synthetic zero

June 28th, 2009

I sent this email on my speculations about the situation in Iran to Andrew Sullivan just now, which he quoted more or less in its entirety:

Trying to figure out what is going on in Iran behind the scenes is obviously tricky and fraught with potential error, but I’ll list out my evidence and then my speculation for your consideration.

1) Larijani and a majority of the conservative-led Majlis did not show up for Ahmadinejad’s victory party.

2) Larijani announces the formation of a committee to investigate violence against students and protesters, prompting some calls for his impeachment.

3) Rafsanjani issues a cryptic statement, calling for fair investigations into the vote.

4) Rafsanjani’s daughter attends the rally today, according to reports.

5) Guardian Council makes more concessions to try to get Mousavi’s participation in the recount, now including involving more people than they’d originally suggested for the review board.

6) Businesses are reporting huge drops in shoppers in Tehran’s bazaar and elsewhere, as the city suffers being under lockdown.

7) Khamenei conspicuously singles out Rafsanjani for praise in his Friday prayers over a week ago.

Here’s my speculation.

Khamenei is afraid that Rafsanjani could depose him, but Rafsanjani is unwilling to depose Khamenei unilaterally as he rightly fears that such a move might not succeed as the military  might move against him regardless of votes he may have or not have in Qom. Regardless, the two are warily eyeing each other and thus Khamenei is open to some pressure from Rafsanjani even though Rafsanjani is unwilling to move dramatically against him.

The continued tension in Tehran isn’t being dispelled by the police state tactics, and it is hurting business; this could lead to a downward spiral if the government maintains its attempt to quell dissent through massive police presence.

Today’s demonstration clearly indicates people aren’t “back to business as usual” — they’re angry, disturbed, and still willing to demonstrate in large numbers whenever they get the chance. Clearly the government has a hard task — and their crude efforts to contain the crisis are not convincing the people. My guess is that Rafsanjani may be trying to force the government to bring Mousavi and Karroubi together to certify the election result in order to restore Iranian stability.

The government is thus getting more desperate to get them to participate, because they may be beginning to realize that the anger among the people is having a long term impact on the country. My guess is that this also serves to somewhat restrain the government. It’s evident possibly even majorities of a number of councils and parliament are suspicious of the election outcome. I don’t think this revolution is anywhere close to over.

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June 27th, 2009

Simone Weil on Evil:

Monotony of evil: never anything new, everything about it is equivalent. Never anything real, everything about it is imaginary.

….The ‘I’ leaves its mark on the world as it destroys.

…. Imaginary evil is romantic and varied; real evil is gloomy, monotonous, barren, boring. Imaginary good is boring; real good is always new, marvellous, intoxicating.

….That which is the direct opposite of an evil never belongs to the order of higher good. It is often scarcely any higher than evil! Examples: theft and the bourgeois respect for property, adultery and the ‘respectable woman’; the savings bank and waste; lying and ’sincerity’.

….Evil when we are in its power is not felt as evil but as a necessity, or even a duty.

….The innocent victim who suffers knows the truth about his executioner, the executioner does not know it.

….It is the innocent victim who can feel hell.

….The unreality which takes the goodness from good; this is what constitutes evil. Evil is always the destruction of tangible things in which there is the real presence of good. Evil is carried out by those who have no knowledge of this real presence. In that sense it is true that no one is wicked voluntarily. The relations between forces give to absence the power to destroy presence.

We cannot contemplate without terror the extent of the evil which man can do and endure.

….That which gives more reality to beings and things is good, that which takes it from them is evil.

….We are at the point where love is just possible. It is a great privilege, since the love which unites is in proportion to the distance.

Somehow the events in Iran make the above feel all the more poignant and directly present; she’s not talking about mere abstraction, but about something eminently present and deadly, now.

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June 27th, 2009

A friend of mine once told me that he had once sought out a lama in a remote region of Nepal. He’d almost reached the lama when he came across a man in a field (who, he later found out, had been in the midst of chöd practice). Upon seeing my friend, the man screamed in terror and ran off. My friend, puzzled, continued on and when he finally reached the lama he asked him about the man in the field.

The lama said, “Oh, he thought you were a demon. What he doesn’t yet realize is the gods and demons are all part of himself.”

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June 13th, 2009

From the New York Times:

Update | 1:30 p.m. Another reader in Iran shares her frustration:

None of the people I know have voted for Ahmadinejad. He wildly cheated and Khamenei, the leader of Iran, supports this scenario fully. They just wanted to show us that no matter what we do and what we think, they will do whatever they want to do. They just want people to know that their votes just don’t count. … I just feel terrible. I saw police force attack people brutally. I’m going to streets and I don’t know if I’m gonna come back home safely but I just can’t bear this anymore. — Anahita

There are some who oppose United States policy abroad who are oddly happy that Ahmadinejad was declared the winner — but though I often find myself in opposition to our policy abroad, that hardly means I cheer on when authoritarian regimes abroad rig elections and tighten their grip on power. I support liberal candidates and movements in all countries, including foreign nations we see as our “enemy” in some sense. If I were Iranian, who would I have voted for? This clear vote fraud is disheartening and it’s sad to see that Iranians have been driven to this point. To read this young woman’s plea brings tears to my eyes. I wish fervently for the aspirations of the Iranian people to be fulfilled.

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June 7th, 2009

Years ago, my martial arts teacher, Michael Thompson, and I were walking through San Francisco, and we came across a festival which was putting on a little informal sumo wrestling game. Anyone could participate, so I decided to enter the contest for the hell of it. There were some big guys in it, and I was a scrawny-looking Japanese guy; but I easily beat most of them, except for one athletic Chinese guy who must have had some martial arts training too. However, I had to do one last match to determine 2nd vs 3rd place, between me and this big guy. He was really shaking, he wanted to win so much, but I was calm. We got into it and he pushed me back with his size … but just as we were teetering on the edge of the ring, I relaxed and let him push and turned slightly and threw him out of the ring. I said to the people watching, “it’s because he wanted to win, and I didn’t.”

I certainly wouldn’t want to predict I’d actually win today if such a contest were repeated; I’m not nearly in as good shape as I was then, for one thing. But, I do think it’s worthwhile to point out that being cool under pressure is far more important than people realize, especially when it comes to matters of conflict or strife. The hot heads, statistically speaking, lose more often than they win, even if they may have some early success.

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