Saturday, December 30, 2006

Snow blind

Since our epic battle with traffic on December 1, changes have been made: salt and dirt are in bins on the sides of Tehran's highways. Stuck? Sliding? Grab a handful of the mix for a little traction. It helps, and illustrates one of the reasons whyDavid Ignatius writes about Tehran's mayor in his article "Three Men on a Tightrope."

Keivan and I got stuck in our own self-made snow traffic when we decided to take our regular hike the day after a big snow. About half-way through, we found ourselves thigh-deep in fresh powder. It was just us, some dogs, birds, and foxes. We're nuts we know.

It was gorgeous, though.




Is that the sun setting?

Monday, December 25, 2006

Busy week and Happy everything

First there was a lot of work… then a grant proposal for Mideast Youth… then party after party after party…plus Hannukah, Shab-e Yalda, and Christmas. Certainly, the most satisfying of the holidays is Shab-e Yalda which makes no secret of its meaning: welcoming the sun back into our lives. No baby Jesus, no miraculous flame, just the sun. Welcome back, sun.




Eating red fruit and nuts is a Shab-e Yalda tradition. Shab-e Yalda is celebrated on the longest night of the year.





Last week, one of my faithful readers invited me for a delicious dinner of Arabic delights. Thanks! I ended up spending most of the evening talking to a Libyan and an Egyptian… odd how that works, isn’t it? We had a good time making fun of Iranian food (I like it, but it’s not quite the brilliant cuisine that Iranians think it is) and Iranians themselves. Hey, I like you guys… don’t worry! You’re simply the majority and deserve the teasing you get from the likes of us.

I asked the tall Syrian man what he felt about the religious convictions: “Convenient,” was the short answer. I was reassured. Convenient is healthy. Committed is strange.

Convenient is important to remember. The other day I read somewhere that most Iranians agree that Israel is the source of many of the region’s problems. I believe that this is convenience speaking once again. Every single time an Iranian makes some argument against Israel, such as today when my cab driver said that Israel controlled the UN’s vote on sanctions, I make a counter argument (when there is one). I have never heard a counter-counter argument, which makes me think that there is not real depth to general anti-Israel sentiment. For instance today I told the driver that Israel did not vote on UN sanctions. He just said, “Oh. Well nothing will come of it anyway.”

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Holocaust Denial

I posted my concerns about the consequences of Tehran's Holocaust Denial conference at Mideast Youth which launched an unintended, and for me, disturbing discussion of genocide. It was from that discussion that I discovered the diary of one of the commenters, a German, Heimo. Here is a quote from his entry "Warnings about voting for me!"

Post from Heimo at Sting of the Unicorn
Note to Heimo: Get a blog that we can comment on!

Another word to the so called „holocaust discussion” in Ahmadinejads selected round of ‘enemys of Israel’ –

I had a discussion with my Iranian friend G.yesterday on telefone - & oof – when I at last mentioned this strange congress – he was so well informed & also he was so enthusiastic about the nice atmosphere there when in the end members of that congregation embraced each others & ‘there were even Jews invited (this was important for G. to tell me)& even Ahmadinejad embraced with ‘a Jew’ in the end –

He praised that on this congress could be openly discussed, what is forbidden here in our so called ‘free world’ & asked me why there is no free speech here.

I didn’t argue with this, but it just came in my mind: if there would be a congregation of child molesters who would argue whether it would be moral or immoral to have sexual connections with children – free speech – why not talk about it?

I tried to tell G. why especially here in Germany it is so important to not let the same spirit that did in our recent much evil ever happen again. – Words of agitation are also weapons & we know by recent history the lies, stories & agitations of the Nazi-people well enough. – Giving them platform, means giving them chance to spread their beguiling agitions again & there are stupid herd people ever present to listen to there arguments, where some truths, some half-trues & some wild exaggerations are mixed to a conclusion of lies. – It’s not only the words & arguments – it’s the spirit behind it that is so easy to regognize for us, but apparently not to him coming form a far-away culture, where all what had happened here is nothing but a far away tale (or fairytiale even)

Friday, December 15, 2006

Elections in Tehran

The polls in Tehran were packed today as Tehranis went to the polls to vote for city council members (oh yeah, and the Council of Experts and a couple of Parliament seats).

This is the first time I’ve seen full polling stations. During the presidential elections, the polls we saw were empty (even though the Iranian news teams managed to find a couple of busy ones). The one near our house was packed from morning to night.

So, let me describe it to you: the polling stations are covered with posters listing all of the candidates along with an additional code for the city council candidates. There must have been a couple of hundred names printed on the walls.

To get a ballot, you wait in a long line. Hand in your id and give your fingerprint three times. After that, you get three empty ballots: one for city council, one for the Council of Experts, and one for the mid-term Parliament elections. The city council and c of e have about 15 (am I right?) blanks. If you don’t select 15 candidates, you cross out the remaining empty spots.

People crowd the posters, searching for their candidates and their codes. They scribble those onto a scrap of paper and then transcribe them onto the official ballots. There is no privacy. There are no booths or curtains. No one we see is even attempting to keep their ballot a secret.

Voting is not easy here. It is a real pain: a little bit like learning all of those horrible referenda in California.

Filled ballots go into the appropriate boxes. You get your id back and, if you are lucky, a piece of candy, and then you leave.

Many of our friends voted for the first time in ages during this election. “We have to vote,” a friend tells me. “We have to send a signal that we are still here… still fighting. I am dragging my husband to the polls. I told him that not voting only helps the conservatives. I think he agrees now.”

So… keep your fingers crossed: the results of Tehran’s city council elections will be interesting.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Separated at Birth

Which do you think is funnier? Al Jazeera’s depiction of Iran’s gathering of holocaust deniers, KKK kingpins, orthodox Jewish separatists, and varied crackpots as “scientific” [from last night's broadcast where they also misidentified the US as one of the countries that forbids holocast denial]or this infographic from the Onion (miraculously unfiltered!):

From The Onion




References:
Tehran Times explains it all to you

The BBC reports

Holocaust Denial is No Joke

Holocaust deniers unite! You have nothing to lose but your dignity! From the NYT

Who is attending

From the Drudge Report (filtered here)

Update: additions to the references list

Thomas Erdbrink, NRC journalist, on the conference (in Dutch)

Angus McDowall, with the Independent, discusses the conference's "so-called" neutrality (take that! Al Jazeera)

At the Dorf on Law blog Paul Horwitz specualtes about whether or not it would be valuable to attend the conference

I love step-by-step guides

Mr. Behi has a guide for all you proud nations out there:

Your step by step guide to look like a fool as a nation!
Ingredients:

1) You. The good nation. You need to say to yourself everyday that you are a good nation. That you are free and nice. You need to digest the rest of the ingredients to be considered the “GOOD” nation otherwise the following items will generate a serious indigestion!


I would add, make sure to hold bogus scientific conferences and tout your record on freedom of speech.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Call for Papers / Sessions: Iran: Myth or Fiction?

I have agreed to post this call for papers on my site. It seems like a valuable conference. Thinking of submitting a paper myself...

Conference title: Iran: Myth or Fiction?

Conference location: Atlantis City

We are living in an era where a fact is no longer a fact: where even the very notion of gravity is challenged and reality is no longer a given. This is the era of post-post-post modernism, or as the French-educated philosopher Goolmizaneh has aptly termed it: virtual post-ready-made-deconstructivism.

Can anything really be said to be a fact in a post-holocaust world of full-immersion game-playing? By now, we all know that the United States of America faked its moon landing (1) and that the infamous attacks on the World Trade Center were actually staged by Bollywood filmmakers who plot world cultural domination. (2) There is no one among us who still accepts the “facts” of evolution (3) or the “fact” that dinosaurs existed (4) or even the long-accepted “fact” that Elvis died some 30 years ago.(5) Facts are notoriously unreliable as we have all learned the hard way.

