Sunday, December 28, 2003

Hopes fade...

« Ils demeurent la, tout aussi immobiles, avec le char splendide, la tête collée au sol. Des larmes brûlantes coulent de leurs yeux a terre,…. Est-ce donc pur que vous ayez votre part des douleurs avec les malheureux humains ? Rien n’est plu misérable que l’homme, entre tous les êtres qui respirent ce qui marchent sur la terre. »

« Il y avait, sur une étoile, une planète, la mienne, la Terre, un petit prince a consoler!...Je ne savais pas trop quoi dire. Je me sentais très maladroit. Je ne savais comment L’atteindre, ou le rejoindre…C’est tellement mystérieux, le pays des larmes »

Saturday, December 27, 2003

Cause for alarm

45 hours have passed and I begin to get worried. Thousands have been evacuated. The Iranians have rushed en masse to offer blood, money and supplies. Continuous reports of the International Aid pouring in. Field hospitals being set up, condolences galore….you get the picture.

What do you want me to say? The usual platitudes? That I am proud to be an Iranian? Proud to be a homo- sapient? This is what we do. This is what humanity is all about. We come together during times of crisis—offering hope, prayer and material support. Strictly speaking, this is nothing to be proud of. This is all as it should be.

What worries me is what I don’t see. I don’t see indications of an organized effort in the city of Bam. I don’t get a sense that there is a half decent distribution network to provide the supplies to the victims. I don’t see those sitting around the rubble weeping and mourning –the countless dazed and bruised victims of this quake, having portable heaters, blankets or water.

I don’t see pictures of myriad giant ugly machines removing tons and tons of rubble to rescue those buried. I don’t see hundreds digging to get at the victims everywhere you look. There is a sense of inactivity. I don’t see powerful sources of light brightening the night so work can continue overnight. I don’t get a sense this is as organized as it should be. And now the report from a Major in the police force. The road is so congested that it is now partially closed—at least for the last 8 kilometers leading to Bam. A fiasco in progress? Only time will tell.


News is dynamic and confusing. But efforts appear to be gaining momentum and are thus becoming more effectively organized.
The latest information: more than 8500 have been evacuated and treated in various cities across Iran; of these, 3000 on outpatient basis in Kerman alone.

So far 305 sorties are reported to have been conducted to and fro the Bam Airport providing supplies and flying out the injured. For information on flights and latest news:

38 centers continue to collect supplies donated for the victims. Tehran residents have been participating in a massive way to provide supplies. The reaction appears enthusiastic and heartfelt in other regions of Iran as well.

400 medical specialists have been dispatched to the area. The effort is to prevent the possible spread of diseases such as cholera. The following website has been created to provide information on/about the victims. But I haven’t been able to get in

Help in whatever way you are comfortable with

NationalBank-Washington : 17122944

Banke Melli- London: 2222100017002

Banke Melli-Paris: 03200000011

Banke Melli-Branch Central 702070 Red Crescent

Needed supplies are power generators, medicine, decontamination equipment,soap, feminine hygiene products, babypowder, water, and water purification products, warm clothing, tents and blankets

Friday, December 26, 2003

A National Catastrophe

Cut short a visit out of town to return home to be alone. The scenes of carnage are absolutely devastating. Bam, a historic city of 80000 in the southeast of Iran, lies in ruin. Many thousands were killed while asleep; countless others injured. Unknown numbers remain still trapped under the rubble.

There are episodes that leave one sympathetic with Shikibu’s lamentations that although certain events always happened and will continue to happen, “the natural order of thing” simply remains unacceptable. The numbing grief one feels can only engender tear and sorrow. The only other viable reaction is fury.

Of the agony of my fellow citizens, I can only say this. I should simply repeat-- only repeat Job’s eternally evocative lamentations (19:21-24):

Have pity on me, have pity on me, O ye my friends; for the hand of God hath touched me.
Why do ye persecute me as God, and are not satisfied with my flesh?
Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book!
That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever!

