Friday, April 14, 2006

And the endgame

Most endeavors have an objective and a rhythm and it’s now time to go.

I began this to offer a few close friends a look at the experiences of life in Iran through my eyes. And I, in turn, wanted to get a glimpse of life through the prism of others. I had a few simple questions haunting me for years that I wanted to re-explore with fresh senses.

Who was it that insisted on perpetual beginnings?

So, I wanted to re-experience life, re-living some of my obsessions; only this time, with my own earlier assumptions under scrutiny. I thought writing might help focus.

Why have the Islamists won these first few rounds? Why have they proven so resilient? What set of conditions has allowed them to survive? And are they really the fools we take them for?

The qualified answers for now, of course, turned out to surprise me a bit in their simplicity. And simplicity and precision is something I’ve only relatively recently grown to appreciate thanks to the gentleman who has been a guide for the past year or so thus helping in some measure alleviate my vast ignorance of analytic philosophy. And many thanks to our mutual friend for the introductions.

My partial answer for now, of course, is that for the same reasons they’ve succeeded in enriching uranium!

They wanted it badly enough.

The Islamists confronted a self-satisfied society too enamored of its own delusions and thus the entire superficial condescending attitude at work allowed them to successfully unleash destruction, murder and mayhem.

The innocent and the unsuspecting suffered.

And so they normally look beyond the smugness of all the startlingly dense, spoiled brats who remain either dissatisfied with all that comes so easily for them or unwilling to reevaluate their sense of entitlement.

Simply put: they had kept their eyes on the ball and they managed to put being underestimated to good use to our collective detriment. Barraged with foolishness, the Islamists managed the last laugh.

And there is a certain simple logic in that, you see. When adversaries become so blinded by hate or bigotry that they prefer to hold on tightly to what allows them to feel superior as opposed to reevaluating seriously to attempt to win on principles and hard work, the murderous, brutal ones end up wreaking havoc.

Look at what this blogger reports about Mr. Ahmadi Nejad’s simple approach to football to get a sense for the issues I have in mind:

“Ahmadinejad sat down with the players, who huddled cross-legged around him, listening intently. He told them…"Instead of increasing your running speed, focus on increasing the speed of the ball. You guys, at most, can cover about 9 meters per second; the ball, however, can be kicked at a speed of 20 meters per second. Therefore, your aim should be to move the ball, rather than your body." (to paraphrase the president).”

Not all that earth shattering, is it, as insights go?

But quite a step for the “dumb ones” in a society of self proclaimed exceptional stars who remain mostly either too slothful themselves for any strategic moves or too deluded about limits or enamored of the limelight to want to pass the ball!

The Islamists’ ascent, of course, has left too many broken bodies without proper burial.

And in here too we get a glimpse into the depressing nature of the Iranian history and its limits. Resentment, vindictiveness, pettiness of spirit and forgetfulness as the grounding for an inability to ultimately break out of our morass in any meaningful sense!

Empathy remains the key here, I suspect.

So my unqualified gratitude, despite fundamental political differences, to the Boroumand sisters and their tireless efforts in seeking to preserve the memory of those who would have otherwise been, in all probability, lost forever-- much like so much of the rich history over the years.

Will the Islamists survive?

No, is another one of my answers. But it might get very bloody. Another war certainly even messier! Iran is a highly fragmented, unpredictable society.

The Islamists know about teamwork. And they want to stay in power and preserve their privileges. They know they’ll be up against the best. The older survivors from the last one are plagued with guilt. And they have long memories and the reach. The younger ones as well are too fed up with the existing cynicism and corruption and willing to test themselves to protect what they have! And there is that central question of safeguarding the legacy of the lost ones.

There is certain war weariness of course, yes. But if and when the war does break out, none of them is going to be in as much of hurry to go to Heaven as in the last war.

There are reasons to believe their strategy will parallel that of North Korea, I suspect. The objective will be to take along as many of their enemies on that trip before they finally decide to disembark themselves. They know full well that in any potential conflict, time is not going to be on their side.

Any asset not swiftly used will be destroyed and so they’ll seek to inflict maximum harm. And they are sharp, educated and multitalented-- the usual babble of their detractors notwithstanding. A lot sharper, I think, than they are usually given credit for.

And all the indications are there that they remain hell-bent initially on starting with their own weak center if attacked. And that means a self satisfied, off balanced opposition remains nowhere close to being in the slightest ready to protect itself from the planned butchery.

And, of course, any further unleashing of the ethnic passions in the country without a cogent plan at work for long-term solutions and stability would create such butterfly effect that none in the region or beyond will be left unscathed.

Ultimately though, the Islamic regime remains what it is--a third rate power.

But here we have more disagreements about the nature, scopes and dangers. So, again, I’d like to point out a learned thinker with plenty of common interests and mutual favorites--someone I’ve never had the good fortune of meeting in person to express gratitude for the ways his poetry so poignantly touches. We’ll see about the crystal balls.

But I am not at all convinced now about the prospects of any substantial improvements in the foreseeable future even when this regime falls unless, of course, there is some serious soul searching—something I remain skeptical about.

For if the oppositional society remains so absolutely certain about how “exceptional” it is-- and ultimately so insecure as to remain unwilling or unable to rediscover its own uniqueness--there can be no basis for genuine conversations, cooperation or alliances.

Since at the end of day, as unique as we all may be, none of us could truly be that exceptional!

