Friday, October 23, 2020

"Caste" by Isabel Wilkerson - "The Origins of Our Discontents"


Isabel Wilkerson established herself as a writer of significant influence with the publication of her landmark work, "The Warmth of Other Suns." This seminal work chronicles the Great Migration of post-Civil War blacks northward to the industrial centers of Chicago, Detroit, New York, et al. In her most recent book, she examines racism in the light of the concept of caste. The subtitle of "Caste" is "The Origin of Our Discontents."

Wilkerson examines three caste systems: India, Nazi Germany, and the United States. Linking these three societies together is not something I would have been able to do on my own, with the author leading the way toward new levels of awareness with her insights and anecdotes. I had chills when I read that when the Nazis came to power in Germany, they wondered how to cement their cultural views of racial purity into a well synchronized legal system They turned to the Jim Crow laws of the post-Civil War South as their template:

"By the time that Hitler rose to power, the United States 'was not just a country with racism,' Whitman, the Yale legal scholar wrote, 'it was the leading racial jurisdiction - so much so that even Nazi Germany looked to America for inspiration.' The Nazis recognized the parallels even if many Americans did not." (p.81)

The author does an excellent job of making her case for racism being a form of caste by sharing the Eight Pillars of Caste that can be found in the three societies examined in this book.

Pillar Number One: Divine Will and the Laws of Nature

Pilar Number Two: Heritability

Pillar Number Three: Endogamy and the Control of Marriage and Mating

Pillar Number Four: Purity versus Pollution

Pillar Number Five: Occupational Hierarchy

Pillar Number Six: Dehumanization and Stigma

Pillar Number Seven: Terror as Enforcement, Cruelty as a Means of Control

Pillar Number Eight: Inherent Superiority versus  Inherent Inferiority

The author spends the remaining 200 plus pages offering specific examples of how these eight pillars have undergirded the particular caste systems in India, Nazi Germany, and the U.S. In a very moving Epilogue, Wilkerson shares how Albert Einstein served as a bridge between the caste systems of Germany and the U.S. After fleeing the antisemitism of Nazi German's caste system, Einstein settled in Princeton, New Jersey. He was shocked to find that he had not completely escaped the depredations of caste:

"In America, Einstein was astonished to discover that he had landed in yet another caste system, one with a different scapegoat caste and different methods, but with embedded hatreds that were not so unlike the one he had fled"

'The worst disease is the treatment of the Negro,' he wrote in 1946. . . . He could 'hardly believe that a reasonable man can cling so tenaciously to such prejudice.'"(p. 378)

When Einstein and his wife learned that acclaimed opera singer Marian Anderson was denied lodging at the local Nassau Inn, they welcomed her to stay in their home, beginning a friendship that endured until Einstein's death. His awareness of the parallel between the oppression of Jews in Germany and blacks in America awakened in him a strong sense of responsibility to act.

"And so he did. He co-chaired a committee to end lynching. He joined the NAACP. He spoke out on behalf of civil rights activists, lent his fame to their causes." (p. 379)

The parallel to our day is striking. As the Black Lives Matter movement has grown in the wake of countless examples of death and injury from police brutality, like Einstein in post WWII America, leading lights in academia, sports, the arts, and politics are using the bully pulpits afforded them by their fame to speak and act against the invidious aspects of racism that persist to our day.



"Born A Crime" by Trevor Noah - A Moving Memoir of an Early Life under Apartheid


I have enjoyed Trevor Noah's comedy and commentary for several years. I was aware that he was South African by birth, but knew very little of the story of his early life. "Born A Crime" is a wonderfully realized memoir that offers a vulnerable and self-effacing window into what it was like to survive as a mixed race young man in the harsh days under Apartheid.

Noah's mother is black; his father is a white Swedish ex-pat living in South Africa. Under the laws of Apartheid, any kind of miscegenation was against the law, so Noah's parents had to keep their relationship under the radar of government and nosy neighbors. It took great effort for Trevor to have any kind of a relationship with his father, who lived in another community from where he and his mother resided.

