Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The White Rhino Recommends An Eponymous Book: “The White Rhino Hotel” by Bartle Bull

I find my way to books by a wide variety of sometimes-tortuous routes. I think you will enjoy the saga of how I became aware of “The White Rhino Hotel.”

I recently had the pleasure of being introduced to Roddy Gow and his lovely wife, April. Roddy is Founder and CEO of Gow & Partners, a boutique executive search firm with a specialization in helping companies find the right persons to serve as Chairmen or Members for their Boards of Directors. Roddy and April have a delightful home in Westport, CT – full of history and art and life! A few weeks ago, I was a dinner guest in the Gow’s home. The after-dinner conversation somehow turned to the story of how I acquired the nickname, “The White Rhino.” Upon hearing the story, April said: “You must come with me. There is something I want to show you on the bookshelf. We have a friend named Bartle Bull, and he has written and published several books – including this one here.”

And she handed me a signed copy of Bull’s novel, “The White Rhino Hotel.” I was duly impressed and astonished. At my first opportunity, I ordered a copy from Amazon.com, and have just finished my safari through the book's 400 pages of African adventure.

The story is set in East Africa just at the end of World War I. A motley assemblage of men and women – from America, England, Ireland, Germany, Portugal, Portuguese Goa, New Zealand, Wales, and Africa interact as they try to scratch out a living and a modus vivendi in the harsh environs at the foot of Mount Kenya. Any reader of this taut tale, as the action of the story unwinds, would be hard pressed to decide which kind of predator is the more lethal – the fauna indigenous to Africa or the wide variety of homo sapiens that have washed up on its shores. In this regard, Bull is exploring a theme also treated with great insight in the marvelous book, "The Life of Pi," by Yann Martel.


Mr. Bull tells a stirring story of hopes rising and falling, destinies colliding and intermingling, and revenge being plotted and executed. His sparse writing style is well suited to his geographic setting. A appreciate the fact that he pays homage to the writings of Charles Dickens by having one of the characters read David Copperfield to an illiterate African friend. Like all gifted writers, Bull is able to make broad comments about human nature employing precise descriptions and using an economy of words and rhetoric:

“Lady Penfold’s thoughts we elsewhere. The tinkling of her ice became her only conversation. She watched her husband empty the dish of unshelled peanuts onto the center of the table. He hadn’t changed. ‘All men are boys,’ Sissy’s mother had told her repeatedly. ‘All they want are flattery and sweets.’ There were several types of sweets, Sissy had learned.” (Pages 57-58)

In the wonderful musical play, “Children of Eden,” Stephen Schwartz has written an insightful song called “Wasteland” in which the chorus makes these observations about life in the wilderness of Paradise Lost:

Red rock and outcrop stone
And the sun glares off a bleaching bone
There's no comfort or softness here
There's only the wasteland

The land of the hunter, the stalker, and the skinner
Where you're either the diner or the dinner
And the line between man and beast keeps getting thinner
In the wasteland

Bartle Bull makes similar comments about the precariousness of life on the African plain:

“Only the old German did not eat. He walked back and forth to the river, declining Anton’s help and gathering rocks that he placed over Banda’s grave.

Later Anton lay in his blanket, thinking about Banda and the elephant. For the first time Anton was unable to find satisfaction in a hunt. He thought of the wounded bull leaning on his comrades, his friends patient despite the deadly pursuit. Not many men would have waited and helped as they did. He remembered how he had watched Lenares take his beating. Before Anton’s mind lost hold, hunters and hunted became the same. Like the leopard, and the gamekeeper in Windsor Great Park. While you hunt one creature, another hunts you.”
(Page 177)

Bull does a remarkable job of tying together two disparate worlds – the Victorian world of Dickens and his fictional doppelganger, David Copperfield, and the pre-literate world of rural post-war Africa:

“In the mornings they chanted the alphabet while they walked. They spelled words in the dust when they paused to rest or eat. In the evening they chose words from the book. Anton explained them while Karioki copied each one on the ground. Then Anton would read aloud from 'The Personal History, Experience and Observation of David Copperfield the Younger of Blunderstone Rookery, Which He Never Meant To Be Published On Any Account.' Anton thought of England as he heard the familiar words carry into the night. He wondered what they meant to Karioki.