How many exceptional men and woman, after all, has history ever recorded over the past few thousand years? The bar is being set way too high from the very beginning for most of us mere mortals. The fear alone of disappointments prevents serious efforts.

And as long as we insist on remaining adamant about leaving so little room for that required distance from ourselves after our encounters in life; that is, so insecure and unstable and on the edge as to presume instinctively that every touch, glance, utterance, allusion or exchange ultimately seeks to undermine /should be centered on us, then we’ll naturally come to miss the essential commonalities of the human experiences and the continuities.

We thus miss the many ways our experiences normally mirror one another.

And also missed will be the crux of a simple proposition that most problems will only offer solutions in mutual dependence and cooperation!

Consequently, both the variations of our perennial predicaments and myriad solutions scattered across times and cultures quite worthy of serious considerations would continue to elude us.

And that, of course, leaves us exactly where we are: with many ears unable to hear beyond a limited range and with many eyes limited exclusively to seeing monochromatically. Sadly, then, all that remains as Merleau-Ponty warns us, is thought limited in what it allows itself to think. Hence that natural recoil towards wishfulness.

And here I would like to thank some of my more recent partners, especially for the brilliant, sensitive, gentle prodding in a different direction (logical next steps?) which I promise here to take seriously. And do give my favorite book a serious read and tell me when the spirit moves you if I might not be justified in believing that so much of what is being replayed these days remains firmly anchored in that text. One gentle hug, as well, to the daft one for what is life really without a few angry yells, no?

And with you mister, our usual not so minor disagreements as always!

I’d like to thank the rest of you for reading and encourage you to visit the many links that remain on the sidebar.

Fundamentally, though, I should confess to remaining hopeful again.

Through a twisted wickedness of the universe, while we have been debating why it is we’ve missed modernity, the post-post modern condition or whatever else it is that it’s being called these days has finally caught up—advantageously recasting those traditional weaknesses attributed to the Iranian “national character”, however elusive that concept may prove—thus bringing the rest of the world in synch with us.

This of special importance for those who’ve bored/ nauseated us for some years now repeating every chance they get that whopping discovery of the Persian Kitman or Shi’ia Taqqiyah by our famed racialist Count de Gobineau, ostensibly in some deeply secret crevices of the Persian heritage!

And as old as the craftiness of Odysseus himself or the trickery of the Jamaican Anansi theSpider native to the forests of West Africa, and the guile of the ancient Indian fox Damanaka or that ancient Chinese Qi or more generally all the inherent cunning normally attributed to any despised group of choice on any given day.

And roughly translated in English in multiplicity of different forms found in whatever dictionary you consult under conceal, mask, bury, hide, hold in, shroud, disguise, veil, cover, screen, blot out, blank out, obscure, obstruct. And not to forget, of course, lie, falsify, fabricate, fig, or more generally the equivalent of disinformation or white lies etc.

And no, in case you were dreading, in the spirit of reconciliation, I am not going to outline the statistics on child and domestic abuse neither for Iran nor for those of a couple of other countries simply out of spite. Those brutalities remain serious problems that demand urgent attention—and this not just as simplest available tool to stir even more of a collective bigoted frenzy.

Anyhow, who knows what might happen now with any slight changes in the circumstances of our lives. The necessary conditions are now there. It remains to be seen whether we could go on to discover the sufficient ones. The sky then could be the limits.

And, finally, my especial thanks to those with me from the earlier moments. I remain grateful for your fundamental decency.

And so on that this ends.

P.S. Fair enough! Now that I am done: Winks, flirts and so, so much more! ;-))

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Lion and the missing half-hour

Life has a way of wreaking havoc on one’s expectations. And the passage of time doesn’t help matters much. All those hopes and aspirations of the yesteryears become the delusions of today and this latter, I suppose, the lost opportunities of tomorrow. With that record, it becomes easy to see how one could anticipate the worst even in the best of times--which this clearly is not.

Iran is an odd place. Adjectives are always good indicators. At least adjectives are the ones that stand out for me about some of my more unsettled posts. And I don’t think it has much to do with that voice inside satisfied with nothing short of profanities these days. Iran is a truly feverish country.

And I suppose that’s what makes me sensitive to the growing fever all around me these days. Fever has a way of making the air heavy. The sort of heaviness that is harbinger of some irreversible murderous degeneration and corruption!

Sights and sounds strike you as obscene, exaggerated, and surreal. From the basics to the more complex! From the fistful of gel that adorns the hair of some football player in the heat of a match to the heated assault on the right of women to wear as much thick makeup as they please. Somethings are constant.

And those exaggerated contours and colors. The shape of the eyebrows and the puffed up poutie lips or pedicured tulip colored toenails and steroid induced bulging muscles or aggressive postures! Easy to understand, of course, if you’re stuck in such dreary, colorless place. And the loud music and the flamboyant chatter and those discombobulating calls to prayer.

But it is also a place that draws you in. As if a vortex! And then all the expectations, desires and dreams—almost Godlike in scope—go on to collapse back on themselves. As if something from deep inside impedes the movement forward.

So concerned has everyone become with the impressions, perceptions and outside forces that focus on the animating impulses within are lost. Or has it always been like that? Some thing just doesn’t add up about the whole space. Even the structure of time itself hasn’t been left untouched.

Think about it.

From Washington to London, 5. From London to all of China 7. Even from London to Libya 2. But try Tehran and there’ll be that half-hour differential. It has not been clear to me where the other half has ended up as time zones go. None standard, it’s called, but not exceptional.

