Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The oil boon

The writer I quoted in the last post was Karl Lowith. It had been years since I last looked at any of his writings. His is a magnificent mind, so dazzlingly brilliant. Lowith’s Meaning and History is a work of art. Well worth your time.

The last post was supposed to serve as a bridge to help me return to Mr. Gerecht and the question of honesty. I become slightly agitated when someone who has made a career out of systematic deception goes on to be so unthinkingly self-righteous. Good thing a news item distracted me from the post I had in mind. So we’ll just focus on opportunities, threats and insecurities for today.

Exxon reports a net income of $36.1 billion for the full year, and total revenue of 371 billion.

Here is a list of the top 50 US operators ranked as of 2004, (Pdf) the latest I could find on one form. I did some quick research on the first few.

Since it has finally gotten out that your friendly blogger could be a kibitzer connected to some shadowy outfit, (and even if not still) I should start with the sign that might have given me away: hence the famed BP PLC and their latest stats. You also should have a look at some of its major share holders.

If you’re curious, here is their Statistical Review of World Energy (Pdf), and some interesting reports, of course, about its West Azari production activities. And their Assets and Liabilities.

ChevronTexaco: net income of 14.1 billions, 4.1B in last quarter on sales of 53 billion.

Shell Explorations, an astonishing $23.97B quarter and $306.34B year

And have a look at the stats for Conoco Phillips.

Figure out what goes on with Aera Energy LLC and Ivanhoe Inc on your own if you can. Tell me what you’ve figured when you succeed.

There is always Kerr-Mcgee and the Appache Corp as well which haven’t announced yet. And Andarko Petroleum.

What gets me, of course, is that, on the one hand, we are presented with the vision of a dynamic world economy promising salvation for all. An economy as impersonal as it is self correcting. People and governments are said to be free to buy or sell. That, after all, is what is routinely peddled as capitalism.

Yet, on the other hand, we have those progressively more personal, loud chimes about all the parasitic, primitive ingrates, and/or blackmailer who pose horrendously serious existential threat to all life as we know it. The sort of people who are simply begging to be replaced with “glass factories,” with due regrets, of course, for the incidentally charred collateral damage, naturally.

So let’s look at some stats. again.

Iran is a country of 70 millions with the sort of key economic indicators you should feast your eyes on to believe. Here also the highlights of the latest Human Development Index report on Iran.

It has a military budget of around 4.3 Billion according to the CIA.

Iran is the fourth largest oil producer in the globe. It ranks also as the fourth largest exporter of oil to the tune of 2.55 million barrels a day. Assume a constant price of $70

That would give you roughly around $65 B for a country of 70 million; a country highly dependent on foreign imports. Those higher oil prices would naturally translate into higher prices for all the imported goods as well.

Factor in that the poor normally don’t pay any taxes and the rich avoid them like plague and most of the state owned corporations and foundations don’t even bother thinking about them.

Consider also that there are many who don’t even think they can manage a simple wedding without some assistance from the Love Fund. And yes, there are even roads, dams, schools, hospitals, universities, social security payments, pensions for the retirees and benefits for the tens of thousands of war disabled, etc.

And last but not least, all the theft, corruption, and the inordinate amount it takes to spy on, jail, torment and torture people and to kill those most nettlesome. So terribly expensive, you know, this business of brutalizing people. And lucrative to boot!

Now, I know, we Iranians are notorious for being paranoid, conspiratorial and perpetually on the lookout for all those reportedly out to get us. And yes, we tend to be a headache and terribly annoying at times...for each other and others!

What would you think, though, of the sort of people who could find this sort of people an existential threat and still manage to go on boasting ceaselessly of how they single-handedly put an end to the red menace? Are they really the best thing that has happened to our planet next to Hollywood movies, and assorted condiments?

PS. Sorry Craig. I had to get rid of the annoying bars. And your comments dissapeared. Have another go.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

“Cunning of Reason”

There are four voices brought together by a fifth that I’ve quoted to give you this post. Guess at them and win the prize…or not.

“Does not every moment of your practical life give the lie to your religious theory? Do you think it is unjust to appeal to the courts if somebody cheats you? But the apostle says it is wrong. Do you offer your right cheek if somebody slaps your cheek, or would you rather start a lawsuit? But the gospels forbid it. Do you not ask for a rational law in this world, grumble about the slightest increase of taxes and become excited at the smallest violation of personal liberty? But it is said unto you that the sufferings of this saeculum do not matter in comparison with the future glory and that long-suffering and hopeful expectation are cardinal virtues. Does the greatest part of your lawsuits and civil laws not deal with property? But it is said unto you that your treasures are not of this world.”

“Nobody shall tell us ‘the ways of God are inscrutable,” for we have indeed scrutinized them and we have read in characters of blood the proof of his impotence if not malevolence…eternal father, Jupiter or Jehovah, we know thee: thou art, wert, and ever wilt be envious of Adam and the tyrant of Prometheus.”

“‘What I admire the most in the work of our modern compilers is the wisdom of good faith with which they prove that all that happened once in the greatest empires of the worlds happened only for the instruction of the inhabitants of Palestine. If the kings of Babylon in their conquests fall incidentally upon the Hebrews, it is only to chastise these people for their sins. If a king named Cyrus becomes the master of Babylon, it is in order to allow a few Jews to go home. If Alexander is victorious over Darius, it is in order to establish some Jewish secondhand dealers in Alexandria. When the Romans annex Syria and the small district of Judea to their vast empire, it is again for the instruction of the Jews. Arabs and Turks come in only to correct these likable people. We must admit that they have had an excellent education: no body has ever had so many teachers. This shows how purposeful history is.’

Persuasive as this reduction of sacred history to its profane aspect may be, it does not result in a more complete universality; for history does not become universal by surveying…it becomes general…Within a cyclic Weltanschauung and order of the universe, where every movement of advance is, at the same time, a movement of return, there is no place for progress…

It seems that nowadays even professional theologians get along without any theodicy unless they venture to assert that providence has managed to give the atomic bomb, and the bigger industries, into the hands of the peace-loving nations.”

Friday, January 27, 2006

Ross, Gerecht and the question of honesty

Lewis Gropp interviews Salman Rushdie covering, among other things, Rushdie’s latest novel “Shalimar the Clown” set in Kashmir. Also, Pedram and Mitra over at the Eyeranian outline Ten Reasons Not to Attack Iran.

The two articles for today discuss in greater detail their visions of the contours of the ideal American posture on Iran with greater emphasis upon how best to affect some internal trends and developments.

We see proposals to explore options that range from playing factions against one another and tapping into an already simmering discontent and further encouraging internal dissent. One of them also explores whether or not it’ll be productive to link more forcefully in the publics mind the Apartheid regime of South Africa and the Iranian regime.

We see also a more detailed discussion of the role sanctions should play and the need to pressure Iranians in general--Iranian students in foreign universities and scientists in particular--to get at the regime. Both showcase Mr. Ahmadi Nejad as their centerpiece.

The image of a fanatical, delusional man anticipating Mahdi’s return is now, at least in the first article, being dismissed as product of a smear campaign initiated by competing mullahs. In both, Mr. Ahmadi Nejad predictably appears as an honest, fanatical man.

Let’s start with Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and The Mullah Wars

Western governments are scrambling…with no evident overarching strategy for preventing the regime from obtaining nuclear weapons. But one little-discussed strategy that perhaps holds the most promise is exploiting the political battles currently raging inside Iran.

The political battles are centered around new Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Far from being an ordinary politician, Ahmadinejad is an idealist, one whose ideals are rooted in the bloodstained Iranian revolution. Ahmadinejad's total devotion to these revolutionary principles caused Amir Taheri, an astute observer of Iranian politics, to refer to the president as "Iran's perilously honest man."

Part of Ahmadinejad's perilous honesty is exposing the Iranian political establishment's corruption.

