lundi 31 mars 2008

Passionate uprisings

My friend Pardis's book is coming out. Congratulations!

Passionate Uprisings: Iran's Sexual Revolution

Pardis Mahdavi

There is perhaps no place in the world today where the stakes of partying and having sex are higher than in present-day Iran. Drinking and dancing can lead to arrest by the morality police and a punishment of up to 70 lashes. Consequences for sex outside of marriage can be even more severe—up to 84 lashes, or even public execution.

But even under the threat of such harsh punishment, a sexual revolution is taking place. Iranian youth continually risk personal safety to meet friends, date, and, ultimately, to have sex. In the absence of any option for overt political dissent, young people have become part of a self-proclaimed revolution in which they are using their bodies to make social and political statements. Sex has become both a source of freedom and an act of political rebellion.

With unprecedented access inside turn-of-the century Iran, Pardis Mahdavi offers a firsthand look at the daily lives of Iranian youth. They are given a voice as she tells the stories of their intertwined quests for sexual freedom, political reform, and a better future – but not a future without risk. The sexual revolution is also leading to increased levels of abortion, HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, and ongoing emotional troubles and mental illnesses, with worrying implications for Iranian youth and Iranian society at large.

Passionate Uprisings is a fascinating, ground-breaking, and personal look into a society that is poorly understood—if it is understood at all—by the majority of Westerners today. Mahdavi's narrative provides not only an invaluable insight into the real lives of much of Iran's population, but shows how sexual politics and the youth culture could even destabilize the current regime and change the course of Iranian politics.

dimanche 30 mars 2008

Mo' Amsterdam

I stayed at the Downtown Guesthouse, which was great. It was in a nice area, the canal belt, between downtown and the museum district, which was quite convenient, and there were lots of restaurants close by. I also became particularly fond of the resident cat.The cat pretty much lived in the room I stayed in.I went to Utrecht on Saturday to take a tour of the Rietveld Schroeder house, the pinnicle of the de Stijl movement in the 1920s. I studied it in a design class in college, so it was fantastic to see it up close. Rietveld was very practical and designed it to be extremely user-friendly. For example, the interior walls could be slid around to change the space on the top floor.Here is a few street shots of Utrecht.On Sunday we went to the Rijksmuseum and admired the Rembrandt and Vermeer. Although much of the museum was closed, they left the most famous works up. Rembrandt totally blew me away. One of the things he did was to make small scratches on the canvas with the back end of his brush, to make hair look real, for example. Plus both of those artists were such masters of using light. Vermeer's work was less dramatic than Rembrandt's, but was in fact very serene to look at in person. One of the works that the Rijksmuseum does not have is Girl with a Pearl Earring-- they had a small sign saying it is in some museum in the Hague.

On Friday we also went to the Van Gogh museum. There were many works there that I had never seen before. The museum states that the disease that he suffered from was epilepsy, which may be true, but it doesn't explain how he also 1) cut off his ear, 2) attacked his pal Gauguin with a razor, and 3) shot and killed himself. It seems like there just might be a little more to it than just epilepsy.

On Friday we also went to the Anne Frank house, which was, of course, heartbreaking. While we stood outside in the line, we reflected on the fact that there are still so many problems in the world which can be chalked up to Hitler. In particular, why has Germany not stepped up more in taking action to promote peace in the Middle East? There wouldn't even be an Israel if it weren't for Hitler. Sure, Germany was weak for many years, but now that it is united, it is wealthy and strong. I don't expect miracles, but I do think they could and should do more.

We left Monday, flying through Geneva. There was lots of snow in the mountains.

vendredi 28 mars 2008


I zipped up to Amsterdam for an extremely secular Easter weekend with my friend Eric. Now, I had never been there before, while Eric had, but only for a day, so we hit all the big sights.

When I bought the tickets, at the end of December, I thought: Easter! Sunshine, flowers blooming, it will be springlike, gorgeous, there will be tulips and windmills and people in wooden shoes. Fabulous! Somehow I manged to forget that Easter is a month earlier this year.... and the weather was just TERRIBLE! When we arrived it was pouring rain and 2 degrees (Celsius). The next day they predicted hailstorms, but in fact we got caught in a blizzard instead, as we were leaving the Anne Frank house. Then on Saturday, wind gusts. Then more snowstorms. Gee, I have never had a white Easter before!

I was apparently enamored of canal photos.

Fleeting sunshine. Later, the clouds rolled in.The next day, dark and cloudy.And the first of several snowstorms.Here is Eric in the main square, the Dam. Standing in the crowd in the background were some people dressed as Star Wars characters, for some mysterious reason.Eric and me in a cafe. He promises this shot will be his Christmas card.

jeudi 27 mars 2008

Drink and perish

Results of an extremely unscientific, yet published paper, find:

Scientists who drink more beer publish less!

The New York Times article describes a study in which a (convenience?) sample of scientists suggests that those who drink more publish less. One question that comes to mind is: how representative of scientists as a whole is the academic community of Czech orthinologists? I am guessing (burp!) not very. Plus, anecdotal evidence suggests it just ain't true. I can sure think of some boozehound publishing fiends, as well as teetotalers with little work to their credit. But, that is my own convenience sample.

dimanche 23 mars 2008

Happy Easter!

Greetings from Amsterdam, where it is snowing!

