Sunday, January 22, 2012

"Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled."

Howard Stevenson

Friday, January 29, 2010

"...being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art..."

Andy Warhol

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Unforgiving Minute

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And--which is more--you'll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

VISTA Health Advocates

During the winter of 1968 I was involved in a special project at the headquarters of VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) a division of the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), the agency formed to lead the Johnson administration’s efforts in the so-called War on Poverty.

We wanted to see what impact we could have if we created a special program which selected the very best of the best and brightest who applied for the VISTA program; gave them special training and put them into a small group of counties in the rural south. We called it the VISTA Health Advocates program.

It was a project which would have approximately 20 VISTA volunteers. They would be placed in six rural and very economically depressed counties in Eastern Arkansas.

I was tasked, with among other things, as a young Management Intern at OEO, the job of selecting the participants in the Health Advocates program. I personally went through the thousands of application folders for the VISTA volunteer program and selected applicants who had been campus leaders and who, in their applications, exhibited some special talents that caused them to stand out from the rest. I was 25 years old, so I was passing judgment on people who were essentially my peers.

Once selected, the Health Advocates attended a special training program in Austin, Texas, and were then placed into the field in Eastern Arkansas.

Among the volunteers were the only VISTA medical doctor (Dr. Blumenthal) and nurse (Corinne Cass). We put them in Marianna, Arkansas, the county seat of Lee County. At the time it was the fourth poorest county in America with an average annual income of just over $1200.

There was no health care for poor whites or poor blacks in Marianna. If you were ill you had to make a three hour drive to Little Rock or Memphis. We decided to put together a rudimentary health clinic. There was no space and we couldn’t rent space from white merchants so we started the health clinic in the back room of the black owned funeral home. In many small towns in the south, the most prominent and wealthiest black man was the owner of the funeral home. That was the case in Marianna. He owned a Cadillac and was very refined and worldly.

We needed an executive director for the clinic which we called the Lee County Cooperative. Somehow we found Olly Neal. He had grown up in Marianna and then moved to Chicago. He had returned to Memphis and we hired him to run the clinic. He was an extraordinary charismatic man.

Once established, the Cooperative became a vehicle for all manner of community activity, not just health and nutrition. When we first began work in Mariana we discovered that only 18 to 20% of the registered voters were black, while more than half of the population was black. Clearly, a voter registration campaign made a lot of sense.

Over time, enough black voters registered to provide a black majority in the electorate.
The logical next step was to run a slate of black candidates for each office on the upcoming election.

Election night, as ballots were being counted from the precincts around the county, it was looking very likely that the black candidates would win. With only a handful of “mixed” race precincts left to count, the black candidates were ahead. At that moment, the County Sheriff and his deputies arrived and confiscated the ballot boxes. The next day it was announced that the white candidates had won.

It was a classic example of racist Southern United States election politics. I was outraged and wanted to immediately contact the U. S. Attorney with a claim of election fraud. Olly Neal restrained me and said, “You don’t live here. I live here. We know what to do next time and we will win.”

And, Olly and the people of Lee County, Arkansas did win. Olly continued to successfully manage the Coop, then returned to school where he ultimately obtained a law degree. He later became a judge on the Arkansas Court of Appeals, retiring in late 2006.
In 1996 I attended a dinner for Hilary Clinton and had the opportunity to speak with her briefly about my time in Arkansas. I mentioned the name, Olly Neal. Hilary said, “I know Olly Neal. He is wonderful. He is a judge on the Arkansas Court of Appeals.”

A couple of years ago Olly and I traded phone calls but didn’t connect. I just did a search and found that among other things, he just contributed $1000 to Hilary’s Presidential Campaign.

Breakfast with the County Judge

I had been traveling in and out of Eastern Arkansas with regularity in my role as liaison between headquarters in Washington, DC and the field operations of the VISTA Health Advocates program located in six rural counties along the delta of the Mississippi.

On one trip I stayed overnight at the Holiday Inn at the interchange at the freeway exit for Forest City , Arkansas. The freeway was new as was the Holiday Inn. Arkansas had boomed under the tutelage of the Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, but that boom had missed, as booms do, the lower socio-economic rungs of the ladder.

