Insanely Massive Iceberg Breaks Off Antarctica – but don’t worry, folks, it’s not our fault

antarctic-meltYou may have read about it. Just the other day it happened: “A vast iceberg with twice the volume of Lake Erie” broke off the Larsen C ice shelf in Antarctica.

I learned that there are actually scientists who study icebergs fulltime, and they’re known as glaciologists. They’re apparently pretty impressed by the size of this berg, but they’re urging us not to worry. Anna Hogg of the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at the University of Leeds was quoted as saying, “it would be premature to say that this was caused by global warming – much more study needs to be done to determine the cause”. Anna’s glaciologist buddy from Swansea, Martin O’Leary, reassured us that “It was a natural event that wasn’t caused by man-made climate change”.

Well, that’s a relief! And apparently the latest iceberg break “won’t affect sea levels in the short term”. It’s not like dropping an ice cube into your drink on a summer’s day. 1.12 trillion tons of ice will take a year or two to melt – so those of us with coastal properties will have time to stock up on sandbags.

01-greenland-2048And while we’re kidding ourselves about the absence of a problem in Antarctica, let’s also ignore reports that “the Arctic is now warming at least twice as fast as the rest of the globe.” We care about the threat of global warming, we really do! But as long as it’s just the Inuit tribes of northern Canada who are affected, clearly we don’t need to panic. If Donald Trump’s not worried that “polar sea ice . . . has melted to record lows over the last couple of years” why should I?

No Green Spaces left in Istanbul??

Future shock

It’s hard for all of us, guys!

In 1970 a guy called Alvin Toffler published a best-selling book “Future Shock”. According to his obituary in the NY Times, “Mr. Toffler was a self-trained social science scholar and successful freelance magazine writer in the mid-1960s when he decided to spend five years studying the underlying causes of a cultural upheaval that he saw overtaking the United States and other developed countries.”

Way back then Toffler identified a phenomenon causing serious global anguish:

“The accelerative thrust triggered by man has become the key to the entire evolutionary process on the planet.” Amazon review

“Today the force of change is almost tangible” Toffler “discusses change and what happens to people; how they do and don’t adapt.” Bookrags review

Toffler was American, and he was writing primarily about the United States of America – and it was their movers and shakers who were responsible for most of the “Future Shock” we were/are experiencing. So, while you can feel some sympathy for US citizens struggling to cope with modernity, at least they get most of the benefits. What about the rest of us, in less privileged parts of the world? Afghanistan? Somalia? New Zealand? Or even Turkey?

kilicdaroglu-ndan-adalet-yuruyusu-nde-grup-toplantisi-307051-5

Give him a homespun cotton loincloth, and . . .  Yeah, maybe.

Contemporary Turkey is a divided society, if you listen to the doom-sayers. The leader of the opposition CHP Party is currently trekking through the summer heat on a Gandhi-esque march from Ankara to Istanbul seeking “justice”. And, I hope he finds it – although it’s a rather less easily identifiable commodity than common table salt*. He is accompanied by numbers of supporters who, like may others, have been struggling to adjust to rapid changes taking place in their country whose population has doubled to nearly 80 million since 1970, and whose largest city, Istanbul, has grown from less than three million, to 15 million or more in the same time period.

But, I don’t want to talk about justice, or the difficulties involved in adapting to a changing world. In the current heatwave I’m more interested in finding a shady tree to sit under – and again, if you hearken to those prophets of doom, I’ll be lucky to find such a thing in Istanbul outside a tree museum. Joni Mitchell sang that Big Yellow Taxi song about the concretification (yep, I just made that word up!) of America, also back in 1970. I’m not sure if the New York city fathers ripped up any concrete to plant trees as a result, but we were all proud of Joni for singing that song.

Well, I was concerned about the disintegrating ecosystem of Planet Earth in my youth – and I’m probably more concerned about it now. I recycle our household rubbish, walk, ride a bicycle and use public transport where possible, and carry my supermarket purchases home in reusable natural fibre bags. On the other hand, I do find very tiresome the constant harping by certain people on Turkey’s AKP government and its wanton destruction of the country’s natural and historical heritage.

Gezi demo

Aftermath of Gezi Park demo, 1 June, 2013

What I also find surprising is some of those people are foreign visitors who have been in the country a month or two, maybe a year or two, and talk authoritatively about how things used to be in Turkey, in some mythical golden age they have been told about. Just over four years ago, at the end of May 2013, a series of anti-government protests broke out, ostensibly sparked by the city council’s plans to develop the iconic Taksim Square and its environs. Part of the project aimed to rebuild an Ottoman-era military barracks building demolished in 1940 and replaced with a small green space we learned was officially called Gezi Park.

I have no intention of delving into the politics of the matter. What I can say, however, is that the square was badly in need of a revamp. On one side stood a 20-storey 70’s glass tower housing the five-star Marmara Hotel; opposite the hotel, a busy terminal station for buses heading to other parts of the city. On the other two sides, a soulless 60’s era Soviet-style structure known as the Atatürk Culture Centre facing the blank brick wall of a large water reservoir partly masked by a huge garish TV screen. In the middle of the treeless concrete square itself, a Metro underground station could be reached only by crossing the two or three lanes of speeding buses, yellow taxis and joy-riders that maintained a kind of lethal spinning asteroid belt around it. Behind the bus terminal lurked Gezi Park itself – four hectares of trees, grass and asphalt mostly invisible from surrounding streets, and consequently popular with the neighbourhood’s homeless, youthful glue-sniffers and aging alcoholics. Not a place you would probably have chosen for a family picnic.

Gezi Park quickly, however, became a focal point for those who, for one reason and another, hated the Prime Minister, now President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and his AK Party government. Foreign news media took up the cry that Turkey’s political leaders were destroying “one of Istanbul’s last green spaces” as they buried the beautiful, historic city beneath a pall of tar and cement.

Now I don’t know how many of the protesting tree-huggers have actually been back to Gezi Park since the protests of 2013 ended. I am fairly sure that the widely televised violence of those protests has been a factor in the decreasing numbers of foreign tourists and local revellers visiting the Beyoğlu/İstiklal area which, by all accounts, has lost most of its former vibrant energy. And I am amazed to hear still repeated such claims as “Throughout the vast metropolis there are only a handful of actual parks, a few stretches of grass along the Bosporus and lone trees peeking through the concrete in other places.”

 

Molla Zeyrek

Foreground: 1,000-year old Byzantine Pantokrator monastery, currently undergoing extensive restoration

“Constant renovation and reconstruction,” I read recently, “has demolished historic buildings and in some areas completely changed the city’s landscape. . . The current government isn’t known for prioritizing the environment and even relative to other major world cities, Istanbul actually has a pretty poor percentage of green space.”

Istanbul is, as the writer noted, a vast metropolis, its historic heart the capital of three world empires stretching back at least 1700 years. I can’t tell you what vast sums the local and national governments have been spending to restore ancient churches, palaces, city walls, mosques and other monuments that had been left to moulder in picturesque decay by former administrations. I can’t say exactly how much time and money was lost while the building of underground Metro lines was paused so archaeologists could rummage with delight among long-buried Roman harbours and necropolises; nor how many times engineers had to redraw the design for a rail bridge across the Golden Horn to meet the objections of UNESCO World Heritage inspectors.

Kışla

Halil Pasha Topçu Barracks building – demolished in 1940 to make way for Gezi park

What I can tell you, with absolute certainty is that Gezi Park is not only NOT one of Istanbul’s last green spaces, it is surely one of its least attractive and significant. I can also assure you that, from personal firsthand observation, the current government has done far more than any of its predecessors to clean up and beautify the urban landscape, in spite of the exponential population growth of recent years. They were even planning to RE-build a formerly demolished historically important building next to Gezi Park – for which they were also vociferously criticised.

When I first came to Istanbul in 1995, residents suffered from frequent outages of electricity and an unreliable water supply. The Golden Horn, streams and rivers stank like open sewers, and no one swam in the turgid waters that lapped the shores. What parks remained in the inner city from former times were neglected and generally strewn with rubbish. Since the AK Party government came to power in 2003, people have begun to swim again at beaches along the Sea of Marmara coast, and fish for their dinner in the Golden Horn off Galata Bridge.

DSCF0413

Bosporus view from Gülhane Park – Yıldız Park in the middle distance

Not far from that bridge, if you walk up the hill towards the ancient cathedral museum of Hagia Sophia, you will pass the gates of Gülhane Park on your left. It’s worth a visit. Its 16 hectares of beautifully laid out gardens and majestic trees provide a sanctuary for migrating birds like storks and cranes; cliff top tea gardens offer a glorious view of the Bosporus across to Asia (if you still believe that stuff about Asia Minor); and the former imperial stables house a fascinating museum celebrating the scientific and technological achievements of Islamic civilisation.

