Thursday, October 30, 2008

Irony: Europe trusted Bush and he spit in their soup

(Photos are of my family on Halloween, cleverly disguised as two cat burglars, a cat and a mad scientist)

Over here in Iran, I have gotten the chance to read more European papers and watch more European TV than I ever did back in the States -- and what I have discovered while reading up on the European POV is that Britain, Germany, France, etc. are currently in the midst of a terrible economic meltdown.

While it makes me sad to see individual Europeans hurting so much, does that make me feel sorry for Europe as a whole? Not really. Why should I? European nations have chosen their fate willingly and have simply received the logical consequences of their folly -- they trusted George Bush and he spit in their soup.

Back in 2003, Europe shoulda put its foot down. "Sorry, George, but invading Iraq is a REALLY stupid idea." But did Europe put its foot down? Nope.

Europe? It coulda-woulda-shoulda put its foot down with regard to Bush's so-called Roadmap to Disaster that has financed continual genocide in Gaza and the West Bank and also left Israel open and vulnerable to physical, economic and moral devastation.

According to the latest UN report on the Israel-Palestine situation, "Though the ceasefire had been generally effective in reducing the level of political violence, existing evidence showed a harsher regime of confinement and siege imposed on the population of Gaza. Such delays and denials of permission had resulted in a growing number of deaths, severe mental and physical suffering, and constituted a violation of the duty of the occupying Power to take all reasonable steps to protect the health and well-being of the population under occupation, [Richard Falk, Special Rapporteur for the United Nations] said."

But did Europe do anything to alleviate this accute humanitarian crisis? Not really.

And Europe could have put its foot down and said no to all of Bush's economic parlor tricks with the dollar that also put their euros at risk. Instead, Europe hardily embraced Bush's "shop til you drop" approach to credit. According to Iain Macwhirter of the New Statesman, "I visited Latvia at the height of the credit bubble 18 months ago, and it was clearly an accident waiting to happen. Riga, the capital, was bristling with upmarket shopping malls and classy bars that were all quite empty. Stalin-era flats were being sold for $200,000 in a country where the average wage was less than $400 a month. Latvia has hardly any industry, no energy and few natural resources apart from trees. But such was the irrational exuberance of foreign banks like Swedbank, [that] it was awash with credit."

Heck, even I could see the way things were going back then -- we were heading toward a war-torn world, an international financial crisis. Yet despite all the obvious handwriting on the wall between 2000 and now, Europe has blindly done nothing except kiss Bush's [hind-quarters].

But maybe I'm being too hard on Europe -- because Europe hasn't been operating in a vacuum all this time and hasn't been alone in its folly either. Imagine what Russia and China could have done to rein in Cowboy George too. And Japan, Latin America and Africa -- not to mention the Americans who freaking let GWB steal two elections and start an unnecessary war? Even Iceland could have made its move -- but no. Everyone just sat around idlely picking their noses and letting Bush, Cheney and them do whatever their little hearts desired.

And what has Bush done to reward such loyal behavior? He has spit in our soup.

Politics, religion, economics & geeks: My report from Iran # 5

Yes, I'm still over here in Iran.

After leaving Shiraz, I then wandered off to Pasargad, which used to be Cyrus the Great's ceremonial home. At one time this place was truly impressive but there's not much left at Pasargad now. It looked like it had gotten foreclosed upon too.

From there I went on to Esfahan, famous for its awe-inspiring and spiritually overwhelming architecture. Esfahan boasts churches, mosques and synagogues that are so awe-inspiring they would move even a rock to tears. I cried a lot in Esfahan.

When the Armenians were persecuted in Turkey during the 17th century, the Shah of Iran at that time invited them to settle in Esfahan and they did. And then the new immigrants built a magnificent church -- which I just visited. OMG, it was breathtaking. Marble floors, paintings, murals, chandeliers, domed ceilings, sacred music, incense, vaulted alcoves, the whole nine yards. I would have been brought to my knees by the overwhelming majesty of it all -- except of course that I gots bad knees.

