Walk Off The Earth – R.E.V.O

R.E.V.OCouple of days ago, I got home to find that my awesome wife had gone on and bought me Walk Off The Earth’s new album R.E.V.O, which was just released this week.

For those of you who don’t know Walk Off The Earth, they’re a very talented Canadian band that formed in 2006 in Burlington, Ontario, and has gained success around the world by making low-budget music videos of covers and originals. Their 5-people-playing-one-guitar interpretation of Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” exploded on Youtube garnering well over 35 million views in under 2 weeks.

I’ve been hooked on the videos they’ve been posting on their YouTube channel for quite a while, and listening to some of their songs on Grooveshark; and both their original songs as well as their covers are just great music. I actually like their covers more than the versions by their original performers in most cases (e.g. Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble“).

The album has a combination of songs that Walk Off The Earth have recorded over the past while, some of which would be familiar to fans who follow their YouTube channel, and ones that are new tracks. It also includes their acoustic, 5-people-playing-one-guitar, cover of “Somebody That I Used To Know” by Gotye.

I’ve been listening to the album the past couple of days, and I totally recommend checking them and the album out. Some of my favorite tracks off the album are: Red Hands, Gang of Rhythm, Speeches, Summer Vibe, and No Ulterior Motives.

They’re another great example of an indie music band or artist that used YouTube to get their music out there, build a huge following, and then through that get a record deal to be able to further their dream of making more music at a more professional level.

It used to be gigs at clubs and auditions and such that would get the word out about new bands and artists, and even though that still happens obviously, there’s more and more reliance on the internet and specifically sites like YouTube and SoundCloud for the build-up phase.

And I think that’s the going to become the norm for all new music acts, where record labels only sign up bands and artists who have garnered enough attention and interest from people to take it to the next level.
It also gives some power to the bands and artists, where they have a bit more choice as to whether they want to go with a record label or not, and puts them in a stronger position during deal negotiations as they already have a fanbase and exposure to build upon.
Yet another way in which the music industry is being changed because of the internet.

Anyway, long story short, make sure you check out Walk Off The Earth and their music; and let me know what you think.

King Abdullah Of Jordan: Monarch In The Middle Of Controversy

King Abdullah IIA feature on The Atlantic about King Abdullah II of Jordan, “The Modern King in the Arab Spring”, was all the fuss on Tuesday all over Jordan’s news sites and on social media.

As someone who lived, studied, worked and got married in Jordan; there’s always a little place in my heart for the country, and I tend to try and catch up on what’s going on there every now and then.

I only got to read the full feature, which is pretty long, yesterday; and whoa, was that something!
The full feature can be found here “The Modern King in the Arab Spring”, and for some quick highlights, you can check out the New York Times’ article.

The article basically lays out what the king thinks of the internal players in Jordanian politics, the tribal leaders (whom he calls Dinosaurs), the General Intelligence Department (GID), the royal family, regional leaders, the Muslim brotherhood and more, painting them all mostly in a negative light.
Now all of these things aren’t that shocking in the sense that the king or anyone else thinks that way, heck I agree with most of the opinions in the article; what’s more shocking is that they’re released and made public this way, bypassing any of the usual PR or diplomacy filters we’ve gotten so used to from political leaders and their offices.

After the article was published, the Royal Hashemite Court responded saying that the article included “many fallacies and took matters out of their correct context.” Jeffrey Goldberg, who wrote the piece, confirmed on Twitter that both he and the royal court have recordings of the interviews, and that they’re well in context.

All that in mind, I’m going to lean more towards thinking that the Royal Hashemite Court is just scrambling to contain and get rid of this internal nightmare situation, while the article remains mostly accurate.

Many people think that maybe the king’s comments were made off the record, and they do really seem like things that would be said off the record, rather than on the record; but I don’t think that’s the case, I actually think the king intended these comments to come out exactly the way they did.
Why he’d do that? What exactly the reasoning and objective behind it is, isn’t that clear; but what’s for sure is it’s quite a gamble.

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Tunisia’s Political Confidence Crisis

Tunisian FlagIt’s been just over two years since the Tunisian revolution that overthrew Ben Ali took place, almost a year and a half since the election of the constituent assembly, and the country just got its fourth temporary government.

