The Real Superheroes are still in Comic Books…

“His comic books have captured the imagination of so many young people with superheroes who embodies the tolerance and teachings of Islam.

… Superman and Batman have reached out to their Muslim counter parts…. And I hear they are making progress too.”

- President Barak Obama, 2010

Last summer I had an opportunity to spend part it at the Columbia Business School (CBS) in NYC where I was part of the Rothschild Fellowship. During this time, I had an opportunity to meet social entrepreneurs from the UK and France,  continued fostering a passion and had an opportunity to expand my cultural and religious beliefs.

On an early New York morning we hard a guest speaker to begin our day- Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, a former CBS alumni. Here was Dr. Mutawa, dress shirt tucked into his jeans, a glowing aura of passion and only small patches of grey in his beard that would hint at his age.

Over the next couple hours Dr. Mutawa spent some time speaking to us about his creation of  the 99….. the world’s first superheroes based on Islamic culture and society.

At first I was a little hesitant. But that was quick to change. What would eventually be Dr. Mutawa’s TED Talk presentation at Oxford the following week, we were introduced to a group of superheroes that have brought a complete different identity to the Islamic world.

Dr. Mutawa’s TED Talk- must see talk on the history of the 99 and how it has evolved:

I was so thrilled to hear about this concept!

Just a few weeks ago DC comics released the first of six comics where the the Justice League of America (… Superman, Wonder Woman, Batman, Green Lantern, Aquaman…) began partnering with the 99 (…Dr. Ramzi Razem, Rughal, Widad the loving, Jami the assembler…).

It is not the first time that powerful superheroes put their egos to the side to over come evil. In fact, I remember as a kid when Marvel’s Spiderman teamed up with Strom and Beast from X-men and on a diferent occasion with the Fantastic Four.

Tonight I sat down and read the comic. Although I remember it taking me much longer to read a comic book, I was so excited that for the first time in my life, the superheroes I grew up admiring have refreshed my youth by continuing my admiration of the ability for these individuals to over come evil together.

Sounds chessy. But its not.

We may be too old to read comics, but every kid grew up on comics at some point in their life. Our childhood comic heroes are today’s Hollywood superstars. I can only hope that today’s real heroes can learn from those we look up to as kids and overcome their differences to truly appreciate the beauty that exists in all cultures and religions.

The truth is that one superhero can make a difference. A team of superheroes – with different abilities- can make an lasting impact.

To end, I wanted to show a couple quick snap photos of the first time where we see such a unique relationship between superheroes being created.

Justice League of America

Superman meets part of the 99


Introducing the 99


| if I knew all the words I would write myself out of here. |

What’s the Deal with International Textbooks…

It’s been a while since I had an opportunity to write some thoughts out as I have been adjusting back into school mode. Aside from learning how to take exams again and making new friends, the added stress of tuition seems to be the biggest impact on the pockets of many students, including mine. So do I really want to pay $150 for a text book when I can get it for $80 on Ebay? At the same time, I am not convinced yet that the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) will make textbooks for college/graduate students more affordable than what we can find through other sources…. i.e. ebay.

According to Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), the new law, which went into effect on July 1st, contains three main provisions:

1. Publishers must disclose textbook price and revision information to faculty during the marketing process. A study by the Student PIRGs found that such details were often left out; 77% of the professors surveyed said publishers rarely or never offered textbook prices unasked.

“Professors share students’ concern about cost and generally would prefer to assign less expensive books,” said Dr. D. Steven White, Professor of Marketing & International Business at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. “The new law empowers professors to readily identify lower-cost options that suit their instructional needs.”

2. Publishers must offer unbundled versions of textbooks. “Bundling,” or the practice of packing textbooks with CDs, pass-codes and other ancillaries that often go unused, can increase costs 10-50% according to PIRG research.  From now on, students will have the option to purchase only the items they need.

3. Colleges must include the list of assigned textbooks during course registration. With advance notice, students can plan ahead for the full cost of their next term, and they have time to shop around for the best deals on their books.

But I am going to take this one step further…

A few weeks ago I posted via my Posterous an article in the NY Times that quite frankly caught my interest. The article goes on to write “To the despair of the textbook publishers who are still trying to block such sales, the reimporting of American texts from overseas has become far easier in recent years, thanks both to Internet sites that offer instant access to foreign book prices, and to a 1998 Supreme Court ruling that federal copyright law does not protect American manufacturers from having the products they arranged to sell overseas at a discount shipped back for sale in the United States.”

