Monday, March 31, 2014

6 Reasons for The AKP's strengths.

I've been watching events unfold in Turkey over the past few weeks with a sense of trepidation, and yesterday's municipal elections have done nothing to alleviate this. It would appear, on the face of it, that the Turkish Republic may be facing a slide into autocratic, one-party (or, more pertinently one-man) rule. The ruling AKP has taken approximately 47% of the vote on a very high turnout, with the next largest party, the CHP, trailing well behind on 29%. PM Erdogan has taken this election as very much a mandate on him personally, and will almost certainly aim for a run at the presidency, or possibly change the rules in his favour and get another term as Prime Minister, later in the year. More worryingly, his rhetoric is increasingly belligerent and hostile, and promises lurid revenge against all those he typifies as 'traitors' and 'enemies of the state'. This, from a man who has openly admitted to hoarding millions of dollars in his home, who has admitted that his administration has discussed setting up a false flag operation in Syria with the intention of invading - things that, in another country, would lead to the resignation of the government.
So how on earth is this party, and this man, still in power?
There are six key points, I think, and one thing to remember about the AKP: They are not a political party that consists of backwood yokels - instead, they are one of the most efficient, up-to-date, and skilful political machines out there. Here are the six things that have made them strong.

1. They know, understand, and appeal to their electoral base.

The AKP, and its predecessor Refah, spent a lot of time connecting with the towns and villages of Anatolia, essentially listening to their needs, their fears and worries, and promising that they would be addressed. Anatolia is far more conservative and pious that the big cities, but it is also the workforce that power places like Istanbul and Izmir. These incomers (and migration to Istanbul alone is estimated at least 1,000 people a week) bring their politics with them, obviously - it makes sense to catch the poor because their votes translate directly into power. This is something that other parties have missed, because....

2.The Anatolian electoral hinterland that comprises this base has been ignored by mainstream politicians for decades.

During my time in Turkey, it was obvious that Anatolia, for the politicians, might as well have been Outer Mongolia. MPs were big on promises, but short on outcomes, and the lot of the average villager never improved. Despite the modernisation of the cities and tourist regions, you don't need to go far into the hinterland to realise that much of the country is still developing. The mass of voters were regarded as little better than obedient serfs, who would vote for whomever they were told to vote for. This has come to bite the political parties firmly on the backside, and none of them really seem to know what to do. Why?.....

3.The lack of a credible alternative.

The opposition is hopelessly divided and doesn't really fill one with confidence: instead, it's the same tired faces with their own history of scandals, graft and corruption. They also seem to fall back on an assumption that, were they ever to regain power, they would be able to do everything back in the old way. They have not grasped the reality that the AKP have changed the game entirely. They have failed to adapt, have presented no credible challenge, and are at least partially culpable for the domination of the political scene that Erdogan enjoys.

4.The state's system of checks and measures, e.g. the media, an independent judiciary etc, have been subsumed and compromised by the AKP.

Because of the weakened opposition, Erdogan and the AKP have been able to sack members of the judiciary with impunity, block journalists from reporting, lock writers up and generally create an atmosphere of fear and paranoia that pervades all those who find themselves on the purlieus of the administration. A state where all parts of the system cannot work is a sick state and one that is doomed to fail sooner or later. The problem is that it will take decades for Turkey to rebuild, especially in terms of the trust needed.

5.Erdogan controls the traditional media. His electorate don't use online media.

Despite the fact that social media is widely used in Turkey, nevertheless the vast majority have no truck with online sources of information. They rely on TV, newspapers and radio, all of which, because of the way they have been filleted by the AKP, are supine in their news coverage and meek about reporting anything that may offend their political masters. Again, this is nothing new: during the 90's, TV channels were regularly closed down as a punishment for revealing something the political elite didn't like. The difference this time is that the media is largely complicit with the ruling party, rather than challenging and questioning. The electoral base of the AKP, being people who are generally speaking from backgrounds with less access to education, are less likely to question what their leaders are doing. And why should they? After all...

6.The AKP's electoral base feel they have benefitted economically and socially over the years of AKP rule.

