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Archive for February, 2010

February 23rd, 2010 - Hunger and Obesity

“The rich eat when hungry, the poor eat when there is something to eat.” Or maybe I’m just hungry myself now that I think of it. I woke up this morning and had a giant breakfast. An hour later, my grandma made me a sandwich and before lunch I snacked on fruit rollups. This doesn’t even take into account that lunch was a feast in a league of its own. In four hours I ate what I normally eat in 24 hours and for no good reason. I wasn’t hungry, but I couldn’t pass up on foods which I’m not going to have anymore once I get back to the States. Lucky for me, I weigh 150lbs, exercise daily and no matter how much I eat, I won’t gain an ounce. But does it make it right?

The problem of hunger is an inveterate and customary problem that has persisted for centuries. Now if going hungry wasn’t enough, a new calamity has evolved and started to invade the homes of rich and poor globally. It is the very adverse idea of hunger that has begun to shape itself as a new malady: Obesity.

Not too long ago, fat people were just called fat but the language police changed that forever. They evolved to be stout, chunky, hefty, plump, heavy, big-boned or as George Carlin used to call it, “gravitationally disadvantaged.” I wish we all would see things the way they are, not the way some people wish they were. Obesity is a medical term. People started to get so big that the phrase “Obese” wouldn’t quite catch what they were, so a new term had to be invented to describe this ever increasing new class: morbidly obese. That means if the morbidly obese person would go on a diet, exercise and work really hard, he could lose enough weight to be proudly called obese.

Obesity and hunger are the two ends of the same spectrum; poverty. They are also the result of the same phenomena: lack of nutritional balance. Many cultures are beginning to recognize the severity of each condition, but sadly as individual and separate issues. People have remained oblivious to these seemingly contradictory problems, but hunger and obesity have in fact invaded the lives of 1/3 of the earth’s population. As of 2009, the obesity figures finally caught up with the hunger figures of 1.1 billion people worldwide, so now we have the poor in two distinctive looks: fat and skinny. Don’t be fooled by the look, they deal with many fatal health effects such as diabetes and heart disease as the result.

Gone are the days which malnutrition effects were associated with lack of few vitamins and for years, the images of a hungry person was an skeleton or a prematurely aged adult. This is just a peripheral image. Our media has turned its back on those dealing with hunger and only portrays its external, emaciated effects and has become anesthetized to the internal afflictions.

Common disorders, such as a simple flu are killing or permanently immobilizing people by the millions. Malnutrition weakens the immune system, and it is most notable in children fatalities. The four most common childhood sicknesses are diarrhea, acute respiratory illness, malaria and measles, and yearly over 15 million children drop dead by these treatable diseases due to malnutrition. Chronic malnutrition, along with insufficient medication, takes the lives of 36 million people worldwide each year, and the constant hunt for food has left the poor to stuff their stomach with what is not even food, made by multi-billion dollar corporations in colorful wrappings. The poor do not eat when hungry, nor do they know what they should eat. They eat what is accessible and cheap. Unfortunately, the most cost efficient foods are the ones that are high in fat and filled with sugars. Industrialized processed foods have become cheaper and deadlier and continue to fill the stomach of billions of people worldwide. Chronic conditions such as hypertension, stroke, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, are closely linked to obesity.

This irony is more so evident in areas that have traditionally suffered from high rates of hunger for years, such as in south and eastern Asia. China, for example, is becoming a global power with hasty technological changes and so is the Chinese peoples’ diet. The once arduous job of farming has become a mechanical task and with the computer industry claiming 53 percent of China’s GDP, agricultural and computer industry workers account for 73 percent of the workforce in China. More and more desk jobs along with an unbalanced diet have magnified the current staggering obesity rate and will continue to do so.

Rice is the number one crop produced nationally in China and with the recent leap in the cost, it has outweighed the agricultural polarity of Chinese farmers to mass produce this valuable crop and with that, the decline of other necessary and nutritious but economically obsolete crops. Less than two decades ago, rice and vegetables were the dinner staple in China but today’s Chinese cuisine has become a diet of saturated fats, meat, eggs and exorbitant amount of sugar. Silly me who thought that the introduction of the spoon to East Asia and outmoded chopsticks were to blame for the obesity problem!

It is interesting to note that in 2005, ten percent of the China’s 1.3 billion population was living under the poverty line. Eating fast and inexpensive food intermittently probably won’t cause any major health problems, however, having a diet of fat and sugar day after day with little to no physical exercise will result in an epidemic obesity. Soon, China will hold the biggest obese population on the planet.

