Showing posts with label Iran. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Iran. Show all posts

Friday, March 29, 2013

The Best War Expansion Prevention Protection Ever

The logo selected
"by the people"
to represent Istanbul's candidacy
for the 2020 Olympic Games
Istanbul recently hosted a visit from the International Olympic Committee. The visit went splendidly, according to the local papers. I'm so glad to hear Istanbul has a real chance for the games.

It occurred to me that Turkey's bid to get the Olympics Game is the perfect war expansion prevention protection. America plunged Istanbul's tourism into a double digit dive when we invaded Iraq because people thought Istanbul must be close enough to Iraq not to be safe. Wrong. Iraq is more than a day's drive away. Surely, America would be more sensitive this time around to the economic needs of their friends?

This is Turkey's 5th time applying for the Games. They have worked very hard for this and put up the budgets to deliver the Olympics for their people. Having the Olympics here would be a wonderful way to usher in their celebrations around the 100-year anniversary of their democracy.

All of my Turkish friends say that if America were to intervene in Syria, it would be World War III. As my nation's history in Iraq and Vietnam demonstrate, the American government's nature is intervention in other people's business.

Wouldn't it be hard for Turkey to sell their country as the safe place for the Olympic Games if the Americans were starting WWIII next door?

I've never been so grateful for athletic competition.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Talking About "My People," Iowans, to the Travel Junkies

"American Gothic"
by Iowa artist Grant Wood 
If you live away from where you grew up, have you ever received an invitation to talk about "your people," those that raised you and the culture you grew up in? I can't say I had before. But one of the pleasures of living in Istanbul and having so many expat friends is that I interact with a variety of international people everyday.
My Internations travel group, the Travel Junkies (who I will write more about in future posts), began hosting evenings where individual members shared about the place they came from. The woman who spoke immediately before me spoke about her homeland of Iran. I joked it was just a little intimidating to follow an 8,000-year-old culture to tell about my home state of Iowa, which became a state a mere 166 years ago! 
 Repeat three times please: Iowa = corn!
The first things I wanted to teach my friends was to never mix up Iowa, Idaho, and Ohio ever again. Americans always confuse the three and ask Iowans about potatoes and Idahoans about corn.
The President of Iowa State University
at the National Archives in Washington D.C.
celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act.

The Morrill Act gave every state in America
that wanted to participate
30,000 acres of federal land to use for a university to
uplift the population.

My hometown of Ames, Iowa, was the first
place in the nation to accept this land grant.
The result today: Iowa State University,
one of the world's most successful
agriculture and technical research universities
in the world supported by a mere 3,000,000 Iowans!
I then was deeply proud to share about Iowa's educational legacy. One of the best things I've ever read on just how good Iowa public education was in Tom Wolfe's book "Hooking Up," a series of essays about American culture. In it he wrote an inspiring essay detailing the impact Iowa public education had on Robert Noyce, a founding chairman of Intel, and a man frequently described as "the father of Silicon Valley."
 Besides describing Noyce's educational experiences growing up in Iowa and at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa specifically, Tom Wolfe made the case that the business casual dress popularized the IT industry was just Noyce's Midwestern lack of fashion pretense institutionalized into Silicon Valley culture.
I love that story, as one would never imagine Iowans having an impact on fashion. We are not a fashion forward people. But we are a deeply democratic people. There is no "us and them" in Iowa, when I grew up there, we viewed ourselves as "us."
Iowa has the highest per capita number of high school graduates of any state in the nation (as well it should since it was the first state in the nation to insitutionalize high school), the highest literacy rate of any state in the nation, we have two cities out of the top three with the most number of PhDs per capita (Ames, Iowa and Iowa City, Iowa share that distinction with Boulder, Colorado).
The beautiful law library
at the Iowa State Capitol building -
frequently used as a television backdrop
for Iowa caucus reporting by national news organizations
Indeed, literacy is so darn important in Iowa, that our recent first lady, Christie Vilsack, visited every single public library in the State because she considered public libraries the most important provider of culture in each town. Some of those libraries were probably one room! She still visited them because those libraries brought their citizens the greater outside world.

Iowa's appreciation of reading and literature is so profound it's even been recognized by UNESCO. Iowa City, Iowa was named a "City of Literature" by UNESCO along with Dublin, Reykjavik, Melbourne, and Edinburgh.
After all, the University of Iowa (where I received my M.A. in Library and Information Science) is home to the Iowa Writer's Workshop, the very first creative writing program in the nation. It draws not only nationally-famous writers, but internationally-known writers. For example, Orhan Pamuk, Turkey's Nobel laureate for literature, has spent time at the Iowa Writer's Workshop. UNESCO speculated Iowa City may be the most literary spot in the world for its size.  It has a mere 67,000 people and was recognized with those large world-famous cities!
"Spring in Town"
painted by Iowa artist
Grant Wood, 1941
In addition to our educational values, I thought our next most important deeply-held value was in feeding the world. Iowa is first in the nation in corn production, first in the nation in soybean production, 1st in the nation in hog production (the most searched for recipe on the Internet in America is for pork chops) 1st in the nation in egg production, and 2nd in the nation in beef production. Indeed, 90% of all Iowa's land is used in farming which resulted in Iowa contributing $4.5 billion in exports to help America's balance of trade in 2005.
Notice the precise geometry
of Iowa farming.
It's a sublter beauty than mountains and oceans,
but it is beauty, nonetheless.
My friends were fascinated by the combination of a highly agricultural state combined with a high level of education in the general population. Most Iowans live in cities. It's hard for folks who come from countries where agriculture is all about peasant traditions to imagine a place where high education levels and ag can be combined.
Dr. Borlaug
Iowans care about feeding the world so much there is now a prize coming out of Iowa started by one of our own, Dr. Norman Borlaug, the ag scientist who is credited with saving more human life than anyone else who has ever lived in the history of the world. Coming from a small farm in Cresco, Iowa, born of Norwegian heritage, Dr. Borlag helped farmers globally increase their yields. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
The Iowa-generated World Food Prize is a mere 22 years old, but hopes to be recognized as the "Nobel Prize of Food," honoring those innovators in politics and science who find new ways to feed humanity. The Secretary of State announces the winner every year and the Secretary General of the United Nations comes to the awards ceremony each year. I hope, gentle reader, that you will care as much about who wins this award, as any other. I think it is that important, don't you?
A talk about Iowa wouldn't be complete without an explanation of the whole Iowa presidential primary caucus system. I think Iowa maintains its first in the nation status for selecting the president through a primary caucus for a very important reason. The first place to get a crack at judging future presidents should not only be highly educated but small enough for retail politics. Iowa is both. Candidates have to interact personally with Iowans, instead of selling themselves in paid media campaigns.
There is even a joke about it. A presidential candidate asks an Iowan for his vote in the upcoming caucus and the Iowan says, "I can't vote for you yet. I've only interacted with you three times." When I was a county chair for Bob Dole when he was running for President, it was fun to host Elizabeth Dole in my mom's living room where she preceded to tell us why Bob would make a great President.
Iowa (97% white), literally made Obama a star, when in 2008, chose him above everyone else as the winner of the Democratic caucus. He finished his 2012 campaign in Iowa too, combining sentimentality and swing-state saavy.
I described three Iowa companies I thought would impact the entire world culturally: Pioneer Hybrid for genetically-modified foods, Pinterest, a social media company for sharing visual media, and Dwolla, a brand new financial services company that makes money transfers inexpensive between people and companies.
The Iowa butter cow,
and her current sculptor, Sarah Pratt
Since my friends were travel junkies, I wanted to make sure they knew the four most important tourist things to do in Iowa. First is riding on RAGBRAI, the 10,000-strong annual bike ride across Iowa that occurs every July. The second is driving the Iowa River Road along the Mississippi, what National Geographic Magazine calls as on of the "500 Drives for a lifetime," third is spending a day at the Iowa State Fair with a special look at the sculpted "butter cow," and my last suggestion was renting a houseboat to float down the Mississippi.
You don't have to be in Istanbul, or even an expat, to carry out this idea of rotating travelogues from natives to friends. I've loved attending each one (usually presented with a meal that matches the country) and so far I have learned about Trinidad and Tobago, Lebanon, Sudan, and Iran.
Just gather a bunch of international friends and put on evenings for each other. I felt deeply honored that my friends cared enough about me to learn about "my people." I had great fun and renewed passion for my birthplace putting my presentation together. Yea Iowa! That's where the tall corn grows.

