The Ayatollah Begs to Differ

October 12, 2009 at 6:05 pm | Posted in Politics | 1 Comment

I am well aware that Iran is a very complex country with a rich, multifaceted history that is comprised of deep Persian roots. What I failed to realise, until I starting reading The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: the Paradox of Modern Iran, is how much her history, both recent and ancient, may be playing a part in the visible paradoxes of Iran’s current theocratic system. Political science is a subject that used to interest me very much but over the years I stopped immersing myself in the subject. Yet for some reason I’m finding that the way different types of government work and how that affects the lives of its citizens a fascinating aspect of international affairs. Iran is in many ways a unique case–aside from the largely irrelevant Vatican I think it is the world’s only present-day theocracy. I still have about two more chapters to go before I finish this book but I like  Mr. Hooman Majd’s theories as to why modern Iran acts the way she does. If I’m understanding correctly it seems that the present day (by and large) bellicose in Iran is part of the Persian character because there is a strong sense not necessarily of what is just but of what is unjust. For example, it seems most Iranians believe that their country should have the right to proceed with nuclear energy research  however their government sees fit, as to deprive it of this right is (in their eyes) unfair and a double-standard.

However, Mr. Majd also heavily brings up the concept of Taarof, something which can best be described as not only tremendous hospitality and generosity but also, less charitably, “false humility” or “polite lies” (known here in the West as “white lies”). A taxi-cab driver, for example, may refuse to accept a fare out of courtesy to the passenger–such humility would be to the driver’s detriment because it deprives him/her of his/her source of livelihood but that is the point–the more generous one is the more respect he/she receives and if the author is to be believed it often becomes a game of “oneupsmanship” over who is more generous, even if the intent behind that generosity is not 100% genuine. For a slightly different but humorous take on this aspect of Iranian poltical culture read this; I found it particularly amusing.

I bring this up because in a very simplified way perhaps these two very sharp contrasts in mindset serves as a symbol for the political puzzle in today’s Iran. Although this summer’s elections have caused a huge internal and international uproar and the fallout is still continuing, it can perhaps be said that the very fact that Iran’s theocracy even allows for elections at all is an extreme example of Taarof. But rememebr also that while Iranians don’t necessarily have a clear definition of what is just, many segments of the population seem to know what is unjust. A large part of Iran’s electorate clearly believed the results were completly fradulent and what unified such a diverse group of protestors–young and old, modern and traditional, liberal and conservative–is the intense belief among all of them that what happened was unjust–unjust is actually a definite and understood concept so that many Iranians recognise it when they see it and fight because of the injustice of having an election stolen, more so than the fact that the actual election was rigged.

Of course, my understanding of this may be completely off and even if I’ve understood correctly I’m clealry making gross simplifications; I just find intriguing the idea that many of the protesters this summer may have been fighing against an injustice and not for democracy. I suppose the distinction is rather academic. However, Shiite Islam is based almost entirely on the concept of martyrdom–the mourning of caliphs and imams that were unjustly executed at the hands of brutal oppressors. This might help to explain the nature of those protests.

I did find one thing puzzling about Hooman Majd’s book however, he casually and briefly mentions that Shiite Islam and Iran are completely inseperable. But if this is the case it would be hard to explain away the sizeable Arab Shiite populations in the mideast and the conflicts that are sometimes brewed as a result–the recent fighting in Yemen being one example. I wish the author would elaborate on that.

Iran – Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette


Wading into world events

September 2, 2009 at 5:18 pm | Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

I found the following news items to be of interest to me today:

I am currently inputting my blog entries using a new browser known as “Opera 10 Turbo” and it has some nifty features that may give it an edge, although I’m still getting used to it. So far I especially like the ability to take notes from a variety of different web-pages and have it saved in one easy section for reference.

As for the news, many events happen in the world each day and it can be hard to keep up with everything. I know that the recent election in Afghanistan is widely regarded as a huge mess. This election was not the event that would bring stability and peace to Afghanistan, not even by a wide margin. I wonder if Karzai is really to blame though. I think that he was side-swiped by George W. Bush’s administration and that he never truly got the support in both finances and infrastructure that he needed from the start. This rendered Karzai impotent and once one gets into such a political rut it can be difficult to dig out of it. Afghanistan is definitely one very complicated country.