The economy, security, and the whole country in general aren’t in good shape at all, to say the least. And there’s nothing so far that suggests things are going to get any better anytime soon. To be fair, this can’t all be blamed solely on the governments the country has had over the past period, but on the other hand, those governments only seem to make things worse somehow.

The constituent assembly is behind schedule in getting the new constitution ready, and the elections have been pushed back too. The latest announcements mention the end of April as the target date to get the draft of the new constitution ready, and the end of June or early July as the date it could get adopted on the first reading; If that happens, legislative and presidential elections could maybe happen end of October.
However if the constitution only gets adopted through a second reading or a referendum, that would push back the date for the elections even further.

From all the bickering that’s been going on within the constituent assembly, I think it might be safe to assume that it’s pretty improbable the constitution will sail through easily and get adopted on the first reading. If we’re optimistic, it might go through on the second reading, assuming the constituent assembly want to save face and not further demonstrate how utterly useless they’ve been, and if not then referendum it is.
I won’t go into the possible scenario where the constitution gets shot down by the people through the referendum, so I don’t sound too pessimistic.

Anyway, election-wise, we could be looking at December or January of next year for the elections to happen; People will be asked to go out and vote for who they want to run the country, who they want to see in parliament and who they’d like as president.
And that’s where a big problem arises, do the Tunisian people really trust anyone for those responsibilities at this point?

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ThunderCats Are Back With A New 2011 TV series

Of all the animated series I watched as a kid back in the 80′s, ThunderCats was probably the one I enjoyed the most, and that popped up first in my mind whenever I took a little trip down memory lane throughout the years.

I’m not sure what it was exactly that fascinated me about it all and what got me so hooked on it and attached to the different characters and storyline; but it’s safe to say that it stuck to me, and still is to this day in some way; in fact, one of my favorite t-shirts that I wear whenever I can is a ThunderCats shirt I bought a few years back from an HMV store.

Enough about the past though, let’s return to the present; the ThunderCats are back!
Yes, Warner Bros. Animation have rebooted the series with animation provided by the Japanese Studio 4°C, and it’s currently airing on the Cartoon Network every Friday night.

I realized this after the series had already started, and only got to catch up with all the 7 episodes that have been aired so far this past weekend. And it was really fun watching it; the little boy in me just loved it!

Initially I was afraid they’d mess it all up and ruin it for me and other fans, but I have to say they’ve done quite a good job with it. The only thing that irked me a bit is the new look the different characters got, I like their looks from the original series much better; in this version they all have this Japanese anime elf-like look, which is annoying and doesn’t fit some of the characters at all (especially Lion-O and Cheetara).

Other than that though, it’s really good and fun; they took the story back and gave the characters more history and personality, developing the story slightly differently than the original, but still in an interesting way, where instead of the Cats being stranded on a new planet as in the original, they actually rule Third Earth and are seen by some as the powerful oppressors, who are attacked and their city of Thundera targeted and destroyed.

The story at this point follows Lion-O as he takes on the role of King after the passing of his father, and as he goes on a quest to find the Book of Omens.

Another great thing about this new 2011 series is that I got to introduce my 5 year old son Adam to it, and he just loved it too. In fact, as I was writing this he saw the image I included above and started asking if we could watch some other episodes of ThunderCats today.

At the end of this post, all I can say is that I really enjoyed watching the new series and will be making sure to watch the new episodes every week.

As for you dear reader, if you were a fan of ThunderCats in the 80′s, then you should definitely check this out; if you weren’t, well this is your chance to redeem yourself and discover a great series.

On Hiring & Keeping Great People…

…If you want to hire great people and have them stay working for you, you have to let them make a lot of decisions and you have to, you have to be run by ideas, not hierarchy. The best ideas have to win, otherwise good people don’t stay.

Steve Jobs

Circumcising Ministers & Members Of Parliament

As someone who spent a good chunk of his childhood years in Zimbabwe, and who holds very fond memories of the country, I always have an eye open for developments happening in that spot of southern Africa.

Unfortunately, the news coming out of there for the past couple of decades has been nothing short of depressing most of the time, as the country continues to be driven deeper into crisis by a leader who totally lost the plot, and went from a position in which he’d have been regarded as a great man in the country’s history to yet another dictator whose end will be greatly celebrated.

However, a quirky piece of news grabbed my attention about a new initiative that’s being introduced in Zimbabwe.

