It Doesn't Matter...

My childhood was somewhat unique.

Born in Iran during a vicious war with Iraq, guns and bombs were a daily reality.  My friends all ran around with toy guns, toy rifles, army shorts and hats, make-believe bombs and grenades and RPGs.  A number of older kids ran around with actual pistols.

Before long I found myself in Texas, where part of my family lived.  Texas is a gun state; guns are wholly ingrained in the culture, in a way I've found rare even in the US, as guns are a part of daily life in a way which hasn't altered all that much since settlement of the country.  Kids in my class ran around with toy guns, toy rifles, cowboy chaps and hats, make-believe horses and shoot-outs and outlaws and sheriffs.  A number of older kids ran around with actual rifles.

Throughout my childhood I begged for a toy gun.  Yet, no matter the intensity of my pleas, the fervour of my demands, the sincerity of my begging, my parents refused to allow me to own any toy guns or rifles.

I was angry one day, so I pled my case passionately, pointing to the toy swords and demanding to know what was different between those and toy guns.

I will never forget my parents unified response: "guns aren't toys".

It took me a long time to really understand what they meant.

Let me clarify before you read any further; I am not anti-gun.  I am also against the ridiculously political expression "anti-" anything, which seeks to categorise people and opinions into neat boxes which can be attacked for absolutely no valid purpose besides cheap popularism.

Guns aren't toys.

They're not cars, they're not bikes, they're not accessories or decoration or useful daily items.

The sole purpose of a gun is to kill.

Here's where it gets a little crazy in the US.

  • There are fewer regulations and processes to buy a gun than there is to obtain a driver's licence.
  • The types of firearms available for individuals to purchase include assault rifles and heavy weaponry.
  • Individual guns are not regulated; it is harder to sell a car engine than a gun.
  • You can avoid background checks by buying a gun from a gun show.
Any attempt at regulating guns has been met with vehement criticism and backlash.  The US has seemed incapable of discussing the issue rationally, instead resorting to a myriad of confusing arguments, confusing to the rest of the world, that is, which all essentially boiled down to a simple statement.

No matter who or how many people die, it doesn't matter enough.

No other developed country has this unbelievable issue.  Almost 407,000 people have been killed in the US due to gun violence since 2000, yet the population won't consider making an effort to stem the tide of death by eliminating assault rifles.

God forbid, what if the US is invaded?

God forbid, what if the people need to overthrow the Government?

These are the 2 arguments I hear again and again.  Let the gravity of the statements sink in.

What if the US is invaded?  What if the people need to overthrow the Government?

The US spends more on defence than the next 26 countries on the list combined.  The US is surround by Canada and Mexico.  The United States has never been invaded.

As for overthrowing the Government... there are some 318 million Americans, 245 million of whom are over 18.  Out of those, almost 219 million are considered eligible to vote.  57.5% of those eligible to vote actually voted in the 2012 election.  That's 57.5% of eligible voters.  That's 54.4% of the total population over 18.  Historically, the US voter participation rate is consistently low compared to other developed countries.  With such low participation rates, a lack of understanding of political process and an apathetic, uninformed public, is it any surprise that the US population views their government not as representatives of the people, but as enemies?

The US may be the only developed nation to act like a developing country when it comes to politics and violence.

The statistics on gun violence are truly staggering.  I urge you to read the well-researched statistics at Vox.

There have been almost 406,500 gun related deaths since 2000 in the United States.

Men, women, children.

It doesn't seem to matter enough to change the game plan, to try something new.

For decades massacres have happened and no significant (I would argue even insignificant) attempts have been made to target the guns themselves, whether by curtailing the types able to be sold or the way in which they are regulated.  

Yet massacres continue to happen.  Deaths pile on daily.  The gameplan doesn't change.

It just doesn't seem to matter enough to Americans.

If you are a gun-advocate and an American, I would appreciate the opportunity to hear your point of view.

4 Thousand Words...

A Balancing Act; National Security, Legal Privilege And Provisional Orders...

On the 6th May, 2015, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) concluded the matter of Questions relating to the Seizure and Detention of Certain Documents and Data (Timor-Leste v. Australia) by authorizing the return of all documents and data seized by the Australian Government to the legal advisor to Timor-Leste.

The case is particularly interesting not solely for its conclusion, but perhaps more so for its contribution to the development of International Law principles, particularly as they relate to the balance between National Security and Legal Privilege, the ICJ’s ability to make provisional orders and the status of a State’s undertaking in that regard, as well as the right under International Law to the protection of communications between a party and its legal counsel.

The matter may well be more widely discussed for its interim decision rather than its final one, for good reason.  This matter raised and addressed the following issues:
  1. Is the ICJ able to make Provisional Orders in matters before it? If so, what are the principles behind this power?
  2. Does the principle of Legal Privilege exist in International Law in order to protect communications? If so, does it apply to the documents seized?
  3. Can a State overrule that principle where domestic principles of National Security take precedent?


In early 2013, Timor-Leste, a new addition entrant to Statehood, instituted proceedings against Australia through the Timor Sea Treaty’s dispute provision relating to the 2006 Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea (CMATS).  CMATS had previously addressed the distribution of revenue between the two countries as they pertain to the mining of oil and gas deposits in the Timor Sea.  Timor-Leste alleged that Australia engaged in espionage during the negotiations, and, through the principles of Fraud, Misrepresentation and general principles of Espionage, the Treaty should be voided.

