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The Good Party

… of the people, by the people, for the people!

At last year’s TED, I was selected to pose a challenge to the TED community. I thought to myself, wow, this is a big opportunity.

The biggest challenge I saw facing us and the challenge that is interfering with all honest attempts at solving our other challenges is that we have a totally corrupt political system which is no longer even trying to serve the people or society as a whole.

My simple challenge then, was that we grasp the new tools of democracy before us (twitter, blogging, mobile apps, etc.), align some rich good-hearted technocratic influencers on board for resources, and to start a totally new political party — The Good Party — that would rid us of our dependence on these corrupt politicians beholden to the revolting revolving door financial corruption that is so disgraceful to witness.

The Good Party would be unlike any political party we have seen, as it would not advertise, nor campaign, rather it would spread by word-of-mouth, mobilizing the youth and disenfranchised middle only through its app and its website.  Further, it would not put candidates on ballots unless it was assured that it had enough “votes” to win, whence it would appear out of nowhere for a district and win the election via a massive write-in vote using the “other” slot.  In this way it would truly be the “other party” in both style and substance!

And to further assure everyone that it’s not politics as usual, the Good Party would also be totally comprised of citizen candidates (non-politicians) serving their fellow citizens on single terms,  thus avoiding the financial conflicts of interest that revolving door career politcians plague US politics with today.

Unfortunately, at TED 2013, this challenge went largely unanswered.

However, recently with Russell Brand’s tirade going viral, I’ve been asked by several people whether the timing is right to re-release the Good Party idea / plan, but this time to the public.

I’m more than happy to oblige and if anyone knows Russell, please send him this post… 🙂

So, here, my friends, is a simple (very rough) outline for starting a Good Party to save us from the terribly conflicted corrupt political choices we face today.  If implemented properly, this might actually get me out there to vote for the first time too!

screenshot_04

The Good Party – A Plan

Please let me know your thoughts…  And, if after reading the above, Russell Brand or any one of you  is interested in working further on this idea with me, they should sign up here or reach out to me on Facebook or Twitter.

Cheers! 🙂

Farhad.

– – –

BTW:  If you’re interested in the original TED 2013 challenge, you can view the original docs below.  Note that at the time I was hoping that one or more “white knight” billionaire TEDsters would jump at the chance of saving the world from political corruption by agreeing to provide good-sized endowment to help jumpstart the Good Party from the top down.  Unfortunately, no card-holding member of the rich and shameless billionaires’ club jumped at the chance… but, of course it only takes one.  So I still hold out hope, because fixing our corrupt political system and saving the world from these yucky politicians is so much more gratifying than having another billion in the bank… 😉

TED 2013 : The Good Party Challenge

TED 2013 Presentation Deck

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Uncategorized

The Uproar is Unjustified — Vaccination / Communicable Diseases are Not a Major Health Issue in the U.S.

OK, my last blog post on why we chose not to vaccinate baby Noor caused quite an uproar.

I think I should set the record straight:  I am not anti-vaccination.  In fact, I agree with everyone that vaccines are some of the greatest inventions in the history of mankind.  And, I know that vaccinations are largely responsible for reducing (effectively eliminating) many communicable diseases in the U.S.  So, I’m all for them as an invention.

That said,  I just think that the decision to vaccinate or not though needs to always be an ongoing cost benefit analysis. Right now, it makes no sense for my family, where I’m living (reasons here)… if I was moving to another country, or travelling through a infected area, or there was an epidemic in the U.S., I’d obviously re-evaluate.

So, that was my whole point with the previous post.  Now, the thing that I’m actually a little frightened by is that this simple blog-post on vaccination has gotten so much response… calls to tattoo my children, flack for me putting other children at risk, etc., which are all really unfounded given the vanishingly small rate of incidence. I mean, all these severe communicable diseases comprise just a handful of cases of infection (FORGET ABOUT DEATH) each per year in the whole U.S.


Numbers of people infected with each disease for the year 2012 according to CDC:

measles 54 people
mumps: 69 people
rubella: 8 people

diphtheria: 1 person (first case in 5 years)
tetnus: 36 people
pertussis: 8,718 people

polio: 0 people (for last 5 years no cases)

source: CDC Morbiity and Mortality Tables

Note that the above is the infection rate in the whole U.S.!  The serious complication / death rate would be a very small percentage (say 1%) of those… So, let’s say, 100 people max died of these diseases last year (almost all from complications related to pertussis, btw. Those complications too, it should be noted, are not uniformly distributed and vary with age, access to medical facilities, and other socio-demographic factors. So, you can’t just take them and apply them straight to yourself).

