Archive for June, 2009

The Healthcare Test

June 27th, 2009 No comments

I’ve been meaning to write about the healthcare issue for awhile, but then the Iran thing happened which I believe is much more important so I focussed exclusively on that. Now that the situation in Iran is fully resolved (or at least you’d think so based on the lack of media coverage) and everyone is focussing on Michael Jackson, I’ll go ahead and give my two cents about healthcare reform.

First of all, while I used to have a stake in this argument, I no longer do. Now that I’m living in Europe I’ve got affordable healthcare (that I still haven’t even used) and it makes no personal difference to me whether a government-run healthcare program is introduced in the states. It may make a difference to me if I ever move back to the U.S. but I don’t see that happening any time soon, if ever.

That said, I do think this healthcare issue is hugely important, for two reasons. First, it makes a real, concrete difference in the lives of millions of Americans who are either uninsured or routinely fucked in the ass by their insurance companies. Second, and more interestingly, healthcare reform legislation will serve as an empirical test for the U.S. government and the Obama administration, showing us with complete clarity just how representative of the public the government really is. It’s the ultimate measuring stick to determine the balance of power between the public and the special interests. It will tell us who our elected representatives really answer to at the end of the day.

When politicians, including Obama, talk about healthcare reform they focus almost exclusively on the issue of cost. The only goal, they say, is to bring down costs—everything else is secondary. Really, the heart of the issue is not simply how much it costs to the already-insured, but whether everybody—insured or uninsured—will be given the option of a government-run healthcare program that will not be profit-driven and therefore won’t rape people in the way private insurance companies do, such as excluding you for pre-existing conditions or fighting you tooth and nail before paying for any new treatment. We must be completely clear—it’s the public option that is the core of the issue.

This is not just an economic issue, as the president and members of congress would have us believe—it’s a human rights issue. Most civilised nations have government-run healthcare because human health is seen as a basic inalienable right. One of the duties of a government, it is widely believed, is to provide medical treatment to its citizens. This makes perfect sense. Government takes it upon itself to defend the nation from attacks (the military), to maintain order in the streets (police), to put out fires when they occur (fire departments), to educate the youth (public schools), and so on. Why shouldn’t life-saving surgery or medical treatment for illnesses be among the responsibilities a government has to its citizens?

There’s no reason it shouldn’t, and most reasonable people who give it a moment’s thought would agree with this. It’s why in almost every poll I’ve seen, a whopping 75% majority of Americans support a public healthcare option. But you won’t hear the human-rights argument from any politician. Nor you will you hear it from political pundits on TV. And the reason for this is obvious: money.

Politicians have to get re-elected, and to get re-elected they need money. And since average citizens aren’t lining up at their doors to offer campaign contributions, they’ve got to take that money from lobbyists. And one of the most powerful lobbying interests in Washington (second only to the big banks that caused the financial crisis and completely got away with it) is the healthcare industry. They know full well that a public option will completely destroy their industry. If these companies suddenly start having to compete with an entity that will cover pre-existing conditions and won’t deny as many treatments as possible in order to improve the bottom line, they will crumble to the ground.

The very existence of these private health insurance companies is propped up by human suffering and death. Every treatment they deny improves the bottom line. Every patient they let die is money in their coffers. They make all the decisions, and they aren’t answerable to anyone. Nobody can just leave and pick another insurance company because A) they wouldn’t even be given coverage due to a pre-existing condition, and B) the other insurance company has just as much financial incentive to screw them over as their original provider. There is no actual competition in the health insurance industry—every company is in cahoots with one another. It’s basically a mafia, profiting from death and bribing politicians in order to get away with it.

The question now is whether this mafia is more powerful than 75% of the American people. You’d think that with a democratic president and overwhelming democratic majorities in both houses of congress, the democratic issue of health-care reform would have no problem getting passed. Yet even democrats are owned in part by the healthcare mafia, so they’re going to do everything they can do to compromise and water-down this bill just enough to make it seem like real health-care reform when really all it does it let the mafia continue profiting off other people’s misery.

They present the idea of a public option as controversial—something they might have to give up in order to get anything passed. After all, even a watered-down healthcare reform bill is better than no healthcare reform bill, right? Wrong. Any healthcare reform bill that does not include a robust public option is not a healthcare reform bill at all—it’s just more of the same. The public option, which I repeat has 75% popular support, is not a controversial suggestion offered up by the far left and subject to negotiation—it’s the whole goddamn thing! The public option is healthcare reform—it’s the only thing that’s really going to reform anything!

The lives of tens of thousands of American citizens hang in the balance, and they have my sympathies. But I’m more interested in this from the point of view of someone who is really curious as to just how powerless the American citizens really are when it comes to their own government. What is being tested now is not just the resolve of the new president, but the very core of our democracy itself. The whole idea of democracy is self-government, so you would think that if an overwhelming majority, say…75%, of the people want something, their elected representatives would get it done. If the public option gets compromised away in the final draft of the healthcare legislation, that will be all the proof anyone needs that the government does not represent the people, but only the big corporations that supply the money they use to buy the propaganda making the people think they are represented.

As for the president, this will determine whether I’ll continue to tacitly support him or whether I’ll completely turn on him once and for all. His method of always reaching out to the other side and of eternal willingness to compromise may be an enormous virtue on the world stage—and I’m the first to praise him for the fantastic job he’s done so far with regard to international affairs—it’s just not the right approach to take domestically if you want to get anything done. The republicans are weak and impotent right now—there is absolutely no need to compromise away the only actual reform part of healthcare reform bill just to win the support of republicans who you know aren’t going to vote for the bill anyway no matter what form it takes. If Obama caves on this issue it won’t be because of republicans but because of his fellow democrats and their unwillingness to stand up to the healthcare mafia. Obama vowed to take on this mafia when he ran for president. If he acquiesces now he will prove himself to be just another empty-suited fraud masquerading as an agent of change.

Unfortunately, the people are just as much to blame as their government. They could be out in front of the White House and the capital building demonstrating and holding signs and demanding no compromise. They could make their voices heard and show the congressmen that if they do in fact drop the public option, it will not be forgotten and they will not be forgiven. Congress may depend on lobbyist money to finance their campaigns, but they still can’t win elections without actual votes.

But the reason people aren’t out there demonstrating and inundating congressmen with phone-calls is that the media isn’t treating this issue fairly. The mainstream media is of course financed by the healthcare industry (notice how many ads for viagara and other random pharmaceuticals you see during any hour of TV news) so they’re not going to frame the debate the way I and the other bloggers (who call themselves the “free media”) are framing it. Every healthcare discussion I’ve seen on TV, with the exception of the Rachael Maddow show, has been a debate about how to lower costs, and the public option is seen as just one potential—yet allegedly controversial—avenue by which costs can be lowered. Again, the public option is not just one possible aspect of healthcare reform—it’s the whole fucking thing.

