Back in Istanbul: Topkapi Palace!

Istanbul Topkapi 1

Dear Commons Community,

Yesterday the highlight of the day was a visit to the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul. This is the Turkish version of Versailles or St. Petersburg’s Peterhof.  It was home to all the Ottoman sultans and built by Mehmed II after the conquest of Constantinople in 1453.  Through the years the palace grew steadily to form a city-like complex of buildings, annexes, and courtyards including a shore palace known as the Topkapi, as it was situated near the cannon gate -Topkapi- of the ancient walls of Istanbul. When the shore palace burned down in 1863, it lent its name to the entire complex we now know as Topkapi Palace.

A visit through the many buildings (throne room, harem, treasury, kitchens, sofa room) easily gives one the feel of the opulence in which the sultans lived. Each of the rooms is covered with intricate and colorful mosaics.  Some contain beautiful stained glass windows.  The gardens are magnificent and filled with tulips and the views from of the Bosphorus panoramic and breathtaking.

All the pictures in this post were taken somewhere within the Topkapi complex.


Istanbul Topkapi 5

Istanbul Topkapi 2

Istanbul Topkapi 6

Istanbul Topkapi 3

Istanbul Topkapi 4

Istanbul Topkapi 7

Cappadocia and Goreme!

Istanbul Goreme Cathedral

Goreme Cathedral

Dear Commons Community,

Goreme, was called Maccan in antiquity and is one of the older areas in the Cappadocia region. Within Goreme are the remains of a Christian community that lived entirely in the rock formations known as “fairy chimneys”.   Because of its remoteness, Goreme served over the years two purposes, one was a place to live an ascetic life and the other was to escape religious persecution.  Goreme in Turkish means invisible.

The remains of cave structures used as churches, a monastery, a nunnery, and other basic living quarters can be visited.  The churches are very small and served more as chapels for small groups of worshippers.  Many of them contain frescoes that can be viewed close up.  While in need of repair and restoration, some of the details on these frescoes are clearly visible.

All of the pictures on this posting were taken at the site of the Goreme religious community.  The interior shot was taken in a cave used as a dining room.



Istanbul Goreme 2

Istanbul Goreme 3

Istanbul Goreme 4Istanbul Goreme 5

Cappadocia, Kayseri (Caesarea), Devrent and Pasabag Valleys!

Istanbul Devrent Pasabag 4

Dear Commons Community,

Elaine and I flew to Cappadocia today in central Turkey about 700 miles from Istanbul.  The major city is Kayseri (in English Caesarea) which has been inhabited since 3000 BC.  The area is steep in history and has been inhabited by multiple cultures.  The Persians, Greeks, Romans and Ottoman Turks conquered the area and subjected the people to an endless tug of war of loyalty to one ruler or the other.  As late as 1924, because of the friction between Greeks and Turks, Greece and Turkey agreed on a mandatory resettlement policy which required Christians living in Turkey and especially Cappadocia to resettle in Greece and all Muslims living in Greece to resettle in Turkey.

In addition to its history, Cappadocia has geologic sites like no other on Earth.  We visited Devrent Valley (aka Imaginary Valley) and Pasabag Valley (aka Monk’s Valley) which have incredible rock formations referred to as “fairy chimneys” created by the eruptions of multiple volcanoes about 60 million years ago.  In earlier times, people in the area dug caves in these “chimneys” and lived in them.    Some very poor and homeless people still live in them today.  A tourist industry is evolving here with cave restaurants, cafes, and small hotels carved out of the rocks. The accompanying photos on this page give you a sense of the area but do not do justice to the feel of the place.  Walking in these valleys among the “chimneys” is like walking on another planet.  In fact, the area was used to shoot scenes for several of the Star Wars movies for this very reason.

A special day in a different world!


Istanbul Devrent Pasabag 1

Istanbul Devrent Pasabag 2

Istanbul Devrent Pasabag 3

Istanbul Devrent Pasabag 5

Istanbul: Mosques, Obelisks, and The Cistern!

Istanbul Hagia Sophia

Dear Commons Community,

Elaine and I spent the day touring the old city of Istanbul.  The highlights were the Hagia Sophia , the Obelisk  in Sultanahmet Square and the Cistern.

The Hagia Sophia was constructed during the period of  527-565 AD, under the order of Emperor Justinian. It is mentioned in the historical resources that during its construction period, the two prominent architects each had 100 architects working under them, who in turn had 100 workers each working under them.

It was used as a church for 916 years but, following the conquest of Istanbul by Fatih Sultan Mehmed, the Hagia Sophia was converted into mosque. Afterwards, it was used as a mosque for 482 years. Under the order of Atatürk and the decision of the Council of Ministers, Hagia Sophia was converted into a museum in 1935.

Istanbul Oblelisk

This obelisk  was built during the reign of Pharaoh Tutmosis III (1500-1400 BC) and brought to its present site in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Square in the late 4th century AD by Emperor Theodosius.  I have always wondered at the Western World’s fascination with obelisks. We find them over and over again in main squares in capital cities such as London, Paris, St. Petersburg, Washington D.C. (Washington Monument) and in St. Peters Square in Vatican City.

