Wednesday, January 13, 2010

and now time for a little bit of dignity...

At the very end of the "UK News" section of the BBC News is the story of a European Courts of Human Right (ECHR) ruling the "stop-and-search powers" illegal in the UK. I have long criticised the uncontrolled use of the police of the "Terrorism Act 2000" by which the police could randomly stop and start interrogating people anywhere on the street or, as was recently the case for me, at your departure gate at a UK airport. The new ruling by the ECHR seems to bring some dignity into the "abuse of democracy" that has been haunting the hereabouts of Europe increasingly over the last decade. It leaves me little to wonder why BBC only put this piece of news in the bottom of a sub-section of its main website, as the national broadcaster is admittedly too much with the Labour politics which reflect itself in the Home Secretary Alan Johnson's surprise and appeal at the ruling of the ECHR.

Fortunately, not everyone is as insane and hawkish as Mr. Johnson in this country. Alan Johnson may be trying to find support by the working and the middle classes sections of the society that Labour has lost its influence over during their government in the last 12 years, who are now trying to fight for a final push before the 2010 general elections. The extreme abuse of policing powers is well documented in the statistical increase of the use of stop-and-search powers; a steady incline from 10,200 stops in the year 2000 to a 250,000 stops in 2008 (that is 700 people being stopped every day). The Guardian published the news on its frontpage next to the headline and welcomed the ruling by the ECHR:

The decision by the ­European court of human rights to find against the use of section 44 stop and search powers because they lack proper safeguards against abuse is of immense importance for civil liberties in Britain. Not only is the specific practice of random search rendered illegal by the court but its judgment focuses attention on the increasing abuse of measures brought in by the Terrorism Act 2000, and the resentment of the public.

The news brings to light a somewhat scary alliance between the ve and executive powers in this democratic country. Apparently, the "Policing and Security Minister David Hanson said he was disappointed at the decision given that the government had won all previous challenges in the UK courts". Either the judges in the UK have lost all sense of humanity or that there is not a clear separation of powers in the British democracy anymore, a notion that even "quasi-democratic" Turks like us are proud of its (thin) existence in our own country.

The Independent decided to publish the news from the perspective of the Conservatives, with whom they are more aligned with and possibly bidding to win the next elections (and they may be right). Almost ironically, Conservatives attack the Labour goverment for letting the police abuse their powers and promise to change the law to cut use of stop-and-search. One does not need to think too hard to come to the conclusion that this is potentially pure bullshit and a lame populist propoganda by the Conservatives to win the hearts of those (someone potentially like me, were I able to vote) extremely disappointed by the Labour's self-denial policies.

The ruling by the EHCR seems to bring some dignity and applause back to the European consideration of human rights. It is not the EHCR is making a bold decision, in deed, we have seen many and clear examples of this institution holding somewhat a valid set of ideals despite many consistencies and clashes in some of rulings they have had on similar cases (Turkish readers and students of law or sociology will remember the famous examples on different rulings cases brought to the attention of EHCR about the subject of veiled women). However, it remains to be seen how much the "awkward European" of Europe, that is Britain, as she likes to see herself, will respect this ruling. Already the "Chief Constable Craig Mackey of the Association of Chief Police Officers said officers would continue to use stop and search powers" while the appeal made by the government against the EHCR decision is pending. It looks as if intimidation and violation of human rights with respect to privacy and implicit alieanation and scare-away tactics against the "unwanted" subjects of this society will continue for a while, and I shall fear that Britain will have to hire a very good shrink or a brain surgeon to deal with its increasing paranoia problems.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Dinner table lay-out

This is not about the lay-out or design of a dinner table. This is about some dinner, and some lay-out or form of some streets in London, or in my thoughts.

A.k. does not eat meat. Whether out of politeness or sincere appreciation of the smell, he seemed to have been impressed by the lamb. R.s. did make all the food as well as preparing the dinner table. S. had a long trip earlier and seemed to be quite tired. She was on her usual go during the dinner conversation, though. We were to discuss possible collaboration opportunities between our 'centre' and an institute at the NYU that earned a new grant. Everyone was going to bring in ideas about their current occupation and where they see themselves in a few years time and how this could all contribute to a potential work that would come out from the collective work (or a merger of their individual works) of the people.