A short bus or taxi ride will bring you to Beşiktaş, a trendy district of bars, restaurants and open-air fish markets where you can visit the Naval Museum, with displays relating to the glory days of Ottoman sea power. Tucked away down a side street you may stumble across Ihlamur Park, which features a small Ottoman hunting lodge surrounded by pretty gardens – an unexpected oasis in a busy neighbourhood. If you’re looking for more extensive greenery you can walk or take a taxi to Yıldız Park, 37 hectares of landscaped woodland, artificial streams, waterfalls and small lakes, with several restaurants and cafes for formal dining or an open-air snack. At the upper end of the park is Yıldiz Palace museum, the last residence of Ottoman sultans before they faded into history.

If you look across to the Asian shore you will see a similar “green space” across the water. Fethi Pasha Park, 13 hectares in extent, has a maze of sheltered walkways, restaurants and cafes and beautiful tree-framed views of the Bosporus across to the European shore. More adventurous souls may catch a taxi or local transport to Çamlıca Hill – in fact two hills whose summits are the highest points in Istanbul, with spectacular panoramic views. Those doom-sayers will probably tell you that this idyllic spot has been desecrated by the construction of a large new mosque – if “desecration” is the right word for a building dedicated to spiritual searching. Anyway, don’t believe them. The mosque, visible from all over town, has had little real impact on Çamlıca’s park and woodland. In fact the hilltops have long been blighted by dozens of lofty radio and television masts – and part of the development plan is to erect a 365-metre tower that will amalgamate all the masts into one, as well as housing two restaurants and a viewing platform that are absolutely on my list of must-visits when they are completed.

Validebağ köprüsü

Getting away from the concrete in Validebağ Park

I must say that residents on the Asian (or more correctly, Anatolian) side of the city are more fortunate than their European neighbours in terms of green spaces – which may account for the skewed outlook of foreigners who tend to prefer districts nearer to Western Europe. I will briefly mention two more beautiful parks well worth a visit. Not far from Çamlıca Hills is another former Ottoman imperial woodland, Validebağ Park, 10 hectares of semi-wilderness including a former royal palace that served as the location for a much-loved Turkish classic comedy movie based on the escapades of a gang of over-grown schoolboys.

If you’re looking for something new, and are open-minded enough to accept evidence that the government’s reputation for environmental barbarism is not deserved, check out Orhan Gazi City Park on the Marmara coast in the district of Maltepe. This massive project reclaimed 130 hectares from the sea and created a huge recreation area planted with thousands of trees and laid out with carefully tended gardens of roses and seasonal flowers, tulips, begonias, pansies, marigolds . . . There are 63 ha of picnic area, 7.5 km of bicycle track not counting a 400-metre velodrome; basketball, volleyball and tennis courts; artificial turf football fields, a large gymnasium, running tracks, a skateboard park, children’s playgrounds, several outdoor stations with exercise equipment, as well as the ubiquitous cafes and tea gardens. Also, for devout Muslims, two mosques, in case they are caught short when the call to prayer is heard.

Sadabad

Historic mosque in Sadabad Park, Kağıthane

Well, I could go on to talk about Sadabad Park in the district of Kagıthane, for many years a polluted industrial wasteland now gradually being restored to something resembling the small slice of heaven once known as the Sweet Waters of Europe. I could rhapsodise about the Nezahat Gökyiğit Botanical Garden located in an unlikely apex of converging motorways in the district of Ataşehir – but I won’t. If you live in Istanbul, or have time to spend while you’re here, get out and visit these or others of the many spectacular “green spaces” in this beautiful “city of the world’s desire”.

__________________________________________

  • Mahatma Gandhi led a march in 1930 to protest against the British monopoly of salt production and sales. It was a symbolic act of defiance against the British Raj. At the time of his selection as party leader, some remarked on Mr Kılıçdaroğlu’s resemblance to India’s national hero – though the Turkish chap is more often seen in a suit than a homespun cotton loin-cloth.

Who’s Behind the Attempted Coup in Turkey?

“I am deeply hurt!”

Blond John Bass

More than just another bimbo

It was John Bass, United States’ Ambassador to Turkey speaking in an interview with several Turkish journalists reported in our local daily on Sunday. He had been asked for his evaluation of the failed coup attempt on 15 July, and said he was deeply hurt that some commentators were suggesting, without a scrap of proof, that the United States had had prior knowledge of, and may even have had a finger in it. In fact, there was nothing in the report to say that any of the journalists present had even implied such a thing, so it may be that the ambassador “doth protest too much.”

