"The true gentleman is friendly, but not familiar." - CONFUCIUS

Monday, June 29, 2009

Iran Loves Michael Jackson

1987 WAS THE LAST TIME I WAS IN IRAN. It was a trip of many memories for an eight-year-old; the sight of the first pair of naked breasts that weren’t my mom’s (they were my cousin’s), a furious storm during which a thunderbolt took the roof off a building (which probably didn’t happen), sneaking a priceless Persian painting past rifle-wielding customs agents in Tehran airport on my mother’s orders.

The soundtrack to my Iran memories is equal parts classical Persian music and Western pop. George Michael's "Careless Whisper" will always remind me of rolling huge roundabouts in a rusting white Peugeot. The Bee Gees and Abba leak through my Tehran recollections, as if playing on a transistor radio turned low in the next room. Even in a religious state where Western music was hard to find, their music became part of the sound of Iran just as it did across the world, because it was melodic and inoffensive (not that most Iranians understood the words anyway). But they were just songs to most people. Few cared much about the people who made them. But not when it came to Mike.

Michael Jackson was America in penny loafers. Cool. Edgy. Rich. Michael was Coca-Cola and hamburgers. Michael was theme parks and smiling children. And all this as a black man in a white man's country. He was moonwalking, crotch-grabbing proof that the American Dream was real.

Not that we thought he was just anyone; far from it. Even now, there probably aren't enough black people in Iran to fill a record store - much as is the case in the southern, country end of England, which I returned to after my trip - so black people fascinated us. But Michael wasn't really black to us, or even white: he was Michael fucking Jackson. We loved him for the same reason everybody loved him: he was a real-life superhero. Loving him made us feel like a part of the world, which we were isolated from in so many ways. We now had something in common with American kids, and it rocked a curl and a glove on one hand.

If you think America is also slowly dying from debt and painkillers, then you might say Michael Jackson is America in death as well as life. It seems to be how a lot of our superheroes go. The American Dream becomes a Hollywood nightmare, and eventually, a VH1 special. Nobody wanted to see Michael go like this. He brought the world too much joy to leave it in such anguish. Michael Jackson paid the cost to be the boss. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the news of his death causes at least some pause in the people protesting against the government in Iran now. They're fighting for his American Dream - even if it isn't necessarily here anymore.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Iran: Separating Fact From Fiction

IRAN'S ON FIRE, AND FINGERS ARE POINTING as fast as the bullets are flying. Conservatives are big cheaters. Liberals are sore losers. And like clockwork, the know-it-alls on each side are trundling out all kinds of important-sounding factoids and statistics which they copy-pasted into their brains from Facebook posts and mass emails and their favorite ‘alternative’ news source that ‘tells it how it is’. Everyone waits calmly with a comfy little smile tickling each edge of their lips for the idiot in front of them to finish reciting the last Iran fact that they swear they heard on CNN but actually heard from their sister’s half-Iranian brother-in-law, so that they can return fire with a factoid they read on a blog on page eight of the Google results with thirteen spelling errors. Boom! In your face! All hail the world’s newest master politician. And to think I’ve been working at Starbucks all these years!

Once upon a time, in a land far away, there was a weird little concept known as journalistic impartiality. The term may sound complex, but it’s not. It means that we don’t let our feelings on an issue fuck with the facts. And we welcome the possibility that the facts could prove our feelings wrong, because that would lead to a greater understanding of the issue —“ which is what journalists are supposed to be in the business of. News is always subject to a little bias, no matter where you get it from. Humans can’t say anything without throwing their own spin on it. It’s your choice to take the deliverer’s word for it or not, and if the news you’re getting already chimes in with the way you feel, chances are you’re going to take it. Now that everyone’s a journalist, you can bet that 75% of everything you’re told is probably not worth the time it takes you to hear it. But even people many might expect to keep things 100 do no such thing; after six months of Obama in office, Rush Limbaugh still can’t find one good thing to say about the man. Really? Golden Rule #1, kids: if someone swears they’re always, always right, you’re probably being bullshitted. Humans just don’t have that high a success ratio. Golden Rule #2: the truth is normally somewhere in the middle. Stand about equal length from the nutcases on both side of any debate and you’re probably right on the money.

So with all this in mind, let’s boil this Iran thing down to the facts.

