Saturday, January 29, 2005

On Parsing

I wasn't going to do a post any time soon as I have been trying to finish a couple of stories before I miss another deadline. But then I thought a short break wouldn't hurt. I have told you, haven't I, about a typical Iranian's attention span? But then our kindly Nadezhda has had con-ver-sa-tion and remodeling in mind. (link on the side; feeling exceptionally lazy tonight.)

You know, in a happier time, way back when…well, when I actually thought academics genuinely believed half the crap they force-feed their students (Truth? Curiosity? Wonder?) I was quite taken once by a memorable presentation on perception. A central part had to do with the difference between conversation and argument. Well worth brooding about year after year.

The conversation part was easy. con/col/com/ together/jointly + versari, "to occupy oneself." Best think about this the way those cunning Brits say, as "a frequentative of vertere," to turn." More explicit in the English convert, invert, etc.

The more creative part was the take on arguments. Our brilliant chelovek (and adorable) highlighted a passage in Book XVII of Homer's Odyssey. Now remember aside from an old servant, it is, Odysseus's dog Argos who first recognizes our wily hero upon his return.

In that passage, a sad one really, the faithful companion is too old and weak to move. Resting in a heap of dung and covered with ticks, Argos just sort of wags his tale at his master before departing for the doggie heaven. (I'd like to think so, anyways, since technically paradise--pairi daēza-- is something the Greeks later appropriated from the Persians.)

The linguistic minutia eluded me at the time. But I think he started with the Latin arg¿t³re and ended up with *arg- and then persuaded everyone that given the connection with Argos, arguments are really a sign that the mind has finally settled in a pile of manure and so unable to move it awaits death.

In due time I finally figured that instead of starting with Argos, the white/ shining/ (Sk. Arjuna) he started with the neuter form argon, and hence assuming an alpha privation: a/without+ ergon he managed to arrive at that enchanting image of an idle dung-immured mind that limits argumentative souls.

And he probably couldn't have gotten away with it in a room full of argumentative linguists.

Now, I must admit here that I am always mindful of my limits. As many languages as I try to study whenever possible, I am kind of dense in that department. So I am perfectly willing to admit that I might very well be, along with Mr. Feith, "the dumbest, F@#$ing guy on the planet."

But as I focus on the occasionally tedious outbursts of the inebriated and the bozo pundits or Wretched and the Fiskers of this world, I genuinely wonder how they can be so bloody sure of all their predictable cackle about other cultures.

I mean, here I am having been called a man—MARD-- in Farsi everyday of my adult life and it was only relatively recently that I figured I am a MARD, because I die, MAR being the root. (Death=MARg) But some constantly give us that gobbledygook "the only language they understand is force because look HEYBAT is their central concept." It is unbelievable. What the hell does it mean, really?


Even simple political stuff. I mean all this talk about the MLK organization recently. But in all the many articles you've read arguing one way or another about using them to open a new front, have you seen a single reference to the age of these warriors? That they are mostly in their mid forties to late fifties with a few younger ones relatively recently imported from Europe and America?

Or that having been cooped up in isolated camps for almost 2 decades, the moment they open their mouths, they'll be spotted and done away with? Language changes over time you know.

Think about it. Hundreds of Iranian equivalent of unibombers on a secret mission in the land of the meddlesome. Go figure. I mean, talk about intellectual laziness. Some don't even do serious research anymore unless they are spoon-fed.

Or how about this "new breed of neoconservatives" in Iran we have been reading so much about? Have you seen a single name?

And some are so cocksure and self confident, just itching for another war. Talking about core values and condoning torture and wanting to "break" people, and smearing the accused (suspects really) with fake menstrual blood and thongs and three years of solitary confinement in chains with no lawyers, and leashes and body pyramids and even threatening nuclear decimation.

As if it is still the forties. That they can go on with their humdrum routine after dropping a couple of those A-bombs here and then SUV's and Spring Break in Cancun and that's that.

There will always be conflicts in one form or another and yet it is essential to keep a sense of humor and to pursue conversations. I mean, any idiot can pretend to be civil and decent and babble on sanctimoniously about Tolerance and Rights when feeling confident or safe and without an ax to grind, don't you think?
And so to me the need for con-ver-sa-tions sums it up really. If you go back even farther to the Indo-European root * wer- you can then reconstruct various interesting stuff including both wrath and writhe.

Better writhe in agony for a while instead of lashing out to torment others on account of an unwillingness to work through the wrath that comes with not wanting to hear what contradict empyrean self definitions. And all this nonsense about the putative "existential threat," is no excuse, really, because fear is no alibi.
Fear is a part and parcel of the human ex-pe-ri-ence which is best dealt with rationally. No escaping it. No expunging it.

Don't believe me? Look up *per.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

The Anniversary

Imagining walking in others' shoes makes it hard to breath sometimes.

You think you know people. Well, at least you hope you know who they are much in the same way they think they know themselves. .

You have a normal life; happy one moment, sad the next and always trying. You have fond memories of the space you occupy and the places you roam. You nod to the ones you think you know in the market place. You smile in the theatre and exchange pleasantries in the playground and steal affectionate glances during intermissions in concerts.

You break bread with enough seemingly gentle people to feel at home and comfortable despite the whispers.

There are whispers.

There have always been whispers. It comes with the territory, you think. Some don't know any better and some might; and yet, it is hard to get them to stop. What can you do? How many fist fights? Life goes on really as it has always.

And whispers find echoes and suddenly the discombobulating fever pitch.

Some of the very same people you thought you knew-- your colleagues, friends, neighbors, acquaintances and those familiar faces around the playground and the market place no longer appear to you as you remembered.

Nothing is at it should be. You can count on nothing familiar.

The structure of your universe has been reconstituted radically even though the elements you'd always taken for granted are still visible. In your heart of hearts you always feared it might come to this, but could it be really happening now?