As usual with diplomats, lawyers and politicians, however, the wording of the denial is very important. The honourable ambassador, you will note, is not hurt that his government is being accused, but that they are being accused without a scrap of proof. Well, of course, it’s not easy to prove these things at the time – the evidence tends to come out much later. Spooks are notoriously good at covering their tracks. It’s their job. Turkey’s political leaders also have to be particularly careful with the wording of their statements, whatever their suspicions, or even evidence, may be. President Erdoğan has been quoted as saying, “Gulen’s followers “are simply the visible tools of the threat against our country. We know that this game, this scenario is far beyond their league.”

The Brothers

Probably they would have been deeply hurt too

Turkey experienced three full-on military coups between 1960 and 1980, and there is ample evidence for CIA involvement. In recent years there has been much written on the subject of Gladio, an Italian word referring to CIA and NATO-sponsored secret armies that “colluded with, funded and often even directed terrorist organizations throughout Europe in what was termed a ‘strategy of tension’ with the aim of preventing a rise of the left in Western European politics.” American writer and journalist Stephen Kinzer published a book “The Brothers” in 2013 in which he details the activities of John Foster and Allen Dulles who, as head of the CIA and Secretary of State in the 50s and early 60s instigated “six regime-change operations . . . Iran, Guatemala, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cuba, and the Congo, including the first presidentially authorized assassinations of foreign leaders in American history.”

Mr Bass, you guys have a long history of removing, or attempting to remove, leaders of sovereign nations whose policies and activities don’t meet with your approval. So don’t come the raw prawn with us!

Dear readers, you may think the following notes on falling oil prices have nothing to do with a failed military coup in Turkey, but don’t be too hasty.

I read an interesting article in the Daily Telegraph a week or so ago entitled Texas shale oil has fought Saudi Arabia to a standstill. Quoting a number of sources, the article was lauding the success of the shale oil industry in reducing the costs of the fracking process, enabling the United States to meet its own needs and drive down the global price of oil, thereby dealing a severe blow to the OPEC countries who, as we all know, are Muslim Arabs. The headline and much of the text focuses on Saudi Arabia and the damage the US is inflicting on the Saudi economy with its industrial might.

A recent article in The Economist purported to explain, in a similar vein, why oil prices are falling so low on the world market. The two main factors put forward were:

  • America has become the world’s largest oil producer, and
  • The Saudis and their Gulf allies have decided not to sacrifice their own market share to restore the price.

fracking dangersWell and good, but let’s take a closer look. First of all, how has the US suddenly gone from being a major importer of oil, to the world’s largest producer? By fracking shale oil is the answer. What’s that all about, you may ask. Like any other natural resource, supplies of oil run out as you consume the stuff. The United States has long since used up all its easily accessible supplies of oil, and found it cheaper to buy elsewhere. They still have oil, of course – that Telegraph article claims the Permian Basin in Texas has as much as Saudi Arabia’s largest oil field – but it’s not easy to get at. Enter the fracking process. Wikipedia explains: “The process involves the high-pressure injection of ‘fracking fluid’ (primarily water, containing sand or other proppants suspended with the aid of thickening agents) into a wellbore to create cracks in the deep-rock formations through which natural gas, petroleum, and brine will flow more freely.” There are serious environmental concerns with this:

  • The process requires huge amounts of water, which inevitably becomes contaminated, even if it does return to the surface, and a lot of it doesn’t.
  • There seems to be some secrecy in the industry about chemicals used in the process.
  • Large areas of land are rendered unsuitable for other uses, including wildlife.
  • There is enormous noise pollution, both from the process itself and from convoys of trucks bringing sand and other necessary materials to the site.
  • There is also a danger of increased seismic activity resulting in earthquakes.

For these reasons, the extraction of oil by hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is under international scrutiny, and has been banned outright in some countries.

Wall St crooks

Where do you slot in?

According to a source quoted in that Telegraph article, much of the finance for the fracking industry is being supplied by Wall Street private equity groups such as the Blackstone and Carlyle Groups. Of course wise investment is an important motive for those businesses, but some might argue that equally important is the need to keep the world safe for capitalism. Daniel Rubenstein, one of Carlyle’s founders is identified in his Wikipedia biography as “financier and philanthropist”. He is also credited with having foreseen, in 2006, that private equity “activity” was about to crash – which it did indeed – but predicted in 2008 that the lean period would soon be over and he and his cronies would be back sucking the world dry more profitably than before. Three big cheers for philanthropy, people!