I could have stayed in that church for hours -- like I did at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. It was both spiritually and architecturally magnificent. I wish that the inside of my brain looked like this.

But then I looked closer at some of the paintings nearest to eye-level -- and they were all paintings of tortured martyrs! Yuck. They depicted scenes of lead being poured on saints' heads, saints being boiled in oil, hung outside down from trees, having their eyes gouged out, intestines ripped out, heads squished in stocks, heads covered in sacks containing something obviously horrible (Snakes? Deadly insects? Wasps?), having boiling water poured on their genitals, saints' chests being cut with scythes -- and then of course there were the ten stations of the cross.

These Armenians must have led really hard lives.

Then I went off to the Armenian museum where I learned that on April 24, 1915, one-and-a-half million Armenians were systematically massacred by the Turkish military in a troop exercise as precisely planned and executed as a slaughterhouse producing beef.

Some of the remaining Armenians escaped to America but most of the survivors fled to Iran.

After visiting the Armenian church (and eating pomegranate and walnut stew, chicken kabobs and saffron ice cream for lunch), I then went off to visit a Jewish synagogue.

"In biblical times when the Jews were dragged off to Babylon," I was told, "they were freed by Cyrus the Great, King of Persia -- and many of the unshackled Jews then followed him back to Iran, where there is still a large Jewish community in Esfahan even today," umpteen centuries later.

At the synagogue, the rabbi and his wife and daughter gave me a tour of the temple and a soccot tent out in its garden. That part was nice, sure, but the most moving moment was when the rabbi's daughter held up both of her hands, palms outward, and blessed me. The traditional symbology of the Jewish Hamsa Hand came to life in the rabbi's daughter's palm. The gesture was so powerful and moving that I don't even wanna talk about it.

After that, I went off to tour the mosques of Esfahan. Stunning. Before you die, you really should try to go there -- or at least let me send you a post card of any one of those mosques. They are as humbling and inspiring as any cathedral in France.

So. While I'm on the subject of churches, mosques and synagogues, now might be a good time to talk about religion. "When religion turns into politics, something vital is lost," someone once told me -- I forget who.

When the so-called leaders of our countries prey upon all our human yearning for spirituality and convert it into hatred and anger, something terribly precious is lost -- it is as if all the glory and honor and awe of the churches, mosques and synagogues of Esfahan (and the world) have been burned to the ground.

The greatest triumph of the world's religions has been their ability to help mankind become better, to rise above itself, to become more evolved. And here in Iran, I've seen both sides of the religious coin -- from the humility and piety of the true Christian, Muslim and Jew to the obsessive control freaks who have nothing better to do than to give ME grief about whether or not I'm wearing a headscarf. (The good news is that the headscarf is on its way out here in Iran. And also I hear that Iranians are rather pissed off that their oil money is being spent to fix the streets of Lebanon instead of to fix the streets of Iran. Sound familiar?)

And in America, our current so-called leaders -- who always go about bragging that they are all so religious and spend all their time getting instructions from God -- are too busy making war on foreigners to fix bridges in Minneapolis or levees in New Orleans or Iowa.

And in Israel, the so-called religious leaders there are too busy spending American taxpayers' money on bombing Palestine, Lebanon and Syria to spend any more than the bare minimum on building schools in Tel Aviv and are currently spending no money at all on building schools in Gaza.

It's time for our religious leaders to get out of politics, get their game on and start raising the spiritual bar -- by example -- instead. And it's time for our political leaders to stop playing God.

Anyway, I'm currently writing this diatribe from an internet cafe in Esfahan -- and have been here for HOURS. "I love the internet world," I told the clerk there, "and hate the real world." He just smiled -- because he knew exactly what I was talking about. He was an Iranian nerd and an Iranian nerd is just like an American nerd And then it hit me. I'm a nerd too!

It took me all of 66 years and roaming all over the world for a decade to finally discover my true self-identity here In Iran!