Somehow, the same disciplined, directed passions that made for the performance of a moving Mozart piece suddenly unleash to orchestrate transportation to camps where some of the ones dearest to you along with countless others are exterminated, en masse, with ruthless efficiency.

Light, heat, silence and eternal darkness.

Hills of hair. Undying shame.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


I think I should get a few preliminaries out of the way first. Our friend, I feel, is absolutely right when he observes a "collective victim mentality" at work. Years of authoritarian rule and radical insecurity that come with having to live at the mercy of the arbitrary decisions and the whims of various structures of power have taken a toll on the Iranian psyche--some thing which has got to be confronted if there is to be any hope of a brighter future.

And I think our foreign friends can play their part by unabashedly tackling our (not so unique) pathologies. I'll have more to say on this later . Unfortunately, however, a particularly macabre alignment of the moon and the stars has prevented this much needed engagement when it comes to East-West encounters.

For one, our potential allies in the West are reeling from their own flirtations with radical victimology on the one hand and a crude demonology on the other.

The Left, sensitive to the burden of the past interventions and under the influence of various post-modern paradigms, appears ill at ease in confronting the odium emanating from various groups in its ever changing hierarchy of suffering. This mostly due to oscillations between the need to speak and act on principles and the urge to defer to different voices which should be privileged ostensibly by virtue of their myriad wounds and bruises—however real or imagined.

And the Right, of course, is becoming all the more sophisticated in its efforts to reconstruct the memories of its past interventions and their consequences hoping to further stifle dissent deemed counterproductive to its present policies, while simultaneously playing the victim. A venture, I occasionally feel, meant to beat the left in its own game by appropriating some of the language.

All this leaves our friend in the position of an ideal interlocutor. Some one who is capable of acknowledging both his own flaws as well as the destructive machinations of some in his country! Some one who also exhibits the admirable desire to avoid lecturing others while at the same time refusing to compromise critical faculties!

What we have here is a perfect partner for con-ver-sa-tion, i.e., a companion in that painful process of mutual turning. Now we can explore together. Something hard to do with all the know-it-alls around who can never do wrong ( have never done wrong and will never, ever do wrong either) in an era of fragmentation burdened as we are by a suffocating atmosphere of contentiousness.

As much as some of our tolerant, freedom-loving saviors might be disinterested in zoology, I feel we should start with some basics about Iran and Iranians since even our eloquent Satrap in the Anglo-American Blogospher has been getting it wrong, and in the process even managing to make some decent folk very uncomfortable. (Add Doothat to the list.)

Iran is an extraordinarily diverse country; something neither we nor some of our outside friends have yet to fully appreciate. While it is true that Persians are not Arabs and Iran technically not a part of the "Arab world," Iran is indeed an Arab land just as much as it is a Baluch country and Kurd and Azari and Turk, Turkmen, Ghashqhai, Lor, Armenian ,Assyrian, Jewish, and few others as well. We can debate language vs. dialects until we are all blue in the face, but the fact remains that there are upward of 70 living and dead languages listed for Iran.

And just in case you're thinking there are more languages and ethnic diversity in your local supermarkets, remember folks have been living here for centuries. They regard themselves fully entitled to all the amenities this country has to offer. There is shared memory spanning centuries and probably myriad nursed grievances.

There are 28 states in Iran and considerable miscegenation. Still, as hard as it may be to break down the population more exactly, our Arab states now boast about 5,000,000 residents. And as much as Persians think themselves masters of the domain, they are only a fraction of the population historically sucking up most of the country's resources.

We humor each other good naturedly all the time, but at least we are not at each other's throats constantly. Well, technically the Persians have been terribly nasty with the Kurds for as long as I remember. And Arabs and the Baluchis in particular haven't been getting their fair share of the resources. That said, like all cultures there are different ways of looking at things both because of one's unique ethnic group and more broadly because of one's political allegiances. There are decipherable patterns, though.

Iranians generally have a very peculiar relationship with political language-- something we'll explore in some other post. And sometimes we tend to be slow in dotting the i's.

But suffice to note for now that as odd as it might sound, one can, on the basis even of particular greetings exchanged and the farewells as well as the cadence of the speech and the by specific vocabulary employed, ascertain with frightening accuracy the political position of one's interlocutor. A profiling nightmare I know. But do some channel surfing with those expat. t.v. stations one day. You don't even have to know Farsi. Just be attentive to "the music" of the speeches.

This, my way of saying that there are a number of different ways we can analyze this "made in Britain mullah" conspiracy theory. One of them is by way of being attentive to all the excess baggage. It will read roughly as follows.

Iran has a glorious past thanks mostly to the institution of Monarchy, a Persian creation. Persians, of course, are the natural dominant group, O so very tolerant and generous. And then there are those nasty Arabs. They are not indigenous to our land, because, well, as everyone knows Iranians are not Arabs. Islam too is not indigenous to Persia, because well, that too got imported when the Arabs came.

The Persian wisdom did all it could to temper destructive proclivities of those "lizard eating Arabs," until, well, until the Ayatollah came up with his totally "alien" theory of "Valayate Fagih," and quite naturally with the help of the British wreaked havoc on the magnificent Persian civilization.

I'll close this section by noting a few aspects of this I personally find troubling. For one, it is a myth and a relatively modern one at that and so terribly chauvinistic. It fails to acknowledge some basic facts about Iran.

Secondly, its understanding of the Political to is too mechanical. Politics is normally reduced either to the administrative activities naturally formulated and implemented from above. And all that's left is either to be cheerleaders or the opposition, in point of fact the paid agents of outsiders operating in the shadows.

These notions are inherently counterproductive in a society in which the most irksome problematic to this day remains facilitating mass participation in the political decision making process and creating a cultural milieu more nurturing of individual autonomy.