Do I sound sceptical? Apart from the involvement of Mr Rubenstein and his “philanthropic” ilk, I have other reasons. My primary concern is I do not believe Saudi Arabia is the main target of US strategy here, nor is a desire to be self-sufficient in oil production for its own sake, and I’ll tell you why.

Saudi Arabia is a firm ally of the United States, and the single biggest customer of the US arms industry. What do they do with all that military hardware, given that they don’t seem to be directly involved in any actual wars, to the best of my knowledge. Another source in that Telegraph article asserts that the Saudis are proxy suppliers of military hardware to Egypt and “an opaque nexus of clients in the Saudi sphere.” Whose proxy? No prizes for guessing that one! Furthermore Saudi Arabia has ample foreign reserves and its oil is very cheap to extract. It is well placed to withstand a long siege of low oil prices without seriously affecting the bloated lifestyle of its citizens.

OPEC, however, is not just composed of Middle Eastern Arabs and Muslims. Venezuela, with the world’s second largest oil reserves, was one of the five founding members of OPEC in 1960. Also in the group are Ecuador, Indonesia and several African countries with low per capita incomes: Libya, Algeria, Nigeria, Gabon and Angola. Do you see any countries in that list that Wall Street financiers might not love? Ecuador and Venezuela have been at the forefront of South American Bolivarian socialist progress for two decades. Rafael Correa and his neighbour Hugo Chavez began the process of nationalising their countries’ resources and using them to raise living standards for all their people, and Chavez’s successor Nicolas Maduro has continued on the same track.

USA wants Venezuela

When the fracking’s over . . .

In 2002 a military coup in Venezuela succeeded in overthrowing President Chavez, but after huge demonstrations of public support, the generals handed the reins of government back 47 hours later. According to Wikipedia, In December 2004, The New York Times reported on the release of newly declassified intelligence documents that showed that the CIA and Bush administration officials had advance knowledge of an imminent plot to oust President Chavez, although the same documents do not indicate the United States supported the plot.” Well, they wouldn’t, would they? Not a scrap of evidence, as the US Ambassador to Turkey would say. However, those Wall St financiers don’t give up easily, and they don’t have to win elections to stay in power. There is more than one way to bring down a government you don’t like. Ask Egypt’s Mohammed Morsi.

I came across an article in Global Research last month entitled US-Led Economic War, Not Socialism, is Tearing Venezuela Apart. The writer, Caleb T Maupin, argues, The political and economic crisis facing Venezuela is being endlessly pointed to as proof of the superiority of the free market . . . In reality, millions of Venezuelans have seen their living conditions vastly improved through the Bolivarian process. The problems plaguing the Venezuelan economy are not due to some inherent fault in socialism, but to artificially low oil prices and sabotage by forces hostile to the revolution . . . The goal is to weaken these opponents of Wall Street, London, and Tel Aviv, whose economies are centered around oil and natural gas exports”.

NIGERIA POVERTY

A Nigerian child’s share of his nation’s oil wealth

Who benefits from this economic war? No prizes for guessing that one either. Who suffers? Well, that’s pretty obvious too. The people of Venezuela and Ecuador in the short term, of course – but more so in the long term if the populist economic reform process can be derailed. The people of those African oil-rich countries, Libya, Algeria, Nigeria, Gabon and Angola, certainly, if the multi-national oil companies can retain their control of production. But there are others too, who receive even less publicity: the millions of migrant labourers from India and other poor countries who have been working in Saudi Arabia and other wealthy states in the region. A news report ten days ago revealed  that the Indian government had come to the rescue of more than ten thousand of their citizens starving in Saudi Arabia. 16,000 kg of food was distributed by the consulate in Jeddah to penniless workers who had lost their jobs and not been paid. The report claimed that there are more than three million Indians living and working in Saudi Arabia, and more than 800,000 in Kuwait, many of whom have not been paid for months after factories closed down, and employers are refusing to feed them. The Indian government is taking steps to evacuate as many as possible.

Supporting Turkey

Wink, wink, nudge, nudge . . .

It seems there are many ways the world’s sole remaining super power and its financial backers can get rid of “unfriendly” foreign governments and individuals:

  • Invasion and total destruction is one;
  • Drone strikes are more incisive and undoubtedly cheaper;
  • CIA-sponsored military coups have had some success;
  • Destroying a country’s economy is slower, but leaves less obvious dirt on the hands of the perpetrators, and has the additional advantage of inciting the people of the targeted country to oust the government themselves.

