April 25, 2017

 I love the story that Phil Knight, the founder of Nike, tells in his wonderful memoir " Shoe Dog". 

 The year was 1997.  Still haunted by the Vietnam War, Knight had vowed that someday Nike would have a factory in or near Saigon.  By 1997, he had four.  He was in Saigon.  The company was to be honored and celebrated by the Vietnamese government as one of the nation’s top five generators of foreign currency.  At one point, his hosts graciously asked what they could do for him, what would make the trip special and memorable.  
“I’d like to meet the 86-year-old General Võ Nguyen Giáp, the man who singlehandedly defeated the Japanese, the French, the Americans and the Chinese", Knight replied. 
General Giáp joined the group the next day.  The first thing Knight noticed was his size.  He was maybe 5’4”.  And humble.  Knight remembered that he smiled as he did, “Shyly, uncertainly.  But there was an intensity about him…a kind of glittery confidence,” the kind he had seen in great coaches and great business leaders.  
Giáp waited for Knight to ask a question.
It was simple:   “How did you do it?”  The corners of Giáp’s mouth flickered.  A smile?  Maybe?, Knight recalled.   Giáp thought and thought.  “I was,” he said, “a professor of the jungle.”
“A professor of the jungle.”  

For me, it says it all: being close to your work, close to your environment, close to your consumers, close to your competition, close to your people.  That kind of closeness--I refer to it as "intimacy"-- grows out of love, a passionate commitment to a purpose.  That kind of closeness, that kind of intimacy leads to great accomplishments, to winning, to a maniacal commitment to excellence and, ultimately, to the satisfaction of a job well done.


April 21, 2017


JUNE 25, 2016

I  just encountered this statistic documenting the stunning and dangerous shift in opinion in the book "Fractured Republic" by Levin. 

"When a team from the University of Michigan studying national elections asked Americans in 1964 how much of the time they thought the federal government could be trusted to do the right thing, 76 percent said either “just about always” or “most of the time.”  (When Gallup asked exactly the same question in 2010, those two options garnered a combined 19 percent of the responses.)"

The utter and frustrating inability of Congress to come together to take rational and necessary steps on responsible gun regulations and immigration reform are just two of the recent issues that explain this. 

We must do better, a lot better, and soon. This is government by paralysis and venom.


Unfortunately, we are NOT doing better. The urgency to do so is increasing daily. 


April 11, 2017


President Trump’s decision to launch the tomahawk missile attack on the air base in Syria three days ago, entirely appropriate in my opinion under the circumstances, poses major questions, of course.

What is our end objective in Syria, and Iraq and Afghanistan, for that matter?  How do we get there?  To what degree is our objective to overthrow the Assad government?  To wipe out ISIS?  To contain Russia?  To show Iran that they have no business sticking their nose into the Syrian business?

Stepping back, it seems to me the objective is clear:  We need to do what is necessary to restore peace to the people of Syria.  Four hundred thousand killed over the past several years.  Five million refugees, many of them still on the run or in camps.  What will it take to achieve this objective?

In my opinion, the following:

  • We (and I mean it “collectively”) have to eliminate the threat of ISIS.

  • We (and again I mean it in a “collective way,” which I’ll come back to) have to achieve a diplomatic and political settlement in Syria.

We, the United States, cannot impose this settlement.  Any thought that we can without the participation of Russia and Iran, among others, is fatuous.  We have to involve the Syrian government in some form, though I agree that Assad cannot and will not be a continuing part of that government.  

  • We have to provide humanitarian support right now for the Syrian people and refugees.  It will only be through political settlement that refugees will be able to return to their homes.  We have to provide a “safe zone” for these refugees and we have to reach agreement with Russia in doing it.
It is inexcusable that the world has not coalesced around a united humanitarian effort for these refugees.  We have done far better before, including post-World War II.  There are countless non-profits doing their best, but there is not the coordinated effort, nor the investment by governments, including our own, to provide this support.  We owe it to ourselves, having seen the impact of gas on 90 civilians, including children.  It was a murderous, heinous act.  But countless more men, women and children are dying every day because of the absence of our support.

