Friday News & Propaganda

Friday, April 24

Greetings, Borderlanders! Life has been pretty busy of late up here at the Borderlands Lodge. Spring has come, again, to the Greater Bozeman Metropolitan Area, and the snows of last week have receded. 

The weather in Bozeman has been just amazing lately

My classes are slowly winding down--my last day of teaching is April 30--and I'm frantically working on my plans for the summer. 

Spirit the Bobcat guarding campus

And then, of course, there is the matter of N & P. 

So here is some:   

A Day in the Life

Perusing the Turkish Daily Tattler on Wednesday of this week I saw three stories that were all-too familiar: 
* University student given one-year suspended sentence for retweeting satirical article mocking governor. 

* Artists investigated by public prosecutor over Gezi-related film. 

* Turkish lawyer arrested for comments he made about Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan while interviewing for a job as a judge.
None of this is terribly surprising--you can read similar stories about Turkey pretty much every week. 

Did repression of political expression begin with Erdogan and the AK Party? Of course not. As I've argued elsewhere, what's changed mostly are the victims. 

I make this point in order to emphasize that, no matter how different Erdogan might seem from Turkey's founder, the country's current president is actually very much a product of the Turkish Republic's political culture

Armenia, Russia, Turkey & the G-word

Friday marks the 100th anniversary of what many recognize as the beginning of the Armenian genocide, which I discussed in last week's N & P. Vladimir Putin is one of the foreign dignitaries who will be attending ceremonies in Yerevan. 

A propos of this, Putin has recently re-affirmed Russia's recognition of the events of 1915 as a "genocide."  

I wonder if there are any Crimean Tatars from the Russian Federation's newest republic who would be willing to ask President Putin if he recognizes any other genocides of the 20th century. 

Putin's recognition comes at a time when Europe, the US, and Russia have been vying to consolidate support in the non-Baltic former USSR. In Georgia and Ukraine, rivalries between the US/Euros and Russia have literally torn up the country. 

Post-Soviet Armenia has shared generally good relations with Russia, although it does seem likely that the US made some efforts to engage Armenia through detente with Turkey. Turkey and Russia have similarly had mostly good relations during the Erdogan/Putin era, something that is very important to Turkish peace and prosperity. 

Regarding Putin's use of the G-word, my guess is that the Turkish president is more interested in what Obama's going to say

More on former Baathists in ISIS

Another ex-Baathist officer ally of Saddam Hussein has been found to have been working with the Islamic State. As was the case with the WAPO story that I linked to in my post last week, this news serves as further reminder that the Islamic State is principally a product of the 2003 US invasion and occupation. 

Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri reportedly killed near Tikrit

The fact that Saddam's brutal secularist-nationalist Baath party lieutenants would morph into brutal fighters for an Islamic State movement that is ideologically inimical to Saddam's Baathist secularism should not be seen as surprising. The Islamic State is, after all, a product of events taking place here and now in the 21st century, and not--as some would have us believe--an expression of timeless Muslim barbarism. 

A thought: why should anyone present the Islamic State as a symbol of Islamic values any sooner than we would hold up Saddam as a terrific representative of secular ones? 

US, Russia, and Ukraine 

There have been some interesting developments between the US and Russia over Ukraine over the past few weeks. Much of this has to do with NATO war games in eastern Europe, including those involving troops from Ukraine. 

Sez the Guardian
US paratroopers have started training national guard units in Ukraine, despite Moscow’s warnings that it could destabilise the peace process with Russia-backed rebels in the east of the country.
The move came as 2,000 local and Nato soldiers began exercises in Estonia, which also borders Russia but unlike Ukraine is a Nato member. The exercises are a precursor to joint war games in May involving 13,000 troops.
The US and Nato leaderships have promised to increase their military activities in eastern Europe to deter an ever more assertive Russia.
As part of the six-month Operation Fearless Guardian, 290 paratroopers from the US army’s 173rd Airborne Brigade will hold joint exercises with 900 Ukrainian soldiers in Yaroviv near the Polish border. The 173rd Airborne led war games with soldiers from Ukraine, the UK and several former Soviet republics in Yavoriv in September, but this marks the first long-term training programme.
Meanwhile, the semi-official Russia Today has been running news stories (such as here and here) sounding the alarm about NATO's apparent "dangerous show of muscles."  

Rival flexers on the Eurasian beach

I've written a fair bit about Russia and Ukraine over the past year or so, but it's been a while since I've discussed the subject here. These days, three points in particular have been swirling about in my mind. 