The author is very transparent about how challenging it was for his mother to raise a rambunctious and rebellious young man. Noah lived on the borders of several worlds - never completely fitting in. He did not neatly fall into any of the legal racial categories, and he had to work hard at creating a place for himself among Blacks, Whites, and Coloreds. He reveals that his mastery of several languages became the skeleton key that opened doors for him to relationships with virtually every segment of South African society. The fact that he became a popular DJ whose services were in demand also opened doors for him.

A vivid memory that the author shares reveals how his natural curiosity led to disastrous consequences. He loved to experiment with how a magnifying glass could concentrate the rays of the sun to heat up a variety of objects. One day he was visiting the home of a white friend, and after showing his friend the trick with the magnifying glass, Trevor and his host went off to explore other adventures. They left the magnifying glass where it was, and unbeknownst to Trevor, the magnifying glass heated an object which eventually ignited the garage, and ultimately the entire house. This misadventure of burning down a house owned by Whites was only one of the many reasons that Trevor and his mother needed to keep a low profile.

Noah credits his mother's strict discipline with laying a foundation that has led to his subsequent success in life. She was able to do this despite facing many obstacles - financial, legal, and relational. The author leaves an indelible impression of how his mother's second husband became increasing more abusive as his alcoholism and paranoia escalated. The dysfunctional relationship climaxed in the stepfather shooting Noah's mother in a fit of jealous rage. She somehow survived being shot in the face.

Prior to reading this moving memoir, my knowledge of Apartheid was on a macro level - being repulsed by the inhumanity of the policy. The book offered me a micro look at how its laws and practices dramatically impacted the life of one young man and those within his orbit. The book is a welcome gift to anyone who seeks to understand how someone who falls between the cracks can learn to navigate the world and achieve fame. Noah uses his fame as a platform to educate and illuminate - a magnifying glass, if you will, that heats up our appreciation of the intricacies of life under Apartheid.



Wednesday, September 02, 2020

"Friday Forward" by Robert Glazer - 52 Nuggets of Inspiration

A year ago, Robert Glazer published a bestselling book that shared wisdom about pushing beyond limits for ultimate success and performance. See White Rhino Report review below:

Review of "Elevate" by Robert Glazer 

Even before writing "Elevate," Mr. Glazer had an idea to share some of the best examples from a weekly column he has been writing since 2015. His initial motivation in writing the column was to address each of the employees of his company, Acceleration Partners. His idea was to plant a seed of an idea at the end of each week that would help his employees to enjoy a more restful and refreshing weekend. He soon learned that his employees were sharing the columns with friends and family. Before long, a subscription list grew to over 200,00 individuals from 60+ nations. The topics for the weekly Friday Forward columns consisted of issues that the author himself was interested in learning or exploring in greater depth.

As Glazer began to consider how best to organize and cull from the hundreds of columns he had written over the years, he settled on four Capacities: Spiritual Capacity, Intellectual Capacity, Physical Capacity, and Emotional Capacity. Each of the four sections of the book contains thirteen short columns - nuggets! - illustrating how Glazer or individuals he was aware of had struggled to master an aspect of each of the Capacities. In the Spiritual Capacity section, the author shared thoughts on "A Dad's Influence":

"I have found that one of the most powerful aspects of being a father is seeing the world through the eyes of my children. That lens has become a critical filter for decision-making and thinking about the examples I want to set. It also serves to remind us that the 'do as I say, not as I do' method of parenting or leadership will eventually hit a wall. My kids have become quite good at pointing out my own hypocrisies (i.e., 'Dad, put your phone down!') p. 25

One of the reasons that I chose to share the excerpt above, it that it serves as an excellent example of the author's transparency and humility. In sharing how he himself has overcome areas of struggle and deficiency, he explicitly gives each reader permission to acknowledge areas of weakness and vulnerability, and then to move intentionally beyond them.

