The author reporting from an Islamic religious school in Pakistan in 2009 (Photo: Alex Stonehill)

My finger froze over the mouse as I squinted at a blurry photo of a young Pakistani man holding an AK-47 on my Facebook page.  “Confirm friend request,” the cheerful blue font suggested. I closed the window and sighed, saving the decision for another morning.

The obvious answer here—the one I got from everyone I showed the photo to—was: “Don’t friend him, he looks like a freaking terrorist.”  But I know Toffee and I do consider him a friend (well, at least in the Facebook sense of the word).

We met in Pakistan a few years ago when I was reporting on education issues for the Common Language Project.  It was the spring of 2009 and the Taliban had taken over sections of the country—sections not so far from Islamabad where Toffee was going to university.

He did some translation for one of my stories, but really we just liked hanging out and talking about politics and culture.  He had grown up a wealthy Pashtun in the tribal areas and I was curious about life in a part of Pakistan that I couldn’t safely visit.

We were roughly the same age and Toffee wanted to know how things were different in America. Despite his traditional upbringing and the very serious circumstances of his country, Toffee’s stylish clothes and cute adopted nickname made him seem more like a happy-go-lucky hipster than anything. We joked about creating a cultural exchange program for twenty-somethings.

Toffee asked me if Americans think all Pashtuns are terrorists.

Photo credit: MercyCorps

Seattle is a veritable technology hub. It’s home to two of the biggest tech companies on the planet, Microsoft and Amazon.

Hundreds of geeks are hard at work in Seattle offices, creating the next-generation of computer and web products. But we can’t claim geeks as our own.

Anywhere there’s electricity and a connection to the Internet, you’ll find them – even in the Gaza Strip, a tiny and impoverished territory in the Middle East.

Now, Portland-based aid group MercyCorps is working to build a bridge between American software developers and their counterparts in Gaza.

Partnered with Google and Seattle-area nonprofit Startup Weekend, the organization is calling on Seattle’s tech community to support Palestinian startup companies, whether through virtual mentoring or social investing.

As the program’s leaders explained in a discussion hosted by MercyCorps in Seattle last week, Palestinian geeks went wild in a 54-hour marathon “Startup Weekend” last month. You can see young developers positively brimming with enthusiasm in this video.

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iPhone 3
(Photo by Alex Stonehill)

Like any devout follower, Mike Daisey was reluctant to ask questions about his favorite religion—the church of Apple. A self-professed gadget freak and number one fan of the ubiquitous technology company, Daisey’s reluctance is probably familiar to all of us. In his most recent monologue on Chicago Public Media’s popular series, This American Life, Daisy renews the debate about “fair trade” electronics by traveling to China and investigating working conditions at Apple’s main manufacturing plant, Foxconn.

Daisey is the force behind the one-man hit performance, “The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs,” which showed at Seattle Repertory Theatre last April. Part of the show is about the late Steve Jobs and the other part deals with Daisey’s experiences visiting Chinese electronic manufacturing plants. In an interview with the New York Times, Daisey explains that he was shocked by “the level of dehumanization built into the systems that have been put into place by American corporations in collusion with suppliers.”

But is anyone really surprised by what he found? Should it come as a shock that while hundreds of thousands of Americans are perusing the latest gadgets at this week’s Consumer Electronics Show, children as young as 12 are working full-time in China in conditions so poor their manufacturing plants are surrounded by suicide-thwarting nets?