Ultimately, it all comes down to the economy. From the perspective of the average AKP voter, they feel wealthier -there are more things in the shops, there is a boom in new building and infrastructure, there is seemingly greater access to jobs and money - and while that feelgood feeling persists, there is little likelihood that they are going to vote for anyone else. This, despite the fact that on average, the typical person is apparently worse off - however, when it comes to the very poorest, their lots have been made somewhat better. Not only that, these voters feel that they are being listened to, something that other politicians have failed to do again and again.
Yes, the economy is the key: the problem is that the Turkish economy is increasingly resembling an enormous Ponzi scheme, and, like the Spanish and Irish economies, is due to crash at some stage. It is simply unsustainable as it is, especially in light of the information being leaked about the kickbacks and bribery that seem to be the norm at the heart of the administration.

So, what will happen next? I fear that Erdogan will now feel he has carte blanche to go hunting for his enemies, and to increasingly take power into his hands alone. He doesn't care for democracy, just power. After all, he once said, 'Democracy is like a bus: Useful to take you where you want to go, but you can get off at your stop and make your way after that'. And that doesn't bode well for Turkey.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Shooting Zombies: How a game illustrates how I waste my time.

I've got a new game on my mobile phone. It's called Sniper Z. It's tremendous fun: you have a rifle and a limitless supply of bullets, and all you have to do is shoot zombies, who walk towards a red line in a disconcertingly casual way. They all look as if they're out for a gentle stroll on a bright sunday afternoon, right up to the moment when they get shot in a spray of blood.
Bang! Splat! Take that, zombie!
So why am I talking about it?
Because it is fun, but it's a distraction. Because ultimately it's tiring and futile, as you can never stop the innumerable tide of zombies, no matter how good a shot you are, or how long you play. And all of these things - fun, distracting, innumerable, tiring, futile - refer to how I approach arguments, ideas and situations when I could better employ myself focusing on just a few things. I spend time sniping at this thing or that point, at the oncoming torrent of what are ultimately, for me at least, things that are the walking dead - that is, things that have no value to me or give me anything positive - they just weary and finally, like a zombie, eat my brain.
How often do we spend time on 'zombie' events, or zombie arguments? As an example of the latter, let's take the current soi-disant debate on immigration. This is a zombie debate if ever there was one. Once it lumbers to its feet, it just trundles on and on, impervious to weapons and utterly pointless to fight, yet it's not really a worthwhile argument. You will always have immigration from one area to another, and that is that, full stop. But still the newspapers and media are stuffed with nonsense, and I have to endure Nigel Farage's pointless face on my TV screen.
Aaagh! Zombie!!
In fact, politicians tend to set up zombie issues in order to deflect attention from what's really going on. In the UK, for example, tropes on education, health and defence are long-distance zombies, with one lumbering to the fore for a while, before being supplanted by another. Arguing over these subjects is largely futile - instead, we would be better off working out who's started which undead brain-muncher going.
But also in, for want of a better term, real life, we are faced with our own personal zombies - getting resentful at work, for example, because of how the organisation works; frustration at the daily commute; worrying too much about what other people are (or aren't) thinking; Fretfully going back and forth to emails or Facebook, wondering why you haven't got any messages; The list of things, like the staggering ghastly corpses lurching towards you in the game, is endless.
We cannot beat every argument; However, we should also realise that we don't have to, as a lot of what we do when we engage with such things is genuinely pointless, even when, in the case of political arguments in my case, it can be fun. Instead, I suggest that instead of trying to pick off every zombie, and end up getting your brain eaten anyway, you stay still, look around, and find the real living things to aim towards. After all, why should we be ever surrounded by dead things when all we want to do is live?

