Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Win a Free Copy of “It’s Our Ship – The No-Nonsense Guide to Leadership” by Capt. D. Michael Abrashoff : Announcing A Leadership Essay

I am pleased to offer up to six free copies of Mike Abrashoff’s latest book, “It’s Our Ship – The No-Nonsense Guide to Leadership.”

Submit via e-mail (achase47@gmail.com) an essay or story about a leadership lesson you have learned along the way. It can be something you learned in the military or working in the private or public sector. It can be a vignette about a mentor who taught you something new about leadership. It can be a story of a colleague who inspired you with her innovation or his courage.

The top six submissions will be published in The White Rhino Report, and the six writers will receive their own copy of Abrashoff’s latest leadership book.

I look forward to reading what you will share.

Enjoy.

Al

Review of “It’s Our Ship – The No-Nonsense Guide to Leadership” by Capt. D. Michael Abrashoff

I have already reviewed on The White Rhino Report the first two books penned by Capt. Mike Abrashoff, “It’s Your Ship” and “Get Your Ship Together.”

"It's Your Ship" Review

"Get Your Ship Together" Review

I was delighted to learn that he has written a follow-up book that has just been published this month. Mike has taken the lessons he learned as the Captain of the USS Benfold and begun to apply them in speaking to, and consulting with, a variety of businesses. In his latest offering, “It’s Our Ship,” he shares lessons he has learned in receiving feedback from his first two books. He also offers examples of companies that have been successful in applying the leadership principles he has elucidated.

I am pleased to share with you some of the nuggets that I most appreciated. Early in this book, Abrashoff shares some hiring tips used at Amazon.com – advice I found to be very insightful:

“Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com says that his employees have already been so conditioned to identify with customers that his company relies on employee judgments. ‘During our hiring meetings,’ he once wrote in the company’s annual report, ‘we ask people to consider three questions before making a decision:

  1. Do you admire this person? For myself, I’ve always tried hard to work only with people I admire, and I encourage folks here to be just as demanding. Life is definitely too short to do otherwise.

  1. Will this person raise the average level of effectiveness of the group they’re entering? We want to fight entropy. The bar has to continuously go up. I ask people to visualize the company five years from now. At that point, each of us should look around and say, ‘The standards are so high now – boy, I’m glad I got in when I did!’

  1. Along what dimension might this person be a superstar? Many people have unique skills, interests, and perspectives that enrich the work environment for all of us. It’s often something that’s not even related to their jobs. One person here is a National Spelling Bee champion. I suspect it doesn’t help her in her everyday work, but it does make working here more fun if you can occasionally snag her in the hall with a quick challenge: ‘onomatopoeia!’ (Pages 20-1)

As I have observed successful military leaders – officers and enlisted personnel – I have come to the conclusion that the best officers are the ones who figure out early in their careers how best to relate to the NCO’s who are the heart and soul of each branch of the service. Abrashoff gives a great example of that principle when he talks about young John Wade, who served in 1991 on the destroyer Arthur W. Radford:

“John’s relatives, both officers and enlisted men, had often warned him about smart-alecky young officers who thought they knew everything when they first reported to ship. John cringed at ever being seen as such. So he told the chief he wanted to learn from him: ‘If he would help me grow, I promised, then I would be his biggest advocate. I would work my ass off for this division and this team.’

John met the chief clutching his rookie ensign binder of official training materials – presumably everything he needed to know to master his new job. The grizzled old chief took the binder from him and set it on the desk: ‘Mr. Wade,’ he said, ‘you’ll get to this volume in due time. But right now, in order to lead the division effectively, you need to know this.’ He tossed a different book to John, and Wade caught it. It was the training requirements for the sailors he would be leading.

John practically inhaled that book, spent weeks standing watches with his sailors, and wound up knowing how to man the radar and performing their duties as well as they could. John was rightly proud of his achievement. He not only learned every job in his division, but also earned his sailors’ respect as a good man and a good leader. You can’t ask more of a junior officer.” (Pages 21-2)

It is clear that Capt. Abrashoff has developed tremendous respect for former Defense Secretary, Dr. William Perry, for whom Abrashoff served as a military assistant during the Clinton administration. The way in which Abrashoff was hired as part of Perry’s staff is instructive:

“I asked why he had hired me. ‘I didn’t hire you,’ he said. ‘The staff did. I’ve been in business and government for forty years, and I know how to hire the smartest person. But that’s never been a marker for my success.’ The real key, he said, was creating a team of people who would support one another and help him get the mission accomplished. ‘Out of the twelve candidates for the job, you were the only one who took the time to talk to the rest of the staff as if they were people,’ he said. ‘When I asked them who they wanted to work with, they said they wanted to work with you.’” (Page 23)

I was impressed with a unique celebration instituted by Steve Smith, CEO of Tec Labs:

“Smith celebrates his employees’ work anniversaries with a ‘living eulogy’ delivered during a Bagel Meeting. Employees take turns speaking about the honoree in a way that’s ordinarily reserved for fond remembrances at a wake or funeral. ‘The impact is profound,’ Steve said. ‘The person just sits there, hearing all about the things they are and all the things they’ve accomplished. There’s a lot of tears. But it allows people to know they’re loved and cared for.’ Remember, Steve added, ‘the two big motivators in people’s lives are love and respect.’” (Pages 103-4)

Finally, I will share some of the book’s insights about excellence and arrogance in a leader:

“I’ve spent a lot of time these past few years reflecting on why William Perry became such a wonderful role model – for me and for countless others whose lives he touched. What was so appealing, I think, was his humility. Perry was a very self-effacing leader. People were drawn to him, and his modesty made the jobs of military people easier around the globe. . .

In comparison, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld made our jobs more difficult around the world, both during his tenure and now. Rumsfeld is obviously a brilliant man, but his seemingly arrogant style turns people off. . . Charles R. Larson, who retired as Superintendent of the Naval Academy in 1998, summed it up when he told the midshipmen they needed to create a sense of excellence without arrogance.” (Pages 118-9)

Amen!

Like the first two books that Abrashoff has crafted, “It’s Our Ship” offers valuable and practical portraits of proactive leadership at work in a variety of settings. I recommend the book with enthusiasm.

Enjoy.

Al

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Very Personal Memorial Day - Remembering 1st Lt. Robert Seidel III


I have written in the past about Rob "Sly" Seidel, killed in Iraq and buried on Memorial Day in 2006.

Rob's family was kind enough to pass along a link to an article that ran today in the York Sunday News.

York Sunday New piece

The Seidel family are determined to keep Rob's memory alive, and they are doing a wonderful job. They are representative of thousands of families that will gather tomorrow at grave sites scattered across our land to remember and to continue grieving.

Memorial Day is not just about parades and picnics. In the course of your activities tomorrow, please take a moment to reflect. Pause to pray. And if you have the opportunity, offer a sincere word of thanks and condolence to families like the Seidels. They have given us their best.

Al

The Wonder of Russian Nesting Dolls - Presenting Enchanting Matreshka


I was introduced to the art form of the Russian Nesting Doll - "Matreshka" - when I made my first visit to Russia in the early 1990's. Since then, I have accumulated several interesting versions of the dolls that I have picked up in Kiev and in Moscow. I have several sets that show various members of the Boston Red Sox. One of my favorite sets of dolls is a set of 7 of my favorite Russian authors - Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Checkov, Pasternak, Pushkin, Gogol, Turgenev.

I just added to my collection by acquiring a miniature set of 5 rhinos from the Enchanting Matreshka kiosk at Copley Place Mall in Boston. The kiosk is a miniature wonderland of Russian art in many forms - nesting dolls, lacquer boxes, amber jewelry, decorative eggs, icons and crosses. The largest rhino is the size of my thumb, and the smallest is about 1/4 the size of the nail on my little finger. The craftsmanship is astonishing. Each piece is hand-painted using a sable brush composed of a single hair from the tail of a squirrel, and painted by the artist using a jeweler's loupe.

In visiting the Enchanting Matreshka website, I learned a bit about the history of the art form:

Welcome to the fascinating world of Enchanting Matreshka, the importer and purveyor of fine traditional Russian arts and crafts. In many ways, it is a world that time forgot. Locked away behind the Soviet curtain of silence until Perestroika opened the country in 1993, most of our artists have spent their entire lives studying and practicing techniques that took centuries to develop. Handed down from generation to generation, and preserved through a rigid training system overseen by the government, these techniques are painstaking, time consuming and difficult to learn. As a result the work of those who have truly mastered their craft is superbly crafted and exquisitely rendered. It is also completely different from anything else the western world has experienced. Since so many of Russia 's artisans are working in small towns and villages outside the main cities, we make regular trips to these villages to procure new artwork. Our goal of course, is to introduce the world to the wonders of Russian art, and in so doing to provide the artists themselves with the means to continue their magnificent work.

www.enchantingmatreshka.com


The Russian family that operates the store has developed personal relationships with many of the top artists in Russia. They return often to purchase unique items that cannot be found elsewhere.

If you are in Boston, I encourage you to stop by the kiosk. If you live outside of Boston, you can shop at their on-line store.



Saturday, May 24, 2008

New York City Alert - Jake Armerding at The Living Room, Tuesday, June 10 at 10:00 PM


Several of my Boston area family members and friends have already experienced the wonder of the music of Jake Armerding. Now those of you who live in the NYC area can get in on the fun.

I encourage to join me on the night of Tuesday, June 10 from 10:00-11:00 at The Living Room at 154 Ludlow St. (between Staunton & Rivington) on the Lower East Side.


Jake is amazing! If you are not already familiar with him, you will fall in love with his music and the poetry of his lyrics. Listen to some of his songs ahead of time -

http://www.jakearmerding.com/

http://www.myspace.com/jakearmerding

Let's fill The Living Room on that night! Feel free to invite friends to join us.

Be aware that The Living Room is a 21+ venue.

The Living Room


See you there!

Al

Review of "A Rumor of War" by Philip Caputo

In keeping with the theme of this Memorial Day weekend, I would like to offer my thoughts on “A Rumor of War,” a classic tale of Vietnam. Philip Caputo has crafted one of the most moving and disturbing testaments to the men who fought and died in that far away land. When the book was first published in 1977, the New York Times called it “The troubled conscience of America speaking passionately, truthfully, finally.” I became aware of this classic memoir when my friend, Capt. Kyle Kalkwarf, West Point Class of 2002, told me that it was one of the best books about war he had ever read. He recommended that I add it to my reading list. He was right in doing so.

Caputo’s recollections of his time as a Marine in Vietnam are filled with anger and sorrow at the misbegotten policies promulgated in Washington and carried out with disastrous results by General Westmorland and his subordinates. The author makes it clear in his introductory remarks how he felt and feels about that war and the impact that it had upon him and his comrades in arms:

“Beyond adding a few more corpses to the weekly body count, none of these encounters achieved anything; none will ever appear in military histories or be studied by cadets at West Point. Still, they changed us and taught us, the men who fought in them; in those obscure skirmishes we learned the old lessons about fear, cowardice, courage, suffering, cruelty and comradeship. Most of all, we learned about death at an age when it is common to think of oneself as immortal. Everyone loses that illusion eventually, but in civilian life it is lost in installments over the years. We lost it all at once, and in the span of months, passed from boyhood through manhood to a premature middle age. The knowledge of death, of the implacable limits placed on a man’s existence, severed us from our youth as irrevocably as a surgeon’s scissors had once severed us from the womb. And yet, few of us were past twenty-five. We left Vietnam peculiar creatures, with young shoulders that bore rather old heads. . .

This book is partly an attempt to capture something of its [the war’s] ambivalent realities. Anyone who fought in Vietnam, if he is honest about himself, will have to admit he enjoyed the compelling attractiveness of combat. It was a peculiar enjoyment because it was mixed with a commensurate pain. Under fire, a man’s powers of life heightened in proportion to the proximity of death, so that he felt an elation as extreme as his dread. His senses quickened, and he attained an acuity of consciousness at once pleasurable and excruciating. It was something like the elevated state of awareness induced by drugs. And it could be just as addictive, for it made whatever else life offered in the way of delights or torments see pedestrian.” (Pages xv-xvii)

Caputo’s last comments in the section just quoted seem to be eerily in keeping with the themes of the stunning films, “The Deer Hunter” and “Apocalypse Now.”

In one of the most gripping passages in the book, Caputo recaptures the spectrum of emotions he felt during a helicopter assault – running the gamut from fear to courage:

“A helicopter assault on a hot landing zone creates emotional pressures far more intense than a conventional ground assault. It is the enclosed space, the noise, the speed, and, above all, the sense of total helplessness. There is a certain excitement to it the first time, but after that it is one of the more unpleasant experiences offered by modern war. On the ground, an infantryman has some control over his destiny, or at least the illusion of it. In a helicopter under fire, he hasn’t even the illusion. Confronted by the indifferent forces of gravity, ballistics and machinery, he is himself pulled in several directions at once by a range of extreme, conflicting emotions. Claustrophobia plagues him in the small space: the sense of being trapped and powerless in a machine in unbearable, and yet he has to bear it. Bearing it, he begins to feel a blind fury toward the forces that made him powerless, but has to control his fury until he is out of the helicopter and on the ground again. He yearns to be on the ground, but the desire is countered by the danger he knows is there. Yet, he is also attracted by the danger, for he knows he can only overcome his fear by facing it. His blind rage then begins to focus on the men who are the source of the danger – and of his fear. It concentrates inside him, and through some chemistry is transformed into a fierce resolve to fight until the danger ceases to exist. But this resolve, which is sometimes called courage, cannot be separated from the fear that has aroused it. Its very measure is the measure of that fear. It is, in fact, a powerful urge not to be afraid anymore, to rid himself of fear by eliminating the source of it. This inner, emotional war produces tension almost sexual in its intensity. It is too painful to endure for long. All a soldier can think about is the moment when he can escape his impotent confinement and release this tension. All other considerations, the rights and wrongs of what he is doing, the chances for victory or defeat in the battle, the battle’s purpose or lack of it, become so absurd as to be less than irrelevant. Nothing matters except the final, critical instant when he leaps out into the violent catharsis he both seeks and dreads.” (Pages 277-8)

