July 21st, 2009
An expression that can mean anything means nothing; when you want to please everybody, you please nobody.
Enrico Fermi, the great Italian physicist, killed all the aliens in 1950 by asking this simple/innocent question: “if extra-terrestrials exist, where are they?” This question has become the Fermi Paradox.
Even though I am a science fiction fan I do agree with the skeptics that, Houston, we have a problem:
a) the search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) program to detect radio transmissions from other civilizations has been a failure.
b) the question of the Great Silence remains unsolved; if life is common, why don’t we detect their radio transmissions?
Today is the 40th anniversary of the first moon landing (July 20, 1969).
I remember the thrill of hearing about it on a hot summer day in Iran; the moon has not looked the same since!
Unlike my father, I am a lousy philatelist (postage stamp collector) but I was able to find the above page I bought in 1994—on the 25th anniversary of “the big step”—among my loose leaves.
The Drake Equation—an attempt to estimate the number of extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way with which we might come into contact— is still fascinating to me but I see its light getting dimmer with every “silent year”…
N = R* × fp × nE × fl × fi × fc × L
To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Neil Armstrong’s historic walk on the moon, Google is offering Internet users a virtual trip to the moon.
I empathize with Fermi’s passion for clarity. I am simply unable to let things be foggy. The Drake equation is literally meaningless because “an expression that can mean anything means nothing.”
Related and Suggested Posts and Resources:
June 16th, 2009
These are startling moments in recent Iranian history. Breathtaking is the word that comes to mind with every new image out of Iran’s protests. A new tale of Zahhak and Kaveh. “It is as if someone had opened a door and an entire country had spilled out.”
The difference between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad is one of degree and not of kind but it’s obvious that the islamic republic has been constrained to deny its own convictions—if Rafsanjani is not the regime’s legitimate overlord, who is? Mousavi seems to be running along after the crowd, not leading it…
The crackdown on the protesters has been way harsher in cities like Isfahan (above) where there are less foreign journalists to report it.
I would love to believe that Iranians are showing the same spirit of resistance they’ve had towards the invaders throughout their long history against the Arabs, the Mongols and Turks.
The Islamic Republic has believed its own myth of invincibility and now its legitimate children are fighting each other in front of the whole world. If they had simply arranged for Ahmadinejad to win by an at least believable slim margin! What we are witnessing is the clash of the Titans in a perfect storm.
If the Bazaar turns against Ahmadinejad, it would be the end of him. It is a matter of time before the regime rolls in the tanks. I highly recommend Muhammad Sahimi’s great article on the power struggle in Iran. It is a must read for anyone interested in understanding Iran’s recent history, and how it has led us to the present situation.
Abbas Milani discusses Khamenei’s amazing miscalculation in this article.
“Count our votes: the modesty of this demand is particularly moving, set against the majesty of the demonstrations.”
It’s hard to make any deeply intelligent prediction about Iran’s political future right now but I would like to hope that better days will come—though not yet…
June 1st, 2009
Churchill in a red Kimono…
I just can’t get this image out of my mind since I read about it so I had to make it!
Looking for Churchill in a red kimono, I found the following on the TIME archives:
“Two French officers were breakfasting quietly in a French conference room when they suddenly “beheld an astonishing sight.” The double doors burst open and “an apparition which they said resembled an angry Japanese genie, in long, flowing red silk kimono . . . girdled with a white belt . . . stood there, sparse hair on end, and said with every sign of anger: ‘Uh ay ma bain?'”(where is my bath?)
I first read about it in these wonderful books that give an insight into the minds of Churchill, Hitler and Stalin during the crucial years of 1940 and 1941.
Another great little gem by John Lukacs is “June 1941” where he describes Hitler and Stalin’s relationship before the German invasion of Russia.
The D Day or the 65th anniversary of the 1944 Allied invasion at Normandy is almost here (and the French government snubbed Queen Elizabeth by not inviting her to the big celebrations on June 6th). Churchill is spinning in his grave.
In my last trip to New York, I went to this great exhibition in NY Public Library called: “Between Collaboration and Resistance: French Literary Life Under Nazi Occupation”. Reading Lukacs’ books about the same period, made the exhibition particularly interesting to me—I am a history buff and the two world wars have always fascinated me.
It was interesting to see my favorite poets’ letters and postcards during the Nazi occupation of France—the above postcard was sent by Louis Aragon to Paulhan’s wife on a pre-printed postcard (easier to censure!)
Poems sent from prison camps and manuscripts smuggled out written on the back of wallpapers…
I loved Eluard’s poem, Liberté (freedom), illustrated by Fernand Leger:
65 years after the second world war, the world is not a safer place and human beings have forgotten the hard learned/earned lessons; the middle east is as volatile as always, Sri Lanka just ended a bloody civil war, Pakistan is agonizing under the threat of the Talibans, Africa is struggling with its different identities and abortion doctors are being assassinated in America…
It’s harder today to make blanket predictions about the direction history is taking—fast computing and the internet have changed the old orders that were in place since our written history began.
Here are a couple of Churchill’s quotes to finish this post:
“Although prepared for martyrdom, I preferred that it be postponed.”
