Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Iran vs. KFC: Chickening out in Tehran and Yazd

In a pissing contest between the United States and Iran, it's hard to tell who would win. Of course America is bigger and has more nuclear weapons, but Iran is more self-sufficient due to its broader manufacturing base.

Americans used to be much more free than Iranians -- but times may have changed. When you consider the recent FBI raids in Minneapolis, Congressional renewal of that slimy PATRIOT Act, waterboarding's sudden wide popularity, our suspended habeas corpus protections, wholesale election giveaways to Citizens United and Diebold, AT&T wiretapping, executive privileges to detain and assassinate U.S. citizens, Arizona's recent driving-while-Mexican laws and all those happy crotch-gropers at TSA, our country seems to be trying just as hard as it can to catch up with the hardliners in Tehran.

Yet despite the fact that hard-line mullahs are basically running the show in Iran right now, it is still one of the most democratic countries in the Middle East when you compare Iran with a majority of other countries in that region that are currently run by or have been run in the past by the many tyrannical losers that America has happily hand-picked and financed over the last 60 years. Then suddenly Iran doesn't look so bad.

America has poured billions of our good taxpayer dollars into supporting all kinds of tyrants and dictatorships in the Middle East, including (but not limited to) Saddam Hussein, the decadent House of Saud, Hamid Karzai's brother who is the top heroin supplier in the world, that famous CIA tool Osama bin Ladin, the notorious former Shah of Iran, those Kuwaiti losers who sucked us into the Gulf War, that corrupt guy in Yemen, Washington's current BFF in Egypt, good old Ariel Sharon aka the Butcher of Shatila, that American-owned punk who was just thrown out of Tunisia -- and I forget who all else. (

If you compare the natural resources of Iran with those of America, the U.S. certainly does have lots of oil -- but then Iran has lots of oil too. We also have lots of farmland, but then so does northern Iran. Our national parks are awesome, but Iran's historical architectural sites are also superb.

Gasoline in Iran now costs $2.80 per gallon, due to a recent 400% increase. But gas at my local gas station costs $3.50 per gallon, so Iran has the slight edge there. Profits from oil revenue in Iran appear to be going toward upgrading of the Iranian economy, infrastructure, military and social services. American gas companies' profits, on the other hand, appear to be going toward buying new Beemers and Porsches for their CEOs.

Financially speaking, the U.S. banks on its dollars -- while Iran uses euros. But which currency is stronger? It's hard to tell. However, with gold now selling at an unbelievable $1,367 an ounce and both the U.S. and the E.U. having economic problems these days, I think that almost everyone is losing that particular race -- even China.

Iran is a flat-out theocracy now -- but according to Bush, Beck and Boehner, America is a theocracy-wannabe in the making, a "theocracy" ruled by corporations. Not Jesus.

Currently, Iran is ruled by Islamic ayatollahs and America is ruled by corporations. Let's compare. In Islam, people fast for one month a year in order to learn compassion for those who have less than they do. In addition, good Muslims are required to give a portion of their income to charity. Under these house rules, there is a fair chance that the ayatollahs of Iran will be motivated by their religion to help those they rule -- thus there is always a chance for redemption.

However, the corporations that now rule America have proven again and again that they are motivated solely by greed. And while everyone in America seems to be complaining about Big Government these days, the truth is that "government" -- big or small -- no longer rules America. Corporations do. There's been a bloodless revolution in our country. America is now ruled by K Street.

Corporations now own America on every level -- and we Americans stood passively by and allowed this disaster to happen. America's government no longer serves us. America's government now serves them. There's been a bloodless coup here in America and now it appears that we are ruled solely by greed -- and greed has no chance for redemption.

Here's another comparison between Iran and America: If asked the question, "Does the Iranian government systematically lie to its citizens?" I would probably have to say yes. But compared to the vast amount of lying to its citizens that goes on in America today --- as revealed recently by Wikileaks -- who knows which country would come out the winner here? The American government, however, appears to have gained the winning edge in this contest.

One in four Iranians don't have healthcare coverage. One in six Americans don't have healthcare coverage. America is only slightly ahead here.

But there is one area where America has clearly beaten Iran h
ands down. No contest here at all! America is far better at cooking chicken. Even KFC chicken is better than most of the chicken I ate in Iran -- and I have evidence to prove it.

When I toured Iran two years ago, almost everywhere I went, I got served dry, over-cooked chicken. America wins the chicken-cooking Olympics hands down!

Iran may occasionally use an iron fist on dissenters who disagree with its presidential election results -- whereas America still uses its velvet glove. Iran may have much of the European oil market sewed up, a much broader manufacturing base and apparently-strong alliances with Russia and China, but America has won out over Iran hands down when it comes to cooking chicken!

PS: Here's a report on my two-day trip to Yazd, one of Iran's wonderful tourist destinations. Eat your heart out, Rick Steves!