‘Why is this Uriah Heep like a snake to David?’ Karioki asked one morning. ‘First he crawls, then he bites,’ Karioki sucked on the sun-dried eland flesh that Anton had whittled from a long strip while they walked. The ground was open and Anton carried his boots around his neck, saving their soles and hardening his feet.

‘Because he is cowardly and jealous, Karioki, a schemer. And I think the girl and money are part of the trouble.’

‘But Uriah is clever. He should have many goats and cows to buy his own wives.’

Anton laughed out loud and clapped Karioki on the back.

‘How many goats would a girl pay for you, Karioki?’

‘There are not goats enough, Tlaga.’” (Pages 206-207)

Human nature is such that a young man in Africa without any formal schooling is able to discern the character of a fictional personage living in a totally different setting halfway around the globe, and to know Uriah Heep as if they had grown up together as boys. This phenomenon speaks to good writing and to the universality of our human experience that transcends the particularities of culture and place. Bartle Bull has captured these truths in a marvelous and arresting way.

I recommend that you “check in” to the “White Rhino Hotel” and “check out” the memorable cast of characters that use the hotel as a way station from which to launch themselves towards their varied and intriguing destinies in the dust of the African landscape.


Al Chase

Friday, September 22, 2006

Big Papi Hits A Homerun – But Not The Kind You Were Expecting!

I was at Fenway Park last night when David Ortiz rewrote the history books. After his two majestic blasts had arced their way into the cool New England night and settled back to earth among the exultant denizens of the Centerfield Bleachers, Big Papi stood alone as the slugger to have hit the most homeruns in a single season in the long history of Red Sox baseball. He had swatted Johan Santana’s first pitch to him in the 1st inning to surpass Jimmy Foxx - old “Double X" – as “51” flashed on the scoreboard and the fans erupted in frenzied celebration. Homerun #52 came a few innings later in his last at bat and was the icing on the cake for this Ortiz Lovefest. Many in the crowd were clutching bumper stickers that proclaimed: “It’s Not Over Until Big Papi Swings”!

But the new Red Sox homerun record is not the focus of this article. I am more interested in the man's big heart than I am in his big bat. David Ortiz the major league hitter is a phenomenon; David Ortiz the human being is a rare gem.

Earlier this week, the Red Sox issued a press release that included the following information:

BOSTON -- Red Sox slugger David Ortiz will take photos with fans before tomorrow night's game at Fenway Park in exchange for a donation of $100 to raise funds for a particular patient's care at Children's Hospital Boston.
Fans with tickets to the game can meet Ortiz and have their photo taken at Autograph Alley inside Gate A from 5:30-6:00 p.m. on a first-come, first served basis. Ortiz will not be signing autographs.

All of the proceeds will go directly to the Alisha Fund at Children's Hospital to pay for the unusual care needed by a little girl.

"David came to us with this initiative that touched his remarkable heart," said Dr. Charles A. Steinberg, the club's Executive Vice President for Public Affairs. "How fortunate are we to have players who feel such compassion and commitment. We are honored to help him with this effort."

(The entire press release can be found through this link:)


Now, let me share with you the rest of the story – or as much of the story as I can relate without sacrificing confidentiality. A few weeks ago, before a game, Oritz had a chance encounter on the field with a former Red Sox player, who will remain anonymous. This former player toiled for the Red Sox long before the era of multi-million dollar contracts. The former player related to David that he has a granddaughter who is being treated at Boston Children’s Hospital for a very rare condition. As the conversation ended, Ortiz turned to a Red Sox employee and quietly said: “Get me the contact information for this family.”