The  article goes further to cite some interesting numbers:

Lehninger Principles of Biochemistry AMAZON.COM: $146.15 AMAZON.CO.UK: $71.53 DIFFERENCE: $74.62

Physics, Volume 1 AMAZON.COM: $93.75 AMAZON.CO.UK: $63.37 DIFFERENCE: $30.38

Macroeconomics AMAZON.COM: $114.00 AMAZON.CO.UK: $71.78 DIFFERENCE: $42.22

Linear System Theory and Design AMAZON.COM: $110.00 AMAZON.CO.UK: $49.81 DIFFERENCE: $60.19

Now the million dollar question… is it illegal to buy international textbooks in the US?

According to the Monore Street Journal, the official newspaper of the Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, the Association of American Publishers, Inc. sent a letter to follow up on an article that was published earlier on sales on international textbooks citing inaccuracies.

“The article maintains that the importation and distribution of restricted-territory, foreign manufactured textbook editions, without the publishers’ authorization, is legal under the U.S. copyright law, asserting that “in 1998 the US Supreme Court ruled that US copyright law does not protect US publishers from cheaper international editions of books being shipped into the US for sale into the US.” This is both an inaccurate statement of the applicable law, and a critical misstatement of the ruling in the decision of the referenced Supreme Court case, Quality King Distributors, Inc. v. L’anza Research International, 523 U.S. 135 (1998).”

“Publishers produce restricted-territory, foreign-manufactured editions to address the complexities surrounding issues such as the desire to make high-quality educational materials available to otherwise underserved students in developing markets, the potential for piracy within foreign markets where U.S. educational works are not otherwise meaningfully available, and the related requirements for establishing and maintaining local markets abroad. The publishers’ ability to sell books in foreign markets helps to spread the costs of creating these textbooks over a broader customer base, and thus helps to avoid having those costs borne entirely by purchasers in the
United States. This results in savings for students in the U.S. market.”

“Congress struck a balance in the Copyright Act that provides foreign markets meaningful access to U.S. educational publishing, but also ensures that such access does not either come at the expense of the quality of textbooks produced for the U.S. market or increase the costs of such textbooks for the students purchasing them in the United States. That balance is embodied in federal law and should be respected.”

The reality is you probably need a lawyer to help you unscamble the confusion that was set by the courts in 1998. As for buying an international version of a book… you can be the judge of this one.

[Read] Quality King Distributors Inc., v. L’anza Research International Inc., was the 1998 Supreme Court ruling the the NY Times article was referring to which the  Supreme Court found that the copyright holder could not prevent re-importation of materials it had authorized.

For a little more detailed reading you can check out US Code Title 17 Chapter 6 which discusses Manufacturing Requirements, Importation and Exportation.

| if I knew all the words I would write myself out of here. |

The Red Shirts in Thailand…

I wanted to take a moment to share my thoughts and photos that I took of the current Red Shirt protests in Bangkok. Mind you that this was all taken a few weeks ago and since then the demonstrations and protesting have increased.

For the most part, the protests that we have seen have been non-violet. We actually saw many signs that stressed that this was a non-violent protest. Many reports have indicated that the violence last week, which lead to the death of about 25 individuals including a Reuters cameraman, where a result of anarchists. The definition of an anarchist here was not clearly defined and it is not known whether or not any of these individuals were Red Shirt supporters. Also, there have been reports of small bombings occurring on the side of the streets and yesterday a grenade being thrown. Tragic.

Okay, quick synopsis of what is going on from an outsiders perspective. There have been recent corruption accusations of the current government and discontent of the 2006 coup, which was supported by the Yellow Shirts (People’s Alliance for Democracy, PAD) that is comprised of businessmen and middle to upperclass. The Red Shirts, known as the National United Front of Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD), representing the poorer classes, are supported by the former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who was ousted in a bloodless military coup in 2006 and has pending corruption convictions. After speaking to local Thai citizens, we were informed that the Red Shirts are provided with free water and food, and even cash to pay for any long distance travel expenses. According to CNN, Shinawatra fled the country in 2008 while facing trial on corruption charges that he says were politically motivated. As strong as the Red Shirts are right now in dominating the streets of Bangkok, the Yellow Shirts have given the government until this Sunday to calm the Red Shirt protests otherwise Thailand will be seeing counter-protests.

Thailand is ruled by a highly admired and revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, or Rama IX. He has been the longest reigning king in the history of Thailand – almost 64 years. There were two rules that were clearly stressed to us as a tourists in Thailand- 1) do not disrespect the Buddha and 2) do not respect the king. Trust me, I think more people had photos of the king around their cities, shops and homes than of their own family members. According to the NY Times, King Adulyadej, who has no political position, has been in and out of the hospital since September and has not commented on the current situation.