I'm a geek.

Ouch, that hurts: A rise in pediatric kidney stones is NOT connected with an increase in infant vaccines...or is it?

I'm not supposed to be writing up this story. This is a bad idea. "Don't do it, Jane!"

First of all, I don't want to antagonize Big Pharma. According to congressional records, large pharmaceutical companies are struggling as it is -- what with all those senior citizens breaking the law and running off to Canada to get their prescriptions filled instead of spending that money at home -- and if I go about irresponsibly accusing Big Pharma of making money at the expense of our children as well, I could run the risk of hurting some corporate feelings.

We wouldn't want that to happen, now would we.

Second, I shouldn't be writing about this for personal reasons. Although kidney stones usually only occur in middle-aged people, they are suddenly becoming quite common in American children and my neighbor's child, a beautiful wonderful six-year-old girl, just got struck down with kidney stones too. Kidney stones are supposed to be the most painful thing that can happen to you this side of being in labor for two days before giving birth to a 15-pound infant. And my neighbor's child is a bit shy and doesn't want me to mention her name in my blog. I may want to be famous but she doesn't. She likes Hannah Montana a lot and would not mind being secretly famous -- but not just for having kidney stones!

But I keep thinking that I have to write up this story anyway -- if it will possibly in any way prevent other little girls like my neighbor's child from going through this kind of torture.

"Just keep your mouth shut, Jane. You are NOT a scientist!"

Not being a scientist, how can I in any way prove that there is a connection between the horrifying rise in pediatric kidney stones and the horrifying rise in the amount of injected vaccines given to babies, as many as five shots in one day? I can't.

But in any case, parents should be made aware of this horrible new development -- that is currently being blamed on salt.

Here's an article about it from the New York Times:

A Rise in Kidney Stones Is Seen in U.S. Children

By Laurie Tarken, published on October 27, 2008

To the great surprise of parents,
kidney stones, once considered a disorder of middle age, are now showing up in children as young as 5 or 6.
While there are no reliable data on the number of cases, pediatric urologists and nephrologists across the country say they are seeing a steep rise in young patients. Some
hospitals have opened pediatric kidney stone clinics.
“The older doctors would say in the ’70s and ’80s, they’d see a kid with a stone once every few months,” said Dr. Caleb P. Nelson, a urology instructor at Harvard Medical School who is co-director of the new kidney stone center at Children’s Hospital Boston. “Now we see kids once a week or less.”

Dr. John C. Pope IV, an associate professor of urologic surgery and pediatrics at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville, said, “When we tell parents, most say they’ve never heard of a kid with a kidney stone and think something is terribly wrong with their child.”

In China recently, many children who drank milk tainted with
melamine — a toxic chemical illegally added to watered-down milk to inflate the protein count — developed kidney stones.
The increase in the United States is attributed to a host of factors, including a food additive that is both legal and ubiquitous: salt.

Though most of the research on kidney stones comes from adult studies, experts believe it can be applied to children. Those studies have found that dietary factors are the leading cause of kidney stones, which are crystallizations of several substances in the urine. Stones form when these substances become too concentrated.

Forty to 65 percent of kidney stones are formed when oxalate, a byproduct of certain foods, binds to
calcium in the urine. (Other common types include calcium phosphate stones and uric acid stones.) And the two biggest risk factors for this binding process are not drinking enough fluids and eating too much salt; both increase the amount of calcium and oxalate in the urine.

Excess salt has to be excreted through the kidneys, but salt binds to calcium on its way out, creating a greater concentration of calcium in the urine and the kidneys.

“What we’ve really seen is an increase in the salt load in children’s
diet,” said Dr. Bruce L. Slaughenhoupt, co-director of pediatric urology and of the pediatric kidney stone clinic at the University of Wisconsin. He and other experts mentioned not just salty chips and French fries, but also processed foods like sandwich meats; canned soups; packaged meals; and even sports drinks like Gatorade, which are so popular among schoolchildren they are now sold in child-friendly juice boxes.