Things moved quickly, and Ortiz made the Red Sox aware that he would like to set up a fund-raising event that would guarantee payment for a full year of treatment for “Alisha” at Children’s Hospital. So, last Wednesday evening, during the time when Ortiz would normally be in the clubhouse preparing for the game, fans lined up to contribute $100 to the Alisha Fund and to have their pictures taken with Big Papi.

It is my understanding that a similar opportunity will be offered next Wednesday before the Red Sox play Tampa Bay. My advice is to show up when the gates open around 5:00-5:15 and head immediately to Autograph Alley – located just inside the ballpark near Yawkey Way – between Gates A and D, and just behind the area where Luis Tiant has his Cuban sandwich stand. Ortiz will only be available for a half-hour, so it will be a very limited “first come – first served” opportunity.

If you are unable to be at Fenway Park next week and would like to join David Ortiz in helping this family, you can mail a check directly to Boston Children’s Hospital, designating the contribution for “The Alisha Fund.” Or, you can contact me and I will be happy to make David aware of your contribution.

In a day when many athletes make headlines for selfish acts and egocentric statements, it is heartening to know of a superstar who quietly reaches out spontaneously to help those who touch his heart. It is nice to be able to observe “Big Papi being Big Papi,” and know that it connotes something positive and special - both on and off the field.


Thursday, September 21, 2006

A Rescue Gone Wrong – Review of “Dead Men Tapping: The End of the Heather Lynne II” by Kate Yeomans

I grew up in Newburyport, Massachusetts - within a stone’s throw from the mouth of the Merrimac River. We lived close enough to the river that I could tell by the smells in the air how high or low the tide was at any moment. So, when I learned that “Dead Men Tapping” told the tale of an ill-fated fishing boat based in Newburyport, I knew I had to read it. It was as if the story of “The Perfect Storm” were being retold, but with connections even closer to home.

Kate Yeomans is part of the Newburyport fishing community, so as she tells the story of the demise of the Heather Lynne II and her three-man crew in 1996 off the coast of Gloucester, she makes no claims at objectivity. It is clear that many members of that close-knit community feel strongly that Kevin Foster, Jeffrey Hutchins and John Michael Lowther need not have died that September day ten years ago. The boat, heading out to Jeffrey’s Ledge for a day of fishing for the elusive bluefin tuna, was run down by a tugboat and the 272-foot barge it was towing. The Heather Lynne II capsized, leaving her crew trapped in an air pocket struggling to survive and tapping on the hull to let would-be rescuers know they were still alive.

The book’s author does a “yeoman’s job” in telling the story of what happened that day, and of the subsequent hearings and trial that sought to unravel the mystery of why the elaborate Search & Rescue efforts led by the Coast Guard ultimately resulted in the recovery of three bodies rather than the rescue of three live fisherman. While telling a very balanced story, it is clear that Ms. Yeoman’s sympathies lie with the families of the men who perished that day and who sought to lay the blame at the feet of the usually-reliable Coast Guard.

I will not elaborate on the details of the accident and the subsequent S&R activities; the author fills over 300 pages with riveting and elaborate reconstruction of those events. So, read the book. What emerged for me was a surprising picture of the Coast Guard and the decisions its personnel made that day. Ironically, Newburyport was the place where the U.S. Coast Guard was born – with the launching of the first revenue cutter in the early 1790’s. I have always thought of the Coast Guard as identical with its motto – Semper Paratus (Always Prepared). I have many friends who are graduates of the Coast Guard Academy and others who have served as enlisted men and officers in the USCG. I hold them and what they do in the highest esteem.

What emerged as I read this book was a picture of an organization that is undergoing a “sea change” in its mission - a picture painted through anecdotes of the often-uneven ways in which that changing mission is carried out. Chronically under-funded and under-staffed, the Coast Guard has not been able to keep up with the growing demands and the high expectations that the boating public has for this group of men and women who have distinguished themselves with a stellar record of over two centuries of guarding our coastlines and protecting those who go to sea for business or pleasure.

