Thursday, July 31, 2008

How do *you* use the Internet

This survey is for bloggers, journalists, expats, analysts, and netizens (That's about everyone, right?). Please take it. I'm begging you.

Take the survey!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Hints for Brian Williams for His Interview With Ahmadinejad

Ahmadinejad with empty pockets on the cover of Time

UPDATE: You can see the interview and leave a comment about it at Newsvine. My POV, is that there is no way to interview AN without also providing him with a platform. If you insult him, you lose. If you cut him off, you lose. If you are polite, you lose. Nice tie, though.

Omid Memarian supplies hints for interviewing Ahmadinejad.

Here's my response to a couple of his hints:
2- Don't use a rude tone in order to appear aggressive...

Exactly. Iranians are masters of the excruciatingly polite insult. Best to practice up ahead of time. Overt aggressiveness plays to his strength and makes people think he's been unfairly treated.

3- It's his answers, not your questions, that are important...

This may be true. But don't just let him babble on and on about things unrelated to the question. If you ask him about the Holocaust, he responds with the Palestinians (why doesn't anyone ever respond that the Balfour Declaration predates the Holocaust?)... I recommend firmly, but gently herding him into a direct response to the question.

4- Research Iranian cultural codes. For example, do not wear a tie to the interview. For Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials, a tie is a symbol of capitalism...

This is a crock of shit. Who cares if the tie is a symbol of capitalism? Wear it! In my experience, Iranians are smart enough to know that we Westerners have our own cultural codes. I completely, totally disagree with this kind of pandering. The only reason for removing your tie is the heat of a Tehran summer not what Ahmadinejad or anyone else would think.

It's more important to know how conversational formalities work than to not wear a tie.

5- Don't ask cliché questions...

What is a cliche question? (Read the full list at the Huffington Post

read more | digg story

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Get your war on

For those of you who missed the online comic Get Your War On, all seven years of it are still online.

Now it's even coming out in animated format. See the promo here.

(Saw the link first on the Huffington Post)

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Someone should have asked Robin Lustig to help find Karadzic

BBC - Radio 4 - World Tonight:

"The fiction in 1996 was that no one knew where he was. The reality was that within a couple of days of arriving in Sarajevo, I'd been handed a piece of paper with a scribbled map on it, showing the precise location of the house where he was living, in Pale, in the hills outside the Bosnian capital.

As I made my way to the house, I stopped several times along the way to ask directions. 'Excuse me, is this the way to Radovan Karadzic's house?' Everyone was very kind and gave me directions, even the Ghanaian officers at the UN police post just a couple of hundred metres from the house."

Diplomacy is like a Persian Carpet...

Gotta' love this quote:

Mr Jalili likened diplomacy to Iranian carpets, "which go ahead in millimetres". He said: "Our diplomacy is also delicate and precise and, God willing, it will have a beautiful, delicate and long-lasting end."

(read more)

Singularity on the brain

I'm not the only one haunted by Vernor Vinge and Singularity this week.

Muhammad Sahimi: Wish to be Poor and Unemployed? Support Military Attacks on Iran

Muhammad Sahimi: Wish to be Poor and Unemployed? Support Military Attacks on Iran

Posted using ShareThis

Salimi makes some interesting points about how an attack on Iran would threaten US economic and physical security. In the end, though, he makes the same argument that is heard time and time again: that there is no evidence that Iran is building nuclear weapons. In fact, the IAEA report (which I have only partly read) states that IRAN claims it is not developing nuclear weapons. It does not state that the IAEA agrees (or disagrees) with that claim. The report is a sensitive diplomatic document. They are unwilling to state anything that they cannot factually prove. A diplomat I know told me that any trained diplomat reading the IAEA report can tell that it does not categorically state that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapons program.

Salimi also says that an attack on Iran would make the attack on Iraq look like "child's play":

But, if Iran is attacked by the U.S. and/or Israel, its response will make the Iraq war look like child's play. Why? Because Iran is very different from Iraq. As I stated in a 2006 op-ed that I co-wrote with the 2003 Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi, Iranian nationalism, which has its roots in Iran's 4000 years of proud written history and many glorious contributions to humanity, is extremely strong.

Couple this nationalism to the Shi'ites 1300 years old tradition of martyrdom in defense of their homeland and religion. Add to it the belief of many commanders of Iran's Revolutionary Guards (Iran's elite military) that they should have been killed in the Iran/Iraq war and, therefore, have lived at least 20 years more than their "natural" life. That means that they will fearlessly fight back, if Iran is attacked. The result is a powerful and volatile mixture of proud nationalism and religion which, should Iran be attacked by the U.S. and/or Israel, will engulf the entire region in fire.

