Monday, December 31, 2012

Tom Wolfe at His Best - Review of "Back to Blood"

In much the same way that he dissected - or vivisected - the various strata of Atlanta society in "A Man in Full," with this latest novel, Tom Wolfe has turned his rapier wit on Miami and its wide variety of sub-cultures.  Within the pages of "Back to Blood," the Haitians, Cubans, Russians, Jews from New York and Anglos who inhabit the melting pot of South Florida refuse to melt and mingle into any kind of a homogeneous whole.  They bump up against one another in intriguing ways that make for a great novel.  I will let the author lay it out for you in this excerpt which involves the Cuban-American Mayor of Miami educating the African-American Chief of Police after a racial crisis had erupted.  The precipitating incident involved two cops of Cuban heritage who were caught on an iPhone video raining racial epithets on the head of a prostrate African-American crack dealer who had tried to strangle one of the officers during a raid at a crack house.

"At this point, the Mayor's expression and his tone turned fatherly, 'Cy, I want to tell you a couple of things about this city.  These are things you probably already know, but sometimes it helps to hear them out loud.  I know it helps me... Miami is the only city in the world, as far as I can  tell - in the world - whose population is more than fifty percent recent immigrants. . . recent immigrants, immigrants from over the past fifty years. . . and that's a hell of a thing, when you think about it.  So what does that give you?  It gives you - I was talking to a woman about this the other day,a Haitian lady, and she says tome, "Dio, if you really want to understand Miami, you got to realize one thing first of all.  In Miami, everybody hates everybody."

. . . But we can't leave it at that.  We have a responsibility, you and me.  We got to make Miami - not a melting pot, because that's not gonna happen, not in our lifetimes.  We can't melt 'em down, but we can weld 'em down.. . What do I mean by that?  I mean we can't mix them together, but we can forge a secure place for each nationality, each ethnic group, each race, and make sure they're all on the same level plane.'"  (Page 424).

And it is Wolfe's stylistic description of this process of welding the groups down that makes his latest work of fiction such an enjoyable literary journey.  He weaves together characters and threads that refuse to cleanly assimilate with one another.

  • A shameless social climbing Anglo schlock psychiatrist, Dr. Norman Lewis, who is trying to become the next Dr. Phil as a subject matter expert on pornography addition.
  • His Cuban psychiatrist nurse, Magdalena, who is also his lover and co-conspirator.
  • Nestor Camacho, a Cuban cop who cannot help himself from alienating both the Cuban and African-American communities with his super-hero exploits that somehow always end upon the front page of the Miami Herald.
  • Edward T. Topping IV, Yale educated WASP who is the new editor in chief of the Miami Herald.
  • John Smith, Topping's overzealous cub reporter, also WASP and Yale educated, who is eager to expose a scandal of forgery at Miami's new art museum.
  • Sergei Korolyov, Russian oligarch and benefactor who donated $70 Million worth of modern art - forged - to make Miami's art museum a destination.
  • Professor Lantier, light-skinned Haitian academic who desperately wants his even-more-fair-complexioned daughter, Ghislaine, to be able to pass as white and French, rather than Haitian.
Throw in a few more Russian oligarchs, a billionaire or two addicted to porn and strip clubs, the crew of a reality TV show, and a rich and colorful  palette of assorted secondary characters, and you have a motley crew that Wolfe can pillory and satirize in his role as an equal opportunity cynic.  No one escapes his acerbic wit.

Wolfe's worldview, baked in the Miami sun, is a dark and pessimistic Weltanschauung.  We are all, in some way - like the faked paintings that Korolyov donated to the museum - forged imitations of the masterpieces that we would aspire to be as human beings.  At 700 pages, this is a hefty tome.  Ironically, I wanted more.  I did not want the story to end, since there were so many things I wondered about how the lives of the characters would turn out.  That tells me that Wolfe has created three-dimensional individuals whose fate I cared about.  This is not an  easy task to accomplish in a satirical piece, but Wolfe pulled it off.



Andreas Widmer Offers A Novel Approach to Goal Setting for 2013

My good friend, Andreas Widmer, has just published a fascinating take on “goal setting” for the New Year.  The article appears in

"The New Year that’s about to start is like a big empty glass-bowl waiting to be filled with sand. Only instead of sand, we’re filling it with time. On January 1st, we’re all starting to fill our bowls with 12 months, 365 days or 31,536,000 seconds of activities, events, happenings and doings. The question is: are we making good choices with this finite resource?

Many people would advise you to start with a goal for next year, with setting out specific achievements and accomplishments. I suggest you to take a different approach. Instead of pursuing any specific achievements, start by thinking about the kind of life you want to live. What’s important to you? What values do you want to be present in your life? What virtues do you want to practice in your life? I find this approach to planning my own life much more effective, and it gives me the ability to keep perspective.