Some remember well how this one came to pass long ago. And all the quick back and forth which gave us this missing half. That’s what happens when elites come to have an “exaggerated sense of self importance.” Time itself then becomes a central battleground in all kinds of silly ways.

And a grotesquely bloated notion of power seems to be at work these days as well. And a lack of appreciation for negotiating hurdles. A refusal to see subjects for the struggling subjectivities they are. And the false hopes of some imaginary folks ultimately reduced to occupants of an imaginary non-space of docility! Fear at work promoting fear and fear manifesting as resistance or “sudden seditions.” Hence this monstrosity threatening us all today

And that perennial mistake of not taking the notion of limits seriously, of course

That I am becoming convinced is the key here. Only by acknowledging the limits can one push forward. And this latter initially will have not much to do with the presence of others. It has its own rhythm. There has to be a conscious choice first and then matching the pulses and impulses. Who knows, perhaps it might even then become possible to fully overcome them in collaboration with others.

It might be that by embracing the powerlessness alone can one discover the true strengths! And learning to absorb and feel the exhilaration of the blows the essential beginning if one is serious about unleashing what lies immured. Fear of negotiating with others, of course, has a way of drowning the voices within. Along with that fear of letting go and of the pain!

But then there are limits! Once one abandons the perpetual attack vector, perhaps, it becomes easy to appreciate the need for certain boundary which is protected instinctively from stomping. Even when it might take drums!

What might there be left for one worth defending once that absolute minimum of collective dignity is finally lost?

Besides, glitter is on the outside. Twinkle is what actually counts. And this latter only comes with what compels for a reason from within. We usually choose what we must. A question of time again! For time here can be a plague dimming memory as it flows. It is important to rediscover limits of iterations by remembering sources. One must perpetually encounter and burnish what has become hidden or tarnished. Gems not routinely encountered become lost treasures. That is partially our problem today.

I often suspect we all do “know” the nature of this misfortune plaguing us and yet we remain too afraid to let go. Control freaks afraid of pain and perceptions end up having to tolerate more than any sane human being should bear. And this last was partially Thucydides talking in case you wonder.

And so the collective enterprise that began with hopes of building heaven on earth has ended up reproducing an atrociously dysfunctional society with hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded. And more all too familiar scenes of death daily. With millions more condemned to slow deaths and we, of course, not too hesitant in pointing the finger of blame at others!

And torture, torment and abuse are what remain. Along with countless victims of chemical weapons in an age when every corner of our planet clamors “civilization.” And I suppose it is not hard to imagine how it might be that the other shoe would come to be dropped soon. A few nuclear blasts as icing on an already too disgusting a cake!

An “exaggerated sense of self importance,” the words Mr. Pollack aptly uses to characterize the dominant Iranian attitude at work these days, seem to leave no other direction to go but down. Mindless negativity then seals the fate. Expectations, passions and desires recoil back on themselves. And thus pain, pain and even more pain! And this mostly rooted in an irrational fear. And an unwillingness to negotiate when fears might have sound foundations!

This all my round about way of getting to one of Iran’s greatest poets! It helps to remember. Especially in times so out of joint.

Poets have a way of getting at the crux. The idea is simple enough and we all know it. Another “Western” creation, yes? Anyways, I prefer the way he imbues.

The following an slightly abridged version of a famous tale about one more idle dream of possessing lion in an old city.

Now one day a man of that city went to a barber and said to him,

‘Do me a favour, kindly tattoo me.”

‘What figure do you want me to tattoo, my brave/’ asked the barber.

‘Tatoo the figure of a raging lion,’ the man directed. ‘I was born under Leo, so prick out the picture of a lion. Put your back into it, prick in plenty of blue.’

‘Where shall I prick the figure?’ asked the barber.

‘Prick the pretty picture on my shoulder-blade,’ said the man.

As soon as he started to stick the needle in the customer, feeling the sharp pain in his shoulder-blade, squealed right bravely:

‘Noble sir, I declare you have slain me: What sort of figure are you tattooing?’

‘Why, a lion, just as you ordered.’

‘With which part of it did you begin?’

‘I started at the tail,’ the barber answered.

‘Omit the tail, my dear fellow,’ said the man. ‘The lion’s tail and rump fair took my breath away; its rump has completely choked my windpipe. Let the lion lack for a tail, lion-maker; the prick of the needle has made my heart faint.’

The barber began to prick in another place, without fear, without favour, without compassion.

‘Which part of his body is this now?’ the man yelled.

‘This is the ear, my good man,’ said the barber.

‘Let him be without ears, wise physician. Omit the ears, and cut the cloth short!’

The barber stuck his needle in yet another spot, and once again the man started to howl.

‘Which part of his body is this in the third place?’

‘This is the belly of the lion, your honour.’

‘Let him lack for a belly,’ the man entreated. ‘The picture is full enough already; what need for a belly?’

The barber was reduced to complete bewilderment and stood for a long time finger in mouth. Finally the maestro flung the needle to the ground.

“Did ever the like of it happen to anyone:” he cried. “Who ever saw a lion without a tail, a head and a belly? God him-self never created such a lion!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Fish or Movement

A brief blackout period to clear my head. Although, what little success there was vanished upon the return to more of the same alarming news!

So we now have The Iran Plans by Seymour M. Hersh alerting readers to a level of planning for nuclear strikes on Iran. This, of course, coming in the aftermath of the naval exercises in which various missiles were being showcased including what is being billed as “Hoot” or whale, the fastest torpedo there ever was, or something like that!