In late 2013, agents of the Australian Security and Intelligence Office (ASIO) entered the offices of the Australian-based legal representative of Timor-Leste in Canberra and seized documents and materials related to the arbitration and negotiations of the CMATS, as well as communications between Timor-Leste and its legal advisor.

Timor-Leste immediately sought interim measures of protection before the ICJ.  In their application, Timor-Leste claimed the confidential documents and data seized by ASIO related to its legal strategy towards the pending Timor Sea Treaty arbitration.  Of relevance is that the arbitration was to cover, inter alia, the allegations made public in the media that Australia had engaged in espionage during negotiations for the Treaty, supported by a witness who was a former Australian Intelligence Officer.  In turn Australia, in its submissions, stated that an Australian Intelligence Officer may have committed an offence under Australian Law by disclosing secret information, including details of espionage, and that even if there existed in International Law a concept of Legal Privilege, that principle was secondary to the public and national security interests of a State, per Australia’s domestic legal position.

Provisional Measures 

On the 3rd March 2014, the ICJ took the following measures[1]:
  • Australia shall ensure that the content of the seized material is not in any way or at any time used by any person or persons to the disadvantage of Timor-Leste until the present case has been concluded;
  • Australia shall keep under seal the seized documents and electronic data and any copies thereof until further decision of the Court;
  • Australia shall not interfere in any way in communications between Timor-Leste and its legal advisers in connection with the pending Arbitration under the Timor Sea Treaty of 20 May 2002 between Timor-Leste and Australia, with any future bilateral negotiations concerning maritime delimitation, or with any other related procedure between the two States, including the present case before the Court.
In indicating Provisional Measures, the ICJ was satisfied that the provisions relied on by Timor-Leste appeared, prima facie, to afford a basis on which its jurisdiction could be founded[2].  Australia did not question jurisdiction over the issuing of Provisional Measures.

Issue 1: The ICJ’s ability to make Provisional Orders                                                                                         

The Statute of the International Court of Justice[3] (ICJ Statute) establishes the procedures and powers of the ICJ.  Central to the ICJ’s power to make any order regarding a State or hear a matter is the Article 36(2)[4] requirement that the States recognize the jurisdiction of the Court: “The states parties to the present Statute may at any time declare that they recognize as compulsory ipso facto and without special agreement, in relation to any other state accepting the same obligation, the jurisdiction of the Court in all legal disputes concerning: (a) the interpretation of a treaty; (b) any question of international law; (c) the existence of any fact which, if established, would constitute a breach of an international obligation; (d) the nature or extent of the reparation to be made for the breach of an international obligation.”  It is, however, the combination of Articles 38(1)[5] and 41(1)[6] which establish the power to make Provisional Orders; the former establishes that “general principles of law” apply, opening the door for Provisional, or in other words Interim or Injunction, Orders, and the latter specifically identifying “provisional measures” as appropriate in the protections of States’ rights.

The ICJ’s own Rules of Court further allow for the making of Provisional Measures, by “call(ing) upon the parties to act in such a way as will enable any order the Court may make on the request for provisional measures to have its appropriate effects.”[7] 

The purpose of Provisional Measures is without question the preservation of States’ Rights as they relate to international peace, security and justice, per Article 2 of the United Nations Charter of 1945[8], as well as a view towards ensuring the “status quo” is not disturbed while a final judgment is sought[9], per the decision on Provisional Measures in Perenco v Ecuador, much in the same way as an injunction would operate domestically in Australia.  Failure by a State to ensure such “status quo”, as indicated by the Provisional Measures, is upheld is considered a breach of international obligation, per La Grand[10].  Indeed the language of the Provisional Measure, though not specifically referred to as “orders”, amount to as much[11].

As will be discussed under “Legal Privilege”, the ICJ satisfied its own high standard of proof of the existence of a risk of irreparable prejudice[12], a standard well-established in the Court’s history and satisfied in this matter by the nature of the documents seized and the ongoing Arbitration matter.  Indeed the application of Provisional Measures will only be taken should a matter satisfy the risk of irreparable prejudice.

Issue 2: The existence of Legal Privilege in International Law

Timor-Leste argued strongly for the assertion that Legal Privilege is a principle of International Law and furthermore is binding per Article 38(1)(c) of the ICJ's Statute.  The ICJ, in issuing the Provisional Order, was satisfied that the “rights asserted by the requesting party are at least plausible”.[13]  Crucially, the Court considered Articles 2(1) and 2(3) of the United Nations Charter and held that where a State is “engaged in the peaceful settlement of a dispute with another State … (they) would expect to undertake (that process) without interference by the other party in the preparation and conduct of its case”.[14]  The ICJ therefore found that there existed Privilege for the protection of documents and communications with counsel.

The ICJ has not been alone in finding in favour of Legal Privilege.  The tribunal in Libananco v Turkey[15] considered that “respect for confidentiality and legal privilege” and the right of disputing parties “to seek advice and to advance their respective cases freely and without interference” were fundamental tenets at the heart of the ICSID arbitral process.  Furthermore, Legal Privilege is addressed by the IBA Rules on the Taking of Evidence in International Arbitration 2010[16].

The ICJ furthermore considered whether the absence of Privilege would allow “real and imminent risk that irreparable prejudice”[17] to be caused to the applicant.  In fact, satisfying themselves as to the existence of Privilege in International Law and the “real and imminent risk” of prejudice to the rights of Timor-Leste convinced the ICJ that Provisional Orders were necessary as a means to address the potential breach of the confidential materials seized[18].

