Monthly Archives: May 2008

On High-tech Cheetahs and Blade Runners in Africa


It looks like double-amputee South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius may still be able to compete in the Beijing Olympics this year if he achieves the required times.

The IAAF had barred Pistorius, who runs the 400m sprint from competing, arguing that his carbon fibre “Cheetah” prosthetics may give him a technical edge unavailable to other runners.

Pistorius, 21, had both legs amputated below the knee when he was less than a year old. “These have always been my legs,” he told Jere Longman in a Times profile last year. “I train harder than other guys, eat better, sleep better and wake up thinking about athletics. I think that’s probably why I’m a bit of an exception.”

TIME Magazine ranks Oscar Pistorius as one of the 100 most influential people of 2008. The 21-year-old Pistorius had long learned not to consider his artificial legs a hindrance, even refusing to park his car in a spot for disabled people.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The story of a childhood friend and the Karmic Jacket

Does Karma really exist? – I often wonder if what goes around comes around or are we just living in a world of coincidences. Here is one such tiny story that makes you question the nature of things.

It all began in 2005 when a friend, who was visiting for the weekend, and I were off to explore San Francisco on a sunny afternoon. We stopped by the GAP at fisherman’s wharf and as an impulse buy bought the same grey jacket that was on sale.

Years passed and I had given mine away to a poor panhandler who stood outside my office – the sleeves were a little bit longer and I had decided he would put it to better use. I had not given the issue a second thought until recently.

This long weekend, while I was visiting Los Angeles – I didn’t have a jacket as I had anticipated a warmer weather. My friend instinctively lent me a jacket that he had at the back of his closet – later that night he decided that it looked better on me and since he hadn’t worn it enough I should keep it. I protested, he insisted .. and finally I gave in.

As you must have guessed, it was the exact replica of the jacket I had given away (we had purchased them together, 3 years ago) – this did not occur to either of us until later in the week when suddenly it all came back to me. Perhaps this was the worlds way of adjusting itself – I had given away my jacket without a second thought – and through my friend’s kindness the world had thanked me back with an unmistakable gesture.

Karma, had paid its dues by this one kind gesture.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

China and the importance of a robust civic society during a crisis

The importance of a robust civil society can be invaluable during a time of national crisis as shown by the current events in China.

China has found itself in the unusual position of being showered with international praise, both for its reaction to the disaster and the openness with which it has allowed the details to be reported. In the past when the government was under-resourced and overwhelmed by natural calamity, and was quick to bury the evidence of their incompetence – but the openness has given them access

The NYTimes reports that from the moment the earthquake struck on May 12, the Chinese government dispatched soldiers, police officers and rescue workers in the type of mass mobilization expected of the ruling Communist Party. But an unexpected mobilization, prompted partly by unusually vigorous and dramatic coverage of the disaster in the state-run news media, has come from outside official channels. Thousands of Chinese have streamed into the quake region or donated record sums of money in a striking and unscripted public response.

Here is a story of one such concerned citizen from the NYTimes.

Hao Lin had already lied to his wife about his destination, hopped a plane to Chengdu, borrowed a bike and pedaled through the countryside in shorts and leather loafers by the time he reached this ravaged farming village. A psychologist, Mr. Hao had come to offer free counseling to earthquake survivors.

He had company. A busload of volunteers in matching red hats was bumping along the village’s rutted dirt road. Employees from a private company in Chengdu were cleaning up a town around the bend. Other volunteers from around China had already delivered food, water and sympathy.

“I haven’t done this before,” said Mr. Hao, 36, as he straddled his mountain bike on Saturday evening. “Ordinary people now understand how to take action on their own.”

If we put this in the African context, social media and mobile technology has shown how important it is to enable citizen journalism in the time of crisis. The recent violence in Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa highlighted the need for a better flow of information during such times – The Ushahidi engine, a tool that was built to document post-election violence in Kenya, is now being used to track reports of xenophobia in South Africa at a site called United for Africa.

The Ushahidi team just won first place at the NetSquared Challenge. Eric, Ory, Juliana, David and the team are looking to further develop the platform, spread the word and explore how the platform can be implemented in future crisis situations.

Want to help? Want to know more? Be sure to follow Ushahidi at these places:

Ushahidi Facebook group
Ushahidi Twitter

Leave a comment

Filed under Democracy, Governance and Activism

Mom, but what about Hillary Clinton?

How does Hillary and Obama’s run for the presidency transcend race, gender and power … and why is it more than just Politics? I have tried to answer this in many different ways but one particular incident made me a believer.

Yesterday over dinner our conversation circled around politics, gas prices and the like; later during that evening the discussion steered to Time Magazine list of 100 Most influential people for 2008. At this point something profound happened – my 6 year old niece, who was until then busy pushing her food around the plate, decided to join the conversation to ask her Mom if Hillary was on the list we were talking about. We were quick to laugh it off as childhood inquisitiveness – but later that night the more I thought about it, the more I was struck by how important what had taken place was.

To a 6 year old – the world is relatively simple. They are trying to comprehend the world around them and look for commonalities. My niece probably saw a lady like her Mom, her teacher or herself whom everyone was so eagerly talking about and picked up on that topic. A young African American boy would see Barack in the same light – and whether he or she would ever realize it, a lifetime of prejudices and glass ceilings have been irreversibly diminished by this historic Presidential bid.

It also fortified my belief that the next generation is eager to absorb ideas and are most influenced by dialogue and conversation around the dinner table rather than by big speeches, protests and rallies.

Regardless of whether Barack or Hillary wins, I would like to believe that my niece will never question how much women or minorities can achieve; she will never set her goals low because of her gender or race; and she will never know a time when people would question her abilities because of whom she is.

Vote Wise. Your vote matters. This I believe.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

On Rebirth, Immortality and the debris that we are

Buddhist Wheel of Life (Bhavachakra). Here Yama, the Lord of Death is holding the symbolic Wheel of Life

This week I am in a pensive mood. The last few months have been rough and so it helps to step back and re-investigate some of the bigger life questions – You know the usual – what’s the deal with reincarnation, rebirth and Karma is? Are we truly born and born again, if so what is the point of life? What determines if I am born again as a cow, an ape or even a born-again christian? (the last is my attempt at faith based humor) … and what is all this Karma stuff?

It all became clear to me one night in a seedy neighbourhood in San Francisco where a friend and I were discussing a book called “God’s Debris”. The discussion moved from one abstract theory to another for most of the night – As we were winding down, the topic changed to his two sons as he tried to explain to me the experience of being a father. Being a committed single man on the prowl, honestly my interest started to wane off – that was until he described the day of his son’s birth.

A birth of a child, as he described it, was rebirth – at the very moment his child was born, he felt an energy transfer to his son & felt that life had given him a second chance. Nothing else mattered at that moment as he says he knew he would live on. What a wonderful concept, I thought to myself – but, as with other concepts traversed that night it vaporised with the first light of dawn.

To be honest, it did not truly sink in until I picked up my parents at the airport this week. As with any teenager I was a rebel – I identified with the wrong crowds, tried to break away from my parents shadow as I tried to reassert my own identity; but this week as my Dad and Mom step into my car it suddenly dawned upon me that as I grew older I was claiming a lot of their traits. The physical similarities at first glance are obvious – but if you look at it deeper, although we may have different experiences shape us, we have common aspirations for the future, we share many values and to a greater degree even approach challenges in a similar vein.

Perhaps that is rebirth – Our hopes dreams and values are passed on from generation to generation and when I am no longer around, that will be personified in my offspring. In a way that makes us all immortal – AND that my friends, is a wonderful feeling.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized