Thursday, August 31, 2006

Testing Your Knowledge of Middle East Geography - Map Game

Jim Savard just forwarded me a fascinating map game - testing our knowledge of geography in the Middle East, Southwest Asia and North Africa.

Given how much these countries are in the news and impacting the daily lives of so many Americans, I encourage you to spend a few minutes to take the test.

I did reasonably well, but struggled with putting some of the "stans" in the right place on the map!

Rethinking Schools - Just For Fun - Map Game

Wheels for Warriors

This article comes by way of Jim Savard in Colorado. It is encouraging to see such grassroots support for our troops. It is also discouraigng to read one more story of bureaucratic bungling by the VA! The address to send donations to Wheels for Warriors is given at the end of this article, which appeared yesterday in the Providence Journal.

* * * *
Dave McCarthy: Local group provides keys to van for wounded Marine

NORTH KINGSTOWN, RI -- Thanks to a special lady from Rhode Island, a quadriplegic Marine from Wisconsin will receive heartfelt cheers -- and a set of keys -- when he's wheeled on the field at halftime of the Naval Academy-University of Massachusetts football game.

Former Sgt. Jason Wittling, of Mason, Wis., will be on the 50-yard line Saturday, Sept. 9, at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Md., to take the keys to a specially equipped van. With a Marine escort, and a general or two at his side, Wittling will receive the $60,000-van courtesy of Wheels for Warriors, a division of the North Kingstown-based Operation Support Our Troops, which is supported by donations and in-kind services from the public.

"There are a lot of good people on this earth and they seem to find me," said Mary Kay Salomone, who heads Operation Support Our Troops out of her home in North Kingstown.

Salomone comes from and has an Army family (a son is in Iraq and another served there). She launched Operation Support Our Troops soon after the start of the war in Iraq. Now a national organization, she mails tons of comfort items each year to our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. She started Wheels for Warriors two years ago after visiting severely wounded servicemen and women at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.

The war in Iraq, of which Salomone is no fan, has produced at least 8,000 severely injured service members, she said, with many missing limbs from the explosive devices the Iraqi insurgents used against the Americans.
Wheels for Warriors gave out its first van in April. Sgt. Wittling will be the second recipient of America's generosity.

Wittling was injured on May 3, 2003, when he and a group of Marines were blowing up a cache of captured RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades). They had set their charges, and attempted to make a quick getaway in their HMMWV (High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle), better known as the Humvee.
As the Humvee sped around a corner, the Marines were suddenly confronted with an embankment they didn't know was there. The Humvee rolled over. Sgt. Wittling suffered a broken neck.

"He has a little movement in an elbow and a wrist," Salomone said. "But he's not going to get better."

Jason Wittling, 32, lives in Mason with his wife Maureen and their two children, Cody, 9, and Emily, 6. Mason is in rural northwestern Wisconsin. "There's Jason, the family and the moose," Salomone said, with a laugh.
But, she noted, the rural setting provides a serious reason for her board awarding the Wittlings the van. It's a long, long way to rehab and doctors' appointments.

The van cost Wheels for Warriors $38,000. It paid for such "extras" as leather seats, making it easier to slide Jason in and out of the van. The van will also have a DVD player for those long trips.

"Jason and the two kids can watch movies while Maureen does the driving," Salomone explained.

Wheels for Warriors may also have to shell out $22,000 for the van's wheelchair lift. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs normally pays for wheelchair lifts, but the VA has lost Jason's paperwork, Salomone said.
She said dealing with VA is "a nightmare."

"If the VA doesn't come up with the $22,000, Wheels for Warriors will pay and hopefully get reimbursed some day," Salomone said. "I'm not going to take the van away from this kid."

Referring to Jason's case as "one small case," Salomone asked, "What's happening to the rest of our vets. They are making it so difficult for veterans to get what they deserve. That's a disgrace."

Said Salomone: "The VA is underfunded, understaffed and overtaxed, but that's not the fault of the young soldier or the young Marine. A wounded veteran should not have to wait six, ten or eleven months for something he's entitled to."

While Wheels for Warriors' fundraising efforts produced the first two vans -- and has a third that's on the way -- the flip side is what others provide.
Jason Wittling and his family will be spending a week in the Annapolis-Washington area. Hotels are donating the rooms for their stay.
They'll be flying first class -- thanks to Northwest Airlines and one of its pilots.
Steven Middleton, who heads the Wheels for Warriors board, is a 1974 Naval Academy graduate. He graduated with the Northwest pilot. He contacted the pilot to see if he could get the Wittlings' tickets.

Northwest agreed to fly Mr. and Mrs. Wittling. The pilot said he would send Salomone a check for the other two seats. She expected $600. He sent $5,000, and told her to put what's left over in the van fund. Salomone said Annapolis was picked as the delivery site because of the connection between the Navy and the Marine Corps. Naval Academy graduates can opt to be officers in the Marine Corps. And, she said, "The Marines are part of the Navy. They're close to the Navy guys."

On the Friday before the game, the Wittlings will have lunch with the midshipmen. Then, Salomone said, "They'll get their van Saturday in front of the whole stadium."

A Marine general will stand with the Wittlings on the 50-yard-line, and the commandant of the Marine Corps may also make an appearance, scheduling permitting. In Washington, the Wittlings have asked to visit Arlington Cemetery and the Marines' Iwo Jima monument.

"They will have a Marine escort the whole time," Salomone said. "The Marines are taking care of one of their own."
With help from an Army brat in North Kingstown.

Donations can be made to:

Wheels for Warriors, PO Box 404, North Kingstown, RI 02852.

Dave McCarthy is the Journal's South County regional editor.

* * * *

Are there any readers of The White Rhino Report who have some pull within the VA bureaucracy? It does not seem right that "lost paperwork" should be allowed to stand in the way of getting the wheelchair ramp paid for.

Al

Coben At His Best – A Review of “Darkest Fear”

Seth Godin is a marketing guru and a prolific writer. One of my favorite books by Seth is “Free Prize Inside.” Godin reminds us of the thrill we experienced as kids in opening up a cereal box to dig for the free prize buried amongst the Corn Flakes or Cheerios – a whistle, a decoder ring, a puzzle. His premise is that the best companies and the best brands offer something extra – something beyond what the consumer expected when he purchased the product or the service. This seems to be an apt description of what Harlan Coben offers as an author to his loyal readers. Hidden inside the box of each of his mystery genre novels is something extra – an unexpected exploration of some aspect of human nature that takes the reader to a depth not usually experienced in a suspense novel. In the case of “Darkest Fear,” Coben stands on the shoulders of Turgenev and explores the relationships between fathers and sons. Without his free prizes inside, it is possible that his Myron Bolitar series could have devolved into him cranking out a string of formulaic page-turners. To his credit, Coben has opted for doing the harder work of mining deeper veins of insight and understanding - hidden within the bedrock of murder, mystery, intrigue and non-stop action.

