Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Taxman

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“You know what our problem is,” our taxi driver tells my friend Mohammad who is sitting up front, “we don’t pay taxes.”

“Oh c’mon, Iranians already whine because they have to pay 10,000 tumans a year for house taxes.” (About 10 euros.)

“It doesn’t matter. We should pay more.”

“Why should that change anything? The regime does not answer to us. They still won’t answer to us with taxes either.”

“No, the driver is right,” I jump in. “As long as Iranians don’t pay taxes the government will not answer to them.”

“There is no country in the world with no taxes AND a government that answers to them. You have to have taxes,” the driver says. “Look at Europe. They pay a lot of taxes. They have good roads, good hospitals, governments that answer to them.”

“They pay too much.”

“Maybe, but they get a lot.”

“As long as you don’t pay taxes, the government says what are you complaining about? We pay *you*, you don’t pay us,” I add.

“She’s right. We need to take it step-by-step. Things won’t change overnight, but things will never change without taxes.”

Never heard anyone argue in favor of taxes before… Hmmm… Instead of soldiers and bombs, maybe America should send over a team of accountants and CPAs.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Growing up in Iran

“By the time they are six, Iranian children are already schizophrenic,” a young friend tells me and my friend. “I mean, when we were six, we already knew there were two worlds: one at home and one at school. We knew that we could not talk about what went on at home with our classmates. We knew how to keep secrets. Soon, we understood who we could joke with and who we had to tell that our parents prayed 100 times a day. In school, we had to learn to pray and we would look at each other and laugh. We had to chant “Death to America” every morning, and to pass each grade we had to talk about how much we hated America and how much we loved Mohammad. It’s crazy. That’s why Iranians develop such a good sense of humor. We make a joke about everything.”

“Are things still that way?” another friend asks.

“I don’t know. It was during the war with Iraq then. It was a more intense time.”

“Keivan’s niece still has to hate America and pass Koran classes. They don’t chant Down with America at her school, but some schools do. When she was younger they chanted every morning.” Sometimes I think it is good. Knowledge of the Koran means that they do not depend on the mullahs for interpretation. Iran’s youth are much better versed in the ambiguities of the Koran than their parents.

When I am out with children, they do not let me tell people that I am from America. Given the warm response I have received from almost every Iranian I have met, I wondered what they were so nervous about. Now I know: it’s school that makes them worried.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Sweating Out the Truth in Iran

A bit of recommended reading:

Sweating Out the Truth in Iran

WORKING as a journalist in Iran embodies the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again without getting any results. That’s how I felt at the height of the conflict in Lebanon, when I asked officials about Iran’s relations with Hezbollah, bearing in mind that posing such questions can be a futile, dangerous and sometimes even lethal exercise.

How was Iran helping Hezbollah? Did Iran really start the war to divert attention from its uranium enrichment program (which it vowed this week to continue)? Was Iran, as Hezbollah’s ally, if not patron, willing to put its money where its mouth was and enter the conflict?

Questions, questions. Of course no one answered.

So as a good Iranian, I indulged in fantasy. Fantasizing has become something of a national sport here. Our president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, predicted that the national soccer team would finish third or fourth in the World Cup. He also thinks we can become a nuclear powerhouse, even though we have a hard time manufacturing safety matches or making light bulbs with life expectancies of more than two weeks. By the way, the soccer team didn’t make it out of the first round.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

9 Million Satellite Fans Can Be Wrong

In case you missed it, I posted about the satellite crackdown on Mideast Youth… Now I am posting on the follow-up.

The chief of police was interviewed by a young woman during a youth-oriented call-in show on state radio. “Colonel,” the young woman asked, “is having a satellite dish really illegal?”

“Yes, miss, parliament passed a law against it.”

“Then you mean to tell me that there are 12 million Tehranis and that 9 million of them are criminals?”

“Just because many people do something does not mean that it is not against the law.”

There was some more discussion. The colonel went on to say that… “If we see a crime we are obligated to prosecute it. If we do not see it, then it is not our business. For instance, we know that many people in Tehran drink alcohol in their homes. This is their business. As long as they do not drink in public, we will not go into their homes and stop them. If they drink in public, we are obligated to stop them.”

I think the lesson here is obvious…Keep your satellite dish in a chador and all will be well.

If you are looking for any words of insight on Iran’s response to the UN concerning its “essential right” to nuclear power --- forget about it. I have no insight. It’s the same old same old as far as I’m concerned, and most Iranians are ignoring the whole matter. We’re a bunch of ostriches over here… That said, many Iranians believe that an attack is imminent.

Friday, August 18, 2006

News that could change your life!

How's that for the perfect spam title?

I was watching a movie with a friend of mine who used to be a journalist. "You know what scares me most about being kidnapped?"

I know what scares *me* most, but I still ask, "What?"

"That I'll be held for months without any tweezers."

I laugh, "You have to let me post that on my blog."

"Just don't mention my name."

Well good news girls, the NYT reports that hairy eyebrows are in:

“For women who overpluck, this season will be about growing your eyebrows back so that they have a natural arch that extends out and ends in a beautiful point,” said Pat McGrath, a makeup artist for Max Factor and CoverGirl and the creative director for Procter & Gamble Beauty.

Ms. McGrath is one of the trend-setting stylists responsible for unleashing the feral eyebrow as this season’s beauty signature. At the Prada fall fashion show in Milan in February, she combed models’ eyebrows up with clear mascara so that they fanned out like plumage, lending their faces a wild expression which Ms. McGrath described as “sauvage.”

Now we just have to await the fashion world's ruling on stray facial hair and that troublesome bikini line.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

So you say you wanna' revolution...