Caputo’s thoughtful and passionate recounting of the growing up that he did in the cauldron of Vietnam added to my understanding of what many of my generation experienced as they fought in Southeast Asia and returned to a country that had grown sick of the fighting. As our nation once again wrestles with combat fatigue and the questions of when to withdraw and how to withdraw from Iraq, I am grateful that this time around - unlike the situation that existed in the late ‘60’s and 70’s - even those who oppose the war have not showered those returning from the Gulf with opprobrium. They deserve our admiration and our gratitude.

Thanks Kyle, for recommending this book, and for your continuing service to our nation.

Al

Memorial Day Reflections - A Review of "Gates of Fire" by Steven Pressfield

Through the generous encouragement of my many warrior friends, and their recommendation of books I should read, I am slowly giving myself an education in the history of warfare. Eric Kapitulik strongly urged me to read “Gates of Fire” by Steven Pressfield. It is an epic novel of the storied Battle of Thermopylae. Although written as a fictional account as told with great artistry through the voice of a narrator who survived the battle, the book is meticulously researched and stunning in its scope and depth of insight.

Pressfield is a painter with words in the way in which he sets up the telling of the story. The Spartan squire, Xeones, was found barely clinging to life after the legendary 300 finally perished after dispatching tens of thousands of Persians in the narrow pass known as “The Gates of Fire” at Thermopylae. Brought from the battlefield barely breathing, he was nursed back to health and taken before the Persian King, Xerxes. The king wanted to hear in detail how the Spartans had trained and fought against overwhelming odds and in the face of vastly superior numbers.

Xeones’ telling of the story is the heart and soul of Pressfield’s epic novel. His comments about the arduous training of the Spartans reminds me of tales I have heard and read of Navy SEAL training or the rigors of Army Ranger screening.

“The purpose of an eight-nighter [training exercise] is to drive the individuals of the division, and the unit itself, beyond the point of humor. It is when the jokes stop, they say, that the real lessons are learned and each man, and the mora as a whole, makes those incremental advances which pay off in the ultimate crucible. The hardship of the exercises is intended less to strengthen the back than to toughen the mind. The Spartans say that any army may win while it still has its legs under it; the real test comes when all strength is fled and the men must produce victory on will alone.” (Page 69)

The author, through the voice of Xeones, philosophizes about the traits that make an effective officer in battle:

“This, I realized now watching Dienekes rally and tend to his men, was the role of the officer: to prevent those under his command , at all stages of battle – before, during and after – from becoming ‘possessed.’ To fire their valor when it flagged and rein in their fury when it threatened to take them out of hand. That was Dienekes’ job. That was why he wore the transverse-crested helmet of an officer.” (Page 112)

As the Spartans prepare for battle, King Leonidas speaks eloquently of the divided loyalties and sensibilities of the warrior:

“When a man seats before his eyes the bronze face of his helmet and steps off from the line of departure, he divides himself, as he divides his ‘ticket’ [the Spartan version of dog tags] in two parts. One part he leaves behind. That part which takes delight in his children, which lifts his voice in the chorus, which clasps his wife to him in the sweet darkness of their bed.

That half of him, the best part, a man sets aside and leaves behind. He banishes from his heart all feelings of tenderness and mercy, all compassion and kindness, all thought or concept of the enemy as a man, a human being like himself. He marches into battle bearing only the second portion of himself, the baser measure, that half which knows slaughter and butchery and turns the blind eye to quarter. He could not fight at all if he did not do this.’

. . . Then this man returns, alive, out of the slaughter. He hears his name called and comes forward to take his ticket. He reclaims that part of himself which he had earlier set aside.

This is a holy moment. A sacramental moment. A moment in which a man feels the gods as close as his own breath.

What unknowable mercy has spared us this day? What clemency of the divine has turned the enemy’s spear one handbreadth from our throat and driven it fatally in to the breast of the beloved comrade at our side? Why are we still here above the earth, we who are no better, no braver, who reverenced heaven no more than these our brothers whom the gods have dispatched to hell?

When a man joins the two pieces of his ticket and sees the weld in union together, he feels that part of him, the part that knows love and mercy and compassion, come flooding back over him. This is what unstrings his knees.

What else can a man feel at that moment than the most grave and profound thanksgiving to the gods who, for reasons unknowable, have spared his life this day? Tomorrow their whim may alter. Next week, next year. But this day the sun still shines upon him, he feels its warmth upon his shoulders, he beholds about him the faces of his comrades whom he loves and he rejoices in their deliverance and his own.” (Pages 115-6)

I would offer the observation that perhaps the essence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the failure of these two bisected halves of the warrior’s ticket – his sense of “self” - to reunite seamlessly after returning from the battlefield.

Pressfield’s vivid and fetid word pictures of the horrors of close combat parallel the cinematic imagery of such masterpieces as “Saving Private Ryan” or “Band of Brothers”:

“Only the dirt itself possessed clemency. Alone the stinking soup beneath the warrior’s tread proffered surcease and succor. The men’s feet churned it into broth ankle-deep; their driving legs furrowed it to the depth of the calf, then they themselves fell upon it on their knees and fought from there. Fingers clawed at the blood-blackened muck, toes strained against it for purchase, the teeth of dying men bit into it as if to excavate their own graves with the clamp of their jaws. Farmers whose hands were taken up with the pleasure of the dark clods of their native fields, crumbling between their fingers the rich earth which brings forth the harvest, now crawled on their bellies in this sterner soil, clawed at it with the nubs of their busted fingers and writhed without shame, seeking to immure themselves within the earth’s mantle and preserve their backs from the pitiless steel. (Page 306)

With elegant strokes of his pen Pressfield offers a sense of historical perspective on the heroism that characterized the band of 300 who stood and fell before the onslaught of the Persian forces at Thermopylae:

“Instead he [King Leonidas] spoke, in words few and plain, of the valley of the Eurotas, of Parnon and Taygetos and the cluster of five unwalled villages which alone comprise that polis and commonwealth which the world calls Sparta. A thousand years from now, Leonidas declared, two thousand, three thousand years hence, men a hundred generations yet unborn may for their private purposes make journey to our country.