What we eat and what we don’t get to eat is one side of the problem and filling the garbage can with perfectly good and edible food is something else. 124.4 billion pounds of edible food was wasted by U.S. retailers, restaurants, and consumers in 2008 – about 1.5 pound of waste per day for every adult and child in the nation at that time. This does not include the amount of food lost on farms and by processors and wholesalers.

On average, a family of four throws away about 121 pounds of food in the garbage can each month. That’s 1452 pounds a year! That amounts to 18.5 pounds of grains, 10.4 pounds of meat and fish, 15 pounds of sweetener (liquid and solid), 8.6 pounds of fats and oils, 24 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetable, 10.5 pounds of processed fruits and vegetable, 22 pounds of milk and 12.8 pounds of other foods including eggs, nuts, beans and dairy products. If you’re shaking your head in denial, please go eat the moldy bread that has been sitting on your kitchen counter for weeks now.

We humans are ultimately our own executioners. A change has to come from within with nutrition and sustainable living education, otherwise we are dashing fast down a slippery road and we have no one to blame but ourselves. This is your turn. Please donate a few dollars so we can educate and help those in need.

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February 15th, 2010 - It’s all England’s fault

First, I would like to thank Steve Davison for his generous donation. Although I’m not in the States right now due to a family emergency, but the mission is still the same and the rest of the directors are taking care of everything. I received a rather historical question on Iran’s relation with foreign countries from an interested blog reader. I’m no expert, but here’s my humble attempt to shed more light on Iran’s history so the American readers can understand where the hyped-up media reports come from. This was written to give an insight, however small to the recent history of Iran with the hope of better explaining the background of its people. It is not an accusation nor is it a defense of any government.

Iran was known as Persia until its name was officially changed to Iran in 1935. Iran is not an Arab country. In fact, it is an insult to call Iranians Arab. Iran was invaded by the Arabs in 644 A.C. The religion before the conquest was Zoroastrianism and is still practiced in Iran. Contrary to the claims of apologists, Iranians in fact, fought long and hard against the invading Arabs. Once politically conquered, the Persians began to resist the Arabs culturally and succeeded in forcing their own ways on the Arabs, and it’s not a coincidence that Iran holds the largest Muslim Shi’a denomination which is a minority in Muslim world. The Arab states (Sunnis) have never been an ally to Iran with the odd exception of Syria and have gone to great lengths to even name the Iranian territories by Arabic names and the biggest abomination of all, calling the Persian Gulf the Arabian Gulf.

“It’s all England’s fault,” goes the semi-humorous saying that has been repeated in Iran for centuries. Russia, England and the United States have been always controversial in Iran. Great Britain is traditionally blamed for all the troubles in Iran with the United States considered the “Great Satan.” Russia is hated for the confiscation of two provinces in Northern Iran in 1813, due to incompetency of one particular Persian king, Fath Ali Shah.  The invading Russian armies occupied the Aral coast in 1849, Tashkent in 1864, Bukhara in 1867, Samarkand in 1868, and Khiva and Amudarya in 1873. The Treaty of Akhal, in which the Iranians were forced to cede Khwarazm, topped off Persian losses to the global emerging power of Imperial Russia. That’s enough loss to make any Iranian have a second thought when it comes to deal with anything Russian.

England has a long history of colonialism as we already know, and when it came down to rich Persia, they were ecstatic about what they could get out of it. Before 1800, the Brits had no substantial influence as the Persian kings were particularly strong and oil was not their priority. However, after the 18th century, most of the Persian kings started their leisure excursions to the European countries and were mesmerized by the way of life abroad, which paved the way for the British government to hack its way through Persia. In fact, Iran’s current southern and eastern boundaries were determined by none other than the British during the Anglo-Persian War from1856 to 1857.

In 1941, in midst of the Second World War, Russia and Great Brittan yet again, ignored the Iranian neutrality plea and invaded Iran forcing the king, Reza Pahlavi, to leave the country in exile and shifting the power to his son, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last king of Iran. At the end of World War II, there came a new rival to the traditional two-pole foreign influence of Russia and England. This time the United States moved in to convert Iran to an anti-communist state in the rage of the Cold War, and that ended the long-lived Russian influence in Iran, but the Brits stayed close on the scene.