Healthcare reform with no public option is not healthcare reform. I want congressmen flooded with calls from people saying just that, and I want that message written on signs carried by demonstrators on Capitol Hill.

In this week’s ABC news special about healthcare, during the Q & A session in which Obama took questions from the audience, one of the people called on was the CEO of Aetna. As though the poor CEO of little-old Aetna isn’t getting enough of a say in this debate, and the big old government is trying to stream-roll him out of business, punishing him for his success. I’m sick and tired of the media treating this issue like this—constantly worrying about how a public option would affect insurance companies.

“But the insurance companies won’t be able to compete with a public option!” they cry. Well, GOOD! That’s the whole point! If the healthcare industry collapses to the ground, I say good fucking riddance! It’s one of the most evil industries every conceived by man: you pay us a huge chunk of what you earn every year, then if you get sick or injured we may or may not help you cover some of the costs. It’s evil and it needs to be completely replaced with a single-payer system. The only feasible avenue toward a single-payer system is through a public option which can eventually grow into single-payer once it drives these evil companies out of business.

The only question that remains is whether Obama will pussy-foot around this issue, concede to the resistance from members of his own party and give up on the public option, thus proving to all Americans (or at least those smart enough to understand the implications) that in a battle between 75% of the population and one evil industry, it’s the evil industry that wins, and our democracy is just as illusory as the people of Iran have just discovered theirs to be.

Iran: I Guess It’s Over

June 26th, 2009 No comments

So a politician is unfaithful to his wife, and Michael Jackson dies. I guess that’s the end of the Iran story. Why should we be interested in that when we could be talking about Mark Sanford’s absurd press conference (which I’ll admit I watched for the extremely high level of schadenfreude it provided) or look back on the life of a washed-up pop-star who has been nothing more than a joke for late-night comedians for the past 10 years? Plus, we’ve got to allow time for lobbyists from the Health Insurance companies to talk about why a government-run healthcare option would be the end of civilization as we know it. There’s just no time for Iran anymore, and people are tired of hearing about it anyway.

I shouldn’t bitch about this too much. It was obviously going to move from the head-lines to the back pages at some point. I was just a little pissed off at the fact it was a sex-scandal that knocked it off the front page. I couldn’t care less about a government sex-scandal, it just so happened that this was one of the most bizarre ones we’ve ever had, with a governor completely disappearing for five days and then holding a press conference in which he just rambled on off the top of his head and put his blatant psychological issues on full display for the public. Of course the media is going to be all over that—but how about making it the Number Two story? (which is still endowing it with far more importance than it warrants)

I just found out about Michael Jackson this morning so I don’t know how much coverage they’re devoting to him, but I’ll wager anything that he gets more air-time than Iran this weekend. I can’t remember ever being less upset by anybody’s death—I mean, I’m sure he was a really nice person who suffered a lot from his abnormal childhood and [alleged] struggle with pederasty (for which I’d be the last person in the world to begrudge him), but he was rich and famous and beloved all over the world. He got about four decades of that—which is about four decades more than most of us do.

I’d be a little bit sadder if the picture of blood spewing from Neda’s face wasn’t still fresh in my mind, and if I didn’t know that others in Iran are suffering the same fate as we speak.

So what’s going on there right now? It’s very difficult to tell. The government has confiscated every cell-phone it can get its hands on so the flow of information has slowed to a crawl, and from what we do see it appears that there are more riot police in the streets now than there are protesters. Perhaps that’ll change on the designated days of mourning, but we just don’t know. By all appearances it seems that the government is succeeding with its brutal crackdown.

But from what I have been hearing, this is far from over. The ‘79 revolution lasted for an entire year from start to finish, and there’s no reason to believe that this rebellion will be squashed within a matter of weeks. The Iranian people are pissed—even more pissed than they were on the day after the election. Even the people who are staying home now in fear are harbouring hatred against their government. That balance of fear and hatred will tilt back and forth as time goes on, and the numbers of people in the streets will probably ebb and flow rather than shrink consistently as the government hopes.

Politically, Iran is a nation at war with itself. Mousavi still refuses to admit defeat, and like Al Gore after the 2000 election and Norm Coleman today, he will not budge until the will of the people is respected. Of course he deserves a lot more respect than Gore, who eventually conceded thus giving us 8 years of Bush, and Coleman, who is only dragging this out to prevent the democrats from getting one more vote in congress. Mousavi is actually risking his life. Still, he’s a politician and his decision not to back down is essentially a political decision—if he changed his tune at this point the public would turn on him just as quickly as they turned on Khamenei.

Rasfanjani is apparently no longer as important as we thought. By coming out on the side of Mousavi he lost his credibility as an impartial mediator and won’t be able to get Khamenei to agree to any kind of compromise. Apparently the only hope for compromise that yet remains is a guy named Laranjani or something (I can’t even find the column that talked about him—it was just up yesterday but now it’s buried under piles of posts about Michael Jackson) who is another powerful cleric respected on both sides and who has somehow remained neutral throughout this whole thing. There’s some talk of a run-off election between Ahmedenijad and Mousavi.

But at this point I think it’s too late for compromise anyway. This is no longer about electoral fraud—it’s about the people of Iran vs. the Iranian government. You can’t kill dozens of your own people and then take a step back and say, okay, maybe we ought to have a do-over. Khamenei and Ahmedenijad have revealed their true colours to their people, and an immense proportion of those people would rather die than accept them as their true leaders.

The situation will probably look much like it does now for many weeks, and perhaps months, with violence in the streets and very little information coming out. Eventually the people will either go home and let the resentment fester for a few years until everything explodes once again, or the government finally collapses under its severely crippled infrastructure and a new system is put in place.

The thing is—whatever the short-term results, the long-term outcome looks good. Even if Khamenei maintains his position as Supreme Leader, the Iranians will not forget this and his government will eventually fall. Of course, we may have thought that about China after Tiananmen, but Iran is a much different story. Unlike China, Iran doesn’t own most of the U.S. economy. And as much as I hate to admit it, it’s clear that a rebellion against a regime hostile to the West is far more likely to succeed than a rebellion against a regime that’s crucial to Western interests.

The biggest thing to watch out for is what happens to other Islamic dictatorships in the region over the next few months. What kind of an example has this set for the leaders, and more importantly the people, in that region? Once we get a clearer picture of the effect this has had on that front, we’ll have a much better idea of what the ultimate significance of these events will be.

