Seeing Our Way To The Future
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Photo courtesy Khalili/Cal-Earth

Posted 4/23/09 by Yasha Husain

According to the site,, a half of the world's approximately 6 billion people occupies buildings constructed of earth, either for work or to live.

The book, Earth Architecture, by architect, author and assistant professor of architecture at The University of California, Berkeley, Ronald Rael, the founder of the site,, describes the many types of earth architectures used around the world.

The book notes that while it's still widely believed earthen buildings primarily house the poor, earthen structures include airports, museums, embassies, hospitals and factories.

To learn of recently constructed earthen buildings, follow events related to earth architecture, or discover new books on the topic, visit,

For more on Nader Khalili's Superadobe architecture, visit:

Article - Culture

Charlie Wilson's War and the Afghan Diaspora
by Yasha Husain
Posted 12/26/09

In one of the final and most telling scenes of the 2007 release, Charlie Wilson's War, directed by Michael Nichols, Congressman Charlie Wilson, renown for having first succeeded in 1983 in passing hard-won legislation through Congress which allocated $40 million dollars to the Afghan and mujaheddin effort against the invading Russians, nearly ten years and hundreds of millions in military aid later, in the early 1990s, is seeking additional reparations to pay for rebuilding a stable Afghanistan. And he is flatly turned down by his fellow United States Congressmen.

At the time, Congress wouldn't hear the need for follow-through on their commitment to a remote, war-torn region, not realizing to what degree “responsible follow-through” had become code word for determining success in international affairs the US became embroiled in, not only in the Middle East, but around the globe.

Flash forward to today, eight years following the US invasion of Afghanistan, when President Obama has just approved upwards of 30,000 more troops to ultimately aid a smooth transition to an independent Afghanistan. One day after the President's announcement, words were exchanged between Senator Jeff Sessions (R-Alabama) and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, before the Senate Armed Services Committee, that seemed to signal a softening view toward a nearly thirty-year history. Congress appears now to be taking to heart what Wilson once said, and with a greater sense of determination to do right. Gates and Sessions, joined by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, went on to describe a stepped-up effort to weed out corruption and a goal to create a civil society able to stand on its own two feet.

A step in the right direction, and yet it's poignant that at this critical juncture there are also unsung heroes, and more recent voices from the post-9/11 era, mind you, whose words to Congress on this very topic have been filled with practical advice for how to help move Afghan forward and into the 21st century, whose voices don't echo as loudly today. In particular, there are the words of the Afghan native, Ishaq Shahryar, who became in 2002 the first Afghanistan Ambassador to the United States since 1978, and, on February 12, 2003, spoke before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. His thoughtful presentation ought to still reverberate in the minds of the nation's leaders, and perhaps even take precedence, with Charlie Wilson as a shadow figure.

Shahryar, whose home had been for decades southern California, before moving to Washington D.C. for the ambassadorship, was a solar engineer known for inventing low-cost solar panels in 1972 and then also the process for mass producing solar cells. He earned tremendous respect as well for his work with ultraviolet sensitive cells on NASA's Jupiter Project. And by the end of a long career as a photovoltaic entrepreneur, he had applied for a patent that would bring down the cost of solar panels by 50 percent. Also with a masters in international relations, in 1994, he was named to the US Presidential Mission on Sustainable Energy and Trade to India, and continued serving as a consultant on trade issues.

Shortly after the US invaded Afghanistan in 2001, there was a coalition of members of the Afghan diaspora forming, led by Shahryar. An intelligent and productive people, who'd left their original country years earlier, hoped to return to their homeland, of which there are 100s and 1000s of years of rich and complex history to celebrate. They hoped to contribute to, and be part of, a brighter Afghan future.

In this environment, Shahryar proposed a vision for a 21st century Afghanistan that could become a model developing nation, which included his plans to build solar cities there using the latest technologies. He called not only on fellow Afghans to make a return and do what they can, but also encouraged American businesspersons to invest. In 2003, he told Tufts University E-News, “"What we need today is to be occupied by a new benevolent kind of army, an army of teachers, doctors, builders, farmers, civil engineers, merchants, bankers, and public safety experts, and perhaps even a few lawyers."

At the time of the 9/11 attacks, Afghanistan was home to the Taliban, and elements of al-Qaeda, but not by the vote of the people. The instability, oppression, poverty and turmoil that plagued Afghanistan had been due in part to a very recent history, the history of the last forty years or so, which begun with an intensifying domestic battle for power between the Communist Party and Islamic movement toward the end of the reign of King Mohammed Zahir Shah (1933-1973). The king's rule has been characterized as “peaceful and progressive.” Shahryar, a longtime associate of the king, remembered his country and the city of Kabul how they existed before the recent history of tyranny and war began to unfold as Russia, taking sides with the Communist Party, occupied the country.

Shahryar, who in 2003 ultimately left his new post as ambassador after investing much of his own money into the job and declining a salary, leaving reportedly due to misgivings between himself and President Karzai over handling of administrative duties, and possibly due to corruption issues within the Afghan government, spoke as well, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, of his native country's long history of struggles stemming from the fact that it was the only possible portal for people traveling between Asia, Europe and the Middle East. He called Afghanistan the High Ground of History, also at the center of a “Circle of Instability,” and claimed that if you control the High Ground “you will influence for good or for evil.” Very appreciative of the US government for embracing Afghanistan post 9/11, he also encouraged the great nation to stay on until democracy was in place.

Shahryar, who sadly passed away from natural causes in 2009, after he had moved back to southern California following his time as ambassador, alongside those who he initially attracted to the cause, visionaries for a better Afghanistan, whose voices have somehow faded in recent years as Karzai has led an embattled government, ought also to be listened to in Congress in 2009 and in years to come, as massive dollars will again be headed to this troubled part of the world that more than ever needs revitalization, stability and promise.

Article Posted on December 26, 2009






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