Issue 3: National Security vs. Legal Privilege

The ICJ did not make any judgments or comment directly on the issue of National Security as it relates to abrogating Legal Privilege, however by ordering the documents seized to be sealed, requiring that they be returned to Timor-Leste and insisting on a ban on interference in communications between Timor-Leste and its legal advisors, the ICJ has relied on the doctrine of non-interference[19] to ensure any National Security concerns do not infringe on the Legal Privilege rights in this matter, however have left the door open for further, future analysis of the issue.

Final Notes

From the moment of application to the ICJ through the Provisional Measures and the final orders, the Australian Government has been both publically supportive of the ICJ decisions[20] as well as free from any judgment of wrongdoing by the Court.  The supportiveness is understandable; from the outset Australia maintained that the seizure was a matter of National Security[21], and although the people and documents involved were also involved in a separate matter under arbitration, the effect of the National Security designation means that the documents seized would not weaken or prejudice Timor-Leste’s position in regards to the other dispute, particularly as a directive from ASIO has been issued to ensure the documents were not released to other Departments.  In essence, the ICJ issued the Provisional Measures to achieve the same goal; ensure there was no risk of prejudice, however, given the nature of the complaints and allegations of espionage made by Timor-Leste in the other matter, the question remains to be answered as to whether a State can ever assure the ICJ and the International community of its absolute innocence from impropriety in a case in which the very documents and communications in a separate matter are seized in the manner they were here.

The ICJ left the issue of Legal Privilege open by requesting Timor-Leste be left free from interference, yet did not go so far as to demand freedom from espionage, and furthermore did not add to the discussion regarding the conflict between Legal Privilege and National Security, leaving Timor-Leste with no further recourse save an assurance from the Australian Government that the documents would not be placed in hands which would prejudice Timor-Leste’s case.

Timor-Leste may, understandably, have reservations regarding that assurance.

[1] Questions relating to the Seizure and Detention of Certain Documents and Data (Timor-Leste v. Australia) Provisional Measures.
[2] Per Certain Activities carried out by Nicaragua in the Border Area (Costa Rica v. Nicaragua), Provisional Measures, Order of 8 March 2011, I.C.J. Reports 2011 (I), pp. 17-18, para. 49)
[3] Statute of the International Court of Justice (1945).
[4] Statute of the International Court of Justice (1945) Article 36(2).
[5] Statute of the International Court of Justice (1945) Article 38(1): The Court, whose function is to decide in accordance with international law such disputes as are submitted to it, shall apply: … (c) the general principles of law recognized by civilized nations.
[6] Statute of the International Court of Justice (1945) Article 41(1): The Court shall have the power to indicate, if it considers that circumstances so require, any provisional measures which ought to be taken to preserve the respective rights of either party.
[7] International Court of Justice Rules of Court Article 74(4).
[8] Article 2 of the United Nations Charter of 1945 (1 UNTS XVI).
[9] Perenco v Ecuador (ICSID Case No ARB/08/6).
[10] La Grand Case (Germany v United States) 2001 ICJ Rep.
[11] Case Concerning the Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Bosnia and Herzegovina v Serbia & Montenegro) (ICJ 2007).
[12] Aegean Sea Continental Shelf Case (Greece v Turkey) ICJ Reports 1978; Case Concerning Passage Through the Great Belt (Finland v Denmark) (Provisional Measures) ICJ Reports 1991.
[13] Questions relating to the Seizure and Detention of Certain Documents and Data (Timor-Leste v. Australia) Provisional Measures, Para 22.
[14] Questions relating to the Seizure and Detention of Certain Documents and Data (Timor-Leste v. Australia) Provisional Measures, Para 28.
[15] Libananco v Turkey ICSID Case No ARB/06/8 Decision on Preliminary Issues, para 78.
[16] IBA Rules on the Taking of Evidence in International Arbitration 2010 Article 9.
[17] Questions relating to the Seizure and Detention of Certain Documents and Data (Timor-Leste v. Australia) Provisional Order, Para 32.
[18] Questions relating to the Seizure and Detention of Certain Documents and Data (Timor-Leste v. Australia) Provisional Order, Paras 42 and 47.
[19] Questions relating to the Seizure and Detention of Certain Documents and Data (Timor-Leste v. Australia) Provisional Measures, Para 28.
[20] 4 March 2014: InternationalCourtofJusticedecisionTimorLestevAustralia.aspx
[21] 4 December 2013: December-2013---Ministerial-Statement---Execution-of-ASIO-Search-Warrants.aspx

University Of Canberra...

It has been far too long since I wrote my thoughts here on this page.  Let's rectify that immediately.

Thank you, dear University of Canberra, for the incredible honour of the Chancellor's Young Alumni Award.  Both for the award itself and for considering me Young just a few days removed from my birthday.  You always knew how to make me smile, UC.

I've been a university student now for 15 years, and as I enter the last couple months of my law degree (that'll confuse the people who know me from Johannessen Legal), I'm starting to develop a little separation anxiety.

UC was where I learnt just how fanatical people can be about politics, real or contrived.  I learnt how to anticipate questions, how to deal with apathy, how to deal with excessive enthusiasm.  I learnt about deadlines and personal responsibility for work, time management, people management, self management.