Children also tend not to drink enough water. “They don’t want to go to the bathroom at school; they don’t have time, so they drink less,” said Dr. Alicia Neu, medical director of pediatric nephrology and the pediatric stone clinic at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center in Baltimore. Instead, they are likely to drink only once they’re thirsty — but that may be too little, too late, especially for children who play sports or are just active.

“Drinking more water is the most important step in the prevention of kidney stones,” Dr. Neu said.

The incidence of kidney stones in adults has also been rising, especially in women, and experts say they see more adults in their 20s and 30s with stones; in the past, it was more common in adults in their 40s and 50s.

“It’s no longer a middle-aged disease,” Dr. Nelson said. “Most of us suspect what we’re seeing in children is the spillover of the overall increase in the whole population.”

The median age of children with stones is about 10.

Many experts say the rise in
obesity is contributing to kidney stones in children as well as adults. But not all stone centers are seeing overweight children, and having a healthy weight does not preclude kidney stones. “Of the school-age and adolescent kids we’ve seen, most of them appear to be reasonably fit, active kids,” Dr. Nelson said. “We’re not seeing a parade of overweight Nintendo players.”

Dr. Slaughenhoupt has seen more overweight children at his clinic. “We haven’t compared our data yet,” he said, “but my sense is that children with stones are bigger, and some of them are morbidly obese.”

Dr. Pope, in Nashville, agreed. His hospital lies in the so-called stone belt, a swath of Southern states with a higher incidence of kidney stones, and he said doctors there saw two to three new pediatric cases a week.

“There’s no question in my mind that it is largely dietary and directly related to the childhood obesity epidemic,” he said.
Fifty to 60 percent of children with kidney stones have a family history of the disease. “If you have a family history, it’s important to recognize your kids are at risk at some point in their life,” Dr. Nelson said. “That means instilling lifelong habits of good hydration,
balanced diet, and avoiding processed high-salt, high-fat foods.”

There is also evidence that sucrose, found in sodas, can also increase risk of stones, as can high-protein weight-loss diets, which are growing in popularity among teenagers.

A common misconception is that people with kidney stones should avoid calcium. In fact, dairy products have been shown to reduce the risk of stones, because the dietary calcium binds with oxalate before it is absorbed by the body, preventing it from getting into the kidneys.

Children with kidney stones can experience severe pain in their side or stomach when a stone is passing through the narrow ureter through which urine travels from the kidneys to the bladder. Younger children may have a more vague pain or
stomachache, making the condition harder to diagnose. Children may feel sick to their stomach, and often there is blood in the urine.

One Saturday last February, 11-year-old Tessa Cesario of Frederick, Md., began having back pains. An aspiring ballerina who dances en pointe five nights a week, she was used to occasional aches and strains. But this one was so intense that her parents took her to the doctor.

The pediatrician ordered an
X-ray, and when he phoned with the results, her parents were astonished. “I was afraid he was calling to say she pulled something and wouldn’t be able to dance,” said her mother, Theresa Cesario. Instead, they were told that Tessa had a kidney stone. “I thought older men get kidney stones, not kids,” Ms. Cesario said.

The treatment for kidney stones is similar in children and adults. Doctors try to let the stone pass, but if it is too large, if it blocks the flow of urine or if there is a sign of infection, it is removed through one of two types of minimally invasive surgery.
Shock-wave lithotripsy is a noninvasive procedure that uses high-energy sound waves to blast the stones into fragments that are then more easily passed. In ureteroscopy, an endoscope is inserted through the ureter to retrieve or obliterate the stone.

Tessa Cesario is taking a wait-and-see approach. Her stone is not budging, so her parents are putting off surgery until they can work it into her dance schedule. In the meantime, she has vastly reduced her salt intake by cutting back on sandwich meats, processed soups and chips. And, her mother said, “she drinks a ton more water.”

