Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Africa: The Migration (2) - The Four Best Head Out

We've taken to calling ourselves "the four best," since we like to think our our little group as The Four Best African Friends. Not sure it works, 'cause I have so many best friends in Africa that it is difficult for me to decide who are "the best."

But no question about it, these are the people I hang out with most, and we have our fun.

What we're calling ourselves connects, I suppose, to the phrase used by many people who come to Africa to go on safari (and it's how we came up with it, as we thought about what people look for on safari). It's traditional to make a big deal of looking for "the big five" (African buffalo, African bush elephant, leopard, lion, and rhino). Why not? It's not a bad idea to have some focus for your search as you ride about looking for wildlife. Still, there is so much else to look for that it seems a little gratuitous to give so much attention to just five animals.

The Four Best's Migration Safari began last Friday, a big day in Kenya. It was a national holiday, and since it seemed a good idea to be away from all of the crowds in Nairobi, we chose that day for beginning our migration safari. I wrote about the migration phenomenon in the last post, so won't go into detail about the Great Migration now, except to say that it was a great excuse for taking off and heading back to Masai Mara, the huge game reserve some of us had visited before (a safari described in lots of posts back in May - click on "May" in the archives list to the left).

But we couldn't just leave our patriotism at home, so when we stopped for petrol, we saw a display of little flags and decided we had to have one attached to the car - Charles's job! Lots of fun, attracting attention both at the early morning hour and after we got into the game reserve.

This safari was a little different, as this was to be my first tent safari. Not a bad way to do a safari, and certainly a pleasant way to get to meet other people, since most campsites have several tents in the compound and campers share a common dining tent for meals (some photos are here). Nice conversations and getting to know new people around the big bonfire before dinner, that sort of thing.

Once again I was the only muzungu in the crowd, a distinction that seems to elude me here in Kenya, but afterwards I'm always surprised (and pleased) when the subject comes up and I realize that none of us even thought about it. Kenyans just don't worry about such things, and certainly our little group is now so tight-knit that we have many other subjects to discuss.

Like all the animals we saw. Stay tuned for more (and more photos).

Friday, August 27, 2010

Africa: The Migration

Sometimes referred to as "The Great Migration" or the "Wildebeest Migration," most people in Africa simply speak of this incredible natural phenomenon as "The Migration."

The sheer scope of this animal trek is, quite frankly, hard to believe for many people. How could so many animals know to come together to move about the continent? With the migration in Africa, it seems we are seeing perhaps the grandest ever example of what is commonly referred to (in other circumstances) as "the herding instinct."

It's not a quick event by any means. Starting in the May-June period, this annual migration of some two and a half million animals (by some estimates) begins in the Serengeti, in Tanzania, as the wildebeest, zebras, gazelles, and antelope begin to move out of the drying grass in search of richer and more plentiful grasses farther north and west. They'll cross the dangerous Grumeti river, where many of the animals drown and others are attacked by the huge crocodiles waiting for them. The survivors - still huge in number - will head on up to the Masai Mara, there to attempt to cross the Mara river into Kenya, but predators are waiting for them there as well and they seem to know it, with thousands of them sometimes waiting on the riverbanks for up to two weeks at a time before plunging into the river. Several hundred will be devoured but as they die, they make the way relatively safer for those that have been waiting, leaving them free to move on across the river and up into the Masai Mara Game Reserve, where they will spend two or three months moving about across the beautiful grasslands of that treasured part of Africa.

By September, the animals will have had enough of the green grass of the Masai Mara, and they will begin their long journey back into the eastern Serengeti, where they will remain until April or so, before getting the signs from nature that it's time to head back north and west again.

Called by some "the world's greatest natural spectacle," the migration just goes to prove, once again, that the bounties of the earth are still valuable for the most elementary of needs. It's a special kind of joy just to think about what the sight must be, to see these incredible millions of animals moving so far in search of their own version of "the good life."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

New York, New York - More of Mr. Guy's Neighborhood

The last post described the neighborhood more in terms of ordinary folks, how those of us who aren't so grand live in a nice, relaxed part of Manhattan.

Not far away, though, is a slightly different look at this part of Manhattan, where the skyscrapers - the office buildings - make their mark. We started with the Empire State Building, just a few blocks away. As we head on over toward Park Avenue, still considered - as in times gone by - one of America's elegant avenues, there's lots more to see. And all along, definitely touches of elegant old New York when this part of the city housed some of the grandest families in America.