As an aside, such a paradigm also creates a paralyzing circle from which there is no escape. If indeed the "rule of the jurisprudents" is an alien concept imported into our culture from abroad because of non-Persian influences and the prodding of the cunning British, then naturally, there would be no sense examining the Usuli-Akhbari controversy that spans many centuries and so we also have to ignore Shaikhi school of gnosis, and such pivotal thinkers as Shaykh Ansari, Shaikh Ahsa'i, Hajj Karim Khan Kirmani, etc.,

One of the more unpalatable consequences, of course, is that with all this history ignored, Babism and Baha'ism too will have been seen as having emerged out of no where. Probably the ex nihilo creation of those mischievous Brits. And there you have it, an entire religion and millions of believers all instruments of foreign adventurism in a blink. Such are the marvels of those conspiracies.

More later.

Monday, January 24, 2005

About Conspiracies

I have been dancing on the edge of this dreadful abyss for a while and so finally an invitation to jump which I simply can't resist. A Gentleman who recently visited our (often annoying LaLa) Land has this to say [edited version]:

I wanted to ask your opinion: you may not want to respond personally, but address this on your site. The majority of Iranians I spoke to whilst there insisted that we - not just the West, but Britain in particular - were complicit in the overthrow of the Shah, and the installation of the Islamic Republic. I have to say this surprised me. Though I was prepared to raise my hands in a mea culpa re Mossadegh, I found it hard to understand the logic behind this later assertion. What I grew to understand, falteringly, was that we were concerned that the Shah was growing too powerful, and we needed to install a weaker, less ambitious regime. I heard, endlessly, the joke about the Mullahs: that underneath their headgear - I apologize for not knowing its proper name - you will find 'Made in Britain' written there. I knew that Britain would not be loved for its treatment of Iran during the first half of the 20th century, but I had no idea we would still be seen as meddling so centrally in its revolution. Perhaps naively, I had rejoiced at the start of the revolution, feeling, like many around the world, and of course in Iran, that at last the Iranians would be throwing off their colonial shackles. To hear, as I did so often, that actually it was just more of the same struck me as depressing, and bizarre. I have to say that I still remain sceptical about this, and try as I might, have found nothing very compelling in literature about Iran tosuggest that we fomented the revolution. In my book I recount one or two conversations, where, having heard yet again of Albion's perfidy, (and, I have to add, our extraordinary cunning and cleverness) I found myself suggesting to my interlocutor that perhaps there was a collective victim mentality at work, and that maybe Iranians found it hard to accept responsibility for their revolution, for better or for worse. I was very aware how difficult it is for a -very flawed - representative of this country to lecture another country that has undoubtedly been a victim of our machinations during the last century about standing on its own two feet. But I still couldn't accept that we were in any way responsible for 79. I would dearly like to hear what you feel about this, since it seemed so central to so many Iranians way of thinking about their country, and its relations to the west. I was prompted to ask you this after I read your piece about visiting the pharmacy. I expect, to you, this is an exhausted, exhausting subject, but if you have any thoughts about it, I would value them.

Lala land and logic? Nah, but yes, terribly bizarre, and depressing. Something to think about while I put together a response (hopefully) half cogent.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Love & War

Lovely snowfall and such eerie silence! So I feel like text hopping tonight. Too late to be brooding, so why not share, right? There are a few passages I thought appropriate for such a delightful occasion. I mean, from the looks of things, we are going to have an eventful year. And so far this year, I have treated you to posts ranging from the cheesiest of cheese to an assortment of vintage whines. So why not close the circle? Let's chat about love tonight

All this talk about consuming fire and immanent war has gotten me feeling mushy. Ares and Aphrodite have a way of commingling, it seems. As always, we start with Homer's Iliad, book III after Paris is rescued from the clutches of a vengeful cuckolded husband (whom elsewhere Helen indirectly calls both dumb and ugly), to encounter a sophisticated take on desire:

Now when they were come to the beautiful house of Alexandros the hand- maidens turned straightway to their tasks, and the fair lady went to the high-roofed chamber; and laughter-loving Aphrodite took for her a chair and brought it, even she the goddess, and set it before the face of Paris. There Helen took her seat, the child of aegis-bearing Zeus, and with eyes turned askance spake and chode her lord: "Thou comest back from battle; would thou hadst perished there, vanquished of that great warrior that was my former husband. Verily it was once thy boast that thou wast a better man than Menelaos dear to Ares, in the might of thine arm and thy spear. But go now, challenge Menelaos, dear to Ares to fight thee again face to face. Nay, but I, even I, bid thee refrain, nor fight a fight with golden-haired Menelaos man to man, neither attack him recklessly, lest perchance thou fall to his spear anon."

And Paris made answer to her and said: "Chide not my soul, lady, with cruel taunts. For now indeed hath Menelaos vanquished me with Athene`s aid, but another day may I do so unto him; for we too have gods with us. But come now, let us have joy of love upon our couch; for never yet hath love so enwrapped my heart--not even then when first I snatched thee from lovely Lakedaimon and sailed with thee on my sea-faring ships, and in the isle of Kranae had converse with thee upon thy couch in love-- as I love thee now and sweet desire taketh hold upon me." So saying he led the way to the couch, and the lady followed with him.

Some other translation renders the crucial passage "Never has desire so enmeshed my senses!" Compare the description quoted with the account, in Virgil's Aenied Book 4, of Dido's torment:

Unhappy Dido burns and wanders through the whole city distraught, like a doe, who, when an arrow has been fired, a shepherd hunting with his weapons among the woods of Crete has hit from a distance off her guard, and loosed the feathered shaft in ignorance: she, in flight, wanders through the woods and thickets of Mount Dicte; the deadly shaft sticks to her flank. [73] … Afterwards, when they had parted, and the dim moon hides her light in turn, and the setting stars urge sleep, she grieves alone in the empty house and flings herself on the abandoned couches.