Frankfurt Postponed

June 26th, 2009 No comments

On Wednesday I had two lessons that I normally have on Tuesday. The first was with Frau Suhr, who was happy to spend the entire lesson talking about Iran. I got clarification from her that when she had said that she believed the uprising was caused by Western influence, she didn’t mean covert work on the part of the CIA or anything, but simply the fact that the protesters have been encouraged by Western media, which I suppose is true. My next lesson was with Frau Eggers, which went perfectly fine but she told me she was a little bit sick, which may have set something off in my brain because later on that day I started to feel sick myself.

But immediately after that lesson I headed back to the Planeo office to pick up some money for my monthly train ticket to Helmstedt, and I ran into Amanda who was there finishing up her last lesson before the big vacation. So I got to say my goodbyes to her, although it wasn’t nearly the same as it was with Alan whom I’ll probably never see again. Amanda will be returning to Hannover about the same time Kris will be arriving. Dammit, I just can’t write Kris. To me, Kris is a totally different kid I knew in high school. Sorry, but for the purposes of this journal it’s just going to have to remain Krissi.

On my way back home from the office I always pass right in front of the big Rathaus, a place I’ve been meaning to go inside and check out for…about as long as I’ve been here I guess. I was in no big hurry and it was a really nice day, so I figured it would be as good a time as any to pop in and head up to the observation deck for an aerial view of Hannover. When you walk into the lobby, there are four different models of the town of Hannover—one from when it was still just the Old City in the 17th century, another from 1939, another from 1945 when everything was bombed out and destroyed, and finally one from the present day. That in itself was cool enough, but the real reason I went in was for the observation deck.

I had to pay €2.50 to go up but that was a relatively decent price for that kind of thing (it’s €10 to get up to the highest point in Berlin), then I took the elevator to the top floor and had to wait for awhile to take the next elevator which went all the way up the central shaft to the top of the tower, as they only let 5 people go at a time. It was sunny when I went inside the building but in the short time it took me to get to the top, the sky had filled with clouds. Of course, the view was still pretty spectacular, and it was really weird to see all of these places I’m already so familiar with from way up high. You could see the entire Maschsee from one side, and even a bit of the Georgengarten from the other. And of course all of the church steeples and big buildings that I’ve seen thousands of time from the street look completely different from up there. All in all the main impression I got was that Hannover is much smaller than I’d pictured. I barely had to turn my head to look from the church near my apartment to the Hauptbahnhof, which is about a 15-minute walk. At any rate, it was really cool and I’m glad I finally did that.

But on the way home I started to feel a little phlegm in the back of my throat and for the rest of the night I felt progressively shittier, worried that I’d caught whatever Frau Eggers had and that I’d be sick over the weekend, which would really suck because I was supposed to go to Frankfurt this weekend.

After forcing myself to get a good night’s sleep I woke up the next morning still feeling shitty. I knew I’d have to make a decision about my Frankfurt trip based on whether I thought I was getting worse or if it was just going to go away the next day. During my first lesson in Helmstedt I asked the students about the Deutsche Bahn’s policy of changing the day of your ticket, and learned that you usually can but it costs €15.

Incidentally, I spent the rest of that lesson talking about Iran as well. Andreas said he’s normally not interested in what’s going on in the Middle East but he’s been paying attention to this. He brought up the Neda video, whom Christine, the other person there, had also seen, though neither of them remembered her name. I basically said to them everything I’ve been saying on my blog, and they seem to feel the same way about it as I do—that things there will probably be very bad for a long time but the whole new media aspect of is an encouraging sign of changing times.

Before beginning my lesson with the apprentices I always have at least 45 minutes of free time, which I used to answer an e-mail from Krissi who expressed her doubts and second thoughts about coming. So it’s not completely certain that she’ll go through with it, but I gave her reassurances and I think that when all is said and done she won’t forego the opportunity to come out here and travel. But just because she’s got a ticket doesn’t mean there’s any guarantee.

I found out from my students that since most of them were going on vacation it was decided to cancel all lessons with them for the month of July. That pissed me off because that’s a lot of money I won’t be making, but later that day I realised I could partially remedy the problem. Since I’m substituting for Robert 3 out of the 4 weeks in July and the original plan was to combine one of his courses on Thursday with one of mine, we might just be able to split those courses up and I’ll teach his when I would normally be teaching the apprentices. This morning I asked one of the Planeo secretaries if that was possible and she thought it was a great idea—perhaps because it also means more money for Planeo.

I had another pub quiz for the apprentices this week and they enjoyed it as usual. I included a bunch of Iran questions, and was pleasantly surprised to see that even the German youth who normally don’t know or care about politics have been following the story. They all knew the names of Ahmedenijad, Mousavi, and Khamenei (though none of them could spell them correctly) and while only a few weeks ago one of the quiz questions had been “What is the capital of Iran?” and none of them knew, this time they all got it right. Just for good measure I asked them about the name of the prison Obama is trying to close, and got confirmation that even German youth who don’t follow politics know about Guantanamo (though one group quite amusingly spelled it Quantana Mo).

One of the weirdest things about teaching is that your mind enters a heightened state of alertness, so you’re not really paying much attention to yourself and how your body is feeling. So I didn’t feel sick at all during the lesson, but on the train ride home I began to feel quite shitty again. I’d sent Claudia from Frankfurt an e-mail before my lesson telling her I was considering not coming, and when I returned to my apartment I found she had replied telling me I shouldn’t travel if I wasn’t feeling well and the next best time for me to come would be the 24th of July. So I figured I’d play it safe, and I went back to the Hauptbahnhof and coughed up €15 to change my ticket.

Of course, that night I started to feel much better, and this morning while I definitely don’t feel perfectly healthy I’m certainly far from anything I’d describe as genuinely sick. I probably could have gone to Frankfurt this weekend and been just fine, but I’m actually not too upset about it. I could really use this weekend to myself anyway to get a bunch of things done, including seriously figuring out my financial situation and putting together a real concrete game-plan for how to make it through the summer with enough money to travel in the Fall. Plus, the weather appears to be kind of shitty anyway so perhaps it’ll be better to take a chance on a different weekend.

If “neutral” is a mood, that’s the mood I’m in right now. Yesterday I was really pissed about the horrible timing of getting sick when I’d been looking forward to going back to Frankfurt for so long. But now I’m glad I’ve got all this extra time to do other things.

Iran: Neda’s Impact

June 24th, 2009 No comments

When I posted my last Iran entry, most people still didn’t know who Neda was, and I had no idea that this was going to turn into such a huge phenomenon. The fact that it has become such a huge story is both encouraging and somewhat worrying. It is encouraging for all the reasons I’ve been writing about—the fact that new media technology allowed the image of her death to be captured and broadcast throughout the world bodes well for all future events of this kind. Whenever there is war or violent oppression, the chance now exists that it will be captured and witnessed by the eyes of the world. While the chances of such a thing happening are far greater in a developed country like Iran than in third-world countries, as time goes on these kinds of images and the strong reactions they provoke will become more commonplace, and a much greater part of the collective consciousness of humanity.

