Monday, August 31, 2009

A Thoughtful Response to the Death of Senator Kennedy

Amidst all of the memorializing and remembering of the life of Senator Edward Moore Kennedy, I was gripped by the balanced approach taken in this article that appeared in "The Leaders Notebook":

Leaders Notebook Article

Like the moving eulogy given by Teddy, Jr. at the funeral mass on Saturday, this article does not skate past the sins of Kennedy's past, but celebrates the reclamation and redemption that came from his willingness to continue in public service in the face of the humiliation and shame that followed his very public failings.

For those of us who are fellow sinners, it is a story of hope and redemption that is very heartening and encouraging.

Happy Birthday to!

One year ago, John R. Campbell and his wife, Susan Bird, brought to life a dream that John had been harboring for a long while - bringing together several generations of veterans and those who want to support them into a virtual community. In August 2008, was born.

"MyVetwork is the online social networking community custom designed to be the most valuable and sustainable community of individuals in the US military - whether active duty, retired or veteran - and their spouses, families and friends. MyVetwork is provided at no cost to individual users.

MyVetwork's objectives for individual users are twofold:

1) To provide our US military and those who care about them with a means to interact with and support each other in ways that range from the lighthearted and entertaining to deep and meaningful connections that they wish to sustain.

2) To create an interactive exchange where a broad variety of experts - including veterans of earlier conflicts - provide timely news of particular interest to military personnel, distributed in sophisticated, graphically exciting format; job and career advice; information about educational opportunities, advice regarding health care, access to coaching and mentoring services, and a variety of other resources valuable to recently separated veterans demobilizing from the military, whether they are recuperating from injury, moving on to further their education, or planning careers in public or private sectors."

Whether you are a veteran, a family member of someone who is serving or has served, or someone who wants to voice your support for our veterans, I urge you to take a moment now and create a Profile on the Website:


John and Susan, I pray that you and your team will continue to serve faithfully and to grow the MyVetwork community.


Congratulations to Kalura Photography for Appearing on Romanian Television

Congratulations to my daughter-in-law, Raluca Chase, for being interviewed on Romanian television about her photography businesss, Kalura Photography.

Kalura Photography

While Ti and Raluca and their children live most of the year in Romania, they are available in New England for weddings and other special occasions - Raluca does the photography and Ti does the videography. They bring a special creative flair to their work (This is not just a proud father speaking!)


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Mini-Review: “Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling” by Ross King

As a young person, I began to learn about Michelangelo’s painting of the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel through watching the film, “The Agony and the Ecstasy.” Later, I read the Irving Stone novel that had been the basis for the Hollywood treatment of the story. In 1996, in a visit to Rome, I was able to behold the legendary ceiling with my own eyes.

When I learned that the writer and researcher, Ross King, had written a book about the painting of the ceiling, based on his assiduous and painstaking assessment of thousands of documents and interviews, I knew I had to read the book. I had already been delighted and informed by King when I read his account of the building of the Duomo in Florence, “Brunelleschi’s Dome.” This account of the struggle between Michelangelo and Pope Julius II also includes a cast of characters from rival artist Raphael to Martin Luther. Although carefully annotated to lead serious students to primary sources, the narrative is written in a very readable and enjoyable way. King debunks much of the Hollywood hype and the misconceptions that have surrounded the legend of the painting of the Sistine Chapel. The true story is no less intriguing than the myth that had been built up over the centuries, brush stroke by brush stroke.

I was struck by the juxtaposition of the personal styles of Michelangelo and Raphael, who worked and lived in close proximity to each other at the Vatican. Raphael was almost always surrounded by an entourage of young artists and assistants whom he was mentoring and teaching. Michelangelo, in contradistinction, used assistants only grudgingly and never took them under his wing as protégés. It seems to me that God often singles out the least likely vessels to contain and to serve as conduits for his most glorious treasures and works of genius. I think of Mozart, as well as Michelangelo, and am reminded of the word of the Apostle Paul: “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show us that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)

However flawed Michelangelo may have been in his humanity, his artistry and the works of his hands remain to inspire and to induce awe in those of us fortunate to behold them.