Monday, February 17, 2014

Wee Free Freedom! (Again)

Well, since that last entry, it all appears to have kicked off in the press, just as I thought it might. What should have been a debate about national independence seems to be descending into Personality Politics and the stances of various parties. This is more than a shame, it's a disgrace, and one that will be costly to all people concerned, i.e. all of us. This issue is far too big to allow it to be decided solely by a slanging match.
Make no mistake, this will affect life on the south of the border too, and everyone in the UK needs more information than a 'He-said-this-and-he-said-that' bulletin on the 6 O'Clock news.
Will Scotland vote for independence come September? I don't know, although it looks set to be a close run thing. I think it will all boil down to who makes the most compelling economic argument - the problem for all concerned is that we are entering unknown territory vis-a-vis things like Currency union, EU membership, Debt, even how much Scottish Viewers may have to pay to watch the BBC, and it's all to easy for politicians to fall into entrenched roles.
Will Scotland go independent? I think it's probably a case of when rather than if: The I-word genie is well and truly out of the bottle, so it will come down to the nitty gritty of the how it happens. As I said in my previous post, I remain to be convinced by the figures and the mechanisms for dealing with things like EU membership, which is probably what most people are waiting for.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Freedom!

No, I haven't left my job thanks to a sudden windfall, nor am I exactly celebrating the rather saddening end of my marriage. Rather, I am thinking of a certain woad-encrusted Antipodean actor screaming that at the serried ranks of Edward I's army in the movie Braveheart.
The issue of Scottish independence is rising up the (English) news agenda at the moment, with the vote on whether Alba will break away from the Union coming in September. Predictably, the political divide is becoming more entrenched, with PoshBoy Osborne (backed by an unlikely cross-party chorus) stating that there is no way that Scotland will be allowed to keep the pound, and Alec Salmond getting very huffy about it all.
Where do I stand on it? Well, being part-Scots, I think it's entirely appropriate that I should feel entirely agnostic about the whole thing, even if it means my old friend Johnny Mellon will be miffed at me. But why? It's not as if I have a thing against independence; on the contrary, national (and regional) self-determination are important features of a civilised world, to my mind.
It's these two things that disturb me and gives me pause for thought: firstly, the sums and secondly, the assumptions, on both sides of the debate.
Dealing with the first, the figures being bandied about simply don't look right. In particular, the figures on North Sea Oil Revenue. I'm worried that the SNP are being wildly optimistic here, and forgetting a simple fact: The Oil Will Run Out Eventually. What then? Are they planning to invest oil revenue in the same way that the Norwegians have? That would be the sensible route, but it also entails having far more pragmatic plans in place for a) taxation, b) future revenue streams and c) thinking about what they can actually spend post-independence. It strikes me that configuring the new nation along a Scandinavian model in terms of its finances would be no bad thing, but I don't really get the sense that this is being discussed. On this side of the border, the impression given is that somehow it will all continue as normal after the divorce.
The truth is, of course, that divorces are rarely easy.
And this is where the worry about the assumptions cuts in: it strikes me that the SNP seem to think that currency union, membership of the EU and NATO etc will just happen overnight in a single smooth transition. I very much doubt that. It would be lovely if it did, but the blunt truth is that there would be little or no strategic interest in the Big Boys of Europe allowing a brand shiny new independent nation straight in through the front door. Instead, a hiatus of several years should be expected - after all, how long did it take the Eastern European countries to get into the EU? There's no point Alec Salmond jumping up and down and saying, either 'la la la, I can't hear you', or 'It's not fair!', these are issues that need to be addressed seriously. Likewise, English politicians doing their best to put everything in a negative light, or Anti-SNP Scottish Politicians trying to even old scores don't help matters.
And there's my point: Scottish Independence would be a fine thing, just as long as it's done clearly, soberly and with an understanding of the risks it may entail, and at the moment that's exactly the debate that is needed, not a load of grandstanding. Saying 'No!' or 'You can't do that' isn't the way to run one side of teh campaign; but equally, yelling 'Freedom!' is all very romantic, but romance doesn't put bread on the table.

update, 17.2.14: Here's a link to BBC Scotland's Documentary on the issues surrounding the referendum.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Winding up?

The end of the year once more, and time once again for a bit of indulging in solipsism - or is it just me? It's tempting to ape all those end-of-year reviews you get on TV, radio etc, to ask oneself 'what have I done?' and writhe about in guilt about all the stuff not completed or not even started, and start making solemn vows about everything that's going to happen in 2014, only to writhe in guilt a year later when it comes  to the next Review Of The Year. 