After all, it’s too late to look back at your life when you’re on your death bed and think: gosh, I wish I would have paid more attention to the people I really loved, I wish I would have done more of the things that make me more fully human, I wish I would have lived a more spiritually fulfilling life…. So let’s not wait till then! Start with that this year! I’m going to share my most effective methods for planning the year ahead, and I invite you to join me in planning out 2013.”

Andreas continues the article by expanding on this idea of planning around values, and offers up his own plan for 2013 as an example and template for this approach.

Andreas Widmer is an entrepreneur, speaker, and author. His most recent book is "The Pope and The CEO: Pope John Paul II’s Lessons in Leadership to a Young Swiss Guard."  He teaches entrepreneurship and business at Catholic University of America.

To read the entire article, follow this link:

Best wishes as you plan for - and live out - the New Year.


Friday, December 28, 2012

Remembering Stormin' Norman - a Salute to General Schwarzkopf - Some Personal Reflections

Over the next several days, much will be written and spoken about the outstanding career of General Norman Schwarzkopf.  It will be richly deserved.  He has often been described as a "soldiers' soldier."  Let me offer a couple of personal anecdotes that you may not hear in the national news coverage.

In 2001, I was fortunate to be a guest of the Army football team for the Army-Navy game.  The game was played just a few months after the tragic events of 9/11, and patriotism was in the air at a level I had never seen before in my lifetime.  The game was a very emotional and symbolic event.  For the first time in many years, the men playing on the gridiron knew for certain that they would be going off to war.  The crowd was electric in their support of these football players about to turn into warriors.  During halftime, General Schwarzkopf reprised a famous speech previously given by General Douglas MacArthur.  Schwarzkopf delivered the speech by memory with no notes.  It was a defining moment.

After the game, I waited by the entrance to the Army locker room to thank the players for having provided me with my ticket to the game.  Incidentally, this game was the last one that Army won - 26-17.  My West Point grad friends keep insisting that I need to return to a game so the Black Knights can win again.  They came very close this year.  When Army quarterback, Chad Jenkins, exited from the stadium, I thanked him for giving me one of his tickets to the game - great seats in the 10th Row at the 40-yard line.  I said to Chad: "I understand that President Bush stopped by the locker room to wish you luck.  What was that like?"  Chad responded passionately: "Yeah, that was nice.  But General Schwarzkopf came by the locker room and hung out with us.  That was awesome!"

My friend, Dr. Scott Snook, teaches leadership at  Harvard Business School.  He is a graduate of the West Point class of 1980.  I have had the privilege of watching him teaching in a variety of settings.  He sometimes uses a recording of a speech that General Schwarzkopf gave to the West Point Corps of Cadets as an example of  great leadership and communication.  Here is the back story to that speech.

In May of 1991, the Coalition forces had just achieved a swift victory in Operation Desert Storm - 100 hours from first to last shot.  It was time for Schwarzkopf, the commanding general , to return to the U.S. from the Persian Gulf.  His staff asked him where he would like to land in the U.S. - his home in Florida, the Pentagon?  "I want my first stop in America to be at West Point.  I would like to address the Corps of Cadets."  So, on very short notice, the West Point administration made the logistical arrangements to have the Corps of Cadets assembly in cavernous Eisenhower Hall.  The speech that he gave that day is available in the three brief YouTube videos linked below.

In May of this year, Dr.Bernard Banks, another friend of mine, reflected on the Schwarzkopf speech in a piece he wrote for the Blog, "Building A Smarter Planet."  Dr. Banks is a Colonel in the United States Army and the Deputy Department Head of West Point’s Department of Behavioral Sciences & Leadership:

"In 1991, General Norman Schwarzkopf gave a famous speech at West Point to the Corps of Cadets.  The thesis statement of his remarks was that leaders must possess both competence and character.  He asserted that leaders who possess extreme competence, but lack character, can achieve many missions.

However, the manner in which they reach their objectives might place the organization and its people at risk.  Conversely, a leader who possesses impeccable character can fail to achieve assigned objectives due to a lack of competence.
Competence and character are required in order to generate sustainable positive outcomes."
(See link below for the full article)

In his career, General Schwarzkopf exemplified both competence and character, and he has set the bar high for the leaders that aspire to follow in his footsteps.

R.I.P., General.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Review of "Redemption - A Rebellious Spirit, A Praying Mother, and the Unlikely Path to Olympic Gold" by Bryan Clay with Joel Kilpatrick

Bryan Clay, writing in partnership with Joel Kilpatrick, invites the reader of his memoir to join him on a journey through life and through his career as the world's top decathlete.  The winner of Olympic Gold in the decathlon in Beijing in 2008, Clay's path to glory was not an easy one.  In this book, he recounts a rough beginning.  His parents' frequent fights and subsequent divorce made him a very hurt, angry and confrontational boy and young man.  Frequent school expulsions and fist fights had him walking pretty far down the path toward a life of delinquency and hopelessness.  Clay is generous in crediting the intervention of his praying mother, mentors, teachers, coaches, pastors and fellow athletes - each of whom played a role in helping him to see himself, his life and his future in a new light.