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

It's easier to tour Iran than to tour the White House: My report from Iran # 5

(Photos are of Esfahan's lovely bridges, bazaars, etc. and a great photo of East meeting West!)

For years now I've been complaining about how President [sic] Bush isn't letting any of us Americans tour the White House. He keeps claiming it's for security reasons but that doesn't change the fact that it's OUR White House -- not his -- and we should freaking be allowed to take White House tours.

Finally someone told me that I could score a tour by contacting my Congressperson. So I did. And I've been waiting since way back in MARCH to get approved. It didn't take me that long to secure a visa to North Korea. It took far less time than that to even secure a visa to freaking IRAN. Heck, it only took me three weeks to get permission to tour Baghdad. What's so top-secret special about 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

I'm over here in Iran right now, having a wonderful time touring Esfahan, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. And this morning I was chatting with a fellow American tourist, telling him about how the most recent press releases from the US military Iraq tend to talk about how training Iraqi forces has been stepped up and even about how US outposts are being turned over to Iraqis.

Does the US military know something that we don't know? Is there a de facto withdrawal happening even as we speak? Are they just waiting until after the elections to let us taxpaying voters in on the big secret? Hmmm.

Us taxpayers are always the last to know. But I digress.

"Right now," continued the American tourist, "the UN mandate for the American military to be in Iraq will expire at the end of December -- and you just KNOW that the UN isn't going to extend it. And the mandate gives immunity to American troops. And Bush is putting pressure on Iraq to keep giving immunity to US troops. But the thing is this -- the Shah of Iran granted immunity to US troops in Iran back in 1979 and that was the straw that broke the camel's back. Back then, businessmen and bazaar owners had been very hesitant to back Khomeini up to that point but when the Shah gave immunity to the US troops, that was all-she-wrote for the Shah -- and the Islamic Revolution was on." I didn't know that.

"And Americans never learn," said my new friend. "The Brits over-extended their empire and lost it -- but that didn't stop Americans from doing the same thing. And Vietnam didn't stop Americans from getting bogged down militarily and clobbered economically the same way in Iraq."

Then a whole bunch of German tourists, South Koreans and me went out and toured the bridges, bazaars, mosques, churches and synagoges of Esfahan.

I'm thinking that when Obama gets elected, I may FINALLY get to tour the White House. But what if McCain wins the same way that Bush won before? What if McCain jimmies the vote too and steals the third presidential election in a row? Then I'll NEVER get to tour the White House.

PS: If the GOP does try to steal yet another presidential election this November, they may be in for a very big surprise. Maybe this time Americans will finally not stand for it. Maybe this time Americans will finally say to themselves, "I voted for Gore, Kerry and Obama and so did most of my friends. What's with that?"

And maybe more and more Americans might begin thinking that giving election-fraud immunity to the Republicans yet again just might be OUR straw for breaking the camel's back. So. Perhaps the GOP will think twice this time before tampering with the vote -- for their own good.

Monday, October 20, 2008

From Afghanistan to Ethiopia, Xerxes over-extended his empire: My report from Iran # 4

(Photos are of Shiraz, Persepolis, German tourists, picnicers and lemon-flavored non-alcoholic beer. Click on the photos to enlarge them.)

A few days ago, I arrived in the Iranian city of Shiraz -- famous for its roses, nightingales, poets and wine. "People here love to have fun," one Shirazi told me. "We especially love to picnic." And it's true. Everywhere there is grass, you can see people sitting on blankets and eating -- even on traffic medians.

Hey, my son Joe is in a rock band called "123 Picnic". He should bring his band here. It would be a big hit.

"It's illegal to dance in public in Iran," someone told me, "but you can dance at private parties."

Then I went off to visit Persepolis, the former capital of a vast Persian empire. "Cyrus the Great and Darius the Great conquered many of the surrounding countries," said our guide, "but both of them were wise, organized and benevolent kings. They tolerated and even encouraged different customs and religions, and made certain that all people prospered under their leadership."