That is why the proud, nation state of Atlantis in conjunction with its renowned University of Atlantis are sponsoring the conference: Iran: Myth or Fiction.

After careful study, we realize that there has not been sufficient academic debate on the actual existence of the country that the world knows as Iran. This so-called country is rumored to be developing nuclear arms and de-stabilizing the entire Middle East region with its real-politik shenanigans. The question we are asking is this: does Iran even exist?

In the spirit of academic freedom and the sanctity of freedom of speech, we call on scholars from all over the world to offer papers on the actual existence of Iran.

We hope this conference will bring together such figures as:

* Historians of Asia and the Middle East
* Political scientists interested in alternative approaches to reality
* Researchers of myth and myth creation
* Oppressed academics everywhere who cannot find a voice in traditional institutions

Among topics the conference might explore:

* History of myth and fiction
* Iran: where would it be located if it really existed?
* The making of the myth: why we need the myth of Iran
* Protocols of the Elders of Aryan and their efforts at world domination
* Chess, poker, and tolerance: why the myth of Iranian invention took hold
* The poetry of Hafez: who was the real author Shakespeare or Marlowe?
* Persian or Farsi: the same language?

Short abstracts of no more than 200 words for papers or panels should be sent via email to responses AT gmail.com by March 1. Notification of acceptance for the conference will be made by March 18.

References:

(1) Moon landing faked

(2) 9/11 conspiracies

(3) Evolution in the face of Pastafarianism

(4) Dinosaurs never existed

(5) Elvis death faked

Al-Safadi criticizes Ahmadinejad

Perhaps Iran's foray into the world of international conspiracy theorists won't be a love-in after all:

From The Independent: Iran's denial of Holocaust harms Arab cause, Palestine activist tells president
By Angus McDowall in Tehran

However, Mr Ahmadinejad has been condemned on the eve of the conference by Mahmoud al-Safadi, who was sentenced to 27 years by Israel for throwing Molotov cocktails during the 1988 intifada. In an open letter to the Iranian president, he says that Mr Ahmadinejad's stance is a "great disservice to popular struggles the world over".

"Perhaps you see Holocaust denial as an expression of support for the Palestinians," he writes. "Here, too, you are wrong. We struggle for our existence and our rights, and against the historic injustice that was dealt us in 1948.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

If you wonder why I am not reading or posting...

Here is the answer:



For my readers in Iran, the image above is from a speed test of my internet connection. It shows speeds of way less than a 14.4 modem. Internet speed is driving me nuts! As I am sure it is you.

Friday, December 08, 2006

To vote, or not to vote

I have often wondered how boycotting elections benefits Iran. Behrooz Ghamari asks the same question in his article in Payvand:

The Donkey and the Date: On the Upcoming Municipal Council Elections in Iran:

"There is an expression in Farsi that describes people who want contradictory things: those who want both the donkey and the date. These are people who are never mistaken, and see all situations in the context of their own interests. Iranians and their Euro-American supporters, those who advocate boycotting every election in the Islamic Republic, cannot have it both ways. They cannot argue that the office of the president (and all other elected offices) is politically impotent, while also lamenting the repressive nature of the Ahmadinejad presidency and how he is taking the country back to its early postrevolutionary period. This poses a dilemma for these universal boycotters. If elected officers make a difference, for worse or better, in the Islamic Republic, then why shouldn't citizens vote? There are many different positions on this question ranging from single-minded abolitionists, whose agenda is regime change in Iran, with or without the help of their neocon brethren, to those who recognize the differences between different factions, but argue that participating in elections legitimizes authoritarian institutions such as the Guardian Council. Although the reasons for boycotting elections may differ, the result is the same: low voter participation has devastating consequences for reform candidates."



What do you guys think?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Water, water everywhere...

New post from me at Mideast Youth. Here's an excerpt:

“Iran only has water for about 85 million people, so you should hope that there won’t be too many more babies,” I say.

“We have great water,” Booming Voice says. “You should see the river in Borujerd; the water is sparkling and clean.”

“They are not counting that water. We have not even started using that water,” Tall Man says.

“The report I saw included all water resources in Iran.”

“Oh.”

“The way water leaks out of the pipes, there will not be enough water for 85 million people.”

“We’ll just drink oil,” Booming Voice jokes.


Read the rest at Mideast Youth.

300 billion rials for Prayer Rooms in the schools

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Update: If you are here looking for information about the film: 300, I urge you to read our blog anyway. If you are not interested in us, click here for a brief historical overview of the film's story.

Stuck in traffic, listening to the radio as the announcer ticks off a list of city expenditures… “300 billion rials for prayer rooms in public schools,” she says and then moves right on to the next expenditure.

Keivan and the driver laugh.

“That’s what? About $3 million?” Keivan comments.

“About,” the driver says.

“More,” I say. “The dollar just took a plunge.”

They laugh some more.

“What about buying a couple of ambulances?” I indignantly ask. “How about a fire engine?” I realize that my indignation is genuine. “Whoops, I’ve become too Iranian,” I say.

The driver and Keivan laugh at me this time.

But I am not joking. In a country where the call to prayer is its first line of defense against a national disaster, it’s no surprise that very little money is spent on emergency preparedness.

That was so, so evident the other night when I spent five hours in traffic. That’s just a foretaste of what would happen in an earthquake people: untenable traffic combined with no emergency services: recipe for disaster my friends.

And when that happens, no one will be laughing.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The New York Times has Risen from the Dead

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It's a miracle! It's been unblocked.



(For my readers in Iran: the picture I have posted here is the logo of the NYT. For my readers outside Iran: blogger photos are now blocked. Who knows why?)

The Guardian reported that many sites had been blocked, which may or many not have been true at the time of reporting. I certainly never had problems with Wikipedia or Amazon, but then the Guardian reporter and I may have been using different ISPs. ISPs have varying block lists.

The good news is that the New York Times is now unblocked. Who knows what else may be unblocked soon? Japanese food recipes maybe? How about this subversive recipe for squid and brocoli?

Remember Americans, this filtering is brought to you by an American company: Secure Computing . They claim that Iran obtains their software illegally. (Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, ya' know what I mean.)

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Snow Day!

…or how a Snickers bar saved our lives…

“Traffic on Modaress is heavy. Traffic on Sadr is heavy. Traffic on Chamran is heavy. We know people have grown impatient, but don’t worry the Mayor’s office is on the scene.”

Now I know that the mayor’s office consists of three guys in orange jumpsuits spreading salt from the back of a rickety pickup truck and one or two cops who really could not do anything to alleviate the traffic.

What happened? As Keivan says: “One snow brought Tehran to a standstill.”

How did we get caught in it? I’ll tell you how: riding to a party with two of our good friends. We just got stuck. It wasn’t snowing that heavily when we left for the party, but within a few blocks, traffic was stopped. Where it wasn’t stopped, cars were sliding around: organizing themselves is such a way as to make passing them impossible.

All I can say is thank god for the Snickers bars we ate just before taking the onramp to Modaress because it would be five hours before we reached a toilet or food again. (Aside: Note to Snickers: perfect ad campaign for Tehran: How the Snicker’s bar saved us from cannibalism when we were caught in Tehran’s intractable traffic. That Snickers may be the only reason we survived our friend’s bout with low blood sugar… Or it may be the only way they survived mine ;-) )

I am not exaggerating! It took us five hours from the Zafar onramp for Modaress to Fereshte… Those among you, who know Iran, know how close we were. By the time we arrived, there were about six inches of snow piled onto the roof of the car.

Despite it all, we had fun. We had a great time with our friends, survived an onslaught of snowballs, drank a bit of firewater, and, at 2 am, finally ate dinner…

Oh but no pics... who knew we would be stuck in a historical storm? We were traveling with a professional photographer whose small just-for-fun digital camera ran out of juice after one pic and we, of course, forgot ours.