Istanbul Cistern

The Cistern is a cathedral-size underground chamber approximately 138 metres (453 ft) by 64.6 metres (212 ft) – about 9,800 square metres (105,000 sq ft) in area – capable of holding 80,000 cubic metres (2,800,000 cu ft) of water. The ceiling is supported by a forest of 336 marble columns, each 9 metres (30 ft) high, arranged in 12 rows of 28 columns each spaced 4.9 metres (16 ft) apart.  It was built by Emperor Justinian in the 6th century AD.

Tomorrow we are off to Cappadoccia.


The Chronicle Reviews CUNY’s Pathways!

Dear Commons Community,

This reference to CUNY’s Pathways proposal  in The Chronicle of Higher Education, was passed to me by John Wallach, a colleague at Hunter College.  The article (need subscription)  provides a review and perspective of where we are at here at CUNY with Pathways.   As the article indicates:

“A controversial curricular revision at the City University of New York that has been roiling the system for more than two years is approaching its endgame—and tensions show little sign of abating.

The revised curriculum, called Pathways, has sparked dueling advertisements, a nearly 6,000-signature petition calling for a moratorium on efforts to put it in place, accusations that administrators threatened the jobs of uncooperative faculty, and a steady stream of opinion pieces and public pronouncements for and against, both within and beyond CUNY.

The dispute has also resulted in an unusual pair of lawsuits about curricular control that crystallize many conflicts that have beset public higher education nationwide. Running through the debate at CUNY are broader worries about an ascendant managerialism in academe and the marginalization of the faculty; impatience with the inefficiency and slow pace of change in higher education amid shrinking public support; concerns about the costs borne by students; and predictions that the push to graduate students more quickly will result in a lower-quality education.

Academe is experiencing the same tensions that have wrenched other industries, says Peter F. Lake, a professor of law and director of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education Law and Policy at Stetson University.

“The corporate wars are on and the soul of higher education is at stake because academic freedom is butting heads with efficiency.”

Under Pathways, the number of required general-education credits will be reduced and reorganized around learning outcomes instead of disciplinary categories. Faculty opponents of the curriculum dislike both the changes and the process by which they were made.

CUNY’s students will take their first 30 credits in two categories: a 12-credit “required core” and an 18-credit “flexible” one. Each of the system’s four-year colleges is choosing an additional six to 12 credits to require of students, depending on the degree program and college from which they may be transferring, which brings the total number of core credits to a range of 36 to 42. Existing general-education requirements can range from 39 to 63, depending on the campus.

Administrators say changes are needed to streamline the curriculum and ease students’ ability to transfer credits within the system.

Faculty members agree that problems with transfers need to be fixed but have protested a process that they say has marginalized their traditional role in formulating curriculum.

While CUNY is no stranger to pitched battles between administration and faculty, the dispute over Pathways has grown especially rancorous. Since the board approved the framework for the new curriculum in June 2011, those on each side of the debate have offered opposing versions of the effort’s viability and professed to be the ones truly acting for students’ welfare.

Opponents argue that Pathways and programs like it will further polarize higher education. The well-off students at elite and wealthy institutions will enjoy a rigorous education, critics say, while students from low-income backgrounds, which many of CUNY’s students are, will receive a watered-down version. Under Pathways, foreign-language requirements are reduced, science is taught without labs, and hours of contact between students and faculty in composition courses are diminished.

“If it’s such a great idea to teach introductory science courses without labs, then why aren’t they doing it at Harvard?” says Barbara Bowen, a plaintiff in the suits, an associate professor of English at Queens College, and president of the Professional Staff Congress, the union that represents the CUNY faculty. “If spending less time in the classroom with writing professors is a great idea, why aren’t they doing that at Princeton?”



In Istanbul!

Istanbul Blue Mosque

Dear Commons Community,

We have just arrived in Istanbul, Turkey,  for a one-week holiday.  Located in both Europe and Asia, it is a transcontinental city straddling the Bosphorus and home to about 14 million people.  We are staying in the “old city” which oozes relics of the centuries in its streets, architecture, and mosques.   Before Istanbul, this area was the center of Byzantium, Constantinople and Ottomon Stamboul.  The area traces its history to the 6th century BC.  Depending on the Internet connections, I hope to share our experiences while here.


Decisive Moment for Gay Marriage!

Dear Commons Community,

The U.S. Supreme Court will begin hearing arguments today on same-sex marriage marking a decisive moment for gay rights in this country.  The main case is over the constitutionality of Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage.

In an article this morning, the New York Times is comparing the fight for same-sex marriage to the fights for racial equality and women’s rights:

“The struggle for African-Americans’ rights, symbolized by the bloody 1965 Selma march, is as old as the nation. The effort for American women’s rights began at Seneca Falls, N.Y., more than 150 years ago.

The modern fight for gay rights is, by contrast, less than a half-century old, dating from the 1969 Stonewall uprising in New York. But this week, as the Supreme Court hears two landmark cases on same-sex marriage, the speed and scope of the movement are astonishing supporters.