‘They will come, scholars perhaps, or travelers from beyond the sea, prompted by curiosity regarding the past or appetite for knowledge of the ancients. They will peer out across our plain and probe among the stone and rubble of our nation. What will they learn of us? Their shovels will unearth neither brilliant palaces nor temples; their picks will prise forth no everlasting architecture or art. What will remain of the Spartans? Not monuments of marble or bronze, but this, what we do here today.’” (Page 356)

So, on this Memorial Day weekend, as we consider the courage displayed at “The Gates of Hell” so long ago, let us also remember with gratitude and affection our own warriors – grandfathers, fathers, brothers, sons and daughters – who fought valiantly on our behalf in recent wars.

Al

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Yes! Yes! – A No-No by Lester in Boston



This is a great feel good story. Last night on the mound at Boston’s fabled Fenway Park, lefthander Jon Lester pitched the first no-hitter by a Red Sox southpaw since Mel Parnell accomplished the feat in 1956. But that is not the part of the story that grabbed me. What touched me most deeply as a Red Sox fan and as a sports fan is not even the obvious story line of Lester having survived a bout with lymphoma. That aspect of Lester’s life and career has been well documented and commented up in The White Rhino Report last July.




http://whiterhinoreport.blogspot.com/search?q=Jon+Lester+Returns

What really stood out for me in the aftermath of the young pitcher’s phenomenal achievement was the quality of the response of his teammates. It was clear in watching the players, manager and coaches embrace Lester after the final out had been recorded that they were celebrating the human being as much as they were congratulating the achievement. And the post-game comments drove home that point even more poignantly. My thoughts turned immediately to the book, “Season of Life.”

(See review in The White Rhino Report, March 11, 2005)

Season of Life article

That book beautifully chronicles the remarkable story of the players and coaches of the Gilman School in Maryland, perennial football champions. The unlikely twist in this saga of championship seasons is the strong bond that the coaches have forged with the players and the players have forged among themselves. Since I do not have my copy of the book in front of me at the moment, I will paraphrase from memory a portion of the story that I found astonishing. At the first pre-season practice each year, a litany is played out to introduce to the new players on the team the unique ethos of the squad. The coach stands before the assembled athletes and asks of the players:

“What is the job of us coaches?”

“To love us!”

“And what is your job?”

“To love each other.”

And from such “unmanly” sentiments championships are spawned! Some may feel that this soft approach is all well and good at the high school level, where not much is on the line. But in professional sports? No way!

Well, what came across the TV screen to me last night as Lester and his team celebrated the 18th no-hitter in Red Sox history was pure love. The embrace by manager, Terry Francona, was that of a proud father to a beloved son. Some of the first words that Lester spoke were of his sentiment that “Francona has been like a second Dad to me – just being able to talk to hi, not just as a manager, but as a friend. He cares a lot about his players.”

On a day when Francona had traveled from Boston to Philadelphia and back again to celebrate the graduation of his son from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, he got to see a surrogate son graduate to a new level of proficiency in his chosen profession of pitching.

Francona commented on his emotions being on the surface last night:

"I looked up in the ninth and you're trying to keep your emotions in check, and I went to say something to John Farrell and he was being a big baby next to me. It made me feel a little bit better. . . This probably isn't fair to say, but I feel like my son graduated and my son threw a no-hitter. . . Joy. You feel joy for a kid like that."

Throwing a no-hitter requires an element of luck and good defensive play. Most of the no-no’s I recall had at least one sterling play by a fielder, and last night’s gem was no exception. Jacoby Ellsbury, a young Red Sox phenomenon in his own right, made a spectacular diving catch in the 4th inning that preserved the string of hitless Royals batters.

What a thrill it is to cheer for a team that seems to do everything – on and off the field – better than the other teams in major league baseball. They hit better, pitch better, run better – and love better!

Red Sox Nation. You gotta love it!

Al

Review of “Chasing Ghosts” by Paul Rieckhoff

I read “Chasing Ghosts” because my friend, Nate Fick, suggested that it would be helpful in understanding some of what our soldiers have faced in Iraq. Nate is himself the author of a highly acclaimed account of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, “One Bullet Away.” Fick has this to say about “Chasing Ghosts”:

“Paul Rieckhoff is a citizen in the classical sense. He went to war when his nation called, but his service didn’t end when he came home. Paul poured his hard-won wisdom into changing the public dialogue about Iraq . . . and it’s working. He’s a patriot, a warrior, an organizer, and a leader. Paul’s an inspiration, and you cannot put this book down without realizing that guy us like him are changing Iraq, and America too.”

Rieckhoff served as a Lieutenant and Infantry platoon leader with the National Guard in Iraq, overseeing a team of 38 men. After spending a year in one of the toughest areas of Baghdad, he returned to the U.S. committed to sharing with the American public his criticisms of the policies that led to the war and its execution. “Chasing Ghosts” is one of the first books written by a soldier who served in Iraq that openly criticized the Commander in Chief.

When the author returned from Iraq, he banded together with other veterans who were disconcerted with the effects of the policies that they had come to believe were ill-conceived. He founded an organization that he called Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA). He made numerous attempts to influence the discourse about the war among the presidential candidates during the 2004 election, and ended up quite frustrated with the lack of responsiveness on the parts of John Kerry and John McCain, in particular.

Rieckhoff’s disillusion with the President and with the political process is expressed clearly late in the book in a chapter entitled “The Sensible War Movement”:

“The generation of politicians currently in power failed America’s veterans – and the American people – in 2004. They refused to hear us, and treated us as outsiders. They continue to do so.

But we won’t be outsiders much longer. Iraq is the mot important issue facing this nation. The Iraq war has been riddled with serious problems. The war on terrorism is creating more terrorists every day. The America I fought for is not safer now than before . . .

America will start to draw troop numbers down in Iraq in the next three years. It won’t be because the political situation stabilizes in Iraq. And it won’t be because domestic political pressure increases on President Bush (although it will). It will be because the bottom will start to drop out of America’s military. Give the current size of the military and the extent of this country’s global military commitments, the present operational tempo is unsustainable. It’s simple supply and demand. We must either increase the supply of military personnel, or decrease the demand for them. The president can’t have it both ways.

And yet nobody has come up with a viable alternative. The Democrats scream about Bringing Troops Home Now, and the Republicans strike back, calling the Dems unpatriotic and weak. They’re both wrong. Staying the course has reached the point of diminishing returns, and bring ‘em home now is not only na├»ve – it’s also possibly the cruelest and easiest way to screw up Iraq more than we already have. Although the rationale for war was flawed, and George Bush was not fucking right, America is stuck in Iraq without an easy exit. Americans need to realize that there are no easy solutions. There are no silver bullets. It we stay it will be bad; if we leave it will be bad.” (Pages 307-8)

That is about as clearly as I have heard the dilemma stated. As our two major political parties wrap up the process of nominating McCain and Obama and gear up for the general election, it would behoove the American people to demand straight talk on Iraq – and not be willing to settle for simplistic solutions and sound bites. And while they are at it, our two presidential candidates owe it to those who have fought – and to their families - to articulate a clear platform on how our veterans will be treated as they seek to re-enter the mainstream of the society they traveled around the world to protect.