1)  The so-called renewed 'Cold War' between the US and Russia bears a lot more resemblance to the 'Great Game' dispute between the UK and Russia in the late 19th/early 20th centuries than it does to the US-Soviet Cold War of the late 20th century--a point I've made elsewhere on the JMB

It's important to make this distinction, I think, because the US-Soviet Cold War was an ideological struggle in which peaceful co-existence was not seen by all of the key players as necessarily possible. On the other hand, the mini-Cold War that took place between the UK and Russia was one fought over concrete interests that were infinitely more 'splittable' than were the differences between the US and the USSR. In 1907, England and Russia were able to divide up Iran and Afghanistan, call a truce in Central Asia, and wound up fighting on the same side in WWI. 

Today's Russia and US are no longer presenting themselves as rival models for competing economic, social, or cultural orders. Instead, their differences are resolvable in a way not unlike those which divided Russia and England in the nineteenth century. 

2)  Over the past twenty years, US-Russian tensions have taken place mainly in countries that were once part of the Soviet sphere. This has been the case not only with respect to former Warsaw Pact countries and former republics of the Soviet Union, but also countries outside the region that were on good terms with the USSR, like Syria and Iraq. 

On the one hand, I'm very sympathetic to arguments emphasizing that people in Ukraine, Georgia, and elsewhere should have the right to decide for themselves with whom their country will be allied. On the other hand, I don't believe for one second that most Americans would be okay with the idea of Russia inviting, say, Puerto Rico into a formal military alliance. 

3) I therefore think that the current crisis in US-Russian relations is the result of not only Vladimir Putin's cynical and cruel choices involving Ukraine over the past year, but also of decisions that have been made in Washington and elsewhere since the end of the Cold War. I could be wrong, but the differences separating Russia and the United States strike me as eminently resolvable. They need to be looked at not only in the context of the past fifteen months or so, but also in terms of what has taken place in the region since 1989. 

Putin and the Media

I recently saw this interesting piece in the Atlantic. Most of the article is on the ways in which the Kremlin has been employing the media (like Russia Today--see above) in recent years. 

When the piece first came into my inbox, I immediately wondered if there would be any discussion about how the government-controlled media of today's Russia has its roots in the Russia of Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s. 

Whereas it might be tempting to assume that the stealth takeover of the media of the sort Dougherty discusses in this article began with Putin. However, even in the early 1990s the press freedom that Russia had begun to enjoy during perestroika was already being rolled back. 

I remember back in 1996 when Yeltsin had a heart-attack on the eve of the Russian presidential elections. Sitting in Istanbul I knew all about this, whereas Russian voters were largely kept in the dark. Why? Yeltsin's political allies controlled most of the TV networks. 

What if something like that had happened under Putin? Don't you think people in the United States would have been critical of the fact that Russian people were kept ignorant about a major health crisis facing one of their presidential candidates right before an election? 

Pre-heart attack Yeltsin in 1996

People in the Clinton administration and in the US establishment media, however, didn't seem to have a problem with the fact that the Russian media covered up Yeltsin's heart attack because Yeltsin was our guy. Vladimir Putin, on the  other hand, is most definitely not our guy, and for that reason is criticized for actions that probably would be more easily accepted coming from a more pliable political figure.

While Russia is without question a more politically repressive place today than it was fifteen years ago, I get the feeling that all of this would be okay, too, if only Putin were seeking American favor and approval the way that Yeltsin used to. 
Debt Serfs

Here in the Bozone, students at Montana State rallied in favor of a tuition freeze. According to this article in the Bozeman Daily Tattler, MSU students are on average carrying about $27,000 worth of debt by the time they graduate. Roughly two students out of three here take out student loans. 

I remember when I was studying at McGill as an undergrad. The tuition was a few thousand dollars a year and seemed absolutely exorbitant at the time. Fast-forward to 1999, when I returned to the US in order to begin my MA, and I suddenly had to take out another $30,000 or so to finance my first year at Princeton. Had I not received a fellowship for the second year of my MA, I would have had to borrow another $30,000 at least. All in all, by the time I finished up the PhD in 2007 I owed about $40,000, including debts from both McGill (to my parents, still, some 16 years after I'd finished college) and Princeton (to Sallie Mae), plus interest for the federal money.

I was finally able to pay off those loans on December 11, 2013. We get paid here on the 11th of every month, so the moment I saw that my salary had been deposited into my bank account, I sent the last payment to Sallie Mae. Then, checking my email for a confirmation that I'd paid everything off, I saw a message in my inbox informing me that I'd been offered a publishing contract for the book that would become Turks Across Empires (order now!). All in all it was a pretty good day. 