King’s treatment of the artist and his work in the Sistine Chapel frames beautifully the man and the magic of his work.



Mini-Review: “Strokes of Genius – Federer, Nadal, and the Greatest Match Ever Played” by L. Jon Wertheim

I am a passionate, albeit mediocre, recreational level tennis player. Self-taught in the sport, I lack any discernible style or classic strokes, but I have a strong appreciation for good tennis. So, as I watched the 2008 Wimbledon Men’s Finals with awe, I knew instantly that I was seeing history in the making. That preliminary verdict has been affirmed and verified in a wonderful new book about the event written by acclaimed Sports Illustrated writer, L. Jon Wertheim.

Werthein does a wonderful job of taking the reader through the unfolding events that occurred a year ago at Wimbledon. He adds spice and texture by weaving in back stories from the early lives and tennis careers of Federer and Nadal – the latest personal embodiments of the ages-old Athens vs. Sparta rivalry. On the surface, the grace vs. brute force analysis is a tempting one to endorse, but the styles of these two great players are not so easily distilled and deconstructed.

Here is how Wertheim sets the stage in contrasting their divergent styles and personas:

“Beyond the records, their rivalry was heightened by clashing styles. One could spend hours playing the compare-and-contrast game. Federer versus Nadal embodies righty versus lefty. Classic technique versus ultramodern. Feline light versus taurine heavy. Middle European restraint versus Iberian bravado and passion. Dignified power versus an unapologetic, whoomphing brutality. Zeus versus Hercules. Relentless genius versus unbending will. Polish versus grit. Metrosexuality versus hypermuscular hypermasculinity. A multitongued citizen of the world versus an unabashedly provincial homebody. A private-jet flier versus a steerage passenger. A Mercedes driver versus a Kia driver.” (Page 4)

This is a book that will delight even the most casual of tennis fans and everyone who has an appreciation for superlative levels of human achievement.



Thursday, August 27, 2009

Paying Tribute to a Fallen Patriarch: "For Thatha" by Rajiv Srinivasan

Just a few hours before I heard the news that the patriarch of the Kennedy clan, Ted Kennedy, had lost his battle with brain cancer, I had learned of the passing of the patriarch of the Srinivasan family in Chennai, India. Rajiv Srinivasan is serving as a platoon leader in Afghanistan, and will not be able to travel to India for the funeral of his grandfather - his "thatha." He has written a moving tribute to his "thatha" that includes some relevant reflections on what it means to be a Hindu serving in the U.S. military.

Here is what Rajiv has written in his Blog from Afghanistan:

For Thatha

My prayers and condolences are with Rajiv and his extended family.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Wedding of Two Venerable Institutions: West Point and Frances Hesselbein

I was thrilled to learn that Frances Hesselbein, Chairman and Founding President of the Leader to Leader Institute, has been named by the United States Military Academy at West Point as Chair for the Study of Leadership. Readers of The White Rhino Report are already familiar with Mrs. Hesselbein from the article that appeared last summer after my visit with her in New York City.

In the Presence of Greatness

I am personally thrilled by the appointment of Frances to this pivotal role. I have many friends among West Point's alumni, faculty, staff and cadets, and I know that they will all benefit from the unique perspective on leadership that she will bring to this role.

Please read the full announcement about this historic appointment below, jointly issued by the Leader to Leader Institute and the Untied States Military Academy.

Frances Hesselbein Welcomed to West Point
as the
Chair for the Study of Leadership

NEW YORK, August 25, 2009: The Leader to Leader Institute (founded as the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management in 1990) announced today that Frances Hesselbein, Leader to Leader Chairman and Founding President, has been appointed as the Class of 1951 Chair for the Study of Leadership at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. The Chair is in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership.

According to Mrs. Hesselbein, "West Point has my total commitment to making the greatest contribution in a unique and significant way to cadet development."

