Faster, Please!

From Rome with Love

We’ve been in Italy for a few weeks, it’s our second home. I’m an Italianist, after all, having written several books on fascism, on the aftermath of the Great War, on Naples, and on contemporary Italy. Barbara and I met in Rome, were married in the old Spanish synagogue beneath the huge synagogue on the banks of the Tiber, and lived in Rome for many years. I taught at the University of Rome and was Rome correspondent for The New Republic. So we come here a lot. This time there was a special reason: our son Gabriel, a Marine veteran of the Iraq war, graduate of Stanford Law School and currently a clerk at the D.C. Circuit Appeals Court, married the lovely and talented Kelli, an architect. The ceremony was in Montepulciano, in southern Tuscany.


Roma spelled backwards is “amor,” after all, and there’s a reason why I haven’t posted anything. With so much to celebrate and so many friends to see, I haven’t felt much like working. However, time’s up, the euros are gone, so…here. we. go.


Iranololgists often fall prey to the conceit that the ayatollahs are so infernally clever that whatever happens must be the result of their calculations and schemes. It is not so — anyone looking at the fierce internal battles raging at the highest levels of the regime can easily see that there is no possibility of any of them, even the supreme leader, successfully manipulating all those factors — but most of the commentary has taken the election of Rouhani as a triumph of Khamenei’s maneuvers Not so. Khamenei wanted either Jalili or Velayati, and he was shocked at both Rouhani’s popularity and the poor performances from his favorites. Indeed, the “official” numbers have been modified, adding a couple of million votes to Jalili’s total, and a bit over a million to Velayati’s.

Moreover, the actual total vote was significantly lower than in 2009. As I promised beforehand, Khamenei was not prepared to risk street demonstrations, and thus there was no effort to concoct a runoff. Rouhani won a majority — even with the fiddling around to help Jalili and Velayati — and he was proclaimed the winner. But it wasn’t easy. It took the regime 15-16 hours to make its announcement; four years ago they came out with their big lies in favor of Ahmadinejad within 5 hours.


Now what?

The country’s struggling to keep its collective head above the sanctions-driven waves, but the regime doesn’t care if the people are miserable and nothing this side of fierce action is going to end the nuclear program. So the regime will continue to repress, the West will pretend it will eventually do something serious, and the Iranian opposition will continue to act. Eventually, either the regime will catch the key leaders, or the opposition will catch top regime figures. We’ll see. But the most important thing for the survival of the regime is the outcome of the battle in Syria. Even the Economist said this week that there are many good reasons to aid the Syrian opposition, but the defeat and possible downfall of the Iranian regime is the most important.

Don’t hold your breath, OK?

The Super Snoop

Reading about the NSA/FBI snooping has been great fun, remembering that I testified against the Patriot Act at the very beginning. I was concerned about the myriad opportunities for abuse of snooping, and here we are.

To be sure, I’m amazed so many people seem not to understand how thorough and irresistible is the end of privacy in the U.S. And it isn’t only the increasingly intrusive and manipulative State. Hackers abound, and they can find out most anything they desire about you and your activities. Did you know that a skilled snooper can use your computer or your “smart” phone to listen to you and — through the camera in one of those boxes — even watch you any time? It doesn’t matter if your machine is on or off, by the way, or even if you remove the battery.


I’ve been doing research on hackers of late, and it’s an amazing world. There’s a group of (apparently) Russian cybercriminals that will design a special cyberbomb just for you to use against a target of your choice, like a company or a government agency. They will rent the bomb to you for a fee, for a limited period of time, and when time’s up it self-destructs, kinda like the old fashioned audio tapes in the Mission Impossible television series. Scary, very scary…but that’s our world. So we must all assume that we don’t have any secrets from “them” and “they” are not easily defined, politically, ideologically, nationally, or religiously.

Get used to it.

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