Juan Cole is Making Sense

Juan Cole looks at the generally accepted facts about Iran’s nuclear program and argues that there is one hypothesis that covers them all.  Iran, Cole argues, is not seeking to build a nuclear weapon, as hawks in the US and Israel claim; nor is it simply maintaining long-established civilian facilities, as others have said.  Instead, it is trying to achieve “nuclear latency.”  That is to say, the Iranians do not want actually to build a nuclear weapon at any particular time; what they want is the ability to build a nuclear weapon on short notice.  Japan, South Korea, Brazil, and several European countries have nuclear latency, and it has served their security interests quite well.

The swing vote in Iran

persicos odi puer apparatusAt Language Log, Mark Liberman notes that a protest song young Iranians are singing these days has the same opening as “Bei mir bist du shayn,” a klezmer tune partly translated out of Yiddish that was a hit in the USA about 70 years ago.  This rather surprising connection in turn leads Professor Liberman to quote one of Horace’s Odes and to compare that ode with a couple of English poems composed in tribute to it.

Bush Truth Commission


Why a commission?

Petition to Investigate Bush/Cheney

The Nation, 2 March 2009

nation-2-march-09A review of several new books from and about Iran mentions the thinker Jalal Al-e Ahmad and his concept of gharbzadegi, or “intoxication with all things western”  The reviewer assures us that this concept represents “one of the most influential critiques of the West.”  In fact, he takes issue with some of the books under review for failing to presuming to discuss twentieth-century Iranian intellectual life, yet failing to mention the presence in that life of so towering a figure as Al-e-Ahmad.  Since I’d never heard of Al-e-Ahmad or gharbzadegi, I thought I’d better make a note of this.  So here are links to the Wikipedia articles about Al-e-Ahmad and gharbzadegi

An interview with astrophysicist Adam Frank focuses on Frank’s religious ideas.  Frank’s big idea seems to be that religious systems give us a way of processing and talking about emotions like awe and wonder that come upon us when we notice the scope and orderliness of natural phenomena.  Frank shows his Astronomy 101 class a TV documentary about the origin of the universe, then asks them what they think of the music.  His point is that the documentarians are packaging the Big Bang as a creation myth.  Frank does not mean this as a condemnation of the show- on the contrary, he embraces this myth-making.  Frank’s attitude reminds me of an idea I mentioned here a few days ago.  I’ve long thought there was a great deal to be said about the relationship of scientific theories about the origin of the universe to traditional creation myths.

The Nation, 15 December 2008

nation-15-dec-08Highlights of this issue include a review of Passionate Uprisings: Iran’s Sexual Revolution, a study of sexual behavior among well-to-do young heterosexual Tehranis by Iranian-American anthropologist Pardis Mahdavi.  In the course of extensive field work, Professor Mahdavi discovered that worries older Iranians routinely express about risky sexual behavior among the young are quite well-founded, at least as regards the population she studied.  Group sex seems to be common.  Evidently repressive laws against premarital sex, enforced ignorance of birth control and STDs, and an intensely patriarchal family structure don’t guarantee universal chastity after all.  Who knew?  The reviewer, Laura Secor, wishes for further studies that would systematically compare the experiences of Iranians of different social classes, sexual identities, and geographical locations.  With that kind of research, we might be able to figure out what if anything this risky behavior means for Iranian politics.  Of course, a study like that would be unlikely to take place in today’s Iran.  To illustrate the difficulty, Secor begins her review by quoting Mahdavi’s meeting with an Iranian sex ed teacher who could not understand why her students were reluctant to tell her about their sex lives.  The woman was wearing a double hijab that gave her such an imposingly traditional appearance that even Professor Mahdavi became self-conscious.    

William Greider points out that New York Federal Reserve chief Timothy Geithner, President-elect Obama’s pick to be the new treasury secretary, was the negotiator who worked out many of the worst parts of the Wall Street bailout; Greider frets that Mr O may go down in history as the man responsible for the economic meltdown if he doesn’t withdraw Geithner’s name and rethink his approach to the crisis.