What worries me is that Neda’ death may become such an iconic symbol that it will lose its effect. It’s the raw emotion generated by that image that’s important, not because it happened just to her but because this kind of thing happens all the time. Her death just happened to be caught on camera. The way some are talking, you would think that the only grievance the Iranian people have is that the government killed this one specific woman. What about the tens of thousands of women and children who have been killed by the dropping of American bombs over the last 100 years? These things are no less horrifying than Neda’s death—they just feel less horrifying because we didn’t see them. If the citizens of Iraq had been out there with cell-phone cameras and Twitter during the “shock and awe” campaign, things might have gone much differently after the initial invasion. The calls to get our troops out of there as soon as possible may have been impossible to ignore—although to be fair if anyone would have ignored such calls it would have been Bush and Cheney.

The point is, what’s missing from all the discussion about Neda is that she is not an isolated incident. She confronts us with a reality that most of us try very hard to ignore: these kinds of horrors happen all the time.

The worst, most hypocritical exploitation of Neda’s death so far has come from John McCain, who stood on the senate floor and used his feigned outrage over her death to score some cheap political points by attacking the president for not speaking out forcefully enough. I’ve already explained why this line of attack is complete bullshit—more forceful rhetoric from the American president would only serve to undermine the protesters—but what’s far worse about this is that John McCain thinks he has any right to mourn a woman who lived in a country that he talked about—actually, sang about—bombing. If McCain had become president and actually bombed Iran, he might have killed Neda himself.

The outrageous hypocrisy of the neoconservatives in this debate is overwhelming. These are the people who’ve treated the Middle East as one homogenous Evil Entity that would respond to nothing but force. Now they’re acting like the true champions of the Muslim People, standing up for them when Obama is too weak and timid to do so. Completely ignoring, of course, the fact that it was Obama’s approach—delivering speeches specifically targeting the people of a country and promoting a vision of a peaceful and democratic Muslim world—that created a climate in which such an uprising was more likely to occur. Harsh rhetoric and ultimatums from the U.S. only kept the population hostile to us and willing to follow whatever leader condemned us most strongly.

So I would like to see the U.S. treat Neda the way they should be treating all of the Iranian people—offering moral support but staying the hell out of it. Don’t usurp her death for your own shallow political games. Let the Iranian people have Neda. She’s their martyr—not ours.

The negatives aside, her death has already had an incredibly large and positive effect on the events on the ground in Iran. The government has apparently ordered police specifically not to hurt women, because the last thing they want is another martyr. As a result, in some cases where police have been beating men, groups of women gather around and serve as a shield for them, shouting at the police, “We are all Neda”. The police then have no choice but to back off. Neda’s death has therefore almost certainly prevented others from suffering the same fate.

Regarding my personal feelings about Neda, the image continues to haunt me and my heart still goes out to her and those who loved her. But I am much less upset about it than I was when it first happened. I had no idea that it would become such a phenomenon, and I expected that only I and a few other internet-savvy followers of the story would ever know and grieve for her. But now the entire world is grieving for her and that lightens my own burden. The fact that her death has been such a wake-up call for the world, that is has galvanised the opposition and shamed the government, and that it has almost certainly prevented more women from being killed or harmed, replaces my sorrow with gratification.

I was able to watch a live stream of Obama’s press conference yesterday. When he mentioned her in his opening remarks, and when he was specifically questioned about her later in the press conference, I realised how big this had become. It’s much larger than one woman’s suffering. I think the whole phenomenon is summed up best, as Corey has pointed out in the comments, by the song “Watching TV” from Roger Waters brilliant album Amused to Death:

She’s everybody’s sister
She’s symbolic of our failure
She’s the one in fifty million
Who can help us to be free
Because she died on TV

I just hope that we can remember that there was a real flesh-and-blood human being behind the iconic symbol they’re now making of her. From what I’ve read about Neda, she loved music and philosophy, and was spiritual but not too religious. I can’t help but wonder what she would think of all this, but her identity is no longer hers to control. She’s a billion things to a billion people, but only a real person to those who knew her. What she means to them will never be taken away. What she means to the world is now up to us.

We’ll Meet Again

June 24th, 2009 No comments

Two big things happened yesterday—Krissi bought a plane ticket to Germany, and I saw Alan for the last time.

Krissi, whom I shall now make a conscious effort to refer to as “Kris” as she wants to be called, sent me an e-mail yesterday confirming that she had found a ticket for the awesomely low price of $184, and would be arriving on August 25. So while I had every reason to believe before yesterday that she was coming, it’s now definite. And it immediately altered my thinking on the subject.

First of all, I suddenly found myself all uptight about money. Would I actually have enough money to go travelling with her this Fall? I’m still about $900 in debt. The German government deducted €650 from my account in June so I’m teetering just on the edge of broke at the moment. What’s worse is that the last time I checked my account I found out that last month’s rent payment actually didn’t go through, and even though I haven’t heard anything from my landlord about this I’m still going to end up owing him €690 at the beginning of next month. Things look pretty bleak.

But when I actually did the math I figured out that if I pay everything I need to pay including rent, utilities, both debts and a €300 cost of living, that’s €2770 by September (including September’s rent). I’ve probably made more than €1000 this month, but if I assume I’ll bring in that €1000 it reduces the debt to €1770, which means that I just need to make more than €885 in July and August to be square. Since I assume I’ll be making significantly more than that, I should definitely have enough money for some travelling by September. And I always have the option of not paying off my bank debt, or if I do, of simply going into more debt if I have to. In any case, I’m going to be paying much closer attention to my spending over the next couple of months than I have over the last year. Normally I’m not the kind of guy to work really hard and pinch pennies for the sake of a future good time—I’d much rather just enjoy the moment—but this is worth it, and now it’s official that barring any catastrophe it’s actually going to happen.

Coincidentally enough, last night was also the last night in several months (with the exception of this weekend in Frankfurt) that I’ll be going out drinking. Alan had a lot to do today so he didn’t want to stay out too late, and we only had three drinks over the course of a few hours. Mark (the guy from the international school whom I’ve been referring to as “Marc” but who actually spells it with a K) also came around with his girlfriend Kristine (another small coincidence for you) and we hopped from the Dublin Inn to a restaurant just down the road called Konrad or something. Alan and I didn’t order food but I tried some of theirs and it was excellent and reasonably priced so I assume I’ll go back there at some point (just not over the summer). After eating dinner Mark and Kristine left and Alan and I hopped back over to the Dublin for one last beer. I got him to write down a few recommendations for places to see in Eastern Europe, and we exchanged e-mail addresses and a promise to keep in touch. He often goes on random trips over the world and invites everyone he knows, though usually nobody else comes. So there’s at least a small chance that we’ll meet up at some point in the future when I’ll be presumably living somewhere else and earning the kind of money that lets me go off on frequent travelling adventures. But as we went our separate ways at the end of the night I felt it was far more likely that this was the last time I’ll ever see him. Chalk up another one on my list people I was close to for awhile and then disappeared from my life forever.

