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

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!

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 by March 1. Notification of acceptance for the conference will be made by March 18.


(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.”


“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

Categories: , , , ,

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

Categories: ,

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...