The story of his development as a man of faith and an athlete of distinction does not pull any punches.  He reveals his times of doubt, failure, hypocrisy, and selfishness that punctuated his path towards Olympic gold, and his  path to becoming a faithful husband and father.  For the most part, Clay and his co-author avoid many of the trite cliches and simplistic preachy tone that one often finds when athletes of faith tell their stories.  The tone is down to earth and very compelling.  I recommend the book to those wanting to be inspired by a journey of faith, as well as to those who study excellence in athletics and how it can be achieved.



Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Heartbreaking Memoir from An EOD Officer Who Served in Iraq - "The Long Walk" by Brian Castner

My heart ached for Brian Castner as I read his all-too-real account of life after returning from his deployment in Kirkuk, Iraq.  He pulls no punches in describing his life as the officer in charge of an Explosive Ordnance Disposal team, or the equally explosive life he lives now back home battling what he calls "THE CRAZY" - a combination of PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury and generalized anxiety that haunts him most of every day.

Perhaps the most poignant feature of this very intimate memoir is that it paints in vivid colors a picture of the lifelong price that warriors and their families pay for the service that they render in combat.  A recent Newsweek article links PTSD closely with the experience of killing or being close to violent or sudden death, rather than the fear that was long thought to be the predominant factor.  This book adds anecdotal evidence to that theory.

The author summarizes his situation and that of countless thousands of other vets in these words:

"My wife is alone in our full bed, too.  Her husband, the father of her children, never came back from Iraq.  When I deployed the first time she asked her grandmother for advice.  He grandfather served in Africa and Europe in World War II.  Her grandmother would know what to do.

'How do you live with him being gone?  How do I help him when he comes home,' my wife asked.

'He won't come home,' her grandmother answered.

'The war will kill him one way or the other.  I hope for you that he dies while he is there,' her grandmother continued, 'otherwise the war will kill him at home.  With you.'

My wife's grandfather died of a heart attack on the kitchen floor, long before she was born.  It took a decade or two for World War II to kill him.  When would my war kill me?" (Page 87)

Many of us who did not serve in the military wonder how we can begin to understand the struggles of those who have served.  This book adds another layer to the long process of understanding and being willing to listen and to help.

It was an act of courage for the author to lay his soul and psyche bare in these 200 pages.  He is courageous and deserves our thanks and respect.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Quick "Pippin" Update - The Run of the Show Is Close to Being Sold Out - Act Now

I have just been informed that the entire run of "Pippin" at the American Repertory Theater is selling out fast.  If you want to take advantage of the remaining preview performances this month, or the month of January regular performances, I recommend you act soon so you don't get frozen out.  This is a production people will be talking about for a long while.

I had the rare opportunity yesterday to have a conversation with composer Stephen Schwartz, the composer and lyricist for "Pippin," as well as "Godspell," "Children of Eden," "Wicked" and other shows.  He was in Cambridge to collaborate on last-minute changes and tweaks for this new 40th anniversary production of Pippin.  He is currently working on a new musical based on the life of Harry Houdini.



P.S.  Here is a trick for trying get reasonably priced tickets.  There are "obstructed view" seat in Row A, the front of the main orchestra section - about 10 rows from the stage.  The obstructions are fleeting and minimal - a juggler standing in front of you for a few seconds, etc.  These seats are priced at $50.00 versus the $80-95 for surrounding seats.  Try  to get those seats if you can.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

"PIPPIN" at the American Repertory Theater - A Must See!!!!!

The official press opening for the A.R.T.'s new production of "Pippin" will not happen until January 3, 2013, so the performances that are taking place now on Brattle Street are still technically previews.  Small tweaks, additions and subtractions will continue to be made until the show officially opens in a couple of weeks.  Since that is the case, no one is allowed to formally review the show until it is in its final form, so this Blog piece is not a formal review.  You can expect to see such a review on January 4.  This piece is, rather, an early Christmas gift to my readers to alert you that Pippin is not to be missed.

A year ago, under  the direction of A.R.T Artistic Director, Diane Paulus, "The Gerswins' Porgy & Bess" was developed at the A.R.T. prior to the show moving to NYC and taking Broadway by storm.  Cambridge and Boston area residents had a chance to see an amazing show before New York audiences were even aware of its existence.  In the past year, a number of my theater-going friends have commented, "I wish I had taken advantage of the chance to see 'Porgy' before it moved to New York."  My advice to them is, "Do not repeat that mistake with 'Pippin.'"  In my humble opinion, this 40th anniversary production of  "Pippin" - re-imagined and re-energized by Paulus in collaboration with composer Stephen Schwartz and an amazing creative team and cast - will end up winning multiple Tony awards on Broadway.  See it here while you can - either in previews now or when it goes "live" in January.

