Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Millions of brilliant liars

"After the revolution, my friend tells his kids: 'Look, don't tell anyone at school that I drink vodka.' Later they got a satellite. Once again, he tells his kids, 'I know we have a satellite, but don't tell anyone at school that we have one.' When his kids are teenagers he discovers that they lie to him all the time, and most of the time he does not have a clue. 'How did you get to be such good liars?' He asks his teenage children. 'You taught us,' they answer.

Millions of parents just like K's friends. Millions of brilliant liars. That's what the revolution has produced.

When you first arrive in Iran, people tell you: "Don't trust your own brother." You don't believe them. How could these people be so frigging cynical? You might ask yourself.

Today some guy told me: "Adapt, don't conform." Iranians, he explained, conform. That's what makes them so frustrated and so depressed. "We have a history of conforming," he tells me. "I adapt. That's why I have managed to maintain my sanity here."

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Back in Town

Millions of Iranians have returned to Tehran which means the roads are packed and there is a disgusting orange cloud of smog covering the city.

School started a couple of days ago. Mornings are filled with the noises of children playing in the schoolyard before the first class starts. I like the sounds.

"Soon only the women will be educated," K tells me. "Guys just aren't making an effort. They don't see any benefit in pursuing an education."

Every year the percentage of young women attending university goes up. (I could add that critical thinking goes down, but that might be interpreted as an indictment of women rather than an indictment of the education system. The second is meant.)

"Young men have their daddies buy them stores and put them up in business. They think they can make more money that way than through an education."

We have friends in foreign-owned businesses in Iran that only have women working for them. "The men are just useless," they tell us. "We have almost no men working for us."
To be fair, the situation is more complicated than that. "Men in Iran believe that the women are making the regime work," K tells me. "After awhile, men here use inefficiency as a form of protest."

Yeah, yeah… maybe…

It's hard in Iran. People start out full of energy and ideas and slowly find themselves worn down and thwarted. It's enough to make anyone useless and inefficient.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Reality Bites

Tagged: and

"Iranians don't think because if they did, they would not be able to sleep nights." I can't remember who told us this. Somebody at some party somewhere, no doubt.

After many sleepless nights, I have learned the Iranian art of not thinking. Every once in awhile someone or some event forces me to think, and I find myself up nights with my eyes wide open trying to replace my anxieties with the memory of an episode of the Simpsons or by immersing myself in the plot to Michael Swanwick's The Iron Dragon's Daughter ( at Amazon: When I am not successful, which is often, Bart and Lisa start to argue politics and predict Armageddon.

Oh well…

Predicting Armageddon

When AN arrived at the UN, the talk all over town (at least all over uptown) was of his clothing. I overheard a number of conversations about the president's appalling fashion sense. "Other leaders arrive looking clean and well-dressed, but our president looks like a mess. How could he dress that way in front of the UN?" This seemed to be the common refrain. Our friends confirmed that this was the topic of conversation everywhere they went. "If we were in South Tehran, they would probably be pleased. They're probably saying that he's just like us. He's a man of the people." Maybe.

Last night, we were up late discussing AN's speech and its possible effects. "Iran is overplaying its hand," a friend said. "They are underestimating America. They think America is weak."

And what does America think? If they think that an outside attack would lead to regime fall, than they are sadly mistaken. Does America think that we cannot let Iran get away with their nuclear shenanigans? And what does that mean?

Some Links:
(PDF file)A report from the Carnegie Endowment: (

From Business Week: (

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Tree-hugging Buddhist Republican


"You have to admit that the Americans never had any problems until the Muslims came along and bombed the World Trade Center," a self-described "tree-hugging Buddhist Republican" Iranian said at a dinner party last night.

The man sitting next to me looked at him with disbelief and said, "Vwhy, babba, we are the Muslims."

At this dinner we heard how fickle Americans are, how good they are, how short-sighted they are, how they want to spread democracy to the world, how there is no free speech in America, how America protects free speech, and how much America has changed since 9/11.

Later we actually talked about American football: you know the pigskin and all that… Turns out that our dinner party crowd were big fans of the Kansas City Chiefs. "My brother loves the team so much that he has started to refer to them in the first person."