In “Darkest Fear,” Coben’s exploration of the vagaries of fatherhood is set within the story of the kidnapping of a child desperately in need of a bone marrow transplant. Myron and Win are called upon to find not only the boy – but also a missing bone marrow donor. The plot twists are breathtaking and brilliant.

This story contains some of Coben's most moving and incisive writing:

In this excerpt, Myron feels the thrill and frisson of expressing fatherly love for the first time in his life after he helps to find and rescue the kidnapped Jeremy, whom he has just discovered is his biological son:

“Myron felt his knees buckle, but he fought them and stayed upright. He ran to the boy. The boy stretched out his arms. Myron embraced him and felt his heart fall and shatter. Jeremy was crying. Myron lifted his hand and stroked his hair and shushed him. Like his father. Like his father had done to him countless times. A sudden, beautiful warmth streamed through his veins, tingling his fingers and toes, and for a moment, Myron thought that maybe he understood what his father felt. Myron had always cherished being on the son side of the hug, but now, for just the most fleeting of moments, he experienced something so much stronger – the intensity and overwhelming depth of being on the other side – that it shook every part of him.” (Page 276)

In the process of exploring what it means to be a father, Coben also touches on an examination of what is means to be a man. In the selection below, Chase Layton ruminates on his feelings after having been physically assaulted by Myron, who resorted to violence to force Chase to help him find Jeremy. Myron interrupts Chase’s workout in the gym:

“Chase Layton nodded and sat back on the bench. Then he looked at Myron. ‘Do you want to know what the worst part of it is?’

No, Myron thought,
‘If you want to tell me.’

‘The shame,’ Chase said.

Myron started to open his mouth, but Chase waved him quiet.

‘It’s not the beating or the pain. It’s the feeling of total helplessness. We were primitive. We were man to man. There was nothing I could do but take it. You made me feel like’ – he looked up, found the words, looked straight at Myron – ‘like I wasn’t a real man.’

The words made Myron cringe.

‘I went to these great schools and joined all the right clubs and made a fortune in my chosen profession. I fathered three kids and raised them and loved them the best I could. Then one day you punch me – and I realize that I’m not a real man.’

‘You’re wrong,’ Myron said.

‘You’re going to say that violence is no measure of a man. On some level you’re right. But on some level, the base level that makes us men, we both know you’re wrong. Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about. It’d just be a further insult.’

Myron swallowed down the clich├ęs. Chase took deep breaths and reached for the bar.

‘Need a spotter?’ Myron said.

Chase Layton gripped it and jerked it off the stand.

“I don’t need anybody.’ he said.” (Pages 285-6)

It is because of this kind of writing that I keep returning to read one more book by Coben. As far as I can tell, I still have one more book in the Myron Bolitar series I have not yet read. Stay tuned!

Al

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Mini-Review of “One False Move” by Harlan Coben

My favorite fictional sports agent, Myron Bolitar, returns to the world of professional basketball – this time representing the star of a new women’s professional league. A mob-backed rival league threatens to ruin the debut of Brenda Slaughter (Coben chooses wonderful names for his characters!) and her teammates. Myron is called in to deal with the disappearance of Brenda’s father, to provide protection for the star athlete, and ultimately to find the answer to the disappearance of her mother – twenty years ago. New Jersey politics provides some added spice to the story line. The patriarch of one of the state’s richest families iproves himself willing to do anything to ensure that well-concealed family skeletons remain hidden in the closet. Throw in a dash of police corruption and cover-up, and you have the recipe for another zesty Coben concoction.

The usual cast of characters – Myron, Win, Esperanza, Big Cindy – manage to involve themselves, and ultimately extricate themselves, from a dizzying array of crises and dilemmas. Coben simultaneously apes and then laughs at the Kevin Costner – Whitney Houston plot line in this story. Myron is chronically challenged when it comes to his love life, and in this book, those challenges take on a different hue. Myron's attraction to Brenda also gives a whole new meaning to the phrase: "on the rebound."

One of Coben’s recurring leitmotifs that recur in each novel in this series is the theme of the depth and breadth of the pain of family dysfunction – passed from generation to generation. “The sins of the fathers . . .”

As usual, Coben did not make any false moves when he penned this gripping novel: “One False Move.”

Enjoy!

Al

Monday, August 28, 2006

Mini-Review of ”Back Spin” by Harlan Coben

As I continue to enjoy my summer romp through Coben’s Myron Bolitar novels, I realized that I have not shared in any of my reviews to date one of the continuing motifs that I find so appealing about these books. Myron Bolitar and his sidekick, Win, engage in perpetual banter and games of verbal one-upsmanship – often revolving around arcane trivia about vintage TV shows and their casts, as well as Broadway musicals and their songs. As I reflect upon that quirky aspect of their friendship, it occurs to me that this dynamic offers a further explanation for why I so enjoy reading the books in this series. Myron and Win are clearly Renaissance Men – struggling to survive and thrive in worlds that are, for the most part, still shrouded in Dark Ages mentality and primal warfare.

“Back Spin” is set in the world of professional golf – PGA and LPGA. Linda Coldren is the top money winner on the women’s tour; her husband is far less successful on the PGA tour. The Coldren’s son is kidnapped just as Jack is mounting a stunning comeback in his career and is poised to win the U.S. Open on his home course – where he had ignominiously crashed and burned twenty years before. Myron and company are drawn into the Coldren’s boiling cauldron of danger, intrigue and mystery to try to simultaneously bring the boy back home safe and also sign up Linda as a client for MB SportsReps. The characters whose lives and actions intertwine in this breakneck-paced story show both the best and the ugliest sides of Main Line Philadelphia.

Layered among the many plot twists, Coben has crafted poignant and insightful scenes that illuminate some of the darkest corners of Win’s enigmatic heart. Through the eyes of Win and his taciturn approach to communication, Coben explores the depth of childhood trauma and its life-long aftershocks. This is some of Coben’s best writing – interspersing entertainment with challenging social and relational commentary.

This book is worth reading – even if you have not yet acquired the Myron Bolitar addiction!

Enjoy!

Al

Friday, August 25, 2006

Mini-Review of “Fade Away” by Harlan Coben

I continue with my summer of reading my way through most of Harlan Coben’s Myron Bolitar novels. Bolitar and his cadre of colorful compatriots are beginning to feel like old friends. Picking up one of these novels feels like putting on an old and comfortable pair of running shoes.