It is clear that the United States, or at least the small amoral power group who control it, do not care if they irreparably destroy their country’s natural environment, nor how many helpless, innocent people at home and abroad suffer for their greed. The US Ambassador to Turkey may be deeply hurt – but I doubt it. Any moisture you see in his eyes will surely be crocodile tears.

It’s a Hoax, Folks!

I must thank a friend in New Zealand for drawing my attention to a news item circulating in Western media to the effect that the government of Turkey is planning to build 80 new coal-fired power stations – one in each of the country’s provinces.

I can find no evidence that any such plan exists. There are, of course, plans to build some coal power stations. We all know they are bad for the environment, and miners die underground – but Turkey depends on imports for its natural gas; environmentalists and archeologists complain about hydro-electric dams; nuclear power is scary; Turkey’s economy and energy needs are growing rapidly, and the newly rich middle classes are hell-bent on emulating the profligate American ‘lifestyle’. Wind and solar sources are sadly not enough to meet demands.

hqdefault

Get a laugh out of it maybe, but don’t take it seriously

The Youtube video circulating online was made by a prominent Turkish actress and is obviously a spoof. The website term-x.com is equally clearly not genuine. ‘Term-X’, the company that allegedly will build the power plants, does have a presence on Linked In and their profile tells me they have 11-50 employees. I suspect they may need to start hiring if they are aiming to build 80 new power stations. Promises to be good for the country’s employment situation, if not for the environment.

However, if you take a look at their website, you’ll pretty soon realize it is not genuine, with punning and ironic slogans like:

‘Projects that will take your breath away!’

‘Our business partners are building a wonderful future for our children!’

cocuk-parklari-text

‘Children are our future. We’re looking to the future with hope’. If you believe that’s a genuine website, you’ll believe anything.

It seems all the usual pseudo-leftist, pseudo-intellectual anti-government elitists in Turkey are up in arms; and media in the West are picking up on this nonsense and giving credence to it – whether out of ignorance or bad intentions I leave it to you to decide.

The biggest threat to democracy in Turkey, in fact, is the lack of an effective, credible opposition party. Most of the elitist opponents of the government are still living in the days when the army would step in and overturn a democratically elected government if they seemed to be following the ‘wrong path’ – as happened in 1960, 1970, 1980 and 1997. They just can’t get the hang of the democratic process.

Freedom of Speech in the United States

Florida Bans Use of ‘Climate Change’ by State Agency: Report

Another article I chanced upon while trawling around some news sites. The source is Reuters, dated March 9, 2015. I’m pasting it here without comment:

Street scene in the Sunshine State

Street scene in the Sunshine State

Climate change activists blasted Florida Governor Rick Scott on Monday for leading an “Orwellian” campaign to ban employees of the state’s lead environmental agency from using such terms as “global warming” and “climate change.”

Despite coastal Florida’s vulnerability to storm surges and rising sea levels, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection was directed in 2011 not to use the phrases in official communications, according to a report by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting.

“This is embarrassing, but worse than that, it’s very worrying,” said David Hastings, a marine science professor from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, on Florida’s west coast.

“To have this authoritarian word control is very Orwellian, a page right out of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four,’” he said, referring to George Orwell’s dystopian novel about widespread government surveillance.

30 years on from 1984 . . .

30 years on from 1984 . . .

The governor’s office and the Department of Environmental Protection denied there was a policy banning the terms. “There is no policy and it simply is not true,” said Scott’s deputy communications director, John Tupps.

Former employees of the department detailed the unwritten policy in interviews with the non-profit news agency, which reported the ban on Sunday.

Employees were told not to use the phrases ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming,’ ‘sea level rise,’ or ‘sustainability,’ attorney Christopher Byrd, who worked with the department’s Office of General Counsel from 2008 to 2013, confirmed to Reuters.

“Nobody questioned it. There was just a lot of snickers and internal chuckling,” Byrd said.

The euphemism suggested to employees for “sea level rise” was “coastal resiliency,” he said.

The prohibition began after the election of Scott, who had disputed the human impact on climate change during his 2010 campaign, according to the report.