So the photos this time are not so much of a neighborhood as of the variety of buildings that are all just within a few minutes walk from the front door. Take a look at Mr. Guy's Murray Hill Neighborhood in New York (2) and observe all that we have around us in this part of this great city.

Monday, August 23, 2010

New York, New York - Mr. Guy's Neighborhood

Following on my recent Appreciating America: Notes from New York, it seems appropriate to take a look at the neighborhood where I live.

One of the delights of travel is the urge to share, to satisfy one's curiosity, and the learn about how other people live. I'm certainly lucky, and I get a lot of satisfaction from all the people I meet, asking about their families and their homes, and, of special interest to me, the neighborhoods where they live. I'm always anxious to know about the environments where my friends spend most of their time.

And the feeling is very mutual, I discover, and as I travel, one of the questions I'm always asked is about my neighborhood and what it's like. Certainly a big city like New York is depicted often in the media, on television, in films, and people in different parts of the world have all kinds of different impressions about the way we New Yorkers live.

But any big city is also a gathering of neighborhoods, and very few of them are like any other neighborhood.

So as promised, and for some fun, I thought I would post some photographs of Murray Hill, the part of New York where I live. Take a look at Mr. Guy's Murray Hill Neighborhood in New York.

It's on the East Side of New York, not far from the United Nations on the East River, and it's one of the quieter of New York neighborhoods. In fact, my apartment is on the back of my building, not facing the street and overlooking lovely gardens of neighbors who carefully tend the spaces inside the quadrangles formed by the buildings around the perimeter of the block. So I give very little thought to "the noise of the city" that I hear many people - especially visitors - talk about.

It's a very pretty neighborhood for the most part. Very old, and it fact gets its name from back when it wasn't even part of the city. It was out in the country - the "city" was far downtown - and the site of the Murray family's farm. During the American Revolution, so the story goes, Mrs. Murray entertained the British generals and other officers so that General Washington and his troops could make their retreat after their defeat in the Battle of Long Island. Sometimes called the Battle of Brooklyn or the Battle of Brooklyn Heights, it had been the first big battle of the war, fought on 27 August 1776, just shortly after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

So our neighborhood is not only charming, it's historic!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Ngong Hills Re-Visited: Fictionally and Quite by Coincidence

Shortly before I left New York, a friend shared with me her copy of A Change in Altitude, by Anita Shreve.
It's a novel about a young couple coming to Kenya, he a physician and she a photojournalist. The setting is the 1970s, a critical period in the country's development (and with Jomo Kenyatta still in power as Kenya's President, until his death in 1978).

I'm not far into the novel (after I had visited the Ngong Hills last Sunday). The plot centers around the couple and a climb they make of Mount Kenya, with two other couples. The tension is set at the beginning, and as the people get to know one another, it's agreed that a practice climb will take place before they go.

For their practice climb, the three couples choose the Ngong Hills, and I'm delighted with the descriptions:

"On the way to the first knuckle, the view of the Rift [Valley] was beyond anything [Margaret, the protagonist] had been prepared for - vast and deep and seemingly endless. The temperature down in the valley would be well over a hundred degrees. It might be possible for the inhabitants down there - the Maasai, now too far away to be seen - to believe they are the sole people on earth, the chosen, in charge of, if not humbled by, all that surrounds them. To come from such raw beauty would almost certainly instill a sense of superiority. Margaret knew the Nilotic Maasai to be intractable in their beliefs and customs: the nomadic life, their adherence to ritual, and their diet of cows' blood and milk, and unenviable regiment that nevertheless made them enviably lean and long.

"They passed grasslands, like English meadows, fields of wild-flowers with dozens of species, some of which no one in the party could name. The climb produced, in addition to exhilaration, a soporific haze, and sometimes Margaret wanted nothing more than to leave the trail and lie down among these flowers. It seemed reward enough."

The dialogue and other descriptions of their time together in the Ngong Hills is enlivening, and I had fun with the way the six people get to know each other through their prejudices and their observations of the land around them. I had less fun with the drama that ended the visit to the Ngong Hills, an attack on Margaret by what must have been millions of fire ants.

Not nice. I will be careful where I step from not on!

Or sit!

