Monday, August 18, 2008

Home Sweet Home - Cambridge Innovation Center

Since December, 2006, Cambridge Innovation Center has served as home base for White Rhino Partners. Housed in an MIT-owned building at 1 Broadway in Kendall Square, CIC is a hot bed of entrepreneurial activity and an incubator to many start-ups - from high tech to professional services.

A week ago, the Boston Globe ran a feature story in the Business/Technology section of the Sunday Globe. I am pleased to share with you the very well done and comprehensive article written by the Globe's Robert Weisman:

"If Kendall Square is ever going to be a true capital of high-tech innovation, it needs to produce its own superstar - a local Google or YouTube or Wikipedia. And if that's going to happen, it will most likely be born inside this drab-looking place that may just be the brainiest address in town."

Globe article on CIC

It certainly feels good to call home "the brainiest address in town," but I fear I may be dragging down the curve! This is not only a great building for housing a rich variety of start-ups; it is a vibrant community. Tim Rowe and his team have implemented and executed a brilliant vision for the workspace of the future. I am thrilled to be able to utilize it in the present as my base of operations. If you are ever in the Boston area, come by for a visit. Better yet, if you have an idea for a start-up venture, consider joining us along the banks of the Charles River!


Lessons from Mt. Kilimanjaro - 2LT Samir Patel

When I learned that my friend, newly-commissioned 2LT Samir Patel, would be climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro shortly after his graduation from West Point, I asked him if he would be willing to share some his experiences with the readers of The White Rhino Report. Despite his many responsibilities during officer training at Ft. Knox, he has been kind enough to share his thoughts on some of the lessons learned on his recent trek in East Africa.

In June 2008, my dad, my friend Rajiv and I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania (elev. 19,380 ft). We reached the top after seven days of walking nearly 30 miles. By time we got back down, we had trekked 45 miles. I hope these “lessons” from the mountain give you insight into what we experienced and how you too, can also summit the world’s tallest free standing mountain.

3 Lessons from Kilimanjaro

Lesson #1 - Your equipment matters; invest in quality and understand its capabilities

Granted, climbing Kilimanjaro did not require technical climbing (climbing with ropes, carabiners, or ice picks); it still meant that one had to buy the right kind of equipment such as water bottles, a warm sleeping bag, and a good pair of hiking shoes. Among the three of us, we had about nine Nalgene bottles. The seemingly unbreakable water bottles come in a liter size version that helps keep track of how much water you are drinking. Dehydrating is a serious problem to avoid on the mountain, but so is over-hydrating. Although the physical activity required for climbing—walking up hill for nearly 30 miles—seems immense, the pace you walk at is not as taxing as you might suspect.

When I went on a West Point assignment to India last march to observe the Indian military, I had the opportunity to visit one of their official outfitters. I assumed that any sleeping bag the Indian Special Forces used in operations in Kashmir and the Himalayas would be more than suitable for Kilimanjaro. Once again, I found out the hard way what happens when you ASSUME. Nearly each morning I woke up extremely cold from the lack of heat in my sleeping bag. After I warmed myself up, I then got to hear how my dad had to actually remove his REI sleeping back during the night because his was getting too hot inside. My sleeping bag had no rating tag on it; this tag tells you the coldest temperature in which the sleeping bag will keep you warm. My dad’s was -35 F. Mine was most likely good up to only 10 F.

Other than making sure one can breathe, foot care is the probably the most important aspect of trekking. The trails on Kilimanjaro are quite nice since thousands of people have been treading on them for nearly a century. However, the trail isn’t the problem. The situation inside your shoes is the main concern. If your feet are to survive the nearly 45 mile trek up and down Kili, they must be prepared to 1) protect against the constant rubbing between the interior of your shoe/sock and skin of the feet, 2) be kept dry, 3) be provided adequate protection from the occasionally rough spots of terrain and 4) remain warm. It is the friction between your shoe and feet that is the cause of blisters. That is why accurately sized hiking or trekking boots that match your feet’s dimensions is essential. However, keep in mind that on Kilimanjaro, you’ll be wearing thick socks to keep your feet warm from the -20 F temperatures so it is important that one take into account how a thick sock can affect your shoe size. As for keeping your feet dry, I actually wore two layers of socks. The first layer was a liner that is specially designed for wicking away moisture while the thicker layer, the wool sock, soaked up that moisture thus rendering my feet dry my entire time on the mountain.

