Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Panel Discussion on Iran at Loyola

Averting Another Catastrophe
The Folly Of An Attack On Iran

A panel discussion with
Mansour Farhang
Stephen Kinzer
Elahe Amani

Saturday December 8th
2:00 PM

Loyola University
Lake Shore Campus

Damen Hall, Room 144
1/2 block north of Devon & Kenmore

Stephen Kinzer, a veteran foreign correspondent for the New York Times, has reported from more than 50 countries and served as the paper's bureau chief in Turkey, Germany, and Nicaragua. He is the author of Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds, Blood of Brothers: Life and War in Nicaragua, Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala, and the forthcoming A Thousand Hills: Rwanda's Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It. A frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books, he is a columnist for Guardian America and teaches journalism and international affairs at Northwestern University .

Mansour Farhang teaches International Relations and Middle East studies at Bennington College in Vermont. He is the author of U.S. Imperialism: From the Spanish-American War to the Iranian Revolution, The U.S. Press and Iran: Foreign Policy and the Journalism of Deference , and the forthcoming A Theology in Power: Reflections on the Iranian Revolution. He was Iran 's Ambassador to the United Nations in 1979-1980, a post from which he resigned in protest over Ayatollah Khomeini's refusal to accept the UN Commission of Inquiry's recommendation to release the U.S. hostages. He is a frequent commentator on U.S.-Iran relations for the BBC Persian Service and is an advisory board member of Human Rights Watch/Middle East. His work has appeared in The Nation, openDemocracy, the Christian Science Monitor, and many other publications.

Elahe Amani has taught courses on global women's movements and women in cross-cultural perspective at the California State University (CSU), Long Beach and Fullerton . She is chair of the Coalition of Women from Asia and the Middle East (CWAME) and chair of the Women's Intercultural Network, a global organization with grassroots circles in Uganda , Japan and Afghanistan. A peacemaker and trained mediator, she works closely on issues related to gender, culture and mediation. She participated in the World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 and has published extensively in both Persian and English on issues related to global women's movements, peace, and the plight of Iranian and Afghan women.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Great Documentary on Iran's Film Industry

One of the great things about Netflix is its collection of foreign movies. You can imagine how surprised I was to find a great documentary on Iran’s film industry. “Iran: A Cinematographic Revolution” directed by Nader T. Homayoun and released in 2007 is indeed a masterpiece. The introduction page of the film reads:

Despite political turmoil and cultural isolation -- and sometimes even because of them Iran has served as fertile ground for filmmakers for more than seven decades, as witnessed by this tribute to Persian cinema from Nader Takmil Homayoun. From escapism to social realism, the new wave of the 1970s and the more poetic films of recent years, this homage traces the history of Iranian filmmaking through a fascinating array of clips and interviews.”

It is an excellent documentary! It begins its story by reviewing the beginning of cinema and film industry in Iran, then it covers some of pre-revolution controversial movies and then it moves to tell the story of a cinema in the turmoil of revolution. The movie producers have interviewed a diverse number of Iran's directors; their cast includes great and celebrated names such as Makhmalbaf, Qobadi, Panahi and Hatamikia. This movie is their story, the story of how they made films in 7 minutes intervals between missiles attacks on Tehran and how they created an Iranian genre under the eyes of a censor. If you want to learn something about Iran and its film industry you have to see this movie. It is a must see for everyone.
As an economist it was interesting for me to notice that how many directors pointed out that there is no self sufficient film industry in Iran for their genre. Since this means lack of demand, it made me think that how many consumers would like to see a movie in order to entertain, rather than to think. After all that is one of the functions of a movie.
I also wonder if Iranian movie makers are thinking of branching into other Farsi speaking countries such as Afghanistan and Tajikistan, may be the assembly of markets I n these countries and Iran could provide a large enough demand for a self sufficient movie industry.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Saffon: Iran's Pink Gold

It is the harvest season for Saffron. This delicate spice extracted from saffron flowers is one of Iran’s classic agricultural products, mainly planted in Khorasan area in north east of Iran. Iranians use saffron in their cooking, distinguishing their cuisines from their neighbors. Saffron, with pistachio, is one of Iran’s traditional agricultural products.

Saffron is extracted from the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus; it takes 75000 blossoms or 225000 hand-picked stigmas to make a single pound which explains. Thus supply is highly restricted and its price is rather high. It is mostly used in gourmets intended for guests. And households keep small amount of it.

Although many Iranians would think that Iran’s saffron is of highest quality, and the writer shares that belief, and Iran share of global market in Saffron is almost 90% but the international market is dominated by Spain in quality. As a matter of fact much of Spanish Saffron is coming from Iran. Iranian saffron is falling behind its competition because of poor marketing and low quality packaging. Although a major producer it does not seem that Iran is a Stackelberg leader in this market[1].