And then along came Xerxes. And he was a punk. All he did was make war. He conquered every single country from Greece to India; from Ethiopia, Egypt and Israel to as far north as Afghanistan. He over-extended his empire, got everyone pissed off, finally got his comeuppance and died.

Next I went to visit Xerxes' necropolis. His tomb was carved into the side of a cliff and it all looked very impressive, like Egypt's Valley of the Kings. But dead is dead. And despite all his posturing, Xerxes still ended up as a mummy in a cave.

Which logically leads us to thoughts of George W. Bush, who over-extended his empire too. I'd love to see GWB end up in a cave as well -- but preferably alive, so that all us tourists can come and gape at him too.

Before coming to Iran, even I had no idea of the depth of archaeological presence this country contains. According to the Lonely Planet, it is easily as impressive a tourist destination as Egypt or Angkor Watt. Planning your next vacation? Seriously think about going to Iran.

There are tons of tourists here in Shiraz BTW. Most of them are from Germany but some of them, surprisingly, seem to be from South Korea.

In Shiraz, I came down with a light case of Khomeini's Revenge, got lost in the bazaar and saw a palace full of mirrors. Each mirror was about two inches by two inches square and there were millions of them. "One governor of Shiraz had ordered a bunch of mirrors from Europe and when they arrived, they were all broken -- but he used them anyway." The effect was brilliant. I wanna go home and fill my home with mirrors too. It's very fung shuei.

My friend Chris just e-mailed me that I should try to go meet Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, so I did -- at a wax museum. We did rock-paper-scissors and I won. So now he's agreed to give up nuclear weapons. Good job, Jane!

The way that the people of Iran seem to feel about nuclear weaponry is, "We are surrounded by Israel, Pakistan and India and they all have The Bomb. If they agree to disassemble their nuclear weapons, then fine. We will no longer have a need to develop ours."

And as for Iran being a theocracy, there is less pressure here to make everyone adhere to the state religion than there is in Saudi Arabia, Israel or even parts of South Carolina.

At Persepolis, I was showing some high school girls photos of my family and they all agreed that my son Joe was a BABE. And they were very disappointed when I said he was married. But he really should consider bringing his band to Iran.

At the tomb of Hafez, the famous Shirazi poet, I got my fortune told by a parakeet. "You will become the leader of your tribe." I'm up for that.

And then we left Shiraz and went off to Pasargad and Esfahan. "Bye bye Shiraz."

PS: If President Ahmadinejad -- or anyone else for that matter -- wants to listen to or book my son Joe's band, go to their website at "We'd totally play in Iran," e-mailed Joe.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Zoroastrians, carpets & reading Ann Tyler in Yazd: My report from Iran # 3.5

Yesterday I left the highly-westernized capital city of Tehran and headed out to the province of Yazd, famous for its ancient water systems, Zoroastrians and carpets. You shoulda seen me. I was absolutely WALLOWING in carpets.

Once upon a time, I used to work for a lawyer. My job was to write personal injury settlement briefs -- and I was good at it too (writing settlement briefs is an awful lot like writing soap opera) so when the bus I was riding on in Yazd got hit by a car, I was really interested to see how Iranians handled this type of stuff. Here's how it went:

First our driver got out and talked with the other driver. "Your bus deliberately hit me," she cried.

"That couldn't be," replied our driver. "I was standing still." Upon being confronted with this new information, however, the other driver did the obvious thing -- she whipped out her cell phone and called her boyfriend. And in the meantime, four or five male bystanders had come over to try to help out a lady in distress. So. Confronted with four or five wannabe-Lancelots and the prospect of an angry boyfriend about to arrive on the scene, our bus driver suddenly decided that there hadn't been all that much damage done to his bus after all.

"Why don't you just call the police and let them sort it out -- and then you'd have a traffic report and everything," I advised. Then everyone, even the boyfriend, just turned and looked at me like I was stupid at that point.

Next I went to "Fazeli Iran Carpet", a carpet store run by a Zoroastrian family, and got shown a ton of rugs -- really really high quality rugs. I couldn't afford to buy any of them but did take a ton of photographs, which made me feel much better.