Saturday, December 20, 2003

Visiting Pharmacies

You can tell a lot about us Iranians by visiting one of our many Pharmacies. As you could well imagine, I have been visiting quite of few of them lately. I think the roots of our present predicament could be observed in one of them. Yes, you guessed it. This is about culture. Now, I know this is a thorny issue. I don’t know exactly what pattern of behaviors can be characterized as culturally determined? Societies evolve over time and people’s behaviors change constantly. What are the determining factors? In what senses can one claim that a given activity –recently fashionable-- is part of the cultural heritage? In what senses other more durable features can be said to be the permanent attributes of a particular collective landscape? In what sense a certain manner of performance i.e. discipline, competence, spirit, curiosity, etc. can be considered determined by the past? How does a given set of behaviors fall in or outside cultural norms? What are the prerequisites of change? What other conditions have to first be met before that change can be implemented? You might be curious about the relevance. So, let us explore.
Walk into any pharmacy and you’ll encounter 3 to four people meandering around. There are always one or more computers that just sit on the counter looking pretty. It is usually a late model, advanced, Pentium-powered beast, and well, quite dazzling I suppose. But no one touches it. The pharmacists rudely fill your order, giving you whatever they have without attempting to give you any information about the medicine or its side effects. They usually scribble the relevant info about the dosage and the timing on one of the boxes.
Lots of the medications are domestically produced, but imports are also stocked and since insurance normally doesn’t pay for the imports and since the domestic products are priced at a fraction of the imports, then if you are judged to be affluent, you normally get the latest conspiracy theory about all the outdated raw material that was sold to some unnamed relative of some unnamed official in the ruling regime, which was then used in the making of the domestic product…and so you are encouraged to buy the imports.
If on the other hand, the import is not available, or that the pharmacist doesn’t remember you as an old customer, you get the same story about the imports, with a new twist: “have you noticed all the Levothyroxine in the market is foreign? They are past expiration date and dumped in the market [a secret agreement, involving our own officials, certain unnamed foreign governments and the rotten pharmaceutical industry.] Domestic products have been banned. So, here I have the last batch of the domestic ones and it is a lot cheaper!”
Then they calculate the price in their head, on a piece of paper or on a hand-held calculator.
When I ask—and I do always ask—“why don’t you use the computer?” The answer,
inevitably is, “Ey Agha…(roughly my good man) Who has time?”
“But it makes your life easier…you can keep a record of your inventory there.”
“Ey Agha forgetting the taxes? And the inventory changes all the time. Some medications are pulled from the market and the new ones arrive, whenever the government decides!
“You can’t control that, can you? All countries do stuff like that, besides,
that’s the point of using a computer-- it helps you keep watch more effectively.”
”My margin isn’t high enough for all that work?”
“You spend the exact amount of time with all these employees here one way or another. How high does your margin have to be?
“But life is hard, corruption, lack of freedom, high inflation, rotten roads, pollution, lies, propaganda…”
“What do these have to do with giving the needed information about the medication, using your computers, to your customers, who incidentally are paying an arm and a leg? The least you can do is to put all that information –the dosage and timing in there and give your patient a print out. It is better for your patients and for you--you don’t have to sit and write them a hundred times a day.”
“But a lot of people are illiterate or have no interest and the Government has let the culture decline and the Government has ruined our lives because of its incompetence, lack of funding for public schools, deteriorating standard of living, support for the Arabs, etc. !”
And so it goes on and on—a typical conversation roughly as I described.
And I am left thinking:
Here you are. You spend exactly the same number of hours in your pharmacy with the same number of employees-- day in and day out. How much freedom of expression do you require to be competent? What does government’s foreign policy have to do with how you order your activities in the shop? What is the exact level of the high margin you require to be as excellent a pharmacist as you could possibly be? Have you tried to verify the latest rumors you spread? If it’s true, why peddle your drugs? If not, why lie? Are you a pharmacist or are you in the rumor mongering business to increase your margin? If the social condition bothers you so much, close your pharmacy, or rent it out and let’s go about seriously changing our collective life.
But…but, there is always that not so insignificant factor of fear. Fair enough. It is, after all, one’s life, limb and skin. They are dear and shouldn’t be lost lightly. So, regardless of the difficulties of our social life, and our hopes and expectations for the future, we spend a certain amount of time in our lives doing what we have to do to survive. Must we wait before everyone is literate and the country corruption free before we utilize the tools at our disposal? What does it take to do a thorough job while at work? How much money does it take to not be rude to one’s customers? How much security does one need to not be carelessly filling prescriptions, putting one’s customer at risk?
Does culture determine behavior? Does lack of democracy? Does religion? Does history? Mythology? Ritual fasting? The celebration of the New Year in a particular month? Public holidays? The prayer at certain hour? The belief in the Messiah? The Laws of the land?
Quite possibly yes to all! Or, one may suddenly decide to let the tradition be damned! All it might take is an act of the will. There are certain things one can control and others one can’t—not in the short run. All that might be required is the affirmation of that control initially within the immediate sphere of one’s influence.
An affirmation that I will be at least curious about the new things I encounter today…just for eight hours. I’ll be sober minded. I’ll put my education to use and analyze in a cool, collected dispassionate way. I’ll be nice to my patrons, just each time one walks in. I’ll experiment to see what I can accomplish if I alter my routine, just a few times a day. I’ll think differently about my daily chores, just once in a while! Just for the eight hours I spend here in this shop. Not because I like it, but because I am here anyhow—so why not do the best I can. At the very least, it might make me feel better.
And so it is that at every turn in our society we encounter a witches’ brew of myopia, incompetence, wishful thinking, conspiracy theories, illusions, delusions, self aggrandizements and false hopes.
You might have guessed the punch line: that a rather incompetent pharmacist, absent very unusual set of circumstances, indubitably also makes for a terribly lousy revolutionary!