October 13: On my last day in Tehran, the hotel waitress served me a large glass of hot milk and coffee -- which somehow hit me as being the height of decadent luxury. Hey, don't laugh. It's something that I never indulge in at home. And there were dates and yogurt for breakfast as well. This is about the most exotic thing I can say about Tehran. Almost everything else here is fairly Westernized. Iran is a truly Westernized country. I don't think that Americans realize that Iranians are not "camel jockeys" at all.

Then our guide told us a joke about the sanctions. "One day a Persian died and was sent to Hell because he was from the Axis of Evil. In Hell, he looked around and one section of Hell looked sort of fun. 'This is the Persian Hell,' he was told. 'Why is it not like the American Hell where you get burning tar poured into your mouth through a funnel every day?' 'Ah because this is the Persian Hell and we are very disorganized -- plus we have sanctions, so that one day we don't have the tar and the next day we don't have the funnel.'"

Then we drove along a street that used to be called "Eisenhower Boulevard". Now it is called "Freedom Street".

After the revolution, the very first company to come to Iran was Coca-Cola," said our guide. "Also Iran is the world's second largest exporter of copper."
And also the second largest producer of oil.

"So how are the sanctions working?" I asked.

"Not as well as expected -- for two reasons.
First, the European community has too many investments here to support most sanctions, and, second, Iran is industrially self-sufficient in a whole bunch of areas. We even make our own cars." If sanctions were ever applied to America, we'd be screwed -- because we are not, not, not industrially self-sufficient.

Our plane to Yazd is going to be delayed," said our guide. "This is due to sanctions.
Airplanes and airplane parts are being sanctioned." "But why?" It's not like these planes are being used for military purposes or nothing. And doesn't that put civilians in danger?"

"Yes, the sanctions do put civilians in danger.
We have had several disastrous plane crashs recently due to sanctions, and it's also hard to make airplane repairs. We are forced to improvise. Plus we rent planes from other countries -- from Russia, Turkey and even Bulgaria. Many of our planes are in such poor shape that they aren't even allowed to land at European airports." Great. That's just what I needed to hear right before our flight to Yazd takes off. "But don't worry. We are flying on a Dutch plane today."

"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? "Yes. However, the EU can trade with Iran for anything up to 20 million dollars, and there is a lively black market." But what black market do you go to if you want to buy airplane parts? And, more important, will they serve lunch on our flight?

Once on the plane, the captain announced, "We can't take off just yet because we are missing a...."
I couldn't hear exactly what it was that we were missing -- but do I really want to know?

There was a famous Iranian actor aboard our flight and he came over to talk with us.
He is famous for his detective roles in various murder mystery shows. "I hear that you are the Iranian Sherlock Holmes," someone said.

The actor smiled and replied, "Yes. Only I'm better." We all laughed.

The city of Yazd appears to be pretty big from the air. But who cares! I just want to see Yazd from the ground!

This city is located out in the semi-desert so it is famous for its water irrigation systems, first developed in 500 BC. "Yazdi citizens are hard-working, honest and never lie. They are famous for their ability to grow things. They are farmers." There is snow on the nearby mountains in the winter and it is then channeled down into the city through its underground irrigation systems -- which gives Yazd lots of parks and trees.

"Yazd was also an oasis on the Silk Road, so here is the place to buy silk. And here's a joke about Yazd. A man came home and told his wife to make both of them some eggs, but then he went up to the roof to fix the TV antenna and fell off the roof. 'Make that only one egg!' he yelled to his wife on the way down. Yazdis are famous for being careful with their money."

This is a desert city, more like Iraq than Tehran geographically. "According to UNESCO, this is the second-oldest city in the world. It is a World Heritage Site. And our hotel used to be a merchant's home 200 years ago, with fountains and gardens and domed ceilings." And an internet cafe!

"Next we are going to Yazd's Friday mosque and to some rug shops." The carpets at the shop looked almost magical enough to be able to fly and because the shop was run by Zoroastrians, we got to take off our headscarves. “See all those rugs? All hand-tied and reasonably priced.“ My daughter Ashley needs a rug but even the cheapest ones cost $700 apiece. "In America, this one would cost $5,000 – it represents one and a half year's work." Sorry, but I still can't afford it. But these rugs definitely filled me with lust. "But we take MasterCard." I don't dare even touch these rugs.

"Zoroastrians don't believe in killing so we go to the forests and take the silk after the butterfly has left its cocoon. This type of silk is called wild silk."

Then at a local cafe I talked with another Iranian who told me something that really surprised me. "Ahmadinejad is to Iran what Bush was to America. They both ran for election on an 'ownership society' platform. Ahmadinejad promised us economic prosperity and all that same 'I'm a uniter not a divider' stuff -- but in the end he turned out to be only a tool of Iran’s richest families and a drum major for confrontation and war."

What else did I learn from my talk with the Yazdi? "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 started it. With the backing of the United States, they tried to seize one of our most oil-rich provinces." >Aha. And now Israel has taken the place of Iraq when it comes to sabre-rattling. What's with all this hatred of Iran?