So, people are saying they are worried that my non-vaccinated child will expose their children to risk. Here’s the amazing part: My child has to first get one of these diseases, then has to infect one of the vaccinated children, then there have to be serious complications for this to be even a matter worth getting upset about. The chances here are super-super-super-unlikely that that is going to happen.

Now, the rub here is that, according to the same CDC, each year over 500,000 people (or >50X more than all these communicable diseases combined) were treated in emergency rooms for bicycle accidents alone last year, with over 700 deaths attributable to bikes. (source: CDC Home and Recreation Safetly Report)

Yet, would you worry about your child mixing with others who encourage him/her to ride a bike? No way. You know why? Because even those numbers aren’t that high. It’s just not very likely (although 50x more likely than by the above diseases) that your kid will end up in a hospital due to a bike accident.

Or worse: Everyone pretty much knows that, it’s sugar intake, food quantity / quality that are by many many orders of magnitude the real health issues in this country. Sugar intake, food quantity / quality are literally directly responsible for obesity and health issues in hundreds of millions of Americans, and millions of deaths per year as they directly contribute to our worst, most prevalent diseases (Cancer, Diabetes, Stroke, Heart Disease, etc.)

Yet, again, most parents are perfectly fine letting their kids associate with all these other kids / families who are making terrible diet and lifestyle choices known as the American Diet. Indeed, many themselves consume vast amounts of processed foods, sugars, etc. And our government / industry / healthcare system does little to systematically discourage this. Is it any wonder that 2/3rd of the population is overweight, with 1/3rd obese?

So, while everyone is up in arms here and arguing about vaccination and the compromise to “herd immunity” and their kids health by those crazies in the unvaccinated camp, my little unvaccinated, sugar free, organic child will have to contend with a sea of children with terrible diet / exercise habits when she enters school… You tell me who is putting who more at risk?

Yet nobody is saying to tattoo sedentary fat kids with a big health warning on their foreheads saying: “Do not eat like this child!” Right? That’d be absurd.

Anyhow… just trying to put things into perspective here.

The point of my original article was that vaccination may not be a rational choice for many in the U.S. right now. Whether you believe that or not, the amount of reaction to this article has led me to another conclusion:

If you care about health, stop worrying about vaccination / communicable diseases altogether. They are not in the set of major problems in the U.S anymore!

Instead put all your “healthy debate” time and effort into improving the diet, environmental inputs (household products, air, water) and exercise habits of your family and community. I say this, because I truly doubt that a blog post on sugar intake would get this type of response or attention (let alone 30,000x more response, which would indicate that people are making a proportionately rational expenditure of time and effort in pursuit of better health!)  

Good luck and health to all…

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Health

Why we didn’t vaccinate baby Noor

Enough people have asked, so I’m going to just blog about it and then point people here:

I think it’s very important to carefully consider possible harm vs. probably benefits before subjecting your child to something.  When we did that, we concluded that the vaccination regimen that is prescribed in the U.S. today is clearly much more likely to do harm to our child than to help her, even just using statistics provided by the Center for Disease Control itself. (No need for wild speculation here – just read below).

I outlined my thoughts in an email from Nov 28th, 2012 to my cousin-in-law Zed, who was about to have a baby and was doing research.  He had just attended a vaccination class and had shared his class notes with me for comment.  Due to my laziness, I’ve just kinda block-quoted that email, with a few [added notes] inserted to clarify some points:

Zed,

Thanks for [your notes on the vaccination class].

As you may know we chose not to vaccinate Noor at all for now.
(Of course, if we decide to go globe-hopping or she decides to become a missionary in Africa, we’ll revisit this decision… 🙂

The simple reason is that the incidence of most of these diseases in the whole US (forget about affluent areas), is just so friggin low… It’s literally IMPOSSIBLE to catch ’em… and when you do, most are non-fatal / with no permanent damage.

Diseases like Measles, Mumps, Rubella, etc, are just a 2-6 week inconvenience max when handled properly, with maybe a hospital visit.  They are nothing to even think about really, given the incidence rate — unless, of course, you make money scaring people and selling them something based on it.

