Tag Archives: Negin Farsad

On blazars, quantum computers, and looking for life on Mars: A recap of TEDFellows Session 1 at TED2015


TED Fellows and Senior Fellows have just opened TED2015 with a bang in the beautiful Kay Meek theatre in Vancouver. In the first session, discover: how bacteria can be programmed to detect and treat cancer, a yellow legal pad that smuggles transgressive data into the halls of power, what makes non-state armed groups tick, hyperactive supermassive black holes — and much more.

East African singer Somi sets the mood for the TED2015 Fellows talks with Abbey Lincoln’s “Should Have Been,” accompanied on double bass by Jodi Proznick. (Read more about Somi and her album The Lagos Music Salon on the TED Blog.

There are more bacteria in our bodies than stars in our galaxy, says bioengineer Tal Danino, and they are an integral part of our health. But did you know that we can program bacteria as though they were computers? Danino first engineered bacteria to produce fluorescent proteins in a rhythmic fashion, and generated a molecule that allows bacteria to communicate and synchronize. Danino next turned his attention to using programmable bacteria to detect and treat diseases like cancer. He programmed a bacteria to alert to the presence of liver cancer by producing a molecule that changes the color of urine in cancer’s presence. Another bacteria can be programmed to produce molecules that cause tumors to shrink. Danino also produces beautiful works of art using bacteria engineered to form complex patterns; he shows an image of a colorful and intricate mandala, a symbol of the universe, that speaks to the power and beauty of the invisible.

Some people are moved by sunsets, weddings, a child’s birth. But for artist Sarah Sandman, marching band parades make the tears flow. Why? It’s the magical togetherness of people moving in sync that pulls her heartstrings, she says. An artist who designs ways to bring people together, Sandman cares less about personal expression than about creating human connection, “extracting a collective voice.” Her projects have included designing black hand-shaped protest signs with her HOSTOS South Bronx students to join the Hands Up, Don’t Shoot movement, Human Scrabble games where total strangers race to form words together, and Gift Cycle — in which she and her collaborator rode 75 miles a day from community to community all the way across the United States, carrying local art from one location to exchange with artists in the next community. A narrative of togetherness emerged, unexpected acts of kindness, fun, and generosity — building social capital through the sweat of altruism.

To read the full recap, visit the TED Blog >>>

Miley, Minecraft, Mandela: Negin Farsad leaves 2013′s shenanigans in the dust

All the Time by TED Fellow Alicia Eggert

All the Time by TED Fellow Alicia Eggert


As 2013 inexorably rolls into 2014, social justice comedian and filmmaker Negin Farsad has a few choice words for the outgoing 365 days…

You started 2013 thinking it was gonna be a real hoot. There was an inauguration for a president, a bunch of balls, Beyoncé sang, spirits were high!

2013 had its moments! You saw the royal baby, the Kimye baby, the brilliant death of Walter White. You got a colorful iPhone, you started Instagramming your favorite cappuccinos, you actually used all the Pilates classes you got in that one Groupon. You gave up snark for smarm, you tried kale for the first time, and you finally replaced your desk chair with an exercise ball! You were doing GOOD.

But things got murky with ol’ 2013. Take Miley Cyrus, she was suddenly full of haircuts, tongue gestures and twerking – or was it tweeking? Or was it butt-clapping? You resolved to keep better track of popular dance moves. But how could you? You hadn’t logged onto Twitter in like a week! You may as well be dead. So you start furiously tweeting pithy one-liners about Carlos Danger, about crack smoking mayors, about Paula Deen hating black people, about fictional fat Santa’s race.

You were super in love with Obama until his website didn’t work immediately and then you were super mad at Obama. Your 3D printer keeps jamming, which is probably Obama’s fault too. You ended up with health insurance but you were still inexplicably mad at the Prez.

You get excited because there might be a House vote on the immigration bill. No wait, there isn’t. No wait, there is. No wait… You look at your toilet, you realized that by carting off your family’s pooh throughout the year it has done more than all of Congress.

You try to figure out the rules on being gay – you can marry in some states (woo hoo!); not in others (boo!); you’re welcomed as Olympic athletes in some countries (woo hoo!); shunned in others (boo!); beloved by the pope (woo hoo!); scorned by people who sell duck calls (boo!). The rules are too complicated so you ditch that and play Minecraft.

