Monthly Archives: December 2011

The Satirist

Sami Shah is a Pakistani comedian, writer and ad-man based in Karachi. When I first met in him in 2009, he was hosting News Weakly, Pakistan’s version of The Daily Show, while practising his act using virtual second-life comedy clubs. He takes his jokes across the country with nationwide tours and has a weekly column The Express Tribune. And now, my friends, I’m going to duck and cover as I ask you to give a warm welcome to Mr Sami Shah…

THE LESSON: Fortunes change faster than you can order a gun made of gold. As Libya country was wracked by revolution and rebels overtook every city, I could see that the years poor Gaddafi spent preparing for just this moment were not enough. For too long he believed in his own infallibility. He thought that surrounding himself with a shield of Amazonian hotties and sleeping in golden mumus, that did not hinder sprinting, would keep him safe. The bulletproof tents should have helped too. But in the end, I learned that none of it can prevent you from ending up in a drainage pipe pleading for your life. The lesson this has taught me is if I ever end up being a brutal dictator, I won’t shortchange the brutality. Go all out. Kill everyone. And do it in urban casual. It is better for blending in. Also, keep an extra Ukrainian Nurse handy at all times. You never know.

THE QUESTION: Where can I find the perfect pair of skinny fit jeans? Every time I buy a pair that are perfect in how they hug my rump, they tend to be too tight in front, crushing all feeling in my groin. Is it too much to ask for a pair of tight jeans that understand the need to hug my butt, leave space for my tackle and still outline my muscular thighs?

THE INSPIRATION: News coverage of Bin Laden’s porn collection changed me as a human being. All too long I have suffered guilt as I surfed the Internet, searching for just the right video to get the job done. Am I a pervert? I wondered. Are my needs out of the norm of society? Then, a few days after Seal Team 6 put a bullet through the head of the winner of Creative Terrorism 2001-2002, I learned I was not alone. If Osama Bin Laden, a man who had 3 wives in his compound, could watch filmed pornography without his conscience bothering him then why should I feel shame? Now, whenever I load up youporn, I think of Bin Laden. I think that’s what he would have wanted.


The polymath

James Bowthorpe does. Always has done. He does things like set a new world record for cycling round the globe, building a boat out of salvaged wood and sailing it up the Thames, making music videos, designing sets for Florence & the Machine and passionately campaigning for Parkinson’s research. A proper polymath. I saw James last month and returned a mini-disc player he’d lent me 10 years ago, complete with a little wooden holder he’d crafted for it. Reckon that just about sums him up — craft + tech + generosity.

THE LESSON: 2011’s big lesson is, give it a go, you never know. This is not a new strategy for me but the lesson has come through the range of results, some good some bad, and it’s helping me to whittle my pursuits down a bit.

THE QUESTION: I don’t really have one constant burning question that consumes me; in many ways I wish I did. I am looking for that question though – my question is, what’s the question?! Frustrating for everyone.

THE INSPIRATION: Lots of inspiring things happened to me this year, here’s a couple. Lake Tear of the Clouds in upstate New York blew me away, twice, with its understated portent and dignity. I didn’t know a little lake could do that. I was also inspired by the documentary film Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo. Lastly I’m doing some work with a company called Finisterre down in Cornwall – they are an inspirational group of people and no mistake.

The Guantanamo Lawyer

 Tara Murray was furiously typing on her laptop in a Lahore coffee shop when I met her. Fresh off the plane from the US, the Reprieve lawyer was doing the whole, hitting the ground sprinting thing.  From the start,  I was moved by Tara’s calm commitment in the face of what must be one of the most frustrating jobs in international law: representing Guantanamo inmates.

THE LESSON:  I’ve learned so many lessons this year that it’s really quite difficult to choose one.  But something that I’ve received confirmation on this year, something that I think I already believed (albeit abstractly), is that people are intrinsically the same and that if we focused on the things that make us similar rather than fighting about the things that make us different, this world would be a much better place to live in.  Perhaps it sounds naïve and idealistic, but sometimes it’s the simple truths that we have a hard time accepting!

THE QUESTION: What happened to the “Change We Can Believe In” president?  I’m so disappointed in Obama…

THE INSPIRATION: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl…if you haven’t read it, you must read it…though it was written more than a century ago it is still relevant in terms of the lingering tendency of the US government to dehumanize poor people and people of color and view them as expendable or merely commodifiable beings to be exploited for political and financial gain.

The crusading strategist

I first met Daniel Maree in LA. He was working for Participant Media: we talked storytelling and social change over a sunny Sunday brunch. Fast forward a few years to a wintry New York, where we recently caught up over a hot cider and I discovered that his passion for global justice has taken a very personal turn. He’s a man on a mission to free his father, Olympic runner and anti-apartheid activist, Sydney Maree, from prison in South Africa. Daniel is making a documentary, setting up an advocacy campaign and  starting the Second Chapter  (a project to “realize of the ideals of South Africa’s liberation struggle”). Thing is, he’s also got a day job… Head of Social Strategy at McCann.

THE LESSON: A good idea, well-crafted and pursued with passion, doesn’t need a gatekeeper’s stamp of approval to succeed. I learned this after successfully funding my documentary film through kickstarter this year. I spent years developing grant proposals for independent documentary development funds I will not name—(cough) Sundance and Tribeca (cough cough)—only to be turned down for funding. I was devastated. I almost gave up. Instead I decided to try kickstarter. I was able to raise over ten-thousand dollars in less than three weeks. Power to the people!

THE QUESTION: Will I ever make it back to the gym? I haven’t worked out in years, and with the holidays coming up, I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Oy veh. Oh, I’m also curious to see how things will turn out in Egypt (and Occupy Wall Street)

THE INSPIRATION: Watching Dewey Bozella accept the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the 2011 ESPYs after having served 26 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Like Muhammad Ali and Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, Bozella endured the inequality of systematic power structures and came out on top. He’s a huge inspiration to me and to the campaign to free my father from prison in South Africa. Check out Dewey Bozella’s story here.

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