Now we know why one of the characters - an Englishman who has lived in Kenya for many years - earlier remarked that no one sits on the grass, as he pulled a folding stool out of his backpack.

If the rest of the book is this entertaining, I may finish it quickly.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

An Enchanting Distraction: Le Grand Meaulnes

Having been re-introduced to Alain-Fournier's Le Grand Meaulnes back in March, when I was preparing for a wedding at which I would read selections from the novel, I've had a grand time. As I became reacquainted with the book, I decided to read it again, and I've just finished. I can't remember a nicer literary experience. Re-reading this wonderful book has provided me with a splendid trip down memory lane, both to the time I first encountered the book when I was studying French at university and, oddly enough, to the time in my life when I, too, was experiencing the emotions and feelings of youth and could - had I but known the book - have related quite enthusiastically to the hero's (and the narrator's) own emotions and feelings. And, yes, like they I was on the look-out for that enchanted place all young people are looking for as they transition from childhood to young adulthood.

As I prepared my readings for the wedding, much of the story came back to me. But not enough, and as I began my re-adventure with this wonderful story, I remembered why. I had first learned of the book in my French literature class but now that I recall the situation, we read only excerpts, and I think they must not have made the impression on me that they should have. On the other hand, not too many years later I did read a translation, but I think it must have been insufficient, for much of the story did not stay with me. Or perhaps in my latest reading of the book I am a much different person - the person I've become - and now at a place in life that makes Le Grand Meaulnes more of a pleasure for me. Perhaps I wasn't ready for it earlier.

Yet the book is dearly loved by young people in France (somewhere I heard that the book plays much the same role in their lives as The Catcher in the Rye does for American youth) and for that reason, I'm sort of sorry I didn't experience it as a young teenager. It's a lovely story, and I will be careful to recommend the book to young people in the future, when they come to me and ask me what to read. The edition I read (yes, on my Kindle - which now goes with me everywhere when I travel) is given the title of The Lost Estate, which I suppose is as good a title as any among the many that have been tacked on to the book. Still, the original - bringing as it does the reader right into the life of the protagonist - is best.

No matter. We don't read a book for the title, and by the time the reader is at the bottom of the first page of this book, they no longer care about the title. It's that good.

The plot isn't any sort of overwhelming fantasy, but I did get a little sense of "The King of Hearts," the delightful 1966 Alan Bates film (although set in a later period, at the end of World War I). Others have connected the book to Salinger's Catcher and to Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. This latest version (a new translation, published just in 2007) has an introduction by our own Adam Gopnik (another delight for us New Yorker readers) and it is translated beautifully by Robin Buss. As for describing the book, and providing you with a taste of the plot, I can't do it any better than John Baker does in his own blog (and, curiously, which he was posting about the time of my own re-visit, when I was preparing to do the readings at the wedding).

If you want to be transported into another world for a few hours, take some time and spend an evening or two with Le Grand Meaulnes. You won't be sorry you did.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Ngong Hills

Even in Kenya there are "winter Sundays," but the mildness of the day - even when slightly overcast - seems to banish any thoughts of gloomy winter. While the Kenyans might grumble a little about how cold it gets, the weather is still something to be grateful for.

And what better way to spend a Sunday afternoon with friends than walking in the Ngong Hills? Along a ridge of the Great Rift Valley (shown here), the views are equally as spectacular as those from the viewpoints on the highway to Nakuru. Just breath-taking (even, as I say, on a day that is not bathed in glorious sunshine - I can't even imagine how spectacular this sight would be on a sunny, summer's day!).

As for why the hills are called what they're called, legend has it that the term "ngong" was chosen because the four peaks of the ridge appear - or seemed to appear - to be knuckles to the Maasai, and "ngong" is their word for "knuckles." O.K. I can go along with that. Whatever they're called, they are beautiful to behold, and situated so that on one side the Ngong Hills overlook the Nairobi National Park and on the other the Great Rift Valley, a visitor has to be a little aware that he is experiencing sights unlike what he would see anywhere else.

In addition to the natural beauty of the hills, the Ngong Hills since the early days of the last century have also acquired a rather romantic aura, since Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen) opened Out of Africa with the line "I had a farm in Africa at the foot of the Ngong Hills," and the hills figure prominently in everything we know about Blixen and her life in Africa. She came to British East Africa in 1913 and one has the impression that the Ngong Hills were some sort of overwhelming presence in her life (as they would certainly be in mine, if I had ever undertaken to do what she did).