New York Times... R.I.P.



Oh New York Times, we hardly knew ye...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Yazd...

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Having problems uploading images will try again later... (Sunday maybe)
The thing about traveling in Iran is that you aren’t just traveling through space, you are traveling through time. The space is already dramatic enough… a short trip takes you from Tehran north into a lush forest and south into the desert. It also takes you to a village where people heat with wood or an oasis where people gather water from an underground stream.


You can go from the emerging cosmopolitanism (yes, even here) of Tehran to fundamentalist Islamic culture in a short drive.

Our trip to Yazd (Keivan wrote two trip reports and is working on a third, so I will just write about Yazd) was a bit like that. I mentioned earlier that on the way, we met Moses -- that was not his name, but he looked more like Moses than Charlton Heston or Michaelangelo’s statue – and his wife who was equally Old Testamenty in a long embroidered dress, with two thick black braids, and a well-groomed unibrow (not a contradiction! Among some Iranians a woman with a well-groomed unibrow is sexy. At first I thought it was bizarre; now I also find it attractive.) The two run a bizarre guest house in an oasis somewhere in the desert, so who knows, maybe they wandered there.



But Keivan will tell you about that…

I’ll tell you about Yazd, a city on the Silk Road that is just amazingly beautiful. We hired a guide to ensure that we didn’t get lost its mazelike streets. He took us to all the highlights: the huge towers of silence where the Zoroastrians used to leave their dead to be eaten by vultures. “The practice stopped when the city got too close to the towers and people started finding bits of bodies in their gardens,” our guide explained. Boys on motorbikes rode up and down the hills leading to the stone tanks that used to hold the dead.

It was Al Qods Day when we were there, which means huge anti-Israel, anti-American rallies. Our part of Yazd, despite being a revolutionary city, had a pretty lukewarm rally when the cameras were off… turn the cameras on and you see something else entirely. The group we saw seemed to be barely interested. Its leader tried to get the crowd worked up, but to no avail.

I know that we just saw one small leg of the march; I know that huge crowds turned up, but what we saw was impressive for being so unimpressive. I was, frankly, relieved.

The highlight of our day was a visit to the Friday Mosque where huge groups of women were participating in a gathering said to be of help women with problems getting pregnant. The women had taken over the mosque and were exchanging fabric and measuring each other for colorful chadors. Other women were there for help finding a man. First they read their fortunes from the inside of walnuts (like tea leaves or coffee grounds); then they climbed to the dome of the mosque and walked around it 7 times while saying special prayers.



What?

You heard me. Walnuts, fabric exchanges, and circling the dome…

“The 135th generation of David is buried here,” our guide told us. “Every year, Jews from all over Iran make a pilgrimage to his grave. The funny thing is that when they leave there is no sesame halvah left anywhere in Yazd.”

Some traditions are the same all over the world…

Monday, November 20, 2006

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Money

 

The new 20,000 tuman rial note... (Well the 2-year old note. There are so few in circulation that it still feels very new)

 Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I've Gone Native

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This may seem like a small thing to you, but it’s a large thing to me…

I used to be so meek while shopping: patiently waiting my turn at the counter, never interrupting the purchase of another customer, getting angry when other customers were served before me… And then today I caught myself interrupting another customer and not waiting my turn. I did it all so thoughtlessly that it was only when I was chomping on my Snickers bar that I realized what had happened: I’d gone native.

You see, in Iran if you do not demand attention, then you aren’t really ready to buy. That’s all there is to it. It’s not rude. It’s just a fact. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Bluffing

Really interesting article in the Los Angeles Times

Found via Christopher Dickey's blog: The Shadowland Journal: Of Persians, Poker, Bluster and Bluffs:


..At least 250 years before our country was founded, Persians were playing bluff-based card games with decks of four suits: coins, goblets, polo mallets and scimitars. In the late 18th century, their vying game As-Nas (My Beloved Ace) became the prototype for the 20-card French game poque. Introduced by Napoleon's troops to New Orleans, poque evolved into 52-card poker on Mississippi steamboats in the decades after the Louisiana Purchase. Union and Confederate soldiers played the game between battles, then brought it home to every state and territory. By 1970, when the first World Series of Poker was hosted by Benny Binion at his Horseshoe Casino in downtown Las Vegas, the variation of choice was no-limit Texas hold 'em. During the next 36 years, the number of challengers in the main event mushroomed from seven to 8,773, including players from 56 countries. But only one country besides the U.S. has produced more than one champion: Iran."


Oh, and a note to some secret friends: it seems that Iran *did* indeed invent poker.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Revolutionary Traffic posted at Mideast Youth

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I have another post at Mideast Youth, this one based on the rantings of -- who else? -- a taxi driver.

Preview:

The driver looks over at the Mercedes next to us being driven by a hip young thing bobbing his head to Iranian pop. “The children of the revolution,” he says pointing to the young man. “Look at them. They have not worked a day in their lives. We have so much traffic because the only thing they do all day is drive around. They are without work. I work all day...”

Monday, November 06, 2006

Housin Boom

The next installment of my Mideast Youth posts is up. Here is a bit:

“Look at Dubai: the apartments are better. The construction is better, the details are better. In Dubai, they have nothing. Nothing. They have to import dirt from Iran. Everything has to be imported. Iran has everything. We have the land, the marble, the stones, the bricks: everything we need. Still, apartments in Dubai are cheaper than apartments in Iran. Why?”

The Lost Check

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A friend of mine lost a blank check. First she called the bank to tell them. Then she went to the bank to give them an official, notarized letter for their files. It did not stop there… She had to get an official government letter as well…

I went to some government office/court today accompanying a friend who had lost a check and needed – I believe – an order to arrest anyone using that check. The offices were housed in a converted apartment building that had not been cleaned in god knows how long. The white walls were gray with dirt. The veins in the marble floors had been eaten away by something: maybe harsh cleaning fluid (the floors are probably cleaned once a month) or something else, who knows. The narrow stairways were packed with men neatly dressed in ill-fitting suits, sloppily dressed men in slippers and colorless collarless shirts, young men with big hair, dirty jeans, and bizarre t-shirts, women in black, soldiers, and police. Our task was to get about a million signatures so that we could, finally, get the warrant.

Well. Four signatures.

Each floor held a different surprise. It smelled like deodorant and unwashed men as we headed to the second floor.

On the second floor an older man sat on the floor with his head in his hands and one wrist sporting a loose handcuff. His accompanied soldier sat pitiless in a chair and watched while the man dry heaved into the nearby garbage can. Withdrawal? I think so.

After the second floor, we were sent to the first. "No, we used to sign these letters, but we don't anymore," a bearded man told us. "You have to go to the fourth floor."

We went up and waited outside a door. In front of us a man and a woman had their ears pressed against the door listening to the arguing going on inside the room.

"It's war," a well-dressed man told us. "Civil war."

We laughed.

"You just need a signature?" the man asks. My friend nods. "Go on in."

We go in. They are actually holding court or mediation inside the office. Chairs are set up facing the mediator/judge. A woman in a chador sits to his right. He is lecturing the four people sitting in front of him. We hand over our letter to a non-combatant behind a desk.

"Can you please get a signature quickly?" my friend asks.

"I'll call you," the man behind the desk says and ushers us back outside.

A fight breaks out inside, and we all move out of the way as the yelling spills out into the hallway. "Get out of here!" one of the plaintiffs yells at a young man in a t-shirt and loose-fitting jeans. A soldier follows them both.

After we get our signature, we are sent to another floor where a woman in a chador stamps the letter and sends us across the hallway to get stamps. "After that, go to the building across the terrace for the warrant." A tired man slowly slowly puts two stamps on the letter and then sends us for another signature. Here it smells like Iranian chicken sausages frying in fat (Hebrew National, where are you? What about selling kosher as halal?)