So it goes. It wasn’t the first and it certainly won’t be the last. That’s just part of the lifestyle I’ve chosen. And with all things considered I’d still rather meet thousands of different people and lose every one of them than remain in just one circle of friends for my entire life. Of course, a few lifelong friends are very important, but I’ve already got two of them, and I’ll see one of them again very soon.

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Friday Night

June 21st, 2009 No comments

I spent so much time writing my Iran piece yesterday that I didn’t get to the events of Friday night. There’s not much to say anyway, but it’s worth recording. I was the first to arrive at the Afghan restaurant, so I walked around for a bit while waiting for Alan or Amanda to get there. Amanda spotted me on the sidewalk outside the entrance and we sat down at one of the tables outside. Alan came a few minutes later, and we all had a beer before Amanda had to go catch a train to Berlin.

Oliver and Jamie didn’t come, but Kay arrived shortly after. We all had some delicious food and drank another beer, then left to head for the Dublin Inn at around 9:00. Along the way we came to a place that Alan had always been curious about: “Hannover’s €1 Bar” where apparently you could get drinks for just €1. As soon as we walked in it was clear why this was the case—the atmosphere was awful. The place looked like shit, the music was awful and far too loud, and the only other people there were obnoxious drunken German youth singing songs at the top of their lungs. It was kind of funny, but we pounded our beer as quickly as possible just to get out of there.

When we made it to the Dublin it was Karaoke night and the downstairs area was packed, so we went upstairs where it was far less crowded and you couldn’t hear the awful singing. We drank some more beer and chatted some more, mostly about teaching but sometimes about politics. Tom, the American from Atlanta I’ve mentioned a few times before, also came by to hang out with Alan one last time, and there was even more political talk when he got there. As for Kay, I feel a bit bad about what I wrote about her having an annoying voice. Yes, I do think she has an annoying voice but she was still quite pleasant company with a good sense of humour and plenty of intelligent things to say.

Kay and Tom left before Alan and I, and the two of us had one last beer downstairs (the Karaoke had ended at this point) and had a chat with the co-owner of the pub, whom I learned actually is Debbie’s husband. Finally, we left and said goodnight, and that was that. Nothing extraordinary, but one of the last nights I’ll ever be out drinking with Alan. I’m definitely going to miss him.

Categories: Personal Tags:

Iran: Neda’s Martyrdom

June 21st, 2009 No comments

By far the most powerful and disturbing image to have come so far from Iran is the footage of a young woman lying on the ground, shot in the chest and staring into the sky as blood suddenly starts gushing from her mouth and eyes as she dies. Soon after this video was posted, we learned that this woman’s name was Neda and she was just standing beside her father watching the situation when a sharp-shooter put a bullet directly into her heart. I can hardly imagine the horror she must have felt in that final moment, let alone the absolute agony of her father.

Very little is known about the situation, so one can only guess as to the intentions of the scum who pulled the trigger. This young woman was clearly not a threat, and the shot came from far away so there can be no doubt that it wasn’t self-defence. One could imagine that the sharp-shooters were encouraged to shoot innocent bystanders as a way to further frighten the people and get them to go home—by sending the message “just being outside puts you at risk” that will certainly have the effect of keeping thousands inside who might have otherwise gone out. But why shoot an innocent woman? Say what you will about social equality, but Muslims are far more inclined to be outraged over the death of a female than of a male (as am I). By beating up or killing women you greatly risk inflaming things even further. The fact that this was caught on tape, that millions of people have seen it, and that thousands of Iranians already know her name and are celebrating her as a martyr, is the last thing Khamenei could have wanted.

My speculation is that the sharp-shooter himself wasn’t thinking at all about the consequences—that he was just a sadist who got off on the cold-blooded murder of a woman. But the motives of the shooter himself are not nearly as important as the motives of Khamenei in allowing this tragedy to take place at all, and the consequences it will ultimately have. His motives were probably religious. He probably really believes that he is divinely inspired and that any challenge to his authority is a challenge to Allah. Therefore he couldn’t do the practical thing and spare his country all this unnecessary trauma by allowing a new election—he had to stand firm and declare all dissidents to be enemies of the state and therefore enemies of Islam. If his only motivation was to stay in power, he could have done so peacefully, but that would have required compromise. And for a man like Khamenei, compromise is not an option.

As for the consequences, those remain to be seen. What began as a series of peaceful protests will certainly take a more violent turn as the rage continues to grow. Many more will stay home out of fear, and the only ones who remain on the streets will be those willing to fight and die. The innocents who have died thus far will be their rallying cry and we’ll see many more martyrs before this is all over. And when the violence finally subsides, whether the Ayatollah remains in power or not, Iran will have become a fundamentally different country, and this a fundamentally different world.

Corey wrote in the comments to my last Iran entry that I may have been exaggerating the idea of the new media revolution, and he made a good point that we’re only able to witness this because Iran is for the most part a modern country with a modern technological infrastructure. If something similar were to happen in Africa or any third-world nation we wouldn’t be getting tweets and pictures and videos directly from the people, so it might not work as a prototype for other revolutions. Furthermore, other brutal dictators are surely already working on figuring out how to completely stop the flow of information should the need arise. Personally, I think that whatever obstacles these dictators put in place, the people will find a way around it. I think media has advanced to the point where it really can’t be stopped, where the only way to truly block the dissemination of information would be to cut power across the entire country, which would almost certainly backfire even worse.

No, I still believe that we’re witnessing something extraordinary in terms of the impact of new media on world events. Gone are the days that a government can attack its own people and not be held accountable for it. If you’re killing innocent women, the world will know about it.

The protests may very well be crushed, and Neda’s death may appear to have been in vain. I’d like to think that if she hasn’t become a martyr for this particular revolution, she may at least be a symbolic martyr for an even greater, worldwide revolution that is just beginning.

Just the fact that I’ve felt such strong emotion over this woman today when yesterday I didn’t even know she existed speaks volumes about the interconnected world we’re living in. What would the effect have been if we’d seen images like this during the Iraq invasion? It’s important to confront people with the true horror of these situations so that we will hopefully stop repeating them in the future.