“[Inspector General Kenneth Mead of the Department of Transportation] found that SAR station readiness had continued to deteriorate. Since 1989, Coast Guard studies had identified serious staffing, training and equipment problems in the SAR program, but the Coast Guard had yet to implement many of the studies’ solutions. Specific readiness problems he found included staff shortages that required crew at 90 percent of SAR stations to work an average of 84 hours each week. Eight-four percent of the rescue boat fleet inspected by the Coast Guard in 2000 was found not ready for sea, though many identified problems were minor ones, corrected within about two days.” (Page 286)

“Following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the Coast Guard’s law-enforcement missions were indeed shifted to port security, while at the same time it insisted that SAR remained among its top missions. The administration of President George W. Bush pushed for a major budget increase to address the readiness woes the agency faced while handling the cases of the Heather Lynne II, Northern Voyager and Morning Dew. As one Coast Guardsman said, throwing money at the Coast Guard won’t solve its decades-old readiness problems, but it’s a start.

In early 2003, when the agency was transferred to the new Department of Homeland Security, its larger budget started funding such improvements as new boats, a modernized communications system, and an increase in personnel. While these new assets and an increased presence on the water could benefit recreational boaters and commercial fishermen, the Coast Guard advised in spring 2003 that the war in Iraq – where the Coast Guard cutter Adak was deployed to help escort the first humanitarian aid ships into the port of Um Quasar – and elevated security concerns at home shoved SAR into the backseat of Coast Guard priorities.

‘Homeland Security is our number one mission now,’ Commander James McPherson told an Associated Press reporter in March 2003. His comments were echoed by the commander of the Portsmouth, New Hampshire Coast Guard station, who added, 'Before it was all about boater safety, and search and rescue. Now it’s all about Homeland Security.’ (Page 282)

As I weigh all the ramifications of the tale that Yeomans tells in this book, the most immediate cause for concern is that boaters who ply the littoral waters of our shores need to be aware that the Coast Guard may not be able to be as omnipresent and omnipotent as we have come to expect them to be. Seafarers need to be vigilant and prepared to offer mutual aid in the absence of timely Coast Guard response, or even to supplement inadequate Coast Guard equipment or personnel.

I have asked some of my friends who are veterans of the Coast Guard to read this book and offer their own comments. Stay tuned!


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Important Lessons From The Actions Of Flight 93 Passengers

David Teten’s Brain Food Blog is a constant source of fascinating material. Today, around the same time that I was posting the review of “Aftermath” and commenting on how we process the events of 9/11, Teten’s Blog arrived in my inbox with a link to an article wrestling with the same issue.

Teten’s posting summarizes:

“The courageous actions of passengers on the hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 on 9/11 flew in the face of a long-standing contention in social science circles that people won’t put themselves in danger to right a wrong, e.g., the famous Kitty Genovese case. This fact prompted Monica Worline, a professor of organizational behavior at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, and a colleague to find out what was different about this incident. The result of their lengthy research is a new paper entitled “Capabilities for Organizing Courage: The Story of United Airlines Flight 93.” It is the first academic study to examine the group behavior dynamics aboard the plane on that fateful morning. The chief finding? 'People do things in conversations with others that create psychological resources that allow them to act in difficult situations.'

Brain Food Blog: http://www.circleofexperts.com/blog


A Fitting Memorial on the Fifth Anniversary of September 11: “Aftermath: World Trade Center Archive” by Joel Meyerowitz

We still struggle with knowing how to think about the events of 9/11/2001 – and with how to depict them in the popular media. The reactions to the films “World Trade Center” and “Flight 93” have been all over the map. For some, it seems too soon to reopen the raw wounds that the tragedies of that day inflicted on our national psyche. For others, remembering the events and trying to make sense of them is part of the healing from those wounds.