The judge who needs to sign the letter is holding court. "It will be about 20 minutes," we are told.

We wait. Court ends. The judge's door opens. We wait. We go back in the office. "Khanum [miss/ms/ma'am], you have only been here five minutes. I told you twenty."

We've been waiting at least 15 minutes by now. We go back out and wait. "Khanum, come in," the judge calls to us. We go in. He quizzes my friend, and then quizzes me. "Why did you come along?"

"We're friends."

"Where are you from?"

"America"

"What are you doing here?"

"My husband is Iranian."

"Oh…"

We go back out and wait. We wait. "See what it's like?" my friend says. "The judge works, but his employees do not. Government… This office is better than the tax office. When you go there, they just drink tea all day and tell you to wait."

The guy waiting next to us leans over to read our documents. He starts asking questions which my friend graciously answers while I think, "What business is this of yours?"

"Can you help this woman and her American friend?" the judge calls out.

A woman comes out of the office. "What did you say to him?"

"Nothing," my friend tells her.

She begins work on the warrant which she completes incorrectly and with great confusion. Her colleague redoes it for us. Forty minutes have passed.

"You see," the man says handing over my friend's document. "Twenty minutes. Exactly."

Friday, November 03, 2006

It's the economy stupid!

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I am writing a series of posts about the Iranian economy and posting them at Mideast Youth. The first of those is a conversation between me and a young taxi driver. Here’s a bit:

Me: “Why are you bothering those women? Do you think they’re cute?” I’d rather say: “are you flirting?” But, oh, the limitations of a non-native speaker.

Driver: “Nah, Babba… It’s not that. These girls: just look at them. All they do all day is spend Daddy’s money. They do not have to work a day in their lives. They are the obnoxious ones, not me.”

“There are some people in Iran who go to bed at night hungry and there are some people who have so much money that they do not know how to spend it. Do you think that’s right? It’s not right.”

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Protect Norooz!

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Right after I posted about too much holiday, I got in a cab to go home. “Did you have to go to the bank today?” the driver asked me.

“No.”

“A half-hour errand ended up taking three hours. Everyone had to pay water and electricity and put money in the bank and take money out.”

The radio was on. The woman announcer was articulately complaining about the surprise holiday. Her final point was “Now they will probably announce that the Norooz (New Year’s) holidays are only one day. Eh.” (I love the way Iranians say “eh”)

This morning, during my morning cab ride, I heard the report from Parliament on the radio. One of the parliamentarians was trying to convince us that Eid-e Fetr was important for Iran and that Iran, because it is a Muslim nation, should have at least two days of holiday at the end of Ramadan.
“Even Muslims don’t agree with him,” the driver said. “Even they don’t think that we should celebrate Eid-e Fetr instead of Norooz.”

“Norooz is the best New Year in the world,” I tell him. “Ours is crap. January First. What kind of new year is that?”

Norooz falls at the Spring Equinox and is the same for everyone around the world. It is an Iranian national holiday: the only one left that has nothing to do with Islam or revolution.

Norooz is the most festive and amazing time of year in Iran. No matter what the government does, people take off for at least 10 days and most take 15. Last year they tried to make Sizdeh Bedar (the 13th day after the New Year and a national picnic day) a work day. They were not successful. They also tried to convince Iranians not to celebrate the last Tuesday of the year. Again, they were unsuccessful.

References:
This past year’s celebration of the last Tuesday of the year:

Give me Your Red


Scroll to near the bottom of a round-up of nuclear-related posts in my article

All about Norooz at Wikipedia

Our surprise holiday:
Too Much Holiday

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Too much holiday

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How odd to complain about too much holiday, but that is what I am about to do. Last week, Ahmadinejad announced that Eid would not be one day, no, but 3! Which meant 4 with Friday. Certainly, many school children were thrilled, but for the rest of us it was a royal pain in the ass…

Here are some of the comments I heard from people:

“My friend went to Europe and had to change tumans into Euros. The banks were all closed so he had to call a bunch of friends to get the money he needed for traveling.”

“It was boring and annoying.”

“We didn’t get enough money out of the bank before it closed.”

“We didn’t put enough money into the bank before it closed.”

“There was no way to make plans.”

“My projects are now behind one-week.”

Too much paternalism and populism; too little thoughtfulness…

Next to Natanz

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Keivan's account of day 2 of our road trip. All pictures shamelessly stolen... Actually, we are having problems uploading images... so will update.

I am happy to sit in the front seat of the car. On my way to Kashan the day before, when I was sitting 7 hours in the back of the car, I had a lot of time to think of ways to get the women to let me sit in the front seat for the rest of our trip to Yazd. When I realized that I could sit in the front without any tricks or games it made me feel very good.

Kay is driving; we agree to eat in the car in order to save some time. It is not even a couple of minutes after leaving Fin Garden just outside of Kashan when we get lovely bread, cheese, and tomato sandwiches passed to us from the back of the car where Esther and Cay are sitting.

Can you look at the map and tell me how far we are from Natanz? Kay asked me.

She shows me a map of Iranian highways. I guess she doesn't know that we Iranians cannot read maps. I take the map and at the same time I get a sandwich to eat; I have the map on my legs trying very hard to find first where we are: I am not sure if Kay realized that I was having such a hard time just finding Natanz.
We are almost 80 kilometers from Natanz where we will stop for a short visit to a 1000 year old Sufi mosque with the attached 700 year old Imamzadeh-ye Abd al-Samad – that is if we can find it.

The Imamzadeh Abd al Samad caretaker must be so happy that not long ago the city of Natanz became internationally know for its nuclear site. I am almost 100% sure that more people have visited this small town since theat announcement than in the last 1000 years. Now Ahamdinejad has even added the nuclear facility to the list of Iran’s tourist attractions.

Driving by the site, I finally realize for the first time with my own eyes why Americans and Israelis (since I don't want to make my British travel companions mad/sad, I will leave them out of this) are so mad about this site. It looks like they cannot do anything to it to destroy it since behalf of a couple of anti-airplane guns everything else is deep underground.

I have to admit that I am really happy to see it with my own eyes, but now that I am seeing it I realize again that what I am seeing is not any different than seeing it on TV. What you see on tv is what you get in person, and what you get is not much. I wish I could see those guys coming out with the barrel deep underground or wherever it is: that's got to be the most famous shot of Iran's nuclear facilities. It is true that all of us Iranians should be happy with our achievement making an atomic bomb nuclear energy, because if you look carefully at the famous barrel picture, there are at least 7 people holding it. That just shows how effective we are with time, resources, and work management.

I have seen a lot of mosques, but Imamzadeh Abd al Samad which was a big Islamic complex in the 14 century, is now on the top of my list of places to visit if you are in Iran. It is really gorgeous and fucking fantastic, you can never imagine you will see something like this in a very small town in the middle of the country. It took us 5 times going up and down the road to find it, and if it was not for the 35 people we asked for directions we would still be looking for it.

Imamzadeh Abd al Samad again proves my theory that Iranians cannot keep places well. If this old building was in any European country, you would have an extra beautiful place to visit. There was no sign on the highway to it, when you are inside you can feel the place screaming for help. I know you cannot just start fixing things if you don't have resources, but my question is how can we say we don't have resources when we spend billions on things we don't need? So much money is wasted in Iran and we still don't have money for renovating lovely places like Imamzadeh Abd al Samad.


Picture taken from internet... website on pic... Not as good as the picture we would have taken had our camera not gone on the fritz...

We still have a long way to go. In the car we talk about almost everything, or should I say: Esther is talking non-stop and Kay and Cay are responding with their low voices. I have a hard time to follow what they are saying so I only make small comments here and there and usually nobody cares.