"I know of no American whose entire life more genuinely reflects the values of "Duty, Honor, Country," and though never a cadet or a general, Frances Hesselbein exudes the best qualities of both-excellence in leadership and a burning desire to serve others. We're honored that Frances has agreed to serve in this capacity-she's a true patriot, a brilliant leader, and a genius at developing people and organizations," said Lt. Gen. Franklin L. Hagenbeck, Superintendent, U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Bringing an element of diversity to the role, Mrs. Hesselbein is not only the first woman appointee; she is also the first non-graduate of West Point to hold the position of Chair for the Study of Leadership. Gen. Eric K. Shinseki (U.S. Army, Ret.) was appointed the first Chair for the Study of Leadership, followed by Duke University's Men's Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski.

"Frances' service at our Academy will raise awareness of the common values shared by those serving in the military and in the social sector," said Col. Thomas A. Kolditz, PhD, Professor and Head of the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership. "Mrs. Hesselbein is fond of saying that there are two institutions that sustain democracy-public education, and the US Army. We're excited to host her at West Point, where we do our best to merge those two grand institutions."

The West Point Class of 1951 established the Leadership Chair to advance the study and practice of leadership at the Academy through interaction with cadets and faculty. The execution of this responsibility, according to the Academy, is "limited only by our collective vision and creativity."

During Mrs. Hesselbein's tenure, she will focus on engaging cadets and faculty with leadership experts, establishing avenues of cadet and faculty development, and ultimately advancing the practice of leadership.
About the Leader to Leader Institute
The Leader to Leader Institute's mission is to strengthen the leadership of the social sector. Established in 1990 as the Peter F. Drucker Foundation for Nonprofit Management, the Institute furthers its mission by providing social sector leaders with the essential leadership wisdom, inspiration and resources to lead for mission, innovation and diversity and to build vibrant effective social sector organizations. For additional information visit

About West Point
West Point, The U.S. Military Academy, is a four-year co-educational federal undergraduate liberal arts college located 50 miles north of New York City. The world's preeminent leader development institution, it was founded in 1802 as America's first college of engineering. Its mission remains constant-to educate, train, and inspire the Corps of Cadets so that each graduate is a commissioned leader of character committed to the values of Duty, Honor, Country and prepared for a career of professional excellence and service to the Nation as an officer in the United States Army. For more information, go

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Special Day at West Point - Scotty Smiley's First Day of Teaching

My friend, Doug Crandall, just chronicled the historic event of Scotty Smiley's first day of teaching at West Point.

This is a must read!

Blue Rudder Blog

Both Scotty Smiley and Doug Crandall will be speakers at the upcoming Intersection 2.0 event on November 14 and 15 here in Cambridge.

Let me know if you would like to receive an invitation to the event.


Mini-Review of "Tsar" by Ted Bell

I am a sucker for any good fiction written about Russia. In his latest novel, "Tsar," Ted Bell has done a great job of feeding my habit. This latest work is a follow-up to his New York Times bestseller "Spy."

The feel of this book is a bit like the works of Ludlum, LeCarre and Alan Furst. The protagonist, the James Bond-like espionage agent par excellence, Alex Hawke, faces the growing threat of a new Cold War between Russia and the West. A stealth leader has emerged in Moscow determined to recreate both the glories of the tsarist era and the cohesive power of the Soviet bloc.

I find Bell's storytelling to be enjoyable and very readable. He has a wonderful sense of place, whether the place be the beaches and mansions of Bermuda, the halls of the Kremlin or the windswept steppes of rural Russia. He has a good ear for crisp dialogue. He uses very cleverly the insertion of historical figures into his fictional spy tale. There is a scene in which a deposed Vladimir Putin shares a jail cell with Hawke. Their conversation and the subsequent events add wonderful twists to the plot.



A New Star in the Playwriting Firmament - Joey Pelletier's "Where Moments Hung Before"

On Saturday evening, my son, Ti, invited me to join him and some friends to see a performance of "Where Moments Hung Before" at the Boston Playwrights' Theater on the BU campus. This World Premiere of Joey Pelletier's play was presented by Boston Actors Theater. The last performance (for now) occurred yesterday, so I am not writing about this play to try to convince you to go see it. I am writing to make you aware of a young playwright who should be on your radar screen.