I was inspired, motivated, pushed and prodded by a collection of incredible people, from academic staff in the Law School such as Jan Lennard, Dr Gilchrist and Professor Sainsbury, who, after being appointed head of the School of Law, still so graciously and selflessly took my calls and emails and provided advice as to my studies and career, to the Journalism and Communications staff, who were so instrumental in providing hands on experience and encouraging me to always search for more information, seek more knowledge.

I spent so many hours on courts representing the University in basketball and American football, and perhaps even more hours in the library or refectory with fellow students, pouring over books and articles in search of the perfect answer.  Later, while studying from a distance due to career, I've realised that UC cultivated such an incredible atmosphere that every second spent studying or writing was truly a joy because I wanted to be there.

One of my favourite memories to this day is roaming the halls and rooms of the Law School very late after hours; as President of the Law Society, I was often in the office late attending to some plan or project, in between completing (or rather, starting) assignments.  Walking the halls late at night, when no one else was around, was akin to reverence at times.  I had grown up respecting the institution of university so greatly that the thought of being in a law school was always a little surprising and humbling.

I know it sounds corny, however it's the truth.

UC also sent me to the University of Georgia.  I need far more time to put into words how incredible and fulfilling that experience was.

To now be recognised publicly by the University is a great privilege and honour.  Thank you.



I'm juggling a number of projects right now, and they're all quite different.

Some of them relate to income-generation.

Some of them are philanthropic.

Some of them are purely a hobby, pleasant distractions, not that I need any more.

Of course, my studies remain at the top of the priority list.

An over-arching question I pose myself everyday is "Why am I doing this?"...

What is both the purpose of the particular venture and the role I see myself playing?

Purpose and role are critically important to that at times most elusive of life’s pursuits; happiness.

Determining “why” one does anything in life directly relates to that pursuit, particularly when the action in question is, or will be, so dominating a presence in our lives.

It is only very recently that I have been conscious of my desire and need for “happiness”. I have spent a great proportion of my life seeking to answer the “why” in doing things not with a pursuit in mind, but rather a goal; to help others, to make a difference in this world, to leave it a better place than how I found it.

At this stage in life, I understand that the “why” and the ultimate goal, that is to say, the purpose of present action and the future goal of any present action, go hand in hand, are complimentary, in fact can work to provide both clarity and structure when taken together in context.

So I arrive then again at “why”.

Why am I doing a particular project? What is my purpose, what is my role?

On the surface, there are the immediate personal rewards; Financial security and independence, and Professional success and recognition.

These are significant considerations, to say the least. Yet, not entirely satisfactory when related to happiness; just below the surface, there are further, more theoretical considerations which I believe are essential to achieving the goal of “happiness”, and in the process reaping much greater rewards in terms of job satisfaction, recognition for quality of service, and of course personal pride in our work.

In my professional career, I've experienced the long hours, the demanding pressures of both time constraints and billing/employer demands, the nature of modern client-lawyer relationships, employer/employee relationships, customer/salesperson relationships, the overwhelming processes and procedures which all lead a society being rife with depression, drug use, suicide and burn-out. 

NPR had an excellent piece today examining the rise of depression in the United States since 2000, no matter the economic climate.

There is not a great case to be made for people in general and lawyers in particular being “happy”.  I reserve judgement on international development workers, as their (our) levels of crazy seem to at times make up for the pressures.

So how then do we approach our 2 overt needs with our ultimate goal, to be “happy”?

I believe, through both practical experience and theoretical analysis, that the answer lies in ensuring that the work we do, the approach we take in our work, indeed our entire ethos be geared towards that happiness; if we are able to be as stringent with the care of our morality as we want to be with our processes and procedures, if we take care of our values and interactions in the same way and with the same care as we are to give our working and money-making practices, then we may very well be on the path to achieving happiness.

The ethics of our work, our projects, that is to say the way we see ourselves, our role, our approach and our place in society, determines greatly the context in which we ultimately lead working lives and therefore the justifications for our time in employment and working through projects, and ultimately our capacity to enjoy the work that we are doing.

Pursuing money for money’s sake is something everyone is capable of, yet it will neither satisfy lifestyle goals nor family goals.

That is of course a generalisation based on the assumption of the "average" wage.  If you're a multi-millionaire or above with a lifetime of access to funds, please stop reading now and enjoy your privilege.  Or donate a little to my charity, either way.

Examining our ethics

Christine Parker writes a tremendous about legal ethics, which I believe directly relates to every other human endeavor.  A noted expert in her field, she takes the time to examine the 4 approaches to legal ethics taken by lawyers.

Approach 1 – The Traditional Approach; Adversarial Advocate

Lawyers' ethics governed by role as advocate in adversarial legal process and complex legal system: partisanship, loyalty and non-accountability. Lawyers' duty is to advocate client's interests as vigorously as possible within the bounds of the law (barest obligation to legality) - let the chips fall where they may. Extends beyond adversary role to ensuring client autonomy in a complex legal system as required by the rule of law.

Approach 2 – Responsible Lawyer; Officer of the Court

Lawyers' ethics governed by role of facilitating the public administration of justice according to law in the public interest. Duties of advocacy are tempered by duty to ensure integrity of and compliance with the spirit of the law; to ensure that issues are not decided on purely procedural or formal grounds but substantive merits. Lawyer is responsible to make law work as fairly and justly as possible. May need to act as gatekeeper of law and advocate of legal system against client.