And it was to the Ngong Hills where she took the remains of her lover, Denys Finch Hatton, after his tragic death in 1931. The famous big-game hunter loved the hills, often hunted there - as well as in many other places throughout the territory - and for years, it was said, the lions would come to lie in the sun on his grave.

Whether the story is true or not, it is a wonderful way to think about how a man who loved Africa so much would be so respected. We did not visit the grave (although I would have liked to have done so, romantic that I am), as it is on the far side of the peak we were visiting and the walk would have been too long for so late in the afternoon. Perhaps another time we'll pay our respects to Denys Finch Hatton.

Today, on the peak we visited, the views are spectacular. And only made better, it seems to me, by the small forest of wind generation turbines erected there. If extracting energy from the wind is a practical method for reducing our dependence of fossil fuel, I'm all for it.

And there's no question about it, these are awesome machines, made even more splendid by the tremendous contrast of the Maasai herdsman with his cows (English-speaking Maasai, for some reason, don't use the word "cattle" - they say "cows" when they mean to indicate the plural - I don't know why). I loved wandering amongst his cows with my friends, and he seemed to be pleased that we were there (photos are at Mr. Guy's Ngong Hills Album).

We had a good time strolling about, enjoying the views, watching the other people, and, yes, being careful. As we came up the road, the guard at the gate actually tried to discourage us from going further (and to be fair, it was a little late in the afternoon). But we persisted and he gave in. Not without warning us first, though, since it seems that there are in the Ngong Hills many places where people can be lured off the road or the path or the trail, and awful things happen. And more often that we want to know about.

But the guard was kind, lowered his rifle to take the reduced entrance fee he permitted us, since we seemed so determined, and made us promise that we would be coming back down the road before it began to get dark. We were fine, and we had no problems, and we enjoyed the views and laughing with one another. And there were plenty of other people, so it didn't seem particularly dangerous, and we enjoyed ourselves.

But I suppose he knew was he was talking about, so we complied.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Music is My Passion But These Kids Make Me Look Like an Amateur!

Taking the liberty to re-post from my friend Tom Rink's blog, The Gun-Carryin' Librarian.

I follow it regularly, 'cause Tom is always coming up with good stuff.

Like this: "Teenage Italian Talent" http://www.wimp.com/threetenors

Take a look. You won't be disappointed.

And weren't we talking about passion just the other day? This is the real thing!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Kenya: The New Way

Back in Nairobi to continue my work, and happy to be back. There's still a touch of Kenya's "winter" in the air, but anyone arriving from America's East Coast is not going to mind. Because Nairobi is so high, it's relatively cool most of the time anyway, and these days of 55-70 F are hardly a problem.

And the beauty of the place! My friends in other countries must tire, I think, of hearing me speak so much about the beauty of Kenya. But how can one not? The lush plantings and all the blooming flowers - both wildflowers and cultivated - make it a true pleasure to be out of doors, even if it's just to leave one's house for a quick stroll to the market.

Part of the excitement of this return is coming back to new digs, which I'll describe another time. Very nice, and even closer to my work, so I'll keep walking back and forth, enjoying the loveliness of the neighborhood (and getting my exercise!).

For now, I want to share some of my impressions about Kenya and the Kenyans since last week's referendum ratifying the new constitution. There was an enormous turn-out, and thanks to extremely careful planning, strong pre-voting education and awareness-raising for the citizens, and serious security measures, there was none of the violence that followed the 2007 elections. Nearly 70 percent of the voters approved the new constitution, leading Foreign Affairs writers Joel D. Barkan and Makau Mutua, in  "Turning the Corner in Kenya," to describe the referendum as "an outcome that raises the prospects for peace and stability in East Africa's anchor state and in the surrounding region."

Well said.

Certainly that's the impression I have, from conversations with Kenyan friends since I stepped off the airplane on Tuesday night. The focus now in Kenya is definitely on the prospects for peace and stability for Kenya's citizens, and they are anxious to move forward into a new period of peace and prosperity for their much beloved country.

The Kenyans have there own way of looking at life, their unique perspective (just as all people have, in all countries) and I, with my particularly personality, fall right into it. Indeed, with me there's sort of standing joke amongst my Kenyan friends - perhaps not so much a joke after all - when I don't quite grasp a Kenyan concept or a particular point of view. They are very kind, and they just look at me and smile and say, "Guy, it's the Kenyan way."