(photo from flickr)

When speaking to the Thai people we encountered, many are not happy with the protests. It has been very difficult on the Thai economy as tourism makes for 7% of the countries GDP and forecasts predict that it will drop as a result of the protests.

From my understanding the entire country is divided and there is a complete other half of the population which is in support of the Red Shirt protests. Demonstrations began in patches and became active with more than a 100,000 people camping the streets of Bangkok starting in March 2010. Day and night you can see people driving around the streets to demonstrate their support for Shinawatra.

As a tourist the most difficult thing was catching a taxi to go through the center of the city. Many taxis simply drove off, quoted us outrageous prices or took longer detours.

Although my understanding of the conflict in Thailand is still foggy, the fact that millions throughout the country are demonstrating for something they potentially believe is right has been inspiring. The difficult part to judge is whether or not the facts are true or maybe the supporters have been simply uninformed? I am certainly the last person to know. Coincidentally, I had been reading the work of Howard Zinn during the time of the protests and I was reminded of the individuals in our history who have stood up for their rights that we today take for granted- voting, minimum wage, good working conditions, etc…  I believe that if the Red Shirt supporters have a voice, then it needs to be heard through non-violent demonstrations. They must stand up for what they believe in. However, whether or not the Red Shirts are fighting for the right cause I cannot say, I just hope that the results of this ordeal bring to Thailand the continued growth and development it deserves. When Alan Moore wrote V for Vendetta, he said “People shouldn’t be afraid of their government. Governments should be afraid of their people.”

| if I knew all the words I would write myself out of here. |

Finding Peace in Afghanistan…

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For what accounted for a majority of the 20th century, Afghanistan experienced some of its most peaceful and thriving times. It would be a coup in 1973 when King Zahir Shah was overthrown by his cousin, General Daoud Khan, which would create an inflection point in Afghanistan’s history.

Once referred to as “the Switzerland of Asia,” the Afghanistan I grew up loving is not the same Afghanistan that many see today. It was prosperous, a place for seeing the East by many Westerners willing to explore the diverse landscapes. Years later my family would be forced to leave their home country and my grandfather, a military general, would retell stories of Soviet tanks rolling down the middle of the street.

Today, Afghanistan has become a country that has been plagued by war, drugs, and lack of healthcare. People are suffering as the Taliban continue to be a constant threat. Instability on all fronts of Afghanistan’s borders does not help the current situation in the country.

Worst of all, the majority of the population under the age of 21 faces future problems with post-traumatic stress disorder being among the top of many health challenges. The issues of mental health, tuberculosis, and polio all contribute to the reason why nearly 1 in 4 children do not make it past the age of five.

With the recent elections in Afghanistan, many of my friends have come and asked me about my thoughts on the matter. These elections were the second elections since the US  and international forces entered Afghanistan. There are two top candidates- the current incumbent President Hamid Karzi and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. Both come from unique backgrounds with popular support. There is also Ashraf Ghani, former Finance Ministry who warned Afghanistan would become a “narco-mafia state”, and is using social media to push his campaign forward and who was also a speaker at TED. At the end of the day, it is difficult to comprehend whom to support when your country has gone through so much turmoil.

The Bonn Agreement of December 2001 set the transition phase for Afghanistan and was directly followed up with the Afghanistan Compact set at the 2006 London Conference. Among many of the important issues, the development of the Afghan state and civil society, the direction and effectiveness of humanitarian assistance, and the impact of such assistance on repatriation and resettlement ranked highest on the agenda. The topics of security, women in the peace and development process, counter narcotics, and human rights were also highlighted. Now, as the five-year agenda begins to slowly become a reality, these are guidelines that are important for Afghanistan’s leadership to take into their agendas as they become involved in the rebuilding of Afghanistan. However, through this process one of the greatest things necessary for any future leader is transparency and accountability in ensuring that corruption is minimized.

Whoever is fortunate enough to lead the country as the next president, their responsibility will be to work with global leaders to bring an end to the suffering as quickly as possible. The goal for the country is to not just end a war, but to use the Afghan people’s pride and channel it into creating an environment for compassion and mutual understanding that existed during many years of the country’s growth.

The focus in rebuilding Afghanistan after the elections will need to be on improving education and making it a priority for all children under 18. There needs to be an improvement in the economy and utilizing the country’s resources such as natural gas. Corruption stemming from political leaders, drug trade and contracts for aid money has slowed the development of Afghanistan. Stronger security is certainly a must and a key variable for perpetuating Afghanistan’s modernization.