The action of the play centers on the funeral and subsequents events of Jasper, who died of complications from AIDS. But this is more than an "AIDS play." The spirit of the recently departed Jasper hovers - literally and figuratively - over many of the scenes in the play and over each of the other characters - a motley collection of family members, friends, and lovers. A very capable ensemble cast tells the story on Jasper's life and death in a very moving and evocative way.

There are three aspects to Pelletier's writing and story telling that I found particularly noteworthy.

1) He made me care about each character - even the characters that were not particularly likable. This is not an easy feat to accomplish.

2) He did a masterful job of blending pathos with comic relief - allowing the audience first to taste and to ingest the pain that the characters were experiencing, and then to "cleanse the palate" with a good belly laugh to prepare for the next course of pathos.

3) Over the course of the two acts, he creatively paired each character in a scene with one other character in a series of dyads. The result was that the audience received over time a full spectrum view of each character, with the other characters serving as prisms to show each individual in different lights.

For a young playwright, Pelletier shows great sophistication and even greater promise. I look forward to seeing his next works. I will keep you posted so you can join me next time.


Saturday, August 15, 2009

Values Based Investing - What Is It?

I recently had breakfast with my friend, Alexis Carroll, to discuss at least one bright spot in what has been a challenging investment environment over the last twelve months. Lex is a paid consultant for Eventide Asset Management, a values-based investment firm with a mutual fund, the Eventide Gilead Fund (NASDAQ: ETGLX), which was the best performing midcap core fund for the twelve months ending June 30th 2009. Since I enjoy learning new things, I asked him about the fund, its philosophy and the future for this type of investing. (Disclaimer: Neither party has received financial consideration for this interview.)

Al: Based on what you have already told me, it seems like this has been an extraordinary year for a young mutual fund. Tell me what Eventide accomplished?

Lex: Eventide's first mutual fund, the Eventide Gilead Fund, completed its first year in July 2009 as the #1 performing fund according to Lipper out of 359 funds within the mid-cap core category. In doing so, it beat the S&P 500 index by 25%. It was also named a "Category King" four times in 2009 by the Wall Street Journal in recognition of ranking within the top ten funds in its category for year-to-date performance. It has consistently been in the top decile since inception for both Lipper and Morningstar rankings.

Al: That's tremendous. From what you said earlier in our conversation, I understand this fund is different than the typical mutual fund. What exactly is values-based investing?

Lex: It's a sub-set of socially responsible investing, SRI, an area that has grown 3,500% to approximately $10 billion in mutual fund assets over the last ten years, depending on who you ask. However, compared to the overall domestic mutual fund industry size of approximately $9.4 trillion, the market penetration of this type of investing remains small. Values-based investing takes a faith-based approach for how to think about money and its uses, with responsible stewardship of one's resources as a primary theme. While several denominational-oriented mutual funds exist to provide an investing outlet to Catholics, Baptists, etc., Eventide attempts to appeal to the broadest possible market. Interestingly, the majority of faith-based funds in America today are Islamic.

Al: So could a personal example of my choosing to implement thoughtful stewardship of my finances include the decision to purchase a Honda instead of a Porsche?

Lex: (laughter) In a way. But this isn't the “what would Jesus drive?” question, but it's related. There's nothing inherently evil about driving a Porsche. However, people are increasingly asking whether they want to include companies in their portfolio that profit from tobacco, pornography, gambling, etc. SRI often reflects this view from a secular perspective (not harming the environment, etc), while values-based stewardship is informed by faith for Eventide and treats investing as an extension of religious convictions. Its premise is that the way in which profits are produced is also important.

Al: Then how does Eventide implement values-based investing?

Lex: Eventide seeks to appeal to investors who desire investing in both socially and religiously responsible ways, yet still expect attractive returns. In no way does the investment philosophy de-emphasize its pursuit of alpha. On the contrary, Eventide believes that this style of investing will capture corporate value creation more effectively than a laissez-faire approach to how profit is produced. For instance, one thing that sets Eventide apart from other values-based funds is that it goes beyond the negative-only screening out of those companies with products or activities that it considers do not add value to society. More so, it proactively invests in companies that it believes operate with integrity and add value to customers, employees and the world. They ask the deep and thoughtful questions about business practices to find companies that are successful, admirable and sustainable.