Of course. Isn't that what visiting different countries is all about? To experience and learn something about "the Russian way," "the French way," "the Australian way," "the American way," and so forth?

And now I'll be able to witness the new Kenyan way, and it's going to be a splendid adventure, one I anticipate with much enthusiasm. I have been particularly blessed to have experienced a couple of other such adventures (that might not be quite the right word, but I think in the sense of an intellectual or emotional "adventure," it works). With one I was able to get to Germany just a few years after the Wall came down, and to work there off and on for several years, watching the "new" Germany come together. And the same was true for my work in South Africa, with my first working visit coming just four months after the April, 1994 election that created the "new" South Africa. In both cases I was able to develop relationships - personal and professional - that enabled me to experience just how wonderful we human beings are as a global society, and I was able (not to put too fine a point on it) to learn so much.

It's going to be the same with Kenya. I am overjoyed to be in Kenya at this time and I'm going to love sharing what I learn. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Passion - The New Ambition?

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines is having some fun with its magazine this month. Holland Herald, tucked into the pocket at each seat, is always a good read, and for August KLM the magazine has shaped itself as an "issue subject." The editors are calling it "the passion issue" and it's full of interesting, sometimes charming, and sometimes silly articles and quotes about the role of passion in our lives today.

I loved the opening sentences: "The planet is awash with the passionate. Job applicants, teachers, sportswear companies, and estate agents - wherever you look, people, firms, and teams bandy the word around with reckless abandon. It's claimed as a positive attribute, as a sign of commitment, and something to be embraced...."

Fair enough. Not sure I'm quite ready to go along with that overall paint job ("estate agents"? -the folks who are trying to get me to buy property in this fiscal climate? Give me a break!) but it is kind of curious to think about how we relate to passion as it's displayed in our communities and the environments where we spend most of our time. But - according to some - it's not really passion if it's only an interest. The example given is that someone who has an interest in playing the guitar and perhaps plays it is not necessarily passionate about guitar playing. Guitar playing becomes a passion only when that guitar player begins to think of himself or herself as a guitarist.

Whew! Close call there. I'm often accused of being passionate about opera singing but thankfully for my friends and family I don't (yet) think of myself as an opera singer.

How strange that would be for everybody else!

Interestingly, one of the points made about passion is that idea mentioned above, that passion is thought of as a positive attribute. Not so hard to understand. Wasn't it not-too-long-ago that ambition was considered a negative trait, an attribute that implied selfishness and thinking only of advancing one's self? Look how that got turned around. Now we seek out ambitious people to connect with. We've learned that people who are willing to move themselves forward are good to be around, since they are often on a trajectory that leads, often, to success in one form or another and we're happy to go along with them. Perhaps passion will be the new ambition.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

When the Personal and the Professional Mix: Seeking Resources about Corporate Social Responsibility

For some time, colleagues at SMR International (where I'm employed) and others with whom I interact frequently have been discussing the whys and wherefores of the professional life vis-a-vis the personal. It's now becoming clear that in some cases (present company definitely included) there really isn't much point in trying to make the separation. When the story-telling takes place, it's common for as many of the stories to have to do with professional experiences as with personal experiences.

And the same is true in the quest for information.

Case in point: a study being undertaken by Mr. Guy and some of this friends/professional colleagues. This is an effort to identify and publish steps leading to the development and implementation of a corporate social responsibility strategy. Just as we identify and share the elements of organizational knowledge strategy (and indeed of strategies for many other functions within the company or organization), in order to move forward with a workable corporate social responsibility strategy that contributes to corporate effectiveness, we should identify and examine the steps that need to be taken to get to where we want to go.

In this case, the subject has been touched upon locally with respect to my volunteer work in Kenya, with the Information Africa Organization (IAO). In a paper published by SMR International last May, one of SMR's Special Reports, Closing the "Digital Divide," Dealing with Drucker's "Responsibility Gap" in Africa, I looked at Peter Drucker's call for eliminating what he called the "responsibility gap" and tried to connect Drucker's concept to work being done by IAO.

Now I'm ready to go further. I think there's a place for a paper - guidelines, if you will - for how companies and organizations incorporate corporate social responsibility into the company's overall management strategy. I'm particularly interested in examples and, as appropriate, quotations from organizational leaders, so this post is basically a request for information. Comment below if you have any thoughts to share, and if you want to contact me privately, that easy: guystclair@smr-knowledge.com. I look forward to hearing from you.


