Iranian Pride in our Perfect Constitution

I just had a fascinatingly enlightening conversation with a 30-something Iranian physician on a residency program here in Philly. A disarming and engaging fellow, with a strong Persian accent but impeccable English pronunciation, my friend surprised me again and again with his insight into US society and even moreso with his views on American policy. Here are some quick highlights, since I’m too exhausted to bother coming up with expository verbiage. Also note: all quotations are paraphrases to convey his gist.


“Everyone here in America is so optimistic.”

I’ve heard something like this before, from a Dutch girl when I was in Poland in 2000, while discussing some of the general differences in attitudes between Americans and Europeans…And I am inclined to agree. We are in general more the big-dreaming pie-in-the-sky type than most of the other, more grounded citizens of the world.

In this case, however, my Iranian friend continued by saying that this optimism is due to being too comfortable, and not knowing true suffering, sacrifice, and hard work. He wasn’t accusatory, just stating things as he sees them. I think I agree with him, but I would add that I don’t believe our optimism is at all bad, despite its origins. After all, it has taken us this far. (Note: at a different point in the conversation, my friend observed that many Americans are very hard working, so take this all how you will).

“One Iranian can do the work of a hundred men, but a hundred Iranians can only do the work of one man.”

This anecdote was shared during a discussion about differences in governmental effectiveness. My friend told me of his pleasant shock when, during the State of the Union address, Dubya said something like “the talented people of Iran are being held back by oppression.” My friend readily agreed, and shared that the above saying tells how individually, Iranians are incredibly hard working and capable, but when they get together, they can never agree and therefore stall each other. I personally think this adage can apply to many different peoples and societies around the world, including our own—consensus and fair governance is supremely difficult to achieve.

“I am very embarrassed and ashamed, but Iran’s government is like European governments of the Medieval times—under theocratic rule.”

It was vindicating to get first hand validation of my beliefs, as it’s seemed obvious from my outside perspective that this was the case. I posit that all religions, if they survive infancy and begin to explode in growth, then go through a set series of stages of development. It’s easy for most Christians (especially Catholics), as well as Buddhists, to sit back and ask “why the heck do the Muslims have such a stick up their collective ass?” This is because Buddhism is (on average) in the “easygoing grandparent” stage, and Christianity is in the “experienced adult” stage of life. Islam, however, having only been founded in the 7th century, is still in its late “teenage crisis” and early “idealistic twentysomething” stage(s) of life. We all go through these stages—it’s nothing to be ashamed about. Christianity had its crusades (11th through 13th centuries) and inquisitions (13th through 19th centuries), and before that the Buddhists were part of numerous uprisings, rebellions, crackdowns, massacres, and holy wars throughout Asia for centuries. Basically, this all means that Islam is 500 to 800 years behind Christianity in terms of religious maturity. We can probably expect another few hundred years of asinine, violent, and overtly irrational behavior from some elements of the Islamic world before things begin to settle down.

On a more practical note, (regarding Iran’s current system of government), Iranians are very politically active, with, according to my friend, over 10,000 people running for parliamentary positions recently, and who anybody can vote for. Unfortunately, there is a committee of 12 ayatollahs who interview and judge all of those candidates, and who can reject out of hand anyone who isn’t faithful enough, or Muslim enough. This reduces the number to about 3,000. So basically, even if the hardline and conservative Muslims are only a minority in Iran, the ayatollahs can virtually guarantee them government positions.

“Democracy can work in Iran, but clearly not Iraq or Afghanistan…”

I had been about to object to this, but my friend had a very valid point for this—that Iraq and Afghanistan are nations of tribes, whereas Iran (formerly Persia; formerly the center of a long series of large and established empires), although having some tribes, is much more intrinsically unified. Tribal societies by their very nature don’t work with other tribes, thereby precluding from the start any sort of cooperative government based on Western legalistic abstractions. This relatively simple explanation goes a long way in explaining the difficulties much of Africa have always had in establishing “democracy” too (especially since African borders were simply drawn in with crayons by European colonizers). Just because it works for us doesn’t mean it’s the best form of government for everyone.

“You must be so proud of your Founding Fathers, since they really did build this nation on the most perfect foundation possible…”

My friend went on to explain that after reading our Constitution 10 times, as well as perusing the Iranian version, the German one, and more, he concluded that ours is not only short and concise, but it broadly and unambiguously grants strong freedoms without religious interference. He then added that our nation is so powerful because it has such a stout foundation that can survive temporary problems and absorb incoming ideologies whole. Iran does indeed have a problem exporting terrorism and extremism, he affirmed, because it lacks such a foundation, which allows other ideologies to infiltrate and insert themselves into Iranian government and society.