Friday, December 19, 2003

All-nighters at the BenadorAssociates!

Our very own Amir Taheri has been musing about the potential impact of Saddam’s capture and the fallout from what is sure to be an embarrassing trial. He outlines many of the questions Saddam must answer for. One of the more significant ones is the following:

Second, Saddam should tell the world which Western governments and corporations helped him build his death machine. He must also tell the world which European, and Arab, politicians, businessmen, bankers, media people, and so-called "peace activists" he bribed over the years.

Hear, hear! We want to know all about the connections: an exhaustive lists of all his supporters over the years and a full accounting—total disclosure no matter how embarrassing. From the looks of it, though, the Associates at the Benador haven’t quite earned their keep on this front. According to the AP Poll alluded to:

Six in 10 thought the government was likely to be embarrassed by some of the information disclosed by Saddam in a trial. That was higher than the percentage of people who felt Saddam's disclosures would embarrass the governments of France, Russia, Britain or Germany.

The “American Street,” might still be reeling from the shock of the brutal 9/11 terror assaults. But you can always count on the fundamental decency and the instinctive sense of fairness among the Americans. I guess that can only mean longer hours at work for Mr. Taheri and Co.

Watching Ronin

We were treated to Frankenheim’s Ronin early this morning on one of T.V.’s more cosmopolitan programs, Cinema1. De Niro was great as always. Plenty of murder and mayhem as well. There were scores of murder scenes, car chases, road carnage, manly banter and a few scenes of killers having stiff drinks to sooth their nerves. There was also the spectacle of women killing and women being killed. But the only blurred, censored images I could notice were the performance scenes of an Ice Skater—that of a woman artist. Now admittedly, all societies have rules about what can or cannot be shown on T.V. And one can’t cogently claim that dancing half nude on ice comes naturally to people left to their own devices. Furthermore, who amongst us can claim to have figured out why organizations behave the way they do? So, that said, why would a power structure be threatened by the images of a graceful ice skater?