Al: It sounds a bit qualitative. In an era of high-frequency computer trading, can this translate into a rigorous analytical approach?

Lex: Absolutely. Eventide's portfolio manager is a M.D./Ph.D who utilizes a system dubbed “Masters' Select” which is a data-driven overlay to the values platform. Without boring your readers with technical details, let me say simply that it essentially identifies the best analysts and managers and aggregates their collective insights to make stock selections. From 1996 through 2003, this approach generated outstanding performance in both bear and bull markets.

Al: Considering Eventide's glittering success in its first year, would you say that this is a breakthrough period for values-based investing as a whole?

Lex: We certainly hope so and would like to think that its time has arrived. In the wake of Bernie Madoff, fraudulent and collapsed hedge funds, AIG and the like, there is a burgeoning movement for greater responsibility in fundamental business models and transparency that reflect investor ethics and values. Specifically, over eighty percent of investors have said they would invest in a fund with values compatible with their own, if offered comparable returns. It's also worth noting that the mutual fund industry, with its strong regulation and transparency, has escaped the majority of scandal.

Eventide believes that companies that improve society will be blessed and that values-based investment philosophy is poised for long term success. This is not just wishful thinking, historical data back it up. For example, the Domini 400 socially-responsible index has outperformed the S&P 500 by 0.73% annually over 19 years from 1990-2009.

Al: Considering all this, what plans does Eventide have for the future?

Lex: Eventide has a few unique ideas in the pipeline, yet faces similar capital constraints in launching these products as other businesses in this economy. It still expects to roll out some of these products in 2009.

Al: How can readers of The White Rhino Report find out more about this investment style and Eventide?

Lex: They can go to or they can contact Eventide's CFO, Robin John at

Al: Thank you for sharing these insights and for helping to educate me - and my readers.

Lex: My pleasure. Thank you for asking.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Recapturing the Beauty of Baseball – A Mini-Review of “Shoeless Joe” by W.P. Kinsella

The game of baseball placed a lien on my heart when I was very young. Anyone who has been reading the pages of The White Rhino Report for any length of time will not be surprised to learn this fact. Family legend insists that at the age of 2, I could recite quite accurately the entire Boston Red Sox line-up. Yet it is not just the Red Sox I love, it is the game of baseball – its pace, its angles, its colors and smells and sounds, its history, its legends, its heroes and its goats. I love the subtle movements of the fielders between pitches. I love the arcane tactics and many possibilities that may unfold whenever the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand. I love the poetry and literature and films that the game has inspired down through the generations.

These have been difficult days and months and years for lovers of the pure game of baseball. The steroid era has tainted the game in countless ways, and has spoiled the fun for many of us. The recent revelations (illegally leaked to the press) that David Ortiz – my beloved Big Papi – had tested positive for a banned substance in 2003 saddened and disappointed me. The Red Sox six-game slide – going 0-for-Tampa-and-the-Bronx – swept through me like a chill east wind.

So, it was very timely last week when my sister, Diane, handed me a copy of W.P. Kinsella’s classic baseball novel, “Shoeless Joe.” The novel was the inspiration for one of my favorite films of all time: “Field of Dreams.” The novel and the film that it spawned are, in a word, magical. Reading Kinsella took me back in time along with his homespun characters to a simpler era of baseball and American life. The book and the film have injected into American dialogue phrases that are wonderfully and instantly recognizable as having been whispered by the disembodied voice in the sky:

“If you build it, he will come.”

“Go the distance.”

“Ease his pain.”

Re-reading this simple, elegiac and phantasmagorical story scrubbed my sullied baseball soul clean again. I am renewed and ready for the pennant race. Maybe there is a little bit of Shoeless Joe and his grace in Jacoby Ellsbury. Go Sox!

I now plan to read some of the other baseball-themed writings that Kinsella has produced over the years - "The Iowa Baseball Confederacy," "The Thrill of the Grass," et al.