There will be those that say, understandably, that we have been trying to reach a negotiated settlement, including with Russia and Iran, for years without achieving a positive outcome.  That’s true.  However, it cannot lead us to stop trying.  We have to do it.  It’s the only path to success.  
I don’t believe Russia has any interest in continuing the quagmire and devastating violence in Syria.  I don’t believe for a minute they respect Assad.  What they are against is unilateral regime change by the United States or anyone else.  They haven’t forgotten Serbia, or Libya, or Iraq either.
While this brings me far outside my sphere of knowledge, I personally believe that a political settlement is going to require a geographic division of Syria, much like as I understand it, Joe Biden recommended years ago.  It’s no different than what occurred in Yugoslavia.   The antagonisms are so deeply rooted between the Shias and Sunnis and Kurds and Alawites, too, that bringing them together into a united government is impossible.
These are my thoughts.  


April 4, 2017

These were the lyrics of the song sung in our church this past Sunday. They were written 55 years ago by Bob Dylan. The Vietnam War was building to a tragedy greater 
 than anyone could  foresee.  And the Civil Rights movement was moving from one violent encounter after another as women, men and children fought for Freedom long denied. 

As I heard this song, played beautifully by Jean Dowell and her partner, on Sunday  it hit me.

The challenge; the opportunity!  

Virtually every single line of this inspiring and demanding poem pertains to today,  just as it did 55 years ago. 

Please read on....

Blowing in the Wind

Bob Dylan, 1962

How many roads must a man walk down

Before you can call him a man?  Yes, ‘n how many seas must a white

Dove sail before she sleeps in the sand?  Yes, ‘n how many times

Must the cannonballs fly before they’re forever banned?


The answer my friend is blowing in the wind

The answer is blowing in the wind

How many years can a mountain exist before it is washed to the sea?

Yes, ‘n how many years can some people exist before they’re allowed to be free?

Yes, ‘n how many times can a man turn his head and pretend he just doesn’t see?

How many times must a man look up before he sees the sky?

Yes, ‘n how many ears must one man have before he hears people cry?

Yes, ‘n how many deaths will it take till he knows that too many people have died?


Every one of these  lines discloses a challenge we face today:

Our global environment eroding;
Millions of refugees crying; 
Millions of people unfree..from poverty, drugs, violence, poor health, discrimination human trafficking.  
Millions of people dying..in Syria; Sudan,;Yemen,; Ukraine; St.Petersburg, Russia; and the streets of our cities, including mine, Cincinnati.

As Bob Dylan might cry out today: How many years will it be before we act to help those whose lives we can touch be Free? If not we, who? If not now, when? 