Monday, August 9, 2010

Appreciating America: Notes from New York

The title is a bit off, for these thoughts are not an extensive commentary on life in New York. Nor is this to be the first of one of those "notes-on-living-in-the-big-city" series of essays. This is simply a brief excursion into an appreciative few words about where I live and why I - like so many New Yorkers - take such special pride in living in one of the world's great cities.

The motivation is not hard to understand. After a ten-week hiatus from the international travel - complete with a couple of family vacations, an international professional conference (in America, not somewhere else!), and some extensive professional work from the New York - it appropriate to respond to the requests of several international colleagues, who keep asking what life is like in New York and, especially, what my neighborhood looks like.

So as I head off for yet another assignment away from home, it seems appropriate to think a little about where I live and what the physical neighborhood is like. So for those who have not visited Mr. Guy in New York, there will be (probably sometime in the autumn) another of Mr. Guy's photo albums, this one focusing on New York. Needless to say, my amateur shots are not at all expected to be in competition with the beautiful professional New York photographs of my friend Antonio Martin, featured here a few weeks ago. On the other hand, since I live here, I hope to give non-New Yorker friends a sense of life in New York as I live it.

In the meantime, though, here are a couple of tempting photographs just to show where we live. The photograph above is the view from our house. The building where we live is an apartment house now - with seven flats - but when it was built in the 1870s the house was designed for a single family. New York in the 19th century was in its full progress of moving uptown from lower Manhattan, and Murray Hill became a much-beloved middle class neighborhood. Houses like the one in which our flat is contained would probably have been the home of a merchant or professional person, with his place of business over on Fifth Avenue, two blocks away.

And yes, as you look at the photo and glance over the adjoining buildings, that is the Empire State Building towering above. Located at Fifth Avenue and Thirty-Fourth Street, the Empire State Building is a true landmark, a New York icon. Even after living in this neighborhood as long as we have, it's still a bit of a thrill to walk outdoors and see that marvelous structure up over us.

The second picture is another little temptation. It's a pretty place, but not particularly typical (not many of us live in little houses like these). Now a lovely group of well done-up homes, Sniffen Court was originally the stables for the people who lived on Thirty-Sixth Street. This is the view we see when we leave our house, when we turn in the opposite direction from the Empire State Building.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Murdering Humanitarians - Hatefulness at Large

Is there any way to end the hatefulness in the world? I am shocked to read two lead stories in today's papers, both on the front page of The New York Times. One story describes the angry resistance to building mosques in some parts of America. While the controversy over the proposed mosque and cultural center near Ground Zero in New York City is (perhaps temporarily) resolved. For us New Yorkers, the resolution of this issue (if it has been resolved, for there are threats to re-open the fight) is a true blessing. We - many of us - see the building as an opportunity to demonstrate just how truly American our people are, for our country has always been a country of inclusion and diversity and while great battles over "letting them in" have been fought, as Americans we have tried to be true to our faith in our country as a land for all peoples.

But American generosity and kindness seems to be changing in this latest controversy, for in several places in America,citizens are forming groups to oppose the building of any mosques or other structures associated with Muslims. The assumption seems to based (based on what information and its validity I can't say) that Islam is by definition a terrorist religion and that Muslims are trying to somehow conquer America!

Excuse me?

Where do these people get this information? How can they accept it with such gut-reaction certainty when nothing could be further from the truth. I'm not a religious scholar but I think I know enough to ask the question: whatever happened to the idea that the purpose of religion is to bring people together, not drive them apart?

And then there's the news of the murder of  of the humanitarian medical aid workers in Afghanistan. Could anything be more perverse than for people who are doing good for society, who have devoted their lives to helping others, to be murdered simply because organized opponents in the country where they are working hate them because they are Americans, or because they are of a different religion (in this case Christianity, although the medical aid workers were not proselytizing - that was not their purpose in being in Afghanistan)? It's just too hard to understand, I think. Most of us just don't carry around that level of hatred.

There isn't much we can say about the people who were part of the medical aid team. They were doing so much good, and they were (in the old-fashioned, vocational sense of the word) clearly called (chosen, if you will, by some power greater than I can comprehend) to do the work they were doing.