In the first few weeks after the attacks on the WTC, I found myself drawn to the site. Something within me needed to see “Ground Zero” up close in order for me to begin to process what had happened there. For some individuals, attending a wake where the body of a loved one is on display is a ghoulish practice. For others, it is a necessary part of the process of acknowledging the reality of the death of the departed. I felt as if I needed to “view the body” of the WTC – a place that had been special to me since it was first built. I had enjoyed meals in the “Windows on the World” restaurant and had brought many friends and family members to the observation deck. I had seen the site from the air on September 16th, but I needed to see if from ground level. So, I drove to NYC and made my way to lower Manhattan. I parked a few blocks north of the site and spent several hours walking the perimeter, reading the notices asking for help in locating lost and missing relatives, talking with police officers guarding the perimeter – trying to get a sense of the place. When I returned to my car, it was covered in a thick patina of greasy ash that still filled the air for many blocks around Ground Zero.

At my desk in my office in Wellesley I keep a crystal block that memorializes the WTC and the first responders who raised an American flag over the rubble. The events of 9/11 are never far from my mind. So, when I learned that a picture book was being released on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the attacks on the WTC, I ordered the book from Amazon.com.

The book, “Aftermath: World Trade Center Archive” by Joel Meyerowitz, is a huge “coffee table” book. This tome is a stunning work of art that is the result of amazing diligence, courage and ingenuity on the part of photographer Joel Meyerowitz. This heart-rending and sobering collection is the only archive of images of Ground Zero after the events of September 11. In his narrative of what he experienced during the nine months during which he captured images of the clearing of debris from the site of the WTC, Meyerowitz compares the site to Pompeii.

“The nine months I worked at Ground Zero were among the most rewarding of my life. I came as an outsider, a witness bent on keeping the record, but over time I began to feel a part of the very project I’d been intent on recording, and I was accepted on the site as a member of the tribe. Photography is often a very solitary profession. But the intense camaraderie I experienced at Ground Zero inspired me, changing both my sense of myself and my sense of responsibility to the world around me. September 11th was a tragedy of almost unfathomable proportions. But living for nine months in the midst of those individuals who faced that tragedy head-on, day after day, and did what they could to set things right, was an immense privilege. I am deeply grateful to have worked alongside these men and women. I documented the aftermath for everyone who couldn’t be there. But this book is dedicated to those who were.” (From the forward)

Meyerowitz has made a major contribution towards helping us remember and process in a new ways the tragedy of that day in 2001. I plan to give a copy of this remarkable book to my daughter-in-law, who is a gifted professional photographer in her own right.

For anyone who continues to be moved by what happened at the WTC, this book is a worthy investment of time, money and emotional energy.


Monday, September 18, 2006

Alan Furst – Second to None: Review of “The Polish Officer”

A few months ago, I offered a mini-review of Alan Furst’s novel, “The Foreign Correspondent.”


I knew as soon as I had finished that book that it was only a matter of time before I would begin to work my way through Furst’s other works. I have just finished reading “The Polish Officer,” and am eager to recommend it to you.

One can tell that a restaurant is special when it attracts other chefs as regular diners. Good musicians are drawn to venues where they can hear other talented musicians play. In much the same way, I am impressed when authors whose work I respect indicate that they read another author’s works. So, it caught my attention when Charles McCarry – one of my favorite contemporary authors – had this to say about Alan Furst and “The Polish Officer”:

“Beautifully written, powerfully imagined, and riveting as pure story. The book is a triumph.”

The setting for this story is the days leading up to WWII. Alexander de Milja is recruited into the Polish underground as Warsaw falls to Hitler’s Wehrmacht. Following a tortuous path, he assumes a series of false identities in order to advance the cause of his occupied homeland. From Poland through Ukraine and on to Romania and Paris, de Milja manages to stay just a half step ahead of death and destruction.