In ”Fade Away,” Bolitar finds himself back in the word of professional basketball. His career, ended during his Boston Celtics’ NBA rookie camp by a devastating knee injury, is given a brief reincarnation when he is signed to a contract with the New Jersey team – replacing an injured and missing player – Bolitar’s old rival and nemesis, Greg Downing. Bolitar and company set out to find Downing, and in the process, Myron uncovers the painful truth about his own injury - suffered in a collision with a player who seemed to be intent on hurting him. The fact that Greg Downing’s ex-wife was once in love with Bolitar adds intrigue and texture to this fascinating plot. The usual Cobenesque assotrment of thugs and ne'er-do-wells added just the right pinch of spice to keep the action fast-paced and fascinating.

In addition to Coben’s always crisp and wry writing style, he explores with sensitivity the complex web of emotions that entangle an athlete as he struggles to walk away from the sport that had been the single focus of his life.

In this excerpt, the narrator describes the two loves of Bolitar’s life:

“Funny being back in Ridgewood. Jessica had grown up here. She didn’t like coming back any more, but now the two loves of his life – Jessica and Emily – had something else in common: the village of Ridgewood. That could be listed to the list of commonalities between the two women – stuff like meeting Myron, being courted by Myron, falling in love with Myron, crushing Myron’s heart like a tomato under a stiletto heel. The usual fare." (Page 22)

“Fade Away” is nothing but net!

Enjoy!

Al

Dahlby Responds Regarding Fenway Park Incident and Review of “Allah’s Torch”

Regular readers of The White Rhino Report are aware that whenever I review a book, I try to send a copy of the review directly to the author. Almost without exception, I hear back from the authors. Tracy Dahlby is no exception. His prompt reply to my e-mail and to his reading of the “Allah’s Torch” incident at Fenway Park may be of interest to you:

Thank you for that generous, incisive review of “Allah's Torch.” I'm delighted you've found it helpful in mounting that fascinating novel of yours. It strikes me as a compelling story line, and obviously you've given it a lot of thought. I'd be happy to help where I can. As I say, I'm on the road at the moment and a bit swamped but please come ahead with any questions on which you think I might be helpful and I'll get to them when the dust settles.

Meanwhile, I was riveted by your description of your night at Fenway. As you so well recognized, I wrote the book in part to deal with the way in which fear clouds our perceptions of what we're really up against in the world. Regrettably, I guess your irate fan won't be picking up a copy of the book anytime soon. Thanks for sharing all, and let me know how I might lend a hand.


Best regards,

Tracy Dahlby

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A West Point Cadet Speaks - My Turn: My March Into the Military Academy

This article in the current edition of Newsweek, serves as a timely companion piece to the previous posting on The White Rhino Report. Cadet Michael Robinson, a current "Yuk" (second year student) at the United States Military Academy at West Point, writes about his reasons for choosing to apply to West Point. While Cadet Robinson's is a single voice, the spirit and values behind his decision to enter West Point are representative of the mindset and spirit of many of the cadets and graduates of West Point - as well as our nation's other fine service academies - I have come to know. The Long Gray Line is alive and well!

Al

My Turn: My March Into the Military Academy - Newsweek My Turn - MSNBC.com

Ben Stein Speaks: Looking for the Will Beyond the Battlefield

My friend, Jim Savard, is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, where one of his classmates was Roger Staubach. Jim served as a naval aviator, and is a life-long student of leadership and a fervent patriot. He is a frequent and trusted source for materials that find their way onto the pages of The White Rhino Report.

Jim made me aware of this recent New York Times column by the brilliant and insightful Ben Stein. In the following article, Mr. Stein makes some excellent points, especially in the second half of the piece when he talks about the stark contrast between the sacrifices made in the past by the "ruling class" in sending their sons into combat and the demographics of those who serve in the present conflict in Iraq. While Mr. Stein's observations are valid in general, I would submit that there are still those who come from backgrounds of privilege who have not abandoned the idea of "noblesse oblige." I can think immediately of two extraordinary young men - brothers Kyle and Kevin Kalkwarf - who chose to enter West Point and pursue careers as Army officers despite the fact that they had many other attractive options available to them. Their father, Dr. Kenneth Kalkwarf, is Dean of the University of Texas Dental School and President of the American Dental Education Association. Dr. and Mrs. Kalkwarf clearly inculcated in their sons a spirit of service and sacrifice that is a throwback to the era that Ben Stein glorifies.

Other anecdotal examples come quickly to mind. Nate Fick, author of "One Bullet Away," took his Ivy league degree in classical studies and chose to become a Marine Corps Officer fighting on the front lines in Iraq. My friend, John Serafini, raised in one of Boston's most prestigious and wealthy suburbs, went to West Point and became an Army Ranger. Grace Park, world class judo competitor and violinist, also chose West Point and a career as an Army officer. And these are only a handful of individuals I know personally who have walked away from a guaranteed life of privilege in order to serve our nation in time of war. There surely are many more that Ben Stein and I are not aware of.

So, the bottom line is that I am much more sanguine about our future leaders than is Mr. Stein. Perhaps it is because I have had a chance to look into their eyes, hear the passion in their voices, read their letters and e-mails from the front lines, and stand with them as they bury their comrades. This is a generation of leaders who have chosen sacrifice and commitment over easier paths of privilege and professional advancement. They deserve our support, encouragement and thanks.

Al

Looking for the Will Beyond the Battlefield - New York Times

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

An Illuminating Look At Terrorism – Review of “Allah’s Torch” by Tracy Dahlby

Anyone who has been reading The White Rhino Report on a regular basis will be familiar with “Allah’s Torch” from my description of last week’s incident at Fenway Park. You may have wondered what kind of a book could have ignited such a controversy. My answer simply is: “A remarkable book.”

http://whiterhinoreport.blogspot.com/2006/08/amerika-fearful-nightmare-experience.html


Tracy Dahlby has spent his career as a writer and editor for Newsweek, The Washington Post and National Geographic. He combines an encyclopedic knowledge of the world with a wry wit and facile writing style that enables him to invite the discerning reader to ride along with him on his adventures and explorations. In order to gain a better understanding of the world’s largest and least understood Muslim nation, Dahlby paid multiple visits to Indonesia – before and after the attacks of September 11, 2001. The result of his peregrinations in Southeast Asia is “Allah’s Torch” - a stirring and insightful tour of this sprawling archipelago – from the Spice Islands to Bali and the terrorist enclaves of central Java.

My motivation for reading this book was to continue my background research for a novel I am writing that involves terrorism in Indonesia as part of the plot. I came away from the experience of digesting this book with a broader awareness than I had anticipated developing. This is a book that would be a worthwhile read for anyone who is trying to become aware of the complex dynamics of what is happening in Southeast Asia in particular and the Muslim world in general. Dahlby’s willingness to put himself in harm’s way led to insightful interviews with government officials, business leaders, military leaders, and members and sympathizers of a wide variety of organizations that have been tied to terrorist activity in Indonesia and beyond.