Here are four other Iowa-related posts I wrote you might enjoy:

You're My Al Bell!

Enjoying Hometown Friends in Istanbul

Dvorak Embraced Spillville, Iowa; Spillville, Iowa Embraced Dvorak

UNESCO Names Iowa City, Iowa a "City of Literature"

Follow me on Facebook at: Empty Nest Expat

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Understanding Iran: The Power of One Graphic Novel called 'Persepolis'

Persepolis, Volume One
by Marjane Satrapi
Americans have been miscommunicating with Iranians for 60 years. Rather than continue to be a part of the problem, I "sought first to understand" rather than "asking to be understood" by reading this book. It is a profound, moving, and shocking graphic novel. I was continually in awe of the author's insight at such a young age; Marjane Satrapi wrote her book in her early thirties. I was also impressed by how many different ideas were presented in what is esentially a comic book that could be read in a couple of hours.

"Persepolis" helped me to understand how powerful people misuse the fear created by outside events to consolidate power for their own ends. This book starts with a reminder of how America and Great Britain interferred with Iran, causing the events that eventually led to the removal of the Shah from power (America overthrew a democratically-elected government in Iran in the 1950s).

The power of the book lies in how personally the story is told and its effect on a sophisticated, young, globally-oriented child who is age 6 to 14 in the story. While my country's wrong-doing is presented matter-of-factly, Ms. Satrapi saves her biggest impact for the self-imposed stupidity of constant war and constant death created by the Iranian regime during its war with Iraq. Her genius and wondrous courage is helping us, the readers, feel the stunned horror of one's country badly run through a series of vignettes from her childhood.

Author Marjane Satrapi
I would like to read Persepolis 2, to find out what happens to the author. Ms. Satrapi is an incredibly valuable woman to a country that most probably isn't ready to appreciate that fact. She seems like a creative visionary who will be read by all Iranians 50 years from now because she told the truth. While the status quo continues, I assume her work will probably be denounced by the powers that be.

Extrapolating the lessons learned from finishing this book back to my own country, I see how the events of 9/11 have also enabled American leaders, particularly the executive branch, to consolidate power in a way that doesn't bode well for the citizenry: the Patriot Act, indefinite detention of citizens, the end of "probable cause" requirements for internal spying, and new Presidential authority to take the lives of citizens without judicial oversight. Each externally-inflicted harm creates, causes, and enables worse internally-inflicted harm.

Interested in reading another book about governmental abuse of power?

You might like this post:

The Restoration of Order: The Normalization of Czechoslovakia

or if you're interested in books about the general region, I recommend this post:

The Ottoman Empire from the other side as told in "The Bridge on the Drina"

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Discovering a Prejudice Against Germans I didn't even know I had

The Czechs had a pretty horrific 20th century. First, it was the Austrian-Hungarian empire, then the Nazis came, and the Soviets. You'd think Czechs would harbor a grudge. Not so. While every Czech I met knew their history, Czechs seem not to devote a whit of space in their heads to grudges against Germans or Russians.

Conventional wisdom says the opposite of love is not hatred but apathy; that would describe the Czech attitude toward Russians. The Russians left only 20 years ago but they're just never talked about much. Sometimes it seems the Ruskies were never there, and evidence of their being there can only be found in traces, such as the Czech habit of not smiling on the subway for fear of giving your neighbors something to report.

I was surprised though to discover Czech open hearts toward German people. But "how can you trust them?" I'd ask. "Don't you worry the same thing could happen again, where Germany tries to take over all of Europe and make everyone miserable and/or dead?" "Nah," my Czech friends and students would say. "They're not like that."

I always wondered how the Czechs could say that with such confidence. How could they be so sure? Didn't my country have to come over to Europe twice and bail everyone out because of how the Germans behaved? If it happened not just once, but twice in the last 100 years, didn't that mean that deep in the heart of every German there was a blustering Imperialistic Nazi hibernating inside? Over and over again, I heard Czechs negate that thought.

It wasn't just Czechs who had an open mind and heart. While I was living in Prague, I entertained some friends from Israel. The lady discussed making her first visit to Germany to make her peace with the German people. She was content with moving on. What? A Jewish person has such incredible capacity to forgive and trust? Incredible!