Ahmadinejad thinks that the mullahs themselves have been compromised. In this regard, the ruling mullahs have milked the system and, having become rich, can no longer share the revolutionary aspirations of the poor masses."

Far more noticeable to Westerners, though, is Ahmadinejad's honesty about the Iranian regime's ideals.

Ahmadinejad believes that the world should hear only the true revolutionary message rather than watered down pronouncements about a "dialogue of civilizations."

Even Khamenei may be threatened by Ahmadinejad's dangerous idealism..

Observers think it possible that Ahmadinejad could try to replace Khamenei with Mesbah Yazdi.

BOTH RAFSANJANI AND KHATAMI have orchestrated a campaign of character assassination against Ahmadinejad in recent months designed to paint him as a delusional figure who believes that the Hidden Imam guided him through a September speech before the United Nations.

THE UNITED STATES needs to be keenly aware of these divisions within Iran so that it can exploit them.

Even while pursuing the U.N. Security Council as one option for dealing with the Iranian nuclear program, the U.S. needs to carefully follow, and be willing to exploit, the power struggle within Iran.


It annoyed me terribly that at least in the following sections the irony had been lost both on the writer and the editors:

Far more noticeable to Westerners, though, is Ahmadinejad's honesty about the Iranian regime's ideals. Unlike past president Mohammad Khatami, Ahmadinejad doesn't quote Habermas in his speeches for the benefit of Western audiences. In his eyes, the tendency of Iranian political elites to give speeches pleasing to Western ears one day then say something different in Farsi after coming home is evidence of their lack of faith.

Part of that exploitation will be surely covert, but the U.S. needs also to carefully tailor its public rhetoric about Iran. The right approach is exemplified by State Department undersecretary for political affairs Nicholas Burns's recent speech to the School of Advanced International Studies, in which he launched a stinging attack on Iran and Ahmadinejad, and stated, "There is a clear struggle underway between the reactionary Iranian government and the moderate majority." Burns's speech appears designed to highlight what the United States hopes are the new battle lines being drawn in Iran: between people and government, rather than within the regime between "reformists" and hardliners.


The above approach appears to have become a fundamental pillar of a particularly pernicious critique of all things Middle Eastern. That’s partially why for some one like Mr. Reuel Marc Gerecht, Ahmadi Nejad has become a godsend:

Let us state the obvious: The new president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is a godsend.

Mr. Gerecht’s take is a bit broader than what we encountered with Ross and it covers the whole of Iranian society:

In Iran, the very Anglo-American understanding of "truth and consequences," where mendacity leads to pain, is reversed: Honesty, especially with strangers, is likely to cause trouble.

There is, however, a unique place of honor carved out for Mr. Ahmadi Nejad within an establishment acculturated in the art of dissimulation:

Where Ahmadinejad differs with his two colleagues and with Iran's former "reformist" president Mohammad Khatami (who also can sound like a faithful child of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini when talking about Zion, the Jews, and the destructiveness of American civilization) is that he never really practices taqqiyah, the very Iranian-Shiite art of dissimulation, which historically grew from the trials and tribulations that Shiites have endured in the much larger, often unkind Sunni Muslim world

Mr. Gerecht's argument is rooted in his personal vision of this war as both a quest for the Holy Grail of Hayba and Jihad against Hope. To his credit, he has successfully refined his argument; although, the more sensible approach would have been to go back and re-evaluate the initial assumptions. That said, let’s continue to examine why Ahmadi Nejad is not deemed a habitually dishonest Iranian:

Ahmadinejad, a child of the Iran-Iraq war's volunteer force of die-hard believers, the Basij, and the more elite but no less determined Revolutionary Guards Corps, who have become a state within a state as the Islamic Republic has aged, has very little of the old-school mendacity. In my experience, Revolutionary Guards actually don't like to lie. Their raison d'être is at odds with the historical weakness and fear that underlie taqqiyah or, as it is also often known in Persian, ketman.

Unvarnished, unsophisticated, hardened, and usually embittered by one of the most merciless wars of the twentieth century and contemptuous of sinful, colorful, traditional culture, they are often men of sincere faith. They are pure as only men who've been scorched by war can be. They often cannot hear, let alone analyze, the outside world.

These are men whom Western secularists, especially spiritually inert "realists," barely understand. Western foreign-policy experts hunt for rational calculations and geostrategic designs where what is staring them in the face is faith, defining, for warriors like Ahmadinejad, both right and wrong and the decisive contours of politics and strategic maps. Westerners firmly believe that corruption, omnipresent in Iran, means a loss of religious virtue and zeal. In fact, in clerical Iran there is relatively little friction between violent faith and graft.

Think about the arguments the man outlines above and we’ll revisit them in some other post. In the following, we have some of his more dramatic either/or constructs:

Either we are going to have a serious policy incorporating but going beyond the European approach, …or we will descend into a surreal process of tepid, ineffective sanctions, orchestrated through the U.N.

Either the Bush administration makes a serious attempt at democracy promotion inside Iran… or it runs the serious risk of having its "transformational diplomacy" agenda… implode from an overdose of hypocrisy… Sustained insincerity toward either will desiccate the democratic spirit within the American government…

And his proposals, questions and admonitions:

A more serious American-European approach to clerical Iran's quest for nuclear weapons would cast the administration more conspicuously as the bad cop

The Iranians need to know that over the horizon waits George W. Bush, the mad bomber.

Senior American officials, and especially the president, need to remind Iran's ruling clergy, connoisseurs of machtpolitik that the United States is quite capable of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and simultaneously, if need be, launching airstrikes against the clerics' nuclear-weapons and ballistic-missile facilities

The Bush administration should insist on adding benchmarks, with consequences…

The administration has worked up a whole series of possible nonpetroleum sanction measures against Iran

The State Department should have already pushed aggressively, starting in Paris, to get the French, Germans, and British to agree to small-scale sanction trip-wires that would operate independently and in advance of any referral to the Security Council.

For example, the gradual revocation of visas to Iranian students on government stipends studying the hard sciences in EU-3 countries and the cancellation of all science-related exchange programs

Ideally, what the United States needs is to replicate the economy-crushing sanctions the West threw at Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh after he nationalized British petroleum in Iran in 1951. There are many reasons why Mossadegh fell to a very lamely executed and inexpensive coup in 1953, but among the most important was the effective oil embargo, which helped turn a popular prime minister into an unpopular one in less than a year.

Such an embargo is unlikely today, when all in the West fear the possible economic shock from higher energy costs. But if there is such a thing as a non-oil-related intimidating sanction against the Islamic Republic

European sanctions--the doom and gloom need to be convincing from the start. Dribbling out little sanctions--the likely product of three years of US-EU-3 cooperation--won't do it.

Eventually, … we will have to make up our minds whether nukes in the hands of Khamenei, Rafsanjani, and Ahmadinejad are "intolerable" or not. If so, then we will have to prepare to bomb

AND SOONER, not later, we need to decide whether we are serious about promoting democracy in Iran, whether we will continue to hold democracy-promotion hostage to these quite possibly never ending discussions

Regularly give speeches defending dissidents in Iran--let's name them--and the institutions of free speech

Surrogate radio service for a country President Bush calls one of the gravest threats we face

We want RFE-RL[Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty] to develop an in-country network of sources

American officials give speeches defending religious freedom in Iran

Our objective is to generate internal debate, ... Iranian society is quite open to the power of the American bully pulpit. government decides to focus its attention inside

And is there any reason American covert action against clerical Iran essentially doesn't exist?

Since overt American activity and meaningful political NGO work inside Iran are excruciatingly difficult… pro-democracy covert-action programs are really the only means to confront the clerics inside Iran

Is there any ethical or strategic reason Iranians who want clandestine U.S. support for pro-democratic activities deserve it less than did Poles in the 1980s?

Why don't we let Iranians themselves judge whether they want to work clandestinely with the United States?