If you don’t believe me, here is the infection rate (not death, just infection) of these diseases from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) for the whole U.S. for all 2012:

Measles: (a non-life-threatening disease) : 54 people
Mumps: (a non-life-threatening disease) : 69 people 
Rubella: (a non-life-threatening disease) : 7 people 

Anyway, the odds of [just catching] one of these is lower than winning the lottery:  literally 1 in 6,000,000 for measles which is the most common one!  And if you do, so what, they’re non-life threatening!

Yet, CDC reports Severe Adverse Reaction (aka Encephalitis or Brain Damage!) for MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine at 1 in 1,000,000 (6x the infection rate!). (click here for report – scroll down page)

And then there are some other really scary diseases (but just look at the 2012 US infection rate!):
Diptheria (life threatening w/ 10% death rate.) : 1 person (first person in the last 5 years!)
Tetnus: (life threatening w/ 25% death rate) : 36 people (means 7 people in the US died of this in 2012! ok?  But 7 probably died of ingesting too many gummy bears too… so what?)
Polio: (life threatening 30% death rate) : 0 people (none in past 5 years!
HiB: (life threatening w/ 5% death rate) : 23 people

The odds of [just catching] these are like winning the super-lotto (or even impossible!), literally 1 in 10,000,000 for Tetanus which is the most common one!

Yet, CDC reports Severe Adverse Reactions (aka Encephalitis or Brain Damage!) for DTAP (Diptheria, Tetanus and Pertusis) Vaccine at 1 in 100,000 (100x infection rate!) (click here for report – scroll down page)

Then of course you have more common diseases:
Influenza (flu)
Chicken Pox
Pertusis (whooping cough)
Rotovirus (diarreah for god’s sake!)

But these are just not life threatening in any way for most health people!  Vaccinating against these for a healthy person (child or adult) is just wrong imho.  Because getting each, while not great fun, stimulates your bodies own immunity and makes you stronger.  Think: that means that each infection is not only a lost vaccination charge, but means fewer potential hospital visits in the future! (Terrible for the system, good for you).  For instance, getting Chicken Pox once when you’re young is preferable to getting vaccinated several times, developing shingles (recurring chicken pox light) as an adverse side-effect, only to get full blown chicken pox later on in life when it’s much more complicated and dangerous.  (Trust me, I was vaccinated young, but still got it at 20 and it was no fun at all!)

Now, all this purely mathematical, [clear cut statistics from the CDC itself!!] aside I think it’s safe to say that all vaccines also [could have unknown / disputed side effects too — after all, each vaccine has a bunch of foreign substances that you probably wouldn’t want to ingest, much less have an infant to be exposed to, unnecessarily.  Now, while I don’t believe there is hard and fast evidence of any direct association other serious health issues like autism, etc.,  I’d rather be conservative when it comes to trusting that it’s all perfectly safe.] Also, I don’t trust most sources for being totally on my side when it comes to disclosing [any health risks] in a proactive conservative manner.  For instance, let’s say autism were linked to one of these vaccines.  I’d assume that the parent pharma company would go on for years spending tons of money to dispute the claims, muddy the waters, etc., before it was totally proven beyond a shadow of a doubt (global warming anyone?) — But, it’s quite telling that these same companies have already cut a deal” with the gov so you can’t sue them for adverse reactions, through which they have already paid out [updated: $2,503,673,201] in settlements to petitioners!  I’m sure this isn’t out of the goodness of their hearts, and imagine what the dollars involved must be, and what the real damages must be if this is their “advance settlement.”

So, onto the last remaining issue, which is herd immunity or “doing your part.”

Well, even for the most virulent of deadly diseases like Polio and Diptheria, the % vaccination needed for herd immunity is about 85%.  So, with vaccination rates well above 85% for almost everything, I don’t think you need to worry too much about that.   Would you vote for a presidential candidate in a Democratic CA where you’re sure the delegates are going to the Democratic Party, if there was a chance you could get brain damage when you did it? Umm, no.

Anyway… that’s kinda where I stand on it.

The whole thing smells like a good idea gone wrong.  It was a great to mass immunize when we had epidemics and needed to eliminate these diseases and obviously if you’re likely to be exposed, or if there is a crazy epidemic you should reconsider.  However, a “herd mentality” to vaccinate everyone for everything from age zero? Especially if the chances [for brain-damage are orders of magnitude higher from those same vaccines, and there may be] consequences of a compromised immune system and other side-effects just mean more $$$ to the same people vaccinating you? I’m sorry, but NO.  I’m just not going to go for that.