The Government has introduced a new initiative that should see all male Cabinet ministers undergoing circumcision; Members of Parliament and councillors are also earmarked for the second round of the exercise.

There is a reason behind this, which is that it’s part of a new programme that seeks to promote this mode of fighting the spread of HIV and AIDS. According to research, male circumcision is one of the ways of preventing the spread of the virus with reports indicating that the reduction can be up to 60 percent.

Pretty extreme take on leading by example, and yet another instance of the kind of madness the likes of Mugabe and Gadhafi represent.

But imagine if this initiative was taken and applied as a policy across the world, not to promote HIV/AIDS prevention, but rather to promote recycling of governments and ministers? I bet if ministers and members of parliament had to get circumcised at the beginning of every new term in government, past their initial one, we’d see a lot less of them clinging on to their seats, and a lot more fresh blood in governments (no pun intended).

Tunisia: The Land Of A 1001 Political Parties

It’s been just a bit over 55 years since Tunisia got its independence from France; 55 years through which the country and its people, almost three generations of Tunisians, knew only 2 presidents, 1 political party and no options whatsoever.

Sure, there were a handful of other political parties in the country, some recognized as legal opposition and others banned and illegal; it didn’t matter what their status was though, other than occasionally hearing their names around play-election time, the average Tunisian on the streets had no idea who they were or what they stood for; after all, why bother when they had no chance, and were either willingly or unwillingly nothing more than puppets in a game of “let’s act like we’re a democracy”, that would end with the mighty “chosen one” winning yet another mandate.

And even though it seemed like things would go on forever that way defying all laws of nature and logic, it all started crumbling down and falling apart suddenly and to everyone’s surprise. The date of January 14th 2011 earned a place in history books, marking the end of an era and the beginning of a new one for the country.

Following that, and in full post-revolutionary spirit, raising the banner of freedom and political pluralism, the doors were thrown wide open for all existing political parties to be recognized, and well for everyone and anyone who would like to take a go at it to register their new fresh political party too. The more the merrier, or something like that.

Political parties started popping up like fungi all over the place, putting in applications and getting legalized in batches of tens and dozens. Some of the names leading these new parties are ones Tunisians are slightly familiar with someway or another, some are members of the old guard who served for years on the dark side but yet seem to think Tunisians will believe they weren’t in on the action or that they hold the secret to a post-RCD cleaning and purification process, and then there are the ones most Tunisians never ever heard of.

All of a sudden, Tunisians went from a situation where the political scene was a quasi-empty one and it was normal that they knew no one, to a situation where the scene has burst open at the seams with new parties joining the carnival every day and yet they have the feeling they still don’t really know anyone.

A very important election on July 24th 2011 is inching closer and closer, an election that will carry enormous ramifications for the country and its future, and yet the Tunisian political scene is a big mess and in total disarray, buzzing with a variety of political party names most people can’t translate into positions or agendas they can identify or not identify with.

Political pluralism is great, but too much political pluralism kills political pluralism, or however the saying goes; there’s no way people are going to be able to keep up with over 65 political parties (as of today, who knows about tomorrow); and as we really need as many Tunisians as possible to get involved in the process, exercise their rights and vote for the future of the country; this is obviously not the right way forward.

Now, I think it’s very obvious that there’s no way all these parties will or can come up with entirely different agendas and platforms; in fact once they actually get around to putting their agendas together, it should be pretty easy to put them all in buckets of parties that pretty much stand for the same ideas and principles. Logically, these should be merged, and should pool whatever resources they have to be able to get their message out and start rallying supporters around a clear programme.

Consolidation. That is the keyword; that’s what the next step should be, and it should be done quickly, so that things can be taken to the next level, and so people can start making more sense of what’s out there.
Even though it might seem slightly counter-intuitive to many politicians, but logically speaking they have better chances of getting to power when grouped and merged together, with more resources, more exposure and less competition spitting out the exact same recycled message.
It’s starting to happen already, with a couple of parties who just announced their union and who might be getting a third party on board with them; but we need all political parties out there to be thinking the same way: who could we potentially team up with to win?

By doing that, not only would these political parties increase their chances of winning, but they’d also positively contribute to creating winning conditions for the country and the people, by making it easier for all Tunisians to get involved, make their informed picks and vote for the future.