Al

Monday, May 19, 2008

Book Review: “Babylon by Bus” by Ray Lemoine and Jeff Neumann

If you have visited Fenway Park in the past decade, then you are well aware of the colorful T-shirts that are hawked outside the Park. The “YANKEES SUCK” T-shirts are part of the soft underbelly of the culture of Red Sox Nation. I find the phrase and Red Sox fans’ continued use of the phrase to be sophomoric, at best. But, it is what it is, and it is part of the Fenway experience.

The two young ne’er-do-wells who conceived of the T-shirt franchise are Ray Lemoine and Jeff Newman. They made a lot of money selling those souvenirs of the Red Sox–Yankees rivalry, and decided to travel the world. If you are a rich, young Red Sox fan, what constitutes the ultimate “Road Trip”? Their peregrinations led them eventually to Iraq in 2004, in the early days of the U.S. occupation of Baghdad. They found work volunteering for a non-government agency that was set up to serve as a liaison between the Coalition Provision Authority (CPA) and the Iraqi people. From their unique perspective, they observed and wrote about the initial stages of the U.S. efforts to bring order out of the chaos of the post-Saddam era. In collaboration with Donovan Webster, they assembled their thoughts into the book, Babylon by Bus.” Their account provides an interesting counterpoint to the memoirs I have read and recounted in the pages of The White Rhino Report.

These hard-drinking sons of the counter culture offer their unique perspective on what they observed on the ground in Baghdad. A quotation on the book’s dust jacket sums up very well the zeitgeist of this book:

“If Iraq is a Shakespearean tragedy, Babylon by Bus’ is its Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, without the funny ending.”

Their route to Iraq took them through Israel and included dangerous encounters with Israeli security officials as they attempted to visit Nablus in the Palestinian West Bank. Their brief sojourn in Israel was memorable and prompted an observation that I found intriguing:

“This experience was about as far away as a person could get from the Israel Jeff had experienced with his grandmother and her church tour group. His three days with them in Jerusalem and over to Qum’Ran and Ein Gedi hid many truths about this place and its always rolling conflict. In the American Church Tour Version of Israel, a strange fusion of evangelical Christianity and Zionism, all Arabs are reduced to being street peddlers, friendly waiters, and the smiling face of Holy Land souvenir shops.” (Page 21)

Ray and Jeff eventually made their way via Amman, Jordan to Baghdad, where they were offered lodging and an opportunity to volunteer for a fledgling NGO called the Iraqi Assistance Center (IAC). For these “Kings of New Englandliving in Baghdad’s Green Zone, Red Sox sensibilities would often obtrude themselves upon the dusty landscape of daily living:

“The Green Zone was a constant reminder of 9/11, right down to the offices and desks of soldiers and civilians. Among them, ‘Wanted Dead or Alive: Bin Laden’ posters were the most popular. Jeff hung up a picture of Sox slugger Manny Ramirez to lighten the mood.” (Page 68)

A case of Manny being Mahdi!

The book is a loosely woven fabric that highlights massive confusion and bureaucratic gridlock interspersed with inspiring vignettes of individual courage, humanity and good will. Ray and Jeff at one point were responsible for overseeing the distribution of a warehouse full of items intended to help the Iraqi people to improve their quality of life. Their stories of adventure and quixotic misadventure in trying to find the right allies in setting up this distribution network are among the most entertaining and the most disturbing in the book. Their non-profit endeavors led them to the boiling cauldron that is Fallujah.

I will share their commentary on their experience of Fallujah as a way of summarizing their overall thesis for this book:

“In 1920, Fallujah had provided the spark in Iraq’s nationwide uprising against the British, with the initial fighting costing five hundred British lives and six thousand Iraqi ones, prompting Arabist T.E. Lawrence to later write:

‘The people of England have been led in Mesopotamia into a trap . . . it will be hard to escape with dignity and honor. Things have been far worse than we have been told, our administration more bloody and inefficient than the public knows. It is a disgrace to our imperial record and may soon be too inflamed for any ordinary cure. We are today not far from a disaster. Our unfortunate troops . . . under hard conditions of climate and supply are policing an immense area, paying dearly every day in lives for the willfully wrong policy of the civil administration in Baghdad.’

Did America’s leaders think she was exempt from history?” (Page 137)

If Lemoine and Neumann were to design a T-shirt that would succinctly offer their commentary of the mismanagement of resources they observed in Baghdad during the inchoate stage of the occupation of Baghdad, the T-shirt might read:

“YANKEE IMPERIALISM SUCKS”

We might not agree with their assessments, but through their sweat and months of volunteer activities on the ground in Baghdad, Lemoine and Neumann have earned the right to offer their experiences and observations.

Al

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Encouraging a New Novelist - "The Donor" by Don Perry

As a writer who is working on a number of fiction projects myself, I like to encourage other writers whenever possible. So, when I learned that Don Perry - a friend of a friend - had published his first novel, I was happy to read the book and make readers of The White Rhino Report aware of it, as well.

Perry's story is based on a fascinating premise that in receiving a transplanted heart, young Brett Allen was also received the accumulated memories and emotions of the organ donor, who had met with an untimely death during an apparent robbery of a convenience store. The narrative weaves its way through the worlds of scientific research, forensic investigation and conspiracy.

I would be remiss if I did not point out that author Perry is guilt of a few "rookie mistakes" in this, his first novel. "The Donor" could use some tighter editing and the dialogue is sometimes a bit stilted. But Perry is to be commended for offering some intriguing ideas and plot twists.

Keep writing, Don.

The book is available through Amazon.com.

Al

To NDA or not to NDA: The Relevance of Non Disclosure Agreements – by Acceleration Partners

My friends, Bob Glazer and Jason Henrichs, operate Acceleration Partners, a consulting practice that helps start-up companies with business plans, strategy, marketing and operational issues. Their recent Quarterly Newsletter contained an article that really resonated with me. With permission from Bob and Jason, I am pleased to share it with the readers of the White Rhino Report. The gist of the article is completely consistent with advice I have heard offered on many occasions by my friend, Bill Reagan. Bill is the inventor and Founding CEO of LoJack. He is generous in giving of his time and sharing his wisdom and experience with young inventors and entrepreneurs. That advice often echoes the ideas expressed by Bob and Jason.