In the course of weaving a spine-tingling tale, Furst writes incisively and with a panache and style I find appealing. He creates evocative self-contained worlds – much like Dickens did at the height of his literary powers – that allow me almost to smell the fresh-baked bread in the boulangeries of Paris.

“’Yes, Paris will be declared an open city today or tomorrow. The Germans will be here in a week or less.’

‘But France will fight on.’

‘No, it won’t. Reynaud cabled Roosevelt and demanded American intervention, Roosevelt’s response was a speech that dithered and said nothing. Petain appeared before the cabinet in Tours and said that an armistice is, in his view, “the necessary condition for the survival of eternal France.” That’s that.’

De Milja was incredulous. France remained powerful, had a formidable navy, had army units in Morocco, Syria, Algeria, could have fought on for years. ‘In Warsaw ---‘

‘This isn’t Warsaw,’ Vyborg said, ‘In Tours, they lost a top-secret cable, turned the whole chateau upside down looking for it. Finally, a maid found it, crumpled up in Reynaud’s mistress’s bed. Now, that’s not the first time in the history of the world that such a thing has happened, but you get the feeling it’s the way things are. It’s as though they’ve woken from a dream, discovered the house on fire, then shrugged and walked away rather than calling the fire department or looking for a bucket. If you read history, you know there are times when nations fail, that’s what happened here.’” (Pages 113-114)

“Freedom Fries” anyone?

Here is one more delicious sampling of Furst’s prose:

“The nights of July were especially soft that Paris summer. All cars, taxis, and buses had been requisitioned by the Germans, and with curfew at 11:00 P.M., windows masked by blackout curtains, and the streetlamps painted over, the city glowed a deep, luminous blue, like Hollywood moonlight, while the steps of a lone policeman echoed for blocks in the empty streets. Nightingales returned and sang in the shrubbery, and the nighttime breeze carried great clouds of scent form the flowers in the parks. Paris, like a princess in a folk tale, found itself ancient, enchanted, and chained.” (Page 127)

I could not help but think as I devoured this book that the weapons and machinery of warfare may have become more sophisticated, but the human dynamics remain the same today as they did in WWII - or in the Pelopennesian Wars, for that matter.

I invite you to taste of Furst’s magic concoction. Enjoy “The Polish Officer.”


Thursday, September 14, 2006

. . . But, I Am An Even Bigger Fan of Thymn Chase - Introducing "Lost in Krakow"

My son, Tim - who has taken to spelling his name "Thymn" - is a gifted writer and intrepid world traveler. For the past two years, he has called Krakow, Poland home. Thymn and several colleagues - Poles and ex-patriots living in Krakow - have just launched a new magazine called "Lost in Krakow."

If you open the link below and click on the image of the cover of the first edition, you can download a .pdf version of this magazine's inaugural offering. I have just finished reading my way through it. The magazine is a marvelous potpourri designed to help ex-pat residents of Krakow feel more at home in their adopted city, and to connect homesick natives of Krakow living outside of Poland with their roots.

I could not be more proud of Thymn! Besides being a better writer and musician than his old man, he has an entrepreneurial spirit and passion for adventure and innovation that leave me awestruck!

I encourage you to sample the magazine and to pass it along to others who have a love for that part of the world.

I have added "Lost in Krakow" to The White Rhino's Favorite Links from A-Z.




Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I Am a Big Fan of Godin: "Small is the New Big" by Seth Godin

I think I have read most of the books that Seth Godin has written over the past several years. Seth is not always original, but I find him consistently provocative. He may say something I already know, but say it in a way that causes me to think about the familiar in a new way. Or, he may present me with an idea I had not been aware of, and encourage me to consider what that new idea has to do with me and my ever-changing world.

Over the years, in his Blogs and magazine columns, Seth has written about hundreds of ideas I have not yet had a chance to read. His new book project - "Small Is the New Big" - collects the best of these disparate gems in one place.