Approach 3 – Moral Activist; Agents for justice through law reform

General ethics, particularly social and political conceptions of justice, moral philosophy and promotion of substantive justice define lawyers' responsibilities. Lawyers should take advantage of their position to improve justice in two ways:

(1) Public interest lawyering and law reform activities to improve access to justice and change the law and legal institutions to make the law more substantively just (in the public interest).

(2) Client counselling to seek to persuade clients of the moral thing to do or withdraw if client wants something else.

Approach 4 – Ethics of Care

Social role of lawyers is irrelevant. Responsibilities to people, communities and relationships should guide lawyers. Preserving relationships and avoiding harm are more important than impersonal justice. The value of law, legal institutions and institutional roles of lawyers and others are derivative of relationships. People and relationships are more important than institutions such as law. The goal of the lawyer-client relationship (like all relationships) should be the moral worth and goodness of both lawyer and client, or at least the nurturing of relationships and community.

Parker reasons that ideally lawyers would be mindful of all 4 approaches, and according to the individual circumstance of the matter or client, use one of the approaches. The correct assumption here, based on my 3 years experience in other firms and 5 years in Johannessen Legal, is that the first approach, being the “traditional” one, is often the only approach taken by firms and lawyers.

Non-lawyers are not so different.

If we re-examine Parkers approaches in another way, we can see how they apply to other pursuits and endeavors:
  1. The traditional way.  Do your job.  No more, no less.
  2. Represent your profession.  Be true to the values of your institutions.
  3. Through your job, make things better.
  4. Build relationships with those around you.
I use "jobs", "pursuits", "projects" and "endeavors" through interchangeably.

If we accept these 4 pillars as viable options, which I firmly believe they are, then happiness comes from allowing oneself to access all 4 four pillars.

If happiness means job satisfaction, if happiness relates to both personal success and ability to positively effect and affect those around us, if happiness relates at all to focusing on the greater good or the world around us, then the 2 original needs I spoke of cannot be the only focus.

Seeing the value in what one does is the essential key to happiness.  

If you can't see the value, then look at your approaches and change how you do your job or even change what you do.

Life is far too short to be unhappy, to awaken every day and not be excited to tackle the day.

Carpe Diem my friends.  Find the reason WHY you're doing what you're doing, and ensure it makes you want to Carpe Diem.


Why is the light in the hallway on.

Did I leave it on?  What time is it?

Is it dinner time?  Wait, haven’t we just had dinner?  Why would it be dinner time?

I should have known then something was wrong.  For as long back as I can remember, the narrative in my head changed languages when I felt something was out of place, out of the ordinary.
I unhappily crept out from beneath the covers, took a couple of steps towards and through the bedroom  door and the offending hallway light.

And froze.

My parents were affectionate towards each other.  They held hands, gave hugs, kissed each other in public.  Not the broad, sweeping, dramatically long kisses a la Casablanca, rather the small, loveable pecks of two people who have been through much together, two people who value each other and the time they spend together, knowing what the absence of that feels like.

I had seen them hold each other before, many times.  But never had I seen that look on my mother’s face, never seen her hold my father the way she was holding him now.  Since that day I have seen that look too often, seen that pain and that sorrow more times than I can count, on the faces of people around the world.

That pain has haunted, motivated and hurt me now for over a decade.

He was on the floor of the hallway, head on her lap as she stroked his hair and whimpered into his ear. When she finally noticed me, she had to yell several times before I realized she was speaking to me. 

Go to the window.  Guide the paramedics in.

I ran to the balcony of our 1st floor apartment, waiting, dazed and lost.  Why was he on the floor?  I knew he was sick, and my mother had warned me that there may not be much longer for dad in this world, but that couldn’t be it, he couldn’t be hurt.  Not my father, not this giant of a man, not this strong, confident, amazing individual.

I saw the lights before I saw the ambulance.  I yelled and waved my arms frantically, guided the paramedics to the right entrance and stairs and opened the front door for them.

Everything was beginning to blur.  I couldn’t focus, I didn’t understand what was going on.
Crying.  Agitated speech.  They lift him on to the gurney.  I’m standing by the front door, waiting, not knowing what to do.  The first paramedic runs past, heading to the entrance.  The other two wheel my father to the front door, pause in front of me with an awkward look, my mother right behind them.

Kiss your father goodbye, Soheil.

I didn’t.

Too fast.  This was happening too fast.  I can’t handle this.

They can’t wait, they continue past me, out the door, down the stairs, to the ambulance, my mother yelling out that I should wait in the apartment, my godmother was coming to get me.

I waited in that apartment forever, on the couch next to the front door, somehow convinced that this was all wrong, that my parents would walk back in, that my father would be his usual self, that everything would be ok.

It’s been 17 years, and I still sometimes feel like I’m sitting on that couch, next to that door, waiting.

I don’t remember much after that.  My godmother picked me up, we drove to the hospital.  How strange that the streets were empty.  This is Athens, how can it be so quiet, even at this time of night.  

We walked into a deserted emergency department, the world becoming more and more blurry to me as my godmother walked into the ICU to ask if I could come in.

Another eternity passed before she returned.

Your father passed away.  I’m so sorry.

I hadn’t said goodbye.  

I never said goodbye.