I was once told that in peace the sons bury their fathers, and in war the fathers bury their sons. Yet, in Afghanistan, too many wives have buried their sons and husbands. Afghanistan’s history would begin early with the defeat of Alexander the Great, to Genghis Khan, multiple British invasions, the Soviet Red Army, and the Taliban. And, yet, after a long history of peace and war, more than many other Asian countries, Afghanistan’s key to converting a dream back into reality is through reunifying the Afghan people.

| if I knew all the words I would write myself out of here. |

India: The People’s President…

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Last week I had a unique opportunity to watch Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam speak. Dr. Kalam was regarded in India as the People’s President and served in office from 2002-2007. He is known, interestingly enough, to play a key role in India’s space race and nuclear development, quite odd combination for such a humble man. It was not only amazing to see the former President but to also have a lecture, as his roots are truly academic. This put icing on the cake. Now I will preface this, however, that I am not deeply connected to India’s politics and thus my thoughts are from my initial impression.

I had the privilege to join about a hundred of Cambridge’s top Indian professors and researchers to fill an intimate sized lecture room. There is no doubt that Cambridge has been home for many Indian nationals including some of my close friends here. Some of the most famous alums include- the cricketer Prince Ranjitsinhji (1872-1933), India’s Prime Ministers, Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964) and Rajiv Gandhi (1944-1989); and Amartya Sen (born 1933), foremost economist and Nobel Prize winner.

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What I wanted to write about was not necessarily about the topic that Dr. Kalam spoke about- Creative Leadership. Although the lecture was great in of it self as Dr. Kalam highlighted different personal experiences tying them  to leadership.  What I would like to highlight are some of my initial thoughts about the talk and my impressions of a leader from one of the world’s most powerful countries.

Dr. Kalam spoke beautifully, and clearly demonstrated a unique passion for education, especially for the youth. When asked by a Chinese professor about the future relationship of India and China, Dr. Kalam’s response was simple. “I believe they are naturally allies,” and this begins with righteousness in the heart, he ended. The point Dr. Kalam stressed  was that these two natural allies must be taught to work together from three key influential players in a child’s life- the mother, the father, and (this was the best part because all the Indian’s in the room said it in unison) the teacher. This comes to show how much Indians have continuously valued education, which has been reinforced through my own personal friendships.

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A question that completely was expected but the response caught me off guard was when Dr. Kalam was asked by a Physics Post-Doc student (when she mentioned that, Dr. Kalam asked what her dissertation was on), what do you recommend for all the Indians who have left India and have settled down? Dr. Kalam’s response was straight forward and honest- do your best for yourself and your country (that you live in). I was honestly expecting a response such as – don’t forget India. Yet, Dr. Kalam showed realism in that many Indians who have immigrated to other countries have already settled down and are raising their children. To these people, India becomes a second home that is never forgotten and always remembered.

The best moment was at the end when a professor of business was giving a closing thank you, Dr. Kalam interrupted him and clearly made the point that he can be emailed through his website and he will ensure a response within 24 hours.

(This reminded me of a side thought- are people successful because they response within 24 hours or because people responded within 24 hours they are successful? This was a question that was proposed as major companies such as Amazon and Ebay were booming.)

Just some thoughts…

| if I knew all the words I would write myself out of here. |

Dubai Inc. – Confronting the Truths (Part III) …

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“Dubai Media City, please.” I say to the cab driver as the 2007 Toyota Camry drives down Jumeriah Beach Residence (JBR). JBR is in the heart and soul of the Dubai boom. The two dozen or so projects here include some of the most advanced architecture and design in the world.

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I ask the cab driver, “how is your day?” Being alone in a big city has forced me to go extra out of my comfort zone in order to share a few words with someone I will only meet once. Today the conversation ends after, “Fine sir.” I know the Pakistani cab driver’s English is limited. Like many, the cab drivers in Dubai are from Lahore, Peshawar, Islamabad, and other major cities and villages from Pakistan. On one particular day I remember being picked up from Medinat Jumeriah, a fancy getaway that is swamped with tourists from Europe and Russia. The cab driver introduces himself as Ahmed (for the purpose of confidentiality all names have been changed).

Again, I begin my conversation on the drive back to my apartment, “how is your day?” This time the conversation seems to be manageable.

“It has been a long day sir.”

Ahmed begins to tell me that the police came by and gave every cab driver a ticket for cueing for customers at the resort.

“The police said it was illegal to queue  and that I have been penalized.”

This will come from his paycheck along with the other cab drivers. The cab system is very unique to Dubai, from my experience. The government owns everything in Dubai. From cabs, to telecommunications, construction, gasoline, health insurance,  and even the major airline company.