Of course, this is mostly intertwined  with Pakistan’s affairs as well. It is likely that the Pakistani administration and people have finally realised that the Taliban cannot be trusted and cannot be dealt with peacefully. I think deep down it is also probable that many ordinary Pakistanis realise that the recently assassinated Pakistan Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud was in fact likely responsible for the murder of Benazir Bhutto, a flawed but brilliant woman who seems to have had Pakistan’s best interests at heart.

I find the release of Abdel Basset al_megrahi intriguing yet outrageous. Assuming he is guilty of being involved in the Lockerbie bombing, and he likely is, then dying in jail should be his just reward and would likely have brought a small measure of comfort to the victims’ families. Clearly, Scotland was pressured to reward Gadaffi’s good (read: improved) behaviour over the years from the UK, but such rewards should not be retroactive. With a precedent like this, a victim of a mass crime (such as a war-crime) may never be able to rest and know that justice is being served because there may always be the uncertainty of a perpetrator’s early release even after a conviction.

This is all I feel like discussing for this entry so good bye for now.

When I run I now feel nothing

September 1, 2009 at 9:01 pm | Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

I ran for 2 hours today to pick up my new glass prescription. While the running itself was not overly difficult, I felt absolutely nothing either during or after the run. I am not merely talking about the absence of the “runner’s high”. I just didn’t feel any sense of joy whatsoever even though I was going at a rate of at least 6 min per kilometer. Nothing. Not even a clear-headedness that comes from extended and/or intense aerobic activity. I have just started reading a book called Conquering Depression & Anxiety Through Exercise by distance runner Keith Johnsgard (he holds a PhD in psychology). I only got past the first chapter and I will continue reading this book but I need to know–what if depression and/or anxiety interferes with exercise, instead of treating it? Of course, if I don’t exercise at all I think that I will feel much worse. But I have lost one of my biggest incentives to run–the feeling of joy as reward–and I can only hope that I will regain this feeling again soon.  I will need to, as I am still registered for the Montreal marathon this September 13th!

Can an Asperger/OCD comorbidity lead to depression?

August 30, 2009 at 8:08 pm | Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

It’s just so hard. It’s just so difficult to face each day more often than not. I am trying to get better but running doesn’t help much anymore. I don’t get a runner’s high and I just tire myself out. Walking has its moments, however. I am trying to cope with my mental illnesses and part of the way I am attempting to cope is through writing in this blog. This isn’t an easy feat for me as I often have so little energy and/or motivation to write. I don’t really care that no one is likely to be reading this; that is not the point. I just need to get by each and every day and take it “one day at a time,” and writing these entries is part of this process. I hate that expression! I wonder who came up with it because I interpret it as meaning that each day can be a struggle filled with obstacles and you have to hope that the next day is better, hence taking it one day at a time.

Currently I am on a dose of 30mg Miritzipine (Remeron), a rather unique antidepressant that was developed in the mid-nineties. I’ve been on this dose since the middle of July but it’s having little if any effect. I’m also on another rather unusual antidepressant that is sometimes used to help people stop smoking and it’s known as Wellbutrin–I can’t remember the spelling of the generic name right now. I’ve just started this medicine four days ago at 100 mg in the morning. I don’t think it is helping. I made a new year’s resolution to complete the Montreal marathon in 3:45 and I must honor this resolution. But running is so much more difficult. I’m not entirely sure I can pull it off but it’s still definitely possible.


Problems with THE BLUE ZONES

August 20, 2009 at 12:16 pm | Posted in Politics | 3 Comments

The problem I have with The Blue Zones is that it is highly unscientific. Dan Buettner may also be guilty of selective reporting. For example, he mentions how the centenarians he has profiled only “rarely” eat meat but causally describes a Costa-Rican centenarian that goes to the butcher every week (and eats red meat at least weekly). The very first chapter, “the truth about living longer”, cautions that there are no true indicators to predict one’s longevity. The rest of the book then describes the attempts to do just that! Except, that fist chapter is never really discounted. Much of the information provided is basic common sense–eat a healthy diet with whole grains, fruits and vegetables, do not smoke, drink in moderation, exercise regularly, etc. That’s good advice to follow but it’s nothing new and it’s likely information that you were already aware of. It also is not proof for living well into your 100s and staying healthy. I took the “online life expectancy test” officially sponsored by Dan Buettner and, despite the fact that I try and eat a very healthy balanced diet and go running roughly 5 times a week, I apparently am only going to live until 77. It was a very unscientific test though so I hold it no credence. Just for fun, though, I plan on taking the test again when the meds I am taking have finally stabilised.