One thing I need to advise all Iranians traveling with their foreign friends not to do is; don't tell them that Iran has 4 seasons, Oh man, you cannot do that. Even though we may know we have the best spring, summer, fall, and winter, don't say that loud and clear to any foreigner. They will never stop laughing at you and will use it against all of your other correct points.

The minute I mentioned our four seasons they started a long and painful attack. In the next couple of days, Kay alone brought this subject up 7,123, 456 times and every time I knew where we were heading.

Oh Yeah, this is the most ridiculous of all, Kay said.

What do you mean? Cay asked in surprise.

Iranians think they are the only country in the world that has 4 seasons, Esther answered. I always make fun of them, Esther continued

Do you mean 4 seasons at the same time? Cay asked.

Esther said, No, just 4 seasons. I don't think Cay knows that Esther and Kay and I are having political discussion.

Oh god what did I do? I asked myself. I cannot say to Kay you may have 4 seasons (I still don't believe it) but you also have 364 days of rain during the year. I know if I say that I will be in big trouble.

This thing about 4 seasons made our trip more fun. We or better to say they referred to it as much as they could, and we did that for different reasons.
Driving to Nain we realize we may be way late with getting to our evening’s final destination in the middle of the fucking desert.

Our visit to Nain impressed my travel companions more than it did me. It was fun to get there right before eftar. In the last 10 minutes before prayers a lot of men and women showed up at the old tenth century Jameh mosque. The sky was impossible blue and the mosque looked beautiful against that sky. We drank tea. When it was time to leave, Esther got ready to drive. It was her first time driving in Iran, and I was getting nervous.



Photo taken from the Wikipedia site on Nain... obviously not as good as the one in our heads...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Trip report, part 1

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Keivan's tale of our trip... Pictures are from postcards due to camera malfunction.

How can I get to Kashan from here? I asked our driver in the restaurant. We were sitting about 6 hours from Tehran but it was like we were in a different world completely.

Oh Kashan, there are a couple ways, the best way is if I take you to a point where you can go directly to Kashan, He answered

I think he felt bad for me because I had such a bad day, and he wanted to do something nice for me.

I don't want to take you way off of your way, I said.

Yes, Oh, No problem, it will only add 50 kilometers to our trip.

I agree and am happy that I do not have to change 3 different cars to get to Esther.

I call Esther on our friend's mobile to let her know that I will be in Kashan in 4 hours, Sounds good, Esther told me. She was very worried about me and what happened in the meeting that I won't talk about on this blog, but I decided not to talk to her about it until we were back from our trip.

We headed toward Kashan, but we did not get close. A couple of hours later we found out we took the wrong way. We were only 120 Kilometers from Esfahan when we had to turn around.

It took me more than 7 hours to get in our room in Kashan. It was nice to see Kay and her friendly friend Kay in Kashan. (oh yeah I know what you thinking, two Kays, I found out when the Kays were born a lot of names ware banned by the British government and that is why a lot of girls were named Kay. It's a bit like Fatima in Iran, and I know you are asking when were they born? but I cannot get into that because this almost cost me a seat in the car)




So before I can go ahead with this post I need to explain one thing since I am going to refer to her many times, how do you know which Kay I am talking about? I can't use, nice or tall, or friendly, or these kinds of words, since they are both nice, tall, and friendly, so the second Kay will be Cay. You should know she has a very nice smile.

Finally, I arrive in Kashan. I love the way Kashanis speak. This is my first time in Kashan, so I need to get to know this city better considering the short time we have in Kashan. It is a very beautiful city with great old houses and a nice bazaar. Esther thought the young men were not nice mainly because we did not see very many women outside.



At dinner in the Yalda restaurant, where Kay and Esther really want to go, we sat down to eat. Esther and Kay have at least two things in common: first of all they both like food, almost any food, and secondly they can get their way with selection/sharing food. I have almost known from the beginning of our trip in Kashan that I will never get my way with selecting food on this trip, My two attempts to get a lovely kebab were harshly turned down. I do have to admit that they really know what they want and they get really good food… Still, I missed my kebab, even after I tried to use Cay's need for a taste of Iranian Kebab as an excuse to order one. I got very dirty looks after that suggestion. (Editors aside: Kay works in Iran, but Cay was only here for one week) We had excellent food that night in Kashan (Aside 2: if you go, ask for the restaurant run by the English lady. The appetizer of liver was especially good) with a couple of good looking guys waiting on us that helped make our only night there lovely. If those guys knew how much some of us were talking about them, they would not have been able to sleep for nights.


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Next morning when we left Kashan after a lovely visit to the bazaar where Kay got herself a lovely small silk carpet, I know we will have fun. I really liked the fact that the guys in the bazaar did their best to sell goods in very gentlemanly way, here I mean not pushy like guys in Esfahan. We finally left Kashan, after a short visit to nicely design, but badly kept up Fin garden where Amir Kabir was killed. Seeing a visit to the Hamam where Amir Kabir was killed reminded me of more things, like how could they put that ugly man in a glass room and call it Amir Kabir? he looked like anybody but AK.




We are in the car. Natanz next, but first let me know if you want more.

Monday, October 23, 2006

From last year...

...but still interesting. What can I say... I just discovered this article today, (published in FP May/June 2005) but it is still relevant and worth a read:

From Think Again: Iran

By Christopher de Bellaigue

: "“Criticizing the Islamic Republic Helps Dissidents Inside Iran”

No. President George W. Bush’s repeated statements of support for the Iranian people do not help normal Iranians. In the summer of 2003, the last time major riots took place in Tehran, Bush’s expression of solidarity with the rioters forced the reform-minded parliament to condemn American interference. At least one student leader, Abdullah Momeni, lamented that Bush’s statement had given the state “an excuse for repression.”

The Clinton administration, on the other hand, quickly grasped that publicly defending beleaguered Iranian reformists simply allowed the clerics to accuse reformers of being American lackeys. President Clinton also learned the cost of criticizing Iran’s unaccountable, clerical elite. During an otherwise quite conciliatory speech in 1999, then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright contrasted the elected and unelected branches of Iran’s government, and any potential benefits of her speech were drowned in a barrage of Iranian invective."

Road Trip!

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Who doesn’t love a road trip? The wind, the road, the car, wide open empty spaces? Ya gotta’ love it.

Iranians are mostly afraid of the desert. “You will die there,” they say. They prefer to stay away from Dasht-e Kavir with its infamous sand storms that were in large part responsible for the failed Carter-era hostage rescue attempt. Iranians call them baad gir gerd-baad: whirling wind or tornado. (In the Atlantic Monthly, I read that Iranians call them “haboob,” but a google search seems to reveal that haboob is an Arabic word for the high altitude clouds of sand that are caused by the desert thunderstorms.)

Okay, so the point is, we did not die. We saw wild camels, heard jackals, wandered off into the dunes, stayed at an oasis, ate the best dates in the world, met Moses – or at least a man who looked just like we imagine Moses to look – had great food, and saw some of the villages that dotted the famous silk route.

We also had three cameras on our trip, but still no pics. Tantalizing, isn’t it? Our two digital cameras failed. We are depending on the cheap film camera for our images. Wish us luck.


References:
Great photo of Dasht-e Kavir at NASA

The Desert One Debacle

Definition of Haboob

See a great picture of a haboob
(Well at least it was great when I visited the site)

Nice article about the names of wind: They Call the Wind Maria

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Shamelessly looking for a new job

Categories:

I would like to relocate my life to the godless west so I am shamelessly asking for work. Does anyone out there have a good job for me? If you are a reader then you know that I have fine powers of observation. Oh yes.

I would love to stay connected to Iran. That is my first choice. My second choice is well-known by my friends and family, and they are already helping me out with that.

Email if you know of anything: responses AT gmail.com.