Ahmed tells me the story of the way he is treated as a cab driver. Once when he wore sunglasses and a policeman asked him if he was Arab because he “was not allowed to wear sunglasses.”  This level of harassment exists, but this story is only unique to Ahmed. This type of treatment certainly diverges from Dubai’s Code of Conduct.

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Human Rights Watch has written an extensive report on the exploitation of migrant workers, especially construction workers, in the UAE. This issue should not be taken lightly. What I saw, millions have seen, and few are writing about. Notably Johann Hari who says, “There are three different Dubais, all swirling around each other. There are the expats, like Karen; there are the Emiratis, headed by Sheikh Mohammed; and then there is the foreign underclass who built the city…” Stories that he writes about are nonetheless echoed by many of those workers who I had an opportunity to speak with as well. Stories such as workers who have their passport taken away from them and must begin work immediately upon arrival. The population is tightly controlled where individuals only have up to one month after losing their job to leave the country. Yet recently, this has been extended up to six months according to the Minister of Labour.

Rules are also strict. If you ask for a day off, as repeated by some cab drivers, the employer will ask, “Why, as if you have something better to do?” The idea is if you are not here to work then leave. This type of treatment or mentality does not get any better with the recent video of a member of the royal family torturing a man, shoving sand into a mans mouth and beating him with a wooden beam that has a nail protruding from it. At this point, I stop and take a deep breath.  I can only imagine the atrocities that have occurred over the past decade from prisoners in Abu Ghraib to Guantanamo.

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In my building there was a Nepalese man named Gupal. He shares his story with me. He makes 900 AED (1 USD = 3.67 AED) per month. Yet, 300 AED go for rent, 100 AED for phone bills, and 500 is sent back to his family. I look at him with a smile, “What about food?” I know this could be a simple answer. Maybe he just sends a little less in order to eat, but he gives me a look and shakes his head from left to right.

Of course he doesn’t starve himself, but to my  Bangladeshi comrade, who I had an opportunity to befriend over the past few weeks explains, “We have to budget.” My Nepalese friend works 7 days a week, 12 hours a day. At night he shares a room with 3 other guys. Some share a bedroom with 6, 7, or even 8 other people. These are the things that must be fixed in the country and standards must be increased for migrant workers by the government. Rules and regulations must be enforced so companies are not taking advantage of uneducated and unskilled workers.

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Dubai is a city that is being flooded by immigrants on work visas. Some stay for a couple years, and return to their country and some stay much longer. The majority of construction workers are from the Indian sub-continent. Cab drivers are Pakistani, restaurant workers and hotel workers are Filipino, and smaller Asian countries such as Bangladeshis and Nepalese men fill the countless other gaps in the working society of Dubai.

The stories shared all have distinct experiences and are unified by one thing: to make more money in order to send it back home to their wives and children. The difficult thing to comprehend, however, is that many of these workers actually pay agencies money to come work in Dubai. Agencies charge unskilled workers 5000-10,000 AED for visas, transportation, and other additional costs that should be assumed as expense for a company rather than placing the burden on the shoulders of migrant workers. Only upon arrival and work do people begin to realize that they will make their money back very slowly

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During the economy boom, Ahmed the cab driver told me that on a good day during the peak of Dubai he was making 5000 AED a month, plus government health insurance. Now, with Dubai’s slowing economic boom, he says about 3000 a month. Yet, it goes down from here. With no minimum wage in the UAE, Construction workers make about 600 AED a month, and the man who cleans the bathrooms, gets about 1.50 AED an hour. I can hear the construction workers way before I even get out of bed. I decided to see one day what time work actually begins for many of the Indian expatriates.

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The busses of workers begin to roll into the construction sites early in the morning between 5-6 am and work goes long into the night where workers can be on site for 12-14 hours, if not more.

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The city has attracted world-class talent and has become the financial and tourist capital of the Middle East as it serves as a hub for Asia, the Gulf, Africa and Europe. As Dubai continues to attract world-class institutions and companies, i.e. Harvard Medical School Dubai , the city will to remain a punching bag for writers from major large established cities. The hands of immigrant workers who were looking for a better opportunity than their home country could have built cities such as New York and Chicago. And what about the Indonesian and Filipino immigrant workers who protest in massive cities such as Hong Kong?

My recommendations repeat what many reports have suggested in that there be accountability on the part of the UAE government as well as companies that are hiring foreign workers to provide the best quality of living possible. There also needs to be strict enforcement of labor laws as well as prohibition of certain companies from working with agencies. In the same way we hold companies accountable for providing the highest standards possible for their employees in developing countries, we must to do in the same in Dubai.

