The Happy Arab News Service

Friday, July 31, 2009

Flashdance RELOADED (NationMaster Remix)

For the lack of better ideas and inspiration to keep breaking new grounds, I decided to remix my previous post. The following is a remix of my original Flashdance Reloaded using graphical material from NationMaster. The remix is based on the following sample of the original mix.
To be sure, Iran continues to be plagued by persistently high unemployment despite its relatively robust economic growth. But this is mainly a result of the fact that it takes human newborns about 20 years to get to the labor market. This unemployment reflects the demographics of 20 years ago and not the current demographic situation. The Factbook also gives another very interesting estimate. The share of the population under the age of 15 is only about 20%. It can be from 30% to all 40% in Arab countries around. For example, it's almost 40% in Syria.

This means that the pool of potential workers in Iran is not big at all and it keeps shrinking. Syria is now chronically teetering on the brink of collapse overwhelmed by the impact of its out of control demographics, but Iran is a very different story. Within the next few years the workforce will start stabilizing with the stream of new workers entering the market shrinking. At this point even modest economic growth will be enough to reduce Iran's currently massive unemployment with far reaching consequences.
Basically, the idea of this remix was born in the comments section of Flashdance RELOADED. It's another way to say the same thing. This post is a kind of experiment in trying to show demographic revolution in action by visual means. And so here we go. And we start with the Warrior's Prayer.

Manowar - The Warrior's Prayer

Children, let me tell you a story. Yes, it's a real story and no, this story is not an interesting one. Why to listen to a boring story? Because life is shit and you should start getting used to the idea that it's not going to be a picnic.

So, children, please take a look at this shit. You can click on this shit to open it in a separate window if you want to see it better (I know you don't). They call this shit population age pyramid.

Now, children. You should know that only people who have spent a major part of their lives doing drugs can get themselves interested in this kind of things. Or if you are familiar with this type of weirdos that can be usually found in university libraries occasionally known as book worms or simply cuckoos. This type of people also like this stuff.

So why to waste your time staring into this silly pyramid? Well, besides obvious benefits of steeling your will and preparing you for hardships of the real life, contemplating this kind of things have many other fringe benefits. Let me put it this way. Children, I don't know how many of you have experience of getting high on acid. I assume that as time goes by many more of you will. You have it all ahead of you. All Peyotes and mushrooms of the world are waiting for you. Anyway, the idea is the same. You start looking at a leaf or, say, your hand. And suddenly it starts getting bigger. Inside your hand you see veins and arteries. You see neuronal pathways. You see electric messages traveling down neurons. And through your hand you penetrate into other parts of your body. You get to things that you can't and are not supposed to see. Your hand becomes your world. The same with the pyramid. You look into the pyramid until it becomes your world and inside the pyramid you discover the outline of the past, present and future. Yes, the past, present and future. Just like that. Sounds cool? So lets take a look at the pyramid.

This age pyramid is built of steps, lets call them generations. Each generation covers a span of 5 years. Say at the base of the pyramid you see the first step in green color. It contains all children who are newborns or two, three and four years old. The next step is the yellow one. The yellow step are all children who are currently five, six, seven, eight or nine years old. The right side of the pyramid are all girls, and the left are all boys.

The base of of the pyramid is measured in millions of people. Say the green step should be just a bit more than 5 million people. And the yellow one is something between 4.5 and 5 million. Together the two steps should be something like 10 million people. Now what I am going to do is to tell you a story, a story of population age pyramid. And how I am going to do it? I take the two steps at the base - the yellow and green one. I will call them green generation because yellow is also a sort of green color. And I will follow these guys as they are growing up and moving up inside the pyramid. And here our story begins.

Iran, 1990. A typical age pyramid of a society at the peak of demographic explosion.

The pyramid is massively swelling at the base: the age groups 0-4 and 5-9 (yellow and green colors at the bottom). This is our green generation. You can always identify these guys by their colors - green and yellow. If you keep looking at the pyramid, you can notice an interesting detail. The pyramid is indeed massively swelling towards the base. However, just before the last step it stops doing it as the green step is not much bigger than the yellow one. You will soon know why.

Iran, 1995. Our guys climb up one step. The pyramid starts shrinking at its base. The new generation just below our guys, cyan color, actually shrinks to less than 4 million. It means that between 1990 and 1995 there were less births in Iran than between 1985 and 1990. The TFR is down, birth rates fall, the overall number of births is down. The demographic transition begins.

Over the next decade the demographic transition is accelerating driving fertility and birth rates down. The number of births is falling with each generation.

Source: Population Reference Bureau
(the outstanding feature of this table is a near total convergence between urban and rural areas in the end)

Iran, 2000. You can see that the base of pyramid keeps shrinking. The generation immediately following our green generation is about 3.5 million people. And the generation at the base of pyramid is about 3 million only.

However, it's time to explain what demographers mean when they say that it's coming to an end, it's over. Basically it's over. You can see the end of all this within the next few decades. Schools and kindergartens certainly find their facilities emptying. However, if you look at the distorted shape of the pyramid, a tremendous youth bulge squeezed into the age groups of 10-14 and 15-19 is obvious. This is our green generation. Now from the purely economical point of view, it's these groups that matter.

Basically people start looking for jobs and make families when they are about 20 years old. It's then when they hit the labor market and start shopping for a place of their own. You don't expect them to continue to live with their parents, do you? Now if you look at the pyramid you can clearly see that the pyramid may be shrinking at the base, but it's still expanding from the top all the way down to the age group of 10-14 and the situation with unemployment and other social stuff is already ugly. The storm is gathering. In 2000 a saying very popular with the better informed among the Iranians used to be, "It's coming, baby!"