Although I have press credentials for January 3, I could not wait until then to see what all the buzz was about, so I bought an "obstructed view" seat for last night's performance.  I will save details for my formal review in a few weeks, but I will say that I was blown away by this new production.  I saw the original production 40 years ago on Broadway (How old do I feel being able to make that statement!) and loved it.  I love this production even more.

Treat yourself to a pre-Christmas gift by attending a preview performance next week or buy tickets to give as Christmas gifts.  You won't go wrong.

Enjoy!  See you on Brattle Street!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Trent Steelman Lives up to Best of Army-Navy Game, Even in Defeat

John Feinstein has written extensively about the history of the Army-Navy football rivalry.  He offers a refreshing perspective in the wake of last Saturday's dramatic ending to the game.  My thanks go out to West Point grad, Doug Turrell, for sharing this piece with me and other fans of The Game.
Trent Steelman lives up to best of Army-Navy game, even in defeat

By John Feinstein, Published: December 8

PHILADELPHIA — They walked through the dank hallway on Saturday evening, heads down, cleats clicking against the concrete, the silence deafening. A few yards away on the field, the members of the Navy football team were being presented the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy by Vice President Biden, drinking in the cheers from the Navy fans who didn’t want to leave Lincoln Financial Field until they were absolutely certain the trophy was returning to Annapolis.

Trent Steelman was one of the last Army players to walk up the tunnel, in large part because so many Navy players and coaches stopped him for a hug, a handshake or a word of encouragement after the playing of the alma maters. One of the first to find the Black Knights senior quarterback was Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo, who told him: “You’re as tough as any player I’ve ever competed with or against. I’m proud of you.”

For the first time in a long time, Army had a lot to be proud of in an Army-Navy game. Not only had Navy beaten the Black Knights 10 straight times entering Saturday, the Midshipmen had done so by a combined score of 349-112. A year ago, Army lost by single digits for the first time during the streak. Saturday, the Black Knights led in the fourth quarter for the first time since their last win in 2001.
They also had a real chance to win — in fact, the case can be made that they should have won.
“I feel like we should have won,” Steelman said softly, his eye black staining his face because of the tears he had shed in the final seconds. “I thought we deserved that game in every possible way.”

Except for the final score: Navy 17, Army 13. The last play of Steelman’s career was a fumble with a little more than a minute left in the game and Army on the Navy 14-yard line with a first down. Steelman turned to hand the ball to fullback Larry Dixon and something went horribly wrong. Dixon never got control of the ball as Steelman put it into his stomach and Navy’s Barry Dabney was on it a split second before Steelman, seeing the ball on the ground, could dive on it.

“I’m honestly not sure what happened there,” Steelman said. “Simple triple-option play. No way am I going to put something like that on Larry, so put it on me.”

Of course he would say that because that’s what academy players do. “No excuse, sir,” is the first thing you are taught as a plebe.

It can be argued that no one who has played in this game has lived up to that credo more than Steelman. He has been Army’s starting quarterback for four years and has helped bring the program back to respectability — which may sound difficult to believe at the end of a 2-10 season, but it’s true. The year before Steelman and Coach Rich Ellerson arrived, Army lost to Navy, 34-0, and it wasn’t that close. The Black Knights beat Air Force at home this year for the first time since 1996 and, much like this game, were agonizingly close in several of their losses — including a 42-41 loss to Orange Bowl-bound Northern Illinois, when a missed extra point was the difference.

“I really believe we started something these last four years,” Steelman said, patiently standing in the hallway talking after he and his teammates had spoken to the media en masse. “I know the record doesn’t show it but we’re running an offense where everyone knows what’s coming and we’ve still moved the ball.” He shook his head and his voice quavered a bit. “One play. Just one play.”

There were a lot of plays in this game that could have tilted it in either direction. Navy freshman quarterback Keenan Reynolds was brilliant, most notably on the Mids’ game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. Both teams fumbled and made mistakes. Both teams made superb plays as the emotion in the stadium rocked back and forth as afternoon became evening and evening became night.

No Navy team — especially the seniors — wants to be the one that allows the streak to end. Needless to say each group of Army seniors wants to be the one to hear the alma mater played second at least once before graduation. Steelman’s class became the eighth class to leave without a win over Navy.

“I really can’t believe football’s over,” Steelman said. “I don’t even want to take my pads off because when I do I know it’ll hit me.”

If there was one person in the building who could understand what Steelman was feeling, he was on the Navy sideline during the game wearing a Marine major’s uniform. Andrew Thompson was captain of the 1995 Navy team, the leader of a group of Navy seniors that lost four times to Army — by a total of nine points.