Thanks

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Wedding Bells

The long post I promised... I will post pictures sometime soon...

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Trip made just before Ramadan

"Where are your fellow travelers from?" the police officer asks Keivan as we are about to board the train.

"The Global Arrogance," Keivan answers. The police officer laughs, stamps our tickets and sends the three of us through the gates where we hurry to meet the overnight train.

The train leaves the station exactly on time. A couple of minutes after departure, a porter comes by with clean sheets. We fold the seats down and make our beds. "This is great," our British friend says. "I just love the train. It's so comfortable, so great to sleep in."

"The cabins were larger when I was a kid," Keivan comments. It's his first train trip in Iran in more than 25 years.

"No, you were smaller. Trust me."

At 5 the train stops and we are woken up by the call to prayer booming in over PA system.



"They never let you forget where you are," our friend says sleepily.

We pull into the train station and take a cab into the city where we are meeting friends of friends who will take us out to a Nomad encampment some 2 ½ hours outside Esfahan.

We make our way through highways, small towns, dirt roads, gravel roads, and tarred roads and, after a spot of car trouble, head towards our destination where there is one teenage boy and some sheep.

"They're at the wedding," he tells us. "They'll be back in a couple of hours."

There are weddings everywhere in the encampments. We passed one on the way here and now our hosts are at another. We manage to get ourselves invited and are quickly surrounded by huge groups of young and old, women and men, boys and girls, all curious about the two foreigners in their midst. "George Bush is very, very dangerous," a teenage boy says to me.



"Aren't you afraid of me?" I ask jokingly.

"Afraid of you… No!" they laugh. "You are afraid of us!"

"Terrorist," says a boy pointing at his own chest. The others laugh. They know we think of them as terrorists.

"Take off your scarf," an older man tells me. "There are no religious police here. We do not care. You should feel free. We are free here."

"Did you know that Qom has a huge Bridgestone tire factory?" one of the men asks me.

"Really?"

He answers by circling his hand above his head in the shape of a turban. I am so gullible.

"Take off your scarf," another man says to me.

"Really it's okay," the man who brought us here tells me.

I refuse, but everyone assures me that it is fine. They do so often and with sincerity.

"Our scarves are for decoration," a woman tells me. "It is fine to take your scarf off here."

The women wear flowered headbands and transparent black lace scarves. Their long braids come out the back. Most have two long side curls framing their faces – a bit like Chassidic boys.

"Have you ever heard of BlackENdeker?" a man asks me. It takes me awhile to realize that he means Black and Decker.

"Is America better or Iran better?"

"Do you have any children?"

"How old are you when you marry?"

"Do you think that our women are beautiful?"

"We had many American teachers here before the revolution. There was Mr. Harmon and Mr. Ryder and many others." Among the over 40 crowd there are some who do speak pretty good English.

My friend and I are ushered to one of the many women's tents. Keivan and the two men who brought us here are guided to the men's area. The women's tent is crowded with women and children and a fair sampling of young men who are here to flirt.



The children tell me that my Persian is bad. The women tell me that it is good. It's my accent that is bad, they explain.




Every once in awhile, a man comes up to the tent and says something in a gruff voice (Speaking a Turkish dialect, so I do not understand). The women then make fun of him and he laughs. I am not sure what this whole play is.

"It's time to go get the bride," I am told after a lunch of koubideh and rice with zereshk. Yum. You could taste the life in the kebab. (Sorry to my vegetarian readers…) I am sure our sheep was alive the day before.

"You need to go meet the bride," the family of the groom assures me. They usher us off towards the waiting cars.

Keivan, Megan, and I hop onto the back of a pickup truck. The women inside offer to get out, but we insist on our right to speed through the desert on the pack of a pick-up. Wouldn't you?

We are not alone. Another couple joins us. "We had an American living with us 35 years ago," the man tells us. "Louis Beck."

"Louise Beck?"

"Yes. Louise."

(A later google search reveals her real name: Lois Beck.)

"She was here for four years."

Megan turns to me, "I would love to do that."

"Me too," I respond. "She must be an anthropologist."

"We are 2000 years behind you," the man says. "But you have moved ahead too quickly. Your life is like a prison to us. What can compare with our stars? Our sky?"

We arrived at the tent of the bride who had just spent hours having hair removed. After spending the past few hours having her hair painfully remover, her eyebrows were trim and elegant. She was in a white gown and surrounded by women and girls.

"Dance!" The women command me.

"There's no music."

"Don't worry. We'll clap."

I dance. Megan is too shy to dance. Instead she laughs at my missteps. So do the other women.

We go outside the tent to join the circles of dancing people. They give me a couple of scarves to swing over my shoulders and make fun of my inability to pick up the steps. What can I say… It took me 14 years to learn the hora. I'm that bad, and I don't care.



Never pass up the opportunity to dance. As my great Aunt Rose always said, there are plenty of opportunities to mourn.

The Blanket

We take a break from the wedding to go pick up Megan's blanket. She is exchanging a digital radio for a heavy wool blanket. We sit with the family.

"Where are our pictures?" The older woman demands of our guide: Ahmad.

"I'll make you a copy of the CD and bring it to you next week."

"You won't bring it," the woman says to him. "Give us the CD, and we will make a copy and give it to you."

"I see Khosro every week. I will give him the CD. I promise."

I ask permission to take pictures. "Only if you give us copies," the woman tells me.

"Absolutely," I agree.

"Do you have farming where you are from?" the man of the family asks me.

"A lot. My parents live in one of the biggest farming communities in the world."

"Are there sheep."

"Yes."

"What kind?"

"They are not like yours. They are white with curly hair."

"Do they have pink faces like cows?"

"Kind of."

"Oh. You have Israeli sheep."

"They are similar to the sheep in Israel. That's true."

"Israeli sheep are too wild for us. They are difficult to care for."

"That's what my friend's father tells me," I answer. "He had thousands and thousands of sheep. He said they only liked him" I want to say that they were too emperamental, but I don't have the Persian word for temperamental.

The radio and the blanket switch hands.

"Don't trade that radio away," our young guide Hamid says. "Sell it to me, if you want to get rid of it."

Hamid wanders around the area with the radio until he finds a spot that gives him good reception.

"Don't worry. I am keeping this radio."

We take some pictures, say our goodbyes, and head back to Esfahan."

Time off

i'll be out of internet range for the next week, so check back then. Until then, I'll leave you with a really long post to read. You can read it a couple of lines a day until i am back in civilization.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Internal Sanctions

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“Guess what Kaveh told me,” I say to Keivan.

“What?”

“He said that out of 140 countries, Iran ranks 133rd in foreign investment.”

“Wow. 140th must be North Korea,” Keivan responds.

Aside: I cannot find a link to this, so maybe it is not true. According to the Heritage Foundation, Iran does rank 156th out of 157 countries on economic freedom.

On our way home, Keivan mentions this to the taxi driver who laughs and says, “Isn’t that just great?”

“Why does Iran even need sanctions?” I say. “They create their own. There is not need for outside help.”

“I hear that even the Chinese are having a hard time making a profit here,” Keivan says.

“Iranians think that they are doing foreign companies a favor by letting them do business in Iran and then they just bleed you dry. No foreign company can survive here.”

“They are wolves,” Keivan says.

To illustrate our point, we have an acquaintance who has been working on a 3-month project for the past three years. “Every time I come back to Iran I think that I will finish the project in these three months. But it never gets done. I don’t know what happens.”

Every few months, he reports, a new Iranian contractor appears onsite. They freely tell him that they greased a few palms to get the contract and then proceed to blackmail his mother company for a bigger monthly payout. “You can’t keep your contract without a local partner,” they tell the foreign project managers. Suddenly they disappear: just as suddenly as they showed up.

