Thoughts on the Iranian election

I’ll refrain from a blow-by-blow of what has transpired over the last few days and instead confine my post to the two points surrounding this that really stand out for me.

1) Sometimes, when one is between a rock and a hard place, observation is the only action one can take. This, I think, is where the U.S. finds itself now in this debacle. There is little doubt that the official results reported by the Interior Ministy were falsified to some extent or another. This purported landslide victory with almost no deviation in vote share between candidates from one region to the next makes no logical sense for a whole list of demographic reasons, which could take up the rest of this post. Whether the lie amounts to making a small win larger, adding some extra padding to secure a victory in the first round and avoid a run-off next week, or an outright reversal of the real results and the stealing of an election, something is amiss.  

So…what does the U.S. do about this? Nothing — because there’s nothing we can do that will have any positive impact on the situation. Khamenei has already certified the results and encouraged everyone to get along with each other and be happy with this “divine assessment.” For all intents and purposes, the book has been closed on the election. Nothing the U.S. says or does will change these facts and, more likely than not, would only feed into hardline propaganda about the opposition being puppets for the West. Would it be the morally correct thing to stand and say, “this is a ridiculous sham?”  Sure. It almost seems wrong not to. But the only people who can say that with impact and authority are the millions of Iranians who cast a ballot for change only to have it seemingly snatched away. Over the next few days, we’ll see whether the post-election protests develop into something more.

2) Reports of the death of the mainstream media have not been greatly exaggerated. They have heretofore almost completely missed this story. Sure, there’s the requisite story in NYT and WaPo, but it gets barely a blip on cable news and there’s very little real analysis. The blogosphere truly has broken and driven this story over the last three days. From nitty-gritty analysis of statistical data, demographics, and historical voting patterns to translation of Persian language tweets about events on the ground (seriously, if you aren’t on Twitter, you need to be) to incredible documentation of protests on Flickr and YouTube, citizen-journalism has won the day here.

PSA: Street Harassment, in any form, is not okay

I’ve read a few posts as of late in the DC blogosphere about the pesky issue of “street harassment.” There’s even an entire blog, Holla Back DC, which was recently launched to document particularly egregious examples. Some contend DC is worse than most cities but I don’t really have all that much of a comparison as it’s the only big city I’ve lived in for an extended period of time. What I can attest to, however, is that every woman I’ve spoken with about this has myriad stories. I thought I would chime in with my own two cents, especially in light of two recent incidents I’ve experienced.

Everyone is familiar with the dudes who stand on the corner. You see them a block away staring you up and down. Then the catcalling starts. Sometimes it attempts to be complimentary, sometimes it’s outright crude, and sometimes they follow you a few steps down the street attempting to make themselves heard (trust, another block hearing about what you have to offer in the bedroom is not going to make me give you my number).

Then there’s the evening security guard at my office building who, if nobody else happens to be in the lobby, will carry on with the, “Hey sexy, how are you? I like that dress, you look fine. Give me a smile, girl. I watched you walk all the way down the street the other day,” until I’m out of the building. This happens several times a week.

Or the convenience store on my block where I used to go when I unexpectedly ran out of milk or wanted to grab ice cream or a soda. Only the proprietor went from talking about how “beautiful you are,” to whether I had a boyfriend, to following me around the store talking about dating me. Now? More often than not, I’ll walk an extra block just to avoid the hassle.

Then there’s the next level of harassment, so to speak — beyond the leering gazes and disrespectfully inappropriate comments…

Take 1: I was walking from Adams Morgan to Mt. Pleasant around 11pm on a Friday night a few weeks ago. On Columbia Rd. between 17th and 16th, I noticed a guy on a bike seemed to be following me. He was just close enough that I could feel it but just far enough away that you aren’t quite sure. I stepped practically into the street to let him pass. But he didn’t. Then he started with the “Hey girl, what’s your name? Your ass looks fine in that dress. Where are you going?” I ignored at first and then gave the standard, “Thanks, going to meet my boyfriend,” brushoff, which usually works. He kept trying to talk to me and would pull slightly ahead and then look back at me. As I turned down Mt. Pleasant St., he rode off to 16th. Gone? Not quite. About three blocks down Mt. Pleasant, which was unusually quiet that night, I approached a cross street. On the corner, behind the side of the building, about 15 feet from me was — the same guy. I was completely taken by surprise. He made little hissing noises and then yelled all sorts of vulgar things as I quickly crossed the street. Very unlike me, I took a cab home that night because I was actually worried he had seen which bar I went into and was just hanging outside biding time.