2005 arrives. Iran on the eve of the Green Revolution. The green generation has now moved into the age groups of 15-19 and 20-24. The nation is reeling as the peak of the demographic explosion that happened about 15-20 years ago finally catches up with and crashes into the economy. This is a milestone in the demographic history of Iran with the green generation coming of age and making landfall on the labor market. The workforce swells. The unemployment shoots through the roof. The country is awash with young blood saturated with truckloads of testosterone.

Over the next few years Ahmadinejad makes a mess of the economy with his a la Hugo Chavez populist policies. Even the oil boom turns into a source of troubles. Many of Ahmadinejad's social programs do little to create badly needed jobs but a lot to fuel inflation. Meanwhile thousands of new job seekers of the green generation keep pouring onto the labor market. Unofficial estimates put unemployment at 25%, one out of every four Iranians of working age is unemployed. Inflation escalates to become the highest in the Middle East. The society is fraying. Finally, Ahmalala delivers a trigger that sets the demographic bomb off. He rigs elections and in response the green generation explodes with the Green Revolution...

But relief is just around the corner. Every next generation is smaller than the previous one. Iran is about to finally move past the peak of the demographic explosion.

Iran, 2020. This one belongs to the realm of fantasy and science fiction. This pyramid says nothing about whether the Supreme Leader is still around or democracy has finally triumphed in Iran. Maybe the country is ruled by some kind of collective military clerical leadership installed in power by the Revolutionary Guard and Baseej. The pyramid knows nothing about these things.

However, you can see that Iran is aging. The green generation is now in the age groups of 30-34 and 35-39. As the green generation was moving through its most fertile years, it has set off a secondary demographic mini-explosion visible at the base of the pyramid. This one has nothing to do with recovery in fertility rates. It's just that at some point after 2000 Iran's vastly distorted age pyramid had an abnormal concentration of women in age groups usually associated with child bearing. It's not that women started making more children per se. It's just that at that particularly moment of history many women happened to be young and of child bearing age.

Anyway, this echo-boom is indeed a mini-explosion. It's still a decade away from the labor market and of a limited scope and duration. Meanwhile the economy has been growing (I hope so) and so it can easily absorb any future temporary uptick in the workforce. The end of story. You will hear again about the green generation a few decades later. Have you heard about the babyboomers in the US and the general pensions crisis in the West? Well, it's nothing. Wait until this generation starts retiring.

. . .

. . .

And this is Tunisia's age pyramid in 2005. You may find similarity between Tunisia and Iran. The angles of this pyramid may be less extreme but the idea is the same.

Tunisia is a sort of economic superstar among non oil producing Arab countries. This country is run by a tough and uncompromising regime. This regime does not kill people by thousands, but it's tough and in the Middle East, when you are genuinely tough, everybody thinks twice before daring to start messing with you, so you don't have to kill anybody. In 1991 this regime was watching what the silly and delusional Economist has recently called "a promising experiment in free elections" in Algeria. And the regime decided that it does want any such "promising experiments" in its country and intensified the crack down on opposition even harder.

Two decades ago the autocrats running this country started switching the economy into free market mode. Ever since then Tunisia maintained steady economic growth. However, unemployment has barely bulged. Now, if you look at the pyramid you will know why. You will also see that if this regime holds out for another decade, it will see its country finally taking off.

And this is Lebanon in 2005. This is the age pyramid of a post demographic transition Arab country. Resembles what is expected in Iran in 2020.

You may not see the similarity at first because the pyramid misses a chunk on its left side, it's tilting to the right at some point. Some kind of gender imbalance, more women than men. And no, I don't think it's pretty. Neither have I ever claimed that civil wars are fun.

And now to the funny part. This is Syria in 1990. Very similar to Iran in 1990.

Now, when it comes to Syria, two things always impressed me most. First of all, for some reason, among all Arab bloggers Syrians are the most prone to call us and our glorious country Zionist entity and I take personal offense with this one. Ok, maybe the country is shit and we all suck, but, still, why entity? In fact, some say that it's Syria who deserves most the title of entity, and not Israel.

Another thing that stands out about Syria is the incredible ability of this country to get so many things going wrong at the same time. This country used to live by three things: oil, agriculture and remittances from its workers abroad, mostly in the Gulf. Oil production is down. Agriculture, and Syria is one of the few countries in the region that produces agricultural stuff on a significant scale, was laid waste to by the global warming. Syrian workers in the Gulf are hit by both the global crisis and a new round of the Saudi job nationalization campaign. This year Syria was reported to have become a net oil importer for the first time.

And now, please don't laugh, this is Syrian age pyramid in 2005.

Take a look at the pyramid and measure by eye the angle from the age group of 20-24 down to the base. In the Middle East this is one of the most important angles. For many countries in the region it's a decisive factor that will determine who is going to make it within the next 20 years and who is not. And when you look at this pyramid you see a perfect battle formation of Teutonic Knights ready to pierce the enemy lines. And you know who the enemy is. It's the economy, stupid. A Syrian minister recently said that when you have your workforce growing by 4% every year, it's a kinda difficult to fight unemployment under such circumstances. Never mind housing and such stuff. It's a shame the reporter has not inquired of what color, in the minister's opinion, the next revolution is going to be. Red maybe?

So what is the moral of this story? Children, I hate to break it to you, but all stories come with only one message - you should always try to be nice. You smile to the world and the world smiles back to you. So, before you go to sleep, you take a good look at the last pyramid. Here it is again for your convenience. And you don't forget to wish good luck to the Syrian entity.

Manowar - Lament of the Kings

(You should better switch this video to full screen.
No fans in the world are like Heavy Metal fans :D :D)

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Flashdance RELOADED (Original Mix)

Record !
I am an Arab
And my identity card is number fifty thousand
I have eight children
And the nineth is coming after a summer
Will you be angry?

