Chicago Riffs

I am headed home to Washington after an afternoon in Chicago. It should have been a full day, but that’s the price of traveling between Washington and Chicago by train. The Amtrak timetable is to be taken with as much salt as Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich’s protestations that he did not try to sell President Obama’s vacated Senate seat to the highest bidder.

I was supposed to get in around eight for a morning of meetings. I would then give a talk at the Kellogg School of Management on how we are using 2010 to brand South Africa. The train pulled in at two, which pared my agenda to 90 minutes of trying not to mislead a classroom of bushy-tailed MBA candidates too grossly.

Remember Lauren Bacall’s instructions on how to whistle? You just put your lips together and blow, she advised Humphrey Bogart in To Have and Have Not.¬† Her advice came to me when the sleeping car attendant explained why we would be six hours late. The train’s whistle had frozen at some point in the middle of the night. By law, American trains that can’t whistle properly to warn of their approach can’t run. No amount of coaxing could elicit a federally-approved note from our engine. Continue reading “Chicago Riffs”


Obama tells America to grow up

Radio 702 called as I was walking to Washington’s Mall with a million others on Tuesday morning to be in the general vicinity when President Barack Obama was sworn in. Would I be available for an interview after the inaugural address, a producer asked. Sure, I said.

Just another ant in an ocean of them, I wasn’t going to get anywhere near the actual ceremony, so I thought I’d take in the proceedings from the Lincoln Memorial. This is the splendid neo-classical temple dedicated to President Abraham Lincoln, the great emancipator, from whose steps Martin Luther King spoke of his dream in 1964.

On the opposite end of the Mall from the Capitol, two miles from the action, it nonetheless seemed an appropriate place to be when America’s first president of African descent took his oath of office. One might not see anything (other than one of Washington’s most iconic views on a sparkling if chilly day), but the sound, at least, was being piped in loud and clear. Continue reading “Obama tells America to grow up”


If, after generations of conflict and oppression, the people of Iraq find their way to living with each peaceably, there is a chance that South Africa’s story as told by three of its central actors, Cyril Ramaphosa, Roelf Meyer and Mac Maharaj, will have been the catalyst.

This magnificent South African trio, along with former enemies from Northern Ireland whom they also inspired to find each other, has been working its quiet magic on senior leaders of all Iraq’s political parties. The results thus far include the Helsinki Agreement, signed in Baghdad on July 8th by 37 Iraqi leaders from across the spectrum, setting out “principles and mechanisms” to guide the daunting journey to a new Iraq.

The herdsman, in Meyer’s phrase, who brought the South Africans and Northern Irish together for this project, is Padraig O’Malley, author of the acclaimed biography of Maharaj, ¬†Shades of Difference. A scholar and mediator, O’Malley spent to better part of a lifetime working to end the conflict in Northern Ireland before chronicling the negotiations that brought down the curtain on apartheid. His exhaustive interviews, available on the Internet, are the fullest available record of that process. Continue reading “Peacemakers”