Weird Things
June 27, 2009, 1:23 pm
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I’ve seen Renee Zellweger in many, many movies by now, and I still don’t feel as if I actually know what her eyes look like. Does she even have any? Or just empty sockets where her squints all spiral together in an unidentifiable non-Euclidean vortex?

Why is it a left-wing issue (“cap-and-trade”) for the government to artificially create another security for Wall Street traders to get rich trading? Answer: Because in doing so it will force people to drive less. See, nowadays a lot of left-wingerism is about seeking to prevent (other) people from driving or doing anything else that embodies independence. Especially lower-class, poorer people. So that Wall Streeters can get rich(er).

This may be an unorthodox opinion, but that Michael Jackson struck me as something of an odd bird. Hey I call ’em as I see ’em.

It’s pretty surprising that nobody (as far as I have seen) has yet tried to blame the unrest in Iran on the fact that the United States invaded Iraq in 2003. Well, I know of at least one person who will….

Must Link Internet
June 26, 2009, 7:09 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

You must click and read these links now.


  1. Fascinating post from curi on One Tree Hill Plotlines. Note: I gather that One Tree Hill is a television show.
  2. Quotes from Justice Scalia, who’s apparently way more kick-ass than I’d given him credit for.
  3. How a rhinoceros can be used to improve your self-esteem.
  4. Calculated Risk on the amazing pulloff of a CDS swindle.
  5. Teaser of a remake of The Prisoner, with Jim Caviezel. A while ago I watched through the whole Prisoner series. Far as I could tell, being “the Prisoner” meant you were stuck on a Mediterranean nautical resort, where everyone dressed in charming 19th-century fashion, with no contact to the outside world, and miniskirt-wearing ladies attended to your every need. But the remake, by contrast, sounds like it turns all that around and being the “prisoner” is now a bad thing. Just shows how times change….
  6. The previously-unsuspected connection between philosophy and detective fiction. This reminds me, I’ve been (re) reading some P.G. Wodehouse, which always reminds me of detective fiction – a comedy version. Is there anything funnier than P.G. Wodehouse?
  7. Bryan Caplan has toenail fungus. Oh, but the point of the post: he explains why you should be happy to discover that insurance doesn’t cover a treatment you want.
  8. Corrupt on why nerdiness leads to totalitarianism.
  9. Arnold Kling says “If you want your shirts to be manufactured using primitive technology so that they cost a lot, then buy local.”.

The Left’s New Dress
June 26, 2009, 4:27 pm
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Unemployment at peaks and still going up. Medicare/Medicaid and Social Security a fiscal shambles. Government has taken Fannie and Freddie and pretty much everyone, far as I can tell, onto its balance sheet. No new jobs coming, no pay raises coming, yet tax increases coming. In foreign affairs, Iran escalating its inevitable crackdown (as I predicted, and feared). North Korea has demonstrated nukes presumably up for sale/extortion, China is China, Russia is Russia, partying Europe still on our tit.

And Obama, and half of our insular self-involved country, is still freaking yammering away about “health care”.

Health care health care health care. Waaah we want health care. So the President keeps talking about copays and x-rays. Historic stuff, what? Just historic. 500 years from now everyone will be so impressed that President Obama of the early 21st century spent approximately 98% of his waking hours dedicated to how many catheters should be allocated to 55 year olds and whether womens’ mammogram histories are computerized or on paper charts.

It’s pathetic. It’s almost childlike. Mommy I want my medicine. I want the medicine that tastes like cherry. That’s what we care about. Those are our priorities, as expressed through our man of the moment.

It’s an obsession with all these people. I can’t even listen to these health care monomaniacs anymore. The answer to economic problems? “Health care”. The answer to foreign policy troubles? “Health care”. The answer to the Navier-Stokes equation? Health care. The answer to life, the universe and everything? Health care. What’s the exponential of pi times the square root of minus-one? Health care.

I’m through taking this obsession even remotely seriously.

I’m reminded of an underappreciated little Depeche Mode song called “New Dress”, that I now proceed to borrow from its context/intent:

Sex jibe husband murders wife
Bomb blast victim fights for life
Girl thirteen attacked with knife

Princess Di is wearing a new dress

Jet airliner shot from sky
Famine horror, millions die
Earthquake terror figures rise

Princess Di is wearing a new dress

It seems to me that “health care” is the left’s “new dress”. Obama and the left want a new dress. They want their pretty, pretty new dress. So don’t confuse them with anything else.