To me this looks like a big money profit-making scheme that has used our overall ignorance of Math / Statistics, and subverted our medical professionals to do its marketing.

So for Nooricakes, we follow a simple logic:  Look at the numbers and prioritize issues.

Anything that is a < 1 in 1,000,000, we try not to worry about at all, (especially if the thing in question is not even deadly!), because when we spend an hour on worrying about that, logic would dictate that should spend thousands of hours worrying about things that are still unlikely, but 1000’s of times likelier to be a problem.  And life’s too short to spend that much of it worrying! 🙂

That said, if you do want something to worry about for your baby, here are some topics to consider, in order of priorty:
1) Sugar intake : major helper of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, you name it… killing millions of people each year and I don’t see anyone sending me “Sugar Panel Notes” 🙂
2) Food intake (quantity) : weight issues affecting 200,000,000 (2/3rds of the population)
3) Food / Water / Air intake (quality) : Nutrition, artificial additives, contaminants, preservatives, in food, air, water disrupting our natural biological systems
4) TV / Consumer commercialism pervading our lives with empty ideals and a sense of fear & loathing… Something that’s basically fucking the whole US. 🙂

and way in the distance after those:

5) Accidental Injury or Trauma : >900,000 ER visits and >9,000 deaths (more than 10,000x more likely to be an issue for your child than anything to do with immunization!  Still deaths are almost inconsequentially rare here: like 9000/73,000,000 kids in US or ~1 in 10,000)

All in all, there just isn’t that much to worry about outside of the top 4.  But, of course, those make the system too much money to talk about… so, they are conveniently ignored. 🙂

Anyhow, now that I’ve spent 3 hours on this, I literally am not allowed to speak about this again for the rest of my life (according to my own rule above. 😉

So enjoy the coming baby and remember

don’t worry… be happy! 🙂

much!

Farhad.

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Uncategorized

@WikiLeaks an idea: let us ordinary people blind-peer review, redact and release one random cable each!

Idea:

Crowdsource the review and redaction efforts.  Allow people to log in with their facebook accounts, pick up a single random document each, redact it and submit it back to the site for posting. Once two (preferably more) different people have blind-peer reviewed and redacted any particular document, it is automatically released.  The released version redacts all the areas that were jointly “agreed” to be redacted by all blind-peer reviewers (blind peer reviewers do not know the identity of each other and are selected randomly).  Each document that is released anonymously attaches the redaction version of the people who did the redaction and any notes.  No person is allowed to redact more than one document (per period, say 1 month) and their FB account is tied to that document in case of improper behaviour. This way, hundreds of thousands of ordinary people can help the redaction efforts by donating just a few minutes of their time to review and redact one document.  The blame / responsibility of releases gets distributed among hundreds of thousands of people across the world, who would be very difficult to prosecute, even if their names became public. 🙂

Assumptions:

  • People in general are good
  • They will take such a responsibility very seriously and can do the redaction job
  • People will donate a few minutes to help protect our First Amendment right
  • This is a nice step into participatory democracy which we should all welcome

Benefits:

  • Distributed Responsibility
    • Distribution allows many people to participate and donate their time / energy / name to the cause.
    • >650K people on the Wikileaks FB Fan Page.
      • That’s 3 per leaked cable!
    • Easy for each person to exercise their first amendment right and help
    • Should take less than half an hour to redact a cable and release it.
  • Parallel Processing = Speed
    • Parallel Processing, means much faster releases than the current rate which would take more than 25 years to release these docs
  • Low Probability of Harming Innocents
    • Chances of releasing a relevant raw (unredacted) document to a violent interested party is very very low, since there are more than 200,000 documents and each person can only ever work on one.
    • This means site would be using extraordinary care (probability theory) to protect the lives of innocents (helps in legal defense)
    • The more leaked documents, the better the care that’s being used to protect the innocent… (1 million docs, means 1 in a million chance of giving a doc to a bad guy)
  • Blind Peer Review = Checks / Balances
    • Puts the wiki into the leaks
    • Each document that is released has been blind-peer reviewed and looked at by two or more ordinary citizens
    • Chance that two who match are corrupt and trying to do something malicious is very very low
    • Official criticism would have to be that ordinary people can’t be trusted…  but, that’s not a very democratic notion. 🙂
  • Powered by the People!
    • No longer one crazy person… this would allow hundreds of thousands of ordinary people to get involved in doing the redacting and releasing
    • Makes this a people-powered global democratic movement
    • Democracy itself will be at question if ordinary citizens can’t be trusted with such a simple chore or charged with being spies.
  • Much More Difficult to Prosecute
    • Anonymously linking the redaction versions of each person, two or more to each release, means that anyone can see the care that was taken to do the redactions.
    • It also means that prosecution for each leak would have to involve several individuals in different countries (hopefully 200,000 different cases) and therefore be very very difficult:
      • People will very likely be unrelated
      • People will very likely be from different countries / locations
      • People will very likely have been careful in their redactions
      • Innocent errors will be hard to prosecute and systematic abuse will be impossible to coordinate (due to random distribution of one doc / period / person).