One thing I have to consider, however, is the fate of this blog. Not, I admit, the first time I've considered it, but the paucity of writing over the past year in particular has been painful to look at. Or not look at, seeing as I haven't written anything. I think this has been a symptom of a general malaise affecting me, or rather the realisation of a simple fact that I've been blind to - namely, I arse around far too much. Of course, I'm not alone in this affliction, but it seems that I do two things simultaneously: a) I lack direction and planning and b) I make things as hard as possible for me to get a direction, mainly because I then go into loads of mini-plans and schemes that give the impression of doing something.
I wonder whether this blog is in fact not part of the latter, hence why I'm considering knocking it on the head.
Let's face it, I've kept it going, if not on the boil, then at least in the vicinity of the kitchen, for nearly eleven years, and it has lived up to its billing as an erratic journal. I also notice that it's read by a sizeable percentage of zero readers, so perhaps it's time to let go.
If I feel that I can actually achieve something more tangible with this, then I shall let it stagger on, in the hope that it will find its own two feet again.
Until I decide, have a Happy New Year.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

An Adventure In The Trouserlegs Of Time

Have you ever had a dream, whether in the depths of sleep or while lulling through the more tedious aspects of your daily routine, where somewhere out there is another version of you, living a fuller, more complete life, one that consists of far more Adventure, Excitement and Really Wild Stuff than is generally available? Or have you ever considered what would have happened if you had taken a slightly different decision, or the road less travelled, or if you’d not drunken quite that much and ended up in the police cell?

One of the staples of Science Fiction is the Alternate Reality, or where a decision taken takes the whole universe down a whole different Trouserleg of Time. I can recall, in fact, having several dreams where I’ve encountered myself in different dimensions, replicated multiple times in different cosmic scenarios. I have to say I wasn’t too impressed with my alternate lives – they all seemed to be much the same, except for the universes where I had inexplicably died in bizarre and/or highly amusing circumstances. In fact, some scientists postulate that this is entirely possible – the so-called multiverse hypothesis, where every decision causes a whole new universe to pop into existence, so that for every time you went left, a different you went right, and for the You that finds itself hungover in a police cell there’s a brighter, slicker, shinier and generally more sober You that finds him/herself in a far more salubrious environment.

The bastard.

It’s a highly attractive theory – just imagine that you are replicated over and over again in countless myriad universes, free to keep making decisions, sometimes – well, actually, more often than not – making mistakes, but somewhere in this countless number of infinities, in this limitless ocean of repeated times and spaces, there’s a little you who makes all the right decisions and ends up with the perfect life.

The bastard.

I always thought it would be great to be able to travel all across these dimensions, meeting myself, as it were: In fact, there are those who believe that this can, rarely, happen, and accounts for people seeing Dopplegangers, or themselves from the past/future and so on. Unfortunately, I have come to see it as all a bit bunk. And why?

Well, it’s this whole the-decision-causes-the-universe-to-split-off-into-a-new-universe thing. Why a decision? Why not a random chemical interaction? Why not the decay of an atomic particle? Why not a gust of wind? The whole multiverse hypothesis seems to me to rest on the presumption of decisions causing change, which in turn requires the sentience necessary to make a decision, and indeed the self awareness that is in turn necessary to understand that decisions make differences.

In other words, a universe that behaves in such a bizarre way, that it goes and spawns a whole brand new shiny universe that is exactly the same except for one tiny detail, seems to be a bit on the extravagant side. It means that the universe is in effect designed to foster sentience, which strongly suggests that it is, in some way, sentient itself. After all, getting whole new universes popping into existence simply because I decide not to have some jam on my toast is actually quite  a clever asexual reproduction strategy, and means that our universe (whichever one it is now) can keep on going literally ad infinitum.