In the morning I came down for breakfast and walked into the restaurant. The hostess said, as came in with an associate, “The County Judge is here and would like to have breakfast with you boys.” Well, the County Judge in the rural south was typically the most powerful elected official in the county and presided not only over the court, but over the county itself. Often, the county judge lacked any legal education, and in fact, may not have had any education beyond the 8th grade. No matter! Even handed justice in the rural south didn’t require education; it just required good common sense.

We sat down across from the Judge, whose name I don’t recall. He was silver haired and lean. I asked him why he wanted to see us. He said that he wanted to talk with us; that he didn’t like us, “….enticing the Nigras to demonstrate.” I told him we were working with VISTA and working with volunteers in his county. Recently two volunteers had moved into a small town on the east side of his county. Within days of their arrival they had both been severely beaten by some local thugs. I asked him how that could happen in his county. Clearly, he knew about the beatings. He said they had been beaten because, “….when they came into town they just failed to properly identify themselves.”

That day I drove around his county in my rental car checking on various volunteers and projects. I was followed all day at an uncomfortable distance by one the Sheriff’s deputies. I have a strong recollection to this day, of the hair standing on the back of my neck.

Monday, January 07, 2008

"Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their
common sense."

Gertrude Stein

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Letter Writing

My mother just celebrated her 90th birthday. 120 of her friends attended the reception for her at the First Methodist Church. It was a wonderful event, largely a testament to the fact that she has kept in close touch with family and friends.

My mom is a great letter writer. Letter writing is fast becoming a lost art. I read with great interest in the Times yesterday that the personal papers of Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr. had been obtained by the New York Public Library. Among the trove was the correspondence between Schlesinger and many of the notables of the last half of 20th century in America. As the piece reported, “About one-third of the 400 boxes of material consist of Mr. Schlesinger’s voluminous correspondence, which in many cases includes both sides of the exchange. Mr. Schlesinger routinely stapled copies of his responses to letters that he had received. “It’s not just who he corresponded with,” a librarian said. “It’s that these were two- or three-page letters exchanged — often about the most pressing topics of the day.””

What will become of the history of this new computer age? Will the New York Public Library receive some computer disks from the estate of the next generation’s premier historian? Will they have archived and kept their correspondence through transitions from 5 and ½ to 3 and ¼ to CD to DVD and on to the next medium?

Mom’s correspondence has all been handwritten. She learned Palmer Method cursive at the Cove School, a small country school outside of Ellensburg, Washington where her family homesteaded in 1876. She practiced at the chalk board and wrote hundreds of sentences as a child. Today, her cursive is every bit as perfect and legible as when she graduated from the 8th grade.

I grew up writing cursive as well. We practiced with our pencils on lined paper beginning in the third grade at a point when our brains and our manual dexterity coalesced to allow the formation of those carefully crafted letters. Practice made perfect. Of course, my practice was aided by the occasional need to write 500 sentences that proclaimed that I would no longer pull the hair of the girl who sat in front of me, or some other indiscretion.

There was something more to the learning of cursive than the simple ability to communicate thoughts in written form. Cursive had a certain flair and elegance and was, when well executed, an art form that communicated not only ideas but something of the personality of the writer as well.

Today, my children don’t learn cursive in school. It has been dropped from the curriculum. I think the loss is a significant one. Not only are children now deprived of an opportunity for tedious, disciplined learning but the fine art of letter writing is undermined as well. Rigor, as an element of the educational process, has been replaced with every increasing opportunity for expression. But, it seems to me, expression finds its fullest form when it springs from a solid base of disciplined learning.

In addition to the loss of cursive, and the death of the fine art of letter writing, the future will miss the opportunity to receive into its archives the reportorial work of the custodians of its history.

Monday, November 12, 2007


The word spread
rapidly through
the small rural

She was not
doing well

After years
of failing health
she was now passing

It was a blessing
but nonetheless
it was difficult
and a time for
family and friends
to gather around

They sat silently
in the front room
and puttered in
the kitchen
waiting for the

There were three