Tunisia, Canada, Elections And I – Quick Reflections

Unfortunately, I haven’t been writing as much as I used to or want to on here; a combination of being busy with life and work, distracted by the rise of Twitter and me getting tired of following the daily news of the world for a while.

Anyway, in the past few months, true to my inner nomadic nature, we’ve picked up and moved again, this time from Dubai, UAE to Ontario, Canada. We’ve settled down in the city of Mississauga, part of the Greater Toronto Area, and things have been going good so far; almost settled down.

During the period that I’ve been here, a revolution took place back home in Tunisia, which then started spreading across the Arab world; while over here in Canada, the country was plunged into an unscheduled national election, which has been very interesting to witness for me.

I don’t get to vote in the elections here, but still, I’ve been following the campaign very closely, watching the debates both in English and French, looking at the platforms the political parties are putting forward, watching interviews with leaders and MPs, reading opinion pieces and blogs, and making my own opinions on issues and who I’d vote for if I were able to.

I have to say, I’ve been truly enjoying the whole process; maybe it’s because I never got to experience something similar back home in Tunisia, or maybe it’s because I’m living here now and actually do care about who will take over power and what they’ll do with it, or most probably it’s a combination of both.

However, and even though the Canadian election system might not be entirely perfect, I always find myself thinking every time: how I wish we could have something like this in Tunisia; how I wish we could have real engaging debates, real talk shows and reports asking the hard questions, very well written opinion pieces and analysis published in the media, …etc.

How I wish we Tunisians could go into an election we don’t already know the results for!
This year hopefully we will, on July 24th 2011, Tunisians will get to vote and choose a constituent assembly that will rewrite the constitution and chart the country’s transition and future.
The hope is that the interim government, political parties and Tunisian media step up to the plate and give us a great free election experience that opens the doors for a better and more mature political system in the country.

It’s going to be a real challenge because neither the people, nor the officials in the current government, nor the leaders of the political parties, and especially not the Tunisian media have any experience with a free and democratic election; but this is the occasion to go for it, aim for the stars, learn as we go and make Tunisia the first Arab country to hold truly democratic elections that produce results that represent the will of the people.

As citizens our responsibility is to find out as much as we can about every party, what they stand for, what their plans are and to push the media for better coverage and reporting on the elections and require the government and parties to provide higher transparency on every issue. So let’s make sure we all go out and do that.

Oh and on a final separate note, for those of you who are curious who I’d vote for if I could in Canada; well even though the Liberal Party of Canada is generally more aligned with my ideas and opinions, I’d vote for the NDP (New Democratic Party) because their leader Jack Layton won me over in the debates and I believe he would make a better Prime Minister and leader for Canada.

Tunisian Media In The Post-Revolution Era

Just a few days ago, the Tunisian national TV station (TTN), that was quick to shed its TV7 moniker after the revolution in Tunisia, and who overnight wanted people to believe they would become a space for free speech, aired a report on ex-President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, highlighting all the bad things he did, the corruption, the treason and the list goes on; to put it simply they kicked the crap out of the guy, which he more than deserves of course.

Videos of the report quickly went online and were being shared around on Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and all; and some people actually seemed impressed and thought that TTN was doing a good job.

On my side, I was actually disappointed, and don’t see anything that suggests the TV station has changed one bit. It’s still a mouthpiece, just saying and doing what they’re told to say and do, with no real reporting and no true voice.

It’s very easy to kick the crap out of someone like Ben Ali and portray him as the devil, now that he’s gone and all, so it’s not really a sign of freedom of speech or anything. But when you prepare and air a report like that, what’s very important is that you actually be precise about the information that you’re throwing around, fact-check it, and make sure it’s correct. Watching the report, I didn’t get that impression at all; they were getting a bunch of people to just throw out accusations and information, without specifying details, without providing precise numbers (they seemed more like they were made up on the fly), and just sticking any and every imaginable bad deed to the guy; and what made it even worse is that it was all done and narrated in a very propaganda-like cheap style.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending Ben Ali, and I’m sure he was even worse than what we all heard and know, but my concern in this post is more about TTN and the Tunisian media in general.

Tunisian media has to move up to the next level and play a bigger role in unearthing and providing correct information to people, allowing a space for people to speak freely and share their opinions and facts, and to be right in the center of the national debate going on about the future of the country.