Saffron certainly is a labor intensive product requiring 200 man day per hectare during harvest season. It also constitutes up to 70% of household income in Khorasan saffron plantations. There is no question or doubt that Iran considers saffron a strategic product. In recent years policy makers have become interested in saffron as a weapon in fighting drugs and limiting opium plantations in Afghanistan, but there is no evidence to measure how effective that would be.

There is no doubt that demand for saffron will be increasing in coming years: increasing global preference for natural ingredients and flavors, increasing income and the absence of any discouraging factors as well as positive externalities of using saffron. This makes investing in this product a rather safe endeavor.
[1] I welcome any comment that contradicts this statement based on evidence.
2. Photo is from ISNA.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Spill Over Effect of Small Things

This is not a note on either economics or politics. It is more a story. Today I was discussing with a friend about initiative that some Iranian bloggers take and their consequences. The discussion was not unfamiliar, similar debates are common among friends and acquaintances. Do these initiatives mean anything? I believe any initiative means something and is of some consequence.

When I was a freshman student in Sharif University of Technology, Sharif, Industrial Engineering students came together and started publishing a professional, topic-oriented, student run magazine called “Sanaye” or “industries”. It was nothing political or even social. All it did was talking about industrial engineering world; designs, events, research, projects and etc.

Sharif was and is one of the finest engineering school in Iran[1] and for that purpose it was a place where fun came and comes to die! Everyone was itching to do something more and to evade the boredom of just studying. So other departments followed the example of industrial engineering department.

Electrical engineering students started their own magazine and called it “Bargh” or “electricity”. Mechanical engineering and civil engineering students all started some sort of activity. This was early 1990’s and the atmosphere was not suitable for political activities so many active and energetic students joined these magazines. These activities spilled over to organizing student conferences of the fields. Sharif hosted the first student conference of electrical engineering in Iran. IEEE chapters began to appear in most of notable schools. The magazines were published irregularly sometimes it took 6 months to put together one, but they did appear and they did leave their mark.

On another note publishing technical magazines paved the way for many to say: “why we should not have a weekly paper dedicated to students? Of course nothing political!” so in Sharif students went ahead and published “Noghteh, Sar-Khat” literally it means “End, Begin from the beginning of the line” I remember this vividly that it was in 1996 walking in Tehran International Book Exhibition that I saw a copy of a student paper circulated by the students of communications department at Allameh Tabataay’i University. Its editorial read something like this: “even engineering students have their own publications and we do not. Let’s write, after all it is what we are being trained for!”

I know the stories of a few of these people. Many joined reformist papers, many continued their studies and received their degrees and are faculty members, researchers and developers across the globe. The work they begun some 14 years ago continue to construct infrastructure and to link self motivated individuals to be better and to go forward. Iran’s academia is a better place because of them.

History may not remember them or record their names, there won’t be any “Reading Lolita in Tehran” for them, but the steps they took covered a few miles of the thousand miles ahead of Iranian people.

When someone picks up a banner and goes forward, he or she never knows how many rally behind, how far the cause would go. In the case of Iran the many small initiatives taken by many unknown individuals have contributed and continue to contribute to the development of Iran to constructing the infrastructure of a civil democratic society. Amidst what is going on it comforts me to think someone somewhere is starting something new, something rather small but of significant impact.

[1] Other finest schools are: University of Tehran Engineering College, Tehran Polytechnic (Amir Kabir University), Science and Industry University and etc your schools are good too.

A speech from Iran at Princeton

Dr. Ramin Takloo gave a talk at Princeton CY 2007. I like it for its frankness about the true conditions of a war time childhood and later.
Watch it here:

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Making connections

Activist sets up telephone talks between US, Iranian citizens:

A Somerville peace activist with a knack for political theater set up a display yesterday with a simple proposition: Let anyone who passed by pick up the phone and talk to Iranian citizens, giving regular citizens in both countries a chance to do what the activist said the country's leaders have failed to do: talk to each other. Read More here: Boston Common visitors get line to Iran

more stories like this:
Groups tries to bridge U.S.-Iran gulf with common-folk phone call

Monday, November 12, 2007

Stephen Kinzer on Iran & Turkey

Stephen Kinzer at University of Chicago:
Iran and Turkey: Rising Powers in the New Middle East.
Best-selling author Stephen Kinzer (All the Shah's Men) speaks on Iran and Turkey: Rising Powers in the New Middle East.
November 15, 2007
International House, University of Chicago
1414 East 59th Street, Chicago, 60637
Phone: 773-752-2274 - Event is free and open to all.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

News Links

I was absent for awhile, reports are not good.