Mahmoud Darwish - I am an Arab (Identity Card)

While the West continues to be gripped by paranoiah over Muslim demographics the style of this video, the fundamental fact about the demographics of the Middle East is this: Over the last few years the two biggest non Arab nations of the Middle East, Turkey and Iran, have gone sub replacement.

Source: Wikipedia (Sourced from the The CIA World Factbook)

In the rest of the region Arab fertility is collapsing on a massive scale. The average TFR for the area of MENA (Middle East/North Africa) these days is about three children per woman and it's rapidly coming down. Some Arab nations such as Tunisia, Algeria and Lebanon feature these days a very European sub replacement fertility.

Those Arab nations who were late comers to the trend have been more than making up for their late arrival during the last decade. In the span of eight years the mothership of Sunni fundamentalism, Saudi Arabia, has sustained a massive decline in its fertility rate from 6.30 to 3.89. Another decade like this one and the Saudis will be almost living in Europe in demographic terms. In the West Bank the fertility rate has collapsed from 5.02 to 3.31 while in Syria it's down from 4.06 to 3.21.

The Great Middle East Population Explosion is basically over. To be sure, it will take many countries of the region another decade to get near replacement or sub replacement. The population will keep surging for a while before the population growth grinds to a complete halt within the next 20-30 years, but this expansion will be driven mostly by the demographics of the past. It has little basis in the current demographic reality. Beyond a few exceptions such as Yemen, Arab birth rates are plummeting all around the Middle East.

Social and economic implications of this are obvious and nobody could put it any better than a recent article in the Foreign Policy. Rejecting a very popular liberal myth, the authors have a very succinct way to put it:

Low birthrates aren't the result of economic growth and political stability; they're a prerequisite (!!!).

Source: Foreign Policy

In some respects this demographic transition is more important than the Israeli Arab conflict, Sunni Shia wars and the USA invasion of Iraq all together. This is because it's reaching to the very core of what being Arab, Persian or any other Middle Easterner is about. Arguably much of what defines the present Middle East, what sets it aside from other regions, stuff such as extended families, clan loyalties and tribal structures will not survive the transition to small families rapidly becoming the norm in big cities. Combined with the destruction of countryside inflicted on the region by global warming and ensuing migration to the cities, the end result of all these should not be that difficult to figure out. During the next two decades the Middle East will stop being what it is now. It will become something else.

Anyway, this post is about Iran and what's relevant here is this: For a long time Iran was a trend setter in the Middle East. Its Islamic Revolution signaled the beginning of a tremendous mess that rapidly consumed the entire region and beyond. Similarly, when it comes to the demographic transition in the region, Iran may have joined the party with a certain delay, but it quickly became the symbol and leader of this transition. And this fact is heavily loaded with consequences for the future and I am talking here about a very near future. To see this it's enough to take a look at some data for Iran presented in the same CIA World Factbook.

The CIA Factbook gives the following estimates for the key demographic indicators of Iran in 2009.

Population growth rate:
0.883% (2009 est.)

Age structure:
0-14 years: 21.7%
15-64 years: 72.9%
65 years and over: 5.4%

Birth rate:
17.17 births/1,000 population (2009 est.)

Total fertility rate:
1.71 children born/woman (2009 est.)

urban population: 68% of total population (2008)
rate of urbanization: 2.1% annual rate of change (2005-10 est.)

Source: CIA World Factbook - Iran

Deep Dish - Flashdance (Official Video feat. Anousheh Khalili)

Incidentally, I remember one Deep Dish party in Barcelona many years ago. Darren Emerson did the opening and by the time he has finished most people got drunk and slipped away. When the Deep Dish started surging, I found myself alone with a bunch of a few dozens of heavily pilled up Spanish clubbers. I was already preloaded with three super powerful ecstasy pills I charged myself with in preparation for the event, when in the middle of the party a Spanish clubber rubbed my temples with liquid acid as a gesture of good will and reconciliation for the expulsion of 1492. Over the few hours Deep Dish ruled the place we have literally destroyed the dancefloor of the club. Oh the good old days of yore! What is life without drugs and parties? It's just killing time between reincarnations. The philosophical meaning of human existence may be uncertain and obscure, but in practical terms the purpose of human life is as clear and obvious as the daylight. And it's all about... hmmmm... Actually, what was I talking about? Was it something about demography, wasn't it? Oh, It was about Iran! So...

The first thing that calls attention is that population growth has gone below 1%. For comparison it's 4% in Yemen where the population doubles itself every 20 years. This is the difference between the new Middle East and the old one still living in the era of the Great Population Explosion. Besides having fallen below 1%, the population growth is decelerating. At 1.71 children per woman, the total fertility rate is well below the replacement level. In Nordic countries of Europe women have more children these days than in this fundamentalist Sharia state. So even with this paltry less than 1%, the population growth has still a lot of ground to cover to catch up, or better to catch down, with this deeply sub replacement fertility rate. Basically, population growth has ceased to be a factor in Iran in any way.
Iran's population growth according to the World Bank
To be sure, Iran continues to be plagued by persistently high unemployment despite its relatively robust economic growth. But this is mainly a result of the fact that it takes human newborns about 20 years to get to the labor market. This unemployment reflects the demographics of 20 years ago and not the current demographic situation. The Factbook also gives another very interesting estimate. The share of the population under the age of 15 is only about 20%. It can be from 30% to all 40% in Arab countries around. For example, it's almost 40% in Syria. This means that the pool of potential workers in Iran is not big at all and it keeps shrinking.

Syria is now chronically teetering on the brink of collapse overwhelmed by the impact of its out of control demographics, but Iran is a very different story. Within the next few years the workforce will start stabilizing with the stream of new workers entering the market shrinking. At this point even modest economic growth will be enough to reduce Iran's currently massive unemployment with far reaching consequences. Basically, Iran is teeming with young adults. This is the best time for the Persians to stage economic miracles and go to wars. The country's demographic profile is generally excellent. This will not continue forever, however, as the population is rapidly aging. The demographic dividend will probably be at its peak approaching 2020 and will start disappearing since then. This casts a certain doubt on the country's ability to make it into the ranks of the first world before Iran's deteriorating demographics turn into a serious impediment for economic growth and development. Basically much of the Middle East seems poised to repeat the story of Eastern Europe. It will experience a Western style demographic meltdown before achieving a Western like prosperity. But this future is still far away. What matters in the short term is that Iran is soon to experience an almost overnight relief from the demographic nightmares of its past. It's probably impossible to have any serious discussion of these matters without considering how the demographic shift is affecting the ethnic composition of the country. However, given that I am too lazy to start mining demographic data for Iran's minorities, I would limit myself to saying this: The Persians are already hardly even a half of the population. I have little doubt that the share of minorities such as the Ahwazi Arabs, Kurds and for sure Baluchis is rising.

Basically Iran is becoming a nation of minorities. However, the implications of this fact are not as dramatic as they may appear. For Iran to survive this transformation intact, the crucial axis is the one between the Persians and the Azeris. Accounting for a quarter of the population, the Azeris in Iran are probably better integrated than any other minority in the Middle East. It's very telling that the two main protagonists of the current drama, the Supreme Leader and Mousawi, are both ethnic Azeris. Basically, the Persians count with an uninterrupted historical, cultural and linguistic continuity, probably without parallels elsewhere in the Middle East and, yet, in many ways Iran is a truly national and not ethnic state. The Persians were running empires in the region long before any Turks and Arabs made their appearance on the stage of history and modern Iran is a heir to this massive historical legacy. The presence of an independent Azeri state across the border is without a doubt a recipe for troubles in the future. However, Azerbaijan in its current configuration is not a very inspiring state and the Persians seem to possess enough skills and tact to make the possibility of disintegration of the country a very tentative one.

Anyway, as the transition to two child families seems to be almost complete in Tehran and other big cities with the countryside closely trailing them, the demographic revolution's most important impact is going to be cultural. Here is coming a new generation and a very different one. Probably every next generation is different, but this one will be truly so. Grown up in small families of the post demographic boom era, it will be more spoiled, selfish and individualist. It will be also more urban, much better educated and generally more invested in. It will be also a more critical and skeptical generation. One is tempted to say this generation will be more intelligent. And this generation may want more. It may want a change... many changes... some of them very radical ones. The idea of direct elections of the Supreme Leader may fail to placate this generation. It may want to have no Supreme Leader at all. The regime may find the new generation posing more danger for its survival than all USA aircraft carriers together.

The CIA Factbook data also points to another interesting trend very important for survival, or better non-survival, of the current system. Iran is an urban society with about 70% of the population being urban dwellers. The rate of urban migration remains high and it's bound to at least remain the same and maybe even to accelerate in the very near future. Iran is projected to become one of the countries worst affected by global warming with thousands of farmers and villagers about to leave their homes and start making their way to Tehran and other urban centers where they will be exposed to the influences of life in a big city. Rural areas until now served as one of the pillars of the regime. Ahmalalah and his friends may be blissfully unaware of this fact, but a ruthless combination of the demographic shift and global warming is about to soon reduce one of their main constituencies to a fraction of the overall population. The resultant vector of the demographic factors points to a dramatic transformation of the country at some point before the end of the next decade. The employment situation should improve driving up wages and living standards, prosperity should start spreading across the country. But this is on condition that no major breakthrough in alternative energies knocks the bottom out of the oil market. The population should grow more urban and more educated. It will be ruled by a regime that is bound to look increasingly anachronistic and out of step with the rest of the country.

The regime is already showing cracks and divisions all over and occasionally appears unsure about itself and its purpose. However, this process is balanced out by the military wing of the regime and repressive structures, namely the Revolutionary Guard and Baseej, getting out of control and virtually taking over the country. A death or departure of the Supreme Leader may become a milestone event and trigger another confrontation within the ruling elite. In short, uncertain future, but the hope is still there, for a nation that 30 years ago looked so poised to become the gem of the Middle East.

Anousheh Khalili - O my Lord
PS If you are into such stuff here is a sample from another one in Farsi or order the whole CD - Anousheh Khalili: Prayers (Approved by the Baha’i National Review Office of United State)
A sample from Ho'va'llah by Anousheh Khalili
July 31, 2009 This post has been rewritten. This is the new version.

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

When the rain begins to fall does not fall

Thu Jul 23, 2009

PATNA, India (Reuters) - Farmers in an eastern Indian state have asked their unmarried daughters to plow parched fields naked in a bid to embarrass the weather gods to bring some badly needed monsoon rain, officials said on Thursday.

Witnesses said the naked girls in Bihar state plowed the fields and chanted ancient hymns after sunset to invoke the gods. They said elderly village women helped the girls drag the plows.

"They (villagers) believe their acts would get the weather gods badly embarrassed, who in turn would ensure bumper crops by sending rains," Upendra Kumar, a village council official, said from Bihar's remote Banke Bazaar town.

"This is the most trusted social custom in the area and the villagers have vowed to continue this practice until it rains very heavily."

Source: Reuters

And what's about us? This whole region has been hit by droughts for several years now. It's just about time for our unmarried young women to do something for the environment. And elderly women should stay at home, there will be no shortage of volunteers to help.

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Friday, July 24, 2009


Last updated: October 12, 2009

July 24, 2009

Deep Dish - Flashdance (Skylark Remix)

Among several developments in Iran since the suppression of the Green Revolution, the most important of them all is this: There is still no hard evidence to prove that the elections were rigged or Ahmadinejad and Khamenei were planning in advance some kind of a coup d'etat within the country's establishment. Yet, the fact remains that for all practical purposes this is what these two have ended doing. Once things started getting out of control, the Supreme Leader knee jerk reaction and the regime's general inclination towards repression have transformed Tehran into a police state, or better, a Baseej city. And once the Baseejis have been unleashed, all masks and pretensions were removed.

Interestingly enough, this has failed to either silence the opposition within the ranks of the ruling elite, nor to prevent a new brawl, this time between the Supreme Leader and conservative hardliners on one side and Ahmadinejad on the other around some of Ahmadinejad's nominations. In short, the end result of the elections fiasco was a state of everybody at loggerheads with everybody else. I would say that in view of all this to call Ahmadinejad a divisive personality should be considered a wild understatement. Equally important is the fact that while the regime has survived this experience intact, its prestige and appeal beyond the borders of Iran, even in Shia communities across the Middle East and South Asia, was damaged beyond repair.

However, one thing was left largely ignored and unreported in the midst of this mess: Ahmadinejad seems to be planning a comprehensive reform of domestic energy subsidies. From reports by Iranian media (no other media seems to have reported about this at all) it appears that the subsidies are to go and the revenues to be distributed among lower classes or reinvested into development projects. The significance of this step cannot be overstated and if Ahmalalah succeeds to get it done, he may completely redeem his disastrous first presidency. The thing is that while Ahmalalah is certainly a case of clinical idiot, nobody really casts doubt on his ambitions, energy and determination. Neither he is frequently accused of corruption or something. This guy is more of the messianic lunatic type of idiots. And if Ahmalalah directs his energy into reforming the economy, there is a good chance of him getting it done. Here is a graph to illustrate what's at stake here.

Source: EIA

Seeing this chart for the first time may shock some people on realization that 30 years since the fall of the Shah, Iran is still nowhere close to the volume of petroleum production of the Shah era. This is true. Combined with population growth, this means that Iran is still streets behind the achievements of the Shah. Some estimate Iran's income per capita to be still 25% below 1979. In many ways the revolution was not about stagnation or temporary retreat, it was a blow from which Iran has simply never recovered.

Another thing that's very obvious from the graph is a massive growth of domestic petroleum consumption, driven by fuel subsidies very relevant to the subject of this post. The two headed arrow titled "Net Exports" points to 1996 and cuts the graph in two halves. The right one, post 1996, is all about the post revolutionary Iran failing to increase the volume of net exports following its failure to get hold of the domestic consumption. Even more important is this: Iran is lacking refining capacity. So much of the petroleum is exported in the form of crude oil. To maintain its elevated level of domestic consumption, more expensive gasoline and other petroleum products are then imported back into the country and sold at subsidized prices. So in terms of revenues the gap between production and consumption is even smaller than it appears in the graph. Together, fuel, electricity, food and other consumer subsidies account for whopping 40% of the budget.

Besides being an obvious drain on the budget, the subsidies don't provide any incentives for consumers to optimize their energy consumption habits, leading to runaway explosion of consumption. Just abolishing subsidies and redistributing the revenues among the poor and middle classes is bound to work wonders for Iranian economy. Suppressing domestic consumption may dramatically improve Iran's position as oil exporter. In the long run, if the government does something to revive the oil production while keeping the demand at bay, net exports may experience a positive growth boosting the country's forex reserves and improving the general situation in other ways.

One school of thought reasons that Iran has simply no other choice. Some of the country's major oilfields were recently reported as rapidly aging due to chronic underinvestment and, given the relentless surge of domestic consumption, this has led many to speculate that somewhere through the next decade Iran may turn into a net oil importer, an absolutely astonishing possibility for a country that right now is one of the world's major exporters. So the reform may be inevitable, but it still makes a lot of difference who and when is going to take this necessary and equally unpopular step. In fact, it's not clear whether the winner of the last elections should be viewed as a lucky guy at all due to Iran's mounting economic and social troubles. The lucky one is going to be the winner of the next elections (or the next coup d'etat) and for reasons I may explain in the next post or an update to this one. Right now it's enough to say that if Ahmalalah goes forward with his reform, he may still end up with some very positive record in Iranian history. However, he should expect no favors on this account from his electorate.

Whether the elections were rigged or not, we may never know due to the mismanagement of the situation by the Supreme Leader who instead of throwing his weight behind Ahmalalah should have called for new and transparent voting. Now the last elections belong to the realm of myths and any misstep of the new government will only serve to exacerbate the myth even more. The energy reform may be a blessing for Iran's economy, but the timing is extremely bad. It's very possible that Iran can afford no more delays due to the global crisis and collapse of oil revenues, but for the regime to follow such a violent and bloody mess with such an unpopular reform may well develop into an equivalent of driving the last nail into one's coffin by one's own hands.

October 2, 2009

Burning money, cooking troubles

This chart from the last Economist gives a very good perspective on the situation of energy subsidies in Iran.

Source: The Economist

As can be seen in the table, Iran is leading the way, and by a wide margin, when compared to other countries by the sheer volume of its energy subsidies. Iran is a big country of course. However, it's also obvious from the table that Iran is still at the top when the subsidies are recalculated per capita, only Saudi Arabia spends more. It spends $786 per person in energy subsidies every year. The subsidies not only account for the lion's share of the budget, but they are also responsible for the out of control domestic petroleum consumption that, according to some, may undermine the nation's position as a leading oil exporter at some point during the next decade.

Hoopalicious techno hooping for her class


The track playing at the background is by Vanjee. For those who don't know, Vanjee is from Haifa. He was mixing here in TA for a while, at Allenby 58. He later moved to the US, where he is apparently very successful. At least Hoopalicious thinks he is awesome :D :D

October 12, 2009

And here we go...

Iran's parliament gives green light to Ahmadinejad's fuel subsidies reform...

TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's parliament on Monday moved ahead with a bill to sharply slash energy and food subsidies, approving one article of a draft law that has the potential of stoking major unrest in a country struggling under international sanctions.

State radio said the article approved by lawmakers would gradually cut energy subsidies over five years, bringing the heavily discounted fuel prices more in line with international prices.

Officials say the cuts are needed to recoup some of the roughly $90 billion spent yearly by OPEC's second largest exporter on subsidies, and to target the funds more directly at helping poorer segments of the population as well as funding infrastructure projects.

Subsidies currently eat up about 30 percent of the government budget at a time when already high spending and the collapse of oil prices last year squeezed the country's economy.

"The plan would prevent an important part of excessive consumption (in Iranian society), as well as injustice in the redistribution of subsidies," state-run Press TV quoted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying in a live interview on Iranian television Sunday night.

Source: Associated Press

Among its possible consequences, the approved bill has direct bearing on the issue of punitive sanctions against Iran. It's unlikely that the US and its allies can take action to disrupt Iran's oil exports due to the adverse effect this would have on the global energy market and through this on their respective economies. Imposing some kind of embargo on gasoline imports into Iran sounds like a more plausible course of action to take. Under Ahmadinejad the Persians were investing like mad into their refining capacity and switching cars to natural gas. This effort should start paying off in the next few years, dramatically reducing the impact of possible sanctions against Iran. In fact, Iran may yet emerge as one of the leading, if not the leading, gasoline exporters of the world. The incoming reform may dramatically speed up this process if it succeeds to reign in domestic gasoline consumption. In short, while the President of presidents is brooding over his options in Iran, he may soon find that one about sanctions suddenly unavailable.


This means nothing in terms of Israel's options. If it comes to trading ballistic missiles with Iran, the correct way for Israel to proceed in order to avoid creating a global energy crisis and becoming enemy of all mankind, is to target refineries and not oil fields and terminals.

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Exxon moves into biofuels

Last updated: July 23, 2009

July 16, 2009

Exxon, famous for its mockery of alternative energies, is going to invest more than half a billion dollars into oilgae...

Published: July 13, 2009

. . .

On Tuesday, Exxon plans to announce an investment of $600 million in producing liquid transportation fuels from algae — organisms in water that range from pond scum to seaweed. The biofuel effort involves a partnership with Synthetic Genomics, a biotechnology company founded by the genomics pioneer J. Craig Venter.

. . .

Source: The New York Times

July 18, 2009

The Economist provides more details regarding that weird piece of news about how a company, emblematic of the Big Oil and singled out by Barack Obama as an example of corporate greed, has got into the business of green energy. According to the Economist, Craig Venter of Synthetic Genomics has managed to genetically engineer a secretion pathway making his algae to release oil floating it on the surface of water. For those who don't know, algae are natural biodiesel producers with some species having up to 50% of their mass as hydrocarbons. This makes a hell of difference. Craig Venter calls the process his company is developing biomanufacturing, unlike algae farming of the competitors. The idea is that no algae should be farmed at all. Until now people were sawing their heads off over developing cost efficient ways of extracting oil out of algae. Venter's algae do it themselves.

Another Venter's trick, but this one is still in the process of being developed, is to make algae to produce pure hydrocarbons with no need of additional processing. If Venter gets this one done too, the next step should be to genetically engineer or breed out a super resistance strain of algae that can sustain high temperatures and intense illumination to speed up the process of photosynthesis. And if Venter and Exxon start getting close to this point, then some people in the Persian Gulf and around should better start checking if they still remember how to ride their camels and survive harsh desert nights in the open.

July 23, 2009

Jul 23, 2009

By Jeff Kart

. . .

A recent post on a push to increase the U.S. gasoline blend rate ended with this thought-provoker: At this rate, will cellulosic ethanol, from non-food plant materials, ever get off the ground?

Yes, replied Sam Salyer, a representative for a Massachusetts-based biofuel company called Qteros.

The company, formerly SunEthanol, recently announced an ethanol yield well beyond what the U.S. Department of Energy considers the threshold for commercial production, he wrote.

Qteros says it's achieved an ethanol yield of 70 grams per liter. The DOE's commercial standard is 50 grams per liter.

. . .

Qteros uses a technology called Q Microbe, which turns biomass into cellulosic ethanol, according to company officials.

"These results confirm what we predicted: Qteros and the Q Microbe can make cellulosic ethanol a commercial reality." according to Sue Leschine, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst microbiologist who first discovered the Q Microbe near the Quabbin Reservoir in central Massachusetts.

Source: Reuters

July 22, 2009

By Keith Johnson

. . .

Qteros says bio-engineering will be the next step: “Although Qteros achieved these outstanding ethanol outputs with a non-genetically engineered strain of the Q Microbe™, the company expects to capture further improvements by taking advantage of on-going efforts in molecular genetics and strain development.”

It all seems to be part of a broader push to use advanced science to find alternatives to oil in the natural world. DSM, a Dutch firm, makes all sorts of modified enzymes that improve the production—and environmental footprint–of everything from biofuel to apple juice.

“The shortcut that oil provided for a century or so is ending, and we will have to go back to living off the land,” says Stephan B. Tanda, head of DSM Americas.

Source: The Wall Street Journal - Blogs

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Deah of Macho

Reihan Salam argues in Foreign Policy that the current crisis should be properly termed he-cession due to its disproportionate impact on men.