Lesson #2 - Your age doesn’t matter

My dad, 55 and fairly prosperous in the stomach region, climbed the mountain on pretty much sheer will power. Although, he maintained a relatively active lifestyle by playing volleyball and hiking, little of his recreational activity prepared him for the environment on the mountain. One is constantly walking up hill with no end in sight and the oxygen gets thinner and thinner. However, from my dad I learned that the body can endure about pretty much anything; it is the mindset that needs training. There were certain moments on the trip that seemed like he was not going to make it. He often noted that his legs felt like they were lead weights and that his entire body seemed worn out. By the third day, as I took off his shoes and helped him take off some clothing, I knew that unless he got some serious rest, he may be forced to go back down. Yet never once, did I hear him entertain a word about turning back. Instead, he used his humor to lighten a seemingly grim situation by half seriously accusing himself of being “stupid for accepting” my persuasion to climb the mountain.

Lesson #3 - Keep Moving Forward

Twenty minutes into our ascent up the mountain, on the first day, I realized why I became an Armor officer—I do not enjoy walking. As I fought my boredom, the less than exciting memories of West Point foot marches fought back. I’m the type of person that finds recreational walking and running as something to be avoided. I get no joy from putting one foot in front of the other just so my heart beats a little faster. By the second hour, I realized all this and to make matters worse, I remembered our guide stating that we would walk around 45 miles by the time we completed the trek.

Lucky for me I had my dad and Rajiv to converse with as we kept moving. Experienced climbers of Kilimanjaro will tell you there are only two words you really need to climb the mountain—pole pole. Pole pole means “slowly slowly” and that’s exactly the pace at which we went—for all seven days it took to reach the summit. I have to admit that each day I internally agonized at the distance we had to walk and how long it would take. Physically, for me the climb wasn’t a problem, but my mental outlook was severely hampering my ability to enjoy the beautiful scenery around me. In fact, one will pass five different climate zones from jungle/rainforest to alpine desert to get to the top.

However, despite all this mental deliberation about how to proceed, I realized it is best to just proceed. “Keep moving forward” kept echoing in my mind as I recalled what my Royal Gurkha Regiment military science instructor kept telling me when dealing with friction associated to any decision. “Pole pole,” said my guide, “you’ll be surprised at how much distance you can go by putting one foot in front of the other.” At the end of the day, I learned that dreading about long distances is pointless—it doesn’t help you get any further. Besides, when you climb five climate zones there’s so much to occupy your senses that long distances are quickly forgotten.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Putting a Human Face to the Next Generation of Soldier

Two months ago, I published a piece written by the mother of a West Point cadet, Rajiv Srinivasan:

Proud Parent

In the intervening weeks, Rajiv has graduated from West Point, been commissioned as a Second Lieutenant, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, and is in the midst of officer training at Ft. Benning, Georgia. He was recently interviewed for the TV show, "Making It Happen" on a network geared to the interests of the Indian diaspora living in the U.S. Below is a link the the first of six taped segments:

Rajiv Interview

In a recent posting, I quoted from Dr. Elizabeth Samet's book, "Soldiers' Heart." Dr. Samet made the point that much of society is removed from the world of our military, and there needs to be a "rehumanizing" of soldiers in the minds of the average American. I commend to you these interviews that Lieutenant Srinivasan recently gave. I will be surprised if you do not end up tremendously encouraged and proud of the high caliber of leader and human being that our military continues to attract. The future looks bright if we are able to hand the reins of leadership to men and women like Rajiv who are stepping forward at a crucial time in our history. Please pray for them as they continue to serve.