Other Stockholm doings

Here was Janine's camp-like housing at the Karolinska Institute.

I also went to Skansen, which is a city park/museum on a hill. In it, they have painfully taken down old buildings from all over Sweden, brought them there, and reassembled them, for all the Swedes to learn about the history of Sweden and how everyone lived across the years. Some of the houses weren't even very old-- only from the early 20th century-- others were several centuries older. They also had brought and reconstructed old stores and businesses, glass and metalworks and printers, and had people working away in them; there were also old churches and town markets, etc. It was a little corny but still kind of interesting.

Here is one house.Another Skensen house-- the plaque just below explains where it is from.
The oldest things there were the rune stones. Both of the stones below were around 1000 years old. The plaques stated that they were to mark the deaths of family members or to mark another important occasion.
Meanwhile, Janine and I hit the town at night. I got to eat at all kinds of places Lyon does not really do well, such as going for Thai, Italian, and Vietnamese.

Stockholm itself seemed like an un-beautiful city; I was told that Sweden was a very rural country for a long time, therefore much of Stockholm was built more recently. Much of the architecture was rather non-descript. It was much less beautiful than other European cities. Here is a typical street:
However, Stockholm struck me as a pretty great place to live. The rights and equality that women enjoy in Sweden. The good quality of life. It also just seemed very fun to live in. Janine and I went to many cool bars... three places we hit were Allemännergalleriet, Lokal, and Mosebacke. The pic below is Janine and her friend Agnes in Mosebacke. It was a great space with an amazing view of the city.

vendredi 21 mars 2008


My friend Janine moved to Stockholm for a few months, and despite that it was early March, I jumped on the chance for a visit, a free place to stay, and a personal guide to the sights of Sweden. It was chilly! Most days just above freezing, below freezing at night. I bundled up and did my best. However, no snow.

That was one crazy language!On the first day I took a walking tour through the old town. The bridge ahead passes by the parliament building and into Gamla Stan, the old town.The view from the bridge. Stockholm is a city of islands. We were constantly crossing over bridges to get to some new neighborhood or sight to see.
Here is the parliament, I think???
Here is Stockholm's pretty old cathedral, Storkyrkan, which was built in the 13th century.
It looked very different inside than other European cathedrals. It was built of brick, for one; it also had elaborate crypts all over the place, and some beautiful old painting on the ceiling. I am continuing my obsession with the old paint jobs in churches.
Here is another example of a fading painted mural, which was also in the church.

A street shot of Gamla Stan. To the right was the Nobel museum, which I decided to skip. What can I say, I've already seen An Inconvenient Truth.
Gamla Stan.

jeudi 13 mars 2008


With regards to current events, it seems that a certain governor (that I voted for, no less) had a press conference recently, you may have heard a thing or two about it? This kind of juicy scandal has even made the news here.

Today some of us were discussing at lunch whether this kind of event would be either newsworthy or would be enough to bring down politicians in European countries. Elisabeth, who is French, felt that it would be a scandal in France as well. A mistress? no. No one cares. But a prostitute? He did, ultimately break the law, and she felt the French wouldn't stand for it either. Ann, who is Swedish, felt that many of the relationships that wealthy older men have are on par with prostitution anyway, so what is the difference? She felt that plenty of people go to prostitutes, so what is the big deal. I don't feel that laissez-faire about it, although maybe I'm just irked because I voted for the guy.

Which has been leading me to wonder: there are 3 possibilities of what is going on here.
  1. Is there something innate about the type of personality that runs for public office, insofar that the kind of drive, the kind of egotism that it must require, perhaps also goes hand in hand with certain recklessness/risk taking or certain flaws? Or,
  2. Is it just that power corrupts? Or,
  3. Are Spitzer's problems just a variation (writ large) of the kind of things that any man would do, given the financial resources and the opportunity? If you took a cross section of men in his social class, how common is hiring prostitutes, anyway?
The other side of this is the degree to which prostitution itself is a social or moral ill. My friend Pardis, who is a medical anthropologist who studies sex, has interviewed sex workers, and Pardis feels very strongly that these women have agency. She feels that the common attitudes that people have, that it is abusive, or coerced, is simplistic; women choose to be in this profession, and the idea that they need to be saved from it is a patronizing one. I thought about this today when i read the Times piece about the woman at the center of the story, "Kristen," who the article points out came from a broken home, was a rebellious teen, has drifted around and lived in several states, and has in the past used drugs-- all 4 of these characteristics could describe a number of people that I know. I wondered to what degree the author of the article perceived Kristen to be an unwilling or hopeless pawn in the story (when in fact she was in on the sting, as she was a confidential informant, which she did undoubtedly to avoid prosecution herself). Because it certainly didnt seem like the author perceived her as a woman who made her own choices.

This is not to say that I adhere to Pardis's point of view that prostitution is always free of coercion. But, I get her point.

Another interesting discussion is available on this blog, which goes over the reasons for both legalizing and keeping it illegal, with regards to what would be at the best interest of the women and of the society as a whole.

mardi 4 mars 2008

Gotta love it

Laurel sent me this clip from Flight on the Conchords. It is a take off of some retro language instruction video, or something. I gotta say, the guy with the glasses needs to work on his pronunciation-- dude, you cannot just make a grunt in the back of your throat and call it French. Or is he deliberately being awful? It is hard to say.