April 3, 2017

Jon Meacham’s Biography of George Herbert Walker Bush is one of the finest biographies I can ever recall reading.  It describes the life of a man whom I’ve admired for decades.  The basis for that admiration—his strength and integrity and his commitment to service and his country and his family--was brought forth in a transparent and convincing way.
The book is greatly strengthened by Meacham’s judicious use of Bush’s diary which he dictated for much of his active life.
Bush’s role in overseeing the peaceful end of the Cold War in the late 1980s and early 1990s, his empathetic and constructive relationship with Gorbachev and his balanced judgment emerge clearly.  His decency was remarkable.
I agree with Meacham’s judgment:  “His life was spent in the service of his nation, in his spirit of conciliation, common sense and love of country will stand him in strong stead through the ebbs and flows of posterity’s judgment.  On that score—that George H.W. Bush was a uniquely good man in a political universe where good men were hard to come by—that was shared by a bi-partisan consensus a quarter of a century after his White House years.
Bush in many ways was like John Smale and in some ways like myself.  Modest but driven, almost always compassionate, he was out to serve but also to win.  Yet he had his personal doubts.  I think he failed to appreciate his full excellence, this despite a remarkable record of accomplishments:  at Yale; in the service; in business and in public service: in Congress; Envoy to China; leading the CIA, etc.
I had no idea how many disappointments he had faced, above all the death of his and Barbara’s daughter, Robin, at the age of three.  Losses in political elections, not getting the job he wanted.  And indeed until the very last moment, feeling he would not get the Vice Presidential slot with Ronald Reagan.  
I’m not sure Bush ever would have become President if he had not been the Vice President for Ronald Reagan.  He learned so much from Reagan, though never, happily, tried to be like him.
Of the various tributes to George H.W. Bush, I rate none stronger than this.  It came from his son Jeb:  “How great is this country that it could elect a man as fine as our dad to be its President?”  That remark so struck Laura Bush that she included it in the White House memoir she wrote after she and George W. left Washington in 2009.
I think it is fair to say, as Meacham does, that George H.W. Bush represented “the twilight of a tradition of public service in America, one embodied by FDR, by Eisenhower, and by George H.W. Bush.”
There is so much to be learned, and imitated, in Bush’s relationship with Gorbachev.  It took the two of them.   Bush fully understood how important it was to work constructively with Gorbachev.  And so did Gorbachev with him.  The “old suspicions” between the two super powers had to go, Bush said.  Both nations had to learn how to thrive in a multi-polar world.  
If only we had not lost that instinct.  Gorbachev made a huge concession in agreeing to a united Germany and then, with great reluctance, agreeing for it to become a member of NATO.  Gorbachev’s associates were dumb-founded that he agreed to do that.  
Nowhere did Bush’s respect for and empathy with Gorbachev manifest itself more than in his reaction to the attempted overthrow of Gorbachev.  He resisted John Major’s suggestion of convening the NATO ministers out of his fear that “it will make it look like we are militarizing and that we anticipate a military threat to the West...it is the last damn thing we need to get involved in in that kind of confrontation.”
And then he spoke with Gorbachev on the phone:  “My dearest George,” Gorbachev said.  “I am so happy to hear your voice again.”  “My God,” Bush said, “I’m glad to hear you.”  They spoke for 11 minutes.  “He sounded jubilant and he sounded upbeat,” Bush dictated, “he was very, very grateful to me...for the way we have conducted ourselves.”
The peaceful resolution of this crisis was, for Bush, ratification of his essential diplomatic instincts of balance and moderation.  “We could have overacted, and moved troops, and scared the hell out of people,” Bush told his diary.  “We could have under-reacted by saying, ‘well, we will deal with whoever is there.’  But...I think we found the proper balance.”
The respect which Bush showed to other leaders was genuine and worked to great advantage.  The relationship with French President Mitterrand was an example.  There had been worry that France might not support the use of NATO outside of Europe in the circumstance of the Gulf War.  However, when Bush asked for that support, Mitterrand simply said, “we will be there.”  To his diary Bush confided that he felt that the visit he (Bush) had with Mitterrand at his place in Maine and “the respect I have tried to show him personally, (paid) off in diplomacy.  I differ with his personal diplomacy, but I think when you talk from a basis of friendship, it does help; and I think he knows I respect him.”
As always, respect builds trust and trust means everything.  
During the Gulf War, Bush reflected on the nature of American leadership.  Gregarious and inclusive by nature, Meacham writes, he could uphold the Presidency in keeping with these essential elements of his own character.  “All countries in the west clearly have to turn to us,” Bush told his diary, “but it is my theory that the more they are included on the take-off, the more we get their opinion, the more we reach out, no matter what is involved in terms of time involved, the better it is.  Everyone is proud.  Everyone has his place in the sun—large country or small, they should be consulted, their opinions considered and then when the United States makes a move, and I make a decision, we are more apt to have solid support.”
If only we conducted ourselves more in line with that conviction today.  If only that spirit had permeated our relationship with Russia over the last 15 years.  If we had, I do not believe we would be in the position we are today.  The neocons, whom Bush resisted, but whose son, George W. Bush, sadly did not, have continued to have an influence that has been disruptive, in my view, to the best interests of the United States.  George H.W. Bush demonstrated this more than ever as he decided not to occupy Iraq.  The war to unseat Hussein, “to occupy Iraq would instantly shatter our coalition, turning the whole Arab world against us, and make a broken tyrant into a latter-day Arab hero,” Bush recalled in 1998.  “It could only plunge that part of the world into ever greater instability and destroy the credibility we were working so hard to reestablish.”  If only his son had followed this instinct.
The candor and honesty of Bush’s own self-reflections pours out of his diaries in a manner that I can sometimes identify with.  The post-Gulf War period was, as Meacham describes it:  “a study in shadow.”  Coming off that intense experience, Bush had to turn back to what he really didn’t relish, domestic affairs, and it is clear to me he was tired.  He was now 66.  He fantasized in his diary about surprising the world by announcing that he would not seek reelection:  “You need someone in this job (who can give) his total last ounce of energy, and I’ve had (that) up until now, but now I don’t seem to have the drive.”  He was tired of what he described as “sniping, carping, bitching, predictable editorial complaints.”  
But he continued on.
I’ll conclude these notes with a salute to George H.W. Bush by his son George, on the occasion of the commissioning of an aircraft carrier named after his father.  “We will always be inspired by the faith, humor, patriotism, and compassion he taught us through his own example.  And for as long as we live, we will carry with us Dad’s other lessons:  that integrity and honor are worth more than any title or treasure, and that the truest strength did come from the gentlest soul.”
George H.W. Bush is a role model for me, for all of us.