Wandering in Istanbul – and looking on the bright side

Anti-government demonstrations in Turkey seem a little less frequent and well attended these days – at least in Istanbul. Nevertheless, another one has broken out recently in the Altunizade district on the Asian side of the city. As with last year’s ‘Gezi Park’ event, this also focuses on one more green area in a vast megalopolis seemingly determined to cover itself with tar and cement.

Last weekend, the weather being fine, Dilek and I set out to visit the exhibition of an English photographer, John Wreford, who has been working in the Middle East region for some years. In my opinion, you must be crazy or desperate to drive a car in Istanbul in the weekend, so we boarded a double-decker bus that passes the door of our new abode, on its way to the European side of the city.

Validebağ Park, Altunizade

Validebağ Park, Altunizade

Traffic became increasingly congested as we approached the first Bosporus Bridge, and our enterprising driver plunged his huge vehicle into a labyrinth of narrow back streets in an attempt to avoid the worst bottlenecks. Our top deck lashed by branches of overhanging trees, we made good time while being treated to expansive views of an unfamiliar part of town – passing on our tour the wooded park known as Validebağ, focus of the demonstrations referred to above.

Around the beginning of the 19th century Sultan Selim III established a little country retreat for his mother Mişrişah. ‘Valide’ was the title reserved for the mother of the reigning sultan so we may think of the park as ‘The Garden of the Royal Mother’. A later Sultan, Abdülmecid, gifted park and mansion to his own mother Bezmialem, who turned it into a kind of botanical garden with local and exotic plants. On her death the property passed into the hands of Altunizade İsmail Zühtü Pasha, scion of a wealthy family of merchants and high-ranking minister in the Ottoman Government – whose name is preserved in the surrounding neighbourhood. Subsequently, Ismail Pasha returned the land and buildings to the royal family, Sultan Abdülaziz had a mansion built for Adile, one of his sisters, and the extensive woodland was used for hunting parties.

Cast of the original 1975 'Hababam Sınıfı'

Cast of the original 1975 ‘Hababam Sınıfı’

For some years, the mansion, known as Adile Sultan Kasrı, and its adjacent garden, have been used as a kind of club and social centre for state teachers. It holds a special place in the hearts of citizens of a certain age by virtue of being the location for a 1975 film ‘Hababam Sınıfı’ starring the beloved comic actor Kemal Sunal and featuring the exploits of a class of roguish high school lads.

Current protests seem to be focusing on what some perceive as a threat to one of the inner city’s few large remaining wilderness areas, and in particular, plans to build a mosque therein. The local and national governments are taking the view that the land is neglected and needs to be developed so that the public can make better use of it – and they claim that the proposed mosque will not actually be built within the boundaries of the park. Opponents of development say that the area should be preserved in its wild state because of its importance to migratory bird species – and they are vehemently opposed to the erecting of another mosque, which they see as exemplifying the government’s Islamification agenda.

Cycling the bridge

View from the bridge

Leaving that debate to wiser and better-informed heads than mine, we continued our bus trip across the Bosporus into Europe via the 1.5 km suspension bridge erected in 1973 to join the two continents. An annual highlight for me in recent years has been the day in early summer when authorities close the bridge to motor traffic and allow cyclists to cross. Apart from the exercise, it’s a fabulous photo op. for the unparalleled views it affords of sea, sky and urban sprawl, with the domes and minarets of the ancient city in the distance.

Shortly after arriving on the European shore, we alighted at Zincirlikuyu, making our way along subterranean walkways to the Zorlu Centre, a vast ultra-modern monument to the new Istanbul. The enormous multiple-use complex comprises office space and residential apartments for the rich and famous, a multi-level shopping complex with 200 stores selling high-end merchandise, a food-hall with forty restaurants, terraced rooftop gardens and the largest performing arts centre in the country. It also contains Turkey’s first official Apple store, a sure sign of increasing wealth and disposable income, where I intended purchasing a genuine copy of MS Office to replace the less-than-genuine one that had been giving me problems for some time.

The Zorlu shopping complex (AVM as they are known in Turkey) is still something of a novelty, and the halls were crowded with day-trippers, sightseers, and possibly an actual shopper or two. As we rode an escalator up to the garden level, two well-known stars of popular local soap operas cruised down in the opposite direction. I’m sure I heard Bergüzar Hanım whisper to her husband as they passed, ‘Don’t look now, but isn’t that Dilek and Alan, the famous English teachers?’