With the caveat mostly missing from all accounts but one, of course, that what is being translated as whale is actually a rather normal fish in Farsi and the missile itself resembles the Russia's Shkval .

Now who was it that wanted to go on spelling it Photi instead of fish?

And while it is easy to hope that what we have here is simply psychological warfare aimed at getting the attention of an Islamic regime unwilling to publicly acknowledge its own precarious position, I have this dreadful feeling that we might be gradually sleepwalking/posturing into a terribly disastrous clash.

What else is there when two administrations appear hell-bent on violently locking horns? Admittedly, this threat of nuclear strike has been on my mind since last September when the always judicious Nadezhda posted her Nuclear doctrine—more fallout from the GWOT.

And Jorge Hirsh has been repeatedly sounding the alarm bells here and here and here and here, but I’ve been unable to decide what I should think of him. I’ll try to brood my way through some of the issues in the next post if I muster the necessary courage.

For today, though, just to point to the “embedded” in the last post while some of you are with me:

Let’s suppose that it might be possible (and/or true) that what partially lies at the heart of the differences between the “illusions” holding our lives together is a simple mode of entanglement and exchange increasingly mystified overtime. And it might also be possible that this cooperative venture is what actually facilitates a constant reshuffling of the lights in ways that allow differentiation of various elements while also serving as blinder/shield for an exaggerated sense of grandeur.

What set of conditions, you think then, would come to account for the continuities and of the memories? Will it not serve as reminder also both of uniqueness or more importantly a speck-like insignificance in the higher scheme of things? Might it not also put a little bit of that missing something back in the equation thus recasting the ridiculous in a different light?

Anyhow, something else to ponder about in that juncture of flourishing:

1. Those deities (devatâ), Agni and the rest, after they had been sent forth, fell into this great ocean.

Then he (the Self) besieged him, (the person) with hunger and thirst.

2. The deities then (tormented by hunger and thirst) spoke to him (the Self): 'Allow us a place in which we may rest and eat food ' (1)

He led a cow towards them (the deities). They said: 'This is not enough.' He led a horse towards them. They said: 'This is not enough.' (2)

He led man towards them. Then they said: 'Well done, indeed.' Therefore man is well done.

3. He said to them: 'Enter, each according to his place.' (3)

4. Then Agni (fire), having become speech, entered the mouth. Vâyu (air), having become scent, entered the nostrils. Âditya (sun), having become sight, entered the eyes. The Dis (regions), having become hearing, entered the ears. The shrubs and trees, having become hairs, entered the skin. Kandramas (the moon), having become mind, entered

the heart. Death, having become down-breathing, entered the navel. The waters, having become seed, entered the generative organ. (4)

5. Then Hunger and Thirst spoke to him (the Self): 'Allow us two (a place).' He said to them: 'I assign you to those very deities there, I make you co-partners with them.' Therefore to whatever deity an oblation is offered, hunger and thirst are co-partners in it.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Possibility Space

There was this ongoing exchange with one of my favorite long-term readers Craig in the comments section about the last post that got me thinking about how marvelous the net can be.

In the older times, we would have all been much more limited to our actual geographic location without the possibilities of encountering many others to have exchanges with beyond the few that normally go on to comprise that group we call companions or are considered our fellow explorers.

This due to the marvels of modern technology and the myriad ways it has enriched our lives of course. So many more possibilities to consider now! No denying it as the grounding for a much more expansive horizon of possibilities than what was available to or at least deemed probable by our ancestors.

And look, Possibilities, is what constitute really the animating force of our lives. And it is even more central to what will increasingly help mold the new generations.

What is called “possibility space,” is a nifty little concept that has been at the heart of the many promising developments which will even more dramatically alter the way we live in the coming years.

However difficult it is at times to genuinely understand it intrinsically or in terms of ramifications or consequences, there is no denying that the essential imperative remains in being open to allowing our mental space to bring the counter-factual in to focus (pdf).

Isn’t that an absolute marvel despite it being at times annoying, disconcerting, or occasionally even dreadful? I think we can all appreciate how this may hold true even when simultaneously some of the more bleak elements of our lives continue to remain constant as well.

Doesn’t Yeats capture this latter in The Second Coming:

TURNING and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

In the aftermath of the unleashing of the post 911 American fury, I was convinced that the Islamist murderers were about to get their due but at a price. Intensity is never enough. The Islamists are as creepy as they come. I have my doubts now.

Although at the time I simply couldn’t bring myself to go with the fury unreflectively —even though my own wrath was intense due to those formative experiences at those precise moments, Usama, Saddam and the murderous Mullahs were playing musical chair as allies/trading partners/recipients of the largess of the Western powers.

That and my best guesses about the costs in terms of human lives and the negative consequences for the global polity! And here, much like the rest of you, I’ve proven right in some of my assumptions or expectations and have been flat wrong about many others.

But at the end of day, I have come to wonder aloud asking myself a few questions repeatedly: What is this really about? Do words mean anything anymore? What are the competing visions at war here? What sets them apart?

I mean here, of course, that much like the rest of you I can understand confusion. I understand sharp or bitter exchanges. I live the anger, the tossing and turning at nights and the sense of insecurity and that dread of the worst to come. Not to mention, of course, the desire to lash out and help unleash the bigger toys to blow everything up to smithereens and start from scratch all over again.

