Archive for the ‘Mahmoud’ Category

The Limits of Irany

Tuesday, June 16th, 2009

Update (6/20/2009): If you agree about Mahmoud deserving his vacation, please read and sign this petition (courtesy of Elham Kashefi). I have no doubt that if enough Shtetl-Optimized readers sign, it will force the ayatollahs to reconsider.


I haven’t heard from my pal Mahmoud in years, but some mutual friends told me that he’s been pretty stressed about his job lately.  They said you’re supposed to turn your blog’s background green if you agree with some concerned folks who’ve been marching around Tehran encouraging him to take a much-needed breather.

This was a tough call for me.  On the one hand, the voters clearly want Mahmoud at his desk by spectacular margins:

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On the other hand, it seemed hypocritical for me to deny a close friend his vacation, given how much procrastinating I’ve been doing myself lately.  For example, I’ve barely been blogging—and when I have, it’s often just bargain-basement fare you could get anywhere else on the Internet!  Ultimately, then, I decided I had to go green out of a sort of Kantian blogegorical imperative—regardless of all the complex ways my editing a WordPress stylesheet might reverberate through history.

On drugs, mammoths, and Mahmoud

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

I was, of course, delighted that Columbia University invited my good friend Mahmoud to speak there, and dismayed only by the tedious introduction by President Lee Bollinger. (“Having demonstrated conclusively that today’s featured speaker is a murderous tyrant with no more right to partake in the civilized world than Genghis Khan or Attila the Hun, let me now, without further ado…”) However long your speaker’s list of achievements, crimes against humanity, etc. might be, I think talk introductions should be two minutes tops.

But since this particular event has already been covered on more blogs than the Monster has subgroups, today I thought I’d roll out an occasional new Shtetl-Optimized feature — in which, for want of anything better to blog about, I discuss some books I’ve read recently.

The Truth About The Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What To Do About It by Marcia Angell.

Like many in the US, I once “knew” that drug companies have to charge such absurd prices here because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to fund their R&D. This book reveals the hilarious truth about what drug company R&D actually consists of. My favorite examples: coloring Prozac pink instead of green, marketing it for “premenstrual dysphoric disorder” instead of depression, and charging three times as much for it. Inventing new drugs for high blood pressure that are less effective than diuretics available since the 1950′s, but have the advantage of being patentable. Proving in clinical trials that a new drug works better than an old one, as long as you compare 40mg of the one to 20mg of the other.

The book paints a picture of the pharmaceutical industry as, basically, an organized crime syndicate that’s been successful in co-opting the government. It trumpets the free market but depends almost entirely for its existence on bad patent laws that it helped write; it bribes doctors to prescribe worse expensive drugs instead of better cheap ones; it waits for government-funded university researchers to discover new drugs, then bottles them up, makes billions of dollars, and demands credit for its life-saving innovations.

Among the arguments put forward by the rare negative reviewers of this book on Amazon, the following was my favorite (I’ll let you supply a counterargument):

Who do you folks think are paid higher, scientists in the Unis and government programs, or scientists in the industry? … Marcia saying the Universities and the NIH are more innovative in developing drugs than the Pharma Industry is like saying (using sports analogy) Minor League baseball is better than the MLB. Which players do you think are paid more? Common sense my friends.

The World Without Us by Alan Weisman.

This book has received a lot of attention lately, and deserves all of it. The topic is: if humans disappeared tomorrow, how long would it take for the world’s forests and coral reefs to regenerate, garbage to decompose, excess CO2 to wash out of the sky, giant land mammals to reappear in North America, etc.? Of course this is just a different way of asking: “exactly how badly have humans screwed up the planet?” Weisman’s key insight, though, is that it’s less depressing to read about the world regenerating itself than about its being destroyed.

It’s hard to identify a clear thesis in this book, just lots of interesting observations: for example, that African elephants weren’t hunted to extinction whereas woolly mammoths probably were because only the former evolved to fear humans; and that, if North and South Korea ever reunite, it will be a disaster for the dozens of endangered species that now survive only in a four-mile-wide demilitarized strip between the two. The prose is beautiful throughout, and sometimes reaches heights rarely seen in environmental writing. After explaining the role of volcanoes in climate change, Weisman says: “the problem is, by tapping the Carboniferous Formation and spewing it up into the sky, we’ve become a volcano that hasn’t stopped erupting since the 1700s.”

Breaking Mahmoud news — too hot for Slashdot

Tuesday, August 15th, 2006

If you hadn’t been reading the comments on my last post, you might not know that my old chum Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had launched his own blog on Sunday. Along with a rambling autobiography, this exciting new blog (which I’ve added to my linklog on the right) also includes a poll:

Do you think that the US and Israeli intention and goal by attacking Lebanon is pulling the trigger for another word [sic] war?

When I first visited, only 5% had voted “yes”, though it’s now up to 50%.

But wait, it gets better: if Mahmoud’s site identifies your IP address as coming from Israel, then it tries to install a virus on your computer by exploiting an Internet Explorer vulnerability. (Thanks to an anonymous commenter for bringing this to my attention.)