The excerpts below will give you a taste of the over-arching premise and common thread among these assorted writings:

Small is the New Big: And the 183 Other Riffs, Rants, and Remarkable Business Ideas.

The tipping point, when big began to be not-so-appealing, happened this way, according to Godin:

“Enron (big) got audited by Andersen (big) and failed (big). The World Trade Center was a terrorist target. Network (big) TV advertising is collapsing so fast you can hear it. American Airlines (big) is getting creamed by JetBlue (small).”

So far, so good. But then Godin offers this bit of a twist:

“Small is the new big only when the person running the small thinks big.”

Godin argues that small works best because a business can be nimble and flexible enough to change when it's demanded.

His overarching concept:

“If you want to be big, act small.”

Connect to the link below to access sample chapters, read reviews or buy the book.



Small is the New Big by Seth Godin

Remembering “The Day” – Far From Home on September 11, 2001

In September of 2001, I took time to visit family and friends in Eastern Europe. My son, Ti, and his wife, Raluca, were living in her hometown of Craiova in southern Romania. On the afternoon of September 11 – still morning in New York City - Ti and I were playing a computer game and Raluca was watching Romanian television with her mother. She came running into the living room and told us to come quickly – something had happened at the World Trade Center. Raluca and Ti had visited there just a few weeks before departing New York for Romania, so Ralu understood the significance of what she was seeing unfold on TV. Ti and I arrived in front of the TV screen just in time to catch CNN broadcasting live the second plane impacting the south tower.

We had planned to travel over the border into Bulgaria later that day, but we quickly decided we needed to stay glued to the TV to see what would develop. We also concluded that this was not an opportune day for crossing international borders. Over the next several hours – and days – I wrestled with waves of competing emotions. I wanted to be home in the U.S. I wondered how long I would be trapped in Europe before plane travel would be allowed to resume. I speculated about how my many friends and business acquaintances in lower Manhattan were doing amidst the chaos and tragedy. I waited for the other shoe to drop. Were we on the brink of World War III? At an emotional level, I felt once again like the disillusioned 16 year-old who had been glued for an entire weekend to the flickering TV screen and the soothing cadences of Walter Cronkite’s voice describing the stunning events playing out in Dallas and Washington in November 1963.

The evening of September 11, I found myself reacting in anger when, over dinner, I listened to a member of Raluca’s family offer his opinion that the attacks had been launched by Israel as part of a plot to make Muslims look bad. Sensing my rage, he apologized and retracted his statement as irresponsible speculation.

I was scheduled to fly on September 13 from Bucharest to Moscow, where I would spend a few days visiting friends in the Russian capital. When my plane landed at Sheremetyevo Airport, I was stunned to find a small army of friends gathered to meet me. Vasia Zhuravlev spoke for the group when he greeted me: “America is at war; you may not be able to fly home for the foreseeable future. You are family, and we all want you to know we support you and you have a place to stay with our families for as long as you need to be here to stay safe.”

Later that night, Vasia, who works as an anchor on one of Moscow’s TV news broadcasts, dragged me with him and several friends to a music club. A Russian heavy metal band was on stage. Shortly after our party had arrived, the band paused between numbers and addressed the crowd: “An American friend has just arrived. We want to dedicate this next song to our friend and to all those in America who are suffering tonight. We stand with our American friends.” The surprising and heart-felt statement of support was rendered all the more poignant coming, as it did, from a rock band whose members’ rough appearance and outlandish costumes belied their tender hearts.

