Stranded Motorists Assisted

30 01 2009

This weekend my son Jared and I were out running errands. With my travel schedule lately we don’t get a chance to spend a lot of time together talking, so when I need to catch up on things that involve driving around I make a point to invite him along so we can chat and listen to music, which he enjoys. Yes, he likes my music, and no, there’s nothing else outwardly wrong with him.

We live just off the 101 freeway in San Jose, CA. The off-ramp leading to our street is very short with a steep, curved run-up to a four-way stop sign. It’s very common for people to take the off-ramp too fast, and some teenagers were killed several months ago after they rolled their car carrying too much speed.  

On this day Jared and I got off this ramp and I immediately had to do a panic-stop because there was a car stalled not all the way up the hill to the stop sign. There was not enough room for us or anyone else to get around this stalled car, and it became quickly apparent to me that the female driver was very panicked that we were going to rear-end them coming off the freeway. It was a very legitimate concern. Further, each car that got off subsquent to me dramatically increased the likelihood that we’d all stack up to the point that someone would smash us all into one another. 

I put on my parking brake and four-ways and jumped out to see what was going on. There were four passengers in the stalled car, two of which came out to meet me. The two that stayed in the car were elderly women, one behind the wheel and one in the back seat. An elderly man who had impossibly dirty western shirt and blue jeans and duct tape covering his fingers met me at the rear bumper. Another man gingerly walked over from the other side of the car, walking gingerly as if he had bad knees or feet. 

The three of us pushed. And pushed. The others were clearly giving all they could to the cause, and we just weren’t getting it done. I started to panic a bit thinking about Jared sitting strapped in the back seat of my car but being so vulnerable in the middle of the slightly-blind, fast off-ramp.

After about 15 seconds or so (but what felt like much more than that) we were able to get the car inching up the incline to the intersection. We rolled it about 20 feet through the stop sign and yelled at the driver to steer off to the right which was slightly down the hill into a wide shoulder. Right as we were cresting that small incline, a tow truck rolled up behind us. There had not been any more cars exit behind me other than the tow truck. 

The two men had clearly given everything they could in helping me get that car moving, and both were obviously grateful for the help. I felt badly that they needed to help, but I was pretty convinced that I would not have been able to move the car alone.

I ran back to the car, got in, and started through the stop sign up the hill.

Jared asked me, “Daddy, what was that all about?”.  

It hadn’t occurred to me that he wasn’t tracking with the severity of the problem. 

“Those older folks were stranded in that car and were scared that someone was going to hit them, which we almost did”, I told him.

“Why didn’t those men push the car out of the way before we got there?”

“Because they weren’t strong enough to do it by themselves. The car is too heavy.”

“Oh, so you helped them, because the car was too heavy for them but all three of you could do it together?”


He thought about it for a short moment and then got a big smile his face.

When we got to the driveway, my wife happened to be there.

“Mommy, you’ll never guess what exciting thing just happened!”  Jared proceed to play back the whole story for her, with emphasis on how good it felt for him to have been there to help.  

It was the highlight of the weekend for him, and I’m sure he’ll remember it the next time he sees someone stranded on the side of the road. He never did realize that I didn’t really have a choice but to help, but that’s certainly not the point.


Passengers Safely Delivered

28 01 2009

In the last year I’ve flown a fairly ridiculous number of times, back and forth across the country between California and New York several times a month.

Last week I realized that I’d taken for granted the relative safety I’d been traveling in, and the underlying skill that’s inherent in being a commercial airline pilot. I’m of course referencing Captain Chelsey B. “Sully” Sullenberger, the US Airways pilot that safely landed his plane on the Hudson River after losing both engines apparently to a flock of geese on January 15 (details). 

Here’s the quote that will cement Capt. Sullenberger as a hero in my mind (from the homecoming celebration honoring him in Danville, CA):

“Circumstance determined that it was this experienced crew that was scheduled to fly that particular flight on that particular day,” he told the crowd. “But I know I can speak for the entire crew when I tell you we were simply doing the job we were trained to do.”

As vessels were coming to the aid of the plane and helping all 155 passengers get off in safety, keeping them out of the frigid January water, what was Capt. Sullenberger doing? He was still on board. He walked back down the aisle of the plane making sure he was without any doubt the last person off.  And when he had done that, he did it again. 

What strikes me about the quote above, especially in watching the video of the delivery (below), is that it’s deeply genuine. There’s no pretense in his delivery. He sat down right after he said it. No curtain calls. One can only take away that he really means exactly what he said; they trained to get their passengers safely back on the ground, and at the one moment in his career when he needed to execute flawlessly on that training, he did exactly that. Nothing more, and certainly nothing less. No conspicuous lingering in the spotlight, no overt attempts to stretch his 15 minutes into 30. Just raw professionalism and character. 

Please take a moment to look at the video and slide show below. It’s no wonder his wife can’t contain her emotion; she’s married to a genine American hero the likes of which we rarely see. 

Video of Capt. Sullenberger’s homecoming

Photo gallery

Oppressed People Provided Justice

25 01 2009

“Prayers help….Prayers and a lawyer help more.” – Gary Haugen, President, International Justice Mission

The International Justice Mission (IJM) is an organization founded by Gary Haugen, a former US Department of Justice attorney who was the UN Investigator in Charge after the Rwandan genocide. It was in response to that assignment that he founded the company in 1997. I heard about them in the context of a recent Nicholas Kristof column about the human slave trade in SE Asia, where IJM is active in casework, and from a recent New Yorker article by Samantha Power.  The core objective/mission of the IJM is to help sustain rule of law as the foundation of society.