In 1951, Dr. Mohammad Mosaddegh, Iran’s prime minister, started a movement which led to the nationalization of the oil and gas industry and by that, cutting the hands of the Brits off the liquid gold. What the Brits paid the Iranians for oil before the nationalization was nothing but highway robbery, and they were not happy to see it go. The United States also saw its interests in danger and shook hands with Great Britain to bring down the prime minister. In November and December of 1952, British intelligence officials suggested to American intelligence that the prime minister should be ousted. On April 4, 1953 the CIA director, Allen Dulles, approved $1 million to be used “in any way that would bring about the fall of Mosaddegh.” Mosaddegh became aware of the coup and dissolved the parliament. The CIA plan, however, was carried out to insure the United States’ and Great Britain’s cheap access to the Iranian oil. On August 19, 1953 the planned coup came to a successful end and by that, the only democratic government Iran has ever seen came to an end. Mosaddegh was imprisoned for 3 years and spent the rest of his life under house arrest until his death in 1967. Yet again, the coup confirmed the lifelong suspicion of the Iranian people that nothing good ever comes out of foreign relations.

In the winter of 1979, after a decade of uprising, the Iranian revolution finally became a reality and with that came the end of 2,500 years of monarchy in Persia. Shortly after, the Islamic Republic of Iran was formed under the supervision of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini, and little by little, the secular west-praising Iran shifted to a Muslim state which scared the hell out of the neighboring Arab countries as well as the Western powers.

The Arabs were concerned because they didn’t want Iran to export its Shi’a revolution to their Sunni-run countries, and the West was concerned for the seemingly over-the-top fundamentalist leaders of the new republic. This concern was heightened when Iran invaded the US embassy in Tehran and took 53 diplomats hostage for 444 days during the Carter Administration which ended on January 20, 1981, twenty minutes after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as the new president.

On September 22, 1980, with the backing of the Arabian states, the demented leader of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, decided to take advantage of the revolution’s chaos in Iran by invading the Iranian soil from Northwest to South on the old claim of border disputes, thus beginning the Iran-Iraq War. Iraqi armies advanced full throttle for the central and the oil-rich south, killing and destroying what they could on their way. By March 1980, the invasion came to a stall, and Iraq’s army did not advance another mile from what they had already taken and that included the city of Khoramshahr in Khuzestan province. Nothing major happened in the following year, but in March 1982, Iran took on the offensive and inch by inch, the Iranian military took back all of the occupied territories by July 1, 1982.

In 1982 the Arabian states came together and offered the total reconstruction of damages by compensating Iran to end the war. Iran denied the offer, and the war raged for another six long years as the Iranian government made it its mission to advance until the occupation of Baghdad and put an end to Saddam’s regime.

The United States along with other European and Arab countries contributed greatly in weapons and economic aid to Iraq during the war. The Soviet Union, perhaps, was the number one supplier of weaponry and military advisors to Iraq during the war to the extent that, at the end of the war Iraq owed the Soviet Union almost $10 billion in military debts alone. The Soviet Union also sold weapons and ammunitions to Iran, completing its race for the weapon sale and destruction. France was the second greatest supplier to Iraq and tended to supply higher-technology equipment than the Soviets. This does not mean that many other nations did not either provide materials or encourage client states to do so, or that there was not a brisk business by private arms traders.

The Reagan and Bush Administrations sold over $200 million in weaponry to Iraq with billions of dollars in loans, including The Iraq-Gate Scandal which an Atlanta branch of Italy’s largest bank, Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, relying largely on U.S. taxpayer-guaranteed loans, funneled $5 billion to Iraq from 1985 to 1989.  Not only did Reagan’s administration turn a blind-eye to Saddam’s regime’s repeated use of chemical weapons against Iranian soldiers and Iraq’s Kurdish minority, but the US helped Iraq develop its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs. With more than 100,000 Iranian victims of chemical weapons during the eight-year war, Iran is one of the countries most severely affected by Weapons of Mass Destruction, yet it’s being accused of producing such weapons by those who actually made them. At the time, the UN Security Council issued statements that “chemical weapons had been used in the war” and again, the United States and Great Britain remained shamefully silent.

halabja

Iran also obtained weapons and parts for its monarchy-era U.S. weapons through underground arms dealings from officials in the Reagan Administration. It was hoped that Iran would persuade several radical groups to release Western hostages, though this did not result; proceeds from the sales were diverted to the Nicaraguan Contras in what became known as the Iran-Contra Affair.