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Uncategorized

In support of WikiLeaks : Recognizing, Organizing and Arming the Information Militia

Last year I submitted this (too late) to be considered for a TED U (short talk).

I will post it now in full, partially because I’m so excited about WikiLeaks’ recent moves and also so dismayed that people don’t see the overwhelming good that is coming from the transparency that this is bringing.

The sooner we have our leaders accountable to the people the better we all will be.  Today they are accountable to special interests and lobbies, and that can never be a good thing.

Anyway… here it is, pardon the fact that it makes no mention of WikiLeaks in the body…

Recognizing, Organizing and Arming the Information Militia

George Orwell had a nightmare that by 1984 a big brother would be watching every move we make, turning us into grey-clad automatons scared to even have a non-conforming thought.

Today in 2010, we may be on the cusp of witnessing the reverse — a dream where instead of one big brother watching us, millions of little brothers and sisters armed with camera phones, blogs, twitter, facebook and youtube accounts are watching every move that big brother or its representatives want to make, instantly making the whole citizenry aware of any misstep.

It is a dream where anyone, regardless of status, wealth or power — anyone, who has something worthwhile to add to a debate, a news story, or a discussion — can instantly do so and have their “vote” counted and weighed into forming a more complete picture for everyone.

It is the dream where real people and their simple perspectives and human truths, can stand toe-to-toe against the memes and the agendas that our most powerful institutions — governments, corporations, churches, etc.– try to realize through mass media propaganda, repetition and sensationalism.

But on what is this dream based, and what will it take to make it into a reality?

The dream is catalyzed by our most basic right under the US Constitution: our 1st amendment right to the freedom of speech, press and assembly; broadly, our right to freely access and distribute information.

And, it is aided by technology on a ubiquitous internet that allows for almost costless information production (or “speech”), broadcast (or “press”) and large-scale human-to-human connection (or “assembly”)… Technologies that allow a sort of 1st amendment 2.0.

However, while this dream is founded in philosophy and aided by technology, the most important distinguishing factor that could turn it into reality, is that it is truly powered by the people…

Ordinary people who will come to be known as the heros of the Internet age!

But who are these heros?  Where are they today? And what can we do to help them?

That is the purpose of this talk…

First, though, let’s start by giving this emerging class of heros a name:  I call them the Information Militia.

And, I chose that name carefully, because just like a conventional militia — a group of armed citizens, authorized by the 2nd amendment of the US constitution to stand ready to physically defend the republic against anyone who would try to meddle with our rights — especially the only right that precedes it, our 1st amendment right to free speech — the Information Militia are an emergent entity, ready and armed with tools like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, and legions of friends and followers that they are connected to.

They form a new heroic class who should first be recognized as essential to the realization of a dream of true democracy.  Then organized, motivated and empowered to perform this most important of modern civic duties…

After all, we have long known that the pen is mightier than the sword, but now, in the internet age, it is becoming apparant that the tweet may be mightier than even the pen.

So then, it should be no surprise that an organized Information Militia can be much more important to a democratic movement than any physical militia ever was… and so its emergence should be officially recognized and eulogized as such.

Think of it as a sort of “information age” upgrade to the 2nd amendment which recognizes the need for a new kind of militia, one who by instantly and bravely distributing essential truths of the people, by the people and for the people, defends the republic by ensuring that its citizens are aware and active, so that democracy can work as it was originally designed.

OK… assuming that we all agree that the idea of an Information Militia is important, let’s now try to recognize members of this emergent heroic class so we can thank them, help them and aspire to be like them…

Who here is a wired journalist?  Raise your hand…  Thank you!  You’re a member of the Information Militia!  Who here has a blog?  Raise yours…   Who has ever tweeted?  Or has a facebook account?  You too raise your hand and be counted… you’re all potentially a part of a new class of heros known henceforth as the Information Militia.

