Tuesday, January 23, 2007

White Rhino Partners Update

A number of readers of the White Rhino Report have had difficulty reaching me, and many have also been wondering about e-mail notification of new postings.

Here is a quick overview of recent weeks, which will explain some of the recent history:

Early in December, I began setting up my new office at Cambridge Innovation Center. When I had moved about 30% of my things into the new office, the building experienced a devastating explosion and fire, and was essentially closed for a month. So, I had to scramble to finish emptying my old office at Sales Consultants of Wellesley, and put things in storage pending my return from a long-awaited trip to Europe to visit with family and friends.

Just prior to leaving for Europe, I switched hosts for my new whiterhinopartners.com e-mail domain, and in the hand-off from one host to another, e-mails disappeared into the ether. The helpful IT team here at Cambridge Innovation Center has just helped me to resolve those issues, so I am seeing hundreds of e-mails for the first time, many of which were originally sent a month ago.

The rest of this week is dedicated to getting all of my files and systems up and running in the new office.

* * * * *

Beginning today, I will attempt to notify those who wish to be notified of new Blog postings. The old notification list did not survive the transition to the new server, so if you wish to be notified by e-mail of new postings, please send me a notice at: achase47@gmail.com, and I will be glad to put you on the new distribution list.

Thanks for your understanding.


Upon Further Review – Some Reflections on the New England Patriots and Tom Brady, including a review of “Moving the Chains” by Charles P. Pierce

This seems like a good time to offer some of my thoughts on the New England Patriots’ elimination from the playoffs at the hands of Payton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. I am sitting in my office building that is in the midst of a blackout, typing by the ambient light that is filtered through the snow that is blowing straight across the sky as I look out of my Kendall Square window on the 14th floor.

I am a fan of the New England Patriots. I am not an over-the-top fanatic, like I am about the Boston Red Sox, but I follow the fortunes of our local NFL team quite closely. So, I was disappointed and upset on Sunday evening as I watched them allow Payton Manning and his teammates to totally dominated the last half of a game that the Patriots seemed to have well in hand. I was so upset by the needless defeat that I had trouble turning off my mind and the flow of adrenaline, and slept only fitfully on Sunday night. If I were to bump into Reche Caldwell on the street, I am not sure what I would say to him about the two catches he dropped that could have been touchdowns. The same goes for Heath Evans, whose bone-headed penalty for "too many men in the huddle" made the difference between the Patriots maintaining possession at the end of the game or allowing the Colts one last chance to score and gain the lead – which is exactly what happened. So, I was clearly emotionally invested in the game. But, having had a few hours to calm down and take a broader view, I realize that the sky has not fallen and this is not the end of the world as we have known it. The Patriots – led by Tom Brady and Bill Belichik – will be back next season competing at the highest level, because that is what they do and that is who they are.

On Sunday evening, I was actually experiencing the game at two levels at once. On Friday night, using a Barnes and Nobles gift card that had been a Christmas gift, I purchased the much-acclaimed book, “Moving the Chains – Tom Brady and the Pursuit of Everything,” by Boston Globe writer Charles P. Pierce. By the time of kick-off on Sunday, I had read most of the book, so I finished reading the last few chapters during commercial breaks of the game being played in real time in Indianapolis. As I watched on the TV the denouement of this year’s tragic end to Super Bowl dreams, I was simultaneously reading the account of the Patriots’ elimination from last year’s playoffs at the hands of the Denver Broncos. It seems that the Pats have fallen into a rut of equine elimination – having been bucked by the Broncos and kicked by the Colts out of the NFL playoffs in successive seasons after riding tall in the saddle for the previous four years.

Pierce’s book is a very well written account of Tom Brady’s rise through the ranks of football players to join the pantheon of the best quarterbacks who have ever strapped on a helmet in the NFL. In characteristic fashion, when Brady was first asked about the idea of Pierce writing a book about him, he said, “To tell you the truth, there’s only one real problem I have with this. I don’t know if I’m old enough for a book like this.” Given the wars he has fought and the obstacles he has overcome to arrive at the point in his career where he has led his team to three Super Bowl Championships – he is plenty old enough for a book like this!