Thursday, December 18, 2003

My World today

Roaming around in my Apartment—feverish and fatigued, I have been cleaning up and cooking most of the day. It has been cold and polluted in Tehran. The normally beautiful mountains that surround this city are hardly visible from here. Wiping the black dust from the couches, coughing up the black stuff in my lungs, and a having a nasty time of it all--little sleep and plenty of nightmares, I keep on thinking about my feverish gibber last night: I suddenly said to myself it must be awfully rotten to die all alone. That same thought must have crossed a lot of minds over the years. But you wouldn’t know that reading about the reactions to Saddam’s capture. Mindless bravado, chest beatings and gloating—all normal human reactions, no doubt. But it isn’t as if these were exclusively the sentiments of the myriad victims of Saddam’s brutalities—that would have been understandable. An acquaintance who lost a brother in the war and loathes this murderous thug called to say that he could not bring himself to enjoy the sight—something unseemly about broken men. But gloating is what we have come to expect from a particular segment of the Anglo-American universe. It is as if theirs suddenly became a world bereft of imagination—mirroring ours. Surely that is not what some must have meant by the phrase “9/11 changed everything.” To go out in a blaze of “glory” and to surrender sheepishly –these both are the sign of cowardice. Go figure

But this is the world we live in now days. The world in which some normally thoughtful thinkers are insisting that humiliating others should become the policy of choice—embarrassment as a tactic. Others are busy dispassionately debating a potential nuclear holocaust.

It is a world in which one of the most popular writers is an ideologue who justifies the campaign to disrupt global life—as odious as it may be—through sheer brute force and avoids genuine substantive discussions by giving out on a daily basis one of his numerous meaningless awards—in a manner reminiscent of the agit-prop apparatchiks of a failed empire:

Funny how Saddam Hussein appears in the news just when both the American and British Governments are struggling to gather support for their respective 'Presidential' campaigns. This fantastic piece of detective work has the same smell as the reason the war was 'inaugurated'." - David, Rome, Italy, another BBC listener.

And a world in which, Victor Davis Hanson the resident historian-warrior of the Freedom Fries Contingent , treats us to the identical sort of muddled thinking, which I presume the the award intended to highlight-- in defense of the same unimaginative policies Sullivan and Co. peddle, week after week: (A Real War)

But when the carnage is simply too much (too many Muslims killed as collateral damage or too many minutes on CNN), then suspects are miraculously arrested in Turkey or Saudi Arabia, or in transit to Iran or Syria — but more often post facto and never with any exegesis about why killers who once could not be found now suddenly are.

This manner of thinking is something very familiar to those of us who live here. There is something terribly Iranian about it all. Take the reaction to the recent debate about the impermissibility of wearing a veil in French schools. A representative of the Iranian regime which insists on forcibly covering half of its population with a mandatory outfit, Mr. Ali Shakoorirad goes on (with a straight face) to complain that: “the ban on headscarves is a measure to limit personal freedom. For a country like France, which has democracy, it is a major failure.”
Perhaps Le Monde will one day say of the Anglo-Americans: Ils sont tous Iraniens.

So I am left all puzzled and unsettled—curious about where all this might be heading: an impending darkness? Or joy and freedom? Who can know for sure? What to do? What to expect? What to hope for? These are the types of musings you can expect to encounter here. Hopefully the dreary monotone I can amend in due time as my health improves and my mood uplifts. Just like the rest of you, I too can be quite temperamental.

For those who can read Farsi, this lady is quite witty. Her prose is ornate and her irony always brings a smile to my face. A fellow brooder, this young lady has some sharp things to say and is always a pleasure to read.

The blogs in English I read can be found here and here and here.

I have been wanting to do this for a while. So, here we go. Random thoughts and stuff that puzzles me. We'll see if I can get this to work.