It is for them, not us, to decide whether helping dissidents stay afloat and organize unions is worthwhile.

If serious Iranians don't want to do these things, then such efforts will go nowhere. Covert action is a means of encouraging voluntary activity where the proof is always in the pudding.

Ultimately, Mr. Gerecht’s expectations or concerns for the future:

Remember: Ahmadinejad is heaven sent. Unfortunately, things in Iran are probably going to have to get a lot worse before they can get better. He and his supporters may ruin the economy and galvanize a much broader and braver base of internal opposition to the regime.

He may add jet fuel to internal clerical dissent and open up lethal fissures in the ruling elite. He will do all that he can to convulse and purify his society. Will we be ready to handle the challenge and the opportunity?

And last but not least, the Brooding Persian’s all-time-favorite, priceless gem of a parapraxis:

Somebody in the White House and Congress really ought to take CIA director Porter Goss aside and do a bang-for-the-buck audit of what Langley is doing against Iran. According to one CIA case officer in the Near East Division, there's not even a presidential covert-action finding "that would allow us to sh--in the country." The agency will never again become okay at covert action unless it tries.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

On the other hand

Perhaps I should seriously start reconsidering whether or not to eat both my hat and my normally unsuspecting words about the British.

First revelations about those high tech Stones, and the NGOs in Russia. What’ll be next? The southern city of Ahvaz?

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Messrs. Kristol and Hanson

A fellow blogger, Evil Asad reiterates that he is not worried about this escalating conflict. And Shahram also offers his astute observations.

I asked Asad to be as concerned as humanly possible. Threats of war should never be discounted. And any armed conflict is obviously a grave matter. Especially since there are no swift and easy wars! Fifteen years after that first Gulf “turkey shoot,” 150,000 veterans continue to suffer from various ailments in the States if the American Legion’s database is to be believed. And the casualties in Iraq mount daily.

It has irked me from the very beginning how the ones most disproportionately affected by this seemingly endless war are those of the military community in the States. I don’t see signs of the sort of activity in the larger society commensurate with the severity of those ostensibly horrendous “existential threats” plaguing civilization.

And the Iranian society too continues to reel from the aftereffects of the last war. Veterans die wretchedly after years of suffering everyday. There are still between 45-000 to 80,000 survivors of Saddam’s chemical warfare left suffering. Despite my persistent attempts, I haven’t been able to verify the exact numbers. But over 100,000 were reportedly gassed by the very same WMD everyone dreads now.

If nothing else, the sense of insecurity alone that the disabled vets and their families experience— even taking into account the-by-now defused anger directed in so many different directions—still makes this bloc a formidable force highly resistant to change as this latter by definition implies further uncertainly.

That said, I thought we should start our closer scrutiny of various positions with two articles for today. William Kristol is, as always, pithy and matter of fact in his And Now Iran :

The Iranian government is testing us, and its nuclear program could well be getting close to the point of no return…

A Cuban missile crisis with Khrushchev's Soviet Union was bad enough. Are we willing to risk it with Ahmadinejad's Iran?

What about nuclear proliferation throughout the region?

What about the hopes for a liberal, less-extremist-and-terror-friendly Middle East?

Our adversaries cannot be allowed to believe that, because some of the intelligence on Iraq was bad, or because the insurgency in Iraq has been difficult, we will be at all intimidated from taking the necessary steps against the current regime in Tehran.

And his recommendations:

To be clear: We support diplomatic, political, and economic efforts to halt the nuclear program of the Iranian regime. We support multilateral efforts through the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations, and the assembling of coalitions of the willing, if necessary, to support sanctions and other forms of pressure. We support serious efforts to help democrats and dissidents in Iran, in the hope that regime change can be achieved without military action from the outside. We support strengthening our covert and intelligence capabilities. And we support holding open the possibility of, and beginning to prepare for, various forms of military action.

My favorite Mr. Hanson, in top form of course, had already made his position crystal clear with his well crafted The Multilateral Moment? Our bad and worse choices about Iran.

Mr. Hanson thinks that Iran is a serious threat:

Its theocracy poses a danger to civilization even greater than a nuclear North Korea for a variety of peculiar circumstances. Iran is free of a patron like China that might in theory exert moderate influence or even insist on occasional restraint.

Iran is a cash cow for Russia (and China) and apparently a source of opportunistic delight in its tweaking of the West.

Tehran’s oil revenues allow it access to weapons markets, and overt blackmail, …

And Iran’s nuclear facilities are located at the heart of the world’s petroleum reserves, where even the semblance of instability can drive up global oil prices, costing the importing world billions in revenues.

Islamic radicalism… has declared war on Western society and tens of thousands of jihdadists, whether Shiia or Sunnis, count on Iran for money, sanctuary, and support.

With nukes and an earned reputation for madness, it can dictate to the surrounding Arab world the proper policy of petroleum exportation;

It can shakedown Europeans whose capitals are in easy missile range;

It can take out Israel with a nuke or two; or it can bully the nascent democracies of the Middle East while targeting tens of thousands of US soldiers based from Afghanistan to the Persian Gulf.

Iran can threaten to do all this under the aegis of a crazed Islamist regime more eager for the paradise of the next world than for the material present so dear to the affluent and decadent West.

The clincher below:

Any country that burns off some of its natural gas at the wellhead while claiming that it needs nuclear power for domestic energy is simply lying. Terrorism, vast petroleum reserves, nuclear weapons, and boasts of wiping neighboring nations off the map are a bad combination.

Mr. Hanson’s conclusion:

There are two parameters we should accept — namely, that Iran should not be allowed to arm its existing missiles with nukes and that Israel should not have to do the dirty work of taking out Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

And his counsel:

Challenges call for something far more sustained and comprehensive — perhaps a week or two of bombing at every imaginable facility, many of them hidden in suburbs or populated areas. Commando raids might need to augment air sorties, especially for mountain redoubts deep in solid rock.

To that end:

The Europeans and the Americans right now must accelerate their efforts and bring the crisis to a climax at the Security Council

The public relations war is critical.

Economically, we should factor in the real possibility that Iranian oil might be off the global market, and prepare… for colossal gasoline price hikes.

[Longer term] develop an energy policy that collapses the global oil price

Forge a bipartisan front to confront Iran and make the most of their multilateral moment

Finally, the public must be warned that dealing with a nuclear Iran is not a matter of a good versus a bad choice, but between a very bad one now and something far, far worse to come.

The one moment Mr. Hanson got a wry smile from me was in his following move:

…we could step up… and provide far more money to dissident groups inside Iran to rid the country of the Khomeinists… Some sort of peaceful regime change is the solution preferred by most — and, of course, can be pursued in a manner contemporaneous with, not exclusionary to, other strategies.

It is a long-term therapy and therefore suffers the obvious defect that Iran might become nuclear in the meantime. Then the regime’s resulting braggadocio might well deflate the dissident opposition, as the mullahs boast that they alone have restored Iranian national prestige with an Achaemenid bomb.

So I simply wondered aloud how I would choose to characterize those formidable American warheads: the Founding Fathers bomb? A Lincoln, or Sherman bomb? Perhaps even simply those Exceptional Bombs?

No matter though.

If you have been reading for a while, you’ve probably gathered that I hold Mr. Hanson in high esteem despite many fundamental differences. He is one of only few honest men left in that lot. The why becomes clearer once we get to Gerecht.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Game’s Afoot

What I’d like to begin to do is to think about some of the debates that are taking shape over the conflict with Iran. And I’d like your help in doing it. I’ll try to link to some of the more interesting pieces and your reasoned participation is hereby encouraged and welcomed.

Show me your minds at work engaging seriously the issues at stake. Give me a sense for your fears, your visions for the future and your misgivings and hopes.

I think our social collectivities are almost as fragile as the mortals who constitute them. That’s what I tried to get at in the last post. We all carry a bit of both universes with us no matter where we live. The more “successful” societies manage to shield us effectively from our own follies. Societies that position their weaknesses in such ways that would enhance their overall collective strengths tend to become more tolerable.

But nothing can be taken for granted. And what we are witnessing today appears to me also an intense internal struggle between the two outlooks I tried to amplify in my last post. And that’s with or without the challenges of the property-rights laws.

That’s why wars can be such determinants.

Although, I think the Farsi speakers have an advantage in this escalating conflict. I don’t know how effective it’ll prove long term.

The modern term for man, of course, MaRd, rooted in death stinks of mortality even more pronouncedly than the equivalents in some of the languages I know of put together.

And the term for enemy, Doshman, too, is an explicit reminder of the enemy within; literally, bad(evil)think(er)(ing).

Anyhow, there are two short texts I try to go back to for a quick sanity check in anticipation of each new war. Let’s not meddle with a winning formula this time around either.

So for today…

Thucydides, the Melian Dialogue

Chuang-Tzu, This Human World

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Attitudes and Culture.

Reworked old post.


Civilization, someone claims, is distinguishable from barbarism in that lie simple is replaced by lie composite. That said, it has its virtues. It allows possibilities of catering to our collective needs in a more sustainable way. Although it takes work!

Needs, desires, wants, impulses, ambitions, aspirations, goals, and objectives pose challenges to human collectivities in so far as they are always irksome and often difficult to acknowledge or even comprehend.

But no escaping them.

How societies respond to them ultimately determines a given convention’s efficacy or viability long term. Herein the routine and the mundane assume their significance. The dominant attitudes of a society can make or break her denizens.

What we are after here is exploring how the “mundane,” really makes all the difference to the constitution of our being and how our attitudes toward the routine comes to wreak havoc on the structure of our lives.

Let’s play. Try to envisage yourself an “identical” businessperson opening a gas station in two imaginary cultures simultaneously --two distinct and interrelated universes.

In one you conduct yourself with an attitude that seeks to “normalize the exceptions.” In the second, you choose to “exception-less the exceptions.” (Term is coined, I believe, by an Israeli jurist, Oren Gross)

I know it won’t make much sense initially. Be good sports, though, and play along. Assume as well that the people you interact with in each universe mostly share your outlook on life. And note that the virtues and the vices we’ll encounter in this post exist in both universes. I am simply going to deal with archetypes since it becomes easier this way to make my point.

You have a very demanding, entitled family with many requirements and they are boisterous to boot. On any given day you burn a lot of cash on various expenditures and now you hope to make life easier for everyone.

You are hoping to satisfy a single requirement initially. A society performs when bodies move in space with a sense of time. And the cars people use to get them from point A to point B run out of fuel at some point. You are counting on this simple “lack” and the anxiety it generates to “cause” people to stop by at the particular location of your gas station during certain business hours.

Now try to imagine what happens in the first universe—the one that normalizes exceptions.

Everyone initially stops by for gas but then you notice that of all the people who stop by, a certain percentage also require oil for their engines. Not everyone mind you, but a fair number. So, instead of waiting for them to ask repeatedly, you get cans and place them on a display for everyone to see and to have access to. Save yourself time and headache.

Then you notice that some cars have one driver and others come with passengers. A certain percentage of those passengers also want to use the restroom. Some are hungry, others are bored, a few appear pregnant, and others have babies who need diapers changed and so on and so forth.

So now, given that you’re in the business of normalizing exceptions, you decide to acknowledge them-- whether you’ve really cared to or not—as real and consequently, instead of yakking to everyone individually, you try finding ways for each to satisfy whatever wants, desire or need possible in that space without coming to you first while they are around.

You open up a restroom, and perhaps make it more accessible to the occasional pregnant woman with that child in need of a diaper change. And since you understand that in the middle of the road some might feel insecure or frightened, you add a series of lights around your station. And then you get some food going, initially sandwiches, then depending on your determination of the likely reception, perhaps other eatable stuff.

You get tired of doing all the work, and decide to hire help. There is a musician who lives close by and doesn’t want to work all the time but won’t mind some extra cash either. So you get him to come in and occasionally clean everything, including the restrooms because a certain percentage of those who’ve stopped by are normally exceedingly undisciplined and always make a mess.

Your part time employee/musician then gets his girlfriend, a struggling painter, to stop by and prepare some hot food every now and again. Then it occurs to you to get some music going on the busier days. There is music subsequently. And after some of the bored customers have had a chance to gorge on some hot food and listen to some melodies, they become more talkative.

So, the three of you discuss the change of atmosphere due to the changes you’ve made. Suddenly, the woman painter tells you that perhaps she should bring in some of her work to see how people react to them. She feels comfortable making the suggestion and you are open enough to give her a chance.

Then, sure enough, you notice that people are ready to talk about them. And some are even buying a few drawings. You also notice other odd changes taking place around you.

The musician and the painter who normally live an isolated life in the middle of the boonies now are responding positively to that one day a week when they can act on their passion. So you catch the fellow practicing more often trying to come up with more interesting and complicated tunes. And he begins to get a more enthusiastic reception from the audience. The painter too works more diligently at painting since she has now noticed how people respond to her passion, of course, as something wonderful and amazing.

Sure the fellow is no Bach and neither is the woman a Picasso. But you’re perfectly content to see them for what they are and acknowledge that they are doing their best with the hand that’s dealt them. And that in itself is what really counts. Consequently, they feel good about themselves, their work and each other. The extra cash doesn’t hurt either.

On that one day, there is excitement in your station. Normally, no one sets out to be a bore intentionally. But not being one requires work. So, in a round about way your adjustments compel even your customers to ponder a bit more carefully and thus try finding better and more sophisticated ways of thinking about their experiences when talking about all the things they’ve encountered during the week with you and each other.

So the three of you begin visiting a writer who has been living a rather isolated life near you next—out of curiosity and simple wonder—and begin to discuss more interesting stuff over coffee, only occasionally. Your wife (or husband) and the kids too come in every now and again and notice how some can and do paint while being poor, and some can and do talk about painting as visual feasts without actually having the prettiest of outfits.

They also get to observe and think about how it is that others can and do actually play music while also cleaning restrooms for a living and so they too begin to want to settle on finding their passion in life and try to pursue it under whatever circumstance—however unflattering or difficult at times.

Thus you notice that even they have actually ended up being less obnoxious as well having sensed clearly that there is normally more than initially meets the eyes about everyone they encounter and that they should give them a chance. A bit of broadened horizons has never hurt anyone. Neither has openness to being surprised.

Not everyone will react that way, of course, but only a fair number who try.

So the three of you and the writer come up with a plan to have him write some articles for a newspaper to let others know what is happening at your station and all the music and the warmth and the paintings and the mingling. And you offer some money to the writer as well.

The extra cash and the exposure reawaken the dream of the writer for finally finishing and trying to publish that novel he has been working on ever since adolescence.

There is, consequently, an enveloping sense of community just as enthralling as it is welcoming—once a week. For once a week, an otherwise isolated group of individuals come to feel appreciated and begin to respond to each other in more diligent, attentive, receptive ways. They come to appreciate genuine passions and expressions.

So in responding to each other’s needs, wants and desires, and by exploring all the various ways numerous cravings are being catered to, explored and discussed, they choose to see to it constantly that they come up with different and new ways of approaching old subjects, and experimenting with new modes of cooperation and even flirting with novel manners of talking about them.

Yes, in many ways, there is nothing new under the sun. Whatever you try to do and say in a gas station has probably already been done and said thousands of times before. But so what? How do you know what you end up discovering about yourself and others unless you try the best you are capable of yourself?

So, by being more curious, interested and open to experience of surprise and marvel, and always keeping an eye out for ways of taking the next step—the very logical next step—small, humdrum and not really all that dazzling whenever the opportunity presents itself, people alter the routine in ways that are possible to achieve only when people rely on each other and cooperate thus inevitably discovering methods that is there to see when one is attentive to the inner dynamics or the logic of his or her activities.

Then the fellow who owns the factory that sold you all the lights used to brighten your station sees the story the writer has done about what’s happening in your life and decides to show up to see what the hoopla is all about.

The two of you hit it off and you begin to talk about the various chores and you end up complaining that although you’re content, it nevertheless is a hassle having to get a ladder to go change a number of those light bulbs that burn out quite often. This, especially since, as a general rule, a certain percentage of the light bulbs always burn out prematurely after a given period of time.

Not all of them, mind you, but a fair number.

And while you are at it, you also tell him about how a certain number of those bulbs you’ve purchased end up having been broken to begin with once you take them out of their packages.

The factory owner has no idea what you’re taking about. So he asks you to keep some notes about the frequency and times and to call him later with more exact information. He then goes back to the factory and begins to snoop around and sure enough, some problems become more visible to him. He comes to institute a quality control system in place consequently and also gives the truck company which delivers those bulbs a call.

And at the truck company, too, they begin to examine the root causes of some of the problems that results in broken light bulbs upon delivery. And so your entire supply chain begins to revaluate their ways of doing business as a result. There will be changes in the packaging too due to all these activities.

What we are seeing here is the exhilaration at work of constant experimentation with different ways of looking at things. And also new ways of doing things and brilliant ways of talking about things, and openness to the sort of cooperation that engenders, or reproduces, an enchanting mode of being in the world.

There is constant, perpetual hustle and bustle--not free of problems, mind you, but nurturing of the kind of people who would tinker and putter and are willing to take chances. And sure enough, a certain percentage of their activities always create wondrous products.

Not all of them, mind you, just a fair number.

There is nothing really extraordinary about what they do. Millions are doing what they normally do everyday, but always with an eye on the exceptions and the various ways that it might be possible to absorb the exceptions into the normal routine.

All based on the attitude that assumes it given that a certain percentage of everything that everyone ever does or even wants to do always fall outside of the expected norms and it ultimately pays to normalize them.

The resultant vector emerging out of the millions of very small, ordinary exertions and all the incremental changes in the really mundane, prosaic, humdrum routine of the every day life is what would manifest as an awesome and fantastic achievement over time.

Now let’s go to the second universe and see what happens there.

Remember, you are the same person, which means you are basically capable of noticing the same things you noticed in our first universe. The one crucial difference is your disposition or the attitude that allows you to “exception-less the exceptions.”

So you are sitting in your station open for business, expecting to swim in the moola shortly. You notice that some of those needing fuel are beginning to also want oil. But since a certain percentage of the people you encounter will always want some imported brand other than what you are prepared to offer, why bother, right?

How much money can they add to your earnings anyways? Don’t you spend, on any given day, more on shoes and toys for your kids than all what you can earn from some nagging old man in search of the exact brand of oil he has been using ever since he purchase the-by-now old and ugly looking donkey which used to pass as an automobile eons ago?

So passé that ugly car! Not the latest model. What’s wrong with him, anyway?

And then there is that woman with a small child who needs his diaper changed. You see the woman, her child and the requirements clearly. You’ve raised children of your own, remember? And you still vividly recall how hard it was on those trips you took.

But what the hell?

You were not the one who got her pregnant to begin with, right? And for all you know, the unborn could be a bastard. So, why do you have to bother putting up with the manure? Especially since a certain percentage of the women who change diapers are too distracted to cleanup after themselves. How much money could she possibly spend in your gas station any ways to justify all the extra effort? No value add, really! On any given day, you spend more money on your wife’s make up. So, you lockup your bathroom and claim you have none.

You see the musician pass by your station everyday. You are tired of being all alone and doing what little you try to do every day on your own; so it occurs to you to ask him to come work for you.

Then you begin to conclude—even before you’ve begun to really think—that if he were any good, he would have been famous by now. So you choose to label him “the lazy ass” and have a chuckle every time he passes by.

Besides, since a certain percentage of all the musicians who are not really good at what they do and are poor lazy asses in need of money normally end up stealing, you definitively decide against hiring him.

It’s finally settled. You are not going to hire him. But all this has gotten you thinking about the possibilities of being robbed.

A certain percentage of the people on the road are thieves. What could you do? Add a bunch of bright lights around the gas station?

Hell no!

A certain percentage of all the thieves who’ve ended up robbing a place have normally first kept it under surveillance. So adding bright lights is certainly out of the question unless you’ve seen some image in a movie. But that’s another story.

Besides, isn’t it true that a certain percentage of the criminals who have ever robbed and killed their victims have also used a sharp object? And out of those a certain number have used broken light bulbs to cut the vein of some gas station attendant? At least one case is fresh in your memory.

So it’s settled then. No bright lights. Besides, it cuts into what little you earn. But you certainly need a muscle now.

Can you trust just any one, though? Isn’t it true that a certain percentage of the people who are strangers and get hired to do a job have ended up being crooks? What guarantee is there that he won’t rob you?

None really, when you think about it! There are no such guarantees in life.

Luckily, there is that brother in law you couldn’t stand though. He becomes your logical choice for the job. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.

So now your family nags you about money when you are at home. You end up spending hours having to put up with the brother in law you loath to see at work. But on the bright side, the musician’s girl friend that stops by every now and then in one of her foul moods begins to look even better to you every day. And she is having a rough time of it at home.

She paints, but no one pays any attention to her. The musician isn’t playing anymore because he is unhappy and self absorbed. He is not Bach, you see. But he either thinks everyone who plays music should be or that he should have been. The universe is so unfair, sometimes. And most of the tunes he plays have also been played before. So he’s really sad now. Additionally, he is screwing around on her with the occasional needy woman he meets at that occasional wedding he plays the always identical melodies in.

Besides, when he was serious about his music, he was also more attentive to her, and appreciated her paintings and was full of complements and praise and found her sexy and appealing. He does drugs now, abuses her and insults everyone and everything-- his luck, animals and even the soda cans that might cross his path.

And he ceaselessly dreams of becoming that famous musician everyone applauds all the time, but he never actually bothers taking the very small steps it takes to improve his skills. So they have become quite the dreamers. Idle dreams, mostly, that never amount to much.

They ignore each other and their life together is going nowhere. She is feeling lonely and though young, talented and beautiful, she has come to feel ugly, old and useless. So now you and her—the two unhappy creatures that are in a rot-- begin to find solace in each other’s company in that gas station bathroom no one else gets to use for a few minutes every now and again and consequently come to feel miserable afterwards.

Your relationship, as “wrong,” as it is, had a chance of being different when she first showed you a painting of hers she was really excited about. And even though you liked it, you couldn’t possibly bring yourself to say anything nice and encouraging.

Yes, somehow, you always end up uttering mean, callous things because you believe that since a certain percentage of all the artists who create memorable art have had noble souls, a noble soul alone is what really accounts for potentially great art. How is it possible for this young slut who fucks you in a gas station bathroom to be any good at creating anything, long term?

She is no Picasso, you see. She deserves whatever nastiness you hurl at her. So now you also become adamant about viewing all women as potential whores as well!

Isn’t it true that she has a boyfriend and, yet, here she is screwing you in the bathroom! You reason that a certain percentage of all the people in relationships always “cheat” for various reasons. So what is there to keep your wife from cheating? Especially since you are doing exactly what frightens you most about what she might do someday.

So now, you have become more suspicious, distrustful, and always wanting to keep her under control.

There was even a time you wanted to hire the writer living in the boonies to work with your child, but you can’t bring yourself to trust him alone with your wife either because a certain percentage of all the men you meet always lust after some one else’s wife or worst yet, are child molesters. And a certain percentage of the women you encounter will do exactly what their husbands or lovers do in their absence.

Consequently, the writer can’t earn enough money and feels useless and curses the day he ever purchased that first book which made him want to be a writer to begin with. So the novel that he had begun in his youth ends up sitting still in some box collecting dust.

And your wife is isolated, bored and bitter. Your child’s grammar and spelling suck as well. No matter though, he is exceedingly good at making fun of the neighbour’s accent. And full of ethnic jokes.

What you get then is an exceedingly entitled group of suspicious, mean-spirited, indolent beings. Highly talented, cunning creatures who are sadly self-destructive. There are obscene expectations so everyone is perpetually disappointed and such ridiculously high standards that no mere mortal could possibly live up to them.

There emerges subsequently a sort of universe populated by unhappy creatures humouring and demeaning each other all the time and inactive mostly unless they can be the stars; and rude, superficial, insecure, and successful in making themselves and others feel miserable perpetually. And infinitely paranoid, conspiratorial, and conspiracy minded!

And confrontational to boot. So confrontational, in fact, that at some point even principles become inconsequential for the confrontations. Petty bickering is all that remains.

No real sense of a community, either. Only rigidity, inflexibility, big dreams, false hopes, mistrust, exhaustion, despondency, mediocrity and endless, nauseating banter among the same family members or closed/closed minded cultish cliques about money, appliances, and all those humongous earth-shattering contributions being planned for implementation in the world—sometimes, somewhere, and always at some point in the future!

And, of course, those perpetual excuses!

No genuine passion for much of anything, really, nor an appreciation for life’s blessings. Arrogance. Bitterness. Callousness. Emptiness. Expectations. Intolerance. Melodrama. Resentment. Self-Pity. Ugliness. And then Death!

Thursday, January 19, 2006


There is a quaint, difficult to find little gem of a piece On the Philosophic Life by Al-Razi that A J Arberry translated many years ago. And in it, a beautiful simple phrase which would astonish you today given how things have turned out: “our Imam Socrates!”

Socrates, as we all know, was that unique character executed by the Athenians. Those still left with some hope of following where he leads prove elusive for me to encounter and learn from in the heartland of evil.

Something about a combination of smugness, and traditional esoteric approach aimed at making thought inaccessible and non-threatening-- both to the clergy and the rest of us ordinary folks-- typical of Mir Damad and the influential Isfahan School of Iranian philosophy with a penchant for synthesis of Avicenna’s rationalism and Suhravardi’s intuitive, illuminationist unveilings.

Naturally, that perennial haggle over the price of onions, I suspect, might have had something to do with it as well!

On the other side of the divide too, one fears, his disciples are not faring any better. They hardly ever show up to the market places anymore and when they do, quite a few fall all over themselves supplicating the heirs of Anytus for morsels. That, of course, has left all of us at the mercy of an ever expanding army of erudite experts these days and some terribly obnoxious sophistry.

But what did we mean by imminent? What is torture? When was the exact onset of that widespread child diarrhea plaguing countless? What are the foundations of that statistical model tracking those casualties inflicted? Not exactly a most manifestly heartfelt concern with dike and virtue, is it?

So on the one side, it appears as if we are back to a time roughly around the beginning and Aristophanes is having the last laugh. Finally, visibly, reduced to measuring flea’s jumps and disputing the originating orifice of some gnat’s buzz! We’ll see shortly what manages to survive by the time our various experts and those fisking giants get through remaking all life in their own image.

On the other side, the Imams are having the last laugh and in particular one missing five year old, al-Mahdi, that disappeared down a cellar in Sammara some centuries ago. He is expected to emerge from his major occultation and save the day.

So welcome to Messiaville and the grand Battle of the Redeemers.

And where do we stand now?

Aren’t we appeared locked for a finite duration of time, at least, in this place of misery, murder and fears? And the way out, for some, of course, is tapping that desire for redemption and a Messiah becomes the key. And then the surprises! Most Messiahs do that for you.

So for instance, what makes christos such an awe is what he is which defies the historical expectations of what he should have been. The promised warrior/destroyer of the enemies of Hebrews ends up suffering and dying as he does on the cross amidst some pretty ugly tormenting taunts.

Such pity, isn’t it, that humiliation mostly manages to repulse these days only when viewed on the pages of some holy book! So was he the Messiah--that promised, anointed one? The debates have been endless.

That latter term—anointed—is a nice one. Most Iranians know about it. That’s our one flattering claim to fame these days. And this because we tend to be proud of Cyrus the Great! Ahmadi Nejad might be a threat but look, we say, at King Cyrus’s Cylinder. Cyrus is acknowledged as the Anointed of the Lord in Isaiah. Not bad at all for a gentile, don’t you think? And a Persian to boot!

That’s Persia and Iranians for you. We not only surprise and annoy, but also on occasions serve as the anointed.

That is one of the many paradoxes of life in the heartland of evil. For such money obsessed, ostentatious people, there have been no shortages of Messiahs amongst us. Does that, in a way, speak to the grip of the spiritual? Who knows, really? But it’s clear that we tend to be pretty good at what’s been called Mundus Imaginalis.

Messiahs galore everywhere! It might partially have something to do with the repeated invasions of foreign hordes and radical insecurity of life. Troubling times tend to be unsettling and along with the misery come those who promise salvation. Even the Jews of Iran have had theirs. The crusades gave us the adventures of one Menahem b. Solomon more widely known as that famed David Alroy.

But there is always some intellectual history as well behind the appearances of the Messiahs. It is never an ex-nihilo creation of the Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Jews or the British no matter how supposedly powerful those invisible hands which are rumored to control and guide!

If you’re a Shi’ia, for instance, who has come to believe in a youngster as your anchor, you’re left with some vexing questions. And once you start with the questions, you’re driven by the logic of your constructs--whether we like them or not. All religions have them. Has it ever been settled-- once and for all--the nature of the body the doubting Thomas touched? Is the returning resurrected Christ, finally, a circumcised one?

So, where exactly has this missing Imam resided all these years? And how do we know what he demands of the believers in his absence. There have been the Usuli theologians who insisted on innovation and the sort of independent exercise of judgment that comes with experience. Hence ijtehad, and mujtahed and an increasingly full-of-itself hierarchy which assumes qualified to suffocate life, pontificating about the Law by virtue of being grounded in reason and some professional experience.

And their adversaries known as Akhbaris or the literalists who demanded strict adherence to tradition based on a verifiable chain of transmission since an overtly aggressive independent authority of a religious hierarchy they deemed an usurpation of the authority of the missing youngster.

The debates, in retrospect, have not only given us the Guardianship of the Jurists, Velayate-Faqih, and this modern monstrosity we experience today, but also the highly imaginative speculations of Shaykhism, and, of course, Babism and Baha’ism.

Now if we were to overlook centuries of development for whatever reason—whether out of some heartfelt revulsion with this present form of authoritarian Islamic rule, or some not so admirable quest for petty advantages and brownie points, surely a matter best settled in solitude against one’s conscious—what we get is only what we have too much of already.

That is, a people full of bombast about our past and our rich history, exhibiting very little genuine appreciation or inquisitiveness about/for that heritage and the substantial treasures which continue to remain unexplored!

And an endless, nauseating babble about the land of romance, poetry, philosophy, rose and the nightingale without the sort of pulsating vibrant intellectual life required excavating them to re-create the sort of identity, at the very least, commensurate with the longevity of our presence in the world.

A terribly lost people at the mercy of false gods, false hopes, grand expectations, busy blowing our own bugles in our own lonely little corners narcissistically and forever expectant of the end of time and/or longing some savior to point a way out!

So then what we get is normally the kind of self-fulfilling prophesies best avoided like plague. A moving hymn, for your viewing displeasure, from our past (in Parthian) from what survives the Manichaean corpus:

Hear, oh world, the words of the Lord!
We would invoke the gods that they may save us
from this evil age of tyranny, full of strife and unbelief.
Oh angels and twins, save us from all distress.
That time (the end) has come,
Just as the redeemer (Mani) has written.

And, of course, also perennial yearnings for the Messiah all the way to total annihilation:

Speak to me, Lord and Friend, and reveal to me, Son
of the most beloved, the time of your coming, when
you will appear at the end.

Oh great Redeemer, my Teacher, speak of that time and its signs.
The speakers, the righteous and chosen ones, who must live
in the Realm of the Lie, Do not accumulate herds and belongings.
Therefore they are persecuted.

Ha, this irate potentate! How long will he continue to rule

Read the rest of this ancient Manichaean Hymn about the Second Coming, also part of our heritage.

We’ll have to go even further centuries back. There, we’ll encounter the figure of Saoshyant—the original redeemer.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The missing Ark

Amidst all the concern about all that’s gone missing in our world today—most of all prudence and sanity, I must have missed the following:

Evangelical explorer, author and lecturer Bob Cornuke has followed the Exodus route of Moses, dived the Red Sea in search of Pharaoh's chariots, searched for the lost Ark of the Covenant in Israel and Ethiopia, sought in Malta's ocean beds the four anchors from the shipwreck of St. Paul, and traveled through Eastern Turkey with Apollo 15 astronaut James Irwin…This past summer Cornuke, a former crime scene investigator turned relic hunter, culminated more than 20-years of painstaking research and reconnaissance by climbing Iran’s Mt. Soleiman in search of Noah’s Ark.

And (via Payvand) the rest of this exciting piece, Noah’s Ark rests in Iran?

I am assuming we are all familiar with the Biblical account, so let’s take a look also at a similar Indian version:

O fortunate and worshipful sir, the dissolution of all this mobile and immobile world is nigh at hand. The time for the purging of this world is now ripe. Therefore do I now explain what is good for thee! The mobile and immobile divisions of the creation, those that have the power of locomotion, and those that have it not, of all these the terrible doom hath now approached. Thou shall build a strong massive ark and have it furnished with a long rope. On that must thou ascend, O great Muni, with the seven Rishis and take with thee all the different seeds which were enumerated by regenerate Brahmanas in days of yore, and separately and carefully must thou preserve them therein. And whilst there, O beloved of the Munis, thou shall wait for me, and I shall appear to thee like a horned animal, and thus, O ascetic, shall thou recognise me! And I shall now depart, and thou shall act according to my instructions, for, without my assistance, thou canst not save thyself from that fearful flood.'

Read from the beginning about the Fish, Manu and the Ark in the ancient epic of the Mahabharata.

While you’re at it, have a look as well on this narrative about the dissolution of our universe and the Kali Yuga.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


Thanks. I clearly get it and agree. Although, you should also try reading the Iranian scene a bit more carefully! That’s why the whole project is so ludicrously transparent. We grow up with and live the grotesquely patriarchal. Fathers know what’s good for you. Teachers know what’s good for you. Neighbors too and the doctors, grocers and, of course, the Guardian Council, assorted Mujtaheds, and now the Supreme Leader.

Since all these people--while pushing what they peddle-- at some point get all mixed up about where their own perceived best interest ends and yours begin, most of us get both frustrated with the shamelessness of it all and exceedingly good at reading the pretense.

That’s why it becomes difficult to get anything done. We can go overboard a bit. And thus that trap you allude to and the paralysis. But there is a way out of the circle. Can’t win them all! Sometimes, can’t win at all. That is what is so comforting in the beauty of the ancient wisdom of Job for me as well as in the Greek tragic vision of life.

But so what? It is the attempt that counts, no? Now, that’s liberation for you.

Mr. Hanson recently pointed to a beautiful Greek word. You should look up the comparable construct paity-aeogət…asoit in the ancient Persian texts. But that would be multi-Culturalism, no?

Such loss!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Nuclear technology and public restrooms

Edited repost from August, 2004


A country, I keep telling everyone, which finds it practically impossible keeping its public restrooms clean has no business pursuing nuclear power. It lacks oomph, I know. And you have no way (of even wanting) to evaluate my claim. Bear with me, though, and I’ll try to show why public restrooms are important.

Where to begin?

I guess I should first admit that living in Iran is infuriating at times which sort of makes you settle on that universal invective of choice, if you know what I mean.


Think about this internet censorship of the search engines for pornography to start with. With some servers, a simple search of Charles Dick-ens will get you blocked. Or one of “word history pusillanimous!” Just imagine the daily chores for an entrepreneur trying to find a Chinese or Indian company to purchase equipment for “facial tissue.”

Think all the daily aggravation no matter what your intent. How to react, then?

We can incessantly badger the censors with questions, of course. But really, we would want to avoid that approach since all governments tend to want to err on the side of “caution.”

Bullies don’t do nuances, remember!

So chances are when confronted, they only react by doing what always comes naturally; that is, trying to suffocate all signs of independent life. There is nothing better to get those in charge riled up than questioning their competence with the intention of getting them to dot the i’s.

Most advice would only give them the needed impetus to tighten the screws even further. Not exactly the same, but basically on the par with asking the Islamic regime to monitor the borders and the movement of immigrants more effectively in order to stop Usama operatives.

In doing so, you end up actually encouraging the authorities to run a more efficient police state. Not a very wise move, is it, if you are in opposition? It is precisely their incompetence and inertia you are counting on in order to lead semi-normal lives. So we thank our lucky stars everyday that not all aspects of the social life have been subsumed by those incompetent public masters!

But in doing so, we come across another brick wall.

There are those who are doing all they can to persuade everyone that all independent life has been suffocated already. The government is in charge of everything. It controls everything. There are those on the outside who are vested in pushing the sort of polices that would effectively deprive the ones on the inside of their ability to maneuver.

That is the essence of international relations, isn’t it? Since not all countries have identical interests or the resources to fight over all their petty differences, they tend to use whatever means at their disposal to modify the behavior of their adversaries in the short run so as to enhance their own perceived strategic advantages long term--however shortsightedly.

Affecting public opinion is one of them, and trying to squeeze the adversary’s population another. That way, problems are dealt with on the cheap. And the best way to do that is to caricature the adversary every chance possible and scare the living daylight out of everyone in the process.

Hence all the rhetoric about the axis of evil and the evil pursuing the bomb, and the dangers of evil having the bomb and, ultimately, the prospect of evil lashing out because, as you’ve probably guessed already, the evil hates us “for who we are!”

But, who are we really? And here is where the public restroom comes in.

So in the heartland of evil, they tend to be filthy. In an ideal universe, we would want to state the problem and find a way of fixing it. But in the world of today, stating this simple problem is the mother of all pains in the gluteus maximus.

Don’t believe me? Let’s try.

Suppose I were to say to you: we need cleaner restrooms. Our tools are inadequate to the task. The brooms aren’t that great and the mop and bucket combination is rare. Additionally, we need to develop the human resources necessary, and also enhance our organizational capabilities, and import some of the needed material from abroad in order to get the job done.

But the moment officials of a few outside powers hell-bent on wreaking havoc hear about this, a campaign is quickly organized.

“Here you are, a mountainous country, sitting atop vast water resources.” “What business do you have wanting brooms, buckets and mops? Especially since the broom sticks and those mops can be used to hit someone over the head with and the bucket is a potential WMD given all the detergents available.”

In tandem, the less than noble attack dogs always on the prowl to find something to bite you about will use their towering intellects and considerable erudition and their infinite cultural and historical knowledge to give their “side” a hand.

“Look at yourselves. A society hundreds of years old, and you don’t even have clean toilets. No mop or bucket, and you even have to import your toilet papers from abroad.
Your religion is backward. It has destroyed your soul. You lack the requisite toilet etiquettes to be civilized and you’re too ugly and dumb. Besides, don’t you have anything better to do than to worry about toilets?”

You really don’t want to take any of this personally. You know they are clueless about the actual religious diversity and you could care even less what some thuggish BozoPundit might think of your IQ.

Your real problem is to find a way to have cleaner restrooms. But human nature being what it is, you don’t like being insulted, least of all by those whose fanaticism runs the risk of laying the groundwork for an assault that would deprive you of the little shithouse you actually do have, thus forcing you to have to settle for the bushes.

And since they have no genuine interest in you or your way of life to begin with, you know they will ultimately end up mocking you anyways for not even having had toilets once they successfully destroy everything. No one wants to accept responsibility for much of anything these days. That much everyone has figured so far.

You would want to be polite and point out that, yes, we have plenty of water but who wants to throw water down the drain all the time? There are such things as comparative advantage and division of labor. We might want to think about the future.

And you would want to also tell them: don’t babble so much about your superior toilet paper production. Don’t be a fetishist; and don’t mystify things any more than they actually are. If you can produce it, everyone else can as well. That is what all production is all about, really. If a process has been defined, it can be replicated elsewhere and effectively maintained over time. But it might take some time and finagling.

But regardless of what you wanted to say, you actually end up getting too peeved--saying: hey buddy, you’ve got some nerve saying I shouldn’t worry about my restrooms. I know just how long you spend in yours. I know how much money you spend on all the prune juice, assorted laxatives and the preparation H yearly. Don’t push me please. Don’t tell me faster please. Go change your diet or something or save some cow or chicken. They are the ones killing over 500,000, mostly kind, decent folk a year due to heart attacks.

Give it a rest and let me do what needs to be done. I’ll call you when I really need help. After all, you don’t owe me anything, so why should you risk life, limb and treasure anyway?

But now, we have ended up with a lot of needless banter, and all this literally over piles of manure.

Some then would call the whole exchange further signs of the ongoing clash of toilet techniques.

This whole acrimony could have been avoided without meanness and pettiness of spirit. But hey, even those qualities have been preemptively assaulted by those who have successfully relabeled civility “political correctness!”

So now, we all have actually ended up deeper in that pile we set out to clean.

In the meanwhile, the authorities in the home country have taken an active interest in the issue and the people involved. And by the time you try to actually focus on the problem which started it all, they will have declared everything a national security matter. Additionally, since they think themselves the rightful appointees of the Almighty, any discussion is taken way too personally and as yet another proof of your inherent evil.

Then it hits you!

Both those loudest on the outside and these most brutal on the inside relentlessly threatening you tend to speak in an almost identical language. And they always hide behind god, country, history and their fellow citizens instead of facing you.

Are they too cowardly to state the merits of their case and their choices and conducts? Why is it that when things get tough, most bugle blowing heroes always hide behind various “anti-ism” scams and that stinky notion of moral equivalency!

So now you are on the verge of losing it completely! All you manage to mutter is: “I don’t give a rat’s ass who you think you are--especially since I am not convinced even you know the answer to that riddle. Just don’t get in the way of the much needed cleaning of the public restrooms here.

Back inside, you know what you have to do. There is a fundamental problem though.

Some have the power, the money and the guns. And all you have is your hope for cleaner restrooms. You know a lot of other people might want the same things you do but there are all kinds of different people in the world.

Some might be less adventurous. Some more prudent, more calculating; others have families they worry about, and some need time to build self confidence before getting involved. In short, there are different degrees of risk aversion to think about.

But by now, the atmosphere has gotten so threatening that people expect the whole thing to collapse on their heads the moment they utter a single word about dirty restrooms. The fear of ending in a river of the stuff without a paddle leaves everyone thinking they should just go on with their lives as they have always. Who needs usable public restrooms anyways?

So now, seeing not too many people involved, yet sensing clear danger, the authorities, in a move familiar to all who have watched various governments in action a thousand times before, set up committees to study the problem.

They will want to begin a campaign of mass re-education. They will pass laws threatening to heavily penalize anyone caught using public restrooms improperly. Outside advisors will be brought in to study productivity and improve cleaning techniques. And even that useless ministry of education will be tasked to look into ways of modifying the university core curriculum to reflect the latest global trends in potty training.

There will even be some who think all this an assault on ancient national heritage to be fought against tooth and nail.

And the problem of inaccessible clean public restrooms remains as intractable as ever.

And anyone caught discussing public restrooms is jailed, tortured and forced to admit in public that the existing dirty restrooms are simply the paradigms of cleanliness the world over.

And you are now left telling anyone who listens: look, we have some of the cleanest restrooms you find anywhere on the planet in our houses. Everyone is practically anal about cleanliness. Cleanliness, after all is next to godliness.

It doesn’t take grand planning. It doesn’t take massive social engineering. All the ingredients are already present in the society we live in. All that is needed is time to tap in to the practices already in use and the space to draw out the possibilities of alternative ways and stabilizing them.

IF only those in charge could back off.

Some violence at the end might be necessary to either force them to back off or get them off everyone’s back entirely.

Some people, after all, have vested interests in the existing social relations whose inherent aftereffects are filthy public restrooms. However, it might not require the massive kind of a shock that would inevitably get some museum’s accoutrement in some grandma’s kitchen.

Maintaining public restrooms isn’t all that hard, really, but definitely hard enough.

Some hope of a better future, perhaps, and a greater degree of freedom to chart the course of one’s life might be all that is needed to begin with. And that sense of autonomy which might result in greater attentiveness to existing problems.

Being receptive to the idea of experimentation and allowing the desire to know and experience surprise and awe in the world is essential as well. Certainly a better incentive scheme since no one stuck cleaning public restrooms is wont to be all that happy as he or she never counted on this dream job when growing up.

But since society needs all types, people must be able to see a light at the end of the tunnel, or, at least be able to eke out a decent living doing whatever it is they actually hate to do in life.

Perhaps even in time, an inner voice might develop that reminds people that it doesn’t really matter what you do at any given moment, just so long as you follow the logic inherent to it all and try to do the best you possibly can, especially when no one is looking--even if it is, simply, cleaning restrooms.

Yes, there might always be a way out of the ordeal.

And most importantly, a society must come to recognize that government interference hardly ever gets any restrooms cleaned.

All that might actually be needed is hope and freedom so people could cooperate better, and learn to pull resources together more effectively, and recognize that it is important to care about themselves and others when they venture outside of their homes.

That realization, additionally, that everyone feels better when doing well in whatever they have chosen (or are forced into) as a vocation in life, is a must. Some occasional support for training and re-education for everyone who needs it should also exist.

At the end of the day, though, who cares really what it is that animates different people?

Religion, personal piety, money, civic responsibility, pride in one’s work, or whatever else under the sky that might set their shorts on fire. Just so long as we understand that we have a vested interest in maintaining a society that has clean public restrooms.

Who knows, it might even be possible to bilk billions out of tourists one day. It is a beautifully enchanting landscape-- what is now known as the heartland of evil.

But as things stand, there are no clean public restrooms anywhere in sight!

This means, of course, that even if the authorities manage to finagle their way without endangering the lives of millions due to some belligerent bonehead--egged on by the frenzy of a progressively more entitled, paranoid, pathologically violent, obnoxiously malevolent and infinitely superstitious polity--deciding to preemptively attack what is being built, there is no brighter future possible.

With the sort of loathsome assassins in charge who remain so inattentive to the public good, and heedless of the needs of the ordinary citizens and oblivious to safety; with workers careless about consistent, documented processes, and citizens so self absorbed, and enamored of shortcuts, and habituated into prevaricating and assisting petty tyrants for petty rewards; with the whole society plagued by incompetence, inconsistency, extremism, oneirism and solipsism, it is clear as daylight that one of those power plants--absent strict international supervision-- will surely “explode” sometime after it becomes operational killing large numbers of people, and leaving countless others suffering from radiation poisoning.

That is why, you see, I keep telling everyone who might listen: a county with no clean public restrooms has no business pursuing nuclear power.