And like all love worth eulogizing, no happy ending here either:

But Dido, trembling and maddened by the terrible plans, rolling her bloodshot eyes, her cheeks flecked with a feverish glow yet pale with imminent death, burst through the internal door and in a frenzy climbed the tall funeral pyre. She unsheathed the Trojan sword - a present not intended for this purpose. [647] Here, after she saw the Trojan clothing and the bed she knew so well, delaying a little for tears and thought, she flung herself on the couch and spoke her last words: [650] “Souvenirs, that were dear while the fates and god allowed, receive this soul of mine and free me from my cares. I have had my life, and finished the span which Fortune gave me, and now my great spirit will go beneath the earth. [654] I have built a famous city, I have seen my walls. To avenge my husband I punished my evil brother - I should have been happy, alas too happy, if only the Trojan ships had never touched our shores.” [658] She spoke, and pressing her face on the couch, “I shall die unavenged,” she said,“but let me die. Thus, thus I am determined to go down to the shades. May the heartless Trojan gaze on this fire from out to sea, and let him take with him the omens of my death.” [662] She had spoken, and in the midst of all this, her friends saw her collapse on to the sword, and the sword foaming with blood and her outstretched hands. The noise reached the lofty halls: Rumour rushed madly through the stricken city. [666]

Our Aeneas, it seems, had much more important objectives in mind. What is it about men on a mission? Destroy and build…and utter excitement at the prospects of destruction and plunder. Take the following passage from Book 6, chapter 18 of the Peloponessian War, as an example. Thucydides offers a most startling description of the mood of Athenians before embarking on that disastrous Sicilian Expedition. Some still find this very erotic:

With this Nicias concluded, thinking that he should either disgust the Athenians by the magnitude of the undertaking, or, if obliged to sail on the expedition, would thus do so in the safest way possible. The Athenians, however, far from having their taste for the voyage taken away by the burdensomeness of the preparations, became more eager for it than ever; and just the contrary took place of what Nicias had thought, as it was held that he had given good advice, and that the expedition would be the safest in the world. All alike fell in love with the enterprise. The older men thought that they would either subdue the places against which they were to sail, or at all events, with so large a force, meet with no disaster; those in the prime of life felt a longing for foreign sights and spectacles, and had no doubt that they should come safe home again; while the idea of the common people and the soldiery was to earn wages at the moment, and make conquests that would supply a never-ending fund of pay for the future. With this enthusiasm of the majority, the few that liked it not, feared to appear unpatriotic by holding up their hands against it, and so kept quiet.

And we all know how safe that expedition turned out to be. And even after many centuries, some still refuse to deal with what transpired there and so continue to blame the outcome on the poor leadership of a sick Nicias. Fighting old wars over eternally I suppose.

So let's jump over to Iran of medieval times. I hardly ever talk about Koran. So we change that tonight as well. A great deal of Persian poetry is rooted in that text. And our notions of love are inextricably bound with it. There is a passage that has had enormous influence on poetic imagination here. It is a curious section of the 24th Sura, Al-Nur, or The Light:

024.035 God is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The Parable of His Light is as if there were a Niche and within it a Lamp: the Lamp enclosed in Glass: the glass as it were a brilliant star: Lit from a blessed Tree, an Olive, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil is well-nigh luminous, though fire scarce touched it: Light upon Light! God doth guide whom He will to His Light: God doth set forth Parables for men: and God doth know all things.

Many treatises have been written about this passage and you'll find all sorts of poems toying with the motif. Hence candle and moth and rose and nightingale!

Take one of our most renowned poets, Khajeh Hafez:

The angels knocked at the tavern-door last night,
With man's clay, they kneaded the cup outright.
The dwellers of God's heavenly abode,

Drank wine with me-a beggar of the road.
Heaven could not bear this wonderful trust,

That to a madman this honor was thrust.
Disputes of religions is but a false pretense,

Having not seen the Truth, they speak nonsense.
Thank God! There is peace between Him and me.

So dancing mystics took their cups with glee.
What makes the candle laughing isn't a flame.

The fire that burned the butterfly is my aim.

I don’t know whose translation. But this next one is taken from here:

Faithful in your love, my fame has spread, candle-like
At the home of the homeless, I make my bed, candle-like.
Day and night, from sorrows, sleep escapes from my eyes
Sick of being apart, my eyes are teary, red, candle-like.
Scissors of sorrows have cut my patience' string
Flame of your love burns upon my weary head, candle-like.
If my bloody tears fail to bring color to my cheeks
How else can my secret tales ever be said, candle-like?
Amidst water & fire, my head is busy with your thoughts
While my heart flooded with tears it needs to shed, candle-like.
In the night of separation, send butterfly of union
Else from your pain the world I'll burn & shred, candle-like.
Without your beautiful vision, my day is night
With the love I have bred, my flaws I dread, candle-like.
My patience is eroding, like a mountain from sorrows' rainsI
n the ocean of your love, path of fire I tread, candle-like.
Like dawn, I blow one breath to see your face
Show yourself O Beloved, else I'll be dead, candle-like.
Honor me one night with your union, my friend
Let your light, light up my house & spread, candle-like.
Fire of your love caught on Hafiz's head
When will my heart's fire, my tears wed, candle-like?

Perhaps happy endings are still a possibility, who knows? Persian Rumi seemingly
in unison with Mr. Jefferson

Ghazal 2133

wake up, wake up
this night is gone
wake up

abandon abandon
even your dear self

there is an idiot
in our market place
selling a precious soul

if you doubt my word
get up this moment
and head for the market now

don’t listen to trickery
don’t listen to the witches
don’t wash blood with blood

first turn yourself upside down
empty yourself like a cup of wine
then fill to the brim with the essence

a voice is descending
from the heavens
a healer is coming

if you desire healing
let yourself fall ill
let yourself fall ill

Translated by Nader Khalili
Rumi, Fountain of Fire
Cal-Earth, September 1994

Friday, January 21, 2005


Roger Scruton on The power of resentment and Fred Halliday's Terrorism and world politics.