But what is this about, really? Do words mean anything anymore?

And here is where everything has become increasingly murkier for me while also having produced some clarity about certain others. If this is about democracy, why then dismiss all the voices not to one’s liking so blithely? From the President on down! Noise, noise and more noise is all that they claim to hear in each one of our pleas:

The president has got a job to do. ... He ignores the background noise that's out there in the polls that are taken on a daily basis."

In what way is this any different from the conduct or those attitudes so annoyingly typical of the murderous Mullahs against whom our “liberators” promise to want to lead us in fighting?

If this is about helping bring about a more sane arrangement in societies that have foolishly attempted to freeze life, why then do they insist on imprisoning us in a terribly suffocating box? Why is it that when they hear our pleas against rape, torture, arbitrary detention, hoods and brutality, their retort is normally more of the same belligerance?

And even some of those who criticize those who lead this campaign don’t offer us any more of ability to breath.

It has now become a widely held truism, of course, that foreign policy is merely an extension of domestic policy. And here too what some of the more aggressive pundits intend to pass off as bold moves and earth shattering initiatives has proven merely more of the same smoke and mirrors:

IT'S TIME FOR PRESIDENT BUSH to think about a third term. No, he doesn't need to overturn the Constitution. He can start the equivalent of his third term now, by filling his presidential staff and cabinet with new faces--or old faces in new positions--and by concentrating on new or forgotten initiatives. The goal: rejuvenation of his presidency by shocking the media and political community with a sweeping overhaul of his administration….

In truth, there would be a large element of smoke and mirrors in his actions. The trade-off is that Bush might revitalize his presidency.

No sane person should venture to accuse Fred Barns of lying. There are no Straussians here hiding in the shadows. Everything has been/is wide open and explicit. But what is it that we can glean from their utterances about what they might actually believe in?

Why do some continue to insist on further squeezing “us” and remain so dead set on deepening an already too murderous a chasm? Long before there was anything called a Judeo-Christian tradition as presented to us today, there were the Hebrews living/exploring/thinking/exchanging in that god-forsaken region and there was Zoroaster, Mani or such movements at Mithraism and sustained encounters.

Long before Mr. Bush or some of his cronies got to thinking they can entirely alter the fabric of life and tradition there using fancy toys or a series of swift “cakewalks,” or through resorting to the run of a mill destabilization campaigns with a few meager bucks, there were centuries of exchanges, the Persian wars, Satrapies, gold, and Alexander, Seleucids and the Arcasids. And of course, the Roman wars, and Byzantium, Valerians, Parthian shots, and Marcus Licinius Crassus. Not to mention the medievals.

So why is it then that the Ahmadi Nejad’s Gang and Mr. Bush’s have come to mirror each other so eerily in terms of promoting culture wars? And why must we go along?

Is there really no point to it all? Is there to be only an abyss? Darkness, mirages, echoes and emptiness? Noise, static, smoke and mirrors?

Is there really no sense in bringing the counterfactual to focus? Opening our mind space to the possibilities of exploring or excavating layers upon layers. To be allowed out of the boxes to breath? And strive for more creative ways out?

Is it all to be babbles? All this talk of “turning around or periagoge (pdf) merely so many dead letters?

Is there a conviction here? Do words mean anything? Is this to be all smoke and mirrors? Murder, mayhem, torture, disinformation and corruption?

Is this really all there is?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


My ongoing preoccupations with some of the older texts hadn’t left time for reading any recent commentaries by the authors I usually keep track of. And I have been trying to catch up again. So today I have selected a few of the more entertaining ones for your viewing pleasure.

One of my favorites, Mr. Hanson, has been at it again with his usual spirited assault on the detractors of the Bush Administration albeit in a manner so curiously conventional.

In his When Cynicism Meets Fanaticism, he chooses to frame the question confronting us in the following terms:

Can Western enlightenment and power, embedded in deep cynicism, still prevail over ignorance and self-inflicted pathology energized by fanaticism?

This, of course, is the continuation of the gentleman’s more recent dalliance with what he so inappropriately—or fittingly, take your pick—calls Hard Pounding in an earlier piece:

Whose vision of the future wins depends on who keeps his nerve — or to paraphrase the Duke of Wellington at Waterloo, “Hard pounding, gentlemen; but we will see who can pound the longest.”

And once the riddle confronting us is framed as such, the contours of the answer too become easier to discern. We seem to have the much sought after smoking gun in this young man.

Let’s do the math now. 28 multiplied by however many poundings per session. That’s a hell of a whole lot of pounding, wouldn’t you say? And plenty more where that came from, I suspect.

Life forces obscenely redirected via the fabric of sexual abuse, as in the case above, along with other forms of physical wounds, afflictions, murder, pain, torment, torture, dismemberment and incineration all re-presented to us in that Romance of War.

The crux, of course, quite similar to Mr. Ledeen’s usual freedom as virility spiel! What is it with some of us middle aged men? Now really, aren’t we getting a bit too old for this sort of braggadocio without also appearing hell-bent on causing some minor uproar or eliciting smirks?

I remain hopeful, though, with Mr. Hanson still. Although I am beginning to totally give up on Mr. Ledeen. Unless we mange, of course, to persuade Ms. Cheney to divert some of the funds earmarked for the ongoing campaign in Iran towards purchasing a new Ouija board for our man Ledeen.