"What do you mean?" I ask.

"He says things like '*we're* not doing so well this year. *We* are having a few problems with our defense…"

Never mind that Americans talk this way all of the time. It sounds funny coming from an Iranian.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Calling all bloggers writing about Iran: Tagging


I am going to start tagging posts. I hope that others will make suggestions for tags so that we can have some coherent way of identifying our posts. Please add suggestions to this post. I will keep updating it.

I suggest the following schema to begin with:

Here is the code. Replace the ?? with < and the !! with >

??a href="" rel="tag"!!Iran tagging??/a!!

??a href="" rel="tag"!! Iran celebrations??/a!!

??a href="" rel="tag"!! Iran health??/a!!

??a href="" rel="tag"!! Iran elections??/a!!

??a href="" rel="tag"!! Iran politics??/a!!

??a href="" rel="tag"!! Iran taxis??/a!!

??a href="" rel="tag"!! Iran daily life??/a!!

??a href="" rel="tag"!! Iran work??/a!!

??a href="" rel="tag"!! Iran what others think??/a!!

??a href="" rel="tag"!! Iran culture??/a!!

Updates and Suggestions
From opip ( editing):





??a href="" rel="tag"!!Iran: U.S.??/a!!

??a href="" rel="tag"!!Iran: WMD??/a!!

??a href="" rel="tag"!!Iran: religion??/a!!

??a href="" rel="tag"!!Iran: politics??/a!!

??a href="" rel="tag"!!Iran: Ganji??/a!!

??a href="" rel="tag"!!Iran: opposition??/a!!

Monday, September 05, 2005

Home care, health care, and corruption


"My mom needs a shot. The doctor told me to get the medicine through my insurance, not through the black market. 'It should be about 20,000 tuman,' she told me. I tried all of my contacts: nothing. Nothing is available officially. On the black market, they're asking 450,000 a dose. I sent another guy after it. He got the price down to 390,000. Finally, a nurse was able to get it for me for 99,000."

Oil revenues are reportedly high. Iran is using about $1 bn to set up a love fund to help couples tie the knot and settle down. Don't ask the gov what it will do for people who are aging or suffering serious illnesses. Iranians already know: they'll have to fend for themselves. Word on the street is that a famous wrestler recently died because he did not have money for the medication he needed. I heard the manager of the hospital give a well-spoken rebuttal to the rumor, but even I did not 100% believe him. I believed the rumor.

Caring for yourself or for another requires the following:

Good health insurance plus lots of cash;
A team of supporters who advocate for you with the doctor and the hospital staff;
A team that gets you your drugs;
A caring family member who acts as your nurse;
Someone who can interpret your lab results;
Lots of cash.

Healthcare is Iran's Achilles heel. The population is overwhelmingly young, which means that healthcare will be pushed to its very limits in the coming years. Families are increasingly small, which means no single daughter who devotes her life to caring for her parents.

Expectations are high. Iranians know that their doctors are well-respected. TV and radio are chock-full of medical programs. People want to be able to take care of themselves, and they expect to be able to take care of themselves. They know that the money from oil is pouring in, and some of them are starting to ask why don't the hospitals have drugs? Why isn't the medication they need legally available? Why can't they get the care they deserve and expect? How did the medicine find it's way on to the black market in the first place?

Friday, September 02, 2005


Rain and thunder. The mountains are etched across the sky. The colors are amazing. And then: snow on the mountains! It really is beautiful.

That night, K and I sit on the balcony. The air is clean and cool. The sky is orange. Suddenly, Damavand's triangular peak makes its appearance. The snow that covers it reflects the sun so that you see this dramatic, orange cone.

"Tehran is so beautiful," K says.

Sometimes I feel as though I have lived the Prague Spring. I remember conversation from some movie I saw about Prague (what was it?). The characters are in a jazz club. The Soviets are threatening. "The West would never let them reinvade," one of the characters says.

I still get heartsick when I think of that 1-minute of film.

The announcement of the cabinet means that many Iranians have had their worst fears realized, yet they continue to hope for the best, whatever the best means.