Well, we left the crowds to their Louis Vuitton handbags and Lacoste t-shirts, descending this time to the Metro station for a train that would take us to Taksim and İstiklal Avenue, location of last year’s protests, but beloved of Istanbul residents as the city’s main centre for more traditional shopping and a night out on the town. İstiklal is a two-kilometre stretch of art nouveau architecture whose main thoroughfare and adjacent streets contain a bewildering multiplicity of shops, movie theatres, bars, restaurants, cafes, art galleries, and palaces formerly home to diplomatic legations from the imperial states of Europe. It tickles my fancy to imagine how furious those foreign ambassadors must have been when they learnt that the new republican capital would be Ankara – in the 1920s, a remote eastern town indisputably beyond the pale of European civilisation.

Hagia Triada Orthodox Christian church, Taksim

Hagia Triada Orthodox Christian church, Taksim

Having resisted the temptation of Zorlu’s forty restaurants, we made our way to Hatay Medeniyet Sofrası, an eatery assuredly belonging to a less frenetic era of the city’s history. It’s easy to miss if you don’t know where you’re going – but definitely worth the effort of searching. From the large open space of Taksim Square, a building that catches the eye is a domed and turreted edifice clearly owing more to Christian than Muslim architecture. Hagia Triadas, opened for worship in 1880, is the largest Greek Orthodox shrine in Istanbul, and its existence is testimony to a more tolerant age when Christians of all sects, and Jews, were permitted to build their schools, churches and synagogues, live, pray, educate their children, speak their own languages, bury their dead, carry on business and rise to high positions in a society ruled by the Muslim Ottomans.

Interestingly, our restaurant, reached by an unpretentious stairway from the main street, is located in a building owned by the foundation that administers the church. The main dining room looks over its tranquil arboreal garden, a peaceful refuge from the teeming multitudes that throng the street below. Hatay is the name generally used here for the southeastern city sometimes known as Antakya – in ages past, Antioch, once one of the great cities of the ancient Mediterranean. Its cuisine has a well-earned reputation in Turkey – and tourists from neighbouring Arab countries also clearly find it to their taste. Alcoholic beverages are not served, but if you can do without that accompaniment to your meal, you won’t regret your visit.

Well, as you may remember, the primary purpose of this outing was to visit an art gallery, so, well nourished with the culinary delights of Hatay, we strolled the glittering length of Istiklal Avenue to the locality of Tünel at its western end. Tünel is actually the world’s second-oldest and probably its shortest underground railway. Opened in 1875 with only two stations, the line links Istiklal to the seaside district of Karaköy, formerly Istanbul’s main port.

Galatea Gallery, Asmalımescit Mh.

Galatea Gallery, Asmalımescit Mh.

On our right, just before arriving at the upper station, and near the terminal stop of the antique tram that runs from Taksim Square is the rapidly gentrifying area known as Asmalımescit. Ducking down the street of that name we took the first left – and found ourselves in a narrow lane of bars, and cafes. Galatea Gallery is well signposted and located on the upper floor of an old Greek style house typical of those that line the back streets in this part of town. John Wreford is a fit-looking Englishman who lived for ten years in Damascus, Syria, earning his daily bread as a photojournalist. His current exhibition is entitled ‘Raqs Sharqi – Doğunun Dansı’, and portrays in monochromatic images, the Middle Eastern art form commonly referred to in English as belly-dancing. Wreford has used long-exposures to capture the fluid movements of the dancer, and his images are strikingly evocative against the stark white walls and minimalist décor of the gallery.

Before leaving Syria, Wreford had been unable to work for two years because of the civil war that has been tearing that country apart. He arrived in Istanbul just as last year’s ‘Gezi Park’ protests were gaining momentum – so he may have wondered whether the violence was following him. Those particular protests have quietened down, it seems – but more serious problems are facing Turkey now. An estimated two million refugees from that Syrian conflict have now flooded into the country, placing intolerable strain on social services to feed and house them – as well as planting the seeds of a potentially explosive backlash from Turkish citizens. Pressure is being exerted on the government by the USA and its anti-ISIS allies for Turkey to become militarily involved across that border. At the same time, extremists among Turkey’s Kurdish citizenry have been staging protests and carrying out terrorist activities in southeastern cities in an attempt of their own to force the government’s hand.

In such times, it is good to be reminded of the peaceful achievements in arts and architecture of the peoples who have inhabited for countless centuries these lands widely recognized as the cradle of human civilization. We can only hope that good sense will prevail and our political leaders will find a way to bring us safely through the minefields of nationalist and religious bigotry that currently threaten our world.