Saturday, January 31, 2004


The earthquake in Bam has left me (and many others) face-to-face with the unpredictable God of the Old Testament. This is a God who swallows whole cities in punishment for crimes against him -- a God who punishes a man who has committed no crimes against him. Job, Jonah, Lot, and his wife: all of those stories make sense to me now.

Here is part of a correspondence between me and a friend:

From my friend:

I am so immensely relieved that you and K are okay -- I knew you were traveling around in Iran and wasn't sure until I got back to my computer yesterday and could check your blog to make sure that you were both okay. I am horrified at what has happened, and can only imagine how it has felt like for you both to be so close to such an enormous disaster. My thoughts have been and continue to be with you and with the people of Iran.

Have you read the novel _White Teeth_? It's a great novel. There is a character in it from Bangladesh, living with her husband and family in London, and at one point she thinks to herself that her central question about where one lives in the world is "do you ever, even occasionally, have even the slightest fear that the earth might swallow you, or that you might be suddenly buried under mud, lava, or water," and she makes a central division between those for whom the answer is "yes," and those for whom it is "no." I am not doing the passage justice, but it is an interesting division of the globe not into first and third worlds, or colonizer and colonized, but in terms of the stability of the land itself, although of course this too is a rapidly shifting situation.

From me:
About Bam, all I can say is that the whole frigging old testament suddenly made perfect sense to me. There is no doubt in my mind why the three major monotheistic religions emerged from this weird part of the world. Islam and Judaism make more sense to me now. Job isn't just a tale, it's the way this part of the world works: you survive what your family and property does not and eventually start all over again. Sodom and Gomorrah: obviously true. (Maybe not the god part, but certainly the destruction of the city.) This is the way this part of the world works. And that is why our God is not benevolent. He's a bit of a maniac. I get it now. It makes sense.

Another correspondence:

--- Kaveh wrote:

It is very hard to view the pictures from the Bam earthquake. I am one of those Engineers you mentioned. I don't live in California, but close enough. I have worked in Iran, and believe me there are many ways to improve the structural safety of buildings in Iran.

I am saddened every time I visit Iran and see the same construction methods used for generations. Even if we engineers develop an economical construction method in tune with the native materials, Iran still needs regulatory agencies and enforcement to implement it. I am sure it will happen someday.

Kaveh A. PE

P.S. In US it happened thru the insurance companies lobby.

From me:

There are things I love about the lack of over-regulation (of some things) in Iran. For instance, I like getting on a bus when the driver's family is riding along and helping him out. (Never happen in the US) I like seeing fathers working with their sons (in a way that does not smack of child labor). I like the cheap taxis. (Okay so the cars are about to fall apart, but I can afford them.) I hate the fact that my stove is not made of tempered steel and that every bldg I go into scares me. I am constantly asking people about earthquakes and how well their bldgs would stand up. They reassure me, but I am sure they would collapse.

It makes me realize that there is something to be said for lawsuits, consumer protection, and insurance companies when I know how much safer our products are in the us and europe.

Thanks for the letter,


From Kaveh:

We always pay a price for the gains we make. The West has more control of their destiny and the East is a romantic place where control is irrelevant. As Rumi says" If you want to be in love let away of control".

You may print my two cents in your Blog.


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