I won’t talk much about the book, except to say that it is very well conceived and put together, Pierce cites surprising, yet very credible, sources for helping the reader to understand Brady’s character, success, leadership traits and commitment to his teammates. Among the key sources of inspiration and formation for Tom are the members of Brady’s family – as described in this book, a remarkably real, loving and supportive unit of mother, father and three older sisters who helped to ground the young Tommy Brady as a human before he ever evolved into Tom Brady the Superstar. The Brady family’s strong Catholic faith, Vatican II, the philosophy of Josiah Royce and several coaches – some very supportive of Tom and others, well, “not so much” – all serve as forces that influence the development of the Tom Brady who now leads the New England Patriots on and off the field.

One telling incident in the book centers on the gravely ill Patriot’s former Offense Coordinator, Charlie Weiss. The coach, after undergoing gastric by-pass surgery to deal with his weight problem, bled and lapsed into a coma. Twice during his crisis, he was administered the Last Rites of the Catholic Church. During the vigil by his bedside while his life hung in the balance, two people maintained almost constant vigil – Mrs. Weiss and Tom Brady. In recalling those difficult days, Maura Weiss recalls how Brady helped to keep her calm when it would have been easy to panic. She also remarked that when Tom Brady looks you in the eye and talks with you, no matter who else is around and what else is happening, he makes you feel that you are the only one in his field of vision and the only thing on his mind at that moment.

I can attest to the truth of Mara Weiss’s observation. A couple of years ago, I had an opportunity to ask Tom Brady a question at the end of a forty-five minute question and answer session in Boston. The previous few dozen people had asked fairly predictable questions that he had probably been asked many times in his career. He answered them politely and casually. I was one of the last questioners, and I wanted to take full advantage of the unique opportunity to address this young man who had already risen to the status of icon in the New England sports universe. So, I phrased my question carefully:

“Tom, in the past three years, those of us who are New England sports fans have had a chance to watch your very public coming of age as a football player and as a leader on the field. So, we have a pretty good sense of how you have developed as an athlete. I am wondering how, during these same three years, behind the scenes, you have changed and developed as a human being.”

Brady looked into my eyes with laser focus and paused about 30 seconds before saying: “That is the most interesting question I have ever been asked. Let me give it a minute’s thought.”

After a few more seconds of reflection, he continued: “When I took over as starting quarterback for the Patriots, I think I had a pretty good idea of the kind of work that it would take to succeed in helping to lead my team to victory. I was prepared for being a leader on the field. But, I was not prepared for what it would mean to be a public figure, with demands coming from many different directions. I struggle with knowing where to draw the line, when to say ‘Yes,’ and when to say ‘No,’ to things people ask me to do. I am still trying to figure out that part of my job.”

The respect I already had developed for Tom Brady was augmented that day. It was an honest, thoughtful and insightful response from a human being who thinks deeply about football and about life. So, I am very optimistic that Brady will get back on the horse and begin immediately preparing himself to lead his teammates next season to another run at a Super Bowl berth.

I give a strong endorsement to the book, “Moving the Chains.” I give an even stronger endorsement to the fine human being that I know Tom Brady to be.


Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Wisdom of Charles Schultz - Remembering Those Who Make a Difference

My friend, Tony Lorizio, was kind enough to send along this helpful reminder for us to appreciate those in our lives who wield powerful influences, yet may not be well known to the wider world. Tony is the author of his own Blog:


* * * * *

The following is the philosophy of Charles Schultz, the creator of the "Peanuts" comic strip. You don't have to actually answer the questions. Just read the e-mail straight through, and you'll get the point.

1. Name the five wealthiest people in the world
2. Name the last five Heisman trophy winners.
3. Name the last five winners of the Miss America Contest.
4. Name ten people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer Prize.
5. Name the last half dozen Academy Award winners for best actor and actress.

6. Name the last decade's worth of World Series winners.

How did you do?

The point is, none of us remember t he headliners of yesterday. These are no second-rate achievers. They are the best in their fields. But the applause dies. Awards tarnish. Achievements are forgotten. Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.

