Place of Refuge

Place of Refuge

12 June 2013


I am just a modest little
who, when I began this modest little
thought I could say something
that would impact someone.

I've since come to realize
that my little blog is just a blip 
on the larger screen,
like a distant star
in a distant galaxy,
in a landscape of babble.

I'm always a little shocked 
and amazed
when someone responds to a post I've written.

It's sort of like a voice from the other side of the universe.

And for those of you who are reading this:
It's nice to know you.


I ramble on
about whatever, and my words spin out
into the ether, sort of like that wonderful
to that film Contact,  that I think
Carl Sagan helped produce.

Remember that?

I kind of imagine the internet that way,
this scramble of voices
of impulses
of history,
emanating from our earth,
embracing the earth,
producing lasting traces
of we,
our history.

Cosmos left a big impact on me,
when it first came out.
It was one of those media events,
like the first time we landed on the moon,
that asked me
and everyone else,
to see our planet
from elsewhere,
to put our planet in its true perspective.

This is a fairly awesome thing to do,
in the truest sense of the word

I've been recently made aware of another film,
that places us back into that space perspective,
and asks us to look at earth
from space
and consider our responsibilities.
It's called Continuum, and from what I can see,
its makers are/were looking for funding to 
suport it at Kickstarter.

I think it's worth it.

Here's a trailer for it:

I'm getting used to the fact
I'm a blip on the internet screen,
and we
as a race, perhaps,
are getting more used to the fact
that we are but a blip
in the universe,

yet when you're 
an inhabitant of the blip,
well, it's worth taking the time to take care of it.

as I've said before,
that particular issue overshadows
all else.

10 June 2013

On Edward Snowden, Gezi Park, and the American Constitution


Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.[1}
(The Constitution of the United States of America, The First Amendment)

When the Constitution was thus perfected and established, a new form of government was created, but it was neither speculative nor experimental as to the principles on which it was based. If they were true principles, as they were, the government founded upon them was destined to a life and an influence that would continue while the liberties it was intended to preserve should be valued by the human family. Those liberties had been wrung from reluctant monarchs in many contests, in many countries, and were grouped into creeds and established in ordinances sealed with blood, in many great struggles of the people. They were not new to the people. They were consecrated theories, but no government had been previously established for the great purpose of their preservation and enforcement. That which was experimental in our plan of government was the question whether democratic rule could be so organized and conducted that it would not degenerate into license and result in the tyranny of absolutism, without saving to the people the power so often found necessary of repressing or destroying their enemy, when he was found in the person of a single despot.


I have been following, for a few weeks now,
the demand for an equal voice
being made by a segment of the Turkish population.

Having lived in Turkey for four years,
I have my own feelings and opinions about this.  
In fact, this is what I posted
on my personal Facebook page a week ago
about this:

I think it is very important for the Western world to understand why the problems in the Islamic world are our problems, too. And problems in Turkey should concern us a lot. Yes, I lived in Turkey, for four years, and there I met some of the most gracious people in the world. One of the skills I have admired in Turks is their ability to straddle two worlds . . . to live in the margins, so to speak, and to do it graciously and with integrity. They live in a country that is in both Asia and Europe; indeed, Istanbul is probably the only city in the world that straddles two continents. Geopolitically, they are at the crossroads between the Islamic world and the Judeo-Christian world. When I was living there (1999-2003) the Turks took that role very seriously. Right after 9/11, the Turkish government made attempts to host meetings of world leaders from both sides of the divide; in fact, the crossroads city of Istanbul was the site of such gatherings, and the Turks acted as moderators and translators, between the West and the East, between the secular world and the Islamic world. This is the role that Turkey can and must assume, and this is why they are a very important ally to all of us.

The current Prime Minister, Erdoğan, assumed office during my final year there, and every time I have returned since 2003, I have noticed more rigidity. Specifically, I have been back to Turkey four times since I moved back to the States, and yes, each time I've noticed an increased imposition of a more repressive Islamic state. The second last time I was there, in 2008, when I went to visit the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, I was wearing long pants, sandals and a short sleeved t-shirt, but I had brought my own scarf to cover my shoulders and head, which I always do when entering a mosque. I was taken aside by two men, who gave me about four pieces of cloth, and they demanded that I cover myself completely. That would have never happened in 1999, or 2003. . . I noticed them doing this to many foreign women. When I was there in 2012, I was armed and ready with plenty of scarves whenever I went into a historic mosque.

The founding rector of Başkent University, where I worked in Ankara, Prof Dr. Mehmet Haberal (who is also an internationally known surgeon), is still in jail; he was placed there because of his supposed involvement in Ergenekon, "an alleged clandestine, secularist ultra-nationalist organization in Turkey with possible ties to members of the country's military and security forces." (see wikipedia entry on Ergenekon). It appears that academics, media people, or anyone who poses a threat to the current government ends up being accused of being part of Ergenekon. I'm certain my Turkish friends could correct me on this, and I hope they do.

I tell you these things because I think they may help exemplify how Turkey has changed and is changing. The protesters are indeed demanding more than a park, and Erdoğan's belittlement of their demands is symptomatic of a pathological denial.

The most important thing to remember, though, is that Islam itself is not the offender. It is a beautiful religion when practiced purely, as are the other two monotheistic religions, Judaism and Christianity.

My thoughts, prayers, and supports go out to all my friends in Turkey, as they seek to have their voices heard.


I really can't say any more about that here.  My feelings remain the same.

But in the world I live in today, Turkey has been eclipsed by
another story, where someone has dared to practice free speech,
in the land where free speech was the first right
granted by the Constitution:

It is very difficult for me to not make a connection between these two 
news stories, and to see how the first illustrates
the possible outcome of the second.