Here is an excerpt from the newsletter article:

“As a prominent venture capitalist once said at a conference I attended ‘We don’t consider ideas proprietary, we consider execution proprietary.’ Make sure that you focus your business on the ‘how we do’ as much as the ‘what we do’.”

This sentiment is very similar to one that the author, John Irving, expressed to me in discussing fledgling novelists and their attempts to get publishers interested in their work by sending an outline of the proposed novel. Irving said: “A publisher does not want to hear about how you are going to tell the story; he wants to read the story itself.” It is always about execution!

I encourage you to read the full article and the rest of the Acceleration Partners newsletter:

Acceleration Partners Newsletter

Enjoy!


If you operate a young company and could use help in accelerating the company's growth, I know of no one better to help with that process that my friends at Acceleration Partners.

Al

Building Impact - Finding ways to give where you work and live

My friend, Lisa Guyon, is the Founder and Executive Director of Building Impact, an innovative Boston-based non-profit organization that does a great job matching volunteers with meaningful volunteer opportunities. Sacha Pfeiffer of the Boston Globe wrote a recent article about the “impact” that this five year old organization is having – on the buildings it serves, the tenants and residents of those buildings who serve as volunteers and on the other non-profits that benefit from the thousands of man/woman hours that Building Impact volunteers donate each year.

Boston Globe article

If you live or work in a building that is not yet connected to the Building Impact network, I encourage you to reach out to Lisa and her team to explore becoming involved.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Harlan Coben Podcast

Penguin Books, the publisher of Harlan Coben's latest novel, "Hold Tight," made me aware this morning of a recent Podcast featuring the author:

We have a Harlan Coben podcast featured this week on the Penguin USA (his publisher’s) site. He talks about Hold Tight, one of his most popular characters, Myron Bolitar, and his major influences.

You can listen to it here: http://us.penguingroup.com/static/html/podcast/index.html. As a fan, I think you’ll enjoy it.


I just listened to the podcast, and found that it provided me with a nice additional set of insights into the book, the author and the creative process.

Enjoy!

Al

The Making of a West Point Officer – Through the Eyes of a Proud Parent


Over the past few years, my life has been enriched as I have met many men and woman who have been cadets at West Point and then have become distinguished graduates that now populate the fabled “Long Gray Line.” It has only been in a handful of cases that I have also had the chance to come to know the families that spawned these outstanding young leaders. These families serve as the incubators and crucibles in which the formative character traits and leadership skills are forged long before their daughter or son steps foot on campus on R-Day.


In the past few months, I have come to know and to admire Cadet Rajiv Srinivasan, United States Military Class of 2008, and his parents. Born in India, they now make their home a few blocks from my office in Cambridge. I asked Rajiv’s mother, Mrs. Gita Srinivasan, if she would be willing to share with the readers of The White Rhino Report her thoughts on the process of watching her son choose to become an officer in the U.S. Army by pursuing a degree at West Point. I am proud to share with you her observations.

The making of a West Point Officer

By

Gita Srinivasan

It is that time of the year again. Across the country more than 1.5 million families are making plans to head towards their graduates’ schools. Grand and glorious ceremonies await them as the graduates look to begin the next phase of their lives. Many will continue their journey towards a medical or legal profession; still others will enrich the sciences, while some will begin to move and shake the world of commerce. Such opportunities are often taken for granted in this great country of ours. Privileged are those who have sworn to keep it so; our son, Rajiv, is one of them. Yes, we are the proud family members heading to The United States Military Academy at West Point to see our son receive his commission as an officer in the U.S. Army. Each of these graduates has undergone many new experiences and developmental efforts which will shape their attitude, career path & other life choices. This essay is an attempt, from a parent’s point of view, to highlight some of the incredible opportunities that West Point has afforded Rajiv. We have stood by, proudly observing the transition from “Strong” to “Army Strong”

Rajiv was always a self-motivated, academically gifted student who started analyzing college choices early on. West Point was not on his list of potential college choices until his junior year. He had met a recruiter at a National Security summer camp and decided to add it to his list of colleges to visit. We initially had some concerns on hearing this news. We had, of course, heard about West Point, but had no real knowledge of what it was all about; we did not know anyone who had attended. We did not even know anyone serving in the US military, but had heard about the physical rigors of army training and did not think that our son could withstand it. Moreover, Rajiv, per our Hindu religion, was raised as a vegetarian & we were apprehensive on how that would affect the path he had chosen. One visit to West Point, however, alleviated our concerns to a large extent.

We will never forget R-day four years ago, shaking hands with Lt. Gen Lennox, the Superintendent of the Academy. More than a 1000 families from across the country lined up to enter the Eisenhower auditorium. As the batches settled down, we were told to give one last hug to our "cadet" as we would not see him or hear from him for the next several weeks as he went through Cadet Basic Training, commonly referred to as "Beast". An officer gave us a glimpse of what the training entails, while another briefed us on the proper protocol to write to him. Six weeks later on August 15th, we were back at West Point to see a more grown up looking Rajiv officially join the "Long Gray Line" as a Plebe.

Our very own Parents Club of Massachusetts assigned us a mentor who guided us through all the ceremonies and traditions of West Point. There is a bond that is forged amongst the West Point family that is very heartening & comforting. Since we live a relatively short distance away, we always enjoy hosting cadets from around the country & the world. There is something really special about West Point cadets. We, as hosts, enjoy their company as much as they enjoy a break away from the Academy. It is hard to define the appeal - maybe it is their maturity, experiences, and the way they take care of one another.

We were fortunate to be able to visit West Point on numerous occasions such as Parent weekend, 500th day, Ring Ceremony, etc., and to observe the inner workings of West Point. We have met administrators, professors, and friends and were awed at the encouragement & opportunities that are provided to cadets. During one of the functions, they had an open house of all departments. This gave parents & students an opportunity to learn about various career choices in the army. We got to meet our son’s professors and sit with him in some of the classes. It is easy to see why, with experienced professors interacting closely with cadets, the academics here rival some of the ivy leagues.

Rajiv has been able to take up some real world opportunities to further his experience. He has visited the Tunisian Military Academy, served as a Signal Corps Platoon Leader stationed in Korea, and researched the refugee crisis in Jordan. West Point invites celebrities from all walks of life to visit the academy. Our photo albums have been enriched with Rajiv posing with such dignitaries as Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, Senator Lugar (IN), Chief of Staff of the Indian Army, & Jon Stewart.

Once Rajiv decided to major in Arabic, he was fortunate enough to have an immersion experience in the Arabic culture with a semester long study abroad program in Cairo. We visited him there & were able to see his progress in Arabic firsthand as he negotiated rates with taxi drivers & camel owners who took us to the pyramids.

The emphasis on physical fitness has enabled Rajiv to try out various outdoor activities that he never enjoyed as a child. He has participated in 3 marathons & a triathlon, tried his hand at skydiving, scuba dived in the Red Sea & Cozumel, backpacked through the Sahara desert, spent a week in Costa Rica surfing & will be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro after graduation.