  • Mahmoud Ahmedinejad is nuts (see: last four years of the Ahmedinejad administration).
  • Ahmedinejad is popular with a lot of Iran's more backward, isolated citizens who are also nuts.
  • Mir-Houssein Mousavi is slightly less nuts than Ahmedinejad (see: his eight years as Iran's Prime Minister before the post was removed, during which he kept its economy stable despite international economic sanctions, embargos and a ten-year war with Iraq).
  • Mousavi is popular with a lot of Iran's more educated, progressive citizens who, coincidentally, tend to be slightly less nuts.
  • Iran is quite like the U.S., in the respect that its big cities are full of educated people, but its small-town areas are full of people who are, well, a bit nuts. And they are the people who get nutjobs like Mahmoud Amhedinejad and George W. Bush into office.
  • Iran is a country where people are routinely kidnapped and jailed for offenses like wearing short sleeved shirts, or fraternizing too openly with the opposite sex.
  • Iran is a country with one of the youngest and most literate populations in the world, and tons of natural resources and exports. Yet its economy is in the tank and most of those young people are literally dying to get out.
  • Government forces are kidnapping, beating and killing people for protesting. And they will continue kidnapping, beating and killing people until people stop protesting, or until there are no protestors left. Kidnapping, beating and killing people is how the Islamic Republic of Iran commonly deals with protest.
  • The government is shutting down internet connections wherever it can, confiscating cellphones, kicking out all foreign journalists, and jailing many Iranian journalists, so that they can kill even more protestors than they’re killing already. Oh, the journalists who do nothing but agree with the government get to stay. They’re okay.
  • The president of Iran isn’t even the guy in charge, ya big dummies! The Supreme Leader of Iran, currently a cuddly little white-haired man with a nasty mean streak by the name of Ali Khamenei, is basically the Islamic Pope out that way, and along with his cabinet of fellow cuddly little white-haired men with mean streaks known as the Assembly of Experts, he can overrule anything the President tries to do. That’s right, anything. And Mr Khamenei is currently firmly in Ahmedinejad’s corner.
  • The only person who stands a chance of doing anything about this is yet another cuddly fella (not much hair though) named Akbar Rafsanjani, ex-president, richest man in the country, Mousavi’s strongest ally and a powerful member of the Assembly of Experts who has been silently beefing with both Ahmedinejad and Khamenei, a situation that only got more sour when his daughter Faezeh was recently arrested for, you guessed it, protesting. If Rafsanjani can get enough votes from the other experts, he can have Khamenei expelled as Supreme Leader. And rumor has it he has been in meetings with his people to do just that.

So, media and politics share the same problem: nobody wants to be wrong. And the world keeps burning. Enjoy your lattes, folks.

My verdict? Go Rafsanjani!

Thursday, June 11, 2009


How can you expect a bunch of people who couldn’t get something right in 100 years to get it right in one? Or even ten? Hell, even 20?

This is the first thought that crosses many minds upon learning of the news that a movement, spearheaded by the Bay Area Council and Repair California, is gathering support to rewrite the California constitution from scratch. Yes, apparently laws like “women may not drive in a house coat” (I’m not making this up) cannot be repealed individually under any circumstances, but with enough support we can just throw the entire constitution in the trash like it was a sudoku puzzle or something. And as long as the damn thing is, I hope Ahnuld has a recycle bin.

As California’s negative balance continues to look more and more like Herr Schwarzenegger’s ‘80s box office figures, a brand new constitution increasingly looks like the only chance the state has of not being mistaken for Argentina by 2020. That is, unless it sucks. And if the closet Nazis and wind-powered tree-huggers are the only two crews who show up to the party, as is customary for our great state, then my money’s on Buenos Aires. At least it’s next door to Brazil. We get Oregon.

The pro-revision crowd’s remedy for this potential problem is to select the people who will have a direct say in the constitution’s rewriting using a jury pool, a.k.a. us. Of course, the possibility that the people we select end up making decisions as awful as the people we tried not to is a distinct one. California schools have been shitty for a long time now; most of us are probably way dumber than we think we are. And according to news sources, the potency of marijuana today is now upwards of ten percent, and everybody knows we’re all high over here on the West Cizzoast.

But hey. It’s like that kid in fourth grade with all the boogers always used to say to you at times like these: “do you have a BETTER idea?” Of course you don’t. So off we go. If the BAC and Repair California can get themselves together in time, the new constitution could end up on the ballot as early as 2012. Makes me wanna roll one up just thinking about it.