In fact, all of us, citizens, activists, bloggers, journalists, really anyone with an internet connection, can be a modern day hero…  All we need to do is to realize it, take our civic duty seriously, and have some guts to say what we feel is right, broadcast what we know to be true, and retweet, post, forward, and e-mail, valuable information that we come across to our assembly of friends and followers.

Of course, all this banter brings about the potential problems of cacaphony, of too many voices, and of information overload.  But that is where all of you in this room — technologists, inventors, smart and powerful movers and shakers — can find an important role to play in this coming revolution.

If you believe in true democracy (or even if you just believe in stirring up the status quo a bit… ;), get out there with this new framework of an emerging Information Militia in mind… Find and support people, start-ups and platforms which are helping to organize and empower this movement.  Make tools and algorithms that help the most useful voices rise the quickest, and that ensure that the best ideas and truths of the people, are efficiently gathered by the people, and quickly distributed to the people.

And make sure you think of it as civic duty… not as an investment…  Platforms like Twitter, Wikipedia, WikiLeaks, WeAreAnonymous and countless others need to be recognized, supported and expanded, whether or not they make any money… because something much more important is at stake!

As an example of what, just look at what Twitter has allowed to happen for the Iranian people…  A few short months ago that whole nation — rulers and its people — were seen by many as one unified threat.  But now, thanks to the brave and heroic action of the Information Militia in Iran who are risking their lives each day to tweet about the people’s truths, the whole world is witnessing a historical struggle between a freedom-loving people and their brutal and oppressive leaders… and it’s obvious now, because the truth is out there for all to see, which side must eventually prevail.

Now imagine what the next generation of such tools could do for democracy here and in the rest of the world!  Then get out there and put your time, energy and money into this most worthwhile of endeavors:  Let’s figure out how to best organize and empower the emerging Information Militia… It’s what the world needs, now!

Addendum: Thanks to Wikileaks, it’s what the world is getting now too!  Go Juilan!

 

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Entrepreneurship

Is an MBA useful for starting a business?

Ever since I received my MBA from Wharton, and especially after the sale of BizRate.com (my MBA class project) and Shopzilla, the MBA question is a common one that I get.  So I thought I could put down my thoughts in summary once here and then not have to keep repeating them over and over again…

Here are the things I think you need to start an internet business:
1) A great team

  • Domain specific knowledge (MBA could help here especially if you to raise money or speak the language of finance)
  • Complementary skills that cover all bases (strategy, product development, technology, operations, marketing, business dev / sales, finance)
2) A good idea

  • Large market
  • Needed / Necessary Product / Service
  • Viral Marketing
  • Increasing returns to scale (defensible position)
  • First-mover (nice to have)
  • Intellectual Property (nice to have)

3) The guts / backing to jump and take the risk

  • Enough cash to get started / survive for a while
  • Connections to sources of capital
  • Back-up plan in case of failure

4) The passion / perseverance to commit 10 years of your life (time, energy and money) to the cause

  • Flat part of exponential curve could take years… zero-to-one is hard.
  • We only notice businesses when they hit exponential growth and therefore underestimate time / effort.
  • Examples: Twitter was Odeo, Groupon was ThePoint, BizRate.com was Binary Compass Enterprises.

That said, if you have all of the above then an MBA is not necessary.

If missing some, then here is what I found an MBA can provide:
1) Two years to find your teammates

  • Lots of people in business school are open to talking about starting a business (also don’t forget about hitting up the Engineering department for complementary talent!)
  • School curriculum leads to working in teams on business cases where you can see who has complementary skills you need
  • Business school is not rocket science, so it leaves you time to pursue other interests.
  • Top Schools (Ivy League) Advantage: Powerful people send their kids there.. top connections to sources of capital

2) Two years to work on refining ideas and picking a good one

  • Can take classes specifically related to your business (marketing plan, business plan, legal aspects, etc.)
  • Teammates will work on your project for free, as part of course work in above classes: BizRate.com was my entrepreneurship class project.

3) MBA from a top school can give you courage / open doors

  • Good credential that is generally respected by investors / vcs on your resume
  • Top schools have great alumni networks and work on the “old boys” networking model of helping their classmates
  • In case of failure you have the fall-back of a high income job (albeit at a lame large institution)

4) Learn the lingo of business

  • In some cases this will help you when talking to investors or trying to raise money
  • You will learn to say things like ” we will achieve increasing returns to scale upon reaching critical mass” instead of “once we get going, things’ll be really fucking great!”