I’m still on that couch, waiting, waiting for him to walk in the door as though he's been on another work trip, anxious to both see him and hear what the country, the island, the kingdom was like.  Anxious to smell that familiar scent of his skin, anxious to feel his hand on my back, always there to push me forward to new adventures or catch me should I fall.

---- ..................... ---- .................... ----

At 12.22am on the 22nd of September, 1994, my father passed away.

It's taken me a long time to come to grips with that fact, even though I'm not sure I'll ever be able to fully heal from it, yet this year, more so than any years before, I find so much solace and even happiness on this day, a day traditionally so sad and dark, in spite of my best intentions.

I find happiness in the promise of fathers to be and fathers around me.

I think of Otis and his, our, little princess AJ.  She's growing up too fast, yet will always be the little bundle of joy in our arms.  I think of Gary, that brute of a man, cuddling and coddling his beautiful Amelia.  I think of Sheks and his growing brood of gorgeous children.  How can one family be so lovely and good looking?  I think of Wayne, whose connection to his boy is so absolute it's hard to imagine this moment in time ever changing.  I think of Damien, whose love for his little one is so perfect.  I think of Dean, Big Daddy Brown, who will be the greatest father soon, who once held little AJ and in spite of all the nerves and awkwardness showed even then how ready he was to love and mold and teach and protect a child.  I think of my brothers, spread across the world, who will one day become fathers, and I can't help but smile on this day, something I never thought would happen.

I lost a huge influence in my life, an influence I never thought would be repeated.  A figure whose love of music and food and wine and literature and the world around him seemed so ideal, so unique.

It is of great comfort to know so many incredible, strong, intelligent, capable men exist in the world, that so many children will experience what I was fortunate enough to experience, if only for a short period of time.

I never said goodbye to my father.  I don't think I will ever want to.

Be the kind of man whose children will never want to say goodbye.


" 'Ohana' means 'Family', and Family means no one ever gets left behind... "
- Lilo & Stitch
Family has been on my mind for a little while now.  We lost someone far, far too young, someone I never had the privilege of meeting, someone who meant the world to a person I love, have loved, dearly.

Family has meant different things to me at different times, has comprised of different people, even.  My observations of others has convinced me that this is true of almost everyone around me; although the composition of a "family" may differ between people and cultures, the expectations of responsibility and devotion among the individuals within that unit seem to remain the same.  We value a sense of togetherness, of common love for and support of each other.  Whether that's in reference to your blood ties, your close friends, perhaps even your team-mates, the substance of the relationship remains the same.

And yet, for all of the opportunity we all find at every step in our life's journey to create, join, and build family, there is, nevertheless, no end to the amount of broken families, broken relationships, hurt, disappointed, unhappy people...

Just as there is no one person without their own issues, a subject for another time, there are also no families devoid of conflict and tension.  It seems to me that the most successful families, and here I define success as a continuation of the family unit as a happy, supportive and functioning unit, are those where the individuals are able to deal with conflict in a manner in which they are able to continue enjoying the benefits of "family".

We get angry at each other, we find faults in each other, we encounter conflict and dissent and disappointment and frustration.  That's not just family, that's people.  Yet the anger and hurt have never been able to stop the incredible good and happiness that continues to go on around us.  Those negative emotions only serve to impede our ability to see them, rather than actually cease the positivity still out there in the world.

Families and people drift apart.  That's a part of life.

I drifted away from a family member, and in the process never met Devin, a young man with whom I shared blood, a young boy born of a family member I love.

In the last decade alone I have been so fortunate to have met so many incredible people, many of whom I proudly and humbly call my family.  I have shared momentous occasions with them, celebrated victories and suffered defeats, shared time and experience and love with them, been there to support and in turn been supported in moments and on occasions where we would have faltered had we been alone.

I've been lucky enough to find family in so many places, yet I failed to maintain the family I already had; I know I'm not alone, and certainly not the last to do so... a fact steeped in sadness rather than comfort.

Some families need no maintenance to continue unimpeded and successful; my brothers never seem to miss a beat when we reunite after years and continents apart... other families require constant upkeep, blood ties especially...

My conclusion from these jumbled thoughts and ramblings is resolutely and absolutely that the outcome is worth the effort.

I never met you, dear Devin.  So why do I feel so hurt, so very lost since I heard you had passed?

We're family.  No amount of distance or time can change that...

No matter the conflict, no matter the issue, no matter the pain, there just never seems to be a good enough reason to cast away the people who you once felt were family.  There's a reason they earned that right in the first place; they will always be worth fighting for.

I used to tell someone I care for deeply that no matter how poorly they felt towards their family, we would never stop trying, never stop talking, never stop caring for that family.  Conflict should never mean shutting people out...

Life goes on.  Let's not miss out on all of the happiness and joy it holds merely for the sake of feeding our discontent.

" This is my family. I found it, all on my own. Is little, and broken, but still good. Ya. Still good. " - Lilo & Stitch

On Books...

My parents bestowed upon me so many wonderful gifts over the course of my childhood.  A love of travel, a love of exploration, and certainly not least, a love of books.

The very first book I read was "See Spot Run".  Even at an early age, I craved more.  Much, much more.  My second book was a cowboy story, meant for several grades above me, however the drawing of a cowboy overseeing his cattle while perched on his steed's saddle was too alluring to hesitate; I was hooked.

My mother was forever taking me to libraries.  I would gather as many books as I could, cursing the library's checkout limit while at the same time salivating at the variety in my little arms; from adventure to science fiction, western to horror, spy to ancient history, I attempted to gather every last word of every last page I could find.