On their Web site, IJM lists active casework in several areas:

  • Sexual Violence
  • Slavery
  • Illegal Detention
  • Police Brutality
  • Illegal Property Seizure
  • Sex Trafficking

The statistics are pretty sobering:

(From Samantha Power’s New Yorker article)

  • 79% of people in Cameroon and 72% of people in Cambodia surveyed by Transparency International in 2007 reported paying a bribe in exchange for basic services in the prior year
  • Only 53% of people surveyed by Afrobarometer in sub-Saharan Africa believe that senior government officials would be brought to justice if they were to commit a serious crime

(From IJM’s fact sheet on slavery

  • According to the United Nations Working Group on Contemporary Forms of Slavery, an estimated 20 million people were held in bonded slavery as of 1999
  • In 2004 there are more slaves than were seized from Africa during four centuries of trans-Atlantic slave trade. (Kevin Bales, Disposable People)
  • In 1850 a slave in the Southern United States cost the equivalent of $40,000 today. According to Free the Slaves, slave today costs an average of $90.
  • Approximately two-thirds of today’s slaves are in South Asia. Human Rights Watch estimates that in India alone there are as many as 15 million children in bonded slavery.

(From IJM’s fact sheet on sex trafficking) 

  • Human trafficking is the world’s third largest criminal enterprise, after drugs and weapons. (U.S. Department of State)
  • Worldwide, there are nearly two million children in the commercial sex trade. (UNICEF)
  • There are an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 children, women and men trafficked across international borders annually. (U.S. Department of State)
  • Approximately 80 percent of human trafficking victims are women and girls, and up to 50 percent are minors. (U.S. Department of State)
  • The total market value of illicit human trafficking is estimated to be in excess of $32 billion. (U.N.)
  • Sex trafficking is an engine of the global AIDS epidemic. (U.S. Department of State)

Clearly this is an opportunity to apply time and talent to ensuring these fundamental violations of human rights don’t persist. Once more, while the casework is done at the individual level, the stated goal is to influence the system. As rule of law is enforced in a given society, it becomes self-reinforcing. Said differently, as one person is provided justice today, it increases the likelihood that the benefit of that example is compounded in the future.

You can follow IJM’s progress on Twitter at

To get involved…

Citizens Hope-Reinforced

24 01 2009

It would be completely inconsistent with the core purpose of this blog not to recognize the events of this week. Notwithstanding your politics, it’s impossible to deny that our nation is both despairing in the economy but hopeful about our new leadership. 

Reinforced hope for minorities in America

Colin Powell is among the top three Americans I admire most. Of all that’s been written this week about the inauguration and in remembrance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I selected his thoughts to pass along. 

In describing his feelings as an African-American after President Obama was elected on November 4:

“I’ll never forget the words that came to me and the words I whispered to an empty room: ‘My God, we did it,’ ” he had said.

On whether America would vote for an African-American candidate for president:

“There were people around the world who said, America is too polarized. We are too split apart. We are too ideologically separated as people, and we can’t come together to do this. And we did it.”

On what General Powell would be thinking on the day he would take the Oath:

“I’m not sure I can capture it all,” Powell replied. “But one: A very, very capable man is coming to the office of the presidency, a man of the new generation, a man I think will be a transformational figure. And he’s fully qualified, and he also happens to be African-American — I put it in that order.”

Reinforced hope for citizens across the ideological spectrum

Apart from the obvious historical significance of the first African-American elected president, the main takeaway for me is the pervasiveness of the upbeat feelings about his election, which has been increasing day-to-day. According to Gallup, 80% of Americans either watched or listened to the inauguration live, and 62% reported that the inauguration made them feel more hopeful over the next four years. A different Gallup poll showed that as of January 9, 72% of the country believes that we will be better off in four years than we are today. Those approval ratings are comparable to those of Eisenhower and Kennedy at their first inaugurals. 

Further, simple math says there’s no way you get there without lumping in a whole lot of Republicans. In that same poll, 34% of declared Republicans said they believe Obama will be an above average or outstanding president. 

The economy is declining at rate not seen since the Great Depression. It’s a fact that anyone who watches the news with any regularity can play back verbatim due to how consistently it’s repeated. President Obama is inherting an economy in a condition not seen since FDR in 1932. With all the attendant fallout of that it’s truly a remarkable feat that optimism runs  as high as it is. 

72% of Americans believe we will be better off in four years. The US Census Bureau estimates the  US population as of December 31, 2008 at 305.5 million. 72% of 305.5 million is 220 million people. 220 million people, of varying ideologies, who have genuine optimism for their future.

Mr. President, that’s not a bad year’s work. Not bad at all.

Healthcare Workers Transportation-Enabled

20 01 2009

World Bicycle Relief is an organization founded by one of the leaders in the bicycle industry applying bicycle technology in a different way. 

Consider this: medicines and information focused on disease treatment and prevention cannot be effective if the recipients cannot access it or healthcare workers locally cannot distribute it. 

A purpose-built steel bicycle in a rural community in Africa can increase the daily travel range of a healthcare provider by a factor of six or more. In a community in Zambia or Swaziland, where life expectancy is less than 40 and as many as half of adults are HIV-positive, this increase in travel range could mean thousands of people can receive basic healthcare in a community, vs. just dozens otherwise (visual). 

These bicycles are designed to be highly-reliable transportation, maintained by local citizens, and cost about $135.


To get involved…


Bike donations