West Point truly prepares Rajiv & other cadets to be great leaders. They have provided the foundations upon which productivity and success are built: discipline, integrity, determination, and creativity.

We are looking forward to the day, 3 weeks from now to see him graduate & be commissioned in the armor branch as a 2nd Lieutenant. Thus Rajiv transitions from being inspired by the family to being the inspiration for this family.

Cadet Rajiv Srinivasan will graduate and will be commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army on May 31. Please keep him and his classmates in your prayers as they prepare to join the line of those defending our freedoms.

Gita, thank you for sharing with us your thoughts. And thanks to you and your husband for raising a fine son who will serve as one of our military leaders.

Al

A Touch of Class – A Moment of Sportsmanship to Remember

My friend, Tom Glass, is the source of many inspirational pieces that he passes along to his vast network of contacts. A video clip that he made us aware of yesterday made my heart soar, and I knew I would need to share it with the readers of The White Rhino Report.

You may have heard the story of the softball player from Western Oregon State University who hit her only career homerun in the last at bat of her career. It was an unusual trip around the base paths, to say the least.

Enjoy this heart-warming tale of uncommon class and sportsmanship.

http://sports.espn.go.com/broadband/video/videopage?videoId=3380875

Al

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Mini-Review: “Hold Tight” by Harlan Coben

Anyone who has been reading The White Rhino Report for any length of time is aware that I am a great admirer of Harlan Coben’s writing. I am slowly making my way through all of his novels. His latest offering, “Hold Tight,” showcases what I consider to be his greatest strengths. He raises the detective novel to a higher level than most of his peers by weaving in a soft and human side to his characters, while at the same time commenting on contemporary social issues. In the case of “Hold Tight,” the action revolves around parents choosing to use electronic tools to spy on their teenage son. The results of that choice fill over 300 pages of fast-paced narrative.

I also love Coben’s wit and ear for sardonic dialogue and narrator’s commentary. I have to share this delicious example:

“Anthony checked his watch. Two more minutes for his break. Man, he wanted to light up. This job didn’t pay as well as his night gig, but it was total cake. He didn’t believe much in superstitious nonsense, but the moon definitely had an effect. Nights were for fighting, and if the moon was full, he knew that he’s have his hands full. Guys were more mellow at lunchtime. They sat quietly and watched and ate the most wretched ‘buffet’ known to mankind, stuff Michael Vick wouldn’t let a dog eat.” (Page 281)

Fans of Coban will love this book. Those who have not yet been introduced to him will have a new favorite author.

Enjoy!

Al

A Ring of Truth – Telling a Tale on Myself


Tonight’s starting pitcher for the Red Sox at Comerica Park in Detroit will be rookie Clay Buchholz. You may recall that last September, as a late season expanded roster call-up from Pawtucket, he pitched a no-hitter in his second major league start.

Last weekend I was at Boston’s Copley Place Mall, and noticed Clay looking in the window of one of the stores. I went up to him and we had a pleasant conversation. We know some people in common, and we talked about them for awhile. I noticed that a friend of mine, who runs a kiosk in the Mall, was waiting on a customer just a few feet away from where Clay and I were holding our conversation. Knowing that my friend is a huge sports fan, I decided to have some fun. Clay was wearing his impressive World Series Ring.

“Clay, would you mind if I borrowed your ring for a minute?”

He was gracious, and went along with the scheme. I walked over to my friend, waved the ring in front of his face and said: “Look what they are giving out at Starbucks today!”

His jaw dropped as he gaped at the enormous bauble. Then he noticed Clay Buchholz standing behind me with a grin on his face. And then he understood the ruse. So it was time to return the valuable ring to Clay. It had not occurred to me when I asked to wear the ring that Clay is tall and thin and has the long and slender fingers of a piano player. I am anything but tall and then, and boast short and stubby fingers with knuckles that show the effects of several decades of gratuitous knuckle-cracking. In a word, the ring was stuck on my finger. I could not get it to slide over the knuckle of my ring finger! For a brief moment, I was not sure what to do. But after a few seconds of twisting and turning and straining and grunting, I managed to free the ring from its digital dungeon and return it to its rightful owner.

So, when young Mr. Buchholz toes the rubber tonight in Detroit, I will be thinking about my little faux pas and his graciousness in going along with my craziness.

Go Sox!

Al

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Mini-Review: "All That Road GOING" by A.G. Mojtabal

This is the first book I have read by Grace Majtabal. It will not be the last. Using the prosaic setting of a cross-country bus trip aboard a Greyhound, she populated her novel with a cast of unforgettable ordinary people. Having trekked across the U.S. by Greyhound myself, I recognized these characters – both as archetypes and as real individuals. Jim Collins, in his classic study of outstanding businesses, arrived at the conclusion: “The most important thing in building a great company is to put the right people on the bus.” The same can be said for building a great novel. And the author has done just that; she has put the right people on her mythical bus.

The simple road story is told through a chorus of voices – passengers and driver being given turns at narrating legs of the journey from their own unique vantage points. This conceit gives the narrative a bit of a “Rashomon” feel to it, and adds to the book’s impact. In the course of offering an “on the road” tale, the author implicitly comments upon a variety of social issues: hospice care, fragile marriages, the plight of the homeless, aging in America, class differences, police brutality, teen pregnancy, religious hypocrisy, clinical depression and the daily existence of those who live lives of quiet desperation.

Here is an excerpt from late in the book that serves as a good example of Mojtabai’s writing style, and as a glimpse at the nature of the ad hoc community thrown together by the accident of sharing the same destination:

“There must have been some announcement over the loudspeaker, the voice too fuzzed with static for him to follow. At the far corner of his vision, Pierson spotted his seatmate heading unsteadily toward him, gesturing. In no time, the man was in his face, and the first thing he said to Pierson was, ‘Would you please help me up the steps?’

‘Steps?’ Pierson echoed. The man was waiting, his arm already held out to him.

‘I’ll need a helping hand,’ he said.

Pierson reddened. Why me? His arm stiffened in protest. But it was useless – before he knew it, the blind man’s arm was linked through his, they were latched, pressed together, Another book . . .

Pierson could feel it, through their tensed arms, how the man was quaking.

The three steps, which had worried Pierson’s seatmate, turned out to be four. Someone had fetched a portable step – it looked like a crate turned upside down – to ease the first giant step up. Nobody had thought of such a thing before this; it was kind of late in the game by now, and besides, a couple of passengers, not expecting or noticing the extra step, had almost landed on their faces. It was more of a nuisance than anything. Trying to sweeten up the customers, Pierson figured, the company hoping to stave off any complaints or lawsuits that might be coming their way.