Reuters: Saudi king calls on Iran to avoid escalation
Foxnews: Biden Compares Pakistan to 1970s Iran
VOA: US to Release 9 Iranian Detainees in Iraq
Spiegel: You Can't Have an iPod Without a Stealth Bomber
Press TV: Iran removed from Yahoo, Hotmail list

Financial Times Deutschland: Hidden costs of Iran's wheat obsession
The government of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad brags about the Islamic Republic's self-sufficiency in wheat, holding it up as a source of security and a cause for pride. But while Iran no longer needs to rely on wheat imports, the pursuit of self-sufficiency has had hidden costs, creating shortages in other produce and raising the government's import bill…. Read More.

Council on Foreign Relations: Top of the Agenda: Market Fears Escalate World Bank suspends the aid to Iran
Forbes: China in talks to buy gas from Iran LNG

Friday, November 02, 2007

Iran-Iraq border trade heavy but no weapons found

BASRA, Iraq, Nov 1 (Reuters) - Business is booming on the Iran-Iraq border.Despite a war in one country and Western sanctions against the other's nuclear programme, trucks full of everything from fresh produce to furniture and clothes to consumer electronics trundle to the 1,400 km (900 mile) frontier every day.
But British officials say along with trade in legitimate goods, which has grown in the past year, there is also a steady flow of "lethal aid" from Iran to Iraq, including rockets and explosives used to make road-side bombs.Iran denies arming Iraqi Shia Muslim militias, which have carried out scores of deadly attacks against British and American troops in Iraq.
But British officials are sure Iranian weaponry is coming through. As evidence they mention rocket shrapnel that bears Iranian markings, but at the same time say they have no concrete proof that Iran is supplying Iraq."
It's fair to say that no one has caught anyone red-handed bringing in lethal aid across the border," said Major Anthony Lamb, who oversees training of Iraqi border enforcement units."Hundreds of searches are carried out every day, but as yet, there hasn't been a direct seizure of lethal aid."
Lamb says on some days, when British forces visit the major border crossing points in southern Iraq, they can see some Iranian trucks turning back, but there's no certainty they're doing so because they're carrying illicit weapons."They could be carrying ladies' underwear and be embarrassed about that," he said.

What's likely, those who monitor the border say, is either that corruption in the form of bribes is allowing weaponry to come through, or smugglers are managing to move small amounts at a time across the vast, porous border.As well as being nearly 1,500 km long, the border is mountainous in the north and marshy in large parts of the south, making it ideal for clandestine movement. Nomadic tribes have also long made their home along large sections of the frontier."
Trade between tribes on either side has existed for centuries. The border means nothing to them," said Lamb."
For some, economic smuggling has long been a way of life. They might smuggle sheep, or other things."Since the invasion in 2003, the United States has built hundreds of "forts" along Iraq's borders, including more than 60 along a 500-km stretch along the edge with Iran in the south.Each fort is manned by 12 to 40 guards who carry out frequent patrols, although the frontier, heavily mined since the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, is not fenced. The Iranians have guards all along their side too, visible in the near distance.As well as the forts, there are two battalions of Iraqi border commandos trained to hunt down smugglers and staunch the flow of illegal goods into the country.
At the two official border crossings in the south, where as many as 300 trucks a day arrive from Iran, customs and border police have managed to crack down on the movement of drugs, illegal cars, banned perishable foods and other illicit goods.But so far, nothing approximating a rocket has been found."They're either not smuggling it through there, or we're looking in the wrong place," said a British intelligence officer wryly. "But one way or another, it's coming in

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Central Asia at CSO

Chicago Symphony Orchestra is staging a magnificent event: Spiritual Sounds of Central Asia. Musicians from 6 countries; Azerbaijan; Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Kalmykia gather together for this performance. Among them celebrated Azeri musician Alim Qasimov and Badakhshan Ensemble from Tajikistan. To learn more go to:

This is a must see event.

(This part is from CSO website)
There is also an exhibtion by the Historic Cities Programme presented at Symphony Center Friday, November 9, 12:00 pm to 10:00 pm Saturday, November 10, 10:00 am to 10:00 pm Sunday, November 11, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm Admission is Free. This exhibit showcases major restoration projects undertaken by The Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme including Al Azhar Park in Cairo, the stone mosques in Mali and projects in Afghanistan, India and Syria. The exhibit provides insight into how the preservation of historic cultural and religious monuments serves as a catalyst for socio-economic development and how the revitalization of architecture can build bridges, not only between the past and the present in the Muslim world, but also between the Muslim world and the West.