The Youtube Way Of War
June 22, 2009, 4:24 am
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Despite my “pessimism”, I have been watching many of the video clips coming out of Iran, trying to catch up, at least a little.

I don’t like what I’m seeing. Let me specify what I mean by that. First, obviously there is a natural revulsion to the chaos and bedlam they (at their worst) portray. Whatever their meaning and eventual outcome, it must be admitted that at the moment, these events are literally nightmarish. Try to imagine them on the streets of your city for example. It is the stuff of nightmares. I would not like to see it. I would not like to experience it. I want to stay as far away from it as possible. I shudder at the thought of it spreading, of it being the way of the future. We ought to be careful what we wish for, and cheer on. There’s no reason this sort of thing couldn’t come to Detroit, to Chicago, to Los Angeles, to New York.

But more to the point, even if I assume that I’m on the side of the protestors (and vice versa, more importantly), I simply don’t see these actions as likely to accomplish anything. These are some properties of scenes I have seen:

-lots of people out in the streets, mostly standing around, looking confused. Maybe walking/rushing from one place to another when this or that thing happens.
-lots of posing and posturing on the one hand, and gawking and rubbernecking on the other. At times it seems like the entire crowd is composed of posturers and rubberneckers. Reminds me of my time at Berkeley.
-chanting/yelling stuff. “Allahu Akbar” being the only thing I can make out, of course.
-rocks. People pick some up, others throw them (I think?).
-standoffs with policemen. I haven’t seen clips of policemen being particularly brutal (which doesn’t mean none such exist) – at least, not compared to, say, the French in Sierra Leone a couple years ago
-at one point in one of the clips I saw, a body is carried through the streets. He’s put down on the ground. Picked back up. Put down somewhere else. Maybe it’s just me but violence in Middle East crowd scenes always seems to be followed closely by medical nincompoops.
-Another guy soon follows running down the street with a bloody hand. he holds it up in the air for all to see. Circles back, does it again. The point being…? (I know, I know, “in their culture” that probably means something significant..)
-people pushing one way. then something happens. so they get scared and run backwards. Policemen.

The general properties I perceive in these protests, or whatever they are:

-superficially demonstrative (“hey look at me”) with no substance; emoting/posing/posturing.
-fear/retreat (on both sides) in the face of any true direct confrontation.
-chants (this behavior at least is universally recognizable; the behavior of a rock concert, a pep rally – apt analogies in my view, because those things accomplish just about as much)
-fascination with blood. I gather that seeing the blood is supposed to make other people do stuff/react a certain way. Blood is magical.

I could be wrong but this is not the stuff that simultaneously successful and good revolutions are made of. (I could, alas, see a successful but not good revolution coming out of this, I think.) What are all these people trying to accomplish? What are they going to accomplish? What they are demonstrating is that they can be called upon to provide chaos. But chaos is just chaos; it is not focused, it is not disciplined, it has no aim, it has no defined end. This is not warfare, it’s not a revolution, it doesn’t even rise to the level of gang warfare (which at least might tend to have clear targets and aims). It’s almost a form of violent performance art. “Look at us, listen to us”, they are saying. And so we do. But so what? The “best” outcome one can hope from all this is that the Ahmadinejad challenger points at them, says “cut me a power-sharing deal and I’ll call them off”, and so a deal is cut, all his distant cousins get on-paper jobs/sinecures in parallel with Ahmadinejad’s cousins, the rest of people go back to work, the dead are buried, the old women wail on camera, Time Magazine does a glossy cover story on the whole thing, and then things get calm again. Soon Iran gets the bomb anyway and that will be that: deterrent. Untouchable.

Maybe I lack imagination. But I can’t imagine anything good coming from this. Besides, at best, the paltry accomplishment of getting some other guy’s good-for-nothing cousins more jobs/cashflows/apartments.

I view this, and similar recurring patterns in that part of the world, as part of what appears to be a long-nurtured cultural trait in some parts of the world: the deeply-held belief in trying to win all wars without actually fighting them, and deeply-held ignorance of how to win wars any other way than through symbolism and theater. At its worst, in our modern era, this becomes the instigation/Palestinian terrorism method of warfare: randomly blow something up somewhere until you induce a response, then when response comes, preen for cameras, and cry, and wave a bloody shirt, and say ‘look how oppressed we are, the UN should do something’. Repeat until it works. I have no respect for this form of warfare. I have no respect for the cultural tradition which values and propagates it.