Thompson has been a Marine for 16 years now. He has served in Iraq and is married with three children.

“All of that changes your perspective,” he said. “I wish I had a chance to talk to that kid tonight, although honestly, right now, there’s nothing I could say that would console him. It takes more time than that.  If I did see him tonight, the first thing I’d do is buy him several drinks. Then I’d say to him, ‘I know this won’t mean much to you right now, but you’re going to have a chance to lead men and women and you’re going to do great things in your life because I believe that.
After a while, you’ll remember the competition more than the losses. That doesn’t mean the losses won’t hurt, but you’ll see your career and Army-Navy as more than that — a lot more than that.'”

Because the game had been so one-sided for the last 10 years, it had lost some luster. Army-Navy games aren’t supposed to be over in less than three quarters. When Army-Navy is over, everyone is supposed to cry: the winners joyfully, filled with relief and exhaustion; the losers dealing with the agony of being so close and yet being forced to sing their alma mater first.
This Army-Navy game had all of that. For Army, the heartbreak is especially poignant because if any player has ever deserved to take his team down the field to score the winning touchdown in the final minute of his final game, it is Steelman.

And yet he handled it with the class and dignity you would expect. In the locker room, Bob Beretta, who has handled media relations at Army for 26 years, told Steelman if he wanted to skip the postgame ritual with the media, no one would blame him under the circumstances.
“He’s talked to the media after every single game for four years,” Beretta said. “He was just so torn up. I thought I should give him the option even though I knew what he would say.”

Steelman didn’t disappoint. “I’m the captain,” he told Beretta. “I’m ready when you need me.”

That’s a pretty good legacy for any football player from Army or Navy: “I’m ready when you need me.”

No excuse, sir. Even when football has broken your heart one last time.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A Deeply Insightful Memoir from Pakistan's Badlands - "Ask Forgiveness Not Permission" by Howard Leedham

I love it when individuals whom I know and respect write books that make a difference.  "Ask Forgiveness Not Permission" is just such a book.  Howard Leedham, a much-decorated British Commando - helicopter pilot, clearance diver, special ops officer - was tapped by the U.S. State Department to run a special program in Pakistan.  There was a pressing need to try to seal the porous border with Afghanistan being utilized by narco-terrorists.  Al-Qaeda and Taliban were using opium trade profits to finance terrorist activities.

In this memoir, Leedham does an excellent job of describing step-by-step how he himself was prepared for the task of training up a team of 50 Pathan tribesman to serve as the backbone of an operation that would utilize helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft operated by the Department of State's Air Wing to improve security on the Pakistan side of the Afghan border.  He also is very clear and fair in giving credit to the fighting spirit and teachable mindset of the Pathan warriors whom he trained, under the enlightened leadership of Pakistani General Sadaqat Ali Shah.

Without resorting to bitterness or undeserved bureaucracy bashing, Leedham is very open about the difficulties and frustrations of trying to cobble together a complex operation involving several nations and numerous departments and contracting entities.  The creativity that Leedham and his team employed in making sure their Pathan warriors were properly equipped is Exhibit A in making his case that the doctrine of   "Ask Forgiveness Not Permission" was the right way to go in the unforgiving world of the Hindu Kush.  It is also not surprising, while ironic, that the most difficult hurdles that Leedham and his team had to clear in accomplishing their mission came from fighting internal and internecine battles rather than battling external enemies on the borderlands of Baluchistan and between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Much of the reading that I have done about the complications of U.S. and British troops working alongside Iraqi or Afghan warriors is the strikingly different attitude towards the gap that exists between officers and their enlisted troops.  In the West, the officer is charged with the responsibility to care for his troops, to equip and train them to accomplish their mission and to do everything possibility to bring them back home safely.  The officer does not eat until his troops have eaten and leads from the front whenever appropriate.  In Leedham's words to his Pathan troops: "I will not ask you to do anything that I would not do myself."  In the cultures of Southwest Asia, the officer corps are set apart, living very different lives than those of their troops, often taking the best food and equipment for themselves, even taking a cut of their soldier's pay.  One of the remarkable accomplishments of the year that Leedham spent in training and leading these 50 special Pathan troops was that fact that he was able to inculcate into the minds and spirits of the Pakistani officers more of a Western approach to caring for their soldiers.  This is an example of "winning hearts and minds" at a very significant level.

Perhaps the most impactful aspect of this fine book is Leedham's transparency when discussing his own reflections and struggles at the end of the year that he spent away from his family.  It would have been easy for him to write the story of what happened in Pakistan and to tell a very credible story keeping things at a strictly professional and military level - but it would not have been as powerful a book.  The fact that he shared the pain of seeing his marriage disintegrate and himself struggle with post-deployment depression and despair makes the book a powerful weapon - both for helping and giving permission to returning warriors to be honest about their own struggles, and also to help those of us who have not been to war to understand the depth of the struggle of the warriors whom we wish to support.