So you see, Iran has its own very effective sanctions regime.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Banking and other scandals

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All of our taxi talk has been about the Parsian Bank scandal, which is confusing to me. “Explain it to me,” I ask Keivan.

“The problem isn’t your Persian,” he tells me. “It’s that no one understands what is going on.”

“Is that what Ahmadinejad was talking about the other day? What was it something like 1,750 billion in questionable loans?” Our driver asks.

“Or was it 175 billion? I don’t know. Ahmadinejad is giving the director 15 days to pay the money back, which gives him just enough time to get a visa and buy a ticket.”

This gives me an opportunity to ask about interest rates in Iran since one of my readers has asked me if I can tell him more about this.

“What’s the interest rate now?” I ask.

“17%, 18%,” the driver answers.

“Isn’t interest haram?”

“Riba is haram,” the driver answers. (“Riba” may mean interest in Arabic or it may mean usury; that’s the whole crux of the issue) “So they bullsh*tted* us and changed the name.”

[*thanks to my Iranian commentors, I understood the driver when he said: “gool mizarand”]

“Does that mean I can call wine grape juice and legally drink it?”

“That’s a good one,” Keivan says.

“It’s the Iranian way,” the driver says. “A man looks up and sees his friend climbing a tree. ‘What are you doing up in the tree?’ he asks. ‘I climbed the tree to eat some mulberries.’ ‘But that’s an elm tree,’ the man says. ‘That’s okay. The mulberries are in my pocket.’”

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Khomeini's Letter

Interesting post on the recently revealed letter from Khomeini:

From Angus McDowall:

"Khomeini quoted Revolutionary Guard estimates that the war could not be won for at least five years, and only then if Iran had the following equipment:

'350 infantry brigades, 2,500 tanks, 300 fighter planes and 300 helicopters as well as the ability to make a substantial number of laser and atomic weapons which will be the necessity of the war at that time. The strength of the IRGC must be increased seven times and the Military by two-and-half times.'


But before anybody gets carried away, a word of caution. Khomeini at no point in the document suggests that he supported getting the bomb or that it would be religiously acceptable. All his known public utterances on the subject maintained that nuclear (as well as chemical and biological) weapons are haram (a position that has been carefully maintained by all other senior Iranian officials and clerics)."

Taxi Talk

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“Your Persian is so good. Where are you from?” The young man sitting behind me says. All I have said is “Straight” which is what you say when you want to get a shared taxi that is also going straight.

“America,” I answer.

Another guy gets in the car. Now there are four of us passengers. Three men and me. The youngest one has got big bushy sideburns and has a briefcase in his lap. He looks like he is heading to University. The other two are skinny, traditional looking men. One is wearing a knit cap. The other is angry looking.

“What do you think of Iran?”

“Sometimes it’s good,” I answer.

“Sometimes?” The young man replies. “What do you like?”

“She likes Iranians because we are hospitable and warm,” the driver says. “She likes our nature and our food.”

“Exactly,” I say. “Your answer is better than mine. It’s good to be an American here. Iranians love Americans.” They laugh.
“We love all foreigners,” the driver adds.

“Do Americans love Iranians?”

“No.”

“They think we are terrorists, right?”

“They don’t know who you are,” I answer. “They don’t know the difference between Iran and Iraq. There are a lot of Iranians living in America, so maybe they will learn.”

“We are not Arabs. Arabs have no culture.” [Aside: Iranians tell me that when they travel to Arab countries, they are greeted with such respect. “They love Ahmadinejad there,” an Iranian who had recently returned from Jordan told me. “We want to hit him over the head; they kiss his picture. But it’s good for us when we travel.”]

“Americans think we are Arabs,” the driver says. “We are not Arabs.”

“Our passport used to be as good as an American’s.”

“The revolution turned us into a third world country,” the angry looking man says.

“In the time of the Shah we were progressing,” the man with the knit cap says. “Now every day we go backwards.”

“We have such a long history,” the young man says. “It goes back more than 15,000 years. America has no history, but you have about 700 0r 800 books of American history. What do they write about?”

At My Destination...


At my destination, I tell my Iranian friend about the conversation. “Do you think they really meant those things about the Shah and moving backwards?”

“I don’t know. Iranians say what they think you want to hear. You have to have several deep conversations before you know what people think.”

“In the Western Press, they are writing that Ahmadinejad is unpopular here. Do you think he is unpopular?”

“No,” she answers. “I think he is still popular. I think that now Iranians are confused. They don’t know what they feel. When the election was between Hashemi and Ahmadinejad, people voted for Ahmadinejad because they did not like Hashemi. They did not know Ahmadinejad. We Iranians do not like to think much before we make decisions. We just decide quickly.”

“I think Iranians have become very slow at decisions.”

“We are floating now. We think God will save us or the USA will save us. We do not like the decisions that we have made.”

Refs:

Sampling of articles stating AN is unpopular here:

When Not Seeing is Believing

An Unpopular Leader


Diplomats Meet to Test Resolve After Iran Defies UN

Separation of Church & State

This link to an article from Amnesty Int'l on Payvand has more details including info on how to take action.
Iran: At least 40 followers of Ayatollah Sayed Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi arrested: "Iran: At least 40 followers of Ayatollah Sayed Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi arrested

Source: Amnesty International



At least 41 followers of Shia cleric Ayatollah Sayed Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi were reportedly arrested in the courtyard of his house in Tehran during the morning of 28 September. They are thought to have been taken to Section 209 of Evin Prison in Tehran, which is run by the Ministry of Intelligence. One was reportedly later released. There are fears that the Ayatollah may be at risk of imminent arrest.



On 30 June 2006 the Ayatollah conducted a large religious ceremony at the Shahid Keshvari stadium in Tehran. On 30 July, the security forces reportedly arrested several of his family and followers at their homes. The security forces also reportedly tried to arrest the Ayatollah himself, but were prevented from doing so by his followers."

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Taxi Talk

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“Oh, so you are American?” We have ridden with this driver perhaps 20 times. I guess I never mentioned Chicago or New York before today…

“You didn’t know?”

“I knew you were a foreigner, but I didn’t know you were American. Americans are great. I thought you were British. The British are war mongers.”

“No, they have changed. They are good people.”

“As a people they are good, but their government is always after war. Your government is not so good right now either. Are Americans happy with it?”

“No, they are not. They are unhappy with Bush and unhappy with the war. Sometimes I think that we Americans would do it all again though. We can be so, I don’t want to say stupid, but stupid.” I don’t know the word for gullible in Persian, and I don’t want to use the Persian for “simple” which also means honest.

“I don’t know what we want war for? Why should we have war with Israel or America or Iraq? There is no reason at all. Why shouldn’t we just be friends? War, what do we need it for?”

“Sometimes we use war for food, or oil, or water. You know that you have some of the best drinking water in the region. No other country in the region has as much drinking water as Iran. Forget oil. The next wars will be for water.”

“Why can’t we just settle these issues in a friendly way? We always use war instead. Didn’t God give us the water? Didn’t God give us the trees? Did God say that Iranian resources are only for Iranians? What kind of religion would that be? God gave these trees to the world, not to Iranians.”

Friday, September 29, 2006

Condom Israel


Via Onze Man in Teheran:


This image illustrates why I tell my foreign friends never ever to use spellcheck...

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Akbar Ganji - Letter to America - washingtonpost.com

Read Ganji's Letter to America:
Akbar Ganji - Letter to America - washingtonpost.com: "But the dangers of the Tehran regime are not limited to the nuclear question. The regime is dangerous mostly because it is willing to brutally trample on the democratic and human rights of the Iranian people. It is dangerous because it is willing to create gender apartheid in the name of religion and to suppress religious and ethnic minorities. Finally, it is dangerous because it considers all forms of dissent unforgivable sins. The real goal of the nuclear program is to make these policies permanent. In its negotiations with the Iranian regime, the West must not overlook this important fact."