Iran: Human Revolution

June 20th, 2009 No comments

I’ve been following the events in Iran as closely as I could this week amidst all of my other business. Each morning during breakfast I’d read the latest from Nico Pitney’s outstanding liveblog on the Huffington Post, and each evening I’d get some analysis from guests on Keith Olbermann or Rachel Maddow. My perception of the events has been shaped almost exclusively by these sources, so I can’t claim to have any special insight. Even my usual style of taking a step back and looking at an issue in the broadest, “what does this mean for humanity as a whole?” context is to a large degree undermined by my ignorance of Iranian history and of my unfamiliarity with other uprisings of this kind. All I can really do is write about my own impressions and what I think it all means.

There are three things I’d like to address, those being 1- the affect this will have on Iran and on the Middle East, 2- the reaction to these events on the part of the United States government, and 3- the unprecedented role played by new technology in this situation and how it might be a sign of the fundamental paradigm shift I’ve been waiting for in the unfolding of world history, a concept I’ve called the Human Revolution.

The last major event to have happened in Iran at the time of this writing was the speech given yesterday by Ayatollah Khamenei, in which he insisted—in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary—that the results of the election were not fraudulent and that everyone protesting in the streets must go home or risk violent reprisal. I believe this was a terrible mistake on his part, but it doesn’t surprise me. The more I hear about Khamenei’s actions in this situation, the more of a tremendous idiot he appears to be. After all, it was he who shot himself in the foot by making sure the election was rigged in the first place and going about it so carelessly that any intelligent Iranian would have no doubt that the results were fixed. He thought that by giving Ahmedenijad a 30-point margin of victory he’d be able to deny any claims of tampering—he said in his speech that you can’t switch 11 million votes—when in fact the absurd margin had quite the opposite effect. It wasn’t that they switched 11 million people’s Mousavi votes to Ahmedenijad—it was clear that they didn’t even count the votes and just announced the numbers that had already been decided on beforehand. The absolute stupidest part of the whole thing is Ahmedenijad had the same margin of victory everywhere in Iran, including Mousavi’s hometown, his strongest base of support. A third party candidate, who actually beat Ahmedenijad in his hometown four years ago, was completely crushed this time around. Because he got about 1% nationally they gave him 1% in his own district—the most blatant piece of evidence that the results weren’t based on any kind of reality at all. You’d think someone involved in this would have been smart enough to think about this beforehand, but either they were genuinely too stupid or they just fatally underestimated how much value the Iranian people actually placed on democracy.

Which is why it was so interesting, in reading the transcript of Khamenei’s speech, that he spends so much time extolling the virtues of democracy, boasting about the 85% turnout and how the people in the streets ought to accept the will of the people. When I read that all I could think was, “Is this guy serious?” He wants to spin this to say that the overwhelming majority of Iranians have spoken and they want Ahmedenijad, and it’s just a few hooligans taking to the street because they have no respect for democracy? The will of the people? What does the fact that two million Iranians are marching in the street tell you about the will of the people? Apparently he knows what the Iranian people want better than the Iranian people. And as for the idea that these 2 million “hooligans” just have no respect for democracy, that’s like saying anti-abortion protesters hold up pictures of dead fetuses because they want to encourage more killing of fetuses. The people are angry because you have no respect for democracy, Mr. Khamenei. And it turns out that if you want to be a leader of a Middle Eastern country, no matter how Holy and infallible the clerics have deemed you to be, it’s becoming increasingly necessary to abide by democratic principles.

And that’s one of the most important things we’re seeing as a result of this fiasco. Had Khamenei simply let the votes be counted and put up with Mousavi as his underling rather than Ahmedenijad, nothing really significant would have changed. The tone of relations with the West might have been slightly less hostile, but Mousavi isn’t all that different than Ahmedenijad in terms of substance, and the republic would have stayed intact. But because he didn’t want to work with Mousavi, a former colleague of his who might not have been as easy to control as Ahmedenijad, he did what he thought he had to do to keep the president he wanted, subverting the will of the majority of people to the will of one man—his own. Iranians instantly recognised that the voice they thought they had in controlling their own destiny was only an illusion, and now they’re making their voices heard more directly. They want openness in government, broader international cooperation, and a more secular politics. Now even if Khamenei manages to squash this uprising before it becomes a revolution and Ahmedenijad does indeed stay in power for the next four years, he will no longer be seen as a legitimate leader and his sabre-rattling against the West will no longer be taken seriously. The best argument they had against the West is that we’ve meddled in their affairs and undermined their democracy. Now that their own president has undermined their democracy he won’t have a shred of credibility in terms of denouncing the Western world. The era of Us vs. Them in Iran with respect to foreign governments is over. Western governments are no longer the enemy of the Iranian people—the Iranian government is the enemy of the Iranian people. Finally, this will serve as an important lesson for other hard-line leaders of Middle Eastern countries. If you want to keep your power you have to listen to the people—just blaming everything on the West will no longer work.

That is, unless those in the West continue to play right into the hands of these governments, as the Republicans in congress and even some moronic Democrats want to do. I knew from the very beginning that the right-wing would use the events in Iran to criticise Obama, because that’s all they do and the only consequences they care about are their own poll numbers. I assumed they’d blame him for the uprising itself, but apparently they took a different approach and sided firmly with the Iranian opposition, attacking Obama for not being as vocal as they are in their support. This tactic is even stupider and more reckless. Every single person who knows anything about diplomacy and about the politics of the Middle East knows that the fastest way to undermine the opposition is for the United States to express its strong support for it. As soon as Obama says, “I support the opposition,” the government of Iran has all the ammunition it needs to put a stop to it. That’s when it’s no longer an issue of the Iranian people vs. their own government, but of the Iranian government versus the people on the side of the United States. Popular support for the opposition would dry up instantly, and those still out on the streets would be arrested, beaten or murdered under the auspices of crushing a foreign-backed insurgency. This is the most obvious thing in the world.

Of course, republicans don’t give one shit about the Iranian people or even about democracy in the Middle East. They only care about winning elections, and it sounds good to the morons who keep voting for them when they get on their high horses about how America needs to support democracy and human rights everywhere and why won’t Obama come out and say so? It must be because he’s a secret Muslim terrorist sympathiser, right? That’s what their constituents will think anyway, because for the most part, their constituents don’t think. Rush Limbaugh does their thinking for them. And he’s not saying the obvious truth—that the best thing America can do for the Iranian people is to stay the fuck out of it. He and his legions of followers still live in a fantasy world where America has magical powers to make whatever it wants to happen in the world happen, and all we need to do to bring democracy to the Middle East is for the president to endorse the opposition and thus force Khamenei to bend his will in deference to the Great and Mighty America, to step down and let the people take control so that they can get to work on building those McDonalds and Starbucks.