I tried to object by saying that many American grow tired of the legalistic oversaturation of our society and that we want less rigidity. My friend caused me to instead be more appreciative of our strongly legalistic culture, since that very backbone is what allows us to take in people from so many different backgrounds and integrate them into a relatively cohesive whole—the US of A—thereby enabling our collective success. In effect, Law is our ideology or Tradition, and that is something to be proud of.

All in all, it was a fascinating exchange of ideas between East and West. I hope there will be more to come!

The New Polytheism

In this day and age when so many Things can so easily be Capitalized—by which I mean they can be given lives of their own, anthropomorphized and imbued with meaning beyond their dictionary definition—then those very Things become forces unto themselves, to which we surrender our own Thought, Will, and Responsibility…Those Things become gods. Of course I’m talking about the good old fashioned type of gods, as in pre-Israelite monotheism, or like the gods of the Greeks, Babylonians, or Ugarites. Or maybe even like the ancient Chinese pantheon, or Japanese kami, etc.

Browse through any magazine from the shelves in Barnes & Noble, flip through network news, go to a club, or even listen to our politicians, and you’ll soon encounter a plethora of Powers that seem to saturate our society’s daily existence. Sexual Expression flirts with younger and younger generations of children, all the while courting Media and Entertainment at the same time (the slut). Freedom of Speech (Freedom‘s foul-mouthed but truthful grandchild) meanwhile continues his schizophrenic rampage, sometimes slapping Sexual Expression’s wrist and belting out prayers in schools, and sometimes yelling “Fuck” in playgrounds and posting bomb-making instructions on his blog. Privacy mostly keeps to himself, but the big bully Political Correctness, along with pals Bureaucracy and ever-rigid Law, beat the crap out of Personal Responsibility while (ironically) shouting verbal abuse at the sickly Freedom, and of course Sloth and Entitlement cheer from the sidelines. Money is friends with everybody, but his extravagant lifestyle has left him feeling a bit insubstantial, and Greed has taken to dressing up like Capitalism, (or maybe it’s vice versa)—it’s hard to tell since Idealism and Realism are always blocking our view with their squabbles. And of course War is actually stronger, though also leaner, than ever before, even after working hard for the past 10,000 years straight (if not longer).

None of this is “bad,” per se—it’s simply how things are—but it would help us all a lot if we start to recognize these Powers, these gods for what they are. By acting as though these eternal forces play no part in our lives, we give them free reign to wreak havoc on us, all the while letting our own internal powers grow soft. If we but light a stick of incense to Reason and Awareness and take greater care in choosing which powers we pray to, we might actually benefit from this arrangement, as the Greeks and then Romans did when their consciousness of such gods allowed them to reach great heights of philosophical and scientific understanding.

By accepting this new pantheon as part of our society, we can achieve even greater heights than any previous civilization has, while simultaneously growing to know ourselves better than ever too.


Post Script:

This admittedly unstudied and elementary idea sprung into my head as I read a text for one of my classes: Michael Cook’s A Brief History of the Human Race, which gives an insightful though (necessarily) superficial look at all of human history.

The Collarbone Incident

Everything happens for a reason.
Life goes on.
We call our experiences to us.
Life has ups and downs; yin & yang: so go with the flow…

These and sundry other such platitudes kept me all warm and cuddly with positivity over the past week, since I seemed to have gone an’ done broke my collar-bone.

So, I was warming up to practice parkour, which, yes, can be sorta potentially injurious to various parts of the human body. But it’s so much fun! And quite useful, as both exercise and practice for when you might have to outrun bad guys in a race across a city, as you do. And besides, I am fit and healthy, and I stretch, and I warm up. Except the problem this time was the warmup itself—we had just started to practice and things were shaping up nicely (& safely!), when I got distracted, didn’t concentrate on my form when landing a jump, and rolled wrong. I went over my shoulder sideways instead of forward, so all the pressure of the roll went through my collarbone. Live & learn.

It was kinda cool—as I was sitting up out of the roll I heard/felt this visceral *pop*, blacked out for a split second, got lightheaded for a bit, and went into minor shock (hyperventilated and sweat profusely for an hour or so). There was virtually no pain though, neither then nor since. Just discomfiture and the feeling that your shoulder is falling off. Nothing too bad.

It was just really good that I realized/knew right away what had happened, so I didn’t move much, then slowly got up and walked to the ER while supporting my arm (thankfully HUP was only a few blocks away). In that way (by keeping it relatively immobile after it happened) I think I managed to not damage any organs, nerves, muscles, tendons, or ligaments.