I knew I did not have much to say when it would be my turn. I did learn a lot of what others were doing, though, as well as getting more detailed information on what my colleagues have been working on. At some instances, I was working hard on grabbing a fruit out of my fruit salad with my spoon without making too much noise not to interrupt anyone. I only had to deal with what was on my plate, the wine was being poured down somehow.

At one point I was looking at the shape of a piece of lamb meat and thinking of continuity and randomness in shape and form of things. If they had asked me at that moment of what I was thinking I could have easily come up with the following, which I developed on my way back home after the dinner:

"I am thinking of the about how the mystery behind street lay-outs of this city differs for me than those of in Istanbul. As I walk even around in the avenues which I walked before in London, I always see streets that I have never walked into. They may be completely new, or I may have seen them before. However, I've never discovered them. I now understand why: In Istanbul, I would walk into almost any street I pass by. The reason is that there is a bigger curiosity in every street. Because I can never see the 'end' of the street, regardless of how you define an 'end'. For me, it means where my point of view, that is aligned with the road on the street, whether be it paved or unpaved, a dirt road or an asphalt-road, gets interrupted. There may be a building that intervenes into my vista, or the street may be turning to right or left, or there may be a hill going up or down, so my view would always be cut before I reach my natural limit of my sight. Then, because of that curiosity, I would go in and discover that street. This is due to the topographical diversity of Istanbul as well as its historical and architectural heritage.

In London, it is not the same, thanks to the fact that many of the streets are created in a grid-pattern where you can see how the street stretches to the extent of your sight. It just goes straight ahead, except for the minority of the streets in the historical parts of the city shaped by Roman architecture and city-planning. The rest is just flat. Added to it is the usual gray and misty weather so your vista is even more limited and you already know what the rest of the street is like. Therefore you don't walk into it. But at that moment, another curiosity kicks in. In fact, there is a funny dilemma, or a dichotomy. The sheer fact that the streets in Istanbul are more crooked and interesting make the city overall a more mysterious place, but because I have discovered much of that mystery, there is few left for me. However, in London, because I don't tend to go into every street because of their similar patterns, there remains a greater amount of mystery for me. And at that point, I start to go into smaller-scale details that I might have not done otherwise:

I look at the differences of elements and how they are aligned in different streets. The size of a park and whether it is on the right or the left hand-side, and how many residential places it would correspond proportionally to its size in the street it is located. What are the proportions of social-housing to a detached housing in this street? Where do the older type of terraced or detached housing stop and social housing begin on the same street? And even if these are streets in the same neighbourhood with similar typologies, then I would start to zoom even more to start thinking about what sort of stories are taking place in the households on a particular street. To be fair, I would do the same in Istanbul, but not out of necessity, but out of already established curiosity. However, here in London, that curiosity could be my only tool of differentiating between different locations even within the same neighbourhood..."

Maybe, this could have been my answer, but my response was actually much shorter and straightforward:
"I have not really been focused on academic research for over a year now and I do not know where I see myself in 5 years". I did talk about recent interests in migration policies and socio-political implications of different spatial configuration of different migrant groups but that did not evolve into a discussion that other people brought up into the table. Well, I wasn't intending to lie or make up a story anyways.

My whole existence there, as well as what was going around was a big story in itself. I guess at this point, it may even be relevant to reveal that R and S are damn world-famous sociologists. And the dinner was delicious and wine was good.

Sunday, January 10, 2010


I've just gotten to know a BBC Series 'Close-Up' which "focuses on aspects of life in countries and cities around the world. What may seem ordinary and familiar to the people who live there, can be surprising to those who do not". Here are some takes for the day from different continents around the world:

Escalators in Hong Kong as a means of transport, urban regeneration and community space:

Berlin's obsession with currywurst:

The mystery behind the sneakers hanging on from electric wires in Brooklyn, New York:

...and here is how Britain looked like a few days ago: