Thursday, January 25, 2007

1. "Hello Mr. Chips". Wow, the U.S. press is getting really desperate for any "positive" news from Iraq.

2. Imagine you are driving down your street with your family, minding your business, when an impatient humvee repeatedly honks at you and literally rams into the back of your car, pushes you aside, and then goes on to do the same with impunity to every other car that he approaches.

Now imagine that the humvee and the people that are driving it are part of an occupation army that launched a "pre-emptive" war against you, leaving your country in tatters.

This video captures what I have described from the point of view of the Humvee. But I am sure you can put yourself in the place of the many ordinary people who are trying to go about their lives but are being physically knocked about by the occupation army. Note that what is being shown is not some exceptionally horrid action on the part of the U.S. military: this is daily, routine, non-combat work, and it is clear that what they are doing is sanctioned, protocal behavior.

Way to win hearts and minds fellas!

3. Finally, if you still believe that oil had nothing to do with the invasion of Iraq, you may want to have a look at the Iraq Hydrocarbon Law. The draft law currently under consideration proposes a certain kind of contracts for Iraq's oil known as PSAs (Production Sharing Agreements)which would give western companies mind-blowing profits while denying Iraqis the right to make major decisions about their natural resources. For a fairly thorough and informative look at the implications of the exploitative contracts that Iraqis are being pressured to sign onto, have a look at this article in The Independent. For more in-depth articles on the topic, go here.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Zoorkhooneh: House of Power

Sasan Afsoosi prefaced his photo essay on Iranian public baths with this statement: "These are some photographs from Tehran public baths. I'm not sure if all of them still exist. Also, not sure if after a US military attack, any of these locations will be available again."

His last sentence made my heart hurt, but his work also reminded me of an Iranian phenomenon I love very much: the zoorkhoone, which literally translates into the "house of power" or "house of force".

I think the traditional art of bodybuilding practiced in the zoorkhooneh is one of the best reflections of the richness and often times contradictory nature of Iranian culture and heritage. The athletes excercise under the leadership of a coach/musician/singer/preacher whose repetoire includes, among other things, tales of pre-Islamic Iranian heros, the sayings and stories of the Shi'a Imams, as well as references to living and legendary Iranian athletes.

One of the major highlights of my recent trip to Iran was that I got to go to a well-known Zoorkhooneh in Isfahan. My friend and travel companion Terri Register made me a copy of the home-made DVD that she bought from the Zoorkhooneh, and I thought the footage was too cool not to share.

It took half of the day to upload it, but here it is.

I'm pretty sure that the men usually carry out their activities while wearing very little clothing, but I think these men wear shirts in cases when their audience includes women.

If you can read Persian and are interested in learning more about the Zoorkhooneh you may be interested in downloading this book on its history and culture. English speakers can check out this site for some general information.

I also highly recommend the historical Zoorkhooneh related pictures taken by the famous Armenian-Iranian photographer Antoin Sevrugin which you can find here and here.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Fakhravar's Advocacy for War on Iran

In recent days, as Mr. Bush's camp have heightened their pro-war rhetoric and activities, there has been increasing alarm among Iranian activists, journalists, and/or intellectuals that Mr. Bush is seriously preparing for an all-out bombing of Iran. Former State official Wayne White, who has seen the planning, claims that this will be a devastating and broad based attack; "You're not talking about a surgical strike", he emphasized.

Even activists inside Iran, who until recently focused more on internal issues and were largely dismissive of the possibility of an attack on Iran, are showing alarm over Bush's war rhetoric and plans and are shifting their work to demonstrating their opposition to war.

Despite the concern and fear of an attack among Iranians from a range of political and geographical locations, at least one man seems beyond himself with joy. Amir Abbas Fakhravar, who for a while was contradicting his numerous pro-war claims, shows his true colors in this interview published just two days ago.

Consider some of the claims made in this article:

1. Fakhravar asserts that if Iran is bombed, the leadership will flee, and "the people" will protest in the streets and blame the Iranian government, and the regime will fall

Translation:the Iranian people are so stupid that it wont occur to them to be angry at the people bombing them; they will just turn their anger to the nearest target: "the regime".

2. "Fakhr-Avar, one of Iran’s student leaders, heads an organization numbering 12,000 students"

Translation: Iranian students are so stupid that exactly 12,000 picked this half-wit as their leader.

3. "People in Iran react the opposite of what the regime says. If the regime says it’s day, they’ll close their eyes and say it’s night."

Translation: The Iranian people are so stupid that they can't think for themselves. They are just a bunch of reactionaries who just believe the opposite of what "the regime" tells them, even if what they believe contradicts what is right before their eyes.

4. "Israel should have taken over Lebanon"

Translation: none needed.

5. "There is a big difference between Shiite and Sunni mullahs. Foreigners may not know this. Many of the Sunni mullahs would pick up arms and fight, but the Shiite mullahs are not like that. Their hands, if you touch them, are softer than any woman’s hand"

Translation: People are so stupid that they will take the word of this self-appointed leader and forget that the biggest challenges faced by the U.S.-Israeli project in the middle east comes from two Shia mullahs: Muqtada As-Sadr and Hassan Nasrallah.

In fairness to Amir Abbas, however, he may be able to enlighten us about some other characteristics of Shia clerics.

Pray tell, Amir Abbas, how did you learn of the softness of their hands?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Too Funny Yar

1. Greeting the Americans With Flowers and Sweets

No, I am not talking about Kanan Makaya's ridiculous, laughable, self-serving, tragic pre-war claims that the Iraqi people would welcome invading U.S. soldiers with "flowers and sweets". I am referring to the reception the U.S. wrestling team received upon arrival in Iran. In the following AP photo taken from here, you can see Iranian girls dressed in traditional local clothing handing pink and white roses to members of the U.S. team who are arriving in the southern city of Bandar Abbas:

It's nice that U.S. citizens are getting a chance to see Iran and meet Iranians on a first-hand basis rather than having to rely on the demonic picture that mass media and certain paid bloggers try to reflect. Of course the other positive part of having U.S. citizens on the Persian Gulf coast is that Mr. Bush wont be dropping bombs on Iran as long as they are there.

2. Unleashing the Power of the Internet

Yea right! Here is one for all the folks who still believe in the Net's inherent liberatory qualities. A group called "Give Israel Your Unconditional Support" has developed various software that allows pro-Israeli Internet users to be organize and "help" Israel with their virtual activism.

Just take a look at their latest: when you click on the following link,, it gives you a pop-up that says "Email this story to world leaders. Ask them to support the US in its moves in Iraq and the Persian Gulf. Iran's nuclear program is a threat to the whole world - stop Iran NOW"

In short, participants are supposed to use this little tool to create the impression that the public as a whole believes that talks with Iran are useless.

As Joseph Cirincione has pointed out, the Baker-Hamilton Group, senior members of congress, and three quarters of Americans recently polled believe in the idea of carrying out talks with Iran. But for reasons that are totally uncomprehensible to me, some people would like to close the doors of peaceful solutions and escalate the situation towards yet another bloodbath.

3. Life is Long..

So goes one of the main motifs of Salman Rushdie's Shame. "life is long" and "too funny yar", a couple of Rushdie repeated phrases that always stick in my mind, and both are relevant for the case at hand, take a look at these facts:

- in 1979, the same year that a popular revolution in Iran led to the overthrow and exile of the dictator Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, a popular rebellion in Nicaragua led to the overthrow and exile Anastasio Somoza. The two events resulted in Islamists ruling Iran, Communists ruling Nicaragua, and a major freak out on the part of the U.S.

- At that time, Daniel Ortega, current president of Nicaragua, was an important part of the Sandanista National Liberation Front that had rebelled against the Somoza regime. During that same period, Mahmoud Ahmadinejhad, current president of Iran, was a supporter of the Students in the Line of the Imam, a group that played an important role in the victory of the Islamist groups over all other factions that had taken part in the revolution.

-Faced with communists in Nicaragua and Islamists in Iran, the U.S. made a stunning choice: sell arms to Iran (the enemy) use the money to fund the Contra guerillas so that they can fight the Sandanistas (the other enemy). Ahmadinejhad's people were getting weapons as part of a scheme that succesfully destroyed Ortega's people.

-But alas, "life is long", so Ahmadinejhad and Ortega are letting by-gones be by-gones:

-Nearly thirty years after their nation's histories were intertwined as a result of U.S. policies, the two presidents have declared an alliance in fighting "a common enemy".

"too funny, Yar!"

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

1. Sometime last year, we came home to find that someone whose name we didnt recognize had sent us a high quality meat cleaver in the mail. Because I am prone to ocassional paranoia, my immediate thought was that one of the lunatics that are always trying to silence us was sending us a not-so-very veiled threat.

But the truth turned out to be much more benign, some online vendor had accidentally sent us the knife instead of the battery recharger that we had ordered. The woman felt so bad about the mix-up she let us keep the meat cleaver.

And it came in handy tonight, because I decided to try making some spicy chicken wings. The recipe said to cut the tips of the wings, and I didnt know what that meant until I unpacked the chicken: the wings have nails! I winced every time I had to chop off one of the nails, it was so graphic.

Luckily the wings turned out delicious, so both the disgust of chopping off the wing-nails and the initial terror of randomly receiving a huge knife in the mail were well worth it.

2. Campus Ladies is one of my favorite new shows on T.V. and much of it has to do with Amir Talai, who lays on the fake Iranian accent real thick when he is playing Abdul and is overall just hilarious. Check it out if you get the otherwise usually crappy Oh/Oxygen channel.

3. Meet Fatemeh Houshmand, at 25, she is the youngest person to be elected to the Shiraz City Council. Known historically for the quality of its wine, roses, and poetry, Shiraz is one of Iran's major cities. I wish Ms. Houshmand the best of luck.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Does this Man Look Dead to You?

I have a pop quiz for neo-cons. I know it might be tough for them, but let's give it a try.

Quiz Directions: Below is an Reuters photograph dated Monday, Jan 8th, 2007. Look carefully at the person pictured and answer the following question with a "yes" or "no": Does this man look dead to you?

As of right now, Michael Ledeen, whose typically misinformed informers led him to originate this rumour, is still in denial:

"It is now 9:30 on the East Coast, which I think is 5 PM in Iran. So far as I know, Khamenei has not made any public appearance today, not even a tv broadcast. The regime has made various contradictory announcements, and released a photograph that could have been taken anywhere at any time."

So Iran's Supreme Leader has a full day of meeting with some people from Qom and giving a speech in Tehran covered by world press such as AFP and Reuters, and Mr. Ledeen still refuses to admit his minor error. Oh well, what can you expect from a man who stil insists that WMD were found in Iraq!

But let us at least remember Ledeen's seemingly never ending string of lies because this man bizarrly continues to have access to the halls of power, so unlike harmless lunatics the world over, Michael Ledeen is a dangerous man. We shouldn't let him keep getting away with spreading falsehoods and scheming disasters.

Friday, January 05, 2007

1. Even though I was diasppointed recently to see that Zizek had given his blessings to some troubling publications, he is still one of my favorite contemporary thinkers. And I like that he engages public audiences, like in this piece published in the New York Times, where he concludes his article with the following observation:

"In a similar way, Saddam Hussein’s regime was an abominable authoritarian state, guilty of many crimes, mostly toward its own people. However, one should note the strange but key fact that, when the United States representatives and the Iraqi prosecutors were enumerating his evil deeds, they systematically omitted what was undoubtedly his greatest crime in terms of human suffering and of violating international justice: his invasion of Iran. Why? Because the United States and the majority of foreign states were actively helping Iraq in this aggression.

And now the United States is continuing, through other means, this greatest crime of Saddam Hussein: his never-ending attempt to topple the Iranian government. This is the price you have to pay when the struggle against the enemies is the struggle against the evil ghosts in your own closet: you don’t even control yourself."

I cannot think of a single U.S or U.S-based intellectual who would dare be this honest and bold. Not that I blame them, the pressures to self-censor and mince your words is extremely great, especially when it comes to Iran. Unless we get more people who are unwilling to bow to pressures and will go ahead with their straightforward analysis, Iran will become another taboo (after Israel) in American academic and political discourses.

2.Michael Ledeen wouldnt be Michael Ledeen if he wasn't out spreading unsubtantiated lies. His latest? That Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei has passed away. In late December, Ledeen said that Ayatollah Khamenei was severely ill; to convince his gullible fans of the depth of his "insider" knowledge, Ledeen even provided details that Supreme Leader experienced "a loss of feeling in his feet and [was] breaking out in a cold sweat". Two days after Ledeen made these confident statements about Khamenei's health, the Supreme Leader, seemingly in perfect good health held public meetings with Iran's armed forces.

This time Ledeen has gone so far that not even Amir Taheri, the discredited "journalist" who fabricated and spread the false story that Iran was forcing Jews to wear yellow stars, is willing to back him on this one just yet.

3. Now a technical question, anyone know how to convert VCD format (.dat i think) to .Mpeg or .wmv formats? I am trying to upload some Iran video but google doesnt accept the format I have. Is it convertable or am I just out of luck?

Monday, January 01, 2007

Learn to Breathe Anderson Cooper

To make sure that 2007 sees as many of my angry letters to the press as did the previous year, I just sent the following note to the CNN show Anderson Cooper 360:

In the piece on the life of Saddam Hussein, Mr. Cooper made reference to the "waves of young men and boys" killed in the Iraq -Iran war. For those of us in the know, the remark was clearly a reference to the tragic iranian tactic of sending waves of unarmed soldiers to face the heavily armed (thanks to U.S. and the rest of the world) Iraqi army. Why did Mr. Cooper fail to mention that these unarmed men and boys were Iranian? Is CNN that afraid of arousing the slightest bit of empathy for anything Iranian?

I also suggest that CNN hire a public speaking coach for Mr. Cooper so he does not have to take a big noisy gulp of air every three words.

If you think I sound like I believe that there are organized, systematic campaigns to malign Iran and Iranians in order to make the way for another lunatic intervention in a sovereign country, well, I would say that you are right.

Happy 2007!