As I fold my cloths, pack my bags and walk out of my 42-story building to hail down a cab for the airport, I take one last look at a city that will surely be different when I come back later on. I stand with my suitcase on the street and know that in economic slow down, I am like a fish surrounded by cab sharks since a trip to the airport will be worth a lot. A cab pulls up and he pops the trunk for me, I throw my bags into it and sit into the back seat. The cab driver turns and I quickly recognize Ahmed when I say, “Airport please.”

| if I knew all the words I would write myself out of here. |

Our Right is to Vote…

The birth of the United States was on the back of slavery, which ended in 1865. This was nearly 100 years after America fought for her independence but after almost 200 years of slavery in the US.

It took congress 5 years to amend the US Constitution and in 1870 the Fifteenth Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified, which prohibits the government to prevent a citizen from voting based on an individuals race or color. It took another 50 years for the US Constitution to prohibit the government from denying any citizen the right to vote based on a person’s sex. Essentially, women were given the right to vote by the Nineteenth Amendment to the US Constitution in 1920.

Unfortunately, there were still places in this country where individuals were still prohibited from voting and basic rights that were protected by the Constitution were not being reinforced by local government and eventually gave rise to the Civil Rights Movements (1950s-1970s). During this time, everyday citizens fought for basic rights. It took congress a second time to reinforce through the National Voting Rights Act of 1965 that you cannot “deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”  Finally, in 1971 the Twenty-sixth Amendment to the US Constitution standardized the voting age to 18 as a result of the fact that our parents were being sent to Vietnam without having the right to vote.

I believe that  sometimes we take advantage of these rights and over look the fact that so many people fought hard for us to simply vote without being harassed. Now, I don’t mean for this to be a history lesson, but it should be easily recognized that in one of the greatest countries in this world, only in the past 30 years has voting been a right for what comes out to be more than 70% of the country (age 18 and older). It is our responsibility as citizens of the US to vote! This is a right and a privilege that we have in this country.

How you vote is a different story…

I am not going to break down each candidate and their social, economic and foreign policy.

What I will tell you is that I believe that Senator Barak Obama is not only the best candidate, he is probably one of the best candidates who has ran for president in the history of this country. (at least in my life time). Never have I ever seen such an effort by such a passionate individual. Never have I ever seen an individual whose YouTube videos bring motivation for me. Never have I ever seen a half black, half white man who comes from a disadvantaged background, study at one of the top universities in the country, essentially live the American Dream, and run for President. Yes, only in this country is Senator Barack Obama’s story even possible.

It is time to return to realism, and away from unscrupulous foreign policy (Senator Obama has been favored by a four-to-one margin across the 22,500 people polled in 22 countries).  We know that the new president will have a large responsibility and have a lot of working waiting for him. That is why we need Senator Obama to begin addressing the economic situation, the failing healthcare system and problems in our education system. The only strong candidate in this race is Senator Obama and it is Senator Obama who can help bring change and progress in a society that has been clouded with war, economic depression, and poverty.


If you’re still on the fence (and I did not want to go here), then think about this:
President Palin

Echoing Senator Obama’s speech:

In one week’s time, we can choose an economy that rewards work and creates new jobs and fuels prosperity from the bottom up. In one week, we can choose to invest in health care for our families and education for our kids and renewable energy for our future.

In one week, we can choose hope over fear and unity over division, the promise of change over the power of the status quo. In one week, we can come together, as one nation and one people, and once more choose our better history.

That’s what’s at stake. That’s what we’re fighting for. And if in this last week, you will knock on some doors for me and make some calls for me and talk to your neighbors and convince your friends; if you will stand with me and fight with me and give me your vote, then I promise you, we will not just win Ohio; we will win this general election. And together we’ll change this country and we will change the world.



Who would have known that 2 years ago when my roommates were telling me about Senator Obama that I would have written a blog in support of him as president later on. If it is any consolation and in parallel with: WSJ, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Denver Post, Washinton Post- I am endorsing Barack Obama for President (just a little later than Colin Powell).

Please vote on Tuesday, November 4th.

If you are not registered to vote or your too young to vote, you can still help! Email and call friends and family who are registered to vote! Visit here, sign up, and you can contact people anywhere in the country and encourage them to vote Obama 08!

For you Californians- reinforcing the statement on Google’s blog, No on Prop 8 ☺, however, this is a whole different conversation…

| if I knew all the words I would write myself out of here. |

If you win their hearts, you win the War…

This last Sunday I attended a demonstration in front of the Los Angeles Federal Building in Westwood. This was a peaceful rally in response to the escalation in the number of innocent civilian deaths in Afghanistan. Although the war in Afghanistan would be a great write, it would also be a long (maybe a book :-) ). However, I wanted to share some pictures and thoughts that crossed my mind on Sunday.