"It's not so much hatred of Iran," my new friend said. "It's the Americans in power who want to divide and conquer the Middle East, get control of the oil and promote weapons sales. Even Israel is a fall-guy in this scenario -- and Saudi Arabia definitely is. The U.S. always wants to have a bogey-man in the region so they can sell arms to Iran, Iraq. Israel, Saudi Arabia and everyone else. You really have to live in the Middle East to understand all this stuff."

No wonder the people of Tehran are more interested in shopping at Gucci than in making war.

Then we went out to dinner in a wonderful moonlit courtyard with a fountain -- but there was no dessert. Bummer.

October 14: "This morning, we are going to go climb a mountain. It is the Sacred Tower of the Zoroastrians." I'm sorry but the Zoroastrians are just going to have to wait. My knees hurt too much to go climbing no darn mountain. And I need a mental health day too.

"Can I stay home this morning? Please?" No problem. So I got to read late in bed and poke around at the hotel's computer and catch up with my blog. Admit it, Jane.

I do like Yazd a lot. It's so Arabian Nights in a way that Tehran will never be.

Then, after a wonderful quiet morning, a taxi came and whisked me away to meet my tour group for lunch. Prawns, lamb, fish and pomegranate sauce. Grapes for dessert.

"You missed the Silent Tower and the Zoroastrian temple of fire," said my new roommate. But she had photos. The tower looked like a dust-covered hill but the temple looked interesting. "That fire has been burning continuously since the 12th century." That's hot.

Next we went to an 18th-century palace or castle or something. "This is the residence of the governor of Yazd," said the sign. The main palace had a garden with a reflecting pool a half-mile long. I took a photo of part of it but was too lazy to walk to the end. But it would have been a really good shot.

"The oldest building we have in Iran is from approximately 13th-century BC, but Iran has gone through four different building styles since then, including desert ziggurats built so that mountain people could feel at home in the flatlands. And then after that came the Greek post-and-lentil style and the arched-dome look." Or words to that effect. There is a lot of architectural diversity here. This palace looked like parts of its style were stolen from India and Egypt. But we didn't get to see a seraglio like the sign at the entrance had promised.

Then the driver of some car hit our bus and, after having spent years writing personal injury settlement briefs for a law office, I was very interested to see how all this was going to go down. Could we sue for whiplash or what?
The confrontation was in Farsi but I got a quick translation from our guide. "You hit my bus!"

"I did not! I was standing still! You hit me!"
"Did not!"

"Did so!" Then both drivers decided that it would be a bad idea to get the police involved -- and that was that.

Then we visited a prison run by Alexander the Great and I got a photo of me in chains and leg-irons, hanging from the wall. I not only stood in the same spot where Alexander the Great had stood but I also got to play S&M too. Plus Alexander the Great's prison actually had a concession stand and I bought a bag of corn chips too. Not Fritos, however.

Then we went off to a 14th-century mosque and another Zoroastrian rug shop that took both Visa and MasterCard. I love to look at these rugs. I took tons of photos. Then we met some young tourists from Tehran. "You are touring the mosques here too?" I asked.

Next we wandered around Yazd's "Old Town" section -- gardens, walled houses, and narrow arched and domed passageways with whole families perched on motorcycles that roared up and down them. You shoulda seen the look on one two-year-old's face.

Then we went off and photographed more rugs. I'm going to go home and figure out how to put photos of rugs on my floor. One of the young women in our group found a rug that she really wanted but couldn't afford so we all joked that she could start a corporation, sell shares in her rug to us and go public. "And we could have an annual shareholders' meeting at your house and sell the rug in ten years for a fabulous profit." Or not.

"The rug itself is 40 years old but the pattern comes from 2,500 years ago. It's a Bijar, and took one and a half years to make." But the young woman still couldn't make up her mind.

"Would you like me to do a Tibetan Buddhist divination on it? Would that help?" I asked.

"Yes." But the divination came up -- twice -- with the opinion that it would be best for the young woman to make up her own mind. "I can't decide!" she wailed. Who could blame her? It was a fabulous rug but $1,200 is a lot of money when you're young. Hell, it's a lot of money for me too -- and I'm old.

Will she buy the rug? Or not? Stay tuned.

"I'll take another $100 off the price," said our carpet guy."I'll buy it!" Good decision.

Then we walked through the local bazaar and I saw some rugs on sale for only $20. "But those rugs are made in China!" our guide cried, shocked.

"But they are within my budget," I replied and lusted after these rugs too. But it was not to be. They were too big to carry home in my suitcase.

Tonight at dinner I sat next to the bus driver and got the whole story on what really happened after the accident this afternoon. "It was clear that the accident was the other driver's fault," he said, "but however..... There were about five men on the street who thought it disrespectful of me to hold it against her." Apparently the other driver had been dressed in that full-drag black hooded outfit that pious women in Iran wear, so all five men wanted to defend her honor.

"Then, to make matters worse," the bus driver continued, "the lady then called up her boyfriend and asked him to come down." So we've got five angry men and one angry boyfriend yelling at said bus driver. "So I did the expedient thing -- got the hell back on the bus and drove off." Or words to that effect. The bus driver's English wasn't all that good.