Seriously: what the heck are these people doing exactly? Are they fighting? Who are their leaders? Who gives them orders? What are their targets? What is their strategy? What are their tactics? Are they gaining territory and establishing footholds? Are they organizing supply lines, chains of command? Engaging in shadow diplomacy, forming alliances, arranging for loans, setting up government in exile, getting arms? Turning former enemies, subverting opposing generals, making secret deals to divide the enemy?

Or are they just wandering around streets pelting policemen, yelling stuff, videotaping it on cellphones, and then posting it to Youtube?

What’s that accomplish? Seriously what? I know, I know, these are just normal, for the most part unarmed people, what can I expect them to accomplish? Well maybe nothing. But so then why should I pretend they will accomplish anything with this bedlam, other than some of them getting killed? Because it would feel so good to pretend? I think we’re all really fooling ourselves as we watch this stuff, tell ourselves “we’re seeing history unfold”, call Twitter the future of revolution, and blog to each other about how exciting this all is. Because at the end of the day, this stuff is not going to accomplish anything.

Let me take the most optimistic view possible and assume (unjustifiably) that the younger generation of Iran, and a majority of Iran, is indeed opposed to theocracy and dictatorship and wants a government that respects human rights and views their current government as an enemy of those aims, and therefore has declared war on that government with the aim of seating a rights-respecting republic that won’t prioritize exporting revolutionary terrorism. Well, ok then. But that’s a serious declaration. It’s a serious act. Running around on city streets mindlessly is not going to get them there. Ever. I just don’t see these methods getting them from A to Z, even if Z is where they want to go, which I doubt.

Maybe it’s just that these cultures have lived in cities too long. They seem to think like herded, hounded city dwellers. It seems like they think street corners are important. It seems like they think whether cars are on fire is important. This is not just Iran, I see this in other parts of the Middle East and in Europe as well; there is to my mind a “citified”, narrow, local, failure-to-think-outside-the-box thought process dominating their actions that makes the overal endeavor look pathetic. Overall their acts appear reactive and constricted and sheeplike and herdlike and small to me. I see no vision. I see no plan. I see no leaders. I see no honorable behavior. And so, I see no victories in their future. I do see street chaos, and perhaps the chaos will be scary or damaging enough to push one guy or another over the top in the halls of power – because his gang is more chaotic/scary than the other guy’s gang. But that is not liberalization, it’s not ‘opening up’, it’s certainly not democracy. To me it looks like more of the same. Or worse – because you never know what the ultimate outcome of this sort of thing will be, which Bonaparte these people might induce to rise to the occasion and put them down. We’ll just have to see.

The only cold comfort I have is that these events must surely be causing distress for the regime and for Ahmadinejad. But at the end of the day, so what?

I want to be an idealist. I want to be a “neocon” and a liberal. I’d love to be wrong. But I just don’t get it. I’m even depressing myself here with my pessimism. Am I missing something here? What am I missing? Please, tell me I’m wrong.

A Very Special Father’s Day Message

On this Father’s Day I thought I’d provide a few of my tips – for reading children’s books during storytime with your kids.

As we all know, according to FDA guidelines you’re supposed to read children’s books to your children for approximately 72 hours per day. And if you don’t, you’re probably a bad-to-horrible parent whose kid will grow up to be Jeffrey Dahmer. If you don’t have time, make time. Quit your job if you have to, and read to them on those long cold nights in the cardboard box by the trash-can firelight. If they try to get up or struggle to find a scrap of food from behind the McDonald’s, don’t let them and just keep on reading, louder if you have to rise above their crying and growling stomachs. These are your children’s formative years; really, pretty much the only things that should ever touch their precious ears are you reading them books, and stuff you listen to on NPR on the car radio that they hear from the car seat as you drive them places.

After all, your child is special, unique, “gifted”, and genius-level brilliant on an unprecedented scale – just like (exactly like) the children of all those other parents at the Barnes & Noble on those rainy Sundays – and the best way to nurture that special gift of theirs is to read mass-marketed children’s fare to them out loud like all the other parents do. You don’t want your oh so unique kid to be the only child of his/her generation who hasn’t heard the phrase “Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See?” in excess of a thousand times, do you?