While I do not doubt the strength of Iranian nationalism, I think one could just as easily make the argument for Iranian (national, if not governmental) pragmatism and instinct for survival as for their fierceness. There is evidence of this as well.

That said, I don't doubt that an attack on Iran (especially one that goes horribly wrong) would engender a new wave of enemies against the US and Israel. I just wonder if those enemies would necessarily be Iranian.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Lost in Translation

Over at Tehran Post you can see a comparison between a Newsweek article by Fareed Zakaria and its translation into Persian by Rajanews. Here's a sample:

Newsweek: For a superpower, being involved in a military conflict somewhere is more the norm than the exception. Since 1945, only one president has not presided over combat that engaged American troops—Jimmy Carter.

Rajanews: All these [Bush’s] military campaigns have been an exception among U.S. presidents since 1945.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Blackouts, inflation, and sanctions

The same rice that I just bought in Amsterdam for $4 a kilo is $8 a kilo in Iran. Tea, according to friends who were just visiting, is up to $30 a kilo. When a friend asked her mother in Tehran what she should bring her from Amsterdam, the mother joked "rice and tea."

When a friend told me that there were blackouts in Tehran and that the sanctions were really having an effect, I thought he was joking. I thought he thought that I had become a doomsayer, like so many who no longer live in Iran, and was just feeding my hysteria. Turns out he was not joking. You can read about Iran's economic problems in an article by Thomas Erdbrink: Oil Cash May Prove A Shaky Crutch for Iran's Ahmadinejad

A small coterie of developers, oil traders and businesspeople with lucrative government contracts are profiting from the oil boom. Shiny new BMWs crowd the streets of northern Tehran, where real estate prices have doubled or tripled and where luxury developments can command $2,000 per square foot.

But the majority of Iranians have suffered from the inflation that analysts say is partly the result of government spending. Asgar Eskandiary, 32, a teacher, said he thanked God for the health insurance he bought years ago because it paid for a sinus operation. Otherwise, he and his wife would have had to spend rent money on the operation and "we would have lost our apartment for sure," he said, drinking a warm Coke at a fast-food restaurant where a blackout to save energy had deterred other customers.

Every visit to the supermarket brings unpleasant surprises, he said. The price of milk powder, which the couple needs for their infant son, increased from the equivalent of $3 to about $4.30 in just over a year's time. He makes the equivalent of about $540 a month and "can barely cope," he said. "We spend all we have for our small baby."

The teacher said he saw only one solution. "I want to write a letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He needs to bring back the experts, people who know about economy. The government doesn't know what they are doing."


"We simply can't transfer money, which means that we can't buy spare parts for our factories," said Bodagh Khanbodagi, honorary president of the private Iranian-German business chamber. German export credits backing trade with Iran totaled about $730 million last year, about half the value of German export credits in 2006 and one-fifth that in 2004, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service released this month.

"Nobody's coming over, and I don't see any minister visiting here in the near future," he said, sipping tea in an office decorated with pictures of himself with German and Iranian dignitaries.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Suicide is painless it brings on many changes

`Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.' (Vernor Vinge, NASA VISION-21 Symposium, 1993)

Benny Morris, who often predicts that Iran is out to annihilate Israel,has another op-ed piece about why Israel needs to mount a nuclear attack against Iran in the NYT.

But should Israel’s conventional assault fail to significantly harm or stall the Iranian program, a ratcheting up of the Iranian-Israeli conflict to a nuclear level will most likely follow. Every intelligence agency in the world believes the Iranian program is geared toward making weapons, not to the peaceful applications of nuclear power. And, despite the current talk of additional economic sanctions, everyone knows that such measures have so far led nowhere and are unlikely to be applied with sufficient scope to cause Iran real pain, given Russia’s and China’s continued recalcitrance and Western Europe’s (and America’s) ambivalence in behavior, if not in rhetoric. Western intelligence agencies agree that Iran will reach the “point of no return” in acquiring the capacity to produce nuclear weapons in one to four years.

Which leaves the world with only one option if it wishes to halt Iran’s march toward nuclear weaponry: the military option, meaning an aerial assault by either the United States or Israel. Clearly, America has the conventional military capacity to do the job, which would involve a protracted air assault against Iran’s air defenses followed by strikes on the nuclear sites themselves. But, as a result of the Iraq imbroglio, and what is rapidly turning into the Afghan imbroglio, the American public has little enthusiasm for wars in the Islamic lands. This curtails the White House’s ability to begin yet another major military campaign in pursuit of a goal that is not seen as a vital national interest by many Americans. (If you are not registered at NYT, Harry's Place has the entire piece posted.)

(Emphasis mine)

So, since everyone already knows that a conventional attack will fail since Iran has already planned for a conventional attack by building duplicate sites, far underground, and dispersing facilities all over the country, shouldn't we already jump to the nuclear option?