Afterward, I went over to the Yadz bazaar and found a rug that was more in my price range -- $20.

"But you can't buy that rug!" exclaimed the Iranian I was with. "It's made in China!" In Yadz, the carpet capital of the world, buying a machine-made rug is just about as low as you can get. Hey, I'd LOVE to buy a hand-made tribal carpet. They are true works of art. But get real. It's not gonna happen. But how would I be able to get my Chinese rug home?

I just finished reading Ann Tyler's book, "Searching for Caleb". And now I'm out searching for a rug I can afford and can also lug home from Iran. The rug I am searching for must have a wonderful tribal design, have 166 knots per square inch, have its wool hand-dyed with pomegranet juice, fit the area of my daughter Ashley's living room perfectly, be easy to ship home and cost less than $20. Oh, and it would be nice if it could fly.

Then I got back on the bus, went off to to a mosque and talked with an Imam. "Will you pray for peace between America and Iran?" I asked him.

"Of course I will," replied the Imam. "However, it may not be necessary. As soon as the election is over and there is a new president, hostilities between Iran and America will no longer be a problem." That's interesting. But was the Imam talking about the upcoming election between Ahmadinejad and Khatami -- or was he talking about the election between Obama and McCain? Perhaps he was hinting that when both Iran and America get rid of leaders who love being bellicose, then the rest of us will finally be able to enjoy a little peace and quiet (and peace dividends) for once.

At breakfast, I talked with another Iranian about the upcoming Iranian presidential election scheduled for next May. "Do you think that Khatami will win over Ahmadinejad?"

"I don't even think that Ahmadinejad will even run," answered the Iranian. "He's not very popular right now and he knows that he won't get re-elected." Oh.

This morning when I turned on the news at my hotel, the BBC was going on and on about how the entire world was falling apart economically. Does this mean when I get home things are gonna be entirely changed and I'll find my poor sweet young daugher Ashley selling apples on the corner? Crap. I leave the country for just three little weeks and find that the whole place is falling apart without me!

PS: It's ironic that three of the four progressive news services that I subscribe to are not available over here in Iran. These services were influential in stopping Bush and McCain's hare-brained scheme to bomb Iran and yet access to them is denied? Bizarre. You can get OpEd News over here -- but not TruthOut, Smirking Chimp or the Huffington Post.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fast food and Coca-Cola: Two main staples of Iranian cuisine

What do they eat in Tehran? Fast food! It's true. I'm here in Iran and only have brief access to a computer so I'm typing as fast as I can but they do eat a lot of fast food here. Tehran is a very westernized city except that us ladies all have to wear headscarves. Pizza and burgers are popular here.

In the countryside, the food is probably more ethnic, lots of lamb kebabs and yogurt. But here in Tehran, you would be surprised. KFC is now "Kabooky Fried Chicken" but even despite the sanctions, Coca-Cola is ever-present.

People need to get over their concepts of Tehran as being just short of the caves of Tora Bora. It is an entirely westernized city -- that, just like America, runs on fast food!

Industrial self-sufficiency & Gucci: My report from Iran # 2

Yesterday I went off to see Tehran's equivalent of Beverly Hills' Rodeo Drive. They had all the latest stuff there -- Gucci, Dior, Tommy Hilfiger, Givenchy, Mont Blanc, DSquared2, Yves St. Laurent, etc. The women were dressed to the nines. Forget just plain ordinary veils. Everyone there was wearing Hermes.

So much for sanctions.

"One reason that sanctions don't work so well over here" said an Iranian woman I met at the local KFC (Kabooky Fried Chicken), "is because there is so much European money invested in Iran that, even though the EU officially supports the imposition of sanctions, European investors cannot afford to completely play by the rules laid down by the US. And the other reason is that Iran is mostly industrially self-sufficient. We even make our own cars."