I will let the author speak for himself here at his most transparent and vulnerable moment.  The context is that Leedham has returned to the U.S. and the troops he had trained were sent on a mission under Pakistani leadership.  The result was the death of one of the Pathan warriors, and Leedham surmised that had he himself been there to lead the operation, perhaps that soldier would still be alive.  Classic survivor's guilty:

"My feelings of guilt were overwhelming.  The General had been right.  I should have gone on that operation. If I had done so, I would have negotiated with the idiot of a local commander in order to get my way [to conduct the operation at night rather in the daylight.]  I knew that if I'd been in Turbat, Iqbal would still be alive.  At that moment, I felt I would have to live with the guilt of his death forever.

My journal entry that day read: 'More pain, more hurt, I'm nearly at the end of my tether; am thinking about ending it all.'

. . . So the mindset and resolute decision to get the hell out of life if the situation dictated was one I had accepted and lived with for a year.  I suppose, I was still in that mindset during this first week at home [during which his wife had asked for a divorce], but the entire contemplation was in response to the prospect of losing my family and my questioning the point of life itself.  Given what I'd gone through the decision seemed so very matter of fact.

It is though, in reflection, a period of intense vulnerability and is a crucial 'preventative medicine' phase that is often tragically omitted by the families who end up mourning combatants who decide to take their own lives when they return to shattered homes or relationships." (Pages 317-18)

This book, therefore, is appropriate reading for the warrior community and for all of us who care about seeing these men and women make a successful  transition back to "The World."

We owe Howard Leedham a debt of gratitude - for his courage on the battlefield and his courage in the literary battlefield.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Congratulations to the U.S.Army's Newest Full Bird Colonel - Col. Everett Spain

I had the rare privilege today at Harvard Business School to attend the Promotion Ceremony for Everett S.P. Spain as he was sworn in as the Army's newest full Colonel.  The ceremony featured a number of moving and memorable highlights.  Colonel Spain's son, Josiah, led us in the Pledge of Allegiance.  Brigadier General Mark Martin, a former commanding officer of Col.  Spain, set the historical meaning of the ceremony and reviewed key achievement's in Spain's career, which include graduating with high honors from West Point, winning the Best Ranger Competition as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, qualifying as an Airborne Jump master and an Army Ranger, receiving a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for service in Kosovo and Iraq.  He also served as Aide-de-camp for the Commander, Multi-National Force-Iraq during "the Surge." He was chosen as a White House Fellow, and helped to create the Treasury Department's TARP program.

Col. Spain and his wife, Julia, are the parents of four children - Josiah (12), Asher (10), Adah (8), and Jadon (7).  He is a second-year doctoral student at Harvard Business School.  Upon completing his HBS studies, he plans to return to his service as a faculty member at his alma mater, USMA at West Point.  At Harvard, he is an active member of the HBS Christian Fellowship and the Armed Forces Alumni Association.

During his remarks, Colonel Spain beautifully and movingly thanked the many facets of the crowd gathered to support him - his parents and sister, his wife and children, his in-laws, a former WWII sergeant who had escaped the Holocaust in Germany to serve as an interpreter in the U.S. Army.  He thanked, as well, the Harvard community and the community of active and former warriors who are his brothers and sisters in arms.  In its history, Harvard University has been alternately supportive of and then hostile to the U.S. military.  Always the one to accentuate the positive, Col.Spain  took us on a verbal tour of the Harvard campus with its many reminders - building, bridges and monuments - that memorialize Harvard men who have served their nation in the past in the military.  As an officer in the Army Corps of Engineers, Colonel Spain is by nature a "bridge builder."  Today, as he often does, by his remarks, he sought to build bridges of trust, respect and understanding - uniting the disparate elements that made up his audience  into one common celebratory community for the afternoon.

I feel  honored to call Colonel Spain my friend.

God bless you, Colonel.  May He guide you as you continue to lead our troops with honor, patriotism, valor and fidelity.


A "Must Read" New Book - Review of "Love Does" by Bob Goff

Wow! I have just finished the roller coaster ride that is "Love Does - Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World" by Bob Goff I need to take a breath; I need to wipe the tears from my eyes; I need to give my rib cage a chance to recover from the belly laughs that erupted at several points along my journey of reading this wonderful memoir.