Other points:

  • In general I would not consider an MBA from anything but the top school.  The connections / credentials are just not there at some rinky dink MBA.  (Think of the adage: “In business it’s not what you know, but who you know.” which, like it or not, applies.)
  • I really did not find much of the information (other than lingo / some legal aspects of setting up a corp / financial analysis stuff) that was offered in my MBA curriculum that was particularly helpful to actually starting / running a business.  Most of the curriculum (at least when I was in school, 1994 – 1996) was geared to getting you ready for a life as a cog in some big business or fortune 100 (bank, consulting firm, fortune 100).
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Arts and Culture

In Search of the Haft Sin

My search for the meaning behind the haft sin table started years ago when I asked myself a simple question:  If haft sin refers to “haft” (the number seven), and “sin” (the Persian letter “S”) why are there more than seven items on the table and why don’t many of their names start with “S?”  What is the extra stuff?  And, why set this table as part of the Nowruz (Persian New Year) celebration which happens at the Spring equinox each year)?

I asked friends, family, learned people… and basically got back a variety of explanations that always followed the same internally inconsistent plotline, which goes something like this:  The haft sin, comes from “haft shin”, which means “haft” (or seven) and “shin” or the Persian letter “Sh”…   Somehow, through the passage of time and for reasons entirely unknown to everyone who recites this story, the “shin” has changed to “sin” and now we have the haft sin, which again refers to the “haft” (or seven), but this time to “sin”, or the Persian letter, “S”.

Unfortunately, even though everyone seems to agree on this explanation, this story is ridiculous on the face of it.  After all, everyone knows and acknowledges that there are several essential symbols that must be on every haft sin table, but that don’t start with a “sin.”  Notebly, these symbols are Sham (candle), Ayeneh (mirror), Mahee (fish), and Tokhmeh Morgh (Eggs).

Also, there are many more than seven “sins” that are commonly included on the spread.  In fact, the Encyclopedia Iranica and Wikipedia count fifteen between the two of them:

  1. sabzeh – wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish
  2. samanu – a sweet pudding made from wheat germ
  3. senjed – the dried fruit of the oleaster tree
  4. sîr – garlic
  5. sîb – apples
  6. somaq – sumac berries
  7. serkeh – vinegar
  8. sonbol – the fragrant hyacinth flower
  9. sekkeh – coins
  10. sohan – brittles made of granulated sugar and honey enriched with saffron
  11. sabzi – a dishful of fresh herbs
  12. sangak – a very hard pea-like grain
  13. siyah dana – fennel
  14. sepestan – sebestan
  15. sorma – collyrium

So, what is the real story?  And why is the haft sin associated with Spring and the celebration of renewal that is core to the symbolism of the Persian New Year (Nowruz)?

I continued to wonder about this, at least once a year, until I started going to a Persian poetry class taught by a very learned teacher who broke it down for me in a way that finally made sense:

The haft sin is composed of “haft” (or seven) essential symbols, and “sin” which may have been shortened from “sini” (or trays), which held these essential symbols.

The symbols break down into three from the material world (or “donyaheh mahdoodiat”), three from the conceptual world (or “donayeh maanah”), and one that sits between and ties the two worlds together.

Symbols of the Material world:

  1. sang – stone – symbol of matter, the lowest form of the material world
  2. sabzeh – grass – wheat, barley or lentil sprouts growing in a dish – symbol of the vegetable world and of re-birth
  3. tokhmeh morgh – egg – decorated with designs – symbol of the animal kingdom and of fertility

Symbols of the Conceptual world:

  1. sham – candle – symbol of the light of being, energy or the creative force
  2. ayehneh – mirror – symbol of the field of possibilities where the creative force reflects and makes everything possible
  3. mahee – fish in water – symbol the infinite (water) and life within it (fish)

Symbol that ties the two together:

  1. sharab – wine – symbol of the human, with the jug or glass as the body (material) and the wine as the spirit (conceptual)

Taken as a group these symbols show a progression from the material to the spiritual, with stone (matter) at the lowest end, and candle (energy) at the highest, and the wine (human) in the middle, connecting these two worlds together.  So, this is the point of the haft sin, to remind us of our purpose as humans in this world; the idea that we are here to not only experience limitation and the material world, but also to experience transcendence and higher consciousness in the spiritual or conceptual realm.