So read to them to develop that brilliance and uniqueness so they can grow up to (like most of those other uniquely “gifted” children being read to nonstop) go to a four-year college where they spend most of their time “partying”, and subsequently become a computer programmer, “project manager”, OB/GYN, bond analyst, or McKinsey-type consultant of some sort. You know – special. (It’s not like just anyone can become those things….)

What should you read to them? Well, any children’s book will do, as long as it’s a children’s book, as in, from the children’s section of Barnes & Noble, preferably at a cost of at least $14.99 for a flimsy paperback. So, this means: Strawberry Shortcake toy tie-in stories, the Twilight series, hagiographic illustrated made-up fairy tales about Barack Obama’s made-up childhood, The Giver, the later more vulgar Judy Blume, My Little Pony toy tie-in stories, Star Wars prequel toy tie-in stories, pretty much anything that’s a toy tie-in of some sort – all equally good. Just read it because reading is important, far more important than what they’re reading. If there’s paper with printed letters on it involved, it’s automatically good for them. I heard it on NPR or maybe Oprah.

But seriously, I do have a bit of a problem with reading to my kids, and the main problem is: most children’s books freaking suck. They are boring and plodding and predictable and repetitive and badly written and repetitive, he said repetitively. And the younger your kids are, the more of a problem this is, because your kids will only care about colored-picture books and the like, and I’m guessing the people who get such writing gigs tend not to be your literary giants.

However, let it not be said that I don’t read to my kids. I do. It’s just that I’ve developed some tricks to make the experience more tolerable, for myself and (I hope) for them. And here is what most of these tricks boil down to: leave stuff out.

It was a year or so before I figured out that I could do this. It kind of felt like breaking the rules. But what rules? Am I violating someone’s copyright if I don’t read exactly what’s written on the page verbatim? If so, who cares? And so once I figured this out, I began to actually enjoy reading, and even reading with emotion and melodrama. You know, like one of those freaking non-grownup dorks on PBS or something (who’s probably gay). (Kidding!)

What would you be leaving out when you read to them, you ask? Well, children’s books are just full of tropes/tics that may work on paper – in a children’s book – but sound like crap out loud. So I just decline to say them. For example:

  1. “Suddenly”. For some reason in children’s books, stuff always happens suddenly. “Jack and Jill went up a hill. Suddenly, Jack fell down.” Is this really necessary? Was there danger of the kid thinking the thing being mentioned happened…gradually? I’ve gotten to the point where I pretty much refuse to say “suddenly”. Nothing seems to be lost.
  2. “he said/she said”. Dialogue in children’s books is all littered and broken up by constantly inserting “he said” in between any two sentences of speech, as if the kid has such a short attention span that he can’t possibly figure out who’s talking if anyone says two or more things in a row. Imagine something like “The princess smiled. ‘I like the pretty ribbons’, she said. ‘They are so pink and shiny.'” It’s bad enough that the writer is forcing me to say this flowery stuff out loud. Do I have to break it up with that “she said” too? I find it’s more effective and fun just to use different voices when reading out loud anyway, and dispense with all the extra insertions regarding who said what. :-) (Note: using different voices not advised for certain books, e.g. One Fish Two Fish by Dr. Seuss, as you’ll quickly run out of different voices….)
  3. Reaction descriptions. “The princess was amazed”, “the prince gaped”, etc. etc. All pretty much unnecessary, because it’s usually quite obvious and implied by what’s happening anyway. Sometimes I’ll leave them in but edit them down in my head first, and say them differently. On a similar note, you can leave out most adverbs.
  4. Sometimes you can just skip entire paragraphs or passages. (For use when it’s especially late & you’re tired & they’re tired.) Are they really gonna notice? Large chunks of rhyming stories such as Horton Hears A Who can be skipped at your discretion as timing requires, for example.

What a lot of these boil down to, in fact, is to take the writing advice Stephen King gives in his excellent book On Writing, then imagine editing the children’s book you’re reading using that advice, and just reading it that way. The bottom line is these are my books, I paid for them, and I’ll read them however I damn well please. And I refuse to just take suckiness at face value and read it verbatim to my kids. That’s not even trying.

Happy Father’s Day!