Here's another quiz. See how you do on this one:

1. List a few teachers who aided your journey through school.
2. Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult time.
3. Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile.
4. Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and special.
5. Think of five people you enjoy spending time with.


The lesson: The people who make a difference in your life are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money, or the most awards. They are the ones that care.

Pass this on to those people who have made a difference in your life.

"Don't worry about the world coming to an end today.
It's already tomorrow in
(Charles Schultz)

* * * * *


Thanks for the timely reminder to remember and to thank those who influence our lives.


Review of “Charlie Wilson’s War” by George Crile – An Astounding Story

While I was in London on my recent trip, my friend, Roy Vella, was kind enough to pass on to me a remarkable book that he had just finished reading. George Crile, a veteran producer for “60 Minutes,” has done a remarkable job of assembling a dizzying array of implausible facts into a well-told tale of America’s largest covert operation in history. Dan Rather’s blurb on the book’s dustcover summarizes very well what I experienced as I tore through the pages of this true story that reads like Clancy or Le Carre on hallucinogenic mushrooms:

“Americans often ask: ‘Where have all our heroes gone?’ Well a lot of them come roaring through in this tour de force of reporting and writing. Tom Clancy’s fiction pales in comparison with the amazing, mesmerizing story told by George Crile. By resurrecting a missing chapter out of our recent past, 'Charlie Wilson’s War' provides us with the key to understanding the present.”

In short, this is the story of an obscure congressman from Texas who teamed up with a rogue CIA operative to find ways to fund and to funnel arms to the Afghan “Freedom Fighters” – the mujahideen. That stream of escalating aid eventually turned the tide and tipped the scale in their favor and empowered them to rout the Red Army from the mountains of South Asia. What makes the tale so compelling is the cast of real characters who populate this tale of realpolitik and hidden levers of power In Washington. Charlie Wilson emerges as a comic book hero – full of flaws and bravado - yet one who accomplishes what no one else in history had been able to do.

What makes this book timely is the fact that the very arms that Charlie Wilson managed to get into the hands of the Afghan "Freedom Fighters" were eventually used against the U.S. as the Afghans turned from fighting the Russians to seeing the Americans as the enemy of fundamental Islam. This book is a brilliantly told cautionary tale of unexpected consequences.

Crile obtained access to a broad array of world leaders in piecing together his riveting tale of swashbuckling powerbrokers changing the way the world fights wars. The dramatic escalation of U.S. dollars flowing through the CIA to Pakistan and on to the “Freedom Fighters” is all the more remarkable in that it was done in stealth mode while the Iran-Contra scandal was commanding the intense scrutiny of the press.

One of the striking aspects of this story of Charlie Wilson and his private war is the nature of the friendship that Wilson formed with Pakistani dictator, Zia ul-Haq. Crile cites Rudyard Kipling to great effect is talking about the special nature of the unlikely partnership that was forged between Zia and Charlie:

“Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,

Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;

But there is neither East nor West, border, not breed, nor birth,

When two strong men stand face-to-face, though they come from the ends of the earth!”

(page 501)

For anyone who wants to gain greater insight into the real working of Congress, the intelligence community, the events that sowed the seeds that led to the attacks on 9/11 – this is a “must read” book.

Thanks, Roy, for a wonderful gift.



Monday, January 15, 2007

A Potpourri of European Reflections – Heading Home to Boston

As I sit at Heathrow Airport, ready to board my flight home to Boston, I thought I would take a few minutes to share some random thoughts and impressions from the last segments of my sojourn in Europe. In no particular order of priority, here they are:

  • Whoever is responsible for designing London’s Airports must have a strong sadistic streak, or is a major proponent of vigorous walking to promote health. On this trip, I have become even more intimately acquainted with three of London’s five commercial airports – Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted. On no occasion was I able to arrive at a departure gate or passport control/baggage claim area without walking - at the bare minimum - one kilometer.

  • The London Underground, with all of its marvelous features, is in serious need of an infrastructure overhaul. Over the course of a week, I used virtually every one of the lines, and there was never a day when there were not major delays – often caused by signal failures. The Central Line seems to be particularly susceptible to these misadventures. On one day, I experienced a perfect storm of problems on the District Line. At first, we were informed that because of a fire at the Mansion House station, service would be delayed. Then, further announcements updated us as to a medical emergency at another station. Finally, serious delays and system shutdown on the entire line were the result of signal failures at Earls’ Court.