Comment on Manny Piece

My friend, John Anthony Simmons, an attorney from North Hampton, New Hampshire, left the following comment on Manny's departure from the Red Sox:

"The last time we removed a malcontent cancer on the team was '04. Does anybody remember a guy named Nomar?... If you are not passionate about baseball, don't bother coming to Boston. And certainly don't dare to suit up in a Red Sox uniform if you're not going to give your all."

Friday, August 01, 2008

Review of “Soldier’s Heart” by Elizabeth D. Samet

I met Professor Elizabeth Samet a few months ago when she came to Boston to do a reading and book-signing of her new work: “Soldier’s Heart – Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point.” One of her students, now 2LT David Addams, told me that I would enjoy meeting her and reading her book. Lieutenant Addams was right on both counts. Dr. Samet is a bit of an enigma; she is a civilian professor with solid Ivy League credentials – Harvard and Yale – who has chosen to teach at a military academy. In this book, she blends together artfully the worlds of literature with the world of a warrior.

Professor Samet chronicles her process of acclimating herself to the unique West Point culture and ethos. She describes Dan, one of her colleagues in the Department of English: “Dan’s speech is a wonderfully improbable amalgamation of the scatological and the academic. He wrestles with philosophical theories as if they are calves to be roped or deer to be butchered.” (Pages 6-7)

Samet does a nice job of highlighting some of the ways in which West Point is unlike most institutions of higher learning, especially with regard to the relationship between the Academy and the parents of cadets:

“Organized parental visitations have always struck me as somewhat infantilizing. I remember my mother and father going to elementary school, even high school, open houses, but they never met any of my college professors, nor did they know the names of the courses they were paying for. Mine are not parents anyone would call uninterested, but there was a stage after which it became unseemly to manifest their interest on site. Yet my parents didn’t drop me off at Harvard Yard for freshman orientation with the fear that I might one day be returned to them in a flag-draped coffin. One of my former students, Joey, while serving with the Old Guard in Washington, D.C., routinely escorted such coffins from Dover Air Force Base, and he has told me it is the most difficult assignment he’s had, more brutal in its way than his tour in Iraq. The administration of the Academy recognizes the deep-seated need of the parents whose children it admits to see firsthand something of day-to-day operations. The opportunity to visit with an English professor for a few minutes and to get a report on their children’s progress is therefore something, if not always enough, for parents wrapped in apprehensions as tightly as they are in those black parkas. Some trepidation must always accompany pride for the families of soldiers, but the imaginings of those parents in October 2001 were far more desperate in view of the fact that the stakes of American soldiering had suddenly been raised.” (Page 10)

The author makes it clear early in the book that she wrestles with complex emotions around the issue of teaching cadets who will soon be sent to war:

“I imagine it would be difficult to know your students are going to war under any circumstances. As it happens, I remain unconvinced by any of the stated reasons given for the invasion of Iraq and dismayed by its civilian architects’ apparently cavalier lack of foresight, and because many of my former students, in whom I very much believe, participated in the invasion and continue to serve in the occupying force, it is an adventure that has provoked in me deep sorrow and anger. As I look back on the last few years, I realize how frustrated I’ve become about not only the prosecution of the war in Iraq but also the ways in which our own country, even as it celebrates the abstraction of the military’s sacrifice, has become disconnected in the absence of the draft from the individuals who fight.” (Pages 13-14)

In each of our nation’s prestigious service academies, there is always a healthy tension between seeing the institution as a liberal arts college preparing the whole person to deal with the vicissitudes of life and leadership and the tendency to view it as a “trade school” that teaches warriors the nuts and bolts of their trade. Dr. Samet addresses this tension:

“Champions of the liberal education cadets receive at West Point – and those champions include the general officers who lead the institution – are fond of the following quotation, sometimes attributed to Thucydides but in fact penned by the British general Sir William Francis Butler: ‘The nation that will insist upon drawing a broad line of demarcation between the fighting man and the thinking man is liable to find its fighting done by fools and its thinking by cowards.’” (Pages 75-76)

The English professor has an interesting perspective on how she views her teaching as providing another kind of weapon in the arsenal that her former students take with them into battle:

“From the Alien and Sedition laws of 1798 to the USA Patriot Act of 2001, American presidents have tended to meet crises with legislation designed to curtail and suspend rather than to enlarge freedoms, including intellectual freedom and freedom of expression. That’s why I relish the idea that ‘books are weapons.’ It is terminology sufficiently combative for someone teaching students who may very well find themselves at the violent margins of experience, and over the past several years I’ve come to understand the many ways in which books can serve as weapons: against boredom and loneliness, obviously; against fear and sorrow; but also against the more elusive evils of certitude and dogmatism.” (Page 88)

In one of the most poignant passages in the book, Dr. Samet shares what it is like to be a woman left behind waiting to hear about the fate of the fighting men – and women -she has come to care about:

“In the spring of 2002, I embarked on the Odyssey with the plebes. One of the things that surprised me about this group was their impatience with Odysseus, in particular their anger at his sojourn with Calypso, the beautiful nymph who effectively imprisoned him on an island for seven years, thus delaying his homecoming. This isn’t what good soldiers do, they insisted with a ferocity I couldn’t account for, and it wasn’t what good husbands do. To the extent the poem awakened their sympathies at all, they seemed to be drawn to the hapless Telemachus, searching for his father, and to Penelope. Odysseus’ wife wards off the greedy suitors feeding off Ithaca’s treasure in her hall, with the ruse of the tapestry. Promising to marry one of them once her weaving is done, she sits alone each night undoing the day’s work and thinking about her absent husband.

Given that we were newly at war, it is likely that the cadets would have preferred the exploits of Achilles and Hector to the meandering of the disillusioned Odysseus. They weren’t feeling disillusioned then, and their eyes were on the voyage out, not the coming home. If those plebes, some of whom are now no doubt in Iraq, ever think about the Odyssey today, perhaps its vision seems more explicable. Back then, they just wanted the poem to end. The war has also placed me in a new relation to Homer’s ambivalent Penelope, who sits at home waiting for news of soldiers who have gone to war. I can tell myself I’m not a mother – not a listener and a watcher left behind – I can weave that tapestry every morning, but at night it all unravels to reveal that the fates have conspired to cast me in the most ancient woman’s role of all.” (Pages 120-121)

In a wonderful coupling of literature with the emotional landscape of West Point, the author shares these thoughts:

“West Point is no prison, even if cadets like to call it one, yet in recent years, against the backdrop of NSA wiretapping and the Patriot Act, the feeling that we are all under constant surveillance has grown more intense, and not just at West Point. When, in the context of this course on London in 2004, the seniors encountered Foucault’s theories of disciplinary mechanisms in the Victorian city, they saw a parallel to their own lives. Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories and Charles Dickens’s Bleak House provided fictional accounts of watching and being watched that prompted them to reflect on their own status as disciplines bodies. One senior fond of reminding me that cadets are ‘national treasures’ also knew that valuable things tend to be kept under lock and key. When he read in Bleak House of poor Jo the crossing sweeper, who believes that the eyes and ears of the police are always upon him and that Inspector Bucket is ‘in all manner of places, all at wanst,’ the cadet announced, ‘That’s us, ma’am, they are always watching us.’ People who believe themselves under surveillance begin to understand life as a performance.” (Pages 132-133)

In a seminal passage near the end of this fine book, Dr. Samet highlights the skewed and distorted image that much of our society has of West Point, its cadets, and the military in general:

“What worries me far more than any cynicism I see on the part of cadets is a certain cynicism about cadets – the cynicism of Brad’s friend, for instance – on the part of those people who respond to the news that I teach English at West Point with an openmouthed stare of disbelief. My mother reports that on more than one occasion when the subject of what I do has come up in conversation, acquaintances have exclaimed: ‘You mean they read?’ She thinks that such responses stem primarily from ignorance about the nature of the Academy’s comprehensive undergraduate curriculum; she’s more generous than I am. ‘Oh, they can read? That’s a relief. What do they read?’ asked an incredulous clerk at a bookstore one day, holding my bag of purchases out of reach until I gave him a satisfactory answer. As the Army, in the wake of Vietnam, became more profoundly isolated from certain important sectors of the civilian society it serves, the impression grew in certain quarters that the military was, to borrow a phrase from Tim O’Brien, a ‘jungle of robots.’ In the context of today’s conflict, moreover, the transformation of robots into martyrs, heroes, and other symbols of sacrifice has done little if anything to rehumanize soldiers. It is precisely to their ability to wrestle with faith and doubt that cadets most effectively refute the accusation that they are nothing but automatons or victims.” (Page 178)