I never understood what people were seeing and feeling about Germans that I wasn't until I went to hear Andrew Bacevich, an American professor of international relations at Boston University and the author of "The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism" speak at the Wisconsin Book Festival. He and two other learned professors were describing how countries that pursue empire are doing so rather than look inward and reforming themselves. I don't know if he meant this, but I got the idea while listening to his talk that pursuing empire is a country's version of addiction, a non-conscious expression of pain and harm toward other populations so as not to feel or reform ourselves.

After the talk, I asked all three professors separately, "Okay, if the way we Americans are living now is all about Empire building, who then offers us the model of how we are to live?" Each professor commented on what an interesting question that was and that no one had every asked it (yea me!). Andrew Bacevich then answered without hesitation that "the Germans are our example. They have no interest in empire building whatsoever."

Bacevich made me realize I was operating on 65-year-old information. It wasn't fair to judge the Germans of today against the Germans of yesterday. I needed to update my vision of them as a people and open my heart as countless Europeans and my Jewish friends had already done.

When I went to Berlin, all those monuments documented a dark past from which the nation was recovering. Building monuments and talking about the crimes that had been committed in their name is an acceptance of responsibility. They are choosing to deny denial. One of my friends from Italy told me, "if only my country had learned as much from its mistakes as the Germans have."

It made me think. Is my country accepting responsibility for the things that we've done wrong? Are we ready to discuss them out-loud? Are we able to discuss our past mistakes? One of my U.S. Senators told me if Americans thought the Abu Ghraib photos were bad, the ones not shared in public were much, much worse. If we don't prosecute the alleged abuses and torture done in our name, doesn't that make every American responsible for them? If we choose not to talk about them or acknowledge them, it means we approve, cause we'd rather live in denial. I don't want to live in denial.

I also don't want to operate on 65-year-old information. Heck, if people didn't update their visions of each other, we'd all be worrying about Scandinavians looting and pillaging ala the Vikings!

Look at Iranian leadership. They are operating on a paranoia developed from 55-year-old information when the CIA overthrew their leader and they've been overreacting ever since.

I vow to open my heart to German people and look at them as people completely and wholly new to me. I know nothing about them and my mind is now an open slate.

You may be interested in these other posts:

Understanding Iran: The Power of One Graphic Novel called Persepolis 

Recommended Reading for Thoughtful Americans: "The Limits of Power" by Andrew J. Bacevich

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

"The Restoration of Order" has begun in Iran

My English-language church in Prague, St. Clements Church on Klimentska, held this incredibly educational series of program on "what it was like to be a Czech Christian under communism." Wow, was that an eye-opening series of programs. Everyone who went was on the edge of their seats listening to our distinguished dissident speakers.

Our last speaker in the series was an expert on Czech church history and I asked him if it was possible to create a list of "dos and don'ts to share with future congregations on how not to get co-opted by repressive regimes." There was a general chuckle at my naivete because this sort of thing is not preventable. Each generation has to learn for themselves. We've all heard the phrase "those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it," right? Well at this session I learned the phrase, "what we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history."

Want some evidence of that (with apologies for sounding so dark, so Czech!)? This article, linked to in my blog post title, shows that the "restoration of order" has begun in Iran. Even the phrase that this young woman uses to describe the regime's actions is the same in English as it was back then in post-1968 Czechoslovakia.

What we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Is it the Velvet Revolution or Normalization in Iran?

The bravery of Czechs in their Velvet Revolution and Ukrainians in their Orange Revolution has been referred to again and again in news coverage of the Green Tsunami (the reform slate) in the Iranian elections. Raman Ahmadi writes in Forbes comparing the current crisis to what's happened before in Czechoslovakian history. Below is an excerpt; you can click on my title to read the entire article.

There are at least two possible outcomes for the current crisis. If the Ahmadinejad's coup is successful, we will witness another post-1968 Prague spring, crushing the reform movement and including a military attempt at "normalizing" society. Mousavi will be forced to appear on television and play the role of an Iranian Dubcek, expressing regrets and calling on people to stop resisting the military regime.