I first learned of Bob Goff and his whimsical approach to living his life and his faith when I read Donald Miller's "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years." Bob and his wife and kids come off in many ways as the heroes of Miller's story about "Story." After reading about the Goffs, I wanted to kayak to their place in British Columbia. I wanted to join their New Years' Day parade in San Diego. At the urging of his friend and fellow author Miller, attorney Bob Goff has written an extraordinary book. This little gem captures in 31 wonderfully self-deprecating and self-revealing chapters his approach to living life to the hilt - taking risks in the name of love - and of Love. The format is simple and profound. Goff shares an anecdote from his life or from the life of a family member or friend and then uses that simple vignette as a metaphor to illuminate a spiritual truth. Each chapter also follows the format of Bob sharing a truth that he has learned as he has grown and undergone many "paradigm shifts." "I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I am more afraid of succeeding at things that do not matter." (Page 25)

While Bob is a follower of Christ, those who do not embrace the Christian faith need not fear that this book would be a turn-off. Unlike many "Christian" writers whose unbending orthodoxy makes those who do not share their particular views want to break out in hives, Goff is guileless and gentle in the ways in which he lives out and shares his faith.

While the book is quite West Coast-centric, (Bob and his family live in San Diego and have a vacation home in British Columbia), the author reached out to the die hard Bostonian in me with this account of the advantages of him having been asked to serve as the Consul for the Republic of Uganda: "At this point,someone told me about the perks of being a diplomat. First, I would get some really good license plates. With those, I can literally park anywhere. On the sidewalk, on the grass, on second base at Fenway Park . . . " (Page 64)

Each chapter packs a punch. In the chapter entitled "Wow, What a Hit," Goff shares the lifelong impact of a note that his Little League coach mailed to him after one of the only meaningful hits of his baseball career. "I used to think that words spoken about us describe who we are, but now I know they shape who we are." (Page 84)
A chapter that touched me deeply dealt with the Goff family's decision to save money to purchase a very expensive painting - a work of fine art by a well known European artist. The picture depicted an old man surrounded by family as he entertained them with a puppet. I will let Bob Goff describe what happened when he came by the fancy gallery to pick up his long-anticipated purchase:

"When I walked into the gallery, there were two paintings waiting for me, two exact paintings of 'The Puppeter.' I didn't understand 'Why are there two paintings?' I asked the guy with the muddled accent. 'Well,' he said, managing with absolute ease to sound condescending and slick, 'ze one on the left is ze real one. It's museum qualeetay. It's very expensive, almost priceless. You don't want to hang ze original where it might get damaged, so you put ze original in a vault. Zis other one, however,' he said as he slapped the identical painting irreverently, 'iz ze fake one and iz ze one you put on the wall for everyone to see.'" (Pages 146-7)

After wrapping up the story of how the real painting subsequently got damaged when he and his kids engaged in a game of rubber band wars, the author frames his argument beautifully in making the spiritual application:

"There have been times in my life when I've tried to do good and it hasn't worked out the way I thought it would. I've gotten into a lot of mischief and taken chances and even taken some big risks. In the process, sometimes I've let people down or things I've done didn't go well and I've taken a rubber band or two to the head. We all have. But after the Puppeteer painting got shot, I realized that God doesn't think any less of us when things don't go right. Actually, I think He plans it. What He doesn't plan on is us putting a fake version of ourselves out there to take the hit. God is the master artist and made an original version of us, a priceless one that cost everything to create. A version that can't and won't be created again.
He asks us to hang that version of ourselves for everyone to see. Despite our inherent beauty, each of us is tempted to hide the original so we won't get damaged. I understand why, I really do. And the fake version of us, it's not worthless. It's just worth less because it's only a copy of the real us, a version we don't care about as much. When we hang the fake version out there, it's not the version God created. In that sense, it's like an imposter, a poser, a stunt double is standing in for us and telling the world that this is the best we've got, or the best we'll risk. And when we put the cheap, fake version of ourselves out there, most of the time it probably comes across to God like a bad Elvis impersonation." (Pages 149-50)

I read and review a lot of books, most of them quite good. Only about 1-2% do I label "must read." Add this small masterpiece to that category. Buy it, read it, act on it and pass it along.  Read about a vibrant kind of love and then go out and do some love.


Thursday, December 06, 2012

A Promising Debut Novel - "The Heat of the Sun" by David Rain

Puccini's opera has solidified the Madame Butterfly story in the canon of great tragic tales.  Imagine Lt. Pinkerton all grown up and a U.S. Senator and a Democratic presidential hopeful in the era of Calvin Coolidge. This is the setting of David Rain's debut novel, "In the Heat of the Sun."  The author uses the events that transpired in Nagasaki in the 19th and 20th centuries - and their "fallout" - as the launching pad for a tale that is both global and intimate in its perspective of the evils of warfare and colonialism.

The son born to Lt. Pinkerton and his Japanese geisha/wife - is named Benjamin, but known to all as "Trouble." He is raised as if he were the biological son of Senator Pinkerton and his American wife, Kate, the daughter of a powerful southern political family.  This tale of political and military intrigue, including a cameo appearance by Robert Oppenheimer and the Manhattan Project, is told through the prism of the complex relationships that develop among the sons of Senator Pinkerton, American Counsel to Nagasaki Sharpless and Prince Yamadori.  The sins of the fathers dramatically befall in dire consequences to their sons.