One thing that has not been given much attention is the fact that John McCain, the republican presidential candidate, is one of those reckless idiots calling for the president to more forcefully meddle in Iran’s affairs. This, I believe, is the clearest indication we have so far that had McCain actually won the election, it would have been a complete disaster. Unless he’s just mouthing off now because he doesn’t have to worry about real-world consequences and would have done exactly what Obama’s doing were he in that position, we’re seeing the approach McCain would have taken and it’s the most blatantly wrong approach possible. Had McCain been president, the uprising would have been crushed days ago and the sabre-rattling would be going on louder than ever. Clips of the American president singing “Bomb bomb Iran” would have been broadcasted over the Iranian airwaves ad nauseum, and tension between our two countries would be at an all-time high. I think these kinds of things should be pointed out repeatedly, as most Americans still don’t seem to understand that elections have serious consequences. The most clear moment indicating that a McCain presidency would have been the worst disaster in the history of the United States is yet to come—that will happen if McCain dies within the next four years and we’ll know for sure that had he been elected we would have ended up with President Sarah Palin. She’d almost definitely take us to war with Iran just to score some political points with the hawkish base.

Now war with Iran seems more unlikely than ever, and Obama should be given some credit for how he’s handled the situation up to now. I’ve said it before and it bears repeating that Obama may be kind of a shitty president when it comes to domestic issues, but in terms of foreign affairs he’s the best possible person we could have had for the job.

The final point I want to make is much deeper, and it has to do with the way in which we’re learning about this situation as it happens. When the Iranian government saw they had a potential uprising on their hands, they went to the standard anti-uprising playbook and cut off all satellite communication and cell-phone service to prevent news from getting in or out of Iran. That kind of thing worked very well back in 1989, and it even might have worked as recently as 1999. But today, communications technology has advanced beyond the point where it can be controlled by any government, and this might just be the most encouraging thing I’ve ever witnessed in regards to the hope for a Human Revolution.

As much as I hate Twitter (I’ve been meaning to rant about it in a blog post for awhile now) it has been invaluable for the Iranians both in terms of organising their protests and getting the word out to the rest of the world about what’s been happening. Cell-phone videos and pictures can be taken and posted online. Thousands of clips of the protests and the violence against protesters have been uploaded to Youtube and seen around the world. It’s the worst possible thing for the Iranian government—they don’t want anyone to know how massive this uprising is and they certainly don’t want anyone seeing police forces beating up on citizens, particularly women. But whatever they do to try and stop the information-flow, the tech-savvy youth in Iran find a way around it. The government has put a dam in place, but the internet has poked millions of tiny holes in that dam and information is pouring out far faster than the government can plug up the holes. For the first time in the history of mankind, people around the world can follow a revolution as it’s happening—we hear the voices of the people actually out there in the street and describing what’s going on, we see the pictures and watch the videos, privileged to witness this historic event from the perspective of the people themselves—not the government or the state-controlled media. It is a revolution within a revolution, and with any luck it will lead to more revolutions by serving as an example of what can actually be accomplished when the people not only take to the streets to stand up to their oppressive government, but can actually broadcast what’s happening as it happens to people all over the world.

We have yet to see the ultimate results of this development, but some of the immediate results are already apparent. Khamenei wants to portray these protests as nothing more than a few hooligans causing trouble and violently lashing out. Instead we see clips of hundreds of thousands of people of all ages marching silently through the streets and when the police confront them, they all sit down quietly to give them no excuse to attack. Khamenei accuses the West of having incited these protests in the first place in order to undermine Iranian democracy, but we read tweets from thousands of actual Iranians expressing their genuine frustration over the outcome of the election and their deep desire for peace and for a government that honours the will of the people.

The most important effect of this is that it finally shatters the perception of the outside world that all Iranians are warmongering religious fundamentalists. Anyone who actually reads the messages coming from the people can’t avoid the basic truth that they’re not very different from us at all. A government, especially a despotic one, does not actually represent the people, and no matter how fucked up and evil a government may be, people are the same everywhere—no matter where you are in the world there will be millions who are ignorant assholes and millions who are kind and compassionate. When you bomb a country…say, Iraq for instance…you may kill a few ignorant people but you won’t be able to avoid also killing many who are not only innocent, not only genuinely good and decent people, but people that you might have been very good friends with if you actually met them face to face. That’s why I opposed the Iraq war before it even started, even when everyone believed it was a threat to the U.S. That’s why I oppose all war, all the time, unless it’s truly for self-preservation.

And if enough people can be brought to the same understanding I had, even as a relatively naïve teenage kid, if enough people understand that war leads to the death of good and innocent people not very different from you, than maybe people won’t be so quick to call for war in the future. It wasn’t too long ago that many in the U.S. wanted to bomb Iran. Now we’re hearing the voices of the Iranian people, these people they wanted to kill, and it turns out they’re not evil at all—that they in fact share the same values as we do—values of liberty, peace, and democracy.

I’ve been saying for years that the internet and modern communications technology has the potential to bring mankind together like never before, in a way that just might lead to our developing the ability to save ourselves from self-destruction and to achieve a sustainable, peaceful existence on this planet for countless generations. This is the first real indication that this might not just be a wild starry-eyed liberal fantasy, but that there actually is a chance that such a dream might be realised. The revolution I’ve been waiting for might have already begun.

Long Week

June 19th, 2009 No comments

This has been the busiest week I’ve had in awhile, having picked up substitutions for both Monday and Wednesday and thus having 5 straight working days in a row. It’s still much less work than a normal person does, but it’s taken its toll on me and I’m quite ready for the weekend.

Last night was the last time Alan, Amanda, and I will have gone to Quiz Night at the Dublin Inn. Betty, the quiz-master, was very generous to us, even coming up to our table beforehand and giving us a few of the answers to the sports round. We didn’t do very well on the actual quiz, but Betty must have given us some points for a few wrong answers as well because at the end of the game our team was tied for first. There’s always a tie-breaker question where each team sends one person to the front and Betty asks a question that only they can answer. The first person to answer the question wins. Because the question usually has to do with geography and Alan is an expert in that field, we sent him. But the question was actually for the name of the opposition leader in Iran. Of course, I knew the answer right away, but even though I’d been telling Alan about it earlier in the night he didn’t remember the guy’s name. Neither of the other teams came right out with it either, so I leapt out of my seat and rushed up to Alan and shouted “Mousavi” in his ear but it was too late. The other teams had already guessed, so we came in 3rd place. I was a little pissed off that on our last night we could have won, but it was enough for a free shot of Jägermeister anyway. When the quiz was over and Amanda went home, Alan and I were on our way out when we got drawn into a conversation with Betty and the other owner of the pub whom I think might be her husband. Alan said we’d probably come back tomorrow night.