By telling her story of the role that she and her colleagues play in integrating the wisdom of literature with the machinery of warfare, Dr. Samet has taken a large step in the direction of helping her readers to rehumanize their conception of cadets and the soldiers that they are being trained to be. I am personally grateful for the role that she plays in helping cadets, like David Addams and his ilk, become a more fully realized human beings, so that they can become more effective leaders - in war and in peace.



Manny Had to Go - 'Nuf Ced!

In 1903, the Red Sox faced the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first ever World Series - a best of 9 games affair. Historians give a great deal of credit for the Boston victory to a raucous band of fans known as The Royal Rooters, a group of hard-drinking South Boston Irishmen. The Royal Rooters were led by "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald, later to be mayor of Boston, father of Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, and grandfather to JFK. The soul of the Rooters was a pugnacious tavern owner by the name of Mike McGreevey, known to all as "'Nuf Ced" McGreevey. He came by this unusual sobriquet because of the way that he ran his tavern, known as "Third Base." Park opened in 1912. It was also known as "Third Base" because, as The bar, located on Columbus Avenue in what is now Roxbury Crossing, was located near third base at the old Huntington Avenue Grounds, home to the Boston baseball team (not yet officially known as the Red Sox) until Fenway Park was built in 1912. McGreevey was wont to say: "It's the last place you stop before heading home!" Whenever a dispute would break out at the bar, McGreevey would let it go just so long before he would settle the matter once and for all by proclaiming in his Irish tenor voice: "'Nough said!"

Manny had to go - 'nuf said!

The beginning of the end of the Manny era in Boston came on June 29 when he threw to the ground Red Sox travelling secretary, Jack McCormick, in the visitors' clubhouse in Houston. In tossing McCormick, Manny in effective threw down the gauntlet, challenging anyone to rein in his puerile excesses and countless episodes of "Manny Being Manny" that had accreted over the years. The Red Sox leaders finally picked up that gauntlet and agreed to a duel to preserve the honor of the team. In tossing McCormick, Manny also tossed aside a legacy that he had spent 8 years building as part of the cadre of players who helped return Boston to its glory days as the hub of the baseball universe. What followed was an inexcusable parade of feigned injury, provocative statements, begging out of the line-up and whining that made the prospects of his continued presence in a Red Sox uniform untenable and unthinkable. The crowning blow came Wednesday night, when the Red Sox phoned in the most woeful performance in recent memory - a lackluster game in which they were hammered 9-2 by the Angels, during which they committed 4 errors. Following that embarrassing drubbing, Red Sox GM, Theo Epstein, polled some of the veteran players and learned from them that they felt that Manny had to go. If something were not done - and done fast - the clubhouse would implode under the weight of the tension and conflict. So, at the end of the day, it was his failure as a reliable team mate that sealed Manny's fate in Boston. Winning matters, but so does character. And the World Champion Red Sox were no longer willing to tolerate their reputation being tarnished by a petulant and egocentric man-child in pajama pants and dreadlocks.

Yes, we have dealt away a consensus first ballot Hall of Famer, and received - on paper - a lesser player in exchange. But we have banished a first ballot Hall of Shamer to the Left Coast, where his antics will be tolerated or ignored. And in pulling the trigger on a shotgun divorce, the Red Sox owners and executives have sent a strong message to the rest of the team that they will not tolerate a cancer that hinders their chances of repeating as World Series Champions.

Red Sox Nation is swooning this morning - some feeling that we paid too much to lance this festering boil.

I say Manny had to go. "Nuf Ced!"

Go Sox.

I expect a victory tonight at the Fens.