And something sure to please our planet's most discerning and discriminating; a must for agreeable temperaments because it has everything--frog eaters, wooden shoes, jackals, wild dogs, roast beef, slaughterhouses, poisonous gasses and putrefaction. Charles Dickens's A Monument of French Folly.

Last but not least, an Old Iranian short story for you. Minoo Southgate's translation of Gowhartaj's Father by Mahmud Kianush.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Oracles & Happiness

Edited repost.

I have been wondering how it is that certain men always manage to misinterpret oracles and/or come to ignore sound advice. The reason for my preoccupation has been a few exchanges of late with my little sister about happiness. Why is it so difficult, these days, to be happy? Has happiness always been this elusive?

Mammon or Socrates?

Take Croesus of Lydia, as an example. Yes, that “rich as Croesus” one.

His defeat at the hand of Cyrus the Great is one of the more infamous recorded instances of the consequences of having misinterpreted an oracle.

“If you attack, you will destroy a mighty kingdom,” the oracle of Delphi had diplomatically cautioned.

Did he listen? Oops! The wrong kingdom!

One can’t be sure about his fate. But at least in one version of events narrated by Herodotus, he is reported to have cautioned Cyrus about attacking the lovely Queen Tomyris of Massageti. Does Cyrus listen?

Tomyris sends a message to Cyrus:

King of the Medes, cease to press this enterprise, for you cannot know if what you are doing will be of real advantage to you. Be content to rule in peace your own kingdom, and bear to see us reign over the countries that are ours to govern. As, however, I know you will not choose to hearken to this counsel, since there is nothing you less desirest than peace and quietness, come now, if you are so mightily desirous of meeting the Massagetai in arms, leave your useless toil of bridge-making; let us retire three days' march from the river bank, and do you come across with your soldiers; or, if you like better to give us battle on your side the stream, retire yourself an equal distance.

The Persian chiefs, as is often the case in these matters, are gung-ho. Croesus, however, is a different matter,

Oh! my king! I promised you long since, that, as Zeus had given me into your hands, I would, to the best of my power, avert impending danger from your house. Alas! my own sufferings, by their very bitterness, have taught me to be keen-sighted of dangers. If you deem yourself an immortal, and your army an army of immortals, my counsel will doubtless be thrown away upon you. But if you feel yourself to be a man, and a ruler of men, lay this first to heart, that there is a wheel on which the affairs of men revolve, and that its movement forbids the same man to be always fortunate.

The actual debate-- again normal-- is over whether to let the Queen cross to the Persian side, or to advance to the other side. Cyrus settles for the attack option--a combination of cunning and brutality.

Illusions of immortality are difficult to dispel, aren’t they?

At first, great success for the Persian. Persians under Cyrus “slaughtered great multitude” capturing “a large number of prisoners,” including Tomyris’ son. She sends another messenger,

You bloodthirsty Cyrus, pride not yourself on this poor success: it was the grape-juice---which, when you drink it, makes you so mad, and as you swallow it down brings up to your lips such bold and wicked words---it was this poison by which you ensnared my child, and so overcame him, not in fair open fight. Now hear what I advise, and be sure I advise you for your good. Restore my son to me and get you from the land unharmed, triumphant over a third part of the host of the Massagetai. Refuse, and I swear by the sun, the sovereign lord of the Massagetai, bloodthirsty as you are, I will give you your fill of blood.

The rest, as they say, is history. Let’s hear the account Herodotus offers about the aftermath of the battle:

The greater part of the army of the Persians was destroyed and Cyrus himself fell, after reigning nine and twenty years. Search was made among the slain by order of the queen for the body of Cyrus, and when it was found she took a skin, and, filling it full of human blood, she dipped the head of Cyrus in the gore, saying, as she thus insulted the corpse, "I live and have conquered you in fight, and yet by you am I ruined, for you took my son with guile; but thus I make good my threat, and give you your fill of blood.

Plutarch also reports a fascinating exchange between Solon and Croesus about happiness. A Coesus, mind you, who is “decked with every possible rarity and curiosity, in ornaments of jewels, purple, and gold, that could make a grand and gorgeous spectacle of him,” in a court with “great many nobles richly dressed, and proudly attended with a multitude of guards and footboys.” Croesus wants Solon to tell him “if ever he had known a happier man than he.”

Solon, of course, doesn’t respond in the expected manner much to the chagrin of Croesus.

"What," said Croesus, angrily, "and dost not thou reckon us amongst the happy
men at all?" Solon, unwilling either to flatter or exasperate him more, replied
The gods, O king, have given the Greeks all other gifts in moderate degree; and so our wisdom, too, is a cheerful and a homely, not a noble and kingly wisdom; and this, observing the numerous misfortunes that attend all conditions, forbids us to grow insolent upon our present enjoyments, or to admire any man's happiness that may yet, in course of time, suffer change. For the uncertain future has yet to come, with every possible variety of fortune; and him only to whom the divinity has continued happiness unto the end we call happy; to salute as happy one that is still in the midst of life and hazard, we think as little safe and conclusive as to crown and proclaim as victorious the wrestler that is yet in the ring.

After this, he was dismissed, having given Croesus some pain, but no instruction.

The wiser ones among the ancient Persians seem, in retrospect, to have concurred with Solon.

Zarathushtra asked Ahura Mazda: 'O Ahura Mazda, most beneficent Spirit, Maker of the material world, thou Holy One!'When one of the faithful departs this life, where does his soul abide on that night?'Ahura Mazda answered:It takes its seat near the head, singing the Ushtavaiti Gatha and proclaiming happiness: "Happy is he, happy the man, whoever he be, to whom Ahura Mazda gives the full accomplishment of his wishes!"

What should our wishes be? Who are we to be? Who are we, really?


A wise friend thought us remiss in having excluded Timon of Athens from the previous post. And right he is.