“We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still, just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall,” President Obama said in his Inaugural Address in January, in a moment of history for gay men and lesbians, who were included in such a speech for the first time. “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law.”

As far as possible outcomes:  The court may decide the Constitution requires all states to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. At the other extreme, the court may say the Constitution is silent on the question, leaving states free to allow or reject same-sex marriage.

The court could also adopt a rationale that would apply only to California along the lines of the one endorsed by the Ninth Circuit Court. Or it could dismiss the case for want of standing, which would probably effectively allow same-sex marriages in California.

Much at stake!




New York City’s Blue School Bus Seeks to Return Education to Children, Parents and Communities!

Blue School Bus II

Dear Commons Community,

Parents, teachers and community action groups are pooling their energies to influence education policy in New York City by traveling its streets and avenues in a bright, shiny blue school bus.  As reported in the New York Times:

“…the bus will carry the message of a coalition of public school supporters called A+ NYC to New York City’s mayoral candidates, in hope of shaping their positions on the future of the nation’s largest public school system. A+ began its efforts last week by taking the bus on a weeklong tour that zigzagged across the boroughs, stopping at schools, offices of participating advocacy groups, and spots like the Brooklyn Public Library and the Staten Island Ferry terminal.

Visitors to the bus could express support for proposed changes they would like to see in public schools and add their own suggestions. Their responses will be tabulated to create a platform, which a sister group, New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, which includes the United Federation of Teachers, will communicate to candidates and voters…

…A+ NYC leaders said they felt that this election, with the Bloomberg administration coming to an end, may be different. “I think that what we’ve demonstrated is there is real energy and a broad energy around the possibility to line up on education,” said Oona Chatterjee, an associate director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, a nonprofit educational research and policy group that helped organize A+ NYC. “

While still evolving, the A+NYC policy platform stresses issues related to equity, a well-rounded curriculum including arts in education, and making sure that all students including English language learners and children with special needs have a chance to succeed.

A+NYC is also an effort to offset corporate-financed groups such as Students First founded by Michelle Rhee, the former Washington schools chancellor, which has earned a reputation as being an anti-teachers-union, and pro-charter-schools.

We wish the Blue School Bus success!


Blue School Bus


Charles Blow on the GOP’s Bachmann Problem!

Dear Commons Community,

Charles Blow in today’s New York Times comments on the state of the Republican Party and what he terms its “[Michele]  Bachmann Problem”.   He cites data from  a recent Pew Research Center  survey that indicates the Republican Party’s image is at an historic low with 62% of the public saying the GOP is out of touch with the American people, 56% think it is not open to change and 52% say the party is too extreme. Opinions about the Democratic Party are mixed, but the party in general is viewed more positively than the GOP.

Blow cites Andrew Kohut, the founding director of the Pew Research Center, who pointed out in The Washington Post on Friday that the party’s ratings “now stand at a 20-year low,” and that is in part because “the outsize influence of hard-line elements in the party base is doing to the G.O.P. what supporters of Gene McCarthy and George McGovern did to the Democratic Party in the late 1960s and early 1970s — radicalizing its image and standing in the way of its revitalization.”

Blow blames hardliners such as Michele Bachmann who deal in hyperbole and who are fact-challenged:  For example:   “PolitiFact rated two of her claims during her CPAC speech last Saturday as “pants on fire” false. The first was that 70 cents of every dollar that’s supposed to go to the poor actually goes to salaries and pensions of bureaucrats. The second was that scientists could have a cure for Alzheimer’s in 10 years if it were not for “a cadre of overzealous regulators, excessive taxation and greedy litigators.

And in a speech Thursday on the House floor, she said of the federal health care law:

“The American people, especially vulnerable women, vulnerable children, vulnerable senior citizens, now get to pay more and they get less. That’s why we’re here, because we’re saying let’s repeal this failure before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens.”

Blow’s conclusion:

“People like Bachmann represent everything that is wrong with the Republican Party. She and her colleagues are hyperbolic, reactionary, ill-informed and ill-intentioned, and they have become synonymous with the Republican brand. We don’t need all politicians to be Mensa-worthy, but we do expect them to be cogent and competent.

When all the dust settles from the current dustup within the party over who holds the mantle and which direction to take, Republicans will still be left with the problem of what to do with people like Bachmann.

And as long as the party has Bachmanns, it has a problem.”

A problem indeed!!



2,243 Gun Deaths in the 98 Days since Sandy Hook!

Gun Deaths

Dear Commons Community,

It has been 98 days since the tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School when a lone gun man killed twenty students, ages 6 and 7, and six adults.  As the nation mourned a little more than three months ago,  politicians around the country expressed outrage and vowed to do something to protect people from guns.  This past week, the US Senate watered down even the meekest of attempts to reign in the proliferation of guns when it eliminated the ban on assault weapons in a proposed bill.

The Huffington Post in an effort to draw attention to the fact that guns kill people, has an interactive website that traces the deaths of Americans by guns across the United States.  At the website, the image above is interactive and visitors can see exactly where and when people were killed in the different parts of the country since the Sand Hook tragedy.

Worth a visit!