Dahlby's description of his journey begins with an account of him traveling with his Indonesian guide, Norman, on an inter-island passenger ship, the M.V. Bukit Siguntang, headed for the Spice Islands. As Dahlby introduces him, Norman comes across as a character straight out of a Joseph Conrad novel, or, to use another literary allusion, Norman played Sancho Panza to Dahlby's quixotic knight errant:

“Having studied in the United States, he was a veritable multitasking, globalized, digitized marvel, who was incessantly juggling dueling Palm Pilots, lining up interviews on one of two cell phones, sometimes both, and was intimately plugged into the steady flow of gossip on which Indonesia’s capital thrived. In addition, Norman had a grasp of loyalty rare in young men in today’s world. That was because generations of Javanese ancestors on his father’s side had lifted swords to defend mystical kings of Old Java. (‘Wibowo is not my real name,’ he once confided to me – his real name was inscribed on the hilt of a kris, or Javanese dagger, buried in a secret vault in old Surakarta. ‘But if I told it to you, I’d have to kill you.’) In short, Norman represented the ideal global man – in touch with both the brave new rhythms of life in a high-tech, interconnected world and sacred cultural bedrock.” (Pages 16-17)

Dahlby’s introduction to the face of terrorism in Indonesia was a quick plunge into the deep end of the pool:

“I froze. Without Norman, I was absolutely and forever sunk – just a confused ignorant bule, or 'white face,’ stranded on a dock in the middle of nowhere . . . But when I finally managed to find Norman in the mob and we reached the broad lobby outside the first-class cabins, there was something far ore sinister to worry about. All around us now, hunkered down on dirty strips of cardboard and old pieces of straw matting, were large number of very unhappy-looking young men. Mostly in their late teens or early twenties, and eerily silent to a man, they had the look of shipwreck survivors clinging to the wreckage. Those not rocking on their haunches, mumbling noiselessly over dog-eared copies of the Koran, stared fixedly into the middle distance. And unless I very badly missed my guess, I knew that we were staring into the face of something truly dangerous – a shadowy new Islamic terror brigade calling itself the Laskar Jihad, or Holy War Army.” (Page 12)

Those of us on the receiving end of the jihad that has been declared against the United States often ask the question: “Why do they hate us so much? What have we done to deserve such scorn and distrust by the Muslim world?” Dahlby provides some painful but necessary insights into the answers to these questions. The following conversation he recounts that took place with a young Muslim preacher in Jakarta – a man named Habib Rizieq Shihab – is typical of the mindset that Dahlby encountered during his travels throughout the island nation.

’For me, it’s not a moral issue, it’s a political issue,’ he cried, his eyes dilating with anger. ‘It’s dissatisfaction with what America is doing in the world today!’

And what exactly was America doing? I asked, displaying my journalist’s talent for posing the infuriatingly dumb question.

Rizieq grew apoplectic. America supported Israel in the humiliation and suffering of the Palestinian people! America attacked innocent Muslims in Afghanistan! It was now moving on Iraq against the wishes of its own allies! Did I need reminding that the ringleader of the Bali bombings, now in police custody, had expressed remorse for killing so many vacationing Australians when it was vacationing Americans he’s set out to murder?

‘I don’t condone the attacks, mind you,’ Rizieq went on, hotly. ‘But I know why they happened.’

. . . Norman translated:
‘You must understand that the existence of Osama Bin Laden or the Bali bombers is just a reaction of disappointment to the evil America does to the world of Islam. The evil results in people who want to teach America a lesson.’ (Pages 194-195)

As a loyal American who is proud of our country and the contributions we have made over the course of our history to the spread of freedom, democracy and human rights, it pains me to hear of those who perceive us as an evil and destructive force. But, I believe it behooves us to be aware of how we are perceived so that we can choose how to respond to that hatred and to those misperceptions - being fully aware of the landscape of world opinion. “Allah’s Torch,” is, therefore, a painful book to read, but one that I recommend enthusiastically.

We owe Tracy Dahlby a debt of gratitude for putting himself on the front lines of the war against terror so that he could be in a position to shine the flashlight of understanding into the shadowy corners of hatred and ignorance that are part of the psychic domicile that many terrorists inhabit.

Al

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Amerika The Fearful - A Nightmare Experience In The Field of Dreams

Disclaimer – I am still so upset by the encounter I am about to describe to you that I cannot guarantee objectivity or clear thought or a global sense of perspective. Here is my account of an incident that has my blood pressure elevated this morning:

I was at Fenway Park for last night’s game against the mighty Detroit Tigers. I had invited as my guests some friends from Quebec. Those of you who know me are aware that I am never without a book in my possession. Last night was no exception. I am reading, as part of my background research for my novel project, a book on terrorism in Indonesia, “Allah’s Torch,” by a gifted writer from National Geographic by the name of Tracy Dahlby. I was reading the book on the T and brought it with me into the park.

Early in the game, I needed to find a quiet spot to make a cell phone call, so I left Jeff and Julie for a few moments, leaving my book on the unoccupied seat next to Julie. Also on that seat was Jeff’s Red Sox backpack, a red, white and blue item that had been carefully screened and tagged as we entered Fenway Park earlier in the evening. As I left to make my phone call, I placed the book underneath the backpack. Soon after I returned to my seat, a man came from across the aisle and started speaking to Jeff and Julie and pointing at the book. Here is the gist of his monologue:

“What is this book – ‘Allah’s Torch’? What right do you people have to bring a book like that into a place like this with all of the high alert about terrorism. How do I know there is not a bomb in that backpack? What am I supposed to think? I see an unoccupied seat, a backpack and a book about Allah! Who wrote this book? Why are you reading it? Don’t you know what is going on in this country?”

Jeff and Julie speak French as their first language. Although their English is quite good, they were not prepared or equipped to deal with the diatribe being directed towards them by our neighbor. They sheepishly pointed to me and informed him that I was the owner of the book, so he started in on me. My answer consisted basically of:

“The author is a writer from the National Geographic. The book is about terrorism and Indonesia.”

He continued to rant and rave about the inappropriateness of bringing a book with such a title to Fenway Park. I waved him away and said: “Go sit down and watch the game.”

Several innings went by and Jeff, Julie and I headed up the aisle towards the refreshment stand and bathrooms. We took our belongings with us. The man across the aisle and his friend followed us up the aisle and confronted us near the entrance to the Men’s Room.

“What is this ‘Allah’s Torch’ all about anyway. Do you know that we were one second away from dialing 911 and calling in the bomb squad when we saw this book sitting next to a backpack. Tell me about this book and what you are reading it!”

“Sir, are you with Fenway Security?”

“No, I am not. I am an attorney. Why are you giving me attitude – why are you so defensive if there is nothing wrong with your book? Don’t you know what is going on in this country? And my friend here is an off-duty police officer, and we don’t like seeing a book like
‘Allah’s Torch’ near a backpack in a public place.”

There was more, but I think you get the picture. At that point, I asked Jeff to go and find a security guard to stop the harassment.

“Good – go get security! I’ll tell them we almost called the bomb squad on you.”

By the time a phalanx of Fenway security personnel arrived, the Brown Shirts had dispersed, and the incident was over.

* * * *

I am completely supportive of all of the efforts we are making to protect ourselves from terror – at home and abroad. Regular readers of this Blog are aware that I have lost friends who have given their lives fighting terror. So, for me, this is not an issue of not acknowledging the need to be vigilant for danger. My issue – and my great fear – is that in the rush to protect ourselves from a wide variety of “boogie men,” many well-meaning citizens are painting with a broad brush and equating Islam with terrorism. For a book with the name “Allah” in the title to trigger an Orwellian outburst like the one that my friends and I encountered last night is frightening and sad.

Just because Al Qaeda perpetrates outrage in the name of Allah does not make every Muslim a terrorist or potential terrorist. I, as a Christian, would hate to be held accountable for every act of terror that has been perpetrated in the name of God in Northern Ireland, Serbia, or dozens of other hot spots where zealots chose to hide their political activities behind the cloak of religion.

My father, and hundreds of thousands of members of his “Greatest Generation” went to war in Europe and the Pacific to rid the world of the kind of thinking that I encountered last night in the stands at Fenway. If our diligence in protecting ourselves from external forces of evil leads on a regular basis to the kind of paranoia and group think that I witnessed last evening, then we are heading down a slippery slope. Last night, I looked into the eyes of fear, loathing, xenophobia, demagoguery and jingoism – and it was not a pretty sight.

I did not like what I saw and I did not like what I felt. I was furious at one level for the personal harassment. But I was even more furious because of what such thinking and behavior portends. It sounds almost hackneyed to use the phrase “the terrorists have won,” but the kind of ticking internal time bomb of fear that I saw expressed last night can ultimately be more damaging to our nation than any explosive device that might be planted. That the Twin Towers fell is a tragedy we will all live with for the rest of our lives. But it would be an ever more broad and more profound tragedy if we were to allow to collapse and to crumble in a heap of paranoia and repression the majestic edifice that we have built in this great nation – twin towers of individual freedom and a melting pot for all peoples.

A little bit of me died last night when I realized that I now need to think about what I might be able to read in public. Can book burnings be far behind!

* * * *

“It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”

It is all well and good to decry bigotry and fear and loathing. What can we do – what can I do? Well, for one thing, I am going to be sure and tell each of my Muslim friends how much I value them as neighbors and fellow Americans. I refuse to let the terrorists win!

Thanks for listening to me vent.

Al

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Thank You for The Expressions of Sympathy and Support

On behalf of my entire family, I would like to thank all of those who in the past week have lifted us up with prayers, phone calls, visits and other expressions of support, condolence and love. It has been overwhelming.

Many have asked about arrangements for my mother’s funeral, so I will share the information in this space. In her lifetime, my mother was a bit of an enigma, and she remains so after her passing. In going through her papers, we found “clear” instructions about how to handle things. She had made pre-arrangements to be cremated and for her ashes to be buried with those of my father, who had pre-deceased her by twenty years.

Among her papers, we found a sheet in which she left very ambivalent instructions about what she expected us to do after her death. In paragraph #1, she makes it very clear - no funeral, no visiting hours, etc. In paragraph #2, she gets to what she really wants: "If my children should decide that they would like to plan some sort of memorial service, these are the songs that should be sung, the Scriptures that should be read, etc." So, I am tasked to sing and play on the piano a song I sang at my father's funeral 20 years ago, a song entitled “My Tribute” by Andre Crouch.

In Virginia last Wednesday, family members and a small group of friends gathered for a very informal memorial. A more formal service will be held in Newburyport on Saturday, August 26. Many of our extended family members live in New England, so there will be a private service at the cemetery for the interment of my mother’s ashes, followed by a more public memorial service at Hope Community Church (First Baptist Church). Family members will provide music based on her wishes, and we will share some of her favorite Scriptures along with words of remembrance.

A number of individuals have asked about making memorial contributions. We are working on the details of setting up a small scholarship fund for a graduate of Newburyport High School, my mother and father’s alma mater. Details to follow.

I must share one final vignette. My mother loved being at the center of attention, so last Friday’s pilgrimage was very fitting. As I flew back from Virginia, I was entrusted with the responsibility of bringing her ashes back home to New England. So, at the height of the terror alert, I had to transport the urn containing my mother’s remains as carry-on baggage on the JetBlue flight from Richmond to Boston. The JetBlue and TSA employees were very respectful and solicitous, but it was a rather long ordeal. I had to provide a certificate proving that the urn did indeed contain my mother’s ashes, and TSA had to clear the area and the x-ray belt so that the urn was being processed by itself. She received very special handling, and would have been very pleased!

For anyone who would like to consider joining us for the memorial service on the 26th in Newburyport, e-mail me for details of time and place of the events.

Thank you all, again, for helping our family during our time of grieving and remembering.

God bless.

Al

Monday, August 07, 2006

Requiescat in Pace: Frances Louise Chase, 1924-2006

My mother, Frances Louise Chase, matriarch of the Chase clan, died peacefully in her sleep a few moments ago in her hospital bed in Bedford, Virginia.

Memorial service arrangements are pending.

Thank you for your prayers for her and our family during her difficult illness.

Requiescat in Pace

Frances Louise Chase

1924-2006

Al

Of Two Worlds: The Synergism of the Military and Civilian Experience

Since I was first introduced to Ward Scott by our mutual friend, Dr. Phil Anderson, I have watched with fascination the diverse career moves that he has made that have enabled him to weave together in unusual ways his training in law, business administration, national security, corporate development, project management, politics and general leadership. I have become a student of the topic of transition from military leadership to leadership in the business world, and of the synergy that exists between these two kinds of leadership challenges. So, I was pleased when Colonel Scott agreed to share some of his thoughts and personal experiences on this subject.

* * * *

I have long been a student and practitioner of the synergistic interplay of the military and civilian experience in the professional development of leaders, both in an out of uniform. Accordingly, I was particularly pleased when my good friend, Dr. Al Chase—a proponent of the Renaissance Man (and Woman), asked me to “put pen to paper” on the subject.

The belief that service as a junior officer is highly beneficial (not to mention classically patriotic) right out of college and before graduate or professional school and the launching of one’s civilian career, is widely held, even axiomatic. Moreover, examples are legion during periods of total war (e.g., Civil and the two World Wars) of Officers returning to active service, leaving behind august civilian careers in the process and returning to successful civilian life upon the conclusion of hostilities. Two well known examples are my two favorite attorneys, “The Gray Ghost”--Colonel John Singleton Moseby, and General William “Wild Bill” Donovan.

However, in the years since Korea and until 9/11, the notion of fluid movement between active military and civilian careers has been by far the exception rather than the practice, though the subject of occasional, visionary discussion.
In a speech at the United States Naval War College during the Spring of 2003, Dr. David Chu, Under Secretary of Defense (Personnel and Readiness), spoke of the merits of allowing serving Officers the opportunity to take leave from active service for an extended period to pursue civilian interests and then return to active service if they wished to do so. In this vein, recently, a British Officer was so well thought of by his superiors that when he sought to tender his resignation to pursue a career in the private sector he was given leave for a year with an open-ended invitation to return, without prejudice, should he then wish to do so. On a more limited basis, the Secretary of the Navy offers a fellowship in private industry for Navy and Marine Corps Officers (in lieu of mid-level school).

Moreover, there are individual examples, of course, of Officers who, having resigned their regular commissions were able to return after a hiatus in the civilian world and ultimately overcome, with considerable pain, “lost time” to get their military careers back on track. The example of the late Colonel Nick Rowe, a great West Pointer and Green Beret comes to mind. Colonel Rowe survived five years in Viet Cong captivity, wrote a book about the experience, and left active service to briefly pursue elective politics in Texas, along with full-time writing, before returning to the Regular Army some seven years later and forever leaving his positive mark on successive generations by the Survival, Escape, Resistance and Evasion (S.E.R.E.) course he designed at the JFK Center for Special Warfare at Fort Bragg.

And, of course, there has been the panoply of executive leadership books and lectures drawing upon the lessons and writings of field generals and strategists seeking to apply the military arts to business leadership.

Certainly the protracted, incremental mobilization of our Nation’s reserve forces, both as units and individuals, since 9/11 represents a model closer to that of the colonial militia than anything since, and it remains to be seen whether, on the macro level, this will prove to be generally disruptive to civilian career development or ultimately beneficial. In any case, the results will assuredly be mixed.

However, what I examine here is far more akin to the model envisioned by Secretary Chu: namely the conscious, passionate pursuit of civilian and military careers in a manner that is complementary and mutually enhancing and which produces a far more effective and seasoned leader—both in and out of uniform—than would have been the case without the two. In this regard, on the eve of retiring from the Marine Corps after a rich career, I would hold out my own experience as one such example, however imperfect, and relatively insignificant compared with those of the illustrious figures mentioned above.

In brief summary, I left active duty (combat arms) in 1989 to settle my family and begin legal practice in a small college town in north central New Hampshire, putting to good use a law degree I had earned along the way. Within months I was back in uniform as a rifle company commander in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Upon my return, I joined the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office as a felony prosecutor and appellate counsel before the State Supreme Court. In 1992, I was elected County (District) Attorney, defeating the 16-year incumbent by a two-to-one majority. During this period I also served as a Platoon Commander and Operations Officer for 3rd Force Reconnaissance Company in Mobile, Alabama, making the trek South after pulling an all-nighter in the office each Thursday of drill weekends, dodging gators on one end, moose on the other.

Two years later I stood for Congress, entering a crowded field of nine candidates with less than three months until the Republican Primary election. Armed with little money but an energized grassroots campaign, I came in a close third. I subsequently served as Senator Dole’s New Hampshire Field Director, during the primary. Having had my fill of elective politics, I jumped at an opportunity to return to active duty, which began the most adventurous and rewarding chapter of my career—military and civilian.

A series of line and staff assignments followed until I was selected by a board to serve as the Navy-Marine Corps Coordinator for the congressionally chartered 50th Anniversary of the Korean War Commemoration—a three and a half year tour based in Washington but including travel all over the United States and a close working relationship with a wide-range of agencies and constituencies, military and civilian, public and private sector, American and Allied.

Given the most general of guidance: “Honor and remember Korean War Sailors and Marines and their families,” it was left to me to conceive a plan, gain approval and buy-in, and engage agencies who could bring assets to the effort, given that I had none under my own control. This meant convincingly answering questions such as why the commemoration was important, to begin with, why one should participate, and for what and whose benefit. Among other things, I was able to enlist the active support of Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the New York Stock Exchange, NASCAR and a host of business leaders in developing far-reaching commemorative programs that reached wide-ranging audiences.

After my tour of duty in Washington, I attended the United States Naval War College, earning a fellowship that continued through the summer following graduation, followed by an eight month deployment to Djibouti on the Horn of Africa, a year in Iraq (in a civilian capacity, including President of the American Chamber of Commerce of Iraq and Advisor to an Iraqi non-governmental organization). Then, back in uniform, I served a seven-month tour as Senior Advisor to an Afghan National Army Corps, with an 11-province area of operations extending from Kabul east to the Pakistan Border.
Throughout all of these assignments I have found that the tenets of sound leadership and effective action are essentially the same in the civilian and military realm and that the lessons learned and experiences gained in both worlds are mutually supporting and enhancing.

Whether organizing, planning and executing a military mission, political or marketing campaign, or a commemoration, the skills of analysis, effective planning and communication, and persuasion, animated by genuine passion, and inspired by personal example and character, are the critical determinants of effectiveness. They also form the bedrock of lasting relationships that enable enduring and expanded success. The opportunity to test and develop these faculties, and to learn from, and overcome occasional failure along the way, in both military and civilian life, is invaluable. I would not have been as effective an advisor in Afghanistan, building trusted relationships with both Afghan and Allied leaders, had I not had the experience of doing so out of uniform in Iraq beforehand. Nor would I have been as effective in Iraq had I not had the experience as a successful litigator in an overtaxed, under-resourced DA’s office. In the same way, organizing a national commemoration with little resources on the scale that we ultimately achieved would not have been possible without the experience of “bootstrapping” a grassroots congressional campaign or planning and executing a state presidential primary race.

As I prepare to turn the final chapter of the military aspect of my larger, continuing career, I can only be grateful for the fusion of these two worlds by which I have constantly learned and grown. Though, indeed, “the one less traveled by,” this road has made all the difference and is one civilian and military leaders should encourage as they seek colleagues and successors who are agile, seasoned and eager to grow.

* * * *

As he stands on the brink of retirement from his distinguished military career, Colonel Scott is evaluating several opportunities in the private sector and with non-government organizations. He holds a current Top Secret/SCI clearance, and would consider senior leadership positions that would allow him to excercise his experience and expertise in the fields of national security, organizational and corporate development, strategic developent, international development. If you are aware of an organization that could use someone of Ward Scott's protean talents and energy, contact me and I will be happy to provide more detailed information on his background.

Al

Attention: All First Responders and Friends

I have just happened upon an interesting Website that contains useful information for a wide variety of First Responder products and services across the globe. Check out www.firstrespondersworldwide.com. I encourage you to make police, fire, EMT’s and other first responder organizations aware of this resource.

Al

Friday, August 04, 2006

Mini-Review: “Drop Shot” by Harlan Coben

My summer of following the fictional exploits of Myron Bolitar continues. In “Drop Shot,” Coben serves up a tale of murder and intrigue set within the world of professional tennis. The action begins with the murder at the U.S. Open of a former child prodigy who was on the brink of trying to make a comeback in the WTA circuit. Solving her murder is anything but an open and shut case, and Bolitar and company become involved when one of Myron’s clients falls under suspicion in the case. Coben takes the reader through a whirlwind tour of the world of swanky tennis clubs, dirty politics and altered identity.

As is always the case when I read Coben’s offerings, plot is secondary to the edginess of the dialogue and interplay among the cast of characters – do-gooders and ne’er-do-wells alike. Even Coben’s minor characters are memorably conceived and described. Aaron, the free-lance goon and muscle-for-hire, shows up in many of the Myron Bolitar novels:

“Aaron was dressed in his customary garb. Pure-snow-white suit, white shoes. No socks. No shirt. Aaron never wore a shirt, preferring to display his tan pectorals. They gleamed from some sort of oil or grease. He always looked fresh out of the wax salon, his body smooth as a baby’s bottom. Aaron was a big man, six-six, two-forty. The weight lifter’s build was not merely for show. Aaron moved with a speed and grace that defied the bulk. He black hair was slicked back and tied into a long ponytail.

He gave Myron a game-show host grin and held it.

Myron said, ‘
Nice smile, Aaron. Lots of teeth.’

‘Proper dental hygiene. It’s a passion of mine.’ (Page 162)

Bolitar, along with his girlfriend, Jessica, Win Lockwood – playing Tonto to Myron’s Lone Ranger and Esperanza, his office manager who once wrestled professionally, manage to serve and volley their way through 350 pages of danger and intrigue – fast-paced action worthy of a mixed doubles match at Arthur Ashe Stadium in Queens. The action finds Myron and friends on the wrong side of the tracks as they try to solve the murder at the U.S. Open and end up re-opening a cold case that is tied to the recent U.S. Open murder. They end up fighting for their own lives and compete with a myriad of enemies - some obvious and some in stealth mode. Advantage, Bolitar!

This is a good summer read that I recommend enthusiastically.

Al

TIME SENSITIVE ANNOUNCEMENT - Free Tickets For Friday's Willie Nelson Concert

I have just come into possession of four tickets for this evening's concert at the Tweeter Center in Marshfield, Masachusetts. The show begins at 7:30 PM. These are Lawn tickets. I am unable to use them, and would be happy to give them to the first person that contacts me today.

Willie Nelson and Family are combining with John Fogerty of Credence Clearwater Revival for this concert that they are calling "The Long Road Home."

The weather forecast calls for a perfect New England summer evening.

If you are in the Greater Boston area and would like to attend tonight's concert, contact me immediaely, and we will make arrangements to meet and hand off the tickets.

Al

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Mini-review of “Deal Breaker” by Harlan Coben

Harlan Coben has created a series of novels that feature a cast of characters spearheaded by Myron Bolitar. I am trying to make my way through all of the extant Bolitar books. With each book I read, I feel like I am attending a college reunion watching the class clowns continue to cavort and entertain. Even if the stories that Coben writes were not as interesting and well-crafted as they are, I would probably read them for the sake of the witty repartee that ricochets like verbal sniper bullets among the regulars in the series. Let me describe the core of the team of protagonists, antagonists and hangers-on:

Myron Bolitar – Jerry McGuire meets Wally Szczerbiak. Top Boston Celtics’ pick in the NBA draft, Bolitar’s athletic career ended suddenly with a knee injury in training camp his rookie year. He did a stint as a mysterious government agent, earned a law degree from Harvard and then turned to being a sports agent and amateur detective and do-gooder. He has a knack for interjecting himself into the most labyrinthine entanglements imaginable.

Win (Windsor Horne Lockwood III) – Myron’s best friend, roommate at Duke and perpetual sidekick. A Harvard MBA grad, he handles the financial side of Myron’s sports agent business on the side while running the family business – a hugely profitable investment firm with palatial headquarters on Park Avenue. Windsor hides a Bruce Lee-like mastery of martial arts beneath the serene and polished exterior of Jay Gatsby. “Windsor Horne Lockwood III, however, looked exactly like his name. Blond hair, perfect length, parted on the right side. His features were classical patrician, almost too handsome, like something crafted in porcelain.”

Esperanza Diaz – Bolitar’s “girl Friday,” Della Street and Erin Brokavich – all rolled into one. She is a former professional wrestler, known on the circuit as “Little Pocahontas,” and knows her way around the mean streets of New York and northern New Jersey.

Aaron – The “goon”, enforcer, muscle for Roy O’Connor, a ruthless and rival sports agent. O’Connor and Bolitar often run afoul of each other, and Aaron is usually sent to straighten out Myron. He plays Bluto to Bolitar’s Popeye!

Jessica Culver – Myron’s love interest. She is a gorgeous, famous published author who keeps waltzing in and out of Myron’s life. Esperanza, protective of Myron, hates Jessica!

Here is a small sampling of the sometimes sophomoric and totally addictive repartee that is characteristic of Myron and Win playing a wise-cracking game of “Good Cop – Bad Cop” with a suspect in the disappearance of a high school girl:

“Now, we can discuss this with you or with the school board. Up to you.”

Gary glanced at his watch. “You have two minutes.”

“Fine.” Myron gestured to the right. “Why don’t we step into the teachers’ lavatory? I assume you have a key.”

“Yes”

He opened the door. Myron had always wanted to see a teachers’ bathroom, see how the other half lives. It was unremarkable in every way.

“Okay, you have me here,” Gary said. “What do you want?”

“Tell me about this ad.”

Gary swallowed. His enlarged Adam’s apple bobbed up and down like a boxer’s head avoiding jabs. “I don’t know anything about it.”

Myron and Win exchanged a glance.

“Can I stick his head in a toilet?” Win asked.

Gary straightened his back. “If you are trying to frighten me, it won’t work.”

Win’s voice is semi-pleading. “One quick dunk?”