I think some of my gentle readers would have opted for the last two appearances of Alcibiades in the final scene or perhaps even that of Flavius. My choice today, though, is the furious Timon of Act 4, Scene 3. Be an active reader and imagine the following incorporated as you see fit:

[Woods and cave, near the seashore.]

[Enter TIMON, from the cave]

O blessed breeding sun, draw from the earth
Rotten humidity; below thy sister's orb
Infect the air! Twinn'd brothers of one womb,
Whose procreation, residence, and birth,
Scarce is dividant, touch them with several fortunes;
The greater scorns the lesser: not nature,
To whom all sores lay siege, can bear great fortune,
But by contempt of nature.
Raise me this beggar, and deny 't that lord;
The senator shall bear contempt hereditary,
The beggar native honour.
It is the pasture lards the rother's sides,
The want that makes him lean.
Who dares, who dares,
In purity of manhood stand upright,
And say 'This man's a flatterer?' if one be,
So are they all; for every grise of fortune
Is smooth'd by that below: the learned pate
Ducks to the golden fool: all is oblique;
There's nothing level in our cursed natures,
But direct villany. Therefore, be abhorr'd
All feasts, societies, and throngs of men!
His semblable, yea, himself, Timon disdains:
Destruction fang mankind! Earth, yield me roots!


Who seeks for better of thee, sauce his palate
With thy most operant poison!
What is here?Gold? yellow, glittering, precious gold? No, gods,
I am no idle votarist: roots, you clear heavens!
Thus much of this will make black white, foul fair,
Wrong right, base noble, old young, coward valiant.
Ha, you gods! why this? what this, you gods? Why, this
Will lug your priests and servants from your sides,
Pluck stout men's pillows from below their heads:
This yellow slave
Will knit and break religions, bless the accursed,
Make the hoar leprosy adored, place thieves
And give them title, knee and approbation
With senators on the bench: this is it
That makes the wappen'd widow wed again;
She, whom the spital-house and ulcerous sores
Would cast the gorge at, this embalms and spices
To the April day again. Come, damned earth,
Thou common whore of mankind, that put'st odds
Among the route of nations, I will make thee
Do thy right nature.

Monday, January 17, 2005

The Insane Asylum

Torture post can wait. I am going to have a Desultory Fuss Day. I can say anything I want, couldn't I? What would the point be of having a Blog otherwise? Who's the one afraid of blogging, anyway? And of the news?

Now granted, I am not so naïve as to think news and opinions irrelevant. Whatever society you look at, you will see the fear at work. Fear, it seems, is the foundation of the State Power. It is just the matter of locating that imaginary, invisible threshold that once crossed would make all the difference to the kind of society we find ourselves in.

Much like that fine line which separates sane rational beings from the denizens of an insane asylum.

The impulse is familiar enough. Who hasn't been irritated by the news or those omnipresent posts felt foolish, mean spirited or otherwise a dangerous manifestation of anti-some-ism or other? And so we go on to humor each other relentlessly, and to poke fun at some particularly banal proposition or some "dangerous" assumption or other.

There are all sorts of silly awards out there for all sorts of silly arguments and various nefarious practices as well, just like Fisking, I guess, whatever else it might have been intended to evoke.

What sane human being, though, could expect to execute a plan that envisions a total communications blackout? Who would organize a group and pay them to spend hours carefully reading and marking sites which must become inaccessible to others?

What are we, children?

And who would be deluded enough to seriously expect to be able to sustain this asinine endeavor over time? I mean, is it possible to control life and all its delirious states? The babble has been endless:

"The armed forces are ready to defend the integrity of the country's borders."

"The Air Force has been instructed to defend certain facilities at all cost!"

"We too are capable of preemptive strikes!"

"And hoorays for the emerging Japan of the Middle East!"

Weasels' war cries if you ask me. And these grandest plans for the grandest civilization, of course, all delusions of people who scare easily by the activities of a handful of bloggers and few unfortunate journalists who write in a society that values words just as much nowadays as horse manure.

Roars of mice, really, that will only bite in darkness. And not even a Nobel Laureate is safe.

Universe must have a wicked sense of humor I think to myself in my moments of unguarded reflections. What sort of a ruling class, do you think, a society will end up with if her citizens can imagine themselves happy living (at least for a while) on the largess of the European or American taxpayers as refugees, and yet are unwilling to speak against the forced expatriation of thousand of her own Afghan Refugees?

What kind of a ruling class do you think we'll end up with in a collective whose members can't bring themselves to offer a penny to the millions left homeless by the tsunami disaster, and yet have enough to spend millions and millions on the hairdos taken from the latest Hollywood representation of what women of Troy and Alexander might have looked like?

A wicked sense of humor indeed! And yet no one deserves this.

Thursday, January 13, 2005


And the list grows. I can't quite remember now whether some ISPs had always blocked certain sites which I am only now noticing or whether we are having a genuinely expanded list of filtered "news and analysis" sites. You can now count among the blocked sites the War in Context, CommonDream, CounterPunch and to my utter chagrin even the National Review.

This is now way too personal. How would I keep track of what mischief Mr. Ledeen is up to if the authorities here insisted on filtering sites so comprehensively? Is it too late to ask Santa to deliver Ledeen's writings via email?

Such is life I suppose in an authoritarian state. You can never be certain about the goodies future has in store for you. But on the plus side, at least it focuses the mind. And here I was thinking only today while taking a walk which author I would go for if I had to choose only a single one amongst the NR pundits.

Not all that difficult really, I concluded. The only serious thinker in the lot consistently making me think is Mr. Hanson. And I know where to find his writings. Although I must admit, I was a bit concerned after reading his latest piece. Geopolitical wars come and go. But that other more important, perpetual war on imbecility might suffer if Mr. Hanson continues being a Disenchanted American.