June 21, 2009, 4:19 pm
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Thanks to Netflix’s streaming feature, I’ve been binging on back seasons of Dexter in spare moments. I can’t figure out why this flawed-but-clever show is so fascinating to me. Okay, yes, there’s the fact that I, too, like the title character, am a sociopathic serial killer who kills according to a quasi-moral ‘code’ at night yet lives a good-natured normal life working alongside law enforcement by day, but besides that? (Kidding)

Seriously though, the character study is definitely a large part of the fascination. Much of Dexter is about Dexter’s struggles to fit in as a normal person, emulating normal feelings and emotions, since (according to the conceit of the show, though at times they back away from this) he doesn’t have any. At its wackiest, Dexter becomes a sort of sitcom of coincidences and misunderstandings in which an empty shell of a guy with no social skills or soul or emotions or real cares ends up falling bass-ackwards into romantic relationships, deep conversations, friendships, favors, complicated love triangles – always in the right place, right time – almost like a serial-killer equivalent of Forrest Gump. In fact, a “sitcom about a serial killer” was a quasi-tongue-in-cheek idea I’d had for a long time, so it’s interesting to me to see how the makers of the show are able to pull it off. One one level it’s a show about a guy with a handicap – his emotions are broken – and how he reacts (and, often, comments dryly, in his noir-style voiceover narration: e.g. “Apparently my new life involves a love triangle. I’m THAT guy.”) to the normal people around him. The results are often hilarious, but more importantly, it’s a fascinating device for throwing normal human relationships and feelings into sharp relief.

But it’s also a show about compulsion, and fate, and free will. And on that note, a slight problem I have with the show is that the overall arc tends to be highly predictable. In season 1, I was able to guess very early on – indeed, as soon as he showed up in a major storyline, pretty much – which character would secretly turn out to be Dexter’s archrival serial killer. I was even able to guess how he would turn out to be related to Dexter. When Dexter gained a new love interest/temptress in season 2, I was able to guess her eventual fate about 8 episodes in advance. I find myself seeing most such surprises and twists coming well in advance. I don’t know how writers of a serial-killer-TV show could possibly fix all this, but it does lessen the enjoyment.

I think this is because the writers of such a show are walking a very fine line: they have a protagonist who is a fricking serial killer who chops people up, yet they have to somehow keep the audience in sympathy with him (hence the “code of Harry”: he only kills other murderers. If you think about it, a TV serial-killer protagonist has to have such a “code”, there’s no other way it would work). Similarly, to keep the drama, they have to make the universe of Dexter seem fairly believable and realistic, they have to give Dexter relationships and love interests (for audience interest – I’m guessing most real-life serial killers are boring loners and a TV show about them would be agonizingly boring), and yet in such a reality, a serial killer with all those entanglements would surely be caught and discovered. Yet ultimately Dexter can’t ever get caught (because that would be the end of the show).

This tension between the need for realism and relationships on the one hand, and Dexter never getting found out on the other, creates a need for Dexter to always be on the verge of getting caught, yet always find a way out at the end. But once you know this pattern in advance, once they set up this or that sticky situation for Dexter, there are only so many permutations and ways-out that (a) keep the show quasi-realistic (e.g. Dexter can’t use magic, angels can’t come down from heaven to help him, etc), and (b) keep Dexter a sympathetic protagonist that the audience kinda-sorta roots for (e.g. one way out would be for Dexter to just go on a murder rampage against anyone who discovers/threatens him and then run away to South America, but then he’d lose the audience’s sympathy). Thus, for example, it’s clear that anyone who discovers Dexter’s secret – as a key character did in season 2 – must eventually die without telling a lot of other people. The logic becomes inescapable from that point:

Okay, I see, this means (a) he must somehow be forced to be on the run or incommunicado, and (b) he must then die. Either he has an accident (unlikely, and unsatisfying), or someone must kill him. Yes, someone’s going to kill him. Yet it can’t be Dexter who kills him (since he’s not a murderer). Who, then? What characters are available to fill the slot of Person Who Kills That Guy? Oh yeah…that character.

In this way I was able to guess the finale of season 2, who would kill who and how, in several particulars, about halfway through the season.

With every story arc the possibilities become more and more narrow once you apply all the constraints that a show like this is implicitly operating under. And so, like a puzzle or maze with only one solution, you can usually work out the plot on your own, and see how the TV writers will have to (have to) resolve Dexter’s quandaries long in advance of them actually playing out. Maybe the fascination lies then with the intricacies of the puzzles the writers set up for themselves, not with the resolutions per se (which follow almost immediately from the setups, like clockwork, due to TV logic).

