Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Mountains for Miracles Update - EMS Announces Sponsorship

I just learned of some exciting and encouraging news from John Serafini, Executive Director of the Mountains for Miracles project. I wanted to be able to share the good news right away with readers of the White Rhino Report.

* * * *

Dear Friends of Mountains for Miracles,

On behalf of the MFM organization, I am pleased to introduce our newest team member: Eastern Mountain Sports, The Official Equipment Sponsor of the MFM Seven Summits Expedition!

EMS is a New England based retailer of premier clothing and equipment for outdoor enthusiasts- from cyclists to climbers on 8,000m peaks! Anyone who ridden a bike, run a trail, hiked a mountain, or paddled a canoe has heard of this great company and great supporter of outdoor adventure & learning.

Please click here for more information on EMS:

We hope that the friends of Mountains for Miracles share in our excitement of this great partnership. We look forward to working with EMS throughout the Seven Summits Expedition.

Climbing for a Cure,


Click here to make a tax-deductible donation to Mountains for Miracles:

* * * *

Mountains for Miracles recently held an impressive kick-off fundraising event in New York City in a very fitting venue – the venerable Explorers’ Club, headquarters for some of the world’s most storied explorers and expeditions. I was privileged to be able to attend the event. Before that evening’s presentations, I was already fully committed to this amazing project, and was very excited about doing all that I can do to help MFM reach its goal of helping to eradicate cancer in children. By the end of the evening, I was even more committed and excited.

John Serafini, Andy Murphy and the rest of the team have done an extraordinary job in putting together a business plan and vision for this project that ranks as one of the most impressive and professional undertakings I have ever been associated with. And to think that they have accomplished all of this in their “spare time” while pursuing very demanding graduate degrees at Harvard is astonishing!

This team deserves all the help, encouragement and support we can give them. At the kick-off event, John and Andy announced a special program that will allow some sponsors and donors to participate in the ascents of several of the summits. Check out this link to the Seven Summits page of the MFM Website to see a map and calendar of the peaks that will be climbed in this attempt to break a world record while raising $5 million for cancer research.

Gillette’s “Fusion” – A Quantum Leap!

Seldom do I use this space to talk about products available in the marketplace – not by the hair on my chinny, chin, chin! Today I choose to make an exception.

A few weeks ago, my friend, Bill Reagan, said to me: “Have you tried the new Fusion razor by Gillette? If you haven’t, I strongly recommend it. It is the best shave I have ever had in my life!”

I was skeptical, but when the inventor of LoJack tells me to try a new product, I listen! I have followed, in loyal lemming fashion, Gillette’s sequential introduction of several generations of razors – Trac II in 1971, Atra in 1977, Atra Plus in 1985, Sensor in 1990, Mach 3 in 1998, and Mach 3 Power in 2004! The folks at Gillette (now owned by P&G) are nothing if not marketing geniuses! I figured that Fusion might be another small incremental step in shaving comfort and in Gillette’s relentless pursuit of making sure that the price of a single razor blade keeps pace with the price of a gallon of gas.

I was wrong. Bill was right. Fusion produces the best shave I have ever had. Fusion is a quantum leap to a new level of comfort and shaving precision. I don’t own stock in Gillette or P&G. I don’t get any kickback from recommending this product. This is simply one man with sensitive skin telling others where he found a comfortable shave.

If you ever encounter my friend, Bill Reagan and his regally bald pate, you will know his secret of how he keeps it so closely cropped and gleaming!

Thanks, Bill!



A Tool For Wordsmiths: Mini-Review of “Oxymoronica” by Dr. Mardy Grothe

I have always found words to be marvelous tools, weapons or playthings – depending on who is wielding them and in what tone of voice. I marvelous at those who have the talent to express time-tested ideas in new and entertaining ways. So, I was delighted to find this little gem, written by Dr. Mardy Grothe: Oxymoronica – Paradoxical Wit and Wisdom from History’s Greatest Wordsmiths. This HarperCollins book will be added to my bookshelf of hand reference works.

According to Dr. Grothe’s own definition, “oxymoronica” are: “Any variety of tantalizing, self-contradictory statements or observations that on the surface appear false or illogical, but at a deeper level are true, often profoundly true.”

The author has been collecting memorable quotations for many years, and out of the tens of thousands in his collection, he chose two hundred pages worth that best represent the art of verbal paradox.

I could share quotations from every page that are worth passing on, but in order to keep this mini-review from become too “maxi,” I will share only a few quotations culled from my favorite authors.

From Dickens – the immortal opening passage to A Tale of Two Cities:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,
It was the epoch of believe, it was the epoch of incredulity,
It was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,
It was the spring of hope, it was the spring of despair,
We had everything before us, we had nothing before us,
We were all going direct to Heaven,
We were all going direct the other way.”
(Page 197)

From Dickens Bleak House:

“He is an honorable, obstinate, truthful, high-spirited, intensely prejudiced, perfectly reasonable man.”
(Page 205)

From Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground:

“In despair there are the most intense enjoyments, especially when one is very acutely conscious of the hopelessness of one’s position.”

“Man is sometimes extraordinarily, passionately, in love with suffering.”
(Page 200)

From Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye:

“As in the case of many misanthropes, his disdain for people led him into a profession designed to serve them.”
(Page 201)

From Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard:

“When a lot of remedies are suggested for a disease, that means it can’t be cured.”
(Page 204)

Joseph Heller, in Catch-22, is a veritable fount of oxymoronic wit and wisdom:

“Even amongst men lacking all distinction he inevitably stood out as a man lacking more distinction than all the rest, and people who met him where always impressed by how unimpressive he was.”

“The Texan turned out to be good-natured, generous and likeable. In three days, no one could stand him.”

Heller – in Something Happened:

“When I grow up I want to be a little boy.”
(Page 207)

From Aldous Huxley in Point Counter Point:

“Several excuses are always less convincing than one.”
(Page 208)

Washington Irving in Bracebridge Hall:

“Whenever a man’s friends begin to compliment him about looking young, he may be sure that they think he is growing old.”
(Page 208)

Edgar Allan Poe in The Purloined Letter:

“The best place to hide anything is in plain view.”
(Page 211)

George Bernard Shaw in Man and Superman:

“The most unbearable pain is produced by prolonging the keenest pleasure.”

Another Shavian gem, from Heartbreak House:

“The surest way to ruin a man who doesn’t know how to handle money is to give him some.”
(Page 212)

Finally, Alexander Solzhenitsyn in The First Circle:

“You only have power over people as long as you don’t take everything away form them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything he’s no longer in your power – he’s free again.”
(Page 212)

This is a book you can read in one sitting, and then will return to again and again for inspiration and delight.

In keeping with the spirit of the book, let me conclude: “This little volume is a quick snack that will feed you for a lifetime!”



Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Small Town America At Its Best – Appleton, Maine Honors A Fallen Son

My holiday weekend travels had me experiencing a wide range of landscapes – of both the emotional and the topographical variety. Between Friday and Monday, I spent time in Harlem, Union Square, Westport, West Point, Boston’s Bay Back, Quincy, and Mid-coast Maine! I had the chance to visit with friends and family – sometimes celebrating, at other times mourning recent losses – and to reconnect with an amazing array of special people.

My mother’s sister, Arlene Champoux Spearin, lives in one of the smallest towns in the State of Maine. Tiny Appleton, population 1,272 souls, is nestled in the lee of a granite ridge that runs north and south about 15 miles west of picturesque Camden Harbor. If you were to look in the dictionary under “bucolic,” you might find a picture of Appleton. I don’t get to visit Aunt Arlene as often as I would wish, so I sometimes will take advantage of a holiday weekend to make a mad dash up the Maine Turnpike for a quick visit of 24-36 hours. I arrived at my aunt’s home around 11:00 on Sunday evening. We spent an hour catching up on family news, and turned in around midnight.

After a hearty breakfast of blueberry pancakes, we headed for the Memorial Day ceremonies at Appleton’s Pine Grove Cemetery. The service was presided over by the pastor of the Appleton Baptist Church, and by the ranking military officer present – my cousin, LT COL Stephen Spearin of the Maine National Guard. At 11:15, we heard the sound of a lone bagpipe wheezing and wending its way from Sennebec Road and up the dirt pathway that leads to the historic burial ground. The air was redolent of pine needles and Skin So Soft, the latter having been liberally applied to prevent the swarming black flies from picnicking on the assembled Appletonians. Following on the heels of the Pied Piper came a steady stream of representatives of the Appleton School and the Appleton Little League. They joined a handful of military veterans and several soldiers recently returned from Iraq, along with what looked like a couple hundred of the town’s citizens.

After an opening prayer, we were treated to a stirring rendition of the National Anthem, sung beautifully by members of the church youth group. Students from the school shared poems and songs. The crowd listened attentively to brief and impactful words of greeting by Appleton’s representatives in the Maine House of Representatives and State Senate. Both women spoke from the heart about the meaning of the occasion - for them personally and for the community.