My father introduced me to the great french writers and comic creators, from Hugo to Moliere and Goscinny and Uderzo.  Asterix and Lucky Luke comics were his go-to gifts, and I reveled in them, eagerly anticipating the next adventure in the series.  As an adult now, I am attempting to recollect all of the french, original versions.

My mother introduced me to Agatha Christie and the marvelous Monsieur Hercule Poirot.  Vacations would often be spent in incredible Pacific locales, on a beach, with a good Poirot mystery in one hand and a Gameboy in the other.

By the time I had reached 8, I was devouring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock stories and testing myself with authors far beyond the boundaries of my own local library.  Reading had so quickly become a passion, one I still foster and cherish to this day.  It seems odd to pass a bookstore and not go in, not explore the great stories that lie within.  To list my favourite authors and books would take far too long.  Perhaps the fact that the only piece of furniture I brought across the Atlantic is my library my serve as some indication of my loyalty to books.

Having worked with, taught and mentored young people for over a decade now, I've seen and felt the explosion of casual "sharing" of information.  Through social media and blogs, and I refer to tumblr as a blog, anyone and everyone shares little tidbits of information, from the inane and irrelevant to at times deep and personal... yet the commonality between an overwhelming majority of sources today is that they are short, devoid of context or exploration.  Younger generations are exposed to snippets, brief windows of insight into the minds of others without being let in the door and allowed to see within the house.

It may be a sign of my age, it may be a natural progression for me to look on the newer generations and pine for my own youth, yet I can't help but feel that young people are missing out on the great lessons and support that books provide.

Whatever the subject, whatever the category, books alight the imagination and delight the senses beyond the shallow reach of a sentence plastered across a blurry photo.  Beyond movies, and I say this as a fanatic of cinema, books are afforded the luxury of not being constrained by a time limit.  Some of my fondest memories and greatest life lessons came from books; to find that someone else has shared your thoughts, your emotions, your passions and your fears, and then to be allowed to see how they have dealt with those very same issues and ideas affords the reader insight they may not otherwise have, context and even clarity which may not have been available otherwise.

To rush headfirst into adventures with protagonists with very different characteristics and motivations than one may ever have is as entertaining as it is mentally stimulating.  To explore new worlds and creatures and people and beings, to discover lost places and people, to be thrown into turmoil or brought to calm, books have incredible power in their prose, a power which seems to be availed of less and less.

For a very brief moment, I lamented the books I was seeing on shelves.  Stephanie Meyer, I'm looking at you.  Yet so much great literature continues to be written, and I find myself reading a new book once every couple of weeks.

So to my friends who are parents, to those of you reading this blog entry, I hope you too find the incredible gift of books in your own lives.  It will be a gift you'll want to give to everyone around you.

“There is no friend as loyal as a book.” 
― Ernest Hemingway

“Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.” 
― John GreenThe Fault in Our Stars

“A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.” 
― George R.R. MartinA Game of Thrones

“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life.” 
― Mark Twain

“It is what you read when you don't have to that determines what you will be when you can't help it.” 
― Oscar Wilde

A Blessing And An Honor...