As for the larger themes of the show, this is where it gets really problematic for me. I can only base my observations on seasons 1-2 (since season 3 has not hit Netflix yet) but, at least so far, the metaphysics of Dexter lie squarely in the Freudian therapeutic culture of repressed memories and badness of pent-up emotions. We are to believe that Dexter’s sociopathic nature traces entirely to, and was fated ever since, a trauma he endured – seeing his mother murdered – when he was 3 years old. According to the logic of the show, since that time, something has been “off” about him. His foster father noticed it, saw Dexter’s true nature, and decided to channel it into something at least quasi-productive (hence the “code of Harry”, Harry being Dexter’s foster father). When we pick up with Dexter’s life, he is rediscovering all these repressed memories, and working through them, which is portrayed as a good (if painful) thing. He’s basically undergoinig his own therapy in voice-over.

So what bothers me about the show, what truly bothers me, is not the serial killing per se, but the implication that such a trauma – and by extension, this or that life event – can lock a person’s true nature in place forever forward. This is clearly what Dexter’s foster father believed, for rather than trying to help and guide and teach Dexter to have emotions and be moral (something that was supposedly not possible), he instead resigned to merely channeling Dexter’s murderous “nature” into certain sorts of targets. Having such a foster father, it does seem only natural that Dexter, too, would be resigned to his (supposed) fate as a serial killer – never thinking he can change.

At its worst, Dexter denies the existence of free will. Or at least, it threatens to.

But I have to put a big asterisk there, because I’ve only watched through season 2 of course. And the thing is, there are times when the show demonstrates a promising glimmer, a tantalizing glimpse of where it might be going with all this. I just can’t say for sure because I know there are at least two more seasons to come that I haven’t watched yet. But if this show really wants to rise to something brilliant, even transcendent, a cool direction would be this:

Just have Dexter change his ways. He settles down, gets married (something I know is coming in season 3), and changes his ways. No more killing whatsoever. He just rejects his supposedly serial-killer “nature”, decides to stop killing, and then stops. That would be awesome.

In fact, if they really wanted to be courageous, they’d have Dexter turn to and beg to God for forgiveness. And then proceed to live a basically normal family and work life for the rest of his days. Make it a show not about fate and compulsion, but about redemption and forgiveness.

I don’t have much hope that this is where the writers will take the show, or that they’d even want to – but I would love it if they did. I would really love it. That would really be something special to pull off. So perhaps this hope, this tiny hope, is what keeps me watching.

Iran Brief: Against Democracy
June 21, 2009, 2:48 pm
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The Unread-Bloggers Oversight Commission sent me a notarized, formal letter of complaint that I haven’t really written about Iran; they threatened to take away my Unread-Bloggers License. So, a few thoughts:

  1. Overall, my stance is pessimistic (at least if believing that other guy, instead of Ahmadinejad, would become “President” of Iran would count as “optimism”). I don’t expect anything dramatic or revolutionary to come out of this. I expect, at the most extreme, perhaps a Tiananmen Square type incident that kills a lot of people, with the government forces prevailing, re-confirming the status quo; I don’t expect, anticipate, or have any hope for anything like an “Orange” or “Cedar” or (etc) Revolution. Iran will still be in effect controlled by the Supreme Leader and whatever theocratic machinery he and the ayatollahs and Guardians control. Could I be wrong? Of course! But I would be surprised. It’s just a bit difficult to get worked up over the “democratic” implications of this thing when this is a place with an unelected “Supreme Leader”. I’m not even convinced that the “President” of Iran isn’t just a figurehead; as far as I can tell, the main function of the “Presidency” of Iran is to make crazy-ass speeches designed to piss off Jews and Americans while wearing suits and thereby making Westerners think/assume that Iran is some sort of democracy and not all that different from them.
  2. That said, if we are supposed to take the Potemkin “democratic” trappings that Iran engages in seriously, in all honesty I can’t claim to have the first clue as to whether Ahmadinejad really got more votes than that other guy. How the hell would I know? I don’t take it as a given just because I happen to dislike Ahmadinejad. I don’t take it as a given that if I dislike him then a majority of Iranians do too. The implication of a lot of Western, pro-democratic thinking is that majorities in all countries must be nice and decent and moral and couldn’t possibly like evil guys. I disagree. I find it quite possible (not a certainty but possible) that a majority of Iranians prefer xenophobia and antisemitism and murderousness and evil.
  3. From a broader point of view, this focus on the election and its results seems misguided. The problem with Iran is not, and has never been, that she is not a democracy. My problem with Iran is that, in her overall (lowercase-c) constitution, as a nation-state, she is ideologically committed to (a) spreading radical Islam as governance, (b) attacking Israel, (c) violating basic human rights, and (d) attacking the United States, and anyone else who stands in the way of (a) and (b). The way people approach/analyze this situation too often veers on suggesting that if only Iran were or could be certified to be really, truly a democracy, then everything would be ok, and we could stop worrying about her. I disagree. I might and probably would still find her worrisome, on the basis of the ideology and culture of the people who rule Iran – whether they get there democratically or not. In general it’s irritating to me when people in the West attempt to use “democracy” as shorthand for “we don’t have the right to worry about or prevent them from doing anything”. That is misguided. For example, Iran wants nukes, and if they are or become “a democracy”, at that point neither we nor anyone else will have any right to stop them. Right? B.S. Lack of democracy is not the only problem; being a democracy is not an automatic blank check giving license to evil ideologies and policies.
  4. In particular, let’s say that the “optimists” get their way, the protesters prevail, and whats-his-name therefore gets certified the victor and becomes “President” of Iran. Ok, now what? What then? Will Iran stop supporting Islamist terrorism? Will Iran accept the existence of Israel? Will Iran remove the fundamentalist-Islamic laws and rules that violate the rights of her citizens? Will she abandon nuclear weapons? Does anyone really think any of those things would happen? Even if we assume that the other guy wanted any of these things (on what basis? because he’s not Ahmadinejad?), a lot of this depends on where the real, true power in Iran actually lies. Surely much of it lies with the military, and also much of it resides with whatever religious-enforcer police they have. Will those people, those ideologues, and/or those entrenched power structures suddenly have a change of heart if the “real winner” of the election (assuming that’s what The Other Guy is) gets into the Presidency? Presumably not. There is too much at stake. Too much history, and lifetimes of devotion to ideology, and people who have risen to powerful positions in the current structure. Those people aren’t going away, and don’t want to go away. They won’t and don’t want to give up their positions and money and houses and power. Let’s imagine that The Other Guy is a true reformer, then – in fact, let’s imagine he’s pro-Western. (Why not? It’s easy when you don’t know anything about him, as I don’t, and as most Westerners don’t.) Even if that were the case, him getting into the office of “Presidency” wouldn’t accomplish any of the above goals that (true) Western liberals would hope for. It would only be the beginning. The true revolution would remain in front of him, and it would be bloody and chaotic. There would be no certain outcome, and there would be no guarantee that the result wouldn’t be worse than what current exists in Iran. So, getting the “real winner” into the office of Presidency – even if that’s what these protests accomplish – wouldn’t be the first step toward reform. It would barely be the zeroth step.

I realize I’m sounding like a reactionary and that I’m trying to throw cold water on a lot of excitement at the moment. Maybe I’ve changed and become more cynical over the past five years or so. The current U.S. administration also certainly doesn’t provide one with many reasons for idealism or optimism that freedom and liberalism (as opposed to statism and socialism) will spread. But overall I do want to discourage a myopic focus on “democracy” at the expense of other things which, in my view, are more important. Like human rights, and anti-terrorism, and a basic respect for other nations. Iran lacks all three at the moment. Nor is there any sign that this will change, whoever becomes her “President”. My fear is that with all this focus on “democracy” and having the “real winner” seated in some (Western-emulated) office in Iran, even if we get what we’re all saying we want, we then risk putting the “democratic” stamp of approval on an Iranian power structure and ideology of revolutionary terror and theocratic fascism. This will make us paralyzed and anesthetized to it, powerless to stop it, even convinced we don’t “have the right” to stop it.

Even more so than we already are, I mean.

In my more cynical moments, I wonder whether this could be in fact what Iran’s powers-that-be are seeking.

So let me reiterate: the problem with Iran is not merely that she’s not “democratic”, and “democracy” alone is not the solution to Iran. It runs deeper than that. Democracy, by itself, will not soothe or appease me.


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