The hundreds of Americans stranded in Moscow struggled to find out when flights back the U.S. would resume. I was scheduled to fly from Moscow to JFK on September 16. I was advised to go to the airport and wait for Delta Airlines to put me on a waiting list. It turned out that the flight on which I was scheduled to depart Moscow was the first flight cleared to leave Europe for JFK, so I was one of the lucky ones who headed home on schedule. Our approach to Kennedy Airport that day took us over the lower tip of Manhattan and the still-smoldering heart of Ground Zero. Regular flights to Logan Airport had not yet resumed, so I spent the entire day at JFK while Delta figured out how best to return me to Boston. Late that evening, a flight was allowed to depart for Boston, and I was given a seat on that plane. Our departure path took us once again over the tip of Manhattan. Twice that day I saw the haunting image of the gaping hole that had once been the WTC – once in full daylight and many hours later in moonlight. They were images that remain vividly etched in my memory.

Is it possible that five years have passed so quickly – yet so eventfully? The emotions are less raw, yet they remain. Another stage of “loss of innocence.” Another day of feeling that “the world I thought I knew no longer exists.” Days of being overwhelmed by expressions of love and support, both from expected sources and also from unanticipated quarters. Days of feeling very human and very vulnerable. Days of being reminded to treasure every day we have with those around us whom we cherish. Another day of realizing that “tomorrow is not promised to us.”

Carpe diem – and tell a few special people today how much you love them!


Thursday, September 07, 2006

A Great Resource for Those Considering an MBA

I am often asked to offer career advice to those in transition. One of the most common situations I encounter is the case where someone in ready to finish a career in the military and would like to transition into the business world. "Should I pursue an MBA, or would it be bettter to get some private sector experience first?"

I have just discovered a very useful tool for those who are asking themselves these kinds of questions. The folks at the Graduate Admissions Management Council (GMAC), the people who oversee the GMAT exam that is required by most business schools, have created a page on their Website dedicated to offering guidance to active duty military who are considering pursuing an MBA.

The Website includes a link to an MBA Planner:

"The MBA Planner was created specifically for military personnel considering an MBA to propel their careers. This Planner will show you the profound effect an MBA can have on your future in the armed services or in the business world."

The site also offers a link to a list of business schools that are considered "military-friendly," based on the following criteria:

"The schools listed welcome applicants with military experience into their MBA programs.

* When allowed by state and university regulations, they will waive the application fee for military persons who have been on active duty within three years of applying.

* They also have committed to making financial aid available to qualified military personnel who have transitioned from the service in the two years prior to enrolling in their program.

* Additionally, they will provide a one-year deferment if admitted military students' plans are delayed by their service branch."

I encourage you to bookmark this site and to pass it along to anyone in the military who may consider pursuing an MBA at some point in their career.



Friday, September 01, 2006

Share Our Strength: Bill Shore's "Letter from an Airplane Bearing the Remains of a Young Marine"

This moving letter comes to The White Rhino Report by way of my good friend, Kevin Stacy, a battle-tested warrior and veteran of Operation Enduring Freedom. The author of this letter is Billy Shore, Founder of a non-profit organization by the name of Share Our Strength - dedicated to eliminating childhood hunger in America. (www.strength.org)

What struck me most in reading Billy Shore's moving recollection of what he observed on a recent flight from Boston to Washington was the fact that choosing to respect those who have served our nation with honor does not need to be about politics. Mr. Shore has a background of having served on the staffs of two Democratic U.S. Senators - Gary Hart and Bob Kerrey. I would assume that given the side of the aisle he chose to serve, he is probably not a big supporter of the war in Iraq. But his political persuasion did not keep him from observing, appreciating and remarking upon the poignant scene of a family bearing the remains of their son to be interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

The scene that Shore describes must happen many times a day in our nation, as families from shore to shore carry out the sad ritual of saying good-bye to one whose life was lost on a distant shore. I love Shore's final observation:

"I went to my car and drove to work with no ambition for the day other than to be worthy."

May we all endeavor to be found worthy of enjoying the freedoms ensured by those who serve and put themselves in harm's way.


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Billy Shore: The flags of our sons

A flight with an honor guard and fallen Marine reveals the meaning of service

Share Our Strength: Bill Shore's Letters - Letter from an airplane bearing the remains of a young marine