Monthly Archives: May 2013

Police against all

I returned again this afternoon (Friday, May 31, 2013) to Gezi Park, or rather to its vicinity. Since yesterday the police had fenced it off.

Northern end of Gezi Park

Northern end of Gezi Park

The police fences can be seen on the left above. I think the woman here was just trying to make her way to Taksim. Presently I noticed that my eyes were stinging. It was the same with other people nearby, even in front of the ritzy Hotel Intercontinental adjacent to the park. Some young men I consulted with there confirmed that the police were using tear gas.

I followed other pedestrians east in front of the hotel, towards the Bosphorus.

These folks were all hit by the tear gas.

These folks were all hit by the tear gas.

The young man above seemed to be helping these two women, who were both affected by the gas. I could hear them muttering about it. When they turned and saw me, they were shocked that “even a foreigner” would be hit by the gas. One of the woman gave me a moist paper towel from the package she had, presumably so that I might wipe the tears from my face.

I came upon a busload of tourists, perhaps German, who had been hit by the gas. Somebody was giving them water to wash their faces. I asked one of them if he knew what it was all about. He didn’t, so I talked about the plans to replace Gezi Park with a shopping mall. But time was short; the bus was pulling away.

There is other open space near Taksim…

There is other open space near Taksim…

I headed back up towards Taksim along İnönü Caddesi. Near the bottom, there is indeed this fine plot of grass and trees. Men were stretched out here and there. The space is not equipped with facilities like benches.

Top of İnönü Caddesi.  The crowds are about start running from the tear gas of the police

Top of İnönü Caddesi. The crowds are about start running from the tear gas of the police

I climbed the road towards Taksim. Near the top, there were crowds and shouting. Soon I heard pops and saw smoke, and the crowds started running towards me. I too went to make my way down the side streets. I saw two women doing the same; but in their haste they climbed down a retaining wall, rather than find a way around. They spoke German together, I believe. They may have been mother and daughter. They had just come to Taksim for sightseeing, from their hotel on the historical peninsula. They actually thought they were in Asia now. In any case they wanted to get away to somewhere safe. Indeed, the young woman in particular just wanted to get back to the hotel. She was tearful and on the verge of panic.

We made our way down what should have been a stairway; but now it consisted only of open wooden forms, ready for the pouring of new concrete. We went down anyway, the older woman holding my arm. Near the bottom, people pointed out how we could avoid the last bit of the wooden forms.

I took the visitors down to the Fındıklı tram station near the Bosphorus. I suggested they could visit the Istanbul Modern art museum, not too far away; but they still just wanted to go back to their hotel. I pointed out that [unfortunately] none of the many people around knew what was going on, back up at Taksim. I hope our guests will end up enjoying their visit to the city.

Taksim, with İstiklal on the left

Taksim, with İstiklal on the left

The guests safely on the tram platform, I made my way back up towards İstiklal Caddesi and Taksim, ultimately along Sıraselviler Caddesi.

İstiklal.  The chanting demonstrators are beyond the police tank.

İstiklal. The chanting demonstrators are beyond the police tank.

There were police about, but also, people who were not obviously protesters. The main group of protesters were further down Istiklal, on the other side of a police tank. On my side, there was at least one used gas canister: the little dot between the tracks above. Occasionally one of the police officers motioned for people to move back. I decided it might be best if I took this seriously.

Gezi Park while the trees still stand

Gezi Park while the trees still stand

Taksim square itself seemed fairly empty, though I don’t know what it would normally look like early on a warm sunny Friday afternoon. I decided to take the pedestrian overpass (above the road construction) to the other side of Cumhuriyet Caddesi.

One end of the pedestrian way over the road construction

One end of the pedestrian way over the road construction

I passed a knot of police in order to do this. Near the other end of the bridge, a young man ran up and hurled a green soda bottle towards the police. There was some shouting back and forth. The police took up rifles of some kind. Their targets, on my side, were in what I think of as a tourist hotel ghetto.

Taksim at far end, with police firing…something at protesters

Taksim at far end, with police firing…something at protesters

Maybe the rifles fired little gas bombs, I don’t know. Nobody seemed too worried; but by now I was some distance from the action.

Gezi Park on the left, looking towards Taksim

Gezi Park on the left, looking towards Taksim

I headed north on the west side of Cumhuriyet Caddesi.

North of Taksim, even people walking south feel the tear gas.

North of Taksim, even people walking south feel the tear gas.

Even some distance from Taksim, people walking south towards Taksim had felt the effects of the police tear gas.

Occupy Istanbul Taksim Gezi Parkı

When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that one cannot eat money.

They took all the trees and put ’em in a tree museum
And they charged all the people a dollar and a half just to see ’em

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

Taksim Square is the cultural heart of Istanbul.  Most of it is paved, but nearby is Gezi Parkı, shaded by many trees.  It is somewhat out of the way and hidden from view: from the Taksim side, one must climb steps to reach it, and between it and the main road north, Cumhuriyet Caddesi, there are restaurants and a Turkish Airlines office.  As a tourist in Istanbul, I was only vaguely aware of the park.  Now, as a resident, whenever I walk from home to Taksim, I pass through the park.

The Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan intends to replace the park with buildings of some kind.  His words are translated by Hürriyet Daily News:

If you have respect for history, first you need to learn the history of Gezi Park.

He is supposedly referring to the Topçu Kışlası or Artillery Barracks that used to stand on the land of the park.

It is a bad joke. Respect for history has nothing to do with rebuilding a structure that has vanished without a trace. Or does Mr Erdoğan propose also to restore the fields and woods that still existed not too far from Taksim, not too many decades ago? In any case, he does not propose to restore the park to military use. It would be another shopping center or hotel.

foto: Taksim Gezi Parkı, İstanbul, 2013.05.30

Not a hotel, a park!

I heard rumors that the cutting of trees in the park had already started, and that protesters had occupied the park over night, but been attacked by police at five in the morning. I visited this afternoon (Thursday, May 30, 2013). I saw the protesters. I did not see any obviously missing trees.


I am not sure if there were more police than usual.


On the streets outside the park, the sun was hot. There are almost no places left in Istanbul with grass shaded by trees. Gezi Park is one of these places. The breezes were pleasant there. In fact some of the hotels nearby are surrounded by park-like land; but this land is private and fenced off.


A couple of weeks ago, I noted that the flower beds in Gezi Park were empty. I took this as ominous. Perhaps I was wrong: there were flowers today, and the fountain was flowing.


The space beneath the trees east of the fountain seemed occupied by the usual sorts of people, not protesters. Homeless men slept or rested here and there. The protesters were concentrated in the shade at the northern end of the park.

Protester's sign: “No to cutting trees, but yes to cutting animals?  Meat is murder”

“No to cutting trees, but yes to cutting animals? Meat is murder”



I heard that the police this morning had burned some tents. Apparently they did it at the spot above, which somebody else was also photographing. But either the police spared some tents, or new tents were brought in.

“Resistance is as global as capital.”

“Resistance is as global as capital.”

Protest sign: “Shopping center pillage bridge AKP Tayyip plundering | it is not enough for them, only more eggs”

“Shopping center pillage bridge AKP Tayyip plundering | it is not enough for them, only more eggs”

I do not know the best translation for the sign above. The AKP is PM Tayyip Erdoğan’s party. The bridge referred to is presumably the third bridge over the Bosphorus, the beginning of whose construction was celebrated by the PM yesterday, although it will involve destruction of many more trees than there are in Gezi Park. Protesters have been put on trial for throwing eggs at the PM.

I fear the political culture is such that nobody in his own party can tell the Prime Minister when he is being an idiot.

Learning mathematics

This is mostly reminiscences about high school. I also give some opinions about how mathematics ought to be learned. This article originally formed one piece with my last article, “Limits”.

I learned calculus, and the epsilon-delta definition of limit, in Washington D.C., in the last two years of high school, in a course taught by a peculiar fellow named Donald J. Brown. The first of these two years was officially called Precalculus Honors, but some time in that year, we started in on calculus proper. Continue reading


This is about limits in mathematics: both the technical notion that arises in calculus, and the barriers to comprehension that one might reach in one’s own studies. I am going to say a few technical things about the technical notion, but there is no reason why this should be a barrier to your reading: you can just skip the paragraphs that have special symbols in them.

Looking up something else in the online magazine called Slate, I noted a reprint of an article called “What It Feels Like to Be Bad at Math” from a blog called Math With Bad Drawings by Ben Orlin. Now teaching high-school mathematics, Mr Orlin recalls his difficulties in an undergraduate topology course. His memories help him understand the difficulties of his own students. When students do not study, why is this? It is because studying makes them conscious of how much they do not understand. They feel stupid, and they do not like this feeling. Continue reading