Mr. Ledeen’s favorite toy has a way of braking into sparks and static just at the very precise moment questions about his sources might be getting interesting.

All that subsequently remains is some ghost and the usual bunk.

Anyhow, Edward Luttwak asks why anyone needs to bomb Iran and its nuclear plants. Richard Ehrman traces the route to the current stand off (repeat) in what’s being billed by the editors, as “a new daily online magazine, targeted at a discerning well-educated audience and offering a spirited response to every aspect of current affairs from politics and foreign affairs to sport and the art,” The First Post.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Letters or the farce

Great selections of late! The caution—whomever in reality aimed at-- duly noted here as well. I only wished you could have read Farsi to get a sense for the ongoing preoccupations in our end. Utterly mind-boggling! I assure you, absolutely no chance in hell of anything remotely resembling those particular forms today. I seem to have misjudged again the depths.

We’ll simply blame it again on the usual suspects or the following nasty A-rabs:

[274e] … The story goes that Thamus said many things to Theuth in praise or blame of the various arts, which it would take too long to repeat; but when they came to the letters, “This invention, O king,” said Theuth, “will make the Egyptians wiser and will improve their memories; for it is an elixir of memory and wisdom that I have discovered.” But Thamus replied, “Most ingenious Theuth, one man has the ability to beget arts, but the ability to judge of their usefulness or harmfulness to their users belongs to another;

[275a] and now you, who are the father of letters, have been led by your affection to ascribe to them a power the opposite of that which they really possess. For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them. You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom, for they will read many things without instruction and will therefore seem

[275b] to know many things, …

…He who thinks, then, that he has left behind him any art in writing, and he who receives it in the belief that anything in writing will be clear and certain, would be an utterly simple person, and in truth ignorant of the prophecy of Ammon if he thinks

275d] written words are of any use except to remind him who knows the matter about which they are written.

Writing, has this strange quality, and is very like painting; for the creatures of painting stand like living beings, but if one asks them a question, they preserve a solemn silence. And so it is with written words; you might think they spoke as if they had intelligence, but if you question them, wishing to know about their sayings, they always say only one and the same thing. And every word, when

[275e] once it is written, is bandied about, alike among those who understand and those who have no interest in it, and it knows not to whom to speak or not to speak

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The exceptional, contrarian Asses & one stinking habitat

One of our more serious bloggers had a link to a single caricature by Houman Mortazavi in the Iranian a while back that I have revisited quite often in the past few weeks. There are about twenty in the series. They uncannily capture, I think, a good deal of the dominant Iranian psyche today. (Chattering classes)

I thought perhaps we should play a little in this post. But it will require your cooperation. I’d like to present them to you as I see them. Please humor me and play along. Once we are done, do with them as you please on your own and feel free to share your insights

I am going to broach the subject quickly enough for today and move to study Henri Bergson for a while. I have been thinking about him much after I saw the caricatures. I am sure he has managed to learn a thing or two after our initial encounter of those customary selections decades ago. So surely our old Henri is bound to make much more sense now, I am thinking! Hopefully in due time I’ll get back to the caricatures.

Let’s start with explicitly stating and getting some of my simple initial assumptions out on the open.

We are, as humans, all (hopefully) thinking embodied beings. Our body situates us in the world we inhabit. “It” has certain visceral reactions that are hard to comprehend and yet unavoidable. Like allergies, for instance, that in extreme cases kills when kissing someone who has had peanuts long before that regrettable moment.

On the same continuum, though occasionally not much less intense, there are visceral reactions that are culturally determined or might simply be thoughtless reactions. And even within cultures there are variations obviously. Of course, these days even this latter seems to be in dispute among some people—even or especially those on a rampage seemingly hell-bent on re-making our world in their own “enchanting” image.

The more successful, tolerable cultures will channel the reactions more effectively. They thus tap into various creative forces while balancing some of the less life affirming ones.

Some of you might get all grossed out, for instance, seeing or hearing about a breakfast I occasionally relish eating. Sheep tongue, eyes and ears. PukeOrama some will say surely. Much in the same way as some Iranians might respond to hearing about what some of you might eat: crabcakes or lobsters. Even the name of this latter elicits disgust: Khar-chang or donkey claw! I rather enjoy eating both, although, I wouldn’t be caught dead myself anywhere near some goat’s milk or yogurt. The smell alone suffices to make me feel nauseous.

You get my drift.

Now as living organisms we all have certain “energy” that keeps us going in life. But the way we think or perceive of the world will affect that energy. Human mind is a bit of a marvel when you think about it. We daily hear of those dying as a result of over taxing some body part or other. But do any of us ever end up dead “overworking” our brains?

Whatever we ultimately might decide to do with our bodies and minds, however, does have a bearing on how life comes to turn out. Greater intensities might give us better results or conversely lead toward gradual or sudden self destruction. And here the particular social collectivities we are apart or the institutions and the laws we live with come to affect us decisively. And we too, in turn, will impact their developments.

And here everything gets real murky the moment we enter Iran.

Obviously we all do the “same” things no matter where we are. We eat, sleep, drive to work, read or converse, love or fight, work and rest among so many other things. But the manner we approach whatever it is we do constitutes or goes on to determine that “unique” flavor of our cultures.

The Iranian “uniqueness,” I think, is a rather bizarre, unexpected consequence of a perverse national self-definition given that as a general rule we Iranians tend to view ourselves as “different.”