I would have liked to see the same report but with the people throwing these accusations being grilled for precise details and providing them; I would like to see a similar report done some day for our first president Habib Bourguiba, whose praise some people are suddenly re-singing these days; but even more important are reports now profiling members of the current government as well as the opposition leaders and parties, telling their history, what they stand for, and what they were doing while the Tunisian people were suffering under Ben Ali’s rule.

Tunisians don’t need to see anyone being accused, demonized or framed; we just want the media to do their job investigating stories and facts, and then just reporting them to us without any bias or agenda so we can make our own opinions and decisions.

I’m not sure most of the people currently employed by Tunisian TV stations, newspapers and magazines; who have done nothing but provide a very sub-standard level of “reporting” for years; are up to the challenge, and truly believe Tunisian media needs new blood that can live up to our expectations as Tunisians both at home and abroad.

The Huge & Alarming Arabic Content Crisis

As someone who’s been working in the Internet space in the Arab world for what feels like ages now; I’ve heard the following line, and all imaginable variations of it more than I can keep track of; basically the line is:

We have a big problem with the lack of Arabic content online, with it only representing 1% of all online content.

Now that’s true, it’s shocking, it’s very bad, and it’s a valid point to keep bringing up every time there’s a chance to.

However, the problem is much much bigger than just online content; it’s a problem with Arabic content altogether, both online and offline!

If we just take a step back and look at some numbers for the production of Arabic content in general, the numbers for online content start to look very normal actually.

How many original Arabic books are being published every year?

There are no reliable numbers on the production of books, but many indicators suggest a severe shortage of writing; a large share of the market consists of religious books and educational publications that are limited in their creative content.

(Source: UNDP Arab Human Development Report, AHDR 2002, p. 78)

And in the same report, the following year:

Book production in Arab countries was just 1.1 percent of world production, although Arabs constitute 5% of the world’s population. The publication of literary works was lower than the average level of book production. In 1996, Arab countries produced no more than 1945 literary and artistic books, which represents 0.8% of international production. This is less than what a country such as Turkey produces, with a population about one-quarter that of the Arab countries. In general, Arab book production centers mainly on religious topics and less on other fields such as literature, art and the social sciences.

(Source: UNDP Arab Human Development Report, AHDR 2003, p. 77)

How many foreign books are actually being translated into Arabic every year?

The Arab world translates about 330 books annually, one fifth of the number that Greece translates.
The cumulative total of translated books since the Caliph Maa’moun’s [sic] time (the ninth century) is about 100,000 books; almost the average that Spain translates in one year.

(Source: UNDP Arab Human Development Report, AHDR 2002, p. 78)

Also looking beyond book production and translation, if we look around us, at the magazines and newspapers being produced all around the region; Other than the news, how many of the articles or op-eds getting published in them are actually read-worthy or offer any value whatsoever to the reader? Unfortunately, only a small fraction of them!

In short, the point I’m trying to make is that we don’t have a problem of Arabic content online, we have a problem with Arabic content, period!
Arabic content online is just part of the picture and is consistent with the overall alarming trend.

Now why do we have this overall problem in the first place?
It’s a vicious circle actually; For some reason Arabs don’t read much, so publishers don’t publish much, so producers/writers don’t produce much, and so with less out there, Arabs read less and less and it goes on and on. In fact, looking at another set of estimated numbers for book production in the Arab world actually showed numbers were declining year on year.

Online, the difference is that you’ve got companies and professional publishers publishing content, but also the possibility for anyone and everyone to produce content through sites, blogs, wikis …etc. So the cost of putting content is cheaper and the entry barrier is lower; but still many of the same challenges hold online; if people don’t come and read in high numbers, writers are de-motivated and/or can’t generate any income, and they stop producing any more content. This obviously also has a link to the fact that less than 2% of advertising budgets in the region are spent online; so it’s harder for content producers to cover their costs and keep on producing more content. That brings us back to the same kind of vicious cycle from earlier.

It’s a huge problem, one that we need to do something about obviously, and that everyone has a role to play in, in order to get things on a growth track. Maybe where we should start is by ourselves, by committing to reading more Arabic books and content, sharing and producing Arabic content whenever we can, and most important of all, raise our children to be readers and writers.