“Not yet.” Myron turned his attention back to Gary. (Page 114)

The story line of “Deal Breaker” involves the disappearance of the girlfriend of a star quarterback who has just been drafted by the Jets. Bolitar is Christian Steele’s agent, and becomes involved when his client is accused of being complicit in the disappearance of Kathy Culver – who also happens to be the younger sister of Jessica Culver, Myron’s once-and-future love interest.

The tale is told with Coben’s characteristic New York – New Jersey attitude, sense of irony and humor and taut plot developments and hairpin twists and turns.

Enjoy.

Al

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Walking In Her Shoes - A Review of “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath

The fact that I read and review so many books is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, people often assume I am more knowledgeable about literature of all kinds than I really am. So, I am often greeted with, “You surely must have read ‘Bel Ami’ by Guy De Mauppasant!” Then, I have to mumble words of apology for my Neanderthal lack of sophistication and admit to not even having heard of the book! On the other hand, I get to add "Bel Ami" to my list of books to read!

It was just such an interchange about books-worth-reading that led to my decision to pick up a copy of Sylvia Plath’s, “The Bell Jar,” from a used book table in Greenwich Village. I was vaguely aware of Plath and her tragic life, but did not know many details of her story and her one novel. She lived part of her life just around the corner from the location of my office in the town of Wellesley, so I felt a geographic connection to the author and to her overtly autobiographical novel about a young woman’s descent into madness and despair.

I felt another connection, as well. She recounts in vivid detail her experience, as a young woman, of undergoing electroshock and insulin shock treatments – the treatments of choice in the 50’s for those experiencing a “nervous breakdown.” As a child, one of my favorite people in the world was a great aunt who had endured the same kind of mental roller coaster ride that Plath narrates so hauntingly. “Dedda,” as she was know within the extended family, lived a life in many ways in parallel with that of Plath and her fictional alter ego, Esther Greenwood. As a young woman, she suffered a nervous breakdown, attempted suicide, was hospitalized, and underwent a series of debilitating shock treatments.

Reading Plath’s plangent account of Esther’s journey through hell allowed me to feel that I was in some manner walking in Dedda’s shoes. She has been gone for almost twenty years, but I think of her fondly every day. And I think of her fondly because of a significant difference between the path that she walked and the one that Plath ultimately chose to follow. Rather than succumbing to a despair that would lead to a successful suicide attempt, Dedda turned her experience with brokenness into a driving passion to reach out with compassionn and love to other broken souls. The second half of her life was a frenetic sprint to touch as many lives as possible – often sacrificing sleep and a normal schedule in order to find enough time to visit the sick, bereaved, distraught, unhinged and institutionalized. She became my role model for networking. But, I digress. More about Dedda and her remarkable life another time. . .

One of the themes that jumped out at me from the pages of Plath’s novel was the all-encompassing sense of strangulation that Plath felt as a young women growing up in an era and a culture that delimited the roles that a woman was expected and allowed to assume. She despaired of becoming someone’s wife and mother - only to place within the suffocating isolation of a bell jar her brain and her career aspirations.

“I tried to imagine what it would be like if Constantin were my husband. It would mean getting up at seven and cooking him eggs and bacon and toast and coffee and dawdling about in my nightgown and curlers after he’d left for work to wash up the dirty plates and make the bed, and then when he came home after a lively, fascinating day he’d expect a big dinner, and I’d spend the evening washing up even more dirty plates till I fell into bed, utterly exhausted.

This seemed a dreary and wasted life for a girl with fifteen years of straight A’s, but I knew that’s what marriage was like, because cook and clean and wash was just what Buddy Willard’s mother did from morning till night, and she was the wife of a university professor and had been a private school teacher herself.”
(Pages 68-69)

Stylistically, Plath chose to write the first paragraph above as a single, run-on sentence – emblematic of her feeling that she envisioned that such an existence would be nothing less than a life sentence of cruel and unusual punishment.

I am not sure, as a white male, I will ever be able fully to appreciate the frustration of what it must be like to have one’s choices in life narrowly delimited by one’s gender or skin color, but Plath’s claustrophobic “Bell Jar” takes me a few more steps down that path towards understanding. For that reason alone, this is a book worth reading, reflecting upon and sharing with others.

Al

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Papi: A Force of Nature – Lighting Striking Again . . . and Again . . . and Again!

My brain is hard-wired to think in metaphors, so it should come as no surprise that I would choose metaphor to try to find some way to think about and write about what Red Sox slugger, David Ortiz, continues to do at the plate. Last night’s walk-off three-run homerun to the deepest part of Fenway Park is only the latest chapter in a saga that continues to grow beyond all limits of plausibility.

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the 1960’s musical sensations whose story is told in the current Broadway smash hit “Jersey Boys,” sang a song that included the lyrics: “Lighting Striking Again . . . and Again . . . and Again!” This past Friday evening, I sat in Fenway Park during a two-hour rain delay. A powerful storm front was moving through the area, and torrential rains and gusting gale force winds turned the ballpark into a replica of a sound stage for the movie, “The Perfect Storm.” It was a spectacular display of Nature’s awesome ferocity.

A storm cell was stalled just east of downtown Boston. As I watched from my vantage point in Section 20 – the grandstands behind home plate – my attention was drawn to a spot in the blackened eastern sky that I could see in the open space between the Dunkin’ Donuts and Ford billboards that bedeck the top of the right field bleachers. During the long interval during which I focused my gaze on that corner of the sky, lighting bolts continued to assault the same spot – dozens of them making the same Zorro slash in the silky curtain of rain and blackness. It was uncanny. Just as I was thinking, “Surely, lighting can’t hit there again!” the heavens would answer with another bolt - full of electricity and wonder.

Lighting struck yet again last night at Fenway Park. Storm clouds quickly gathered in the bottom of the 9th inning around the Indians closer, Fausto Carmona (who can be blamed for thinking about the Mephistopheles legend!). The Red Sox trailed 8-6. A hit and a walk had put the tying runs on base with one out as David Ortiz lumbered his way towards home plate. The air was electric with excitement, anticipation and hope. The Red Sox only win against the Angels last weekend had come when Ortiz hit a walk-off single on Saturday. Was it too much to expect that . . .? The count went to 2 balls and no strikes. Fausto, pitching from the stretch, hurled the baseball towards the plate, and Papi’s bat propelled it on a majestic arc towards the frenzied fans in the bleachers. One of those fans caught the ball; a phalanx of Ortiz’s teammates caught him in their welcoming arms as he landed with his characteristic panache on the pentagonal surface of home plate – scoring the winning run. 9-8, Red Sox!

The crowd erupted – roared, screamed, cheered, applauded, chanted “MVP – MVP,” exulted, embraced - and lingered. It seemed as if no one wanted to leave. He had done it again – hurled another lighting bolt into the night, and left the fans and Fenway - once again – full of electricity and wonder!

Al