Which means what exactly? Just how much of Iran needs to be nuked in order for Israel to be safe?

My answer is this: this kind of war will never ever be won. It is impossible. Destroying Iran as an enemy only means creating new enemies in new places.

Hey, believe me, I understand why Israel feels the necessity to have a nuclear deterrent. I understand why its survival depends on being a bad ass. Iran getting nukes scares me. Anyone familiar with this blog will know that I have consistently taken an anti-nuke stance.

I do not want to see Israel destroyed any more than I want to see Iran destroyed. I am hoping that, on all sides, calmer heads will prevail. (But, as a Sci-Fi aficionado, I fear the coming singularity.)

It is useful to note that Iran sees itself as alone among enemies in much the same way that Israel sees itself. The threats go in all directions. Iran saw itself abandoned by the world when villages in the province of Kurdistan were gassed:

In total 360 chemical bombs were dropped on Iran against both military and civilian targets resulting in 100,000 casualties. There are now still some 45-52,000 people in Iran suffering severely from these attacks, many of them civilians who were not involved in the war but were just trying to live their lives.

What’s important to say at this point is that Iran is the only country in recent history that has had weapons of mass destruction used against it, and this by Iraq in full view of the international community which did nothing to help.

(From a text by Kamin Mohammadi)

(I actually remember that the official view of the US at the time was that the chemical attacks never took place.)

In conclusion (finally!), the premise of the argument for a nuclear attack against Iran is this: the regime is suicidal and willing to bring about the end of their own world. Everyone knows that a nuclear attack against Israel will assuredly result in devastating attacks against Iran. So, the regime must be suicidal to launch such an attack.

This begs the question: is a preemptive strike against Iran also suicidal for Israel? I think it is. Maybe not immediately, but eventually.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Blogging in Iran

Azadeh at Radio Zamaneh has an interesting interview with a disabled man who discovered blogging. He discusses how blogging made him feel less isolated and opened him up to a whole new world. As a result of this experience, he has set up all sorts of others in Iran with their own blogs.

If you can read or listen (I listened
), it's a great interview.

Persian Funk

Thanks to Sahand at Punch the Sun for turning me on to Persian Funk.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Iran missile test redux

Kamangir points out that a photograph published of the recent missile tests is from the same test that was photographed 2 years ago.

Check out his blog and compare the pictures for yourself.

Update: This just in from AFP:

Photographs published on the Iranian Revolutionary Guards website showed four missiles taking off from a desert launchpad.

But one of the missiles had apparently been added to the photograph using elements from the smoke trail and dust clouds from two of the other missiles.

After being shown the photograph by AFP, Mark Fitzpatrick of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) said: "It very much does appear that Iran doctored the photo to cover up what apparently was a misfiring of one of the missiles.

"The whole purpose of this testing was to send a signal so Iran both exaggerated the capabilities of the missile in their prose and apparently doctored the photos as well."

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Student demonstration in Tehran

This is the first time I have seen a video like this one. Usually videos of demonstrations are taken from inside the crowd. This one is taken from the Ministry of Interior in Tehran and you really get to see the size of the crowd. It seems that the people taking the video are trying to zoom in on faces, possibly for later identification.

This demonstration commemorates the student protests of 1999 . Maybe someone with better ears than ours can understand what is being said by the video makers and the students.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Congratulations on high oil prices

"We congratulate the Syrian, Lebanese, and Palestinian people the increase in the price of Iranian oil to $100 a barrel."

Translation of an sms going around Iran right now.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Could it be? Blogging punishable by death?

When was the last time any of us had any mental security? Was it when our mother breast fed us and provided for our every need? Well, in an effort to become the ultimate nanny state, some parliamentarians and judges in Iran are considering making 'disturbing mental security' a capital offense. Well, I, for one, am disturbed already.

Read Hamid Tehrani's round-up on Global Voices

“Don’t be upset, we'll execute you legally”

Nikahang, a leading Iranian online cartoonist and blogger, says [Fa]:

if this draft bill becomes law, everything will be based on interpretation and a simple blogger will be considered a center to destroy people’s religion! What can I say? Only people who disturb people’s mental security could support such a thing.

Mirza Kasra Bakhtyari writes [Fa] that Ali Larijani, the Iranian Parliament's President, supported discussing this draft bill and added that they have talked for hours with the Judiciary about it.

Ghomarashegahneh says [Fa]:

Mentioning ‘blogging' among crimes such as kidnapping, raping, armed robbery makes accusing bloggers easier than before… Such a law will harm the mental security of society more than the poor bloggers, who do not know what awaits them.

The blogger adds that the real causes of mental security problems are the economic crisis and repressive government policies.