When I moved to Turkey, I felt there was a fundamental
difference between the U.S.A and Turkey,
and that difference lay in the Constitution of the United States.

Such a hallowed document.

But while there, I began to suspect that it was beginning to become


In Fall of 2002, I was teaching a course
on American Social and Political Systems.
This, in itself, is kind of funny, because that is not at all
my area of expertise.  However,
our American historian had skipped town,
and I was told to teach this course.
I insisted that I couldn't.
"You're American, aren't you?"
they said,
"you can teach this course."

I decided to base the course on the Bill of Rights,
and to have my students analyze the
different constitutional amendments,
in terms of their historical context and
the ideology they promoted.

While I was doing this,
the war drums were beginning to sound.
Although the then current American president
was claiming that an invasion of Iraq was
the last alternative 
to his aggressive rhetoric towards Saddam Hussein,
anyone who took a trip down to 
the Eastern Mediterranean coast of Turkey
saw the U.S. war ships that were already anchored  in the Mediterranean,
waiting for that last alternative.

My students were very upset about the impending attack.
One day, they told me that they were certain
that George W. Bush would just call for
an invasion,
and I, in my naivete said:

"He can't do that.  We have a system of checks and balances in our Constitution
that require that he get permission from both Houses of Congress
before he does that."

My students laughed at me and said:
"Constitutions can be changed."

I insisted that wouldn't happen.

Well, we know what happened then:

(Notably, another political slight of hand happened


Since the 1920's, the Turkish Republic has been based upon
a truckload of reforms ushered in by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
It is quite overwhelming to read the litany of reforms
that he ushered in, in the course of a 
1927 speech that lasted about five days,
called "Nutuk," but often
now referred to as "The Great Speech."
In this speech he declared all of the reforms that would usher inhis new Republic,
among them was freedom of the individual.

Turkey's attempts, ever since then, to maintain this Western-style nation have been frought
with turmoil, because these reforms, which were all enacted,
were layered upon an Islamic Empire that also housed the Caliph of the Islamic World.
(Regretably, one of Atatürk's reforms was to get rid of the Caliph,
which, in my humble opinion,
was not a political choice that he had the right to make.)

Atatürk's reforms, then, were very much an experiment,
which was not without flaws,
but it was an experiment none-the-less,
and a Great One too.

Perhaps what we are witnessing in Turkey is either
an attempt to prolong and strengthen the democratic experiment
he ushered in.
Or perhaps it is an indication of how long
such an experiment can last
in a culture where the historical precedent is for something else.


In the meantime,
in the U.S.A.,

my heart goes out to Edward Snowden.

Edward Snowden has practiced
freedom of speech,
and dared to give 
freedom of information
to all Americans.

It is true; some may claim him a traitor,
and our government,
like the Turkish government,
may use their power over public discourse
to frame him as such.

Some may claim him a hero,
a man who is testing the extent to which
the American Experiment
is still valid.
His voice may be the first
among many voices
to demand our own
freedom of speech,
and privacy.

Others may think him mad.
He is painfully logical and honest,
and placidly so,
as he talks of his decision,
in the same way a madman
may painfully, logically, even honestly,
rationalize a crime.
But honestly,
I love him for it.

Edward Snowden knows he will become a cultural icon
for doing what he has done,
and for admitting that he did it.

The question is,
and the question we must all face in the U.S.A.,
politicians and citizens alike,
what will he represent?

I dare say, 
the United States Constitution
demands that we make the right choice
about how history will write
about Edward Snowden.

01 June 2013

without milk on 'em



without milk on 'em

they're better than

Please, quote me on this, if you agree!

Feelin' Groovy

One thing that many people don't know about
Buffalo, New York,
which is where I live,
is that 
on any given morning
I can walk out my front door 
and smell
the smell
of Cheerios baking.

That's right,
Buffalo smells like Cheerios.

And it's not an unappealing smell at all.
In fact, after I moved to this city,
about nine years ago,
it was one of the things that really enamored me
to this much misunderstood town.

It's true,
when driving into this city,
one of the first things encountered
is the monstrous, haunting carcasses of former industry,
in the form of grain elevators.

Grain elevators are one of the inventions that 
Buffalo, at its peak, gave to the world,
which may not seem all that big of a deal until
I find myself someplace like Barcelona, Spain,
where I was a few weeks ago,
and, on looking out at the busy harbor,
and what do I see but
a couple grain elevators:

This does make my chest swell
with a modicum of pride,
but it's a difficult one to explain,
so I generally opt not to.

But I felt it necessary to explain the grain elevator
in the context of the subject of
Cheerios in Buffalo,
as one travels along the industrial waterfront,
past rows and rows of empty grain elevators,
one inevitably encounters this:

The General Mills factory, one of the working industries
and proud employers in this town.

In this next photo, from Buffalo Rising,
you can even see the Cheerio smoke
rising out and wafting over the city.

And that's a much better scent than your typical industrial smells, I'd say.

Now, you may be wondering, why have I decided,
after so many weeks and months of silence
to write about the fact that
Buffalo smells like Cheerios?

Well, it is a notable thing,
and I did indeed smell Cheerios
just the other day.

But I also was made aware of this commercial,
and the fact that it's making some people upset:

Yes, it elecited so many nasty, petty racist comments that

And that upsets me quite a bit,
because I think it's a very sweet,

And furthermore, 
it makes me so proud
to live in a city
that smells like Cheerios.

Dear Sylvia Plath, my voice, too, gets torn off regularly. . . may I find it again: