Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Blogging about the Election

Yahoo has a round up of Iranian bloggers blogging about the election. They know a lot more about Iranian politics than I do.

Bloggers of Iran - Yahoo! News: "Blogging has gone international in a big way.

And in
Iran, blogging means that news, ideas and rumors are bypassing traditional censors. As one of Iran's leading bloggers recently pointed out at opendemocracy.net, Iran's blogs are generating 'an unprecedented amount of information [and] pre-election news has...been much more transparent.' In fact, Hossein Derakhshan argued, ' it will probably be one of the most open and transparent elections Iran has ever seen.'"

Monday, May 30, 2005

Nuclear Power...

Last night's tv news was abuzz with stories about this NYT article:

Across Iran, Nuclear Power Is a Matter of Pride - New York Times:

"TEHRAN, May 28 - From nuclear negotiators to student dissidents, from bazaar merchants to turbaned mullahs, Iranians agree: the right to develop nuclear power is a point of national pride.

James Hill for The New York Times

At Friday Prayer last week at the Imam Khomeini Square in Isfahan, soldiers and others raised a hand in a gesture against the United States. The banner proclaimed the right of Iran to develop nuclear energy.

'For a country to have nuclear energy means that it has made progress in all other fields as well, so other countries have to respect its technology,' said Nilufar, 29, a graduate student in energy management at the prestigious Sharif Industrial University. Nilufar, covered in black so only her face was showing, agreed to be interviewed on such a delicate topic only if her family name was not used."

Advieh in the Arak bazaar.  Posted by Hello


The secret of gloves
The secret of the gloves has finally been revealed to me!

When I first arrived in Iran, I noticed that many of the women wore gloves: even in the middle of the summer! This, I quickly deduced, had nothing to do with the requirements of the hijab. The women who wore gloves spanned the spectrum of religious dress. Some of the glove-wearers wore the full black chador and some a barely there scarf with a short manteau.

Were they, perhaps, germ-phobic, I wondered?

I asked several people. No one had an answer. And then, I filed my glove question way back in the recesses of my brain.

A friend of a friend was visiting. Her mother is Indonesian and her father is Dutch. It was her first visit to Iran. Immediately, she understood the secret of the gloves. "It's so that your hands are not ten shades darker than the rest of your arms." D'oh.

I quickly confirmed this with a brand new friend of mine who is a glove-wearer. "All I have to is go out into the sun for ten minutes, and my skin gets darker," she explained.

That should give you some info about how pale I am.
I changed the template...
Again. The other template reminded me of the time we took a copy of the US constitution, burned the edges, and mounted it on wood with shellac and shoe polish.

This one's not perfect, but I am too lazy for perfect.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Family Life

About families for San Diegan
I have written about family life off and on since the beginning of this blog. Family life in Iran can be summed up simply: heaven for children, hell for teenagers and young adults, resignation for the middle-aged… Old? Depends.

Children in Iran live in a particular children's heaven: they get sweets before dinner and are not put to be early when guests arrive. They are always part of the conversation. Cousins and friends are often underfoot.

In many Iranian families, the age differences are smoother than in American families (I am sure this is changing as families get smaller). Uncles and nephews hang out like friends. Sometimes I am a bit shocked at the bossiness of children here. But, what can I say?

A friend who grew up in England but lives here now and has a young son in school here tells us that at school Iranian girls are really disciplined, but the boys are totally out of control. Boys are allowed to do everything and that respect for elders is broken at the schools. That may be why the majority of university students are girls.

Iranians complain that the revolution has weakened their family bonds. "Brother cannot trust brother," Iranians tell you.

K's interpretation is a little different: "The revolution made people retreat into their homes where they got on each other's backs too much. They have nothing to do now except butt into each others' lives."


"I wish that the foreign journalists in Iran would try to find some new topics," K said to me last night.

"Like what."

"Like what they like about Iran."

"I like the spring," I told him. "Iran has the best spring that I've ever experienced."

It also has my very favorite dining experience: an outdoor seat in a parking spot, liver ("JeeGAR" in Persian) kebab, basil, lemon, coke, and fresh flat bread. "If you write about this, Iranians living abroad will cry," K tells me.

This may sound awful, but trust me, it's not. Our favorite spot is located between a butcher and a bakery which means everything you eat is fresh. It's a particularly popular spot for grandfathers and their young grandsons. Friends of the owner take turns at the grill. And you are treated as like royalty.

It's a bit like my favorite meal in Holland: the herring close to Iran's embassy in The Hague.

WTO Talks

W.T.O. to Start Talks to Admit Iran - New York Times:

"The World Trade Organization announced Thursday that it would start talks to admit Iran as a member, a reward for Tehran's agreement to continue to freeze its nuclear activities.

Mohammad Reza Alborzi, an Iranian envoy, said today that the W.T.O. 'has done service to itself by correcting a wrong.'

The decision came after the United States, in a small but important conciliatory gesture, dropped its long-standing opposition to Iranian membership in the organization, which governs global trade.

'It is a long overdue decision but it is a positive decision,' said Mohammad Reza Alborzi, Iran's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, in a telephone interview. 'We have a Persian proverb: 'A fish is always fresh, even if it is caught when you go fishing late in the day.' '"

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Interview With Iranian Presidential Candidate - New York Times:

"Q. In the Arab world, the governments have good relations with the U.S. but their people do not like America. But Iranian people like the United States even though the government has bad relations with the U.S. How can you explain that?

A. Maybe one reason is the Palestinian issue which the Arab people have a greater sensitivity about and the other one is the situation the U.S. created in Iraq. The reason is because the U.S. supports Arab dictatorial regimes. But in Iran the U.S. has this serious problem with Iranian people as well. Those who express such interests say that the United States is an influential country with large industries, an advanced country with good products and these sorts of things. But there is a larger number opposed because of this hostile attitude of the United States."

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Guardian Unlimited | Special reports | Khamenei orders election ban rethink:
"'It's appropriate that all individuals in the country be given the choice from various political tendencies,' he said. 'Therefore, it seems that [the] qualification of Mr Mo'ein and Mr Mehralizadeh [should] be reconsidered.'

Mr Khamenei's unexpected concession to reformists is almost certainly dictated by fears of a damagingly low voter turnout, leaving the clerical regime open to the charge that it lacks democratic legitimacy.

It may also be calculated to reduce the electoral strength of Mr Rafsanjani, the frontrunner, whose candidacy Mr Khamenei opposes. Despite calls for a boycott, many reform-minded voters were expected to vote for Mr Rafsanjani to prevent a hardliner being elected. Mr Khamenei is ideologically opposed to the candidacy of Mr Mo'ein, who has promised to release political prisoners and said he would consider suspending Iran's nuclear programme. He also regards Mr Rafsanjani as a potential rival.

Senior government figures have acknowledged that a high turnout is vital to reinforce the regime's democratic credentials in the face of US and European pressure for it to abandon its nuclear aspirations.

The wholesale exclusion of reformists risked deepening voter disillusionment, already widespread because of hardliners' systematic obstruction of the reform-minded programme of the outgoing president, Mohammed Khatami."

Sunday, May 22, 2005

Wrapped in plastic

Plastic wrapping
I took an inter-city bus ride this Iranian weekend. On the way out we saw a pretty dismal Iranian film, The Ziggurat Goddess, about a young man whose wife and child die in the attack on the WTC in NY. The only notable part was the ability of the documentary footage to make my heart beat fast and my breath short.

On the way back, we saw an equally dismal film: this time from Hollywood. Cutthroat Island was its name if anyone is interested. From my window seat, we had a great view of the flowers. Families were out picking berries from the trees that grow along the highway. At one point the wind picked up. A particularly resourceful group held a chador under a tree a let the wind do all of the work. The berries flew off the tree straight into the chador. It was brilliant.

Every new Peugeot we saw was still wrapped in plastic. The fenders, the seats, and the steering wheels were still covered in plastic wrap. Iranians love plastic wrap. Offices leave the plastic on their office chairs along with the tag. If something comes wrapped in plastic, it stays wrapped in plastic.
Reverse Engineering
K and I were watching the news the other night. Most nights, Khatami cuts a ribbon at some new bottling plant or oil refinery or similar manufacturing site. On this particular evening a group of mullahs were walking around an airplane in a manufacturing plant somewhere in the world. Iran plans to build its own aircraft, the happy announcer reported.

"They're probably reverse engineering a Tupolov," K said.

"They'll leave the plastic wrap on the nose cone," I responded.
Thanks for the comments…
You guys are great...

Monday, May 16, 2005

New template
Some of you may have noticed that I (finally) changed the template. Now you can actually leave comments, which, frankly, terrifies me. I am terrified that you will comment and terrified that you won't.

So, remember when you see all those 0s in the archives, that we only just today turned on the comment function.

A nation of philosophers…

Iranians still study philosophy and go to lectures. I joined them to hear some philosophers lecture at the gorgeous Philosopher's Institute in downtown Tehran. On the way, my taxi driver asked me: "Are Iranian drivers good or bad?" (This is the most common question structure: Is America good or is Iran good? Do you like your father better or your mother better? Is Iranian food good or is American food good?)

"If they were good, there would not be so many accidents in Iran, would there?"

"We drive badly because of the mullahs."

"So, the mullahs are responsible for your driving?"

"Yes. Get rid of them, and we will be better drivers."

"Do you really think so?"

"Why not? We Iranians are without law. That's because of the mullahs."

Was my driver a philosopher of an idiot?

One of the philosophers speaking tried to engage the Iranians in a discussion of the ways in which Iranian philosophy could be used in the West. Unfortunately, there were too many academics in the room so instead of engaging in discussion, they spent time showing off their knowledge and making points of their own. Get a few drinks in them, though, and I bet you can have some interesting chats…
Iran Daily: "Darvishi, a UNESCO Award Nominee
TEHRAN, March 13--Music Committee of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization's Tehran office has nominated Iranian musician and composer, Mohammad Reza Darvishi for UNESCO music award for 2005.
Head of UNESCO Music Committee, Mohammad Sarir told the Persian daily Hamshahri that UNESCO's prize this year focuses on music diversity, cultural rights and objectives that can increase the people's knowledge about strategies and principles that influence music diversity.
Famous personalities such as Dimitri Shostakovich, Leonard Bernstein, Elvieh Messian, Ravi Shankar, Herbert von Karayan, Tariq Hakim (from Saudi Arabia), Alim Qasimov (from Azerbaijan) and Mohammad Reza Shajarian (from Iran) were among the earlier recipients of the UNESCO award."

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Iran Ruling Frees Man Jailed for Poll on U.S.: "THE WORLD
Iran Ruling Frees Man Jailed for Poll on U.S.
From Reuters

TEHRAN — Iran has freed a leading political prisoner jailed for publishing a survey indicating that Iranians favored resuming dialogue with their supposed archfoe the United States, his lawyer said Friday.

Abbas Abdi was sentenced in 2003 to 4 1/2 years in prison for 'selling intelligence to the enemy,' referring to the poll, which found that three-quarters of Iranians wanted their country to have a dialogue with the U.S.

But Iran's Supreme Court ruled last week that the United States was not officially defined as an enemy, and Abdi was released after 30 months in prison.

'This is an unprecedented ruling, because five senior judges, including a cleric, suggest the United States is not an enemy,' said Abdi's lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht.

Abdi was one of the student leaders who took dozens of U.S. diplomats hostage at their Tehran embassy in 1979 and held them for 444 days. Like many of the former hostage-takers, Abdi became a reformist advocating warmer ties with the West.

Washington severed relations with Iran in 1980 as a result of the hostage crisis, and any suggestion of talks with the U.S. is highly sensitive."

Friday, May 13, 2005

The International Book Fair

I twice visited the International Book Fair last week. I was one of hundreds of thousands of visitors. The fair was absolutely packed.

There were huge halls filled with books in English. It was a feast for a book-lover such as me. I wandered from stall to stall browsing the thousands of books on display. The most popular English books were definitely the art and design books. People were snatching them up.

Many of the books were academic, remainders, and technical. There was a dearth of novels. Most of the novels were by Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, and Shakespeare. I did see a literary critique of Salman Rushdie and about 30 books on Israel. All of them were published by reputable academic presses.

There were two stands that were noticeable for their total lack of visitors: one was the stand offered by Hamas and the other was a Jihad stand. In the two days I visited, I did not see one person visit either stand. In fact, people were walking as far from the stands as they could.

There were plenty of stands offering Islamic texts. They were busy. A stand run by a big Canadian with Suffi poetry and other Suffi texts was selling out. "Where was that guy from?" my Iranian friends asked me. "He was Canadian."

"Ehh…" they responded a bit shocked. "We thought he was Afghani."

"There are Muslims in Canada," I tell them.

Later we visit a stand run by a British Muslim who speaks very good Persian (but even better English ;) ). My young friends ask him several times where he is from "originally." They refuse to accept his answer tha he is British. Exasperated, he responds, "Not all British people are white. Many of them look like me."
Talks with Taxi Drivers, Part 115….

Well, I have been lazy. It's one of the drawbacks of "going native." I have written about this before… Things no longer seem strange to me.

I have even commented that the driving habits of Tehranians have gotten much better. Then I got into a taxi with three touring friends. At one point the driver pulled a standard move: pulling out into moving traffic in order to make a left turn. It was clear to me that we would not be hit, but our three friends all flinched and yelled in fright at the exact same moment. Is it possible that driving habits have not improved at all?

A friend tells me there were 26,000 traffic deaths last year. That would mean that, in fact, driving habits have not improved in the least.

"You foreigners should relax," a driver tells me when I ask him to slow down. "We know what we are doing."

"Hey," I respond, "you guys still have the highest accident rate in the world. Maybe it's time you became a little less relaxed."


Another driver asks me when Bush will come to Iran? "You don't really want him here," I respond.

"I don't want him to attack us, you're right. No one wants a foreign power to attack their country. But I do want him to visit us."


K and I are waiting for a taxi when a young woman pulls over. "I'm going to Valiasr Square she tells us. Do you want a ride?" This is not uncommon in Iran. People often pull over to give foreigners a lift somewhere. They feel sorry for us.

K and I hop in. We thank her. "We wouldn't want your wife to have a bad experience here and write a book," she tells K. We all laugh.

It turns out she is studying English so that she can apply for a visa to Australia, get citizenship there, and then try to get a job in America working for Industrial Light and Magic.


"How did Bush manage to become president again if Americas hate him so much?" a driver asks me.

"Who do you think the next president of Iran will be?" I respond.

He laughs. "Oh I get it."


K is sitting up front chatting with a driver about politics. The driver is going on an on about how evil the British are. At a certain point he turns to K and says, "Your wife's not British, is she?"

I laugh. "It's a little late to ask," I respond in Persian. The poor driver is shocked. "Your wife understands Persian," he says to K.

"Yeah. Some say that she understands more than I do," he responds. "But don't worry, she's not English."

When we pull up to our house, the driver says, "Make sure to tell Americans how much we like them. Iranians love Americans. We have no problem with the people. It's just our two governments that have problems."

I promise to pass on his message. I even put it in bold.