  • There is nothing quite like a good Fish & Chips shop. My favorite in London – because of the quality of the food and the clever name of the place – is The Eating Plaice. It serves up a delicious array of choices of cod, haddock and, of course, the eponymous plaice!

  • Grenoble, in the heart of the Vallee de le l'Isere in the French Alps, is a fascinating place. Boasting about a half million inhabitants, this city is an important university and scientific research center, hosting the world’s largest reactor for neutron generation, as well as a particle accelerator. My friend, Benoit, is involved in sophisticated research pinpointing distant points of gamma ray generation in he far reaches of the cosmos.

  • High above Grenoble sits the remarkable Bastille, overlooking a strategic mountain pass. On one of the clearest day I can recall, my friend led me on a trek up the mountainside to the pinnacles of the Bastille. The panorama that unfolded at our feet was well worth the two hour climb. 70 kilometers to the north, Mt. Blanc, Europe’s highest peak, was on display in all of its snow-capped glory.

  • Grenoble’s neighborhoods are linked together by a fleet of beautiful and efficient tram cars that would be the envy of any major metropolitan area.

  • French cooking is not over-rated. My friend, Benoit, cooked up some astonishing dishes – one of them (the name of which escapes me this morning) boasting three different cheeses baked into a turnover. The dessert, a Charlotte,” amazed me at what can be done with raspberry mousse and raspberry sauce. Vive la France!

  • I will never forget the experience of watching Robert Altman’s final film, “A Prairie Home Companion,” in a French art film theater, with French subtitles. I am not sure which was the more amusing – the original dialogue or the creative French translations!

  • The movie, Babel,” which I also saw while in France, became even more poignant when listening to the dialogue dubbed in French and reading the subtitles in English. Since one of the film's many themes is the chaos that results from miscommunication, this added dynamic made the viewing if the film that much more poignant for me.

Time to board my flight.

We’ll talk soon.



Mini-Review of “Break No Bones” by Dr. Kathy Reichs

I cannot recall how I acquired this book. I know that it has been sitting on my shelf for awhile, and seemed like good airplane reading, so I brought it with me to Europe. I am glad I did. I had not been aware of the author, Kathy Reichs. Her writing and her work as a forensic anthropologist is the basis for the TV series, Bones.”

The plot of this novel revolves around the discovery of a fresh skeleton among the bones being excavated at an ancient burial site near Charleston, South Carolina. The complex action of the story is told through the triangular relationship that exists among three individuals Dr. Brennan, a forensic anthropologist from Canada who is doing a summer stint leading a dig, her estranged husband and her current boyfriend – all of whom descend upon a luxurious summer cottage in South Carolina. Throw in a TV evangelist who runs a series of health clinics for the homeless, an international black market trade in stolen human transplant organs, and a few “good old boys” from the swamps of South Carolina – and let the fun begin!

Dr. Reich’s style of writing has a tone that I found fascinating and amusing. She manages to combine a sardonic sense of humor with classic southern Gothic style in a way that is both intriguing and enjoyable, especially in the way she constructs dialogue. I enjoyed this book enough that I am going to look for her debut novel, “Cross Bones.”



Mini-Review of “Poland” by James Michener

On this recent trip, I decided to read some books the themes of which fit the places I would be traveling to. So, for my time in England, I decided to read Dickens’ “Dombey and Son” (review to follow later). I had always intended to read Michener’s Poland,” and this seemed like an opportune time to do so. I was already very familiar with Michener’s work. Many years ago I plowed my way through “The Source.” I enjoy his Pulitzer Prize-winning work, “Tales of the South Pacific.” The Rogers and Hammerstein musical based on this book - "South Pacific”– is, in large measure, responsible for my love of musical theater.