We almost routinely tend to characterize ourselves as “not normal.” (“Adame Adi Nistam”). And by this we don’t really mean “abnormal” here. Others are referred to as “abnormal” depending on whatever conduct it is that remains unappreciated or is viewed as “unnatural,” on any given day.

Obviously, this latter category is a constructed one and changes with time. Various scholars have worked successfully to document some of the features or forces at work and some younger ones will do their part in due time.

Note here, though, that what people have in mind when describing themselves as gheyre-adi is in actuality being “idiosyncratic” or “exceptional.” To be normal is to be “one of the herds,” and something to be avoided like plague. And the image, of course, that is most in vogue as object of scorn is that of a donkey here or Khar.

Unless it is used with money, of course, as in Kharpool, or literally donkeymoney which has become the preferred image of choice these days and something to aspire to! If you can’t be Kharpool yourself, obviously you dream of marrying one. It’s all rather simple, you see. Donkeys require hay—lots of hay, and no amount of hay is ever enough. No one else on the planet ever manages to accomplish anything worthwhile they set their minds on without hay. It’s all hopeless without lots of hay.

But I digress! So what we have in reality in Iran today is millions of self described “exceptions” who have a visceral loathing for being donkeys. The national nightmare, I often suspect, remains that frightful specter of the “exceptional” multitudes suddenly morphing into “normal” donkeys.

Now whether anyone likes it or not, these exceptional ones are going to have to continue to live among others. We end up doing almost identical “things” everyone else on the planet does all over again everyday. But all the activities will be “processed” through that lens or the image of “normalcy” which must be avoided at all cost. There are dreams and fears at work here that modulate all our exertions and conducts.

Normal is boring boring boring, remember.

So the question becomes: what would the shape of a culture ultimately become when millions of “exceptions” come to act on their dreams and aspirations routinely while wanting to avoid being bored stiff?

Let’s explore now with the aide of some of Mr. Mortazavi’s caricatures. You will find descriptions of each frame in English in the middle top black line and the Farsi remains in the middle bottom of the square.

All our normal strivings everywhere hinge on sustaining a level of curiousity or attentiveness does it not? So what happens when enough people have come to believe that curiosity or inquisitiveness is something dangerous that might get you accidentally killed? (Unless it involves idle chatter and gossiping about other people’s personal lives -- a favorite national pastime)

Or that when faced with the prospect of real danger, it’s best to make a meaningless gesture of safely pretending all is subsequently well while deep down one continues to live in the dread of that something immensely deadly which is about to fall on one’s head?

What happens when as that exceptional one, enough people think everyone else is out to get them and, quite naturally, they all have bigger guns, while bravery remains the pretense of selflessly exhibiting that exceptional gesture of audacity by making a show of defiance against all insurmountable odds alone and with a wooden sword?

And when thinking long term is conceived of as having to think about or look at one endless, miserable little trek while any attempt at exerting oneself to meet obligations and responsibilities is felt to be running around aimlessly which will inevitably leave one exhausted, enervated and disappointed.

And subsequently that mindless lashing out and belittling of everyone and everything in sight because one is unhappy since the universe can be so unaccommodating most of the time!

What happens when there is a constant expectation, no matter the circumstance or the place, that optimism about specific projects or achievements (as opposed to grand Hopes and Wishful Thinking) is deemed the equivalent of jumping head first into a small bucket and any enthusiastic, sustained, passionate engagement with particular endeavors that might end up ultimately setting one’s shorts on fire if given a chance is actually proof of blindness or lack of real understanding of the nature of the chains that is binding one in place.

And what happens when enough people seek to avoid feeling genuine affection for others or even allowing themselves to experience the sort of love that might perpetuates itself through attentiveness, playfulness and effort because we think we’ll unavoidably get hurt or alternately that all true love shall remain unrequited for ever.

Or that as that exception, one is so exceptionally ambitious that any normal, routine work or a manageable dream broken down to its smaller parts comes to be viewed as those way too insignificant, easy steps and certainly below one’s dignity to even be deemed worthy of a serious try? So one ends up supremely disappointed with any display of genuine passion or excitement about specific tasks one is assigned or whatever else it might be that one has come to freely choose in each phase of one’s life.

And what happens to tolerance, civility or compassion in any society when humility comes to be viewed as tantamount to an open invitation to be defecated upon by insignificant ugly little black creatures from above!

As a multi-ethnic society, of course, Iran is the land of many accents and intonations.

So what happens when one comes to perceive any social engagement with others as that insufferable burden of having to negotiate life with the rest of the herd, especially since some of the donkeys naturally have “funny” accents? The village accents of southern Arabs, or northern Rashdis or Azari Turk accents or Eastern Khorasani or Southeastern Baluchi or Western Kurd accents or even those of the Lors or Armenians!

Or that any effort to engage in civil dialogues with others or even to attempt to genuinely be open to listening is something to be avoided since their “true intention” or their “real goal” is ultimately to traitorously crucify you. When they are not trying to deceive you or scam something out of you, that is!

The consequences, sadly, become dire.

The expectations are never commensurate with the results. The results, predictably, become grotesque. Here we end up in the land of arrogant, abrasive know-it-alls. Those who end up recoiling from life after each short term burst of energy hurriedly retreating again into that bubble of sloth for more sleep.

We enter a bizarre world in which all genuine, sustained passion for much of any thing substantial—and almost all serious exertions people might stick to-- are viewed as cutting the branches that’s holding one in place in the universe.