Take THE BLUE ZONES with a few grains of salt

August 15, 2009 at 10:23 pm | Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

I found the following news items to be of interest today:

Of especial interest to me is the very first article profiling the Taliban; in fact, I’d label it a must-read for a quick yet concise analysis on the history and evolution of the Southasian Taliban movements.

However, I have a more pressing matter on my mind. I have just finished reading a book called The Blue Zones and took the official online “life expectancy test” referred to from the book and while I find that there are some good ideas that are worth applying it is a very unscientific analysis on the secrets to living beyond 100 years healthily (and the online test is almost a joke). It’s late now at 10:30pm and I should have completed this draft sooner because now I’m getting too tired to rant about some of the problems I have found with this book. I’ll save this for my next post. In the meantime I’m just surprised that, certain sensible advice aside, this book has not recieved more criticism and scrutiny within the scientific community.

The peculiarities of Google Reader

August 14, 2009 at 2:54 pm | Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

I found the following news items of interest today:

Furthermore, for anyone who may be curious, I’m going to be bold enough to set a link to a feature of “Google Reader” known as “my shared items”. In this particular case, expect to be educated on various psychiatric drugs and their effects. I found these items to be very revealing during my research on different drugs and herbs that affect brain chemistry. I may need to fiddle with this feature later on but I think this should work as is for the time being.

Back, hopefully for good

August 13, 2009 at 4:53 pm | Posted in Politics | 1 Comment

Hey, Eric here. I am aware that I haven’t blogged regularly for a long while. I have some good excuses but they are rather personal in nature. I have been struggling with mental health problems related to my comorbidity of OCD/Aspergers; more specifically, I have been struggling to find help. I am finally gaining confidence that this is turning around for the long term but it took from at least August 2007 for me to find the help that I needed. Canada’s healthcare system is in dire straights just for physical disorders alone but it is in a true crisis when it comes to obtaining treatment for mental-health ailments such as Bipolar disorder or Tourette’s (it seems that there is more funding for Schizophrenia treatment though).

At any rate, I do not feel comfortable dwelling on this yet. I may explore this some more at a further date but for now I want to get right back into what I feel this blog was often best at: posting and commenting on the news. To be honest, while I was struggling with treatment for my various afflictions I neglected to keep up with current events and this may make me seem like an ignoramus at first.  However, I have resumed following the news more methodotically using a neat program called “Google Reader”. There apparently is a way to make it easier for me to share all the news I have found using the reader to this blog but I haven’t figured out that trick just yet. Also, I may limit my news commentary for a short while longer until I am sure that I can and will keep this up. Now without any further delay:

Well, there you have it. I found the second article from the top to be of especial interest. I hope to be back soon.

Experimental resumption

October 15, 2008 at 5:14 pm | Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

U.S., Iraq agree pact giving U.S. troops until 2011
McCain and Obama meet in last White House debate
Taliban may give up al Qaeda, ex-minister says
British man pleads guilty to failed bomb attack

It’s official–I am resuming this blog on a daily basis but I’m still experimenting with different blogging software. In the meantime, please feel free to click on any of the links above for certain news articles I found interesting.

So far what I don’t like about Scribefire is that it doesn’t let me change the colour of the links.

Scribefire formatting issues

October 7, 2008 at 8:45 pm | Posted in Politics | Leave a comment

Palestinians sue for money over settlement

Jewish ‘modesty patrols’ sow fear in Israel

Thai troops patrol Bangkok after clashes

Russia to extend Georgia pullback | Top News | Reuters

Please bear with me as I continue to get the hang of Vista and subsequently new blogging software such as scribefire. I still don’t know if I like the idea of these live blog-editors–some privacy concerns among others–but for now I’m still giving this a shot. So what do we have in the news today? I’ve only picked a small sampling and although I’ve read them I’m frankly too tired to comment on any of them now. I hope to start “real blog entries” again soon. Now I wonder how this will look upon posting….FYI, in the unlikely event someone stumbles upon this particular entry and has read the (presumably working linked) articles feel free to add a comment to drop me your thoughts and perhaps we can get a dialogue going. I have a lot of more thorough analysis on some of my earlier entries though.

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