Before reading Poland,” I had not been aware of the depth of Michener’s academic background, which included a stint teaching at Harvard. His erudition shows in Poland.” He spent several years touring every nook and cranny of this storied nation, so his knowledge of Polish history and culture was comprehensive as the background against which he set the action of this historical novel. Using an approach that he has used with several of his other epic works, he follows the fortune of several fictional and actual families, seamlessly blending historical fact with his vivid imagination, to tell a tale of a nation often conquered but never completely eradicated. The indomitable spirit of the Polish patriot that Michener so lovingly describes is one I encountered among many of the people I met on my recent visit to Krakow.

Michener’s writing is particularly moving and instructive in the section that deals with the events leading up to and encompassing World War II. His descriptions of the horrors of the camps and of the determination of the Nazis to wipe out Polish culture are haunting in their gruesome detail.

As I approached the end of this novel, I found myself wishing that Michener were still alive to write an updated version that would incorporate the significant events that had occurred in Poland in the past 20 years. Even though this work was published in the 1980’s, reading it in the 21st century has value. I recommend it to anyone who desires to develop a deeper understanding of this fascinating part of the world.



Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Mini-Review – “Dream Girls”

Just before I left on my trip to Europe, I was able to catch one of the first screenings of “Dreams Girls.” It is a film I had been awaiting with eager anticipation. When the show was playing on Broadway beginning in 1981, I saw it several times, and fell in love with the show – the music, the story, the talent, the staging. I wondered how the story would be adapted to the big screen. The adaptation works wonderfully. This is a very well told tale of a fictional group much like the Supremes. Through the lens of the group, “The Dreamettes” – later renamed “The Dreams,” the story of R&B and the story of race relations in American society in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s is told with power and artistry.

The cast has been wisely assembled – including Beyonce Knowles, Eddie Murphy, Jamie Foxx and the amazing Jennifer Hudson, whose show-stopping rendition of “And I Am Telling You (I’m Not Going)” is worth the price of admission. In the screening of the film that I attended, the audience clapped and shouted its approval of her rendition of the song.

This is cinematic story telling of the first order. While telling a tale of the evolution of R&B, the film also addresses issues of artistic integrity, the payola scandal, personal ambition and cut-throat tactics employed in the music industry. This is a movie I will see again. I encourage you to see it, as well, even if this type of music is not your first love.



Monday, January 08, 2007

Back in the USSR – A Tale of Two Cities

Unlike Dickens’ two cities – Paris and London of the 18th century – the two cities of which I speak are contemporary metropolitan entities. They are: Moscow and Moscow! I am just concluding a one week stay in this sprawling, fascinating, enigmatic center of the Russian Federation. This visit constitutes my eleventh stay in Moscow. The changes that I have observed over the course of the 14 years that I have been coming here are breathtaking. At the same time, some things remain so entrenched in the old ways of doing things that it almost seems as if the USSR never stopped existing- hence the title for this posting. So, let me offer you some anecdotes from my days here early in 2007, and let you draw your own conclusions about the two cities I have observed – one rushing headlong into a free market economy and some semblance of democracy on the one hand, and one seemingly being held back by the vestiges of 75 years of a centralized economy and bureaucratic gridlock on the other hand.

The New Moscow - I arrived from London’s Gatwick Airport at Moscow’s newly expanded and beautifully renovated Domodedovo Airport, located south of the city. For all of my prior visits, I had arrived either at antiquated Scheremetyevo Airport and had waited in interminable lines for baggage and waited again to be processed through passport control and customs, or had come from Kiev by train and was deposited in the center of the city. The processing at Domodedovo was friendly and efficient.