The Good, the Bad . . . and the Snuggly!

Several readers of The White Rhino Report have asked for details of how I ended up losing my iPhone on the streets of New York. Here is the tale.

The Good

No human beings or white rhinos were harmed during the filming of the events described below. I am safe and healthy.

The Bad

Last Friday, my travels began with a breakfast meeting in Manhattan, followed by a lunch meeting in Philadelphia and a dinner meeting, also in Philadelphia. I needed to be back in Boston for some engagements on Saturday, and train and plane schedules were not conducive to my getting home on time. So, I chose to take a bus from Philadelphia to New York, and a “red eye” bus from NYC to Boston.

My bus to NYC left Philadelphia at 10:00 PM. The Red Sox were playing the Yankees in the Bronx, and I was monitoring the score periodically on my iPhone on the bus. We pulled into Chinatown around 12:30 Saturday morning, and the game – an instant classic – was still scoreless in the 14th inning. I needed to go by subway from Chinatown to the Port Authority. I was reluctant to go underground and lose cell phone connectivity until I learned if the Red Sox had survived the bottom of the 14th inning. So, I stood near the entrance to the F train, my suitcase and laptop on the sidewalk beside me and my cell phone in my hand, proudly wearing my Red Sox cap. A street-wise young “gentleman” rounded the corner, quickly sized up the situation, karate chopped my forearm, grabbed my iPhone – now his iPhone! - and then “Sprinted” away into the night. For a few seconds, I was too shocked to realize what had happened.

I soon learned that within moments of the theft of my phone - and the disruption of the karmic connection I had worked hard to maintain between myself and my team playing a few miles away across the East River – A-Rod hit a 2-run walk-off homerun in the bottom of the 15th inning. Coincidence? You decide.

The Snuggly

My personal and professional lives demand that I be in almost constant real time telephone and e-mail communication with a wide variety of family, frineds and business connections. Losing my iPhone cut me off and left me in communicado. How frustrating. So, my first stop on Saturday when I returned to Boston was at the AT&T store in Boston where I had bought the phone a few months ago. The level of customer service I received over the next few days from Yesenia Fajardo prompted me to write a letter of commendation to AT&T. Here is what I said:


Great customer service is such a rare commodity, that whenever I encounter it, I try to take the time to acknowledge it. I thought that you should be aware of what an asset Yesenia Fajardo is to AT&T.

This past Friday night in NYC, my iPhone was stolen, leaving me completely in communicado. When I returned to Boston on Saturday, I came to the Boylston St. location where I had purchased the phone, and I was greeted by Yesenia, who asked me how she could help.

Here is a list of all the things she did "right" in responding to my complex set of needs.

1) She was warm and professional in her initial greeting.

2) She really listened to my problem and went well beyond the normal level of customer service in helping me to solve the problem.

3) When she explained to me that my replacement coverage did not include coverage for theft, she suggested I try talking to the people at the Apple store to see if they could be of help in replacing my iPhone.

They were not able to help, and I am not in a position to pay full price for a replacement iPhone at the moment, yet I could not be without cell phone coverage for business and personal use. I realized that I had a Blackberry that had been sitting in a drawer. Over the weekend I tried charging the phone, but without success. So, I returned this morning to the store.

4) As soon as I walked in, Yesenia recognized me and remembered what my problem was.

5) When her attempts at recharging the phone also failed, she sent me to Radio Shack to get a replacement battery.

6) With a new battery having been installed, I returned to the AT&T store, and Yesenia set me up with a new SIM Card, solved the problem of setting up a new voicemail account on my phone, synched my e-mail and made sure that everything was working properly before sending me on my way.

7) During the course of the morning, there were several times when she was on hold with AT&T customer service. During those times, she asked me about my business and generally did everything in her power to understand my needs and profile as a customer.

AT&T sometimes is accused of being a large and impersonal corporate behemoth. You should be aware that Yesenia puts a human face on the corporation and is a tremendous asset to your store and to the company as a whole.