Indeed, it’s now fair to say that the most enduring legacy of the Great Recession will not be the death of Wall Street. It will not be the death of finance. And it will not be the death of capitalism. These ideas and institutions will live on. What will not survive is macho. And the choice men will have to make, whether to accept or fight this new fact of history, will have seismic effects for all of humanity—women as well as men.

Source: Foreign Policy

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Drum'n Bass It

The chief economics editor of The Telegraph continues his one-man crusade to encourage the masses to get more appreciation for electronic music. After having failed to seduce his readers with a promise of massive liquid nitrogen cannons capable of cooling down the dancefloor in a split second, Edmund Conway complains about the readers lack of cooperation and tries another trick.

But listening to these records on youtube is no substitution for feeling the impact of the sub-bass - that chunkiest of all burrs which you can only feel when standing next to six-foot high speakers in a club - as a drum and bass tune strikes the dancefloor.

Source: Drum & Bass and Jungle

The comments section remained silent and unimpressed. One just can't help feeling that as Edmund's desperation keeps growing, he will soon start encouraging his readers to pill themselves up before trying to listen to the YouTube's clips generously embedded all over Edmund's Electronica series.

This reminds me of a similar mission undertaken by John Digweed a few years ago during his tour of the Far East. John Digweed appeared before crowds claiming that music actually saves lives, and electronic music can save even more lives, and rhetorically asking his audiences what life could be without music. Unlike Edmund, however, Digweed's efforts met with a remarkable success confirming his status as one of the world's leading proponents of electronic music. At one point Digweed called on his audience to thank God for bestowing music on humanity, transforming the hall into a huge mosque as thousands of Chinese have got down onto all four in a Muslim like prayer (some witnesses reported that they have actually found much of the audience already on the floor right at the beginning of the event). Here are a few highlights from that memorable lecture John Digweed presented in Hong Kong.


This post is an update to Introducing the Dancesaurus. If you have any comments, leave them there. Some readers may also want to check this post which also deals with various issues related to dinosaurs.


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Friday, July 17, 2009

Cracking along fault lines...

By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service

IRBIL, Iraq, July 16 -- Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region and the Iraqi government are closer to war than at any time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, the Kurdish prime minister said Thursday, in a bleak measure of the tension that has risen along what U.S. officials consider the country's most combustible fault line.

In separate interviews, Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani and the region's president, Massoud Barzani, described a stalemate in attempts to resolve long-standing disputes with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's emboldened government. Had it not been for the presence of the U.S. military in northern Iraq, Nechirvan Barzani said, fighting might have started in the most volatile regions.

. . .

Source: The Washington Post

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Barack Obama in the Land of Lyrebirds

According to the Associated Press, during his visit to Russia Barack Obama found Russian President Medvedev to sound surprisingly similar to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Jul 7, 2009

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says his first meeting with President Barack Obama went "very well."

The former Russian president called the two-hour meeting "substantive, informative and collaborative."

Putin told reporters he and Obama "covered the issues from previous years" and found "many positives" and "many points in common."

Obama also had good things to say about their meeting Tuesday, and said he found Putin's views similar to those of Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev.

Source: The Associated Press

This is one of those moments when the only thing one can do is to hope that American president is just very polite or a bit naive. Touching naivety - Abu Rakun would have said. I am wondering how Obama would have characterized Putin's views if he would have been first introduced to Ilya Glazunov.

Lyrebird mimics chainsaw, radio, DJ...

Lyrebird of Australia by David Attenborough - Unseen Footage


This post is an update to The Eternal Russia. If you want to comment, do it there.

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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Tough Luck

Some report about very professional performance of Chinese police and the army during the crisis in Xinjiang, China. This is for example from a blog by the Telegraph reporter.

A note on the performance of the Chinese police during this crisis: from what I’ve seen they have been highly disciplined and professional under extremely challenging circumstances and deserve real praise for this.

. . .

I don’t claim to be an expert in riot control, but I have reported on mass protests in many different cities around the world - in the UK (football riots in London), in Africa (Harare and Lagos), in Pakistan (Lahore, Karachi, Peshawar) and in several cities in India - and I’m happy to say that China’s police have showed far greater professionalism, discipline and restraint than I’ve observed in many of those places.


Another thing that calls attention - China was actively courting media during this crisis. Until now I did not really encounter reports about the Chinese blocking access to Xinjiang for media or deporting foreign reporters. This is in striking contrast to the coverage of the green revolution in Iran.

From the practical point of view, however, the question is really if the latest events, and the overwhelming majority of victims seem to be Han Chinese, will deal a blow to the Chinese policy of resettling Xinjiang and Tibet with thousands of ethnic Chinese. In Tibet Han Chinese account for more than 50% of the population, but the Chinese are reportedly struggling to establish a massive enough core of permanent colonists. Tibet's high altitudes are apparently not a very healthy environment for people who did not grow up there. Many Chinese eventually leave on the grounds of health and climate only to be replaced by new migrants.

This is not the situation in Xinjiang, however, where the ethnic Chinese population is about 50% and its core is stable. The next decade may become crucial in this sense since if the current migratory patterns persist, the fate of Xinjiang will be soon sealed for the foreseeable future, if not forever. Admittedly, such violent uprisings is the only means left to the Uighur nationalists if they want to try to stop the inevitable. Together Xinjiang and Tibet account for roughly 40% of the territory of China. The superpower, now chronically short on land, water and other resources, is in no mood for compromises. These days being a Tibetan or Uighur nationalist is a tough luck.

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Eternal Russia

Last updated: July 14, 2009

July 7, 2009

Russia the Eternal by Ilya Glazunov

Every few weeks another video of Vladimir Putin makes rounds in the Russian speaking part of the Internet. Most of these videos are about Vladimir Putin visiting various places around the country, from Russian Academy of Science to industrial complexes, where Vladimir Putin entertains his audiences by treating them all as infantile imbeciles. As a person who grew up under the old Soviet regime I should notice that in these matters Vladimir Putin has by now plainly surpassed all last Soviet leaders starting with Leonid Breznev.