And pow! There’s a government shutdown, bitches! You realize that little joke you made about Congress and your toilet is actually true! You also realize that apparently the US government ain’t no match for the minority wing of an already unpopular political party that’s obsessed with tea and three cornered hats. Hell no it isn’t!

You learn that all your carefully crafted text messages, voicemails and cell phone calls were being saved, archived, tapped, reread, reviewed, and re-enjoyed all by the country’s very own National Security Agency. You decide not to think about civil liberties or privacy or like “law” or whatever, and focus your attention on Edward Snowden, the dude with the laptops. Did you know he had a stripper girlfriend? Now there’s something to post on Facebook!

Oh yes, Facebook’s stock was down and then up again and… does it even matter? Because once you log on you’re reminded that all of your friends have BETTER LIVES THAN YOU. They’re au courant on Walking Dead episodes and have interesting thoughts on the morality of Snapchat. They post multitudinous photos of the kind of joy you couldn’t possibly ever achieve because you’re single with no kids or because you have too many children or because you hate your husband or because you’re divorced and plan on hating all future women… Aw man! 2013 has you feeling like garbage.

But forget 2013, it just soiled itself. Its like the last one left at the party, it won’t get the hint. The hosts are already clearing out the empty bottles. Its time for it to go! 2013 is goosed, it’s cooked, its burnt on one side, it will never taste good in these buns, gah!

But here comes 2014 and 2014 is the year you’re going to remember to vote, to jog, to care, to be fair. You’re gonna clean the gutters and stand on the side of justice and you’re not gonna let Ted Cruz or the NSA or duck hunters keep you down. You’re gonna get all inspire-y like Malala, you’re gonna get in the trenches like Madiba. This is your year to throw on your Google Glass, punch the boogeyman in the dick, and tell all them schmos to tread lightly ’cause 2014 is about to Turn. This. All. Around.







Give me your fussy, your bored, your hard to buy for: the TED Fellows gift guide

Still hurting for gift ideas? Never fear. The inventive and iconoclastic TED Fellows are coming to the rescue with the recent fruit of their labors. These inspired and unusual items — from Chinese-inflected banjo music to a remote-controlled underwater vehicle — are sure to delight your loved ones. Just be gentle stuffing that all-terrain vehicle into the stocking, or Grandpa George into the mushroom burial suit.


The gift: The littleBits Synth Kit
Perfect for: Aspiring musicians and actual musicians
The latest ingenious offering from Ayah Bdeir’s littleBits electronic building block company lets you snap together a modular synthesizer from 12 pieces. The product of a three-way partnership among littleBits, comedian-musician-anthropologist Reggie Watts (watch his TED Talk) and famed synth maker KORG, the littleBits SynthKit can be mixed and matched with any other littleBits kits to create all manner of musical artworks and toys with sound.
Get itOrder it through the littleBits website ($159)


The gift: The Muslims Are Coming!
Perfect for
: The social-justice-minded comedy fiend
Comedian and filmmaker Negin Farsad‘s hilarious documentary follows a group of Muslim-American comedians as they tour Middle America on a mission to combat Islamophobia and convert it to Muslim love. Featuring Farsad, and co-produced by TED Fellow Andrew MendelsonTMAC also features public interventions like the “Ask a Muslim” booth and the game show “Name That Religion” — not to mention special appearances by comedy heavyweights Jon Stewart, David Cross, Janeane Garofalo and Rachel Maddow.
Get it: Order the DVD ($15), or purchase it via iTunes or Amazon ($9.99)



The gift: OpenROV Kit
Perfect for: Explorers, your resident Jacques Cousteau
David Lang and his friend Eric Stackpole wanted to explore an underwater limestone cave in California, but they didn’t have the remote-controlled robot that would make it possible. So they decided to build one — opening up the process for instructions and advice from the public. In the process, they not only invented the OpenROV, the world’s first affordable, open-source, remote-controlled underwater robot, but formed a thriving global community of underwater explorers.
Get itBuy the latest iteration of OpenROV ($849)


The gift: City of Refuge
Perfect for: Fans of pop, folk and bluegrass, and folks with eclectic ears
Singing, songwriting, Illinois-born, Nashville-based, Chinese-speaking clawhammer banjo player Abigail Washburn weaves together disparate musical traditions and genres from the past and present to create an exuberant and soulful sound. Features My Morning Jacket’s Carl Bromel, the Decemberists’ Chris Funk, Turtle Island String Quartet’s Jeremy Kittell, atmospheric jazz guitarist Bill Frisell and Mongolian string band Hanggai.
Get itAvailable via Amazon ($14)

To read the full post, visit the TED Blog >>>


The Muslims Are Coming!: Fellows Friday with Negin Farsad

The Muslims Are Coming!:: Dean Obeidallah and Negin Farsad bowling down the alley.