The best part is that another friend was filming the action, since that’s what you do when parkour is happening, obviously, so there’s video footage of the break:

You can actually hear the *snap* at 11 seconds in.

Enjoy laughing at my pain and stupidity & wondering at my sanity! I know I would.


Post Script from much later:

Although I was told by the doctors that I could just let it heal as it was (overlapping the bone, which had snapped in half), I eventually opted for surgery. They put a long screw through my shoulder to hold the bone in place as it healed, then another surgery to take the screw out so it could finish healing.

I was given a huge prescription for Percocets or something like ’em, but only ended up taking 3—it just didn’t hurt that much. I later threw the bottle away, and I’ll admit that a part of me wished I had sold the rest of them instead, since that could have taken care of a chunk of my student loans for the semester. Or at least more of the other college essential bills: alcohol and books.

Aside from the hospital copays and the lessons learned (A. Don’t workout when my body’s telling me not to, B. Master the basics before moving on, C. Take it easy when hungover, and D. All of the above applies doubly so when doing parkour), the only other significant consequence was that my running habits were destroyed. I had been training for my second Philly Marathon that year, which went right out the window. I never really ran much again for another 4 years, actually, when I finally got back into it thanks to encountering these things called Tough Mudders. That’s another story.

The Paradox of the Burqa

When I first decided to repost a number of my old Blogspot posts on this newer blog, I passed this one over, since I was frankly embarrassed by how I opened it, and concerned how people might take some of my statements. I’ve grown more than I thought I had since originally writing this post, and my current views are much more inclusive, more nuanced, and less…hormonal…than depicted here. But after much thought, I opted to nevertheless port this post here (with minor style edits), since I still largely agree with my own older conclusions. ~2014-11-06


I am not a Muslim. I have never read the Koran [I since have]. I have never been to an Islamic nation. So feel free to take what follows with as much salt as you desire.

However, I feel quite strongly that what I have to say has a fair amount of validity.

So I was doing my usual daily checking of news outlets, and on the BBC News front page, a small photo from this article caught my eye. My first thought was “Wow, the amazingly attractive woman in this mini profile portrait looks like Angelina Jolie.” Then I read the caption, “Iran’s best woman racing driver hailed as new ‘Schumacher'” and was immediately intrigued, thinking “But how often does one get to see pictures of any Iranian women?”

Despite the apparent (“apparent” only because the picture is really small) stunning beauty of this woman drawing my eye enough to click on a link, I was about to pass over the article and move on with my life, until I read that she was Iranian.

Herein lies the problem: Humans shall ever want what they cannot have. I’ll expand on that….

Well, the article was actually pretty interesting, [here’s a more recent one] and it even included another small profile image of the woman in question, name of Laleh Seddigh, but it soon got me thinking about the whole issue of the burqa, and from there it was only a hop, skip, and jump to ponderances on fundamentalism, beauty, sexism, sexuality, hormones, religion, freedom, oppression, and more (you get the drift—I’m in college, after all, and supposed to be thinking deep thoughts).

Based on my own immediate personal reaction to the minute image of the face of Laleh Seddigh, Iranian Racecar Driver, I must say that the basic idea behind the burqa is sound—males and their pesky hormones and evolved mammalian behaviors are easily affected by the aesthetically pleasing and generally beautiful female face and form. By removing the female face and form from view, as the burqa is intended to do, the idea is that males will be less inclined to covet their neighbors’ wives and females would be protected from males’ aggressive advances. This does make sense, on some level.

Unfortunately, it’s also a crock of shit based on fundamentalist religiosity and wishful thinking. Fact is, males [and actually people in general] are gonna have their hormones raging in any case, the face or body in view or not, and in fact, sexual aggression and repression would be even worse for all parties due to the clearly unnatural and confining arrangement that the whole burqa idea creates. If anything, the suggestivity of the burqa, by hiding simple and not-necessarily-at-all-sexual natural beauty from view, allows imaginations to roam free, and hormones could be ratcheted up even further. This is what unconsciously and immediately happened to me with Ms. Seddigh’s picture, and for that matter what the entire luxury lingerie industry is based on—the suggestion of something can be more powerful than the thing itself.