Tonight, Alan is having a goodbye dinner at an Afghan restaurant nearby. Amanda will only stop in for about an hour because she’s going to Berlin, but Oliver and Jamie should be there. Apparently Kay, the British girl with the really annoying voice, is going to come too, but I doubt she’ll stay very long. She’s more Amanda’s friend than Alan’s. I guess it’s the same with Oliver. Come to think of it Alan’s only real friends here have been me and Amanda. Which makes me feel good about not having much of a social life either. You really don’t need to know a lot of people—just the right people. Anyway, it should be a nice night. A little dinner and then back to the Dublin Inn. And then apparently on Tuesday we might go back one more time, this time with Frank (the owner of Planeo) because apparently Alan wants to get wasted with him one last time. Apparently he’s a total riot. I really like that idea, because on Wednesday Frank is coming to observe one of my private lessons, and I’ll feel a lot less stressed about my boss evaluating me if I’d been out getting trashed with him the night before.

And in more long-term news, I hadn’t heard from Krissi for over a week after our last conversation when she said she’d buy a ticket the next day, and I was getting the feeling that something had changed her mind and she wouldn’t be coming after all. I was even feeling pre-emptively upset about it all day today until I got home and checked my e-mail and found one from her. Apparently she’s still planning on coming but she hasn’t bought a ticket yet because she hasn’t yet decided when she wants to leave California. That was reassuring, but I still feel kind of bad. I suppose the bad mood (and when I say “bad mood” even that’s a bit of an overstatement) is just a natural emotional-cycle thingy. Nothing a few beers won’t cure.

I’ve got a lot to say about the Iran situation but because I’ve been so busy this week I haven’t had the will to use any of my precious free time for writing. I’m in no mood to do it now either, so I’ll write about it tomorrow. I’m really glad it’s the weekend.

Categories: Personal Tags: , ,

Iran: Initial Thoughts

June 14th, 2009 No comments

The most important, fascinating thing happening in the world right now is clearly the fallout from the Iranian “election” in which the notorious isolationist anti-western president Mahmoud Ahmedenijad has claimed victory over the more moderate and western friendly green-party candidate, Mir-Houssain Mousavi. Victory was declared even before a single vote was counted, and the final number given was a 63% to 34% landslide. Seeing as how polls indicated Mousavi was leading Ahmedenijad by 54 to 39 in the final poll before the election, that even the biggest victories in American elections have not exceeded 20 percentage points, and that all indications prior to the election were that Ahmedenijad was clearly losing credibility among the people, it’s probably safe to say that these results are completely fabricated and that Supreme Leader Khamenei simply decided beforehand who the winner would be.

Now, as young Iranians who had been led to believe that they had a legitimate, participatory government are confronted with blatant fact that they actually live in a fascist dictatorship, they naturally find themselves just a little bit peeved. And because Iran is not America, where disillusioned leftists do nothing more than bitch about things with their blogs and their Twitter, when people are upset with an oppressive government they actually take to the streets and start causing havoc. That is, in fact, their only option, and if I were there I’d be out tossing rocks at cops too. This is a genuine, bona-fide revolution, the likes of which Iran hasn’t seen since 1979, and it’s really fucking encouraging to see. I say that with full respect for those protestors who have been killed in the madness—they are true martyrs, and I can’t help but envy them for having had the chance to die such an honourable, meaningful death.

It’s way too early to tell what the eventual fallout will be. There are so many different possible outcomes right now that I’m literally on the edge of my seat to see what happens. This will carry enormous consequences not just for Iran but for entire Middle East and therefore the entire world. Will Ahmedenijad and Khamenei have enough brute force to suppress the protestors, execute their political enemies, and spend the next few years continuing on the road to violent and possibly nuclear confrontation with Israel and the U.S., thus setting off World War III and the apocalypse that all the right-wing nuts are praying for? Will efforts by the chairmen of the Assembly of Experts, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, to remove Khamenei from power and hold an actual election succeed, thus putting Mousavi in power and setting Iran on a course of diplomacy and cooperation with the rest of the world? Will any one of a hundred other possible outcomes be the case? Whatever happens, this may well turn out to be one of the most significant events in human history, coming as it does on the heels of a historic address by the first U.S. president in decades to genuinely reach out to the Muslim world in support of peace.

More Arabs seem to support that vision of peace than most Americans assume. This story needs as much coverage as possible because the very fact that it’s happening ought to shatter the stupid bullshit stereotype promoted by the right-wing for so long that all people in all middle-eastern countries are Islamic fundamentalists who want nothing more than to see Americans die. Well, guess what? Iran, one of those “axis of evil” countries, is actually filled with people who when given a choice would take the olive branch the president is extending and cooperate with the international community. It’s the government of Iran, led by a crazy right-wing nut called Ahmedenijad, that’s fighting a holy war for his own twisted purposes, not the people.

You know, I seem to recall that not too long ago everyone in the Middle East assumed that all Americans were crazy Christian fundamentalists who wanted nothing more than to see Muslims die. Then we had an election, and they learned that the “evil empire” is actually filled with people who when given a choice would extend an olive branch to them and invite their cooperation within the international community. It was the government of the United States, led by a crazy right-wing nut called Bush, that was fighting a holy war for his own twisted purposes, not the people.

So can we please, for the love of Buddha, just put a stop to this black-and-white thinking once and for all? Can we please get beyond the days where we declare an entire country an enemy of the United States? Can we finally start drawing distinctions between these brutal, illegitimate regimes and the people they victimize? Not all Iranians are bloodthirsty Islamic extremist America-haters, so maybe bombing that country into oblivion, as I’ve heard so many conservatives calling for over the past decade, is not the proper solution to the problem. Maybe it is the problem.

I can’t wait to see how the conservative media spins this into some kind of huge failure on Obama’s part. They’ll somehow find a way to blame it on his speech and point out that under Bush, the government of Iran may have been evil, but at least it was stable. It’s Obama’s naivety and inexperience that caused this mess, just like everyone warned he would. Either that or it’s part of his secret plan to destroy Israel. Actually, why not both?

What they’ll ignore is the most obvious conclusion that can be drawn from this—that the key to achieving peace in the Middle East is not through armed conflict and constantly providing more reasons for the people of these countries to hate us and vote for the parties that most forcefully express this hatred, but by taking the soft, diplomatic approach and reaching out to the hearts and minds of the people themselves until it no longer becomes possible for a stable, anti-Western isolationist regime to exist. If the people are on our side, they won’t accept governments hostile to us, and they won’t tolerate extremist groups plotting to kill us. It’s the most obvious fucking thing in the world, but there are still ignorant assholes out there who refuse to get that, and no matter how clearly reality stands in contrast their point of view, they will never give it up.

Luckily, the right-wing war-mongering hawks are now the minority in this country. If we can make them the minority in every middle eastern country, we might just have a chance.