In addition to enjoying these 52 selected vignettes, I encourage you to sign up to receive the weekly Friday Forward

This is the kind of book that would make an excellent gift to clients, employees, family members, and friends.



Friday, August 07, 2020

Calling All Passionate Readers - Announcing A New Virtual Book Club: 99 Pages

My friend, Rajiv Srinivasan, shares with me a profound love of reading. I was thrilled when I heard from him last week and learned that he would be moderating a new on-line virtual book club called 99 Pages, hosted by YouTube. The concept is simple; each Sunday evening at 7:30 ET/4:30 PT, members will sign onto the YouTube live channel for an hour discussion of the current book selection. Each week, the members are expected to have read 99 pages of the book.

The current book is "Five Days - The Fiery Reckoning of an American City" by Wes Moore with Erica L. Green. The first session of the club took place last Sunday evening. Rajiv had carefully picked four panelists to lead the discussion. Other members of the club were able to chime in via chat with questions and comments.The theme of the book is the five days of rioting and unrest that followed the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of the Baltimore Police in 2015. Each panelist had a unique perspective, which led to a well balanced discussion. Rajiv did a fine job of balancing the contributions of the four panelists with the chat comments and questions that the larger group was contributing.

Here is Rajiv's description of his vision for 99 Pages:

"99pages is on a mission to make reading FUN and ACHIEVABLE for everyone. Each week, we read no more than 99 pages of a book, and discuss on a livestream bookclub broadcast with expert panelists and Q&A. Subscribe at"

On behalf of Rajiv, I invite you to sign up and join us this Sunday evening - even if you have not already had a chance to procure "Five Days." You will benefit from the discussion, and can catch up with the book next week.

ex libris!



Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Dear Baseball - A Plea from Guest Blogger Jesse Skaff