Members of the Appleton Little League came forward to make a special presentation to the family of Joshua Humble. While serving in Iraq, Josh was killed by an IED, and had been buried a few weeks earlier in a grave just down the hill from the site of Monday’s ceremony. A family of children, whom Josh had taken a special interest in, sang a heart-felt “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” As a young boy growing up in Appleton, Humble had played baseball, so the Appleton Little League presented the family of Specialist Joshua Humble with a framed baseball jersey that read: “Humble – 21,” twenty-one being Josh’s age when he died. Two soldiers who had served with Josh and who had recently returned from Iraq spoke about Josh and the circumstances of his death. Josh’s mother and stepfather spoke briefly to thank their neighbors for all the support they had offered since learning the news of Joshua’s death far from home. A cannon salute was rendered in honor of the fallen soldier, and the ceremony ended with a moment of silence.

As the crowd dispersed, individual conversations broke out throughout the cemetery. I heard my cousin’s wife, Cindy Spearin, asked the following question of one of the returning soldiers:

“What did you miss most while you were in Iraq?”

“I missed the clouds that come in the afternoon sky here in the summer. Even on the hottest days, you can count on a quick thundershower to cool things off and clear the air. In Iraq, with the sun beating down and the temperature close to 130 degrees, there are no clouds.”

This 45-minute slice of Memorial Day in the rocky hills of Maine served for me as a snapshot of small town America at its best. The community put on its best face to remember and honor those who had served and died. They turned out in droves to sing and recite and cry and remember. The community’s major institutions were all represented – church, school, military, government, and Little League - in a cohesive and colorful patchwork of neighborliness and caring. This urban-dweller, who most often prefers the “sophistication” and bustle of the big city to the quietness of the countryside, was humbled by the scene and by the ceremony, and all that they signified. Appleton, this living piece of Americana, is more real than Thorton Wilder’s Grover’s Corners, immortalized in his Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “Our Town.”

In bidding a fond and eloquent “farewell” to its fallen son, Specialist Joshua Humble, little Appleton, Maine stood tall in demonstrating just what it is that America’s sons and daughters are fighting and dying to protect and preserve.

God bless America!


Sunday, May 28, 2006

Behind The Scenes At The West Point Commencement – A Study Of Contrasts In Leadership

I was honored to be invited to attend yesterday’s Commencement exercises at the United States Military Academy at West Point. President Bush was the keynote speaker. It is traditional for the Commander in Chief to rotate giving the commencement address at one of our service academies each year. This year, it was the Army’s turn to hear from the President.

The day began, symbolically enough, with the Hudson River Valley and the Catskill Mountains shrouded in fog – reminiscent of the proverbial “fog of war” that often obscures the vision and judgment of those in the midst of battle. As I drove to the Main Gate in the early morning haze, I observed a handful of war protesters – far fewer that I had been led to expect would be there - expressing their displeasure with our policies in the Middle East and Southwest Asia.

By the time the Corps of Cadets and the crowd of dignitaries, family and friends of the graduates had filled Michie Stadium, the cloud cover had burned off and a warm May sun shone brightly on the Class of 2006. As the familiar martial strains of “Hail to The Chief” echoed throughout the stadium, the crowd rose in polite and dutiful welcome and acknowledgement of the President’s arrival. There were no hecklers in this crowd. Despite its East Coast location just a few miles from the home of the Clinton’s, West Point has the feel of a heartland community that is typical of many military posts. This was a conservative crowd of patriotic Americans – many poised to send their sons and daughters to war as newly minted second lieutenants. This was gathering of citizens that reflected the very quintessence of George W. Bush’s constituency. So, it was with great fascination that I observed the crowd – and observed my own response - as the President spoke. My training as a sociologist kicked in and I moved into “participant observer” mode.

Bush spoke - as he often does - earnestly. I wondered how this speech, coming on the heels of his recent mea culpa press conference in which he expressed regret over some of his impolitic cowboy language in the early days of our war against terror, might differ from speeches of the past. As he droned on, the President warmed to more and more familiar themes – themes I have heard him expounded upon dozens of times – often using the same shopworn language and cadences. The only truly moving part of his address was the segment in which he pointed out a member of the graduating class whose father had been New York City firefighter who had lost his life in the Twin Towers on 9/11.

The speech was interrupted with smatterings of polite applause, but the body language of the crowd screamed of boredom and ennui. Two rows behind me, a gentleman wearing a VFW cap and other accoutrements that spoke of his status as a proud veteran, napped through much of the speech. Shortly after the ceremony’s conclusion, I asked a gentleman, the father of two Army officers – and a Texan like Mr. Bush – what he had thought of the President’s speech. He rolled his eyes, and then remarked: “He said nothing I have not already heard many times before.” The core of the President’s constituency was responding to the entropy of his leadership with snores and yawns. I was observing the spectacle of a man who had lost his audience – not just on a Saturday morning in May - but, apparently, for the remainder of his second term in office.

In contradistinction to the President’s failure to rally the troops with warmed-over rations of cant and bromide, let me share a more private and inspiring moment that occurred an hour after the formal graduation exercises had concluded. When a cadet graduates from West Point, he or she is award a Bachelor of Science degree, and is also immediately sworn in as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. The Commandant of the Academy administers the oath of office to the entire graduating class as part of the graduation ceremony, but the real swearing in takes places in smaller ceremonies scattered across the campus. Each graduate selects a faculty member, or mentor who is a commissioned officer, to preside over a private ceremony in which the Oath of Office is administered and the gold bar emblematic of the office of 2nd LT is pinned to the crisp new uniform and beret. The Pinning Ceremony is often the highlight of the day for the new officers and their families.

I was invited to attend a Pinning Ceremony for two members of the Class of 2006. Stephanie Hightower and Kevin Kalkwarf have been dating for the past year, and it was important to them and their families that they hold their Pinning Ceremonies together. Stephanie had the distinction of being the First Captain – the highest-ranking officer among the Corps of Cadets. Because of this distinction, Stephanie was awarded the rare honor of being able to hold the Pinning Ceremony for her and for Kevin in the garden behind the residence of the Commandant, the Brigadier General charged with the overall responsibility of ensuring the state of military preparedness for the Corps of Cadets.

Stephanie went first, and was administered the Oath of Office by a Colonel with whom she had worked closely as she carried out her responsibilities as First Captain. He spoke in glowing terms of her leadership and her dedication to representing the interests and needs of the Corps to the senior administrators of the Academy. He emphasized that the quality of Stephanie’s leadership exceeded anything he had previously witnessed in his long career in the Army. He told her family to be prepared to attend many more ceremonies in the future in which she will be awarded new insignias of ever-higher rank, since she is sure to be promoted often! Stephanie, in her remarks, made it clear why the Colonel had formed such a profound impression of this extraordinary young officer. She was articulate and deeply moving as she thanked each member of the gathered bevy of family and special friends. She has been commissioned an officer in the Army Medical Corps, and has been accepted to the University of Texas Medical School. She has deferred medical school for one year so that she can pursue studies at Oxford University in England as a Fulbright Scholar.

Kevin’s Pinning Ceremony followed. He had chosen one of his professors, Captain Archer, to preside. Prof. Archer spoke with great fervor about the unique qualities that make Kevin, a former pitcher on the West Point baseball team, such an effective leader. He singled out Kevin’s winning and ubiquitous smile, his work ethic and commitment to excellence, and his understanding of the importance of the human touch in exercising leadership. Kevin spoke with characteristic humility and grace, thanking in a special way each person in the audience. Kevin will be heading to Ft. Rucker, Alabama to receive training as an Army aviator.

Kevin’s older brother, Kyle, is a 2002 graduate of West Point, and currently is serving in Kuwait. He, too, has been accepted as a medical student as the University of Texas Medical School, so he and Stephanie will eventually be classmates in medical school! Before his deployment to the Middle East, Kyle asked me for a reading list of books that he should bring with him. Kyle is perpetually in learning mode!

As I was finishing up the writing of this piece, my cell phone rang. On the other end of the call was 1st LT Socrates Rosenfeld, a graduate of West Point Class of 2004. He was calling to tell me that he was heading to the airport, and was on his way to his deployment in Korea, where he will be flying Long Bow helicopters.

My sense is that with the cadre of young officers like those I have mentioned in this article, our Army has never faced a brighter future. These Renaissance Men and Woman bring a sophisticated and humane style of leadership to the complex challenges that they will face as leaders in a rapidly changing and evolving military that will need to learn how to “win the peace,” as well as continue to win wars.

Their Commander in Chief could learn a great deal from these young leaders about communicating vision and leading with strength and compassion. Once again, as has often been the case throughout history, “the child is father to the man.”

Please pray for these young leaders as they carry out their new responsibilities.


Thursday, May 25, 2006

Memorial Day - A Practical Request

Yesterday at Ft. Collins, Colorado, several of my close friends held a special memorial service for Dennis Hay, whose burial at Arlington National Cemetery I wrote about several months ago.

This week, in Maryland, my friend, 1st LT Robert "Sly" Seidel, will be laid to rest.

The Hay and Seidel families are two among thousands of families for whom this Memorial Day weekend will be about much more than BBQ, beaches, parades and time off from work.

Each community traditionally holds a Memorial Day parade and special memorial service at a local cemetery. In my experience, these services are often sparsely attended.