The next day, I headed out to the local ski hill and, in the late afternoon, I bumped into a couple of friends from my department. Of course I told them about the book contract first, and they heartily congratulated me, but then when I started talking about finally paying off my loans we got into a discussion about debt and school. They semi-seriously advised me to celebrate the occasion by buying a new car and taking on more debt. "Yeah, get a new Lexus," one of them joked. 

The student debt situation in the US sometimes reminds me of the terms that were given to Russian peasants after the abolition of serfdom in Russia in 1861. The end of serfdom in Russia was a completely top-down process, initiated by the government and undertaken with the consultation of the landowning classes--who ended up getting a phenomenal deal. 

In the end, ex-serfs were obliged to pay for their land, and in this way were locked up in debt for life at the very moment of their supposed manumission from servitude. By 1905, almost a half-century after serfdom had been abolished, ex-serfs were still making redemption payments that had already exceeded, by roughly 50%, the original estimated value of the land they had received.

Recent graduates working to repay their student loans

I find it interesting that in a country like the US, where people publicly valorize personal initiative, we saddle recent college graduates with such a burden. Had I owed my undergraduate debt to the government, rather than to my parents, I never would have gone to Turkey to teach English after graduation. Instead of taking risks and taking my time in finding a cool situation abroad, I would have been focused upon finding the first paying position possible. A lot of things in my life related to my career and just about everything else would have worked out quite differently.

I wonder how many people in the US today are making choices now that will limit their futures and the future contributions that they'll be able to make to our society and the world, only so that they can pay begin paying off their debts six months after graduation. I feel very lucky that I didn't have a burden like this to deal with at such a young age.  

Turks Across Hardwood: Mehmet Okur Award Finalists

There are currently five players in the NBA from Turkey: Ömer Aşık, Ersan Ilyasova, Enes Kanter, Fukan Aldemir, and, of course, fan-favorite Hedo Türkoğlu. Three of them--Aşık (New Orleans Pelicans), Ilyasova (Milwaukee Bucks), and Türkoğlu (LA Clippers)--are in the playoffs this year. A fourth--Kanter (Oklahoma City Thunder)--came within a game of making the post-season, but lost out to Aşık's Pelicans in a death struggle for the final playoff spot. Maaşallah

Who will be the last Turk standing?

Every year at the Borderlands, we present the Mehmet Okur award--named after the first Turk in world history to win an NBA championship--to the Turkish basketball player who advances the farthest in the playoffs. Okur, of course, is the former Detroit Piston legend who tasted immortality with the 2004 world champions. 

Okur making history back in the glory days


Among the three players currently left standing, Türkoğlu has the best chance to get beyond the first round. Even his chances look pretty bleak, however, with the Clippers facing the San Antonio Spurs this week. Kısacası, I think it'll take a lot of work for anyone in this year's NBA Turkish playoff class to repeat the Okur magic of 2004.  

Record Store Day update

I hope you all enjoyed Record Store Day. I had a good time, but waited in vain for the record store fairy to arrive at the Borderlands Lodge. Eventually, I got tired of waiting around and went down to a local record store, Cactus, and soon spotted an album by Hungarian jazz guitarist Gabor Szabo. 

It was a Record Store Day miracle! Only the day before, and on my most recent post, I had mentioned that I'd been listening to Gabor Szabo a lot lately. Someone, it seems, was looking out for me during this year's RSD.


The album I bought, Nightflight, is great stuff, though I honestly can't say that I've been disappointed by any of the records of his that I've purchased lately. 

Gabor Szabo is most definitely my current fave artist. I'm at the point where I keep changing my mind about which of his albums I like best. 

And here's something with a bit more paprika in it, Szabo's discoesque take on "Hungarian Rhapsodies." This is from Szabo's 1975 masterpiece lp "Macho." 

I'll be honest with you--I love the fact that at this point in my life I'm still learning about new artists. And I suppose I could have found out about Gabor Szabo by surfing the web--but that would involve spending yet more time in front of a computer. I prefer it this way--running across something in the jazz bin at my local record store and buying it without having any idea what it might sound like. Then taking it home and realizing I'd stumbled across something great.

Anyway, it all just goes to show: never doubt the miraculous nature and restorative power of Record Store Day. 

More photos, analysis, and links can be found, come sempre, at the Borderlands Lounge.

Like the Borderlands? You'll love the book! Order your copy of Turks Across Empires at the OUP website or on Amazon

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