The Old Moscow – My hosts for this visit are old friends, one of whom calls himself my “Russian son.” He works as an anchor for one of the national news broadcasts, and is a drummer in a rock band. Since my last visit here (right after September 11, 2001!), he has married, and he and his wife have had a son. This would be my first opportunity to meet his wife and son. I also wanted to visit with his mother and father, who over the years have become good friends of mine. Upon arriving, I learned that the father had been hospitalized with serious breathing difficulties. He was still in the hospital, and had just spent several days in intensive care. On my first full day in Moscow, we went to visit him and to bring him some juice. He is a professional – working as a cameraman for a federal TV network. He wife is also a professional – a former film actress and radio producer. They are an upper middle class family by Moscow standards, and have many influential connections. One of their friends is the chief of staff of a major hospital in the city, and this friend was able to use his influence to ensure that my host’s father be admitted to this hospital to receive the best available care. We arrived at the labyrinthine complex of 18 buildings and entered through a dilapidated door that resembled one that I would expect to find on a backyard storage shed. We walked into a time warp. We wove our way through corridors and bridges connecting buildings to one another, passing dozens of gaunt patients lying in hallways on gurneys that had first seen service before Nikita Khrushchev was pounding his shoe at the U.N. The walls had not been painted in several decades, and the tile and concrete floor were chipped and uneven. We passed several wards housing up to a dozen patients, and finally arrived at the “private” room where my friend’s father was convalescing. I saw more of the same decay – a room fitted with four antique beds surrounded by walls and a ceiling with flaking paint and rust stains. I felt as if I had been transported back to the 1940’s and was standing on the set of “Snake Pit” or “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” When I had an opportunity to discretely ask my friend if this were a government hospital or a private one, he assured me that this was one of the best government facilities. “The private hospitals are not as good as this.”

The New Moscow – Throughout my week here, we were able to shop in modern stores that provided easy access to almost anything I could have wished to purchase. Many of the stores are open 24-hours a day, and provide excellent customer service along with a rich variety of domestic and imported goods – much like at home in the U.S. This situation is in marked contrast to my first few visits when a trip to buy groceries would consume several hours of waiting in line hoping that the required goods were available that day.

The Old Moscow – My visa requires that I register with the proper authorities within three days of arriving in Russia. Beginning with the morning of my first full day, we began to call the office where I would need to appear. On each occasion during the six days I have been here, the office was closed for the holiday period. So, I was never able to register. I have no idea what will happen when I attempt to pass through passport control later today at the airport. If you do not see any more postings for awhile, you may surmise that I ran into trouble trying to leave Russia!

The New Moscow – My host family has included me in many of their activities with extended family and friends while I have been here. A few nights ago, my host and his wife brought me with them to meet another couple. The five of us spent several hours bowling and playing pool in a facility that looked exactly like ones that I have seen in the Boston area. Last evening, my hosts asked if I would like to play a game that they enjoy playing with many of their young professional friends – the Parker Brothers board game Monopoly! They own the original version - as well as a Russian version that replaces Board Walk with Arbat, an upscale shopping district in Moscow. What an irony it was to face off against my Russian host and hostess in the quintessential capitalist game! My hostess is a trained economist, which made the irony even more delightful.

The Old Moscow – Back to the hospital. My host received a frantic call from his mother. They had moved another patient into the father’s room, although the family thought that they had made arrangements for him to be left in privacy. The new patient was quite ill, and was coughing non-stop, making it impossible for the father to sleep or even rest. After a series of calls back and forth, my host made another trip to the hospital. A “gift” of a bottle of champagne and a few hundred rubles handed to the head nurse greased the way for a quick transfer of the new patient to a different room.

The New Moscow – The music scene. I was pleased to learn that my host’s rock band would be playing a gig at a club called Woodstock! They played for two hours – two sets of perfectly blended covers of English and American rock standards and some Russian classics. Their version of the Beatles’ “Back in the USSR had the crowd clapping, shouting and dancing with delight. My host and I spent several hours listening to a special set of CD’s I had received as a Christmas gift from my son, Scott: “Billy Joel – the Complete Hits Collection – 1973-1997.” (You will read more about this remarkable collection in The White Rhino Report in the next few weeks) Listening with my Russian friend to Billy Joel’s haunting Leningrad from 1989 was a moving moment: “We never knew what friends we had until we came to Leningrad.” Several years ago, my host had traveled with me as my translator when I had occasion to go to St. Petersburg, the former Leningrad.

And so it goes . . . and so it goes.

I could go on and on, but enough for now. I will return later to talk about our discussions of Bush, Putin, Iraq, Chechnya, the next U.S. presidential elections, the future of democracy in Russia, the Orthodox Church in Russia and the gorgeous Cathedral of Christ the Savior that I visited this past week.

It was a rich and thought-provoking week.

On to London.