I suppose we should grateful that, at least for now, defending oneself against the modern-day Hitler is as simple as installing Firefox.

Veiled humor

Monday, November 14th, 2005

I just finished Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, the most astonishing comic book I’ve ever seen. Persepolis tells the story of Satrapi’s childhood in Iran, during which she witnessed the repressive regime of the Shah, then the takeover by Khomeini (who made the Shah look like Mr. Rogers), then the war with Iraq. What makes the story so compelling is not the horrors — next-door neighbors killed by an Iraqi missile, relatives tortured and executed for counterrevolutionary activities, etc. — but Satrapi and her friends’ absurd attempts to enjoy a normal childhood while all of this was going on. She describes how the girls in her school, suddenly forced to wear veils, would put them on backwards and pretend to be “monsters of the darkness”; how her dad brought her an Iron Maiden poster from Turkey by weaving it into his suit, lurching through airport security like Frankenstein’s monster; how a food shortage that emptied the supermarkets of everything but kidney beans provided an occasion for fart jokes. For me, reading this book only deepened the mystery of Iran: namely, how could such a funny, literate, humane country be conquered so completely by fundamentalist thugs? On reflection, I guess it’s happened before. And I guess I should be grateful that in the US, our secular institutions are strong enough that even Bush hasn’t destroyed them entirely.

Persepolis raises pointed questions about the naïveté of intellectuals, like the Iranian Marxists who refused to see the Islamists for what they were until it was too late. To any intellectuals still in Iran, I can only second Eldar’s advice, in the comments to a previous post: Get out! Get out now! And to everyone else, set aside a couple hours (which is all it takes) to read Persepolis. It might be the first comic book to win a Nobel Prize in Literature.

Mahmoud and me (continued)

Sunday, October 30th, 2005

I woke up this afternoon to find, in the comments section of my previous post, an ongoing debate about whether or not I was being serious when I praised the President of Iran for his resoluteness and conviction. For those who couldn’t figure it out, the answer is: of course I was being serious. In fact, right after I finished blogging, I telephoned Mahmoud to ask whether the Iranian army could use the services of a 24-year-old male who speaks fluent English, can do up to two push-ups per day, once fired an actual rifle, loves Persian food, and believes himself able to prove quantum lower bounds under combat conditions.

Mahmoud mulled it over for a while, and then replied that, while my qualifications were certainly impressive, unfortunately I did not meet his needs at the present time. I was devastated — and, I confess, I even started to wonder whether anti-Semitism might be at play. Except … how could he know? Throw in an extra “s,” and “Scott Aaronsson” could almost pass for Scandanavian. Then it hit me: like everyone else I’ve talked to over the past couple weeks, Mahmoud must be reading my weblog!

OK, look: is it “immature” to joke about these things, as several posters argued? Yes, it is immature. The mature response is to deplore evil, to be shocked by it — not to make a movie with Nazis dancing to the tune of “Springtime for Hitler in Germany,” or Woody Allen standing behind Hitler on a podium as part of his ongoing struggle to fit in. It’s just that all that deploring gets monotonous eventually. After a millennium or two, there’s nothing else to do except joke. As the story goes:

In 1936 in Berlin, a Jew is sitting in a cafe, reading Der Stürmer. His friend runs over to him: “Herschel, what are you doing? Don’t you realize that’s a Nazi paper?”

“Yeah, but in the Jewish papers, the news is always so depressing. Here it’s phenomenal: we control the banks, we control the media…”

Mahmoud and me

Saturday, October 29th, 2005

From the Wikipedia entry on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the current President of Iran:

During a “World Without Zionism” student conference in October 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad … called Israel a “disgraceful blot” that ought to be “wiped off the map.” He went on to decry attempts to normalize relations with Israel and condemned all Islamic leaders who recognize Israel’s existence as “acknowledging the surrender and defeat of the Islamic world” …

Kofi Annan said he was dismayed by the comments, and reiterated Iran’s obligations and Israel’s right of existence under the UN Charter. The White House responded by saying Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric showed that it was correct in trying to halt Iran’s nuclear program. EU leaders issued a strong condemnation of the Iranian President’s remarks, stating that “[c]alls for violence, and for the destruction of any state, are manifestly inconsistent with any claim to be a mature and responsible member of the international community.”

Ahmadinejad reaffirmed his position on 28 October 2005, as supporters chanting “death to Israel” and “death to America”, some burning and trampling on Israeli and U.S. flags, marched to a rally in Tehran attended by most of Iran’s top officials. “My words are the Iranian nation’s words,” he said. “Westerners are free to comment, but their reactions are invalid.”

In an age when soft-pedaling, pussyfooting, and political correctness are the norm, it’s refreshing to find a leader with genuine convictions — one who says what he means, and refuses to back down at the first whiff of criticism. Say what you like about Mahmoud; the man is not a flip-flopping wuss.