How does one do that?  Well, that’s where the whole thing ties into the celebration of Nowruz, which is all about renewal and the start of Spring.  The haft sin is a symbolic reminder of the constant renewal (or rebirth) that can happen when one transcends and balances the material (mind), with the immaterial (spirit), by letting life flow through oneself in a perpetual state of acceptance, amazement and appreciation of each moment as it happens.

We are matter and spirit, always becoming, aware of both aspects of ourselves in the present where everything happens.  I call this the wow of now, where joy or “zogh” (as we Persians call it), lives.

Interestingly, and probably why this came up in our poetry class in the first place, such symbolism is foundational to much of the classical Iranian poetry and philosophy.

Whether we’re talking about Rumi or Hafez and their numerous odes to the dance between the material and spiritual worlds, or Ferdowsi and his epic masterpiece the Shahnameh (Letter to a King), which begins with a symbolic king, Kiumars, (whose description is that of Light) and ends with actual rulers and people of his day (the real and tangible), or even the dance of the Sufi whirling dervishes who always have one hand to the ground and one hand to the sky, spinning in order to negate space and time by facing all directions at once — a near perfect symbol of the striving towards unity of the material (or finite) and the spiritual / conceptual (or infinite) — Iranian culture always seems to revolve around and return to this symbolism.

So, what more fitting celebration, than the start of Spring, where the earth has turned about itself and is coming back to life, for us to remind ourselves of the continuous renewal that happens when we balance our material part (our mind / ego) with our spiritual part (our consciousness) and transcend the boundaries of space and time into that perpetual state of renewal that is the moment, or the now.

At the end of the day, this is what being alive is about, and that is why I find the above explanation of the meaning of the essential symbols on the haft sin of the Persian New Year (NowRuz) so beautiful, clear and interesting.

Appendix / Additional Questions:

1) So what about the other symbols on the table, like a Koran or a book by Hafez, or Ferdowsi?
The story goes as follows…  These seven sacred symbols have descended from pagan rituals that prevailed at or around the time of Zoroaster.  There is a long-standing tradition in many pagan cults to speak in a hidden or symbolic language that is not readily discernible to the untrained ear of the uninitiated.  Also, Iran has a long history of embracing invaders and their culture and traditions without abandoning its own foundations, beliefs or roots.

The above facts together with the Arab invasion of Iran which brought with it Islam about a thousand years ago, meant that the first thing that the “pagan” Persians did in order to preserve their tradition was to add a Koran in the middle of the haft sin.  This meant that their sacred table would be sacred to Muslims too, and so their tradition could live on.  Then over the course of time as some segments of society became more secular, some people started replacing the “holy book” of the Koran with one that they felt better represented their sense of spirituality, like the Divan of Hafez, or the Shahnameh of Ferdowsi.

2) What about two missing symbols that you claim are essential: sang (stone) and sharab (wine)?  How come I have never seen these on a Haft sin?
This is a point that again ties to the last question regarding “hidden language”…  Your eyes are deceiving you, for they are both on every haft sin table you have seen.  Sang (stone) has, in our increasingly materialistic society, became sekkeh (coins, usually made of gold, most precious of materials, but “stone” nonetheless).  And, with the Islamic existential threat to this originally pagan tradition, sharab (wine), which is not allowed by Islam, was replaced with serkeh (vinegar), so that it could be left on the spread without drawing too much fuss.  So, these two essential symbols still exist on the haft sin; they’ve just been transformed to accommodate the prevailing socially acceptable norms of what is good, proper and acceptable.

3) And what of all the other “sin” symbols above?  After all, they are all written about in the Encyclopedia Iranica and Wikipedia!
I cannot say for sure how they got onto the table, whether as a distraction for the untrained viewer, or for some other reason.  Nor can I say with any conviction that makes my heart feel something, what their symbolic value is beyond the rather prosaic, mostly cliche and somewhat superstitious explanations given in the publications (like apple is for health, senjed is for love, garlic is to ward off evil, etc.)

I can say however, that whatever their purpose and meaning, these other items most certainly don’t distract me from the symbolic coherence of what the seven essential symbols on the haft sin represent and how they have finally allowed me to appreciate this wonderful tradition in a way that makes complete sense to me and makes my heart jump for joy at the prospect of a life lived as a perpetual celebration of being in the moment, or Nowruz!

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