A few days before baseball fans got the long-awaited news that there would be a MLB season after all - albeit a truncated one - my friend, Jesse Skaff, penned a heartfelt plea to resolve the impasse that had kept players and owners from agreeing to play ball. I was so moved by reading Jesse's letter that I asked his permission to share it with readers of The White Rhino Report.
It is appropriate that our friendship got its start at a Red Sox game in the "lyric little bandbox of a ballpark" known as Fenway Park. Jesse and his father were seated behind me in Section 21 of the grandstands, directly behind home plate, but a few rows above the box seats. I overheard the father and son mention "The Governors Academy" (formerly Governor Dummer Academy), my alma mater. We quickly discovered that we were fellow alumni separated by a couple of generations. And an enduring friendship was born.
Enjoy Jesse's carefully reasoned and impassioned plea to "PLAY BALL"!
@ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @ @
Dear Baseball,
As a lifelong, diehard baseball fan, please hear me. Please hear us: the fans. We want baseball. The players want baseball. America needs baseball.
It is no secret that these past 11½ weeks of stalemate are tainting and tarnishing the reputation of Baseball as an institution and league and it is reaching a point of no return. Do you not see the articles – do you not hear the conversations – about people wondering aloud, “would I really miss baseball?” The fact that this is even a remote consideration breaks my heart. It breaks the hearts of the fans – the civilians who spend hard-earned paychecks at your ballparks and stadiums, on your concessions, on jerseys and memorabilia of their children’s favorite player. You have perpetually raised ticket prices and we continue to show up; you have traded away our favorite players and we continue to show up.
You had a chance to be the only sport this summer and command the undivided attention of the sports world; you bungled it. Now, your best chance is to share screen time with two other major sports amidst their playoffs, then compete your end of season with the start of the NFL season. Baseball has traditional, niche viewership and is already struggling to attract a younger, broader audience. In a world where immediate satisfaction is king and the average attention span is decreasing with everything at our fingertips, you are gravely hurting your allure by prolonging the fussing and fighting.
With all the young talent in the game, you are allowing – throwing away even – the excitement brought to us by players like Ronald Acuña, Christian Yelich, and Javy Baez. Without baseball, this is a wasted year of supreme talent.
Dear Commissioner Manfred,
The longer this sad saga continues, the greater the mistrust between the MLB and MLBPA, and the more your following will deteriorate. You have likely already alienated and lost the fans that have thought to themselves, “I’ve been fine thus far without baseball, I don’t really care if they resume.” Do you want to risk losing the casual fans that want to watch, but will abandon the sport for others if it does not come back? And worst of all, do you really want to lose the fans who have stood by the game and wish every night that there was baseball on? It’s no secret that fan engagement and declining viewership – not so long ago the primary concern of the league – are still existential issues to the game.
Don’t take us for granted. Please hear us. We love this game and we want it back.
You may say, “well the fans aren’t in on the negotiations. They don’t know about the business of the game,” and to that we say “fair.” But much has been reported on and disclosed about the abomination that has become these negotiations dare I call them. It is very clear this is about billionaires refusing to compromise with millionaires. We understand the sunk costs already and that players are risking their health for smaller paychecks. We understand the CBA of 2021 is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. And we realize, just like you do, that the crux of this issue is principal. Principal! It is easy for both sides to hardline in this instance, to set themselves up for next year’s negotiations, call the other side’s bluffs, or simply not play. But then what are you negotiating for next year? A damaged game with unrest and mistrust.
You had the stage to yourselves and a monumental opportunity to show unity. For a game that the players insist they would play for free; for a game that they love because they get to compete like they are kids again; for a game that provides them the chance to win that so-called “piece of metal” that grown men cry for and play through pain for and spend 81 days on the road away from their families for. Everyone in 2020 is losing, and the biggest problem here is that Baseball wants to win. Yet the biggest loser here is the game itself: baseball.
Dear Owners,
You are the problem, not the solution. You are not the reason we fans tune in to watch on tv (with whose networks you sign billion dollar contracts); you are not the reason we buy tickets to buy expensive concessions with pay money that we subconsciously know is going back into your pockets. Please put your rigid frugality aside; you are billionaires controlling a $10 billion industry of a kid’s game.
The façade you’ve put up about cost saving, furloughing employees, and cutting minor leaguers is condemnable and ugly. We are loyal but we are not stupid. These opaque moves are a bad look for you, your franchises, and for Baseball. Billionaires taking morally questionable action to save a few bucks is unattractive from every optical angle. And yet the players – your employees – bailed you out because they knew it was the right thing to do.
Just this once, lead with your morals not your wallets. Because if you do, baseball will return and we will return. The money will be back inevitably, and because we are forgiving and we root for the names on the front AND the back, we will continue to be your consumers. Please find solace in that.
Dear Players,
From an outsider’s perspective we understand your grievance. We blame the owners too. But please try to channel your 12 year old selves. We understand the business behind the 2021 CBA and creating solid footing for next year’s negotiations. We understand you have principles with which you base your negotiations. But please try to find it in yourselves as the MLBPA to find space to negotiate where you can. You are the reason we watch. You are the childhood heroes. And you are the lucky ones. Please just keep us in mind and remember your Little League days. Remember that baseball is more far reaching and life changing than Baseball.
Dear fellow fans and baseball community,
The previous paragraphs may not directly represent your feelings or opinions, but I think it is safe to say we all want baseball back. I share your disappointment and I empathize in feeling the daily absence of our game. But I ask you to stick it out. Don’t give up on America’s Pastime. Don’t turn your back on the foundational pillar of American sports that has already withstood and survived two World Wars, a pandemic, and has only struck out once. As fans, let’s appreciate that succeeding 3/10 times in baseball is being great, so even if Baseball is slumping right now, let’s cheer it on and back it until it breaks out with a ringing single up the middle.
Dear baseball,
Please come back. Soon.
The Fans

Written by Jesse Skaff 6/16/2020

Thanks, Jesse.

Go Sox!