This booster step was no help at all to Pierson’s seatmate; he’s been counting on three steps and balked, mistrustful, refusing to budge after the third. The stairs were too narrow for more than a single person at a time to manage without a squeeze, so Pierson, standing on the step below, extricated his arm, handing the blind man on for the passenger at the head of the stairs to deal with this compounded the confusion.

They resettled in silence. An awkward, almost suffocating silence. ‘It’s been too much,’ Pierson started, his voice breaking in of its own accord but barely above a whisper.

His seatmate gave no sign that he had heard.

‘My wife, see . . . ran out . . . ‘

‘That old story,’ the blind man was quick to reply. He was busy fumbling for the lever under the armrest. Sighing, he inclined his seat as far back as it would go.

‘No,’ said Pierson. ‘No, it’s not what you think. I mean . . .’ He couldn’t say what he meant.

‘Not now,’ his seatmate said gently, shutting his eyes. ‘It’s much too late.’” (Pages 185-6)

One brief, final excerpt summarizes for me the book and the plight of its characters/passengers/fellow travelers, told through the voice of the long-suffering bus driver:

“ . . . The miles ticked by. Same thoughts going round – just another day at the office, a little more eventful, more stressful than average, just another trip down the pike – trying to convince myself that a time would come when this trip would merge with all the others, though I knew it never would. I’d be shuffling those cards, hoping to deal them out different, for a long time to come. As the weeks wore on, sure, I’d obsess over it less. Distraction is guaranteed in my line of work, I could count on some fading. For the drift is ceaseless, unresting – and senseless (as it struck me that hour) since nothing is ever settled, nothing changed., But, east to west and west to east, I ferry them – people leaving home or going back, fleeing the home that never was, seeking the home that never would be, setting out to find or lose themselves, they’d arrive, depart, be quit of. . . Another boarding call and they’d leave, return, set forth again, dreaming out, something always beckoning up the road, around the bend, elsewhere. Always elsewhere. (Pages 194-5)

The title of the book comes from a line in Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road.” This particular road trip evoked memories of a Greyhound bus trek I made in the summer of 1973. The author’s eye for detail helped me to recall the menagerie of passengers who populated the AmeriCruiser so many years and so many miles ago. She brought back to the front burner of my memory the sights, sounds, smells and stops along the way of that long ago odyssey – and all the journeys that I have undertaken since. That is an indication of good writing. She is a novelist worthy of attention.

Al

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Link to the WGBH-TV "Greater Boston" Show on Veterans Pursuing MBA's

A number of people have asked how they might be able to access a click from the "Greater Boston" show segment I taped on Tuesday with my friends, Dr. Scott Snook and Tim Joyce of Harvard Business School. Here is the link:

Greater Boston Segment

Click on "Veterans Pursuing MBA's"

Al

Alert to Those Looking to Enter the Greater Boston Housing Market - a Dream Home in Lexington
















I often have conversations with young professionals who decry the prohibitive costs of entering the housing market in the Greater Boston area. There is often great sticker shock when they move here for graduate school or as a career move.

I have a close friend who has lovingly restored a vintage home in Lexington, and is now ready to sell that home. I asked his permission to give readers of The White Rhino Report an opportunity to learn about this unique treasure without having to go through the hassles of a traditional real estate brokerage process. Here is Les Hubbard’s description of the home and the work that has been done to it. He is an artistic craftsman and a perfectionist, so this home is a one-of-a-kind jewel.

Are This Old House and HGTV on your list if must watch programs? Wish you could find one of those houses for your very own? Well, here’s your opportunity to own one of those great New England Cape Cod style homes, loaded with charm and character, at a very affordable price.

Located in picturesque Lexington MA, just a short march from the historic Battle Green and Lexington Town Center, this renovated cape is just what you’ve been waiting for. Renewed and updated throughout with modern features, this house retains its warmth and coziness, but with room to spare. Priced at $524,000 this is one of the best values in the greater Boston metro area.

Did I mention the designer for this house has appeared on HGTV, and in This Old House plus dozens of other period home publications? Take a look and then contact me for details or to schedule a showing.

BrownstoneProperties

Leslie Hubbard

603-801-5640

lhubbard@brstn.com

So, if you are aware of anyone looking to get into the Boston housing market from outside the area, or someone who would love access to the superior public school system in Lexington, please forward this information and put them in touch with Les.

A Primer on Setting Up an RSS Reader for Blogs - by Mark Sohmer

My friend, Mark Sohmer, is a regular reader (and commentor) of The White Rhino Report. When he informed me that he learns instantly when I have posted something new, I asked him if he would be willing to share with other readers how he set that up. I am aware that many readers are already using RSS, but others are still learning about how this system works. I offer Mark's clear and concise step-by-step guide:

Dear White Rhino Report readers,

Al asked me to explain how I read my favorite blogs, as this might
interest and benefit you.

It used to be that I had a handful of blogs that I liked to read, so every
once in a while, when I thought of it, I would use my web browser to go to
the page and see if there was anything new. As blogs became more popular
and there were more and more of them I was interested in, this became a
time-consuming process. Also, I found that I wouldn't often visit sites
that weren't updated frequently, and then I'd miss it when they were
updated.

A newsreader application is perfect for this!

Most blogs today are RSS or ATOM compliant. RSS and ATOM are two data
formats that do the same thing: they allow a blog to be read by a
newsreader.

Some web browsers, like Mozilla Firefox, can read or "subscribe" to
RSS/ATOM feeds directly, but Firefox's abilities are not very advanced.
Sure, it can show you the latest posts from your "subscribed" blogs, but
it doesn't remember which posts you've already read, or alert you when
there are new posts.

So I've been running "FeedDemon" by "NewsGator Technologies, Inc" and have been very satisfied.

You can download yourself at:
http://www.newsgator.com/Individuals/FeedDemon/Default.aspx

This is a free program that allows you to input the blogs you care about,
and it keeps track of the posts you've read and those ones you haven't.
The new posts are bolded for you, and it even tells you how many new posts
there are. If you keep it running (even minimized), it'll prompt you when
new posts are available at your favorite sites. Additionally, if a blog is
password-protected, it will remember the password for you so you don't
have to type it in. And if you sign up for a free newsgator account, then
you can keep your FeedDemon applications synchronized on multiple
computers. Very handy for those who use this application at home and at
the office.

If you monitor even a handful of blogs, then I think you'll find this tool
extremely handy.

I found this program by doing a google search for "free rss reader." I'm
not connected to the company in any way, nor do I profit from its success.
I pass it on merely as a help to White Rhino Report readers. There are
many more newsreader applications out there. If you find another one that
you like better, by all means use that one. So far I've been very happy
with FeedDemon.

Just remember the most important thing: regardless of which newsreader
program you end up using, make sure you subscribe to:

http://whiterhinoreport.blogspot.com/.

I hope this is helpful!

Mark Sohmer

___

Thank you, Mark!

Al