At the end of the war in 1988, the USS Vincennes, an American gunship, shot down an Iranian airliner flying from Shiraz to Dubai claiming that they “mistook” the giant Jumbo-Jet for an F-14 Tomcat Jet-fighter. Tragically all 290 innocent civilian passengers, including 66 children perished over the Persian Gulf. At the time of the attack, The USS Vincennes was indeed inside Iranian territorial waters, and the Iranian airliner was within Iranian airspace.

Was the crew court-martialed? No. They got decorated. After completing their tour, the Vincennes crew was awarded Combat Action Ribbons for having actively participated in ground or surface combat and the captain William C. Rogers received the Legion of Merit which is a medal that is awarded for “exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements.” Finally In 1996 the United States agreed to pay $61.8 million in compensation for the Iranians killed, however, the United States did not admit responsibility or apologize for the killings.

After 8 years, Iran and Iraq finally signed the UN Security Council Resolution 598, and on August 20, 1988, peace was restored. The war between Iran and Iraq left Iran with over 700,000 deaths, more than $500 billion in economic loss and thousands of families mourning, including mine. I grew up in that war.

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February 12th, 2010 - Iran, Tehran

At long last, the endless project of completing the IRS paperwork for 501(c)(3) status is completed which takes a huge load off of our shoulders. I wouldn’t do it again for a million dollars as the process was intense, complicated, meticulous and not fun at all. Just when I thought that I could rest for a few days, I ended up leaving the motorcycle in California with Cynthia and flying out of LAX to Tehran, Iran due to a family emergency.

I was born in Iran and lived there until I was 18 years old. Most of my family migrated to the United States starting from my oldest uncle three decades ago. My grandparents whom I dearly love are still living in Shiraz, my birthplace. My elderly grandfather is not doing very well, hence my excursion to the forbidden land.

I call it the forbidden land as everything is forbidden for one reason or another. From the heavily-filtered internet and disputed elections, to capital punishment for dog-walking in public (Dogs get executed by hanging, not the owners), there is always something to get a good kick out of. Despite all of this, Iran is a lovely country with an amazing history, mesmerizing scenery and the most welcoming people around.

You know you are in Iran the second you walk out of the airplane and stand in one of the never ending lines (even for killing yourself, you still have to stand in line in Iran) to the immigration and maze of suitcases full of western merchandise piled up at the customs waiting to be released. Tehran’s airport has been moved 60 miles out of the city and even though I arrived at 3:30 am, the whole city was alive with the preparation for the February 11th demonstration and the opposition protest of the recent election. The heavy presence of police was felt on every corner and frequent search stops brought me back to the reality I was away from for so long.

My aunt and her family live in Tehran so I have been visiting with them for a few days. It is great to see my cousins and hear their stories as they try to fill me in on the recent changes and of course, the inflation of prices. I had no interest in spending my short visit here in one of the notorious Iranian prisons, so I stayed away from all the political dramas of the revolution’s anniversary on February 11th.

Everything was shut down due to all the holidays, and I had to wait four days to buy a plane ticket to Shiraz, so I tried to make use of my time by checking out some of the museums and historical sites around Tehran. One of the places I visited was the Ancient Persia Museum in Southern Tehran. My visit was a bittersweet experience as it was hard for me to see billions of dollars worth of historical artifacts sitting so shamelessly in what I can only describe as the most careless and lackadaisical manner with florescent lamps lighting up the show floor like a ghost town. The materials are fascinating and range mostly from 2nd to 5th millennium BC, covering from the Stone Age to the magnificent Persian empire. Artifacts from 7000 years ago are on display in glass cases, and one can’t help but marvel at the craftsmanship of the early Persians. (If you believe that the world is only 6000 years old, Iran is probably not a country to visit as it might shed some serious light on your biblical beliefs.)

Just north of Tehran, starts a 200 kilometers two-lane road called the Chalous Highway which twists and turns all the way to the Caspian Sea in Northern Iran. There are tunnels after tunnels which have been dug out the heart of Alborz Mountain range, and it’s one of the most beautiful places you can visit in Iran. There are no camels contrary to popular belief, and snow-covered mountains cover the area. Much of the forests are memories of the past and have long given their places to cheap villas, shopping malls and ice cream parlors. You see more trash on and off the road than ever before. It makes me furious to see what my people have done to this once pristine landscape while still claiming to be glorious Persians.

