when she realized he wasn't letting up.

What's also been amusing is a couple of pieces by Mehmet Ali "Gee What a Great View" Birand. He spends most of his time begging both the EU and Turkey to be patient cause "things are getting better." Either I haven't been paying attention, or Birand is growing a few fangs, and it's a good thing:

"I am talking about our general attitude towards our Kurdish citizens.

We didn't even recognize their existence.

Didn't we tell them: "You don't know who you are. You are not Kurds, you are mountain Turks?"

Didn't we change the names of their villages to Turkish?

Didn't we even prevent them giving their children Kurdish names?

Didn't we ban them from talking Kurdish or listening to Kurdish songs?

Didn't we purposefully leave the Southeast poor and ignorant? Didn't we ignore the fact that a clan structure was being established there?

Now, let's look at the status of the Alewis.

Didn't the dominant Sunnis force Alewis to remain on the sidelines for years?

The religious Affairs Directorate didn't use even a small part of the taxes it collected from the Alewis to support Cem Houses (Alewi places of worship).

Alewis were always put under pressure.

Only when the Sunni Islamists became dominant did the Alewis draw praise as the "protectors of the secular system."

Didn't the state instigate Sunni-Alewi conflicts? How quickly we forget the large-scale clashes that occurred in the 1970s.

In his later article, his title exhumes his usual, almost child-like optimism: "I bet Ataturk is smiling," he says. In it, he notes the following:

"The European Commission gives a 'green light' to Turkey. However, the report was dominated by its aim to alleviate fears in EU countries. And then I looked at our media: Some are just ignorant, while some want to be seen as rebels while blasting the commission's report. Thank God most see the bigger picture."

One of those rebels, presumably, is Nuray Mert, who attacked the report on being weak on defending religious freedom and too overly concerned about superficial exhibitions of cultural diversity. Then Birand throws this in the field of strawberries:

"Our 'commission official' was honorable after all...We criticized the man for years. We accused him of being a Nazi and anti-Turkish. What he said was right but it didn't suit our purposes, so we just ignored them. However, we should now give credit where it's due."

Well, no wonder Guenter Verheugen is being ridiculed by Europe's right nowadays. Birand, as usual, finishes by saying that the pessimism exhibited by some goes against the facts. There are some pessimists out there, however, who are so inclined because they refuse to demand anything less than what is just.

What was also amusing was the misunderstanding of our press over the use of the word "minority". In the West, it usually implies receiving some kind of additional attention. In Turkey, it is used to refer to groups of people who have to pay a certain price to be who they are.


Sunday, October 17, 2004


Amis vs. Updike Redux

If there hasn't been a book that has lost its place on my bookshelf despite having the last 70 pages drenched in coffee it's Martin Amis' The War Against Cliche collection of essays (1971-2000), filled with his take on Updike and Bellow. For the last twenty years it looks as though Updike has not relaxed his insistence on reviewing translations. Amis' 1976 piece on Updike's book reviews reads as if it were written yesterday:

"Updike can keep a straight face while noting the linguistic tang of translated 'Arab and Bantu exclamations'; and he is perfectly capable of talking about the style of a novel translated from the French translation of the Polish--which is like analysing the brushstrokes of a Brownie."

Updike's last two reviews have such musings.

From José Saramago's (Portugese) The Double:

The proof that the universe was not as well-thought-out as it should have been lies in the fact that the Creator ordered the star that illumines us to be called the sun. Had the king of the stars borne the name Common Sense, imagine how enlightened the human spirit would be now.

Updike's response:

One wonders. “Common sense” in Portuguese is surprisingly similar to the English: comum senso or bom senso. Nevertheless, some spirit-altering connotations may be lost in translation. Is common sense really a cure-all?

From Orhan Pamuk's Snow:

“….You’re here this evening, aren’t you?”
“Because I want to read you my poem again,” said Ka, as he put his notebook into his pocket. “Do you think it’s beautiful?”
“Yes, really, it’s beautiful.”
“What’s beautiful about it?”
“I don’t know, it’s just beautiful,” said Ipek. She opened the door to leave.
Ka threw his arms around her and kissed her on the mouth.

Updike's Response: reads better in Turkish.

Clearly, books that rely on too many cultural cues usually do not fair well in translation. Novels that do exploit cultural cues, however, are usually popular nationally because their cues can act as a cover for an otherwise obvious lack of depth. Their mediocrity is unearthed with another language. In cases where novels that first wallow in cultural debris but then transcend it, it’s more of a tragedy because the actual transcendence is what is absent in the translation, and the cultural debris all the more present. There are those that can avoid this, and at least Updike is out in front leading the search.

Meanwhile, his collection of short stories (in untranslated English) came to my library.
The thing, unsurprisingly, is huge. If you happen to like Updike and step aerobics, it’s your lucky day cause this doubles as both.

"The reckless aggression of his first term moderated into the diplomatic 'hardball' of his second."
--Amis on Reagan circa '88


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