We should also consider that a lot of what we consider to be decisions based on free will are nothing of the kind, but are pretty much the random outcome of the chemicals sloshing round our brain and/or the interaction with our environment, according to an increasing body of research into brain function and psychology, which means that if the universe is popping out versions of itself based on the fact that my noggin is currently mired in booze, it’s doing it for all the wrong reasons. Unless of course, the cosmos knows I’m pissed, and therefore decides that I’m in no state to go round doing ad hoc universe-popping.

So, the whole idea of a sentience-supporting realm of existence bothers me, because it strongly implies a created system. In addition, it strikes me that one could, in theory at least, eventually develop a computer that could track the movement of every particle in creation from the Big Bang onwards. If so, it would be easy to see how the movement, life and decay of each particle leads to order, then life, then to sentient life, which then, because of the fact that it is being observed, cannot be truly said to be independently sentient, being the outcome of the movement of various Quantum Stuff. And then we’re really buggered, because it means that our universe is Deterministic rather than Relativistic.


In the end, although I wouldn’t mind taking a trip down the different Trouserleg of Time, I think we have to accept that this is all the cosmos we’re going to get, and in fact it doesn’t much give a stuff whether we eat the White Chocolate Magnum or the one covered in chopped hazelnuts.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Watching Paint Dry

The nights are getting longer, the air is getting colder, and one's thoughts finally turn to blogging once more...
Actually, I've not been entirely with my Blog Mojo, having been busy with Other Stuff, such as idly loafing round. So, as is my wont, I thought it's time to blow the dust off the digital page and make you suffer more of my scribblings.
The problem with not writing for a while is that it is hard to get back into the saddle, as it were. Someone I knew, a poet, once said that if he stopped penning stuff for a week, it would take him a month to start writing properly again. In his case, considering the quality of what he produced, it might have been better for everyone concerned if he had taken a gap year or three. It does, however, raise the point about any and all the things we do requiring habit, consistency and work. I've been a teacher for twenty bloody years now, and for me, it's very much an engrained skill - I can walk into a room and just get a lesson rolling, even with the bare minimum of stuff. And that's the result of years of doing the same things, again and again, plus the initial talent I had for actually being able to stand in front of a room full of strangers and make them learn without turning into a gibbering wreck.
So yes, I'm a good teacher, but as a writer, I could be typified as Plain Bloody Evasive. Quite simply, I have the bad habit of doing any kind of displacement activity to avoid putting hand to keyboard. This includes things such as Drawing Pointless Cartoons, Making Stop Motion Films Of Clouds, Spending Time Ironing Creases Into My Underwear, Taking Selfies, the old favourite, Going To The Pub,and indeed, Staring At Nothing In Particular. Notice that I use capitals - this is because these are activities that through continual repetition have become almost time-honoured rituals in Faffing Around, a bit like The State Opening Of Parliament, or The Queen's Speech, except with underpants with a lovely sharp crease. And a beer.
However, the thing is that my life is undergoing quite a few changes at present, and it's made me reappraise what the hell is going on. Now, I don't think I'm actually undergoing a mid-life crisis per se, and I certainly don't feel that the Beige Gene has begun to express itself yet - I have yet to reach the moment in life when one pulls on a pair of trousers of indeterminate colour with an elasticated waist, and thinks, 'Mmmm, these are nice and comfy...' - but what I think is true is that my priorities are just a bit skew-whiff. I don't spend enough time doing what is truly important, and spend too much time sweating the small stuff, such as aspects of my job. I even had a rough night's sleep last night, fretting about a relatively trivial issue at work, until I thought 'why the hell am I letting a problem at work ruin my weekend and my sleep?'
In part, the events in Turkey have made me sit up and see what I'm doing, or rather, not doing - namely, writing, presenting and speaking as much as I should. When I read other bloggers and other people's writing, I always feel slightly ashamed that I haven't done as much. And of course, I say to myself that I will write more, but then DON'T DO IT. It's all very well saying something, but it's only in its execution that something becomes real.
Being someone who spends far too much time in Thinking Up Stuff rather than Doing Stuff, I need to change my habits so that the latter comes to the fore, messy and imperfect though it may be. And messy and imperfect is what this post is, but that's OK really. It's something on the page rather than an imagined Platonic nothing floating in the ether of the mind.