This beautifully written tragedy weaves plot and subplots together in ways that bespeak the subtlety of a traditional Japanese painting.  Rain masterfully blends real historical events with invented back stories to weave a complex web of relationships and events.  The moral of the tale seems to be how exquisitely difficult it is to achieve peace at a global level and to find love and inner peace at a personal and inter-relational level. This novel is a very promising debut work by a writer we will hear from again.



Monday, December 03, 2012

The Station Foundation Partners with The COMMIT Foundation to Offer Special Forces Mentoring Workshop in Dallas - March 21 and 22, 2013

I have just learned  from Kevin Stacy, Founder of the Station Foundation, about a very exciting mentoring opportunity offered to members of the Special Forces Community in Dallas in March, 2013.  Selection will take place in the next few weeks.  Please forward this information to everyone in your network who may be interested.

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The COMMIT Foundation and THE STATION Foundation are joining forces to create the first annual SOF Mentoring Workshop. On March 21 and 22, 2013, twelve outstanding and chosen veterans of the Special Operations community will gather in Dallas to take part in a special mentoring workshop. COMMIT is a tremendous believer in mentorship and knows how inspiring and life-changing just one story from an inspirational leader can be. THE STATION believes that the first step in veterans identifying an appropriate career path is to better understand their values and identity beyond the Military. Together, our workshop will increase participants comfort level with business leaders, increase the participants awareness of their core values and lead our participants to the best career path for them.


For veterans interested in participating, you must submit an application at by December 28, 2012. All applicants must have served under U.S. Special Operations Command in either the Iraq or Afghanistan conflicts since September 11, 2001. Veterans will be notified by January 11, 2013 whether they are selected for the program or not. Veteran expenses will be covered.


We are currently vetting mentors from the private sector for this amazing and potentially life-changing event. The executives will share their insights on life’s lessons, big decision points and serendipitous moments. We will also spend time addressing goal setting and potential paths for the veterans as they transition from the services to the private sector. 

As far as time commitment, we ask that executives *fully* participate from 8:30am-4pm on March 22nd. (There will be evening events on both nights but they are optional for the executives due to their demanding schedule.) We assure mentors that they will benefit from the day as much as the veterans do. If you or someone you know is interested in participating as a mentor, please reach out to us.


The SOF community has served us unlike any other and this is our unique way of giving back in a manner that will continue to pay it forward. Our goal is to raise $50,000.00 prior to this event. If you are interested in being a sponsor, please reach out to us. This is the third workshop where COMMIT’s transformational model will be proven out. We held a workshop for Italian American veterans in October 2011 and for women veterans in November 2012. We are excited to be honoring our Special Operations veterans in March 2013.

Please let us know if you have any questions and whether you are willing to commit to this day of serendipity. Anne Meree Craig, the Executive Director of COMMIT, will make herself available at any time to personally discuss the event and provide full background on our organization. We look forward to hearing from you.

Kevin Stacy
Founder & Executive Director
The Station Foundation

"A Possible Life" - A Novel in Five Parts by Sebastian Faulks

In his new novel, "A Possible Life," Sebastian Faulks uses an unusual format to tell a continuous story.   In a series of five inter-related novellas, he features five very different people living in five different places during five different periods of history.  Yet, these disparate stories are united by common humanity and shared longings and struggles.

Geoffrey Talbot goes off to fight in France in World War I and returns to England to teach in a private school.

In Victorian London, the Webb family cannot afford to feed all of their children, so Billy draws the short straw and is sent off to live in the workhouse. He meets Alice and their lives remain intertwined in complex ways.

In 21st century Italy, Elena Duranti becomes a world-renowned scientist examining the phenomenon of human consciousness.

In rural France, in the early 1800's, Jeanne works as a humble laundress and faces a difficult choice of how to respond to an offer of physical intimacy from a surprising source.

Singer-songwriter Anya King turns the music world on its ear in New York, LA and beyond.  But what of her own life?

Where is the common link among these men and women?  The author buries a clue deep within the Jeanne narrative.  Jeanne has been treated warmly by the monk who has the humble task of overseeing the laundry and the simple women who toil there:

"In the smile of Brother Bertrand, however, she glimpsed a sort of heaven.  She saw what it might be life to let another creature see inside herself - and she imagined what views she might be granted in return.  Perhaps most other people's lives were like that, she thought.  What might it be like not to be alone?" (Pages 191-192)

So, through the prism of these five lives, Faulks explores the deep question of the many forms that loneliness and the quest to overcome it may take.  The result is a satisfying and moving patchwork quilt stories of almost connections and near relationships.  The few moments of true soul connections shine like gems.