Join the discussion

Dialogue with America or non-dialogue or no dialogue... all at Post Global at the Washington Post.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Sept. 25, 1899

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101 years ago today, my grandfather landed in America with a sister that my father only found out about yesterday through an internet search of records stored at Ellis Island. How cool is that?

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Our Prison Doors are Open

…You can go in, you just can’t go out…

We got into a taxi. The driver immediately started speaking in an animated way with my husband. I couldn’t hear him from my place in the backseat, but I could see him gesturing. He would take both of his hands off the steering wheel to make particular points. Mind you, we were on the highway with cars zipping by at high speed on either side. What’s even worse is that after three years in Iran, I wasn’t even nervous; just amused.

When we got out, I asked Keivan what he was talking about. “Ahmadinejad’s press conference at the Foreign Policy Institute.”

“I thought he was talking about crazy driving habits. He seemed a bit excited.”

“He was saying that Ahmadinejad was asked why he is talking so much about international law when he doesn’t implement it in Iran. He answered that America has 200 million people and some high number of prisoners, but Iran, with 70 million people, has far fewer.”

“That’s because so many are executed,” I half-joke.

“That’s exactly what the driver said. I told him that it was because Iranians just cannot count.”

The driver is one of many people to talk to us about the press conference which neither of us saw or even read about. Everyone felt that AN's responses to the questions about the prisons were farcical.

“He asked the journalists who they thought they were to ask him such questions,” a friend tells us at dinner. “My god, they’re journalists. That’s their job.”

Shana Tova

School started Saturday: the day of the Jewish New Year. Our neighborhood has a school every few feet, which means that come 7:30 AM we could hear the clamor of the thousands of school kids that have descended on our neighborhood.

I spent the holiday with a Jewish family who served the New Year's dinner at 11:30 PM. “It’s just 20 minutes past Fall,” a 14-year old announced as the dinner came on to the table.

Earlier that day, I went hiking with an ex-pat friend who told me that two things need to be reformed in Iran: the start time of dinner and the salad dressing. “That pink stuff has got to go,” she said referring to the ubiquitous mayonnaise and ketchup dressing that accompanies almost every salad in Iran. “It’s time for a nice vinaigrette” That’s exactly right! Start small, I say. Clearly the nuclear negotiations are going nowhere. The salad dressing and dinner time negotiations promise more success.

The family had a Rosh Hashana ceremony that was a bit like a seder and that I had never attended before. It involved several symbolic foods and unfamiliar prayers. My favorite part was when we bit a green onion in half in a symbolic act of vanquishing our enemies.

“We bite it in half?” I asked.

“You’ve never done this before?” the mater familias asked me.

“No.”

“Don’t you have any enemies in America?” they joked.

I laughed and answered, “No we do not.” I was only half-joking. I never experienced hands on anti-Semitism in all my years as a small-town Midwestern Jew.

We bit the green onion. Some names were given to the enemies, and we threw the green halves over our shoulders.

Inshallah, this time next year we will set a table for our enemies...

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Goodbye M

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Living in Tehran is like being at summer camp. The friendships are brief and intense, you swear you’ll be friends for life, and sometimes you never see your dearest heart ever again.

So when we had to say goodbye to a dear friend who left the country recently, it’s no surprise that I was left as stunned as I was when I was 12 years old on my last day at overnight camp. (I was one of those who loved camp).

So goodbye to a dear friend who spent one of her last nights in Iran comforting a woman who had barely survived a fatal crash and who saved me and K when we were most depressed. Everyone should have such a friend.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Help me keep track of evidence of preemptive war on iran

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June 21, 2004

PLAN B
Seymour Hersh writes about Israeli and Iranian efforts in Iraq and Kurdistan. He quotes a former intelligence official who tells him how the white house responds to the news: ‘We can’t take on another problem right now. We can’t afford to push Iran to the point where we’ve got to have a showdown.’


January 17, 2005

Seymour Hersh’s article “The Coming Wars” reports on Pentagon plans for a campaign in Iran (to be fair: civilians in the Pentagon)

July 21, 2005

In his article, “The Iran War Buildup,” Michael T. Klare calls for early efforts to prevent a US war with Iran.

December 30, 2005

Is Washington Planning a Military Strike?
Spiegel Online presents a round up of reports in the German media on the Bush administration’s plans to attack Iran. According to this article many of the region’s countries have been informed of possible air strikes against Iran.

April 8, 2006

“The Iran Plans” is another Seymour Hersh article reporting on white house plans to attack Iran: this time with the possibility of using bunker busting nuclear bombs.
December 30, 2005

July 24, 2006

James Bamford reports on the PR machine selling war with Iran in Rolling Stone’s “Iran: The Next War.”

September 4, 2006

The Telegraph’s story, “Straw: Iran attack 'nuts',” reports on Straw’s headline making response to the Hersh Story.

September 18, 2006

America already at war with Iran according to retired colonel Sam Gardner interviewed by Wolf Blitzer on CNN.

September 21, 2006

Well, well... someone is already doing this:

Source Watch

Monday, September 18, 2006

Half of the conversation

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Keivan is slumped on the couch bothering me while I try to watch Babe on tv. “Why didn’t you write in our whole conversation?” He asks me.

“It was too long to put in the blog.”

“But you should have put in the part when Mr. Beard said that Iran was looking for a fight.”

“He didn’t tell me that.”

“He told me.”

Keivan often expects me to “grok” his conversations with others as if I am really a stranger in a strange land.

“He told me that Iran has been looking for this fight for the last 27 years and that all of the best minds have been working on defense.”

“All of the best Islamist minds,” I add.

“Yes. He thinks that if Israel had not attacked Hezbollah, there would have been an attack on Iran. Now, he thinks there will be no attack.”

“He always glorifies battle, doesn’t he?”

“I am not sure what he really thinks about anything. The only thing I am sure of is that he is an honest man.”

“He is honest,” I agree.

On the tv, Farmer Hogget is dancing for Babe.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Recommended reading at Mideast Youth

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The portrayal of Islam in the MSM: Is it really Islam?

Check out the protester's banners: Muslim world angry, for the bajillionth time

An Iranian responds to a Washington Post article An Apology, Mr. Knipp.

Apocalypse Not

Tagged as:

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“There won’t be an attack on Iran,” our bearded friend says. “It won’t happen.”

“Esther is not so sure,” Keivan says.

They turn to me and wait for my response. “I am confused. I used to think there would not be an attack, but now I see that many in the West are trying to equate Ahmadinejad with Hitler and Iran with WW II era Germany.”

“Who has Ahmadinejad killed?” Mr. Beard asks.

“Yet,” Keivan adds. They laugh.

“There are also many writing that Ahmadinejad is apocalyptic – how do you say “apocalyptic” in Farsi?”

“Apocalyptic? I don’t know,” Keivan answers.

“End of the world,” I say. I can say that in Persian. Keivan offers a clearer version.

“They say that the Shi’a are waiting for Mehdi and want the end of the world to come faster. A bit like fundamentalist Christians.”

“Why do Christians want to see the end of the world?”

“Because it means that Jesus will return.”

“Aaah… But Iranians are like other people in the world, we do not want to bring about the end of the world.”

“There are some journalists trying to calm that view. The ones who visit Iran write more calmly than the ones who have never been here. Yesterday, I read an article that said that a nation that requires drivers to wear seatbelts is not dangerous.”

“Seatbelts? What does that mean?” Mr. Beard asks.

“It means that the government is worried about your health. They don’t want you to die in an accident.”

“Exactly. Now that you have been here three years, what do you think?”

“I think that if Iran were really waiting for the end of the world there would be no highway projects and no clean water projects and no sewage projects and no buildings. Anyone can look around and see that there is a future here.”

“Excellent. Excellent.”

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