Sunday, June 14, 2020

Netflix "Lenox Hill" - A MUST SEE Documentary of NYC's Lenox Hill Hospital - A Shining Beacon of Hope and Humanity

Photo by Netflix

When I learned that Netflix had released a documentary on NYC's Lenox Hill Hospital, I was eager to  watch it. So I binge watched it last night. My initial interest was very personal; the people at Lenox Hill had saved my life. Two years ago while I was visiting New York, I suffered a heart attack. I was taken by ambulance to the Lenox Hill emergency facility in the West Village on 7th Avenue. I was in severe pain. The staff there were kind and efficient in diagnosing that I was in the midst of a myocardial infarction. They were also alert to the need to quickly reduce my level of pain. Once they had stabilized me, they transferred me to the Lenox Hill main facility on the Upper East Side. There the cardiac catheterization lab diagnosed a 90% blockage in my anterior coronary artery, and inserted a stent to bypass the occlusion. For the next several days - in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit and a Step-down Unit - I was treated with consummate professionalism and kindness. I felt like I was among family.

As I watched the "Lenox Hill" documentary, my focus quickly expanded beyond my personal history with the place to a fascination with the excellent story telling by directors Adi Barash and Ruthie Shatz. Using four main protagonists, the storytellers give us insights into the lives of a fascinating cast of doctors, nurses, technicians, patients and their supportive families. The four main characters are Dr. David Langer, head of neurosurgery service. He shares clinical and administrative duties with Dr. John Boockvar, the department’s vice chair. In the maternity service, Dr. Amanda Little-Richardson is a chief obstetrics resident, while Dr. Mirtha Macri specializes in emergency medicine in the Greenwich Village facility.

The action of the series rotates among the neurology service, maternity unity, and emergency department. By looking at the Lenox Hill institution through these lenses, we get a clear three-dimensional view of the culture of the place and the personal commitment of each of the medical professionals. It soon became clear to me why I had felt so well cared for as a patient at Lenox Hill. The assiduous attention to very personalized patient care runs as a thread through the fabric of the hospital and is a nectar that infuses each employee.

The arc of the story paints a complex picture of the multiple roles that Dr. Langer plays - surgeon, department head and administrator, middle aged man committed to personal fitness, and loving husband and father. He is transparent and vulnerable in sharing just how difficult it is to keep all of these balls in the air simultaneously. There are short scenes that show him at the gym, at home, on retreat with his team of fellow neurosurgeons. These snippets tie the world of the hospital to the larger outside world of NYC and family.

Photo by Stephanie Keith/Netflix

Three of the physicians also become patients. Dr. Little-Richardson and Dr. Macri each gave birth to their first children during the filming of the series, so we get to see them juggling prenatal fatigue with a full work schedule, as well as seeing how ambivalent Dr. Macro was about returning to work after maternity leave. She could not wait to get back to the hustle and bustle of the ER, but hated to leave her son. One of the team of neurosurgeons was himself diagnosed with a dreaded glioblastoma. Watching the Lennox team rally around him through his diagnosis and eventual return to operating status shows the true character of the members of the team.

What comes across more strongly than any other factor is the genuine love that each of the clinicians exhibits for patients and patients' families. Love is in the air as surely as the vivifying oxygen that flows through the masks and ventilators. The series does not flinch in the face of death. Several of the neurology patients succumb to their disease, despite the best efforts of Dr. Langer, Boockvar, et al. Tears are not only allowed, but encouraged among members of the staff - sometimes privately, and at times collectively. I imagine that in a Coronavirus environment, there are now fewer hugs and kisses that I saw demonstrated by the women and men of Lenox Hill. But I am certain that the love that permeates the place and emanates from the persons who work there has no trouble penetrating whatever PPE is part of the current protocols.

If you are not moved to tears of empathy and pathos in watching these heroes at work, then you should check your Pulse Ox reading.

God bless Lenox Hill and its stellar staff.


