Sunday, January 25, 2009

Blood and Oil: Memoirs of a Persian Prince, by Manucher Farmanfarmaian and Roxane Farmanfarmaian

Manucher Farmanfarmaian is a brother of Sattareh Farman Farmaian, author of Daughter of Persia, an autobiography that my students in the History of Islamic civilization are reading is the basis for a paper. Blood and Oil is also an autobiography, and it is at least as well-written as Sattareh's book. Manucher, as a boy, had quite a different experience of their mutual father, and of course quite a different career. Can he ever tell a story! (Roxane, his co-author, is his daughter.)

This book is recommended to anyone who read enjoyed Daughter of Persia, or is interested in Iran, or in global oil politics and the formation of OPEC. Unfortunately, the Nipissing University library does not have a copy. I got mine through interlibrary loan.

Manucher has an eye for telling detail. Here he remarks about the extraordinary generosity of friends in England who, though hardly rich, helped him with a loan when his father's death cut off his fund transfers from Iran temporarily:

Their generosity was all the more poignant because in England at the time racism was rampant. At university foreign students were shunned. We were not allowed to hold student office, and the college deans, at a meeting held at the beginning of each year, went so far as to warn girls away from us, insinuating that we were from base cultures.... it was not just the university but British society in general that held such views, from the foreman of the garage where I worked one summer to the rich lady with the Daimler who had her butler repeat everything I said because it was below her dignity to converse with me directly. All the more extraordinary, then, were the Philipses' confidence and goodwill.


And on his return trip via India during wartime:

Though in England Persians were looked upon as darkies from an inferior race and religion, here [in Bombay] we were regarded as esteemed guests -- of England of course, not India. We were invited to stay in the toniest hotels, and the doors of every chic restaurant were open as long as we wore dinner jackets or tails (which we invariably did)-- though an Indian would be thrashed were he to venture even a glance inside.

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Canadian Oil's involvement in Kurdistan and Iraqi (dis)unity

Laura Rozen refers us to this article in Mother Jones.

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

Chavez defeated at the polls


People who despise George W. Bush and all his acts sometimes get satisfaction by praising President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela for defying him and the United States. I see this as a big mistake. He's a typical big-mouth, big-ego would-be dictator of a sort that the world, and Latin America in particular, has seen too many times. And he can afford to be brave because Venezuela has won (lost?) the oil-in-the-ground lottery.

In recent months Chavez has been promoting a huge omnibus constitutional referendum that would give him just about all the power he could ever want, for as long as he cared to be president. Millions of people who voted for Chavez for president not so long ago either voted against the constitutional amendents or sat on their hands.

To get an idea of why the bloom seems to be off the Chavez rose, even for people who have approved of many of his policies, or at least his promises, see this article in the Economist. It goes well beyond "the enemy of my enemy" rhetoric and does two more things. It shows that Chavez's "Bolivarian revolution" and socialism are just the same old baloney; and also how oil wealth is a dangerous thing.

Image: An inflatable Hugo Chavez doll, as referred to in the article, but this one's from November 2006. How many of these things are there?

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Sunday, July 01, 2007

Here's where it gets really messy

Or should I say, here's where the catastrophe widens unstoppably? I hope that's wrong.

Juan Cole in his blog Informed Comment, points to a story in the UK's Guardian reporting that Turkey, after years of restraint, is threatening to invade Iraq to deal with Turkish Kurd guerrillas (the PKK) hiding there, if the United States doesn't do something about the PKK's hideouts there.

Since the war began, I've been reading (often in blog comments) that "the Turks will do something crazy and then we [= the USA, the West, the world] will be in trouble." It never seems to occur to anyone that the Turks have been, despite great provocation, very uncrazy. No doubt because they actually live in the Middle East (or is it Europe? the eternal question) and know how bad things can get. Certainly they don't want all of Iraq's troubles to spill over their border. Iraq was in terrible shape before the invasion; Turkey is a reasonably stable and productive country that might someday be part of the EU.

But this news out of Turkey is ominous. The man making the demands on the US (which may not be capable of doing anything on the Turkish frontier in any case) is not some general or some editor, but the foreign minister Abdullah Gul.

We'll see.

Back to Juan Cole, whom I cited earlier: this University of Michigan professor has been running one of the great war-related resources for a long time now. He summarizes a lot of material in non-European languages and has links to lots of easier to read news and commentary. He often discusses material that no one in the professional media is discussing in depth. I don't always go along with his opinions, but I read his blog every day I'm by a computer.

Cole has now started a new blog to complement Informed Comment, i.e., Informed Comment: Global Affairs, in which he is teaming up with other observers to comment on a wider number of issues. (And maybe start a TV franchise!). The first blog post on IC:GA was two days ago, and since then it's covered some interesting stories indeed: female genital cutting in Egypt (perhaps some good news on that; at least some perspective); the new amusement park in Qandahar, Afghanistan; and the gasoline shortage and riots in Iran.

The story on Iran brings up some facts not usually discussed, especially that having large amounts of cheap oil in the ground can have disastrous effects on the domestic economy. Canada exports lots of oil and gas, but we do have other things to sell (like wood pulp and nickel, and oh, yeah, a little brainpower). If oil prices dropped dramatically tomorrow it would have some serious effects on parts of the economy, but I bet the federal budget would still be balanced next year. Cheaper energy might reduce the prices of Canadian manufacturing and allow our international customers to buy more of our resources.

If the price of oil dropped tomorrow, the governments of Venezuela, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria would be in serious, immediate trouble. In fact, with oil at or near an all-time high, Iran is already in trouble. The government is hooked on high world prices, and the population is hooked on low domestic prices, which makes life a little more tolerable. Iran is like many other countries where oil is just about the only prop holding up a poorly developed economy.

Canada's economy could use some diversification, both in what we make and who we sell it to, but so far our economy and our government haven't been corrupted by oil wealth.

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