I have a request and a suggestion. Amidst all of the busyness of this weekend, if you are able to do so, stop by a local cemetery, find a family that is placing flowers on a grave that is emblazoned with an American flag, and thank that family for the sacrifice they have made. Thank them for the service that their son, daughter, husband,wife, father, mother performed.

It won't help to bring their loved one back, but it may take some of the sting out of a tough weekend of remembrance and loss.

And remember to pray for those who still serve.

God bless.


“The Lexus and the Olive Tree” by Thomas L. Friedman – A Review

A few months ago, I began to read Friedman’s popular work, “The World Is Flat.” I got about two thirds of the way through the book, and then managed to leave it somewhere – probably on the seat of a subway car on the Green Line of Boston’s infamous “T.” I was not pleased with myself. Senior moments can be so annoying!

I few weeks ago, I was talking to a friend about my need to pick up another copy of “The World Is Flat,” and finish it. This friend advised me to first read Friedman’s earlier work, “The Lexus and the Love Tree,” before resuming my trek through “The World Is Flat.” I tool his advice, and herein offer a few comments about this recently updated 1999 seminal work on the phenomenon of globalization.

Reading this work in 2006 felt almost quaint. Things have changed so dramatically in the few years since this book was first published that I was astonished at how “out of date,” this book has become in less than a decade. The phenomenon of off-shoring was so new that Friedman almost gushed in a “Gee whiz” kind of way at the phenomenon of dialing a customer service number for a company in Minneapolis, and having the call answered by a customer service representative in Bangalore, India.

At another level, the book is timeless – giving a solid historical understanding of the dynamics at work that have led to an ever-escalating frenzy of economic and cultural globalization. Friedman’s 1999 warnings about the potential destructive powers of a Super-empowered individual like Osama Bin Laden were eerily prescient in light of the subsequent events of 9/11/2001.

Friedman uses history as a solid foundation for establishing an understanding of emerging globalization:

“Thucydides wrote in his history of the Peloponnesian War that nations are moved to go to war for one of three reasons – ‘honor, fear and interest’ – and globalization, while it raises the costs of going to war for reasons of honor, fear or interest, does not and cannot make any of these instincts obsolete – not as long as the world is made of men not machines, and not as long as olive trees still matter. The struggle for power, the pursuit of material and strategic interests and the ever-present tug of one’s own olive tree continue even in a world of microchips, satellite phones and the Internet. This book isn’t called The Lexus and the Olive Tree for nothing. Despite globalization, people are still attached to their culture, their language and a place called home. And they will sing for home, cry for home, fight for home and die for home. Which is why globalization does not, and will not, end geopolitics. Let me repeat this for all the realists who read this book: Globalization does not end geopolitics.” (Page 250)

The author does an excellent job of explaining the backlash against the perception in the world that globalization is often synonymous with Americanization:

“There is no more Canadian music, theater, film, culture or language. It has all been Americanized.”

“When I asked him why this issue was so important to him, Gujral, who was dressed in traditional Indian garb, basically said that unless you preserve some of your own olive trees in your own backyard, you will never feel at home in your own house. ‘What are my roots?’ he asked aloud. ‘My roots are not only the fact that I live here in India. My roots are the fact that I hear someone reciting a couplet in my native language, I hear someone singing a song in my native language when I walk down the street. My roots are when I sit in my home with you in my native dress. Our traditions are a thousand years old. You cannot just let them go like that. The world will be much richer of the colorations and diversities are sustained and encouraged with different cultures.’ (Page 292)

Friedman brilliantly illustrated the plight of the unskilled worker, that Friedman terms ‘turtles,’ in the rapidly changing global economy as he alludes to the Broadway musical, Ragtime, based on the novel of the same name by E.L. Doctorow.

“In the Broadway musical Ragtime, there is a scene in which Henry Ford explains the genius of his assembly line. I always remember the verses because they capture so well the world that was once safe for turtles – but is no more. The Broadway version of Henry Ford sings:

See my people? Well, here’s my theory
Of what this country is moving toward;
Every worker a cog in motion.
Well, that’s the notion of Henry Ford.
One man tightens and one man ratchets
And one man reaches to pull one cord.
Cars keep movin’ in one direction.
A genuflection to Henry Ford!
(Speed up the belt, speed up the belt, Sam!)
Mass production will sweep the nation,
A simple notion the world’s reward.
Even people who ain’t too clever
Can learn to tighten a nut forever,
Attach one pedal or pull one lever . . .

Today, alas, people who ain’t too clever can’t learn to make microchips forever. Good jobs require any skills.” (Pages 332-332)

Friedman makes a comment about immigration to America that I find particularly timely and poignant in light of the fact that our Congress today continues to grapple with how best to treat this controversial topic from the vantage point of policy and legislation.

“The more knowledge workers we can attract to your shores, the more successful you will be. As far as America is concerned, I say bring ‘em in, and not only the rich, educated entrepreneurs. I would never turn back a single Haitian boat person. Anyone who has the smarts and energy to build a raft out of milk cartons and then sail across the Atlantic to America’s shores is someone I want as a new immigrant.” (Page 371)

No matter what your politics or your views on the current immigration brouhaha, this is a point worth considering.

Friedman is an observer of the changing global landscape whose observations and ideas, while I may not always agree with all of them, are worth reading and pondering. I found this book a very worthwhile investment of my time, and I recommend it enthusiastically as an instant classic.



Tuesday, May 23, 2006

The Color Purple – A Winner on Broadway

At the outset of this piece, I must admit to feeling a close personal connection with both the book and the movie version of “The Color Purple.” They both struck a strong emotional chord with me – particularly as they wrestled with the issues of racial injustice, poverty and domestic violence. I think I saw the movie as many as seven times when it was released in 1985 – enough that I had memorized much of the dialogue.

One of the most vivid memories I have from that era of my life is of a day that I spent working on a Habit Humanity project on the West Side of Chicago hammering together window frames as part of a five-person team. On that particular day, the work crew I had been assigned to consisted of me, three furloughed federal prisoners who had been released to work on building the house, and Oprah Winfrey. Oprah had recently been nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress for her role as Sophia in “The Color Purple.” As Oprah and I were hammering away at the window frames, I began to recite – in full Southern dialect – many of Sophia’s lines from the movie, including the poignant line that Sophia utters after being released from jail: “I don’t know none of y’all no mo’!” Oprah roared with delight and surprise, and we had a marvelous day together.

That year, “The Color Purple,” was nominated for a total of 11 Academy Awards, and was totally shut out – winning none! There was an understandable furor over accusations of racism in Hollywood. I was deeply disappointed at Hollywood’s snub of one of my favorite films.

When I learned that Oprah was one of the driving forces behind turning “The Color Purple” into a Broadway musical, I was both excited and concerned. Would the integrity of the story hold in a musical genre? How well would the story translate to the limits of the stage? The early reviews were mixed when the show opened a few weeks ago, but audience response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic. So, when I managed to score a half-price ticket for last Friday’s performance, I entered the theater with some trepidation. Would the show live up to my high expectations, or would I walk out disappointed?

I need not have worried. The creators of this show had me fully engaged by the end of the opening production number – a rollicking Gospel tour de force entitled “Mysterious Ways.” The story line was faithful to the book and to the movie versions, but included the delightful addition of a “Greek Chorus” of three busybody Church Ladies who almost stole the show with their incessant harping, commenting and tut-tutting about all of the show’s characters and their moral failings. I happened to be sitting in the midst of a group of African-American women who had made the trip from Mississippi to NYC in order to see this show. After a particularly hilarious and dead-on turn by the Church Ladies, during the applause, I turned to the ladies and remarked: “I’ve been to that church; I’ve met those ladies!” The woman next to me smiled and retorted: “Honey, we’ve all been to that church!”

And that may be part of the genius of the appeal of this show. The creators have taken an already powerful story and have projected that story through the lens of the shared common experience of the Black Church as a touchstone of African-American community life. It is a brilliant conceit, and it enhanced my enjoyment and appreciation of the story, as it did for the rest of the predominantly Black audience that loved every minute of the show.

The acting, singing and dancing were exceptional. The actresses who played the roles of Celie, Nettie, Shug Avery, Sophia and the Church Ladies were particularly impressive. The African dancing in the opening scene of Act II, “African Homeland,” was breathtaking in its beauty and athleticism.

Sophia's show-stopping number, "Hell No!," sung and acted with spine-tingling intensity by Felicia P. Fields, is a paean to ending domestic violence and spousal abuse. The song distills the central message of the show - empowering those who had heretofore been victims. The souvenir stand in the lobby of The Broadway Theater featured T-shirts emblazoned with "Hell No!"

Can you tell that I loved this show?!

The musical has garnered 11 Tony nominations. But, I am a little worried about a repeat of the 1986 Academy Awards shutout. During the intermission, I ended up talking with another audience member who is a Broadway veteran. He appeared in the original production of “Dream Girls,” and has been around Broadway for over 20 years. He shared with me that the early “buzz” is that the musical, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” may sweep the awards in the musical categories, and “The Color Purple,” may fade under the glare of the klieg lights when the awards are announced on June 11.

No matter how many, or how few, Tony statuettes “The Color Purple” will end up taking home, the show is already a winner in my book. Color me enthusiastic about this latest adaptation of Alice Walker’s moving story about empowerment and overcoming incredible odds to find love and self-respect.

If you are going to be in and around NYC, and are looking to find a place to invest your entertainments dollars, you could do far worse than to spend an evening with the Church Ladies of “The Color Purple.” A national tour is planned for next spring.



Monday, May 22, 2006

Graduation Season Is Upon Us – Rudy Giuliani Speaks in Boston

I looked at my calendar this weekend and realized that I am committed to attending six graduations over the course of the next few weeks – high school, college and graduate school. It is exciting to see friends and children of friends reach memorable milestones.

On Sunday morning, I was privileged to attend the commencement exercise of Suffolk Law School. My longtime friend, Mike Ortlieb, was receiving his Juris Doctor degree (cum laude!) after an arduous few years for Mike and Crystal of Mike working days and going to law school in the evening. Congratulations, Mike and Crystal!

The keynote speaker at the Bank of America Pavilion on Boston’s windswept waterfront was Rudy Giuliani. I don’t often take notes when listening to a graduation speaker, but I always find what Giuliani has to say worth heeding and thinking about, so I jotted down a few thoughts as he delivered his remarks. He spoke plainly but eloquently, expanding upon six basic Principles of Leadership:

1) You Have to Have Strong Ideals - Know what you stand for and where you are going

2) To Be a Leader, You Have to Be an Optimist - Leaders understand the power of the solution

3) You Must Have Courage – Not the Absence of Fear, but the Ability to Manage Your Fear

4) Take Fear and Risk, and Use Them to Drive Relentless Preparation -Responding to the unanticipated and unexpected is a variation on the themes for which you relentlessly prepared

5) Celebrate and Create an Atmosphere that Fosters Teamwork - Know your weaknesses and built a team that compensates for those weaknesses

6) Master the Art of Communication - Learn how to get your ideas out of your mind and heart into the minds and hearts of your audience

Rudy spoke of his own mistakes and experiences as a young law school graduate, gave generous praise to those who had mentored and developed him throughout his career, and shared poignantly from his experience of confronting unanticipated challenges on 9/11/2001 in leading the City of New York as it struggled to rise from the ashes.

All in all, it was one of the most effective commencement addresses I have heard, and I felt honored to be there to share it with Mike, and his classmates and their families.

One More Falls In Iraq – Farewell “Sly”

This past Thursday, in Iraq, an IED claimed the life of 1LT Robert Augustine Seidel, III. This one hits close to home. “Sly” was a 2004 graduate of West Point, and had been a roommate and closest friend of Socrates Rosenfeld. I had met Sly several times as he visited the Rosenfeld family in Newton, and I saw him several times at West Point.

The following excerpts come from the West Point Website. See link below for pictures of LT Seidel.

* * * * *

Seidel, 23, was a rifle platoon leader with the 2nd Battalion in the 22nd Infantry Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, N.Y. He and three other soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter were killed in Iraq when his Humvee was hit by an improvised explosive device in the northwest sector of Baghdad. His deployment was scheduled to end in August.

He majored in The American Legal System, with his required engineering concentration in environmental engineering at West Point, was an Army Ranger, earned his Air Assault and Airborne badges, and was planning a career in the Army.

He will be buried in Emmitsburg, Md., and is survived by his parents and one brother.

From LTC Kevin P. Brown, USMA 1987, battalion commander:

"1LT Robert Seidel was one of my very best. He was very well liked by the soldiers in his platoon, and his peers, and he was an outstanding officer. We are all mourning his loss right now here in theater, as is his family back home."
* * * * *
At a gathering last night at the Rosenfeld home, family and friends assembled with decidedly mixed emotions in a bitter sweet gathering that was in part a memorial celebration of Sly’s life, a celebration of Socrates’ recent engagement to Emily, and a going away party for Soc, who will leave this week for a year-long deployment to Korea, where he will fly Low Bow helicopters.

Socrates’ shared some words that will serve as my closing remarks, as well.

“Look around at the friends and family that are gathered here tonight. And never take anything for granted. I’m not a big military guy or a hero. I don’t think a lot about why we are over there – I just want to do my job the best way I know how. I just want to fly helicopters and take care of the other guys that are serving over there with me. So, all I ask, as I get ready to go overseas - no matter what your politics may be or how you feel about the war - is that you think about me and the others who are serving. And when you think about us, think about what it costs for those of us in this room tonight to have the freedom to gather here like this, to be able to buy the kinds of food that we are enjoying this evening, and to live in safe neighborhoods like this. And please say a prayer for those of us who serve to preserve those freedoms.”

Please keep the Seidel family and the Rosenfeld family in your prayers, and remember all the families who sacrifice sons and daughters so that we might all be free.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A Nice Tie-In With This Morning's Book Review:How Am I Doing? by Jerry Hocutt

Within minutes of my having published this morning's review of "Integrity," Dr. Henry Cloud's new book, I received my regular e-mail subscription to "Snippets," a newlsetter that shares sales tips with subscribers, and is published by Hocutt and Associates in Seattle. Today's piece, written by Jerry Hocutt, is a perfect companion piece to my review that highlights the point that Henry Cloud makes in his book about the improtance of being open to receive feedback.

I picked up the phone, called Jerry, and told him about the connection between his piece and my review of "Integrity." Jerry was kind enough to grant permission for me to reproduce his article for the benefit of the readers of The White Rhino Report.

Enjoy, and thank you, Jerry.

* * * *

How Am I Doing?

by Jerry Hocutt

When he was mayor of New York City, Ed Koch was famous for walking the canyons of Manhattan and asking anyone that question. He wanted honest customer feedback from those affected by his policies, people, and decisions. He didn’t always like the answers (these were New Yorkers remember), but they told him what he was doing right, what he was doing wrong, and what needed to be changed. All companies could benefit from his walkaround strategy.

Had an email from one of our seminar attendees saying his company had tried to implement a customer feedback process but “up to this point, our response rate has been disappointing.” He wanted to know if there were any “tried and true” methods that could get honest feedback.


Refer to Mayor Ed Koch.


When I worked at the then Fortune 500 McCaw Communications, every quarter we would invite 25-30 clients to meet with our president and his staff. The clients were the decision-makers of their companies, ranging from CEOs, to presidents and vice-presidents, to directors of purchasing, to business owners. They included such customers as Nordstrom’s, Alaska Airlines, Paccar, Washington Mutual, U.S. Bank, and Microsoft as well as many small businesses.

We made the feedback session an “event”. All the salespeople would visit their accounts and take a formal R.S.V.P. invitation to their contacts. Immediately after, a letter was sent from our president stating that he would be the one conducting the meeting along with our general manager and naming the invited parties. By listing the names of the attendees, and letting everyone know there would be time for networking, it increased our attendance to over 90% because business leaders wanted to meet their equals.

By our president stating he would be present and conducting the meeting, the unspoken message was this was an important event. The letter also stated that our salespeople would be present to listen only and no services or products would be presented or sold. The entire purpose of the meeting was to see how we were doing and what we needed to change. In addition, the meeting would last no longer than three hours and would start and end on time.

The results of the quarterly meetings were extremely rewarding. (Although we did learn one very important lesson from the first meeting: never invite two direct competitors because they will be less candid with their comments.)


A customer in Baltimore sent questionnaires to their clients stating that for every one returned they would donate $X to various Baltimore charities or to the McDonald House in their name. They preceded the mailing of the questionnaires with a phone call. (Leaving voicemail messages were just as effective.) The forms were then sent. Two days before the questionnaires were to be returned the salespeople called to remind their clients to return them to ensure the donations would be made. Once the questionnaires had been received, our customer posted the donations contributed to all the charities on their website.


Wouldn’t you know, I spoke too soon? A couple of Snippets issues back I mentioned how I’ve never had to have any repair work done on my Toyotas (which is why I buy them…because they don’t break). The day after the article appeared, our Toyota broke. The rear latch on the 4Runner wouldn’t open, so I had to take it in. A nut came loose on the latch, they retightened it, and I was on my way. Two days later a representative from the service department called. She quickly reminded me I had brought my Toyota in two days before and asked if it would be okay if she could ask me five questions about my experience with their service department. I gave them all “outstanding” marks including (1) “Would you bring your car back in for service in the future?” and (2) “Would you recommend us to friends?”

Here’s what made their customer feedback so effective. When the rep called she quickly identified herself and who she represented. In the same breath she reminded me that I had taken my car in for service; so she knew something about me and that I was a customer. That got me to stay on the line. Then she said she had only “five short questions”. Good. I can deal with that because I know this isn’t going to be a long, drawn out ordeal. Plus, she asked for permission to ask the questions. Good touch. Once she covered the first four questions, she said “My last question is – are you going to be in the market soon for a new Toyota?” She should have been paid a bonus for cross-selling and doing the salesperson’s job. Following-up on a service call to see “How are we doing” and then using it as an opportunity to cross-sell are two golden opportunities companies miss to get customer feedback, improve customer relations, and increase sales.

Want customer feedback? Just ask. But like Mayor Koch, don’t ask for a lot of personal information, don’t get defensive and try to justify what you’re doing, and then take action on what you learn.

© 2006 Hocutt & Associates, Inc. You can download Jerry’s free ebook, Creating Sales Opportunities – Five Proven Ways, at, email him at, or call him at 800-378-5941.

Review: Integrity – The Courage To Meet The Demands Of Reality (How Six Essential Qualities Determine Your Success In Business) by Dr. Henry Cloud

The Collins imprint of HarperCollins Publishers continues to pour out a very impressive stream of books that address ethical issues in business. Dr. Henry Cloud’s book, “Integrity,” published just a few weeks ago, is the latest offering in this genre. I found it to be a very encouraging, challenging and ultimately uplifting work. Henry Cloud, despite his background as a psychologist, manages to avoid the “psychobabble” one often encounters in reading clinicians who opine on business ethics. He anchors his thoughts in the real world of clients he has consulted with in helping them to address very real and concrete business issues that have deep roots in issues of ethics and integrity.

Dr. Cloud makes it clear that “integrity,” as he uses the term, is much more than mere “honesty.” Throughout the book he parses and elucidates six essential qualities and character traits that lead to success in the business world. He describes the kind of character that . . .

1) Creates and maintains trust
2) Is able to see and face reality
3) Works in a way that brings results
4) Embraces negative realities and solves them
5) Causes growth and increase
6) Achieves transcendence and meaning in life

“You will see how these character traits supercede gifts, talents and ability, and how the ones who have them succeed and the ones who don’t, ultimately fail.” (Page xii)

In this review, I will offer more quotations than I typically do in writing about a book. The reasons for this proliferation of quotes are that I want to share a fair sample of Dr. Cloud’s nuggets, and he states the case very well in his own words. I could not improve upon them through more extensive commentary.

In talking with a wealthy businessman who is a personal friend, Dr. Cloud heard his friend comment on how he chooses to invest his money in businesses.

“I did not invest in those businesses. I invested in the people. I never invest in businesses I don’t know anything about, but I will invest in a person. If I know their character, their history, how they operate, what kind of judgment they have, what kinds of risks are acceptable to them, how they execute, and things like that, and I know them well, I will invest. But I don’t buy businesses I don’t know anything about.” (Pages 29-30)

Early in this book, Dr. Cloud gives us his expanded definition of integrity as it applies to the business world:

"And, the origins of the word we can see in the French and Latin meanings of intact, integrate, integral and entirety. The concept means that the ‘whole thing is working well, undivided, integrated, intact and uncorrupted.’ When we are talking about integrity, we are talking about being a whole person, an integrated person, with all of our different parts working well and delivering the functions that they were designed to deliver. It is about wholeness and effectiveness as people. It truly is ‘running on all cylinders.’ (Page 31)

The author offers a very clear and helpful metaphor for the type of impact that this kind of person of integrity has on the lives of those with whom she or he interacts. Dr. Cloud posits that each of us, as we move through the waters of life, leave behind a wake, like that left by ships as they pass through the ocean. There are two aspects to the “wake” that we leave behind – the tasks we have performed and the relationships we have built.

“We leave a wake of people behind us as we move though their lives and their organizations. . . So, we must ask ourselves, ‘What does that wake look like?’ Are a lot of people out there water-skiing on the wake, smiling, having a great time for our having ‘moved through their lives’? Or are they are there bobbing for air, bleeding, and left wounded as shark bait?” (Page 18)

In the chapter on Building Trust Through Connections, Cloud offers this profound insight that helps us to understand the difference between those persons and companies that command loyalty and those that do not:

“The human heart will seek to be known, understood, and connected with above all else. If you do not connect, the ones you care about will find someone who will.” (Page 70)

Applying this principle alone in most companies today would dramatically reduce the costs of employee theft, turnover, recruiting, retention and succession planning.

In the chapter on Trust Through Vulnerability, Cloud talks about an early childhood experience he had with his mother that caused him to trust her more deeply than he might otherwise have been able to do.

“I needed a model that was strong enough to depend on, but vulnerable enough to identify with. That combination is what made it work. In essence, it said, ‘Hey, she is like me, in that she is afraid sometimes and feels like she can’t do it. But, she does it anyway. She pushes forward.’

Her vulnerability is what made her power available to me.”
(Page 92)

In sharing What People In Touch Look Like, Dr. Cloud recounts an incident that happened on a retreat for CEO’s, when a young “superstar” was given an opportunity to receive feedback from a more senior CEO.

“One of the more experienced guys looked up and said, ‘Want some feedback?’ He said it in a way that left you wondering whether he was going to give sage advice or rail at the young man for being out to lunch in some way. There was just no way to tell from his poker face. But I will never forget the young superstar’s immediate response: ‘By all means. Give me a gift.’ He saw the feedback, whatever it was, as a gift because it could give him some reality that he did not know. I remember thinking, ‘We will be watching this guy’s accomplishments for a long time.’ (Page 116)

Cloud then ratchets up the significance of this insight by suggesting a challenging way for us to put this principle of inviting feedback to a practical test:

“If you want to know your comfort level in this matter, think of going to the people you work with or are in close personal relationships with and give them 100 percent permission to be totally honest with you in answering the question: ‘What is it like to be on the other end of me?’" (Pages 116-117)

I must draw to a close this review, lest I run the risk of conveying Cloud’s whole book to you via this Blog! I want to encourage you to buy the book as an investment in yourself and in your growth and success. But, in closing, I will share a final excerpt that captures the essence of what this book is all about:

“I just returned from an international leadership summit in which the leaders discussed their personal orientations toward growth. One global leader said that about ten years ago, he was near burnout and collapse, as his organization had exploded in size. But, he himself was dying. So, with input from his board, he made a huge investment of both time and money. He decided that every summer he would take six weeks away to study, refresh, get input into his soul, and re-create. He put the number two person in charge with orders not to call him ‘unless the whole thing were burning down.’ (Pages 222-223)

Dr. Cloud chose to protect the anonymity of this global leader. I do not know if he was referring to Pastor Bill Hybels of WillowCreek Church, but I have heard with my own ears Pastor Hybels share a similar story of taking intentional steps to prevent burnout by making the difficult decision to get away from daily pressures in order to carve out some time to recharge the batteries and to reinvigorate the soul. That is the very heart of integrity.

Most business leaders I know will find something of value in this book that they can internalize and begin to apply immediately – for their own benefit and for the benefit of all those who are “surfing their wake.”


Al Chase

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Looking At The World Through The Eyes Of A Recruiter - How Headhunters Spell Trouble

I had not planned on offering a series of articles on how candidates can best present themselves and learn how to optimize their relationships with recruiters, but the issue seems timely. I was prompted to offer these postings in part because a number of excellent resources have come to my attention in the past few days - many of them thanks to the kindness of David Teten and his Brain Food Blog. I wanted to be sure to pass them along to my readers so that you, in turn, can pass them along to those who might benefit most from these behind-the-scenes insights into how recruiters evaluate candidates.

There is one point that you will read in the article linked below that I would like to reiterate and ratify. Many candidates misunderstand the nature of the recruiting business. They feel that it is the job of the recruiter to make sure they find a job for the candidate. Finding a job for a candidate is actually a by-product of the main task of finding candidates for a client company.

The economics of the recruiting industry dictate that a company that is having difficulty finding appropriate candidates for a certain position using their own internal resources will contract with an external recruiter to help them to identify and screen qualified candidates. The search assignment can be a retained search - in which the client company guarantees to pay the recruiter regardless of the outcome of the search. Or, the search assignment can be a contingency search - in which the recruiter only gets paid if the client company hires a candidate that he/she has presented. In each scenario - retained or contingency search - the recruiter works for the client company, and not for the candidate. Of course, the best recruiters do a fair and balanced job of representing the interests of both the client company and the candidates. The best recruiters are diligent in seeking a win-win conclusion whereby the company hires the most-qualified candidate, and the candidate is hired at the company that is the best fit for her/his skills, goals, temperament and value system.

In addition to the top-priority activity of helping client companies to find and to hire the most qualified candidates, whenever possible, I also try to provide career advice to candidates, and even to pro-actively present them to companies where I feel they could add value. But I am only able to offer these extra value-added activities and services after I have fulfilled my obligations to the client companies I have committed to help. At the end of the day, it is the client companies that pay the bills and drive the recruiter's allocation of time and energy resources. - How Headhunters Spell Trouble: 'FD,' 'PP,' 'Noncom' and 'TMI'

Scott St. Germain Chimes In About Mrs. Millar

Some of the readers of The White Rhino Report may have missed the comment that Scott St. Germain posted yesterday in response to Monday's posting about Kevin Millar's return to Boston. If you missed it, here are Scott's words:

White Rhino Report readers,

Yes, I will validate the Disclaimer. I did insist that Al publish this report.

Seeing Al interact and hug Mrs. Kevin Millar was truly a milestone in Red Sox history (at least by my definition!). In retrospect, the meeting of Al and Gina was quite symbolic : Red Sox faithful meets Red Sox of the past, East coaster meets Good ol' Texan, and Beauty meets ...

Al, you never cease to amaze me. Thanks for a wonderful memory.

Scott St. Germain

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

How Overeager Job Hunters Can Thwart Their Efforts

David Teten's Blog is a frequent source of very practical and timely information. Today's posting, with an article on Overeager Job Hunters, struck a responsive cord with me because it described experiences I have had all too often recently as the recipient of unsolicited resumes, phone calls and drop-in visits by candidates who emit an odious aura of desperation.

Consider this posting a continuation of the posting of April 26 - "Adding Some Humanity to Resume Posting"

Some of the biggest turn-offs to me, as a recruiter, are the following:

1) Candidates who have clearly broadcast their resume and cover letter to whatever e-mail addresses they have been able to purchase, beg, borrow or steal. This tactic immediately cheapens the candidate in my eyes, and the resume goes into an electronic folder labelled "Unsolicited Resumes" which I look at only when I have nothing else to do with my time - which is rare!

2) Candidates who respond to a specific search or job posting even when they are not remotely qualified. It requires a great deal of time to do justice to reading and responding to a resume and cover letter. Every "Spam" response from an unqualified candidate means less time to respond to qualified candidates.

3) Candidates who have been turned down for a position because there were better qualified individuals, yet who will not accept the answer "No." I have had candidates continue to call me months after a search has been completed -asking if I have received any more feedback from the client company on why they were not offered the position. This tactic screams desperation, and causes me to determine never again to present that candidate.

4) Candidates who do not take the time and effort to customize their cover letter. I can't tell you how many times I have heard from candidates who are responding to a specific job posting, who know my name, yet still send me a cover letter that is addressed: "Dear recruiter" or "Dear Sir/Madam." That candidate, even if they possess all the hard skills needed to do the job, will have to work very hard to convince me that I should present them to my client company.

Enjoy the article, and please forward it to job seekers who may be inadvertently hurting their chances by committing some of the cardinal sins outlined above and in this attached article.

I encourage you to visit David Teten's Blog, as well.

Brain Food Blog:

CareerJournal How Overeager Job Hunters Can Thwart Their Efforts

Wharton Private Equity Review: Finding Value in a Crowded Market - Knowledge@Wharton

This fascinating article first appeared in "Knowledge @ Wharton," and was forward by David Teten in his Brain Food Blog. The article caught my attention for several reasons. First, the participants in the Wharton conference on Private Equity highlighted the importance of placing a responsive mangement team at the helm of a portfolio company. Second, conference speakers expressed an interesting variety of opinions on the importance of a Private Equity firm taking firm control of the Board of Directors.

These two topics particularly caught my eye because, as my Executive Search practice grows and matures, I find myself spending a growing percentage of my time helping Private Equity firms (and Venture Capital firms, as well) to identify and hire operating leadership talent and Board of Directors talent to lead their portfolio companies. Many of these operating executives and Board members come from my network of former military leaders, others come from my network of senior leaders who have earned MBA's from top-tier business schools, and still others are best categorized as Renaissance Men and Women who bring broad and deep knowledge of the world and of human nature to the task of leading a company that is in transition.

Enjoy the article.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

How Hedge-Fund Guru Joel Greenblatt Used Wall Street Principles To Turn Around a Queens School

This article comes to us through the kindness of David Teten's Brain Food Blog. It originally appeared in New York Magazine.

I found this story to be very inspiring and encouraging. We hear a lot about what is wrong with our public schools. It is nice to see that an enterprising business leader has found a way to invest in making a positive difference.

Hats off to Joel Greenblatt!

How Hedge-Fund Guru Joel Greenblatt Used Wall Street Principles To Turn Around a Queens School -- New York Magazine

Monday, May 08, 2006

Behind the Scenes At Fenway Park – Cowboy Up!

In the wake of last week’s furor over the return of pinstripe-wearing Johnny Damon to Fenway Park, there was another notable return. Kevin Millar’s arrival on Friday evening wearing the gray and orange of the Baltimore Orioles was met with far less bombast and was less widely bruited in the press than had been the case earlier in the week when the Yankees rolled into town.

Kevin Millar, whose last year in a Red Sox uniform was a statistical disaster and a disappointment to all concerned, is still beloved by Red Sox fans for the contributions he made to the 2004 World Series Champions, as well as for his indelible stamp of Texas country bonhomie and his signature motto: “Cowboy Up!” So, it was a special moment in the 1st inning of Friday night’s game when Millar stepped to the plate for the first time in the uniform of the visiting team. The fans rose as one and applauded, cheered, yelled, whistled for Kevin for an extended period of time.

DISCLAIMER – I hesitated to add the following details to the story, but was strongly urged to do so by White Rhino Report reader and contributor, Scott St. Germain. Scott was in town on business, and joined me at Friday’s game. When I told him that I was concerned about the possibility of being accused of name dropping, or stooping to the level of a gossip columnist, he remonstrated with me, and argued that among the readers of The White Rhino Report, there are “inquiring minds that would want to know” the details that will follow – details that you won’t read anywhere else. So, I capitulated.

As the Red Sox were batting in the bottom of the 1st inning, I noticed several of the wives of Orioles players walking down the aisle to take their seats in the grandstands behind home plate. Since I often sit among the family and friends of the visiting team, the ladies ended up sitting just a few rows in front of where Scott and I were seated. I turned to Scott and casually mentioned, “That’s Kevin Millar’s wife, Gina.”

“Do you know her?”

“Yeah, we’ve have met and talked a few times.”

It occurred to me that Gina had arrived after Kevin’s plate appearance in the 1st inning, and that she might not be aware of what had transpired, so between innings, I walked down to where she was seated on the aisle, and asked her if she had seen and heard the gratifying ovation that her husband had received. She had missed it. So, I gave her a quick description, and returned to my seat.

Later in the game, Scott and I were standing and talking near the refreshment stand behind Section 20. I noticed Gina making her way up the aisle. When she saw me, she walked over, and said: “Please tell me more details about Kevin’s welcome. What did he do? Did he tip his cap?”

We talked for a few minutes about how strange it felt for her to be back at Fenway – no longer sitting among the Red Sox wives, but across the aisle among the families of the visiting team.

My response to Gina was to quip: “It’s the same church, but a different pew!”

As a parting remark, I said: “I want you to know, Red Sox fans are glad you are back in town. Welcome home!” It seemed natural to offer Gina a chaste hug, which she accepted and returned. And then she was on her way. She is a gracious and lovely example of Texas gentility and beauty at its finest, and it was wonderful to see her again.

My friend Scott, the sophisticated and successful business man – West Point grad and Harvard MBA – turned to me and exclaimed: “You just hugged Kevin Millar’s wife!”

Sometimes it’s good to be The White Rhino!

It was a terrific ballgame, and Big Papi cleared the bases with a booming double to right field late in the game to seal the victory for the Red Sox.
Go Sox!


Friday, May 05, 2006

Soul-Searching Fiction: A Mini-Review of “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel

Now I understand what all the fuss has been about over this prize-winning book! It took me awhile to get around to reading “Life of Pi,” the genre-bending novel by Yann Martel. I thank my friend, Andrew Cvitanov, for recommending this book to me. Depending upon what page you are on and which of the one hundred chapters you are currently ingesting, the book feels like a tragedy, a comedy and a romance. Yann does a magical job of bringing us on a journey – a voyage, if you will – of deprivation, intrigue, challenge, terror, mystery and epiphany.

I will not give away any of the interesting and surprising plot twists, but I will reveal that the author leads the most discerning readers down some interesting philosophical paths – exploring issues of metaphysics (the nature of reality) and epistemology (how do we know what we know?). He uses rich language of metaphor and allegory as he holds a mirror to the human soul and asks us to examine – to compare and contrast – ourselves with the rest of the created order.

At its core, this is a deeply spiritual book. On a technical level, I take issue with some of the underlying theology of the author; he is more syncretistic and pantheistic than I am comfortable with in my own belief system. But those theological differences did not prevent me from marveling at Martel’s adroit ability to weave a tale that poses deep existential questions.

Martel, speaking through the voice of his protagonist, Piscine “Pi” Patel, makes some stunning and extraordinary observations about animal behavior, including the human species, that by themselves make this book a worthwhile read:

“Sometimes I got my majors mixed up. A number of my fellow religious-studies students – muddled agnostics who didn’t know which way was up, who were in the thrall of reason, that fool’s gold for the bright – reminded me of the three-toed sloth; and the three-toed sloth, such a beautiful example of the miracle of life, reminded me of God.”

“I never had problems with my fellow scientists. Scientists are a friendly, atheistic, hard-working, beer-drinking lot whose minds are preoccupied with sex, chess and baseball when they are not preoccupied with science.”
(Page 5)

“I’ll be honest about it. It is not the atheists who get stuck in my craw, but agnostics. Doubt is useful for a while. We must all pass through the Garden of Gethsemane. If Christ played with doubt, we must we. If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ then surely we are permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.” (Page 28)

This is a terrific book to read along with family and friends. My edition of the book contains an appendix with twenty-three intriguing discussion questions about the book and its meaning.



Thursday, May 04, 2006

Some Diamond Vignettes From Fenway – On The Field And In The Stands

Let me share just a few random thoughts and observations from last night’s events at Fenway Park. Jonathan Papelbon’s pristine armor was finally dented as he allowed a run – the winning run – to score in the 9th inning. He remains a fan darling and hope for the future. This was the first run he had allowed since last September – a string of scoreless outings spanning 25 innings.

Before the game, as I was volunteering at Autograph Alley, I had a rare opportunity to share a relaxed conversation with Luis Tiant, Red Sox Hall of Fame member and perennial fan favorite. The former player who was designated to sign autographs last evening was Ted Lepcio, former teammate of Ted Williams and Johnny Pesky and middle infielder for the Red Sox teams of 1952-1959. Ted was busy autographing hundreds of photos of himself in his Red Sox uniform. El Tiante, who owns the Cuban Sandwich Shop on Yawkey Way, just around the corner from the location of Autograph Alley, was also in the neighborhood. Luis often sits at his sandwich stand signing autographs for those who buy his delicious sandwiches. On this rainy evening, Luis came in from the damp and the drizzle to spend some time at Autograph Alley. Current Red Sox staff member, Henry Mahegan, and I were talking about the current Red Sox team and the chances that the evening’s scheduled game would be played without another disappointing rainout, when Tiant joined the conversation.

El Tiante radiates baseball charm and atmosphere, emitting insightful gems, bon mots and anecdotes like an aromatic cloud of smoke wafting gently from the Cuban cigars that he favors. At one point in the conversation, I asked him why, in his opinion, young Papelbon is experiencing such success. Luis’ answer was pithy and classic. In heavily accented tones he replied:

“It’s simple. He has skills . . . and he has balls! He’s not afraid of anything. He is a warrior – like Clemens, like Pedro . . .”

I quickly added: “. . . and like Tiant!”

The corners of his mouth turned up in a wry smile and a twinkle glinted from his dark eyes as he nodded in tacit agreement and acknowledgement of his status in Red Sox history and in the hearts of Red Sox Nation.

* * * * *

The Red Sox were waiting to come up to bat in the third inning. The big screen above the bleachers in center field was feting those celebrating birthdays at Fenway that evening – youngsters and oldsters from Acushnet to Agawam. Just as the first Red Sox batter of the inning was being announced, the message flashed on the screen: “Lauren V., will you marry me?”

I have seen hundreds of Fenway proposals flashed on the screen over the years, but this was the first such event that I was privileged to be part of. My friend, Craig Balben, grew up in New Hampshire, and maintains his fierce loyalty to the Red Sox, despite the fact that he currently makes his home in San Diego. Craig began plotting many months ago the details of this special night. As far as Lauren knew, they were coming to New England to see a Red Sox game, visit family and friends, and for a few days, trade that balmy and boring San Diego 80-degree weather for the extreme adventure of braving spring temperatures in New England!

As the break between innings progressed, I had been able to find a seat right behind Craig and Lauren. I saw him surreptitiously reach into his jacket pocket for the ring box. He was able to direct Lauren’s attention to the birthday announcements that were scrolling on the screen. And then her name appeared. She was looking at the screen, but it took a moment for the reality of what she was reading to register. Her hand instinctively flew to cover her mouth – pretty even while agape! - as she looked in utter disbelief and wonder at Craig. Their friends, sitting in the seats next to Craig and Lauren, beamed. I leaned over to Lauren and said: “What’s your answer?!” With tears and embraces all around, Lauren gasped, “Yes,” and Craig slipped the beautiful diamond ring onto her tremulous hand.

The surprise was not over. Craig had orchestrated an elaborate romantic evening and sequence of surprises for his bride-to-be. Up the aisle of Section 8 came Lauren’s mother and aunt. They had flown in from California to join in the celebration. Next came Craig’s mother and sister, and other family members who had been scattered and hidden in plain sight throughout the park.

A summer 2007 wedding is planned in Temecula, California. I’ll be there. I can’t wait!

Romance is alive and well!

Congratulations, Craig and Lauren. I love you guys.

Play ball!


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

An Encouraging Message From The Corner Office - “Serving Two Master? Reflections On God And Profit” by C. William Pollard

What a striking and ironic juxtaposition! On the same day that ran an article on the ten best prisons for CEO’s, Harper Collins published a book by former ServiceMaster CEO, C. William Pollard, that raises the bar for ethical practices among corporate leaders. Seeing the recent pathetic performance of Enron’s Kenneth Lay in the dock trying to explain away egregious acts of misfeasance and malfeasance, it is a refreshing change to hear from a CEO who wrestled with his conscience before being prodded to do so by a Grand Jury!

In this book, that consists of a compilation of short inspirational messages that Pollard delivered to the ServiceMaster Board of Directors over the course of twenty-five years, the author leads us gently through a healthy questioning and examination of the over-arching question: “Are principles of faith and principles of smart business practice compatible?”

ServiceMaster’s formal Corporate Objectives make it clear that the company’s leaders believe that it is possible to integrate these two streams of principles into one organization. The ServiceMaster vision is:

To honor God in all we do

To help people develop

To pursue excellence

And to grow profitably

“We are often asked if these four objectives are compatible. Some people believe there is an inevitable conflict between spiritual values and economic objectives. Can a person, they wonder, honor God and make a profit?” (Pages 108-109)

Throughout the pages of the book, Pollard answers with great clarity this rhetorical question. He offers one inspiring example and case study after another to reinforce the fact that a company can successfully navigate the tricky waters of being faithful to God while at the same time keeping faith with all of the company’s stake holders.

At the heart of the ServiceMaster philosophy is the principle of “Servant Leadership.”

“Several months ago, while teaching a ServiceMaster case study at Harvard Business School, I was asked by one of the students, ‘What is the most important trait you would look for in your successor?’ My answer was, ‘A person who had or could develop a servant’s heart.’ (Page 42)

Pollard continues his explanation of the centrality of servanthood to the ServiceMaster way of life:

“The theme of our annual report this year is ‘Leading and Learning by Serving.’ The sculpture on the cover was created by Esther Augsburger and depicts Jesus Christ washing his disciples’ feet – a striking and practical example of servant leadership. This sculpture and the granite wall behind it listing those who have contributed twenty-five years or more of service to our company, will be at the entrance of our new office facility at One ServiceMaster Way. It will be a reminder that our company has been built by those who have made career commitments to serve with a mission and a purpose.” (Page 45)

Skeptics might wonder if a corporate culture in which faith in Jesus Christ is part of the public persona of the CEO is a place where those who are not practicing Christians might feel oppressed or uncomfortable. Is ServiceMaster a company that beats its employees and customers over the head with the Bible? Pollard addresses these concerns as he tells about his friend and colleague, Bisher Mufti:

“Now, for me as a follower of Jesus Christ and also a leader in this firm, I must live my faith in such a way that it is not imposed upon my colleagues, but instead can be examined, understood, and in some cases, embraced by them as they seek not only to do things right, but also to do the right thing.”

“One of those colleagues and friends is currently serving as vice president of our international division with primary responsibilities for our businesses in the Middle East. Bisher Mufti joined ServiceMaster twenty-eight years ago as a young immigrant from Jordan. His first job was a second-shift floor cleaner in one of the hospitals we were serving. He has grown in our business and in his essay in this year’s annual report, he specifically comments on how, as a Muslim, he has been accepted and nurture in our community. He has learned that there can be a common ground in our business for people of different faiths. It begins with ‘the way we respect and treat others.’ As he has witnessed our values working in the lives of others and in his own life, he has concluded that the ServiceMaster objectives transcend differences and cultural backgrounds.”
(Pages 123-124)

This book is one that I will keep on my desktop, and will refer to on a regular basis as a way of reminding me to keep my priorities in their proper order. This little gem of a volume comes with my highest recommendation. Whatever your religion, reading the thoughts of this successful business leader may help to restore your faith in the ability to succeed while maintaining ethical standards. We can all profit from such a vision and approach!

I comend Collins for having the courage to publish such a book. It is now available in bookstores and from


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

A Classic In The Fens!

Yes, I know . . .it is only May, and the baseball season “is a marathon and not a sprint.” But last night’s Clash of the Titans in the wintry elements at Fenway Park was an instant classic and one for the ages. There was an otherworldly confluence of events and influences surrounding the actual nine-inning event. A hack Hollywood writer could not have concocted a more trite or more implausible set of circumstances, back-stories and confrontations.

Here is the way the pieces of the puzzle were arranged before the first pitch was thrown:

* Johnny Damon would be returning to Boston wearing pinstripes. Everyone was asking the question: “Will he be booed for deserting the Red Sox to sign with the Yankees, or would he be cheered for his four years of heroics as a Red Sox player”?

* Doug Mirabelli had been traded that morning back to the Red Sox, and was being flown by private jet from San Diego. Would he arrive in time to catch Wakefield?

* With his new/old catcher comfortably ensconced behind the plate, would Wakefield feel more comfortable throwing his signature knuckleball, and return to his winning ways of yore?

* Would the forecast heavy rain hold off long enough to allow the game to be played?

* How would the 25-30 MPH gale blowing in from the northeast impact the flight of the ball out of Wakefield’s hand, and the flight of the ball off the bats of the Red Sox and Yankees?

* Tied for 1st place in the American League East, which team would win the opening set of 19 scheduled head-to-head contests, and who would emerge from the gloaming in sole possession of first place?