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“Things have gotten much worse for us since Ahmadinejad took power,” a young university student tells us at a party. “Our choice of classes is limited. Many of our professors have been replaced. They even removed the benches from the campuses so that boys and girls cannot sit together.”

“They removed the benches?”

“Yes. People still sit on the walls, but all of the benches are gone. The worst part is that most Iranians are happy with this.”

“You think so?”

“They do not want boys and girls talking together.”

I have argued with Iranian friends that the regime does indeed represent many of their wishes, but they always disagree with me. My observation has been that most families want to control their children. They want to control who they see, where they go, and what they do. It is the very small minority who afford their children any measure of freedom. By children, I mean anybody who is not married yet: even then, the control continues.

The Iranian regime is parental. It cares for your soul, it punishes you for disobeying its rules, it shelters you from disturbing information, it reads your diary, and it destroys your porn stash. It is sometimes abusive, sometimes distant, sometimes illogical, sometimes it is even loving. Sometimes your mom will let you do something that your dad disapproves of; sometimes the opposite is true.

In Iran, you remain a child: dependent on the whims of your overprotective and abusive parents; sneaking out behind their backs; secretly disobeying them; expert at playing the good child.

Back to the party…

“They are especially controlling of their daughters,” I say.”

“You would be surprised how much boys are controlled in smaller towns and villages. Iranian families do not want their boys doing anything that they do not know about or approve of. They can be just as controlling of them as of the girls.”

“You are lucky you come from a family that allows you to be independent,” I tell her.

“Yes I am. We are different from most Iranian families, so we have to constantly lie about who we are and what we do. We even have to lie to relatives. It is so hard to always pretend.”

“It can be that way in America too. When your family is different from what is normal, people sometimes get in your business.”

“That’s because there are so many Christians in America. Sometimes they can be just as controlling as Muslims.”

A new group of guests arrive. They shake hands without introducing themselves which is normal for Iranians. “How have you been?” Our host asks.

“Well, you know… waiting for *them* to come.” We may not know their names, but we know who “them” is. “We have our bags packed. Toothbrushes, pajamas, a change of clothes, all neatly packed and waiting by the door.”

“When you are ready for them, they never come,” a young artist jokes.

“That’s true!” the woman laughs. “Exactly why we should always be ready.”


BTW, link to new post at Mideast Youth

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Mideast Youth

I have been invited to post with them despite the fact that I am neither particularly young(although I do like to think of myself as youthful)nor particularly middle eastern. Check me out on their site.


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“Oh my god, haven’t you heard what’s been going on with the UK.?”

“I heard something about a bomb on an airplane when I was in a taxi, but I thought it was just the normal stuff.”

“My god, no. It’s not normal,” my friend tells me. We are sitting in a fashionable Tehran restaurant. I have arrived there straight from the airport after having been in Iran’s hot Khuzestan Province. She and Keivan explain the events of the last 36 hours to me.

“We only had the television on for 30 minutes so that everyone could watch Nargess,” I explained. (Nargess is the newest serial to sweep Iran. Everyone is watching it.)

I was in Khuzestan attending the year-memorial for my friend who died last year. It was a much less hectic and heart-wrenching affair than the funeral. We’d all had a year of mourning, crying, and bouts of depression behind us. This does not mean that any of us miss her any less, it’s just that the months leading up to her death and the months following her death were overwhelming and difficult for many, many people and that now, most of her family and friends were recovering.

It was a relief to see everyone again. I have not traveled too far from Tehran (except outside Iran) since the funeral. Khuzestan was a blistering 48 degrees C. This is the type of heat that can only be described as a moving wall that has weight and force and sound. You can almost hear it: at least you can imagine hearing it: Whoooosh.

First there was a ceremony in the mosque. There were about 150 women there: almost all of them wearing the same black knee-highs, darker at the toes and heals with a dark black band across the top. The mosque was chilled to shivering. “In Khuzestan they are used to the heat,” everyone told me. Oh yeah, then why are their homes and offices and mosques kept so cold? They are only used to staying inside, not to the heat.

We had about 2 ½ hours of chanting followed by ½ hour of a sermon. All the while, children were playing, there were the requisite operatic mourners, and a quorum of chadoris who hide their faces under their chadors, shake their shoulders as if hysterically crying, and then emerge dry-eyed.

From the mosque we went to the cemetery. Close by was the year memorial for the family who died in what I assume was a car crash. Last year I thought it was only a son and father who had died because there were only two pictures. This year it was clear that there was a third death: probably a woman, maybe the mother. My heart burned (as Iranians would say) for that family. How do you come to terms with such a quick death. The men were clearly heart broken. They were sobbing. The women sat dry-eyed while the children handed out sweets to the gathered crowd.

Our own ceremony was under a tent to protect us from the hot sun. Even so, the marble tombstone was too hot to touch. After the ceremony, we went to lunch. Children who did not attend the memorial came for the lunch. It’s hard to imagine how people survive mourning without children around. It’s impossible to resist their joy and playfulness. You could see the lights switch on in the eyes of their aunts and uncles who had lost their mother and sister.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Mel Gibson Makes it Big in Iran

Now starring in his own tv spot on Iranian tv: Mel Gibson whose slurs during his drunken driving arrest are being embraced by the Iranian regime! Bombs in Lebanon interwoven with oscars in Hollywood: Mel's the hero of the moment.

He joins a fine tradition of western protestors who burn the American flag and effigies of Bush and Blair. Listen, I love free speech. I crave free speech, but I wouldn't want my protests hijacked by the Iranian regime or any other authoritarian regime. In dissent, I urge people to use symbols of freedom rather than symbols of authoritarianism -- unless, of course, you *do* want to align yourself with the authoritarians.