By her extraordinary level of caring and customer service, Yesenia turned what had been a very frustrating experience for me into one that I am proud to share with you.

If you have need of any AT&T products or services and live in the Boston area, contact Yesenia and she will help you. She works on commission, so reward her great service with your business. The store is located at 647 Boylston St. in Boston’s Back Bay between Dartmouth and Exeter Streets. Her direct phone number is (617) 217-1953. Be sure to tell her that The White Rhino sent you!

All’s well that ends well.

Thanks, Yesenia!

Go Sox!


Monday, August 03, 2009

Like a Good Wine: Review of "Now I Can Die in Peace" by Bill Simmons

It is a rare treat when a book makes me laugh, cry, and experience the frisson of chills running up and down my spine - all within the space of the same paragraph. Such is the singular genius of Bill Simmons. Four years ago, occasioned by the Red Sox 2004 World Series victory, he published his collection of annotated columns as a memoir of his pilgrimage as a Red Sox fan. The book became an instant New York Times bestseller. I love reading Simmons' columns on Page 2, but I have waited until now to read this book. I am glad that I did. Much like a fine wine and a good cut of steak are improved with age, the intervening four years have added to my enjoyment of Simmons' literary morsels that he offers in this book. It was fun to re-live those moments once again.

The reading of this book - and the memories that it unearthed and evoked about the 2004 Red Sox season and the events leading up to it - is very timely. We are moving into the last few weeks of the 2009 baseball season, with the Red Sox and Yankees once again slugging it out for supremacy in the AL East. The defending AL Champion Tampa Bay Rays are still within striking distance. The Red Sox play both teams this week on the road. I am hours away from boarding a flight to Tampa to visit my sister (who sent me Simmons' book) so that we can make our semi-annual pilgrimage to Fenway Park South - a.k.a. Tropicana Field. We will be only two of what promises to be a horde of thousands of Red Sox fans in the stands on Tuesday and Wednesday night when the two teams square off. I have set at "5" the over/under for the number of batters hit by pitches in the brief 2-game series! It should be fun.

When the Red Sox decamp from St. Petersburg after Wednesday's game, they will head to New York City. I will be a few hours behind them on a JetBlue flight. I have several business meetings set for NYC on Thursday and Friday. I do not, however, plan to attend any of the four games that the Sox will play at the new Yankee Stadium - as much as I would like to. I refuse to pay those prices!

As Simmons so wondrously reminded me in this satirical treasure of a book, 2004 changed everything in terms of the Red Sox vs. Yankees rivalry. Sox fans no longer need to cower in fear waiting for the other shoe to drop when our team faces the Yankees. Mariano Rivera, arguably the greatest closer of all time, is beatable and human when he toes the rubber against Red Sox batters. I agree with Simmons in his plea to Red Sox fans to abandon the puerile "Yankees Suck" mantra that makes citizens of Red Sox Nation appear to be a bunch of losers stuck in perpetual middle school mindset. We no longer need to taunt the playground bully from afar. He has been exposed as not being able to take a punch. 2004 proved that. This season, in the eight games that the Red Sox and Yankees have played, the team that hails from Boston is 8-0. Who knows what will happen later this week, but I find that aberrant statistic encouraging.

For me, one of the most poignant sections of "Now I Can Die in Peace," is found in the chapter entitled "The Brink of the Group Hug." The column first appeared on October 27, 2004, as the Red Sox stood on the threshold of eradicating 86 years of frustration and humiliation. I offer the following extended excerpt, because it so perfectly captures what I - and many of my fellow Red Sox fans - felt as the miracle of 2004 crystallized.

"'How will your life change if the Red Sox win the World Series?'

My wife asked me the question last night, minutes before Foulke clinched Boston's third straight win over the Cardinals. Let's just say that it's a best-of-seven series and Game Four happens tonight. Seemed like a relevant question.

'That's easy,' I told her. 'Everything would get wiped away. No more baggage. No more Babe Ruth pictures, Buckner highlights, fans walking around with Curse signs, 1918 chants, announcers hinting at doom around every corner. Everyone would just leave us alone. We'd be just another baseball team.'