On August 22, the US-Coalition led forces killed 76 Afghan civilians in the village of Azizabad, a Heart province located in the western region of Afghanistan. As reported by the Interior Ministry in the Guardian, a majority of these deaths were women and children.

The problem here is that, according to the CIA World Factbook, almost 50% of the country’s population is under the age of 14. That means children who were born after the invasion of the Soviet Union and during the Taliban are now seeing an increase in innocent civilian deaths resulting in continued warfare and deaths. These children have seen nothing but war, death, and suffering so the issue of Afghanistan is not going to be solved next year, or the following year. It is an issue that will be part of the American history as it helps rebuild the country. From the Lost Boy of Sudan to the displaced children during the Bosnia conflict, studies have long suggested post traumatic stress disorder as one of the main problems that arise in adolescents from war torn countries (Goldstein et al 1997). This situation in Afghanistan should not be taken lightly and will take patience and time.

“Ignorance, isolation, illness, violence, and social upheaval have produced a “lost generation”; failure to provide long term support for Afghanistan risks losing another,” is how Professor Zulfiqar Ahmed Bhutta describes the conflict in Afghanistan. Since health care has been such an important aspect of my life, on February 2002 the British Medical Journal published possibly one of the most over looked pieces of work in the 21st century. The article, Children of war: the real causalities of the Afghan conflict stresses the importance of women and children being the prime focus of attention in rebuilding Afghanistan. This includes through sustained efforts at improving health, nutrition, and education, not reckless bombings.

Kathy Ganon, award winning Associated Press writer in Afghanistan for nearly 20 years, was interviewed by  on Democracy Now where she explains the situation quit clearly-

“People are—people today, even though they don’t want the international forces to go, because they’re afraid of what’s going to be left behind, because it’s such a mess—not just Taliban, but corruption, the lawlessness, the warlords, that has grown out of proportion or grown so greatly since 2001. So they’re afraid of what is left. But that’s why they don’t want them to go. And at the same time, they’re afraid now of the international forces. It used to be—really it used to be, five, six, seven years ago, they looked at the international forces with hope. Today they’re afraid.”

I would like to end on a point that was made strongly by two young college Afghan students. In every war you face collateral damage. Professor Marc Herold wrote, “the U.S. bombing campaign which began on the evening of October 7th, has been a war upon the people, the homes, the farms and the villages of Afghanistan, as well as upon the Taliban and Al Qaeda.”

Thus, if you invade our land, in the name of peace, and the war must continue, be humane at least.

As the world moves forward, Afghanistan is one of few countries that is going backwards. The photo below is from my family album taken prior to the invasion of the Soviet Union in 1978. The heart and beauty in this magnificent culture is on a delicate beam, balancing between preserving what has not been lost and an occupancy that has brought continued difficult times.

If you would like to know how to help, please contact me, ali@aliansary.com .

| if I knew all the words I would write myself out of here. |

The Return of Snowball…

In 1949 George Orwell presented to the world Nineteen Eighty-Four , a book that would impact the way we perceive our own government and the manipulation through different controlling processes over its citizenry. However, four years earlier his book Animal Farm would give us a preview of not only Nineteen Eighty-Four , but also a glimpse of the Russian Revolution and resulting in the creating of the Soviet Union- one of the most powerful totalitarian governments of the 20th century.

I was in Italy a few weeks ago on a train from Cinque Terra to Venice when I decided to reminisce my middle school readings. The first on the list was Orwell’s Animal Farm . This 112 page book was perfect- the book is short with big fonts, which I am a fan of! What made me more excited, however, was Orwell’s ability to capture what occurred in Russia with the rise of Stalin (this would be Napoleon the Berkshire boar) and the ousting of Trotsky (who was one of the original leaders of the Russian October Revolution and in the book portrayed by Snowball, another Berkshire boar).

Animal Farm

Upon my return to the US of A a few weeks ago, I decided to indulge myself into the meaning of what I had read in Animal Farm . So like any other person who is a product of the Web 2.0 revolution, I did a simple Google search where then I selected Wikipedia and came across John Reed (although some symbolism, but no not the 1900′s journalist who was known for his first hand account of the October Revolution in Ten Days that Shook the World ) who a few weeks after 9/11 wrote Snowball’s Chance . This was a revisionist retelling of Orwell’s Animal Farm .