Perhaps the best tribute we can pay to them is to, as The New York Times did, quote from the blog of one of the aid workers, Dr. Karen Woo. As Liz Robbins wrote in The Times, Dr. Woo wrote on her blog last June, when she learned that two friends of a colleague had died in a plane crash in Afghanistan:

"Nothing in life is for sure, nothing that you see today will always be here tomorrow. All of these people come to Afghanistan of their own volition, they come knowing that they may pay with their lives, the black humour is rife, a good way to keep the apprehension low, to keep calm and carry on. Perhaps no one ever expects it to be them, perhaps not their immediate friends either, it always some poor unknown person, a local national, a third country national.

"W count those that matter to us. We say that we are prepared for the loss whatever that may be but is it every possible to be so? To be so prepared is at polar opposites to the decision to be there in the first place, that somehow it will never be me or anyone close to me."

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Africa in Nashville

A vacation in Virginia and Tennessee last month yielded up some surprises, including a bit of Africa at the Nashville (TN) Zoo. Pretty impressive, and happy to share some photographs at Mr. Guy's Africa-in-Nashville Album.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Fighting AIDS in Africa: Knowledge Sharing Works

Two recent references to the Red Campaign - designed to eliminate AIDs in Africa - drive home the incredibly critical role of KM/knowledge services in today's society.

In the latest edition of The Gurteen Knowledge-Letter, David Gurteen describes the strong emotional impact he had when watching the campaign's latest video.

At about the same time, SMR Int'l colleague Dale Stanley - remembering my affection for the people of Africa and my modest involvement with ICT and KM training and development for African youth - called the video to my attention.

My reaction almost exactly matched David's: "one of the most moving videos I have seen in a long time."

Watch the video - then come back and read on:

Could there be any better example of how we bring KM/knowledge services into the "real" world?

I see two things happening here.

First, by sharing what they know, the people in this film take a hands-on approach to knowledge development and knowledge sharing, that process we like to call KD/KS. Just by getting people to talk about AIDS, breaking down the resistance and getting them to recognize that there is value just in speaking about a subject that, if not confronted, will literally kill them, is an amazing accomplishment. The people shown here are managing and sharing knowledge to save lives. And they are all totally committed to what they are doing. Watch the film and try not to be impressed with how these people are moving forward. And pay attention especially to Constance Mudenda who is (in one way) the focus of the story as she describes her work in three clinics, distributing antiretroviral medication to AIDs victims. It's a powerful, very powerful paradigm we're seeing here.

At the same time, the film itself is an impressive example of just how much information and knowledge can be packed into a single vehicle, and shared with anyone who wants to see. I challenge anyone to view this film and say he or she didn't learn anything new; it is full of revelations and concepts that - I would assert - most people in Western societies don't even think about. So we have KD/KS alive and well in this work, and we could even go so far as to relate this to what we try to do with KM/knowledge services, if we can keep our professional jargon from overwhelming the message.

Take another look and then share this blog. This is what strategic knowledge management is all about and if it leads to tears before the film is finished, so much the better.

Monday, August 2, 2010

More da Vinci: The Authentication Controversy

A quick follow-on to the story about the National Geographic Society Museum's exhibition da Vinci - The Genius: Coincidentally, on the train returning from Washington, I found myself reading about yet another possible da Vinci work, currently on exhibition in Sweden under the patronage of the Italian government.

Known as La Bella Principessa, the drawing serves as the lead-in to a fascinating story in the July 12-19 issue of The New Yorker, a long piece of investigative journalism by a very talented staff writer, David Grann.

The Mark of a Masterpiece goes into an incredible amount of curious material describing some of what goes on in the art history/authentication/restoration fields. I found it to be one of those "too-good-to-put-down" stories, and while the focus of the story is a Canadian forensic art expert named Peter Paul Biro, there is a wealth of information describing what goes on in what Grann refers to as "the priesthood of connoisseurship".

Among the tidbits of information one picks up is that Biro is the inventor of an innovative multi-spectrum camera, much like that used in identifying the true pigments of the Mona Lisa, mentioned in the post about the National Geographic Society Museum's exhibition. Curious coincidence there, but in any case, it doesn't distract from the interesting story and certainly pulls up the reader's respect for how science and art are collaborating to drill down into the background and history of some of the most beloved and respected painters and their work.