I don’t know how many of you have ever been to a nude beach or nudist resort, but I have to say, it’s remotely as sexual and suggestive as people imagine. Modesty is a good virtue and trait, but one can be modest whether in a burqa or a thong—it’s the intent behind the clothing along with the behavior of the wearer that are more important than the outfit itself (usually, that is—assless chaps and inflatable bras are another ball game). However shocking and, sadly enough, repulsive the nude human form may be to some people, we are born that way, and how are we to return to the Garden of Eden if we don’t make the conscious effort to evolve ourselves beyond the fleeting conventions we have created for ourselves; to come full circle to our pre-Knowledge-of-Good-&-Evil innocence while maintaining the wisdom humanity has gained while traveling the circle.

People always (should) have the right to wear whatever they wish to, but however you look at it—burqas could be seen as protection from the outside world as much as protection from one’s own urges and thoughts—hiding from our fears allows our fears to continue unabated. Burqas could be seen as covering up a temptation—but covering something up and confining it is smothering, and again, when we don’t face our fears, we inevitably augment them.

I am personally on the more progressive end of this particular debate, and I will gladly support the right of people to cover themselves completely as much as I’ll support groups like RAWA. Ultimately, general human rights and freedoms are the most important, overarching issues at stake.

What Bouncers Tell Us About IDs

So, last night I accompanied some good old friends into Old City Philly for some 21st birthday celebration, which was a most interesting experience…But none of that matters, since the only thing that I feel like writing about today is the ginormous (I mean this guy was a BIG dude) bouncer at Café Spice, where a few of us ended up later on in the evening. Long story short, the guy almost didn’t let me in since he thought my ID was a fake—he only let me in on the word of another member of our party who knew him. I thought the bouncer was giving our party trouble due to the several members of our party who actually were using invalid IDs (chicks, of course), but I was informed later that it was I who was the troublemaker.

This was severely vexing for me, for several reasons. First of all, I was in reality the eldest person in our group, by several years. That in itself was enough to piss me off a bit. But secondly, this situation brought the whole ID and age-limit issue home for me.

I have a brand new Connecticut-issued Driver’s License. They have all the latest security features, holograms, thick plastic and good lamination, newfangled barcodes, etc. And in my particular case, my picture is actually quite accurate (for the time being—I happened to get my license photo taken during a shaved head period, and I’m in a shaved head period now as well). I mean, WTF? This episode is basically an admission that bouncers and security personnel and package-store counterladies everywhere are flying by the seats of their pants. This is absurd.

What needs to happen is…Well, a lot of things need to happen, of course. The drinking age should be lowered nationally back to 18, obviously, as the very first necessary and obvious step. Next, we must implement nationwide ID or license standardization. I’m NOT saying that ID’s should be mandatory or even always carried, but that better and more universal personal identification must be developed and distributed.

This goes far beyond buying alcohol or getting into bars. The whole identification infrastructure of the internet, building access, government service access, and numerous other ID-relevant sectors in our IT-driven world today must be rethought.

I will end this semi-coherent rant by comparing the ID infrastructure problem to the electrical infrastructure here in the States. As with any bureaucratically managed system, it took the 2003 NE US blackout to draw attention to the outdated and overused electrical networks in place. Will it take widespread identity theft (already occurring), security breaches, and other daily absurdities like my encounter last night before real action takes place?

Music & Noise & Thought

Always so much to say and so little time to say it, or vice versa. Currently, it’s the former, so I find myself archiving topics and notes and experiences to write about later. Anyway, for now….

I have some spectacularly, even breathtakingly awesome classes this semester. One of them is a writing class, actually, about the boundaries between Music & Noise. This may seem a vague and broad topic to some, or a narrow and specialized topic to others, when in actuality it is. Both.

One of the goals of this open-ended-type of course is to figure out what the class is supposed to be about. Examining “modern” music, “experimental” music, noise, electronic music, creative silence, found sound, ambient music, &c, contemplating the genesis and evolution of these forms and distinctions (if there are any distinctions), and deciding what it all means in the end, is a daunting intellectual task.

Even though most of the Public sees the aforementioned “styles” of music to be quite new, in fact there is already more than a century of innovation, technology, theory, practice, and philosophy in place. The invention and development of electronic communication in the 19th century (telegraph and telephone), followed by the development of mechanical recording (phonograph), and then the electronic, magnetic, and digital recording devices of the 20th century have spurred an abundance of creative cross-polination in music for centuries. Even well before recording technologies and communication lines became so ubiquitous more recently, the tides of cultural exchange have washed musical styles to and fro around the world in a perpetual feedback loop of innovation, dispersion, (re-)”discovery”, influence, redispersion, and popularity—leading to such cycles as

Tribal music → Jazz → Tribally-infused Jazz → Salsa (as one brief and incomplete example).

The recording industry, its development and its impact, also play a huge role. And this all barely touches up the influence of early innovators and theoretical explorers like John Cage, Pierre Schaeffer, and many others before and after.

Goodness, I could keep going, but let me leave some sources for you to explore yourself, dear reader.

  1. Michael Chanan’s Repeated Takes contains a history lesson far more in depth than my single paragraph summary above.
  2. Audio Culture is a collection of excerpts and writings covering every aspect of “modern”, experimental, and electronic music, including their development, implications, and beyond.
  3. Most fabulously of all, John Cage’s Silence is a collection of that pioneer’s extremely interesting and poetic writings, lectures, and performances.

Anyway, life and college beckon me from beyond the computer, so to conclude today I will switch from bloggish mode over to journal mode, and leave some insights that burbled into my consciousness as we listened to some fascinating works of aural art in class today….

  • Any music, sufficiently distorted, becomes noise, so then, might any noise, sufficiently “distorted”, become music?
  • Silence can catalyze thought just as music does, so it only follows that silence, properly used, can be just as powerful as music.
  • If certain music/sounds/silences inspire thought when actively listened to, are those then Art? Then what of other inactive or background music/sounds/silences? They can still inspire—think soothing classical, encouraging muzak, pumping rock—despite passive listening, so what does this mean for Art, or Pop?
  • [Slightly tangential]: A ready, absolute answer or response to everything belies ignorance.

Creativity & the Great Quentini

This past Friday I decided on a whim to just get out and check out the monthly Gate To Moonbase Alpha (GTMBA) experimental, ambient, and electronic music night at the Rotunda. I’ve been there once before, two summers ago, and was pleasantly surprised by the variety and vitality of the performing artists, the quality of the music, and the extremely chill atmosphere of the event. I liked what I heard so much that I bought all the CDs that were being sold there, and it was well worth it—not only because $10 CDs at concerts are cheap and directly benefit the artists, but also because I discovered my favorite song of all time (so far, that is) on one of those random albums (“Trinity” on Adam Johnson‘s debut album Chigliak). It was quite an experience, and it renewed my interest in electronic music more than ever.

This time around, the night was as chill as before, and the artists just as intriguing and talented as before, yet vastly different. That is one of the coolest things about GTMBA and the experimental/underground music scenes in general—especially when compared to the lifeless, canned, and repetitive bilge that constitutes “popular” music today, this stuff and other fringe and niche genres like it are verdantly, vibrantly creative, not to mention interesting, enjoyable, and thought-provoking.

The most fascinating part of the night, though, was my first experience of The Great Quentini‘s performance art. He came out twice, doing various spoken-word, prop acting, found-sound music, and comedic acts. I had no idea what to make of him on his first appearance, as he performed the miracle of popping popcorn. I played along with confused patience until the next act (Ace Paradise) comforted me with a much more familiar and expected one-man ambient electronica set that was actually quite relaxing and immersive.

But then The Great Quentini returned, and, now in a more receptive state of mind, I soon realized that I was being entertained by a true rarity today: a holistic performer with multiple artistic talents, refreshing ingenuity, and a disarming comedic flair who had the audience deeply involved and invested in his performance, making us laugh out loud, applaud with awe, and deeply ponder his messages and meanderings all at once. He challenged our societally atrophied ears with a novel, avant-garde keyboard performance and he engaged our eyes with elaborate and original costumery and numerous props.

Most of all, though, he broadened our minds with tongue-in-cheek yet profound spoken segments about the religious superiority of gravity, and the “special purpose” that each of us has in life, and he closed with a soundly amusing and eye-opening segment about the rule of plastic today, intermixing found-sound music and dialogue with some old toys….

…But I don’t want to give away too much detail, since,
A) I’d encourage you to be on constant lookout for future performances by The Great Quentini, to go, enjoy, and see for yourselves, and also
B) things like this can never be fully brought to life with language or writing—words are merely abstract representations and are always open to the vagaries of subjective interpretation.

This leads me to my closing point:

Truly original creativity, as well as truly great art, (both embodied in the performances of The Great Quentini), are disappointingly and disproportionately lacking in the world today. Why is it that people are so drawn to complete unoriginality and lack of inspiration? Is it laziness? The fear of leaving the comfortable yet stagnant mental spaces we each create? Or maybe it’s our unconscious desire to converge on societal norms, rushing like lemmings willy-nilly to our own intellectual destruction in the seas of banality; drowning in a deluge of force-fed fad, fashion, and popular media graciously provided by monopolistic, monolithic corporations….

Or maybe none of this matters at all. Whatever. I had fun.

Until next time, dare to think a new thought!