As the title implies, this allegorical story describes what happens once all the Berkshire boars begin to die and Snowball returns to the Manor Farm (if you remeber after Napoleon in Animal Farm had the revolution, they changed the name of the farm from Manor Farm to Animal Farm then finally back to Manor Farm). Until then Snowball had only been a myth- Animal Hero, First Class, of the Battle of Cowshed. Interesting enough Snowball enters the farm walking straight on two hoofs along with Thomas, a goat who had conferred the degrees of Doctor, Lawyer, Architect, and Engineer (sounds like a Berkeley student).

Snowball's Chance

Snowball immediately assumes power, but he plays more of the back scene guy while Minimus (and eventually Pinkeye) play the head of the farm. Much similar to the way Dick Cheney is to Bush. In this satire, Snowball builds a corporate society that allows every animal to seek the highest standard of living by working hard. Instead of one windmill, two windmills (the Twin Mills) are built next to each other  to represent the new growth and success of Animal Farm. As cash began to be limited, credit was instituted and franchises such as Duncan Dognuts were established.

What Reed does well is describing the rise of terrorism as seen through Snowball’s relationship with the Diso and the beavers of the Woodland. Snowball begins to train the beavers how to defend themselves from traps that were set up the other farms. Since the beavers would build dams and prevent water flow from the farms, the beavers were beginning to die from the dams being blown up or from beaver traps.The beavers at the same time represented a more religious group of individuals, and they were told stories of how Animal Farm was this secular society that rejected the preachings of Moses, the Raven that would talk about Sugarcandy Mountain.

What makes the novel is how Reed was able to translate this book to make today’s society able to relate the issues faced on the Animal Farm. In the book the beavers represent the Muslims that were trained and supplied with American weapons during the Cold War. Eventually the Americans forgot about the situation in Afghanistan (instead of helping to rebuild) and what eventually resulted was a breeding ground for people like Osama Bin Laden (in the book portrayed as Diso, the head beaver who saw Snowball as weak with overextended pursuits). At one point Diso alludes to the 1600 virgin saplings which awaited believers- especially those who died for the right reasons. This concept is from the martydome of the terrorists who are told that they will be rewarded in the afterlife (even though suicide is forbidden in the Qur’an).

Okay… well I am not going through go through the entire book, because that is for you all to go read. However, John Reed is a clever writer and does a unique job in writing this satire of what would happen if Snowball returned to the farm in a post 9/11 society. What I enjoyed most was the ability for Reed to continue where Orwell left off and how much we sometimes we do act like "animals".

| if I knew all the words I would write myself out of here. |

The Cost of Giving…

We have all been exposed to the cliche saying “it is better to give than to receive.” Well in today’s society we are seeing this giving done in very astute ways. Let me start with a couple examples.

The first classic example is the Fruit Stripe chewing gum, with lavish colorful stripes and temporary tattoos that many of us bought when we were kids. If we take the time to actually exam the wrappers, a portion of the proceeds were actually donated to the World Wildlife Fund. This was 1996 for many of us.

Now in 2008 we see new and unique ways that humanitarians are using their skills to contribute to greater causes. For you Cal Alums- Hope Winery, a local company started by a recent UC Berkeley Alumnus, Jacob Kloberdanz has a ties together selling wine and his support for a greater cause. Jake’s wines are unique in that each wine supports a different social cause, with a large portion of the profits from each bottle donated to support breast cancer, autism, or AIDS research.

Finally, two of my personal favorites are Shepard Fairey’s poster of Barack Obama and Tom’s shoes. Many of you know Fairey for his street art for Obey. However, Fairey is a contemporary artist who did an amazing piece of Obama and has 5000 copies that are for sale (sold out) and all proceeds go directly to the Obama campiagn.

Tom’s Shoes was introduced to me by my best friend Jason as “flats for guys” (although they do have shoes for the ladies too).

Tom's Shoes

The cause behind Tom’s shoes is giving one pair of shoes to children throughout the world for every shoe you buy. As my friend Kent had done in a generous gesture, he purchased one for himself and donated the other pair on behalf of our friend Randy. Now you can change up your style with a unique twist knowing that you can’t feel guilty for the next retail therapy session you go through.

So what is my point- my personal hobby has always been taking photos, and from times to time I feel like I can capture a nice photo. However, for now on as I do a series of prints from my expeditions or collections, I will be donating proceeds from each series to organizations that relate to the theme of my series. For example-

Vernal Falls

Any profit from this photo (hopefully some day) will be donated to STARO (Save The Amazon Rainforest Organisation) [I am sure many of you may wonder why not donate to Yosemite, the quick answer is that Yosemite trees are not being cut down at the rate at which the Amazon is]. However, I hope to open up suggestions also to great causes that I may not be familiar with.

| if I knew all the words I would write myself out of here. |