Thursday, June 04, 2020

"Notes from a Small Island" by Bill Bryson - An Enlightening and Entertaining Tour Around Great Britain

Bill Bryson looks at his adopted homeland of Great Britain through two lenses. As a native American, he looks at British places and practices as a tourist might perceive them. But as someone who called England home for two decades, he had steeped himself in the culture of crumpets and "a cuppa"! So, he was also able to look at things British with a familiar sense of avuncular pride. Just prior to his planned return to America, the author scheduled a grand tour of the sceptred isle, revisiting some familiar places, and exploring roads less travelled. The resulting "Notes from a Small Island" is a delightful "memoir and Cook's tour that ranged from the chalky white cliffs of Dover to the splendid desolation of John O'Groats at the northernmost tip of Scotland.

The upshot of my reading this delightful Baedeker was the resurrection of fond memories of places I have visited in England, Scotland, and Wales. And reading about places I have not yet seen with my own eyes made me want to book a flight to Heathrow and schedule a series of walking tours. Even when Bryson looks at things British with a jaundiced eyes, it is clear that he does so as a loving critic. He is laughing with the Brits, rather than laughing at them. Several examples of his sense of irony focus on the inanities of scheduling of the British rail system. In some situations in which a desired destination was only a few miles from where Bryson found himself, the train schedule forced him to backtrack many miles and to make several transfers, or simply to throw up his hands and admit to himself: "You can't get there from here!"

Here is a sample of his grappling with British rail: "Hooton offered the world not only a mildly ridiculous name, but the dampest British Rail station I ever hope to sneeze in.  The shack-like platform waiting-rooms were dripping wet, which didn't matter a great deal as I was soaked already. With six others, I waited a small eternity for a train to Chester, where I changed for another for Llandudno." (p. 243)

If you are Anglophile, or one who simply enjoys great writing undergirded with a sharp sense of humor, you would be well served to take a stroll through the pagesof this guidebook and memoir.



Thursday, May 21, 2020

"The Body" by Bill Bryson - A Guide for Occupants - Timely and Prescient

I have known Bill Bryson's work primarily through his thoroughly entertaining travel books like "Notes from a Small Island," "A Walk in the Woods," and "In a Sunburned Country."  In writing "The Body," for the most part Bryson sets aside his signature wry humor, and tells a straight forward account of how the human body is put together, how it functions, how it succumbs to disease and ultimately to death. He has penned a significant and helpful addition to his already impressive literary corpus.

Although I am not an M.D., I have more medical knowledge than your average lay person; I have worked in the past as a Medical Technologist at leading hospitals, and have delivered three babies (a story for another time!) Yet, even with my extensive medical knowledge, I found myself learning many new things in each chapter of this remarkably readable book.

The author organizes the material in a logical fashion, focusing each chapter on one of the body's systems:The Brain, The Head, The Heart and Blood, Digestion, the Nervous System. Along the way, he shares anecdotes and historical tidbits that make this work a living and breathing document. He places Leonardo Da Vinci's early work in anatomy and post mortem dissection in its proper historical perspective, and tells the stories of many of the unsung heroes whose discoveries and innovations have led to significantly longer lifespans and the eradication of countless diseases.

Bryson was prescient in Chapter 20 - When Things Go Wrong: Diseases. He discusses flu outbreaks of the past and future.

"In the event of a really catastrophic epidemic - one that killed children and young adults in large numbers, say - Kinch believes we wouldn't be able to produce vaccine fast enough to treat everyone, even if the vaccine was effective.

'The fact is', he says, 'we are really no better prepared for a bad outbreak today than we were when Spanish flu killed tens of millions of people a hundred years ago. The reason we haven't had another experience like that isn't because we have been especially vigilant, it's because we have been lucky.'" (p. 334)

Perhaps this is a good reason to order and read this book as you continue to shelter in place and maintain social distancing!

This book is a must read for anyone who wants a better understanding of how we, as occupants of the miraculous organism that is the human body, grow from embryo to the end of life.