“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.”
“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”
Other things you might not have seen:
January 19th, 2009
“what’s required is a new declaration of independence — from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry.” President Obama
At last, some Law & Order and good riddance to uncurious george! I thought he’d never leave.
These are some pictures from today’s New York Times and they are telling…
The euphoria was not diminished because of the bitter cold, and the whole world smiled on tuesday— a cautious sigh of relief for never having to listen to another incoherent sentence from that idiot bush or to accept some blatant injustice shoved down our throat.
Americans feel proud again and there is this beautiful aura of hope over everybody—in spite all other major problems—a little break.
May all this great energy take care of some of the world’s problems…
I am allowing myself to be hopeful—for a cynic like me, it’s not easy…
January 20th 2009: the End of an Error
January 12th, 2009
I am no friend of Hamas—not all muslims are—but what is happening in Gaza is like a bad horror movie. Thousands are being sacrificed between the belligerent Israel and Hamas (and the two American presidents.)
I remember when I was about ten years old, spreading the newspaper on the floor and reading with the naive curiosity of a child about the Palestinian conflict—and not understanding much of it. I still don’t…Robert Kaplan says “Israel has, in effect, launched the war on the Iranian empire that President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, in particular, can only have contemplated.”
Israel has prevented international journalists getting into Gaza. Is “an eye for an eyelash”, Israel’s appropriate response to Hamas’ rockets? 13 dead Israelis to 1100 dead Palestinians? I hated Yasir Arafat for what he did and didn’t do for his people but is Hamas much better? Can you really close the borders of Gaza and bomb them in front of the whole world? All I know is that the 2 state plan is barely alive and a thousand people are dead, so far…
War does not determine who is right – only who is left. Bertrand Russell
Sara Roy’s If Gaza falls
Benny Morris’ Why Israel feels threatened.
Ehud Olmert’s very interesting interview.
David Samuel’s How Yasser Arafat destroyed Palestine.
Avi Schlaim’s How Israel brought Gaza to the brink of humanitarian catastrophe.
December 15th, 2008
I took Hooman Majd’s book, The Ayatollah begs to differ, to bed and before I knew it, it was five in the morning! I was moved to tears and laughter by this affectionate account of his trips to Iran.
I recommend it to Iranians especially if they have been living outside their country for a long time like me (30 years) . It will be interesting to non-Persians as well to glimpse the enigma of today’s Iran. Majd surprised me page after page with his acute observations and sharp insights into Shiite Iran’s psyche.
I am wondering how this American Iranian grandson of an Ayatollah, who’s served as the interpreter to two Iranian presidents (Ahmadinejad and Khatami), can go back and forth between his two countries after writing such a naked account of his visits to Iran.
It would have been good to see some of Newsha Tavakolian’s amazing pictures accompany his book—they epitomize the “Iranian Paradox”.
What I really appreciated about this book is Majd’s quest to explain, in a simple way, the notion of Shiite Islam to the uninitiated (self flagellation et al…). Vali Nasr has already talked at length about the subject in The Shia Revival, as well as the super hip Reza Aslan, the writer of No God but God but Majd’s book is an easier read and peppered with funny stories.
After Shirin Neshat‘s images of Rozeh (Majd calls it a passion play—as in St. Matthew’s Passion—about the martyrdom of Imam Hossein), Tavakolian’s pictures are the most haunting to me. It’s interesting to see the similarities between the Iranian/Shiite religious processions and the catholic/Italian version below:
Check out Eduard de Pazzi’s beautiful images here.
The Ta’zieh is universal and this comes from the great grand daughter of an Ayatollah!
The author describes the book in his own words
Visit Hooman Majd’s website to learn more about his book.
Visit tavakolian’s website’s to see more of her rich collection.
Read Aslan’s review of The Ayatollah begs to differ in the LA Times.
November 9th, 2008
Yes he did it! What a collective sigh of relief, what a huge smile on the face of the earth and how very scary to be President Obama in today’s world…
I had fun with Sky Gilbar’s beautiful photos of Obama (above and below).
These are some of the pictures of Obama that I like best.
I teared up reading Nancy Gibbs’ article: “Some Princes are born in palaces. Some are born in mangers. But a few are born in the imagination, out of scraps of history and hope. Barack Obama never talks about how people see him: I’m not the one making history, he said every chance he got. You are. Yet as he looked out Tuesday night through the bulletproof glass, in a park named for a Civil War general, he had to see the truth on people’s faces. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for, he liked to say, but people were waiting for him, waiting for someone to finish what a King began.”
Writers say it so much better than us mere mortals; take a look at Judith Warner’s piece here and Frank Rich’s here. Come on people, don’t be lazy! These are exciting times—good and bad—and history doesn’t forgive apathy…
I took this picture of my TV while watching the biography of my favorite American President, John Adams who said: “Democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There was never a democracy that did not commit suicide.”
Obama’s election made me forget my agreement with Plato‘s view on Democracy…
November 5th, 2008
This is a collective smile, thousands of miles long…
“We’ve been warned against offering the people of this nation false hope. But in the unlikely story that is America, there has never been anything false about hope.” Barack Obama