If this coup fails, on the other hand, Tehran may experience the Prague spring of 1989, and the country will be wide open to the possibility of substantial reforms and liberalization, well beyond what was seen in the Khatami era. In either case, the Islamic Republic we have known for the last three decades is gone. That strange, fragile and contradictory 1979 newborn, a hybrid of clerical theocracy and Western-style republic, has long been dead. Some have argued it was a stillbirth. Others have insisted on its potential. Either way we evaluate the regime, it's clear today that only brutal military force can sustain the theocratic element.
If you don't know what normalization is, there's a chilling book that describes the entire dehumanizing process. Normalization is so draconian that it seems it just makes the eventual political explosion that much bigger because no human being can live that way for long. The book is called "The Restoration of Order: The Normalization of Czechoslovakia" by Milan Simecka. You can read my review of it here.

So my dear Czech readers, do you have advice for the Iranian people how to make 1989 happen rather than 1968? And not to be pessimistic (or as Czechs would say: realistic) what advice do you have for them on surviving normalization, if 1968 happens?

Digital History Being Made This Weekend

Wow, if you aren't on Twitter yet, I can't recommend it enough. It has been absolutely fascinating to see the power of social networking sites when it comes to getting news out about the contested Iranian election. I spent all Sunday "watching the election" on Twitter and the difference between what's on TV and what's on Twitter is fascinating.

On Saturday, one of the huge trending topics on Twitter called "CNNFail" was "where was CNN coverage of the election?" Moment to moment reports of what cell phone networks, satellite networks, landline networks were being censored by the Iranian government were constantly reported. Citizen journalists and real journalists are twittering and videoing and letting the world know what's going on based on what platform isn't jammed and censored.

So here's the questions I have based on the explosion of Twitter reports that provides "power to the people!" It's fascinating to watch various Twitter streams come in from folks in America at the Lakers game, while meanwhile the Iranian students in dorms are worried about their safety, and yet other people around the world are organizing sympathy support by asking the world to wear green tomorrow to show support for the people who feel the election wasn't fair.

My question is "how do we judge credibility of those tweeting? It seems pretty darn easy to set up an account and pretend you are an Iranian student or demonstrator, but how do we know? Where's the corroboration? And my second question for all citizens of the world is "gee, if they were to shut down all these networks in your home country, how would you deal with it? How would you communicate?"

Monday, March 16, 2009

Jeden Svet: One World '09

This is the 200th post on my blog! Since what I like to blog about is cross-cultural issues between America and the Czech Republic, it seems appropriate to devote my 200th post to celebrating the Jeden Svet '09 Film Festival now occurring here in Prague and outlying cities.

You know how there are some things you only do when you're out of town and aren't so harried? I realized there was a perfectly exciting film festival near my home in America and I never got around to going. By all reports, the fledging Beloit International Film Festival in Beloit, Wisconsin was fantastic. It was only 17 miles from my house. Here I am, out-of-town, so to speak, and I finally got off my butt and went to see some movies!

This is the 11th year of this film festival devoted to human rights. There are 120 documentaries from over 40 countries. In 2009, the festival has a wonderful subtheme celebrating 20 years of Eastern and Central European democracy in film. Indeed, the festival trailer (which you can link through by clicking on the title of my post) shows former Czech President Vaclav Havel helping in the maternity ward as a new generation of Czechs, born in freedom, arrive in the world. The Velvet Generation comes of age. What will they do with their freedom?

And as I looked around at each venue, it was the young people who had shown up for the films. The first movie I attended, directed by a Canadian, was called "Letters to a President." It showcased the cheap populism of Iranian President Ahmadinejad. People in Iran write him over 10 million letters a year asking him to solve their problems. Every letter is answered, which on the face of it, sounds like responsive government. It came across though as him setting himself up as a Messiah-like figure and the people, many of whom are lacking a decent education, being grateful for any little crumb. Not educating the populace is quite often in the interests of world leaders.

I also went to see "The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia" and "Paper Heads." "Paper Heads" is an especially useful movie for expatriates and young people to see because it shares what life was like under communism in the Czech Republic. Watching the movie, you can see how if you were a Czech back then, when the West had sold you out at Munich, and the Soviets were the ones that liberated you from the Nazis if you lived in Prague, communism just didn't seem like the threat we saw it as in the West. The Soviets probably saved your life.

Once communism was in place though, it was completely inhuman to those who objected. It's hard to look back and think of all the angry, nasty history that occurred here. It just doesn't square with the beauty I see around me every single day.

The festival continues until March 19th.
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