* How would Jonathan Papelbon, the Red Sox rookie phenom closer, handle the pressure of a Red Sox – Yankees face-off?

As I made the walk from Kenmore Square to Gate A, it was clear that the crowd was electric with anticipation. The scalpers were more desperate than usual to buy extra tickets that they could then resell at margins approaching the rapacious gouging of our friends in the oil industry. There was a buzz in the air normally found only during play-offs or late in the season in a tight pennant race. There were more TV cameras and crew than normal bivouacked on the warning track in front of the Red Sox dugout as the Yankees wound up their batting and fielding session.

Peter Gammons, “The Commissioner” and venerable ESPN baseball analyst, was standing on the field among the other media cadre members. As I watched him, he answered his cell phone, and then sprinted off the field, up the stairs, and down the ramp leading towards the Red Sox clubhouse. He had a look of serious purpose on his face as he made the trek. I looked at my friend, Andrew, and said: “That was probably Mirabelli calling to say he has arrived!”

As the flag in centerfield blew straight in, it seemed obvious that there would be no homeruns hit out of the ballpark on this night. Around 6:45, the pre-game festivities began. ACM award-winning Country & Western group, Lonestar, treated us to a twangy and nasal rendition of the National Anthem. Basketball executive, Dave Gavit, bounced the ceremonial first pitch in the general direction of home plate. The Yankees line-up was now going to be announced. The crowd inhaled as one.

My friend and I had predicted that the ratio of boos to cheers for Johnny Damon would be 60-40. The public address announcer intoned: “For the New York Yankees, leading off and playing center field, J-o-h-n-n-y Damon.” The boos were lusty and cacophonous! The ratio of boos to cheers was close to 90-10. The crowd, having properly limbered up its collective vocal chords in welcoming Damon back to Boston, continued in fine form booing Derek Jeter, Jason Giambi, A-Rod, Godzilla Matsui and Jorge Posada with unflagging enthusiasm and glee. And then, the crowd seemed to run out of steam, and could muster precious little animus for the likes of the three C’s – Cano, Cairo and Crosby – who populated the lower third of the Yankees’ batting order.

Moments earlier, Wakefield had made his way out to the Red Sox bullpen for his pre-game warm-ups, accompanied by catcher . . . Jason Varitek. Where was Mirabelli? Had his plane landed? Would he enter the game in later innings?

And then the Red Sox line-up was announced. Each player’s name was met with enthusiastic applause and cheers up and down the line-up, with special approbation and affection signaled for Big Papi, who could run for mayor of this town, and as I have said in the past, speaks English far more cogently and eloquently than does the incumbent, Tom “Mumbles” Menino. Youklis, Loretta, Ortiz, Ramirez, Nixon, Lowell, Pena . . . As the eight spot in the batting order was scheduled to be announced, the public address announcer paused. The centerfield monitor remained blank. The pause became pregnant, and then poignant as the Red Sox shamelessly and magnificently milked the moment for all it was worth: “Batting eighth and catching, Doug Mirabelli!” Mirabelli's image flashed on the screen. The dam of emotion burst, and cheers, screams, whistles, and huzzahs erupted from deep within the heart of the Red Sox faithful. The roar built to a crescendoed fever pitch and threatened to equal the force of nature’s display - the icy jet stream steadily pouring over the Green Monster into the seats and chilling the bones of the assembled multitude.

Mirabelli had arrived at the park 13 minutes before game time. The duration of his commute from the airport had been shortened - thanks to an escort by the Massachusetts State Police. Mirabelli changed into his Red Sox uniform during the drive form the airport!

The game got underway, and the Sox jumped out to an early 1-0 lead, courtesy of a rare David Ortiz opposite field hit, driving in Kevin Youklis. Wakefield was dominant in the early going, and fly balls that might have been problematic on another night, died in the teeth of the angry and variable wind that continued to roar from the north and east. The Yankees squeezed out a few runs in the top of the 4th inning to take a 3-1 lead. The Red Sox rallied for a couple of runs of their own in the 5th, and the game remained tied as we moved to the late innings. In the meantime, Wakefield continued to pitch well, allowing only 4 hits. Mirabelli allowed no passed balls, and was masterful in blocking several tough knuckleballs. He threw a runner out at second, and acquitted himself well in his first game back in a Red Sox uniform. He hit a ball that on most nights would have left the yard and headed in the direction of the Mass. Turnpike, but the incessant wind knocked it down and it settled harmlessly into Matsui’s glove just inches from the left field wall.

Mike Timlin replaced Wakefield, and pitched a scoreless 8th. The Red Sox regained the lead with a Mark Loretta carom shot up the middle. The ball bounced off the glove of Yankees reliever, and Massachusetts native, Tanyon Sturtze (whose mother was sitting just in front of me in Section 21), bounced off of the pitching mound, and trickled past the glove of the second baseman, scoring what would end up as the winning run. With two runners on the base paths, Ortiz came to the plate. Left handed specialist, and former Red Sox reliever, Mike Meyers was summoned from the bullpen to face Big Papi. The count ran full – three balls and two strikes. On the 3-2 pitch, Ortiz took a mighty cut at the ball and it traveled high into the night toward centerfield and the deepest part of Fenway Park. We all knew the wind would knock it down, as it had every ball hit into the air all evening. The ball continued to rise, and rise and finally settled into a glove – the glove of Jonathan Papelbon who was standing in the Red Sox bullpen. Ortiz had done the impossible, defeating Mike Meyers and Mother Nature with one flick of his bat. The Red Sox led 7-3, and the game was effectively over. The crowd erupted for another round of jubilation and celebration.

In a non-save situation, Papelbon came in to pitch the ninth inning, and quickly dispatched A-Rod, Matsui and Posada to seal the victory, and to extend his string of consecutive scoreless innings to 21! His last pitch blew past Posada at 97 MPH. A nice exclamation point to a memorable night!

As the crowd poured out of the portals of Fenway Park, congratulating themselves for witnessing a memorable game, the raindrops began to fall - but not nearly in time to rain on the Red Sox improbable parade!

We get to do this 18 more times during the regular season, and who knows about the post-season!

Go Sox!


Monday, May 01, 2006

News From Red Sox Nation - Reversing A Knucklehead Decision: Theo Makes A Wild Pitch To Salvage Wakefield’s Season And Sanity!

Never before in the history of Major League Baseball have the names, fortunes and vicissitudes of back-up catchers been more on the minds and on the lips of baseball fans. But in these first few weeks of the 2006 Baseball Season, opinions about what to do about Jason Varitek’s back-up have fluctuated as wildly as a Tim Wakefield knuckleball in a stiff New England nor’easter.

For those of you who do not live within the signal radius of WEEI – 850 on your AM dial – let me give you a quick update. In the off-season, the Red Sox traded back-up catcher, Doug Mirabelli, to the San Diego Padres, in exchange for second baseman, Mark Loretta. In a normal world, this would hardly cause a blip on the average fan’s radar screen. However, this is Red Sox Nation we are talking about, and Doug Mirabelli just happened to be Tim Wakefield’s personal designated catcher, earmarked to handle Wakefield’s erratic knuckleball. The Red Sox brain trust must have figured that anyone could be taught to catch Wakefield’s trick pitch, but the job of finding an adequate replacement proved to be a bit trickier than anticipated! Josh Bard wore a Red Sox uniform for only a few weeks, but he has carved a permanent niche for himself in Red Sox history and folklore. The name of the hapless Josh Bard has already been added to the Red Sox fans’ Hall of Shame and Pantheon of Villains – joining the likes of Harry Frazee, Aaron Boone, Bill Buckner, Larry Barnett and Bucky #%*&ing Dent! In a Red Sox career that spanned a mere 7 games and 18 At Bats, Bard also managed to set a new standard in futility behind the plating – leading the major leagues with 10 passed balls!

Theo Epstein, the Red Sox reincarnated General Manager, did the right thing and tacitly admitted the egregious error of letting Mirabelli slip away like a Josh Bard passed ball. This morning, Theo completed a deal that will ship Bard to the Padres, along with Cla Meredith and some cash, in exchange for the timely and merciful return of Mirabelli to the Good Ship Red Sox. As I write these words, Mirabelli is winging his way via private jet towards Fenway Park, where he will catch Wakefield tonight against the Yankees. I will be in attendance at Fenway, and I can’t wait to compare and contrast the reception that fans will offer both to Mirabelli and to Johnny Damon. Damon, the one-time darling of Red Sox Nation, has been born again as a Boston bete noire, now that he has traded his Sox uniform for the hated pinstripes of the Yankees. The place will be rocking.

Wakefield handled the nighmarish month of April with his accustomed grace and dignity - refusing to publicly criticize Josh Bard's woeful performance behind the plate. But with each passed ball, the unblinking eye of the TV camera caught Wakefield looking very much like a dental patient undergoing a root canal at the hands of Josef Mengele - and without a shot of novacaine to dull the pain.

Hats off to Theo for quickly moving to correct a mistake.

Welcome back, Doug Mirabelli. Red Sox Nation loves you even more than Carson Kressley did last season!


And Go Sox!