"Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship."
-- Benjamin Franklin

Although I have never been one to worry about the economy, mostly because I understand that the ups and downs of it all are perpetually cyclical, there is something about the current fiscal crisis that makes me quite concerned. And in trying to connect the dots and trace the pattern to its genesis, I keep coming to the same place -- the average American citizen. We Americans have become so accustomed to living high on the hog, as my southern family members would say, that we have forgotten how quickly the tides of good fortune can turn. As a result, most of us fail to distinguish between a want and a need, don't save for the proverbial rainy day, spend more than we can afford, use credit cards instead of cash, and seek scapegoats for our own gluttony and greed.

Ali and I have operated on a "cash and carry" system, both in our personal and business lives, for nearly three decades. Our rule of thumb is that if we can't pay for something when we want it, we can continue to get by without it until we can pay for it. In our early married life, this often meant eating macaroni for days on end while we saved for whatever it was that was ready to go out (like the refrigerator) or that we felt we really needed to have (like a new computer), but we got through none the worse for wear. In fact, I'd say that it made me appreciate the things that I do have all the more as a result.

I see credit card merchants on our campus all the time, plying their cards to the college kids. Most of the students are too inexperienced to realize the trap that they are getting themselves into and before they know it, they find themselves trapped in the never-ending web of credit debt. More often than not, credit and credit cards enable and even encourage people to live beyond their means. Sadly, when the economy takes a downturn, the people entrapped in the credit web feel the pinch first. And even more sad, it is these people who are most likely to join the ranks of the unemployed when companies begin laying off workers. It creates a seemingly never-ending downward spiral of misery.

I've often wondered how people in my generation and those that came after would manage if the country ever experienced another Great Depression. Ali and I would fare better than just about everyone we know simply because we've made it a point not to get ourselves caught in the credit web. With the exception of another 4 years on our mortgage, we owe nothing. We have two warehouses of products that were paid for long before they arrived from Egypt. Our customers know that they get no products unless they come with cash in hand to pay for them. We don't use credit and we don't extend it.

With all the recent economic doom and gloom, I can't help but feel sorry for anyone who has been trapped and lost their job. I can only imagine how frightening and frustrating it must be; however, I have to say that this is definitely one time when I can honestly say that I am grateful not to have to truly understand that kind of misery.

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One of the tools of intimidation used against those who were sitting on the fence during the election was the charge that President Elect Obama is really a Muslim in Christian clothing. The Muslims of the world knew better, but the Neo-Con pundits and their audiences refused to listen. This morning's news, however, proves us right.

Al-Qaeda Issue Obama Threat

From the tape that Zawahiri released to the public: "It appears that you don’t know anything about the Muslim Ummah (community) and its history, and the fate of the traitors who co-operated with the invaders against it, and don’t know anything about the history of Afghanistan and its free and defiant Muslim people."

I told you so!
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Back row: Carleen, Ali, Bill (Carleen's dad & Iman's grandfather), Carmen (Carleen's stepmom & Iman's grandma)
Front row: Iman, Magdy

It's official
-- Magdy Salama and Iman Ibrahim are now engaged! Actually, the engagement party was on Saturday, November 15, but I haven't had time to post any photos until now. Sorry about that!

The wedding date had been set for March 28, 2009; however, as of yesterday, they may decide to move it up to sometime in December. We'll just have to wait and see. . .
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Anyone who knows me is aware of the fact that I have ACM I (Arnold Chiari Malformation I). Because it is such an unusual condition, within hours of getting the diagnosis, I scoured the internet looking for information and support groups to help me understand it better. That is when I discovered WACMA, the World Arnold Chiari Malformation Association, and its founder, Chip Vierow. WACMA's website turned out to be a treasure trove of information for the newly diagnosed like me. It was from the WACMA page that I found the support group to which I currently belong. And it was from Chip's website that I learned my decompression surgery qualified me for the nickname of Zipperhead.

Chip's website has been bookmarked on all of my computers for two years now. It is the link I send to people who want to know more about the condition. It is where I go when I need additional information about a symptom or research. Although I didn't really know Chip, his story and generosity in sharing what he knew about ACM I have helped me during my journey on the Zipperhead Road.

A few days ago, while searching for some additional information about a symptom, I was shocked to find a Google result for a discussion board on which had been posted an announcement that Chip had died. In addition to ACM I, Chip suffered from a liver ailment for which he was awaiting a transplant. He had a live donor in his best friend, but before the transplant could be done, Chip passed away.

It seems strange to mourn for someone you didn't really know, someone whom you have never met. But Chip's concern and compassion for his fellow Zipperheads was amazing. He will be sorely missed.
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Come gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You'll be drenched to the bone.
If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'.

Twenty years ago, Ali and I joined Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition and got to see, from the bottom rung of the ladder, the political machinery that runs our country when we participated in the selection of delegates to represent the Democratic party in the presidential election. It was an exciting time for both of us, albeit for very different reasons. For Ali, the 1988 election marked his entry into citizenship and the empowerment that the right to vote for the first time gives us all. For me, though, the election called to mind the more turbulent times of my childhood when young people across the country stood up to the political machinery and demanded that they, too, be counted.

Come writers and critics
Who prophesize with your pen
And keep your eyes wide
The chance won't come again
And don't speak too soon
For the wheel's still in spin
And there's no tellin' who
That it's namin'.
For the loser now
Will be later to win
For the times they are a-changin'.

Much like the election of 1960 and the Democratic Convention of 1968 must have done for those who were old enough to participate (I was not), the 1988 election cycle offered me hope for greater things. It also provided me with a greater understanding of how utterly powerful the wall of ignorance in America had remained beyond the Civil Rights Movement. I learned that although the times had changed considerably, they hadn't metamorphosed quite enough to allow a black man to realistically aspire to the highest political office in the land. But the most important lesson of 1988 for me was that hope would really die only if we allowed it to happen.

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'.
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.

For twenty years, I've hung onto the hope that America would change enough to build a true coalition that realistically represents what this country is all about. There have been times when I wondered if we would ever cross the bridge spanning the gap between ignorance and inclusion, but I have always held onto the hope that someday we would and that someday would happen during my lifetime. Yesterday, my hope was realized.

We've still got a way to go before we can say that we have crossed the bridge of ignorance and reached the promised land of inclusion, but at least we are on it and moving steadily forward! Bobby Kennedy said it best:

"The future does not belong to those who are content with today, apathetic toward common problems and their fellow man alike, timid and fearful in the face of new ideas and bold projects. Rather, it will belong to those who can blend vision, reason, and courage in a personal commitment to the ideals and great enterprises of American society. Our future may lie beyond our vision, but it is not completely beyond our control. It is the shaping impulse of America that neither fate nor nature nor the irresistible tides of history, but the work of our own hands, matched to reason and principle, that will determine our destiny."

So to those who are unhappy with the results of the 2008 election, I reiterate

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don't criticize
What you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road
Is rapidly agin'.
Please get out of the new one
If you can't lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin'.
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