Mr. Hanson might find his world reconstituted radically and his perceptions more to his liking if he were to reevaluate the centrality he allows the notions of envy and jealousy in his analyses. He is much too refined a thinker to react in a manner almost identical to any Jerry Springer guest. And I am not being facetious here.

I have been watching the show on Satellite for a few days with French subtitles (funny ha?) The joys of insomnia, I guess. I was struck though by the three most common retorts you'd hear from all the guests: "You don't know me!" "You all want some of this!" You are just jealous!"

But I digress. I am still puzzled by this round of filtering. What are they really after?

So I began to wonder if this unabashed extensive filtering might not be aimed at covering and distracting from the actual upgrades to a new smart filtering program set to dazzle us once it implements successfully. The present program supposedly called HADID is rumored to have been developed with the help of the Norwegians at the cost of tens of millions. Are they fine-tuning it?

I mean, certain ISPs are filtering almost real time. I am not literate about the finer points of filtering. But what strikes me as odd is that latest opinions and some particularly unflattering news items and even certain key word combination searches in the Google are being blocked. Dr. Najmabadi's latest piece in the was filtered almost as soon as it went up. So was an item about torture (Iran) on BBC and a certain Newsday item on torture (Abu Ghuraib) filtered in the morning was accessible in the evening, the same ISP.

This is the land of extreme and dazzling gestures after all. What other country would have helicopter gunships flying over the city only to shower people with flowers? A not too subtle reminder, of course, of all the bullets and missiles which could just as easily rain down on our heads instead!

Surreal, isn't it? Sort of like that ghastly debate on torture in the Anglo American Blogosphere. If our ruling classes were half as smart as they think they are, instead of attempting to filter so many sites, they would have translated some of the more macabre profundities and made them accessible to as many people as possible.

I mean, I am sure quite a few Iranian bloggers and journalists would definitely want to know about the boundaries of acceptable torture.

"Please Judge Mortazavi, let's set some boundaries here first. You can hit me with your shoe, just as long as I don't suffer catastrophic organ failure like that unfortunate Iranian-Canadian Journalist!" Or, "I have asthma and if you were to bring me some mold you might get to see me cough up blood shortly and I'd have hard time breathing. But that you can do and it won't actually be torture since millions of people live with mold all the time…no big deal, really."

Now seriously, societies are almost as fragile as human bodies. You can't start with the assumption of radical difference and just blithely arrive at conclusions to your liking. The unimaginative, omnipresent ticking bomb scenario misses the point that strictly speaking most social changes in authoritarian societies are in point of fact ticking bombs. What do you think would happen if there were a revolution in Iran? At the most optimistic level, I would suggest a short civil war with all the anxiety, fear, torment and the bloodshed which that would imply.

And so even starting with considerations of public safety can really lead us to the unpalatable consequence of justifying positions of not only a Mr. Gonzalez, but also a Judge Mortazavi.

I'll try to elaborate and throw in my two cents worth about the torture debates in the next post. But surrounded as we have been with all the reports of forced confessions, death and torment, I haven't been able to avoid thinking about pain.

So I was exploring with some of my smarter adult students recently some aspects of Latin and Greek influences in English as well as how peculiar certain English verbs can be. Think about the transitive verb pain (Elaine Scary) as well as various proposed etymologies for repentance while I put the rest of this together.

P.S. Sorry for the missing links. For the duration of this uncertain phase in and out of the Blogger, for me!

Monday, January 10, 2005

Two Cheers for Censorship & Torture

Tsk,Tsk! Some control freaks have been brushing up their English it seems. I guess if you're reading this, you've probably heard the news. As of last Saturday, a new campaign of filtering has been in progress. It just morphed qualitatively.

I can't be certain about the exact motives, the scope or the likely duration and permanence of this apparent phase of crackdown. There are about a dozen or so ISPs I normally play musical connections with. Here is a rough profile of what's happening as far as I can surmise.

Certain providers are blocking access indiscriminately. The Blogspot, Persianblog, Netstats, Orkut, among others, are being blocked in a blanket sort of way. The numbers of Iranian Bloggers filtered have dramatically increased. The numbers who have stopped blogging too is up.

Some English language sites are now being filtered as well…who knows why. Not mathematically exact but schematically: among some of the more famous pundits I read with various degrees of frequency, Pejman has been affected, as have Jarvis and Andrew Sullivan. Certain appeasers (just kidding) such as Daniel Drezner, the Oxblog, Crooked Timber, (and Nadezhda and Prakrite) to name a few, have not been affected yet. Neither has Ledeen! The has been hit.

Out of curiosity about the psychological makeup of those behind this move, I would like to know the number of monthly visitors the affected bloggers have been getting from Iran. It might help to put things in perspective and to get a better sense for what we are up against.

But to belabor the point, the filtering is neither universal nor consistent. Certain ISPs still allow access to some or all of the filtered sites. Again, it is still possible to continue relatively normal browsing habits, albeit with added headaches. And this campaign in its present form would probably go nowhere fast if the ISPs were more adamant in their refusal to cooperate.

This comes in the aftermath of the arrests, torture and the publicized forced confessions of some prominent journalists.

But why now? What motives?

You know, I really wished I could have believed this campaign inevitable. The Evil on a rampage narrative is probably easier to digest. But this past couple of years alone I have had to reevaluate more of my assumption about this Regime, us as a people, our place in the universe and our future than any other time in my life.

Just these past couple of days, for instance, there has been official word of the arrival of cheaper internet access, and faster internet services as well as more exposure for bloggers as the vanguards in a new revolutionary movement of communication according to various newspapers. This despite the entire ongoing attempt to suffocate us even further!

Do they really intend to dismantle the entire infrastructure? Unlikely! You've heard me repeatedly claim that for an authoritarian society, ours is one of the most unruly, fearless and lawless of societies imaginable. And inconsistent.

To be quoting that witty imbecile Al-Sahaf, they are not in control even of their own stomachs, let alone this society. Do they really want to pick a fight just about now? Can they maintain the tempo? Do they have the will to stay the course? And to what end?