Iran, unfortunately, is not TOTALLY industrially self-sufficient, I was just about to find out. Today we flew from Tehran to Yazd and our plane was very very late in arriving. "Why is it so late?" I asked the man sitting next to me in the passenger lounge.

"This delay is due to the sanctions. Airplanes and airplane parts are hard to get in Iran right now."

"But doesn't sanctioning airplane parts put civilians in danger?"

"Yes it does. We just had a crash recently because of this. Plus it's hard to make repairs and we are forced to use the black market or to improvise. For instance, we now rent some of our planes because we are not allowed to buy them. We rent them from Russia, Turkey and even Bulgaria. But even so, many of our planes are in such poor shape right now that they aren't even allowed to land at European airports." Great. That's just what I needed to hear right before boarding my flight to Yazd.

"But why doesn't Iran make its own planes?"

"Specialization. In today's world economy, it's not possible to make everything." Oh. So the sanctions actually do end up hurting Iran -- unless of course you have a passion for Gucci. Then apparently you are okay.

But in general Iran really is industrially self-sufficient.

I wish that America was too.

For instance, just how vulnerable would WE be if we had sanctions imposed on us?

Let's suppose that the rest of the world finally got all pissed off at America because of Bush, Cheney and McCain's reckless and lawless foreign policy? Suppose that the rest of the world finally got fed up with all the waterboarding, preemptive strikes, DU contamination, WMD lies, lack of financial regulations and various other nasty things that the neo-cons have done across the globe in the past eight years? Suppose that the rest of the world decided to impose sanctions on the US? We'd be in big trouble. Why? Because America is NOT in any way industrially self-sufficient.

We'd be screwed.

PS: President Eisenhower definitely had the right idea when he had all those freeways and highways built in the name of national self-defense. Bush's current idea of breaking the law of posse comitatus and billeting troops here at home isn't what is going to keep America safe. That's just window dressing. What WILL keep us safe, however, is to maintain industrial self-sufficiency.

The very backbone of America's national safety comes directly from our ability to maintain as much industrial self-sufficiency as we possibly can -- like we did back in World War II. But right now America has almost NO backbone.

PPS: Tonight I talked with another Iranian man (a surprising number of Iranians speak English) who told me some more stuff about Iran. I'm not sure if I'm getting the Big Picture over here after having only been in the country for three days, but here's what the guy said. "Ahmadinejad is to Iran what Bush is to America. Dr. A ran for election on an 'ownership society' platform, promising to give us economic prosperity and all that 'I'm a uniter not a divider' stuff -- but in the end Ahmadinejad turned out to be only a tool of Iran's richest families and a cheerleader for confrontation and war -- just like George W. Bush."

What else have i learned over here? Another Iranian I met at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art talked about his hopes, dreams and fears. "I served in the Army during the Iran-Iraq war. It was a time from Hell. I watched my best friends be killed."

"What started that war?"

"The Iraqis, with the backing of the United States, tried to seize one of our most oil-rich provinces. " Aha. Iraq used to be the neo-cons' chief catspaw in the Middle East regarding Iran and look what happened to it. And now Israel has taken the place of Iraq in that role. What's with all this hatred of Iran?

"It's not so much hatred of Iran," my new Iranian friend said. "It's that the Americans in power want to divide and conquer the Middle East in order to get control of the oil and to promote weapons sales. Even Israel appears to be a fall-guy in this scenario -- and Saudi Arabia definitely is. Americans always try to have a bogey-man in the region so that they can sell more arms. Remember that Ronald Reagan was selling arms to both Iran and Iraq at the same time during the Iran-Iraq war. You really have to live in the Middle East to understand all this stuff."

No wonder the people of Tehran are more interested in buying Gucci than in making war -- and why they are not as fond of Ahmadinejad as we have been led to believe. Iranians have all "been there, done that" before. But then that doesn't excuse us Americans either. We've also all been there and done that too. We already went through all of that -- being convinced by self-interested leaders that war is a necessary thing -- regarding Vietnam.