Spend enough time with your teammates, and words become unnecessary.  Communication is elevated from the direct to the non-verbal, simple, subtle nuances in body language being enough to express a broad range of emotions to those around you who are now much more than teammates.
So we sat, my brothers and I, around a small laptop, with an internet connection so poor that only 1 or 2 of every 6 or so seconds of the 2013 Finals could be seen with any clarity.
We sat around this small laptop, on a small table, in a small corner of a small town in Senegal, sweat dripping off of our weary bodies, mosquitoes gorging themselves on our swollen limbs, heads heavy from the heat of the day.  We sat, and were silent.
We are teammates and brothers not by birth or by chance; we call ourselves the Big Bangs, a misleading name at the best of times, and are united in our passion, dedication and love for this not for profit which uses basketball to fight youth poverty and social disadvantage around the world.
We had just spent a full day at a children's center in Mbour, taking care of, feeding and playing with 100's of street-children, during a week in Senegal where we were training our new team there to carry on our programs and adopt our methods.  We had come to this country, as we do with every country in which we establish ourselves, with love and happiness and a great enthusiasm for the potential of the young people within it.
Yet here we sat, the enthusiasm and love and happiness on hold; through the blistering heat, we had frozen.
As lovers of this beautiful game it was an inevitability that we would love the Spurs; that my family are native to San Antonio and I have been a lifelong fan was a happy coincidence.  Our focus, therefore, was on OUR team, the team we have emulated not only on the court together, but also as a Program, as a way of being.
Even before The Shot, we had an unspoken foreboding about what was to come.  
The loss, delivered to us some 15 minutes after it had really happened thanks to connection issues, hit us hard.
I'm often asked across the board why sport, particularly basketball, is such a big part of my life, why I use it in every facet of my work not only with the Big Bang Ballers but also when helping others establish their own community or not for profit organisations, why does something as seemingly small as a basketball game have such an effect on me particularly when contrasted with the vast developmental and societal challenges we face as an organisation on a daily basis.
The answer is simple on the face of it, but so much more complex when unwrapped; basketball is a microcosm of life.  Our organisation has used it to inspire and motivate and support over 42,000 kids in 12 countries over the last 5 years.  I've personally used the game, the lessons it teaches and the ways it tests character to coach 1,000's of boys and girls.  My brothers and I have grown up learning from this game, and in turn taught through it as well.
Basketball matters because life matters, and what better example of how to live one's live with honor, respect, loyalty and focus than the San Antonio Spurs?
The loss hit hard, yet the mood some hours later, when the roosters had woken the others from their slumber, was not one of anger or sadness, but of hope, of expectation, of excitement for the future.
The game teaches us that no matter how many times the opposing team scores on you, you ALWAYS get the ball back.  There is always another opportunity to change your situation, to improve and learn and hopefully excel.  We started the day then not forlorn at a loss but rather looking ahead to the next opportunity to do better, to be better.
It's easy to "be a team" when you're winning; it's an entirely different beast when faced with a loss or a difficult situation.  In those moments, one's character is tested, and once you realise just how powerful a team can be compared to an individual, once you commit yourself to the greater good and persevere not for yourself, but for the betterment of those around you whom you have the privilege of calling brothers, then no loss ever seems that great, no hardship ever seems permanent, no barrier seems to monumental to overcome.
As the confetti rained down this season, there was an air of inevitability among my brothers.  That it took 7 years was of no consequence; the Spurs had persevered, had remained true to their values and their morals and continued to run their Program in the way they believed was for the betterment of their entire team.  Excellence is a habit, and a habit of excellence is infectious.
We watched the game in our own corners of the world, from Australia to Philippines to France to Malaysia to Senegal to Nepal to the US, and though we were elated at the result, no words were needed to express our true sentiments.
I write this today as I glance over my organisation's achievements over the last 5 years.  I see similarities, and can't help but chuckle a little when I think of just how much I have emulated Coach Pop and the Spurs, or at least tried to, in both my personal and professional life.  Of how within our organisation we have persevered through stumbles and failures and losses, of how personally there have been seemingly endless losing streaks, yet through it all I, and we, have committed ourselves to the system, to the Program, and never wavered on our loyalty to it and the certainty that the hard work will pay off.
That the system will deliver.
That though the pounding seems endless, the sculpture is there, below the surface, and that all it demands is for the artist to keep on pounding away.
It has been a blessing and a humbling honor to be a lifelong Spurs fan.
It has been a blessing and a humbling honor to be a Big Bang Baller.
To celebrate both 5 years of the Big Bangs as well as the 2014 NBA Championship is both serendipitous and oddly inevitable.


In basketball, coaches often worry about chemistry.  Chemistry is a difficult concept to adequately describe and even more difficult to cultivate.

Bringing people who are often very different together is so counter-intuitively difficult in spite of their common goals.

Chemistry also ebbs and flows; where there may be a week or two where the team operates as though they are the cogs of the same machine, there may also be a couple of weeks where everyone seems to be on different pages of different books… the mixed analogy is on purpose.

Fostering, developing, nurturing good chemistry is a long, arduous process, with a level of commitment involved above and beyond any other aspect of the game, which in and of itself is complicated and intensely grand in its scope.

I’m sitting in front of my laptop this morning, working on several things at once, and watching the San Antonio Spurs, my hometown team, the team upon which my beloved charity, the Big Bangs, my philosophy of basketball and even the direction of my life has been based, and I can’t help but be inspired…

If you haven’t seen this tribute yet, please pause and do so now: .

Chemistry comes from dedicating yourself not only to a common goal, but also from love.

Love and basketball?  Unquestionably.

This is a beautiful game, with so much intricacy and an eternal range of options on how it can be played, yet the most successful of teams, the most successful of franchises, operate not with a focus on one individual (sorry Cleveland), not with a focus on players themselves (sorry Brooklyn), not even with a focus on funds (sorry mostly every other team).

The best players always focus on love.  Love of the game, love of the competition, love for your teammates and your franchise and most of all, love for the legacy of this sport called basketball.

Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncun.


What did these great players have in common?  They so loved the game, so loved their teammates, and so loved the grand ideals of this sport that their very existence runs parallel to the game, not as a sideshow, not as a career, not as a source of fame.

The separation between them is also love; their successes on the court stemmed from their ability to either be within or create chemistry in their teams.

Kobe is a legend.  Tim is a legend.  Yet for both purists and statisticians, who has had the greater career?  My bias and my love say Tim on the Spurs, and both purists and Statisticians agree.

Your team, whether on the court, in the workplace, even your team at home, being yourself and your partner, will always require cultivation and management of “chemistry”.  Finding balance in opinions, managing expectations and relationships, ensuring each individual is both understood and understands those around them is a monumental task… however the rewards for prioritizing chemistry are endless.

Chemistry is a full-time concern, rightfully so.  Contrary to popular belief it does not occur automatically; sometimes it is easier to find, however it will always require work and focus.

When you love something or someone, don’t ignore the effort chemistry requires of you.  Don’t ever allow yourself to be complacent with that love; saying isn’t enough, you need to show that love.  Wanting chemistry is not enough, you need to actively work on maintaining it.

So yet again I look to my team, my constant source of inspiration and love to remind and teach me how best to attain happiness in my life.

We are all guilty of allowing chemistry to wane, and that’s ok… however I won’t allow myself to take the easy route and allow chemistry with my loved ones to fall because of my own laziness, my own reluctance to put in the work required.

Are you putting in the work required?  Are you being mindful of how important your team's chemistry is to your success?

You're not alone in the world, even Wolves run in packs at times.