That was the simple answer.

Here's the complicated answer:

This is about life and death. And not in the traditional sense. A Red Sox championship always felt like a race against time. When journalist Marty Nolan wrote, 'The Red Sox killed my father and now they're coming after me,' he wasn't kidding. I keep thinking about my dad, and my friend, Walsh, and my buddy Geoff's mother-in-law, Neets, and every other over-50 person in my life who happens to follow this team. Those are the people who passed a certain point in life and started wondering, 'Wait a second, is this thing EVER going to happen?' Obviously, I'm not quite there yet, but after three decades of following this team, I could feel the guillotine inching closer and closer. That's what it's like to be a Red Sox fan." (Page 325)

In reading that passage, I could not help thinking about those who helped to foster my love for the Red Sox and who never got to celebrate a World Series victory. My father, Lewis Chase, spent thousands of hours in his recliner following the vicissitudes of decades full of bad teams with just enough sporadic streaks of brilliance and competency to keep him hooked. My grandfather, Arthur Champoux took me by the hand when I was eight years old and introduced me to the thousand shades of green that make Fenway such a breath-taking visual experience. In the hours and days that followed the Red Sox final victory over the Cardinals in October of 2004, thousands of Red Sox fans across New England and beyond travelled to family plots and left mementos of the Red Sox on the headstones of progenitors who had lived and died without tasting a championship.

So, as I head to Tampa, I must say "Thanks," to Bill Simmons. Remembering the magic of 2004 helps put this year's race in perspective, and helps - just a little bit - in wrestling with the disappointing news about Papi's positive drug test.

Go Sox!


Saturday, August 01, 2009

Mini-Review of "Russka - The Novel of Russia" by Edward Rutherford

I love the varied and "novel" ways that I sometimes discover worthwhile books and writers. In the case of "Russka," I was already familiar with the author, Edward Rutherford. His works, "London" and "Sarum" had captivated me, but I had not been aware that he had taken on the task of telling the history of Russia in the style pioneered a few generations ago by James Michener.

Last January, returning from a holiday visit with family in Romania, I stopped over in the UK for a couple of days. Whenever I am in England, I try to do at least one walking tour to increase my appreciation of the rich history of the realm. On this occasion, I opted for the day-long trip to Salisbury and Stonehenge. As our very knowledgeable guide would point out facts, I realized that I was already aware of many of them. She noticed that my questions presupposed some knowledge of the area.

She asked me: "Have you been here before?"

"No, but I read the novel 'Sarum,' and it is all coming back to me."

Later in our conversation, she learned of my frequent visits to Russia.

"Are you aware that Rutherford has also written a history of Russia in the same style as 'Sarum'? You must read 'Russka.'"

And I did. What a tour de force the author has wrought in this epic novel. The 750+ pages are all necessary to do justice to the vast sweep of the history and geography of the enigma that is Russia. The narrative chronicles nearly two millenia of the lives of those who have struggled to make a living on the land and to subdue nature and the many waves of invaders intent on mining Russia of it many riches.

I just noticed that Rutheford has a new book coming out in the fall about New York. I will be one of the first to purchase it.

In the meantime, enjoy "Russka"!


Mini-Review of the film "In the Loop"

If Ty Burr of the Boston Globe stamps his imprimatur on a film, I try my best to see that film. So, during a mid-summer deluge in Cambridge, I slogged my way through the swollen rivers running through the streets and sidewalks of Kendall Square to the Landmark Theater for a matinee showing of this outlandish British satire. Despite the best efforts of my faithful umbrella, I arrived in the lobby looking as if I had taken a shortcut through an industrial strength car wash. The watery trek was worth it. Not since "Dr. Stangelove" and David Mamet's "Wag the Dog," has a film so successfully used sardonic humor and reductio ad absurdum to highlight the foibles of war and the politicians and apparatchiki who lead us into conflict.

As is often the case, there is not much I could add to Ty Burr's eloquent review of the film, so I offer it to you as additional impetus to go out and put yourself in the movie's line of fire.

Ty Burr Boston Globe Review