Take 2: Less overtly scary but more invasive. I was on the 42 heading from Dupont to AdMo after work around 6:30pm Monday evening. A guy sat down next to me and, despite being of average build, completely crowded me. I mean he was practically on top of me. I tried to slide over as much as possible and even looked at him briefly, hoping he would get the message and back off. Oh no, this was no accident. He was carrying a bag on his lap, and the arm closest to me was half under the bag…and resting against my thigh. Again, at first you think this is inadvertent and he will readjust once he’s settled in the seat…and then his hand caressing your thigh is just from the bumps of the bus moving us about…until, as the bus does a forward/backward sort of lurch his hand manages to hook the hem of your skirt and make its way halfway up your bare thigh. Uhh, yeah.

These stories are undoubtedly familiar to most women as par for the course when traversing around the city (any city?). Men have always hit on women and it isn’t like you can really pass a law to prevent any of this ridiculousness. Short of public scorn of this sort of behavior (by other men, no less) there isn’t much one can do about it. If you complain about it, you’re a bitch or no fun or take yourself too seriously. Nevermind that I should have a right to walk around without people invading my space or being expected to reply to every stupid thing they yell to me and every other passing woman. Is this as serious as solving hunger and homelessness? Does it generally even bother me that much? Umm, no. But sometimes it’s frustrating, demeaning, belittling, annoying beyond belief, and just makes me want to scream.

Aid with impact: Assessing the crisis in Pakistan

I think it’s beyond refute to say the U.S. has a spotty record of “success” when it comes to intervening in humanitarian crises. Intervention comes too late, haphazardly, in the wrong ways, through the wrong channels, with too little oversight, etc.

There is just such a crisis brewing now in Pakistan, where the government is in the process of asserting its authority and rooting out extremists in the region of the country which heretofore has largely existed outside its purview. Between those who were displaced amidst intense fighting last fall and those who have been displaced since the most recent round of fighting commenced two weeks ago, there are now approximately 1.5 million who have fled their homes. According to the UN, it’s the largest displacement since the Rwandan genocide.

In politics, as in life, it often seems the flipside of crisis is opportunity. This is no exception. The stability of Pakistan is vital to U.S. national security interests. To that end the U.S. has already pledged aid to help displaced persons, but we need to follow that aid and not just write a check and washing our hands of it. Effectively assisting in relief efforts will provide a rare opportunity to be seen in a positive light — an unusual role for the stars and stripes in that region of the world. Does this mean, “death to America,” will never be uttered again? Hardly. But under the broad umbrella of public diplomacy, this is a chance to build some modicum of goodwill (or at least a more neutral ambivalence, should “goodwill” seem to ring of pie-in-the-sky idealism). 

Additionally, if executed properly, the allocation and distribution of aid could be used as a tool to help cement the relatively new political reality of civilian rule throughout the entire country. Eventually, most of these 1.5 million people will venture back to the towns from whence they came. What will they find when they get there? If the answer is total destitution and isolation with little provision of government services, we’ll once again have a breeding ground for the kind of parallel state structure one sees with Hizballah in Lebanon or Hamas in Gaza — government ineptitude providing a vacuum for extremist organizations to fill. If, however, the civilian government is seen as capable of establishing some sort of order throughout, it will go far in debunking the cause of those who would promote a return to military rule or embrace extremist ideology in governance. Key to all of this, of course, is exercising a great deal of oversight and prodding of Pakistani leadership to utilize U.S. aid in a manner conducive to those ends (desirable for both parties, but not always self-evident in a fractious, variably corrupt, nascent democracy such as it is).