Hence no trace of mutual cooperation, substantial information sharing or teamwork that might go on to serve as durable foundations for a developing society. It is one-upmanship all over the place. And thoughtless, habitual belligerence, negligence and a perpetual cutting of others “down to size” which predictably reproduces exceptional midgets shore to shore!

Trying to read extensively, or even thinking though assumptions and/or grappling engagingly with or analyzing seriously (as best one is capable of) whatever it is one is passionate about comes to be habitually dismissed or humored because it’s all seen as lies, deception, old, boring, and not the latest hip, trendy fashionable paradigm. Something exclusively for deluded asses thinking they’re being well informed.

Hence that incessant fluttering about from one fad onto yet other mis-,ill or poorly understood ones! And endless tirades about invisible hands and conspiracies.

Either that or after all the pseudo- profound babble of “radical” criticism of life, a silly thoughtlessness and perpetual avoidance of current events because they too remain depressing and will drawn one in sorrow! Hence the land of superficial jokers border to border!

Something about the whole thing has gone wrong with us.

How could it be that so many exceptional, creative beings come to produce so little? How could so much pessimism give rise to such baseless optimism and misery? Why is it that so much money and love or glorification of it produce so little philanthropy and real profit or sustainable development?

Why does so much passion yield such barren creatures? How could so much desire for novelty lead to such little originality? How could so many of us hypercritical contrarians go on to produce collectively so very little and such dreary uniformity?

How could it be that so many kind, warm people reproduce so much ugliness routinely? Some are deemed too short, others too tall, the noses are too fat, the butts too wide, the feet too big, the skins either too black or too pale, and the skirts too short or too long! The hems too wide or too tight! The accents too funny.

It is unfortunate, but it does seem to me as though the enterprise that begins when the instinctively contrarian, exceptional multitudes strive to avoid the fate of normal donkeys, ironically enough, ends up transforming -step by step and gradually—a great number of us into that very image we loath above all others.

Hence our image of human beings today.

And those giant intemperate authoritarian plans by political thinkers who want to transform everyone and everything suddenly and overnight. Social revolutions, cultural revolutions, and it goes on and on. You name it and everyone wants it. Huge, gigantic godly leaps that crush countless in the process.

With the added bonus that an atrocious stink also permeates in most of the major cities, and in the buses and subways in the summers as well as-- and especially—in those omnipresent night gatherings attended by some of the more trendy elites, where the smell of mind-bogglingly expensive perfumes mingle freely with that of intense pheromone. In Tehran, as much as in London and Los Angeles!

For goodness knows none of us wants to be reminded of anything remotely resembling those licentious animals now, would we? Much less to go on to acknowledge the naturalness of it all! For this too shall remain for the asses.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Promises, plans!

Aside from my usual broodings which should cover more of the ongoing murder and mayhem everywhere, there are a few older posts I’d like to go back to as I never did manage to properly develop them to my satisfaction.

Much to the (probable) chagrin of my old friend Roger, of course, that means having to go back to the Iliad a few more times; although, I do promise to incorporate a dialogue he harangued me about last year, Plato’s Cratylus. Another beauty! The Perseus version.

There is a little “something” in the Iliad that allows me to finally feel lighter. Frankly, I breathe differently after each encounter with that text. It has been like that since my first serious excursion years ago. I’d like to explore more and see if I might draw “it” out more effectively.

There is much to explore and think about as well with two other universally “favorite” subjects, money and passions. A very curious and distinct attitude these days at work among Iranians! I have alluded to it repeatedly in the past couple of years. I’ll explore some of the cultural continuities and ruptures.

This especially given that the promise of those millions of $ aimed at fostering dissent has had everyone in an uproar of late. Much gobbledygook and suspicious banter everywhere!

What’s at issue with the passions, of course, is life itself. A lot hinges on them given specific orientations or intensities involved. And here too there are distinctive cultural attitudes at work. I’d like to see if I can try to isolate them more effectively and get your feedback on some of the subtleties I have had in mind.

And I am going to become better at introducing you to some of the bloggers who have consistently proven a joy for me. I have been a tad too lax in that department.

Anyhow, a few links to get warmed up again.

A beautifully conceived short story in Farsi. The initial first step, I suspect, for one interesting blogger who will have much to offer by way of enchantment given due diligence and attentiveness in the coming years. And also a poem by one of my favorite Iranian contemporaries who seems to be getting better with each one of his gems! And another.

A review of sorts, Is the Creator a Sadist? (Navid Kermani’s new book, The horror of God – Attar, Job, and the metaphysical revolts)

Also, another very curious item out of Prague again. No end to them lately.

It rightfully deplores the plight of ethnic Turkmen in Iran although some of the particular details present prove a puzzle. The city in question remains one of the more visibly distinct milieus in Iran today. Quite unlike any other place, really! Well, perhaps two or three other places should be excepted for now.


A background report of a meeting held a while back with some European Union officials and another older report about specific plans for an emerging united Kurdish front.

Finally, one by one of our more renowned geezers intended for a friend’s philological pursuits.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Happy Norouz

From the Brooding Persian to one and all.

Mr. BP might never get any wiser with each passing year; although, he is becoming more certain of one simple proposition with each passing day. Optimism remains the first and the last refuge, as well as the home base of the hopeless. So, I'll avoid the usual platitudes about a happy, peaceful year.

Here is to Doom.

And to a fleeting year, swift wars and rapid deaths!

Till then

Wonder, passions, gentility and Life!