The Muslims Are Coming!:: Dean Obeidallah and Negin Farsad bowling down the alley.

Ever bowled with a Muslim? Why not? Negin Farsad wants to know. The comedian and filmmaker’s new documentary The Muslims Are Coming! follows a group of Muslim-American comedians as they travel through Middle America setting up street actions — Hug a Muslim, Bowl with a Muslim, Ask a Muslim — skewering stereotypes and turning Islamophobia into Muslim love. Now on the last leg of her tour promoting the US theatrical launch of the film, Farsad tells the TED Blog how her lifelong passion for social justice led her from working as an intern for Hillary Clinton to a job as a policy advisor for the city of New York — to creating shows for Comedy Central, filming rapping nerds and making sure everyone has hugged a Muslim.

After your first TED conference in 2013, you wrote a hilarious piece about the experience, how you felt alienated from it. Why?

It’s so big, so lofty, and there’s so much innovation — and I am a comedian. Someone else’s “innovations in mummification processes” is my fart jokes. I mean, social justice comedy is my main thing. So, I guess I understand why I was selected for a TED Fellowship. Being the only stand-up comedian in the TED Fellows among so many other fields is one of the most interesting things about the process so far.

Above: Negin Farsad performs at Standup NY.

Tell me about yourself. Did you wake up one morning when you were a kid, and say, “I want to be a comedian”?

No, I woke up one day as a kid and I was like, “I’m going to be President of the United States! I’m going to end the racial divide, and I’m going to make healthcare available for everybody.” That’s what I said, when I was eleven. I’m an Iranian-American Muslim lady, and I grew up in Palm Springs, in the desert of Southern California. My parents emigrated from Iran before I was born, and severe allergies on my part as a baby are what enabled them to stay in the United States. Just a random side note. They have one of those classic immigration stories: they came with nothing, blah blah blah, learned the language, built a life, etcetera. You know, just really traumatic stuff. Stuff I don’t have to do because they did it. So identity became a really large part of my life.

In high school I was a drama geek, but also president of the debate club. I went to Cornell for undergrad, and I was a double major in government and theater. Then I joined a campus sketch comedy troupe. I really started to identify with the black struggle, the Latino struggle, with race politics and policy in general. So my commitment to public policy and public services has been around forever. I moved to New York, and I started another sketch comedy troupe, and I began excelling in comedy. Even still, I thought this was just a hobby I’d outgrow. “You must outgrow it, because you have to be a public servant.” So I went to grad school for African American studies and public policy as a dual degree at Columbia.

I ended up interning for Charles Rangel and Hillary Clinton. I really believed in, and still do believe in, that kind of work. It was valuable seeing people firsthand who are doing really good work, and I became even more emotionally committed to it. Once I graduated from grad school, I got a job with the New York City Campaign Finance Board and I would run numbers and talk about leveling the playing field for candidates and so on. It’s a really great program, and an example for what campaign finance can really be nationally.

But I had this nagging, horrible feeling like I just didn’t want to do it. Meanwhile, I was performing stand-up every night. By day, I’d go to city council meetings, dealing with really serious public servants. At a certain point, it just felt inappropriate, you know what I mean?

The Muslims Are Coming!: Hug a Muslim

The Muslims Are Coming!: Hug a Muslim

Is the passion for policy still there?

The passion’s still there, but I couldn’t be a part of the execution from a policy end. And I thought that’s what I always wanted to do — that I wanted to run for office. Then I realized, I think my skills are better used in a different way, which is to fold those things into my comedy.

And so began the Era of Parental Disappointment — my comedy career, a field that is horribly unstable and that half the time people don’t even view as a real art. It’s just one of these things where people are like, “Well you just go up there and wing it, right? It’s no big deal.” No, this takes years and years and years of boot-camp style, in-the-field training. And you’re never done training, because you always have to develop new material, you always have to test it and you always have to put yourself through the wringer. It can be seriously demoralizing. And then half the time you don’t get paid.

To read the full interview, visit the TED Blog >>>