I’m flying south to Shiraz in a day or two and will post more reports once I get there. I’m planning to visit a few orphanages and will cover the poverty of the rural life of Southwestern Iran so long as I can find an internet connection to get the news out. Till next time …

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February 3rd, 2010 - A little dirt don’t hurt

I would like to thank all the people who had shared their sympathy with me on continuing on the road alone at this point in time. Despite the fact that Cynthia isn’t joining the expedition, she is still very much involved with this budding corporation as she is still the secretary and a director on the board. She is truly an amazing person and has a lot to bring to the table besides keeping me company and I would rather have her as a friend than losing her altogether.

When I arranged the training courses with the Motorcycle Safety Foundation two months ago the MSF was generous enough to offer us a private Dirt Bike Course for just the two of us on top of the Basic Rider Course, which we documented previously. Since Cynthia virtually had no practice on a bike since Hesperia, she was reluctant to take the dirt course but was willing to accompany me down to the Honda Training Center in Colton located in Southern California to take video and pictures while I took the course. I was eager to take the course and build up on my skills as I will be encountering many dirt and mud roads in different countries in the course of this expedition, and this training offered an invaluable opportunity to learn the ropes on how to better my riding.

We left Bakersfield in an eye-blinding morning fog at 5:30 a.m. wrapped in layers of fleece and protective gear, but the cold kept seeping in as we rode over the Tejon Pass at 4183 ft. It took us about four and a half hours to make it to Colton, CA.

The Honda Training Center is one of only four of its kind in the United States. It is an amazing facility which accommodates many kinds of motorcycle training as well as All Terrain Vehicles. They pretty much thought of everything when they built this place. They even built a dirt trail system with cactuses, trees, rocks, stairs, and a mud pit (I don’t know if the mud pit was intentional but the recent rains had made a pretty good one).

Though we arrived late, our instructor from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, Jun Villegas, met us with a smile. Although Cynthia was only planning to take pictures, Jun encouraged her to at least try getting on the bike and took us to the gear room to set us up with motocross gear. The course started covering the basics just like in the Basic Rider Course, from getting to know all the controls to spider-walking the bike. I was amazed at how quickly Cynthia felt comfortable on the bike and to her disbelief, she actually remembered all the things that she learned in the Basic Rider Course.

It must be a requirement in MSF’s hiring process to only hire the nicest, most encouraging, and positive people on the planet because I have not encountered one grumpy or impatient MSF instructor to this day, and Jun was no exception. For myself, I have no problem to get yelled at or criticized as long I’m learning and I have no problem to take on harder stuff right off the bat. However, I am sure it gets frustrating for the first-timers to process so much information in such a short time but that’s where the competency and patience of the MSF instructors shines through as their positive attitudes and words make all the difference.

The day went on with riding our butts off (both seated and standing) on different exercises like counter-weighting in turns, and riding over obstacles. I loved riding closed circles as fast and as tight as I could, and Jun did not freak out as I tried going faster and lower to the ground. We had a lot of fun trying different techniques and especially riding the trails around the property at the end of the day.

Cynthia was a trouper and despite a couple of spills, she kept on getting back on the saddle with a joyful smile and riding away. The most memorable incident was at the end of the day. I was directly behind her and Jun was in the front as we approached a tight turn. Jun shifted his weight and cornered fine. When I saw Cynthia approaching that corner at that speed, I had an epiphany that this was not going to end well and before I finished my thought, she was sliding and heading for the trees to the right side of the trail. She freaked out and turned the handle-bar to the left and ended up climbing a steep hill to the left covered in boulders. She ended up going between two boulders with her legs wide open while screaming and somehow managed to not crash into anything. The amazing thing was that she kept on rolling the throttle full-blast and would not let go as she missed a tree by inches and stopped near the top of the hill without a scratch.

I can strongly say that this course was the most fun and challenging thing I have done in a long time and Cynthia agrees as well. Anyone who rides motorcycles or even has the slightest interest in riding on two wheels should take this course. I would even suggest taking this course before the Basic Rider Course as it’s a fun way to start learning how to ride as there is no pressure to pass or fail in order to obtain a waiver exempting you from taking the DMV skill test.

Thanks again to the Motorcycle Safety Foundation for granting us this great opportunity and many thanks to Stacey Hall at MSF for arranging the trainings. She worked very hard to make them happen and we are eternally grateful to her and MSF.  For more information on how you can enroll to take this course in your area, click on the MSF logo on top of this site and get dirty.

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