Quick takes: Fashion

DC’s weather is as polarized as its politics — hot or cold, no inbetween. Right now? It’s hot. Really hot. The kind of hot that makes me not feel like venturing out of my 450 square feet of air conditioning. The antidote? Wearing a lovely dress. Any of these will do (all from Anthropologie)…

anthropologie dress collage

Who’s the fairest of them all?

I was walking by a bookstore the other day and was stopped in my tracks by a three foot tall poster of the latest Washingtonian cover, which was hanging in their window. In case you’ve missed it, that would be the one with a shirtless picture of our president. According to the cover, his “hotness” is the (tongue-in-cheek, one presumes) second best reason why living in DC is awesome. I love Obama as much as the next person and I must admit he’s a rather attractive fellow. He also happens to be the president of our country. I know we live in an era where anything and everything goes and he’s the biggest celebrity of them all (someone cue up the Paris Hilton attack ad) but I can’t be the only one who finds this a touch declasse.

Let’s make a deal

There aren’t enough places where it’s socially acceptable to haggle over prices. Eastern Market is a refreshing exception. Although fashion isn’t generally the first thing that comes to mind when I think of it, it’s also a great place to get a simple summer dress or five and any number of accessories one could want (with the exception of handbags, which universally look like cheap knock-offs).

I headed over there today after being quite disappointed with Georgetown’s “French Market,” which basically consisted of a handful of stores dragging unremarkable clearance items out onto the sidewalk. Nothing particularly interesting or of note. Another thing to add to the list of why I’ve become lukewarm on Georgetown as of late. The Eastern Market adventure, however, turned into a three hour shopping spree whereby I left cuter, poorer, and significantly more sunburned than I arrived. Definitely worth a trip out there if you haven’t been in awhile.

yellow tulips

How do you define success?

DC thrives on the perception of “success.” What do you do? Where do you work? Who do you know? Where did you go to school? How many letters do you have after your name? How much money do you make? How do your answers to these things compare to mine? All of these questions seem to play into the general evaluation of how successful one is. I think we’re all guilty of thinking that way to some extent, whether about ourselves or others. I had a few hours to really think about this on Sunday morning. Running without the distraction of my iPod allows me to fixate on such random topics.

The Cherry Blossom 10 Miler was going to be the first race where I actually set a goal as far as time. I have really gotten into running over the last year and a half and about four months ago it seemed perfectly within my reach, with proper training, to run this race at a sub-ten-minute mile clip. I wanted to crack the ten minute average mark, if only by one second. Sporty goals of any sort are a novelty to me as I was always the kid who abhored physical education class and walked around the track instead of running. Also, I’m stubborn and don’t settle well for anything less than “success,” so this was a big deal for me.

Life intervened. For a variety of reasons not within the purview of this little corner of the interwebs, I wasn’t really able to train for a good two months. Starting again was a tough road to hoe.  I ran an 8k last month because one of my best friends was doing it and it was more of a struggle than I cared to admit to myself at the time. When I went to pick up my race shirt and number on Saturday, I briefly considered switching to the 5 mile run/walk. I had been running pretty frequently since that 8k, but still, 10 miles? Forget making my goal, which had long since gone by the wayside, I wasn’t sure I would even be able to finish the race. The obstinate side of my personality wouldn’t allow the switch, however.

That is how I found myself lined up with 12,000 other people bright and early Sunday morning, thinking I would probably have to walk some of the course and might not even finish — which got me thinking about what success means. I had a goal once upon a time, that beautiful sub-ten minute average pace, which wasn’t relevant anymore. Why was I even there if I knew I wasn’t going to achieve what I had originally set out to do? Why not just rest and aim for a fall race instead? Why bother risking the ultimate “failure” of that little “did not finish” immortalized forever in results posted online?

For me, it goes back to how one defines success. I had already felt like a failure, ever so briefly, back when the whole no training thing started. When I was finally able to get back to it, I felt it even moreso because it seemed like a waste of time when three miles was rough. This thing I had once embraced and loved doing was something I considered giving up on because I felt like I wasn’t doing it well enough in comparison to some imaginary standard — like I was a failure at it.  Ultimately, I settled upon the idea that success is bringing what you have to what is before you (chosen or imposed) and making of it what you can. Success on Sunday, for me, was not when I crossed the finish line but rather when I crossed the starting line.