There was a time people were burying books in their backyard by the dozens. And now anything you want is accessible. Millions of titles. And then too the argument was this Regime wouldn't outlast the lifting of the ban on books.

The Regime nowadays has been less heavy handed than in the years past in its encounters with what it deems undesirable conduct. By this I mean, they single out an issue of concern. Do a massive show of force for a relatively brief period of time. Make an example of a few unfortunate souls and then move on. This has been their modus operandi.

Just remember some of the headlines of this past year alone: massive deployment of the elite Revolutionary Guards for a while on the streets; stricter enforcement of hejab and the closing of some coffee shops during the summer; various anti corruption campaigns and the raiding of some video clubs, and more recently the threat to stone a young woman to death, etc,. But then retreat, relative normalcy and life as usual.

The naïve part of me just wants to yell: "what the hell do you think you're doing?" "Can't you see what a monstrous society you've created?" "What could you possibly hope to gain by denying us the chance to say exactly what you too are saying on daily basis?"

But it helps to remember discretion as the better part of valor!

Some of the most scathing criticism of this society, both of the military and political elites as well as her various captains of industry is originating from the extreme right nowadays. An elaborate, unrestrained and cogent critique of the injustices, and the unfairness playing out in this Republic as well as the preposterous avarice, gluttony, corruption, mediocrity, incompetence, poverty, abuse and prostitution all indisputable facts of life in this purported spiritual land.

I know MEMRI T.V. broadcasted a speech a few months ago of one Dr. Hassan Abasi, a passionate advisor to Mr. Khamenei. Another figure of note is Dr. Azghani. Watch the movie Poverty and Prostitution to get a sense for the style.( Faqhr va Fahsha)

But why couldn't others say what these two figures get away with saying all the time?

And so a part of me is so angry, furious really and ashamed. I hardly know the faces I encounter on the streets anymore and the glances and the gestures and the mentality and the mannerism of my fellow citizens. We are nothing like the Iranians I remember. We were once more humane, kinder people-- tender, civil and decent.

Obnoxious is what we have become. Curt, abusive and self absorbed. Just tally the amount of money we --a nation of 70 million-- as individuals have contributed to the tsunami relief efforts. It should all amount to roughly around negative zilch!

And so we are now at the mercy of the arbitrary decisions of some who decide what we can or can not read.

Deterioration of character, my friends, is what befalls people in a creeping sort of way when they are busy planning grandiose social engineering schemes without regards for safeguarding Rights.

But alas, ducks like what quacks. So, in the spirit of the superfluous patriotism of a marionette in the service of the Omniscient State Power, I offer my salute: two cheers for the censors and torturers—the unholy midwives of the grotesque.

Friday, January 07, 2005


"There is a little red brick house in the less affluent part of Tehran I go to for lunch once a month. I even have a boy’s memories of this event. It is a fifty-year-old living feast, in fact, held on the 15th when culinary delights facilitate catharsis."

Read The living Feast, another experimental short story just out in the multi lingual Spanish Online Magazine, Café Diverso.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

The Jocose Cheese

On a lighter note: the cheese of ill repute!
Posted by Hello

Well at least I had a good laugh grocery shopping today and began brooding about meaning and culture. Trying to gain market share thoughtlessly and on the cheap must be an absolute nightmare in this age of globalization.

Imagine yourself a businessperson running a company without the help of a competent team of multi-disciplinarians. You have what you think is a fabulous product. Somehow you've come up with a snazzy name for it, and a marvelous packaging to boot and then you try to break into another country's markets.

The product you sell is tasty enough, you think. Countless people in different countries eat it. The name is just marvelous as far as you're concerned and other folk seem to like it. In short, everything suggests that you have the product differentiation angle covered.

But nothing happens. You must begin to wonder why, no?

It must be "them" people. They are nothing like "us!" What do they know about cheese, anyways? This surely must explain everything. Either that or you assume that they just haven't heard of what you have to offer and so you feel the need for more advertising and an aggressive public relations campaign to overcome their ignorance.

Now imagine yourself a typical Iranian family at the breakfast table with some Kiri à la crème, the laughing cow cheese. There is nothing really wrong with the cheese, of course, except everything.

For one, Kiri in Farsi is the adjectival form of the lewdest term there is for the penis. Curiously, in the vernacular the adjective is used for anything deemed inordinately worthless.

And then, the Arabic term for "so white - beythan … leqhayat," بیضآ ء لغآ ية
(as in a cheese so white and so delicious) given the differences in the sound of the same letters in Arabic and Farsi (coupled with that unfortunate name) seamlessly evoke both the scrotum and testicles.

Good luck being Iranian and having a family moment at the breakfast table! You can get other products which are either superior in quality or offer comparable rewards without all the (needless) hassles.

So, my dear gentle readers feel free to draw your own political inferences here.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


I've changed the template to retrieve the archives and in the process reshuffled the order of links and added more bloggers. There are a few others I will add shortly. I am not as confused as my choices would imply. Some of the bloggers might have serious difficulty with one another. Two in particular come to mind…but hey, I would have gone insane living here without the diversity of opinions accessible via the net. So thank you all.

Rough month though. I'll try to get back to my routine shortly. In the meanwhile, I am grateful kindly Nadezhda for your empathy and the lovely song. I'll try to hum just as soon as I figure out the tune.

And two cheers as well for my old friend Natalia for the absolutely enchanting Polish Christmas Carole, To juz pora na Wigilie, written (if I understood properly) by Zbigniew Presner with "words from poets and songwriters connected to " Piwnica Pod Baranami.

And via Praktike--another favorite blogger of mine, an interesting take on the recent Ledeen-Douthat exchange. I really liked the older Gideon's Blog posts here and here as well. I'll have some brooding to do soon and might even get back to discussing Ledeen's debt to Mr. Schmitt. Stay tuned.