Regardless of how eternal Russia generally is, some aspects of Russia seem sure to happen as eternal as Mother Russia herself is going to be. My own understanding of the Soviets has changed tremendously over the last years, partly because of this stuff. Many aspects of the Soviet Communism I used to consider integral to communism in general until very recently, I view now as part of Russian culture and mentality. You can blame political systems for only that much.

In fact, I was occasionally blogging about Putin before, but the video currently circulated among Russian bloggers will probably relieve me of the need to do so anymore. The video is both short and very illustrative of a weird personality cult around Russian PM, former president and in many respects best described as a post Soviet imitation of Russian Czar without a throne.

The clip is provided with subtitles. I should admit that it's a pretty loose translation as I can't be bothered so much as to waste my time on subscripting YouTube videos. Nevertheless, the video should give one a pretty good idea of what modern Russia is about and what's going on behind the linguistic barriers that most people who don't speak Russian can't cross.

No commentary is necessary, though people unfamiliar with Russia history should be probably provided with a brief explanation regarding two individuals mentioned in the clip. Boris and Gleb are two princes from the early Russian history who gave their lives away without a fight during a fratricide war for the throne of Kievan Rus. Their deaths are a kind of archetypal for the variety of Christianity practiced in Russia which (at least theoretically) extols the virtues of self effacement and sacrifice. Both were canonized and accorded the status of saints.

Those who have patience to translate and subscript more of this stuff are welcome to do it and I will gladly embed these videos into my post. In fact, I was thinking about setting up a separate site with such videos to provide outsiders with an access to this aspect of modern Russia. As for now, you are welcome to enjoy this one.

Vladimir Putin the Art Critic


If you don't see the subtitles, find an upward arrow at the right bottom of the video and try this...

July 8, 2009

Putin the Mohel

:D :D Thanx, Nizo...

(Comments Section)
|3run0 said...

Clipping from the Novaya Pravda, July 7th 2009:

"From now on all canonizations must be first approved by the prime minister office. Saint candidates must provide proof of due diligence in fighting back against martyrdom before receiving probationary miracle licenses."

:D :D Thanx, Bruno

Putin the Canonizer

July 14, 2009

Barack Obama in the Land of Lyrebirds

According to the Associated Press, during his visit to Russia Barack Obama found Russian President Medvedev to sound surprisingly similar to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Jul 7, 2009

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says his first meeting with President Barack Obama went "very well."

The former Russian president called the two-hour meeting "substantive, informative and collaborative."

Putin told reporters he and Obama "covered the issues from previous years" and found "many positives" and "many points in common."

Obama also had good things to say about their meeting Tuesday, and said he found Putin's views similar to those of Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev.

Source: The Associated Press

This is one of those moments when the only thing one can do is to hope that American president is just very polite or a bit naive. Touching naivety - Abu Rakun would have said. I am wondering how Obama would have characterized Putin's views if he would have been first introduced to Ilya Glazunov.

Lyrebird of Australia by David Attenborough - Unseen Footage


Clarification: Following this post a question came as to what and who lyrebirds can and cannot imitate. Lyrebirds can imitate quite a lot, virtually any sound, but this is not the point. The lyrebird of Youtube is a mythical creature, inspired by the famous chainsaw mimicking lyrebird of David Attenborough. It's more like a synonym for somebody endlessly engaged in intense vocal imitation.

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

Nice Person

Published: June 30, 2009

. . .

When Mr. Lieberman visited France recently, Mr. Sarkozy declined to meet with him, although he routinely received Ms. Livni, who was foreign minister in the last government.

According to the newspaper Yediot Aharonot, Mr. Sarkozy told Mr. Netanyahu that he should remake his government so that he, Ms. Livni and the defense minister, Ehud Barak, could produce historic breakthroughs for Middle East peace.

He was reported to have said, “I’ve always received Israeli foreign ministers. I met with Tzipi Livni in the Élysée Palace, but with that one I simply can’t meet. I’m telling you, you need to get rid of that man. Get him out of the government and bring in Livni. With her and with Barak you can make history.”

The paper said Mr. Netanyahu replied: “No need to exaggerate. Lieberman is a very nice person, and in private conversations he speaks differently.”

Mr. Sarkozy was reported to have replied, “In private conversations, Jean-Marie Le Pen is also a nice person.”

Mr. Sarkozy is said to have added of Mr. Lieberman, “Sometimes when I hear what he says I have the urge to pull out my hair.” He placed his hands on his head and grabbed his hair.

Source: The New York Times

For one I doubt that Lieberman is a nice person even in private one to one communication. Two, even if he is a privately nice person, still I would like to know how we ended with a foreign minister who by all accounts is a persona non grata virtually everywhere in the world. Three, how long it's going to take them to realize and correct this mistake. This is not to say that I endorse in any way the anti Lieberman hysteria now very fashionable in some circles, but, still, for a country that so loves to complain about being misunderstood and deliberately vilified in the media, that was a very weird choice of FM. When you have a habit of pushing your head into a lion's mouth, don't be surprised if one day you return home without the head.

And on a bit different note...

...The Tripod Fish

The tripod fish is a relatively sedentary fish. It spends much of its adult life standing on the ocean bottom on its fins. The fish stands facing the prevailing current, and hunts by extending its unusually long pectoral fins into the current and waiting for the small crustaceans on which it feeds to simply bump into its fins. The fish grasps its prey in the pectoral fins and directs it toward its mouth.

Source: Wikipedia

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